Needed 1990
Biden 0
Bloomberg 0
Buttigieg 11
Gabbard 0
Klobuchar 0
Sanders 11
Steyer 0
Warren 5
Yang 0
Political Wire logo Sanders Widens Lead In New Hampshire
Buttigieg Edges Sanders for Delegates in Iowa
Bloomberg’s Theory of Trump
Extra Bonus Quote of the Day
In the Long Run, Romney Wins
Justice Department Vetting Info on Hunter Biden
TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

Sometimes we're surprised by the feedback we get. For example, after twice having run small-ish items about weights and measures, we now know that there are quite a few people who are very interested in the subject of weights and measures.

Give the Readers an Inch...

V & Z: In reference to your metric system question, the U.S. actually passed the Metric Conversion Act during the Ford administration. Essentially, the U.S. was supposed to "gradually" introduce metric into American society. Basically they would introduce metric measures alongside the American measurement system, hoping that people would just start using metric. The system was set up voluntarily, so there was no real enforcement of the law. It was an odd and poorly thought out plan. I remember as a kid in 5th grade in the 70's learning the metric system as we spent hours doing pointless conversions of inches to meters and liters to gallons etc. It made no sense teaching the metric system while simultaneously holding on to the American system. We should have stopped using the American system altogether. There started to be some conservative backlash in the late 70's led by a man named Lyn Nofziger. He eventually persuaded the Reagan administration to squash the Metric Commission in the early 80's. J.Q. Pequannock, N.J.

Note: Actually, Congress' first attempt to impose the metric system 1866.

V & Z: Your response to S.S.T. of Copenhagen, Denmark as to why we keep old systems of measurement, as opposed to metric, was OK, but I would add the following as a valid reason as well: For strictly internal use it doesn't matter, so why change? What does it matter what the road distances on our highways are measured in? It could be by miles, kilometers, cables, leagues, or rods and chains. Because it doesn't matter, as long as it's a standard measurement throughout the country. Similarly, it doesn't matter if our gasoline is sold by the gallon, the liter, the hogshead or the firkin as long as it's a standard throughout the country and the pumps are calibrated correctly. Likewise, it doesn't matter what weight the butcher sells his meat to me by, as long as it's a standard and an honest weight. He could sell by the troy ounce, the livre, or fractions of a stone, for all that it matters. B.F.E., Sierra Vista, Arizona

Note: As one of us is an MIT graduate, we must protest your failure to include the Smoot in the list of measures of distance. Although we concede that "2,837,015 Smoots to Graceland" doesn't have quite the same ring.

V & Z: You are absolutely incorrect about the metric system, because the United States is an original signatory to the Treaty of the Meter in 1875, and SI (the metric system) has been the official system of weights and measures in the United States since the Mendenhall Order of 1893, later confirmed by the National Bureau of Standards when it was created in 1901. In fact, all the customary measurements—inches, gallons, pounds, and so on—are legally defined in metric terms in the United States.

I refer you to the following, which provides a full discussion of the problems of standard measurements over the years and how SI came to be adopted as the official system of the U.S.

I appreciate that our countrymen still refuse to adopt metric terms for many uses (purchases of vegetables, personal height and weight—though the Brits still use stone!—highway travel length and speed, real estate measurements) but I love to play the pedant in this case. While it would carry a short-term cost, the US would benefit greatly by adopting SI measurements in everyday life. L.F., Frankfurt, Germany

V & Z: Presumably this is the hundredth or so note that the British haven't exactly embraced the metric system. A tour of the Emerald Isle rubs this in your face, as speed limits in the Republic of Ireland are in kilometers per hour while those in Northern Ireland are in miles per hour. If you aren't paying attention, you can suddenly be zooming past other drivers or become a one-vehicle traffic jam once you cross a border. (And on a different metric/decimal change, the U.S. was in the lead, adopting decimal coinage, cents being a hundredth of a dollar, and abandoning pennies/shillings/pounds about 200 years before Britain).

Probably less well known is that we were going to go metric in the Carter administration. The U.S. Geological Survey began producing topographic maps with elevations in meters and not feet. When Ronald Reagan took over, one of the first decrees was that this abandonment of traditional measures was to stop. And so, topographic maps returned to being contoured in feet. But as the government has cut back on funds to continue to update these maps, eventually killing the production of surveyed topographic maps about 2002, many of the metric maps are still kicking around as the most recent surveyed map. Perhaps the oddest remaining element of this is that at some zoom levels on the USGS's National Map, you will see elevations reported in meters, and at other zoom levels of the same area you will see feet. Because the newest automatedly created maps have a number of drawbacks in portraying topography, many outdoorspeople prefer the older paper maps and so sometimes are faced with going from elevations in feet to meters.

Sorry for all the detail (and you could even suffer more as I wrote about how lousy the topography on newer maps is at The Grumpy Geophysicist). C.J., Boulder, CO

V & Z: I enjoyed your comment on the metric system. When I visited England a number of years ago, I was surprised at how low the speed limits were. After all, 30 kph is really crawling. Thus, I was very surprised that even though they use the metric system almost everywhere, they still do their speed limits in mph! Also, they still tend to give their personal weights in stones, and as a horse racing fan, I know that the 2000 Guineas is still run at a mile, even though all the equivalent races in the rest of the world (except the U.S., of course, who likewise doesn't follow the English classic system) are run at 1600 meters.

In a way, I found the English approach almost sillier then ours. At least we, for the most part, use the English system of measurement, with, as you note, more use of the metric system than at first may be apparent. The English, on the other hand, use an almost random-seeming combination of primary measures: Celsius, miles, stones, kilograms, liters, etc. L.S., Greensboro, NC

Sanders' Supporters Weigh In...

V & Z: I would like to address the seemingly ever present question of "electability," regarding your post about Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) being scary for leading Democrats.

First, as the data from DW-NOMINATE shows, Sanders is indeed lefty (not a surprise), but not that far lefty. Besides, the experiment of running against Trump a centrist, experienced, highly qualified, close to the party candidate took place in 2016, and the result is that Trump won the election. By the way, according to the same data, Hillary Clinton should have been as electable as they come. Maybe time for trying something else?

Second, I cannot help having the impression that many experts, maybe including you, are trying to have it both ways. If Sanders supporters don't vote for Clinton in enough numbers (and I have yet to see those numbers), the blame goes to Sanders for his supporters not accommodating the candidate (and not to Clinton for not appealing to the progressives). If Sanders is the nominee and centrist Democrats don't vote for Sanders, the blame goes to...Sanders, for not accommodating the centrists (and not to the centrists for not accepting the candidate). I think that at least one (probably both) of the two approaches is unfair. In the end, one can only be responsible for their own vote. And a candidate can only lay their own case for the voters. Clinton did that, and failed. What scares me is that trying the same type of candidate again might get the same result. There are far more progressives out there than GOP Never Trumpers to be lured to the polls. P.G., Madrid, Spain

V & Z: In the Iowa entrance poll, Bernie Sanders had the support for 43% of people of color. In a national CNN poll dated January 22, he topped the poll of nonwhite support with 30% to Biden's 27%. This poll also shows 82% of nonwhite voters would be at least satisfied with Sanders as nominee, 8 points higher than Biden. Perhaps it's time for commentators to stop beating this dead horse? L.N., Stoke-on-Trent, UK

...And So Do His Detractors

V & Z: With Bernie Sanders appearing to move into the lead in the Democratic race to replace Trump, I've had to evaluate my thoughts on the possibility of Sanders being the Democratic nominee. Whenever someone asks me if I support the "anyone but Trump" bandwagon, I hesitate. To better understand why I can't give an unqualified, "yes," I made the following chart.

The image is a list of 
characteristics common to Trump and Sanders, including that both are old, angry, misogynist, unable to accept blame for
their errors, poplist, and appeal to a cultlike male following

From where I stand, Sanders is Trump, but with a different name. The only significant daylight I see between them is that Sanders appears to believe the populist rhetoric he promotes, whereas Trump uses it as a weapon to manipulate his cult. From my observations of Bernie and his Bros, dating back to 2015, this behavior is baked into him and the Bros' culture. I have not yet drunk enough of the Kool-Aid or eaten enough applesauce/pudding to get to that unqualified, "yes, anyone but Trump." It all depends on who that "anyone" is.

Certainly, Sanders has a long way to go to convince me that life for women, people of color, LGBTQ, or any other minority, under his regime, would be any better. Indeed, it could be worse, since everyone on the left would sigh with relief and then ignore the damage being promulgated by Bernie and his Bros. M.F., Santa Barbara, CA

V & Z: I was recently astonished to see Rep. Rashida Tlaib's behavior when she publicly booed Hillary Clinton on stage last week. Where is the professionalism? Where is the democratic unity? Where is the sharp rebuke from Sanders?

Sanders' surrogates have been on an absolute rampage lately. Hillary, Biden, Warren and now of course Mayor Pete and his "rigging" conspiracy theories. In a time when we should be focused on defeating Donald Trump at any and all costs, they are still obsessing over Hillary, 2016, and the establishment.

They keep pushing the "establishment is trying to sabotage Bernie" conspiracy theories, furthering the divide. Well, guess what? You guys are alienating and sabotaging yourselves. I'm a proud Democrat, but have had enough of this nonsense from Bernie's supporters and surrogates. Keep insulting us. You guys cannot win the election without the Hillary coalition. At this point, I'm not even sure that I could get myself to vote for Bernie in the general, even if he wins the primary. And guess what—many of my friends feel the same exact way.

I have a simple question for Bernie supporters: Why are you not laser-focused on defeating Trump? One of the saddest weeks for democracy in the United States, and all you can do is sit on stage and cheer while Hillary Clinton is booed?

Get over yourselves. You cannot and will not win in the general without the Hillary Coalition. And the way things are playing out, you've already lost many of us. S.S., Raleigh, NC

Impeachment Thoughts

V & Z: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) appeared to me to take his oath before God very seriously and I believe he made his decisions on the articles of impeachment without regard for political motives. From this perspective, I have been pondering Romney's vote on the second article of impeachment and I can develop three theories why he may have voted to acquit.

  1. He felt the house managers did not make the case for the second article.

  2. He believes the courts should resolve these issues and he would have voted to acquit if the courts had clearly ruled that some of the evidence be sent to Congress or had ordered someone to testify.

  3. While he sees the obstruction of Congress as wrong, he did not feel it rose to the high bar for impeachment. While Donald Trump may have pushed further than others, he may have felt it was not so far beyond the political norms as to require the removal from office.

I think it is likely the second or third reason. It is unfortunate he did not make clear why he voted the way he did on both articles. Hopefully he does at some point, perhaps in a memoir. A.P., Ontario, Canada

V & Z: There is no way that the announcement about drilling in Utah is not connected to the President's anger at Romney. B.C., Damariscotta, ME

V & Z: Regarding the post-impeachment purge of those federal employees with the audacity to testify before Congress, it's worth pointing out that the purge didn't just remove the witnesses, it removed everyone who testified and their brother!

I've not seen any reasons given for the removal of Yevgeny Vindman. Presumably no reasons need be given beyond article II powers, but the implications are chilling: "Stand against the president and he'll take out you and your family." M.H., Whakatane, New Zealand

V & Z: You have stated several times that the Senate "acquitted" Donald Trump (and many other outlets use this same formulation). Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that the Senate voted not to remove him from office? He was (and remains) impeached by the House of Representatives.

Of course the people defending Trump made all sorts of arguments about the issues: Trump didn't do what he was accused of doing, he did it but it was okay, the Democrats are trying to overturn the last election (or preempt the next one), the Democrats have wanted to impeach Trump since he was first elected, etc. About the only thing they didn't (explicitly) state was that if any Republican senator voted to remove Trump, that Trump would do everything in his power to exact revenge.

But the Senate did not make any findings on any of those issues, they merely decided not to remove him from office. Considering that most of the Republican Senators had announced how they intended to vote before the hearings commenced, it certainly can't be argued that the problem was a failure of proof.

Why not just describe what happened neutrally? "Acquittal" (or "exoneration," as Trump likes to put it) implies much more than what really happened. B.H.C., Manhattan Beach, CA

Note: The linguistic options available to us here are imprecise, since this was a trial and yet...not a trial. That said, we have certainly avoided the use of "exonerated," as that implies a far more favorable conclusion than was actually the case.

V & Z: (Z) just made this statement: "Heck, they've been promising acquittal since before he was even impeached."

It would be nice to see a more balanced viewpoint by including mention that certain Democrats have been promising impeachment since Trump was elected president, long before he did anything that was even questionable, which is certainly not the constitutional purpose of impeachment. K.J., Roanoke, VA

V & Z: You wrote: "Our general view is that the impeachment trial has not been a bright and shining moment for the democracy. It would seem that many readers agree."

Rather, I would say that the impeachment trial has not been a bright and shining moment for the Republic, It has, however, been a brilliant example of democracy run amok—and exactly what, I believe, the Framers were trying to prevent. S.R.S., Marietta, GA

V & Z: You said the smell of the trial ain't baby powder. Considering that we now know that baby powder is rather dangerous and can result in illness, I think that might exactly be the smell of this trial. J.C., Taguig City, Philippines

V & Z: Since Trump's acquittal was always a foregone conclusion, we now have a dictatorship, rather than a democracy. Trump and his RepubliCONs have succeeded in doing in less than 3 years what the Russians couldn't do alone over decades. That line from the movie "Meatballs" seems to say it all for me: "It just doesn't matter." Bill Murray, the head counselor for the rag-tag summer camp, was giving his team a "pep talk" before their end of the summer olympics games against the rich kids' camp. Bill said "It just doesn't matter whether we win or lose because they have all the money and they're gonna get the girls anyway." That set up the chant that the whole camp took up: "It just doesn't matter."

Canada, here I come! C.Z., Sacramento, CA

Note: There is no situation that cannot be better understood by applying the lessons of at least one Bill Murray movie. Call it the "Murray Rule."

V & Z: I thought I would share with you the e-mail I just sent to my senator, Pat Toomey:

Dear Senator Goebbels,

Now that you and your Nazi cohorts have ridden roughshod over the Constitution and declared Fuhrer Trump above the law, the only thing left to ask is when you are going to start rounding up the Jews, Blacks, and Latinos so you can start your final solution?

A.M., Brookhaven, PA

V & Z: Many of your readers are disillusioned about the shortcomings of the U.S. constitution. Being a citizen of Germany, I share their bitterness and fear of an authoritarian regime that may be coming. In Germany, we learn in school that the shortcomings of our historic Weimar Constitution made the ascent of the Nazis possible.

Anecdotes often lift one's mood, so here is one that (V), being a physicist by education, may remember. In this paper, the author revisits the story of Kurt Gödel's discovery of one particular "design defect" in the Constitution.

Some of your readers may remember that Gödel was a first rate logician and close friend of Albert Einstein. These readers may enjoy the vivid (fictional) dialog in the midst of this page. J.K, Bremen, Germany

V & Z: At the end of Thomas More's trial in "A Man for All Seasons," the presiding judge says: "The jury will retire and consider the evidence." And Cromwell (Leo McKern) says: "Considering the evidence, it shouldn't be necessary for them to retire."

A present day version of this has played out in the Senate chamber this week, as we see muddied lines between defense counsel, the accused and the jurors. That Cromwell was acting as both prosecutor and jury is just a nuance. In both cases the King (Henry VIII and Donald Trump) was pulling the puppet strings. D.C., Delray Beach, Florida

Political Economy

V & Z: The last item in this week's Q&A was a question about how much credit Donald Trump should take for the economy. While your answer is something I 100% agree with; that the center will most definitely not hold, and generally no administration is to be directly accoladed/blamed for the economy, I'd like to point out that a lot of political commentators today are saying that it won't do the Democrats any favors to just keep arguing that Trump is taking all the credit from Barack Obama. The consensus that I'm reading is that Trump's biggest strength is that the economy currently "looks great," and most presidents get re-elected when that is the case.

If the Democrats want to win, they have to hit home a few points; such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-MA) observation that the economy certainly isn't working out for everybody. That rising housing costs in most cities are leading to rising homelessness is another example, and there's plenty more that I can't even think of right off the bat. I'm not a supporter of Tom Steyer, but he more or less made it a talking point in Friday's debate that every candidate up there has a winning idea for every issue, but if they don't fight back on the idea that the economy really isn't as super duper as Trump says and if they don't appeal enough to those who have been hurt by job loss, tax cuts for the rich, tariffs on China, etc., their policy ideas will be all for naught. It simply won't work to just say "Obama is the real reason the economy is good," since even if that's true, he hasn't been in charge for the last 3.5 years. A.H., Atlanta, GA


V & Z: I enjoy your site, despite having some differences with your editorial viewpoints at times. I did have one issue (or two) with your item on Biden and corporate boards.

First, you stated that Biden merely having a son on a corporate board is no problem. However, while this could be considered mere low-level nepotism, it leaves out the fact that Joe Biden was a key point man (or even driver) of U.S. foreign policy in regards to Ukraine. In addition, I don't know of many prominent politicians' kids who serve on foreign corporate boards, except perhaps Trump's.

Second, out of those on the list, one has some ethical questions which deserve addressing, putting her in a similar light as Biden. That would be Nikki Haley, whom you identified as one of the board members who were added simply to have a famous name. Haley has a long track record of nepotism, from getting her daughter a job in the state house gift shop to buying a strip mall from her parents for $5 and selling it for over $1 million. As Governor, Haley pushed for a major incentive package for Boeing, and fought to keep the plant from unionizing. This seems to me like a quid pro quo. Further, as recent Boeing whistleblowers have revealed, one major factor for several recent Boeing aircraft problems is the South Carolina plant being "strictly driven by schedule and costs." Perhaps this could be an issue for her as well, should she seek future offices. O.N.E., Greenville, SC

V & Z: Your list of celebrity board directors misses the point that Hunter Biden is not a celebrity in his own right. The "fishy" part is that Hunter Biden's only value is that he is the son of a well-placed politician. It may not be illegal, but it doesn't look good, and it reinforces the trope that the rich play by a different set of rules and that all politicians are corrupt. I actually give Uncle Joe some credit in that I believe he doesn't want to talk about it because he finds it embarrassing. Compare that to our current POTUS, who is actively proud of using his influence to benefit his family and himself.

The more appropriate example list would have been a much shorter one: Caroline Kennedy, Pricilla Presley, and Nancy Reagan. M.A., Denver, CO

V & Z: In reality, you may have forgotten a couple:

  • Jared Kushner (still trying to figure out why a slumlord is negotiating peace proposals)
  • Ivanka Trump (Senior Advisor to her Father?!?!?!)

P.E.S., Lanoka Harbor, NJ

Old McDonald Had a Vote

V & Z: Farmers really aren't much of a voting bloc, even in agricultural states. For example, in my own state of Michigan, there are 47,600 farms and a voting-age population of 7.8 million. Assuming that most farms are owned and operated by a married couple, that means that about 1 in 164 voters is a farmer.

What is a large group are those working in the agricultural sector. The Michigan Dept. of Agriculture and Rural Development puts the number of those working in the food and agriculture system at 805,000, or 17 percent of the workforce—and 256,000 of those are classified as indirect. So you've got a lot of equipment operators, farm supply retail workers, truck drivers, mechanics, food processors and field hands in that number—and many in the last two categories can't vote anyway because they aren't citizens. Many of that group may identify with farmers as the source of their livelihoods, but for others the connection is indirect to begin with and workers don't always share the boss's political priorities. K.H., Ypsilanti, MI

Excoriating Iowa

V & Z: The Iowa fiasco is quite shocking. Admittedly, in Italy, we're not renowned for our politicians. Many of them were and are outright buccaneers, or populist freaks (yet we have had also quite a bunch of nice people).

Anyhow, I regularly work as a precinct manager when we have elections. It's on a voluntary basis; you get some pocket money (I would get more if I were frying chicken wings at McDonald's, actually), you work long hours in a row, and you are responsible for quite a delicate process. The turnout is usually quite high: a general election with less than 70% voters is an anomaly.

We have systems that allow us to double-check everything we do. I won't get into details but, for instance, we calculate totals in two different ways to be sure of the outcome. When everything is done and the tallies are approved we send the outcomes to the election office. At least, that is how it is done here, in a great city (Milan). Maybe in smaller places you just hand over the results to a civil servant.

That is the only moment when something "digital" is involved. We rely mostly on the good ol' paper trails. Everything is written in detailed reports and forms. It takes a while, but nobody has ever challenged the results, and we're proud of both the high turnout and the integrity of the process. It is monitored also by representatives of different parties; it happened to me that I ended up working with people who were totally at the opposite side of my political affiliation. Yet we ended up collaborating, and any issue was discussed on a rational and lawful basis.

Iowa was a total fiasco, we know, and it opens a can of worms: Anybody (starting from the fellow with the strange orange hair) could claim that any result is not legitimate. The whole nomination process could be tainted to an extreme level, and virtually any candidate could dismiss any unfavorable result. And that is before we consider the actual general election. You often write about election security and correct procedures. If we manage to get it right in one of the most dysfunctional places in the E.U., when will your system get a bunch of nice adjustments? You know, banana-republic definitions apply also to the soundness of the electoral process. M.M., Milan, Italy

V & Z: Apparently (from what I saw in the news) the Iowans actually pushed an update to the app this past weekend. So not only was the testing and training inadequate, but they were using a new version that had only been out in the field for a few days, at best! And it sounded like the new version had some changes to the UI, so even people that had been trained may have been confused by what they were seeing. R.R., Nashville, TN

V & Z: In my previous life, I was a computer programmer/systems designer. In terms of Iowa, what I read was that:

  • The app was requested only 2 months prior to the caucus—not nearly enough time to design a good app, let alone code and test
  • There was a coding error in the app—such coding errors can only be found by rigorous testing
  • There was not only no training, there was no mass/stress testing. The state should have had several state-wide runthroughs prior to caucus night, rather than having people figure it out on the fly—that's a recipe for certain disaster

I've said before that while the Republicans might be evil, the Democrats are incompetent—and sometimes I'm not sure which is worse! B.B., Panama City Beach, FL

V & Z: As a software engineer with 25 years of experience designing systems and databases, the image you shared of the Caucus Math Worksheet made me cringe. There's no good reason why that form should require the form filler to do any calculations—they should collect and record the head counts (the core data) for each candidate, and the precinct identity, and that's it. Everything else, even the count of eligible attendees, is redundant data. Common rules of database design include "don't duplicate data" and "let the computer do the calculations" (or, put another way, "store the data, calculate everything else"). Presumably, all of the data from this form is destined to be entered into a computer/database in short order—why make the people do any math at all? It's not just wasted man-hours at stake here; the redundant information on the form means that there can be data inconsistencies internal to the form itself. It's no wonder that the IDP struggled with "reporting inconsistencies." E.D., Tempe, AZ

V & Z: There was an interesting piece on NPR, with an interview from one of the caucus captains who had no trouble with the Democratic reporting app because she downloaded it in advance and got familiar with it (gasp!). It sounds to me like a combination of "user malfunction" and "vendor malfunction" in that it seems that the app wasn't totally intuitive, and needed practice to use. And if the end-users weren't told that, the results would be predictable. It's also possible that the app didn't run as well on iPhones as on androids, or vice-versa. Hand counted paper ballots, not vote by phone! A.W., Beloit, WI

V & Z: I'm sure you have probably already seen this comic before, but it might be particularly relevant to share with your readers, given the technology failures in Iowa.

As a computer programmer, I am always shocked by the eagerness to add more technology to the voting process. D.T., San Jose, CA

Defending Iowa

V & Z: I've been reading a lot of coverage of Iowa that seems to suggest there was something wrong with the caucusing process, or that the complexity of the caucusing process is somehow to blame for the issues in reporting results. I know for a fact that my caucus site was one that struggled to report results, but you never would have known it as a participant. Thanks to the paper ballots we filled out, I am confident the final results will be accurate; my own precinct's results have already been released and match what I recorded on caucus night.

Insofar as waiting 36 hours (and counting) for final results is considered a failure, I assign 100% of the blame to the Iowa Democratic Party organization. Even a flawless piece of software could not be expected to work perfectly with last-minute installation and virtually no training. The blame is not isolated to the state party leadership, though. According to the linked article, my own county chair apparently instructed precincts not to use the app, as did other chairs I heard interviewed the day after the caucuses. This seems like a good old fashioned failure in organization: poor preparation at the top and conflicting messages at the middle, leading to uncertainty on the ground. That would have fouled up any process, caucus or otherwise. C.C., Grinnell, IA

V & Z: You (and almost everyone else, including me sometimes) forget that the purpose of a primary or caucus is not to declare a winner but to select delegates to the national convention. Naturally, candidates, their supporters, reporters and pundits are all looking for a "story" and so we all seek to identify the "winners" and "losers." And that's fine. But that's not the purpose of a primary or a caucus and the inherent potential to not identify "winner" is not a reason for changing anything. D.A., Brooklyn, NY

V & Z: In your item "So What Happened in Iowa, Exactly?" you wrote:

"...If you're looking for a highly concentrated amount of technical expertise, you might go to Cambridge, MA, or the Silicon Valley, or Austin, TX. On the other hand, you probably wouldn't start with a substantially rural state populated by a disproportionate number of senior citizens..."

As much of a fiasco as the Iowa app turned out to be, don't he too quick to dismiss the potential for tech in the last locales you'd expect. Grinnell College, in the cowtown of the same name in Iowa, was where Intel co-founder Robert Noyce saw his first transistor. Four hours away in Urbana, IL, itself no metropolis, the NCSA birthed the modern web browser.

I even hear there's a renowned computer scientist and author who's made quite a name for himself in operating systems while kicking around Amsterdam, of all places. S.A., Downey, CA

V & Z: Despite the ongoing angst about Iowa going first, a rarely mentioned factor is that the people of Iowa take presidential politics very seriously, and pay very close attention to the race. Even those who care little about politics in general study the presidential candidates and their issues, and then make a well informed decision with respect to who they believe is the best person for the job—not just who came up with the best soundbite or put out the slickest ad. Something I'd be unable to say about the majority of my fellow Californians. P.W., Valley Village, CA

V & Z: In 2016, I lived in the Seattle suburbs and took part in the first two rounds of the Washington State caucuses. Based on my experience, it is my considered opinion that you and the rest of the media are being way too harsh in your assessment of the 2020 Iowa caucus. As a fellow computer professional, (V) should know that complex systems are in practice riddled with bugs and unexpected side effects.

Washington has different procedures than Iowa, but the inevitable problems are related and inherent. My caucus began in an elementary school a few blocks from my home on a Saturday about midday. A few hundred of us assembled in the gym and were directed arbitrarily into "random" groups or caucuslets of about 2 dozen each. For most, including me, this was their first caucus. One woman had done it before, but refused to be chair, so I volunteered to be the chair of our small caucuslet. Our primary task was to choose 3 delegates and 3 alternates for the next level meeting a few weeks hence.

There were many required steps in the delegate selection process and I'm sure an audit would find I made a number of mistakes. The steps included animated exhortations, which switched not a single vote. With a group of 24 choosing 3 delegates, the threshold for viability is 8, but many people are not good at math. One couple argued politely to the very end for an undecided delegate. Ultimately, our caucuslet went 2 to 1 for Hillary because it was the suburbs. I was selected as an alternate for Hillary.

The Bernie Sanders caucusgoers were by far the hardest for me to keep on task. I can easily imagine that in Seattle they would have continually interrupted and disrespected, with many fewer Hillary caucusgoers. I am sure the result was that some, perhaps many, left early and Hillary fell below viability in many caucuslets there, depressing her performance. This was certainly my experience at the next level caucus.

The next level caucus was again on a Saturday in a school one town over, and was explicitly scheduled for 3 hours starting at 1 pm. The state party had rented the gym until 5 p.m., which was the first snafu. Although only 3 of us came from my caucuslet, many Seattle caucuslets were represented by 6 (i.e., all delegates and alternates). There were chairs for delegates in the room and alternates were supposed to wait in the hallway, but the state party representatives were soon overwhelmed.

There were multiple rounds of reseating as alternates were given the seats of missing delegates. Although only 3 of us came from my caucuslet, I was not seated on the first reseating because the Washington State party had complex rules about balancing gender and ethnicity. Alternates were supposed to wait in a hallway for prized yellow tickets to grant them seats, but the Sanders organization had a guy with a bullhorn in the room directing his supporters on how to pack the chairs.

The large number of Sanders alternates and the guy with a bullhorn slowed down the rounds of reseating. As it became clear that the caucus would run past 4 p.m. and then past 5 p.m. numerous Hillary delegates began to leave, since they skewed older and had hard deadlines like picking children up from the babysitter. Thus I did ultimately get a seat, but after each reseating the caucus skewed increasingly for Bernie, not because delegates were being persuaded but because Hillary delegates were being replaced by Bernie alternates.

Ultimately, the school janitors evicted us into the school playground where we once again assembled into arbitrary caucuslets of about two dozen previously seated delegates each. Again, our primary task was to choose delegates and alternates to the next level. I was again a candidate but was not selected by my small caucuslet which like most skewed heavily for Bernie.

Based on my experience, I am not surprised that Hillary only got 27% of the 2016 Washington State delegates while winning 52% of the vote in the non-binding state primary held a few weeks later. I expect that Sanders and Buttigieg, the most ruthless candidates in the race, will continue to dominate the caucus states, possibly joined by Bloomberg. For what it's worth, I find laughable Sanders' indignation at Buttigieg's early victory declaration in Iowa. E.C.R., Helsinki, Finland

Note: We weren't sure whether to put this in the "Defending Iowa" letters or the "Sanders Detractors" letters.

Some Big Picture Observations

V & Z: The Blue Team is going to panic over the next few months over some bad heads-up polling data that's going to look more than a little discouraging. In 2012, Mitt Romney was in his weakest position during the heat of primary season against Barack Obama. It 2016, Hillary Clinton was in her strongest position against Donald Trump in the polls after Super Tuesday gave her a virtually insurmountable lead and while the Republican primary was very much in doubt.

A fractured party, where the nominees are under continuous attack on both flanks, is inevitably going to do at least some temporary damage in a heads-up trial against the unified party. It's hard to argue that it's been anything less than a terrible week for Democrats, but we're still in the first inning. P.S., Marion, IA

V & Z: I would be grateful if you could retire the term "electability." It's meaningless, and in terms of the purpose of a primary, the idea is to choose the candidate that is most popular among the party electorate. You are "electable" if people vote for you, by definition. The only bars to being elected are the rules of qualification (age and citizenship in the case of the president) and being alive—and even the latter isn't always the case.

When we say "electable," what people really seem to mean is "someone I think other people might vote for" or, in a more shorthanded way, "white men" (at least until Obama was elected). I should add that a black candidate was considered unelectable not so long ago; it was a common argument deployed against Jesse Jackson when he ran. He won 11 primary contests in 1988. J.E., New York, NY

ERA May Be "Ripe," After All

V & Z: I write to comment on G.W.'s comment regarding the ripeness of the ERA case. It's true that courts can only hear actual controversies. This is to ensure the parties have something at stake, so there is robust advocacy and the court is not merely issuing an advisory opinion. But I believe the framing of the controversy here is incorrect. It is not about whether the ERA would prohibit some behavior that is currently allowed by anti-discrimination laws. That was a question for the those voting on it. In fact, one of the main arguments against ratification was that the ERA is unnecessary because it would not offer any more protections than current federal statutes.

Instead, the issue before the court is a procedural one concerning the process of ratification more generally. Can a state rescind its vote once it's been given? Can Congress set an expiration date for ratification? These questions are indeed ripe for adjudication as we have states seeking to rescind their vote to ratify the ERA and others seeking to enforce the Congressional expiration date. A.R., Los Angeles, CA

Some Found Last Week's Israel Letters to Be Meshuga

V & Z: J.K. from Short Hills, NJ, in last week's mailbag, seemed very confident that Jews "are indeed turning Republican" because they really identify with Israel and are very happy with Donald Trump's policies toward Israel. I suspect you know this and were just giving J.K. an opportunity to air an alternative view, but the best available data does not support—does not come close to supporting—this view. The most recent available national election data is the 2018 midterms. If Trump was indeed moving Jews toward the Republican cause, we would expect to see an increase in the Jewish vote for Republicans between the 2014 midterms and the 2018 midterms. Except we don't. In 2014 (according to the Pew Research Center), 66% of Jewish voters voted for Democratic candidates. In 2018, having observed Donald Trump's policies toward Israel for two years, 79% of Jewish voters voted for Democratic candidates. This is, in fact, the largest jump among any religious affiliation.

I have no doubt that J.K. knows some Jews whose identification with Israel (and possibly other things, like their age and their views on things like immigration for instance) have led them to be supportive of Donald Trump. At the same time, a disproportionate share of the highly visible NeverTrump commentariat is made up of disaffected Republican Jews (Jennifer Rubin, Max Boot, Bret Stephens, the late Charles Krauthammer, David Brooks). For every Jew whose mind was changed by the movement of the embassy to Jerusalem, at least one other one's mind was changed in the opposite direction by "there were good people on both sides" (or any of a thousand other things that have nothing to do with what he has done for or against Jews, specifically). Bottom line—there is no evidence of a net move among Jewish voters toward the Republicans, and some decent evidence that the opposite is taking place. S.K., Bethesda, MD

V & Z: I was disappointed by your lack of response to J.R. from Pittsburgh, PA, who objected to "calling Israel a colonial project." The project to create a Jewish state in the Middle East by bringing in Jews from other parts of the world is called Zionism, and it was founded in the late 19th century by Theodor Herzl, who himself called Zionism a colonial project. Zionism is a form of colonialism known as "settler colonialism," under which the primary aim is not to exploit the existing inhabitants and take their resources, but to displace them. To Americans, the most obvious example of a settler-colonial society is the United States of America itself.

In your initial item about Donald Trump's "Peace Plan," you wrote that: "If you are able to discern the substantive difference between this approach and, say, the African colonialism of the late 19th century by the European powers, then you are a cleverer historian than (Z)." The European powers in the late 19th century were dividing up the continent of Africa among themselves, without consulting the people who lived there; by contrast, the Trump "peace plan" for Israel and Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories is the product of Israelis working closely with a group of Americans who are full supporters of the Israelis (or more specifically, Jewish Israelis) in every single dispute that they have with Palestinians. So that's a substantive difference from European colonialism in Africa. To an American historian, an analogy that should come to mind more readily is the approach taken by European settlers in North America to the indigenous population of the continent who, over the centuries, were pushed off into smaller and smaller areas, and had various commitments to them broken, until what they have left is limited jurisdiction in scattered tribal reservations. And that is what the "peace plan" envisages for the Palestinians, with the major difference that Palestinians living in those reservations would remain confined to them and would still not be offered citizenship in the country whose government would still have the most power over their lives. P.M., Albany, CA

V & Z: You've been properly critical of the traditional media's tendency towards false equivalency. Now you've made the same mistake by including the comments of J.K. of Short Hills, NJ and J.R. of Pittsburgh, PA. They are chock full of long-touted lies and extremely biased and false characterizations. Ironically, the first one is itself anti-semitic: "[Alan Dershowitz'] Jewish identity defines him in many ways. He is therefore a big supporter of Israel..."

Good heavens. Them's fightin' words. If anyone said that to me to my face, I'd say rational discourse is over, where's the nearest baseball bat?

As for Mondoweiss, I never heard of it but made a point to find it and scour it for anti-semitism. Couldn't find any after reading a dozen articles or so, deliberately trying to choose headlines that might be most likely to contain something antisemitic. Sure, totally anti-Zionist. But unless you equate that with anti-semitism, there's nothing there. You should not have removed its link and you should not automatically not link to articles there. D.A., Brooklyn, NY

Hopefully You're Wrong, But...

V & Z: Today you published two items, one mostly about the Trump administration's recent easing of the restrictions on the US armed forces' use of land mines, and the other on its difficulties with building effective walls/fences on the southern border. You connected these articles under the context of "things Trump won't mention in the State of the Union address." I connected these events under a somewhat more sinister context. Perhaps I'm thinking too conspiratorially here, and perhaps I've come to view the current administration as villains more than is really justified, but it would not surprise me if Trump announces, sometime during the upcoming campaign, that the "border crisis" meets the newly-lowered criteria needed to authorize the use of mines. S.K., Sunnyvale, CA

I Like Mike?

V & Z: Looking at Michael Bloomberg's TV spots, most don't say much about his own qualifications, or why he'd be better than Bernie Sanders or wiser than Elizabeth Warren, they just blast Donald Trump for being...well, Donald Trump. That's okay for a general election, but really doesn't gain one a whole lot of traction during the primaries. In 1992, Bill Clinton defeated incumbent George H. W. Bush partly because of the efforts of one H. Ross Perot (another non-altitudinous billionaire), who concluded that there was no point in attacking Clinton to come in second, and so went after Bush, who was leading in the polls at the time. Mr. Bloomberg appears to be trying to defeat Trump much more than he's trying to claim the Oval Office for himself, and the wise Democratic candidate will allow him to do so while remaining above the fray, at least for now. S.P., Wheaton, IL

Note: This was true of the first wave of ads, but the more recent wave seems to be much more focused. In particular, Bloomberg has an ad in heavy rotation right now that talks about his environmental record, Trump's lack thereof, and the things that he (Bloomberg) would do, environment-wise, if elected to the presidency. Also keep in mind that this is not Bloomberg's first rodeo. He knows he is a longshot and is determined to defeat Trump, even if he isn't the nominee, so he is quite careful about not saying things about other Democrats that could end up in Trump's ads later.

V & Z: Regarding Trump, Michelle Obama and Bloomberg, you can go much, much higher than Trump and still be below the belt. In fact I think you can go much higher than Trump and still be in the gutter. C.S. Newport, South Wales, UK

V & Z: This week's postmortems of the Iowa fiasco have featured much moaning by Democrats and gloating by Trumpists. A particular sore point for Democrats has been the relatively lackluster turnout. Have Democrats become disengaged and unenthusiastic? Will too few turn out on election day to prevail? Ironically, the apparently disappointing turnout level may be providing a very different, and potentially useful, dose of reality. Fact 1: Most Democrats will vote for any nominee who can beat Trump. Fact 2: Most Democrats are just not very impressed by any of the candidates on the ballot in Iowa or New Hampshire. Result: Why bother to schlep out to a high-school gym on a frigid night in February? Let's be honest, we are desperate for a savior, and we won't be too fussy about a few perceived imperfections. They can't possibly compare with those of the incumbent, can they? The day before the Iowa meltdown, I attended a gathering with a dozen fellow Democrats I hardly knew in Cary, NC. When we went around the room to indicate who we thought could beat Trump, I was shocked. Every one of us mentioned MB (no, not Michael Bennet). If Mayor Mike can somehow manage to atone sincerely and convincingly for stop-and-frisk, he will make the strongest candidate by far. For the sake of Planet Earth, I hope he can. H.W., Cary, NC

Underwhelmed by the SOTU, and the Response

V & Z: Am I the only one feeling trapped in this surreal slow moving train wreck of a presidency?

After the State of the Union I was thinking, finally, an opportunity to highlight Trump's inability to tell the truth! After dozens and dozens of easily disproved lies and taking credit for many of Obama's accomplishments, we now had a high-profile opportunity to show how full of BS Trump is and his lack of actual accomplishments.

I expected the Democratic response, Nancy Pelosi and the leadership, and fair-minded journalists to stand on their soapboxes and run down the laundry list of lies and half-truths. And instead we got...nothing. No press conference. A Democratic response that was an embarrassment, with not even a passing reference to the dangers of Trump. All CNN could talk about was the shade from Nancy's tear-the-speech-gate with no explanation from anyone on why she felt the need to do just that. Even you didn't mention his lies. The average voter left thinking Trump is the best President ever, who has accomplished more than any other, and Nancy Pelosi is a petulant child. It's what I would think if I didn't know better.

Part of Trump's act is that's he's just a real person calling out BS on out-of-touch Democrats and media. We are going to lose this election if Democrats can't get their heads out of their asses and start calling him out on it! Instead, his State of the Union goes unchallenged.

And please stop telling us what a brilliant strategist Nancy Pelosi is. She's not.

First, she was MIA for two years before spending almost a year indecisively handwringing over impeachment. She's been an out-of-touch enabler who lets Trump get away with over 15,000 lies while he's in bed with Russia and running roughshod over our Constitution. He gets away with the corruption, crimes, nepotism, incompetence, not to mention dismantling the State Department, EPA, and relationships with our allies because nobody in the Democratic leadership has stood up to this insanity and said, "Enough!"

We all then act surprised when Republicans don't suddenly do the right thing and put country and democracy over party and power. Why should they? It's been mostly business as usual from the Democratic leadership for the past three years. Where's our opposition leader who's wiling to fight back and call out BS like the real person frightened Americans like me are waiting for? S.S., West Hollywood, CA

At Least That Item Gave Some Folks a Peaceful, Easy Feeling

V & Z: Damn, you're good! I only caught four of the seven Eagles titles. I'm assuming "Life's Been Good" doesn't count here, for obvious reasons. M.M., Los Angeles, CA

You're right, "Life's Been Good" does not count, because it is a solo song and because the song title did not appear in its proper order. In order of appearance, the seven Eagles songs were: "Lyin' Eyes," "Do Something," "Take it to the Limit," "Guilty of the Crime," "Already Gone," "Get Over It," and "Hotel California."

V & Z: As a last resort, Joe Walsh could try to run in a different district as the new kid in town, but given the state of the Republican party, it would probably be wasted time, so he might as well just take it easy. B.P., Salt Lake City, UT

V & Z: I think I saw Joe standing on a corner in Winslow, AZ. B.H. Frankfort, IL

V & Z: Quite clever you two; but when it comes to The Eagles, I'm with "the Dude". B.R.J. San Diego, CA

Note: Corollary to the "Murray Rule": There are very few situations that cannot be better understood by applying the lessons of "The Big Lebowski."

If you have a question about politics, civics, history, etc. you would like us to answer on the site, please send it to, and include your initials and city of residence. If you have a comment about the site or one of the items therein, please send it to and include your initials and city of residence in case we decide to publish it. If you spot any typos or other errors on the site that we should fix, please let us know at
Email a link to a friend or share:

---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb08 The Reaping Has Begun
Feb08 Friday Night Lights
Feb08 Life Hasn't Been Good for Walsh
Feb08 Saturday Q&A
Feb07 Final Iowa Results Are In...Kinda
Feb07 In Spiking Poll, Selzer Made a Wise Decision...and a Mistake
Feb07 If You're A Presidential Candidate, Don't Believe Your Hype
Feb07 Sanders, Buttigieg Polling Well in New Hampshire
Feb07 Warren Gets Unhappy News in Nevada
Feb07 Democrats Debate Tonight
Feb07 Trump Commences Victory Lap
Feb06 Senate Acquits Trump
Feb06 Nadler: House Likely to Subpoena Bolton
Feb06 Will Anyone Ever Honor a Congressional Subpoena Again?
Feb06 Iowa Results Are Still Dribbling In
Feb06 Pelosi Dumps on Trump in a Private Meeting after SOTU
Feb06 Sanders Leads in New Hampshire Poll
Feb06 New Hampshire Becomes Even More Crucial Now
Feb06 Biden Still Hasn't Addressed His Son's Job at Burisma
Feb06 Cummings' Widow Loses House Primary
Feb05 The Results Are In...Mostly
Feb05 So, What Happened in Iowa, Exactly?
Feb05 Did the Iowa Results Contain Secret Bad News for the Democrats?
Feb05 Trump Delivers State of the Union
Feb05 Impeachment Acquittal Right on Pace
Feb05 Trump Gets Highest Ever Approval from Gallup
Feb05 Most Farmers Are Sticking with Trump
Feb04 And the Winner of the Iowa Caucuses Is...???
Feb04 Don't Forget, There's Also an Impeachment Trial Going On...
Feb04 State of the Union Address Is Tonight
Feb04 This Probably Won't Make the SOTU...
Feb04 ...Or This, for That Matter
Feb04 Bloomberg Gets in the Gutter with Trump
Feb04 Rush Limbaugh Has Lung Cancer
Feb03 Finally the Voters Get Their Say
Feb03 Should Iowa and New Hampshire Go First?
Feb03 Can the Caucuses Be Hacked?
Feb03 Ann Selzer's Poll Will Not Be Released
Feb03 Poll: All the Leading Democrats Could Beat Trump
Feb03 Biden Wins Endorsement from Union That Backed Sanders in 2016
Feb03 DNC Changes the Admission Requirements for February Debate
Feb03 Vote on Trump's Conviction is Expected Wednesday
Feb03 Ernst Says President Biden Would Be Impeached Immediately
Feb03 Schiff Won't Say Whether He Will Subpoena Bolton
Feb02 Drip, Drip, Drip...
Feb02 Sunday Mailbag
Feb01 Party First (and Second, and Third...)
Feb01 Delaney Is Out
Feb01 The UK Is Out, Too
Feb01 Saturday Q&A