Monday Morning Thoughts II: On Dissent

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The Vanguard last week juxtaposed the quiet passage of the MOUs last week against the tumultuous debate and discussion that took place on the same topics back in 2009 and 2010. One the one hand, I think Councilmember Swanson has a point when she said, “We’re a different council, we’re in a different time.”

Councilmember Swanson said, “If you look at those, not only were they contentious for their point of view, they also got very personal and it very much came down to who had the higher moral ground.”

“That is not the case here,” she said. “This is the case that you have five intelligent caring committed ethical people who simply have a different perspective at this particular point in time on this particular issue.”

I certainly was not expecting a repeat of a screaming match between Ruth Asmundson and Sue Greenwald, which led to regional attention. Isn’t there a middle ground here that we could find, where we can state our views and agree to disagree?

Where I think I disagree with the councilmember the most is the notion, as she it put it, “To have pulled it Tuesday would have been to talk about arguably why is one side right and the other side wrong.” She added, “Frankly there’s too much respect for our colleagues between all of us to do that.”

If there’s too much respect among the councilmembers to do that, then what is the problem with pulling to item to explain to the public why they think having a COLA (Cost-of-Living Adjustment) now is a good idea and how they believe they can pay for it?

A democratic governance requires that we take actions in full public view so that there is transparency and scrutiny. While we have decided that some actions have to be taken behind closed doors to protect the privacy of employees or others, we have rightly forced public bodies to approve MOUs and collective bargaining agreements in public where they can be scrutinized and the council or elected body must explain to the public their rationale.

This process was short-circuited in this instance.

Dissent has a long and cherished history in this country. In fact, dissenting opinions have been institutionalized into things like court decisions.

On May 18, 1896, the US Supreme Court in a 7-1 decision (with one justice absent) on Plessy v. Ferguson rejected the arguments of the plaintiff who argued that Mr. Plessy’s rights under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments had been violated.

The court majority would reject the view that Louisiana law separating accommodations for the races implied any inferiority of blacks, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Instead, it ruled that the law merely separated the two races as a matter of public policy.

Justice Brown declared, “We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”

However, Justice John Marshall Harlan dissented in Plessy. He wrote, “But in the view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens.  There is no caste here.  Our Constitution is color-blind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.  In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.   The humblest is the peer of the most powerful.  The law regards man as man and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved….”

It was this view that was ultimately vindicated in 1954, when a unanimous Supreme Court overturned Plessy in the seminal case, Brown v. Board of Education. Justice Harlan’s thought did not win the day in 1896, but 58 years later was vindicated when that ruling was overturned.

As David Cole, writing this October in the Washington Post, put it with regards to Supreme Court decisions: “Whatever five justices agree to, by definition, becomes law. A dissent’s only influence, by contrast, depends on its ability to articulate a more appealing vision of what the law should be.”

He goes on to say, “Majority opinions are exercises in power; dissents are appeals to our better judgment. The majority prevails, but the dissenter’s role is by far the more romantic; it is the work of the individual who, on principle, stands against the crowd. While precedent demands that justices follow the law, we celebrate as great those who departed from precedent as lone dissenting voices and ultimately saw their views adopted into law. We assign authority to the majority, but we valorize the dissenter.”

Like a Supreme Court’s majority opinion, the city council’s three members’ decision has the force of law, regardless of whether it is well-reasoned or argued.  But, unlike the Supreme Court, we expect our local elected officials to have good sound reasoning behind their decision. While at the end of the day we can agree to agree or disagree, knowing that the council had a solid basis for their decision gives us trust and peace of mind even when we disagree.

To me, that trust was violated last Tuesday, not because I think the council is wrong on their vote – even though I may, but rather because they failed at the most basic level to offer justification for that vote.

Because they failed to articulate their reasoning before the public, they have failed in their most basic duties as a council – to make their decisions as transparent as possible.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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41 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts II: On Dissent”

    1. Barack Palin

      And we should thank David for that.  Without David and his reporting who else in this town is going to keep the council in check for incidents like this?

        1. hpierce

          Actually, there are many, depending on subject matter, quite independently of the VG [there is some overlap, e.g., two Alans, Elaine R-M, etc.]  … and often, more effectively.  Watch public comment at CC more often.

        2. Barack Palin

          I do what I can hpierce, I speak out and often send emails to CC on important matters, you don’t know me.  But I don’t have a blog like David that can get the word out to many thousands.  The VG has come a long way since its inception, it may not be a legend but it’s certainly turning into a force to be reckoned with.  This coming from a reader that maybe agrees with 30% of its articles.

        3. hpierce

          I stand by my post.  Doesn’t bother me at all that Tia was (or tried to be) “dismissive”, and that BP thinks the VG is “a force to be reckoned with” [patently untrue, by the way].

          I do sincerely commend you BP, for what you do outside this blog.  I also do those things.  More people should.  And I might agree with you ~ 15% of the time.  But anyone thinking that the discussion on this blog is going “to change the world”, is more than a bit delusional.

          Saying that, I obviously enjoy the interaction, exchange of concepts, sharing of factual information, and the ‘thrust’/’riposte’/’parry’ that occurs here.

        4. Barack Palin

          Hpierce, you seem to get up in arms over issues that concern city workers and unions.  Am I right to assume you’re a current/former city employee?  Were you also a union member?  If you don’t want to respond I understand.

        5. hpierce

          BP… semi-fair question, “semi”, because you are asking me questions when you do not offer your background.  As you say, I don’t know you.  Yet, you seek information about me, without sharing similar information about yourself [does that work out well for you on ‘dates’ or other social interactions?]… the “if you don’t respond, I’ll understand” tagline is “cute”… ‘have you stopped beating you spouse’ comes to mind.

          That said, I say, unequivocably (sp) that I never have, nor ever will, belong to an organized union (defined as an organization that has ties/support outside the immediate employment environment).  I have been involved in ’employee associations’, because the employer refused to deal with employees as individuals.

          My Dad HAD to belong to a true union, and he hated it.  It was a ‘condition of employment’ to belong to the IAM.  With a few exceptions, I loathe compulsory ‘unions’.  Don’t think I’ve ever said anything positive about ‘unions’.  DTA is a compulsory union (you either have to belong, or pay pretty high “agency fees”)

          My “fervor” lies mainly in my chagrin against mis-characterizations of government (and other) employees, based on some gross assumptions… ex.  all government employees are slackers, couldn’t make in the real world, are ‘on the take’, grossly overcompensated, lazy, etc., etc.  Yeah… some folk that fits, but both in the private and public sectors.

          There has also been many mis-representations of fact, regarding not just government employee but other unrelated matters.  I think you will find, pretty consistently, that also pushes my buttons.

          I just shared more than you deserve, BP.  Will you do likewise?  If you are afraid to here, contact me @ hortensepierce@yahoo.com.

          [ball just traveled back over the net]

        6. Barack Palin

          My Dad HAD to belong to a true union, and he hated it.  It was a ‘condition of employment’ to belong to the IAM.  

          I’ve posted my former job and my union affiliation on here a few times.  I’m a retired airline worker and like your dad I was also a member of the IAM as a condition of employment, also hated it.

          You didn’t address if you work or have worked for the city in some capacity.  From your posts and knowledge of city procedures I’ve always assumed you did.

        7. hpierce

          Well, at this point, BP, will say that:

          You and Dad have/had some things in common (working for airlines, hating unions)… he worked for United Airlines for 33 years.  As an electrical mechanic, and as an instructor.

          Have always been interested in history and government, and have always been inquisitive.

          Will ask you, does it matter who my employers were?  Or how I acquired my knowledge?  I think not.  Either I am correct or not.

          Have done/am doing work in both the private and public sectors (including work for private firms contracted with governments).  Have seen some of the “inner workings” of both.

          Hope that satiates your curiosity.  If not, c’est dommage.  I generally try to separate my facts from my opinions.  Key word is “generally”.  But, at the end of the day, I’m human.

           

           

        8. Barack Palin

          You and Dad have/had some things in common (working for airlines, hating unions)… he worked for United Airlines for 33 years.  As an electrical mechanic, and as an instructor.

          Your dad and I have much more in common than you know.  Did he work at SFO? SMF?

          As a child did you get to fly much?

        9. Alan Miller

          two Alans

          TWO Alans?  By my count there are three, if not four or five, depending on where you draw the line.

          There are many who feel there are TOO MANY Alans in Davis, and on that point I don’t disagree.

  1. Tia Will

    “To have pulled it Tuesday would have been to talk about arguably why is one side right and the other side wrong.” She added, “Frankly there’s too much respect for our colleagues between all of us to do that.”

    I also disagree with the premise of CC member Swanson for slightly different reasons. Her comment would seem to imply that disagreement implies disrespect. I do not believe this to be the case. Because many of my beliefs are outliers in our society, I am in disagreement with many people for whom I have profound respect. I would never want them to not fully challenge me on my beliefs, nor do I believe that I should self censor my own thoughts because of “mutual respect”.

  2. Barack Palin

    “To have pulled it Tuesday would have been to talk about arguably why is one side right and the other side wrong.” She added, “Frankly there’s too much respect for our colleagues between all of us to do that.”

    Isn’t that what the council always does on any issue that’s before them?  Do they not all express their opinions even though they might disagree with each other?  Why should the MOU’s be any different?

  3. Tia Will

    hpierce

    How do you define “issue”?”

    Not speaking for BP, but I feel that Webster’s has an adequate definition at for purposes of posting.

    “an important topic or problem for debate or discussion”.

    I consider the MOU’s an important topic. Others might disagree. But then we might have to consider the definition of “important”.

    1. hpierce

      Yes, we have to define “important” as well as “issue”.  There are roughly 50,000 opinions/definitions on each in this community.  Think ‘bell curve’.

      If something is an ‘important issue’ to you, make your voice heard @ CC.  Subscribe to the Agenda packets (I assume David does).  There are so many avenues to be informed… or, do you expect to be “spoon fed”?  ‘Tia, may I’?

    2. Matt Williams

      To take Tia’s point one step further, the Sales Tax was an important enough issue that it was put on the ballot for a citizen vote. Since the Sales Tax money is going to be used to pay the fiscal obligations incurred by these MOUs, the importance of the MOUs as an issue starts with a pretty solid background. As Anon said Saturday …

      Of course how the city is going to pay for the COLA is the other big issue. Where is that money going to come from, since the sales tax revenue has already been subscribed by editorials from City Council members for road repairs, street lights and the like?

      … and Anon also provided the test of one of those editorials, as follows …

      ARGUMENT IN FAVOR MEASURE O

      Measure O proposes to increase our community’s sales tax to 8.5 percent until 2020. This repre- sents a one-half cent increase now, and will continue until 2020 an existing one-half cent tax due to expire in 2016. This modest increase in our sales tax rate will fund essential community needs that shouldn’t be delayed further, including:

      Road, sidewalk, bike path, streetlight repairs
      Parks, landscaping, street tree maintenance

      Revenue from this sales tax increase will provide $3.6 million per year toward our current $5.1 million structural budget deficit. With passage, Davis must still cut $1.5 million to balance its 2014-15 budget. Without this measures approval, basic services (including police, fire, parks, recreation) will suffer severe cuts, up to 12.5 percent. Davis will become a less safe and less pleasant place to live.

      The City Council has recently restructured labor contracts for major cost savings and long-term fiscal sustainability, with employees paying significantly more toward their retirement. Davis has decreased its workforce by 22 percent, or 103 full-time employees.

      The longer Davis defers major road repairs, parks maintenance, and water conservation projects, the costlier they become. Davis is aggressively moving forward with economic development to generate additional tax revenue as a longer-term solution to the city’s budget challenges.

      Many cities have implemented similar local sales tax measures: Sacramento’s sales tax is 8.5 percent; San Francisco and Berkeley have higher rates. The economic recession has resulted in major declines in local tax revenue. Also, the state’s ongoing shift of responsibilities to local governments, concurrent with shifting property tax revenues away from cities, makes it crucial to increase local funding for core city functions through sales tax.

      Please help us protect the quality of life we all enjoy. Please vote “Yes” on Measure O.

      /S/

      Dan Wolk, Mayor Pro Tem
      Lucas Frerichs, Councilmember Joseph Krovoza, Mayor
      Brett Lee, Councilmember Rochelle Swanson, Councilmember

      I marked the passages above in bold in order to make clear the spending priorities put forward in the Argument For Measure O. Nowhere in the Argument are raises for employees mentioned. To the contrary, the argument explicitly highlights “restructured labor contracts for major cost savings and long-term fiscal sustainability” as the broader context of recent Council and Management actions. The passage of these new MOUs is a 180-degree about face from the both the context and the arguments presented to the voters about how the money would be spent.

  4. Anon

    To me, that trust was violated last Tuesday, not because I think the council is wrong on their vote – even though I may, but rather because they failed at the most basic level to offer justification for that vote.

    The City Council had the right to vote in closed session on the MOUs, without discussion in front of the public, because it involves employee labor negotiations.  The City Council had the right to place the MOU issue on the consent calendar, without comment or justification.  If the Vanguard wanted “justification” for the decision, it could have requested the item be pulled from consent, which the Vanguard and any other member of the public failed to do.  If the Vanguard still wants an explanation beyond what two City Council members have already expressed on the Vanguard, it could request it during public comment at the next appropriate City Council meeting or attempt to interview City Council members.  There was no violation of the Brown Act nor “failure” by City Council members that I can see.

    It is one thing to say “I wish the CC members had offered an explanation for their decision on the MOUs – I think I will try and interview them to see why they made the decision they did.”  It is entirely different to say “CC members failed at the most basic level to offer justification for the MOU vote”.  It is this sort of vitriol in the Vanguard that is going to prevent CC members from wanting to be candid with the Vanguard, and I can’t say I blame them.  From my perspective, it appears the Vanguard is “creating” news here, and implying nefarious purposes (coverup).

  5. Anon

    Matt Williams: “Since the Sales Tax money is going to be used to pay the fiscal obligations incurred by these MOUs…

    And you know specifically that it is the Sales Tax money itself that is going to pay for the MOUs how? What I heard from Councilmember Swanson was she wasn’t sure where the money for the MOUs was going to come from, and made it clear she wanted to look at different options such as economic development tax revenue, a new tax of some sort, city fee increases and any other mechanisms the CC might have in mind to address the issue.

    1. Matt Williams

      Anon, as you know very well, I am a member of the Finance and Budget Commission (FBC) and highly conversant with the fiscal matters of the City.  The FBC conducted an extensive review of the proposed 2015-16 City Budget in May and made over a dozen recommendations to Council based on that review.  Our observation at that time was that there were not enough 2015-2016 Revenues to cover the 2015-2016 Expenses (both active and deferred).  Further, the Sales Tax revenues were (in Accounting terms) the revenues that were “last in.”  Following the Accounting principle of Last In, First Out (LIFO is the Accounting acronym), the incremental expenses for the MOUs are the expenses that are “last in” and therefore they are covered with a “first out” payment from the revenues that are last in … the sales tax revenues.

      With that said, the Unrestricted General Fund revenues are all comingled and as a result there is no nine item accounting performed that can specifically  match individual expenses with individual revenues in the Unrestricted General Fund.

    2. Don Shor

      And you know specifically that it is the Sales Tax money itself that is going to pay for the MOUs how?

      Because those are the only new revenues that have been identified, and the MOU’s take effect shortly. No other sources of income can be brought into the discussion before the MOU’s take effect. Anything Rochelle is describing is hypothetical. And I hope all of those options get a good and rigorous hearing in public.

      They approved the increased payroll costs before they identified and implemented other revenue sources.

      1. CalAg

        They approved the increased payroll costs before they identified and implemented other revenue sources.

        The CC/CM could take a PAYGO-type approach and lay off an addition 7 employees which would take the workforce down another 2% from 352 to 345. This would be revenue neutral – and the claim that the sales tax revenue is being spent on the COLA becomes moot. I posted the math on this a couple of days ago.

        Staff currently gets every tenth day off – so the argument that there is no more room to downsize the workforce doesn’t hold water.

  6. Anon

    hpierce: “The VG is a legend in its own mind.”

    Spot on.  And in its arrogance, it is losing commenters.  In toto, there are very few who are willing to comment on the Vanguard anymore.  Think about it.  Citizens didn’t care for the incivility between Sue Greenwald and Ruth Asmundson, and ushered out one of them politically because of it.  Investigative reporting can be carried out with professionalism – sans muckraking, and still get the point across.

    It is easy enough to point out, without rancor or implying impropriety, that there is no funding for the MOUs because the budget is not truly balanced, so to vote for MOUs at this time is putting the cart before the horse.  Until the budget is balanced no COLAs should be given.  But there is an equal argument to be made the budget will never be truly balanced, in which case COLAs will never be given – which has and will drive qualified individuals elsewhere.  A simple analogy is a homeowner with a mortgage.  Do homeowners purchase nonessentials even though they have not fully paid off their mortgage?

    1. Barack Palin

       And in its arrogance, it is losing commenters.  In toto, there are very few who are willing to comment on the Vanguard anymore. 

      And a few who say they aren’t going to comment anymore just to come back under an anonymous name.

  7. Frankly

    My “fervor” lies mainly in my chagrin against mis-characterizations of government (and other) employees, based on some gross assumptions… ex.

    – all government employees are slackers,

    Have not read or heard that from anyone credible.  Some of the hardest working people I know are government employees.

    -couldn’t make in the real world,

    I know of many employees, co-workers and bosses in my career in the Sacramento area that struggled not able to meet the competitive performance requirements in the private sector, and that found relief working in the public sector.  The primary issues seemed to be their difficulty adapting to and adopting a faster pace of change.

    At one point in my career as an IT manager, I interviewed with UCD for an IT manager position.  It was a committee interview.  One of the interviewers went off script about 2/3 through and said, “why would you want to work here when you are used to solving problems and getting things done without having to get every decision cleared by several committees and layers of bureaucracy.?”  He basically was saying “run, run far away!”  I took his advice.

    The basic different I have noted in private vs. public sector is the pace of change and the corresponding requirement that employees in the private sector are constantly challenged to do things faster, better and cheaper.

    This makes sense from a business perspective because public-sector business holds a monopoly.  There is no real competitive pressure.   Some people are more or less comfortable in more dynamic verse more static environments.

    I rarely see an experienced public-sector employee move to the private sector and be successful.

    are ‘on the take’,

    Don’t understand this.  Employees always want as much as they can get.  Does not matter which sector.

    grossly overcompensated,

    Many are.  Most are overcompensated when compared to the private sector.  There are copious data to prove this.  Anyone that says it ain’t so are involved in a lie, denial or ignorance.

    lazy, etc., etc.

    I have not read or heard this from any credible source.  I don’t see any more lazy employees in the public sector than I do in the private sector.  I do see more employees in the public sector lacking creativity and developed a lack of motivated to initiate and accept change.  Other than personality or wiring, part of the reason is that they have been beat down noting the impossibility to get anything done with all the layers of decision-makers.  Another reason is that they have burned out in interest doing the same job but stuck waiting for their pension.  Once you become the “expert” change can feel like a threat to your feeling of confidence and comfort.  It means you need that extra boost of energy to learn something new.   In the private sector any employee uncomfortable with change can quit and go do something else (since they do not have a pension impact… they take the balance of their 401k everywhere they go).  In fact, for well-managed private sector companies, it is a management practice to force employees away from their comfort level to learn new work.  Complacency is seen as an organizational sickness that requires preventative measures.  The organization needs to stay nimble and flexible and so the employees need to be change-agents instead of being roadblocks.

    Interesting to me that Davis is filled with public-sector employees and retirees and Davis is absolutely a city resistant to change.

    1. hpierce

      So is change inherently good?  There should be no “standards”?  No absolute tenets?

      I believe change can be good, often necessary, sometimes important, yet “change for change sake” never was a mantra I could espouse.  Change should be deliberate, measured, IMO.  Innovation is good, as long as it is tried and tested, prior to becoming the “new normal”.

      In my field, the private sector loves to seek change to maximize their clients’ profits, and if it doesn’t work out, somebody else (generally, the public) has to bear the responsibility to fix the situation, and bear all the costs of doing so.

      1. Frankly

        In my field, the private sector loves to seek change to maximize their clients’ profits, and if it doesn’t work out, somebody else (generally, the public) has to bear the responsibility to fix the situation, and bear all the costs of doing so.

        Interesting.

        In my experience, if the change does not work out then on to the next change.  If a private organization sucks at change, then it will eventually fail.  The bailout thing is fairly recent.  It is not a supported response for business-minded folk like myself.

        A decision to do nothing is still a decision fraught with risk.

        In business we see risks and opportunities as ying and yang.  Opportunity cost is the failure to take advantage of an opportunity equal to costs for failing in change.  Failure to recognize the need to change is as much a failure as is executing on the wrong change or failing to execute adequately on justified change.

        I think you know what I am talking about here and you are arguing around it.

        Here is an example.  Everyone in this city that knows something about its financial accounting systems will agree that they are old and inadequate.  This has been the diagnosis for at least the last 10 years.  I am betting it will take at least another five years to replace these systems with modern versions.   Do you think private business would accept a fifteen year gap between the recognition that its financial management systems were inadequate and their updating?  Maybe 2-3 years tops.

        I’m not saying this is all employee-related.  I think new hires are generally more ambitious to change… to make a difference.  But they get beat down by the constant reminder that change does not happen.

        I am a certified professional project manager that managed the corporate project office for a large business.  I used to coach my team of corporate project managers of the psychological aspects of change and change momentum.

        If you think about an organization as being a collection of employees with roles and responsibilities for recurring tasks within standard business processes… that is the functional organization.  Changing the functional organization requires that those same people participate in the project organization.    Think about that… you have a regular job.  You have filled up all the time you have available in your work day to feel useful and busy.  You have a routine.  You are good at it.  You are confident in it.  You are comfortable with it.

        Then someone tells you that you need to participate in a project to change it.

        Your first thought is “I don’t have time because I am already 100% busy with my responsibilities in the functional organization.”  And then you might also resist encouraging any changes to what you are already good at and comfortable with.

        And so it take a huge amount of effort just to get buy-in for change in these types of organizations.  But when the change takes years, the air goes out and the momentum is lost.  There gets to be a pessimistic and negative work culture surrounding change.

        In well-managed private-sector business, the key is to never let employees grow comfortable in their static role.  Instead, what you want them to grow comfortable with is constant change.  Constantly and creatively working to improve.   And that is the justification for change in the private sector.  Not just change for change-sake, but any and all change that can help the organization do things faster, better and cheaper.

        Compared to the private-sector, the city of Davis, like most other government organizations does not do faster, better cheaper.  It is not nimble and flexible.  It is not creative and efficient.  It is a too-costly, bloated organization that does a few things very well, and other things barely adequately, and some things below expectations.  It is like many other cities.

      2. Mark West

        “So is change inherently good?”

        Change is not inherently good or evil, it just is (and unpreventable).  In an evolutionary sense, being able to adjust to change is one of the characteristics that allows species to thrive and succeed.

        “Change should be deliberate, measured”

        While there is value in being conservative about change to a degree, the problem with this approach is that it is often not possible to accurately predict the impact of a proposed change, or to identify which changes will be successful.

        “Innovation is good, as long as it is tried and tested”

        If it is ‘tried and tested’, it is no longer innovative.

        The most successful approach is to try several things at once, some ‘leaps’  and some small ‘increments’ and only repeat the ones that are successful. It is not always pretty, but it is guaranteed to be a better than trying to figuratively ‘encase the world in amber’ in an effort to prevent change from happening.

        1. Miwok

          successful approach is to try several things at once, some ‘leaps’  and some small ‘increments’ and only repeat the ones that are successful. It is not always pretty, but it is guaranteed to be a better than trying to figuratively ‘encase the world in amber’ in an effort to prevent change from happening..

          Like ACA? 🙂 Tried and failed, so they implemented it across the nation..

  8. Miwok

    The law regards man as man and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color

    Except when it is money. Has this been overturned again with that Citizens United?

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