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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Ruh, Roe
      •  Not All Arizona Republicans Believe in the Audit
      •  Gaetz' Alleged Partner in Crime Makes it Official
      •  China...the Final Frontier
      •  The Disease Spreads
      •  Cuomo Is Raking It In
      •  That's Funny...

Ruh, Roe

At least, that's how Scooby-Doo might put it. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court made an announcement that was probably inevitable from the moment Brett Kavanaugh was seated, and definitely inevitable once Amy Coney Barrett was, namely that they will hear a case triggered by one of the strict abortion bans recently adopted in red states (specifically, Mississippi's). Someone is going to get what they want...we're just not sure who.

In announcing that they will take the case, SCOTUS said they are going to focus on the timeline imposed by the Mississippi law, namely that it prohibits abortions beyond 15 weeks. If the Court decides this is ok, then the line between "allowable" and "non-allowable" abortions would no longer be defined in terms of the fetus' viability. The Mississippi law also forbids abortions in cases of rape or incest; judging by Monday's order, SCOTUS isn't going to touch that for now, although you never know what will happen if Clarence Thomas gets to feeling frisky.

The Court has been avoiding this issue, and this particular case, for a number of terms, presumably so that Barrett and Kavanaugh could get established. Obviously, SCOTUS has tossed plenty of curveballs in the past, so you never know what will happen until it happens, but the assumption has to be that they plan to uphold the Mississippi timeline. If so, then 20 or so red states will promptly pass laws imposing the same limit. If this comes to pass, then the conservative bloc will be hailed as heroes by about 40% of the country.

Now, if this Court still included Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we would consider the decision to be more of a coin toss. Gutting Roe is playing with fire, on a number of levels. It could undermine the legitimacy of the Court for years, or even decades, as Dred Scott did. It could provide the impetus for the Democrats to make changes to the Court, either expanding it, or establishing some sort of mandatory retirement scheme, or stripping SCOTUS of some of its appellate authority. Chief Justice John Roberts tends to be mindful of these things, and so might well have voted with the four liberals (again, when RBG was alive) as a tactical measure. But now, Roberts is outvoted, and by five folks who don't seem to care much about such considerations.

So, the Supreme Court could end up a short-term winner and a long-term loser here. The Republican Party could be in the same situation. Abortion is, with guns, one of their two best wedge issues. Assuming that Roe is undermined, the GOP will try to keep using it ("If you don't vote Republican, the baby-killing Democrats may retake control of the Supreme Court, and restore Roe!"). But will that have quite the same saliency when and if Mississippi's law becomes the law of the (red part of the) land? Or maybe they will shoot for a national ban, including in blue states? That will be an interesting place for an ostensibly states' rights party to be. Oh, and don't forget that some sizable portion of the GOP base—the remaining business types, the libertarians, the suburban women—have largely tolerated the anti-Roe rhetoric as long as it was just rhetoric. But those folks won't be happy if the rhetoric becomes reality.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden and the Democrats could be in the opposite position: losers in the short-term, but much better off in the long-term. Thus far, Biden has had so many hot-button issues cross his desk—COVID-19, Israel, infrastructure, police reform, etc.—that he's largely pawned off abortion to the progressive women members of the Party, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). But now that the issue is front and center, and that abortion rights for women (at least, women in red states) are threatened, he's not going to be able to keep it on the backburner anymore. He's going to have to step up and take a stance, and he's going to have to develop a counter-response. He can't do much to influence the Supreme Court, other than to submit amicus briefs, but he can push Congress to pass a bill that enshrines the right to an abortion into federal law, and he might not have any choice but to do so.

That's probably not where Biden wants to be heading into the 2022 midterms, with his party having no margin for error. But again, there could be a backlash—against the Supreme Court and/or against the Republican Party. The decision will likely come down in spring or summer of next year, and so could be just in time to get Democrats fired up and to the polls in November at the same time that Republicans are resting on their laurels.

The upshot is this: The Supreme Court just inserted a giant wildcard into next year's midterm elections. There are known unknowns, and surely some unknown unknowns, and until all of those unknowns become known, who knows what will happen? (Z)

Not All Arizona Republicans Believe in the Audit

Arizona ballot audit v3.0 was always going to be a farce. It's being conducted in slap-dash fashion, by a firm (Cyber Ninjas) with no experience in such things, and led by a guy (Doug Logan) who announced his findings before the recount ever commenced. The chain-of-custody issues alone would be enough to torpedo any legal case; the ballots have been out of public view multiple times, allowing anyone and everyone to monkey (elephant?) around with them. Eventually, Cyber Ninjas had to suspend their "work," because the space they were using was needed for...high school graduations. The ballots were trucked away and are in storage; once the graduations are over Logan & Co. will only have about 10 days before the space is needed again for a gun show (that's a real gun show; not The Rock showing up and flexing his muscles).

Anyhow, once Logan announces that Trump actually "won" Arizona by 1,000, or 100,000, or 1,000,000 votes, no fair-minded person can take that seriously. Which means, of course, that it will be the lead item on Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and all the other right-wing outlets. Not all Republicans are playing along, though. On Monday, all five members of the Board of Supervisors in Maricopa County (four Republicans, one Democrat) signed a letter to the Arizona Senate (currently the employers of Cyber Ninjas) denouncing the whole operation as a "spectacle that is harming all of us" and that has made a "laughingstock" of Arizona. The money passage of the 14-page letter might be this one:

You have rented out the once good name of the Arizona State Senate to grifters and con-artists, who are fundraising hard-earned money from our fellow citizens even as your contractors parade around the Coliseum, hunting for bamboo and something they call "kinematic artifacts" while shining purple lights for effect. None of these things are done in a serious audit. The result is that the Arizona Senate is held up to ridicule in every corner of the globe and our democracy is imperiled.

Just in case there were any doubts about how the Maricopa supervisors actually feel.

All of this is so strange and so unprecedented that it's hard to know what the actual impact will be. The obvious prediction, and the one that the Maricopans (and many others) are making, is that it will weaken faith in democracy. Maybe so, but the people who will actually believe in Cyber Ninja's results crossed that bridge long ago. Similarly, these stunts are being used to give cover for making it harder to vote, but the fact is that the red states were going to pass those laws anyhow.

Meanwhile, we cannot help but notice that nearly every time Donald Trump latches onto something, he beats it into the ground until it loses salience for all but the most devoted of his followers. He is the living embodiment of the boy who cried wolf. So, perhaps the real effect of all of this will be to encourage non-Trumpers to make sure to vote, to push any fence sitters (like, say the four Maricopa Republicans) into the non-Trumper camp, and primarily to undermine the Trumpers' motivation to show up and cast their ballots. (Z)

Gaetz' Alleged Partner in Crime Makes it Official

Everyone knew this was coming, and on Monday it became official: Joel Greenberg, associate of and alleged procurer for Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), has pleaded guilty to six different federal crimes, including sex-trafficking a minor, stalking, identity theft, and fraud of a federal taxpayer. He has agreed to "cooperate fully" with the feds as they pursue cases against anyone, say, a certain congressman from Florida.

There is zero question, then, that Greenberg is going to go before one (or more) judges and assert that he helped Gaetz recruit, transport across state lines, and pay underage girls for sex. Gaetz' lawyers, whose kids are going to have a fabulous Christmas this year, will try to tear Greenberg apart by arguing that he's a sleazeball (true) who has a vested interest in throwing his former buddy under the bus (also true). It's an honest-to-goodness, real life version of the prisoner's dilemma.

Those who have far more experience reading between the lines of plea agreements than we do are supposing that the lack of specific references to Gaetz in the lengthy document filed Monday suggests that Greenberg probably doesn't have hard evidence to back up his claims. Maybe so, but is it not possible the feds are playing their cards close to the vest, knowing how high-profile this case is, and how much legal talent the Gaetz family is going to unleash? In any event, even if Greenberg can't prove his claims, there is an ex-girlfriend of the Representative who is apparently willing and able to corroborate the story, assuming she can get immunity. So, Gaetz may want to invest in some waterproof clothing as he prepares for the increasing likelihood that he'll be taking a trip up the river. (Z)

China...the Final Frontier

There isn't much that the members of the Senate can agree on these days, but one of the rare exceptions to that is that everyone is wary of China as it makes its play to supplant the U.S. as the world's dominant power. There have been numerous signs that everyone might be able to play nice here, and on Monday the upper chamber took a big step forward, approving the Endless Frontier Act by a vote of 86-11.

The bill, should it become law, would basically lavish money on the National Science Foundation, to the tune of $100 billion. The point is to outpace China on the research front, in much the same way that the U.S. did (or tried to do) with the Soviets during the Cold War. In terms of specific focal points, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said: "We can either have a world where the Chinese Communist Party determines the rules of the road for 5G, artificial intelligence and quantum computing—or we can make sure the United States gets there first." Schumer and Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) are taking the lead in shepherding the bill through the upper chamber.

There is still much sausage to be made; Monday's bill is going to be packaged with a bunch of others, and of course the House is also going to get their say. The cost could cause some Republicans to get skittish, so too could possible re-rerouting of some money from the NSF to the Department of Energy. The "nay" votes on Monday were from Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Rand Paul (R-KY), Jim Risch (R-ID), Rick Scott (R-FL), Richard Shelby (R-AL), and Tommy Tuberville (R-AL). They mostly come from small states where folks don't have much truck with them fancy scientists. Well, plus Rand Paul, who votes against all spending, and Rick Scott, who seems to have forgotten that Florida has a sizable number of universities, not to mention a large NASA installation. Anyhow, the train could still go off the rails, but an 86-11 vote suggests that the supporters of the bill have a fairly sizable margin of error. (Z)

The Disease Spreads

No, not that one. COVID-19 is a real disease; we're using the term metaphorically here. What we mean is the shady trick pioneered by the Trump campaign wherein donors are effectively tricked into making recurring donations, something that can only be avoided by noticing and clicking a "do NOT make this a repeating donation" box. By all indications, the former president and his various super PACs are still utilizing the, technique. And now, as Caitlyn Jenner (R) tries to raise funds (and to reinvent herself as Trump...what, v202.0, since there are hundreds of others trying to do the same?), her campaign is using the same trick. So too, incidentally, is her rival, Rep. Doug Ose (R-CA).

You have to figure that some entity is going to forbid this underhanded scam sometime soon. It could be Congress, or the FEC, or the Federal Trade Commission, or possibly a federal judge. What we wonder is if the Democrats will reach their hands into this particular cookie jar before the lid is snapped shut. On one hand, they like money too. On the other hand, Democratic politicians and their voters seem to be considerably less tolerant of such ham-fisted chicanery. And if a Democrat does decide to jump in and give it a try, who will be the first? Our money is on Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY). It is also possible that the Democrats might try a modified version by putting up a screen that has an urgent message about helping out even more by making the donation recurring and forcing the donor to pick either YES or NO before getting rid of the screen. It wouldn't work as well, but there would be little or no flak about it. (Z)

Cuomo Is Raking It In

And speaking of Andrew Cuomo, he decided that the midst of a pandemic was the ideal time to write a book about...his skillful management of the pandemic. We clearly have no business being in publishing, because we would never believe anyone would want to read something so self-serving. But people did indeed buy American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic, with the result that the Governor is set to pocket about $5 million before taxes (some of his net take will also be donated to charity).

Neither of us lives in New York, so we don't know entirely how tolerable this is to voters in the Empire State. But first of all, it's hard not to see it as profiteering off of the pandemic, even if Cuomo gives some of the money away. Second, it's hypocritical, since Cuomo has lambasted New York legislators for taking on extracurricular work, and he has just outearned all of them, combined, with his extracurricular work. Third, he's now being investigated by AG Letitia James for potential improper use of state resources and employees in writing the book. Add that to the sexual harassment, and the cooking-the-nursing-home numbers, and he can't possibly run for reelection, right? Right? (Z)

That's Funny...

Bill Carter, who works for CNN as a media analyst, and who has written a bunch of books about late-night TV, has written an interesting piece about the recent political bent of the talk shows. He notes that half a century ago, in the days of Steve Allen and Jack Paar, politics was off-limits. Then, for decades—Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, David Letterman, etc.—limited themselves to light, basically harmless jokes, like "That Gerald Ford sure is clumsy!" or "That Jimmy Carter is a bit of a yokel!" or "That Bill Clinton is kind of a hound!" It wasn't until Donald Trump that the Jimmy Kimmels and Jimmy Fallons of the world began going at the sitting president with a double-barreled, take-no-prisoners approach.

Carter basically has two explanations for the seemingly sharp right turn (or maybe it should be sharp left turn). The first is that Jon Stewart came along and took over "The Daily Show," turning it from a "wacky news of the day" show into a show that featured biting political satire. Stewart's program spawned Stephen Colbert's "The Colbert Report," which eventually led to Colbert taking over "The Late Show" from David Letterman. "The Daily Show" was also the launching pad for John Oliver, who now hosts the biting "Last Week Tonight."

The other part of Carter's explanation is that, for eight years, Barack Obama was tough to satirize because he was relatively bland, and did not have any obvious characteristic (or character flaw) to latch on to and exaggerate. He wasn't a klutz, a yokel, or a hound, and he also wasn't a crook (Nixon), an empty suit (Reagan), a wimp (Bush Sr.) or a dunce (Bush Jr.). Carter does not mention this, but undoubtedly the most famous Obama bit was Key & Peele's anger translator, where the humor—rooted in Obama's calm, unflappable demeanor—came from an angry Black man (Key) shouting what the calm Obama (Peele) was really thinking. Anyhow, Carter's point is that Obama got so little rough treatment that the handling of Trump was particularly noticeable in contrast.

We don't disagree with Carter, necessarily, but we would add a couple of things. The first is that Obama was hard to satirize not only because of his calmness, but also because of his ethnicity. Unless you are yourself Black (as, say, Key & Peele are), impersonating a Black president is a real minefield, since the impersonation could be read as a comment on his Blackness rather than his president-ness. (Z), for example, can impersonate every president of the last 100 years pretty well, and does so in lectures as needed, but never touches Obama with a 10-foot-pole.

Meanwhile, we would say that the key with Trump is not that Jon Stewart came along (even if he helped move things forward). It's that no other approach, beyond double-barreled, take-no-prisoners, is viable with him. The ancient Romans were quite interested in humor and how it works, and they broke satire up into several types. At one end of the spectrum was the style practiced by the poet and playwright Horace, who gently needled Roman leadership in his written works. Horatian satire has, as its basic message, that our leaders are regular people too, and are capable of taking a joke, and in the end we're all in this together.

At the other end of the spectrum was the style employed in the writings of Juvenal. He was vastly more abrasive and contemptuous than Horace, and the whole point of Juvenalian satire was to take leaders he saw as unfit down a few pegs, and to rally support against them. Juvenal did not get invited to many of the best parties, as you can imagine.

Anyhow, there's no profit in being at the Horatian end of the spectrum with Trump. His supporters will brook no mockery of the Dear Leader, no matter how slight or well-intentioned, and his opponents will not tolerate anything that humanizes him and makes him seem like a fundamentally decent fellow. Jimmy Fallon once ran his fingers through Trump's hair to prove it was real. That bit was very much in the Horatian ballpark, and Fallon was raked over the coals. He became much harsher in his Trump humor thereafter, while Colbert, Stewart, Kimmel, and Saturday Night Live went with full-bore Juvenalian takedowns from the beginning, since they knew that is what their audiences demanded.

This isn't all that important, of course, but we thought it might be an apropos "dessert" for ending a post that begins with something so weighty as abortion. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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