POLITICS

How to Recover from Media Burnout

In our era of apocalyptic headlines, it's normal to feel overwhelmed.

We are living in an era of unfathomable news.

Just this week, two disturbing headlines ran parallel in the media landscape. The first focused on the plight of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border who, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put it, are being held in concentration camps. The second circled around a spare, unflinching essay by E. Jean Carroll entitled "Hideous Men." In it, she states that Donald Trump raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room.

That claim didn't even make the front page of the New York Times, and there's more discussion of how little reaction it caused than its actual content, revealing how numb we've become to bad news. In her recent New Yorker essay, Jia Tolentino writes that after Trump was elected, her vision of the future looked something like this week: relentless persecution of immigrants and endless bad news met with no nationwide resistance, no mass protests in the streets. "Specifically, I feared that the Trump era would bring a surfeit of bad news, and that I would compartmentalize this bad news in order to remain functional, and that this attempt to remain functional would itself be so demoralizing that it would contribute to the despair and distraction that allowed all this bad news to occur," she wrote. But she hadn't counted on the E. Jean Carroll's accusations, or the fact that "I would be so sad and numb, after years of writing about Trump's many accusers, after watching Brett Kavanaugh get confirmed to the Supreme Court in the face of credible sexual-assault allegations, that I would not even have the courage to read the story for days."

Like Tolentino, I also didn't read the Carroll story for several days. My eyes glossed over the headline, and it barely even had an affect on me, partly because I've lost faith in the possibility that Trump will ever be taken down by the word of any woman. But I also chose not to see it; as I later realized, I have grown comfortable with stories like this. I have learned to compartmentalize media stories like it, separating them from reality so I don't have to think about their implications. In other words, I'm suffering from bad news burnout.

Image via Grazia Daily

Growing Numb: Signs of Burnout

I find myself skimming over the news quite often, particularly news about climate change, which is perhaps the most ominous and urgent story of them all. And yet, like the E. Jean Carroll piece, unless I specifically open my mind to thinking about it, climate change headlines appear strangely theoretical when they flash across my screen, almost holographic in their surreality.

I don't think I am alone in this. Though many of us are glued to the news and are actively protesting and engaging with politics, I believe that just as many of us have fallen into a deep hole of pessimism, which often cools to quiet numbness. We grow complacent in our oblivion, and we use it as an excuse to do nothing. And so we go about our lives never really reacting to the news but followed around by a creeping cloud that sometimes manifests itself as anxiety and depression, which often simply echoes in our ears like the whine of a small mosquito.

This whining easily turns into white noise. After a while, we get used to feeling numb and lose all desire to engage. We're exhausted, unable to go on participating and reacting to everything, and so we do nothing.

This is bad news burnout, and it may be one of the defining characteristics of the millennial generation.

Burnout is a very real affliction. Studies have shown that burnout actually affects the brain, with one study finding that an overworked group seemed to have less activity between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex than a control group, meaning that the overworked group had less control over executive functions. Burnout can be detrimental to physical and mental health, and it often starts a vicious cycle: People suffering from burnout often don't seek help and are less open to learning new information.

Though normally associated with work, media burnout also exists. News media is known to trigger bursts of the hormone cortisol, which can affect concentration and digestion; it can also affect sleep, having an all-around detrimental effect on one's life and health.

Fortunately, there is research-based advice on how to combat media burnout. As with many afflictions, we can't simply wake up one day and decide that we're not going to be burned out anymore. To combat burnout, we need to develop consistent strategies. We can start by placing limitations on our empathy.

The Issue with Empathy

According to the psychologist Paul Bloom, excessive empathy makes us more prone to burnout. If we feel every injury we read about in the media as if it were our own, we'll inevitably get overwhelmed.

Even if does manage to spur us to action, empathy can even have a negative effect on the way we respond to natural disasters, violence, and bad news at large. An excess of empathy can make us overly attached to the struggles of people similar to us, causing us to ignore larger turmoil in the rest of the world (hence the fact that the media barely blinks at another bombing in the Middle East, but a Paris shooting makes the front page of every paper). It can also make us focus on individual stories, like the plight of a single suffering child, while ignoring the larger issues that cause that suffering in the first place.

Instead of prioritizing empathy, Bloom advises that we practice "rational compassion," which means that we should focus on doing the maximum good for the most number of people, rather than getting too hung up on individual stories.

Put the Phone Away

Even with limitations on our empathy levels, it's incredibly difficult not to grow burned out if we're plugged into the 24/7 news cycle. Obsessing over headlines doesn't actually help anyone, and the importance of limiting your engagement with news and social media cannot be overstated.

That doesn't mean that we shouldn't keep up with the times and do as much as we are able to combat injustices in the world. Actually, staying perpetually keyed to the fluctuations of world events may be detrimental to our ability to think critically about news stories and engage productively with issues. "Understanding anything, including politics, involves longer term investigation and contemplation than we are affording ourselves when we buy into being news addicts," writes Megan Nolan.

In order to do the maximum amount of good and to maintain our own sanity, we need to be careful where we focus our energy and attention. The behavioral scientist Kristen Lee writes that in order to avoid burnout, we need to take care of ourselves by staying grounded, setting boundaries, practicing a healthy, balanced lifestyle, and doing what we must in order to ensure that we have the strength to keep up and take action when we can. Putting down the phone is one of the most important things we can do to shield ourselves from falling into despair, along with focusing on practicing gratitude for what we have.

Ultimately, the point is that we need to learn how to pace ourselves. We need to spend more time off our screens, so that when we do plug in, we can be fully present to digest information.

Self-Care as Conscious Action

Sometimes, self-care can take the form of direct action. With issues like climate change and the camps at the U.S.-Mexico border, direct actions—whether that's political protest, lobbying, donating, or something else—can be the most effective ways to assuage our own feelings of uselessness and guilt, and it can hopefully help heal some of the problems at their core Plus, joining communities that are engaged in active resistance can help us feel less alone in our fear and anger, allowing us to face and process it, rather than letting it control us. As Robert Frost said, "The best way out is always through."

For a long time, I avoided thinking about climate change, because I knew if I looked at it head-on, I'd have to do something about it. Since I allowed myself to fully realize the extent of the situation, I've actually felt much more free, able to dive in and learn about the situation, instead of feeling overpowered by a vague sense of hopelessness. Obviously, none of us can engage with every world issue, but sometimes focusing on one or two and taking action is the best form of self-care.

After all, despite our selfish human natures, there's something in each one of us—though sometimes it lies very deep below the surface—that feels we have a moral responsibility to work for a better world for all, that believes it's possible. Sometimes, having the optimism and courage to make small changes is the best way to move forward. According to Angela Davis, "You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time." Instead of passively accepting the news, we can focus on combating it by creating a better world—or at least we can go down fighting for one.

Toughen Up

According to Richard A. Friedman, we can avoid burnout not by withdrawing from the world, but rather by lowering our expectations and embracing the negative feelings that accompany the news cycle. He writes, "I suspect my generation suffered less burnout than the current students for the simple reason that we expected to have a rough ride, and our expectations often turned out to be worse than the real stresses we confronted."

Though this advice may seem harsh, especially because the news today is far more apocalyptic than it was when Friedman's generation was coming of age, there may be a seed of wisdom within it. Today's American millennials face a particularly jarring contrast: In keeping with the American dream, many of us were brought up to think that the world was our oyster, and we had little to challenge our self-centered perspectives. We quickly learned to obsess over success, wealth, and personal happiness. Now that we're being told that the world is on the brink of collapse, we face a completely different reality than the one we were born into.

Many of us have also never been taught how to process emotions in a healthy way. We get hung-up on small injustices without working to understand the larger systems behind them, and that quickly becomes too overwhelming for anyone to bear. Perhaps, if we focus less on our own unhappiness and realize that the world will never be a perfect place, we can focus on making things a little better by doing our small part for the whole.

We're All in This Together

When apocalyptic headlines announce unbearable injustices or threaten our ways of life, and when we realize that not only are humans not the center of the world but that we have almost certainly destroyed it, something glitches in our minds. We can't process what it all means.

But we don't have to rationalize or make sense of all the bad news. Since we are not the center of the world, it is not our responsibility to single-handedly change everything. Understanding this can liberate us to take small actions that will actually benefit ourselves and others if it's echoed by a thousand or a billion other small actions.

It also helps to process what's happening with others. When it comes down to it, there's no way to really comprehend the news as it is today, and almost all of us are feeling lost, confused, and helpless in some way—but we're far from alone in that, and we'll have to help each other develop the skills and techniques to make it through this. By maintaining our connections to our communities, both locally and globally, we can develop networks of support that can help us survive and thrive in these strange times.

WORLD

A Stain on History, Happening in Real Time: Collective Amnesia and the European Refugee Crisis

The refugee crisis hasn't gone anywhere. But news outlets and political leaders everywhere are ignoring it—and xenophobia is making it worse.

Around 2015, the so-called European refugee crisis was topping every newspaper headline. Reports of the 5.2 million refugees pouring in from Syria and other war-torn countries that year led to mass calls for mobilization to create infrastructure and support systems for displaced peoples. The photo of Alan Kurdi, the drowned three-year-old who provided a name and face to the crisis, sparked international acknowledgment and inspired humanitarian activists all over the world.

Alan Kurdi, via Medium

But that was four years ago. What has happened to those 5.2 million since then?

Firstly, there are a lot more than 5.2 million now. According to the UN, as many as 63.5 million people have had to flee their homes because of conflict since World War II; and today, roughly eight thousand people per month arrive in Greece, Italy, and Spain from Syria, Guinea, Algeria, and neighboring countries. These numbers are staggering; the lives they describe are almost impossible to imagine. But each figure corresponds to individual experience and a body that likely has crossed countless miles of ocean to arrive on European shores. Though it is impossible to generalize their stories, the majority of these people are currently stranded in liminal places like refugee camps or living as undocumented citizens without access to rights, living wages, and other protections.

According to the Aegean Boat Report, around 20 boats have arrived on the Greek island of Lesvos alone in February 2019, carrying a total of 791 people. Lesvos's Moria Camp holds somewhere between eight to ten thousand refugees; it was initially designed to hold ten. Many have been there for over half a decade, and the conditions in the camp are becoming more and more unlivable by the day.

Moria Camp, via Al Jazeera

Many refugees go through hell and back to get there. Left with no choice but to flee violence and unlivable conditions, many spend thousands of dollars on hiring a smuggler who could carry them across the sea. The journey is treacherous—smugglers sometimes have deals with authorities or even pirates, and recent reports have revealed that the journey is more dangerous than ever before, with 1,600 to as many as 2,730 people dying at sea in 2018. The UNHCR released a report which argued that although the official number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean fell last year, this was likely due to "reductions to search and rescue capacity coupled with an uncoordinated and unpredictable response to disembarkation." This in turn, "led to an increased death rate as people continued to flee their countries due to conflict, human rights violations, persecution, and poverty." As the world forgets, the little structure and safety netting that does exist inevitably falls apart.

The news is a strange beast. Some stories can dominate for months and fade out so suddenly it's almost like they never happened; particularly shocking acts of individual or random violence can consume headlines while systematic, long-term horrors can fade away, having lost their ability to capture audiences' attention. With countries like South Sudan, Yemen, and Afghanistan steadily experiencing mass exoduses for years and years at a time, and with the inundation of tragic stories and gory photographs from Syria, it's easy for ongoing horrors to slip underneath an ocean of facts and figures that seem too overwhelming to address.

It's also easy for governments to shirk off responsibility for taking in refugees, seeing as technically they are stateless and, therefore, are not protected by any citizenship rights. Though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees basic protections for all people on earth, it does not specify which countries are responsible for providing these protections.

But every political decision manifests in lived experiences. For example, when migrants arrive on the shores of Lesvos, they are sometimes met with volunteers who provide water and transportation to the camps. Families and individuals are assigned at random to tents, which are crammed next to each other, creating unlivable conditions.

Image via aljazeera.com

Lesvos, in particular, has an extensive volunteer population, but overall aid groups often work as band-aids, failing to heal the sources of a larger issue and failing to structure a pathway forward. Instead, aid groups and refugees languish on Lesvos, in the grey area of statelessness and global amnesia. NGOs are gradually shifting their focus to working with refugees and locals to develop long-lasting relationships and skills, which can propel migrants forward into new lives.

But in light of the antipathy many locals hold towards newcomers, and also because of the trauma, language barriers, or other struggles that migrants face, the process of adjustment is challenging and will require individualized attention, patience, and cohesive efforts. Reports reveal that the majority of refugees fleeing severe conflicts will have vestiges of trauma; the IRC reported high levels of depression and PTSD among refugees across the board.

A 2011 Oxford University study found that the best way for refugees to move forward is through integration into life in their new countries. Solutions lie in treating the wound at its source, addressing xenophobia, and fighting for fair opportunities to education, jobs, healthcare, and other vital structural support systems. On the other hand, stranding migrants in places like Lesvos—where they live in unsanitary and dangerous conditions, surrounded by strangers who may also be experiencing trauma, with no idea of if or when they will be able to leave—is a product of a collective worldwide amnesia, a refusal to see what is happening in real time.

Long-term, slow-moving challengers are not foddered for breaking news. Particularly massive floods of refugees might pique the interest of a world leader; an artist might draw attention to the crisis through an installation in a busy city; but always, the cycles of violence and erasure continue as the world gets caught up in shinier, brighter topics. But remembering and acknowledging what is happening is the first step to moving in a new direction.

Image via Oxfam Novib Academy


Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City.

ISSUES

The Five Best Aid Organizations to Give To

Choose to give where your money will go the farthest.

Everyone can agree that giving to charity is a worthwhile way to use one's money. But it's not as simple as just writing a check. You want to make sure your money is going somewhere where it'll be put to good use. With so many options out there, how can you make sure you're putting your money into worthy causes? To help you on your quest, we've compiled a list of the top 5 aid organizations to give to in 2019.

Children International

Children International is an organization who has the broad mission of ending childhood poverty across the globe. Their primary means of doing this is by allowing donors to sponsor a child, regularly donating to provide the child with healthcare, education, food, shelter, etc. Charity watchdog gives this foundation an A rating, as they offer 84% of their earnings to children in need, with only 16% going to overhead costs.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

This organization aims to "maintain and advance civil liberties, including, without limitation, the freedoms of association, press, religion, and speech, and the rights to the franchise, to due process of law, and to equal protection of the laws for all people throughout the United States and its jurisdictions." The ACLU is one of the most powerful groups fighting to protect American citizens today, and decidedly a very worthy cause to donate to.

National Wildlife Federation

The National Wildlife Federation aims to protect American wildlife and wilderness by educating Americans about the importance of nature and fundraising money for environmentalist programs. They only spend 13% of their income on overhead, meaning you can be sure your donation isn't going towards some rich person's personal fortune, but is actually going towards protecting America's quickly dwindling natural beauty.

National Alliance to End Homelessness

This organization's mission is simple: end homelessness in America. They focus primarily on issues of policy and education, empowering legislators and communities to take steps to support disenfranchised Americans without housing. They give an incredible 92% of their proceeds to their cause, making them one of the most responsible charities on this list.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)

Suicide is an ever-growing crisis in the United States, but thanks to organizations like the AFSP, people are becoming more and more educated about the truth of mental illness. They raise awareness, fund scientific research, and provide important resources and aid to those affected by suicide.

POLITICS

3 Ways Presidential Power Can Be Abused

It turns out national emergencies are very subjective.

The Trump administration has laid bare many of the failings of our government.

All three government branches are privy to partisanship. Our checks and balances may not necessarily work as intended. But most alarmingly, American presidential power might be far less defined than most people realized.

Historically, dictatorial regimes have utilized "national emergencies" as excuses to consolidate and reinforce power. We've seen this playbook employed by Erdogan in Turkey and by Duterte in the Philippines. But could this happen in America? The answer is murky. In fact, national emergencies are murky territory in general, the main problem being that most of the terminology involved is broad and ill-defined.

In a video posted by The Atlantic, Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, explains, "There's no legal definition of emergency, no requirement that congress ratify the decision, and no judicial review." In other words, the decision to declare a national emergency are almost entirely up to a president's personal discretion. Normally, we assume that our elected officials have the best interest of the people in mind, and would not declare a national emergency for personal or partisan political gain. But considering Donald Trump's noted praise of dictators like Erdogan, coupled with his extreme penchant for partisanship, we can no longer simply rely on the president's best judgment.

The question then becomes, "If the president declares a national emergency now, what powers can he abuse?"

1. The Power to Take Over Wire Communication

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During a national emergency, the president has the power to shut down or take over radio stations. Assuming there's a threat of war (which, again, can be determined at the president's own discretion), that power expands to any and all wire communications. This executive power was last used during WWII, before most people utilized daily wire communication in any meaningful way beyond the occasional phone call.

Today, given the vagueness and broad applications of "wire communications," declaring a national emergency could allow the president to control Internet traffic in the US. This could include shutting down websites he didn't like, blocking emails to and from dissidents, and altering search results to only display pre-approved propaganda. Doing so would be akin to removing free speech from the Internet, and during a national emergency that would be completely within the president's power.

2. Sanctioning American Citizens

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Imagine going to work, only to discover you've been fired because you can no longer legally be employed. You go back to your apartment and find out you're being evicted. So you go to the bank to take out cash for a hotel, but your funds are frozen. Turns out you're on a list of US citizens suspected of providing support to foreign threats. That's the potential reality of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).

This act allows the president to declare a national emergency to "deal with any unusual extraordinary threat" that "has its source in whole or substantial part outside the United States." It gives the president the power to freeze assets and block transactions where a foreign nation or foreign national might have a vested interest. George W. Bush used this after 9/11 to sanction those being investigated (sometimes wrongly) of helping terrorists. Were a president to declare "illegal immigrants" a national emergency, the implications could be disastrous.

3. Deploying the Military Within the US

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The idea of armed soldiers marching down your city street to hunt down civilians might sound like something out of a dystopian novel. But during a national emergency, it could be an American reality. The Insurrection Act states that during a national emergency, the president can deploy military troops inside the US to suppress any "unlawful combinations" or "conspiracies" that "obstructs or hinders the execution of the law." The problem, again, is that the terms are so vaguely defined.

President Eisenhower once used this law to enforce desegregation in schools. But a president with different sentiments could just as easily use it against protestors or undocumented migrants. For instance, if Trump were to decide Black Lives Matter constituted an "unlawful combination" during a state of emergency, sending the army to suppress them would be fully within his power. Alternatively, a sanctuary city harboring illegal immigrants might be interpreted as a "conspiracy" and therefore subject to military rule.

In many ways, the limits of an American president's power during a national emergency have not been tested. On one hand, theoretical checks and balances do exist which could allow Congress to end a national emergency that was being abused. On the other hand, this would require a majority that a largely partisan Senate would likely not have. There also might be opportunities for the courts to block various moves made during a national emergency but, again, the legality here is largely untested.

Ultimately, as citizens, we must keep a watchful eye on our president's actions should he declare a national emergency. And if things go south, we must keep this in mind the next time we vote. After all, when one person who is supposed to represent all of us holds so much power, we must make sure it is a person of strong enough character and mental capability to understand the repercussions of his or her actions.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Is Admitted to Hospital for Broken Ribs

The 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice fell in her office on Wednesday night.

According to a statement from the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fell in her office Wednesday night and fractured three ribs. Initially, the Justice thought all was well following the fall and went home. After experiencing pain throughout Wednesday night, however, she was admitted to George Washington University Hospital Thursday morning.

Her stay at the hospital meant that Ginsburg was not present for Thursday's investiture of Trump-appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh, an event that reportedly drew crowds in protest.

LA Times

Since her appointment to the court in 1993, Ginsburg has become a pop culture icon, praised by progressives for her liberal influence. In particular, Ginsburg is seen as an opponent of President Trump, whom she called "a faker" in 2016. Since the replacement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy by conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, progressives have been particularly concerned as to the state of Ginsburg's health, fearing that her age may force her to retire before Trump's tenure ends, allowing him to put another conservative Justice on the bench.

The next sitting of the Supreme Court begins Nov. 26, and given Justice Ginsburg's history of attending work despite health issues, her fractured ribs are unlikely to hinder her participation. She broke two ribs in 2012 and returned to work the next day. In November 2014, she underwent a heart procedure; in 2009, she was treated for early stages of pancreatic cancer and returned to work three weeks later.

In July, the Justice stated that she hopes to stay on the bench for the duration of Trump's term. "I'm now 85," Ginsburg said. "My senior colleague, Justice John Paul Stevens, he stepped down when he was 90, so think I have about at least five more years."

Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson.

POLITICS

It's Time to Change the Supreme Court

Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation reveals a Supreme Court facing a legitimacy crisis, making it the perfect time to make it more democratic and accountable.

The bitter confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh has left the Supreme Court facing a legitimacy crisis. This was exposed by the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary committee, who showed little interest in seriously investigating Christine Blasey Ford's allegations of sexual assault. Democrats were not completely blameless either, especially Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who failed to come forward earlier with Ford's allegation. This flawed confirmation process was ultimately revealed by a sham of an FBI investigation that lasted only five days and never interviewed the alleged victim or perpetrator. Worst of all, Dr. Ford's bravery and sacrifice in coming forward with her story was in vain. What's been revealed is that the Supreme Court is an institution in the midst of a crisis of accountability, and one in need of major reform.

Urging radical changes to the Supreme Court must be on the progressive agenda in 2020 and beyond. If Democratic voters and progressive activists are angry about Kavanaugh's confirmation process, as they should be, maintaining the status quo is unacceptable. It is paramount that both common sense and radical reforms be pushed to ensure that the court is more responsive and accountable.

Common Dreams

1. Code of Ethics

In addition to facing serious allegations of sexual misconduct, Brett Kavanaugh faces a series of other ethical questions. These range from issues with his finances, such as the strange disappearance of his debts and spending $200,000 on baseball tickets, to issues over potential bias. But, interestingly, there is no ethical rulebook for the behavior of Supreme Court justices.

Kavanaugh is not the first justice to face ethical problems, either. There have been questions of the morality of the justices appearing at partisan events, financial disclosures, and conflicts of interest. But it's now time for the Supreme Court to be subjected to the same ethical standards that Congress is held to. Not too long ago, the House introduced a bill called the "Supreme Court Ethics Act." If Democrats take back the House in November, it's important they be pressured to reintroduce and pass that legislation.

2. Term Limits

If you think about it, the Supreme Court has an unfair share of power. How else would you describe a group of nine unelected bureaucrats appointed for life to shape the laws for 300 million people? It's hard to believe that we still accept the idea that certain government officials should be given lifetime appointments. We no longer accept it for presidents, nor should we accept it for senators and representatives and, especially, Supreme Court justices.

The United States would be wise to join the rest of the world and introduce term limits for its highest court. Other countries have introduced 18-year term limits. An article in Vox argued that term limits would decrease the "partisan warfare" of Supreme Court nominations. Staggered 18-year terms would allow for a new vacancy every two years. Every president would get to nominate two each term. Every 20 years the court would be entirely remade. Term limits could also greatly decrease the likelihood of sudden deaths or retirements, and could introduce younger blood to a court whose average age is the highest it's ever been.

3. Direct Election of Justices

One of the more radical suggestions being widely discussed is the direct election of justices. Up until the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, most Americans never considered directly electing senators. This was a major victory of the progressive movement in the early 20th century in making the Senate a more democratic institution. Today, judges at the local level are routinely elected in most places.

The same should be done with the Supreme Court. While the court was originally intended to be above politics, it is anything but that today. The Supreme Court has always been a political body, though it's often been thought of as the least partisan of the three branches. But the moment Brett Kavanaugh spoke about "revenge on behalf of the Clintons" the idea of a nonpartisan court was instantly crushed. If this is the case, it would make sense to subject it to the same standard of democratic accountability as the other branches of the federal government by proposing a national election to fill vacancies.

CNBC

There are obviously major hurdles to overcome before these changes can become reality. In conservative judicial circles, strict constitutional textualism — the concept that the Constitution should be interpreted as the framers intended — holds considerable influence. Look no further than the Federalist Society, which played a big role in the confirmations of Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh. It's crucial that progressives push back against this idea of the Constitution. The Constitution, while being a useful blueprint, should not be treated as a sacred document, but as a mutable, living representation of America's moral and ethical framework.

There's also the question of political will. These changes to the Supreme Court, especially term limits and the direct election of justices, will likely require an amendment to the Constitution. In today's political environment, passing such an amendment would be a Herculean effort. Constitutional amendments don't happen overnight. They often require decades of activism and agitation to become reality. Prohibition and women's suffrage both involved major social movements that triggered cultural and political upheaval, this would have to be similar.

Radical changes to the basic structure of the Supreme Court will invariably face huge opposition from conservatives who will frame such changes as a power grab by Democrats angry about Kavanaugh. They would also face challenges from Democrats afraid of the potential political backlash to such bold proposals. But progressives must fight back against such criticisms. Making the Supreme Court more accountable to the public may not happen for along time, but that's not an excuse to cease pushing the idea. It's crucial push the envelope, as it expands the realm of what's possible.


Dan is a writer, thinker and occasional optimist in this random, chaotic world. You can follow him on Twitter @danescalona77.

POLITICS

Kavanaugh’s Confirmation Moves Forward

The Senate will hold the final vote as early as Saturday

Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh's chances of landing his Supreme Court nomination reached new heights Friday as the Senate narrowly voted to limit debate and move to a final vote.

The procedure, known as cloture, resulted in a 51-49 vote that saw the majority of senators following party allegiances. Two surprising exceptions were Republican Lisa Murkowski from Alaska who voted 'No,' and Democrat Joe Manchin III from West Virginia who voted 'Yes.' Murkowski's vote is surprising given her FiveThirtyEight "Trump score" of nearly 83%, which is the percentage of how often she votes in line with the president's position on any given issue. Manchin's position is less surprising when you consider his 61% score.

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POLITICS

Key Republicans on Senate Judiciary Committee Condemn Trump's Remarks as Investigation Closes

"To discuss something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right," said Arizona senator Jeff Flake.

Lisa Murkowski (AK), called the president's remarks "wholly inappropriate, and, in my view, unacceptable."

The three Senate Republicans holding key swing votes on Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination spoke out on Wednesday against comments the president made at a political rally in Mississippi the night before. "The president's comments are just plain wrong," said Susan Collins (ME).

"To discuss something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right," said Jeff Flake (AZ).

At the rally, Trump questioned the credibility of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified in front of the Committee last week that Kavanaugh forced himself on her, groped her, and attempted to silence her cries for help when they were teenagers. Mockingly reenacting the questioning, he said, "How did you get home? 'I don't remember.' How did you get there? 'I don't remember.' Where was the place? 'I don't remember.'"

The president's comments are a far cry from the days immediately after Ford's testimony, during which he called her "a very credible witness," and her testimony "very compelling." When asked by the Committee how sure she was that her assailant was Kavanaugh, Ford answered, "100%." Kavanaugh has denied all allegations.

The president then turned his attention to Kavanaugh, echoing the judge's own testimony that the accusations have "destroyed [his] family and good name," claiming, "A man's life is in tatters" and calling the Democratic party's attempts to investigate Ford's claims a smear campaign. President Trump has been vocal about the need for due process, lamenting that the criminal justice system has become one in which someone is "guilty until proven innocent." Rally attendees were enthusiastic about the president's remarks, despite having repeated their 2016 campaign battle cry, "Lock her up," hours earlier.

Ford isn't the only woman who's accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Julie Swetnick alleged that Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge, who Ford claims to have been present during her assault, were among a group of friends who would target and drug girls at parties and take turns having sex with them. While Swetnick does not accuse Kavanaugh of participating in her own gang rape, she claims that he was at the party where it happened. Deborah Ramirez, in an interview with The New Yorker, said that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when they both attended Yale.

In her opening statement, Ford noted that she was " terrified" to testify before the committee, despite having passed a polygraph test administered by the FBI. Still, both the president, Judge Kavanaugh, and many members of the GOP have dismissed Ford's accusations as false, despite the fact that false rape allegations are very rare.

Collins, Murkowski, and Flake have remained publicly undecided on whether they will vote to confirm Kavanaugh, though Flake called for an expanded background investigation of the nominee and the allegations against him. Controlled closely by the White House, the investigation was closed on Wednesday evening. A single copy of the investigation report was made available to Senate Judiciary Committee members on Thursday morning, and Collins and Flake have said that they were satisfied with the result. However, the FBI never contacted a number of potential sources and character witnesses who may have been able to corroborate such claims. While the agency did speak with Ramirez, they did not follow up with the roughly 20 people whom she said could provide more information. Over 40 people have contacted the agency to offer testimony, including Swetnick and Kerry Bercham, a former roommate of Ramirez's, but federal investigators never responded.

After the investigation was closed, majority leader Mitch McConnell filed a motion to cloture Kavanaugh's nomination, restricting the amount of time to debate before a floor vote to 30 hours and ensuring that a vote will take place this week.


Rebecca Linde is a writer and cultural critic in NYC. She tweets about pop culture and television @rklinde.

Kavanaugh Nomination Advances, Flake Calls for Delay and Investigation

Kavanaugh's supreme court nomination will now head to the senate floor.


Amidst controversy and drama, Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination has been approved and now heads to the full senate for approval.

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A Second Woman Accuses Kavanaugh of Sexual Misconduct

This incident reportedly took place during Kavanaugh's Freshman year at Yale University.

Brett Kavanaugh and The White House have publicly denied a second woman's claims of sexual misconduct by the Supreme Court nominee. This allegation comes in the wake of negotiators reaching a decision to hold a hearing to investigate the claims of Kavanaugh's first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. In light of the new accusation, the top Democrat on the senate judiciary committee, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, called for immediate postponement of Kavanaugh's confirmation process. In a letter to Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley., Sen. Feinstein asked that the matter be referred to the FBI for investigation.

The new allegation dates back to the 1983-84 school year, when Kavanaugh was a freshman at Yale University. Deborah Ramirez, Kavanaugh's classmate at Yale at the time, was contacted by The New Yorker after the allegation was relayed to Democratic senators by a civil-rights lawyer. She was originally reluctant to share the story, in part because she had been drinking at the party in question and felt she had some gaps in her memory of the night. After several days of assessing her recollection with her attorney, she said she felt certain enough of the memory to describe it in an interview with The New Yorker.

The New Yorker reports, "Kavanaugh had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away."

Ramirez recalled being shaken by the event. "I wasn't going to touch a penis until I was married," she said. "I was embarrassed and ashamed and humiliated." The New Yorker reported that Ramirez "...remembers Kavanaugh standing to her right and laughing, pulling up his pants. 'Brett was laughing.' she said. 'I can still see his face, and his hips coming forward, like when you pull up your pants.'" She also stated that another student "yelled down the hall, 'Brett Kavanaugh just put his penis in Debbie's face.'" She remarked, "It was his full name. I don't think it was just 'Brett.' And I remember hearing and being mortified that this was out there."

Regarding the incident, Ramirez said, "I would think an FBI investigation would be warranted."

Brett Kavanaugh in the Yale Yearbookwhitehouse.gov

In response to Ramirez's allegation, the White House spokesperson Kerri Kupec stated, "This 35-year-old, uncorroborated claim is the latest in a coordinated smear campaign by the Democrats designed to tear down a good man. This claim is denied by all who were said to be present and is wholly inconsistent with what many women and men who knew Judge Kavanaugh at the time in college say. The White House stands firmly behind Judge Kavanaugh."

It has been confirmed that four Democratic senators have received information about Ramirez's allegation, and at least two are investigating the matter further. Ramirez will not be appearing at Kavanaugh's hearing on Thursday.


Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson.