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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

We're still working on the proposed constitutional amendments, but they're coming!

Life and COVID-19

P.D. in Woodbridge, NJ, writes:

State of the bug: Another week has gone by and the situation appears no less murky than last week. There is more information, but nothing to indicate a huge game-changer in either direction.

The data we get to evaluate is still not great. Here in NJ, testing is still so backed up that COVID test results take 5-8 days. We only test seriously ill patients, so 44% of all test results are positive. We are still trying to fight a battle 100 miles away using information provided by an understaffed pony express. But we can only analyze the data we have, so we do the best we can with that.

Several miracle cures (that no one in the non-politicized medical establishment believed were miracles in the first place) were demoted to their rightful status as tools in the tool kit. There are lots of things being tried (including some new therapies) and many look amazing in the initial go-round. Some will be added to the kit and some may lose their luster after careful research takes place. But this should not discourage us, this is just the nature of medical advancement.

Neither light nor disinfectant will likely have the staying power of Donald Trump's premature endorsement of Hydroxychloroquine, but it is worth noting that, as a result of his musings, governors and legislators around the country are adding paragraphs to their briefings or sending out letters warning that the injection or ingestion of disinfectant is dangerous.

At some point, we will probably find a treatment protocol that saves many more of the patients who enter the hospital for treatment. But COVID remains a very serious illness, and we are not going to come out of this war without losses.

The trajectory of the illness (based on our admittedly flawed data) looks much the same as last week. One could argue that new cases are a bit lower but deaths are a little higher. So, there is no justification (beyond the political one) to relax the social distancing that seems to be our best weapon.

Some things are clearer. Using an antibody COVID test, a very interesting study was done in NY that showed that 21% of people in NYC have been exposed and 14% in NY statewide. The big lesson here is "Most of us are probably all going to get exposed at some point." Given the deaths recorded, it provides some support for a 1% mortality rate. Given the wide range of mortality estimates thrown around (.05% to 8%), it is nice to have some good local data on this. A 1% mortality rate still means U.S. deaths in the millions if we do not keep a lid on this, but it also means this is clearly not an "extinction event."

The "let's open up" movement is going to win here and there (think of it as another aspect of the virus). So, we are going to get some nice data on the value of social distancing in the weeks ahead. I would have thought that the earlier experiments with Mardi Gras, spring break and Florida beaches would have provided adequate evidence, but more data will soon be forthcoming.

To those who point out the big party in NJ that was broken up by the police but where no one was ever reported sick as evidence that this is all a hoax, I would point out that having unprotected sex with 50 people does not guarantee that you will catch an STD, but it still means you are an idiot.

V & Z respond: As someone who is on the front lines, P.D. has agreed to keep providing regular updates, which have been very well received by readers.

A.S. in Hawkins, IN, writes:

I'd like to emphasize a point that is not being covered well in the media and I believe is the crux of the matter: One reason that COVID-19 is different than the flu is that some of those who get COVID-19 and survive end up with permanent organ damage. And that's not just the elderly or those with pre-existing conditions. As an anecdotal example: in the area where I live, we have seen only a handful of confirmed cases (yet), but an otherwise healthy young man who came down with COVID-19 is now in need of a heart transplant. Those long term effects are why this is not "just another flu."

Furthermore, the reason why social distancing is important is not because of the death rate, it's that 10-20% of all those infected with COVID-19 victims require hospitalization. Those who survive spend more time in the hospital, consuming even more health care resources.

To be clear, I'm not trying to say that the COVID-19 death rate is not a horrible thing. But it is the 9-19% of the hospitalized who survive that will overwhelm the health care system if COVID-19 spreads unchecked. A hospital has only so many beds (even with them in the hallways), and doctors have limits to the number of patients at a time they may have under their care. Furthermore, when emergency rooms and ICUs get filled up, people with other illnesses in need of critical care will get turned away. By definition, ICU patients cannot be moved or taken off care; the patient stays as long as necessary. So we risk having an increased number of deaths from non-COVID-19 critically ill patients who would otherwise get treatment.

Almost all of the discussion I've seen in the media has been on the death rate. And that number has been weaponized by those trying to argue against social distancing by claiming that it's not such a big number. Perhaps if the messaging were more about the 10-20% hospitalization rate and the permanent damage, we could shut down that argument, and the public would have a better appreciation of the impact.

And finally, I'd like to emphasize that with influenza, unlike COVID-19, we have: (1) a rapid (15 minute), readily available test to identify infection, (2) vaccines to reduce infection rate, and (3) a treatment (Tamiflu) to reduce the severity and duration of infection. We have none of those for COVID-19 and don't really know when we will.

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

Incredibly sad as it makes me to have to say this, I think your guess that we will surpass the death toll from the Vietnam War "sometime next week" is overly optimistic.

Using very rough calculations, I wouldn't bet my rent that the "Vietnam War" death toll won't be passed by Tuesday, and I wouldn't bet the lunch money that it won't be passed by Wednesday.

M.W. in Glendale, AZ, writes:

I have been wondering for some time now why the likes of Pat Robertson, Kenneth Copeland, and Benny Hinn have not gone to the hospitals and cure the patients there of COVID-19, if they truly believe in their healing powers.

D.M.R. in Omaha, NE, writes:

In the past week, there have been huge spikes in coronavirus cases in red states, including South Dakota (+205%), Iowa (+82%), Nebraska (+74%), Arkansas (+60%), and Oklahoma (+53%). All of these states have Republican governors and none of them have stay-at-home orders.

Other than for a very brief period, I've been a resident of Iowa and Nebraska for the past 30+ years, and I have some observations regarding the state of things, and the technically-correct-but-misleading information that's going around.

You did note the very significant outbreaks in Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota, having mostly to do with meatpacking plants. What you did not note (same for the mainstream media) is that even with these recent very tragic outbreaks, the level of COVID-19 infection, per capita, is low to very low in these three states.

Zooming in to the Johns Hopkins map and selecting the (very important) "Confirmed by population" tab, you will see that for other than the very localized hotspots such as Lexington and Grand Island, Nebraska, Waterloo, Iowa and Rapid City, South Dakota, the map shows relatively low to very low rates of infection, even in population centers such as Omaha, Des Moines and Lincoln.

For the affected hotspots, I do not think that attitudes toward distancing, and certainly not political ideology, have anything to do with the outbreaks.

Jobs in small-city packing houses are usually very low paying and lacking benefits such as paid sick leave. In addition, many of the workers are living paycheck-to-paycheck at best and have the incentive to continue to report for work, even when feeling ill, in order to keep the lights on and food on the table.

Packinghouse work cannot be done remotely. It's grueling and very up close and personal. Packing house operators have very poor track records when it comes to the health and safety of line workers (google for examples, in abundance). Therefore, a single septic worker can start a chain-reaction that spreads like wildfire!

As a long-time resident and former health-care worker, I get it. I understand how infection spreads and how the chance of said spread can be controlled. My personal observation is that most of the people out here, despite the lack of official stay-at-home orders, are taking the situation quite seriously. I have yet to see or even hear of any "COVID Beach Parties" or anything like that.

Risky behavior, such as a few basketball games in parks, were quickly dealt with by Omaha's (Republican) mayor in the form of park closures.

In the shops that are open, most everyone seems to be following the distancing guidelines to the letter. When I had to pick up a prescription, those waiting on line were standing, voluntarily, on every other 6-foot floor marker, thus maintaining twice the recommended separation. Masks are common.

I believe the degree to which the public is following the guidelines has significantly contributed to the relatively low rate of infection in the area.

These are my thoughts and observations from Flyover Country.

S.C. in Phoenix, AZ

Your comment about golf being essential is an interesting one. I am an avid golfer and play 4 times a week. I thought you might be interested in the precautions being taken in Arizona.

First, all the golfers are allowed to ride one per cart. All the bunker rakes have been removed, as well as the sand bottles to repair divots. In addition, the cups have been turned upside down so the balls are level to the green surface, which permits removing the ball without touching the pin. We also observe social distancing during play.

All carts are sanitized after every use, and the snack bar is takeout only. The staff wear gloves and remain 6 feet away from any patron.

I think this is pretty safe given the outdoor environment. I also make it a point to never touch my face during a round and wash my hands thoroughly when I come home.

Mainly, I am happy that the grounds crew can continue to work and be paid. The crew at the course I play are all people of color, as is the greenskeeper. They are not allowed to congregate in groups, and most of them wear masks which I think, given the outdoor environment, is a bit of overkill but may be more to keep the dust raised from mowing out of their respiratory system.

All and all I think the precautions are reasonable, and it gets me out of the house.

National Politics and COVID-19

A.L. in Gilroy, CA, writes:

Wondering why all bailouts have to be in gift handouts. Why not write a law that would allow renters to pay this month's rent in one year and add a small 3% tag for the realtors. This can be modified by having the state buy back rental deferments if the realtors are too heavily burdened. Rental deferments can also be extended to other areas like utilities. Deferments can be used to help relieve pressure and, although it would cause financial burdens on some parties, this would be a one-off measure that we hopefully wouldn't have to use again.

B.H. in Westborough, MA, writes:

Regarding the question about Rudy Giuliani disappearing, he was on Laura Ingraham's show yesterday, once again embarrassing himself.

P.R. in Simsbury, CT, writes:

Since more men than women die from coronavirus, it would be more accurate to say that some people are willing to kill off Grandpa, not Granny, to save the economy (an expression you have used on more than one occasion). Maybe people think Granny is more expendable than Grandpa.

V.P. in New York, NY, writes:

I think you're reading way too much into Trump's word soup by attributing some great meaning to "Invisible Enemy." He is far from the only person to use "enemy" and other anthropomorphic terminology to describe the virus (New York governor Andrew Cuomo uses it frequently in his daily briefings, for example), and the virus is quite literally invisible.

There are literally dozens of examples of all kind of media outlets using the phrase to describe the Coronavirus, including The New York Times, Newsweek, and The Washington Post. People have seen things as "invisible enemies" since long before the Vietnam War.

Trump is not shy to make his racism far more overt, so it doesn't serve any purpose to read all kinds of deep meaning into banal phrases. Except, perhaps, to make it easier for his supporters to point out as examples of "media bias."

K.P. in Glassboro, NJ, writes:

I wonder if there are not racist political overtones to Donald Trump encouraging states to dismantle their social distancing guidelines. One way to help ensure that there are fewer votes for the Democratic nominee would be if there were fewer people healthy enough to vote. Could it be that he is hoping to reduce voter turnout by encouraging behavior that will lead to increased incapacity or even death among certain groups of people, particularly African Americans? Is that at all a possibility? We know that Trump considers members of minority groups expendable. Certainly his partner Stephen Miller does. They are hateful, racist individuals who are hell bent on retaining their power—if only to delay the inevitable criminal charges. Just wondering.

S.K. in Peru, NY, writes:

I've been a progressive my whole life, and what I'm seeing from the left today is scary. There seems to be an intertwining of the fear of COVID with rabid hatred of Donald Trump. Consequently, anyone who says anything that might question the way in which state and local politicians (i.e., Democrats) are handling COVID-19 is met with hostility and even death threats.

Many people of all political stripes are angry because the state and local governments are imposing extralegal restrictions not backed up by the actual data. And if this is something that cannot even be discussed or debated for fear of retribution, legal or otherwise, then that is a very big and very scary problem in and of itself.

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA

I think you might have missed the point in your answer to M.B. in Cleveland about the Democrats remaining silent. Or perhaps it's the Democrats missing the point. Or maybe I just saw what I wanted to see. Whatever it is, I don't think anybody is correctly taking the temperature of the country right now.

People are dying in unbelievable numbers, and we're all scared and freaked out that it's so obvious Trump is in over his head, something made so much worse by his corruption and, well, just all around craziness. Trump has become the story and the problem, instead of COVID-19, and that's the problem that nobody is acknowledging.

Where are Biden and the Democrats? Their silence is deafening. I want to scream every time I hear Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) say that it's a waste of time to comment about Trump. She's the leader of the opposition party. It's her job to comment about Trump! Somebody needs to stand up and say, "Enough! Trump needs to get out of the way so we can deal with COVID-19 properly and save lives."

I think most of the country knows the emperor has no clothes and yet, nobody from either party will stand up and say so, and we're afraid that that's costing lives. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) is the only one to come close, and his popularity surged because of it.

M.B. in Pittsboro, NC, writes:

When Lysol has to put out PR saying, "DON'T INJECT OR INGEST OUR PRODUCTS!" no matter what the Commander-in-Chief says, the White House has a problem on its hands.

State Politics and COVID-19

G.K. in South Bend, IN, writes:

There is another angle that you may not have considered regarding Republican governors rushing to "re-open" their states. As various businesses reopen, they will recall their employees, thus shifting them off of unemployment. This will allow the states to save money by not having to pay those claims, albeit with a huge potential loss of life. Further showing the shortsightedness of this plan, many of those reopened businesses will have very few customers, as people will not feel safe going out in public.

The only potential saving grace in all of this, and indeed for our whole country, is the much earlier spread of the disease. If the timeline of the virus is way earlier than previously thought, and many people had it without knowing it, then it stands to reason that we may have more herd immunity than we think we do. That would indeed be a strong argument for being able to reopen the economy in a more timely fashion. The only problem with that is that without widespread antibody testing, it would be unwise to do so based on a gut feeling, and very few people will feel confident going out. But, as you may have heard, some people are just fine making life and death decisions on the whims of their personal GI tract.

J.W. in Lexington, GA, writes:

You had an item regarding Governor Brian Kemp's (R-GA) motivation for opening businesses so soon. This appeared on my Facebook page, and I thought I would share it with you:

Kemp mandates restaurants reopen, whether I reopen dining rooms or not. If I file for business interruption insurance, it does not go through since I am "allowed" to operate full capacity. My landlord can demand all their money, since I am allowed to fully operate. Furloughed staff that is collecting unemployment insurance have to come back to work or I have to let them go. Their unemployment insurance then goes on my tab. If things blow up again, they are still on my tab, not on the state's, since they are no longer employed. Guys, this is about screwing the working class and small business, not about helping us.

Also, after the President praised the governors for beginning to "open" their States, and then turned around and criticized Kemp, several people posted this on Facebook:

Meme with Kemp's picture, 
and the phrase 'I just found out what the underside of a bus looks like

Thank you so much to everyone that voted this malignant tumor into office.

B.K. in Dayton, OH, writes:

Following up on a comment I made a few weeks ago about Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH), to give you a little update from the Midwest.

Ohio is doing fairly well with the outbreak and state government here is getting a lot of credit from across the political spectrum. Although I am a moderate liberal and most of the people I routinely associate with in my bubble are similarly left, my job (State Historical Society) puts me in daily contact with people across the state, so I feel that I'm getting some of the right-leaning perspective as well. Amy Acton is now close to a folk hero and wildly popular because of her intelligent and thoughtful daily briefings, but also because she has a very empathetic delivery that resonates with viewers. DeWine is getting popular with Democrats due to the same 2:00 daily briefings (known here as "Wine with DeWine") and you routinely hear praise for him from the moderate left (including myself), who prior to this would not have been likely to do so. Some of the far left has been lukewarm so far, but as of today, I am seeing some of the same far left people gushing over him for his response.

DeWine does well because he communicates directly and responds quickly, despite not really having much natural charisma. Lt. Governor Jon Hustead (R) is getting some praise, but he gets the unpopular job of explaining daily why the state unemployment system is overwhelmed and what they are doing to fix it. (They've actually taken him off some briefings lately, perhaps because it's just the same redundant questions from reporters to him.)

DeWine has recruited help this week from two former Ohio governors, one Republican and one Democrat, to oversee specific portions of the COVID-19 response. When the dust settles on this, I think DeWine will have a legacy of cross-party support for the rest of his days. Minor missteps would not diminish his credibility and he would be hard-pressed to screw it up at this point. The far left will soon resume complaints and the far right has been unhappy with the quarantine from day one, but the bulk of Ohio's moderates seem relatively happy, especially in comparing ourselves to other states.

What will be very interesting as the election year goes on is to pay close attention to anything DeWine says or does that might influence the election. DeWine does not court controversy, but his sustained popularity here is so strong now that I expect he has serious pull with moderates of all stripes. Specifically, if DeWine at any point goes off script and makes even modest criticism of the weak federal response, it will garner attention from many Ohioans. The Governor has so far avoided doing this, but if Trump at any point criticizes DeWine, it will backfire with moderates of the right and left and further push voters away in what is sometimes a swing state. Reporters have frequently tried to goad DeWine into criticizing Trump and he hasn't taken the bait, but can we expect the same from Trump? As DeWine's popularity grows (and specifically because he is being contrasted with Trump), would any of us be surprised to see Trump try to punch-down?

It will also be interesting to see how voting plans for this fall evolve. I think DeWine is much too smart to blow his hard-won support by playing partisan games at this point and his concern for the health of the citizens seems profoundly sincere (or he's doing a hell of a job in giving that impression). Even if in-person voting happens, Democrats here are as fired up as ever.

Social media frequently shares artists doing portraits and street chalk depicting Acton and DeWine and then there is this little gem, which has been viewed over a million times. (These are strange times—how many people normally know the name and personal biography of the sign-language interpreter for their governor?)

K.W. in Providence, RI, writes:

This video would be disturbing enough if only given in transcript. However, watching it, with the antagonists in their Fred Perry polos (the official white supremacist uniform), with "We the People" tattoos, makes it even more so. If one does watch the video, keep in mind Florida's "stand your ground" law. The videographer would be perfectly justified in shooting them and facing no consequences.

Thoughts on the 2020 Election

R.M. in Pensacola, FL, writes:

I am a manager at an 'essential' business where I interact with thousands of customers each week. I also live and work in what may be the heart of MAGA country (Matt Gaetz, R-FL, is my Congressman), so a lot of people who support Donald Trump live here.

For the last three-plus years, I would see dozens of people every day wearing their MAGA gear. Hats, t-shirts, pants, shorts, you name it. People here are definitely not shy about their support for Trump.

However, since COVID-19 mania hit about six weeks ago, I have seen almost no Trump gear. Maybe a hat every couple of weeks and only one t-shirt that I can recall. One of the people who works for me asked a regular MAGA hat wearer a few weeks ago: "What happened to your hat?" His response: "Things don't look well right now and it doesn't feel right to wear it."

I'm sure many of the Trump supporters will still vote for him in November, but it sure seems as though many of them currently don't feel comfortable publicly supporting him at this time.

T.P. in Martinsville, NJ, writes:

It occurred to me, given the question of whether Mike Pence will be on the ticket this fall, whether this whole question could be turned into a campaign and PR boon for Donald Trump. To decide on his running mate, Trump can produce "The Apprentice, VP Edition," running from Labor Day to Halloween, with 10 potential running mates. This could include options such as Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani and a "surprise" candidate to be added in the last week of September. Each week the candidates would be asked to show how Trump handled a crisis during his presidency with perfection while also making Biden look like a bumbling, incoherent, ticking time bomb for the country. The candidate that is most truthful each week gets voted out (since we know Trump can't actually fire them). The ratings would be the best ever for "The Apprentice," and with sports likely still not running normally, would be something for Vegas to provide betting odds. What could possibly go wrong with this!

M.G. in Indianapolis, IN, writes:

The media and your website need to be concerned about making Trump look like he is going to lose the presidential election very badly.

Because voting will be difficult, voters may feel "Why vote for Biden?" if he is going to win in a landslide. Meanwhile, maybe Trump's base would feel that they really need to vote at all costs.

Could this be Trump's strategy?

S.D. in Atlanta, GA, writes:

Your site is based on polling data and you have often mentioned the unreliability of polls. I worry we are going to have a repeat of 2016, when nearly every poll indicated Clinton would win the election, except for the L.A. Times tracking poll, which had Trump consistently leading.

Can we even trust polling data anymore? As much as I love this website, maybe you should consider collating all your past commentaries about the challenges with accurate polling and put that in a separate section. I fear people will rely on polling data again and that may influence people's likelihood to vote in some states or provide a false sense of certainty.

V & Z respond: Just to clarify, we don't believe polls are unreliable, merely that one should not put too much stock in polls that are very close, given the mathematics of sampling. The national polls in 2016 predicted that Clinton would win the popular vote by about 3% and she did. As to the states, we had Michigan with Clinton at 45±4% and Trump at 42±4%. Clinton was within the range and Trump was just barely above it. Similar for Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Once you understand that a poll predicts a range for each candidate with a 95% probability and not who is going to win, polling makes more sense.

R.H.D in Webster, NY, writes:

Before Trump, the last time we had a president with "blond" hair was Jimmy Carter. I see several comparisons between the two besides the coif. Both ran as Washington outsiders pledging to shake things up, though nobody expected them to gain the nomination at the beginning of the process. Both got elected in a close election against a career politician.

The fourth year of their presidencies was consumed with an international crisis that hit home with Americans held hostage. In 1980, it was by religious fanatics thousands of miles away. Now, it's by something that can only be seen by a microscope. That on top of economic turmoil gripping the country.

Both the Carter and Trump re-election bids involve an older candidate with some government experience and an Irish surname. While both Reagan and Biden have been seen by some as being not fit for office, they also have a great skill for empathy and composure in times of trouble.

They said right before the 1980 election it was going to be close. We know what exactly happened, though. Will history repeat itself? We'll see.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes:

I breathed an unexpected sigh of relief this morning when I saw that your general election map had gone live! I can only attribute it to the fact that, with so much uncertainty, it's nice to have anything solid to grasp, and the early settling of the 2020 race, and the symbolism that the general election is finally here, has buoyed my spirits.

And we can begin serious discussions of Biden's veep picks! The comment from M.E. regarding Arizona really struck me, that choosing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for VP could lose swing state voters. I know Arizona is a longer shot than most think to turn blue but there's an important Senate race there and Mark Kelly (D) has a real shot to unseat Sen. Martha McSally (R), so I take comments like that seriously. I voted for Warren and I believe she'll be an invaluable member of Biden's cabinet, but if she can't be the presidential nominee, why risk votes just for the veep slot? Her supporters are firmly behind Biden because we are, above all, pragmatists. And, sad to say, I don't think choosing her would bring over many of Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) supporters and, in fact, could cause the Warren-haters in that camp (of which there are more than a few) to jump ship. Frankly, I think she'd be much more effective as the Treasury or Commerce secretary, anyway. Interestingly, choosing Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Stacey Abrams or Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) would, in my view, be less polarizing and would drive up turnout among African Americans in key southern states like Georgia, North Carolina and Florida, which are key to a Biden victory.

K.Y. in Seattle, WA, writes:

C.L.C. in Petaluma, CA, disapproves of Kamala Harris because she supposedly "loves locking up defenseless prostitutes" and "supports the Swedish model." However, the link shows that those two positions are mutually exclusive, so I would take C.L.C.'s opinion with a few grains of salt. Harris's endorsement of the Nordic model is a point in her favor, in my opinion. The Nordic model criminalizes those who buy or procure sex (usually predatory men) and decriminalizes those who sell their own bodies for sex (usually vulnerable women).

H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes:

Something Joe Biden should have considered when he pledged to name a woman as his vice-presidential candidate: The recent protests in Michigan indicate that whomever Biden might pick, she will be met with "Lock her up!" chants and placards by Trump supporters. A few of the more vehement folks will be wearing updated versions of the "Trump That Bitch" shirts and hats seen in 2016.

D.A. in Edinburgh, Scotland, writes:

In response to your item about Michelle Obama and the VP spot, and how Americans seem to gravitate to those who are effectively forced into office, I recall that was one of the appeals of the "Designated Survivor" TV show. And that got me thinking.

As President Obama offered the Secretary of State position to Hilary Clinton, I wonder if Joe Biden, if elected, would take a page out of the Designated Survivor storybook and offer Barack Obama the Secretaryship of State as a way to instantly re-establish world relationships with the U.S. There probably isn't anyone out there other that Hillary Clinton herself who would be a better Democratic candidate for that role. It would also be a thumbing of the nose to the current executive in chief, and you could power the green revolution by wiring the shows on FOX, OANN, and Sinclair Broadcasting to turbines and gathering the steam produced.

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

Regarding comments by M. H. and C. C. regarding Chinese Americans, this poll found that Chinese-American registered voters had the following favorability - unfavorability ratings:

  • 24 - 70 Donald Trump
  • 20 - 58 Republican Party
  • 50 - 28 Democratic Party

Also, "tough on China" is not necessarily "smart on China," and incitement of domestic racism may override foreign policy concerns.

M.B. in Austin, TX, writes:

I love you guys but I feel you consistently write off Texas as going Republican based on conventional wisdom, and you fail to realize that the political landscape is shifting dramatically. Texas will be very much in play this year.

Legal Briefs

R.M. in Brooklyn, N.Y., writes:

The point of Ramos, and the reason for its odd line-up of opinions, is that it's not about an idiosyncratic application of the Sixth Amendment to the States, but because it's about overruling precedent vs. stare decisis. Linda Greenhouse discusses this in detail in The New York Times. The decision that was overruled by Ramos was from 1972—the same year as Roe v. Wade. Ramos can only be read as jockeying in anticipation of the Court taking a case in which it could overrule Roe.

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes:

Even if the Supreme Court could be persuaded to overturn Nixon v. Fitzgerald, which held that the President "is entitled to absolute immunity from damages liability predicated on his official acts," a suit against Trump for his misfeasance in handling the COVID-19 pandemic would almost certainly fail.

In Nixon, Fitzgerald claimed that he had been fired from a federal job in retaliation for giving testimony to Congress, in violation of the Constitution and of two federal statutes protecting workers from such retaliation. D.K. of Iowa City hypothesized a claim by "some group of injured people" that they were hurt by Trump's "incompetence, neglect and dishonesty." That's a garden-variety tort claim for negligence in the performance of official duties, no different in principle than someone suing a surgeon at a VA hospital who allegedly committed malpractice. Besides Nixon, there would be two virtually insurmountable obstacles to that claim.

Until the 1948 Federal Tort Claims Act, the federal government was immune from tort suits under a doctrine inherited from the common-law principle that "the King can do no wrong." The statute allows the government to be sued for harm caused by the negligence of an "employee of the government," which includes "officers or employees of any federal agency" and "persons acting on behalf of a federal agency in an official capacity." The first problem D.K.'s hypothetical plaintiffs would encounter is that the courts would probably hold that under this definition, the President is not an employee of the government because he does not work for an "agency." The Supreme Court has already held that the President is not an "agency" for purposes of judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act in Franklin v. Massachusetts (1992).

The second problem is that the Federal Tort Claims Act includes a giant exception. The government can't be sued for alleged negligence by a federal employee in the performance of a "discretionary function." The President's decisions regarding pandemic advice and policy would surely fit within that exception.

If, somehow, a lawsuit under the Federal Tort Claims Act could survive, it would not lead to the result D.K. probably was hoping for, namely a big damages verdict against Donald J. Trump. The Act's flip side to allowing lawsuits against the government is preventing lawsuits against federal employees personally for their negligence in performance of official duties. So our tax dollars would be used for any payout to people injured by Trump's incompetence—perhaps not an unjust result, but not one that holds the negligent person directly to account.

The only path to a verdict against Trump would be for the Supreme Court to decide: (1) it's time to overrule Nixon and subject the President to suit for official acts; (2) the scope of that liability should include not just intentional misconduct as alleged in Nixon but also negligence; (3) but the President is not a "government employee" under the FTCA, and therefore the government cannot be sued for his negligence; and (4) therefore the President should be personally liable for acts committed in his official capacity. And then a fact-finder would have to find that Trump was negligent, that the negligence demonstrably caused harm, and that there are no compelling public policy reasons to deny or limit the scope of liability. That's about as likely as me becoming President.


F.L. in Denton, TX, writes:

In a great many countries, there are far more than two political parties. An election is held and then, if no party has an outright majority of seats in their Parliament/Knesset/Duma, a few parties might make some deals and form a coalition that has a majority. At that point, the sausage-making season will begin in earnest.

With one important difference, I would submit that the U.S. actually has a multi-party system. There are the different groups such as the Blue (and Yellow) Dogs, the Tea Party, the Social Democrats, the Tuesday Group, etc., which, I would argue, are de facto small parties. The difference between the U.S. system and that of, say, the U.K., is that the alliances are made before the election, rather than after, and the number of seats a faction will get is usually decided by primaries.

K.C. in Levittown, NY, writes:

As you've mentioned many times, the vice presidency has been compared to a warm bucket of piss, yet we've seen in recent administrations, the increased responsibilities imposed upon the #2. Obviously, many factors go into the selection of a running mate—be they geographical considerations, appeasing the further-left or the further-right wings of either party, or appealing more to the moderates.

I have to wonder, though, with all the partisan behavior we see in Washington, and it's getting worse by the year, if the vice presidency can't be used as a check on the presidency. We've seen Donald Trump utterly annihilate the checks and balances in our government in just three-and-a-half short years, and when the dust settles one of these days and cooler, wiser heads prevail, I think it'll be time for some serious mending of the system. That could take years, or it could take decades, but one thing I've thought about a lot lately is that the veep slot should be occupied by someone who can truly bridge the gap between Democrats and Republicans. Let each candidate submit a list of individuals to the other from which they can select their running mate. It may result in some very interesting (to say the least) tickets—imagine Trump/Pelosi or Biden/McConnell, but it may force cooperation between the two sides so that we can start making real progress for all Americans.

S.W. in Omaha, NE, writes:

I'm a Democrat, which I only mention for context based on the thoughts I'm about to pose next. I'm concerned that regardless of whether the country becomes more progressive and potentially elects more Democrats to Congress and possibly to the presidency, the Senate might be harder to flip and keep in the D column in the long run.

My concern is based on the current and future projections of the concentration of Ds in blue states and Rs in red states. My understanding is that at some point in the future, as much as 70% of the US population could be in as few as 15 states. I've seen these numbers cited in several online articles, including this one on Slate's website from a couple of years ago. Assuming those 15 states were solid blue, that's likely 30 Senators, which leaves 70 Senators up for grabs in the other 35 states. Democrats would need at least 20 Senators from those other 35 states, plus the vice presidency, to control the Senate. The implications are huge, including but not limited to passing bicameral legislation and the composition and direction of the Supreme Court and other federal courts.

One of my relatives by marriage is an operative in Washington. I spoke with her recently about my concerns. She suggested that I broaden my understanding of the fluidity of the American electorate. She thought voter suppression was the bigger long-term issue, and also said that voters would probably continue to move to different places in the country so that more traditionally conservative places might transform over time to moderate or even progressive ones. One example was the migration of folks from densely populated and expensive places like California to Texas, Georgia, Arizona, etc.

I also wonder if it would be plausible to persuade liberals and moderates from densely populated states to move to more sparsely populated conservative places (like Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, or even my own Nebraska) to change the electoral composition of those states (and possibly assure the Senate to have a more Democratic hue)?

New Hampshire vs. Vermont

D.H. in Boston, MA, writes:

I have a few thoughts in response to the question about why New Hampshire is more conservative than Vermont. I've lived in or near both states for most of my life so I'm familiar with the cultural differences, but this question caused me to think about the historical and economic differences more closely.

Historically, Vermont has always been a rural state with a small population, but New Hampshire, being upstream from Lowell, MA, on the Merrimack River, was heavily involved in the textile industry in the 19th century. It saw immigrants of many ethnicities arrive, and then suffered major economic consequences when the factories moved south in the 1910s and 1920s. I think that's probably when the state started to become more conservative (or at least, not as liberal). Not only that, but the Merrimack River became notorious for pollution left behind by the factories. I think you can still today see the impact of the state losing the textile industry. I would say that nothing has fully replaced it.

Meanwhile, Vermont stayed rural but saw an influx of more liberal people starting in the 1960s, including Bernie Sanders, but also Howard Dean, Madeleine Kunin, Ben & Jerry, the members of Phish, and a lot of others. I think they were drawn to Vermont because of its purely rural (more innocent?) nature, whereas New Hampshire was more of a mixed bag. Also, because Vermont had fewer people than New Hampshire, the liberal newcomers had more of an influence on elections, especially from the 1990s on.

V & Z respond: We can't help but be reminded of this recent sketch from "Saturday Night Live."

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes:

I am not a citizen of either New Hampshire or Vermont, but I've spent good chunks of time in both states. I have always found palpable cultural differences between the two. The presence or absence of billboards on opposite banks of the Connecticut River says it all about the relative tolerance for government regulation in favor of a broader private interest. The Green Mountain Boys may have been all-in with the original meaning of "Live Free or Die," but the White Mountains seem to have bred an antipathy to taxation not shared across the border (although the giant state liquor store on I-93 just across the border from Massachusetts shows that New Hampshirites are not entirely averse to funding their government). These are both great places, and they may both be true-blue-to-bluish in Presidential politics and otherwise swingy on a statewide level, but they are definitely not the same.

J.S. in Providence, RI, writes:

Interesting notes today about New Hampshire—I thought I'd give you a little more context. I work for one of the major employers north of Boston and have seen house search and purchasing for many employees we have recruited to the area:

  • New Hampshire, north of Concord/Manchester, is pretty equivalent to Vermont in terms of political affiliation. However, the population of NH (and thus state politics) is dominated by those two cities. North of these cities it is not feasible to commute to Boston or Boston suburban employers.

  • The northern suburbs of Boston are very liberal with very high taxes and very high services (some of the best school systems in the country). Just across the line, New Hampshire has high property taxes (but no income tax) and much lower levels of services. House prices are also considerably lower due to the commute distance into Boston. Many people without children and older people choose to live in New Hampshire, and these demographics appear more Republican. There are fewer young people in southern NH since Boston tends to be a more attractive place to live for those working outside their immediate area. For people who work in MA, they pay MA income taxes anyway. Any job we post in NH is flooded with applications from current MA employees who live in NH and would immediately get an 8% raise if they worked across the border. Many people retire to NH since there are no income taxes.

  • NH politics are moderate compared to the rest of the country, but compared to the ultraliberal towns over the line are clearly conservative. NH also attracts Republicans due to the Democratic domination of eastern MA (successful MA Republicans come from other parts of the state). NH also has much less restrictive gun laws—I have seen quite a few gun owners where that has influenced their decision.

In summary, I believe the different tax/service choices and gun laws have effectively acted as a sorting mechanism for people who desire to live in the suburbs north of Boston—Democrats go to MA, Republicans go to NH.

P.A. in Redwood City, CA, writes:

In your response to the question about why New Hampshire is much more conservative than Vermont, you did not mention the largest newspaper in the state, The Manchester Union-Leader (now The New Hampshire Union-Leader). It has a long history of being one of the most conservative daily papers in the country and one that, at times, could have been thought of as the Fox News of newspapers. I don't know whether its conservativism was cause (the paper influences state politics toward the right, especially back when endorsements meant something), effect (the conservatism of the paper reflects the population), or perception (the paper makes outsiders think the state is more conservative than it is). Probably some combination of the three.

I also lived in New Hampshire in the 1970s, half the decade in Nashua, on the Massachusetts border, and half in Hanover, on the Vermont border. I can say assuredly there was a distinct and noticeable political shift as you left the state.

Feeling Berned

N.B. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes:

I often disagree with your analysis, but you usually articulate a reasonable point of view with sources, so I read to get another perspective. Your comments in the following passage, however, are totally indefensible:

Many (young) supporters of Bernie Sanders are distraught and disappointed, and many of them don't know what they are going to do or whom they are going to vote for. While a poll last month said that 80% would ultimately grudgingly and with the greatest reluctance vote for Joe Biden, a story in the New York Times, based on interviews with two dozen of them, shows that they are extremely upset that their dream of radical change has been smashed merely because most Democratic voters don't like Sanders or his ideas. It's tough being young and thinking that you know how things ought to be and then discovering that most Democrats don't agree with you."

First off, the tone of this passage is strikingly condescending towards young people. You frame the issue as though young people are simply too naive and silly to realize that they are fools for rejecting Biden. In fact, young people are worried about the climate crisis that previous generations created and refuse to do anything about; foreign wars started by boomers that young people will be paying off their entire lives; the debt burden from college degrees young people were told we needed by boomers and now get us such prestigious positions as barista and Uber driver. They have been told so many times that they must vote Democratic, only to be sold out even on the meager promises they were given in the campaign. It comes across as totally arrogant and uninformed to imply that young people's support for Bernie Sanders or disdain of Joe Biden, who personally helped make it so that young people cannot unload their student debts through bankruptcy, are a mere tantrum. Maybe a few cherry picked by the NYT are, but not most.

When Millennials will likely be the first American generation to be poorer than their parents, when they see their future threatened by decisions that had no part in, and when their interests are routinely sidelined and outright threatened by representatives elected by elderly people, it is not naivete to reject the politicians who personally participated in all that for people who offer them something for their material needs. What you call a "Dream of radical change," as though it were some silly utopian fantasy, young people think of as basic necessities. Older voters who had far less expensive college tuition, better job prospects, more wealth, and no climate crisis or pandemic to destroy whatever they manage to earn simply don't understand the urgency. This urgency leads some to reject Biden, even against Trump. Personally, I intend to vote for Biden; but why is it that young progressives are silly utopian children throwing a fit when we threaten to not vote for Biden, but older, suburban moderates who threaten not to vote for Sanders are just being normal, pragmatic voters using their votes as leverage to advance their interests?

Then there is the factual issue. You state that Democratic voters don't like Sanders or his ideas. That's patently false. Sanders was viewed more favorably by Democrats than Biden for much of the primary. FiveThiryEight averaged polls from December and January and showed that Sanders had a net favorability among Democratic voters that was four points higher than Biden. That changed in the last two months as Biden became presumptive nominee, but to frame Sanders' loss as though he was inherently unpopular among a majority of Democrats is inaccurate. Furthermore, Medicare for All had majority support among Democrats in many states, including Michigan, which Biden won. Polls show that it is increasing in popularity as the pandemic progresses. Sanders and his policies are popular, often more popular than Biden and his policies. So why did Biden win? He dominated with voters who were concerned about electability. These were often older voters. Older voters viewed getting Trump out of office at all costs as the only metric. Many of them liked Sanders' policies yet voted for Biden for this reason. While older voters see the present as more important, younger voters are concerned about their future.

Finally, if we're going to talk about age groups being selfish and irresponsible, it's not remarked on enough how voters over the age of 65 who have and love Medicare routinely fight to keep young people from having it too.

P.V. in Bloomington, MN, writes:

I'm a two time Sanders primary voter who voted for Clinton in 2016 and who is trying to make the same arguments to people I know about why they should vote for Biden in 2020. Could you please try to be a bit less condescending about how we're all young fools? Yes, most Democrats disagreed with Sanders' campaign, although many of his ideas remain popular if you simply describe them without them being framed as radical socialism. Rubbing our faces in the fact that most people in the country disagree with the changes we still believe are needed, and are considered not even remotely extreme in just about every other western country, is not exactly helpful. I agree we need to stop the bleeding first by getting Trump out, and trying to minimize damage to the courts is vital, but kicking us while we're down is counterproductive. We could all be a bit more mature about this.

S.G. in Denver, CO, writes:

I've no doubt when you wrote this, you were expecting to get a lot of blowback. However, I feel compelled to add to it anyway.

The real reason so many people are upset with the choice of Biden is that he's is truly uninspiring and no-one believes he will push for, let alone achieve, a progressive agenda. He also is the real "Trump's best hope" for victory. Trump proved that what wins is a dedicated base that is motivated to get to the polls. Biden has no base. Not one Biden voter picked him as their first choice. Even at the beginning of the campaign the people who claimed to be for Biden said their reason was his "electability." Middle of the road independents are just as likely to jump ship in November to team Trump based on whatever happens in the latest news cycle because fickle people have short memories.

Yes, I will hold my nose and vote for Biden and we will likely win the popular vote again. But Trump has a better chance now than he did before. And even if Biden wins, the after-Trump reparations to the country will probably not happen. I guess we can still pray that New York will hold Trump accountable.

C.B. in Kendallville, IN, writes:

As a leftist myself, the idea of Joe Biden being classified as "Republican-lite," particularly by the "Bernie or Bust" crowd, is puzzling to me. He's certainly right of Sanders, but Biden is still set to be the single most progressive candidate nominated by a major party in American history.

Watching Us Like a Hawkins

C.J. in Honolulu, HI, writes:

You wrote about the various third-party candidates and characterized the leading Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, rather dismissively, as "a 67-year old who until his 2017 retirement worked for UPS unloading trucks at night. Not exactly the kind of guy the disappointed Sanders supporters are going to flee to and yell 'he's my man.'"

I find this to be a rather unfair assessment of the man. To start, Howie Hawkins has been actively involved in politics for several decades and was one of the original co-founders of the Green Party in 1984. He's run in several campaigns for various offices in New York as the Green Party candidate, including for Senate and Governor, and has been involved in pro-union campaigning and organizing. Additionally, as a college student back in 1972, Hawkins supported the campaign of a little-known candidate running for Governor of Vermont on the Liberty Union Party ticket. It is unclear what became of this candidate, but I've tasked my best researchers with finding out.

I also find the implication that Sanders supporters would be turned off by the fact that Hawkins had a regular job to be completely unfounded, even insulting. In fact, the reverse is probably true. Having had a regular job is more likely to inspire trust among progressives than being, say, a businessman or a lawyer (the top two professions among members of the U.S. Congress). Before being elected to the House in 2018, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) was employed as a bartender. Now she is one of the most prominent politicians in the United States and perhaps the most prominent person in the progressive movement, save Bernie Sanders (who held down a job as a carpenter before going into politics). Regular work experience is clearly seen as a feature, not a bug, when it comes to the progressive movement.

Lastly, for the disaffected Sanders supporter looking for a platform that they can get behind, there is no candidate on the 2020 ballot that more resembles Bernie Sanders on this point than Howie Hawkins. Medicare for All? Check. Green New Deal? Check. Free public college? Check. Raise the minimum wage? Check. On issue after issue, Hawkins is campaigning for the same things that inspired millions of people to get behind Sanders in his two presidential runs, and in many ways goes even further than Sanders dared to go.

Put another way, could Howie Hawkins—a life-long progressive activist, one of the founding fathers of the Green movement in America, experienced from dozens of political campaigns, a salt of the earth blue-collar worker, with the most progressive campaign platform of any 2020 candidate—be the kind of guy the disappointed Sanders supporters are going to flee to and yell "he's my man"?

I think he might be.

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

Your anti-working class bias shows up every so often in your analysis. But in your discussion of third parties your bias was obvious. You seem clueless about the huge working class base of support for Sanders. Those masses of small donations came mainly from working class people, including many truck drivers, bartenders, nurses, and teachers. This should not be a surprise since Sanders has been explicit that he advocates a pro-working-class agenda.

Moreover, in the case of Howie Hawkins, he is actually the person who coined the slogan "Green New Deal".

20th Century Slavery

J.B. in Manor, TX, writes:

You answered a reader's question regarding whether or not slavery might have persisted to the modern day had the Confederacy won the Civil War. As the author of alternate history novels exploring this very topic, I have given it a great deal of thought. Unfortunately, I think your rather rosy picture (believing that slavery couldn't have lasted much beyond the 1890s and certainly not to the modern day) is far from the reality of what would have happened.

First, one needs to examine the Confederate Constitution, created at the Montgomery Convention in 1861. It was essentially a carbon copy of the U.S. Constitution, but had a few significant changes, most of which involved slavery. These changes made it much more difficult, if not impossible, for the Confederate government to abolish slavery, even if it had wanted to.

Setting aside constitutional factors, however, we can see that white Southern society by the 1860s was fervently pro-slavery. The last gasp of the old Jeffersonian conception of slavery (that it was something they had unfortunately inherited from their forefathers and should eventually be done away with) had expired in the aftermath of the Nat Turner Rebellion in the early 1830s. The seceded states made no secret whatsoever that they were leaving the Union in order to protect slavery. And when we see the lengths that the white South went to in order to protect white supremacy in actual fact for more than a century after their defeat in the Civil War (with hints of that feeling surviving to the present day in the form of modern voter suppression), I don't see why we shouldn't assume an independent Confederacy would have done whatever was necessary in order to preserve their slave system. After all, it was a cultural phenomenon as well as an economic one.

Nor do I think changes in economics and technology could have been counted upon to alter the situation. As the nightmarish experience of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia have shown us, slave labor can be turned to industrial ends as well as agricultural ones. So even if an independent Confederacy had ever begun to industrialize, I see no reason why they would not have continued to use slave labor to do so. As early as the 1840s, iron foundries were being created in the Deep South whose workforce consisted of black slaves.

Taken together—constitutional protections, a pro-slavery public opinion, and the possibility of using slavery for industrial purposes—I think it's entirely possible that slavery might have persisted to the modern day had the Confederacy won the Civil War. That being the case, I think we should be infinitely more thankful for the leadership of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant, and the bravery and sacrifice of so many thousands of Union soldiers, than we seem to be in modern America.

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

In MacKinlay Kantor's 1961 Look Magazine article "If The South Had Won The Civil War," abolition of slavery was completed in 1885 under the leadership of CSA President James Longstreet.

J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Phillipines, writes:

I disagree with your assertion that the last country to eliminate slavery was Brazil in 1888. Slavery continues with us into the present day, including in non-incarcerated America, in the form of illegal debt and contract slavery. However, I know you were referring to the more "traditional" chattel slavery—the kind where people say, "I own this person," and "He is my master." This too, continues today. I've been to Mauritania, and no one wanted to talk about it (to me), but I am indebted to the research by Kevin Bales in Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. Yes, Mauritania has made slavery illegal and freed all of their slaves, but he points out that they have to keep doing this every few years. So it begs the question if it is truly ever done.

V & Z respond: That was meant to say the last country in the Western Hemisphere, as scholars draw a big distinction between "New World" and "Old World" slavery. We later went back and fixed it. We thought about making reference to modern forms of slavery or near-slavery (besides sharecropping, which we mentioned), but we try to keep the Q&A answers from getting too unwieldy.

Conspiratorial Thoughts

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

I love the proposition that conspiracy theories are only as good as their weakest link. I long found myself loathing them—aliens, the moon landing, JFK, 9/11, and so on. When a younger man, I did not believe them, but at least I found some entertaining. After all, aliens are fun. As I get older, I find them increasingly offensive, with vaccines, Sandyhook, birtherism, and the Deep State. I get irritated and sometimes angry toward my conspiracist friends for spreading what is, to me, obvious nonsense.

Then comes 2016 and every year since. Those friends of mine call me the conspiracist. It is hard not to fear they may be right. So much nonsense. Few screenwriters could give Mueller and Ukraine a fair treatment in Hollywood. Too unbelievably ridiculous. Throw in graft, corruption, and lies, with a crescendo of the makers of Lysol and bleach issuing official statements imploring users not to drink their products. It is absurdity and farce.

I ask those conspiracist friends how it is they can accept all of this, when so much seems right up their alley? I do not get good answers. I receive what sounds like me talking to them pre-2016. I am delusional. How can I believe such nonsense? How can I believe so many would participate, at nearly all levels of state, in such madness?

I like to think I make valiant cases, yet as I type them, I do so eerily sound like them. Their eyes roll while reading my earnest presentation of the Mueller Report, perceived as a tin-foil hat screed, before moving on to their latest posts about chem trails and fluoride. One would think the conspiracists and The New York Times would be natural allies during this administration. I just cannot understand why that cohort lets every bit of this go.

J.R. in Grand Rapids, MI, writes:

Not to be late to the JFK assassination party, so to speak, I would observe that the really definitive work has to be the 1,500 pages of Vincent Bugliosi's Reclaiming History. He was recruited by a British television network to prosecute Lee Harvey Oswald in a televised trial complete with a jury panel from Texas; the legendary Gerry Spence was the defense attorney. Bugliosi was the Charles Manson case prosecutor and apparently lost one out of 120 felony trials in Los Angeles. Not only did Bugliosi win, but his book destroys all of the conspiracy theories. As someone who appealed more than 100 criminal felony convictions, I have to agree with Bugliosi that no felony trial is completely free of questions or errors, but that many cases result in unquestionable verdicts.

H.S. in Geneva, Switzerland, writes:

Let me suggest that as a responsible historian, (Z) should expunge from his professional vocabulary the phrase "conspiracy theory," which amounts to no more than an insinuation that the theory in question is inherently self-refuting and not worthy of rebuttal because it asserts a claim of conspiracy. Since we know about numerous undisputed historical conspiracies, if the theory in question is lacking in merit it must be for some other reason than the sheer untenability of any claim that a conspiracy caused historical events.

I am disappointed to find that (Z)'s dismissal of theories alleging conspiracy rests on faulty logic. The assertion that "'some conspiracy theories were proven true!' is not evidence that other conspiracy theories are also true" is a red-herring argument, since we know that some currently unproven theories of conspiracy must be true, because otherwise that would imply that all true conspiracies have already been revealed.

Similarly, the assertion that "the fact that at least 99.9% of conspiracy theories prove to be false argues for the position that...A conspiracy theory should be presumed false, until one is presented with clear and compelling evidence to the contrary" is a vacuous claim, since it implies that there is some type of theory to explain historical events, other than by alleging a conspiracy, that is presumed true in the absence of substantial evidence.

I suspect the reason that (Z) implicitly succumbs to the prevailing disparagement of such theories in general is because of the amateurism of some proponents who make all the most egregious logical errors such as believing that the absence of evidence is itself evidence of conspiracy. By contrast, professional revisionist history, some of which alleges conspiracy, is a respectable genre.

Therefore, I would suggest replacing the pejorative diction "conspiracy theory" with something like "unsubstantiated speculation," which would more even-handedly identify the alleged defect, even if it doesn't scan as well.

V & Z respond: You are not defining "conspiracy theory" correctly, however. There are lots of theories and ideas that are unsubstantiated, but are not conspiracies. A conspiracy theory specifically posits covert action by one or more individuals who attempt to hide their involvement in the matter, often by putting forward an alternate, false theory.

Let's Be Sporting

B.S. in Olmsted Falls, OH, writes:

Your item on the NFL Draft was fine, but did you have to denigrate the Cleveland Browns (again). It's such a tried and overused trope—lazy even. As for dismal drafting prowess (at least recently), the Colts, Patriots and even the Bengals (if sullying Ohio suits your fancy) would provide better fodder. May the sports gods have mercy on your souls.

V & Z respond: Since many readers of the site are not sports followers, we thought Cleveland would make the joke most broadly accessible. If you really want a team whose recent draft history has been a train wreck, it's the Denver Broncos. It turns out that "star QB" does not necessarily translate into "competent GM."

C.R. in Pelham, AL, writes:

The NFL draft is the perfect sports metaphor for the current pandemic and the debate over reopening the economy. After all, every year rich white conservatives reap tremendous profits by endangering the health and safety of their largely African-American work force.

R.B. in Houston, TX, writes:

As a fellow left hander, I am hurt that you would toss James Harden out there. There are stats that show he is much better than people think. I have loved your site for the insight, but I was gobsmacked when I read your swipe at the beard.

V & Z respond: All we know is that line led an awful lot of people to this video.

It Starts with a Few Jokes...

E.M. in Los Angeles, CA, writes:

I had to roll my eyes at the offense invented by J.E.L. of Portland, OR, who was appalled by the comparison of dentists to tattoo artists. Certainly some dentists save some lives, but most financially successful dentists make the bulk of their money from cosmetic dentistry. And because of their status as small business owners, as you noted, too many dentists run afoul of the arrogance that many small business owners possess, believing that makes them better than others.

For reasons I won't get into, I spent part of 2018 processing through the addiction treatment industry. Despite meeting hundreds of others in recovery, I never once met a tattoo artist in any of the programs, but I met more than a few dentists. One thing every dentist shared was an arrogance and rejection of responsibility, whether it be a dentist who served a professional sports team and who stole patients' opioid pain meds, or a dentist whose mid-life crisis resulted in having girlfriends with deep drug dependencies, or a dentist so deluded about his alcoholism that he expressed scornful anger at the family of the woman killed by his vehicular homicide simply because they demanded justice.

Certainly I can't judge all people who share a profession by the actions of a few in that profession, but someone who is offended to be compared to a profession he considers beneath him seems like par for the course when it comes to dentists. I don't think your original writing was in any way offensive to well-adjusted people who don't carry a chip on their shoulder.

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes:

It's amazing how a political blog originally designed to encourage expatriate Americans to vote has managed to cover so many topics, but such is the Internet. The conversation about dentists made me recall this critical analysis I read last year.

S.R., Wyomissing, PA, writes:

J.E.L. of Portland, OR needs to get with the times. Tattoo artists aren't the frowned upon profession his generation (yeah, I'm making a few guesses here, but I'm comfortable with them) made them for decades. I don't have any tattoos, but I know enough people (including my wife) who do and who have been discriminated against by (again, almost always) a generation that thinks everyone should listen to what they think and do what they say. The affront he takes to being lumped together with a group of people that are now considered artists speaks volumes. And I, in fact, know at least one person who visits a tattoo artist rather than cut herself, so yes, to some they do provide a vital public health service.

S.K. in Peru, NY, writes:

It is quite obvious you are rabid anti-dentites. Next thing you know you're saying they should have their own schools.

V & Z respond: But they do have their own schools.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr25 Saturday Q&A
Apr25 Today's Presidential Polls
Apr24 Administration's COVID-19 Management Not too Bright
Apr24 Kemp Gets a View of Life from Under the Bus
Apr24 House Passes COVID-19 Relief Bill v4.0
Apr24 Trump Organization Would Like Bailout from Trump Administration
Apr24 Team Trump Flails around in Search for Biden's Achilles Heel
Apr24 About That Order to Shoot Down Iranian Gunboats...
Apr24 Lots of Bad COVID-19-related Demographic News for Trump
Apr24 It Could Be a While Before the 2020 Election Winner Is Known
Apr24 Today's Presidential Polls
Apr23 The General-Election Map Is Live Today
Apr23 The Pandemic Is Upending the November Map
Apr23 Poll: Few Americans Think the Social Distancing Has Gone Too Far
Apr23 Bomb, Bomb, Bomb...Bomb, Bomb Iran?
Apr23 Trump and Biden Will Battle over China
Apr23 A "W" Could Wipe Out Trump
Apr23 Milwaukee Will Send All Voters an Absentee Ballot Application
Apr23 Whitmer Has Not Spoken with Biden about Being His Running Mate
Apr23 McConnell Has Clear Priorities
Apr23 Postal Service Collapse Would Hit the Republican Base the Hardest
Apr23 Today's Presidential Polls
Apr22 Senate Has a Deal
Apr22 House Moves Toward Vote by Proxy
Apr22 Trump Immigration Ban Is Mostly a Paper Tiger
Apr22 Kemp Gets Much Blowback
Apr22 NFL Draft Starts Tomorrow
Apr22 Trump Lags Biden in National Polls
Apr22 Biden Campaign Arguing Over Leadership of Online Campaign
Apr21 Trump Says He Will Suspend Immigration
Apr21 Four States Get Ready to Reopen
Apr21 Incompetent or Corrupt?, Part I: Small Business Funding
Apr21 Incompetent or Corrupt?, Part II: Emergency Equipment Funding
Apr21 Oil Prices Fall Below Zero
Apr21 Trump Snubs Romney
Apr21 Democrats Are Raking It In
Apr21 Democrats Want Obama
Apr20 Biden Sweeps Wyoming Caucus
Apr20 Voters Dump Trump Bump
Apr20 Trump's New Election Strategy: Run on Dividing the Country
Apr20 Coronavirus Is Starting to Hit Red States
Apr20 Some Sanders' Supporters Are Undecided
Apr20 A Nationwide Mail-in Election Is Not Likely to Happen
Apr20 Michael Cohen Is Writing a Tell-All Book
Apr20 Can Political Parties Fall Victim to COVID-19?
Apr20 This Is What Good Old-fashioned Traditional Corruption Looks Like
Apr20 What Is Essential?
Apr20 Democrats Outraised Republicans in Key Senate Races
Apr19 Sunday Mailbag
Apr18 Saturday Q&A