Thursday, February 23, 2017

Shimkus Townhall Primer

Here’s a primer if you’re heading to see Rep. Shimkus at one of his district offices or are planning to email him. 

This is a list of the legislation he’s co-sponsored or spoke on the floor of the House during the 115th Congressional Session.
  • Shimkus co-sponsored House Joint Resolution 38. It allows coal companies and other businesses to dump chemicals into streams without EPA enforcing clean water provisions.
  • This bill became law. 

  • He also co-sponsored H.R. 354, the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2017, an unconstitutional act. 

  • He also spoke on the record about H.R. 7, which defunds health plans that covers elective abortions of Federal employees, congressionally appropriated funds for abortions in D.C., and restricts elective abortions in federal prisons and through the Peace Corps. 
  • This bill already passed the House.

  • And, Shimkus also co-sponsored H.R. 548 on healthcare liability. Not sure what this is about, but it grants hospitals and emergency departments liability protection. This bill sounds a bit scary if a doctor or other medical personnel would make a grievous error that was avoidable. It would make the facility and the personnel not liable for damages. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Killing Public Schools; Analysis of H.R. 610 and The Choices in Education Act

The Replacement: Choices in Education Act
  • Makes Secretary of Education into glorified application evaluator and check writer.
  • Creates a block grant system to the states.
- This allows Secretary of Education to determine winners and losers.
  • Demands states to create voucher program.
- This allows governors and state legislatures to determine winners and losers.
  • The Secretary determines ratio of funds of block grant money distributed.
- This would severely damage undocumented children, states and local jurisdictions 
           with high undocumented children populations
  • Allows Secretary to create reallotments if state is determined ineligible for grants.
- This exposes the agenda: government wants to punish states with which it disagrees.
  • Re-distributes funds from public schools to private schools to create competition.
- This exposes the agenda: kill public schools.
  • Raises the costs of education through voucher program.
- Each private voucher includes tuition, fees, and transportation, which is higher than public education. 

- This is a direct payment from taxpayers to private businesses.

- The creation of competition by this bill coupled with the higher costs of tuition, fees, 
           and transportation will severely limit funds to public schools.
  • Increases the incentives of homeschooling as a direct payment from the government.
- This has serious limitations for the comprehensive education of students. 

- Is not taxable.

- Is not equitable.
  • Eliminates nutritional requirements in food programs.

The Repeal of Elementary and Secondary Education Act
  • Any grants or contracts awarded prior to H.R. 610 would be voided. 
- This would create instability and uncertainty throughout the country. 

- Specifically, local school districts and jurisdictions awarded grant money or contracts   through the Department of Education would not know if that money would support the   
          programs currently being implemented. 

-This places undue burdens on local school districts and their taxpayers.
  • Actions to Improve Low-Performing Schools would be discontinued.
- The raising of standards and increased accountability in public education would cease. 

- These measures would be especially difficult for schools in areas of high poverty. 

- Technical assistance and capacity building assistance would end. 

- This would eliminate funds to schools and states with under-performing schools. 

- Would end assistance to build private partnerships with foundations, businesses,   community-based orgs, and other organizations to help schools improve.

- Ends compliance monitoring of schools, leading to less accountability.

  • Ends equal access to education.
  • Ends funds for professional development of teachers and staff.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Conversation with My Representative

It was a wonderful opportunity today to go to Neoga for Rep. Shimkus’ District traveling help desk. He ended up not making an appearance, but his district director was quite courteous and knowledgable. She’s been with him for 20 years. 

The majority of the time was occupied with questions and concerns about the Obamacare repeal and replace efforts in Congress. It seems that any answers from Shimkus on this are going to be highly vague. She offered these proposals: mandating people to go to a primary care physician, block grants to states for Medicaid, and high risk pools for pre-existing conditions. 

The array of voices was both conservative, liberal, young and old. I believe by the end of a roundtable on this issue the constituents felt fixing the law seemed a much preferable first line approach. The district director didn’t really respond to this. I asked specifically about taxes being part of any plan to make up the difference between the current law and any replacement. Again, she said it was too soon to really know the shape of the plan.
+Wonderful World

All of the constituents expressed dismay and frustration that after 7 years the GOP had no plan ready to go. Excuses ranged from re-districting, to GOP having offered up plans, and to Harry Reid blocking proposals in the Senate. None of these seemed to pass the smell test with me.

I asked specifically about Shimkus’ position on Sanctuary Cities and the GOP-Trump proposal to deny federal funding to these cities and in some cases states. I cited South Dakota v. Dole from 1987, a 7-2 conservative decision that used states’ rights to make this sort of federal government coercion unconstitutional. She felt that Shimkus would side with denying funds to Sanctuary Cities, but that she would bring up this states’ rights concern.
+Wonderful World

Also, we discussed Medicare and Social Security. She stated his position as follows: he will not support changing eligibility age for those currently in the system. That being said, she seemed to suggest that Shimkus strongly supported increasing income caps, as these haven’t risen for decades. There’s no reason why someone like Trump or Warren Buffett shouldn’t be paying more into the Social Security and Medicare system. 
+Wonderful World

Lastly, I brought up food insecurity in the district, citing Cumberland County’s statistics to push Shimkus to support expanding food stamps. I offered up that for every $1 spent on food stamps by the federal government $1.76 is generated in economic output. It pays for itself and helps protect families and children. The answer was to point people toward food pantries, which I countered that many times a transportation barrier exists for these families.

I’d suggest to anyone to go to these events with an open mind and listen to what is said by others and by the representative and/or their office staff. This was an amazing opportunity to begin a dialogue and learn more about where Shimkus actually stands on some key issues.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Stop Protecting Ideology; Ask More

The fact people still believe that being right is all that matters should be funny. It's actually dangerous. 

I come across Bernie supporters all the time that still believe Trump is better than Hillary. They believe in almost nothing. At least Trump supporters support something tangible, like a “Wall” or a ban, no matter how offensive it might be. 

Members of Congress are as confused as the populace. They don't have a governing principle that makes sense because the people that sent them to Congress aren’t coherent nor bipartisan. Truly, members of Congress’ governing principle is to be re-elected so they can have a chance to positively impact the future of our nation. If we believe otherwise, we’re demonizing our opposition. 

+Amazing World
I know this might be difficult to swallow, but we just had a forum here in the 110th state representative district in Illinois, and those officials and professionals that said we should talk directly to our representation were told the truth . . . rational voices don't matter to our representation and most certainly our outcomes

The rational middle doesn't speak out in enough numbers in enough places to matter. And, in addition, they don't know enough to matter. Some of the ones that speak loudly and often happen to carry 'arms' and be as irrational as they are emotional. The others gather in cities in such a way that allows a few incendiaries to negatively characterize them as violent anarchists. 

It's actually usually the opposite. The most vocal and obvious people are not indicative of others; they are simply more obvious. 
+Amazing World

We had a high turnout election here in a rural district, and the outcome was what it is. Work the data; it fails.

There is something inherently broken somewhere. It's either in the message or the messengers . . . probably, both

We know the policies of Trump and the prevailing conservatives are failures . . . this is undeniable. Yet, we communicate that ineffectively to regular people. 

How is that not on each and every one of us?

Can we really just believe we’re right and that’s all that matters? Isn’t that what the other side believes?

It's possibly because we can't communicate a positive agenda as an effective alternative that others can believe and support. 
+Amazing World

OR, we simply don't understand the inherent problem. It's not a matter of outcomes. It's actually a matter of capacity. Government doesn't have enough capacity to work properly. 

Capacity is two-fold. Resources and Approaches

Government has been starved of resources for decades. This has been the prevailing conservative approach. However, training and management have not been approached effectively during the same period. These two prevailing environments have eroded public confidence in governance and, for some, in the broader economy. 

+Amazing World
This has allowed conspiracy and duplicity to be fostered and nurtured. 

How do we move forward?

There are many within government and business that take advantage of the inefficiencies within society and people. If we don’t hold ourselves and others accountable, we cannot hope to hold the public and private systems accountable.

Both ideologies want to protect their ideology. 

This has to end. 

What we need as a society and as a country is to ask more of each other and of our elected officials. If we don’t take part in our system of government AND our communities, we cannot blame both for being broken.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Trump's Executive Order: Refugees and Realities

In the wake of President Trump’s Executive Order suspending visas from seven Muslim-majority countries, it appears that for some in the country, the red line has already been passed. Anyone who was listening to Trump during his campaign would not be dismayed by this nor any of his other actions thus far. 

Three individuals
fit in with the
784,000 refugees
who have not been implicated
in terrorism.
What this action has exposed is the ever deepening divides in our country. The difference between rhetoric and reality has never been so stark. Perhaps, when rhetoric hits the pavement of action and resulting consequences, some will actually learn from this experience. Chances are, however, that lessons learned will be determined by support or opposition to the Trump administration, preconceived notions, and already strident positions.

The reality of this executive action is that it took place without key secretaries of the cabinet in place, without appropriate alerts and preparations to agencies and personnel, and with little foresight to the problems that would arise fairly immediately and predictably.

The other reality is that the Obama administration had already applied increased screening and scrutiny for travel to and from these countries. Trump simply went much further. The factual reality that no terrorists have attacked America’s homeland from any of these countries is striking. This simply defies logic. 

Those realities seem to dissuade critics and supporters of this action from discussing it on the merits: legal, strategic, economic, and moral. Instead, there is a lot of posturing and definitely outrage and indignation. 

Yes, It Is a Muslim Ban.

For the Trump administration to make the claim that this is not a Muslim ban seems to be a bit of a farce. From the executive order, it tasks government agencies “to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual's country of nationality.” Considering every country included in the ban is a Muslim majority country, the intent is not just clear, it’s bloody apparent. 

+Wonderful World
The largest concern for supporters of this ban is the rash of terrorist attacks throughout Europe, which some in America have attached to the refugee crisis. Some in the media and in Washington have incorrectly applied guilt to the refugees, when this was later found out not to be the case. And, the European refugee crisis simply is not an applicable model to America, as we have no land bridge nor waterway for easy transport from the Middle East as they do.

On second read, this executive order could be used to fast-track European refugees, as those Muslims would be religious minorities in those countries. 

How Did We Arrive Here?

During the Republican primary contest, Donald Trump set himself apart from the other candidates on the issue of Muslim immigrants, taking full advantage of Islamophobia and xenophobic sentiments in the Republican base in the wake of 9/11 and the rise of ISIS. This has only further entrenched divisions on the issue.
+Wonderful World

Despite garnering much media and political establishment criticism for his positions, such as referring to Syrian refugees as a “Trojan horse,” Trump quickly rose in the polls to eventually become the Republican nominee and eventually President. He, of course, is following through on his campaign promises.

What are the Consequences?

When emotions and fears run high in America, isolationist tendencies rise as well, even when this exacerbates the problem by fueling the terrorist pipeline, at home and abroad. This is precisely what the Trump ban will accomplish by providing propaganda for our enemies, by stoking divisiveness and alarm with our own allies, and by destabilizing our own screening process. Instead of applying a precise hand to adopt a new strategy, Trump has disrupted and set our immigration and national security systems back considerably with this action.
+Wonderful World

The most necessary ally we have in our fight against terrorists in the Middle East are Muslims. Many have placed their lives and the lives of their families on the line for us with promises given to them by our military and government for safe harbor. Breaking those promises, which is what this executive order has already began to do, undermines intelligence assets and the trust that we have built with our partners throughout that region and the world.

Beyond that, by creating such an ill-conceived Muslim ban and rolling it out in such an ineffective manner, Trump has gift-wrapped propaganda to help fuel extremists around the world. By delineating such a stark, religious context to both our foreign and domestic policy, we have tossed unnecessary fuel into the fire. 

At least there are visible and rolling protests along with appeals in court that continue.  However, the executive branch has enormous latitude regarding immigration issues. Likely, any stay will be overturned, requiring Congress to act. 
+Wonderful World

The Refugee Resettlement Process

The reality that Syrian or any other such refugees are or were ever entering America without due diligence is starkly different from the hyperbolic rhetoric of the Trump administration or online media outlets.

There are serious concerns that do need to be addressed. The refugee crisis in Syria, Iraq, and across North Africa has created humanitarian crises across the region, stressed political, economic and cultural systems across Europe, and has been used by politicians and pundits for their own agenda.

However, the refugees that actually resettle in America go through a very elaborate process before even being considered.
+Wonderful World

During Obama’s tenure, Canada helped to highlight the American political paralysis by resettling over 30,000 Syrian refugees and by pledging to increase their financial assistance to the humanitarian efforts by 10%. Recently, Prime Minister Trudeau went further by pledging to accept the refugees turned away by Trump’s executive order. 

Ultimately, a 5 million Syrians will likely need to be resettled outside of Syria. However, the needs of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are quite different from what is possible to achieve through the elaborate bureaucratic system in place. With an already overstressed immigrant and political situation in Europe, highlighted by both the UK’s Brexit vote and multiple terrorist attacks, the Western Hemisphere is needed to pick up the slack. 

Canada cannot be the only country to do its part, but it appears for the foreseeable future, that will have to do.
+Wonderful World

The reality is that 67% of all Syrian refugees needing resettlement are women and children. Most of those will never make it to America. First, each refugee is vetted by the UNHCR and the Department of Homeland Security travels to the site of the refugee to begin conducting interviews to determine further security risk assessments. These DHS personnel don’t assume the information given by refugees are accurate. They then send out assets to determine the validity of the information given during these preliminary interviews.

That’s only steps one, two and three. 
+Wonderful World

After roughly 18 to 24 months and in conjunction with DHS, the Department of State, the Department of Health and Human Services, and nine other nonprofits, a decision is finally reached if a refugee qualifies to be resettled in America. That would qualify as a fairly exhaustive process.

The needs of the UNHCR are staggering. That pales in comparison to the needs of the Syrian people. Of the nearly 5 million Syrian refugees, about a half million will likely need resettlement out of the region by 2018. Earlier Syrian refugees have been relocated throughout the Great Lakes region, the Northeast, Texas, Florida, and the Southwest, including both northern and southern California. 

History of the Program

Of the Iraqi and Afghanistan refugees that fled those war torn regions, only three of 784,000 were ever even arrested on terrorism charges, and two of those were only plotting terrorism. The other actually possessed explosives. 

+Wonderful World

The San Bernardino attacker was born an American citizen as was the Orlando nightclub shooter. In fact, since 9/11 there has been about 28 such domestic terrorism attacks in America and no successful foreign attacks. That would qualify as fairly significant success in thwarting foreign attacks, with zero attacks coming from refugee populations.

However, an examination of the overall jihadists arrested within America since 9/11 shows a slightly different picture. When the total of 12 refugees arrested as jihadists on terrorism charges is compared to the 346 American, non-refugee citizens that were arrested on similar charges, the real terrorist threat appears to be primarily homegrown.

+Wonderful World
Citizens and politicians have legitimate concerns regarding the costs of refugee resettlement within America. Many refugees eventually payback the cost of travel to America, only receive a $1,000 stipend for three months after arrival, required to apply for jobs, and are not tracked by the government. On the ground nonprofit organizations help these refugees find work, find housing, and help them acclimate to their new communities. 

There are both economic benefits to refugee resettlement and distributional consequences. Refugees are often not skilled and, thus, often procure lower skilled, lower wage jobs. This is great for employers that hire low skill workers because it increases the pool of workers they can hire. This can have the consequence of depressing wage growth. 

+Wonderful World
Also, if the refugees aren’t buoyed enough by nonprofits, family and other community support, they can rely more heavily on social services as they transition into the American economy. However, successfully transitioned refugees often end up benefitting the tax base much more than they may have used these services initially to afford education, food, housing, and  healthcare. These afforded them the opportunity for gaining skills for higher wage jobs, more spendable income, and potential entrepreneurship, all of which increase their share of taxes.
What other steps can be taken that aren’t already being implemented? That seems to be wholly absent from this executive order. 

Realistically, this executive order is mostly window-dressing made to fulfill campaign promises. It’s not just careless, it’s without purpose and an objective that is neither achievable and not already functioning under the previous system. It is either designed to or through accident alone to create chaos, disruption, and insecurity. The only tangibles America has garnered from Trump’s action is a decrease in national security and a buoy for the terrorists and their propaganda. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The 'Blame Trump' Pitfall

The apprehension people feel this week is understandable. That apprehension cannot lead people to succumb to fear, anxiety, and paralysis. I’m certain we have also seen and heard people that have become angered and outraged by nearly every action, every executive order, each tweet, and every statement made by the Trump administration. ‘Sign this petition. Get rid of this Democrat. How dare they find even a shred of common purpose or common ground with him!’

Last Saturday, millions had the courage to gather together in support of women, Muslims, LGBTQ, the disabled, and countless other groups to rally and march in solidarity with one another. Mostly, these were positive and forward-leaning gatherings, focused on action, not division.  
+Wonderful World

These marches made some Americans uncomfortable. Democracy isn’t about being comfortable. The freedom of speech, expression, and the right to peaceably assemble have consequences. We sometimes hear and see what we don’t want to acknowledge.

In May of 2012, Vice President Biden came out in favor of marriage equality, forcing President Obama to make a similar statement in support of marriage equality. This was thought to be political suicide ahead of the 2012 presidential race. 

After Obama’s support and the subsequent national conversation that resulted, the majority of the American people grew to support marriage equality and are now against discrimination on the basis of sexuality as well. This is an example of how bold, courageous words coupled with appropriate action can have enormously beneficial impacts unforeseen at the time. 

+Wonderful World
We live in a truly historic time. This is not the time to retreat from the most recent, hard fought victories. If we don’t stand up together with and for each other, for our fellow neighbors, and for our shared values and principles, we won’t have a chance in 2018 nor in 2020 to begin reversing the damage done in the coming months and years.

I might add that more people supported those who marched on January 21st than currently support President Trump. 

We cannot shy away from difficult or uncomfortable conservations and actions. The most vulnerable amongst us are the most threatened in the coming years. They may not be able to stand up and speak out for themselves. 

I, for one, will not rest until they are protected.

This does not mean we demean or dismiss those who happen to disagree or who happened to vote for or support President Trump. Being anti-Trump is not enough, nor is it compelling to those who don’t already agree with that rather myopic perspective.
+Wonderful World

We must stand FOR something, not simply be AGAINST Trump. Running an anti-Trump campaign didn't work out so well in 2016. Secretary Kerry’s anti-W Bush campaign didn't result in a victory in 2004 either. 

A movement has to be about something. Trump was for tangible policies. That's a fact rather his adversaries agree with it or not. Some may not agree with these policies, I certainly don't, but these were tangible for those who voted for him.

Having a constructive, positive, forward-thinking agenda that addresses the needs of those people is important. If people condescend, demean, and dismiss their concerns and their support, there is no constructive conversation and dialogue that can possibly take place. 

The bully and intimidation tactics of Trump has never convinced you, has it?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

National Women's March: A Beginning to Benefit All

Today, I had the American opportunity to gather together with people of common purpose for the benefit of others. This is a remarkable opportunity that not many human beings are able to experience let alone dream about. 

Many critics will point to the few instances of violence or destructive acts that have taken place. That is in no way indicative of the millions that came out around the world in peace, for justice, and with equality for all in mind.

It was inspiring and heartening to see so many people of different ages, genders, races, religions, sexualities, and disabilities come together out of solidarity. 

These people were not there for themselves. They were there to help defend the rights of all people. That is a deeply felt principle for most of the participants in these Marches across the country today. 
+Wonderful World

This was in stark contrast to some of the bitterness, the anger, and the burning outrage that I’ve witnessed online since the election from both extremes. 

Why bother understanding someone who will never bother to understand us?

How could we understand or have compassion for someone who actively or passively damages others through their words, actions, or by simply standing by?

Because not doing so damages not only ourselves but others as well. And, perhaps, understanding these people will yield some guidance as to how to better approach these situations and people that have a different set of experiences and opinions from ourselves. 

+Wonderful World
It takes mental and emotional energy to bother to attempt understanding of others, especially when these attempts are met with resentment, hostility, and worse. 

What is the alternative? Waiting for them to die? Treating them as they have treated others? 

I simply cannot find a suitable, rational reason that would condone perpetuating such a negative and reactionary cycle.

“When they go low, we go high!”

This is not just a slogan, but a way of being, a way of responding to all others. 

That does not mean you sit down and take it. This is why so many good-intentioned people showed up in so many cities across this country and around the world today. 
+Wonderful World

We are not going to remain silent. We will not remain in our seats. We are going to do something about what’s happening. 

We’re just going to do this in an extraordinary way, that lifts the dialogue and places emphasis on action, not denigration. 

Be involved in your community. Start going to city council and county board meetings. Connect with people that have a broad range of beliefs, opinions, and political ideologies. 

We really are not so different. We’re just being misled. Hold ourselves accountable, that way we can hold officials accountable without being hypocritical.

There is much that we should be thankful and hopeful for in this time of change and challenging adversity. We can do something about it. We have a system of government that does give us many opportunities to have our voices heard. 

We just have to act. We just have to listen. We just have to start.