Community Livability in Oregon

Throughout my life and career I have had the opportunity to serve in a variety of communities across the United States. These include medium-sized cities and college towns in the Midwest, large urban centers in the Northeast, and a post-industrialized county seat in the South.

The diversity of my experience has taught me so much, and I was able to glean best practices that will inform my future career from all of them. My yearning to experience community development and social policy provision in a new part of the country led me to spend my summer in the Pacific Northwest.

This summer I am participating in the Oregon Fellowship through Portland State University (PSU). I was drawn to this fellowship for three primary reasons. The first was my interest in engaging with the particular social policy challenges the state of Oregon has to offer.

The second is that PSU has a stated mission of training leaders that will be qualified to serve in an urban context. My policy and ministry interests are all centered around developing urban communities.knowledgeThe third is that the Oregon Fellowship is focused on what I refer to as the “secret sauce”. My personal and professional experience has taught me that the key to effecting sustainable social change is in the secret sauce of innovative, collaborative, and interdisciplinary leadership.

These three things attracted me to the Oregon Fellowship, but it was my placement that solidified my decision to travel almost 3,000 miles to work for 10 weeks. I was placed in the City Manager’s Office in Gresham, Oregon (the 4th largest city in the state that is located immediately east of Portland).

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I am working on a portion of the Gresham Community Prosperity Initiative (GCPI). This initiative will explore the role of the City in addressing poverty and charting a course towards broad community prosperity. Over the past 15-20 years poverty in the region has been increasingly shifted to East County (this includes east Portland and the city’s eastern suburbs). This demographic shift has led to increased levels of homelessness in Gresham.

My project is specifically focused on providing policy recommendations for how the City of Gresham can address increasing levels of Chronic Homelessness. The increased demand for services was unfortunately not accompanied by additional funding. Therefore, my job is to think creatively about not only what works, but what the city can realistically implement.

To do that I am tasked with interviewing a variety of stakeholders, and determining how the city can create partnerships to fill the existing gaps in services. It is a daunting task, but I am excited to be working on an issue I care a lot about.

Wish me luck!

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Summer in Geneva

Hello from Geneva!

I started my internship with the International Labour Organization (ILO) at the beginning of this month. At ILO, I am interning with the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (FPRW) branch and specifically in the Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining (FA&CB) and Forced Labour teams.

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*This is a view from my office.

My branch focuses on four themes: FA&CB, Forced Labour, Child Labour and Non-discrimination. These themes cover all eight fundamental conventions at the ILO. To promote the freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, the ILO has adopted Conventions No.87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention) and No. 98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention). Although 153 countries and 168 countries have ratified the conventions until June 2014 respectively, some of the countries with a large worker population like the U.S., China, and India, have not ratified these conventions yet.

Speaking of my internship, in addition to figuring out the structure of ILO and studying all supporting documents, such as the FA&CB Global Report, I was also assigned to research collective bargaining rights in China in the first two weeks of my internship. Before starting the internship, FA&CB rights in China sounds very nebulous to me because what I learned about Chinese workers’ rights was quite basic through some notorious cases. The research here helps me find that the workers’ awareness to collective bargaining is enhancing and government is making some notable effort, although it is an extremely slow legislative effort. In the meantime, a group of labor NGOs have made significant achievement to assist the large number of workers, especially the migrant workers to negotiate with the city arbitration committee and employers. The labor NGOs have become my new area to explore.

In the third week, my tasks started to involve with some of the ILO projects on promoting FA&CB rights in certain countries. One global project covering more than ten developing countries will start in July. As the donors from the US required quarterly technical progress reports, by the end of July, we have to submit four countries’ reports which will involve a significant amount of writing due to the different writing styles and formats in each country. The busier season is coming!

Fortunately, I came to ILO at the best time of the year. The 103rd session of International Labour Conference was held from May 28 till June 12 this year. I had the opportunities to attend several sessions regarding eliminating child labour and ILO’s tripartite declaration of principles concerning multinational enterprises and social policy (MNE Declaration). I also eye witness a historical moment of adopting a new protocol to tackle modern forms of forced labor. This, again, is an interesting experience.

That’s all I have to say right now. I will update again later. Have a great weekend!

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*The picture above is the session I attended about fighting against child labor.

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*After adopting the new protocol on forced labor issues

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*The UN Secretary-General made a speech on youth employment this Wednesday at ILO.

 

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Drinking the Cotton Kool-Aid

It’s everywhere — in the clothes we wear, the cushions we sit on, the ice cream we eat, and the bills we spend. It’s cotton: the fabric of our lives!

cotton incI’m already 5 weeks into my internship at the global headquarters of Cotton Incorporated, whose mission is to increase the demand for and profitability of cotton. Cotton Incorporated is behind the widely-recognized Seal of Cotton and the Fabric of Our Lives® campaign. I report directly to the Senior Vice President of Global Supply Chain Marketing, who himself is an alum of Duke’s Master of Public Policy program (nothing beats working for a fellow Blue Devil!).

My first few weeks on the internship were devoted to learning all the ins and outs of cotton fiber development, cotton processing and cotton classification. I soon came to discover that cotton is one of the most traded agricultural crops of all agricultural commodities; the U.S. grows 15% of the world’s cotton, and 250 million people in nearly 80 countries make their livelihoods from this industry.

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Dyed yarn and color forecasting

cotton with logo

A bale of cotton

You might be asking yourself: how does cotton relate to public policy?! Believe it or not, cotton is not only at the heart of that shirt you’re wearing: it’s central to many domestic and global policies! Here’s an overview of policies on today’s cotton industry:

  • Cotton is regulated as a food crop by the FDA, ensuring that the safety of genetically engineered varieties is regularly evaluated.
  • The U.S. cotton industry has strong regulatory and compliance systems in place. The Department of Agriculture operates 10 classing offices across the Cotton Belt that trace and class bale samples.
  • The U.S. government subsidizes domestic cotton farmers. Cotton subsidies have far-reaching implications on international trade, even leading Brazil to lodge a World Trade Organization dispute against the U.S in 2002.
  • By 2018, the U.S. Department of Energy aims to restrict water usage in washing machines to 10 gallons of water per wash. To prepare for this water conservation measure, the cotton industry will have to research fabric finishes or new technologies that enhance the interaction between laundry detergent and cotton-based apparel.
  • Just this year, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) introduced legislation – the Robin Danielson Act of 2014 — that would require further research into the health effects of menstrual hygiene products and would demand public disclosure of contaminants in these products. If passed, this act has the potential to increase consumer awareness, and, in turn, result in increased demand for cotton-made sanitary products (a win for the cotton industry!!).
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Regulating E-Cigarettes in California

As I mentioned in my last blog, my office, the California Tobacco Control Program, is rapidly trying to bring California up to speed with other states in regulating e-cigarettes. While I have mainly been working on comments to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) based on the rule that they recently proposed on regulating e-cigarettes, our e-cigarette team (only four of us in an office of over 50 people!) is also struggling to tighten regulations in California.

While California has the longest and most successful state tobacco control program in the nation, its current regulations on e-cigarettes are much more relaxed than those in many other states. Currently, California only has restrictions on selling e-cigarettes to minors, or anyone under 18. That is it! For a product that is potentially just as bad as traditional cigarettes, we have a lot of work to do. For example, New Jersey has included e-cigarettes in its Clean Indoor Air Laws to ban smoking indoors, Vermont has regulations to make e-liquid packaging childproof (so children won’t accidentally drink it) and Oregon and Oklahoma have laws to tax e-cigarettes.

One of the reasons that we have been tracking what other states are doing is so that we can see what is possible for California to achieve without the possibility of a lawsuit from the tobacco industry. I have spent a lot of time researching facts about the dangers of e-cigarettes to bolster our case for regulation. However, because e-cigarettes are so new, there are very few long-term studies and data on the health effects of smoking e-cigarettes and their addictiveness. I’m confident that all states will soon be passing more and more regulations to eventually regulate e-cigarettes to the same extent as conventional cigarettes.

On a non-policy related note, my office is right next to California’s capitol (and Governor Jerry Brown’s office!) It is so nice to be able to walk through the Capitol gardens during lunch or read a book there. And, because we are currently experiencing a horrible drought, it really is sunny in California every day.

 

The Capitol on a beautiful sunny day

The Capitol on a beautiful sunny day

My cubicle; Duke mug in the corner--represent!!
My cubicle; Duke mug in the corner–represent!!

 

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“Align, Advocate, Advance” – Remembering Where Your Passion Lies

“Align, Advocate, & Advance…”

That is the theme and flowing mantra of HCM Strategists, the firm I’m interning with this summer in Washington, DC. HCM is a public policy and advocacy consulting firm focused on advancing effective policy solutions in both health and education. Three founding partners started the firm in 2008 with the idea that good public policy ideas are created when individuals are given a voice and “sound public policy drives progress.”

I’m interning with the health team, and joined the firm this summer with the hopes of broadening my perspective on ways different organizations contribute to improving the nation’s health care “system.” The health team works with a variety of clients including nonprofits, foundations, research groups, healthcare providers, and some industry organizations.

The work, after four weeks, has involved a unique combination of consulting, policy analysis, and advocacy/public relations (a trifecta my manager promised was crucial to the work they do here. I have to give Sanford a shout out here, as I’ve been able to directly apply a lot of the central skills they look to build during the first year – legislative research and strategic planning, analyzing policies and initiatives, breaking down economic and cost evaluations of health strategies, translating data and research into briefs for managers and clients, communicating and fostering partnerships with different stakeholders (the “soft” skills).

While I’ve been glad to actively apply these skills and learn more from the work, I’ve been most impressed by the firm’s mission to genuinely focus its work back on its core passion – the people/students/patients.

Policy, and more specifically health related policy work, generally operates at the 30,000ft level with regards to scope and impact. The work the team’s involved in here takes a similar approach, but also makes a very strong effort to keep passion for patients at the heart of its operations and ensure their voices are always being heard. Nearly everything we work on is brought back down to a level that relates not only to the benefits of clients, but also how those benefits directly impact what patients are needing and strategies that best help them.

*** This is all primarily a testament to the attitudes and passion of the really cool people who work here, and the leadership of its partners! ***

After a full month in, I can gladly say I’m enjoying my time here at HCM so far, and look forward to exploring more in the world multifaceted policy work (and delicious DC eateries!!!)

We sometimes get to sit on exercise balls instead of normal chairs.

We sometimes get to sit on exercise balls instead of normal chairs

Inspiring wall with portraits of Christopher and Dana Reeve all the interns work next to. The Reeve Foundation is one of the firm's first clients

Inspiring wall with portraits of Christopher and Dana Reeve all the interns work next to. The Reeve Foundation is one of the firm’s first clients

A very cool piece of artwork donated to the firm by a client, with a significant and very cool back story (I can share with anyone who's interested)

A very cool piece of artwork donated to the firm by a client, with a significant and very cool back story (I can share with anyone who’s interested)

 

A really random shot of the Capitol as we rushed to the cab stand outside of the Rayburn House Office Building

A really random shot of the Capitol as we rushed to the cab stand outside of the Rayburn House Office Building

 

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Anthony’s Education Policy Adventure in New Orleans

Week One in NOLA.

So I’m the guy that didn’t go to Washington D.C. for the summer. That’s right it was just me.

That’s not really true. But guess what, I think I lucked out with my internship by not going the typical policy route (i.e., north on I-95).

I work for 4.0 Schools, an education start-up incubator based in New Orleans and New York City. The Education Pioneers program hooked me up with the gig in New Orleans in an effort to give me management experience in the education policy sector. I’m thrilled to be here.

My first week was non-stop learning. I’ve been in multiple meetings during each work day. 4.0 Schools asked me to analyze some data for them, but I needed to get up to speed on exactly what they did first. See, NOLA is unique in the country for its education system. They actually don’t have a school district in the traditional sense. By next year it will be the only major city in America with 100 percent public charter schools. There’s a lot of good that comes with this setup. There’s also many challenges. Not everyone agrees on the best way forward and many feel left out of important conversations. This article on the Newark public schools frames the larger education reform debate pretty well.

This is the place for education innovation in America. Everyone does agree on that. That’s where my company comes in. 4.0 Schools takes folks with budding ideas about how to improve education—say, a plan for a unique school model, or an innovative curriculum for improved teacher training—and gives them the support to transform their ideas into functional prototypes.

Our team is small and we encourage each other to innovate. The office is filled with aspiring entrepreneurs. It kind of feels like I work at the Google of education companies.

And I won’t even start on the education I’m getting in the city…

Thanks for reading! Next week: the many ways to eat alligator whilst riding my bicycle through the Quarter.
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YesPrep

When I say the core values: grow humble leaders, drive visionary change, achieve jaw-dropping results, build transformative relationships and create-life changing opportunities, who, dead or alive, do you feel embodies each of these values?

This was the first group activity that I participated in on the second day of my internship, last week. As the YesPrep Memphis intern I was invited to attend the leadership strategic planning meeting. The school leadership was reflecting on the past year in order to plan out their campus goals, strategic steps to get there, and how they will align with the YesPrep overall goals for the following year.

YesPrep is a charter school district in Houston with 13 campuses that is achieving amazing results! They believe that every one of their students should graduate high school and college, no matter what zip code the student was born in. They celebrate getting into college the same way that most schools celebrate athletes, and have a signing day at the end of the year. Without fail watching the video brings tears to my eyes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bA9wGhtzcgY

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yp3DMAHh9s

Watching the strategic planning meeting was a chance for me to immerse myself in the YesPrep culture before I began my internship writing the 6th grade foundational curriculum for the new YesPrep school opening in Memphis during the fall of 2015. I am going to be helping YesPrep create a strong set of foundational tools to align to the YesPrep goals, Tennessee standards and the Common Core.

By this point in the blog you are probably wondering what a person studying public policy is doing writing curriculum for a charter school network? Having taught high school history I love curriculum design, but this internship does also strongly connect with the MPP: implementation. The common core is one of the most contested, yet important, education reforms of the last few years and I want to be part of helping it be implemented in a strong and meaningful way for children.

This week I have been working from home, a willpower challenge, and have started writing the unit plan with aligned literacy and writing goals for 6th grade biology. I love the challenge of finding and breaking down texts so that they are engaging and meaningful to students. Inspired by my new-found love of the TV show Orphan Black I have decided to use clones as the hook for the unit plan. Students will be learning about cells and the scientific method while at the same time thinking through the scientific, ethical and moral reasons behind cloning. At the end of the unit students will be answering the prompt

After reading ____________________ (tomorrows plan is to find the readings!), write 3 paragraphs in which you compare reasons for and reasons against animal cloning and argue your opinion on cloning. Support your position with evidence from the texts(s).

So far so good with the unit plan! Excited to start finding the texts and making the handouts for the students tomorrow!

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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About E-Cigarettes

Last week I started working in Sacramento for the California Tobacco Control Department on the very controversial topic of e-cigarettes. So far, my main task has been to draft a letter of concerns to the FDA and create a pamphlet to inform the public on the dangers of e-cigarettes. With recent (very large) budget cuts to many government programs in California, our department is not only struggling with the new concerns of e-cigarettes, but also the future of tobacco prevention in California.

E-cigarettes are currently one of the most controversial topics in tobacco regulation. The FDA issued a long awaited proposed rule on the sale and distribution of e-cigarettes just over a month ago, causing states, e-cigarette manufacturers and sellers and the public to weigh in on the topic.

As an intern for the Tobacco Control Department at the California Department of Public Health, I have been given the task of conveying the concerns that the CDPH has with the new rule to the FDA as well as the public. The current FDA ruling prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18, requires nicotine health warnings on packaging and advertising, requires ingredients to be disclosed, prohibits free samples and requires all manufactures to register their e-cigarette product with the FDA. While this may sound like strict regulation to many who see e-cigarettes as helping people to quit smoking, the CDPH feels that they are not strict enough. The reason? E-cigarettes do NOT actually help most people quit and actually act as a potential gateway into the use of traditional cigarettes.

Meeting for the Tobacco Education and Research Oversight Committee

Meeting for the Tobacco Education and Research Oversight Committee

Here are the actual facts on e-cigarettes:

  1. The use of e-cigarettes has more than doubled from 2011 to 2012 among students in grades 6-12, and research has shown that kids who never before smoked cigarettes are now becoming addicted to e-cigarettes
  2. E-cigarettes contain nicotine, and while some cigarette smokers are successfully using e-cigarettes to quit smoking, more are using them in tandem with e-cigarettes and continuing to smoke both
  3. While e-cigarettes emit vapor instead of smoke, this vapor contains nicotine as well as other harmful chemicals used in pesticides and embalming dead bodies.  These chemicals are harmful not just to smokers but also to others through second-hand smoke.
  4. E-liquids, used in e-cigarettes, come in many fruit and candy flavors which are very enticing to young children. The occurrence reports to poison control centers of children ingesting these liquids has risen over ten-fold in just over a year.

For these reasons, California is advocating for more restrictions on e-cigarettes. CDPH and many other state health departments are pushing for legislation that would regulate e-cigarettes to the same extent as regular cigarettes. A few recommendations that we are advocating for include: child resistant packaging, banning flavored liquids, restricting advertising and marketing, including e-cigarettes in Clean Air Laws (so that they couldn’t be smoked inside or in public places), and including ingredient information and warning labels on all e-cigarette packages.

After two weeks of work, I can definitively say: DON’T SMOKE CIGARETTES OR E-CIGARETTES!!

Great anti-smoking ad

Great anti-smoking ad

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Summer in the Triangle

I can’t believe that I am already entering my fourth week at the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club in Raleigh. My time at the Sierra Club so far has been a flurry of activity. On my first day, I was assigned about 5 projects to work on and it seems like whenever I finish one, there are always a couple more to take its place. My projects range on topics from Solar Energy and net metering to Offshore/ Onshore Wind Energy. These are my long-standing projects and I do research on them here and there when I have down time. Even though 5 projects seems like a lot, whenever I feel like I need a break from one, I just move on to a different one.

I have come to realize that my first week at the Sierra Club was the quiet before the storm. During that time, we were gearing up for the North Carolina General Assembly to start its short session. (They convened for short session on May 14.) The main purpose of this short session is to pass a budget, but legislators have snuck other bills in the mix to be considered. Of most concern for the Sierra Club are the Energy Modernization Act, which would lift the moratorium on fracking in NC, a Coal Ash Bill and a Regulatory Reform Bill. There are other concerning bills that have been filed including a Local Ordinances Bill and a Farm GPS bill.

Legislative Building in Raleigh

Legislative Building in Raleigh

One of the things I like about my internship at the Sierra Club is that my day is never predictable. Some days I work in the office, tracking bills, doing research and preparing factsheets on bills, but other days, I am right in the thick of the action- attending Senate and House sessions or committee meetings and lobbying legislators. It was intimidating at first to lobby legislators, but it has gotten much easier. (Especially once you realize just stopping to chat with someone goes a long way.) It’s been really exciting to see the factsheets that I have worked on going to legislators.

 

House of Representatives Session

House of Representatives Session

I have been amazed at how fast everything moves in the General Assembly. Bills are filed, sent to committee and then before you know it, on the floor of the House and Senate undergoing first, second and third readings. Once the Senate and House pass the bill on the third reading, it goes to the governor for approval and then becomes law. The short session is expected to end July 1st and it seems hard to believe that they will accomplish everything they want in such a short period of time. I am looking forward to the next month as bills continue to move through the General Assembly.

Capitol Building in Raleigh

Capitol Building in Raleigh

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Curbing Federal Government Improper Payments

The Obama Administration, dating back to its early days, has placed an emphasis in its management agenda on eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, including issuing multiple Executive Orders as well as signing two laws, the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act of 2010 (IPERA) and the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Improvement Act of 2012 (IPERIA). The Management wing of the Office of Management and Budget, including the Office of Federal Financial Management (where I spent my summer), is tasked with administering these ambitious initiatives.

One of the objectives in IPERA is to scale up the internal controls and audit procedures that agencies use to eliminate, identify and recover improper payments. In fiscal years 2011 and 2012, Medicare recovered over $2 billion in improper payments using private payment recapture audit contractors. These auditors scan payments, searching for instances of fraud, ineligibility or lack of proper documentation. IPERA requires all agencies to conduct audits for their programs that expend $1 million or more annually, with one major caveat. The audits must be cost-effective (moneys recovered > costs of audit).

IPERA requires a study to be conducted on the implementation and cost-effectiveness of this new audit requirement. During this summer, I conducted the study and wrote a report on the study’s findings for the relevant Congressional committees and the GAO. The study is still working its way through the clearance process at OMB, so I can’t discuss the findings. However, I can share the basic study design. The study focused on the 24 largest agencies housed in the Executive Branch. From the Department of Defense to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, I looked at agencies of all sizes and missions. The study included a survey, which a 100% participation rate, a focus group of seven agencies, discussions with individual agencies, and analysis of relevant literature.

This project was a rewarding experience for many reasons. First, it gave me a glimpse of and contact with many different federal agencies, which allowed me to learn more about their programs and their unique challenges. Next, it allowed me to apply some of the research, writing, and presentation skills that I learned in my first year at Sanford. Finally, while the report , at minimum, satisfies a statutory requirement, I believe the study and report can be a useful tool in finding solutions that work for all agencies for curbing, identifying and recovering improper payments.

My time at OMB wasn’t all work, however. Here are some pictures of me at the White House Independence Day Party!

photo (1)Honest Abe and I on the South Lawn

photoFun. plays with the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the background

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