Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Secretary of State

Name: Hillary Rodham Clinton
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Current city: Washington, D.C.
Job at time of appointment: United States Senator (D-NY)
Age: 61

A native of Illinois, Hillary Rodham entered the public spotlight in 1969 as the first student to deliver the commencement address at Wellesley College. She embarked on a career in law after graduating from Yale Law School in 1973.

When she was First Lady of the United States, her major initiative, the Clinton health care plan, failed to gain approval from the U.S. Congress in 1994, though in following years she played a definitive role in the establishment of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, the Adoption and Safe Families Act, and the Foster Care Independence Act.

In 2000, Hillary Clinton made history as the first First Lady elected to the United States Senate, and the first woman elected statewide in New York.

In the 2008 presidential nomination race, Clinton won more primaries and delegates than any other female candidate in American history, but she narrowly lost to Senator Barack Obama. As Obama's Secretary of State, Clinton is the first former First Lady to serve in a president's cabinet.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Schumer: Taking on the System

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, only 68 percent of Americans are registered to vote. Compare this to a rate of 100 percent in Argentina, or 97 percent in Belize, and it becomes apparent that the United States’ might have dropped the ball. Nations with higher voter turnout than America’s average of 54 percent (though to be fair, the estimated turnout in the 2008 presidential election was as high as 63 percent) include Malta, New Zealand, Iceland, Germany, Venezuela, Norway, Brazil, Israel and Estonia.

Fortunately, policymakers are gearing up to introduce legislation that will simplify and expand the voter registration process, hopefully in turn increasing civic engagement and enthusiasm about voting. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, has begun to draft a National voter registration modernization bill. Chances are the legislation will follow the recommendations of the commissioned report “Helping Voters Today, Modernizing the System for Tomorrow,” compiled by the nonpartisan coalition Election Protection.
Some of the key policy recommendations include:

*Automatic registration: instead of leaving voter registration to individuals or third-party organizations, the government should actively and automatically register citizens to vote based on state databases that individuals may opt out of.

*Permanent registration: changes like new addresses should not require complicated new registration that many citizens are not aware of. Instead, the choice to update voter information should be given in situations such as registration of new address at the post office.

*Election day correction: voters who are not automatically added to the rolls, or those who have minor inconsistencies in their information should be able to update their registration on election day if they have official proof. No eligible citizen should be turned away at the polls because their name was not added or was taken off of the list.

*Decrease voter disinformation: provide adequate education about voting and prohibit voting practices intended to misinform, intimidate, or disenfranchise citizens.

*Provide adequate resources and incentives to election officials to ensure efficient and well-performed election management.

*Implement "no excuse" early voting: expanding the dates for voting and making poll time flexible will encourage a greater proportion of the population to vote.

What do you think of these ideas? What other reform could the United States voting system use?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

80 Million Strong: Summit Recap

If you haven’t yet read Claire’s post about her own experience at the summit, be sure to check it out below! Participants at the 80 Million Strong event last week enthusiastically covered a smattering of important issues affecting the millennial generation during the recession, and broke into lobbying sessions with over 70 congressional representatives to promote their agenda.

Speakers included the Honorable Ken Salazar, Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL), former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Jared Bernstein, chief economic advisor to Vice President Joe Biden.

Why was the summit necessary? For those of you who have just entered the workforce, you might have some idea; 17.8 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds in America are jobless, a figure that is almost double the national jobless rate of 9.4 percent.

During an interactive voting session during the two-day conference, the civically inspired members voted on top priorities for Washington. Some highlights from the top ten policy recommendations:

*Target youth social entrepreneurship by developing a Youth Innovation Fund, modeled after the Social Innovation Fund, to grant money to young social entrepreneurs addressing critical needs of American communities.

*Make AmeriCorps more viable for all interested parties, regardless of socioeconomic status, by raising wages so that participants are not working at or below the poverty level.

*Provide low-income students who cannot otherwise afford college with free education at a state university contingent upon their volunteer service in the public sector with a Community Scholars program

*Establish a public service academy, similar to military academies like West Point.

*Ensure health care coverage access to young people by extending dependent status for insurance coverage up to age 26 years of age regardless of student status and/or expanding Medicaid to include childless young adults. Establish a national standard for health care coverage instead of relying of state-to-state legislation.

*Come up with solutions to the student loan/debt issue. Create income- based repayment including private loans and unify the existing three strands of financial aid: Pell Grants, Loans, & Work Study

*Form a young diplomatic service program, aimed at those who usually are not exposed to this sort of opportunity (like community college students,) to foster deep relationships between citizens, cultures, and governments using funding for the Public Service act.

To learn more about the proposed policies and to get a full summary of the summit, check out 80 Million Strong. Also, be sure to stay tuned for upcoming information about another summit to be held in Chicago this October!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Secretary of Homeland Security

Name: Janet Napolitano
Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Current City: Washington, D.C.
Job at time of appointment: Governor of Arizona
Age: 51

Janet Napolitano graduated from Santa Clara University with a Truman Scholarship, and continued to the University of Virginia School of Law. After working in the field of private law, Napolitano was appointed by President Clinton to the post of United States Attorney for the District of Arizona. She helped lead the investigation into the Oklahoma City Bombing. In 1998 she successfully ran for the position of Arizona Attorney General, where she focused on consumer protection issues and enhancing law enforcement in the state.

In 2002, Napolitano won the Arizona gubernatorial election. While governor, she became the first woman to chair the National Governors Association, where she helped to create the Public Safety Task Force and the Homeland Security Advisors Council.

President Obama nominated Napolitano for Secretary of Homeland Security mid-way through her second term as governor, and in January she became the first woman appointed secretary in the relatively new department.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

80 Million Strong: Lobbying Congress

We're back from the 80 Million Strong Summit and excited about the issues and possibilities raised by the over 100 Millennials who contributed their ideas. Our own Claire Morgenstern (from Pittsburgh, PA) took part in the conference and lobbied her Congressman on behalf of the 80 Million Strong agenda. Read on to find out how Claire made a difference:

After a long day of formulating policy on everything from green initiatives and health care to student loans and cyber security, we returned to the Capitol to do a crucial final vote in which each participant would rank the policies we had created in order of importance. Once the votes were tallied, we would be able to see which initiatives our group felt were most crucial overall to the health and wealth of the millennial generation.

After an inspirational talk from Van Jones, Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, our main task that day was to leave the security of our meeting room and into the offices of senators and congressmen to lobby for the policies we had spent so many hours fine-tuning the day before. We broke into groups based on our home states and prepared for our pre-scheduled meetings with state representatives. My group, Pennsylvania, was made up of about six constituents who represented various regions throughout the state—Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, State College (home to Penn State), and towns and suburbs in between. We would be meeting with the legislative assistant of democratic senator Bob Casey. Having heard Casey speak in Pittsburgh to endorse Obama last Spring, I knew our proposal wouldn’t be a hard sell; still, it was important that our argument be well-articulated.

Casey’s thing is national security, so we brainstormed ways to connect his interests to our cause—creating more jobs. A pressing concern for our country is the need to increase cybersecurity. We reasoned that young people, on the whole, are more tech savvy than older people, which would make them the ideal candidates to fill new positions in an expanded cybersecurity sector.

Casey’s legislative assistant, Bryn McDonough, met us in the lobby of Casey’s office, which is located in the high-ceilinged, marble-floored Russel Building across the street from the Capitol. She led us into a conference room adorned with Pennsylvania memorabilia—copies of vintage postcards announcing “Greetings From” different cities throughout the state blown up to poster-size and a plate of oversized cookies that claimed to have been baked in Pennsylvania.

“I’m sure you have an agenda prepared,” Bryn said, gesturing to us to start. The chosen member of our group explained the growing need for cybersecurity experts, and that creating new jobs in this field would both employ large numbers of young people and help keep the United States safe. Another member of our group offered a personal story, as we had been told to do during our lobby training session that morning. She had graduated from Penn State a year-and-a-half ago with four degrees in the field of information technology. Since then, she has been unable to find employment, often going through the interview process but never getting hired. She went back to the job she held during high school, working at McDonald’s, but was forced to cut her hours from 40 to 8 hours a week. If her parents hadn’t taken her and her husband in, she said, they would be homeless. If the government created more jobs for information technology professionals, she concluded, she would be able to use her skills in a way that also helped her country.

Bryn patiently took notes while we took turns speaking.

“I completely agree with you,” she said when we were finished. “I am part of your generation too, and we know that the government needs to find a way to use the unique skill set that young people have and older people don’t.” She gave each one of us her card and invited us to a bi-weekly constituent breakfast that Casey holds, which happened to be the following morning. Then she shook our hands and led us out of the building.

What a lot of people don’t realize is how easy it is to make contact with your local state representatives, and that many representatives actually rely on feedback from their constituents to determine future courses of action according to what’s best for their state and the country. So if there’s something bugging you that you think your government representatives might be able to help with, don’t shy away from letting them know. Use the TALK BACK widget on the Declare Yourself website (scroll down) to write an email to your representatives. They’re called representatives for a reason—their job is to represent you. So make sure they’re doing it right!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Your ideas please! The 80 Million Strong Summit

Tomorrow, 100 young Americans will meet in Washington to generate an innovative, open forum about how to provide the next generation of jobseekers with employment during these challenging economic times.

Declare Yourself will be actively participating as part of the 80 Million Strong for Young American Jobs Coalition summit that begins Tuesday in Washington, D.C. On the agenda: making the government aware of the Millenial generation's difficulties in coping with the recession and providing creative solutions for these issues. Concrete proposals will center around creating jobs that have a foundation in volunteerism, public service, and evolving fields like technology, healthcare and the environment.

The summit will result in a collective legislative proposal that will directly engage with policymakers.

Please share YOUR ideas, questions, input and advice with US, so that we may bring your voices to the summit as well! Leave a comment, or interact with us on Twitter; send us a tweet @80MS

Check back for more updates!