‘Put Somebody In Charge’
Bonus Quote of the Day
Starmer to Lead Britain’s Labour Party
Thank God for the Internet
GOP Stalls Effort to Postpone Wisconsin Primary
Top Sanders Advisers Urge Him to Drop Bid
• While You Weren't Looking, Part II
• Wisconsin Governor Changes His Mind
• Saturday Q&A
When it comes to the Ukraine Affair, and the resulting impeachment, Donald Trump blames a large number of people, although none of those people would be visible when he looks in a mirror. Some of those people, like Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), are beyond his control. Others would be politically difficult to punish. Perhaps the foremost entry in the latter category is Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson. At least, he was the foremost entry, because on Friday evening, he was fired by the President.
The office of Inspector General is supposed to be non-partisan, and Atkinson lived up to that expectation throughout the course of his governmental career, earning rave reviews (and even the Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service) for his work. When he brought the Ukraine whistleblower's complaint to the attention of Congress, he was doing exactly what the statutes instructed him to do. Trump has been itching to fire him for months, but was talked out of it, since the optics are very, very bad, and make the President appear to be corrupt, and on a quest to fill non-partisan posts with partisan yes-men.
That Trump chose a Friday night (yet again) in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis to wield the axe makes very clear that he knows how bad this looks. Exactly how he got to the point of pulling the trigger now, after holding back for four months, is a question that may or may not be answered. For now, here are some theories:
- A need for control: Trump, who is basically a walking id, has a deep-seated need to flex
his muscles and to exercise control in situations that seem to be beyond his control. Obviously, he's in the midst of
the COVID-19 crisis right now, and it's not exactly yielding to his muscle-flexing. Perhaps a return to his previous
crisis, where he still can lash out and exercise some control, is cathartic for him.
- Someone (new?) in his ear: The President rarely does anything like this without someone
getting in his ear and telling him it's ok, and smart, and the like. Maybe one of his regular phone call partners, like
Sean Hannity, told him to move forward. Or maybe it was newly installed chief of staff Mark Meadows.
- (Temporarily) forestall some other scandal: Trump knew about Ukraineyola before the general public did. It is at least possible that some other scandal is percolating through the intelligence community, and the President is trying to slow the process down, either by creating a little chaos in the IG's office, or by getting a loyalist into the IG position.
If you asked us to pick one, we would guess it's the first item on the list. Judging by Trump's physical appearance at the daily briefings (he looks like he hasn't slept in the last year), and the very strange (and, frankly, childish) letter that Trump sent to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), this sure seems like a guy who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. And that's before we consider that he cannot currently take his regular golf vacations to Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster, and that his business empire (given his habit of keeping zero cash reserves) is likely in deep trouble right now. (Z)
Donald Trump wasn't the only one to try to sneak a little controversial news under the radar on Friday. Joe Biden has a pretty obvious dilemma right now. On one hand, if he pivots too obviously toward the general election before he's formally the Democratic nominee, he looks disrespectful of the process and of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and his supporters. On the other hand, there are some very pragmatic things that simply cannot wait until the newly rescheduled Democratic convention in August. Like, for example, the vetting of potential vice-presidential and Cabinet nominees. Doing it properly takes a lot of time, and if even the smallest skeleton gets overlooked (a problematic tweet? an unpaid parking ticket from the 1970s?) it can become a big problem. Well, at least for Democratic appointees, it can.
Anyhow, in view of this, Biden tried to massage the situation as smoothly as he could. On Friday, he casually told the press that he chatted with Barack Obama, who affirmed the need to get started vetting now, and that he called up his friend Bernie Sanders to update him on what's happening. Biden's exact words:
And so I am in the process and I actually had this discussion with Bernie. He's a friend. We're competitors. He's a friend. I don't want him to think I'm being presumptuous but you have to start now deciding who you're going to have background checks done on as potential vice presidential candidates and it takes time
And again, take note that Biden put this out there on a Friday afternoon/evening, at the lowest ebb of the news cycle.
Will this strategy work, in terms of allowing Biden to balance the two competing imperatives (prepping for the election, but also not stepping on the toes of Sanders and his supporters)? We'll see, but it was probably the best option available to the former veep. (Z)
Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) is another politician who is trying to juggle multiple, competing imperatives. On one hand, he would really like Wisconsin's primary to move forward as scheduled, since there are certain statewide offices that need to be filled. On the other hand, he doesn't want people contracting COVID-19, or staying away from the polls because of the epidemic. On the third hand, he's dealing with a Republican-dominated legislature that is not particularly interested in working with him.
The governor's approach, thus far, has been to stick with the original date, but to really, really, really encourage people to request absentee ballots. He even talked about just mailing a ballot to everyone, but that plan was kiboshed by the uncooperative legislature, plus a lack of time and supplies. Anyhow, the Governor's approach infuriated nearly everyone, including his fellow Democrats, and on Friday he switched course, declaring that he wants to postpone the primary, switch to all-mail, and reset the due date to May 26.
To this end, Evers called the legislature into special session, set to take place this afternoon. Reading between the lines, it's pretty clear that this will be the Republicans' last chance to play ball, and to have some voice in the process. If they refuse, Evers will invoke his authority as governor, and reschedule the election of his own volition. This means that, by the time the weekend is over, the only places that are set to hold in-person voting before mid-May are Puerto Rico and Guam, and even those are likely to change. (Z)
If we keep putting off the "behind the scenes" questions, we'll never get to them. So, instead of devoting a full week to them (as we'd originally envisioned), we're going to do a few a week for the next several weeks.
Q: I was hoping you could comment on the legality of states collectively bargaining for personal protective equipment and for medical supplies like ventilators. There are regular news stories about New York bidding against California, thus driving up the prices for everyone. Given the current dysfunction of the federal government, wouldn't it make sense for California and New York (and perhaps other populous states) to make an agreement to collectively purchase needed items and distribute them as needed within those states? Would this be legal? Or would it be considered a soft secession? Or prohibited under interstate commerce rules? Or would it simply be bad optics if several (likely) Democratic states aligned in a way that appeared to undercut Trump? K.M., Redwood City, CA
A: This is absolutely legal; Art. I, Sec. 10 of the Constitution specifically anticipates the possibility of interstate compacts, declaring: "No State shall, without the Consent of Congress...enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State." On their face, those words may make it seem that the sort of arrangement you propose would require Congressional approval. However, an extensive body of jurisprudence has established that congressional consent is implied in most circumstances, and this would likely be among them. Further, if someone wanted to challenge such an arrangement, it would be hard to get a court hearing in time to matter, especially since most courts are closed right now (more below). If you would like to read a more detailed analysis, see here.
As to the optics of the situation, it's possible that is a concern. On the other hand, folks like Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) are primarily worried about the feelings of voters in their overwhelmingly Democratic states, and not so much about what Rush Limbaugh is telling people in Alabama to think. Further, they could certainly offer Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) or Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) an opportunity to be a part of the team. That would put those gentlemen in an interesting position of choosing what matters most to them: (1) Their general anti-government/anti-blue state posture, or (2) Saving the lives of their state's citizens.
Q: Since Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) is likely starting a commission to look into Donald Trump and his administration's response (and lack of response) to COVID-19 pandemic, what are some areas that you feel would be the most fertile and interesting to expose? Also do you think this commission will have a greater impact on President Conman and his enablers than the impeachment hearings or will it prove to be yet another rousing defense of Dear Leader? D.E., Lititz, PA
A: This isn't particularly profound, but the two areas where Trump is most exposed are: Steps he took 1-2 years ago that left the U.S. underprepared for a pandemic, and (2) His handling of the early days and weeks of the pandemic, when it was very clear that there was a problem, but he continued to do his ostrich impression and bury his head in the sand (and yes, we know that ostriches don't really do that).
If we played the percentages, the conclusion would be that this will not penetrate Trump's mile-thick coating of teflon, because nothing has so far. However, we do indeed think this might be different, a conclusion that is already mildly supported by the data (another poll from Rasmussen, which oversamples Republicans, came out Friday, and it has him 9 points underwater on his approval rating). Extortion is at least something of an abstraction, and it may be hard for people to grasp the crime and/or the evidence, particularly with the President and his allies doing everything they could to muddy the waters.
On the other hand, "he mishandled an outbreak of disease" is about as non-abstract as it gets. And the evidence is already ubiquitous and impossible-to-avoid, from empty freeways to shuttered businesses to an imploding stock market to all the sick and dead people. It is (and was) possible to dismiss Ukraine Mobilier as a fantasy or a conspiracy; the creation of the deep state, or the media, or the Democrats, or whoever. That is not possible with COVID-19, and someone is going to need to be blamed. Undoubtedly, some of Trump's base will accept the various arguments that the President and his allies are making, and blame China, or immigrants in general, or the CDC, or the Democrats. However, we think at least some of them are going to find themselves with no cognitively viable option but to lay the blame at the President's feet.
Q: You quoted columnist Robert J. Samuelson and his changing views on using the word "depression." So, could you explore the difference between a depression and a recession? Does someone in the Treasury Department make the call that we're in one? Is there an official U.S. Government definition and dividing line between the two or is it more of a "we'll know it when we see it" kind of situation. B.E., Sierra Visa, AZ
A: There is a generally agreed upon definition of "recession," used by economists within the government and without: two quarters of negative GDP growth. There is not a generally agreed upon definition of "depression," though there is general agreement that it's noticeably worse than a recession, lasts longer, and undercuts both income and employment in a noticeable and long-lasting fashion.
There is also a snarky definition, used by Ronald Reagan when he was running for president: "Recession is when a neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours." He also sometimes adapted that to: "Recession is when a neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when my opponent (Jimmy Carter) loses his."
In the end, Reagan's definition may actually be the more useful one for our purposes. As your question suggests, "depression" is somewhat a matter of perception, particularly when it comes to voters. If large numbers of people suffer (losing jobs, falling behind on bills, coping with sickness due to a lack of insurance) when previously they have not, or if they suffer worse than they ever have (particularly in comparison to the 2008 recession), then large numbers of people are likely to conclude this is a depression. And when it comes to voting, that is what matters, not what the economists think.
Q: I don't want to give them any ideas, but what if Trump first declared martial law—perhaps because of an out-of-control pandemic—then declared a postponement of the election? T.H., La Quinta, CA
A: The bottom line, which we have pointed out several times, is that Trump's first term ends on January 20, 2021. There are four ways he might stay in office beyond that date:
- He can win the election of 2020 the normal way.
- He can game the system. As we have written this week (twice), we don't think there's a plausible way to do that.
- He can persuade Congress and 3/4 of the states to change the Constitution. Obviously, not gonna happen.
- He can declare martial law, and announce that the Constitution is in abeyance and that he will remain in office as long as is necessary.
Option #4 is the one you're asking about, of course. Is it possible? Certainly it's possible; Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, himself a right-wing authoritarian, has just done exactly that. However, what we would be talking about, at that point, would be a coup. Nobody ever expects a coup to happen, or to work, until it does, so we cannot definitely say "no, no way!" when it comes to Trump. That said, he would need buy-in from a sizable number of civil officials, from federal law enforcement, and from the U.S. military. And we don't think he would get that buy-in. Specifically, we think the leaders of the civilian law enforcement structure (e.g., FBI Director Christopher Wray), along with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would partner together and would arrest Trump if he tried it.
Q: I see the COVID-19 numbers coming out daily and it had me wondering. How many Americans die on what would be a "normal" day compared to today with the virus? Are we 50% greater than normal? The numbers are horrible...and staggering. However, I would like to know what the baseline would be for comparison. C.L., New York, New York
A: About 2.8 million Americans die per year, which works out to 7,671 per day. There have been about 7,000 (known) deaths from COVID-19 in the last 10 days, and so the epidemic is increasing the nation's mortality rate by about 10% right now.
To give a few more specific comparisons, the number of people who have died from COVID-19 is comparable to the number of Americans who die in drunk driving accidents annually (about 7,500). In another week, if current trends hold, COVID-19 will kill as many people as are murdered in an average year in the United States (about 15,500). If the midpoint of Donald Trump's announced projection is reached (170,000 dead), then COVID-19 will kill more Americans in 2020 than all causes besides heart disease (650,000 deaths annually) and cancer (600,000 deaths annually).
Q: If several senators were quarantined, including at least 6 more Republicans than Democrats, such that Democrats would have a de-facto majority of present and voting members, could the Democratic (including the 2 independents) caucus rise up, take power away from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and make Chuck Schumer (D-NY) the majority leader? Then Schumer could take the pile of important bills that McConnell has been keeping on his desk, such as election security, and force the Senate to vote on them. Trump may veto them, but it would force his hand and the hands of the non-quarantined Republicans. Of course, Republicans would be able to take back power when their people recover, but could something like this happen? M.Y., Windcrest, TX
A: Is this possible, under the rules of the Senate? Yes. Is it going to happen? No way. First of all, this would look really, really mercenary. Republicans sometimes have the stomach for this kind of Machiavellian maneuvering, but Democrats do not. Further, McConnell thus far has been very resistant to allowing members of Congress to vote remotely. However, if his power was threatened, he would warm up to remote voting pronto.
Q: You wrote: "In fact, because scarves absorb moisture, there are some cases where a scarf is actually more dangerous than having nothing." Could you provide a source for that information? I couldn't find much about that on my own. K.A., Key Largo, FL
A: Here is a study conducted in response to a different coronavirus (MERS) in 2015. As you will see, part of the conclusions, summarized in the abstract, are: "[The study's] results caution against the use of cloth masks. This is an important finding to inform occupational health and safety. Moisture retention, reuse of cloth masks and poor filtration may result in increased risk of infection."
Q: How have "shelter at home" mandates affected U.S. courts? Is the U.S. court system still functioning? In particular, is SCOTUS still hearing cases and making rulings? D.A., Ada, MI
A: The courts are mostly closed, or are entirely closed (we'll have a letter on this tomorrow). That includes the Supreme Court, which is holding its usual Friday conferences, but that's it. The justices have not speculated about when they might resume holding arguments.
Q: Could Congress pass a national stay-at-home law/order that would be enforced in all 50 states to take the place of President Trump's lack of action? R.H.D., Webster, NY
A: Congress can't do much of anything on this front without Trump's cooperation, other than issue a symbolic, non-binding resolution. And Trump probably can't do much of anything on this front without Congress' cooperation, as current federal law (and jurisprudence) make such decisions the province of state governors. So, unless two of the three branches of government get together and play nice, then this will be a state-by-state decision. That said, there are only nine states left that do not already have a stay-at-home order, or some equivalent, already in place: AR, IA, NE, ND, OK, SC, SD, UT, and WY.
Q: Seems to me the pandemic in general, and in particular, stories like
might move the Overton Window significantly to the left on health care. People are not going to be happy getting the
bills for COVID-19 care, and if the feds can just step in to pay, that raises the question of why can't it do so more
generally. Not to mention the issue of infected but uninsured people not getting themselves tested/treated because of
Biden and other moderate Democrats should perhaps recognize this, and start adjusting their message (i.e., not dismissing Medicare for All outright). This might also have the benefit of mollifying some Sanders supporters. J.Z., Santa Rosa, CA
A: Here are some questions that (Z) has posed, Socratic-style, to many people who oppose nationalized health insurance, and to which he has never gotten a clear answer:
- If disease is allowed to go unchecked among the poor and uninsured, exactly what is it that stops that disease from
spreading to the not-poor and the well-insured?
- You do realize that if uninsured people go to the ER, they have to be treated, with the costs passed on to those of us who are insured? Do you really prefer that system to one where these folks at least contribute something to the costs of their treatment, and perhaps get treatment before their problems become serious (and really expensive)?
The point of both lines of questioning, of course, is that everyone is being harmed by the current system. We think that the current crisis will certainly move the Overton window, by giving clear and compelling evidence of this, that even those who are insured are taking a hit right now both in terms of health and in terms of money. That, in turn, will undoubtedly push Biden leftward. Whether this builds a bridge to Sanders and his supporters, we do not know; they tend to be "all or none" type folks, and not "80% of what we want is pretty good for now" type folks.
Q: You wrote: "First, there have now been more deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 than in China." Isn't that terribly irresponsible to say without so much as even a note that we should take China's numbers with a Panamax of salt given all the lies they've been telling about it? And I don't just mean the death count either but substantially every aspect of this disease? Hell, Dr. Li Wenliang who was among the first to sound the alarm bell was quite clearly persecuted and silenced by the Communist Party which likely made the entire pandemic a lot worse. J.M., New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Canada
A: When we write each day's posting, we have to make hundreds of decisions, big and small, about what we write, and how we write it. That means that any given decision only gets a fairly brief amount of consideration. When (Z) wrote that item, he thought about including a note that you should take the Chinese government's numbers with a grain of salt. However, he took a quick look on the Internet, and couldn't find any evidence to support that. There was also a chance that it would seem conspiratorial and/or racist. So, he did not include that observation.
In the last few days, however, there has been much coverage of China's mortality figures, and how the government there is fudging them (see this, for example). The number that's out there is 40,000 Chinese deaths. So yes, now we can say that you probably shouldn't trust the death toll, or much of anything COVID-19 related, coming out of China.
Q: Perhaps it might be a bit early to ask this question, but I am going to ask it anyway. Where would you place the COVID-19 Pandemic in defining moments of American history? 9/11, JFK assassination, WWI, WWII, Civil War, Louisiana Purchase, Cold War, I am probably missing some. Where does COVID-19 stack up? I would say it has to be on the list, because it has changed our life in unprecedented ways that would have been unimaginable 1 month ago. C.V., Chadron, NE
A: One of these days, (Z) plans to write a book about the 50 most influential events in U.S. history, very much in the style of the scandals series or the crises series. Though for that book, he will only include "events" (battles, inventions, riots, passage of key laws) and not eras (WWII, the Civil War, the Great Depression).
Anyhow, COVID-19 will definitely make the list, whenever that book is written. Where it will be on the list, however, is impossible to say. If the disease exacts a big human and financial toll and, say, wrecks the Trump presidency, that's one thing. If it does those things, and also transforms the way elections are conducted, while also laying the groundwork for nationalized health care, that's another. Time will tell. If you would like one (right-wing) guess, then see this piece, but keep in mind that this is not really analysis, it's more like speculative fiction.
Q: You often (and rightly) dismiss conspiracy theories. Have there ever been conspiracy theories that were widely dismissed, but that later turned out to be mostly accurate? Similarly, have there ever been historical narratives which, had people suggested them at the time would have (perhaps understandably) been labeled as "conspiracy theories" and dismissed? D.A., Brooklyn, NY
A: Yes, there are lots of things that were dismissed by some (or many) people in the moment as lies/fantasies/conspiracy theories, but that proved to be true: that a "slave power" was maneuvering the South towards civil war in the 1840s, that Adolf Hitler was systematically executing people, that the U.S. government was mucking around in the politics of various Middle Eastern countries (like Iran and Iraq), and that the folks arrested at a hotel and office complex in Washington in 1972 were working directly for the President of the United States.
There are also things that we now know to be true, but that if someone had announced at the time, they would have been dismissed as nut cases. That First Lady Edith Wilson was secretly running the country in 1919-20. That the discovery of penicillin would revolutionize medicine. That tobacco companies knew full well, by the mid-20th century, that cigarettes cause cancer. That the attack at the Gulf of Tonkin, which led to the Vietnam War, was basically a set-up.
When (Z) teaches his conspiracy theories course, however, one of the first things he points out is that "some conspiracy theories were proven true!" is not evidence that other conspiracy theories are also true. If anything, the fact that at least 99.9% of conspiracy theories prove to be false argues for the position that you and we both take: A conspiracy theory should be presumed false, until one is presented with clear and compelling evidence to the contrary.
Q: Can you recommend a book on JFK conspiracy theories? I remember one with the title "Case Closed," but I suppose there are many more. J.K., Bergen, Norway
A: You know, sometimes an author does a job so well, there's nothing left for future authors to improve upon. And so, Gerald Posner's Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK remains the standard nearly 30 years after it was originally published (the book was recommended to (Z) by his professor, the notable political historian Robert Dallek, best known for his competition with Robert Caro to see who could write the lengthiest biography of Lyndon B. Johnson). If you're looking for books on the conspiratorial side of things, there are a million of those; you might as well go with the most famous one, which is Jim Garrison's On the Trail of the Assassins (which became the basis of the movie JFK). If you want an analysis of why people believe in the conspiracy, take a look at I Was a Teenage JFK Conspiracy Freak.
Q: Slavery existed in New Jersey throughout the Civil War. Was that true of any other "Northern" state? G.S., Silver Spring, MD
A: First of all, we assume that you mean "Northern" in a geographic sense. If you mean it in the sense of "sided with the Union during the Civil War," then there were four slave states that did not secede: Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware.
Anyhow, if your question was meant in the geographic sense, the answer is: probably not. Although all Northern states passed some sort of anti-slavery law by 1804, many states' laws did not call for immediate freedom, but instead for gradual emancipation. New Jersey's was particularly onerous in this regard: The children of slaves were not free until they were 21 (female) or 25 (male), and people who had been enslaved before 1804 were not freed at all. Over time, this practice became somewhat socially unacceptable, and so in 1846 the state "abolished" slavery, but simultaneously re-classified all remaining slaves as "apprentices" whose term of apprenticeship was "life." This is what made it possible for New Jersey residents to report having zero slaves in the 1860 census, despite having people who were black, unpaid for their labor, and the property of their owner. Given the little game of euphemisms that the Garden State was playing, it's hard to be sure exactly how many "apprentices for life" were left by the time of the Civil War. Many sources say it was 16 or 18, although the historian James J. Gigantino says that his research indicates it was closer to 400.
It is possible that there were other Northern states that had a few slaves remaining in 1860 or 1865, but not terribly probable. New Jersey had a combination of circumstances that made it particularly primed to hang on to human bondage:
- It was very politically conservative (1860s translation: racist)
- It bordered a slave state
- It had industries where slave labor was particularly useful (e.g., many slaves were skilled shipwrights)
- It was pretty far from Canada (where escaped slaves tended to run to)
- It never outlawed all forms of bondage, until the federal government did so on its behalf in 1865
The only other geographically Northern (as opposed to Midwestern) state that bordered a slave state was Pennsylvania, but thanks to that state's large Quaker population, it was HQ for anti-slavery sentiment, and was the first state to enact a manumission law. The only other geographically Northern state that never fully abolished slavery, until the Thirteenth Amendment did so on its behalf, was New Hampshire. But that state did not have slave-friendly industries, and it is right next to Canada (so, easy escape). The upshot is that it's hard to imagine any other Northern state where the slave system could have lingered for 60 years after it had become institutio non grata.
Q: Can you take us through which news sources you use and the process you use to assemble the items for each week? How do you stay abreast of the issues on both sides of the political spectrum as well as focus on the smaller issues that can become important, especially the ones less frequently covered in big news sites? D.O., Cambridge, MA
A: We rely very heavily on other politically oriented sites, like Politico, TalkingPointsMemo, and McClatchyDC, particularly those that also do some sort of election projections, like FiveThirtyEight, Sabato's Crystal Ball, and the Cook Political Report. We survey the mainstream news sites, of course, like ABC, NBC, CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and so forth, and we look at slightly-to-highly partisan sites like Breitbart, Fox News, The Bulwark, MSNBC, Mother Jones, Daily Kos, etc., so we have a sense of the spectrum of coverage and of opinion. We also consult some "old school" type sources that likely speak to an older demographic, like The Economist and NPR, but also some "new school" sources that likely speak to a younger demographic, like Vox and Buzzfeed.
For very specialized or specific stories, we tend to have a few trusted sites or blogs, like Lawfare for legal stories or the SPLC for anything related to racism/hate crimes. For local stories, we generally try to find coverage in one of the major local newspapers, like the The Miami Herald for Florida news, or The Minneapolis Star-Tribune for Minnesota. The same is true for major international stories; we try to find an English-language site, if we can, like Haaretz (Israel), The Times of India, or the Guardian (UK). And, of course, there are a number of reference sources, like realclearpolitics (polls), the FEC (campaign funding), and congress.gov (current legislation).
Also, and this is valuable enough that it gets its own paragraph, readers often bring items of interest to our attention. This is much appreciated.
Note that the links that we choose for our items do not necessarily reflect the breadth of the sources we look at. We don't especially like to link to highly partisan sites, unless we're doing an item like "Here's how Republicans are responding to the debate." Most of the time, we avoid linking to sites that don't support https, since that creates issues with some browsers. And, as best we can, we try not to link to stories behind hard paywalls (the obvious one is the Wall Street Journal). Also, if we have a choice between basically equivalent stories, one behind a site with a soft paywall (say, The Washington Post) and one behind a site with no paywall (say, CNN), we tend to choose the latter.
Q: I follow politics regularly, although I have a full time job (just like the two of you). I'm regularly astonished, however, at the depth and breadth of your analyses. So I wonder how you do it—do you have IQ's in the multiple hundreds? Do you have binders full of women as expert sources? I haven't the foggiest, but I'm thankful that you are out there. B.B., Panama City Beach, FL
A: We generally try to avoid running flattering questions on Saturdays and flattering messages on Sundays, because while we appreciate the kind words, sharing them seems unseemly and unnecessary. Quite often, even if we run a question/letter that is partly complimentary, we trim out that part. However, we got many variants of this question, and so we will answer it, even if it runs contrary to our general policy.
Undoubtedly, if the two of us were to take some sort of standardized test, we would achieve an above-average score. We can say this because we've both taken tests of this sort (SATs, most obviously), so we know. That said, we do not claim to be a couple of John von Neumanns running around. We would say there are a few things that make it possible to produce the site, beyond a fair investment of time and energy:
- Academic Training: We both have Ph.D. degrees, and that means we've had extensive training
in the use of information: how to collect it, how to use it, how to discard that which is unnecessary, how to
efficiently fill in holes.
- Polymathy: Although we both internalized the "using information" part of our academic
training, we did not particularly internalize the "focus on only one thing" part. Both of us, in various ways, developed
several areas of interest and meaningful expertise. To give an illustration, in addition to each of us having our
fingers in several different academic pies, one of us is capable of professional-level photography, while the other can
do professional-level graphic design.
- Practice: Let us imagine that two people have equal capacity to play the piano, but one of
them practices three hours a day and the other doesn't practice at all. The former would be a considerably more
impressive performer in concert, right? Well, the same is true with writing. If you write for an hour or two or three
every day (or nearly every day), you get to be "in practice," and so you produce generally higher quality work at a
generally faster pace than would otherwise be the case.
- Efficiency: As noted above, readers are often kind enough to bring things to our attention. They also make valuable suggestions, or report on local conditions. This means that there is at least something of a "hive-mind" effect that helps make the site stronger. Further, throughout the day, every day, we stumble on things that might become an item that night, but also might become the starting point for an idea that pays off in a day or a week or more. In other words, the seeds for some items don't necessarily start with us, and they don't necessarily start the day the item was written. The "crises" series, for example, was the result of a reader e-mail, followed by a Washington Post article, that (Z) read three weeks ago.
Anyhow, those are the dynamics, as best we can put our finger on them.
Q: Could you please discuss your process for sorting through your questions inbox, including some statistics regarding how many questions you receive (and if there are any interesting trends, like people are most curious on Wednesday afternoons), how many of those you are able to read, and how many of those you answer? S.S., Long Beach, CA
A: First, the easy part: we read all the questions. As to trends, we can't say that there are any obvious and interesting ones that pop out. The closest we've got is this: There are some items we write that generate a lot of questions, and we guessed that would be the case. There are some items we write that generate a lot of questions, and we had no clue that would be the case.
The number of questions we get depends on how loosely or strictly you define "question" (some e-mails blur the line between "question" and "comment"), but it's around 150 per week. We usually answer about 15 of them. Some questioners show up somewhat more frequently than that might suggest, either because they are really good at coming up with good questions, or because they submit multiple questions per week.
In terms of the questions we answer, we tend to favor questions that:
- Allow some sort of analysis, as opposed to just our opinion on something
- Cannot easily be answered with a Google search
- We think we have something to say/add that you cannot find anywhere else
- Seem interesting to a large number of people
- Don't cover the same territory as other recently answered questions
There is also something of a built-in bias toward questions submitted on Thursday or Friday. This is not by choice, it's because those questions are less likely to have been rendered out-of-date by the week's news events, or by items we've written in the latter part of the week.
If you have a question about politics, civics, history, etc. you would like us to answer on the site, please send it to email@example.com, and include your initials and city of residence. If you have a comment about the site or one of the items therein, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and include your initials and city of residence in case we decide to publish it. If you spot any typos or other errors on the site that we should fix, please let us know at email@example.com.
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr03 Unemployment Figures Are Ghastly
Apr03 Democrats Officially Reschedule Convention
Apr03 Vote-by-mail List Grows
Apr03 National Vote-by-mail Is Going to Be Tough
Apr03 Can Trump Postpone the Election?, Part II
Apr03 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part V: California Statehood (1850)
Apr02 Biden: Difficult to Imagine Having Democratic Convention as Scheduled
Apr02 Sanders Wants Wisconsin to Postpone Its Primary
Apr02 Can Trump Postpone the Election?
Apr02 Trump Confronts a New Reality
Apr02 Pentagon Has 2,000 Ventilators, but Doesn't Know Where to Ship Them
Apr02 Pelosi Wants Vote-by-Mail Provision in Next Coronavirus Bill
Apr02 The Coronavirus Is Affecting Different Socioeconomic Groups Differently
Apr02 "Trump Bump" Fizzles
Apr02 Schiff Is Drafting Legislation to Study Why Nation Was Unprepared for Coronavirus
Apr01 Trump Gets Real about COVID-19
Apr01 A Grim Mortality Milestone
Apr01 A Grim Economic Milestone
Apr01 Obama Is Not Happy
Apr01 Maybe Biden Shouldn't Worry about Appeasing Sanders
Apr01 Mike Francesa Slams Trump
Apr01 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part IV: Missouri Statehood (1819-20)
Mar31 Social Distancing Gets Political
Mar31 COVID Relief Bill v4.0 Dance Has Begun
Mar31 Trump Really Hates pro-Biden Commercial
Mar31 About that "Trump Bump"...
Mar31 Voting and Pandemics Don't Mix Well
Mar31 Cuomo Moves New York Primary
Mar31 Meadows Makes it Official
Mar30 Fauci Predicts 100,000 to 200,000 COVID-19 Deaths in America
Mar30 Is Trump Blackmailing Blue-State Governors?
Mar30 Trump Wipes Out the Anti-Corruption Measures in the Corornavirus Relief Bill
Mar30 Poll: Biden and Trump Are in a Statistical Tie
Mar30 Trump Brags about His Ratings
Mar30 Coronavirus May Help the Democrats Indirectly
Mar30 Where's the Libertarian Party?
Mar30 Governors Are Blocking Off Their States
Mar30 Highlights and Lowlights of the $2 Trillion Relief Law
Mar30 Liberty University Has Become a Flashpoint
Mar29 Sunday Mailbag
Mar28 COVID Relief Bill v3.0 Is a Go
Mar28 Saturday Q&A
Mar27 No Relief Bill Yet
Mar27 About Trump's Approval Rating...
Mar27 White House Continues to Resist Invocation of the DPA
Mar27 The 2020 Presidential Election Is a Whole New Ballgame
Mar27 Trump Declares That GOP Convention Will Proceed as Scheduled
Mar27 Trump Administration Indicts Maduro
Mar27 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part III: The Chesapeake Affair (1807)