A king-sized edition of the mailbag; lots of good responses this week.
The Problem Isn't the Pro Quo, It's the Quid
V & Z: One of the Q&A questions equated "quid pro quo" with "bribery" or "extortion," and in your answer you agreed with this assessment. The dictionaries I consulted are on a different opinion: "quid pro quo" simply means something for something else.
There is a bigger issue here beyond these being synonyms or not. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney is right that deals are standard in diplomacy, including withholding a White House meeting until the other party makes some specific friendly gesture. The problem with this story is that Donald Trump used diplomatic pressure to promote his private interest, not the interest of the country. I feel that the big emphasis on quid pro quo is misplaced. The emphasis should be on private versus public interest.
One could say that showing a quid pro quo is important because Trump has explicitly denied it. But we have already caught him on so many lies, one more hardly matters. On the other hand, showing that he used diplomatic pressure for private gain does matter. G.T., Budapest, Hungary
V & Z: One of the questions on Saturday referred to the difference between "extortion" and "quid pro quo." Quid pro quo is just a fancy Latin term for a trade or an exchange and in and of itself not illegal. Your dad paying you $50 to rake the leaves is a quid pro quo. Extortion is obtaining something through force or a threat. Your dad threatening violence or withholding your insulin in exchange for leaf raking would be extortion.
In Trump's worldview, everything in life is a quid pro quo and you never give away anything of value without getting something back in return. Trump also comes from the corporate world, so he sees the legislature as more of a subordinate rather than coequal branch of government. His first mistake was trying to renegotiate a deal already completed by the legislature for his own personal political benefit. His second mistake was trying to extort a deal for dirt on a political rival whose political party controls the House of Representatives. J.Q., Pequannock, NJ
V & Z: Republicans are masters at framing everything in their favor. Things like "climate change" or "death tax" are great examples, because they are relatively inaccurate descriptions, but using those words advances their agenda. After reading the Saturday questions, I realized that the "no quid pro quo" was another ingenious framing of the Ukraine situation. First, it disregards the fact that asking help was a felony, and second, it wasn't actually a quid pro quo, as that term is commonly meant. It is like someone holding you up and taking your wallet, then calling it a "quid pro quo" because you got to keep your life. The funds were never supposed to be held back, so it was clear to Volodymyr Zelensky that you have to do something "or else." This is the very definition of extortion and definitely not "quid pro quo." By using "quid pro quo" so early on, everyone now tries to prove "quid pro quo" happened, rather than the accurate word—extortion. C.F., Merrimack, NH
V & Z: One of my pet peeves is the silly "-gate" suffix for scandals—especially serious ones. I saw that a reader called it out and you've been playing around with pieces of other famous scandals' names. That's funny and I don't think it's too important what you call it for your readers, but I've been hoping to see it described as "The Ukraine Extortion Plot" or something in the mainstream media. And there at number 1 on your list of terrible things our terrible president has done is that very description. I hope it catches on. Thank you. J.S., Hamburg, NY
The Change to "Climate Change"
V & Z: Aside from Frank Luntz, there is another reason for the shift to the term "climate change." While the earth overall is warming, it's not uniform across the planet and extremes at both ends of the spectrum are increasing. We're getting hotter hots and colder colds. For example, the Arctic is warming faster and this is driving the polar vortex southward so that more moderate latitudes are subject to extreme cold spells. See, for example, this breakdown. I'm from New England and while it's definitely warmer than when I was young (a few decades ago), the cold spells in winter are colder than anything I remember from my youth. Climate change denialists use this to push the "global warming is a hoax" line. For this reason, Thomas Friedman suggests the term "global weirding" and I suggest the term "climate destabilization" as more accurate descriptions of what's really happening. R.H., South Hadley, MA
V & Z: Responding to the question on the use of "global warming" vs. "climate change": I work on climate change policy for a large environmental NGO. While I would never want to discount the influence wrought by Frank Lutz's linguistic shenanigans, there is also a much less pernicious reason we in the environmental advocacy community have started using "climate change" instead of "global warming." Namely, while the main immediate impact of greenhouse gas emissions is indeed to warm the planet, the indirect impacts are much broader than just warmer weather. As the Department of the Interior's U.S. Geologic Survey's website says, global warming refers to the rise in global temperatures due mainly to the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Climate change, by contrast refers to the increasing changes in the measures of climate over a long period of time—including precipitation, temperature, and wind patterns. NASA's website also has a good discussion of this topic.
For example, increased frequency and severity of hurricanes is better captured by "climate change" than "global warming." S.C., Washington, DC
V & Z: You accurately cited Frank Luntz as the creator of the term "climate change" as a softer Republican spin on "global warming." Luntz now admits he was wrong and recognizes the need for immediate action. He argues: "The climate problem is not just scientific. It's linguistic. If we can agree how to talk and write about an issue that affects us all, maybe we can understand and fix it together." D.R., Anaktuvuk Pass, AK
Note: We did not intend to credit Luntz with creating the term, just with popularizing it, particularly among Republican politicians. See the next reader e-mail for more.
V & Z: It's true, of course, that Frank Luntz wrote a memo suggesting "climate change," over "global warming," but the rest of your answer. is largely a myth. A very popular myth I'll grant you, but still a myth.
Here is a compilation of clips of politicians from Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton and Al Gore talking about climate change going back to the late 1980s, in all but one case well before Luntz wrote his memo. The video was assembled in response to a claim by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in 2016 that the term "climate change" had been introduced by liberals two or three years before. While it's marred by a tendency to hammer its point down through the bedrock and the crust and into the outer mantle, I think the video pretty convincingly refutes the notion that "climate change" can be attributed either to Luntz in 2003 or to liberals a decade later.
In all but one case, these folks were speaking well before Luntz wrote his memo. Also noteworthy is that they all appear to acknowledge the reality and dangers of human-caused global warming. In fact, George W. Bush offers an admirably clear and succinct explanation of the link between CO2 and heating. Bet you didn't see that coming. D.G.G., Huntington Beach, CA
Could Be Very Up-Lyfting for the Democrats
V & Z: Your answer about free bus rides vs. free Uber/Lyft rides was shortsighted and perhaps just plain wrong. Everybody would prefer a free Uber/Lyft trip that picks them up at their doorstep and delivers them directly to their destination without worries about weather, public transportation routes and schedules, walks to bus stops, or crowded buses. Moms with strollers and young children love the convenience of a ride service. Young adults think it is cool. Females feel safer waiting inside a building rather than waiting at a bus stop. Workers at the end of a long shift like the comfort of a ride service. These moms, young people, and lower-income working class are the exact demographics that will disproportionately vote Democratic but that traditionally have had low voter turnouts. Your response about coordinated church buses and free bus service speaks to a valuable and time-tested demographic, but it misses the chance to grow a much, much bigger turnout featuring the future of the Democratic Party: young people, females, and paycheck-to-paycheck workers. K.M., Denver, CO
Who Will Drive Your Chevy to the Levee?
V & Z: I agree with you that disruption caused by technology is real, but we have seen this all before at least since the start of the industrial revolution. I am optimistic we can adapt. I also think many of the changes are overstated. There will be (and already is) tech that makes driving safer and less stressful. I do not believe it will replace human drivers anytime soon. The edge cases which need to be solved before we have truly self-driving vehicles are really hard.
Automation should increase productivity. The real challenge I see is insuring the productivity increases are spread to all in the economy and not concentrated to a few wealthy folks at the top. S.C.M., Scottsdale, AZ
V & Z: You wrote:Self-driving cars and trucks are virtually certain to be very common within 20 years, maybe much sooner. What happens to the 3 million people whose job is driving a vehicle when the vehicle can drive itself?
I believe that this understates the issue by a huge margin. I also believe that there are far too few people who are working to help alleviate the stresses that self-driving vehicles will cause to the economy, preferring to resist the inevitable as much as possible.
Here is the future I believe in: Self-driving vehicles will be ubiquitous and available to anyone with the appropriate app downloaded to their phone. When that happens, virtually everyone will decide that personally owning a vehicle is an unnecessary expense of time and money. When all the nearest vehicles at the curbside are available to you for whatever your transportation needs are, there is no reason to waste time at the DMV, the local brake shop, the gas station, the driver's license bureau, etc. No reason to buy insurance, tires, oil, car washes, license plates or pay parking and traffic tickets. This means that all those industries who rely on people owning their cars will have their entire market disappear virtually overnight.
In addition, the roads will be much safer and accidents will be rare. This will impact all the auto-repair industries, personal injury lawyers, auto insurance (again), and probably many more fields I haven't even thought of. One thing is for certain: The economy is going to endure a giant upheaval, and I think it will happen rapidly (within a couple of years) once it finally gets underway. When one city government that sees the writing on the wall decides to jump forward and be the first to allow only self-driving vehicles on their streets, the citizens of that municipality will reap the rewards (like Colorado did with the weed industry) and everyone else will want the same. S.G., Denver, CO
P.S.: I drive a ride-share vehicle myself, so I would be one of the first to lose their job to a robot.
V & Z: You suggested that, when the House picks its impeachment managers for the trial, Adam Schiff (D-CA) would be joined by committee chairs Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and Eliot Engel (D-NY). What immediately struck me was that you foresaw a New York City cast. Nadler and Maloney represent districts entirely within the city; Engel's district encompasses part of the Bronx and some suburbs immediately north of the city. Furthermore, Schiff, Nadler, and Engel are all Jewish. Finally, those four prospective managers represent heavily Democratic districts, with PVIs ranging from D+23 to D+31. The Republicans would screech that the impeachment is a plot by partisan coastal elites to overturn the election, with some subtle or not-so-subtle appeals to anti-Semitism and to animosity toward New York City. The committee chairs would presumably fight like tigers to be among the managers. Still, I wonder if the House would try to manage the optics of the managers by considering one or more suitably Christian "heartland" types. J.L., Jersey City, NJ
Note: A fair assessment. How about Rep. Tom Halleran (D-AZ)? He's not from the heartland, per se, but he is a former cop, a practicing Catholic, a former Republican, and the third-highest-ranking member of the House Blue Dog Caucus.
V & Z: I fear the most likely scenario: a House impeachment and Senate acquittal. All of the Democrats' impeachment capital will be spent, and Trump will have no reason to fear a second one. He already thinks and acts like he's above the law; it's not hard to imagine him seeing acquittal as exoneration of all his deeds, and for him to go all in on whatever it is he's been holding back on until now. J.M., Seattle, WA
V & Z: On Friday, you wrote about Schiff trying to subpoena Mulvaney: "Exactly what Schiff is doing here, since he's apparently not willing to wait for a judge to enforce the subpoenas, is not known to anyone but the Representative and his team. However, the likeliest possibility is that he is collecting evidence that Trump is interfering with the investigation, and thus is guilty of obstruction of justice."
It came to mind that it is a way to eliminate witnesses that can be called by the Republicans in the Senate trial. It seems to me that if Mulvaney, or any other person that the White House has told not to appear, ignored Democratic subpoenas but then tried to appear in defense of the President in the Senate trial, it would call into question all of the assertions of privilege. Would the Republicans really want to force Roberts to rule on that? S.D., Davis, CA
NPVIC Might Be DOA
V & Z: When discussing the NPVIC in answer to one reader's question, you opined that the compact entering into force in 2024 "seems a very realistic possibility, particularly if the blue team picks up a few more state trifectas next year..." Your answer neglected to point out that implementation of the NPVIC will likely, due to the take-no-prisoners state of our current politics, expose issues that could well make the blue team come to regret what they've been wishing for. In my opinion, discussions of the imminent entering into force of the NPVIC should include discussion of at least the following:
- How will faithless electors be dealt with? A party could undertake to get stealth members onto the slates of electors in the various NPVIC states. These members need not even cast EVs for the major party candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide, but could instead cast them for minor party candidates with a goal of forcing the election into Congress.
- EVs must be accepted and counted by Congress. Realistically, the NPVIC is aimed mainly at a party with strength in small states that loses the popular vote but wins in the Electoral College. Such a party will often control the Senate and could, from time to time and without gerrymandering, control the House. By challenging EVs, the election could be thrown into Congress. After all, even validly selected EVs can be challenged, as all that is needed to sustain a challenge is control of both chambers and the will to exercise raw political power.
- Abolition of the Electoral College. Although the above-mentioned exercise of raw political power will outrage the large states it's not clear that the Constitution will be amended as a result. Since one party is currently disproportionately strong in small states and thus benefits from the Senate's and Electoral College's biases towards small states, any amendment seems unlikely to get the needed approval from three quarters of the states.
Call me pessimistic but I foresee a 50/50 chance that the first election "saved" by the NPVIC is voided by Congress with a message to the blue team to "get over it!" E.C.R., Helsinki, Finland
Moody's Is Sad
V & Z: The time to stop paying attention to Moody's was when they gave Bear Stearns a Triple AAA credit rating just two weeks before they folded. M.M., Seattle, WA
V & Z: As one of the chief enablers of the 2008 financial crisis, why is Moody's even still in business?. J.G., Philadelphia, PA
Bloomberg Isn't Much of a Democrat
V & Z: In your item "Bloomberg Makes His Move?," I saw many of the same inaccurate descriptions of Bloomberg that have been circulating for almost 20 years. I am a long time NYC resident and for some reason that I do not understand, Bloomberg is not subjected to the same rigor of review other politicians are. As a correction, he was not an independent all the time. He ran for mayor as a Republican who hugged Rudy Giuliani and George W. Bush extraordinarily close. That would certainly be a liability in a Democratic national campaign today. He worked hard to get G.W. Bush reelected, and during the Republican Convention in NYC imposed a severe police crackdown on free speech and due process. His policies as mayor were always pro-business over public, pro landlord over tenant, and pro-developer over schools. He also worked with the City Council to overturn voter-mandated term limits for a third term and still almost lost. He left office after his third term very, very unpopular. For whatever reason, coverage of him always assumes he remained popular in NYC, his policies were a success supported by the public, and he is a moderate. The truth is of course more complicated, with a mix of mostly conservative policy pursuits aimed at distributing wealth upward, limiting civil rights and working to create a mythology that he is somehow not a run of the mill politician. In fact, he is. P.H., New York City
Gates Will Be Fine, Even if Warren Gets Elected
V & Z: I think you're misstating the effect on Bill Gates's fortunes under Warren's wealth tax.
Let's assume that Gates is taxed on his whole $107 billion fortune at 3% in the first year, and then he's taxed on the whole remainder at 3% each remaining year for a total of 30 years. Let's also assume that he never spends or earns another penny. At the end, he will still have $44.2 billion left. So, your statement that 30 years of the wealth tax will "eat up most of it" is technically true, but it would still leave him with a larger net worth than that of everyone in the world right now except for 16 other people. (Of course, most of those 16 other people will also be paying the wealth tax.)
However, if we assume that Gates is investing his wealth at an interest rate of larger than 3% (which is undoubtedly true), then he should be making enough money in investments to counteract the wealth tax. In fact, he's likely investing his wealth at a high enough interest rate that would counteract both the wealth tax and the rate of inflation. A.J., Baltimore, MD
V & Z: I have to point out an inconsistency in today's post about the Warren tax calculator. As it says, even after paying the 2 or 3% tax, such fortunes would continue to grow in most economic environments. In my experience that is absolutely true. So the comments about Gates' fortune gradually depleting aren't correct.
I was boatbuilder and tree-climber who married into a situation where we are well into the realm of being hit by this tax, but I wholeheartedly support it. My combined state and federal tax was less than 11% in 2018. This accumulation of wealth really needs to stop, or at least slow down, which Warren's tax would try to do. T.J., Portland, ME
Grab 'em By the Scandal
V & Z: Any endeavor to make an order of Trump's scandals is likely to garner different opinions, but I'll give you my two cents. The biggest issues I have with your list are:
- The inclusion of "Grab 'em by the pu**y." This seems to me to be the definition of Teflon Don—as outrageous as this was, and as damaging as this would have been to any other presidential candidate, I don't think it did much damage to Trump. He still won election, after all.
- Leaving Stormy/Cohen off the list. This mess generated headlines for weeks (or even months), led to public congressional testimony and jail time for Cohen, and may yet prove to be the tool that pries loose Trump's tax returns from his iron grip.
E.D., Tempe, AZ
Note: Just to add a bit more explanation, we put "grab 'em by the pu**y" on the list because it's the only thing that Trump has done that compelled him to issue a formal apology. That seemed significant.
V & Z: Thanks for the horrible "scandalous things" list. It's one thing to order them in terms of how they affected Trump politically, but when you consider the immense and irreparable harm they have done so many other human beings, it is truly a staggering and damning list. M.B., Pittsboro, NC
Don't Bet on PredictIt Being Right
V & Z: Regarding your item "The State of the Presidential Race, Part III: The Betting Markets," those numbers could also be off due to gamblers like myself. I'm voting against Donald Trump next year no matter who the blue team runs, but I've made a large wager that Trump will win. If he loses, I'll be too happy to care about the lost money; if he wins, I'll take a nice vacation with my winnings. It's a bet I can't lose. I don't know how many others hedge their bets like I do, but I can't be the only one. M.S., Alexandria, VA
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Nov08 Bloomberg Makes His Move?
Nov08 Today's Impeachment News
Nov08 Trump Hit with $2 Million Judgment
Nov08 First Revelations from "Anonymous" Book
Nov08 Warren Has a...Calculator for That?
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Nov08 Time to Start Ignoring Moody's
Nov07 Public Hearings in Impeachment Inquiry Will Begin Next Week
Nov07 Most Voters Think Trump Will Be Reelected
Nov07 Russian Media Have Possibly Outed the Whistleblower
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Nov07 Supreme Court I: A Momentous Decision Ahead
Nov07 Supreme Court II: Chief Umpire Roberts May Soon Get a Project He Doesn't Want
Nov07 Most Republicans Aren't Showing Up for the Impeachment Hearings
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Nov07 Flying to the White House
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Nov07 Bevin Makes it Official
Nov07 What Really Matters in the Long Term
Nov06 Bye, Bye Bevin
Nov06 Sondland's Memory Improves
Nov06 Tuesday's Impeachment Maneuvering
Nov06 The State of the Presidential Race, Part I: The New York Times and the Washington Post
Nov06 The State of the Presidential Race, Part II: A Broader View
Nov06 The State of the Presidential Race, Part III: The Betting Markets
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Nov05 Not a Great Day for Trump, Part I: Impeachment
Nov05 Not a Great Day for Trump, Part II: The Courts
Nov05 Voters Head to the Polls Today
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Nov05 The Castro Death Spiral Has Begun, Too
Nov04 Trump Hates Ukraine
Nov04 Trump Also Hates California
Nov04 Whistleblower Willing to Answer Questions in Writing
Nov04 Warren Unveils Medicare for All Funding Plan
Nov04 All in All, It's Just a Hole in the Wall
Nov04 Sports and Trump Just Don't Mix
Nov04 Today's Polls, Part I: The State of the Democratic Race
Nov04 Today's Polls, Part II: Impeachment
Nov03 Sunday Mailbag
Nov02 Beto Says "No Más"
Nov02 Saturday Q&A
Nov01 House Formalizes Impeachment Inquiry
Nov01 About That Offer to the Republican Senators...
Nov01 Trump Unveils 2020 Strategy