September 22, 2023

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“O, for a muse of fire,” pleads the chorus at the outset of William Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” It seeks to “ascend the brightest heaven of invention” and conjure up “the vasty fields of France” on a tiny stage to transport the audience back in history.

Drama could be had last week without a need for the kind of exertions Shakespeare and his troupe employed at London’s Globe theater more than 400 years ago.

A former president of the United States appeared in a New York courtroom to face criminal charges. The borders of NATO grew dramatically as Finland joined the alliance. Pivotal elections in Wisconsin and Chicago demonstrated voters’ increasing affinity for progressive politics. Tennessee legislators targeted three members of the state House for joining a gun control protest in the chamber, expelling two young Black men while failing to oust a 60-year-old White woman.

And then on Friday evening, a federal judge in Texas issued a ruling suspending the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval, granted 23 years ago, of one of two drugs often used in medication abortions, which now account for a majority of all abortions in America. (He gave the Biden administration a week to appeal the ruling before it goes into effect. Meanwhile, a judge in Washington state ruled in a different case that the government must continue to make the drug available in 17 states and the District of Columbia.)

Thus, the week that began with Trump facing a judge in Manhattan ended with a Trump-appointed judge overturning more than two decades of medical practice. It was another sign that Trump’s impact — particularly his choice of three conservative Supreme Court judges who helped overturn the right to abortion enshrined in Roe v. Wade — has outlasted his four years in office.

The abortion issue not only helped shape the outcome of Wisconsin’s judicial election Tuesday, it also figured in an emerging debate over the right of Americans to travel to other states for medical procedures.

Mary Ziegler and Naomi Cahn observed that a new Idaho law, labeled an “abortion trafficking” measure, “criminalizes anyone who helps a minor get an abortion or abortion pills without parental consent. Violators will face felony charges and up to five years in prison.”

“The law could treat anyone, from friends to grandparents, as traffickers … Idaho Republicans presented the bill as a common-sense protection of parental rights.”

But make no mistake: Idaho’s bill is part of a broader attack on the right to travel for adults as well as minors, and the stakes of whittling away at that right are higher than ever.” Meanwhile Idaho’s attorney general withdrew a controversial letter he issued last month that said the state “prohibits an Idaho medical provider from either referring a woman across state lines to access abortion services or prescribing abortion pills for the woman to pick up across state lines.”

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The Republicans in the Tennessee state House of Representatives who expelled Justin Jones and Justin Pearson were “using their power as a tool of intimidation,” wrote Jemar Tisby. “What other conclusion can be drawn from the inappropriate and disproportionate response to a decorum infraction?”

But their tactic backfired in a spectacular way, Tisby wrote. The vote has raised the profile of the two state representatives to national prominence, and “instead of dissuading Tennesseans from their calls for gun control, Republican legislators seem to have energized the people and motivated them to resist even more vigorously.

As SE Cupp observed, some Republican leaders and right-wing commentators have described the January 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol as “totally fine, no big deal, and those protesters are patriots who should be left alone. But the three Democratic lawmakers who briefly protested inaction on gun control — a protest that led to zero violence and wasn’t an attempted crime — that’s unacceptable and those lawmakers should lose their jobs.”

In Cupp’s view, it’s “another example of the GOP attacking democracy. They haven’t been able to convince a majority of voters to support their far-right extreme agenda, so instead they want to make it harder to vote, harder to protest, harder to access information.

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Trump’s critics had waited years for this moment. His supporters had spent months bitterly denouncing the process leading up to it. But when the former president took his seat at the defense table in a Manhattan criminal courtroom Tuesday, the event was something of an anti-climax.

“Beneath the familiar swoop of dyed-blond hair and thick foundation, his expression was grim and reserved,” wrote Nicole Hemmer. “For the moment, he was just another defendant, dependent on a judge to determine his next move. And while Trump will work hard in the coming hours and days to offer a different reading of those images — and media outlets will be tempted to help him out by focusing on the spectacle — they depict not a departure from regular order, but rather its return.

Trump wanted a mug shot, according to two sources cited by CNN, but he didn’t get one. “Instead of a defiant N.Y.P.D. photo or a raised fist,” David Firestone wrote in the New York Times, “the lasting image of the day may well be that of a humbled former president looking hunched, angry and nervous at the courtroom defense table, a suddenly small man wedged between his lawyers, as two New York State court officers loomed behind him in a required posture of making sure the defendant stayed in his place.”

In some ways, a prosecution of Trump was a long time coming, observed Fareed Zakaria. “For decades he has flouted rules, norms and even laws as he climbed his way to the top, brazenly convinced that the usual standards didn’t apply to him. His company was found guilty of tax fraud, he’s been taken to court countless times over unpaid bills, and he’s even stolen money from his own charities.”

But was this the right case to bring? “The prosecutor, Alvin Bragg, is an elected district attorney who ran a campaign for that office boasting that he had helped sue Donald Trump ‘more than a hundred times,’” Zakaria noted. “Even so, once elected and after looking over the evidence, he is reported to have put the case on the back burner, which triggered a storm of criticism from his Democratic base. He then reversed course and decided to pursue the case on a new basis, if reported accounts are correct … this case has the feel of zealous prosecutors minutely examining all possibilities to find some violation of the law.

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John Dean and Norman Eisen argued that “there’s no good reason to exempt Trump from prosecution when his former lawyer Michael Cohen went to prison for his role in surreptitiously moving these funds to benefit the campaign, as have others for similar conduct.”

“The violation for falsifying books and records is a clear one: These were alleged hush-money payments by Trump and his entities that they are accused of falsely entering into their records as legal fees.”

In contrast, David Orentlicher, wrote that “Trump’s relationship with adult film star Stormy Daniels and his alleged payments to her, via his former lawyer Michael Cohen, raise substantial ethical concerns — but they are not matters that should be addressed in a courtroom.

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President Joe Biden noted in a CNN Opinion commentary that Passover is all about telling “the miraculous story of the Jewish people’s exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom. It is a timeless, powerful story of faith, hope and redemption that has inspired oppressed people everywhere for generations.”

“But Passover is more than just a recounting of the past. It is also a cautionary tale of the present and our future as a democracy. As Jews read from the Haggadah about how evil in every generation has tried to destroy them, antisemitism is rising to record levels today,” Biden wrote.

He described several ways the government is addressing the issue. “But government alone cannot root out antisemitism and hate. All Americans, including businesses and community leaders, educators, students, athletes, entertainers and influencers must help confront bigotry in all its forms. We must each do our part to create a culture of respect in our workplaces, in our schools, on our social media and in our homes.”

“Because hate never goes away, it only hides until it is given just a little oxygen.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has suffered setback after setback. One of his biggest defeats came Tuesday, when Finland officially joined NATO.

In launching the war in February 2022, “Putin argued that his goal was to prevent NATO from expanding,” as Frida Ghitis recalled. “On that count, Putin not only failed, but in fact propelled the very development he sought to prevent. Now Russia’s border with NATO countries has more than doubled in length, adding an extra 830 miles of frontier with Finland.”

“Finland, which was once part of the Russian empire … will move quickly to fortify that long border. That’s because when Russia invaded Ukraine, it sent an unmistakable signal to its neighbors that it simply could not be trusted.

This weekend’s holidays of Good Friday and Easter have fundamentally different messages in some contexts, according to religious studies scholar Bart D. Ehrman.

One view sees Jesus on Easter as “the Christ of the Apocalypse, where the ‘lamb who was slaughtered’ comes back for blood, wreaking vengeance on a world that rejected him before judging the earth and ordering those who are not among his most faithful followers to be thrown into a lake of burning sulfur.”

The better course is the message of Good Friday: the Jesus of the Gospels, Ehrman writes. His followers “are not to assert power or ‘lord it over others.’ They are to be humble and meek. They are to feed the hungry, welcome strangers, tend to the sick, sell what they have and give to the poor — even those they don’t know, strangers, foreigners, followers of other religions. Most emphatically, Jesus insists his followers not be violent, not seek revenge, not return evil for evil. They are to turn the other cheek; they are to love their enemies.”

For more:

Kathryn Reklis: Why I finally decided to watch ‘The Chosen’

Sweden’s Greta Thunberg was joined by Stanford student organizer Sophia Kianni and Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate in warning that the Biden administration is going down the wrong path by greenlighting the Willow Project in Alaska and opening 73 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling.

“Young people and members of marginalized communities are the ones who will bear the brunt of the consequences of the escalating climate emergency,” they wrote. “The rubber-stamping of such a project sends a message not just to our generation but humanity as a whole: The future of our planet and the present well-being of frontline communities are being sacrificed for short-term economic gain and political expediency.”

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On the right, Trump’s indictment energized the MAGA base, giving the former president a lift over potential rivals for the 2024 nomination. But on the left, a victory in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election Tuesday suggested that Democrats may be better positioned to assemble winning voter coalitions than their GOP rivals — particularly when abortion is a leading issue.

“If Republicans are going to reverse their fortunes in” the suburban counties surrounding Milwaukee, “they’re going to have to settle the abortion issue,” observed James Wigderson, a Wisconsin-based conservative writer. “According to the Marquette University Law School poll, the majority of independent voters remains consistently opposed to the Dobbs decision overturning Roe. Those independent voters, especially women, are now pulling the lever for the Democrats.”

But Republicans are also going to have to end the blood contract with Trump. The trend of the Republicans losing suburban votes began before Roe v. Wade was overturned.”

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For more on politics:

Julian Zelizer: The Clarence Thomas revelations are the last straw

Clay Cane: The fight against ‘woke’ is really conservative gaslighting

“Something incredible happened this past weekend,” wrote Amy Bass. “Americans went to bed Sunday night talking about women’s basketball and woke up Monday morning still going on and on about it.”

Angel Reese, the star of Louisiana State University’s winning team, pushed back at criticism of her “so-called taunting of (Iowa’s Caitlin) Clark in the last seconds of the championship game, with the racialized vitriol that accused her of being ‘classless’ or ‘unsportsmanlike’ demonstrating vividly the double standard Black athletes are all too familiar with,” noted Bass.

“When other people do it, y’all don’t say nothing,” Reese pointed out, after the team’s victory. “This was for the people who look like me.”

First lady Jill Biden, who watched the game in person, initially suggested that both LSU and Iowa deserved an invite to the White House because of the quality of play. But the White House soon made clear that, following tradition, only the winning team will go. Bass wrote: “Iowa doesn’t get an invite to the White House. They lost. Let’s not do that. Let’s not go there.

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Jewel: What we get wrong about mental health

Ron Avi Astor: While school shootings spread fear, there is some comforting data on school violence

Noah Berlatsky: ‘Air’ proves Hollywood can make you root for anyone

Dean Obeidallah: Why is ’60 Minutes’ amplifying the views of Marjorie Taylor Greene?

Ani Bundel: ‘Grease’ reboot comes 45 years after the original — and right on time

Dana Peterson and Frank Steemers: How safe is your job?

Jane Holgate: Fed up workers are turning to a 1970s throwback

Andrea Askowitz: What Justine Bateman gets exactly right about beauty


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Making electric scooters widely available on city streets sounds “great in theory,” wrote Jill Filipovic. “In practice, they’re much more of a menace than a convenience.”

“Over the past few years, electric scooters have been brought to Paris and dozens of other cities worldwide by various startups promising an environmentally-friendly individual transport option. What cities have gotten instead is chaos: scooters shooting down sidewalks at dangerous speeds or laying abandoned on pedestrian thoroughfares. Both riders and pedestrians have been injured and sometimes killed.”

Ninety percent of the roughly 100,000 people who voted in Paris want the scooters banned. “One problem with scooters is that there is no obvious spot for them within urban infrastructure,” Filipovic noted. “They go far too fast to be safe on the sidewalk” and aren’t right for bike lanes or roads either.

“Why does anyone think this is a good idea?”


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