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Norma McCorvey (a.k.a. "Jane Roe"), Meet Alan Braid

Norma McCorvey cannot literally meet Alan Braid because she died 4 years ago. However, it is possible that both of their names will appear on the same page of law school textbooks for many generations. That is because Braid, who is an OB/GYN, violated Texas law and performed an abortion on Sept 6.

Braid did not attempt to keep his alleged crime a secret. In fact, he wrote an op-ed about it for The Washington Post. In it, he wrote:

Then, this month, everything changed. A new Texas law, known as S.B. 8, virtually banned any abortion beyond about the sixth week of pregnancy. It shut down about 80 percent of the abortion services we provide. Anyone who suspects I have violated the new law can sue me for at least $10,000. They could also sue anybody who helps a person obtain an abortion past the new limit, including, apparently, the driver who brings a patient to my clinic.

For me, it is 1972 all over again.

And that is why, on the morning of Sept. 6, I provided an abortion to a woman who, though still in her first trimester, was beyond the state's new limit. I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care.

I fully understood that there could be legal consequences—but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn't get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested.

As a general rule, if you're looking to keep things under the radar, it is best not to announce what you did, along with abundant details, in the pages of a major national newspaper.

Anyhow, Braid invited people to sue him in an effort to collect the $10,000 that Texas law says they are entitled to, and now he's got his wish. Actually, he has been sued twice. The first comes from a prison inmate in Arkansas who just wants the $10,000 so he can buy stuff at the prison commissary. Ten grand will buy a lot of The Whole Shabang potato chips, it would seem. The second suit comes from a person in Chicago who specifically notes in their filing that they don't want to win, and they want to see the law struck down. These are probably not the sort of plaintiffs that the Texas legislature wanted for the very first case to put the abortion law to the test.

As to what will happen next...who knows? Regardless of one's position on reproductive rights, this law seems so obviously problematic that we can't believe it made it past one request for an injunction, much less several. What the courts will do now, with the law now having real, as opposed to theoretical, consequences is anyone's guess. We can't even find a clear answer as to how the issue of multiple plaintiffs is handled. Does it go to whoever filed their suit first? Arkansas and Chicago are not in Texas, last we checked, so the two plaintiffs here both presumably mailed their paperwork in. In that case, does it go to the earlier postmark? Or do they split the money if and when they win? What if three more plaintiffs jump in? Or 300? Or 3,000? Has Texas thought this through?

It is at least possible that the matter will be largely rendered moot by the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the case about Mississippi's new, restrictive abortion law. That case will likely decide whether abortion remains legal nationwide, or if red states are free to declare open season and do whatever they want to limit reproductive rights. Yesterday, Dobbs officially got a date on SCOTUS' calendar. It's Dec. 1; this was treated as major news by most outlets. We're not sure why it was big news; what matters is when the decision is announced, not when the case is argued. And with a hot potato like this, SCOTUS is sure to wait until the end of the term (late June or so) to announce.

Though the future legal maneuverings remain hazy to us, what is a little clearer is that all of this is not looking like good news for the Republican Party, politically. A new Monmouth poll says that 81% of Americans dislike the $10,000 abortion bounty that Texas has established, 70% disapprove of any scheme that puts enforcement in the hands of private citizens, and 62% want abortion to remain always legal or legal with some limitations. Only 24% of respondents want to see abortion made illegal in all cases, excepting rape and incest, while only 11% are in complete agreement with Texas' approach.

SCOTUS will be announcing its decision about the Mississippi law right in the thick of primary season, so folks will have an opportunity to weigh in with their votes, if they wish to do so. Meanwhile, the Monmouth poll also finds that confidence in the Court is way down, with just 42% of Americans saying they approve of the job SCOTUS is doing. This is about a 10 point drop since 2016, and is fueled almost entirely by large numbers of Democrats souring on the Court. Manipulating the system to stack the Court with six conservatives will do that. The poll also says that people don't favor schemes like court packing, though numbers like these are getting dangerously close to an engraved invitation to a Democratic president or governor to pull an Abe Lincoln and just ignore any rulings they don't like. (Z)

The Hard Truth about "Stop the Steal," Part I

Most people believe that making it easier to vote—and, in particular, expanding vote-by-mail—helps Democrats. And the obvious corollary is that making it harder to vote—and, in particular, limiting vote-by-mail—helps Republicans. That may not actually be true. Or, it might be the case that it was once true but isn't anymore thanks to reliably voting suburbanites moving into the Democratic column and not-as-reliably voting non-college blue-collar types moving into the Republican column. Still, it's what most people—including most politicians—believe.

This is why various red states have imposed all sorts of limits on voting—in the last year in particular, but really across all of the 7 years since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. If a maneuver tends to hit women, people of color, students, or other Democratic-leaning groups especially hard, all the better. However, Republicans have generally been fans of anything that reduces the number of ballots coming in (with the exception of military ballots, which might just have something to do with the military being a Republican-leaning demographic). The official explanation for these limits tends to be "We have to protect against fraud!" However, Democrats know that's a falsehood. And Republicans know that it's a falsehood. And Republicans know that Democrats know. And Democrats know that Republicans know. And so forth.

Of course, it's one thing to "know" something, and it's another to prove it. Thanks to Politico, however, a smoking gun has come to light in the state of Florida. The outlet managed to lay hands on a text-message exchange between Republican Party of Florida chair and state Sen. Joe Gruters and state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia (R); the latter is the person who shepherded the latest voting-restrictions bill through the lower house of the Florida legislature. The messages make it very clear that while Gruters was publicly proclaiming that the new restrictions "make it as easy as possible to vote, and hard as possible to cheat," the duo was working with a prominent Republican lawyer to figure out the best set of voting rules for purposes of helping Donald Trump and Trumpy Republicans and hurting everyone else.

We doubt that a bunch of text messages from a couple of people that most Americans have never heard of, no matter how incriminating they are, will influence voter behavior nationwide 14 months from now. This is not Watergate. However, we do suspect that the Gruters-Ingoglia exchange will linger in the minds of Floridians, and may just come up in a campaign commercial or two next year. The Sunshine State has very close elections, and a very-high-profile U.S. Senate race, a very-high-profile gubernatorial race featuring a possible 2024 GOP presidential contender, and some very-high-profile U.S. House races. If this scandal adds just one point to the Democratic candidates' totals, it could have a profound impact.

Meanwhile, the court cases centered on the Florida law and other states' voting laws are percolating through the system. That's actually how the Gruters-Ingoglia texts came to light; in response to discovery being conducted by the League of Women Voters. It's fair to assume those texts are going to show up in more than a few plaintiffs' filings, and also that anyone and everyone who is filing voting rights lawsuits is now going after legislators' and Republican operatives' text messages by the bushel. So, Gruters and Ingoglia may have done major damage to their cause. (Z)

The Hard Truth about "Stop the Steal," Part II

The Gruters-Ingoglia situation isn't the only bad news for Republicans on the voting front. Party operatives are also getting increasingly nervous that "stop the steal," which has taken off like wildfire, will hurt Republican candidates next year.

To start, there is zero question that "stop the steal" is bad for democracy. If people think their elected officials are not legitimate, they will be less inclined to behave as responsible citizens, and more likely to rebel against authority in a manner violent or otherwise. You can trace a straight line from Donald Trump's whining about the election results to the Jan. 6 insurrection. There is an only slightly less straight line from Trump's whining to vaccine/mask resistance. Would Franklin Delano Roosevelt have been able to get 10 million men to accept being drafted in World War II if 45% of them felt he was not the legally elected president?

And this sickness is getting worse. Trump laid the groundwork for his claims before the 2020 election (indeed, he laid the groundwork back in 2016, when he refused to say if he'd accept a Hillary Clinton win). However, he really put the pedal to the metal after he had been defeated, and he focused on states where the results were at least somewhat close. Now, things have largely spun out of control. Republican candidates, as a matter of course, make claims about election theft long before results are known, even when a landslide loss is looming. The most prominent example here is Larry Elder, who was moaning about election fraud for weeks before the California recall, and claimed he had "proof" even before voting totals were released. He only shut up about it because he would have made himself a laughingstock to claim that an election in which Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) prevailed by, at latest count, 2,889,831 votes—6,984,595 (63%) to 4,094,764 (37%)—was somehow stolen.

Anyhow, the harm to democracy is clear enough. However, the harm to Republican vote totals could also be substantial. There are certain...benefits to "stop the steal." It facilitates, fundraising, and it gives Trump and his clones something to bellyache about at rallies and during TV hits, and it soothes bruised egos after a loss, and it potentially justifies restrictive voting laws (though see above).

However, claims of election fraud, and phony audits (the Arizona audit is now supposed to be released this week; we'll see, but don't hold your breath), and allowing people to "report" on things they think they saw don't actually change election outcomes after the fact. To get a court to overturn an election—something that judges really, really hate to do—you have to have hard proof, and lots of it. Not a bunch of conspiracy theories and vague claims from people with no expertise and with a strong partisan agenda. Put another way, it would be a shock if "stop the steal" claims managed to overturn a single election, even one for vice-dogcatcher. Certainly, such claims have not yet done so.

On the other hand, "stop the steal" can potentially put one or both of two ideas into Republican voters' heads. The first is "Ah, the election is rigged anyhow, so why vote?" The second is "I know that [Republican X] is the legitimate winner, even if it takes a lawsuit or a violent uprising to make that happen, so why do I need to vote?" There are many places where the Republican Party can afford to have some percentage of the fanatical Trumpers stay home on Election Day. There are also many places where it cannot.

Most experts agree that Republicans skipping a "rigged" election was part of the reason that Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock (both D-GA) were able to triumph in January. And now, some GOP operatives see the trend going nationwide. California Republicans tried their best to fight back before the recall, running ads that said "This Election Can Only Be Stolen If You Don't Vote." But as with many elements of Trumpism, this one may be uncontrollable, even by the Dear Leader (not that he cares to help refocus the voters). It's just another X-factor that is going to make 2022 very interesting and very hard to predict, indeed. It's probably lucky for us that, as of January 1, we're shifting our focus from election analysis to quilting patterns and gluten-free pizza recipes. (Z)

Weisselberg Says He's Only the Beginning

Trump Organization, CFO Allen Weisselberg was the first member of the Trump enterprise to be indicted as a result of the investigation launched by Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. (which later became a joint investigation with the office of New York AG Letitia James). It seemed improbable that he would be the last, since cities and states do not generally spend millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours to catch a single, medium-sized fish in their net. Especially when that fish is at or near retirement age (74 years old), and also happens to know all of the secrets of one of the country's and the world's highest-profile shady businesses (the question of criminal behavior is yet to be answered, but abundant evidence of generally shady behavior is already in the public domain).

In a court hearing yesterday, Weisselberg's attorney Bryan Skarlatos said that he thinks that additional indictments are indeed coming. He did not say how many, who would be targeted, or when he thinks they might be issued. It is very possible that he does not know much in the way of specifics.

Thus far, in addition to Weisselberg, the Trump Organization itself has been indicted, but that's it. There are also several employees who have testified, or will testify, before a grand jury. Oh, and the Vance investigation is ongoing. So there are a lot of moving parts here, and things are pretty murky. It is well within the realm of possibility that the Trumps themselves will eventually be targeted; a fish does stink from the head down, after all. It's also possible that family members of Weisselberg will be targeted, although if they are, that still points to one or more Trump family indictments, since the likely purpose of squeezing Weisselberg's kids would be to get dad to sing like a canary.

Vance's office is saying nothing, of course. Trump Organization attorneys say they haven't been warned that any additional indictments are coming, though that does not mean much, since there are good reasons for prosecutors to play their cards close to the vest. Perhaps most obviously, they have a bit more room to maneuver, pre-indictment, when it comes to figuring out who is going to be an informant, and who is going to be a target. Anyhow, the upshot is that this story has been on the back burner, but it definitely isn't going away. (Z)

Status Quo Ant-eh Electio

In U.S. history, status quo ante bellum generally refers to the period prior to the Civil War, particularly to the South's efforts to remake their states in that image after being defeated in the Civil War. Canada didn't have a civil war, though, just a few really intense hockey matches. So, we'll have to adapt.

Anyhow, the results are in, and it would seem that Canada's election was much ado aboot nothing. PM Justin Trudeau called a snap election, hoping that the excellent polls he and his Liberal Party of Canada were getting would allow them to transform their minority into a majority. It didn't work. It would seem that for many Canadians, Trudeau and the Liberals are the least-bad option, and not really a "good" option. (Many Americans who voted in the 2016 presidential election will be familiar with that dynamic.) As a consequence, the polling numbers for Trudeau and his fellow Liberals dipped once an election was imminent. They will retain roughly the same number of seats in the Canadian parliament, and will continue to govern as the largest minority party.

We don't claim to have a firm sense of Trudeau's mindset, but surely he's done calling snap elections, right? The conditions for this one were about as good as it gets, and he and his party gained no real benefit from the risk that they took, other than to reset the clock on when the next federal election must be held. Presumably, that will be in September of 2025.

Meanwhile, the possible takeaway for folks south of the (Canadian) border might be this: approval ratings don't seem to tell us much these days, do they? Maybe they never did. Trudeau had great numbers going into the election, and they did him no good at all. Donald Trump has had lousy numbers his whole political career, and yet he won one presidential election, kept another pretty close, and rules his party from exile with an iron fist. Undoubtedly, there are some circumstances where approval ratings have some predictive value (e.g., California recall), but if you're not sure which elections those are, then those numbers don't help much, do they? (Z)

The Merkel Coalition Is Crumbling

As long as we are on the subject of foreign politics, Politico has an interesting piece on German chancellor Angela Merkel and her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). It is probably worth paying attention to, since that site is now owned by Germans.

Anyhow, as anyone with even a passing familiarity with German politics knows, Merkel is pretty much the anti-Trump. She's a woman, is well educated, is articulate, knows about governance, values international alliances, was elected leader with a majority, and is telling the truth when she says she is a Christian. None of these things is true of the former president. And it is not surprising, perhaps, that she built a coalition that is the yin to the yang of Trump's base. That is to say, she attracted a lot of elderly people, people with education, and women. The 45th president, by contrast, was primarily popular among young (and young-ish) non-college men.

That said, Merkel and Trump do have a couple of things in common. They will both be out of office by the end of this year. And the political coalitions that they built may not survive beyond their time in office. That is the focus of the linked piece; the new leader of the CDU is a white guy (Armin Laschet), and the party is now bleeding a lot of the voters that Merkel brought into the tent. Assuming that the polls have it right, then the CDU will no longer be the largest party in the Bundestag, and the Social Democratic Party's Olaf Scholz will be the new chancellor.

We pass this along because building stable political coalitions is a monster task, and one at which many skilled leaders have failed. Barack Obama couldn't do it, nor could Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, Junichiro Koizumi or, it would seem, Angela Merkel. Who was the last major world leader to pull it off? Margaret Thatcher? Ronald Reagan? François Mitterrand? It's one more small piece of evidence that Trumpism without Trump on the ballot might not be a winner in 2022. (Z)

(Back to the) Back to the Future: Reader Predictions, Part VIII: The Pandemic

This one may be a little extra-interesting, given the importance of the story and how many wildcards there were and are. Here are the lists of predictions we have already run:

And now, the COVID crystal ball. This list is where some of the darker predictions appear, as you might guess:

  • R.D. in Austin, TX: Due to the long and difficult process of a massive national vaccination program, Major League Baseball will play an entire 2021 schedule again without fans, but for however many number of games they play, they will sell virtual access to fans who can cheer from where ever and be heard as the voices of thousands of these live virtual fans will be piped into the PA system in the ballpark.

  • C.F. in Nashua, NH: President Biden's team will figure out how to distribute the vaccine effectively and COVID-19 will essentially be over by the end of the summer.

  • D.S. in Palo Alto, CA: The mRNA vaccines will launch an explosion of medical achievements, including vaccines against all variants of influenza and the common cold.

  • G.W. in Oxnard, CA: Other nations will do much better at controlling the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19) due to the much higher number of anti-vaxxers in the U.S. Oddly, this will somehow strengthen the resolve of most of the anti-vaxxers against the vaccines. I'm not stupid, so I don't know how they will come to that conclusion, but I know enough stupid people that I'm certain they will find a way.

  • J.A. in Redwood City, CA: In-class school sessions will resume for good in September, but online-based tutoring sessions will remain available to those students who have Internet access.

  • J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines: The vaccine rollout will continue to be slow in the U.S., and even slower for the 2/3rds World, where the vaccines are far less effective. In the meantime, because evolution is real, and viruses have a higher R than other organisms, and coronaviruses a higher Darwin Rate than most viruses, and COVID-19 is surprising everyone at how fast it evolves—the vaccine will soon prove ineffective. The new more contagious strain will become predominate. They'll update the vaccine, of course—and COVID will evolve again. We'll eventually see Black Death levels of mortality. Sadly, I won't live to see my prediction come true, as I'll contract COVID and die from it. #ArbitrageBetting

  • J.K. in Ann Arbor, MI: Increased online shopping, food delivery, and working from home (at least part time) will persist after the pandemic. On the other hand, live entertainment and travel will come roaring back to life.

  • J.E. in Brooklyn, NY: I think it's likely that bars and restaurants will reach a financial tipping point some time this summer where they just start folding like cards. Shuttered establishments will line the streets permanently. The ones that attempt to persevere will eventually realize how unstable their business model is in a world that's hypersensitive to even the rumor of another emerging virus—where bar and restaurant crowds never come close to maximum capacity.

  • J.K. in Los Angeles, CA: There will be a mutated strand of COVID-19 (maybe not even the current variant) that will cause the pandemic to get even worse in 2021 and will have the added fun of being resistant to the vaccines.

  • F.M. in Charlottesville, VA: The U.S. will notch around 550,000 COVID deaths by the end of 2021 (+/- 100,000). While things look their worst right now, a combination of vaccinating the elderly, natural herd immunity, and spring weather will drive case counts down somewhat and death counts down sharply. I would expect daily deaths to be back under 1,000 around the end of March, and in the low triple digits by the end of summer as mass vaccination becomes a reality. Life will return to something like normal in the early Fall of 2021. Like clockwork, President Biden will receive most of the credit for the vaccination campaign and improving economy, even though most of the credit belongs to pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca that completed R&D and vaccine testing at record (warp) speed.

  • D.H. in Lisbon Falls, ME: In October...COVID deaths fall to 12 a day.

  • K.K. in Salt Lake City, UT: The U.S. will still average more than 500 covid deaths per day in December.

  • M.S. in Pittsburgh, PA: The U.S. will not reach 70% of the population being vaccinated before Halloween.

  • M.S. in Johnson City, TN: COVID-19 vaccines will not be mandated by the government, but some businesses, particularly those that pay all employees at least $15, will require employees and customers to provide proof that they were vaccinated to come there. There will be an app for it. And conservative Christian pundits will compare it to the Mark of the Beast.

  • M.H. in Boston, MA: The 2020 COVID pandemic will be seen as the start of an era in which novel virus outbreaks are a seasonal threat, like severe hurricanes, that can be mitigated but not averted by vigilant government-controlled detection and response.

The next entry will cover the economy; we'll also have much more on the pandemic later this week. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep20 MacDonough: Reconciliation Bill Cannot Rewrite Immigration Law
Sep20 Meager Turnout at Rally for Capitol Rioters
Sep20 Senate Republicans Will Allow the United States to Default on Its Debts
Sep20 Treasury Is Enmeshed in Battle about Climate Change
Sep20 Trump's Endorsarama May Not Help the Party
Sep20 Is Gonzalez' Retirement an Omen?
Sep20 Biden Cares about the Quad, Not the Squad
Sep20 The Midterm Electorate Shift May Not Hurt the Democrats This Time
Sep20 Voting Begins in Close Virginia Gubernatorial Race
Sep20 Beto's Back
Sep19 Sunday Mailbag
Sep18 Saturday Q&A
Sep17 "Justice for J6" Quickly Turning into a Fiasco
Sep17 And Then There Were Five
Sep17 This Week's 2022 Candidacy News
Sep17 This Week in Schadenfreude
Sep17 Election Day, Eh
Sep17 (Back to the) Back to the Future: Reader Predictions, Part VII--Congress, the People
Sep16 Takeaways from the California Recall
Sep16 Boston Will Soon Get Its First Elected Female Mayor
Sep16 Biden Is Talking to Manchin and Sinema
Sep16 Biden's Child Tax Credit is Popular in Red States
Sep16 New York Legislature Takes a Bite at the (Big) Apple
Sep16 Democrats' House Targets Are Vanishing
Sep16 How Realignment May Change the Democrats
Sep16 Judge Rules that E. Jean Carroll's Lawsuit against Trump Can Proceed
Sep15 You Win Some, and You Newsom
Sep15 House Ways and Means Committee Has Decided on Means
Sep15 Yang Apparently Has a New Gang
Sep15 Woodward to Give Trump the Dick Treatment
Sep15 When The News Breaks--Today's News Media, Part III: Meghan McCain
Sep15 Nassib Has Three Tackles, One Sack in Raiders Win
Sep15 (Back to the) Back to the Future: Reader Predictions, Part VI--Congress, the Legislation
Sep14 Danke Schoen
Sep14 Blinken Doesn't Blink
Sep14 Money for Nothing
Sep14 Back in the Saddle Again
Sep14 This Is What Bad Optics Looks Like
Sep14 Chris Christie's Customers Aren't Buying What He Is Selling
Sep14 (Back to the) Back to the Future: Reader Predictions, Part V--The Supreme Court
Sep13 Unity for a Day, Then More Divisions
Sep13 Bush Calls Out Domestic Terrorism
Sep13 Christie Attacks Trump Directly
Sep13 Poll: Republicans Evenly Split on 2024 Trump Candidacy
Sep13 Lexico-Political Battles, Part I: What's a Woman?
Sep13 Lexico-Political Battles, Part II: What's a Religion?
Sep13 Redistricting Will Help the Republicans
Sep13 Breyer: Politics Could Factor into When I Retire
Sep13 New Poll: Newsom in Strong Position for Tuesday's Recall Election
Sep12 Sunday Mailbag