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Book Review: What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

November 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Hello, all!

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I’m a creature of politics. I don’t often write about it here on this blog, but when I do I try to explore subjects deeply. Some of you may know that I ran for State Representative in Michigan in 2014, and in 2016. I kept another website for the 2014 campaign, and if you’re interested at looking at some of the things I talked about you can find it here. One of the things I’m proudest of during my first run was taking a stand for LGBTQ rights, which you can read about in this piece, entitled “Read This Mich. Democrat’s Epic Response to Antigay Group’s ‘Pile of Excrement’” by Advocate.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that I would pick up Hillary Clinton’s new book about the 2016 election, perhaps too obviously titled What Happened. I’ve never read a post-election book written by a presidential candidate before, and I typically stray away from political books in general (unless it’s an academic, scholarly work). Still, given the events of the election I felt that this was a time that I could expand my horizons, if only just once. Before we get into the review, I want to plug her new project, Onward Together, an organization created to promote progressive values.

Every day that I was a candidate for President, I knew that millions of people were counting on me, and I couldn’t bear the idea of letting them down. But I did. I couldn’t get the job done, and I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life.

What Happened tells the tale, from the perspective of Hillary Clinton, of the 2016 presidential election. A good deal of the book focuses on the Democratic Primary, which, as anyone who pays attention to politics can tell you, was especially acrimonious. However, the book is quintessentially a feminist book under all of the focus on recent history. Indeed, Clinton spends a great deal of time talking about women’s issues and how they impacted her life and political career.

To say that What Happened is biased misses the point. Of course it’s biased, but the book acknowledges that. I think the level of enjoyment you’re likely to derive from this book is how much credibility and trustworthiness you’re willing to lend Clinton. I voted for her in the general election, and I supported her for much of the primary (I voted for Bernie, but started out supporting Clinton). I’m probably willing to give her a little more credibility than a good deal of people, and I think that this comes from my own experience in politics.

The book is split into sections, with titles like “Perseverance,” which are, in turn, split into smaller chapters. These sections are thematic, and give the book a sense of order and purpose. I appreciated this because it helped to order the events as I remembered and experienced them, and orientated them toward themes about politics, the election, feminism, and policy that Clinton explores in the book.

It’s a long book, clocking in at 492 pages (including the index), so it requires a good investment of time. However, if you’re as interested in politics, history, and policy as I am, the pages seem to turn themselves. Whether or not you agree or disagree with Clinton’s perspective–or even if you don’t like her, personally–the book is still a good resource for those of us who are interested in learning more about the way the 2016 presidential election unfolded.

I wear my composure like a suit of armor, for better or worse. In some ways, it felt like I had been training for this latest feat of self-control for decades.

What really works in the book is Clinton’s voice. I’m very aware that she didn’t write the book without help from two other people, but somehow her voice comes out clearly in the pages. Her voice is intelligent, stately, and sure (except for the times it isn’t, and you can empathize with that). The result is that it creates a narrative that doesn’t let you go very easily. I found the book extremely easy to read, and it certainly held my interest. One of the greatest criticisms you hear lobbed at her is that she is robotic and closed off, but the voice she lends here is extremely personal.

Clinton opens herself up to criticism in this book, and she shows us a vulnerable, insecure side under the calm and collected veneer she presents for the camera. Her riff on what it was like to be with Donald Trump on the debate stage is testament to her self-control, and if you read it with an open mind I think you get a sense of the strength of character it would take to step on the same stage with him. As the above quote notes, and as she spent many pages illustrating, being a woman in politics, especially in national politics, is difficult. Clinton claims, and I agree, that she had to maintain composure and restrain herself, whereas her male counterparts could express anger and raise their voices.

Early in the book she writes about the daily ritual on the campaign trail, including how she relied on people for makeup and hairdressing. There’s definitely a note of resentment in her voice when she notes how it’s easier for men. In fact, on page 88 she says, “The few times I’ve gone out in public without makeup, it’s made the news.” I can’t even imagine operating in politics and having to put so much energy into my appearance. I was the kind of person who would throw on a shirt and some blue jeans and I could get away with that.

I could even get away with looking angry and not shaving. Five o’clock shadow may have doomed Nixon in the 1960 election, but it was all the rage in 2014.

In politics, the personal narrative is vital.

I think, perhaps, one of the most gut-wrenching things that I read in the book is when she writes, on page 117, that part of the reason she went to Yale was because a Harvard professor said to her, “We don’t need anymore more women at Harvard.” This came after a paragraph of explaining how men approached her when she was one of two women taking the law school admissions test. The men essentially behaved as if Clinton and her friend were stealing their places, and not earning their own.

Later, on page 118, she writes, “I was used to a narrow set of expectations,” noting how sad she is that women are judged by their appearance. Especially relevant is how women will only have attention paid to them if they look a certain way, otherwise they’ll be dismissed. She then says, “…one of the reasons he lost the Governor’s race in 1980 was because I still went by my maiden name…When he lost, and I heard over and over that my name–my name!–had played a part, I was heartsick that I might have inadvertently hurt my husband and let down his team.” I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around the kind of mindset that would cause people to not vote for a candidate because his wife did not share his last name. This way of thinking seems foreign to me, but it also betrays another ignorance of mine: the fact is that people blamed Hillary for Bill’s loss. It was her responsibility, and her blame to take.

There’s definitely a current of feminist fury running through the book, and it is well-justified given the ground we’ve already covered. Clinton had a lot of barriers to break in her life and in politics, and she has, despite her detractors, made truly historical accomplishments. In a lot of ways, What Happened is a feminist manifesto, and this shines through in Clinton’s voice throughout the text. On page 143 she makes sure to note that, in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Princess Leia gets a promotion to general. And she’s right: general is seen as a promotion–a higher rank than merely princess–and denotes merit rather than inheritance.

A few pages later, on 147, she writes that someone at NASA wrote to her, in response to a letter testifying to her desire to be an astronaut, “Sorry, little girl, we don’t accept women into the space program.” She then writes, “The fact that I was female was secondary; sometimes it practically slipped my mind. Other women may have had different experiences, but that’s how it was for me.” Gender was not front and center in her life unless someone put it there. When she got that letter from NASA, or her experiences noted above, or when she gets news coverage for not wearing makeup. There’s an extremely powerful story in her life, and she tells it without flinching.

And show tunes are the best soundtrack for tough times. You think you’re sad? Let’s hear what Fantine from Les Miserables has to say about that.

Absolutely one of my favorite aspects of this book is Clinton’s voice. It’s an incredibly personal account, written from a first-person perspective, as if she’s having a conversation with you. It’s easy to connect to her, especially if you share the emotions which come breaking through the pages. She’s constantly making references to pop-culture, to TV shows like Game of Thrones, and shares opinions on all of them.

She’s also fantastically snarky. She makes sure to poke Russian President Vladamir Putin in the eye, and one of my favorite lines in the book was, “Good ‘get’ for the Times; they really ate CNN’s lunch on that one” (pg. 60) in reference to an analysis of her lunch at Chipotle  conducted by The New York Times. As Clinton says a few sentences later, “…sometimes a burrito bowl is just a burrito bowl.”

The FBI wasn’t the Federal Bureau of Ifs or Innuendos.

The book delves fairly deeply into the controversy surrounding her use of emails. The above quote is from a long section related to the press coverage of the emails, the way that congress investigated them, and especially James Comey’s conduct in the investigation, his much-castigated press conference admonishing Clinton, and his general mishandling of the entire affair. She lays out her case using quotes from respectable and credible sources with a rather complete timeline, and she shows how biased The New York Times was in its reporting. She gives stats and data about the slant of the news coverage about her emails compared to other campaign issues, and shows how all of that dominated the narrative of the campaign.

Of course, I’m already primed to agree with her about the way the political press handles politics and policy reporting. I didn’t have any negative experiences personally when I ran for office, but I’ve long seen how the 24/7 news coverage demands creating narratives about scandal to get those sweet, sweet clicks and views. Policy and facts are rarely covered, while sensationalist pap is unrelentingly broadcast at all hours. Experts have been swapped out for pundits and talking heads who are, in my judgment, wrong 90% of the time and right merely by accident in their critiques and predictions. Truly our newsmedia is failing us.

I’m coming around to the idea that what we need more than anything at this moment in America is what you might call ‘radical empathy.

The book did leave me uneasy specifically in one regard. Throughout the text Clinton talks about how her faith and spirituality play an important role in her life and the actions she takes. I respect that, of course, just as I hope she would respect my lack of faith and spirituality as an atheist and secular humanist. However, she says that faith and spirituality play a big part in civic virtue. My problem with this is not in the inclusion of faith and spirituality in the conversation or as an aspect of civic virtue for some people. What worries me is that this feels exclusionary. I’m left to ask if my values fit in with this conception of civic virtue, and I honestly don’t know the answer to that. In the past I’ve been in conversations with people who have said that “the Democratic Party cannot be the party of atheists.”

It seems unnecessarily exclusionary to me, and I react with dismay at these kinds of sentiments. I understand that faith and spirituality play a huge role in many people’s lives. I don’t have an inherent problem with that, and I want to include them in the party and the process of government. But they’re not the only components of civic virtue, and I would argue that they’re not even intrinsic in a general sense. I really don’t want to litigate this issue anymore, but if I’m to be told that the Democratic Party doesn’t have a spot for me because I’m an atheist then I’m left to wonder why I should support that party.

But I’m not cynical enough, yet, to think that it was meant to be exclusionary. A lot of the book is dedicated to the proposition that what’s needed in politics is less anger and resentment, but more empathy and conversation. I know how hard this will be to achieve, and for me personally it might be a lot to ask for me to empathize with people who are fundamentally opposed to my values or even my basic existence as a biracial person. However, I’m willing to try because I think empathy should be our rallying cry as we push back on the politics of division and anger. As Present Barack Obama often said, “I am my brother’s keeper.”

Things are going to be hard for a long time. But we’re going to be okay. All of us.

Despite how badly the election turned out, the book does end on a hopeful note. She quotes from Tala Nashawati, the student speaker at Wellesley’s 2017 graduation ceremony, “You are rare and unique. Let yourself be flawed. Go proudly and confidently into the world with your blinding hes to show everyone who’s boss and break every glass ceiling that still remains” (pg. 464). She juxtaposes this against the hopelessness and despair a lot of people felt after Donald Trump was declared the President-Elect, and it’s effective. Don’t give in to the bad impulses or despair.

Keep fighting. Keep pushing forward. Things change, and they eventually get better. The fact that we can go from NASA telling Hillary Clinton that they don’t accept women as astronauts to her winning the popular vote by three million votes is testament to that.

In the final analysis, I found What Happened to be a good read. I give it a rating of 5 out of 5 stars, and recommend it to anyone who is interested in politics, policy, and current events.

Thank you for reading!

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Ultimate Book Tag! and Other Things

March 8, 2015 Leave a comment

First things first: I recently got hired at McLaren Greater Lansing as a Nurse Assistant. I am very excited about this job and I am eager to learn more skills. Everyone I’ve met so far at the hospital has been terrific, and I really believe that I’m going to enjoy my time there.

Second things second: I’ve been working for a while on internet stuff for the Clinton County Democratic Party as the IT Specialist. I’ve actually gotten a lot of work done, though by looking at the website you’d never guess it. Still, there are a lot of other factors that go into developing a decent internet presence for a political party than just the website, which is the next big thing to tackle on my seemingly ever-expanding agenda as IT Specialist.

And now, Ultimate Book Tag! I took this from Jackie Smith’s blog A Platform of Sorts. I haven’t written here in a while because life has been busy, so I thought I’d make this post fun.

1. Do you get sick while reading in the car?

Nope. I’ve read in cars for as long as I remember, and never had any problems with it. Even now, when I’m a passenger in a car and reading my Kindle, it doesn’t bother me.

2. Which author’s writing style is completely unique to you and why?

Douglas Adams. Hands down. And it’s not just his writing style, but how turns my expectations on their head. For instance, when describing the Vogon ships in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he writes, “They hung in the air much the same way bricks don’t.” His writing style influences my fiction writing in ways too numerous to count.

My general rule of thumb, thanks to Adams, is “when in doubt, give everything an inner voice. Even composite board bookshelves.”

3. Harry Potter Series or the Twilight Saga? Give 3 points to defend your answer.

Harry Potter:

a. It’s not Twilight.

b. It’s more original.

c. It’s not Twilight.

4. Do you carry a book bag? If so, what is it in (besides books…)?

I carry a book bag when I need to. I’ll either put my notebooks, folders, computer, or papers in it. I tend to keep all of the papers for my writing projects organized into folders or binders.

5. Do you smell your books?

Who doesn’t like the smell of wood pulp?

6. Books with or without little illustrations?

It really depends on the book, doesn’t it? Sometimes an illustration adds to the narrative in complex or unexpected ways, and that’s very refreshing.

7. What book did you love while reading but discovered later it wasn’t quality writing?

A Song of Ice and Fire–the entire series. The stories are engrossing, complex, original–but Martin’s prose is atrocious. He can spend three pages describing what someone is eating and I just want to tear those pages out to get on with the damn story. His saving graces are the realistic characters he invents and his willingness to go places most writers fear to tread.

8. Do you have any funny stories involving books from your childhood? Please share!

I used to build tunnels with my books so my model trains could go through them. That’s not really that funny, but it’s all I’ve got.

9. What is the thinnest book on your shelf?

The Trial and Death of Socrates, translated by G. M. A. Grube.

IMG_057410. What is the thickest book on your shelf?

It was a close contest, but the winner was The Norton Shakespeare, Second Edition.

IMG_0575 IMG_0576This brick ends on page 3416.

11. Do you write as well as read? Do you see yourself in the future as being an author?

Yes, I love to write, and I do see myself being a published author in the future. It might take a while, what this this life thing, but I do love writing. If you want to preview some of my short fiction, head on over to my other blog, Fictional Heuristics.

12. When did you get into reading?

I still have my copy of Itchy Itchy Chicken Pox from when I was a kid.

13. What is your favorite classic book?

Ofer-hyda ne gym, maere cempa!

Beowulf.

14. In school was your best subject Language Arts/English?

Yes, actually. I won awards for my screenwriting, for being an outstanding writer, and I entered writing contests all of the time. It really wasn’t a surprise when I decided to major in English.

15. If you were given a book as a present that you had read before and hated…what would you do?

I would express my opinion of the book in a friendly way, but keep it in my collection. It’s why I haven’t thrown away Ayn Rand books.

16. What is a lesser known series that you know of that is similar to
Harry Potter or the Hunger Games?

I don’t think I know of one. I haven’t actually read The Hunger Games and the Harry Potter series is pretty much a one-off for me in young adult fantasy.

17. What is your favorite word?

Queue. Look how funny it is. I want to pronounce it que-ue.

18. Are you a nerd, dork, or dweeb? Or all of the above?

I’m a geek. I have models of the Enterprise and the time machine from Back to the Future. I have so much Isaac Asimov it poses a small fire hazard.

19. Vampires or Fairies? Why?

I’d go with vampires for no other reason than I think Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a good book.

20. Shapeshifters or Angels? Why?

Shapeshifters are more interesting. Plus, Odo.

odo-in-tux21. Spirits or Werewolves? Why?

Neither. Boring. Overdone. Next?

22. Zombies or Vampires? Why?

Zombies, because if you can make a zombie movie like George Romero that offers up a critique of consumerism in American culture, you can make on out of a book. Max Brooks comes close.

23. Love Triangle or Forbidden Love?

Neither. Boring, cliche, just…come up with something more original.

24. AND FINALLY: Full on romance books or action-packed with a few love scenes mixed in?

If a choice between the two? The latter. I can deal with love subplots if they’re done right. Romance isn’t my thing.

Well, that was fun! I hope that everyone has had a great International Women’s Day!

A-to-Z Challenge Day Twenty-Three: Wrestling with My Conscience

April 26, 2014 1 comment

Today’s post was originally meant to be a light-hearted retrospective of how hard it is to maintain good writing quality in the face of writing a blog post every day. It’s not that I haven’t loved doing it, but I usually like to take my time so I can write something with high quality. Instead, I have chosen to take some time today to write about something that I think is important.

As I have written before, I am running as the Democratic Candidate for State Representative of Michigan’s 93rd Congressional District. It’s my first foray into politics and my first time running for office, so it will be a great learning experience. Already I am getting questionnaires from groups and PACS who are looking for candidates to endorse (or, well, the other kind of thing they do).

Today, I got a letter from Americans for Prosperity of Michigan inviting me to fill out a questionnaire on several different topics. Well, in all honesty, the word “questionnaire” is a bit strong for what they’ve sent me. Enclosed was a letter explaining who they are with a statement that the questionnaire is meant to be “simple  and straightforward.” Simple and straightforward, in this case, means a total of seventeen yes/no questions using loaded words and giving no space to write an explanation of your policy stances.

They also inform me that they will reserve the right to distribute my answers in “any way [they] see fit” and that they “reserve the right to inform citizens of any candidate’s unwillingness to answer these questions.” Well, if that’s the case, then I will not be filling out their childish questionnaire and, instead, I will be writing more extensive answers on every question that they’ve asked right here on this blog. I feel that’s fair, right?

Before we get into that, I feel it is important to describe who and what Americans for Prosperity is, and I think you’ll see why it is important we address that. According to Wikipedia (a really good go-to source for these kinds of things), Americans for Prosperity is a “conservative political advocacy group” and “has been called ‘one of the most powerful conservative organizations in electoral politics’.” Americans for Prosperity also has ties to Koch Industries, lead by powerful energy magnates David Koch, who was chairman of the AFP Foundation, and Charles Koch, his brother. Americans for Prosperity has been accused of airing misleading advertisements, and has been given “pants-on-fire” ratings for the veracity of claims but independent fact-checking organizations.

They are also, of course, the group behind the nationally reported attack ads on the Personal Protection and Affordable Care Act that have featured misleading or hard to fact-check claims. There are three of them that have been fact-checked that I want to talk about briefly here. The first one, which aired here in Michigan, is about a caner patient who lost her previous health plan and had to get a new one that was in line with the ACA’s standards. While I sympathize with Boonstra, the ad was revealed as misleading. Glenn Kessler, writing for The Washington Post, reviewed the ad and wrote:

Meanwhile, Boonstra told the Detroit News that her monthly premiums were cut in half, from $1,100 a month to $571. That’s a savings of $529 a month. Over the course of a year, the premium savings amounts to $6,348—just two dollars shy of the out-of-pocket maximum.

We were unable to reach Boonstra, but on the fact of it, the premium savings appear to match whatever out-of-pocket costs she now faces.

Glenn Klesser originally wrote that he awarded the ad two “Pinocchios,” the rating system he uses to determine the level of dishonesty in a claim or ad. However, after some more investigating, he downgraded the ad to three “Pinocchios” and added:

Take a close look at the subtle difference in the language of these two ads sponsored by the limited-government group Americans for Prosperity. The first ad claimed the out-of-pocket costs were so high that “it’s unaffordable.” When that line was questioned—and Democrats demanded proof be given to television stations running the ad—the issue became much fuzzier. Suddenly, it became “a plan that doesn’t work for me.” That is much more subjective and harder to fact check.

I’d once again like to reiterate that I have nothing but sympathy for Julie Boonstra and that it is my fervent hope that things work out well for her. I am only investigating the veracity of these political advertisements. And the investigation, so far, is not looking good for AFP. They subtly changed the language of the advertisement, and as Kessler notes, some of the claims were incorrect. According to Kessler, she can keep her doctor, her premiums were cut in half, and she has a premier gold plan. Kessler writes: “In other words, her old plan cost $13,200 a year—before co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses. The new plan is $11,952—including co-pays and out of pocket expenses. That’s a savings of more than $1,200 a year.” It’s plan to see that she will be getting the same care with significant savings.

So, in the end, this is an ACA victory, and a success story. Stories like these are why I support the PPACA. I wish Julie well and I hope that she continues to get the treatment that she needs.

The second ad features a family from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Glenn Kessler also covered this one, and of this ad he wrote:

Wendt published an opinion article in which she provided additional details about her options and confirmed that she choose not to select a plan on healthcare.gov that could have saved her thousands of dollars a year. Our colleagues at FactCheck.org ran the numbers and found several options that “would provide better benefits at less cost than the plan” Wendt currently has.

For this reason, Kessler awarded the ad two “Pinocchios” and noted that the claims in the ad were hard to swallow. And I have to agree: the claims do not seem to bear under scrutiny. While I take no joy in sussing out these details, it is important that we consider where the information is coming from, and whether or not the information is true or false. In this case, it seems that both ads have had misleading claims that have ill-served the people of Michigan.

Indeed, the article by FactCheck.org that Kessler references reports that, “It turns out that Wendt found a cheaper, subsidized plan on the exchange, but declined to accept it because she did not want her children on the Children’s Health Insurance Program.” She had an opportunity to pay less, but decided not to because she didn’t want her children enrolled in CHIP, which is certainly her right. The FactCheck.org article is very well-written and researched and definitely worth a full read. It further states that, “We don’t take issue with Wendt’s decision, but rather her assertion that the Affordable Care Act is ‘destroying the middle class,’ when other families faced with the same choices may have made a different decision that could save them thousands of dollars a year.” This is also what I take issue with because it obfuscates the facts of the new health care law (here’s a third article by Glenn Kessler on another misleading anti-Affordable Care Act AFP ad which he rates with two “Pinocchios”).

But these ads also highlight another issue which is vital in our democracy: money. How much money is being pumped into our elections and by whom? The Detroit News reports that:

Americans for Prosperity, backed by the Koch brothers, said it will spend $1.5 million for the three-week ad buy. It puts the group’s spending in Michigan at around $5 million — almost all targeted against Peters for his vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

$1,500,000 for a three-week as buy, with total spending at $5,000,000. Five million dollars. And, as I wrote above, the ads are largely misleading and have been debunked from a number of sources. I don’t know about you, but five million dollars is a lot of money to me. Personally, I have spent maybe $20 on my campaign so far, not because I haven’t been campaigning, but because I am not raising funds or taking money from outside groups. I will not be in the pocket of special interests or other outside groups who want to throw money around to influence elections.

With that rather expansive background, let’s get to my answers for their survey. They ask seventeen question in five categories with two question in an “additional questions” area. Each question is yes/no and offers no room for exposition.

Healthcare:

1) Support setting up a state healthcare exchange in response to Obamacare?

First of all, it seems to me that this is a loaded question because Obamacare is a word the polls more negatively than the actual name of the legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. I shall address it by writing ACA when I make my responses.

Now, to answer this question, yes, I do support setting up state healthcare exchanges as per the ACA. Personally, the ACA has worked for me as it allowed me to stay on my parents’ health insurance while I was attaining my bachelor degree at the University of Michigan and afterward, as took the science and health classes required for a Master’s Degree in Physician Assistant Studies. This was vital for me as I have a heart condition called aortic valve stenosis that requires biannual echocardiograms and other expensive tests (with costs that can reach up to $6,000). But more than that, a state-run exchange would better help me find a plan that would work for me, as well as others like me. Recent reports even indicate that Southern states don’t want the ACA repealed.

2) Support the state of Michigan’s expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare?

Yes, I do support the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA. As this document, provided by the State of Michigan, explains:

Medicaid would be expanded to 133% of the Federal Poverty Level, meaning that those living at or near poverty (about $30,000 per year for a family of four) would receive health care. In total, 320,000 Michiganders wil be covered in the first year, 470,000 will be covered by 2021, and Michigan’s uninsured population will drop by about 46%.

If these figures are correct, we can lower the population of uninsured people in Michigan by 46% (which I would call a good thing), which means giving health coverage to people who didn’t previously have it. So you have to be thinking, now, how much does this cost us? Well, the report claims that, “There is no net cost to the state over the next 21 years, and Michigan will save $320 million in uncompensated care costs by 2022 and $206 million in General Fund costs in 2014 alone.” So it saves the state money because it decreases uncompensated care costs.

How could you possibly oppose this? It has positive outcomes for Michigan residents and positive outcomes on Michigan’s budget.

3) Vote to allow an “opt-out” of Obamacare when possible?

No, I will not vote to allow an “opt-out” of the ACA when possible. This feels like a sound-byte ready question to hammer people with. I’m not really sure how this law would work or what the consequences would be if it passed. How does one “opt-out” of a law that is designed to ensure you can’t be denied for pre-existing conditions, or allows children to stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26? Is it an opt-out of the mandate? Or an opt-out of…what? Are you going to buy a private insurance policy? Because all of them will be regulated under the ACA. This question is not clear and I can find no real credible information on what the legislation would look like, so my answer is a solid and firm no.

Energy:

1) Support a 100% competitive electric energy market? (Background: currently it’s only 10% of the market with thousands of customers on a waiting list to switch energy suppliers.)

I don’t support a 100% competitive electric energy market, but I certainly do support competitive energy markets. It’s obvious that we need to be critical of where the electric energy comes from and how much a competitive market helps consumers. I would have obvious questions: how do we regulate a 100% competitive market and how does the average consumer get informed about the choices of providers?

2) Support raising Michigan’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)?

The Renewable Portfolio Standard is a fancy term for a regulation that mandates an increase in energy from renewable sources. A full report on the status of the Michigan RPS can be found here.

In the last election cycle, Michigan voters were given the choice to raise the RPS to 25% by 2025 as a constitutional amendment, which was voted down with 60% opposing. The current RPS is 10% by 2015. Perhaps 15% over the course of 10 years is a little high, but I have to say that, generally, I support raising the RPS over time so we can transition to renewable forms of energy. That being said, I am not totally opposed to nuclear power. I do, howveer, prefer biomass, geothermal, wind, and solar power. And with the leaps in photovoltaic cell technology, solar power isn’t the pipe dream it used to be.

3) Vote to ban the practice of Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) in energy exploration?

Honestly, I think there are too many questions about the safety of the chemicals and processes in fracking for me to give it any support. I wouldn’t support a ban, per se, but I would definitely support serious investigations into the safety of the fracking tech for consumers near the sites. Does it, for instance, cause earthquakes and poison water supplies? It certainly seems there is a lot of evidence to the positive for both of them, as Ohio has found links between fracking and earthquakes. This data and information is not something we can ignore, and it needs to be addressed before we can really start the fracking process.

I want to know: is fracking safe? The evidence points to the answering being no.

Academics:

1) Vote to remove Michigan from the list of states adhering to common core standards?

I would not vote to remove Michigan from the list. I will acknowledge that there are problems with the common core standards at the lower grade levels, such as math tests that are problematic or perhaps developmentally inappropriate (and I have addressed the questions about certain math problems here), but it seems that the standards are fairly more sensible at the high school level.

I can’t ignore very real concerns that the common core standards place too much emphases on test taking and argumentative writing, but these are all things we can address within the context of the standards.

2) Support using student performance/progress in determining teacher pay & job security?

I have questions about such things. How do we assess student performance and progress in relation to teacher’s teaching ability? Is it how well they do on standardized tests? How well they fare in grades?

How does parental responsibility factor in, as well as the responsibility of the students themselves?

In short, I don’t see how to make this work in any practical or fair way. Why put the blame on the teachers when the parents and the students are also accountable for how well they do in class? I don’t ever recall hearing from any of my parents, grandparents, or family that it was the teacher’s fault I did poorly on a test. It was always my failure to prepare, and I can’t argue with that. When does the student or parent’s responsibility end and the teacher’s begin?

3) Support expanding the number and accessibility of cyber schools in Michigan?

No. The news I see shows that they generally have abysmal records, and I am wary of any private virtual institution.

Roads:

1) Vote for higher fuel taxes? (Background: Michigan has the 5th highest taxes on gas in the country).

According to this article, MDOT states that “state fuel tax revenue, which is dedicated exclusively to road and transportation funding, has been falling since 2004 as a result of inflation and increasingly-efficient vehicles.”

It’s true that we have one of the highest taxes on gas in the country. It’s also true that we have crumbling roads and bridges in need of maintenance. If not a fuel tax to fund road repair, a use tax. We cannot avoid this problem and it will cost money to fix, and each year we ignore it, the costs only increase.

2) Vote for higher vehicle registration fees?

We might consider this for repairing the roads as vehicle registration fee increases would be a good way to direct a use tax at motorists, so people who don’t use roads aren’t being taxed. My last vehicle registration fee was $116, so I already feel the pinch. Still, if it would save my suspension and tires wear and tear and possible other, more costly damage, I think it would be worth it.

3) Work to dedicate all revenues collected from fuel taxes to transportation purposes: primarily road repairs and construction?

As the above article indicates, this seems to already be the case, so I guess I would just support the continuation of such.

Taxes:

1) Support a repeal of the Michigan Personal Property Tax (PPT)?

I wouldn’t support a full repeal, no. As this article from the Detroit Free Press mentions, “But state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, said she feared the state would be the ultimate loser, with the loss of $300 million in tax revenues in the first year.”

I would like to know how local communities will cope with the loss of revenues, and how a $300,000,000 hole in the budget will be filled.

I support restructuring and modernizing the PPT, however.

2) Actively support and vote to lower the Michigan State income tax rate back to 3.9% or less? (Background: The current rate is 4.25%–in 2005 it was 3.9%)

As with all tax issues, we have to ask how we make up for the loss of revenue in the budget, and if we slash the budget, which parts we slash. A balanced approach to this question requires more than just asking to support tax cuts. Nobody likes high taxes, but at the same time we have to assess where the revenues to fund state and local services will be coming from. This website shows that Michigan has a relatively low state income tax compared to other states.

3) Vote for appropriations that grow at or less than the rate of inflation?

I can’t support appropriations that grow less than the rate of inflation. MSU notes that “If appropriations had been increased at the average national rate for five years, MSU would have an additional $140 million in state support, sufficient to reduce tuition by approximately 21 percent.”

If appropriations grew less than that rate of inflation, we’d fall even further behind in vital areas like higher education. It’s important that we keep investing so things are properly funded.

Additional Questions:

1) Support state tax revenue being used for the city of Detroit to emerge from bankruptcy?

It depends on how much state tax revenue would be used. It’s important that we revitalize the state’s economy, and doing this would probably mean helping out the communities in Michigan that are currently having issues like bankruptcy.

I can’t outright say I would support it.

2) Support placing all government workers (including teachers) into a defined contribution and retirement plan?

I need more information on what this “defined contribution and retirement plan” looks like before I can comment on it.

And that’s it. It’s a lengthy post and it took me hours to write it, but it was necessary given the brevity of the questionnaire itself and the group that sent it. All of these questions were answered sincerely and to the best of my ability in the short time I had. I will not be sending the questionnaire back to Americans for Prosperity of Michigan because I was not impressed with its quality.

I imagine that they might use some of what I have said here against me in some way during the election, and that’s okay. I’m being honest and upfront, checking my sources, and doing my best to stand up for the best interests of the Michigan residents I hope to represent, and even those that I would not. I hope that people interested in my positions will find their way here, and more than that, I hope they will engage me in a reasonable and open dialogue about these issues. That’s really what I’m after here: dialogues about how to move Michigan forward for the better.

And I would rather do that free of moneyed and special interests that, as I have shown above, aren’t entirely trustworthy.

Thank you for reading.

Josh Derke

Democratic Candidate for State Representative, 93rd Congressional District

A-to-Z Challenge Day Eighteen: Running

April 21, 2014 Leave a comment

No, I’m not talking about jogging, sprinting, or dashing. I’m talking about running for a public office in an election. I’ve been doing my homework on the issues that are affecting the 93rd Congressional District and the State of Michigan, and I’ve been compiling information in a binder to keep it organized.

This is the easy part; the part I’m good at. I can absorb and synthesize information at a quick rate. The tricky part is going to be the campaigning. I enjoy meeting new people and talking with them, and part of the reason I decided to do this was so that I could get more involved with local issues. So I’ll be knocking on doors and going to public festivals in the district and hopefully participating in rallies with other Democratic candidates as the election draws near.

I would be remiss if I didn’t think that my stance on religion was going to be a bit of an issue. It has been suggested that I hide it because the implication is that a non-believer is somehow not worthy of being elected to an office. But this betrays a rather important ethic for me: honesty. If asked, I would answer honestly and detail my position, and listen to what anyone had to say on it.

I’m always willing to be convinced I’m wrong, and I will admit when I have been convinced so. And this applies to anything: religion, epistemology, politics, philosophy, morals, ethics, art–everything. I’m not as knowledgeable on all of these topics as I would like to be, but I try to hold my own.

So I’m going to be honest: I won’t hide anything pertinent to this run. My politics: liberal-leaning with some conservatism. I come from a family with a history in labor. My grandfather worked at GM and my father was employed at Woolhert (I can’t remember how it is spelled, I was very young) before the factory closed. I am very sympathetic to collective bargaining and the ability of workers to unionize. I was not impressed with the way that the Michigan State Legislature passed the right-to-work legislation, and even less impressed with the law itself.

I also believe that the government doesn’t have any business getting involved with people’s private lives. I, along with many of my friends, celebrated Judge Bernard Friedman’s decision overturning Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. I’ve read his decision (which can be found here) and found it to be conservative and very well-reasoned in nature. The State produced a surprisingly weak defense with a few of their witnesses being dismissed. I await the appeals decision, hoping the ruling is upheld.

From one point of view it can be seen that this is overturning the “will of the voters.” To that I say that our government is a Constitutional Republic. It protects the rights of minorities against possible oppression by a majority, so that rights can’t be voted away or denied. As our history has shown us, this isn’t a perfect system. Systemic oppression of minorities has occurred in our history. One of the most visible instances is Jim Crow. If we are truly law-abiding, then we have to acknowledge that Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution clearly says that

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

That’s pretty powerful and intentional wording.

Study after study after study shows that homosexual parents raise children that are equal to the children raised by heterosexual parents. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology states that

Current research shows that children with gay and lesbian parents do not differ from children with heterosexual parents in their emotional development or in their relationships with peers and adults. It is important for parents to understand that it is the the quality of the parent/child relationship and not the parent’s sexual orientation that has an effect on a child’s development.

There is very little or no convincing data which shows that children of homosexual parents are in any way disadvantaged by their parents’ sexual orientation.

As with everything, my approach to these issues is based on honest observation of the data. And the data says that homosexual parents raise good kids. Denying homosexual couples with children the right to marry is therefore harmful to the families because it removes the stabilizing element that marriage has on child-rearing.

I also support raising the minimum wage. Look, I’ve been there. When I first started working in high school I made $6.00 an hour. It sometimes barely covered the expense of fueling my vehicle, but it was good to have money for lunch and help my parents while I could. Now, however, I see news that the people who fill these minimum wage jobs are trying to raise families. I can’t even imagine how they try to do that on $7.40 an hour. Further complicating this is the difficulty in finding full-time employment, and thus creating a need for finding multiple jobs.

According to the CBO, the number of workers estimated to be displaced from their jobs if the minimum wage is raised to $10.10 would be 500,000. However, the CBO report further states:

Of those workers who will earn up to $10.10 under current law, most—about 16.5 million, according to CBO’s estimates—would have higher earnings during an average week in the second half of 2016 if the $10.10 option was implemented.

Is it possible that raising the minimum wage would result in lost jobs? Yes, it is. But it seems that the benefits outweigh the potential downsides. However, the report notes that these things are notoriously difficult to predict. I can imagine that a similar argument was made when they raised the minimum wages previously.

Paul Krugman, a Nobel laureate in economics, disagrees with the CBO’s findings. In an op-ed column he lays out several good reasons to raise the minimum wage (focusing on a $9 an hour figure with subsequent increases to match inflation), writing that

the current level of the minimum wage is very low by any reasonable standard. For about four decades, increases in the minimum wage have consistently fallen behind inflation, so that in real terms the minimum wage is substantially lower than it was in the 1960s. Meanwhile, worker productivity has doubled.”

He asks, “Isn’t it time for a raise?” And I say yes, yes it is time for a raise. Krugman further writes that “the great preponderance of the evidence from these natural experiments points to little if any negative effect of minimum wage increases on employment.” If true, then raising the minimum wage would have very little impact on employment. But what we can surmise from this data is that since the wages haven’t been keeping up with inflation, and workers making minimum wage are making less than they did in the 1960s; real earnings have actually been decreasing. Sure, the number of dollars may be higher, but the dollars buy less than they did then. So, in effect, people are working just as hard or in some cases even harder and able to buy less.

Needless to say, I find this arrangement appalling. I learned that if I won this election my annual pay would be around the $70,000 range. I don’t get why the people in charge of the laws that govern minimum wage make this much while so many in the State of Michigan are struggling to make ends meet. And I, like many, found Governor Snyder’s declaration of only accepting $1 a year for his first year was insulting. Reports show he made $1.9 million from other sources, so he didn’t actually need that income to survive. I don’t think he can empathize with people who live from paycheck to paycheck.

There are many other issues I shall be writing about as the year unfolds. There are many concerns that need to be addressed with the state government and how it operates, relating to issues ranging from education to maintenance of roads.

By the way, tired of all of the potholes? Where is the money to fix the roads? Read on! I can’t fathom why they’re allowing this to drag on while our state infrastructure deteriorates to the point that Michigan now ranks as one of the worst states in road condition. And, according to the article, pushing back action on repairing them will only further increase the cost.

In 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder asked the Legislature to increase highway funding by $1.2 billion a year through a combination of higher fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees. But those requests did not pass the Legislature. Each year lawmakers delay, the cost of repairing the roads rises by an estimated $100 million.

Every year it increases the cost by $100,000,000. This is not something that we can just indefinitely push aside. If we do not address this problem now it will only grow more and more expensive. And what’s worse is that the costs of delaying are foisted on us in car repairs and accidents because of the bad road conditions. It’s economic loss, there in black and white.

So why isn’t this being addressed now?

Snyder’s latest proposal is for $1.3 billion a year in higher fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees, but, so far, not a single legislator in the Republican-controlled House or Senate has agreed to introduce the bill.

In what’s become a common refrain, Republican Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons recently told a Grand Rapids gathering the state Department of Transportation had not made its case for more money.

The case has not been made? The condition of many motorists’ vehicles tells a different story.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate has not acted on it or has been slow to act on it. If the most recent efforts fail it will only delay the much-needed action and increase the cost of fixing the problem in the future.

When I was growing up I worked a few part-time jobs that convinced me to go to college and get educated, so I worked hard in high school to rise above my station and I was awarded with a full-tuition scholarship from the University of Michigan for academic achievement and because I displayed scholarly potential. I’m a hard worker and one of my life’s goals is to help improve the lives of others. It’s why I’ve decided to go into medicine. If I can help people in the Michigan State government, however, by getting elected then I will fight to ensure that the people get a fair voice for their concerns.

And maybe my personal views don’t match yours. I do not consider this a problem as a free exchange of ideas is what makes a democracy function. Tell me your concerns, convince me that your argument is correct, and I’ll work to improve the state of the Michigan government and the state of the the State. The legislature we have elected now is clearly not working in the best interests of the people of Michigan.

It’s time for a change.

A-to-Z Challange Day…um…Something: I, Joshua

April 10, 2014 2 comments

Yeah, I know how to count. I just wanted to make a bad joke in the title because, really, that’s a part of who I am. Jocose, yes, but serious about the things that are important. I’ve been told by a person I greatly admire and respect that I can sometimes cover my true feelings on a topic with my goofy sense of humor because I might take it too seriously and have visceral emotional reactions.

It’s perhaps because I seem to empathize with people very easily, so when I see some kind of injustice it really impacts me. I want to work to right it, and perhaps raise awareness of the issues. But sometimes I feel so tiny in the face of the world that I grow despondent, and I wonder what kinds of changes I can make.

I’ve done some work on campaigns, like Barack Obama for President in 2008 and in 2012 (registering voters, talking to people, organizing, etc.) and I found that very fulfilling because I got to meet people and learn from their perspectives, and have my own views challenged. I have a bit of a reputation for being kind of hot-headed, but I think that’s somewhat unfair. I really enjoy reasonable debates and discussions and coming away with the ability to change my mind on a topic; though, to be sure, I do defend my positions if I feel strongly about them.

I was recently given the opportunity to run for as the Democratic Party Candidate as a State Representative for the 93rd Congressional District in the State of Michigan, and I took it. I have no illusions about my chances; it’s a conservative district with an accomplished incumbent so I have an uphill battle. But I feel that I could do a lot of good advocating for the people in this district.

So that’s one very big way I can make a difference. Even if I don’t win I can connect with people, learn from them, and get more involved on the local and state-wide issues that affect the people around me.

Even so, that’s not the whole picture of who I am. I once wrote a Creative Nonfiction piece entitled Toward a Definition of Self in which I tried to come to an idea of who I am. Later I came up with a more complex version involving necessary and sufficient conditions, and I realized something: who I am, or my perception of self, always changes.

And I think that’s kind of scary in some respects. I’d like to think that I know me–that I am in touch with who I am and who I have been, but as time goes on I have different ideas, opinions, and perspectives. Gaining information and experience tends to change a person, and not always in predictable ways.

When I was younger I saw my father almost lose his leg in an accident involving a chainsaw. It was fairly traumatic, and I remember fainting on the spot when I saw what had happened. I would later learn that I was somewhat hemophobic and I couldn’t handle the sight of blood or gore, even in movies. Now, however, I am certified to work as a nurse aide and am looking to get a Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant Studies. In a couple of years I was able to work past those issues and now they no longer bother me.

Just a few years ago I would have called someone crazy for saying that I’d be in the medical field, and actually enjoy it. And, really, that’s part of the reason I’m really interesting in it. Aside from my geeky obsession with science and learning, I really enjoy helping people. My times working with the elderly have been extremely rewarding, and I’ve learned a good deal from them.

So I think in the end, what really defines me is the desire to learn and to better myself. Though my opinions and beliefs and perspectives might change and evolve around my desire to learn, that desire will always be there. I want to be the best human being I can be. So I’ll make mistakes, I’ll go where my heart takes me, and I’ll learn from all of that.

Miscellany

December 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Well, the last semester was a success. I four-pointed all of my classes and now look forward to organic chemistry and human anatomy next semester. I’m very enthusiastic about my progress toward becoming a physician’s assistant, but I do have to say that I miss microbiology. I may decide to make a series of posts about topics in microbiology in the future because I find the field of study fascinating.

Other things in my life have been proceeding at a healthy pace. I’ve been adding more to the story I started writing for NaNoWriMo and I’m optimistic that the rough draft will be complete in another month or so. I have also just finished George R.R. Martin’sA Feast for Crows” and I have to admit that I wasn’t as impressed with this installment as I was with the previous novels. I gather that this is the consensus opinion. I don’t really have much to say about it in terms of a review except that I think Martin continues to display his impressive talent at writing characters while displaying a horribly clumsy writing style.

My friend Crystal has a website that I have linked my blog to that talks about education. I think it’s very well done and I appreciate her writing style. It’s called “edunewsyoucanuse” and it’s fairly easy to tell she’s very passionate about her chosen profession.

I’m planning on writing a post about video game violence and aggression, and I’ve already started to do a great deal of research on the topic. I take this topic very seriously and have explored it in great detail in the past. Though I am a fan of video games I don’t write off the very real psychological effects that violent video games can have. With that said, however, I do not believe that the right answer for dealing with horrible tragedies like the events in Newtown is to attack video games, and I will go into more detail later.

I’m also very excited about The Great Gatsby movie. It was one of my favorite books in high school and, from what I can see, it will be a very interesting take on the story.

Via io9, I ran across a post displaying some very interesting artwork from Melanie Schultz that shows a ponderous William T. Riker. It’s actually really fantastic.

And, finally, I’ve been planning to write a series of articles about Bioshock 1 and 2. I’ve completed a playthrough of Bioshock and am almost done with a playthough of Bioshock 2. I have taken a lot of notes on each and I have some pretty interesting ideas about them and hope to discuss a lot of topics. I know that I’ve also got a lot of other essays to write, including a number on Battlestar Galactica. I guess with the upcoming release of Bioshock Infinite I want to focus on these games.

Anyway, I wish everyone a happy new year. I don’t know if I’ll be writing another post before then.

Jon Stewart on SCOTUS Video Game Ruling

July 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Jon Stewart tackled the recent Supreme Court ruling on video games in his signature comedic way, highlighting some of the absurdities of the ruling that I hadn’t touched on previously in my article.

I think Jon Stewart made good, salient points which shouldn’t be ignored. I’ve often asked why US culture has such an aversion and taboo against sexuality, and I can only come up with some pseudo-puritanical reason. I don’t really think that encapsulates all of it, but Christianity certainly has had a great deal of influence over our collective cultural consternation about sexuality.

Stewart also goes into the politics of the situation, which, because of the nature of this ruling, is extremely relevant. Like I said previously, I feel that culture-warrior politicians use this as a wedge issue to get credibility for caring about families and all that nonsense. It’s reminiscent of the controversy that started the Comics Code Authority.

Take note, the video contains graphic content of an extremely violent nature. It grossed me out.