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New Adventures, Familiar Faces

Wed, 04/01/2015 - 9:01am

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Brandon Wong.

I last left off with my plans for attending CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, in Maryland. Boy, was that fun! Out of the 4 days it was around (Wednesday-Saturday), I was present for 3 of them. On Thursday, I got to meet my favorite Senator and presidential hopeful, Rand Paul. Senator Paul holds a special place in my heart because I think he’s trying to take the Republican Party in a slightly different direction, which is what needs to happen if the Grand Old Party ever wants to take back the White House. On Friday, I had the pleasure of attending a reception hosted by James O’Keefe, the conservative film documentarian. For those unfamiliar with Mr. O’Keefe, he is the young man that ventured across the U.S.-Mexico border dressed as Osama bin Laden to bring greater attention to the security of the border. Finally, I spent Saturday volunteering for RAND PAC (Senator Paul’s Political Action Committee) and acquainting myself with some of the exhibitions. One booth was hosting an organization called Right on Crime, a part of the Texas Public Policy Institute that seeks to formulate policies that address the growing problem of criminal justice from a conservative perspective. I’m incredibly interested in the conservative reform movement, so it was great to hear from some of the folks who are out on the front lines getting their voices (and policies) heard by politicians. Overall, I’m happy I was able to attend; CPAC was an excellent experience for a young conservative like myself!

Me and James O’Keefe, the man who started Project Veritas

The weekend afterward, my friend David came to visit. David is a fourth year Berkeley student like me, and I’ve had the pleasure of knowing him since my very first semester. In fact, we lived together in the same dorm! I suppose it’s true that the very first people you meet at college will be your friends for life! Although David was only here for less than 48 hours, I got to give him a grand tour of the District: he got to see the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence; visit the Newseum; take pictures in front of the White House; build a snowman outside of the Washington Monument; stand in awe in front of the Lincoln Memorial; see a Wizards basketball game; and experience local cuisine at Founding Farmers, a sustainable, organic restaurant. That was a weekend I’ll not soon forget.

My friend David and I outside the White House

About two week after that, I had the honor of accompanying my girlfriend Saba to help her decide which graduate school she should attend. My girlfriend and I have been in a long distance relationship since we both started college. She attended UC Irvine and graduated a year early, using that extra year to explore a career in social service and applying to graduate schools for social work. She was accepted to about 4 schools, but she narrowed her choices down to 2: University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and Columbia. Both schools had welcome events last weekend, so she decided to make the trek to the East Coast and determine which of the two would be a better fit for her. We ended up making a long trip up to New York City from Philadelphia and back just to visit both schools. It was my first time visiting either city, and it was great that I got to see them both with her. For those wondering, she’s really leaning towards Penn.

Beautiful Philadelphia skyline!

As I write this, my younger brother Cameron is sitting next to me on the couch scrutinizing each word I write. Cameron is a Chemical Engineering major at UCI, and he decided that he wanted to spend our spring break week with me on the East Coast. We’ve done a great many things so far, and it’s only Tuesday! We’ll be spending the remainder of the week with our aunt and uncle, who live in northern Pennsylvania.

Zot Zot!

Last—though certainly not least—I recently had the honor of meeting Rep. Doris Matsui in one of the Cannon Building offices. I must say, Rep. Matsui is one of the sweetest and most genuine women I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. She spoke at length about her late husband—former Congressman Robert Matsui, whom she endearingly referred to as “Bob”—and the spirit of public service that he wanted to engender in folks my age. Along with a certificate for being selected to receive the Matsui Fellowship, Rep. Matsui also presented me with a book about her late husband. Once I return home, I will most certainly read it. In any case, I am honored to have met Rep, Matsui, and I sincerely hope that I am honoring Robert Matsui’s vision of public service.


Rep. Matsui and me.

Even though I’ve been doing all these fun things, I don’t want to give the impression that it’s all just fun and games. On the academic side of things, my work is really starting to pick up. Both my Lobbying and Congress classes have substantial research papers due in April, and I’ve been writing and researching like a madman. In my Lobbying class, the paper has to be about a lobbying campaign that you would personally like to execute, with details on who you would lobby in Congress, the policy change you want, and all sorts of other moving parts. Due to my area of study at AEI, I’ve decided to take a look at better regulating for-profit colleges such as the University of Phoenix. In my Congress class, the final paper must be about a policy that you think Congress should consider enacting. Again, since I’ve been seeped in education for 32+ hours a week, I decided I would write about Income Share Agreements, a potentially more effective method to finance higher education. On the work side of things, it seems as though all of the education scholars want my time for help on their projects. I’m certainly happy to help, love the work, and am not complaining one bit, but I feel stretched thin at times. I wish I was more at liberty to explain what kinds of projects I’m working on, but unfortunately I must keep that to myself. What I will say is that our higher education team is working feverishly on a new publication that might change the way Americans regard college. Hopefully it does, so I can say I helped!

Brandon Wong is a senior at UC Berkeley, studying political science and public policy. He is currently interning with the American Enterprise Institute as a Matsui Washington Fellow.

User Guide to the Library of Congress

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 9:50am

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Summer Dong

The Library of Congress was one of the biggest incentives behind my UCDC application. As my work at the Wilson Center is picking up, I have become a frequent patron of the LOC. A good thing about working in a think tank is the flexibility of your schedule. Unlike my friends who work, say, at the White House or at some Congressional offices, I usually don’t have to be at work from 9 to 5. As a research assistant, my job is mainly to, well, do research. So as long as I finish my work on time and keep my boss happy, I can read books, write memos and interview people from anywhere, usually a nearby library or a cafe. And sometimes, when the task gets tricky, a visit to the LOC is a must-do.

For example, two weeks ago, my boss asked me to check out all articles in the People’s Daily, the official Chinese Communist Party newspaper, in early 1960s that talked about Sino-Japanese relations. Sounds like something that would take me a hundred years, right? Well, that would have been the case without the LOC. Fortunately, though, the LOC has subscriptions to many Chinese-language academic databases which include the digital versions of almost all influential Chinese newspapers. So people may type in keywords, select a time range, filter by sources, and click “search.” Then all is well — except that, sometimes the database will only show you the title of the article that contained what you want, not the entire thing. But the LOC never stops surprising you. You can then ask a librarian to bring you the microfilm of that particular month’s People’s Daily and read it on a special microfilm scanner/projector, which may look like this:

Apparently, the LOC has the People’s Daily in microfilm of EVERY SINGLE ISSUE from the first copy in 1948 to perhaps, last month. And this, of course, is just a tiny small part of the LOC’s treasures. By the mass quantity of its collections and awe-inspiring design of the buildings, the LOC is definitely THE No.1 library of the world. And I feel quite fortunate to be able to utilize the LOC as a solid brick in building my internship and my own research.

However (yes, we should always expect a “however”), the LOC has many downsides too. After saying so many good words about it, I would like to layout its shortcomings for the convenience of future UCDC folks:

  1. You CANNOT check out books from the LOC. Everything has to be used on its premises.
  1. They have short hours. Most reading rooms close at 5pm on weekdays and don’t open on weekends (some are open until 930pm M-Th, and open sporadically on weekends). This, combined with point No.1, really forces researchers to plan ahead.
  1. If you want to read something, you need to request it from a librarian. Unlike in Main Stacks, you don’t come in and look for books on your own in the LOC. They categorize books and place them in different reading rooms. You check online to see where the book is located, go to that reading room, and get a librarian to help you.
  1. Inter-reading-room book requests take FOREVER. If you are in the Asian reading room and need a book from the European reading room, walk over to the latter. If you request for a book that is not in the current room, you’d be miserable (last time it took me 3 hours to get my book).
  1. The LOC online catalog is the WORST. I found it more helpful to check on the World Cat/Melvyl, and see if the LOC has a copy of what you want, rather than directly search for it on the LOC catalog. It never gives you any neat results.
  1. Getting a reader’s card is a pain. It is the largest library in the world (according to its own website and Quora), meaning that it’s probably a huge bureaucracy too. It has three different buildings and more than a dozen reading rooms. If you have made it this far in my blog post, congratulations because you’ll remember to go straight to Room 140 in the MADISON BUILDING upon your first visit because that’s the only place you can get a reader’s card, the only sacred pass for you to access everything else in the LOC. All three buildings (Madison, Jefferson and Adams) are interconnected through underground tunnels, which is pretty cool, so people don’t have to walk in chilly wind if they happen to be at the wrong building. And there is always a long line at the card service, so be patient about that too.

Finally I’d like to wish all researchers the best of luck in their treasure hunt at the Library of Congress.

Summer Dong is a UC Berkeley senior studying political science and history. She is interning at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC as a Matsui Washington Fellow.

Somber Past, Bright Future

Wed, 02/25/2015 - 1:20pm

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Brandon Wong.

The past few weeks have been a little rough. I’ve been trying to shake off a persisting cold, to little avail. On top of that, applying for jobs takes up a great deal of my time, in addition to scholarly pursuits here at the UC Center. Finally, I made an obligatory excursion to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum a few weeks ago. I say “obligatory,” because I believe wholeheartedly that everyone must eventually witness the tragedies of the Holocaust to honor the living and the dead. Reading Elie Weisel’s Night in high school was an emotionally exhausting endeavor, affecting me in a way few books have. However, even books about the Holocaust don’t fully capture the human suffering and cruelty; going to the Museum made that clear to me. One thing about the Museum that really stuck with me was the boxcar they had on display for museum goers to walk through. Of course, eventual victims of the death camps were transported by train in box cars. They were often packed to the brim, allowing very little freedom of movement. Walking through the boxcar sent a chill down my spine and made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. Though I was technically alone in the sense that no one was in or around the boxcar with me, I did not feel truly alone. I doubt I’ll ever forget that.

That’s the somber part of my post. Everything else around here has been fantastic. I think one of the best things about living at the UC Center is that you get to meet so many new people. I’ve met students from almost all UC campuses (sorry, Merced!), as well as from a few of the non-California schools. Two of my closest friends here are actually from Carnegie Mellon University. CMU students live up to their reputation of being science and technology fanatics, which is fascinating to me. My friends Joe and Max had a long and intense discussion one night about machine learning and artificial intelligence, two topics I knew very little about. By the end of the night, I was both enlightened and terrified. It’s wonderful making friends with different perspectives, and I feel like this personal enrichment dovetails nicely with the professional development I receive from work.

My new friends from Carnegie Mellon. From left to right: Joe Chi, me, Max Goetschel

Speaking of work, things at AEI are picking up. A week or so ago, we hosted a talk given by co-CEO of Teach for America, Elisa Villanueva Beard. A lot of criticism has been leveled at TFA, but I think it is ultimately a force for good for thousands of children in poor communities across the United States. In addition to some of the talks we’ve been hosting, I’ve been working extensively with our Early Childhood Education fellow, Katharine Stevens, on a new project. Without giving too much away, states across the country—red and blue alike—are investing greater taxpayer resources in preschool and early childhood initiatives. Educating our youngest minds has become a bipartisan issue, and we hope to see more development in that area in the future. Finally, I am proud to announce that some of my writing appears on a blog other than the Matsui Center’s (sorry, IGS!). I recently wrote a short piece on a piece of legislation called FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and how it inadequately addresses contemporary issues in student privacy. You can read the post here.

Things are going well, and they’re only going to get better. This coming Thursday I will have the chance to meet my ideological hero and potential presidential candidate, Senator Rand Paul. As I write this, I can barely contain my excitement! Later this weekend, I will be attending the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an event that showcases the rock stars of the American political Right. I’ve wanted to go for a few years, but now that I’m on the East Coast I’ll finally be able to. Finally, one of my closest friends from Cal will be visiting next weekend. DC is a wonderful place to be, but sometimes I miss going to Sliver with my Berkeley friends. Now I’ll get the best of both worlds! Adventure awaits!

Brandon Wong is a senior at UC Berkeley, studying political science and public policy. He is currently interning with the American Enterprise Institute as a Matsui Washington Fellow.

Going Primitive in D.C.

Wed, 02/11/2015 - 11:40am

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Summer Dong

I never realized how much I had been enslaved to my cell phone until three weeks ago. I went skiing in Maryland— Yes, they do have a couple of ski resorts around D.C., nothing like Lake Tahoe, though — with three friends from UCDC, and accidentally gave my cell phone a mountain funeral. Since then, I have been living in a constant state of uncertainty. “Where is the nearest post office again? I have to mail some postcards to my friends in Berkeley. And, what are their addresses anyway? Gosh, I really should have written them down.” “It’s now 4 minutes past my appointment time with my boss, what if there was something coming up and he had to ditch me?” “Wait, at which Metro stop should I make my transfer again?” Without a cell phone, my life is just full of those “Gotcha” moments. I’ve always thought that, compared to all my “techy” friends in the Bay Area, I was pretty indifferent to digital stuff. Now I have to say, a smart phone is something that, once you get used to it, there is just no way back.

Summer with her friends Ari (left, from University of Sydney), Tom (from UCLA), and Joe (front, from Carnegie Mellon University)

Yet, everything has a bright side. Not having a cell phone as a walking stick, I trained myself to walk on my own. I got a DC Street Map and Metro Map. I memorized almost all the street names near the UCDC building and the Wilson Center (where I work). And when I do get lost, I do something that I haven’t been doing in a million years — I look around the street, identify someone who looks nice and less busy, make eye contact, ask for directions, listen to them, observe their manners, say thank you, and feel very blissful. I now have a basic version of DC geography in my head, topped with those famous landmarks. As someone who has an absolutely terrible sense of direction, I’m so proud of this achievement. And what’s even better, I actually get the chance to let myself fully immerse into whatever I am doing at the moment. For the first time in recent years, I can appreciate the beauty of a painting, a sculpture, a really good meal, or gathering with friends, without having to worry about taking pictures and posting them on social media. When the world is no longer “at my fingertip,” I actually get to learn how to cherish every moment of my day.

Let me share with you some of the cool places I visited in the past three phone-less weeks:

1. Whitetail Ski Resort
It’s the closest ski/snowboard place around D.C.: about an hour and 40 minute drive from the UCDC center. For those of you who are spoiled by the perfect mountain conditions in Lake Tahoe, Whitetail is like a small hill. But it does have a couple of slopes for intermediate and above. And its “black diamonds” do require some skills to conquer. Just in case some of you may feel like shredding the snow when you are in D.C.

2. International Spy Museum
My friend Sylvia Yixi Zhao (a Matsui fellow last year) recommended this place to me, and I’ll always love her for that. The museum features a large collection of espionage artifacts and is divided into different themes (e.g. secret history of the Cold War, new spying techniques in the 21st century, and James Bond, of course). Among all the museums I’ve visited so far, it has been one of the best interactive designs that incorporate the visitors into the spying theme. It does charge for tickets but I personally think it’s totally worthwhile.

3. Uncle Liu’s Hotpot
D.C. is not the best place for Asian food. But if you’d like to go a little further, there are some good ones in neighboring Maryland and Virginia. I went to Uncle Liu’s Hotpot this past weekend with two other friends and we all loved it. Make sure you’re ok with spicy food, though, because their spicy soup base is just soooooo good.

Uncle Liu’s Hotpot

Summer Dong is a UC Berkeley senior studying political science and history. She is interning at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC as a Matsui Washington Fellow.

Learning about Learning: Education Policy and Washington, D.C.

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 10:48am

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Brandon Wong.

It’s 1P.M. on January 4th. I walk off my connecting flight from Detroit, Michigan (where it was a harsh 8 degrees) to the Dulles Airport terminals. Despite not having slept for 30 hours, I’m excited and anxious. Three hours later, I finally arrive at the U.C. Washington Center. After unpacking all of my belongings, I think to myself, “Now what?” Little did I know then that my life would pick up the pace in such a short time.


Fast forward to Thursday, January 7th, my orientation day at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). For those unaware, AEI is what is often referred to as a “think tank,” an organization very much like a university without students; that is, there are no students, and scholars are not burdened with grading papers. In short, it is all the fun of research without the responsibility of teaching. All think tanks have a mission or agenda that they try to accomplish through their research. AEI was established because of concerns about the degree to which the federal government had grown during World War II. Specifically, the founders wanted to ensure that wartime price controls and other economic policies would be rolled back at the conclusion of the war to ensure that the free market would once again be able to operate. Since then, AEI has expanded its scope outside economics and into the fields of social policy and foreign defense.

Pictured: the slowest computer in the world and the rest of my humble work space.

History aside, AEI is an amazing place to work. Interns such as myself are treated very well. First, interns are allowed to take any of AEI’s scholarly material home with them to keep. Part of the reason this policy exists is to keep interns curious and always desiring to learn more. Certainly, this has been the case with me. During my first two weeks here, I’ve taken about 10 books home. My only regret is that I’ll never have enough time to digest them all. Next, unlike most other internships in the nation’s capital, food is provided to interns gratis. Waking up for work is always a bit sweeter knowing that a hearty breakfast is waiting for you when you arrive. Lunches are always an extravagant fanfare of delicacies. My favorite thus far has been scallops wrapped in duck bacon. Yes, you read that correctly. Duck bacon. These free meals have really helped me save money, which makes living in an expensive place like D.C. viable. Finally, I don’t have much of a commute. From the entrance of the UC Washington Center, I make a three minute walk to AEI’s building. All in all, I’m quite thankful I’ve ended up at AEI, but I hope that no one would think that my reverence for AEI is based solely on these considerations. Quite the contrary; I love my work so far.

Sushi boats and similar presentations are not uncommon.

As I mentioned earlier, AEI has 3 main policy areas—defense, economics, and social policy, the latter of which is an umbrella category that houses a whole bunch of other policy domains like immigration and abortion. I work in social policy under the education department, splitting my time roughly equally between higher education, K-12, and early childhood education. I’ve had a bunch of projects already, but I’ll just talk about one.

For folks who are curious about how to improve K-12 education in the United States, discussions usually end up with some mention of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCLB was a bipartisan policy signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002 that was designed to improve student achievement. The law had 2 basic components: teacher quality and assessment of students. Though NCLB sounded nice on paper, it actually had the perverse effect of making schools worse. The guidelines for ensuring that students were taught by a “highly qualified teacher” (an actual phrase in the law) varied state-by-state and were not all that rigorous. For example, if I wanted to be a high school chemistry teacher, I might be deemed “highly qualified” through a combination of my (future) Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and knowledge from a single chemistry course I might have taken while at college. I would clearly be unfit to teach chemistry, yet NCLB would deem me highly qualified. Moreover, a laser-like focus on student assessment came at the expense of schools becoming more akin to memorization factories than to institutions of true learning.

As I write this, I sound as though I desire the entire law scrapped. There are some provisions that are worthwhile, such as requiring that schools publish data by social group, sex, and income level so that we can systematically determine if some students need more attention. However, the law as written must be reformed if it is to actually help students in any meaningful way. It just so happens that Congress needs to reauthorize NCLB, which has not happened in over 7 years (clearly, the law was unpopular). Which brings me back to my project—the education team and I have been writing a series of one-pagers about different aspects of NCLB, why the law failed, and what could be done to improve it. We will be presenting these one-pagers to Capitol Hill staff this Friday, January 30th for members to consider as they begin their work in the 114th Congress. There is already some activity in this vein in the Republican-controlled Congress, but I sincerely hope that my small contribution could improve the educational landscape for America’s youngest minds.

Work and class do eat up a great deal of my time, but Friday nights and weekends lend themselves to some relaxation and sightseeing. Thus far, I’ve been to Georgetown to admire the campus (I try not to think about law school), take part in the nightlife, and sample its famed cupcakes.

The best $3 Oreo cheesecake cupcake I’ve ever had!

One of the most memorable experiences I’ve had thus far was my trip to the National Museum of American History, one of the many Smithsonians around D.C. A bunch of my neighbors told me about the American war exhibit, and I went there fully expecting to immerse myself in war memorabilia. Instead, this exhibit caught my eye.

As an amateur cook and lover of food in general, I was naturally drawn to this exhibit. It’s amazing how the American culinary experience can change in just 50 years! During this time, drinking wine with dinner became socially acceptable and popular, foreign cultures blended with what was considered traditionally American, and mass production of food made it cheaper and more widely available. One could spend hours in that exhibit, and indeed I did. Part of the exhibit included a documentary about Julia Child’s contributions to American cuisine, which included clips of her cooking show, The French Chef. I was mesmerized by how easy she made cooking seem, and I literally sat down just to watch the entirety of the documentary. Some of my friends had a laugh at my expense, but I thought it was an enlightening experience.

This looks familiar…

February is not yet upon us, and I’m excited for what lies in store! Tune in next month for more!

Brandon Wong is a senior at UC Berkeley, studying political science and public policy. He is currently interning with the American Enterprise Institute as a Matsui Washington Fellow.

From Passive Berkeley to Dynamic DC – My First Days in Washington

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 11:16am

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Summer Dong
A Berkeley professor once shared with me her impression about D.C. She was invited over to the capital as an Asia expert, where she and professors from other universities were given a tour of the State Department, where they met with some government officials responsible for drafting international policies. At the end of the tour, the officials asked the professors if they had any questions about D.C. “The only question I had in mind,” my professor said to me, “’was are things here more like what we see in The West Wings or House of Cards?’” She did not say that out loud, of course.

I used to share this cynicism towards bureaucracy as well, and so did many of my friends at Berkeley. When I told them I was going to D.C. for a semester, they joked: “Oh, you’d better get some nice pant suits before you leave. Sweatpants and hoodies just won’t work there.” They are probably right. Berkeley (and to some extent, the entire San Francisco Bay Area) is its own universe. Although technology and entrepreneurship have become more and more dominant on the Berkeley campus, many of us still managed to remain unaffected. My academic footprint at Berkeley, for example, is pretty much confined to Dwinelle Hall and Barrows Hall, where the History and Political Science faculty give instructions and hold office hours. I do admire the professors and my fellow classmates of humanity and social sciences, who lead a very simple life and seem very into it. They do not seem to care much about politics. They do research because they love the topic itself. And many of them do not seem to care whether their research can make an impact on the real world or not. At least in History and Political Science departments, I saw minimal linkage between academia, industry and government.

Matsui Washington Fellows Summer Dong and Brandon Wong in front of the Supreme Court.

Well, D.C. is way different. On the TV in the lobby of the UCDC center, CNN is on 24/7. Yesterday I was meeting with a friend at a café near Georgetown University, the radio in that café was set to NPR. People here seem way more nationalistic than the people I met in Berkeley: I saw at least seven national flags flying in Georgetown and its neighboring communities. The city — at least, the northwestern half of the city where the state departments, lobby firms and think tanks are located — is defined by politics. To some extent, DC reminds me of my hometown Beijing where the cab drivers can update you with the newest personnel changes within the top leadership of China as well as the details of the APEC Conference.

As I am only in my second week at the DC program, I reserve further judgments I have for the city. Soon I will start my internship at the Wilson Center. I am quite curious to see the differences and similarities of doing research in a think tank versus that in an “ivory tower”. Hopefully, by the time I leave Washington in April, I will have a lot more to say about this legendary city.

Here it begins.

Summer Dong is a UC Berkeley senior studying political science and history. She is interning at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC as a Matsui Washington Fellow.

A Farewell to D.C.

Mon, 12/22/2014 - 2:38pm

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow David Mkrtchian

Cal Bears at the White House during Christmas.

I just recently left the nation’s capitol, in a whirlwind of work that left me exhausted but content. I thought I would share my concluding thoughts on D.C.

I arrived in D.C. with very little in the way of expectations. But I left D.C. with a desire to return to policy making soon. One of the most rewarding experiences of my life has been seeing how work can become policy. For some of my friends on the elections side of things, this has been seeing how their opposition research becomes part of a campaign ad that changes the discussion in a given race. For others it’s been seeing policy research percolate and broadcast to the public via the media.

Prior to coming to D.C., I did not realize the importance of the media not only in disseminating information but more broadly in governing the country. Without the media’s constant attention, policy could not move forward. The media, via its ability to shape and marshal public expectations, serves as the wind beneath the sails of many politicians.

That said, probably one of the most under reported and consequential parts of the policy making process are the intra-party and intra-agency debates. Before a debate becomes demarcated by party lines, there is a fierce debate within either the agency releasing the guidelines (e.g. the EPA) or party, that is just as important.

I also left D.C. with a much greater respect for politicians. Many of them work tirelessly and are subject-matter experts. (One expert whose name came up many times is the retiring Congressman Henry Waxman). Furthermore, these politicians are gifted speakers. You never truly appreciate how much a politician dances around landmines while cogently communicating until you are made aware of those landmines.

It’s also hard to appreciate the import of political change when you are not in D.C. This past November, Republicans gained seats in the Senate and House. For most Americans, this is a political change that, given the current dysfunction, is of little practical significance. But for hundreds of staffers on the Hill, this means that they are going to lose their jobs. While former Senators and Congressmen and Congresswomen will make out fine, their staffers will find themselves scrambling for jobs.

The current ambassador of Armenia, Tigran Sargsyan, second from left.

My last month in D.C. I had quite a few interesting experiences. I met the former Prime Minister of Armenia, as well as the chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, Jason Furman. I also met the distinguished Congresswoman to whose husband I remain indebted for giving me this amazing experience, Congresswoman Doris Matsui.

David Mkrtchian is a UC Berkeley senior studying economics and law. He is interning with the President’s Council of Economic Advisors as a Matsui Washington Fellow.

Seven Things to be Thankful For This Thanksgiving

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 8:56am

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Felippa Amanta

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to share my top seven things to be thankful for in Washington, D.C. In the midst of the busy weekdays, we often go by our day in such a rush that we forget to stop for a moment, take a breath, and appreciate what we have.

So this thanksgiving, I am thankful for…

Enjoying the Concert for Valor with the Capitol in the background

1. Fun Friends

Friends are our support system, especially when we are far away from family. Friends often share common experiences, excitement and stress, enthusiasm and exhaustion. In this exploration of the new world of D.C., friends make that journey a little more special.

2. Extensive education

D.C. offers a unique educational experience, supported by a range of experts in their respective fields. In the UCDC Center, we get to learn about lobbying, media, campaign, theater, and many more subjects straight from a former lobbyist, journalist, chief of staff, artist, and people who have first hand knowledge on the subject matter.

D.C.’s famous Baked and Wired cupcakes.

3. Fantastic food

Whether you’re looking for breakfast, brunch, lunch, coffee break, dinner, or desert, D.C. has the place for you! Ranging from food trucks, to fast food joints, to high end restaurants, D.C. always provides good food to satisfy your needs!

4. Supportive supervisors

Supervisors often become the biggest pressure in your work. But beyond the deadlines and the red marks, supervisors are helping me to grow. They want me to succeed and would happily provide support in order to do so. They are what make the internship worthwhile.

The Potomac River seen from Old Town Alexandria, VA.

5. Stunning scenery

While D.C. is full of office buildings and structures, it is also only a few miles away from gorgeous scenery like Old Town Alexandria or Great Falls Park. On the weekend, going out of D.C. to enjoy nature is such a great way to refresh energy.

6. Amazing new acquaintances

You meet a lot of people in D.C., each with their own interesting trajectory of life. From meeting new people, I’ve learned a lot of life lessons that a university will never be able to teach.

Celebrating Diwali with Department of Defense at the Pentagon.

7. Colorful Diversity

I had the opportunity to join the Pentagon’s Diwali event, the Hindu festival of lights, held by the Department of Defense last October and be a part of the culturally rich, spiritual, and energetic celebration. It was truly an amazing way to witness the diversity in D.C.

Felippa Amanta is a UC Berkeley senior studying Sociology and Public Policy. She is interning with the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders as a Matsui Washington Fellow.

D.C. Is An International Political Playground

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 11:19am

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow David Mkrtchian

For this blogpost, I would like to share two observations. The first is on my experience visiting New York this past weekend. The second is on my continuing internship in Washington, D.C.

New York

This past weekend I had the luxury of visiting New York again. This time I went to New York to visit my friends. And I noticed something about New York that I didn’t notice the last time. When you are walking around New York’s packed sidewalks, there is a sense in which a person’s unique individuality melts into the collective whole, an ectoplasm of people moving from one point to another. That sense of being one of many, I think, drives many of the behaviors that I observed this past time.

Bears at Times Square (the timing of this picture was purely coincidental, too!).

When you are one of many, you are much more egotistical, more wanting of the attention that distinguishes you from everybody else. One manifestation of this egotistical desire is the legendary work ethic that I observed in New York. Having crisscrossed the country interviewing over the last couple of months, I can say with a modicum of certainty that the office culture I observed at New York was different.

In front of Eataly, a famous Italian cuisine restaurant that is always busy.

Central Park at night.

Another inclination fomented by this atomization of the human experience is a desire to reclaim uniqueness. For my own part, I reached back into my Armenian cultural heritage. Instead of visiting notable landmarks and museums, my friends and I sought out pockets of Armenians in New York. Indeed, one of the pictures you will see is of me in front of one of the oldest Armenian businesses in New York, Baruir’s.

Visiting Baruir’s, an old Armenia coffee shop.

Washington, D.C.

When you live in Berkeley, you know you are living in a politicized environment. Posters and flyers and chalk remind you that your community is engaged in civic life. Every once in a while, you might even see a transient reading “The Stranger.” D.C. is also politicized, but in much more subtle ways.

One example of such politicization that is somewhat sinister is Russia Today’s placement of billboards near Farragut West that criticize Colin Powell. Russia Today, for those who do not know, is the Russian state-sponsored media. Farragut West is a major metro stop that nearly all individuals who work within the White House get off at.  In other words, people who work at the White House are greeted by criticism from the Russian government every day on their way to work.

Politicization is not always sinister. Politics is a topic of discussion and spirited debate in a way that it is not in Los Angeles, where I am from, or even Berkeley. This was particularly true during the midterms. And for the record, I suspect that the conservative midterm victory should lead to an improvement in governing. Not necessarily because more conservative policies will be enacted but because if conservatives would like to win a presidential election, it is incumbent upon a solidly conservative legislature to deliver policies instead of stymieing President Obama’s efforts.

David Mkrtchian is a UC Berkeley senior studying economics and law. He is interning with the President’s Council of Economic Advisors as a Matsui Washington Fellow.

A Brown Bag Lunch with Secretary Arne Duncan

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 9:49am

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Felippa Amanta

Last Friday afternoon, October 17, I had the honor of being up close and personal with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Since the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is housed under the Department of Education, the interns are also subject to the Department of Education’s internship program. Other than exciting tours around the city and exhilarating happy hours, the program also provides opportunities to attend insightful brown bag lunches with various people at the Department, including Secretary Duncan himself.

The brown bag lunch took place in the Secretary’s conference room at the Lyndon B. Johnson Department of Education building. The room was filled with eager interns, some joining us through video calling, all suited up, with faces full of excitement, and a pinch of nervousness. Or at least that might be the reflection of my own thoughts. I couldn’t believe I was finally meeting the Secretary of Education after looking at his picture in front of the office door a thousand times!

Before the Secretary arrived, the room became like a get-together session. It is rare that all of the interns gather together and meet each other, getting to know other offices. This get-together included a diverse group of people from all over the nation, each with their own interesting background and story.

Secretary Duncan came soon after all of us settled down. My first impression was that he is very friendly, down to earth, welcoming, and far from being intimidating. He started of by humbly praising our work as an intern, saying “You are all way ahead of me when I was your age.” That was a very encouraging gesture, but also a reflection on how the culture and the atmosphere for undergraduate students have changed so much. Secretary Duncan also gave a quick remark on the future plans and projections of the Department. Since the time was very limited, the opening remark was very brief and was immediately followed by questions from the interns.

During the Q&A session, Secretary Duncan was very accommodating. He willingly answered the hard-hitting questions. We talked about the things that are relevant to us as college students, such as the extreme hike of college tuition, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in college campuses, funding and support for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and also the Department’s plan towards implementing a college rating system. On all of these issues, he admitted there’s still big room for improvement.

We also covered K-12 education, such as the problem with the school to prison pipeline, the reality that schools are more segregated than before the Civil Rights era, the need for teacher diversity, the missing piece of schools’ curriculum, and also on programs like Teach for America. The Secretary answered all of it openly, explaining what has been done, what might be the challenges and limitations, while also admitting some aspects that might be lacking and failing. Secretary Duncan also wasn’t afraid of answering more personal questions, such as what the future might hold for him after the administration comes to an end. The straight answer from him, “I don’t know!”

With the Secretary’s tight schedule, there wasn’t enough time to continue the interesting conversation. He ended on a very inspiring and thought-provoking note for the interns, reminding us to stay connected and grounded to the community because in the end, all the work that we are doing is for the community and for public service.

Felippa Amanta is a UC Berkeley senior studying Sociology and Public Policy. She is interning with the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders as a Matsui Washington Fellow.

Here and There: Comparing Life in Different Cities

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 1:54pm

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow David Mkrtchian

For this blog post, I would like to discuss the difference between D.C. and California in terms of transit, and the difference between Norfolk, Virginia and San Francisco in terms of urban planning.

One of the most underappreciated parts of Washington, D.C. is its transit convenience. Because Washington, D.C.’s Union Station is such a convenient transit hub, I was able to visit Norfolk, Virginia two weeks ago, to see a fellow Cal Bear studying medicine, and travel easily to New York City. As it happens, I am writing this blog while traveling on Amtrak’s high speed Acela train from Washington, D.C. to New York City.

Cal Bears reunited in Virginia, in front of Norfolk’s city mascot, the Norfolk mermaid.

Transportation Economics:

I am taking the Amtrak to New York to interview with a financial services firm. (Like other Berkeley students, I am recruiting for postgraduate jobs during the fall semester). Just to give a bit of context, the Acela travels from D.C. to NY in 3 hours. It’s become such a popular route that 1) many airlines have stopped serving this city-pair and 2) it’s a driver of Amtrak’s profitability in the only region that it is profitable: New England.

In a famous Newsweek article, George Will wrote a screed against mass transit called “Why Liberals Love Trains.” I consider myself an Acela liberal.

As Californians, it can be confusing why the high-speed rail initiative in our state is so controversial. As a student of economics, the question I ask myself is whether or not California’s proposed project is cost-effective. In short: probably not.

There are uniquely American features that make public infrastructure more expensive generally and California-specific reasons that public infrastructure is not a lucrative investment. To begin, it’s important to note that building public infrastructure in the United States is much more expensive than in Western Europe or Japan despite the lower unit cost of labor in the U.S. And the reason might be surprising. It’s much more expensive for the public to purchase private land in the U.S. than in other places. Whereas the legal doctrine of “eminent domain” requires the U.S. government to pay the market price for a given property, legal doctrine elsewhere only requires that governments pay “fair value” to purchase private property.

In addition to U.S. property law, the population density, existing highway infrastructure, and the geographic span envisioned by the high-speed rail  against its prospects of being cost-effective. New England is denser than California. This means that a given route can serve more salient destinations; by extension, more people will be interested in becoming customers. And Californians are already served by thousands of miles of highways (for which they have purchased cars).  In other words, connectivity can only increase if the price (and convenience) of transit via high-speed rail is lower than its closest substitutes— airplane and car. Given the distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the proposed endpoints of the line, it does not seem like a high-speed rail can deliver value.

Urban Economics:

One of the central difficulties of urban planning is dealing with the tradeoff between urban density and the cost-of-living. Comparing Norfolk, Virginia, and San  Francisco, California, is revealing of this difficulty. When I visited Norfolk I found that there was very little pedestrian foot traffic. My fellow companion remarked that the city seemed eerily like a ghost town, with large industrial buildings and wide city boulevards that seemed to hint at a recent human presence. This sensation, while unpleasant, is also a very large issue for city planners. Without foot traffic, it is hard to convince businesses (particularly restaurants and shops) to open. Foot traffic also drives cultural life and entertainment. Without it, a city languishes. However, Norfolk, to its credit, has a very low cost-of-living for a city.

On the other end of the spectrum we have San Francisco. San Francisco has managed to create pedestrian foot traffic such that businesses are interested in opening up, and such that there is a distinctive city culture that workers (and employers that would like to entice those worker) enjoy. San Francisco’s curse comes in terms of the cost-of-living.  Because it’s such a desirable place to be, the cost of living there is high.

Of course, since I am Berkeley student, I would prefer to tough it out in San Francisco than wonder what happened to all the people in Norfolk.

David Mkrtchian is a UC Berkeley senior studying economics and law. He is interning with the President’s Council of Economic Advisors as a Matsui Washington Fellow.

A Whole New World

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 9:25am

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Felippa Amanta

I hit the ground running in Washington, D.C. I arrived in Washington late Sunday night, spent Monday settling in to the apartment, started class on Tuesday, and went to my first day of work on Wednesday at the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders. From that point on, it has been a sprint and I love every second of it. Which brings us to today. Today marks the first month of my internship, so I took a moment to reflect back on the crazy ride.

First day of work at the Department of Education main building

The first thing I quickly learned at my internship was “DC Speak.” Washington, D.C. is obsessed with acronyms. Everything that can be shortened will be turned into an acronym. All the government agencies, offices, legislations, positions, programs, institutions, and even buildings are acronyms. We even have almost two pages full of commonly used acronyms in our internship guide. Not understanding the acronyms can at times feel like you’re listening to an alien language.

Another thing I was surprised to find is the degree of trust the supervisors placed on the interns. Interns are given big responsibilities and a great degree of creative freedom in handling a project, not just menial tasks like making copies and picking up coffee. This creates more challenges and pressure, especially working with the senior and experienced staffs. But that is also what makes the internship experience so valuable, because it definitely pushed me further to learn and hone new skills.

Last but not least, Washington, D.C. turns out to be very open and accessible. Back in California, watching House of Cards or Scandal made the town seem intimidating and hostile. But now that I’m here, it feels welcoming instead. There are always opportunities up for grabs, with networking events, open houses, coffee dates, lunch dates, fairs, workshops, trainings, and so much more. I’m also privileged to have supervisors and professors who understand and even encourage me to seize those opportunities.

Looking back at the first month in Washington, D.C., I am still amazed at this new world. Washington has been a major life change from the Californian lifestyle. It’s been exciting, challenging, exhausting, and very rewarding. But the best part is, this month is only the beginning!

Felippa Amanta is a UC Berkeley senior studying Sociology and Public Policy. She is interning with the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders as a Matsui Washington Fellow.

First Impressions: Washington, D.C.

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 10:06am

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow David Mkrtchian

I suppose the right place to begin this blog post is Evans 10, in my first Macroeconomics lecture at Berkeley. The instructors, a husband and wife dynamic duo, were teaching us about the economic history of the United States starting from the Great Depression. This was a double irony. As Professor David Romer would mention to great laughter, they only had to convince three of their colleagues to literally change history. (Both Professor David Romer and Christina Romer sit on the National Bureau of Economic Research’s business cycle dating committee. A recession only begins when they say so). The second irony was that Professor Christina Romer deeply influenced the most recent economic history of the United States. She was President Obama’s first Chief Economic Adviser and the principle architect of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (more commonly known as the “stimulus package”). I now work where she previously had her office, as an intern for the Council of Economic Advisers. It is because of her and her husband’s teaching and relentless insistence that it is important to get history right, to understand which way causal arrows point, that I am interested in macroeconomics generally and public policy specifically.

In front of the White House before my internship. One little known fact about all White House internships is that nearly none of the interns actually work within the White House these days.

Last week was my first week interning on the Council of Economic Advisers so I thought I might share some of my first impressions. To begin, it is a most anxiety-provoking act to walk up to the Secret Service early in the morning. (I was so nervous that I lost my house keys the first day of work. Luckily, the Secret Service does not lose anything and I sheepishly recovered them the next day). My first day of work consisted of some light data analysis as the President and the Chief Economic Adviser are interested in the part-time labor force and youth employment. My day was cut short when one of the research assistants shot us an excited email letting us know that Marine One— the president’s helicopter— was about to take off, spiriting him and Susan Rice to the NATO summit. If we just looked outside we would be able to see the president. (The Council of Economic Advisers is housed in the Eisenhower Executive Office building, which is directly adjacent to the West Wing). After a seemingly interminable wait, the President bounded into his helicopter.

The Washington Monument: Abe Lincoln’s view.

Three things stood out to me from this minor event. First, I did not know that after the President’s helicopter takes off, decoy helicopters rise into the sky as well. Second, I did not know that wherever the President travels, an aide carries a briefcase with the United States’ nuclear codes. (For security reasons, I could not take a picture of any of this). Third, I learned and I continue to learn that those who support the President really care about getting public policy right. The research assistants were excited to see the President. Every day, every single piece of analysis or research that we produce is examined and reexamined with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that only pristine documents reach the senior staff and the President.

David Mkrtchian is a UC Berkeley senior studying economics and law. He is interning with the President’s Council of Economic Advisors as a Matsui Washington Fellow.

From Small Beginnings Come Great Things

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 11:09am


Posted by Cal in Sacramento Fellow Jasraj Sangha


Last day group picture in front of the Capitol (a few fellows are missing)

It was a summer not to forget! I want to take this opportunity to thank the Matsui Center for sending Berkeley students to intern in public service in California’s capital as Cal-in- Sacramento fellows. This summer wouldn’t have been the same if I had not received support from the program!

Thanks to the Institute of Governmental Studies for putting my picture with Pedro Nava, Chairman of Little Hoover Commission , on front page of the PAR.

I cannot thank the Little Hoover Commission enough for letting me be part of their team for the summer. They not only taught me about the work of the Commission, but allowed me to broaden my education by attending any other events happening in the area that interested me.

It was my honor to help the Commission change the look of their cover for reports.



During my internship, I took the lead in monitoring legislation related to the Underground Economy. I identified relevant bills and kept staff apprised of their progress through the committee process. As staff identified potential attendees for Committee programs, I researched their backgrounds and areas of expertise, identifying how their specialties could specifically contribute to the meeting.



I was fortunate to help the project manager organize and to be part of an Advisory Meeting on the Underground Economy. The goal of the meeting was to bring leaders from the business community together to discuss possible paths to create a level playing field in California’s compliant businesses. It was great to be in a room where business leaders from various backgrounds and political views were debating an issue they all believed needs to be fixed.

It was myhonor to be part of the Advisory Meeting on the Underground Economy with Chairman Pedro Nava, Vice Chair Loren Kaye, Executive Director Carole D’Elia, Deputy Executive Director Jim Wasserman, and Research Analyst Krystal Beckham.

Go Bears!

Jasraj Sangha is a UC Berkeley senior studying economics and public policy. He recently completed his internship at the Little Hoover Commission in Sacramento.

Six Californias – What Would It Mean Politically?

Tue, 08/12/2014 - 11:12am
Article originally posted on the California Business and Politics blog Fox & Hounds. Monday, August 11, 2014

By Ethan Rarick and Jack Citrin

Ethan Rarick is the Director of the Robert T. Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service at the University of California, Berkeley. Jack Citrin is the Director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

We will say right up front that we believe there is no chance California will be allowed to subdivide itself into six states, a question that has submitted signatures in hopes of qualifying for the 2016 ballot. As we have explained elsewhere, we believe Congress would never approve such a plan, because it would dilute the political power of other states. But as a fun political exercise – and one that may yield some insights into the politics of California as it exists today – we analyzed how these six new states would shape up politically. (We’re not saying that any of these outcomes would be good or bad; we’re just presenting the data.)

Voter Registration

The “Six Californias” ballot measure being pushed by businessman Tim Draper divides the state along existing county lines:

  • Jefferson – the far north of current California. Some counties here have already voted to secede, although of course that has no legal weight.
  • North California – a swath running from Marin County through the northern reaches of the Bay Area and Sacramento and then on up to the Nevada border.
  • Silicon Valley – the heart of the Bay Area. This would become America’s richest state, surpassing Connecticut.
  • Central California – the central and southern portions of the Central Valley. This would become America’s poorest state, falling below Mississippi.
  • West California – essentially Los Angeles County and its northerly neighbors.
  • South California – essentially Orange County, the Inland Empire, and San Diego.

We took the most recent Report of Registration from the Secretary of State’s Office and calculated registration numbers for each of the six new states. (Technically, Draper’s measure would allow counties until 2017 to pick a different new state, so long as it was adjacent, but our analysis is based on the division of counties listed in the ballot measure.)

Democratic % Republican % No Party Preference% Jefferson 34 36 23 North California 43 30 21 Silicon Valley 51 18 25 Central California 38 39 19 West California 49 23 18 South California 35 37 23

As shown in the accompanying table, three of the states – Silicon Valley, West California, and North California – would be overwhelmingly Democratic. Silicon Valley would have so few Republicans that they would be substantially outnumbered by No Party Preference voters. The other three new states – Jefferson, Central California, and South California – would have a Republican edge, but in all cases the margin would be surprisingly close, either one or two percentage points.

We also calculated registration figures from 1994, twenty years ago, which highlights the recent development of the state’s east-west political divide. Over that time, the three predominantly coastal new states have all become more Democratic – Democratic margins have increased in Silicon Valley and West California and the Republican margin has shrunk in South California. The one new state that would be entirely inland – Central California – shifted in the opposite direction, from an eight-point Democratic advantage to a one-point Republican edge.

Senate Outcomes

But of course registration figures do not necessarily reflect how a state would vote, especially as more voters register as No Party Preference. Statewide election outcomes in the new states are a critical question for the national political scene, since the 38 million residents of current California would see their representation in the U.S. Senate suddenly balloon from two members to 12.

To gauge likely statewide results in high-profile Senate races, we examined past voting records – dividing up the county-by-county totals as if the Six Californias had existed – in presidential, gubernatorial, and U.S. Senate races stretching back to the 2004 election. Obviously this is an imperfect method – the same candidates could not have run in all six states, campaigns would have been run differently with different state borders, etc. – but at least this analysis offers some objective measure of likely outcomes in the new states.

Three of the states would have produced overwhelmingly Democratic track records. Silicon Valley would have chosen Democrats every time, including Phil Angelides as governor in 2006. West California and North California would have been only slightly less Democratic, choosing Arnold Schwarzenegger over Angelides for governor, but otherwise electing all Democrats.

On the other end of the spectrum would be Central California, which would have elected Republicans all but once. The only exception would have been Dianne Feinstein’s reelection bid in 2006, when she would have defeated Richard Mountjoy. Jefferson would have been almost as Republican, voting for Democrats only twice. Feinstein would have won the 2006 Senate race there as well, and, perhaps surprisingly, Barack Obama would have carried Jefferson in 2008.

South California would have been far and away the most competitive of the new states, electing Democrats five times and Republicans four. George W. Bush would have carried the state in 2004, but Obama would have carried it in both 2008 and 2012. In gubernatorial races, South California would have elected two Republicans – Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006 and Meg Whitman in 2010. In Senate races, Dianne Feinstein would been elected in both 2006 and 2012, while Barbara Boxer would have won in 2004 but lost her seat to Carly Fiorina six years later.

Another way to look at this issue is to imagine the likely partisan composition of the Six Californias’ 12-member Senate delegation as it might exist today. Examining the two most recent Senate races in 2010 and 2012 and using Boxer, Feinstein, Fiorina, and Elizabeth Emken as partisan proxies for the candidates who really would have been running, we see that seven of the 12 senators from the new California statelets would be Democrats. Democrats would hold both seats in Silicon Valley, West California and North California. Republicans would hold both seats in Jefferson and Central California. The Senate delegation for South California would be split.

Presidential Elections

What about presidential elections? The Legislative Analyst’s Office calculated the population totals for the six new states, and in the table below, we calculated the likely Electoral College vote for each new state by dividing the total population by the ideal House-district size of 725,000 and adding in two Senate seats. For perspective, we’ve added the existing state with the closest population total:

State Population Electoral College vote Current comparable state West California 11,563,717 18 Ohio South California 10,809,997 17 Ohio Silicon Valley 6,828,617 11 Washington Central California 4,232,419 8 Kentucky North California 3,820,438 7 Oklahoma Jefferson 949,409 3 Delaware

Using those Electoral College numbers, here is how the Six Californias would have divided up their Electoral College votes in the four most recent presidential elections, along with the Democrat’s winning margin in current-California for each election (strictly speaking, these numbers ignore the decennial reapportionments, so the Six Californias would have had fewer Electoral College votes in the earlier elections, but it still serves as a rough measure of how the new states might vote going forward):

Electoral College vote of the Six Californias Democratic margin in current California Democrat Republican 2012 53 11 23.1 2008 56 8 24.0 2004 36 28 10.0 2000 38 28 11.8

It’s clear that breaking California into six pieces would give Republicans a chance to win a state or two, but at least in recent years, it would have done them surprisingly little good. In 2012, Obama received 61.7 percent of the national Electoral College vote. Had the Six Californias vision been in place, he would have received 60.2 percent. Similarly, in 2008 Obama received 67.8 percent of the entire Electoral College, whereas he would have received 66.8 percent under the Six Californias plan.

Why would the Republicans have received so little benefit from breaking up current-California’s Electoral College bulk? Because each of the four or five states carried by Obama would have had two additional Senate seats counted in its Electoral College allotment, and those would have roughly offset the small Republican pickup of a single state or two.

For Six Californias to have made a difference in the presidential outcome, you must go back at least to 2000. In that year, the extra Electoral College votes that George W. Bush would have received by carrying three of the baby Californias might have rendered the Florida outcome moot. Bush might have won even with Gore carrying Florida. We haven’t bothered to go back and reapportion all of the 55 states that would have existed under the Six Californias plan, and the Electoral College outcome would have been so close that we can’t be sure of the exact result.

But the broader point is that it takes an astonishingly close election for the division of California to make a difference in the Electoral College result. In recent years, with the Democratic candidate carrying at least four of the new states, there would have been no meaningful change at all.

Future Changes

Of course the real question politically is how the Six Californias would behave going forward. It’s hard to see the heavily Democratic coastal states turning Republican any time soon, but what about the three states where Republicans would start with a narrow registration edge?

It’s possible that the very creation of new states would alter the political landscape in the Republicans’ favor. GOP candidates might be able to win down-ticket offices such as Attorney General or Treasurer, races where most voters cannot identify the candidates and vote based solely on partisan cues. In turn, those victories could allow them to build a “bench,” a set of candidates who had already won statewide races and could move on to higher-profile elections for governor or the Senate. Or, given the evidence that voters are geographically sorting themselves into distinct partisan areas, it’s possible that more conservative voters might flee the coastal Californias for a more conservative inland state (not to mention more affordable housing). If those changes were to occur, splitting the state into six component parts might help Republicans politically.

But such changes would reflect a departure from the current trends. Take, for example, the would-be state of Central California, which would have the highest current Republican registration of any of the Six Californias. As we noted above, if Central California had existed 20 years ago, it would have had a Democratic registration edge, so over the last two decades Republican strength has grown. But GOP gains occurred mostly in the 90s, and in the past 10 years, the trend has reversed. Using the final Report of Registration before each November General Election, here is Republican registration in Central California from 2004 through 2012. We don’t have the final pre-November report for 2014, of course, but the GOP figure could well be down again. (These numbers use Republican registration as a share of two-party registration, so the increasing number of independents is not an issue).

2004 53.9% 2006 53.5 2008 51.7 2010 51.0 2012 50.6

Those numbers suggest fading Republican power, even in the area that would become the most Republican of the six new California statelets. Given the ever-increasing diversity of the electorate and the GOP’s difficulty in wooing Latino voters, the trend could easily continue. If so, chopping up the state could produce not merely Six Californias, but Six Democratic Californias.

Ethan Rarick is the Director of the Robert T. Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service at the University of California, Berkeley.

Jack Citrin is the Director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

An Urban Exlorer in SF: Thoughts on a Housing Crisis

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 8:48am

Posted by Local Government Fellow Denim Ohmit.

I have always been something of a pedestrian urban explorer, but it seems my voyages have become far more frequent and thought-provoking since I started doing geographic data analysis in the San Francisco’s Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development. Indeed, there is something about playing with maps all day that makes one want to get outside and see those streets and neighborhoods for oneself. Also, since SF’s affordability crisis is due in part to the staggering demand for and relative shortage of housing in the city, I figure I should see for myself why so many people want to live here. So, rather than beeline down Market Street from my office building to the Civic Center BART station, I’ve been detouring to different neighborhoods around San Francisco, making observations, and trying to get a feel for this fascinating, dynamic, and rapidly changing city.

My most frequent lunchtime excursion takes me to Hayes Valley, the trendy, village-like neighborhood east of City Hall. Home to tree-lined streets of boutique macaroon shops, artisanal ice cream stands, purveyors of five dollar coffee, and some of the most expensive shoe stores you could possibly want to imagine, Hayes Valley is one of those places that give San Francisco its well-known reputation for bougieness. Walking up Hayes Avenue, guiltily clutching my Blue Bottle New Orleans-style cold brewed iced coffee, I wonder how much it cost to rent a one bedroom apartment in this neighborhood twenty years ago and how many moderate-income civil servant jobs I would have to take to afford one now. When I get back to work, I am pleased to discover that there are a few city-subsidized affordable housing developments and permanently below market rate inclusionary units in the neighborhood. However, my hopes are dampened when I discover the hundreds of applicants waiting to get a spot through a lottery. Like much of San Francisco for much of the lower middle class, Hayes Valley will remain for me a destination and not a place to call home.

A fellow intern and I enjoy coffee while exploring the neighborhoods around City Hall

When I want to get a little further away from work, I like to catch the Muni Metro N Train out to the Sunset District. The vast Sunset, stretching from Twin Peaks in the center of the city westward to Ocean Beach, has an entirely different energy and pacing from downtown. It’s mostly residential and majorly down-to-earth. It’s also home to some of the most delicious Chinese food you can find anywhere. My favorite spot to observe this part of the city is from above, in the aptly named Grand View Park. From the top of the hill, you can count the dense blocks of houses and low-rise apartment buildings that make up the west side of San Francisco. Absent are the skyscraping apartment buildings that have become infamous on the other side of the city. While this is something I love about the neighborhood, the housing enthusiast in me sees the challenges here. With increased demand and little to no opportunities to build dense developments (due to lack of land and adamantly slow growth resident), prices will keep rising. What will this mean for the neighborhood’s middle class character? I don’t want to find out.

While I enjoy exploring the far reaches of the city, the neighborhood that has been the most fascinating is the one nearest to my office. Although my office building is technically located in the Civic Center Historic District, most people would refer to the area as the Tenderloin. With the highest concentration of poverty in the city, including a sizable homeless population, the neighborhood is a service hub and home to the city’s large stock of emergency and transitional housing. Truly the last low-income neighborhood in the city, the Tenderloin landscape is the city’s clearest image of inequality and gentrification. High-rise luxury condos rise along central Market Street behind encampments of homeless folks, replacing the single room occupancy hotels vital for the lowest income San Francisco residents. As tech companies follow the lead of Twitter and set up shop and drive up property prices in the (reasonably) affordable Tenderloin, we can expect that housing specialists will have an even harder time finding a place for the homeless and displaced people to live, and the inequality will grow even more pronounced. Should I work at City Hall again in ten years, I wonder how different my walk to work will look.

By exploring San Francisco and seeing its changing face, I have developed a stronger appreciation for the work I’m doing in the Mayor’s Office of Housing. Developing and preserving affordable housing is a challenge in San Francisco, but one that my co-workers are proving is not impossible. Their work to make affordable housing happen across the city, in places and ways you wouldn’t even expect, gives me hope that the soul of San Francisco will not be lost amid a high-priced housing market.

Denim Ohmit is a UC Berkeley junior studying Urban Studies, Public Policy, and Geospatial Information Sciences & Technology. He is currently interning in the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

Times are Changing

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 9:05am

Posted by Cal in Sacramento Fellow Mia Shaw.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since coming to Sacramento nearly two months ago for my first day of work at Capitol Weekly and the CA Department of Justice, it’s that times are changing. Indeed, times have already changed, and rapidly; more rapidly, I think, than most have yet been able to comprehend, with implications more far-reaching than most had anticipated.

I know I should be writing a sweet, sentimental blog post detailing the wonderful time I’ve had here in Sacramento – because I really have had a wonderful time here in Sacramento. I should be talking about the little things: the times I spent sitting on the porch, the lounge downstairs, my car, obsessively working to improve my writing well past reasonable work hours; my devotion to the vegan sandwiches from Tony’s Deli downtown and my newly-acquired love of artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes; my discovery of educational podcasts, The Rachel Maddow Show, and my subsequent dedication to listening to and reading absolutely everything; and, maybe most importantly, my eventual acclamation to the scorching Sacramento summer heat.

But there isn’t any room for the sweet stuff, at least not at length – not here. I’ve just learned too much this summer just to talk about the ways in which I’ve come to conclusions rather than to talk about the conclusions to which I’ve come.

Let’s get started.

Entire industries, though perhaps not all – at least, perhaps not yet – have been shaken to the core by the emergence of the Internet, and the ways in which technology has developed in recent decades. Law, for example, as almost everyone tells me, is a risky place to be nowadays. That’s because it’s harder to break into the field; there are fewer lower-level jobs available, thanks to the rise of the search engine making research positions less lucrative. It’s certainly no longer the straight shot to the six-figure salary that it once was, despite the seemingly inevitable mountain of debt it leaves students with. For every person telling me I should pursue law school, there are at least a dozen more telling me what a poor decision that would be.

The same holds true for journalism, which also has been irreparably pushed from its niche. I occasionally get looks of sympathy when I express my interest in the field. As I learned in my public affairs journalism class at the UC Center Sacramento, the industry is marked by palpable fear from newsies – print newspapers, apparently, are all but a thing of the past; magazines have died out left and right. TV networks are losing viewers every day.

Those of us passionate about public service and the search for truth no longer have a clear career path for doing so. There’s tumult and unrest, yes. However, there is also hope.

Be brave. Do not be afraid to eat alone. Do not be afraid to work at night and on weekends while others are out partying. Do not be afraid of not yet having had tangible experiences or results. Why? Because you should be learning! And not just about things that are immediately relevant to you. You should be listening to podcasts, streaming NPR, scrolling through Twitter, reaching out to new contacts, planning ahead. Be careful about how you spend your energy! There are a million things you could do every day. Doesn’t mean you should do them. Why not educate yourself in your free time instead of making small talk?

Additionally, social media is bigger than you know. Yes, you could go out and attend dozens of events, meet as many people as possible, talk to everyone, hope that you’ve left a good enough impression so as to be remembered in a few hours. But in this day and age, at least within our age group, it seems better to reach out to potential mentors over social media than to try to meet them by chance in person.

In person, you may be just another intern from Cal asking for a coffee meeting. On LinkedIn, your entire resume and all your accomplishments are immediately available! On Twitter, you can directly contact those who influence you most, all around the world! Depending on who you reach out to, more often than not you’ll even get a direct response and an opportunity to spark a conversation.

In this way, I’ve also learned that, to be a writer – especially in a time period where everything as we know it is changing – one has to be entrepreneurial. For all the change we’ve already seen, I believe we’re only at the beginning. Journalists of the future will have to know print, radio, television, and digital media in order to succeed. They’ll need to shoot their own content, be able to be an entire news crew in one. They’ll need to be prepared to find creative ways of making a living.

Most importantly, I’ve learned that you must show people you have something to say, and then you’ve got to find a way to make them listen to what that is. It’s about using the voice you’ve been given to try to make the world better for everyone.

For all their help in my development of my voice, I would really like to thank my editor John Howard, for being a fantastic mentor. I’d also like to thank Tim Foster, Kathy Brown, and Connor Grubaugh at Capitol Weekly for being so wonderful and interesting to talk to.

Mia Shaw is a UC Berkeley junior majoring in Political Economy and Rhetoric. She is currently interning with the California Department of Justice and Capitol Weekly as a Cal in Sacramento Fellow.

Setting the Foundation for the Future

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 11:40am

Posted by Local Government Fellow Sally Ching.

Every time I am asked what I would like to do in the future, the first words that leave my mouth, without hesitation, are always, “Work in education.” I specify that I want to increase accessibility and quality of education for low income and minority students, but when I am pressed further about what I would want to be or in what capacity I would want to do that, no singular, definitive answer comes to mind.

While I may not have that question answered, I’ve learned a myriad of things during my internship. Here are some of the most important things I’ve taken away from this internship.

A lot of work is done behind the scenes.

In the short time I’ve been at the Mayor’s Office, I’ve been fortunate enough to sit-in on numerous meetings. It is fascinating getting to see the important conversations that occur before major decisions are made or legislation is introduced. On the other hand, I was also able to participate in the less glamorous, yet still just as crucial, work that takes place outside of the public view. Witnessing how I contribute to the office validates much of the work I do. Although I’m just an intern, I have come to see how the research my boss asks me to complete on a particular issue or person informs her decisions and plays a role in the conversations that lead to larger action. I saw how the seemingly small tasks and arduous labor that go into coordinating a ceremony or program coalesce to create a beautiful event for those in attendance.

Ask questions!

I was afraid of asking too many questions at the start of my internship. I felt as if I was bothering my supervisor and that I should exude self-sufficiency. However, I soon realized that you’re encouraged to ask questions and to be curious, especially in an internship. You’ll never know what you’re doing wrong if you don’t ask questions. Also, you’ll find that the quality of your work becomes better much more quickly when you ask questions. By being inquisitive, I learned how to be more effective. Most importantly, I’ve gained a better understanding of my work.

Got to meet State Superintendent Tom Torlakson!

Reach outside the work of your office.

My office often works closely with other departments and through these collaborations, I’ve found that I am very interested in what these other offices do. If you’re interested in another office’s work, ask if you could shadow someone who works there for a day or if you could help them with a project. By asking the Senior Policy Advisor on Health if I could assist her on a major project, I discovered a potential policy area I might be interested in pursuing. You can even work on issues you’re interested in within your respective office. I asked to research and brief my boss on legislation that dealt with sexual assault and student safety on college campuses. Although my office is not currently dealing with this specific issue, it is a topic I am passionate about and I believe that it was important to discuss. Your experience in an internship is what you make of it. It is vital to make the most of your short time in an office by finding and working on things you’re interested in.

As my time at the Mayor’s Office of Education comes to a close, one of the most crucial things I’ve learned is that whatever you do, you won’t be there forever so you should do your best to make an impact in your time there. For eight years, my boss has been pioneering educational efforts in San Francisco. She has forged a strong relationship between the City and the School Board, a partnership that will be the foundation of many projects for years to come. Although she will not always be the Mayor’s Advisor or a School Board Member, she has created the infrastructure necessary for others to carry on her work. In the same way, it is important to leave a lasting impression in your internship.

When I’m asked what I would want to be, my answer remains just as uncertain. Although I don’t know whether I want to teach or create policy, work in government or in a nonprofit organization, I am confident that the things I’ve learned in this internship and the opportunities I have been given as a Local Government Fellow have set the groundwork for my career no matter what I choose to do.

Sally Ching is a senior at UC Berkeley studying political science, education, and public policy. She is currently interning with the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Education as a Matsui Local Government Fellow.

Good-bye Sacramento!

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 9:43am

Posted by Cal in Sacramento Fellow Natalie Cha.

With the final work week looming ahead, I have the impossible task of summing up the past eight weeks of being in a new city, surrounded by new people, at a new job, in one blog post.

These past few days, Cal-in-Sac fellows have continually exclaimed to one another, “Can you believe we only have x amount of days left?!” And it’s true that I feel nostalgic already and will miss all the people I have befriended through sprinting to catch the light rail together each morning. But I have no regrets and believe I’ve made the most out of my experience here.


Ate fried oreos for the first time at the California State Fair!

From attending countless receptions to screaming my head off at Raging Waters. From listening to life stories over coffee dates, to watching a spontaneous fireworks show in front of the Capitol. From drafting talking points and analyzing legislation to kayaking and rafting on the American River. From getting lost in Mid-town to eating at the best dessert places (Vampire Penguin and Gunther’s Ice Cream).

While Sacramento is far from being fully explored, I feel I’ve done my best experiencing what I could in the time I had, with the help of my fellow adventure-seeking friends (who were usually the ones to drag me out of my room).

Of course, there were also difficult moments.

At first, it was feeling alone and out of place. In Berkeley, I have a tight-knit group of friends who share the same values and perspectives as I do. So when I was uprooted and thrust into this new environment with new people, I had to go back to kindergarten basics and remember what it was like to make friends. But I re-learned that it isn’t that hard! Spend a couple hours with them, eat some good food, realize common interests and bam! You’re in the friend zone!

Viviane Nguyen – my roommate, fellow adventure-seeker, dessert-eater, reception-hopper, movie-watcher and friend

But then, it was learning to not conform nor be ashamed for having different convictions. Providing my honest perspective is better than lying to please my audience. Assemblymember Skinner’s Chief of Staff once told me that the most important asset is integrity. This meant not only having integrity regarding work, but also having integrity regarding my values. That way, when I’d wake up each morning, I would be able to look at myself in the mirror.

Additionally, I learned that providing a different perspective is beneficial to the discussion. A large part of politics is taking every perspective from related parties on a certain problem and coming to a negotiated compromise that will best address the issue.

Finally, there was the difficulty of being an intern for only eight weeks. There was little time for me to invest in long-term projects and I couldn’t help my staff with substantive work due to lack of experience. Also, since the legislators went on recess in July, the amount of work available decreased. Nevertheless, my staff never failed to give me various tasks to help me understand what life in the Capitol looks like. Although, I feel like I haven’t got the whole picture yet, I plan to be back soon!

Witnessing the hustle and bustle on the Assembly floor.

Overall, it’s been both a challenge and blessing being a part of this program these past two months. No matter where I’ll be in the future, whether that be law school, the Capitol or a third unknown option, I believe that every opportunity that comes along the way must be pursued with excellence. And I can confidently say that this experience has been quite an excellent one.

The lovely and handsome Cal-in-Sac fellows enjoying a Make-Your-Spring-Roll-Night! I will miss them all!

Natalie Cha is a UC Berkeley senior majoring in Political Science and Minoring in Peace and Conflict Studies. She is currently interning in the office of Assemblymember Nancy Skinner as a Cal in Sacramento Fellow.

Working the Ghost Town: Adventures in a Capitol on Recess

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 11:02am

Posted by Cal in Sacramento Fellow Brendan Pinder.

While the cat’s away, the aides will play. Twas oft remarked— albeit in a less equitable time than ours— that behind every great man, there is a great woman. In Sacramento, behind every great legislator, there is great legislative and caucus staff. Now this phrase is not exactly something that rolls merrily off the tongue (perhaps that’s why it has yet to catch on), but it is in great measure true. It’s impossible for a senator to come to the Capitol with complete and total knowledge in every background, the ability to analyze every bill, anticipate every pitfall, recognize every opportunity, inform every paper, and know every thing that transpires within and outside the Capitol. Working for a time in but one arm of a sizeable senate caucus illuminates this fact tremendously. In a legislature that sees hundreds of bills flowing through it at a startling pace, each one more lengthy and baffling as the next, it is the sacred charge of the loyal staff and consultants to take a week’s multitude of indigestible legislation, divvy it up, boil it down, condense it into summary, target key language, and filter it all down into a perfectly bundled and consumable packet, placed delicately in front of a member in session, for him or her to peruse at will. Like a stately clock face, whose aesthetic and simple design is invisibly supported by dozens of constantly rotating gears, the finished product does not betray the work of the many that led to its production. And yet, they are always there.

An implication of this truth, however (as I soon found out), is that during the time when session is on recess, many of these working gears begin to slow, or even grind to a halt. For when an entire staff is devoted entirely to the maintenance of the legislature, what happens when there is no longer a legislature to maintain, when the mad and steady influx of potential legislation stops, and the members of both houses disperse to all ends of the globe?

Work yet remains for caucus staff, to be sure, but the environment is altogether changed. No longer are the mighty halls of the Capitol building host to swarms of suited professionals. Instead, it falls prey to migratory tourists snapping pictures and loitering in front of the Governor’s office blocking your way to lunch on K Street as they dawdle about the giant metal bear asking for pictures and saying “Wow!” and “Would you look at that!” and “Isn’t that something?”

And the “C” will tell… While I’ve certainly not been altogether idle during the recess, I have found more precious, precious time to explore the Capitol and its surroundings. Like the mighty Sea, the Capitol building is treacherous and not quick to divulge her many secrets. Secrets such as the small, unmarked room amid the ground floor exhibits where one could acquire discounted tickets to the State Fair upon request. There were no questions asked. There was the basement café, whose interior decoration has strangely remained caught in a stylistic limbo between a country home kitchen and a train station.

You sneaky devil…

Or the presence of a Golden One ATM machine two stories down— the very first I’ve seen outside a designated Golden One location. Needless to say, I, like the many tourists, took the chance to appreciate the historic artwork and architecture of the building as well; even sampling, for once, the view of the senate floor from the gallery. Having sat, myself, many times down on the floor, it was a curious source of amusement up here, pretending to be an unassuming plebian.

Living the Vicarious Life. One aspect of my experience in the Cal-in-Sac program that has proven particularly enjoyable is the sheer camaraderie between Fellows. Each afternoon, having completed another day at work, we would regularly engage in swapping stories from the office. In addition to reminding us that everyone is facing the same challenges in what, for many, is their very first internship in government, this daily ritual produced more than its own share of entertaining and ridiculous stories. Discussing a recent drama that unfolded in committee, arguing about the merits of our respective members’ legislation, telling of the amusing absurdities of the workplace— this was veritable grown-up story time.

One of the many exclusive amenities offered here in the Legislative Office Building.

From a friend manning a reception desk, I was told of the almost daily occurrence of an enraged constituent demanding to speak with the president. From another, a nail-biting melodrama of their office’s unusually lengthy deliberation over which colors to use for the bars on a graph. A minor crisis once arose after dismayed citizens were offended by the order that various ethnicities were arranged on a published infographic. Once, a written piece was sent back for editing with the invaluable reminder: “Put some more numbers in there, the treasurer likes numbers.”

In Medias Res. It is perhaps a fitting dissymmetry that we arrived in Sacramento two months ago in the very midst of the budget madness— scrambling to get our bearings, coping with a new and hectic atmosphere— only to now, at the end of July, leave a sleepy and empty Capitol, catching its breath for the arrival of yet another marathon session. For many of us, arriving when we did, our yet unpolished skills were tried through fire; and just as we were perhaps about to take first steps, it’s time at last to leave.

Yet, even during this brief amount of time, being here at the center of the State of California, and one of the largest economies in the world, has proven to be an almost literal pressure cooker of experience. Through daily stresses, lessons and challenges, we’ve scratched the surface of the buried monolith of government. With many of its ins and outs and intricacies still a mystery, the most significant lesson of all has been learning that these intricacies are in fact there in the first place. From here on out, the task is merely to find and tackle them. State government seems no longer a nameless, faceless massive institution, but merely the massive sum of thousands of working parts. Now, the arguable effectiveness of having a bloated and massive government aside, over the course of these two months, it’s been a pleasure to discover and examine the parts.

Brendan Pinder is a UC Berkeley senior majoring in Political Science, and Classics. He is the former President of the Berkeley College Republicans, and is currently interning in the Senate Republican Caucus as a Cal in Sacramento Fellow.