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Eric Harris after being shot by Tulsa police
No snarky comment here. Not for this image.
'Why?' It's the most useful one word sentence in the English language. It's how we begin the search for causes, for understanding, for truth. We have to figure out why something happened before we can figure out how to make change going forward. There are people who want to understand why the events that unfolded this week in Baltimore did so, and there are people who most assuredly do not. Let's start with the latter, or least with the most egregious of them, since we don't have all day to go through the full litany.

Republican Maryland state legislator and radio talk show host Patrick McDonough, in discussing the events that took place in Baltimore, emphasized "a lack of parenting." He also praised a proposal to take food stamps away from families whose children participated in the protests. I'll let those statements speak for themselves. Among national figures, one of the more popular themes was—try not to be shocked—to blame President Obama. Donald Trump (I know, I know) offered this gem:

Our great African American president hasn't exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are happily and openly destroying Baltimore.
Then there's Ben Shapiro, columnist, editor-at-large for Breitbart News, and author of The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against the Obama Administration (Count 1 in Shapiro's list of charges is—wait for it—"Espionage"). Shapiro opined that Baltimore demonstrates the President's "legacy of racial polarization." Fox News' Lou Dobbs attributed this week's events in Baltimore to the Obama administration's having "corroborated if not condoned ... a war on law enforcement."

These guys too fringy for you? How about Ted Cruz, a United States senator elected from one of the most populous states in our union and a serious, if not likely to be victorious, candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. In his musings on Baltimore, Cruz accused the president of having "made decisions that I think have inflamed racial tensions—that have divided us rather than bring us together." When probed by Dana Bash of CNN, and asked for examples, Cruz repeated the charge, but offered no specifics other than mentioning "the beer summit," and complaining that Obama "vilif[ied] and caricature[d]" those who opposed him politically on matters such as health care and the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

I'm sorry, Mr. Cruz. You aren't Donald Trump, or at least you'd like to think you aren't. But you need to be more prepared than that if you want to level such a serious charge at the president of the United States. As I've written elsewhere, the idea that Obama is a divider is ridiculous. Ask yourself whether a divider would say something like this:

Whether your ancestors came here on the Mayflower or a slave ship; whether they signed in at Ellis Island or they crossed the Rio Grande — we are one people. We need one another. Our patriotism is not rooted in ethnicity, but in a shared belief of the enduring and permanent promise of this country.
Please follow me beyond the fold for a discussion of what and whom is really to blame for what happened in Baltimore.
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Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference.
I solemnly swear that I am up to no good. And not in the fun way, like in Harry Potter.
Bobby Jindal wants to be relevant. Yes, he wants to be president, but given where the soon-to-be former governor of Louisiana stands in recent polling, Jindal needs to make sure he can walk before he can seriously run. After previously trying to be the sensible Republican who criticized those within the party who say "stupid" things, he's now gone ahead and abandoned that anti-stupid position.

You see, Jindal is quite perturbed at the fact that, in Indiana and Arkansas, corporations forced fundamentalist conservatives to back down from their attempts to enshrine in law the absolute right of anyone to deny gay people equal treatment if doing so would offend their religious beliefs. Jindal has decided that the way to differentiate himself from the rest of the Republican presidential field is to show that he is more loyal than anyone else to his Christian conservative beliefs, and especially more loyal to them than fellow governors Pence and Hutchinson of Indiana and Arkansas, respectively. That's why he's more excited than ever to support the kind of "religious liberty" bill from which those states ultimately turned away. Jindal clearly thinks that he can be the most Christian conservative of them all, and then, just maybe, he can actually gain some traction for his as-yet-undeclared campaign for the White House.

That's the context for the op-ed piece Jindal wrote for Thursday's New York Times. One must read the whole thing in order to truly appreciate his, er, passion on the issue. But his overarching theme is that the business community was wrong to bring pressure against this kind of legislation, and that they should "stand shoulder to shoulder with those fighting for religious liberty" against those who expound a "misguided, government-dictating ideology." That's how Jindal characterizes those "left-wing activists" and "radical liberals" who support those radical, liberal principles of equal rights for and equal treatment of all citizens.

I explore the passion of Bobby Jindal further beyond the fold.

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Radio show host Rush Limbaugh speaks at a forum hosted by the Heritage Foundation, on the similarities between the war on terrorism and the television show
You may have heard about Dan Price, founder and CEO of Gravity Systems, or at least you may have heard about what he did last week. He set a new minimum wage for employees at his company. That new minimum wage is $70,000 a year. He's making this happen in part by cutting his own pay to $70,000. Price explained that he wanted to do something about income inequality:
“They were walking me through the math of making 40 grand a year,” he said, then describing a surprise rent increase or nagging credit card debt.

“I hear that every single week,” he added. “That just eats at me inside.”

What Price did reflects the spirit of the broader fight for a living wage, which recently took to the streets to fight for $15 an hour, or $31,200 a year for someone working 40 hours a week. According to a New York Times article, the public response to Price's decision has been overwhelmingly supportive. But if there's someone who wasn't going to like it, I'm sure you can guess who that is:
This is pure, unadulterated socialism, which has never worked. That's why I hope this company is a case study in MBA programs on how socialism does not work, because it's gonna fail.

Now, Rush, let me talk to you the way I'd talk to someone who knows absolutely nothing about the differences between capitalism and socialism—since that clearly describes you. When a business owner decides on a wage policy for his employees, that is something that only happens in capitalism. In socialism, the government doesn't just set a minimum wage, it determines all wages.

Beyond the fold I continue the education of Rush Limbaugh.

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Sign saying
A rose by any other name....
Let's get a couple of things straight. I'm not talking about a new name for Obamacare because its actual contents are more popular than the name itself, which is what Kathleen Sebelius (remember her?) said last December when she suggested that the program needs rebranding. I'm simply thinking long-term.

Who knows what our healthcare system will look like in 2045? I'd like to think we'd have some form of single-payer, universal coverage. But let's say we don't, and that we still have some version of the healthcare exchanges, the premium subsidies for lower-income Americans, and the other basic elements of healthcare reform contained in the Affordable Care Act. Could you imagine, 30 years after President Obama left office, that people will still be talking about getting health insurance through "Obamacare?" Anyone who has read my posts knows that I think this president has had a strongly positive impact on our country's direction, so it's not like I'd be offended to do so. It would just be, well, odd.

There is a part of me that would like to see the name continued, if only to remind people just who is responsible for the benefits they are receiving. But to be realistic, having a program in 2045 whose name references a president first elected in 2008 would just sound dated, old-fashioned, like yesterday's news.

In the 2012 campaign, on the other hand, I thought it was brilliant for the president to reclaim the name Obamacare from his Republican opponents. For example, a month before the election, he turned the tables on them, declaring: "They call it Obamacare? I do care! You should care, too," and later the same day adding: "Folks go around saying Obamacare. That’s right—I care. That’s their main agenda? That’s your plank? .... Making sure 30 million people don’t have health insurance?" He was rightfully proud to embrace his signature domestic policy achievement.

President Obama has said that he has "no more campaigns to run." So the question becomes what makes sense in terms of the program's name going forward. Here's what I propose:

Americare
Got you thinking? I hope so. Please follow me beyond the fold for more.
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A demonstrator holds a sign during a nationwide strike and protest at fast food restaurants to raise the hourly minimum wage to $15 in New York, December 5, 2013. Fast-food workers in hundreds of U.S. cities staged a day of rallies on Thursday to demand h
When different progressive movements stick together, everybody wins.
Silos are dangerous. I’m not talking about the kind that house nuclear missiles, but rather the metaphorical kind, the kind that divide people who could and should be working together toward a shared goal. Too often, progressives have found themselves divided into these kinds of silos, for example, with women—themselves typically divided by race and ethnicity—fighting for gender equality, LGBT folks fighting for gay rights, unions and workers fighting for labor rights, and on and on.

To some degree, these divisions are understandable. Part of the way a marginalized group empowers itself is by creating a movement in which its members play a predominant role. At the end of the day, however, the goal of a political movement ought not to be solely or even primarily to help those who actively participate to feel empowered—as important as that is— but rather to achieve specific policy or other concrete aims that improve the lives of all those whom the movement represents. The movement must be a means to an end, not an end unto itself. Achieving those ends requires marshaling as much support as possible, and that means each group must break out of its silo and support one another’s causes.

Three of the progressive movements that are most active right now are Black Lives Matter, the push for marriage equality and LGBT rights more broadly, and the push for a minimum/living wage. Each of these has not only gained widespread publicity, but also helped achieve real successes, whether we are talking about marriage equality becoming legal, hikes in the minimum wage as well as increased minimum wages paid by major employers, or the reforms being implemented in Ferguson, Missouri. Each of these movements is powerful on its own. Working together, they can achieve much more. And they are coming together.

Please follow me beyond the fold for more on these positive developments.

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U.S. President Barack Obama (L) listens to the new Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Richard Cordray in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington July 17, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing
Richard Cordray runs the agency that issued the proposals. Barack Obama signed legislation creating that agency.
I've got two quotations I'd like you to consider, one from someone you know, and one from someone you probably don't. The first is from Ronald Reagan:
The nine most terrifying words in the English language are 'I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.'
The second remark is from Trudy Robideau. It describes her experience with so-called payday loans, i.e., short term, high interest loans designed to help people with a financial emergency who are between paychecks. Ms. Robideau needed to repair her car and borrowed $800. When it came due, she paid a fee to extend the due date. Eventually, she ended up taking out a new loan to pay back the old one, beginning a vicious cycle similar to the one that has ruined countless lives while this industry has almost quadrupled in size (not counting for inflation) since 2001. Here's Ms. Robideau:
Ka-ching. You're hooked. You can feel the hook right in your mouth. And you don't know it at the time, but it gets deeper and deeper.
The remark from President Reagan perfectly encapsulates contemporary Republicanism, both in form and content. It's simplistic, ideological, and emotional. One other thing: it's completely divorced from the reality of any specific person's life. A person like Trudy Robideau.

Please follow me beyond the fold for more on this issue.

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U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pauses during remarks to reporters at a news conference following a Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 7, 2015.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst    (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR4KFJ3
John Boehner not moving his lips. That's at least a start.
"It is better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt." This quotation has been attributed to Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, and Socrates. It's too bad John Boehner doesn't seem to have taken it to heart. Here's what Boehner said on Sunday about the peace process in the Middle East.
"Well, [Netanyahu] doesn't have a partner," Boehner said. "How do you have a two-state solution when you don't have a partner in that solution, when you don't have a partner for peace, when you've got a -- when the other state is vowing to wipe you off the face of the earth?"
Really, Mr. Boehner? The Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, is vowing to wipe Israel off the face of the earth? That would be the same Palestinian Authority that has recognized Israel as a state since 1993, and which has renounced violence as a method of resistance.

To say the least, Hamas is a different story, not to mention groups like Islamic Jihad. However, without going into the complexities of an incomparably complex situation, John Boehner made a blanket statement about "the other state." That means the government officially recognized as the representative of the Palestinians. That's the government led by President Abbas. Boehner's statement wasn't an oversimplification, or a slight exaggeration, or a misperception. It was a flat-out falsehood. John Boehner has decided that he wants to conduct American Mideast policy—despite, you know, not actually being president—and yet he makes a statement as absurdly incorrect as this? It's simply unconscionable.

And we know why he did it. Unblinking, blind support for Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be the one issue best able to excite the Republican base. We see this in the blowback that hit James Baker after he criticized the Israeli prime minister, even as he added that the United States would "never, never, never abandon Israel." None other than Baker's best buddy's son, Jeb Bush, slammed him. Netanyahu is so untouchable among Republicans that Bill Kristol mused that "Bibi would probably win the Republican nomination if it were legal." Apparently, Ted Cruz receives his "biggest standing ovation at each event" when he proclaims his devotion to Bibi.

In the same interview with CNN, Boehner criticized President Obama as well, stating: "I think the animosity exhibited by our administration toward the prime minister of Israel is reprehensible." Never mind the fact that the Speaker of the House seems to be more supportive of a foreign government—key ally or not—than our own. Boehner knows that if there's one thing the Republican base likes from its politicians as much as declaring fealty to Benjamin Netanyahu, it's going after Barack Obama.

Discuss
President Barack Obama smiling and holding
Republicans wants to take away your health care. But you can smile too as long as we have a Democratic president to stop them.
The new budget proposals from House and Senate Republicans are a joke. How bad a joke? Both would repeal Obamacare, yet both count on collecting $1 trillion over 10 years in Obamacare taxes—all of which, by the way, would be paid by upper-income earners. Maya MacGuineas, who heads the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, lamented that the Republican plan relies on "details [that] are in some ways unrealistic and unspecified," and contains "several budget gimmicks that circumvent budget discipline and artificially reduce the size of the deficit on paper." Less kindly, there's the way Dana Milbank put it: "the [House] budget does not rely on gimmicks. The budget is a gimmick." Finally, a "very, very angry" Paul Krugman condemned the House and Senate plans as "an enormous, destructive con job."

Whether one calls it a gimmick, a joke, or a dagger aimed at the heart of any American whose house lacks a car elevator, the Republican budget plans—which will include a repeal of the president's healthcare reform law—offer a serious opportunity for Democrats, if they take advantage of it. Imagine the following event televised from the White House lawn: President Obama is surrounded by smiling citizens—all of whom are grateful that Obamacare allowed them to get health insurance—and they cheer as he vetoes the Republican attempt to take it away from them. Multiply that by 16.4 million—the number of previously uninsured Americans who got coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act—and you've got a population that will be highly motivated to get out and vote in order to keep it.

Please motivate on over the fold for more.

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Teachers and parents united against Cuomo's plan.
That was the chant I heard go up from the crowd of parents and teachers gathered at one of the dozens of protests held at public schools all over New York City on Thursday. What is Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan? He offers increased funding, but only if his reforms on teacher evaluation and so-called merit pay are also adopted. An open letter from teachers to parents at the highly regarded Public School 321 in Brooklyn discussed the changes to the way teachers would be evaluated:
50% of a teacher's rating would be based on state test scores. (Currently it is 20%).

35% of a teacher's rating would be based on the findings of an outside "independent observer" who will conduct a one time visit to the classroom. (This has never been done before. Currently our principal and assistant principals' observations count for 60%).

15% of a teacher's rating would be based on observations by the principal or assistant principals. The very people who know our work best would have the least input into our evaluation.

50% + 35% = 85% of our evaluations would be removed from the hands of our community and placed in the hands of the state.

And then, using these numbers, any teacher who is rated ineffective two years in a row can be fired.

[snip] Here’s something parents need to understand. Even though when our students take the standardized tests most of them do just fine, many PS 321 teachers do not. Teachers’ ratings are not based on their students’ raw scores for the year, but whether their students improved from one year to the next. If a student with a ‘3’ [note: 3 means the student has met the standards for that grade] gets one fewer question correct in 4th grade than she did in 3rd, that student might not have demonstrated the “added value” their teacher is expected to have instilled. Even though the student has mastered that grade’s content. Even though it’s just one question. And that teacher might, therefore, be rated in the bottom percentile of teachers.

[snip] The values present in Governor Cuomo's proposals are antithetical to our own. And they place them at risk. The numbers are clear: 50% of our value will be six days of tests. 35% of our value will be one day with an independent observer. And 15% of our value will be in evaluation by [the principal] and the assistant principals, those who know us best as educators.

Please follow beyond the fold for more.
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U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks on American manufacturing in front of an Intel plant under construction in Chandler, Arizona January 25, 2012.      REUTERS/Jason Reed    (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
He talks about America like a grown-up.
When Rudy Giuliani recently accused President Obama of not loving our country or its people, he removed the last scintilla of doubt as to whether he had anything positive to contribute to our political discourse. Giuliani claimed that the president shows a "disinclination to emphasize what is right with America," and instead offers constant criticism. Never mind that such a charge is absolutely baseless.

Beyond the lack of truth, consider what Giuliani's statement reveals about how someone who does love America is supposed to talk. He and other conservatives have long attacked the president for not embracing their understanding of American exceptionalism. To these critics, loving America apparently means talking about our country the way an overindulgent, coddling parent would talk to a five year old. Barack Obama knows better.

I wrote a book about Obama's conception of American identity, as well as his depiction of our country's values and history. Although in my research I came across countless examples of him talking about America, I've never heard him do so in as profound a way as he did in Selma this Saturday. The president subtly rejected the Giuliani approach, noting that America isn't "stock photos or airbrushed history or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American than others. We respect the past, but we don’t pine for the past. We don’t fear the future; we grab for it. America is not some fragile thing." Instead—referencing the march that he and so many other had come to commemorate—he asked:

What could be more American than what happened in this place? What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people — the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many — coming together to shape their country’s course?

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this; what greater form of patriotism is there; than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?

That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience. That’s why it’s not a museum or static monument to behold from a distance. It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents:

“We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

These are not just words. They are a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny. For founders like Franklin and Jefferson, for leaders like Lincoln and FDR, the success of our experiment in self-government rested on engaging all of our citizens in this work. And that’s what we celebrate here in Selma. That’s what this movement was all about, one leg in our long journey toward freedom.

Obama's America emphasizes real progress and also tells hard truths about our shortcomings. It presents an inclusive story in which all of us can recognize our connection to America and our fellow Americans.

I urge you to read the full speech, which appears below the fold.

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A protester holds a sign outside the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Missouri, November 24, 2014. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon urged people in the St. Louis area to show respect and restraint following a grand jury's decision on whether to criminal
That sign says it all.
Overall, white Americans believe that discrimination against whites—i.e., "reverse racism"—is a more prevalent phenomenon than the racial discrimination African Americans face. Most of you reading this article likely find such a belief to be absurd, a myth contradicted by the facts that present themselves to us every day. Nevertheless, a study conducted in 2011 by scholars at Tufts and Harvard found exactly that.
White and black respondents’ perceptions of anti-white and anti-black bias in each decade.
Certainly, many whites reject this myth, but enough buy into it that it has colored how different groups view the push for civil rights and equal treatment for black Americans, issues that galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement. Large segments of the white community believing that they've got it worse than blacks stymies the effort to galvanize support for the implementation of long-needed reforms. That's why the Justice Department's investigation of the police department and the municipal court system in Ferguson, Missouri, is so important. There is no way anyone—anyone with an open mind that is—could read this report and continue to deny what confronts African Americans across our country.

Please follow me beyond the fold for more.

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Janet Yellen at swearing in as chair of the Federal Reserve Board, Feb. 3, 2014
No one else that President Obama appointed has a greater impact on our economy.
First, let's start with the good news, developments that are both important and a long time coming. Thursday's reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed:
1) For all employees, real hourly wage growth (i.e., growth above the rate of inflation) came in at 1.2% in January, 0.5% of which came from increased wages and 0.7% of which came from a drop in inflation (mostly from a reduction in energy costs).

2) For all private, nonfarm employees, real hourly wages increased 2.4% from January 2014 to January 2015, and—thanks to an increase of 0.6% in the average workweek—real weekly wages increased by 3.0%.

3) Within private, nonfarm employees, for nonsupervisory and production employees (i.e., workers as opposed to management) real weekly wage growth was 3.8% from January 2014 to January 2015.

This increase in weekly real wages is worth applauding, particularly because it is higher for regular workers than for management. I don't usually use bold fonts, but sometimes data can make a person's eyes glaze over. This stuff is too exciting to miss.

Not that many years ago, annual raises of 4 percent or more were common. However, inflation in those years was much higher than it is right now. If inflation increased by 4 percent, and you got a 4 percent raise, then you really got no raise at all. Over the past 12 months, inflation actually decreased by 0.1 percent, which helps workers' purchasing power significantly.

So now to Janet Yellen. She was nominated by Barack Obama, and became the chair of the Federal Reserve just over one year ago. She is not only the first woman chair, she's also the first Democratic nominee to serve as chair since Paul Volcker ascended to the position in 1979. That's because Bill Clinton decided in 1995 to reappoint Alan Greenspan, a conservative Ayn Rand acolyte initially nominated by Ronald Reagan. In January 2001, Greenspan provided crucial cover to George W. Bush's plan to cut taxes (mostly on the rich) by predicting that the projected federal surplus was so substantial that we could both have a big tax cut and still completely (cough) pay down our national debt.

Yellen is a very different kind of Fed chair, as we'll discuss more beyond the fold.

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