Friday, December 6, 2013

A Republican Takeover?

A couple weeks ago I attended a National Journal event "A Discussion with Charlie Cook" at the Newseum. The topic of discussion was the 2014 midterms. Charlie Cook opened the discussion with a macro-level look at 2014, saying the election could be about two things: 1) Republicans fixing their brand image (problems with minorities, women, young adults and self-described moderates) or 2) second term fatigue. According to Cook, there has been “no improvement whatsoever since 2012” with regards to the Republican Party’s branding issue, as evidenced by the high unfavorable ratings in polls. Second term fatigue is a concern for Democrats, with President Obama’s approval rating dropping to a low of 40% due to the botched rollout of ACA. Cook addressed the effect of the shutdown by saying that voters want to punish Republicans but they don’t want to reward Democrats. For anti-Republican sentiment to occur strongly enough in 2014 to have an effect on the election outcomes, there needs to be another shutdown or threat of default.

Jennifer Duffy, Senior Editor, The Cook Political Report then offered some thoughts on the upcoming Senate elections. Looking back, Republicans have missed a lot of opportunities. In 2010, they lost a chance to take the Senate because of problem candidates. In 2012, they only needed a net of 4 seats, but again had problem candidates. In 2014, Republicans need 6 seats—and they have a shot at getting them. There are two things working in their favor. First, Republicans have fewer seats to defend: 14 compared to Democrats’ 21. Second, Republicans have fewer open seats: 2 compared to Democrats’ 5. Of these seats, 7 are in play, and of those 7, Romney carried 6 by a significant majority. 3 of the 5 Democratic open seats are in states Romney carried, and the 2 Republican open seats are also in states Romney carried. The most vulnerable seat is Mark Pryor’s (Arkansas), who is running against Tom Cotton. Duffy said there is a 25-30% chance Republicans take control of the Senate. The likely scenario is they get to 48-50 seats; if they have a bad night they’ll have 46-47; if they have a great night, they can get 51.

David Wasserman, House Editor, The Cook Political Report then spoke about the upcoming House elections. Democrats need 17 seats to get to a bare majority of 218, and this is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Historically, the Presidential party loses in the 2nd term midterm elections. Additionally, 96% of Democrats are in districts Obama carried and 94% of Republicans are in districts Romney carried. Only 5 Republican districts lean Democratic. The abundance of safe seats makes it very difficult for Democrats to net 17 seats. Another issue is one Democrats suffer in all midterms: low turnout. The 18-29 year old voting block out-votes the 60+ group by 15 points for Democrats. However, young adults don’t tend to vote in midterms, older people do, thus giving Republicans an advantage. Wasserman concluded by saying it’s a toss-up as to which party has a net gain, but for whichever party it is, it will only be in the single digits.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Suffragists NOT Suffragettes!

This week, I was lucky enough to tour the Sewall- Belmont House and Museum with the other NOW interns. Tucked right on Capitol Hill between several Senate office buildings and the Capitol, this museum is a gem for any feminist. The House was the home to the National Women’s Party during the fight for Suffrage in the early 1900’s, and within its walls is a fascinating walk through the history of the suffrage movement and the brave leaders who spearheaded the effort. The museum holds everything from the small but important difference between “suffragists” and “suffragettes” (it’s suffragists!!), to the important speeches and banners that the leaders held in front of the White House in 1917. Although I consider myself to be well versed in the history of suffrage, this museum taught me so much about the drastic efforts of these great female leaders to earn the right to vote.
It was so fascinating to learn about the physical, emotional, and verbal abuse that suffragists suffered through just to earn something that today we see as a crucial right of democracy. While working at NOW, I am working towards equality for women every day, but this work is often through a telephone, on a computer, or at a well organized and civil rally. In 1917, Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony were imprisoned, force fed, and physically abused in their fight for women’s equality. The political environment in which they were fighting for the right to vote was so oppressive that the President, Congress, and even the police would completely ignore them at best, and more often would conspire against them. It is crazy to think that the rally I attended last week for Social Security is the same place where these brave suffragist leaders were arrested for “traffic obstruction” as they picketed the White House for the right to vote.
As we were leaving our tour, our guide was sure to leave us with an important message that really put things in perspective. As young women, we often take for granted the fact that though the things we are fighting for are important, we have made it this far because of the foundation that these suffragist women built for us. Our guide reminded us not just to “stand up” through our votes, but to also “speak up” and encourage others to vote and to use the freedoms that were earned for us by these great suffragist leaders.

Law Schools at a Crossroad

With tuition steadily on the rise across the country, many students are losing interest in attending law school. Once considered a sure bet for a stable career, students are now faced with the gamble of paying anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 with no assurance of a job after graduation. More often than not, students accumulate a massive student loan debt by graduation and then are faced with a limited job market. Frank Wu, chancellor at Hastings College of Law says that “legal education is in crisis because there are too many lawyers, there are too many law students, and there are too many law schools.”

Last year, 46,000 students graduated from law school with hopes of starting a fruitful career in the field of law. However, nine months after they graduated, only 27,000 of them had full-time jobs as lawyers. At some law schools, such as the University of San Francisco, only one in four students found jobs as lawyers. Not only are these students faced with the burden of not being able to find a job in their field of expertise, but they are unable to pay off the substantial debt they have amassed due to law school tuition. Lila Milford, a third-year Santa Clara University law student said that she has had no luck finding a job: "I have a huge looming debt and no job, so it is really high-anxiety and stressful. I knew it was going to be challenging. I didn't know how challenging." With tuition on the rise and a limited job market, law school applications are drastically declining. According to The New York Times, the number of students applying to law school has dropped by one third since 2010. This is the lowest number of law school applications in more than a decade and applications will continue to decline if tuitions stay at the same high rates.

Early this September, a task force at the American Bar Association claimed that there are significant financial pressures on law schools, students, and “the predicament of so many students and recent graduates who may never procure the sort of employment they anticipated when they enrolled." In addition, the task force called for a number of changes in legal education including more flexibility in law school curriculums and new licensing programs for basic legal services that many Americans can simply not afford. President Obama recently addressed the ongoing issues surround high tuition of law schools suggesting that law school should only be two years long and students should spend their third year clerking or practicing at a firm getting hands-on experience. By doing this, the pay would be low to begin with but it outweighs the cost of paying for a third year of law school.

Charles Weisselberg, a law professor at UC Berkeley says that there is at least one positive change this current dilemma has welcomed: students no longer are going to law school simply because they do not know what else to do. Many Professors are noticing that nearly all of their students have a genuine interest in practicing law. As an aspiring lawyer, I can only hope that law school tuition will be more reasonable in the coming years and young lawyers have the opportunity to pursue a successful career.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Sequestration and the Future of Government Research and Development

While the government shutdown is officially behind us, a new pressing issue is causing fresh panic among many federal agencies, the impending implementation of sequestration.Sequestrations are mandatory budget cuts that will decrease funding to numerous government agencies and initiatives. Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, 1.2 trillion dollars in automatic spending cuts are set to begin in January and continue over the next 10 years. Sequestrations are expected to have a devastating effect on federal research and development programs. The sequester will mean an automatic 6.4% cut to program funding levels in 2013 for most NDD programs including the National Science Foundation (NSF). These cuts will be across-the-board, with no agency able to control how the sequester impacts individual programs. NSF could lose a total of $2.5 billion in funding and there is little information on how the cuts will directly affect each program.
Sequestration will likely have the most substantial impact on energy efficiency initiatives planned by the Department of Energy (DOE), as it would impose an 8.2% reduction. This would decrease the DOE’s funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by $148 million. Budget cuts would also apply for programs such as Energy Star, Federal Energy Management, the State Energy Program, and the Weatherization Assistance Program. By decreasing funding to these programs, the US could potentially damage its economy. Benefits from investments in energy efficiency programs are proven and extensive, ranging from creating jobs to balancing budgets and saving money. Over 830,000 jobs were created in the energy and resource efficiency segment of the economy in 2010, according to a green jobs assessment by the Brookings Institute. This is an increase from the 675,000 jobs generated in 2003, suggesting that with sufficient support, job creation in energy efficiency will continue to grow. These gains, however, will be more difficult to achieve if Congress fails to avert the sequestration. In addition, Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee have raised concerns about cuts to EERE, saying that reducing the budget for research and development would result in over a hundred layoffs across the country at the national labs. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is warning that funding reductions under the budget sequestration will disrupt and delay a plethora of clean energy programs, slowing initiatives to decrease clean energy manufacturing costs and scaling back the Energy Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E). Chu also argued that budget cuts at ARPA-E would slow progress "toward a transformed 21st Century energy sector."
Sequestrations are supposed to take effect by January 15th, but Democrats are determined to fight mandatory spending cuts that would substantially decrease R&D funding. They've conceded that the level of deficit reduction mandated by sequestration must remain in place, but are now proposing that the federal agencies receive more discretion to implement the sequestration. Democrats are also hoping to redirect cuts by reducing other programs such as farm subsidies and creating a minor increase in revenue by closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy. Although Republicans remain opposed to a tax increase, they appear to be very concerned about the possible consequences of large mandatory budget cuts. Recently, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee explained their opposition to continued sequestration. They described the cuts in dire terms, noting that further sequestration will force 100,000 soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen out of a job. It appears that both parties are interested in revising the sequestration plan, and we can expect them to negotiate more as the January deadline approaches.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Shifting Electorate=Gridlock

With the 2013 elections behind us, the countdown to the 2014 midterms has officially begun.  Issues such as the recent government shutdown and the increasingly failed rollout of healthcare exchanges under the Affordable Care Act have certainly raised the stakes as our nation heads toward the 2016 Presidential election.  Despite these issues, however, a shift of our nation's demographics has ultimately contributed to the deadlock, brinkmanship and partisanship that we currently see plaguing our government.

This week, I had the opportunity to observe a Brookings Institute panel of political experts discuss the upcoming 2014 midterm elections. Additionally, one day later, our class was lucky enough to speak with John Hudak, a Brookings Institute fellow and participant on the panel.  During both events, Mr. Hudak contended that the Republican Party faced significant demographic hurdles and has failed to nominate many quality candidates for important races.  Despite only a few major races taking place this year, the shift in the electorate and overall demographics were reaffirmed.  In Virginia, the race for Governor was won by Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former Democratic fundraiser. Governor-elect McAuliffe defeated Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, confirming Virginia's evolution as a state increasingly dominated by the Democratic-leaning Washington, D.C. suburbs.  President Obama used the same blueprint to carry the state in last year's presidential election.  Mr. McAuliffe benefited significantly from an electorate that was less white and less Republican than it was four years ago.  This demographic change is not only limited to the Commonwealth of Virginia.  States such as Ohio, North Carolina, Florida were Republican strongholds just a decade ago.

This demographic change, along with gerrymandering, has created significant gridlock amongst our elected officials in Washington. While Republican state governments are able to redistrict and gerrymander to put their candidates in easier positions to win House seats, they're unable to do so in Senate and Presidential elections.  Additionally, the number of voters in a midyear election is significantly less than in a general election.  This ultimately favors Republicans because younger voters who tend to vote Democrat will stay home.  But interestingly enough, Democratic Senators currently represent such "red" states as Montana, Alaska, Iowa, South Dakota, Louisiana, Missouri and Arkansas.  Since House members from these are overwhelming Republican, a divide and subsequent gridlock has taken shape in both chambers of Congress.

As a result of this, the overall belief of the panel and other prominent political experts is that the House will remain controlled by Republicans while Democrats will keep the Senate. Republicans will use the same district lines that were put in place during the 2010 Census and subsequent Tea Party wave and Democrats should continue to take advantage of their upper hand in certain statewide elections.  While many of the political pundits will continue to dissect and analyze the prospects of 2014, our nation's demographics, electorate and gridlock won't be seriously tested until 2016.        

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Congress: A Life-long Career and Family Business

 A few weeks ago my class watched a documentary, Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? The documentary follows the 2004 campaign of Jeff Smith, a young man running for Congress. Jeff Smith’s campaign shed light on two major issues within the American legislative system.  One of the problems that plague our Congress and Senate currently is the lack of turn-over and the other being the increasing number of political dynasties.

The seats in Congress and the Senate are being held by one individual for decades. For example, the seat Jeff Smith was running for was only made available after the former Congressman, Dick Gephardt, decided to retire after nearly three decades as a representative. If incumbents choose not to retire they usually die while in office; two examples being Senators Rob Byrd and Ted Kennedy who spent nearly a half century in office.  House representatives serve two year terms, while Senators serve six year terms. It amazes me that we will not allow for a president to serve more than two terms in office but are content to allow our legislative body to hold crucial congressional seats for life.  It is my understanding that only the members of the Supreme Court were allowed to be appointed for life. I don’t believe that this is what our founding fathers hand in mind while establishing our government.

Current polls indicate that Congress has a low approval rating but the career politicians occupying those seats remain. These career politicians have been able to protect themselves against removal via gerrymandering as well as seniority practices. This is why an average Joe like Jeff Smith will never be able to usurp a seat from an established career politician. One has to wait until these individuals either decide to retire or die while in office. Even then seats are in danger of being held by a close relative of the former Congressman or Senator.

In the documentary one of the opponents that Jeff Smith was running against was Russ Carnahan. The Carnahans are a strong political family.  His grandfather A.S.J. Carnahan served seven terms in Congress. His father, Mel Carnahan, was a former governor and posthumous Senator elect, a position later served by his wife Jean Carnahan.  It is apparent that regardless of Jeff Smith’s qualifications, intentions, and popularity, he did not possess a notable political name like his opponent and unfortunately that makes a difference.  The Carnahans are not the only political family that has turned congressional seats into a dynasty. There are 37 current members who have relatives who have served in Congress and they are only increasing. As I witnessed in the documentary a political name does not necessarily mean that individuals are the most qualified. Congress does not need more incompetence and political monarchies are not helping at all.

Many are proposing a limit to the amount of terms an individual can serves in Congress. This limit would do away with the abuses stemming from seniority and political monarchies. Maybe then Congress would accurately represent the people of this country instead of supplying individuals with comfortable, lifelong careers for themselves and their relatives.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Meeting with Representative Hanna

On October 23rd, the Hamilton College D.C. students had the privilege of meeting with Representative Richard Hanna. Representative Hanna represents New York’s 22nd district, which is the congressional district for Hamilton College. Representative Hanna is currently in his second term in the House of Representatives and before running for Congress, Representative Hanna ran a successful construction company.  During the visit, Representative Hanna shared his thoughts on the recent government shutdown and the current polarized environment in Congress. He also explained the ways in which compromise between the two parties has become increasingly difficult. Representative also discussed some of his key policy issues, such as Education, with Hamilton students. Representative Hanna also answered many questions from Hamilton students. In particular, Representative Hanna explained that performing important casework for his constituents was one of the most rewarding parts of being a United States Member of Congress  

            As the semester moves forward, the D.C. students still have a multitude of activities lined up.  One of these activities includes a Hamilton Alumni Media Panel hosted by Alums George Baker and Frank Vlossak of Williams and Jensen. This panel will include a number of Hamilton Alums, such as Walt Conkrite and Matt Lachlan, who will discuss their current media careers in the D.C. Also scheduled is a tour of the Pentagon, a visit to the Brookings Institute, and a visit to the National Gallery of Art. D.C. students have also participated in a number of exciting and intense debates about current political topics. Recently, the D.C. students debated whether the Democratic Party or Republican Party were to blame from the government shutdown. Students also recently debated whether Marijuana should be legalized in the U.S. Although the debates only last approximately an hour, D.C. students are able to provide a wealth of persuasive information and evidence for each topic. Our next debate topic: Should Affirmative Action be Abolished?

Monday, October 14, 2013

In the Midst of the Shutdown, the D.C. Program Rolls On!

As the Fall 2013 Semester moves along, the D.C. program continues its immersion into the daily D.C. grind.  We are barely at the halfway point and D.C. students have had the benefit of visiting iconic sites around D.C. and hearing from dynamic speakers. Students recently had the privilege of hearing from Mike McCurry, former Press Secretary for President Bill Clinton and parent of a Hamilton Alum. Mr. McCurry discussed the current polarized Washington environment and the factors that have contributed to the current stalemate between congressional Democrats and Republicans. One factor that Mr. McCurry mentioned was the fact that congressional Representatives now spend much less time in Washington, D.C. and they simply have not developed the relationships that members of Congress developed in the past. This fact could clearly make compromise more difficult. In addition to his perspective on D.C. politics, Mr. McCurry discussed experiences from his time as Press Secretary and discussed whether Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would run for president. Overall, it was an extremely engaging and informative discussion.
D.C. students also had the privilege of hearing from Admiral James Loy. In addition to a 40-plus year career in the Coast Guard, the Admiral also served as Acting and Deputy Director of the Department of Homeland Security in the aftermath of 9/11. Admiral Loy was one of the key figures responsible for consolidating the myriad of agencies that would eventually comprise the DHS. Admiral Loy discussed the importance of effective leadership in organizational performance. The Admiral also described personal experiences throughout his career, such as his role in evacuating 500,000 civilians by water on 9/11, and his role in evacuating civilians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Admiral Loy presented a wealth of knowledge that was directly related to the seminar course this semester: Public Policy Problems: The American Administrative State.
In addition to learning from various speakers, D.C. students are also witnessing the effects of the government shutdown. Students are seeing firsthand how the lack of political compromise affects government agencies, tourist attractions, and D.C. residents. For example, with so many D.C. workers furloughed, the morning rush hour is noticeably less populated.

Although the government is shutdown, the D.C. program rolls on!

Professor G. Johnson
Assistant Professor of Government

Fall 2013 Hamilton College Program in Washington, D.C. Director

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Washington D.C, the Capital of Hardship and Negativity

Having grown up not far from New York City and spending my first semester of college abroad in London, I felt ready to embark on a new city, especially the one where my academic interests are headquartered.  I’ve always had an interest in American history and government which made the decision of whether or not to participate in the program pretty easy.  But six weeks into my internship and life in our nation’s capital, I have found that Washington has represented hardship and negativity more than the citizens of the greatest democracy of the free world.

On October 1, I was able to directly witness the first government shutdown in 17 years.  As of today, the shutdown has continued to rattle hundreds of thousands or workers and national landmarks because the individuals we as the voting population elected to represent us have failed.  Two of the simplest and more important jobs Congress takes on each year are to pass a budget and give approval to the Treasury Department to pay the nation’s debts and bills.  Instead, political agendas and animosity toward “colleagues” have prevented Congress from doing its job.

At the outset, moderate Republicans, particularly in the House, caved to the Tea Party and held the government hostage over the Affordable Care Act.  Their attempt to delay, defund or outright appeal the law has failed.  President Obama and Senate Democrats have held firm and will not negotiate the health care law with a “gun to the head.”  Let’s not forget that the law passed by Congress, signed into law by the President and upheld by the Supreme Court. 

Now, the focus of the stalemate has seemed to shift toward the debt ceiling.  Once again, Republicans are reluctant to raise the debt ceiling so that our nation can pay its bills unless it receives concessions from President Obama and Democrats.  By holding our debts and payments hostage through October 17, the Treasury Department would not be able to guarantee certain payments, including to Social Security and veteran recipients.  Democrats have once again held firm and will not negotiate while pinned to the wall.

As a result of the government shutdown and debate over the debt ceiling, many of my favorite monuments and museums are closed.  Instead of enjoying the masterpiece that is the Lincoln memorial, I find myself scouring the District for activities not impacted by the shutdown.  My friend from home, who hasn’t been to DC in more than five years, is coming to visit next weekend.  I’m still hoping to be able to fully show this incredibly historical city to him.    

As Republicans look for concessions from Democrats in return for opening up the government and paying the nation’s bills, hardship, negativity and hostility plague our nation’s so called “capital.”  I hope that before I leave I’ll be able to witness proper lawmaking and decision in action.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

An Innovative Time

I had never been to Washington, DC until this past summer when I interned for the Department of State. While I come from outside of Boston, I haven’t spent much time exploring the city itself, so living in DC was an exciting experience. I spent the summer doing the typical “touristy” things many do when in the nation’s capitol, such as visiting the National Mall and all the museums and monuments that come with it, as well as going to iconic spots such as Georgetown Cupcakes, the Potomac, or Arlington Cemetery. Coming back for the DC Program this semester I not only feel like I have a good grasp of the city, but also as if I'm part of a community. DC is welcoming in a way other cities are not, possibly due to a combination of southern hospitality and the fact that very few people who live here are actually from DC. It’s an eclectic mix of people from around the country and the world, making for a truly diverse cultural experience.

As many have said, though, it is a “one company” city, with everyone drawn into the political atmosphere in some way or another. I have seen this in the two internships I’ve had so far. Working at the Department of State is clearly related to politics, as is Environment America, an environmental advocacy group, but it’s the connections between the two and the random encounters with people from very different fields who know of a colleague or have heard about the work we’re doing that really amazes me.

What also amazes me is the hope everyone keeps hold of despite the negative political climate and continual gridlock. Through both of my internships I have attended multiple interagency and NGO meetings, and while Congress is always the subject of a bad joke or talked about in an exasperated manner, people persevere and find another way to get their goals accomplished. At State that may have meant relying more on other countries to lead the way and pass legislation, or turning more to international organizations/agencies such as the UN to get the U.S. moving on environmental issues. At Environment America it means doing more in-state advocacy or working to gain public support for EPA rules such as putting a limit on carbon pollution from power plants. Congress may be a centerpiece of our political system, but agencies and organizations have been coming up with innovative ways to work around them, changing the way they think, organize, and distribute their resources in an attempt to change at least one part of our world for the better.

My Road to Washington, D.C.

As I sit at my desk at the office of the Public Integrity Section of the United States Department of Justice, I think back to where I was one year ago from today. In the fall of 2012, I was a sophomore at Lafayette College in Easton, PA researching schools that would be worth transferring to after the academic year ended. After having lunch with my father's good friend, who happens to be a distinguished alumnus of Hamilton College, I realized that maybe taking a short trip to Hamilton couldn't hurt. Long story short, I loved being on "The Hill" and by January, 2013, I was a student at Hamilton College--the best decision I have ever made. While in my first semester at Hamilton, I had heard about the "DC Program" and immediately became interested in knowing more about it. Fast forward to the beginning of September and here I am interning for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. As hectic as it has been transferring and then only spending one semester on The Hill, a place that feels like my own home, I couldn't be happier.

As I mentioned before, I am currently interning at the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice. Almost every year if not every semester of the Hamilton D.C. program, there is at least one intern from Hamilton in the Public Integrity Section--the attorneys here often joke that Hamilton College almost has a cult-like following in this section. Every day that I am here, I am presented with a new challenge. Whether it be compiling evidence for the trial attorneys, helping the paralegals prepare indictments, or dealing directly with the FBI, there is never a dull moment. I am still unsure as to what kind of law I would like to study after graduating from Hamilton, but the hands-on experience I am receiving here in D.C.  is truly unbelievable.

Though I have only spent a short time in this wonderful city, I can honestly say that it is one of the most interesting places to live. The last time I was in D.C. was for an eighth grade trip--it's amazing how much more you can appreciate your nation's capital with just a few more years of age under your belt. Taking trips to places such as the Newseum and the U.S Supreme Court has been a blast (it's almost surreal how much U.S. history you can see in one day). Though I do miss being on The Hill, this was an experience that I could not pass up and I look forward to having a great rest of the semester here in D.C. Oh, and as always....


Friday, September 20, 2013

Leslie Knope

           Everywhere I go, it seems that someone is telling me to watch "Parks and Recreation". Although the show seemed decent to me, I never was fully convinced that it was worth my time. Since moving to DC and starting my internship at the National Organization for Women, a different take on this show has finally convinced me otherwise. My first day, my coworkers kept quoting the main character, Leslie Knope, as their "feminist hero". Although I had heard that this character was quite funny, I had never thought that a character on such a popular show would be a feminist. I figured I had to start watching the show to see it with my own eyes. Low and behold, Leslie Knope is in fact a die hard feminist- down to the photo of Madeleine Albright that sits on her desk. She is goofy, she is smart, and she is passionate about women's rights. She is wonderful.
         Throughout my three weeks working at NOW, I have continually been surprised in this manner. I have learned so much from the people I am working with and through the work NOW does as an organization. It has been an unbelievably rewarding experience to attend events that are truly important to me and to complete tasks that I feel will actually make a difference for women across the world (sounds cheesy- but hey, everyone needs a little cheesy in their life!) With each day, I feel more and more like Leslie Knope, and more and more a part of NOW because of her.
          Each week at NOW so far, I have been assigned to "staff" the President of NOW, Terry O'Neil, at a rally for a variety of causes that NOW supports. The first week, I attended a rally for an organization called OUR Walmart that fights against the oppressive nature of Walmart's treatment towards workers, especially those that are women. I heard past Walmart employees speak about the terrible ways in which they were fired and the struggles they have faced. I saw 8 women get arrested through their act of civil disobedience to show Walmart and the world that something has to change. It was inspiring. The next week, I attended a rally for "We Belong Together" to fight for immigration reform. Here, I heard women speak about their families being deported and their families torn apart. I saw 100 women crowd the streets in front of the Capitol, join hands, and sit in a circle in the middle of the street while chanting "Si Se Puede!" and "Yes We Can!" before they were each arrested. This act of civil disobedience was truly moving and sought to show Congress that they will not stop fighting for immigration reform in order to put their families back together. This week, we attended a more somber event- a rally for "Mayors Against Illegal Guns", an organization that fights for gun violence reform. I heard victims of gun violence from Tucsan, Aurora, and Newtown speak of their experiences and the tragedy of losing a sister or friend. The emotion brought power to the cause, and each speaker demanded that Congress address gun violence through background checks in order to reduce the death rates in our nation. At each event, I couldn't help but think about the passion that Leslie Knope puts into her rallies for parks in her small town, and how lucky I was to be able to attend and help at such important events.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Nicholas Cage and the Constitution

Living in Washington, D.C. for a semester is especially interesting for me because unlike many people, I have not spent that much time here. The last time I visited this city was for my eighth grade class trip - just a couple years back, but who's counting? Whenever I would tell people over the summer that I was spending the next semester "domestic abroad" they would laugh and say how great it will be because D.C. is a really great city. I would agree but in my mind I would think about how the only thing I remember is that it was a very well manicured and well kept city.

Little did I know that I was about to spend the semester in one of the most lively and exciting cities in the world. Coming from New York City, I thought nothing could surprise me, but learned I was wrong within the first few days. Every single day, there is another exciting activity or festival or concert taking place, all within the small border of the Beltway. What's more, it's not really a city as much of a community, all bound together by this common goal of making our country a better place in one way or another.

The differences between my understanding of the city as a fourteen-year-old and my understanding today came to fruition on Wednesday after our seminar when we went to visit the National Archives. I remember walking through the small yet majestic hall with images of Nicholas Cage in National Treasure racing through my mind. However, on Wednesday I strolled past the documents framed in marble and gold and couldn't help but feel proud of where I was. I'm not going to lie and say that I didn't think about that scene in National Treasure where he manages to convince Diane Kruger that the replica of the Constitution that he bought in the gift shop is the real thing, but this time it just seemed a little bit funnier.

Friday, September 13, 2013

What Has Changed: Syria

What Has Changed

When you look at the current conflict in Syria from a historical point of view you will find that nothing has changed. The French mandate of Syria has left the country divided since its independence in 1946. Prior to that, France governed Syria via a policy of divide and rule. Instead of promoting a national identity that encompassed all Syrians, the French encouraged ethic, religious, class, and territorial differences already within the country and still very much present today.  For example, Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, is an Alawite Muslim, as are the top officials in the Syrian government, including the military.  The Free Syrian Army is composed of Sunni Muslims, which happens to be the Syrian majority.  The tension between these two conflicting groups, first manifested under French Rule, still affects the politics of Syria today as well as the nature of their current civil war.
            If Syria has yet to get past its sectarian disunity how will a US military strike help? While I commend President Obama for his humanitarian interest considering Syria, I do not believe that a US military attack will solve anything. However the main concern currently revolves around Syria's chemical weapons. Although Assad has agreed to give up Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, the civil war still continues. If the use of chemical weapons used against civilians is the primary reason for US military action, then what will happen after the chemical weapons are no longer in their possession? The Middle East is constantly riddled with internal conflict.  Is the US expected to send troops to aid every single one?
As I previously stated this civil war is based upon tensions established decades before.  The minority Alawites standing behind the Assad regime verses the Sunni majority. The fighting is not expected to end soon. Both parties have too much at stake. The elite Alawites do not wish to give up their power. Although the US in providing aid for the Free Syrian Army, it needs to be aware of radical Islamist groups like the Syrian jihadists who are a part of the Free Syrian Army. The nature of this civil war is a combination of politics and religion, thus making it difficult to  find a solutions to the conflict within Syria. President Obama's persistence has served its purpose; Assad has agreed to hand over the chemical weapons.  I do believe that after the weapons are in fact secured, the threat of US military action within Syria should be taken off the table.  Military action does not necessarily mean an end to the conflict.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Welcome Fall 2013 Participants of the Hamilton College Program in Washington D.C. !

This week kicked off the 44th year for the Hamilton College Program in Washington, D.C. With internships, debates, and excursions, this semester will surely be as exciting, informative, and entertaining as prior semesters. The Department of Justice, Global Policy Group Firm, Qorvis Communications, and the National Organization for Women are just a few of the places where students are interning this semester. This semester the seminar course that accompanies the program, entitled Public Policy Problems: The American Administrative State, focuses on the complexity of the federal executive branch. In addition to learning about bureaucratic politics, agency design, and agency conflict, students will also examine multiple executive branch crises in depth. Hurricane Katrina, the attack on 9/11, the Gulf Oil Spill, and the attacks in Benghazi are a few of the case studies students will analyze.

Wednesday evenings this semester students will get to interact with dynamic speakers and visit important historical landmarks across Washington. Scheduled events include a meeting with Admiral James Loy, former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; a meeting and Capital Tour with Representative Hanna; a Hamilton Media Panel with discussions from Hamilton Alums with media careers in D.C.; and visits to the Pentagon, the Newseum and the National Archives. This Wednesday, students got the chance to hear about lobbying and politics in Washington D.C. from Hamilton Alums Frank Vlossak IV and George Baker of Williams and Jensen. With all that D.C., and the Hamilton College D.C. Program has to offer, it will definitely be a busy and memorable semester!

Professor G. Johnson
Assistant Professor of Government
Fall 2013 Hamilton College Program in Washington, D.C. Director

Monday, February 4, 2013

Next Nobel Peace Prize Winner?

Malala Yousufzai for the next Nobel Peace Prize? Thoughts, anyone?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Simulations and Dominos

Today, we held our first Senate Committee simulation, in which students took turns advocating various positions regarding the situation in Mali. Learning about all of the nuances and angles of the conflict was fascinating.

In related news...

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Return of Potomac Fever

Potomac Faithful,

We are back. I'll try to keep this blog, the blog for Hamilton College's D.C. Program, updated as frequently as possible.

Today, we visited the National Archives. While we couldn't take any photos in the building, the material was still excellent, and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the U.S.'s documentary history. The current exhibit on the Cuban Missile Crisis was also magnificent, though it only runs through the 4th. When visiting the section on the founding documents, take a look at the engraving on the ground while you're on the line to enter the area. I found it fascinating.