Innovating Democracy

What is the current state of American democracy, and what can be done to improve it? Three legal and political experts weighed in on those questions during a recent panel discussion at UC Berkeley.

Steve Silberstein is a member of National Popular Vote, a nonprofit that aims to work within the confines of the electoral college to ensure the presidential candidate who earns the most votes wins the presidency. Bertrall Ross teaches election law, constitutional law and legislation law at Berkeley Law. Steven Hayward is a senior resident scholar at Berkeleys Institute of Governmental Studies, and well-known conservative commentator.

The panel focuses on three key issues: voter participation, gerrymandering, and the electoral college. Silberstein begins by discussing the plan to switch to a national popular vote system without amending the constitution or passing congressional legislation. His group’s plan is to get states to agree to give all of their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner. The total of electoral votes would need to be at least 270 for the plan to effectively sidestep the electoral college. As of now, enough states have agreed to bring that total to 194 electoral votes.

Silberstein argues this would change the way presidential campaigns operate, and force candidates to focus on issues that matter to the entire country, not just voters in swing states. Hayward cautions that while that may be the intent, there will likely be some unintended consequences. Hayward urging caution before pushing reform emerges as a theme throughout the night as the panel discusses redistricting, campaign finance, and universal basic income.

Watch — Innovating Democracy: Key Issues for the 2020 Election and Beyond

Imagining Prison Abolition

Imagine a world that is more just, laws that are more compassionate and people being freer.

Georgetown Law professor and author Paul Butler is very familiar with the U.S. criminal justice system. As a former prosecutor, he once fought for long sentences. Now he’s advocating for the abolition of prisons. While that sounds extreme, in this talk he explores what would replace prisons, how people who cause harm could be dealt with in the absence of incarceration, and why abolition would make everyone safer and our society more just.

Incarceration is a relatively recent development in the history of punishment, with the first modern prison constructed in Philadelphia in the early 1800s. The American penitentiary was intended as a reform, making the institution of punishment more humane and rehabilitative. Because the United States now locks up more people than almost any country in the history of the world, this nation is perhaps the best laboratory to assess the success of the experiment. By virtually any measure, prisons have not worked. They are sites of cruelty, dehumanization, and violence, as well as subordination by race, class, and gender. Prisons traumatize virtually all who come into contact with them. Is there a better way? He posits that 50% of the prison population could be released and we would feel no effect.

Butler frequently consults on issues of race and criminal justice. He feels the system is broken and advocates for non-violent drug offenders to receive treatment rather than punishment. Abolition of prison could be the ultimate reform. Butler is not saying there should be no consequences for criminality. He calls it gradual decarceration and looks at ways to accomplish the goals of prison more effectively.

Butler is a Professor in Law at Georgetown. His most recent book Chokehold: Policing Black Men, published in July 2017, was named one of the 50 best non-fiction books of 2017 by The Washington Post. The New York Times described Chokehold as the best book on criminal justice reform since The New Jim Crow. It was a finalist for the 2018 NAACP Image Award for best non-fiction.

Watch — Prison Abolition, and a Mule with Paul Butler

Managing California’s Financial Future

California is the worlds fifth-largest economy. That makes State Treasurer Fiona Ma’s job quite complex. Her office handles everything from financing housing development to collecting cannabis sales tax. Recently, she sat down with Henry Brady, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, to discuss the financial challenges the state is facing.

Two of the biggest issues Ma is working on are inextricably intertwined: housing and transportation. As the state’s population grows, limited housing supplies are becoming more and more expensive, forcing workers farther from city centers, and snarling commutes. One of the potential solutions she suggests is public-private partnerships, like the Virgin Trains project that will eventually connect Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

During their conversation, Ma touches on a number of other issues impacting Californians. She covers a new law that will ensure local governments get sales tax from Amazon, the growing need for senior housing, a plan to help city governments stay on top of their finances, California’s controversial proposition 13, and much more.

Watch — Financial Policy and Sustainability with California State Treasurer Fiona Ma

Finding a Path to Peace in the Middle East

Tensions in the Middle East are at their highest level in years, increasing the potential for catastrophic conflicts in the region. Tzipi Livni, former Foreign Minister of Israel, has been working to solve the underlying issues nearly her entire life. In a detailed talk at UC San Diego, she breaks down what she sees as the main barriers to peace.

Livni’s story begins long before her time in politics. She tells a captivating tale of how her parents met. They were robbing a British train as members of Irgun, fighting for a Jewish state years before Israel declared independence. She continued in their footsteps in many ways, with a long career in Israeli politics.

Thanks to her extensive career, Livni has a unique perspective on conflicts in the Middle East. In this year’s Herb York Memorial Lecture, she shares her insights into why achieving a peace agreement is so complicated, the opportunities she believes have been missed, and why she differs with her parents in supporting a two-state solution.

Watch — Security for Israel and Her Neighbors: Challenges and Opportunities with Tzipi Livni – Herb York Memorial Lecture

Investing for Good

What if you could align your values with your investment portfolio?

Leaders from the world of impact investing discuss what it means to invest for good. Their stories are fascinating and you will understand the path of early stage ventures that create meaningful social and environmental value.

First up is a panel with Lewam Kefela, Investor at VilCap Investments; Noushin Ketabi, Founder of Vega Coffee; Nancy Swanson, Executive Director of Linked Foundation. The moderator is Julia Sze an impact Investment strategy advisor. They discuss their paths to investing for good.

Then, Kat Taylor, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Radicle Impact, talks about the problem with the banking system and how it can be fixed. She is the CEO of the Oakland-based Beneficial State Bank, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) whose mission is to bring beneficial banking to low-income communities in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner.

Watch — Investing for Good: Women in Innovation and Entrepreneurship Series