The Mahablog

Politics. Society. Group Therapy.

The Mahablog

Democrats: Pay Attention to the Voters

I’m still trying to wrap my head around election results. Abigail Tracy writes in Vanity Fair,

Around seven weeks before Pennsylvania’s primary elections, Summer Lee commanded a lead of 25 points over rival Steve Irwin in the race for Pennsylvania’s 12th District, a blue stronghold encompassing Pittsburgh and its surrounding suburbs. It appeared that Lee, 34, a Black woman and progressive activist who currently serves as a Pennsylvania state representative, would make history. Then came the outside money. By election day, Democratic groups had dumped more than $2 million into the primary race to defeat Lee—dwarfing the outside money spent attacking Irwin, a mere $2,400. Specifically, the United Democracy Project (UDP)—a political action committee for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)—spent $2,025,297 against Lee and $660,317 in support of Irwin, 62, a Pittsburgh lawyer and county Democratic Party organizer. The ads painted Lee as anti-Israel and claimed she was “not a real Democrat,” following a playbook that moderate groups have run against other progressives nationwide, including against Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman.

This race still hasn’t been called as I write this. With 99 percent of the votes counted, Lee is 445 votes ahead (updates here).

Here’s another squeaker. Ryan Grim writes at The Intercept,

A super PAC funded by the pharmaceutical industry blew more than a million dollars in an effort to salvage the career of former Blue Dog Coalition Chair Kurt Schrader, the Oregon Democrat who cast the deciding vote against drug pricing reform in the House Energy and Commerce Committee and organized with Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., to derail President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. His opponent, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, lambasted him repeatedly as the “Joe Manchin of the House.” Because Oregon votes by mail, and some ballots were blurred and unreadable in areas favorable to Schrader, results may not be known until early next week, but despite a funding disparity of some 10 to 1, the incumbent is on the ropes.

This race hasn’t been called, either, as only 53 percent of the votes have been counted. Right now, McLeod-Skinner has 60.5 percent of the vote to Schrader’s 39.5 percent (updates here).

Back to Ryan Grim:

Another super PAC in Oregon, funded by a cryptocurrency fortune and organized around the project of pandemic prevention, Protect Our Future, spent some $10 million to boost Carrick Flynn, while the super PAC linked to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority PAC, also dropped a million dollars into the race. It backfired, and local Democrats as well as national progressives — including the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC and the Working Families Party — rallied behind state Rep. Andrea Salinas, who appears poised for a victory.

This one has been called for Salinas, who is comfortably ahead with 70 percent of the vote counted.

And I’m sure you heard that John Fetterman easily mopped the floor with Conor Lamb, who was endorsed by Joe Manchin. I read that fact was used in anti-Lamb ads. Lamb might as well have been endorsed by Mitch McConnell. Exactly how out of touch are Manchin and Lamb, that either one though Manchin’s endorsement would help Lamb?

(I’ve been reading about Fetterman’s stroke. It really was similar to what I had a few weeks ago, with stoke symptoms brought on by a blood clot in the brain. He’s having a worse time of it, though. In my case the blood clot broke up on its own after about 45 minutes, and after I spent 24 hours in a hospital getting tests they sent me home with a Plavix prescription. In Fetterman’s case the doctors had to break up the clot, which I understand they do with a catheter. And his heart was clunky enough that they installed a pacemaker. But the stroke itself probably won’t slow him down any or leave any lasting effects. If he follows doctor’s orders he should be fine. He may have to cut back on the cheesesteaks and salty pretzels, though.)

Anyway, you know what’s going on. President Biden’s approval ratings have been in  minus territory for a while. The party establishment and big money donors blame the progressive wing for this. For example, here’s a recent article by Ruy Teixeira titled The Bankruptcy of the Democratic Party Left about how it’s the Left’s fault so much of President Biden’s agenda has failed to pass. The name “Joe Manchin” appears nowhere in this article. Enough said.

The problem with the Democrats for many years is that the party has an entrenched and powerful center-right establishment working against a growing faction of progressives who are perpetually marginalized.  But it looks like voters are finally catching on to why the change they want never happens. “Tuesday’s results suggest that Democratic voters — at least those in Pennsylvania and Oregon — would prefer that Democrats do more rather than less, delivering a stinging rebuke to the Kyrsten Sinema-Manchin wing of the party,” Ryan Grim writes.

Stuff to Read

I’m writing something on a deadline and need to get back to it, but here is some stuff to read.

I almost had a stroke myself when I read that John Fetterman had a stroke on Friday. I’m pulling for Fetterman to be the next U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. But it sounds like what he had was more like a TIA, what I had a few weeks ago, and he should be fine. If it’s what I had he’s probably bone tired right now, but functional.

Headlines around the country are connecting the Buffalo shooting to white supremacy, Fox News, and the Republican Party. A samplng:

Nicholas Confessore and Karen Yourish, New York Times, A Fringe Conspiracy Theory, Fostered Online, Is Refashioned by the G.O.P.

Greg Sargent, Washington Post, A Fringe Conspiracy Theory, Fostered Online, Is Refashioned by the G.O.P.

Jonathan Chait, New York, Yes, Tucker Carlson Shares Blame for the Buffalo Supermarket Attack

There’s also this:

Josephine Harvey, Huffpost, State Senator Who Backs White Nationalism Suggests Buffalo Shooting Was False Flag

Matt Shuham, Talking Points Memo, Proponents Of Racist ‘Replacement’ Theory That Motivated Mass Shooter Double Down

There was also a shooting in Laguna Woods, California, yesterday. One dead, five wounded. This was at a Taiwanese Episcopal Church, and the victims are all Asian. I’d say that qualifies as a racist hate crime, also. As the shooter was reloading the pastor smacked him in the head with a chair and congregates tackled and hogtied him, or it would have been worse.


Frank Langfitt, NPR, Finland and Sweden announce they want to join NATO, marking a big blow to Putin. Yeah, take that, Vlad.

File this next one under “but the leak is the real story!”

Ian Millhiser, Vox, The Supreme Court just made it much easier to bribe a member of Congress and Paul Blumenthal and Elise Foley, Huffpost, The Supreme Court Makes Ted Cruz A Half-Million Dollars Richer. But they get so sad when you call them “political hacks.”

Pennsylvania Is Going to Be Interesting

I’ve been ranting about “electability” for years. See, for example, “Speaking of Electability” from 2019. Basically, “electability” is the argument that voters must not vote for the candidate they really like but instead vote for the one that (according to some mysterious wisdom clearinghouse, somewhere) other people will like.

Democrats keep falling into this electability trap and pushing anodyne and innocuous centrists over candidates with actual personalities and more progressive views, becuase the “centrists” are more “electable.” According to whom? According to the centrist old fogies who have been letting support for the Democratic Party erode for years.

For example, if the Washington Democratic establishment hadn’t chosen Amy McGrath months before the primaries to be the “electable” candidate to take on Mitch McConnell in Kentucky in 2020, maybe Charles Booker would have been the nominee. And Charles Booker might have won. We’ll never know.

Now the Washington Dem establishment is collectively wringing its hands because their “electable” candidate to be U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, Conor Lamb, is way, way behind the black sheep candidate, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. This is not a nail biter. Expect Fetterman to be declared the winner of the Democratic primary as soon as polls close on May 17. But it was Lamb who got all the endorsements and the support for the party and even has a PAC to fund his campaign.

The rap on Fetterman is that he’s not a team player sort of guy and doesn’t work well with others. But it’s pretty clear he’s the guy Democratic voters want. Somebody named Amy Walter writing at the Cook Political Report writes that the “electability” argument just plain isn’t working among Pennsylvania Democrats right now. “In 2018, Democratic candidates prevailed in GOP-leaning CDs by leaning into a message of bipartisanship. Today, however, a restive Democratic base, discouraged by a lack of action on many of their key issues (like climate and student loan debt), and frustrated by GOP attacks on issues like abortion and election integrity, want fighters, not unifiers as their candidates,” she writes.

Basically, I take it, they are tired of Democrats who campaign on a promise to work with Republicans to get things done. For some reason. In 2020, here in the Midwest, all the Republicans were running on claims that Democrats were the spawns of hell who will eat your babies while Democrats smiled gently and promised to work with Republicans to get things done. Democrats mostly lost in these parts. Yes, let’s try something else.

On what universe would an overwhelmingly popular choice of Democratic voters not be the best general election candidate? Not a universe I’m familiar with. Yet the Democratic establishment has been practically frantic to promote Conor Lamb because he’s more “electable” in the general.

We’ll see. The Republican nomination fight is a nail biter. Right now it’s a three-way race featuring Mehmet Oz, who has Trump’s endorsement; David McCormick, a former CEO of Bridgewater hedge funds who is endorsed by Ted Cruz and some other Trump-aligned Republicans who can’t stand Mehmet Oz; and Kathy Barnette, a right-wing commenter and author said to be hyper-MAGA. Big chunks of the GOP establishment are trying to stop Barnette, possibly worried that she’s too crazy to be electable anywhere that’s not solid red.

So the general election will be very likely between John Fetterman, who appears to be popular with Democratic voters, and one of three very damaged Republicans who are scrambling all over each other to be More Trumpy Than Thou. The Democratic concern with Fetterman is that he might lose swing voters in the suburbs. He’s got tattoos, tends to dress casually, and is pretty consistently progressive, whereas Conor Lamb looks good in suits. Hmm. But I don’t see where genuinely moderate swing voters will go if the choice is Barnett. Oz is Oz; some parts of the MAGA base can’t deal with a candidate named Mehmet Oz. If David McCormick is the nominee he’ll have the backing of most of the Republican/conservative establishment and is not Mehmet Oz, which may make him the strongest general election candidate of the three. Again, we’ll see.

I’m not making predictions because I have never lived in Pennsylvania and am not expert in Pennsylvania politics, but I am not all that worried about whether John Fetterman is “electable.” What do you think?

Women Are Sea Turtles, and Other GOP News

Rachel Maddow notices that a remarkably high percentage of Trump’s endorsees are alleged spouse abusers.

Republicans want you to know that the last guy was just ACCUSED of killing his wife; he hasn’t been convicted. Yet.

Andrew was first arrested on March 26, just hours after state authorities found Nikki’s body submerged in a nearby creek, and Boone County Superior Court Judge Matthew C. Kincaid found probable cause for a murder charge against him two days later.

Authorities say they began investigating Nikki’s disappearance on March 25 when she ‘did not report for work.’

She and Andrew’s three children – one of whom is from Andrew’s previous marriage — tried repeatedly to contact her, according to the Lebanon Reporter, but her purse and phone were still at the house.

Andrew told the sheriff’s deputies – who found him with scratches on the neck – that they had gotten into a fight after she discovered that he was having an affair, and she was probably at her sister’s house, FOX 59 reports.

One of their children also told police that Nikki routinely left the house when she was upset, and Andrew had admitted to hitting Nikki in the past.

But when police found blood in the couple’s master bedroom and bathroom – and discovered that Nikki had filed for divorce from Andrew on March 17 – they called in the Indiana State Police to lead the investigation. …

… ‘During the course of the investigation, detectives were able to determine that during the course of a domestic dispute, 39-year-old Andrew N. Wilhoite, Elizabeth’s husband had allegedly struck her in the head with a blunt object, causing her to lose consciousness,’ they said in a statement following his arrest.

‘He then placed her into a vehicle and drove to a nearby creek where he dumped her body,’ they alleged.

Court documents obtained by Law and Order also show that Andrew allegedly admitted to state authorities that he killed his wife.

He said that she attacked him when she learned he was having an affair, and he struck her in the face with a gallon-sized concrete flower pot, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Then when she fell to the ground, Andrew allegedly said he threw her into a truck, took her to a bridge and threw her over the side. He then allegedly tossed the flower pot along the side of US Route 52 as he brought a load of corn into town.

Multitasking is good. Maybe he should put that in his campaign lit. Oh, and there’s also this —

Nikki had just finished receiving chemotherapy for an undisclosed type of cancer, which she posted about on her Facebook page, as she shared how her hair had fallen out.

What a prince. But we’re not done. I thought of this after seeing this headline today.


This is from Talking Points Memo. Read at TPM or watch it here:

I can’t even.

A National Law Codifying Roe?

There is very little Democrats in Washington will be able to do to save abortion rights, unless by some miracle they keep the House and increase their Senate majority in the midterms. Kate Riga at TPM argues that even if the Dems could pass a law that codifies Roe nationwide, the current SCOTUS might very well overturn it if challenged, and Republicans could revoke the law next time they control the White House and Congress.

This is all true, but if it comes to pass that such a bill becomes possible, Democrats should pass it anyway. And here is why.

One of the biggest reasons legal abortion is vulnerable is that hardly anyone actually understands what Roe allows and does not allow. In any discussion group about abortion, the pro-criminalizers will still argue that Roe allows women to abort for any reason at all points of gestation, which it does not. They tell each other lurid stories about healthy infants born alive and left to die or killed right before birth. Most of them have only a hazy idea about how pregnancy/gestation progresses and don’t understand, for example, that a fetus at 20 weeks’ gestation will not survive birth no matter what anyone does to save it. They also tend to be very naive about what can go wrong with fetal development and pregnancies that make therapeutic abortion the  humane, and sometimes the life-saving, alternative.

If we assume that most voters are not anti-abortion fanatics and are persuadable that a complete ban is a bad idea, the first thing that has to be done is simplify the issue. And the first thing to simplify: Nobody is pushing to make elective abortion legal throughout the entire 38-40 weeks of a full-term pregnancy. That absolutely has to be clarified.

One of my long-time gripes about NARAL and a lot of Democratic politicians is that they don’t try to educate the public about these issues. See, for example, How Democrats Need to Talk About Abortion and Why I Don’t Give Money to NARAL, both from 2019.

One of the things a national abortion law could do, if done right, is to clarify real-world abortion practices by setting up one nationwide standard insteads of a patchwork of state laws, many of which are under perpetual legal challenge. I am willing to bet that most voters don’t know what laws regulating abortions are on the books in their states unless their state’s abortion laws have been in the news recently.

And if Democrats want to stick to the text of the Women’s Health Protection Act passed last year, I would change one thing, which is to set a firmer gestational limit for elective abortion rather than rely on “the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider” that a fetus is or isn’t viable.

Most Americans think abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances (although claims I keep hearing that 70 percent of Americans support Roe v. Wade don’t match the polls I see, which say it’s more like 55-60 percent), and I believe that if the “some circumstances” issue were clarified, a lot of the acrimony and ambivalence would go away. The opposition to legal abortion would be limited to the hard-core anti-abortion fanatics, which polls suggest are less than 20 percent of voters, possibly a lot less.

It’s understandable why many courts and medical people don’t want to draw a bright line regarding gestation, because there’s always a certain amount of guesswork involved, both in determining precise gestational age of a particular fetus and in determining which might have a long-shot chance at survival outside the womb and which don’t. But I think that setting a firm gestational limit for elective abortion somewhere would put an end to a lot of opposition. There already are such limits in some states, but most voters don’t realize that.

The medical literature has been pretty much in the same place on this issue for decades, saying that the lowest possible threshold of viability is somewhere between 22-24 weeks, but “Current recommendations suggest babies born at 24 weeks of gestation should normally receive active intervention while babies born at 23 weeks of gestation should be discussed with parents regarding whether such intervention is appropriate,” it says here. In other words, even if the very early infants survive, their quality of life could be highly compromised, and decisions probably need to be made on a case by case basis.

Some of the confusion about gestational limits comes about because sometimes the count begins at the last menstrual period, not when the pregnancy actually began, which would usually be about two weeks later. Everybody needs to get on the same page about when gestation begins.

As a practical matter, even in the U.S. 90 percent of elective abortions are performed by the 12th week of gestation, which is way, way before viability. According to this very good article by Kaiser Family Foundation, 1.2 percent of abortions in the U.S. occur after 21 weeks gestation, and many of those are performed because of  “medical concerns such as fetal anomalies or maternal life endangerment.” And it needs to be made clear that in these circumstances the law needs to butt out. Gestational limits are strictly for elective abortions.

According to KFF, the single biggest reason women delay getting an elective abortion that long is that they either needed time to scrape the money together or were hassling with insurance coverage. A few didn’t realize they were pregnant until they were pretty far along. Some had trouble understanding how to get an abortion or how to get transportation to a far-away clinic. Some delayed because their boyfriend/husband disagreed.

For a lot of reasons, the longer an abortion is delayed the more expensive and time-consuming it is, so it becomes more and more burdensome for poor women who have to delay the procedure to raise money.

Still, if the money barrier were taken away, that 1.2 percent would be even smaller. Several western European countries have a 12-week gestational limit for elective abortion, and this seems workable for them, but in every case women can get a first-trimester abortion in just about any medical facility, and that abortion is paid for by taxpayer-supported national health care. They don’t have to delay for financial reasons.

If there were, say, a national 23-week gestational limit for elective abortion, the criminalizers would fight to lower it. And then the discussion should include getting rid of the Hyde Amendment. We can reduce the gestational limit only if Medicaid pays for abortions. But having one national law, one standard, putting everyone on the same page, might make such negotiation possible.

And yes, there would be a few women who fall through the cracks and won’t realize they are pregnant until too late. “A few studies have estimated that one in 400 or 500 women are 20 weeks, or about 5 months, into their pregnancy before they realize they are pregnant. One in 2,500 women make it all the way to labor before they understand they’re going to have a baby,” it says here.

The criminalizers will never be happy if even one woman is allowed to abort for any reason. But I suspect the post-Roe period is going to open some eyes, and those ambivalent about abortion might realize that an absolute ban isn’t the way to go.

And of course, if Republicans control the House next year, there will be no such law. I’m just speculating, just in case.

Republicans Will Overreach on Abortion

“Rolling back abortion rights is rare in democracies and is a sign of democratic backsliding,” this lady says, and I believe her. Among the dumber arguments some righties are making today is that overturning Roe puts the abortion issue back in the hands of democracyPaul Waldman effectively shreds that claim.

Michelle Goldberg writes that The Death of Roe Is Going to Tear America Apart. I believe her, too. Most righties have no idea what they are about to unleash.

Righties — I refuse to call them “conservatives” — have become so extreme, so cut off from humanity, that they cannot even fake not being sociopaths. They are preparing to make abortion illegal in all circumstances, no exceptions. The raped 12-year-old should just suck it up and give birth, already. They are preparing to make it illegal to send medical abortion meds through the mail. They are writing laws that would stop women from crossing state lines to get abortions elsewhere. They are, in short, behaving like the monsters they are.

And women will die. Women will die all kinds of ways. They’ll die of back-alley abortions. They’ll die because they couldn’t get abortions to save their lives. I don’t expect large numbers of deaths (although I could be wrong), but there will be gut-wrenching deaths.

It’s often said that the beginning of the end of abortion bans in Ireland was the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died from sepsis in 2012 after her request for an abortion was denied on legal grounds.

After Savita presented at Galway University Hospital in severe pain, a doctor examined her and told the couple that “the cervix was fully dilated, amniotic fluid was leaking and unfortunately, the baby wouldn’t survive.”

The doctor, according to Praveen, said it would be over in a few hours, but the fetal heartbeat continued for three more days.

“Savita was really in agony,” Praveen said. “She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby.

She was at only 17 weeks’ gestation, so there was no possible way to save the fetus. Even so, the hospital staff understood that Irish law required that nothing could be done until the fetal heartbeat stopped on its own, which took three days. As soon as the heartbeat could not be detected the contents of her womb were removed, but she died of sepsis a few hours later, in spite of the antibiotics they were pumping into her.

The case shocked Ireland, and a series of reforms were enacted as a result. Since 2018, elective abortion is legal in Ireland to 12 weeks’ gestation, and there are considerable exceptions after that. Back in 2018 I explained why the 12 week gestation limit is workable in Europe but not here. As Katha Pollitt explained in The Nation:

Here’s what’s really different about Western Europe: in France, you can get an abortion at any public hospital and it’s paid for by the government. In Germany, you can get one at a hospital or a doctor’s office, and health plans will pay for it for low-income women. In Sweden, abortion is free through eighteen weeks.

Using tax money to pay for abortions is a nonstarter for righties in the U.S. So here we are.

Women are going to be prosecuted for having abortions. They’re going to be investigated after miscarriages. Indeed, a lot of women may avoid seeking medical care after miscarriages. We know this is true because it’s been true in other countries where abortion is illegal and prosecuted. And it’s happened here already.

Back to Michelle Goldberg:

The right won’t be content to watch liberal states try to undermine abortion bans. As the draft of a forthcoming article in The Columbia Law Review puts it, “overturning Roe and Casey will create a novel world of complicated, interjurisdictional legal conflicts over abortion. Instead of creating stability and certainty, it will lead to profound confusion because advocates on all sides of the abortion controversy will not stop at state borders in their efforts to apply their policies as broadly as possible.”

The fiction they’ve pushed for years is that they just want the abortion question to be decided by the states. That makes it more democratic, see. An intellectually dishonest twit writing in WaPo today tries to make that argument — “The promise of a post-Roe democratization of abortion policy is that the representative institutions of each state can identify policies consistent with the views of its residents.” The states’ rights crowd used to make the same argument for desegregation.

But in truth they aren’t going to leave it at that. Indiana and Missouri won’t be content to allow Illinois to keep abortion legal, I can promise you. Senate Republicans are already pushing for a nationwide ban.

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said he expects a push for federal abortion restrictions.

“Just take my state of North Dakota. Having a North Dakota child killed in the womb in Fargo versus Moorhead, Minnesota, you know, on the other side of the Red River — I don’t find a lot of solace in that just because it didn’t happen in my state,” Cramer said. “I think you could expect that pro-life activists would push for federal protections. I mean, I wouldn’t take that off the table.”

Related — here’s your ideal Republican candidate, who just won a primary in Indiana —

A Lebanon man accused of killing his wife in March and dumping her body in a creek is among the candidates to advance in a local election after Indiana’s primaries Tuesday.

Andrew Wilhoite, who’s suspected of fatally striking his wife with a gallon-sized concrete flower pot, secured a spot Tuesday as one of three Republican candidates in the race for a seat on the Clinton Township Board.

The 40-year-old has been incarcerated in the Boone County Jail since March after police said he told investigators he threw a concrete flower pot at his wife, Nikki Wilhoite, the night before and dropped her body over the side of a bridge.

Hey, it was only a wife. Nobody important.

The SCOTUS Hacks Go Nuclear

The Inquisition — I mean, the Supreme Court — has dropped the big one, albeit prematurely. Chief Justice Roberts confirmed that the draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade is indeed authentic, but it may not be final.

The Right is on the warpath vowing to prosecute whoever leaked the opinion, but it’s not clear to me that there is any law covering leaking Supreme Court opinions. It says here that if the leaker is someone with legitimate access to the documents, then there is no crime to prosecute.

It’s interesting, though, that Republican politicians immediately seized on the leak rather than the opinion itself as a source of controversy. For example, Josh Hawley: “The left continues its assault on the Supreme Court with an unprecedented breach of confidentiality, clearly meant to intimidate. The Justices mustn’t give in to this attempt to corrupt the process. Stay strong.”

We don’t know who leaked the bleeping opinion. It might have been Alito himself, for all we know. And why the leak is a cause of intimidation isn’t clear to me. Whatever is happening now is what would have happened if the opinion had been released officially. In some ways, in fact, the leakage dampers the bombshell nature of the decision just a bit. It was an advantage for the conservatives to leak it. Now the right-wing noise machine will be screaming about the leak and hope people don’t notice that the Supreme Court is about to declare that women are cows.

At Slate, Jeremy Stahl points out the pros and cons of who benefits most from the leak, and like me he sees a bigger advantage to the Right than the Left. “It turns attention away from the monumental—and likely to be deeply unpopular—ruling itself, and toward what conservatives are portraying as a dastardly and corrupt breaking of the norms.” It was a smart tactical move, in other words.

(Update: This is from emptywheel

CNN’s report suggests this leak more likely came from Roberts’ chambers than the most likely other source, Stephen Breyer’s. The most logical explanation for the leak is that Roberts is trying to get his colleagues to adopt a less radical opinion. And if that’s the purpose, it might have the desired effect, both by making it clear what a shit-show the original Alito opinion will set off, but also by exposing the opinion itself to the ridicule and contempt it, as written, deserves.

So there’s that.)

What happens next is that very soon abortion will be completely illegal in large parts of the South and Midwest, and probably other places. I expect the most conservative states to not make allowances for rape, incest, and maybe not even the health of the mother. Right wingers have argued for years that abortion is never medically necessary to save the woman, which is seriously not true. Right-wing state legislators will be tripping all over each other bragging about how draconian they can be against fertile women. 

Also note that the arguments Alito made in the leaked decision arguably could pave the way for overturning Griswold v. Connecticut (governments can’t ban contraception) and Obergefell v. Hodges (legalizing same sex marriage).

So yeah, this is serious, but not unexpected.

I’ve been predicting for years that if Roe is ever overturned, Republicans will be sorry. So now I guess we’ll find out if I was right. Historically, promises/threats to end abortion have been very good at turning out the Right but not the Left. Greg Sargent writes today,

During the 2021 gubernatorial race in Virginia, Democrats poured millions of dollars into ads highlighting the GOP candidate’s opposition to abortion. Democrats also raised the possibility that the Supreme Court might gut abortion rights, a message directed right at the Virginia suburbs.

Instead, schools dominated, and Glenn Youngkin became governor. The idea that abortion rights might be gutted in Virginia likely seemed far-fetched to many voters, as the court hadn’t acted yet and Democrats were on track to keep control of the state Senate.

Polls taken earlier this year show that the U.S. public supports Roe by huge majorities. It’s not even close. But how strongly do they support it? We’ll soon see.

In this regard, what happened in Virginia offers a warning. Democrats who worked on that race tell me that internal polling showed that Youngkin’s antiabortion stance was a big negative for voters. But, those Democrats say, getting voters to connect this with the possibility of a Supreme Court ruling overturning abortion rights was a tall order.

It’s an old lament in Democratic politics that getting voters to care about issues that turn on vague long-term threats is a serious challenge. But if the court strikes down abortion rights before November, voters in places such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan might see bans or severe restrictions as a more immediate threat.

According to Pew Research, younger people are more pro-Roe than older ones, so if ending Roe gets the young folks to turn out in the midterms, it could be huge. But again, that’s a big if.

So we’ll see what happens. Best case, the overturning of Roe v. Wade combined with whatever comes out in the June public January 6 hearings could cause Republicans to lose some elections. Worst case, Republicans take back Congress next year and spend the next two years investigating Hunter Biden and passing laws to ban abortion and same sex marriage nationwide, which Joe Biden will veto, but that’s all that will get done. Oh, and they’ll probably pass some more tax cuts for rich people that rich people don’t need. That’s a given.

Russia Is Weak, and That’s a Problem

One of the unintended consequences of Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine is that it has exposed how weak the Russian military is. Over the past couple of months I can’t tell you how many analyses I’ve read pointing out the massive incompetence revealed by the invasion of Ukraine. Here’s one from a couple of weeks ago, from the New Yorker. The speaker is Joel Rayburn, a retired Army colonel and former U.S. special envoy for Syria.

They have a lot of systemic and institutional weaknesses that had been masked because they had not operated on this scale in a really visible way, at least not for quite a while. You’d have to go back to their invasion of Georgia, in 2008, to find something approaching the scale that they’re operating at now. And that one didn’t go well. They were showing the same kind of problems back then: this disunity of command; logistical weaknesses; poorly trained, poorly motivated, poorly led troops; very poor quality of officer corps; very poor quality of campaign design and ability to plan. They also have very poor integration within and among the armed services, including the synchronization of air and ground operations.

Rayburn goes on to say that after Georgia, the Russian military announced a massive reorganization of the military to address these problems. And they seemed more effective in Syria and in some other military actions, but these were much smaller actions. “But then when they had to scale it up to an operation that was, let’s say, forty times the size, then all of these weaknesses came out and they’ve been pretty shocking.”

The whole analysis is interesting, but Rayburn says that what he sees is more than just miscalculation. Russia just plain doesn’t have the military capability to invade Ukraine as it is trying to do. And apparently military experts in the West didn’t realize that until they saw how the Russian military has bumbled around in Ukraine. Things that Russia was supposed to have spent a lot of money improving turned out not to have been improved, and Rayburn suspects that a lot of Russia’s military budget has been eaten up by corruption.

And, Rayburn says, as badly as Russians are doing against Ukrainians, if they had tried to take on just one NATO power, they would have been wiped out fairly quickly.

The problem with Russian weakness is that it accounts for why troops in Ukraine have fallen back on commiting atrocities against civilians. It’s all they can do. They have no direction, and Russian military discipline is obviously a joke.

In mid-March there were reports that the heads of Russian intelligence services had been arrested and several of their locations raided by the Federal Protective Service (the successor to the KGB). Obviously, Putin was unhappy with their results. But one wonders how Russian intelligence gathering could possibly have improved since then. Probably, it hasn’t. Ukraine, on the other hand, has benefited from help from the U.S. This is from the Sydney Morning Herald, April 28:

America helped foil Moscow’s efforts to take Kyiv and repelled its advances elsewhere by sharing such detailed intelligence that Ukraine knew exactly when and where Russian bombs would fall, it has emerged.

In an unprecedented information-sharing operation, US spy agencies divulged the co-ordinates of Russian forces and aircraft to Ukrainian troops, allowing them to pre-empt attacks.

And then there is the celebrated Russian cyberwar capability. It turns out that freelance hackers have been shredding Russian cyber security and “liberating” huge amounts of Russian data. See Hacktivists Stoke Pandemonium Amid Russia’s War in Ukraine at Wired and Russia Is Losing a War Againsts Hackers Stealing Huge Amounts of Data at the Intercept. However, there are concerns that Ukraine-supporting freelance hackers could do as much harm as good; for example, by accidentally exposing western intelligence operations.

One thing the smart people on the teevee have said all along is that Putin will not accept a defeat. One, Russian leaders who are defeated tend to be deposed. And two, Putin is all about showing the world how strong he is. It’s his entire purpose. He is not going to accept defeat even if he is defeated. For that reason, IMO there’s a real possibility that he will resort to nuclear weapons. See Putin is inching towards his nukes, threatening to annihilate the world if he fails to capture Ukraine, says foreign affairs expert. But you can find smart people declaring Putin wouldn’t use nukes, along with those who say he could.

There is new reporting also saying that the war in Ukraine could turn into a years-long conflict that just goes on and on without resolution. And that’s because no credible diplomatic track exists that Russia would accept, other than “Russia wins.” But Russia appears to be using up resources, and conscripts, with remarkable speed, while Ukraine is being assisted by several countries. The only thing that might keep the war going is if China begins shipping arms to Russia. A month ago there was a flurry of news reports saying that China might send economic or other aid to Russia. There’s been little in the news about China’s support of Russia since then, though, and I’m hoping that Xi Jinping will not want to get his country entangled in Putin’s blunder.

Disney v. DeSantis: Don’t Mess With the Mouse

I have the impression that Disney executives and attorneys have spent the past several days giggling.

Yesterday CNN reported that Disney has been telling its bondholders that the special district created in 1967 will not be dissolved, so don’t worry about it. What Disney knew, and Gov. DeSantis et al. apparently did not, is that the 1967 agreement creating the special district could not be ended until the distrinct’s bond debt was paid off. And it’s going to take roughly $1 billion to make that happen.

Now DeSantis is bravely promising that Disney will pay the $1 billion. Yeah, right after Mexico pays for the wall.

In an Orlando town hall with Fox News, DeSantis said Disney will be paying their own bond debt.

“It just simply ends with them being treated the same as every other company in Florida,” he said. “They’re going to follow laws. They’re not going to have their own government. They’re going to pay their debts, pay their taxes.”

DeSantis told Fox News host Laura Ingram that there will be more legislation to address questions raised about tax implications of unraveling Disney’s self-governing status. …

… “There’s going to be additional legislative action,” said DeSantis. “We’ve contemplated that. We know what we’re going to do, so stay tuned; that’ll all be apparent.”

No, they don’t know what they’re going to do. There’s a contract. Disney has lived up to its part of the contract. There’s no honest court in the U.S. that would let DeSantis shred that contract. Maybe DeSantis is counting on some Trump judges to help him out.

Here’s a good article at Bloomberg that explains the bond issue in detail. I’ll just quote a little bit.

In authorizing Reedy Creek to issue bonds, the Florida legislature included a remarkable statement—included in Reedy Creek’s bond offerings—regarding its own promise to bondholders: “The State of Florida pledges to the holders of any bonds issued under this Act that it will not limit or alter the rights of the District to own, acquire, construct, reconstruct, improve, maintain, operate or furnish the projects or to levy and collect the taxes, assessments, rentals, rates, fees, tolls, fares and other charges provided for herein … until all such bonds together with interest thereon, and all costs and expenses in connection with any action or proceeding by or on behalf of such holders, are fully met and discharged.”

The bill dissolving Reedy Creek doesn’t say what should happen to these debts, but another statute does: By default, the local general-purpose government—the county—assumes the district’s debt, along with all of its assets. This means that theoretically, Orange and Osceola counties will inherit upward of $1 billion in bond debt.

And then the article goes into more detail that explains why even transfering the bond debt to Orange and Osceola counties, as burdensome as that would be, is probably not possible without violating a whole lot of other laws plus the U.S. and Florida constitutions. It’s a contract, dude. Even if the state of Florida tried to write a check to pay off the debt, they’d still run into a problem. One of the bonds cannot be redeemed until 2029.

The author of the Bloomberg piece, a Florida lawyer, concludes:

Florida simply cannot promise to prospective bondholders that it won’t interfere with Reedy Creek, and then dissolve Reedy Creek. If Reedy Creek is ever dissolved, it would be a monumental and complicated enterprise even on a years-long timeline. The district has a nine-figure annual budget for expenditures, and even ignoring its various debts, it has a plethora of other contracts that somehow would have to be assigned to and divided between Orange and Osceola counties. However, the dissolution will have to wait until all of its bonds are paid in full.

And if DeSantis thinks the Florida legislature can just pass some more laws and make these issues go away, perhaps they’ve been snorting a bit too much pixie dust.

See also Paul Waldman, The new Republican statism:

… everywhere you look, Republicans are trying to redirect power upward, to consolidate and centralize authority in their hands.

This is an outright rejection of the way conservatism in America has described itself for decades. Conservatives have always said they are philosophically opposed to the centralization of power: They want “local control” of schools, they love unfettered free markets, they wax rhapsodic about the decentralized wonder of federalism and the dangers of the government’s heavy hand.

At least that’s what they used to say. But you aren’t hearing that kind of talk much lately from Republicans. What they’re advocating now is nothing short of a new statism.

Which is why it would be a mistake to see these conflicts as just about the culture war. The new right-wing thirst for authoritarianism crosses policy boundaries; it’s no accident that this comes even as many right-wing intellectual types are seeing a model in Hungarian dictator Viktor Orban’s use of culture-war fearmongering to justify the consolidation of economic and political power. While they praise his anti-gay efforts, it’s also his authoritarianism that thrills them.

This isn’t really a surprise; Republican rhetoric about “getting government off your back” never applied to abortion, for example, or a lot of other things Republicans wanted to restrict or ban. They just wanted “freedom” from policies they didn’t agree with. Right-wing notions of “liberty” aren’t really about liberty but their own privilege do what they want and strip the same privilege from anyone who disagrees. And you see that big time in Ron DeSantis’s recent move, that IMO can’t end any other way but making him look stupid.

SCOTUS, Culture Warriors, and School Prayer

One of the cases SCOTUS heard this week is Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which according to SCOTUSblog is about “(1) Whether a public-school employee who says a brief, quiet prayer by himself while at school and visible to students is engaged in government speech that lacks any First Amendment protection; and (2) whether, assuming that such religious expression is private and protected by the free speech and free exercise clauses, the establishment clause nevertheless compels public schools to prohibit it.”

However, according to Mark Joseph Stern at Slate, this case is based on is built on “a series of brazen lies designed to depict the plaintiff, Coach Joe Kennedy, as a victim of anti-Christian discrimination—and to erase the students whom he coerced into prayer.”

The plaintiff’s lawyers insist that he was fired from his job as a football coach for engaging in “quiet, private prayer” at the 50-yard line after games. The extensive record developed in the district court tells a different story. It demonstrates that Kennedy formed prayer circles with team members after each game, leading the students in audible Christian prayer while in the midst of his formal duties. When the school district asked him to pray privately instead, he claimed he had been persecuted for his religious exercise.

Kennedy hired far-right lawyers who threatened legal action against the school district, transforming the postgame ritual into a media spectacle. Eventually, students began racing onto the field to join the prayer circle, creating a 500-person stampede that injured multiple people. Put simply, there was nothing “quiet” or “private” about Kennedy’s proselytization. (Also, he wasn’t fired; he was placed on paid leave.)

Yeah, that’s way different. Stern goes on to quote a number of former football players who say they did feel coerced into joining the prayers, and the prayers made them uncomfortable and did not reflect their personal religious views. And that, children, is a violation of the establishment clause on its face. Lower courts hearing this case sided with the school.

A number of news stories about this case take the coach’s version of facts at face value, and the facts are essential to understanding if the First Amendment is violated or not. The establishment clause of the First Amendment forbids Congress (and through the Fourteenth Amendment, state and local government also) from “establishment of” religion, which means recognizing an official state religion or favoring one religion over another. The establishment clause does not forbid acts of religious expression on public school or other government property; it forbids the government itself, or its elected officials or employees, from using the power of government to promote religion or coerce people into taking part in religion if they don’t want to.

It’s important to understand that these “religious freedom” cases often are not really about protecting the free exercise of religion against secular, anti-religion oppressors. They are about whether one particular religious tradition can get away with special privileges over other religious people and the non-religious. Back to Mark Joseph Stern:

One member of the football team during Kennedy’s tenure, who came forward under a pseudonym for fear of retaliation, attested that he refused to bow his head because Kennedy’s prayers did not align with his own beliefs. He was then “persecuted” for failing to conform, treated poorly by the coaches and permitted to play only because of his talent on the field. The experience still haunts him, as well as others who felt queasy about the indoctrination they faced at school. These players, the student said, “would rather forget about that time of their life.”

There was another case involving prayers and football games back in 2000, which was Santa Fe Independent School District v. DoeIn that case, the school district had a long-standing practice of having a student deliver a prayer on the school’s public address system before every football game. The student delivering the prayer was chosen by vote of the student body. The suit seeking to stop the prayers was not brought by atheists but by Catholic and Mormon parents who objected to the content of the prayers and didn’t want to feel coerced into taking part in them. The nature of the parent’s objections was rarely reported accurately in news stories, as I remember, and Christian conservatives who were not Catholic or Mormon persisted in calling the decision to stop the prayers anti-Christian and anti-religion.

The school district argued that the nature of the prayer and the person delivering it were chosen by vote of the students, not the school, so that made it okay. But as Justice Stevens said, “this student election does nothing to protect minority views but rather places the students who hold such views at the mercy of the majority.” In other words, it didn’t protect an individual’s right to not be coerced into religious expression. The Court held (6-3) that individuals on school property can pray all they want to, but a prayer mandated by the school district and delivered over the school’s public address system at a school event made it the school’s religious expression, which was out of bounds. The election mechanism didn’t magically turn the school’s speech into private speech.

BTW, the three dissenters in the Santa Fe case were Renquist, Scalia, and Thomas. And we’ve still got Thomas.

See also my post from 2006 about what happens when an evangelical family goes to a public high school football game and must sit through a pre-game invocation that is not Christian at all, but Buddhist. Hilarity ensues.

Coercion is not necessarily an explicit thing. Children of minority religions, or no religion, can be subjected to all kinds of peer pressure and bullying by children of the majority religion, even if the school itself is trying to not be coercive.

But then there’s the current Court, which is expected to side with the coach. At Harvard Law Today, law professor Sanford Levinson basically says this is not a case that past courts would have bothered with.

So, why in the world did the Supreme Court take this case? I think it’s because there are now at least four justices — that’s all it takes for the Court to take a case — who are active soldiers in the culture wars and who are on the side of anybody with a religious claim against the secular authorities. My hunch is that there are five justices — and maybe six, with Chief Justice Roberts — who will accept some version of the coach’s story and say that he wins. And this will be billed in some circles as yet another way that the Supreme Court is protecting us, that is, religious believers, against their secular oppressors.

In other words, a decision in favor of the coach won’t be a decision based on the Constitution and precedent, but on the biases of the majority of the justices. And then expect most public schools in the South and Midwest, and probably other places, to start reading explicitly evangelical prayers over the loudspeakers at football games again. Give these people an inch, and they’ll take ten thousand miles.

See also The GOP Is No Longer a Party. It’s a Movement to Impose White Christian Nationalism by Jennifer Rubin at WaPo. “Our political problems are significant, but they are minor compared with the moral confusion that is afflicting the millions of White Christian Americans who consider themselves victims,” she says.

And see Prayer on the Field Should Not Be a Problem from an Islamic website called Ummah Sports. The person who wrote this doesn’t quite grasp the Constitutional issues and the distinction between private and government speech. But he includes this photo of Algerian soccer players at the 2014 World Cup:

Yeah, come on down, folks. Pray all you want. The sight of that would convert the evangelicals to the wisdom of separation of church and state faster than they can say “Amen.”