Discover more from The Transom
How Do You Deal With A Problem Like Dianne Feinstein?
How do you push the addled aged out the door?
When it comes to Dianne Feinstein, the left is still just furious at her about this.
For more than a month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has been on medical leave, with no indication of when she might return to her powerful seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Having missed dozens of Senate votes, she’s facing calls to resign, as her inability to do her job is obstructing President Joe Biden’s judicial nominations, among other duties. It’s just the latest installment in the saga swirling around the 89-year-old, five-term senator whose cognitive decline has been on full public display for years, even as she has refused to step down. In April last year, the San Francisco Chronicle published a story raising concerns about her mental faculties and the refusal of people around her to make her retire.
The Feinstein saga is a very public example of innumerable private crises currently taking place in millions of American households. With their pathological obsession with personal freedom, Americans are both collectively and individually failing to address the growing problem of impaired elderly people. Consider how hard it is to take away someone’s driver’s license or move a senior who’s become a hoarder into a safer living situation. There are millions of baby boomers just like Feinstein who are about to join the ranks of dementia patients. Already, there are an estimated 7 million people currently living with dementia in the US—about 1 in 10 older Americans. By 2040, that figure is expected to nearly double, but as a country, and as individuals, we still have no f—king idea how to deal with this disease. So mostly we muddle through until there’s a crisis, or, in this case, Biden can’t get his judges confirmed.
Tom Cotton has telegraphed that he plans to object, forcing Democrats to find 60 votes to pull off their Judiciary Committee switcheroo.
The great test of a generation is whether it leaves better prospects for its descendants. Yet by virtually every indication, the baby boomers, and even the Gen Xers, are leaving a heritage of economic carnage — as well as a growing social and cultural dissipation that could shape our future and the fate of democratic self-rule, and not for the better. This legacy comes not from outside forces, but the investment bankers, tech oligarchs and their partners in the clerisy who have weakened their national economies and undermined the chances of upward mobility for most young people.
About 90 percent of those born in 1940 grew up to earn higher incomes than their parents, according to researchers at Harvard’s Opportunity Insights project. The same is true for only half of those born in the 1980s. In contrast to baby boomers’ massive rise into the property-owning middle class, millennials inherit a world in which the middle ranks are struggling almost everywhere, notes the OECD. According to a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, American millennials are in danger of becoming a “lost generation” in terms of wealth accumulation.
It is no surprise that recent college graduates report the highest levels of anxiety in the country; suicides, particularly among young girls, have soared to record levels according to the Centers for Disease Control. By one measurement, one in five teenage girls suffered “a major depressive episode” in the years before the coronavirus pandemic, and two in three college students reported problems with loneliness. This pattern appears in virtually every advanced country. In 2017 the Pew Research Center found that poll respondents in France, Britain, Spain, Italy and Germany are even more pessimistic about the next generation than those in the United States. Concern for the next generation’s prospects is also widespread in such important developing countries as India, South Africa and Nigeria. The Japanese are even more discouraged: three-quarters of those polled there believe that things will be worse for the next generation.
This sad state of affairs is doubly tragic for having been largely self-inflicted.
The Fake Russian Next Door
A purported Russian blogger known as Donbass Devushka, which translates as Donbas Girl, reposted the files from obscure online chat rooms. The blog is the face of a network of pro-Kremlin social-media, podcasting, merchandise and fundraising accounts. But the person who hosted podcasts as Donbass Devushka and oversees these accounts is a Washington-state-based former U.S. enlisted aviation electronics technician whose real name is Sarah Bils.
Russia first intervened in the Donbas part of eastern Ukraine in 2014, and most of the recent fighting has focused on that area.
Ms. Bils, 37 years old, served at the U.S. naval air station on Whidbey Island until late last year, even as the accounts she had established and supervised glorified the Russian military and the paramilitary Wagner Group. They are among the most widely followed English-language social-media outlets promoting Russia’s views.
In an interview Saturday at her home in Oak Harbor, Wash., Ms. Bils said she is an administrator of the Donbass Devushka persona, and acknowledged raising funds and hosting podcasts under that name. She added, however, that she is one of 15 people “all over the world” involved in running the Donbass Devushka network. Ms. Bils declined to identify these people.
On April 5, the Donbass Devushka Telegram account posted four of the allegedly leaked classified documents to its 65,000 followers, according to a screenshot seen by The Wall Street Journal. That led several large Russian social-media accounts to pick up on the documents, after which the Pentagon launched an investigation. Ms. Bils says another administrator posted the four files.
There is no evidence that Ms. Bils, who had a security clearance during her Navy service, has used that access to steal any classified information herself. “I obviously know the gravity of top-secret classified materials. We didn’t leak them,” she said.
Unpacking That Clarence Thomas Story
Some facts are known and undisputed. Mr. Crow, a Dallas developer and friend of the justice, confirmed in a written statement to ProPublica that Savannah Historic Development LLC, a company he established, bought “the childhood home of Justice Thomas,” which Mr. Crow plans to convert into a museum “telling the story of our nation’s second black Supreme Court Justice.” Public documents show that the company paid Anderson’s heirs a total of $133,363 for the Savannah house and two adjacent empty lots. According to ProPublica, Justice Thomas’s mother, 94-year-old Leola Williams, lived in the house at least until 2020 and possibly still does.
Assuming Justice Thomas received one-third of the sale price (or any amount more than $1,000), the text of the federal financial-disclosure statute would require him to have reported the transaction in Part VII (“Investments and Trusts”) of his annual AO-10 form for 2014. He didn’t do so and may need to file an amended form.
But my review of Justice Thomas’s disclosures and other documents convinces me that any failure to disclose was an honest mistake. On all other matters involving his scanty real-estate inheritance, he followed the Filing Instructions for Judicial Officers and Employees, prepared by the Committee on Financial Disclosures of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Those instructions don’t make clear the statutory obligation to disclose the 2014 transaction.
Further, the ProPublica troika made a sloppy reporting error, the effect of which is to cast Justice Thomas’s disclosures in a falsely unfavorable light—to make them look shambolic or perhaps even dishonest when in fact they followed the filing instructions without fail.
The reporters’ error involves a confusion about what Justice Thomas did disclose. “By the early 2000s,” ProPublica reports, “he had stopped listing specific addresses of property he owned in his disclosures. But he continued to report holding a one-third interest in what he described as ‘rental property at ## 1, 2, & 3’ in Savannah.” It’s worth noting—ProPublica doesn’t—that the filing instructions (on page 32) prescribe disclosing rental properties in precisely this manner.
The story continues: “Two of the houses were torn down around 2010, according to property records and a footnote in Thomas’ annual disclosure archived by Free Law Project.” That footnote in Justice Thomas’s 2010 disclosure states in full: “Part VII, Line 2 - Two of the Georgia rental properties have been torn down. The only remaining property is an old house in Liberty County.”
Liberty County is where our journey began, but the ProPublica troika somehow missed it on the map. Their story leads the reader to think that the “remaining property” was the Savannah house where Justice Thomas’s mother lived. A Friday letter from the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington—co-signed by Virginia Canter, the first of ProPublica’s “four ethics experts”—expressly says so and accuses Justice Thomas of deceptively disclosing (rather than failing to disclose) the property’s disposition.
The footnote makes clear that this is wrong. There’s a fourth property. Justice Thomas’s 2009 disclosure listed three rental properties in “Sav., GA.” Beginning in 2010, he listed only one, in “Liberty Cty, GA.” Savannah is in Chatham County, not Liberty. But Liberty County is in the Savannah area, roughly a 45-minute drive from the city. For someone living hundreds of miles away, it would have been reasonable to describe the three rental properties collectively as being “in Savannah.”
That implies that Justice Thomas never disclosed his interest in the Savannah house where his mother lived. But he didn’t need to. “Information pertaining to a personal residence is exempted from reporting, unless the property generates rental income,” the filing instructions say on page 33. Nor was there any requirement to disclose the ownership of the other two Savannah properties after the houses were demolished. Who wants to rent an empty lot in Savannah?
When an asset isn’t sold but stops being reportable—in this case because it is no longer capable of generating rental income—page 50 of the filing instructions directs the filer to “insert ‘(Y)’ after the asset description in Column A and leave Columns B-D blank, or include an explanatory note in Part VIII.” Justice Thomas did exactly that for the Savannah rental properties in 2010, and for the Liberty County property in 2015. The latter footnote reads simply: “Line 1: The asset listed on line 1 does not receive any rental income for this property.” This is the disclosure Ms. Canter and her co-signers mistake for a deception.
The Danger of Fast Casual Society
In 2001, I started working at what used to be called a “white shoe” law firm, an anachronistic reference to the white buckskin shoes worn by Ivy League men of a bygone age. By the time I got there, the attorneys were wearing black or dark brown oxfords or brogues, but the code, while different, was enforced with equal rigidity. One afternoon, having been at the firm without sleep since the previous night—about 30 hours—I staggered onto the elevator with my collar open and my tie loose. An older partner turned and spoke to me in a voice that seemed to come from the late nineteenth century: “Young man, we have not met, but I assume you are employed by this firm. You will find that we do not open the collars of our shirts before 5 P.M., and certainly not in the public spaces, where we might easily be observed by a client.”
The world has changed a good deal since the repeal, in the seventeenth century, of the sumptuary laws that made it illegal in medieval and Renaissance Europe for commoners to wear apparel associated with nobility and proscribed the wearing of luxury fabrics by persons below a certain annual income. The result has been the democratization of dress—broadly speaking, a victory for human liberty. The rapid casualization of American life in the last several decades, however, of which relaxed codes of dress are only one telling component, ought to leave us feeling more ambivalent. The tech industry, whose titans are pointedly casual in dress, probably began this shift, which two years of lockdowns—of working at home in our pajamas—have hardened into a different kind of rigid norm.
Standards of dress are viewed with suspicion because they can operate as a means of exclusion. Sometimes this exclusion is formal, as when a club or restaurant requires a jacket and tie. Perhaps more insidiously, exclusion can be effected by a set of codes not easily discerned by outsiders. I experienced this when, during the 1980s preppy craze, I moved from my public school to a private middle school. For three years, my clothes were wrong, and therefore I was wrong, marked from the start as not belonging. Such attempts to exclude can be overcome by special talent or charisma, or by strength of character. Lacking these things, I finished as I had begun, as a social also-ran.
Fashion also often operates, however, as a mechanism of inclusion. Put on the prescribed uniform every day—be it coveralls or a pinstriped suit—and you become part of a team. The journey from the place we start to the distant and half-imagined place we hope will be our destination might begin with the purchase of some aspirational piece of clothing. The fashion industry sells this Cinderella dream of transformation, and dollar for dollar, it might deliver better value than higher education.
Items of Interest
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.”
— Neil Postman