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• Sunday Mailbag
The number of new U.S. COVID-19 cases is over twice as high as at the first peak in April. Hospitalizations are on the rise, and deaths have been near or above 1,000/day for the last 3 weeks and the number is still rising. So naturally, the White House has determined this is the perfect time to contemplate reopening all of the schools.
Two weeks ago, it looked like most schools would bow to Donald Trump's wishes and reopen. Now, however, not so much. School district after school district has elected to shift to on-line only, or to delay in-person classrooms, or to just postpone school totally. For those returning to in-person education, the plans for reopening range from doing nearly nothing ("stay home if you're sick, and maybe wash your hands regularly") all the way to very restrictive policies (serious social distancing, reduced class size, and rotating schedules). The more substantive plans have little hope of being fully implemented, because there is not enough time before school starts. Further, many teachers report that, as of today, they have no idea what the plan is at their local school. I thought I would look at some of the more important questions that this issue raises:
If children go back to school classrooms, will they catch COVID-19?
While there is no question that children can catch COVID-19, the data about their susceptibility to the disease (as compared to adults) is mixed. One Australian study found that 18 people (9 students, 9 staff) with confirmed cases of the disease were in contact with about 750 individuals in a normal, non-socially distanced school environment and only two children became infected. Another study in Ireland had similar results. On the other hand, there have been cases of schools that suffered significant outbreaks, including in Israel and Sweden.
If American schools are aggressive about social distancing and enforce all of the behaviors associated with reducing the spread of the virus, then it is perhaps possible, at least in areas where there are fewer cases, to open the schools without a significant increase in COVID-19 cases.
Will teachers and staff be safe from COVID-19?
The answer to this question depends upon several factors. Among the big ones:
- How many children and other staff in the school are infected? The more there are, the less safe it will be.
- What level of precautions are taken at the school?
- Are the staff members at-risk due to age (over 65) and/or comorbidities?
It is clear that there will be some risk, but it is not easily quantifiable. Clearly, at-risk staff should not be back on school grounds in the fall, though not all reopening plans agree. Other staff must practice social distancing and wear masks. Teachers and school staff will be the front-line heroes in those districts that resume in-person schooling.
A sizable percentage of teachers and staff members say that they do not feel safe, and at least some of them will simply refuse to return to school, should it come to that.
How is the planning for the fall return to school progressing?
As noted, it might be possible that some schools can be opened safely. However, in many areas of the U.S., political leaders are growing skittish. Just as wearing masks became a liberal/conservative battleground, the same could happen with school reopenings. On the other hand, as the numbers of cases rise and deaths mount, some conservatives may decide they don't want to fight this particular battle.
The CDC released a school reopening guideline that the President criticized as being "very tough" and "expensive." The CDC agreed to rethink the guidelines then unagreed. Last Tuesday, Mike Pence then said: "To be very clear, we don't want CDC guidance to be a reason why people don't reopen their schools." The CDC then announced that it would delay the release of additional documents that would expand and clarify their position on school reopening. On July 23, they got on board The Good Ship Lollitrump and gave the administration exactly what they wanted.
The new CDC guidance basically says "Everything is going to be fine if we take some precautions. Schools should reopen...period." This document appears to have taken its inspiration more from Sean Hannity rather than Anthony Fauci. The CDC also published guidance documents that don't provide much actual guidance.
To be fair, there are some parts of the documents (for example, when to have someone tested) that are reasonably well done, but there is not much here that anyone who is staying informed would not already know. In short, there is absolutely no hope for clear, consistent, useful guidance from Washington on this issue.
Beyond the documents providing little substance, they are far too late to be of any value, as school starts in a few weeks. My local school district released their final plan the same day as the CDC guidelines.
I reached out across the country to ask contacts in the education system how the preparations are proceeding. Nearly every teacher who responded was frustrated with the lack of a definitive plan; the notable exception was a teacher who reported that the "plan" was normal face-to-face school with no precautions. One teacher was asking for tips on remote teaching, as her total training for remote teaching was a 30-minute on-line session provided by her school district. There is a lot of fear, anger, and frustration in the education community. There is a real chance that teachers will openly rebel against reopening.
Many schools have already committed to online-only classes. The Los Angeles and San Diego school districts were just the first to declare that they will not return to in-person classes. Many other districts are now either delaying in-person classes, allowing on-line classes, or supporting allowing each family to choose. This is a constantly evolving situation, with more districts tapping the brakes every day.
An overview of the state-level plans is here. The plans range from relatively brief memos of ten pages or so up to very comprehensive plans. For example, there's the 104-page guideline for New Jersey that I mentioned in the last diary. In each case, these are not detailed plans. Instead, they are broad guidelines that must be translated into specifics by each individual school district. Keep in mind that any plan will have to be adapted if new cases start to appear at the school or in the community.
The key to successful school reopening is to use testing to closely monitor the students and staff for new cases. Unfortunately, there are not adequate testing resources to meet this need. Millions of tests would need to be processed quickly or there could be a significant outbreak that remains undetected for weeks. And yet, even without schools being open, the United States is already experiencing testing delays. Nationwide, there are delays of up to a week or more.
In spite of the central role that testing should play in any reopening, there are insufficient testing resources available to adequately monitor schools across America. "Pooled testing" (where you test lots of people at once but treat it as a single sample) might be helpful in quickly confirming that a school has no cases, though public health experts say that the pandemic might be too extensive at this point to make this shortcut useful.
In short, there are far more unknowns than there are knowns. And time is running out. (PD)
Dr. Paul Dorsey works in medical software, providing software to support medical practices and hospitals nationwide.
This one's pretty hefty. Only read the subjects that interest you, maybe (though there's some pretty good stuff at the end).
M.A. in Washington, D.C., writes: You've made a valiant effort, but your recent posts have made clear that Republican propaganda efforts have overcome your tendency to be objective. Most glaring is that you called the deployment of federal troops to American cities to arrest American citizens for peaceful assembly against the will of local government "Kabuki theater." I imagine that you would have simply called that what it is—fascism. Depressing.
Even more glaring is the fact that, by my count, around 50-70% of your daily recaps involve Donald Trump. I'm not a brilliant statistician or historian, but I don't think that either of you subscribe to the great man theory of history. Yet somehow you've stopped analyzing the president's supporters and the Republican Party and instead focused your extensive analysis on a mind that you have repeatedly described as dysfunctional, at best.
V & Z respond: As to your first point, words like "genocide," "fascism," "Nazi," "racist," etc. need to used with great care. We were quite critical about what's happening in Portland, but we're not willing to invoke the Blackshirts quite yet. As to your second point, our primary focus is the presidential race. One of the two candidates is staying in his basement and letting the other suck up all the oxygen, which sorta ties our hands. We would also observe that something like 80% of pieces we write about Trump take the form "Trump did X, and we would guess this will have Y effect on his base/the electorate/his fellow Republicans." So, we don't think it's correct to say that, even when our focus is heavily on Trump, we are neglecting to discuss his supporters or his Party. We also have an entire page devoted to the Senate races, often have individual stories on Senate races, and sometimes have items the House.
J.K. in Portland, OR, writes: One thing I really like about your site is that your electoral map is filled out to the best of your ability. There are few undecided states. When I go to other websites to look at the prospective electoral map, like Real Clear Politics or Cook, they have a huge number of undecided states and, frankly, are almost useless. I figure they just want to assuage Trump supporters or say after the election "Well, we were not wrong." Sabato only has four undecided states, so good for him.
V & Z respond: We think you raise a good point, specifically that there seem to be some sites out there that are balancing "make an accurate prediction" with "keep it conservative and cover our rear ends."
A.I. in Honolulu, HI, writes: You wrote:Another interesting question is on whether Trump has united the country or divided the country. A full 35% said he has united the country and 61% said he has divided the country. Surely Trump voters know very well that Trump is trying to divide the country, as Fox News tells them daily how awful the liberals are and how Trump is doing his best to squash them like bugs. Are they just trolling the pollsters? It makes one wonder.
I am afraid that the 35% who believe Trump has united the country no longer include the other 65% in their definition of the country. After decades of right-wing propaganda categorizing liberals, immigrants, non-evangelicals and non-heterosexuals as un-American, perhaps they no longer consider anyone outside their cohort to be equal citizens. They may see themselves as "the real Americans defending true American values" and the rest of the population as "un-American others." Unfortunately, history shows that dehumanizing the opposition often leads to worse behavior. The rest of us should be worried about the latent threat of this zealous minority of Trump believers.
P.B. in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, writes: I am somewhat bewildered by Donald Trump's reversals on wearing masks and holding the RNC convention in Florida. He has been so polarizing up to now that it's hard to see this change of heart helping him win back voters he had previously lost. Rather, I think he risks losing enthusiasm, if not outright support, from his base. The Quinnipiac poll you cited showed that 69 percent of Florida Republicans said they think the convention would be safe. Trump has just contradicted them. Some will no doubt make the pivot, but I can easily imagine others feeling confused, if not betrayed, by their General in the culture wars.
J.M. in Norco, CA, writes: On Thursday, you wrote: "Trump wants a payroll tax cut because, well, the Republicans' main reason for existence as a party is to cut taxes."
You are, I think, wrongly crediting Trump with some mildly principled motive here. Republican objectives that meet Trump's self-interests get his support, but for only that reason. Nothing else matters to him. According to Wikipedia, "The Trump Organization is a group of about 500 business entities of which Donald Trump is the sole or principal owner." They don't estimate the total number of employees, but the number and payroll are unquestionably substantial. The combined Social Security and Medicare tax (i.e., the payroll tax) on employers is currently 7.65% (yes, the employees pay that same amount, but that matters not a whit to the President). This tax is particularly hard to cheat on, so he stands to pocket an additional 7.65% of nearly all payroll at his various businesses. Occam's razor.
R.H. in Macungie, PA, writes: Here at the border between the suburbs and rural Pennsylvania, we see lots of yard signs for Trump/Pence 2020. I'll be chuckling if Trump dumps Pence for Haley and all those signs become obsolete.
J.P.R. in Westminster, CO, writes: Just a word, for anyone who may need to hear it, from your regular school psychologist reader here (one of them, anyway): The MOCA is not a cognitive ability (i.e., IQ) test. It is a test designed to assess for cognitive decline...that is, dementia. Donald Trump took it because there are concerns by those around him that he has dementia. He is bragging about how great he did on a dementia test.
A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I recognize that, as a liberal living in Los Angeles, I don't necessarily have my finger on the pulse of the electorate. Nevertheless, I'm sensing a definite shift in the public's view of Donald Trump. Even among those who loathe him, there's been somewhat of a mystique about him—he is the president, after all, and he keeps getting away with these outrageous, illegal acts, for which most of us would be doing time, and yet his popularity doesn't waver. As an attorney, I had always assumed that he would finally go too far and that one act would bring the whole house of cards crashing down.
Instead, what we're witnessing is the slow erosion of this mystique, which has crystallized, in my view, with the Chris Wallace interview and the book/interviews of Mary Trump. Listening to Mary Trump, in particular, with her very clinical opinion of her uncle's many maladies, really lets the air out of this mythology. She refers to him as having been "institutionalized" his entire life, and that he is incapable of making it on his own without the protection of his inherited money and power. She says that he has "failed spectacularly upward." And Trump is merely a representative of so many of his cohort: white men who are in powerful positions not due to any merit but because of inherited wealth and an ability to fail spectacularly upward. It's America's oldest form of affirmative action.
We have all seen versions of this at work in our own lives, but we have romanticized the office of the president and believed that it, somehow, was immune from an "Office Space"-type incompetent, corrupt, petty, bullying manager. We have all cloaked Trump in the trappings of the office and now we're finally accepting that, yes, America really did elect Lumbergh.
D.M. in Madeira, OH, writes: Here is the letter I just wrote to my Congressman, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH). I am a college-educated, middle-class, white suburbanite (i.e., exactly the type of people that the Republican Party is hemorrhaging):Congressman Wenstrup,
I have been a big fan of yours and have voted for you in every election you've run in, back to the 2012 primary against then-Congresswoman Jean Schmidt. I have appreciated your principles of conservatism and fiscal responsibility these past 8 years.
President Trump is a horrible person and an awful leader. The current direction of the Republican Party is doomed. The Presidency is all but gone, the House is already there, and the Senate is heading that way. Just like with McCarthy in 1954 and Nixon in 1974, sometimes all it takes is a few courageous men and women to point out that, truly, the Emperor has no clothes.
Be one of those men. Be the leader we elected you to be, to form a new political party that fiscal conservatives and advocates of limited government can be proud to support. Repudiate Trumpism and its message of racism, anger and xenophobia.
If you continue to hug President Trump and the current Republican leadership closely, my family of 4 registered voters will be voting for [Democrat] Jaime Castle this October (by absentee ballot).
E.K. in Brignoles, France, writes: I'd just like to add my two cents in response to your post on Biden enthusiasm. I think there's a small contradiction between:The Democrats could have nominated Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) or a can of tuna fish and it wouldn't have had a lot of effect on Democratic voters.
And (about Biden):His being milquetoast is actually a plus with many moderates, especially in the suburbs of Wisconsin and other states. Many older voters, in particular, are not interested in breaking down barriers with historic candidates like Barack Obama and Clinton. They just want someone who won't cause any damage.
I think the latter assertion is absolutely correct, but the former isn't. And the two don't fit together. Yes, "Uncle Joe" is an old man who has, for the most part of his political career, been the embodiment of calm. He's very likable, empathetic and he just seems to be a good person who's gone through hell in his personal history.
Meanwhile, Sanders is just sound and fury, not unlike a certain person living on Pennsylvania Avenue. I just couldn't stand hearing him talk, yell and scream anymore. If I were an American citizen, I'm not sure I'd be able to vote for him (and I hate Trump with a passion).
So, definitely, personality matters, and Democrats couldn't have chosen a green donkey and still have the same numbers. Maybe they'd be ahead, but not by that margin. It may be odd, I'm in my late 30s and I'm very enthusiastic about seeing Joe Biden elected and lead the U.S. I wouldn't be if the candidate happened to be Sanders or Warren.
Crossing my fingers until Nov. 3. And yes, if RBG wants my liver, here it is!
R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: Joe Biden made a very smart move four years ago when he decided to not seek the 2016 Democratic nomination. Publicly, he did this because of the recent death of his son Beau from cancer. But I also think there was a political calculation.
There was little question that Hillary Clinton was going to be the nominee in 2016, whether Biden jumped in the race or not. Had he gotten in, she would have beaten him in the primaries and he would either have been damaged if she lost, or had to wait until 2024 had she won. By then, he'd have been 82 and many would have wanted to move on to someone younger.
By sitting out in 2016 and taking the chance Clinton would lose, which turned out to be the case, he now is looked upon as the savior from four years of the disastrous Trump presidency. He's in the catbird seat to win and, as you said, the best course for him now is to do no harm, which he is doing successfully.
We shall see if this strategy works in November. If it does, look back to his announcement in the Rose Garden four years ago as a crucial point.
A.Q. in North Aurora, IL, writes: I read the item about John Kasich, and a couple of thoughts came to mind. First of all, I believe there have been past conventions that have had a crossover speaker or two, although it was often perceived they were doing it more because of sour grapes than anything else.
This one seems different. I feel that if there are at least two or three of these centrist Republicans, it will signal to other Republicans that it is OK for them to vote for a Democrat instead of staying home.
M.P. in York, PA, writes: You wrote that Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) is no longer helpless because of the opponent he drew. I could not disagree more and would suggest not getting that opponent was the only chance he had. Poll after poll showed Jones doing better against Jeff Sessions and yet he got Tommy Tuberville. I get your thinking that Tuberville has the financial scandal Jones can try to hang around his neck. But Jones barely won against an accused child molester. Financial misdeeds are more like a parking ticket by comparison. Jones would likely lose regardless of his opponent, but the suggestion that he was better off with a popular former local college football coach who is more Trumpier than Trump over Public Enemy #1 on Trump's Hit List is a bit naive for as well-respected a site as yours.
A.K.P. in Mobile, AL, writes: I am a lifelong Alabama resident (and, ironically, a Democrat), and I am here to tell you that you are seriously underestimating the "Crimson Tide" vote in the Doug Jones-Tommy Tuberville race. Tuberville was the head coach of (the University of) Alabama's arch rival during a time that Alabama Football was struggling. As a result, Tuberville's teams won 6 in a row over the Crimson Tide, a streak that Tuberville bragged about relentlessly.
It is hard to overstate the disdain (hatred) that Alabama fans have for this guy. Football in Alabama is a religion. The intensity of the Alabama-Auburn rivalry is quite possibly the fiercest and most hate-filled in the world (and yes, I'm familiar with the Red Sox-Yankees, Packers-Bears, and various European and South American soccer rivalries). All of this, and Doug Jones is a graduate of the University of Alabama.
In general, while I understand your prediction that Trump supporters (60% of the vote here) will simply vote straight Republican, allowing Tuberville to ride the coattails, there is a unique dynamic here whereby Alabama football fans may well crossover, hold their nose, and vote for the "'Bama fan" over the Auburn coach.
L.J. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: I mostly agree with your assessment of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), but I think you underestimate one enormous asset she has: I believe voters will be somewhat skittish about Joe Biden's age and vigor, even if they don't bring it to the top of their consciousness. They will look at the VP candidate and try hard to imagine her as President. They will remember that succession of a VP is hardly a rare event in our history.
Harris is far more credible in this role than any of the other possibilities, perhaps save Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). But Warren irritates many voters. In my judgment, none of the others pass the "imagine that" test. Most are too raw and too obviously lack national-level experience.
V & Z respond: Well, we did give her 9/10 in the "Ready for the Big Chair?" category. Since we are not members of Spinal Tap, that is almost as high a score as is possible.
A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: I thought it worth mentioning that I, as a transgender woman, find both Kamala Harris and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) problematic. In the case of Harris, it has everything to do with her actions in Norsworthy vs. Beard, a case that she had when she was AG of California. In this case, Norsworthy was a transgender inmate in California's prison system. She was prescribed sex reassignment surgery by a licensed medical professional, in part because the hormones Norsworthy was taking for her dysphoria were aggravating a case of hepatitis she acquired while being raped in prison, and surgery would make the required hormone dose considerably lower. And yet, Harris filed briefs in the case against Norsworthy. Later, she decided to run for President, and acted like she was a big friend of the LGBTQ community. When confronted with this, Harris claimed the briefs were written by underlings in her office without her knowledge or consent. If underlings were doing things in her office without her knowledge or consent, how does this recommend her to be one heartbeat away from the Oval Office? Beyond that, compare her actions with Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC). When the HB-2 thing happened, he was AG of our state, and refused to defend the state against the ACLU lawsuit. Kamala Harris could have done the same thing in the Norsworthy case, yet chose differently.
In the case of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), there is a little matter of a transgender woman fired as an intern from her office, and then a proven-fake letter of apology to Grisham from the fired intern magically appeared. This is no friend to my community, either. And I would be remiss if I did not note that Elizabeth Warren, in 2012, made similar comments about transgender inmates as Kamala Harris made. However, she has since publicly reversed herself on this. Kamala Harris prefers to act as if it never happened, and has issued no true apology or admission of wrong.
Now, no matter who is picked for the #2 slot, it is not a dealbreaker, because Trump is miles more unacceptable to the bulk of my community, but I will say that after three and a half years of animus from the Trump Administration towards LGBTQ in general, and us trans in particular, we deserve a candidate who is fully supportive of our rights as Americans, too. This makes Harris, and Lujan Grisham disappointing selections for VP.
B.R. in Union, NJ, writes: When I read the profile of Tammy Duckworth, I thought you missed an important part of the equation—one that will adversely affect her—namely eligibility to be President. Specifically, she will more directly raise the question of what it means to be "a natural-born citizen" than any person who has ever been on a ballot of a major party for either office, if she were to get nomination. While John McCain did raise the question, with him there was at least some wiggle room (namely the fact that McCain was born on an American military base in what was at the time an American territory, meaning that he was born in a place that was absolutely subject to American legal jurisdiction, not that of a foreign county). The facts of Duckworth's birth, in contrast, do not allow any such wiggle room, and so her nomination would really raise the question of what the language means.
There were a few candidates in past who raised the question in the same way as Sen. Duckworth (e.g., Ted Cruz, born in Calgary, Canada; Lowell Weicker, born in Paris; and George Romney, born in a small town in Mexico), but none of these candidates ever got close to the nomination (for other reasons).
While, like Cruz and Weicker and Romney, at least one of her parents was a U.S. citizen at time of her birth, it is undisputed that she was born in a foreign country. While the citizenship status of the parent is enough to qualify her for U.S. citizenship, there is a legitimate argument to be made that the "natural-born citizen" language requires more than statutory citizenship. I am not saying I necessarily agree with the arguments, but it is clear that the academic constitutional scholars who have debated the question are in disagreement and the arguments on both sides are well-grounded. Under the circumstances, it seems to me that failing to mention the issue is a significant oversight.
V & Z respond: We got many e-mails on this question after we ran that profile, some of them considerably less diplomatic than yours. We addressed the question of her citizenship status on July 11, and felt it would be redundant to do so again just two weeks later. We also do not feel that both sides of the argument are equally strong, and think the fact that she has occupied multiple offices where citizenship is a requirement, and yet has never been naturalized, makes the case overwhelming that she is a natural-born citizen. Further, suppose Biden were to die in office. Would Republicans fight tooth and nail to have her disqualified? What would happen if the institutional Democratic Party were to ask Duckworth to step aside to avoid a constitutional crisis and let President Pelosi or President Schiff be sworn in? The Republicans might just change their minds real fast.
A.R. in Anaktuvuk Pass, AK, writes: You noted that Sen. Duckworth is fluent in Indonesian and Thai. I was just watching season one of "The West Wing," which alludes to the fact that "Indonesian" is not a language. There are 700 languages spoken in Indonesia, and the so-called language of Indonesian is the common misnomer for Malay, which is spoken by 80% of the population. Javanese is spoken by 32% of the population and Sundanese is spoken by 16%.
V & Z respond: As much as we hate to question the linguistic expertise of Aaron Sorkin, this is not correct. Indonesian and Malay are related, but are not the same, with the former being a more formal version of the latter. A crude parallel is British English vs. American English.
D.C. in Chicago, IL, writes: J.S. from Bennington, NH wrote: "Why do you suppose Mayor Lori Lightfoot's (D-Chicago) name hasn't appeared on any potential VP lists. She is Black, female, a good public speaker, and even charismatic (at least, based on the various interviews that I have seen)."
I have lived in the city of Chicago for 12 years now and endured the worst of the worst in mayoral corruption. I voted for Mayor Lightfoot because her political ideology was similar to mine, and I was excited to vote for an LGBTQ candidate for a high office. However, it's the Mayor's hatchet-job of a response to COVID-19 that will have me voting for her yet-unnamed opponent in 2023.
When you compare Governor J.B. Pritzker (D-IL) to Lightfoot, it's golden delicious apples to sour oranges. I held my nose to vote for yet another billionaire that felt entitled to higher office with him, but I was really pleasantly surprised at his thoughtful, data-driven approach to pausing the spread of COVID-19 and helping stabilize economic losses. By contrast, Lightfoot, upon stepping onto the podium in her press conferences, immediately barks out a tirade of reprimands to residents that lacks any sort of data-driven basis. I get that "attack dog" is a quality we typically like in a Veep, but if this patronizing style is her authentic political self, then I'd only vote Biden/Lightfoot as vote-swap with a swing state voter.
T.P. in Rochester, NY, writes: One potential VP candidate for Biden who doesn't seem to be on most people's lists is senator Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin. Baldwin is one of the most liberal members of the Senate and has been a long-time supporter of Medicare-for-All, so perhaps she could excite the more progressive wing of the party. She is clearly popular in the state as she won re-election in 2018 by 11 points against a Trump-esque candidate, and flipped 17 counties that went for Trump in 2016 in the process.
She was also the first openly gay person elected to the Senate. Wisconsin seems to be one of the more difficult rust belt states for the Democrats to recapture, and Baldwin would clearly help with that. It seems like she would offer a lot to the ticket, and has already publicly said she would accept the VP position if offered, but she seems to be getting heavily overlooked by the media.
H.I.W. in Cary, NC, writes: Your item on the four states (NC, GA, PA, WI) with low levels of mail-in absentee voting suggested that chaos would likely ensue from an expected massive increase in mail-in voting this year. However, this analysis failed to account for in-person early voting. The four cited states will all allow some version of no-excuse early voting. In North Carolina, the period for early in-person voting will be Oct. 15 to Oct. 30. By spreading out the voting, the polls will be much less crowded, and people may feel safer, especially at certain times of day. This measure may also alleviate the potential for disruptive shenanigans by Trump-allied forces that we all fear will occur on Election Day. Moreover, I believe that a Democrat-controlled Board of Elections here has recently expanded the number of polling places. Many voters, especially us older folks, value the experience of in-person voting, if long waits and crowding can be avoided. If the Democrats are smart, they should be encouraging their supporters to vote early, if not often.
L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: Today you singled out North Carolina as a state with potential problems since in 2016 only about 3% of votes were cast by mail. However, this misses the substantial use of early in-person voting in the state, which is referred to as "One-Stop Absentee Voting". In the same 2016 election about 62% of all votes were cast early in-person.
The State Board of Elections has just ordered that counties offer at least one early in-person site for every 20,000 registered voters in the county. If turnout numbers are similar to 2016 (69% of registered voters voted, 62% did so early) then each site would expect to handle, on average, about 8,500 voters. It seems likely that such a volume could be handled quite safely using proper social distancing and cleaning regimes. Those numbers seem believable to me since I always vote early, and it isn't uncommon to find only 5-10 people at the voting location when I go to vote (and if there are more, simply returning at a different time). This despite the fact that I vote at the most popular early site in my county, downtown at the courthouse.
So I think looking at the mail-in voting history here could be misleading since the state's very successful implementation of early-in-person voting should help a lot. I strongly suspect that here in North Carolina, while mail-in voting may increase, early in-person voting will predominate. That's what I will do, even though I am in an at-risk group, since with early-in-person voting I don't have to worry about my ballot being lost in the mail, mishandled, or rejected for some random reason (like a slight tear in the envelope or my signature not matching what it was when I first registered 23 years ago).
A.W. in Beloit, WI, writes: I thought you might be interested to know that there have been 743,908 mail-in ballots requested statewide in Wisconsin, as of Tuesday morning, according to the state Elections Commission. There were 645,619 total ballots cast in the 2016 August partisan primary, also according to commission statistics. The Aug. 11 election will determine who will make it onto November's general election ballot for a number of state Assembly and Senate races. There are also primaries in five of Wisconsin's eight Congressional districts.
M.D. in Allentown, PA, writes: Pennsylvania has not had widespread voting by mail in the past, but we did do it for the 2020 primaries, and handled it without too much chaos. It was reported that voter turnout was just shy of the 2016 general election, so I have at least some confidence that we may be able to pull this off in November, barring any USPS surprises. I know that it was on your list of states which have "ingredients for catastrophe," but I think that I'm a little bit more optimistic than you are!
R.M. in Lincoln City, OR, writes: Oregon voters are very aware that the postmark on their ballot envelope means nothing. The Wednesday before the election is the last day anyone is supposed to mail their ballot. That's no problem because ballot drop boxes are conveniently located in every city. Ballots will be counted if they are dropped in those boxes up to 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Dropping your ballot in a drop box is no harder than dropping it in a mailbox. You just go to a different location. A lot of people use the drop boxes anyway either to save postage or to ensure that their ballot doesn't get lost in the mail.
For the most part, election results are known within a few hours after polling closes on Election Day. Results may sometimes be delayed because voters are allowed to use any drop box anywhere in the state. So ballots sometimes have to be transported from one county to another, delaying the final tally.
We never have to wait, however, for absentee ballots to arrive in the mail several days after the election is over.
S.B. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: Thank you for highlighting vote-by-mail success in Maricopa County, AZ. As you know voters here have an option to be on the "Permanent Early Voter" list. In the 2018 midterm election, 78% of Arizona voters voted by mail. About 60% of people living in the state live in Maricopa County. I hear occasionally from reputable sites that Arizona may be a swing state in the 2020 presidential election, and our U.S. Senate race may be key in deciding the balance of the upper chamber.
I vote in Maricopa County. I placed my completed and signed primary ballot (Aug. 4 election) into a blue U.S. Mail box on Monday morning, July 20, before work (about 8 a.m.). I received a text message at 9:07 a.m. the next day: "Your ballot was received and will be sent for signature verification." Then, at 12:09 p.m., I received another text: "Your ballot was signature verified and counted":
I received these same messages by e-mail at the same times.
This process is thorough, reliable, and voter-friendly. The fact that County Recorder Adrian Fontes (D) and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) are not being invited to every state in the country to show them how to do vote-by-mail correctly shows me that the voting challenges in many states are not the bug, they are the feature.
W.R. in Tampa, FL, writes: The United States needs to seriously consider requesting United Nations assistance for the November election. We need a credible and neutral third-party observer to assist, oversee, and certify the U.S. election, since we are not capable of doing it ourselves. There were widespread claims of fraud in the 2016 election, there will likely be wider claims in the 2020 election, and the 2020 outcome will likely be contested or viewed as illegitimate by one side or the other.
On the Democratic side, there have been well-documented cases of denied registration for voters and reduced access to polling stations, especially in minority areas. On the Republican side, there are claims of widespread voter fraud involving millions of people using false identification to vote, voting multiple times, or voting in states where they are not authorized (e.g., busloads of voters crossing into New Hampshire).
This should be a no-brainer for both Democrats and Republicans. Since both sides claim no U.S. political entity can guarantee a free and fair election across the entire country, both sides should welcome the idea of bringing in a neutral observer to help us out. The U.N. has a good track record of overseeing elections in places like East Timor, South Africa, Iraq, the Central African Republic, Nepal, and Sudan. With all the violence in the streets of the U.S. these days, we could even request blue helmeted U.N. peacekeepers come in to protect the political rights of citizens, keep warring parties apart, and secure the vote.
V & Z respond: We are with you, but while you wait for this to happen, you might as well wish for a pony. That one, at least, might come true.
B.B. in Bangor, ME, writes: The situation that B.S. in La Mesa, CA, worries might result from RCV (i.e., a third-party candidate winning enough EVs to keep anyone from reaching 270) is quite unlikely. But even if it did happen, the Green candidate could simply direct their electors to vote for the Democrat, possibly in exchange for concessions on policy or appointments. There is precedent for this being allowed, such as after Horace Greeley's death in 1872. It might run afoul of the Supreme Court's recent ruling on faithless electors, but that would matter in only a few states under current law, and if polls showed a significant risk of this happening in the lead-up to the election, a state legislature could simply pass a law explicitly authorizing a candidate to direct their electors to vote for someone else.
S.C. in Mountain View, CA, writes: I'm afraid I have to agree with the skepticism H.F. of Pittsburgh, PA expresses about ranked-choice voting. After all, it is a system:
- That was invented around 1870 by MIT Professor W.R. Ware
- That was implemented in Queensland, Australia, in 1893, from where it spread to the rest of Australia until it was implemented nationwide in 1919 and continues today
- That was implemented in the Republic of Ireland in 1921 and continues in use today
- Whose multi-winner cousin was implemented in many jurisdictions in the United States in the first half of the 20th century until red-baiting and racism drove the many successful repeal efforts, primarily because ethnic and political minorities were being elected
- Whose multi-winner cousin has been in continuous use in Cambridge, Massachusetts since 1941
- That was implemented in San Francisco, CA, in 2004 and has been in continuous use there since
- That was implemented in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro, CA, in 2010 and has been in continuous use in those locations since
- That was implemented state-wide in Maine in 2018, was used in their 2020 primaries (except for President), and will be used in their November elections, including (most likely) for President
Yep, it's just too new and confusing to be used in real life. Or is sarcasm too new and confusing to be used on this website in real life?
The City of Roses Rises?
G.J. in Portland, OR, writes: I am writing in response to D.P. from Arcata, CA. Living in Portland OR, I feel the need to share an on-the-ground perspective. I live about 3 miles from the downtown protests. These nightly protests and the Federal response are taking place in a 2-square-block area of downtown. This is not a "city under siege," as some media outlets have been describing it. In fact, the media have made it look much scarier and destructive than it actually has been.
The downtown businesses that D.P. describes as being boarded up out of fear are, in fact, businesses that were damaged in late May during the George Floyd protests. Artists have been painting murals on the plywood.
And people who have done nothing wrong are indeed being arrested. You can read here about a peacefully protesting Portland mom (an attorney) who was arrested. This is only one such example.
To learn about what is happening, you need to follow the local media. There are three TV stations and all have a web presence, at koin.com, katu.com, and kgw.com. The Oregonian, which is the state newspaper, has been factual and balanced. As an example, here is their account of Friday night's protest.
One of the primary focuses of the Black Lives Matter movement in Portland has been long-overdue social-justice changes within the Portland Police Bureau. The Federal response has enflamed things with over-the-top aggression.
R.G. in Portland, OR, writes: I just wanted you to know that Friday night saw a huge turnout: 4000 people, which is the biggest so far. Every night, promptly at 11 p.m. the violence starts, and last night was no different. We now have a Wall of Vets, a Wall of Moms, a Wall of Dads, a Wall of Chefs (of which I am one), a Wall of Lawyers, a Wall of Medics. The Secret Police gas everyone equally, but the movement continues to grow and grow and grow. Even the militias came out and said they were there for BLM and against tyranny. We also have caravans of people coming down from Seattle to boost our numbers. Over the course of history, protests try to provoke an overreaction from the government, and our president is playing right into that. I just wanted to give you guys a read on what's happening here in what is effectively a war zone. I am originally from Virginia and I'm reminded of our state motto: "Sic Semper Tyrannis."
S.W.N. in Portland, OR, writes: Acting Secretary Cuccinelli's intent to keep Federal troops in Portland until the "violence" ends has the same logic as the (mythical) martinet of a ship's captain who said "The beatings will continue until morale improves."
M.G. in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, writes: You can see what is happening in Portland now and will soon be happening elsewhere: Trump is deploying his forces. Do you still truly believe this guy will go peacefully into the night if (key word) he loses? I'm sorry, but how naïve do you need to be to think that the customary traditions and policies will stop him from doing whatever he wants? All he needs to do is deploy the same forces to protect him and the White House and he'll be POTUS for as long as he wants.
G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: When the Bill Barr paramilitary force started putting down peaceful protests in Washington, D.C., I began to wonder why he had put together the force in the first place. It must have taken some time to vet the stormtroopers out of federal law enforcement agencies to find the Trump loyalists and those who would just follow any orders that came from a Republican president. It has taken some time for the paramilitary force to expand operations to Portland, OR, and possibly other cities. How successful Barr is at expanding the force will be telling as to how much support Trump has in federal law enforcement.
F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart should arrest anyone presenting themselves as a law enforcement officer who does not have a badge with either a serial number or a name. That is a crime and should be pursued as such.
A.M. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: The real answer to the question from J.B. of Philadelphia, PA, about why a full lockdown, with written permission being required to go out would be constitutional is because it would be a reasonable response to the pandemic. Especially if the medical authorities said it was the only option.
The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that our constitutional rights are not unlimited and can be curtailed in exceptional circumstances, as long as the limitation is reasonable.
J.T.B. in Brookline, MA, writes: In your answers to the "is this-or-that constitutional?" questions you sometimes receive, you often mention that the process of judicial review is slow and laborious. That is not always true. Since the close of this most recent SCOTUS term on July 9, the Court has acted on at least three major petitions for emergency relief—one on federal executions, one on voting rights, and one on COVID-19 restrictions. More are sure to follow throughout the summer.
To take a past example, in Bush v. Gore, then-governor George W. Bush filed his appeal on Dec. 9, the Court granted cert the same day, briefs were due by 4 p.m. on Dec. 10 (a Sunday), oral argument was held the next morning, and the decision was handed down late in the evening of Dec. 12. Though highly unusual, this sort of schedule reflects the urgency of that case and proves that the Court does have the capacity to act very quickly if it so chooses. In the similarly extraordinary scenario of a nation-wide lockdown in which Americans are made to show papers to leave their houses, SCOTUS might very well decide that's the sort of thing they'd want to get into quickly.
Incidentally, the right to interstate travel is protected by the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV and (probably) the substantive component of the Due Process Clauses, so any such lockdown would have to clear a very high constitutional bar in order to survive. The right to intrastate travel, on the other hand, is currently unclear, but it's difficult to imagine a scenario in which interstate travel was protected as a fundamental right, but intrastate travel was not.
J.F. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes: With regard to increasing the size of the US Supreme Court, I think there is a way for Congress to "hang its hat." Among the responsibilities of a justice is the "circuit assignment." According to 28 U.S.C. 42, "The Chief Justice of the United States and the associate justices of the Supreme Court shall from time to time be allotted as circuit justices among the circuits by order of the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice may make such allotments in vacation. A justice may be assigned to more than one circuit, and two or more justices may be assigned to the same circuit." Each justice considers certain appeals (e.g., emergency requests and other matters) from his or her assigned circuit while other aspects of the case are still pending. This is the current allotment:United States Circuit Court for the District of Columbia Circuit: John Roberts
United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit: Stephen Breyer
United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit: Samuel Alito
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit: John Roberts
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit: Samuel Alito
United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit: Elena Kagan
United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit: Elena Kagan
United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit: Neil Gorsuch
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit: John Roberts
United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit: Sonia Sotomayor
United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit: Clarence Thomas
United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit: John Roberts
Thirteen circuits, nine justices. I do not think that it is farfetched to argue that, in the interest of fairness, each justice should have just one circuit. Therefore, four more justices are needed, and the laws about the size of the court and circuit allotment have to be changed.
Some people don't like the number thirteen. Fine. So Congress can even increase the number of appellate circuits to fifteen. That can also be done in the name of fairness, as the number of people per appellate judge varies greatly among circuits 1-11 (1,418,363 in the 10th circuit and 2,772,392 in the 11th circuit), as does the population among the circuits (13,970,816 in the 1st circuit, and 61,742,908 in the 9th circuit).
In order to placate critics, the law could be written so as to introduce limited tenure (20 years max?) for the new and all subsequent justices. Perhaps the law could be written in such a way as to guarantee that every president gets to nominate "x" number of justices, irrespective of vacancies due to deaths or early retirement.
J.R. in San Francisco, CA, writes: M.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: "It is a sad irony that the two senators who lost/will lose their jobs because of their votes on Brett Kavanaugh are both women: Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) in 2018 and Susan Collins (R-ME) in 2020."
Actually, make that three. Claire McCaskill might have voted to confirm, but had no choice after the Kavanaugh circus came to town. Voting not to confirm pretty much sealed the victory for Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO).
My Taste Is Catholic
R.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I had two additional thoughts for J.C. from Dallas, Texas, who asked for advice in talking to their devout Catholic parents about Donald Trump. The first is based on the events of the week of July 13, when the Trump Administration successfully moved to execute three people. The Catholic Church teaches that capital punishment is a sin. Of the six federal executions since the Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976 (by 7-2 vote, with six of the majority appointed by Republicans), all have taken place during Republican presidencies (three under Bush 43, and the three last week under Trump). This seems a much more direct violation of Catholic teaching. In the abortion context, Democrats are not forcing anyone to have an abortion; they are only in favor of permitting others to choose it. Here, though, Trump is directly ordering Barr to obtain and fulfill the death warrants. Failing to stop "killings" (if that be what abortion is) would seem to be much less problematic that ordering killings oneself.
The second point is a bit legalistic: What is sinful is not necessarily illegal, nor should it be. The Fifth Commandment requires one to "honor thy father and thy mother." Yet virtually anyone would agree that a law forbidding autobiographies critical of one's parents would violate the First Amendment, and that it actually would be a bad thing to criminalize disparaging speech about one's parents. We do not live, nor I hope would J.C.'s parents want to live, in a theocracy. Indeed, after the Protestant Reformation, Catholics were often on the short end of that stick. Abortion may be a sin, but if so, it is a sin that, like parental disparagement, is a right that one can choose to commit or not. (And abortion differs from execution because there is no debate that the executed were alive; whether a fetus is alive from conception is a debate over which people of good conscience can differ.)
B.M. in Birmingham, AL, writes: I believe that you all are missing the point of why evangelicals appear to love Trump. I am an evangelical Jesus freak. I believe the Bible from Genesis to maps. I do not love Trump nor do any of the people I know with half a brain. Some of his economic policies have been favorable, but from a religious standpoint, he is definitely not viewed favorably. He does not represent the evangelical in any way. What is really going on is the decades-long persecution of all things Christian that have been perpetrated by the Democrat party (also known as the Demon-crat party in evangelical circles).
Here are some examples of what I mean by persecution:
- Legalized abortion
- Removal of all thing referencing the Christian God from schools and the attempt of removal from all public spaces.
- Legalized gay marriage
- LGBTQ rights with regards to serving at functions that a Christian Business owner disagrees with
- Muslim apology tours
- Stance on Israel and Palestine
The Republicans could put a trained monkey up (and Trump is not too far from this) as their candidate and evangelicals would likely vote for them. The Democrats say they want to have outreach to every group, but I challenge you to find an example where Bible Thumpers were among them.
Trump does not display evangelical traits, but he also does not do anything that seems anti-Christian, either. True evangelicals are lost to Democrats for the foreseeable future.
V & Z respond: If declining to compel all Americans to live according to the morality preferred by evangelicals (e.g., banning gay marriage) is perceived as "persecution" of evangelicals, then you are right, the Democrats are not going to be winning that demographic anytime soon.
M.L. in Franklin, MA, writes: In your item "Canned Beans Are Now Political," I cringed when you wrote that Trump supporters won't be repeat customers because they "probably don't drop in at the bodega or the supermercado very often." It implied that Trump supporters would have to go someplace they don't feel comfortable or feel out of place to buy these products. I don't think that's accurate. When I needed corn tortillas to make enchiladas the next night, I went to a suburban chain supermarket near my house. 80% of the shelf space devoted to Latino food was filled with Goya products. It was the predominant brand. Two other chain supermarkets I frequent also sell Goya products. I expect some White House flunky went to the nearest chain supermarket and picked up those Goya products for Donald and Ivanka Trump's photo-ops. And that flunky might have been Latino as well. While it is a head scratcher to me given Trump's immigration policies, many in my partner's Mexican-American family are avid supporters, and may buy more Goya products because of Trump's endorsement.
Me? I chose a different brand of corn tortilla, made my purchase, and left. The enchiladas were delicious.
P.C. in Stony Brook, NY, writes: I have had the good fortune to live in eleven different states, and in a few of those I've ranged around the state, living in different places. This has included a Texas town right on the Mexican border, the woods of New Hampshire, Florida west coast, and urban Boston, among others. I now reside in Long Island, but for many years have spent 5-6 months out of each year in Puerto Rico. All of this moving around has had a very positive effect on the diversity of my cooking—one of my favorite things to do, primarily because I love to eat. And that brings me to the subject of beans.
Early on I became entranced with the variety of Latino foods. Each culture has different takes, different specialties. It's all delicious. And for over 35 years I have been a devoted customer of Goya products. I settled on their line early on, primarily because of their consistent quality. Olive oil, rice in many forms, spices, sofritos, adobo (much more than a meat dish seasoning), dried and canned beans of many varieties, canned meats, etc. Their products were always my default "go to." I do all the grocery shopping and cooking for my household, and I can say without exaggeration that the "Goya portion" of my annual grocery budget is at least $600, and most likely higher.
But no longer.
In today's highly politicized environment, savvy CEOs are very careful of what they say, or whom they endorse. The fact that Unanue endorsed this President and his administration's goals—and then doubled down—with such glowing enthusiasm indicates that Unanue is "all-in" with this President's agenda. I can attest that this has quickly resonated within my own circle of Puerto Rican friends/neighbors, and not in a good way—#boycottgoya, #hellgoya, and similar sentiments are predominant in the social media.
No one disputes that Unanue has every right to say what he said. That's the First Amendment at work. But I, as a consumer, have every right to forgo buying his company's products. That's also the First Amendment at work, along with a healthy dose of free market capitalism.
The kicker for Goya is that Unanue wanted the short-term benefits for obsequiously praising the President, but neglected to consider the long-term detriment to his company's bottom line.
So yes, Goya might gain the Trump supporter who goes out, has to figure out where the Goya products are shelved, buys one of them, realizes they don't even know what to do with it, takes a photo of it with them "owning the libs," and that will be that. (I realize that is snarky, but I could not resist.)
In the meantime, Goya loses a lifelong customer such as myself. Not too savvy, in my humble opinion.
D.S. in Nashville, TN, writes: I enjoyed your item on the backlash against Goya after the CEO supported Donald Trump. For any company CEOs thinking of supporting Trump, perhaps they should look to Harley-Davidson and the major decline they have seen since doing so in 2016. Consumers are abandoning them in droves, they can't attract young buyers, and Trump policies have actually hurt them. Moral of the story: If you're a CEO, you should run as far away from Trump and his MAGA maggots as fast as you can before you end up at the bottom of the trash heap with them.
Whatever Happened to the Class of '21?
R.M. in Pensacola, FL, writes: Back in the mid 2000s, I spent four years as a member of the Board of Education of my hometown in Pennsylvania while I was in college. I learned a lot about how the public education system works, including the funding sources for the district.
While Donald Trump is running around "ordering" schools to reopen on schedule this fall, based on my experiences, most school districts will be ignoring what he says, and for a simple reason: money.
Federal funding for K-12 schools in this country is basically non-existent. In the school district that I was with, federal funding was for one program that accounted for less than $250,000 per year, which worked out to less than one percent of the district's annual budget. I think the conversation on this particular line item in the budget lasted about 10 minutes a year.
Sure, the amount of federal funding for school districts likely varies across the country. There might even be a few that receive a lot of funding from the federal government. But the vast majority of funds for schools are generated from local and state sources. As a result, your local school district will do what is in their best interest with an ear towards what their state is saying. It's why you are starting to see a lot of school districts across the country starting to delay the start of school.
As long as the virus continues to run rampant in some parts of the country, I expect to continue to see a lot of local push back on the demand that schools reopen. Trump will continue to have a lot of bark on this issue, but as usual, he will have no bite.
K.F. in Framingham, MA, writes: As we look ahead to the next school year, educators will remind you that health and safety has always been our number one priority. Districts are working hard to address these challenges. We owe it to all our students to make sure they are safe, but by extension, we want their families to remain healthy as well. We also need to think about our staff and their families, particularly those who are most vulnerable. It is easy to say that if one person becomes ill, they can be quarantined, but by then it may already be too late to stop community spread. The numbers in some areas of the country may be flatter right now, but as we've seen in other areas of the country, it doesn't take long for cases to spike again. A recent study out of South Korea found that older students are as likely to spread the virus as adults. If there were an outbreak, schools may have to pull back again anyway, which could prove to be more disruptive to instruction. I fear we will soon just see how bad it will be when schools in places like Florida start back up in a couple of weeks.
Some have talked about employing a hybrid model, where students and staff would spend half the time in school and half outside of school. Among other issues, this could lead to struggles around transportation and gaining access to enough PPE. I agree that an emphasis on social and emotional learning is important, but starting with a hybrid approach may not get schools any closer to that goal. If we follow social distancing, mask wearing, and other guidelines, this would limit socialization, group work, and support for individual students. If done well, remote learning can afford students with the opportunity to communicate with one another, work on projects together, and to get the individual support they need during teacher office hours—all without fear of getting sick. How can there be a focus on learning in the building if there is persistent anxiety over possible exposure?
When schools had to quickly adapt to remote learning last spring, it was far from perfect, but we now have a few months of experience with that. Nothing can replace in-person learning and yes, it is unfortunate that kids are losing out in some ways. However, their lives are far more important, as are the lives of their teachers. Kids are resilient. This pandemic may be an opportunity for this next generation to learn now to persevere when confronted with challenges. Obviously, equity is also of paramount concern, so now, we have an opportunity to improve upon virtual learning by connecting and training all families with the technology, fully utilizing tele-teaching, implementing new digital learning platforms, continuing forward with the curriculum, synchronizing schedules, and more. I recognize that there may be some populations of students, including those at risk for trauma, that may need to be in the building, even if it means learning remotely on-site. In my view, we should continue with remote learning until there is a vaccine or solid treatment regimen that demonstrates to us it is safe to gradually move back into the buildings.
C.W. in Carlsbad, CA, writes: I honestly cannot believe my eyes and ears. The current opening of businesses, coupled with the singular lack of national leadership, has taken us back to square zero with the pandemic. And if what I hear is true, the Southern states aren't even leveling with us on the scope of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Yet school districts around the country are planning on opening for in-class instruction? You cannot be serious! Think about this:
- Teachers are being asked to risk their very lives. One of a thousand teachers who commit to in-class instruction could be dead in a month.
- Students are assuming the very same risk, as well as the lives of their friends, parents, and siblings.
- This is a novel virus. We don't yet fully know its effects, its transmissivity, or who's vulnerable.
The kids that survive this will feel guilt about those who didn't make it. It's worse than surviving a shooting. It's as though the survivors were the ones with the guns. If you care about the students, don't send them back to school. We don't have any obligations to supporting an economy that may kill us. This is a time for hard choices, it's true. But when was it ever about trading your health or that of your kids for a paycheck?
Instead of blindly jumping out of the trenches, pressure lawmakers to come up with a plan and the tools necessary in ensuring the safety of our educators and students. Parents and teachers, would you volunteer your children for a herd immunity experiment? That's precisely what opening schools now is. I implore you, don't do it.
J.P. in Kansas City, MO, writes: As regards the anti-Mount Rushmore, here's one that explains the modern Republican party:
Newt Gingrich: From what I understand, he's a major reason that the party took a move further to the right. He didn't feel that the opposing party should have the Oval Office or a majority in government. I'd say that it can at least be argued that he had more of an impact than Ronald Reagan did, and especially on our current-day political situation. And he started his crusade in 1979.
Rush Limbaugh: He may just be an entertainer, but his impact is still felt. I was, at first, caught off guard when Trump awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. But it made perfect sense when I realized that he'd not be the POTUS without Rush's work the last three plus decades.
Sarah Palin: Her being the number two on a ticket and not knowing much at all regarding current affairs, national policy, etc., but still running around and making it up as she went along paved the way for Trump to do the exact same thing that she was doing.
Donald Trump. Hopefully he's the bookend to this march of aggressive ignorance that's been rising up over the last four decades in the U.S. And without those three to help him, he might not be the POTUS. He just took all of their work and molded it into what he is today.
R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: My four are:
J. Edgar Hoover: He had enormous power and abused it.
Donald Trump: Actually, this SOB is so awful, he can occupy all 4 slots. This bastard is tearing the country apart at the seams and he laughs like Robert De Niro in the scene from "Cape Fear" while he does it. He is a Stage 4 cancer that has spread throughout the entire GOP. The Trump GOP needs to be destroyed and rebuilt (or go the way of the Whigs). If there's any justice in the world, Joe Biden will get 425+ EVs, and even Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) will lose her Senate seat. A tidal wave that travels 1,000 mph (like in the movie "Deep Impact") needs to wipe this earth clean of the modern GOP on Nov. 3.
K.C. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: As I see it, your first two selections for the "reverse Mount Rushmore," Joseph McCarthy and Nathan Bedford Forrest, are beyond dispute for the reasons you've explained. But I would argue that if the goal is to cover the full sweep of our nation's history, an early American and a contemporary American must be added, and there are certainly plenty of dark characters who are worthy candidates. My choice from the era of the founders would be Benedict Arnold, whose sinister betrayal of George Washington imperiled the very establishment of the nation and caused his name to become synonymous with treason. As for contemporary times, I would vote for Bernie Madoff, whose utter callousness in the pursuit of financial gain destroyed countless lives, inspired his own son's suicide, and symbolized to the world the very worst of unchecked American greed.
Of course, this assumes that the current occupier of the Oval Office is ineligible for consideration, although when one considers the likely long-term consequences of this presidency to America's democracy and to America's standing in the world, that assumption should surely be subject to debate.
J.B. in Hutto, TX, writes: How could you possibly have omitted Benedict Arnold? His very name is a synonym for "treason." And his plot to turn over the fortress at West Point in exchange for a massive cash payment was much more sinister than people realize. It would have cut New England off from the rest of the country at one of the most dangerous moments of the war, probably ensuring a British victory. Moreover, by placing his men in intentionally dangerous positions and informing the British of their locations, Arnold's treason (had it been successful) would have resulted in the death or capture of perhaps three thousand soldiers of the Continental Army, and being a prisoner of the British during the Revolutionary War essentially meant a wasting, slow death in a rotting prison hulk in New York Harbor.
Since the population of America was then about 1% what it is now, the modern equivalent would be someone who caused three hundred thousand American soldiers to be either killed or be imprisoned under horrific circumstances. He had even tried to inform the British of the movements of George Washington so that the Commander-in-chief might be taken prisoner.
After Arnold's plot was exposed and he escaped, he was commissioned as a general in the British Army and launched raids in Virginia and New England, in which he burned undefended towns and villages to the ground. When his forces captured Fort Griswald, they massacred the American defenders who had surrendered. For all these reasons, I think he thoroughly deserves a spot at the top of any list of the worst Americans of all time.
D.G. in Studio City, CA, writes: I propose one replacement for your list: instead of Joseph McCarthy, insert Roy Cohn. He was McCarthy's Chief Counsel and political mentor to Lee Atwater, Karl Rove, Rupert Murdoch and...Donald J. Trump. McCarthy crashed and burned and his "issue" flamed out in the Eisenhower Administration almost 70 years ago. Cohn's nefarious strategies have been responsible for reprehensible political strategies for decades and his dead hand still stirs the pot today.
J.A. in New York, NY, writes: Maybe Peter Burnett, first governor of California?
Aside from his otherwise problematic views of excluding Black Americans from Oregon, and then Californian settlement (for their "benefit," of course), he also called for a "war of extermination" on the American Indians that still resided in California, numbering approximately 150,000 to 300,000 at the time of his taking office. This was subsequently reduced to about 30,000 by the time the Civil War rolled around.
He also signed the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians into law, which basically made it legal to remove American Indians from their land and place them into "indentured servitude" or "apprenticeship." In other words, legalized slavery.
M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: I nominate J. Edgar Hoover for his insidious abuse of federal police powers and his penchant for blackmailing elected government officials so he might remain in power as a law unto himself. Without Hoover, the Civil Rights movement might have progressed further faster, and expressing political and social dissent would not necessarily have been regarded as unpatriotic.
S.R. in San Jose, CA, writes: I nominate two Americans to the Mount Anti-Rushmore list: "father of public relations" Edward Bernays and quack doctor John Brinkley. The "Behind the Bastards" podcast did a two parter on "Eddie B," where they most succinctly summarize his career with: "He revolutionized bullshit." Brinkley necessitated the need for both an AMA and an FCC. I don't object to your list; Joe McCarthy is a monumental d-bag. I just want more candidates to be considered.
T.W. in San Francisco, CA, writes: I made up this list some months ago, leaving out current and former Presidents:Traitors/spies: Aldrich Ames, Klaus Fuchs, Benedict Arnold
Assassins: Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, John Wilkes Booth
Mass killers: John C. Frémont (Indian massacres), Charles Manson, Gary Ridgway (Green River Killer), Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Speck, Ted Bundy
Others: Bernie Madoff, Joseph McCarthy, Fred Trump, Joe Arpaio
Dishonorable Mention: Bull Connor, Walter Jarboe (Indian massacres)
R.C. in Burnsville, NC, writes: Nathan Bedford Forrest had nothing to do with founding the Klan, and in fact was responsible for its (official) termination. The Klan was founded, as a street-theater satire group, on Christmas of 1865 at 205 West Madison Street in Pulaski, TN, by James Crowe, Frank O. McCord, John Lester, John Booker Kennedy, Richard R. Reed, and Calvin Jones, in the law office used by Jones' father Thomas. Forrest was not present or involved. It was entirely a local group in Pulaski and its neighboring towns.
Later, vigilantes in outlying regions adopted the regalia and name of the KKK and some time in early 1867 convened and drafted Forrest, in absentia, to be their figurehead as a way to gain respectability given their proclivities to violence. Less than two years later in January of 1869, Forrest declared the actions of the organization to be out of control and officially dissolved the Klan, ordering its regalia to be destroyed in his first and only General Order No. 1. This order, of course, didn't stop rabid vigilantes from continuing on their own anyway, but it does tell us something of Forrest's actual attitude.
Coupled with Forrest's volunteering his services to the governor to track down and punish some of those who committed racial violence, and his public advocacy of education and opportunity for the freed slaves, a rethink may be in order here. But certainly don't keep perpetuating this myth that is so easily disproved by known facts.
Also, the Fort Pillow story is apocryphal.
V & Z respond: As a historian whose speciality is the historical memory of the Civil War, (Z) is very familiar with the Lost Cause push to clean up the reputations of leading Confederate figures (e.g., Robert E. Lee was a kindly slaveowner who didn't really care for the institution, Stonewall Jackson was a closet abolitionist, etc.) He presumes that a person does not need to be an expert, however, to smell something fishy with the claim that the KKK was just a "a street-theater satire group" or to notice that in the span of two paragraphs you have Forrest completely uninvolved with the KKK and yet also issuing general orders for the entire organization. That he grew disenchanted with the Klan—because of the disorder they represented, not because of their racism, or even their use of violence—does not excuse him in any way. As to Fort Pillow, it is possible that Forrest was ignorant of what his men were doing. At least, that is what he claimed. However, the evidence is not persuasive and, besides, when you are a commander, "the buck stops here." And to claim that the story is apocryphal? The massacre was covered extensively at the time, including the next day in the Memphis Bulletin.
J.L. in Paterson, NJ, writes: Years ago, Brooklyn-born journalists Pete Hamill and Jack Newfield were discussing scoundrels. Independently making their lists of the three greatest villains of the twentieth century, they both came up with the same trio in the same order: Hitler, Stalin, and Walter O'Malley. That list of names became the title of a movie. One could argue that Albert Anastasia, for all his loathsomeness, affected fewer people than did O'Malley when he moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.
Word Is a Four Letter Word
D.N. in Aberdeen, Scotland, writes: In today's America with its rapidly escalating police violence, dubious arrests, the many thousands of people dead from the pandemic that threatens our future as a species, and an incompetent vindictive conman at the helm, I can only dream of having the time and energy that R.M. from Aberdeen, WA, has for going so fiercely after inconsequential typographical errors.
A.J. in Mountain View, CA, writes: I run a part-time tutoring business that, among other things, helps high-school students improve their SAT scores. Here is an example of a question typical of those on the actual test:Directions: Choose the option which, when replacing the underlined portion of the text, most effectively improves the quality of writing in the passage or makes the passage conform to the conventions of standard written English.
If I can use a product that has 4 decades of thousands of experts' work rolled into it, and eliminate the vast majority of my errors in minutes, then wasting the time of others is wrong.
- No change
- it and
- it; and
- it. And
The correct answer, according to the conventions of the SAT is "C." Why is this relevant? Because the original sentence was written by R.M., who has been rather vocally critical of your choice not to use Microsoft Word to correct spelling and grammar mistakes on your site. In fact, Word flags the underlined portion above as an error. Is this an edit that (V) and (Z) made, or did R.M. forget to follow his own advice?
Lest I be accused of attacking R.M., let me say now in seriousness that a significant problem I see with R.M.'s argument is that it begs the question of which spelling and grammar checker should be considered as definitive. I ran R.M.'s latest contribution through Google Docs and came up with no errors, because the algorithm in Google Docs is based on more modern concepts of grammar and usage than the one used by Microsoft Word and on the SAT, which hearkens back to usage conventions that were popular in the middle of the 20th century. On the other hand, Google Docs flags "e-mail" (with a hyphen) as incorrect while Word has nothing to say on the subject. So is an error an error only if Microsoft says it is?
I am also a twenty-plus-year employee at a large company that has been using Microsoft Office the whole time I have been there, so please be assured that it was no knee-jerk reaction when I chose to use Google Docs exclusively in my tutoring business. Word has its benefits, and may make sense on an enterprise scale, but IMHO it is far too unwieldy to use for a business on the scale of my own and on the scale of what I suspect Electoral-Vote.com to be. The fact that Google Docs has fewer false positives and conforms better to 21st century English usage is enough to tell me that Microsoft Word is not the cure-all that R.M. makes it out to be.
V & Z respond: We went back and checked, and the original e-mail was reproduced faithfully.
L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: I laughed and laughed at R.M.'s diatribe about writing tools, and I deeply appreciate your response.
I would bet folding money that R.M. has never worked in any kind of production environment. For one thing, R.M. does not seem to understand how astonishing it is that you two are able to publish five to ten thousand words every day. That's in the 15- to 20-page range. I'm a technical writer with around 25 years of experience, and I'm in awe of your output, given the research, analysis, and writing that go into every item.
For another R.M. has...unrealistic ideas about accuracy. It is not possible to eliminate all errors, no matter how many layers of automated correction flagging and human review you have. The New York Times regularly publishes articles with grammatical, spelling, and factual errors. I have sent about a half-dozen error corrections to them just this year. I would bet that the paper has very good tools, and given its business, it's undoubtedly got a bespoke spell checker that includes a regularly updated list of the names of tens of thousands of public figures. I have also caught one or two grammatical errors in The New Yorker, which has famously excellent editorial processes.
The tools don't make that much of a difference, either. I currently write for my day job in markdown, which applies no styling—there's a separate staging process that lets you see whether your doc will look the way you want it to or not. The text editor we use is unreliable about flagging spelling errors. This is a terrible waste of tech writer time, but that's how it is at my company. I have used FrameMaker, the best tool ever created for tech writing. Nothing, but nothing, can make Frame crash, but there were still plenty of mistakes to be made. The worst one I made cost my then-company probably $5,000 in pulped manuals, because I sent a PDF to press with too many text conditions turned on, which resulted in chunks of multiple discrete installation guides in the same printed document. Ooops. The right human review would have prevented that, or maybe there was a checklist I skipped. I did not get fired.
A.N. in Tempe, on the other hand, understands completely how text production works, and given the very careful processes A.N. outlines and the phrase "top quality products that dominated our market," I'm guessing that their employer was an old-school company like IBM or Boeing. A.N. also understands that it's in no way unprofessional or disrespectful to publish work with typos and other errors. Writers are always balancing various quality issues against deadlines, and Electoral-Vote.com's deadline is...every day.
Ultimately, writers need to use the tools that work for them. Maybe you'd make different decisions about tools and processes if you were setting up the site today, maybe not. It doesn't matter to anyone but you, and really should not matter to readers.
I used Word for a year or so in the 2010s, and it was terrible for some functions that should have been solved problems in about 1990, like creating numbered lists with various levels of numbering, which it screwed up regularly. Maybe it's better now, but I'm in no hurry to find out.
Given my druthers, for tech writing I'd use FrameMaker with an add-on for web documents. I own that it's complicated to set up Frame templates, but after that, you don't have to think about formatting at all. You just have to think about what you're writing. For any other type of book, I'd use Scrivener, given its amazing ability to let you see your research and book draft at the same time. For everything else....Google Docs, software that is now good enough for almost everything else that I write.
J.V. in Aurora, IL, writes: Please, if you don't know how to use Word, just say so. I'm sure that your institutions have given you excellent products and you don't have the time or the need to learn a new one. Still, your "I don't know how to use it, so it must be stupid" attitude does not fit well with your otherwise excellent site. Here's a hint to help you: If Word doesn't think a word is spelled correctly then right click on the word and click "Add to Dictionary." It is now properly spelled (as far as you and Word are concerned). You'll never see a spelling error message for that word again.
To take a specific example, your July 19 post had a number of spelling and grammar errors. Everything could have been corrected in perhaps two minutes (assuming you are as slow as I am).
V & Z respond: We are not running this letter to discuss grammar, per se. We've already said what we are going to say, and we have nothing more to add. However, your underlying thesis—that two people with Ph.D. degrees and vast writing experience, one of them a literal computer scientist, are incapable of mastering Word—is no more plausible than the notion that we are closet Microsoftophobes. Further, we've given specific evidence of our use of Word (and Grammarly) for this purpose, and specific explanations for why those programs did not work well.
And that brings us to the point we thought worth making: Some people are just gonna believe what they want to believe. It's the exact same phenomenon we see with Donald Trump supporters, just a different specific belief.
V & Z respond: Yes, the "treacherous subtitles" bit has been used to great effect several times over the years, though Candy may well have pioneered it. We are also reminded of Garrett Morris' news for the hard of hearing on "Saturday Night Live."
D.H. in Lisbon Falls, ME, writes: Thanks for including Charlie Brown's favorite baseball player, Joe Shlabotnik, in your commentary. After he retired from his playing days Joe's minor league managing career was short-lived. He finished with a record of 0-1, fired after the first game because he signaled for a squeeze play with no one on base. Joe's leadership would fit perfectly in 2020.
V & Z respond: We were surprised by how many people wrote in with approving messages about that.
P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, writes: Even though I understand that neither V nor Z are stand-up comics, I am sometimes disappointed with attempts at humor in your posts. However, the remark about Nikema Williams' chances to win an election to succeed John Lewis—to wit, "Inasmuch as GA-05 is D+34, Williams could choose "Peaches Suck!" as her campaign slogan, "Marching Through Georgia" as her campaign song, and "Let's outlaw football!" as her platform, and she would still win in a walk"—hit the proverbial homerun. Bravo! Keep up the great work!
V & Z respond: Even Jerry Seinfeld has to workshop his bits to get them right. Since we don't have that liberty, we just have to roll the dice and see what happens. Sometimes we hit a home run, sometimes we pull a Shlabotnik.
H.M. in Paris, France, writes: A few fun f-words for friends and foes: false, favoritism, fleece, fractious, flouting, fraud, frothing, factless, fabulator, fiend, fucked.
D.S. in Fort Worth, TX, writes: In regards to the letter from J.E.T. in New York, NY, writing about the old D&D alignment debate. It appears the company that makes the game these days, Wizards of the Coast, now agrees.
M.C. in Santa Clara, CA, writes: With the current rejiggering of our language to be more sensitive to the racial injustices of the past and present, it seems as if 'Votemaster' could use a refresh. "Vote Wrangler"?
V & Z respond: Vote Gentle-but-firm Encourager?
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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