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I picked up this coffee table book recently:

The book is filled with pictures of Obama interacting with people, some famous, like the picture below, others just babies, children, etc.

With every picture, there is a quote from a speech. Here is an example:

I am president, I am not king. I can’t do these things just by myself.

— Interview with Univision, October 25, 2010

Obama is graceful, he has integrity, and there isn’t a single scandal or any type that I can think of that arose in his eight years in office. During the Obama years, it was never about Obama. It was about the country he served.

I do miss him.

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Obama is five years younger than I am. In six months he’ll be an ex-president after 8 years in office. They have already made a movie about, of all things, his first date with his wife. Say want you want, he is a remarkable man.

Southside2

Southside With You plays on one summer day in Chicago in 1989, when Michelle Robinson went on a first date with the summer intern Barack Obama at her lawfirm, where she was a second-year associate. Michelle didn’t want it to be a date. Barack insisted and made it one. Their day meanders through an art exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, to a screening of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, then to a community organizing event, drinks and finally to the site of their first kiss outside of an ice cream parlor.

I knew Southside With You is about the young Obamas, but I didn’t know the entire movie was about one single day.

It is a portrait of a young couple that went on to do extraordinary things. Whether you are a fan or opponent of Obama, there is no denying he made history. That one day in Chicago may well have been a turning point in world history, if one may assume that Obama might not have become The Obama without the partnership of Michelle. None of us will ever know, of course, but I ruminate about such turns – or perhaps I would call them – simple twists of fate.

Southside1

Who would have thought in 1989 that the skinny couple above (in a picture taken during the time the movie plays) would be moving into the White House less than 19 years hence.

If you are a supporter of Obama, you’ll likely enjoy this movie as a portrait of the young man to make an extraordinary difference in our nation’s history. I read both of Obama’s books before he became president, and they helped form my opinion at the time. Here are my reviews of those books:

Dreams from my Father

The Audacity of Hope

This movie does a good job rounding out the background.

Rating - Two and a Half Stars

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Listen to three minutes of any random Obama talk, and then three minutes of Trump, no matter where it happens or what the circumstances.

I would really be embarrassed if Trump were my president. I have never been embarrassed about Obama – except maybe when he bowed to the Saudi King.

Obama:

  • Thoughtful
  • Careful
  • Erudite
  • Measured
  • Competent
  • Informed
  • Educated
  • Dignified
  • Altruistic

Trump:

  • Blustery
  • Babbling
  • Superficial
  • Narcissistic
  • Deceptive
  • Selfish
  • Rambling
  • Uninformed
  • Deluded

 

 

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During the Clinton years, the Dow grew steadily to record highs.  Then Bush came, and his reckless economic policies turned a $200 billion surplus into a $1.4 trillion deficit. Along with that came a rocky stock market and a total meltdown at the end of his presidency.

Dow Clinton Bush Obama

[click for source]

Since Obama took office, the Dow has been climbing steadily.

And still, our illustrious Republican candidates all tell us that Obama’s presidency has made our lives so much worse than they were when we had Bush.

It’s dumbfounding, how one can think that, given these charts.

This chart is only about the Dow. I could make similar charts about gas and oil prices, dependency on foreign energy, the value of the dollar, actual government spending, the number of people employed, the unemployment rate, on and on.

But Dick Cheney still calls Obama the worst president of his lifetime.

He must not have been alive during the Bush years, when he was co-president.

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Fallen Tree

So we’re walking down the sidewalk on our morning walk and we notice a tree that broke off in the bushes overnight, now hanging over the sidewalk. That got me to wonder:

If a tree falls across the sidewalk and Fox News isn’t there to report on it, is it still Obama’s fault?

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Here are a list of facts:

  • Gas prices are lower than they have been in years, and are still falling.
  • The  U.S. is the second largest oil producer in the world, poised to take the number one slot from Saudi Arabia. Oil imports are declining.
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average is at 17,000, a record. It was at 7,000 when Bush left office, and never higher than 14,000 while he was in office.
  • The dollar is now at its strongest levels in years.
  • There is no inflation.
  • Our interest rates are the lowest in 30 years.
  • Our deficit is rapidly declining.
  • Our unemployment rate is lower than 6%. We have added 200,000 jobs a month, every month, for years. We have added 10.6 million jobs over 56 straight months of job growth.
  • We have almost doubled the wealth of billionaires in the country since Obama. The wealthy make more money than ever today, and their taxes are the lowest in history, and the lowest in the world.
  • America is leading the world once again and is respected internationally, unlike when Bush was in office.
  • Obama brought soldiers home from Iraq and stopped the bleeding and dying of Americans for foreign causes.
  • Obama found and killed Osama bin Laden.

And yet, we just voted the Republicans into both houses of Congress and into many state governorships, decimating the Democrats. I can only see four main initiatives of the Republicans:

  • Undo the Affordable Care Act (which would mean taking away the health insurance of 10 million Americans who finally now were able to get insurance).
  • Do nothing further about our immigration problem and somehow deport 11 million people.
  • Send American soldiers back into Iraq to get killed and maimed for the bizarre delusions of a messed-up religion under the lie of calling it protecting our homeland and freedom.
  • Sue, impeach or otherwise paralyze Obama.

So the American people voted to impair or throw out the president who dug us out of the mess Bush put us in?

I don’t get it. What do people want? Go back to where we were in 2007?

Really?

 

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren sponsored a bill that would allow students to refinance their student loans at today’s low interest rates – just like we all refinance our mortgages, if we can, to save money on interest and shorten the repayment cycle.

The initiative was funded, however, by having 22,000 millionaires pay “their fair share of taxes.” I understand that “fair share” is a subjective term. Our society largely agrees that the very rich get better treatment in taxes, proportionally, than the very poor. The very rich do not agree. They argue that they already pay the majority of all taxes, and the very poor pay none.

TaxShareTop1Bottom90_0

I lifted the chart above (Source: IRS) from the site www.taxfoundation.org. This chart tries to show several things: First, that the share of income taxes paid by the top 1 percent of earners has increased since 1980. You can also see the Bush 41 tax cuts, a sharp drop in 1988 on the blue line, and the Bush 43 tax cuts, the sharp drop in 2000.  You can see  that taxes for the rich went up steadily during Clinton. Contrary to what conservative opinion would have us believe by labeling Obama the redistributor, taxes for the rich actually went down during the Obama years.

The chart also indicates that the taxes for the bottom 90 percent went down steadily, then they jumped sharply during the Bush 43 “tax cut” time. Finally they started rising during the Obama years.

Or does it?

There is something wrong with this chart, in my opinion. This chart looks like if you are in the bottom 90%, where I am, for example, you used to pay over 50% in taxes in 1980, and now you pay “only” 32%, doesn’t it? It also looks like if you are in the top 1%, you used to pay under 20% in 1980, and now you pay 35%. Isn’t that what this chart looks like, if it is just presented like this?

But that is not really what it means. Talk about misleading statistics. The www.taxfoundation.org site’s first paragraph reads like this:

The top 1 percent of taxpayers pay more in federal income taxes than the bottom 90 percent. As you can see in the chart below, this is a stark change from the 1980s and early 1990s. But since the early 1980s, the share of taxes paid by the bottom 90 percent has steadily declined.

Aha, the top 1% pay more in the aggregate in federal income tax than the bottom 90%. That’s what this really means. This has nothing to do with individual tax payers, but the accumulation of all taxes paid.

Regardless of what the graphs look like, to me this indicates that the income gap has grown since 1980. The fact that the top 1% pay more taxes cumulatively simply means that the top 1% also make huge amounts of more money than they did in 1980, as compared to the bottom 90%. This chart actually shows that the rich are now much richer, because they cumulatively pay so much more taxes.

This is a statement about the drift of our society away from the middle class to a two class system, comprised of very few and very rich people in the 1%, and everyone else on the poor and very poor side.

That tells me that as a group, the 1% are doing just fine, just very fine.

Elizabeth Warren knows that. She also knows that the student loan refinancing act would have made lives easier for 40 million students by allowing them to refinance their loans. We’re not talking about forgiveness, or default, we’re talking about refinancing, just like we all get to refinance our mortgages when the interest rates support it.

37 Republican senators blocked and filibustered that act, and therefore stood in favor of 22,000 millionaires at the cost of 40 million student loan holders. That’s one millionaire protected from a rise in taxes for every 1818 student loan holders.

Here are the names of the Republican senators that blocked the bill:

Lamar Alexander (Tenn.)
Saxby Chambliss (Ga.)
John Cornyn (Texas)
Michael Crapo (Idaho)
Michael Enzi (Wyo.)
Charles Grassley (Iowa)
Orrin Hatch (Utah)
James Inhofe (Okla.)
John McCain (Ariz.)
Mitch McConnell (Ky.)
Pat Roberts (Kan.)
Jefferson Sessions (Ala.)
Richard Shelby (Ala.)
Roy Blunt (Mo.)
John Boozman (Ark.)
Richard Burr (N.C.)
Jeff Flake (Ariz.)
John Isakson (Ga.)
Mark Kirk (Ill.)
Robert Portman (Ohio)
Patrick Toomey (Pa.)
David Vitter (La.)
Roger Wicker (Miss.)
John Thune (S.D.)
Thomas Coburn (Okla.)
Daniel Coats (Ind.)
Dean Heller (Nev.)
John Barrasso (Wyo.)
Mike Johanns (Neb.)
James Risch (Ind.)
Marco Rubio (Fla.)
Rand Paul (Ky.)
John Hoeven (N.D.)
Mike Lee (Utah)
Ron Johnson (Wis.)
Deb Fischer (Neb.)
Ted Cruz (Texas)

It makes me wonder how these people expect to get reelected when they adversely affect 40 million voters to protect 22,000 rich people? They must expect to receive lots of money from the rich people, to make sure the poor remain as poor as possible.

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I have seen many of our presidents over the decades “show backbone” when some foreign thug tried to threaten the United States or its interest. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait comes to mind, or the Bay of Pigs, or our counterattack on the Taliban. All of those, of course, involved deployment of American military might against some formidable threat.

Presidents have, of course, stood up for the American people, but perhaps never to this degree.

Obama said:

Members of Congress don’t get to hold our democracy or our economy hostage over a settled law. They don’t get to kick a child out of Head Start if I don’t agree to take her parents’ health insurance away.

That’s why I won’t pay a ransom in exchange for reopening the government…or raising the debt ceiling.

Here is a U.S. president that recognizes that a poor child inside the United States has rights worth defending, that providing health insurance for 48 million Americans is a good thing for at least those 48 million Americans, whether Rand Paul, Ted Cruz or Michele Bachmann like it or not.

Destroying the world economy for ideological ideals of a minority inside the United States is a ludicrous proposition and I am proud of Obama for being up to the task.

 

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Tonight’s 60 Minutes was masterful reporting of the Syria conundrum our nation is in. First there was an interview with Bassar al-Assad by Charlie Rose. To get Assad on 60 Minutes, knowing that it is international television, I found to be a genius coup of CBS. How could anyone not watch? Assad spoke in surprisingly good English for an Arab leader. He is a medical doctor with post-doctoral studies in London at the Western Eye Hospital, specializing in ophthalmology. I assume that’s where he learned his English, which he speaks with a strange-sounding lisp. I wonder if he lisps in Arabic? If anyone knows, please comment and set us straight.

After the Assad interview, which was taped last Sunday, 60 Minutes aired an interview with Obama, recorded a few days later.

Charlie Rose never asked Assad point-blank if he had ordered the chemical strikes, but he did ask many other tough questions. I don’t claim to have sufficient insight into the complex politics of the Syrian crisis. But if he ordered chemical strikes against his own people, of course I condemn it. But I must say with a considerable amount of shame, overall, Assad looked better tonight on international television than Obama did.

I can’t believe I just wrote this.

By the way Obama handled the Syrian crisis, he has damaged his presidency and he has made the United States look weak. I don’t profess that I might have done a better job myself. This whole thing is a mess. But right now, whether anyone else could have done a better job, Obama looks like a fool. Where are his foreign policy advisers? Where is his Henry Kissinger when he needs him? Obama needs somebody of Kissinger or Scowcroft caliber to tell him: “Mr. President, you’re fucking this one up big time!” Obama needs help, and fast.

It was a good thing that 60 Minutes closed out the hour with a stale report on marijuana in Colorado. What if they had got Putin on as the third piece? It would have been utter disaster for Obama.

Right now our government is stumbling on the world stage. Obama does not look ready for the job. This is not a good thing to happen to a president in his 5th year in office. Syria might have killed Obama’s legacy. When I voted for him, I thought he had it in him to be a great president.

Right now, I am embarrassed for him.

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No More Wars

The world has to listen to American saber-rattling once again. This time it’s Obama who has got himself into the unenviable position of having drawn a line in the sand which has subsequently been crossed. What to do?

We are not learning from history. We get involved in foreign countries that:

  1. We don’t understand
  2. Don’t respect us
  3. Don’t want us there
  4. See us as the imperialists which we obviously are.

Then we kill many innocent people by using massive and blunt weapons (of mass destruction).

Afterwards, we try to rebuild nations amidst enemies of all creeds.

Above all, we’re spending billions of dollars we don’t have, money you and I pay in taxes every month.

We did it in Korea, Vietnam, the Balkans, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya – and those are only the ones I can think of right now.

We just need to stop messing with the problems of other countries that we can’t fix and don’t understand.

Of course, to be fair, I have contradict myself here:

Hitler could easily have been stopped in the years between 1935  and 1939, when the British, the French and the U.S. were dilly-dallying, trying to stay out of a war that could easily have been prevented by ousting a dictator, a war that eventually cost over 50 million lives.

Is the right solution to oust another dictator?

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Obama tweeted this picture on Valentine’s Day.

Young Obama

Who would have thought, when this picture was taken probably somewhere in Africa, perhaps twenty years ago, that we’re looking at the future president of the United States.

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I would love to travel back in time to the 1960-ies with this photograph in hand. Show it to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Tell them the guy sitting on the bus is the President of the United States.

Rosa Parks Bus

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No soundbites, no politics, just common sense. In this week’s address, President Obama says that Congress should act to keep our nation moving forward by keeping taxes low for 98 percent of Americans, cutting red tape so responsible homeowners can save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage by refinancing at lower rates, and creating a veterans jobs corps to help our returning heroes find work.

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Limbaugh, O’Reilly and Hannity (and many others) like to call Obama the Great Redistributor. What they imply is that Obama is a modern-day Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. In America’s value system and class structure, that thought is not a widely accepted one. Americans feel strongly that if you work hard and get rich, you should be able to keep the rewards of that, and of course, if you are poor, it’s basically your own fault and the government isn’t doing you any favors by giving handouts.

I am a good capitalist, and I basically agree with those tenets and value systems. It does irk me when I pay more taxes, percentage wise, than other people who make less money. I don’t like the idea that my work carries others that do not bother to work. I agree with the right-wing interpretation here.

However, I have come across an example of Obama’s “re-distribution” initiatives that I fully agree with.

Recently I received a letter from Bank of America that holds one of my credit card accounts. It states that, among other things, payments are from now on going to be applied to the balances with the highest interest rates first.

It used to be that if you had a $10,000 balance, and $5,000 was a teaser rate of 2.99% for a balance transfer and the other $5,000 was a 17.99% market interest rate, and you made a $300 payment, it went to reduce the teaser balance first, therefore prolonging the amount of time it took to pay off an account by years. So this new accounting turns that around, and consumers get to pay off the high interest rate balances first.

You could argue that the shareholders of Bank of America are now making less money, which they are, and the poor people who owe balances to Bank of America do now get to keep more of their money, since it goes to principal rather than to interest, and this is a re-distribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. And it is. We’re taking money from Bank of America and allowing millions of cardholders to keep some of  their money that they would otherwise have paid to the bank in interest.

This is, however, in my opinion, a fair regulatory change that should have happened years ago to level the credit playing field, but didn’t happen under other administrations. The Great Redistributor has made this possible, and I applaud it.

I don’t own any bank stock, but even if I did, I would applaud it.

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My friend Phyllis sent me this email, which I am publishing here in full, with her permission:

During the presidential primaries, my Democratic friends and I had spirited discussions about the fact that there were so many candidates from which to choose.  We discussed our perceived pros and cons and gave our reasons for preferring certain candidates over others.

Gradually, it became clear that Barack Obama might overtake Hillary Clinton and I began to feel an excitement for our country that I hadn’t felt since John Kennedy’s election.

I was raised in the integrated north by a mother who grew up in the segregated south.  By the time I was ten years old, I understood about the ugliness of prejudice and segregation.  As a busy college student in San Antonio, Texas, I wasn’t interested in politics, especially since Texans couldn’t vote until age 21.  Gradually, I became aware of the efforts being made to desegregate.  In San Antonio, that came without violence when some blacks were served at the downtown Kresge’s lunch counter. 

After graduation, I stayed on in San Antonio.  One day, this white, pregnant female, accompanied her dark-skinned Mexican husband and his “black” friend to the big movie theater on downtown San Antonio’s main street.  After parking the car behind the theater, we headed down the side street toward the front entrance.  The friend said he’d meet us at the car after the movie.  Not understanding, we asked where he was going.  He pointed to the one bare light bulb above a single door at the top of three flights of fire-escape stairs. (I had never noticed it before.) He told us that he had to go in that way because there was a special balcony up there for blacks!

We insisted that he come with us and all agreed to take the risk of suffering serious consequences.  I bought the tickets.  No one outside said anything.  I went in first and, as the men followed, the boy taking tickets did two double-takes, but said nothing.  We found good seats on the main floor and enjoyed the movie without incident.  We had unofficially desegregated the theater!  I can only imagine how our friend felt.  For me, it felt like a triumph.  Eventually, I fully understood how much danger we had invited and was grateful that we hadn’t been attacked.  I would do it again.

Several years later, back in Connecticut, when I was a working mom and my children were not yet old enough to understand, we arrived home to the report of President Kennedy’s assassination.  I was still in shock and my deep feelings of loss had not abated when we got the news of Dr. King’s assassination.  I have no words to describe my despair.  I had hoped that the sacrifices being made by the civil rights’ activists were the true beginning of the end of all segregation and the inevitable changes that this would bring. 

A few years later, I found myself in San Diego, California, teaching in an integrated elementary school.  We had assemblies each January on Dr. King’s birthday.  Over a period of six years, I taught the K-3 group to sing, “We Shall Overcome”.  I was always sad but ever hopeful that I might be planting seeds of future awareness and understanding, leading to changes for the better.

These are small gestures, perhaps, but they were things I could do.  Through the tumultuous years that followed, I continued to hope.

On November 5, 2008, I was a poll worker.  We were busy until about 4:00, when it slowed down to a trickle of voters.  I couldn’t figure out why.  I headed for home at 8:20 p.m., Pacific Standard Time and turned on the radio.  As I drove into my driveway, I realized that I was listening to John McCain’s concession speech.  Early returns and exit polls had already concluded that Barack Obama was the winner!

I sat in front of my TV set in awe of what the voters had done.  The country had gone from my mother having had a black “mammy” to electing a black president.  At eight years old I had seen and learned about the signs that said, “No Dogs or Negroes Allowed”.  At age 71, I could rejoice at the election of a man of colored skin, chosen mainly because of his perceived abilities and personality and the possibilities of change that he has offered us.

As the realization sank in, I became fully aware of how much hope I had lost over the years, of how much despair I had felt over the my country’s problems, and  the great sadness I felt for those still suffering from the effects of racial prejudice in our country.  I realized that I have hope again! 

Watching from my living room on November 9th, when President-Elect Obama addressed the huge crowd in Chicago’s Grant Park, I shouted and cried with joy, as if I were there.  I felt connected to the millions of Americans who had worked so hard to make this happen and all those here and around the world who could see that we are changing.

Our country is in a big mess.  President-Elect Obama has been very busy preparing for the daunting responsibilities he is about to inherit.  He has said that he is not perfect and that it will take time for his policies and actions to result in the changes that we need.  There will continue to be many challenges for all of us.

For now, I look forward to the history-making inauguration with increasing excitement each day.   I now have hope that change really has come to America and that “We Shall Overcome.”

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