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Understanding America Series

The Understanding America Series provides foreign journalists with a firsthand look at both the history and contemporary reality of American culture. Meant as an introductory series, each of these briefings provides background on facets of American society that are timely and relevant to today’s top stories, from newsworthy sources.

Redistricting, the process of drawing electoral district boundaries, takes place in the United States following the completion of each decennial census, to account for population shifts.  The rules for redistricting vary from state to state, but all states draw new legislative maps either in the state legislature, in redistricting commissions, or through some combination of the two.  Rebecca Green, Professor of Law at the College of William and Mary, and Co-Director of the Election Law program, is an expert on election law, legislative redistricting, and redistricting transparency.  She has served on the bipartisan National Task Force on Election Crises and provided research support for the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.  She explains the various approaches to redistricting at the state level from a legal perspective, and the current status of redistricting efforts. 

Often lost in conversations surrounding U.S. military history are the contributions of Native Americans. However, Native Americans have served in the U.S. military in every major conflict for 200 years, and at times at a higher rate than any other demographic. In advance of Veteran’s Day, and in tandem with National Native American Heritage Month, this briefing explores the untold history and contributions of Native Americans in the U.S. military, which has recently gained long overdue recognition with the launch of the National Native American Veterans Memorial, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), supported by tribal governments and tribal veteran’s organizations, as well as individuals, corporations, foundations, and other organizations. The briefing includes perspectives from NMAI curator Rebecca Trautmann, as well as Harvey Pratt, Native American artist, veteran, and designer of the memorial.  Pratt served in Vietnam from 1962 to 1965 as a U.S. Marine in Air Rescue.  Born in Oklahoma, Pratt is a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes where he is recognized as one of the traditional Cheyenne Peace Chiefs, also known as the Council of Forty-Four.

In this briefing, Dr. Marvin Phaup explains how budget requests move from federal agencies to Congress, the key congressional committees involved, landmark legislation establishing the process, and how a final budget is decided.

Dr. Phaup is a Lecturer at the Schar School, George Mason University, where he teaches microeconomics and federal budget concepts, process, policy, and reform, conducts research, writes for publication, and provides consulting services.  From July 2009 through December 2010, he directed the Federal Budget Reform Initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts, whose objective was to improve federal policy by transforming the federal budget into a more relevant and useful source of fiscal information for decision makers and the public.

Previously, Dr. Phaup headed the Financial Studies/Budget Process group at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).  Since 1975, CBO has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process; it does not make policy recommendations.  Phaup was proud to be hired by the CBO’s founding director, Alice M. Rivlin.  Each year, the CBO’s economists and budget analysts produce dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates for proposed legislation.  CBO is strictly nonpartisan; conducts objective, impartial analysis; it hires employees solely on the basis of professional competence without regard to political affiliation.

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is held each May to recognize the contributions of Asian Americans to the history and achievements of the United States.  The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to supporting and investing in AAPI communities.  In March, the Administration announced new actions to respond to the increase in acts of anti-Asian violence, and to advance safety, inclusion, and belonging for all Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities.  More recently, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan COVID-19 hate crimes bill, to respond to attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, which includes funding to increase data collection and reporting. Dr. Madeline Hsu, provides an overview of the breadth and depth of AAPI contributions to U.S. history and culture, as well as strategies to counter Asian-American discrimination and harassment in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are the prevailing norms in journalistic ethics in the United States, and how are they changing? In advance of World Press Freedom Day, the Foreign Press Center hosted a conversation between Kelly McBride , Chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at Poynter, and Tom Rosenstiel , Executive Director of the American Press Institute, who together discuss new ethical challenges journalists face in the United States’ evolving media landscape.  The discussion covered pressures being brought to bear on journalists by technology, social media, increasing disinformation, and changing audience habits, with case study examples to illustrate specific challenges.  The moderated conversation was followed by Q&A with participating journalists.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future