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Could This Guy Make Abortion Illegal Nationwide?

Plus life after Uber and Lyft, Alden Global Capital strikes again, and borrowing a good idea from Pizza Hut in today's Flyover news roundup.

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Anthony Comstock

Welcome back to The Flyover, your daily digest of important, overlooked, and/or interesting Minnesota news stories.

Smith Shorts Comstock

Hey, what if Republicans instituted a national abortion ban without passing new legislation? It could happen thanks to the Comstock Act, a 151-year-old postal regulation thought to be a relic of an earlier, backward era until it came up in oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court recently. While listening to the case for and against an attempt to restrict the use of the abortion drug mifepristone, Justices Alito and Thomas revealed themselves to be big fans.  

So what is this Comstock Act? Popularly named for its supporter, Anthony Comstock, the “Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use” made it a crime to mail “obscenity,” contraceptives, abortifacients, sex toys, personal letters with any sexual content or information, or any information regarding the above items. It was used, among other invasive purposes, to prevent the circulation of pamphlets about birth control. It’s still the law, and the DOJ could dust it off at any time and start busting “immoral” acts. 

So good on Sen. Tina Smith (DFL-MN) for talking about repealing the Comstock Act in the New York Times this week. “Anti-abortion extremists will continue to exploit any avenue they can find to get the national ban they champion, and I want to make sure my bill shuts down every one of those avenues,” Smith wrote. The law, she says, could not only be used to ban the circulation of mifepristone but also to block delivery of medical supplies. Her proposal may not have much traction in a Republican House and filibuster-prone Senate, but talking this up still seems like a good election year move, and a needed reminder that overturning Roe v. Wade was just the first step in a larger plan to control how Americans live.

Lyft Behind

Since the threat from Lyft/Uber to withdraw from Minneapolis/the Twin Cities Metro at the end of April, local news orgs have been asking two kinds of questions in their stories: “What terrible things will surely happen?” and “What other options can we explore?” Seems to me that which question you choose to ask says a lot about your publication, its priorities, and who you believe your audience to be. Anyway!

At the Minnesota Reformer today, Max Nesterak asks the latter, talking to nine of the companies jockeying to replace the rideshare duopoly if they leave the market. Contenders include the Drivers Cooperative, who we’ve already talked about here, and some startups, many based in Minnesota, with predictably terrible names like Joiryde and Hich. (Not that “Uber” and “Lyft” are such great brand names.) “None of the companies have track records of managing the volume of trips taken with Uber and Lyft in the Twin Cities — about 1.5 million trips a month in 2022,” Nesterak notes. So we may have a messy few months ahead. But if Uber and Lyft’s little tantrum brings about more competition, that’s a good thing, right free marketers?

Keep Hedge Funds Outta the News Biz

Racket readers already know how we feel about Alden Global Capital. Jay wrote this story last November about how brutally the hedge fund has gutted one of their properties, the St. Paul Pioneer Press. For those who need a quick refresher, companies like Alden snatch up news outlets, wring the last few dollars they can out of them, and then toss their husks on the trash heap. This week we learned that 10 Alden-owned papers in Minnesota, including the Chaska Herald, the Chanhassen Villager, and the Jordan Independent, would be shutting down. 

So do we just gotta sit back and take this? Or can we make some noise and try to get the federal government to damn well do something about it? The issue, wrote Steven Waldman at the Washington Monthly (exactly one year and one day ago!), is that our current antitrust law isn’t quite equipped to deal with the problem, so the Aldens of the world can gobble up a whole market. The first step, according to Waldman, is to modify the law so that "localism" is one of the factors it protects. Our senior senator, Amy Klobuchar, talks a good game about reviving antitrust and protecting journalism. Maybe she should get to work on this.

A Nice Slice Idea

If Twitter has taught me anything, it’s that everyone born in the ’80s is hopelessly nostalgic for Pizza Hut’s BOOK IT! program, which rewarded children who read books with (terrible) pizza. (Also, less explicably, y’all love sharing your fond childhood memories of Pizza Hut’s old decor.) So there’s already a lot of goodwill gathering for a similar state-sponsored program proposed by Rep. María Isa Pérez-Vega (DFL-St. Paul), MPR News reports. The “Slice for St. Paul Kids” literacy incentive program would fund a partnership between West Side Boosters Youth Athletic Club and Slice Brothers Pizza; kids would set “reading goals” and get pizza vouchers if they reached them. The bill would set aside $350,000 for two years’ funding, and for every $10 Slice Brothers is reimbursed they’d donate $1 to a scholarship fund. No word yet on when the legislature will get to work on bringing back the old red Pizza Hut soda cups.

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