It was no surprise that John Oliver began the show with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. But the folks at Last Week Tonight are better than just about anyone at finding infuriating illustrations of whatever horror is in the news, and tonight was no exception, because it turns out Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton not only closed the office early on Friday to celebrate the SCOTUS decision, he announced that from now on every June 24 would be a holiday at the AG’s office.
“Nope, fuck you,” Oliver said. “First, June 24th is already a holiday, it’s Solange’s birthday, and she doesn’t deserve this on her day. Second, nobody wants to go to a sanctity-of-life anti-choice cookout — the potato salad is going to be trash. And finally, you don’t get a holiday to celebrate the loss of rights for millions of people when you already have one, and it’s called Columbus Day.”
Oliver went on to not only rail on people celebrating or rationalizing the heinous decision, he pointed out that simply saying we’ve gone backwards to a time before Roe doesn’t account for the surveillance-state violations people today who wish to terminate an unwanted pregnancy — or even anyone who simply has a miscarriage — may very well face.
“This is a different world now,” he said. “In states where abortion will now be outlawed, any pregnancy loss past an early cutoff can now potentially be investigated as a crime. Which in turn means search histories, browsing histories, text messages, location data, payment data, information from period-tracking apps — prosecutors can examine all of that if they believe the loss of a pregnancy may have been deliberate.”
Will the next step be eliminating Constitutional rights involving same-sex marriage and access to contraception, which effectively hinge on the same legal concepts as Roe? That’s a possibility Justice Clarence Thomas practically typed in ALLCAPS in his concurrence in order to signal he’s eager to steal those rights from Americans too. He just needs a bigot, religious zealot, or unapologetic authoritarian (or someone who’s all three — like his wife, Ginni!) to appeal a case to the Court. Based on what other Justices wrote, Thomas appears to be alone in this particular twisted fantasy, but the conservative Justices, who all indicated to Congress before their confirmations that they wouldn’t overturn Roe, can’t exactly be taken at their word.
That’s quite clearly a depressing topic, but Oliver’s main story was about a topic you may find depressing only if you live in the American West. That topic is water, which the region — along with much of the world — is running out of. Thanks to a 22-year drought, exploding populations, and gross mismanagement, the Colorado River Basin, which provides seven states with water, is drying up, possibly irreversibly. To this day the water is still parceled out based on a century-old agreement that pretends the river delivers far more water than it actually does so that politicians can lie to constituents and tell them they’re getting all the water they need. Gosh, who would have thought powerful Americans would maniacally refuse to move on from an old, massively flawed document in order to maintain their power?
The agreement also fails to take into account both the many Native American tribes who depend on the water, and Mexico, which would depend on the water if not for the fact that the river now basically runs dry before it reaches the border.
Because the river is drying up, people in the Southwest — farmers in particular — have started pumping groundwater at startling rates, and in many places there are no laws preventing them from taking as much water as they want. The rapid depletion of underground aquifers that took hundreds or thousands of years to form is so bad that shallower home wells are drying up, while the land above the aquifers is literally sinking.
The morsel of good news is that, short of nuking Phoenix and outlawing golf, there are conservation measures that could have genuine impact — and a great example of these efforts being put into effect is, somewhat shockingly, Las Vegas. The city has basically banned grass, which is set to save about 10 billion gallons a year. And over one recent 10-year period when the population of the Vegas metro area grew by 34 percent, its use of Colorado River water shrank by 26 percent.
“So Vegas could actually be something of a model for other places when it comes to water conservation,” Oliver said. “And literally nothing else.”