Category Archives: The UC Public Policy Channel

The Truth Needs Reinforcements

Maybe it has happened to you. You were talking to friends, or scrolling through Facebook when someone shares an outrageous political news story. You think, “that can’t be right.” After a quick check you confirm the story was actually fabricated by a click farm or satirical website. You might be able to set your friend straight, but what about the larger implications of living in a world where you can’t believe everything, if anything, you read or see.

David Barstow, the new head of UC Berkeley’s investigative journalism program, addressed the challenges facing truth during the Goldman School of Public Policy’s recent board of advisor’s dinner. Barstow examines attacks on the truth from several angles. There is the aforementioned rise of intentionally untruthful news. There is social media, granting anyone unfettered access to the masses. There are deepfakes, new technology allowing people to create increasingly convincing videos of politicians, celebrities and others saying whatever the creator wishes. And on top of it all, there is the rise of public relations firms putting pressure on the economically devastated journalism industry.

Barstow believes we are in a great contest between a world of truth and a kingdom of lies. He shows how investigative reporting can excavate truth from a mountain of deceit, from his work examining President Trump’s finances, to Ronin Farrow’s reporting on Harvey Weinstein. Now, the four-time Pulitzer Prize winner hopes to inspire a new generation of journalists.

Watch — The World of Truth vs. The Kingdom of Lies — Goldman School of Public Policy Board of Advisors Dinner Fall 2019

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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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Managing California’s Financial Future

California is the worlds fifth-largest economy. That makes State Treasurer Fiona Ma’s job quite complex. Her office handles everything from financing housing development to collecting cannabis sales tax. Recently, she sat down with Henry Brady, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, to discuss the financial challenges the state is facing.

Two of the biggest issues Ma is working on are inextricably intertwined: housing and transportation. As the state’s population grows, limited housing supplies are becoming more and more expensive, forcing workers farther from city centers, and snarling commutes. One of the potential solutions she suggests is public-private partnerships, like the Virgin Trains project that will eventually connect Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

During their conversation, Ma touches on a number of other issues impacting Californians. She covers a new law that will ensure local governments get sales tax from Amazon, the growing need for senior housing, a plan to help city governments stay on top of their finances, California’s controversial proposition 13, and much more.

Watch — Financial Policy and Sustainability with California State Treasurer Fiona Ma

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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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