On July 16 the Senate passed an international child abduction bill by voice vote. The bill, inspired by David Goldman’s five year struggle to bring his son Sean back to the United States from Brazil, aims to enhance the federal government’s ability to aid U.S. parents in rescuing their children abducted abroad.

Aptly titled the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, the bill is now headed to the House of Representatives for approval. It was first introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Mendez (D-NJ) and ranking Republican Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Commenting on the bill’s Senate approval, Menendez stated, “I encourage my colleagues in the House to act swiftly to protect our children.”

The Sean and David Goldman bill serves to bolster a similar bill passed unanimously by the House in December of 2013. That bill, H.R. 3212, was sponsored by New Jersey Republican Chris Smith. The bill currently headed to the House would provide funds for the training of foreign officials in abduction matters for the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years. The bill also requires the State Department to produce a comprehensive annual report detailing international parental child abductions.

It is reported that over 1,000 children from the United States are noted missing in international abduction cases annually. This figure, and the impending fissure of families which it entails, is evidence of the urgent problem of kidnapping on the international level. It also raises concern over the communication, or lack thereof, between the U.S. and foreign officials to locate these children and assist in their safe return to their families. The pressure to ensure this process occurs as efficiently as possible is now upon the House.

– Taylor Dow
Sources: APP, Political News, Tennessean
Photo: Hukuk de Ner

Who is my Congressman
Have you ever wondered who speaks on behalf of the voters for the area you live in? There may be a number of issues that citizens are passionate about and even push for bills supporting their causes to be passed. So the real question, then, becomes who is my congressman? Who is designated to speak on behalf of myself and neighbors of those in power to change what is going on?

It is a question that should be asked by every young adult registering to vote and even veteran voters that may not be as conscious of the person currently representing them in office. Sure, we see their names on papers, maybe even in emails, but many times that is where it stops. So when you ask yourself who your congressman is, you may not be able to answer further than a name on a sheet of paper.

The Congress is made up of 100 U.S. Senators and 435 U.S. Representatives in the House of Representatives. The number of representatives for any state depends on the population, not the size. For example, there are 27 representatives for the state of Florida, compared to the 7 representatives for Alabama.

Congress makes up the federal government alongside the President. Both branches determine how much funding goes to programs ranging from healthcare to programs related to living conditions of the world’s poor. That means that members of the congress play a very important role in the lives of people around the world.

Members of the House of Representatives are commonly referred to as Congressmen or Congresswomen. Each representative is responsible for a district in your state depending on how many representatives you have. States with larger populations, like New York, will likely have different representatives for neighboring cities and areas.

It is important to educate yourself on who will be representing you in the federal government. Regardless of how we may feel about a particular representative, these individuals are selected to speak on behalf of “the people.” Not only do they represent the voters of their respective states, but they stand for whatever changes voters wish to enact and even stop.

Just as Congress has a heavy influence on U.S. funding, citizens have just as much influence on members of congress in their respectable districts. When asked who my Congressman is, I answer with confidence, Representative Ron Desantis, Republican.

Janelle Mills

Sources: The Borgen Project, EDHP
Photo: Wall Street Daily

house of representatives budget
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a two-year, bipartisan budget plan that moves onto the Senate next week before going to President Barack Obama.

The budget passed overwhelmingly in a 332 to 94 vote, including 164 Democrats and 169 Republicans. President Obama has expressed his support for the bill. In addition to budget allocation, the bill addresses the sexual assault cases in the military. Military commanders no longer have the ability to overturn sexual assault cases and victims of sexual assault in the military have greater protections.

The bill outlines $1.012 trillion in government spending, reducing the deficit by more than $20 billion. The bill includes more targeted spending cuts in order to balance spending. $63 billion is allocated to temporary sequester relief, and $85 billion worth of programs have been cut from the budget. The plan includes funding for the Affordable Care Act, increased government spending, and increased taxes. Republican say the new deal is moving “in the wrong direction,” but Democrats call the bill “a small positive step forward.”

The budget does not include unemployment benefit extensions for the one million Americans whose benefits are set to expire in January, but White House spokesman Jay Carney urged Congress to take up the issue in 2014.

The 2014 budget does not solve any major problems, but it avoids another period of government shutdown. Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin says the budget “reduces the deficit—without raising taxes. And it does so by cutting spending in a smarter way. It doesn’t go as far as I’d like, but it’s a firm step in the right direction. This agreement will stop Washington’s lurch from crisis to crisis. It will bring stability to the budget process and show both parties can work together.” In a year where Congress has only passed 15 bills, many fear bipartisan cooperation is dead.

Stephanie Lamm

Sources: Al Jazeera, CNN, Slate, House of Representatives

How to Run for Senate
There are some practical requirements to run for Senate that must be looked after first and foremost. An eligible Senator must be:

  1. 30 years of age or older
  2. A United States resident for at least 9 years
  3. A resident of the state they are running in

A person must also meet certain State requirements for running that will vary depending on which state you live in. This may include registering with the political party and generally being eligible to vote among other things. For instance, in order to get on the ballot Tennessee requires that the person running for the position to:

  1. Obtain a qualifying petition from a county election commission office or the office of the Coordinator of Elections.
  2. Have 25 signatures on the petition from the candidate’s legislative district, as well as the candidate’s own signature.
  3. File the petition by April 5th with the office of the State Election Commission and a certified duplicate in the office of the Coordinator of Elections. As well as a certified duplicate the candidate’s affiliated political party chair.

Once the federal and state requirements have been met, the general business of running for office can begin. Keep in mind that once a candidate has received $5,000 towards their campaign, they must register officially with the Federal Elections Committee within 15 days of reaching that threshold.

There are also some other things to consider:

  • It would be helpful to have a solid background in politics, either through education or personal experience. Voters are more likely to take a candidate seriously if they seem to know what they are doing and have the evidence to back it up. This isn’t necessary as successful Senators have come from all kinds of backgrounds, but at least make sure to know the basics.
  • Make sure to have a coherent, defined message and stance on issues before running. Not declaring these things first and foremost leaves it open for the competition to sway the public and for the public to become disenchanted easily.
  • Stay in the public eye by hosting events targeted to specific groups or industries. By targeting in this way not only keeps the campaign present in the minds of the voters, but it also garners the interest and support of larger organizations or businesses.
  • Creating a well-known public persona throughout the constituency can also bring in voters. Seeing a name in the news or listed as a part of organizations helps to solidify you in a person’s memory. It is important to stay in regular contact with a list of people in the media by sending them press releases about your latest speech or event.
  • Just because you are voted into the Senate, it does not mean that you’ll make an impact right away. In a New York Times article, former Senator Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming said, “The first couple of years you just try to look like you’re smart. I just tried to dress well and show up and hope they’d think I was smart. The first two or three years were really tough.”

– Chelsea Evans

Sources: Federal Election Commission, Tennessee Democratic Party, United States Senate, 5 Secrets to Winning a Political Campaign, 3 Quick Political Tips, NY Times
Photo: Peace Corps Connect

Locally Produced Food and U.S. Aid Efficiency
The House and Senate are in the process of debating multiple versions of the farm bill, which may affect the way food aid is delivered. The Obama administration has suggested an overhaul to allow food aid to be bought and distributed locally, rather than grown in American and shipped abroad. Both the House and the Senate have rejected this principle, with the Senate approving a significantly scaled-back version of the suggested plan.

Local and regional procurement (LRP), the purchase of food within the area where it is to be distributed, has many advantages. LRP cuts delivery time by an average of 13.8 weeks, according to an extensive study completed out of Cornell University. LRP can also decrease the cost of food aid, especially with transportation. For example, local grain purchases are extremely effective at cost reduction, with an average savings of 53%. It has been suggested that locally procured food may be safer and of higher quality. The previously mentioned study found that LRP recipients were universally more satisfied than recipients of foods shipped from overseas.

The purchase of local foods also supports local farmers in developing economies and has been found to have generally negligible effects on local market price levels and their volatility. Additionally, local companies may have a better understanding of the recipient communities and markets than U.S. companies do. Distributing locally produced foods can also be safer. According to Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, shipping large amounts of food aid into some war-torn areas is an extremely dangerous and prolonged process.

Despite all the benefits of LRP, there are a few concerns that should be raised. Local markets may not be able to support rapidly increased demand, and this may result in increased prices that put non-recipients at a disadvantage. In addition, food safety and quality are extremely varied and difficult to monitor overseas. It is also inadvisable to rely on local vendors that have not been proven consistent when attempting to get food to people who are starving.

The Obama administration’s suggested plan concerned the main U.S. food aid program, called “Food for Peace.” The changes would mean using up to 45% of “Food for Peace” funding to buy food locally. However, both the House and the Senate have rejected this idea. The House Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture has approved a version of the farm bill for debate on the House floor that advises a 20% cut to the “Food for Peace” program. Meanwhile, the Senate has passed a bill that would increase annual funding for the purchase of local products by 50%, to $60 million. This is still a minute portion of the $1.8 billion spent on food aid each year. While the changes suggested by the Senate are commendable, they should be seen as a small step in the right direction, rather than a complete solution.

– Katie Fullerton
Source: NPR, The Columbus Dispatch, Reuters
Photo: Organic Connections

Why Military Leaders Oppose Foreign Aid Cuts
The link between the alleviation of global poverty and the assurance of national security is one that has been promoted by high-ranking military officials for decades. According to the United States Global Leadership Committee, 84% of military officials say that strengthening development and diplomacy efforts should be at least equal to strengthening military efforts.

This is because they recognize the connection between the grievances that spawn from those in abject poverty and the propensity toward terrorism. They can see that investing in human welfare in developing nations has the capacity to ensure freedom from violent extremist groups.

On March 13, 2013, Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) released the Senate’s Budget Resolution for the fiscal year of 2014. In this resolution, a 9.6% (about $4 billion) increase in U.S. foreign assistance was proposed. In response, two senators proposed amendments that would reduce this figure significantly. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) proposed to cut aid to Egypt as well as to suspend funding to the United Nations while any member nation legally allows forced involuntary abortions.

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), however, proposed very drastic cuts to foreign assistance as a whole. His amendment to the resolution included a 33% cut- about $15 billion. When this failed in the Senate, he proposed an aid freeze at $5 billion.

Approximately a week later, Paul received a letter from USGLC’s National Security Advisory Council expressing its disapproval of the proposed amendments. In it, they implore the senator to acknowledge that cutting funding for development and diplomacy programs would do little to salvage the nation’s fiscal problems. After all, foreign assistance only comprises 1% of the federal budget.

Admiral James M. Loy and General Michael W. Hagee, the chief authors of the letter, argue that in order for the United States to be successful in their efforts abroad, they “must balance strategically all three aspects of national power and international influence- defense, diplomacy, and development.” These are the Pentagon’s official “3D’s” for protecting the United States.

The letter makes it clear that their perspectives are much more useful in discerning the importance of development and diplomacy programs. As officers in the United States military, they have had the first-hand experience in the regions that need foreign assistance the most.  They also urge the senator to look past the monetary value of these programs and instead consider the cost in human lives.

Military leaders oppose foreign aid cuts because they have seen that the Department of Defense cannot handle the world’s issues single-handedly. A multi-level approach, both militarily and non-militarily, is necessary to ensure national security. Additionally, they see military intervention as a last-resort solution to an existing problem. Diplomacy and development, however, can fix the problems before they even begin.

– Kathryn Cassibry

Source: United States Global Leadership Committee
Photo: IBT