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Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

In a live address from the Oval Office last night President Barack Obama declared the end of the US combat mission in Iraq. The president thanked American military personnel for their dedicated service, while also restating his firm belief that the entering the conflict was a mistake. “We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home,” Mr. Obama said. Watch the president’s entire speech here.

Some of those sacrifices are chronicled in The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel. He will be speaking at the Council on Thursday, September 9 about the eight months he was embedded with the 2-16 infantry battalion deployed on the outskirts of Baghdad. Finkel, a reporter for The Washington Post, will also discuss the cognitive dissonance between the violent reality of the ground war and the abstract policy debates back in Washington. Register for the program here.  While another perspective of the war will be provided by Georgetown professor Derek Leebaert on Thursday, September 16. Examining the missteps of wartime foreign policy,  Leebaert argues that the cause of many of America’s foreign policy mistakes lies in “magical thinking” – the idea that the US can manage the world through well-intentioned force. Register for the program here.

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Before the program last night, journalist and author Jere Van Dyk met with the fifteen students taking part in the Council’s Summer Institute on International Affairs. In 2008 Van Dyk was captured by the Taliban and held for 45 days, an experience he chronicles in Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban. The students debated the US policy in Afghanistan and then were able to ask Van Dyk about the advice he would like to give the Obama administration about handling the Taliban. They also inquired about the conversations he had with his captors, wondering what they thought of US policy in their country.

To listen to Van Dyk’s full address to the Council, visit our audio archive here. Additionally, the local CBS affiliate recorded Van Dyk’s conversation with the students and broadcast a piece about him on their evening news. Watch it here.

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“Liberia is not a poor country. It is a country that has been managed poorly,” according Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s president and Africa’s first female head of state.

Poverty is both a cause and a consequence of violent conflict, which decimates economies, destroys infrastructure, and undermines a state’s capacity to meet basic needs. Yet Sierra Leone and Rwanda have each demonstrated that with the right policies and the right partners, countries can emerge from conflict and achieve positive economic results for their publics. Liberia can be a third example—and wealthy countries, far-sighted investors, and strategic philanthropists alike are betting on the policies of its reform-minded leader.

Undaunted by the problems inherited from 14 years of civil war, Sirleaf’s government undertook a highly inclusive public process to develop its Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). It encompasses policies aimed at integrating former combatants, promoting reconciliation, combating corruption, welcoming investment, and encouraging the growth of civil society. It is a blueprint that has persuaded wealthy countries to provide much-needed debt relief and both private philanthropists and investors to work in close coordination with one another—and with a government they feel they can trust.

I write from Liberia, where I am traveling with 19 philanthropists committed to Liberia’s success. The origins of this trip lie in a 2008 Clinton Global Initiative “commitment” undertaken by Pam Omidyar’s Humanity United, the Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF), the Open Society Institute, the Daphne Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, the McCall-MacBain Foundation, TrustAfrica, and the government of Liberia.

As part of the commitment, the grant-making foundations stepped forward to finance the establishment of a Philanthropy Secretariat within President Sirleaf’s offices, with the mandate to coordinate their investments so as to best support Liberia’s reform agenda. For our part, at the GPF, we agreed to expand the number of “new philanthropists” alert to Liberia’s potential and to test and refine this extraordinary model of partnership between a post-crisis government and a consortium of private donors and investors.

Ultimately, our hope is to be able to demonstrate—to our satisfaction and to other donors seeking to engage—that this model of highly disciplined and collaborative philanthropic engagement can be adapted and made portable to other post-crisis situations. Many of the GPF members who joined the trip are also leaders of The Philanthropy Workshop West or members of the Aspen Institute Society of Fellows. They are strategic philanthropists, discerning, intent on impact—and deeply respectful of local voices.

They recognize that many of the prescriptions contained in Liberia’s poverty reduction strategy would apply to most post-crisis states. At the same time, they are cognizant that Liberia’s history is unique.  Founded by freed American slaves in 1847, it became the first independent republic in Africa. It established a constitution that met the needs of those settlers, but excluded indigenous peoples. The inequities inherent in that formula helped lead to political instability and ultimately a brutal civil war, during which the GDP of the country dropped 90%, poverty rates rose 64%, the physical infrastructure was decimated, the management class was dispersed, 270,000 died, and many hundreds of thousands were displaced. Its young population, 75% of whom are under age 25, has spent more time in battle than in school.

As a group, we will explore whether and how private actors can contribute to the public goals that are designed not only to reverse the damage done, but to build a new Liberia that can be a model for others emerging from crisis.

In particular, we will report to you—and gain your views—on four hurdles ahead: improving security, promoting public health, rehabilitating infrastructure, and strengthening government capacity.

As we report out to you on the status of each of these areas, we will be eager to hear your views on the role that private actors can play and how they can best work in partnership with each other and with Liberia’s government. Barack Obama has often said that government alone cannot solve all of our country’s problems. If this is true for us, it can be no less true for Liberia, where philanthropy and investment have a significant role to play.

– Jane Wales

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While his new book, Stripping Bare the Body: Politics, Violence, War discusses three different conflicts, Mark Danner focused his remarks on the “War on Terror” at the Council last Thursday. Danner described the torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, specifically that of Abu Zubaydah, the first of the “high-value detainees” to face interrogation and torture under the post-9/11 directives. The information was recorded by the International Committee of the Red Cross in a classified report that was leaked to Danner in 2008, and later published by him on the New York Review of Books’ website.  Danner urged all in attendance to read it to be better informed about these post-9/11 tactics sanctioned by the Bush administration. Danner does applaud the Obama administration’s reversal of numerous interrogation and detention procedures, especially the decision to close Guantanamo. Looking to the future, Danner is concerned about the current situation in Afghanistan, but is optimistic that Obama’s patience and unwillingness to be bullied will lead the president to make the right decision about Afghanistan when he’s ready.

To hear the entire program with Mark Danner, please visit our online audio archive. Read more about President Obama’s Afghanistan decision in an article from today’s New York Times.

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Robert Musil, author of Hope for a Heated Planet and Senior Fellow at American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, joined the Council Tuesday night to present strategies for combating climate change. Musil said he prefers to be an optimistic environmentalist, rather than  emphasize  “gloom and doom” like so much of what’s found in today’s media. He acknowledged many problems that the world is facing, such as the spread of malaria and the rise of sea-levels, but spent the majority of his time focusing on positive solutions, like the increasing global investment in alternative energy and the changes the Obama administration is making in environmental policy. Musil also discussed the current Boxer-Kerry “cap and trade” bill that is making its way through the Senate and he encouraged the audience to write Senator Boxer to ask her to keep plans for new nuclear plants out of the bill. However, of all the solutions Musil has for fighting climate change, his biggest is getting the general public involved. He cited numerous groups all across the political spectrum that are doing good things for the environment and said the only way we can slow global warming is to become involved ourselves.

To listen to the full program with Robert Musil, please visit our complete online archive here. If you would like to get involved with a group taking action against climate change, check out these organizations mentioned by Musil: 350.org, Earth Day Network, Power Shift, Interfaith Power and Light Campaign, and Save Our Evironment.

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Washington Post Associate Editor and Chief Foreign Correspondent Jim Hoagland joined the North American Forum again this year as a participant.  One of his most recent columns draws from this year’s discussions at the Forum in Ottawa and advises President Obama to work with Canada and Mexico to form a “more perfect economic union to deal with a lingering international financial crisis that drains the U.S. dollar of value and credibility and that fuels rising unemployment.”

Read the full piece here.

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All eyes have been on the United Nations this week as numerous heads of state addressed the General Assembly. President Obama called for a “new era of engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect” and suggested four pillars that are “fundamental to the future that we want for our children: Nonproliferation and disarmament, the promotion of peace and security, the preservation of our planet, and a global economy that advances opportunity for all people.” Read the full transcript of his address here.

Following President Obama’s address, Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi gave a lengthy speech, his first at a UN General Assembly. He spoke for 90 minutes, during which he  asked for an African seat on the UN Security Council, while also calling the Council “political feudalism for those who have a permanent seat.” To read more about his controversial appearance, check out this article from the New York Times.

Qaddafi is not the first to call for changes to the UN Security Council. To learn more about various proposals to reform the UN, join the World Affairs Council on Wednesday, October 7. We will be hosting David Bosco, a former senior editor at Foreign Policy, who will examine the role of the Security Council and diverging interests of its five permanent members.

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Is the Russian political system best understood as a “managed democracy” and who is managing it—President Medvedev or Prime Minister Putin? What are the implications for U.S.-Russian relations? After his visit to Moscow earlier this month, has Obama successfully “reset” relations with Russia and what must he do to improve future relations between the two countries? How have both Europe and Russia responded to initial overtures by President Obama and the new administration since the beginning of 2009?  Journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Applebaum joined the Council last night to share her interpretation and analysis of Russia’s relations with the United States, Europe, its neighbors, and current political issues within the country. For her full talk, listen or watch recordings here at our online archive. For more on these issues be sure to check back when Applebaum’s husband, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, joins the Council on August 5, 2009 for our Richard & Judith Guggenhime Speaker Series.

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David Sanger, Chief Washington Correspondent for The New York Times, drew a large and attentive audience to our auditorium last night for his lecture, “The World Obama Confronts.” Although accounts of the Iraq War often focus on its direct costs, Sanger, in his lecture and recently published first book, The Inheritance, explores the depth of the potentially greater opportunity costs. He argues that many challenges Obama currently faces stem from imminent threats in Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran that had been ignored by the previous administration while fighting the War in Iraq. The award-winning veteran reporter provides extensive knowledge of the “costs of distraction” inherited from the previous administration that Obama is now only beginning to confront, as well insight into current issues including the Iranian elections, North Korea’s nuclear test, and challenges in the newspaper and publishing industries.

To learn more about the challenges Obama faces in Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran, listen to the full program here.

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Matthew Bishop and Michael Green put up a great post yesterday on Obama’s plans for philanthropy that came out during GPF last week.  Looking at Sonal Shah and Secretary Clinton’s remarks, they discuss the administration’s attitude toward philanthropy and what this might mean going forward for joint government-philanthropic initiatives.  They applaud most of Secretary Clinton’s outline for a working relationship between the State Department and philanthropy, especially where she argues that we must focus on, “avoiding duplication, learning from each other, [and] maximizing our impact by looking for best practices.”

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The U.S. Senate yesterday passed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.  This bill is expect to pass the House next week and should be signed by President Obama shortly thereafter.

The NonProfit Times detailed some of the highlights of the bill:

The Serve America Act updates and strengthens national service programs administrated by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a federal agency created in 1993. Among the highlights touted in the new legislation are:

  • Tripling the number of AmeriCorps volunteers from 75,000 a year to 250,000 volunteers a year.Creating four new “corps” to address America’s most pressing challenges, such as energy conservation, healthcare, education and veterans’ issues.
  • Boosting the Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, currently $4,725, to increase incentives for service and postsecondary education. Linking it to the maximum Pell grant in the future could make it reach $8,000 by 2014.
  • Creating a “Summer of Service” program to encourage middle and high school students to engage in a summer of community service and put them on a path to a lifetime of service.
  • Establishing “Encore Fellowships,” a one-year fellowship for Americans 50 and older. John Gomperts, president of Civic Ventures, a national think tank on Boomers, work and social purpose, described Encore Fellowships as “perhaps the biggest innovation in this bill.”

There may have been some confusion over the part of the legislation described below.  While it was included in the original Senate version of the Serve America Act, it appears as if it may have been left out of the version that actually passed the Senate on March 26, 2009.  We will keep you posted if and when we learn more.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the bill from our perspective is that it provides for the formation of a Commission on Cross-Sector Solutions.  According to the text of the legislation, the purpose of this Commission is –

  1. to examine and recommend ways in which the Federal Government can interact more efficiently and effectively with nonprofit organizations, philanthropic organizations, and business to achieve better outcomes with regard to addressing national and local challenges, accountability, and utilization of resources;
  2. to provide advice to the President and Congress regarding new, more effective ways for the Federal Government to address national and local challenges in partnership with the nonprofit sector; and
  3. to support research that will advance the impact and effectiveness of the nonprofit sector and the way that the Federal Government interacts with such sector.

The need for cross-sector solutions to global and domestic crises has long been a focus of the work of the Global Philanthropy Forum.  More significantly, this very subject is the theme of GPF annual conference coming up in less than four weeks in Washington, DC.  The eventual passage of this bill should add extra energy to the conference!

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The America Forward Blog highlights an interesting piece by Mitch Landrieu and Andrew Wolk on the need for social entrepreneurship in this country, especially in the face of these difficult economic times.  They argue that the Obama Administration’s ability  “to foster social innovation and entrepreneurship will be crucial to maximizing the use of our resources and determining, finally, what works and what does not.”  A topic very much on our minds as the planning for the new White House Office on Social Innovation begins…

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