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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

We got quite a few suggested constitutional amendments; so many that we want to take some extra time to try and make the best possible use of the responses. So, look for that next week. And we still welcome additional suggestions.

COVID-19 Politics

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, writes:

I looked on with equal parts astonishment and derisive laughter as I saw Libertarian and Tea Party activists protesting against temporary business closures in places like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia this week. Donald Trump is encouraging these protests. The GOP will not win this fight either politically or legally.

I am certain if Tea Party candidates campaign on opening all businesses back up in the middle of an epidemic they will be absolutely demolished in November. Roughly 80% of the United States supports social distancing and the American public will punish Republicans who make opposition to it a central campaign plank.

Libertarians might choose to fight mandatory business closures by claiming their constitutional rights are being violated and fighting in court. I would not be surprised if their cases were dismissed in all 50 states. I think Libertarians fundamentally misunderstand the Constitution. The First Amendment does guarantee a right to assembly and free association, but that does not create a constitutional right to operate a business. The Commerce Clause delegates states the authority to regulate commerce within their borders. This is why every state has licensing for businesses to ensure they follow state laws, and licenses can be rescinded if they do things like endanger public health, sell illegal products, or violate labor laws. Operating a business is a privilege, not a constitutional right.

If I were Democrat running in November I would look on with delight as Republicans engage in political posturing that puts them at odds with the American public.

D.T. in San Jose, CA, writes:

Much of President Trump's recent erratic and aggressive interactions with state and local governments, as they respond to the COVID-19 crisis, seems like it could be explained as him trying to bait someone else into taking the blame for the struggling economy. As it stands, the economy and unemployment numbers are almost certainly going to remain pretty awful by the November elections. Even if the country started reopening next week, it wouldn't immediately do much to help the economy. As you have previously pointed out, the President ordering states to open shopping malls doesn't matter if the population is still afraid to go shop.

From a political perspective, the only move here is to make this downturn someone else's fault. Trump may be laying the groundwork for this, by loudly making these ridiculous "Total Authority" claims, and setting arbitrary/premature dates for reopening. Predictably, some high profile Democrats in charge of blue states will openly push back and leave their states shut down. This is, of course, the responsible decision, if you care about public health. But politically...that leaves Trump an opening. He can now claim "I tried to fix the economy, but a bunch of FakeNews libtards wouldn't let me!" Conservative media outlets can then muddy the water, and by Election Day, at least 40% of the population will have accepted the new narrative. "People didn't lose their jobs because President Trump did an awful job responding to a pandemic...nope, it was because the Governor of California hates capitalism and forced people to stop working, just to spite the President." The best political countermove is to quietly ignore his rage tweets until he actually issues a formal order, then let the courts smack it down. Don't take the bait, Democrats. Trump created this mess; let him have the spotlight to himself.

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes:

Despite all of the media criticism of Trump's statements about reopening the economy, including some posts on this website, I think we are overthinking this and missing out on the worldview of many if not most Americans. Outside of a few hot spot areas, COVID is a vague threat that hasn't really medically impacted anyone we know. The fear isn't personal (yet). However, the job and earnings losses from the response are personally impacting us, our close friends, or family members. Even if Trump ultimately behaves himself and the economy reopens at a sensible time, he will be perceived as "the guy who wanted to get me back to work and relieve my personal suffering." I don't think he has the cunning to have gamed this out politically, but regularly expressing a desire to reopen, while deferring to the medical professionals, is a good way to make people believe that he cares about their well-being and ultimately get their votes in November. What is missing from his rhetoric is the message that our individual sufferings today serve a greater purpose, but our future will be brighter. The Democrats should not take this effect lightly.

A.F. in Boston, MA, writes:

The situation around governors doing their own, secretive things to protect their shipments of personal protective equipment (PPE) is not new. Massachusetts has had the Kraft company jet fly PPE direct from China after 3 million masks were confiscated by...someone at the port in New York City.

Related is this video of Gov. Charlie Baker's (R-MA) press conference on Tuesday, which shows him confirming that the National Guard will escort a shipment of PPE to Massachusetts from New York. When asked if the National Guard was protecting it from confiscation, he dances around before giggling out "maybe." He would not say how much, what type, or when to protect it from... someone.

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes:

In your item on Trump's "campaign commercial" shown during the Monday press conference, I think it might be worth mentioning to your readers how a cobbled together collection of clips made a real difference in the 1948 presidential election. Both the Truman and Dewey campaigns put together films to show in theatres to the masses, with the result that the professionally-done Dewey film made him look distant and out of touch, while the cash-strapped Truman campaign used actual clips of him making decisions and talking with world leaders to great effect. The clip Trump showed attempted to mimic the Truman approach. I agree with your analysis that it won't help him, but when reading your piece, this immediately came to mind.

C.W. in Carlsbad, CA, writes:

It struck me that Trump knows full well he is a major cause in how the pandemic economy developed here in the U.S. By having his name on the checks going out, this is his way of saying "Yes, you have been fu**ed by me and here's a thousand bucks to keep you in line come November." The similarity between this and the Stormy Daniels affair is just too obvious.

The fact that it's not really his money is just frosting on the cake.

D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes:

This is a very cynical observation on my part, but it crossed my mind that since some minorities are being more adversely affected by COVID-19, Trump may want to delay the census until there are fewer of them.

C.V. in Charlotte, NC, writes:

You wrote "There is no meaningful Democratic equivalent to Trump's channels, or to any of these other right-wing content creators."

We're definitely behind, but Occupy Democrats and Brian Tyler Cohen are daily producers.

COVID-19 Economics

W.S. in Sedro Woolley, WA, writes:

During the campaign in 2016 there was an article in, I believe, The New Yorker, that predicted we would be in recession with 20-25% unemployment during the 2020 campaign, and Trump would show a figure of 5%. Very prescient.

J.P. in Gainesville, FL, writes:

You had criticism today about the unemployment rate. Which one?

Economists and the people who create these numbers are aware of the difficulties you mentioned. The people that create the numbers, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, have developed too many unemployment rates. There is one that we typically hear about (U-3). For the most part, in a non-recession situation, it is the most useful. A deeper dive uses the others. Here is a quick summary and a link for your education and enlightenment.

The U-1 and U-2 rates are defined more narrowly than the official unemployment rate. They include only selected subsets of those officially classified as unemployed.

U-3 is the official unemployment rate.

The U-4, U-5, and U-6 rates are more expansive than the official unemployment rate, incorporating additional groups of people not included in the official rate. Each rate—U-4, U-5, and U-6—is successively broader in scope, with U-6 being the broadest measure of labor underutilization.

J.C. in Topeka, KS, writes:

I work for a state agency that is loosely working with the SBA on its distribution of emergency funds to small businesses. The SBA has stopped accepting applications for its two largest relief programs for the time being. In addition, they are extremely unhelpful and perceptively dishonest with the process of providing updates to applicants. The PPP has been exhausted, and some banks are still accepting applications "on hold." However, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advance is a different monster. The SBA asks us to provide potential borrowers with two methods of checking on their application. The first is an 800 number that, if ever answered, the potential borrower is told that application statuses are not available. The second is an e-mail address that takes 2-3 days to provide an automated response with the same message. This is how they are "helping" people at the moment, with little to no funding coming out of the EIDL and no reporting on its use. Just thought you'd like to hear from someone that is trying to work through this as a state employee and getting the runaround from the feds.

J.G. in Fredonia, NY, writes:

What planet does Larry Kudlow inhabit?

President Donald Trump's top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, has revealed that his wife has had an easy time applying through the small business loan program to help keep her art business afloat amid the coronavirus crisis, despite others reporting big problems. "My wife Judy...she is a self-employed artist-painter, very distinguished one, some renowned, she could use some help for her operation," Kudlow remarked.

"Larry Kudlow's wife is a small business owner and private citizen. Any speculation that there is something improper or nefarious taking place with her application is just false and more media spin," White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement.

G.A. in Santa Cruz, CA, writes:

According to CNN, the $350 billion in PPP funds were given out in 1,661,397 loans. That is an average of $210,666 per loan. That does not sound like a corner restaurant. I suspect large corporations like Boeing and Exxon got billion dollar bailouts because they did stock buybacks in 2019 instead of maintaining cash reserves.

P.N. in Berkeley, CA, writes:

Just putting out there the idea of "kamikaze economy" as a catchphrase to describe what some red-state pols are suggesting. As in, wouldn't it be great for a bunch of other people to sacrifice themselves for what I think is important.

C.T. in Indianapolis, IN, writes:

I almost never defend any elected GOP official, but I push back on one comment in your item on Tennessee Trey Hollingsworth (as we call him here in Indiana; he established residency in 2015 only to run/self-fund his campaign for a competitive House seat here in 2016).

You said "It is also in red states, like Indiana and Texas, where we are seeing the argument that a fully healthy economy is more important than a fully healthy populace..."

Yes, millionaire's son and business owner Trey (who obviously isn't making any money if the lower-income workers aren't working at his aluminum plant) spoke to a conservative Indianapolis talk radio station, but within Indiana, our GOP Governor Eric Holcomb was well ahead of the Red State curve on COVID-19 reaction in many cases.

For example, prior to the busy pre-St. Patrick's Day weekend, we were already forbidden to gather in groups of 10 or more, and all holiday celebrations were canceled, including parties, runs, and parades. Restaurants and bars were closed 3/16 and schools on 3/19. Non-essential services were closed 3/24 and his stay at home order went info effect on 3/25. He has since tightened his social distancing orders several times in accordance with updated CDC guidelines, most recently limiting the number of people allowed in essential stores and the distance between them last week.

He and State health and commerce officials give weekday fact-filled, not bloviating, updates. At one a few days ago, he said Indiana would re-open based on input from Indiana public health officials and, in a slight nod to Trump and his supporters, in consultation with national officials. More recently, he announced re-opening would be done in a regional manner with Kentucky and didn't mention national officials at all.

For a more comprehensive look at how he fared in contrast to other governors on COVID-19, check out this story from the Indianapolis Star.

COVID-19 Impact

P.D. in Woodbridge, NJ, writes:

Another week has gone by...I am beginning to hope I am becoming a regular contributor (on this topic, at least).

In the last week, the COVID picture has not become any clearer. National statistics have remained mostly flat for new cases (since April 2) and deaths (since April 7). Half of the U.S. cases are within 50 miles of New York City, so it is clear why most of the country is wondering what all the fuss is about. If some states or areas reopen, we will be offered an excellent measure of the value of social isolation. If the opened areas jump back on the exponential growth curve, then we will have good evidence that the flattening of the U.S. COVID curves in April was not a coincidence and was a direct result of social distancing.

Trump takes lots of blame for his handling of this crisis, but our lack of preparation goes back decades. I recall reading 1994's The Hot Zone by Robert Preston (a wonderful book that tells the story of the discovery and isolation of the Ebola and Marburg viruses). Ebola should have been the wake-up call that, someday, we were going to deal with a serious pandemic. In addition to Ebola (various outbreaks from 1976 to today), we have had scares with Legionnaires' (1976), SARS (2003) and H1N1-Swine flu (2009). With COVID, it is clear we are totally unprepared, but we can't blame it all on Trump.

We experienced:

  • A few weeks into this and the local newspapers were asking for people to donate extra Clorox wipes to the hospital that had run out of supplies.

  • Doctors treating COVID patients in ICUs were wearing N95 masks for 3 days until the filters were so clogged you couldn't breathe through them.

  • Some government workers can't work from home, as they didn't have Wi-fi access or adequate computers. The agency had no computers to lend them. The COOP plan was inadequate and had never been adequately tested.

  • Teachers had 1 week to prepare for all students to be sent home for distance learning. My 8th grade son spends about an hour a day to do all assigned school work.

  • Some developers working on government software are unable to work as, for most of the day, networks are overloaded, preventing work from being done.

The questions these experiences raise are:

  • Why don't all organizations (particularly the government) have tested plans on what to do in this kind of crisis (Co-op plans)?

  • Why isn't there a mandate for hospitals to have a 1 year supply of consumables?

  • Why isn't there a huge warehouse system of medical consumables to support all the VA hospitals in the U.S. for 1 year?

COVID is (thus far) a locally concentrated pandemic. If we had a good stockpile of consumables, we would be able to shift resources, and no medical worker would be without adequate protection.

I understand and share the frustration with the administration's slow, inconsistent and grossly suboptimal response to this pandemic. However, I compare Trump's COVID response to reducing the number of life boats on the Titanic. Yes, the weak response cost lives that could have been saved. However, we were still going to hit the iceberg, and the ship was still going to sink. COVID is not nearly as deadly a virus as it could be. Imagine a virus that infects like measles but kills like Ebola. Let COVID be the last warning that we ignore.

J.K. in Waukesha, WI, writes:

As COVID-19 is now being covered in so many corners, I wanted to add my two cents. In all the media coverage that I have seen, many gloss over that this is a biologic slap on the wrist. When you compare COVID-19 to SARS or MERS, two other coronaviruses, there really is no comparison. SARS has a mortality rate of 10% while MERS is close to 40%; the saving grace with these viruses is that they are so bad that people with these ailments aren't walking around, hence they are easier to contain. For comparison's sake, COVID-19 likely has a mortality rate of around 1%, which could be on the high side. While certainly worse than the flu, by itself it is not the end of the world. The issue is that it is incredibly infectious. Bluntly, it is a near certainty that millions of U.S. citizens have been infected with COVID-19, have flown under the radar, were never tested, and recovered. Certainly, social distancing and the stay at home orders are helping limit the spread, which is extremely important. The purpose of this note is to look beyond the economic and health consequences of COVID-19, which are obvious, and instead look into what this relatively light biologic slap has demonstrated.

For the most part, younger individuals are "safe" from this virus. Even if they get it, they are likely to recover and most won't see the inside of a hospital. Of course, the biggest issue with this virus is that it can be spread easily, and so a young person could easily infect a member of a vulnerable population that has a far higher level of mortality. From a variety of pundits stating "well, these individuals were going to die of something anyway, so why inconvenience the spring breakers down in Florida having a blast while spreading the virus?", to churches bringing in thousands which could easily exacerbate infection issues, to Wisconsin (Republicans) essentially forcing people to congregate so that their voice might be heard—these actions and statements speak volumes as it relates to character.

In addition, this virus has also shown the importance of competence. I have a couple of friends that are living in a second-world country. They are quarantined at home as well. Interestingly, the government there sent them a COVID testing kit with instructions saying that if you feel the slightest bit ill, follow instructions and send this in for testing. They aren't even citizens of the country and receiving testing kits while it is near-impossible here. A book could be written on all the missteps taken by (mostly) the Trump administration and some governors. Hopefully, this ends up demonstrating that the country needs competent people working in government.

COVID-19 Unexpected Impacts

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes:

I enjoyed your item about jobs that were affected in surprising ways by the coronavirus crisis. I did want to point out that some jobs are somewhere between "can be done at home using videoconferencing" and "cannot be done at home using videoconferencing." My own job as a college professor has moved completely online, which is less than ideal, but still possible. In contrast, my wife's job as a clinical neuropsychologist is more complicated. It requires her to review medical records and interview patients, which can be done remotely, albeit with difficulty for patients with dementia. However, she also tests patients' psychological functions such as memory, attention, processing speed, and executive function. These tests cannot be conducted remotely due to the need for specific testing stimuli, the requirement to use computers, and/or copyright protection of the tests. The neuropsychological community as a whole is still trying to figure out how to fully do their jobs during this time. I thought your readership might want to know that some jobs are complicated and don't fit neatly into either category. I am sure that there are plenty more, and it would be interesting to hear from other readers how their jobs are affected.

A.T. in Quincy, IL, writes:

I'd like to mention another "surprising" industry, that didn't make your list, but could prove more consequential than expected: thrift stores. I don't know about anywhere else, but in my town, the Goodwill, Salvation Army, and at least three or four local charity/thrift shops are closed in response to the crisis. As a regular visitor, I can tell you there are many others who would come wandering their aisles, looking for that unexpected bargain. I've grown to recognize more than a couple of regular faces in that crowd. While the selection is always catch-as-catch-can, it really does make a difference, especially to the less well-off, when the only choice remaining is to pay full price at whatever big-box stores are still deemed "essential." Ah, well. We still have Big Lots and the dollar stores, but still, there's something missing.

S.D. in Indianapolis, IN, writes:

No doubt you will get a good number of e-mails from folks regarding your list of industries hit hard by the pandemic, but here is one that I do think needs to be mentioned: Performers! Musicians, actors, artists, and then all of the thousands of support people who help run the live entertainment business. Symphony orchestras are shutting down everywhere and placing musicians on unpaid, or partially-paid, furlough. In my city, the Indianapolis Symphony will stop paying people soon. Then there are wedding bands, rock bands, DJs, church musicians, and more. And don't forget private music teaching studios, although many of those people are migrating online. There are several million professional musicians in the U.S., and even though they live in the gig economy and may have some sort of day job, this pandemic is wreaking havoc on their lives in a way that we have never seen before.

B.J.L. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes:

You mentioned the similarities between dentists and tattoo artists. This arises, in fact, from how the dental profession evolved. Medieval dentistry evolved more from the barber chair than the regular medical doctor. Barbers populated small towns and villages more often than the occasional traveling doctor, and toothaches usually don't wait for the traveling doctor to arrive. Barbers also often had specialized tools and added to their arsenal by including pliers and dental extraction tools.

Since patients were in the chair with someone working near their scalp, it wasn't hard to imagine the chatter would evolve to what hurts and extractions were by far the most common procedures. I can imagine hearing "let's take care of that toothache while you're here," in the chair. As a result of its evolution from barbers and personal aesthetist skills, dentistry has its own entrance exam separate from the medical doctors, it's usually organized as a separate college from medicine at the university level, and insurance is also handled differently. Even more, dentistry is far more common a small business and not linked with the gargantuan health care network.

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes:

Thanks for the interesting (amusing? not at all funny?) list. Way back in the dark ages, on March 15, The New York Times published a graph showing the occupations most at risk for COVID-19, based on physical proximity to others during the work and probability of exposure to infectious agents during the encounter(s). Dentists were right up near the high end of both axes. The dentists I know are only too happy to have closed their offices right now.

The very highest on both scales? Dental hygienists, who are in the business of leaning in toward people's mouths and making particles fly out aided by gushing sprays of high-pressure water. And they make a lot less than the dentists for whom they (used to) work.

As to notaries, their absence is problematic because some things still need to be notarized (like parts of law graduates' applications for the bar). Governor Phil Murphy (D-NJ) just signed a law permitting notarizations via on-line instead of in-person appearance during the COVID emergency. I expect other states have done the same.

J.E.L. in Portland, OR, writes:

I am absolutely appalled by your statement that "...indeed, tattoo artists and dentists are more similar than their respective practitioners may have realized." Really?

Getting a tattoo is a purely elective procedure at any and all times. Seeing your dentist when something breaks (like seeing the auto repairman when your car breaks down) or when you are in pain and may have an infection is not elective. And it could be life-saving. As a dentist/oral surgeon for 35 years, I was on the front line saving more than one person's life from an infection of dental origin.

Now, please tell me just how do tattoo artists relieve their clients of pain and suffering and possible death the way we dentists do? True, neither one of us can work from home and we recognize as dentists we are not RD's (real doctors), but lumping us together in the same bin as tattoo artists is not appropriate.

V & Z respond: We certainly regret that we left anyone feeling appalled. That said, our point was to indicate similarities in the business models of the two professions have unexpectedly put them both in the same boat due to COVID-19. It was not to suggest that the two professions are of equal significance.

COVID-19, Flu, and Other Diseases

J.A. in New York, NY, writes:

You wrote: "Consequently, while individual strains of flu may be well managed, 'the flu' will never be eradicated, and most strains are serious enough that vaccination is an appropriate precaution. This is why people get annual flu shots, compared to one or two shots in a lifetime, as with polio or measles."

Thankfully, while this is currently true, research at Mt. Sinai Hospital (where I am affiliated) and, I'm sure, at other institutions, will lead to a new (hopefully one-and-done) flu vaccine in the next several years.

In short, the current flu vaccine targets the tip of the spike that comes out of the body of the flu virus. That tip changes yearly (as you noted). The hope is that we can develop a vaccine that targets the base of the virus (which does not change regularly), thus providing multi-year immunity...and negating the need to try and guess some 10 months prior what next year's flu viruses will be.

S.A.J. in Elberon, NJ, writes:

Flu characteristically hits hard, knocking many victims down in less than a day. After that, the difference between serious cases and "others" is evident quickly. Recovery is fairly rapid. COVID-19, on the other hand, comes on gradually, rarely knocking people down in under 4 days. It is not evident quickly who is only slightly ill and who will go on to need intensive care. Recovery is often slow, and sudden worsening can happen after recovery seems to be under way.

The 7 coronaviruses that cause human illness are not at all comparable to seasonal variants of flu. The "H" characteristic of a flu virus is generally analogous to the "spike protein" of a coronavirus; it's how it sticks to cells and then enters. The different numbers attached to the H represent large differences—generally centuries of genetic drift.

Year-to-year drift within "numbers" in flu isn't really a big issue, to the point that identical virus strains are often used in vaccine production from year-to-year. The big issue is that as vaccines go, flu vaccine isn't enormously effective, so a "booster shot" is helpful. The 1957 virus to 1968 virus change was a case where drift within a number produced an effectively new number, and a pandemic resulted. Large outbreaks (but smaller than 1968) generally occur when a variety of flu that has a different combination of existing numbers becomes 'fitter' (whatever that means) than the incumbent.

Evolution of the 4 "common cold" coronaviruses isn't discussed in semi-pro literature. Since there are 4 different ones, it isn't easily probed by individual experience.

M.A.H. in Akron, PA, writes:

This post from "Best of Nextdoor," where someone posted about their experience as a child makes me think we can learn something from how polio was handled many decades ago. The only other thing I found connecting the two diseases was this interview with a polio victim on YouTube, where he talks about COVID-19 and The Twilight Zone among other things.

I wonder if there is something from the historical perspective regarding how people have dealt with these diseases (e.g. the social distancing) that we could use when talking to people we know who may have their doubts about the efficacy of such measures.

B.B. in St. Louis, MO, writes:

Perhaps to place the impact of COVID-19 in perspective, we should compare the current worldwide death toll to the more than 400,000 people who die each year of malaria and 1.5 million people who die of tuberculosis. Unlike the coronavirus, these illnesses are treatable, yet they barely make the news cycle. Infectious diseases are global problems and require global solutions. But first people have to pay attention.

The 2020 Elections

G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes:

You wondered: where the U.S. could find around 120,000 people to monitor the vote counting. Well, the U.S. already has around 1,500,000 people who have taken an oath that says:

I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

Since I have no doubt that the vast majority of the people who have sworn that oath actually meant it, there is a possible source. At least the percentage who actually meant it when they swore that oath and would abide by it (even if they didn't like the result) is likely to be higher than the percentage who actually meant it when they took an oath that said "I solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be,) that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of _____________, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: so help me God."

V & Z respond: We thought about this option, but wondered about the logistics of getting that many service members in the right place, at the right time, with the right training.

G.W. in Boca Raton, FL, writes:

I can't speak as to all 50 states, but in Florida there are poll watchers (election monitors). I know, I was one for John Kerry, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton, and I also served (for the first time in an off-year election) in 2018. My wife has also served.

It can be hard to get volunteers. Seems to me one of the virtues of mail-in voting is you need less election monitor volunteers. And, as you observed, a conspiracy is only as good as its weakest link. 67 counties in Florida means 67 election supervisors means a lot of employees who would have to be in on the election scam. If anyone thinks governments are that competent, they definitely do not believe in Republican ideology. So throw that in the mix too. You think Republicans are going to trust government employees to be competent, discreet conspirators? That would be desperation on their part, as it's completely counter to their ideology.

H.R. in Jamaica Plain, MA, writes:

Since you published my last report on this, I thought I should send you an update. The state Democratic Party has canceled its convention (previously scheduled for May 30). Both statewide candidates for the U.S. Senate (Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy III) agreed to this plan, and both will be on the ballot in September, but neither will have the party's endorsement. This removed the need for the convention and the need to complete the local committee caucuses which were partly done when the state shut down.

The next big problem that candidates face is the need to collect signatures to get on the ballot. For the U.S. Senate, 10,000 signatures are normally required. For the House, it's normally 2000. However, The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled this week that only half the number of signatures are required this year. This was in response to a suit brought by several candidates. The rationale was that about half the time to collect signatures had passed before the order not to congregate in groups was issued, so half the number of signatures should be reasonable under these circumstances.

In view of social distancing, candidates are doing this using USPS mail. If you want to sign to put someone on the ballot, you contact their campaign, they send you a petition, you (and whomever you might be closely in touch with) can sign and then you send it back. Rather than 30 signatures to a sheet, there will be one to four. Lots of paper handling. There have been attempts to modify this requirement, but so far they've been unsuccessful.

Selecting delegates to the national convention is usually done in caucuses organized by congressional district and specific candidate. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Joe Biden all have delegates. So up to 27 separate caucuses if every CD has delegates for each candidate. The State Democratic Party has changed the process so that it will be a paper ballot election by mail. You have to register with the party to receive a ballot. You have to request a ballot by April 22nd; they will be mailed on April 24 and have to be postmarked by May 5th to count. You can only vote for delegates for one candidate.

No changes yet for the September primary or the November election, though there's talk in the legislature about all mail-in. For now, the reason for asking for an absentee ballot has been extended to include COVID-19.

K.H. in Albuquerque, NM, writes:

You mentioned New Mexico and the Republicans' efforts to block universal vote-by-mail here. They were successful... but only to a point. The state supreme court ruled that no-excuse absentee ballots could not be mailed to every registered voter for our June primary, but (after a virtual online hearing) directed officials to mail applications for absentee ballots to every registered voter.

F.L. in Denton, TX, writes:

On a few occasions, you've mentioned that the 2024 election cycle has already begun. I just happened to glance at a British gambling website and, lo and behold...

V & Z respond: Whoever is placing those bets does not know what they're talking about. Mike Pence as the favorite, and at 6 to 1? Wish we could get some of the other side of that action. We'd be delighted to take the field at 1 to 6, no vigorish necessary.

Chinese Democracy?

M.H. in Beijing, China, writes:

You wrote: "And of course, Trump's ads blaming China are likely to increase turnout among Chinese Americans, and they are likely to show up at the polls in large numbers, and not to vote for him."

I can't link to any survey, so I'm just talking from my own experience of living in the U.S. for a few years: I doubt that's the case. The political stances of Chinese Americans are actually rather complicated. The descendants of the Gold Rush generation are probably rather neutral about it. Those that immigrated later, with the peak around 1949 (pro-KMT people leaving mainland), 1990 (students that either voluntarily or involuntarily stayed after graduation), and 1997 (Hong Kong people leaving before it returned to China) are actually all rather against "Communist China" and will more likely vote for Trump instead of against him if he was to punish China because of COVID-19, not unlike how the Cuban Americans feel about Cuba. The ones who will be motivated to vote against Trump are probably mainly the very new immigrants from mainland China, and I'm pretty sure they are the minority of the whole Chinese-American population.

C.C. in Hancock, NH, writes:

My wife is an anti-gun, pro-choice, LGBTQ-allied, tax-the-rich, registered Democrat who was born in China and immigrated to the U.S. in her 20s. She voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries. But for the upcoming general election, she is seriously considering voting for Donald Trump. Having come of age during the cultural revolution, she is convinced that: (1) Xi Jinping's China is the greatest threat to her adopted country, (2) Trump gets it, and (3) Democrats don't. It's been hard to convince her otherwise, as the Democrats have been frustratingly quiet on China during the campaign.

You may be right. Perhaps she is not typical. Maybe younger Chinese Americans don't fear Xi's Maoist leanings as much. Maybe Chinese Americans who were born in the U.S. are less worried about a country on the other side of the world. But Trump's tactic of painting Biden as weak on China is positively tailor-made to impress at least one Chinese-American voter.

The Biden Campaign

I.H. in Washington, D.C., writes:

I know Joe Biden's old himself (and picking ancient cabinet secretaries might make him look young by comparison), but I just don't see him installing 80-year-old Lamar Alexander or 86-year-old Chuck Grassley in his cabinet. Especially so with Grassley, inasmuch as it would allow Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-IA) to put a GOPer in the Senate with two years of seniority before he/she had to run for election (as opposed to what ought to be a competitive open seat race in 2024).

V & Z respond: Note that current Sec. of Commerce Wilbur Ross is 82.

J.P.R. in Westminster, CO, writes:

Thank you for not sweeping the Tara Reade matter under the rug.

B.P. in Pensacola, FL, writes:

Another piece of the Tara Reade story that makes it questionable is that the incident allegedly happened in a public hallway in the Russell Senate Office Building. That an incident like that would happen in such a public place and go unnoticed is somewhat unlikely, but the suggestion that a sitting Senator would take such actions in a public hallway is really challenging to believe.

M.H., Kirkland, WA, writes:

Elizabeth Warren might help with a small but relatively moneyed demographic: the college graduates who rolled their eyes and groaned whenever Biden stumbled through his answers in debates. This is the demographic that was backing Warren or Buttigieg because they were the ones who routinely came across as sharp-as-a-tack. Does this demographic matter? Weren't they going to vote for Biden anyway to defeat Trump? Yes, they were, but just as with the "progressives" there is a difference between being enthusiastic about the ticket and simply voting to defeat Trump.

J.F. in Fayetteville, NC, writes:

Just one data point among many, but I note in response to your piece on the Obama endorsement that you don't think a Warren endorsement will move the needle with the Bernie or Bust crowd. That may well be. But what I saw in an online conversation with a Sanders supporter was that a vice president Warren would move them from a "hold my nose" Biden voter to a "joyful" one. Now, a VP spot and an endorsement are two different horses, possibly even completely different animals, but it still implies that Warren can move the needle for Biden with the progressive wing.

S.R. in San Antonio, TX, writes:

Joe Biden should consider former Republican senator and current Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison for the Veep spot. She has more name recognition and experience than any other woman you've listed as possibilities, plus she has cross-over appeal for many moderate Republicans who may not feel that they have any horse in the race.

C.L.C. in Petaluma, CA, writes:

The worst VP pick for Joe Biden would be Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). As someone in the Sex Workers'-rights movement, I can attest that she loves locking up poor defenseless prostitutes and supports the evil Swedish model approach to prostitution law.

My pick for VP is Stacey Abrams. She would be Governor of Georgia, if not for voter suppression. Biden can deliver the Rust Belt, while Abrams can deliver the Sun Belt.

P.S. in Memphis, TN, writes:

A new poll is out in Arizona having Biden up 9. That makes five polls in a row on RCP that have Biden leading Trump, by an average of 4.4%. Is there any real path for Trump to win should he actually lose a state like Arizona? Is there a chance Arizona is the key to this election?

M.E. in Seaside, CA, writes:

I'd like to critique the claim that Arizona is a "swingy" state. I lived in the Phoenix area for the vast majority of the first 22 years of my life. When Bill Clinton won it in 1996, that was the first (and last) time it went for a Democrat since 1948. Hence it's not at all "swingy," although I'll admit that it might have gone Democratic twice as often in that span if not for choice of native son nominees Goldwater in 1964 and McCain in 2008.

I doubt that it will go Democratic in 2020. Here's why: Even Arizona's Democrats lean towards fiscal conservatism, and Joe Biden's switch to adopting most of the Sanders' campaign plan for student loan forgiveness will not play well. Personally, I'm still involved with Team Joe, but yesterday I looked at the Libertarian party website to see who its nominee would be, because this Bernie appeasement bothered me significantly. If Elizabeth Warren is Biden's running mate, then Arizona will almost surely be a lost cause for the Democratic ticket.

Bill Clinton would have probably proposed expanding AmeriCorps to get students much needed experience and have them help the country through community service rather than giving them outright loan forgiveness. That sort of fiscal/personal responsibility is likely an important reason why Bill was able to win Arizona (and re-election) in 1996.

J.M. in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Canada, writes:

Isn't it kind of amazing that if Joe Biden wins he'll be not only the oldest President ever inaugurated but on day one will be the oldest President to ever serve? It does make me wonder if there is a "limit" to how old a Presidential candidate can be before Americans say enough is enough. I'd argue, in broad strokes, it has to do with whomever the opponent is since Presidential elections are almost always a contest between two people. I have to guess that if Biden was challenging a youthful (as far as Presidents go) Republican like Rubio or Cruz the age factor would be more apparent and concerning to voters.

"Bernie Bros" Pushback

M.H. in Boston, MA, writes:

Possibly testing Poe's law, reader C.J. wrote that "[Joe] Biden might as well be [Donald] Trump...given a choice between 'Republican' and 'Republican lite'...well, think beer. Beer beer or light beer? Most simply go for the beer beer."

I must note that the three best-selling beers in the U.S. are light beers, with the #1 brew (Bud Light) more than doubling the sales of its regular version (Budweiser), 27 million barrels to 11 million barrels. I am sure the writer's insights into popular politics are equally sound.

S.R. in Trenton, NJ, writes:

Light beer vs. beer beer may have been an apt metaphor when Barack Obama was running against John McCain, but it certainly doesn't reflect the current (presumptive) nominees' positions. The present contest is more like a choice between Hitler and Eisenhower, and, speaking as an ultra-lefty, Eisenhower's getting my vote every time.

P.B. in Ottawa, Canada, writes:

I couldn't let pass the comments from C.J. of Fort Worth, who tried to tell us that "Biden may as well be Trump" and suggested that the difference between the two is like the difference between beer and light beer.

Give me a break. Democrats in the primaries have been arguing what soft drink to have with lunch. Coke or Diet 7-Up? Trump is offering a glass full of bleach.

I have no time for the childish argument that if I can't have the pure enough candidate, I will vote for the one that will "let the whole thing collapse in on itself." If the U.S. collapses, we get a world run by Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. There are consequences far beyond the U.S. border. C.J.'s point of view is truly mind-boggling for many of us living outside the U.S., at least those of us who aren't isolationists and who see that global problems (pandemics, climate change) will require global solutions.

S.C. in Mountain View, CA, writes:

I never heard the term "accelerationism" before this past Wednesday (April 8th), when a member of a political Slack workspace to which I belong used it to describe another member's opinion that "the only way for real social change to happen is if Trump is re-elected."

And then, on Sunday C.J. in Fort Worth, TX, used the variation "accelerationist" to describe the same philosophy.

I am pro-Bernie. I convened the Bernie Sanders Delegate Selection Caucus in California Congressional District 18 in 2016, and I am scheduled to do it again this year. But I want to tell C.J. and others of his ilk the exact same thing I shared on that workspace group Wednesday, about how helping to re-elect an incumbent you dislike does not advance the progressive cause:

I've seen that movie before: Nixon, Reagan/GHW Bush, GW Bush. It just doesn't work that way.

My accelerationist friend in California has the luxury that California is reliably blue, and if he votes for Trump, it won't cost Biden the election. But Texas might actually be a swing state this year, and it bothers me that people like C.J. are willing to inflict real harm on people by helping to reelect Trump.

M.E. in Syracuse, NY, writes:

Voting for a non-Democrat is the greatest miscalculation by protest voters in 2016, in my humble opinion. No progressive policies have any chance with religious fanatics and ideologues as judges.

To quote Japanese philosophy. "Win first, then fight."

I am also puzzled why sending a message to Democrats is many orders of magnitude more important than sending a message to whatever this party that used to be called "Republican" is.

R.R. in Pasadena, CA, writes:

I read two letters from the Bernie Bros, who once again proved why they are a threat to our democracy. I mean, any Bernie supporter who thinks voting for Trump is the better alternative, with the idea of destroying the Democratic party and replacing it with...uh, something, is a bit delusional. I really liked it when you followed up with the next letter:

I am not a Bernie guy and found his Bernie Bros to be obnoxious.

I don't know if you really meant that juxtaposition to be an editorial comment, but it sure made me laugh to see it. Here's hoping that Bernie means it when he says defeating Trump is more important than anything, and that he's able to convince as many of his supporters as possible.

V & Z respond: We don't juxtapose the letters in order to sneak a subtle "point" of our own in there. However, we do try to organize them in a logical manner, as best we can. Sometimes, letters on opposite sides of the same topic, one after the other, work well.

Progressive Politics

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes:

Your comments about the loose usage of the term "progressive" could just as easily be applied to the term "evangelical". While at one time that label could have applied to Christians that were active in proselytizing others, it lost those moorings long ago. As a practicing Christian, I have come to dislike the term as used in political context, but that is the only domain where the label has any meaning at all. If one had to describe them in religious terms, the words "orthodox" or "traditionalist" Christians would be the best fit. However, "orthodox" is already taken as a church name, and "traditionalist" is confusing because what they are traditional about is the social order (patriarchy, gender roles, LGBTQ+ resistance, etc.) rather than religious doctrine.

That doesn't mean "evangelicals" are irrelevant in the religious world. U.S. Episcopal/Anglicans have already split and the United Methodists are straining to remain united. The Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Baptists have long had their factions, but those are diverging.

S.A.J from Elberon, NJ, writes:

I'm uncomfortable saying "progressive" also. While it's hard to attribute formal membership in a movement that fragmented around 1920 to people in the late 1930s, both Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh seem to have been "progressives."

V & Z respond: Those gents will be showing up later in the "crises" series.

G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes:

While reading your item "Warren is angling for VP slot," I was hit by a sudden flash of hope.

Being a card carrying cynic, I have long described the Republicans and Democrats as "The MORE Reactionary Wing of the American Oligarchic Capitalist Party" and "The LESS Reactionary Wing of the American Oligarchic Capitalist Party" because the movers and shakers of both parties have so many socioeconomic factors in common that what the members of the parties want is almost irrelevant.

Since I currently live in what I consider to be a reasonably normal country (doesn't almost everyone think that their country is "reasonably normal," though?), I sometimes think that the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats is that the Republicans want to hand out money to some of the rich by big truckloads while the Democrats want to restrict those handouts to small truckloads directed to a different segment of the rich.

You give me some hope that the less reactionary wing of the Democrats is actually starting to have some say in what the politics of the Party are. Who knows, some day they may even be as far "left" as the progressive wing of the Conservative Party of Canada. Now if only the elected people from American political parties would actually start voting along the same lines as they promised when they were running for office, possibly you'd see some real change.

Of course, if those "Progressive Democrats" were ever to attend a convention of Canada's New Democratic Party, they'd likely flee screaming in terror from the "horde of fanatical, raving, commies" that they encountered.

Polarized Politics

T.L. in San Francisco, CA, writes:

You wrote: "Much of today's polarization is a product of the fact that the Republican Party's political program has become nearly incoherent, largely because they've now got a coalition of interest groups that don't necessarily have much in common (e.g., libertarians and evangelicals, or the captains of industry and the downtrodden workers)."

But don't many of them have enough in common in their fear of the "other" (minorities, immigrants, foreigners, "socialists," etc.) that this is what is now used to hold them together (while the big money interests find it convenient that the downtrodden workers are fighting "other" downtrodden workers instead of protesting the dooh nibor policies being enacted)?

V & Z respond: You're making our argument for us. Fear of the other is indeed what the current coalition has in common, but that's a short-term strategy, generally speaking. Eventually, those folks become less scary or less other or both.

S.C. in Mountain View, CA, writes:

K.F. in Framingham, MA, asked "[I]f we must have [political parties], is there any solution to this [increasing] polarization?"

There is, and it's called proportional representation (PR). (I routinely give a one-hour college-level presentation on the topic, covering motivation, results, and methods, but I'll try to be brief here and just give one example.)

PR has two key ingredients: voters elect more than one representative from a district, and the winners are allocated in direct proportion to the vote, not in a winner-take all fashion. That is, if a party gets 60% of the vote in a multi-member district, they get 60% of the representatives, not all of them, and if a party gets 30% of the vote, they get 30% of the representatives, not none of them.

Illinois used a semi-PR system, cumulative voting, to elect its lower house from 1870 to 1980, using three-member districts. As a result, every district was represented by either two Democrats and a Republican (such as in the Chicago-area districts), or two Republicans and a Democrat (such as in the Downstate districts). When Democrats controlled the lower house, and there was an issue important to Downstate, the Democrats from Downstate could explain to their Chicago colleagues why they should vote for it. Similarly, when Republicans controlled the lower house, and there was an issue important to Chicago, the Chicago Republicans could explain to their Downstate colleagues why they should vote for it.

In a misguided attempt to lower the cost of government, voters approved the Cutback Amendment of 1980. It turned each three-member district into two single-member districts, "firing" one-third of the lower house, but resulting in few if any Republicans elected from the Chicago area and few if any Democrats elected from Downstate. The result was a significant increase in the polarization of the Illinois House of Representatives.

As to why the United States doesn't use PR? John Adams did desire that legislative bodies "should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them." However, the United States was founded in the latter half of the eighteenth century, and the methods for achieving proportional representation weren't invented until the first half of the nineteenth century. I will note that most of the Western industrialized nations use PR and not the single-member district system used in the United States.

S.B. in New Castle, DE, writes:

I was struck by the pacts of Western and Northeastern states to coordinate their COVID-19 responses. I've long thought that the decline and fall of the U.S. would be something of an economic bloc alliance between regional states with similar political views at a point when federal governance became too weak to hold together the whole of the country. I can't help but wonder if this is a first step.

Computer Bits

J.S. in Pemaquid, ME, writes:

This is waaaaay off-topic, but in today's post, you mentioned that you use text editors, and emacs was mentioned as an example.

I can easily believe that (V) has lived decades in that particular editor, as have I. Did he convince (Z) to start using it too, did (Z) somehow start using it on his own, or does he use something else? I ask because I remember talking with friends in grad school who were in other departments and wondering that they were writing dissertations in Word, of all things.

I realize the sanctimony of this, but wouldn't life be different if real text editors were more broadly used?

V & Z respond: In answer to your question, while (Z) is capable of using emacs and vi, he does his work for the site in a text editor called BBEdit. He tends to do his academic work in QuarkXpress, because of the need to be able to manage graphical elements and footnotes.

S.C. in Mountain View, CA, writes:

Maybe (V) already knows this, but if you go to slide 18 of this presentation you'll see that Intel's Security and Manageability Engine uses a micro-kernel based on Minix.

T.C. in Springfield, MO, writes:

It's popular to blame COBOL for Y2K. But the reality is that databases were originally done on punched cards; indeed, that was what Herman Hollerith was doing when he created his "tabulators" for the US Census Bureau, then went on to found a company which would, eventually, become IBM. Their original machines used a mechanical roll-over counter for numbers, working with base-10 rather than base-2. When IBM finally went to bits, they used Binary Coded Decimal (BCD) to store numbers, such that the newer systems were backward-compatible with their older systems. That gave rise to the DECIMAL type, found in IBM's databases. This includes their modern database offering, DB/2. Since IBM's database was a de-facto industry standard, every other company producing computing hardware/software used DECIMAL and BCD, particularly where financial situations were concerned.

I work for a modern, Fortune 500 company, making heavy use of DB/2 for a lot of our corporate-level systems. We've had occasions where our growth meant we needed to increase the number of numeric digits allocated to certain fields, meaning we've had to do rather painful changes to our table specifications and re-compiling a lot of code which depended on same, all within the last few years. When these tables were designed, decades ago, we never anticipated we'd need such large numbers for these fields.

Y2K is commonly pointed to as an example of flawed, short-term thinking on the part of management, trying to save money WRT something which would be decades down the line. Unfortunately, so long as "legacy database systems" remain in widespread use, or newer systems are built which echo the design of such systems to maintain backwards compatibility, this will continue to be a problem, regardless of whether or not COBOL is involved. I've actually written Java code, within the last couple years, which had to convert Integer types over to DECIMAL types to be compatible with the database system.

COBOL wasn't the problem. The database design was the problem. And the basic problem, needing to expand fields as growth calls for larger numbers...that's not going away.

G.P.N from Albuquerque, NM, writes:

I got my degree from Northern Illinois University in 2002, and they were still teaching COBOL then. They are still teaching assembler with the same course number. So at least from NIU, there are quite a few graduates who would be around 40 or younger who have at least had a class in COBOL, and some like me who got into the field late, but are not yet retirement age.

On a side note, you noted an article that compared various languages to cars. Assembler was the formula one race car—very fast but required a lot of maintenance. C was the sports car—pretty fast and the choice of the 'cool guys.' COBOL was the family milk truck—big, slow, but delivered the goods.

History and Film

D.R. in Anaktuvuk Pass, AK, writes:

Several of your items over the past year have referenced the term gaslighting, which refers to the effort by Donald Trump and others to confuse their followers and detractors by constantly shifting references to the truth. Usually, this term is linked to the 1944 film "Gaslight" with Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, and Angela Lansbury, based on the 1938 Patrick Hamilton play "Gas Light." I would point to an even older reference, William Shakespeare's 1592 play "Taming of the Shrew," which similarly portrays a domestic situation with a domineering husband bending the truth.

Trump may have brought this practice to the political arena with an unimaginable impact, but it is an ancient deceit.

D.S. in Palo Alto, CA, writes:

There may not be a notable movie about John Wilkes Booth, but there is a dramatic work: Stephen Sondheim's "Assassins." Booth has the opening role in this musical treatment, and continues as sort of uber-assassin throughout. Worth watching or listening a time or two, if you haven't already experienced it.

J.A. in Kansas City, MO, writes:

I recommend that P.M. in Albany, CA, see the great Stephen Sondheim musical "Assassins." Although not entirely about John Wilkes Both, he plays an important role in the musical inspiring future (historical) presidential assassins (including failures). (Z), as the resident historian, should also see it. Full disclosure: I may be biased as my son starred as The Balladeer in the 2017 run at the Spinning Tree Theatre in Kansas City, MO.

V & Z respond: (Z) has seen that show three times, and can second your recommendation.

J.B. in Fort Kent, ME, writes:

Regarding your discussion of Donald Trump's favorite films, my wife commented that she does not think Trump would ever identify with Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind; rather, she thinks he would likely be enamored of the opportunistic Rhett Butler, who sums up what seems to be DJT's fundamental personality trait when it comes to caring about anything (besides himself) in his famous parting line, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

G.J. in Portland, OR, writes:

Generally I agree with your analyses, but in this case, I think that you are wrong. Rhett ("Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn") Butler is a womanizer, a gambler, a profiteer/blockade runner, and one who thumbs his nose at polite society. I see him as the character that 45 would identify with. Not Scarlett. Not a woman.

M.B. in San Antonio, TX, writes:

I imagine you will get a lot of pushback to the suggestion that Scarlett O'Hara was the villain of Gone With the Wind. One of the reasons all of these movies are great is that the audience is asked to identify with a central character who is morally ambiguous, and that they do so willingly, even joyfully. Some of the great filmmakers were well aware of this phenomenon, and took advantage of it, including Hitchcock (e.g. Norman Bates in Psycho), Kubrick (Alex in A Clockwork Orange) and Demme (Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.) (I would also include Michael Corleone along with his father Vito in The Godfather movies.) However, Mutiny on the Bounty does not really fit into that category (either the films or, especially, the novel), since the major characters are clearly identified as either good guys or bad guys. One could be forgiven for feeling guilty for identifying with a compelling and charismatic character like Vito Corleone, but in Mutiny, it takes a special kind of warped nature to actually root for Captain Bligh, who is unambiguously the bad guy.

D.H. in Lisbon Falls, ME, writes:

Your comments about Jim Carrey's overacting problem....may be correct in some of his earlier films, but his 2001 film The Majestic refutes this statement. Set in the early 1950s during the second red scare and the Hollywood blacklist, the movie shows off Carrey's acting talents. Roger Ebert wrote in his review that "[Carrey] was never better or more likable" More importantly, Carrey underplayed his role by being honest and believable. It's a movie that should be watched by all.

V & Z respond: True; he also gave fine performances in The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

D.S. in Fairfax, VA, writes:

I was sent this today, and thought you might find it interesting.

Just looking at overall rankings, it's interesting how we started off with a great streak of 7 "top 20" presidents, then a 16-executive "dark ages" streak with only James K. Polk and Abraham Lincoln standing out. The 20th century had a lot of swinging back and forth, with a couple short "bad president" streaks, a reasonably long "good president" streak, and a good-bad-good-Bad-good-BAD increasingly scary pendulum swing for the last 6 presidents.

Looking Behind the Curtain

R.C. in Sparks, NV, writes:

I enjoy it when you get into the weeds, as it were, when dealing with obscure points of constitutional law and the rules and procedures our government follows that someone like me has literally no time to research (not that I would even know where to start looking), and is ignored or glossed over by pretty much every other media source. For example, I knew that short of a military coup, Trump could not stay in office if he refused to leave. I knew that the Speaker of the House was next in line, should shenanigans ensue. Outside of that, and a vague knowledge of how things are supposed to work, I had no idea of how things would actually happen. Reading through the Q&As concerning this has been absolutely delightful and informative.

S.S. in Long Beach, CA, writes:

I just want to let you know that I was exactly your target audience in 2008 when I was living abroad, and frustrated with the common coverage of the U.S. election focused on national popular vote polling. I knew enough civics (and was alive in 2000) to understand the relative insignificance of that metric, so I found your site when searching specifically for analysis and a map based on the Electoral College. When it came time to figure out how to vote, I knew exactly which URL to type in thanks to your banner ad.

You filled a need back then, but do you think that the dialog has 'matured' at all in the interim such that more mainstream coverage and typical Americans acknowledge the importance of the electoral vote?

A.N. in Memphis, TN, writes:

Most of your answer to R.V. in Puerto Rico is informative and clever. The final paragraph takes a hard left turn into racism. Showing only the states because you're just tracking EVs is one thing. Keeping people of color off of a map because it's easier to ignore them is literally white supremacy. The people there are not clutter. You made this comparison in a world where powerful people in this country really think the world would be better without those brown people in it. Then you trivialized PR's struggle for independence, comparing it to the vanity of wanting a spot on the map. This is a place that suffered one of the largest losses of life in US history just 3 years ago (according to your recent list), a direct consequence of white people ignoring them.

You consult experts before answering some questions that are outside your experience. Perhaps you should consult PR residents on how to better design your map, and how to maintain your "snark" brand without punching down at them.

V & Z respond: As with the oral surgeon above, we certainly regret that we caused offense. However, the issue has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with space; there simply isn't enough to represent all the entities that get delegates, especially since some of those entities (like Americans living abroad) only get delegates from one party. In addition, the map is actually intended to show electoral votes, of which Puerto Rico has none. When we show things like primary dates, that is accomplished by essentially hacking the code with bubble gum and duct tape.

If you have a question about politics, civics, history, etc. you would like us to answer on the site, please send it to, 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 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
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr18 Saturday Q&A
Apr17 Trump Unveils Re-Opening Plan...
Apr17 ...and Governors Do Their Own Thing(s)
Apr17 Intelligence Community to Probe Chinese Origins of COVID-19
Apr17 Small Business Funding Runs Out
Apr17 Never Trump Republicans Rally
Apr17 What to Make of Tara Reade?
Apr17 Warren Is Angling for VP Slot
Apr16 Amash May Run
Apr16 Warren Endorses Biden
Apr16 Trump Faces Blowback on WHO Funding Cut
Apr16 Trump Threatens to Adjourn Congress
Apr16 Retail Sales Drop in March by the Greatest Amount Ever
Apr16 Democrats Are Motivated Like Never Before
Apr16 Poll: Biden Should Pick Experienced Running Mate
Apr16 Some States Are More Ready for Mail-in Voting than Others
Apr16 Delaying the Census Could Cause Big Problems
Apr16 Some Surprising Industries Have Been Hit Hard by COVID-19
Apr15 Trump's COVID-19 Strategy, Part I: Make Himself the Hero
Apr15 Trump's COVID-19 Strategy, Part II: Find a Scapegoat
Apr15 A Tale of Two Recovery Plans, Part I: The States vs. the White House
Apr15 A Tale of Two Recovery Plans, Part II: Red vs. Blue
Apr15 Obama Endorses Biden
Apr15 Elizabeth Warren: Batter Up!
Apr15 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part VII: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (1865)
Apr14 A Power Struggle He Cannot Win, Part I: Trump vs. the Governors
Apr14 A Power Struggle He Cannot Win, Part II: Trump vs. Fauci
Apr14 Biden Wins Wisconsin
Apr14 Sanders Endorses Biden
Apr14 USS Theodore Roosevelt Sailor Dies of COVID-19
Apr14 Trump Wants to Delay Census
Apr14 Biden, Democrats Get to Play Some Catch-Up Due to COVID-19
Apr13 Biden Beats Sanders in Alaska Primary
Apr13 Trump's Newest Election Strategy: Biden Is Weak on China
Apr13 What Did Trump Know and When Did He Know It?
Apr13 Trump Lashes Out at Fauci
Apr13 Trump's Friend and Donor, Stanley Chera, Has Died of COVID-19
Apr13 Republicans Reject Democrats' Ideas for the Next Relief Bill
Apr13 Virginia Makes Voting Easier
Apr13 Florida Republicans Are Mixed on Mail-in Voting
Apr13 Whose Fault Was the Mess in Wisconsin?
Apr13 People Are Now Willing to Talk to Pollsters
Apr13 The Pandemic May Reshape Retail
Apr12 Sunday Mailbag
Apr11 Saturday Q&A
Apr10 Pence Tries to Strong-arm CNN into Carrying Full Daily Briefings
Apr10 A Spoiled System
Apr10 Unemployment Claims Once Again Exceed 6 Million
Apr10 COVID-19 Relief Bill v4.0 Hits Some Snags
Apr10 COVID-19 Doesn't Discriminate, Except When It Does