Candidate Full Name:
5th Congressional District
Campaign Office Mailing Address:
3307 N Harding
Chicago, Illinois 60618
Please tell us about yourself, your background and why you believe you are qualified to hold this office.
I received a Medical Doctorate and a Masters in Public Health (Health Resources Management) from the University of Illinois in Chicago in 1987. After an Internship at Boston City Hospital (Boston University School of Medicine), and a Residency at Massachusetts Mental Health Center (Harvard University), I became an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Dartmouth College), working at New Hampshire State Hospital.
While at Dartmouth, I was awarded a Kellogg National Leadership Fellowship. This experience allowed me to spend a quarter of my time, for three years, traveling throughout the country and the world, investigating critical issues related to social movements and leadership development. With an eye already towards running for office, the main leadership question I carried as a fellow was to understand the qualities that make leaders in high office more able to stay true to the principles that compel them to serve, and ultimately "do the right thing" for their communities under the constant pressures of compromise and choice.
During the fellowship, I explored the value for leaders in integrating their inner reflective life with their outer life of service (within pluralistic societies). Based on this exploration and other life experiences, I co-founded SEED to put into practice all of the insights that this exploration had revealed. A primary insight in the SEED methodology, is the understanding that true, significant systems change on the intractable issues affecting our communities, can be addressed not so much by technical fixes, but by the processes that facilitate communities coming together across their differences to focus on the visions that unites them and working towards a common future. We may not agree on how we got to any particular intractable problem, but we can often come together and agree on a solution that reflects what we are trying to build together. This work expands on my training as a psychiatrist in deep listening and applies it to the dynamics of groups needing to listen intently to each other as they attempt to create a common path forward. These are the skills that President Obama has demonstrated throughout his candidacy and early in his Presidency. These are the skills that I believe all the world needs as we attempt to tackle seemingly intractable problems together.
Please tell us your general views about the role of government and some of the most important things you would like to accomplish in office?
Thirteen years ago, after more than a decade serving in front lines of public hospitals, I began work with colleagues based on the then radical idea that as a nation we could come together across vast differences to make true change a reality in our public institutions. This "radical idea" was dismissed as naïve and not grounded in the "real world" of our body politics where money, power and political influence rule the day.
Recent events are proving our original idea correct. In the midst of the worst convergence of crises many of us have seen in our lifetimes, Americans understand that this is a time to put away our differences and forge a path forward that is true to our deeply held values as a people -- honesty, hard work, opportunity and integrity.
In these times, it is more important than ever to have a radical break from the past. We cannot afford to send people to Washington who represent and embrace business as usual. We need bold leadership that has a deep understanding of the challenges facing ordinary Americans, and that has a demonstrated and unfailing commitment to serving communities most in need. I bring a psychiatrist's ability to listen to what is being said and to what is not. Politicians typically come to constituents telling them all they know, and what they will do. I will bring my skill as a listener/facilitator to emerge the collective wisdom of my constituents and become a true voice of theirs in Washington. When the 111th Congress grapples with the matter of health security, economic security and global security, it will be easy for professional politicians and academics to draw battle lines based on money, industry allegiances, party lines and ideology. I believe my lived experiences --as an immigrant growing up in poverty, of the value of education and hard work as a route out of poverty, of a deeply broken healthcare and public health system, of bringing people together across difference to make true change possible—have all profoundly shaped who I am in ways that will serve me well in those moments when tough choices are needed. In those times, I believe it makes the biggest difference what kind of experiences you have had and what choices and allegiances you have already made. For me, the issues we will face are not theoretical or academic. They are deeply personal. And I believe, above all else, this will make the biggest difference.
The current economic crisis is squeezing the middle class. What should Congress do about it? What specifically would you do if elected to Congress?
As American families face layoffs, foreclosure and struggle to pay bills, I believe Congress' job is to build economic security. This means re-defining our priorities and re-building the economy from the ground up.
We must invest in quality jobs for the hard working families of this country. We must make sure that our displaced workers have the retraining they will need to compete in the global workforce. We must develop new green technologies that will become the economic engine of the future. We must make sure that all our children have quality education from kindergarten through university by strengthening the public school system and making college affordable through expanded Pell grants. We must keep families in their homes by renegotiating their mortgages. Individuals must know that at the end of their working life, their retirement is secure by fixing social security. Finally, families must know that they are not one catastrophic illness away from being destitute as we tackle our broken healthcare system.
What are some of the main things you would do to help create jobs in Illinois?
A recent study by the Office of Advocacy of the Small Bussiness Administration Studies note that high-impact firms account for almost all employment and revenue growth in the national economy. A high-impact firm is defined as one whose sales have at least doubled over a four-year period and whose employment has a growth quantifier of two or more. Of the 376,604 high-impact firms nationwide, 13,443 are located in Illinois. That means 2.21 percent of all Illinois firms are high-impact firms that need to have access to credit to be able to grow and create jobs.
In addition, as America confronts the current energy crisis, a new report released by Environment Illinois shows that the U.S. can create two million jobs nationwide by investing in clean energy technologies that will strengthen the economy and fight global warming. The report finds that investing in clean energy would create four times as many jobs as spending the same amount of money within the oil industry, and in Illinois, 83,710 jobs would be created. For example, constructing wind farms creates jobs for sheet metal workers, machinists and truck drivers, among many others. Increasing the energy efficiency of buildings through retrofitting requires roofers, insulators and building inspectors. Expanding mass transit systems employs civil engineers, electricians, and dispatchers.
I recognize that choosing clean energy is choosing both jobs and the environment. We need a bold new energy plan for America that addresses global warming and revitalizes our economy with clean energy --specifically green infrastructure investments – to create new jobs and strengthen the economy. The specific package would invest in six green infrastructure priorities: retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency, expanding mass transit and freight rail, constructing "smart" electrical grid transmission systems, wind power, solar power, and next-generation biofuels.
What do you think can be done to bring short-term stability to gas and energy prices? Also, what do you think is the best strategy - to both affordably and responsibly - provide for the nation's future energy needs?
I agree with others who think that removing the 18.4% federal gasoline tax will bring short term stability to gas prices, though recent reductions in pricing have come by way of a shift in demand and supply. Also, the use of the reserves may give short-term relief if demand were to suddenly spike again.
As to our future energy needs, I believe that we must support parallel energy paths. Our government must commit itself to providing a substantial amount of support to each of six very different energy paths -- and that our society will make use of each whenever and to the extent that each promises to meet some of our energy needs cheaply and safely. The six paths are: conservation, renewables, fossil fuels, hydrogen, nuclear, and values-change.
Is there anything that can be done to make health care more accessible and affordable in Illinois? If so, what would you do?
If you don't have your health, nothing else matters. I believe that health is a human right. And the availability of high quality health care is fundamental to the achievement of that right. As a doctor working at the frontlines of health service and advocacy for over 20 years in the public sector, I know what it means for people to suffer the denial of the basic human right to health. I know what's at stake. And that is why my platform advocates comprehensive health care reform.
Americans spend over $2.2 trillion per year on health, about 16% of GDP. And yet 47 million are uninsured and over 70 million are underinsured, which means over 1/3 of Americans do not have access to the care they need in order to realize the basic human right to health. Though we spend more on health than anyone else on the planet, the US ranks 41st in terms of infant mortality and 35th in life expectancy. Ours is a system ravaged by fragmentation and inefficiency, and riven by racial and class inequities in health status and care. In our failed experiments with market based approaches, health care is delivered on the basis of ability to pay rather than on the basis of need . As a result, the fundamental human right to health is denied many Americans every day with all the predictable and preventable consequences: excess affliction, suffering and death. Lives and livelihoods hang in the balance in the ongoing fight for a platform that says, "Yes we can" to comprehensive health care reform.
I carry in my wallet a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King who said: "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane." And as a doctor, this I know is true: For too long, special interests in the system's status quo have ruled the day and denied justice to the American people. Entrenched stakeholders are allowed to say, "No you can't" or "No you won't" to comprehensive health care reform. So fight we must. In the words of another great American Frederick Douglas, "Without struggle there can be no progress." What we need is political leadership strong and wise enough to stand up for the American people who insist it's time to change. No more business as usual in the health care marketplace. We can no longer afford to line the coffers of health insurance and pharmaceutical companies and the fat pockets of their CEOs. We can no longer afford to extend life support to a dysfunctional system that denies our basic human rights, generates inequities, and drives dismal health outcomes for everyday Americans and their communities.
In the next session of Congress, I will stand against the "business as usual special interests" and stand up for comprehensive healthcare reform . My vision of the health care system we need is focused by two organizing principles: Universality and Quality.
UNIVERSALITY: "Everybody in, nobody out." A healthy workforce is critical to economic recovery. Working people need to know that their family's health is not in peril if they move or lose a job. People with disabilities need to know that they will receive the best possible health support services to allow them to live productive lives. People with preexisting conditions…. People with catastrophic illnesses must know that they will not have to choose between treatment and economic ruin. Those without jobs must know that they too will have access to high quality care regardless of ability to pay.
QUALITY: Our healthcare system is currently skewed toward subspecialty and emergency room care with too little emphasis on primary care, illness prevention and early detection. Easy access to rationally organized and appropriately reimbursed high quality care is key.
Please state your general views about the war in Iraq.
While I believe there are such things as just wars that must be fought, sending the men and women of our armed forces into harm's way is something that should not be undertaken lightly. If they are to be deployed, I am a strong supporter of doing so in line with the Powell Doctrine. The armed forces of the US should be deployed as a last resort only after significant consideration and with broad support. We should further be certain they are being deployed to defend our national security or its interests. They must have clear, attainable objectives. There must be a full understanding of all costs, not simply the monetary ones; reasonable estimations of the possible consequences of our actions, not simply an estimation of the best-case scenario; and preparation to address them. Finally, there must be a clear exit strategy we are prepared to enact. Unfortunately, given my preamble, the Iraq war is a war that I believe we should never have started. However, now that we have been deeply engaged, we are obligated to have a responsible phased withdrawal as President Obama has indicated in his plan of action.
In regards to Afghanistan, I'm not convinced that the conditions exist for the US to deepen its involvement. Instead, we have at best vague and at worst questionable intelligence that Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are somewhere in the hills in Afghanistan training terrorists to attack the west. Assuming this is the case, I don't believe this is a battle that can be won by conventional warfare. Even if such tactics succeeded in capturing Osama Bin Laden and wiping out Al Qaeda, doing so would not end the war on terrorism. Instead it would risk the lives of our men and women in uniform to stop one terrorist group and do nothing to ensure new extremists don't arise to take their place. The costs, as we have seen with the war in Iraq, could be prohibitive. The change I advocate for involves a renewed focus on establishing a worldwide consensus and multi-national force. It would require efforts from multi-national bodies to widely condemn and take action to cripple terrorist groups. We must make sure we've exhausted every other option before we throw more American lives into a surge as a last resort.
What are your thoughts on how to deal with illegal immigration? Also, what do you think should be done about illegal immigrants who are already here in the U.S.?
Congress must first stop the raids and the separation of children from their parents caused by the mass deportations of undocumented parents of children born in the United States. As a psychiatrist I can attest to the fact that these measures will leave deep emotional scars in the children and families that will manifest themselves in a variety of ways.
There needs to be a comprehensive bill considered and passed. Immigration is a complex issue and its elements should be considered simultaneously. The impetus of illegal immigration is the need to work and make a basic living. Therefore, the best border control measures will not be those that will stop people from jumping the walls we build (waste of money), but measures taken by the US government to invest in South America, Central America and Mexico so that people do not have to cross the border to get jobs in the United States. The guest worker program needs to contain enough save guards so that it does not become a mechanism of the big corporations to bring legal "cheap labor" into the country, at the expense of the economic development of the working class citizens of the United States.
What ideas do you have for improving our education system and for making our colleges and universities more affordable?
There is no better welfare, or anti-poverty program than completing a degree in higher education. 89 % of people graduating from college who have been on public assistance leave it for good after graduation. Graduating from high school is no longer enough to prepare us for the world of decision making and the world of work, and therefore I believe that at least the first two years of higher education must be guaranteed, free of charge, to all Americans who finish high school or a high school equivalent program. Grants, and student loan forgiveness programs must be made available to all who complete a Bachelors Degree as a way of creating incentives to complete the degree. Pell grants should be available to more students.
As part of the comprehensive Immigration package, the pillars of the Dream Act should also be implemented. That is that students who have resided in the United State since before their fifteenth birthday (and therefore had studied in the United States) and graduated from high school, would be able to gain temporary legal residency and would qualify for the added educational incentives.
What are your highest priorities for protecting the environment in Illinois?
I support Illinois' Environmental Council (IEC) policy agenda for tackling five critical environmental issues, including a new focus on global warming.
The top environmental issues spotlighted in the 2008 IEC Briefing Book that must be addressed in the coming year if the state is to make a significant difference in the quality of life for citizens of Illinois are: Global Warming, Environmental Health, Open Space, Transportation, Water Quality and Quantity. They were selected by IEC member organizations as priorities based on their effect on our health and natural heritage and the ability of Illinois decision makers to have an immediate impact.
Recommendations for action in 2008 range from instituting standards for automakers to build cleaner cars to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prohibiting the disposal of e-waste in landfills to investing in high-speed rail for public transportation. I will work with the Illinois Environmental Council to support and promote its action plans both at the State and national level.
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