ISLES MUST GET PAST PSEUDO-DIVERSITY

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The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, May 5, 2019 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.

By: Melissa Newsham, Punahou School, Class of 2019

“Diversity” dominates our national dialogue. The concept is idealized as the gold standard in every area of society, including the workplace, academia, and government. Often, it is the politicians themselves who emphasize the importance of “diversity” in our government. Governor Ige urged women to seek judgeships by stating, “The Judiciary must accurately reflect our community, and I want to encourage more women to apply for these positions. Ultimately, the judicial branch will better serve the people of this state when it truly mirrors our diversity.”

When politicians proclaim the need for “diversity,” they are often referring to the superficial or otherwise immutable characteristics of people, in other words: pseudo-diversity. Our elected officials are meant to embody our ideas and principles, not our immutable characteristics such as gender and race.  

I asked a number of local Democratic politicians if they felt that the lack of Republicans in the state legislature has created an echo chamber. Most offered the same response: the different caucuses and sub-groups in the Democratic party satisfy the need for intellectual diversity as well as political diversity. In announcing the leadership roles for the upcoming legislative session, House Speaker Scott Saiki stated, “Our new leadership team and committee chairs reflect the diversity of the House and the entire state.” It is unclear what diversity the speaker was referring to in this instance. It is disingenuous to suggest that there is a plethora of political opinions in the Hawaii Legislature where the House of Representatives is composed of only five Republicans and zero Republicans occupied the state senate between 2016-2018.  

We must be careful when defining diversity. Having a numerically balanced number of women and races represented in our legislature is no reason to pride ourselves for diversity when the overwhelming majority of individuals occupy similar intellectual spheres. Moreover, the argument that racial and gender ‘numbers’ mean something important suggests that all people of a certain race and or gender think alike. Was it not precisely this kind of monolithic thinking that our society fought to overcome in decades past?

Detroit, Chicago, and Baltimore are examples of cities run almost exclusively by one party for over the past 50 years and have seen little to no progress or regression. Regardless of the party, ‘one-party’ rule inevitably results in stagnation, a lack of government accountability , and a sense of apathy in the population. The compromises that take place in an ideologically diverse political body are a healthy component of a truly representative government.

Of course, this is not to suggest that these state representatives are undeserving of their positions; they were elected by the majority in their respective districts. However, the emphasis on pseudo-diversity by prominent politicians is a convenient distraction from one of our states’ most embarrassing flaws, including  the lowest voter-turnout rate in the country. One might question how accurately a representative body or government branch can “mirror our diversity” when the voter-turnout rate has hovered around 50% in recent years. Perhaps more time and effort should be allocated towards rectifying this proportion of inactivity before analyzing the arbitrary proportions of state officials by gender and race.

True diversity, the diversity of opinions and perspectives, has been neglected in our local government. While the topic of superficial diversity is frequently discussed, it is time that our community shifts from electing individuals who represent our physical appearances to those representing our fundamental beliefs. What Hawaii desperately needs is not to equalize gender and superficial imbalances but create an intellectually diverse legislative body, where politicians can hold each other accountable and honestly question the merit of ideas.




“Diversity” dominates our national dialogue. The concept is idealized as the gold standard in every area of society including the workplace, academia, and government. Often, it is the politicians themselves who emphasize the importance of “diversity” in our government. Governor Ige urged women to seek judgeships by stating, “The Judiciary must accurately reflect our community, and I want to encourage more women to apply for these positions. Ultimately, the judicial branch will better serve the people of this state when it truly mirrors our diversity.”

When politicians proclaim the need for “diversity,” they are often referring to the superficial or otherwise immutable characteristics of people, in other words: pseudo-diversity. Our elected officials are meant to embody our ideas and principles, not our immutable characteristics such as gender and race.  

I asked a number of local Democratic politicians if they felt that the lack of Republicans in the state legislature has created an echo chamber. Most offered the same response:  the different caucuses and sub-groups in the Democratic party satisfy the need for intellectual diversity as well as political diversity. In announcing the leadership roles for the upcoming legislative session, House Speaker Scott Saiki stated, “Our new leadership team and committee chairs reflect the diversity of the House and the entire state.” It is unclear what diversity the speaker was referring to in this instance. It is disingenuous to suggest that there is a plethora of political opinions in the Hawaii Legislature where the House of Representatives is composed of only five Republicans and zero Republicans occupied the state senate between 2016-2018.  

We must be careful when defining diversity. Having a numerically balanced number of women and races represented in our legislature is no reason to pride ourselves for diversity when the overwhelming majority of individuals occupy similar intellectual spheres. Moreover, the argument that racial and gender ‘numbers’ mean something important suggests that all people of a certain race and or gender think alike. Was it not precisely this kind of monolithic thinking that our society fought to overcome in decades past?

Places such as Detroit, Chicago, and Baltimore are examples of cities run almost exclusively by one party for over the past 50 years and have seen little to no progress or regression. Regardless of the party, ‘one-party’ rule inevitably results in stagnation, a lack of government accountability , and a sense of apathy in the population. The compromises that take place in an ideologically diverse political body are a healthy component of a truly representative government.

Of course, this is not to suggest that these state representatives are undeserving of their positions; they were elected by the majority in their respective districts. However, the emphasis on pseudo-diversity by prominent politicians is a convenient distraction from one of our states’ most embarrassing flaws, including  the lowest voter-turnout rate in the country. One might question how accurately a representative body or government branch can “mirror our diversity” when the voter-turnout rate has hovered around 50% in recent years. Perhaps more time and effort should be allocated towards rectifying this proportion of inactivity before analyzing the arbitrary proportions of state officials by gender and race.

True diversity, the diversity of opinions and perspectives, has been neglected. While the topic of superficial diversity is frequently discussed, perhaps it is time that our community shifts its focus from electing individuals who represent our fundamental beliefs instead of our physical appearances. What Hawaii desperately needs is not to equalize gender and other superficial imbalances but an intellectually diverse legislative body, which can hold each other accountable and honestly question the merit of ideas. If we don’t place diversity of race or gender above skill in an airplane cockpit, why should we in our governments?

Fight Unreasonable Health Care Costs

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The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, April 7, 2019 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.

By: Janae Theodore, Pearl City High School, Class of 2019

With an annual health budget exceeding $10 billion, it is expected that America is at the forefront of medical advancements. Equipped with fancy million dollar machines and hospitals designed like the Hilton hotels, American health care takes on a different look compared to other countries. However, in the midst of the new gadgets and modern waiting rooms, patients fail to realize that American health care has become a lucrative business that has lost sight of the entire basis of the profession.

Average Americans often find themselves being treated by specialized doctors. With a specialized medical degree, doctors charge their patients higher fees for the same treatment that can be given by a primary-care physician. The national average salary of a primary-care physician and a specialist is $195,000 and $285,000, respectively.

Along with higher fees for specialized doctors, many medical bills include additional charges for the hospital administration. Harvard economist David Cutler explains, “About one-quarter of health care cost is associated with administration, which is far higher than in any other country.” Americans are funding the paychecks of medical workers that they do not even encounter during their hospital stays.

Further, in European and Latin countries, Americans find lower costs for minor surgeries such as Lasik. The U.S. average of $4,000 for the procedure is four times more than in Latin America.

With their lives literally in the hands of their health care providers, patients fall oblivious to realize that their long-trusted doctors manipulate the system, resulting in exorbitant charges totaled on their medical bills. The script is all too predictable.

Patients visit their doctor for a check-up. Doctors suggest to run more tests. The naive patient finds no issue in running more tests even though they struggle to understand the necessity of the exams. Weeks later, patients are confronted with confusing lists of items and fees summed up into a large total at the bottom of the bill.

According to a 2014 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the U.S. utilizes triple the amount of mammograms, two-and-a-half times the number of MRI scans, and 31% more Cesarean sections than other countries. Not only do patients find themselves paying for unnecessary exams requested by their doctors, but patients also find themselves intaking treatments priced at ridiculous rates.

Unlike other countries, the U.S. government does not negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. Consequently, drug manufacturers are getting away with charging $600 for EpiPens, whereas the price is one-sixth in Europe, and $750 per Daraprim pill for AIDS patients.

Moreover, many Americans have the mentality that brand name prescriptions are the tried and true treatment for their symptoms and often forego their option for generics. Although generic drugs cost about 80 to 85 percent less than name-brand medications and have proven to be nearly just as effective, doctors still prescribe what they know the consumer will buy.

The American healthcare system leads in advancements worldwide, but at what cost? It has turned into a business, completely neglecting the foundation it was built on - compassion. If we can no longer trust our doctors and medical companies to act fairly, we must take steps in order to push back on what has become of American health care.

Patients can advance toward change through resistance and advocacy. Don’t pay the total without knowing what the bill includes. Request an itemized bill to view the detailed charges. Be encouraged to question the necessity of the doctor’s orders. Without this push back, the crippling cost for compassion will persist.