The Professor Got Educated

I wish every voter in the country would read this article. Okay, relatively few will, but I’m convinced she’ll be our next president anyway. From “The Education of Elizabeth Warren” in the New York Times, here’s a much shorter version:

By 1981, Ms. Warren and her husband had secured temporary teaching posts at the University of Texas, where she agreed to teach bankruptcy law. She quickly earned a reputation for lively lectures, putting students on the spot and peppering them with questions and follow-up questions…

Even visitors to her class got the treatment. One of them was Stefan A. Riesenfeld, a renowned bankruptcy professor who had come to lecture on the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978. The law, which had expanded bankruptcy protection for consumers, was already under attack by the credit industry, which argued that it made personal bankruptcy too attractive.

Even so, Mr. Riesenfeld explained to Ms. Warren’s class, those who filed personal bankruptcy were “mostly day laborers and housemaids who had lived at the economic margins and always would,” she wrote in her 2014 memoir.

“I asked the obvious follow-up question: ‘How did he know?’” Ms. Warren wrote. After more questioning, it became clear that not only did Mr. Riesenfeld have no real answer, he was irritated by Ms. Warren’s probing.

The subject struck close to home. When she was growing up in Oklahoma, her father’s heart attack had thrown their household into precarious financial territory, forcing her mother to take a minimum-wage job answering telephones at Sears.

She remembers being fearful as she lay in bed at night listening to her mother cry. “She thought I had gone to sleep. I didn’t know for sure the details of why she was crying, but I knew it was bad and that we could lose everything,” Ms. Warren said.

(Later, the oil glut of the 1980s would destroy her brother David’s once-thriving business delivering supplies to oil rigs. Her brother John, a construction worker, would also struggle after the oil market collapsed….)

She wanted answers, more than Professor Riesenfeld could provide….

Dozens of people would eventually be involved in the … analysis of a quarter million pieces of data gathered from bankruptcy cases filed from 1981 through 1985.

Among the researchers was Kimberly S. Winick, then a University of Texas law student … While Ms. Warren didn’t talk a lot about her views, Ms. Winick said she believed that the project’s initial theory was that, “If you filed bankruptcy, you must be cheating.”

“Liz was from a more conservative place,” Ms. Winick said. “And she was somebody who had worked very, very, very hard all her life. And she had never walked away from a debt. And I think she kind of started with the view — let’s see what people are doing and how they’re cadging on their debts and screwing their creditors.”

That was the conventional thinking of the day….

While the [bankruptcy files] did not tell the whole story, they provided enough evidence for Mr. Warren and her co-authors to write, “Repeatedly, we have been surprised by the data and forced to rethink our own understanding of bankruptcy”.

… Over the years, the research elevated Ms. Warren’s status, from little-known Texas professor to sought-after lecturer, writer and consultant in bankruptcy law. It also set the stage for her career in politics.

In 1995, Mike Synar, a former Democratic congressman from her home state, asked Ms. Warren, by then a Harvard professor, to advise a special commission reviewing the bankruptcy system….

It was during that period, in 1996, that she switched her party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, though she insists that her essential conversion was from “not political” to “political”.

“I didn’t come from a political family,” she said. “I hadn’t been political as an adult. I was raising a family, teaching school and doing my research,” she said.

Then she went to Capitol Hill.

“I quickly discovered that every single Republican was on the side of the banks and half the Democrats were,” she said. “But whenever there was someone who would stand up for working families, it was a Democrat.”

She added, “I picked sides, got in the fight, and I’ve been in the fight ever since”.

merlin_159494604_bb8319a0-292c-4940-9d65-d3e2c6834404-jumboUniversity of Texas, 1985.

An appropriate addendum.

Our Next President

12,000 people showed up on a Monday night in Minneapolis to see Sen. Elizabeth Warren, seven months before the Minnesota primary election. After she spoke, she spent three hours taking selfies with anyone who wanted one. I think it’s time to put the “Nevertheless She Persisted” bumper stickers on the cars.

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Correction:  It was at Macalester College in St. Paul, the other Twin City. Still very impressive, of course.

Facebook, Google, Twitter: You Are “Crime Scenes”

British journalist Carole Cadwalladr has taken fifteen important minutes to explain how the tech giants are damaging democracy.

One excellent point she makes is that these massive corporations refuse to divulge which misleading political advertisements are being directed at which voters, and who is behind those advertisements, and how much money is being spent on them. As a result, the British laws that limit campaign spending and have been in effect for 100 years no longer work, thanks to the “gods of Silicon Valley”. She addresses Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin and others directly:

Liberal democracy is broken. And you broke it. This is not democracy. Spreading lies in darkness paid for with illegal cash from God knows where. It’s subversion. And you are accessories to it.

Of the Democrats seeking the presidency, Senator Elizabeth Warren is the one who has offered a plan to rein in the tech giants. You might consider donating to her campaign.

Meanwhile, give Carole Cadwalladr fifteen minutes of your time. She is worth listening to.

A Clear and Present Danger

The title of this post might have been “Ignoring the Next Six Months – Day 21”, except for two things. Our Presidential election is a little more than five months away and my plan to ignore the campaign has been a complete failure.

In fact, I’ve paid so much attention to the campaign that I haven’t gotten around to doing a few other things, like updating this blog. Instead, I’ve spent a lot of time reading political news and commentary. I’ve left a few of my comments here and there (actually, all of them have been there). I’ve sent a few emails to a New York Times reporter who is assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. For heaven’s sake, I’ve even tweeted (@SomeGuyFromNJ). 

In case you missed it, Donald Trump now has all the delegates he needs to become the Republican nominee for President on the first ballot at their July convention. I’ll repeat that for emphasis: Unless he drops out or drops dead, Donald Trump will be the Republican’s 2016 nominee for President of the United States of America.

That means the question before us is: What should each of us do to stop this person from becoming President?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know this: There is no sense in filling a blog with random thoughts and commentary when we’re this close to a disaster.

For now, I’ll leave you with the photograph at the top of this page, a few words from Senator Elizabeth Warren, and my favorite quote from the past few weeks. First, Senator Warren:

Let’s be honest – Donald Trump is a loser. Count all his failed businesses. See how he kept his father’s empire afloat by cheating people with scams like Trump University and by using strategic corporate bankruptcy (excuse me, bankruptcies) to skip out on debt. Listen to the experts who’ve concluded he’s so bad at business that he might have more money today if he’d put his entire inheritance into an index fund and just left it alone.

Trump seems to know he’s a loser. His embarrassing insecurities are on parade: petty bullying, attacks on women, cheap racism, and flagrant narcissism. But just because Trump is a loser everywhere else doesn’t mean he’ll lose this election. People have been underestimating his campaign for nearly a year – and it’s time to wake up.

People talk about how “this is the most important election” in our lifetime every four years, and it gets stale. But consider what hangs in the balance. Affordable college. Accountability for Wall Street. Healthcare for millions of Americans. The Supreme Court. Big corporations and billionaires paying their fair share of taxes. Expanded Social Security. Investments in infrastructure and medical research and jobs right here in America. The chance to turn our back on the ugliness of hatred, sexism, racism and xenophobia. The chance to be a better people.

More than anyone we’ve seen before come within reach of the presidency, Donald Trump stands ready to tear apart an America that was built on values like decency, community, and concern for our neighbors. Many of history’s worst authoritarians started out as losers – and Trump is a serious threat. The way I see it, it’s our job to make sure he ends this campaign every bit the loser that he started it.

I wouldn’t say that America was only built on values like decency and community. America was also built on greed and inhumanity. Senator Warren would certainly agree. But her main point is unassailable: In the 228 years that we have been holding elections, Trump is the absolute worst person who has ever come this close to becoming President of the United States. The worst ever.

And lastly, a quote from Michael Vlock, a rich Connecticut investor who has given a lot of money to Republican candidates, but who says he won’t support you know who. Why?

He’s an ignorant, amoral, dishonest and manipulative, misogynistic, philandering, hyper-litigious, isolationist, protectionist blowhard…I really believe our republic will survive Hillary.

Vlock left out “narcissistic” and “authoritarian”, but it’s not bad for a Republican.

We Need to Pay Attention, But That’s Not All

Senator Bernie Sanders was in Iowa at Drake University a few weeks ago. This paragraph from an account of his visit caught my eye:

At first it was unclear who the bigger enemy of the people were to Sanders — the Kardashians or the Koch brothers.  The Kardashians, or rather our public fascination with them, represents America’s apathy. Sanders was clear that nothing progressive can happen until people start paying attention.  Sanders told his audience that Americans are getting screwed, and that we had better pay attention and get off our asses.

What the Senator said about paying attention brings to mind one of his colleagues, Senator Elizabeth Warren. The journalist Matthew Yglesias wrote this about her under the heading “What Makes Elizabeth Warren So Great”:

At Janet Yellen’s monetary policy hearing, Warren took aim at the Federal Reserve’s General Counsel, Scott Alvarez. Alvarez is one of the people with the highest importance-to-fame ratios in the whole American government. His existence — to say nothing of his work — is incredibly obscure. But Warren used her considerable celebrity and her dorky charisma to shine a light on it.

And she has a unique knack among today’s elected officials for seizing on things that are languishing in obscurity and making them blow up. The greatest trick the special interests ever played was getting the world to stop paying attention. Warren makes people pay attention, and it’s great.

Senator Warren is terrific. We need more politicians who speak truth to power and are heard when they speak. But Senator Sanders makes a key point in an image on his Facebook page:

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We need to both pay attention and get organized.

Is It Bad Enough Yet? Yes, It Is

“Is It Bad Enough Yet?” That’s a wonderful title for an article by Mark Bittman about where we are today:

The police killing unarmed civilians. Horrifying income inequality. Rotting infrastructure and an unsafe “safety net.” An inability to respond to climate, public health and environmental threats. An occasionally dysfunctional and even cruel government. A sizable segment of the population excluded from work and subject to near-random incarceration.

You get it: This is the United States, which, with the incoming Congress, might actually get worse….

The root of the anger is inequality, about which statistics are mind-boggling: From 2009 to 2012 (that’s the most recent data), some 95 percent of new income has gone to the top 1 percent…

Everything affects everything. It’s all tied together, and the starting place hardly matters: A just and righteous system will have a positive impact on everything we care about, just as an unjust, exploitative system makes everything worse….

When underpaid workers begin their strikes by saying “I can’t breathe,” or by holding their hands over their heads and chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” they’re recognizing that their struggle is the same as that of African-Americans demanding dignity, respect and indeed safety on their own streets….

Increasingly, it seems, there’s an appetite and even unity to take on the billionaire class. Let’s recognize that if we are seeing positive change now, it’s in part because elected officials respond to pressure, and let’s remember that that pressure must be maintained no matter who is in office. Even if Bernie Sanders were to become president, the need for pressure would continue.

“True citizenship,” says [Saru Jayaraman of U.C. Berkeley]— echoing Jefferson — “is people continually protesting.” Precisely.

So warmest congratulations to the fast food workers and Walmart employees demanding a living wage and to the thousands who have marched or stood silently in protest because black lives matter. It’s all connected.

And enough is enough. That’s what Senator Elizabeth Warren said this week. Listen to her talk about Citigroup’s stranglehold on the Federal government and why we need to break up the biggest banks. It’s only 10 minutes and it’s worth watching and sharing.

We can’t directly vote against Walmart or Citigroup, but we can boycott them. Don’t shop at Walmart until they institute a living wage and don’t use a Citigroup credit card or checking account until they’re small enough to fail, because, yes, it is bad enough.