Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Roll Over, Cliven Bundy & Donald Sterling: Doug Glanville Got His Come-Uppance Again!

Race has become the topic du jour, thanks to the scofflaw Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy, and the slumlord owner of the Los Angeles Clippsers of the NBA, Both of these loons spouted virulent racism on either TV or in the social media. Today, this blog features Doug Glanville's account of an encounter with a neighboring community's police officer in the driveway of Glanville's own home. Shades of Henry Louis Gates! What if Glanville had been wearing a hoodie? If this is a (fair & balanced) account of racial attitudes in our time, so be it.

[The Atlantic]
I Was Racially Profiled In My Own Driveway
By Doug Glanville

Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing

created at TagCrowd.com

It was an otherwise ordinary snow day in Hartford, Connecticut, and I was laughing as I headed outside to shovel my driveway. I’d spent the morning scrambling around, trying to stay ahead of my three children’s rising housebound energy, and once my shovel hit the snow, I thought about how my wife had been urging me to buy a snowblower. I hadn’t felt an urgent need. Whenever it got ridiculously blizzard-like, I hired a snow removal service. And on many occasions, I came outside to find that our next door neighbor had already cleared my driveway for me.

Never mind that our neighbor was an empty-nester in his late 60s with a replaced hip, and I was a former professional ballplayer in his early 40s. I kept telling myself I had to permanently flip the script and clear his driveway. But not today. I had to focus on making sure we could get our car out for school the next morning. My wife was at a Black History Month event with our older two kids. The snow had finally stopped coming down and this was my mid-afternoon window of opportunity.

Just as I was good-naturedly turning all this over in my mind, my smile disappeared.

A police officer from West Hartford had pulled up across the street, exited his vehicle, and begun walking in my direction. I noted the strangeness of his being in Hartford—an entirely separate town with its own police force—so I thought he needed help. He approached me with purpose, and then, without any introduction or explanation he asked, “So, you trying to make a few extra bucks, shoveling people’s driveways around here?”

All of my homeowner confidence suddenly seemed like an illusion.

It would have been all too easy to play the “Do you know who I am?” game. My late father was an immigrant from Trinidad who enrolled at Howard University at age 31 and went on to become a psychiatrist. My mother was an important education reformer from the South. I graduated from an Ivy League school with an engineering degree, only to get selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft. I went on to play professionally for nearly 15 years, retiring into business then going on to write a book and a column for The New York Times. Today, I work at ESPN in another American dream job that lets me file my taxes under the description “baseball analyst.”

But I didn't mention any of this to the officer. I tried to take his question at face value, explaining that the Old Tudor house behind me was my own. The more I talked, the more senseless it seemed that I was even answering the question. But I knew I wouldn’t be smiling anymore that day.

After a few minutes, he headed back to his vehicle. He offered no apology, just an empty encouragement to enjoy my shoveling. And then he was gone.

***

When I moved my family to Connecticut, no relocation service, or anyone else we consulted for advice, ever mentioned Hartford as a viable option. They offered the usual suggestions for those who passed the prestige and wealth test—towns like West Hartford, Glastonbury, Avon, and Simsbury were presented as prime options. On one occasion, when I was preparing to announce a game, someone at our production meeting asked me where I lived. When I told him it was Hartford, he asked, “Really? Did you lose a bet?”

My family could have comfortably afforded a home in West Hartford. My wife is an attorney who graduated from two Ivy League schools. After getting her legal chops in the Philadelphia public defender’s office, she worked at the Chicago law firm where Barack Obama started his legal career. As we painstakingly considered where to live, my wife fielded off-putting warnings about Hartford from well-meaning friends: “You know what they say when you cross the line...”

But we settled on the capital city of Hartford for the cultural experience. Connecticut is one of the most polarized states in the country—as people simplistically put it, “poor black and brown cities surrounded by wealthy white suburbs.” Our decision was not based on the features advisors kept mentioning—shopping centers and malls, or nice homes and “good schools.” It was about a certain kind of civic responsibility and, quite frankly, about making sure our kids saw other people who looked like them.

Our street is one block from the West Hartford border, and our Hartford neighbors make up a sort of Who’s Who of political and legal leaders. The mayor lives behind us, the Connecticut governor’s house is up the street, and a state senator lives two doors down. As soon as I told my wife what had happened, she sent the senator a furious email under the subject line “Shoveling While Black”:

Doug just got detained by West Hartford Police in front of our house while shoveling our driveway, questioning him about asking to be paid for shoveling. The officer left when Doug told him that it was his house. There were several other people on our street out in front of their houses shoveling snow at the same time. None of them were stopped for questioning. Just wanted to vent to someone whom we know cares and would be equally outraged.

Before I could even digest what happened, my wife's email had set a machine in motion. A diverse swatch of Hartford influentials banded together to assess the situation, including the chief of police, local attorneys, and security officers from the neighborhood civic association. Within a couple of hours, I had outlined my version of events to the Hartford police department’s internal affairs department. Most told me that I just had to decide how far I wanted to take my complaint.

Our next door neighbor (the one with the snowblower) helped my wife and me sort out the facts and figure out our options. He has a legal resume that covers a wide range of jurisprudence, from parking authorities to boards of African American–centric charter schools. He was in our living room within an hour.

The first step was to articulate exactly what the West Hartford officer had done. He'd been outside his jurisdiction—the representative from internal affairs had confirmed this. That meant a police officer from another town had come to my house, approached me while I was shoveling my own driveway, and—without any introduction—asked me a very presumptuous question.

All of this had put me in an extremely vulnerable situation. In one moment, I went from being an ordinary father and husband, carrying out a simple household chore, to a suspect offering a defense. The inquiry had forced me to check my tone, to avoid sounding smug even when I was stating the obvious: that I was shoveling the driveway because the house belonged to me.

Many people I spoke with brought up Henry Louis Gates, the noted Harvard scholar who was arrested for breaking into his own home. If I hadn’t been careful and deferential—if I’d expressed any kind of justifiable outrage—I couldn’t have been sure of the officer’s next question, or his next move. But the problem went even deeper than that. I found myself thinking of the many times I had hired a man who looked like me to shovel my driveway. Would the officer have been any more justified in questioning that man without offering an explanation? I also couldn’t help projecting into the future and imagining my son as a teenager, shoveling our driveway in my place. How could I be sure he would have responded to the officer in the same conciliatory way?

As offended as I’d been, the worst part was trying to explain the incident to my kids. When I called my wife to tell her what had happened, she was on her way home from the Black History Month event, and my son heard her end of the conversation. Right away, he wanted to know whether I’d been arrested. My 4-year-old daughter couldn’t understand why a police officer would “hurt Daddy’s feelings.” I didn’t want to make my children fear the police. I also wasn’t ready to talk to them about stop-and-frisk policies, or the value judgments people put on race.

Until that moment, skin colors had been little more than adjectives to my kids. Some members of our family have bronze or latte skin; others are caramel-colored or dark brown. Our eldest and “lightest-skinned” daughter had at times matter-of-factly described her brother and me as “brown” and herself as “white.” But that night, my wife made it painfully simple. “We are black,” she explained. “All of us.”

***

After getting legal advice from my neighbor and my wife, I ruled out any immediate action. In fact, I was hesitant to impulsively share my story with anyone I knew, let alone my media friends at ESPN or The New York Times. I hoped to have a meaningful, productive conversation with West Hartford leaders—something that might be hard to achieve if my story turned into a high-profile controversy. Instead, I asked my neighbor to help me arrange a meeting with the West Hartford officials. When I arrived at Town Hall, I was flanked by my neighbor and my wife. They came as supporters, but it helped that they were also attorneys.

I soon learned that West Hartford had an ordinance that prohibits door-to-door solicitation. A man whom I allegedly resembled had broken this ordinance. Someone in West Hartford had called the police, and a young officer, believing he was doing his duty, had pursued the complaint to my street. Our block would have been the first stop for the wayward shoveler if he had entered Hartford.

Right away, I noted that the whole thing had been a lot of effort over shoveling. The West Hartford ordinance allowed its residents to call in violations at their own discretion—in effect, letting them decide who belonged in the neighborhood and who did not. That was a problem in itself, but it also put the police in a challenging position. They had to find a way to enforce the problem in a racially neutral way, even if they were receiving complaints only on a small subsection of violators. In my case, the officer had not only spoken to me without respect but had crossed over into a city where West Hartford’s ordinance didn’t even apply.

But as we spoke, I found myself thinking of the people who have to deal with far more extreme versions of racial profiling on a regular basis and don’t have the ability to convene meetings at Town Hall. As an article in the April issue of The Atlantic points out, these practices have “side effects.” They may help police find illegal drugs and guns, but they also disenfranchise untold numbers of people, making them feel like suspects … all of the time.

In reaching out for understanding, I learned that there is a monumental wall separating these towns. It is built with the bricks of policy, barbed by racially charged anecdotes, and cemented by a fierce suburban protectionism that works to safeguard a certain way of life. The mayor of West Hartford assured me that he championed efforts to diversify his town, and the chief of police told me he is active in Connecticut’s statewide Racial and Ethnic Disparity Commission in the Criminal Justice System. (He later published a response to this article in The Hartford Courant.) I hope their continued efforts can help traverse this class- and race-based barrier, which unfortunately grows even more impenetrable with experiences such as mine.

***

When my mother heard the story of the West Hartford policeman, she responded with wry humor: “You got your come-uppance again.” I knew exactly what she meant. If you are the president, or a retired professional athlete, it can be all too easy to feel protected from everyday indignities. But America doesn’t let any of us deny our connection to the black “everyman.” And unfortunately that connection, which should be a welcome one, can be forced upon us in a way that undermines our self-esteem, our collective responsibility, and our sense of family and history.

In a sense, the shoveling incident was a painful reminder of something I’ve always known: My biggest challenge as a father will be to help my kids navigate a world where being black is both a source of pride and a reason for caution. I want them to have respect for the police, but also a healthy fear—at least as long as racial profiling continues to be an element of law enforcement. But I also want them to go into the world with a firm sense of their own self-worth.

After talking to my own mother, I found myself thinking back to something that happened at summer camp when I was 5 years old, my son’s age now. During one exercise, we were asked to form a circle, and the boy next to me recoiled, saying, “I don’t hold hands with darkies!” I could have felt humiliated, but I just shrugged the whole thing off. It seemed obvious that he had the problem, not me.

My parents had instilled this confidence in me since birth. They’d given me pride in my ancestry and raised me in Teaneck, New Jersey, a diverse community whose school district was the first in the nation to voluntarily integrate. I’d grown up seeing all kinds of people treat each other with a respect that transcended race, religion, class, and every other social or demographic construct.

That upbringing is what enabled me to deal with this incident in a slow, communicative, and methodical way. And it now allows me to see the potential in the officer who approached me. He’s still young, and one day he could become a leading advocate for unbiased policing practices. But I wish he would sit down with my kids and answer their questions. That might help him understand how hard it is to be a father—let alone a father in a black family. And I’d like him to know how much my children—and all children—expect from the officers trained to protect them. At the end of all my conversations with my kids, there were many things they still didn’t understand. But my 5-year-old son reassured me: “That’s okay, Dad. I still want to be a police officer.” Ω

[Douglas Metunwa Glanville is a former professional outfielder who played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers, and the Chicago Cubs. In 2005, with no immediate prospects of joining a major league roster, Glanville signed a one-day minor league contract with Philadelphia, then retired, having collected exactly 1100 career hits. He stated he wanted to leave baseball wearing the uniform of the team that he grew up a fan of, and to which he gave most of his playing career. Glanville flashed a bat in 1999 as he batted .325, and placed second in the league to Luis Gonzalez in hits, with 204, never to hit that well again. But he's always been known for his defense as one of the best outfielders in the National League. He is the author of the book The Game From Where I Stand: A Ballplayer's Inside View (2010). Glanville graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in systems engineering. He is one of only five Penn alumni to play in Major League Baseball since 1951.]

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Remember This: Folks In Texas Eat Chili (Current State Dish) But They Care About Barbecue!

This blogger is trying to control his salivary glands as he slaves over a hot keyboard before posting an article on Texas 'cue. The salute to Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, TX, took this blogger by complete surprise. One bit of important trivia: the family surname is pronouned "Mel-ler," not "Mule-ler." Source: Louie Mueller's granddaughter, LeAnn Mueller, who is co-owner of LA Barbecue in Austin. If this is a (fair & balanced) "Texas Toast" to smoked meat in Texas, so be it.

[Daily Beast]
The Texas Church Of Beef
By Jane & Michael Stern

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BBQ aficionados know the real finger lickin’ loins come from the Lone Star State, but the best of the best can be found at Louie Mueller, which has been smokin’ and grilling since 1949.

How succulent can beef be? The answer is found in the barbecue belt of central Texas, a wedge of prairie east of I-35 and north of I-10 where brisket, prime rib, and sausage are cooked in the haze of oak smoke so slowly that, in effect, they baste themselves. Not much fat drips out: the heat is low enough that it cooks in. The fibers of the meat absorb all the flavor, giving the beef tremendous heft. Even the dark-crusted rim of brisket fairly drips with protein potency, while the outer, less pink circumference of a slice of prime rib radiates the earthy perfume of burning wood.

The word primitive does not do justice to the elemental nature of dining in one of the great barbecue parlors of this region. Originally evolved early in the 20th century when butchers decided to smoke unsold and unwanted cuts of beef and serve them at makeshift tables in the back rooms of their meat markets, Texas barbecues are secret-seeming places where amenities are minimal. Best of them all is Louie Mueller of Taylor, Texas, which began as a grocery store in 1936, started barbecuing beef in 1949, and moved to its current location in 1959. A new dining area has since been added, but the old space is still in use, and to a devotee of barbecue, simply being in it is a religious experience. The peeling-paint walls of the big hall (which once served as a gymnasium) have been exposed to smoke for so long that they have become the color of tobacco; the room is so dark that it appears to be lit by candles. At the back is the counter where you step up to order your food. Behind the counter is the pit, perfuming the room (and your clothes) with the swirling, come-hither scent of beef and smoke.

Brisket is the star of the show. It is sold by the pound, cut to order, and presented not on a plate but on a sheet of butcher paper. Utensils are available, but BBQ acolytes don't use them. There is something downright arousing about eating with one's hands. Pulling bite-size pieces off each slice is an easy task; and the sensuous feel of warm beef juices only adds to the joy of a meal. Perhaps "meal" is too grand a word, because dining here is all about the meat; everything else is, at best, a supporting player. Many customers like slices of crisp raw onion and puckery pickle chips on the side—a sharp, welcome contrast to the tender luxury of the meat—and it is possible to have pinto beans, potato salad, cole slaw, or a baked potato on the side; but all these fade into the background. Even sauce is extraneous. It's a thin dip, and a nice complement to the meat; but this beef is juicy enough and full-flavored enough that it needs nothing in the way of adornment.

The meat menu also includes slow-smoked pork tenderloin, turkey breast, and three kinds of rib (beef, baby back, spare); but the must-eat item, after brisket, is sausage. Peppered, coarse-ground beef is packed into pork gut that is porous enough to suck in flavor of burning wood as it cooks, but so impenetrable that no juice leaks out. Whereas Texas brisket and mutton laze on the grate in the pit for hours, link and ring sausages swell up fast as the flue on one end of the pit draws smoke from fire at the other, maintaining a temperature of about 250 degrees. When they are done, the casing has transformed from translucent membrane into chewy, wrinkled coat. They quite literally burst with juice when the coat is severed; but there are some connoisseurs who prefer their links extra well done and ask the pitmaster for those that have been on the grate the longest. They sport a leathery, crackle-textured skin and glow with salt-and-pepper zest. Some juice spills out when one is sliced or bitten, but it isn't nearly as plump and oozy as a traditional link. Sublime as the juicy links are, there is something to be said for these well-done sausages, known to pit men as dry links, because so much fat has been rendered out of them. Extra time on the grate diminishes the wanton hedonism of the sausage and concentrates its flavor into an edible epigram of beef, pepper, and smoke.

Louie Mueller handed the reins of the business to his son, Bobby, in 1974, and today it is run by Bobby's son, Wayne. If all Wayne did was uphold the unique legacy of Texas barbecue and preserve the family restaurant as a national treasure, we would be deeply grateful. But he has done more than maintain one of this nation's culinary glories. He has given it new life. And we don't just refer to the spectacular 18-foot rolling pit that he trucks to food events around the country to let non-Texans know just how good Lone Star barbecue can be. Wayne has infused the whole operation with a spirit of joy and dedication that is stealth seasoning no one can duplicate. Shortly after his father, Bobby, passed away in 2008, Wayne responded to worries that the restaurant would change by saying, "The focus is consistency—if it weren't, I have no doubt my father would reach across the inter-dimensional plane and smack me a good one!" Ω

[Jane and Michael Stern have written more than forty books and are weekly guests on Public Radio's award-winning "The Splendid Table." Their website, Roadfood.com, pioneered internet food reporting and photography. They were monthly columnists for Gourmet magazine for 17 years and currently are contributing editors of Saveur magazine and regularly write for Parade. Jane Grossman Stern received a BFA (graphic design) from Pratt Institute as well as an MFA (painting) from Yale University. Michael Stern received a BA from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor as well as an MFA (film) from Columbia University.]

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Fone Fun!

Today, Tom Tomorrow examines the mania o'the day: cell phones and the social media. This blogger was a FaceDork subscriber for a brief time (until this blogger saw "The Social Network" [written by Aaron Sorkin] in 2010). Upon returning home from the cinema, this blogger sent an unsubscribe order to FaceDork. Gone, never to return. Full disclosure, this blogger has a cellphone (an old-school clamshell model from Samsung), but it is used only in extremis. The only device that this blogger peers at is his Kindle Paperwhite and taps the screen to turn the page. That's it, over and out. If this is (fair & balanced) semi-Luddism, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
Lab Rats
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political weblog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. Earlier this year, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning.]

Copyright © 2014 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)



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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Gun Talk

The man who coined the phrase, "baby boomer generation," provides a lexicography of firearms metaphors that have become standard catchphrases by 2014. If this is (fair & balanced) verbal ballistics, so be it.

[x DC Fishwrap]
Loaded Language
By Landon Y. Jones

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Sometimes it’s the offhand remark that’s the most telling. Indeed, the way we Americans casually, often unthinkingly, incorporate gun metaphors into our everyday slang says a lot about how deeply embedded guns are in our culture and our politics, and how difficult it is to control or extract them. Consider this list, presented as bullet points — which are themselves so conventional, so central to the typography of mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations, that you can forget what their shape represents.

● Bite the bullet: Meaning to power through something unpleasant, the term comes from the practice of providing wounded soldiers a bullet to clench their teeth on while they underwent surgery without anesthetic. British writer Rudyard Kipling is thought to have been the first to use the expression figuratively. His 1891 novel The Light That Failed includes this line: “Bite on the bullet, old man, and don’t let them think you’re afraid.” These days, people are more likely to bite the bullet if they have to accept an unpleasant truth. And politicians are often urged to bite the bullet and compromise — suggesting that coming together to pass legislation is as painful as amputation while fully sentient.

● Fizzle: In the late Middle Ages, “fizzle” was an onomatopoeic word used when someone surreptitiously passed gas. But its modern meaning is more closely associated with guns. For early muzzle-loading flintlock rifles, gunpowder was poured down the barrel, secured with a piece of cloth tamped into place by a ramrod and then ignited by a spark struck from the flint. If it misfired, you had a “fizzle.” So writing about “the great gun-control fizzle” after the Newtown shooting is more freighted than writing that a politician’s prospects have fizzled. See also: “flash in the pan” (when the gunpowder flares but the bullet fails to fire) and “blow your wad” (when you’ve forgotten to load shot before firing the gun, therefore wasting the “wad” of cloth; the phrase only later took on a sexual connotation).

● Hotshot: Washington is full of them: hotshot politicians, hotshot lobbyists, hotshot lawyers, hotshot journalists. There are also the elite hotshot crews who work the fire lines in the American West. Use of the term to suggest confident success — or an overinflated sense of one’s own success — dates to the 1920s. But earlier, a hotshot was understood to be a reckless person, overeager to discharge his weapon. And of course, Washington doesn’t have any people like that. Literally, hotshots were cannonballs warmed in a furnace and designed to set fire to enemy warships or buildings. The metaphor, though, may have more to do with being hotheaded. See also: big shot, big gun, trigger-happy.

● Keep your powder dry: Meaning preserve your resources until you really need them, the phrase relates to the idea that wet gunpowder won’t explode. The 1834 poem “Oliver’s Advice” attributes the line to Oliver Cromwell, who supposedly told his troops as they were preparing to cross a river at the opening of the English civil war: “Put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry.” In February, President Obama used the phrase while meeting with Senate Democrats opposed to expanding international trade. What the president probably had in mind was that the caucus should avoid internal squabbles and get behind the goal of retaining its Senate majority. But as William Safire noted after President Bill Clinton used “keep your powder dry” to encourage bipartisan cooperation, “The phrase keep your powder dry is not limited to ‘stay calm’ but carries an implicit, most ominous threat: ‘and be prepared to blow the enemy’s head off at the propitious moment.’ ”

● Loaded for bear: Meaning prepared for a serious confrontation, it derives from the idea that hunters want the right ammunition for the game they’re going after. On the American frontier, if you were hunting squirrels, a small shot would suffice. But for brown bear, you needed a more powerful charge of powder and a heavier shot. Sarah Palin titled a fundraising video for 2014 candidates “Loaded for Bear” — signaling both her rough-and-ready Alaska roots and her willingness to take on big political fights. The Alaska Fish and Game Department notes, however, that “how accurately you shoot is far more important than the type of rifle, cartridge, and bullet you choose.”

● Offhand remark: A comment made without preparation or premeditation, this term has its origins in “offhand shooting” — firing a rifle quickly, while standing, without using the steadying support of a rest. When preparing for the Lewis and Clark expedition, Meriwether Lewis instructed his riflemen to practice “at the distance of 50 yards offhand.” Last fall, an offhand remark from Secretary of State John Kerry is thought to have led to the Syrian government’s agreement to surrender its chemical weapons. He’d probably like to be known more for his careful diplomacy.

● Potshot: Originally a gunshot fired at an easy target, without regard to style or sportsmanship, in the hope of killing an animal just to fill a cooking pot. Today it suggests opportunistic or unfair criticism — and is standard to the political arsenal, especially during staged political debates. (And when one candidate appears to win the debate handily, we can say he was able to eat his opponent for breakfast.) See also: cheap shot, gotcha, zinger.

● Silver bullet: In folklore across many cultures, a bullet made of silver is the only way to kill a werewolf or devil. The Lone Ranger was armed with them in the 1950s TV show and the 2013 movie. Today, silver bullets are most useful for scorning the idea that there are simple solutions to complicated problems. Condoleezza Rice testified that “there was no silver bullet that could have stopped the 9/11 attack.” Obama resorts to the “no silver bullet” formula so frequently — in the context of job growth, energy, health care — that The Washington Post has called it “a metaphorical dependency that makes you wish somebody could slip him a box or two of the ammo.” Wouldn’t do much good, though. Experiments suggest that silver bullets are slower and less accurate than lead ones.

● Small-bore: Refers to a narrow gun barrel, with room for a bullet of .22 caliber or less. It comes up in politics to describe politicians with narrow outlooks and policy proposals that are trivial or incremental. It’s a perennial criticism of State of the Union addresses packed with line items to please every constituency.

● Snapshot: The hunting term refers to a hurried shot, fired without taking aim, at a moving animal. It’s been used in the context of photographs and of otherwise capturing a moment in time since the 1890s. Today, people often talk about polling providing a snapshot of public opinion. Presumably, though, reputable pollsters use more rigorous methodology than the metaphor implies.

Like many American boys, I spent a good part of my pre-adolescence twirling toy six-shooters, lining up targets in the crosshairs and aiming for the whites of their eyes. I succeeded in outgrowing most of those habits, but the metaphors lingered. These words are at home in our language. I only began to notice how old they are, and how persistently they live on, when working on a biography of William Clark and reading Lewis’s and Clark’s original journals, which show how firearms played a major role in what they did and thought about.

We should be watchful that, while we argue in the front yard about gun-control laws today, the metaphors associated with gun use don’t sneak through the back door. Ω

[Landon Y. Jones is the author of Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation (1980) and William Clark and the Shaping of the West (2004). A long-time Time, Inc. employee, Jones' final post was managing editor of People magazine. He received a BA (English Literature) from Princeton University.]

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Long Road — Not Charming, Bullying, Wheedling & Making Deals — Is The Name O'The Game In A New Century

On April 8-10, 2014, the pharaonic LBJ Library and Museum observed the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with a "Civil Rights Summit" with speakers ranging from former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush to a whole array of civil rights workers and celebrities. The keynote speaker was the POTUS 44. On that occasion, TM's Erica Grieder drew some interesting comparisons and contrasts between LBJ and the POTUS 44. If this is a (fair & balanced) revelation that history does not repeat itself, so be it.

[x TM]
Obama's Approach To Civil Rights
By Erica Grieder

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“Yes, race still colors our debates,” said President Barack Obama during his keynote speech at the LBJ Library’s Civil Rights Summit yesterday. It is also the case, he said, that the country is still wracked by political division and poverty, and that some government programs have fallen short of their goals; nonetheless, 50 years after Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, “we have proved that great progress is possible.” And the president ended his speech by promising, like LBJ before him, to use the power of his office to pursue further progress.

The Civil Rights Act banned discrimination in public accommodations and included a provision against unequal application of voter registration rules; the Voting Rights Act, which Johnson signed the next year, reinforced voting rights by establishing federal oversight of state election rules and outlawing literacy tests, among other things. Both sought to guarantee equal access to political participation for African-Americans (and other racial minorities). In his remarks introducing the president, John Lewis, a leader of the civil rights movement who now represents Georgia in the United States House of Representatives, observed that the laws had thereby enabled the elections of Southern Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as well as Obama, the country’s first African-American president. Clinton made that point too, during his keynote address on Wednesday. The election of a black president, however, was a milestone that many doubted was possible right up until the day America voted him in.

As president, Obama has not gone out of his way to lead a national discussion about the legacy of racial injustice in America, or about the racism that still exists, although his administration has occasionally taken up issues that disproportionately affect African-Americans and Hispanics, as in the Department of Justice’s efforts against state-level efforts to restrict voting rights (including Texas’s Voter ID law). Yesterday’s speech was in line with that approach. The comment quoted above was about as close as Obama has ever come, at least in public, to addressing an argument that many of his supporters have made—that the political opposition to his domestic agenda is so ferocious that it must be driven by racism, at least in part.

Overall, Obama came across as less contentious than Clinton, for example, who gave a blistering take on recent Republican efforts to shake off the restrictions of the Voting Rights Act while simultaneously pursuing state-level restrictions on voting itself: “We all know what that’s about.” Obama’s polite words about Johnson’s legacy, however, conveyed a couple of pointed arguments.

The first occurred during Obama’s discussion of Johnson’s unlikely emergence as the greatest civil rights president of the 20th century. During his first twenty years or so in Congress, Johnson opposed civil rights, quite effectively. In the late 1950s, his public stance had softened somewhat, and he helped pass civil rights reforms in 1957 and 1960, although it was not clear whether his motives were anything more than political, or how hard he had worked to water those measures down. Only after he became president did Johnson bring his staggering political skills to bear on the issue. But having become president, he pursued civil rights tirelessly and consequentially.

No one is sure how to explain this startling reversal. Some think the key factor was that times were changing, and Johnson changed too. Some think the key factor was that Johnson’s job title changed. Johnson himself offered the latter view: a few days after the assassination, when he called on Congress to honor Kennedy’s legacy by passing a civil rights bill, he mentioned that ever since his time as a schoolteacher in the poor south Texas town of Cotulla, he had wished he could do more to help improve equality in America, but that he never expected to have an opportunity to do so. Now, though, he did. “And I'll let you in on a secret,” he told the House. “I mean to use it.”

That moment was quoted many times at the summit, by a number of speakers, including Obama. In contrast to most of the other speakers, though, the president made a point of mentioning the rival explanations, and what Johnson's stance had been before his public conversion. “His experiences in rural Texas may have stretched his moral imagination,” Obama said, referring to Johnson’s teaching days, and the poverty of his own childhood. “But he was ambitious, very ambitious.” An ambitious southern Democrat, Obama continued, couldn’t afford to challenge convention, and Johnson played his part convincingly: “He was chosen as a vice presidential nominee in part because of his affinity with and ability to deliver that Southern white vote.”

In fact, Obama suggested, Johnson might have focused on other issues after he became president. “But marchers kept marching. Four little girls were killed in a church. Bloody Sunday happened. The winds of change blew.” The president said that he pictured his predecessor in the Oval Office, contemplating such events and deciding to take action.

In Obama’s version of the story, in other words, the times changed Johnson. That was slightly off-message for the summit, which was organized in part to highlight Johnson's role in changing the times. Both ways of looking at it are plausible. The lessons, though, are different. The first version emphasizes the role of moral reasoning in the fight against injustice: as the civil rights movement fought for justice, they compelled Johnson's attention, and he decided to change. In the second version, the power of the presidency is the key weapon: the question of whether Johnson's motives were less than pure is interesting, but his motives were less relevant, practically speaking, than his known talents for charming, bullying, wheedling and making deals. Obama has occasionally been criticized for lacking Johnson’s talent for legislative politics. At the summit, the president acknowledged that Johnson had been a master at that sort of thing. But his version of the Johnson conversion story suggests that he doesn’t plan to emulate those tactics, perhaps because he puts more weight on the power of the pulpit.

Another striking aspect of the speech was Obama’s implication that the Affordable Care Act should be understood as a civil rights reform. Johnson didn’t merely pass the Civil Rights Act and call it a day, Obama said; he had gone on to pass the Voting Rights Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Fair Housing Act, and “then a health care law that opponents described as socialized medicine that would curtail America's freedom, but ultimately freed millions of seniors from the fear that illness could rob them of dignity and security in their golden years, which we now know today as Medicare.”

Is access to health insurance a civil right now? That's an open debate in American politics. It’s not a question that was settled by the passage, in 1965, of the Medicare bill, though. It’s arguably not a question that was even addressed by Medicare. The program was conceived as social insurance; in theory, at least, recipients are entitled to Medicare in their older years because they paid into the program when they were young and employed. Johnson described it as the right thing to do, because it would help people. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were, by contrast, described as a necessary measures, not nice ones. The Affordable Care Act, similarly, wasn’t passed as a civil rights reform. Obama has connected the issues before, as have other Democrats, and they’re not necessarily wrong to do so, but that was not the argument considered by Congress in 2010, or the Supreme Court in 2012.

Obama seemed to anticipate that line of objection, and argued that for Johnson, fighting poverty was important for the same reason that the Civil Rights Act was: poverty, like racial segregation, deprives people of the opportunity to achieve equal outcomes. That is true, but it blurs a meaningful distinction: only one of those things clearly violates the Constitution. Poverty, by contrast, remains a serious problem in Johnson's home state of Texas, and around the country, partly because it underlies or exacerbates many others. Still, there’s a reason no one’s ever tried to ban it.

On the other hand, given that Obama's speech was at the Civil Rights Summit, it was impossible to forget the fact that just fifty years ago, there were plenty of people in this country who would have flatly disputed the suggestion that segregation is unconstitutional, and many of them were mainstream political and civic leaders. The Constitution only became clear on this over time, as people changed, with an assist from the government. As Obama put it, the Civil Rights Act didn’t change public opinion the day it was passed, nor was that its immediate goal; its immediate goal was to provide basic protections that many people needed at the time. Over time, however, it had additional results, as Johnson intended: “He understood laws couldn't accomplish everything, but he also knew that only the law could anchor change, and set hearts and minds on a different course.” Fifty years from now, if there is a near-consensus that health care is a civil right, it will be, in part, because the Affordable Care Act establishes a legal expectation that every American will have health coverage, even if the law's immediate goal is to establish access to a specific form of health coverage and even if the arguments in its favor had more to do with actuarial science than with the Constitution. If so, we may remember Obama as a serious tactician in a different way: not one who changed as many laws as LBJ, but a specialist in the long game. Ω

[Erica Grieder is a senior editor at Texas Monthly. From 2007 to 2012, she covered Texas as the southwest correspondent for the Economist, to which she still contributes. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Spectator, the Atlantic, Foreign Policy, and the New Republic. Her first book, Big, Hot, Cheap and Right (2013). Grieder received a BA (philosophy) from Columbia University and an MPA (public affairs) from The LBJ School of Public Affairs of The University of Texas at Austin.]

Copyright © 2014 Emmis Publishing /dba/ Texas Monthly



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Friday, April 25, 2014

Yo, Red-State Donkeys! HST Had It Right — "If You Can't Stand The Heat, Stay Out Of The Kitchen!"

Today, The Deadline Poet (Calvin Trillin) looks askance at the probable Donkey candidates in Red-State elections in 2014. The attack ads funded by the Dumbos/Morons have the Donkeys running scared. The HST-model is best: give the Dumbos/Morons hell until they cry for mercy. That should be the plan for Senators Begich (AK), Hagan (NC), Pryor (AR), and Landrieu (LA). If this is (fair & balanced) political advice, so be it.

[x The Nation]
Campaign Chant Of Red-State Democrats
By The Deadline Poet (Calvin Trillin)

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created at TagCrowd.com

Delay the pipeline? I’m opposed.
Support Obamacare? Not I.
Though, yes, he is the president,
I hardly even know the guy. Ω

[Calvin Trillin began his career as a writer for Time magazine. Since July 2, 1990, as a columnist at The Nation, Trillin has written his weekly "Deadline Poet" column: humorous poems about current events. Trillin has written considerably more pieces for The Nation than any other single person. A native of Kansas City, MO, Trillin received his BA from Yale College in 1957. He served in the army, and then joined Time.]

Copyright © 2014 The Nation



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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Meet A Great Teacher — You'll Learn What Assumpsit Means

On Income Tax Day 2014, The Jillster wrote an appreciative review of Senator Elizabeth Warren's newest book. Senator Warren (D-MA) is the subject of another affirmation from Esquire's Charles P. Pierce that is the post o'the day in this blog. Pierce's account of Senator (then Professor) Warren's encounter with a student slouching in the first row of Warren's 1L class at Harvard Law is a classic. The student was now Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, grandson of Senator Robert Kennedy and grand-nephew of both President John F. Kennedy and Senator Edward Kennedy. Professor Warren did not — and Senator Warren — does not suffer fools gladly. The irony of the story is that young Kennedy was elected to the U.S. House of Represedntatives from RI at the same time as Elizabeth Warren was elected to the U.S. Senate for MA. As the late Walt Disney would say, "It's a small world, after all." If Eliabeth Warren has given all of us a (fair & balanced) teachable moment, so be it.

[x Esquire]
Elizabeth Warren Is The Teacher
By Charles P. Pierce

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created at TagCrowd.com

Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You'd be a fine teacher. Perhaps, a great one.

Rich: And if I was who would know it?

More: You, your pupils, your friends, God. Not a bad public, that... oh, and a quiet life.

—Robert Bolt, "A Man for All Seasons," Act I

The best teachers are the ones who remain students at heart, the ones who keep learning from their students, and from the world around them, and from their own drive to know even more about even more things, and who then are able to transmit that knowledge—and more important, the drive to know more—to their students. That's how great teachers echo through time. That's how great teachers become immortal.

It is the faint beginning of dusk at Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC, the last rays of the winter sun slanting through the big windows in angled shards across the carpet. The waiting area is jammed with people waiting for the last US Airways shuttle of the day from Washington to Boston. As it so happens, this particular waiting area is a target-rich environment if you happen to be a fan of the Washington power elite. You can see your favorite NBC pundits, waiting to fly to Boston in order to get to the Vineyard for the weekend. You can see celebrity television historians from Harvard and celebrity television astronomers from MIT. If you're really lucky and stay really quiet in your duck blind behind the Auntie Anne's stand, you might even spot a random Kennedy or three, headed back to the compound on the Cape. Tip O'Neill, a cigar jammed into his mouth, once worked this space. So did Ted Kennedy, head buried in some document drawn from his battered and overstuffed briefcase. It is the political junkie's equivalent of the red carpet, especially at the end of a long week.

Not far from the gate, Elizabeth Warren, by the grace of God and somewhat astonishing circumstance the senior senator from Massachusetts, is talking about the day she learned how people make lightbulbs. It was a day on the campaign trail, when she was running against incumbent Republican Scott Brown, and she'd visited a plant where they made lightbulbs, and the process fascinated her, and the way she tells the story fascinates the people listening to her now, because that's what great teachers do.

You cannot understand how she became a senator—hell, you can't even understand how she became a public person—unless you understand the fact that, first and foremost, she is a teacher, having taught at Rutgers, and having been a professor of law at the University of Houston, the University of Texas, the University of Pennsylvania, and ultimately at Harvard Law School, where she was teaching bankruptcy and contracts in the fall of 2008, just as the global financial system collapsed and threatened the economy of the entire world. Her first great project as a young law professor in Texas had been to learn about how bankruptcy worked in this country, and more important, it was to learn about the people who found themselves in the process. It challenged her assumptions; she had thought she was going out to study the schemers who were working the system and the moochers who were cheating the people to whom they owed money. She learned from the people in the courtrooms that everything she knew about them was wrong, and then she set out to teach the country that everything it thought about those people was wrong. "It was," she tells me later, "so much like being in church, quiet and hushed. They were in little groups, talking among themselves. Nobody wanted to look at anybody else."

That led her to her first book, and thence into the study of how these people came to be in all these courtrooms, the way the great American middle class was being tricked out of its wealth and scammed out of its birthright and crushed by the tectonic forces of underregulated capitalism and money-drenched politics. She saw the dangers of subprime mortgages because she'd seen the damage of what she called the "tricks and traps" of the mortgage lenders, seen what it did to families unaware of the deliberate obfuscation of what they'd signed, only to have the teaser rate of the mortgage run out and find themselves underwater. She inveighed against the fine-print piracy of the credit-card companies; she often said that the conditions on a credit card should be as simple as the instructions on a toaster. She brought these lessons back to Harvard, and she was teaching them to her students in September of 2008, when the roof caved in. And she went right on teaching. She had been warning official Washington for months that disaster was coming.

"I'm down there talking to them about it!" she says, her voice rising and her eyes widening. "I'm telling people and nobody wants to—La, la, la. I can't hear you. I fly down to Washington. I got to where I just made cold calls. I'd go see congressmen—for me, the lens into what was happening because of subprime mortgages.

"I would explain what was happening here, and how obviously they're packaging these things and selling them up the line. They are selling grenades with the pins already removed. And they're going to explode! And the answer from members of Congress was 'No, I checked with my banker friends, and they're making a profit.' So this is going on and I'm actually teaching this stuff. And by golly, Lehman crashes. Now, in the spring I had also been teaching bankruptcy when Bear Stearns had gotten bought out. I mean, it wasn't down, but it was on its knees. I'm starting to teach them 'too big to fail,' to keep the big one from going because they're worried about the rest. And in the fall, Lehman goes down. I will never forget this—walking into my class, and it's dead silent.

"Everyone is freaked out. What does this mean? What's going to happen here? So I put it up on the chalkboard. The whole—what had happened in the subprime mortgages. And how they've been packaged together. And then they get sold down the line. And then someone takes on too much risk. So why would the government let it go? Because the government is sending the message that the markets have to discipline themselves. And that the government will not be here to bail them out. And I take everybody through that. And everyone gets it. Very shortly after that, AIG has been bailed out.

"Now, here was the fun. Whatever I was supposed to be teaching that day, we just set all that aside. Then I turned around and said, 'Okay, fasten your seat belts. Each of you is the CEO of a giant financial institution. We are headed for rough times.' And I said, 'So your job, CEO, is to make sure that your financial institution is going to be standing on the other side once the economy settles back down. Some are going to die. So how do you make sure yours is going to survive?' And hands go up. And so I call on the first kid. He says, 'Well, I sell off as many things as I can. Narrow down. Keep only high-quality assets and hold on to cash.' And I'm, 'Mmm. Anybody else?' And all the hands go down because that is the classic answer, right? You keep yourself safe. Kind of the bunker mentality.

"And finally, one kid gasps. Almost like he'd been shot. And the hand goes up. And I just keep standing in the front waiting. And then another hand goes up. And another. And another. And another. And you watch kids, with this jolt, some of them laugh out loud when they get it. And I wait until then—maybe a quarter of them have got their hands up, maybe a third—and call on someone. And the kid says, 'You grow as fast as you can. You buy as much as you can with borrowed money. And you lend and borrow from as many other large institutions as possible. Because then the government can't afford to let you fail.' My students invented 'too big to fail' sitting in a classroom. Because it's not that hard."

She then set about teaching the country, in one way or another, what she'd learned from her students, from the gray faces in the bankruptcy courts, and from her own drive to learn more about more things. Two months after the collapse, Harry Reid tapped her to head the Congressional Oversight Panel—acronym: COP—which would keep an eye on how the big banks whose policies led to the catastrophe were spending the $700 billion bonanza. She had no subpoena power, but she made herself a burr under a number of saddles; the video of her putting Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner on the rack became a popular favorite. The country, it seemed, had awakened one morning to find that its entire economy was headed over a cliff, and almost nobody knew how it happened. She knew, and she began to teach again.

She taught on "The Daily Show," where Jon Stewart said he wanted to make out with her—it did not begin well; she threw up before going on the set—and on a number of other television programs, starting with an appearance with Dr. Phil. "I started going on television to talk about what was happening in the crisis," she says. "To talk about what was happening in the bailout. And because I believe people had a right to know. And I think that this kind of, you know, econo-speak, that tries to convey what only the insiders understand, what's really going on—it's just wrong. And so that was where I first started talking to big audiences about the economics of this country."

She was able to think clearly about the unthinkable, and to explain the inexplicable, simply and with humor, and with a mildness that was belied by the directness of her message. The system, she said, had been rigged against the middle class. It had been infected with the arrogance of greed and the hubris of the people she calls the "Masters of the Universe." It was "tricks and traps" again but on a massive, economy-destroying scale. And, as she taught the country about this, she was learning about being a politician. She fought for—and won—the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to be included in the Dodd-Frank financial-reform package, and she did it by mustering support from outside Washington. And though President Barack Obama declined to appoint her to direct it because he didn't think she could be confirmed, the battle burnished the credentials she would need to run for the Senate and win in a race in which she was a much better candidate at the end than she was at the beginning. She learned, and you could see her learning, day after day, learning so that she could one day teach.

Which is how she happens to be here, waiting for the last shuttle, posing for pictures with a half dozen admirers and charming off the three or four people who ask excitedly if she's going to run for president. The presidential talk became inevitable almost as soon as she got elected to the Senate. She was the face of a country frustrated by the destruction wrought by its financial elite, working with what seemed to be an endlessly compliant federal government. The country's economy was looted. The world's economy was looted. Elizabeth Warren was the country's teacher, then, patiently explaining who the crooks were, and how they worked their dark magic, and why that meant that you lost your job or were foreclosed out of your house. And now, after eight years in which it seemed nobody paid any price for any of the crimes she had patiently explained, the forces that drew people to her lessons now are pushing her to become the face of what appears to be a rising kind of populism in Democratic politics. She does not want to run for president. She demurs politely when asked, and then she goes back to talking about just how danged interesting it was to learn how lightbulbs were made. People around her nod and smile, and now they know how lightbulbs are made, too.

"I had to work really hard to get here," she says. "I said, 'If I get to the United States Senate, I'm going to use that opportunity to work for the middle class and for working families every chance I get.' "

Can this country learn anymore? That is a question that underlies so many others. We have allowed ourselves in our politics to become contemptuous of knowledge, wary of science, and suspicious of expertise. In 1822, in a letter to William Barry, James Madison explained that "Learned Institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty & dangerous encroachments on the public liberty. They are the nurseries of skillful Teachers for the schools distributed throughout the Community.... They multiply the educated individuals from among whom the people may elect a due portion of their public Agents of every description; more especially of those who are to frame the laws...." We have come very far from this prescription to the age now where we fall, over and over again, for the laughable fiction that somebody running for office is somehow "not a politician," and that "common sense" tells us that democracy, for all its faults, is for suckers.

It would help, then, if the person doing the teaching has a bit of the dusty road in her voice, and has the ability to use the word golly with the same impact and to the same effect that Lyndon Johnson used to get out of goddamn. It would help if the teacher had a face that was open, with eyes that popped, and that was completely transparent in its impatience with cant and the great clouds of gobbledygook that the financial-services industry uses in the same way that squids use ink. It would help if she sounded as though she could explain, in simple terms and with actual common sense, how rigged the wheel is and that there is no pea under the shell. It would help if that lesson came in the voice of a woman who once led a Brownie troop in which she volunteered to be Cookie Mom not once but twice, which may be unprecedented.

"It was great," she says. "We had these stacks and stacks of cookies in our apartment, and eventually we had to make a path through them so we could get around."

Does this country even want to learn anymore? That's an even more basic question. We learned nothing from the S&L crisis of the 1980s, nothing from the bursting of the tech bubble, and it appears that we've learned nothing from the near destruction of the entire economic system by means of weaponized persiflage. The banks that were "too big to fail" are now even bigger. It is like a child who touches a hot stove and his response is to stick his head in the oven. There is an awful kind of surrender in a feeling that institutions have grown too huge, too heedless, and too inscrutable for us to recognize their effect on our lives until it is too late. And the most heedless and inscrutable institutions in our lives are the institutions of money.

"It was moving around with so many zeroes behind it, you know the front number," Warren says, "that it does have an unreal quality to it. I think a lot of people are struggling to get hold of the psychology of the big money movers on Wall Street. Yeah. They're not like you and me."

They're certainly not like the Herrings of Norman, Oklahoma, who lived in a small house at the edge of town, bounded by what seemed like endless prairies. The Herrings, they lost a car to the bank. They moved from one house to another, each smaller than the one before. They finally settled in Oklahoma City, where Don Herring worked at Montgomery Ward and, later, as the maintenance man in an apartment building, and Pauline Herring worked at Sears, Roebuck in the catalog-sales department.

Betsy Herring was a prodigy. The caboose of four children, and the only girl, she graduated from high school at sixteen and did so as a state champion debater. She cobbled together her babysitting money and spent fifty dollars on money orders to apply to two colleges, Northwestern University, and George Washington University in Washington. She chose the latter, but left after two years. She was nineteen when she married Jim Warren, an engineer at IBM in Houston. She finished her undergraduate degree at the University of Houston and, when Jim's work took him to New Jersey, she enrolled in law school at Rutgers, graduating, eight months pregnant with her second child, in 1976. (The Warrens' firstborn, Amelia, eventually would become the coauthor of The Two-Income Trap (2003), Warren's seminal book on how the middle class came to be devoured.) The marriage eventually foundered. The Warrens divorced in 1979. That year, in a summer seminar for law professors, she met a lanky Boston Yankee named Bruce Mann, whom she first hit up for tennis lessons. They were married in 1980.

She discovered a gift for teaching, bouncing around as an academic vagabond. It was while she was at the University of Texas that she joined two other researchers in the bankruptcy project that would become the beginning of her public life. She was sure when she began the project that she would chronicle the lives of the profligate and the greedy, people who spent beyond their means and were now trying to welch on their obligations. That certainty vanished when she walked into the courtroom in San Antonio. There were people who were filing for bankruptcy because they had lost their jobs, or because they had had a major medical emergency and couldn't keep up with the bills. They were people like the Herrings had been, one turn of the wheel away from personal disaster.

"You saw what had gone wrong with their lives," she recalls. "These were people who had built something, but who had been knocked upside down by a job loss or something else. So we do this study. We end up writing this book, and the thrust of our study is: Is bankruptcy being used by people who really could repay? And the answer was when you look at the real data that's all filed under penalty of perjury and with receipts attached and IRS forms and all kinds of other stuff, the answer is no possible way could these people repay more than pennies.

"We asked people to write down why you filed. Just tell us why you are in bankruptcy, in their own words. And that was the part that was just—and that's where people talked about... the baby died, or what it was like to care for a husband for nine years through dementia, and couldn't quite make it to the end of each month, so I'd use the credit cards to pay for his medications. And now he's gone and I have $140,000 of debt, living on Social Security. And they just tell these stories. And I don't know how anybody could read that and still be the same. So for me it became the big shift on how I came to understand the world. That there are plenty of people out there with plenty of money to tell a story that suits their bottom line. But someone has to speak up for the people who are just getting rolled over."

By 1992, both she and her husband were teaching at Harvard Law School, and her class on contracts became a popular one. In fact, one day, on the first day of the semester, a young man came into the classroom and sat down in the front row. He was wearing shorts and sandals, and he was rather lounging in his chair. She walked in and decided that this was going to be the fellow that she would own that morning. She dropped a pile of books down with a conspicuous thump on a table at the front of the room and began the class.

"So, Mr. Kennedy," she said, "what's the definition of assumpsit?"

"It was the first class, first day of law school, and I took the class because she was the professor," says Mr. Kennedy, now Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, grandson of Bobby Kennedy, grand-nephew of Senator Ted and President Jack, elected to Congress in the same election that brought Elizabeth Warren into the Senate. "I walk in, and I try to take a seat in the last row of the class. I put my head down, and I'd done the reading and I knew the basics of the case, and right before the class, I see that a lot of my classmates are sort of milling around this seating chart, so I go down to it and I see that my seat is in the first row on the right-hand side. I couldn't believe it. I was mortified.

"I said, 'I don't know.' She said, 'You don't know?' She said, 'Mr. Kennedy, did you do your reading? You realize, don't you, that assumpsit is the first word in your reading?' I said, 'Yeah, I saw it, and I circled it because I didn't know what it meant.' So she said, 'Do you have a dictionary, Mr. Kennedy?' I said I hadn't had a chance to get one yet. She said, 'That's what people do when they don't know what a word is. They look it up in the dictionary. Is there anyone in the class who can help Mr. Kennedy?' Every hand in the class goes up.

"She would take classes that were really legal philosophy and bring them down to a real-world setting," Kennedy says. "She managed to get the class pulling for you, and pulling for each other, which is not an easy thing to do at Harvard Law School. She was able to build a sense of camaraderie, where we can all do this together. She said to me once, 'Look, we've got some pretty bright students here. If I can't get through to them, what does that say about me as a teacher?' Nobody at Harvard Law School ever says that about themselves. Nobody ever questions their ability as a teacher. She did."

On the day he graduated from Harvard Law, Kennedy was allowed to pick one of his first-year professors to award him his degree. He picked Warren. As she handed him his diploma, she asked him if he knew the definition of assumpsit.

It was a brisk, clear Sunday afternoon at the end of October in 2012. There was a major event at a place called Laborers' Training Academy, which was tucked into the woods in Hopkinton, to the west of Boston, in a curious compound of buildings circling a pond, built in 1969 to help train young people in the various building trades. It looked for all the world like an old WPA work camp. There were picnic tables and playground equipment scattered between the buildings, and the great hall was jammed for a Democratic political event. There were plasterers and plumbers, electricians and carpenters, and their spouses and their children. And there were candidates there to talk to them.

Young Mr. Kennedy from the contracts class was there as a candidate for Barney Frank's old congressional seat. He introduced Elizabeth Warren, who had spent the previous nine or ten months being cast by her opponent as a fake Indian, a Harvard elitist, and a carpetbagger from Oklahoma. In their first debate, Scott Brown had done everything except take off his shirt, flex, and pop a coldie for the cameras, appealing on several occasions to "all you union guys out there" not to be fooled by the fake-Indian professor from Harvard. This afternoon, though, with the campaign for the Senate having begun to sway perceptibly, was a measure of her ability to take what she had learned in her life, and especially in her still-new career as a political candidate, and use it to teach the people in the hall what they needed to know about the system that was grinding so many of them into dust. She connected the corruption on Wall Street to the tricks and traps on their credit cards and their mortgage statements, and she connected that to stagnating wages and crumbling infrastructure. They applauded wildly every time she bore down hard on the word union, and it took her a long time to get through the crowd. Scott Brown was finished as a senator by the time she got to the car.

She began the campaign as more of an idea than an actual person. She had become a political celebrity through her work holding various Wall Street feet to the fire, and that had fired the movement to make her a candidate in the first place. At one of her first meet-and-greets, at a house party in Andover, she laid down a refrain that would become familiar when Barack Obama borrowed it lock, stock, and barrel in the presidential election that was still almost fifteen months away. He just didn't say it as well.

"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own," she said. "Nobody. You built a factory out there—good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory.... Now, look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea—God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."

It immediately became a YouTube sensation. Democrats went over the moon. Rush Limbaugh said she was the heir to Mao's Cultural Revolution. It was superb politics, even if it was impromptu, which she insists to this day it was. Still, there was considerable doubt as to whether or not she would make it as a candidate. She did not begin well. There was some babbling from superannuated Hibernians in the Massachusetts political establishment about how she could never connect with the blue-collar voters in places like Malden and Worcester, and certainly not the way studly Scott Brown could. She had a rough time of it at a forum with a local public-radio host notoriously in love with his own voice.

But she kept rolling on, learning as she went. She accepted the role of work-in-progress, of learning to be a candidate on the fly. She rose to no bait, not even when her work on an asbestos settlement was used to try and dent her reform credentials. This was a skill she'd learned navigating the political shoals in Washington on behalf of financial reform. Because of that ability, she already was a politician. Now she was submitting herself to the people.

The real coming-out party was in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. She spoke not long before Bill Clinton's bravura performance, so the hall was full and buzzing. Because she was one of the few people who had come out of the Wall Street debacle on the side of the angels, she already was beloved as a concept, if she was still rather unknown as a candidate. Even before she took the stage, a guy in the Nevada delegation started chanting, "Consumer Finance Protection Bureau," which is not the easiest thing in the world to chant.

Her speech was a politician's speech. It was a candidate's speech. She applied what she had learned in Washington—in the fight over bankruptcy laws, as chairman of the TARP oversight board, and in the brawl to get the CFPB up and running—and she used it with one speech to nationalize the election in Massachusetts. She found the second verse to the refrain she had laid down in Andover.

"Republicans say they don't believe in government," she told the crowd. "Sure they do. They believe in government to help themselves and their powerful friends. After all, Mitt Romney's the guy who said corporations are people. No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die. And that matters. That matters because we don't run this country for corporations, we run it for people."

You could watch her learn, in public and in real time. She learned how to strike a balance between being a national politician and a local candidate. She convinced Boston Mayor Tom Menino to throw his entire political machine behind her because, as Menino said, over and over again, "She's good people." She pried an endorsement out of the Massachusetts firefighters union. In 2010, when Scott Brown had won his upset victory over Martha Coakley in the special election to replace Ted Kennedy, Menino's people largely had sat out the race, and a great number of the firefighters voted for Brown. Part of this was the fact that Coakley ran one of the worst campaigns in political history. Part of it was Brown's natural appeal, which he largely abandoned in 2012 in favor of having people show up at rallies pretending to be Indians and derisively calling Warren "Professor," as though that were a curse. None of the hot buttons worked. She stayed resolutely, patiently on message. The system was rigged against the people who needed it the most. She was, as they say, wicked smart, and nobody held it against her, which was the most remarkable thing of all. She won the most expensive Senate race in the country by eight points, going away. On Election Day, she dropped into a burger joint in Medford.

"Holy shit," a woman cried. "It's Elizabeth Warren."

In a huge, quiet room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, the Senate Banking Committee has been called to order so that it can hear a report from Janet Yellen, the newly installed head of the Federal Reserve. (Warren and Yellen know each other from Warren's days on the TARP oversight panel.) You look at many of the people on this particular committee and you think about American politics these days, and you wonder why some of them aren't wearing fire suits festooned with the logos of their contributors, like Nascar drivers and their sponsors. The hearing is winding down and Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, seems to be having difficulty understanding the differences between "the banks in mah state" and the Federal Reserve.

Yellen answers Shelby's question once, then twice, then a third time. Shelby still doesn't quite get it. Down at the end of the large arc of the committee's table, down where the rookies sit, Elizabeth Warren is, at this point, looking at Shelby as though he has two heads. She rolls her eyes. She rubs her temples. She looks at Yellen and shakes her head, and Yellen looks back and nods. You keep waiting for Warren to ask Shelby the definition of assumpsit.

(Warren and Shelby have something of a history. He was the Republican point man in the Senate in the fight over the CFPB in general, and over the possibility of Warren's heading it in particular.)

We are, it seems, in a new Gilded Age in which self-government gives way to oligarchy, and in which the forces of the organized money power have sealed off all the avenues of democratic reform even more securely than they did during the last Gilded Age, which fell ultimately to the rising power of the Progressive movement and its own lurid excesses. In 1913, when the Federal Reserve was proposed, Senator Elihu Root of New York warned that by creating the Fed, "We are setting our steps now in the pathway which through the protection of a paternal government brought the mighty power of Rome to its fall." Money does, indeed, talk. And Big Money repeats itself, age after age.

The Supreme Court has given license to corporate money to swamp the electoral system, and it is the most corporate-friendly Supreme Court since the turn of the last century. The banks that were too big to fail in 2008 are even bigger today, and the country seems to have learned nothing from the economic calamity that befell it. There are powerful forces arrayed against the country's ability to learn anything from its recent history. There is a fearsome momentum behind the belief that the country's economic situation is best left to the spells and conjuring words of the financial elite. There is a serious inertial pushback against self-government in every area, but particularly in the economy.

"We think of money differently because we think of money not just in terms of what it buys—a home, a car, or groceries—we think of it in terms of the security it provides," Warren says. "But for others, the prestige of—you've seen the studies now. Or what's being written about why CEO salaries have gotten so high? Because what's the difference between whether a CEO makes $18 million or $20 million? I know, $2 million. I can do the math. But why is the marginal $2 million so powerfully important? And the answer is 'Cause I got to be paid more than the other CEOs in the CEO club. And so it's also, you know, in a world of hypereconomics, money becomes for some the only measure of value."

Warren has been as frustrated as anyone else in the Senate. She has grilled regulators in front of the committee; one video that went viral has her asking a regulator when was the last time he brought a banker to trial. But as a new senator, she's been fighting uphill battles, especially on student loans. There has been some sniping back home about her staff's work and her accessibility to the local media. (The Boston Globe ran a front-page story on why she doesn't stop in the Senate hallways and talk to the press, the way John McCain does.) But if the vaunted new populism in the sclerotic Democratic party means anything, it means that the people of the country have to learn how to use their government again to defend themselves. That's the final, and most important, lesson that Elizabeth Warren wants to teach, based on all that she's come to learn.

A few days after the Banking Committee hearing, she's sitting on the breezy porch of the house where she and Bruce live on the Harvard side of Cambridge. It is suggested to her that, maybe, this time around, the power of organized money may have completed its work of suffocating democratic reform. She comes almost vertical out of her chair.

"I have four words for you," she says. "Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was number-one enemy for the large financial institutions during the Dodd-Frank reform. And I want you to think about that. Here's Dodd-Frank reform. It's going to take on those CDOs that they've been trading around and going to put new constraints on their business practices, and what was their number-one priority? Kill the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They lobbied it. The lobbyists had said they'd killed it. You can see 'em. You can go back and actually document. The lobbyists said over and over, this would never happen. There will be no financial reform with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Indeed, I was told the only way we'll get reform through is if we're willing to throw that over the side. We did not." And then she gets to the whole point of the afternoon's lesson. Squirrels dance atop the fence outside. Her voice gets lower.

"We're down to the short strokes. Either we pull this out now or the game is truly over," she says. "So, optimistic? You bet I am, because I can see victories, recent victories, victories even after the fire hose of money has been poured upon the system. But that doesn't mean I know we're going to beat it. It just means I know we can, because I've seen those victories. We've got to beat it. We don't have any choice here. We truly are—we're backed up. We've got nothing behind us. There's no further place to back up."

She sees the country in a different way from most people. She has a natural way of expressing the idea of a political commonwealth by anchoring it in the individual pasts of individual citizens, by teaching history, as it were, to

a country that has forgotten much of it. People are drawn to her not necessarily by her intelligence or by her willingness to speak truth to greed but by an ineffable feeling that she is reminding them of something they already knew. Somebody mentions to her that his family rose in this country because his grandfather was a cop, and his father a veteran who used the GI Bill to build a career as a public-school teacher. She rises partway from her chair, her lesson having taken hold.

"I love it. I love it," she says. "But you and I grew up in the America that was investing in kids like us. That made education possible. Infrastructure. I gave this speech on infrastructure last night. Why infrastructure is important. Why it's important to the economy, why it's important to families, why it's important to the earth, right? Why we've got to have that basic transportation infrastructure.

"And everyone gets this. But the choices Washington makes right now don't reflect our values. The idea that billions of dollars would be left with billionaires through tax loopholes rather than spending that money on repairing roads and bridges? Rather than spending that money on helping our kids get through college? Rather than spending that money on NIH? And rather than a better future for all of our kids? That's the debate we're on the cusp of having."

There already are forces, even within the Democratic party, gathering themselves to squash that debate. Larry Summers, her old bĂȘte noire, whose hands Warren was instrumental in keeping off the Federal Reserve system last year, already is giving interviews about "setting class against class" in anticipation of Democratic losses in this fall's midterm elections. If those losses occur, there will be a fearsome momentum for the party to move back toward the more corporate-friendly Democratic party that elected Bill Clinton, who repealed the Glass-Steagall Act and signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which exempted credit-default swaps from regulation and generally set the tone for the Democratic complicity in the economic catastrophe that hit in 2008. And Elizabeth Warren has come to teach us the greatest lesson the country needs to learn: who we are. Or at least who we once were.

Self-government must be an educational enterprise, with lessons learned over and over again, and that is what Elizabeth Warren is about these days. She is still teaching. She teaches because she has learned, and she has learned because she teaches. The great teachers are the ones who remain students at heart, who keep learning from their students, and from the world around them, and from their own drive to know even more about even more things, and who then are able to transmit that knowledge—and more important, the drive to know more—to their students. That is how teachers become immortal. Ω

[Charles P. "Charlie" Pierce is a sportswriter, political blogger, author, and game show panelist. Pierce is the lead political blogger for Esquire, a position he has held since September 2011. He has written for Grantland, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Sports Illustrated, The National Sports Daily, GQ, and Slate. Pierce makes appearances on radio as a regular contributor to a pair of NPR programs: "Only A Game" and "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!" He graduated from Marquette University (BA, Journalism).]

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