A Philanthropic Response to Voting Rights Restrictions: Shelby County vs. Holder - Present

Introduction.

            On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 5-4 split, freed states from the section of the Voting Rights Act that required advance federal approval for a change in their states’ election laws. In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg compared the court’s decision to “[throw] out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”[1] Since this time, many states have passed laws that make voting harder, largely impacting minority voter turn out. “These [restrictive laws] include new measures that require voter ID or proof of citizenship, eliminate early voting days or locations, restrict or shut polling locations, and a myriad other tactics designed to unfairly limit and discourage voter participation by African-American, Latino, Asian, young, and lower-income Americans.”[2]

            Through litigation, the creation of donor collaborative funds, technology advancement, policy advocacy, and voter outreach, philanthropy has worked to defend the right of Americans to participate in their government’s elections. In this report, the case for philanthropy’s further involvement in the fight for voting rights will be made, based on its previous successes and the nature of its role in American democracy. The case will also be made that the expansion of voting rights is, in fact, a nonpartisan issue that philanthropies can freely support. The assumption made in this report, and by many foundations supporting voting rights activism, that higher voter participation is strengthening to American democracy.

The Role of Philanthropy.

Philanthropy has emerged as the most effective actor in the fight to protect and restore voting rights in America. Multifaceted in its nature, it’s improbable that the issue of voting rights can be righted by the same style of blunt federal ruling that endangered them in the first place; rather, adaptable and nuanced approaches funded through philanthropy are far more impactful. Voting rights has become a partisan issue in government, with restrictive voting laws overwhelmingly coming from the Republican Party, which has full control of the governors’ mansions and state legislatures in twenty-three states compared to the Democrats’ control of just four states[3]. By giving the states control of election law, voting restrictions have reflected this GOP-dominated composition.

Philanthropies working to expand voting rights, however, are motivated by nonpartisan mission statements that aim to “strengthen democracy” such as The Ford Foundation, The MacArthur Foundation, and Omidyar Network’s Democracy Fund. These funders have given more than $400 million in grants to “Campaigns, Elections, and Voting” initiatives, the largest portion of $198 million going specifically towards Voter Education, Registration, and Turnout.[4] “[Foundations] are often driven by a belief that a high level of voter turnout, regardless of the voter’s political affiliation, is an important indicator of a healthy democracy, and that more engagement by voters will ultimately lead to better policy outcomes.”[5] Many philanthropists agree with Michael Waldman, President of the Brennan Center for Justice, when he says, “Voting is a nonpartisan issue.”[6] It is, in many ways, similar to the philanthropic efforts to support the civil rights movement – while opposed in government by one political party, the philanthropic principle behind their efforts was not in support of one party or the other.

However, when pitted clearly against the platform of a national political party, donors and foundations may hesitate to openly support voting rights efforts. Money that might have gone to 501(c)3 organizations working to expand voting rights purely in the philanthropic space may go to lobbying efforts or campaign donations, instead. In this report, the various ways philanthropy can impact the fight for expanding voting rights are illustrated by current efforts by foundations and not-for-profits. “Since 2011, almost 200 foundations have made about 1,300 grants to almost 500 nonprofits to further voter education, registration, and turnout.”[7] Not only will the great effect made by philanthropy be shown, but it will also show areas for further engagement from the philanthropic sector. The philanthropic timeline, after all, exceeds governmental term limits and election cycles. As Waldman of the Brennan Center makes clear in a panel discussion for philanthropists interested in strengthening democracy, “this is a central fight and it will never be won permanently, but it is a fight we must continue.”[8]

Current Philanthropic Efforts.

            There are myriad approaches taken by philanthropists to strengthen American democracy. These efforts, in many cases, directly correlate or overlap with efforts to expand voting rights. Some philanthropies fund litigation or litigate themselves in the face of voter suppression. Others focus on improving the administration of elections in America through technology. Still others work more structurally, creating policy proposals and conducting research on the effects of Shelby and restrictive voting laws on America’s democracy. Finally, with the recognition that some aspect of disenfranchisement lies not only in law but also in public perception that one’s vote “doesn’t count” or “can’t change anything,” other philanthropic efforts engage with voters and encourage democratic participation in communities that historically have low voter turnout.

            Litigation is undoubtedly key in the expansion of voting rights, as it is the tool of the people when they dissent with the government. However, litigation efforts find themselves underfunded due to “foundations’ [reluctance] to fund anything that’s going to court.”[9] Taking the government to court, while a defensive practice in response to a restrictive law, can still be seen as aggressive from the perspective of philanthropists, especially those trying to maintain a purely nonpartisan appearance. However, the legal defense funds and litigation groups are, by most accounts, on the front lines, allowing other types of not-for-profits to operate more structurally. Geri Mannion, director of Carnegie Corporation's Strengthening U.S. Democracy Program, which does not actively litigate, makes it clear that “if it weren’t for the all the great legal defense funds and other litigation groups, we would be in much worse shape.”[10] Not only that, but they work with the policy institutes and research organizations, using data they use to defend their legal cases.

            The Brennan Center for Justice represents the multifaceted nature of voting rights by engaging in litigation, policy advocacy, and research. In June of 2015, The Brennan Center represented the League of Women Voters of the United States, along with its Arizona and Kansas affiliates, in a lawsuit opposing harsh state laws that require documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote. The League joined the United States Election Assistance Commission as defendants in Kris W. Kobach et al. v. United States Election Assistance Commission. The Supreme Court of the United States let stand the 10th Circuit's previous ruling that the states “may not force applicants using the federal voter registration form to show documents proving citizenship when registering to vote in federal races,” ruling in favor of The Brennan Center and their co-defendants.[11] This is one example of many advancements in voting rights that have been made in the courts. Litigation, in many ways, is seen as the “boots on the ground” philanthropic response to restrictive voting laws. It is rapid response and yields a direct result from the judiciary system. However, the court, like philanthropy, is not intended to be political but ends up in the crossfire between political parties often. When one side of the case is the government, the court can become even more political. Geri Mannion directly rebukes this idea, declaring “total disagreement with that idea [that voting rights is partisan]. Lower income people, young people, people of color—they may tend to be more progressive, but not always, and not always over the long term.”[12] However, as mentioned before, this highly visible status dissuades some foundations and philanthropists from funding organizations with strategy dependent on litigation.

            Litigation cannot be, and is not, the only tactic used by philanthropy to expand voting rights, for some of the obvious complications we have seen in the past. The beginning of the current era of voting restrictions began with a Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, which was decided against voting rights activists. Additionally, judicial rulings quickly reveal their loopholes and exceptions, which are then exploited by the side that lost in court. After all, voting rights activism was activated by the Shelby decision, not entirely stopped when one court case went against them. The pivotal role that litigation and the judicial branch play in voting rights expansion is undeniable. It is one of the reasons the issue is so multifaceted. Philanthropy, in its uniquely ambiguous role in American society, is well poised to fill the gaps left in litigation strategy. The Brennan Center’s own president, Michael Waldman, said: “This is a fight that must be won in the courts and in the court of public opinion.”[13]

One way to fight in the court of public opinion is through another “boots on the ground” strategy – direct voter outreach and education. Jay Beckner, President of the Mertz Gilmore Foundation, advises, “If your foundation is worried about partisanship, you can certainly fund public education on [voting rights] issues—programs for young people, or programs for new citizens.”[14] The $400 million of foundation grants that have gone to Campaigns, Elections, and Voting since 2011 is dwarfed by the $1.2 billion given to Civic Participation. While the legal restrictions that explicitly prevent people from voting exist, other aspects of the law are simply convoluted or commonly misinterpreted in a way that dissuades voters from turning out. As voting rights have become increasingly volatile, laws can change from one election cycle to the next. This creates a need for nonpartisan voter education, like the kind offered by the Voter Participation Center, funded in large part by a $3.7 million grant made by the Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program.[15] This is a striking example of a funder that would prefer to remain safely nonpartisan. The Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program is a donor-advised fund, responsible for grant-making in the name of its customers. While it may not affect the striking, sudden change we see in litigation, voter outreach programs further compels the case that voting rights is an effort to strengthen democracy, not a left-leaning foundation initiative, bank rolled by the few.

In order to have a participatory electorate, the electorate must understand the administration of elections. The effects of shallow voter education can be varied but almost inevitably result in lower voting rates. This is not necessarily an effect of any restrictive voting law in particular; however, low voter participation becomes a cultural norm in communities that are systematically disenfranchised by those very laws. Voter education can combat the perceptions that lead to low voter turnout, such as the belief that voting is difficult or partial understanding of one’s rights as a voter. In a study done by the Educational Testing Service after low minority voter turn out in the 2012 election, Fault Lines in Our Democracy: Civic Knowledge, Voting Behavior and Civic Engagement in the United States,[16] it was revealed “many nonvoters in recent national elections indicated they were not interested in voting or did not believe their vote mattered.” These widespread misconceptions can have as much of a measurable effect on voter turnout in the same communities that are typically affected by restrictive voting laws.

            While litigation and voter outreach can be considered the most visible efforts of the voting rights philanthropic movement, there is important structural work being funded by philanthropy, as well. Specifically, technological research and development and policy advocacy are areas where foundations are aggressively advancing the way voting rights are thought of. In this sense, “foundations serve as a democratic society’s ‘risk capital,’ a potent discovery mechanism for experimentation and innovation in social policy over a long time horizon with uncertain results,”[17] as advocated by Professor Rob Reich of Stanford. While these areas go hand in hand, we’ll first address policy advocacy, as it is foundational in all non-governmental efforts to affect governmental behavior.

            As the litigation efforts of the Brennan Center for Justice attempt to strike down restrictive laws, the advocacy branch of the Brennan Center put forth a cornerstone “Voter Registration Modernization” policy proposal. “The Brennan Center’s signature proposal to modernize voting would harness proven technology to ensure that every eligible voter is permanently registered. The move would add 50 million to the rolls, cost less, and curb the potential for fraud.”[18] While it’s unlikely than a not-for-profit’s policy proposal is adopted holistically, it is an important tool for advocacy. By providing solutions, backed by research that the government was unlikely to fund in the first place, these policy proposals can be used by sympathetic governmental actors. After the Brennan Center released its policy proposal for voter registration modernization, five states have authorized automatic voter registration at DMVs, at least thirty-nine states currently or will soon offer online voter registration, and fifteen states offer Election Day voter registration.[19] Georgetown University Law Center’s Voting Rights Institute was among the Brennan Center for Justice and NEO Philanthropy in receiving prestigious MacArthur Foundation grants. One of the leaders of the voting rights litigation, Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, made the value of policy advocacy clear on the same panel Geri Mannion of the Carnegie Corporation encouraged funding litigation: “It is important to support organizations doing the structural work, the policy work.”[20] This support across organizations and voting rights strategies shows not only how multifaceted the issue is but also how many opportunities there are for philanthropic intervention.

            In the newest area of voting rights philanthropy, technology advancement is seen as a key to both higher civic engagement and modernized voter registration, creating an easier registration process that allows for expanded voter rights. Clearly, since the Brennan Center’s cornerstone voting rights policy proposal is on the modernization of voting systems, technology plays a large role in the future of voting administration and, therefore, voting rights. On the forefront of the area is The Democracy Fund, a member of the Omidyar Network. Its mission encapsulates technology’s potential to revolutionize the American voting process: “Data-driven policies and new technologies can help reduce barriers to voting, improve integrity and public trust in the electoral system, and reduce the dependency of our leaders on special financial interests.”[21] Technology advances can work in conjunction with policy, as suggested in the Brennan Center’s proposal, or stand on their own to improve voting rights without government reform. The Democracy Fund supports the Pew Charitable Trusts, most recently with a $2 million grant, to fund its “suite of technological solutions to address concerns with both access and integrity in our voter registration system.”[22] Functional and user-friendly voter administration is a public good that should be supplied by the government. Using Professor Rob Reich’s argument for the ways that foundations can enhance American democracy, foundations are uniquely well equipped to “overcome problems in public good production by diminishing government orthodoxy and decentralizing the definition and distribution of public goods.”[23] With Republican control in federal, state, and local government, the supply of this public good is unlikely to be subsidized by the government in the near future. These efforts are independent of any change in the law and yet still expand voting rights.

Further Philanthropic Involvement.

The current models for investment in litigation, voter education, policy advocacy, and technological research and development can be employed by various foundations and not for profits, considering the wide range of focuses and expertise employed in these fields. Foundations and donor collaboratives are providing necessary funding for the not-for-profits engaged in these efforts. The issue of protecting and expanding voting rights is not close to over. “In 2016, seventeen states had new laws on the books making voting more difficult for the first time in a large-scale, high turnout, national election.”[24] Foundations, along with continuing to support and execute programs toward voting rights expansion, should work to provide sustained funding for the organizations involved in expanding voting rights, rather than just supporting these organizations in election years. As Judith Browne Dianis, the President of the Advancement Project, makes clear, “funding for our efforts tends to be cyclical whereas our work is anything but.”[25] The nature of philanthropy extends beyond term limits and election cycles, a strength in this politically charged battle.

Philanthropy in America occupies a space endowed with influence and independence. It serves as a complement and challenge to American democracy. It is within this space that it must become the champion for voting rights, strengthening the very nation that subsidizes philanthropic organizations with its taxpayers’ dollars. All the things philanthropy works toward for the public good are aided with greater voter participation. It is often questioned whether foundations are truly democratic or if they give outsized influence to those with money. While this debate is not the focus of this report, it is my belief that expanding democratic participation is an incredibly worthwhile pursuit for foundations. With a government truly by the people and for the people, there will be greater representation for those who don’t currently have a voice in government, the same people who turn to philanthropy. Strengthening democracy in turn strengthens philanthropy.

  -Alaina Haworth

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[1] Shelby County v. Holder (June 25, 2013).

[2] "Right to Vote," Advancement Project, The Partisan Playbook, accessed December 13, 2016, http://www.advancementproject.org/campaigns/Protect-Your-Vote.

[3] K.K. Rebecca Lai, Karl Russell, and Jasmine C. Lee, "In a Further Blow to Democrats, Republicans Increase Their Hold on State Governments," The New York Times, November 11, 2016, accessed December 13, 2016.

[4] "Foundation Maps | Foundation Center," Foundations Funding U.S. Democracy, Distribution Chart: Campaigns, Elections, and Voting, accessed December 13, 2016, https://maps.foundationcenter.org/#/charts/.

[5] Born, Kelly. "The Role of Philanthropy and Nonprofits in Increasing US Voter Turnout." Stanford Social Innovation Review, January 25, 2016. Accessed December 12, 2016. https://ssir.org/increasing_voter_turnout/entry/the_role_of_philanthropy_and_nonprofits_in_increasing_us_voter_turnout.

[6] Ablow, Gail. "Don't Give Up on Democracy." Carnegie Corporation of New York. November 2, 2016. Accessed December 13, 2016. https://www.carnegie.org/news/articles/dont-give-democracy-encouraging-citizenship/.

[7] Born, Kelly. "The Role of Philanthropy and Nonprofits in Increasing US Voter Turnout." Stanford Social Innovation Review, January 25, 2016.

[8] Kristen Clarke et al., "Will Philanthropy Join in the Fight to Vote?," interview by Geri Mannion, Philanthropy New York (audio blog), June 16, 2016, 0:21:04, accessed December 12, 2016, https://philanthropynewyork.org/event-calendar/will-philanthropy-join-fight-vote.

[9] Kristen Clarke et al., "Will Philanthropy Join in the Fight to Vote?," interview by Geri Mannion, Philanthropy New York (audio blog), June 16, 2016, 1:31:28.

[10] Ablow, Gail. "Don't Give Up on Democracy." Carnegie Corporation of New York. November 2, 2016.

[11] "Kobach Et Al. v. The United States Election Assistance Commission | Brennan Center for Justice." Kobach Et Al. v. The United States Election Assistance Commission | Brennan Center for Justice. June 29, 2015. Accessed December 13, 2016. https://www.brennancenter.org/legal-work/kobach-et-al-v-united-states-election-assistance-commission.

[12] Ablow, Gail. "Don't Give Up on Democracy." Carnegie Corporation of New York. November 2, 2016.

[13] Kristen Clarke et al., "Will Philanthropy Join in the Fight to Vote?," interview by Geri Mannion, Philanthropy New York (audio blog), June 16, 2016, 0:3:53.

[14] Ablow, Gail. "Don't Give Up on Democracy." Carnegie Corporation of New York. November 2, 2016.

[15] "Foundation Maps | Foundation Center," Foundations Funding U.S. Democracy, Distribution Chart: Campaigns, Elections, and Voting, accessed December 13, 2016, https://maps.foundationcenter.org/#/charts/.

[16] Coley, Richard J. "Fault Lines in Our Democracy." Fault Lines in Our Democracy: Home. April 2012. Accessed December 15, 2016. http://www.ets.org/s/research/19386/.

[17] Reich, Rob. "Repugnant to the Whole Idea of Democracy? On the Role of Foundations in Democratic Societies." PS: Political Science & Politics 49, no. 03 (2016): 466-72. doi:10.1017/s1049096516000718.

[18] "Voter Registration Modernization | Brennan Center for Justice," Voter Registration Modernization | Brennan Center for Justice, Voter Registration Modernization, accessed December 13, 2016, https://www.brennancenter.org/voter-registration-modernization.

[19] "Automatic Voter Registration and Modernization in the States | Brennan Center for Justice." Automatic Voter Registration and Modernization in the States | Brennan Center for Justice. July 12, 2016. Accessed December 13, 2016. https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/voter-registration-modernization-states.

[20] Kristen Clarke et al., "Will Philanthropy Join in the Fight to Vote?," interview by Geri Mannion, Philanthropy New York (audio blog), June 16, 2016, 1:31:12.

[21] Joe Goldman, "Our Priorities," Principled Leadership & Effective Governance: Democracy Fund, Modern Elections & Money in Politics, accessed December 13, 2016, http://www.democracyfund.org/priorities.

[22] Democracy Fund, "The Pew Charitable Trusts: Election Initiatives," The Pew Charitable Trusts: Election Initiatives: Democracy Fund, Innovative Solutions, accessed December 13, 2016, http://www.democracyfund.org/portfolio/entry/pew-charitable-trusts-election-initiatives1.

[23] Reich, Rob. "Repugnant to the Whole Idea of Democracy? On the Role of Foundations in Democratic Societies." 

[24] Kristen Clarke et al., "Will Philanthropy Join in the Fight to Vote?," interview by Geri Mannion, Philanthropy New York (audio blog), June 16, 2016, 0:3:53.

[25] Browne, Judith. "How Foundations Are Supporting Voting Rights - PhilanTopic | PND | Foundation Center." PhilanTopic | PND | Foundation Center. November 24, 2015. Accessed December 15, 2016. http://pndblog.typepad.com/pndblog/2015/11/how-foundations-are-supporting-voting-rights.html.

 

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Alaina Haworth

Alaina Haworth is a senior majoring in Public Policy. Her academic concentrations are voting rights, criminal justice, and nonprofit management. She is writing her honors thesis on the impact of voting rights expansion on youth vote turnout. She has experience working in political communications, electoral politics, and political public relations consulting.

Game of Thrones 2016: From the Iron Throne to the Oval Office

This past month, we have witnessed the resumption of two of America’s greatest dramas: the presidential election and Game of Thrones. Given the show’s focus on the unique and human personalities that populate its cutthroat and megalomaniacal world -- and its obvious parallels to our own -- I thought that it was about time that we compared our favorite Thrones characters to their real-life counterparts.  

For those of you who are spoiler-conscious, events up through episode 3 of season 5 of Game of Thrones are referred to.

1.     Hillary Clinton – Tyrion Lannister

Photos: Game of Thrones Wiki, Eater

Photos: Game of Thrones Wiki, Eater

“Let me give you some advice, bastard. Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.”

The Clintons, much like the Lannisters, have held a large hold on the power and wealth in American politics even without holding the highest office for over sixteen years now. However, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is channeling her inner Tyrion by taking the advice he gave bastard Jon Snow in the very first episode of Game of Thrones. Mrs. Clinton will not be allowed to forget that she is a Clinton. The side effects of having the past twenty years of her life saved in sound bites are painful – she must, therefore, “wear it like armor.” Even though she is routinely criticized for it, Mrs. Clinton should and must employ her past experience with D.C. politics and America’s power players -- she’s going to be portrayed as a Beltway insider no matter what she does, so why not take advantage of all the benefits that that has to offer?  This means that she must embrace her experience as Secretary of State wholeheartedly -- something that she already does. And given that it will be impossible to avoid Benghazi-related headlines during her campaign (especially if she actually does appear in front of Congress, which House Republican leaders have been clamoring to make happen), by acknowledging its presence and wearing it like armor, Clinton can mitigate the bumps on the campaign trail that Republicans will be sure to highlight by focusing on the accomplishments of her tenure. 

2.     Ted Cruz – Jon Snow
 

Photos: ComicVine, Nation of Change

Photos: ComicVine, Nation of Change

“I swore a vow to the Night's Watch. If I don't take my own word seriously what sort of "Lord of Winterfell" would I be?”

There’s no denying that Texas Senator Ted Cruz has Snow-like loyalty to his conservatism and anti-establishment platform. However, in order for him to have a fighting chance in the Republican primary, Cruz must unite the Republican Party’s anti-establishment bloc. This population is divided into “Christian conservatives, libertarians and Tea Party voters angry with the leadership of both parties”, much like the diaspora of the Wildlings, Night’s Watchmen, and Stannis Baratheon’s troops. Jon Snow must unite them in order to defend Westeros from the White Walkers. Mr. Cruz, like the Bastard of Winterfell, has an almost unbreakable will but is faced with uniting a scattered and divided electorate -- made up of evangelicals, Tea Partiers, and moderate conservatives -- in his pursuit of victory. Also, like Snow, family issues could get in the way of Mr. Cruz’s possible nomination. Mr. Cruz stands as the most outspoken critic of gay marriage and abortion rights in the Republican primary - but with sixty-one percent of Republicans ages 18-29 favoring gay marriage, his stance will take some of the crucial young, anti-establishment votes away from him.  Will he and Jon Snow stick with their principles for the sake of their own honor, or deviate from them in order to achieve a tremendous goal?

3.     Jeb Bush – Daenerys Targaryen
 

Photos: Game of Thrones Wiki, Florida Politics

Photos: Game of Thrones Wiki, Florida Politics

"You're both here to advise me. I value your advice, but if you ever question me in front of strangers again, you'll be advising someone else. Is that understood?"

Similar to Mrs. Clinton, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is cursed/blessed with a famous last name. He has, however, kept a fair bit of distance between his office in Tallahassee and the Bush-occupied White House  – a distance that could be compared to Westeros and Meereen. Public opinion surrounding former President George W. Bush makes his advice to his younger brother best given behind closed doors (he’s even admitted that he is his younger brother’s biggest problem). The younger Bush should take the Khaleesi’s advice and listen to the counsel of his experienced family, but maintain his independence in the eyes of the public. Regardless of how he goes about his campaign, the Houses of Targaryen (Bush) and Lannister (Clinton) should provide one interesting battle of minds, resources, and allies.

4.     Rand Paul – Mance Rayder
 

Photos: WinterIsComing.net, Huffington Post

Photos: WinterIsComing.net, Huffington Post

"All I've ever wanted was the freedom to make my own mistakes." 

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul adds to the list of prodigal sons entering the race. While he shares his party alignment with his famous, libertarian father, Mr. Paul is clearly trying to distance himself. Branding himself as a more centered libertarian, Mr. Paul is attempting to tap into the "free folk" nature of the Republican base while not alienating them all together. When push comes to shove, however, it’s likely Mr. Paul would be willing to burn at the stake (a.k.a. the Cleveland Republican National Convention) for his freedom than cave in for the Republican leadership. Not to mention, Ted Cruz would be all too happy to deliver that merciful arrow.

5.     Marco Rubio – Robb Stark
 

Photos: Game of Thrones Wiki, The New Yorker

Photos: Game of Thrones Wiki, The New Yorker

"I've won every battle. But I'm losing this war."

Rubio’s bid for the presidency, like Stark’s pursuit of the Iron Throne, is commonly referred to as a “logical next step” and is recognized by many as the right person to succeed to the presidency. However, his issue is one of positioning. Jeb Bush, the Targaryen of our Washington scenario, got a head start on Rubio in regards to public opinion and elite donor support. The Bush name has lingered in America like the Targaryen dynasty lingers in the minds of the citizens of Westeros - unfortunately, the Rubio name has taken a back seat. At the end of the day, many wonder why they would take a young, inexperienced albeit talented candidate over an experienced, well funded Bush. It’s not that Rubio would be a bad President, per se, just like Robb Stark wouldn’t be a bad King. It’s just not his time, the base would argue. This wouldn’t be a problem if Rubio were the favorite of the conservatives skeptical of Bush’s candidacy, but the field is full of candidates (and the night is dark and full of terrors) who are equally good or better fits for many conservative voters. Not everyone loves the idea of a Targaryen taking back the throne; however, dissenters fall into so many different camps there is not solid support for Robb Stark, King of the North.


6.      Chris Christie – Cersei Baratheon 
 

Photos: HBO, CNN

Photos: HBO, CNN

“The only way to keep your people loyal is to make sure they fear you more than the enemy.”

Cersei and Christie: two reckless hotheads who take action without thinking of the consequences, making them both polarizing power brokers who are starting to feel the repercussions of their rashness. Cersei is now realizing, with Tommen married to the beloved Margaery Tyrell, that she has alienated the nobles and common people in King’s Landing; Christie, similarly, has seen how his boldness has turned off voters and donors alike.  Christie serves his own ideals, making him the most moderate Republican in the primary, and he is well known. However, his likability has significantly declined since Bridgegate and his time in the public eye. Much like Cersei, the guarantee of funding and power was enough to let Christie find himself getting too comfortable in office. 

- Alaina Haworth

Comment

Alaina Haworth

Alaina Haworth is a senior majoring in Public Policy. Her academic concentrations are voting rights, criminal justice, and nonprofit management. She is writing her honors thesis on the impact of voting rights expansion on youth vote turnout. She has experience working in political communications, electoral politics, and political public relations consulting.

Are We Going Steady, Chuck?

Photo: CBS News

Photo: CBS News

Senator Chuck Schumer (DNY) is hardly a fresh face to the Senate, having served as a New York senator since 1998 and as a member of the House of Representatives from 1981 to 1999. However, Senator Schumer will be adopting a new role as the Senate Democratic Minority Leader upon Senator Harry Reid’s (D– NV) retirement in 2016.

By ascending to the position of leader of the Senate minority, Senator Schumer is leap frogging Senator Dick Durbin (D–IL), the current minority whip and No. 2 in the caucus leadership. Regardless of the reported infighting between the two, the senior New York senator should have little issue rising to the top. Charismatic and popular both inside and outside the Beltway, Senator Schumer has certainly spent enough time in the public eye to be considered a practiced hand when it comes to gathering support and maintaining connections within the party.

The bloodless succession, engineered by Senator Reid before his announced retirement, is the opening shot in what is sure to be an interesting series of elections in 2016. The Republican Party has been nothing if not turbulent and fractious these past few years, and this next election cycle doesn’t seem to be any different. With 24 Republican Senate seats up for reelection, many of which will be in states that President Obama won in 2012, the Democrats will have an easier time competing in this cycle than they did in the last. The Democratic presidential primary, which many observers continue to see as one that will be relatively calm and predictable, will keep Democrats out of the fray that many Republican senators – Rand Paul (R-KY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX) – will find themselves immersed in.

Indeed, from now until November 2016, Republicans will find themselves in a hotly contested primary that will make the contentiousness of the 2012 primary season look tame by comparison. This time, the Republicans will have a truly deep-bench of highly qualified and politically savvy candidates that will gladly do battle with each other. That is why the stability of the Democratic party – and Senator Schumer’s new jobcan be seen as an advantage in a time when many Americans are looking for a reliable, productive government. This analyst would argue that while being the “change” party in 2008 worked well for the Democrats, it would be in their best interest to ride the Schumer-Clinton wave of predictability, especially as more and more far-right and pugilistic Republicans announce their presidential campaigns. While this stability is arguably the result of back-dealings and Beltway relationships, (which turn off the typical voter), the result is a party that will be lead by familiar faces that espouse the center-left ideology that Americans have been drawn to for years. Ironically, the party of progressivism will be lead by faces from the past – and that may not be as bad as it sounds.

- Alaina Haworth

Comment

Alaina Haworth

Alaina Haworth is a senior majoring in Public Policy. Her academic concentrations are voting rights, criminal justice, and nonprofit management. She is writing her honors thesis on the impact of voting rights expansion on youth vote turnout. She has experience working in political communications, electoral politics, and political public relations consulting.

Luxury of Time?

Photo: The Economist

Photo: The Economist

The Republican National Committee is set to launch a Hillary’s Hiding campaign this week, according to RNC communications director Sean Spicer in a recent memo. Politico ran the story Monday morning in anticipation of the Tuesday release of the first video for the campaign. The RNC plans to attack Hillary Clinton’s “recent lack of straightforward political activity” and her repeatedly delayed official campaign announcement. 

Frankly, the RNC is asking a question many on both sides of the aisle find themselves scratching their heads about. While Hillaryland clearly has a strategy in play it would be foolish to claim the Clinton camp isn’t taking advantage of their candidate’s status and power within the Democratic party the question still remains whether that strategy is worth the coming political costs if Mrs. Clinton continues to play chicken in the evolving Democratic primary and with other possible Democratic candidates. The RNC’s ad campaign taps into growing frustration in the Democratic base over their frontrunner’s seeming sheepishness, as well as kicking off what may be a multi-year long effort to chip away at Mrs. Clinton’s image and reputation.

The Republicans new offensive against Mrs. Clinton also serves to fight off the frenzy of media attention paid to their own party’s coming bloodbath of a primary. In the past few weeks, attention has been directed towards Mitt Romney’s two-week teaser campaign and Bobby Jindal’s recent strategy of insulting the majority of those in Washington, regardless of their political affiliation. Mrs. Clinton’s advisors have been glad to see this shift of attention and claim it plays into the “luxury of time” advantage.

It goes without saying that Mrs. Clinton’s campaign is playing that advantage to the hilt. “Clinton allies largely maintain that there is no need for her to start campaigning yet given her strong position in preliminary polling,” states Politico in Monday’s article. While that may be true it is and while Democrats may know that to be the casethey do it doesn’t cast a great light on a candidate who is already being criticized for the coronation-style nomination she seems to be receiving. The recent delay of Mrs. Clinton’s announcement from April to July caused her camp to release a few statements that essentially boiled down to the idea that if you have the luxury of time, you take it.” Unfortunately, it’s things like “luxury” Clinton is trying to avoid being associated with. 

It is that very advantage that might already give Hillary Clinton the candidacy of the Democratic Party. She might even be able to blow the general elections out of the water. But her current attitude toward 2016—which some might chalk up to smug arrogancewill not endear her to her party, the opposition, or the American public.

- Alaina Haworth 

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Alaina Haworth

Alaina Haworth is a senior majoring in Public Policy. Her academic concentrations are voting rights, criminal justice, and nonprofit management. She is writing her honors thesis on the impact of voting rights expansion on youth vote turnout. She has experience working in political communications, electoral politics, and political public relations consulting.

Speaker on Mute

Photo: The Last Great Stand

Photo: The Last Great Stand

Recently, Politico correctly identified Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner as "The Prisoner of Capitol Hill" in the 114th Congress, which met for the first time on January 6th. Speaker Boehner was welcomed back by a dozen of his Republican colleagues voting against his reinstatement as Speaker and a sharply critical statement released by Representative Richard Nugent (R-Florida) after the failed coup. On Tuesday the 13th, more than a dozen far-right members of the House Republicans have split off from the decades-old Republican Study Committee in another direct affront to House Majority leadership. While Republican discontent with Boehner isn’t exactly breaking news, the majority party has reached a new level of open criticism of their purported leader.  

The failed toppling of Mr. Boehner, and the defectors’ lack of a replacement for the speaker in the event of a successful coup, however, is indicative of a still-fractured party. Mr. Boehner’s ability to compromise and his efforts to corral the uncompromising Republicans has set him up for an interesting next two years. Wading into the messy Republican presidential primary as a high profile supporter of Jeb Bush, Mr. Boehner isn’t making the criticism any lighter by attaching his name to a candidate who will likely be running against many of the speaker’s harshest critics, some of whom have called him a moderate, among other things. The path for the Republican Congress to raise the debt ceiling again later this year is unclear, and seeing as how Republicans haven’t raised the debt ceiling without the help of Democrats in nearly a decade, Boehner’s goal of ending brinkmanship this term could be thwarted by the newly powerful faction of far right, anti-speaker congressmen.

Mr. Boehner may still be speaker, but it remains to be seen how often he will be heard.

- Alaina Haworth

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Alaina Haworth

Alaina Haworth is a senior majoring in Public Policy. Her academic concentrations are voting rights, criminal justice, and nonprofit management. She is writing her honors thesis on the impact of voting rights expansion on youth vote turnout. She has experience working in political communications, electoral politics, and political public relations consulting.

Republican Restraint: The GOP and Immigration Reform

Photo: Fox News Latino

Photo: Fox News Latino

“[Obama has] gotten in the job of counterfeiting immigration papers, because there’s no legal authority to do what he’s doing,” asserted Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). “The president has taken actions that he himself has said are those of a ‘king’ or an ‘emperor’ — not an American president,” said Speaker John Boehner. Representative Matt Salmon (AZ-5) called the move an “impeachable offense.” This heavy, accusatory rhetoric has been flowing from Capitol Hill since just before President Obama’s announcement last Thursday that he would be moving forward with an executive order shielding millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. While accusations fly from the left and the right, Congress has yet to create a substantial legislative response to the demand for immigration reform. This lagged response could be attributed to the Republican’s sometimes incoherent stance on the issue, which have muddied any semblance of a unified response besides vague disapproval.

However, there is a far more telling reason for this lack of a legislative response: Republicans in Congress have gone down the rabbit hole of an overblown responses to President Obama’s actions once and they don’t want to go back. With Republican leadership urging restraint from their freshmen congressmen, it has become increasingly obvious that Republicans think there could be a more political motive behind Obama’s executive action. The head of a national, GOP-aligned Republican group told POLITICO,

“I think the president is counting on a Republican overreaction, where it really takes over the agenda of the new Congress … I think this president is counting on an overreach.” Representative Tom Cole (OK-4), a Boehner ally and former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman added, “I don’t think we want to do something that plays into the president’s hands and hurts us, especially after last year’s experience with shutdowns and showdowns. … When your opponent sets a bear trap for you, you don’t respond by stepping into it.”

The GOP had a lesson in the consequences of political overreach when the Republican-controlled House shut down the government in October of 2013, creating a public relations disaster for the party (a misstep largely forgotten after the botched rollout of healthcare.gov). The Republican leadership has gone so far as to address the possibility of another shut down –Representative Marsha Blackburn (TN-7) denied its potential as a GOP response, saying “I’ve heard no one mention a shutdown except the press.” Republicans – who are already facing an unfriendly Senate map in 2016 – are eager to stay far away from anything that could hurt their approval ratings or feed into the already festering perception that they are unready and unable to govern.

Despite some low expectations for how the incoming GOP majority will behave once in power, the Republicans already seem to have learned one thing: keep your head down and don’t take Mr. Obama’s bait. If they work around this executive order on legislation that reflects the new majority’s views they can avoid the media hail storm caused, ironically, by an overreaction in the form of inaction.

- Alaina Haworth

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Alaina Haworth

Alaina Haworth is a senior majoring in Public Policy. Her academic concentrations are voting rights, criminal justice, and nonprofit management. She is writing her honors thesis on the impact of voting rights expansion on youth vote turnout. She has experience working in political communications, electoral politics, and political public relations consulting.

The Next Two Years: How the GOP Can Prove That They Can Lead or Snatch Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

Photo: Freedom Outpost

Photo: Freedom Outpost

Election Day is finally here. Most polls indicate that America will see a return to power for Republicans in both chambers of Congress – the first time since 2007. The close Senate races in Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, Kentucky, Georgia, and North Carolina each seem to increasingly lean Republican, and election forecasters are unanimous in their belief that the Republicans will pick up the six seats that they need to claim the majority. In an election defined by frustration with President Obama, Congress, and Washington in general, some upheaval in our nation’s capital was to be expected. Midterm elections are notoriously painful for the sitting president’s party during his sixth year in office – a phenomenon often referred to as the “six-year itch.”

Unfortunately, the targets of the public’s discontent and this particular six year itch are Senate Democrats, the most vulnerable of whom are in  red states that President Obama failed to carry in 2012. Many of these Democratic senators came to office during the 2008 election cycle, when then-Senator Obama’s powerful appeal down the ballot swept them into office. Ironically, many of these same Democrats now need to escape the shadow of the man that catapulted many of them into office, ; a sort of political break-up that has become increasingly publicized over the past few weeks. President Obama’s perceived lack of leadership and apathy with regards to pressing issues has brought back bitter memories to those who voted for the senators now running for re-election. However, while President Obama’s sinking poll numbers, an advantageous electoral map, and a favorable electorate have set up the GOP for success this year, the story could be quite different after two years of a Republican Congress in the 2016 election cycle.

Former Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell summarized the GOP’s quandary on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “Republicans [should] be careful what they wish for, because if they win the Senate, they better do something, they better send the president some responsible pieces of legislation or they’ll get crushed in 2016.” This sentiment has been echoed throughout Washington as the realization of the Republican’s likely victory has set in. Senior Democratic House Representative Chris Van Hollen (MD-08) has gone so far as to predict that a Republican House and Senate, given free reign in Congress over the next two years, will inevitably overreach and create a “huge public backlash.”

Of course, Republicans already aren’t inheriting a Congress that America is happy with – polls gave an abysmal 14 percent approval rating earlier this month. It will take considerable effort to erase the perception that Washington is broken in only two years, and now the onus will be entirely on the Republicans to prove that Congress can work again. If they can’t, the political fodder proved by another government shutdown or a failure to take up immigration reform (as the House did in 2013 following the Senate’s passage of Immigration Modernization Act) could prove devastating to the next Republican nominee for president campaigning on bringing efficiency to Washington.

In the minority and in the 2010 wave election, the Republicans’ bomb-throwing, flamethrower rhetoric cultivated their image as crusaders against government waste and overreach; a populist image that has resonated with voters (they are easily expected to maintain their 4-years-and-running majority in the House, after all). However, if the Republicans claim the majority in the Senate and continue this behavior, they will quickly be seen as obstructionists who, even when finally given significant power to govern and lay out their agenda, are unable to follow through with their promises and too incompetent and myopic to keep in power. A narrow-minded focus on repealing Obamacare or lowering taxes for the wealthy will hit a brick wall, as President Obama will be more than willing to wield his veto to strike down bills on issues such as these, which, at the end of the day, do nothing to address the array of emergencies that the country is confronting.

No issue should worry Republican leadership like next time that the debt ceiling will have to be raised. If the standoff from 2013 is repeated (Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already threatened to shut down the government) it will be an almost purposeful attempt at political suicide and a case in point for Democrats. If the GOP proves unable to govern, 2016 will be a painful year to be a Republican.

Our outlook on what is likely to be two years of a Republican-controlled House and Senate may seem grim, as their time in control of the former has not given us much of a source for optimism. But the simple fact of the matter is that we want the Republicans to succeed – we want them to prove that they can legislate and govern responsibly, because after four years of gridlock and bitter, toxic politics, America cannot afford any less. The problems that this country faces cannot wait for a new president or another election; and to paraphrase Rep. Paul Ryan, we need to tackle them before they tackle us.

- Alaina Haworth with Alex Hasapidis

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Alaina Haworth

Alaina Haworth is a senior majoring in Public Policy. Her academic concentrations are voting rights, criminal justice, and nonprofit management. She is writing her honors thesis on the impact of voting rights expansion on youth vote turnout. She has experience working in political communications, electoral politics, and political public relations consulting.

País de Los Muertos (The Country of the Dead)

Photo: TeleSur

Photo: TeleSur

Venezuela has a homicide rate of 79 killings per 100,000 inhabitants (a rate that has quadrupled in the past fifteen years), and yet the murder of Robert Serra on October 1st has seized the attention of the entire country. An incredibly popular rising parliamentarian, Mr. Serra was only 27 years old when he and his female assistant were stabbed to death in his Caracas home. 

The morning after Mr. Serra’s death, Miguel Rodriguez Torres, the then Minister of the Popular Power for Interior, Justice, and Peace addressed the people of Venezuela, blatantly labeling the killing an “assassinat[ion].” While an assassination would seem the likely cause in most countries, however, as an opposition party member pointed out in a tweet, “50 Venezuelans are killed each day” – suggesting that the murder was not a targeted assassination, but a killing that took place during what was believed to be a botched robbery. Despite this possibility, Mr. Torres’ uncompromising language has left no room for doubt about the circumstances of Mr. Serra’s death. What could make the government he represents so sure this was an assassination? More importantly, how was the government able to come to that conclusion so quickly?

It’s true that members of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Mr. Serra’s party, have been the targets of suspicious murders before. In April of this year, a prominent leader of the party, Eliecer Otaiza, was murdered in Caracas under murky circumstances. Two years ago, Mr. Serra’s bodyguard was killed. However, in a country with a homicide rate as high as Venezuela’s, these murders have proved to be a small fraction of the daily killings that take place across the nation and not the products of targeted assassinations. Considering this and the lack of information surrounding the circumstances of the night of Mr. Serra’s murder, there is not much evidence to lend much credibility to the President and his party’s claim that Mr. Serra was killed not as part of a robbery, but as a premeditated murder. 

As time has passed, the Venezuelan authorities are no closer to finding a culprit for the killing. The immediate arrest of two “suspects” provided no leads and, despite President Maduro’s insistence that the conclusions of police investigations would supposedly vindicate his claim of an opposition plot to kill Mr. Serra, the police investigation remains inconclusive. Just this week, Venezuelan authorities arrested yet another two suspects, indicating they are no closer to an answer than they were three weeks ago. Yet the government continues to claim that “hired killers” with instructions from the opposition performed the murders. 

The apparent stalemate between the firmly held belief of the Venezuelan government and their total lack of evidence is the casualty of an overly politicized investigation. The opposition is attempting to point to the already high homicide rate in Venezuela as the cause of Mr. Serra’s death, shifting all the blame towards the existing government for failing to do more about a problem that affects not only government officials, but the entire nation as a whole. The PSUV and the President’s administration is attempting to shift blame towards the opposition in hopes that the people will rally against any possible challenge to the President in the upcoming election. 

Regardless of who the culprit is, the government has spent more time pointing fingers than investigating the crime. But, moreover, the furor over this story ignores the fact that over 50 Venezuelans are murdered every day – they just aren’t famous enough to garner this much media attention.

- Alaina Haworth

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Alaina Haworth

Alaina Haworth is a senior majoring in Public Policy. Her academic concentrations are voting rights, criminal justice, and nonprofit management. She is writing her honors thesis on the impact of voting rights expansion on youth vote turnout. She has experience working in political communications, electoral politics, and political public relations consulting.

Kobani: Tug Of War

Photo: Iraqi News

Photo: Iraqi News

The town of Kobani, which sits on Syria’s border with Turkey, has become the focus of a deadly triumvirate: the Islamic State, America, and Turkey. The primarily Kurdish border town is the personification of the quasi-war being waged against IS, the black flag of the Islamic State flying over air strike rubble. The United States is raining down air strikes on IS as they chastise NATO ally Turkey for their lack of ground involvement, all while the American-endorsed Kurdish fighters battle IS with little ammunition and dwindling numbers of troops. Refugees are trapped between their desperate need to leave the warzone and their inability to vacate their homes due, in some cases, to Turkish border patrol.

Just as Berlin was a vivid example of the difference between the East and West sides of the Iron Curtain throughout the Cold War, Kobani is a case study on the pain the Islamic State is inflicting upon the Middle East and continued damage that they are soon to cause. While it’s easy to see the recent air strikes that “helped dislodge” IS from several Kobani neighborhoods as a victory for the American-led coalition against IS, it can also be seen as simply another ebb in the flow of the back and forth fighting that has been occurring in Kobani since IS’s initial siege approximately a month ago. In fact, US military officials are hesitant to even call it a victory: "Air strikes along are not going to ... fix this, not going to save the town of Kobani," Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby says.

Despite the Islamic State’s retreat from certain neighborhoods in Kobani, the facts on the ground haven’t changed: the Pentagon has deemed help from Turkey a necessary component in winning the battle against IS. Turkey claims to be doing its part by taking in the refugees from Kobani, a city it insists is devoid of civilians even though local government officials state there are “more than a thousand civilians” trapped inside the city by IS snipers and ground troops. As Rear General John Kirby issued a statement saying that Kobani “may very well still fall,” Turkish forces remained on their side of the border, literally watching Kobani be bombed from their tanks. In addition, not only is Turkey refusing to send aid, but it is also blocking the only path for aid to the Kurdish northeastern region of Iraq, through which Kobani is located.

The proximity of Kobani to Turkey makes it the most representative example of the harm Turkey’s lack of support is inflicting upon the campaign against the Islamic State. Turkey, as a NATO ally and a bordering state of Syria, should be doing more to aid the coalition in its quest to “dismantle [the IS] network of death.” The fight is quite literally pushing against Turkey’s border, and in the case of Kobani, there isn’t time for the politicized apathy towards IS being practiced now.

- Alaina Haworth

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Alaina Haworth

Alaina Haworth is a senior majoring in Public Policy. Her academic concentrations are voting rights, criminal justice, and nonprofit management. She is writing her honors thesis on the impact of voting rights expansion on youth vote turnout. She has experience working in political communications, electoral politics, and political public relations consulting.

The Economics of Ebola

Photo: NBC News

Photo: NBC News

“We are exhausted, we are angry, we are desperate,” said Sophie Delaunay, the American director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). These words, said two weeks ago, parallel MSF’s June 23rd declaration, saying that they were at the limits of what they could handle. The fight against Ebola in the three months between these two statements has been painfully delayed and remarkably underfunded. As Ebola slips from the headlines, the disease continues to spread exponentially and its economic effects are becoming increasingly profound in three of the worstly afflicted countries: Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

 These countries’ health care systems are crumbling under the weight of this crisis – even before the epidemic began, Liberia had less than 200 doctors serving their entire population of 4 million. Now, it has only 50 doctors working in the domestic health system. Borders have been closed, markets shut down, and certain areas entirely quarantined, bringing the economy to a grinding halt. A statement released on September 17th by the World Bank Group stated that “[Ebola’s] economic impact could grow eight-fold, dealing a potentially catastrophic blow to the already fragile states.” In fact, the World Bank’s President Jim Yong Kim predicted that “GDP losses to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea from this crisis will be a combined $360 million.” This is a huge hit to Liberia’s economy, one that is still recovering from a 90% loss of GDP sustained in their second civil war, which ended in 2003.

It is widely theorized that the disease itself isn’t the leading cause of an impending economic disaster – the World Bank Group blames the hysteria surrounding the epidemic, calling it an “emergency within the emergency.” Trade has slowed over the closed borders and the tourism industry has gone into free-fall. Africa’s economic powerhouse, Nigeria, has seen a boom in online shopping, especially sanitation products, due to people being afraid to leave their homes. Labor force participation is on a sharp decline, resulting in further closures of work places, transportation, seaports and airports. While inflation and food prices were initially contained in the affected nations, they “are now rising in response to shortages, panic buying, and speculation.” According to ACDI/VOCA, an international development group, “roughly half the populations of Liberia and Sierra Leone work on cocoa and peanut plantations, rice and cassava farms.” These trade-reliant, highly specialized, under-developed economies – which are populated by people living just barely at the subsistence level –  have set the perfect stage for Ebola to wreak havoc.

The World Bank Group is mobilizing a $230 million financing package, the United States is deploying 3,000 troops and spending more than $750 million, and the EU is giving $15.5 million in specified aid as well as over $125 million in general aid. There is a medical emergency sweeping across West Africa; there is no debate about that. But there is a greater economic ripple effect taking place that could plague these countries for decades to come.

- Alaina Haworth

 

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Alaina Haworth

Alaina Haworth is a senior majoring in Public Policy. Her academic concentrations are voting rights, criminal justice, and nonprofit management. She is writing her honors thesis on the impact of voting rights expansion on youth vote turnout. She has experience working in political communications, electoral politics, and political public relations consulting.