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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  CNN Gets Behind the Robes
      •  Russia Throws Fire on the Gasoline
      •  It's a Crime!
      •  Hate The Game, Not the Playa
      •  Right-Wingers Don't Like Gay Marriage
      •  Greitens Is in Trouble

CNN Gets Behind the Robes

Yesterday, CNN reported new information about the intrigue that preceded the issuance of the Dobbs decision. Most of it was guessable, but it's always nice to have confirmation.

Revelation #1 is that Chief Justice John Roberts is definitely trying to play institutionalist, and has switched his vote in the past to create more politically tolerable outcomes—most notably his vote to save the ACA. As a consequence, the Chief is now distrusted by many on the right, apparently including some of his Supreme Court colleagues.

Revelation #2 is that the colleague Roberts primarily set his sights on was... Brett Kavanaugh. They're both preppy white guys and Catholics, and they have known each other since the 1990s, when they worked together in the George H.W. Bush administration. Kavanaugh is also more centrist than the other right-wing justices, at least on this issue. So, for all of these reasons, it made the most sense to twist his arm. That said, Roberts also turned to Amy Coney Barrett as a backup option. This somewhat implies which three right-wing justices have decided that they don't really trust the Chief anymore.

Revelation #3 is that many conservative movers-and-shakers had... awareness of the contents of the draft decision, and were scared witless that Kavanaugh might defect. So, they pushed for Samuel Alito to issue the majority opinion as rapidly as possible. Though CNN does not draw the obvious implication, since they can't prove it, this suggests the leak did indeed come from someone on the right. Conceivably, one of the conservative justices even asked one of his clerks to leak it. If so, then the leaker achieved their goal, because once the draft was made public, there was no chance that Kavanaugh or Barrett were going to change their votes.

Meanwhile, in a development that is very much related to the Dobbs decision, a group of House Democrats introduced a bill yesterday called the Supreme Court Tenure Establishment and Retirement Modernization Act. It would give presidents two SCOTUS nominations per term, and would "promote" justices who did not retire after 18 years to "senior status." They could theoretically be called back to service, if a vacancy opens due to death or retirement. In this way, no president would get more than their two justices per term.

It is true that some conservatives, including the founder of the Federalist Society, have supported proposals very much like this in the past. It is nearly impossible that any Republicans in Congress will support this bill, however. First, they are going to suspect—rightly—that the point here is to break the right-wing hammerlock on the Supreme Court. Second, having lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections, they have to be nervous that there won't be too many Republican presidencies in the near future. Remember, the Federalist Party controlled the Supreme Court for two decades after that party ceased to be viable on the national level.

So, the new bill isn't going to pass anytime soon, if it ever does. However, it does suggest the lines along which the Democrats are thinking, namely that they can achieve term limits without benefit of a constitutional amendment. (Z)

Russia Throws Fire on the Gasoline

Let's start with the (small) bit of good news. Gas prices have been falling this month, and pretty rapidly. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), the current U.S. average is $4.327/gallon. That's up quite a bit from a year ago, when the average was $3.156/gallon, but it's also down a fair bit from a month ago, when the average was $4.90/gallon. Frankly, we're shocked that prices have fallen that far, that fast, and in the middle of summer, no less.

That concludes the good news. Now the bad news. Russia—presumably aware that energy prices are dropping, and with them much of the Russians' leverage—has decided to reduce the amount of natural gas it sends to Europe through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. It's a 50% reduction, and given previous cuts by the Russians, it means that the pipeline will operate at only 20% of its capacity. This might mean that various European nations, most notably Germany, won't have enough energy to get through the winter. The Russians' hoped-for impact on European morale, and thus support for Ukraine, is obvious. And, of course, if there is increased global competition for energy, then U.S. gas prices figure to start rising again.

Long-term, the news does not figure to improve (nor do gas prices, for that matter). Yes, the primary reasons for high gas prices right now are the war in Ukraine and the disruption of supply chains by the pandemic. But really, those things just hastened developments that were already lurking around the corner. The petroleum business is expensive to enter and expensive to operate in. It's also a dying business. The United States' (and the world's) refinery infrastructure was already deteriorating, and then it took a beating at the height of the pandemic. Now, the money just isn't there to bring it all back to life. Other options, like investing in wind farms or solar panels, make more sense, especially since more and more institutional investors are making a point to avoid petroleum companies.

So, the high gas prices are, to a greater or lesser extent, here to stay. Last year's $3.156/gallon is probably gone forever, and we may not be far removed from the day that the current $4.327/gallon seems like a bargain. Presumably, many European readers are saying "it's about time," since those folks have generally been paying more for gas than Americans have for decades. Currently, of course, Republicans are excoriating Joe Biden for fuel prices, and are sticking stickers like these on gas pumps:

A cutout of Biden pointing at the price
gauge on the pump and saying 'I did that.'

It will be interesting to see what Republicans do the next time there's a Republican president, and gas creeps up to $5, $6, or $7 a gallon. Our guess is that it will be Barack Obama's fault. Thanks, Obama.

We said we had concluded the good news, but maybe that wasn't quite correct, depending on your vantage point. Given what appears to be the new reality on the fuel front, Americans are going to have to adapt. And according to a new survey from AAA, they're already doing so. Specifically, people are driving less (88% of them), combining errands into one trip (74%), postponing vacations (29%), and carpooling (16%). Only 13% have switched to a more fuel-efficient vehicle, and only 2% are—like (Z)—among the enlightened who have switched to an electric vehicle. However, it's really difficult to get an EV or a fuel-efficient vehicle right now due to supply-chain issues, so we would guess those numbers will keep going up, particularly if fuel prices keep going up. And more broadly, when it comes to fighting global warming, maybe the free market will be able to do with the U.S. political system has struggled to accomplish. (Z)

It's a Crime!

On January 20, 2021, Donald Trump left Washington in a snit, unable to even summon the grace to attend his successor's inauguration. Yesterday he made his first visit to the capital since that day, to deliver a speech before the America First Policy Institute. Former VP Mike Pence was also in town; he was there to speak to the Heritage Foundation. Pretty much every outlet treated these stories like they are a BIG DEAL. We really struggle to understand why. Trump gives lots of speeches to lots of right-wing groups as he tries to keep his political career (and his grift) going, and while a visit to D.C. is a little more interesting for him than one to Poughkeepsie or Peoria or Pflugerville, it's not especially meaningful. Well, unless he heads over to the Capitol and tries to incite another insurrection. In addition, everyone knows that Trump and Pence are now rivals, and are no longer friendly—the existence of dueling speeches doesn't reveal anything new. Still, we pass this news along in case readers see greater meaning in it than we do.

The subject of Trump's speech was criminal justice "reform." And by that, the former president means that he wants to see the United States become more heavy-handed in its treatment of prisoners. He suggested China as a role model; assuming you're not a sadist, then the only selling point here is that Chinese prisons might be a little less brutal than those in Russia, Singapore or Thailand.

There may come a day when Trump comes to regret his call for harsher prison conditions, as the real news of the day on this front came courtesy of The Washington Post. Speaking to four different sources with inside knowledge of Department of Justice operations, the paper confirmed that the former president is the subject of a wide-ranging criminal probe. AG Merrick Garland & Co. are questioning witnesses before a grand jury, are acquiring phone records and are getting subpoenas by the bushel. Most of this was already known, or could have been guessed with reasonable certainty, but the Post story is the first confirmation that Trump himself is definitely under the microscope.

Of course, The New York Times hates to let the Post have all the oxygen, and so the Gray Lady had a scoop of its own. The paper's staff has acquired and verified e-mails from numerous Trump insiders—including Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, and the rest of the insurrectionist All-Stars—in which there is frank discussion of their awareness that they were running a scam and that the alternate slates of electors were fake and fraudulent. Oh, and the messages also clearly implicate Trump as someone who was in the loop and who was driving the scheme forward.

And so, day by day, the noose around Trump's neck gets tighter and tighter. And that also means that the day that he announces his 2024 candidacy, in hopes of making himself prosecution-proof, gets closer and closer. (Z)

Hate The Game, Not the Playa

It has been said that the Democratic Party—the modern version, at least—operates with one hand tied behind its back. That is to say, the Democrats' base wants to win elections, but they also want to play nice while doing it. The Republicans' base, by contrast, wants to win elections, and believes that those ends justify whatever means are necessary.

There were two columns yesterday that speak to this. The first comes from CNN's Chris Cillizza, whose past work suggests that he is left-leaning, but who has been ripping into the Democrats recently. Last week, he blasted the White House for suggesting that two straight quarters of negative economic growth does not necessarily mean a recession. Cillizza insisted that the Biden administration was just engaging in bad-faith spin, and was trying to get out ahead of the bad economic news that's coming down the pike. Economists quickly came out of the woodwork to note that the White House is right and Cillizza is wrong, and that there's more nuance to it than Cillizza suggested.

Yesterday, Cillizza was back at it with a piece headlined "Democrats' blatant hypocrisy about the 2020 election and its aftermath." What he's taking exception to this time is all the ratfu**ing that the Democrats are doing this cycle, specifically in the form of boosting far-right election-denier candidates in primaries, in hopes they will defeat more moderate Republicans. That, in turn, will theoretically make it easier for the Democrat to win in the general. Anyhow, this has Cillizza very angry. In his piece, he writes:

But, remember: Democrats have expressly said that the 2020 election and its aftermath are about more than hardball politics. Those events threatened the fabric of our democracy and the people who pushed them need to be punished. That's the whole point of the January 6 committee—and those who are urging it to make criminal referrals on members of Trumpworld.

Playing politics—as Democrats are doing—elevates these false views about both the election and January 6 whether or not the Republican nominees spouting those opinions wind up winning.

You can't have it both ways. Either the lies about the election—and those who propagate them—are an active danger to our democracy or they're not.

So, he's not a fan of ratfu**ing. At least, not this particular type.

In view of this apparent hypocrisy, paradox, or oxymoron, it occurred to several outlets, including Axios, to ask the actual members of the 1/6 Committee what they think. The two Republicans don't care for the strategy, many of the Democrats avoided commenting, but Reps. Elaine Luria (D-VA) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) both said, in effect, that you gotta do what you gotta do. The basic argument is that giving attention to, and even electing, a few more election deniers isn't going to make much of a difference. That element of Trumpism has already been unleashed. On the other hand, if the Democrats—by hook or by crook—can hold the House, that could make a massive difference. So, you get your hands dirty fighting some battles, with an eye towards (hopefully) winning the war.

Meanwhile, the second column from yesterday comes courtesy of Slate's Luke Winkie, and is headlined "John Fetterman Isn't Doing What He Thinks He Is With His Meme Roasts of Dr. Oz." Well, that's what it was headlined when we wrote this, at least; Slate rotates headlines in hopes of getting people to click on the same item multiple times. Anyhow, as the headline suggests, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) is running an interesting sort of campaign, primarily via Twitter, in which he pokes Mehmet Oz (R), his opponent for the state's open U.S. Senate seat, in the eye on a regular basis.

There can be no doubt that Fetterman is doing damage to Oz with his meme-ing, but the tweets and other media that the Lieutenant Governor puts out are not mean spirited the way that, say, Donald Trump's tweets are. For example, Oz sent out this tweet:

Maybe it's obvious, and maybe it isn't, but this is incredibly cheesy. First of all, it references a movie (Step Brothers) that is 15 years old and wasn't especially successful. The Photoshopping is really poor (Fetterman's head is far too large), and the choice of font is truly cringe-worthy. That's Apple Chancery, which nobody uses. And if someone does use it, then they certainly don't use all-caps, since it's not designed for that. In any case, Fetterman responded with this very famous meme:

Trust us; that is game, set, and match to the Lieutenant Governor. And Fetterman is up to all sorts of other shenanigans, as well, particularly focused on reminding everyone that Oz is a carpetbagger. The Lieutenant Governor has, for example, asked his opponent if he (Oz) knows how to pump his own gas (since New Jersey is one of two states where motorists are not legally allowed to do so). Anytime Oz holds a campaign event in town [X], Fetterman laments that town [X] is being overrun by tourists these days. And in the coup de grâce, Fetterman and his followers are trying to get Oz inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Winkie basically does not approve of these hijinks, and writes: "[I]n 2020, I dreamt of universal health care and a humane foreign policy. Now, it seems the best I can get is a savage burn on Twitter."

As with Cillizza, Winkie is operating in the realm of idealism rather than realism. First of all, Fetterman is recuperating from his stroke, and this is the only campaigning he can really do. Second (as Winkie himself is forced to acknowledge), Fetterman's Twitter feed is full of policy positions, as is his website. If you come for the memes, you're going to leave knowing what he stands for. Third, Oz has no clear platform. So, a touch of mockery is really the only line of attack. Fourth, and finally, Fetterman is making headway with young people and other groups of voters who otherwise might not get to the polls, or might not vote Democratic. If there are any questions about the merits of a traditional campaign, ask Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro (D), who is struggling to put daylight between himself and the far-right-wing Doug Mastriano (R) in their gubernatorial tilt. Shapiro has an average lead of about 3.5 points in polls, while Fetterman has an average lead of about 7 points.

In any event, the upshot is that—given the headwinds the Party faces—the Democrats can play nice this cycle, or they can play to win, but they really can't do both. (Z)

Right-Wingers Don't Like Gay Marriage

After the House, including a sizable number of Republican members, passed a bill that would protect LGBTQ+ marriages, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) suggested that he might not be able to find time to bring the measure to his chamber's floor before the midterms. We were skeptical when he said it, and now we are more so. Given the pressure that is being exerted on Republican senators, it would be political malpractice if Schumer doesn't bring it up. There is probably a lot of merit to the guess a reader made in this week's Q&A that Schumer is just choosing his timing for maximum effect (see above about playing to win).

Anyhow, despite the fact that LGBTQ+ marriage has been legal nationwide for 7 years, and despite the fact that it's only theoretical at this point that the Supreme Court might make a change, the religious right is rallying the troops to fight back against the House bill. Yesterday, representatives of the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council, the Family Policy Alliance, Focus on the Family, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Christian Legal Society and several other groups sent a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) making clear that the bill better not pass, if the Republicans know what's good for them. The letter begins:

As the heads of national and state organizations leading the effort to protect life, religious liberty, free speech and the family, we write to denounce H.R. 8404, the so-called "Respect for Marriage Act," in the strongest possible terms. The Act, which was suddenly rushed through the House without any public hearings or input, is an attack on millions of Americans, particularly people of faith, who believe marriage is between one man and one woman and that legitimate distinctions exist between men and women concerning family formation that should be recognized in the law.

Fairly standard stuff, really, when it comes to this particular issue. That said, it's remarkable that someone who works for an organization called the Alliance Defending Freedom can sign something like this and keep a straight face. We are reminded if Inigo Montoya's observation in The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

There were two other bits of news yesterday that speak to the rock and the hard place that McConnell and his fellow Republicans find themselves wedged between. First, Mehmet Oz came out in support of the House bill. He joins Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) in deciding you can't be anti-LGBTQ+ marriage and win election in a purple state. Second, and in the other direction, the latest poll from Politico/Morning Consult reveals that 25% of Republicans not only oppose protections for same-sex marriage, they also oppose protections for interracial marriage. Yikes. It would be interesting to see Justice Clarence Thomas write the opinion on Loving v. Virginia, the sequel, if it gets that far.

This will not be an easy situation for the red team to navigate. Schumer's a smart fellow, which is why we would be stunned if he doesn't eventually force the GOP to navigate it. (Z)

Greitens Is in Trouble

Yesterday, we had an item listing the Senate races where the Republicans have reason to be nervous, observing that the seriousness of the situation speaks to the low quality of the candidates they've ended up with this cycle. And on that list, we noted the possibility that the GOP might be stuck with Eric Greitens in Missouri. That seat should be a slam dunk for the Republicans, but it won't be if Greitens is the nominee.

We probably should have checked the numbers before we wrote that, because yesterday, a few hours after we published the day's post, there were a bunch of stories about how his polling numbers are sinking like a rock. As we've noted a few times, a bunch of Republicans organized the Show Me Values PAC. It might as well be called the Anyone But Greitens PAC, because it's now spent $6 million trying to derail his candidacy. That's a pretty big chunk of money in the Show Me State, and it's paying dividends. Greitens used to be the frontrunner, or one of them. Now, he's consistently polling in third place, roughly 10 points behind state AG Eric Schmitt and roughly 5 points behind Rep. Vicky Hartzler. The two newest polls, from Trafalgar and Missouri Scout, have it at 27%/24%/20% and 32%/25%/18%, respectively.

The primary is next Tuesday, so time is running out for Greitens to make up the gap. And Missouri is not a state that has runoffs, so Greitens will not live to fight another day if he finishes in second place. It will be interesting to see if Donald Trump, who has not yet made an endorsement in the race, gets involved. On one hand, he might just be able to save Greitens' candidacy with an endorsement, which would be a feather in the ex-presidential cap. On the other hand, Trump cares mostly about batting average, which means that if he does jump in, he's much more likely to endorse Schmitt. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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