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      •  Trump Signs Four Executive Orders on the Economy
      •  Sunday Mailbag

Trump Signs Four Executive Orders on the Economy

Yesterday, Donald Trump signed four executive orders in attempt to do something in the face of a complete stalemate between House Democrats and Senate Republicans. It is doubtful that he has the legal authority to issue any of the orders, but politically they could help him. When his reelection is at stake, the law doesn't matter.

The four orders do the following:

  • One reinstates the supplemental unemployment benefits, but at $400 instead of $600
  • Another one defers payroll tax payments for people who earn under $100,000
  • The third implements a moratorium on evictions and provides financial assistance to renters
  • The last one provides student loan relief

All of these directly usurp powers the Constitution allocates to Congress. Democrats might challenge them in court, but it could be tricky because all of them are popular. On the other hand, if they are not challenged, the president has effectively become a king who can ignore the law and rule by decree. Or, as Richard Nixon put it: "When the president does it, it's not illegal."

If the Democrats decide to sue, one issue is standing. The eviction XO is probably the easiest to go after. All they need to do is find someone who rents out a room in his house (or an apartment) with a tenant months in arrears on the rent and who could normally be evicted. This "landlord" is clearly damaged by the order and would have standing to sue. For the student loan order, a bank or holder of a student loan would have standing. For the others, maybe the House itself.

Once that genie has gotten out of the bottle, what is prevent a President Biden from saying" "We have too much inequality, so I am ordering that the government send a $5,000 check to anyone who earned under $50,000 and who is now unemployed." Or maybe: "During a pandemic everyone should have medical care, so anyone without insurance now gets free medical care, with the money coming out of the Dept. of Defense budget? Could he go a step further and order federal law enforcement officers to arrest and imprison without trial anyone found outdoors without a mask? When Republicans howl, he could say: "It is for the nation's good. If you don't like it, impeach me." And if Trump can unilaterally suspend the payroll tax, what's to prevent a future Republican president from suspending income tax collections on incomes above $100,000? Or suspending all estate taxes? It would be very popular with some folks.

While Trump's actions themselves are probably good, a far more important issue here is the end of the rule of law. One of Congress' most important powers is the power of the purse. Going forward, the model is effectively going to be that Congress appropriates a lump sum of money and the president decides how to spend it. That is not what the Constitution says, and certainly not what the framers had in mind (or wrote down).

Even if Joe Biden wins and doesn't do anything openly unconstitutional, the dam has been breached. Any future president who is struggling with a Congress that won't do what he wants can use this as a precedent to issue executive orders to get what he wants, the law and Constitution be damned. We could be in for some tense days ahead. (V)

Sunday Mailbag

We don't know if Susan Rice will be the VP, but she's definitely the candidate everyone is talking about.

2020 Election

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: Donald Trump does not have the legal authority to do any of the things in the XOs he issued Saturday. He knows they will go nowhere. He wants to pretend he wants to help people and it is just those nasty Democrats and the Constitution that are the problem. It's just like when Trump used to show up at big charity events in New York for charities that he had not contributed a dime to, so he could give the perception that he was helping people.

S.M. in Louisville, KY, writes: We are witnessing an open coup d'état in our country. Donald Trump has weaponized a virus against his own people, and is destroying the USPS so people can't vote (along with continuing the usual voter-suppression tactics). The press won't report it, and the Democrats are too spineless to call it for what it is.

I live in Kentucky, where my vote is worthless (Trump and Moscow Mitch lead by 18 and 25 points) but I will still venture out on Election Day to scream into the void: "RIP USA," because they are going to find a way.

M.L.F. in Fort Collins, CO, writes: It's entirely clear at this point that the one generality we can count on with this president is that he is counting on countable things not being counted.

COVID-cases and deaths? Why count them; it can only lead to bad press. Votes? Why bother counting them all if they might lead to an indisputable electoral outcome? U.S. population? Why complete an accurate census of the U.S. population if valid counting only makes unfavorable redistricting prospects all the more likely?

These are but a few of the countable things we can count on continuing to come in droves from this no-count White House. I only wish that we could count them all on one hand...and hope we can count this administration out once the clock counts down to midnight.

V & Z respond: Boss Tweed, in reference to ballot-box stuffing, said "In counting there is strength." It would appear that has been updated to "In not counting there is strength."

G.W. in Dayton, OH, writes: Liberals, when noting that "pro-God" and "pro-gun" seem to thrive in the same circles, quietly note the irony. This past week, Trump made the connection himself. He said Joe Biden wants to "Take away your guns, destroy your second amendment, no religion, no anything. Hurt the bible, hurt God. He's against God, he's against guns." I think that last sentence is mis-punctuated. I think Trump's meaning was "He's against God: he's against guns." The two clauses are not independent thoughts, but rather cause and effect. For years, evangelicals have understood that Christian=Republican. I'm surprised this new, frank admission from inside the GOP tent (pro-God=pro-guns) hasn't received more attention.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: Living as I do in swing-state North Carolina, I can confirm...we are being drowned in Trump ads. And they are various levels of absolutely disgusting. The usual trying to drum up fear, because fear is all the GOP has (and what they are tone-deaf to is that those of us who are minorities already fear and loathe him more than his far-fetched imaginary scenarios in the commercials). Or maybe he isn't tone-deaf to this, and the commercials are aimed at white suburbanites...but it won't work, at least not here in North Carolina. They probably work in rural NC, but they are already in the bag for Trump.

For my part, it doesn't matter how many ads Trump runs, if given a chance, I'd vote for a bag full of what my dog leaves in the yard before I'd vote for Trump...and it would probably do a better job. That said, while Joe Biden was never the top of my list, he beats the hell out of the aforementioned bag of what my dog leaves in the yard!

For all anyone could say negative about Biden, there is one indisputable thing about Uncle Joe, one stellar quality he has in abundance and Trump utterly lacks: He does empathy well, and with sincerity. After everything this nation has been through in the last four years, and especially the pandemic, a little empathy is probably exactly what our nation needs—as well as a clear plan to get us out of this mess.

Biden needs to play to this strength, because it has made me go from being lukewarm on Biden (more fired up about sticking it to Trump) to actually being somewhat excited to vote for Joe (I am still fired up about sticking it to Trump, though). Biden needs to stay on message, and forget the attack ads. Leave the attacks to The Lincoln Project, and keep on the message of empathy, kindness, caring for all Americans, a real plan for COVID, and Building Back Better.

In my assessment, people do not care what you have done (Trump has a few ads touting made-up accomplishments), they care far more about what you are going to do in the next four years. Trump's ads never manage to convey what he plans to do in the next four years. A good thing, actually, since it means I am still able to sleep at night!

M.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: Ray Lesser at the Funny Times had a suggestion that I'm stunned hasn't occurred to anyone else: There are dozens of idled cruise ships just sitting around! Hold the RNC on a small fleet of them. They have all the amenities needed, and the GOP would be supporting an important industry. Plus, as an added bonus, when someone on board tests positive for COVID-19, authorities can deny entry to the entire fleet, and just let the entire party leadership drift at sea for the next few months.

Solves so many problems...

L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: With respect to your item on preparing for Trump refusing to concede, I think that Brian Klaas's suggestions are all excellent. I believe that they will be effective with the fact-based and well-informed citizenry, not with Trump's base or with those citizens who don't think in a fact-based way.

We also know that the Republicans have an army of lawyers waiting to jump on any voting irregularities, likely with the word "fraud" leading the way. The Democrats are also lawyered up, and I hope that they are well-prepared for the likely Republican challenges.

However, apropos of Klaas, I believe that there needs to be an effective emotional way to set the stage for a Trump loss and potential failure to concede. I have no idea how this can be done, considering that Trump and other Republicans have been falsely harping on election fraud for a very long time, and considering that no previous loser has challenged the very legitimacy of an election.

Lastly, media outlets must not call the election or release exit polls until all votes have been counted, which, as Klaas notes, is likely to take several days.

K.C. in West Islip, writes: In response to both S.J. from Denver's question about the succession of presidents the GOP has offered up over the years, and also to your response, I don't necessarily believe that S.J. was saying that all those individuals were "shudder" worthy so much as the parade of GOP presidents has just gotten worse and worse to the point we are at now.

You stated in your response: "In any event, the only real curative is to grant party insiders greater control over the process, a la the Democratic superdelegates. Even the Democrats rebelled against that, and Republicans are the party that distrusts both authority and expertise. So not only is the GOP not working on anything, but it's politically impossible that they would try it."

This may all be true, but I believe it would be the death knell of the party if they didn't figure out something. I think that the post-Trump GOP would be well advised to find some way to swing back towards center for the sake of their own survival. I wouldn't personally be against voting for someone like Larry Hogan or Chris Sununu, and I've never once voted Republican for president. I have for governor twice and I did for senate once, but with the entirely toxic environment which has developed over the last couple of decades I couldn't possibly see myself ever going in that direction again unless they centered themselves out as a party, and that certainly won't happen by nominating a successor like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) or, heaven forbid, another Trump.

E.L. in Dallas, TX, writes: S.W. from San Jose wrote asking about Mike Bloomberg's support for the Democratic nominee. I just so happened to see this article tonight on WIRED. The article seems to indicate that Hawkfish is Bloomberg's big secretive play to help the Democrats with data. That said, Bloomberg seems to have "only" invested $35 million and the Biden campaign is not even directly using Hawkfish. Indirectly, Biden may benefit from the DNC hiring Hawkfish. If Hawkfish is Bloomberg's support for the Democratic nominee, then he has fallen well short of his promise.

R.G.N. in Seattle, WA, writes: The word "malarkey" came up on Saturday as an example of Joe Biden being old fashioned and out of touch. I am a bit perplexed at the number of commentators who use this as evidence to suggest the cheese is slipping off Biden's cracker. I grew up in a working middle class neighborhood where Irish, Italian, and Scandinavian last names were dominant and we frequently used the word to dismiss statements we regarded as nonsense. I even wrote a column for the school newspaper titled "Minutes from Malarkey County."

Biden comes from a working middle class background where I suspect "malarkey" was frequently used. I suspect the commentators who believe the use of malarkey in a sentence indicates being out of touch grew up in a higher socioeconomic class than Joe or myself and that a lot of those commentators are out of touch with working class Americans.

M.G. in Arlington, VA, writes: Partisan Democrat though I am, I just breathed a sigh of relief that Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS) appears to have won the GOP nomination for the open Senate seat in Kansas. While the prospect of picking up an extra seat for the blue team by having an more outlandish candidate to run against is attractive, I've seen it backfire one too many times. For every Christine "I'm not a witch" O'Donnell that leads to an easy Democratic lay-up, there's another Donald Trump that we all get stuck with. Rooting for the clown is too much tempting fate for me. The Kris Kobachs and Roy Moores of the world deserve to get no closer to the U.S. Senate than the Capitol Tour.

C.N. in St. Louis, MO, writes: I would caution political commentators interpreting the win of Cori Bush this last Tuesday as people voting for progressive policies. She worked incredibly hard, and appealed to a much broader audience with some excellent TV advertising in the final two weeks of the primary. Further, speaking as someone who lives in the district, you cannot discount just out utterly loathed "Lazy" Clay was by voters. If there was one thing that united both white and many Black people in the St. Louis area, it was the belief that the only constituency Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO) represented was himself. He and his father had kept an iron grip on power, squashing any dissent for 50 years. We had been wanting to show that family dynasty the exit for a long time. We finally got a candidate who could beat him.

E.K. in Brignoles, France, writes: I very rarely post anything on Facebook. But this week, I haven't been able to prevent myself from sharing a thought (a very silly idea, in hindsight) on an article from The Hill relating the fact that AOC was very happy about William Lacy Clay's defeat in MO-01 against Cori Bush. So, just for once, I wrote a comment saying this: "AOC, like Sanders and his 'movement,' are just trying to hijack the Democratic Party. The moderates will flee in droves if she ever takes control of it." That's it. I just wanted to make an observation, which can be supported by facts in my opinion, and my intention was not to be provocative.

In less than 20 minutes, I was assailed with approximately 30 hateful comments stating that I was "a f**ing corporate Democrat" (apparently, for those people, "moderate" and "corporate" are synonyms), or "a Russian troll trying to divide us." The truth is that I'm obviously not a Russian troll, and I'm neither a registered Democrat nor a registered Republican, I'm just a French citizen who has followed American politics closely since the 90's and who really likes to see the U.S. run by pragmatic and intelligent people like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama or Joe Biden.

These folks (many who were barely born or weren't even alive during Clinton's presidency, if their profile pictures are real) were literally enraged by the simple fact that I dared to criticize "The Movement" and therefore felt entitled to insult me. They talk about Trump's cult (which is real), but I don't see much difference with their own cult.

So, I deleted my comment after 30 minutes. Good luck for winning in places like Florida or Arizona in the future with these methods...

2020 Election, Voting

H.M. in East Lansing, MI, writes: Ingham County is the third most Democratic county in Michigan (first and second going to Wayne and Washtenaw Counties, respectively), and contains most of the cities of Lansing (state capitol) and East Lansing (Michigan State University).

In this week's primary, here were the vote totals in the Senate primaries:

Gary Peters
9,305 same-day votes
33,888 absentee votes
Dem. % same-day votes: 21.5%

John James
7,957 same-day votes
8,783 absentee votes
Rep. % same-day votes: 47.5%

Putting it another way, Peters got 79% of absentee/mail-in votes, but only 54% of same-day votes.

Why any Democrat in Ingham County would want to be a poll worker for maskless Republican voters is beyond me.

T.O. in New Orleans, LA, writes: I have seen you mention a few times that many States do not begin counting absentee/mail-in ballots until after Election Day and thought I would shed some light on the reason why, at least with regards to New York State, where I have the most experience as an Elections Worker.

In New York State, casting an absentee ballot does not preclude you from voting on the machine at your polling place on Election Day. We store absentee ballots as we receive them, to be counted after Election Day, and during the post-Election Day audit we remove any received absentee ballots from voters who voted on the machine on Election Day. Once this process is complete we open and count the remaining absentee ballots.

By contrast, I currently serve in Louisiana, and in this state requesting an absentee ballot will see you marked in the poll book as "voted by mail" and if you show up at the polling place I am compelled to turn you away even if you never received that ballot or were not able to get it mailed back in time.

All things being equal, I prefer the New York method; the only real drawback is it means you'll be waiting a bit longer for the results in a race that's close enough to be decided by absentee (and/or provisional/affidavit) ballots, whereas in Louisiana we can count the absentee ballots as we receive them and instantly add them to the total when the polls close. I'd argue this delay is a small price to pay to afford voters another option to exercise the franchise.

R.G. in Portland, OR, writes: I just wanted to comment about the USPS and voting. Here in Oregon every library in the state is a ballot drop box. So the only part of the USPS that could impede our voting is actually getting our ballots. Once that's done you can just put it in a drop box yourself. The state sends a booklet with all the candidates so you can read over all the different positions and make your decision. We also get text messages about when our ballot was sent, when they receive it back, and when it's counted. I have lived in three different states, the voting process was different in all of them and Oregon's system is far and away the best I've used.

E.D. in Dansville, NY, writes: UPS was just here. I live in the middle of nowhere so there are no Amazon trucks. Suddenly, UPS is overwhelmed with Amazon packages leaving USPS high and dry. I'm sure Jeff Bezos can absorb the loss to get rid of the man in the White House. As soon as I read about Mr. "DeLay" I thought: "That's what Amazon needs to do. Take away the money-making part of the postal service. Leave time for it to deliver the ballots."

T.S. in Memphis, TN, writes: In your item "Meadows Walks Back Tweet on Delaying the Election," you suggest drop boxes might be the solution, barring shenanigans. People should check with their local elections commission. In Shelby County (Memphis, TN), absentee ballots can be sent by USPS, UPS or hometown favorite FedEx. What are the options in your area?

C.Z. in Sacramento, CA, writes: You wrote: "(Z) just sent in his application for a permanent absentee ballot this week. He preferred a mail-in ballot, but California does not offer a choice between the two for some reason. Oh, well!"

California's voting procedures are determined independently by each county. I don't know what county you reside in, but Sacramento County has offered a permanent vote-by-mail option for at least 20 years, and I opted for this permanent status as soon as it was offered. BTW, They did not refer to it as an absentee ballot.

Please stop misinforming your readers about California's voting procedures. Please correct your statement above by replacing "California" with your county's name.

V & Z respond: First of all, that was just a little joke at the expense of Donald Trump, who thinks that vote-by-mail and absentee ballots are different things. Second, California uses the same vote-by-mail application for all counties, as you can see here. The third page of that document gives the address to send your application to, based on your county of residence. It is at the point that the application is received and processed at the county level that policies and procedures diverge.

The Veepstakes

S.Y. in Skokie, IL, writes: When I heard the Republicans were licking their chops for Susan Rice to be Biden's VP pick, it didn't pass the smell test. If they really wanted her, why would they make it so public? "We'd love to face Rice" sounds like a low-rent long-shot poker bluff. They fear her, and hope to God Biden doesn't pick her. She'd be a great chainsaw attack machine who could constantly put the Republicans on the defensive. I hope Biden picks her; he's going to need everything he's got and then some as this election is going to be one for the historians.

H.G. in Bellingham, WA, writes: You mentioned that Republicans are salivating at the possibility of a Susan Rice nod for VP, mainly because of Benghazi.

I would love to see Rice on the ticket so I could vote for her early and often. I wonder when or if Democrats will point out that when they have a foreign policy mishap, four Americans die, whereas when Republicans do (Iraq), over 4,400 die (to date)?

Anyway, just a thought. Democrats being a little more "knives out" certainly wouldn't cost them this white male suburban college-educated veteran vote.

S.G. in Morgantown, WV, writes: While I think your scoring of Democratic vice presidential candidates is well done in terms of positives from the Democratic perspective, one scoring perspective I think it misses is the potential negatives the candidates bring to the table.

For instance, if Susan Rice is the candidate, then I suspect virtually every sentence coming out Republican mouths until November will include a noun, a verb, and Benghazi. Certainly Republicans got a lot of mileage out of the affair with respect to Hillary Clinton, and I imagine the same would be the case with Rice. So while Rice perhaps brings the most positives to the table, I think she could also bring the largest negative, as it would hand the opposition a proven line of attack (even if it has no substance at its core).

If Joe Biden takes the Hippocratic Oath into account with regard to selecting his VP (First, do no harm), then I don't see Rice as the most likely pick.

P.Z. in Washington, DC, writes: I think you forgot to mention an important thing: Dr. Rice simply is not well liked, either by most of her close colleagues or by those who have worked around her. I overlapped with her in the State Department under Hillary Clinton. Walking by her office was always "interesting" because of the F-bombs one could overhear and the general sounds of hostility. And this in the corridor, not in her office anteroom.

Then, of course, there is the Benghazi target unfortunately and unfairly painted on her back. It's not fair, but it will allow for some devastating Republican advertising. Biden can do better; as somebody who also worked for Joe on the SFRC staff, I hope he will.

D.H. in Lisbon Falls, ME, writes: I hate to make predictions, but I expect an August surprise. Once Joe Biden selects a Black woman as his VP, Donald Trump will panic and will find a way to replace the hapless Mike Pence with a high-profile woman. Pence's departure will be orchestrated within a few days of Biden's announcement, and prior to the GOP convention. Some reason for his departure will be announced and then quickly ignored once Indian-American Nimrata "Nikki" Haley is picked to be the new VP choice.

COVID-19, Life and Times

B.K. in Dayton, OH, writes: Politically, interesting things continue to happen in Ohio, most of which involve Gov. Mike DeWine (R) directly or indirectly. It is very unclear what the political fallout will be, or what effect that will have on the upcoming election, but it seems likely there will be some consequences. Portions are being reported outside of Ohio, but they probably don't convey the interesting timing of multiple events.

To back up, many in Ohio were shocked in early June when the very popular Director of Ohio Public Health, Amy Acton, abruptly resigned. in early June. Prior to this, the personal harassment and threats to her had been widely reported on a daily basis. It was no secret that she had been enduring the extreme stress of trying to deal with both the public health of Ohio during a pandemic and dealing with the political sideshow at the same time. What escaped the notice of some is that a significant portion of the Republican-controlled Ohio House had been openly hostile to Dr. Acton, including attempts to reduce her authority, demands that she be removed, and refusals to protect her against personal liability from her orders. Although DeWine is an old school Republican, he has been on a different page from his colleagues in the House and from the larger party outside of Ohio. He repeatedly defended her and tried unsuccessfully to redirect blame to himself. Acton was sued repeatedly by a wide range of businesses, but her resignation occurred during the same week that the three largest amusement parks in Ohio announced their lawsuit against her. The Ohio House GOP had been working hard to reopen these parks. As soon as Acton resigned, orders about these parks and other businesses in the entertainment industry were unexpectedly and abruptly lifted. My employer is in this industry (museums) and we were caught flat-footed. It would seem that the Ohio House GOP won that round and DeWine quietly backed down. He has continued to relax restrictions, but in the process has lost some credibility he had earned from his early, quick response to the pandemic that put him at odds with his party.

On July 15, DeWine called a widely promoted press conference at dinnertime (usually these take place in early afternoon) that was much anticipated. Many expected a mask mandate, an announcement that schools would not reopen for in-person classes, or something else big. Social media went crazy in anticipation of what he would say, but all he did was plead for Ohioans to voluntarily wear masks. (He also made an indirect smirking jab at Trump that went largely unnoticed.) Social media went even crazier afterward, with huge disappointment expressed by many. What people seem to keep forgetting, however, is that throughout the pandemic, DeWine has been very consistent in doing incremental messaging. He virtually always signals what he's about to do prior to doing it and some expected that this was effectively the signal that a mandate was imminent. (This is also why the unexpected ending of orders on the entertainment industry was perceived as inconsistent with his style, and seemed more like a defeat inflicted on him by the more conservative members of his party.)

Here's where the timing is again curious. Less than a week later, on July 21st, Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder (R), former Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges, and two lobbyists were arrested by the FBI as part of a years-long $60 million bribery scheme. This bribery scheme has to do with the bailout of nuclear power plants, but millions from the bribe were used in 2018 to fund the primary and general election campaigns of many Ohio House GOP members and to defeat a ballot initiative trying to overturn the bailout. DeWine immediately called for Householder's resignation and he was quickly replaced by another republican who is generally more respected and more of an old school party member. Less than two days after these arrests (and at almost the exact same time as Indiana) DeWine ordered a mandatory state-wide mask mandate. To a cynical person like myself, it would seem as if DeWine knew those arrests were coming before they happened and timed his announcements to take perfect advantage of them.

It's a little hard to say exactly what's going on here. The timing could be coincidental; it doesn't necessarily mean that anyone is playing 3D chess, but there is clearly a lot going on behind the scenes in the Ohio GOP. It also seems clear that DeWine intends to continue to prioritize public health while trying never to be open or explicit in his opposition to other members of his party, including Trump. He doesn't make many unforced errors and is disciplined in his messaging; you won't catch him in a soundbite or on a hot mic.

This week, Acton quietly resigned from her remaining duties at the Health Department. That was followed by another major announcement: DeWine has tested positive for COVID. Some people have even suggested that DeWine was faking it to avoid having to greet Trump when he visited northeastern Ohio this week. That seems a bit much to me, but who could say? I didn't vote for DeWine and I don't agree with the GOP on much on anything, but I would not deny that DeWine is very smart and very good at what he does. I would guess that DeWine is committed to reclaiming the GOP from Trumpism without alienating Trumpers. How that will play out in the Ohio election is anyone's guess, but DeWine is one to watch and he has some ability to pull this election in either direction if he chooses to. He is subtle, but make no mistake that gears are turning behind the scenes and levers are being pulled. We have yet to see which ones and whom they will benefit.

E.V. in Derry, NH, writes: I teach in a high school. After reading in Dr. Paul Dorsey's latest COVID-19 diary discussing his concerns about sending his child to school, I wanted to comment about how things are unfolding in my neck of the woods. New Hampshire has been both proactive and lucky in dealing with the virus, and does not quite have the dilemma that other states have. I am in the southeastern part of the state, where the virus is more active. At this point most schools have decided to be in session in some manner, with full or hybrid models.

My family and families of our friends have read many districts' plans as they came out to get a feel for what the approaches might be. We are reading about the high schools, because we work in high schools, or have children there, or both.

Dr. Dorsey was not impressed with a plan that had only a few pages. Most of the plans we read have dozens of pages, but I am not sure all those pages have much that is new. The bulk of the plans reiterate basic public health guidelines for indoor groups, and general safe practices. There is also an emphasis on lots of cleaning and daily protocols. "Between classes" is usually the catch phrase, but where that the time comes from amid the jam of students waiting to get in the room is unclear.

Of course, a lot of the success relies on the intention and good will of all involved—teachers, staff, students. And that this focus will likely have to be for the whole year, and must not falter. I have my doubts about the school community's ability to sustain the focus— it is hard enough with basic school rules and initiatives in normal years. It will require a lot of visibility and effort by administrators, once teachers and students get focused on their particular classes, concerns, and space.

The biggest issue is that to truly follow state and original CDC guidelines, radical steps are be necessary. However, a lot of schools already are using close to 100% of space for the whole day. Another big piece of the plans is the recognition that at any moment school could end up 100% online. There is no hint of "when this finally passes." The virus is here to stay for the year and the planned start is the best hope scenario.

Some schools are limiting class sizes, and/ or staggering days so only half the students are there. Teachers will be in every day, often repeating a lesson to the other half of a class. Somehow the off day still will be a learning day for students. Students often also have the option of doing 100% online learning instead. How this will happen when teachers are in class for a full day is not clear.

Luckily, the administrations know that less of the curriculum will be covered, and to be blunt, we are building the road even as we are driving on it. Really radical approaches like changing credit requirements, changing required number of days or hours in class, staggering by a few weeks the start between districts, having students take fewer classes (like a college model), or extended days may have been discussed on a state or administrative level, but teachers and the public aren't aware of that.

At home, we discuss how we could possibly quarantine one family member if needed, and how to keep safe in school. There is definitely a underlying current of anxiety in the house as the days tick off to the start of the school year.

Update: Since I wrote you, the state's two biggest cities, Manchester and Nashua, announced plans to start totally remote, with a switch to a hybrid model later in the fall.

B.B. in St. Louis, MO, writes: Not to be ageist, but before considering re-opening schools in the fall, perhaps we should listen to child psychologists in addition to infectious disease specialists. I have concerns that younger children will not wear masks properly because they won't know any better, but older children may not wear masks properly because developmentally, this is the age when risk-taking behavior and opposition to authority become more fully developed. These are the years, for example, when "experimentation" with cigarettes, alcohol and recreational pharmaceuticals generally begins. Adding into the mix that these are also the years when puberty occurs, and I see no way that this ends well.

D.C. in San Francisco, CA, writes: Here's Australia's perspective on the US government's response to the COVID-19 crisis:

These guys make some great political satire.

V & Z respond: "With a president like this, who needs terrorists?" Crikey!

Religious Matters

J.N. in Columbus, OH, writes: J.R. in San Francisco, CA wrote:

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.)

For real Christians, secularization of anything does not matter. They carry their Lord in their hearts. How else could they know their god from any others? What is public doesn't change any of that. Even if somehow Christianity was outlawed, that wouldn't change. In fact in Russia, it didn't, and even after the persecution of Christians during the Soviet era, Christianity is still strong there. I don't know why any Christian would think otherwise. Remember, Jesus said you would be persecuted in His name. Don't whine because that time may have come. I don't think Christians have anything to complain about, but even when the pendulum swings the other way, I don't think the non-Christians will treat Christians as badly as they have been treated by Christians.

As to the bakers, remember, the sin wasn't not baking the cake. The sin was deliberately waiting until it was too late for the gay customers to get an alternative, and then outing them to everyone. Their punishment went down exactly as it should have for the corrupt "Christians."

B.M. from Birmingham, AL, writes: I read this site daily to get an intellectual view of progressive ideas and latest poll assumptions. This is a political site, and I tried to keep it in that realm without explanation or defense of my list of grievances. I want to thank all of the contributors to the discussion around why evangelicals love Donald Trump. To use J.W in Indy's phrase they "perfectly Illustrated" what persecution Christians face for having beliefs contrary to Democratic dogma. Keep in mind what I wrote was an explanation of why Trump's actions that are clearly non-Christian do not make Christians immediately favor Biden. I think these responses showcase that reason. A Christian's views in public discourse are no longer welcome. They are immediately attacked as bigoted and narrow-minded or, worse, dismissed and marginalized as old-fashioned and out of touch.

Case in point: "Biden actively seeks Muslim vote."

There were articles that came out immediately following this site publishing my comments that stated that Joe Biden and the Democrats have a million-Muslim-vote strategy. They are actively reaching out to that community. As I stated, I doubt there is a million-Evangelical-vote strategy. Ultimately, Jesus taught us to love everyone and hate only the sinful actions they commit. I just found it ironic though on the heels of the comment from T.I. in Lexington about Christianity's view of being more important than others, that the "presumptive" nominee of the Democrat party is courting a religion that by its very texts would violently wipe all other faiths off of the map. The Muslim faith, by definition J.C from the Philippines, is Anti-Christ.

V & Z respond: We will leave it to others to respond to the bulk of your remarks, if they see fit to do so. However, we will point out that the great majority of Muslims do not wish to "violently wipe all other faiths off of the map." Among those who do, the religion is often being used as cover for a geopolitical agenda, in much the same way Christianity was used during the Crusades. We direct your attention to this from Sura al-Baqarah, which is one of many passages in the Quran that communicate this basic message: "Those who believe, the Jews, Christians and Sabians—any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord. They need not fear, nor shall they grieve."

It's Not Always Black and white

J.A. in New York, NY, writes: Just a further comment in response to the discussion with J.X. in Suzhou about using capitalized "Black" vs. "black."

White culture is not a thing that exists. This isn't to say white people do not have culture; of course they do. But their culture is rooted in places they can track, and nations that have long-documented histories. So instead of white culture, we have French, or German, or Italian, or Russian culture.

Unfortunately, due to the past colonial and imperialist misdeeds by some forerunners from those European nations, we have lost the opportunity for these contemporaneous African cultures to be referred to by their proper names. The cultures that the Black Americans may have called theirs originally were annihilated when they were kidnapped and sold into slavery. Further, many of the nations we see in Africa now are not nations that existed before colonization. The current nations are colonial legacy nations, thrown together in a hodgepodge of individual cultures with no regard to historical animus or alliance, meaning even if enslaved descendants were able to trace where they came from, the "nation" that stands there is likely not representative of whatever culture from which their ancestor originated. So these people were forced to create an entirely new culture during, and after, slavery. That is now Black culture, and while it may have some roots in traditional African cultures, it was created and developed wholly in the New World as a result of the treatment they faced here.

R.B. in Queensland, Australia, writes: Yesterday you proposed that Asians, Blacks, etc possess a "shared experience or a shared identity." You contrasted that with "whites," who are supposedly different than non-whites because they are organized into national identities which they view as more important than their skin tone. I was a bit surprised by this contrast, because it seems a little unintentionally racist. Not to whites, but to everyone else. Most people outside of Europe also primarily identify (historically and currently) with their religion, ethnicity or nationality, just like Europeans. The non-European world is just as culturally complex and Balkanized as Europe, and the identities of non-Europeans are exactly as real and important. Just as with the 19th century Frenchmen, Russian, and German, if you told a modern Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese person that they are all the same "race," they'll either laugh or punch you. There would be a similar reaction if you told an Eritrean that they are the same as Ethiopians.

I understand that you meant that shared experiences of adversities once within the U.S. feeds new, supplementary collective identities that "Asians" and "Blacks" may begin to identify with over time (and that whites, lacking this pressure, will not). But I feel like it's important to be extra careful and clear with wording on topics like this, since it's so easy to unintentionally cause offense, Biden-style.

V & Z respond: We concur that it's important to be careful, but we will also point out that we were. We did not say or imply that "Asian" is a shared cultural identity; we only said that about "Black," and our thinking mirrors that outlined in the letter above. The signifier that has an argument similar to "Black" is Latino, because those cultures were similarly torn asunder by colonization.

Asian, as a descriptor, is used as a reference to place of origin and not to a shared culture. It is capitalized because the noun on which it is based is also capitalized, as with European, or Catholic, or Brazilian.

R.M. in Baltimore, MD, writes: Before reading your comments about your choice of "black," "Black," or "African-American" to describe people with dark skin in the U.S., I had always thought of African-American as a more formal and polite way to describe Black people in the United States. The more I think about it the more I realize that African-American is a useless term.

I have spent some years working in majority Black organizations and the "native born" Black Americans I work with and know don't seem to have any particular interest or connection to Africa and the many Africans I know who have moved to the U.S. have little in common with Black Americans. When I lived in Africa, very few Africans I knew thought of themselves as Africans, but rather, the identifiers tend to be their ethnic group (Luo, Bokassa, Xhosa, etc.) and/or their nationality (Tanzanian, Egyptian, etc.) in the same way most Europeans identify themselves much more strongly as Bavarian, Russian, or Scottish over European. We don't talk about White Americans or immigrants from a European country as "European Americans." If a person is transplanted from Spain we simply say they are "from Spain" or maybe use the clunky term Spanish-American and if a person has heritage from Europe we call them "white" or "Caucasian" and not European American.

As I think about it, "Asian-American" is not a useful term either. After three generations, immigrants to the U.S. from any country have virtually nothing in common with their grandparents' home country and recent immigrants consider themselves Vietnamese, Chinese, or Indian over "Asian." Asian-American is simply a lazy way of putting together people who are different in just about every way possible, including skin color. Also, people from certain nationalities or ethnicities may find it offensive to be lumped together with competing groups they look down on.

When I studied biology, I heard a prominent geneticist describe how biologists had spent decades looking for genetic differences among races and found nothing biologically meaningful. The differences were only in the variability of genes (e.g. 10% A blood type vs. 25% in another population), cosmetic (skin color, epicanthal fold, or height genes), or likelihood of rare conditions like Sickle Cell Anemia or Tay Sachs. Based on DNA, it was impossible to tell the "race" or origin of any person. Apparently this was a big disappointment to certain political and social groups.

Personally, I look forward to a simpler time when we can give up the weird and divisive social construct known as "race." Martin Luther King Jr. may have had similar hopes.


P.D. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: It should be noted that George Clinton used the Mothership to flee to a Parliament-ary system of government. American federalism lacked the funk that the Westminster system offers.

V & Z respond: Bow-wow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yeah!

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: I made proof of Donald Trump's claim that the Beirut explosion was an attack:

A picture of the explosion 
has had a sharpie-drawn stick figure pushing a TNT plunger added to it

S.M. in Baltimore, MD, writes: You are, by far, my favorite website, but I have one small pet peeve: your referring to Putin as "Vlad." You might be doing this be because it sounds more sinister and has the whole "Eastern European impaling-happy despot" thing going.

But Vlad, contrary to popular belief in the West, is not a contraction of Vladimir, but rather of Vladislav, a completely different name. Nobody in Russia refers to Putin as Vlad. It would be laughable and rather like referring to Donald Trump as Dan or to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) as Barry. Common nicknames for Vladimir are "Volodya" or "Vova," the former more endearing and the latter more familiar. Vova is sometimes used by Russians who are intending to ridicule Putin and Volodya by those who are trying to indicate their love for him. I'd just go with Vladimir for most cases.

V & Z respond: It is 100% because it references Vlad the Impaler. Any of the alternatives, even if they are more correct, just don't have the same zing.

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