LBJ School of Public Affairs

The LBJ School of Public Affairs held a conference Friday to discuss violence immigrant women face along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Austin-area immigrants and people in careers affiliated with immigration addressed issues such as rape, domestic violence and other forms of violence experienced by women coming to United States from Central and South America. Speakers also addressed issues concerning women in U.S. immigrant detention centers.

Many women emigrating from their home countries have been victims of violence, and that victimization often continues after they arrive in the U.S., according to Laurie Cook Heffron, researcher program coordinator at UT’s Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

“These women are trying to flee a fearful situation, but the detention centers they are put in do not help,” Heffron said. “Issues of sexual abuse have been raised within these centers and requests are being made into these investigations. Other forms of domestic violence and control such as physical violence, emotional abuse, threats and coercion can be seen.”  

Delfina Rossi, conference moderator and public affairs graduate student, said based from her own experiences and the experiences she has heard from others, she feels the U.S. has a responsibility to protect immigrant women.

“Wherever I have been, I am always an immigrant woman,” Rossi said. “As a feminist, we should all advocate for a better society where women don’t have to flee their country because they are afraid to be killed. The U.S. should be held responsible for violations of human and women rights.”

Rossi said Grassroots Leadership, an organization working to reduce immigrant detention, will work with UT students to protest against the conditions of an immigrant detention center in Dilley, Texas, later this month.

According to Heffron, a bigger problem exists in the “Northern Triangle” — Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — where close to 50 percent of women experience domestic violence and there are some of the highest rates of femicide, or the act of killing women, in the world.

Ben Warner, a local counselor and therapist for couples and families, said he works with immigrant women to help provide them with a sense of safety. 

“Many of these women when they come do not have what is necessary to help in a court setting,” Warner said. “Psychological testing can advocate for a client to be able to live here.”

Newly elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appointed a UT visiting professor as the country’s finance minister Tuesday.

Yanis Varoufakis, a visiting professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs, became an elected member of the Greek parliament this Sunday. He was sworn in as finance minister during a ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Athens on Tuesday.

Serving under Tsipras, Varoufakis will be a part of a new cabinet to advise the prime minister.

Varoufakis is one of the primary critics of Greece’s ongoing economic policies, which have sunk the economy to a historic low since the beginning of the Great Recession in December 2007, according to a statement from UT, “Varoufakis has been a leading voice of opposition to the policies conducted since the start of the financial crisis in Greece and throughout Europe by the European Union and its allied institutions, including the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank,” the statement said.

Robert Hutchings, dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said Varoufakis is not new to the discussion about the Greek economy.

“He’s a prominent public intellectual known, not only in Greece as a major political figure, but around Europe, and he has been at the forefront of the discussion of the crisis in the eurozone,” Hutchings said.

Varoufakis said he will implement economic solutions that work for the various stakeholders of the Greek economy.

“As the next finance minister, I can assure you that I shall not go into the Eurogroup seeking a solution that is good for the Greek taxpayer and bad for the Irish, Slovak, German, French and Italian taxpayer,” said Varoufakis.

Although Varoufakis only taught at UT for two years, Hutchings said his time at the LBJ School served both students and faculty.

“It’s great for us as a faculty to have had him here for two years and great for students to have had the chance to study under someone who is now doing one of the toughest jobs in the world,” Hutchings said

Photo Credit: Madison Richards | Daily Texan Staff

Kathleen Merrigan, Former USDA Agriculture Deputy Secretary, said at a lecture on campus Wednesday that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was one of the most successful products of the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Obama administration.

During the lecture, hosted by the LBJ School of Public Affairs, Merrigan — who worked for the USDA from 2009 to 2013 as the deputy secretary and the chief operating officer — said the Obama administration has done an “above-average” job to avoid improper payments. 

“An improper payment can be giving more money than someone deserves, or less money than someone deserves — that’s the definition of improper payments in government,” Merrigan said. “They are doing really, really great, and, at the same time, doing better outreach in the program.”

The SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps, serves approximately 47 million people in the United States, according to the Washington Post. Merrigan said the federal government aims to have less than a 4 percent error rate when avoiding improper payments. She said the SNAP program currently has an error rate of 3.8 percent.

Although Merrigan praised the way the USDA executed the SNAP program, she listed what she believed to be failures by the department. Among these was ensuring that there was an adequate amount of competition in the agricultural market.

Rajeev Patel, who is a research professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, also spoke at the lecture. He said he believes it is important to remember the circumstances in which the Obama administration was formed in context to the country’s approach to food topics. He said the department’s relationship with the private sector is something that should be taken into account when discussing the administration’s approach.

“Often, it’s forgotten that while the beneficiaries of SNAP are invariably poor people in the United States … it’s also important to remember that one of the largest beneficiaries of SNAP is Walmart,” Patel said. “18 percent of the $80 billion spent on SNAP is spent at Walmart.”

Public affairs graduate student Cristian Villalobos, who attended the lecture, said he believes the USDA should focus on educating parents on proper nutrition for children in the first 1,000 days of life. According to Villalobos, SNAP has been one of the more crucial programs since the recession in 2009.

“On a public perception level, it seems to have less of a stigma than other forms of welfare,” Villalobos said. “SNAP seems to be less politicized and conflated as a burden to the government.”

Merrigan said she believes there was an effort underway nationally to vilify the traditional SNAP beneficiary, driven by Republican budget cutting purposes.

“We were really trying to protect the image of the SNAP recipient and to maintain their dignity,” Merrigan said. “There was a notion that poor people can’t take care of themselves, and we tried to push back.”

Argentinian Minister of Defense Agustín Rossi visits the LBJ School of Public Affairs on Wednesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Madison Richards | Daily Texan Staff

Agustín Rossi, the Argentinian minister of defense, discussed foreign affairs and peace in Latin America at the LBJ School of Public Affairs
on Wednesday. 

Rossi, who spoke with a translator during the event, brought documents dated from the 1970s and 1980s to give to the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. 

Introducing Rossi, James Galbraith, government/business relations chair and government professor, said Rossi has had a major impact on various social movements in Argentina. 

“Rossi was the prime mover behind significant social reforms in Argentina,” Galbraith said. “He is a great friend to many of the causes we believe in.”

Rossi said that, for the first time in history, the Latin American countries have been brought together by an organization called UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations. 

“The establishment of UNASUR, which was born out of the effort of the Brazilian president, was the first time we were able to have all 12 nations of Latin America become member states,” Rossi said. “This promoted the possibility of more cooperation.”

Rossi said that soon after the creation of UNASUR, the organization was able to keep conflicting countries from going to war.

“The first secretary general of UNASUR was ex-president Kirchner,” Rossi said. “The first challenge that this organization took on was to avoid a diplomatic conflict that existed between Colombia and Venezuela.”

Peter Cleaves, president of DRG International, an international business advisory firm, said that he understands why it was necessary to create organizations such as UNASUR.

“The Argentine military and other militaries in the Latin American region are engaging in international cooperation [and] new kinds of projects, which, in effect, deflect their previous interest in watching the civilian politicians,” Cleaves said. “So all of these clubs, projects and mutual defense pacts are to keep the military busy doing productive activities, certainly more productive than plotting against the civilian regime.”

Argentina has made headlines for its attempt at keeping a territorial hold on the Malvinas Islands in the Southern Atlantic. Rossi said he supports Argentina’s stance on their right to the islands.

“Argentina claims sovereignty over these islands and will continue to do so," Rossi said. "As a matter of fact, it is part of our national constitution, which declares that we have sovereignty over the Malvinas and the South Atlantic region,” Rossi said. “They belong to Argentina, and we will continue to claim these rights in international forum.”

Rossi said that the Argentinian government has pushed to work peacefully with other nations over the past 40 years so that Latin America can propel itself forward.

A University of Texas study finds people are less active in hotter and more humid areas of the country.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of LBJ School of Public Affairs

On average, everyone exercises less when the weather is hot and humid, regardless of other demographic factors, according to a study from the University’s LBJ School of Public Affairs.

The study found that people are least active and most obese in counties where the summers are hot and humid, primarily in the Southeast. People are the most active and least obese in the Mountain West region, where summers are cool and dry.

Sociology professor Paul von Hippel, lead author of the study, said a city providing recreational opportunities for citizens needs to think about what people are going to be willing to do in the summer heat.

“One thing that’s really nice in Austin is the hike and bike trail at Town Lake, because it’s shaded, near water, and in a densely populated area,” von Hippel said. “It’s basically a great way for thousands of people to be active on a hot summer day.”

The rate of obesity in Travis County is lower than the national average. In 2011, 29.3 percent of men and 33.5 percent of women were obese, compared respectively to 37 percent and 39 percent nationally, according to a Population Health Metrics study. Von Hippel said this could be because Travis County has advantages such as high income, high education and nice winter weather.

Poverty is also a major predictor for obesity everywhere in the U.S., according to von Hippel.

“One of the reasons for that is access to recreational facilities,” von Hippel said. “That’s why I think it’s important to have free public pools open in the early morning as well, not just private pools.”

Julie Drake, senior program coordinator for the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University, said some gyms, including UT RecSports and Austin YMCA, offer temporary memberships for people who want to try swimming or working out indoors during the summer.

“You could sign up for a three-month membership during the hot months,” Drake said. “They also do a reduced fee application where they’re willing to work with people on reduced incomes.”

Mason Wheeless, a personal running coach and owner at RTI Fitness in Austin, recommended working out in the early morning before it gets hot. He said that even as an experienced runner, he finds it difficult to run during the summer.

“I went out yesterday at 3:00 in the afternoon, like an idiot, because that was the only time that would work with my schedule,” Wheeless said. “It was 15 miles and it hurt more than any 22 mile in quite awhile — my legs were cramping up all night after that.”

As Texas gets into the hotter months, von Hippel said people need to think about their strategy to stay active during the summer.

“The weather is not going to accommodate us, so we need to accommodate ourselves to the weather,” von Hippel said.

Julián Castro displays the Hook 'em Horns sign following the 2014 commencement ceremony at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

Photo Credit: Bryce Seifert | Daily Texan Staff

After delivering the commencement address for the LBJ School of Public Affairs, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro talked with The Daily Texan about some of the issues surrounding higher education today. Castro declined to comment on media reports about his possible nomination to President Barack Obama's cabinet. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

DT: What do you think are the most important issues facing higher education today?

Castro: Some of the most important issues facing higher education really have to with the affordability of it. Over the last couple decades, we’ve seen the cost to students skyrocket – student loan debt increased significantly. So I’d say affordability. Secondly, college completion – ensuring that as much as we celebrate folks getting into college, it’s really completing college that makes a difference. Universities and colleges across the United States ought to be working to get much better at their completion rate, not just their matriculation rate.

DT: What do you think the solution is to making college more affordable?

Castro: I would say that making college more affordable begins with ensuring that less folks have to take remedial courses. So many of our young people have to take remedial courses that it ends up extending the time they are in higher education. It means they spin their wheels in a sense. So No. 1 is improving K-12 education and synching it better with needs of colleges and universities. Secondly, for universities to look at ways that they can offer degree programs more that are still as substantive as they need to be but also perhaps accelerated or involve less credit hours, so that students can rack up less debt.

DT: What do you think about the Texas Dream Act, which offers in-state tuition to some undocumented students?

Castro: I support the Texas Dream Act. It was passed in 2001 with bipartisan support in the Texas Legislature. These dreamers are young people who only know the United States as their home. And they are, for all intents and purposes, Texans. They have grown up here. This is the state that they know, and they feel like Texans just like the rest of us. They deserve an opportunity. And so I support the in-state tuition.

DT: The University has been involved in a major affirmative action court case. What is your take on that?

Castro: My hope is that some ability to ensure that folks, whether through obstacles that they face or to ensure that we have diversity in our university settings, that the Supreme Court will strike a good a balance and ensure that diversity is still a concern.

John Rizzo, former acting general counsel for the CIA, spoke Tuesday at the LBJ School of Public Affairs about his role in post 9/11 CIA actions, which included approving advanced interrogation techniques. 

During the talk, Rizzo spoke about his book, “Company Man,” which focuses on his 34-year career in the CIA. Rizzo said that he hopes readers will come away with better knowledge of what happened during the years following September 11, 2001. According to Rizzo, controversial actions were taken for the protection of Americans.   

“I’d like those who read the book to come away with an understanding of those post, especially those immediate post-9/11 years, and the decisions that we all had to make,” Rizzo said. “[For] me personally, [they] were very difficult decisions. They weren’t matters we enter in so lightly, but that, for the sake of the nation, to protect the nation from another catastrophic attack we felt we had to take, and I know some people will always questions the wisdom of some of those measures.”

Government senior Vineet Surapaneni said that the CIA’s handling of the questionable interrogation tactics made them vulnerable to criticism.

“From what I remember, it didn’t seem like it was handled particularly well by the CIA or the administration,” Surapaneni said. “It was like a dual approach they were set in that they were continuing with the interrogation techniques, but then they weren’t open to criticism at all or any form. They would just immediately say ‘national security’ and sort of clam up.”

Robert Chesney, law professor and associate dean of academic affairs for the law school, said Rizzo’s memoir gives readers unique insight to the CIA’s operations during his time as a lawyer in the CIA. 

“This book provides a really indispensable perspective on what it looked like from the inside of the CIA legal advisors offices, which is obviously a terribly important perspective to have,” Chesney said. “Some people are going to read this and be very unhappy with what he has to say. Other people are going to love it.”   

Rizzo said the lawyers he hired in his wake at the CIA were his most important legacies.

“During my time, I hired 100 new lawyers for CIA, people from the outside,” Rizzo said. “The legacy that I left behind when I retired from CIA is two generations of very, very smart [and] very careful lawyers.”

In his speech “Civility for a Great Society” at the LBJ School of Public Affairs on Tuesday afternoon, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee spoke about lessons learned from the Johnson administration and how those lessons could be applied to society today.

Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee said during a speech at the LBJ School of Public Affairs on Tuesday that the recently increased levels of partisanship in American politics have prevented politicians from leading effectively.

According to Chafee, he lost re-election as a Republican senator in 2006, despite high approval ratings, because Rhode Islanders wanted a Democratic majority in the Senate.

Chafee said the increased polarization is partly due to members of Congress spending far less time together than in past years because of the ease of transportation today. 

“[Former South Carolina Senator] Strom Thurmond used to say, when jet travel came in, the Senate changed because everybody would go back to their districts,” Chafee said. “But that’s the reality, you want to be seen in your home district.”

Chafee said politicians should value their integrity as representatives of the people more than gathering votes for the next election.

“My colleagues in the Senate value their membership in the Senate — that exclusive club membership — more than what’s best for our country,” Chafee said.

Robert Hutchings, the dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said the best way to combat polarization is to fix things one at a time. He called to those dissatisfied with politics to take it upon themselves to work toward a solution by getting involved.

“Not everything is broken in government,” Hutchings said. “We’re in a bad period now, and there’s a lot of cynicism right now, but the best way to fight cynicism is to enter the arena … don’t complain, go out [and] make a difference.”

Pete Phillips, an Austin resident and ex-marine who attended the talk, said he believes a major problem to overcome is politicians whose only motivation is to stay in office, as opposed to working together toward a common goal. Phillips said he believes politicians too often allow the wills of special interest groups to sway their votes rather than focusing on the best interests of their constituents.

“The problem with American politics is that we’re too polarized today, and there just needs to be common sense brought back,” Phillips said.

Chafee said polarization is harming President Lyndon Johnson’s legacy of using government to create helpful social programs.

“I think President Johnson would be dismayed at some of the attacks on the beneficial social programs that helped grow the middle class, particularly in education,” Chafee said.

Photo Credit: Helen Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said she emphasizes being a leader first and a politician second in a speech hosted Wednesday by the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Martinez, the first Latina governor in U.S. history, was elected as the first female governor of New Mexico in 2010. A Republican, her election platforms included cutting spending, lowering taxes and ending corrupt government practices. This year, Time magazine listed her among the world’s top 100 influential people alongside President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Before she was elected governor, Martinez graduated from UT-El Paso and earned a law degree from the University of Oklahoma. She went on to serve for 14 years as District Attorney of the Third Judicial District. 

In her speech, Martinez discussed the many ways she has been inspired as a public servant. She said her time as a district attorney greatly influenced her life as governor, and cases she prosecuted led her to see the huge impact public servants can have on peoples’ lives.

One particular case that Martinez said changed her life was the rape and murder of a six-month-old baby by both the child’s father and maternal uncle. At the time, the offense only carried a maximum sentence of 18 years in prison, whereas the rape and killing of an adult carried a sentence of life in prison. Martinez successfully campaigned to increase the penalty to life in prison in New Mexico. 

To this day, she said she carries a photo of the child.

“It reminds me why I’m a public servant,” Martinez said. “I don’t do it because I make a lot of money. I don’t do it because it will make me rich.”

Lauren Cresswell, public affairs graduate student, said the talk enabled her to learn about Martinez’s initiatives in New Mexico.

“I think it was interesting to hear her perspective as a female and as a Republican,” Cresswell said.

Sarah Melecki, public affairs graduate student, said she thought it was important to hear from women who are making a difference in the public policy process, even though she does not share Martinez’s political beliefs.

“I think it’s important to learn all points of view to see where we can come together to get things done,” Melecki said. “She talked a lot about [how] when you talk about policy, it’s not just about Democrats and Republicans. I gained a lot from that.”

Photo Credit: Eric Park | Daily Texan Staff

The LBJ School of Public Affairs hosted a wrap-up panel discussion Wednesday about the Texas Legislature’s 83rd regular session and three special sessions.

Sherri Greenberg, director of the school’s Center for Politics and Governance and former state representative, moderated the panel, featuring state Reps. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, and Gene Wu, D-Houston, along with three other panelists.

Steven Polunsky, former director of the Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, started the panel discussion with humor.

“The 83rd legislative session was the Lone Ranger of sessions,” Polunsky said. “It was way too long, too boring and forgettable — except for that Tonto part.”

Polunsky said there was a contest for the silliest bills of the session.

“The nominations: ‘on relating to the protection of stray bison’ or designating Feb. 16 as Texas Homemade Pie Day,” he said. “That one passed.”

Panelists also discussed more serious issues addressed during the legislative session, such as abortion, public education financing and the budget. Villarreal said the House achieved bipartisan success through collaboration on key legislation, including financing for water projects.

“We could write legislation, file it, debate it, push it through and get it passed. All within five months,” Villarreal said. “It’s amazing, especially compared to the time things take in D.C.”

Wu, a first-year representative, said he was surprised by how the session went. 

“We stopped pushing off huge items like the water bill that’s been pushed back for 20 years,” he said. “We focused on things both parties could agree on and pushed back ‘red meat’ topics.”

Villarreal said he regrets that certain topics were delayed and not fully addressed.

“Did [Republicans] purposefully spend the regular session on bills that needed cooperation so that they could then drive the ‘red meat’ bills right through a special session?” Villarreal asked.

Erica Grieder, senior editor at Texas Monthly, said too many big topics fell by the wayside.

“The entire first special session was embarrassing and bad for everyone involved,” Grieder said. “They wanted to pass certain bills before the primaries came up in 2014.”

Wu, an LBJ graduate, also spoke about the importance of the school as well as LBJ students who intern or work as Capitol staff during legislative sessions.

“We [the representatives] can’t know everything about all the topics,” he said. “Staff are critical to making decisions.” 

Greenberg said she hopes more students — both undergraduate and graduate — become part of the legislative process.

“Everyone can get involved,” she said.