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

With global economic hegemony, many believe it is the inherent responsibility of the United States to project its wealth out unto those who are less fortunate. As the purported “City upon the Hill”, the United States has employed various forms of foreign aid aimed at bringing up less fortunate global actors. As we will see, foreign aid takes on many forms and is directed towards not only the poorer nations. More often than not, foreign aid is funneled to promote American interests, rather than humanitarian ones. The earliest incantation of foreign aid, the 1948 Marshall Plan, is largely responsible for bringing Europe out of the destruction of World War II, yet its inspiration was to stem the spread of communism throughout Europe. Today, foreign aid has proven to be a valuable arrow in our diplomatic quiver in both humanitarian and geopolitical senses. The following list represents the top three recipients of U.S. foreign aid in 2012, and, perhaps, provides some insight into the varying purposive goals of U.S. foreign aid.

1. Israel ($3.075 Billion)

If you pay any attention whatsoever to American politics, it is no secret that the subject of Israel is a weighty one when it comes to U.S. international and domestic political considerations. Moreover, Israel’s yearly position as the top recipient of U.S foreign aid sheds light on the nature of foreign aid. Israel is by no means a developing nation. In fact, the private Israeli sector is spearheading a new age of scientific and technological advancements. Without any doubt, the lion’s share of this aid goes towards beefing up defense and military resources. For example, Israel’s Iron Dome technology, aimed at intercepting incoming missiles, comes with an exceedingly high price tag. The position of Israel on this list sheds light on the subject and nature of USAID. It is clear that the abundance of aid towards Israel serves as a means of protecting US interests in the Middle East and against increasingly aggressive posturing from Russia and Iran.

2. Afghanistan ($2.327 Billion)

Not surprisingly, Afghanistan has come in second on this list. After years of war attempting to stem the tide of terrorism in the region, the U.S. has directed foreign aid to the region to fund both the Afghan military as well as for the purposes of General Chrystal’s Counterinsurgency (COIN) ideology. After funding the Afghan military and police, the remaining aid is funneled towards aspects of soft power. Through building schools and hospitals, the United States hopes to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, which in turn, is hoped to be effective in preventing further insurgency.

3. Pakistan ($2.102 Billion)

Aid channeled towards Pakistan represents a unique form of Foreign Aid. It is no secret that Pakistan is one of the most potentially volatile regions on the planet. With a seemingly never ending dispute with India and rising Islamic extremism, the prospect of instability is one that must be avoided at all costs. Unlike Afghanistan, Pakistan has nuclear weapons; the prospect of these falling into the hands of the wrong people is something the global community cannot allow. With this understanding the brunt of USAID to Pakistan has gone towards building up a governmental infrastructure suited to international cooperation. With the ever-present possibility of corruption, foreign aid is the proverbial “carrot”, as opposed to the “stick” levied against Afghanistan. After sustained efforts to battle extremism, it is entirely against US foreign interests for the Taliban to gain a political foothold in Pakistan. Through creating an infrastructure not suitable to their political ideology, foreign aid dollars can go much further than they would battling symptoms of terrorism and extremism.

– Thomas van der List

Sources: Washington Post, USAID, ABC News
Photo: The National

Pastor Runs Across the U.S. for Clean Water

Steve Spear never imagined that he would be running across the country for any reason. But this year he joined up with World Vision to raise money for clean water access in Africa doing that very thing. With more than 6,000 children dying every day because they lack potable water and access to sanitation, it is a very worthy cause. And with the 3,000 miles from Los Angeles to New York between Steve and his goal, it will be a very tiresome trek.

For most of his life, Steve could not stand running or even the idea of running, especially not a marathon. But after a few marathons in the U.S and a lot of encouragement from Reverend Paul Jansen Van Rensburg, he finally agreed to run the 56-mile marathon in South Africa for World Vision, a Christian global aid group, in 2010. At that time he raised $150,000 and he caught the fundraising bug.

Later that year the idea to run across America came to him while completing a 15-mile run. At first, he was inclined to dismiss the whole thing as crazy. But, after a year of consideration, he finally decided to quit the job he loved and make it all a reality. Steve trained and fund-raised for the upcoming event until April of this year when he was ready to start his journey. Ever since he left California he has been running or walking about 35 miles a day, the equivalent of a marathon, only taking weekends off to speak of different churches and events along the way.

Ultimately his goal is to raise 1.5 million dollars for World Vision, an amount that would provide $30,000 African people with access to clean water. In comparison, during 2012 World Vision provided enough money to help 962,650 people get clean water. So, if he reaches his goal, Spear will be doing 31% of World Vision’s fundraising for them.

This weekend he will be in Chicago, about 2,000 from his starting point, and so far he has raised a little over $130,000 towards his cause. This does not seem to interfere with his hope, though, Spear told the Chicago Tribune, “We still have a whole lot of ground to cover and a bunch of miles to still run,” he said. “We’re hopeful.”

– Chelsea Evans
Sources: Chicago Tribune, World Vision
Photo: Flickr

The Hunger Games Global Poverty
For a young adult series, Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games offers a surprisingly biting criticism of the status quo in the West. Her story is one of a privileged district in society that is altogether indifferent to the suffering going on outside its boundaries.  Although Collin disguises it with different names, she has not ventured far from our present reality of global poverty.

The Hunger Games is set in a dystopic future world, where citizens live in an area divided by districts. District One & Two are the wealthiest, and control the majority of the resources. As they spread further and further out, the regions become more impoverished. The heroine of the novel, Katniss Everdeen, is from the last, District 13, and relies on her wits, her will and a crude bow and arrow to support her family. Through its fantastical descriptions, outlandish characters and futuristic technology, Collins’ world manages to appear quite distinct from our own. Yet, in a thinly veiled criticism Collins has painted an unsettling portrait of ourselves and the world we live in.


The Hunger Games: A Lesson on Global Poverty


The parallel escapes many of the fans of the books, but those who live in District One are akin to the top percent in the world: they have enough to eat, access to clean water, safe homes and opportunities for betterment. For this percentage of the world, daily life is not a struggle: it is a thing to be enjoyed, to find happiness and meaning, to indulge in fads and fancies and fashion. Much like the District One in the books, the humans in District One seem bizarre and alien in comparison to those struggling on the fringes. They have none of the same concerns and seem largely unaware of the brutal reality that exists just beyond their borders.

The Hunger Games offers an uncomfortable mirror to our own world. In our daily lives, we often obsess about trivialities: we track celebrities, dedicate time to watching who wore what dress, aim to buy smartphones and cars while the vast majority of the world struggles to scrape a living out of the most dire circumstances.

As audiences, we automatically condemn District One; without even meeting them, we judge everyone in it and see the plot’s revolution as inevitable and cheer for Katniss. In reality, however, we are not quite as benevolent. We are quick to make excuses to preserve self-interest. Poverty and the state of the world do not often rank among our daily concerns, as much as what to wear and what people think of us. On the national scale, US foreign aid consists of less than 1% of the budget; this covers everything from healthcare to military aid to food assistance.

The Hunger Games has captivated a number of readers in the United States; and yet, for some, Collins has posed a very uncomfortable and very important question – what makes us so different from District One?

– Farahnaz Mohammed