Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub,” willed himself to be happy

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/ernie-banks-mr-cub-willed-himself-to-be-happy/2015/01/24/f2a56c34-a40a-11e4-b146-577832eafcb4_story.html

Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub,” willed himself to be happy

By Thomas Boswell January 24

When we are sifting for childhood heroes, we look for what we lack. Even though I grew up in the District, I looked all the way to Chicago to find Ernie Banks. Then I didn’t let him go.

The late-1950s were full of major sports heroes. I could have found something that appealed deeply to me in Johnny Unitas, Arnold Palmer or Willie Mays. I certainly read enough profiles of all of them and other stars in every sports magazine. There were local D.C. heroes, like home run champion Roy Sievers, whom I fell for hard as a kid. But with all the rest of sports to choose from, I picked Banks and followed his last 15 seasons avidly.

By 1969, after I graduated from college, Ernie was the last childhood hero I still rooted for every day. In September, as his Cubs battled America’s darling, the Miracle Mets, I clung to Banks, then 38, as he staggered toward his only chance to play in a World Series. When the Cubs failed, I took a lesson from their fall, supplied by Banks, that has never left me.

If you want a defining trait, one that survives defeat, attracts affection from others and mysteriously restores itself, then it’s hard to beat enthusiasm.

“It’s a great day for a ballgame. Let’s play two” isn’t just a quotation that will probably end up in Bartlett’s. It’s philosophy.

Believe me, as someone who has covered baseball for nearly 40 years at The Washington Post, nobody wants to play 324 games, not even Ernie. “Let’s play two” is a worldview and a deep one, not a quip.

The outward joy Banks professed, even if it was partly innate to his temperament, was also a daily act of will: a lifelong private commitment to enthusiasm as a guiding principle.

For countless people, including me, it’s hard to find anybody among family or friends who’s a living example of that combination of attitude and energy. When you find a Banks, who sticks to those guns all his life, that’s the definition of a role model.

“He who would be calm must first put on the appearance of calm,” Shakespeare wrote. In other words, our emotions do not simply come from inside us and express themselves outwardly. The process can work in reverse. By putting on the outward appearance of calm — or confidence or enthusiasm or whatever quality we value — we can increase our tendency to feel that way.

Every day for 19 seasons, Banks put on that appearance of joy, convinced himself and probably some teammates that they were “playing” ball, not so much competing as publicly scrutinized pros.

So how did that sensibility stand up to The Collapse — the epitome of the sport as pain, not play?

When the Cubs crashed in September, losing 11 of 12 to go from five games ahead to 4 1/2 behind, it all happened so fast that it seemed more grotesque than dramatic and, by the end, darkly comic. Banks slumped, too. But after seven straight losses, he made a personal stand. Against the Phillies he drove in a run in the first inning, then homered in the eighth to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead; they blew it, of course. The next day, in the only Cubs win of the whole smashup, Banks drove in four of their five runs. That was the old man’s statement — not nearly enough but something.

On the final day of the season, when manager Leo Durocher, the grouch who said “Nice guys finish last,” was disengaged from his team and stuck with the disgrace of his defeat, Banks was still showing up — just to play baseball. On the season’s last day, Banks, the oldest man in the lineup, played his 155th game of the year and had a triple, homer and drove in three runs to finish the season with 106 RBI, a total he hadn’t topped since his 20s.

You need all kinds of role models as you grow up. That 1969 Cubs’ choke sealed it for me — Banks would remain one of mine. No team could fail worse. Mostly, Banks stunk, too. But I didn’t respect him any less. And nobody else seemed to either.

By 1977, Ernie had been voted into the Hall of Fame. Durocher got in by the backdoor of the Old Timers Committee in 1994 — three years after he died. Banks has been going to Cooperstown every August for a third of a century, enjoying the chatter with his fellow immortals. Leo never got to sit on the veranda of the Otesaga Hotel overlooking Lake Glimmerglass and preen. Let’s play two or nice guys finish last? Excuse me, but I call it a parable.

In a baseball sense, Banks is an immortal because he averaged 41 homers and 115 RBI a year as a shortstop from 1955 to 1960, making himself the equal of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle or anybody else in the game for those half-dozen years.

There had never before been a middle infielder with such power. And to this day, there still hasn’t. Banks won a gold glove, too. Switching to first base and remaining a solid hitter until he had amassed 512 homers assured him a place in the Hall.

But it is the Other Banks, the man who exemplified an entire stance toward how we approach life, who will be remembered long after most of baseball’s 500-home run men are forgotten.

Perhaps fans of the 1950s, when Banks emerged, were particularly susceptible to what he embodied. From 1929 through the early 1950s, the whole country — and especially the Greatest Generation — endured a unique sequence of traumas from the Depression to World War II to McCarthyism.

The virtues that were required to survive those times were admirable but perhaps tended toward a narrow spectrum. My friends and I seemed to come from families who had all walked 20 miles to school, uphill both ways. My grandfather, a small town farmer who almost went broke in the 1930s, worked dawn to dusk. I saw him grab a snake out of a ditch, crack it like a whip and throw it back dead. My father, an Army sergeant, was in the Normandy invasion but never talked about it. Another relative, who started a union, was accused of being un-American and blackballed.

These days, it almost seems quaint to make a list of taken-for-granted American traits back then: determination, the need for rigorous education, delayed gratification and even stoicism. But Banks added something different and exciting for many of us.

Arriving in the big leagues just seven years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line, no sensible fan thought Banks had come up easy. He had even played in the Negro Leagues.

Everyone assumed that, even if Banks’s temperament tended toward cheerfulness, there was something else at work. Ernie made himself want to “play two,” even on days when he undoubtedly didn’t. And yet that habit of enthusiasm, that determination to focus on the love of the game for its own sake, seemed to become a reinforcing principle for him. The more he repeated it, lived it, the more it became true.

In short, maybe you could make yourself be happy.

All Banks’s fans will have their own affectionate version of Ernie. I imagine Banks on a hot August afternoon in Wrigley Field when the ivy vines are drooping and the Cubs flag in center field is near the bottom of the pole. He says, for the millionth time, “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let’s play two.”

A few eyes roll. But the hint has been dropped, the seed planted once more, that the focus of the day actually is baseball, the game they love. “Ernie must be nuts,” the Cubs think. “But, hell, I guess I would like to play one.”

So they do.

For more by Thomas Boswell, see washingtonpost.com/boswell.

This article previously appeared as the foreword to “Ernie Banks: Mr. Cub and the Summer of ’69” by Phil Rogers (Triumph Books, 2011)

Tom Boswell is a Washington Post sports columnist.

Bill Moyers on LBJ and ‘Selma’

Bill Moyers on LBJ and ‘Selma’

republish

After his online chat Tuesday, Bill had more to say about the Oscar-nominated film Selma, President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Voting Rights Act and how government has changed over the past 40-plus years. Read his Q & A below, and be sure to add your comments — as Bill said in the chat, he reads them all.

What did you think of the film Selma?

(Poster of 'Selma' the movie.)

Bill: There are some beautiful and poignant moments in the film that take us closer to the truth than anything I’ve seen in other movies to date: the cruelty visited upon black people everyday by whites and armed authorities; the humiliation they faced simply trying to register to vote (“Name all the county judges in Alabama!”); the courage and fear of those black people who put themselves on the line for freedom’s sake; the ambivalence in Martin Luther King Jr. as he faced the inescapability of leadership and constant threat of death. I cannot imagine the dread one had to subdue to step on that bridge that day.And I came out of the theater shaking my head in disbelief at the obscenity of the Republican Party as it has piously but insidiously taken up voter suppression as a priority. The Party of Lincoln? Of Emancipation? Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” of 50 years ago has now become their subliminal mantra: “Whites of America, Unite!” Back in the 1970s, in the early days of a resurging conservative movement, the late Paul Weyrich — godfather of the religious right and co-founder of the American Conservative Union, and of ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council, the powerful lobbying group for corporations and conservatives) – declared:

I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of the country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

So look who won the midterm elections as voter turnout fell to its lowest in 70 years: A coalition of suppressionists doing everything they can to make it hard for black and poor people to vote – and their big donors who give millions to drown out those very same voices. That’s “Free Speech” in the Roberts era.

As for how the film portrays Lyndon B. Johnson: There’s one egregious and outrageous portrayal that is the worst kind of creative license because it suggests the very opposite of the truth, in this case, that the president was behind J. Edgar Hoover’s sending the “sex tape” to Coretta King. Some of our most scrupulous historians have denounced that one. And even if you want to think of Lyndon B. Johnson as vile enough to want to do that, he was way too smart to hand Hoover the means of blackmailing him.

Then, casting the president as opposed to the Selma march, which the film does, is an exaggeration and misleading. He was concerned that coming less than a year after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there was little political will in Congress to deal with voting rights. As he said to Martin Luther King Jr., “You’re an activist; I’m a politician,” and politicians read the tide of events better than most of us read the hands on our watch. The president knew he needed public sentiment to gather momentum before he could introduce and quickly pass a voting rights bill. So he asked King to give him more time to bring Southern “moderates” and the rest of the country over to the cause, but once King made the case that blacks had waited too long for too little, Johnson told him: “Then go out there and make it possible for me to do the right thing.”

I was standing very near him, off to his right, and he was more emotionally and bodily into that speech than I had seen him in months. The nation was electrified. Watching on television, Martin Luther King Jr. wept. This is the moment when the film blows the possibility for true drama — of history happening right before our eyes.

To my knowledge he never suggested Selma as the venue for a march but he’s on record as urging King to do something to arouse the sleeping white conscience, and when violence met the marchers on that bridge, he knew the moment had come: He told me to alert the speechwriters to get ready and within days he made his own famous “We Shall Overcome” address that transformed the political environment. Here the film is very disappointing. The director has a limpid president speaking in the Senate chamber to a normal number of senators as if it were a “ho hum” event. In fact, he made that speech where State of the Union addressesare delivered – in a packed House of Representatives. I was standing very near him, off to his right, and he was more emotionally and bodily into that speech than I had seen him in months. The nationwas electrified. Watching on television, Martin Luther King Jr. wept. This is the moment when the film blows the possibility for true drama — of history happening right before our eyes.So it’s a powerful but flawed film. Go see it, though – it’s good to be reminded of a time when courage on the street is met by a moral response from power.

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Martin Luther King, Jr. on Aug. 6, 1965 upon signing the Voting Rights Act. Credit: Yoichi R. Okamoto, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum

You were involved in passing the Voting Rights Act? How do you assess its impact all these years later?

Bill: Just as Lyndon B. Johnson said at the time, the right to vote is “the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.” We’re a different country today because of what happened then, obviously — with black Americans holding office all the way up to the president of the United States. After he signed the Voting Rights Act I asked LBJ if he thought this meant we’d have a black president in our time. He said no, we would have a woman first. Well, one down, another to go.

On the other hand, the reactionaries never give up. And the George Wallace of then would be pleased with the John Roberts of now. You may know the chief justice was a young lawyer in Ronald Reagan’s Department of Justice during the 1980s and doing everything he could to undermine the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act. Roberts’ great conceit – shared by other conservative members of the court, including Clarence Thomas who keeps trying to kick over the ladder by which he himself was hoisted to prominence — is that racism is no longer the problem it once was. More or less what you can imagine a privileged elite of corporate lawyers would think, no? Read some of the memos and op-eds the younger Roberts wrote arguing for watering down the Voting Rights Act and you will understand why the conservative movement saw him as their new white hope on the bench. He seems to believe discrimination has to be intentional to be unconstitutional – that there’s no such thing as systemic racism, racism layered over decades or centuries. So we have now a one-time foot soldier in the conservative movement of legal resistance to equal rights occupying its commanding heights.

How do you remember LBJ? 

Bill Moyers with President Lyndon Johnson.

(Note: Bill served as Lyndon B. Johnson’s domestic policy adviser in 1964-65 and his press secretary from 1965 to 1967.)Bill: Lyndon B. Johnson owned and operated a ferocious ego. But he was curiously ill at ease with himself. He had an animal sense of weakness in other men — he wanted to know what you loved and what you feared and once he knew, he came after you. He was at times proud, sensitive, impulsive, flamboyant, sentimental, bold, magnanimous and graceful (the best dancer in the White House since George Washington); at times temperamental, paranoid, ill of spirit, vulgar. He had a passion for power but suffered violent dissent in the ranks of his own personality.

He could absolutely do the right thing at the right time — the reassuring grace, if you will, when he was thrust into the White House after Kennedy’s assassination; the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But when he did the wrong thing — escalating the Vietnam war — the damage was irreparable.

How would you describe the most striking and significant differences in our government that you have observed between the Vietnam era and today?

Bill: First, the sheer size and complexity of government — check out a recent post on billmoyers.com by John J. Dilulio Jr. reviewing Francis Fukuyama’s new book on the state of democracy; the two of them — Dilulio and Fukuyama — make this point brilliantly. I also just read a thoughtful piece by Charles Lane in the Washington Post arguing that the Great Society programs minted 50 years ago have mutated into sources of new and intractable problems, including their enormous cost; you can’t ignore the argument even as you also acknowledge how the giant tax cuts to the rich have cut government revenues that would help pay that cost. Everybody’s clamoring for more spending on infrastructure but hardly anyone is saying “Let’s raise the gasoline tax to pay for what all of us need and use!”

Second, the growth of the deep state — private instruments or agencies of power acting for and funded by the government (intelligence, the military, etc.). There’s a vast government we don’t see. A long-time senior Republican staff member of Congress, Mike Lofgren, wrote an extraordinary essay for billmoyers.com under the title The Deep State. Read it before you go to bed tonight. Rather, first thing in the morning. If you tackle it before bedtime, you won’t sleep.

And finally — although I should have started with this one: The triumph of money over every aspect of government. Money’s always been a force, but never to the extent it is today. We are just this close (I’m squeezing my index finger and thumb tightly) from oligarchy — the rule of the wealthy few for the purpose of increasing their wealth.

ROBERT STONE 1937-2015

COLLAPSE MENU
PRINT
EMAIL
TEXT SIZE
SAVE
ZOOM IN
ZOOM OUT
HELP
SHARE
PRINTED VIEW
TRANSLATE
AUDIO
ROBERT STONE 1937-2015 
Novelist’s tales delved into drugs, violence and strife 
By Emily Langer The Washington Post 

   Robert Stone, who was regarded as one of the foremost American novelists to emerge from the tumult of the Vietnam War and the counterculture, an era whose agonies and legacies he captured in bracing narratives, died Saturday, Jan. 10, at his home in Key West, Fla. He was 77.    The cause was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said his wife, Janice Stone.    Mr. Stone was widely regarded as one of the most significant novelists of his generation. He often was compared to Joseph Conrad, with whom he shared a dark awareness of moral fragility, and to Ernest Hemingway, another chronicler of people adrift in an unforgiving world.    His novels, among them “Dog Soldiers,” the winner of the 1975 National Book Award for fiction, were the products of a lifetime of geographic and intellectual wandering. Mr. Stone spent periods in the Navy, as a foreign correspondent in Vietnam, and with author and counterculture figure Ken Kesey.    In his novels, Mr. Stone took readers into the underworld of drugs, violence and strife, both cultural and personal. His characters were sometimes strung out, often morally ambiguous and, above all, real.    His first novel, “A Hall of Mirrors,” was set in the maelstrom of New Orleans, where Mr. Stone had lived for a time, writing and performing his poetry and taking stock of its inhabitants as a census worker in 1960. Its central characters included a dissolute right-wing radio broadcaster and other misfits who head inexorably toward ruin.    “The American Way is innocence,” the broadcaster declares in a pivotal moment in the book. “In all situations we must and shall display an innocence so vast and awesome that the entire world will be reduced by it. American innocence shall rise in mighty clouds of vapor to the scent of heaven and confound the nations!”    After his debut novel, Mr. Stone reported briefly in Vietnam for a British publication. That experience, along with his observations of cultural turmoil at home, resulted in “Dog Soldiers.”    The book featured a journalist who conspires with a former Marine to smuggle heroin from Vietnam to the United States. Eventually, they are intercepted by corrupt federal agents. It was noted that Mr. Stone had created a fictional world not unlike the real one, where the good characters seemed indistinguishable from the bad.    Mr. Stone continued writing until very nearly the end of his life.    Mr. Stone’s final novel, published in 2013, was “Death of the Black-Haired Girl,” a psychological thriller that derived its drama not from violence in far-flung international engagements, but from an affair and a mysterious death in a small New England community.    Robert Anthony Stone was born Aug. 21, 1937, in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was an infant when his father left him and his mother, who had schizophrenia.    Mr. Stone’s survivors include his wife of 55 years, the former Janice Burr; their two children, Ian Stone and Deidre Stone Jones; a daughter from another relationship, Emily Burton; and six grandchildren. 

BEBETO MATTHEWS/AP 2013    The novels of Robert Stone were the products of a lifetime of geographic and intellectual wandering.

Leonard Fein, Provocative Writer on Jewish Affairs, Dies at 80 – NYTimes.com

Leonard Fein, Provocative Writer on Jewish Affairs, Dies at 80 – NYTimes.com.

Leonard Fein, Provocative Writer on Jewish Affairs, Dies at 80

Photo

Leonard Fein Credit Forward Association

Leonard Fein, an intellectual and activist who wrote voluminously about contemporary Jews, Judaism and, in his words, “the often stormy relationship between Jews and Judaism,” and who founded a magazine and organizations to combat hunger and illiteracy, died late Wednesday or early Thursday in Manhattan. He was 80.

His brother, Rashi Fein, a professor emeritus at Harvard Medical School, confirmed the death, saying the cause was uncertain. Mr. Fein lived in Watertown, Mass.

As an author, a columnist for The Jewish Daily Forward and a contributor to many publications, including The New York Times, Mr. Fein was among the foremost of the so-called liberal Zionists. Known to friends and family as Leibel (pronounced LAY-bul), he was a social progressive, a fierce peacenik, a staunch defender of Israel and a shrewd observer of the American Jewish community.

He was fascinated by the diverse, complex, sometimes contradictory nature of modern Jewry.

“Some questions,” he began a 1985 essay in Moment, a magazine he edited and had founded a decade earlier with Elie Wiesel: “Why do we, less than 3 percent of America’s population, far, far less than 1 percent of the world’s, seem implicated in so much that happens about us? Or is it that, out of our preoccupation with self, we only imagine that implication?

“And why is it that some of us are so absorbed with self, and others of us so indifferent?” he went on. “How is it that a people so manifestly successful as we continues to represent itself — and, in truth, to see itself — as a victim people? Is Jewish survival everywhere and always at stake, as we so often announce — or can a people that has weathered 4,000 years of time, much of it traumatic, take its continuing survival pretty much for granted?”

Mr. Fein had given up an academic career to focus on Moment. He envisioned it as a more stylish and literary alternative to Commentary, another magazine that concentrated on Jewish issues but one that Mr. Fein found dour, dull and ideologically out of step with most Jews after it swung politically rightward in the 1960s.

Moment became “one of American Jewry’s most influential sources of Jewish ideas,” Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center in Washington, wrote Friday in Haaretz, the English-language Israeli daily, “and it launched Leibel as the most influential liberal ideologue in American Jewish life.”

Mr. Fein left the magazine in 1987. (The current editor, Nadine Epstein, said in an interview that Moment was more journalistic and less literary today than it was under Mr. Fein.) Shortly before that, he had founded an organization to raise money from Jewish families who were celebrating bar mitzvahs and weddings in increasingly opulent fashion and distribute it to groups that fed the hungry of any faith.

Based in Los Angeles, the charity, called Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger — it was named for the Hebrew word for food or sustenance — asked families to contribute 3 percent of the cost of their celebrations. Mr. Fein called the figure “small enough to be reasonable and large enough to be meaningful.”

After a year, Mazon was raising $80,000 a month. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, it dispensed $4.5 million in grants.

The idea for Mazon came to Mr. Fein when he learned that party caterers were pulling in half a billion dollars a year.

“A light bulb flashed over my head, and I started figuring a small percent of that sum could mean a lot of food for hungry people,” he told The Times in 1987. He quickly earned the support of rabbis around the country, Rashi Fein recalled, “perhaps because they were distressed at what was happening to bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs.”

Mr. Fein was born in New York City on July 1, 1934, and his first home was in the Bronx. His parents, who were teachers, frequently moved to find work, and before he was 10 he had lived in Winnipeg and Bridgeport, Conn. There, he contracted polio, which left him with a condition known as post-polio syndrome, characterized by muscle weakness and fatigue.

The family later settled in Baltimore, where Leonard graduated from high school. His father, Isaac, taught Jewish studies at Baltimore Hebrew College (now Baltimore Hebrew Institute), and his mother, the former Chaya Wertheim, taught in Baltimore schools.

Mr. Fein graduated from the University of Chicago, spent a year in Israel and then resumed his studies, earning a Ph.D. in political science from Michigan State. He taught in the political science department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later taught Jewish studies at Brandeis.

He was married and divorced twice. In addition to his brother, he is survived by two daughters, Rachel and Jessie, and five grandchildren. A third daughter, Nomi, died in 1996. Mr. Fein wrote about her in a 2001 book, “Against the Dying of the Light: A Parent’s Story of Love, Loss and Hope.”

His other books include “Where Are We? The Inner Life of America’s Jews” (1970).

In the late 1990s, after President Bill Clinton declared that it should be a national goal to have every American child able to read by fourth grade, Mr. Fein founded the National Jewish Coalition for Literacy, a network of organizations that provide volunteer tutors in schools. The coalition, which began with a pilot program in Boston in 1997, operates in 47 communities and has recruited about 12,000 tutors.

“Leibel was a pioneer of American Jewish sociology, and in the application of social scientific research to improving the conditions of the American Jewish community in various ways,” a friend, Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, said in an interview. “His feeling for his people was vast. He insisted that certain Jewish teachings about social justice and social equality be put into practice, as regards the community’s policies towards its poor.

“He was an impenitent dove,” Mr. Wieseltier added. “He knew Israel very well, and his concern for its security was profound, and his belief in territorial compromise for the sake of both Israel and the Palestinians was equally profound. We disagreed on some things, but he was a joy to disagree with. He was a state-of-the-art mensch.”

All the Ramones are dead and I am old. | marniere

All the Ramones are dead and I am old. | marniere.

All the Ramones are dead and I am old.

All the Ramones are dead and I am old.
Can you guess which of those two items made the news?
My bottle rocket’s grounded, ashed over and cold,

not hot like when I aimed it at a friend,
both of us drunk, young wildness on the loose.
All the Ramones are dead and I am old

enough to have liked them before they were old,
when they were hot, when they were cool,
not like a bottle rocket on the ground, ashed over and cold,

but cool like benzodiazepines. All my bold
endeavors seem dangerous now. I’m blue.
All the Ramones are dead and I am old.

One time a friend dressed up as Joey Ramone,
but he looked like Emo Phillips, to tell the truth.
My bottle rocket’s grounded, ashed over and cold,

but I might have a little firepower left in my head.
I’m anxious to figure out what I can do
because the Ramones are dead and I am old,
with only a bottle rocket, ashed over and cold.

Chicago Trib: Elite accounting tactics cut Rauner’s tax tab

If you believe Bruce had no idea Stu Levine was getting paid off and no idea what Stu Levine was doing with that money, I guess it’s no surprise that he’s not exactly sure where his losses came from. That doesn’t translate well into transforming the financial woes of Illinois.

www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/elections/ct-bruce-rauner-income-tax-breaks-met-20140702,0,209825.story

Elite accounting tactics cut Rauner’s tax tab

Returns show GOP hopeful used fee waivers — a strategy now under IRS scrutiny — to pay much less than top bracket’s rate

By Jeff Coen and Bob Secter, Tribune reporters

12:04 AM CDT, July 2, 2014

Advertisement

IRS data show Bruce Rauner to be one of the 11,000 richest tax filers in the nation, but most of the millions he made in recent years was taxed at 15 percent — less than half the top federal rate for the wealthy, a review of tax documents released by the GOP governor hopeful shows.

One reason behind that sharp discount is that Rauner took advantage of a strategy that yielded big tax savings on his share of investment fees paid to his private equity firm, GTCR. That strategy is allowed under tax rules but has come under IRS scrutiny.

An analysis of the limited records Rauner has released, conducted by the Tribune in consultation with tax experts, gives the fullest picture yet of the steps he took to trim his tax bill. In ways both big and small, the Republican businessman’s financial profile is one driven by tax-reducing strategies often out of reach for those of more modest means:

•Rauner’s campaign is built around his resounding success at the helm of GTCR, through which he earned millions of dollars a year. But a major portion of that money was reported to the IRS as capital gains taxed at a preferential 15 percent, including money from so-called management fee waivers used by many private equity firms to reduce tax bills for key partners.

•For three years, Rauner reported little regular business income, the tax category that includes partnership earnings and is subject to a top tax rate of 35 percent. Instead he claimed losses of $3.1 million in 2011 and $12.7 million the year before.

•Complicated tax rules related to those business income losses freed Rauner from paying any Social Security or Medicare taxes in 2010 and 2011, despite his reporting healthy earnings in other income categories and listing a combined adjusted gross income for those years of about $55 million.

•In 2012, Rauner claimed an additional $53 million in adjusted gross income, bringing his total for three years to $108 million and easily placing him in the top federal tax bracket of 35 percent then in effect. Tax breaks, however, reduced his effective tax rate for those years to slightly more than 19 percent, about the same rate paid by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, whom Rauner is trying to unseat.

Rauner’s combined federal tax bill was $20.7 million from 2010 through 2012. Quinn’s, according to his tax returns for those years, totaled about $106,600 on income of about $568,000, giving the governor an effective tax rate of 18.8 percent.

Likely the wealthiest office seeker in Illinois history, Rauner has used more than $6 million of a personal fortune he pegs at more than $500 million to substantially bankroll his campaign for governor. Yet Rauner has offered voters only a narrow glimpse into his personal finances, releasing three years of basic tax forms without the kind of detailed, supporting documentation such as schedules that many other candidates often make public.

Experts say the limited nature of his tax disclosure makes it difficult to draw a complete financial picture of Rauner, and the candidate himself has been reluctant to fill in many of the gaps.

In a Tribune interview focused on his taxes, Rauner said his returns “very carefully” adhered to the tax code and that he paid everything owed. At the same time, he said he could not recall some details surrounding losses he claimed and deductions he took.

“My income is based upon a whole lot of things. It’s capital gains through carried interest. It’s through management fees I get across all the funds,” said Rauner, who characterized his earnings as “lumpy” because they fluctuated widely from year to year.

“I’ve been a very large owner in every GTCR fund over 32 years. I also have other personal investments, some of which generate ordinary income of various types, some of which generate capital gains, some of which generate interest income,” Rauner said. “Breaking apart all that detail is hard to do.”

Central to Rauner’s campaign is his financial success, which he argues is proof of the kind of leadership savvy needed to turn around a financially ailing state. But that approach comes against the backdrop of a broad national argument over the meaning of an ever-widening gap between incomes of the wealthy that keep growing and those of the middle class that have been stagnant for years.

That debate led to political headaches in 2012 for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, then the Republican presidential nominee.

And there are significant parallels between Romney and Rauner, both of whom made fortunes at the helm of private equity firms. During his campaign, Romney released two years worth of voluminous tax returns that provided considerable fodder for critics who argued that he took ample advantage of tax code loopholes favoring the wealthy.

While Romney released more than 700 pages of returns and schedules, Rauner’s financial disclosures have been much less extensive.

The campaign of the Illinois Republican has released copies of the two-page 1040 tax forms filed jointly by Rauner and his wife, Diana, for 2010, 2011 and 2012without any accompanying documents. The candidate sought an extension on filing his 2013 tax returns and has yet to submit them, a spokesman said.

In 2012, the intense focus on Romney’s wealth and taxes spilled over into the business practices of his old firm, Bain Capital, which was found to have engaged in the same sort of fee waivers that have helped Rauner lower his taxes. Since then, the practice has attracted the attention of the IRS, with a top attorney for the tax agency disclosing at a legal conference in Chicago last year that it has begun looking into the broad use of the strategy across the private equity industry.

“We don’t like what we see in all cases,” the IRS attorney, Clifford Warren, was quoted as saying by several tax industry trade publications.

Experts say most large private equity firms have employed the strategy, some more aggressively than others.

Private equity firms make money for their partners in a variety of ways. Most, including GTCR, take a 20 percent cut of earnings from the large investment pools they oversee — revenue referred to as “carried interest” but treated as preferentially taxed capital gains. To encourage investment, federal tax law has long conferred special low tax rates on such investment profits.

Another lucrative source of equity firm revenue is management fees, essentially charges for the service of overseeing investments. Most equity firms levy a 2 percent annual charge on the assets they manage for clients, but Rauner has said the GTCR charge is 1.5 percent.

Service fees charged by most professionals, be they money managers or plumbers, are typically considered regular income and subject to taxation at the top of whatever tax bracket the individual qualifies for under the federal progressive tax system, tax experts said. In Rauner’s case, that was 35 percent through 2012.

At its core, the fee waiver strategy is an accounting maneuver that blurs the line between management fees charged by equity firms like GTCR to manage funds for investors and profits generated by the firms’ investments in the funds they manage.

In short, equity firms technically waive collecting on millions of dollars of management fees they are owed, but that hardly means they forgo the value of those fees. Instead, that gets reflected as a stake in the very investments they manage.

When the investment fund turns a profit, often within months, the equity firm receives the cash value of the waived fees and distributes that among its partners.

All that maneuvering might sound esoteric, but it carries profound tax consequences. Tax rates changed in 2013, but before that it meant the difference between paying a 35 percent rate on fee income or a 15 percent rate on investment income.

Put another way, for every $10 million in management fees an equity firm waived, it could save its partners $2 million in taxes.

“It’s a technique that is entirely tax-driven,” said Victor Fleischer, a professor who teaches tax law at the University of San Diego and has written extensively about fee waivers. “There’s no business motivation behind it.”

Brian Krob, a corporate lawyer for the Chicago firm of Ungaretti & Harris, said equity firms began charging management fees years ago to cover administrative costs of overseeing huge pools of money. But as the industry exploded in size a decade ago, he said, the income from fees greatly outpaced the costs of running the funds.

With that, the fees became profit centers in their own right for equity firms, which quickly began devising creative ways to minimize the tax consequences, Krob said.

For years, Rauner said, GTCR had relied on a traditional fee structure as it organized a series of investment funds. Clients paid management fees to GTCR, which then distributed the money among Rauner and his partners, who then were taxed on that income at top rates, he said.

That changed in 2009, he recalled, when the firm was organizing a new investment pool, known by Roman numeral as Fund X, that grew to more than $3.7 billion. At that size, the fund could generate more than $56 million annually in management fees for GTCR.

This time the partners opted to forgo taking fees in cash and instead use fee waivers, Rauner recalled, adding that he was hesitant about the strategy but acquiesced to the wishes of other partners. For one thing, he said, the approach required more paperwork.

Rauner said tax consequences were only one of many considerations weighed. “The tax element is one of the factors,” he said. “It’s all about trading off less certainty for more upside. If you really, really hit it out of the park you can make more money from carried interest just from raw performance. But there’s less certainty to it.”

Critics, however, contend the strategy involves little risk because equity firms like GTCR, as managers of the investment pools, can be paid the cash value of fees as soon as there is a profit.

“It’s a total tax game. There is no nontax reason for it,” said Gregg Polsky, formerly a professor in residence at the IRS who now teaches at the University of North Carolina School of Law. “In reality, everyone knows that. It creates the appearance of risk to try and get a tax result.”

Polsky said equity firms are at the controls of the investment funds they manage. He said the only scenario that could prevent them from recouping waived fee revenue is if a fund lost money from start to finish without a single profitable quarter.

“If hell freezes over, they might not get their 2 percent, but that’s not going to happen,” Polsky said.

Rebecca Wilkins, an expert on fee waivers with the Washington-based Citizens for Tax Justice, said the maneuver gives private equity partners a tax edge over even CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Those executives, she noted, may be paid millions of dollars in salary, bonuses and stock options, but those are earnings on which they typically are taxed at the highest rates.

“By taking their compensation in this way, they are avoiding ordinary income tax rates, which were 35 percent at the time, plus Social Security and Medicare taxes,” she said.

For most wage earners, those so-called payroll taxes are deducted directly from paychecks. But Rauner said he hasn’t taken a regular salary since the early 1980s.

For business executives like Rauner, the IRS provides an alternative method for paying Social Security and Medicare taxes called the self-employment tax.

Rauner’s tax returns report a payment of $15,777 of self-employment tax in 2012 but no payments in 2010 or 2011. He said he and his wife didn’t owe the tax in those two years because it is applied to only certain types of income — in his case the category that showed multimillion-dollar losses in regular business income.

That is not to say that Rauner did not report making millions of dollars off GTCR and other enterprises, but his tax returns spread it among a variety of income categories and it is impossible to determine why he declared such big losses in one of those without the supporting tax documents Rauner declines to release.

Asked to explain those losses, Rauner said he couldn’t recall details but speculated that a portion was likely connected with large ranching operations he owns in Montana and Wyoming. “Some of it’s farm and ranch income or losses,” he said. “That goes up and down year to year. Some of it’s operating losses from other investments that I have made.”

Despite owing no payroll taxes for two years, Rauner at the same time did remit what are known as household employment taxes, his returns show. Those are tax withholdings deducted from the pay of two personal assistants to cover their Social Security and Medicare taxes, among other things.

Rauner said he would not be releasing additional tax documents beyond the 1040s he had made public. The experts consulted by the Tribune said such broader disclosure would almost certainly shed light on the business losses he claimed as well as other strategies used to minimize Rauner’s tax bill.

“Obviously, in virtually every year the vast bulk of my income is capital gains, because that’s where my assets go, to purchase equities, ownership in both business and real estate,” Rauner said.

He said his returns show large variations from year to year in interest income, self-employment income and other categories.

“Some of those categories of income are susceptible or part of the Social Security, Medicare taxation system and some of those sources of income are not. But some of those sources of income are positive in some years and losses in some years. That’s just the nature of the business.”

jcoen@tribune.com

bsecter@tribune.com

President Obama’s remarks on the economy, Minneapolis, MN

Having been accused repeatedly of being a mindless fanboy/shill for our lame duck President, I decided to take 30 seconds away from my normal focus: upcoming elections (not re-fighting elections already won, but, hey, if the Prez is such a big stupid head why did you lose to him twice, wingnuts? Cuz we Dems are so so much dumber we didn’t see the golden opportunity for electing two GOP nominees that were pretty well disliked by their own party HOW COULD WE NOT SEE THE APPEAL WE SO SO DUMB MINDLESS LIBTARD PEOPLE!!!!!!!) so here you go, wingnuts. Eat it.

President Obama’s remarks on the economy, Minneapolis, MN.

Fri Jun 27, 2014 at 10:36 AM PDT

President Obama’s remarks on the economy, Minneapolis, MN

by Transcripts EditorsFollow for Transcripts and Documents

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
______________________
For Immediate Release                             June 27, 2014
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON THE ECONOMY
Lake Harriet Band Shell
Minneapolis, Minnesota
 

 

 

10:15 A.M.CDTTHE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Minneapolis!  (Applause.)  How is everybody doing today?  You look good.  (Applause.)  It is good to see all of you.  I miss Minneapolis.  I missed you guys.  Go ahead and have a seat, I’m goingto be talking for a while.  (Laughter.)So we’ve got some wonderful folks here today.  I want to acknowledge a few of them.  First of all, your outstanding Governor, Mark Dayton.  (Applause.)  Your wonderful senators, Al Franken and AmyKlobuchar.  (Applause.)  Congressman Keith Ellison.  (Applause.)  Your Mayor, Betsy Hodges.  (Applause.)  And all of you are here, and that’s special.I want to thank Rebekah for not just the introduction and for sharing her story, but for letting me hang out with her and her family for the last couple of days.  I really like her.  (Laughter.)  And her husband is like the husband of the year.  Generally, you don’t want your wife to meet Rebekah’s husband, because she’ll be like, well, why don’t you do that?  (Laughter.)  Why aren’t you like that?

I’ve been wanting to visit a place where all the women are strong and the men are good-looking, and the children above average.  (Applause.)  And this clearly is an example of what Minnesota produces.  So yesterday, Rebekah and I had lunch at Matt’s Bar, had a “Jucy Lucy” — (applause) — which was quite tasty.  We had a town hall at Minnehaha Park, although I did not take a kayak over the falls, which seemed dangerous.  (Laughter.)  We got ice cream at Grand Ole Creamery — very good, very tasty.

And then this morning, Al Franken and I and Secretary Tom Perez, our Secretary of Labor who’s here — Tom, stand up — (applause) — we stopped by a community organization that helps with a lot of job programs and job placement programs.  And this program in particular was focused on young moms.  It was really interesting talking to them, because there are teenage mothers, 16 to 18, and it was a great pleasure for me to be able to say to all of them that my mom was a teenage mom, and she was 18 when she had me — and to be able to say to all of them that here in this country, it is possible for the child of a teenage mom, a single mom, to end up being President of the United States.  (Applause.)  And I think that it maybe gave them something to think about.

So you guys have been great hosts, Minnesota.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Thank you!

THE PRESIDENT:  You’re welcome.  (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you!

THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back.  (Laughter and applause.)

So I want to give you a sense of how this visit came up.  As some of you know, every day we get tens of thousands of correspondence at the White House.  And we have a big correspondence office, and every night the folks who manage the correspondence office select 10 letters for me to read.

And the job of these letters is not to just puff me up — so it’s not like they only send me letters saying, Mr. President, you’re doing great.  (Laughter.)  Sometimes the letters say thank you for something I may have done.  Sometimes the letters say, you are an idiot and the worst President ever.  (Laughter.)  And most of the stories, though, are stories of hardship, or hard-won success, or hopes that haven’t been met yet.  Some appreciate a position that I may have taken; some disagree with what I’m doing.  Some consider policies like the Affordable Care Act to be socialism; some tell stories about the difference that same policy may have made in folks’ lives.

So I’m getting a good sample of what’s happening around the country.  And last month, three young girls wrote to me that boys aren’t fair because they don’t pass the ball in gym class.  (Laughter.)  So there’s a wide spectrum — and I’m going to prepare an executive order on that.

But the letter that Rebekah sent stood out — first of all, because she’s a good writer, and also because she’s a good person.  And the story that she told me reminded Michelle and I of some of our own experiences when we were Rebekah and her husband’s age.  And in many ways, her story for the past five years is our story, it’s the American story.

In early 2009, Rebekah and Ben, her husband, they were newly married, expecting their first son, Jack.  She was waiting tables, he was in construction.  Like millions of middle-class families who got hammered by the Great Recession — the worst recession since the Great Depression — life was about to get pretty hard.  “If only we had known,” she wrote, “what was about to happen to the housing and construction market.”

Ben’s business dried up.  But as a new husband and dad, he did what he had to, so he took whatever jobs he could, even if it forced him to be away from his family for days at a time.  Rebekah realized she needed to think about how her career would unfold, so she took out student loans and enrolled in St. Paul College, and retrained for a new career as an accountant.

And it’s been a long, hard road for them.  They had to pay off debt.  They had to sacrifice for their kids and for one another.  But then last year, they were able to buy their first home, and they’ve got a second son.  And they love where they work, and Ben’s new job lets him be home for dinner each night.  (Applause.)  And so what Rebekah wrote was, “It’s amazing what you can bounce back from when you have to.  We’re a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”

And that describes the American people.  We, too, are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.  And today, over the past 51 months, our businesses have created 9.4 million new jobs.  Our housing market is rebounding.  Our auto industry is booming.  Our manufacturing sector is adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s.  We’ve made our tax code fairer.  We’ve cut our deficits by more than half.  More than 8 million Americans have signed up for private insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act.  (Applause.)  So here in Minnesota, you can now say that the women are strong, the men are good-looking, the children are above average, and 95 percent of you are insured.  (Applause.)

And it’s thanks to the hard work of citizens like Rebekah and Ben and so many of you that we’ve come farther, we’ve recovered faster than just about any other advanced economy on Earth.  More and more companies are deciding that the world’s number-one place to create jobs and invest is once again the United States of America.  (Applause.)  That’s the good news.  And you don’t hear it very often.

By every economic measure, we are better off now than we were when I took office.  (Applause.)  You wouldn’t know it, but we are.  We’ve made some enormous strides.  But that’s not the end of the story.  We have more work to do.

It wasn’t the end of Rebekah’s story, because she went on to write in her letter, “We did everything right.  The truth is, in America, where two people have done everything they can to succeed and fight back from the brink of financial ruin -– through job loss and retraining, and kids, and credit card debts that are set up to keep you impoverished forever, and the discipline to stop spending any money on yourselves or take a vacation in five years — it’s virtually impossible to live a simple middle-class life.”  That’s what Rebekah wrote.  Because their income is eaten up by childcare for Jack and Henry that costs more each month than their mortgage.  And as I was telling Rebekah — Michelle and I, when we were their age, we had good jobs and we still had to deal with childcare issues and couldn’t figure out how to some months make ends meet.

They forego vacations so they can afford to pay off student loans and save for retirement.  “Our big splurge,” Rebekah wrote, “is cable TV, so we can follow our beloved Minnesota Wild, and watch Team USA in the Olympics!”  (Applause.)  They go out once a week for pizza or a burger.  But they’re not splurging.  And at the end of the month, things are tight.  And this is like this wonderful young couple, with these wonderful kids, who are really working hard.

And the point is, all across this country, there are people just like that, all in this audience.  You’re working hard, you’re doing everything right.  You believe in the American Dream.  You’re not trying to get fabulously wealthy.  You just want a chance to build a decent life for yourselves and your families, but sometimes it feels like the odds are rigged against you.

And I think sometimes what it takes for somebody like Rebekah to sit down and write one of these letters.  And I believe that even when it’s heartbreaking and it’s hard, every single one of those letters is by definition an act of hope.
Because it’s a hope that the system can listen, that somebody is going to hear you; that even when Washington sometimes seems tone deaf to what’s going on in people’s lives and around kitchen tables, that there’s going to be somebody who’s going to stand up for you and your family.

And that’s why I’m here — because I want to let Rebekah know, and I wanted to let all of you know that — because you don’t see it on TV sometimes.  It’s not what the press and the pundits talk about.  I’m here to tell you I’m listening, because you’re the reason I ran for President.  (Applause.)  Because those stories are stories I’ve lived.  The same way that when I saw those young teenage moms, I thought of my mother.  And when I see Rebekah and Ben, I think of our struggles when Malia and Sasha were young.  And they’re not distant from me and everything we do.

I ran for President because I believe this country is at its best when we’re all in it together and when everybody has a fair shot, and everybody is doing their fair share.  (Applause.)  And the reason I believe that is because that’s how I came here.  That’s how I got here.  That’s how Michelle and I were able to succeed.  (Applause.)  And I haven’t forgotten.

And so even though you may not read about it or see it on TV all the time, our agenda, what we’re fighting for every day, is designed not to solve every problem, but to help just a little bit.  To create more good jobs that pay good wages — jobs in manufacturing and construction; energy and innovation.  That’s why we’re fighting to train more workers to fill those jobs.  That’s why we’re fighting to guarantee every child a world-class education, including early childhood education and better childcare.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’re fighting to make sure hard work pays off with a wage you can live on and savings you can retire on, and making sure that women get paid the same as men for the same job, and folks have flexibility to look after a sick child or a sick parent.  (Applause.)

That’s what we’re fighting for.  We’re fighting so everybody has a chance.  We’re fighting to vindicate the idea that no matter who you are, or what you look like, or how you grew up, or who you love, or who your parents were, or what your last name is, it doesn’t matter — America is a place where if you’re doing the right thing, like Ben and Rebekah are, and you’re being responsible and you’re taking care of your family, that you can make it.

And the fact is, we can do that.  If we do some basic things, if we make some basic changes, we can create more jobs and lift more incomes and strengthen the middle class.  And that’s what we should be doing.  And I know it drives you nuts that Washington isn’t doing it.  And it drives me nuts.  (Applause.)  And the reason it’s not getting done is, today, even basic commonsense ideas can’t get through this Congress.

And sometimes I’m supposed to be politic about how I say things — (laughter) — but I’m finding lately that I just want to say what’s on my mind.  (Applause.)  So let me just be clear — I want you think about this — so far this year, Republicans in Congress have blocked or voted down every single serious idea to strengthen the middle class.  You may think I’m exaggerating, but let me go through the list.  They’ve said no to raising the minimum wage.  They’ve said no to fair pay.  Some of them have denied that there’s even a problem, despite the fact that women are getting paid 77 cents for every dollar a man is getting paid.

They’ve said no to extending unemployment insurance for more than three million Americans who are out there looking every single day for a new job, despite the fact that we know it would be good not just for those families who are working hard to try to get back on their feet, but for the economy as a whole.  Rather than invest in working families getting ahead, they actually voted to give another massive tax cut to the wealthiest Americans.

AUDIENCE:  Booo —

THE PRESIDENT:  Don’t boo, by the way.  I want you to vote.  (Laughter and applause.)  I mean, over and over again, they show that they’ll do anything to keep in place systems that really help folks at the top but don’t help you.  And they don’t seem to mind.  And their obstruction is keeping a system that is rigged against families like Ben’s and Rebekah’s.

Now, I’m not saying these are all bad people; they’re not.  When I’m sitting there just talking to them about family, we get along just fine.  Many of them will acknowledge when I talk to them — yes, I know, I wish we could do something more, but I can’t — but they can’t be too friendly towards me because they’d be run out of town by the tea party.  (Laughter.)

But sometimes I get a sense they just don’t know what most folks are going through.  They keep on offering a theory of the economy that time and again failed for the middle class.  They think we should give more tax breaks to those at the top.  They think we should invest less in things like education.  They think we should let big banks, and credit card companies, and polluters, and insurers do only whatever is best for their bottom line without any responsibility to anybody else.  They want to drastically reduce or get rid of the safety net for people trying to work their way into the middle class.
And if we did all these things, they think the economy will thrive and jobs will prosper, and everything will trickle down.

And just because they believe it, it doesn’t mean the rest of us should be believing it — because we’ve tried what they’re peddling, and it doesn’t work.  We know from our history that our economy does not grow from the top down, it grows from the middle out.  We do better when the middle class does better.  We do better when workers are getting a decent salary.  We do better when they’ve got decent benefits.  (Applause.)  We do better when a young family knows that they can get ahead.  And we do better when people who are working hard know that they can count on decent childcare at an affordable cost, and that if they get sick they’re not going to lose their homes.

We do better when if somebody is stuck in a job that is not paying well enough, they know they can go get retrained without taking on huge mountains of debt.  That’s when things hum.  And with just a few changes in priorities, we could get a lot of that done right now if Congress would actually just think about you and not about getting reelected, not about the next election, not about some media sound bite, but just focus on you.  (Applause.)

So that’s why I’ve said, look, I want to work with Democrats and Republicans.  My favorite President, by the way, was the first Republican President — a guy named Abraham Lincoln.  So this is not a statement about partisanship.  This is a statement about America and what we’re fighting for.  And I’m not going to let gridlock and inaction and willful indifference and greed threaten the hard work of families like yours.   And so we can’t afford to wait for Congress right now.  And that’s why I’m going ahead and moving ahead without them wherever I can.  (Applause.)

That’s why I acted to raise more workers’ wages by requiring federal contractors to pay their employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour.  (Applause.)  That’s why I acted to help nearly five million Americans make student loan payments cap those payments at 10 percent of their income.  That’s why I made sure more women have the protections they need to fight for fair pay in the workplace.  (Applause.)  That’s why we went ahead and launched new hubs to attract more high-tech manufacturing jobs to America.

And, now, some of you may have read — so we take these actions and then now Republicans are mad at me for taking these actions.  They’re not doing anything, and then they’re mad that I’m doing something.  I’m not sure which of the things I’ve done they find most offensive, but they’ve decided they’re going to sue me for doing my job.  I mean, I might have said in the heat of the moment during one of these debates, “I want to raise the minimum wage, so sue me when I do.”  (Laughter.)  But I didn’t think they were going to take it literally.

But giving more working Americans a fair shot is not about simply what I can do — it’s about what we can do together.  So when Congress doesn’t act, not only have I acted, I’ve also tried to rally others to help.  I told CEOs, and governors, and mayors, and state legislatures, for example, they don’t have to wait for Congress to raise the minimum wage.  Go ahead and raise your workers’ wages right now.  And since I first asked Congress to raise the minimum wage, 13 states and D.C. have raised theirs, including Minnesota, where more than 450,000 of your neighbors are poised to get a raise.  (Applause.)

When Gap raised wages for its employees, job applications went up through the roof.  It was good for business.  I even got a letter from a proud mom right here in Minneapolis who just wanted me to know that her son starts his employees at $15 an hour, at Aaron’s Green Cleaning here in town.  (Applause.)  There they are!  (Applause.)  So the letter said, “We are very proud of his people-centered business philosophy!  Three cheers for a decent living wage!”

So we don’t have to wait for Congress to do some good stuff.  On Monday, we held the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families, and we heard from a lot of other families like Ben and Rebekah.  They count on policies like paid leave and workplace flexibility to juggle everything.  We had business owners who came and told me they became more profitable when they made family life easier for their employees.

So more companies are deciding that higher wages and workplace flexibility is good for business — it reduces turnover, more productive workers, more loyal workers.  More cities and states are deciding this is good policy for families.  So the only holdout standing in the way of change for tens of millions of Americans are some Republicans in Congress.

Because I just want to be real blunt:  If you watch the news, you just see, okay, Washington is a mess, and the basic attitude is everybody is just crazy up there.  But if you actually read the fine print, it turns out that the things you care about right now Democrats are promoting.  (Applause.)  And we’re just not getting enough help.

And my message to Republicans is:  Join us.  Get on board.  If you’re mad at me for helping people on my own, then why don’t you join me and we’ll do it together?  (Applause.)  We’ll do it together.  I’m happy to share the credit.  You’re mad at me for doing some things to raise the minimum wage, let’s pass a law — Republicans and Democrats giving America a raise.

If you’re mad at me for taking executive action to make it easier for women to find out if they’re not getting treated fairly in the workplace, let’s do it together.  You can share the credit.  (Applause.)  You’re worried about me trying to fix a broken immigration system, let’s hold hands and go ahead and make sure that this country continues to be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.  I want to work with you, but you’ve got to give me something.  You’ve got to try to deliver something — anything.  (Applause.)

They don’t do anything — (laughter) — except block me.  And call me names.  It can’t be that much fun.  (Laughter.)  It’d be so much more fun if they said, you know what, let’s do something together.  If they were more interested in growing the economy for you, and the issues that you’re talking about, instead of trying to mess with me — (laughter) — then we’d be doing a lot better.  That’s what makes this country great, is when we’re all working together.  That’s the American way.

Now more than ever, with the 4th of July next week, Team USA moving on down in Brazil — (applause) — we should try to rally around some economic patriotism that says we rise or fall as one nation and one people.  Let’s rally around the idea that instead of giving tax breaks for millionaires, let’s give more tax breaks for working families to help pay for childcare or college.  (Applause.)

Instead of protecting companies that are shifting profits overseas to avoid paying their fair share, let’s put people to work rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our airports.  (Applause.)  Let’s invest in manufacturing startups so that we’re creating good jobs making products here in America, here in Minnesota.  (Applause.)  Rather than stack the deck in favor of those who have already got an awful lot, let’s help folks who have huge talent and potential and ingenuity but just need a little bit of a hand up so that we can tap the potential of every American.

I mean, this isn’t rocket science.  There are some things that are complicated — this isn’t one of them.  Let’s make sure every 4-year-old in America has access to high school — high-quality preschool — (applause) — so that moms like Rebekah and dads like Ben know their kids are getting the best quality care and getting a head start on life.  Let’s redesign our high schools to make sure that our kids are better prepared for the 21st century economy.  Let’s follow the lead of Senator Franken and Secretary Perez and give more apprenticeships that connect young people to rewarding careers.  (Applause.)

Let’s tell every American if they’ve lost their job because it was shipped overseas, we’re going to train you for an even better one.  (Applause.)  Let’s rally around the patriotism that says our country is stronger when every American can count on affordable health insurance and Medicare and Social Security, and women earn pay equal to their efforts, and family can make ends meet if their kid get sick, and when nobody who works full-time is living in poverty.  We can do all these things.

And so let me just — let me wrap up by saying this.  I know sometimes things get kind of discouraging.  And I know that our politics looks profoundly broken, and Washington looks like it’s never going to deliver for you.  It seems like they’re focused on everything but your concerns.  And I know that when I was elected in 2008 and then reelected in 2012, so many of you were hoping that we could get Washington to work differently, and sometimes when I get stymied you’d think, oh, maybe not; maybe it’s just too tough, maybe things won’t change.  And I get that frustration.  And the critics and the cynics in Washington, they’ve written me off more times than I can count.

But I’m here to tell you, don’t get cynical.  Despite all of the frustrations, America is making progress.  Despite the unyielding opposition, there are families who have health insurance now who didn’t have it before.  And there are students in college who couldn’t afford it before.  And there are workers on the job who didn’t have jobs before.  And there are troops home with their families after serving tour after tour.  (Applause.)  Don’t think that we’re not making progress.

So, yes, it’s easy to be cynical; in fact, these days it’s kind of trendy.  Cynicism passes off for wisdom.  But cynicism doesn’t liberate a continent.  Cynicism doesn’t build a transcontinental railroad.  Cynicism doesn’t send a man to the moon.  Cynicism doesn’t invent the Internet.  Cynicism doesn’t give women the right to vote.  Cynicism doesn’t make sure that people are treated equally regardless of race.

Cynicism is a choice, and hope is a better choice.  And every day I’m lucky to receive thousands of acts of hope — every time somebody sits down and picks up a pen, and writes to me and shares their story, just like Rebekah did.  And Rebekah said in her letter — she ended it, she said, “I’m pretty sure this is a silly thing to do to write a letter to the President, but on some level I know that staying silent about what you see and what needs changing, it never makes any difference.  So I’m writing to you to let you know what it’s like for us out here in the middle of the country, and I hope you will listen.”

And I’m here because Rebekah wrote to me and I want her to know I’m listening.  I’m here as President, because I want you all to know that I’m listening.  (Applause.)  I ran for office to make sure that anybody who is working hard to meet their dreams has somebody in Washington that is listening.  And I’m always going to keep listening.  And I’m always going to keep fighting.  (Applause.)

And your cares and your concerns are my own, and your hopes for your kids and your grandkids are my own.  And I’m always going to be working to restore the American Dream for everybody who’s willing to work for it.  (Applause.)  And I am not going to get cynical; I’m staying hopeful, and I hope you do too.

Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

END               10:50 A.M. CDT