Editors’ Blog

Zeno’s Abortion Ban

One notable thing about a nakedly political Supreme Court majority is that a handful of legal academics, wholly cocooned from everyday life, aren’t terribly adept at politics. You can see this in the reaction to the Court’s effort to moonwalk Roe v Wade out of existence earlier this week. They seem to have thought they could throw up their hands and pretend they weren’t really doing anything or didn’t have any choice in the matter. Even John Roberts showed them the path toward overruling Roe through the normal review process some time next year. The majority both couldn’t hide its impatience to strike down Roe but also wanted to do so in the middle of the night – by not acting rather than acting – and that somehow no one would notice.

People noticed.

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A Tepid ‘Recovery’?

There’s a fairly anemic jobs report out today. The economy added 235,000 jobs in August. That’s just okay in normal times and pretty disappointing compared to recent months when closer to a million jobs were created. Commentary I’m seeing is pointing to a weaker than expected recovery. And that’s true as far as it goes. But what jumps out to me is that the dialog about the economy, the robustness and consistency of the recovery, hasn’t really caught up to the fact that COVID isn’t actually over.

Everything’s relative. We’re in a much better position than we were a year ago. Getting gravely ill from COVID is now mostly voluntary. But over 1500 people died in the US from COVID yesterday. Schools are opening but with various kinds of in-person mitigation. Most people I know are still not dining out or socializing or traveling in just the same way they did before the pandemic. More than a year ago, definitely. But not the same as two years ago. I’m not telling you anything more than we all know. My point is that we still appear to be operating in – or at least economics and politics talk seems to be operating in – this model of how quickly we’re bouncing back even though we’re still in it. So it’s not a huge surprise that we’re not bouncing back that quickly. Or that the bounce back is partial and limited.

Where Things Stand: Last We Checked, Ted Wasn’t Cool With States Regulating Reproductive Health Prime Badge
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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 22: Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) heads into a Judiciary Committee hearing where Republicans will vote on whether or not to move the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court out of committee and on to the Senate for a full vote on October 22, 2020 in Washington, DC. Judge Amy Coney Barrett was nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who passed away in September. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) put out a rather nebbishy statement today addressing the disastrous abortion ban that went into effect in his state this week, perhaps in part to cut through the curious silence on the part of GOP leadership on an issue it has campaigned on for decades.

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What’s Joe Manchin Up To?

So what’s Joe Manchin up to? I don’t know exactly. It certainly sounds like he is threatening to upend the Democrats entire legislative agenda and probably doom Biden’s presidency in a bid to dramatically scale back the budget reconciliation bill. How much lower than $3.5 trillion that means I have no idea. But it sounds like he means by a lot? Down to $2 trillion, $1.5 trillion? This is a positioning statement, like basically everything Manchin does, and subject to haggling and negotiation, like every position he stakes out. But certainly progressives will refuse to vote for his prized bipartisan mini-bill if this is what he plans to do. And they’ll be right to do so. There was a cross party deal: both factions support both bills. So no reconciliation bill, no bipartisan mini-bill. No nuthin.

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SCOTUS Delenda Est

There’s nothing I can add to the overnight news out of the Supreme Court and Texas that we haven’t discussed previously: the Supreme Court is both corrupted and corrupt. One of the court’s nine members sits illegitimately. At least five of the current conservative majority have opted for a parodic version of what the judicial right once denounced as “judicial activism.” The conservative majority’s jurisprudence is a results-oriented approach abandoning both precedent and the more basic interpretive traditions to arrive at the preferred outcomes of either the Republican party or conservative ideology generally. A 6 to 3 Court doesn’t require extraordinary measures to overrule Roe. It seems prepped to do so next year in a case from Mississippi. The overnight decision – which rather overstates what the Court did – is another example of the injudicious exuberance to use the Court to remake the nation’s laws in ways that mere democracy will not allow.

The Court’s corrupt. The solution is to expand the number of justices on the high court to at least thirteen in order to break its power. I don’t know when this will be possible. We don’t know the future. But it is important to know what the correct and proper solution is.

For the immediate issue of reproductive rights the logical decision is to take the standing precedent of Roe and Casey and enact it into law right now. Given the aforementioned corruption I think it is quite likely the Court will strike such a law down, in whole or in part. If it does the Court will simply indict itself and I believe hasten the political will to break its power.

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Watch The New Episode Of The Josh Marshall Podcast: Post-Roe Texas

A new episode of The Josh Marshall Podcast is live! This week, Josh and Kate discuss the Supreme Court’s action on a new Texas abortion ban and the conclusion of the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan.

Watch below and email us your questions for next week’s episode.

You can listen to the new episode of The Josh Marshall Podcast here.

Where Things Stand: Pro-Choice When They Like Your Choice Prime Badge
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AUSTIN, TX - JUNE 08: Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks during a press conference at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas on June 8, 2021. Abbott signed Senate bills 2 and 3 into law to reform the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and weatherize and improve the reliability of the state's power grid. The bill signing comes months after a disastrous February winter storm that created widespread power outages and left dozens of Texans dead. (Photo by Montinique Monroe/Getty Images)

Since the pandemic reached our shores last year, the right has been extremely vocal about its deeply held opposition to any type of government regulation that impacts personal health choices.

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Taking Stock Of The Great and Cowardly Press Freakout Of August 2021
A full flight of 265 people supported by Members of the UK Armed Forces who continue to take part in the evacuation of entitled personnel from Kabul airport. The UK have been working closely with our international partners to complete the evacuation safely.

With the American war in Afghanistan and the American withdrawal from Afghanistan now definitively over, I’ve been trying to put the entirety of the last four weeks into some perspective. As you can see I’ve been fairly dug in on the proposition that the great majority of the criticism we’ve seen amounts to ignorance and deflection. Pulling the plug on a failed or misconceived mission isn’t pretty. But it is inevitable. The ugliness is built into the failure rather than a consequence of recognizing it. Most of what we’ve seen is an attempt to deny the failure (mostly hawks) or imagine that withdrawing would be orderly and free of consequences. But with all this reasoning, what parts were handled poorly? What could have been better organized or cleaner?

Perhaps this is only a matter of stepping back and with the benefit of clear eyes and more perspective and, well … agreeing with myself. But honestly, I think I really agree with myself. The airlift evacuation appears to have transported well over 110,000 people out of the country, an astonishing feat under any circumstances and probably unprecedented for a civilian airlift in a kinetic military context and in the context of state collapse.

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Biggest News Of The Day

All the latest on the new Texas anti-abortion law that went into effect at midnight.

Where Things Stand: Native Tribes Have Been Bucking Anti-Mask Rules For A While Prime Badge
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We’ve watched and covered public school districts in red states around the U.S. defying Republican governors’ orders against universal masking in schools for the past several weeks. But as sovereign nations, many Native American tribes around the country have been taking school-related COVID mitigation measures into their own hands for some time.

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Where Things Stand: Mississippi Guv Blames Everything And Everyone But Himself For Deadly COVID Spike Prime Badge
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Back in April of this year, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) blamed the lackluster vaccination situation in the Magnolia State on “a very large African American population” and “a lot of rural people.”

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All Political Power is Unitary

All political power is unitary. In the rare instances when I’ve given advice to people who have political power or money to support people who do, this is the central point I’ve emphasized. All political power is unitary. You can’t be gaining it in foreign policy and losing it on the domestic front. It’s all one thing. And this is particularly important right now for Democrats looking at what the President can accomplish during these critical two years in which Democrats hold both the White House and the Congress by the thinnest of margins. In fact, in political terms it is the most important thing happening right now.

Yesterday Axios ‘Sneak Peak’ blared this: “1 big thing: Biden faces Dem defections”. The story is about Democratic representatives and Senators in marginal seats trying to distance themselves from the situation in Afghanistan and President Biden. “Many moderate Democrats and their aides are huddling with campaign consultants over how to handle the setback in Afghanistan,” as they put it.

This is a cliche Axios storyline, entirely in line with the elite DC political reaction to recent events we’ve been discussing. But if it is an Axios comfort-zone storyline it’s one they know really well. Wobbly, Sunday show going Democratic moderates is their métier. And in this case it’s real.

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Force, Future and Thinking Seriously About How Governments Fall

This morning The Washington Post published an illuminating new look at the fall of Kabul. What is most telling, however, is the commentary about the facts revealed in the article. First let’s look at the new details.

The flight of former President Ghani, which triggered the final collapse of the Afghan government, was driven at least in part by apparently false reports that Taliban fighters were in the palace searching for him. The more resonant claim is about the mechanics of the turnover of control in Kabul.

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Where Things Stand: Giuliani Makes The Case That He’s ‘A Functioning’ Person Prime Badge
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UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 19: Rudolph Giuliani, attorney for President Donald Trump, conducts a news conference at the Republican National Committee, on lawsuits regarding the outcome of the 2020 presidential election on Thursday, November 19, 2020. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

It’s not me, it’s you.

America’s former mayor gave a rather blunt interview to NBC New York this week, addressing head on the fact that everyone thinks he’s basically lost his mind.

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Remembering the Origins of the United States’ 20 Year War in Afghanistan

I wanted to flag to your attention this opinion piece for Robert Kagan in The Washington Post. It is an overarching look at the US mission in Afghanistan. Fundamentally it is an apologia, a defense. But Kagan is significantly more sophisticated and thoughtful than most of the more editorially kinetic defenders of the mission. So even while I think he’s mostly wrong and often disingenuous about recounting these events in which he played an important role you can nonetheless learn a lot about the last twenty years from reading his account. Be cautious, though, because the real essence is the many things left out.

One thing that Kagan is right about is this: Many retrospectives say the US went into Afghanistan with hubris and optimism and a mission to build a Western style democracy in Afghanistan. That’s not true. The US invaded Afghanistan because we were scared and angry. Kagan focuses on the “scared.” “Angry” was just as much it. But it was in the nature of that moment that the two were so fused that it was difficult to distinguish them.

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Where Things Stand: Bernie May Make A Few Pointed Pitstops On His Reconciliation Bill-Hyping Tour Prime Badge
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DEARBORN, MI - MARCH 07: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at a campaign rally at Salina Intermediate School on March 7, 2020 in Dearborn, Michigan. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

While Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) centrist colleagues in the House try to flex their muscles ahead of the party’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation package reaching their chamber, Sanders is planning to spend the next few weeks selling the bold legislation to Americans — specifically, Republican voters in the Midwest.

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On the Discontents of ‘Strategic Patience’

I’ve been working on a piece about critiques of the American people’s lack of “strategic patience” as evidenced by our withdrawal from Afghanistan. Then I got this note from TPM Reader PT and thought, yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking.

I suspect that you, like me, have seen at least some commentators who argue that the Taliban “won” in Afghanistan by simply waiting us out, or that this demonstrates to other nations that consider an adversarial stance towards the US that we’re a paper tiger now that they know that even if we do take military action against them, all they have to do is wait for us to withdraw, which we inevitably will. I have a different perspective that I’d like to offer, starting with an analogy:

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The Number Of Afghans We’re Supposed to Evacuate Keeps Spiraling Upward

I want to discuss an issue I’ve been watching unfold through the process of the evacuation from Kabul which has now been on-going for some ten days. As we’ve discussed, the fate of American allies in the country has become both a humanitarian mission as well as a cudgel used to attack the US withdrawal – both by those who wanted the US to stay in Afghanistan permanently and those who’ve wanted to use the inevitable messiness and chaos of the US withdrawal as a way to cleanse their own dirty hands and complicity in the misbegotten mission. But a key part of both dimensions of this question is that the number in need of evacuation is a moving target.

A week and a half ago reports had numbers in the range of 70,000 to 80,000 Afghan nationals needing to be evacuated – mostly so-called SIVs and their families. A greater number of people have now been flown out of the country, though a small percentage of those are US citizens and some large percentage is third country nationals. Today however The New York Times reports new numbers based on analyses of Pentagon records by an advocacy group called the Association of Wartime Allies. They find that as many as one million Afghan could be eligible for expedited immigration status and that a minimum of 250,000 are yet to be evacuated.

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Watch The New Episode Of The Josh Marshall Podcast: Everbody’s Mad

A new episode of The Josh Marshall Podcast is live! This week, Josh and Kate discuss the centrist stunt in the House, the Afghanistan evacuation on a personal level, and what to make of the dip in President Biden’s approval numbers.

Watch below and email us your questions for next week’s episode.

You can listen to the new episode of The Josh Marshall Podcast here.

Where Things Stand: Abbott’s New Vax Mandate Ban Is Clearly Aimed At Big Schools Prime Badge
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We spent a good chunk of last week covering various school districts in Florida, Texas and elsewhere that are standing up to their governors’ bans on mask policies in schools. The defiance has been interesting to watch play out — most are maintaining their mask policies, despite ongoing threats from the state level.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott just issued an executive order that looks like another escalation of that battle.

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New Evidence of Waning Vaccine Protection Against Infection

We’ve noted a number of times that we are in a period of great uncertainty about the outlines of the COVID Pandemic. How vaccines are holding up over time and how well they protect against the Delta variant are both uncertain, with limited and contradictory data. Yesterday I noted new data out of Israel which appears to show a dramatic improvement in protection with a third shot. But that scale of improvement rests on other data out of Israel suggesting that effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine had dropped significantly since early this year, especially against infection.

Yesterday the CDC published a new report that is at least directionally in line with Israeli data on vaccine effectiveness against infection, albeit showing a less pronounced drop.

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They Seem To Get It

The topline news is that the House select committee on Jan. 6 is targeting the Trump administration in a series of sweeping new records requests as part of its probe. But the more reassuring aspect of this is that they seem to be looking for records beyond the events of Jan. 6 that encompass the entire Big Lie. From our latest piece:

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Where Things Stand: Another One Of Nunes’ Nutty Lawsuits Was Just Dismissed Prime Badge
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on March 7, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Throwback to simpler times, when I was given the greenlight to spend many a TPM workday covering which Twitter farm animal Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) was suing next.

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Emerging Data on Booster Shots

I wanted to revisit the question of COVID vaccine booster shots, or rather third doses of the vaccine which are now being administered in Israel and will be in the United States starting next month. (Those with compromised immune systems have already been approved for third doses in the United States.)

The short version is that initial data out of Israel appears to show dramatically increased protection both against infection and disease from a third dose. But there are at least some questions about the data and what they actually mean.

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The Terror/Consultant Industrial Complex Rears Its Head

One thing I’ve been wanting to address over the last week is what remains the background premise for the Afghanistan mission: denying a safe haven to al Qaeda or other similar groups from which to mount attacks on the United States. I have already seen numerous analyses claiming that al Qaeda will soon be setting up shop again under Taliban protection. Sometimes it is necessary to grab hold of a bad argument by the root.

Let me address this at a few levels.

In retrospect – and perhaps at the time – the entire ‘safe haven’ argument was greatly overstated. Let’s take the actual 9/11 attacks as our example. As many note, most of the plotting was done by people who weren’t even in Afghanistan. They were mostly people from the Gulf living in Europe or the United States. At a basic level the whole premise was wrong from the beginning. But this critique misses a non-trivial part of the equation. There’s only so much time in the day. If you’re running an international terror group, time spent on the run is time not spent plotting attacks. Obviously terrorist and guerrilla groups have managed to do both throughout history. But it certainly makes sense and I think is borne out by history that if you have a base of operations which is basically protected and secure that’s an advantage. This is the premise on the strategy of ‘pressure’ wrapped up in aggressive surveillance, drone strikes, throttling access to the international banking system, special ops raids and more. Time spent running is time not spent plotting.

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Evacuation Flights Abroad; Tantrum at Home

Here’s an update on the definitely failed evacuation and abandonment of everyone who ever worked for us in Afghanistan. According to the White House, 21,600 people were evacuated over the last 24 hours bringing the total number to 58,700. I know a tone of sarcasm is a bit jarring in what is a very serious and dangerous situation. But in addition to a story of great significance and human drama we’re coming off one of the biggest and most revealing press tantrums I’ve ever seen. Yesterday I said I thought we were only days away from pundit-bewailers shifting to taking credit for turning the greatest military debacle in history into a historically successful airlift. But I was wrong: it’s already happening.

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Notes from the Press Paroxysm as the Evacuation Flights Continue
A full flight of 265 people supported by Members of the UK Armed Forces who continue to take part in the evacuation of entitled personnel from Kabul airport. The UK have been working closely with our international partners to complete the evacuation safely.

On the Sunday shows yesterday and across newspaper editorials you can see repeated claims of a military debacle for the US in Afghanistan, perhaps the worst in decades, perhaps the worst ever. Seriously, look at the quotes. And yet as far as I know not a single member of the US military has died or even been injured in this operation. In fact, it doesn’t appear that a shot has even been fired in anger against them. We don’t judge military victories or defeats by body counts or casualty lists. But surely this figures into the equation. The US withdrew its forces according to plan. It then reoccupied the civilian airport in Kabul. Since last weekend the US military operation at Hamid Karzai International Airport has overseen the evacuation of more than 40,000 people, and it continues at a rapid clip. So about 36 hours of confusion and then a fairly orderly and rapid airlift over the last week.

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You Wouldn’t Know It From the US News Coverage, But …

The bonfire of hyperboles in US press coverage seems limitless at the moment. And the consequences of the fall of the US-backed government in Kabul are likely to be very, very limited beyond Afghanistan itself. But I wanted to focus on something that seems to be getting very, very little above-the-fold coverage in the American press coverage: the key leaders of the US backed government over the last two decades are relaxedly meeting with the political leadership of the Taliban in Kabul about the formation of the new government.

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Where Things Stand: The Little Guys Are Holding The Front Line Prime Badge
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The school districts fighting back against Republican governors’ efforts to prolong the life of the pandemic in their states have shown pretty remarkable strength this week.

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