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Political Wire logo White House Mulls Options for Unilateral Action
Biden Extends His Running Mate Search
More Than 40,000 Will Die This Month from Coronavirus
Failed Pentagon Nominee Placed Into Position
Extra Bonus Quote of the Day
How the Media Could Get the Election Story Wrong

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  COVID-19 Diaries: The Mortality Mystery
      •  Sunday Mailbag
      •  VP Candidate Profile: Former State Representative Stacey Abrams (D-GA)

COVID-19 Diaries: The Mortality Mystery

One of the perplexing things about COVID-19 in the United States is the huge number of new cases compared to the relatively low increase in deaths and hospitalizations:

The number of new cases was in the 25,000 to 40,000 range until mid-June, and
then quickly jumped to 60,000 to 75,000 a day thereafter

The number of deaths was regularly above 2,000 per day in April, was
regularly below 1,000 per day by mid-May, and is between 800 and 1,300 per day now

Notice that there are nearly triple the new cases from the first peak in April, yet the death total is not even half of what it was in April (although deaths are clearly on the rise). What are the possible reasons for this? Some theories:

  • COVID-19 is less deadly now. Some studies have found the virus may be mutated into a more infectious but less lethal form.

  • Doctors are getting better at treating patients. Overwhelmed medical staff dealing with a new virus is not an easy environment in which to work. Overall, 65% of hospitalized patients in New Jersey died. In Florida, where their cases happened more recently, the death rate is 25%. Doctors have found new things that work well and modified or abandoned earlier protocols that were not effective.

  • Testing is not only being done on really sick people any more, so we are identifying more people who are asymptomatic or with less-serious cases. This is possibly the major reason for the huge drop in the percent of positive test cases that result in death. On April 13, 2020 in New Jersey (I have much better access to New Jersey data than other states' data), 46% of COVID-19 tests came back positive because testing was only being done on people who already had symptoms. Now, with more widespread testing available, about 2% of tests in New Jersey come back positive.

  • The people getting sick are more frequently younger and healthier. When COVID-19 was first encountered, the information needed to protect at-risk populations was not available. Many of those vulnerable individuals were the first causalities. In the original hotspots, those at-risk patients are now either deceased, lucky, or are carefully self-isolating. In the rest of the country, it can only be hoped that they are being careful. Anecdotally, it seems young people are being far less cautious.

  • It takes some time for those infected with the virus to get sick and die. The impact of today's new cases will not show up in the death statistics for a few weeks. The worst may still be coming.

Part of the difficulty in trying to answer the above question is the lack of reliable data. This lack makes trying to study COVID-19 very frustrating.

To answer many of the important questions about the virus requires population testing (or at least random sample testing) of a large number of people in many different areas. That kind of testing is expensive and difficult to perform so it is not frequently done. The CDC just reported a very solid antibody study sampling 1,800 people in each of 10 sites around the country. The researchers intend to resample those same areas every 3-4 weeks (they have already released the data for rounds 1 and 2). This is exactly the kind of study I have been wishing for. This data allows us to better understand the spread and impact of the pandemic.

There are a couple of caveats, however. First, there are false positives and false negatives in any tests. The data are only as reliable as the tests. Second, it can take weeks for antibodies to be detectable and some patients with COVID-19 symptoms may never develop them. Over time, the prevalence of (and therefore the ability to detect) antibodies decreases. The absence of detectable levels of antibodies does not mean the person has never had the virus.

The data are still not perfect (no data ever is). However, this study is still a contribution to the effort and allows us to make several observations:

  • America is not even close to the herd immunity threshold. Herd immunity occurs when there are enough people who are immune (perhaps through prior infection) that the virus spreads more slowly. Conventional wisdom indicates that if 60-80% of the population is immune, then there is a significant herd immunity effect. The virus infection rate is still in single digits in most of the country. The great majority of the population has not been exposed. Even New York City (the original hotspot) was only estimated as having 23% of the population testing positive for antibodies and the broader NYC metro area tested at 7%. There is no herd immunity yet, nor will there be for a long time.

  • One of the ten areas studied was the state of Louisiana. They ended their shelter-in-place orders on May 15 (3 days after the last data for this study was collected). The Louisiana study reports that 5.8% of the state population tested positive for antibodies (which is much higher than anywhere tested in the country outside of the northeast). Perhaps if state officials had been aware of this, they might not have been so enthusiastic to reopen. In Louisiana, new cases have tripled in the last month and increases in deaths are looking very grim over the past two weeks.

  • At least 1% of the US population has been exposed everywhere you look. No part of the country has escaped infection. There is no 100% "safe space."

Last week, I wrote about school reopening. I was asked by some readers what I personally was going to do with my 14-year-old son, who will start high school this year. My son and I decided that he will attend school remotely this fall. Our reasons are as follows:

  • The local school plan was very brief (3 pages) and by necessity has been rushed out. We have no confidence that the school will be ready to implement a safe environment.

  • We want to see what happens after a few weeks. We suspect that new cases of the virus will be rapidly forthcoming. While the pandemic looked to be well managed in New Jersey for a few months, new cases in the state are on the rise in the last 2 weeks. Hospitalizations are nearly flat with only minor decreases in numbers. School openings may fuel a serious outbreak.

  • I am an older father, so I fall into the at-risk group.

  • I have enough work flexibility to help support his education.

To safely reopen schools, the United States needed to have COVID-19 under control. Now it is getting close to the time for schools to reopen and the country appears to be on the verge of completely losing control of the pandemic rather than having the situation well in hand. (PD)

Dr. Paul Dorsey works in medical software, providing software to support medical practices and hospitals nationwide.

Sunday Mailbag

Another extra-strength mailbag.

2020 Election

K.G. in Socorro, NM, writes: It is incredible how Donald Trump manages to lead the news where he wants and not where it should have gone. There were three big pieces of news this week that would have destroyed any other president:

  1. The economy shrank by the biggest margin ever in a quarter.
  2. The number of dead due to COVID-19 has been around 1,400 per day.
  3. Trump effectively caused the death of Herman Cain; his own henchman.

And yet, when I look at the end of the week, everybody is talking about delaying the election date, something everybody agrees is not going to happen unless we have a meteor that hits the planet.

This presidency should have been buried by now, with all the disasters it has under its belt, yet the media is keeping it alive on a ventilator. It is mind boggling to me. Trump may not be a genius, but the media does follow him like a dumb dog when he says "look, rabbit!"

A.B. in Chesapeake, VA, writes: The median family income in the U.S. in 2010 was $50,000 a year for a family of four. That means that there were as many families in the country with incomes below $50,000 as above. That is about 100 million people with incomes less than 50k. A tax cut of 1 trillion dollars to 2 million people in the top 1% (receiving $500,000 each) is the same as $10,000 to 100 million people at the bottom. My Republican teacher friends earning $50k do not seem to know this. They are voting, when they vote Republican, to give the rich a $500,000 tax cut instead of getting $10,000 for themselves.

I have been upset with the Republican Party since the Great Deceiver, Ronald Reagan, was able to pass a 1 Trillion dollar tax cut that is estimated to have gone, predominantly, to the wealthy. In 1981, someone with a $10 million salary received a $500,000 tax cut, while a teacher on a $30,000 salary received $50. Reagan was able to do this because the Democratic House believed that the President should be given his due and they worked with him, accepting his plan. The Federal debt was about $900 billion in 1981 when Jimmy Carter left office and was $4.5 trillion after 12 years of Reagan/Bush. That is a fivefold increase in the debt because of Reagan's voodoo economics.

Now the Great Con Man Donald Trump and the Republicans have done it again with a $2 Trillion tax cut, mostly going to the wealthy. 4 million wealthy wage earners got $500,000 instead of 100 million people below the median family income of $50,000 getting $20,000. Even now, the GOP plan is to enact payroll tax cuts that will eventually destroy Social Security, another of their long term goals.

If Hillary Clinton had won the election, the Republicans would have probably kept the House in 2018 and they would have blocked her for four years, as they blocked everything Barack Obama did for 6. The giant step backwards our country has taken under Trump may have been the only way we can finally take two steps forward. It is clear that the Republicans stand only for the wealthy and the top 1 percent in this country. Never vote for a Republican. Vote in November for Democrats only. Get 10 others who were not going to vote to register now and vote!

M.S. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Something that I haven't seen reported at all concerning tax refunds: My daughter filed a paper return back in April and is still waiting for her refund. It's usually in by now. Maybe we're anomalous, but I spoke with a friend of mine who works for the IRS and was told that most IRS workers were working from home since April and those paper returns are all piling up because there's no one to open them. Paper returns filed by the July deadline may not see the light of day until the end of this year. Hope no one's planning to use their refund checks this year!

M.L. in Havertown, PA, writes: I do not think I am paranoid, but I seem to be seeing conspiracies everywhere these days, especially in proximity to the current Republican administration. The call from Steven Calabresi to impeach Trump may be one more example. I think any Republican senator or representative would love it if another impeachment were started before the election. That would let them scream about how the Democrats can't keep their focus on the pandemic or the integrity of the election and are only interested in removing this president at all costs. It would be a different story if a Republican were to initiate the impeachment process, but I doubt their outrage extends that far.

M.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: On Friday, you asked, "When did you last see Trump smile?"

The answer is: just a few days ago, when he was playing catch with Mariano Rivera. Of course, this actually supports your thesis that he really doesn't like being president, since he was enjoying not presidenting.

H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Donald Trump recently bragged that he aced a cognitive test for Alzheimer's screening, and guaranteed that Joe Biden could not perform as well. While it certainly would be informative (given the candidates' age) to compare the results of the two men, it would be more meaningful to see them compete against each other at, say, Jeopardy or Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit. Such a matchup would get way more viewers than any previous Presidential debates (Trump loves high ratings), plus the loser could go on Twitter and complain that the game was totally rigged.

V & Z respond: Unfortunately, playing 'Covfefe' only gets you 18 points.

D.C. in Myersville, MD, writes: You wrote:

We can think of only three explanations for why Trump did absolutely nothing to be a part in the celebration of [John] Lewis' life: (1) He's so petulant that he simply cannot put aside the fact that Lewis was a political opponent and a critic, (2) He is so concerned about losing the votes of closet racists and overt racists that he did not want to be seen honoring a Black man, or (3) He is himself racist enough that he can't personally bear the thought of his honoring a Black man. Maybe there are other explanations that are not immediately occurring to us."

How about: (4) It's not about him?

I sometimes wonder if he's actually a racist. He does and says racist things, so the results are the same, but maybe he does that to get the applause. Being a racist requires taking other people into consideration, and I'm not sure he's capable of that (aside from maybe Ivanka).

A part of me suspects that if the LGBTQ community had been vocally supportive, he'd be having rallies filled with social-distancing, rainbow-mask wearing fans and he'd be kissing one of his many gay subordinates at press briefings.

He'll do anything for applause. The racists got on the bandwagon first.

L.A.O. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: Another reason Trump has refused to honor John Lewis with even a minimal gesture is envy. The well-deserved six-day memorial recognition of Lewis' lifelong service and sacrifice in support of non-violence and civil rights has triggered Trump's small-minded jealousy.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: Donald Trump didn't bother to extend the tiniest twig of respect to John Lewis because he's too busy watching TV. There wasn't time during the commercial breaks, because that's when he rage-tweets.

B.M. in Birmingham, AL, writes: As a proud Alabamian, Republican, evangelical conservative, I wholeheartedly agree that the Edmund Pettus bridge should be renamed after John Lewis. He was the epitome of class in a world where we could use more of it. Weird that Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) didn't suggest it?

F.R. in Berlin, Germany, writes: Barack Obama's remarks during John Lewis' funeral confirmed something that I was already pretty convinced of by reading your site: D.C. statehood and abolishing the filibuster are among the most important objectives of Democratic voters this year, and the Party will have no other option than to make them happen if it wins the presidency and a majority in the Senate. Obama also put Puerto Rico in the same line as Washington D.C., so it will probably be of the same priority. Abolishing the filibuster might be a means to an end, rather than an exciting policy on its own, but together with the admission of two new states this forms a clear message that the time for incremental and moderate measures is over. I can't think of a more consequential change to the U.S. political system that does not require a constitutional amendment, perhaps besides changing the composition of the Supreme Court.

Your history pieces have repeatedly demonstrated that the admission of new states was the stress point for the political divisions of the 19th century. Adding D.C. (or the State of Douglass) and the State of Puerto Rico is politically absolutely logical, but the reactions are hard to calculate, especially as there are no Republican-leaning territories available for further admissions. That means that, with 52 states, the Union will seem rather complete (the Greenland purchase project notwithstanding). Frankly, I can very well imagine Trumpian groups denying the legitimacy of the 51st and 52nd state, including that of a 52-state American flag.

R.B. in Queensland, Australia, writes: Unlike many people, I actually do trust the polls. I think it likely that there will be no last minute upset, and that Trump and the GOP will face a landslide defeat. While this is obviously a relief in many ways, it has also created a new worry.

Hear me out, but isn't it possible that a victory that is too crushing might be bad, both for the Democrats and the U.S. in general? A Democratic party that narrowly wins access to the gears of power will be terrified of a repeat of 2016. I can see them, for example, being extremely careful with the Green New Deal, to ensure that even if it is increasing jobs/wealth overall, it isn't removing all the jobs from local areas and destroying their social fabric. They will be obsessed with not being perceived as talking down to or ignoring people, because they will be haunted by the specter of authoritarian populism.

Will the same thing still happen if they utterly vaporize Trump and the GOP? Or will there be a psychological urge, given the scope of their victory, to just say "Oh, well clearly 2016 was just a one-off fluke. The voters had a taste of this and totally rejected it. Everything is back to normal." Especially since it will be Joe Biden winning this victory. The same man who, in some ways, represents the pre-2016 status quo.

W.R. in Tampa, FL, writes: I see two things that could trip up Joe Biden's chances of winning the November election. The first is the debates. For Biden, there is little upside and much downside to debating Donald Trump in primetime, either virtually or on a stage. The debates give Donald Trump the attention he craves and the platform he wants to take shots at Biden in real time. And Biden has a history of putting his foot in his mouth and losing his focus during debates. That's not a good picture to show the American public on live television. All Americans know these two men and what kind of government they would run, so the debates will not provide much positive insight. Rather, they are likely to give Donald Trump an opportunity to steal the show. They will be like providing oxygen to a fire. If I were Biden, I would sit out of the debates entirely. They aren't worth the risk.

The second is the person Biden selects as his Vice Presidential running mate, who will make or break his campaign. Up until now, voters have been supportive of Joe Biden because he is a known quantity. His running mate may not be so well known and may have some skeletons in the closet, despite the best vetting efforts before selection. And as much as I hate to say it, I think selecting a woman as his VP will probably cost Biden some votes, simply because millions of Americans do not want a woman to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency, especially the oldest-ever elected President. And I think that is even more true if he picks a woman of color as his running mate. If we have learned anything from the last 12 years, it is that there are still millions of Americans who cannot stand the thought of having a person of color in the highest or second-highest office in the land. And many Americans may not admit it to a pollster, but when it comes time to vote, they will vote for Donald Trump if the alternative is having a woman and/or a person of color in direct line to the Presidency.

P.C. in Des Moines, IA, writes: Since the defeat of Hillary Clinton, I was determined to vote Democratic in 2020 regardless of the candidate. However, this week, the Biden campaign probably lost my vote. The office manager of the campaign issued a fiat stating that staffers must delete TikTok from their private, personal phones. It is perfectly understandable that the campaign has the power to tell staffers what they can have on the campaign-supplied telephones and other electronic devices. But the campaign does not have the power to tell staffers what programs/applications can be on their personal devices. To do so is fascistic or communistic, something that you would see in Nazi Germany or the USSR. For all of the complaints against Trump for not following the Constitution, the Biden campaign has shown its true colors.

V & Z respond: You do know that Donald Trump is about to ban the use of TikTok for all Americans, right? Cybersecurity experts believe that although TikTok also shows short videos, its actual function is spyware to suck up the contents of your smartphone and send it to the Chinese equivalent of the NSA. Surely you understand why a campaign might not want you to be what the Russians call a "useful idiot."

B.B. in St. Louis, MO, writes: Missouri has a ballot initiative called Proposition 2 which would allow the state to accept Federal Medicaid funds. The pro-Prop 2 forces have been airing ads stating that the state of Missouri pays taxes to the U.S. government, so it might as well get some of them back in the form of health care reimbursements that would help keep rural hospitals open. This seemed like a decision with no down side, so I was curious what the anti-Prop 2 arguments would be. I received my answer today in a postcard depicting a dark-complexioned person wearing a face mask with the flag of Mexico on it and the ominous pronouncement that passing Prop 2 would allow millions of illegal immigrants to receive health care in the state. In other words, voting for Prop 2 will fill your hospitals with black and brown people.

Actually, our local hospitals are already filled with black and brown people. They are the physicians, nurses and support staff who have been providing health care in these challenging times.

J.K. in Short Hills, NJ, writes: In addition to Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) and Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) using anti-semitic and racist imagery respectively as part of their campaign strategy, Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN), who has a long history of anti-semitism, published a mailer only last week that accused opponent Antone Melton-Meaux, who has raised considerably more money for this week's primary, for being "in the pocket of Wall Street" while also asking "can we trust Antone Melton-Meaux's money?", yet only named donors who were Jewish.

N.I. in Philadelphia, PA, writes: A suggestion in response to the question from A.H. in Austin. TX, asking how to maximize donations to flip the Senate. Swing Left has organized a fund to target Senate races (they also have funds for state-level and presidential races) that sends 100% of donations to the candidates where it will do the most good.

The Veepstakes

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: This week, we will finally learn the name of Joe Biden's running mate. Of the dozen or so female candidates being considered, this will be the most momentous week of their lives. One of them will be asked to join a ticket that has an excellent chance of winning this November and make history in becoming the first female vice president. It wouldn't be a stretch to even suggest that should the Democrats win back the White House, this woman will have the inside track to gain the party's presidential nomination in either 2024 or 2028 and finally shatter the glass ceiling after it's had so many cracks.

But while the nominee will bask in the limelight and be elevated to the big stage, she must be ready for the heavy scrutiny by the public, the media, and the opposition.

For someone this week, their life will forever change.

J.G. in Olympia, WA, writes: In your profile of Kamala Harris, you stated that the progressive wing of the party wasn't thrilled with her and gave the evidence that some of Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) delegates left her off their recommendations list and that HuffPost wasn't happy with her relationship with big tech. You reiterated later that she was "a bit leftier than Biden" but that wasn't doing much to excite the progressive wing of the party. I have two issues with this.

First, the progressive wing of the Democratic party is not the same thing as the populist wing of the Democratic party. Sanders is a progressive but he leads the populists. It is extremely important to identify those he speaks for. Warren and Harris are to his left, but are pragmatists. Progressives have no issues with either woman but the populists do because they want to know that the real problems in the world have simple solutions and simple villains.

Harris is about as far left as you can be in the Democratic party in the Senate. You mentioned that Barbara Boxer was a mentor and a friend, but that wasn't the only established liberal who worked with her and was impressed. The most liberal representative for years, Barbara Lee, endorsed Harris when she ran for President. Various progressive scorecards also rate her as one of the most liberal members. If certain progressives do have an issue with her, it has nothing to do with her political positioning and everything to do with ignorance on the part of those specific progressives.

K.M. in Olympia, WA, writes: Why am I not surprised that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) has gotten pushback from some people on Biden's team for having too much ambition and not being a team player? Might it be the lack of a Y chromosome? Or maybe too much melanin? Some things don't ever seem to change—a woman's supposed to be a support to men, not to challenge them, at least in the guts of all these old white guys clinging to power like Chris Dodd. At least Joe himself doesn't seem to hold a grudge—more power to him!

J.C. in Tysons, VA, writes: I could not agree more with the statement from E.K. in Brignoles, France, that "I wouldn't be (very enthusiastic) if the candidate happened to be Sanders or Warren." As an avowed centrist, if either Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had been on the ballot for the top job, I'd likely be writing in another candidate or simply not voting for President.

Joe Biden's middle-of-the-road tendencies and "normalness" are what give him the edge with voters like myself and, I suspect, other moderates that will tip the election. The only thing that he needs to do to perfect the ticket is pick a VP candidate that will further mollify those in the middle like myself. I personally like Susan Rice, but her ties to Benghazi are a landmine waiting to be stepped on and should be avoided at all costs. Kamala Harris is the clear choice, especially in a year where the VP candidate's home state is probably less of a consideration than any other election in recent memory.

R.B. in Boise, ID, writes: I wanted to bring up a few gaps in your assessment of Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), who is, in many respects, the best, smartest, and easiest pick for Joe Biden to make.

  • The Personal: Biden's brand—and who he's trying to appeal to—is the working class. As a physician assistant and the daughter of a postal worker, Bass has that working class background. Biden has said he wants to recreate the Obama partnership; while this may seem surface-y, you bet that Biden will notice that Bass is 66—the age Biden was when he became Vice President. And just like Barack Obama, Bass has a long history of being a community organizer. People from all across the aisle—moderates, progressives, and Republicans—are on record as to how much they like and respect Bass. She's just a likeable, congenial presence. This is the opposite of someone likely to cause drama or conflict.

  • The Political: Bass represents the kind of urban, working class minority district that had vastly depressed turnout in 2016—and this is exactly the kind of constituency Biden is counting on. This is specifically the group that carried him through the primaries—not just general "Black people." Picking Bass is someone that helps Biden carry Wisconsin because of what it signals to those working class people of color in Milwaukee that didn't turn out in 2016.

    Further, Bass is not a flashy pick. In fact, she is boring. There's very little "shiny-new-toy" luster to her—in part because she doesn't really seek the spotlight. Thus, if Biden's strategy is to lay low and not enrage the Republican partisans—which is what he's been so successful at doing thus far—then Bass is a perfect choice that isn't going to fire up Republicans that will also give lots of factions of the Democratic party a reason to be happy. Like Biden (at least, in this campaign), she is someone that has a lot of progressive positions without coming off as super partisan.

    She also represents the most massive contrast with Trump: Someone that has never really sought the spotlight, always putting community before her own. She's in it for the right reasons. And it's provable in the current campaign, because she doesn't want to be President.

  • The Substance: There is so much upside here, it's not even funny. Bass is someone who has shown an ability to shepherd things through Congress, including the very recent police reform bill that was extremely important. She even managed to get Republican votes. If Biden has a domestic disaster on his hands, and he regards a key aspect of the vice presidency as whipping votes for important things, this is an aspect that Biden will find crucially helpful. And Bass literally was awarded a JFK Profile in Political Courage for working with Republicans to get California out of the 2008 financial crisis when she was its Speaker. Literally perfect for the moment.

    In addition, being a leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, she has deep roots in the (sorry for the scary word) "establishment," and Biden is one of the most establishment-y of the establishment politicians. He wants someone with these substantive relationships.

In summary, I just cannot fathom a better pick that aligns with Biden personally, politically, and substantively.

D.L. in Savannah, GA, writes: I am a long time reader of your website, as well as a die hard "Golden Girls" fan, so I got quite the laugh out of your reference to the "(honorary) membership in the Otto Club of St. Olaf." That got me thinking that perhaps Betty White—or, more specifically, her character Rose Nylund—would be a strong candidate. Rose is a Midwesterner by birth (Minnesota) who now resides in a huge swing state (Florida), had impeccable ethics, and, in one episode, had a very straightforward plan for dealing with arms reduction and Russia (at the time, the Soviet Union). Nylund 2020!

V & Z respond: Don't forget, she was also valedictorian of her high school class (by virtue of having drawn the longest straw).


P.S. in Memphis, TN, writes: Over the years, I've gone back and forth between finding Donald Trump most unqualified for the presidency based on his racism, sexism, abuse of our service members, policy, lack of integrity, and mental fitness. Yesterday, we lost my wife's grandmother to the coronavirus. She died alone in a hospital in Mississippi a month after the birth of our only son. We'll never get a picture of the two together. This was less than 24 hours after Trump tweeted that masks don't work. As horrible a human being as Trump is, his unique incompetence is the first reason we should all get him out of office. I'm hoping this will finally get my wife to register to vote. Certainly, this former Republican will be voting for Joe Biden.

V & Z respond: We are sorry to hear this and, of course, we extend our condolences to you and your family on your loss.

D.R. in Anaktuvuk Pass, AK, writes: School Principal here. Alaska's situation is a bit different when it comes to the upcoming school year. About 80% of Alaska teachers come from outside Alaska. As a result many spend their summers in the lower 48 and are now traveling (by plane, obviously) back to their schools. In addition to testing, most Alaska villages require a 14 day quarantine upon arrival.

As a result, many school districts in Alaska are postponing school for 14 days to allow for their teachers to quarantine. Our school will require all school staff to wear masks, will strongly encourage all students to wear masks, and require all adult visitors to wear masks. We are developing a rotating schedule, where only 50% of the students will be in school at a time.

We are a village of 350, with 100 in our school. While we have a local clinic, medical services are very limited. Alaskans remember that in the 1918 pandemic, entire villages were wiped out, with 5 out of 7 Alaskan natives dying from the pandemic. Therefore, we are taking every precaution.

D.H. in Denver, CO, writes: I appreciate your adding common causes of death to the COVID-19 fatality statistics. However, I think you could do a lot better adding context. For example, when reporting fatality rates, you need to add the per-capita fatality rate. Comparing raw COVID-19 numbers today to raw numbers from the Civil War and Spanish Flu does an injustice. If the final death toll from COVID-19 is, say, 675,000, it would be extremely misleading to behave as if it is an identical disaster to the Spanish Flu.

V & Z respond: As any teacher knows, if you tell students about too many trees, they will lose sight of the forest. In virtually any medium, one has to be careful about information overload. That is particularly true, we would say, with a blog. Already, that chart has 34 rows with 4 columns each, for a total of 136 separate data points. That's pushing it as it is; another 34 data points would surely put it over the top. We just have to assume people know the population of the U.S. was much smaller in 1860 or 1920 than it is today.

M.S. in Underhill, VT, writes:

I made my own political attack ad against Donald Trump:

I thought that you might enjoy it from an historical perspective and because so far I have a perfect record. No one I have made a political attack ad against has ever gone on to win their next election.

V & Z respond: Very reminiscent of a Lincoln Project ad.

J.M. in Sewickley, PA, writes: You implied Donald Trump is wrong or lying when declaring that large portions of the country are now "corona-free." Bur, if we do some calculations and make some reasonable assumptions:

US Population: 330,033,955; female 50.8%, male 49.2%
Average Height: female 161.3 cm, male 175.26 cm
Average Weight: female 76.4 kg, male 88.8 kg
Average Volume: female 76,400 cubic cm, male 88,800 cubic cm
Average Area: female 473.7 cm2, male 506.7 cm2
Total Area of All People: 3.3003 x 10^8 cm2 (330 MM * 50.8% * 473.7 cm2) + (330 MM * 49.2% * 506.7 cm2)

Assume that in the course of a day, each person touches (and leaves virus particles on) 1000 times the area that person occupies. Assume that the virus lasts for 5 days:

Total Area of Virus: 1.6505^12 cm2 (Total Area of People * 5001)
Total Area of US: 9834000000 km2, or 9.834^19 cm2
Virus "Area" as Percentage of Total Area: 0.000001678%

So, as we can see, there are indeed "large portions" of the country that are corona-free.

V & Z respond: Lies, damned lies, and statistics, indeed.

S.Z. in New Haven, CT, writes: Our President's approach to COVID-19 is explained by my one small edit below:

A New Hampshire license plate edited
such that the slogan 'Live Free or Die' has become 'Live Free and Die'

Going Postal

O.D. in Lisbon, Portugal, writes: In your item about the potential weaponization of the postal service, I think you missed an important point. If someone is in charge of transporting all the absentee ballots, they are in a position to selectively "lose" some of them (for example, only the ones coming from districts that historically vote for your opponent).

You don't even have to do it everywhere and in every state. Using some stats and poll results, you can target some specific districts in some swing states and that might be enough.

Louis DeJoy is in charge. He only needs to assign the right persons in the right places. I believe it would not be that hard to find enough MAGA supporters within the USPS to carry it out without being noticed.

V & Z respond: It's not impossible, but this would require a sizable network of co-conspirators, any one of whom could expose the scheme. Further, anyone who did this would be facing a potential prison sentence of 5 years—for each piece of mail "lost." It may not be so easy to find people willing to risk, say, a 5,000-year prison term.

D.F. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes: Every day 330,000 veterans receive prescription medication from the VA through the US Postal Service. It seems like that's something the Democrats ought to make sure every American knows as Trump's flunky tries to cripple the service.

J.M. in Portland, OR, writes: Already feeling the effects of USPS cutbacks. I order my insulin online for mail delivery. It always ships day 1 and arrives day 2. The last shipment of 6 vials took two days to arrive and it arrived warm, having been sitting in a truck for two days in the July heat. The order had to be replaced. I'm sure there are many more people like me whose medications will be impacted this way. Thank you, President Trump.

D.H. in San Francisco, CA, writes: Another issue that many are not aware of is that automated postmarks no longer happen at the local post office. These days, mail is sent from the local post office to a regional service center where the postmark is applied. I live about 35 miles south of San Francisco, where my mail is postmarked. This invariably adds at least one and sometimes two days to the postmark after dropping it at the post office. I have learned from experience with my property taxes that I must request 'hand-cancellation' at my post office if I am going to procrastinate till the last minute. Even then, my county sent me a penalty notice for my late mail (along with a photocopy showing both the hand cancel and the automated mark). They did send me an apology letter when I pointed out the hand cancellation mark which post office regulations require to be treated as valid and official.

It is my fervent hope that voters will all be able to drop their ballots at polling stations lest an election theft of monumental proportions occur.

M.A. in Austin, TX, writes: A person has several means to overcome certain vote-by-mail issues. They require a trip to the post office and paying fees, but they work. They can request hand cancellation, where the counter agent stamps the mail with a dated stamp right in front of you. They can also arrange for certified mail, tracking, and/or a return receipt. This proves the ballot was sent, tracks it along the way, and a receipt of who signs for it is returned. You might be able to get by with just tracking or certified. If people notice delays, they could file suit in federal court.

That said, USPS offices can be slow—I had to send something certified mail recently and I waited in line 45 minutes as they only had one counter agent working that day at my post office.

V & Z respond: Somehow, every post office seems to have six windows, and yet only one that's actually operating. And that's before Louis DeJoy came along.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: With the increased popularity of voting by mail, we have already seen many contests that were not decided on Election Day, and no one freaked out and the world did not end. In fact, the secretaries of state calmly told the voters that the results would be announced a week (or however long) later so all the votes could be counted, and the voters didn't blink and the outcome was accepted because all the votes were counted. In the Kentucky primary just this year, officials announced that they wouldn't be saying anything about the outcome until more than a week after Election Day - and lo and behold, all was well. Similarly, in 2018 (pre-pandemic), there were a number of House races whose outcome was not known until well after Election Day, including races where one party seemed to be ahead on election night but lost the lead as more mail-in ballots were counted.

In states where the ballots count as long as they are post-marked by Election Day, this is going to be a common occurrence in the November general election. So, what the media and sites like this can do is educate the public as to what to expect, especially in swing states. What's the cut-off date for a Wisconsin ballot? Pennsylvania? Arizona? And so on. The more that the electorate is prepared for a wait of a week or more post-Election Day to know some states' results, the more confidence the public will have in the ultimate outcome. And if the public accepts the outcome, it won't matter what the current White House occupant says or does.

S.K., in Chappaqua, NY, writes: Everyone knows that Republicans believe that "if everyone votes," Republicans lose. When Barack Obama eulogized John Lewis, he addressed many illegal and/or only unethical things that Republicans do to reduce the number of Democrats who vote, but I have not yet seen or heard any specific reference to a demographic that leans heavily Democratic: college students.

Many college students register to vote in the states where they attend school, but many of their colleges may have no in-person classes this November. States permit voters who will be out of town on election day to use absentee ballots. Democrats must make a specific and strong effort to ensure that students who will be out of state on election day obtain and use absentee ballots.

H.S. in Agoura Hills, CA, writes: Yes. Absentee ballots may be somewhat overwhelming to state administrators, and new machines may not work right etc., etc. I've been watching politics since 1958. Do you think these challenges are new? We've always had problems with voting machines, absentee ballots, and shrinking polling places to vote. Kentucky's primary this year is the best example. All of the hand wringing about just one polling place for Louisville, and what actually happened? It went smoothly. Absentee ballots were record setting. Huge Democratic turnout overall. But this is what Democrats like to do: worry about suppression, Russian interference, and a poor counting mechanism, as well as "hidden" Trump voters somewhere in the woodwork. In 2008, it was even worse. Rachel Maddow worrying abut the "Bradley Effect," and a hidden population of white voters who would suddenly appear to vote for McCain. Didn't happen. James Carville said it best: "Stop all of the crying and worrying, when all of polls show a Biden victory, and do something to support him."

Legal Matters

J.T.B. in Brookline, MA, writes: In the July 11 Q&A, you published a question from B.L. in Hudson, NY, that included this: "I'm curious about how the [Supreme] Court works." I encourage B.L. and anyone else interested to read this extraordinary four-part series from CNN's Joan Biskupic. It answers exactly the sorts of questions that B.L. posed and does so in the context of this most recent term, explaining how the Justices reached their decisions on abortion, DACA, Trump's tax forms, and LGBTQ+ rights, among others.

The Supreme Court is famously tight-lipped, and the sorts of details in this series rarely, if ever, leak to the press. When they do, it's almost always after a Justice has died and his or her personal papers are released. The details of confidential deliberations reported in this series are so comprehensive that one could be forgiven for suspecting that the leaker was one of the Justices themselves.

I try to steer clear of hyperbole, but the fact that this sort of information leaked a mere three weeks after the end of the term almost certainly makes it the biggest Supreme Court scoop in recent history. To put it simply, someone in the know talked—and they talked big.

T.J.R. in Metuchen, NJ, writes: With all the chatter about stacking/packing the Court, I feel the main issue of how we choose the members of the Supreme Court is being overlooked. If Democrats do raise the number to say 11, what's to prevent the Republicans from raising it to 13 the next time they are in power? And on and on and on.

We need a way to depoliticize the choosing of the members of the Supreme Court. For instance, perhaps next time there is a vacancy, the Democrats select 5 judges (or people of note), the Republicans do the same and we pick one out of a hat. Perhaps we need some sense of randomness to break the partisanship. Also toss in term limits so no spry 40 year old stays there well into their dotage.

We need to find a comprehensive solution, not buy a new saddle for a dead horse.

T.M. in Lexington, MO, writes: On the issue of potential charges against Donald Trump, it is unlikely that the next AG or the Manhattan DA will say that they are not going to investigate Trump. What is more likely is appointing some respected attorney (like Robert Mueller was) to serve as special prosecutor so that the decision is (at least nominally) separated from politics.

J.J. in Chicago, IL , writes: You wrote about Steven Calabresi turning on Donald Trump, suggesting that "this new-found reverence for the rule of law smacks of trying to get on the right side of history while there is still time."

I am a graduate of Northwestern Law School, where Steven Calabresi teaches constitutional law, and even though I'm a liberal who strongly opposes his conservative ideology, I disagree with this characterization. I have seen him discuss constitutional law with liberal constitutional law professors and what I've learned is that there is no real disagreement between them when the Constitution is unambiguous. What Trump said was a clear violation of the Constitution and of a provision that is an important safeguard against monarchical and dictatorial rule. Federalists believe that a privileged few should have more control over government, but oligopical rule is still very different from outright fascism. For all these reasons, I'm not surprised that he was willing to tolerate everything else in service to the conservative agenda but finally saw this as a bridge too far.

R.R. in Pasadena, CA, writes: On Anthony Fauci's pitch...I'm pretty sure you only said he would make it with the Pirates because he's too old to be eligible for the USC baseball team.

And, about Bill Barr's testimony, there were two disturbing things that stood out. First, he was continually interrupting and talking over the Black men and the women on the Democratic side, sometimes aggressively so with a raised voice and a ton of arrogance. It was very clear that he had no respect for their positions or persons, and that's troubling for an AG who is supposed to give the nation's law enforcement its example to follow. He basically made it clear that he does not value anyone who isn't a white male, and that was further indicated by his bringing an all-white staff to the hearing.

The second thing is that he clearly stated that he would release the report about the investigation led by John Durham. Durham's investigation covers all aspects of Russiagate, but it appears specifically aimed at undermining the Mueller report, and now apparently includes investigating Ukrainepot Dome as well. DOJ guidelines state that reports that might influence the election should not be released in the 60 days prior, but it's pretty clear that Barr has already decided to ignore other guidelines to help Trump's election chances. Barr's statement makes it obvious that he plans to release something, whether a full report or just an update, and likely in October, and he doesn't even need Durham to participate. Barr has already shown he's comfortable reinterpreting reports to say what he wants them to say. We can only hope that the AG's gambit fails and Trump loses. A DOJ led by a corrupt AG who will break rules and traditions at his whim to serve the president leaves us with a shaky legal system that will likely not stand for long against attempts to remake the nation into an authoritarian government.

V & Z respond: It's not that Fauci's not too old, per se, it's that his parents aren't around to make the necessary "donation." Maybe he can arrange to be adopted by Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli.

J.M. in Norco, CA, writes: My God, the Republicans were right all along: They sounded the alarm starting in 2008, raging that the federal government would be sending stormtroopers out into the country to take away the rights of law abiding citizens! Sure, they missed by a few years and one amendment, but 2008/2020; Second Amendment/First Amendment...they were really close!

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: Born and bred Oregonian here. When I graduated from high school, there was one Nisei in my class, three Latinos a couple of years behind, and that was the total extent of our multiculturalism. The only people of color I saw were on the Amos and Andy show on television. I met my first Black person when I left home to attend college, and even then they were still few and far between.

In short, my community was lily white, and it and Oregon haven't changed that much. I am not sure, but I think the Black population of the state is somewhere around 6-7%. I worked in downtown Portland for roughly 25 years. The protest perimeter is basically 4 blocks and yes, it started with the death of a man in Minnesota, but Portland has an historical legacy of entrenched discrimination. There have been numerous incidents of police brutality, and we had our race riots in the 1960's along with Watts.

This year's "60 nights of mayhem" started out as a BLM demonstration, but many of us have become outraged at the over-the-top reaction of police and federal authorities. I believe that the outrage has transformed from specific support for black lives to broad disgust at the authoritarian reaction to the constitutionally protected right of the citizens to peacefully assemble to address their grievances. I fear that until the federal secret militia jackboots back down, the mayhem will continue. I see no signs of it dissipating. It appears that it is only getting more violent on the feds' part, and that sooner rather than later, someone will be seriously injured.

P.M. in Makhanda, South Africa, writes: What is going on in Portland, Oregon is so Apartheid South Africa. We had secretive paramilitary police snatching people off the streets without much concern for due process, protests put down violently whether they were violent or not, and everyone who opposed the status quo was a communist or a terrorist.

In practical terms the effect of all this was not only to make the regime unsustainable but to make communism more popular (everyone who opposes humiliating me is a communist? I want more of that!) and normalized violence. Even today, protests turn violent too easily because this has become too entrenched in the culture to stop. Despite this, in 2016, when we had very angry protests in universities, I was part of an informal peacekeeping group and we were able to de-escalate much more than you would think possible in an atmosphere of nihilistic rage.

Donny Deutsch?

J.T.B. in Brookline, MA, writes: I write in response to the question posed yesterday by A.L. in Cambridge, MA, whom I happily greet from the other bank of the Charles River. The idea that this American government is edging towards a Nazi-style dictatorship is one that I've heard before, and I fully appreciate the fear behind it. I recently read The Coming of the Third Reich, by Richard J. Evans, which details Adolf Hitler's rise to power and shows how such a thing was possible in 1930s Germany. I can't say that reading this book will fully quell A.L.'s fears—I was repeatedly surprised to learn of the many similarities between then and now. But I could never shake one major distinction that kept popping into my head as I was reading, and which I am convinced is important. When Hitler came to power, German democracy was only 15 years old and completely new to the German people. This American system is over 230 years old, and though it has been battered and beaten, it has never yet been broken. I suppose that one day it will be, but I have no fear that Donald Trump will be the person to do it.

I can neither quantify nor qualify the full significance of this distinction, and perhaps I will never be able to do so. But I feel certain that it counts for something.

K.C. in Levittown, NY, writes: A.L. from Cambridge, MA wondered why, in the event of a Donald Trump re-election, they shouldn't relocate their entire family, citing a fear of America devolving into something reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

I once read, many years ago, a comparison between Democrats and Republicans which went basically like this: both Democrats and Republicans love America, but in decidedly different ways. Republicans love America like a baby loves their mother—mom can do no wrong and anyone who hurts her is evil and should be hurt too. Democrats love America like two adults in a relationship. They love each other, recognize and accept that no one is perfect and they both have some flaws, and are both willing to help each other grow so the relationship becomes stronger.

The idea of hightailing it out of America at the first sign of disgust with our government and those in charge, whether they are or aren't in power legitimately, is preposterous—and has been for as long as people have been saying they were going to move to Canada if their candidate didn't get elected. We are an imperfect nation, but it's better to stay and unite to (eventually) fix our flaws than to run off and leave the far less fortunate or far less privileged to fend for themselves.

Consider someone like the late Congressman John Lewis, who, after the brutality he faced in his younger days marching and being beaten bloody, could just as easily have said "this country isn't worth my life" and left at the first chance he had. He stayed and fought the good fight to make things better at a time where, aside from the days of slavery, they couldn't have been a whole lot worse for the Black community as a whole. In the event of a second Trump term, we certainly don't need the level-headed people leaving the country in droves, we need them here to work harder and more fervently than ever to ensure the damage is minimal and we get the country back on track instead of allowing it to just fester under irreversible extremism.

Cross Talk

J.W. in Indianapolis, IN, writes: Last week, B.M. of Birmingham, AL, complained about Democratic policies that persecute Christians. I loved the list, because it perfectly illustrated the insanity of the effort by the religious right to redefine "religious freedom." Each of the six items on the list was absurd:

  1. Legalized abortion: Not allowing you to force your beliefs onto society does not constitute persecution.

  2. Removal of all things referencing the Christian God from schools and the attempt of removal from all public spaces: This isn't happening. Nobody is attempting to remove Christianity from schools or public spaces. We are attempting to ensure that the government does not endorse a particular religion, sect, or belief over non-belief. Removing teacher-led prayer is not removing Christianity (or even prayer) from schools. Removing taxpayer-funded religious monuments on government property does not remove Christianity from public spaces, it merely stops forcing taxpayers to support your religion. This is not persecution, merely an effort to prevent Christians from marginalizing non-Christians.

  3. Legalized same-sex marriage and not allowing businesses that serve the public to refuse service to LGBTQ people: These laws do not persecute Christians any more than the Civil Rights Act of 1964 persecuted Southern whites. You aren't persecuted just because you aren't allowed to persecute others.

  4. Muslim apology tours: That never happened. Even if we pretend that it did, it's impossible to deny that the United States (like any country) has engaged in bad behavior at some points in its history—and some of those things may warrant an apology. Even if that weren't true, an "apology tour" of Muslim countries has nothing to do with Christianity. Treating practitioners of another religion with respect isn't persecution.

  5. Stance on Israel and Palestine: I don't even know what this is supposed to mean. Democrats are more sympathetic to Palestinians than Republicans, but that doesn't go much further than recognizing that Palestinians should have human rights. However, even if Democrats believed that Israel should be wiped off the map, their stance in a conflict between a predominantly Jewish state and a predominantly Muslim state has nothing to do with Christianity, and doesn't persecute Christians.

G.K. in Blue Island, IL, writes: I want to thank B.M. from Birmingham for shedding light on evangelical support for Donald Trump. I've not heard such an articulate explanation from a self-identifying evangelical, and it was edifying. At the same time, B.M. goes on to illustrate exactly why evangelicals have difficulty gaining traction on parts of their agenda that, in my opinion, most Americans (including Democrats) generally favor—an undue emphasis on method versus result. I don't know anyone who thinks abortions are a societal good, for instance, yet any discussion non-evangelicals might want to have about effectively reducing unwanted pregnancies (and therefore abortions) is effectively curtailed by an insistence that making any/all abortions illegal or impossible is the only solution. Similarly, as long as simply trying hard to be neutral with respect to any religion is seen as persecution of a particular religion's adherents, it's really hard to have discussions about commonly-held societal goods, like fostering or improving the ethical and moral character of all Americans. If America needs to be made Great Again, a good start would be to emulate previous generations' ability to find common ground to work toward a common good, and resist attempts from any quarter to paint people as only "for" or "against" ourselves. Even Samaritans count as neighbors, after all, and some of them want to help.

A.J. in Baltimore, MD, writes: The letter from B.M. in Birmingham, AL reminded me of a conversation I had with a former evangelical and current atheist, who told me that Sunday school always drilled into his head that Christians are persecuted in America and that they must always push back against such persecution. The martyr complex must be part of evangelical dogma now. I guess everyone is the hero of their own life story, and everyone is the victim of their own persecution narrative—even if they're a member of the largest religion in the world and in America, a religion that literally every U.S. president and vice president has pledged allegiance to.

T.I. in Lexington, KY, writes: In response to B.M. in Birmingham, AL: You're probably right. The evangelical, as portrayed by you, is likely lost to the Democratic Party. The problem, however, is not that your evangelicals are being persecuted. The problem seems to lie in how your Evangelicals see themselves: they appear to believe that they are more important than other religious groups, and that it's okay for their beliefs to be written into law, despite the fact that not all who those laws would affect share these beliefs.

There are plenty of other religions prominently represented in the U.S., and they have vastly different beliefs, observations, and culture than Christianity. Agnostics and atheists are in that same boat. It would be wrong of evangelicals to impose their beliefs on any member of these other religions, just as it would be wrong of any of them to impose their beliefs upon evangelicals. Further, and more problematic for evangelicals, is that our forefathers themselves were in staunch support of a clear separation between religion and government, which has been used as precedent in several court rulings, including at the Supreme Court level.

Christians are not the only religion out there. They are not superior to others. They are not so important that they can impose their will upon others. They are xenophobic. And until they have a "come to Jesus" moment where they come to terms with these problems, Democrats will likely always be at odds with them—and they should, since they are the party of human and civil rights.

M.A.H. in Akron, PA, writes: As someone raised in a fundamentalist household in southern Arkansas, and who still believes that Jesus is "true God of true God" and that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God," I think many of my fellow Christians have forgotten that Jesus said "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great."

Instead, B.M. seems to reflect what I see in so many of my fellow American Christians. We have confused Christianity with gaining political power through various footballs like abortion, public religion, political rights for "others," a politician's posture towards adherents of non-Christian religions, and miscellaneous issues like the "proper" political stance towards Israel.

B.M. is correct that Republicans have been able to more closely align themselves with conservative Christians, but that is only because conservative Christians have confused the Republican party with Christianity.

J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, writes: I don't quibble with most of what B.M. said, save for the reference to Jesus Freaks. Many of us have bemoaned that a movement that had liberal and conservative elements but was decidedly apolitical has had so many become conservative evangelicals after the movement ended. I know many friends of the family who love Donald Trump and are laser-focused on how we need to support him. And yet there are also folks in the Jesus Movement who do not agree. My father was not as political as I am, but he always supported legalized gay marriage. He would never have referred to "Muslim apology tours." He did not like the way Israel treats the Palestinians.

My father died long before the Age of Trump, but had he lived, he would have perceived him as an Antichrist. While Bible Thumpers may be a lost cause, Christians who take the Bible seriously are not, as evidenced by other groups that came out of the Jesus Movement, such as Sojourners and Jesus People USA. Democrats don't need to outreach to them—they already have concluded that the Party is closer in line with the values of Christ than the GOP.

J.R. in San Francisco, CA, writes: B.M. is not wrong. The Democratic establishment has elevated its thought-orthodoxy to a religion in itself, forgetting what Bob Dole said in 1996: "reasonable people can disagree [about legal abortion]." The forced secularization of public spaces leaves people of faith in the dust and vulnerable to Pied Piper wolves in sheep's clothing. "Abortion as sacrament" has the same effect. The Colorado wedding cake farce comes close. (The couple should have respected the bakers' wishes, and then invited them over to dinner to see how "normal" the couple really is.)

Where B.M. goes off the rails is with the continued misappropriation of the word "evangelical" to describe what is actually "fundamentalist." ALL Christians are evangelical by definition, from the word derived from the late Greek evangelikos, loosely translated as "good news". "Evangelical" has never meant "check your brains at the door on the way into the hootenanny." By the way, how many of B.M.'s "evangelical" compatriots have been divorced and remarried, perhaps multiple times? I guess Christ's unambiguous words on that topic are open to interpretation, when convenient.

I reiterate: B.M.'s issues resonate with me, as a Christian (although Benjamin Netanyahu's colonization of the West Bank is a bridge too far for me.) But B.M. needs to realize that, indeed, reasonable people can disagree about these sensitive matters.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: As regards the claims made by Stella Immanuel, I do not think I am in a minority here when I say that I do not need a vaccine to give up religion...but I sure could use a vaccine from religion!

I gave up religion when I could no longer square up their words and their actions. I was about 14.

Senate Duos

M.S. in Des Moines, IA, writes: I appreciated seeing your answer today about the "best" and "worst" pairings of Senators in a state. Being a life-long resident of Iowa (except for eight years spent in Chicago), I agree with your evaluation of Sen. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst (both R-IA). I consider myself a far-left Democrat, but when I was a student at the University in Cedar Falls, I voted for Grassley for representative in 1972 (he had followed H.R. Gross, who had been a bit of a thorn in the side of Republicans on budget issues) and voted for him for Senate in the late 80s or early 90s when he was giving the Pentagon what-for when they were paying hundreds of dollars for wrenches and toilet seats. Now that he's passed William B. Allison's tenure record, Grassley's getting a bit senile, and some of us are afraid he's waiting for his grandson, Pat Grassley, to get positioned to take his place. The younger Grassley just became Speaker of the Iowa House and might get appointed to the seat by Governor Kim Reynolds (R) if Chuck steps aside. As for Ernst, she is not doing herself any good by joining herself at the hip with the President.

S.P. in Monmouth, OR, writes: Don't forget Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (both D-OR)—decent, highly intelligent progressives who work together. Not self-promoters, either one, but how much of that do we really need?


M.B. in Melrose, MA, writes: Considering how hard it has been historically for women and people of color to become powerful, it is not surprising how hard it is to come up with many who are responsible for bad deeds. Phyllis Schlafly, who you listed, immediately popped into my mind. I came up with two other names, albeit from the same event, namely Elizabeth Hubbard and Ann Putnam, Jr., who were two of the main accusers in the Salem Witch Trials (although several other girls were also involved). Elizabeth filed 40 complaints, testified against twenty-nine people, seventeen of whom were arrested, thirteen of those were hanged and two died in jail. Ann accused 19 people and 11 of them were hanged. "Coincidentally," many of the people Ann accused were those who had argued with her family. Fourteen years after the trials, she admitted she had lied. It always shocked me how a group of teenage girls could wield that much power.

H.R. in Jamaica Plain, MA, writes: Anita Bryant: she led an anti-gay rights movement in the late 70s called Save our Children. It started in Dade County, FL, in response to a gay-rights ordinance that passed there in 1977 and then spread across the nation. Both my wife and I started our pro gay-rights activism (in two different parts of the country) in response to her anti-gay movement.

J.P. in Horsham, PA, writes: Since nobody else has mentioned this name as being among the worst Americans, I'll say it: Billy Graham. Pretty much every time Thomas Jefferson's "wall of separation between church and state" was eroded since the end of World War II, Graham's handiwork was there: from the insertion of "under God" into the pledge of allegiance, to "in God we trust" as the national motto (usurping the better and more accurate "e pluribus unum"), his jingoistic efforts to differentiate us from the "godless commies" have done significant harm to the Constitution and freedom of conscience. Add in that he chose to call his efforts to spread the gospel "Crusades," and you wonder if he was historically illiterate, or deliberately offensive.

Graham was a con man and a snake oil salesman whose efforts at least partially gave cover for demagogues and populists from Joseph McCarthy to Donald Trump. The only thing that makes him different from Fred Phelps is that Phelps apparently felt bad about his misdeeds at the end of his life.

C.K. in Albuquerque, NM, writes: William Randolph Hearst ran a successful newspaper mostly through lurid yellow journalism that appealed to the lowest common denominator, pushed propaganda that he himself proudly claimed personally started the Spanish-American War (though I'm told modern historians consider this an exaggeration) and most damningly, propagandized the evils of cannabis, even popularizing the name "marijuana" deliberately just to give it more of a classic xenophobic foreign-sounding sinisterness, just to protect his paper milling companies from the threat of a growing trade in hemp. Yes, next time you lament all the destruction caused by the century or so of drug-related crackdowns that have ruined (disproportionately minority) lives, fueled the prison-industrial complex, and thwarted every environmental and renewable resource-related good that industrial hemp could have given us, just remember how much of this all started because one 19th century newspaper magnate wanted more money and was afraid of some honest free-market competition.

C.S. in Duluth, MN, writes: History will judge the invasion of Iraq to be one of the largest strategic blunders ever made by the United States. Since the time of Genghis Khan, countries have used the enemies of enemies to advance their interests. Getting rid of a bad guy (Saddam Hussein), thereby eliminating the natural enemy of Iran, was an incomprehensible blunder.

Dick Cheney belongs on the bad guy monument.

A.B. in Lichfield, England, UK, writes: J.B. in Hutto, TX, writes "[Benedict Arnold's] plot to turn over the fortress at West Point in exchange for a massive cash payment was much more sinister than people realize. It would have cut New England off from the rest of the country at one of the most dangerous moments of the war, probably ensuring a British victory."

Perhaps not all of your British readers would necessarily agree that this would have been a bad thing.

I.D. in Richmond, VA, writes: There's no disputing Benedict Arnold was a rat bastard, but in the eyes of this amateur historian, his betrayal during the Revolution and life thereafter firmly cement him as a British subject rather than one of the most reviled expats of all time. Granted, the concept of "American" nationality was as fuzzy then as it is now, if not more so, but as far as I'm concerned the Brits can keep him.

If an early American is needed to take his place, a strong case could be made for Aaron Burr. While not evil, per se, if his filibustering expedition hadn't been stamped out the country might look very different today.

V & Z respond: The family of Alexander Hamilton might disagree with you about Burr not being evil.

Language, Style, and Grammar

R.H. in Seattle, WA, writes: In your response to M.A in Washington D.C., you said words like "'genocide," "fascism," "Nazi," "racist," etc. need to be used with great care. I couldn't agree with you more; I've seen the term "fascism" and references to Nazi Germany thrown around way too much over the last two decades by people on both sides of the spectrum; even well-intentioned writers (I refused to share an otherwise great post by someone about the recent situation in Portland because they closed by making a comparison to Nazi Germany and put the words 'not an exaggeration' in all caps). What might be more apropos is to say this is the kind of thing that would go on in Russia under Putin (or Soviet Russia and the KGB), or that it's what happened in Ukraine under Putin-backed Petro Poroshenko.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: Expanding on your response to P.M. from Currituck, NC, the term "African American" doesn't describe all people of color in the United States. My children's stepfather was born and raised in England and later moved to the United States. Another friend of mine was born and raised in Brazil. Both have spoken of not feeling like "African American" describes them. Implicit in that term is a direct line back to Africa. In other words, they feel that "African American" refers to people who are descendants of slaves. This describes neither of them and both men prefer to be called "Black." (By this measure, neither Barack Obama or Kamala Harris are African American. I wonder what they would say about this.)

Also, for what it's worth, I recently heard Michael Steele state that the Black community had settled on the term "Black" to replace "Negro" right about at the time that white people started using "African American." If "Black" is actually the preferred term among Black people, I'm good with it. (The movement is called "Black Lives Matter, not "African American Lives Matter," after all.) It fits the George Carlin principle that simple direct phrases are more descriptive and powerful than long, multi-syllabic ones. (Recall his classic routine where he demonstrated that "Shell Shock" from WWI and "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" from Vietnam are the same thing, but WWI vets got more help due to the simple, direct nature of the term "Shell Shock").

S.G. in Durham, NC, writes: In response to the comment about "Indonesian" not being a language: I am subscribed to an international e-mail list dedicated to gamelan, a diverse collection of music types performed throughout Indonesia. The posting members are experts on this music and most have spent considerable time in Indonesia (mostly Java or Bali) or else live there. When there is an argument to be had about cultural sensitivity or (mis)appropriation or naming, they will definitely have it out. However, during the two decades I have been on the list, while the formal term used for the official language has been "Bahasa Indonesia," "Indonesian" is used just as (or more) often, with absolutely no complaint from any of the members.

I.H. in Jakarta, Indonesia, writes: One should avoid commenting on other cultures and languages, especially without hands-on (speaks-on?) experience.

That's exactly the opposite of reader A.R in Anaktuvuk Pass, AK, who commented on Indonesian language. I wonder how a person can make a comment about a language used by more than 260 million people based on a TV series. A simple search in Wikipedia is enough to get the facts right. Yes, we do have more than 700 local languages, one for each tribe. Even the language of my tribe and my wife's tribe are different. But Indonesian language is our unifier, because we declared so in 1928. A.R. mentioned some tribal languages like Javanese or Sundanese. And yes, for some of us, Indonesian is not our mother tongue. But since (almost) everyone speaks Indonesian fluently, official documents, official speeches, schools, and (almost all) media use Indonesian.

It is true that the Indonesian language is rooted in the Malay language, but that was a long time ago. Indonesian absorbed a lot of words from Indonesian tribal languages and foreign languages (especially Dutch, and later English). Indonesian and Malay languages are so different now that Indonesian soap operas being run on Malaysian TV stations need to have Malay subtitles, and vice versa.

In fact, due to the national use of Indonesian, our tribal language users are diminishing. There are a lot of movements in numerous provinces to increase the number of speakers of tribal languages. You definitely don't have to do that if "Indonesian" is not a language, right?

A.S. in Boston, MA, writes: I've enjoyed the discussions about typos and grammatical errors.

When I was very young, my parents got me educational software for our Apple IIe. There was a sample SAT with the Test of Standard Written English. One game in particular that I miss had you as a newspaper editor. You rolled a die, moved on a 2-d board, and performed a task. It might be vocabulary or finding the grammatical errors or other things. You gained money for getting things right and lost it for getting things wrong. I forget how you ultimately won. But it was more encouraging and rewarding than the latest arcade-game imitation where I got blown up quickly.

I tracked down a lot of those action games but, sadly, not the newspaper editor one. Hunting for grammar errors, however, still brings back the feeling of playing that game and also lessens the need for time sink games like, say, Candy Crush. It also helps me read more carefully.

That's not all, though. I went to a competitive high school where people's mistakes would get magnified by certain teachers. I heard a lot of "if you were smart, you wouldn't make a mistake like that." This was nasty emotional blackmail, and some students (who themselves made errors and ascribed it to Thinking Big) followed suit. I let it make me feel I was careless or lazy or whatever, and I felt bad correcting others, too. But the fact is, there's an optimal amount of attention to give to small errors. Too much, we miss the big stuff. Too little, we're hard to read. It's pretty clear to me you check off against big or pervasive errors. That's more than good enough.

Being able to contribute suggestions for small typos, etc., then, helps remind me that I do read carefully, and I didn't deserve the nonsense from years ago. And, yes, it makes me feel like I've contributed, even though I know it's very minor.

I've offered suggestions to websites that have far more stylistic/typo errors than yours. I'm glad to help. These people are grateful. It's a simple formula: "Hey, here's a suggestion for stylistic/grammar fix. No need to write back. It's neat to be able to help. Don't sweat the small errors—I'd rather you spend your time and energy on the next interesting article."

And conversely I hope the content of this email is worth any typos or stylistic errors that popped up. I double-checked, but you know how it is.

D.D. in Hollywood, FL, writes: I have been teaching seniors the basics of using a computer for over 20 years. When I was writing my first manual for them, I figured what better copy editors than a class of 30 to 40, 70+ seniors. I would write out the manuals, print up copies, hand them out in class, and ask them to check them for spelling and grammatical errors.

The following week I would collect them and make most but not all of the changes. Women were better at this than the men and of course there were always different interpretations as well, but overall it accomplished two things for me. One was in setting a "tone" that seniors of that age group could appreciate, and even more important it was a way to make sure everyone had read the manual. A little "wax on, wax off," if you will. After that, I picked a couple of the women who did the best job and would e-mail them anything I needed proofed. I doubt there is a better checker than seniors in their seventies.

J.V. in Aurora, IL, writes: While I'm sure that you'll agree that the grammar thread has run its course, nevertheless, as the person whose comment you responded to last week, I will insist on having the last word (because that's the annoying sort of fellow I am.)

In the distant past, and by great good fortune, I came across David Hackett Fisher's Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought which, although perhaps rather mean-spirited in places, did help me think about the things I read. The book is temporarily lost somewhere in the "to be reshelved" pile but, perhaps, I can manage to comment on a paragraph without embarrassing myself too badly:

  • You have created an "underlying thesis" where there was none. I simply stated that your very negative comments about Microsoft Word and the fact that you had spell-check errors led me to believe that you did not know how to use spell check in Word.

  • The false thesis that you attribute to me, that you are incapable of mastering Word, should be addressed. There was no question at all of your ability to master Word if you chose to do so. The concern was that you were complaining about spell check "errors" being found in proper names and uncommon terms and not taking the simple corrective action of adding them to the Word dictionary.

  • I am not certain if your parading your PhDs and "vast writing experience" was meant to demean me. Perhaps it's justified; I only have a BS, two master's degrees and an attention to detail.

  • Your final paragraph is vile. To state that someone who disagrees with you (based on the evidence you provided) is as stupid as a Trump supporter is beyond the pale. I'm sure Fisher has a proper term; I'll have to go and find it and give you what for.

V & Z respond: No offense was intended, and we regret if any was taken. Mentioning our credentials merely established the basis for an Occam's Razor argument about the simplest explanation for our non-usage of Word. And the Trump parallel was not about stupidity, it was more about cognitive dissonance—sticking with a belief even after presented with substantive evidence to the contrary.


J.K. Freehold, NJ, writes: I agree that the absence of Donald Trump would not negatively affect's ability to find material to write about; I'm not so sure the same is true for the late night comics. I'm always amazed by the comics' ability to come up with humor regarding pretty much anything, I suppose they will just have to work a bit harder.

K.F. in Madison, AL, writes: The comment from G.T.M. in Vancouver, about John Candy's French-English translation bit, reminded me of this 1970's Monty Python sketch:

V & Z respond: It's a rare situation where Monty Python doesn't have some bit of insight to add. Thanks for the link, Bruce!

S.W. in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, writes: This eulogy of Graham Chapman by John Cleese fits your description of a very good eulogy:

V & Z respond: Python again! Thanks to you, too, Bruce!

R.R. in Epes, AL, writes: Two posts about baseball and both contained little clues about the leanings of the authors. America's finest team is the Angels? Fauci's first pitch was still good enough for the Pirates? (It was, by the way.)

Everyone loves when a little sports is mixed into politics, and everyone hates when a little politics is mixed into sports.

VP Candidate Profile: Former State Representative Stacey Abrams (D-GA)

We were planning to double up today, but there is much indication that Biden won't make his pick until the end of the week. So, we don't have to hurry quite as much. Here is the list of candidates we're profiling:

  1. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) [Score: 27.5]
  2. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) [Score: 26]
  3. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) [Score: 20]
  4. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) [Score: 17]
  5. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) [Score: 27]
  6. Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) [Score: 13]
  7. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D-Atlanta) [Score: 24]
  8. Former State Representative Stacey Abrams (D-GA)
  9. Former NSA Susan Rice
  10. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-RI)
  11. Rep. Val Demings (D-FL)
  12. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH)

As a reminder, we're awarding up to 10 points across five different areas of concern: How ready the candidate is to assume the presidency, if needed; what kind of coattails the candidate might have in terms of helping the Democratic ticket in their state/region; what the candidate brings to the table in terms of "nuts and bolts" political skills like fundraising and debating; the depth of the candidate's relationship with Biden (to the extent that information is publicly known); and how well the candidate balances out Biden. So, the perfect running mate would score a 50, while Aaron Burr would score a 0.

Stacey Abrams
  • Full Name: Stacey Yvonne Abrams

  • Age on January 20, 2021: 47

  • Background: Abrams is the second of six siblings, and her parents—mother Carolyn and father Robert—were both Methodist ministers with divinity degrees. She was born in Wisconsin, spent some of her formative years in Mississippi, and spent the balance in Georgia, graduating from both high school and college there. Her B.A. is in interdisciplinary studies, and was earned at Spelman College. Thereafter, Abrams continued on to the University of Texas at Austin, earning an MPA, and then Yale, where she got her JD.

    Doing justice to her career since leaving school is no small thing, in part because politics is part-time work in much of the South, and in part because Abrams seems to have about 10 irons in the fire at all times. In the private sector, she has worked as a lawyer, most notably in the tax practice of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan. She is also something of a serial entrepreneur, and founded or helped found NOW Corp. (financial services), Sage Works (legal consulting, with a sports focus), and Nourish (beverage company whose product line is geared for young children).

  • Political Experience: Abrams dabbled in politics while getting her education, working for Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson and also the EPA. She first made headlines during that time, as well, during a protest on the steps of the Georgia State Capitol where the state flag was burned. It seems that Abrams and the other protesters found the Confederate battle flag, which was then a part of the Georgia flag, a tad racist.

    Abrams' professional public sector career began in 2002, when she was appointed deputy city attorney for the City of Atlanta. After four years in the city attorney's office, she declared for the open seat representing GA-89 in the state house. She easily won the primary and faced no opposition in the general, since GA-89 is quite blue. In fact, no Republican has bothered to contest the seat in at least 10 years.

    The rest of the story is pretty well known at this point. Abrams served 10 years in the Georgia state house, winning rave reviews for her razor-sharp intelligence, mastery of policy, and legislative skills, and received the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award, which is sort of like the Fields Medal, except for elected officials under 40 instead of mathematicians under 40. In 2010, her colleagues chose her as minority leader, making her the first woman to hold that position in the Georgia House. After 7 years as minority leader, she resigned to write her campaign biography, Minority Leader: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change, which became a bestseller, and to focus on her incredibly-close-but-no-cigar 2018 gubernatorial campaign against Gov. Brian Kemp. Given his underwhelming management of COVID-19, there must be more than a few Georgians rethinking their votes in that one.

  • Signature Issue(s): Since losing the race against Kemp, Abrams' prime focus has been getting voters registered and preventing tricks that might disenfranchise people, particularly people of color. She has founded a few organizations dedicated to these causes, most notably Fair Fight. Her work on these issues, not to mention the fact that she undoubtedly would have beaten Kemp if the 2018 election had been 100% on the up-and-up, makes her a natural to speak for the campaign on mucking around with the USPS and any other trickery Team Trump might attempt.

  • Instructive Quote: "I'm an ameliorist. I think the glass is half full, but probably poisoned." (Apr. 24, 2020).

  • Recent News: She has been showing off her attack dog skills, ripping into Kemp over his handling of COVID-19, and has been wrapping up a documentary about voting rights titled "All In: The Fight for Democracy."

  • Ready for the Big Chair?: There's no question she was a very effective state legislator, and 10 years is better than, say, 2 years. However, no experience in Washington, no experience in the upper chamber, and no experience in executive office? Those are some pretty big gaps in the résumé. (2/10)

  • Coattails: This is Abrams' biggest selling point. During her gubernatorial bid, Latino and Black turnout was triple what it was in the previous gubernatorial election in 2014. There is no candidate with a better chance of flipping their state than she. (10/10)

  • Nuts and Bolts Skills: As noted, everyone who knows her is impressed with her intellectual and political acuity. She knows how to needle Republicans, which is a major job for the VP candidate. And her response to the 2019 SOTU was excellent. She's a middling fundraiser, though, and doesn't have the relationships on the Hill to whip votes if needed. (6/10)

  • Relationship with Biden: She was an early supporter of Biden, and the two famously had a long conversation early in the campaign when the now-presumptive-nominee was flailing. The exact contents of that conversation are not known, but the obvious inference is that Abrams was going to be Biden's silver bullet if he needed it, not unlike Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) announcing Carly Fiorina as his running mate in 2016. In any event, that is the extent of their relationship; Abrams and Biden did not cross paths before that, and apparently haven't spoken much since. (1/10)

  • Balance: She's young, Black, and Southern, and is sharp on the areas of policy she's studied. She's about as centrist as Biden is, so she doesn't bring any sort of progressive balance. (6/10)

  • Betting Odds: She's getting from 100/1 to 50/1, which implies a 1-2% chance of being selected.

  • Completely Trivial Fact: If Abrams were to ascend to the vice presidency, she would be the second person to do so without ever having been married. The first was William R. King, who many historians believe to have been gay. If she were to ascend to the presidency, she would be the second person to do so without ever having been married. The first was James Buchanan, who many historians believe to have been King's lover. This is not to imply that she is herself gay; by all indications she's not. It's just an odd coincidence.

  • The Bottom Line: We've got her with a score of 25/50, which is very good. However, there is some evidence that her biggest weakness—lack of Washington experience—is among Team Biden's biggest priorities. So, while she would be a fine pick, it's not likely going to be her.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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