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A conversation with David Axelrod

axelrodI recently had the opportunity to listen to David Axelrod, long time advisor to President Obama and key strategist for both his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, speak about his new book "Believer: My Forty Years in Politics". The event was sponsored by the Women's Democratic Club of Montgomery County and was quite enlightening.

Of particular interest to me was the issue of dealing with the rampant partisan politics within the beltway. In his book, Mr. Axelrod had indicated that one of the motivating factors convincing President Obama to run for the presidency was his sincere belief that he, as someone new to the "beltway", could have a significant impact on cutting through the partisan politics that so stymies the ability of the federal government to get anything accomplished. Regrettably, the reality that is all too apparent to anyone following President Obama's time in office is that this president has faced more blatant obstructionism than any other president in history, certainly any president in my own lifetime which goes back to the Truman Administration.

The election of the first minority candidate for president, rather than serve to indicate how far we have come as a nation, served all too often to awaken in too many the desire to take us backwards to where we once were...30, 50, 100 or even 200 years ago in areas such as race relations and how we react to the differences that exist among all of the various members of our society.

My question to Mr. Axelrod was simple: Knowing what we now know, how would you have advised President Obama differently in the early stages of his administration in dealing with the blatant partisan obstructionism intended to undermine any attempts by the president to move this country forward? I made it clear that this was not a trick question, Jeb Bush notwithstanding. His response was both extremely honest and, in my opinion, quite appropriate. His answer was "I don't know" and he didn't know, he went on to say, because there really is no surefire way to deal with an opposition that "won't take YES for an answer".

If I could find one positive thing to say about the intentions of the opposition it is that at least they didn't try to hide them. They were quite upfront with their plan from the beginning which was to win back the White House by blocking everything the President attempted to accomplish. As Mr. Axelrod indicated, Mitch McConnell made that strategy quite clear when he declared that his goal was to "make this President a one-term president". Regrettably, this strategy is still being adhered to in a second term.

So how do we break through the obstructionism that plagues today's "beltway politics" and all too often places party before the best interest of citizens? Mr. Axelrod did offer a solution, be it one that requires time and dedication. His solution is "bottom up" politics. Looking at local elections, whether for school board, City Council, and the like and working and voting for candidates who represent the best interests of citizens. It is local and state legislatures that serve as the breeding ground for the senators and representatives in the Congress of the future and it is an investment well worth taking.

Mr. Axelrod also referred to the strategy used by Ronald Reagan to curry favor with what is now known as the "Reagan Democrats" of the southern belt through social issues. He did so not to win back that specific voting bloc as much as to use as an example of rallying a group around a specific set of issues. As the middle class continues to shrink as a result of the policies of the current Congress, the rallying point for those of us who consider ourselves still part of the middle class must be, according to Mr. Axelrod, around economic issues.

These, of course, would include the earned benefits we worked for such as social security and Medicare but they should also include recognizing the need for investment in education and infrastructure. It should also include a tax structure that rewards hard work over making money off of the money others earn. That tax structure should also reward investment in creating jobs in America while penalizing those companies who ship jobs overseas. Supporting candidates who understand and support these middle class issues when they are running for office at the lower echelons of the political spectrum is the most effective way to ensure that they make their way to the upper echelons of the political spectrum down the road.

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The Supreme Court and health care

scales of justiceIn a few weeks the Supreme Court will be rendering its decision in the King vs. Burwell case which could significantly impact health care coverage for almost 9 million Americans. The case revolves around the applicability of the tax credit that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. Obamacare, provides for individuals at certain income levels to enable them to afford the purchase of health insurance through the health insurance Exchanges established under the ACA. The question before the court is whether that tax credit is limited to Exchanges set up by the state or whether it would also apply to the Exchanges set up by the Federal government in those states that opted out of setting up the Exchanges themselves.

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Violence and riots and life outside

tear gasLet me begin by stating in no uncertain terms that I absolutely abhor violence. I am for President Obama's efforts to resolve international threats through diplomacy as a first step rather than jumping right into our next war. I am against the NRA's quest to arm every citizen, even those not yet born, with a firearm. That said, I still wonder if it took the utter destruction and looting of a CVS and other businesses in Baltimore to shine the media spotlight on the plight of the inner cities. Granted, the motivation behind much if not most of the looting could very well have been to take advantage of a situation to obtain "free stuff", but that doesn't change whether the burning down of the CVS was a necessary evil to focus media attention on the underlying issues plaguing Baltimore and other cities throughout the country. The city of Detroit has yet to fully recover from the devastation of the riots of 1968 despite great efforts to bring people and industry back to a city from which they fled to the outlying suburbs as a result of those disastrous riots.

Certainly, the plight of the inner cities and the lack of opportunities for its young people has steadily declined over a period of time much greater than the three weeks since Freddie Gray's death. The sending of jobs overseas has been a steady phenomena for well over thirty years. Baltimore was once a major port of entry for overseas cargo. Since the 1980's, with the shift to containerization of cargo, there are now only two major ports of entry on the east coast, Port Elizabeth in New Jersey and Charleston, South Carolina. As a result, all of the other major ports, even New York Harbor, found the need to turn themselves into tourist attractions like the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and The Seaport in New York to salvage lost revenue from the shipping industry and the many jobs that industry provided along the Atlantic coast. Other practices, like the irresponsible pushing of subprime mortgages by unethical lenders seeking to take unfair advantage of the "housing bubble" lead to the massive housing foreclosures that are scattered throughout the poorer neighborhoods of Baltimore and the many other similar cities across the nation.

President Obama in his State of the Union address emphasized the need for the nation to invest in education to enable our youth to compete for higher level jobs. Yet, in Governor Hogan's FY 2016 budget, funding for education in our state was drastically slashed.

Most of us recognize that the upturn in our economy has primarily benefitted the wealthy in our society contributing to a staggering level of income inequality not seen since just prior to the stock market crash of 1929 - 91% of the recent income gains have gone to the top 1% wealthiest Americans.

The question that must be addressed is whether that burning of the CVS in Baltimore will do anything to wake up those in power in both government AND the private sector to move from simply recognizing the ongoing problem to taking actual steps to address the inherent problems in the long term. Will they, together, agree on a plan that includes among other actions: reinvestment of corporate profits in the communities to create more jobs, keeping jobs in the U.S. by providing tax incentives that reward those companies that do and penalize those companies that do not, closing corporate tax loopholes, investing in education to make it affordable to all, not just the wealthy few?

If it took the destruction of that CVS to move us further along towards truly addressing these pervasive issues with long term solutions rather than short term fixes, then it was a wakeup call well worth making.

As for the actual event that set off the days of protest and rioting, the killing of Freddie Gray, let me just say that any commitment to rebuilding our inner cities must be accompanied by some level of respect for the inhabitants of those cities. Recognizing the sanctity of life, all life, especially by those responsible for "protecting and serving" is an essential element. I believe, therefore, that the charges filed by Prosecutor Mosby against the six police officers were justified.

It appears, and I emphasize the word appears, that he was stopped by police for "looking suspicious". I won't comment any further on why he was stopped and let the courts determine that, but what I will comment on is what, at least to me, was clear from the video footage. He was, indeed, "taken down" by six police officers AND his injury occurred during that take down. This is evident from the fact that he is screaming in pain as he is being dragged to the paddy wagon since he clearly is not able to freely move his legs. Anyone who suspects that he was "beaten" by police while in the paddy wagon, in my opinion, is way off base. It is also quite clear to me that, while initially injured during the take down by the officers, his condition was likely exacerbated by both the manner in which he was "placed" in the police van and, then, further exacerbated by the officers' failure to properly secure him in the van while he was handcuffed and shackled resulting in his "bouncing" around the van during the transport. If this isn't an example of depraved indifference to life and negligent homicide, I am not sure what could ever fall into those categories.

While there are numerous questions relating to the overall handling of this case by the police involved, the key question for me is how an unarmed individual, who it does not appear was resisting arrest by six police officers, could be injured to such an extent while in police custody as to ultimately lose his life? Clearly, police face a danger in their work that most other individuals rarely if ever face. I do not see this, however, as a valid excuse. Lack of respect for life is certainly not limited to police; we have seen instances by non-police individuals who shoot first and ask questions later such as in Florida and elsewhere by gun-toting "citizens". I place responsibility for these with the lack of responsible gun legislation throughout the country. However, it is the lack of respect for life by police that is particularly troubling since they are vested with the responsibility to serve and protect.

What makes these events even more ironic if not downright hypocritical is the fact that they have been occurring at a time when the debate of "pro-life" vs. "pro-choice" is occurring across the nation. How is it even possible that there could be more concern about the right to life of an unborn fetus than, at too many times, there is about the right to life of the "born" fetuses that walk our streets as citizens?

I admit I am not in any position to provide any real solutions to this very real problem, however, I will say that any solution has to begin with instilling in everyone a greater appreciation and respect for the sanctity of all life, even life that occurs "outside" the womb!

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Continuing Stupid Medical Tricks

carr-currentOkay, let’s get a couple of things out of the way.

First, I have terminal cancer.  This week I learned it’s even more terminal than I had thought.  Three forms of malignancy are now competing to kill me—bladder cancer, metastatic transitional cell carcinoma, and colon cancer.  I don’t mean to complain, but this seems like overkill to me.  I try to keep a good sense of humor about it, but it literally hurts to laugh.

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It's not government "buy" the people

100 dollar billsThe Maryland General Assembly recently passed two important pieces of legislation, HJ002 by a vote of 89 to 49 and SJ0002 by a vote of 29 to 18.  These two bills formally support the Democracy for All Amendment which calls for a Constitutional Convention to overturn the Supreme Court's devastating decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010).  This decision has, in effect, turned back the clock on campaign finance reform by declaring that corporations enjoy the First Amendment political rights of the people and, in so doing, it toppled dozens of state and federal laws and many decades of judicial precedent which had prevented both corporations and unions from spending corporate and union treasury funds in political campaigns.     

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An open letter to 47 Republican Senators

US senateSince 47 Republican Senators recently deemed it appropriate to correspond directly with Iranian leadership in a blatant attempt to undermine President Obama and the administration's efforts as part of the multinational negotiations for an Iranian nuclear proliferation agreement, would it also be deemed appropriate for Iranian leadership to now correspond directly with those same Senate Republicans? 

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