Just Finished My Summer Lectures

Today, I finished up my summer lecture series, “What In the World Is Going On?”. It has been a real treat getting to discuss so many important international issues that affect us here in America on a day-to-day basis. The audience was wonderful: very knowledgeable and curious! I’ll try to post a few short video excerpts in the coming weeks.

Don’t despair if you missed the series, for I have been asked to continue this lecture series come this Fall. You can sign up here (CRN: 20029).

Also, I’ll hopefully be lining up some more lectures for events such as Constitution Day. I have had the privilege of speaking at this event for the past two years.

The End of the European Union?: Low Voter Turnout, Protest Votes, and Relevance to the Youth

From its customs union to the Schegen Agreement, the European Union has been becoming increasingly important government institution. Within its elected arm, the European Parliament, it was finally starting to come into its own a force for transparency and representative democracy within this system. So why is the electorate turning away from this powerful institution? While the European Union is expanding its competencies, it appears to Europeans to be ineffective at the one issue that is most affecting their lives: unemployment.

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It is hard imagine that the problem is a lack of knowledge about the power of the European Union. In developing countries, European Union Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund are transforming the countries. From airports to highways to train lines, the will of the European Union is clear and there are plenty of signs to advertise this (Urban Land Magazine http://urbanland.uli.org/economy-markets-trends/european-union-infrastructure-funding-goes-to-newest…). In more developed states, the effects have been more legal but no less obvious to the casual observers. Take the European Court of Justice’s decision that Europeans have the “right to be forgotten” online. It is now calling on the European Commission to design proposals to be sent to the European Parliament that will fundamentally benefit individuals’ privacy (“Protection of Personal Data”, European Commision http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/index_en.htm). Though mundane to some, the European Union’s protection of regional artisanal products such as parmesan has protected millions of European farmer’s livelihoods against the onslaught of foreign copycat competitors. Finally, nearly everyone is aware of the immense power of the European Central Bank which in conjunction with the International Monetary Fund (led by a Frenchwoman, I might add) to ameliorate several debt crises.

Despite all this, less than half of the electorate votes because most do not see a direct tangible benefit for them. In 1979, nearly 62% of Europeans voted. Then slowly but unrelentingly this number has decreased. By the 2014 European Parliamentary elections, it was down to 43% (“Results of the 2014 European elections”, European Parliament http://www.results-elections2014.eu/en/turnout.html). This is no doubt for complex but seeing benefits of the European Union is a large part of this. During the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, Europe was caught up in the Cold War. As the origins of the Union were protective, it made sense for people to feel a need to vote in order to keep themselves safe. In addition, the liberations of Greece and Spain, no doubt led to exuberant voting among people who had not been given the opportunity for a free election in years.

More recently, however, the low turnout has been a legacy of increasing unemployment. To quote a widely-known saying by American political consultant James Carville, “its the economy, stupid!” According to the most recent European Barometer, for 20% of Europeans  unemployment is there biggest concern. The one concern noted by even more Europeans, rising prices, is not unrelated either (EB 80, pg 19 http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb80/eb80_publ_en.pdf). Yet, outside of special interests such as farmers (subsidies and protections from competition) and bankers (debt bailouts), there is a perception that the European Union is not doing enough to help get people employed. How can there not be given youth unemployment  stands near 25% (EPRS http://epthinktank.eu/2014/02/26/youth-unemployment-in-europe/). Anecdotally, my young friends who are European have really had a struggle to find meaningful employment. All my friends from Spain now work elsewhere, and those who are French have only found jobs back in France after working abroad. These folks are not counted in the unemployment statistics obviously, but they do indicate that the problem is even deeper. Now let’s bring it full circle: youths who faced the highest unemployment had the lowest voter turnout. In the 2009 election, just 29% of youths voted. Their were a couple reasons for this apathy according to the European Barometer. Sixty-four percent felt their vote would not change anything. In addition, 56% felt the European Parliament did not sufficiently deal enough with their problems (IDEA http://idebate.org/news-articles/uk-youth-vote-european-elections-comparison-south-asia). And while I think youths are the most affected by unemployment, its effects on families and older unemployed workers is also affecting turnout

To solve low voter turnout, the European Union must do a better job both in image and substance in fighting unemployment. First, the European Union needs better public relations. How can youths consider that the European Union is on their side, if the European Central Bank has continued push austerity in poorer, southern countries? The European Parliament needs to do a better job differentiating its self from these ‘evil’ institutions. Secondly, its needs to more publicly fight against them. Image is everything, and the unemployed never see their MPs standing up against economic policies that directly hurt youths. Finally, the Parliament must get more involved in the negotiation of T-TIP. Right now, these negotiations with the US are being largely completed by the British Prime Minister, the European Council President, and the European Commission (T-TIP http://www.ustr.gov/ttip). This agreement has a great potential to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs for youth, but this will only happen with greater transparency. This is a natural opportunity of the European Parliament to step in and ask the tough questions to ensure the T-TIP promotes jobs and not tax-breaks and other subsidies for corporations and already wealthy employees.


Athens, Sochi, Brazil: How Do We Prevent Funding Stadiums over Schools?

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As promised at my last Lifetime Learning Lecture, he is more information on the astounding cost of sporting events and how fix this problem.




Become Globally-Minded in the Northwest Suburbs

Starting on June 4th, Harper College has invited me to lead monthly lectures on the great current events shaping our world. If you are a mature adult and are interested in lifetime learning, please consider joining me on this interactive, fun journey into everything from headline political stories to foreign cultural secrets revealed.

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Sign up here, the course entitled “What in the World is Going On?” is last course on the list.

Summer Schedule:

June 4 at 1pm

July 9 at 1pm


Please let me know if you have any questions


Should Community Colleges Grant Bachelors Degrees: a global perspective

There are community colleges in 21 states that have begun granting bachelors degrees. This is a major shift. Traditionally, community colleges provided certificates and associates degrees and left bachelors degrees to 4-year schools. For students, there are many benefits to this arrangement. For example, they can be closer to family. Nevertheless, it would be disingenuous to not come out and say the primary motivation for most students: the lower price tag. This change is not without its controversy as each student staying at community college is potentially a monetary loss for a 4-year school. Secondly, some fields may require resources that community colleges have more trouble allocating such as labs. Overall, I believe this trend is desirable within common sense limits as it reduces student poverty and social inequalities without strongly affecting most 4-year schools.

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The current tertiary education system is on the verge of becoming untenable for many students. Taking out $30,000 or more in financial aid is not a solution. The world community under UNESCO committed to the Education for All (EFA) goals in Dakar, Senegal in 2000. These six goals mostly refer to primary and secondary education; however, the general theme are the same for higher education. One of the biggest is that countries must work to reduce poverty and social inequalities:

Access: Community colleges are often nearer to underprivileged students than than comparative elite publics. University of Illinois’s flagship institution is 100 miles from poverty in Chicago and its suburbs. For students working part-time to keep their families afloat, such a school is no more than a pipe dream. Same goes for the University of Florida and University of Michigan. While there are alternatives in less prestigious publics, as well as non-profit and for-profits, we should give our students the option of continuing their study close to home at the institution of THEIR choosing.

Cost: The price tag is much less at community colleges – we truly do more with less than 4-year schools. If you want to avoid intergenerational poverty, why ask these students to take out 10000s of dollars of debt? No other country in the world charges its students so much for the privilege of receiving education necessary to achieve vocational success. A legitimate concern is that upper level classes might cost more and thus increase community college tuitions. This would need to be creatively mediated through more business sponsorships and individual donations. I suspect government funding will continue to make up less of all college budgets over the next decades.

There are both legitimate and illegitimate concerns regarding this expansion. A legitimate reason to place limits on potential Bachelors are resources and trained faculty. Community colleges would need to prove that their students would have lab resources directly or through a corporate partner at the level of a 4-year college. Faculty is another legitimate concern as 4-year degrees generally required doctorates of faculty – schools would need to divide classes appropriately between Masters and Doctoral faculty members. But within those limits, the process for applying to deliver Bachelors degrees should be facile and transparent. Lobbyists for 4-year schools should not have undue access or sway. Mechanisms should be voted in to make non-partisan review the one and only step for credentialing a Bachelors.

As for an illegitimate concern, a mass exodus of 4-year colleges is highly unlikely. The traditional “college” image remains ingrained in the American psyche. This is unlikely to change for a long time to come. Rather, those most in need would be given another resource in their arsenal to escape poverty and do so close to home.


Independent Maps on the Fall Ballot

Despite a very challenging ballot initiative process compared with Western states (Colorado, Washington, California, etc.), the group behind the initiative to reform redistricting in Illinois has claimed over 346,000 Illinoisans have signed their petitions. If correct (not too many false signatures), then we should expect the initiative on this Fall’s ballot.

While my infographic makes clear the potential benefits of the reform, the jury is still out. As I noted, the California example reformed redistricting AND opened up its primaries. I support both. Will one be enough?

What are your thoughts?

Should we amend the Illinois redistricting process?
Should we amend the Illinois redistricting process?

New Citizenship Form is on the Way

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Starting on May 3rd, the US Citizenship & Immigration Services will begin using a new Citizenship Form (N400) exclusively. If you have been thinking about applying for citizenship, now may be the time for you to take the plunge. The new form is double the length of the old one!

To help you with filing contact HIAS. This non-profit is very helpful.

Top 5 Reasons for an Open Primary

Since publishing my article on youth voting, I have come to the realization that I was wrong. As much as my civically-minded, Eagle Scout self would like to be cheering on voter participation, we should not be encouraging our young people to vote in primary elections. Instead of inspiring 17-year olds into a lifetime of voting, it may well have the opposite effect: disillusionment, disenchantment, and voter apathy.

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Parties are only as good as the names on the ballot. In the Democratic primary in Cook County, the vast majority of races are running unopposed. In the Republican primary in Cook County, most are also unopposed or worse non-existent. Very few races have multiple qualified candidates. As President George Washington famously warned in his Farewell Address, parties “become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people.” In other words, we think we have the power, but we really don’t.

And to support our illusory control of the powers that be, we pay a lot of tax dollars. Primaries have been a cost concern since the very beginning of its use in the early 20th century.  Indeed, in just Cook County, the 2012 elections, primary and general, cost $25 million dollars and were cited as one reason for the county’s budget deficit. While I am not sure that such criticisms are fully justified, primary elections cost the state millions each election cycle. Are there no better uses for these funds (perhaps, education, crime prevention or health care cost reductions)?

Yet as party politics aren’t going anywhere, there is at least an alternative form of primary that is far more deserving of the youth vote and of our tax dollars. Its name is the Open or “Top Two” Primary.  These primaries are nonpartisan. Each position lists out all candidates for each position regardless of party. The top 2 vote getters for each office are then brought through to the general election. California, which recently joined Louisiana and Washington in this system, has already seen an increase in genuine political competition. Here are just some of the benefits that an Open Primary system could bring:

1)   More competition on General Election Days: While downstate Democrats and Chicago Republicans exist, they are few and far between. Under the current system where the Republican winner might run unopposed in the general election. With Open Primaries, the top two candidates for an office in Peoria would compete in the general election EVEN if they are both Republicans.

2)   Stronger information campaigns: By increasing competition for most office, candidates will have to do a better job explaining why people should vote for them.

3)   Avoids “Special Interest” Candidates: In theory, candidates wish to have similar views as the Median Voter. In practice party primaries make this impossible. The average Democrat’s policy stances is not the same as the average Illinoisan’s. By opening up the primary to everyone, for once candidates might have trouble pandering to the base and succeeding.

4)   More room for Third Parties: By not forcing people to register for a third party primary, parties such as the Green Party are likely to gain more exposure and perhaps make it on to more general ballot races.

5)   Does not increase the cost to taxpayers: For all these benefits, there is no additional cost for the elections. We already pay those $25 million for the primary and general elections. They are just now being used to promote more meaningful, democratic elections.

While it is too late to introduce a citizen-proposed Constitutional Amendment this election year, I encourage young voters to take on politics rather than fall in line. Start by contacting your representatives in Illinois and asking them to call referendum for a “Top Two” Primary. This will likely take some time, but the first step is letting them know the status quo is unacceptable. You can find their addresses here.

If you want, you can copy the text below:

To whom it may concern,

I am a constituent in your district who is concerned about the current primary election system in Illinois. I call on you to introduce legislation calling for a referendum on the establishment of a “Top Two” primary system. This system will make the system more democratic and less partisan.


(Insert Name Here)

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