The Catastrophic Consequences of the United States Cutting Funding from the United Nations

When I took my two-week hiatus from blogging, I thought that I’d come back to problems solved everywhere, leaving me nothing to write about.

Only in my dreams.

Earlier in December, the Trump administration made the decision to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In the process, America recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The United Nations overwhelmingly rejected this move by the Trump administration. It was so overwhelming that many of America’s allies, both in the Middle East (Jordan and Saudi Arabia) and around the world (the United Kingdom and Germany), rejected this move. Egypt, another of America’s allies in the Middle East, sponsored the resolution that rejected these moves.

In the wake of that decision, the Trump administration did what many of us as humans would do after being deeply offended: seek revenge on those who offended us. In the case of the Trump team, they sought revenge by threatening to cut some of the U.S.’s funding from the UN, and then following through on that threat.

Detractors of the UN, as well as the American role in the UN and in global affairs in general, are probably happy about this. However, once people, both supporters and detractors of the move alike, find out about the catastrophic consequences of cutting funding from the UN, they might not be in a celebratory mood about the decision.

What makes American funding cuts to the UN so problematic, potentially, is that these cuts would likely result in funding cuts to UN-sponsored programs that save lives. In order to fully understand the humanitarian consequences of deep American funding cuts to the UN, consider the Brookings Institute’s breakdown of how the U.S. allocation to the UN was used. Indeed, an overwhelming majority of America’s funding to the UN was used for life-saving humanitarian efforts. 23% of the money America gives to the UN goes to the World Food Programme, which is arguably the most influential food-assistance program in the world. 22% goes to peacekeeping operations, which, given this program’s role to help “countries navigate the difficult path from conflict to peace,” is an organization that can also save lives. 13% goes to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, a program meant to protect refugees around the world. Last, but not least, 9% goes to UNICEF, which protects the needs and rights of women and children around the world. These four wings of the UN, which all look to save and improve the lives of people in their own ways, make up 67% of the money that the U.S. gives to the UN.

The bottom line is that American cuts to the UN would result in cuts to the aforementioned programs, all of which save and enrich lives. It means less support for children, women, refugees, people in war-torn areas, and people in danger of starving to death. Some of us might not be fans of the UN’s resolution on Jerusalem, or of the UN in general, but neither issue takes away from the fact that deep cuts in American funding to the UN would be catastrophic from a humanitarian perspective for large groups of people (especially because of how much America contributes to the UN).

To make matters worse, I’ve heard little coverage from the mainstream media on just how much humanitarian efforts would hurt if/when the U.S. makes deep cuts in its funding to the UN. As a result, I fear that the Trump administration will undermine UN humanitarian efforts, and do so with little attention. I hope that my fears are wrong.

Slavery Exists Here

When you read the title, your emotions may’ve been something along the lines of, “Wait…slavery was abolished long ago!” And that goes not just for the United States, but for other nations as well.

And yet, I’m writing a blog post to make all of us aware that slavery exists here. It exists in the United States of America.

It does not exist because it’s legal. It exists in spite of the fact that it’s illegal.

One of many scary things about modern-day slavery, at least where I come from (New York City), is that so much of it exists in a shadow, with few people realizing that it even happens. For example, when I walked on large swaths of Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, New York with a friend a few months ago, I saw no signs that it is considered by many to be the epicenter of sex trafficking in New York City. Maybe there were signs I missed—especially embarrassing for me because the first social justice cause I worked to educate people about was human trafficking, back when I was a high school student volunteer for an anti-human trafficking campaign. But regardless of that fact, if even I couldn’t spot some of the signs of the sex trafficking along an infamous corridor for sex trafficking, then many others probably wouldn’t spot the signs, either.

Ultimately, modern-day slavery, in the United States and in many other parts of the world, is a textbook definition of a blind injustice. It is an injustice that we tend to be blind to.

How can we remove that blindness?

The first thing I’d recommend is to do a simple Google (or Bing, or Yahoo) search of human trafficking, sex trafficking, or other form of slavery in your area (whether it be a city, county, township, or state). You might find stories on slavery in your area, and you might even run into stories where you ask yourself why you passed by an area but never realized that slavery went on there.

I would also recommend looking at resources provided by entities like the Polaris Project and the United States Department of Homeland Security. While these resources might not be able to help people catch all of the signs of slavery, sites like these do give some very important signs (and signs that have been used by people before to recognize that someone is being victimized).

Finally, if you suspect that someone you know is being victimized by slavery in the United States, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733). If you don’t live in the United States but notice a potential case of slavery, please consult CNN’s Freedom Project to find the appropriate hotline in your home country.

Nobody may be able to singlehandedly deal with, let alone end, modern-day slavery. But all of us can and should take the step of making ourselves aware that such a thing exists, that there are ways of recognizing when this is happening, and that there are ways of dealing with these types of situations.

Author’s Note: If any of the national numbers are either not included on CNN’s list or are different from CNN’s list, please let me know about the appropriate number in the comments section below. This is the most recent list I can find, but numbers do change.

Why We Should Care About Elections in an “Off Year”

Some of us in the United States may not be aware of this, but next Tuesday is Election Day! It is a day where we are supposed to go to polls and vote people into office.

However, the reality is that many of us who are eligible to vote don’t vote, for a variety of reasons. Some of us don’t vote because our work and/or school schedules simply don’t allow us the time to vote. Others need absentee ballots and don’t get them on time; I infamously got a damaged envelope for an election in 2013, and I felt quite angry because it meant that I was unable to vote. Some of us don’t vote because we think the election is a foregone conclusion, though in light of Trump’s victory in 2016 after most people thought Clinton had it in the bag, I hope that’s not a reason people use for not voting. Some of us don’t vote because we just hate all the candidates on the ballot. And then some of us just don’t vote because we don’t care.

I am here to say that everyone should care about Election Day, even though this is a so-called “off year.”

Some of you may be asking what an “off year” is, and why we should care about elections in an off year.

An off year is a year when there are no regularly-scheduled federal elections. So, given the fact that even-numbered years are years when we have federal elections in the United States, odd-numbered years, like 2017, are off years.

However, while there is relatively little we could do about what’s happening in Washington, D.C. this year, given the fact that this is an off year until we get to vote for Congress in 2018 (special elections like Alabama’s U.S. Senate race notwithstanding), there are elections in many parts of the country this year, and elections where we can vote in people who make the places we live in more just. There are people many of us could vote for—people who would keep or increase protections for immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, minorities, women, and more within our municipalities and/or states.

Some people may be skeptical and think: “How can a person from my little hometown or state have a difference?” Actually, in some cases, even the smallest of elections could make a major difference in how just our municipalities, states, and country are.

For example, because of the choices that people in the City of Seattle made at the polls, they ended up with a city council that unanimously voted for city employees to have twelve weeks of paid parental leave. This change allows the mother more time to recover physically from childbirth, and allows both parents to spend time with the child after its birth. This was clearly a case where people in Seattle voted in city council members who made their city a more just place to live, by virtue of the parental leave policy for city employees.

This, of course, is an extreme example. But there are other yet equally important examples, such as the fact that local and state elected officials in New York can and often do set the tone on issues such as housing, homelessness, police treatment of minority communities, and a greater inclusion of people with disabilities.

So, while I understand that there are circumstances which may keep readers from voting on Election Day, I hope that people can at least care enough to recognize the benefits and consequences of who gets voted into office, even at the local and state levels. Just because it’s an off year doesn’t mean that we should refrain from voting, because we should not refrain from the opportunity to vote for people who make our municipalities or states more just than they currently are.

The #MeToo Campaign

As readers of mine probably know by now, there has been a #MeToo campaign which has put a spotlight on how big of a problem sexual violence, particularly sexual violence against women, really is.

As such, there are a few things that I feel led to say about the organizers, participants, survivors who decided to not participate, male and nonbinary survivors of sexual violence, and men.

To the organizers of this #MeToo campaign, most especially activist Tarana Burke (who created the original movement) and actor Alyssa Milano (who helped make the hashtag viral)—thank you. Your goal was to make others aware of how much this nation and world has a serious problem with sexual aggression and violence. I think you all succeeded. Hopefully this awareness can turn into ending rape culture. But all of you, as the organizers, took a big step in this much-needed journey. As a result, “thank you” frankly feels like an inadequate thing to say.

To participants in the #MeToo campaign—thank you. Everybody involved in this of was extremely brave and vulnerable. Every one of you made others more aware of how enormous this problem is and all of you did that at the risk of everything from potential backlash to potential flashbacks. Once again, thank you.

To survivors who didn’t participate—your story is no less valid because you didn’t participate. To the contrary, maybe some of you didn’t participate at least in part because your story/stories is/are so fresh and raw. I hope that others who hear your story in the future (if you do ever decide to share your story) will not make your stories any less valid because you emotionally were not able to participate in the “me too” campaign.

To male and nonbinary survivors—your story is no less valid, either. Just because you don’t fit into the most common story of sexual violence (a man committing violence against a woman) doesn’t mean that your story is somehow less true, or that you are any less of a survivor than anyone else.

To fellow men—we need to hold ourselves and each other accountable. We need to realize how our own actions and the actions of those around us contribute to rape culture. Whether it be not always listening to others (an area I realized I was weak at) or making so-called “rape jokes” (not funny, by the way), whether it be the way many of us have been conditioned to be controlling or the way some of us may turn a blind eye to the aforementioned “rape jokes,” we need to improve. So let’s start thinking about how we can get ourselves and others completely away from rape culture and the toxic masculinity which contributes to rape culture.

Finally, to people who got to this point in my post—thank you for at least taking this issue seriously enough to get to this point. I just hope that we can also take this issue seriously enough to start actually addressing it.

A Major Lesson from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria

In recent weeks, three catastrophic hurricanes have caused mass devastation. These hurricanes—Harvey, Irma, and Maria—have provided numerous lessons for people to think about.

The lesson I want to focus on for this blog post is that the United States (or at least news media in the United States) only cares about a natural disaster if it hits one or more states.

The media’s treatment of Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria is a sad example of this. Last time I checked, losses from Maria in Puerto Rico totaled $72 billion—staggering when you consider the fact that storm costs are equal to nearly three quarters of the entire territory’s GDP of just over $100 billion! A humanitarian crisis is unfolding there, a crisis that may only be rivaled by few hurricanes in our entire nation’s history. Yet, since Puerto Rico is a territory instead of a state, Harvey and Irma received wall-to-wall coverage for days while Maria only got a mention of a few minutes at most until allegations of the federal government’s neglect began to dominate headlines.

If Puerto Rico got second class media coverage from Maria, then one could only imagine how much worse the media coverage was of Maria during and after hitting Dominica. The prime minister of Dominica had to be rescued and then said that the nation “lost all that money can buy.” There are reports saying that 98% of buildings in Dominica were damaged. Dominica is also in heavy need of humanitarian help. Unfortunately, American news media has reported very little on this, and I had to turn to news sources from Trinidad and Tobago (an island nation in the same region as Dominica) in order to get consistent and reliable information on Dominica.

In terms of media coverage, places like Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba, and the Bahamas suffered the same relative lack of American media coverage during Hurricane Irma, even though all these places got pounded by a Category 5 hurricane. Instead, all of the focus was on the possibility of Irma hitting Florida, not on any impacts in other parts of the world.

However, there was one thing going for media coverage of Dominica with Maria, or several Caribbean nations with Irma: they were all in the path of a hurricane that was expected to hit a U.S. state or territory. Because of that fact alone, all of these nations got at least some level of media coverage.

The same could not be said about India with the catastrophic flooding that parts of the country recently received. The flooding rains in India were not heading to a U.S. state or territory. They were not heading to Florida, Texas, or even Puerto Rico. The flooding was on the other side of the globe, and as a result I heard practically zero media coverage about it. Or, at the very least, zero coverage until I listened to the BBC, which admittedly has a stake in what’s happening in India since India is part of the British Commonwealth.

Clearly, the United States, or at the very least American media, seems to care very little about natural disasters that don’t strike one of the fifty states.

But why is the lack of focus on disasters outside of the states unjust? It is unjust because, by largely ignoring people outside of the States, a message is being sent that not all lives matter. In fact, a message has been sent that the lives of people in the States matter most, that the lives of people in territories like Puerto Rico matter a little, and that the lives of people outside of U.S. states and territories don’t matter at all.