Will the US foreign aid budget continue its decline? | 

US Foreain Aid snapshot

An increase in the foreign affairs budget for 2014 saw an end to a four year decline in the US. Discussions are now taking place over the Fiscal Year 2015 budget and the downward trend may resume.

That is what will happen if Rep Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget proposal wins out. If President Obama gets his way, funds will hold steady at $44.1 billion. While it looks likely that foreign aid will be safe from cuts, thanks to is strong supporters, being back on the chopping block is a cause for concern for foreign aid supporters.

Ryan’s cuts into foreign aid appear to be based more on a belief that it is an unnecessary expenditure. The proposed Ryan budget led to public cries to protect the US foreign aid budget. Supporters like to point out that it represents less than 1% of the total federal budget.

Making cuts to such a small program will do little to help reduce US government debt and will harm the people who benefit from US aid work. Ryan has acknowledged this fact in the past, but continues to propose cuts. Foreign aid advocates are pushing against Ryan’s plan by pointing to the damage it will cause to US foreign policy interests.

“Now is not the time to cut America’s vital tools of national security given the growing number of hotspots around the globe,” said General Anthony Zinni, Co-Chair of U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s National Security Advisory Council. “The International Affairs Budget has already seen large reductions in the past few years, and now is not the time to diminish America’s leadership in the world.”

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Oscar winner shines light on problem of modern slavery | 

A scene from 12 Years a Slave.
A scene from 12 Years a Slave.

The annual ceremony celebrating accomplishments in film started with red carpet gawking and ended with a sober reminder.

Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live,” said Director Steve McQueen after his film, 12 Years a Slave, won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

“This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup. I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery, and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today.”

12 Years a Slave is an adaptation of a little known book written by Solomon Northup. The free black man was kidnapped when in Washington DC in 1841. The book recounts the twelve years he spent as a slave in Louisiana. The book was initially successful, but was not well known until it was re-discovered by a pair of researchers in the 1960s. The film version of Northup’s story garnered widespread praise for the director and the actors in it.

The Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln 151 years ago, making slavery feel like a distant memory. McQueen’s few words served as a reminder that the abhorrent practice is far from over around the world. Slavery today takes many forms, from the trafficking of women in the sex trade to the use of children for labor. Mauritania was the last country to abolish slavery, in 2007, and it still deals with the problem.

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US power is declining and it’s a good thing | 

The rest of the world is catching up to and will soon pass the dominant US.  It is estimated that today’s developing countries will be responsible for roughly two-thirds of the global GDP by 2030.

That is great news for the US and Europe, if the right steps are taken, says Charles Kenny, resident optimist and Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development. His book The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Good for the West describes why the future is rosy for the world. Although the economic center of gravity is heading back East, there is reason to be excited about what is to come.

The rise of the economies of China, India and Brazil are all but a foregone conclusion. Recent hiccups aside, the emerging economies of today will be meaningful economic forces in the coming decades.

The once dominant US will concede its top spot in the coming years. What it means for the world is where experts begin to diverge.

“[T]he fortunes of Americans have irreversibly declined and their future has been mortgaged,” has repeated Shanghai venture capitalist Eric Li in the Huffington Post, New York Times and elsewhere.

Fears emerged during the recent financial crisis that China would take advantage of the fact that it holds a large amount of US debt. Such concerns overstated the ability of the Chinese economy. Current trade deals and organizations are already normalizing trade, and China is not at a point where it could weather a serious global trade disruption.

“If China was to really strong arm the rest of the planet some way or another—try to push a really biased trade deal or manipulate its currency—the cost would be greater to it,” said Kenny to Humanosphere. “It is far more exposed, when looking at its trade, than the US.”

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UN certain chemical weapons used in Syria, US agrees, Russia dissents | 

UN SG Ban shares remarks on the chemical weapons report.
UN SG Ban shares remarks on the chemical weapons report.

The much anticipated report from United Nations chemical weapons inspectors in Syria was finally released on Monday. The group’s findings pointed towards the use of chemical weapons by Syrian armed forces. The US and UN made strong statements about Syria’s use of the weapons. Russia is again the dissenter.

However, the Syrian government is not directly assigned blame. Rather the information provided in the report strongly indicates that the attacks were carried out by Syrian government troops.

“The environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide a clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent Sarin were used,” conclude the inspectors.
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Why is the red line at chemical weapons? | 

Red Line

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke passionately about the abhorrent act of Syrian forces deploying chemical weapons to kill hundreds of people last week.

“What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality,” said Kerry.

“Let me be clear: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders, by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity.”

Analysts suggest that Kerry’s remarks represent the US taking yet another step closer to intervention in Syria’s civil war. Lawmakers like Senator John McCain are pushing hard for the Obama Administration to take a more active role. The president’s invocation of a red line on the issue of chemical weapons has been a source of debate and anger for those supporting US action in Syria.
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Romney-Ryan campaign lives on in Kenya! | 


Orbit Village Project

Obama may have won his second term and Mitt Romney has retreated to his Wolfboro, NH lakeside home, but the campaign continues in Kenya.

Well, not exactly, but the Romney-Ryan campaign shirts that are no longer needed are being distributed to people in one Kenyan community.

The Orbit Village Project was founded by Tennessee philanthropist Cyndy Waters. She happens to have a nephew who worked for the Romney-Ryan campaign. The program that provides education services to young children came up with a solution: give away the tshirts to the kids and members in the community.

“The gift of several hundred T-shirts and hats from the Romney campaign was a real blessing to us,” explains Waters to BuzzFeed.

The practice of giving away clothing has previously come under criticism.

The Seattle-based organization World Vision caught the attention of bloggers in 2011 when they touted the donation of 100,000 articles of clothing from the NFL printed with the loser of the Super Bowl. Somewhere in Nicaragua there are shirts that say the Patriots won the 2008 Super Bowl and completed their undefeated season. Continue reading

Is the US now a legitimate player in Africa? | 

President Obama wrapped up his tour of sub-Saharan Africa. His $7 billion initiative to increase electricity access in the region called Power Africa was the biggest news from the visit. Some saw the move as a rebuff to China who has been spending more and more money on building roads, bridges and ports in sub-Saharan Africa.

Harvard professor Calestous Juma disagrees. The Kenyan agriculture academic says the trip is about asserting the US as a legitimate player in the region.

African leaders have set their own development priorities, and Obama’s messages were aligned with their aspirations. The challenge is to bring all of Africa in the spirit of the African Union around the table with President Obama to chart an equally practical way forward.

Africa’s global interests are shifting from relief programs and relations on raw material exports to domestic capability, development and trade. U.S. government programs such as the Feed the Future which emphasize the need for Africa to feed itself offer new cooperation models.

In this spirit, perhaps aid programs such as PEPFAR (the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) should include joint venture initiatives that involve the shift of pharmaceutical production to Africa. The continent’s next frontier of engagement with the rest of the world will increasingly involve such joint ventures.


Obama puts $7 billion behind increasing electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa | 

Obama takes the stage in Cape Town.
Obama takes the stage in Cape Town.
Ari Shapiro

Amid all the attention on the health status of former South African President Nelson Mandela, President Obama unveiled a new initiative during his sub-Saharan African tour that will increase access to power in the region.

The President outlined a plan for engaging with Africa on the fronts of trade and democracy. US support for trade comes with a new $7 billion packaged called Power Africa.

The United States will partner with Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania to increase power capacity and bring electricity to at least 20 million new households.

The plan also includes partnerships with Uganda and Mozambique to support the nations’ management of their oil and gas resources.

“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,” said President Obama at the University of Cape Town on Sunday.

“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.  You’ve got to have power.” Continue reading