South Korea De-Criminalizing Abortions

Last Thursday, South Korea’s Constitutional Court declared that a 1953 ban on abortions was unconstitutional, giving the South Korean Parliament until 2020 to revise the law. If the Parliament fails to pass a revision, the law will become null and void.

Before the ban was uplifted, the 66 year law stated that should a woman receive and abortion, she could face up to a year in prison and a fine of up to 2 million won ($1750 USD). Doctors that performed an illegal abortion could face up to 2 years in prison. Although illegal, the law failed to be enforced— in 2017, the state-sponsored Korean Institute for Health and Affairs estimated that 49,700 abortions had taken place. However, across the span of 2012 and 2017 only 80 women and doctors went to trial for the charge of illegal abortions.

The change in legislation was supported by a majority of the South Korean people according to recent polls. The law was made in a time when the nation was one of the least developed in the world, and where more conservative social policies were commonplace. South Korea has rapidly modernized since the turn of the 21st century, becoming a world economic and political leader. The ban on abortion is a rare vestigial law, with South Korea being one of the only developed countries with an abortion plan still in place. The decriminalization of abortion is indicative of an increasingly socially liberal politics and population.

Although many in Korea see this as a necessary social reform, there are still many conservative groups opposed to the change. On April 6th, anti-abortion protestors convened in Seoul for the “March for Life”. The population of South Korea is heavily Evangelical Christian, and many affiliated religious groups have contention with the morality of abortion.

Japan, a rapidly developing country similar to South Korea, now faces a population crisis with declining birth rates— a smaller young population cannot support the older population. Some fear that this could act as the nail in the coffin to a declining population, and plunge Korea into a similar situation as Japan.

Although there is still opposition to the decision, this indicates a growing socially liberal awareness in South Korea.

Boeing 737 Crash

In the past five months, two Boeing 737 Max plane models have crashed, killing hundreds in the process. The first incident was in October, on Lion Air Flight 610, where 189 people died. The second was Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10 th , where 17 were killed.

There has been much speculation regarding what actually caused these incidents. A large amount of evidences points to the automated system used to avoid stalling. Specifically, in the Ethiopian crash, it was reported that the captain and first officers were unable to prevent the aircraft from nose diving, even though they followed procedure.

The faulty sensors of the Boeing 737 have been under intense scrutiny. The sensing system, called the MCAS, is suspected to have incorrectly pushed the front of the plane downwards. Investigators are still looking into what exactly led to the faults.

As a result of these crashes, aviation regulators internationally have decided to ground the plane model. There were thousands of unfilled orders of the model, but after the crashes, orders significantly dropped, and the company’s revenue dipped. The company has run into criticism on the design and approval of the plane.

On May 4th, a military-chartered Boeing 737, similar to the 737 Max, slid into a river in Jacksonville, Florida. None of the 143 passengers were killed, however the pets on board have not been retrieved.

In international travel, one will always consider safety as a factor. Especially in air travel, even when the risk is relatively low, the possibility of major errors in passenger safety measures will always be a major concern.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern: Upholding the Values of the UN

Jacinda Ardern may be the youngest female Prime Minister in the history of New Zealand, but she has been rather surprisingly catapulted to the international stage following the horrific Christchurch terror attacks, Islamophobia-inspired shootings at mosques which claimed 51 lives. Since then, her passionate advocacy for gun-control laws and against religious hatred have been accoladed as a paragon of leadership following such a tragedy. Immediately following the attack, she met with the families of the victims and grieved with them, continuously reaffirming that the Muslim community is one with the people of New Zealand. She also referred to the killer as a “terrorist” and refused to say his name. In a time of growing Islamophobia and xenophobia, she stated that “ Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities - New Zealand is their home - they are us."

Prime Minister Ardern has also committed to ensuring that there will be no more Christ churched. Less than a week after the shooting, she announced a ban on military-style semi-automatic guns and assault rifles like those used in the terror attack, as well as rolling out a gun buyback plan to ensure that “fair and reasonable” compensation be paid to law-abiding gun owners in New Zealand. This was lauded by political figures the world over, including US Senator Bernie Sanders, who stated that “This is what real action to stop gun violence looks Like.”

Although Ms. Ardern may be most known for her swift action following Christchurch, she has also advocated for the cause of human rights across the globe. Speaking in front of the United Nations in September of this year, she covered a vast range of topics from Me Too to climate change. On the former, she said that “I for one will never celebrate the gains we have made for women domestically, while internationally other women and girls experience a lack of the most basic of opportunity and dignity”, and that “Me Too must become We Too.” On global warming, she chose not to stick her head in the metaphorical sand, instead referring to the undermining of climate agreements as “catastrophic” and called upon member nations to work together multilaterally to solve this pressing issue. While meeting with Li Xi, the Party Secretary of Guangdong Province in China, she raised concerns over the treatment of Uighur Muslims and similarly did so with Aung San Suu Kyi in regards to the Rohingya crisis, offering the help of New Zealand to fix the latter issue.

Jacinda Ardern may be relatively young, but it is clear she is committed, at least on a vocal level to remember the “lessons of history”, saying that “ In an increasingly uncertain world it is more important than ever that we remember the core values on which the UN was built. “That all people are equal, that everyone is entitled to have their dignity and human rights respected, that we must strive to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom and we must consistently hold ourselves to account on each.” She has clearly worked to uphold these values, and many people both in New Zealand and across the world hope to see her continue to lead with a promise of equality and safety for all people.

Climate Change Overview: Egypt

Nowadays, scientists generally agree that human-made climate change – the effect of greenhouse gas emissions from things like cars and factories – is what has caused a constant increase in sea level and warm weather. However, the impacts of such things, the socio-economic impacts on less economically developed nations, is ignored far too often. Egypt, a nation riddled with fear and terror, with an unstable government and constant revolutions and military coups, is already not faring well. With a 12% unemployment rate and with 27% of its population below the poverty line, the last thing Egypt needs is an external force driving it's people further into the ground. Egypt's, a country that rests besides the Mediterranean Sea, two main income sources are agriculture and tourism: two things that climate change will specifically impact.

As crops are destroyed by the sea and the weather becomes so unbearably hot that to drives tourists away, the world will see as Egypt, along with many other struggling nations, descends into chaos. Rising sea levels are affecting the Nile River delta, the triangle where the Nile spreads out and drains into the sea. It's where Egypt grows most of its crops. According to the world bank, Egypt is one of the countries that will be most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. All along the Sea's waterfront, the Egyptian government has erected barriers in an attempt to prevent flooding caused by ever-stronger winter storms. There's no beach in Egypt anymore since the sand washed away years ago. Many scientists predict a sea level rise of a further two feet by the end of the century. Some historic buildings are already crumbling, as salt water seeps into the bricks. Entire neighborhoods could be submerged. And who is this affecting? Nations that can barely afford to sustain themselves under normal conditions. Experts say that the effects of hotter weather, including reduced rainfall, would cut agricultural productivity by 15 to 20 percent – a huge blow to a country already struggling to feed its people.

Poverty in Haiti

Though Haiti was first colonized by the Spanish and then by the French, this Caribbean nation has been independent since the late 18th century when half a million slaves overthrew the French. In spite of its status as a free nation for over 200 years, Haiti is one of the poorest nations in the world. 59% of the population is considered poor, living on less than $2 a day. A quarter of the population is “extremely poor”, living on less than $1.25 per day. Two thirds (some estimates say half) the population is unemployed. Income inequality is extreme with the top 20% owning 64% of national wealth. To top it all, Haiti is prone to significant natural disasters, the most recent being an earthquake in 2010 that cost more than 300,000 lives and left over 1.5 million people homeless. Even before the earthquake over 25% of the population had no access to power. According to Transparency International, Haiti ranks 161 out of 180 countries in terms of corruption. They believe that there is a direct link between corruption and poverty. The World Bank suggested a four pronged approach to addressing Haiti’s poverty:

(1) Promote inclusive growth by providing access to energy and financing

(2) Investing in human capital by providing access to primary education, healthcare, and clean water

(3) Ability to deal with climate and natural disasters by investing in infrastructure

(4) Improving governance and reducing corruption and increasing transparency and accountability of public officials

One approach to understanding how to address poverty in Haiti is to look at global trends in poverty. The World Bank estimates that between 1990 and 2015 over a billion people moved out of poverty. This is now the lowest percentage of poor people in history. Much of this success in addressing poverty can be largely attributed to China and India. However, in some other parts of the world like Sub-Saharan Africa and places like Haiti, poverty seems to be getting more entrenched. A broader definition of poverty can also be helpful. Though most studies focus on the monetary notion of poverty and link it to a threshold such as earning less than $1.25 per day, a better measure might be multi-dimensional such as access to clean water, primary education, energy, sanitation, and infrastructure services. This broader view truly reflects the overall quality of life and enables governments to tackle each issue more directly and effectively.

Spy Cams In South Korea: My Life is Not Your Porn

A recent crisis that has blown up in not only South Korean, but international news, is the spy cam epidemic. South Korea is commonly referred to or viewed by the average foreigner as one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world, 93% of their population has access to the internet, 90% own at least one smartphone. However, technology can advance both reprehensible and fantastical projects. One such object is the camera, which South Koreans have successfully turned into an almost invisible, small black square. The spy-cam crisis fits into a certain set of rules: Every year, more than 6,000 incidents are reported to the police, of which 80% are women.

This practice- of setting up small, imperceptible cameras in public spaces such as restrooms and changing rooms and uploading these videos to voyeur porn websites- not only highlights the epitome of a profound invasion of privacy but also shines a light on a few, extremely troubling, aspects of South Koreans and their culture. "My Life is Not Your Porn", one of the main activist groups against this terrible crime, has encouraged and inspired many women to come out with their stories and explain why they felt like they needed to remain silent. A young woman who refused to reveal her identity in national television said: "When I first saw the chat room, I was so shocked, my mind went blank and I started crying," She said. "I kept thinking, what would other people think? Will the police officer think that my clothes were too revealing? That I look cheap? In the police station, I felt lonely. I felt all the men were looking at me as if I was a piece of meat or a sexual object. I felt frightened. I didn't tell anyone. I was afraid of being blamed. I was afraid my family, friends and people around me would look at me as these men looked at me." How can a woman who has been filmed against her will while in a vulnerable position and been exposed online be worried about what her family will think of her? A sexist, misogynistic culture is the only one in which such thoughts could cross this woman's mind after suffering such an enormous breach of privacy.

Under current laws and regulations, "spy cam" buyers are not required to disclose any personal information, making it difficult to trace the cameras back to their owners. However, many "lawmakers are hoping to change that, co-sponsoring a bill in August that requires hidden camera buyers to register with a government database, raising alarm among retailers." In order for such a crime to not only be banned but denormalized, South Korea and it people must go through a major ideological change. The amount of cameras the police apprehend is meaningless if victims continue feeling like they are at fault for these illegal recordings.

Detention Centers in China Housing Millions of Muslims

China is currently being accused of locking up almost a suspected one million Muslims in the western Xinjiang region without trial or fair cause. These camps were created furtively in the desert, to be far from public scrutiny, but nevertheless were discovered by satellite images and journalists. In these camps, Uighur, Kazakh, and other Muslim groups are whisked from their homes, where they are politically indoctrinated and brainwashed, or “transformed” “reeducated,” as China says it. However, the statement by Shohrat Zakir, the director of these camps, “Its purpose is to get rid of the environment and soil that breeds terrorism and religious extremism,” directly points towards religious targeting and discrimination. China has gone so far as to say residents of these camps like staying there and citing a UN resolution on terrorism to justify this “anti-terrorism initiative” despite reliable reports of torture and heinous crimes being committed in these camps. These camps are only part of the bigger picture. “Regulations on De-extremification” were passed earlier which allowed China to punish acts such as praying, “abnormal” beards, head scarfs, and more.

Recently, the Chinese government has received international backlash for these camps. In the United States, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, despite having a prior anti-Muslim rhetoric, has made public statements denouncing China’s actions. He said, “this is, I think we use the word, or words, historic human rights abuse, and we’re working to convince the Chinese that this practice is abhorrent and ought to be stopped.” In December of last year, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also denounced the camps during a visit to China in December of last year. Multitudes of other countries including Turkey, France, and Canada have made direct statements urging the government to terminate the camps. Western governments have indicated that this topic will be a priority at future Human Rights Council meetings.

The fact that China is willing to unapologetically support its camps, which display conspicuous human rights abuses in its persecution of the Muslim minority, in the face of scrutiny on the world stage should be worrying. China, a country whose main methods of governing involve unrestricted monitoring and a tight grip on all workings of society, this move symbolizes China’s growing indifference of international criticism. If Mao era abuses such as these camps are being allowed in a time like this, it signals a failing of our standards to uphold human rights. The issue has not been investigated by the UNHRC, the relevant UN body, although many human rights groups and countries are calling for it.

Israeli-Palestine Issue Run Down

As usual, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages on -- just this week, for instance, tensions between Israeli and Palestinian forces increased following an exchange of fire between Israeli rockets and Palestinian militants in Gaza. The latest campaign of Israeli military operations in the region had three primary targets controlled by Hamas, including the home of militant Ismail Haniyeh. Israel reports that, in response, thirty retaliatory rockets were fired from Gaza. At least seven Palestinians were wounded, while several Israelis also sustained injuries.

All of this comes in the midst of a heated Israeli election. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in a fight for his political life as several opposition parties have joined together under a big tent banner dubbed “Blue and White” in order to challenge the Prime Minister and his conservative Likud party. Polling has tightened considerably since the formation of Blue and White, in large part due to the popularity of its leader, Benny Gantz, who has combined a sort of social liberalism with more hawkish security policies. His appeal is made more compelling by the litany of corruption charges recently filed by Israel’s Attorney General against Netanyahu.

It remains to be seen how events on the ground in Gaza will affect the election, but events in the United States appear to be shaping Israeli politics and the narrative surrounding the Israel-Palestine debate at large. Freshman US Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) sparked controversy recently with comments about the role of the “Israel lobby” in American politics, identifying AIPAC as an agent of Israeli domination over American politics. When pressed further, she tweeted “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby,” a comment for which she earned condemnation from the leadership of both American political parties. Netanyahu even took the time to respond to her at an AIPAC conference this week -- “take it from this Benjamin,” Netanyahu said. “It’s not about the Benjamins,” met with roaring applause.

The events of the past few weeks, particularly in American politics have brought the forefront of the public debate once again both off and on Exeter’s campus, as they have resulted in a series of op-eds in Exeter’s school newspaper, the Exonian , presenting multiple perspectives on the conflict, its origins, and the role of Israel in American politics. This public debate was brought to its head when three faculty members authored an opinions editorial reminding students to avoid the use, intentional or otherwise, of anti-Semitic tropes in such a debate, as they contended one particular article did invoke.

The issues being grappled with on campus are reflective of larger debates occurring in the larger world about Palestine’s long and complicated history, the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, the seemingly herculean task of building a Middle Eastern peace, the role of the West in this conflict, and the settlement issue, among countless others.

Water Scarcity in India and the World

Picture yourself as a young central-Indian of humble background. You go through a four mile walk and in the burning sun, going far from home to search for something you’re not sure to find, and at the end of your journey awaits a steep climb: down a forty-foot well. Your name is Kajal Lodha and your three sisters, some no younger than ten years of age, do this each and every single day. And for what? Dirty, milky-white, worm-infested water. Water nonetheless.

Water scarcity, defined as the lack of fresh, drinkable water, affects every continent in the world and was listed this year by the World Economic Forum to be one of the largest potential global risks over the next following decade. Just under one third of the global population (2 billion people) must endure conditions of severe water scarcity for at least one month of the year. Half a billion people in the world face severe water scarcity all year round. Some of the world’s most largest cities are going to experience water scarcity some time this year. India alone accounts for about 0.6 billion people currently in a water crisis, and more than 20 cities-Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad to name a few-are predicted to entirely consume their aquifers in the next two years, leaving about one hundred billion people in urban areas unable to access fresh water easily. In the words of Arati Kumar-Rao, an Indian nature photographer, “Conservation? Nobody [in India] talks about it.”

Though only a minute 0.014% of the world’s water is fresh and easily accessible, that should technically be sufficient for everyone. Two main factors, however, have caused water crises to spring up around the world: one, unequal distribution due to factors such as climate change (creating areas that are too humid and too dry due to human intervention) and two, the demand generated by population growth and industrial expansion. These factors coupled together mean that by 2030, the human demand for freshwater could outstrip the supply by as much as 40%.

The NITI Aayog, National Institution for Transforming India, is looking for solutions to this tremendous problem. In their online resource section they outline plans for conserving freshwater and making it more accessible. Such a plan is the “24x7 Metered Water: Improving Water Supply in Rural Areas of Punjab”, that seeks to bore holes and place pumps that draw up groundwater but not deplete it; rather, the water consumption is regulated by an operator that operates the pump and ensures that all get enough water without depleting the reservoir. In general, we have the knowledge and technology to plan out the solutions--we just need the financial resources to implement them where they’re needed.

Jerusalem and the Three Religions

Jerusalem: the modern-day capital of Israel, housing a population of nearly a million. As a major focal point in Judaism, Christianity and Islam alike, the historical wealth of this city remains unparalleled.

One of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem and its religious importance dates back to King David, ruler of the Kingdom of Israel -- over a millennium before the birth of Christ. He conquered it from the Jebusites, a tribe of this Canaan area, bringing the Ark of The Covenant into the city and making it the capital of his kingdom.  Fifty years later, King Solomon, his son, builds the Holy Temple on Mount Moriah, also known as Temple Mount: known in both Judaism and Christianity as the location where Abraham bound his son, Isaac.

From here on, the city would become the religious center of the Israelites and the holiest city in Judaism; still nowadays, almost three thousand years later, Jewish people from all over the world face the Holy Temple when praying. In Christianity, the city is equally prominent as the place where Christ healed and preached, sat for the Last Supper, and where his trial, burial, and resurrection took place.

In Islam, the city (known as al-Quds) is home to the Al-aqsa Compound, a collection of mosques and shrines on Temple Mount where it is believed that the Prophet Muhammad began his ascension to heaven.

Since its inception, then, the city has been both holy land and a battlefield, shared and fought over between cultures who all stake their own claim to the hallowed ground. As Israel celebrates its seventieth year of independence amidst the ongoing conflict, one might question what fuels such conflict.

Both Israel and Palestine, a neighbouring territory, were ruled under the Ottoman Empire back in the 16th century. After the Ottoman defeat in the First World War, their land was handed over to Britain and France, who set up the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration. The area under British control, known as Mandatory Palestine, spanned the area of present-day Israel and Palestine, including the whole city of Jerusalem.

In the meantime, the concept of Zionism--the idea that Israel, Jerusalem included, is the rightful homeland of the Jewish people--gained momentum. The Jewish religion had spread around the world at the time, and some even tried immigrating to Palestine, trying to escape increased tensions from antisemitism. During the war, Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary, promised the British Jews that they would be granted an area of their own, a “home,” a nation. The Jewish Legion, battalions of volunteers, helped the British defeat the Ottomans.

Along the same period when the Ottoman Empire dismantled, Arabs in Palestine started to feel a sense of national identity. The British rule, to them, represented colonialism. In 1920, the Palestinians erupted, in opposition to Zionism, but still the Jewish people kept coming to Palestine in Aliyahs. The stage was set for violence.

In 1947, the United Nations came into play. They made a plan to carve up the then-Palestinian controlled Jerusalem into two halves, one for the Jewish and the other for the Palestinians. Jerusalem was to remain international, for religious matters. The Jewish people saw this as a gain: they had reconquered their homeland, a victory for Zionism; while Palestinians saw this as a loss: their land was just cut half after the British got ahold of the area.

What followed was the Independence of Israel in 1948 and a series of conflicts that resulted in nowadays Jerusalem being fought over between the Israeli people, who hold it as their rightful capital; and the Palestinians, who see it as unlawfully occupied territory.

And now that the Trump administration moved their embassy to Jerusalem, right in the heart of conflict, we must all ask ourselves: what’s in store for this historical, sacred city?

US Exit from UN Human Rights Council

The UN Human Rights Council is a subsidiary body of the United Nations that serves to “promote universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all” and “address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, and make recommendations thereon.” The inter-governmental body was formed in March 2006 to replace the 60-year-old Human Rights Commission. The extreme politicization of the Commission on Human Rights resulted in an overwhelming majority vote to establish the new UNHRC via Resolution 60/251, with 170 in favor, 4 against, and 3 abstentions.

Among the countries voting against the establishment of the UNHRC was the United States, which cited weak measures to exclude human rights abusing countries. Said countries would use positions in the UN HRC to obstruct criticism of their actions or attack other nations, a claim the Secretary-General acknowledged as the primary issue with the Human Rights Commission. Additionally, the Bush Administration had received allegations from UN members of human rights violations in Washington.

On March 31, 2009, the Obama Administration decided to seek a seat on the 47 member council. "Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement. "With others, we will engage in the work of improving the U.N. human rights system. . . . We believe every nation must live by and help shape global rules that ensure people enjoy the right to live freely and participate fully in their societies." The reversal of the Bush Administration policy was met with some criticism domestically, but welcomed by UN members; for example, Norway withdrew from the ballot in support of the US’s efforts to create positive change. Human rights associations had long advocated for US membership.

Despite the Obama Administration’s attempt to subvert decisions taken by past US presidents through joining the UNHRC, current US President Donald Trump reversed Obama’s decision shortly after taking office. The US withdrew United Nations Human Rights Council on June 19, 2018 in protest of its “disproportionate focus on allegations of human rights abuses committed by its ally, Israel,” a country whose alleged human rights violations were frequently discussed. The Trump Administration also asserted that the council's “willingness to allow notorious human rights abusers to become members” further revealed its bias.

On the surface, it seems like the US's retreat from the UN HRC was a backward step in its human rights advocacy; however, this may not be the case. In an appearance with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.N ambassador Nikki Haley stated  “I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from our human rights commitment. On the contrary, we take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.” The US has since received support in its view that the UNHRC has morphed into its decommissioned predecessor, the Human Rights Commision.

The United States’s departure from the United Nations Human Right Council left many wondering if a U.S. withdrawal would lead to reforms in human rights protection. The departure of Israel' chief defender at the forum has left it defenseless to the barrage of resolutions focused solely on Israel’s human rights violations. “By withdrawing from the council, we lose our leverage and allow the council’s bad actors to follow their worst impulses unchecked — including running roughshod over Israel,” said Eliot L. Engel, the top Democrat on the House committee that oversees the State Department.

Despite the UN HRC’s flaws, it serves as the primary international organization drawing attention to human rights issues, conducting investigations into human rights abuses, and upholding global human rights standards. While some praise the US’s bold denunciation of a dysfunctional organization, others are concerned the United States’s departure undermines the UN HRC’s mission and sets a dangerous precedent for other countries to follow.

Venezuela's Sanctions

The United States originally established diplomatic relations with Venezuela in 1835, but their association has been strained in recent years. The South American country’s corrupt and failing government has sparked an economic collapse that has led to a humanitarian crisis.

The Venezuelan government’s policies and gross mismanagement of national affairs have caused the United States to impose over 40 sanctions on Venezuelan individuals since 2017. Millions of Venezuelans have become refugees due to food shortages, rising prices, increased crime, and a broken health system. The regime has killed protestors in rallies and imprisoned political opponents. Hyperinflation is projected to reach over one million percent by the end of 2018. This chaotic country has become an extremely challenging climate for the United States and multinational companies.

In May of 2018, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro took office. In response to his election, US Vice President Mike Pence commented,“The illegitimate result of this fake process is a further blow to the proud democratic tradition of Venezuela. The United States will not sit idly by as Venezuela crumbles and the misery of their brave people continues.”

Shortly after the election, the Trump administration placed a new of set sanctions on the Venezuelan government. These new penalties aimed to prevent Maduro from selling off government debt to enrich himself. The executive order attempts to stop American companies from buying debt from the government of Venezuela, thus putting an end to corruption in a country near collapse.

Since then, President Trump has issued a new round of sanctions targeting Maduro’s inner circle. Venezuela’s First Lady, Vice President, Defense Minister, and other officials are being penalized for plundering the precarious country’s remaining wealth. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated that this inner circle has helped Maduro’s regime maintain its grip on power. For example, the First Lady, Cilia Adela Flores De Maduro, is a political figure in her own right and has been accused of helping her husband’s administration illegally acquire wealth. She has previously served as National Assembly Deputy and President of Legislative Power in Venezuela.

In a passionate statement, the Venezuelan President stated that Flores’ only offense was being married to him and that sanctioning her is a cowardly act by the United States. Meanwhile, Vice President Delcy Rodriguez has been named a key figure in awarding Maduro near dictatorial powers.

The US Treasury Department has stated that the United States will continue to use every available economic and diplomatic strategy to stop the corrupt government and support the Venezuelan people’s efforts to restore their democracy. The sanctions are being used to put pressure on government officials to either step down or pursue Venezuela’s best interests. According to the Trump Administration, sanctions against certain individuals will be dropped if they restore democratic order, refuse to take part in human rights abuses, and combat corruption.

Julio Borges, former head of the Venezuelan National Assembly now exiled to Columbia said, “We’ve gone through all the democratic routes. Maduro has closed the doors and turned the country into worse than a dictatorship — a failed state.”

Iran Nuclear Deal

On May 8th of 2018, our President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum, essentially withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. Although the president had been denouncing the deal, stating it is  “a direct national security threat,” and “fatally flawed” for more than a year before, experts were still shocked. The president had been planning this move for months now. But what was the Iran deal, and why did the president’s withdrawal draw such polarized reactions?

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was an agreement reached by the P5 countries (France, U.K., U.S., Russia, China) in addition to Germany in 2015 after 20 months of compromises and negotiations. The deal lifted sanctions that had been crippling Iran’s economy for the last decade, in exchange for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. These restrictions included reducing low-enriched uranium stockpiles by 98%, a ⅔ reduction in the number of centrifuges(nuclear processing plants) Iran can use, and inspections by UN. However, the fact that the deal would slowly loosen, being almost invalidated after 15 years or so, was a huge point of contention amongst government critics. On one side, the deal was seen as one of Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievements, but on the other, an open hand to a terrorist nation that went against every US policy. “This was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” president Trump stated, reinstating previous sanctions against Iran after signing the memorandum. The move comes with indignation from the other members of the deal, especially European leaders. They cited that there was no evidence Iran was not complying with the deal. The inspection agency found no signs of failure to comply, and Iran seemed to be opening up about their nuclear program over the years. However, the president dodged this question by citing the Iranian regime as one of chaos, and the breaking of the deal as a symbol of US disagreement with Iran’s methods.

The validity of pulling out is debatable, but there is no doubt that Trump’s move puts world leaders and the deal in a difficult situation. Since the lifting of sanctions, many nearby nations had established business deals and relationships with the bigger economic powers in Iran. However, now that Trump has pulled us out of Iran Nuclear Deal, the reimposition of US sanctions on Iran can hinder the business with the European countries. Businesses now have to choose between Iran or the US, an obvious choice, but not one they’d necessarily like to make.

The withdrawal from the deal has created many other troubles. As of now, there is strong pressure in Iran for taking retaliatory actions, which may include bumping up uranium usage or even a withdrawal from the deal itself, but nothing has happened so far (the deal may still survive with the other members still pledging in). Looking ahead, this event could discourage countries to join such agreements with the US in the future, for lack of reliability. The pull out has damaged our credibility with important allies, such as France, Germany, UK, as well as with Iran.

Perplexingly, as soon as Trump pulled out of the Iran deal, he initiated one with North Korea. In addition, Trump has advocated a better Iran deal, but has laid out no diplomatic options. This begs the questions: What was Trump and his aides’ motives? Was this just an effort to undermine Obama’s achievements, as Trump has attempted before? Did Trump have a legitimate reason to pull out of the deal given his reasoning? What does this mean for nuclear situation in the middle east?

Remembering Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan, born in Ghana in 1938, died this summer on August 18, 2018.

Annan's family set him up for success at an early age. His father, Henry Annan, was governor of the Asante Province in Ghana and a former manager of the Lever Brothers Cocoa Company. Annan attended an elite all-boys secondary school in Cape Coast, Ghana1.

In 1962, Annan joined the United Nations, and was still active as of 2016. A quote of his that stands out, “Suffering anywhere concerns people everywhere”, is the epitome of his legacy3. Annan served as Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997-2006, and worked otherwise for the United Nations for more than 40 years. Notable accomplishments include kickstarting the reorganization of the United Nations and creation of two committees of the United Nations4.

Annan’s public service accomplishments but are not limited to, the following: becoming the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria in the midst of the hostilities in the country, beginning in early 2011; chairing an Advisory Commission founded in 2016 by Myanmar, the goal of which was to help the Rohingya people and others in Rakhine state to recover and improve their lives; and using his Secretary-General position to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic and push counterterrorism measures5.

Annan founded the Peacebuilding Commission during the 60th session of the United Nations General Assembly. The Commission includes 31 members, as well as four official partner organizations including the European Union and the World Bank. The United Nations praised the Commission’s ability to link several organizations inside and outside of the United Nations6.

Annan’s work was also found in the Human Rights Council, established in March of 2006. Human Rights Council is comprised of 47 member states, with the mission to preserve and strengthen human rights internationally7. Resolutions and agendas relate to, but are not limited to the following topics: human rights as it relates to the environment; and promoting human rights through the Olympic competition and sports as a whole 8.

Annan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in conjunction with the United Nations in 2001. Recently, Antonio Guterres, the current Secretary-General of the United Nations, remarked upon Annan’s life and legacy: “He provided people everywhere with … a path to a better world.”5

International Affairs Budget

International Affairs budgets define the vision administrations have for America’s global standing, and change depending on the president in the White House. President George W. Bush increased the funding toward the State Department by 5% from the Clinton administration. In 2002 at the beginning of his presidency, Bush requested $23.9 billion dollars from the Federal budget for International Affairs. Some Bush’s main focuses with this budget were anti-terrorism, support for new and ongoing peacekeeping operations, nonproliferation, and anti-drug initiatives.

During his first term, Bush funneled billions of dollars into assistance programs for impoverished countries. Development Assistance and the Economic support fund received a total of $4.5 billion dollars in 2004. Collaboratively, Child Survival and Health Programs Fund received $1.8 billions dollars. This funding was primarily for poverty-stricken, African nations. After the events of September 11th, 2001, President Bush made steady increases to anti-terrorism and international military budgets. At the beginning of his first term, Bush only gave $216 million dollars to nonproliferation/anti-terrorism efforts, but in 2002, that number rose to about $535 million dollars.

The Obama administration brought progressive and liberal ideas into the oval office. Obama’s primary concerns in regards to the international affairs budget were global prosperity, climate change, and international peacekeeping operations. One of Obama’s most prominent campaign promises was combating global warming. His administration was granted $808 million dollars to fund the Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon emissions and incentivise renewable energy use. This money was used effectively considering that wind and solar energy use was at an all time high and U.S. oil imports were significantly lower.

Also during his presidency, the threat of ISIS or ISIL was growing exponentially larger with each passing year. In 2015, Obama received a total of $4 billion dollars towards “Counter-ISIL”, counter-terrorism, and humanitarian assistance. Also in the Middle East, about $3 billion dollars were given to support peaceful goals in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most of this money went to military efforts and support for U.S. embassies. Secondary endeavours in this area include economic development for small cities and better access to electricity and education.

The administration under President Donald Trump has taken a unique approach to foreign policy that echoes conservative foundation, but explores new change. $41.7 billion dollars were allocated in the 2019 fiscal year budget for international affairs, a sharp 30% decline from the the $59.6 billion dedicated in 2017. Justification provided by the administration was: “Our world is increasingly challenged by forces of conflict and instability, underscoring the need for America’s global leadership to protect and advance peace, economic development,and freedom,” highlighting sentiment for priority of domestic issues over foreign interference that did not directly help the American people.

The reduced budget prioritizes a strong contention for the Trump administration: enforcing border security. Implementation of rigorous screening and restriction for permissible travel of foreign citizens in an attempt to promote security and diminish the presence of terrorism has drawn fierce criticism from the public.

Another equally controversial direction President Trump has taken was a strong commitment to the reduction of illegal immigration and illicit goods from southern and maritime borders. Efforts coinciding this are addressing the root motivation for emigration: insecurity, lack of governance, and economic stagnation. The holistic goal of the efforts was to prevent possible international danger, but alienated general foreign citizens at times.

Commitments to allied nations along with protection of U.S oversea personnel and facilities consists of the rest of international efforts, with less focus on intervention that does not directly pertain to American interest. A major plan was construction of a U.S Embassy facility in Jerusalem ignited tension but was completed in order to assert American influence in the Middle Eastern region along with. Fortification of all U.S diplomatic facilities, as encouraged by the Benghazi Accountability Review Board in relation to an earlier security breach in the Benghazi Embassy was a driving retaliation to maintain safety of American influence.

Foreign affair budgets have seen a juxtaposition in globalistic policy under Democratic administrations against domestic centered policy in Republican governance. Efforts stemming from each budget were unique and representative of a different vision of America. With each election, Americans must ask themselves their own vision they have for the world and America’s place in it.