In This Episode
- A New York Times report published Sunday revealed Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ involvement in the exclusive Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans. According to the The Times, Justice Thomas’ three-decade membership granted him access to benefits – many unreported – from wealthy members and friends.
- Last Friday, the Dutch government collapsed after the parties in its ruling coalition failed to agree on migration policy. A general election will be held this fall, and in the meantime, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his government will continue operating in a caretaker capacity.
- And in headlines: U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that Sudan is on the brink of a full-scale civil war, Tennessee’s ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth can take effect immediately, and Tracy Chapman has made music history.
- New York Times: Where Clarence Thomas Entered an Elite Circle and Opened a Door to the Court – https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/09/us/clarence-thomas-horatio-alger-association.html
- What A Day – YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/@whatadaypodcast
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Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Monday, July 10th I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice and this is What A Day where we can’t believe we actually have to say this, but please stop throwing objects at musicians on stage.
Tre’vell Anderson: You know, Josie, back in my day, we used to just throw our panties and bras on stage, but now they’re throwing cell phones. What’s going on?
Josie Duffy Rice: Right. If you want to throw something, let it be soft and fabric. And let me also just say, generally don’t throw things at people. That’s like a general rule.
Tre’vell Anderson: Right. [music break] On today’s show, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that Sudan is on the brink of a full scale civil war. Plus, Tracy Chapman has made music history.
Josie Duffy Rice: But first, the Clarence Thomas drama continues. It’s like watching a car crash if that car crash also didn’t believe in systemic racism. On Sunday, the New York Times published a piece about the justice’s involvement in the Horatio Alger Association and all the benefits that it has brought him over the years.
Tre’vell Anderson: Hoy yoi yoi. We’ve been talking a lot over the last few months about Mr. Thomas in particular. So with this issue, let’s start with the obvious. What on earth is the Horatio Alger Association?
Josie Duffy Rice: Great question. I had never heard of it either, even though I thought I’d heard every conservative society during my three years in enemy territory, ie. law school. [laugh] Um. But anyway, the group is named after the author, Horatio Alger, who is known for his, quote unquote, “rags to riches stories.” And the association was created in 1947, quote, “to dispel the mounting belief among our nation’s youth that the American dream was no longer attainable.” Let’s play pop quiz, what happened [laugh] many years after 1947? You know, [laughter] Black people getting just general rights. So I feel like it’s rich. It’s rich to–
Tre’vell Anderson: Right.
Josie Duffy Rice: –create this association in 1947. The goal of the association is, quote, “to recognize men and women of outstanding achievement as a way to remind Americans of the limitless possibilities that exist through the free enterprise system.”
Tre’vell Anderson: Okay.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Thank you. Okay is exactly right. This is like the classic straw man fallacy I feel like like at least no one is saying today. No one can attain the American dream or even that no Black person could attain the American dream. People believe that it’s harder for some people, particularly minorities and historically oppressed groups to attain that dream than others. So the point of this association, this society, is like to refute an argument that no one’s really making. Right?
Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm.
Josie Duffy Rice: The second thing I’ll say is that this Americans of outstanding achievement thing that ends in the limitless possibilities that exist in the free enterprise system. I feel like we’re not going to be on the short list for this association, and maybe that’s because we’re not on the Supreme Court. Fair. Right. But I bet you [laughter] Ketanji Brown Jackson is also not on the short list, because that line about the free enterprise system tells us all we need to know about who is actually going to be invited to be part of this group.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, it’s not sounding great. Okay. So tell us a little bit about how Justice Thomas became part of this group and what that actually means.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, So he became part of this group within months of being appointed to the Supreme Court, which to me feels meh, you know, the timing. I have questions. As for what it meant it’s a little like complicated. According to The New York Times, quote, “While he has never held an official leadership position, in some ways, he has become the association’s leading light.”
Tre’vell Anderson: Hmm.
Josie Duffy Rice: And that’s meant a few things. So first, he’s granted the organization a lot of access and attention. Right. According to the Times, every year he presides over the group’s signature event, a ceremony in the courtroom at which he places medals around the necks of new lifetime members. It’s weird. The vibes are off.
Tre’vell Anderson: Mmm.
Josie Duffy Rice: You know.
Tre’vell Anderson: Mmm hmm.
Josie Duffy Rice: The main concern is what have members done for him really because it’s clear that it’s a real path to access to prominent conservatives. And so, for example, David Sokol, a very rich financier, he’s part of the organization. He describes himself as close personal friends with Justice Thomas and his wife, Ginny. And there are many others as well. The article outlines trips he’s taken with Sokol and with others and opportunities that have arisen and that he’s kind of created from being part of this organization. Right. The article does not allege any direct corruption. They do not say that Thomas ruled a certain way due to his relationships. But I think the point is that all of this contributes to the perception that Thomas has these ties and he’s intentionally not disclosed how deep these ties go in these conservative social, financial and political circles. So no matter what political party you belong to, this is kind of concerning, you know. The article mentions a couple of other relevant things. First, that Thomas’s willingness to accept gifts from influential conservatives goes back before his time as a SCOTUS justice. In fact, it goes back to at least the mid eighties when he was chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Reagan, which apparently, yes, he was. And I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking it, an ex-girlfriend of his says that a vacation of theirs was paid for by a quote unquote, “buddy” of Thomas’s back then. And apparently a friend of his paid for the justice’s 1987 wedding reception. And that’s according to the friend himself who told the Times that he did that. Another relevant thing that the article mentions in the first decade or so of his tenure on the Supreme Court, Thomas did disclose some of the private fights he took and some of the gifts he received. And then in 2004, the L.A. Times reported on those gifts and travel. And so then he stopped reporting.
Tre’vell Anderson: Which is interesting.
Josie Duffy Rice: It is interesting. Just is not inspiring confidence, I’ll put it that way.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. Not at all. Is this allowed? Right. Like, is he breaking any laws, any ethical rules, perhaps?
Josie Duffy Rice: It’s funny because the answer is no. What we would expect of him morally is very different than what he is required to do. And pound for pound, Supreme Court justices may be the most powerful people in America, and they’re the highest body of the judiciary, and they are totally unaccountable to the American people, like at least presidents have to run for reelection. These people traditionally just have to do nothing and they don’t have to disclose anything and they have lifetime tenure. It’s crazy. Like, on one hand, I do get the value of this nonpolitical [fake laugh], at least in theory, government body. On the other, if they have lifetime tenure. Lifetime tenure should mean basic ethical guidelines that they have to meet. Right. Like reporting gifts they get from partisan fanatics. That just feels very basic to me. And it’s not going to just be Thomas right like–
Tre’vell Anderson: Right.
Josie Duffy Rice: He’s not going to be the only person who’s been on a private plane. Like it’s all of them probably at least we know it’s some of them. And it’s crazy that we’re just now finding this out. Recently, the court system has said that there will be tighter disclosure rules, including when people travel by private jet as well as free vacations at commercial properties. But there’s still plenty they don’t have to report, so they don’t have to report their spouses income, for example. And trust me, I would love to know where Miss Ginny is getting her money because she is getting that money left and right. And they don’t have to report information about personal hospitality, which includes, quote, “food, lodging or entertainment of a personal non business nature,” which all of this could be. Right, because it’s me hanging out with my friends like me hanging out with my association members.
Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm.
Josie Duffy Rice: But the point is, like your personal non business stuff leaks into your business stuff.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah.
Josie Duffy Rice: And as American citizens, we should know about this. You know, this is kind of the tone from justices these past few months. Like, I’m a person, I get to have friends. The answer is like, yes, you can have friends, but if you go to dinner with your friend, you have to pay. You can’t go to the fancy ranch. You can’t get on the plane. You are a public servant and you have to act like one. That is bottom line. Right?
Tre’vell Anderson: You would think. Um–
Josie Duffy Rice: You would think.
Tre’vell Anderson: But we keep having all these examples. [laughing]
Josie Duffy Rice: Right?
Tre’vell Anderson: Of people doing otherwise.
Josie Duffy Rice: Absolutely.
Tre’vell Anderson: Well, thank you for that update on Mr. Thomas getting on our nerves more and more. Now on to some news about other people’s governments and their problems. Late last week, the Dutch government collapsed after the parties in its ruling coalition failed to agree on how to address the Netherlands migration issue. Their inability to do so prompted Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is one of Europe’s longest serving leaders, having overseen four cabinets now to tender his resignation to the country’s king. He told reporters on Friday, quote, “It is no secret that the coalition partners have very different views on migration policy. And today, unfortunately, we have to draw the conclusion that those differences are irreconcilable.”
Josie Duffy Rice: Woof that is intense um and seems like a big deal. Tell us more. How did we get here?
Tre’vell Anderson: First, some background. The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, which means that their head of state is, in this case, a king whose powers are laid down in the Constitution. But his powers are fairly limited, and it’s the ministers under the direction of the prime minister that really operate the government. Now, Prime Minister Rutte’s government was composed of a four party coalition, his own party, which is the center right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, as well as the centrist pro-European D66 and two centrist Christian parties called the CDA and the Christian Union. Just for the record, I know you all hear freedom and democracy and you think liberal and progressive, but it don’t work that way over there FYI. Okay, so be careful.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. All these groups are not great.
Tre’vell Anderson: You know, they could be better.
Josie Duffy Rice: Could be better. Yeah.
Tre’vell Anderson: [laughing] They all could be better for sure. So for a few months now, the parties in the coalition have been struggling to agree on how to address migration like I mentioned, even though the Netherlands already has immigration policies on the books that are stricter than other European Union nations. There’s been a severe strain on the country’s housing capacity. More than 400,000 people immigrated to the Netherlands last year. That’s an increase from the year before. And more than 21,000 people from outside the European Union sought asylum in the Netherlands last year. All of that is according to the Dutch government. Now, there were a number of policy proposals that the Coalition discussed two of the ones that seem to be central to this split that we’re now seeing are, one, a policy that would create two classes of asylum, one class that would be temporary for people fleeing conflicts and another one that would be permanent for people trying to escape persecution. And then the second policy would have reduced the number of family members who are allowed to join asylum seekers in the country. Reportedly, while the coalition parties were ready to agree with the two tier asylum system, they would not agree to the second proposal, which would have also put in place a two year waiting period before refugees already living in the Netherlands could be joined by their children. So they basically wanted to keep families apart a lot longer than was necessary. So that’s what led to the Prime Minister to say to himself, give it up deelishis and, you know, submit his resignation.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, this is really not good. So what happens now?
Tre’vell Anderson: Well, this government just took office in January of last year, and it was supposed to be set until 2025. But with Rutte’s resignation, a general election will be held this fall, likely in November. In the meantime, Rutte and his ministers will continue to serve as caretakers for the government. But they won’t be really, you know, passing any major laws or legislation in the meantime. But all of this is really interesting, though, because we’ve seen and we’ve been witnessing how far right conservatism is spreading. We’ve obviously seen it here in the U.S., but it’s also happening globally. And we’ve covered at length for example, you know, Italy’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, who was elected last year, as well as Greece’s Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who was reelected last month. And a lot of that far right conservatism is in favor of the type of hella restrictive migration policies that Rutte and his side of the coalition in the Netherlands have been pushing. And so the collapse of the Dutch coalition government over these proposed refugee policies really underscores in so many ways how potent of an issue immigration is in Europe’s politics and how stopping far right parties from capitalizing on it is a growing issue for more mainstream and progressive politicians. Again, we’re seeing it and experiencing it here in the U.S., but it’s also happening internationally as well.
Josie Duffy Rice: Mm hmm.
Tre’vell Anderson: Now that is the latest for now. We’re going to take a quick break to pay some bills and we will be right back. [music break]
Tre’vell Anderson: Now let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Tre’vell Anderson: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Saturday that the ongoing war in Sudan has pushed the country to the quote, “brink of a full scale civil war.” He also warned that the war could potentially destabilize the entire region. That’s according to a statement by the U.N. chief’s deputy spokesman. In the statement, the U.N. secretary general also condemned an air strike in the Sudanese city of Omdurman Saturday, which reportedly killed at least 22 people in the city, making the airstrike one of the deadliest attacks in the nearly three months of conflict. As you’ll remember, the fighting broke out back in April between the Sudanese military and the paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF. Since then, more than 3000 people have been killed and over 6000 others have been wounded, according to Health Minister Haitham Mohammed Ibrahim. Meanwhile, millions of others have had to flee their homes due to the clashes. In his statement, Guterres once again reiterated his call for the rival factions to cease fighting and, quote, “commit to a durable cessation of hostilities.”
Josie Duffy Rice: Starting tomorrow, President Joe Biden will join leaders gathering in Vilnius, Lithuania, for this year’s annual NATO summit. Among other things, they’ll be discussing whether or not to admit Sweden as the military alliance’s 32nd member, as well as Ukraine’s potential membership. President Biden weighed in on the topic of Ukraine joining NATO during a CNN interview that aired on Sunday in which he said that the country was not, quote, “ready for membership in the alliance.” Biden also said that he doesn’t believe there’s unanimity in whether or not to bring Ukraine into the alliance right now, adding that it’s premature to call for a vote at this time because there’s, quote, “other qualifications that need to be met, including democratization.” President Biden’s five day European trip began yesterday. He’ll be meeting with King Charles at Windsor Castle today to discuss climate change before heading to Lithuania on Tuesday for the NATO Summit. Biden’s last stop will be Finland, where he will meet with Nordic leaders.
Tre’vell Anderson: Tennessee’s ban on gender affirming care for trans youth can take effect immediately, a federal appeals court ruled on Saturday morning. The panel of three judges voted 2 to 1 to reverse a lower court’s injunction last month, in which a judge had blocked large swaths of the law from taking effect on July 1st. The law bans transgender therapies like hormone blockers and gender affirming surgeries for minors, all of which are essential for healthy transitioning. The ruling remains preliminary until September 30th, when the appeals court plans to reach a final decision on the law. Tennessee is one of at least 20 states that have recently enacted bans or restrictions on gender affirming care for minors. And in places like Kentucky and Indiana, judges have also blocked those laws from being enforced. In response to Tennessee’s ruling, the ACLU in a statement said, quote, “We want all the transgender youth of Tennessee to know this fight is far from over. And we will continue to challenge this law until it is permanently defeated. And Tennessee is made a safer place to raise every family.” We have been keeping the ACLU busy lately. And I’m glad they keep showing up.
Josie Duffy Rice: Absolutely. And finally, some good historical news. Tracy Chapman has made music history as the first Black woman with a sole songwriting credit on a number one country hit after Luke Combs’ cover of her folk soul hit Fast Car topped the Billboard charts. Fast Car came out more than three decades ago, on Chapman’s 1988 debut album. It tells the story of a woman dreaming of escaping poverty and starting over somewhere new. In 1989, Chapman took home three trophies from that year’s Grammys, where she won best contemporary folk recording, best female pop vocal performance for Fast Car and Best New Artist. Fast Car was also nominated for record and Song of the Year. In response to being on the country charts this year, Chapman, who is usually pretty private, told Billboard last week that she was honored and, quote, “grateful that new fans have found and embraced Fast Car.” We love this one. It’s great news.
Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. Fast Car is like one of those like queer anthems that you know–
Josie Duffy Rice: It’s so good.
Tre’vell Anderson: –for a lot of folks don’t know today because they’re all ten years old.
Josie Duffy Rice: That’s so sad to me.
Tre’vell Anderson: Um.
Josie Duffy Rice: I can’t believe people don’t know Fast Car like, I can’t believe that’s where we are as a society. That explains so much.
Tre’vell Anderson: You know, I mean, people are listening to Luke Combs sing it for the first time and they love it. [Josie sighs] But do know, as much great music okay, it first came from a Black queer woman. All right.
Josie Duffy Rice: Oof! Speak it. That’s beautiful.
Tre’vell Anderson: Know your history.
Josie Duffy Rice: Know your history.
Tre’vell Anderson: And those are the headlines. One last thing before we go. A quick correction, on Friday’s show, we attributed the site Mastodon to Jack Dorsey. When Mastodon is, in fact, a decentralized social network that was created by Eugen Rochko, not Jack Dorsey. [music break] That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review. Stop throwing objects on stage and tell your friends to listen.
Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading and not just Clarence Thomas’s long list of gifts like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
[spoken together] And stream Fast Car.
Tre’vell Anderson: The Tracy Chapman original version.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah.
Tre’vell Anderson: Okay.
Josie Duffy Rice: You can stream the Luke Combs one too but you got to stream the Tracy Chapman one just as many times or more.
Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely now you know she’s going to get the coins regardless because she’s–
Josie Duffy Rice: Regardless.
Tre’vell Anderson: –the writer and she–
Josie Duffy Rice: Right.
Tre’vell Anderson: –owns the publishing rights. Shout out–
Josie Duffy Rice: Right.
Tre’vell Anderson: –to her. But yes.
Josie Duffy Rice: Shout out to her.
Tre’vell Anderson: Stream the original, please and thank you. [music break] What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla. Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf are our associate producers. Our intern is Ryan Cochran, and our senior producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.