This morning, as I did my weekly dump run, I listened to the car radio to hear Congressman Paul Ryan accept Mitt Romney's invitation to be his running mate. In his acceptance speech, Congressman Ryan asked, what sort of country do we want to be? I think that is the core question, and one that I've been thinking a lot about recently.
A couple weeks ago, I spent a weekend camping out at a folk music festival. I spent several days focusing on beauty and compassion for those around me. I listened to people sing about the struggles of living a meaningful life.
The following week back in Connecticut, after the festival, I learned that two friends had lost their parents. One friend's father died, another friend's mother died. I spent time reflecting on life, death, and listening to music of remembrance. This was music streaming over the computer, a bit different from the Falcon Ridge experience, but with some commonality.
I've written blog posts in the past remembering friends and family that have died, and I thought, "how do I want to be remembered?" I thought about eulogies I've listened to. The eulogies have not been about how much money a person made, how successful they were, or how many businesses they created. They have been about how much compassion the person showed; how much kindness.
At work, in the community garden next to my office, a young mother put up a memorial for her two year old son who recently died of cancer. Her grief is heart wrenching and I wove some of my experiences into a work blog post. Those who can afford to spend $50 million dollars running for U.S. Senate, can also afford the best health care in the world, but for too many of us, quality health care in an inaccessible luxury. Did the young boy that just died get the best health care in the world? Does his mother have access to the best health care as she deals with her grief? Our country, and all of us, have a responsibility to those less fortunate than ourselves. That is the kind of country we should be wanting to be.
At the end of that week, I went to BlogHer in New York City. The Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Nwando Olayiwola, at the health center where I work is a spokesperson for Text4Baby, a wonderful program helping expectant mothers through their pregnancies. It is a simple and inexpensive program bringing better health outcomes. Joining Dr. Nwando was the head of Save the Children and a few other notable speakers. The panel, "The state of the world’s mothers: working together to save & improve lives", was sponsored by Johnson & Johnson. Just as we as a nation have social responsibilities, so do corporations, and it was good to see Johnson & Johnson taking up some of their social responsibility.
This week has been National Health Center Week, and Wednesday was National Healthcare for the Homeless day. Our health center sponsored a screening of "Give Me a Shot of Anything". It is a powerful film about an organization in Boston that provides medical care for the homeless. The movie painted a picture of the homeless; veterans, college graduates struck down by bad luck, people really not that different than you or I. As the old saying goes, there but for the grace of God go I.
At one point in the movie, a homeless man looks at the camera and points at the doctor who has been out on the streets with the homeless. He says, "He cares." Simple. Heartfelt. As I watched this I thought, how many politicians would people say that about with the same sort of conviction. Few, if any, I imagine.
I can understand some of that. I've been busy trying to raise money for my campaign and get signatures to appear on a second line on the ballot. I've been busy filling out questionnaires in an effort to get endorsements. I haven't gotten as much time as I'd like to just be with people, finding out what they need, and if there are ways I can help them.
Now some of my conservative friends may find this objectionable. They may say, we shouldn't be teaching people to rely on others. That, I believe is the fundamental issue. Are we all in this together? Should we be helping one another out, or do we want a dog eat dog world where people are more interested in the size of a person's bank account when they die, than in the good that they have done?
What Kind of Country Do We Want to Be?
There is something seriously wrong with country, with our world. This thought may come to people's minds when they read about unemployment, as they ponder the latest heat wave, or, today, think about a shooting in Wisconsin. Our emotions get further stirred up as we watch the news on TV, read the news online, or see what our friends are posting in social media. It is amplified when it touches close to home like when a friend struggles because of poor health or unemployment.
I'm sitting in my living room as a storm front rolls through. I've been reading various material online about the shooting in Wisconsin. Some people try to explain it in terms of people who don't know the difference between a Sikh and a Sheikh, as if shooting one and not the other is okay. The words of John Donne come back to me:
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
It doesn't matter if the person who died is Sikh, Sheikh, father or son, each man's death diminishes me.
People will argue about gun control, better access to mental health, politicizing tragedies, and a million other topics, but it feels like these really miss the point.
We all get angry. We all get frustrated. We all try to find ways to deal with these feelings. Some of us may post mean comments on blogs. Some of us my flip off a driver who cuts us off, or we may be the ones cutting off other people.
We may look at people as different from ourselves, as 'other'. We may place our fears and angers in others and, to use the words of some of my psychologist friends, try to 'kill off' those whom we've placed our fears and angers in. In horrible cases, this desire to kill off our fears and angers moves from a psychological analogy to a physical tragedy.
Meanwhile, those of us abhorred by the shootings view the shooters as the others. We may want them killed off with the death penalty and we try to ignore any ways in which we might have similar fears, angers, or other things in common with the shooters.
Yes, there are some things seriously wrong with our country and our world, but they are not so bad that we must take up arms. Today, while someone was shooting up a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, I was going door to door in Woodbridge, introducing myself to my neighbors in the hope of getting them to support my bid to become their State Representative. It was hot and muggy as the sweat poured down my back. There were times that I was hopeful as I spoke with neighbors and other times I was disappointed. I came home, exhausted.
There are still three months until the election. I don't know if I will get elected. However, if I just get a few more people to deal constructively with their political fears and angers, if I just get a few people to not lash out at others, even if it is something as simple as getting people to treat other drivers with respect, I will have made a difference, and if I can bring a little respect and dignity to politics in Hartford, well, that could be huge.
There is a certain stigma around the C word, often accompanied by morbid curiosity. Most people think that it will never happen to them, but they may know someone going through the process. When you get diagnosed, it is likely to turn your whole life upside down. Ever since I've been tagged with the C word, I've been rethinking my life, how I interact with people, and how they react to me. Even when I get through this it will have changed me permanently, and I'm trying to explore some of this in my blog.
No, I'm not talking about cancer, although there may be some interesting comparisons. Looking at the American Cancer Societies' Cancer Facts and Figures, 2012, I find that are expected to be 1.6 million new cases of cancer this year in the United States. Looking at data from the Center for Disease Control, I find that the chances of getting cancer are greater for black people than for white people. But I'm looking at something much more rare.
According to Wikipedia, there are 7,382 State Legislators in the United States. If each race had two candidates and each legislator held office for two years, that would mean 14,764 every two years. Given that some terms are longer than two years, and some offices are uncontested, that number may be on the high side.
Doing the math, the numbers become stark. You are 100 more times likely to develop cancer than you are to become a candidate for State Legislature. In addition, I suspect the cases of candidacy are likely to be tied closely to certain risky behaviors. Most candidates start off by registering to vote. They proceed to regular voting, working on other people's campaigns, and perhaps even dabbling in politics at the local level.
Except for states where there are term limits, successful candidates tend to relapse quite regularly. My opponent for State Representative has relapsed into being a candidate seven times.
Unlike cancer, which disproportionately affects black people, candidacy appears to affect more white people. In the past, I've looked at the correlation between voting and health outcomes, and found that counties with higher voter turnout rates also tend to better health outcomes. The same may also apply to ethnicities in terms of candidacies and cancer rates.
Fortunately, candidacy is rarely fatal, and the stigma of candidacy is generally less than the stigma of cancer, although as Congressional approval ratings fall, and as more cancer survivors challenge the stigmas of cancer, this may be changing.
So, here I am grappling with my candidacy. More on how it changes lives later.
Running for State Representative, I get a lot of candidate questionnaires. I try to respond to the ones that are most in line with my own political views and are most likely to help me out in my quest to represent the people of Woodbridge, Orange and Derby. Others are for organizations that I generally support, but not strongly, and I don't expect their support to help me out.
At the same time, I get questionnaires from organizations that I have significant disagreements with. In the efforts to make my views known, I'm going to respond to some of these questions here.
The first questionnaire that I received that really doesn't fit with my views is the National Right to Work Committee. It was sent to me from Springfield, Virginia, and I don't know people in the district that are involved with the committee. The closest I've found for connections between this organization and the people of Connecticut is funding it has received from the Walton Foundation. I know a lot of people who shop at Walmarts. I'm not sure that Walmarts, or other corporate sponsors of this organization, are really support the sort of rights to work that I envision.
Their first question is, "Will you support enactment of a state right to work law by the Connecticut General Assembly?" Well, is that a law about a right to work for a fair salary? The right to work in a safe work environment? Because those are the sorts of 'right to work' that I support.
The second question is "Will you support legislation that ends monopoly bargaining over government employees by union officials?" My response is that I will seek to uphold the constitution, including "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." I view public worker unions as an important method for people to peaceably assemble and petition the Government for a redress of grievances. I suspect my answers would not win me the endorsement of this organization.
The second questionnaire that I received that I'm also declining to respond to is rom the "Connecticut Campaign for Liberty". Their return address is Port Byron, IL. However, their website lists a Springfield, VA address as a contact. According to Wikipedia, "Ron Paul founded the Campaign for Liberty with a portion of the over $4.7 million left from his presidential campaign, and it is also currently funded through donations by both mail and the internet."
I know that there are some Ron Paul supporters in Connecticut, so this organization would probably be more significant than the Right to Work Committee. The first two questions they about opposing a National ID as well as opposing the use of unmanned devices by law enforcement officials are interesting questions, and I believe we could have interesting discussions about this. However, their next two questions probably rule out their support of me. No, I will not support a "Constitutional Carry" bill that would allow any law-abiding citizen to carry a firearm concealed without a permit. In theory, I can see why people want this, but the problem is the moment that a person transitions from being law-abiding to being a front page mass murderer.
The following question is really over the top. "Will you support legislation to nullify ObamaCare and authorize State and local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement the unconstitutional health care scheme known as ObamaCare?" No. While ObamaCare is not the health care reform that I would like to see, it has many very important aspects and should not be repealed or nullified. With relatives that have worked in local law enforcement and federal law enforcement, I think it is irresponsible to encourage one set of law enforcement officials to arrest others over differences of political opinions.
The most recent questionnaire that I received was from the NRA Political Victory Fund. This may not have been a good week for the NRA, but I have to compliment them on their questionnaire. Like the other two questionnaires, they are from Virginia. However, this questionnaire is much more in depth and thought out. There are 26 questions on it. They start off simply enough with a question about the Second Amendment, followed by questions about "restrictive state legislation regarding the sale, use or possession of firearms or ammunition".
If I answer these questions truthfully, I imagine I can alienate people on both sides of the gun issue. I grew up shooting guns. I've eaten meat killed by hunters. I think people should be educated about gun safety and, if their interested, about "Connecticut's hunting heritage". I generally oppose blue laws, and do believe that the Sunday hunting ban in Connecticut should be repealed.
At the same time, I don't believe that people should be able to buy as many guns as they want with no waiting period. I don't believe that most people need assault rifles or to purchase over 6,000 rounds of ammunition online.
I'm wouldn't be surprised to get more questionnaires during the campaign. Generally, I like them, even if I disagree with the organizations sending them. It provides a good opportunity to think about the issues in a little more depth.
I've never been a big fan of casinos. I tend to look at most forms of gambling as a tax on the statistically challenged and worry about the negative impact casinos can have on a community. Yet when approached wisely, as a place of entertainment, where patrons go in with a fixed budget they are planning on spending on their entertainment casinos can add some value. When they treat their workers well and have good labor relations, they can also improve the employment situation in an area.
Unfortunately, casino executives, like too many other executives, only focus on the employment aspects or other positive benefits they might bring to the community when they are lobbying for tax breaks or other special considerations from the government. The rest of the time, they focus on profits at the expense of the broader stakeholders in their enterprises.
This was illustrated to me yesterday in a press release I received from State Representative Linda Gentile. Rep. Gentile is one of the two State Representatives serving the city of Derby. I am seeking to join her as the junior member of the Derby delegation. (My district also includes all of Woodbridge, so I hope to be the sole representative of the Woodbridge delegation, and part of Orange so I hope to be one of three representatives in the Orange delegation.)
A couple months ago, there was an article in the Boston Globe, Have Mass. casinos become a risky bet?.
It starts off
Scott Butera is nothing but blunt when it comes to explaining what casino operators want from their customers — “their wallet and their spend.”
The chief executive of Foxwoods Resort Casino is also candid about customers he can do without — for example, those stereotypical busloads of senior citizens who show up with walkers and oxygen tanks….
It’s because those darn elders don’t gamble away enough of their money to help Foxwoods reach its goal…
Sarah Muoio, the executive director of the Derby Senior Center sent a letter to Derby State Representatives Gentile and Klarides which ends off with
I hope we can urge Foxwoods to terminate Mr. Butera. Offending the fastest growing population in the country is not good for business nor is it very respectful. I think this heartless, insulting man should be terminated for his disrespectful comments.
In yesterday's press release, Rep. Gentile issued the following statement:
I’m outraged by these disrespectful remarks and encourage Derby and all seniors to boycott Fowoods until they receive a public apology
Besides looking for an apology, the State should reconsider the estimated $15 million in tax breaks that it gave to the casinos early this year.
Organizations need to be much more sensitive to the clients they serve, and, if they are receiving tax breaks, to all the taxpayers in the State.