Hope In Career

Those who know me would likely not describe me as overtly optimistic. In fact, I think many think of me as cranky, curmudgeonly, and pessimistic. And honestly, I probably wouldn’t contradict them. I’m definitely not one overflowing with positivity.

I have a friend who is one of the most positive people I know. I don’t see her much anymore, but I’m often reminded of her and was again just yesterday.

Spirituality and Divining What You Want From Life

This friend of mine is… spiritual. She talks to her dead mother and the spirits of her ancestors. Not believing in any of that mumbo-jumbo myself, I always thought it strange. But acknowledging the beliefs of others without judging is something I really strive for, so I never really gave her a hard time about it.

But here’s the thing; it worked for her. I don’t mean she was content and it made her feel at ease. I mean she’d ask for things and they’d come true.

There was a time when I would spend Christmas with her, her family and some friends at a beach house in Mokuleia. One of my favorite places in the whole world, I never missed an opportunity to spend time there. I recall one year the forecasts predicted rain storms the whole week and we talked about not going. My friend made a “request” of her family ancestors, her mother, for a “puka in the sky” and told me the beach house was a go.

It may seem like a silly story and I was certainly skeptical at the time, but it turned out we had great weather the whole week. Do I believe her “request” is the reason? I’m not sure.

And way back when I was still trying to find my own way, a path and career I was passionate about, she used to tell me to just picture it in my head. Ask for it. Believe it and it’ll happen.

My Own Experience with “Luck”

After that, I began to think about it and reflect on my own life. And you know what? There may be something to her approach.

Despite more than my fair share of adversity, I’ve been incredibly lucky. Most recently, I gave up a secure and easy job with the Governor to take on the new challenge of managing a statewide political campaign. I knew the odds were slim we’d actually win, but I believed in the candidate and was ready to move my career in a new direction.

After we lost, I spent the next several months unemployed while I finished my Master’s Degree. As money grew tight, I thought maybe I’d been rash in leaving the Governor’s Office, but I eventually found some work and continued to do work I so enjoy.

Then the legislative session ended and I was, once again, unemployed. While I worked to brand my consulting business and search for clients cash again began to dwindle and credit card debt skyrocket. The months passed and I resisted the idea of finding “another job” or (ack) drive for Lyft or Uber.

I kept telling myself something would come along. As it always has. I’ve always managed to somehow land on my feet.

Stick to Your Guns in Life

A few days ago desperation grew as I started to wonder how I would pay next month’s rent, I reached out to an old friend for a loan. Sick to do it, I told him anything would help, but that I couldn’t promise when I’d be able to pay him back.

While he talked to his wife and I waited to hear from him, I got a call. A firm I’ve done some work for previously called me, out of the blue (kind of) and asked if I wanted to do some campaign work on the mainland.

Whew! Just hours later my friend regretted to tell me he couldn’t help at this particular moment.

Though desperation was taking hold, I stuck to my guns knowing (hoping) something would come through before I was forced to do something that would move me in the wrong direction. And just like nearly every time before, luck kept me on the path I wanted.

In 48-hours I fly to Mississippi and Louisiana to help coordinate field operations in the last stretch before this year’s elections. I’ll get to do what I so enjoy doing and I’ll be getting paid pretty well to do it.

My money problems will continue as I work to dig out from under a mountain of credit card debt, but I’ll be level for a while. And I expect more work upon my return as the next legislative session approaches.

A Pessimistic Optimist

I’ve never been one for faith (spiritual or godly). Given all the terrible shit in the world, it’s hard for me to believe in any kind of God. Nonetheless, I didn’t know when or how, but I was never really worried something wouldn’t come along. Sure, I wish something would have come along much, much sooner. But I didn’t give up the fight for exactly the kind of work I want to do.

So here I am, scrambling to be read to step on a plane for new places, new experiences, and new people. I’m excited and grateful for the opportunity.

When I forget what can happen when you wait for what you really want, I’m reminded how life can somehow work out. It’s just not always how you want.

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FDR for President - socialist government programs

The word “progressive” carries a lot of baggage. On the right, conservatives bandy about the term as an insult, a term of derision meant to signal an opposition to “traditional values,” military weakness or cowardice, or an “Un-American” approach to economics. For many conservatives, “progressives” are really anyone to their left on the political spectrum, which isn’t hard to do these days.

Among Democrats, it is an identity many elected officials and candidates covet. During the primaries, it seems every Democrat is a “progressive.” Whether they really are or not is open to debate. As a self-described progressive myself, I certainly have my own ideas about what the word means and when the title is appropriately employed. But for our immediate purposes here, I will attempt to lay out an objective working definition.

Definitions

Starting with the basics, the Oxford English Dictionary defines progressive in a number of contexts, but for our purposes here’s a couple that are relevant:

(Of a person or idea) favoring social reform ‘a relatively progressive Minister of Education’. Or favouring change or innovation.

Beyond this technical definition which may or may not be applied to current national political dynamics, I went in search of more satisfying definitions that might better inform the underlying point of this post; what does it mean to be “progressive” in today’s political climate.

I came across an article in The New Republic aptly titled, “Are You Progressive?”. The author ultimately provides two definitions that contradict one another:

In a recent issue of the journal Democracy, the historian Sean Wilentz addressed it head-on: Liberals, he argues, recognize the flaws of capitalism, are dedicated to remedying them, and have great achievements to their credit in that regard, notably those of the New Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society. Progressives are meanwhile “emphatically anti-liberal”—because they are hostile to capitalism and, “deep down, harbor the hope that one day, perhaps through some catastrophic event, American capitalism will indeed be replaced by socialism.”

He goes on:

In practice, however, Wilentz’s theory doesn’t really apply: Progressive and liberal are precisely synonyms in American political life—and have been since the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan succeeded in making liberals feel ashamed of the word and fearful of associating with it, and they started calling themselves progressives instead. This wasn’t the introduction of a new politics; it was the rebranding of an existing one.

While I tend to agree with the conclusion drawn by McCormack in the New Republic article, I don’t intend to debate here the difference between “liberal” and “progressive,” rather provide some context. Feeling that I’ve done that, I’m moving on.

Recent Uses

I’ve seen articles recently, more than one in fact, that claim the “progressive” agenda isn’t so much “progressive,” but rather a reclaiming of New Deal policies and a “realigning” of the Democratic Party.

As we can begin to see above, this approach does more to muddy the definitional waters than to clarify them. Without delving into the political connections and relationships of these journalists, I believe this is little more than an ongoing and continuous effort by the Democratic Party establishment and its supporters to appropriate the term for their own purposes. As so many Democratic elected officials, both here in the islands and across the country, aim to do.

Yes, I would imagine that most true progressives (I’ll come to my own definition a bit later) support the policies of the New Deal, but its agenda I think falls short of what we should today call “progressive.” For starters, during the era of Roosevelt there was little consciousness or understanding of the impacts human society has on the environment around us. And any “progressive” agenda today should include a strong environmental protection stance.

In addition to a strong stance on environmental protections, defense and support of strong labor organizing components, and social justice as opposition to treating immigrants, people of color, or women as anything less than equal should be at the core of “progressive” values.

Organized Labor

Anyone considering themselves “progressive” should be a staunch and vocal supporter of labor unions and the unfettered right of workers to collectively organize.

During the last 40 years or so, Democratic and Republican politicians alike have worked, actively or otherwise, to chip away at union membership and the influence of organized labor on our political and economic systems. Sure, Republicans have largely led the charge, but sadly far too many Democratic politicians have been complicit.

Organized labor, history shows us, has had substantial impacts on our society and economy by fighting for fairness. Again, not equality, but fairness. Only as the strength and influence of labor unions has wained over the last few decades have wages stagnated, have corporate profits and influence exploded, and the quality of life of the average worker suffered.

Social Justice

In the age of Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movements, any examination of what it means to be progressive must include some consideration of social justice.

Indigenous rights, here in Hawaii, might be the most pronounced example of what I mean. Court rulings and protest movements have shown us that Native Hawaiian rights are given consideration only when it serves the purposes of political politeness, or tourist industry pandering. Government mechanisms constitutionally mandated to benefit Native Hawaiian communities are paid little more than lip service.

Even today, we need look no farther than the stand-off over the TMT on Mauna Kea, or the underfunding of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) or Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL).

Beyond the shores of Hawaii, groups are under assault across the country, from immigrants forced into illegal camps reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps or the Japanese interment camps in the U.S. to a growing violence toward anyone non-white and/or non-American.

For any self-described “progressive,” these developments should enrage and terrify you.

What is a “Progressive” to Me?

What I think drives my progressive-ness more than anything else is a strong sense of fairness. I want to be clear here. Fairness in my mind is not the same as equality, or equality of access.

For example, our criminal justice system is built on the notion of “equal protection” under the law, but that does not mean the system is fair. There are any number of laws and mechanisms within our criminal justice system that are simply unfair. From mandatory minimums that disproportionately impact minority and poor populations, to the ability to hire an experienced attorney, the system is far from fair.

More broadly, the American notion of “pulling yourself up by your boot-straps” is also based on the idea of equal access, but not of fairness. Countless studies have shown us that it matters far less how smart or hard working you are. If your family has money you’re more likely to succeed than those who don’t.

Systems and policies built on fairness, rather than equality of access, are what I’m interested in. If you’re making $500 million a year, you should be required to pay a very high tax rate. Providing public schools (and public school teachers) with virtually unlimited funds to ensure our schools are providing children with anything and everything they need to succeed should be the standard. Not vouchers. And no tax breaks for those who send their kids to private schools (I’m not sure this is a thing now, but it certainly shouldn’t be).

Citizens United has guaranteed those with money have louder voices than those without. A political system driven by the notion that “money is speech” might be perceived to be equal, but it is by no reasonable standard fair. Progressives should support publicly funded elections, stringent reporting laws, and strict spending limits.

Ultimately for me fairness should be the standard applied and not “equal access.”

In terms of environmental justice, fairness might be harder to quantify. And as someone who is not very well versed in the wide range of environmental issues facing humanity, it is trickier for me to cobble together a definition that distinguishes “fairness” from “equality of access.”

In the broadest terms, I’d say it comes down to this: we all have one world. Environmental protections and regulatory mechanisms should, first and foremost, seek to protect our natural environment and the health and safety of humanity. Concerns about impacts on “industry” or economy should rank a distant second.

True Believers & Practical Progressives

Further, I breakdown “progressives” into two groups: True Believers and Practical Progressives.

The first group I call the “true believer progressives.” Young and old, “progressives” in this group are, as the name suggests, those who believe right is right and anything else than that is to compromise their principles. They occupy the high ground and may be inclined to toss overboard anyone who is willing to settle for less rather than get nothing at all.

For these folks, to accept anything less than a truly living wage, for example, rather than any increase to the Minimum Wage is to sell-out to moderates and corporatists. Or those who were unwilling to settle for Civil Unions rather than full Marriage Equality for same-sex couples. Pick any issue of importance facing our country (or the world) today and you’ll find the “true believers” occupying the far-left flank prepared to hurl barbs at those who are willing to compromise to move the needle even a little bit.

This brings me to the second group, which I would call “practical progressives.” I consider myself falling into this group. There was a time, when I was younger, that I was undeniably a “true believer.” But having worked in politics as either an activist or professional operative for more than a decade, I’ve developed an understanding that politics is as much about compromise as it is holding firm to your principles.

Should minimum wage workers who haven’t received a raise in years and years be forced to wait longer while we battle for a living wage? Or should we work to get the biggest raise we can and then keep fighting to push that wage up? Should we have waited for politicians to be “ready” for full Marriage Equality while families needed protections and benefits provided under a Civil Union legal structure?

While “practical progressives” and “true believers” may be, at times, at odds with each other, I believe a necessary partnership exists between these two groups. “True believers” give strength and sense of purpose to us “practical” folks. Conversely, “practical progressives” can lend legitimacy and forward momentum to positions coveted by the “true believers.” In either case, I believe one does not much succeed without the other.

While I hope this has been an interesting and educational read, I expect there will be some who are critical of my analysis and definitions as I’ve laid them out here. That’s ok. A conversation about what it means to be “progressive” could be a useful one.

Some Interesting Reading

While researching this post, I came across a number of interesting articles from various sources which I thought were worth sharing….

McCormack, Win. April 20, 2018. “Are You Progressive?” The New Republic. https://newrepublic.com/article/147825/progressive-vital-term-us-political-life-lost-significance

Wilentz, Sean. Spring 2018. “Fighting Words.” Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. https://democracyjournal.org/magazine/48/fighting-words/

Saval, Nikil. July 5, 2017. “Hated by the Right. Mocked by the Left. Who Wants to be ‘Liberal’ Anymore?” The New York Times Magazine. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/05/magazine/hated-by-the-right-mocked-by-the-left-who-wants-to-be-liberal-anymore.html

Wenar, Leif and Hong, Chong-Min. 1996. “On Republicanism and Liberalism.” The Harvard Review of Philosophy. http://www.harvardphilosophy.com/issues/1996/Sandel.pdf

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All Politics is Local

Presidential Politics Wreaks Havoc

The 2020 election cycle is likely to be a dramatic one. Nationally, the GOP will fight to hold on to the White House, maintain their majority control of the U.S. Senate and generally try to stop the bleeding of support they’ve been experiencing since Trump was sworn in. On the other side of the aisle, Democrats, while trying to make gains across the country (not to mention the White House), are facing their own challenges.

Theirs, for better or worse, is mostly internal. Though the Party establishment is hell-bent on excising the orange baboon from the Oval Office, they are almost equally interested in maintaining the current economic and political power structures; those same structures and political dynamics that allowed Trump to defeat the DNC’s dynastic standard-bearer in 2016.

The loss was embarrassing for almost everyone involved: Democrats, Clinton, the GOP, mainstream new media, and voters. Only Trump believed in the inevitability of his assent to the Presidency.

Learning valuable lessons from both the Primary and General Elections, the DNC made changes to their structure and procedures in the Presidential Primary and the National Convention. I leave it to others to decide how dramatic said changes have actually been. And despite these changes, it would seem at least at a cursory glance, that neither the Democratic Party nor Primary voters have learned the lesson. Against Trump, you don’t bring the same tired moderate faces and talking points.

When Joe Biden officially announced his own bid for the Democratic Nomination, he jumped to the top of nearly every single poll that’s since been conducted. With far too many Democrats (in my opinion) trumpeting Biden as the only reasonable choice to defeat Trump, I fear we’re headed for a repeat of 2016.

The Local Scene

While much and increasing attention is being paid to calamitous national politics, we’ve got serious problems right here at home that need attention.

Our elected officials, from County Councils all the way up to the Governor, are not doing nearly enough to address Hawaii’s very serious issues. Climate change, sea level rise, public education, teacher shortages and low pay, highest national cost of living, highest per capita homeless population, stagnate wages, illegal vacation rentals, protection of natural resources. The list goes on and on. And on virtually all of them, our government officials continue to fail.

“Slow and incremental” should be the official motto of the Hawaii State Legislature. Sadly, while big and bold steps are necessary to address a myriad of issues, our Democratic-majority-controlled Legislature does little more than nibble around the edges. Unless, of course, a construction boondoggle or corporate powerhouse is under threat.

People are fed up. It’s long since time for a change and in Hawaii, we should expect progressives to lead the way.

Where to Focus Our Resources

History shows us that national elections, particularly the Presidential, draw a lot of attention, resources, and energy. And while I expect it will be the same between now and Election Day next year, I’m making a plea here for my progressive brothers and sisters not to ignore local elections this year.

Last year progressive individuals and organizations began an effort to work together to support good candidates who challenged entrenched establishment incumbents. And while we had some success, we’re looking to expand those efforts for the 2020 elections.

We intend to send a clear and unambiguous message to our elected officials. You’ve had plenty of opportunities to address the serious issues we face. Your time is up and we’re coming to replace you. Over the course of the next few months, challengers will begin to appear and the landscape of our efforts will begin coming into focus. During this time, it will be important that we begin collectively to build an army of volunteers and donors.

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

I encourage you to get involved in one or more of these local campaigns. Whether it’s with your money, your time, or both. Our effort to continue transforming the Legislature will not succeed without real and substantial commitments from progressives across the state.

I understand it’s a bit early and there isn’t much, if any, campaigning taking place at this stage. But that will change before too long. If you want to stay updated on what’s happening politically, please consider subscribing to my blog; you’ll receive regular updates via email about goings on with elections and more.

If you can, please also consider donating to the Initiative for a Pono Hawaii’s PAC. While we aren’t spending any money quite yet, it’s never too early to begin building a war chest. With your help, we can change the landscape of politics in Hawaii.

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My therapist maybe as much as anyone else in my life is responsible for the person I am now.

A couple of months ago I learned my therapist is retiring. Last week I had my last session with him. Off and on for more than a decade, he has helped keep me on an even keel. Not only during the turbulent times of my life but also when its waters were calm.

When I arrived in Hawaii I was recovering from a not-so-small breakdown; one reason I moved here was to get away from a significant source of stress and heartbreak. With no plan to make Hawaii home, I came here to “sort my shit out,” which included seeking out therapy (and medication if need be). While I had been in worse shape not that long before arriving here, I was still pretty screwed up at that point.

Dysthymia and Pills

So, before I had any job or health insurance, I saw a doctor at Leahi Hospital in Kaimuki. I only went the one time. After some testing and questioning, the doctor there was the one who diagnosed me with Dysthymia. I knew then I couldn’t be casual about finding a regular doctor, but a steady job and health insurance were both important prerequisites.

The idea of “shopping for a shrink,” as I called it, was not remotely appealing to me. So I count myself incredibly lucky that I was able to find this doctor from a referral rather than by trial and error.

In the beginning, I was singularly focused on trying to understand what the hell was wrong with me. At the time I believed that if I could understand the root causes of my mental dysfunction, I would be able to make corrections.

Eventually, my therapist convinced it that the causes mattered less than getting better. I recall I resisted a causeless approach, but I was determined to get better. So I acquiesced.

In addition to an insistence on finding root causes of my dysfunction, I was fundamentally opposed to accepting any kind of medication. At the time, though a part of me really understood what it meant to be depressed, I didn’t think I needed medication to get sorted. And again, he convinced me it was worth a try.

And so I did.

For better or worse, it quickly became apparent that medication wasn’t going to help with what was wrong with me. For that I needed good, ol’ fashioned talking it out.

Off and On Maintenance

That was more than ten years ago.

Eventually, I got to the point where I didn’t think therapy had anything to offer me. After years of frequent and regular sessions, it felt like I was graduating to a new life. Or, at least a new perspective.

I was happy consistently for the first time I could remember. Or at least what seemed like happiness; I was content. And so it was for years. Until the wheels came off my wagon again and I resumed appointments.

After some time, I returned to my own equilibrium, but continued what I now refer to as “maintenance therapy.” Some weeks are better than others, and the regular check-ins have done a good job keeping said equilibrium.

I’m in pretty good shape now, for the most part. I don’t claim to be “fixed.” After several small relapses and at least one big one, I’ve accepted completely both the good and bad in me. Maybe I’ll be even better in the future, but for now… I’m good.

Retirement and Thanks

I’ve had doctors retire and relocate on me in other areas of my life. Since being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, I’ve been passed along through four Gastroenterologists. While annoying, none of those changes necessitated a blog post.

My therapist, maybe as much as anyone else in my life is responsible for the person I am now. Maybe there will always be a part of me that is broken. But for the old me, for the former me that would have been enough to send me retreating to the dark corners of my brain. The now me both understands I might change and accepts if I don’t.

That may not sound like much of a revelation, but for me, it’s the difference between happiness/contentment and dysfunction.

So this retirement and changing of the doctoral guard is, for me, much more meaningful. Poignant. I am thankful for who I am now. I like me. And for being able to say that I have my therapist to thank. While an appointment to a new therapist is pending, it’s hard to imagine I will be as lucky to have another that I like and so appreciate.

Change, for me, is somewhat challenging and this change is no different. I write this to remind me of the good work I did with him. The work he did with me. And to say thanks.

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Take any article written by Allison Schaefers with a grain of salt.

While going about my day yesterday, I was contemplating what I should write about this week. With the legislative session receding in our rear view and election season still months away, I wasn’t sure what to do. Then the heavens opened and dropped in my lap this nonsense trying to pass itself off as journalism.

Is it a Paid Ad, or a News Article?

In yesterday’s issue of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, there was an article entitled “Host uses short-term rental as path to homeownership”, by Allison Schaefers. Curious, I read the article to almost immediately see it for what it is; propaganda advertising meant to support a pro-short-term rental position. The piece tells the story of a woman who bought a house no one else wanted, fixed it up, and began renting it as a short-term rental in order to save enough to buy her own home.

From the outset, it’s clear the “reporter” stakes out a position in support of this illegal activity, but then we come to the fourth paragraph:

Rovito bought the four-bedroom, three-bath, 2,000-square-foot home in 2017 for $1.6 million and invested another $200,000 to make it livable. Then she began renting it on vacation rental sites for anywhere from $400 to $800 a night depending on demand. She also donates the use of the home to student groups and nonprofits with ties to Hawaii.

Did you catch the oddity? This seems to be directly in conflict with the title of the article; short-term rental as a path to homeownership? Umm… well, it would seem she already owns a home, one on which she spent $1.8 million. I know children who could spot this blatant contradiction, but either the intrepid “reporter” who drafted this is either incredibly dim, or she isn’t so much a news journalist, as she is an advertising copy-editor for Airbnb. I’ll let you decide, so let us move on.

It Would Seem Our Subject Has No Trouble Buying a Home

A friend of mine who similarly finds this kind of “reporting” offensive, took the time to dig a little deeper. He looked at the tax records for the property which show it’s owned by a trustee who used to work at Hawaii Pacific University.

My friend also found fault with the article’s claim that this self-starter has lived in Hawaii for 20 years. Proving social media can bite anyone in the ass, online searches seem to indicate she actually lives in Washington, D.C. In addition to being a lawyer, it appears she’s actually an owner of a short-term vacation rental business, with multiple properties in Honolulu, D.C., and Utah.

Because I know some people can be particularly nasty, I won’t post links to her social media here, but she’s named in the Star-Advertiser article. So if you’re inclined to take the time, you can find her on your own.

A Shining Example of the Ailing State of Journalism in Hawaii

Wanting to give our “reporter” the benefit of the doubt and an opportunity to correct her reporting, my friend sent an email to Allison Schaefers pointing out all these… inconsistencies. Flaws? Her response, it should go without saying, leaves more than a little to be desired:

Thanks for your feedback.
Although Brynn Rovito’s name is not on the property tax record, she is purchasing the home through a deal with the owner.
Allison

That’s it. Nothing about her vacation rental business, nor the fact that she might not even live here. Disappointing, to say the least, but it leads me to the only reasonable conclusion; she knew all this when she wrote her article and simply wasn’t interested in portraying her subject honestly.

With so few truly reliable local news sources in Hawaii, that this is what is considered journalism is shameful. We need to expect… no, demand more of our news outlets.

 

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