Saturday, March 11, 2017

Writing to Congress

Me, in January: "I will blog about all the awful things Trump is doing. Keeping up on it will keep me informed!"

Me, now: "OH MY GOD THERE IS SO MUCH NEWS ALL THE TIME, CAN'T IT JUST STOP?" (Also, me: "Oh yeah. If I want to blog I have to keep this POS laptop charged.")

I've been making lots of calls to my Congressman. I have form letters spread around the house and in my email. It's so nice when the letters (don't) address your specific concerns. But they come out quickly, so I guess I can compliment him on his efficient staff.

A couple of weeks ago, Congressman Dan Newhouse was invited to a town hall. He declined to attend, but the community held one anyway and submitted written questions along with video recorded questions for him. They've all been delivered to his office and within a couple of days of the written questions being delivered, I got the following responses.

To the question: "I see you are a cosponsor of the BRIDGE act. I would like to know more about what you are doing to support Dreamers." (I did not ask about DACA)

Thank you for contacting my office regarding your thoughts on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. I sincerely appreciate you reaching out and sharing your views on this important issue.

On January 12, 2017, Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) introduced H.R. 496, the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy (BRIDGE) Act, and I was proud to cosponsor this important legislation. H.R. 496 provides young students and veterans, who were brought to the U.S. as children and grew up in the United States, with work authorization and temporary protection from removal for three years. By providing temporary protection for these individuals the bill ensures they can continue to work and study in the U.S., while Congress debates broader legislation to fix our broken immigration system.

Since our country’s founding, America has been a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. Our communities in Central Washington are a testament to the contributions of immigrants to the fabric of American society, and it is important that we remember our history and heritage as we address this important issue. President Obama’s unconstitutional Executive Orders on DACA left individuals and families across the country in legal limbo, after the courts struck down the President’s unilateral actions. Congress has the sole authority to write laws that provide a humane solution to our broken immigration system, which is a responsibility that I do not take lightly. I was proud to join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support H.R. 496 and protect children brought to the U.S. through no fault of their own. These children and young adults deserve certainty and stability while Congress works together to provide for long-term immigration reform, a permanent solution for DACA individuals, increased border security, and a reasonable and accessible immigration system going forward.

Thank you for contacting me on this critically-important matter and I encourage you to stay engaged with my office as Congress debates solutions to the many immigration issues currently facing our country.

I hope you will continue to be in contact as Congress debates the many issues of importance to the country. I also encourage you to connect with me on Facebook and Twitter and to sign up for my e-newsletter for the latest updates on my work to represent Central Washington’s views in our nation’s capital.

Thank you again for taking the time to share your concerns with me—I am always glad to hear from constituents of the 4th District. It is an honor and privilege to serve you in Congress.

To the question, "Do you support HR 610?" (It ... sounds like he does not? Given that the letter suggests I might know that the bill I asked about exists, it's safe to say the question is not really answered).I DID express concern about cuts to the school lunch program and nutritional changes.

Thank you for contacting my office regarding your concerns about eliminating federal involvement in education decisions. It is important to hear from constituents as I work in Congress representing the people of Washington’s 4th District. I sincerely appreciate you reaching out and sharing your views on this important issue.

As you may know, Representative Steve King (R-IA) introduced H.R. 610, the Choices in Education Act of 2017. This legislation would repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and would create an education voucher program in its place and limit the power of the Secretary of Education. The Secretary of Education would have no authority to impose further requirements on elementary and secondary education outside of issuing block grants to states that are complying with the voucher programs, and school choice requirements set under this legislation. Effectively, this would transfer all education decisions to the state. To meet the school choice requirements, states must allow parents of an eligible child to elect to enroll their child in any public or private elementary or secondary school in the state, or homeschool their child. Additionally, H.R. 610 would repeal the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) standards on school nutrition, and establish new nutritional standards for the national school lunch and breakfast programs.

H.R. 610 has been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. You will be pleased to know no committee action on the bill has occurred nor has been scheduled on this legislation.

Additionally, last Congress, I was proud to support the Every Student Succeeds Act. I voted to support this legislation because I believe our students will receive the best formal education possible when local stakeholders such as parents, teachers and administrators are able to assist children in reaching their potential. While the bill did not contain every provision I would have preferred, it accomplishes several important reforms to the federal role in K-12 education. The legislation gave states wide discretion in setting goals for public schools, as well as the authority to identify and intervene in low-performing schools.

I hope you will continue to be in contact as Congress debates the many issues of importance to the country. I also encourage you to connect with me on Facebook and Twitter and to sign up for my e-newsletter for the latest updates on my work to represent Central Washington’s views in our nation’s capital.

Thank you again for taking the time to share your concerns with me—I am always glad to hear from constituents of the 4th District. It is an honor and privilege to serve you in Congress.

Read more On "Writing to Congress"!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Calling Congress

Quick housekeeping thing: If anyone reading this remembers how to make jumps within posts work correctly, please let me know. The text for the jump link shows up, but the entire post is above it. Is this just my computer?

As much as I loved being a journalist and desperately miss it, the best part about leaving the industry is that I'm now allowed to express political opinions in public. In college I drove a car held together with prayer and political bumper stickers, and while not putting stickers on my car was easy, having to refrain from protesting or calling my Congressmen was not. While I've spoken to politicians in person who didn't know I was a journalist, I've never until now been able to call them to voice my opinion. (When I was in high school, I wrote several letters to presidents and Senators. I have a stack of form responses somewhere. But I haven't written an opinionated letter to a politician since the 20th Century.
So about two weeks ago, I finally picked up the phone and called. First, I called Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat. I knew this call would be preaching to the choir, but that's what makes it a good first one. She is a ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, and so is working on the confirmation hearings for Betsy DeVos, Trump's abysmal nominee to lead the Department of Education. The phones were busy so I had to leave a message. I simply said, "I know Sen. Murray is on my side here, but I'm calling to express my extreme concern about Betsy DeVos. She's horribly unqualified and as a parent of a future public school student, she terrifies me."

Then came the harder call. Congressman Dan Newhouse. He's the Republican who represents Washington's Fourth District. He seems like a nice man, but there is very, very little he and I agree on politically. We probably agree on some things related to the clean up of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, but that's about it. I voted for him twice, because in both this election and 2012, he was running against someone I don't even want to take a tour of Congress, let alone represent me. (Washington State has a "top-two" primary, meaning that the top two candidates in the primary go to the general regardless of party. When you're a Democrat in the Tri-Cities, this often means there isn't going to be a candidate you want to vote for.

One of my biggest concerns is the ACA. Now, what I want is single-payer, universal health care that doesn't require relying on giant corporations to decide what kind of care you get. But that's not happening. So what I care about is the provisions of the ACA that are popular and help keep vulnerable people alive. I dialed and told a nice man that I know several very sick young children who rely on the ACA to stay alive. I told him if those kids get denied coverage for pre-existing conditions or lifetime coverage limits, their lives are in danger. It is unconscionable, I said, to allow young children to die because of a political grudge. And I said he doesn't get to call himself pro-life if he's not going to work to keep those provisions. I also sent a more detailed email with the same information, but stated a tad more eloquently than I could get out on the phone without letting the staffer who answered get a word in. Below his his response. I will be fact-checking the shit out of this so that I can respond.

Thank you for contacting my office regarding your thoughts on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It is important to hear from constituents as I work in Congress representing the people of Washington’s 4th District. I sincerely appreciate you reaching out and sharing your views on this important issue.

The framers of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) intended that law to accomplish two goals – reduce the number of uninsured Americans without health insurance, and reduce the costs of coverage. The law has woefully underperformed on both measures. We need only look at the health insurance exchange marketplace here in Washington State to see that costs are on the rise while consumer choice is diminishing. For 2017, the Washington State Insurance Commissioner approved an average 13.1 percent premium increase, coming on the heels of a 4.2 percent increase the year prior, and a 1.9 percent increase in 2015. Additionally, consumer choice is rapidly declining. For 2016, 136 plans were offered statewide by 12 insurers. That reduced to 46 plans offered by just seven insurers for 2017. For many consumers across the state, they now have access to just one or two providers in their counties.

Proponents of the ACA try to claim that the law has been successful in reducing the number of uninsured. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), while it may be true that 22 million people have attained “coverage” through the ACA – 10 million fewer than expected when the law first passed – nearly two-thirds of those enrollees have come under the expansion of the Medicaid program, not through the private insurance market. Sadly, the ACA placed enrollees into an already broken system, as Medicaid was already experiencing physician shortages prior to the ACA. This explosion in Medicaid enrollees has only aggravated this shortage, as well as increased wait-times for enrollees and the cost of the program. A Medicaid actuarial report from August 2016 found that the average cost per enrollee was 49 percent higher than estimated just a year prior – in large part due to beneficiaries seeking care at more expensive hospital emergency rooms due to difficulty finding a doctor and long waits for appointments.

I believe we owe it to the American people to repeal the ACA, and replace it with an alternative that embraces free market principles, will actually help to reduce costs, and will protect certain consumer safeguards supported by most Americans. For example, it is vital that we preserve coverage options for those who have preexisting conditions, and allow students and young adults the option of maintaining coverage with their parents. Since joining Congress in 2015, I have sponsored and supported several bills that will do just that. Most recently, I supported H.R. 3762, the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act, which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 240-189, and was vetoed by President Obama on January 8, 2016.

As you may be aware, President-Elect Trump has pledged the repeal and replacement of the ACA upon taking office. I look forward to joining him in this effort, and restoring choice and affordability to our healthcare system, while preserving protections for those most in-need. Rest assured that I will keep your views in mind as Congress discusses repeal and replacement options in the coming weeks and months.

I hope you will continue to be in contact as Congress debates the many issues of importance to the country. I also encourage you to connect with me on Facebook and Twitter and to sign up for my e-newsletter for the latest updates on my work to represent Central Washington’s views in our nation’s capital.

Thank you again for taking the time to share your concerns with me—I am always glad to hear from constituents of the 4th District. It is an honor and privilege to serve you in Congress.

Rep. Newhouse's staff and I are going to become very well-acquainted. His number is programmed into my phone.

Read more On "Calling Congress"!

Welcome to the Trump Administration

Boy, it's been a while. Short recap of what I've been up to since the last time I posted here: Had a baby and realized newborns and the copy desk vampire hours don't mix. Left journalism for a 9-5 job in the public affairs office of one of my area school districts. Left that job after 90 days for a variety of reasons that aren't really appropriate to discuss in a public blog. Became a substitute teacher and sub paraeducator. Still trying to figure out exactly what I want in a full-time position.

Now I've decided I need a place to post about the various ways in which Donald Trump's presidency is affecting our rights. I'll post fact-check articles and anything else I think is relevant to helping journalists and other Americans wade through the bullshit. Lots of friends ask me to fact-check stories they've read or to vouch for the reliability of a given news site, so I figure it's worth a shot to do it here. I'll also use this to keep track of correspondence I send to and from members of Congress.

Blogger tells me I'm supposed to somehow tell European Union readers about cookies. I don't know what that means, but if for some reason someone other than Bethany is reading this, and if for an even weirder reason, that person is in the EU, there are cookies. If they are Oreos, please share. I'm throwing together this first post while cooking soup for a friend's meal train, so forgive me if it's all over the place.

I guess I'll begin with a short list of news organizations I have been impressed with lately.

  • The Washington Post. The Post has done some fantastic reporting on Trump ever since he won the Republican nomination. A digital subscription isn't very expensive and it's worth the money. For one thing, Trump hates them and it will piss him off if their subscriptions go up. For another, the reason he hates them is that they produce accurate stories that are critical of his campaign and administration. Reporter David Fahrenthold worked himself to the bone throughout the campaign investigating Trump's claims about his charitable giving.
  • Vanity Fair. I've always liked Vanity Fair, but it's another publication Trump has been especially critical of. (Publisher Graydon Carter is the one who started the joke about Trump's small hands many years ago.) After the magazine published a hilarious, terrible review of the Trump Grill, Trump responded by Tweeting about how low the circulation was. It skyrocketed within days. I know people who have never read this magazine and are turned off by the fashion ads and overwhelming perfume aroma, but it's worth the subscription. Their political writing is fantastic and even if you use it to line the litter box, a few bucks a year to annoy the Orange One and support hard-working reporters who are not going to be intimidated is worth it.
  • Teen Vogue. If you had told me a year ago that I would be recommending Teen Vogue, I would have said you were insane. But this magazine has been doing great work lately. The piece that really convinced me is this op-ed about Trump's gaslighting of America.
  • The New York Times. Always. I will always trust the New York Times.
  • ProPublica: Non-profit public interest journalism.
  • PolitiFact. People tend to claim Politifact is biased whenever they don't agree with a Truth Meter ruling. But I've found that while they're sometimes harsher or easier than I might have been, their reasoning is usually sound.

That seems like enough for now. I will do my best to keep udpating. My blog access is limited to times that I remember to charge my cranky Chromebook, because I have more to say than I can type on a tablet or phone. I'll be updating my suggested links along the side of the blog as time goes on. I'm also going to take this moment to brag about the fact that I remembered the correct html tags to make that list!

Read more On "Welcome to the Trump Administration"!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Newspapers, blogging and the Internet

I started this blog more than 5 years ago as a class project. I kept up with it pretty well over that year, then had a three-year hiatus. I always thought it was a good idea, I just didn't know how to work it in with my life. I'm trying to be inspired again, so I'm reposting the very first post from February 2008. Sorry for the crappy formatting. I have to reteach myself how this works.

I was 10 years old the first time I worked for a newspaper. I woke up one morning and decided that I wanted to start a newspaper for my fourth grade class. I convinced my classmates to write various features, which I edited, typed up on my parents' PC (running Windows 3.1 and a horrible word processing program) and pasted onto printer paper before Xeroxing the pages and handing them out to my classmates. We were very proud of the final product, which the class decided to call "What's Up?"

At the time, I didn't realize that I would later realize that I was born to spend the rest of my life working in the media. I certainly didn't anticipate how computers, and later the Internet, would change the newspaper industry. Back then, my 10-year-old self thought the clip art I found on the now-ancient computer that still sits in my parents' church office was cutting-edge technology. Today, I am sitting on my couch accessing The Washington Post over a wireless Internet connection on a computer that would have fit inside the Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper in which I carried the issues of "What's Up"

Although I've blogged for years — I began after I finished my undergraduate education because I missed writing — the idea of blogging as an alternative media form or even the idea of newspapers online bothers me a bit. Too often these days, real, balanced journalism is replaced by bloggers on one side or another of a debate. This is not always bad — I read a few myself — but when people start to believe that the opinions of biased bloggers equates to a "fair and balanced" version of the truth it becomes detrimental to what journalists should be attempting to accomplish. I've used blogs for personal posts — recent entries include a piece on why I love Oregon, a story about a weird girl I met on the Amtrak train and photos of my parents' new puppy. It's certainly a nice way to kill a few minutes and feel connected to the few friends who read the blog. I've also used blogs to share my opinions, always linked to newspaper stories, and while I stand by the things I wrote, I would always want readers to read the newspapers and form their own opinions rather than think that what I wrote was fact. ...

This blog is a class project, and while I seem to be more familiar with blogging than others in my class, I hope I can use it on my resume someday. It's certainly a medium that budding journalists need to be familiar with, and I do appreciate the use of blogs associated with actual newspapers or news services as a tool to enhance coverage and explain the news in a way that is still fair and accurate but can be more casual than the main coverage. I expect to use this blog to write about the experience of being a new journalist entering the field at a time when technology is leading to rapid and dramatic changes in the field.

I have a love/hate relationship with this. I love computer assisted reporting and all the positive ways computers and the Internet enhance what we do, but I'm scared about what's happening in the industry right now, and the idea of not having an actual paper to spread out in front of me every morning makes me a little sad.

I spend hours a day on the Internet. I scan multiple news sites a day and occasionally read the news blogs. But as long as a physical paper exists, I'll always subscribe. For one thing, I'm afraid that too much time attempting to read small print online with damage my eyesight, but more than that, I enjoy the tactile experience of reading a real paper. Having to click on headlines and work my way through several Web pages to read the entire day's edition is my least favorite way to get the news. I like to spread my New York Times out on the couch, read all the stories on the front page and their jumps, and then work my way backwards through the rest of the section. I like the entire story, complete with photos and headline, to be out in front of me so I can quickly scan the first few graphs and decide what to read. I like the way the ink looks on the page and the way the paper smells. I like that I can fold the paper under my arm and carry it around to pull out on the bus or in the few minutes before class starts. I like tearing the crossword out of the arts section and doing it in pen throughout the day. No technology will ever replace this experience for me.

Read more On "Newspapers, blogging and the Internet"!

Back on the horse

Lately I've really been feeling that I"m missing out on something by not writing. I am going to attempt to revive this blog (I say this late at night as my ambien starts to kick in. It might not take, but I'm pretty determined.) This is a short week for me because of one of the realities of the newspaper industry these days -- the furlough. We have to take a full work week off between this month and the end of the fiscal quarter. Ty always tries to take the first two days of the NCAA basketball tournament off and this year, I'm taking the same time to have the time together. So we'll spend part of the weekend here and part with friends in Ellensburg, but quite a lot of basketball will be watched. The furlough is such a part of life these days that instead of being stressed out about losing the money (although we are), it's just nice to have some time off. That's not to say we WANT to be furloughed -- so if for some reason one of my bosses sees this, furlough is not good. OK. This was just a quick inaugural post, mostly to make sure the blog still existed. But here's hoping I'll keep my promise to myself.

Read more On "Back on the horse"!