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“Ethnic Heritage On The Courts”: What Happens In A White Patriarchal Culture Where “Norms” Are The Default Mode

Even as legal experts express their alarm over Donald Trump’s remarks about U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel (who is presiding over the fraud cases against Trump University), the presumptive Republican presidential nominee decided to double down.

In an interview, Mr. Trump said U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel had “an absolute conflict” in presiding over the litigation given that he was “of Mexican heritage” and a member of a Latino lawyers’ association. Mr. Trump said the background of the judge, who was born in Indiana to Mexican immigrants, was relevant because of his campaign stance against illegal immigration and his pledge to seal the southern U.S. border. “I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest,” Mr. Trump said.

So here’s how that breaks down: Trump makes racists proposals against Mexican immigrants and then assumes that presents a conflict of interest for a judge with Mexican heritage. Based on all of his racist and sexist comments, that might wipe out a pretty good portion of the judiciary from ever presiding over a case in which he is involved.

But there is something deeper at work here. I have no illusions that a man like Trump will ever understand it. But it’s important for us to be clear about what it means to single a judge out for their ethnic heritage.

As I’ve been watching this unfold, I am reminded of the Republican attacks on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Because of her compelling story and exemplary career, they settled on going after her for her remarks about a “wise Latina.” They were part of a lecture she gave in 2009 titled: A Latina Judge’s Voice” in which she addressed the question of what it means to have more women and people of color on the bench.

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life…

Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.

Now…compare that to what Sam Alito said during his confirmation hearing when Sen. Tom Coburn asked him to let us see a little bit of his heart.

…when a case comes before me involving, let’s say, someone who is an immigrant — and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases — I can’t help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn’t that long ago when they were in that position.

And so it’s my job to apply the law. It’s not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result.

But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, “You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country.”

The only real difference between what Sotomayor and Alito said is that her family is from Puerto Rico and his are from Italy. And yet one nominee’s words were cause for a firestorm and the other’s were heralded as heartfelt – when noticed at all. That is what happens in a white patriarchal culture where “norms” are established as the default mode for expectations.

Let’s take a look at how Justice Sotomayor ended her lecture.

Each day on the bench I learn something new about the judicial process and about being a professional Latina woman in a world that sometimes looks at me with suspicion. I am reminded each day that I render decisions that affect people concretely and that I owe them constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives and ensuring that to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate them and change as circumstances and cases before me requires. I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences but I accept my limitations. I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage but attempt, as the Supreme Court suggests, continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate.

There is always a danger embedded in relative morality, but since judging is a series of choices that we must make, that I am forced to make, I hope that I can make them by informing myself on the questions I must not avoid asking and continuously pondering.

One has to wonder whether Justice Alito questions his own assumptions, presumptions and perspectives that stem from being a white male on the court. The systemic bias we witness in the courts is largely a result of the failure to do so.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 3, 2016

June 4, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Judiciary, Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Americans Believe All Manner Of Dumb Things”: Donald Trump’s ‘Secret’ Americans Love Bullsh*t Peddlers And Miracle Cures

It’s a requirement for a certain sort of political journalist to file at least one heavy-breathing dispatch on the cynical brilliance of Donald Trump, stuffed with clichés about the Republican nominee’s “genius… ability to make facts irrelevant” and his supposed skill at “hypnotizing” voters into believing things that are demonstrably false. These are often accompanied by a compulsory comment from a Trump supporter denouncing an “elite media” that doesn’t understand ordinary, salt-of-the-Earth types susceptible to cheering-New-Jersey-Muslims-on-9/11 conspiracy theories.

During an appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher last week, I made the uncontroversial point that Americans believe many stupid things and that it was necessary to challenge those stupidities. This provoked a barely coherent Trump-supporter named Wayne Allyn Root to suggest that my “elitism” betrayed a disconnect with those in real America. Later in the show, Root, author of the autobiographical book Millionaire Republican (“The real key to becoming a Millionaire Republican is to do the opposite of what the masses do”), boasted that he went to Columbia and his daughter attended Harvard. (Live television, I decided, was no place to admit penury and a degree from a state university.)

The question, of course, remained unanswered: if Trump has such a fraught relationship with reality, why are voters—those stolid and honest middle Americans—so easily charmed by his lies? There now exists a significant literature on this question, most of which forgoes simple explanations in favor of needlessly complicated ones. The boring truth is that Americans of all backgrounds believe all manner of dumb things. Why would we expect voters to exhibit a degree of rationality they rarely display in other aspects of life?

Indeed, Americans have a particular talent for transforming charlatans, cranks, and frauds into celebrities—and a particular tolerance for fact-free fads promoted by already-existing celebrities. Our favorite medical man is arguably Dr. Oz, who indulges all sorts of unscientific mysticism. We’ve made the absurd television “medium” John Edward absurdly wealthy for pretending he can communicate with your dead pet newt. Ours is a culture in which an Oscar-winning actress has a second act as a lifestyle guru peddling pseudoscientific nonsense, forcing Canadian academic Timothy Caufield to publish the book Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? (Spoiler: pretty much.)

Believing stupid things is, alas, a habit of both plebs and elites, celebrities and nobodies. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.

On any given night in New York City, dinner parties are thrown, forthcoming Hamptons holidays compared, and fantastically ignorant conversations about politics and “wellness” trends are had (sound baths, steamed vaginas, vinegar diets, child sacrifice, etc). I was once in the unpleasant company of an obscenely wealthy literary agent when she advised her guests that this summer they should all commit to hiring her German-born “energy person” in Southampton, who would tinker with their chakras and free their radicals, while draining their bank accounts for the privilege.

You would be unsurprised to discover that my host diligently ate organic, shunned gluten, ingested handfuls of probiotics, and avoided Genetically Modified Organisms. And most well-informed people would also be unsurprised that last month the National Academy of Science released an authoritative report aggregating 20 years of research on genetic modification showing no evidence exists to support claims that GMOs are harmful to humans or the environment. But like the dozens of studies that preceded it, the new report will have no effect on those friends convinced that tinkering with nature inevitably precipitates civilizational disaster.

And of those friends, I doubt you’d be surprised if more than one owned a copy of The 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse, a book that has lurked on the New York Times bestseller list since 2014, promising to “cleanse your cells and insides.” There is, as Tim Caufield points out in his anti-Paltrow opus, “absolutely no evidence to support the idea that we need to detoxify our bodies in the manner suggested by the cleansing industry.” The body is quite capable of “cleansing” and “detoxifying” itself—your kidneys and liver take care of that—but smart people still believe in scrubbing cells clean with pint glasses full of plutonium-scented green sludge. (A friend pointed me to his preferred local organic restaurant, in one of New York City’s most expensive neighborhoods, that hawks a “16 oz. Alzheimer’s Fighter” juice, which will set you back $8 and do absolutely nothing to stave off Alzheimers.)

Or how about my Facebook acquaintance who recently recommended Arianna Huffington’s best-selling book The Sleep Revolution, which extols the virtues of a good night’s rest. An uncontroversial premise, sure, but when I thumbed through the book I spotted Huffington’s praise for a colleague who shared “insights about acupuncture, herbs, homeopathy, and all sorts of natural ways” to help readers fall asleep. I don’t want to be uncharitable, but homeopathy is voodoo, “herbs” is a meaningless category of “healing” (some herbs, if ingested, will kill you), and acupuncture, to paraphrase Yale Medical School professor Steven Novella, doesn’t work.

The same day I was advised to revolutionize my sleep, I happened upon a short and pointless Yahoo News article about supermodel Elle Macpherson’s “alkaline diet,” a change necessitated by a discovery that “her pH levels—of acid to alkaline—weren’t balanced.” Of course, Yahoo’s celebrity stenographer challenged none of Macpherson’s antiscience. “I didn’t realize that stress, worry, jet lag, not getting enough sleep, and eating too much red meat, dairy, or not enough greens can make your body acidic.” Well, it can’t. And the science supporting an “alkaline diet” is nonexistent. But Gwyneth, Gisele, and Victoria “swear by it.”

My favorite of the countless money-grubbing mystics skulking around Hollywood is Anthony William, the self-proclaimed “Medical Medium” who has no medical training but, according to the prolific woo-woo endorser Gwyneth, “always knows what the problem is and the pathway for healing,” even when your doctor doesn’t. (In fairness, William is also endorsed by phone-throwing model Naomi Campbell and former Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula.) Anthony claims he can “see” illnesses lurking inside patients because of some unexplained supernatural vision that visited him as a 4-year-old child, hilariously dramatized in this YouTube video. William’s Facebook page has 1.6 million likes—including, I was distressed to discover, a few of my own Facebook friends—and his book Medical Medium: Secrets Behind Chronic and Mystery Illness and How to Finally Heal recently appeared on the New York Times list.

Of course cancer is best detected by real doctors and their expensive machines, not a man wearing linen pants and a pony tail who hears voices. This might seem obvious, but desperate people are rather easily convinced by quacks peddling “politically incorrect” solutions to terminal problems.

And so it is with a certain strata of Trump voters, alienated by stagnant wages and an America they believe is on the decline, despite significant evidence to the contrary, who feel that desperate times demand the suspension of common sense and unity behind a political quack. MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell recently lamented that we live in unique times and in 2016 “facts no longer matter.” Though we might ask themselves if they ever mattered or is it just Trump’s brazenness and lack of political sophistication that’s unique?

Our political brains are governed by the same bad instincts and dumb hunches that make us believe we can detox our own bodies with juice and protect our kids bodies from the nonexistent ravages of GMO corn. Sure, there’s no evidence to support such claims but they’re certainly things that feel true. Sound familiar?

So next time you’re out in the world, look around—at the shelves full of hoax supplements, powdered vitamin C packets meant to stave off a cold (they don’t), and best-selling books promoting cynical and exploitative mysticism—and remember that we’re susceptible to Donald Trump’s charms not because he’s a genius, a hypnotist, a skilled outsider politician. Americans fall for it because he’s famous, moderately funny, and we spend most of our lives surrounded by bullshit people making bullshit claims.

What’s one more in the White House?


By: Michael Moynihan, The Daily Beast, June 3, 2016

June 4, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Middle America, Political Media | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Id That Ate The Planet”: At This Point Donald Trump’s Personality Endangers The Whole Planet

On Tuesday the political arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of America’s most influential environmentalist groups, made its first presidential endorsement ever, giving the nod to Hillary Clinton. This meant jumping the gun by a week on her inevitable designation as the presumptive Democratic nominee, but the NRDC Action Fund is obviously eager to get on with the general election.

And it’s not hard to see why: At this point Donald Trump’s personality endangers the whole planet.

We’re at a peculiar moment when it comes to the environment — a moment of both fear and hope. The outlook for climate change if current policies continue has never looked worse, but the prospects for turning away from the path of destruction have never looked better. Everything depends on who ends up sitting in the White House for the next few years.

On climate: Remember claims by climate denialists that global warming had paused, that temperatures hadn’t risen since 1998? That was always a garbage argument, but in any case it has now been blown away by a series of new temperature records and a proliferation of other indicators that, taken together, tell a terrifying story of looming disaster.

At the same time, however, rapid technological progress in renewable energy is making nonsense — or maybe I should say, further nonsense — of another bad argument against climate action, the claim that nothing can be done about greenhouse gas emissions without crippling the economy. Solar and wind power are getting cheaper each year, and growing quickly even without much in the way of incentives to switch away from fossil fuels. Provide those incentives, and an energy revolution would be just around the corner.

So we’re in a state where terrible things are in prospect, but can be avoided with fairly modest, politically feasible steps. You may want a revolution, but we don’t need one to save the planet. Right now all it would take is for America to implement the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and other actions — which don’t even require new legislation, just a Supreme Court that won’t stand in their way — to let the U.S. continue the role it took in last year’s Paris agreement, guiding the world as a whole toward sharp reductions in emissions.

But what happens if the next president is a man who doesn’t believe in climate science, or indeed in inconvenient facts of any kind?

Republican hostility to climate science and climate action is usually attributed to ideology and the power of special interests, and both of these surely play important roles. Free-market fundamentalists prefer rejecting science to admitting that there are ever cases when government regulation is necessary. Meanwhile, buying politicians is a pretty good business investment for fossil-fuel magnates like the Koch brothers.

But I’ve always had the sense that there was a third factor, which is basically psychological. There are some men — it’s almost always men — who become enraged at any suggestion that they must give up something they want for the common good. Often, the rage is disproportionate to the sacrifice: for example, prominent conservatives suggesting violence against government officials because they don’t like the performance of phosphate-free detergent. But polluter’s rage isn’t about rational thought.

Which brings us to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who embodies the modern conservative id in its most naked form, stripped of the disguises politicians usually use to cloak their prejudices and make them seem respectable.

No doubt Donald Trump hates environmental protection in part for the usual reasons. But there’s an extra layer of venom to his pro-pollution stances that is both personal and mind-bogglingly petty.

For example, he has repeatedly denounced restrictions intended to protect the ozone layer — one of the great success stories of global environmental policy — because, he claims, they’re the reason his hair spray doesn’t work as well as it used to. I am not making this up.

He’s also a bitter foe of wind power. He likes to talk about how wind turbines kill birds, which they sometimes do, but no more so than tall buildings; but his real motivation seems to be ire over unsuccessful attempts to block an offshore wind farm near one of his British golf courses.

And if evidence gets in the way of his self-centeredness, never mind. Recently he assured audiences that there isn’t a drought in California, that officials have just refused to turn on the water.

I know how ridiculous it sounds. Can the planet really be in danger because a rich guy worries about his hairdo? But Republicans are rallying around this guy just as if he were a normal candidate. And if Democrats don’t rally the same way, he just might make it to the White House.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 3, 2016

June 4, 2016 Posted by | Climate Change, Donald Trump, Environment, Global Warming | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“For The Moment, The Ghost Of FDR Must Be Smiling”: 2016 Is Turning Into A Historically Great Year For Social Security

Not that very long ago, Republicans were almost universally united in favor of a strategy of “entitlement reform” that included various benefit cuts — some overt, like changes in the formula for cost-of-living adjustments, and some indirect, like retirement-age increases — in Social Security. Most Republicans also favored, in principle at least, some sort of partial privatization scheme for the signature New Deal program. Meanwhile, Democrats were generally divided into a large camp trying to keep the program exactly as it was, and a smaller group — including, at least in theory, President Barack Obama — that was open to such “entitlement reforms” as part of some budgetary “grand bargain” with Republicans.

How things have changed in 2016.

The Republican presidential nomination has been won by a candidate who conspicuously refused to climb aboard the “entitlement reform” bandwagon. Since rank-and-file Republicans have never much bought into Social Security (or Medicare) cuts, it was not surprising this particular Trump heresy troubled party elites but no one else.

Meanwhile, both Bernie Sanders and (to a lesser extent) Hillary Clinton have both been talking about enhancing Social Security benefits, with their main argument being over the financing mechanism, with Clinton being reluctant to embrace a lift in the payroll tax cap that would hit upper-middle-class voters.

But now along comes another potential game-changer: President Obama.

Not only do we need to strengthen its long-term health, it’s time we finally made Social Security more generous and increased its benefits so that today’s retirees and future generations get the dignified retirement that they’ve earned,” Obama said in an economic call to arms in Elkhart, Indiana. “We could start paying for it by asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute a little bit more.”

Now you can interpret Obama’s shift any way you want — as a response to leftward pressure from the primary contest, or as proof he was never serious about “entitlement reform” to begin with, or simply as a parting middle-finger-gesture to the GOP, whose leaders were probably less serious than Obama about reaching some “grand bargain” that included high-end tax increases. But the fact remains that the combination of forces in favor of Social Security benefit cuts — or even for simple maintenance of the status quo — has been reduced significantly.

You’d have to say 2016 is becoming the best year for Social Security since at least 2005, when George W. Bush devoted most of his post-reelection political capital to a partial privatization scheme and had his presidential ass handed to him as congressional Republicans headed for the hills while Democrats failed to rise to the “bipartisanship” bait. There will continue to be extensive and fractious arguments over how to improve Social Security benefits and how to keep the whole system solvent. Meanwhile, nobody should take Donald Trump’s assurances on the subject to the bank, any more than anything else the mogul says. And if he loses in November, conventional Republican economic policy, including “entitlement reform,” could make a comeback. But for the moment the ghost of FDR must be smiling.


By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, June 3, 2016

June 4, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Establishment, Social Security | , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

“Left-Wing Protestors Turning Violent”: How Anti-Trump Violence Could Elect Him

My central supposition about this election is that Donald Trump will lose because most regular middle Americans just won’t vote to make that man their president. This has nothing to do with ideology. It’s just about Trump. Not everyone out there adores Hillary Clinton by a long shot, and I understand well that for a lot of people this is a choice between beef liver and lumpfish, but I just think at the end of the day most people will say, No, I just can’t—I just can’t help make that crude, boorish, vindictive, childish man the president of the United States.

I think this is what will save Clinton—and the country—in the end. But as soon as I think that, I think: But what if I’m wrong? What could make people change their views on Trump, become sympathetic to him?

In theory, a number of things. Trump could stop being crude, boorish, vindictive, and childish. (I said “in theory.”) Clinton could be indicted. The economy could tank. I think those are unlikely—and yes, I saw the jobs report, but it’s early days to start talking about a recession, and it may be a silver lining of the report that it makes the Fed wait longer to raise rates, which most economists I talk to think it should do anyway.

But here’s one thing that’s not a long shot—and is in fact happening right now—that I fear will make Trump a more sympathetic figure to the kinds of Americans I’m talking about: left-wing protestors turning violent and throwing eggs at Trump supporters and burning hats and flags.

Now no doubt, someone has already fired off an abusive tweet at me calling me names and screaming at me that I just want powerless people to STFU, as they say in Twitterland. No, I do not want powerless people to STFU. I emphatically want powerless people to have more power. And the way you get more power in this country is by protesting peacefully, and voting, and doing all those boring things.

And I emphatically don’t want a racist, misogynist, neo-fascist in the Oval Office. But violent protests at his rallies increase the likelihood of us getting exactly that.

The operative word in that previous sentence is violent. Protest, Americans like. It’s in the DNA and all that. Protest got us where we are. It got us the 40-hour work week, the civil rights revolution, the end of the Vietnam war. Occasionally in these instances, things turned violent, especially in the case of labor organizing. But usually, the violence was initiated by those who held the power—the companies, in the case of union organizing, or the state, in the case of civil rights.

In the modem-day American context, it’s not in the interest of the powerless to initiate violence. They’ll always get screwed. Always. They’ll always be blamed by the media, called “rabble-rousers” and “trouble-makers,” and the worst of the footage, like those people throwing eggs at that woman in the Trump football jersey in San Jose, will be shown over and over and over again, giving my regular middle Americans up above reason to think the violence was 50 times worse than it actually was.

And those regular middle Americans will say to each other: “Goodness, Jean, those protestors are just awful, aren’t they?”

“Why, yes they are, Bob. So rude! And dirty, too.”

“That’s not the American way!”

And it will go on from there, and that night after dinner, they’ll flip on CNN (because these are not Fox viewers—an important point) and they’ll see more footage and they’ll see interviews with Trump supporters who were standing there more or less minding their own business and suddenly got their faces punched in, and they’ll work themselves into a reactionary state and decide that maybe a vindictive boor is precisely what those people need.

I guess the thinking of violent protestors is, Trump is a fascist, and the right response to fascism is violence. In some times and some places, yes, it’s been the necessary response. But we’re not anywhere near that point. Trump doesn’t have a private army. Yes, some of his rallies were getting awfully creepy there for a while, and he did inexcusably egg his people on toward violence. But all that has tapered off. If Trump won the presidency and assumed emergency powers, then yeah, I’d understand violence then. Might even advocate for it. But we’re a long way from that.

Instead, we have reached a point where we have to start worrying about the impact of all this. You have to admit—it takes a lot to make Donald Trump look like a victim. But that’s what he’ll look like to middle America if this violence continues. And it will continue.

There is, however, one person who might have the power to end it. No, not Hillary. I mean the candidate the protestors, peaceful and violent alike, undoubtedly admire the most. If this gets much worse, even though none of this is his fault, maybe Bernie Sanders could step up here. That would be actual leadership. But they might not listen even to him. Deep down, some of these people probably want Trump, because a Trump victory would confirm their deepest-held belief about what a fascist country this really is. They’ll erase out the part about how they helped make it so.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 3, 2016

June 4, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Left Wing Protests, Violence | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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