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Karen Russell’s Resistance Reading

Mother Jones

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We asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to name books that bring solace or understanding in this age of rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here are picks from the delightfully evocative wordsmith Karen Russell, whose debut novel was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and whose short-story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, is weird and wonderful.

Illustration by Allegra Lockstadt

Latest book: Sleep Donation
Also known for: Swamplandia!
Reading recommendations: Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino: Because, if everything we write and read becomes dire and reactionary, Trump will have truly won, here’s a book that celebrates the radical freedom of the imagination. A book brimming with recombinatory energy, play and joy. Light by which to see into many different futures.

Some Say, by Maureen McClane—or anything/everything by McClane, whose vitalizing series of “Dawn School” poems was written, she says, out of “a desire to resist apocalyptic anxiety without denying ‘reality.'”

Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals, by Joy Williams: At a time when so many people are feeling impotent, consumed with helpless rage, Williams’ hilarious, furious, and stirring essays remind us rage can be helpful. It can be potent. Let’s put it to use, in the service of our fellow animals.

All Our Names, by Dinaw Mengestu: A book that brings down walls. Overlapping tales of American dislocation and American reinvention.

My last pick would be Late Victorian Holocausts, by Mike Davis. This groundbreaking “political ecology of famines” traces the development of today’s so-called “third world” to wealth inequalities that were shaped in the late 19th century, when non-European peasantries were violently yoked into the world economy. Dozens of examples of “malign interactions between climactic and economic processes” that have a grave resonance with the overlapping crises of our present moment. A challenge to the view of markets as self-regulating automata and an indictment of the human authors of “natural” disasters: “Millions die,” Davis writes, “was ultimately a policy choice.”
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So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, Piper Kerman, Karen Russell, Tracy K. Smith. (New posts daily.)

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Karen Russell’s Resistance Reading

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These Four Cases Will Quickly Show Who Gorsuch Really Is

Mother Jones

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When newly minted Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch takes the bench later this month, he will likely have an immediate impact on a court that has been somewhat paralyzed since the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February last year. The court, evenly divided with eight members, has waited to tackle a number of potentially thorny cases, either because they were unable to agree on whether to hear them or they were reluctant to adjudicate them. Gorsuch has been confirmed just in time to change all that.

He will also shape the future when, on April 13, he participates in his first court conference, where the justices decide which new cases to hear in the new term and which they’re rejecting. Decisions from that meeting may demonstrate quickly whether fears Senate Democrats have raised about his views on everything from religious freedom to gay rights to corporate power were on target.

Here are a few of the pending cases where Gorsuch will have an opportunity to make an early mark:

Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission: In 2012, a Colorado baker named Jack Phillips refused to make a custom wedding cake for two men getting married in Massachusetts, one of the few states where same-sex marriage was legal at the time. The couple was planning a reception in Colorado, where they lived and wanted to celebrate. Phillips claimed making the cake would violate his religious beliefs. The couple sued and has prevailed at every level in Colorado courts, which found that baking a gay wedding cake would not violate Phillips’ free speech or religious freedom rights, but refusing to make one would constitute illegal discrimination based on sexual orientation.The case has been stuck in conference purgatory, relisted multiple times for consideration, but probably not for long.

The gay-cake case seems custom-made for Gorsuch, who was one of the lower court judges who ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, the craft store that claimed providing health insurance to its employees that covered contraception violated its corporate religious freedom rights. The Supreme Court later upheld the ruling in a 5-4 decision, and critics have warned it will be used to justify the kind of anti-gay discrimination at issue in the cake case. The presence of Gorsuch on the high court, instead of Merrick Garland, President Obama’s court nominee who was denied the seat by Senate Republicans, is likely to be decisive. It probably doesn’t bode well for the LGBT community, despite Gorsuch’s claims to have gay friends.

Salazar-Limon v Houston: Even though police shootings have been in the news and the source of intense protest over the past couple of years, the eight-member Supreme Court seems to have been reluctant to wade into the fray. This case is another one that’s been languishing at the court for many months, waiting for a decision on whether it will be heard. It involves what might be called the “reaching for the waistband” defense frequently deployed by cops who shoot unarmed people of color.

In 2010, 25-year-old Mexican immigrant Ricardo Salazar-Limon had a wife, children, and a construction job. One night after a long day of work, he was out with friends and driving to see another friend when a Houston cop pulled him over for speeding. He had no criminal record, no outstanding warrants, a valid drivers’ license, and insurance on his truck. He was in the country legally and was unarmed. But the cop told Salazar he was going to jail and tried to put him in handcuffs. Salazar jerked back and walked towards his vehicle, annoyed because the officer refused to even tell him why he might be going to jail. As he was walking the officer told him to stop and then shot him in the back, leaving Salazar paralyzed from the waist down.

Salazar sued the police department alleging excessive force. In his defense, the officer claimed that he feared for his life when he shot Salazar because he had moved his hands towards his waistband while walking away. It’s the same argument that’s been employed by cops in at least two other shootings of unarmed citizens in Houston, and it works. The District Court dismissed Salazar’s case, and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision. The Supreme Court is now being asked to decide whether a court can dismiss a case against an officer in a suit for excessive force “by concluding that it is an ‘undisputed fact’ that the person reached for his waistband just because the officer said he did.”

The facts in this case are infuriating, yet it’s clear that the court has been unable to get the requisite four votes needed to hear it. Whether Gorsuch will provide that additional vote is anyone’s guess, but criminal justice reformers shouldn’t hold out hope that he’ll change the outcome. He’s ruled in a similar case before. In 2013, he wrote the majority opinion in a 10th Circuit ruling dismissing a lawsuit brought by the parents of a man who was tased in head by a cop and died. The cops in that case also used a “reached for his waistband” defense.

Alaska Oil and Gas Association v. Zinke: One of the biggest concerns raised by those opposing Gorsuch’s confirmation was that his record suggested he would be hostile to environmental regulations and the agencies that create them. That theory will be tested soon after Gorsuch’s swearing in, with a case involving the fate of polar bears.

In 2008, the Bush administration’s Fish and Wildlife Service officially declared the polar bear a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Two years later, the agency designated 187,000 square miles around the Bering Sea, the Arctic Ocean and the Alaskan North Slope as critical habitat for the bears, which created new restrictions on oil drilling in the region. The Alaskan oil industry sued and alleged that the Fish and Wildlife Service had overreached and made an arbitrary decision in selecting the boundaries for the critical habitat. The trial court partially agreed, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision and sided with the wildlife agency. The appeal of that decision is pending before the Supreme Court, which will decide in the next few months whether to hear the case.

Federal agency overreach is something Gorsuch has a clear record on. He wrote a lengthy concurrence to one of his own opinions on the 10th Circuit, calling on the Supreme Court to limit the requirement that judges defer to federal agencies such as Fish and Wildlife when considering the implementation of laws made by Congress. This may be a sign that, despite his love of skiing, Gorsuch probably is not going to side with the polar bears.

Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer: The court agreed to hear this case last year, shortly before Justice Scalia died, but it took its own sweet time scheduling it for oral arguments. When it finally did, a year later, the case was set for the second-to-last week of arguments for the term. The court’s reluctance to decide this case may stem from the fact that it’s the most controversial church-state separation case on the docket this year, and the closest thing to a culture war case that’s likely to break out before the court recesses in June.

Here’s how we described it last fall:

A Michigan church applied for a grant from Missouri’s Scrap Tire Grant program for assistance resurfacing a playground at its preschool with a safer, rubber top made of old tires. While the church’s grant proposal was well rated, the state ultimately turned it down because the state constitution prohibits direct aid to a church. The church sued, with help from a legion of lawyers fresh off the gay marriage battles. They argue that Missouri’s prohibition, originally conceived as part of an anti-Catholic movement, violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, especially when the money was going to a purely secular use.

While this might have been an easy win for the church before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who was on the court when the justices took the case in January, the remaining eight-members might not be quite so well-disposed to rule in its favor. Forcing taxpayers to underwrite improvements to church property is in direct conflict with some of the court’s earlier rulings. Critics see a ruling for the church as a slippery-slope sort of argument, leading to compulsory government support of religion, which the Founders deeply opposed.

Once again, Gorsuch’s views in Hobby Lobby and religious freedom seem likely to predispose him to support church, but we’ll know more about his position on April 19, when he will be on the bench for the oral arguments in this case.

Liberal court watchers, having lost the confirmation fight, are now moving into breath-holding mode as they look to these cases for clues as to just what sort of justice Gorsuch is really going to be. As Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center said Friday, “Now that he has been confirmed, we certainly hope that Justice Gorsuch will fulfill Judge Gorsuch’s commitments: To be an independent jurist, to be a good judge who respects precedent, to be an originalist who respects the Constitution’s radical guarantee of equality, and follows the text and history of the Constitution wherever it leads.She added, “The burden remains on Gorsuch to prove that he will be a Justice who fairly applies the law and the Constitution and does not, contrary to President Trump’s promises, just represent certain segments of the population.”

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These Four Cases Will Quickly Show Who Gorsuch Really Is

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Trump Donates His Presidential Salary to the Park Service While Pushing Cuts That Would Harm It

Mother Jones

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Donald Trump is donating the first three months of his presidential salary to the National Park Service, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced on Monday. “The Park Service has cared for our parks since 1916,” Spicer said in handing over a check for $78,333 to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, “and the president is personally proud to contribute the first quarter of his salary to the important mission of the Park Service, which is preserving our country’s national security.”

It was unclear if Spicer misspoke by mentioning national security, and Zinke emphasized the donation would help cover $229 million of deferred maintenance on the nation’s 25 national battlefields. “As a veteran myself, I want to say I am thrilled at the President’s decision to donate the check he did today,” he said. “We’re excited about that opportunity.”

Last month, Trump proposed slashing spending at the Department of Interior by $1.5 billion, 12 percent of the budget at the Park Service’s parent agency. Advocates have warned that the cuts would harm acquisition and preservation programs. The check presented today would make up just .005 percent of the cuts.

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Trump Donates His Presidential Salary to the Park Service While Pushing Cuts That Would Harm It

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Secret Service Agents Under Investigation for Taking Photos of Donald Trump’s Sleeping Grandson

Mother Jones

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A source with knowledge of the information tells Mother Jones that two Secret Service agents who were assigned to protect Donald Trump III, President Donald Trump’s grandson, took selfies with the eight year old while he was sleeping. The incident is now under investigation.

The source was clear that the agents were not under investigation for criminal behavior; rather, this investigation is about the agents abandoning their post while charged with protecting the grandson of the President of the United States.

The incident took place last weekend when the two agents, who were assigned to protect Trump III, were driving him from Westchester County, New York, where the Trump family has an estate, to Manhattan. Trump III was sleeping in the car when the agents began to take selfies with him while he was still asleep. Trump III woke up and, as the source framed it, “freaked out.” Upon return to Manhattan, he shared the experience with his mother, Vanessa Trump, who relayed her concerns to his father, Donald Trump, Jr. The issue was quickly escalated to top management of the Secret Service. The two agents were ordered to report to the Secret Service Office of Professional Responsibility in Washington, DC.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Secret Service confirmed that an investigation was underway.

“The US Secret Service is aware of a matter involving two of our agents and one of our protectees. Our Office of Professional Responsibility will always thoroughly review a matter to determine the facts and to ensure proper, long-standing protocols and procedures are followed. The Secret Service would caution individuals to not jump to conclusions that may grossly mischaracterize the matter.”

This revelation comes at a time when the Secret Service is doing damage control after an intruder was able to penetrate the outer perimeter of the White House grounds and was able to get close to the entrance of the north portico of the White House. According to two sources, President Trump has had a good relationship with his detail, and this is seen as an isolated incident that is not symptomatic of issues with his or his families protective detail.

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Secret Service Agents Under Investigation for Taking Photos of Donald Trump’s Sleeping Grandson

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No, big snowstorms like this aren’t normal

The calendar might say March, but winter isn’t done yet on the East Coast. And in a year where traditional signs of spring have arrived nearly a month early, it’s looking like this year’s winter season will be compressed into a single day, with an impending blizzard on par with historical greats.

Snowstorms and cold weather traditionally bring out the science deniers (we’ll never forget you, Senator Snowball), but in an atmosphere that is being fundamentally changed by human activity, every weather event is influenced in some way by climate change, and this week’s storm is no exception.

If you live on the East Coast, you might have become complacent about epic snowstorms like this one. Twenty inches or so doesn’t seem like such a big deal when you’ve lived through similar storms. But looking at the data, you’ll see that 20-inch snowstorms are a relatively new phenomenon in places like New York City.

For the first 100 years that meteorologists kept weather records at Central Park, from 1869 through 1996, they recorded just two snowstorms that dumped 20 inches or more. But since 1996, counting this week’s storm, there have been six. (You’ll find similar stats for other major East Coast cities.)

Basically, we’ve become accustomed to something that used to be very rare.

There are a few reasons why this is happening. Just like on land, ocean temperatures are getting warmer. This matters because the ocean is where nor’easters — the particular brand of coastal storm that brings the biggest snow potential — derive most of their moisture. Warmer ocean waters provide more energy to growing coastal storms, and the Gulf Stream current, which carries subtropical waters northward just off the East Coast, is experiencing record warmth right now.

Last year, two studies were published that provided evidence that basic weather patterns over the East Coast are getting more extreme, too, as Arctic sea ice melts and modifies the behavior of the jet stream. At times, the weather pattern can get stuck in a manner that provides extra cold air from the north and extra moisture from off the ocean — which is what is happening more often now.

That sets the stage for epic snowfalls. This week, high-resolution weather models are insistent that an intense band of very heavy snow will form, bringing snowfall rates of up to five inches per hour to New York City and New England. That’s nearing the upper limit of what is physically possible in our current climate.

With just hours to go before the flakes start flying, meteorologists are running out of words to describe the impending blizzard, which is on track to dump one to two feet of snow across a wide swath of the Northeast and bring winds of tropical storm force to prematurely flowering trees in parts of the mid-Atlantic.

The National Weather Service is ringing all available alarm bells — an experimental winter storm severity index is maxed out over New York City — and warning of widespread power outages and the impossibility of travel during the height of the storm. But even they don’t have much experience with a storm of this scale happening so late in the season — it just doesn’t happen very often. So it’s hard to tell what to expect.

Perhaps the most consequential circumstance for this particular storm is that, according to the plants and trees, spring is already here. The combination of flowering tree branches with tropical storm force winds and heavy, wet snow isn’t a good one — power outages could be widespread. And this year’s crop of some economically important flowering trees, like the apple and cherry orchards on Long Island, could see significant damage.

I mean, seriously, the Washington Cherry Blossom Festival starts Wednesday! It’s crazy. We now live in a world where one of D.C.’s biggest March snowstorms and one of its earliest Cherry Blossom Festivals are happening in the same week.

We’re not just getting freak weather anymore. We’re getting freak seasons.

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No, big snowstorms like this aren’t normal

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