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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  COVID-19 Diaries, Sunday Edition
      •  Sunday Mailbag
      •  Today's Senate Polls

COVID-19 Diaries, Sunday Edition

As predicted: "COVID-19 Cases spiking in..." is a common news story right now. Part of the reason for this may be that we are starting to test better. In New Jersey, 40% of our tests used to come back positive, now 3% do. They are also smarter about what they report. They are now only reporting active virus positives.

I really like to review hospitalization data where I can get access to it. It responds quickly to an outbreak (a week or so) and it isn't influenced by how much we test. I found a really nice set of data from the CDC that shows emergency room visits of both COVID-19 like symptoms as well as ones where "COVID-19" is written on the chart. In every region for the entire range (latest date is 2 weeks ago), we are happily looking at a decreasing trend.

That said, if you look at new cases data, it is pretty alarming. New York and New Jersey are still looking very good. We are aggressively social distancing as we have ample reason to respect and fear COVID-19. However, the upward trends in lots of states look less encouraging.

Arizona, for example, has been all over the news and currently has the highest calculated R0 at When I drill down and look at the data, there is an alarming uptick in new cases. For hospitalizations, I see slow and steady increases in ventilator usage and hospital beds, but little evidence of an out-of-control wildfire.

South Carolina had a news story headlined "Largest One-Day Increase," but then it went down again. Cases appear to be increasing, but the data is very messy. Hospitalizations have gradually increased by 20% in the last 2 months. This is certainly a concern, but not any indication of exponential growth.

California has an increase in cases (but no increase in death rate), and the hospital data continues to decrease. The reason appears to be more and better testing rather than a huge outbreak.

I don't want anyone to think that I am embracing my inner Hannity here. I am concerned that we are not opening as smartly as we might. The path to COVID-19 receding is keeping R0<1. We are not keeping R0<1. We seem to be keeping it around 1 (sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less). That is not good enough. We have everything going for us right now:

  • Lots of sun and being outside a lot

  • Not really opening very far yet

  • Social distancing is still "mostly" being employed. I went and got take-out yesterday from a Papa John's in NJ and even though there were all sorts of precautions for the patrons, none of the staff wore masks.

  • And the really big one: the kids are not in school

It appears that we are relaxing social distancing at exactly the time we should be doubling down on being careful.

In other news, I watch videos from active researchers. Here are the findings of a study from Italy, where they tested 84% of a local population and then retested the same group at a later time:

  • Your age influences how likely you are to catch COVID-19. Children may get exposed and not get infected (they are not just asymptomatic, they show no evidence of infection). Even children living in homes with infected people are not getting infected. Older people are much more likely to get infected than younger people.

  • Reports that most people who get infected are asymptomatic are probably wrong. If you look at any point in time, there is a low percentage of people with symptoms; but if you track them over time, 60% will show symptoms at some point.

  • The viral load of asymptomatic patients is no different from the viral load of symptomatic patients. People with the virus who have no symptoms can still infect you.

  • Social distancing really works well. This is the only way we are going to stop this thing.

I enjoy listening to the actual researchers doing the work. The more I listen to them, the less confidence I have in our media or government to provide good information. (PD)

Sunday Mailbag

It turns out that people really do read the intros; see the letters at the very end.

The Protests, Part I: The Dynamics

S.F. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: This week, (V) wrote: "One black man said that his grandfather and mother had voted for years and got nothing, so 'Why should I participate in the same process?' It would seem he does not place much value on the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act."

The reason that de-jure segregation was dealt with in the 1960s was that black Southerners and Northerners (working with white religious leaders and other allies) engaged in direct action—freedom rides, sit-ins at lunch counters, marches, boycotts, etc. The pressure they put on the system, combined with a shift in consciousness prompted by the brutality of the Bull Connors of the world, as well as the fear that a largely nonviolent movement could eventually turn violent, convinced white America to do something. The trouble is that in the period after the Civil Rights legislation, and after a Great Society that never met its potential (due to spending on fighting the Vietnam War) black people did not get that much out of the political system.

We're talking about over forty years of austerity where social spending was allegedly unaffordable or unsustainable, while spending on police simply had to be increased. The gaps left by falling social spending have increasingly been filled by police who don't even have the tools to deal with those gaps. This was also a time when integrated busing was slowly abandoned and when white flight, redlining, and, eventually, gentrification accelerated. So maybe we shouldn't be so dismissive of the frustration that leads to the disaffected/alienated sentiments expressed by that guy in the focus group. Likewise for other non-voters. Besides, without trying to understand someone's reasons for disengagement, we will never succeed at getting that person to change course.

L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: C.S. in Wales wrote in with the view that the current civil unrest will pass and won't be much of an issue in the fall. I'm not convinced. The Biden campaign has got to be designing ads right now that are built around Donald Trump's tweets, behavior, and words. They can paint him as cowardly for the White House fence, disrespectful toward an unarmed, cooperative man who was killed by police, and willing to use military force against Americans.

Also, the movement to reform or abolish policing in its current form won't go away. Proponents of reform and abolition know that these are long-term projects. The movement to reduce racism and racist behavior is, again, a long-term project. More people than ever before are learning about the long-term damage racism does to BIPOC and its corrosive effects on American society. More people than ever are working for change.

L.V.A. in Idaho Falls, ID, writes: I want to address something that has been an issue for me for a few years, something that people like Rush Limbaugh say doesn't exist, namely the concept of "white privilege." First, let me say that I have no doubts that white privilege fully exists and has to be fully acknowledged and addressed if we have any hope of resolving the economic and social ills of our "free" society. I acknowledge that I have had access to opportunities throughout my adult life because of, among other things, white privilege. Some see "white privilege" as an accusation of racism. It is much more a statement of how our institutions and society have advantages and disadvantages hardwired into them.

I grew up in a place that was both ethnically and culturally different than what I was born into, and I was subject to a lot of mistreatment due to this. I often told myself that when I finished high school I could leave this all behind forever (which I did), but I also recognize that the vast majority of people in similar circumstances do not have that option. This upbringing has made me a liberal and a Democrat for life. When I see the term "white privilege" applied so cavalierly, I have a similar reaction to a friend being told she got her job only because of her gender or another friend being told that he was selected only because he is a minority. My point? Not all women got the job due to their gender, not all Democrats are evil, not all Republicans are stupid, not all poor people just want a government handout, not all foreigners are terrorists, and not all white male baby-boomers are white supremacist Trump-loving Sergey-Nechayev-idolizing entitled members of the single largest 'victim' class in the country.

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: I'd like to present an alternative viewpoint on economic justice. The discussions of 400 years of economic oppression imply that white society is made up of well-off folks living on inherited wealth. That anti-utopian image misses the reality that many/most white Americans have personal or family histories of economic hardship. These Americans also feel disenfranchised and left behind by the "American Dream." They also experienced the scorn of elites and have lived through "It's not what you know but who you know" in the workplace. The older adults in this group lived through the era of affirmative action, college admissions quotas and such, where they were required to make sacrifices to serve the needs of minorities, while the elites still found a way to get all of their kids into top universities and high-paying jobs. They were socially compelled to remain silent about their frustrations in life, quietly eating the injustices they experienced. No protest by them or on their behalf would get any sympathy. Even the ones that climbed up the economic ladder remember difficult childhoods and don't believe anyone did them any favors. They don't want anyone's sympathy but they would like a little respect. While I doubt he planned it, Donald Trump gave this minority group (lower and recently lower income whites) a voice. While he hasn't done anything to really help them, simply giving them a way to express a lifetime of frustration has been powerful. They aren't so much racist as they are tired of listening to people complaining, as they see it, rather than taking personal responsibility for their lives. While I am not in their political camp, these are my friends, family, coworkers, and fellow worshipers and I'd like the rest of you to see where they are coming from, even if you don't agree with it. Like it or not, they aren't going away with the next election.

J.L.J. in San Francisco, CA, writes: I was born and raised on a poor rural Georgia dirt farm off a dirt road. My principal mode of transportation was a horse. I often joke I grew up in the 1930's despite my relative youth. The doctor who delivered me delivered my brother, aunt, uncle, and mother. We had him over for dinner many times. When it comes to Southern racism, I will say the following: yes, of course, it is real and rampant. For many, they are oblivious that their views, rhetoric, and displays of Confederate iconography are racist.

When it comes to overt signs of racism, however, it seems more complicated than how outsiders imagine it. Yes I heard the n-word often, usually referred directly to me in some way, such as in reference to the n***** Party (the Democratic Party), or just casually, like when it was said to my grandmother—at church—"you ain't voting for that n***** are you?" She lied, saying she hadn't made up her mind yet, then promptly bought the biggest Obama banner she could find and hung it along the broadside of a stable facing the main road. I also saw the Confederate battle flag often, rationalized as a symbol of Southern pride. Naturally, I could not grow up in a place like that without knowing some bona fide Klansmen. More of a club than a movement, as far as I could tell. Many are policemen. One reformed Klansman is now my stepfather. It took him almost two decades to convince my mother he had reformed enough for her to even consider dating him.

I note all of this because, unlike the rest of my family, I left Georgia for military service and saw a very different world. The world imagined by L.V.A. from Idaho Falls, ID and so many others is, from my point of view, astoundingly off the mark. The first time in my life I ever heard a white man call a black man the n-word to his face was on my very first day in San Francisco. There are many other times I have borne personal witness to astounding public displays of overt racism and bigotry directed at persons of color. But in rural Georgia? Nope. In private, absolutely. Publicly? Aside from battle flags rationalized as displays of Southern pride, never.

I cannot speak on any of this for Southern suburbs or cities, only to my little neck of the woods. Plenty racist, but not in the faces of people of color about it, unlike pretty much everywhere else I have ever been.

J.E.K. in Portland, OR, writes: Your comments about the relationship of slavery to voting patterns in Southern states I think is quite interesting. I do think your data is dancing around an issue in American Society: We have a caste system in the South. This system is very much like the caste system in India; India's system is just much older. Over time, and the rise and fall of civilizations, the Indian system has become very complex in comparison to ours. The other similarity is that localized conservative religion(s) are the glue that help keep the system(s) going. It would be easy to criticize Southerners for this system, but keep in mind that it was in Minneapolis where George Floyd was choked to death. Many Black Americans are moving back to the South for economic and cultural reasons, and settling in cities and suburbs such as Atlanta and Houston. So, the South has a caste system, and one could argue the North has a class system and different forms of racism. Another way of putting it: In the North, everyone is equal, if there is a place for you. In the South, nobody is equal, but typically there is a place for everyone. North Carolina is more urbanized than South Carolina, so it is more liberal. But overall, the politics in both states is extreme and rigid due to caste identity issues in the surrounding countryside. Obviously there are a lot of generalizations here, but I think there are important points to be made about how the social, economic and political systems affect regional politics.

V & Z respond: This also brings to mind the old observation: "In the North, white people don't care how high black people get, as long as they don't get too close. In the South, white people don't care how close black people get, as long as they don't get too high."

J.L. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: You inspired me this week. After I saw your item "Is Somethin' Happenin' Here?", my brain started playing Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" on a loop in my head as I began thinking about the many parallels between the turbulent 60s and today. I also, on a friend's recommendation, listened again to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech and heard so many things that are still not only relevant but, 100% on point. The following video was my way of taking the cacophony of images and sounds we've seen and heard these past few weeks and attempting to process them in trying to navigate my own path through this pivotal moment in American history. I don't know if you want to start inviting comments though montages, but if you decide to, this video is as much for you and your readers as it is for Martin, George, Ahmaud, Trayvon, and all of the others whose lives mattered:

V & Z respond: Very well done! Thanks for putting this together, and for sharing it.

The Protests, Part II: The Police

S.B. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I have been a felony prosecutor for 26 years in Los Angeles. All life is precious. However, over the years one can't help but notice the majority of people who end up harmed or die in police custody are black. Further, a majority of the defendants in the criminal system are people of color. While all life is precious it does indeed need stating that black lives matter.

I am a light-skinned Latino, so I won't pretend to know what it must be like to live such an existence. I can say for myself and all of the prosecutors I have known, we have approached our cases with a deliberate color blindness, treating each case and each defendant on the merits of the underlying facts, background and the law. Also, my firsthand experience is that a vast majority of police officers are proud public servants trying to uphold the law. The recent movement to reform law enforcement is long overdue, but must include law enforcement as part of the solution. We are not going to abolish the police, as that would be anarchy. Truth be told, most police officers would be only too happy to not have to address homelessness, drug addiction and mental health. Rather than, "Defund the Police," which suggests a hostile adversarial tone open to exploitation by Donald Trump and his ilk, a more accurate slogan should be, "Realign the Police." Realign them back to a more strictly law enforcement role along with less militarization and more de-escalation skills. Realign spending to supplement those social services to better serve the homeless, the addicted and the mentally ill. Realign the police because black lives matter.

H.M. in Berlin, Germany, writes: One thing I don't hear in the discussion about defunding, rebuilding, or reforming the police is an attempt to learn from places and countries with well-functioning police departments. Here in Germany, for example, I personally witness many police interactions with potential troublemakers. The technique is always: move in closer, speak softly, try to calm them down—in short, de-escalate the situation and prevent it from getting violent. It's the exact opposite from what one sees in the U.S. (admittedly only on TV and YouTube for me), which is almost always: keep your distance, pull your weapon, shoot at the slightest move, and generally escalate the violence. Why not learn from others? I know Americans are loath to apply other people's experiences, but this is life and death we're talking about. And in fact, there are even examples in the United States.

L.E. in Santa Barbara, CA, writes: In response to your item "Why Is There a Military Response to the Protests?", I think there are additional reasons for the military flavor of local law enforcement's response to the peaceful protests, as described well in this Foreign Policy article, headlined "The NYPD Sees Coordination in Protests. It's Incentivized."

Although the article focuses on the NYPD, it also highlights many other local agencies and states where this mindset is entrenched. My view is that "defund the police" should really be about de-incentivizing local law enforcement from surveillance, counter-intelligence, and the purchase and use of military equipment. These functions should not be the goals of community police and sheriff's departments. We need to change this mindset across the country. We need to redirect much of the funding to training local law enforcement to have better de-escalation skills, and completely away from surveillance and the purchase of military equipment, while also redirecting more funding to social services.

J.A. in New York, New York, writes: I live in Manhattan, which has been just one area that has been affected by the recent protests against racism. Witnessing NYPD officers standing less than one block away from stores being ransacked and looted makes me question their motivations.

If you remember, the violent looting didn't actually start in New York City, it began in the Midwest and then arrived in New York about 1-2 days later. Either NYPD leadership is completely incompetent, or they intentionally told their officers to stand down and allow the looters to damage dozens/hundreds of stores in midtown to send a message.

There was no preparation for possible looting on Fifth Ave (of Saks Fifth Ave fame), or at the Macy's at Herald Square/34th (of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade fame)? There was no police presence on Madison Ave., just a block away from Fifth, home to basically every large upper tier fashion brand? I find it very hard to believe they could not anticipate that there would be violent property damage to those areas, which leads me to believe it wasn't that they could not protect, but that they would not.

Why? One tactic during large protests is to win the PR war. How better to win that war by trying to portray the protesters as rioters/looters/thieves? Most reasonable humans agree that a very tiny fraction of the people out were actually looting. By allowing the looting to occur, they create a narrative that the entire city is in flames. Then, a couple of days later, they finally make a hundred or so looting arrests, and claim that they saved the city from total destruction (not literally, but that is the imagery they want to put forward).

This leads to Buffalo NY, and the 75 year old gentleman who was pushed to the ground. Yes, the elderly man did not obey verbal orders to clear the way (as a reminder, the BPD first claimed he tripped and fell, before camera footage showed him being pushed by their officers). Why is the response to verbal non-compliance physical? Clearly, the man was injured after the push, indicated by the red liquid seeping from his head onto the ground beneath him. Byron Brown, the mayor, suspended the two officers pending investigation. Subsequently, the rest of the emergency response unit (57 members) resigned from that special unit "in disgust" that their fellow officers were suspended.

What do these two instances have in common? To me, they show a disturbing pattern of questionable loyalties. Are these departments' loyalties to the cities, communities, and people they are supposed to be serving or are they to their "brotherhood" and department first? This mass resignation, in particular, makes me question my assumptions that most officers are focused on what's right. I cannot help but feel like there are people in the police that are there for the wrong reasons. As a Navy vet, I have seen a lot of instances of people with hero complexes. They love the praise and attention they get for being the "hero" and the credit for how "brave" they are. Unfortunately, they loved being seen in their dress uniforms more than they loved actually doing the work, and would get masted for not doing their jobs. Point being, these people joined to get validation from others, not necessarily to do what's right.

I have absolutely no doubt that many of the people on these police forces are good people, who just want to legitimately serve and protect, but these people need to stand up and change the culture from within, while civilians pressure them from without.

E.K. in Brignoles, France, writes: Some kind of follow-up to the question from G.A. in Berkeley, CA: In French, the adjective chauvin is used to describe people who can tolerate only other people from their own country/province/city (e.g. people from Marseille, the second biggest French city, are famous for generally hating with a passion all outsiders, and especially Parisians. They're the caricature of what we call chauvinisme). Kind of ironic when you know the hate which Derek Chauvin seems to hold for black people.

In France, however, it's more often a geographical than a racial problem, in my opinion. But it also applies to French people who think our country is the best and can't physically tolerate the longtime presence of immigrants from the Maghreb. These people massively vote for far-right leaders like Marine Le Pen. And when you can't persuade one of them that they're wrong, you generally conclude the conversation by saying: "Laisse tomber, tu es tellement chauvin!" ("Forget it, you're so chauvinist!") in order to avoid a fight.

The Protests, Part III: The President

P.M. in Makhanda, South Africa, writes: Shifting the Overton window may be more subtle than most suppose. Superficially, Trump shifted it very far to the right by being an enabler for white supremacists, Nazis and violent cops (remember him urging cops not to avoid bashing a suspect's head when putting them in a car?).

In practice what has happened is that after 3.5 years of these hate-filled tendencies being mainstreamed, many overtly apolitical Americans have been sufficiently disgusted by a steady stream of children who saw their friends mowed down being vilified as "crisis actors", hate speech being treated with soft hands, and police brutality being outed on national television, that the pendulum has swung the other way. The South African word gatvol captures the moment very well.

In a way rather different than he supposes, maybe Trump has done more for black Americans than any president since Lincoln.

C.F. in Merrimack, NH, writes: In the ultimate irony, if real change happens this time, I would think some historians will give Donald Trump "credit." He's given more life to this movement than any other president ever would have. If he did the typical political acquiescing to at least some of the issues, it seems much more likely this movement would have died back down by now, as it has so many times in the past.

V & Z respond: Perhaps so, but it is not common for historians to give credit to antagonists as opposed to protagonists. We are unfamiliar with any works that, for example, credit Jefferson Davis for his efforts in helping hasten the end of slavery, or George Wallace for his work in bringing about the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

N.E. in Anchorage, AK, writes: Perhaps, I am guilty of not following right-wing conspiracy theories closely enough, but apparently Antifa, the boogie man of the right, stands for anti-fascism? And I am to understand this is bad, and that we should be for fascism? Oops, I got things mixed up. You answered questions yesterday, not today.

In all seriousness, that's gaslighting from people who support fascist law enforcement. Why wouldn't they just rail against anarchy? Oh wait, libertarian is one of the Republican Party's key constituencies.

J.M. in Radcliffe, KY, writes: I have a theory about why this time feels different.

With 30 million people newly unemployed, there is a larger pool of people able to participate in large, long lasting protest. They have cell phones. Lots of video comes out and it's not all looting. Social media makes it more difficult for any media outlet to drive a narrative.

Trump's gut response is usually one-sided, all about himself, or just flat wrong. The Bible at the church stunt fell flat. No one believed the "no tear gas was used" line. Fewer people are seeing the emperor's clothes.

The 2020 Election

B.H. in Greenfield, MA, writes: Yesterday, you had an item in which Donald Trump was quoted as saying on Fox News. "Certainly, if I don't win, I don't win." I was very surprised that, in your analysis, he saw the writing on the wall (an eternity before the critical date), decided to be practical, and told the truth. Do any of those things sound like the current occupant of 1600? As you yourselves have observed countless times (maybe somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000?) Trump is a serial liar whose statements, claims, and pledges are worth no more than the hot air on which they're floating. Why do you suddenly take him at his word? I certainly don't, and am much more reassured by the stance of the military than by a passing remark on State TV by President Pinocchio.

V & Z respond: Every once in a while, Trump issues forth with a surprising level of self-awareness. The general tone and content of the remarks did not feel at all like someone who is trying to set the stage for a coup. We think it is more likely that if Biden gets more electoral votes, Trump will dispute state voting totals and claim that he actually won states that he lost. He might also claim that millions of illegal immigrants voted. Do not assume that he will go quietly if he loses.

J.R. in San Francisco, CA, writes: Hillary Clinton almost universally had an 86% chance of winning like Joe Biden does now, and we saw how that turned out. In 2016, Donald Trump won Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania with exactly the number of votes by which Romney lost in 2012. These polls are not worth the paper they are printed on.

V & Z respond: Do keep in mind that even when there is an 86% favorite, the underdog is still going to win roughly one time in six. Also, Trump's win was based on margins of less than 1% in three key states. Polls have a margin of error of about ±4% and cannot detect such small differences. The national polls were spot on.

J.B. in Mitchell, Ontario, Canada writes: Of all the states that Donald Trump is currently polling ahead in, only three of them have electoral votes in double digits of 10 or higher: MO (10), TN (11) and IN (11). Everything else is single digits! And, I guess you could count TX (38) to be nice. So, just four. Joe Biden has 16 states with 10 electoral votes or more. That's four times the amount Trump has!

Just thought I'd share that little observation.

M.B. in Austin, TX, writes: I have lived in Texas my entire life and, in my late twenties and early thirties, helped run Democratic campaigns (including one of the last Democrats who won statewide, in 1994). I think you mischaracterized Mark McKinnon's piece, leaving out the part where he said that Republicans should consider the recent polling numbers a four-alarm fire. The only analysis I see about Texas is basically, "It won't turn blue because it is Texas," which is lazy. McKinnon says: "Trump won by a comfortable nine points," but does not point out that Romney won by seventeen points just four years earlier. As much criticism as Beto O'Rourke took for his Presidential bid, his Senate run produced 600,000 more votes out of the urban areas than did Hillary Clinton.

Texas has six of the 20 largest cities in the country. Houston, San Antonio and Dallas are in the top ten, Austin is #11, followed by El Paso and Fort Worth in the top twenty. All of these areas are purple or blue. The canary in the coal mine was Williamson County north of Austin, once heavily conservative, that went for Beto in 2018. There are 22 toss-up races for the Texas House, and if Democrats win 9 of those they take control. Texas is very much in play.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: Your comments on whether the Biden campaign should spend money in Texas or ignore it makes sense from an Electoral College perspective. However, there is another consideration. In 2018, Democrats picked up several House seats in the state, and have a chance to pick up more this year. They also have a chance to make significant gains in the state legislature. So allocating at least some resources to get-out-the-vote efforts there might make some sense.

D.R. in Yellow Springs, OH, writes: Thanks for linking to Mark McKinnon's article in which he argues that if Texas is seriously in play this year, Biden will win so many other states that he won't need Texas to win easily. Although I agree that is true, I disagree with his argument that Democrats shouldn't put resources into winning Texas this year.

Quite simply, if Democrats pour money into Texas, it will force Republicans to do the same thing. And every dollar Republicans spend in Texas this year is one they can't spend in Iowa or Ohio or Arizona. So unless Republicans have a lot more money overall this year, spending money in Texas could help Democrats win other states this year. And beyond this year, if Democrats build up their network of donors and volunteers in Texas this year, it will help them in the future.

McKinnon's article ignored two big factors helping Democrats in Texas. First, the boom in high-tech jobs there has attracted new residents who are highly educated and tend to favor Democrats. Second, the Latino population of the state is growing faster than the population as a whole. Ten years ago, Republicans could hope to win over a significant number of Latinos, but the racism that the party has tolerated—if not embraced—has changed that. If these trends continue, Democrats will eventually be competitive in Texas. I'm a little skeptical that this will be the year that it happens, but it will certainly happen faster if Democrats campaign there this year.

J.C. in Lexington, KY, writes: I live in KY-06, and have followed Amy McGrath's campaigns since she narrowly lost to Andy Barr in 2018. So, I was pleasantly surprised by the recent poll indicating that she leads Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) by one point. A recent Newsweek article elaborates, noting that when McGrath's position on term limits is factored in (she supports them, while McConnell does not), her lead increases to 45 percent, while McConnell has just 30 percent. Expect an ad by McGrath highlighting this point any day now.

At the same time, I am a little dismayed by the fact that McGrath has a challenger from the left in Charles Booker. Because of his involvement in the protests in Louisville, his profile has risen and his funding has increased—enough to make TV ad purchases. No doubt recent endorsements by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) will accelerate this some.

As a red state, it's challenging for a Democratic candidate to succeed in Kentucky. Gov. Andy Beshear's (D) victory in 2019 was more about how Kentuckians didn't like Matt Bevin than whether they liked Beshear. Kentucky may be reliably Republican, but the people clearly have limits to what they will put up with. Given this, McGrath (like Beshear) must demonstrate an ability to bridge differences if she is to defeat the similarly un-liked Mitch McConnell. Consequently, a challenge from the left by Booker is unnecessarily distracting. Perhaps the only benefit to it is it will help Kentuckians see that McGrath is not as radically leftist as they imagine her to be.

S.C. in Mountain View, CA, writes: It doesn't matter if the polls of Georgia say it's in play for both the Presidential contest and the two U.S. Senate seats. Tuesday's election was a dress rehearsal for how state-imposed "incompetence" can be used as cover for suppressing the (presumed Democratic) minority vote, guaranteeing that Georgia stays solid red in November up and down the ticket. Polling does not take into consideration vote suppression efforts. While pollsters may ask an individual if they are "likely" to vote, I don't think they ask "how likely are you to wait in line for five hours to vote?"

J.M. in Sewickley, PA, writes: I had a much more enjoyable mail-in ballot experience than A.M. in Brookhaven, PA, did. On October 31, 2019, Governor Tom Wolf (D-PA) signed Act 77 of 2019, which created the option to vote by mail up to 50 days before an election and to be placed on a list to permanently receive a ballot application by mail. I did not know it at the time, but I had heard about it by March of 2020. On April 4, I requested a mail-in ballot online and received confirmation of my request from the county election office on April 21. This might have been too late, as A.M.'s request may have been, except that the Pennsylvania primary was moved 5 weeks from April 28 to June 2. When I received my ballot in late April or early May, I filled it out within a couple of days, and mailed it. Shortly afterwards, I received an e-mail confirming that my ballot had been received by the county election office.

T.O. in New Orleans, LA, writes: I have followed your website for over a decade and rarely have I been irked by your commentary, but this comment bothered me: "Part of the problem is that elections are completely decentralized and counties simply don't have the resources and expertise to do the job."

I have served as an elections worker in every election since 2004, in three different states. I have labored primarily as a poll worker but I have also worked behind-the-scenes. I have canvassed absentee ballots, tested and programmed voting machines, prepared poll bags, trained poll workers, audited results, written operations manuals, and even once starred in a PSA when my State adopted new voting machines after the Help America Vote Act was implemented.

It is certainly true that no elections office ever has all the resources we would like to have, but the expertise comment is insulting to election workers who make a good faith effort performing an underappreciated job. Further, the system is not nearly as decentralized as you imply. It is the states—not the counties/parishes—that pass the election laws/regulations, run the voter registration databases, approve (and in some cases procure) the voting machines, etc. Federal law also comes into play for federal elections. The counties/parishes have very little freedom of action at the end of the day; we can determine poll site locations and are responsible for the hiring and training of poll workers. That is it in most States.

If you want to help you should loudly and repeatedly encourage all of your readers to sign up as poll workers. The one constant I have seen in every jurisdiction is that we never have enough good poll workers. We are forced to staff polling places with elderly retirees, who in many cases have health problems that should preclude them from working, because they are the only ones who will serve. We are forced to cut the number of poll sites because we do not have enough people to fully staff them all. Now we have a pandemic that is most dangerous to the segment of the population that serves in the largest numbers; I cannot even imagine the staffing problems we are going to see in 2020.

Bottom line, we need the young and middle aged to step up and serve and we need them to do it yesterday. As a former Secretary of Defense once awkwardly said, "You go to war with the Army you have...." Give some of your time to the cause of democracy; it is the least you can do as a citizen and in most States you will be paid for your time.

V & Z respond: Certainly, no insult was intended toward public-minded folks like you, and if that remark was taken in that way, we regret it. We were speaking more of the politicians who make decisions, and in particular their lack of understanding/concern when it comes to proper security.

E.V. in Derry, NH, writes: K.F. from Framingham, MA, wrote last Sunday about what should be done if the Democrats win the elections: "Democrats will need to make an example of those Republicans who broke the law..."

I agree 100%. In recent weeks I have noticed a distinct change in commentary and analysis websites and TV shows, included. The tone has changed from concern about the fraying of the fabric of our republic to alarm about the complete shredding of it. The comments are more blunt about the harm to the future being done by yet another crazy day in Trump's administration. The range of misbehavior is astounding, and the perpetrators don't care.

We have to do more than just turn the page come January. There must be legislative action for the future, strengthening—among other things—inspectors general, the laws of Congressional oversight, the rules for filling empty federal offices, or the rules for divestment while in office.

The other half of the work is exposure and prosecution. The Democrats will have to spread out the job, and let the whole system work, rather than risk it becoming too much political theater. There will be enough to investigate for Congress, the Justice Department, state prosecutors, regulators and private citizens.

Maybe the release of John Bolton's book will help get this all rolling, though it is still outrageous that he did not testify at the impeachment hearings.

The Veepstakes

M.H. in Boston, MA, writes: I haven't seen it mentioned, but it looks like the Democratic convention will nominate a woman for Vice President almost exactly 100 years after the 19th amendment guaranteed a woman's right to vote (ratified Aug. 18, 1920; the rescheduled convention is Aug. 17-20, 2020).

V & Z respond: Wow! Good point. Presumably, many attendees will dress in all white that day, as they do for Donald Trump's State of the Union addresses.

P.D.T. in Raton, NM, writes: I respectfully object to K.C. of Levittown, NY's, comments on the relative value of having Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) or Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) as Joe Biden's running mate. While I have little knowledge of Duckworth and what she would bring to the table, other than admiration for her suffering on our country's behalf and likely appeal to a wide swath of veterans, I believe that Biden's selection must have deeper and farther-reaching implications than addressing mostly the beginning and end of his term (i.e., her appeal in the general election, and her succession to the Oval Office should a President Biden become incapacitated or perish).

Biden's VP will (and should) have enormous responsibility, in considerable excess of what past VPs have enjoyed, due to: (1) the sheer pervasiveness and volume of the damage that must be ended, mitigated and repaired in the wake of the current administration's greed and folly, and (2) the rapidly-narrowing window for addressing the worst existential crisis our planet has faced since the 5th Extinction, 65 million years ago. Elizabeth Warren is the potential pick most able to hit the ground running. Her "bookishness" (she's a Harvard Professor, after all) is not a liability, but an advantage, because we need someone of her extraordinary intelligence to assume such responsibilities. With the possible exception of Gary Hart in 1984, when he nearly (and should have) wrested the Democratic nomination from Walter Mondale, no other candidate in my lifetime has done the research or hit the books like Warren has, developed policies that—though they be anchored in idealism, as American Democracy itself is—are so comprehensive, deeply-considered, painstakingly researched or embedded in practical, doable solutions. And while I would rather see her at the helm, every great Captain needs a great Navigator—and no one is better suited to that task than Liz Warren.

B.R.D. in Columbus, OH, writes: In response to KC in Levittown, NY, such criticisms of Elizabeth Warren are common, but the data, as Stan Greenberg points out, over and over again, contradict them. Elizabeth Warren was consistently the second favorite candidate. She polls well with black, Latino, and young voters. Oh, yes, let's hear it again for "she comes across as elitist and out-of-it" and ask ourselves where we've heard that before. Somehow, a woman who fights back, who fights for people, who listens in forums and then translates what she hears into policy plans, is removed from the world. Yes, she's been a teacher, and of several levels of learners, I might add, but why is it that "teacher" somehow translates into elitist rather than someone trying to help others gain knowledge and power to act in the world? We heard the same thing about Barack Obama, too. Heaven forbid that anyone has learned anything and tries to share it with someone else.

A Biden/Warren team would be a legislative juggernaut. They know how things work, and they can get things done. And they exude competence and compassion through every pore. What a relief they would be.

C.K. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes: I am from Michigan. You've declared the state to be "lost cause" territory for Donald Trump, which in turn knocks Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) off the list of VP choices. I am perplexed that your analysis is so simple. Are you saying that her only positive was helping to win Michigan? Not so fast! What other candidate brings a state that is close and does not bring additional negatives? Klobuchar has got the Minnesota race problems clouding her options and Whitmer's handling of COVID-19 is impressive to non-Michiganders, I would think. I think (hope) she's still in the running.

J.L. in Wanamingo, MN, writes: I understand why there is so much excitement over the choice for the vice president: maybe it will swing a state, and if it swings a state, maybe it will swing the entire election. But I contend the VP pick does not matter in the presidential election results. Not one bit. In presidential elections I'm old enough to remember (since 1984) none of the picks can be given as the reason the candidate won or lost. As in, "well if [presidential candidate X] had only chosen [vice-presidential candidate Z], they clearly would have won/lost."

I'm thinking the closest is McCain's pick of Sarah Palin in 2008, but that is widely regarded as a "Hail Mary"; does anybody think he had a chance in that election, regardless of his pick? And I'll go one step further: Is there any evidence that a VP choice ever changed the results of even a single state? By "evidence", I mean before and after polling that clearly shows a swing.

I'm not suggesting you stop all the conjecture about the VP pick—I enjoy it as much as anybody. But I'll be happy with Biden's pick no matter who she is, because I don't believe it's going to influence the outcome on November 3 at all.

V & Z respond: Generally speaking, the notable (and probably most recent) example of a VP making a difference is Lyndon B. Johnson in 1960. That one is well supported with evidence.

A.D.M. in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, writes: I think it would be a stroke of genius if Joe Biden asked Barack Obama to be Secretary of State. The work required to restore the U.S. to a position of leadership and respect in the world will be enormous. Between the two, they could get it done fast. Further, it would allow Biden to spend more time cleaning up the mess at home. And as a final bonus, it would piss off Vlad Putin mightily.

Lincoln Didn't Release His Tax Returns, Either

R.A. in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, writes: As regards your response to J.G. from San Diego, when I first read Donald Trump's quote I had a very different take on what he meant.

I believe that in the past when he has said he has done more for the black community than any other president, it was pointed out to him that Lincoln freed the slaves. Since Lincoln was a Republican, Trump felt he must accept this. But since the only other thing he probably knows of Lincoln is that he was assassinated, he sees this as weakness and therefore considers it Lincoln's fault. By his warped logic, this is a debit against Lincoln.

I think Trump is sort of saying things in his head between his statements. He is replaying arguments he has had in his head where he defends himself, but he only speaks bits and pieces of them, which makes it come across as a word salad.

So when he says "let's take a pass on Abraham Lincoln," he is replaying the argument that Lincoln was better for the black community, an argument he explains away by the assassination. Which he was going to say, and then realized he shouldn't. Having already started, however, he said gibberish to stall with "you other words..." and then said, "the end result" while thinking of the assassination.

I find with Trump's statements you need to really dumb yourself down and apply some creative deduction.

H.K. in Munich, Germany, writes: I think you guys completely missed the boat when answering the question about what Trump meant with his absurd Lincoln comment. You gave him waaaaaay too much credit. What did he mean? That Lincoln got shot! Do you honestly think he knows anything else about the history of that time? He had to have Pearl Harbor explained to him. I could ask any random German on the streets here and they would know more about U.S. history than that tangerine twit.

J.L. in Paterson, NJ, writes: With regard to Donald Trump's casting doubt on Abraham Lincoln's work on the part of black Americans, I'll offer yet another guess about what he meant. In 2017, he asked, "Why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?" The President is a total narcissist who fancies himself a brilliant dealmaker (his business record to the contrary notwithstanding). He's sure he's smarter than people like Henry Clay and Stephen A. Douglas, even though he couldn't explain the first thing about what any of them did. He thinks that if the presidency hadn't been held by that bungler Lincoln, but had instead been entrusted to a very stable genius, then slavery could have somehow been ended peacefully.

The details about how he would have done this will be forthcoming the week after he reveals his Obamacare replacement plan, which will provide better health care at lower cost.

C.S. in Madison, WI, writes: You wrote: "This is an absurd argument because Trump has done zero for black Americans."

Don't forget negative numbers! As an enabler for racists, I'd say Trump has been a negative for black Americans.

Statues and Flags

A.B. in Chesapeake, VA, writes: I would like to recommend the fantastic op-ed in the Richmond Dispatch from the Virginian named 2019 National Teacher of the Year, Rodney A. Robinson. Your final item from yesterday regarding teachable moments and Confederate leaders could not be expounded upon any better.

I went to Roger B. Taney Junior High School in 1965. It was 95% white in the 1960s. It has since been renamed Thurgood G. Marshall Middle School. Imagine the school still being named for the man responsible for Dred Scott, especially given that it is located in Prince George's County, MD, the richest black majority county in the United States. My wife and I were aghast when we first saw Lee-Davis High School in Mechanicsville, VA, 20 years ago. It has the wonderful mascot: the Confederates. Enough!

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: Over the 4th of July weekend in 2015, I was walking the streets of Woodstock, VA, and saw the Stars and Bars proudly hanging out in front of a house. I thought to myself, "why don't all these people who claim 'Southern heritage' simply adopt this flag? It's inoffensive, and stands out enough to make a statement." Indeed, when Georgia went through their flag debacle in the early 2000s and dumped the Confederate battle flag, they adopted a modified version of the Stars and Bars that to me, an amateur vexillologist, was very aesthetically pleasing.

I agree with your analysis, however, that the vast majority of folks who fly the battle flag are doing so to send a hostile message. I further find it quite curious that during that same summer of 2015, while I was working as an over-the-road trucker, in the months following the Charleston shootings by Dylan Roof, I saw quite a few battle flags in Northern states. Just from recollection, I saw them in northern Maine, Vermont, upstate New York, Ohio (twice), and Indiana.

It will be interesting to see what happens in Mississippi, as legislation was (again) introduced this week in the state house to dump the battle flag from their state flag. The last time that was tried (2001), the attempt to drop the flag was voted down by a huge margin. Let's hope the winds of change are blowing hard enough this time to be felt in Jackson.

V.H. in DuBois, PA, writes: Back in 2016, Donald Trump actually received an endorsement from the then-CEO of NASCAR, Brian France. As France and two drivers showed up at a campaign rally, this was seen as the whole sport endorsing him. Fast forward to now, and Brian is no longer in control; his uncle Jim is. This past Wednesday night at the race at Martinsville, Cup driver Bubba Wallace sported a Black Lives Matter-themed car. Bubba is the only black driver at the Cup level, his car owner is Richard Petty, and Petty designed the peace symbol that went on the rear quarter panels of the car. Pointing out the personal involvement of The King quickly ended any debate, because which NASCAR fan is going to say that the man who won 200 races as a driver is wrong? Several other drivers have come out standing against racial injustice, most notably Ty Dillon, whose grandfather, car owner Richard Childress, once came out against kneeling in protest. And just before the start of the race this past Sunday in Atlanta, all cars stopped and had a moment of silence in support of the protests.

Perhaps NASCAR lost some fans this week, but maybe what really happened is that the President lost NASCAR.

M.A. in Park Ridge, IL, writes: They should keep the Confederate flag and put it on the last-place car, because it's the loser flag.

D.E. in Lititz, PA, writes: I will see your statue of James Longstreet and raise you a Dances with Dwarfs... er, I mean, "Dancing With The Seabees" outside of Arlington National Cemetery:

A muscular, shirtless sailor dances with a child

With no disrespect to the brave members of the U.S. Navy Seabees, this has to be the most ridiculous statue I've ever seen. Living in D.C. for nearly 20 years, I was fascinated by the city's numerous statues and memorials. However, every time I see this statue, which is a part of the Seabees Memorial on Memorial Drive leading into Arlington National Cemetery, I don't know whether to laugh out loud at its ridiculousness or get skeeved out by this muscular bare-chested man frolicking with this oddly proportioned boy/man of small height! The whole thing really defies words.

G.B. in Manchester, UK, writes: I thought I would share a perspective on statues that commemorate history, based on my experience of living in Hawaii.

James Cook, who was the captain of the first European ships to land in Hawaii, is well known throughout the state. The man was a good explorer and skilled navigator but is also reviled throughout the Pacific (and among his men) for being a harsh disciplinarian with a short temper. Hawaiians dislike him for effectively bringing European/American colonialism to the islands and also for his obnoxious behavior (he was killed while trying to capture a Hawaiian chief to ransom in exchange for a stolen landing boat).

While Cook is well-known throughout Hawaii, including by many Native Hawaiians, the tributes to him are hardly visible. I lived in Hawaii for several years, and I do not recall seeing any statues, monuments, or other public depictions of the man, although I can easliy name statues depicting half a dozen other important Hawaiian historical figures as well as statues of a couple of people with no or with very tenuous connections to the state. A difficult-to-reach memorial stands on the spot where Cook was killed, and a small locality on the Big Island (not technically a town or a city, as Hawaii only has counties) is named after him. Outside of the locality, I can only find a real estate company on Oahu that bears his name.

What this demonstrates is that it is not necessary to have monuments to remember the impact of particularly brutal people on history, and this should be kept in mind when debating whether to keep statues in public places in other parts of the world.

V & Z respond: If they ever do commemorate him in bronze, hopefully he will be fully clothed.

All Your Base Are Belong to Us

S.Z. in New Haven, CT, writes: I note that Fort Hood in Texas is named for Confederate General John Bell Hood. I note also that Latinos have long been highly supportive of the U.S. in military service but are woefully under-represented in base naming. I suggest that we fix both of these problems by changing Fort Hood to Fort Santa Anna in honor of Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna. General Santa Anna actually won a major battle in Texas, unlike General Hood, whose military decisions frequently resulted in major losses.

V & Z respond: Naming a fort a couple of hours from San Antonio after the general who won the Battle of the Alamo would be, er, interesting. The fireworks that would generate would light up all of San Antonio.

D.B. in Nixa, MO, writes: What about renaming Fort Hood after Maj. Gen. George Thomas? Honors a Civil War general. Honors a Southerner. Honors a Unionist.

V & Z respond: Bvt. Maj. Gen. Robert Anderson also has that profile, and given his role at Fort Sumter, a base in South Carolina named in his honor seems apropos.

S.N. in Santa Clara, GA, writes: Some people have a difficult time understanding why a military base named after a Confederate general is offensive to black people. I suggest one of the Southern military bases be renamed Fort William Tecumseh Sherman. Such a change might bring understanding, at least for some Southerners.

T.E.J. in Hector, NY, writes: What about Harriet Tubman, for her work with the Union Army as cook, nurse, scout and spy, not to mention being the first woman to lead a U.S. military operation during the Raid on Combahee Ferry?

T.S. in Memphis, TN, writes: While we're about to rename military bases and schools so they no longer go by the name of avowed racists, can we just go ahead now and rename all Trump properties?

Presidents Abroad

R.M. in Baltimore, MD, writes: Regarding U.S. presidents who are popular in other countries, George W. Bush is honored in much of Africa because of his well publicized PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief) program, which helped many countries at a crucial time, in a crucial way, and would not have been possible without him. If he travels abroad it is often to Africa, where he is still very well received.

When I visited Lithuania a few years ago, I was surprised to see a plaque on the Vilnius city hall with a quote by Bush saying "Anyone who would choose Lithuania as an enemy has also made an enemy of the United States of America." A person I met there said how honored they felt by his visit, this statement, and how he seemed to love them. She joked that this relationship seemed a lot less special once he went to a number of other countries and said the exact same words. I just saw he was awarded honorary citizenship in the capital city a couple years ago, and in the ceremony the mayor said the key person in helping gain admittance to EU and NATO was George W. Bush. EU membership was key in economic development and NATO was key in defense against Russia which still regularly threatens the Baltics. I wouldn't be surprised if the other Baltic countries felt he was key in their own well-being.

Barack Obama's reception in Kenya depends a lot on what ethnic group you belong to. I met him in 2006 when he visited and the Luo people (which his father was) all thought he was coming with money and gifts for them and were quite peeved when he gave a little money to the family but not much to the ethnicity. After he became president the Luo thought he would use the power of the U.S. to support them and punish their enemies and felt he was ungrateful and/or unfaithful to his ethnicity for not doing so. In contrast, the Kikuyu, traditional enemies of the Luo, all thought Obama had a secret plan to destroy them and kept saying "blood is thicker than water." I never heard much from the other ethnic groups one way or the other, but the more educated and city-oriented people seemed to like him—not necessarily as a Kenyan but as a thoughtful and decent leader.

While living in Europe I found that Europeans really liked Obama, especially in comparison to George W. Bush and Donald Trump. Every time he visited Western Europe, he seemed to get a far better response than any American president since maybe JFK.

L.M.S. in Harbin, China, writes: Richard Nixon was and is popular in China, at least among the generations alive in his time. The reason is obvious: he opened up Chinese-U.S. relations and recognized Taiwan as part of China (at least, that is what I was taught so at school). Beyond that, that he ended the Vietnam war is also a plus, regardless of his initial action of escalating the war, which was not much discussed in the media or textbooks (I learned it from this site).

As far as I can tell, he is regarded as pro-China, pro-reunification, and a leader for world peace. And inasmuch as total power is regarded here as an essential element to govern, his Watergate maneuvering is actually a feature not a bug.

J.A. in Walla Walla, WA, writes: John F. Kennedy is still remembered fondly as well in Mexico, in no small part, I'm sure, because he was Catholic and handsome. Case in point: My Mexican mother-in-law's mini-shrine contains to this very day a collage of "saints," and it includes his likeness! Lots of cheesy JFK trinkets, blankets, ashtrays, etc., can still be seen in Mexican markets. I wonder what Marilyn Monroe and Jackie would have to say about that!

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: John F. Kennedy, because of his Irish ancestral roots, is widely revered in Ireland.

I Like Ike?

J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, writes: While the passage of the Interstate Highway Act was certainly significant, I wouldn't list it today as one of Dwight D. Eisenhower's great accomplishments (much as James K. Polk's stealing of Mexican land is now considered imperialistic). His decision to go with a network of roads as opposed to a network of rails greatly contributed to the U.S. becoming a car nation, and exporting that industry around the world, greatly contributing to the climate crisis today. Had Eisenhower gone with the alternative, what a wonderful world it would now be. Not perfect, but better.

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Although the Eisenhower presidency had many legitimate achievements, some of which you enumerate, we should also remember its foreign policy failures, several of them disasters with very long-term consequences:

  • The 1954 overthrow of Iran's democratically elected Mossadegh and replacement by the dictatorial Shah. Although this was primarily a British op, it was supported by the U.S., and could have been stopped by Eisenhower.

  • The 1954 CIA-led overthrow of Guatemala's democratically elected Jacobo Árbenz. This and many other interventions of this nature in Central and Latin America consistently hobbled the development of democracy and civil society.

  • In 1956, the U.S. canceled free elections in Vietnam, ensuring the continued division of the country and the dictatorial rule of the Diems.

We are still paying for the first two blunders (or crimes) in various ways. As for the third: the price was an excruciating war from 1965 to 1975.

I understand the appeal that Eisenhower has for you and many others; but I suspect it's because the administrations of George W. Bush and the current occupant, not to mention the massive shift and degeneration of the GOP, have simply set the bar ridiculously low.

V & Z respond: Fair enough, though note that we were summarizing the general opinion on Eisenhower, and the bases for his reputation, not expressing our personal feelings about him. And if we're talking debits against him, then Operation Wetback certainly deserves a mention.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: As you well know, the Republican Party of today is not the same as the Republican Party of Dwight D. Eisenhower's time, and Ike would have no more chance of winning its nomination than I have—and I have none.

V & Z respond: Our presumption was that if Ike ran today, he'd run as a Democrat.

Legal Matters

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: Also in the "while you weren't looking" category: On Thursday night, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (should she be called the Anti-Education Secretary?) issued a rule barring colleges and universities from using CARES Act money to help foreign and undocumented students, including "Dreamers" protected by DACA. The cruelty is unmitigated.

The rule raises two interesting issues of administrative law: First, the rule is made immediately effective, without the notice-and-comment period that is usually required for any proposed rule change, on grounds of an "emergency." Exceptions to the notice-and-comment process are rarely invoked by agencies and have usually faced skeptical scrutiny from the courts.

Second, the rule is justified by an interpretation of the statutory term "student," and the Department of Education claims that this interpretation is entitled to deference from the courts. That deference is based on the so-called Chevron doctrine (named after a case that upheld a deregulatory pendulum swing by the Reagan EPA). Prominent conservatives, some of whom usually work in a building on First Street N.E. in Washington, DC, have recently argued (speciously) that the Chevron doctrine cedes too much judicial power to the executive branch and ought to be abrogated. That view, apparently, only applies when Chevron works against conservative policy positions.

Multiple lawsuits are inevitable, as day follows night.

George Soros

A.H. in Dayton, OH, writes: I write in response to R. F. from Round Lake, IL, who asked a question about George Soros. I recently watched the PBS documentary entitled "Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations," which includes a bit about how George Soros became such a target for the alt-right and anti-semites around the globe. I highly recommend it.

S.B. in Hellevoetsluis, The Netherlands, writes: I was just reading your answer to the question about George Soros conspiracies. The factors you already mentioned likely contribute, without any one of them being the single determinant. For example Sheldon Adelson is also Jewish, yet I don't see a constant barrage of conspiracy theories about him. This made me think of yet another possible factor: the (seeming) transparency of a person's motives. When considering the motives behind the Adelsons and Kochs of the world, things are typically pretty obvious: Naked self-interest, to either further political causes they believe in, or to enrich themselves. To somebody who might be distrustful of the elite or rich, this will seem like a perfectly normal and understandable thing they would expect such a person to do. On the other hand, people like George Soros and Bill Gates have spent a large amount of their wealth on philanthropic causes for which there is no clear direct benefit for themselves. This is unusual for people who expect billionaires to act in their self interest. The absence of a clear benefit might cause people susceptible to conspiracy theories to suspect there is instead a hidden, sinister goal. (A new world order for Soros, whereas Gates apparently wants to inject us with nanobots to do...things...) I'm thinking this could be contributing to how effective typical right wing propaganda against these two is.


G.C. in South Pasadena, CA, writes: In regard to your answer to D.E in Baltimore, MD, where you talked about the Western movies and TV shows in the 50s-60s timespan, in some ways I agree with you, and in many ways I do not.

One of the great opportunities of Amazon Prime Video is the many Western TV shows from that era. Two short-lived shows are "Yancy Derringer" and "The Rebel." The very first episode of "Derringer," you feel like you want to hold onto your seat, it so often borders on politically incorrect. But once they got past the pilot, it was a very forward-thinking show. As for the "Rebel," it was a show about a poor Southerner who just wanted to write. About the only lasting legacy was the theme song sung by Johnny Cash.

Also of interest is "Have Gun — Will Travel." While not available on Prime, my wife and I ended up purchasing the entire series on DVDs. The overarching theme of the show is that everyone must obey the law and be governed by the law (e.g., no lynch mobs). The Paladin didn't care if you were black, brown, or yellow. He (mostly) treated everyone with the same respect and would occasionally give minorities more respect than white characters. As Paladin was fighting for the rights of Mexicans, black people, and Asians, I often wondered if Americans at the time watched and understood what they were seeing. I am sure that some did and some didn't. Also keep in mind that Gene Roddenberry wrote over 20 episodes, and we know what happened to him. It is also interesting to note that Richard Boone was a very close friend to John Wayne, someone who certainly displayed the attitude that you refer to in your comments.

V & Z respond: There were certainly some Western shows, including "Have Gun — Will Travel," that advanced a generally liberal world view by the standards of their day. So too did the "space Western" that Roddenberry went on to create (he specifically described "Star Trek" as "'Wagon Train' among the stars"). Similarly, some major Western stars, like Kirk Douglas and Henry Fonda, were quite lefty. However, that does not move us off our view that the predominant orientation of Western films and movies was toward politically conservative viewpoints.

The Great Escape

C.L. in Fairbanks, AK, writes: I found your plea: "Help! I'm stuck in a political-question-answering factory!" washed up in the electronic equivalent of a note in a bottle with a cork, on a beach, and have called 911. Within moments, SWAT teams dressed in black should break down your doors (no-knock entry, a U.S. custom), and burst in with assault rifles and batons to forcibly subdue everyone they find in your living quarters.

R.H. in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, writes: Given you both have PhDs, I'm compelled to ask: have you tried pulling on the factory door instead of pushing?

V.M. in Denver, CO, writes: Yes, I read the intro sections, and I'm sorry you are trapped in that factory. Back in my college days, when writing dreadfully long papers was the fashion, I used to bury a random statement somewhere therein. You see, I went to a very conservative Baptist University, so about 2/3 of the way through a paper, I would say, "If you have actually read this far, I will buy you a six pack of beer." It won bonus points several times, as long as I promised not to tell a soul. I haven't until this very moment, some 34 years later.

A.K. in Houston, TX, writes: I am reminded of the episode titles for the fourth season of "Robot Chicken":

The five titles are help me,
they took my thumbs, i'm trapped, in a dvd factory, tell my mom

Today's Senate Polls

Well, now we've heard from Ann Selzer. Clearly, this Senate seat really is in play. It's odd that they didn't report about the presidential race, since they had people on the phone anyhow. It might be that Selzer is still processing the data and it will come out today or tomorrow. In any event, ticket splitting is rare these days, so if Ernst is in for a close race, so is Trump. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Iowa Theresa Greenfield 46% Joni Ernst* 43% Jun 07 Jun 10 Selzer

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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