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February 22nd

The Better Deal

On Thursday, Connecticut House Republican’s Chief of Staff George Gallo resigned as the word spread about a federal investigation into how candidates used a direct mail firm out of Florida. People asked me if that wasn’t the same firm that my opponent used in 2012. It was. Yet I don’t think she is any more culpable in this than Chris Donovan was in the improprieties that took place in his Congressional campaign. It is easy to suggest that the candidate either knew, or should have known about possible illegal activity. It is too easy. It doesn’t get to the real issues. Perhaps it simply reflects one of the bigger issues.

In the Hartford Courant article about Gallo, former state GOP Chairman Chris Healy, talking about direct mail firm simply states, “we got a better deal”. A cynic might ask what that deal was. Was there any sort of illegal quid quo pro in the better deal? But this, too, perhaps doesn’t get to the real issue.

I often quote Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture in my blog, and I’ll provide a more complete version of one of my favorite quotes here:

OK, and so one of the expressions I learned at Electronic Arts, which I love, which pertains to this, is experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And I think that’s absolutely lovely. And the other thing about football is we send our kids out to play football or soccer or swimming or whatever it is, and it’s the first example of what I’m going to call a head fake, or indirect learning. We actually don’t want our kids to learn football. I mean, yeah, it’s really nice that
I have a wonderful three-point stance and that I know how to do a chop block and all this kind of stuff. But we send our kids out to learn much more important things. Teamwork, sportsmanship, perseverance, etcetera, etcetera. And these kinds of head fake learning are absolutely important.
And you should keep your eye out for them because they’re everywhere.

What candidates want is to get elected, but most of them don’t get elected, they just get experience. This experience might help them get elected the next time around. It might turn them bitter against the system, or it might inspire something greater.

Why do we want to get elected? Hopefully, it is to make their communities better places, and this gets back to the quote from Chris Healy. What is that ‘better deal’ he spoke about?

On my campaign, we often spoke about who we would purchase our services from. We wanted to make our community a better place, and we argued whether it was better to get services from companies in the district, or if it made more sense to use less expensive companies in other parts of Connecticut. It was a difficult balance, and I don’t know how well we really did on it, but at least we didn’t spend most of our budget, a large amount of which came from a Connecticut state grant, with companies in Florida.

We also had people offer us great deals because they were friends that believed in our campaign. We sought to make sure that everyone was paid fairly for the work they did and that there was no expectation of quid quo pro, real or perceived.

Yet most importantly, the focus was on issues. I wanted to talk about health and education. I did. I wished I could have gotten into more discussions about these issues. I wish people would engage more on the issues our state faces instead of making decisions based on a few pieces of mail crafted by political consultants in Florida. I wish more political coverage in the traditional media could be about the issues, and not the horse race and the corruption.

Hopefully, I moved the needle a little bit in that direction. No, I didn’t get elected, but I got “the better deal”.

February 17th

Health Equity and the 2014 CT Legislative Session

Last year, as a member of the Connecticut Health Foundation’s Health Leadership Fellows Program the group I was part of mapped out plans for bring Health Impact Assessments into Connecticut policy decisions, especially the state legislative process.

A key component of this plan was to improve the way health advocates work together during the legislative session. We set up a Google Group, CT Health Equity Bills to discuss this. As we enter another legislative session, members are encouraged to discuss upcoming bills and opportunities to testify.

I must admit, prior to becoming a CT Health Foundation fellow, I would often be asked to support various bills, and I rarely thought about these bills in terms of the impact they would have on health equity, and I suspect that many legislators don’t think about bills in terms of health equity the way I believe they should.

The Connecticut Health Foundation has published a blog post, Things We’ll Be Looking Out For During the 2014 Legislative Session. While it doesn’t address specific bills, it provides an important framework for this year’s session. I have been speaking with other organizations and hope to share thoughts about their agendas as well.

Meanwhile, I’m already getting messages from activists to support different bills. One of the first bills I received a message about was S.B. No. 23 AN ACT CONCERNING BENEFIT CORPORATIONS AND ENCOURAGING SOCIAL ENTERPRISE.. Friends have pointed me to a petition uring the senate to take up SB 23 this year.

it is early in the session and I don’t know what SB 23 is going to look like by the end of the session, but I strongly support the goal. Yet I hadn’t been thinking of this bill in terms of health equity. My gut feeling is that it won’t harm efforts for health equity and has the potential to benefit health equity efforts, but beyond that, I haven’t really thought it out much.

Then, at dinner last night, I got into a fascinating discussion with a friend from Yale’s Global Health Initiative. She was at a conference where people were talking about using a social impact exchange as a means of encouraging social entrepreneurship and investment in Haiti to deal with the issues of cholera.

While I do expect the passage of SB 23 to lead quickly to the issue of Social Impact Bonds, or the establishing of a social impact exchange, and a resulting improvement in efforts to address health equity in the state, it does seem like a step in the right direction.

Another bill I was contacted about was S.B. No. 120 AN ACT CONCERNING DYSLEXIA AND SPECIAL EDUCATION.. “To include dyslexia detection, recognition and intervention education as part of the professional development program for teachers and to amend the state IEP form to include dyslexia.”

With sponsors ranging from Sen. Bye to Rep. Cafero, this seems like a pretty straight forward broadly supported bill. Yet even with a bill like this, it is important to think about how it relates to health equity. Are there disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of dyslexia in Connecticut? How are they tracked? How will they be tracked and corrected?

A final bill for this blog post: H.B. No. 5144 AN ACT CONCERNING ACCESS TO BIRTH CERTIFICATES AND PARENTAL HEALTH INFORMATION FOR ADOPTED PERSONS., “To provide adult adopted persons, twenty-one years of age or older, access to their biological parents' health information and information in the person's original birth certificate or record.”

A friend contacted me about this bill. She was adopted as a child and does not have access to information about her biological parents. While it is easy to think of this in terms idle curiosity that an adopted child might have about their history, there are important health issues to consider. Are there biological family history information that could help the adopted child better deal with their own health? Again, I don’t know much about the health equity aspects of this. Are there disparities in access to birth and health information by adopted children along racial or ethnic lines? Would this bill help address such disparities?

Over the coming days, I expect I will hear more about these and other bills. I hope you’ll join me in thinking about the impact these bills would have on health equity in our state.

February 13th

Teaching Kids About Socially Responsible Investing

This evening, I received a distressed phone call from my twelve year old daughter who has been riding out the snow storm at her grandparents house. She has a project due for school tomorrow as part of a ‘stock project’. She is supposed to learn about investing, or something like that.

She was trying to find key indicators about Burger King’s stock. She didn’t seem to have a sense at what these indicators meant or why they were important. She just needed to copy them from a website onto her homework page. She watched an online video about how to get the information, but when she tried to do what the video told her, she was told she needed to buy premium access to Morningstar. She called home about that and we told her in no uncertain terms, no.

I have nothing against Morningstar. I’ve used it in the past when I was a more active investor. Years ago, I even completed my Series 7 exam to be a registered broker. I didn’t really need Series 7 registration. I was working as a technologist on a trading desk. However, it was interesting and I’m glad I did it.

I tried to talk her through finding the data she wanted from the free part of Morningstar’s site, or from other sites like Google Finance, Yahoo Finance or Bloomberg. In the end, we just gave up. It was not worth the aggravation, and I have some serious questions about the lesson being taught.

I can see the importance of sixth graders learning how to use ratios in the real world and even things like rates of change. Yet it did not seem like this was what was being taught. I can see the importance of understanding how stocks and bonds, and even options and indices work, but that did not seem to be what was being taught. As an aside, learning about indices is probably more important because these days it is hard for an individual investor to outperform mutual funds or index related investments. I can see the importance of teaching kids to save and to make wise investments.

I’ve always been a fan of employee owned companies. Invest in where you work. If the employees have skin in the game, they’re more likely to see that their company performs well. Yet that is not a well diversified strategy. Employee ownership and diversification of investments are probably even more interesting topics to teach to kids.

Yet it seemed like the biggest issue is what is the goal of investing. I suspect most people will immediately suggest maximizing return. Yet is this what we really want to be teaching our children? Where does social responsibility fit in? Do we want our children to focus on maximizing their wealth at the expense of others? Are we espousing a virtue of selfishness, or could there be other, more important issues in investing?

I did a quick search on “teaching kids about socially responsible investing”. I got all kinds of information about teach kids about investing and about corporate social responsibility, but nothing good for kids about how the two fit together. The closest I found to anything useful was United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ webpage about Socially Responsible Investment Guidelines . While I have many disagreements with the Catholic Church on various issues, I thought this was well worth reading and I look forward to discussing it with Fiona when I get a chance.

The section that jumped out at me was

Although it is a moral and legal fiduciary responsibility of the trustees to ensure an adequate return on investment for the support of the work of the church, their stewardship embraces broader moral concerns. As part owners, they must cooperate in shaping the policies of those companies through dialogue with management, through votes at corporate meetings, through the introduction of resolutions and through participation in investment decisions.

While my moral viewpoints don’t always align with the Catholic Church, I believe we can, and should, discuss the “broader moral concerns” in investing. We might even want to discuss these concerns in education and the core curriculum.

What is core to your curriculum? Where does creativity, cooperation and compassion fit in? What are the lessons that are really being taught?

February 8th

EPIC Facebook - First Look, Project X and FiveThirtyEight

It is the best of times. It is the worst of times. In the year 2014, people have access to a breadth and depth of information unimaginable in an earlier age.

Thus starts a video made ten years ago challenging journalists to think about the future of journalism. EPIC 2014 gets many things right but misses certain key disruptions. In particular, they don’t mention Facebook, which started about the same time as the video was made and is currently celebrating its ten years by generating videos for Facebook users of their time on Facebook.

Towards the end of EPIC 2014, there is a section that sums up the whole video, and perhaps could have applied to Facebook and their videos.

EPIC 2014 produces a custom content package for each reader using his choices — his consumption habits, his interests, his demographics, his social network to shape the product. A new generation of freelance editors has sprung up — people who sell their ability to connect, filter, and prioritize the contents of EPIC. We all subscribe to many editors. EPIC allows us to mix and match their choices however we like. At it’s best, edited for the most savvy readers, EPIC is a summary of the world, deeper, broader, and more nuanced than anything ever available before. But at it’s worst, and for too many, EPIC is merely a collection of trivia, much of it untrue, all of it narrow, shallow, and sensational. But EPIC is what we wanted. It is what we chose. And it’s commercial success pre-empted any discussions of media and democracy or journalistic ethics.

Read that again, and replace EPIC 2014 with Facebook.

Yet it is on Facebook that I learned that Ezra Klein is leaving the Washington Post. He has taken a bunch of his old friends from the Post and other sites to create Project X backed by Vox media. Nate Silver is also building up his team for his relaunched FiveThirtyEight site.

Yet what has really caught my attention is First Look Media.

Founded by Pierre Omidyar, the organization will pursue original, independent journalism that is deeply reported and researched, thoroughly fact checked, and beautifully told.

I heard about First Look from friends I met on the Omidyar Network years ago; some of the best and brightest thinkers about the future of journalism in the digital era that I’ve met. Then, I heard that Andy Carvin is joining First Look as well. This provides an interesting contrast to EPIC 2014/Facebook. Will Project X, FiveThirtyEight and First Look be “deeper, broader, and more nuanced than anything ever available before”?

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February 5th

Remission and Recovery

A few weeks ago,Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin dedicated his State of the State address to addiction.

In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us. It threatens the safety that has always blessed our state. It is a crisis bubbling just beneath the surface that may be invisible to many, but is already highly visible to law enforcement, medical personnel, social service and addiction treatment providers, and too many Vermont families. It requires all of us to take action before the quality of life that we cherish so much is compromised.

At work we talk about treating people struggling with addiction. We have some great programs to help and part of my job is to spread the word about these programs.

The nature of the addiction problem came to light recently in a communications meeting. We were tracking various news stories and saw one about Philip Seymour Hoffman. One of the guests cited some report which claimed that two out of three Americans are affected by addictions amongst their friends or family. I looked around the room. Everyone is the room had someone close to them that was struggling with addiction. That two in three number may be a bit low.

Today, a friend shared the article, Russell Brand: my life without drugs. Please, go out and read it.

At CHC, we provide telemedicine services to help providers around the country provide better services for those struggling with addiction. Project ECHO - Buprenorphine helps primary care providers treat patients struggling with opioid addiction. It brings together experts in several fields to provide both experiential and didactic education in treating addiction.

Our outreach teams work on a related issue, health stigmas. How do we reduce the stigmas around various health conditions, like suffering from addiction or being HIV positive? How do we make it easier for people to get the treatment they need?

We celebrate when our friends are in remission from cancer, knowing in the back of our minds that it could come back at any moment. Why don’t we have similar celebrations for friends in recovery from addiction? Yes, there may be some celebrations at a narcotics anonymous meeting or something like that, but we are a long way from standing with people fighting health problems the way we should.