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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

It will be very interesting to see how impeachment-heavy the mailbag is next week, given the holiday and the lack of hearings. This week, of course, it is quite heavy on that subject.

The State of Statehood

V & Z: In your comments about the creation of new states, you suggested that the District of Columbia was a "slam dunk," but you made no reference to Puerto Rico. The citizens of Puerto Rico have had many votes on the question since 1969, including a statehood bill introduced by their non-voting representative Jenniffer González-Colón on October 30, 2019. With over 3 million people, Puerto Rico has a greater population than 21 other states and would presumably have electoral votes to match, about six. D.R., Anaktuvuk Pass, AK

Note: We excluded Puerto Rico because the situation there is a little complicated, with anti-state forces boycotting the various votes that have been held so as to taint the results. There was just no way to communicate that in a short space.

Thoughts on Impeachment

V & Z: I'm trying to understand how the average person would summarize impeachment charge against Trump:

Trump misused his office in a failed attempt to get dirt on one political opponent. In the end, there was no investigation in Ukraine, no announcement of an investigation, the meeting of the presidents will take place, and the military aid went through after a minor display.

Framed that way, it's easy to see why people don't get so hot under the collar about it. For them, the intended victim is just one guy, from the political class. The issue of distortion of policy, structure, process, constitutionality, norms is just background music.

If you're a Trumpublican type, you might even say that an attempt to restrict gun sales victimizes far more people than just Joe Biden. Or that increased environmental regulations destroys jobs and is governmental overreach. (Never mind that this is BS—the essence here is that the impeachment charge is one cooked up by the elite because one guy, a member of "the elite," had his ox gored.)

If you're a progressive or Democrat, well sure, you're glad to see Trump's goose cooked, but you probably aren't a big fan of pouring military aid into a country like Ukraine, and you're far more outraged by the crimes committed along the southern border or the eco-crimes that will seal everyone's doom.

If you're an independent, you think (maybe): Bush 43 lied about WMD to start a never-ending war in Iraq. Thousands died. No one was impeached. Only Scooter went to jail. Why impeach over this?

Maybe this helps explain why the needle is not moving on impeachment in the polls? D.A., Brooklyn, NY

V & Z: It's been clear for quite some time that California Rep. Devin Nunes (and some other GOP members of the House and Senate) seem more interested in working for the President than for Congress (or the American People, for that matter). But until I read Friday evening about Nunes' possible involvement with Shokin and the Ukrainian affair, it didn't really occur to me that they might actually be active players in the criminal conspiracy. Call me naive, but I had just assumed they were grandstanding and obfuscating to gain the approval of Trump (and his political base).

If they are actively involved, however, that radically changes the scope and fundamental nature of the impeachment trial. How can someone involved make impartial votes? This would be particularly problematic in the Senate, if more than a handful of Senators were directly involved, and I worry that our Constitution is not able to handle such a crisis. E.H., Stevens Point, WI

V & Z: I thought you and your readers might be interested in Alexander Hamilton's observations about impeachment. These are the second and third paragraphs of Federalist Number 65:

A well-constituted court for the trial of impeachments is an object not more to be desired than difficult to be obtained in a government wholly elective. The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.

The delicacy and magnitude of a trust which so deeply concerns the political reputation and existence of every man engaged in the administration of public affairs, speak for themselves. The difficulty of placing it rightly, in a government resting entirely on the basis of periodical elections, will as readily be perceived, when it is considered that the most conspicuous characters in it will, from that circumstance, be too often the leaders or the tools of the most cunning or the most numerous faction, and on this account, can hardly be expected to possess the requisite neutrality towards those whose conduct may be the subject of scrutiny.

Pretty good forecasting, I'd say—for 1974 and 1998 as well as 2019. A.B., Tucson, AZ

V & Z: On the topic of the overheard phone call—my hearing, so far as I know, is unimpaired. I grew up in New Jersey. My poor, introvert wife says she frequently can hear both sides of my phone conversations, particularly with my dad, and more recently with my financial advisor. Both of these folks are East Coast also. I have no doubt the call was overheard. M.K., Sacramento, CA

V & Z: Contrary to many of your comments this week, the House hearings against Trump have not been disastrous for him simply because not enough Americans are paying attention.

As you have so often noted, impeachment is a political action, not a legal one. As a result, despite the facts and evidence being clear-cut that Trump has committed multiple crimes and should be impeached, the faux reality, as fabricated by the Republicans and Fox News, is that the hearings have been a bust, that Trump is clearly innocent, and the Democrats have proven nothing except their bias, incompetence, and un-American treachery. And these lies have been broadcast loudly enough, and frequently enough that they have effectively drowned out the truth.

It looks like Trump truly is going to get away with murder: causing the death of Ukrainian soldiers by holding up mandated aid to Ukraine for his own corrupt, political purposes. R.W., Toronto, Canada

V & Z: Incredibly, recent polls indicate that the public is moving away from impeachment even as the evidence of criminality mounts. This is particularly the case with independents. However, the Democrats can't abandon impeachment without alienating their own base; nonetheless, the longer the process goes, the more the public will feel that the Democrats are just playing politics and not focusing on the issues important to the public. I think it's all or nothing for the Democrats: vote to impeach as quickly as possible, send two very focused articles of impeachment to the Senate, get the GOP on the record acquitting the President, then pick the most electable candidate. J.B., Bend, OR

Debatable Debate Coverage

V & Z: In your recap of the Democratic debate from last night, you identified former Vice President Biden as the candidate who helped himself least, focusing on a couple of misstatements that he made. However, you ignored two arguments of his that struck me as the best of the night.

First, Biden re-emphasized that foreign leaders know his background and would understand that his statements and actions would all be for the purpose of advancing the goals and objectives of the United States. None would be for his personal advantage to the detriment of U.S. interests.

Second, in answering a question about whether Trump would be criminally prosecuted in a Biden administration, the former Vice President stated that a competent attorney general must operate an independent Justice Department. Any decision to investigate and/or prosecute the former president must be that of a professional independent AG un-influenced by White House meddling. The answer succinctly stated the relationship that should exist between the institutions of the Presidency and the Department of Justice. In all the entertainment driven coverage of politics, this essential point about the ideal of the workings of our institutions was simply ignored because the former Vice President makes verbal mistakes. R.S., Fort Lauderdale, FL

V & Z: Summarizing a 2+ hour debate will by nature leave many things out, but I found the item you wrote for the Atlanta debate to be lacking an important part, namely Sen. Bernie Sanders' declaration that the U.S. should treat the Palestinians with the "respect and dignity they deserve."

These remarks are very controversial and therefore not something many candidates dare talk about. Why wasn't this included in your summary? This seems like a glaring omission. Instead, the space was used to suggest Sanders should take responsibility for his supporters' choice to shame a known criminal. This is disappointing. K.S., St. Paul, MN

Note: Generally, our debate coverage focuses on things that are new, different, or particularly notable. Sanders has said something like this at many debates, going back to 2016, which means it didn't clear those bars.

V & Z: It should be noted that in their native UK, The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was knocked out of the number 1 spot by The Sound of Music soundtrack. And then, Sgt. Pepper's knocked The Sound of Music out of the top spot. Ultimately, both albums dominated the #1 spot from May of 1967 until February 1968. There was a brief three-week hiatus during the Christmas of '67 where Val Doonican held the #1 spot. J.Q., Pequannock, NJ

This Would Be Much Easier if This Site Was in Finnish or Bengali

V & Z: May I suggest, instead of using "he" or "she" or having to specify that "For simplicity we will refer to the president as 'he,' but that should be read as 'he or she,'" you simply use the pronouns "they, them, and theirs" that have become the accepted gender-neutral alternative, and are being used more and more often by the general public. Yes, it takes some getting used to, but I know I and many others would appreciate the effort. S.S., West Hollywood, CA

P.S.: The 2015 "Word of the Year," as designated by the American Dialect Society, was the singular "they" as a gender-neutral pronoun.

Note: You can please all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time but you cannot please all of the people all of the time (Sorry, Abe).

Media Matters

V & Z: You wrote:

Trying to regulate media concerns that are entirely private, like cable stations, Facebook, or blogs or the like is vastly trickier...

There is no such things as 'entirely private' utilities. Any cable station, website, etc. with any substantial reach, is making use of—at some point between the source and the targets—public domains. TCP/IP packets have to reach their audience, and that requires airwaves (via satellite, microwave relay, wi-fi, etc.) or land connection, fiber, twisted pair, coax, etc.), which can't really go anywhere without using, at some points, public utility easements or going through state and/or federal land. Furthermore, wide audience reach means inter-state communication, which certainly falls under the Inter-state commerce clause. So it would not be that "tricky" for the federal government to step in and regulate things. The trick is that, just like gerrymandering, everybody is against it, but few politicians want to really act on it, because they hope to benefit from it.

At the end of the day, we have the politicians we deserve. The US electorate is not uninformed or misinformed because of the media, or the politicians, or Fox News. They are because they choose to be. Nowhere in the world have I met with so many people who are ignorant and proud of it. N.T., Dallas, TX

V & Z: In your item "Google to Significantly Limit Targeted Political Ads," you opined that Facebook might be "pursuing short-term gain at the expense of likely long-term pain" with its current approach to political ads. This is assuming that it is only the profits of the political ads that are motivating CEO Mark Zuckerberg. I wonder if, in fact, Zuckerberg may actually be motivated by something else too. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has stated that if elected, she would break Facebook up. Of course, Zuckerberg has responded that he would fight that. Wouldn't the easiest way to fight that be to make sure she is not elected? Republicans have already demonstrated that they will not take action against anything that helps them stay in power; therefore, Facebook probably has a better chance of not getting broken up if Republicans keep the Senate and White House. Zuckerberg probably views any Democrat as a bigger risk to Facebook's future than any Republican. By maintaining the "anything-goes" policy of 2016, they are most likely helping the Republicans by allowing the Russian trolls to influence the election, without actually getting involved in politics. M.B., Melrose, WA

V & Z: I've for a long time thought, too, that The Hill was just a centrist outlet. I noticed their support for Joe Biden in the Democratic primary, of course, but I mostly disagreed with your right-leaning classification until you explained yourself on this topic the past week. I just read this piece from Jonathan Turley entitled "A case for impeaching all living presidents of the United States." Indeed, there's no more room for doubt. I'll take their news with a grain of salt in the future. E.K., Brignoles, France

Reading the Haley Tea Leaves

V & Z: With regards to Nikki Haley's game plan, is she not preparing for President Trump's possible impeachment and removal from office? Her defense of the president's actions endears her to Trump voters, so she will likely inherit their support. She is also a Southerner and the daughter of immigrants, so she would be an amazingly good pick as VP for President Mike Pence (Midwesterner, white, male). Even if he loses the election, she will be ready for 2024. N.Z., Cambridge, UK

And You Thought Your Cell Phone Was Complicated

V & Z: You wrote that "a lot of new drugs are the result of government-funded university research." Indirect support, certainly. But "a lot of new drugs"? I think not. Per this analysis from the Congressional Research Service, government funding directly supports development of roughly 10% of new drugs. Government's indirect contributions to new drug development are myriad and could encompass everything from roads to food stamps to funding basic research that identifies new drug targets. Given the breadth of the investment, both public and private, claiming 'just' compensation and applying it fairly is going to be pretty tough.

I work in this particular patch of weeds. My project hasn't yet joined the 9%, but we're working towards that. If we join that lucky group, roughly 70% of the proceeds from our work will be claimed by our public university. Hardly a lack of compensation, if you ask me. That compensation would come from folks who are paying for the privilege to run multi-million dollar trials with tens of thousands of patients, attendant doctors and nurses, lab techs to process the samples, statisticians to crunch the numbers, and lawyers to oversee everything from manufacture to marketing—all with no guarantee of FDA approval or return on investment. There is no way my little group of academics can do all that, and I think those folks deserve something for their work too.

As with many things, this is such a complex industry that it is difficult to get a good view of the forest from the inside, the outside, or even with a satellite view. I think this is why there are so many holes in the regulations, incentives and public understanding of drug discovery, development, approval, manufacture and marketing. I enumerate those particular 'weeds' to make the point that they are all separate businesses (literally!) with the need for their own unique rules, regs and incentives. I work on the first two (discovery / development). The others are usually handled by the private sector and are not trivial. This division of labor works because it turns out, most scientists would rather be creative than navigate FDA regulations and most lawyers are smart enough to realize that in practice, science is actually boring, frustrating, and quite often futile. We may not like or understand each other, but we're happy for the other's work. M.H., Seattle, WA

Note: We are always glad to hear from experts, and thank you for sharing your insight!

The Best Thing Since...Shredded Wheat?

V & Z: Of the many things the Hearst papers may have said about William Jennings Bryan in 1896, a favorable comparison to sliced bread wouldn't have been one of them—we didn't get sliced bread until 1927.

The zipper (1893) would be a better fit, or at the very least shredded wheat (1890). M.K., Wilmington, DE

Note: We knew that, but the idiom is what it is. That said, based on your e-mail and several others, we changed the reference to instant coffee, which was invented during the Civil War, for obvious reasons.

The good news is that this gives us a chance to list 10 things people might not realize were invented prior to 1896: catheters (1752), batteries (1800), amphibious vehicles (1805), circuit breakers (1836), jackhammers (1849), dishwashers (1850), elevators (1852), escalators (1859), vibrators (1869), and solar cells (1883).

And also 10 things that people might not realize were invented after 1896: fly swatters (1900), tea bags (1903), banana splits (1904), gin rummy (1909), antibiotics (1909), fortune cookies (1914), toasters (1919), jungle gyms (1920), chocolate chip cookies (1930), and the modern formulation of deodorant (1941).

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov23 Saturday Q&A
Nov22 Two More Nails in the Impeachment Coffin
Nov22 GOP Plots Impeachment Strategy
Nov22 FBI Official Under Investigation for Document Tampering
Nov22 Trump Signs Short-Term Funding Bill
Nov22 Trump Gets Another Tax Return Victory
Nov22 Google to Significantly Limit Targeted Political Ads
Nov22 About that Trump Jr. "Bestseller"
Nov22 Lots of Drama in Israel
Nov21 Sondland: There Was a Quid Pro Quo and Everyone Knew about It
Nov21 It Wasn't Just the Gordon Sondland Show
Nov21 Hearings Aren't Moving the Needle
Nov21 Democrats Debate in Atlanta
Nov21 Americans Don't Believe Campaigns Are Based on Facts
Nov21 Nikki Haley Goes Full Trumpist
Nov21 Wayne Messam Is Out
Nov21 Republicans Still Want Pompeo to Run for the Senate in Kansas
Nov21 Carolyn Maloney Will Become Chair of the House Oversight Committee
Nov20 Impeachment Inquiry Goes Better than Usual for Trump
Nov20 Trump Reverses Policy on Israel
Nov20 Grisham Tells a Whopper
Nov20 New Hampshire Poll Has Buttigieg in the Lead
Nov20 Democrats Debate Tonight
Nov20 Let Them Eat...Avocado Toast
Nov20 Jim Jordan May Get a Never Trump Challenger
Nov19 Get Ready for More Fireworks
Nov19 Trump Gets Physical...Or Does He?
Nov19 Two Courts Give Trump Favorable Tax Return Rulings
Nov19 A Faustian Bargain?
Nov19 Another Day, Another Gerrymandered North Carolina Map
Nov19 American Bridge Tries Out Possible Approach to 2020 Advertisements
Nov19 Why The Hill is Fox News Lite
Nov18 The Base Is Too Big
Nov18 Pelosi: Impeachment Hearings Might Not Finish This Year
Nov18 Trump Attacks a Pence Staffer
Nov18 Poll: Buttigieg Leads in Iowa
Nov18 Warren Has a Plan ... for Health Care
Nov18 The Harris Campaign: The Obituary
Nov18 Bloomberg Will Spend $100 Million in Four States
Nov18 What Kind of Government Reforms Might Be Passed Post-Trump?
Nov17 John Bel Edwards Is Reelected
Nov17 Sunday Mailbag
Nov16 Yovanovitch Testifies, Republicans Obfuscate, and Trump Instigates
Nov16 Stone Is Guilty as Charged
Nov16 Saturday Q&A
Nov15 The Day After...
Nov15 Diplomacy, Trump Style
Nov15 Today in Emoluments News: Trump International DC
Nov15 Amazon Sues the Pentagon
Nov15 The State of the Democratic Race, Part I: National Polls