Category Archives: News/Opinion

Obama’s Boldest Claim May Be His Most Accurate

On Tuesday, February 12, President Obama gave the first State of the Union of his second term. The only thing about the speech that both parties could agree on was that it was historic. Republicans called it a historic partisan embrace of liberalism, while Democrats praised the President for his bold vision. Yet little media attention has been given to President Obama’s boldest claim, his claim that we can create an AIDS-free generation in our lifetime. This would be an achievement on par with the eradication of small pox[1] and would save the 1.6 million people who die globally each year as a result of HIV/AIDS.

In order to achieve this goal, more domestic funding is necessary to identify those with the disease and to get them into treatment. We have the medical tools available to relegate HIV to the history books, if Washington takes action by increasing the funding for the Ryan White Care Act when it comes up for reauthorization later this year. The funding for Ryan White has remained almost constant at approximately $2 billion over the past decade, even though the number of infected Americans has increased by 500,000 over that same span.

When HIV was first documented in the 1980s it was viewed as a gay man’s disease, a supposed consequence of a decadent and wild lifestyle. Within a few years, injection drug users were added to the list of those at risk for HIV. This characterization as a disease that individuals caught due to perceived vices led to tremendous stigma that left those infected with little social or political support.

President Obama would not have been able to make his bold claim without the impressive scientific gains made following the discovery of HIV. In 1986, the FDA approved zidovudine (AZT) as the first medication to treat HIV. However, the harshness of the medication meant that for most patients the treatment was effectively a death sentence. AZT required patients to take a dozen pills under very strict conditions. In the context of HIV and AIDS medication, the ‘80s were a time of great despair.

In stark contrast the ‘90s saw advancements in the public perception and treatment of HIV that culminated in the President’s speech. The 90’s saw the advent of protease inhibitors and combination therapies[2] that controlled the spread of the virus and studies proved that HIV medication drastically reduced the likelihood of transmission of the disease from mother to child. The 2000s have seen continued advancements like FDA approval for human testing of an HIV vaccine, the sale of the first in-home HIV test, and the creation of one a day HIV medications.  The advancements of the ‘90s combined with the emergence of advocacy organizations like ACT UP and several high profile disclosures helped bring HIV into the public forum.

Two of the most important HIV disclosures in terms of combating stigma were those of Ryan White and Magic Johnson. Ryan White contracted HIV at the age of 13 after he received tainted blood as part of his hemophilia treatment. As a young, white, heterosexual boy from the Midwest, Ryan did not fit the generally accepted image of someone with HIV. His was certainly not a disease of vice. Ryan spent his final days educating people on HIV and its transmission. In November of 1991, a year after Ryan’s death, Magic Johnson disclosed his HIV status. Like Ryan, Magic Johnson’s diagnosis refuted the common HIV stereotype. Magic Johnson’s life has helped to show the world that HIV is not a death sentence and the path to creating an AIDS-free generation.

On June 4, 1992, Magic Johnson and his wife celebrated the birth of their son, Earvin Johnson III. Both mother and child were given a clean bill of health even though HIV is a sexually transmitted disease. This astounding outcome was achieved primarily because Magic adhered to his HIV treatment. Results from a study conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH) showed that adherence to HIV medication led to a 96% reduction in the risk of transmitting HIV. This incredible statistic alone could be enough to create the AIDS-free generation, but it is not the only tool we have at our disposal.

The Center for Disease Control estimates that 40-60 percent of HIV infected individuals do not know their HIV status. These individuals are responsible for the vast majority of new HIV infections. If we can get these individuals in treatment, we can save their lives and prevent the spread of HIV. With increased funding and a focus on identification and retention in treatment, we can drastically reduce the number of new infections, and over time eradicate HIV/AIDS. This increased funding would need to be accompanied by public education campaigns to not only spread the word but to combat the stigma surrounding HIV. The eradication of HIV would be a historic achievement that all Americans, regardless of their political views, could be proud of.

– Post by Solomon Banjo, MPP ‘13


[1] In 1967 15 million people were infected with smallpox, a decade later that number was 0.

[2] These therapies drastically reduced the number of pills taken and were a precursor to one a day treatments.

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Why We Still Need ALL of the Voting Rights Act

When Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia introduced an amendment on the house floor to block funding for section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in May of 2012, the backlash was instant and immense.[i]  Long the hallmark legislative achievement of the Civil Rights Movement, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) represents a lasting guarantee against electoral discrimination.  But as voting participation among minorities rises to levels above whites and the blatant discrimination of the 1960s fades into history, many wonder if the VRA still requires the powerful federal enforcement of the act that Section 5 authorizes.[ii]  As the Supreme Court prepares to decide on the matter this year in the Shelby County v. Holder case, the answer is yes: we still need the VRA.

American electoral participation in1965 looked very different than that of the national electorate in 2012, when the country re-elected its first African American President to another four year term.  Southern states in the 1960s implemented creative strategies to deny Black Americans their right to vote, like requiring minority citizens to pass an unfairly difficult “literacy” test before voting. [iii]  Upon its enactment the VRA explicitly outlawed all such prejudiced policies, but Civil Rights activists emphasized that Southern states could easily find new ways to subvert the VRA’s restrictions.  As a protection against such manipulations, Congress added the contentious Section 5 to the legislation, which required federal approval to any and all electoral changes in states and counties shown to blatantly discriminate against minorities during voter registration.[iv]

Section 5’s long-standing history was questioned as recently as 2009, when a case brought before the Supreme Court contested the section’s constitutionality.[v]  Although it does allow major federal intrusion into an area of law traditionally controlled by states, the Supreme Court didn’t comment on the constitutionality of the law but “suggested [in the majority opinion] that the law may not be ‘justified by current needs’.”[vi]  This year, it will come under Supreme Court consideration again, as Shelby County, Alabama challenges Attorney General Eric Holder and his exercise of Section 5 in the small Southern town, where discrimination against minority voters remains a major concern for some activists.[vii]

Shelby County may try to convince the Supreme Court that Section 5 is both draconian and outdated, but Civil Rights history, recent developments and judicial precedent indicates the opposite to be true.  As former civil rights activist and Alabama resident Jerome Gray points out, “the franchise remains fragile” in many areas of the deep south, where, based upon  electoral policies designed to disenfranchise minority voters, Mr. Gray and others are still removed from voting rolls in places like his hometown of Evergreen, Alabama.[viii]  Fortunately, Section 5’s protections allowed the federal court in Mobile, Alabama to intervene and strike down Evergreen’s new voting laws, which the court deemed to be unfair.[ix]  As a result, Mr. Gray and 799 others that the County removed from voting registers could vote in the most recent Evergreen election.  Stories like these show that the work that Section 5 authorizes the federal government to pursue is far from done, and 1972 voting registration statistics remain indicative of persisting discrimination.[x]

Cases like that of Evergreen, Alabama demonstrate the on-going need for federally mandated election reform.  Therefore, Section 5 should stay on the books.  The most recent reauthorization, which occurred under President Bush in 2006, extends the VRA for twenty five years.[xi]  This version of the VRA requires counties with a minority voter registration of under 50% as of 1972 to continue pre-clearing electoral changes with the US Justice Department or Federal Courts.[xii]  If states feel they have eliminated all electoral discrimination, they can apply to be removed from the pre-clearance list, pending Justice Department approval.[xiii]  Some areas, including many counties in Virginia, successfully petitioned for removal from the list.[xiv]  Despite complaints that the law is outdated, policymakers claim Section 5 continues to allow the Justice Department to stop a number of unfair electoral laws, including a recent Alabama law that would have re-districted the county in order to diminish the efficacy of black voters.[xv]

In 1965, Congress intended Section 5 of the VRA to serve as a temporary provision that would institutionalize voting equality, but rooting out discrimination has proven to be a 50-year process that is far from over.  The federal government’s fundamental responsibility is to ensure every citizen’s rights under the 15th amendment, particularly when the state fails to do so.[xvi]  Select counties and states across America continue to fail in protecting the rights of their citizens, including community pillars like Mr. Gray in Alabama.  The entirety of the Voting Rights Act must remain intact, and the US government must be empowered to enforce it, until people like Jerome Gray, who epitomize the struggle for freedom, don’t need to double check their registrant status every election year.

– Post by Kathryn Babineau, MPP ’13


[i] “The struggle to vote.” New York Times 12 May 2012: A18(L). U.S. History In Context. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

[ii]“The preclearance problem; Race and elections.” The Economist [US] 5 Feb. 2011: 45(US). U.S. History In Context. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

[iii]  “Sacred, or outdated; The Voting Rights Act.” The Economist [US] 27 June 2009: 57EU. U.S. History In Context. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

[iv] “The preclearance problem; Race and elections.” The Economist [US] 5 Feb. 2011: 45(US). U.S. History In Context. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

[v] Dade, Corey.  See Previous Citation.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Liptak, Adam.  See Previous Citation.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Dade, Corey. “Is the Voting Rights Act Outdated?” National Public Radio. National Public Radio, 01 Dec. 2012. Web. 17 Feb. 2013.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Ludden, Jennifer.  “Is the Voting Rights Act Relevant in 2013?” National Public Radio 25 February 2013.  Web, 13 March 13, 2013.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] “The preclearance problem; Race and elections.” The Economist [US] 5 Feb. 2011: 45(US). U.S. History In Context. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

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Harmonizing Ecology and Economics

Ecology and economics are natural allies. Both words derive from the Greek word for “household.” Ecology is the study of our collective household: the Earth. Economics concerns the laws and conventions governing the use of our global home’s resources. It turns out that the best way to manage our natural resources is by using them in the most efficient ways possible, which economics guides us to do.

Efficient resource use is essential for conserving natural resources. Increased efficiency lessens the burden on the environment that maintaining our living standards requires. Yet the organizations that seek a more ecofriendly civilization often ignore economics and advocate for policies that run counter to efficiency, such as subsidizing supposedly “green” technologies or adopting costly and ineffective regulations such as the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards (CAFE).

“Green” subsidies may seem environmentally friendly, but in reality they allow special interest groups to give themselves advantages over competing energy producers. The massive subsidization of corn ethanol is an excellent example. Corn ethanol has negligible (or even negative) environmental effects, but corn subsidies are a political third rail, because Ohioan corn growers are politically powerful.1 CAFE standards are also far from ideal; the Congressional Budget Office has concluded that requiring higher gas mileage standards is an ineffective and expensive approach to the problem of air pollution2.

Experience demonstrates the negative environmental impact of ignoring economics. The Soviet government had strong environmental regulations, but experienced some of the worst environmental disasters in history. One such case was the Soviet extraction of shoreline gravel from the Black Sea for construction projects between 1920 and 1960. This caused tremendous erosion as “hotels, hospitals, and, of all things, a military sanitarium collapsed into the sea as the shore line gave way.”3 A similar disaster occurred in the Chesapeake Bay, where only 2% of the historically massive oyster stock remains due to over-exploitation. Both cases were rooted in the fact that the natural resources were collectively owned; both fell victim to the tragedy of the commons.

The tragedy of the commons is a common cause of environmental issues. It occurs when many people have access to a limited resource. Each person with access to that natural resource knows that their own individual exploitation makes only a negligible difference in the health of that resource and that a choice not to abuse the resource won’t prevent others from laying it to waste. This eliminates any reason for individuals to conserve the resource; over-exploitation inevitably follows.

Happily, economics has revealed an elegant system that ensures efficient resource use and conservation: private property under the free market. Private property owners have all the right incentives to use their resources in only the most efficient ways. Copper mine owners do not strip all of the ore out of their mines as soon as it is discovered, because doing so would eliminate the future income that the mine could provide (along with value of the mine as a sellable asset). Mine owners, instead, extract and sell less as copper becomes scarcer since they realize that they will be able to sell their copper for higher prices if it becomes scarcer still. That is why, unlike the commonly held Soviet gravel and Chesapeake Bay marine resources, the free market has never run out of copper ore, despite its high usage over the millennia.

The free market encourages people to use resources in the ways conservationists wish them to: to use scarce resources less, to replace them with more abundant or renewable alternatives, to recycle, and to invest in more efficient means of using resources. Those who are best at these things earn profits, which they can convert into responsibility over more resources. This benefits society with both increased production and more efficient resource use.

Unlike private individuals, political actors’ control over resources is not dependent on how efficiently they use them. Politicians garner support and increase their influence by spending more of America’s limited resources in their electoral districts. It generally doesn’t matter to their constituents if the money is used efficiently; they gain the benefits, while the rest of the nation shoulders the burden. Every spending program garners votes for politicians, regardless of its efficacy.

Environmentalists must work with human nature rather than against it. We have forgotten that humans are natural beings, too. It is more productive to harmonize the desires of humans with ecological health rather than fight a fruitless war to conquer human nature in the name of Mother Nature. Individuals who are concerned about the environment should focus on minimizing commonly held property and government interference. We should place our trust in those private citizens who reliably protect their property and its natural resources, and not in politicians, whose only incentive is to exploit them.

– Post by Ian Downie, MPP ‘13

Sources

1. Taylor, Jerry. “An Economic Critique of Corn-Ethanol Subsidies.” The Cato Institute, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2013. <http://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/articles/jerrytaylor_aneconomiccritiqueofcornethanolsubsidies_2009.pdf&gt;.

2. United States of America. Congressional Budget Office. By Terry Dinan and David Austin. Fuel Economy Standards Versus a Gasoline Tax. 9 Mar. 2004. Web. 15 Mar. 2011. <http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/workshops/energymarkets/background/austin.pdf&gt;.

3. Dilorenzo, Thomas J. “Why Socialism Causes Pollution.”: The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2013. <http://www.fee.org/the_freeman/detail/why-socialism-causes-pollution&gt;.

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What are our Batten students thankful for?

Happy Thanksgiving!

We, as Batten students, have a lot to be thankful for –  having a wonderful building all to our own, plenty of food to eat, and having amazing classmates, faculty and staff. We have asked a few Batten students  to reflect on what they are thankful for this holiday season and let us know. Here are are a few of their remarks:

“For the warm and welcoming Batten community who makes it such a joy to be in the program” – Kelly Anderson, Accel ‘13

“Joyful friends who are all so engaged and inspiring” – Elizabeth Brightwell, Accel ‘14

“The amazing admins and my amazing friends who have made me never want to leave UVA” – Addie Bryant, Post Grad ‘13

“Supportive Batten community” – Tara Clark, Post Grad ‘13

“I’m thankful for all my Batten friends that keep me company during late nights at Garrett Hall” – Alex Collins, Accel ‘14

“Having four, intelligent, and delightful roommates that put with my eccentricities and cooking habits…and who all happen to be Batten students” – Patrick Fitzsimmons, Accel ’13

“I am thankful for my family’s love and support that has allowed me to go back to school” – Ammy George, Post Grad ‘13

“I’m thankful for my awesome classmates!” – Kenneth Gillette, Post Grad ’14

“I am thankful for having the opportunity to do anything I want with my life and career and being surrounded by people who support me” – Wesley Malychev, Accel ‘14

“I am thankful for my classmates, sandwiches, and camping. In that order” – Maggie Ray, Post Grad ‘14

“The amazing class of 2014. Good job picking them Howard” – Natasha Reese, Post Grad ‘14

“I am thankful for Batten students who understand my woes, and for Stata – which has saved me hours of my life” – Ryan Singel, Accel ‘14

“Family, friends, health, and having the opportunity to be a Batten student” – Shiv Srikanth, Post Grad ‘14

“Thankful for the opportunity to help others and learn about myself in the process” – Kate Stanley, Post Grad ‘13

“ Friends who make even the bad days fun” – Allie Yudt, Post Grad ‘13

The Batten Blog wishes everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and the best of luck with the rest of their semesters.

-Compiled by Aaron Chafetz

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A Student’s Perspective on the Election

Barack Obama’s victory this past Tuesday renewed in me feelings of hope and optimism that I was afraid might slip away. The two presidential candidates represented starkly different visions for America’s future: the embrace of America’s rich diversity on the one hand and its rejection on the other. The President’s reelection is a triumph over backwards-looking and intolerant positions that fundamentally contradict my vision of an America that lives up to its foundational principles.

Without a doubt, this campaign season was disheartening. It was an entirely cynical affair targeting people’s fears rather than uplifting their spirits. Both sides relied on vast stores of data to coldly penetrate the undecided American voters’ preferences, generating messages through focus groups and surveys, like designing a new Doritos flavor. In Virginia, a viscous deluge of negative advertisements engulfed us. We couldn’t even watch a YouTube video without being warned of the apocalyptic suffering that awaited us if the wrong candidate were elected. The worst part: even after ten seconds of these ads, you couldn’t tell which party it came from.

But still, I am reinvigorated. For me, the election marks the victory of a resilient progressivism that sprung to life in 2008. It is a victory over the idea that poverty is a self-inflicted condition. It is a victory over a party that wants to make it harder for poor people to vote. It is a victory over a nauseatingly hypocritical establishment that bemoans the state’s encroachment on personal liberty, yet callously treats women’s bodies as objects over which capricious state control is completely justified. It is a victory for the ideal of equal rights for all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation.

Mitt Romney had a dream to lead America as a Republican president and thus was forced to genuflect before far right donors in order to have a fighting chance against the frighteningly efficient Obama-campaign apparatus. America watched as the primary and then the general election systematically drained Romney of every last one his moderate inclinations. I even thought I could see a dullness in his eyes toward the end of the campaign as more and more of his political soul evaporated. But perhaps that’s too generous. Maybe that’s how he always looked. Maybe he never had a political soul.

Regardless, Obama’s victory affirms that the Republican Party is out of touch with the American electorate. This election has revealed the cruel irony of a Republican political machine that has spent millions of dollars alienating the very people that it needs to win elections in the future. By spending exorbitant amounts of money exploiting racial divisions and parroting outdated right-wing adages, Republicans have frozen themselves in a political tradition that is irrelevant given America’s tectonic demographic shifts since the end of the 20th century. All that money could have elected Mitt Romney – but it didn’t, and to me, this is one of the most significant victories of all. The Tea Party’s radical values have diffused through the Republican Party like a teabag in hot water, and unless Republicans can stanch the Tea Party’s pernicious percolation, they will find themselves losing election after election no matter how much money they spend.

Enormous questions remain regarding the future. Will our political leaders abandon petty partisan quibbles and start providing real leadership on pressing issues? Will Obama, liberated from election constraints, have more latitude in pursuing a progressive agenda? Despite these questions, the election has demonstrated that many folks believe in the project we have before us in rebuilding America. It is a project in which success depends on the inclusion of all Americans: rich and poor, white and colored, straight and gay. It has reminded me of why I’m proud to be an American and why I applied to the Batten School in the first place.

– Post by Shivesh Puri, MPP’13

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Batten Election Night

After camping out all night in the Great Hall, many of the Batten students erupted in cheers with the victories of Barack Obama and Tim Kaine. Batten students were also very excited for the reelection of Gerry Connolly to the House of Representatives, father of current Batten student Caitlin Connolly.  At the peak of the night, Garrett was filled with over 60 students watching the election, pouring over their computers searching for the latest news (and trying to get the rest of their homework finished), and chowing down on some delicious snacks.  

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Thanks to everyone who came out to watch the election in the Great Hall!

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-Post by Aaron Chafetz

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“A New Kind of Leader”

A feature in the spring 2012 edition of the University of Virginia Magazine looks at the Batten School’s hands-on approach to leadership in public policy:

The Batten School offers the policy-analysis education found at typical public policy schools, but two key factors set the school apart—developing the tools students will need to effectively advocate their positions, combined with insight into how effective leadership works.

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