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reduce landmines
On June 27, the Obama administration agreed to sign the global treaty that bans antipersonnel landmines, which include steps that will eventually reduce the American stocks in foreign countries.

While the United States is the largest single donor to landmine decontamination efforts and medical care for mine victims, they have yet to officially join the treaty to reduce landmines.

The treaty is known as the Ottawa Convention, which 161 nations have already signed. This treaty was negotiated during Bill Clinton’s Presidency in the 90’s, then renounced during George W. Bush’s term. The Obama administration continued to say the treaty was “under review” until recently.

So far, the treaty has reduced the use and dangerous effects of antipersonnel land mines, cutting the number of deaths and injuries per year from 26,000 to a mere 4,000 a year currently. Most of the countries with left-over landmines are currently at peace, but about half of the deaths from old mines have been children.

On June 27, Douglas M. Griffiths, the U.S. ambassador to  Mozambique, spoke at a conference in Maputo, stating that the United States would no longer produce or acquire antipersonnel land mines or replace expired ones. This action should in theory reduce the 10 million mines in the United States’ possession. Griffiths also said that the United States was “diligently pursuing solutions that would be compliant with the convention and that would ultimately allow us to accede to the convention.”

As far as actually reducing the mines, however, the U.S. doesn’t seem as committed. Stephen Goose of the arms division at Human Rights Watch says:

“No target date has been set for accession by the U.S., and no final decision has been made on whether to join the treaty, the U.S. is reserving the right to use its 10 million antipersonnel mines anywhere in the world until the mines expire.”

The United States has not used land mines since 1991, but they still hold a stockpile of more than 9 million of them.

Other key nations – Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea specifically- have yet to sign the treaty or agree to sign it. Disarmament advocates believe that if the United States doesn’t sign the treaty, other nations will not sign it either.

Those in favor of banning land mines believe that the United States did not go far enough in their efforts to stop land mine usage. While the U.S. has agreed not to produce or acquire new mines or to replace expired ones, they made no agreement regarding their already existing mines, which are still potentially fatal to innocent passerby.

Not only are critics commenting on the international safety of the issue, but are stating it reflects Obama’s leadership, saying that, “Failure of President Obama to provide more decisive and prompt leadership on this issue is disappointing.” There is also fear that the treaty will get passed up while Obama is in office and the decision will be pushed onto his successor.

Stephen Goose believes the best move for the United States is to set a target date to join the treaty, in order to give themselves time to think it over, yet remain accountable and not let the issue continue to be swept under the rug.

– Courtney Prentice

Sources: New York Times, The Washington Post, UN
Photo: Money Economics

human_rights
In a report released by the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), the United States was found to be in violation of previously established human rights law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was placed into effect in the mid-1970s as international law and the U.S. has failed to uphold it with practices including torture in Guantanamo Bay, drone strikes and massive surveillance practices.

The U.S. has already broken United Nations charters multiple times with military interventions in the Middle East.

Bulk data collection however, has become one of the major domestic human rights violations following Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing of the NSA program. The UNHRC urged the U.S. to remove their surveillance program, as it is a major violation of the right to privacy.

Moreover, the surveillance spotlight in the U.S. is not limited to the NSA. The UN Congressional Intelligence Committees have addressed surveillance by executive agencies in the past, but have failed to produce any action—until just recently.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, tasked with overseeing intelligence agencies in the executive branch such as the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, have made allegations that the CIA spied on computers that the committee had used. The allegations have thus sparked ongoing conflict between the two branches of government and human rights advocates are stepping into the ring.

A 6,300 page long Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA “enhanced interrogation” program is waiting to be voted on for release. The report covers highly controversial interrogation tactics and is expected to be sent to President Barack Obama’s desk for approval to be publicly released. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s Chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has also said there is currently enough support for the vote to pass; however, the official vote is set to occur later in the week.

Concerning the release of the controversial report, President Barack Obama stated, “I would urge them to go ahead and complete the report and send it to us, and we will declassify those findings so that the American people can understand what happened in the past.”

– Jugal Patel

Sources: Politico, The Huffington Post, Foreign Policy, The Guardian, The Washington Post
Photo: Popular Resistance

obama_state_of_the_union

President Obama mentioned poverty three times in his 2014 State of the Union Address.

“Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.”

The two largest retailers in the world are Costco and Wal-Mart. Costco employees make more than $20 per hour, while Wal-Mart employees make about $12 per hour. Many Wal-Mart employees still live below the poverty line. When customers come in and spend more than an employee might make in a week, it doesn’t create a good environment for employee morale or happiness.

“In the coming weeks, I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour – because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty.”

Obama also mentioned the profitability of Costco’s operation and urges other corporations to follow Costco’s example. With a company turnover rate of five percent among employees who have been at Costco for more than a year, and less than one percent among executives, the company is surely doing something right.

Obama says that Congress needs to get on board in order to increase the minimum wage, which is worth about 20 percent less today than it was in the 1980s.

“Across Africa, we’re bringing together businesses and governments to double access to electricity and help end extreme poverty.” Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative strives to engage the next generation of leaders and strengthen partnerships between the U.S. and Africa.

Through this program, the U.S. has invested significant resources to enhance leadership and entrepreneurship in Africa. It has also invested financial resources, through USAID, to strengthen access to education, workforce training and skills development for young Africans entering the labor force. USAID has invested more than $100 million to help train the new generation of African leaders.

Haley Sklut

Sources: USA Today, Bloomberg Businessweek
Photo: Forbes

obama_state_of_the_union
United States President Barack Obama mentioned extreme poverty during the State of the Union address on January 28 while explaining that America’s leadership is in a better position than any other country to help the world.

The president said that the leadership of the U.S. is defined “by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe – to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, [and] to free people from fear and want.”

Obama made these references roughly one hour into the State of the Union address when discussing his administration’s stance on foreign policy. He said that his administration is proud of the diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iran and that he would not hesitate to use his power to protect America in case anything went wrong.

Although the U.S. is responsible for maintaining order and spreading democracy, according to Obama, the U.S. is also responsible when it comes to helping those in need.

“Across Africa, we’re bringing together business and governments to double access to electricity and help end extreme poverty,” said Obama.

But what exactly does this mean? Obama referred to is a USAID program named “Power Africa.”

USAID describes Power Africa as “a U.S. Government initiative that addresses one of the most pressing challenges to sustainable economic growth and development in sub-Saharan Africa – access to electrical power.” Obama announced this program during a visit to South Africa in 2013.

Under the program, the U.S. seeks to cooperate with African governments, the private sector, and international institutions such as the World Bank in order to “add more than 10,000 megawatts (MW) of clean, efficient electricity generation capacity.”

Obama also mentioned extreme poverty in last year’s State of the Union address. He said the U.S. would work to eliminate it within the next 20 years, according to an article by Think Progress.

Although Obama mentioned extreme poverty two years in a row, the contemporary U.S. Congress remains divided on many issues. Citizens may call their congressmen to help Capitol Hill unify and tackle the issue of poverty as well.

– Juan Campos

Sources: CBS News, Think Progress, USAID
Photo: Politico

Star Wars
When dignitaries and heads of state meet one another, the inevitable giving of gifts can be expected, and dreaded. While the notion of diplomatic gift exchanges between countries may hold a certain romantic charm, the gifts themselves rarely hold up to their expected allure. Like receiving a present from a distant relative, what one receives is rarely what one wants but unable to refuse without ruffling feathers.

As the reigning monarch of England for the past 61 years, Queen Elizabeth has received her share of useless gifts. The Economist reports that she has received “pineapples, eggs, a box of snail shells, a grove of maple trees, a dozen tins of tuna and 7kg of prawns”. To belabor the point, at her Diamond Jubilee last year, the queen received a sports shirt, 169,000 square miles on Antarctica henceforth known as Queen Elizabeth Land, and a Lego sculpture of the Tower Bridge.

While none of these items necessarily broke the bank, they illustrate the uselessness of mandatory gift giving between countries. For the woman who has everything, giving her perishable goods doesn’t help.

Since his election in 2008, President Obama has also received numerous trinkets including a Hermes golf bag and a “large silver bowl with palm tree design” with an estimated value of $3400.

As an explanation for receiving the gift, next to each listed donation on the Federal Register website is the comment, “Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government.”

It is high time for refusing gifts out of decorum be reformed.

In contrast to his political successor, President Thomas Jefferson abstained from receiving valuable gifts from foreign dignitaries, save for the occasional book or pamphlet. When he did receive a gift of note, like the several Arabian horses he received from the Tunisian ambassador in 1805, he sold them at a public auction to subsidize the cost of the ambassador’s visit.

When poverty and wealth inequality run rampant throughout the world, it is up to politicians and dignitaries to draw a line and refuse gifts they neither want nor need and instead contribute that wealth towards more noteworthy causes.

Emily Bajet

Sources: Monticello.org, Federal Register, ABC News, Politico

Like members of Congress, the President monitors emails, letters and tallies phone calls to determine which issues are important to voters. On average, the White House receives 20,000 letters and e-mails every day and they are all read by White House staff. The staff consists of 50 full-time mail analysts, 25 interns and over 1,500 volunteers who read these letters. After analyzing the letters the team then picks 10 letters per day to be read by the President.

 

1. Phone: To call the White House, the number for the comments line is 202-456-1111 and the switchboard line is 202-456-1414

2. Email: Click here to email the President. The White House prefers receiving communications from constituents via email.

3. Mail: If the letter is handwritten, it is recommended that it be in pen and neatly written. Include a return address on the letter and a work address as well, if that is an option. Send all letters to:

 

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

 

Sources: NPR, White House

 

What to Say When you Call:

“I’m a Borgen Project supporter and I would like the President to increase funding for the International Affairs Budget.”

 

 

foreign aid quotes
As divisive of an issue as foreign aid may be, there are plenty of notable American leaders, both Republicans and Democrats, who have unequivocally pronounced their support for ramping up U.S. foreign assistance efforts. Whether through an appeal to human compassion, an explanation of the link between aid and national security, or a call to wield “smart power” through diplomacy, many of these leaders have made a strong case for the role aid programs play in the country’s moral and diplomatic standing in the world.

Here are some of the top foreign aid quotes pronounced by U.S. leaders:

  • “I believe that American leadership has been wanting, but is still wanted. We must use what has been called ‘smart power’: the full range of tools at our disposal — diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural — picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation. With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy. This is not a radical idea. The ancient Roman poet Terence, who was born a slave and rose to become one of the great voices of his time, declared that ‘in every endeavor, the seemly course for wise men is to try persuasion first.’”– Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Confirmation hearing, January 2009
  • “For the United States, supporting international development is more than just an expression of our compassion. It is a vital investment in the free, prosperous, and peaceful international order that fundamentally serves our national interest.”– Former U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, October 2008 White House Summit on International Development
  • “I have said it before but it bears repeating: Aid is not a gift. The United States provides foreign assistance because it serves OUR interests.”– U.S. Representative Howard Berman (D-CA), September 8, 2011
  • “Foreign aid must be viewed as an investment, not an expense…but when foreign aid is carefully guided and targeted at a specific issue, it can and must be effective.”– U.S. Representative Kay Granger (R-TX), Huffington Post, June 2011
  • “Relations between the United States and other countries, and our role as a global leader, are advanced by our willingness to help other countries in need. Foreign aid is essential to protecting U.S. interests around the world, and it is also a moral responsibility of the wealthiest, most powerful nation.”– U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) via his office
  • “America’s civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long.”– Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, July 2008 speech to U.S Global Leadership Coalition
  • “The world we live in takes a multifaceted approach. To the American taxpayer: We need to be investing in improving people’s lives before the terrorists try to take over.”– U.S. Senator, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Foreign Policy magazine, February 2011
  • “Foreign aid is important. If it’s done right, it spreads America’s influence around the world in a positive way.”– U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), July 2011 online Town Hall session
  • “As President, I will make it a focus of my foreign policy to roll back the tide of hopelessness that gives rise to hate. Freedom must mean freedom from fear, not the freedom of anarchy … I will focus our support on helping nations build independent judicial systems, honest police forces, and financial systems that are transparent and accountable. Freedom must also mean freedom from want, not freedom lost to an empty stomach. So I will make poverty reduction a key part of helping other nations reduce anarchy.”– President Barack Obama, speaking as a candidate in August 2007 at the Woodrow Wilson International Center
  • “The programs supported by the International Affairs Budget are as essential to our national security as defense programs. Development and diplomacy protect our nation by addressing the root causes of terrorism and conflict. But it’s not just about security. By building new markets overseas for American products, the International Affairs Budget creates jobs and boosts the economy here at home.”– Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Statement on the release of the President’s FY11 International Affairs Budget request, February 2010

Nayomi Chibana
Feature Writer

Sources: InterAction, US Global Leadership, Reuters
Photo: Eco Informativo

 

Read global poverty quotes

 

Light_Africa_Beneficial
President Obama and Congress’ plan to double power to sub-Saharan Africa has people buzzing about an Africa where energy poverty is a thing of the past.

During a recent whirlwind tour of Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania, President Obama announced his Power Africa initiative, which would invest $16 billion to combat Africa’s energy deficit. Meanwhile in Congress, a bipartisan contingent led by Representatives Edward Royce (R-CA) and Elliot Engel (D-NY) introduced the Electrify Africa Act of 2013, which would provide over 20,000 megawatts of electricity to 50 million Africans by 2020.

So, why is the U.S. government so interested in turning on the lights in Africa?

The fact that millions of Africans are trying to get out of the dark certainly has something to do with it. In Senegal, only 42 percent of citizens have access to electricity. The situation in South Africa is much better where electricity is available to 75 percent of the populous. However, in Tanzania only 14 percent of the population is on the grid. This lack of energy availability continues to curtail the continent’s development.

Furthermore, the fact that the U.S. has the opportunity to reap enormous economic benefits also has something to do with it. By eradicating the energy gap and lifting Africa out of poverty through aid-based and market-driven approaches, the U.S. will be able to access markets that were previously closed.

The U.S. has a very successful track record of providing aid to countries in order for them to develop and then establishing trade partnerships with them.

Unlocking the trade potential Africa holds could be the answer to the economic woes the U.S. has been experiencing. An immense new consumer base could be created, which could mean more jobs and increased productivity.

The benefits to Africa could be profound as well–millions of people could enjoy an improved standard of life–while ushering in a new era for Africa from a hopeless continent to a legitimate investment and trade partner.

Diminishing global poverty by narrowing the energy gap is essential for any of these benefits to take place.

– Aaron Faust

Sources: White House Press Release, H.R. 2548: Electrify Africa Act of 2013, Access to electricity in SenegalWorld Bank
Photo: Philips

Obama_Tanzania_Power_Africa
On July 1st, at the end of his tour of Africa, President Obama visited Tanzania. Only a day removed from unveiling his ‘Power Africa’ initiative in Cape Town, Obama visited the Norwegian-built Ubungo power station, an example of the style of public-private investment that America is promoting throughout Africa.

The Power Africa initiative has a goal of adding more than 10,000MW of cleaner, more efficient energy in sub-Saharan Africa over the next five years. The initiative will provide electrical access to a further 20 million households. Currently, as many as two-thirds of people in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to power, thus the project will serve as an important step in kick-starting local economies by powering businesses and encouraging investors.

Six countries have been designated for the initial stages of the venture – Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Tanzania. These countries will be aided by a mix of public and private funding. The U.S. is pledging $7 billion in public funding which, combined with the $9 billion of private money,  will be fronted for the start of the project. General Electric alone has committed to bringing 5,000MW of power to Ghana and Tanzania.

Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Kenya combined make up nearly half of the population of sub-Saharan Africa, and Ghana, Tanzania, and Liberia stand as examples of stable democratic governments on the continent.

After his tour of Ubungo, Obama said, ‘This is a win-win. It’s a win for Africans — families get to electrify their homes; businesses can run their plants; investors can say if we locate in an African country that they’re going to be able to power up in a reliable way. All this will make economies grow. It’s a win for the United States because the investments made here, including in cleaner energy, means more exports for the U.S. and more jobs in the U.S.”

– David Wilson

Sources: The Economist, The Hill, Council on Foreign Relations
Photo: The Blade

Obama Electrify Africa
According to the International Energy Agency, all developing nations lack adequate access to electricity. This amounts to 1.3 billion people living in the dark worldwide. According to the same source, an investment of $1 trillion USD would be needed to remedy this. Currently, poverty and hunger take center stage. Food is of more use to a starving child than is a night light, but Westerners often take for granted how valuable the power of light can be to a community in poverty.

Not only does electricity make lives easier on a personal level, it helps to mechanize farming operations, which can be a great boost to a company’s agricultural productivity. Natural disasters often become less deadly when people are warned about them ahead of time, which can be accomplished with electric monitoring systems. Socially, populations are less marginalized with improved means of communication and information.

President Barack Obama said during his recent trip to South Africa, “Access to electricity is fundamental to opportunity in this age. It’s the light that children study by, the energy that allows an idea to be transformed into a real business. It’s the lifeline for families to meet their most basic needs, and it’s the connection that’s needed to plug Africa into the grid of the global economy.” President Obama then pledged almost $7 billion USD to help provide electricity for Africa.

The White House stated that The Export-Import Bank will carry most of the financial weight of the program, donating $5 billion, and the U.S. Oversees Private Investment Corporation will provide another $1.5 billion.

The funds will go toward preventing the frequent blackouts that plague the Sub-Saharan part of the continent, as well as helping the 85% percent of people in the region without electricity gain access to it. Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Mozambique will be the first countries to benefit from the program as it is developed at preliminary stages.

The investment is a great step toward solving the problem, but in all, Africa alone will need $300 billion to achieve universal electricity by 2030. The Alliance for Rural Electrification, a non-government organization, is another ally in combating this issue. As champions of universal electrification, ARE focuses on renewable energy such as solar, which much of Africa is a strong candidate for. This is especially relevant for areas that are geographically isolated where extending the reach of an existing power grid is not feasible.

– Samantha Mauney

Source: ARE, Scientific American, CNN
Photo: Business Insider