First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

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A photo of President Trump, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi placing their hands on a glowing orb went viral this week, drawing comparisons online with comic-book villains and the Palantír from The Lord of the Rings. So we asked our Politics & Policy Daily readers to share the most memorable moments from trips taken by past presidents. Here’s what they said:

Several of you pointed to the infamous dinner when President George H. W. Bush vomited on the lap of Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, and then fainted. Reader Anna Bucciarelli felt for him: “I remember it so well and felt such empathy with the president. It had to have been the most embarrassing moment of his entire life.”

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In addition to the readers who related to the abuses that Eudocia “Lola” Pulido experienced, some readers saw parallels between Alex Tizon’s story and domestic violence they’d witnessed within their own families. Mara writes:

I am a white, American-born woman many years younger than Alex and thus my experiences are very different from his, yet I relate to his story in a way that I have not seen addressed: I grew up in an abusive household and live every day with the guilt of not doing more to rectify my parents’ transgressions.

It must be acknowledged that exposing a child to domestic violence is a form of abuse with lifelong effects; Alex witnessed Lola’s mistreatment as a constant presence in his youth, and clearly struggled with that legacy for the rest of his life. Although he did not recognize himself as such in “My Family’s Slave,” he too deserves our sympathy as victim. A child has no choice but to comply with their parents’ abusive behavior—must comply in order to survive. That normalization of and forced complicity with violence creates a sense of self-doubt and helplessness which does not magically vanish in adulthood. The criticisms of Alex’s decisions have not acknowledged this crucial dynamic, and it’s not something easily understood unless one has lived it.

Bruce gives a wrenching account of what he and his mother lived through:

Like Alex, I grew up with domestic violence. It began even before I could even remember. My mother told me that one time, my dad had her on the ground, and was standing over her, whipping her with his belt. My twin brother and I were cowering in a corner crying, and when my dad left, I crawled over to her and caressed her face. I hadn’t learnt to talk yet.

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Eric Gaillard / Reuters

Amy Lowell’s legacy, as represented in the pages of The Atlantic and in the broader poetic landscape, is a spare and neglected one. Though she was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1926, she never quite reached the heights of literary acclaim or recognition that her relatives James Russell Lowell and Robert Lowell did. And her poetry hasn’t attracted the same level of praise or popular readership as that of some of her contemporaries, like Ezra Pound, who both influenced and criticized her work, or Robert Frost, who she supported and encouraged in the early years of his career.

But in “Castles in Spain,” published in our August 1918 issue—just months before the end of World War I—she spoke powerfully to the resilience of her own work in the face of war, violence, and the passage of time:

Bombs and bullets cannot menace me,
Who have no substance to be overthrown.
Cathedrals crash to rubbish, but my towers,
Carved in the whirling and enduring brain,
Fade, and persist, and rise again, like flowers.

Many of Lowell’s towers endure, beautiful and evocative, in our archives, a testament to that resilience. You can find some of them—including her very first published workhere.

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As numerous readers have written, one of the most moving aspects of “My Family’s Slave” is that Alex Tizon was able to honor Eudocia Tomas Pulido, whom he knew as Lola, by telling her story—while one of the tragedies is that Pulido was never able to tell it herself. My colleague Vann writes:

Tizon doesn’t know her desires, fears, attachments, or even very much about her own story. He attempts to learn these things, but doesn’t get very far, and we never learn whether the failure is due simply to Pulido’s reticence or to the fact that years of servitude had minimized her story even in her own mind.

After reading Alex’s essay and some of the criticism on social media, this reader wrote to us with the subject line, “On Eudocia, from someone who went through it”:

For half my childhood, I was indentured. I was born in Canada, went to school in this country, and it still happened to me. I’m incredibly thankful that I got to grow out of it, but trauma hurts the most in its resonance.

Listening to those claiming to seek justice for Eudocia has felt like a scab opening over and over again. Please, do not take actions on behalf of indentured and enslaved people without consulting them. Do not seek reparations for us without asking. Those in the disability rights movement say, “Nothing about us, without us.” I think this mindset applies to those of us who have gone through forced servitude. We don’t want what you think is best for ourselves.

For my own situation, finding peace and healing after escaping took precedent over any vengeance or confrontation. I would have hated to become a hashtag.

Several other readers also wrote in to say that Eudocia’s experiences reminded them of their own—including Juliet, whose mother came from Tarlac, the same province in the Philippines where Eudocia was born:

I may have accidentally found this article for a reason. I myself was a slave given to live with family members I didn’t even know. I had to wake up in a hard cold cement area under the stairway. Like a cold dog, I’d be woken up with harsh words and a kick on the rib cage jolting my teenage body.  Sad to find out Lola didn’t get an education. I persevered to go to school at night when I was done with all my housework.

I ran away when things got worse and taught myself in a lot of ways to survive. But I don’t feel completely free. It becomes a codependency—it’s hard to explain, but it’s there, a learned trait. Part of life as a slave is interweaving survival and seeking freedom. You never know what freedom is because you have become immune.

Another reader writes:

This essay has brought me to tears as it reminded me of my childhood.

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The scene this morning in Burlington (Josh Brown, UVM).

This morning I had the privilege of giving the commencement address at the University of Vermont—UVM, home of the Catamounts, in Burlington. My wife Deb and I, and our colleague John Tierney, visited UVM several years ago and wrote about it in our American Futures series, notably with John’s piece about the school’s emergence as a “public Ivy.”

Seven Days, the financially-and-journalistically successful weekly based in Burlington (which I’ve also written about), has a story about today’s commencement, here. The University’s story is here. Since the talk drew on various themes that recur in this “American Futures” thread, I’m attaching the text, below.

Go Catamounts!

* * *

Commencement remarks

University of Vermont

May 21, 2017

James Fallows

President Sullivan, Governor Scott, honorary degree recipients, faculty and staff, friends and family, people of Vermont and beyond, and above all members of the class of 2017 — greetings, and congratulations!

On behalf of your parents and grandparents, your brothers and sisters, and all the known and unknown supporters who have cheered and aided your journey to this glorious day, I salute you on your achievement. And I am glad as well to use the words I heard at my own college commencement many years ago, and officially “welcome you to the company of educated men and women.”

Every one of you realizes that not a one of you made this journey entirely on your own. Thus I’d like you to take a moment to stand and turn around, and look for a face of one of those crucial supporters in the crowd —or to envision an absent one in your mind—and express with cheers and applause your gratitude for what they have done.

I’ve just completed the first part of my job, which is to celebrate this moment. I turn now to the second part, which is to be brief.

In these next few minutes I’m going to try to convince you to feel good—energized, confident, important—about this very uncertain-seeming world onto which you’re about to make your mark. I’m going to argue that the generations ahead of you, including people like your parents and grandparents, and me, and those that will follow you, like the children and grandchildren you will someday have, need you to feel as if you can change the world, and to get busy doing so by putting your UVM training to maximum use.

Let’s go into that case. What’s most worth noticing about the circumstances in which we meet — right here, right now, as you begin your post-college life?

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Eudocia "Lola" Tomas Pulido in 1976 Courtesy of Alex Tizon and His Family

In response to Alex Tizon’s essay “My Family’s Slave,” Richard Buck writes:

I am stunned by Alex’s story. Alex sat at a desk right beside mine for six months when we were both reporters at The Seattle Times. He was immensely talented and well-liked as well as respected.

When I learned his story would be on the cover of the magazine I was proud. Now, my feelings are mixed.

On the one hand, Alex was a dogged reporter, a talented writer, a friendly colleague. He certainly did a good job writing this story. I am sorry for the loss of a good journalist who was my co-worker.

But on the other hand, I’m embarrassed (I wonder: Why does any of this rub off on me?) that he did not do much more, much sooner to improve her life. Knowing what he did, why did he allow his mother to continue to “own” this woman? And why did he want The Seattle Times to publish an obituary after Lola’s death that failed to recognize the most significant fact of her life?

Several other readers also pointed out that obituary, in which Alex had described Lola to a reporter as a devoted grandmother figure who devoted her life to “cooking, cleaning and caring for three generations [and] asked for nothing in return.” The newspaper’s response to The Atlantic’s story is here.

Of the hundreds of emails we’ve received in response to Alex’s essay, nearly all express being moved by the story. Katrina Langford calls it a masterpiece: “I can only imagine how difficult this journey was to make as a writer.” Frank Daniels calls it “an amazing article, by an amazing and compassionate man.” Ruby Moon calls it a love letter: “It touched me to the point that it made me cry.” Many describe intense emotional reactions: tears, shaking hands, sweaty palms, and an inability to stop reading. They write about reading and weeping at work, in class, or in the middle of the night, as if Lola and Alex had entered their lives. From Magdalena Chudzinska:

I’ve just read the article “My Family’s Slave” by Alex Tizon. I cannot thank him, but I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to read such a beautiful story. I’ve been reading it for three days, during my little pauses at work. Couldn’t have finished it at one blow, because was always starting to cry and my team was asking me if everything was fine. I’m puzzled and cracked inside after this story … but that’s good.

These responses point to the resonance of Alex’s personal narrative: His perspective makes the story of Lola all the more vivid, because of—not in spite of—its flaws and his guilt.

However, Rob Byron, another reader, points out the limits of that point of view:

Jeffrey Goldberg hedges in his editor’s note by saying Alex Tizon’s piece is “the sort of journalism The Atlantic has practiced since its inception.” Respectfully, I would ask Mr. Goldberg to prove it. It’s straight memoir, soup to nuts, and the editorial decision to print it without any further reporting to prop it up seems dubious. Readers are left with too many questions: Was the point to raise awareness about the plight of unpaid or underpaid domestic workers in the U.S.? Was it to exorcise family guilt?

A friend of mine who’s a respected editor and colleague had this to say: “Hopefully some talented journalist will pick up the thread and report from [Lola’s] hometown about the slave system still in place there or dig deeper into slavery in the U.S. I’d like to see that journalism.”

So would I.

We’ll be publishing several articles to follow Alex’s essay, situating his story in a broader cultural and economic context. The first, by Ai-jen Poo, discusses the persistence of modern-day slavery in the U.S. We’ll also be publishing the personal stories of readers like Claudia, who experienced conditions similar to those Lola did. If you would like to share your story, please email; let us know where you’re writing from, and whether you’d like to remain anonymous.

All notes on "Contemporary Slavery" >
Philippe Wojazer / Reuters

This time of year always reminds me of days spent hiking in the California mountains with my family when I was younger—something about the sunlight and the sudden, abundant greenness of everything, about the way the natural world feels more present and alive even in the middle of the city.

Though it was written about a place thousands of miles distant from the ones I explored as a child, Maxine Kumin’s “The Word” reminds me of those days, too. In the poem, Kumin captures a familiar quiet wonder and the feeling of being close to, but not quite a part of, nature as she describes interacting with wildlife around her New Hampshire home. Here are the first few lines:

We ride up softly to the hidden
oval in the woods, a plateau rimmed
with wavy stands of gray birch and white pine,
my horse thinking his thoughts, happy
in the October dapple, and I thinking
mine-and-his, which is my prerogative,

both of us just in time to see a big doe
loft up over the four-foot fence

Read the full poem here, and find more of Kumin’s work for The Atlantic here.

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This week, we published Alex Tizon’s essay “My Family’s Slave,” about the woman he knew as Lola: Eudocia Tomas Pulido, who was enslaved and treated cruelly by his family, and who raised him and whom he loved.

It’s a deeply complicated personal narrative, and the response from readers has been overwhelming. Scores of your emails and comments have expressed being deeply moved by the piece—“feeling sadness, anger, frustration, hope, and relief,” as one reader, Naziat Adnan, put it. At the same time, many others have criticized Alex, who died in March, and The Atlantic’s treatment of the story as an excuse for slaveowners. One reader wrote: “The author aided and abetted in slavery. His pathetic efforts to ease her situation in the last few years of her life were not enough.”

The Filipino magazine Scout published a response to the backlash, noting that “a lot of the international outrage is coming from a place where they don’t fully understand the culture the story is set in. ” (The article was soon revised “to reinforce the fact that the author and Scout don’t condone the Filipino culture of indentured/forced servitude in any way.”)

For my part, I found the story haunting, both for its painful subject matter and by coincidence: I’m half-Filipina, and grew up in the Pacific Northwest where Alex did, so that I could picture the places and landscapes he mentions in the background of Lola’s story. Though he doesn’t explain it in the article, Lola is the Tagalog honorific for “grandmother.” As a child, I didn’t realize this; I thought Lola was simply my grandmother’s name.

We’ll be publishing a number of responses to “My Family’s Slave” in the next few weeks, outlining the economic, cultural, and historical context for Alex and Lola’s personal story. We’ll also be publishing your own personal stories in Notes. From Claudia:

I wept so much while reading Lola’s story because in a way it reminds me of my life. I was also brought to this country when I was a child, lived with my uncle and aunt, and was responsible for taking care of their three kids, cleaning, cooking, and working in their stores (laundromat/salon/pharmacy) for free. This went on for years, except I was lucky enough to go to school.

I was not allowed to discuss the goings-on at the house with anyone. Once, I made the mistake of sharing what was going on at home to my school counselor. The counselor called my uncle to try to setup a time to discuss with them what I told them. When I got home, I got a beating that I never dared to mention it to anyone.

I was luckier than Lola because I was able to leave while in my 20s. I am so sad that Lola never got to live her life, get married or have kids.  Thank you for taking care of her and making sure that her last few years, she was free.  May her soul rest in peace.

If Lola’s situation resonates with you, or if you have another response to the article to share, please tell us your story:

All notes on "Contemporary Slavery" >
A striking fast-food worker holds up a sign during protests to support raising the minimum wage in Los Angeles, California, on November 29, 2016. Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

In January, James Kwak wrote about how basic economic principles can be applied to public policy in misleading ways. A letter to the editor, followed by James’s reply, is below.

Thanks to Professor Kwak for his 2017 article in The Atlantic entitled “The Curse of Econ 101.”  We participated in a discussion of this article in a recent economics conference, and it served as an excellent launching pad for our reflections on the pros and cons of our Principles of Economics courses as currently taught.

Those in attendance teach Economics at research universities, liberal-arts colleges and community colleges, and we agreed that we did not recognize our Principles courses in the description of Economism advanced by Professor Kwak. He defines Economism as “the misleading application of basic lessons from Economics 101 to real-world problems, creating the illusion of consensus and reducing a complex topic to a simple, open-and-shut case.” While we do not count upon reaching consensus among our students, we do make every effort to give them a fundamental theoretical structure that they can extend as appropriate when evaluating real-world problems. We then present them with those real-world problems and demand that they analyze the specifics of those problems using the theoretical structure of economics.

The presentation of the minimum wage in our classes—Professor Kwak’s specific example—is a good example of the appropriate mix of theory and real-world experience in our classes. We do not ask our students to ignore empirical observations that seem to contradict our theory, but we use those observations as jumping-off points to consider appropriate extensions of the theory in that specific case. Professor Kwak cites a 1994 study by professors David Card and Alan Krueger as a reason to reject the insights of Economics 101 on the minimum wage; we see it and the many other empirical studies of the impact of the minimum wage as ways to engage students in extending their application of economic theory to the real world.

We enjoyed Professor Kwak’s point of view, and look forward to reading his book. In the meantime, we hope that he’ll sit through a semester of Econ 101 on his campus. We think he’ll find that the class challenges the students to extend their thinking to embrace complex economic phenomena rather than encouraging them to treat each phenomenon as a “simple, open-and-shut case.”


Patrick Conway
Professor, Department of Economics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

William Alpert
Emeritus Professor, Department of Economics, University of Connecticut

Carlos J. Asarta
Director, Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship, University of Delaware

Steven Cobb
Director, Center for Economic Education, University of North Texas

William Goffe
Senior Lecturer, Department of Economics, Penn State University

Michael A. MacDowell
Managing Director, Calvin K. Kazanjian Economics Foundation, Inc.

Michael Salemi
Emeritus Professor, Department of Economics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Wendy Stock
Professor, Agricultural Economics and Economics Departments, Montana State University

John Swinton
Professor, Department of Economics, Georgia College

James Kwak replies:

I appreciate your reading the article (which is an excerpt of my book Economism), and I’m honored that your group chose to discuss it.

I am sure you are correct that most first-year economics classes do not blindly apply the competitive market model to complex issues. In the article and the book, my focus was not on first-year economics classes themselves, but rather on a broader social phenomenon: the unreflective way that the competitive market model is used to justify certain policy and political positions (often with a ritual invocation of “Economics 101”) without asking whether the model accurately describes the real world. My book is concerned less with how economics is actually taught than with our media and political landscape and the caricature of Economics 101 that, in my opinion, has become disproportionately influential today. When it comes to the minimum wage, my main point was not to say that Dube is right and Neumark and Wascher are wrong, but to say that there is a serious empirical debate about these issues; the people who are wrong are the politicians who say with certainty that a higher minimum wage must increase unemployment, and they are the ones who claim that “economics” is on their side.

I do hope you read the book.

Elliot Richardson speaks to reporters on October 23, 1973, after resigning as U.S. attorney general. Richardson, along with his deputy William Ruckelshaus, resigned in protest after Nixon fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Charles Tasnadi / AP

Last week, Jim Fallows, who covered the fallout from the  Watergate scandal 45 years ago, wrote about five reasons why President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey may pose an even greater challenge to the American system. In response, Stephen W.—a reader who was then a “young, idealistic college grad” working in Massachusetts politics—shared his own memory of the Saturday Night Massacre:

On the Saturday evening of October 20, 1973, I received a phone call from a mentor, Tom O’Donnell, a partner at Archibald Cox’s Boston law firm. I had heard the news earlier in the day: the firing of Cox, and the resignations of Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus. Tom asked me if I could perform a favor. AG Richardson was about to land at Logan Airport and needed a ride to his home in Cohasset.

As I pulled up to the terminal curbside, I saw the tall, horn-rim–spectacled figure standing alone in the faint light. I greeted him softly, “Welcome home, sir,” and took his buckled valise from his hand to place it in the trunk. As we made our way down the Southeast Expressway toward the south-shore enclaves of Yankee Brahmins, the night seemed particularly dark and gloomy. Very few people were out and about. I distinctly remember feeling the weight of the moment.

I feel the same weight today as I watch the Trump family tragedy play out. But I also remember the quiet countenance of Mr. Richardson. It was a profile of a patriot, putting country before party or self-interest. His expression was calm and deeply reflective as he sat in the front seat next to me, without a hint of anger or upset. There were no words of any import exchanged between us. It didn’t seem appropriate to intrude on his thoughts.

We exchanged a simple “thank you and good night,” as I passed his only bag back to him. As I pulled out of the long driveway of the dark and secluded home, the encounter left me with a deep impression of the significance of integrity and reputation in the course of all human affairs.

Your article triggers my memory—a very personal memory of the import of our solemn duties and responsibilities exercised for the preservation and protection of those exceptional ideals of democracy, against those who would suborn the rule of law.

Dozens of other readers wrote in to share their thoughts about those duties and responsibilities, as exercised by government officials and private citizens in Nixon’s era and ours. Fallows passed the emails on to me, and I’ve collected a number of them here. From Dan Kimmel:

Excellent article, but, like many, it glosses over the role of Robert Bork in the Saturday Night Massacre. I was no fan of Bork and was glad he never made it to the Supreme Court, but when he became acting head of the Justice Department, he told Richardson and Ruckelshaus he would fire Cox because he believed that the president had the authority to so order, but then he would resign in protest as well. Richardson and Ruckelshaus prevailed on him NOT to resign because there was serious doubt as who, if anyone, was legitimately next in line at the Justice Department. It fits the later narrative of the right-wing Bork to depict him as a willing Nixon stooge, but that was not the case.

According to The New York Times’s 1987 account of those events, Bork apparently considered the firing of Cox to be a question of legal authority, whereas Richardson and Ruckelshaus resigned because of moral, not legal, concerns. But as another reader, Randy, points out, acting on principle can also be good politics:

As a follow-up to this article, I would suggest an article about what happens to politicians that bite the bullet and do what’s right for the country, not their party. Howard Baker and others, for example, became heroes. Did any of the Republicans that turned on Nixon lose?

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