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Obama Lays Out Plans in His First Post-Presidency Public Appearance

Mother Jones

In his first public appearance since leaving the White House, former President Barack Obama said that empowering young people to take on leadership roles would be the “single most important” issue in his post-presidency life.

“What I’m convinced of is that although there are all kinds of issues I care about, and all kinds of issues I can work on, the single most important thing I can do is to help prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world,” Obama said at a panel discussion on civic engagement that he led at the University of Chicago on Monday.

Obama made no direct mention of President Donald Trump or the 2016 presidential election, but he pointed to the divisive nature of US politics as the most significant barrier to progress on a host of problems, from flaws in the criminal justice system to climate change.

Obama’s return to Chicago marked his reemergence in public life following a three-month vacation. His remarks echoed previous statements in which he’s hinted at focusing on community organizing efforts as a private citizen.

The free-form panel discussion featured several moments of levity from the former president, including an acknowledgement that panel members were given questions ahead of the event—a subtle reference to Trump’s complaints that Hillary Clinton had an unfair advantage during the presidential debates.

Aside from a brief statement in support of protesters against Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, Obama has avoided publicly criticizing his successor. Trump, on the other hand, has frequently lashed out at his predecessor. Most notably, in March, he accused Obama of ordering illegal surveillance of him and his associates.

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Obama Lays Out Plans in His First Post-Presidency Public Appearance

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Former Trump Adviser Can’t Recall If He Discussed Sanctions With Russians

Mother Jones

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Did Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser, speak to anyone in Russia about the United States potentially lifting sanctions imposed on Vladimir Putin’s government when he was in Moscow during the campaign last summer? Not at all, but, then again, maybe.

That’s what Page said during an interview with George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America Thursday.

Page’s comments came days after the Washington Post reported that the FBI had obtained a secret order from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor Page’s communications last summer. To obtain that warrant, known as a FISA warrant, the FBI would have had to persuade a judge that there was probable cause to suspect that Page had been acting as an agent of the Russia government. The Post described the revelation as the “clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents.” Page has not been accused of any crimes, and he has repeatedly denied he ever acted as an agent for any foreign power.

Page visited Russia last July—reportedly with approval from the Trump campaign—and gave a speech at the New Economic School in Moscow criticizing US policy toward Russia. He left the campaign in September amid allegations that he had privately communicated with Russian officials during the trip. Page denied those allegations. On ABC Thursday, Page acknowledged that he briefly said “hello” to one of the school’s board members, when Stephanopoulos asked whether he had met with anyone in the Russia government or connected to Russian intelligence.

Stephanopoulos also asked Page whether he had ever told any Russians in the United States or abroad that Trump “would be open to easing sanctions on Russia.”

“Absolutely not,” Page replied at first.

Stephanopoulos followed up: “Never? Not once?”

“I never offered that,” Page said again. “Nothing along those lines. Absolutely not.”

Then Page seemed to reconsider his response. “I mean—it may—topics—I don’t remember—we’ll see what comes out in this FISA transcript,” he said. “I don’t recall every single word that I ever said. But I would never make any offer or intimate anything.”

“But it sounds like from what you’re saying it’s possible that you may have discussed the easing of sanctions,” said Stephanopoulos.

“Something may have come up in a conversation,” Page responded. “I have no recollection, and there’s nothing specifically that I would have done that would have given people that impression.”

Pressed again by Stephanopoulos on whether he had discussed easing sanctions with any Russians, Page said, “Someone may have brought it up—I have no recollection. And if it was, it was not something I was offering or that someone was asking for.”

Page’s comments on ABC follow an interview he gave Wednesday to CNN’s Jake Tapper, in which Page said that during his Russia trip he spoke with students, scholars, and business people about the 2016 campaign. Page told Tapper that he had never had any “direct conversations” with anyone in Russia about the possibility of Trump ratcheting back on sanctions:

TAPPER: When you went to Russia last summer, did you ever talk to any Russian about the Trump campaign or about the Clinton campaign or about the 2016 election in general?

PAGE: No Russian official. I was speaking at a university, and I spoke with many scholars and students and parents that were at the graduation celebrating their kids’ achievements. Other than that, nothing.

TAPPER: I didn’t ask Russian official, I just asked any Russian because obviously, Russians, as you know in Russia, people are affiliated with private industry but they also do work with the government, et cetera.

PAGE: Sure.

TAPPER: So—but you did not talk to any Russian at all other than students and parents and scholars about the presidential election?

PAGE: I met a few business people, but no negotiations about anything in terms of anything related to the campaign whatsoever.

TAPPER: Well, I’m not talking about negotiations, but as long as you bring it up, I mean, have you ever conveyed to anyone in Russia that you think President Trump might have been more willing to get rid of the sanctions that were imposed against Russia after they invaded and seized Crimea, which I know are sanctions that you oppose and you think are ineffective. Did you ever talk with anyone there about maybe President Trump, if he were elected—then-candidate Trump, would be willing to get rid of the sanctions?

PAGE: Never any direct conversations such as that. I mean, look, it’s—

TAPPER: What do you mean direct conversations? I don’t know what that mean, direct conversations.

PAGE: Well, I’m just saying no—that was never—I’ve never said, no.


Former Trump Adviser Can’t Recall If He Discussed Sanctions With Russians

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How a Private Prison Company Used Detained Immigrants for Free Labor

Mother Jones

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When Carlos Eliezer Ortiz Muñoz arrived at the Denver Contract Detention Facility in Aurora, Colorado, in 2014, he was given a clothing package and assigned to a housing unit, where he’d have to stay for months. Like tens of thousands of other immigrants across the country who are kept in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention each night, Ortiz and his fellow detainees were waiting to see if they’d win their immigration cases or face deportation.

Before long, the private prison company that ran the detention center put Ortiz to work. Each day in his housing unit, guards assigned a crew of six detainees to clean the private and common living areas; scrub down toilets, showers, and eating tables; and sweep and mop floors. “None of us got paid anything,” Ortiz said in a court statement. But he couldn’t protest—he knew he could be sent to solitary confinement if he refused to do the cleaning. “Some of the guards would threaten us by saying, ‘¿Quieres ir al hoyo?‘” Ortiz said. “‘You want to go to the hole?'”

The GEO Group, the private prison company that operates Aurora, allegedly forced more than 50,000 immigrants like Ortiz to work without pay or for $1 a day since 2004, according to a lawsuit that nine detainees brought against the company in 2014. On February 27, a federal judge ruled that their case could proceed as a class action, breathing new life into a suit that exposes the extent to which the for-profit company relied on cheap or unpaid detainee labor to minimize costs at the Aurora facility.

“If we’re right, and these practices are illegal, it has tremendous implications on the ability of the government to use detention in the immigration enforcement architecture,” says Andrew Free, an immigration attorney on the detainees’ legal team. “It would prompt a serious rethinking of whom to detain, and how much it’s going to cost.”

GEO incarcerates more immigrants (and receives more public money to do so) than any other detention center operator, according to an analysis by the anti-detention group CIVIC. And its business detaining immigrants for ICE is only expected to grow “with this increased and expanded approach to border security,” CEO George Zoley said in a February earnings call.

According to the lawsuit, there were two ways GEO cashed in on cheap labor from detainees. There was the facility’s sanitation policy, under which detainees like Ortiz were required to work as janitors without pay. If they didn’t, they risked being punished with solitary confinement, according to GEO’s local detainee handbook. Detainees could also apply for a job in Aurora’s voluntary work program, which paid them exactly $1 a day to keep the facility running.

In a statement, GEO spokesman Pablo Paez wrote that GEO’s volunteer work program policies follow federal standards. “We have consistently, strongly refuted the allegations made in this lawsuit, and we intend to continue to vigorously defend our company against these claims,” he said. “The volunteer work program at all immigration facilities as well as the minimum wage rates and standards associated with the program are set by the Federal government under mandated performance-based national detention standards.”

ICE’s standards for immigration detention centers say that voluntary work programs are intended to give detainees “opportunities to work and earn money while confined.” Yet David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, says it’s questionable whether such programs are truly voluntary for people “held in captivity, against their will.” While working may be a positive outlet for incarcerated people, Fathi says, “the problem isn’t the existence of the work program. The problem is this inherently coercive relationship that makes the workers uniquely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.”

Some people in Aurora’s program stripped and waxed floors, while others did laundry, prepared food, cut hair, or worked in the library. Shifts lasted between three and eight hours, according to a copy of Aurora’s detainee work program policy, and detainees were paid the same $1 no matter how long they were assigned to work.

Lourdes Argueta volunteered. She was given a job as a janitor in the medical unit, where she and other detainees “clean toilets, sweep and mop floors, pull carpets and clean floors, clean windows, remove trash, clean patients’ rooms (including cleaning up blood, feces and urine), and perform other cleaning tasks,” she said in a statement to the court. She also worked in GEO’s booking area, creating new detainee files and putting together packages of clothing for new detainees.

During a deposition, GEO’s assistant business manager at Aurora testified that if there were no “voluntary workers” like Argueta, the company would need to bring in additional officers, paid at hourly wages set by rules in GEO’s contract, to get the same work done. So how much would the company have to shell out if it didn’t rely on cheap detainee labor? Under GEO’s contract with ICE, which incorporated federal wage regulations, the lowest allowable employee wage at the Aurora facility was $10.90 an hour for food service workers. A typical shift in the voluntary work program lasted approximately seven hours, according to the detainee work program policy—so if GEO had hired additional employees to do the work, it would have cost the company nearly $76.30 per shift. (That’s a lowball estimate, given that some detainees worked jobs that would have paid significantly more.) Instead, they spent $1.

That translates to huge cost savings. Take, for example, November 2012, when detainees took hundreds of voluntary work program shifts. If GEO had hired employees to do those jobs instead, the company would have spent more than $125,000 in wages and benefits that month. GEO’s actual payments: $1,680.

That number only increases if you account for Aurora’s sanitation policy, under which all detainees in the facility did janitorial work in the housing units for no pay, the lawsuit alleges. GEO employees doing the same work would have been eligible for $12.01 per hour in wages, under the company’s contract with ICE.

“If GEO was absorbing all of the labor costs, its profit would be less,” explains Nina DiSalvo, executive director of Towards Justice, one of the firms representing the detainees. Andrew Free, the attorney, goes further: “It turns their profits upside down,” he claims. “It would be a money-losing enterprise if they had to pay the people to operate this facility under the current contract.” (Given that the Department of Homeland Security pays an average of $126.46 per day to detain one immigrant, that may not be a stretch.)

So how does the company get away with it? The “dollar a day” policy dates back to 1978, when Congress passed an appropriations bill funding voluntary detainee work programs, says Jacqueline Stevens, the head of Northwestern University’s Deportation Research Clinic, whose research on detainee labor informed the 2014 suit. But that was before the rise of private prison companies, she adds—and it was initially implemented in government-run facilities, not those run by for-profit companies beholden to shareholders. “GEO’s privately held, so there’s an extra concern that they may be exploiting people in a way an institution run by federal government would not be,” Stevens explains.

When immigrants inside Aurora filed grievances asking why they weren’t paid more, GEO’s assistant business manager replied by saying that ICE, not the company, set the daily rate. But in February’s order, Colorado District Court Judge John Kane ruled that while ICE only reimburses GEO for $1 per detainee shift, the company could pay more if it wanted. (And in fact, in at least one other location, it appears to have paid detainees more than the $1 ICE reimbursed it for, Stevens says.) While the detainees aren’t eligible for employment under GEO’s contract, their lawsuit argues that GEO “unjustly enriched” itself by misleading them about how much it could pay.

“By far the greatest expense of running any detention facility is labor,” Fathi says. “GEO has got to be worried that if this practice is unlawful at one facility, it’s presumptively unlawful at all facilities.” If they lose, he adds, “they have to be looking at not just what they would have to pay at Aurora.”

The lawsuit also argues that the sanitation policy violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a modern anti-slavery statute. To maintain cleanliness in the housing units, GEO used housekeeping crews like the one Ortiz was assigned to when he arrived at Aurora. According to GEO’s local detainee handbook, refusing to clean was considered a “high moderate”-level offense and was punishable by several possible sanctions, including up to three days of so-called “disciplinary segregation”: solitary confinement. Plaintiff Demetrio Valerga told the court in a statement that he “did the work anyway because it was well known that those who refused to do that work for free were put in ‘the hole.'” With the sanitation policy in place, the company employed just one janitor for the 1,500-bed facility.

ICE’s own standards say detainees can’t be required to work, except for keeping “immediate living areas” neat: making their beds, stacking loose papers, and keeping the floor and furniture uncluttered. Under questioning during a deposition, Aurora’s assistant warden of operations made it clear that GEO considered all parts of the housing unit (bathrooms and day areas, as well as cells) to be fair game. Yet a federal watchdog agency recently found that requiring detained immigrants to clean any common areas used by all detainees was a violation of ICE standards.

“Imagine you see people being yelled at by guards and thrown in solitary all the time,” Free says. “In order to avoid solitary yourself, you have to maintain the sanitary nature of the facility you’re being housed in. And then they say, ‘If you want, we’ll pay you a dollar a day to do something else. If you don’t, you’re still going to work when we tell you to.’ And the company that’s on the other end of this is making millions.”

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How a Private Prison Company Used Detained Immigrants for Free Labor

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Who Moved My Teachers?

Mother Jones

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Dale Stephanos

The school of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison never used to have trouble attracting applicants with dreams of becoming teachers. Its graduate program is ranked fourth in the country by U.S. News & World Report, and until recently, its undergraduate program in elementary education typically received between 300 and 400 applications for its 125 spots. Now, says Michael Apple, a professor in the program, it only gets about one applicant per opening.

What happened? Scott Walker became Wisconsin’s governor in 2011 and promptly enacted a wide-scale rollback of unionization rights for state employees. That law, Act 10, effectively wiped out the ability of teachers and other public-sector workers to bargain collectively over salary and benefits.

Walker’s assault on unions has had well-publicized effects, including an unsuccessful recall election against him, a sharp reduction in union membership, and a proliferation of anti-union legislation in other states. Unions’ diminished organizing power for Democrats helped Donald Trump become the first Republican presidential candidate to win Wisconsin in more than 30 years. But less visible consequences have colored nearly every facet of Wisconsin society. One is a sudden and drastic teacher shortage. “The attack on teacher unions has an echo that is often invisible,” Apple says. “That invisibility is many fewer teachers.”

Wisconsin teachers now earn less total compensation than they did seven years ago, thanks to cuts in benefits. They face larger classes and less job security, and in some districts they’ve been asked to teach extra sections. Fewer people are applying to teacher education programs. One Wisconsin education student, who asked not to be named to avoid hurting his job prospects, warns that “better conditions and job security will lead some of us elsewhere.”

The downturn for Wisconsin teachers is so bad that when a Minnesota public school district sent representatives to a job fair at UW-Madison’s education school last fall, they made a point of boasting about the benefits their state still offered. “I actually heard them promote having unions as a sales pitch, which I found interesting coming from administrators,” says the student.

That Wisconsin is the front of the war on unions is particularly poignant. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents public workers at all levels of government, began as an association of local workers in Madison in 1932. Twenty-seven years later, Wisconsin became the first state to recognize state government employee unions. But when Walker signed Act 10 on March 11, 2011, that long chapter of progressivism came to an end and the state became a radical experiment in the opposite direction.

The battle over the law was as dramatic as its effects: The entire 14-person Democratic caucus in the state Senate fled to Illinois in a bid to prevent it from passing, and about 100,000 union advocates demonstrated, with some camping in the hallways of the Capitol and singing union anthems. Teachers protested by calling in sick, and schools were forced to close.

In the end, it wasn’t enough. Act 10 prevailed and other conservative state governments soon followed with their own anti-union legislation. It attacked public-sector unions from a variety of angles. Wisconsin workers can no longer negotiate to improve their health or retirement benefits. Raises can’t exceed the rate of inflation. Job-security measures like tenure were tossed aside, and managers were given the freedom to fire employees at will. Dues are no longer deducted directly from paychecks, forcing public-sector unions to track down members individually to raise funds.

At the time, Walker sold Act 10 as a way to close a $3.6 billion budget gap. But there was never much question that the real motivation was to hobble liberal causes. A video later surfaced showing Walker hobnobbing with billionaire donor Diane Hendricks, founder and chairwoman of Wisconsin-based ABC Supply, two weeks after taking office. “Any chance we’ll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions and become a right-to-work?” she asked. (So-called right-to-work laws slash union revenue by prohibiting unions from compelling employees to pay dues, allowing employees to benefit from a union’s efforts without contributing their share.) Walker replied, “The first step is, we’re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer.”

That strategy could soon become national policy. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump adviser, has pointed to Walker’s anti-union crusade as a model for how the new administration could target public-­sector unions at the federal level. Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, chaired a group called the American Federation for Children, which claims it has spent more than $4.2 million on Wisconsin races since 2010. The AFC tapped Walker as its keynote speaker at the group’s 2015 policy summit.

Six years after the passage of Act 10, a small band of retirees still gathers in the Capitol rotunda every weekday at noon for a pro-union Solidarity Sing-Along. But it barely draws the attention of passing school groups, let alone lawmakers. State labor organizations, struggling to maintain their membership rolls, have little time or money to press legislators for policy changes. One AFSCME council saw its budget drop from $5 million before Act 10 to $1.5 million in 2013.

Before Walker’s crusade, 14.2 percent of Wisconsin’s workforce belonged to a union. By 2015, that figure had dropped to 8.3 percent, significantly below the national average for the first time. That year, Walker and the Legislature passed a law that extended the right-to-work provisions to private-sector unions as well. That law’s central provision is still on hold pending legal challenges.

It’s no coincidence that 2016 was the first election in which the state voted Republican for president since Ronald Reagan. According to exit polls, Hillary Clinton won union households in the state by 10 percentage points. But 79 percent of voters didn’t belong to a union household, and they went in Trump’s favor by 8 points—enough to deliver him a surprise victory in Wisconsin. “Scott Walker just won the presidential race in 2016 by passing Act 10 five years ago,” anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist tweeted on election night.

Teachers’ unions have been hit hardest. Prior to the law, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC)—the state’s largest association of local teachers’ unions and an affiliate of the National Education Association—counted about 98,000 members. Now it has fewer than 40,000. The WEAC spent $93,481 on lobbying in 2015, compared with more than $2.2 million in 2011. The union recently put its Madison headquarters up for sale to shore up its finances.

As unions have lost their sway, teaching has become a less attractive profession. School districts have struggled to hire and retain teachers. A study from the Milwaukee-based Public Policy Forum found that between the 2008-09 and 2013-14 school years, the number of people entering Wisconsin teacher-training programs declined by 28 percent and the number of teachers in the state dropped by 2.4 percent, even as the number of students remained nearly constant. In 2013, schools attracted an average of 4.9 applicants per open teaching position, according to data from the Wisconsin Education Career Access Network. By 2015, that average had dipped to 3.3 applicants. Last August, with the start of the school year weeks away, state Superintendent Tony Evers was forced to offer more emergency one-year teaching licenses in order to expand the pool of applicants.

Act 10 has thinned the ranks of both veteran teachers and younger ones. Thanks to the old collective bargaining agreements, Wisconsin teachers used to enjoy generous benefits that allowed people to retire at age 55 and receive a full pension, though many teachers continued teaching into their 60s. But Act 10 threatened to strip away those benefits once the agreements expired, leading many teachers who were eligible for retirement to make their exit years earlier than planned. “We lost a lot of people who developed the expertise over the years to reach kids at their various learning styles,” says John Matthews, who led Madison’s teachers’ union for 48 years. “Those people were leaving en masse.”

The teachers who remain, meanwhile, have been forced to take on extra work to make up for the shortage. The La Crosse school district, for example, tried to solve budget problems by saddling its newest high school teachers with an additional class, at the expense of time spent developing a curriculum and grading papers. John Havlicek, a Spanish teacher in his 21st year and a union representative, says he’s never seen so few teachers take on secondary roles as coaches—they simply don’t have the time for sports. “Within two years, you had teachers leaving because they just couldn’t keep up,” Havlicek says. “It doesn’t seem like it, but 30 more kids and one less period in which to help kids who come in for help was a double whammy.” (The school district is rolling back the change after pressure from teachers and parents.)

In 2011, Walker signed legislation that cut the state’s K-12 education funding by $792 million over two years. If districts want to increase taxes for school funding, they’re required to hold referendums. Last November, 67 such measures were on ballots across the state, with 55 passing. Schools are also getting crunched by state Republicans’ zeal for voucher programs that use public funds to send students to religious and other private schools. Walker has called vouchers a “moral imperative” and expanded their use in 2015, lifting income caps for families to qualify. That year, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction warned that school districts would receive less funding because of the voucher program. In the two years since, those schools have lost $41.4 million.

“The shortage of money is causing class sizes to be larger than they should be,” Matthews says. “It’s causing teachers not to have the resources like new textbooks, workbooks. Those resources just aren’t there. And there’s been a cutback in assistance work in the classrooms, a cutback in music, art, and phys-ed teachers. It’s hit the quality of education.”

With unions diminished at the state level, conservatives have shifted their attention to weakening them and their influence in liberal cities where they remain relatively strong. In the old manufacturing city of Kenosha, the school board continued to negotiate with the local teachers’ union, although it didn’t have to under Act 10. So in a 2014 election, Americans for Prosperity—­the main political arm of the Koch brothers—got involved in the school board race, in which two seats held by vocally pro-union members were up for grabs. The group set up phone banks and sent people campaigning door to door. The incumbents were replaced with anti-union candidates.

Act 10 requires annual recertification elections in which at least 51 percent of all eligible members—including those who don’t show up—must vote in favor of a union to keep the chapter alive. Bob Peterson, the head of the Milwaukee teachers’ union from 2011 to 2015, says these annual elections can cost thousands of dollars and force unions to run full-scale phone-banking operations. Last year, 11 WEAC affiliates lost recertification votes. In the small eastern Wisconsin town of New Holstein, all 42 teachers who voted backed recertification, but there were another 42 members who didn’t vote, so the local union disappeared.

Peterson has warned his peers in other states for years that Wisconsin could be the test case for the country. “I generally start out by saying, ‘I’m from Wisconsin,'” he explains. “‘I’m from your future. There’s some lessons to learn.’ I sort of thought I was exaggerating, but with the Trump election I don’t think I was. What has gone on in Wisconsin for the last five and a half years is what very well could happen nationwide.”

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Who Moved My Teachers?

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Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee Has Little in Common With Most Americans

Mother Jones

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One of the main jobs of Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee this week has been to deflect attacks on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch by Democrats, who are trying to paint him as a tool of corporations and a foe of the little guy. To that end, Republicans have tried both to humanize the federal judge and to highlight the parts of his background that might make him more relatable to the average American. They’ve got him talking about the Denver rodeo and mutton bustin’ and quoting David Foster Wallace.

But those humanizing efforts are falling a bit flat. That’s largely because when it comes to demonstrating all that he has in common with the regular folks who might come before the court, Gorsuch is his own worst enemy. A graduate of Georgetown Prep, Columbia University, Harvard Law School, and Oxford, Gorsuch is the son of Ronald Reagan’s Environmental Protection Agency chief and spent most of his formative years inside the Beltway, including a stint as a clerk on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. His nomination to the 10th Circuit Court was championed by the secretive billionaire Phillip Anschutz, his former client, and Gorsuch co-owns a Colorado mountain cabin with two of Anschutz’s top deputies.

On Tuesday night, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) asked Gorsuch about how he “liked to get his hands dirty.” If Flake was hoping to reveal a nominee who subscribes to Family Handyman and loves power tools, he was disappointed. The judge responded by reminding the committee how much he loves to ski. (Gorsuch was on the slopes when he learned about the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, whose seat he’s been nominated to fill.) “I always say the family that skis together stays together,” Gorsuch had said earlier in the hearing. Gorsuch told Flake that his daughters were “ferocious double-black-diamond skiers,” and at that very moment, one of them was doing some backcountry skiing near Telluride.

The exchange was unlikely to help most Americans relate to the judge. Today, skiing is largely a sport of the wealthy. A one-day lift ticket at Winter Park, the Colorado resort where Gorsuch said he liked to go, costs $144. A single day of skiing for a family of four could cost nearly $600, not including all the gear and lunch at the lodge. And teaching kids to ski so they can become “ferocious double-black-diamond skiers” is an enormous investment. A single day in the Winter Park ski school will set you back $189 for one child, not including equipment rentals. For most of the country, even with discounts for locals, those costs put skiing largely out of reach.

Earlier in the hearing, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) had asked Gorsuch about his experience in politics. “Are you a lawmaker?” Lee asked. “Have you ever held a position as a state legislator? Have you ever held a position as a member of Congress?” Gorsuch responded with a chuckle, “I’ve served on my kid’s school board.”

The following day, Flake asked Gorsuch about his civic involvement outside of the court, mentioning his school board service. “Boy, that I found taxing, and loved every minute of it,” Gorsuch said. Flake nodded appreciatively, telling Gorsuch, “That typifies the West. People get along. They have to. On a school board there’s no passing the buck there. You’ve gotta make decisions. Local government is like that.”

What Flake seemed to have missed, though, is that Gorsuch never served on a public school board. He was on the board of the Boulder Country Day School, a small private school with tuition that runs from $15,000 to $20,000 a year. That’s a big difference from serving on a public, elected school board just about anywhere in the country.

In fact, Gorsuch is among the most privileged individuals to be nominated to the Supreme Court in recent memory. Justice Clarence Thomas grew up poor in Pinpoint, Georgia, speaking Gullah. His idea of a good time is camping in a Walmart parking lot in his RV en route to a NASCAR race. Sonia Sotomayor hails from a Puerto Rican family and grew up with a single mom in a South Bronx tenement. Samuel Alito is a Jersey boy, the son of Italian immigrant teachers, who graduated from a public high school. At first glance, Gorsuch’s background somewhat resembles that of Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., who likewise comes from a tony private-school background—except that Roberts worked summers in a steel mill to pay his way through Harvard.

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Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee Has Little in Common With Most Americans

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