Category Archives: Politics

Innovating Democracy

What is the current state of American democracy, and what can be done to improve it? Three legal and political experts weighed in on those questions during a recent panel discussion at UC Berkeley.

Steve Silberstein is a member of National Popular Vote, a nonprofit that aims to work within the confines of the electoral college to ensure the presidential candidate who earns the most votes wins the presidency. Bertrall Ross teaches election law, constitutional law and legislation law at Berkeley Law. Steven Hayward is a senior resident scholar at Berkeleys Institute of Governmental Studies, and well-known conservative commentator.

The panel focuses on three key issues: voter participation, gerrymandering, and the electoral college. Silberstein begins by discussing the plan to switch to a national popular vote system without amending the constitution or passing congressional legislation. His group’s plan is to get states to agree to give all of their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner. The total of electoral votes would need to be at least 270 for the plan to effectively sidestep the electoral college. As of now, enough states have agreed to bring that total to 194 electoral votes.

Silberstein argues this would change the way presidential campaigns operate, and force candidates to focus on issues that matter to the entire country, not just voters in swing states. Hayward cautions that while that may be the intent, there will likely be some unintended consequences. Hayward urging caution before pushing reform emerges as a theme throughout the night as the panel discusses redistricting, campaign finance, and universal basic income.

Watch — Innovating Democracy: Key Issues for the 2020 Election and Beyond

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The Great Immigration Debate

Is immigration an overall benefit, or burden to society? That’s was the central question posed at the 2019 Arthur N. Rupe debate at UC Santa Barbara. Rubén Rumbaut, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at UC Irvine, takes the position that immigration is not only good, but necessary for the success of the United States. Taking the stance that immigration needs to be scaled back and tightly controlled is Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a controversial organization that has been designated an anti-immigrant hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The participants began by laying out their visions for the hallmarks of good immigration policy. Rumbaut leans heavily on the ideas that the population of the United States is aging, fewer children are being born, and our pension and social security systems will fall into crisis without an influx of new workers. Thus, he argues immigration is necessary to prop up those systems, strengthen the labor force, and repopulate shrinking towns across the country. Krikorian’s central idea is the polar opposite. He argues the United States is in good shape, and has no need for new immigration. Therefore, he says immigration policy should seek to have a net zero impact on the economy. He proposes updating the system to only accept immediate family members of current US citizens, and set the bar for skilled immigration to “Einstein” levels, meaning only people at the top of their fields.

Both debaters address several aspects of immigration policy, from big picture concepts like measuring success, to details such as how many people from any given group should be granted citizenship each year. While their differences of opinion are clear throughout the debate, they do find agreement on one issue: the current long-term population of undocumented immigrants in the United States should be granted amnesty.

With a topic as complex and divisive as immigration, it is not surprising to see more disagreement than agreement. But, finding some common ground is essential if any real progress is to be made. Whatever your stance, this debate provides some insight into the other side of the argument.

Watch — Immigration: A Boon or Burden to U.S. Society? – 2019 Arthur N. Rupe Great Debate

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Honoring the Legacy of an Urban Planning Pioneer

Leo Estrada built a legacy fighting for civil rights, voting rights and equal representation for Latinos during his 40-years at the Luskin School of Public Affairs at UCLA. Estrada was a pioneer in the field of urban planning, providing his expertise to the U.S. Census Bureau throughout his career. Estrada passed away in 2018, and the Luskin School established a fellowship in his honor, proving support to underrepresented graduate students in the Department of Urban Planning. Recently, the Luskin School paid tribute to Estrada with a daylong symposium centered around the lessons of his work.

The New Majority & the 2020 Census: Shifting the Balance of Power

In his keynote address, Arturo Vargas, president and CEO of the NALEO Educational Fund discusses the importance of the census, and the long history of efforts to avoid counting immigrants and minorities. Indeed, the Hispanic origin question was only added to the census in the 1970s, when Leo Estrada was working at the U.S. Census Bureau. Vargas calls the controversial proposal to require undocumented immigrants to identify themselves a scare tactic, aimed at decreasing representation in Washington. He details other challenges ahead, and what must be done to overcome them.

Demography & Population Studies as a Conduit to Systems Change

Quality data is paramount to ensuring equal representation. If we don’t know who is living in our communities, we can’t create and maintain the systems needed to care for and support those communities. In this panel discussion, experts on data collection, Chicano studies and urban planning discuss the challenges of getting good data, and how to turn data into action.

The Historical Exclusion of Minority Elected Officials & The Modern Fight for Minority-Majority Districts

Leo Estrada had a major impact on redistricting in California. This panel discussion features former elected officials, legal and political experts discussing how Estrada worked to ensure people of color achieved equal representation in the legislature. Not only was his expertise and data collection essential in understanding the makeup of California communities, but it also proved invaluable in recruiting the best candidates.

Mentorship: Building a Diverse Pipeline in the Academy

Leo Estrada’s legacy lives on in the scores of people he mentored over his decades-long career. This panel of academics, who crossed paths with Estrada at various points in their lives, discusses the lessons learned from his unique form of mentorship. They explain how making it in academia can be especially difficult for people from underrepresented communities, and how Estrada’s methods could be used to get more students from those communities through higher education.

Watch — The New Majority & the 2020 Census: Shifting the Balance of Power

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The Fight to End Bay Area Poverty

Daniel Lurie has been on a mission to make his community stronger since he was a child. Born and raised in San Francisco, Lurie’s family believed it was their responsibility to be part of a better Bay Area. Today, Lurie is doing just that through his non-profit Tipping Point Community. Lurie developed the concept while he was a student at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. He recently returned to campus to discuss how Tipping Point is rethinking philanthropy.

Tipping Point provides funding for non-profits around the Bay Area working on four key issues: housing, employment, family wellness, and education. But, rather than just giving money and walking way, Tipping Point works with groups to measure their success, and hold them accountable. Lurie says Tipping Point has ended relationships with 20% of their partners over the years, a testament to their high standards.

Another major issue Tipping Point is addressing is homelessness. Right now, the group is working on a three-pronged approach – creating more housing, prevention, and optimizing the public sector. For housing, they’re attempting to construct a 146-unit building in San Francisco in under three years for less than $400,000 per unit. Lurie hopes this project will prove building at that speed and price is possible, and serve as a model for future development.

For prevention, Tipping Point is working with UCSF to increase the number of beds so people with mental health problems can be set up with case managers instead of being released back onto the streets. They’re also running a pilot program in a jail to arrange housing for people when they are released. And, Tipping Point is holding regular meetings with local officials and business leaders to figure out how they can work together to address the problem.

Watch — Tipping Point and the Fight to End Bay Area Poverty with Daniel Lurie

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How Safe Are We? Janet Napolitano on Homeland Security

A lot has changed since the attacks of September 11, 2001. The Department of Homeland Security was created to safeguard the country against terrorism and other threats. As the former head of the agency, Janet Napolitano says we are now safer in many ways. She says it would be nearly impossible for someone to orchestrate another 9/11 style attack using planes as weapons. But, there are other threats to the homeland today, some of which are not getting the attention she believes they deserve.

In a recent talk at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, Napolitano spoke about her time at DHS, and her new book, “How Safe Are We?: Homeland Security Since 9/11.” She says there are three main risks to the safety of Americans: climate change, cyber-attacks, and gun violence. Napolitano says while climate change might not seem like a priority for DHS, it is increasing threats from deadly storms, drought, wildfires and rising sea levels in the US. And, it’s contributing to drought and devastation around the world which can create environments where extremism can take hold.

Napolitano says while there are several serious threats that need to be addressed, the main focus of the current administration – the southern border – is not one of them. As the former governor of Arizona, Napolitano is well-versed in border issues. She agrees that there are problems that need to be addressed, but disagrees with the methods President Trump has proposed. She advocates for increasing technology between ports of entry, and beefing up security at the ports to combat human and drug trafficking. As for the increase of migrants coming from Central America, Napolitano says it’s a crisis we can get through, but not something we can stop with the harsh treatment of asylum-seekers. She points to Colombia as an example of how the US can help restore public institutions in countries like Honduras and El Salvador, and remove the motivation for people to flee.

After her talk, Napolitano takes questions from students and moderator Orville Thomas on everything from how social media companies can combat hate speech, to whether President Trump has reached out for advice.

Watch — How Safe Are We? Janet Napolitano Discusses Homeland Security Since 9/11

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