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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

It was a busy week this week.

Legal Matters

P.S. in Marion, IA, writes: I was in total agreement with your assessment of the cases involving Trump's tax returns. If we saw everything today, it wouldn't make one bit of difference politically. 40ish percent of the country would be silent for a couple days until the propaganda machine figured out a one-liner narrative to explain it all away, and then the base will just repeat that verbatim.

I believe the case of much greater consequence is that half the state of Oklahoma is now 5 separate areas of jurisdiction of 5 Indian tribes in McGirt v. Oklahoma. Indian tribes have almost always had little success on these types of issues when they reach the SCOTUS. This could set the precedent for a number of showdowns over land disputes in the years to come, not the least of which is the Sioux claims to the Black Hills.

And for the record, awkward as it may seem in today's environment, "Indian" is indeed the most widely accepted term when referring to the reservations, and those who live on them, in the continental United States. Perhaps not universally, but nearly so.

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Now that the Supreme Court has pretty much cleared the way, I hope New York DA Cy Vance will be able to indict Trump for something tax related.

I hope this for 2 reasons. Not only is there likely crime(s) being committed, this would help offset a near certain indictment coming from that corrupt SOB, bastard, and stooge enabler Bill Barr. He'll indict Joe Biden for kidnapping Lindbergh's baby or being the one responsible for downing Amellia Earhart's plane, or hiding DB Cooper after he jumped from that Northwest Flight in 1971. If Barr does make an indictment that is so beyond the pale, I would hope the entire DOJ would walk out. People have to take a stand at some point; enablers are the reason Trump continues to collect $200 and always has a get out of jail free card.

V & Z respond: Where exactly was Biden on July 30, 1975, when Jimmy Hoffa disappeared?

J.D. in Manila, Philippines, writes: You write that Clarence Thomas' dissent argued that the President's time should not be impinged upon by things like a criminal investigation. Why, then, did the dissent not also include a recommendation that the cables to White House televisions be cut, as TV-watching expends most presidential time? The dissent should also have included a suggestion that the President's SIM card be locked up during working hours (the definition of which, for this administration, is comical), so as to preclude tweets, when the rest of the government operates. Thomas clearly belongs to the "Shoot 'em on 5th Avenue" school of jurisprudence. It's a shame that Anita Hill's wardrobe did not include a shoe from the Rosa Klebb collection.

C.T.P. in Lancaster, PA, writes: Concerning the question of F.F., in Berkeley, CA, I did a Google search, and found out the chief justice makes $11,700.00 more than the associate justices. Therefore, a change in position would require okay from the payment division of the U.S. government. Whoever has the power to authorize the salary change, therefore, is the one who really decides who the chief justice is. Always follow the money.

J.L. in Chicago, IL, writes: On the subject of whether "chief justice" is a distinct job from "associate justice," three associate justices have been promoted to chief justice, most recently William Rehnquist. All were reconfirmed by the Senate for the new position, which seems to suggest a distinct job.

They were, of course, also nominated by the president for chief justice, although I suppose one could squint hard and see that as merely a recommendation that is done by tradition but not required by law or the Constitution. It seems harder to see going through the Senate confirmation process if not legally required, though.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: You wrote: "What they [the Supreme Court] actually did was tell Florida that their recount technique was not kosher, that there was not time to implement a new technique, and so the state was stuck with its initial result, which was a narrow Bush win."

What five of them really did was decide that "If we rule this way, Al Gore will not become President." As many others have noted, there is no possibility those five would have ruled that way if the identities of the litigants had been reversed.

V & Z respond: That is indeed the ultimate result of a highly activist judicial decision. Our point was merely that the courts cannot change the outcome of an election by fiat. They have to have some basis for doing so. Florida, due to its inability to run a proper election, gave them that basis.

D.R. in Omaha, NE, writes: B.B. from Richmond, VA wrote: "... what's to stop Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from simply holding onto control by adding 10 blatantly partisan Supreme Court justices..."

Although said clickbait is very easy to refute (refudiate?), for countless reasons, one big reason is that Congress as a whole sets the number of Supreme Court justices, not the Senate. Therefore, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) & Co. in the House would be able to stop this scheme, as well as the Democrats in the Senate, assuming the filibuster is still intact.

V & Z respond: You are entirely correct. It would take an update of the Judiciary Act, which would have to pass both houses.

W.V. in Andover, MN, writes: Professor Heather Cox Richardson suggested on Saturday that the President's self-interested choice of a sentencing commutation has a significant legal difference for Roger Stone vs. a pardon: "It is interesting that Trump did not pardon Stone, but rather commuted his sentence. A presidential pardon takes away a person's right to stay silent in court under the right established by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution not to self-incriminate. It does so because there is no need to worry about conviction: you've been pardoned. A commutation does not take away that right, so Stone now cannot be compelled to testify."

V & Z respond: She's right. The initial analysis we read was incorrect on this point, such that we actually went back and rewrote our item on the commutation. The piece we originally relied on must have been written by a USC Law grad.

2020 Election

E.D. in Tempe, AZ, writes: The photo of Joe Biden's basement that you shared on Saturday was interesting because it shows the extents to which a campaign will go (understandably) to curate their image and message. To wit:

  • Biden's desk is raised up by placing it on a couple of Pelican Cases.
  • Biden himself is sitting on a bar-height stool.
  • But this wasn't quite high enough for the desk, so the stool is sitting on a folded plastic table.
  • The small table with lamp behind Biden is raised to get it in frame by putting it on top of another shipping case.

But why raise any of it at all? The cameras and lights are height-adjustable, and surely the candidate would be more comfortable in a normal-height chair with his feet on the floor, right?

I suspect it's all been done because of the one feature in the shot which can't be lowered: the built in bookcases. And if that's the case, then I think we can be certain that everything else in the frame is carefully curated (naturally), from the photos on the wall and table, to the books on the shelves, to the very furniture that Biden is using.

I just thought it was fun noticing all of that.

M.M. in Sheffield, Yorkshire, UK, writes: Reading The New York Times over my morning tea, I happened across this article, headlined "Georgia. Ohio. Texas. Democrats Tell Biden To Go Big (He's Being Cautious)."

The crux of the article is that a push in states like Ohio or Texas could yield massive returns and possibly lead to a long-term realignment. I am skeptical of such predictions, as extrapolation is always a difficult game. For instance, I recall Karl Rove's prediction in 2001 that George W. Bush would "usher in a permanent Republican majority."

Even so, there is an argument for a short-term "high-risk/high-reward" strategy this year in places like Georgia, which (as you know) has two Senate seats up for election in November. However, Joe Biden's campaign recalls similar excitement for a landslide in 2016, when Clinton spent more time, effort, and money on Arizona and Georgia than she did on Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. We all know how that turned out.

The article notes that, at present, Biden is airing TV ads in just six states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, North Carolina, and Florida. I presume that these decisions are based on money; although Biden is outpacing Trump at taking in cash, it appears that he has a significantly smaller "war chest" accumulated.

Reading this article brought back memories from the halcyon days of January, when the Times's headlines included this: "Michael Bloomberg Is Open to Spending $1 Billion to Defeat Trump." The subtitle of the article is: "The Democratic presidential candidate said he would spend big even if the nominee was someone he had sharp differences with, like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren."

Taking a six month jump back to the present, we know that the nominee hails from the centrist wing of the Democratic party. Biden is much closer to Bloomberg on the ideological spectrum than progressives like Sanders or Warren. So where is this big spend from Bloomberg?

At present, all indicators favor a Biden victory in November. However, I once read somewhere that a week in politics is a long time, and there are sixteen of them left until Election Day. Financial support from Bloomberg could make a tremendous difference in expanding Biden's reach and shoring him up against a potential "October Surprise," such as an announcement from Attorney General Bill Barr saying that the Justice Department is opening an investigation into Biden for [insert spurious charge here]. So where is this big spend from Bloomberg?

K.B. in Dallas, TX, writes: In your answer to S.Z. in New Haven, CT, you mentioned the propaganda against Hillary Clinton starting during her time as First Lady. I think it's important to clarify that it actually started when she was First Lady of Arkansas. That might not have been national news at the time, and it did ramp up once she transitioned to First Lady of the United States, but she has had a target on her back since near the beginning of Bill's political career. It's still fair to say gender had a role in this, since she was working policy issues as a woman in the 70s. If you look at the two Clintons she is clearly the better policy wonk and he is clearly the better charmer.

In contrast, Joe Biden has had the benefit of being known as being a nice guy by the GOP. There are even ads built around quotes where Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) talks him up. It makes it really hard to turn him into the boogieman in the same way they turned Hillary in to the boogiewoman. He may not have the charm of Bill, but it's close, as people think of him as "Uncle Joe."

R.M. in Port Matilda, PA, writes: Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) is now questioning Sen. Tammy Duckworth's (D-IL) patriotism. Tucker Carlson has done the same.

The Swiftboating has begun.

V & Z respond: When Saturday Night Live made an inappropriate joke about Crenshaw's war injury, the first member of Congress to come to his defense was...Tammy Duckworth. It would appear that's a one-way street.

P.K. in Grayslake, IL, writes: The Republican National Convention, currently scheduled for Jacksonville, may have to operate at a reduced capacity in August. So here is my prediction (that probably won't come true): The RNC will move again, this time to Trump's property Doral. We know he wanted to host the G7 there, but was eventually talked out of it. If Jacksonville's capacity is reduced by half, to around 7,000 people, why have it in a half-empty arena? Why not have it in a full auditorium? The capacity of the largest ballroom at Doral is 3,500 people. You could host it outdoors, though it is near the Miami Airport, and having jets fly over every minute won't make for good sound. Now, there is a question of how you accommodate the press in such a small space, but they may be able to figure that out. Trump would obviously like this idea. He gets millions of dollars and only the most raucous supporters of his will be there. Ron DeSantis (R) is the governor, and would agree to it. Does the RNC have the willingness to fight this, knowing it is obviously just giving millions of dollars to Trump?

V & Z respond: The airplanes flying over is not an issue, per se, because they are always grounded when a president is nearby. On the other hand, outdoors in hot, humid Florida summer weather is an issue.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: I see one problem with your formula for another win for Trumpism. It's hard to imaging peace guiding the planets and love steering the stars if Trump remains in the White House.

M.W. in Glendale, AZ, writes: In response to last week's comment from S.J.S. in Durham, NC, regarding the Trump campaign's use of theme songs, I think no one would have objection to Trump, or the Republicans in general, using the chorus from Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer": "Lie-lie-lie, lie-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie, lie-lie-lie, lie-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie."

G.C. in South Pasadena, CA, writes: Continuing on the discussion of the mentality of "true Believers" from this past Sunday, I always fall back on The Mythbusters as to how deep a false belief takes root. One of their episodes involved the fact that you could burn some plastic explosives to cook your MREs, but the official Army warning was to not stamp the fire out. The logic here is that plastic explosives explode because of sudden compression, not from fire.

To test this they first showed that yes, you can heat MREs by burning plastic explosives. Then to test the latter, they built a device that would hold a boot up and drop it onto a burning plastic explosive to see if they could cause an explosion. As they raised the height and increased the weight of the boot, nothing they did could cause the detonation-force required. As they walked away from the experiment, Jaime Hyneman said to Adam Savage: "I still don't want to stamp the fire out."

So here you have two guys whose show's entire point was to establish truth through experimentation and science. Yet after absolutely, totally confirming that you cannot initiate an explosion by smashing plastic explosives with a boot, they would not be willing to do it themselves. Thus, what they believed to be true superseded what they knew to be true.

Simply, the power of belief.

C.R., Pelham, AL, writes: You wrote: "[Sen. Doug] Jones' problem is that he is not likely to have any money to advertise."

Jones is advertising pretty aggressively right now, touting his support for racial justice, veterans, and health care—all positive ads. I live in the Birmingham metro and see them regularly on TV and the Internet. During a recent trip to the Gulf Coast, I saw the same ads in the Mobile market. I get the impression Jones is holding his fire and hoping to run against Tuberville, who has a host of legal and ethical issues, including his residency status.

Incidentally, the only Trump ads I saw in the Pensacola metro (same media market as Mobile) hit Joe Biden on China, as if anyone is actually worried about that right now.

R.M. in Pensacola, FL, writes: Because I live in Pensacola, I am in the Mobile, AL, television market. As a result, I have the fortunate opportunity to see a lot of ads for people running for political office in Alabama. The vast majority of the time, it's Republican ads for people who claim to be the biggest supporter of Donald Trump, and how their opponent is not (readers, feel free to find plenty of ads on YouTube. It's worth your time).

However, Doug Jones is taking a far different approach this cycle. As of now, he does not know who he is facing in the general election. But his ads are not like any that I have seen:

He seems to roll out an ad similar to this about once a week. I wonder that if he continues to take this approach through Election Day, he might make the election far closer than what would normally be expected. Perhaps his coattails might make Joe Biden more competitive in the state than should be expected and maybe force Donald Trump to expend a bit of cash and time in a state that Republicans take for granted.

If Trump has to expend significant resources in Alabama come October, there is zero chance he wins the election in November.

P.D. in Cambridge, UK, writes: I think you missed something about the Alaska polling you had on Friday. As well as the presidential and Senate races, PPP also polled the at-large House race between Independent/Democrat Alyse Galvin and Republican incumbent Don Young. In that race, Galvin was ahead by 2 points (43%-41%).

Biden might struggle in Alaska, given that he's got a 36-53 favorable/unfavorable rating with only 11% undecided, but both the House and Senate races are still wide open. In the Senate race, GOP incumbent Dan Sullivan has a 35/37 favorable/unfavorable split but his likely opponent Al Gross is at 15/14, with a huge 72% not having an opinion. That suggests there's a lot of room for the campaign to pick up a lot of voters. In the House race, Galvin is 30/22 with 48% having no opinion, so again there's a lot of potential voters to gain.

Given how cheap it is to advertise in Alaska, I'd guess the TV stations in the three media markets there are going to be getting quite a few calls from both parties.

R.R. in Pasadena, CA, writes: When discussing Politico's article about the things that might go wrong in the election, you wrote: "On the positive side (for us), it is unlikely that some day in the fall we will have just one headline, with the text: 'There was no news yesterday. Please come back tomorrow.'"

For some reason, I find it hard to believe that after the past four years you wouldn't feel some amount of relief if you got just one day off from all the craziness caused by the current administration. I could be wrong, maybe you really are gluttons for punishment!

Speaking of that entry, you really didn't go into some of the more crazy things that might happen. A Trump rally that turns into a riot, or that leads to a huge number of deaths in the following weeks? A QAnon rumor that sets off the white supremacists who attack a BLM protest? AG Bill Barr interfering with an investigation of foreign interference at the request of the Trump campaign? White supremacists and/or the Republican party blocking voters of color on Election Day? I'm not even stretching here, all of these things are non-trivial possibilities in the next four months.

V & Z respond: When it comes to being gluttons for punishment, the fact that we've had posts on more than 99% of the days Donald Trump has been president would appear to answer that question.

P.B. in Gainesville, FL, writes: On the list of potential disasters, you mentioned earthquakes and tsunamis, among others. Having personally been to La Palma and looked down from the top of this most impressive precipice, I've always thought this item from Geophysical Research Letters to be one of the most chilling possibilities out there, for the entire east coast of North America.


G.A. in Berkeley, CA, writes: It's "The Tragical History of Dr. Fauci." Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the world's leading experts on infectious diseases, has directed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, has worked on public health issues for 50 years, and has advised every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and many other professional organizations, and has written, contributed to, or edited over 1,000 scientific publications, including textbooks.

Here is his reward from President Trump and others: Due to his differences of opinion with the President and remarks by right-wing commentators, Fauci has received death threats and has needed to increase his personal security. Trump "retweeted" "#FireFauci," a phrase chanted at some anti-lockdown protests. Apparently based on his own expertise, Trump has publicly criticized Dr. Fauci ("he's made a lot of mistakes"), and months ago ceased to consult with him regarding the pandemic. The White House has denied Fauci permission to appear on some television networks, in part because of his "candor," according to an administration official. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) has said that he doesn't need Fauci's advice, and that Fauci has been "wrong every time on every issue."

K.C. in Levittown, NY, writes: As a teacher, I'm fairly confident that extreme measures will have to be taken to ensure social distancing occurs during the school day. Overcrowded halls and overcrowded classrooms are—or at least were—a common theme. So I had to laugh a bit when I read that the President wants to open up schools and was also displeased with the CDC guidelines for re-opening, citing the high cost as the chief issue.

Are we going to just re-open with business as usual? I ask because it seems to me that there is no affordable solution. In one scenario, let's suppose that there's a teacher who is the only one in that school for a certain subject. Some students, naturally, return to school and would be learning in a hybrid model (say, two days in school and three days remotely). However, other students are opting for full time remote learning. From my vantage point, this results in the school having two options: either: (1) hire a teacher who will work strictly with the remote students and have another teacher work with the hybrid students or (2) have the one teacher work with all the students, though they would have to effectively do three additional days of work to accommodate the "remote only" students. You'd be hard pressed to find a teacher willing to do the extra work for no extra pay, especially in the current climate. In either case, more money needs to be spent on faculty, but the inevitable budget cuts will make that impossible.

In fact, I don't see a single scenario where there won't be a need for more teachers and more facilities. Whether it's having students and teachers come in on a staggered schedule or having some remote only and others hybrid, the student-to-teacher ratio is going to plummet and someone has to teach the kids. And that's before taking into account all the other expenses, like the constant deep cleans, providing masks and sanitizer to everyone, etc. If the president wants to get everyone back to school, copious amounts of money will have to be spent. Perhaps he could get back the money from the PPP loan which was issued to Kanye West and use it for the schools, but something tells me that's not part of his grand plan.

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: Congratulations! You managed to find a third motivation for the bizarre policy regarding student visas and online classes. I already had figured out that this policy was a nice way to poke a stick in the eyes of: (1) immigrants (thereby exciting the anti-immigrant base), and (2) states that (through their state universities, for example) insist on recognizing the reality of COVID-19. But it had not occurred to me, somehow, that it also is a stick in the eye of (3) universities, and by extension education and expertise. Amazing how many birds this benighted administration can kill with one stone.

R.H. in Seattle, WA, writes: I think Donald Trump wearing a mask to Walter Reed on Saturday is a "one time only" deal and the it's a safe bet that Trump's people were told in no uncertain terms by Walter Reed personnel that it's "wear the mask or you don't come in." As you have noted before on other matters, even if this is the start of Trump 2.0 in handling the COVID-19 situation, it won't be long before we see Trump 1.0 again.

B.K.J. in San Diego, CA, writes: A masked Trump's trek to see recovering vets while masked would also seem to be little more than this month's version of the St. John's Bible-holding photo: A photo opp geared toward showing a compassionless person appearing to be concerned, this time with recuperating vets (and not a church) in the background. As a man of the links, there's little doubt he's availed himself of plenty of mulligans over the years.

V & Z respond: Yeah, he probably always takes a mulligan after a bad lay. Someone should check with Stormy Daniels to confirm that.

About Polling

J.T.B. in Brookline, MA, writes: In response to P.S.'s question yesterday about poll confidence, I've always thought that categorically disbelieving polls is sort of like categorically disbelieving your local TV meteorologist. They both deal in the future-telling business, and therefore always have to factor in some uncertainty, but they also both use tested scientific methods that almost always arrive at the correct result.

Sure, there are occasionally some highly volatile high-profile events—hurricanes, blizzards, presidential elections—in which a small wiggle in one direction or the other means the difference between escape or disaster. But nobody I know gets geared up in their winter coat and boots when the meteorologist says it's going to be 72 degrees and sunny. Because when they say that, it almost always turns out to be about 72 degrees and sunny.

W.F. in Orlando, FL, writes: I've heard informally over the years that there's something special about a poll when one candidate reaches the 50% threshold. Under this line of thinking, hitting or exceeding the 50% mark means that a majority of those surveyed have moved out of the undecided column and have made a commitment to a single candidate. Once this decision is made, the committed would-be voter is unlikely to change their mind. Because of this, it's argued that a 51-46 five-point lead is greatly preferred over a 46-36 ten-point lead because the remaining uncommitted voters are still more persuadable than a voter who has committed to particular candidate.

Using your Data Galore, I'm very surprised to see how well the above theory held up in 2016. Hillary Clinton almost never reached the 50% milestone in the states that turned out to be "upsets" on Election Day. Four days before the 2016 election, your polling averages for Michigan (45-40), Pennsylvania (48-42), Wisconsin (46-41), and Florida (47-45) all showed her leading, but never at the magical 50% figure. It turned out that Clinton's share of the vote almost exactly matched the "committed" number in your polling averages (tallying 47%, 48%, 46% and 48%, respectively). It's amazing that her team didn't bother to campaign in Michigan and Wisconsin despite this apparently tepid support, particularly when she was the better-known candidate at the time. In the end, basically all of the voters not committed to her broke for Donald Trump or a third party candidate.

As it stands today, Biden has reached the "magic" number in Michigan (50-44) and Pennsylvania (50-40), and is very close in Wisconsin (48-39) and Florida (49-40). This has to be good news, despite the fact that we're months away from the election.

V & Z respond: You actually submitted this as a question, but we thought it worked better as a comment, because we don't have much to add. Looks like solid analysis to us.

Kind of Blue

S.A. in Clinton, WA, writes: Regarding the travel question from T.W. in Norfolk, as a fellow map lover I would be remiss not to point out it certainly is possible to plot a route from the Pacific to the Atlantic without setting foot (or wheel) in a "red" state. You must simply exit Washington to the North and follow the Trans-Canada Highway to Winnipeg and then drop down into Minnesota to continue your blue state trek to the Atlantic.

R.C. in Madison, WI, writes: You responded to the query from T.W., who asked if Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri or Tennessee would flip blue so that one could drive from Pacific to Atlantic without passing through a red state. The path through Missouri is partly blocked by Indiana, unfortunately. One could continue through Illinois to Milwaukee, and then ferry across Lake Michigan to Muskegon, if boats are an allowed mode of travel. But if the route is limited to roads and bridges, one could drive north through Wisconsin to the upper peninsula of Michigan, cross the Mackinac Bridge and travel back south to Ohio. The trip from St. Louis to Cleveland would be 1183 miles, compared to 560 miles if you drove through Indiana.

Of course, T.W. is also assuming that Joe Biden wins Ohio. If he doesn't, then since you've gone all the way north to the Mackinac Bridge, you might as well cross through Ontario to get to New York. In fact, if you want to drive from Pacific to Atlantic without crossing a red state, why not just cross into Canada from Washington (State) and stay north of the border until Niagara Falls? Or, if boats are allowed, sail south and then through the Panama Canal?

C.R. in Kansas City, MO, writes: I'm a bit of a map geek, too. The most encouraging thing about the potential flip of Arizona and Georgia is that they allow a complete linkage of the eastern and western blocs of blue states (assuming Florida returns to the fold). Regaining Ohio makes the eastern and Midwestern blocs contiguous, as well. But this line of inquiry demonstrates the near impossibility of ever uniting the two halves. On the national road trip, you might be able to follow the "Black Belt" east to the Mississippi Delta, but you'd have to take a ferry to South Texas to continue your journey.

We really are becoming three separate countries, where only two have any real natural affinity, while the "flyover country" is the third. But If there ever is a linkage, I think it will come through the South, which has much more Democratic-friendly demographic change than the Great Plains:

The map shows county-level
voting data, and there are considerably more counties in the South moving in the direction of the Democrats than in
the Midwest or the Great Plains

Religious Matters

J.C. in Dallas TX, writes: My super-Catholic, very religious parents are still digging in their heels on voting for Trump again. However, I think there may be an opportunity to breach their cognitive dissonance from a purely religious reasoning, e.g. "Jesus said this, but Trump does that." I'm looking for resources on what Jesus would have to say about Trump, anything from a how-to guide to an article, but haven't been able to find anything so far.

Failing that, I'd like to be connected with white evangelicals who aren't supporting Trump, like D.R. from Anaktuvuk Pass, AK, who can give me pointers in the right language so that I can chip away at what they say, or at least get localized Klepper-esque schadenfreude at hearing them say the fallacies out loud.

They are probably never going to vote for Joe Biden because of abortion, but I think I have a shot of convincing them to leave the presidential section blank.

My parents doomed our future holiday get-togethers by teaching me to read as a child. The more I read, the more understanding and empathy I gained. It's still true today; the more I read, the more understanding and empathy I gain.

V & Z respond: Note that it is just a coincidence that this letter writer's initials are J.C.; the writer's parents are not Joseph and Mary. In any event, we will certainly run responses to this inquiry next week, if we get them.

D.K. in Chicago, IL, writes: Regarding the item "Eighty percent of Evangelicals Will Vote for Trump", there are two things to consider. First, in the Old Testament, in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23, it was the pagan Persian king Cyrus who ended the Jewish captivity in Babylon. Second, regarding Biden being an observant Catholic, many Catholics view Biden as a "CINO" (Catholic in name only) who supports anti-Catholic stances. He recently reversed his support of the Hyde amendment and actually officiated at a same-sex marriage ceremony, two major "no-no"s for practicing Catholics.

So, Christians of various denominations may view Trump as a protector of their religious freedoms, even if he may not be on the same level of Christianity as they are.

V & Z respond: We would suggest that you are sustaining our general argument that when people want to find Biblical support for a political position, they somehow always manage to do so.

B.C. in Manhattan Beach, CA, writes: R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, observed that "the problem with believing in supernatural beings—it is impossible to know for sure what they want so they can be used as a justification for anything the believer wants."

On the contrary, the challenge is that people who believe in God claim to know exactly what God wants. To the effect, I had a professor in college who observed that nothing ends a conversation faster than someone saying, "God told me ___________." There really are no good responses. Can't say, "God lied to you" (God never lies). Can't say, "Well, I spoke to God and he told me the opposite" (God is never inconsistent). Can't say, "God told me that you're an idiot and will believe anything He tells you" (God doesn't deceive his followers). About the only option is, "Perhaps you were mistaken, and the voice you heard was not God but was the Devil deceiving you" (but even that response is highly unlikely to be effective).

More to the point, it is fascinating how often messages from God seem to be remarkably consistent with what the person addressed by God already wants to do.

V & Z respond: Our point exactly.

About "Jim"

J.G.D. in Bellevue, WA, writes: The comment from L.V.A. in Idaho Falls, ID, prompted me to write.

On September 15th, 2019, I tried to kill myself. I have not shared that information with a lot of people and hope initials and living in a large suburb of a big metropolitan area will grant me the anonymity to stay in control of who should know this happened to me and who should not.

While the highly poisonous political landscape in which we live today, and have for quite some time, did not lead me to take such a drastic action, it certainly did not convince me to rethink the decision.

L.V.A.'s comment does not mention any note "Jim" left behind or clues he might have given about his intentions. Without them, no-one can tell what really pushed him to act the way he did.

And no, I do not have a license to practice medicine, let alone psychiatry, and I never studied psychology. From experience however, I can say that a dramatic change in behavior often qualifies as a possible symptom stemming from a more severe mental health issue. Again, your reader's comment does not indicate what Jim did outside of work and away from the television to help in that regard. This means we can only speculate about what drove Jim over the edge. It seems the vitriol coming from the right-wing media might have played a role, feeding the unfortunate imbalance of his mind.

As someone who took that leap and spent time in therapy and with others who travelled down the same path, I can only say that it takes a trigger to start thinking about suicide, to make concrete plans for it and to convince yourself that nothing matters anymore, to let go of hope for better days and give up on life, humanity and everything that comes with it all. I somehow doubt that the insipid pablum constantly spewed by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Back or any of the sycophants at Fox News has that power. It sounds scary to believe it does.

Then again, we might never know for certain what it did to Jim, unless we learn more about his last few moments on Earth.

The road back from such an event, including its failure, takes time, support from people close to you who care, and dedication from patient professionals. The setbacks feel truly frightening and awful. The first one especially leaves you in a state of shock, undoing so much of the progress made up to that point. Talk about a constant struggle.

Today, the days and the road ahead seem brighter and I can look back at the dark clouds from nine months ago worrying less and less about them. I feel truly sorry for Jim and L.V.A. My heart goes out to them. If the stench of our current political and social atmosphere played a role in Jim's decision, this reflects as poorly on all of us as it does the contemptible, loathsome and detestable people who thrive in it. Plenty of blame to go around, sadly.

V & Z respond: We thank you for sharing with us the benefit of your experience, and are very glad to hear you're in a better place.

S.S. in Columbia, SC, writes: L.V.A. in Idaho Falls, ID, tells us a sad story about "Jim." It is common to think of mental health issues as being contained totally within the individual. What we often do not consider is the interactional nature of personality. I have conceived of, and scribbled a few private notes on, something I call "sociatry," that there are "mental illnesses" that operate on a social level. I think Jim suffered from an ideological illness, an axiological disorder, and this was cultivated by Fox, Breitbart, and others. It is sad, though it likely would not hold up in a wrongful death lawsuit. In politics, social and cultural life, and even in religion it seems to me there are beliefs and opinions that lead to illness, even death, and are just plain wrong. Objectively discriminating among them is, of course, very difficult.

Native Representations

D.F. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes: In response to M.S. from Austin, TX, would he be okay with a team named the Nashville N---s if 5% of receipts went to the NAACP? Or the Kentucky K---s if 5% went to the Anti-Defamation League? If not, then I don't think Native Americans should have to endure an equivalent team name like the Washington Redskins.

S.S. in Logan, UT, writes: In response to M.S. in Austin, TX's Sunday letter suggesting that sports teams pay royalties to native tribes in exchange for the use of their name: The University of Utah has had an arrangement similar to this with the Ute tribe since 1972. The agreement, renewable on a five-year basis, requires the university to offer scholarships to Ute students, provide financial support to the tribal education system, and, in the most recent agreement, requires the University to have all freshmen attend a program about the history of the tribe. The university also regularly has Ute dancers perform during football and basketball halftime shows.

When I was a grad student at the University of Colorado at Boulder in the 1990s, the library implemented a new online catalog called Chinook. In the PR advertising about the program, there was a conspicuous footnote stating that the name of the program had been chosen with permission from a Chinook tribe in Oregon, which seemed odd since the name of the online catalog was a reference to the Chinook winds that occur in Boulder during the winter.

Also on the university theme, I must say that I thoroughly enjoy (Z)'s regular jabs at USC, but speaking as a UC Berkeley alum (the original and best school in the UC system), I would caution a UCLA supporter from rising too far above their station, since UCLA wasn't even clever enough to come up with an original team name or school colors, but simple expropriated and watered down Berkeley's team name and colors. Perhaps UCLA should be paying royalties to UC Berkeley.

V & Z respond: You would have no way to know this, of course, but it turns out those colors look much snazzier when your team actually wins something.

T.R. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: F.L. in Denton, TX, brought up the possible name change for Washington NFL franchise. It started me thinking the alternatives. The obvious name is "Washington RedEx" in honor of the corporate pressure FedEx is putting on the team to change names. The "Washington Columbians" is equally as controversial as the current name. The "Washington Insiders" would ignore the standings and assume they were headed to the Super Bowl every year.

M.G. in Arlington, VA, writes: I am beyond pleased that the NFL team here is finally considering an overdue name change. If, in the end, it takes a huge, rich corporation threatening to make a very rich man slightly less rich, I'll take it. A win is a win.

The name "Senators" would pay homage to the city's sports history, but in 2004, when we were preparing to receive and rename baseball's Montreal Expos, many local leaders opposed adopting the Senators name on the grounds that D.C. still did not have equal representation in Congress. Sadly, as we all know, this has not changed in the last 16 years.

Might I suggest a name for our NFL franchise: The Washington Americans. It's an aspirational blank slate that alludes to the idea that anyone can be an American, and America can be what we make it. Also, it has precedent in professional sports; the Boston Red Sox were the Boston Americans until 1907.

If that doesn't work, here are some other ideas:

  • Washington Bureaucrats
  • Washington Red Tape
  • Washington Insiders
  • Washington Outsiders (if they stay in Maryland)
  • Washington Lobbyists
  • Washington Monuments
  • Washington Beltway
  • Washington Boondoggle
  • Washington Power Brokers
  • Washington Filibusters

V & Z respond: We aren't going to wait long to find out. The news broke Saturday night that the name change is expected sometime this week.

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: With all the chatter about renaming the Washington football team, Columbus statues being toppled, merging states, etc., I have a suggestion. When I was growing up in the 1980s, we were told by our teachers that the proper name for the people who were in North America first was "Native Americans," since "Indians" was an appellation given by Columbus, and not only inaccurate, but somewhat insensitive/offensive.

With that in mind, I think it's high time we rename the state that gave us Mike Pence, which lies west of Ohio and east of Illinois. After all, "Indiana" means "land of the Indians." But since "Indian" is kind of a slur nowadays, I propose a simple replacement: "Hoosier." After all, people there are already called "Hoosiers"; no one is ever called an "Indianan."

Thus, the state's new name would be Hoosier. The capital? Renamed to "Hoosieropolis." And the postal code can be shifted one letter (à la "IBM" and "HAL") from the current "IN" to "HO", which is simply a reversal of Ohio's "OH".

B.B. in St. Louis, MO, writes: Recently, Wizards of the Coast, the company that publishes the collectible card game Magic: the Gathering, made the decision to ban certain cards from the game that had racist overtones or imagery. Wizards of the Coast also publishes the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons and I recently caught the end of a story on NPR where they are rethinking the fact that many races in the game are given stereotypical attributes.

In the late 70s, when I was playing Dungeons & Dragons in college in California, I was bothered by the fact that all the players in the game played characters of the "lawful" alignment but acted in ways that didn't seem lawful to me. It was considered normal behavior to go into the dungeon, kill off all the inhabitants and steal their treasure. When I protested that these actions seemed rather "chaotic" to me, I was told "It's the law of the west, shoot first and ask questions later." It was further explained, "Suppose you are wandering down a corridor and spot a demon in the distance. Even though you don't know that he has committed evil acts, you know that he will do so in the future and therefore you are duty bound to hunt him down and kill him." I have an uncomfortable feeling that adolescents exhibiting such a logic system to justify their actions in a game may use similar thinking later in life as well.

I believe that Gary Gygax originally invented the game as an aid to formalize story-telling in a way that the listeners also participate and shape the story. I don't think it was intended solely to be a framework for a series of tactical exercises. Racial characteristics are a way of rapidly generating groups of non-player characters with whom the players can interact, but they also needlessly restrict the actions or professions of said characters. A good dungeon master is a good storyteller who has no need for such laziness. Let's hope that good citizens likewise do not fall into using such shortcuts in their interactions in real life.

V & Z respond: We put this letter in this section because we think the same analysis applies to sports teams. It is possible to find a name that communicates strength, teamwork, local pride, etc. without relying on racial stereotypes.

All around me a voice was sounding...

P.N. in Austin, TX, writes: In response to G.C. in South Pasadena, "This land is your land" will, unfortunately, never be made the national anthem. The reason? It's a unionist or socialist screed, as evidenced by the oft-forgotten fourth and fifth verses:

"As I went walking I saw a sign there,
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing.
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?"

It's a wonderful song, and I personally support the message wholeheartedly. But the day it becomes the national anthem is the day we truly become a socialist nation (and not in the hyperbolic manner of Fox News).

C.J. in Hawthorne, CA, writes: In response to G.C, my neighbor up the road: The third verse of the Star Spangled Banner does mention the death of slaves. Of course, I also don't believe I've ever actually heard the third (or second) verse ever sung. For that matter, I've only heard the fourth verse sung once (which was a shock).

Of course, British forces actively recruited escaped slaves to fight against the American military in the War of 1812, and the country was on the brink of collapse during the defense of Baltimore due to Washington, D.C., having just been burned. Though it reads poorly for someone with modern sensibilities, I can't really blame Francis Scott Key here, given the dire straits the nation was in. The country seemed as if it was about to be reabsorbed by the U.K. only a generation after independence. It's also possible the "slaves" meant the impressed seamen being forced into the Royal Navy.

If we're going to alter songs, I'd think "Maryland, My Maryland" would be a more obvious target, considering the tyrant it talks about is Abraham Lincoln, who is now widely considered our greatest president. On the other hand, it's a beautiful song so I kinda hope it stays.

J.P. in Horsham, PA, writes: I have long maintained that "The Star Spangled Banner" is inappropriate as the national anthem for multiple reasons (ranging from the fact that you need to be a trained opera singer in order to sing it properly, to the fact that it glorifies rockets and bombs, to the fact that it says nothing of the country save for the final line). However, much as I like the suggestion of "This Land is Your Land," I don't see it as a feasible alternative due to the overt socialism of the song.

I'd like to suggest a different folk song, then. "Power and the Glory" by Phil Ochs:

Here is a land full of power and glory,
beauty that words cannot recall.
All her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom.
Glory shall rest on us all.

M.K. in Wilmington, DE, writes: In response to the question about why Delaware wasn't part of the Confederacy (and more generally isn't considered part of the South), I wanted to share a story.

I grew up in Illinois and lived in upstate New York, both considered to be part of the North. Shortly after I moved to Delaware, I began trying to learn about local history, in part because some of my friends joked that I had moved to the South although it didn't feel that way at all.

I had the great fortune to hear a brief talk from one of the Black children for whom Delaware's contribution to Brown v. Board of Education was filed. She recalled how the town of Claymont was particularly integrated due to the presence of the large steel mill which acted as the great equalizer. An audience member asked about her experiences growing up in a state which included segregation in its constitution, and her response was quite interesting. In her opinion, despite Delaware's laws, the North Wilmington area at least was reasonably integrated. Southwest New Jersey, conversely, was significantly more racist, even without Jim Crow laws. She specifically recalled that Black citizens would frequently come from the towns in Jersey to shop and dine in Claymont because of the difference in racial climate. As a result, Delaware was considered more "Northern" and Jersey was considered more "Southern."

The plural of anecdote is not anecdata so I'm sure this didn't hold true in all areas of both states—the northern parts of Delaware and New Jersey are very different from their respective southern parts—but I found it interesting nevertheless.

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: It is understandable that you didn't want to get into a very detailed discussion on the topic of border-state secession, but since we're still fighting (hopefully for the last time?) the Civil War, it might be helpful to give a more nuanced explanation of the "non-secession" of Maryland, Missouri, Kentucky and Delaware.

For one thing, Missouri and Kentucky both had secessionist governments, provided a significant number of Confederate troops and militias (Missouri's were infamous, and continued as terrorists long after 1865). The CSA considered itself to have 13 states, not 11. Maryland could well have joined them, but for the presence of a massive number of Federal troops on its soil guarding Washington D.C. and preparing to attack Richmond.

The extreme Trumpublican support that persists in Missouri and Kentucky may be explained in part by their (partial) secessionist history.

V & Z respond: We are reminded of some of the great monumental shade of all time. There was a Union 1st Maryland Infantry at the Battle of Gettysburg, and there was a Confederate 1st Maryland Infantry there, too. This is the monument that was erected on the battlefield in honor of the Union regiment. Note the engraving at the very bottom:

The very bottom says: Maryland's
Tribute to her LOYAL Sons

Elements of Style

R.G.N. in Seattle, WA, writes: R.M. in Aberdeen, WA's defense of Microsoft's grammar-checkers was amusing. Perhaps the grammar-checkers are useful for English speakers who can use a "laugh test" to verify the accuracy of the results. When I was in academia, many of my students were recent immigrants who used Microsoft grammar and spell checkers to make their papers more readable to English-speaking professors and TAs. The problem with this tactic was that it produced a grammatically correct paper that contained numerous factual errors. It is amazing how minor changes in syntax can turn a sentence 180 degrees from the author's intended meaning. It was far easier for me to learn the basic syntax of my student's first language than to try to decipher the intended meaning of papers processed with Microsoft's grammar-checks.

P.R. in Saco, ME, writes: In response to R.M. in Aberdeen, WA, who summoned the clichéd physician, I must pole vault to your defense: To err is human.

I will cheerfully suffer through a missed preposition in order to be able to read your content with my morning coffee as I listen to our eastern cardinals, woodpeckers, and nuthatches chirping first thing at the suet feeder.

To R.M., I suggest they lighten up, audit a few creative writing classes, and let go the pedantry that bogs down so many academic writers to their great poverty of expression. Thank God I didn't join you all in getting a Ph.D. in linguistics (slogging instead through being a one-time copy editor); I would have had to contend with such snoot-nosed academic bickering on a daily basis.

L.E. in Santa Barbara, CA, writes: I am astonished that people write to you to nit-pick about typos, spelling, grammar, and other trivial issues. As I have mentioned in a previous comment, my background is in languages with a strong linguistics pairing. Language is not only a living, changing form of communication, but your site is not a "how-to" for English. It is a political elections analysis site for U.S. elections.

The occasional typo, misspelling, or grammatical error is trivial, compared to the content you are providing. Getting hung up on Oxford commas, dative vs. nominative cases, typos, and grammatical structure is pointless. Hopefully, anyone who reads your site is already well-versed in the language and does not need assistance. They should be able to read past any of the very occasional glitches.

To illustrate my point: many years ago, I received the following in an email from a friend:

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Amzanig huh?

I forwarded it to another person whose response was, "Incredible! Now I can understand why speed reading works. But I suppose first skills in overall word recognition and context are required."

Indeed. I can only surmise that R.M. in Aberdeen, WA is still refining their overall word recognition and learning about context in the English language.

For me, I come to your site to learn and gain insight, not for an English lesson. Your amazing two-man crew is beyond remarkable, in what you publish.

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: Imperfect grammar and spelling is not an affront to me; imperfection is humanity at its finest. I appreciate the fact that although I get the late edition on the "Left Coast", it hasn't been sanitized, cleansed, and purified by the time I get to enjoy it.

You know the difference between to, too, 2, and two and leave THE ALL CAPS KEY off, as well as properly punctuating!!!!!! Which is a damn sight better than Benedict Donald.

Keep on keepin' on.

V & Z respond: In response to all of the above writers, as well as the other folks who chimed in on this subject, we do not generally publish flattering messages, but in this case we do appreciate being sustained in our view that prose that is a bit raggedy is an acceptable price to pay in order to publish much earlier in the day. And let us also make clear that we are delighted to be advised of any and all errors, factual or grammatical, no matter how small. We just find it odd and a little off-putting when correspondents do so in hostile fashion.

If you wish to contact us, please use one of these addresses. For the first two, please include your initials and city.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul11 Pardon Me?
Jul11 Saturday Q&A
Jul11 Today's Presidential Polls
Jul11 Today's Senate Polls
Jul10 Trump Has a Bad Day on the Tax Front
Jul10 Stone, Meet Iron
Jul10 Time to Shift Gears on the Coronavirus?
Jul10 CDC Won't Play Ball, After All
Jul10 Maybe Jacksonville Won't Play Ball, Either
Jul10 Biden Speaks
Jul10 It Sure Looks Like the Democrats Are Unified
Jul10 Today's Presidential Polls
Jul10 Today's Senate Polls
Jul09 Supreme Court Ruling on Trump's Taxes Will Be Released Today
Jul09 CDC Capitulates to Trump and Will Issue New Guidance on School Openings
Jul09 Republicans Are Split over the Convention
Jul09 What If It Really Gets Crazy?
Jul09 Trump Has a Problem in the Suburbs
Jul09 Trump Has Coattails in the Suburbs
Jul09 Republicans Could Lose Almost Half of Their Female Senators
Jul09 Vindman Retires but Duckworth Is Not Backing Down
Jul09 Bollier Raises $3.7 Million
Jul09 House Democrats Want to Fund Election Security
Jul08 New Jersey, Delaware Vote
Jul08 Mary Trump Book "Leaks"
Jul08 White House Again Searches for Leakers
Jul08 Republicans Underwhelmed by Trump Campaign
Jul08 Democratic Senate Candidates Are Raking It In
Jul08 Carlson Launches 2024 Campaign
Jul08 Roberts Was Briefly Hospitalized Last Month
Jul08 Bolsonaro Tests Positive for COVID-19
Jul08 Trump Administration Formally Begins WHO Withdrawal
Jul07 SCOTUS News, Part I: States Can Punish Faithless Electors
Jul07 SCOTUS News, Part II: No Robo-calls to Cell Phones
Jul07 Trump Doubles Down...
Jul07 Democrats Smell Blood in the Water
Jul07 Veepstakes Is in Full Swing
Jul07 Two More States Vote Today
Jul07 Mary Trump Book Will Drop Two Weeks Early
Jul07 Today's Presidential Polls
Jul07 Today's Senate Polls
Jul06 Trump's Shrinking Map
Jul06 Republicans Are Nervous about Being the Party of White Grievance
Jul06 Was the Faustian Bargain the Republicans Made Worth It?
Jul06 Biden Has Put Together a Large Legal Team to Deal with Election Trickery
Jul06 Biden Voters Are Afraid
Jul06 President West in the West Wing?
Jul06 Bookies Are Betting on Biden
Jul06 What Is the Next Big Threat?
Jul06 Tommy Tuberville Isn't Quite in the Senate Yet