Women’s March on Maine-What a Remarkable Day!

If you dam a river it stagnates. On the steps of the Maine State House in Augusta on January 21, 2017, the dam was broken and we all witnessed the beautiful flow of running water. Throughout many cities around the country and around the world, the Women’s March on Maine epitomized the fact that 21st Century women are not going back to the 20th Century, no way, no how. Piscataquis County, as well as every county in Maine was well represented with vocal and energetic contingents. It was a glorious and beautiful day with multiple impassioned and inspiring speeches that ignited a movement, a grassroots movement, that boldly and bravely encompassed so many issues that we all should be concerned about. The presence of at least 10,000 women and men on the same page was indeed a sight to behold.

The totality of this event reminded me of several passages spoken by the late Barbara Jordan, the keynote speaker at my high school commencement and the first African American to be elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction, and the first Southern African-American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. Her words resonate with me today: “Life is too large to hang out a sign ‘For Men Only’. I believe that women have a capacity for understanding and compassion which man structurally does not have, does not have it because he cannot have it. He’s just incapable of it. I felt for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in ‘We the People’”.

So, this grassroots movement has sprouted its roots, led by the women of Maine and many, many other women around the country. There will be no turning back. My wife and I have a blended family of 2 daughters and 6 grand-daughters. On which side of this equation do you think we fall? For all of those who purport to support equal justice, equal pay, human rights (which are women’s rights), civil rights, voting rights, clean water and clean air and non-discrimination, I suggest that you get on board, heed the voice of the people, and recognize their common sense. This revolutionary movement has taken off, and yes, this one will be televised!

What Constituency Is Senator Susan Collins Representing?

First we have Senator Susan Collins disgracing herself with her overt support of Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General of The United States, despite his 30 year history of racial insensitivity, bias towards immigrants, his lack of respect for the rule of law, women’s rights, civil rights and LGBT rights. Apparently that was not debasing enough for the good Senator. For reasons known only to her, Senator Collins joined her republican colleagues in last evenings Senate “vote-a-rama” to adopt a budget plan that would destroy the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Her vote was cast despite her previous position that republicans should not consider repealing the ACA until they could offer a replacement plan. Despite also the fact that if republicans had been serious about the health of the American people, they would not have repeatedly refused time and time again over the last 7 years to offer any type of plan or make any efforts to improve a much needed program. Never mind still, the fact that the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities estimates that 95,000 Mainers and 20 million Americans who rely on this valuable program could lose their health insurance. Many of these non-privileged people will be thrown into immediate bankruptcy.

Our political system is based on the presumption that political figures are reasonably responsive to their constituents. One cannot show different faces to different constituents, one face to those who elected them during daylight hours, and the other face to those who stroke their ego’s when the sun goes down. Senator Collins, and far too many republican public officials, has allowed their judgments to be befuddled by conflicting pressures with their character eroded by selling out to their party over the best interests of their constituents and the American people. This however, doesn’t seem to bother them in the least.

When representing people who elected you, this granted privilege of power should be neutral at the least, and tilted to those who elected them at its best. It becomes necessary to advance that power towards the moral framework that permits us to judge the purpose of good over bad. Constituents cannot support an elected representative leader who betrays the common good in the interest of personal aggrandizement. Partisanship that reflects no commitment to the common good is partisanship gone berserk.

Unfortunately, a high proportion of political leaders in our society are rewarded for their single minded pursuit of their own group interests. They are rewarded, not for compromising, but for participating in the battle in order not to become inferior in the eyes of their God-like leaders and colleagues. This should not be the role of responsible elected officials. That role should be one of functioning in the framework of our representative institutions to accomplish the mediating and brokering necessary to reconcile the diverse views and needs of the people. The concept of the reality of community should not be so easily cast aside. First-hand contact with reality should remind them of their original purposes.

People want to believe that their lives have meaning. They want reassurance. It is the reckless and uncaring representative who violates these expected cultural norms of their constituents.

As citizens and constituents, we have a sterner duty. The simple rule is: Hold power accountable. The prime instrument of political accountability is the electoral process. Elected officials must be attentive to and responsive to their constituents needs. They must not allow the hopes and dreams of the citizenry to remain dormant volcanoes of distressed emotions. When the eruption of these emotions eventually surfaces and spews its hot lava, Senator Collins and her many vindictive and irresponsible colleagues are sure to get burned.

Senator Susan Collins, Once Again On The Wrong Side Of History

The decision by Senator Susan Collins to support the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General of the United States is mindboggling. A decision is a choice. Whenever a decision is made, the decision maker must and should be aware of all the consequences that could result from choosing a certain act.

Sen Collins’ decision to endorse Sen Sessions has brought dishonor to her own credibility, to her integrity, to many of her Maine constituents and to the cause of fair and equal justice for all Americans. Her stance is an indictment of a failure of her moral duties and responsibilities to stand for the rights of the people. Her teeth may be smiling, but is her heart? Injustice is a two-edged sword. Sen Collins should be embarrassed.

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”.