The Right to Remain Silent

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Stop what you’re doing right now and look around you. Wherever you are, look at the two closest persons next to you. If you’re in your car, look at the driver in the lane to your right and left. If you’re at the grocery store, look at the shoppers in the check-out line in front and behind you. If you’re at work, look at the co-workers at the desk/booth/office across from you. Look at them. Look at them and realize that on November 4th, between the three of you, only ONE of you took the time and opportunity to vote. Only one of you decided it was important enough to have your say on the persons who make all the rules in your life. Rules on how you drive your car, how much you pay for food at the grocery store, how much you’re able to work and earn.  And two of you have the right to remain silent… And you took it.

On Tuesday, November 4th, 36% of the eligible voters in America voted in the General Elections this year.  These elections included governors, senators, congressmen, mayors, council members, school board and dog-catchers.  More importantly, they also included County Prosecutors and District Attorneys.  District Attorneys like Robert McCulloch.  Who, on November 4th, was re-elected as the Prosecuting Attorney for Saint Louis County.  Less than three months earlier, Robert McCulloch made the decision to not press charges on police officer, Darren Wilson who had fatally shot to death 18-year old, Michael Brown.  He did not read him his right to remain silent.  In the months since, the entire nation has watched and battled in conversations on race, policing, social justice and individual responsibilities and rights.  One thing we’ve hardly talked about is the responsibility of voting.  Robert McCulloch, who has been in office since 1991 and has won re-election six times.  The latest election, he won with 95.25 percent of the vote.  He ran unopposed.

Overall, the turnout in Missouri was 32.3%.  That’s 32.3% of the eligible voters in the state.  This doesn’t count the thousands more who are and were unregistered.  Nor does it account for the thousands who chose not to vote in down-ballot and uncontested races like McCulloch’s.  It should be noted, that a lot has transpired in and around the Ferguson, Missouri area over the last three months.  Many have complained and protested at the lack of accountability of law enforcement.  Well how are they suppose to be held accountable if we do not exercise our right to hold them accountable?  There are several problems with what happened in Missouri over the Summer, but how seriously can those problems be taken if those with grievances are not fully exercising their ability to address those grievances?  How seriously can we take them?

I actually started writing this on the day of the 2014 General Election to reflect on my personal conflicts with being… how should I say, apt to give opinions of the strongest certainty.  I notice that I share certain views and opinions and how others are bothered by them or otherwise reserved in their own feelings.  What I find MOST comically alarming is that the views that many find to be the most controversial, such as social and human rights, equal treatment under law, privacy, abortion and  civil liberties and freedoms, these are the VERY reasons that actually drive people to vote to begin with.  Yet, they have reservations to talk about these issues.  They shun away when they see them on Facebook or television.  They accuse persons, like myself, of purposely being inflammatory, inciting and derogatory for having a willingness to discuss topics they’d rather keep taboo.  But when these same persons go and vote, whenever they do fill out an entire ballot, they’re doing so based on how they feel on those very issues.  You vote for candidates that are pro-life.  You vote against candidates that are anti-immigration.  You vote for persons that are conscious of how you live and what you desire for yourself and family.  But to hear how others live and what they desire is disturbing on some levels?  However, ignoring it won’t make it go away.  We all live and work in the same space and we all are vying for the same resources.  At some time very soon, you are going to come face-to-face with which you want to ignore.  And, in your ignorance, you won’t be prepared on how to react.  And things happen, like Darren Wilson shooting Michael Brown on a hot Summer day.

I’ll end with a quote from everybody’s favorite television series(or should be) The Wire.  Lieutenant Cedric Daniels is complaining about his lack of advancement within the Baltimore Police Department and the dire situation the city constantly finds itself in.  His wife Marla, encouraging him to take another path reminds him, “The game is rigged, but you cannot lose if you do not play.”  Well, evident by the deaths of Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, and Michael Brown, along with the hundreds more that are killed in sensational circumstances, it looks like we are playing to lose.  Especially when we do have the opportunity and ability in our grasp to do something and don’t take it.  We DON’T have the luxury of not voting.  It doesn’t simply make a difference, IT. IS. THE. DIFFERENCE.  It is the difference between pressing charges and presenting to a grand jury.  It is the difference between civil rights and tyranny of the majority.  It is the difference between irresponsibility and accountability.  And in many cases, it is the difference between life and death.  Like I said earlier, we all have a freedom of choice and the right to remain silent.  But know what you abdicate when you decide not to vote.  You may not like how the game is played, but despite what Marla Daniels said, you better believe that you cannot win if you do not play.  And two of the three persons next to you aren’t even in the game.

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Open Seasons

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This week, the Open Enrollment Period for Health Insurance will begin and millions of Americans will have the opportunity shop and buy plans offered via the Affordable Care Act.  However, last week, as reported by just about every major and minor media outlet nationwide, the Democratic Party lost control of the Senate and with it, the Republicans now control both Houses of the U.S. Congress.  And as you can guess by the anger expressed through months and months of campaigning and more than 50 grand-scale yet pointless votes to repeal, the Republican-controlled House and Senate will undoubtedly have their sites set on the Affordable Care Act and destroying the law as we know it.  Every newly elected Republican promised it.  Every re-elected Republican voted for it.  Now, with control of the senate, they will indeed make it a priority to go after the law anew.

To make matters even more grim, the United States Supreme Court has decided to hear the appeal of King vs Burwell, which will challenge the integrity of the Affordable Care Act, which could do what Congress was never able to do; kill the Affordable Care Act.  Not to delve too much in the legalize, but what King v Burwell is challenging is the wording of the law, saying that it does not specifically state that the Advanced Premium Tax Credit, which is largely responsible for making the Affordable Care Act affordable, should be offered to states that do not have a state-run Marketplace or Health Insurance Exchange.  In other words, as it was written, the lawsuit is challenging the government’s authority to distribute tax credits to those who enrolled in federally facilitated marketplaces.  As of now, 14 states made the decision to establish their own marketplace with which insurance carriers would offer plans that the government would provide tax credits for.  The 36 states that chose not to set up a marketplace had one set up and facilitated by the federal government.  Although these 36 federally facilitated exchanges are collectively known as the Federal Exchange, carriers and plans themselves vary greatly from state to state and even from zip code to zip code, depending or numerous factors like household size, age, income and gender.  So these marketplaces are indeed specific to each state.  However, the lawsuit says that the framers of the Affordable Care Act intentionally wrote the law to give the government the authority to ONLY offer the tax credit to marketplaces “established by a state.”

So, if the U.S. Supreme Court were to rule in favor of King v Burwell, then the Advance Premium Tax Credit can no longer be offered to consumers in the 36 states that do not have a state-run Health Insurance Exchange.  This will cause approximately 4 million of the 7 million consumers currently receiving a tax credit, to no longer have it and their monthly premiums will increase.  Those once affordable monthly premiums will no longer be affordable and thus, likely to be cancelled.  If those plans are cancelled, this sudden rise in premiums and resulting dropping of plans would destabilize a frightened insurance market, which could cause premiums to rise outside of federally facilitate marketplaces, which could force millions more to drop their coverage as well.  All of this is a side effect of what the Supreme Court could do to the Affordable Care Act.  If those premiums cannot be given, then the funding formula for the entire law will collapse, which will in essence kill the bill.

However, this entire scenario can be avoided.  The same Republican Congress that controls both Houses, that has also voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act more than 50 times have the ability to pass a law correcting the language of the bill, which would render a decision by the Supreme Court moot.  In the same vain, that very Supreme Court could also decide to accept the decisions of lower courts and the IRS, which responsible for interpenetrating the law and agree the government has the authority to give tax credits to the 4 million Americans in 36 states that are currently receiving them.  But in the case it isn’t avoided, in the case the Supreme Court rules against the government and congress decides not to fix the wording of the law, and millions end up losing health care, what will be the narrative given to the nation?  Will Republicans gamble on the gullibility of the American public and expect them to believe that millions lost their health insurance due to Democratic incompetence of writing, passing and executing the law?  Or will Democrats be able to convince America that Republicans, who could have acted, allowed the health care of million to slip right through their fingers and cause these Americans to go uninsured?

It’s an easy narrative to tell.  Almost as easy as the successes of the bill and what it has given to millions of Americans already.  The rate of increase of health insurance premiums have been slowed nationwide.  Gallup has released a poll stating that 90% of those who have purchased a plan on the marketplaces have described their coverage as good, fair or excellent.  The number of uninsured has gone down 25% this year alone.  8.7 million have received coverage through the Medicaid Expansion, while as mentioned earlier, 7.3 million have received coverage through state or federally facilitated marketplaces.  The Congressional Budget Office has reaffirmed it’s prediction that the Affordable Care Act will cut the deficit by $124 billion in the first decade alone.  More than 80% of consumers buying plans on the marketplaces were eligible for a subsidy and those plans purchased have cut the cost of health insurance by an average of 76% to an average of $82 per month.  The numbers don’t lie.  It has made health care affordable AND accessible for millions.  Understandably, not all have been helped.  Some hurt.  There are winners and losers in every system in any system, but if Republicans are going to bank on these winners to blame Democrats once they’re forced to become losers, then the real losers will be the Republican Party.  Allowing these millions of Americans that have tangible benefits from the Affordable Care Act to lose that benefit could potentially jeopardize the electability of Republican candidates.  They have the chance to literally save the lives of thousands and to reap a share of those successes only their Democratic counterparts can tell.  Or they can continue down the same path they started with irrelevant votes to repeal, passing no plan to replace and government shutdowns that does far more damage than they even realize.  Good luck with that.  You’ll reap what you sow.

A Mid-Term’s Night’s Dream… Turned Nightmare

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On November 4th, the night of the 2014 Mid-Term Elections, the Democratic Party took a really tough loss.  And as much as the Democrats took it on the chin last night, the President took it on the chin even worse.  Key allies like Mark Pryor and Kay Hagen lost re-election and potential newcomers Allison Lundergan Grimes and Michelle Nunn lost as well.  On the Congressional level, overly experienced candidates like Suzanne Patrick in Virginia’s 2nd lost just as bad as novice popular celebrity candidates like Clay Aiken.  Even the Democrats who survived, no matter how powerful, skirted by the barest of margins.  Dan Malloy, the Governor of the extremely liberal Connecticut barely escaped an embarrassing defeat.  Virginia’s Mark Warner, who is so popular he probably could walk across the Chesapeake Bay, has not won his re-election yet.  So yeah, all across the country if you had a “D” next to your name you were in for a VERY long night and equally painful Wednesday-Morning Quarterbacking.  The inevitable finger-pointing, second-guessing and questioning of campaigns, “What went wrong.”  “What you should have done.”  “What you did not do.”  “Who’s to blame.”  And through the night and into the next, the one person the Democrats sought to blame is the one person Republicans blamed for the entire election:  President Barack Obama.

And now, with the elections over and the Republicans in control of the House as well as the Senate, the one person left behind to deal with it all is none other than Barack Obama.  Not only does Barack Obama have to deal with a bunch that were never interested in helping him govern from the start(and now are interested in governing all of sudden) but he also has to deal with a Party that did everything they could to turn away from him and in doing so, turn away from every bit of success this nation has enjoyed for the last six years.  NEWSFLASH:  Barack Obama was never the problem.  He won BOTH of his elections in a COMPLETELY toxic environment.  How soon we forget who we elected in the first place.  Let’s examine what else we’ve forgotten:

55 Consecutive Months of Private Sector Job Growth – Over 10 million jobs have been created during this period.  When President Obama came into office we had just lost nearly 800,000 jobs in one month.  By the end of his first year in office, we stopped losing jobs.

Ended the Great Recession – Not to harp on a dead horse, but when President Bush left office, we weren’t doing too well as a nation.  We were looking about as good as the Democrats looked yesterday.  A Housing Market in crisis coupled with failing American institutions in the auto and banking industries hit us really hard.  Not to mention two wars that weren’t properly funded.  It crippled us.  But you know what?  We recovered.

The Affordable Care Act – As much as the nation divided itself over it’s passage and implementation, the Affordable Care Act has done wonders to do exactly what it was designed to do: reduce the number of uninsured and slowed the growth of healthcare cost overall.  For over a year now, millions across the nation have been receiving monthly discounts on health insurance ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of thousand dollars.  There isn’t a single Republican in their right mind that will tell those millions of people, “I’m sorry, but now I’m going to increase your health insurance cost now” and then hope to ever win another election.

Deficit Reduction – Under President Barack Obama, the deficit that was responsible for nearly 10% of the overall GDP has been cut in half.  In 2009, Obama’s first year in office, the deficit topped $1.4 trillion.  By the end of this year, the deficit will have been cut by one trillion dollars.  You don’t have to be a deficit hawk to do math.

Unemployment Rate – At it’s highest during the Recession, the Unemployment rate hit 10%.  Now, it’s 5.9% and will likely go lower by the end of the week.  In comparison, it was at 5.7% at the start of President Bush’s second term.  We definitely were not in a recession then.

Osama Bin Laden – DEAD!  The most wanted man in the history of the world is now a memory.  Probably one of our greatest military achievements in 70 years.  In the eyes of many, that alone should canonize the man.

All of that is barely scratching the surface.  The housing market is saved.  The financial industry is saved.  The auto industry is saved.  The Stock Market is raised.  Minimum Wage was raised, which is exactly what you can’t say about gas prices.  Oh by the way, this was all done with a Congress that committed themselves to making him a one-term president as their number one goal.  Speaking of that Congress, the Republicans took control of the House in 2010 with as much gusto, gumption and guile as they did with the Senate this year.  And in the four years since what have they accomplished?  The two most unproductive Congresses in the history of the United States.  The 112th Congress(2010-2012) passed 283 laws, while the 113th Congress has managed to only pass about 100 less laws than that so far.  And these are the guys we expect to be able to govern now?  Yes, his job approval ratings are in the 40s, but it’s consistently three times higher than Congress’s approval rating, which is about as high as Ebola’s approval rating.  You know what else has approval three times that of congress?  Obamacare.  Yeah.  The one thing they all campaigned against and assured us they don’t want.  My opinion?  It isn’t the discounted and accessible healthcare that people don’t want…

Now, am I saying that if Democrats ran in stride with President Obama that we’d be running a victory lap right now?  Probably not.  But at the same time, what I am saying is that of everything that went wrong on Election Day, Barack Obama was not one of them.  Democratic candidates did not have to run with him, but they certainly did not have to run away from him.  Which they did.  If that’s how you want to win elections, then perhaps this was exactly what we needed.  Just to see how bad of an idea it was.  As if we didn’t know.  We saw what happened in 2010.  In the wake of a vastly unpopular passage of the Affordable Care Act, Republican dog-catchers everywhere were just lining up to get in Congress and they did.  With such a wave of success and a President had not a friend in the world, Barack Obama was definitely a dead man walking in 2012, right?  Wrong.  He kicked ass.  Not only did he kick ass, but he arguably did better than he did with his historic first victory.  But that wasn’t good enough.  Despite healthcare reform being a success, the recession ended and economy sailing, Barack Obama was again targeted as the problem.  As if we actually think Democrats win with swing voters in Mid-Term elections.  Without base voters, Democrats had no chance of winning.  As is such, you know if Barack Obama said he was coming to your neighborhood tomorrow, you know good and well that everyone and their mother would break their necks to get there.  That’s how it’s been for the last seven years and it has showed no signs of stopping.  He is the energy that the Democratic base thrives on.

So my question is, with a platform that ANYONE would kill to run on and a President that is STILL ridiculously popular, what’s with the conventional wisdom that he is to blame?

I’ll end by sharing a memory of what was going down this time four years ago.  Journalist Glenn Greenwald and television host Lawrence O’Donnell got into a argument about the results of the 2010 General Election where similarly the Democrats were obliterated.  Greenwald suggested that if Democrats ran further to the left they would have had better results than the ones they got.  This sent O’Donnell(and myself) in an uproar because we knew that despite what we want, the only path to getting elected and getting things done is compromise.  That was then.  That was during a recession.  That was when health insurance was costing thousands.  That was when Ben Laden was alive and the unemployment rate was near 10%.  Now, if you are going to deny what President Obama has accomplish then you deserve to lose.  When I see candidates like Allison Lundergan Grimes not even admit to voting for the President she served as a convention delegate for, I can’t help but to be disappointed.  Especially when she knows full well his presence would have energized her voters way more than she could have ever hoped to do alone.  And could have done the same for many more, but instead they ran away from all of it.  In a vain effort to escape the bad, you sacrificed the good.  In the end, if I may borrow from the popular film the year of his election;  Barack Obama is not the President that we deserve, but maybe, just maybe he was the President that we needed.

So what now?  Now that the Republicans have control of the House and the Senate, what do they do now?  Does Mitch McConnell, as Senate Majority Leader, control his caucus any better than John Boehner controlled his?  Will Senator McConnell even become Senate Majority Leader?  Do they repeal the Affordable Care Act and force millions to pay hundreds and thousands more and possibly lose it?  Do they dare attempt impeachment of a President with two years left in office when their feckless lawsuit couldn’t gain any traction at all?  Will they be any better at getting out of their own way, which between the Tea Party, the Libertarian Party and the establishment crowd, they have hardly been able to do for the last four years?  Or for the next two years, they show the country just how ineffective they can be as they did during President Bush’s last term that set the stage for complete Democratic takeover of the House, Senate and Presidency all in the span of two years.  Well, they have exactly that much time to show us what they can do.  Because if they are as effective as they were during President Bush’s last term as they were over the last four years, then they’ll definitely be looking at their worst nightmare:  PRESIDENT HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON