Combating Sexual Assault in the United States

We can no longer sit silently and continue to be complicit in a society that exacerbates a rape culture. We are better than this and it is time that we all make the decision to change the way we think, and act, as a country, when it comes to the issue of sexual harassment and assault. When writing this I deliberately chose to use the word rape, instead of a watered down term to make people more comfortable. This is a difficult subject. One we’ve tried to sweep under the rug for too long because it’s difficult to talk about, and it makes people uncomfortable. But if we can’t use the right words to talk about this problem, we will never be able to solve it.

It is time to combat sexual assault in the United States of America.

Sexual violence happens in every institution we hold dear in this country. From college, to the military, and even in the workforce, sexual assault and sexual harassment pervade almost all parts of our lives, and for too long, our rape culture has been insufficiently addressed and propagated by those with positions of power.

We must immediately take substantive action to correct this societal ill which affects so many Americans.

Here are some statistics. One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. Nearly half of all women will experience sexual violence, as well as one in five men. The problem is much worse for members of the LGBTQ community, with almost 75% of bisexual women and half of bisexual men experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime.

In colleges and in the military, the statistics are even more stark. Only 5% of sexual assaults on college campuses are reported. Only 30% of military service members reported their assaults with only 9% of cases ending in conviction. The narrative that many of these crimes are falsely reported is flat out wrong. A summary of studies shows that the percentage of rapes that are falsely reported is between 2-10%. False reporting does exist, but it happens about as often as false reporting of other major crimes like murder, aggravated assault, arson and robbery.

With numbers like that, we don’t need cable news to know that this is a major problem.

What makes me sick, is that me, you, your children, your siblings, your parents, your coworkers, and your friends stand a strong chance of suffering sexual violence at some point in their lifetime.

That is unacceptable.

It is sobering to see the steady stream of public figures facing allegations of sexual impropriety and violence, and we must offer support to the survivors as they risk their livelihoods in order to seek justice.

Also sobering is that you need may not need to look further than your own house to find survivors of sexual violence. Many say we need a change of heart as a country, but prayers, empathy and solidarity only go so far.

It is time to take action.

I am proposing legislative action to combat sexual violence, which I will make a priority the moment I am sworn into office.

Our plan consists of four parts:

Part One: Implement necessary affirmative consent reforms at our colleges and universities to combat campus sexual assault.

Part Two: Transform the way we educate our children about consent, by implementing a curriculum that teaches middle school age kids affirmative consent and helping them understand what is allowed and what is inappropriate and what to do if they find themselves in an inappropriate situation.  

Part Three: Reform the process for military sexual assault investigation and prosecution by taking it out of a victim’s chain of command.

Part Four: Require expert-led studies to determine the protocols and procedures that need to be put in place on campuses and in the military so that sexual violence survivors are provided with the resources and support that they need.

This is just a start.

A hallmark of this nation is our ability to heed the call of virtue, right our societal wrongs and bring forward transformational change.

I believe that we are capable of that when it comes to reversing the epidemic of sexual violence. We must take responsibility and educate our children. We must reform our cherished institutions so that they are not incubators of violence.

We are capable of that.

I thank California Senator Kevin de Leόn, former Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal and Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson for their work in enacting First-in-the Nation Legislation to Combat College Campus Sexual Assault in the state of California.

I also thank the U.S. Senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, for proposing legislation that would remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command.

And last but not least, I want to thank the many activist groups and nonprofit organizations that work tirelessly on behalf of survivors to eradicate our rape culture.

I stand with the millions of sexual violence survivors in this country and will help them lead the fight to combat sexual assault in the United States.

 

Protecting a Woman’s Right to Choose

I was moved by this woman’s story. In a Christian school, she made the choice that she believed was right, to keep her baby. The school responded by stripping her from leadership positions and not allowing her to walk across the stage to receive her diploma.

What I, and many other progressives, fight for, is for woman like Madeline to have the right to choose. Whether it is to have the child, or to terminate the pregnancy, it is the choice of that woman, with the support of …her faith and loved ones. I was happy to see that her family was immediately forthcoming with support. While an unexpected teen pregnancy is scary, they knew that the right answer was to help support her, to make the best out of a bad situation.

I am appalled that the school decided to publicly shame this woman for her unplanned pregnancy, and then punish her for making her CHOICE. It’s all about CHOICE and what is best for her and her life. As a progressive, I would never disparage her for which decision she ultimately made, and I want to fight so our country helps her time of need.

There are some in our country who think the way to stop abortions is by shutting down clinics and restricting access. That is dead WRONG. The way you stem the tide of terminating unwanted pregnancies is by providing support to the woman in her time of need, and continue to provide support for the mother and child, so the baby can grow into a successful, happy adult. We need to show compassion in the face of desperation, so they can see that even though they’re in a time of shock, trying to figure out how to deal with the surprise of a lifetime, that there is hope. That society is there to help them. We also need to protect access to safe family planning facilities, so if a woman decides that this is the best option for her, she will have a safe place to go. There is a terrible quote in this article where Madeline apologizes to any women in the crowd, who may seek an abortion instead of facing the public ridicule that she endured by deciding to keep the baby. I’m ashamed that in 2017, we are still subjecting women to this treatment, when the father did not have to appear next to her throughout and endure the same.

We can do better. We must continue to fight for access to abortion services. We must continue to fight for prenatal and post partum care. We must continue to fight for free access to contraceptives for anyone who needs it. We must continue to fight for early childhood development, paid family leave, and affordable childcare so women have the CHOICE to go back to work.

This was a sad story, but I’m bolstered by the strength that Madeline showed to make her CHOICE, and stand by it.

We must fight to elect progressives. I’m running for Congress in the First Congressional District of Virginia to protect women like Madeline. To protect her right to choose, and to help her and her child when they will need it the most. Look here in Virginia to support other progressives running in our elections this year, and I hope I can have your support for my race in 2018.

Single Payer is the Only Answer

It may be difficult to remember now, but there was a time when healthcare reform was seemingly a political ‘third rail’, due to the controversial and divisive nature of the issue. Health care, for too long, was viewed as an ideological and political issue, up for debate prior to every national election, but never truly under consideration. Democrats to their credit, embraced the idea of universal healthcare more than half a century ago, but have not been able to create a powerful enough coalition, coupled with strong public sentiment, to drive necessary and full-fledged reform through. As the only major developed nation in the world without a universal healthcare system, one would assume that we would be striving to remediate this dereliction of national duty, but we as a nation have not even fully come to the conclusion that healthcare is in fact a right.

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Our 42nd President, William Jefferson Clinton, electoral mandate in hand, famously attempted to pass through his plan for universal healthcare shortly after being inaugurated in 1993. Unfortunately he was not able to follow through on his campaign promise due to Democratic Party infighting, as well as a fierce and concerted effort by the Republican Party, libertarians and health insurance providers to deny his proposal. There was a general consensus after President Clinton’s healthcare defeat that healthcare reform in the United States of America was perhaps an issue too complicated and too divisive to receive serious consideration at the national level. It was not until Barack Obama’s election in 2008, that healthcare reform was once again viewed as an achievable goal. Even as he defied odds and signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act(ACA)into law in March of 2010, the debate of the bill was extremely contentious and polarizing and serious concessions had to be made in order to secure support from key Democratic legislators.

Although the passing of the ACA was a momentous achievement and did succeed in lowering the uninsured rate, protecting those with pre-existing conditions, and curbing ever-rising insurance premiums, it was far from a perfect law. Concessions during the bill’s debate stripped important measures, such as a public option, which would have provided a government funded plan at a lower cost than the private insurance plans on offer. Also, the fact that the bill was passed without a single Republican vote, created a unifying cry, emboldening the entire party and birthing a new, fiery and passionate faction, known as the Tea Party. Like President Clinton’s Democratic Party in 1994, Barack Obama’s Democratic Party paid the price for their foray into healthcare reform, losing their majority in the House of Representatives in 2010. Congressional Republicans, in totality, opposed the bill and attempted to repeal all or parts of it, over 60 times and until the recent American Health Care Act of 2017 (H.R. 1628), currently being rewritten by the Senate, had been unsuccessful.The ACA’s long-term survival seems to be in limbo as ideologues on both sides wage continuous war to save and fix or repeal and replace the law.

Unlike many other policy issues currently on debate, healthcare access and provision is a life and death issue for millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Virginians. As partisan squabbles fill Congress and State Legislatures, regular Americans face daunting medical costs, ever-rising premiums, and large insurance providers whose sole objective is maximum profit. As a nation that embraces its place at the forefront of the industrial world, it is imperative that we move past questions of whether healthcare access is a right or whether the return is worth the cost and establish a single-payer healthcare system, like every other major industrial nation on this planet.

What seems to be missing from the current healthcare reform debate is the general will of the American people. The public has shown a propensity to support healthcare reform with public polls showing that a majority of people support greater government involvement in health care in the United States. One of the most popular provisions of the ACA was the expansion of Medicaid. Under this provision, Medicaid eligibility was expanded to allow nearly all low-income individuals. Due to the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2012, however, which ruled that states would not lose federal Medicaid funding if they waived the option to expand those services under the ACA, 32 states, including DC, have extended Medicaid with 19 waiving the option. In states that have not provided this extension, such as Texas, the uninsured rate has remained steady with a lack of improvement when it comes to emergency room costs and medical bill payment. States like Kentucky and Arkansas, which did expand Medicaid, saw the direct opposite. Here in Virginia, Republican lawmakers have unfortunately declined to extend Medicaid to more than 400,000 Virginians. Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe has supported the expansion efforts and it is now a major point of contention in the 2017 gubernatorial race as Democratic primary opponents, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former Rep. Tom Perriello both call on Republicans to make the morally and economically beneficialdecision and extend Medicaid to Virginians in need.

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Although Virginia is one of the ten wealthiest states, it ranks 23rdnationwide in uninsured. Even more jarring is the fact that the number of uninsured continues to increase while it decreases nationally. In almost every healthcare metric, Virginia struggles, with decreases in employer provided healthcare coverage, and rising numbers of people dying due to their lack of healthcare access. The current healthcare system is not working for the US and especially not for Virginia. It is time to implement universal healthcare, removing the handcuffs on millions of Virginians, allowing them to focus on their lives, families, and economic ambitions.

The ACA was a large step in the right direction and confirmed this country’s ability to carry through successful reform but it has become painfully obvious that it is not the panacea for our healthcare ills. If providing every American with fundamental access to healthcare, no matter their income, is not enough of a selling point, perhaps the economic boon of a single-payer system will do the trick. Although we as a country spend more on each person’s healthcare than any developed nation, numerous studies have shown that Americans are no healthier than citizens of other developed nations and lag behind in infant mortality and life expectancy. More of our gross domestic product (GDP) goes towards healthcare than any other developed nations, yet we see less positive economic impact. ACA alone, flaws and all, is projected to reduce the federal deficit by $143 billion over the first decade.

As with any government provided service, one asks, “How will we pay for this?” The United States of America already spends over $3 trillion on healthcare each year. Implementing a single-payer structure, as seen in Sen. Bernie Sanders’ plan, will save Americans $6 trillion over the next ten years. Other single-payer plans such as Rep. John Conyers’ U.S. National Health Care Act (H.R. 676) see similar cost savings and economic impact. Studies have shown that his plan, which replaces insurance premiums with taxes, would trigger hundreds of billions of dollars of immediate savings due to the removal of insurance company and hospital overhead and billing costs. Analyses show savings of $350 billion and up. It is no wonder that we are the lone outliers in the industrialized world when it comes to installing a single-payer system.

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Now more than ever, there is general consensus on the topic of universal healthcare in the United States. The swiftness of our current administration movements to dash the ACA and replace it with a neutered law that punishes the Americans most in need makes it imperative that we coalesce around single-payer healthcare. On a national level we have seen the marked improvements in the healthcare environments of states that embrace Medicaid expansion and seen the continued decline in states such as Virginia that have refused these extensions. It is time that we catch up with the rest of the industrialized world by prioritizing the health and wellbeing of our citizens and providing them with a foundation to live happy, healthy and financially stable lives, without the worry of catastrophic healthcare costs driven by profit hungry insurance companies. As Republicans scramble to throw together a plan that can replace our current healthcare law, we must take advantage of this moment and secure healthcare for all.

Connecting Virginians to the 21st Century

It wasn’t that long ago that I can remember watching anxiously as the yellow AOL man trudged begrudgingly from left to right across the computer screen as the digital subscriber line, what we all know as DSL, connected me to the phenomenon that was the world-wide web. While the internet has been in existence for quite some time, it was just becoming widely commercially available in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. By my senior year in high school, the internet was being rapidly integrated into everyday life– Facebook launched shortly before my freshman year of college. At school, program suites, such as Blackboard and online databases like JSTOR (short for Journal Storage, founded 1995) were still in their nascent stages and relegated to the obscure realm of academia. Taking the internet’s technological evolution into perspective, it is clear today that the use of– and as a prerequisite, access to– the internet has become an integral part of our daily lives.

Today the internet serves as the primary medium through which we interact with the world around us. Education, business, healthcare and many other facets of society have increasingly integrated the use of high-speed broadband internet into their operating concepts. As such, access to high-speed broadband internet no longer remains a luxury, but instead is now an essential requirement. Far from the enhancement that the web brought to our lives a decade ago, without access to reliable and fast internet, you are now “out of the loops” in a world that is deeply interconnected and constantly evolving.

While wireless carriers such as AT&T and Verizon purport national coverage, 4G wireless connectivity has been replaced by LTE and Apple continues to pump out the latest version of their iPhone– the fact remains that there are still far too many Americans who lack access to adequate high speed internet. While this is a problem that tends to be concentrated on the socioeconomic strata and demographics most in need in our communities, it particularly effects those in less populated,  rural areas where private Internet Service Providers (ISP) have had less incentive to establish mature fiber-optic networks capable of providing next generation high speed broadband internet.

But we aren’t talking about excessive luxury or “nice-to-have” here, we are talking about providing essential services and investing in the future of our communities. The National Broadband Plan, released by the FCC in 2010, provides a comprehensive overview of initiatives the FCC and other federal agencies have set forth in an attempt to increase digital literacy and realize a future in which universal broadband access is a reality for all Americans.

Under the leadership of Governor Terry McAuliffe, the Commonwealth has also made significant gains in providing access to high speed internet available in the state’s schools. In partnership with EducationSuperHighway, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving internet access across the nation, the Governor’s office announced that 72 percent of Virginia’s schools met the minimum connectivity requirement of 100 kbs per student as specified by the FCC. This statistic is a drastic improvement from the 33 percent reported in the non-profits annual state of the states reported just two years earlier in 2014. Access within school systems is essential, but it isn’t the whole picture. As the education system increasingly integrates into online networks and resources, access to quality high-speed internet at home has become as important element to the whole family. Broadband is a requirement for homework, home business and correspondence. Increasingly, people can keep in contact with their healthcare providers from home via web portals. In the “internet of things” the web is increasingly connecting people, their homes and appliances, with the outside world. Just a few of the obvious benefits to these developments here include increased energy efficiency and home security. As exciting as this future sounds, it is a future that can only be realized in a state that enables that tomorrow, today through the investment in the required infrastructure and resources.

While we can’t force the hand of private entities to provide services to rural areas, other options do exist. Municipalities have been trying for several years to bridge the gap within their communities where citizens are unserved or are offered low-quality services as unreasonable costs. The National Broadband Plan specifically recommended that Congress should make clear that local governments can build broadband networks. Federal legislation, like the Broadband Conduit Act of 2015 (HR 3805), was introduced with the intent of building new infrastructure, such as future road networks designed to readily incorporate new fiber optic cable lines without the need for disruptive additional digging. Unfortunately, there are also initiatives at the state level that create barriers to bridging the gap in connectivity across our communities.

The Virginia Broadband Deployment Act (HB 2108), currently on Governor McAuliffe’s desk after passing the Commonwealth’s House and Senate represents one such barrier, preventing public entities from providing broadband services in unserved areas. The bill, introduced by Lynchburg Republican Kathy Byron creates a list of requirements required to be met by any locality that intends to own and operate a broadband or internet communications system3. In a clear move to insulate private interests, the bill mandates imputed private sector costs to any municipality-led effort, which would deter many local entities from offering broadband services to their citizens at reasonable costs1. Imputed private-sector costs is analogous to price-fixing and can be best understood by a portion of the bill itself. Section 56-484.30 subdivision 2.a states:

“The locality or its affiliate shall include within its rates an amount equal to all taxes, fees, and other assessments that would be applicable to a similarly situated private provider of the same communications services, including federal, state, and local taxes; franchise fees; permit fees; pole attachment fees; and any similar fees.”

It is worth noting that the Virginia Association of Counties, has stated that this legislation is not conducive to establishing successful partnerships between private ISPs and municipally run efforts3. The bill was introduced by Delegate Byron but engineered by the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association, allows ISPs to have their cake and eat it too. By effectively raising the barrier to entry, ISP’s are not required to compete with municipalities who attempt to provide services on their own initiative while simultaneously insulating themselves from the costs of providing essential services to citizens in unserved areas. Section 56-484.30 subdivision 2.b states goes further to ward of potential competition:

“The locality or its affiliate shall not price any of its communications services at a level that is less than the sum of:(i) the actual direct costs of providing the service; (ii) the actual indirect costs of providing the service; and (iii) the amount determined under subdivision 2a.”

While there is an aversion to government led initiatives in the services sector, there are success stories of municipalities partnering with service providers to connect citizens. The Utopia Regional Fiber Consortium of Bristol, Virginia certainly has its flaws, but provides proof that locality-ran efforts in providing broadband services to constituents is a distinct possibility.

It is difficult to quantify the benefits of providing connectivity in a world where the internet touches almost every facet of our daily lives. Today, people use the internet to keep in touch with relatives, medical providers, engage in distance learning and to run businesses. Investing in the infrastructure required for expansion of these services– particularly into areas currently unserved by independent providers– is an investment in the productivity of our people and our communities. Where ISP’s won’t provide services due to limited potential of short-term profits, the least we should expect our state’s elected representatives to do is get out of the way of locality-run efforts to bridge the gap in providing essential services to our citizens. Sadly, given some of the recent actions by some of our elected representatives– particularly the ones bankrolled by these ISPs– it seems that private interests take a front seat to constituent needs. Investing in Virginia’s future prosperity should not be tied so closely to the bottom line of shareholders and business modeling should not be the sole litmus test on whether residents of Virginia receive access to broadband services in an age where being connected is everything.

Why I’m Running For Congress

As a Marine, I took an oath to support and defend the constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic. That oath didn’t stop when I took my uniform off for the last time.

Since our current president has taken office, our community, state, country, and our way of life has been under attack.  That’s why I’m running for congress in Virginia’s 1st Congressional District.

There is a daily assault on the values and ideals that make us Americans. Our current congressman pays lip service to representing the people of the 1st Congressional District, but the bottom line is—he will always vote with the president—100% of the time. Our communities are being upended and immigrants, legal or otherwise, no longer feel safe. Our streams are being used as dumping grounds for coal ash, and some view our Chesapeake as nothing more than an economic opportunity to be exploited.

Our health care is under siege – again. House Republicans are trying to take insurance away from almost 24 million Americans and eviscerate necessary protections for those with pre-existing medical conditions.

The Trump Administration’s economic agenda is a giveaway to the top 1 percent and largest corporations at the expense of middle class families. In Congress, I will fight for tax fairness, wage equality and help middle class families get their kids into college tuition free for two years.

As a father, husband, Marine and your next Congressman, I will stand against this downward spiraling trend and will bring respect, compassion, and plain common decency back to government. I will stand against any political or economic short-term gains that will be at the expense of the environment or our children’s future. I earned the right to lead the men and women of our nation’s finest fighting force and I embrace the challenge of earning the right to represent you.