Thursday, January 19, 2017

Our Role As Citizens

As President Obama transitions to his role as citizen, and as President Trump transitions to his role as leader of the free world, I urge everyone to not lose hope.

We are, after all, the same country that showed up in record numbers to elect President Obama. Twice.

We are the same country that not only elected an African-American to the highest office in the country, but also gave him a majority in Congress when he took office. That congress, in turn, allowed us to pass Obamacare, Wall Street Reform, Student Loan Reform, and save our economy from another Great Depression.

Time and time again, we have seen the power of our voices. We have seen how much change we can enact when we make our voices heard and engage in our political process.

Yes, this past election sucked. And yes, we had 3 million more Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. But I believe a primary reason we lost the Presidency is because we did not get engaged and involved in the political process early enough.  
And in doing so, we also gave the President-Elect a majority in Congress. That congress, in turn, will confirm his radical and unqualified cabinet-members. That congress, in turn, will repeal Obamacare; deregulate our markets and revert back to the failed economic policies of the Bush Administration. That congress, in turn, will not fight for climate change. That congress, in turn, will weaken the progressive issues that President Obama has championed.

But it is with this challenge that – WE the people – must organize and engage ourselves. It is up to us to fight against the injustices and intolerance from our new President and his Administration.

WE the people must vote in elections – not just for our Presidents, but also for our council members, our mayors, our congress members, and our governors.

WE the people must volunteer for political campaigns and social causes.

WE the people must not normalize racism and bigotry and, instead, speak up and speak out.

WE the people must hold our elected representatives accountable, and call out members so they never forget who they are working for.

We have seen how successful this strategy can be. Just recently – when Republicans tried to dismantle the Office of Congressional Ethics – we saw people organize, make calls to their representatives, speak up and speak out. Within 24 hours, Republicans reversed their proposal.

It is always easy to sit idly by on the sidelines, and complain that our leaders are not doing enough. It is always easy to take the path of least resistance, hoping that justice will fall gently on your lap.

But justice, equality, and fairness never come easy. As President Obama said in his farewell address:

Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions…All of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power happens to be swinging.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Obamacare: Progress Worth Fighting For

You might have heard on the news recently that Obamacare “isn’t working”.

Put simply: that’s not true.

For the first time, more than 90% of Americans have healthcare.
For the first time, 20 million who didn’t have insurance before now have it.
For the first time, those with preexisting conditions can shop for affordable insurance.

And although premiums in 2017 are scheduled to increase, this is a normal – however unfortunate and inconvenient – part of market dynamics. It is also important to note that what premiums are doing is different from what people are actually paying.

While premiums might be going up in the short term, so are the tax credits available to consumers. In fact, thanks to these tax credits, nearly 80% of those who either sign up for the first time in the marketplace or change plans in the marketplace will only end up paying between $50-100 a month for insurance.

For those who get coverage through their employers (like most Americans), they will now be getting better quality of care, as insurance companies can no longer deny coverage, must include maternity care and preventative care at no additional costs, cannot place lifetime caps on your coverage, and must spend 80% of your premiums on actual care. That’s more bang for their buck.

Plus, in the long-term, once the market balances out and healthier people get enrolled – economies of scale will kick in. Costs will lower for everyone because people will get healthier, make less ER visits (that taxpayers pay for), and have more free-market competition between insurance companies.

Market dynamics take time. That is exactly why we cannot talk about “repealing Obamacare”. Instead, we need to talk about “improving Obamacare” by:

1. Ensuring that healthier, younger people get enrolled in the Marketplace to balance the risk pool.
  • If you have not already, I would recommend that, at the least, you take a look at It's very consumer-centered and user-friendly. You can shop around multiple issuers and multiple plans to see if there's a viable option for you. Most people can also find up to 30 different plans and use tax credits to reduce any potential financial burdens. Open Enrollment goes from Nov.1-Jan.31.
2. Ensuring that we expand Medicaid to ensure premiums decrease for consumers.
  • Specifically, there are 19 Republican Governors that have refused to expand Medicaid in their states, thus denying affordable healthcare to an estimated 4 million Americans. This is partisanship we cannot afford, as marketplace premiums in those states are about 7% higher than in states that have expanded Medicaid.
3. Making Medicare more sustainable.  
  • Medicare spending comes at a great cost to taxpayers. So shouldn’t we make sure that our taxpaying dollars are being spent wisely? Shouldn’t we ensure that we are not paying twice to fix the same medical conditions?
  • That means making sure that each dollar is spent on improving quality of care, not quantity.
  • If you have ever visited the hospital for a medical procedure, you will notice that – often times – there can be significant overlap in services. You might have to see several different clinicians, who might order duplicate x-rays or blood tests. This drives up healthcare costs, results in fragmented care, and creates minimal coordination between clinicians. Obamacare begins to fix this problem.
  • Also thanks to Obamacare, less of our taxpaying dollars will go to those hospitals that have a high remittance rate (i.e. patients who return within 30 days of discharge for the same condition). This free-market approach ensures that clinicians get paid for what they provide and reach certain health requirements to get reimbursed. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), this will save taxpayers $7 billion over 10 years. It will also lead to greater collaboration among healthcare professionals, thus better quality of healthcare.

Obamacare might not be a perfect law, but it is a significant improvement from the system we had before.

That is progress worth fighting for.
That is progress worth voting for.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

My Letter to the RNC

To: The RNC and all those who suddenly now support Mr. Trump
From: A Concerned Citizen

This past week, I got the sense that you’re a little frustrated. Things definitely do not seem to be going your way. But why is there a notion that America is not already “Great Again”?

Why do you feel that liberal talk of "love is love", or "decreased unemployment rates", or "decreased uninsured rates", or "reduced deficits", or "reduced veteran homelessness", or "diplomacy before war" would be this country's downfall?

Why do you hate the Department of Health and Human Services until you get sick; hate Department of Labor until you lose your job; hate Department of Housing and Urban Development until you lose your home; hate Department of Justice until you feel discriminated against; hate Department of Transportation until you hit a pothole; hate Department of Commerce until you're denied a loan; hate Department of Agriculture until you get food poisoning; and hate Department of Homeland Security until you feel threatened?

Why do you want smaller government until you’re asking for stimulus money in your state; asking for relief after a natural disaster; or asking to ban gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose?

Why do you focus so much on using the words “Islamic Extremists”, instead of focusing on how to defeat them? (By the way, in case you’re wondering – the best way to defeat "Islamic Extremists" is to do the thing they hate most about us - LOVE all those who are different. Part of that is understanding that an "Islamic Extremist" is to Islam what the KKK is to Christianity. Bad people do not define any religion, and we should not support leaders who do.)

Why do you think that appreciating the unique struggles of people of color (i.e. "Black Lives Matter") somehow insults or diminishes the value and unique privilege of non-minorities? Of course "All Lives Matter". But so do the lives of unarmed and peaceful black citizens, Syrian refugees, children of undocumented immigrants (i.e. “Dreamers”), women who earn less than their male counterparts for doing the same work, and the LGBTQ couple that wants to make their love official.

Democrats have a significant advantage this fall – they have a great record to run on and an even better candidate to carry that record forward.

Maybe you should revisit the “Growth and Opportunity Project” you started after Governor Romney lost the 2012 election. You remember? The one that stressed the importance of inclusion to Americans who might not have been on board with all your party’s policies.


Friday, February 26, 2016

My Open Letter to the GOP

Dear GOP –
Hello, it’s me. From the other side.
While you may be shocked at the rise of Donald Trump, I advise you to take a deeper look at the other leaders within your party.
Donald Trump is not a “GOP extremist”. Instead, he is only representing what a majority of the people in your party are advocating for, and what other Republican Presidential Candidates have alluded to. After all, there is a reason why Trump has been leading almost every GOP poll and your most recently contested primaries.
The issue is not simply an “anti-establishment” sentiment, but more-so a feeling among your base and party leadership that traditional values are at jeopardy.
That is why, for years, many in your party have criticized the current President for being divisive, partisan, and unconstitutional. They argue he has forsaken traditional American values, and forced our nation to abandon conservative values.  
But what is conservative about doubting the loyalty and citizenship of the President of the United States? What is conservative about discriminating against Muslims or the LGBT community? What is conservative about claiming that we should only allow “Christian immigrants” to migrate to this country? What is conservative about denying climate change? What is conservative about boldly and proudly advocating for “less compromise” with another political party? What is conservative about denying a President his constitutional authority to nominate a Supreme Court justice?
Donald Trump is not the only leader you should be concerned about. He is only reflecting what a majority in your party are claiming and advocating for. He just does it with more swag.
Yours truly,
An American Citizen

Monday, July 7, 2014

Churchill Commencement Speech 2014

Well thank you all so much for having me. It is such a huge honor for me to be standing here as your very first alumni graduation speaker. I want to sincerely thank Mrs. Perrett for the offer, and Dr. Benz for accepting.

Graduation is a time when you feel all sorts of emotion. Some of you may be wondering how you’re even graduating in the first place. For those folks, I can assure you - your teachers are wondering the same thing.

But just remember, we the best:

“DJ Kahled’s All I Do Is Win”

Just 7 years ago, I was sitting exactly where you all are today. So although I know some of you are scared of what comes next, I can tell you from my experience that you should not be.

Why? Because if I can do it, so can you.   

When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer that is rarely found in children. At the time, I was one of only 25 kids in the country with that disease. Years later when I was 21, doctors found a rare heart condition known as WPW. The doctors deemed my condition to be a "special case" because only a very small percentage of people, with that rare condition, develop symptoms at such a young age.  And last year, at 23 years old, I found myself back in the hospital after doctors discovered that my heart condition resurfaced - a recurrence of that disease after treatment occurs in less than 1% of patients.

In each of these situations, whether it was with my diagnosis or with the surgeries that followed, I was that rare anomaly you hear about in the brochures. I was that “special case”.

So, when my doctor told me that laughter was the best, and quite frankly, the only medicine I needed, I realized that I should have seen a real doctor instead of Dr. Dre.

Anyway, I’ve been through a lot. But through all of that, I’ve learned 2 important lessons.    

First, I've learned that the best way to help myself is to help others. 

I remember a doctor once came into the hospital room, where 10 other kids were getting chemo alongside me. The doctor took time out of his small lunch break to dress up as a clown, go around to each of our beds, and perform some small magic tricks to distract us from the pain. And that's precisely the moment I became inspired to give back. So today, I now perform charity magic shows, and try to give back every second I can.   

The take-away: I’ve learned that the only way to truly guarantee success in life is to be extremely kind, extremely generous, and extremely humble. If you all do this, even if success doesn’t come right away, I can promise you that it will come.

Because in the end, good things always happen to good people. You just have to wait for that golden ticket.

In my life, it took me 7 years to get my golden ticket. But because I worked hard, because I stayed humble and generous, and because I was patient, I now have my dream job, and get to work in a place that I really love.

Second, I've learned to have a positive attitude no matter what I’m going through. 

During my first chemotherapy session, I remember feeling really down about myself and the situation I was in. I looked at all my friends and classmates, and thought to myself, "Why can't I be like them? It's just not fair. I don’t think I can do this."

But as soon as I turned my head and looked around the hospital room, every other child there was not only younger than me, but they each had harsher treatments, and for longer periods of time. Then it hit me. 

"Wow, I am the luckiest kid in this hospital."

The takeaway: if you ever think that you can’t do something, if you ever think you’re not good enough, not capable enough, or not smart enough, please trust me when I tell you that you can do anything. I’ve literally been one breath away from death, 3 times before hitting the age of 25. But look at me now. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been, and I have the privilege of speaking to you all today.  

Of course, there are still moments where I lose my positivity. Things can get to the best of us all. But these days, whenever I start to get overwhelmed, I do what any self-respecting, 24 year old, healthy, good looking guy would do...I get in my car, roll the windows down, and blast some of that Frozen “Let It Go” music. Hey, I just can’t hold it back anymore.

But please, just remember to not let the struggles of today get in the way of the potential of tomorrow.

Now, I want to end with a quote by the late and great Nelson Mandela.

But first, let me take a selfie.

Nelson Mandela once said, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived it. It is the difference we have made, to the lives of others, that will determine the significance of the lives we lead today.”

So, graduating class of 2014, please think about the lives you are all going to lead once you step out those doors today.

Because if you lead it right, you never know what great things can happen – and maybe even one day, you’ll find yourself lucky enough to get invited to be the commencement speaker at your high school’s graduation.

Thanks so much!

*Thanks to Churchill High School for the video

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Case for Big Government

The major back-and-forth between conservatives and liberals is the question of how large of a role government should play in our society.

While liberals believe that bigger government can serve to benefit the masses, conservatives feel that big government is wasteful, inefficient, and makes people less independent. And, in some cases, that can be true. But every organization – public or private – has inherent waste and abuse. Even a successfully run company will always suffer a small percentage waste and certain inefficiencies.

But in the same way a business will never forgo certain investments and opportunities - regardless of the potential of waste and abuse – our government should never limit the role it plays in our society.

I’m a first generation American. I’ve been diagnosed with cancer, and have had 2 minor heart surgeries. My parents are successful small business owners, have needed unemployment benefits and student loans, and have lived off the minimum wage. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that big government was critical to our success.

My mom migrated to this country when she was 18 years old. While enrolled as a full-time student at a community college, she also worked full-time at a nursing home for minimum wage ($3.25 an hour). However, since the minimum wage was only $3.25 an hour, she also needed student loans. In other words, without help from the government, my mother would not have been able to attend college.

When I was born, my mom had a job that paid a meager $20,000 a year, and my father had just started his own business in an outdoor flea market.  At that point, we were part of the working poor, and thus needed help from the government in the form of tax breaks aimed at working families (earned income tax credit and child tax credit).

When my sister was born, and while my dad’s business continued to struggle, my mom’s company unexpectedly laid her off due to downsizing. To help us pay our bills – and keep our home – while my parents struggled to find additional work, we needed unemployment benefits. In other words, without government stepping in, my parents would not have been able to survive.

When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with cancer, even though I had always taken very good care of myself. But because I was fortunate enough to be covered under my parents’ health insurance, I was able to afford yearly check-ups with my doctor. This, in turn, allowed the doctors to find my tumor at an early stage. And because my parents were able to afford the monthly premiums which allowed them to have access to health insurance, we did not have to pay many of the out-of-pocket expenses for my treatment (which was very expensive).

And during the last few years, after undergoing 2 minor heart surgeries for a condition that surfaced as a side-effect of the chemotherapy I took years earlier, I was not kicked off my insurance or locked in to higher premiums because of the Affordable Care Act.

My family and I understand the value that government played in our success. We understand that government can invest in its citizens in the same way that a business would invest in its employees or goods and services. We understand that government can serve to ensure equality of opportunity (not outcome). And we understand that no one in this country – regardless of your profession or economic status – can succeed without big government.

As such, without the necessary assistance and guidance, my family would not be as self-sufficient and independent as we are today. Without a strong partner in a government that supports those who work hard and play by the rules, we would not be allowed to reap the fruits of our labor.

Regardless of what political party you belong to, both liberals and conservatives benefit from big government. If you've ever attended a public school; ever needed a tax break; ever used a bank loan; ever needed to buy insurance; ever bought a consumer good; ever started a business; you've needed a strong government –and its regulations.   

So the argument that “big government is bad government” is unfounded. Instead, having such a government further encourages competition, strengthens capitalism, maintains fairness, and helps people become more independent.

Just as it always has with my family. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Final Countdown

My mom migrated to this country when she was 18 years old. To help support her family, she worked full-time at nursing home for minimum wage ($3.25 an hour) while enrolling full-time at a community college. At that point, she needed student loans.

When I was born, my mom had a job that paid a meager $20,000 a year, and my father had just started his own business in an outdoor flea market.  At that point, we needed tax breaks aimed at working families (earned income tax credit and child tax credit).

When my sister was born, my dad’s business was still struggling, while my mom’s company had just laid her off due to downsizing. At that point, we needed unemployment benefits to survive.

But my parents would never consider themselves “dependent on government”. We were always hardworking and responsible, but still found ourselves in difficult situations that were out of our control. So when the government stepped in to help, we saw it as an investment, not a hand-out.

And because of the significant role government had in our lives, my parents are finally very successful small business owners.

And that is exactly why I support this President – because he is doing everything he can to help others attain those same investments that helped my family.

This includes healthcare reform – ie. Obamacare.

I have always taken very good care of myself – I always watch what I eat, always exercise, never drink, never smoke. Still, by the tender age of 24, I have battled cancer and 2 heart surgeries. I am an insurance company’s worst nightmare. So without Obamacare, what am I supposed to do if something happens to me again?

Thanks to this law, I won’t have to worry.
Thanks to this law, 129 million can’t be denied coverage due to a preexisting condition.
Thanks to this law, 3 million young adults can stay on their parents’ plans until 26.
Thanks to this law, 6 million people are covered for the first time in their lives.
Thanks to this law, insurers must spent 80% of your premiums on actual care.

This President has done everything he can possibly do to make this law work. He has compromised with Republicans on the individual mandate and on creating state-based exchanges. He has even made significant political sacrifices to ensure the law works for everyone.

And it will work for everyone. But only if we all work together to continue improving the law, instead of trying to derail it before it’s fully effective.

Tomorrow is the deadline for open enrollment. There’s no reason not to sign up, or at least take the time to view all the options.

Healthcare reform is still a topic of much political debate. But I have yet to hear any promising alternatives, or any logical opposition.  If you’re anything like me or my family, I can ensure you that it’s the right thing to do, and the best time to support it. Laws like this do not come around that often. But when they do, we all need to stand together.