Book Review: Walking in Your Shoes to Restore the American Dream by Joe Sestak with Jake Sternberger. West Conshohocken, PA: Infinity Publishing, 2015
I read this on a Kindle, so page numbers aren’t noted. The book’s table of contents is extremely detailed. Just including it doubles, or more than doubles, the length of this post. Some of the chapters have introductory material before starting subheadings and others don’t. Where there is text I have included a synopsis. In some cases this is very difficult as the text would be extremely short.
After the book synopsis I make some personal comments on the book.
Greatest deficit in US is trust deficit in government. Wanted to walk in people’s shoes so walked 422 miles across Pennsylvania from NJ border to Ohio border. Two core tenets of American character: rugged individualism and the common enterprise [balance ability to “be all you can be but never measuring their achievement apart from our shared enterprise as a nation”]
Acknowledgments: family, sailors served with, repeats To Kill a Mockingbird quote about walking in someone else’s shoes, from prologue, students at Carnegie Mellon, Dickinson College, Cheyney University, US Army War College, and PSU Dickinson School of Law and School of International Affairs; Anka Lee for help, Jake Sternberger, wife and daughter
Section I: Restoring the Dream
Chapter 1: Rugged Individualism, the Common Enterprise and Accountable Leadership
A Sailor in Politics – divisive rhetoric in politics, years in the navy saw leadership most effective when embracing dual tenets (rugged individualism in pursuit of shared mission). Accountable leadership. Lack of leadership in congress, complaining about oversight agencies but not acknowledging congress wrote legislation creating agencies. Shocked in Congress when D’s didn’t want to fix financial crisis in recession because R’s caused it. People want effective government
A Sailor with a Sextant – again mentions rugged individualism and common purpose. More on rugged individuals and shared enterprise. Early Americans established schools and valued education, established mandatory health care system for merchant sailors. Economy based on healthy sailors. America’s rugged individualism – pioneers, short history of US, American Exceptionalism
Sailor in the Ivory Tower – teachings courses on “Ethical Leadership” and “Restoring the American Dream.” Book is culmination of what he learned in those classes.
Section II: Restoring our Economy – Be All You Can Be
Chapter 2: Thinking Big for Small Business
Most politicians not interested in small business because don’t make large enough campaign donations. “About half of Pennsylvania’s private sector workforce is employed by or owns a small business.” In recent years, especially since recession, fewer small businesses being started.
Freeing Up Funding
“The biggest barrier to an innovator with an idea is a lack of access to capital.” Suggestion – give tax credit to angel investors. Discusses role of banks (they lend they don’t invest), and SBA and other loans. Also mentions minority loans as it can be harder for minorities to get funding.
Responsibly Reducing Regulation
Important to protect environment but regulations should take small businesses into account – story of man in PA who had a small business and had to fill out forms for lab pack but a larger business could fill out a form for each load. Create a system of tiers in regulation. Mentions some small agencies in government that help with this – bipartisan efforts
Exports Abroad Means Job at Home
Reduce trade deficit. Supports Export-Import Bank.
Chapter 3: The Rebirth of American Manufacturing
Some manufacturing coming back. Due to rising cost of labor abroad and increasing transportation costs, and energy costs here going down and poor quality control issues with foreign made goods. And need for a speedier supply chain. And intellectual property rights issues. And people like goods made in America.
Growing Jobs through Green Energy
American innovations being manufactured abroad to get ahead of us. We should fix that as it would create jobs here, it will cost less to manufacture with renewables so we will be at a financial disadvantage if we don’t, less carbon emissions. One example, which some won’t like – fracking. But shouldn’t let companies be on corporate welfare forever, and must take care of environment
Strengthening Intellectual Property Rights
Critically important to manufacturers and small business owners. Big backlog in patent office. Currently satellite patent offices opening. Need to hire more patent examiners – pay for by offering to expedite patent application for a fee. Must hold foreign companies responsible for intellectual property theft
Chapter 4: Investing in Our Infrastructure
Infrastructure once a great American achievement, now crumbling and congested. Need to increase rail infrastructure. Crucial if we want to maintain dominant global economic position. “more than connecting communities for commerce; this is about rebuilding the middle class
Government Needs a Better Way to Fund Infrastructure
Currently use gas tax, which hasn’t changed since 1993, plus fuel efficient vehicle use less gas. Need more than gimmicks and short term solutions
Road to Resolution
Efforts to raise gas tax fail because of “no tax pledge.” Individual states can experiment with mileage based user fee and eventually use it on a federal level to replace gas tax. Need to create a national infrastructure bank
Public – Private Partnerships (PPPs) Can Work Better Than Government Alone
Government working in conjunction with private business great as long as accountability measures in place. Gives examples of successful PPPs.
Job Growth Depends on Our Wired Infrastructure Too
High speed internet crucial. Another example of something we invented that international competitors are able to provide at lower costs. Hindered “by national duopoloy” Mentions proposed Time Warner / Comcast merger. “The bottom line is that Washington’s public servants are rewarding internet providers’ inadequate performance with tax breaks, sweetheart deals, and lax regulation that does not benefit the consumer.” Rural areas hit hardest. Mentions programs trying to help rural areas with this.
Chapter 5: Raising Wages, Not Just the Minimum Wage
Median wage stagnant for decades. Need to look at more than minimum wage. About more than just soaking the rich. Less than 3% of Americans paid minimum wage so raising just that won’t help most people. Many big employers paying more than minimum wage. Often it is small businesses paying minimum wage and we want to help small businesses. Wage gap widening in recent years. Productivity has grown but wages haven’t.
Raising the Minimum Wage as a First Step
Supports raising minimum wage to $10.12. “Conclusive studies show that if a minimum wage does not exceed 50 percent of the average hourly wage, people will not lose their jobs.” Should not be government’s job to subsidize low wages with welfare, food stamps, so they can pay higher executive salaries and dividends.
Reducing the Part-Time / Full-Time Worker Gap
Many new jobs created are only part-time. Need to get rid of employer mandate in Affordable Care Act. The version he support based employer mandate on percentage of payroll spend on health care not how many full-time workers employed. Thinks that eventually employer based health care will be replaced by lower cost private plans on the market.
A Corporate Tax Code That Keeps Companies Here
Provides detailed descriptions of popular corporate tax evasion strategies, for example “Dutch sandwich.” Elected officials unhappy but they wrote the tax codes that provide incentives for companies to do this. Our corporate tax rate too high. Tax code full of deductions, credits, and loopholes. If companies can afford specialized accountants can avoid paying taxes. Percentage of US tax income from corporate tax gone down. Lower tax rates and close loopholes. Offer companies incentive to bring money home.
Section III: Restoring Our Workforce – All Hands on Deck
[no introductory text]
Chapter 6: A Workforce that Keeps Pace with the New Economy
We need a trained workforce. Describes Navy’s “training rungs.”
Human Capital is Just as Important as Financial Capital
21st century workers need life-long learning. Widening skills gap as baby boomers retire. American spending on labor training decreasing, including private sector. Need to make sure training programs are effective.
Increase accountability. Mentions ITWorks program in Philadelphia, trains young adults in IT, working with local companies who help curriculum and provide equipment. Mentions interesting program where Cascade Engineering partners with Burger King. BK hires low-skills applicants and employs for 6-12 months and provides skills development training. Then if they do well they can apply for better paying jobs at Cascade. Mentions other programs. Also programs like human capital performance bonds. Local governments provide training and retraining programs
Chapter 7: A Health Security Strategy
Story of his daughter getting good health care due to Navy coverage, and hearing family with similar issue finding out they had limited treatment options because they didn’t have good health insurance. In the military everyone has health care because we need healthy soldiers who are not distracted by family health issues.
An Unhealthy Debate
Affordable Care Act flawed. Too many special interests, not enough bipartisanship. Disinformation campaigns (death panels). Media neglected its role as provider of information.
Restoring Trust and Keeping Promises
However, Affordable Care Act has helped lower prices and provide access to care. Good points – can’t deny based on pre-existing conditions, keep kids on parents coverage until 26, free preventive exams . Gives statistics on how it has helped. Affordable Care Act strengthened Medicare
Expect What You Inspect
Lack of accountable leadership in implementing Affordable Care Act. Led to lack of trust. Provides details on how he thinks things went wrong. One example: the website. Still, it’s better than what we had.
Brokering a Better Bargain
Allow bulk purchasing of medications or importing them from Canada where they cost less. Companies say they have to charge more to pay for R&D but they spend large amounts on marketing, for example Super Bowl ads. Should allow Medicare to bargain with drug companies as VA does. We can provide tax incentives for R&D.
Industry Incentives – What Works, What to Watch, and When to Make Changes
Affordable Care Act changes incentives, from fee-for-service to quality of care not quantity. Accountable Care Organizations for Medicare patients are one example. Provides a detailed description of ACOs. Need to stop allowing pharmaceutical firms from paying generic firms to delay introducing generics.
All Healthy Hands on Deck
Health care reforms help business by making system more efficient, gives Americans peace of mind to know they won’t be bankrupted by health issues.
Chapter 8: Untapped Assets in the American Workforce
Looking specifically at immigrants and inmates.
Smarter Immigration for More Innovation
America has always benefited from immigrants, 40% of Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants or children of immigrants. Congress has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform – border security, turning away skills workers and inventors, parting family members. Need to deal with illegal immigrants who are here. Not practical to deport all of them but should have fines, pay back taxes, criminal background checks, etc. Secure southern border, matter of national security. Terrorists involved in South American drug trade. Not just build a wall, but also use things like drones. Make sure American attracts and keeps innovators. Expedite citizenship for foreign students who have earned advanced degrees in STEM fields.
Reducing Recidivism to Increase Productivity
Always spend Veteran’s Day and / or Armed Forces day at a Pennsylvania prison. Many of the veterans in prison are there because of untreated PTSD and related issues like drug or alcohol addiction. We don’t prepare them for live after prison. US has highest incarceration rate in the world. In past years kids in trouble were given a choice between the military and prison. Military gave them training, structure, physical and mental health care, and also help with successful re-entry to civilian life. A 2001 review of 1,000 re-entry programs over 25 years found that only 19 were evaluated. We need to evaluate programs to see what works best and then replicate it. The few good evaluations find that these things help: getting a GED and for inmates who take psychiatric medication, giving them an extra month’s medication to give them time to set up care. We are a land of second chances.
Section IV: Restoring Our Promises – I’ve Got Your Six
“I’ve got your six” is a military term meaning “I’ve got your back.”
Chapter 9: Serving Those Who Served
[personal note – this chapter is a tear jerker] Writes about people who serve in the military, their sacrifice, ingenuity and bravery. Cites a historian who said that on D-Day the German military tried to kill all of the officers immediately, thinking that the American enlisted men would not fight in their absence. They were wrong.
Bridging the Gap from Boots to Business
“To begin, it is nothing short of a moral outrage that so many of our lawmakers were willing to spend trillions on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but unwilling to spend a few billion on jobs programs for returning veterans.” Veterans are 45% more likely to be self-employed and also more likely to start a small business, so helping small businesses and the self-employed will help veterans. Provides examples of programs.
A Helping Hand for Our Homeless Heroes
When in Congress helped pass programs for homeless veterans. Also impressed by efforts made by individual cities. Cites examples, such as Phoenix’s “housing first” efforts to get housing for veterans before working on addictions, etc.
Revamping the VA
VA has improved but still problems. Frustrated by officials who complain about state of VA but voted against budget increases for them. Veterans get better care at VA than at community hospitals. Veterans in rural areas particularly have trouble getting care because so far from facilities. Could use internet but rural areas often have poor internet service. Public-private partnerships could help veterans health care.
Chapter 10: Standing With Our Seniors
When in Congress made it a priority to meet with senior citizens almost every weekend. “Our nation needs their wisdom and experience.” Senior population is growing.
Preventing Elder Abuse
Gives examples of elder abuse. Congress unwilling to invest money in elder abuse prevention.
Dignity and Self-Determination in Long-Term Care
Home health aides cost about $20 / hour, nursing home care about $212 / day. For someone needing less than ten hours of care a day it would be less expensive to let them stay in their own home. Of that $20 an hour usually half or less goes to aide. Low paying, low skill jobs Allow immigrants in who will take these jobs. Provide tax credits and deductions for family members who provide care. Gives examples. Do more to cure Alzheimer’s disease
Ferreting Out Fraud in Medicare
Starting to use technology to find fraud. Some efforts to do this halted by sequestration. Changing from fee-for-service to “quality of care” will help stop fraud
Reversing the Regressive Nature of the Social Security Tax
Only $117,000 of a person’s income is taxed for Social Security. As wage gap has widened the wealthy are earning more but not paying more for Social Security. This should be changed. Must take care of our own. “Fairness and kindness, after all, know no bounds or generations.”
Section V: Restoring Our Future – Full Steam Ahead
Chapter 11: Investing in Education Pays the Best Interest for our National Interest
views education as our “homeland defense.” Today education system is failing
Improving Performance and Maintaining Competitiveness, Through Accountability
Lack of meaningful policy on education because of lack of assessable data, no comparable data across states about student performance. Common Core sets national standards but needs improvement to have better test questions. Concerns about rural areas with poor Internet service.
Student Loans for Higher Education Should Not Be a Debt Sentence
Higher education not affordable, average debt for bachelor’s degree is $29,400. Higher debt levels means delayed home buying, less likely to start a business
The College Accountability Side of the Equation
Concerned about high tuition levels of Penn State and U Pitt, public institutions (see footnote 305), comment on location 2176. Also mentions Temple. Higher ed notoriously bad at managing costs. Faculty teaching load declines. Shared governance “where power and authority is vested in people (faculty without business credentials) who are not accountable to economics in times when finances are tight and changes must be made”
A Loan Interest Rate That Works
Need predictable interest rates. Government shouldn’t make money from student loans. Tie student loan interest rates to cpi
A Need for National Service
Require national service, shared common experience, not primarily through military but things like Americorps. Will give country a sense of fellowship. There is a cost but a greater return. Polls show most voters oppose this but still supports it.
Chapter 12: Continued Global Leadership for Security and Prosperity
Can’t tackle problems at home in a vacuum, must also look at what is happening in the world. Not just military but also economic security. Let’s avoid isolationism
Our World Today and Meaning of America’s Engagement
All countries should be able to pursue prosperity in a stable and free world, promote freedom and democracy around the world. No longer a black / white Cold War era, now few clear divisions. Non-state actors, terrorism, must coordinate and cooperate with allies. Mentions ISIS. Military not final solution. Bring stakeholders together. Mentions middle east issues, Israel / Palestinians . spread of infectious diseases show interconnectedness of the world
A Smart National Security Strategy for Today
Sestak lays out his priorities for national security; there are nine of them. Standards like fighting al Qaeda are among them but so is a public health issue (“arresting the spread of deadly diseases”). He also lists five challenges, which are among the other headings below.
Enhance Diplomatic Engagement
One of his five challenges, perhaps the most important one. Need to work collectively and collaboratively. Goes into detail on Putin and how he thinks the US should respond.
Advance Economic Partnerships
This is a prerequisite for security. Provides detail on Africa and America’s relationship with countries on that continent. One item he mentions is that African countries will be heavily impacted by climate change. Also discusses America’s relationships with countries in Latin America.
Maintain a Flexible and Credible Military
We shouldn’t measure our military by its size. Technology makes size less important. Instead we should measure by knowledge, the speed and agility with which we can respond.
Be Able to Explain the Cost and Benefit of When and Why We Need to Use Force
Three kinds of interests: vital, important, and humanitarian. Before engaging we need a mission, risk and cost assessment, timeline and milestones, and contingency plans.
Prioritize our Resources and Efforts
We need to make smart choices and prioritize.
Challenge and Opportunity of Our Time: The Asia Pacific
Lists reasons why we should prioritize this area.
A Stable Asia Pacific that Benefits America
Many leaders in this area want us to be involved because we have a good track record for maintaining peace.
A China that Must Play by the Rules
Other countries want us to help make sure China acts responsibly, provides examples of areas that need attention (example – labor laws, intellectual property, mining rare earths)
Fight for American in a Competitive World
Mentions Export Import Bank
Preparing for the Consequences of Climate Change
This is a national security issue, sea level affects military preparedness
History is what we make it, what we work for and maintain
Notes – 348 notes
About the Author
(teaches at Carnegie Mellon University, Cheyney University, Dickinson College, Penn State Law, and Army War College.)Personal Remarks
I've been around publishing in various roles for over 20 years. It's not my primary job but I have some experience with writing and editing. One thing about this book that is very clear is that it was quickly put together.
Books are usually balanced, chapters are of a similar length and construction. This one was all over the place. Some chapters had introductory text, others didn't. The lengths varied. It was not constructed well.
There are copy editing mistakes. The book didn't appear to go through a more traditional publishing route and I doubt professional proofreaders were involved. For one thing some words were overused. Reading on a Kindle I could search for words and see how often they appeared. The word rugged was used 50 times in this book. He writes a lot about rugged individuals. That is not a phrase that trips off the tongue in speaking and it feels awkward when reading it. Fifty times is a lot. All the naval metaphors and jargon get a little old too. It could just be me. I'm from an Army family and Navy talk is a foreign language.
There are mistakes that a proofreader would have caught. In chapter 8, in the section on immigration, STEM is defined as science, technology, education, and mathematics. That E should be engineering not education. There are some oddly constructed sentences.
There's nothing wrong with a hastily constructed book. It does speak to a process with a limited circle of involvement. If a few more people had read over early drafts some of this might have been caught and remedied.
The subject matter sort of feels like the stereotypical kitchen sink -- they're trying to include everything at once. China! Immigration! Education! Small business! Defense! It was all a bit much.
In addition to the proofreading errors there were a few other things that bothered me. These are small things but I think someone should have caught them. In chapter 11, the section on college accountability he writes about the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State being public institutions and cites a newspaper article that refers to them this way, too. The thing is, they aren't part of the Pennsylvania higher education system. They are state-related schools. They get some money from the state but they aren't part of the state's formal college system. The tuition prices for the state schools, say West Chester or Kutztown, are less than at Pitt or Penn State. This might just be quibbling but Sestak's congressional district contained one, possibly two, Penn State campuses, and I think Cheney (a state school) as well. If West Chester wasn't in his district it was close. I've tried looking at the map for Pennsylvania's congressional district 7 for the years Sestak represented it and then looking at where those schools were located but it isn't always easy to tell if something was in the district. Even though college funding is mostly on a state level he should have known the distinction. My household has been tracking college tuition at various schools in the state for the past few years and it's not difficult to find those distinctions. In that same section he takes a potshot at college faculty, saying they shouldn't be making financial decisions for the school because they don't have business credentials. Here's the thing -- he doesn't have a business background, he's taught at colleges, and he wants to make decisions on education funding.
This is the stuff that jumped out at me when I read the book.
If you want to know where Sestak stands on the issues this book will tell you, in detail. It is a little dry, though, with few of the stories that are usually used to illustrate points in books like this.