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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

This one's a big'n, in part because abortion is still on everyone's minds, and in part due to follow-ups and ongoing discussions. In the latter category are the responses to the question "Why isn't Donald Trump bragging?", comments on last week's right-leaning letters, responses to A.H. in Columbus (who wants to leave Ohio), and another week of influential musicians. Away we go...

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy...

J.E. in New York City, NY, writes: Much will be made of the mental state of a man who went to a Buffalo neighborhood yesterday to kill Black people. But he was not mentally ill. He made a rational decision to drive three and a half hours from a town with an almost entirely white population to Buffalo to kill Black people.

He cited the "great replacement" theory that Tucker Carlson shouts from his studio every week, that Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) also cited numerous times. To say that such rhetoric had no effect, or that the shooter was radicalized because of the video games he watched or the websites he visited by themselves is not only wrongheaded—it perpetuates the idea that no white person is ever really responsible.

If you don't think so, ask yourself what the narrative would be if the shooter were Muslim. How many editorials were written about "Islamic culture" being antithetical to democracy? How many editorials written handwringing about whether "those people" assimilate into our way of life, which is taken to be self-evidently superior?

Now look at what happens whenever we see a white man deliberately killing minorities (or "others"). We see column after column talking about how we had failed them, or how they were mentally ill, or, in the case of Kyle Rittenhouse, how they are actually a hero.

The shooter is responsible for his actions, and people who kept saying that violence is the correct response to the presence of brown people in this country bear responsibility too.

And no, "eat the rich" is not remotely equivalent here. There is no group of leftists shooting conservative white people, people of color do not have a history of going to white neighborhoods to murder the inhabitants (see: Tulsa, Rosewood, and many others). "Both sides do it" narratives here are ahistorical at best. This incident is of a piece with a long history of right-wing violence.

I might add: If there is one thing the GOP is good at, it's outsourcing the violence. By "privatizing" the operation, the right wingers in media and government can say "Hey, I didn't mean for that to happen." This kind of incident will repeat itself; street level violence is an old fascist tool.

The Sinking of Roe: The Supreme Court

B.C. in Forest Park, IL, writes: The most insidious thing about Chief Justice John Roberts, in my opinion, is his ability to issue decisions hugely damaging to democracy on cases dealing with poorly-understood laws and concepts while weaseling his way out of adverse headlines by issuing narrow rulings based on semantics. I was terrified that he would accomplish that again on this case, generating ambiguous headlines and preventing any consequential conversation about reproductive rights.

However, he failed. He could not control the other five conservatives, who appear to have swallowed their own Kool-aid and dropped a nuke on the news cycle. The fallout will last for years, and the casualties will number far, far greater than just the poor women in red states. The Republican Party has long used bigotry and misogyny to convince the rubes to vote for them, but the only real goal of GOP party leadership for the past century has been to further enrich the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. Now, the inmates are running the asylum. Republican officeholders should have been more careful about what they wished for, because they just got it.

The right to reproductive health care and bodily autonomy, while sacrosanct, is not really connected to the machinery of democracy. Voting is not harder because of this particular decision, nor does it make it any easier to dump dark money into our political discourse. Reproductive rights are connected, however, to public opinion. Disillusioned Millennials and Zoomers who bemoan that "both parties are the same" can no longer do so with a straight face. A not-insignificant number of affluent white suburbanites have long been comfortable voting Republican for the sake of lower taxes because they were convinced that Roe would never, ever be overturned. They have another think coming.

As you have previously noted, Republican-controlled legislatures in red states are likely to overreach after this decision is officially handed down, and they will likely do so right before a midterm election in which Democrats are desperate for a game-changer. I believe this qualifies. The headlines could be absolutely devastating, e.g. "Doctor jailed after saving pregnant woman's life."

My rudimentary analysis may seem cold, and it most certainly is, but I quickly learned during the Trump years that if I don't put on my Romulan Tal Shiar uniform before reading the news, any smidgen of empathy will quickly overwhelm me and I will simply crawl into bed and stay there for several days. Viewing events through the ruthless lens of a chess game helps me survive. Perhaps that is a moral failure on my part, but my actions, especially voting, are the same whether I allow myself to experience empathy or not, so I do not see how feeling angst could possibly help anyone.

To those who are despondent, I say this: It ain't over 'til it's over. And it ain't over yet.

R.D. in San Diego, CA, writes: John Roberts has purportedly launched his investigation into the leak, using the Supreme Court's internal security team (instead of asking for the FBI, who regularly handles actual investigations). This team answers to Roberts and hasn't bothered to actually talk to anyone, per the Politico executive editor. The consensus is now that the leak comes from the right.

If one of the majority was the leaker, why? Impulsive gloating is implausible given how the whole draft was leaked and that takes ahem deliberation. Fundraising off the win or motivating the loyalists to vote gets balanced by the fact the left will do the same. Making it old news by the time the election rolls around is possible, but if you are worried about pissing off the voters, you have a simple option to change the draft.

So, which conservative justice was on the minority side?

W.W.W. in Jacksonville, FL, writes: The logic displayed in Associate Justice Samuel Alito's leaked draft opinion on Roe v. Wade is about as cohesive and convincing as The Ray Charles Deductive Fallacy, which states:

  • God is love.
  • Love is blind.
  • Therefore ... Ray Charles is God.

S.P. in Tijeras, NM, writes: We should stop referring to John Roberts as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, because the de facto Chief Justice is now Samuel Alito.

R.R.E. in Chicago, IL, writes: Did anyone else notice that Associate Justice Clarence Thomas's tirade against those damned liberals for the decline in the Supreme Court's reputation came on National Blame Someone Else Day?

J.B. in Hutto, TX, writes: In response to the leaked draft of the SCOTUS decision overturning Roe v. Wade, several pro-choice groups called upon their supporters to mount protests at the private homes of the six conservative SCOTUS justices. Does anyone seriously think this is going to achieve anything? Is the sight of a shouting, screaming group of sign-holding pro-choice activists on their front lawn going to cause a pro-life justice to suddenly have an epiphany and change their mind on the abortion question? If anything, it's just going to piss them off and make them even more entrenched in the position they already hold.

The Sinking of Roe: Views from Left-Leaning Readers

C.J. in Corvallis, OR, writes: I'm a 60+ woman who is appalled at the arrogance, ignorance, sexism, and cruelty of so-called "pro-lifers." This is my message to them.

The "deeply-held belief" that "life begins at conception" is simplistic and false. It's a potential new life, at best. Medical News Today states that as many as 50-75% of conceptions end before even getting a positive pregnancy test. Additionally, miscarriages (a.k.a. natural abortions) occur in roughly 10-45% of all confirmed pregnancies, depending on many factors such as genetics, nutrition, activities, and age. I had two miscarriages myself, one early and one at 10 weeks, which was painful enough without nosy crotch-watchers suspecting it was self-inflicted. If abortions are murder and miscarriages are natural abortions, isn't your god the biggest abortionist/murderer ever? Believing that "life begins at conception" is an abstraction, somewhat like expecting to get a loaf of bread directly from a freshly planted field of wheat. Ridiculous! Further, it shows a hypocritical and callous disregard for the well-being of an already existing life. "Pro-life" is really an arrogant desire to force births on other people. You think it doesn't really matter whether conception occurred willingly, by rape, incest, coercion, or human/contraceptive failure? Are you insane? For radical forced-birthers, even the implanted sperm of a rapist must be protected; therefore his few cells are more important than every cell in her body, every thought, ambition, or aspiration in her mind, and every minute of her future life? Have you no compassion? No decency? You're willing to put someone through hell for a rapist's sperm? All abortions would be free and easy if men had to endure re-living a rape's physical and mental trauma for roughly 280 days until painfully giving birth, and then for years to come after that. Fortunately, this arrogant, hate-filled war on women hadn't progressed so far when my younger sister was acquaintance-raped at college in the 1980s. She suffered PTSD nightmares for years afterward. We are real people, not some abstract illusion of a potential life.

To say that females should be more careful before getting pregnant (i.e., dress modestly, cross legs, avoid bad situations) is to deny her basic humanity. For you, no female can ever be uninformed about sex, naive, too young, lonely or emotionally vulnerable, interested in sex, unlucky enough to go to the wrong party, trust the wrong guy, miscalculate her cycle or use a contraceptive that isn't 100% effective? Instead, she must never make any mistakes, always making 100% safe and accurate decisions, 100% of the time? Are males ever held to that rigid standard? An overly simple analogy might be requiring girls to get 100% correct answers on a school test to achieve an "A" grade while boys only need 90%. Is that fair? No, it's clearly sexist. Thinking that 15 weeks is plenty of time to discover that you are pregnant, and to do something about it, is also ignorant because not all females have regular cycles (especially younger girls or those women with certain medical conditions). Also, many do not have the resources to get medical attention early. Is it really so hard to mind your own business and stay out of ours?

Apparently forced-birthers imagine that every conception magically produces a beautiful, healthy baby—maybe another genius, but never another serial killer. You think carrying a fetus to full term, and subsequent delivery, are no big deal? That's pure, complete ignorance! In real life, pregnancy is a long, physically and mentally complex process which brings great risks to both fetus and female. Even for much-desired, seemingly healthy pregnancies and deliveries, a lot can go excruciatingly wrong (e.g., a basketball-sized head on the fetus, vital organs missing, strokes and life-threatening pre-eclampsia). Your narrow-minded, chauvinistic religious beliefs do not negate her right to different beliefs and bodily autonomy. Only the woman or girl, and those providing their health-care, know what is best for them at any time and should decide their future. To deny her health-care choices is a morally-offensive, arrogant, ignorant, and sexist cruelty. Finally, will you care for every mother and baby throughout their lives after a forced birth? No? Then, back off! I won't tolerate your "victimhood" when my "politically incorrect" truths hurt your feelings after the blatant meanness of TFG and his supporters. Being "woke" may make you uncomfortable, but like encountering someone asleep at the wheel on the highway, blowing the horn could prevent dangerous or deadly outcomes. Nobody should have the ability to vote for reproductive restrictions affecting millions of real women and girls, especially based on the views of four seriously flawed male Supreme Court justices, (a credibly-accused rapist, two liars, and none ever facing pregnancy), plus one Christian-Taliban woman who was rammed through Senate confirmation. Forced-birthers are arrogant, ignorant, sexist and cruel.

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: I'm feeling a little stupid these days for not being more upset than I have been up to now. I've been focusing too much on the trees rather than the forest. Abortion rights is one of the trees, along with a litany of other things like voter access, climate change, welfare, trans rights, gerrymandering, responsible COVID response and mistreatment of immigrants. The "forest" is that Republicans are coming for our freedom. The pseudo-majority is trying to fence in the daily lives of everyone else, and we ordinary citizens need to confront our neighbors and call this out as wrong.

The obvious counter-example is gun access. But once I peeled back the philosophical rhetoric I realized that the whole purpose of the "Second Amendment" crowd is for white people to have guns to intimidate people of color. The Ahmaud Arbery case was an illustration of this. The minute they figure out how to restrict and prohibit people of color from owning guns, they will be all over it. Remember that despite Roe v. Wade, in Texas and Missouri abortion has been illegal in practical terms for years because clinics faced nearly impossible "medical safety" rules. They will take your rights one bite at a time, not all at once. God help us all.

A.J. in Baltimore, MD, writes: Let's be clear about this. Most people who want to restrict abortion care more about punishing women who have unprotected sex than about protecting life. They don't say that's the case. They probably don't think that's the case. But it's true. Think about how many abortions could be prevented through better sex education and widespread availability of free birth control. Do conservatives want any of that? Hell, no. Think about how we could encourage people to carry fetuses to term through a better social safety net, including paid family leave, free preschool, increased child tax credits, etc. Do conservatives want any of that? Hell, no.

Also, think about people who say that abortions should not be allowed except in the case of rape. One might think they sound more compassionate about the issue. But what they're really saying is, "Every fetus is a beautiful soul that deserves a chance at life, but you can flush it down the toilet if it wasn't created by a woman doing something immoral to end up pregnant, like having sex consensually."

On another note, to quote Alonzo Fyfe: "Religious conservatives often try to promote abstinence over abortion. However, what benefit comes to a person who, instead of being conceived and aborted, was not conceived at all? I do not see how anybody is made better or worse off by either action." This is obviously in stark contrast with killing a person who is actually alive. Even if I died young, I would still prefer to have lived than never to have been conceived, but I wouldn't have a preference between being aborted and never having been conceived. Can you honestly say that you would feel differently?

Here's another way to think about the legality of abortion. Consider the famous Judith Jarvis Thomson violinist thought experiment: "You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. If he is unplugged from you now, he will die; but in nine months he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you."

Thomson's essay was making a philosophical point, but from a legality perspective, it is even easier to parse. No state in the union would prohibit you from pulling the plug. Not even if the violinist was your son. Not even if you personally caused the fatal kidney ailment. There is no circumstance where you would be prohibited from pulling the plug, because states respect the bodily autonomy of all people except for people who are pregnant.

Finally, for anyone who knew that Trump was an abhorrent human being but voted for him anyway because the most important thing in the world to them was ensuring that unwanted pregnancies would become unwanted children, here is my message to you: Congratulations. Now please stop voting, because I'm not sure America can survive another Trump.

M.R. in Acton, MA, writes: Regarding your answer to the religious freedom/abortion question, you wrote "the ban is not establishing an official religion, and since many American religions don't like abortion, so no particular one is being privileged." I would guess nobody "likes" abortion. I'm not a lawyer, but the ban absolutely privileges one religion (Evangelical Christianity) over others, namely mine.

In Judaism, a fetus does not have the same personhood status as one who is already living and functioning in the world. The Talmud asserts that the fetus is "mere fluid" for the first 40 days and, following this period, the fetus is regarded as a physical part of the pregnant individual's body.

In fact, up until and into the onset of labor and childbirth, if a fetus is endangering the life of a woman, performing an abortion is a religious requirement. The Mishnah (representing the first generation of Talmudic rabbis) states it graphically: "they cut up the fetus inside her and take it out limb by limb, because her life comes before its life."

I believe the rabbis stated the issue in such grotesque terms on purpose. The horrifying image of an almost-born fetus being dismembered in the womb emphasizes the point: No matter how "late-term" the pregnancy, no matter how difficult it may be to proceed with an abortion, the woman's life must always come first.

Legally requiring a woman to carry a life-threatening pregnancy to term is not only misogynist, it is an infringement on our religious freedom as Jews to exercise our Jewish values in such dire situations.

The Sinking of Roe: Responses to Right-Leaning Readers

B.C. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: P.M. in Currituck is against abortion because of a belief it is "the murder of innocent life," except "for certain medical cases, incest, etc." So, it is okay to "kill" a fetus if it is the result of a dirtbag stepfather impregnating his 15-year-old stepdaughter, but not okay to "kill" a fetus if it is the result of that same 15-year-old girl having a roll in the hay with her 17-year-old boyfriend? I think P.M. is having a problem with the word "innocent," and how defining life as beginning at conception makes both fetuses innocent and presents an insurmountable logical and moral quandary.

B.M. in Birmingham thinks the only "two legitimate reasons to take a human life" are if a person has killed someone else or is about to kill someone else. I wonder, when a Ukrainian soldier has a Russian soldier in his gunsights, does he first need to determine whether that Russian has killed anyone, or is about to kill anyone, before he pulls the trigger? Does the calculus change if that Russian soldier is a pregnant female?

M.E. in Roanoke thinks a vote for the Orange Julius Caesar is a matter of the ends justifying the means. So, M.E., you think bombing a Planned Parenthood clinic just down the block is okay? After all, you know they must have performed thousands of abortions in that clinic, and ending those murderers' ability to perform more murders would be an end which certainly justifies the means, wouldn't it? According to B.M. in Birmingham, it certainly would, wouldn't it?

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: Here's what I find frustrating about the opponents of Roe v. Wade. Like M.E. in Roanoke, they talk about how abortion is evil, and "ending the evil of legalized abortion," without ever acknowledging the difference between these two things. "Abortion is evil," it's "stopping a beating heart," it's a "holocaust against the unborn," but the only thing they are willing to do about it is add some new consequences like fines and jail time.

If you think about it for a minute, making something illegal has never ended anything. Murder has been illegal for literally thousands of years and yet it still hasn't ended. So M.E. doesn't talk about ending abortion, just ending the evil that is legalized abortion followed with some virtue signaling about how abortion itself is evil. The right doesn't care about ending abortion, they only care about judging people and controlling women. If it was about ending abortion, focusing so tightly on making it illegal is about the dumbest position to take. Abortion exists because unwanted pregnancies exist, but are abortion opponents pushing for comprehensive sex education? Cheap and easily available contraception? Affordable childcare? Robust medical care? Support for single mothers? I have not seen it. Maybe someone can provide links.

C.Z. in Sacramento, CA, writes: As a Recovering Catholic and a Catholic School Survivor, I was not surprised to learn that P.M. of Currituck is a self-described "devout Catholic." So were my Republican parents, who raised five Democrats, none of whom are Catholics now. I divorced the Catholic church in 1976, when the then-Pope re-iterated that women were not good enough to serve in the priesthood. I decided that if I was not good enough for the Church, then neither was my money. I realized way back then that the Catholic Church is not a religious organization, but a political one, run by and for men. Like many so-called religions, its main goal is to enrich its officials by exploiting and controlling women. The hypocrisy and sexism of the Church is perfectly illustrated by the fact that it prohibits birth control, but is just fine with Viagra. Hmmm, if an unwanted pregnancy is "God's will," then isn't erectile dysfunction also "God's will"?

As we used to say in the sixties and seventies, "If the Pope could get pregnant, abortion would be a Sacrament." I'm sure that my three great-aunts who became nuns in the 1890s, in part to escape becoming breeding machines like their mother (who had eight children and an unknown number of pregnancies), would agree with that saying. By the way, the mother of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, had eighteen pregnancies.

J.O. in Manchester, NH, writes: I'm very fond of Critical Thinking, not to be confused with Critical Race Theory. This means that I admire someone who is able to distinguish between their own subjective beliefs on one hand and objective reality on the other.

P.M. from Currituck is not someone that I typically agree with here on I find myself shaking my head when P.M. rationalizes Trump voters, and generally have a hard time ridding myself of my indignation afterwards. Yes, Mussolini made the trains run on time (in, egads, Italy!) but it should be obvious to any sentient being why Trump (or Il Duce before him) is not worthy of anyone's vote. That is, of course, my own subjective feeling. On the other hand, objectively, I can follow P.M.'s explanations and have to admit that they make sense. Cognitive dissonance for $1,000, Alex?

So I read with interest P.M.'s subjective feelings about abortion paired with their realization that, objectively, the country feels otherwise. And thus P.M. concludes that they are part of "a larger society, which functions by following rules created by the majority." I always love it when people argue against their own subjective inclinations using sound logic and respect. On the other side of the spectrum, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) did this when she came down against tax subsidies for Amazon's prospective relocation in her district. She had so much to gain by supporting it; but she was against it on the principle that tax write-offs for such a large corporation were unfair.

It is telling that Trump and his ilk never display this ability to distinguish their subjective inclination from objective reality (a.k.a. Critical Thinking). Kudos to P.M. I can't believe I am writing this, but objectivity demands it!

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: I have a great deal of appreciation for P.M. in Currituck's perspective on abortion. While they oppose abortion personally, they also recognize that the primary argument against it is religious in nature and that there is no place in this country for passing legislation based on a religious principle. It's an acknowledgment that there is room for pro-choice ideology coming from a conservative perspective.

Michael Steele, former Chair of the Republican Party, stated last week on his podcast why he does not support striking down Roe. He says that, as a Catholic, he is personally opposed to abortion. But he also states that other people's privacy is more important than his personal viewpoint. Given that less government intrusion into people's lives is a conservative principle, he believes that reproductive choice, contraception, how people have sex and who they marry and a host of other culture war issues have no place being opposed by the conservative movement.

This is something on which conservatives and progressives can agree. There is common ground. It didn't have to be this way.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: As we might say here in North Carolina, you can just butter my butt and call me a biscuit! Never thought I'd see the day I respected any contribution from my fellow North Carolinian, P.M. from Currituck... but their thoughts on Roe, I have to applaud the reason and even-handedness here.

I have to appreciate P.M. is willing to acknowledge that their own cheerful internal response is emotional, and that many of the planned laws just waiting for Roe to go away are draconian... because they are. I have to also appreciate that P.M. clearly states we are not a theocracy, nor are we a Christian nation.

I also appreciate that P.M. would make exceptions in the case of rape and incest. For a long time, I had the Bill Clinton attitude about abortion, that it should be safe, legal and rare. Then again, I have no dog in this fight since I, as a trans woman, am neither able to get pregnant, nor impregnate anyone.

Over time, my view has evolved to where I am very much pro-choice because I see it as a body sovereignty issue... no different than my right to be trans, and to have procedures done, with my consent, to make my body and my appearance more closely match the gender with which I identify. In short, what occurred to me was that if I so strongly believed I should have this body autonomy, then so should everyone else. I still would like abortions to be rare, but that is none of my business. Legal, of course, is a matter of opinion, and I believe they should be legal. And no reasonable person would want it to be unsafe.

I also appreciate that P.M. recognizes that minorities should have some rights and their viewpoint respected, and not just Trumpled by the majority. So, while I have had many unkind thoughts about P.M. over the years, I've been forced to make a re-evaluation. While I think there is much we would disagree with, and the fact that I find many of their views and choice of words personally offensive, they may not be quite the monster I had in mind.

So, P.M, my fellow North Carolinian, I must say: Today you have surprised me.

P.S. to non-Carolinians: "Butter my butt and call me a biscuit" is a colloquialism we use here to indicate major surprise.

The Sinking of Roe: Views from Right-Leaning Readers

B.C. in Halethorpe, MD, writes: As a pro-life reader, I was particularly sad to see what other pieces of legislation readers of this site fear may be next to go. For what it's worth, I personally believe that Loving and Obergefell are two of the best decisions that SCOTUS has ruled on in the past century, and haven't heard a fellow pro-lifer tell me that they want either struck down in the past half-decade. Then again, my pro-life group meets in the same room as an LGBTQ+ rights group, so perhaps my experiences aren't broadly representative.

While I understand some readers are and will remain too bitter to engage on this issue with pro-life voters, others seem earnestly committed to the American dialogue regardless of the strength of their disagreements. So I'd like to offer three conversation-killers to specifically avoid making pro-life individuals immediately conclude that you're missing the point and start tuning out:

  1. "Don't like abortion? Don't have one." Don't like sex slavery? Don't participate in it. Don't like animal abuse? Don't commit it. In all of those scenarios, there are victims being exploited, and pro-life individuals believe the unborn to be victims, as well. This mantra only works for someone who doesn't genuinely believe that "the wifi signal" of human life, human dignity, and human rights begins at the moment of conception. For anyone but the most ardent anarchists to spout that it should never be lawful to put checks on human behavior, even those involving the human body, is intellectually dishonest.

  2. "Abortions will continue illegally." Just as making something illegal doesn't make it stop, making something legal doesn't automatically make it benevolent. As was pointed out, Moses made "Thou shalt not kill" a Top 10 set of rules thousands of years ago that still is routinely broken; should we bring back dueling just to make street violence safer and better regulated? Is an appropriate response to rampant corruption in government to allot for legalized bribery funds since "they're just going to do it anyway?" Yes, illegal abortion is a huge concern that needs to be addressed and anticipated, much like unregistered guns. But when we shrug off and reflexively legalize every persistent aspect of human behavior no matter how sinister, we lose our drive to make the world a better place and resign ourselves to timidly managing humans exploiting each other.

  3. "GOP legislative priorities prove that this is hypocrisy." If you said that the GOP's Congressional agenda favors economic purism over compassionate policies that could prevent pregnancy terminations regardless of what the abortion laws say, I'd wholeheartedly agree. But I can't agree that a certain, disenfranchised group [in this case, the unborn] doesn't deserve rights until their political benefactors are somehow unblemished and free of any inconsistencies. This would be akin to suggesting—and right-wing commentary wasn't far from this upon the release of the Green New Deal—that Republicans shouldn't have to entertain any legislation that might strengthen environmental protection unless every Democrat in government swears off beef and sells their gas-powered vehicles. That wouldn't be fair to the environment, and would start a "Whataboutism?" arms race that would obsess more on politicians' behavior than the merits of a bill, resulting in nothing getting done. Or perhaps such a situation has already started...

I also believe that arguments seldom change how people feel regarding important issues; it's definitely not how I shifted from being staunchly pro-choice many years ago. Life testimonies that broaden awareness, I'd suggest, are infinitely better. I'm especially grateful for last Sunday's readers who, though I disagree with them regarding this policy, shared personal, painful stories that have shaped their perspective on the issue. Granted, now neither side can see the Supreme Court and its choices as sacred or inviolate, but we don't have to give up on finding any common ground in American society along the way.

P.S. in Arlington, TN, writes: Over the past week I've ended up in several conversations concerning abortion on social media with GOP friends. While I personally view myself as "Pro-life," I'm pretty far to the left of base GOP voters in the South. To sum up what I've heard over the past week, forcing a 12-year-old who was raped by her uncle to have a baby is legitimate is legitimate because, "God made that baby, too." In addition to that, I have a friend who was pregnant with twins. One of the twins wasn't going to make it and was going to kill off the viable twin. My buddy had to go to a different state to "abort" the non viable twin. In this case my friend was supposed to wait for a miracle. The expectation for the political representatives of my friends is that they should make abortion so illegal that if a state resident were to go to another state for an abortion, it should constitute murder in their home state. So much for "states' rights" and "small government"!

My point is this: These views are very extreme. I doubt more than 20% of the country has a stomach for these views, yet in red states you won't be able to win GOP primaries without these voters. This means that next year we're likely to see these laws passed, some voters supporting them and politicians on cable news supporting the laws they passed. Donald Trump may not be very intelligent, but surely he does have people surrounding him who are politically savvy enough to know that this will be an extremely toxic issue for the GOP in 2024. Trump proved in 2020 that he can't win if moderates such as myself vote for Democrats. Getting out in front of the country and bragging about how 12-year-olds raped by their uncles are now forced to have babies thanks to the GOP isn't a winning strategy.

As a former resident of Mississippi, I saw one of the first "personhood" laws come up for a vote. It lost. If this form of extremism can't win in Mississippi, it's highly likely to lose in 2024 and maybe even during this cycle.

The Sinking of Roe: What's Going on with Donald Trump?

S.R. in Ottawa, ON, Canada, writes: You've often noted that Trump never considers long-term consequences. This week, you asked why he's being so uncharacteristically silent on the end of Roe. I think there's a simple explanation: Deep down, in the black center of his heart, he's still pro-choice. He never thought this would actually happen. He never considered that he'd be responsible for ending legal abortion in much of America. He is actually shocked, and hopefully a bit horrified, by what he unexpectedly accomplished. So he's keeping mum.

J.K. in San Francisco, CA, writes: There are about 1 million things Trump cares more about than women and their rights. Abortion will always be available for him and his ilk. Outlawing abortion is more about controlling people in poverty, disproportionately Black and brown people. It probably concerns the man about as much as menstruation.

J.E. in San Jose, CA, writes: It requires him to talk positively about somebody else. He himself cannot have an abortion so who cares, right?

J.G. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: If Trump has paid for an abortion or two (which seems likely, given his long history of cavalier attitudes about safe sex), then there is at least one woman who is a direct witness to each abortion.

It might be a tactical error to campaign on "I stopped abortion" if there is any chance at all that one or more of those (de facto pro-choice) women might come forward. That evidence might be too stark to ignore or simply lie about.

Evangelical voters have been able to turn a blind eye to Trump's immorality in service of abortion. But will they be able to overlook Trump's abortions in service of... a victory lap?

P.L. in Denver, CO, writes: I think that, in the end, Trump doesn't care about abortion and he thinks a complete overturn of Roe is a political loser. He doesn't care if others stick their necks out. But he is not interested in doing so at this time.

P.R. in Washington, DC, writes: In regard to your question on why Trump has been silent on the leaked Supreme Court abortion ruling, I think he is worried it will hurt his potential 2024 prospects. Trump has a juvenile inability to keep his mouth shut or avoid taking credit for anything he can. So his silence indicates to me he is either personally unhappy with the decision or knows it will hurt him politically.

As you wrote about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), he and shrewd Republican operators didn't actually want Roe overturned because it galvanized their voters like no other issue. For as many misgivings as I have about Trump's competence as president, I think he is able to read public opinion decently well and determine whether he will pay a political penalty. While overturning Roe was the goal for his evangelical base, it is broadly unpopular with the general public (I think the stat is 65-70% of Americans were against it).

If Trump is thinking about a comeback attempt in 2024, he has to look at where he bled support from 2016 to 2020. He has essentially maxed out rural and evangelical support, but he hemorrhaged suburban voters, particularly women. If his goal is to regain some support in that bloc, running on overturning Roe is pretty stupid. So, this is an attempt to distance himself from the issue. If he runs, Joe Biden or another Democratic nominee will make the whole campaign about, "Remember who nominated three of the five votes that gutted Roe!"

A.R.S. in West Chester, PA, writes: It's simple. He is unexplainable. He can never be figured out. Why spend time trying?

The Sinking of Roe: Politics

M.S. in Sterling, NY, writes: As someone that bemoans the Democrats' inability to come up with simple concise messaging, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) use the term "government-mandated pregnancy" to describe the upcoming Supreme Court decision to roll back Roe v Wade. It perfectly describes the Republicans position on female body autonomy. Every Democrat should repeat this phrase multiple times daily until the November elections.

W.H. in Miami, OH, writes: I can understand why people are saying the end of Roe will not be enough for the Democrats to carry the midterms. As others have pointed out, many men and women don't think anti-abortion laws will affect them directly. They don't think they or their loved ones will ever need an abortion, so they don't see it as their problem. Of course, almost anyone could need abortion services in the future, but they just don't think it will happen to them. I therefore don't think the overturning of the right to an abortion will have enough impact for the Democrats to keep the House and Senate this fall.

I hope the Democrats are smart enough to not rely upon abortion as a single issue as to why people should get out and vote for the Democrats. I think they should emphasize abortion rights, but also recognize that people need to be educated on the fact that now that the Republicans have finally been successful in their long attempt to take away abortion rights, their next goal is to outlaw contraception, gay rights, and everyone's right to privacy. That affects virtually everyone. People who don't pay close attention to what's going on do not realize this. The Democrats need to shout from the rooftops that the Republicans are coming for your contraception, they are coming for your sexual rights, and they are coming for your fundamental right to privacy. If Democrats just rely on the loss of abortion, they will be screwed, and not in the fun way.

The Sinking of Roe: Elections Have Consequences

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: Elections matter and they have consequences. Here is a historical example when it comes to the current status of Roe v. Wade.

In 1988, George H.W. Bush ran against Michael Dukakis. That summer, Dukakis had a 17-point lead in the polls. Everyone thought Bush would lose. Then came the GOP convention and the Willie Horton ads. Dukakis didn't adequately respond. That, along with his bombing at the debate, cost Dukakis the election. He is the modern-day political equivalent of the Atlanta Falcons. The ironic thing is Dukakis was governor of the state the Patriots call home.

Without a President Bush 41, there wouldn't have been a Justice Clarence Thomas. Also, without a Bush 41, there likely wouldn't have been a President Bush 43. Hence, no Justice Samuel Alito or Chief Justice John Roberts.

It's hard to say what would have happened during and after a Dukakis presidency. But the current Supreme Court would have been completely different than today.

So consider that the ramifications of what happens during this year's midterms and in 2024 will be felt into the 2050s.

N.J. in San Francisco, CA, writes: I would add to the call-out of 2016 from H.F. in Pittsburgh: To 2000 Ralph Nader voters—especially in Florida and New Hampshire—your votes gave us Justice Alito, overturning Roe and Casey, the ongoing gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and so much more.

The Sinking of Roe: Abortion Laws Have Consequences

S.C-M. in Scottsdale, AZ, writes: Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post has a good piece on how an abortion ban would be enforced. Basically, we are looking at a police state where enforcement is done selectively and intrusively and neighbors will snitch on neighbors. Won't affect me since I am white and male. What a mess.

R.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: There's been a lot of ink (pixels?) dedicated to the issue of abortion lately, yet I think a lot of people on both sides seem to completely overlook the part with the greatest reach: to criminalize abortion is to criminalize any failed pregnancy.

Miscarriages are incredibly common. They can also be very traumatic. If abortion is criminalized, then anyone with a failed pregnancy may find themselves facing criminal prosecution. Those that say they'll be fine since they didn't actually have an abortion procedure are naïve at best and willfully ignorant at worst. Innocent people are indeed convicted of crimes. And even if the threat of conviction is minimal, a failed pregnancy can be traumatic enough without having to be antagonized by an overzealous criminal prosecutor. This is not compassion, it is cruelty.

Please spare us all the "moral high ground" arguments. These laws will only serve to add needless (and avoidable) pain, suffering, and torment to our fellow Americans. If the path to achieving your own inner peace involves the sacrifice of that for others, then that isn't morality. It's conceit.

R.R. in Pasadena, CA, writes: I'm sure you've received a lot of letters about the upcoming Roe overturn, and all of the consequences. But there are some that I haven't seen anyone mention yet. Take what's happening in Louisiana, where they are working on passing a law making abortion into a crime similar to murder, from the moment of fertilization. Theoretically, that means any woman who has their pregnancy end is subject to an investigation... and since at least 20-ish% of pregnancies end in miscarriage (many before a woman even knows she's pregnant) that's a lot of investigations (57,000+ live births in Louisiana means something like 10-15,000 miscarriages each year). A lot of these will never be known as they are early and private events, but there is a significant percentage of miscarriages that require a medical intervention or happen in a visceral way, possibly publicly, that could be reported.

These miscarriage issues increase with age. I know because I'm in my 50s, my wife is in her 40s, and we're having a baby that's apparently a minor miracle since she was conceived completely naturally. The miscarriage percentage at my wife's age is so high that it was a relief that she got through the first trimester with a healthy fetus. We're almost there, but we still have to worry about the things that might go wrong even at this late date... with such a high risk pregnancy it's been a bit nerve-wracking worrying about my wife, though that's now translating into worrying how to raise a daughter in the face of conservatives that want to regulate her body.

Louisiana won't be the last state to pass laws imprisoning women for an abortion, and investigating a miscarriage will be on the table, with all of the biases inherent in policing helping to select who gets investigated. Wealthy white teenagers who leave town and come back thinner will never be checked, while a minority woman will be interrogated for hours. And, if you're a woman from a blue state visiting a red state, or just driving through, and show up in an ER after a spontaneous miscarriage, you can bet someone will be talking with you. This is just the consequence of the path that Republican politicians are pursuing... they are already passing bills without rape or incest exceptions, so charging a woman with murdering her own fetus is next (and has already happened with pregnant women who fell down stairs or who used drugs). The fact that 80% of Americans want exceptions for rape or maternal health is irrelevant to a movement that wants to impose forced birth on all women across the nation.

And what happens to the nation when women become afraid to travel into the red states for fear of being accused of murder if they have a heavy period? Can we really exist as a united nation if people don't feel it's safe to travel through parts of the nation without risking a prison sentence? Businesses and colleges in the red states will see fewer women attending, young people will leave those states even more than they are now, and the divisions in the nation will grow even firmer. Even if Republicans gain the trifecta it won't unify things; you can bet that California will refuse to prosecute women for abortions, and the FBI doesn't have enough agents to do so.

And those of us who have daughters, or are about to, have to worry in the midst of all this about raising them and keeping them safe. It seems like a dark time to bring a girl into the world, I guess I just have to hope that the blowback from this starts a movement that finally removes the march towards Christian theocracy that this nation is on.

V & Z respond: Congratulations, and we will keep a good thought for you, as we are sure many readers will, that all will go well.

Useful Idiocy

J.W. in Newton, MA, writes: In response to a question from my neighbor, J.H. in Boston, you noted that "Russia is so clearly in the wrong here that it basically eliminates the possibility that a site could give the Russian perspective without being propagandistic." I'll be interested to see if any readers can refute you effectively.

Working on a college campus in Boston gives me the opportunity to research this issue myself, in that I am friends with political radicals. When I press them, I get responses like this: (1) "The U.S. contributed to this problem by enabling the rise of the oligarchs and expanding NATO to Russia's door;" (2) "Bush 43 was also a war criminal, and perpetrated his crimes with no more justification and much further from his doorstep;" (3) "Zelenskyy campaigned to keep Ukraine non-aligned, but was forced by the West to lean toward NATO and the E.U.;" (4) "The Ukrainians are the innocent victims of two equally evil actors."

Although I see elements of truth in statements #1 and #2, I find these arguments utterly unconvincing. Political radicals believe, correctly in my view, that U.S. citizens have not come to terms with the awfulness of U.S. government actions during the Cold War. However, defending Putin's carnage by citing American mistakes and hypocrisy is whataboutism at its worst.

V & Z respond: If readers have thoughts on this question, we will be happy to receive them.


M.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: Your inflation discussion from last week and yesterday seemed like some very good analysis of two trees. The forest gives a little context.

You mention that the inflation rate was 3.9% in both 1984 and 2021, and it didn't seem to hurt Ronald Reagan in the first case. But here's what the Minneapolis Fed lists as the inflation rates (CPI increase) in the decades preceding those years:

Year CPI+ Year CPI+
1975 9.1% 2012 2.1%
1976 5.7% 2013 1.5%
1977 6.5% 2014 1.6%
1978 7.6% 2015 0.1%
1979 11.3% 2016 1.3%
1980 13.5% 2017 2.1%
1981 10.3% 2018 2.4%
1982 6.1% 2019 1.8%
1983 3.2% 2020 1.2%
1984 4.3% 2021 4.7%

So, inflation right now is twice as high as it has been at any time in the last decade (and higher than any time since 1982). In 1984, the high inflation of the previous decade had finally been tamed, and was a third of what it had been only four years earlier.

People notice when things change. In 1984, inflation had changed for the better. In 2022, it is changing for the worse. Looking at those two years in isolation is not a useful comparison.

V & Z respond: But that was exactly our point, that the issue is not the number, per se, but the perception that things are getting better (or worse).

K.C. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: In your item "Pennsylvania Is the Gift That Just Keeps Giving," you correctly noted that "there are many Republicans who are absolutely convinced that if they nominate a Black candidate, then Black voters will flock to the GOP banner. After all, it worked so well for Ben Carson, Allen West, John James, etc."

It feels only right that we should also mention Herman Cain as another Black Republican for whom it worked so well. In fact, I'm sure he would have some illuminating thoughts to share regarding the current direction that the Republican Party is taking—if only we could come up with a way to track him down and ask his opinion on the matter.

D.T. in San Jose, CA, writes: You recently had an item about the Internet initiative that the White House had arranged with the major ISPs. The suggestion was that, while this might not be a high profile victory, it would still be a meaningful accomplishment for the Biden Administration.

Respectfully, I disagree. The deal brokered with the ISPs is at best an empty "photo-op" announcement. And in reality, it will likely be a net negative for American Internet customers.

The commitments are entirely voluntary. These same ISPs have a long history of backing out of this sort of arrangement, once they have gotten what they wanted. For example, billions of dollars in subsidies for rural broadband deployments have been distributed to the major telecom companies, yet they regularly fail to fulfill their obligations.

The tech industry generally views this latest round of "internet discounts" as simply the price the telecom companies were willing to pay in order to block more meaningful advances. They have effectively stalled the confirmation of consumer advocate Gigi Sohn to the FCC.

A recent spending package awarded the major telecoms around $56 billion ($42B for subsidies for underserved areas plus $14B to cover ACP discounts). In return, Verizon lowered prices for the ACP plans by about $10 per month. This works out to less than $1B in consumer savings annually. The ISPs clearly came out ahead here.

To improve the landscape of Internet service, America doesn't need $10-$30 discounts. We need Net Neutrality. We need municipal broadband. And we need a functional FCC. As long as the telecom lobbyists can obstruct any real progress, negotiating discounted Internet service is a pretty hollow victory.

J.C. in Washington, D.C., writes: As someone that worked in the office of a Member of the House last year as a fellow, I wanted to second the comments from C.J. in Burke.

It may seem obvious, but many Americans do not realize that politics is 100% "the art of the possible." Although positions and legislation at the ideological extremes garner the most clicks and media coverage, nearly everything that Congress actually gets done is truly bipartisan.

In the 116th Congress, almost 60% of the bills passed by the House of Representatives did so under suspension of the rules (2/3 agreement necessary) with large, bipartisan votes.

If you find yourself thinking, "that will never get done," you're probably right. Being intellectually honest with yourself, regardless of your political ideology, is the best thing you can do to glean insight on the way ahead for Congress.


E.M. in Milwaukee, WI, writes: A Political Wire item quotes Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Barnette (R) as saying: "MAGA does not belong to President Trump. MAGA—although he coined the word, it actually belongs to the people."

While I agree with the metaphoric assertion that MAGA is now bigger than Trump, it might be technically incorrect, at least for "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN" in its full glory. Donald J. Trump owns that service mark (Reg. number 4773272) for "Political action committee services..." and "Fundraising in the field of politics." His campaign committee holds two or three other service marks for campaign items. But Trump doesn't appear to own any of the simple "MAGA" service marks.

Note: I got the service mark info directly from the USPTO.

C.H. in Clackamas, OK, writes: Regarding MAGA, I've noticed recently that President Biden has used this term. It's my belief the Democrats need to weaponize this term, same as the right wing has done with Critical Race Theory. There's no shortage of videos of MAGA people doing terrible things. A blitz of commercials connecting MAGA with terrible behavior would be effective.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Probably shouldn't encourage you, but MAGAtude is quite versatile. It can substitute for magnitude, multitude, attitude, latitude, longitude, gratitude, beatitude (though the last two aren't likely to apply often).

All Politics Is Local

R.B. in Tallahassee, FL, writes: I wanted to take this moment as an actual voting member of what formerly used to be FL-5 to comment on Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R-FL) efforts to redraw the maps.

I have met Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL) and he is honestly one of the most sincere politicians I have ever met. This gerrymandering and nonsense from DeSantis is ridiculous and I am appalled that so many people can't see the sham of this person occupying the governor's mansion, and believe me I live only a few miles from it.

I believe FL-05 was a good district. It protected the rights of the Democratic minority in the panhandle and northeastern Florida, but the way it's been redrawn is ridiculous. Now I am supposed to just accept that Rep. Matt (Pedo) Gaetz (R-FL) is my new congressman? The Florida legislature truly is a bunch of spineless wimps that make House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) look like Ronald Reagan.

I can only hope that the people of Florida realize the threat of installing an actual dictator and vote for the chaos that Florida Man and Woman were born to do. And that is why I will vote for literally anyone who wins the blue ticket (though currently I'm all in on Charlie Crist and Val Demings). God help the country, and Florida in particular, if DeSantis wins.

I sincerely hope there is some decency left somewhere in the federal court system to stop this blatantly racist act of destroying FL-05. I will do my part in voting, and I have been encouraged by many people in Tallahassee that have grown tired of DeSantis and his nonsensical pandering. I can only hope the shambles of the Florida Democratic Party can take advantage of that sentiment and drive a messaging wedge to prove to people throughout the state that DeSantis does not care in any way about us, just his own ambitions for political office.

Thanks for coming to my TED talk and sorta-rant! I hope decency will prevail here in Florida!

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: You wrote: "[T]he Pennsylvania GOP [is] attempting some 11th-hour maneuvering along the lines of 'anyone but Mastriano.' Ideally, they hope to get the non-Mastriano candidates to agree to throw their support behind [Lou] Barletta."

Having lived in the Poconos during the time Barletta was mayor of Hazelton, I'm speechless. Never in my life did I think that I would ever see the words "ideally" and "Barletta" in the same sentence. It's not just words that fail me but imagination itself. You're agreeing that Mastriano would be a worse choice than Lou Barletta. That's about the meanest thing you've ever said about a candidate, and if I were a relative of Mastriano, I'd be writing you a letter that would begin, "Now see here..." I would of course include the part where Mayor Barletta got the Hazelton city council to pass an anti-immigrant law so harsh that it was immediately overturned when it was taken to court, leaving the town of Hazelton owing the ACLU over a million dollars in legal fees, which Hazelton had to borrow to pay. (Many of the immigrants to the area were Puerto Ricans who, as faithful readers of this site are aware, are actually native-born American citizens. You really have to be careful about invading people's countries and building empires.) I know this response is inarticulate, but I'm still gasping. Someone much worse than Lou Barletta! As well as covering primaries, perhaps you'd better cover the Race to the Bottom.

P.N. in Austin, TX, writes: Should the Quackard of Oz win the Pennsylvania primary, I suggest the following for Democratic bumper stickers: "Oz: Willing to abandon his mother for power. Support Oz's ma. Vote Democrat."

C.B. in Atlanta, GA, writes: I voted early in the Georgia Republican Primary the other day. The races for governor and senator on the Democratic side are already decided. I decided to vote for the Republicans who pissed Trump off by not "finding him 12,000 votes." You're welcome, Brad Raffensperger! We don't need Jody Hice anywhere near the Secretary of State's office in 2024.

In other words, I am a ratfu**er.

Legal Matters

F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: I frequently see the phrase "calling balls and strikes," which has been used by Chief Justice John Roberts to describe his role in the American system of government.

In baseball, a pitch is either a ball or a strike; it's either in the zone or it's not. There is no opinion involved. Umpires could be replaced with cameras for that purpose (and maybe they will some day, but I digress).

There are nine people on the Supreme Court and all of them are (despite public opinion) experts on the subject of law. If every case was a matter of "balls and strikes," they'd always agree. Yet, more often than not, there is disagreement and they render something called—surprise!—opinions.

At that level of jurisprudence, there are no "balls and strikes." There is no "black and white." It's all various shades of gray.

The purpose of a judge is to judge, knowing that sometimes there are extenuating and mitigating circumstances. Also, they must consider that our society changes, not just in public opinion, but in physical, concrete ways like technology, social media, pandemics, and climate change.

This ideology that Roberts espouses is, in my humble opinion, specious and, for that (and other reasons), I suspect history will not look kindly on him.

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: O.Z.H. in Dubai asked a question about Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) planning to take the battle over Florida redistricting lines all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

While DeSantis would be happy if the Florida Supreme Court ruled his way on the proper interpretation of the Florida Constitution, he probably intends to file with the U.S. Supreme Court if he loses, based on two theories.

The first theory would be based on the Equal Protection Clause. In past redistricting cycles, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down districts where the lines clearly violated any traditional redistricting principles and are drawn solely for racial reasons. The main case dealing with this type of claim came from North Carolina which drew a "bar bell" district (minority enclaves in two cities connected by a very long segment that was basically just the highway between them with very few voters living in the connecting segment). Basically put, the U.S. Supreme Court has sort of created a "Goldilocks" rule where district lines need to give neither too much nor too little consideration to race.

The problem for DeSantis is that such a claim is inherently fact-based. While, in recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has used the Free Exercise Clause to push back against Establishment Clauses in state Constitutions that are stricter than the federal Establishment Clause, it is a little harder to make that argument when the issue is equivalent clauses. So it is unlikely that the U.S. Supreme Court would strike down the provision in the Florida Constitution on these grounds. And the state court judges (unlike legislators) are unlikely to draw lines that are clearly invalid under the U.S. Constitution.

The second theory is a more direct attack on the Florida Constitution. Article I of the U.S. Constitution gives primary authority over congressional elections to the "legislatures" of the states. (There is an equivalent clause for presidential electors in Article II.) In recent years, there has been a big push on the right for interpreting this provision as excluding anybody other than the state legislatures from having a role in elections (including redistricting). The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected this theory in the past, finding that it merely refers to the legislative power of the states (thereby permitting state voters to assign this task to commissions).

This theory is somewhat flawed, as state constitutions define what it takes for the legislature to validly act in a variety of ways. It is hard to make a coherent argument that the Elections Clause allows state constitutions to determine the process for passing redistricting plans—how bills are introduced, session lengths and how special sessions are called, whether the governor is part of the legislative process—but does not allow a state constitution to include substantive criteria that these laws must meet. But the concept refuses to die (as we saw in the 2020 elections where Trump supporters argued that state courts interpreting state laws intruded on the power of the legislatures to define the rules for choosing presidential elections) and there are several pending cases at the U.S. Supreme Court raising this type of claim to challenge court-drawn redistricting plans.

Any attempt by DeSantis would fail if the U.S. Supreme Court justices followed existing precedent. However, several justices have announced that they are not bound to follow any precedent that they believe is wrong, and that number appears to be growing. So whether DeSantis has a viable argument to the U.S. Supreme Court is an open question.

P.S. in Plano, TX, writes: (Z)'s analysis of the constitutionality of the Texas social media law is deeply flawed. It's settled law that the government can, in certain cases, require private parties to transmit speech they do not agree with. The most relevant precedent for this is the set of common carrier requirements imposed on phone companies. See, back in the 1960s, it was popular for white supremacist groups to spread their ideas over the phone. They'd connect a tape player to the phone jack. The tape would answer any incoming calls by describing the group's unusual views on race relations. The phone company was generally fine with people playing recorded messages, but not those recorded messages, and the phone company wasn't the government. Nevertheless, the phone company couldn't shut down these "dial-a-hate" lines because the phone company was considered a common carrier under federal statute and therefore not allowed to discriminate against customers based on viewpoint.

On the other hand, a newspaper—or a website like yours—almost certainly couldn't be forced by statute to publish letters to the editor it disagreed with because, unlike with the phone company merely passing on KKK rhetoric with all other calls, a newspaper is itself speaking when it chooses which letters to publish. The FCC's fairness doctrine did force television stations to give equal time to certain political candidates, and that was upheld, but that was upheld only due to the severely limited amount of television airwaves physically available. Unlike with a television station, a newspaper's or website's choice to publish or not is, by the First Amendment, entirely its own.

So, the question here then is whether Facebook is more similar to your website or more similar to AT&T. I think the answer is, pretty clearly, AT&T. Unlike you, Facebook doesn't have a staff of humans reading things and choosing what to publish. Rather, like a phone company, Facebook just transmits everything that's sent to it. Facebook does try to exercise some discretion, but that discretion is always either through automated filters or after the fact. Facebook is not choosing what to publish, just what to censor.

For that reason, I think any First Amendment challenge to the Texas law would likely be a loser. Facebook's best bet would be to try and argue that some federal law preempts the Texas law. I'm not aware of any federal statutes that do, so that argument is probably a loser, too. But, perhaps Facebook's lawyers could find a law I'm not aware of where that argument would work.

D.T. in Hillsboro, OR, writes: About that Texas law restricting social media companies from removing posts, you didn't mention that the Supreme Court Justice who is handling this appeal is that great defender of human rights, Samuel Alito. Is he likely to reinstate the stay? Dunno.

But if he does not reinstate the stay, the social media companies do have some options besides attempting to follow the law's onerous post removal process. One possibility is to arbitrarily reduce their total number of accounts to less than 50 million. That would really put a dent in their business. Much less damaging would be to stop doing business in Texas, which would mean closing the accounts of millions of people and businesses from there. That would bring up the question: Does Facebook need Texas more than Texas needs Facebook? I suspect that answer is "No."

V & Z respond: Actually, the Texas bill requires the companies to continue doing business in Texas. How that can be enforced, we do not know.

Should I Stay or Should I Go, Part I

M.Y. in Windcrest, TX (hopefully only until next month), writes: For remote workers like A.H. in Columbus desiring to relocate, I am in a similar situation (in my case, Texas is just too hot, not to mention too crazy politically). My wife and I decided to relocate to Ruidoso, New Mexico. We're in the process of buying a condo in the area.

It is in the Sacramento Mountains and has warm summers with cool mornings, and moderate winters with some snow. There are a lot of nearby outdoor activities. The scenery is beautiful.

The area is mostly conservative, but New Mexico is slightly blue. The local community is strong, from what I can tell.

By far the biggest disadvantage is the fire danger, which is a bit scary.

R.O. in Santa Fe, NM, writes: A.H. might consider New Mexico, especially Santa Fe.


  • New Mexico is a firmly blue state; Republican candidates usually trounced.
  • Besides drought (and resulting wildfire), little threat from natural disasters.
  • While southern and eastern New Mexico might as well be Texas, few people live there.
  • Locally, we are a top tourist destination, they spend money here.
  • Several good museums, many galleries (third-largest US art market), strong arts culture.
  • Ridiculously low property taxes.
  • Climate (except eastern and southern New Mexico) is milder than the Midwest, with some winter present.


  • Generally corrupt state and local governments, stemming from the old Patron tradition.
  • Housing is expensive in Santa Fe, coupled with big inequality between rich and poor.
  • Aridification (permanent drought) promises big trouble in the Southwest US, and soon.
  • Like Colorado, we are afflicted by Texas tourists, though they do spend money.
  • Oil and gas extraction taxes provide 1/3 of the state budget, so Big Oil calls the tune too much.
  • Education from K to college is underfunded, badly managed, often produces poor output.
  • Nearby Los Alamos has LANL, where increased "pit" production ups the chance of a nuclear accident.

P.D.N. in La Mesa, CA, writes: I used to live in an upscale suburb of Youngstown, OH, and actually liked and enjoyed it very much.

We had a lovely house that would cost 10 or 12 times as much in the San Diego area, where I live now. I think Granville, OH, home of Denison University, and Gambier, home of Kenyon College, are lovely towns, and many people like Columbus.

But if you no longer want to be "Stuck in Ohio," which is an actual bumper sticker, and were wanting to move away, I would move to Southern California. Yes, it's expensive, mostly because of housing prices, but perhaps you could afford a condo or an apartment, with the added benefit that you won't be putting 80% of your water on the landscaping. I've lived in six states and people generally are just happier and nicer in California.

I wouldn't live anywhere in the South. The climatologists at The New York Times have written that, with present trends, the South is going to become uninhabitable over the next 40 years because of climate change, with sky-high humidity and killing temperatures. It's expected that people throughout the lower Mississippi valley will be migrating north or to California.

North Carolina is okay, but it suffers hurricanes and the aftereffects of tropical storms. It gets rather cold in the western part of the state and it still gets pretty warm and sticky in the summer.

If I couldn't move to Southern California, I would try Albuquerque, NM. Nice climate, nice city, and a pretty good state with lots of beauty.

J.S. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: I'd like to reluctantly suggest Minneapolis, Minnesota (or maybe St. Paul or first-ring suburbs). I moved here from California for grad school over a decade ago, and shortly after, met my now-spouse. What keeps us here is partially that it's close to my spouse's family, and partially that the cost of living is about as cheap as you can get for a blue state and bigger city. If my salary tripled overnight (remote work), of course I'd move us all back to California! But as long as my salary is merely reasonable and student loans and daycare consume ⅔ of it (only a slight exaggeration), we'll stay here. Our mortgage is cheap, there are parks everywhere, we can live a car-lite lifestyle, and the ratio of BLM signs to Tr*mp signs is probably 50:1 in the bigger cities. While our state has some TRAP laws, we also have protections for abortion in our state constitution. The state is progressive enough, but I do feel like our slim urban-liberal majority is vulnerable, so attracting disaffected liberals from lost-cause red states would help insulate us a bit from the whims of rural conservatives and help us undo our racist policing institutions. Just please don't mention what our state bird is, nor the weather, or you'll scare A.H. away.

K.S. in Baltimore, MD, writes: I sympathize with A.H. because I was born, raised, and educated in Ohio. Finally, as an adult, I just had enough. For me it started with the hordes of mean-spirited voters that the Bush campaign harnessed/manipulated in 2004 by campaigning against gay marriage in Ohio. That spirit didn't change and seems to have devolved. The other thing was immigration—so many Ohioans fearing Mexicans or Muslims taking their jobs. In my view, as a nation of immigrants, we need all hands on deck regardless of background. Funny now to see Ohio advertising in Austin.

It's true there are some great people in Ohio, it's not all QAnon. Cincinnati, where I most recently lived, has a great new mayor and affordable housing. But drive north to Columbus on I-71 you'll see a barn with a Confederate flag on the roof (I thought Ohio was a union state, but whatever) and large signs reminding you that "HELL IS REAL" (so you better get right with Jesus).

I moved to Baltimore in 2018. It has its issues too, but it's been incredible to be surrounded by neighbors who support immigration, don't care whether gays get married, think our country is over-militarized, and see gun control as sensible. Census figures show Marylanders are more educated—and it shows. When I got here it was only a month before I discovered four neighbors, all French speakers. That never happened to me in Ohio. The weather here is mid-Atlantic, so though it's not North Carolina (which is a good option), it doesn't get the Chicago weather systems blowing through. Even the Republicans here are nicer—I would never vote for Gov. Larry Hogan, but he isn't Trumpy.

Another option, A.H., is Puerto Rico. It's a fascinating place and you're still in the USA. Closer to mainland than Hawaii, and same time zone as Ohio. Of course the summers are Austin-hot ("HELL IS REAL"—hahahaha) but you can hunker down with air conditioning during those hot months. Just get a generator for when the electricity cuts off. The Boricuas are kind and welcoming, and the mofongo is delicious.

V & Z respond: We got a big response to this question, so there will be more letters next week, particularly focusing on North Carolina.

Complaints Department

A.P. in Holland, MI, writes: You wrote: "The good people of Nebraska and West Virginia got in their pickup trucks and headed to the polls yesterday.." I'm a longtime reader, and I love the site. This, however, seems to me to cross the line separating amusing snark from mean-spirited condescension. I haven't spent much time in either state and I don't drive a pickup truck, so I suppose I should leave it to others to register their offense, if any offense was taken. Stil, I don't understand the point of such jibes. I for one would not enjoy the many wonders of this site any less without them.

V & Z respond: Often, we want to remind readers of something without going off on too many tangents. That wasn't a joke, it was meant to be a quick reminder that those two states have much in common, including being red and rural. They join red and rural Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and South Dakota as the six states where pickup truck ownership is more than double the national average.

P.M. in Innsbruck, Austria, writes: While I can deal with the humor/irony/sarcasm most of the time, I think it does not suit well your items about the cruel war against Ukraine. They are suffering from 'bloody Sundays' every day since 24th of February, including this most recent Sunday with the bombing of a school/shelter—no need to mention a music video.

Also, Ukrainians have to live their daily lives with the aggressors knowing where they are all the time. If (western) politicians think it's important to show their support, they should take the risk of plans being as open as possible, too. In the case of the prime ministers of Poland, Czechia, Slovenia, all their travels to Kyiv were known. (Of course, I'm not talking about being 100% uncautious).

So, in my eyes, Olexander Markushyn, mayor of Irpin, is not being not-too-bright, but simply confronting Canadian PM Justin Trudeau with a reality he and his citizens have to face 24/7.

Again, I'm more than okay with sarcasm when fitting, but with some of the more real (bloody real) topics, it's a tad too much of the snark.

V & Z respond: Also a situation where we weren't making a joke, but instead trying to squeeze in a quick reminder of a relevant fact. "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" is about The Troubles in Ireland, and the experience of U2's The Edge and Bono (both of them Irish). So, our intention was to remind people that the members of the band have a particular empathy for what the people of Ukraine are going through.

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: The Internet is for porn? The article you cited in that item is nine years old, and the infographic displayed therein was created by a then-new site providing such content. So, not exactly a neutral source, and that the site appears to have quickly gone under kind of undermines their thesis.

That's not to say that I doubt the thesis, though. Some years ago, a former employer of mine was involved with an initiative to supply inexpensive laptops to students in developing countries, and got some egg on their face when it was discovered what kind of content the students were using the laptops for. I guess Avenue Q had the right of it.

V & Z respond: People who spend too much time searching for the right citation for how much pornography is on the Internet often end up with... things they weren't looking for.

My Gift Is My Song, Part IV

N.S. in North Hollywood, CA, writes: In your original list of influential musicians, you wrote, "Do you think that Star Wars really works without Williams' score? We don't."

This theory was tested in a video by Aurulnauts. It shows the final scene of A New Hope—the medal ceremony—with Williams' music removed. While a viewer's initial reaction is probably somewhere along the lines of, "wow, that was weird," the experiment really does serve as strong evidence in favor of your point.

An interesting addition to this story is that Warner/Chappell Music, who owns the publishing for Williams' Star Wars music, filed a monetization claim with YouTube over this video, despite the removal of Williams' music from the scene.

V & Z respond: You know who should have filed suit? John Cage, composer of 4'33

D.H. in Boston, MA, writes: One area of music where I didn't see any nominations for an impactful artist was electronic music, so I looked into potential nominees. I initially thought of Robert Moog, who invented the first commercial synthesizer. However, he was more of an engineer. Instead, I'd like to nominate the artist who recorded Switched-On Bach, the first popular album made with the synthesizer. She's a trans woman named Wendy Carlos. She collaborated with Moog in developing the synthesizer, and later went on to write the score for two of the biggest Kubrick films (The Shining and A Clockwork Orange), as well as the original Tron movie. I feel that's a pretty big impact, especially given how most pop songs are part or all electronic these days.

J.W. in Seattle, WA, writes: Charles Ives: Not everyone's cup of tea, but his modernist approach, using all kinds of music from all kinds of styles, led to a new freedom for American composers.

Antonin Dvorak: The Czech composer of the popular "Symphony from the New World" was brought to America to help start a music school and to promote American music, and he recognized that the music of Black Americans (and, to a lesser extent, Native Americans) was a unique and powerful source for American composers. As I like to put it, there's no American music without Black music.

M.B. in Granby, MA, writes: Nat King Cole: Prior to his enormous commercial success, Cole was an influential jazz piano player from whom Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal found inspiration. He was the first Black American to host a television series. He was also an early and successful crossover artist, recording a number of country songs that went on to be hits. The influence of his singing can also be heard in Ray Charles' early work.

Run-DMC: Hip-hop didn't originate with them. That credit probably goes to the Sugar Hill Gang or Grandmaster Flash. But they really broke the color barrier of rap, recording "Walk This Way" with Aerosmith, and brought hip-hop to a wider audience. They were the first hip-hop act to have gold and platinum records. They were the first hip hop-act to have a music video on MTV. Stylistically, they established the DJ/MC format, though they did not invent it. Hip-hop is an international phenomenon, and Run-DMC was key to its development.

E.K. in Brignoles, France, writes: I'm in no way a musical expert, far from it, but as a French guy born in the early 80s, if you asked me "Who's the most influential American musician?", I wouldn't have the slightest hesitation to respond in a heartbeat: Michael Jackson. Of course.

Absolutely no other American musician, beside perhaps Elvis Presley, has had such a popular impact in our daily lives (even today, there's not a single day where I don't hear him on the radio). His concert in Nice during the Bad Tour was a gigantic event, and his death in June 2009 was treated like a national tragedy during several days.

Just to give you a comparison, when Bob Dylan ceases to breathe, it will of course be mentioned in the news, but we'll just move on in the next half-hour. Michael Jackson's sudden death was treated like that because of his gigantic impact for people born between the 60s and the 90s, like me.

C.C. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: I'd add Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter to the mix; their work greatly enhanced and evolved the American songbook, their band provided a model for countercultural living from the Nixon to Clinton eras, and whose music spawned both the jamband phenomenon and strongly informed the Americana genre.

M.B. in San Antonio, TX, writes: Speaking as a musicologist, I applaud your list of 15+ influential musicians. This is a fun exercise we often undertake in our profession (not unlike rating the presidents for historians), and one which I often undertake in the classroom. I don't disagree with any of your choices, but would add a few of my own:

Ludwig van Beethoven: Because, like the Beatles, Beethoven influenced everything. Your list is pretty pop and folk oriented, but let us not forget that there is a lot of serious classical music out there, and all of it, in one way or another, was influenced by Beethoven.

Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family, the founders of country music, who engendered an enormously influential movement in the U.S. and abroad.

And Bob Marley, not only for having elevated reggae to an international phenomenon, and for his political activism, but also for becoming the first youth culture hero to millions from what used to be called "The Third World," and showing them that you didn't have to be English or American to make great music.

Gallimaufry: Visual Edition

P.N. in Austin, TX, writes: I did a little digging, and turns out you were right:

A photoshopped image for a McCormick and
Oz frozen dinner, specifically white turkey tetrazzini

Their site goes on to explain they were inspired by another famous duo:

Another photoshopped image, replacing
Starsky and Hutch with McCormick and Oz

V & Z respond: Are you quite certain this wasn't the inspiration?

A third photoshopped image, 
replacing the title of the show 'Hardcastle and McCormick' with 'Oz and McCormick'

J.F. in Anaheim, CA, writes: Look! DeSantis is the Antichrist! I knew it!

Ron DeSantis is at 66.6% support in a GOP presidential candidates' poll, with Mike Pence in second place

R.B. in Gilbert, AZ, writes: A friend posted this to Facebook today. I immediately thought of you and

It is an editorial cartoon where a person
is presenting data that shows that 99.8% of people who responded to their survey enjoy responding to surveys. In other words, poll
and survey respondents might not be representative of the larger population.

J.F. in East Allen, PA, writes: I thought I would send you snaps of this incredibly awesome text message ad I received from Lt. Gov. John Fetterman's (D-PA) U.S. Senate campaign. It's from his dog:

As described, the text message appears
to come from Fetterman's dog, and asks people to support his 'hooman'

I'm also a first time poll worker, looking forward to my 16-hour day protecting democracy next week.

V & Z respond: Good luck!

S.L. in Monrovia, CA, writes: My wife is from mainland China and is learning all about how free speech works in the United States. But even this gubernatorial candidate's personal statement in the California Voter's Guide surprised her (the fact that we would print and mail this to every voter).

The candidate's entire statement is 'F all politicians'

If you wish to contact us, please use one of these addresses. For the first two, please include your initials and city.

To download a poster about the site to hang up, please click here.

Email a link to a friend or share:

---The Votemaster and Zenger
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