Monday, August 31, 2015

NPR Story Spotlights Difference Between Republican and Democratic Government

NPR Story Spotlights Difference Between Republican and Democratic Government
There's no difference between Republican and Democratic Politicians. Ever been faced with similar rhetoric?
If you frequent this website, my guess is probably. But then when I hear stories like this one that I heard on NPR today, I am reminded of how utterly false such an assertion truly is.
Like so many other states, Maine is in the grip of an opiate epidemic. Other states have expanded drug treatment as part of the response. Maine has not. There are fewer treatment options than just a few years ago. The Republican Governor Paul LePage is pursuing instead a drug-enforcement strategy. Maine Public Radio's Susan Sharon reports.
Although it is a brief story, it is a compelling depiction of the stark reality faced by Maine residents trying to overcome drug addiction. As if it is not hard enough getting addicted to drugs and then facing all the struggles that come with trying to kick the habit, they are finding it increasingly harder to get help to do so.
SHARON: Lauren Wert is the director of nursing at Milestone Foundation in Portland. This is Maine's largest city, the epicenter of the heroin crisis, and Milestone is the only residential detox around. It has just 16 beds available for three- to seven-day stays. At the small nurses station, Wert says she and her staff gently inform a steady stream of callers that they can't help them out.
WERT: Oftentimes people cry. They're asking questions like, where else do we go? What do I do? He feels like he's going to die.
SHARON: Wert says there used to be places to refer clients, but now all the staff can say is, I'm so sorry.
In addition to refusing to increase spending on drug treatment, the story highlights how Republican Governor Paul LePage has had a hand in adding to the struggle.
Two years ago the state dropped hundreds of single adults from state Medicaid rolls. Under the leadership of Republican Governor Paul LePage, Maine refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and set caps on the length of time Medicaid patients receive drug treatment. Dr. Vijay Amarendran oversees methadone and Suboxone services at Acadia Hospital in Bangor.
VIJAY AMARENDRAN: We need to provide more insurance coverage for people, not less insurance coverage. Clearly, that doesn't make sense.
While Paul LePage may arguably be considered the worst Governor in the country, the reality is that the large majority of this is in line with conventional Republican policy.
While the increasing drug epidemic is causing the state of Maine to spend more combating the drug problem, very little is actually spent on drug treatment.
According to a 2013 report commissioned by the Maine Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, drug and alcohol abuse costs to the state jumped from nearly $900 million in 2005 to $1.4 billion in 2010, a 56.2 percent increase. Driving the costs were significant increases in prosecuting, jailing and treating drug and alcohol abusers. Of the 2010 total, $47 million, 3.4 percent, was spent on substance-abuse treatment.
Rather than more spending for drug treatment, he wants to increase drug enforcement, even going so far as threatening to use the National Guard to do so.
“I am going to use the executive branch, and if need be, as commander in chief, I have access to the National Guard,” he said. “If the Legislature refuses to give us the resources we need, and if we can’t develop a comprehensive plan with existing resources, I will use the National Guard.”
One could contrast what LePage is doing to what other governments have tried. For example,Portugal chose to decriminalize drug use and instead impose fines or refer offenders to drug treatment.
The data show, among other things, that the number of adults in Portugal who have at some point taken illegal drugs is rising. At the same time, though, the number of teenagers who have at some point taken illegal drugs is falling. The number of drug addicts who have undergone rehab has also increased dramatically, while the number of drug addicts who have become infected with HIV has fallen significantly.
What about that first part, how the number of adults who have tried drugs actually increased? Even that has seen a decline over time.
2. Despite virtually eliminating all punishments for personal drug possession, rates of drug use haven’t skyrocketed like some predicted. As this chart shows, use had gone up slightly when measured in 2007 (a trend in line with other, similar countries), but has since gone back down. In fact, by two out of three measures, adult drug use is now lower than it was in 2001. This gives more credence to the idea that criminalising people is an unnecessary (not to mention inhumane) way of trying to stop them taking drugs.
While the results have been promising, it's not just this change in drug policy that should be noted in the Portugal example. It also came with expansions of their social programs.
At the turn of the millennium, Portugal shifted drug control from the Justice Department to the Ministry of Health and instituted a robust public health model for treating hard drug addiction. It also expanded the welfare system in the form of a guaranteed minimum income. Changes in the material and health resources for at-risk populations for the past decade are a major factor in evaluating the evolution of Portugal's drug situation.
While this may only be one example, and the issues far more complicated than might be captured in a few paragraphs, my point is this: if we try to think of the difference between Republican and Democrat governments, it is impossible. Not because of just how different the two approaches are, but because they are different on so many issues, too many to count.
The more glamorous subjects discussed by mainstream media, and even here, such as income inequality, immigration, racism, and gun violence, the difference between the two sides are easy to see. But then there are all the other issues, that are just as important to our everyday lives, if not more so.
The War on Drugs, as this example shows, but other things such as how to treat the homelessfunding research and developmenthow to treat emergencies. There is just no end to the issues that are largely driven by policies enacted by our governments. And in almost all these cases, the difference between having a Republican in office or a Democrat in office is perhaps the most critical. We should never think about a race as important as the Presidency as over one issue. It is over almost every important issue one can think of. And especially: the important issues that we can't think of.
Framing things like 2016 with these notions in mind, perhaps there will not be much major difference with how one might approach the elections. All this really does, is just crystallize just how much is truly at stake.

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