Lights, Camera, Action: Trump Auditioning Candidates For A New Reality Show

There are times when the spirit has the upper hand. There are also times when ignoring the facts places us all at risk. Worse than evil is indifference to evil. With the recent election of Donald “Judas” Trump, our nation is on the cusps of returning to those dark days of yesteryear. Many a person today has a reason to despair. Prepare yourselves as the fortunate and the unfortunate are about to suffer. So cry out if you will, for crying out to something is not crying into nothing. Those small observations that go neglected, translates into matters of greater consequences. So remember, it is always the little things, when compounded together over time, are the things that really matter and will have enduring consequences.

Mr. Trump is in the process of auditioning contestants for his new reality show, “Let’s Make America Unhinged Again”. Several names for cabinet positions keep popping up, but none are more disturbing than those of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions and Betsy DeVos. Also among the mix are Newt Gingrich, Ben Carson, and the incomparable Rudolph William Louis “Rudy” Giuliani. I place these last 3 in the category of intelligent fools who are basically “hangers on”, seeking positions to elevate their own self- importance. This is not to say that they are any less dangerous, for they too have proven themselves to be intolerant, devious and deceptive. Mitt Romney is a story unto himself, and I won’t waste your time or mine as he exposed himself so eloquently in the 2012 Election.

So, let me focus on the two other contestants. The selection of Jeff Sessions for any cabinet position would be totally unacceptable by any standard. His record is too divisive, too extreme and too racist to serve in any role. He has overtly expressed his racist views, slammed civil rights organizations and derided the Voting Rights Act as a piece of “intrusive legislation”. In the last several years, he opposed the Violence Against Women Act, impeded efforts to remove the Confederate flag from display on public property and opposed the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. Not only did he repeatedly vote against defense authorization bills, he did so because he disagreed with hate crime riders and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law associated with these authorizations.

Jeff Sessions is only the 2nd nominee in 50 years to be rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee for a federal judgeship because of his racist comments. He continues to this day to embrace draconian policies that would hurt communities of color, especially including the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. He remains a stanch and virulent opponent of the immigration bill passed by the Senate in 2013 which included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in this country. He went so far as to attempt to pass a bill that would prevent the Justice Department from filing civil rights lawsuits against anti-immigration laws passed by several states. Alabama had such an anti-immigration law however 7 provisions of that law were struck down by the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama as unconstitutional. It should come as no surprise that the Senator is an avid opponent of anti-war protesters, especially anti-Iraq war protesters, as in his opinion, “they do not represent the American ideals of freedom, liberty and spreading that around the world”. In this context, one could assume that Jeff Sessions is the only true patriotic citizen in America.

The thought of him being appointed to Trump’s cabinet as Attorney General is abhorrent. He is beyond the ideological fringe and the Senate should reject him for any position that requires confirmation. His appointment would only reinforce Trump’s appointment of white nationalist Steve Bannon to the top strategist’s role at the White House. It is eminently clear that Sessions is unfit to be Attorney General, a position where non-whites would have good reason to fear that he would actively and passively defang the enforcement of federal civil rights laws. No Senator should vote for a man who we all know will not render justice impartially to all Americans.

Equally troubling is Trump’s recent announcement of Betsy DeVos as the next Secretary of Education. A billionaire Michigan Republican activist and philanthropist, she has limited experience in public education. The DeVos family has been compared to the Koch family in terms of their influence on the modern conservative movement and the Christian right, pouring money into anti-abortion, anti-LGBT rights causes, and supporting and donating to Focus on the Family which supports conversion therapy. Her appointment represents a scary marriage of corporate cronyism, the Christian far-right, and Trumpism.

In 2000, Betsy DeVos helped get a ballot measure before Michigan voters that would have enshrined a right to vouchers in the state’s constitution. After the measure failed, she and her husband formed a political action committee to support pro-voucher candidates nationally. It’s pretty clear what is going on here. Ms. DeVos’ plan is to undermine public education by pushing a consistent corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cooker-cutter solutions to public education. She has helped to make Michigan’s charter schools among the least regulated in the nation. Some 80% of the state’s charter schools are run by private companies.

In Michigan, a for profit charter school insurgency in Detroit has led to a public education fiasco that is unparalleled in the United States, with only 10% of rising seniors scoring “college ready” on reading tests. If Michigan is a center of school choice, it is also among the worst places to argue that choice has made schools better. As the state embraced and then expanded charter schools over the past two decades, its rank has fallen on national reading and math tests. Most charter schools perform below the state average. In fact, a federal review in 2015 found “an unreasonably high” percentage of charter schools on the list of the state’s lowest performing schools. Charter schools also have fewer special education students than traditional public schools, with the difference between the two most dramatic in the state’s urban areas.  Even many Michigan republican supporters of charter schools say the Michigan agenda has allowed failing charter schools to expand and replicate.

It appears that DeVos’ agenda is to break the public education system, not educate kids, and replace it with a for-profit model. This model is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse and handfeeding it school children. The Trump-DeVos agenda for education has the potential to undermine progress by diverting resources from the young people who most need them, or by failing to uphold the federal government’s responsibility to protect the needs and interests of all students, especially the most vulnerable.

In the final analysis, we now have an unqualified and unfit President Elect surrounding himself with unqualified and unfit surrogates. Let the ratings begin for this new reality show!

Gov LePage, A Student Of History: Repeating The Same Mistake Renders No Additional Value

There is an old Congo proverb that says, “The teeth are smiling, but is the heart?” We expect to pass through this world but once. Any good that we do to aid our fellow creatures, we must do so now. We cannot deter or neglect it, for we will not pass this way again. If we desire to be useful, we can. If one is going to play the game properly, you’d better know the rules. One thing is perfectly clear: We, as human beings, must be willing to accept people who are different from ourselves.

I leave the state for one week, just one mere measly week to attend the American Medical Association’s Interim Meeting in Florida, only to return to find that once again, our beloved Gov. Paul LePage has walked a little further out on the plank. It seems that he is either infatuated by the drama or he is entranced by his own self-importance.

Gov. LePage has unilaterally decided that Maine will no longer participate in the federal government’s refugee resettlement program. I guess this decision is consistent with his obviously well-known anti-immigrant and anti-others sentiments. In a statement released by Gov. LePage, he indicated that “I have lost confidence in the federal government’s ability to safely and responsibly run the refugee program and no longer want the state of Maine associated with that shortcoming”. He went a step further during an interview on the conservative Howie Carr Show where the good governor pledged to send any “illegal” immigrant packing from Maine. “If we find any undocumented people in the state of Maine, which I cannot put in jail, I am going to buy them a bus ticket, I am going to buy them a lobster roll, and I am going to send them to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue”
Gov. LePage says he is a “student of history”. That statement alone should be a flaming red flag. In 1939, one of the most shameful periods of American history occurred, later becoming known as “The Voyage of the Damned”. During this time, the United States denied entry of an ocean liner carrying more than 900 Jewish refugees fleeing Adolf Hitler’s Germany hovered aimlessly for 72 hours just a couple of miles off the Florida coast, while Jewish leaders in Washington frantically begged President Franklin D. Roosevelt to let the passengers into the United States. Roosevelt said no, and the SS St. Louis sailed back to Europe, where World War II was just weeks away. Many of the passengers would fall back into the hands of the Nazis they were trying to escape. About 250 of them did not survive the war. The decision to turn away the St. Louis was a grotesquely ugly moment in American history, one for which Congress and the U.S. State Department would eventually apologize.

Another historical fact that seems to escape the governor is that Refugee resettlement is a federal program, and state governors have no more authority to deny residents from Syria, Iraq, Somalia or any other country into Maine, than they have to deny entry of residents from any other state in the union. The governor seems to be placing all of his eggs in one basket, invoking a rule that allows states to withdraw from administering welfare, health and social programs to refugees. Those rules say that in the event of a state’s withdrawal, the federal government can simply designate another entity to administer the program. If public assistance is such a great concern for the governor, this might be a good time for him to reconsider his stance against Medicaid Expansion.

The governor also needs to understand that there are differences in the definitions of refugees and asylum seekers. These differences were articulated by the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees in 1951 and in its 1967 protocol, as well as U. S. national laws and procedures. The Refugee Convention obligates states that are party to the convention, the United States being a signee, grants protection to those “who have been persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion”. Refugees meet the definition laid out in the formal convention as noted above but seek their refugee status from outside the country. These refugees are coming to Maine and other states fleeing murder, torture, persecution and extreme violence.

Refugees coming to the U.S. go through a multi-phase screening administered by the United Nations, the U.S. State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and several other government agencies’. The process includes lengthy interviews with trained Homeland Security officials and running the refugees’ fingerprints and biographic information through federal criminal and terrorism databases. Syrians receive an extra level of scrutiny, the details of which are classified. The vetting is done abroad and generally takes between 18 and 24 months.

Asylum seekers on the other hand are already in the United States, seeking admission at a port of entry. They must meet the same requirements as refugees but declare their intention to seek asylum upon entering the United States. The credibility of their case for asylum is assessed by an asylum officer or immigration judge and this process typically takes at least six months. Those who are found not to be refugees or in need of any other form of international protection can be sent back to their country of origin. Federal law also prohibits asylum seekers from working for at least 6 months after they apply for asylum.

Courts have consistently ruled that the federal government is responsible for refugees and immigration. Just this past June, a federal judge rejected Texas’ attempt to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees in that state. One month ago, a federal appeals court blocked Vice-President Elect Mike Pence from interfering with the disbursement of federal funds to refugees.

Anyone who has spent time in the state of Maine is aware of the state’s demographic situation—an aging population, young people moving away, and the corresponding challenges for the labor force, school systems, municipal and state revenues, and the vitality of our communities. Maine’s future will largely depend on the steps we take today to ensure that we reverse the demographic decline that has been unfolding in slow motion for decades.

Reckoning with our demographic challenges requires finding ways to make Maine’s population more diverse. In short, the future of Maine depends upon the steps we take to make Maine a welcome destination for those from beyond our national borders: immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. Finally, it is imperative that Gov LePage recognize that inclusion benefits and celebrates us all. Slamming the door would be a betrayal of our values. Our nation can welcome refugees desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security at the same time. We can and must do both.

The Mystery Of A New Administration: Complexity Is Never Of Value Where Simplicity Will Suffice

The brightest stars see beyond the obvious to the signals that precede the obvious. They observe with equal attention what works and what does not work. They are careful to remember failures for their special power to instruct. The difference between good and great is attention to detail.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) H.R. 3590, or Affordable Care Act (ACA) for short, was signed into law on March 23rd, 2010 by President Barack Obama. The law contains many provisions which grant Americans a number of new benefits, rights, and protections and ensure that more US citizens have access to affordable, quality healthcare. It also works to decrease the rate of growth of health care spending and enacts other reforms to “fix” the current healthcare system.

Progress requires change. A civil society attempts to accommodate this need through openness, transparency and inclusion. Change can generate fear and anxiety, but it can also ignite our inborn desire to explore, to flow and grow rather than remain the same. Change for the better is self-improvement. We were born to move, to move on, not so much to reach a destination, but to find one.

This brings me to the recent Interim Meeting of the American Medical Association (AMA) held in Orlando, Florida over this past week, in which I attended as the Chair of The New England Delegation to the AMA. The mission of the AMA is to promote the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health. This mission does not apply to a select few, but to every American citizen. Election 2016 is now over. We now have a new President-Elect, a man who has created massive divisions and insecurities across the entire country and in many parts of the world. So, what do we do now and where do we go from here? There are numerous areas of concern regarding policy decisions and how we all will be affected by any new decisions put forth by this new administration.

During my recent Maine House Legislative campaign, one of the most pressing issues repeatedly voiced by many Maine citizens was their concern for the state of health care and how they would be impacted by the repeated republican threats of “repeal and replace”. In the past, gaps in the public insurance system and lack of access to affordable private coverage left millions without health insurance. Beginning in 2014, the ACA expanded coverage to millions of previously uninsured people through the expansion of Medicaid and the establishment of Health Insurance Marketplaces. Data show substantial gains in public and private insurance coverage and historic decreases in uninsured rates in the first and second years of ACA coverage. Coverage gains were particularly large among low-income people living in states that expanded Medicaid. Still, millions of people—28.5 million in 2015— remain without coverage.

Even under the ACA, many uninsured people cite the high cost of insurance as the main reason they lack coverage. In 2015, 46% of uninsured adults said that they tried to get coverage but did not because it was too expensive. Many people do not have access to coverage through a job, and some people, particularly poor adults in states that did not expand Medicaid, remain ineligible for financial assistance for coverage. Some people who are eligible for financial assistance under the ACA may not know they can get help, and others may still find the cost of coverage prohibitive. In addition, undocumented immigrants are ineligible for Medicaid or Marketplace coverage.

Most uninsured people are in low-income families and have at least one worker in the family. Reflecting the more limited availability of public coverage in some states, adults are more likely to be uninsured than children. People of color are at higher risk of being uninsured than non-Hispanic Whites.

People without insurance coverage have worse access to care than people who are insured. One in five uninsured adults in 2015 (20%) went without needed medical care due to cost. Studies repeatedly demonstrate that the uninsured are less likely than those with insurance to receive preventive care and services for major health conditions and chronic diseases.

During this year’s Interim Meeting of the AMA House of Delegates, representing more than 170 state and specialty medical societies from across the country, the delegates vociferously and passionately reaffirmed its commitment to health care reform that improves access to care for all patients. There were 5 separate resolutions presented to the House of Delegates (a combination of over 1,000 physician Delegates and Alternate Delegates), each of which was discussed in extensive and great detail. One of the core principles of the AMA is that any new reform proposals should not cause individuals currently covered to become once again uninsured. Our AMA has a strong foundation of existing policy in favor of support of efforts to provide coverage for the uninsured. In fact, the AMA Council on Medical Service (CMS) and the Council on Legislation has conducted numerous studies on various health system reform provisions in the ACA. Those extensive studies, policies and reports provide more than sufficient information that can be used to determine the best course of action by the incoming administration to improve on the ACA.

Those who are so adamantly ideologically and politically opposed to the ACA have wasted 7 years and missed numerous opportunities to improve on this worthy goal of ensuring the health of our nation’s citizens. It is the absolute intent of the AMA to continue to advance recommendations to support the delivery of high quality patient care to all citizens. We see this as an opportunity to actively engage doubters, the new administration and Congress in discussions to improve our health care system. It is time for us to move forward as a nation and the AMA will do so with a clear and simple statement communicating our message on health care reform to the public at large.

If republicans are truly concerned about the welfare of the people, they should put the health of the nation’s citizens first. Instead of “Repeal and Replace”, they should cease the divisiveness and fearmongering and think about “Repenting and Improving”.