Sunday, September 30, 2018

the last book I ever read (The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics, excerpt seven)

from The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics by Dan Kaufman:

Early one spring morning, I drove west from Madison to the village of Spring Green to meet with Eric O’Keefe, one of Wisconsin Club for Growth’s directors. O’Keefe had suggested we meet at the Taliesin Visitor Center, which was built by Frank Lloyd Wright. The land, covered in radiant greenery, is at turns gentle and roughhewn. It marks the eastern edge of the Driftless Area, whose craggy hills inspired Wright. Born in nearby Richland Center, Wright built his home and studio, Taliesin, in Spring Green, as well as the visitor center, a low, beguiling building that spans two hills and houses a restaurant overlooking the Wisconsin River. Wright was a model for the architect Howard Roark, the protolibertarian hero of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. It’s a curious choice given that Wright’s work pays tribute to nature, while Roark had little use for natural beauty, a view Rand shared. (“I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline,” Roark announces.) But the landscape of southwestern Wisconsin managed to touch even Rand, who described it fondly in Atlas Shrugged.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

the last book I ever read (The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics, excerpt six)

from The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics by Dan Kaufman:

Leopold’s work incorporated ecological concerns into economic analysis, an idea that maintained currency in Wisconsin’s government until Governor Walker. “Walker is a representative of a cohort of politicians who are unaware of this tradition and its nuances,” Meine said. “It’s now been undermined, and done away with in many cases.” Nowhere had this been more apparent than in the Republican effort, on behalf of Chris Cline, a billionaire coal magnate in Florida, to facilitate the construction of an enormous iron-ore mine in a pristine section of northern Wisconsin called the Penokee Hills. “The proposal seemed to wrap up in one package all that was going south,” Meine said. “The influence of corporate money and political corruption, narrow, short-term thinking about economic value, and an active disinterest in science and a fair and transparent public process.”

Since Walker introduced the mining proposal in 2011, the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, whose reservation sits a few miles from the miles from the site, have led a fiercely determined opposition to it. In their response Meine saw hope that Wisconsin’s legacy of environmental stewardship might yet be revived. “Just at the time when political authorities in Wisconsin no longer espoused or defended the land ethic, the Native communities and voices were there,” he said. “They were the ones who spoke for the land and water, for the plants and animals, for future generations. They were the true conservatives.”

Friday, September 28, 2018

the last book I ever read (The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics, excerpt five)

from The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics by Dan Kaufman:

Like the other Progressive milestones of the 1911 legislature, the passage of workers’ compensation was aided by the twelve assemblymen and two state senators who were members of the Milwaukee Socialist Party. In 1910, after a corruption scandal in Milwaukee had tarred both Republicans and Democrats, the Socialists swept into power, winning the state legislative offices, the mayoralty (which they would hold, off and on, until 1960), and a congressional seat. The party’s electorial victories in 1910 pushed the progressive Republicans to the left, prompting them to make bolder reforms to compete for voters. “The only way to beat the Socialists is ‘to beat them to it,’” Charles McCarthy wrote.

Milwaukee’s Socialist Party grew out of the enormous number of German immigrants who began pouring into the city in the late 1840s. Many of those migrants were fleeing the failed 1848 revolution in Germany and had been members of the Turnverein, or Turners, a physical-fitness movement focused on gymnastics that also encouraged intellectual development and liberal, sometimes revolutionary, politics.The Turners established strongholds across the Midwest and were especially active in Milwaukee. Like many of Wisconsin’s Scandinavian farmers, they held strong antislavery views, and the movement passionately supported Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 presidential campaign. Prominent Milwaukee Turners included Carl Schurz, a ‘48er who went on to become a Union Army general, a United States senator, and the secretary of the interior, and Mathilde Franziska Anneke, a journalist, socialist, and friend of Karl Marx who settled in the city in 1840 and three years later started Deutsch Frauen-Zeitung, the first feminist journal founded by a woman in America.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

the last book I ever read (The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics, excerpt four)

from The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics by Dan Kaufman:

For decades, Fort McClellan, the base where Bryce trained, had been used as a training site for chemical, biological, and radiological warfare. Mustard gas, Agent Orange, DDT, and other toxic materials had leached into its soil and water. Additionally, the base was adjacent to the town of Anniston, where, until the 1970s, a Monsanto plant poured millions of pounds of cancer-causing PCBs into the town landfill and creek. The company paid a settlement of $700 million to 20,000 residents of Anniston, which was once described in a 60 Minutes report as “America’s most toxic town.” But the settlement did not include the soldiers who trained at Fort McClellan, a disproportionate number of whom were stricken with cancer at an early age. The army has maintained there were no adverse health effects from training there, but in 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered the base to close. After his discharge, Bryce enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, but he dropped out after one semester when he too was diagnosed with cancer.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

the last book I ever read (The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics, excerpt three)

from The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics by Dan Kaufman:

Bryce attended Rufus King International High School, a magnet school on Milwaukee’s north side, where he played trombone in the school orchestra alongside the violinist Gordon Gano, the future singer and guitarist of the Violent Femmes. Bryce was a mediocre student, and a few months after graduating he enlisted in the army so he could pay for college.It was the early 1980s, and the Cold War was raging in Central America. Bryce trained to be a military policeman at Fort McClellan, in Alabama, and then became part of a rapid deployment force based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. For several months, he was stationed at the Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras, then a launching point for American covert operations in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

the last book I ever read (The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics, excerpt two)

from The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics by Dan Kaufman:

Wisconsin’s embrace of a social safety net was made possible, in part, by the region’s hundreds of thousands of Scandinavian immigrants and their descendants, who tended to be receptive to it. La Follette’s progressives forged a durable rural-urban coalition in Wisconsin, while Minnesota created the first Farmer-Labor Party, in 1918. Scandinavian immigrants in the United States followed progressive reforms in their home countries closely. When Norwegian women won a series of legislative victories in the early twentieth-century, culminating in the right to vote, Norwegian-American women began agitating for suffrage in the United States. The interconnectedness went both ways; Scandinavian governments built welfare states that dissuaded many people from immigrating. That migration cut off abruptly in 1924, when the Immigration Act established a national-origins quota based on the 1890 census. “America must be kept American,” President Coolidge said in his State of the Union address the previous year, ending the great wave of Scandinavian migration that had helped build a “people’s home,” both in the Upper Midwest and in Scandinavia.

Despite this, Wisconsin’s progressive ethos was entrenched and often bipartisan. In 1967, Governor Warren Knowles and the Republican-controlled senate and assembly enacted legislation granting collective bargaining rights for all state employees. Even Governor Tommy Thompson, a conservative Republican, crafted a new state program in 1999 to provide subsidized health insurance for low-income families with children. But after the 1976 Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo outlawed limits on campaign spending, Wisconsin’s politics, increasingly shaped by money, started becoming more like the politics of other states, a similarity that would be exploited by powerful national interests aligned with a new kind of politician.

Monday, September 24, 2018

the last book I ever read (The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics, excerpt one)

from The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics by Dan Kaufman:

The Norwegians were particularly grateful for the freedom they found in their new homeland. In the 1840s, Norwegian migrants founded a community in Muskego, Wisconsin, southwest of Milwaukee, and in 1845, they sent an open letter to the Morgenbladet, a newspaper in Oslo, proclaiming the greatest gifts of their new home. “We have no expectation of gaining riches,” the letter read. “But we live under a liberal government in a fruitful land, where freedom and equality are the rule in religious as in civil matters, and where each one of us is at liberty to earn his living practically as he chooses. Such opportunities are more to be desired than riches.”

Wisconsin would not become a state for another few years, but Ole and Ansten’s settlement there would play a fateful role in the state’s character, both demographic and political. Ansten had succeeded in getting Ole Rynning’s book published in Norway. Called A Truthful Account of America for the Instruction and Help of the Peasant and Commoner, it captivated a desperate population, fueling a wave of Norwegian immigration to the United States. Ultimately, 800,000 Norwegians, 25 percent of Norway’s entire population, emigrated to the United States between 1825 and 1925. Their top destinations were Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

the last book I ever read (Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein, excerpt thirteen)

from Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein:

When Chris guns the engine, it is 11:54 p.m. in Fort Wayne, except that Matt is not the only one who stays on Janesville time, so the dashboard clock on the Grand Prix says 10:54. Chris started working at Fort Wayne on August 17, 2009, seven months before Matt. Chris will never forget that day. His wife and kids along to help him move, except that he doesn’t like to say he has “moved,” so he says that he “stays” in Fort Wayne. Anyhow, his family left on Monday morning when he went to the plant for orientation, which was during first shift, so he was back in his new apartment by 3:30 that afternoon, and he sat on a chair from a cheap dinette set they’d just gotten, staring at a wall. Alone. His wife and kids already back in Janesville. One of the worst feelings of his life.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

the last book I ever read (Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein, excerpt twelve)

from Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein:

In Dave’s own family, his wife, Judy, has banned a nephew from her Facebook page. At sixty, Judy Vaughn is a retired schoolteacher and as ardent a Democrat as Dave. The Facebook trouble began when, to the surprise of no one who knows Judy, she began to post her views about Walker, which boil down to a belief, stronger than any she has ever felt about any other politician, that the governor is evil. A couple of relatives didn’t take that too well, including the nephew who eventually posted a reply, asking Judy to please do her politicking on a separate Facebook page because he was sick of her posts and, besides, she wasn’t going to change his mind. Judy posted that she would not create a separate page. Then the nephew had a birthday party and didn’t invite her and Dave. Still, she didn’t unfriend him from Facebook until the day that he posted, “I am sick of my retarded friends and relatives and my union whiners.” That did it.

Friday, September 21, 2018

the last book I ever read (Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein, excerpt eleven)

from Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein:

Today is June 5, the day on which Wisconsin voters are deciding whether Scott Walker will become the third governor in U.S. history to be ejected from office through a recall election. The mass protests at Capitol Square have billowed into a crusade by Walker’s opponents to pry him from the statehouse, matched by a counter-crusade to keep him in office. The recall fight is venomous, backed by twice as much campaign spending as any Wisconsin election ever before. It is white-hot. It is in the glare of national news. And on Milton Avenue, it is prompting drivers, as they come to Route 14, to honk or jeer at campaign signs that partisans are waving on opposite corners of the intersection.

The governor has had his troubles in Janesville, which is still, in spirit if no longer as much in fact, a union town. Last winter, a manufacturing association that supports him began to erect billboards around the state that said, “Governor Scott Walker—Creating Jobs for Wisconsin.” The signs listed the phone number to the governor’s office so that citizens could call to thank him. Somehow, no one realized that it might be awkward to place the first of these billboards directly across from the silent General Motors assembly plant. The sign immediately became a laughingstock in town. It was soon gone.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

the last book I ever read (Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein, excerpt ten)

from Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein:

On occasion these days, Mike runs into people from Lear who went to Blackhawk. Some of them are still looking for work, and some are doing work nowhere close to what they planned. A guy who studied computer IT is bagging groceries. That kind of thing. So, by the afternoon of June 1, as he gets ready to go to Seneca Foods for his first overnight shift, the pride-fear jostling inside him has turned into pure pride—a feeling that his life has become a best-case scenario.

Yes, he will be making less money than before. But that is part, he believes, of accepting that the old times are gone. Part of not dwelling on what you can’t change. Part of being grateful for what you have. In these new times, what Mike sees when he looks over the sweep of his life is, not the loss of his union office, but a gamble on human resources management that had paid off. He had a job. It is in his field. It is in Janesville.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

the last book I ever read (Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein, excerpt nine)

from Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein:

Deri and Rob and Avery happen to have arrived on a pivotal day in the protests. While she delights in the spectacle inside the capitol, the mood among the pizza-fueled protesters has become grim. At 1 a.m., the Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly, the legislature’s lower chamber, abruptly ended sixty nonstop hours of debate on Walker’s budget bill. Without a motion to end the debate, and with fifteen filibustering Democrats in line to speak, the Assembly’s Republican leader began the vote on the governor’s plan. The vote lasted ten seconds. Before most of the Democrats even realized what was going on, the bill passed. The groggy GOP legislators then filed out of the chamber, separated by capitol police from the Democrats, who wore orange T-shirts, with “fighting for WORKING FAMILIES!” scrawled across the front and who hurled sentiments seldom heard in civilized times among state legislators: “Shame!” “Coward!”

By the afternoon, the Assembly’s passage of the governor’s bill is not the only reason that the protesters are in a sour mood. The capitol police are now saying that the encampment inside the capitol must move out by 4 p.m. on Sunday, two days away. The protesters want to stay. The sneaky vote by the Assembly Republicans shifted the drama to the legislature’s other chamber, the State Senate, whose Democrats have already executed a sneaky move of their own. Wisconsin’s Democratic state senators have fled the state.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

the last book I ever read (Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein, excerpt eight)

from Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein:

Matt is part of what turns out to be a large tribe of GM gypsies who have converged on Fort Wayne. Since it opened in 1986, when it inherited the assembly of pickups that had been made in Janesville, Fort Wayne has been a truck plant. And after the General Motors bankruptcy nearly two years ago now, the company decided to move to Fort Wayne, too, the heavy-duty pickups from a plant in Pontiac, Michigan, which closed as part of GM’s restructuring. So, Fort Wayne added a third shift last year and, to keep trucks moving along the assembly line around the clock, imported nine hundred workers who had been laid off, just like Matt and the other Janesville GM’ers. The imported workers came from twenty-five GM facilities in eleven states and, while some arrived with their families, many are gypsies, like Matt. In fact, the plant manager goes home on weekends to Dayton, two hours away. The personnel director goes home on weekends to Chicago, a three-hour drive. Gypsy or not, many of the imported workers arrived with their all-important anniversary dates earlier than those of some workers who already were in Fort Wayne, which meant that their greater seniority let them claim better shifts and better jobs in the plant. Matt is a second-shift team leader on the trim line, coordinating a small group of workers just after the truck bodies have emerged from the paint shop. On this part of the assembly line, they install the weatherstrip, the insulating mat that goes under the carpet, the seatbelt bracket, the sunroof. Second shift is what Matt through was best, because it means that his work-week doesn’t start until Monday afternoon, so he can sleep at home Sunday nights.

The gypsies from all these plants and states work side by side, yet their loyalties stand apart. Until he came here, Matt never really thought about the fact that some autoworkers might be Republicans. And sports allegiances are serious and in plain view on the factory floor, with baseball caps and T-shirts making clear who roots for the Indianapolis Colts or the Chicago Bears or the New York Jets or, of course, the Packers. Matt likes wearing his Packers cap, but in general he is not one of the gypsies who are having a good time while away from hom. His roommate, Kip, plays cards at a guy’s house on Tuesday nights and sometimes goes to Wednesday game nights at the local UAW hall. Matt isn’t in Fort Wayne to have fun. He lives as cheaply as he can. Lives pretty much on cereal, Campbell’s soup, and ramen.

Monday, September 17, 2018

the last book I ever read (Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein, excerpt seven)

from Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein:

Spring has just returned to southern Wisconsin when Jerad Whiteaker grabs a buyout from General Motors like a brass ring. It isn’t much—about $4,000 and six more months of health insurance. At least it’s something.

As he signs the paperwork that seals the deal, Jerad trades away the possibility of another job within General Motors, somewhere, sometime, for the certainty of this small severance package right now. He is transforming himself from a GM’er who happens to be on an indefinite layoff into an ex-GM’er. Not much difference, it might seem. Except that, for Jerad, whose father and father-in-law put in their thirty years at the assembly plant and now live on their comfy pensions, he is signing away the future he has expected for himself.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

the last book I ever read (Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein, excerpt six)

from Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein:

Parker pens showed up at defining moments of the twentieth century. During World War I, the U.S. War Department awarded Parker a contract for a “Trench Pen,” with dry pellets that turned into liquid ink when soldiers in the field added water. In May of 1945, the treaty of German surrender that ended World War II in Europe was signed with a pair of Parker 51 fountain pens belonging to Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, who held up the two pens for the cameras in a V for victory. At the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, a Parker pavilion sponsored the biggest international letter-writing program that had ever been undertaken. It featured an early “electric computer,” which could, within seconds, match a fairgoer with a pen pal of similar age and interests overseas. Uniformed women known as Pennettes, from Janesville and around the globe, handed out pens, postcards, and stationery.

Two years later, the year that Linda was hired, George S. Parker II, a grandson of its founder, became the company’s president and CEO. He was the last Parker to run Parker Pen, and he presided over a long, slow decline as the market for high-end pens waned. In 1986, he sold the company to a group of British investors affiliated with a British firm based in a town along the English Channel, Newhaven, where Parker pens had been manufactured since shortly after World War II. Pen making continued in Janesville under the name Parker Pen Holdings Ltd. Then, in 1993, the Gillette Company bought out Parker Pen Holdings Ltd. Six years later, the pen business was bought out again, by Newell Rubbermaid—specifically, by an offshoot of its office supplies division known as Sanford Business-to-Business, which customizes pens for promotional purposes. So the final 153 workers, Linda among them, have been working for a company called Sanford, not Parker. They have no longer been making pens. They have been printing the logos of pharmaceutical companies and other businesses onto the sides of pens that were made overseas.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

the last book I ever read (Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein, excerpt five)

from Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein:

The Parker Pen Company was founded by a man whose life trajectory traced a perfect arc of the American Dream. George Safford Parker was born during the Civil War in rural Shullsburg, Wisconsin, sixty-eight miles west of Janesville. His family went back on his father’s side to a couple who had arrived in Connecticut from Dover, England, in 1632. Parker grew up on an Iowa farm, yearning to see the world. At the time he was coming of age, it was popular for young men with ambition and wanderlust to seek jobs as telegraph operates on railroads. He was a lanky nineteen-year-old when he arrived in Janesville with $55 for the tuition at the Valentine School of Telegraphy. Run by two brothers of that name, Valentine was the only telegraphy school in the nation that held contracts with railroad companies. Parker was an able student. When he graduated, he was pleased to be hired by the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, until he learned that his job would not be riding the rails that traversed the American West, but holed up in a station in a backwater of South Dakota. So when Richard Valentine asked Parker months later to return to the school as an instructor, he jumped at the chance. Back in Janesville, he taught young men just a few years younger than himself and, on the side, was an agent for an Ohio pen company, selling fountain pens that his students needed in their studies to transcribe telegraph code. The John Holland Co. pens tended to leak, and Parker developed a specialty in pen repair and alteration. “It will always be possible to make a better pen,” Parker said in 1888, the year he formed the Parker Pen Company. He was twenty-five. The following year, he secured his first pen patent and, five years after that, another patent for the writing instrument that would catapult Parker into a company with an international reputation—the Lucky Curve.

By 1900, his business had large contracts to sell pens to the federal government and a Main Street address for its four-story factory and sales office, before it eventually moved into a handsome, steel-frame factory along Court Street. As his business grew, so did a paternalistic generosity that Parker showered on his workers, typical of the welfare capitalism of the day intended to foster loyalty and ward off unrest. A clubhouse for employee parties. Camp Cheerio on the grounds of his summer house on the river’s bluff. A housing, Parkwood, for company executives. By the 1920s, he was patron of the Parker Pen Concert Band, purchasing instruments for musicians if they needed help and furnishing company vehicles to convey players to concerts. He instructed the personnel in charge of hiring Parker Pen’s factory and office workers to check with the band’s director about the kinds of musicians he could use; applicants who could fill a vacancy in the band were to be given hiring preference.

Friday, September 14, 2018

the last book I ever read (Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein, excerpt four)

from Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein:

As he went through all these goodbyes, Mike understood that it was not just Lear Corp., which would file for bankruptcy that summer. Not even just Lear and General Motors, which had always been resented by many workers at the suppliers in the area for having the best pay and vacation benefits, even though amalgamated UAW Local 95 included them all. General Motors was resented but acknowledged as essential, because, if not for the assembly plant, a lot of other jobs wouldn’t have existed and, now that GM was closing, jobs were disappearing all around town. Two days before Christmas, the day that GM and Lear stopped production, so did the 159 employees of Logistics Services, Inc., a warehouse that sequenced parts and delivered them to the assembly plant. So did Allied Systems Group, whose 117 workers suddenly stopped hauling GM vehicles to car dealers through the Midwest. And nearby in Brodhead, seventy workers at the Woodbridge Group stopped making the foam to be delivered to Lear, where it was stuffed into seats for GM. Woodbridge’s other ninety-nine workers would be laid off when that factory, too, closed by spring. No, it wasn’t only GM and Lear that, by February, pushed up Rock County’s unemployment rate to 13.4 percent.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

the last book I ever read (Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein, excerpt three)

from Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein:

Machines ripped out. Assembly lines ripped out. Workers ripped out. It is April 10, Mike Vaughn’s final day at Lear Corp. For almost two decades, Lear has been Janesville’s largest supplier to General Motors, manufacturing the seats of every vehicle that came out of the assembly plant. Founded outside Detroit in 1917, the company eventually merged with a business formed by the inventor and businessman William Lear, who developed a car radio, the 8-track tape, and the Learjet. It has two hundred locations in three dozen countries. In Janesville, the assembly plant has been Lear’s only client, their fortunes bound together.

Now Mike stands in the doorway, taking a long look into the shell of a factory.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

the last book I ever read (Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein, excerpt two)

from Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein:

The other shoe drops, sudden as the first. On the second Monday in October, an executive from Detroit is back at the assembly plant, and the GM’ers lucky enough to still have their jobs are all called to another meeting eighteen minutes after the start of the first shift. The company hasn’t yet figured out whether Janesville will get its new small car, but it has made another decision. General Motors is in more desperate shape than it was four months ago, when it gave the plant the 2010 death sentence. That was optimistic. Production will stop in ten week. Eighty-five years of turning out Chevrolets—poof! Gone. Two days before Christmas.

News like this ricochets through town, and, over at M&I Bank on Main Street, it takes no time to reach Mary Willmer. Mary is community president of M&I, Janesville’s largest bank, and for weeks now she has had the unsettling sensation that, for someone in her position, the news could not be getting any worse. Four Mondays ago, she watched as Lehman Brothers, the storied investment bank, collapsed and filed the biggest bankruptcy case in U.S. history. Last Monday, the stock market crashed. By Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had plunged 18 percent, its sharpest decline in a single week. On Saturday, at a meeting in Washington a few blocks from the White House, the International Monetary Fund’s managing director warmed that the fragility of financial institutions of Europe and America had “pushed the global financial system to the brink of systemic meltdown.” Mary knows pretty much everyone in Janesville who matters, and she knows that, for most people in town who do not happen to be bankers, these have seemed like remote events of a distant crisis. Today, the crisis is coming home.

Monday, September 10, 2018

the last book I ever read (Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein, excerpt one)

from Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein:

Who could have seen this coming? Only five months ago, on a bright February morning, Marv had listened to Barack Obama, an Illinois senator with White House dreams, when he arrived at the assembly plant with a familiar message of economic hope, of Janesville’s future mirroring its past.

Marv had gotten off second shift at 2:30 a.m., as usual and slept for just over four hours so that he could go back down to the plant early. As he approached the south entrance, a bomb-sniffing dog was at the doorway. Secret Service officers were waving metal-detecting wands. But the plant security guys all knew Marv and just waved him through.

Janesville is a small city, yet big enough that presidents, would-be presidents, and soon-to-be presidents have been coming through town since Abraham Lincoln stopped by during the fall of 1859. For Obama’s turn, his campaign had arranged for the assembly plant to be the prop for a major economic speech. Second-shift works who wanted to attend had been chosen, like so much else at the plant, on the basis of their seniority. Marv simply got a call from a union guy asking whether he wanted to come. He sure did. Marv is a Democrat, and he has been detecting in Obama a concern for the working class.

Friday, September 7, 2018

the last book I ever read (Columbine by Dave Cullen, excerpt fourteen)

from Columbine by Dave Cullen:

In September 2003, the last known layer of the cover-up finally came out. It had unraveled over the course of a full year. It started when someone in the sheriff’s department found some paperwork in a three-ring binder unrelated to the Columbine case. It was a brief police report on Eric Harris. Eight pages from his Web site were attached. They included the “I HATE” rants, boasts about the missions, and descriptions of the first pipe bombs. Eric bragged about detonating one. The report was dated August 7, 1997, more than six months earlier than reports uncovered to date.

The report was brought to the new Jeffco sheriff, Ted Mink. He called a press conference. “This discovery and its implications are upsetting,” he said. “The obvious implication… is that the sheriff’s office has some knowledge of Eric Harris’s and Dylan Klebold’s activities in the years prior to the Columbine shootings.” He released the documents and asked Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar to conduct an outside investigation.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

the last book I ever read (Columbine by Dave Cullen, excerpt thirteen)

from Columbine by Dave Cullen:

Eric had been looking into the Brady Bill. Congress had passed the law restricting the purchase of most popular semiautomatic machine guns in 1993. A federal system of instant background checks would soon go into effect. Eric was going to have a hard time getting around that.

“Fuck you Brady!” Eric wrote in his journal. All he wanted was a couple of guns—“and thanks to your fucking bill I will probably not get any!” He wanted them only for personal protection, he joked: “Its not like I’m some psycho who would go on a shooting spree. fuckers.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

the last book I ever read (Columbine by Dave Cullen, excerpt twelve)

from Columbine by Dave Cullen:

Patrick Ireland was trying to learn to talk again. So frustrating. The first couple of days he couldn’t manage much of anything. He struggled to spit out a single sentence, word by word, and when he had finished, it often made no sense. In his best moments, Patrick spoke like the victim of a severe stroke: slow, labored attempts would produce a single guttural syllable, then a sudden burst of sound. He could form the words in his words in his head, but few made the passage to his mouth. Where did all the rest go? Any chance distraction could hijack the thought as it made its way to his vocal chords. Random phrases often slipped in to replace the ideas. His mom would ask how he was feeling, and he’d answer in Spanish, or recite the capitals of South American countries. His brain was never aware of the mix-up. He was sure he had just described his mood or asked for a straw, and was confused by her confusion.

Patrick’s brain tended to spit out whatever was in short-term memory. He had been studying the capitals just before the shooting, and recently returned from Spain. Often the memories were more immediate. Hospital intercom announcements were constantly echoing out of Patrick’s mouth, in response to unrelated questions. He had no idea he had even heard the voices in the background. Other times it was complete nonsense. “Picture-perfect marsupials” kept popping out. No one knows where that came from.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

the last book I ever read (Columbine by Dave Cullen, excerpt eleven)

from Columbine by Dave Cullen:

It was a rough time for the Brown family. The public got two conflicting stories: Randy and Judy Brown had either labored to prevent Columbine or raised one of its conspirators. Or both.

To the Browns it looked like retribution. Yes, their son had been close to the killers—close enough to see it coming. The Browns had blown the whistle on Eric Harris over a year earlier, and the cops had done nothing. After Eric went through with his threats, the Browns were fingered as accomplices instead of heroes. They couldn’t believe it. They told the New York Times they had contacted the sheriff’s department about Eric fifteen times. Jeffco officials would insist for years that the Browns never met with an investigator—despite holding a report indicating they had.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

the last book I ever read (Columbine by Dave Cullen, excerpt ten)

from Columbine by Dave Cullen:

Eric dubbed his pranks “the missions.” As they got under way, he ruminated about misfit geniuses in American society. He didn’t like what he saw. Eric was a voracious reader, and he had just gobbled up John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven, which includes a fable about the idiot savant Tularecito. The young boy had extraordinary gifts that allowed him to see a world his peers couldn’t even imagine—exactly how Eric was coming to view himself, though without Tularecito’s mental shortcomings. Tularecito’s peers failed to see his gifts and treated him badly.Tularecito struck back violently, killing one of his antagonists. He was imprisoned for life in an insane asylum. Eric did not approve. “Tularecito did not deserve to be put away,” he wrote in a book report. “He just needed to be taught to control his anger. Society needs to treat extremely talented people like Tularecito much better.” All they needed was more time, Eric argued—gifted misfits could be taught what was right and wrong, what was acceptable to society. “Love and care is the only way,” he said.

Love and care. Eric wrote this at the very moment he started moving against his peers. Sometimes he attacked their houses to retaliate for perceived slights, but most often for the offense of inferiority.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

the last book I ever read (Columbine by Dave Cullen, excerpt nine)

from Columbine by Dave Cullen:

Personal affinities also obscured the problem. Mr. D knew he was drawn to sports. He worked hard to offset that by attending debate tournaments, drama tryouts, and art shows. He conferred regularly with the student senate. But those were all success stories. Mr. D balanced athletics and academics better than overachievers and unders.

“I don’t think he had a preference on purpose,” a pierced-out girl in a buzz cut and red tartan boots said. “He’s got a lot of school spirit, and I think he aims it in the direction he’s most comfortable with, like school sports and student congress.” She saw DeAngelis as a sincere man, making a tremendous effort to interact with students, unaware that his natural inclination toward happy, energetic students created a blind spot for the outsiders. “My Goth friends hated the school,” she said.