• The SCOTUS Arguments on Texas’ Abortion Ban Mostly Ignored the People Who Need Help Right Now

    Demonstrators rally outside the Supreme Court. Drew Angerer/Getty

    The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today challenging and defending Texas’ new abortion law through a pair of cases—Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson and United States v. Texas. Both were fairly technical in nature: The first took on the standing of the state’s six-week abortion ban, which also threatens anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion with a civil lawsuit that could literally be filed by any private citizen. The second addressed the Department of Justice’s ability to intervene when a state passes a law that infringes on its residents’ constitutional rights. As a result, listening to today’s arguments, you could easily forget what is actually at stake: The thousands of people who have already suffered the gargantuan consequences of the law over the two months it’s been in effect—a number that grows each and every day this law continues to stand.

    As I wrote ahead of the arguments:

    It’s easy for outsiders to lose sight of the issue at hand in all the legal hubbub, but the fact is that this is a law that is causing very real harm to pregnant Texans, who are now being forced to seek care out of state or on the internet. I have spent the past couple months reporting out of reproductive health clinics for a book project I’m working on, and I’ve seen Texans seeking care in Alabama, Kansas, and Tennessee. The one that sticks with me was a young woman who came to Huntsville, Ala. after traveling to Jackson, Miss., where she was told she was barely over that clinic’s gestational limit. She had been traveling for almost a week and was exhausted. She told me it was only the second time in her life that she had ever left Texas. 

    Zaena Zamora, executive director of the Frontera Fund, a nonprofit that works to help pregnant people in deep southern Texas to get abortion care, was unsurprised by this anecdote. “The day after SB 8 went into effect, we had a caller who had to travel 15 hours overnight [by car] to Wichita, Kansas—she was seven weeks pregnant,” Zamora says. She is seeing unprecedented demand for help with travel and logistics. She told me that the group spent more on travel support just in the month of October than it did in the entire year of 2020.  

    It’s not surprising that the court’s focus today was procedural rather than personal, but it is nonetheless frustrating to consider how far removed the people who are affected remain from the legal process. In all the procedural quibbling, the word “abortion” was only said a handful of times, and very little was said about the way the law creates multiple hurdles to abortion care, and, for some, impedes abortion access altogether and forces the pregnant person to carry to term—an outcome that has documented negative socioeconomic, mental, and physical consequences.

     Nearly as frustrating were the gendered dynamics of the courtroom. The sole female lawyer, Elizabeth Prelogar, who is the newly inducted US solicitor general, was repeatedly interrupted and patronized by male justices, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch in particular, while the men of the defense were given noticeably more room to make their case. To be sure, as columnist and legal expert Chris Geidner pointed out on Twitter, the defense approached the judges with arrogance that “reflects both their constituency and the current trajectory of the law,” he wrote. “They probably went too far, for today, but it was a sign of the direction in which they think they can go.” This is not a fight that will be won easily, or through a ruling that will resolve the constitutionality of the ban in a straightforward way. 

    It is unclear when the court will issue rulings in either case, but given the stakes, it’s a reasonable assumption that the decisions will come sooner rather than later. Even if they come soon, though, in just a few weeks the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on another abortion-centered case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which legal minds are predicting will beget a grim outcome for abortion rights. See you back here in a month, I guess. 

  • Pelosi Says Democrats Are “Pretty Much There” on Spending Bill Deal

    Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.,holds her weekly news conference on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Sunday that Democrats are close to reaching a deal on President Joe Biden’s social spending bill and will lock it down by the end of next week. Pelosi told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Democrats have “90 percent of the bill agreed to and written, we just have some of the last decisions to be made.”

    Tapper asked if there would be a deal by the time President Biden leaves for Europe Thursday or Friday, and Pelosi said, “I think we’re pretty much there now.”

    “You think you have a deal now?” Tapper asked. “We’re almost there,” Pelosi replied. 

    The bill started out as a $3.5 trillion package that included family leave, child care, Medicare expansion, climate action, and free community college. Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin have opposed the bill, which is now down to about $2 trillion. 

    Pelosi acknowledged that Democrats couldn’t agree on the bill as it was first proposed, so what’s on the table now is “less than what we had projected to begin with but it is still bigger than anything we have ever done in terms of addressing the needs of America’s working families.”  

  • Scientists in Africa Are Taking It Upon Themselves to Create a COVID Vaccine for the World’s Poor

    An employee at Afrigen works in a laboratory in Cape Town.RODGER BOSCH/AFP via Getty Images

    Scientists in Cape Town, South Africa, are “assembling and calibrating the equipment needed to reverse engineer a coronavirus vaccine that has yet to reach South Africa and most of the world’s poorest people,” the Associated Press reported Sunday. 

    Last weekend, the New York Times reported that Moderna was profiting by sending most of its vaccines to wealthy countries and that “some poorer countries are paying more and waiting longer for the company’s vaccine than the wealthy—if they have access at all”— something my colleague Edwin Rios called “shameful and dangerous.” 

    Earlier this year, Moderna said it would expand its vaccine distribution to poor countries. But as we get closer to the end of 2021, most poor countries still don’t have access to Moderna’s shot, all while the a Massachusetts-based company is expected to make around $20 billion in revenue this year. 

    The move to reverse engineer the Moderna vaccine has backing from the World Health Organization, which coordinates vaccine research, training and production in South Africa, the AP reported. It is a last-resort effort to get vaccines to poor countries in Africa. 

    “We are doing this for Africa at this moment, and that drives us,” said Emile Hendricks, a 22-year-old biotechnologist for Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, the company trying to reproduce the Moderna shot. “We can no longer rely on these big superpowers to come in and save us.”

    Some experts see reverse engineering—recreating vaccines from fragments of publicly available information—as one of the few remaining ways to redress the power imbalances of the pandemic. Only 0.7% of vaccines have gone to low-income countries so far, while nearly half have gone to wealthy countries, according to an analysis by the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

    Details around potential conflict with intellectual property are still “murky” in part because the WHO has never directly taken part in reverse engineering a novel vaccine. But WHO officials said the urgency of the pandemic calls for it. 

    The team in South Africa is hoping to have a version of the Moderna vaccine tested within a year, and in production for commercial distribution soon after. 

  • It’s Shameful Moderna Is Sending Almost All Its Vaccines to Wealthy Countries. It’s Also Dangerous.

    A health worker administers a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Johnson & Johnson in Dakar, Senegal. Leo Correa/AP

    Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that Moderna, the Massachusetts-based pharmaceutical company that is producing the most effective COVID vaccine, had shipped almost all its doses to rich countries—more than any other pharmaceutical company with a vaccine on the market. Citing data company Airfinity, the Times reported that:
    About one million doses of Moderna’s vaccine have gone to countries that the World Bank classifies as low income. By contrast, 8.4 million Pfizer doses and about 25 million single-shot Johnson & Johnson doses have gone to those countries.

    Of the handful of middle-income countries that have reached deals to buy Moderna’s shots, most have not yet received any doses, and at least three have had to pay more than the United States or European Union did, according to government officials in those countries.

    Moderna’s chief executive Stéphane Bancel told the Times that the situation was out of the company’s control, noting that the company sought help from governments to help pay to expand its production capacity. He added that “it is sad” that the vaccine didn’t reach poorer countries. Meanwhile, the Times reports Moderna “expects its vaccine to generate at least $20 billion in revenue this year, which would make it one of the most lucrative medical products in history.”

    At one point in May, Moderna offered the African Union doses for just $10 a pop—significantly less than it charged the US and European countries—but they wouldn’t be available until 2022. African Union officials told the Times that the proposal collapsed because of that significant delay. That same month, Moderna committed to sending 34 million doses in 2021—and 466 million in 2022—to Covax, an international program meant to share vaccines with lower income countries. But a Covax spokesperson told the Times the program hasn’t received any of Moderna’s doses from the company (though it has distributed Moderna doses donated by the United States). 

    The choices by Moderna, which disputed the Times‘ reporting that it sent just 900,000 doses to poor countries, speaks to the growing difficulties low-income countries face as they try to obtain life-saving vaccines. To some, like World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the pursuit of booster shots while poorer countries struggle to obtain doses reeks of “vaccine injustice.” And the organization’s Africa director, Matshidiso Moeti, slammed countries like the United States that distributed booster shots before they distributed more doses to poorer countries, calling it “a mockery of vaccine equity.”

    Even as six billion doses of various vaccines have been distributed across the world, 56 countries, most of which were in Africa and the Middle East, failed to vaccinate at least 10 percent of their population, falling short of the WHO’s target by the end of September.

    As my colleague Lil Kaslish reported in August, the continued unequal access to vaccines could prolong the pandemic, putting, well, everyone at risk:   

    Administering boosters in the US while much of the world cannot access vaccines isn’t just ethically dubious. Experts say this could drag the pandemic on even longer, especially while Delta and other variants continue to travel. As long as vaccination rates are low in other parts of the world, more robust variants will continue to crop up. 

    While all eyes are on Moderna currently, don’t forget it’s not alone in its behavior. This summer, the Times also revealed that Johnson & Johnson was producing its vaccines in South Africa, only to export them to wealthier countries. 

  • We Don’t Talk Nearly Enough About How Kids of Color Are Disproportionately Suffering During the Pandemic

    Socially distanced kindergarten students wait for their parents to pick them up on the first day of in-person learning at Maurice Sendak Elementary School in Los Angeles. Jae C. Hong/AP

    As kids across the country settle into the rhythm of outbreaks and school closures during the second pandemic school year, a staggering number of children are having to do so without their parents or caregivers. A study in the academic journal Pediatrics, published Friday, found that more than 140,000 children lost caregivers or parents to COVID-19 between April 2020 and June 2021. CDC epidemiologist Susan Hillis, a lead author of the study, told NPR that that number has risen to roughly 175,000 today. 

    Making this more heartbreaking is the uneven way the affliction has been felt by Black, Latino, and indigenous children. Researchers in the Pediatrics study found that American Indian/Alaska Native children were 4.5 times more likely to lose a parent or caregiver to COVID compared to white children. Black children were nearly two and a half times more likely, while Hispanic children were twice as likely. “The highest burden of COVID-19-associated death of parents and caregivers occurred in Southern border states for Hispanic children, Southeastern states for Black children, and in states with tribal areas for American Indian/Alaska Native populations,” the authors wrote.

    This reflects the cruel national reality that the pandemic has discriminated in whom it affects, resulting in disproportionate job loss, infections, and even death for people of color. This racist reality isn’t limited to adults. Rather, it is interconnected with how children suffer. Among the 4.9 million children under 19 years old who have contracted COVID over the last year and a half, children of color have been impacted the most. In mid-September, an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation noted that Black and Latino children were not only more likely to contract COVID but also more likely to be hospitalized for it. Even though children rarely die of COVID, Black children alone were roughly 2.7 times more likely to die of COVID than white children. What’s more, Black and Latino children together account for more than 70 percent of those who contract MIS-C, a rare inflammatory disease associated with COVID that has infected just over 5,000 kids nationwide. And in addition to experiencing more illness, studies by McKinsey & Company and the NWEA, a nonprofit that conducts academic assessments, have found deep learning losses for children of color during the pandemic.

    But why do disparities exist among children? The social and economic barriers their parents face, they also face. And those barriers could not only determine whether children get infected and become hospitalized by the virus, they can also determine whether they have adequate access to the vaccines that would help protect them from future suffering. Children of color are also disproportionately afflicted with underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk for hospitalization once they contract COVID. Beyond that, CDC researchers have noted that Black and Latino adults are “disproportionately represented among essential workers unable to work from their homes,” raising the risk of exposure for children and other family members to contract the virus. “In addition, disparities in social determinants of health, such as crowded living conditions, food and housing insecurity, wealth and educational gaps, and racial discrimination, likely contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 and MIS-C incidence and outcomes,” government researchers wrote in a study last September.

    All of this speaks to the systemically racist underpinnings of American society. In thinking about this new study, I’m reminded of something Michigan epidemiologist Debra Furr-Holden told me when I examined how her hometown of Flint managed to close disparities during the pandemic: 

    Getting “upstream” of the disease itself, to the political-economic factors that enable its spread and amplify its effects, was hard work. Furr-Holden was under no illusions about why. “We’ve never been honest as a nation about how truly inequitable our society is—how the systems and structures are set up by their very design for some people to prosper and have better access and more opportunity than others. And there’s a cost to it,” Furr-Holden told me. “So many Black and brown people, so many rural communities, getting hit so hard by this pandemic has cost our nation millions if not billions of dollars. Inequity has cost us tremendously. All those Black and brown people that then were fighting for beds and ventilators and hospitals were the reason some of these nice middle-class and wealthy white folks weren’t able to get on those ventilators. Literally, inequity costs us all.”  

    And it can’t be repeated enough: It costs children of color, and their futures, even more. 

  • A Top Facebook Exec Refuses to Say Whether the Company Amplified Insurrectionists Ahead of January 6

    In this April 14, 2020 file photo, the thumbs up Like logo is shown on a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Jeff Chiu/AP

    After a long, very bad week for Facebook, the company sent one of its top executives, Nick Clegg, to make the rounds on the Sunday shows. Though, he didn’t make things better for the company. Notably, he couldn’t—or wouldn’t—even answer a simple but crucial question: Did Facebook amplify violent rhetoric ahead of the January 6th insurrection?

    Former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen recently revealed how the social media giant knew its algorithms could spread hate and misinformation, warning that Facebook chose “profit over safety.” She claimed that the company’s decision to dissolve its civic integrity unit and roll back protections prematurely contributed to the spread of hate and misinformation that undergirded the insurrection at the US Capitol.

    But when CNN’s Dana Bash asked Clegg, who is Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, about Haugen’s claims, specifically about how the company’s algorithms boosted content ahead of January 6, he gave a roundabout non-answer. He said that if the company removed Facebook’s current algorithm, which amplifies posts with more “meaningful social interactions,” that would perpetuate “more, not less, hate speech, more, not less, misinformation.”

    Bash then put him on the spot: “My question is specifically about January 6. Did the algorithms that are in place amplify pro-insurrection voices ahead of January 6th? Yes or no.” “I can’t give you a yes or no answer,” he finally conceded, before pivoting to argue that the responsibility for the insurrection was on “the people who broke the law.” 

    Haugen, who has already testified before Congress, is set to go this Thursday before the House select committee investigating the Capitol insurrection. She has filed numerous complaints to the Securities and Exchanges Commission alleging that Facebook “misled investors and the public about its role perpetuating misinformation and violent extremism relating to the 2020 election and January 6th insurrection.” She has also called for more oversight of the social media giant, though, as my colleague Ali Breland recently argued, even her proposals fall short on the sort of structural overhaul Facebook needs.

  • What a Post-Roe World Looks Like. (Hint: For Some, It’s Already Here.)

    Alex Wong/Getty

    A week ago, thousands of people turned out for Women’s March rallies across the country, galvanized by Texas’ recent six-week abortion ban and the very real fear that Roe v. Wade could soon be overturned, as challenges to the Texas law and another law in Mississippi wend their way to the Supreme Court and its 6-3 conservative majority. 

    But while the battle over the Texas law rages, and people rightfully worry about a world in which abortion access is no longer protected, women in Mississippi are already living it.

    In 2019, reporter Becca Andrews went to Mississippi to explore where Roe doesn’t reach, meeting a young woman on a 221-mile journey to get an abortion beyond state lines. The Mother Jones Podcast team thought revisiting Becca’s piece provided compelling context for just how high the stakes are for people needing abortions in Texas right now, and more broadly, for the consequential decision in the hands of the Supreme Court.

    Listen to Becca’s 2019 story—currently being expanded into a book—on this week’s episode of the Mother Jones Podcast, produced in partnership with Audm:

  • Progressives Just Wrote a Letter to Biden Insisting He Make a Decision on Student Debt

    Tom Williams/AP

    As the end of pandemic relief for student debt looms, progressives are pushing the White House for clarity on its plans for cancelling some student debt.

    The administration has delayed movement on student debt cancellation while waiting for the Education Department’s review of presidential authority to cancel debt, which has dragged on for more than six months. With the pandemic pause on student debt payments set to expire in January, a group of progressive House members, led by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), made clear on Friday that they’re tired of waiting—and are demanding that the administration release the Education Department’s findings in the next two weeks.

    “The resumption of payments on federally-held student loans weighs heavily on tens of millions of borrowers,” wrote 15 House members in a letter they will send to the White House on Friday, as reported by Politico. “The time has come to release the memo and deliver on your promise to cancel student debt. Doing so will benefit every citizen and support our communities. With a single signature, you can improve the economy, create new jobs, transform the lives of 45 million Americans, narrow the racial wealth gap, and maintain the trust of voters.”

    In April, White House chief of staff Ron Klain told Axios that the administration would make a decision about the president’s authority to cancel debt within “the next few weeks”—they were simply waiting to receive the relevant memo. But there has been no public word about the contents of this memo, or about the decisions that would stem from it. In their letter, progressives argue that the executive branch is already using its legal authority to cancel debt to provide pandemic relief from student loans, which includes a pause on interest accrual.

    “It would be an exercise in legal gymnastics to suggest that the President had the authority to cancel the interest on student debt on his first day, but lacks the authority to cancel the principal on student debt moving forward,” they write.

    This move is the latest in an ongoing disagreement between progressives and Biden about student debt cancellation. On the campaign trail, Biden promised to cancel up to $10,000 in student debt for most individuals, but a group of congressional Democrats, led by long-time student debt foe Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have been pushing the administration to cancel $50,000 instead.

  • Alex Jones Loses Two More Sandy Hook Cases

    Elijah Nouvelage/Getty

    Alex Jones, the founder of Infowars, lost two defamation suits filed by family members of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting after a judge ruled he failed to provide information required by the court.

    Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of Travis county Texas’s civil district court criticized Jones for making “persistent discovery abuses” by failing to turn over documents in the case, making a default ruling against him, nothing that  “an escalating series of judicial admonishments, monetary penalties, and non-dispositive sanctions have all been ineffective at deterring the abuse.”

    A lawyer for the parents of the murdered children, Mark D. Bankston, told the New York Times that the next step would be a jury trial on March 28 to determine damages that Jones must pay.

    The latest rulings were handed down on Monday, but only became public on Thursday, and were first reported by the Huffington Post. The cases are just two of many against the Infowars proprietor that have been launched by parents of Sandy Hook victims who were frustrated by Jones’s willingness to push fantastic conspiracies about the shooting being a hoax. Jones has since recanted such claims, but before he did, the conspiracy prompted aggressive harassment campaigns against the parents.

    Norm Pattis, a lawyer for Jones and Infowars, wrote in a statement that the ruling was “stunning” and a “blatant abuse of discretion.”

    “It takes no account of the tens of thousands of documents produced by the defendants, the hours spent sitting for depositions and the various sworn statements filed in these cases,” Pattis argued. 

  • The California Recall Effort Has Officially Failed

    Bloomberg/Getty

    California voters have chosen to retain Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in the state’s high-profile gubernatorial recall election, with early results giving the first-term governor a landslide 70–30 mandate to remain in office. That means the Democratic-leaning state, which last recalled a governor in 2003, will retain its mask and vaccine mandates, its minimum wage, and its wide access to abortion—all of which leading Republican candidate Larry Elder had promised to abolish on taking office.

    Elder, a Republican talk radio host born in South Los Angeles, won a substantial lead among replacement candidates, drawing four times as many votes as his closest rival. He was the leading opposition candidate for much of this year—despite (or thanks in part to) a long track record of racist and sexist commentary, as I previously reported:

    Women know less than men about political issues, economics and current events,” Elder wrote in a 2000 op-ed; in an April 2021 editorial, he argued that “George Floyd might be alive had former President Barack Obama not, for eight years, consistently played the anti-cop race card.” Elder’s former fiance recently accused him of brandishing a gun at her while high and demanding that she get a “Larry’s Girl” tattoo.

    Though the recall petition, launched by retired police sergeant Orrin Heatlie in February 2020, started life as “the fringe project of anti-maskers, QAnon believers, and the state’s ever-shrinking hard right”—as I noted earlier this month—it garnered wide appeal as the pandemic raged on, eclipsing the threshold of 1.5 million signatures to trigger a recall for statewide office. It also generated millions in political contributions, attracted a clown car of 46 gubernatorial hopefuls, and cost the state close to $300 million to administer.

    At the polls in Los Angeles on Tuesday evening, voters expressed widespread frustration—either that the recall was happening at all, or toward Newsom himself. “It’s a terrifying thought for my whole family that a Republican could take power in this way,” says Punam Bean, 39, in Glassell Park. At a South LA park, Christina L., a 31-year-old hospital pharmacist, told me the recall is “a waste of money” and believes that only once the pandemic was reaching a turning point for the better—when Newsom mandated vaccines in hospitals—”that’s when the Republicans decided the recall should happen.”

    Eddie, a 33-year-old construction worker who asked to be identified by only his first name, disagrees. Though he voted for Newsom in 2018, he says he was fed up with the governor after the French Laundry incident and the closures of businesses which cost him his livelihood. “I’m sick of this elitist group of people. I don’t want Nancy Pelosi’s nephew or a manufactured candidate,” Eddie told me at the Glassell Park Recreation Center. He says he wants to see “a person of color as governor,” and planned to vote for Elder. 

    The recall also became a focal point, briefly, of national politics. After earlier polling showed Newsom in peril, both President Biden and Vice President Harris traveled to California to show support for the embattled governor. The election of a Republican governor could have thrown control of the US Senate into uncertainty, as Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s expected retirement would give the state’s governor the opportunity to appoint a replacement.

    Even before results came in, Republican recall supporters pushed a narrative that echoed 2020: The election was stolen. Donald Trump released a statement calling the recall “totally rigged”; on social media, false claims spread like wildfire. Recall supporters on Facebook fretted that the holes in their ballot envelopes would be used to sniff out their votes (the envelopes are designed to assist visually impaired voters in finding the signature line). Others offered stories about being given Sharpie markers at polling stations, apparent evidence that the election was a sham.

    The fraud claims have become a rallying point for conservatives across the country, more than half of whom still believe the 2020 election was rigged against President Trump. Elder’s campaign helped lay the groundwork even before results were in: On Monday, his website launched an online form for users to submit affidavits of evidence of voter fraud. “We implore you…to join us in this fight,” the site reads—its URL is StopCAFraud.com—“by signing our petition demanding a special session of the California legislature to investigate and ameliorate the twisted results of this 2021 Recall Election of Governor Gavin Newsom.” The same day, Elder told NBC’s Jacob Soboroff that he wouldn’t commit to accepting the election results. Elder previously expressed interest in mounting a legal challenge to unfavorable results.

    For now, California’s mask and vaccine mandates are secure. But the state in general, and the recall in particular, offer a glimpse at what New America fellow Lee Drutman says is “becoming the standard GOP playbook”: Don’t expect to win the popular vote? Discredit it.

  • California’s Recall Election Rules Are Dumb. BoJack Horseman Offers a Better Option.

    Mother Jones illustration

    When California announced in February that enough signatures were gathered to recall Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, I decided to look up the rules and regulations for such an election. The convoluted nature of the process (even though this is about recalling him, his name does not appear on the ballot?) intrigued me, and I was reminded immediately of BoJack Horseman, a cartoon for adults on Netflix. In case you might have missed the first three seasons, let me bring you up to speed. The anti-hero is an anthropomorphized depressed horse who stars in Horsin’ Around, an amalgamation of the family sitcoms that dominated the 1990s.

    But season 4 has a special storyline. Mr. Peanutbutter—a loveable yellow labrador—has launched a recall effort against the state’s governor Woodcharles “Woodchuck” Coodchuck-Berkowitz, who is a well-educated groundhog. When Mr. Peanutbutter fails to reach the signature threshold, his human ex-wife, and campaign manager, Katrina, lobbies for a constitutional amendment that will allow Mr. Peanutbutter to challenge Gov. Coodchuck-Berkowitz to a ski race instead. (Could the show’s creators possibly be lampooning California’s recall process?) 

    I may not be from California, but even from a distance of 3,000 miles, the way the state allows recall elections is baffling. For starters, the petition to recall a statewide elected official, like, say, Gov. Newsom, only has to have 12 percent of the total number of votes most recently cast for the office. For Newsom’s recall, petitioners needed approximately 1.49 million signatures. They got 1.71 million. Because there’s no limit to how many people can run, there are more than 40 names on the ballot, including such bold-face names as right-wing radio host Larry Elder, former Olympian and former Kardashian Caitlyn Jenner, and Kevin Praffath landlord-turned-YouTube influencer.

    Voters must respond to two questions on the ballot. Should Gov. Newsom be recalled, and if you voted yes, who should replace him?  In the very crowded field, Elder has approximately 25 percent support but is leading the pack. But while Mr. Peanutbutter was just a friendly buffoon who just wanted to be adored, Elder believes in abolishing the minimum wage, has been accused of sexual harassment, and is skeptical of climate change. Given all this, somehow the recall election in a show where animals and humans can fall in love and get married doesn’t seem like it requires such an imaginative leap. 

    Does Elder actually have a chance of winning? Though California is a solidly blue state in federal elections, the ridiculously complicated recall process means that should enough voters vote to recall Newsom, and enough voters choose Elder as his replacement, the idiosyncratic talk show host could actually become governor. It’s happened before. In 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger won a recall election against then-governor Gray Davis with only 48.6 percent of the vote

    Let’s suppose Elder assumes the governorship. His first action likely would be to rescind COVID mandates and restrictions. Should 88-year old Sen. Dianne Feinstein somehow succumb to age or infirmity when he is in office, he would pick this Democratic senator’s replacement, tipping the balance of the US Senate, as my colleague Lil Kalish details here. Democrats in California have a supermajority in the legislature, so it’d be hard for Elder to pass much, if any, legislation.

    Let’s return to the more rational BoJack universe, where Coodchuck-Berkowitz finally wins the election and all is well. But not before a series of calamities ensue including someone else accidentally winning the ski race, Mr. Peanutbutter causing an earthquake by fracking underneath his own house, celebrity cannibalism, and a scandal over a candidate’s hatred of avocado. In real life, polls are pointing towards a Newsom victory—but even then, there will be no happy ending, as there was in BoJack

    Elder has already begun making noise about voter fraud, a variation on the theme of the Republican’s cherished Big Lie that resulted in the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. The Republican Party will continue to undermine democracy by framing his loss as more evidence that the only way a right-wing bullshitter could lose an election is if it’s stolen from him. No matter the outcome, democracy will grow even more fragile. Wouldn’t an interspecies ski race just make much more sense? 

    Image credits: Netflix; K.C. Alfred/San Diego Union-Tribune/Zuma; Brian Cahn/Zuma

  • 59 Percent of Republicans Say It’s Important to Believe Trump Won the Election

    Trump

    Rebecca Blackwell/AP

    Donald Trump definitely did not win the 2020 presidential election, but nearly six in 10 GOP voters polled by CNN say it’s at least somewhat important for Republicans to continue believing that he did. The poll, conducted over the past month, found that 36 percent Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said insisting Trump won is a “very important” part of being a Republican. Another 23 percent said it’s “somewhat important.”

    There are a couple different ways to look at this. As CNN notes, those numbers are actually significantly lower than the percentage of Republicans who pointed to “more traditional partisan markers” as core parts of their political identity. I guess that’s what passes for good news about the Party of Lincoln these days:

    Most Republicans also consider support for Trump — and his false claim to have won the 2020 election — to be an important part of their own partisan identity alongside support for conservative principles. About six in 10 say that supporting Trump, and that believing that he won in 2020, are at least a somewhat important part of what being a Republican means to them. More, though, point to more traditional partisan markers, with 69% saying it’s at least somewhat important to oppose Democratic policies, 81% to support the Republicans in Congress, 85% to hold conservative values and positions and 86% to believe the federal government should have less power.

    Still, 59 percent of Republicans say believing Trump somehow won the election is an important part of being a Republican. Seems pretty bad!

  • The Weather Feels the Same

    The World Trade Center on a clear day in 1990.File photo/AP

    Twenty years ago, the New York City metropolitan area awoke to shockingly blue skies. It looked set to be one of the loveliest days of the season, if not the year. Then two planes hit the World Trade Center’s twin towers. The temperature was in the mid-’60s and climbing.

    There’s an aviation term for the conditions fighter pilots scrambled into, and passengers on the four hijacked jets flew through, on September 11, 2001: severe clear. It’s in every photo you see of the day, backdropping smoke, swirling papers, and falling bodies. If you were most anywhere in the northeast that day your memories carry that sky, and that early fall-like feel.

    In New York now, at about the same time, it is about the same temperature, and the skies are about as clear.

    Weather repeats itself. May we work to make sure history does not.

  • Facebook’s AI Seems to Have a Racism Problem

    Richard Drew/AP

    Have you ever fallen down a YouTube rabbit hole (of course, you have) and watched the latest Lil Nas X video, then took a look at the most recent instance of police abuse of Black folks caught on camera? And then did you say to yourself, “Seems like it’s time to watch primates hanging out with Jane Goodall”?

    Of course, you didn’t! Those associations are blatantly wrong and offensive (not to mention ridiculous). But for more than a year, after Facebook users watched a video showing encounters between Black men and white civilians and cops, they received an automated prompt asking if they wanted to “keep seeing videos about Primates.” On Friday, the social media giant apologized for the decisions its AI apparently made.

    Here’s what the New York Times reported:

    The video, dated June 27, 2020, was by The Daily Mail and featured clips of Black men in altercations with white civilians and police officers. It had no connection to monkeys or primates.

    Darci Groves, a former content design manager at Facebook, said a friend had recently sent her a screenshot of the prompt. She then posted it to a product feedback forum for current and former Facebook employees. In response, a product manager for Facebook Watch, the company’s video service, called it “unacceptable” and said the company was “looking into the root cause.”

    Ms. Groves said the prompt was “horrifying and egregious.”

    Last Thursday, Groves posted the screenshot on Twitter and called on the company to “escalate” fixing the “egregious” error. Facebook apologized for what they described as an “unacceptable error” and said they were investigating how to “prevent this from happening again.” But the company’s artificial intelligence fail and its belated act of contrition fits into a familiar pattern among tech companies when they have to deal with embarrassing flaws in their technologies. First, they say they will fix them and then they apologize, without fully reckoning with the inherent biases, racism, and sexism infused in the algorithms in the first place. 

    Tech companies like Google and Amazon have historically had problems with the insidious ways biases have seeped into the algorithms. As the Times pointed out, Google Photo came under scrutiny in 2015 and apologized after photos of Black people were labeled as “gorillas.” As an attempt to address the outrageous problem, Google simply removed labels for gorillas, chimps, and monkeys. Before last year’s nationwide protests over George Floyd’s killing, Amazon profited off its facial recognition software and sold it to police departments—even as research has shown not only that facial recognition programs falsely identify people of color compared to white people, but that its use by police could lead to unjust arrests that disproportionately affect Black people. Amazon halted the distribution of facial recognition software to police departments last June. Computer engineers have wrestled with the historical use of coding terms that evoke racism such as “master” and “slave,” while some have pushed for more neutral language.  

    That’s all to say, the tech world, which has its own diversity problems in the workplace, is also riddled with biases inside the algorithms its engineers create. This is not the first time Facebook has struggled with combatting these biases on its platforms: The New York Times reported that the social media company and Instagram failed to curtail racist abuse faced by three Black English soccer players after they missed penalty kicks in a shootout in the Euro 2020 finals. Bukayo Sayo, one of the soccer players involved, blasted the social media companies’ tepid responses to combating racist abuse.

    “To the social media platforms @instagram @twitter @facebook I don’t want any child or adult to have to receive the hateful and hurtful messages that me Marcus and Jadon have received this week,” Saka wrote in an Instagram post. “I knew instantly the kind of hate that I was about to receive and that is a sad reality that your powerful platforms are not doing enough to stop these messages.”

  • A Texas Judge Temporarily Halted Abortion Ban Enforcement. That Won’t Stop the GOP in Other States.

    Abortion rights supporters gather to protest Texas SB 8 in front of Edinburg City Hall on Sept. 1 in Edinburg, Texas. Joel Martinez/The Monitor/AP

    Just two days after a conservative Supreme Court majority allowed the most restrictive law banning abortions to go into effect, a Texas county judge on Friday temporarily halted an anti-abortion group’s attempt to sue workers and providers at Planned Parenthood clinics for providing services. Even so, the brief reprieve for pro-abortion supporters will not stop the onslaught of copycat laws Republican state lawmakers are considering in the coming year. 

    The Washington Post reported on Friday that GOP officials “in at least seven states, including Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, and South Dakota, have suggested they may review or amend their states’ laws to mirror Texas’s legislation.” The blatant efforts from state Republicans to replicate the Texas law—which prohibits all abortions after six weeks including in cases of rape or incest—would effectively open up a terrifying landscape for women seeking abortions in a nation where they still hold the constitutional right to have one under Roe v. Wade. That restrictive reality isn’t entirely new in some states. As my colleague Becca Andrews recently noted, a post-Roe world has already put a strain on many southern providers.

    “This is uncharted ground,” says Robin Marty, director of operations at the West Alabama Women’s Center and author of the Handbook for a Post-Roe America. Now, the clinic is preparing for an influx of patients from eastern Texas and from Louisiana, where clinics have experienced interrupted services due to the hurricane. Marty tells Mother Jones that at least two of the three clinics in Louisiana are not open this week. “That’s how it is right now. We in Alabama are getting Louisiana patients calling currently and that’s before we have to deal with the overflow of Texas patients.”

    But clinics in nearby states aren’t just shoring up to withstand more strain on an already strained system at the intake level. They are also wrestling with a reality in which physicians who provide abortion care are targeted and criminalized for their work.

    Last week, the Supreme Court refused to rule on the constitutionality of the Texas law, which allows private citizens to sue providers who offer abortion services after six weeks of pregnancy and others who may assist a pregnant woman in receiving such services. In a dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the Court’s decision “stunning” and the Texas restrictions a “flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny.” The temporary restraining order against Texas Right to Life lasts until September 17. But the decision sets up a prolonged legal battle that will reveal how enforcement of the Texas law will work.

    “The Court finds that SB 8 creates a probable, irreparable, and imminent injury in the interim for which plaintiffs and their physicians, staff, and patients throughout Texas have no adequate remedy at law if plaintiffs, their physicians, and staff are subjected to private enforcement lawsuits against them under SB 8,” Travis County Judge Maya Guerra Gamble wrote on Friday.

    Meanwhile, on the Sunday talk shows, congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle set up starkly different interpretations on how the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision will play out. First up, US Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat from Texas, warned that the law could result in “awful consequences.” Neighbors are now incentivized to be “bounty hunters” while the restrictions make it “deadlier, more dangerous” for women seeking abortions.  

    On ABC’s This Week, Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, where the Supreme Court just last year struck down a restrictive state abortion law, dismissed what he called the Democrats’ fixation on the Texas law as a distraction to “gin up their base.” 

    “If it is as terrible as people say it is, it’ll be destroyed by the Supreme Court,” Cassidy said, “but to act like this is an assault upon Roe v. Wade is again something that the President’s doing I think to distract from his other issues.” For instance, he says, Biden’s approach to Afghanistan. 

    On CNN’s State of the Union, Sen. Amy Klobuchar blasted the Supreme Court for its decision on the Texas law, noting the justices “basically greenlighted a law that is blatantly against Roe v. Wade.” She saw the moment as yet another reason to abolish the filibuster, this time to support a House bill that would make the constitutional right to have an abortion the law of the land. 

  • Pete and Chasten Buttigieg Just Posted a Photo of Their New Family

    Matt Rourke/AP

    Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten, announced on Saturday morning that they are new parents. “We are delighted to welcome Penelope Rose and Joseph August Buttigieg to our family,” the former presidential candidate posted to his Twitter and Instagram feeds, alongside a black-and white-photo of the couple holding the newborns.

    The couple announced they were on the path to becoming parents last month on Twitter. Chasten Buttigieg, 32, told the Washington Post for a July profile that they had been struggling with the process of adoption for about a year, and were close enough to becoming parents on a few occasions to start picking out names and start shopping for baby gear. “It’s a really weird cycle of anger and frustration and hope,” Chasten told the paper. “You think it’s finally happening and you get so excited, and then it’s gone.”

    Now, it seems, the couple’s dream has come true.

  • SCOTUS Will Officially Allow the Texas Abortion Ban to Go Into Effect

    While we waited all day and foolishly hoped the Supreme Court would put Texas’ blatantly unconstitutional six-week abortion ban on hold, less than 24 hours after it went into effect, the highest court in the land said, nah, let’s let it go ahead. 

    Read more about the extreme law from my colleagues here and here

  • Pentagon Orders Airlines to Help Evacuate People Fleeing Afghanistan

    Families evacuated from Kabul ride a bus after arriving at Washington Dulles International Airport on August 21.Jose Luis Magana/AP

    The US government is ordering six commercial airlines to help evacuate tens of thousands of Americans and Afghan allies from Afghanistan, the Pentagon announced Sunday, about a week after the Taliban seized control over much of the country ahead of the US military’s planned withdrawal on August 31.

    Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin enlisted the airlines through the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, a nearly 70-year-old program that has only been activated twice—during the 1990-91 Gulf War and during the 2002-03 Iraq invasion. “We’re going to try our very best to get everybody, every American citizen who wants to get out, out,” Austin said in an ABC interview on Sunday, emphasizing that the same efforts were being made for America’s Afghan allies, who face extreme threat from the Taliban.

    Eighteen civilian aircraft from American Airlines, Atlas, Delta, Omni, Hawaiian, and United will assist dozens of US military cargo transports involved in the emergency evacuations, according to a statement from the Pentagon. Instead of flying into or out of the Kabul airport, where the security situation is deteriorating, commercial airline pilots and crews will help bring thousands of people to Europe or the United States from US bases in Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

    Over the past week, after Afghanistan’s Western-trained security forces collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, chaos and desperation have gripped the airport in the capital city of Kabul. Last Monday, thousands of people rushing the tarmac at Hamid Karzai International Airport in a last-ditch attempt to get out of the country. Videos posted to social media showed Afghans clinging to a departing US Air Force plane, while others fell from the wheel well of a jet as it took off from the tarmac.

    As of Saturday, the US military had evacuated about 17,000 people from Kabul, including 2,500 Americans, according to a Pentagon statement. That’s just a fraction of the 10,000 to 15,000 Americans that the Biden administration estimated were still in Afghanistan about a week ago.

    On Sunday, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan announced that the US military and its allies had evacuated an additional 7,900 people over the prior day, as violence escalates outside the Kabul airport and the US military evaluates new threats from the Islamic State.

    President Joe Biden, facing widespread criticism for America’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan after decades of war there, has said the US government hopes to evacuate at least 50,000 Afghan allies and their families from the country. “I cannot promise what the final outcome will be, or that it will be without risk of loss, but as commander in chief I can assure you I will mobilize every resource necessary,” he said during a speech on Friday.

  • Tropical Storm Henri Bears Down on New England, Me

    John Minchillo/AP

    I’m writing to you from southern New England, where Tropical Storm Henri is due to make landfall in the next several hours. We’ve prepared the best we can: cleared the storm drains of debris, charged all our devices, picked up some emergency supplies, the whole bit.

    Forecasts here are calling for an intense, soaking rain—6 or more inches in some areas—and winds that could reach as high as 75 mph. That’s bad enough, but when you add on top of that the 4 to 5 inches of rain that flooded basements and stranded motorists on Thursday, you can see why folks here are primed for swampy conditions, downed trees, and blackouts. Especially blackouts.

    As it turns out, the region’s biggest power utility, Eversource, hasn’t inspired much confidence over the years, despite prep porn tweets like this one:

    On Saturday, the company said that 50 to 69 percent of its 1.25 million customers in Connecticut could lose power. Not only that, but the effort to get things back online could take between 8 and 21 days.

    Losing power sucks. Losing power ahead of a super-humid heat wave sucks extra hard. Losing power for up to three weeks because your famously unprepared utility company is potentially unprepared again? Stares out window at coming storm, resists blowing the shit out of emergency whistle.

    That’s right: Eversource doesn’t exactly have a great track record. In fact, earlier this year, state regulators proposed the maximum fine possible—$30 million—for the company’s failure to prepare for and respond to Tropical Storm Isaias in August 2020. (Eversource and another fined utility, United Illuminating, have appealed the decision.)

    So…I guess we’ll see how it goes? Here’s hoping I don’t end up looking like this dude come tomorrow.

  • Donald Trump Encouraged People at His Rally to Get Vaccinated. They Booed Him.

    Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency/Getty

    Donald Trump spoke at a rally in Cullman, Alabama, on Saturday night, returning to his safest of safe spaces to deliver the kind of Big Lie–infused macho fantasy babble that typically sends his audiences swooning and guffawing into the night.

    But! The rally didn’t go exactly as scripted.

    “You know what? I believe totally in your freedoms, I do. You gotta do what you have to do.” Raucous applause. “But I recommend taking the vaccine! I did it. It’s good. Take the vaccines.” Confusion, disagreement, grumbling, then booing. “No, that’s okay, that’s all right, you’ve got your freedoms. But I happened to take the vaccine.”

    “If it doesn’t work, you’ll be the first to know.” Relief, delight, laughter, sweet release.

    Two notes: 

    1) According to a Trump adviser, the then-president and his wife, Melania, got the vaccine in January—a fact that wasn’t reported until March

    2) The rally brought thousands of people to York Family Farms in Cullman County, which is currently in the midst of a huge COVID spike