Needed 1991
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Sanders 817
Warren 60
Buttigieg 26
Bloomberg 42
Klobuchar 7
Gabbard 2
Remaining 1893
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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

Lots of COVID-19 correspondence, so much that it even puts impeachment to shame. There exists a very wide range of opinions, with the first two letters speaking to the different ends of the spectrum:

Pandemic...or Pandora's Box?

J.T.M. from Phoenix, AZ, writes: I think the COVID-19 crisis has the potential of upending the U.S. political and economic system. It has been increasingly clear that our political, economic, and healthcare systems are broken. The pandemic exposes that even more clearly for people who have been unaware, or misled by propaganda. The behavior of certain individuals (insider trading, for example) and the apparent focus on corporations over people betrays the reality of our plutocracy. Our government has failed us in the lead up to this crisis. The evidence was clearly there that we needed to calmly and rationally prepare for the coming threat. Instead, we denied, downplayed, focused on petty political grievances, etc., and did almost nothing to prepare medically, economically, and socially for the virus. The immediate reactions of most of our "leaders," when people could no longer deny the reality of the pandemic, was to suggest corporate bailouts and worry about the stock market. The idea that our government is "by the people, of the people, for the people" has been lacking for a long time, but it is starkly obvious at the moment. The frankly piss-poor handling of this crisis isn't just on Trump, although certainly he has been terrible. There is plenty of blame to go around. But, our system of privatizing profits and socializing losses and ignoring people is also fundamentally ill-prepared to cope. I think this crisis may finally wake people up to the fact that the government is not serving their interests and it's past time to rectify that problem.

J.E. from Ann Arbor, MI, writes: Your suggestion the kill rate of COVID-19 is at least 1% is inaccurate. The South Koreans are really the only ones that have done extensive testing (140,000 sample size) and have found a mortality rate of 0.6% while recognizing that it is in fact probably much lower, somewhere along the lines of a typical flu season. It's very difficult to even find any healthy individual who has died, most of the deceased having underlying medical issues. Another incorrect point that you keep repeatedly making is your belief that somehow this fake pandemic will be Trump's downfall. Quite the contrary, it in fact cements his reelection. At the end of it, he will proclaim himself this big hero who saved the planet and there are people who will believe that. The whole affair looks very much like something that a former KGB agent might dream up and unleash upon the world.

G.W. from Oxnard, CA, writes: There was an item in the mailbag about a modest increase in Donald Trump's approval rating since the Oval Office address. I think all the reassuring things Trump says that are not true (vaccine soon, effective treatments available soon, hospital ships next week, etc.) influence a small portion of the population that is not: (1) already in the Trump base or (2) left of center. The danger is that there are a lot of low-information people in this country who will believe what Trump says is true or partially true, but those bad old Democrats and bad old bureaucrats get in the way of all the good things Trump promised.

My brother saw a press conference where Trump managed to get through it without interrupting and talking over the experts and my brother (no Trump fan) said Trump seemed presidential. I told him that when standing there and being quiet is presidential, then you have moved the threshold for "presidential" way, way, way too low. Besides, when it was his turn to talk in that press conference, Trump undermined the experts and said things that were not true.

V & Z respond: The original letter referred specifically to Trump's overall approval ratings, which haven't changed at all (as we pointed out). However, it is true that the "I approve of how the President is handling this crisis" numbers have risen from the mid-40s to the low 50s. Still very poor, by the standards of most crisis leadership, and not especially meaningful, we think.

G.R. from Amherst, NY, writes: I am deeply concerned when I hear that Donald Trump's approval rating for his handling of this plague is now over 50%. But sadly, some personal experience suggests the reason for this: As of now, those being punished (and rightly taking response measures) are largely east and west coast communities (with Chicago a Democratic outlier). And Trump is not asking the rest of the country to do much. This leads to what I found when I spent two years in the Midwest. Several times, I heard comments beginning, "You Easterners...", and I believe that this deep-seated dislike of what residents of the Midwestern Republican stronghold and their evangelical friends consider "the coastal elite," causes those folks to conclude that this is all a God-given pay-back. Thus, they selfishly see Trump's delayed and botched responses as okay by them.

J.O. from Columbia, MD, writes: It seems to me that Donald Trump's repeated discussion of chloroquine as a remedy for COVID-19 fits neatly into his usual pattern...he talks it up now while "experts" hem and haw. If it pans out he can claim that he's a (stable) genius who saw the value of chloroquine while the "so-called scientists" delayed, probably to spite him. If it doesn't pan out he never mentions it again.

M.D. from Monroe County, PA, writes: Here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, getting tested for COVID-19 requires that you be exhibiting serious symptoms, or that you have had direct contact with someone who has tested positive, or that you be sick enough to be hospitalized. But if you die at home or in a nursing home, neither the CDC or the state Health Department will test your body to confirm that COVID-19 was the cause. Maybe this is different in other areas, but this is what my County Coroner tells me is what is going on here.

Perhaps the rationale is "they are dead, so why waste a test?", but that doesn't help the family members, acquaintances, EMS staff, police and Coroner's office staff who have to attend to these cases and are exposed. I keep seeing numbers of COVID-19 cases listed on TV and wonder how many are not counted and never will be.

The failure to provide enough tests to find people that need to be isolated to prevent the spread is mind boggling and has allowed this outbreak to get out of control. Until there are enough tests we will never get a handle on the true cost of Donald Trump's complete incompetence and evil sociopathic tendencies. I believe that he certainly doesn't want the real number of cases and deaths known.

A.P. from Bloomington, IN, writes: The reason why the lack of testing is so catastrophic is that if the disease is beyond containment, and isolation does not work, then we can expect the mortality rate from catching the disease, 1 to 3 percent so far, to apply to the whole population. At 3 percent of 300 million people we can expect 9 million deaths from this virus. Of course, intervention will not completely fail. But the slow reaction of the powers that be have made it much harder to achieve containment. And much more costly. This is the cost of ignoring the science in favor of the economy.

The common sense example is: suppose a horrible invasive species arrives in your pond. It doubles in size and effect every day. When is the last day you can control it? The day that it covers half the pond. If nothing is done, it will cover and kill the pond on the next day. When is the best day to take action? The day it arrives. This is when there is the least work to do to control it. The worst day to take action is the day before it covers the pond. When did we take action? Not the first day.

M.A. from Reston, VA, writes: You wrote that "We also know that people above the age of 65 are more likely to contract COVID-19 and more likely to succumb to the disease." The second part of that statement is almost without dispute—statistics from Italy and China both back that up. However, I've seen on TV that recent trends suggest millennials are requiring hospitalization at a higher rate than expected in both Italy and America.

So, I don't think you're on solid footing at all with the implication that people under 65 are less likely to contract the disease. I am no expert, but everything I've read and watched indicates that young people do catch it and, along with anyone else, can spread this disease without exhibiting any symptoms. This extends to children, which resulted in mass closures of schools in this country. I know this wasn't your intent, but downplaying the dangers for young people and the risks they may pose for their elders is what caused the spring break fiasco in Florida.

V & Z respond: We don't believe that "older folks are more vulnerable" is equivalent to "young folks are immune." We're also a mite skeptical that spring breaking young people are hitting the beaches based on their close parsing of COVID-19 related grammar. That said, we are happy to agree with you that all Americans are vulnerable, and no demographic should take unwise risks.

A.T. from Washington, D.C., writes: Apropos your "Republicans in Denial" piece, it occurred to me to find out how many Senators are over age 60: 66 (50 men and 16 women) by my count of the Wikipedia page. If we assume that half of them will get COVID-19, and that 2/3 of the deaths are in the over-60 group, as numerous media reports have suggested, and that the death rate for the population as a whole will be about 2%, you get something like five or so Senators will die of COVID-19.

Will the Senators think this is trivial then?

S.H. from Aurora, IL, writes: I'm not certain that it's in the "powerful" people's best interest to keep the number of cases artificially low, although Japan may actually be doing this as they don't want to cancel the Olympics. It's simply the lack of testing available that makes it impossible to get a real number of people that have it. At the very least, a much higher number of cases drives the fatality rate way down to even less than flu numbers if the higher estimates are to be believed.

It could actually then end up hurting the overreactors politically if, say, hundreds of millions if not billions of people around the world end up getting confirmed with COVID-19 the next few months and, say, less than a million deaths (if not less than hundreds of thousands of deaths) worldwide are actually confirmed. There are currently "only" about 11,000 deaths so far worldwide and less than 200 in the all-important U.S. after 2-3 months. We are now entering the spring and summer seasons, which may or may not have an effect on infection and death rate; if you look at the 2009 flu pandemic, Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Central America, much of South America and most of the Middle East were largely spared from the worst effects, and COVID-19 seems to be acting that way as well.

At the moment, COVID-19 is being largely contained or certainly trending that way in the East Asian countries, which were supposedly the original epicenters. There are anecdotes of people having COVID-19 like symptoms as early as December in the U.S. It's only the frustrating nature of the disease to discriminate overwhelmingly to the older and elderly (not a single person under 30 has died of COVID-19 in Italy or South Korea at the moment; other countries aren't readily giving comprehensive data of the death rates of age groups) that is making this truly a political and moral dilemma. Finally, this situation is changing at light speed compared to even usual political events with new data (Chloroquine is extremely intriguing) and information and misinformation coming by the second, so this long-winded comment could very well be irrelevant in a few days.

K.S. from Harrisburg, PA, writes: Great explanation and chart explaining why we are trying to flatten the curve. An additional benefit of the flatter curve: the later months may drop very suddenly if a vaccine is made available. I know they are saying 12-18 months for the vaccine, but the pandemic could still be with us at that point.

M.H, from Seattle, WA, writes: This is the report that got the U.K. to change its mind on its epidemic intervention strategy, and my understanding is that reports from the same group were shared with the U.S. and other countries. I really want to see this paper shared widely, since it begins to address the exit strategy for how we come out of social distancing.

On a somewhat lighter note, Trump insists on calling this an epidemic of the Chinese virus because that is where the epidemic started. While it is true that the epidemic started in the East, and there is a certain logic to naming pandemics for their geographic origin, I think it is much more useful to name the disease based on how it spreads. I think a more fitting name would be "West DeNial Virus."

F.S. from Idaho Falls, ID, writes: A quick comment about essential businesses allowed to continue operations. I have a friend who is a chemist working in a sugar factory. They refine sugar from sugar beets. She has been told that the sugar industry is essential infrastructure and will not shut down no matter what. The Melaleuca Company, which sells vitamins and cleaning products, will remain operational. The INL, who process and ship nuclear waste and are involved in nuclear energy research, will remain open. Many of those folks cannot work remotely, as it's discouraged to bring nuclear material home. Just a few of the essential businesses in Idaho. It looks like Idaho is open for business, but we can't find toilet paper either.

V & Z respond: Where's the fun in nuclear energy research if you can't take your work home with you? Homer Simpson takes his spent nuclear rods home.

N.T. from Dallas, TX, writes: You noted that in the Netherlands, marijuana cafés are open, while the red light district is closed, observing that "while dope is essential, sex is not."

Dope can be sold respecting some "social distancing," and the "War on Drugs" in the U.S. amply demonstrated how banning it is pointless. Sex is much, much less an attractive proposition if one has to maintain a 3 to 6 foot separation between participants.

In short, the Netherlands shows, once again, a refreshing level of pragmatism. Wanna bet that in the U.S., churchgoing will be considered "essential"?

V & Z respond: Good points, all around.

E.M. from Milwaukee, WI, writes: On Friday, someone added a small message to a men's bathroom at my work:

The post-it reads: Make Hand-washing great again

F.M. from Boulder, CO, writes: After Donald Trump's stunningly ignorant statement yesterday regarding his "feeling" that Chloroquine might be effective in combating COVID-19, I think this is a very accurate representation.

The meme shows a monkey apparently operating 
a machine gun, and says: Monkey with a machine gun is now the official logo of the Trump administration
Democracy in the Time of COVID-19

J.N. from Davis, CA, writes: In today's Q&A, you wrote that "in addition to making it easier for older folks to vote, [vote-by-mail] would also make it easier for young people, people of color, working people, and anyone who might be affected by Voter ID laws to vote." Working on the campus of a large public university, I have been surprised to learn how many young people, even educated ones (e.g., college students) do not seem to know how to vote by mail—indeed, in our digital age, many do not even know where to buy a stamp. So perhaps national vote-by-mail would favor older voters, and therefore Republicans, after all.

V & Z respond: Good point, though we presume that national-vote-by-mail would be accompanied by a massive PR campaign, as well as free postage.

A.B. from Wendell, NC, writes: I am a delegate to my county, congressional district and state conventions this year, by dint of being a precinct chair. I can tell you what North Carolina is doing...and I assume other states will follow suit. Our county and congressional district conventions are being delayed one month and done entirely remotely. No firm decision has been made about state convention as yet—I think it will end up delayed a bit, but it cannot be delayed much without the DNC delaying the national convention.

I am guessing they are hoping to be able to do state convention as currently planned and are in a wait-and-see mode...with the previous tech used for the county and congressional district conventions waiting in the wings to deploy for use during state convention if need be.

A.I. from Honolulu, HI, writes: Here is an update about how Hawaii will handle the primary:

As we navigate this unprecedented situation, I wanted to personally share more about what we're doing to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Party-run Presidential Primary (PPP)
Today we canceled plans for walk-in voting on April 4th, 2020. Instead, we will add another round of mailed ballots which will allow all those who are registered to vote and enrolled in the Party by April 4th, 2020, to vote in the Party-run Presidential Primary. We are working with our vendor, the DNC, and our Party leadership to be able to provide additional updates on deadlines. In the meantime, we urge everyone who has received, or will be receiving a ballot, to cast their vote and mail it back.

State Convention
The State Convention is being rescheduled from May 23-24, 2020, to the weekend of September 5-6, 2020. We are currently working with our vendor and the DNC on a way to select our delegates which does not involve meeting in person. The Convention Committee is in negotiations with the hotel and are working to adjust dates and deadlines as needed through the SCC. More information will be provided as plans are solidified.

County Conventions
County Conventions are being postponed, canceled, or county Party business is being conducted by other means. Your counties will let you know what their plans are as soon as they are able.

The Party headquarters is closed as of Friday, March 20, 2020, all employees are telecommuting until further notice.

We will not be scheduling any additional in person meetings and are asking for all currently scheduled meetings to be reassessed. The SCC meeting for April 18, 2020 will be held but will be conducted entirely through teleconference.

If you are a caucus or committee chair we are advising you not to congregate and to meet using video/teleconferencing if necessary.

In these times, the only certainty is that there is uncertainty. Stay safe, take care of one another, and stay tuned for future updates regarding our plans.

Kate Stanley
Interim State Chair

H.R. from Boston, MA, writes: Before the delegates can vote, by whatever means, they need to be chosen. I don't know about any other states, but in Massachusetts we already held our primary, and the delegates are traditionally chosen at congressional district level caucuses. Everything is in a holding pattern. The party has not announced how it will complete the ward and town level caucuses to pick delegates for the state convention, scheduled for May 30. Some were held, before all meetings were canceled. The state convention, if held somehow, will endorse someone in the Markey-Kennedy Senate race. The ward and town level caucuses choose delegates to the state convention. I'm sure the state party is working on contingency plans for both kinds of caucuses and for the state convention. Saturday would have been my ward's caucus, so it is on my mind.

Maybe you could ask your readers to report on the progress of choosing delegates to the National Convention in the various states? Obviously, those states who haven't yet had a primary or caucus are even further behind in the process. It would be interesting to summarize the state of things and track which state parties have actually announced alternate, social-distancing friendly plans.

V & Z respond: Indeed, we would be glad to hear from anyone with information about how their state or territory is handling this issue.

K.H. from Ypsilanti, MI, writes: Regarding the low number of census workers hired, I applied back in December. I've received two emails from them saying my application status was updated, but when I checked their site, nothing had changed on my application. So I finally gave them a call and found out they had called me twice, but they don't leave a message if you don't answer. And like so many people today, I don't answer calls from numbers I don't recognize. I sent an email to the Census Bureau ombudsman suggesting they tell people what number to expect a call from, and he replied saying it was a great idea but I don't know if they did anything with it. I've since added the number they were calling from to my caller ID but haven't heard from them again. But I wonder if this may be part of the reason they're having trouble filling positions.

W.E.C. from Sun Prairie, WI, writes: Delaying Wisconsin's presidential primary election, scheduled for April 7, would be problematic, because the April 7 election also is the general election for many Wisconsin judicial and local offices. The April 7 general election includes a hotly contested Wisconsin Supreme Court race, other judicial races, and elections for county boards of supervisors, city councils, village boards of trustees, and township supervisors. Delaying this election probably would also require a court order extending the terms in office of incumbents and shortening the terms of office of those being elected.

What a Relief?

R.H. from Santa Ana, CA, writes: Something I have not seen mentioned is that the Fed is just "monetizing" the funds to send us all checks. In normal times that would be inflationary, but these are not normal times, and inflation is the least of our worries right now. They really have no choice but to monetize these funds, because every Central Bank on the planet is going to be doing the same thing at the same time, and there is no one who has a spare two trillion dollars lying around that they would like to lend to us.

So the checks are coming, with the only details still in doubt being how large the checks will be, who will receive them, and whether they are grants or loans.

If they are loans, how will they be repaid? With the 2021 tax filings? If the U.S. government sucks a couple trillion dollars out of the economy next April, the effect is sure to be calamitous.

B.W. from Easton, PA, writes: I have a few ideas that would directly help those of us over the age of 62 deal with the threat of COVID-19 and our failing/faltering economy, while also addressing the dilemma that the Federal government is dealing with when it comes to how best to effect an efficient and cost-effective method of helping our country move forward. Since we are giving billions of dollars to various businesses, why don't we give billions of dollars directly to those who created this economy and have the potential to suffer the most deadly and financially devastating after-effects? It could easily be accomplished, with no mailing checks, no verifying income, etc.:

  1. Allow all people over the age of 62 who want to retire to retire immediately with full benefits: This would provide an immediate source of income for the most vulnerable citizens, giving them a secure income, and allowing younger people to re-enter the workforce as we gradually revamp our economy.

  2. Eliminate the Federal Tax on Social Security: This was always controversial and would enable senior citizens who may have lost a spouse, or may have increased financial hardship, to get immediate money.

  3. Allow all people over the age of 62 to apply for Medicare: This would enable the Federal government to pay for the effects of the disease directly to the health providers, would allow those who don't have insurance to seek medical care if they are sick rather than staying at home, spreading the disease and continuing the transmission. and would focus and reduce the amount of money paid out towards the primary cost of this catastrophe (namely the effect on our economy of high medical costs).

I am sure there are other reasons you and your readers could add for doing any or all of these. Or not doing them. But, it makes sense to many of my friends, so I am throwing this out there.

Also, for perspective, I am a real time spectator of this tragedy. I am a retired professional who was making $31,000 beyond my pension working two part-time jobs that are now closed. My wife and I may get sick. She is working from home, but her business could close or could lay her off, causing us to lose our health insurance. This is real time finance. I am seriously considering filing for SS now.

D.S.R. from Phoenix, AZ, writes: As my wife pointed out, if Donald Trump mails $1000 to every man, women, and child in America he will win the election.

The Line of Succession

J.L. from Paterson, NJ, writes: In the thought exercise of no elections this fall, you restricted the hypothetical new Senate to the people legally elected. But Johnny Isakson and John McCain were legally elected in 2016, so those terms don't expire until 2023. If state laws provide that an appointed Senator serves until the next general election, and the 2020 election is canceled, then Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and Martha McSally (R-AZ) should continue as Senators. By my count, that would mean 35 Democrats and 32 Republicans.

But wait! By convention, that count of Democrats includes the two independents. Suppose Sen. Angus King (I-ME) says to the GOP, "Wouldn't you rather have me in power than whatever Schumer/Warren-type the blue team picks?" If all the Republicans recognize that they can't elect one of their own, and if Joe Manchin (D-WV) also doesn't want a Schumer or a Warren, then that's the 34 votes needed to pick the new President Pro Tempore.

That makes it possible that on January 20, executive power will be transferred from an elected President back to a King!

S.B. from Mason City, IA, writes: In one of your answers yesterday (about the President Pro Tempore potentially taking over as U.S. President), you suggested that if the Democratic Senators were in the majority, they would choose a new President Pro Tempore, possibly Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) or Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the President Pro Tempore is typically the senator of the majority party with the longest record of continuous service. So, in this case, in would be Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Leahy 2020!

V & Z respond: While it has been customary since the 1950s to give the longest-serving senator that honor, it is not mandated, and a fair number of Pro Tempores have been someone other than the oldest member of the majority caucus (with the most recent of those being Michigan Republican Arthur Vandenberg, who held the post 1947-49). Even before COVID-19, some folks pointed out that consistently having an octogenarian or a nonagenarian fourth in line for the presidency might not be the brightest idea. That said, the country could certainly do worse than President Leahy.

S.G. from Newark, NJ, writes: Your answer to R.H.D.'s question about how the party conventions could operate without meeting in person predicted that option 2, delegates voting by notarized mail-in ballots, was most likely. I have trouble seeing that. Notarization requires that the signer and the notary be together in person, both handling the same sheet(s) of paper, which the notary impresses with a seal. If this summer we are still leery of large gatherings, social distancing will make notaries quite unwilling to do this for the couple of dollars they make each time. I think it's much more likely each party will simply announce the decision based on the delegate counts as elected by primary voters. The Republicans will have only one candidate. By then the Democrats may have only candidate, and even if they have two, the result will be fore-ordained by pledged and bound delegates. Why bother with the formality of voting? Much better to have the party say to each state delegation, "pick somebody with good looks and a good voice to sit at a webcam and announce that 'the State of ______ is proud to cast ____ votes for ______."

If the parties really want written mail-in delegate ballots, they could follow federal law, which allows an alternative to notarization for many purposes. Signers must include a standardized statement stating the they are the person signing and that, under penalties of perjury, everything in the document they are signing is true to the best of their knowledge and belief. Could someone sign a perjurious ballot? Of course. But how much more security does a notary provide? Once upon a time, notaries knew their neighbors and could vouch for their identities, but today a notary is usually a stranger who just looks at an ID, which could very well be fake.

J.B. from Brookline, MA, writes: You've written that the end date for a Speaker's term is neither spelled out in the Constitution (true) nor the US Code (wouldn't bet the ranch on that; see below). But there's a third major source of authority, one that's probably more important in the day-to-day operations of the House, and that's the Standing Rules and Precedents of the House of Representatives (two different documents). The book of precedents, in fact, does answer this question: the Speaker's term ends at the close of each Congress. The document is available online (I used the 2017 series), and the relevant section is Chapter 1, Section 3 (on pg. 21), which states:

When a new Congress first convenes, the House does not yet have officers (including a Speaker), who must first be elected by the membership of the House. By statute [emphasis mine] as well as tradition, the Clerk of the House from the prior Congress presides over the House at the organization of a first session.

Of course, someone could say that precedents are made to be broken, but you can't overturn a precedent if there's no House to vote on sustaining it.

For the nerds among us (like me), there are plenty of details to plow through here, particularly in Chapters 1 and 6, but the conclusion seems pretty clear—according to its own rules and traditions, the Speaker's term ends just before noon on January 3.

V & Z respond: That said, the rules of the House can be changed by whatever party is in the majority.

First Amendment Issues

D.R. from Anaktuvuk Pass, AK, writes: Regarding the question about "all the restrictions being placed on Americans" I would comment that I have seen an amazing amount of voluntary compliance with these restrictions. Very little enforcement has been required by the police or national guard. I would attribute this to the fact that the earliest restrictions were initiated in the area of sports. No one in government ordered the NBA, NHL, NCAA, or MLB to cease operations. They did that voluntarily. And the impact of that action affected the mood of the nation in an amazing way. We, as Americans, followed their lead. We took the crisis seriously. And despite the nonsense coming from Mr. Trump, we listened carefully to the advice of scientists and doctors. Social distancing became the new fad. Flattening the curve became understood as a reasonable goal that we could only achieve by working together.

R.B. from Lyme, NH, writes: You opined:

So, if someone was to sue over the COVID-19 restrictions, with the First Amendment as the basis for their suit, they would lose. In fact, they wouldn't even make it past summary judgment, most likely.

Yup. Already happened, at a Superior Court (a pretty low-level court) hearing in New Hampshire. There were a group of people who wanted to gather for "social, spiritual, and recreational" activities and felt that the ban violated their constitutional rights. See local reporting here and here.

G.T.M. from Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: In your Saturday post you responded to S.P. from Bedford, MA's "But don't they all violate the United States Constitution's First Amendment?" with, essentially, "No they don't and here are some examples of where it can be done."

What that leaves out is the why behind that answer and once you take a look at the actual structure of the 1st Amendment, that why becomes much clearer.

That structure of the 1st Amendment is [A1], or [A2]; [B1], or [B2]; [C1] and [C2], with the "[A]"s being connected with religion, the "[B]"s being connected with communication, and the "[C]"'s being connected with assembly. The difference between the [A]s, [B]s, and [C]s is that the [C]s have the word "and" (rather than the word "or") between the two halves, so that means that the "freedom of assembly" (which is a "constitutional right") is restricted to the "petition for a redress of grievances" that is set out in the [C2] portion.

The Founding Fathers would have been highly unlikely to have included a constitutional right to, for example, freedom of assembly for the purpose of lynching. And yet lynching WOULD be a constitutional right were the scope of the 1st Amendment to be as broad as some people think that it is.

Is that pettifogging legal nitpicking? Of course it is, and it is from such pettifogging legal nitpicking that great legal fees are built.

C.J. from Lowell, MA, writes: I'm not sure why you were quite so dismissive of the First Amendment concerns of the reader from Bedford. It clearly provides the right to peaceably assemble without a public health exception, just as due process rights are protected elsewhere without a terrorism exception. Both could be very tempting to fudge for reasons of public safety, but constitutions are worthless unless they can be upheld even in the most trying of times. Both the reader from Bedford and I are from Massachusetts, where our history includes starting a revolution in part over governors banning public meetings, and when churches are included in those bans it's a constitutional double whammy because that prohibits free exercise of religion, too. It's upsetting that these don't even seem controversial.

In Defense of the Governors

G.J. from Toledo, OH, writes: I'm a longtime reader of your site (10+ years) and I have enjoyed the information, insight, and opinions you've provided over that time. I respectfully disagree with your suggestion that Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH) postponed the Ohio primary for partisan reasons. Let me preface this by saying that I am a Democrat living in Ohio and didn't vote for DeWine in our last gubernatorial election. I do feel that he has done an excellent job handling our state's response to COVID-19, providing leadership at the state level when it has been lacking at the Federal level. Several times in the last week he has been the first to make tough decisions (close schools statewide, order bars and restaurants to stop dining/drinking in, etc) only to have other states follow a short time later. It doesn't seem like many other Republican leaders have been willing to stick their necks out and be the first to take these measures.

Last Saturday, I voted at an early voting center. In thinking about this afterwards, I'm not sure voting at that time was a wise decision given the need to flatten the curve. I think having tens to hundreds of thousands of people voting today would have been an extremely unwise action given our country's need to flatten the curve. The mean age of my polling location always seems to be from the age groups more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Finally, I think Joe Biden is on cruise control and the lack of campaigning due to the epidemic has, barring something unforeseen, virtually guaranteed he'll be the Democratic nominee. Postponing the primary isn't going to help Bernie Sanders regain momentum and win by the margins necessary to have more delegates than Biden at the convention.

I enjoy your website and will continue reading it but I think your assertion that DeWine delayed the primary for purely partisan reasons is inaccurate and sloppy.

B.K. from Dayton, OH, writes: I've been a daily reader of yours since 2004 and a huge fan of this site. I've never felt compelled to write you before and I can hardly believe that I'm writing to you to defend Mike DeWine. I'm a dedicated liberal and Democrat, but also a citizen of Ohio currently working and residing in my COVID-19 "bunker" (aka my house). There are only two kinds of people in Ohio right now: the very concerned and the very unconcerned. Most people here are (appropriately) extremely nervous as new positives are popping up across the state, and DeWine's initial postponement was met by most here with great relief. You would probably be surprised at how many Democrats are unilaterally praising DeWine (and Amy Acton), while many Republicans are disparaging him as a fear-monger. In fact, the only Democrats I see unhappy with the postponement are the far-left, who are presumably Bernie Sanders supporters. People here are scared. While DeWine might have ulterior motives, most of the talk here is that he's doing the right thing and people across the spectrum are contrasting his response with Trump's. Again, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think our Republican governor definitely deserves the benefit of the doubt on this one. He's done what any responsible governor ought to be doing and he's taking criticism from his base to do so. We'll see soon if it was enough.

T.S., Mansfield, OH, writes: As a lifelong Ohio resident, Democratic voter who has worked phone banks and gone door-to-door, a 20 year veteran of the Volunteer Fire Service, and Amateur Radio operator who participates in Amateur Radio Emergency Service exercises and responses who did NOT vote for Governor DeWine, I am not concerned about what I perceive to be measured responses that have been hampered by the inadequate and belated response coming from the highest office of our national government.

M.B.T. from Bay Village, OH, writes: Also, as a resident of Ohio, I want to add my voice that Mike DeWine is an honorable person, even if he is not in my party of preference. Like John Kasich, he represents the GOP that used to be.

C.B. from Atlanta, GA, writes: As a Democratic resident of Georgia who supported Stacey Abrams during our 2018 governors' race, I never thought I'd write an e-mail defending Brian Kemp. Your suggestion that Brian Kemp is using the COVID-19 crisis for some kind of political advantage seems to be knee-jerk bias against Southerners, particularly right-leaning ones. The decision to move the presidential primary was made with the backing of the state Democratic party. There was already a Senate primary and other down ballot race primaries scheduled for May 19. This seems like it would benefit Democrats more to hold the two contests together, because turnout would be higher. Some voters may not feel like showing up to vote in March, and then again in May. It would also reduce ratf**king, since there are Republican contests as well on May 19. A May 19 primary might also give this COVID-19 crisis a little time to subside. Also, activating the National Guard does seem appropriate at this time. There were some quarantined COVID-19 passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship housed at Dobbins Air Force base that will likely need assistance making it home safely. And we all remember organizations like the Red Cross being looted during Hurricane Katrina.

V & Z respond: It's not a bias against Southerners, it's that Kemp's past actions have cost him the benefit of the doubt.

C.B. from Lexington, KY, writes: I live in Kentucky and listened to Governor Andy Beshear's (D-KY) briefing concerning the moving of the primary. The Kentucky Secretary of State, Michael Adams (R-KY), sent a letter to the Governor asking that he move the primary. This is perfectly legal under Kentucky law, and the time frame for moving the primary is 35 days.

On a separate note, the Governor is the only Democrat to hold a state-wide constitutional office at this time. He and the Republicans are playing well together during this crisis.

History Lessons

J.P. from Horsham, PA, writes: You argued that:

"[Y]ou can make the case that every single president in the 20th century who stood for reelection and failed was done in by an economic crisis: Herbert Hoover (Great Depression), Gerald Ford (stagflation), Jimmy Carter (also stagflation), and George H. W. Bush (recession of 1991)."

You forgot one 20th century president who stood for re-election and failed: William Howard Taft in 1912. And from my understanding of the election that year, the reasons for his loss to Woodrow Wilson had more to do with the fact that Theodore Roosevelt had grown upset with his aggressive use of the Sherman Antitrust Act, and thus ran for president again as a third party candidate. With TR and Taft largely competing for the same votes, that allowed Wilson to claim victory.

V & Z respond: That's what we get for last-minute rewrites. That originally read "the last century," which meant Taft was properly excluded (having served more than 100 years ago), but then we changed it to "the 20th century." Oops. Your description of that election is entirely correct.

L.B. from Savannah, GA, writes: You said "the Confederacy, as its name implies, did everything possible to privilege the power of state governments over the central government." This is not entirely accurate. While the Confederacy was nominally concerned about "states' rights," this did not exist in every area of law. The Confederate Constitution actually gave the individual states fewer rights vis-à-vis their federal government. Article 1, Section 9(4) states "No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed." Article IV, Section 2(1) added to the Equal Protection Clause the "right" of slaveowners to travel unimpeded in other states, and Article IV, Section 3(3) protected slavery in any acquired territories.

In short, slavery was not merely allowed; the individual Confederate states were explicitly prohibited from impeding it in any way—a limitation that did not exist under the 1787 U.S. Constitution.

V & Z respond: You're right, the Confederacy's leaders could be a shade bit hypocritical, and could put aside their alleged long-standing principles, when it served their needs. Luckily, that doesn't happen with politicians today.

S.S. from New York, NY, writes: Just a thought regarding the notion of a barnstorming populist vs. a front-porch, hand-shaking presidential campaign. I've been reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's book The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, and it's worth noting that many credited Roosevelt's tireless barnstorming speeches delivered across the country with securing McKinley's reelection in 1900. It's also interesting that TR quickly became president himself after McKinley's assassination, to the consternation of the Republican party bosses, who had chosen him after a year as N.Y. Governor, to get the noisy reformist out of the way. So this lauded Republican trustbuster only got in office through an unexpected tragedy. Just saying that it might be great for a barnstorming speaker to be chosen as the (female) Democratic VP candidate. They also would want someone with experience and possibly, just possibly, a reform-minded approach a heartbeat away from the presidency.

L.H. from Oakland, CA, writes: Thomas Edison invented the phonograph/gramophone in 1877. There are nineteenth-century recordings of British poets reading their poems, including Tennyson (died 1892) reading a bit of "The Charge of the Light Brigade," which can be heard here. There are also the Julius Block recordings. He was a South African businessman and home recording enthusiast who made unique recordings of many Russian musicians, starting in 1889. Read all about them here. The earliest commercial recordings were released around 1892-94.

Point is: William Jennings Bryan didn't record the "Cross of Gold" speech in 1896, but he certainly could have.

V & Z respond: We were a little imprecise there. You are entirely correct that Edison invented recording pre-1896, but the technology was not up to the task of capturing a voice when it was mixed with vast amounts of background noise, as was the case at the Democratic convention this year. Bryan certainly could have gone into a studio, say, the next day, but presumably he did not see the value until it was clear that recording was a medium with long-term staying power.

D.M. from Burnsville, MN, writes: Joe Palooka! Wow, you guys are really showing your ages (and I mine, too, by making this comment!).

V & Z respond: Maybe, in a manner of speaking. That was written by (Z), who lifted it from an episode of "M*A*S*H" that happened to be on the TV while he was working. (Z) is not old enough to have direct memory of 1950s slang, but he is definitely old enough to be very familiar with 1970s television.

Everyone (Still) Has an Opinion on Bernie

S.J. from Santa Cruz, CA, writes: I wish you would stop with the "so-and-so needs to get out of the primary race right now" corporate-media parroting. It might be appropriate—might be—halfway through a two-candidate primary season in which one candidate had so far amassed 2000 delegate votes and the other 25. It most certainly is not appropriate halfway through a two-candidate primary season in which one candidate has amassed 1132 delegate votes and the other 817, with 1,893 still to be awarded. Please understand that voters—even Democratic voters —have an absolute right in a primary to vote for absolutely anyone they want to vote for. (They have that same right in a general election, by the way, but that's another story.) The parties do not own the voters, and have no claim upon them. Media cheerleaders for the parties have even less ownership, and less claim—i.e., less than none. To attempt to deny half the electorate the right to vote for the candidate of their choice by attempting to remove a candidate from the race eats away at the core of democracy, whether it's the parties themselves or the media making the attempt.

V & Z respond: We're not in the business of giving candidates advice. We do, however, carefully examine the words and actions of politicians, and note when there is an incongruity between them. So, when a politician says "I'm in it to win it" when they clearly cannot do so, writing "It's time to go!" or something like that is a shorthand way of saying, "If you really are in it to win it, then the end has come. If you're in it for some other reason, then perhaps you should share that."

J.H. from St. Paul, MN, writes: You clearly want the Democratic nomination wrapped up as soon as possible, but you never acknowledge the opposing view.

Having the race continue on keeps Joe Biden and Democratic talking points in the news longer. Wrapping up the race early causes the media to lose interest. Nobody cares whether Biden wins 98% or 99% of the vote in a state, not even his biggest supporters.

Wrapping up the nomination early effectively disenfranchises the people who haven't voted yet, because their votes won't count for anything. Do you really want voters in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to be disengaged? Do you want them to feel like the nominee is being shoved down their throats? How can Joe Biden fire up those disengaged and disenfranchised voters?

I live in Minnesota, and I'm glad I was able to vote for Elizabeth Warren this year and Bernie Sanders in 2016 while my vote still counted for something. I was living in Virginia in 2004, and I was so disappointed that Howard Dean was fading quickly by the time it was my turn to vote. I was living in Illinois in 1992, and I was so disappointed that Tom Harkin dropped out before it was my turn to vote.

L.C. from Boston, MA, writes: Unless you think I have been the victim of some sort of false flag scam, it looks like Bernie Sanders isn't just all about himself after all, as indicated in the following forwarded message:

A fundraising e-mail asking Sanders'
supporters to donate to one of five charities chosen by the Senator

J.B. from Smithfield, NC, writes: Did you guys even read that op-ed you posted? Bernie Sanders never says he would cut benefits. He mentions adjusting benefits but it's pretty clear that he is extremely resistant and it is a last and worst-case scenario if the population ages too much and there are no funding alternatives. It would be like calling him pro-nuclear war if he admitted he believed the U.S. should retaliate proportionately if attacked. The real takeaway is how incredibly consistent his message was then and now. I guess it's kind of hard for two old, tenured professors with pensions and Medicare to understand or care what its like to be dragging around student debt for ten years and no help in sight because both parties' first priority is protecting billionaires from significant tax increases.

V & Z respond: One of us (Z) is 45, is more than two decades from a pension or Medicare (and won't qualify for the latter, anyhow), most certainly does not have tenure, and still has five figures' worth of student debt remaining. We would suggest that if that many of your assumptions are falsifiable, you might want to carefully examine the rest.

S.H. from New York, NY, writes: The day after getting trounced yet again, Sen. Bernie Sanders' national press secretary Briahna Joy Gray and other top staff had a meltdown on Twitter. Some examples:

  • Claiming Trump is to the left of Biden
  • Blaming Biden for spreading a pandemic
  • Attacking the Dem party for moving forward with primaries
  • Accusing the dems of murder
  • Accusing Biden of engineering a genocide
  • Retweeting claims that Biden is mentally unfit to understand the pandemic

As a liberal Democrat, I admit I do like some of Sanders' policies, but I'm also pragmatic and see that Joe Biden is now the presumptive nominee and we must support him against Trump. I am absolutely disgusted by this behavior. Why doesn't Sanders disavow these people? I'm so disappointed with the lack of professionalism. Honestly, do we even want these kind of people on our side? I don't want their help in November. We are better than this. All you guys are doing are alienating progressive policies and causes. Long after Bernie is gone, we will remember this. Good luck ever winning without us.

S.S. from Raleigh, NC, writes: I know I sound like a broken record, but Bernie Sanders' ethically questionable failure to drop out and his Twitter army have been more appalling than usual this past week. If you even attempt to extend an olive branch to these people using reason, they torch it and bite back 10x harder. I am certainly done courting them. It's been proven that they don't show up to vote in person anyway and we won't need them in November with Biden's Midwest firewall.

Sanders can't even rein in his campaign and staffers. How is he going to effectively run a country and get anything done? Unless, of course, he approves of their tactics and behavior. When will the grifting end? He continues to take money from poor working class people on the premise he can still win. For what? So paid staffers can go on a Twitter rampage and troll Biden supporters? You won't vote for Biden and are ready to exit the Democratic party? Well, go ahead, and please take your "vanity project" with you.

M.B. from Pittsboro, NC, writes: I do wish Bernie Sanders was more of a team player, but he is not: Waiting around to see if Joe Biden will fall so that he could then leap into the breech and drag the entire party down to defeat in the fall is so terrible. I watched a young Bernie Sanders panelist on CNN last night drive the usually sanguine David Axelrod close to losing his temper on screen over her total unwillingness to admit that Sanders could no longer win the nomination. Very, very frustrating.


J.B. from Hutto, TX, writes: Now that Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee, I expect that people will soon begin to ask what his Cabinet will look like. Here's what I would like to see:

President: Joe Biden
Vice President: Stacey Abrams
Secretary of State: (Former NSA) Susan Rice
Secretary of Defense: (Former U.S. Rep. to NATO) Douglas Lute
Secretary of the Treasury: (Bank of America Vice-Chair) Anne Finucane
Attorney General: Elizabeth Warren
Secretary of the Interior: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM)
Secretary of Agriculture: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN)
Secretary of Commerce: John Kasich
Secretary of Labor: Andrew Yang
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Pete Buttigieg
Secretary of Transportation: Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)
Secretary of Education: Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA)
Secretary of Veterans Affairs: Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)
Ambassador to the UN: Julián Castro
Trade Representative: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI)
Office of Management and Budget: Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA)
EPA Director: Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA)

V & Z respond: As rotisserie/fantasy baseball fans know, drafts across the land have been postponed. Gamblers, meanwhile, have been reduced to betting on the weather (really!). Anyhow, if any other readers would like to draft a fantasy cabinet for Biden, Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump's second term, and send them along, we will certainly run some of them next week.

If you have a question about politics, civics, history, etc. you would like us to answer on the site, please send it to, and include your initials and city of residence. If you have a comment about the site or one of the items therein, please send it to and include your initials and city of residence in case we decide to publish it. If you spot any typos or other errors on the site that we should fix, please let us know at
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar21 Saturday Q&A
Mar20 Senate Unveils Relief Package v3.0
Mar20 Republicans in Denial
Mar20 Trump Has His Scapegoat
Mar20 California Takes the Plunge
Mar20 Three More NBA Players Test Positive for COVID-19
Mar20 An Asymmetric Presidential Campaign
Mar20 Gabbard Ends Presidential Bid
Mar19 Senate Approves Relief Bill as the Stock Market Tanks Again
Mar19 Republicans Have Come to Love Bailouts
Mar19 What Is an Essential Business?
Mar19 Trump Attacks "Chinese Virus"
Mar19 Washing Your Hands Affects the Election
Mar19 Campaigns Are Already Adapting to COVID-19
Mar19 Census Bureau Suspends Operations
Mar19 Weld Calls It Quits
Mar18 Federal Government Gets Ready to Dump Money into the Economy
Mar18 It's a Biden Sweep
Mar18 Maryland Moves Its Primary
Mar18 What's Next for Sanders?
Mar18 Fox Shifts Gears
Mar18 Down Goes Lipinski
Mar18 From the House to the Big House
Mar17 Trump Says Virus Outbreak Could Last for Months
Mar17 What Should Be Done?
Mar17 Ohio Governor Has Postponed Today's Primary
Mar17 Today Is MiniTuesday
Mar17 Wall Street Did Not Have a Good Day
Mar17 Takeaways from the Debate
Mar17 Clyburn's List
Mar17 Absentee Voting Requires Advance Planning
Mar17 Kentucky Delays Its Primary until June
Mar16 Sunday's COVID-19 News
Mar16 Sanders Goes on the Attack
Mar16 Looking at Potential Biden VP Candidates
Mar16 Polls Predict a Good Tuesday for Biden
Mar16 Honest Graft
Mar16 What Trump's COVID-19 Bubble Looks Like
Mar16 Gillum's Career Appears to Be Over
Mar15 Saturday's COVID-19 News
Mar15 WWBD?
Mar15 Sunday Mailbag
Mar14 Friday's COVID-19 Developments
Mar14 Saturday Q&A
Mar13 COVID-19 Havoc Continues
Mar13 Candidate Biden Gives an Audition for Role of President Biden
Mar13 Wyden Wants National Vote-by-Mail
Mar13 U.S. Strikes Iranian-backed Militias
Mar13 Doing the Sanders Math
Mar13 Trump Tries to Cut Sessions Off at the Knees