Speaker Primer: Ambassador Wendy Sherman

On Thursday, Ambassador Wendy Sherman will give a talk at 6pm in Fleishman Commons. The Journal thought it might be nice to give a quick primer on Amb. Sherman, and discuss why she was invited to give a prominent lecture at Sanford (she will be giving the Amb. Dave and Kay Philips Family International Lecture).

Amb. Sherman will give a public talk on “Negotiating Change: The Inside Story Behind the Iran Nuclear Deal” on Thursday. She’s uniquely qualified to give such a talk; she led the American negotiations with Iran that resulted in the July 2015 agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities. She currently holds a residential fellowship at Harvard’s Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School.

As Prof. Peter Feaver (who will be hosting the talk) notes, Amb. Sherman has spent more time negotiating with Iranian counterparts than any other senior American leader. She was appointed the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (the fourth highest civilian position in the Department of State) by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011, and held that position until October 2015. For her efforts during that time, she was awarded the National Security Medal, which has also been given to the likes of Robert Gates, “Wild Bill” Donovan, and Allen Dulles, for distinguished achievement in the field of intelligence relating to national security. Colleagues have praised her courage, calling her an “iron fist in a velvet glove,” and a “badass.”

Prior to the success of the Iran negotiations, Amb. Sherman was also a Special Advisor to President Clinton and assisted with much of the North Korea nuclear negotiations as a then-Policy Coordinator. The Clinton Administration’s negotiation tactics with North Korea were criticized as “appeasement” by James A. Baker, who himself held several positions in the Reagan and Bush Administrations, including Secretary of State from 1989-1992. This public critique (an op-ed in the New York Times), and the failure of the North Korean negotiations, may have shaped the way Amb. Sherman approached the Iranian negotiations.

Sherman is also a prime example of the “revolving door” between Washington, D.C., and the private sector. In the private arena, she’s worked as a Vice Chair for the Albright Stonebridge Group, a global consulting firm that boasts Madeline Albright as its chair. Amb. Sherman has also directed EMILY’s List and been the CEO and President of the Fannie Mae Foundation, the charitable arm of the mortgage financing company.

It will be interesting to hear her perspectives on the Iranian negotiations, on which she has said that “deception is part of the DNA,” and how they differed from (or were similar to) the North Korea negotiations. Her ideas on U.S. national security, and how diplomacy fits into the bigger picture, will also be a worthwhile conversation. And if that’s not enough material to pique your interest, you can also ask her about being a woman in national security; a woman negotiating in Iran; or any of the topics listed by Secretary of State Kerry as he gave a press statement on the departure of Amb. Sherman:

“Since the fall of 2011, she traveled to no fewer than 54 countries on America’s behalf. In that time, it would be easier to list the major issues on which she did not play a significant role than those on which she did. At one time or another, she was fully engaged in the Central American refugee situation, the Ukraine crisis, the Syrian civil war, the struggle for stability in Libya and Yemen, the restoration of diplomatic ties with Somalia, the fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria, the confrontation with ISIL, the rebalance to Asia, the elections in Sri Lanka, and on and on. Whatever, the issue, Wendy could be counted on for advice and diplomacy that was smart, realistic and sure to advance America’s interests and values.”

Hope to see you in the Commons tomorrow!

A Rising Power in Decline?

On October 19th, China announced its weakest quarterly growth rate since the financial crisis: 6.9%. For the past few years, China’s economic slowdown has been making headlines and raising questions about what role China will play in the global economy when it shifts away from being an export economy. Will China still become the new “economic superpower?” If so, what does that even mean?

China’s “slowdown” is relative, and its growth rate is still consistently two to three times that of the United States. According to a Pew Research Center survey, most people worldwide believe that China either will replace or has already replaced the United States as the world’s economic superpower. Indeed, America and China are already roughly tied in terms of their shares of world GDP, the US is at 16.14% while China is at 16.32%. Estimates as to when China may surpass the US in terms of GDP vary and are frequently revised, but one need not look into the future to find examples of how China conducts itself like a superpower.

China’s steadily decreasing domestic demand for commodities has led to a global drop in commodity prices. Negative effects of this are exacerbated in regions like South America and Africa, where China has invested heavily for the opportunity to access cheap minerals and agricultural products. Critics say that Chinese investment has incentivized many developing nations to specialize in commodities so they can meet China’s demand, and some developing countries have done this at the expense of diversifying their economies to protect themselves from commodity price drops like this one.

China bankrolls massive infrastructure projects worldwide to enable it to cheaply transport commodities across continents, further influencing how developing economies are structured. Its downturn has not stopped this. This year, for example, construction began in South America on a transcontinental rail line across the Amazon and, as recently as October 16, production started on an $11B port in Tanzania that some expect will be East Africa’s largest. China’s push to generate support for its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has also not lost momentum as it builds ties abroad.

However, this summer’s flailing stock market and the Chinese government’s ham-handed interventions to try and control that market provide us with an example of how China may fall short as a traditional economic superpower. China’s reactions to fluctuations in the stock market ranged from banning selling, requiring buying, and devaluing the yuan to its lowest rate in years. Such economic tinkering is characteristic of the Chinese government, and does not amuse investors. For this reason, it is unlikely that the yuan will soon be as trustworthy a reserve currency as the dollar, regardless of the size of either economy.

One thing is clear; if (when) China’s economy outstrips the United States’, it will be a very different sort of economic superpower. If past behavior is any indication, it is likely that China will focus its diplomatic influence on trade advantage, and that it will micromanage its currency in a way that diminishes demand for it and empowers other currencies. Whether it will be able to achieve its goal of building a global import network as its growth declines will depend on how great this slowdown proves to be.

Gentrification and Concentrated Homelessness

If you look at downtown Los Angeles today, you wouldn’t imagine that there was a housing crash seven years ago. Luxury condominium development in downtown is bursting at the seams, as young professionals flood previously low-income districts in their efforts to minimize the crushing commute along the I-10 freeway. Many great writers have discussed the rising tide of gentrification and its impact on low income and minority communities. But its impact on homeless populations has been severe: cities like Los Angeles have begun to shift homeless encampments — horrifyingly, under the guise of municipal ‘trash cleanup’ laws.

Earlier this year, Los Angeles passed two city ordinances instructing police to remove and impound personal belongings of the city’s homeless, including but not limited to mattresses and tents. The laws also make it easier for police to give tickets to people who try to collect their possessions that haven’t been thrown away. Skid Row, the nation’s largest concentration of homeless, has been specifically targeted: in June, the city embarked on a $66,000 cleanup effort that scattered the homeless population, a test run of sorts for LA’s newly adopted policies. Compound this with LA’s affordable housing crisis, and the effect is obvious: the new policies sweep homeless populations east, away from police enforcement of the new ordinances.

It’s no coincidence that these thinly veiled homeless sweeps come on the heels of major commercial housing development in LA’s growing downtown area. Below is a map of LA’s gentrification by district; as we can see, Skid Row is right in the middle of major downtown gentrification efforts.

The racial overtones in LA’s homeless sweeps have become evident with the city’s new policies. 39% of Skid Row’s population is African-American, and 25% is Hispanic. In the last few years, neighborhoods surrounding downtown have seen an influx of young, white professionals, which has coincided with soaring real estate prices. For housing developers and owners alike, homeless encampments in plain sight of luxury high rise condos represent a negative externality that lowers housing prices.

The city of Los Angeles, in a bid to remove obstacles from local economic growth, has adopted a set of policies that are both institutionally racist and target the city’s worst-off populations. As we think about the pros and cons of gentrification on low-income minority communities, we must also consider policies like those adopted by the city of Los Angeles, which literally sweep homeless encampments out of the way under the guise of municipal trash cleanup ordinances.

On Ben Carson and Islamophobia

Ben Carson’s recent comments regarding the ineligibility of Muslim-Americans to run for the Presidency are quite troubling. At the very least, such a proposition is unconstitutional and unlikely to pass muster, namely because of the explicit provisions enumerated in Article VI and the First Amendment of the Constitution. Yet given Carson’s history of outlandish statements, one could argue this latest round of remarks is not entirely out of character.

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Research Round-up: Recidivism

Academics, policymakers, and the general public have paid an increasing attention to criminal justice reform. In July, President Obama made the first ever Presidential visit to a federal penitentiary, underscoring criminal justice as a critical policy focus. While generally there exists a shared agreement on the need for reforms, agreement on policy specifics and initiatives is harder to find. Bridging the gap between disparate perspectives on criminal justice reform requires, in part, better information and data concerning the underlying factors contributing to criminal behavior. Continue reading

Quick Reaction: Boehner’s Resignation

With the recent announcement this past Friday that Speaker of the House John Boehner will resign from his position effective the end of October, many lawmakers, pundits, analysts, and spectators on both sides of the aisle wonder what implications his departure will have on what is widely considered one of the most polarized Congresses ever.

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