Monday, February 15, 2016

Booknote: A Fighting Chance (Audiobook edition)

Elizabeth Warren, A Fighting Chance. New York: Macmillan Audio, 2014. ISBN: 9781427239167.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: politics, United States politics, autobiography
Format: Audiobook on 9 CDs. The book is read by the author.
Source: The Berea branch of the Madison County Public Library

Warren's book opens with a prologue where she summarizes her life story and how she came to politics and her battles in the U.S. Senate. She says the book will tell a very public story about fraud, bailouts, and elections, and I can tell you that after reading it she delivers on that promise. The book is also a personal story about mothers and family. It is about what she has seen and lived and what is worth fighting for, including giving your kids a fighting chance for the future. A fair fighting chance is a strong theme throughout the book. In the first chapter, she tells the story of her parents, and we learn about her early life.

Later in the book, she tells of teaching her first bankruptcy class at UT-Austin. She tells the story of a big fancy pants professor who helped write the federal bankruptcy law that came to speak to her class. When asked, and without any evidence whatsoever, he argued that anyone going into bankruptcy was a deadbeat who made poor choices. It was the "conventional assumption. In reality, none of the so-called experts like him let alone the legislators in Congress had any idea of the reality on the ground. After the professor left, Warren pondered the following question: why is Congress making laws without knowing the reality on the ground? By the way, Congress for the most part still passes legislation without a clue or idea of the reality for common Americans.

Further on, she tells the story of how banks basically kept making bad loans, even as they took bankruptcy losses, because in the short term exploiting vulnerable people was very profitable. Her early meeting with representatives from Citibank when they tell her they were not interested in curbing such lending is illustrative of the problem with the deregulation banks lobbied for and pushed through Congress. By the way, their lobbying also got Congress to make bankruptcy a lot more harder to use for those common people who are really struggling. She was a law professor at the time, but back then she already saw the cynicism and damage the banks were doing and how many real people were getting hurt in the process.

The book combines autobiography with an overview of the issues she has fought for. One the issues, she does explain things quite well, including the D.C. corruption by lobbyists as the middle class continued to be pummeled. On the final stretch of the book she moves from being an agency director to her run for office and getting elected. Warren is a talented, caring, compassionate individual trying to do some good in the hellhole of corruption and selfishness that is Washington, D.C. Some of the revelations she makes of how D.C. operates are simply disgusting, or they should be disgusting to decent people.

In addition, the book does have some moving moments, often from people, simple, humble people who turn to her because no one else will stand up for them. The book then ends with her election to be a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. In the book, Warren displays a great ability to explain things clearly. In running for office, she does reveal some naive moments resulting from her idealism, and she did also have some rude awakenings when confronted with Washington D.C.'s reality. In the end, at the very least, she wants every American to have a fair and even fighting chance. Not many other politicians offer that.

There are tons of books by politicians out there, but this is one of the very few worth reading. Her story is inspiring, and her arguments for reform and change are necessary and clear. As a reader, Warren does have a sincere, moving voice, the voice of someone who cares and you can relate to.

4 out of 5 stars.

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Additional reading notes: 

Warren was one of the first law scholars, or any scholar for that matter, who went to find evidence of who really went bankrupt, and it was not the deadbeats that "experts" just assumed existed. She goes on to explain how the middle class of the United States was basically almost obliterated by predatory banks who used lobbyists to regulate themselves and by the stagnation of wages. Not even working two incomes could save them:

"On average, once the basic bills were covered-- the mortgage, the health insurance, daycare, the cost of preschool or college tuition-- the modern two-income family had less money each month than the one-income family of a generation earlier." 

Warren defines that as the two-income trap. For these two-income families, they were basically one disaster away from bankruptcy and ruin. Once families ran out of money, they used debt, and they went down a cliff. Much of this she had expanded upon in her previous book The Two-Income Trap, which you will note was published in 2003, way before the great recession of 2008 hit. She was one of the voices already calling out the issues, but for the most part, only few listened while the government and banks just did not give a shit.

The more I read the book, the more amazed I was that she decided to run for public office to fight. It amazes me the few decent people in D.C. and her have not torched that whole nest of vipers and walked away after washing their hands. The amount of Republican obstructionism, and it needs to be called out for what it is, and just plain fuckery are beyond the pale. As she states at one point:

"No matter the crisis. No matter the sense of urgency of the moment. In Washington, it was always my team versus your team, and in all that pushing and pulling too many times the people we were supposed to serve got left behind." 

She also goes over the deficit and has a word for Right Wingers and Republicans whine about how horrible is the deficit (the one they created by the way and others have to clean up for them) and the need for austerity:

"We hear about the deficit as if it's a monster, and America's only choice is to slash and burn huge swaths of our budget immediately or face total destruction. All or nothing. Live or die. Yes, the deficit is a serious problem, and it deserves serious attention, but I don't buy that there's only one way out. I think we have to face a more fundamental issue first: how we spend our government's money is about value, and it's about choices. We can cut back on what we spend on seniors and kids and education as the Republicans in Congress insisted we should, or we can get rid of tax loopholes and ask the wealthy and big corporations to pay a little more to keep investing in our future. How we spend our money isn't some absurdly complicated math problem. It's about choices." 

On Washington corruption and politics being disgusting to decent people, I have to say that given that the same assholes keep getting elected and re-elected, one honestly has to conclude there are not that many decent people, let alone informed one who can exercise critical thinking, among the electorate. As George Carlin said so well on his monologue about voting and politics:

"If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you're going to get selfish, ignorant leaders. Term limits aren't going to do any good; you're just going to end up with a brand new bunch of selfish, ignorant Americans. So, maybe, maybe, maybe, it's not the politicians who suck. Maybe something else sucks around here. . . like, the public. Yeah, the public sucks." 

Given the truth in that, it is amazing Warren got elected. Then again, her opponent at the time, Scott Brown, ran a seriously dirty campaign, which Warren details in the book. 

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This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

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