Defend and Amend the Affordable Care Act

What is it about the Affordable Care Act that makes people so viscerally opposed? The ACA seems so fundamentally irritating some Americans insist we repeal it instead of heal it. Repealing it would be tragic.

Feel the anger in the following quotes from website https://healthcare.procon.org.

“A right to services without charge, that forces someone else to provide for you, does not and should not ever exist.” Rep. John Campbell, ( R-CA).

Sir, those right exist. I’m forced to provide teachers’ services in a free education of everybody else’s children despite mine being grown and gone. The US Supreme Court mandated that the public provide legal services to the poor to guarantee their rights to a fair trial.

“Healthcare is not a right. The Declaration of Independence guarantees the right to ‘pursue happiness,’ not the right to happiness.”

Are people able to pursue happiness if they die because they’re denied healthcare to cure breast or prostate cancer?

“Healthcare is not a right because the preamble of the Constitution says the purpose of government is to ‘promote’ the general welfare, not provide it.” People resent providing aid to the poor because they believe charity creates incentives to be lazy and leads to a welfare state.

The ACA does NOT PROVIDE free medical services. The ACA PROMOTES the general welfare with more affordable healthcare insurance and lower numbers of uninsured through expanded public and private insurance coverage, although it does subsidize the insurance for Medicaid. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the ACA will lower healthcare costs by increasing preventive medicine and less emergency care.

The ACA has accomplished several of those goals according to Health and Human Services (HHS). Three million young adults are on their parents’ health policies. Small businesses providing insurance coverage for less than 50 full-time equivalent employees are receiving tax credits. People with pre-existing conditions can’t be denied healthcare. There are no lifetime limits on total benefits. Seven million people have enrolled since October, more than originally forecast.

Problems need fixing. People were furious when they received letters canceling their insurance even though Obama promised people could keep their insurance. The problem was new insurance had to provide all the required benefits, meaning insurers had to raise rates or drop plans.What a mess!

The HHS permitted those people to continue their coverage until at least 2015, but with the warning their insurance doesn’t have all the ACA benefits. The insurance companies and the insured are searching for other options. But both are probably irritated and anxious.

Mandates have created a furor, but mandates are part of a democracy. Individuals and businesses are mandated constantly for a perceived public good. People are mandated to have automobile insurance and use ethanol fuel. I was mandated to pay taxes for Medicare and Social Security and am benefitting from them.

Mandated health insurance is designed to broaden coverage, cut individual costs and get people to use higher quality and less expensive preventative care. I consider the mandates essential for a desirable public good.

Employer mandates have infuriated some businesses. Some small businesses with 50-99 full time equivalent employees resisted the employer mandate to provide a qualified insurance plan to their employees or pay a per month “Employer Shared Responsibility Payment,” a federal tax.

The payment is $2,000 for per full-time employee, exempting the first 30. An employer with 55 employees would pay for 25 employees, a total of $50,000.

Businesses with 50-99 employees were given a reprieve until 2016 and employers with more than 100 employees until 2015, leaving some owners relieved but simmering.

The ACA has caused some employees to have their hours cut by employers who do not provide health insurance and are close to the limits of 25, 50 or a100 full-time equivalent employees. The Obamacarefacts.com website admits it’s a loophole affecting “less than a fraction of a percent of firms in the U.S., [but] many Americans are finding their hours cut.”

I support the Employer Shared Responsibility Payment for the desired public good.

Nevertheless, the small business problems should be corrected.

Tragically the Republicans demand repeal and Democrats are not defending the ACA.

The ACA is a public good that has already improved healthcare in the U.S.  It deserves to be defended, and amended.

Posted in Politics, Economics, Mercy and Humility, Doing Justice and Having Compassion | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Support Educating More Girls in the Developing World

Last week Karen and I viewed an inspiring movie about the value of educating the girls working at home in developing countries instead of attending elementary school. The movie is called Girl Rising and is available for download on the Internet.

IMG_1421The mission of the Girl Rising organization “is to change the way the world values the girl. We use the power of storytelling, leveraged through partnerships, to share the simple truth that educating girls can transform societies.”

According to research on the website, investments in girls’ education give the highest rate of return in the developing world and are the fastest way to end generational poverty. Educated girls are less likely to be married as a child. Their children are more likely to survive to the age of five, attend school and earn more money. More women than boys run farms and small businesses in the developing world and they run them better with education.

The barriers to educating girls in the developing world prevent 66 million girls from attending school, 33 million fewer than boys. Education is not free in 50 countries and boys are usually educated first. Girls are needed at home to help mothers care for brothers, sisters and older parents. They go for water and firewood and milk cows. Some parents unable to feed and care for their children sell them for a labor contract to another home where they work for room and board.

Karen and I recently met girls boarded at Nkoilale School near Narok, Kenya on a safari to Africa. We arrived at the invitation of Grace Namunyak, a teacher raised in the same community as our safari leader, Hillary Kosen of East Wenatchee.

Namunyak finished her education after escaping a child marriage because her mother refused an agreement to marry her as a child. Namunyak eventually attended college and became a teacher.

She is a Maasai teaching in a Maasai agricultural area where people raise cattle and legally practice polygamy as they have done successfully for hundreds of years. Prior to our safari Michelle Shermer of Wenatchee offered to pay $300 for a 12-year-old girl’s annual scholarship so she could be boarded at the school instead of marrying the man her father had arranged for her. Shermer’s charity inspired others to offer scholarships to seven girls. We delivered the cash to Namunyak and met each girl.

The girl’s stories are tragically familiar before the scholarships. Namunyak said one “was not in school because the father does not educate girls.” “One girl’s father is a shaman and she ran away to school. He keeps trying to scare her away from the school with spells and charms.” For another girl, Namunyak said,  “Her family has nothing.”

At the school our group joined another safari of Rotarians from Lake Chelan and Leavenworth. Two members from that safari promised scholarships for two boys, making a total of nine scholarships currently at the school.

Wenatchee Rotary is making plans to establish an account for additional donations in connection with a separate account with Kosen Safari in Nairobi, which will disburse cash for payments for receipts from Namunyak and the school. We plan to share the story of our trip at the First United Methodist Church in Wenatchee on May 7 at 7:00 pm.

The message of Girl Rising raises awareness of the cultural, political, historic and economic conditions that limit education for girls and the progress being made to break down those barriers.

Girl Rising produced the movie by partnering with Vulcan Productions, Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen’s award-winning media company.” The Intel Corporation is also a strategic partner.

The movie highlights the true stories of nine young girls who have successfully overcome tragic barriers to get an education on the way to freeing themselves from poverty and cultural restrictions.

The website offers the video Girl Rising in its store on the website along with free educational materials and suggestions on hosting a screening. The local One.org organization used the information to show the movie two nights last week at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center.

Educating girls in developing countries is an investment that pays economic and spiritual rewards.

Look into ways to help online at www.girlrising.com  or by contacting me at james.s.russell@frontier.com.

Posted in K12 Education, travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Women in Agriculture Conference is Serving Women Well

The Women in Agriculture (WIA) conference last Saturday was designed “to empower women in agriculture to achieve goals and manage risk through education, networking and technology.”

Two women networking about growing cherriesSusan Curtis got exactly those results from last year’s WIA conference. She operates Hope Mountain Farm, offering a community supported agricultural program for fresh produce out of Leavenworth. Besides the learning and action plans, the most beneficial result was networking with Jose Limon, from the Farm Services Agency who spoke last year and this year.

“I contacted him and he helped me get a loan for production this year,” she said.

Conference attendance has exploded from one Wenatchee location in 2005 to 24 locations in three states with 555 enrollees and a telecast from a national speaker.

They are part of the one million women farmers according to the USDA, more than double the number forty years ago. More women are farming on all sizes of farms, making up three of every ten farmers.

They are changing the characteristics of farming. They specialize in small farms with produce stands and direct sales to local consumers, a rapidly growing market in the U.S. Half the principal women operators are raising livestock. Younger women are starting farming faster than older women are leaving.

People I met at Wenatchee’s location matched those characteristics.

Susan Mittelstaedt, Waterville Wheat FarmerOne of the local panelists was Susan Mittelstaedt from Waterville, who with her husband Randy, have increased their harvest of soft white winter wheat on owned and leased land since 2004.

“We were asked to operate fields by retiring local farmers who didn’t want to sell their land,” she said. “They were multigenerational farmers.”

She said they’d been increasing harvests mostly by themselves and by “trial and error.” They hire a part-time tractor driver and a wheat truck driver at harvest.

“I keep the books, drive a tractor and a wheat truck, fix the meals, move my husband around and do what he asks,” she said.

She has two children, Miles 14, and Meredith 10, so she usually spends Saturdays with them, recently on Waterville’s ski hill.

Andi Brosi, an attendee from Rock Island, is an entomologist who joined the WSU Agricultural Research Center in Wenatchee three years ago. She and her husband finally found an affordable 15-acre farm, and even though she’s pregnant with their first child, they plan to produce pork for local markets, because none is available.

Another local panelist was Katie Smithson, 25, who returned three years ago to the Kaie Smithson from Smithson RanchSmithson Ranch in Peshastin and Bridgeport as a fourth generation farmer. She’s passionate about her jobs as fulltime career counselor at Cascade High School and as “a helping hand at the ranch.”

She does the books, harvests every crop from June to October, backs up the pickup at local markets to sell fruits and vegetables and does the inventory.

“I’ll continue with it, mostly because of history, involvement and my passion for it,” she said. “I’m a two-passion person.”

She’s career advising her younger brother to take over the farm, which he plans to do so far.

Margaret Viebrock, the WIA Conference Coordinator, Washington State University faculty member and Douglas County WSU Extension Director, saw the need for this type of conference as she had been training growing numbers of women in food safety, nutrition and food preservation.

Margaret Viebrock presentingShe had read USDA reports about women feeling unwelcome attended mostly men, lack of networking with other women, the need of off-farm income as small farm operators, and farming nights and weekends while raising children.

“And,” Viebrock added, “because women learn differently than men.”

The WIA Conference centered out of Waterville’s WSU extension service is serving women farmers well.

Posted in Agriculture, Community Building, Economics | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Life and Death Cycle of Wildebeests, Zebras and Lions on the Serengeti

My African impressions still overwhelm me long after we ended our two-week safari across the Kenyan and Tanzania plains. We saw the Great Migration of two million wildebeests, zebras and antelopes at the time their calves were birthing, one of the animal kingdom’s most magnificent spectacles.

A wildebeest herd with calves hiddn in the middleThe serene scenes of thousands of animals of different species living side-by-side masks a life cycle with fatal consequences. I’d envisioned the large predators as lords of the plains terrifying other animals. But I’ve come to believe that each animal survives because of its unique advantages in its environment, and that death arrives daily for only a few, though inevitably for all, just as our life-cycle does.

I saw powerful images among the large animals affected by the great migration: wildebeests, zebras and lions.

The Serengeti savannahs lie two degrees south of the equator where volcanic activity and tectonic plates have shoved-up the land 2000 feet higher into a cooler, drier climate.

The rains roll around the plains in a circular path from southern Tanzania north to southern Kenya before returning to southern Tanzania. The lands are drenched during a short rainy season in November and December and again by a long one from March through May, but parched in between.

After the rains tall grasses grow on land dotted by bushes and scores of varieties of Acacia trees. That fecund landscape feeds millions of herbivores who graze beside each other or march in single file following an ancient force. Zebras nibble down the tops of the long grasses. Wildebeests crave the remaining short grasses, so the herds graze together. Antelopes in sizes from dainty Thomsen gazelles to Grant gazelles graze near the herds.

Wildebeests and zebras survive with a life cycle based on following the rains to refreshed grasses. Just before the long rains begin we saw wildebeests lick away the childbirth on newborn calves as they struggled onto their feet within 15 minutes to avoid packs of hyenas, wild dogs or cheetahs hunting them down.

We saw hundreds of zebras, wildebeests and antelopes grazing near a kopje of large boulders and shade trees packed with lions, surrounded by approximately ten safari vehicles of spectators watching sun-bathing lionesses and younger lions.

“There’s a lioness in the grass,” came the whispered word among the vehicles.

A focused lioness on a kopje boulderSuddenly someone shouted, “She’s on the move.” A kopje lioness sat up to watch as the entire herd scattered. Almost immediately we heard, “It got away.”

The lioness staring from her perch laid down. The herds returned to grazing 50 yards farther away. Soon a lean lioness moseyed by our vehicle and climbed back into the kopje trees shading her disinterested pride.

Unlike the migrating animals, lions remain within their marked hunting ground, defending it from invading prides of lions and hyenas. If the pride migrated into new territories other prides would drive them back to their territory.

Male lions expel young males to hunt with other males and take over their own prides. A reproducing male will be with a pride for an average of 2 years and then live on its own in a ten-year expected life-span. Their manes make them slower and less agile hunters.

During dry seasons lions wait for the migrating herds to return or feast on animals that remain but are more dangerous to hunt, such as young elephants or Cape buffalo. An entire pride may leave the cubs alone while they hunt. We heard two cubs hidden in a kopje calling for their elders, sending signals to predators such as eagles, hawks and hyenas. Half of the cubs born in dry seasons are lost.

The wildebeest and zebras are compelled to follow the sweet grasses north of the Sur River where another territorial predator waits: crocodiles. The crocodiles feast on one of every six animals during the annual crossing. The antelopes turn around before the Sur River and return to the central Serengeti until the cycle starts again.

Research shows my human ancestors survived on those plains and some with modern tools still do. We weren’t allowed out of our vehicles, which I readily obeyed. I wouldn’t know how to survive out there. Those animals are equipped to survive. It’s an awesome experience to see them integrated with the other animals in their Great Migration’s habitat.

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Students in 7-9th grades still have time to apply for Misawa Japan Sister City Trip

Youth from 14-16 in the Wenatchee Valley have an opportunity to be an ambassador to Misawa, Japan from August 15 to August 24, 2014 in return for a lifetime of memories and new friendships.

Teresa Allen from the City of East Wenatchee sent me an email saying students still have a chance to enroll, because the Sister City program has extended the deadline to attract more students.

Delegations include anywhere from 4 – 12 students ranging in ages from 14 – 16 with an equal or greater number of citizens, local officials, Apple Blossom Royalty, teachers and community leaders.

The delegation has traditionally spent 1-2 days touring Tokyo, 5-6 days staying in Misawa with a family, attending the Misawa festival and attending numerous Misawa City functions.

Ambassadors are required to buy official red and white shirts with the Sister City logo as part of the dress code to be worn as they participate in parades, banquets and a BBQ by the Misawa mayor, all of which are followed by the Japanese Press.

Applications to be an adult or student Ambassador of goodwill are available from the Wenatchee Valley Misawa Sister Association website (wenatcheevalleymisawa.org). Information for students is also available through their schools.

Anyone interested can also call Teresa Allen at 886-6102.

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How a Small Idea is Growing to Dramatically Change Lives

Last November, my family and friends donated funds for Hillary Kosen, president of Kosen Safaris in East Wenatchee, to install three solar powered lights in rural homes without electricity before we arrive in Kenya for our safari. The idea is expanding and dramatically improving lives.

The solar panels cost $450 from Light 4 Village of Wenatchee. They reduce the costs and health hazards of kerosene stoves.

Kosen contacted Mrs. Grace Namunyak, a teacher in the Nkoilale Public school in his home town of Narok. She identified three homes with impoverished, capable students who would study at night.

The Wenatchee Rotary Board matched our donations and subsequent donations allowed eight panels, which Kosen has installed.

This aid story grew more.

Namunyak teaches a grade level 5 class in the bulging 800-student school.

Public school enrollment has almost doubled since 2003 when Kenya committed to free primary education, but funding has lagged. She has 43 students.

The aid project grew when Mrs. Sue Heitzman at Lee Elementary in East Wenatchee, volunteered her second grade students to donate school supplies, which we’ll deliver on February 21 (see article in The Empire Press, January 30, 2014).

The aid project grew again when Rotarians from the Lake Chelan and Leavenworth clubs organized by Les Cooper, a Lake Chelan Rotarian, indicated they’d be in the area and wanted to join us.

Last Friday Cooper emailed me that the aid project grew.

“I asked the Lake Chelan Rotary board to allow me to spend up to $1000 to help support the Nkoilale Primary school. They approved this proposal.”

Cooper, his wife, Carol, and Kosen will purchase supplies in Nairobi for the whole school.

Then the aid project took a wonderful turn when Michelle Shermer of Wenatchee met Kosen days before he left. Kosen told her about our plans and Shermer asked if she could personally support it, including paying school fees.

Kosen contacted Namunyak, who said a family receiving a solar panel had a talented 12-year-old girl named Seiyio who desperately needed a sponsor.

School fees for girls are $150 per year plus an additional $150 one-time fee for a mattress, uniform and miscellany. Shermer gave Kosen $400 and he delivered it.

Shermer shared her story and friends asked her if other students needed help.

Shermer linked up with Namunyak on Facebook. She had been praying for a sponsor for Seiyio, whose father had arranged a marriage for the 12-year-old because the family couldn’t afford the fees. Shermer has pictures of a joyous Seiyio safely boarded at the school.

Namunyak knew three other girls in need, but how could they send the money?

Last Sunday in church Shermer heard Karen and me tell a children’s story related to our Africa trip. Shermer’s friends handed us $1450 along with personal letters to each of the girls.

Shermer is amazed. “We’re just a group of moms who want to hope that at least some other children across the world will have a chance at a decent life like our own children,” she emailed me.

The story grew more.

When I told this story at church, three members withdrew $900 from their ATMs for three more continuing commitments. One of the scholarships comes through the Wenatchee chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, whose 17,000 members have girls’ education in Africa as their international priority.

This is an exciting development, but distrust and corruption are horrendous in Kenya.

Parents of students in Kenyan public schools have sued the government for continuing to charge fees.

“Even though it is against the law, schools are charging fees,” said Musau Ndunda,  head of the Kenyan National Association of Parents according to a January 24, 2014 article in London’s The Guardian. The article has a picture of students in a Nkoilale classroom.

The United Kingdom and the Dutch had donated funds to Kenya after the free primary education mandate, but they stopped in 2009 when an audit determined that corruption had siphoned off millions in aid.

Our local sponsors are aware of the problems, but the person-to-person deliveries and visits have worked, and we’re committed to establishing accountability and transparency for the significant improvements we are seeing.

Posted in Community Building, Education to reduce teen pregnancies, Justice | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Support the Common Core State Standards

Education reform in K-12 schools has led to the common core state standards that are being implemented in 45 states including Washington (see the article in this week’s Empire Press about Orondo as one the local school districts leading the implementation).

Alicia Lopez and student progress reportCriticisms and concerns about the standards increased when the Republican National Committee opposed the standards last year, and liberal critics joined in. In my view their criticisms are invalid and the standards should be supported.

Republicans claim standards should be the responsibility of states and local school districts. But the need for education reform has been demanded from employers and colleges since the explosive 1983  report by President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education called, “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.”

States responded with standards and accountability in the 1990s, but soon the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governor’s Association believed K-12 state standards were inconsistent and frequently weak.

The governors association hired Student Achievement Partners, a non-profit dedicated to standards and testing results for accountability, which proposed the common core standards for language arts and mathematics in 2009. The governors promoted them and textbook publishers have responded with new curriculum materials and testing organizations with new assessments .

Washington and most other states are scheduled to implement the common core standards with standardized tests in 2014-15.

One criticism is that the core standards are government mandated curriculum. The common core standards are not curriculum and not textbooks.  School districts choose curriculum in Washington. Mrs. Alicia Lopez, the lead instructor on common core standards, a history teacher at Orondo and shown above with a student’s progress profile on the common core, likes the standards.

“I spend less time grading, filling out individual education plans and I’m not tied to curriculum,” she said.

Liberals criticize that classic literature and the arts are being deemphasized, but Orondo Superintendent and Principal Millie Watkins hasn’t experienced that problem. Instructors in literature and civics courses can choose their reading materials but are expected to enforcing the common core standards of critical thinking and analysis.

There is an increase in non-fiction/technical reading in the language arts, which she supports because success in careers and citizenship requires it.

Critics charge book publishers have developed expensive curricula for teachers to implement the standards at a time school district budgets are already tight. That is a legitimate concern, causing districts to avoid them when possible.

“In social studies, teachers can emphasize original documents, such as the Lewis and Clark Journals,” Watkins said.

The Internet offers free access to learning materials, although they’re notoriously unreliable. But that allows teachers to challenge students to critically analyze the validity of information by citing references from other sources to justify using them. Those skills are precisely what is required as the basic reading skill standard for 7th-graders (see the accompanying article in this week’s Empire Press).

I know one professor who refuses to assign textbooks and posts all assigned reading materials on the Internet, reducing costs and increasing affordability and access for his students. He’s won awards for teaching at four universities. In fairness, I must confess he’s my son, but he tells me more colleagues are doing the same.

Another way to curb the costs is for the states to avoid new reforms so school districts can absorb the costs of reform and develop skills to teach them.

Another major criticism is the implementation is linked to standardized testing of student performance. I have concerns about standardized testing as it occurs and is being proposed, including Washington. However testing is a different issue than the standards.

“It is important to stress that the adoption of Core Standards and how best to test students are two separate issues,” said Edward Frenkel and Hung-His Wu from the University of Berkley in a May 2013 article of the WSJ titled, Republicans Should Love the Common Core.  “While testing is essential, standardized tests have their perils, not least that they often encourage mindless memorization. This issue needs to be further discussed, and special care has to be taken to design adequate tests.”

Support the common core state standards and give schools time to implement them without further reforms and focus more attention on better testing.

Posted in Community Building, Higher Education, K12 Education | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment