Millennials Are Shifting the Public Debate with the Power of Their Ideas

Apr 16, 2014Taylor Jo Isenberg

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's annual 10 Ideas series collects the top student policy proposals from across the country. This year's journals are now available online; read them here.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's annual 10 Ideas series collects the top student policy proposals from across the country. This year's journals are now available online; read them here.

December 2014 will mark 10 years since a group of college students united behind a new model for engaging young people in the political process, a model that became the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network. Deeply grounded in the belief that young people have more to offer than just showing up on Election Day, the Campus Network has continued to evolve and grow from its visionary beginning into the nation’s largest student policy organization, with a membership capable of shifting dialogue and effecting policy at the local, state, and national levels.

We believe that in the context of a stagnant public discourse and increasing disillusionment with a political system incapable of tackling our complex collective challenges, it is more important than ever to invest in a generation of leaders committed to active problem-solving and concrete change in the public sphere. As the Campus Network expands to more than 120 chapters in 38 states, we serve as a vehicle for fresh ideas, exciting talent, and real progress.

You will find our commitment to bold experimentation on display in the 2014 edition of the Campus Network’s 10 Ideas journals, collecting our members’ best policy proposals on issues including economic development, defense and diplomacy, energy and the environment, health care, education, and equal justice. From reforming western water rights to supporting green infrastructure, students are envisioning and acting on better solutions.

The variety and scope of the ideas in these journals are indicative of our network’s larger impact. In the past year, we’ve leveraged the effectiveness of our model to work with and inform dozens of other organizations on how to engage Millennials on critical issues, ranging from campaign finance to inequality to climate change. We’ve elevated a fresh, Millennial-driven vision for government in an otherwise stale public debate, and launched an initiative that taps into our generation’s unfettered thinking and ambition to reimagine the role of citizens in shaping fairer and more equitable local economies. Our members have continued to substantively engage in local processes to shape and shift the policy outcomes that directly impact their communities, from introducing new mapping systems to improve health outcomes in low-income neighborhoods to consulting local governments on flood prevention.

These ideas are just the starting place, because ideas are only powerful when acted upon. Yet this work is occurring in a dramatically shifting political and social context. The ways citizens engage their government, participate locally, and advocate for their communities are changing every day. As a vibrant, evolving network driven by our active members nationwide, we believe there is immense potential to capture these innovations and ensure better and more progressive ideas take hold. We believe that:

  • Millennials are turning away from traditional institutions and are looking to build new ones as vehicles for social change. We believe there is an opportunity to channel this reform-mindedness into building a healthier, more inclusive system that’s responsive to citizen engagement and evidence-based solutions.  
  • To jump-start political engagement and combat disillusionment, the focus needs to be on pragmatic problem-solving and intersectional thinking across key issues. For example, we can no longer tackle economic mobility separately from climate change.
  • There is immense potential (and need) for scalable policy innovation at the local and state levels, and much of the most effective and important policy change in the coming decade will be local.
  • With the shift from top-down institutions to networked approaches and collective problem-solving, it is more important than ever before to invest in the development of informed, engaged community leaders capable of driving engagement and action on ideas.

As you engage with the ideas, ambitions, and goals in these journals, I encourage you to dig in and explore how our country’s future leaders are taking the initiative to create the change they know we desperately need. You won’t be disappointed. 

Taylor Jo Isenberg is the Roosevelt Institute's Vice President of Networks.

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What Is Economic Growth Without Shared Prosperity?

Apr 14, 2014Joelle Gamble

It's time for the U.S. to recognize that policies to push economic growth must focus on average Americans, not "job creators."

It's time for the U.S. to recognize that policies to push economic growth must focus on average Americans, not "job creators."

Rampant inequality is putting the future of the American economy in peril. The financial recovery we have experienced the past few years has only led to massive gains for top earners and little to no change for average Americans. Decades of policies that throw more benefits to the top have not “trickled down” to the average household.

But more importantly, our current idea of economic progress is skewed. The wealthy have created this idea that “job creators” are a class of people who can magically restore out economy, ignoring the fact that entrepreneurship and innovation come from all economic statuses.

America needs to shift our economic narrative away from a heavy emphasis on GDP-based growth and toward a model that promotes prosperity for everyone. We need to think about how we generate demand in order to create jobs. This demand comes from average Americans having the ability to engage meaningfully in the economy, with fair wages without discrimination in the workplace. In short: economic progress must involve prosperity for all Americans, not just “job creators.”

Legislative battles at the local, state, and federal levels around equal pay and the minimum wage will prove crucial to changing our conception of what constitutes good economic policy. Victories in these fights represent tangible ways in which the average American worker can better his or her own economic prospects and simultaneously grow the economy.

We are seeing progress now. In January, the city of Seattle began pushing to raise the minimum wage for city workers to $15.00 per hour. Earlier this week, the state of Maryland voted to raise its minimum wage from the federal $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. Meanwhile, President Obama continues his push for federal action.

Meanwhile, in the United States, women make an average of $0.77 for every $1.00 earned by men, but growing movements are pushing the needle in the right direction. The President signed directives to clamp down on gender discrimination by federal agencies and contractors. Americans show strong bipartisan support for paid sick leave and family leave. Municipalities, are pushing through bills to make this support a reality –in New York City, Mayor De Blasio has already expanded the paid sick leave law that was established in 2013.

While the most sustainable and sweeping changes on these fronts may be best achieved at the federal level, many of the real policy battles are playing out in cities and states. This presents a real opportunity to involve a wide swath of Americans in economic justice work in their neighborhoods. If organizers on the ground build power to push a prosperity-centric policy agenda forward through both community building and new technology platforms, we can see a real shift in the narrative of what economic progress looks like in this nation.

Joelle Gamble is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network National Field Strategist.

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A Millennial’s Case for Fixing Social Security

Apr 11, 2014Brian Lamberta

Instead of giving up of Social Security, Millennials should push an easy fix for the so-called funding crisis: lifting the earnings cap.

Instead of giving up of Social Security, Millennials should push an easy fix for the so-called funding crisis: lifting the earnings cap.

As a public policy student, I’m used to hearing lively debates and diverse perspectives from my professors, fellows students, and course materials. There is one issue on which they consistently agree: apparently, Social Security cannot work for my generation. Polling data confirms this sentiment. Between half and three-quarters of Millennials do not expect Social Security to exist when we retire. Despite all of the rhetoric and doubts, I know that Social Security can work for Millennials – but it’s crucial that we fix the program.

I learned the importance of Social Security during my summer internship at The Alliance for Retired Americans, which was part of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s Summer Academy program. I learned that Social Security is the primary source of income for most seniors. The internship also taught me all about the program and its current issues, inside and out.

To give some background, Social Security is the widest reaching public benefit program in the United States. Starting at age 62, almost all Americans are eligible to receive monthly checks based on the amount they or their spouse paid into the program during their working years, with the benefit amount increasing for those who delay taking payments. The benefits of Social Security for retirement must be earned – 12.4% of nearly everyone’s yearly income below an annually adjusted cap is taxed to fund the program. For 2014, the cap is set at $117,000. Any income above $117,000 is completely ignored, so a person earning $1,000,000 will pay a 2.2% tax rate in 2014 and person earning five-figures will pay a 12.4% rate. To put it another way, a millionaire finishes paying her Social Security taxes by mid-February (at the latest) while the average American pays those taxes all year long.

Currently, there is a funding gap, which is often overstated as a “crisis.” Based on the Social Security Administration’s own predictions, only about three-quarters of benefits can be paid after 2033. Poor planning regarding the retirement of the Baby Boomers did not cause this gap. In preparation for the retirement of the Baby Boomers, we amended Social Security during the 1970s and 1980s; their retirement is almost entirely funded. This lapse (“the crisis”) is directly linked to the unintended consequences of reforming the taxable earnings cap in the 1970s.

Since 1975, Congress has linked annual cap increases to the average growth in wages. Post-World War II wage growth has consistently favored higher earners, who already had total incomes above the cap. This led to two disturbing trends, the first of which is shown in this chart, taken directly from the Social Security Administration’s website:

 

 

As seen here, the cap used to reduce taxes for many more Americans, but since the 1970s it's leveled out from reducing taxes for the top 15% to helping just the top 6%, establishing its status as a tool for the mega-rich to avoid paying taxes. Since the wealthiest Americans have benefitted most from wage growth in recent years, the amount of income that is untaxable for Social Security purposes has increased from 10% to 17% since 1975. In essence, the funding gap is a result of an antiquated and poorly calculated tax break that allows the wealthiest Americans to avoid paying their fair share.  

Social Security can remain in perpetuity if we scrap the cap. Historically, regular adjustments have been applied to program to ensure its continued solvency, and this obvious change should be no different.

Millennials: I urge you look more deeply into this issue and better understand the facts as the debate continues. Most of the money that our grandparents use to pay their bills comes from Social Security, so simply letting the program crumble would have disastrous effects. As a generation, we are far less likely to have union-backed pensions and extra money for savings. Fixing Social Security could be more necessary for our generation’s retirement stability than any before us.

Brian Lamberta is an urban studies and public policy student at the CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College and currently serves as the Northeast Regional Communications Coordinator for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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Farewell, Campaign Finance Restrictions, and Hello, Mega-Donors

Apr 4, 2014Jeffrey Raines

Yesterday's decision on McCutcheon v. FEC will radically change the power of individual donors, the amount of money in politics, and how we look at campaign finance reform.

Yesterday's decision on McCutcheon v. FEC will radically change the power of individual donors, the amount of money in politics, and how we look at campaign finance reform.

While he made a few conciliatory gestures to the left-leaning justices in the first page of his decision, the core of Chief Justice John Roberts's decision on McCutcheon v. FEC was simple and explicit: while Congress can regulate money in politics, it "may not, however, regulate contributions simply to reduce the amount ofmoney in politics." After the decision was announced in his favor, the first thing Shaun McCutcheon probably did was get out his checkbook. Meanwhile RNC Chair Reince Preibus, giddy with excitement, probably will be framing the first page of the decision on his office wall. One surprising person who was upset by the decision was Justice Clarence Thomas, who wanted to go farther than the Court and completely destroy all contribution limits.

McCutcheon is relatively simple in terms of its effect on money in politics. It eliminates an individual’s aggregate contribution limit. Or in layman’s terms, no one can stop you from investing millions into campaigns so long as you don’t go over individual limits of $5,200/cycle for each candidate or $10,000/cycle for each PAC.

So what’s still in place? We can look at the major restrictions on campaign finance of the past 40-some years. Much of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 has been overturned or undermined, or proven to be incomplete or ineffective. The 1974 amendments to that act were overturned as well, in Buckley v. Valeo. And the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, or McCain-Feingold, has mostly been overturned as well. The exceptions are the laughably inadequate disclosure requirements, the rule that foreign nationals can't make political contributions, and the increased contribution limits, which were indexed to inflation.

And what's left? Not much. McCutcheon v. FEC does not simply undo the precedent set over forty years ago in Buckley v. Valeo. It will drastically increase the power of the wealthiest 1% of Americans because there is one less restriction on how much they can affect a campaign cycle.

There is some speculation that McCutcheon will actually improve things, because it will give more power and accountability back to the people and away from SuperPACs. Let’s debunk that terrible justification right now: The McCutcheon decision will only increase the amount of money in politics, without affecting the bottom lines of PACs, SuperPACs, or “CareyPACs” hardly at all. If you are someone like McCutcheon, and can afford to contribute more than $123,200 every election cycle, it’s only going to increase the amount of money you can hand out to the red-tied politicians waiting outside your office like a Great Depression-era bread line.

Senator Chuck Schumer of NY said in a statement yesterday “by eliminating aggregate contribution limits, nothing can stop a single millionaire from lining the pockets of an entire state’s congressional delegation.” In 72% of the country (36 states), an individual like McCutcheon could already do just that, because those states have small enough delegations. Now it’s possible in the entire country. Instead of contributing the maximum to as many as 9 candidates (the aggregate limit to candidates was $48,600), anyone with money burning a hole in their pocket could contribute the maximum to each of the 55 California Democrats or Republicans running for the House and Senate. That’s a potential contribution of $286,000 to the California delegation. And if McCutcheon (who is a conservative) wanted to contribute the max to every Republican running for the House and Senate in 2014, it would cost him a mere $2,433,600. That might not seem like a lot in comparison to the $150 million Sheldon Adelson gave last cycle, but it’s an extra $2.38 million to candidates that could have instead bought groceries for a family of four for over 150 years. That’s rent in New York City for 65 years. How many Americans can choose giant campaign contributions over that?

My prediction for 2014 was already record-high expenditures and expansive war chests simply because that’s the trend we’re facing. Now it’s going to skyrocket. Expect every major news outlet to start profiling the “mega donors” once August and September rolls around. You’ll see men like McCutcheon and Sheldon Adelson’s profiles on sites that track big money's influence on politics to blow up with contribution records – at least for the contributions that are disclosed.

For further reference on campaign finance reform, see the oral arguments from McCutcheon, and analysis from the Sunlight Foundation on the case and how it will benefit thetop 1,000 donors, as well as The New Yorker's John Cassidy's take.

Jeff Raines is the Chair of the Student Board of Advisors for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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Reducing Flood Risks is Worth the Effort – and the Savings

Apr 1, 2014Melia Ungson

Programs aimed at cutting flood insurance premiums by reducing risk have their pluses and minuses, but the positives deserve strong consideration from local governments.

Programs aimed at cutting flood insurance premiums by reducing risk have their pluses and minuses, but the positives deserve strong consideration from local governments.

FEMA administers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to make flood insurance available to many communities, as most standard home and property insurance policies do not cover losses from floods. In 2012, Congress passed the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which called on FEMA to raise flood insurance rates so that they better reflect flood risk. This has spurred concerns about people’s ability to afford flood insurance and maintain property values.

One program that strives to help make flood insurance more affordable and encourage communities to reduce flood risk is the Community Rating System (CRS), which began in 1990. Communities that participate in CRS receive a discount on flood insurance premiums. The more a community does to reduce flood risk, the larger the premium reduction. According to FEMA, CRS has three main goals: to reduce flood damage to insurable property, to strengthen the insurance aspects of the NFIP, and to encourage a more comprehensive approach to floodplain management.

CRS is a points-based system, where 500 points is required for participation. A community can earn CRS points by taking on actions from an approved list. These activities are broken up into four main categories (public information, mapping and regulations, flood damage reduction, and flood preparedness), and include everything from disseminating brochures with flood hazard information to developing mapping information.

Based on the number of points accrued, communities are assigned to one of ten CRS classes. Class 10 is for those who are not participating or who have less than 500 points. Class 9 communities, with 500-999 points, receive a 5% reduction, and Class 1 communities, with 4,500 points or more, receive a 45% reduction. The increasing reductions create incentives for communities to expand flood protection activities.

Despite the benefits, CRS communities represent only about 5% of the communities in the NFIP. Most communities that participate in CRS fall between Class 5 and Class 9. In New England, most participating communities fall between Class 7 and Class 9. Improving class takes time and resources, but for a program that has been around for nearly 25 years, there are surprisingly few communities at the top classes. Roseville, California is the only Class 1 community, inspired to take on the CRS after devastating floods, and its 45% reduction saves residents an average of $792 per plan. Additionally, only three communities have achieved a Class 2 rating. Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has creeks that cause flooding, saves residents an average of $514 per plan. Unincorporated King County, Washington, which focused on preserving floodplain open space, saves residents an average of $586. And Pierce County, Washington, which focused on public information, saves residents an average of $550.

Beyond premium reductions, FEMA argues the program has other benefits. These include improving public safety and awareness, facilitating easier comparison and evaluation with a standardized classification system, providing technical assistance, and focusing on maintaining measures to reduce risk.

Indeed, CRS does have major benefits, not least of which is the reduced premium. With the incentive to reduce flood risk, the program balances recognizing the real risks and costs of living in areas with flooding dangers, and also trying to make those communities more prepared and resilient. Acquisition and relocation are incentivized through CRS with high point rewards, as is preserving hazardous flood areas as open space, though the bulk of the program’s actions focus on reducing risk in areas that will remain inhabited. Additionally, FEMA offers free training for local officials and makes emergency management specialists available to support CRS applications.

However, the very low number of NFIP communities that participate in CRS suggests that there are obstacles to applying for and maintaining CRS status. Despite Tulsa’s success in CRS, overall interest in the program has been declining in Oklahoma, as local officials weigh the benefits and costs of implementing CRS. A major issue is limited local capacity. Communities that are already struggling to stretch budgets and personnel may not be able to take on the additional work required by CRS to benefit residents living in flood zones. This may be particularly problematic in cases where the residents of flood zones are those who are struggling with the added costs of flood insurance and are most in need of the premium reduction. Since individual residents cannot take steps to gain points, the community must rely on local officials to prioritize CRS.

Furthermore, upgrading levels is difficult and takes time. King County, for instance, went from being Class 10 when the program started in 1990 to Class 9 in 1992. It then took 15 years to work up to Class 2. That long time horizon may be discouraging to getting communities to apply. A 5% discount may not seem like much in comparison to the time and work required for a class upgrade, so communities may postpone their participation until they accrue enough points for a larger reduction.

Lastly, the number of communities participating, and especially the number of communities in the top classes, suggests that there may be a gap between national standards and local capacity. Though the cost of implementing CRS varies, communities have reported costs ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 and above, largely for disseminating information and developing maps. Some communities may be hesitant to proceed too far along with CRS, as it poses restrictions on development, such as elevation requirements.

Despite the challenges, CRS is an important tool. While local communities may have limited capacity, FEMA, too, can only do so much to reduce risk in communities across the country. CRS empowers local officials to take action, while also putting money back into the hands of residents. The challenge is to make the case to local residents and officials that participation in CRS is worthwhile. It is a big commitment, with the application likely taking significant time and resources, and it is an ongoing commitment, as communities must demonstrate they are maintaining measures to reduce risk and inform the public. Yet many of those actions are valuable, and even doable with the resources offered by FEMA and other agencies. While CRS may fairly not be a top priority for many communities, it is worth serious consideration.

Melia Ungson is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Energy and Environment.

 

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Higher Education Financing Needs a Better Deal Than This

Mar 31, 2014Raul Gardea

Bipartisan budget proposals seek to address the debt-burden on students, yet merely underscore the need for a drastic overhaul of post-secondary education financing.

Bipartisan budget proposals seek to address the debt-burden on students, yet merely underscore the need for a drastic overhaul of post-secondary education financing.

The White House’s latest proposal for easing student-debt is a noble but ultimately bankrupt effort, which misses the forest for the trees. The plan includes an expansion of income-based repayment (IBR), makes the American Opportunity Tax Credit permanent past the current 2017 cut off, and places a cap on loan forgiveness for public sector workers. Yet like most college affordability proposals that have come out of Washington, the current plan offers Band-Aid “reforms” that fail to cut to the heart of the structural problems in how we finance higher education. Instead of trying to fix the debt, the conversation should center on solving why students should need to take out such massive debt in the first place, a discussion few in Washington are eager to have.

A common critique of debt forgiveness is that such policies encourage students to take on a heavier financial burden and leads to schools hiking tuition to compensate. On paper, tuition deferral methods like IBR coupled with loan forgiveness are sound. This method shifts the costs from the individual to the taxpayer, as they should if we still value higher education as a public good. Currently, students who demonstrate need can enroll in “Public Sector Loan Forgiveness” (PSLF) which is an IBR plan that forgives debt after ten years of public sector or non-profit employment. The new proposal lifts the needs-based eligibility requirement to allow larger numbers of individuals to sign up, but places a $57,500 cap on forgiveness for public sector workers and requires payments for twenty-five years instead of ten for any amount over that.

Yet despite the White House’s claim that the proposal provides a “safeguard against raising tuition at high-cost institutions,” there is little reason to believe that will be the case. If the school has already been paid, and taxpayers will foot the bill in twenty-five years as the proposal stipulates, what incentive would there be for colleges to keep tuition low? Since schools have nothing at stake, it is likely that they will continue to increase tuition without regard for what happens to graduates. Students who may have considered serving their communities by pursuing careers as, say, public interest lawyers, relying on the promise of loan forgiveness after ten years are now having the rug pulled out from under them.  A quarter-century of indebtedness is simply absurd to imagine.

Republicans have also weighed in on higher education spending through their tax code reform proposals. They include repealing or consolidating various credits into a permanent American Opportunity Tax Credit, taxing PSLF, and repealing several tax breaks for students, among several other proposals. While this legislation will likely go nowhere as it is, several of these items could linger for a while and undoubtedly worm their way into more digestible, passable bills.

All this back and forth about restoring the promise of higher education hides the urgent need for a massive overhaul of the way the U.S. finances post-secondary education, something that Washington seems unwilling to do. Thinking back to the hopefulness of 2009 now seems like a lifetime ago. That year appeared to signal a turning point in history: a return to a strong, activist, solutions-oriented federal government. The 111th Congress was the most productive Congress in a generation. Certain sectors of the economy appear to be correcting course, with health care costs dropping and financial markets rising again. Yet the cost of a college education, an issue that President Obama is supposedly obsessed with, has continued to increase during this tenure. As his presidency winds down, it’s easy to feel like the window for passing any kind of comprehensive reform has shut. A large segment of our generation is chronically underemployed.  Students continue getting fleeced as the federal government hands out mortgages and lends to banks at lower interest rates. 41% of student loan holders are behind on their payments. Sen. Elizabeth Warren says government should not profit off the backs of students. As one of the few consistent voices advocating for this issue, she must get lonely.

Just as income inequality has become part of the national dialogue through grassroots efforts, reeling in higher education costs is something that requires broader strokes. Local efforts like the Kalamazoo Promise or San Francisco’s Kindergarten to College must be commended for expanding college access to students who might otherwise be shut out. But these programs assume higher education will remain exorbitantly expensive. Rather than trapping students in a debtor’s prison for twenty-five years, policymakers should be deep-diving into an audit of bloated university president and administrative pay, intercollegiate athletic subsidies, and educational outcomes per tuition dollar, among other things. During election years, the Obama White House tends to revisit its college affordability agenda, and this time is no different. But even without re-election to worry about, we have yet to see this administration truly go big on this issue. As campaign season heats up, access to an affordable higher education should be a bigger part of the conversation and indeed, must be a part of any serious policy agenda.

Raul Gardea is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Senior Fellow for Education.

 

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Venezuela: The Crisis We Fuel With Our Apathy

Feb 28, 2014Leslie Bull

When the mainstream media ignores crises abroad, the crisis doesn’t stop or disappear, and that lack of attention can shift a situation from bad to worse.

When the mainstream media ignores crises abroad, the crisis doesn’t stop or disappear, and that lack of attention can shift a situation from bad to worse.

Given the recent revolutionary events in Ukraine, it is understandable that much of American media attention on foreign politics is concentrated on that country, and that country alone. But it is important to remember that our myopic focus on just one world event at a time comes with a price: sometimes the other crises in the world that go ignored are actually made even worse because of it. We sometimes forget the power that just paying attention to a crisis can have – without it, those perpetrating the crimes can rest assured that the international community’s eye is elsewhere, and can behave with impunity. In the case of the current unrest in Venezuela, the price of that apathy might just be my friend’s life.

That friend is Carlos Vecchio, National Political Coordinator of the Venezuelan opposition party Voluntad Popular (VP). I met Carlos when he came to Yale University just a few months ago to start his term as a Yale World Fellow. While he was here, he spoke passionately about his tireless efforts to promote democracy in Venezuela; his enthusiasm and depth of knowledge were infectious. As a recent college grad, I was by far the youngest and least experienced of the staff on the program and he always made time for me and treated me with respect and kindness. He reached across campus to students, faculty and other Fellows – many of whom have rallied around him in this time of crisis – with his pure love of his country and genuine respect for democratic ideals. And now, just two months after returning to Venezuela, he is facing a warrant for his arrest.

Venezuela is in the midst of game-changing anti-government protests by students and opposition party supporters (many led by Voluntad Popular members), calling for improved security, an end to shortages of basic goods, and better freedom of speech. The Venezuelan government has responded with a violent crackdown on protestors, raids on VP’s political offices, and persecution of VP leaders, including Carlos. Following the detention of top VP leader Leopoldo López, who was taken into custody on February 18, Carlos now serves as the de facto leader of the VP party, making him a likely government target. Carlos’ safety is in serious jeopardy, and he is currently in hiding with limited access to communication. Unlike López, he is not an internationally recognized figure, so media outlets outside of Venezuela have yet to report on his situation. Amnesty International has released an alert specifically naming Carlos as a government target, but his relative anonymity will allow government forces the space and ability to do whatever they please without fear of international repercussion. 

This is the real, human result of what may seem like harmless apathy on our part. Leaders who want to stifle political opposition and media freedom through extreme or violent means are free to do so, and those working to effect positive democratic change are sacrificed because we can’t be bothered to pay attention. As Francisco Toro, of the blog Caracas Chronicles, put it best:

“Venezuela’s domestic media blackout is joined by a parallel international blackout, one born not of censorship but of disinterest and inertia. It’s hard to express the sense of helplessness you get looking through these pages and finding nothing. Venezuela burns; nobody cares.”

We cannot continue to choose our apathy over people like Carlos, who are putting their lives on the line for the sake of a functioning democracy. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has spoken out about Carlos’ persecution, and a few news outlets are picking up the story, but there is a long way to go if we are to ensure Carlos’ safety. Please share Carlos’ story far and wide, urge your representatives to speak out as well, and help us show the Venezuelan government that someone is paying attention.

Leslie Bull is a former Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy with the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network. She is currently a Woodbridge Fellow at the Office of International Affairs and the World Fellows Program at Yale University. All opinions expressed herein are her own, and not those of Yale University or its administration.

Photo via Flickr.

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In Campus Network’s Summer Academy, Students Learn What Good Work Really Looks Like

Feb 20, 2014Jeffrey RainesJoe Swanson

Jeff Raines and Joe Swanson participated in the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s Summer Academy program in DC in 2011 and NYC in 2012 respectively. They reflect on why they chose Summer Academy, and how it’s helped to shape their college experiences and career goals.

Jeff Raines and Joe Swanson participated in the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s Summer Academy program in DC in 2011 and NYC in 2012 respectively. They reflect on why they chose Summer Academy, and how it’s helped to shape their college experiences and career goals.

Jeff: I wanted to spend my first summer internship doing something meaningful. And going to school in DC, I knew there were a lot of options, but not as many real opportunities. After all the hype I heard from older members of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, I applied to the Summer Academy because I thought the program would give me more than coffee runs and copy machines all summer. And it did.

I worked in the DC office of the Roosevelt Institute in the summer of 2011 and spent my nine weeks doing work that directly contributed to the success of the organization’s efforts. I helped coordinate a 100+ leadership summit for Campus Network members and other progressive student leaders, ensuring that had a place to sleep, food to eat, and so on. Anyone familiar with conference planning knows this isn’t a walk in the park, but that’s the point. Whether interns were placed within the Roosevelt Institute or at another participating organization, there were always projects that required real work from the interns. Progressive organizations know that competency and ability don’t come with age. They give Summer Academy interns real responsibility because they want us to have something more solid to say about our experiences. They want us to be able to say we contributed: that we did something.

Jeff Raines, left, and Joe Swanson, right, at the Hyde Park Leadership Summit in August 2013And while there is nothing wrong with occasionally making a coffee run, I don’t think I was ever asked to do so. And I never did find out where that copy machine was. 

The Summer Academy was an environment for me to learn and shine, and the experience has taught me that I must continue to seek out comparable opportunities the rest of my college career. After Summer Academy, why would I accept anything less?

Joe: Like Jeff, I knew that I wanted to do good work and fight the good fight in my first summer internship. My imagination carried me to the inner hallways of the Capitol building, where I would be meeting with staffers and challenging senators. This dream quickly disappeared as I heard my friends recount their internship experiences of monotonous administrative tasks such as picking up phones and filing paperwork. I honestly believed that I would need to reel in my expectations – but then I heard about the Campus Network Summer Academy Fellowship. 

I was accepted to Roosevelt's program in New York City and succeeded Jeff's role in the Campus Network office. I had many of the same responsibilities in the office, including full ownership of the logistical coordination behind Roosevelt's national leadership summit. That was a crash-course in the necessary functions of non-profit organizations. However, the biggest impact the Summer Academy had on me was the day-to-day experiences I shared with other fellows and Roosevelt staff. 

Every Summer Academy Fellow was given the task of writing weekly op-eds and a final policy paper. That meant we spent all day talking about policy, and I was in an office environment that made the use of the word "office" seem wildly inaccurate. The place was basically Disneyland to me. I had to be told to "go home," because my brief question about our perception of citizenship would spark an electric conversation that would last until four in the morning. Roosevelt staff made me feel like a colleague rather than a bottom-rung employee and the Summer Academy Fellows felt like my brothers and sisters both in and out of the office. In the end, the Summer Academy changed my life. Not only do I keep in contact with the amazing people I met, but I have come to love the work we did together. The Fellowship set a foundation, which has fueled my desire to seek a permanent place among those who fight to build a more just world just as I did in New York.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network is accepting applications for the 2014 Summer Academy Fellowship through Tuesday, February 25. For more information about the program and to apply, click here.

Jeff Raines is the Chair of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Student Board of Advisors and a senior at American University.

Joe Swanson is the Policy Coordinator for the Southern Region of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a senior at Wake Forest University.

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Solving California's Water Crisis Requires A Look Beyond This Year

Feb 19, 2014Melia Ungson

Reactive measures won't solve the long-term problems of this drought, which require thinking about more permanent changes in water use.

Reactive measures won't solve the long-term problems of this drought, which require thinking about more permanent changes in water use.

It’s not every day that your local paper has a section of its website dedicated to news about days without rain and reservoir levels, but the San Francisco Chronicle’s drought page is one marker of the water crisis in the West. On January 17, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency, directing Californians to voluntarily conserve water and state officials to assist communities facing water shortages, reduce water use, hire more firefighters to combat the elevated fire danger, and expand public awareness.

California state health officials announced in mid-January that 17 communities – all rural – could run out of water within 100 days, with other communities not far behind. Then on January 31, authorities announced that for the first time in its 54-year history, the California State Water Project, which moves water throughout the state and serves roughly two-thirds of the its population, would allocate zero water supplies to urban and agricultural users. The contractors who usually get water from the project will instead have to rely more heavily on other sources, like groundwater.

On February 14, President Obama spoke in central California, linking the drought to climate change and emphasizing that the country must find a better way to manage diverse water needs and concerns. Yet instead of spurring local innovation and opportunity, action thus far has focused on restricting activities and competing for water use.

Beyond concerns about having adequate supplies of water for drinking, industry, and agriculture, priorities to protect ecosystems and water quality are being put to the test. Officials are relaxing requirements for water releases from reservoirs, which lowers water quality in key areas such as the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in order to increase available water supply. California Republicans proposed a bill arguing for a stricter cap on the water allocations for environmental restoration and additional water allocations to the Central Valley and Southern California, which would hamper efforts to protect endangered fish. The bill’s proponents argue that addressing water shortages should take precedence. This shows how decisions made to manage the drought this year will not only affect future water supplies, but also the health of ecosystems, protected species, and agricultural sectors.

Even though California, along with much of the West, has managed with droughts in the past, this is a new scale. Just take the snowpack. Even in the driest year to date, 2013, the Sierra snowpack in mid-January was at normal or just above normal levels in mid-January. As of mid-January this year, however, the snowpack is at only 8-22 percent of normal levels across the Sierras. This snowpack is California’s largest and most reliable water supply, but if the driest year on record followed a normal snowpack in January 2013, the low measurements of January 2014 spell nothing but trouble. To ensure that the state can push through this drought, and ensure resilience in dry years to come, it is critical that communities and decision-makers act boldly with an eye for long-term consequences and lasting change.

Unfortunately, the current policy approach is more reactive than pro-active, with only a few cities, like San Francisco, having made investments to ease water shortages after prior droughts. Voluntary cuts have a limited impact, in part because mandatory cuts are sometimes just around the corner. Those who follow the voluntary cuts are hit even harder if or when mandatory cuts set in, forcing them to reduce water use even further, especially if mandatory measures are percentage cuts, rather than restrictions on activities like watering lawns or washing cars. While cuts and restrictions may help the state make it through this drought, they are not a long-term solution. Given that California’s population continues to grow and that water resources are dwindling, the approach must instead focus on finding opportunities, linkages, and incentives that strive to prepare the state for a resilient future.

The drought is a wake-up call that it is time to do away with outdated infrastructure and environmental policies, come together as communities to reassess our values and priorities, and broaden the discussion of climate change beyond energy. For young people in the West who know that they will be living through more dry years to come, this is a chance to innovate and find ways to reduce the need for water. In California, this means a renewed focus on innovation in agricultural water use and management systems. Agriculture accounts for about three-quarters of California’s water use, and it plays a critical role in California’s economy and food supply. However, rural communities often lack the resources to invest in new water infrastructure or manage water uncertainty from year to year.

Though urban areas use less water, they must address this question as well, particularly as populations grow. This must include some lifestyle changes, such as re-envisioning home and park landscaping to be drought resistant instead of green and grassy. It also requires searching for waste and opportunities to link systems, such as using grass and weed cuttings from medians and other areas as feed for livestock instead of using water to grow separate pastures. Looking forward, we can change what we use and what we waste to better reflect the realities we see in our communities. Instead of relying heavily on massive state-wide water plans and waiting for officials to announce mandatory cuts to water use, we can aim for creative locally-based actions that will prepare our communities to better manage our water in the long-term.

Melia Ungson is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Energy and Environment.

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A New Medicare Penalty Puts the Focus on Community Health

Feb 13, 2014Anisha Hegde

The Affordable Care Act could force the U.S. to expand community health programs, and that would be good for patients.

With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), hospitals will be penalized if Medicare patients are readmitted within a month for several illnesses, including heart attacks and pneumonia, and private insurers are likely to follow suit. This component of health reform provides fertile ground for a fortification of community health, which focuses on improving the wellness of a geographic area largely through preventive measures.

The Affordable Care Act could force the U.S. to expand community health programs, and that would be good for patients.

With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), hospitals will be penalized if Medicare patients are readmitted within a month for several illnesses, including heart attacks and pneumonia, and private insurers are likely to follow suit. This component of health reform provides fertile ground for a fortification of community health, which focuses on improving the wellness of a geographic area largely through preventive measures.

Before health reform, readmitting patients soon after their discharge allowed hospitals to fill beds and receive more money from Medicare by billing for the hospital stay and treatment. The New England Journal of Medicine estimated that this incentivizing of superfluous re-hospitalizations was costing Medicare $17.4 billion annually. Now, however, hospitals are encouraged more than ever to pay attention to what happens to their patients after they are discharged.

Although the punishment of unnecessary readmissions is an imperfect solution, as the burden of punishment may fall heavily and unfairly on hospitals that treat very sick and very poor patients, it does put the focus on bolstering primary health care for the country’s most vulnerable patients. In a law that includes stipulations such as paying physicians a flat rate for Medicare visits no matter the complexity of a patient’s illness – a stipulation that has forced many physicians to reduce the number of Medicare patients they treat – the penalizing of unnecessary readmissions could be one stipulation that revitalizes community health.

Thus far, this renewed focus on community health has taken the form of hospitals setting up follow-up appointments for patients who lack primary care physicians. or sending nurses to visit with patients at home. Funding and personnel support for these initiatives is coming largely from community health foundations and nonprofits such as Sun Health. As a New York Times article relates, nurse home visits reduce re-hospitalizations by explaining to patients in a more intimate setting the importance of their medications and the side effects they could experience and, if necessary, by recommending that the patients seek an alternative prescription. Nurses are also effective at sending patients back to the hospital when they truly do need to be readmitted. Additionally, hospitals are contracting with companies such as PreMedex, whose employees call patients post-discharge to ask important questions geared toward health maintenance, such as if the patients have had any fever or pain since they left the hospital.

As many millennials prepare to enter health professions, we have an opportunity to reshape the system. This means pursuing existing programs like PreMedex and continuing to amplify and support the primary care physician core, but also exploring novel ways of tracking and promoting community health. For instance, the U.S. could take a page from the playbook of developing countries like Ethiopia and Rwanda, where doctors and nurses train trusted members of a community to help individuals understand preventive care practices and cope with treatment plans. The U.S. has about 38,000 community health workers, but unlike in other countries, their roles are nebulous, they do not have to go through a standardized accreditation process, and they lack a clearly structured source of funding. A study by the American Public Health Association found that the intentional and structured employment of these workers would result in savings for both patients and providers.

As the Affordable Care Act is implemented and Medicare penalties are incrementally increased to their prescribed level by October 2015, policymakers at all levels must evaluate the gaps that health reform leaves to be filled – namely how to construct the bridge between the newly insured population and health actors whose roles have been redefined, such as hospitals now having a stake in preventive health and primary care clinics now serving a larger population. The success of organizations such as Sun Health in reducing re-hospitalization has already started to show that the feat of sustaining accessible yet quality health care can indeed be accomplished.

Anisha Hegde is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Health Care.

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