Changing the World One Hashtag at a Time

Isabelle Younane   |   May 14, 2014   12:00 AM ET

Whether you've Instagrammed a #nomakeupselfie, Tweeted #bringbackourgirls or mourned for the #missingplane, no doubt you've felt a small sense of satisfaction in advancing a worthy cause. You've 'raised awareness' in trending a particular issue that has fleetingly grasped the attention of the public and now you can happily put the kettle on, get on with your day and avoid the pang of guilt that gnaws away at Western civilisation every time we confront a news flash of war-torn Syria, terror-struck Nigeria or the turbulent Ukraine.

But the danger of the hashtag is the accompanying sense that the hashtagger has 'done their bit' in a humanitarian crisis. No need to submit a monetary donation, volunteer for a charity or arrange a fundraiser like the good old days; the beauty of social media means that you just have to press a key and you've made somebody's life that little bit better.

But have you? Certainly social media has its benefits. Raising awareness to an issue is instrumentally important; new outlets pounce on Twitter trends and gear their stories to what they understand to be the most compelling topics of the time. This accumulation of press coverage could ultimately lead to what is commonly known as the 'CNN Effect'; studies have shown that mass media has the power to set the agenda at policy level. It's easy for politicians to ramp up their approval ratings by latching onto a public concern 'gone viral' and attempting to at least be seen to do something about it. It is no mistake that 25 countries joined the hunt for the #missingplane, or that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry vowed to take up his pitchfork and #bringbackourgirls. Kidnappings and other atrocities have been rampant in Nigeria for years thanks to the extremist group Boko Haram, but it's tricky to capture pervasive and deep-rooted cultural unrest in a hashtag.

We must concede, of course, that our aim is ultimately political, otherwise all we are doing is raising awareness for awareness's sake. This would imply a grotesque fetishism with the sufferings of others, akin to the public obsession with celebrity news which seeps from the right hand side of the Daily Mail online onto millions of Facebook pages. No, we must concede - for dignity's sake if nothing else - that the hashtag has a political motive.

But the irony is, by satisfying ourselves that a hashtag is enough activism for one day, what can we expect from the politicians we are supposedly trying to coerce? We criticise our government, foreign governments and the United Nations for being all talk and no action. US president Barack Obama has been denounced for his false promise to close Guantanamo Bay and the legal vacuum that his predecessor created with it. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has been despised for promising an easier ride for students before backing the Conservatives' decision to triple university fees. Prime minister David Cameron has been laughed at for announcing that he would end the human rights violations in Syria, only to be outvoted by his own Parliament. But if a hashtag is enough for us voters, we can hardly criticise our leaders for settling for empty speeches.

There can only be two possible reasons for the rise of hashtag activism. Either we don't care about these issues enough and are thus too lazy to take 'real action', opting instead to make a visible stand just so our friends know we read the news. Or we truly believe that a hashtag can change the world. If the former, we are no better than the politicians we are half-heartedly criticising. If the latter, we can log off, get dressed for work and rest assured that Boko Haram are checking their Twitter feed and feeling suitably ashamed of themselves.

Chris York   |   May 12, 2014    2:30 PM ET

The world of politics can be a murky and often nasty place, full of smears, slander and sinister skullduggery.

Take the current coalition - not the most comfortable bedfellows at the best of times but the relationship soured further over the weekend with allegations of back-stabbing and tale-telling.

What makes the latest accusations all the more vicious is they concern not only politicians but also their wives.

First up was Nick Clegg's wife, Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, who was drawn into a row over a charity she backs which was apparently fast-tracked £12m from the deputy prime minister.

Clegg of course denies the claims and even threatened a police investigation.

Then it was David Cameron's turn in the spotlight after the Lib Dems allegedly tried to plant a story in the press about the poor state of his marriage.

A 'Tory insider' told the Daily Mail: "Significant Lib Dems have been spreading a totally baseless story suggesting trouble in the Cameron marriage."

Oh dear.

Anyway, this would seem to be the perfect time to have a good old reminisce about some of the best political smears of recent years, from both sides of the Atlantic...

  |   May 9, 2014    9:00 PM ET

First Lady Michelle Obama backed efforts to rescue more than 270 teenage girls who had been abducted by the Boko Haram terrorist group last month, posting a photo on Twitter holding up a sign reading: "#BringBackOurGirls".

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Obama's support for the hashtag campaign supporting efforts to rescue the girls in Nigeria was wittily inverted on Twitter by user Kai Holloway to make a sobering point about US drone strikes around the world.

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This comes after a study in 2012 found that the CIA's drone campaign, which has escalated under Obama, "terrorises men, women and children" in north-west Pakistan "twenty-four hours a day".

The report, by Stanford University and New York University undermined US government's claims that drone strikes in Pakistan make America safer as it found that only very few of the intended targets are killed and instead resulted in high civilian casualties, including 176 children.

Bring Back Our Girls: Keep on Helping

Josephine   |   May 7, 2014    9:49 AM ET

I have just returned from an unforgettable journey to Africa. Yet the return is bittersweet, as I have come home to the reports that hundreds of Nigerian girls have been abducted from their schools.

A school, an education, these are things we here in the UK, both female and male, can take for granted. For many kids it is a place of safety and friendship, it was for me. But for these girls, school has turned into a place of danger and fear. And Africa is in the headlines again, not for the lush beauty and overwhelming hospitality that I felt in Zimbabwe recently, but for cruel acts of violence and hate inflicted on women and children. It is a double cruelty this time, as the women and children are one in the same, the girls being aged anywhere from 12 to 18.

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So, this morning I have been changing my profile pictures on my social networking sites; joining petitions and watching the news intently to find out what the world communities are doing about this terrible crime perpetrated against innocent girls. All the while I hashtag #BringBackOurGirls to try and link in with the world outcry that is now developing, which I hope continues to grow louder and louder.

Like most concerned people, when events like this happen, at first I feel sickened; then I start to feel outraged; then somewhat helpless, as I start to question the effectiveness of status updates in the battle against such criminal actions. Sometimes I have to concede that only high powered intervention from the likes of Obama and Cameron may be of any use. (I would love to see some statistics on how much impact the voices of the social networking community have on the activity of world leaders. However, I may never know.) But while such social avenues exist, let us use them anyway, because you just never know who might be listening. And I suppose, in some ways we, as a world community, act as the voices of these girls, who are somewhere in the wilderness, unable to speak themselves. If they could speak, they would probably say what we are saying: 'save us', '#BringBackOurGirls'.

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So, that being said, I have found a couple of sites which offer guidance on getting involved. You can visit www.facebook.com/bringbackourgirls, where there is a list of suggestions on how we can all get involved. For the UK they have a link to a government petition, where we can urge parliament to get talking about the situation: epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/64170 (although, I wonder how much time this will take). Obama is already on the move, having now dispatched a collection of legal and military representatives to Nigeria. This is a positive step, but we mustn't get complacent.

In short, we need to get moving and we need to talk, pray, petition and protest. I have signed the petition, and I hope others will too. In the meantime, I am off to try to find more ways to keep helping.

Big Data, Algorithms and Innovation - Oh My!

Brendan Flattery   |   May 6, 2014    4:06 PM ET

One of the most interesting aspects of George Osborne's last UK budget announcement was the £42 million funding for the Alan Turing Institute. This organisation has been founded to ensure that the UK is able to lead the way in the important high-tech growth areas of big data and computing algorithms.

These are big news in the world of technology, although not everyone may be aware of them yet - but if not, they soon will be! These two technologies are quietly changing lives and providing incredible innovations that have affected everyone who has ever searched the web, bought something from an online store, or been tempted to click on a website offering something that 'other readers/buyers also enjoyed'...

Big data - big business - big benefits
Big data means what is says, it's all about the use of really large amounts of data, which could come from any source. Big data sources encompass things like a city's mobile phones location and use, tracked by the network operator, sales made in a supermarket over a year, or financial transactions and customer records. Many, many pieces of data can yield incredibly useful insights, if they can be found, analysed and got to the people who need it. It's all about learning new facts, trends and making predictions based on massive amounts of data - making them understandable and usable.

Big data is big business, and sifting through data better than rivals is part of what made Tesco, eBay and Amazon retail powerhouses, and it's helping in all sorts of fields to make better decisions, from the world of finance and banking to medical labs engaged in cutting-edge healthcare research.

Algorithms - your little helper
Algorithms are one of the lesser-known tools that have come to run the world. Using the smartest algorithms has powered Google's search success, helps people find love through dating websites and allows pension funds investing on the stock market to make the best and fastest trades - often now without human involvement in the process of buying and selling.

Smart algorithms help us narrow down our best choices in a world of big data, too much information and too little time. They are little sets of instructions that helps us automate decision making processes, saving time and money by speeding up processes and making connections.

From big data to better business decisions
The government intends the Alan Turing Institute to help British businesses by bringing together expertise and experience in tackling challenges demanding huge computational power. This is cutting-edge research that is open to any country to take the lead in - so it's great that the UK intends to be a leader these technologies.

Other countries have also been investigating the gains that such technologies can provide - In 2012, Obama's US administration announced a Big Data Research and Development Initiative.

In a world of almost ubiquitous and incredibly accessible computing hardware, it is computing intelligence that forms the next innovation battleground. Technology is already in pervasive use in business, society and the public sector - the challenge is in how we use its data in new and smart ways for the best results. Smarter computing through tools like big data and algorithmic technologies that will enable business leaders to elevate their own innovation and success to the next level.

For those firms with a considerable amount of historic data, from sales and transactions, or access to social media content, census data or sensor-generated information (like seismographs), the promise is that by carefully sifting through data regarding customers, the market, price points - or future earthquakes! - hidden truths will be uncovered. And for those with the technical and statistical skills to work with big data technologies, to create algorithms and to make magic with numbers, future employment prospects are very bright!

These trends are providing insights to help improve sales, determine quality of research, improve drugs, prevent diseases, provide better utilities, fight crime, and better plan city traffic and public services. Yet we are only scratching the surface of what is possible.

Big data entrepreneurs - come forward!
It's a good time to be an entrepreneur with an eye on the world of data possibilities. The market is still open for a disruptor to change the way we do business and open up new worlds from the rapidly growing pool of old and new data.

Add the power of big data and algorithms to cloud computing solutions that allow businesses to stay agile and create new services in an instant and we're getting a recipe for a very new kind of service business.

We live in a digital and connected world, and it's so encouraging to see how the UK is looking to the future to be part of the leading wave of cutting-edge technology.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research estimates that the big data marketplace could benefit the UK economy by £216 billion and create 58,000 new jobs in the UK before 2017. Furthermore, a recent report from Deloitte estimates that the direct value of public sector information alone to the UK economy is around £1.8 billion per year, with wider social and economic benefits bringing this up to around £6.8 billion, the government mentioned when they announced the new institute.

Hopefully, our current and budding data-savvy and hyper-connected entrepreneurs are taking notice. If the government is willing to invest in the technology the world of business should see that there's a real opportunity behind the IT terminology. Data is a resource - just like renewable energy - and it's there to be used! Get inspired and check out the data your software creates.

Who Has Time for World War III?

Jon-Christopher Bua   |   April 29, 2014    4:20 AM ET

We as a culture are just too busy with our own very important lives to even think about the possibility of another world war.

We all have simply to much to do to even contemplate the disruption to our lives that the winds of another world war would cause.

Most of the planet wasn't even around when World War II ended in Europe on May 8, 1945 and finally on the deck of the USS Missouri on September 2, a few months later, when the Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender rendering Japan and her Emperor Hirohito at the mercy of their conquerer the US of A.

It seems while one is in the middle of living history it is often hard to grasp the significance of individual events.

For example, at the time British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin signed the Munich Agreement ceding the Sudetenland to Germany I am sure he believed that he secured "peace in our time" for Great Britain, Europe and the world.

Unfortunately, history tells us otherwise since the Munich Agreement did not prevent World War II.

In fact, it was a major miscalculation sending the wrong signal to a voracious leader with insatiable designs to conquer the world.

Most scholars now believe had the world acted forcefully when Hitler annexed Austria in 1938, that might have been the end of the Chancellor's ambitions.

As the new "Czar of Russia," former KGB Colonel Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin continues to push his own version of Civil War General Sherman's "March to the Sea," the world continues to remain distracted with other important issues.

President Obama is on a long delayed trip abroad in Asia focusing on a US pivot toward the nations of the region designed to strengthen US ties there and keep China in check.

Although no nation or generation wishes for war, sometimes the challenges to peaceful coexistence posed by an individual bad actor leave the community of nations no other choice.

This is why nations in the past have joined together in alliances and organizations to promote peace through collective security.

Since the end of World War II certain enemies have miraculously managed to keep the peace through a system of deterrents and mutual defense treaties.

NATO, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was one of these collective security alliances.

In 1949 there were 12 founding members of NATO - Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States.

NATO is a military alliance committed to the principle that an attack against any one or several of its members is an attack against all - this principle is enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

Six years after the establishment of NATO the Soviet Union and its affiliated nations in Eastern Europe formed a rival alliance called the Warsaw Pact.

Today the Warsaw Pact is gone just like the USSR.

Almost all of its former membership are now members of NATO or they are working toward that goal.

For President Putin the end of the Soviet Union was a tragic moment in his nation's history.

He believes it is his destiny to redress this wrong.

Its is easy to see that the break-up of the Soviet Union and the end of the Warsaw Pact has left Russia in a much less powerful place in the world community.

This loss of power and influence is clearly one of the reasons that Putin wants to re-establish the power and prestige that once belonged to the former Soviet Union of Lenin and Stalin.

Until recently it looked like Russia was headed in a new but equally powerful direction with its membership in the G8, the World Trade Organization and its integration into the world financial community.

What is not so clear is why Putin chose this time and place to jeopardize this rather positive integration with the West.

Its easy to understand "Mother Russia's" desire for a close relationship with Ukraine for historical, cultural, economic and geographic reasons.


What is not so clear is why Putin would behave so aggressively by invading and annexing Crimea and occupying portions of eastern Ukraine thus forcing a complete disconnection from the West.

Perhaps Putin's version of "Anschluss" - his repatriation of all Russian speaking people in Ukraine, the Baltics and Europe - might also include sending his troops to Brighton Beach Brooklyn where many Soviet era Russian emigres live peaceful and prosperous life as American citizens.

It is clear that the US and its European Allies had no stomach to go to war over Putin's annexation of Crimea...and Putin knew that!

It is equally clear that this Ukraine aggression cannot go unchecked or unpunished.

President Theodore Roosevelt summed it up nicely - it was important to "Speak softly but carry a big stick."

TR knew the importance of diplomacy but also knew that it could only work when those who wished you ill feared your military might.

President Obama has taken the military option "off the table" and the remaining arrows in his quiver seem to be various versions of sanctions.

While in "Rootin Tootin Putin's" quiver his arrows are poison tipped in the form of massive Ukraine intimidation, media-attracting master strokes, thousands of Russian troops - some already in Ukraine and the rest poised on its boarders.

Least we forget Putin's nuclear silos filled to the brim - casting impending gloom over anyone paying attention.

Although the ominous situation in Ukraine directly affects the EU, it is not clear is how much economic pain the US, UK and the EU are willing and able to endure to send a clear and powerful message to Putin that it is time to retreat.

The White House round two of sanctions against Russia are designed to inflict personal pain on 7 Russian Government Officials and 17 Entities.

Their assets will be frozen and US persons cannot do business with them.

It is expected that the US's partners will do the same.

Although these sanctions will undoubtedly cause problems and pain for these individuals and entities in a world where the dollar is still the number one currency in international trade, they are far from crippling.

Most experts believe that only sanctions affecting wide sectors of the Russian economy like gas and oil, finance and the military are likely to have the desired effect.

The problem here is that the price of implementing this type of wide-reaching sector sanctions may be too much to bear for the still fragile economies of the EU.

In fairness the US is not willing to go it alone on tougher sanctions without the UK and the EU.


This makes sense since without their participation these broader sanctions would be ineffective.

Following its integration with the West, Russia has become a huge economic player.

Russia is the world's 8th largest economy.

Russia supplies the EU with 30% of its gas; the US has approximately $27 billion worth of trade with Russia and approximately $292 billion of Russia's exports are with the EU.

It is also possible that imposing serious sector sanctions could result in pushing the EU back into recession and the US and the UK along with it, which is why it is so difficult to form a coalition of the willing at this time.

Although, the sanctions that are currently in place have already had some effects - damaging the Russian Stock Market and reducing its credit rating -they seem to have had little or no effect on Putin's plans for Ukraine and possibly beyond.

If the US, UK and EU cannot agree on imposing the toughest sanctions, it is not clear where we go from here if Putin fails to back down.

In the US it is a political year with Mid-Term Elections just a few months away followed by the next Presidential Election cycle.

As a result, politicians from both sides of the aisle are mindful that the American public is war weary and believe that America gets very little long term rewards for expending its blood and treasure.

In the UK elections are a year away.

In Germany Chancellor Merkel has just been re-elected and will, by the way, be President Obama's guest at The White House on Friday.

In France, Presidential Elections are not scheduled until 2017.

President Putin, on the other hand, could possibly be in power until 2024 - out lasting all the current leaders in the West and giving him plenty of time to execute a long term re-unification plan.

That being said, unless Putin has a change of heart the US, the UK and the EU may need to take a real stand to preserve the peace or risk facing a greater world challenge down the road.

  |   April 27, 2014   11:43 PM ET

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond has given an insight into his views on world leaders, including some admiration for Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Salmond said he admires "certain aspects" of Putin - but does not approve of a range of Russian actions - in an interview with Alastair Campbell, the former Labour strategy director, given on March 14.

He offered the view as Russia was being accused of military aggression over the future of Crimea, which it has since annexed, in neighbouring Ukraine.

alex salmond

Salmond was giving an interview for May's edition of GQ

The wider interview, including views on the future of Scotland and the independence campaign, will be published in GQ magazine on May 1.

Salmond singled out German chancellor Angela Merkel for praise, saying she is "pretty effective".

And he remarked that while he admires US president Barack Obama's campaigning, he wondered why he could not have "done more".

Asked about Putin, Salmond said: "Well, obviously, I don't approve of a range of Russian actions, but I think Putin's more effective than the press he gets I would have thought, and you can see why he carries support in Russia."

Pressed on whether he admires the Russian leader, the First Minister said: "Certain aspects. He's restored a substantial part of Russian pride and that must be a good thing. There are aspects of Russian constitutionality and the inter-mesh with business and politics that are obviously difficult to admire. Russians are fantastic people, incidentally, they are lovely people."

He spoke warmly of Merkel.

"I think the German Chancellor is pretty effective. Some chancellors have been unwilling to use German authority. She is not in that mould," he said.

Closer to home, he said Ukip leader Nigel Farage has a "certain bonhomie" - but said it is "not enough".

Salmond continued: "He is having influence beyond his significance so you have to admire that. There is a constituency for saloon-bar politics and he has played it out. I have a sneaking regard for anyone who takes on powerful establishments."

On more domestic issues, Salmond said he expects turnout in the Scottish independence referendum to be around 75% or higher.

The Scottish National Party leader also underlined his commitment to securing a currency union with the rest of the UK and talked about the Scottish Government's attempt to tackle the country's relationship with alcohol.

A spokesman for the First Minister said: "The First Minister was very happy to take part in an interview for GQ - one of the best-read magazines in the country - and was perfectly happy with it being conducted by Alistair Campbell.

"The interview was conducted on March 14 but the First Minster correctly forecast that the Yes campaign was gaining ground in campaign and argument. This has been confirmed subsequently by all recent polls."

A spokesman for the First Minster said the interview was conducted before the annexation of the Crimea.

"Since then, the Scottish Government has made our position abundantly clear on the illegal annexation, including the decision to withdraw the invitation to the Russian Consul General to the annual Scottish Consular Corps dinner," he said.

Scottish Labour's external affairs spokeswoman Patricia Ferguson said: "Given he shares Nigel Farage's politics of division and grievance, it's hardly a surprise that the First Minister has found common ground with the Ukip Leader.

"But his comments about Vladmir Putin are insensitive and ill-judged given the precarious situation in Ukraine.

"For Scotland's First Minister to admit his admiration for someone with such a controversial record on human rights and democracy does not reflect well on our country."

Scottish Conservatives MSP Jackson Carlaw said: "Putin is keen on suppressing the media and political opposition, so it's no wonder Alex Salmond admires him.

"This is quite an embarrassing ramble from the First Minister, who is desperate to be seen as some kind of equal to global leaders.

"It also makes a mockery of the Scottish Government's faux outrage over the Crimea situation. The people of Scotland will see through this most recent sucking up offensive."

Dear Politicians, Your Photos Are Futile, Not Fabulous

James Morris   |   April 26, 2014    9:01 PM ET

Obviously, unless you do literally live on Mars, you will be aware of how much politicians love to have a photograph with someone. Be it chatting to patients of a local hospital before it's closed down, or shaking hands with Vladimir Putin before trying to persuade him not to turn the gas off. There seems to be a common principle amongst politicians that the more photos they have with people the more votes they will get.

There is, of course, a very simply reason for this: they want to look like they are connected to the real world. In posing for a photograph with a member of the public, politicians want to try and prove that they definitely do not spend their time being taken out to dine in expensive restaurants by owners of multimillion pound companies who are desperate to avoid paying any more tax.

But do they realise how stupid they make themselves look?

During the unforgettable floods at the start of the year, Ed Miliband (along with what seemed like every other MP in the country) was photographed standing in floodwater wearing an expression that looked so ridiculous it could have come from the 1960s series of Batman. But even before that there was his hilariously awkward photo with Lily Allen, showing that the Labour leader hadn't learnt his lesson when it came to embarrassing photos.

More recently, George Osborne was seen looking terrifying as he stared through a café window at the people who were trying to enjoy their drinks inside. Perhaps he couldn't understand why one of them appears to be laughing. Then David Cameron felt the need to upload a picture of himself using a telephone, seemingly immensely honoured to be speaking to US President Barack Obama. Oh, and not forgetting Grant Shapps who showed that he has absolutely no idea of how to use Twitter by uploading a photo of himself upside down.

Then there's the selfie - a craze that's surprisingly still with us. People across the world continue to revel in taking snaps of themselves looking either beautiful or brutal; millions of pounds was raised for Cancer Research UK by a no-makeup selfie trend; and there's even a frankly awful (although still chart-topping) song called "Selfie".

The selfie provided politicians with another perfect opportunity to present themselves as down-to-earth, modern individuals.

Indeed, last December Barack Obama, David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt took what looked like a very good selfie of themselves. There was just one problem - it was at Nelson Mandela's memorial service, probably not the most appropriate time for a selfie.

And even as recently this week David Cameron took an entirely unflattering selfie with a group of girls which earned him his daily dose of mockery. Personally, I think he looks like he's trying to eat a hot chip.

So, the message to politicians is clear: stop trying to look stylish and cool in photos. With elections on the way, being photographed wearing a clown costume probably isn't going to win you many votes. Although you think that you look either intelligent or with-it, the reality is that you don't.

We Can Be the Generation to End Malaria Deaths

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala   |   April 25, 2014   12:00 AM ET

Friday is World Malaria Day, an opportune moment to recognise the recent, remarkable progress to save lives from malaria as well as the challenges ahead as we forge a path to sustain success against one of the world's oldest preventable killer diseases.

Recent months have fuelled my optimism for what can be achieved through effective global partnerships: At the end of last year I joined world leaders in Washington for the Global Fund's fourth replenishment conference where record funding of $12 billion was secured with contributions announced from 25 countries, including my own as well as the European Commission, private foundations, corporations and faith-based organizations. This increased support is to be celebrated and I was particularly impressed to see President Obama and UK Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening deliver exemplary leading pledges, encouraging other donors to step up and share the responsibility and opportunity. It was inspiring to see so many other developing countries benefiting from the Fund's work joining me in making pledges of support, showing the value they place on the future of the Fund.

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(c) M. Hallahan/Sumitomo Chemical - Olyset Net

In Nigeria alone, the Fund has supported the distribution of over 52 million insecticide treated mosquito nets to help people sleep protected from malaria, and medicines to help us to treat over eight million cases of the disease. This transformational support is critically needed to help us tackle our immense burden of disease. By helping improve people's health and wellbeing the Fund's support is also helping increase productivity, moving Nigeria closer to our long held ambition to become net donors rather than receivers of aid.

This replenishment conference reminded me of the many reasons to be positive about the future, a sentiment that was reinforced in December 2013 with the latest figures from the World Health Organisation showing the impressive progress being made against malaria, with child death rates in Africa now more than halved since 2000 and over three million children's lives saved. This underpins my determination for accelerating progress. I hope the time will come in my lifetime when we no longer have to worry about children dying from malaria as I did as a 15 year old carrying my very ill 3 year on sister on my back for 10 kilometers to seek medical help.

I'm encouraged to see long term partnerships coming out of Africa, including through the African Leaders Malaria Alliance. Nigeria joined with over 45 other Heads of State and Governments and together we draw on our individual and collective power across country and regional borders to keep malaria high on the political and policy agendas. We also share best practices and enable a forum for high-level, collective advocacy to ensure an efficient global procurement system with an emphasis on funding manufacturing and distribution. The remit remains urgent: malaria claims the life of a child every minute. In Nigeria, we're at the epicentre of the malaria burden and feel the impact acutely with around 500 children losing their lives to malaria every day. As a mother myself and more recently a grandmother, I find this devastating. No parent, anywhere should lose their child to a preventable disease that costs less than £1 to treat.

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(c) M. Hallahan/Sumitomo Chemical - Olyset Net

The economics of malaria is a major factor for consideration. For millions in Africa, malaria is a barrier to economic and social development and mobility, keeping them trapped in a cycle of poverty. The financial constraints are eye-watering: African countries with a heavy malaria burden, can spend up to 40% of their public health budget treating malaria and the disease also has a major impact on economic development, limiting national economic growth by an estimated 1.3% each year.

This World Malaria Day we have the opportunity to continue to dismantle malaria's grip on African households and indeed entire economies. In doing so, we will help release the potential of future generations to flourish and move our world decisively to a healthier, more stable and prosperous future.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is Nigeria's Finance Minister and Board Member for Friends of the Global Fund Africa.

  |   April 24, 2014    1:26 PM ET

Several right-wing American websites appear to be furious that President Obama has bowed to a foreign diplomat.

A foreign robot diplomat.

Obama kicked off his tour of Asia by saying hello to the latest version of Asimo, Honda's humanoid robot dancer advanced motorised personality at the Miraikan Science Expo in Tokyo.

Here is the picture of the offending bow:

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Obama also took the time to play a brief game of soccer with the robot, while also vowing to defend Japan in the event of an attack by China.

But the American online right wing appeared to take the moment rather badly. Firebrand blog and occasionally satirical website Drudge Report posted the following headline:

drudge


While Brietbart also made sure to make fun of Obama's noble attempt to push forward human-robot relations.

In fact the headline is probably just a reference to the notorious moment in 2009 when Obama appeared to bow to the king of Saudi Arabia in London, taken by his opponents as a sign of weakness.

But with robots set to take over almost 40% of American jobs in the next few decades, this might one day be regarded as a key moment in the history of diplomacy.

"It's nice to meet you, too," Obama apparently said to the robot.

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"I can really run fast" the robot then said. "I can kick a soccer ball, too." Which it then did, before Obama trapped it deftly under his sole. The robot then did some jumps.

Whether or not Obama has done enough with this act of diplomatic power wrangling to secure humanity a place in the coming robot nightmare apocalypse is unclear.

On the other hand, if there's one thing Obama has done since taking office in 2009 is meet a hell of a lot of robots.

Here are some of his finest moments with their kind:

Non-Intervention in Syria Was a Grave Mistake

James Snell   |   April 21, 2014   12:00 AM ET

As a third, blood-soaked year of the conflict in Syria draws to a close, and with the number of estimated deaths continuing its ever upward climb, it is increasingly apparent that avoiding military action in the region was the wrong thing to do.

Far from being a moral decision by the West to avoid another 'adventure' in the Middle East, it appears that the lamentable lack of action in Syria has led to more bloodshed, not less. But not only that: this act of apparent international indifference has also made us, in the West, morally complicit in all the horror and brutality and misery that has occurred in the country since David Cameron's meek admission of defeat in August.

Part of the blame for this tidal wave of national apathy is due to the awful influence of Ukip: the littlest England has no need to care a jot - or expend a pound - on foreigners, after all. As evidenced in the frankly disgraceful attempts to ban non-Christian refugees from Syria from seeking safety in this country, Ukip cannot be trusted to act on the basis of morality. With the BNP's Nick Griffin actively (if rather shambolically) going beyond mere isolationism - actually taking the side of dictator Bashar al-Assad - it appears that the British far-Right have united to either oppose intervention or support those who would lose most should it come to pass.

The fact of the matter is that the crisis continues, unabated, despite the dramatic dropping off of public interest in the UK. The chemical weapons 'settlement' - incorrectly billed as a 'diplomatic solution' - has not done a great deal to achieve peace, or to stop civilian deaths. Such things still occur, with the Assad government using starvation 'as a weapon' in the Yarmouk camp for Palestinian and Syrian refugees, and the increasing proliferation of brutal improvised weaponry, an example of which are the "barrel bombs" - explosive implements of death as crude as the name suggests  - currently being dropped from Army helicopters on rebel positions.

Another worrying development in the crisis is prevalence of Islamist organisations within the fragmented opposition. These groups, such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), motivated by the darkest forms of jihadi terror, create suffering, conflict and repression with their enforcement of Sharia in occupied territories.

As far back as December, the prospect of Islamic radicalism had loomed on the horizon. In that month the headquarters of General Idriss, a central figure in the more moderate opposition, were overrun by acolytes of the Islamic Front - another collection of fanatical rabble, wishing to fight a holy war. There have been beheadings, reprisals and many cruelties inflicted by this particularly pious section of the rebels, but Islamists were not always in the position occupy today. Horrors of this sort would not have come about had Britain and her allies intervened when the biggest rebel forces belonged to the Free Syrian Army.

In essence, non-intervention in Syria is no longer merely refusing to pick a side. What it represents now is a physical decision, real or contrived, to let the country burn. Not only that: those who stood by the sideline in 2013 have been tarred with the effects of the following months. Nations which failed to use their military pre-eminence to rescue the citizens of Aleppo, as they did for Kosovo, Kuwait and Benghazi, will be judged for it.

When the House of Commons voted to reject military action to protect the citizens of Syria from tyranny - both political and religious - MPs plunged this country, and the world, into the terrifying situation that exists in the region today. Non-intervention has cost Britain and NATO respect on the international stage; it has cost the region security and safety; and, most of all, it has cost lives: many thousands of which have been needlessly extinguished in the aftermath of the shameful national reflex to avoid our international moral obligations.

James Snell is Contributing Editor of The Libertarian

  |   April 16, 2014   10:49 AM ET

Baracksdubs is back! And this time, the President has a special guest star: The Artist Formerly Known As The US Secretary Of State.

Well, if Pitbull can feature Ke$ha, then why can't Barack feature Hillary, eh?

  |   April 15, 2014    7:29 AM ET

US President Barack Obama has urged Russian president Vladimir Putin to make pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine stand down, after violent clashes there and Russian troops reportedly massing on the border.

The phone call between the two leaders followed pro-Russian activists occupying buildings in eastern towns in the country.

Mr Putin said reports Russia was interfering in this were "unreliable", the BBC reported.

barack obama putin

Barack Obama asked Vladimir Putin to 'stand down' pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine

The phone call followed a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday, where they called upon the separatists to stop "destabilising" Ukraine told Russia to pull back its troops from its border with the country.

UK Foreign Minister William Hague said there that Russian claims it was not interfering lacked "a shred of credibility".

The White House said the "frank and direct" conversation between the two presidents was made at Russia's request.

"The president expressed grave concern about Russian government support for the actions of armed, pro-Russian separatists who threaten to undermine and destabilise the government of Ukraine," a statement said.

"The president emphasised that all irregular forces in the country need to lay down their arms, and he urged President Putin to use his influence with these armed, pro-Russian groups to convince them to depart the buildings they have seized."

The statement also said: "The costs Russia already has incurred will increase if those actions persist".

Speaking after Monday's meeting in Luxembourg, Baroness Ashton told reporters: "We condemn unreservedly the actions by armed individuals in the cities of eastern Ukraine.

"These attempts at destabilising Ukraine must stop. We strongly support the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

"We call upon Russia to do so as well and pull back its troops from the Ukrainian border.

"Any further actions aimed at destabilising Ukraine have to stop.

At the weekend, Ukranian interim president Oleksandr Turchynov made a televised address in which he told the nation that it was at war with Russia, after pro-Russian forces took over government buildings and a Ukrainian security officer was killed by militia.

Lessons From Hollande and de Blasio: Why Labour Must Campaign as It Would Govern

Robert Philpot   |   April 10, 2014    3:35 PM ET

There have been few electoral bright spots for the centre-left internationally since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Social democratic parties in Britain, Spain, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Portugal have all gone down to defeat.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, Labour has been eager to seek enlightenment from the experiences of those of its sister parties which have bucked this unfortunate trend.

Barack Obama's victory in 2008 appeared to offer lessons about both organisation - sparking an interest in new ways to empower grassroots campaigners - and political positioning. Running for the Democrat nomination that year, Obama appeared dismissive of the Third Way politics espoused by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair in the 1990s, commenting that: 'Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.'

Four years later, François Hollande seemed to offer an even clearer break with the left's recent past. Declaring 'the enemy is the world of finance', the Socialist candidate pledged to end austerity, introduce a 75 per cent tax rate on the very wealthy, lower the retirement age to 60, restore 60,000 jobs lost in the public sector, and introduce rent controls. Like Obama's victory, Hollande's also provided campaigning lessons. Supporters of primaries drew inspiration from the manner in which the Socialist party primary appeared to build momentum behind Hollande's general election campaign.

Indeed, such has been the paucity of centre-left examples from which to draw lessons that some excitement was even provoked by the success of Bill de Blasio's populist campaign in New York's mayoral election last November, despite the fact that it was achieved in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by six to one.

But the lessons that Labour should learn are not confined to the moment the polling stations close. Instead, the party must seek to understand the relationship between campaigning and governing. Two years after his victory, the experience of Hollande is particularly instructive. Since the creation of the Fifth Republic in 1958, no French president has fallen so far, so fast. With his approval ratings at a record low, Hollande has led the Socialist party to a pounding in local elections, which also saw a record number of town halls won by the National Front.

This far-right surge is perhaps the most worrying legacy of Hollande's key failure: his decision not to prepare the French people before taking office for how challenging his pledge to eliminate the deficit by 2017 would be. Most of France's 'squeezed middle' has seen its taxes rise, thus breaking the president's campaign pledge that nine out of 10 households would not face higher taxes, while Hollande's populist 75p tax rate has proved virtually unworkable: thrown out by the Constitutional Court, it is now, in effect, transferred onto companies' payroll taxes.

With a much-promised fall in unemployment stubbornly refusing to adhere to the president's timetable, Hollande executed an abrupt U-turn at the start of the year. Having fought Nicolas Sarkozy's attempt to trim public services, the Socialists are now led by a man who is vowing to cut public spending, and who warns that the state has become 'too heavy, too slow, too costly'. Taxation, Hollande suggests, has also become 'too heavy' and is deterring job creation; cutting spending would lead 'in time, to lower taxes'. A new 'responsibility pact' will be negotiated with business to cut employers' costs in return for the creation of more jobs.

Having won from the left, Hollande - like François Mitterrand before him - has now shifted sharply to the centre. 'Is there anything Socialist left in him?' asked Le Monde in response. Whatever the merits of the president's new position, the danger is that it stokes the feeling that voters were sold a false prospectus in 2012. Much may be forgiven if this new approach revives the flagging French economy and reduces unemployment but the disparity between candidate and president Hollande should be an object lesson for Labour.

Given the interest that his victory generated, it is also worth noting that de Blasio's first four months also offer warnings about the dangers of failing to level with voters on the campaign trail. For instance, de Blasio's signature campaign policy promised a vast expansion of nursery school and after-school programmes, funded by a tax increase on wealthy New Yorkers. Although the mayor may yet get some of the funding for this programme, the proposed tax increase seems highly unlikely to materialise in the face of opposition from New York's Democrat governor, Andrew Cuomo, and the state legislature. The tax only ever had 'a whisper of a prayer of coming true', commented the New York Times last month.

During the campaign de Blasio also wooed the teachers' unions by attacking charter schools (publicly funded but independently run schools akin to academies) in the city, describing them as having 'a destructive impact' on traditional schools. Research shows that charter school students outperform their peers in city schools in both reading and mathematics; 90 per cent of their students are black or Hispanic and three-quarters are from low-income families. In office, de Blasio's attempt to marry his campaign rhetoric with the need not to choke off a supply of good school places has proved difficult: his recent decision to approve the expansion of 14 charter schools, while blocking three agreed by his predecessor, has ended up satisfying no one; charter school pupils and their parents were joined by Cuomo at a protest rally, while de Blasio's erstwhile allies are threatening to take him to court.

'We campaigned as New Labour, we will govern as New Labour,' Tony Blair declared the day he entered Downing Street. Critics may claim that Labour today has little to learn from how he led the party to a landslide in 1997. But they should, at least, concede the importance of campaigning as you intend to govern.