Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry represented the United States at the African Union’s 50th Anniversary Summit. It presented him with a unique opportunity to address the changing relationship between the United States and Africa in a very public setting, and his speeches during the trip represent a significant shift in priorities – a shift that the Obama administration has been working on since 2009.


During his press conference with Ethiopian Foreign Minister Adhanom Tedros, Secretary Kerry argued that US priorities in Africa should be reconsidered, in order to put economic development and commercial ties at the center of the relationship, over and above the sometimes flashier issues of security, governance, and human rights. Minister Tedros echoed this sentiment, stating that “the economics should be the focus, especially in our future relationships.”


Revamping the focus of US-Africa relations reflects the increasingly popular idea that a holistic approach, rather than a laundry list of policy objectives, better serves the long term interests of the US as well as those of our partner countries.

EU US Free TradeMany Americans were surprised to hear President Obama in his recent State of the Union address identify a major new free trade agreement as one of his administration’s second term priorities. He was referring to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and the European Union. And while Americans may have been hearing the name for the first time, it is an agreement long in the making – and with a long ways still to go.

The idea began with the 2011 Working Group on Jobs and Growth, appointed by EU-US Summit process. This Working Group was tasked with exploring ways to boost growth and employment between the two blocs, and it identified a laundry list of areas in which closer cooperation and integration could boost trade, streamline commerce, and create jobs.

But the Group’s conclusions were only introductory, tentative steps. Even with the public commitment of President Obama, the US and the EU have a big task in front of them in order to seal an agreement that will satisfy the diverse industries and interests of fifty US states and twenty-seven European countries. While the Working Group’s recommendations may seem straightforward, getting those recommendations through the bureaucratic procedures of the US and the EU can mean that implementation of the trade partnership could take years.

Bank of Cyprus RunEver since the dramatic decline of the Cypriot banking sector the world has been trying to find “the next Cyprus.”  Across the EU and beyond many regional banking hubs exists to serve niche markets.  Some have developed recently in reaction to new markets opening up and the fall of the Soviet Union, while some have existed for hundreds of years. 

While it is easy to look at a large banking sector in a small country and get worried, most of these countries have well regulated, transparent, and modern banking practices and serve an important role in global trade.  As the world becomes flatter, and economies more intertwined, the global banking system has become exponentially more important and necessarily more complicated. Regional banking hubs serve a more crucial role now than ever before, which makes the recent trend of cavalierly labeling countries “the next Cyprus” dangerous to the system as a whole.

Jay Z and Beyonce in CubaThe close friendship of Beyonce and Jay-Z with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama is well documented.  Years of fundraisers, private engagements, and even the quick handling of a high-profile Inauguration lip-syncing scandal would lead one to believe that their creative duo’s music and business savvy is also matched with a fair amount of political sense. 

But last week, somewhere between the White House, the Treasury Department, Manhattan and Havana something went wrong. The celebrity couple decided to celebrate their five-year anniversary with a trip to Cuba – and instead ended up inadvertently re-opening the debate over the US’s relationship with the communist island, a debate the Obama Administration has tried to push aside for years.

US Federal BudgetSince the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 elections, the Congress—now divided between the political parties—has largely faced gridlock over fundamental issues of taxing and spending levels, and their approaches to economic stimulus and deficit reduction. A series of high profile showdowns between President Obama and the Democrats in the Senate on the one side, and the Republicans in the House on the other, have largely resulted in decisions on long-term budget issues being continually delayed.

Both the Senate Democrats and the House Republicans have passed budget proposals for Fiscal Year 2014, and just this week the White House has released its budget. The White house plan has drawn the ire from across the political spectrum, with Democrats up in arms over changes to Social Security and Republicans calling it “dead on arrival” because of calls for new revenue.

All sides have expressed a desire to reduce federal deficits – but President Obama is demanding a combination of tax increases and spending cuts to do so, while GOP leaders want all deficit reduction to come from spending cuts, including serious reductions in Medicare and other benefit programs.

Earlier this month, President Obama signed the JOBS Act into law. At a time when there has been little bipartisan cooperation in Washington, the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, which aims to give small businesses more access to capital, made its way through the House and Senate and on to the President’s desk. The provisions of the new law represent only a small portion of the broad plan the President has laid out for job creation, but both Republicans and Democrats praised it as being a positive step towards creating jobs, getting Americans back to work, and possible future cooperation.

The JOBS Act, originally drafted by Representatives Stephen Fincher (R-TN) and John Carney (D-DE), is a collection of several smaller pieces of legislation that aim to increase access to capital for small businesses. Many observers feel the law reflects a desire by both parties during an election year to show they are doing all they can to create jobs and provide a climate where start-ups and smaller companies can flourish.

Download this file (232_9m764u83.pdf)232_9m764u83.pdf[The American JOBS Act]103 kB

Monday, April 2 nd , saw the official release to the public of the detailed information gathered during the 1940 census. To say that the census information has been popular would be a gross understatement. The National Archives, the agency tasked with storing, organizing, and sharing census information, reported that in the first three hours after the information was released, their website received over 22 million hits.

The sheer volume of web traffic outpaced estimates and slowed servers for much of the first day. Throughout the day on Monday, many users were only able to access periphery functions and information, while larger files and images were delayed or would not load at all. Staff at The Archives worked to streamline functions on the website and increase server capacity, and by Tuesday, most users reported that they were able to find the information they were looking for.

Download this file (233_md1s16p1.pdf)233_md1s16p1.pdf[ A Look Back: The U.S. Releasing 1940 Census Data ]105 kB

Out of all the megacorporations that dominate the world of international trade, and which regularly draw a mix of scorn and skepticism over their business practices even from the consumers that rely on them, Apple had long enjoyed a unique popularity.

Its sleek design, high quality and intuitive products, and the rebellious, troubled-genius image that its founder Steve Jobs continued to project even as he led the world’s largest publicly traded company created a powerful brand and an often intense loyalty. Even with mounting reports of troubling labor practices on the part of Apple suppliers in China, the company seemed adept at sidestepping the tarnish of sweatshop labor, perhaps because the clean, whirring production floors of the IT industry seem so different than cramped and chaotic garment industry factories.

Download this file (231_j7ep0anp.pdf)231_j7ep0anp.pdf[Apple’s Agreement with the FLA signals Progress on Workers’ Rights ]172 kB

In March, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined with former President Bill Clinton to announce a novel new city program – the Chicago Infrastructure Trust.

The proposed Trust will bring to Chicago a development model – that of joint public-private investments – that has proven to be a dynamic and cost effective mechanism in other countries but which has not yet gained traction in the US. As the US faces a looming infrastructure crunch and a federal government that is proving utterly incapable of addressing the country’s long term planning needs, the innovation is coming not a moment too soon.

Download this file (230_cmt982vf.pdf)230_cmt982vf.pdf[Chicago’s Bold Blueprint for Urban Development ]154 kB