TL(PM) DIGEST: Big night for abortion rights in Wisconsin
Plus the quest for seabed critical minerals, a bad debut for the rebooted Donald Trump show, and America's updated plan to stop a killer asteroid
1. Supreme Court shifts left in Wisconsin
What happened? In a technically non-partisan election, progressive Janet Protasiewicz won a decisive victory in the race for an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court with more than 55 percent of the vote.
Why does it matter? Protasiewicz’s campaign focused heavily on protecting abortion rights, as well as confronting aggressive Republican-led gerrymandering. During the race, she implicitly promised she’d rule to overturn the state’s 1849 abortion ban—a law that went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. The Wisconsin Supreme Court now has 4-3 progressive tilt for at least the next two years.
TLP’s take: Americans don’t like to have their rights taken away. Although strict abortion bans might go over well in deep red states, voters in critical swing states like Wisconsin let it be known last night that their essential freedoms are not at the mercy of laws enacted more than a century and a half ago.
2. The race for critical minerals heads to the seafloor
What happened? The Washington Post reports on renewed interest in deep sea nodules, “potato-sized rocks packed with the nickel, cobalt, copper, and manganese [electric vehicle] manufacturers covet.” While EV and battery makers have sought to keep their distance from efforts to harvest these nodules, the Pacific island nation of Nauru looks set to open up its waters to mining within months despite a lack of international consensus on the fate of the seabed.
Why does it matter? With the transition to EVs now underway, critical minerals have become, well, even more critical to making storage batteries that will power these new vehicles. But scouring the seabed for these minerals threatens to permanently damage underwater ecosystems humanity still doesn’t fully understand—leading hundreds of scientists, thirteen countries, and even a number of EV manufacturers like BMW, Volkswagen, and Volvo to call for a moratorium on seabed mining.
TLP’s take: The often stark tradeoff between environmental protection and carbon-free energy isn’t just confined to land—but unlike power transmission lines, solar or wind farms, and terrestrial mines, there’s a good case for greater caution when it comes to the seafloor. All the more reason, then, for America to up its ocean exploration game.
3. The rebooted Donald Trump Show is off to poor ratings
What happened? Former President Donald Trump was arraigned yesterday on 34 felony counts related to illegal hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and others. Protests in support of the president were notably light in attendance in New York and elsewhere.
Why does it matter? Right-wing provocateurs like the spotlight-chasing Marjorie Taylor Greene promised to make a huge fuss about Trump’s indictment, but their promises mostly came to naught. People are clearly bored by Trump’s antics—or too scared to get themselves in trouble for a man who got hundreds of his followers sent to jail when he encouraged them to attack the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
TLP’s take: Trump will get his day in court and deserves a fair hearing, and his personal legal jeopardy may still provide a political boost for the former president. But as a protest movement his defense is off to a slow start—and that’s a good thing for America.
4. America’s updated plan to stop a killer asteroid
What happened? The Biden administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy—effectively the nation’s top science policy body—issued a new report outlining an updated strategy for planetary defense, aka protecting Earth from asteroids that might hit our home planet. This new strategy follows the successful proof-of-concept demonstration of asteroid deflection NASA carried out last September.
Why does it matter? Depending on its size, an asteroid or some other object from outer space that hits Earth could cause calamities ranging from widespread regional destruction to the collapse of human civilization and mass extinctions of terrestrial life. But if we find out an asteroid is heading our way with enough time, we could potentially deflect it—a save-the-world scenario the report aims to make real, possibly by the end of the decade.
TLP’s take: This refreshed report rightly puts NASA and, to a lesser extent, the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and other civilian agencies in charge of America’s efforts to detect, catalogue, and defend against potential asteroid threats—not the Pentagon and Space Force, which will play a supporting role. It also calls for increased international cooperation to prepare for planetary defense missions and global disaster response if the worst occurs.
All the more reason why NASA deserves additional resources.
Just one more thing…
One of America’s most iconic rock clubs is back from the dead! Well, sort of: a full reincarnation of the original 9:30 Club is set to open this spring next to the current one. The new venue is called The Atlantis and features a stacked lineup of huge acts—albeit without the distinct effluvium of the old haunt on F Street.