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CounterPunch Diary

Sotomayor and the Last of the WASPs

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

If Judge Sonia Sotomayor is confirmed, the US Supreme Court will consist of six Catholics, two Jews and precisely one white Anglo-Saxon Protestant in the form of Justice John Paul Stevens, who is 88 years old and boasts of two important WASP insignia: inherited wealth and a bow tie. He also thinks that Shakespeare’s plays were written by the Earl of Oxford. But then, so does Antonin Scalia.  The other WASP among the nine, until he announced his retirement – thus paving the way for Sotomayor’s nomination – is David Souter. The two WASPS have been the most liberal members of the court.

There were desultory calls for President Obama to preserve the WASP quotient on the court by picking another white Protestant, but Sotomayor fulfilled other, more pressing quota requirements, being a woman and of Puerto Rican ancestry – prospectively making her the first Hispanic member of the court (unless you count Benjamin Cardozo, a Sephardic Jew of Portuguese ancestral background), thus delighting America’s fastest growing ethnic group. Hispanics are the great brown hope of the Democratic Party and the real estate industry (more or less coterminous), since they represent 14 percent of the population but 25 percent of the live births, thus responsible for the fact that the United States is the only western industrialized nation with a fertility rate above the 2.2 percent replacement rate.

Since WASPS are allegedly busy running America from their clubland bastions in Manhattan and the Skull & Bones premises, they haven’t had time for procreative duties and scant opportunity either, since their leathery spouses spend their evenings going to charity balls and their weekends in the Hudson Valley or outside Philadelphia and Washington DC pruning their roses. The WASP replacement rate is abysmal and their traditional claim of being America’s ruling class is under relentless pressure from Jews, whom all WASPs, after a couple of dry martinis, invoke as running not just America but the entire world.  So these days WASPS sit resignedly in their libraries reading histories of WASP clans like the Whitneys, the Rockfellers and the Harrimans, or watching reruns of CIA movies – the last genre dedicated to the thesis that ruthless white upper class Protestants run America.

Actually the WASPS fought their decisive battle for power early in the last century, when they realized that the streams of immigrants pouring into the New World from Czarist Russia or Catholic countries like Italy and Ireland would in the not-so-long term alter the nation’s ethnic balance and challenge their supremacy.  WASPS fought back with  the program of population management known as the Eugenics Movement, eloquently defined by a great WASP hero, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Homes, put on the Court by that apx WASP, Teddy Roosevelt, who declared in a famous court ruling in 1928 that “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind … Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

Starting around 1910, state after state adopted sterilization laws  targeting the non-WASP ethnic strains. Other legislation sought to beat back genetic attrition. The 1924 Racial Integrity Act of Virginia rendered it illegal for blacks and whites to marry and reproduce. By the end of the 1920s 39 states had adopted legislation prohibiting the marriage of “feebleminded” people. There was a building boom in institutions designed to house the insane and “feebleminded” around the country. The Minnesota Institute for Defectives had the responsibility “to keep the persons entrusted to our care until they are past the reproducing age.” Between 1880 and 1929, on one historical account, WASP eugenicists were able to increase the number of unfit imprisoned in asylums four-fold; from 31,973 to 272,527 people. Hitler and his associates followed the WASPS’ diligent efforts at ethnic cleansing with keen attention and delightedly studied the statutes WASPS rammed through Congress, most notably the Immigration Act of 1924, which effectively barred immigrants from eastern and southern Europe.  Ironically, the Immigration Act spurred settlement in Palestine which most Jewish emigrants from Russia  and Eastern Europe had previously spurned in favor of the United States, thus blazing the path that has led to AIPAC and Avigdor Lieberman.

In 1927, the United States became the first eugenic nation when the Supreme Court, upheld the decision to sterilize the unfit in Buck v. Bell by an 8-1 majority.  The composition of the Court at this high point in the WASP counter-attack was as follows:  Episcopalians: George Sutherland (Vermont); Edward T. Sanford (Tenn.); Harland Stone (N.Y.); Willis Van Devanter, (Wyo). Unitarians: Chief Justice William H. Taft (Ct); Oliver Wendell Holmes (Mass), who wrote the majority opinion, quoted above. Mainline Protestant (Disciples of Christ): James McReynolds (Tenn.), a fervent anti-Semite who refused to speak to his fellow Justice Louis Brandeis, for three years. Jewish: Louis Brandeis (Mass.) Catholic: Pierce Butler (Minn.), the sole dissenting vote. Butler did not write an opinion. With Sutherland, McReynolds and Devanter he was one of the “Four Horsemen” on the Court in the 1930s, opponents of New Deal legislation.

The WASP struggle for continued supremacy crested legislatively in the 1920s, even though compulsory sterilization continued for many decades. Now 80 years later we have just one lonely WASP, Stevens, in the Court and the incoming replacement for Souter (a childless WASP, generally assumed to be a closet case) a Hispanic woman, admittedly divorced and childless and living alone, (thus allowing gays to infer hopefully that Judge Sotomayor replaces Souter as a representative of their orientation.)

The shock jock right-wing radio commentators furiously quote Sotomayor’s remark in a speech in Berkeley in 2001  that “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach  a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” Sotomayor also took a direct potshot at WASP eugenicist hero, Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case.”

The right is trying to claim that Sotomayor is a reverse racist, but this, like almost everything the right says these days, is not gaining any traction with the general population, though CNN is giving it relentless play. What the right can’t do is claim that Sotomayor is any sort of radical. She’s not. Her decisions have generally been pro-business and she owes her career on the federal bench to the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who nominated her to the Appeals Court. Moynihan was of Irish descent, but he famously adhered to the WASP belief that an inherent “pathology” disfigured the black family in America. CounterPuncher Bob Feldman came up with this interesting item from  Sotomayor’s legal bio:

After working 5 years as an Assistant D.A. in Manhattan, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Designate Sonia Sotomayor worked at the Pavia & Harcourt corporate law firm between 1984 and 1991, eventually becoming a law firm partner of a Manhattan landlord named George Pavia. Ironically, during the period when former New York City prosecutor Sotomayor worked at Pavia & Harcourt (and sat on the State of New York Mortgage Agency board of directors) her law firm partner apparently was violating New York City’s rent stabilization law. As a December 10, 2006 article in the New York Times reported:  

 "Mr. Pavia bought his building in 1977 for $365,000, renovating its first three floors as his family’s residence and allotting the four apartments above as rental units….  

 "In the fall of 1996, Mr. Couri signed a standard two-year lease with a monthly rent of $1,780…. Mr. Couri once retained, Ronald L. Kuby… Mr. Kuby said he considered Mr. Pavia a bad landlord who bullied his tenants. ..  

“Mr. Couri did some digging of his own in 1999 and, after inquiring with neighbors, discovered that 18 East 73rd Street was subject to rent-stabilization laws; he says he was incensed that Mr. Pavia had not notified his tenants of this fact.  

"New York City established rent control in 1943 to help curb rapidly inflating rents during World War II. Today, some one million New York apartments are subject to rent-control or rent-stabilization laws…Supporters argue that the practice keeps centrally located housing available and affordable for those with lower incomes.

 "After New York state housing authorities notified Mr. Pavia in 2002 that his building was subject to rent stabilization, he spent several months disputing the judgment…   “

Meanwhile, Mr. Pavia began eviction proceedings against Mr. Couri in 2002, heightening a series of legal battles.   "As tensions between Mr. Pavia and Mr. Couri reached a boiling point, Apartment 3B endured its own stresses. Mrs. Couri says she was painting on her terrace in 2004 when heavy chunks of ice that had settled on its transparent rooftop caused the structure to collapse in an avalanche of glass. ..  

"Mr. Couri filed a complaint with New York City officials, who fined Mr. Pavia $2,500 for construction violations and filing false permits and ordered him to rebuild a section of his brownstone according to code. And as the terrace was no longer deemed to be “living space,” Mr. Pavia was forced to lower Mr. Couri’s rent to $1,490 a month and pay him a refund of $4,000…  

"So far the law has not been on Mr. Pavia’s side. In nearly three years of eviction attempts, the court has repeatedly said that Mr. Pavia has been unable to prove that Mr. Couri is a “nuisance” or has engaged in “criminal harassment.”  

In another note, titled “From Where She Comes” to me, CounterPuncher Carl Ginsberg, who once wrote a devastating indictment of Moynihan,  sets Sotomayor in geographical class context:     

The Bronx is the poorest urban county in the USA.. and it shows. Deteriorated housing stock, limited health care facilities (few primary care MDs), crowded and aged mass transit, and the lowest proportion of park-to-people ratio in any US urban area … these are just a few of the most obvious conditions of Bronx urban poverty.  I should add: The public schools are in a disgraceful condition.  (The good judge attended a Catholic school.   She, like  Bloomberg, most the  City Council, even  many  members of the School Board, eschew public school education for their own, as does President Obama.)    

While the NYTimes highlights the upscale culinary trends at the new  billion-dollar taxpayer-supported Yankee Stadium, located in S. Bronx, right outside the stadium lives an impoverished population that shops in rundown, overpriced markets, and where elderly centers are shuttered, bus depots are spilling over and massive recycling  centers dump and churn garbage within blocks of apartments..  Asthma rates for kids areoff the charts.  And by the way, hardly anyone in the neighborhood can afford to attend the Bronx Bomber games.

Judge Sotomayor took her sterling credentials from Princeton and Yale and made her way directly to the offices of the Manhattan District Attorney– she was quoted recently as saying that she learned as a prosecutor that poor minorities suffer a great deal from crime. 

The crime that I see in S. Bronx is carried out mostly by the appallingly overt criminal acts of some of the worst landlords in the US.   I have personally reviewed cases of elderly black residents removed from their apartments by the outright criminal fraud of landlords.  No Manhattan assistant DA works those cases.  I suppose in these days when millions of Americans are losing their homes the evictions of some poor Bronx blacks  hardly registers… still, just a few miles south, in midtown Manhattan, the finest law firms are housed, espousing the rule of law and whose partners sit on the boards of the leading human rights groups.  To them, Sotomayor is a colleague.

Manhattan  DA’s  do  gain a profile which explains why those positions are much sought-after by young, establishment-oriented law grads .. and it comes as no  surprise that she came to the attention of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.   At the time, Moynihan had a deal with Senator D’Amato by which they rotated  federal court selections.  Moynihan chose her.    

Which brings us back to minorities being the targets of crime.  The Moynihan view  is that minorities-committing-crimes-on-minorities is the natural consequence of  a "tangle of pathology" in minority communities, one that defied, as he explained to me, "all economics".   Call it character affliction, cultural prediliction or  whatever, rest assured that it doesn’t apply to Bernard Madoff or the thousands of other (mostly white) crooks who report to work regularly on Wall Street.  Talk about a mugging.  Wall Street, for those unfamiliar with NYC, is a short walk from tony Greenwich Village, where Judge Sotomayor owns a condo. 

You start to get the idea about the "real life" experiences she and Obama have been  referring to, by way of touting her breadth as a jurist.       In a world where we all need to learn to live within our means, where our minority president publicly excoriates subprime borrowers for buying beyond their means, where promises of "good jobs" are truly empty, where the books are cooked and soggy, where living wages are off the media agenda,  where trillions are being poured through financial  institutions, replete with retention bonus filters, what’s left for the people of the Bronx? Justice Sotomayor. 

WASP dominance is on the way out – but their social priorities are safe in the hands of the Catholics and Jews on the Court and when it comes to the class war Ms Sotomayor is no boat-rocker, any more than the President who has nominated her.

Detroit: Stabbed in the Back

Here’s a quiz for you.

1. What was the Detroit companies’ share of the Japanese market in 1930? (a) About 90 percent. (b) About 20 percent. (c) Less than 4 per cent.

2. How many models do the Detroit corporations currently make with the steering wheel on the right (the standard configuration for Japan)?
(a) More than 40. (b) 12. (c) 3.

3. What was the combined share of all foreign makers – American, European, and Japanese – in the Korean car market in the last decade?(a) Less than 2 per cent. (b) Around 15 per cent. (c) More than 70 per cent.

To see how you score, I urge you to read Eamonn Fingleton’s fantastic piece in our latest newsletter. As Fingleton, a top notch business reporter currently based in Tokyo, writes,

“For decades American press coverage of global car industry competition has been abysmal. Reporters and commentators have almost never dug below the surface and their idea of fact checking has too often consisted merely of "accurately" recycling previous observers’ errors. Worse many commentators have displayed an almost venomously elitist bias against Detroit. In short, readers of the American press have been fed a diet of factitious logic and mendacities, while key facts that give the lie to the foreign trade lobby’s special pleading have been swept under the carpet.

“Much of the most egregious press coverage moreover has emanated from writers and editors at some of the most “respected” media organizations, not least the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. Reuters and Associated Press have not been far behind  and even the automobile trade press has often unforgiveably spun the story to Detroit’s great disadvantage.

Fingleton nails specific reporters for astounding hypocrisy in their reporting.

Also in this smasheroo newsletter is Bill Hatch’s uproarious account of Michelle Obama’s trip to the University of California’s new campus in Merced. We’re talking Balzac here.

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ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com