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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

Sometimes, we can guess what will cause people to write in. And sometimes, we're surprised.

Whither or Wither

J.W. in Newton, MA, writes: You noted that the Democratic coalition seems healthier than the GOP coalition for now. I agree, but I think you may be underestimating the effects of the two dangers you note for Democrats.

First, I am not convinced that the liberals and moderates will be able to keep their marriage happy for very long. Suburbanites in towns like mine appear quite liberal, but they value those walled-off school systems and sweet, sweet deductions for state and local taxes more than they value universal healthcare and social justice. Second, the systematic Republican advantage in the Senate is enormous and shows no signs of waning. Sure, we can hope that Georgia, Arizona and North Carolina continue to trend blue. But the GOP has 18 or so rural states in the Deep South, Prairies and Mountain West locked up for the foreseeable future, no matter how crazy their so-called policies. This is a matter of tribal identity for rural white folks, whose minds are not going to be changed readily by policy.

J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: I appreciate your analyses of the fortunes of the Republican Party, but I'm sympathetic to and share J.M. in Seattle's caution. Why? Because I'm a University of Minnesota football fan. We've been utterly dominated by our biggest rival, Wisconsin, for the last couple of decades (we're on a 3-20 streak!), even when Wisconsin seems to be having a down year and we seem to be up they still seem to get the better of us.

This has resulted in a theme among Minnesota fans: Whenever Wisconsin gets some negative news (a coach leaves, a player transfers, some scandal, etc.) we joke, "Oh, looks like the end of Wisconsin football!" or "Ah, the worm has finally turned on the Badgers!" or "Wisconsin is in a tailspin!"

All this sounds awfully similar to say, "ah, the Republicans' constituency is aging out of existence," or "this is the year the Democrats are going to win Texas!"

Anyway: rah-rah-rah for Ski-U-Mah.

V & Z respond: The difference is that, unlike the University of Wisconsin, the Republicans cannot expect to ride the aura of victory that positively emanates from Green Bay, home of the 15-time champion Packers.

M.D. in Poconos, PA, writes: Scares the hell out of me, but despite being on the decent, correct and sane side of issues, the November election was very close, the Republicans continue to hold ground and Democrats aren't growing at their expense.

Monthly I run the voter registration numbers in my county for our local chapter of the Democratic Party and it has astounded me that the overall percentages haven't varied much in several years, no matter what insanity was coming out of the White House. I personally know Republicans who switched to Democratic and Democrats who changed to Republican. It seems to me to just be a re-alignment and not a wave change either way. Non-aligned registrations seem to be up a bit but that could just be Republicans who think their party wasn't quite racist enough.

We've been told that Democratic registration advantage in Pennsylvania has dropped from 1.1 million to about 650,000 over the past 12 years, and now our state party is putting a major effort into registering voters in our state. I've been asked why is this not going better for Democrats. The three things I can think of are:

  1. There was a lot more enthusiasm back in 2008 with Barack Obama as our candidate and then our first Black president. But over time I think people were disappointed that little progress was made, especially in regard to racial equality, over the 8 years Obama was president. That lack of enthusiasm has led to people losing interest and dropping off the registration rolls. Pennsylvania went blue in 2020, but with some voter suppression/intimidation it could have gone red. Luckily we have a Democratic governor, so the near-endless attempts to repeal vote-by-mail by the Republican legislature were never implemented. Neither did their lawsuits work.

  2. In 2020, Democrats bowed to the reality of COVID and switched to online-only organizing, which led to very little effort to register new voters. Republicans denied reality and just kept doing in-person events and door-to-door canvassing. We are tentatively considering doing live outdoor events in a couple months, assuming that COVID begins to recede and people are vaccinated.

  3. There are probably a lot more people in our county, state and country that are white supremacist—or, at least for them—racism isn't a non-starter—such that the Trump policies of hate and xenophobia don't repel people, and might in fact attract them.

People who think the Party of Trump is dead or dying are not looking at the actual numbers. We need to do a lot better or the barely-won Congress will flip back in 2022. Joe Biden and Congress have to get things done, as Democrats want results not excuses.

B.B. in Chipley, FL, writes: Isn't holding on to a barely viable coalition exactly what the Republican Party has been doing for nearly the past 30 years? To wit, they've elected only two presidents, both by flukes. They tell themselves that they are the majority because they were able to gerrymander states, thus electing state reps and congresspersons. They've hitched their wagons to rural whites, who dominate geographically, so that makes them think they own the voters.

G.S. in Raleigh, NC, writes: I've been registered as a Democrat since I turned 18, and given all the moves I've made in my life, that means in nine different states. I've even been elected to local office as a Democrat, although I've always described myself more as anti-Republican than anything else. (My discovery of in 2004 definitely influenced my dive into local politics and my eventual election.)

The Sunday mail on this site has had a lot of discussion on the importance of Democrats understanding where Republican voters are coming from, and I second the sentiment. In particular, I thank P.M. from Currituck, NC for their courage in presenting a perspective based on their own background. (I don't agree with everything they said, but that's not the point.) The conundrum for Democratic candidates is how to convince Republican voters that they have been fooled without calling them fools. In reading the back-and-forth over the past few months, what has struck me is how critics of P.M. have failed to keep their righteousness in check, and as a consequence, their words would convince no one not already on their side.

I'll take a different approach and (try to) avoid skewering Republican voters. Instead, I'll skewer Republican politicians, although in truth, I feel like the story I'm telling is one that (V) and (Z) have been telling us for years, piece by piece.

Howard Zinn got it right when he said that the difference between Democrats and Republicans was that the GOP promoted the immediate, short-term interests of America's wealthiest, most powerful people, while the Democrats focused on their long-term interests, mostly by giving in just enough to avoid a revolution. Leaving aside my criticisms of the Democrats, what has amazed me over the last three decades is how the Republicans have used social issues to convince working-class Americans to vote for the interests of the corporate class.

First we had Richard Nixon and the Southern Strategy, followed by Ronald Reagan and his dog-whistle approach to social welfare programs, the war on drugs, and criminal justice. Then came Rush Limbaugh, followed soon after by Newt Gingrich, and then the rise of Fox News. The power of Fox News is that it gives people the "truth" they want to hear, and the people get addicted. Through it all, the Republican Party has steadfastly promoted tax cuts for the wealthy and opposed environmental protections, which have made the rich richer and everyone else poorer, in every sense of the word. The GOP, with a great deal of help from Fox News, has been able to take those who agree with the Party's social conservatism and those who agree with their fiscal conservatism and weld them into a monolithic bloc, something that I didn't see coming. I had always hoped that the fundamentally different goals of these two groups would eventually lead to a fracture in the GOP, but it was not to be.

Instead, Fox News (along with Limbaugh and a host of other right-wing voices on television and radio) have created this sizable group of voters who listen to them because they tell them what they want to hear. Enter one Donald J. Trump. For all his faults, he recognized gullibility when he saw it, and he all but hijacked the GOP's base. Given the rise of the tea party, one could argue that the GOP should have seen what was about to happen. But they didn't.

What we have now is a Republican Party that desperately wants votes from its old base, while the base is enthralled with Donald Trump and the fantasy-land that he preaches. I don't know whether to be more amazed at the lies the base is willing to accept or the utter soullessness of Republican politicians as they maneuver to stay relevant. Which is more important? The fate of America, or their own political careers? I think we know.

So the country is at a crossroads, and while demographics might work in the favor of the Democrats long-term, I worry about what might happen in the interim, as the GOP works to outlaw voting by Black Americans and other voters they fear and to gerrymander Democrats out of existence. The key to success for the Democrats is to convince Republican voters to vote in their own economic interests. The Republican base's true interests align with national interests, but they are being told their interests are 180 degrees in the other direction, and they're buying it. I wish I knew how to solve this conundrum.

S.D. in New York, NY, writes: I took a little umbrage at the assertion from B.P. in Chicago that Democrats lose elections because they're too moderate. Time and time again, it's moderate Democrats who win elections by larger margins than progressive ones. Time and time again, it's moderate Democrats who are capable of winning in competitive seats. Progressives don't flip seats from red to blue—it's moderates who've done that. Moderates are the reason why the Democrats took the House back in 2018. When moderates lose, it's because they had been painted by Republicans as too progressive (e.g. when Andrew Gillum spent too much time around Bernie Sanders and ended up losing Florida).

If anyone's living in an "echo chamber", it's progressives. They seem to think that because they dominate social media that voting booths are supposed to reflect that in the same way. As they learn the hard way over and over, social media isn't real life. Or they believe in the inevitability of their movement because of all the young people who support them (i.e., the people least likely to vote). As those young people get older, they'll come out to vote in larger numbers, and they'll want someone with sensible solutions for the day's problems and not firebrand, do-nothing, progressive rhetoric. Happens every generation.

WSBD? (What Should Biden Do?)

J.R. in San Francisco, CA, writes: Democrats, are you listening?

  1. Reiterate, ad nauseam, that the corporate tax rate will be no higher than it was under President George Bush, Jr. Granted, the economy was no model then, imploding into the Great Recession, but anyway.

  2. Publish a user-friendly list of projects, by congressional district, that are envisaged in the plan.

  3. Conduct a district-by-district tour de force, focusing on the districts of recalcitrant representatives (chiefly Republican), informing each and every constituent what will be forfeited in his/her district if the plan fails, effectively holding each representative responsible for the district's loss of structural improvement.

S.H. in Santa Barbara, CA, writes: Joe Biden says he's sick and tired or ordinary people being fleeced. I'm a tax pro who is sick and tired of ordinary workers paying more tax than people who have enough income to live off investments.

The capital gains rates are no longer needed to promote growth in the economy. A 2019 report from the Tax Policy Center shows that the equity of U.S. households in U.S. corporations is about 25% of the market value. The biggest owners? Foreigners, at 40%. Retirement accounts (which don't benefit from the capital gains rates) own 30%. (The other 5% is owned by non-profits.) That's 75% of corporate investors likely not being influenced by capital gains rates.

Among my clients, the only ones with significant non-retirement investment accounts are not going to give up the historically better return in the stock market because the capital gains rates increase. They will fuss about it, as everyone fusses when they lose an advantage they have had historically. Retaining a benefit for actual start-up company investors is warranted to encourage new company investments, but a capital gain rate applicable to all investments is no longer needed to promote economic growth the way it was when this concept began.

Compare how much income tax is paid by a working couple compared to the tax on the same amount of income earned by a non-working couple living off qualified dividends and capital gains:

Income Level Taxes, if Work Income Taxes, if CG Income
$100,000 $8,632 $0
$200,000 $30,207 $14,504
$300,000 $54,657 $31,180

Note this is only federal income taxes and does not include Social Security and Medicare paid by the working couple. These numbers come from creating tax returns for each type of income with standard deductions.

As the economic gap grows, so does the equality gap. To close the equality gap, equalizing the tax rate for all types of income would be a good start.

K.P. in Mt. Pleasant, MI, writes: Engaging in politics is essential in a democracy and a republic. Maybe the most important policy position for a coalition to develop these days is for a workable remedy to climate change. Since we will need people to change their lifestyles, I am not sure that mere good policy will be effective. Even if most of us, or even all of us, lived in efficient green mega-cities I don't believe it will be enough to keep western wildfires and eastern flooding at acceptable levels.

What might work would be a broad consensus of progressive and conservative people moving toward a different economy. The short version might be called "spread out and simplify."

In a better society, the first step would be to move the poor neighborhoods away from the ocean. Cutting back on AC and air travel would be high on my list as well.

I dont think following the Europeans is the right approach; they will almost certainly focus on mega city efficiency since that's mostly what their political system can achieve.

We can do better if we start talking about it without the wishful thinking. Gotta get this one done.

D.S. in Oakton, VA, writes: I suggest that rather than holding onto fossil fuels, unions should be lobbying to make the U.S. independent from other countries (such as China) in sourcing at home rare-earth metals. In 2019, Reuters reported "Although they are more abundant than their name implies, they are difficult and costly to mine and process cleanly. China hosts most of the world's processing capacity and supplied 80% of the rare earths imported by the United States from 2014 to 2017. In 2017, China accounted for 81% of the world's rare-earth production, data from the U.S. Geological Survey showed."

This is something where the federal government could provide seed money for technology improvements and capabilities in discovering and extracting those elements needed for tomorrow's infrastructure. China may be able to do things cheaper with cheap labor, but the U.S. might devise greater efficiencies and a cleaner way of doing it.

There is an interesting 2017 paper put out by the Department of Energy entitled "Report on Rare Earth Elements from Coal and Coal Byproducts." Coal may not have to burn and pollute in order to be useful. And we would be investing into a workforce that is already accustomed to hard labor.

B.N. in Bangor, ME, writes: The point you made about Joe Biden's infrastructure plan and unions addresses one effect of the general phenomenon of automation eliminating jobs, with no obvious prospects for their replacement. This is happening across many industries, and union organizers will simply have to accept that it cannot and should not be stopped. A universal basic income, replacing the existing welfare state, is probably the best way to ensure that the coming plenty can be enjoyed by all. If former coal miners aren't satisfied with that, to be blunt, then too bad. Climate change is an existential threat, and aggrieved coal miners are concentrated in states which are no longer winnable by the Democrats anyway. We've known that climate change is happening for decades; anyone who has chosen to stay in the coal industry anyway is morally culpable for its effects.

D.S. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: As a long-time driver, I need to comment on the assertion by S.M. of Toronto that EVs need to be assessed in some way. Actually, I fully agree. As gas taxes disappear, what else are we to do to prevent the return of our roads to rutted, bone-rattling paths? Unfortunately, at least in California, the current proposal is a flat tax per annum, which does not take usage into account. On the other hand, use-based fees would likely require the collection of mileage figures, which raises both technical and privacy concerns (although my insurance company already does it). 'Tis a quandary, actually.

S.K. in San Tan Valley, AZ, writes: Regarding the loss of gas-tax revenue from EVs, S.M. in Toronto writes, "the only thing that seems feasible is to tax EVs more up front to close the budget hole." My suggestion is to partially replace the gas tax with a new tax on tires. All vehicles use tires, and tire wear tracks with road use, so this would equitably match tax to miles traveled (although the tax would probably need to vary with tire tread-wear rating). Trucks cause more wear and tear on the roadways but also use more tires, so this again matches the tax burden with road maintenance incurred.

One drawback that comes to mind is sometimes tires on seldom-used vehicles need to be replaced early because of dry-rot (at least, out here in Arizona). There may be other drawbacks but I at least wanted to throw out the suggestion for discussion.

I would leave a non-zero gas tax in place in order to incentivize the switch to EVs, but this revenue from should go towards climate change mitigation and perhaps asthma treatments rather than road maintenance, which should be funded by the tire tax.

T.A.L.G. in Birdsboro, PA, writes: I'm generally against any unchecked spending by politicians. Time and again they've proven themselves poor deciders of where limited resources should go. It usually goes to some faction of their constituents who support them. In most cases the vast majority of us can't jettison any bad players in Congress because we only get to elect 3 out of 535 people.

While I could fill pages about Pennsylvania's byzantine and Balkanized budgeting process, at the risk of oversimplification, I'll hold out AMTRAK as a good example of how unbridled government spending gets bastardized. You can expect the same type of results just on a grander scale with any unfettered government infrastructure spending bill as large as this one.

Passenger train service declined precipitously in the 1950s, when the U.S. began building its interstate highway system. Trains gave way to the automobile and long-range train service quickly began closing shop. Not wanting to allow train service to entirely disappear across large swaths of the country, the U.S. government formed AMTRAK to maintain some minor semblance of the former system. Politicians have championed AMTRAK lines in their districts since the beginning without any consideration as to how much it costs.

The system as a whole is not self-sufficient. Like most business entities, line profitability is not uniformly distributed. Some lines break even or turn a profit, especially those along the Northeast corridor between Boston and DC. Other lines, mostly in rural areas, lose money hand over fist. Any hopes of pruning money-losing lines are usually quashed by key Congressional members. So what do we have as a result of political interference? A train system dependent on government money for its existence and unable to jettison money losing lines because key politicians hold the money strings. Some states now kick in additional money to keep their parts of the system operational while others do nothing; AMTRAK has lines in 46 states and DC. That additional money allows AMTRAK to divert more resources to cover the money-losing parts. Parts of the AMTRAK system that actually make money don't get reinvestments because their line's profits are used to cover for parts that lose money. That means old equipment stays in place and breaks down on a regular basis, stranding passengers. AMTRAK signals in some of the busiest parts of its system are woefully out of date and are prone to breakdowns. This places passenger trains in real danger of collisions and slows down other local freight and mass transit systems that share the lines (but do not own them). The system as a whole can not be upgraded to improve passenger service because most money is spent just maintaining itself. The resulting poor customer service then depresses future ridership and any potential profits.

Some type of cost-benefit analysis mechanism has to be developed to direct resources where they are truly needed before any infrastructure spending is authorized. Focusing resources on chronically congested areas or identifying areas with sufficient tax bases to support their local infrastructure would be a good start. Making money available on a state-match basis would also help by making states have skin in the game. Otherwise the Bud Shusters (R) and John Murthas (D) of the world will direct resources to build roads to nowhere and underutilized airports that all of us will have to pay for to maintain for decades to come. This starves areas that have the tax base to maintain their systems and degrades (AMTRAKs?) the entire system for everyone.

G.R. in Basel, Switzerland , writes: A.T. in Culpeper refers to a "measly" $650 Billion for actual infrastructure" when "we need $2.59 trillion to close the gap in infrastructure funding." I appreciate the sentiment, but does A.T. not realize that budgets are an annual event—that these occur every year?

Further, if you do approve one quarter of what's needed "this year," it will be a year in which you have cranes and dump trucks out there for public admiration—which justify coming back for more later. I would not call it "Joe Biden's tiny package" considering that Trump and McConnell and the rest of the do-nothing GOP apparently have never had any package to show us!

On that note, is anyone surprised that corporate America is encouraging infrastructure improvements while at the same time complaining about having to toss a few nickels of taxes in to pay for it? That's their standard response. And is anyone surprised that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)—increasingly cornered by popular Democratic proposals, and trapped by his own past high-handed rejection of bipartisanship—is waddling back and forth muttering threats to corporations and whining about deficits? That's also his standard response.

What matters is that Joe Biden and the Democrats are not deploying their standard responses. They are "not" falling for bleats for bipartisanship from the proven-dishonest GOP. They are not self-limiting and going for tiny projects and proposals in fear that Fox News will attack them on the deficit. We're witnessing a truly historic moment: Democrats are no longer mice furtively snatching crumbs fallen from the plutocrats' tables and hoping that voters will reward timid minimalism and glacially incremental solutions to real problems.

And finally, many of this site's correspondents have noted that the Democrats struggle to take credit for their accomplishments. The data charts you presented showing the Dow Jones Industrial Average soaring under most Democrats astounded even me. I knew this, and yet, due to hagiography, even a dedicated Democrat vaguely thinks "Reagan had the biggest boom" because the oligarch-comforting GOP and right-wing media never shut up about his alleged "historic" success.

What fascinates me is that corporate America does not need to be told how the markets have performed under different Presidents—they study this in great detail. Despite the huffing and puffing on taxes and social programs—which is the typical jockeying to pay as little as possible—I suspect that stockbrokers in particular popped the champagne corks when Biden (and Obama, and Clinton) won elections, knowing the long-standing trend was that consistent upward growth was now in the cards for the next 4-8 years to follow.

B.J.L., Ann Arbor, MI, writes: Thanks for the item about Joe Biden and guns. Indeed, these XOs look toothless. Like other readers, I also think that the Dutch insurance model of having to carry some form of personal liability insurance is the way to go. When we lived in Holland (Delft) during a sabbatical, we were encouraged to carry insurance to live there. We were a little surprised, having lived in the U.S., and asked "why" since we didn't own or have a car or a house while living abroad. It was posed to us that it didn't cost too much per person, and that if everybody carried it, the settling of claims was streamlined, so even our 2-year-old was covered if he drew markers on the wall of the day care home where he was placed.

I think if you own a gun, there should be a tax, whether it's a government tax or a requirement to hold insurance on claims related to its use. I'm fine either way. We don't have to get into the details of which gun, but if you own an AR rifle, that can have a high insurance cost; a semiautomatic handgun, a pretty high cost; and a double-barreled shotgun or a Saturday night special, less. I'm not sure what it would pay out, but extinguishing someone else's life or maiming them forever should have a pretty high cost. There are no freebies, and if you want to be part of that Second Amendment well-regulated militia, there should be a service cost to choose that for your household.

D.C. in Portland, OR, writes: Joe Biden's recent Executive Order on gun control and the resulting chants of "tyranny" and "they're coming for your guns" made me curious how successful Democratic Presidents have been at controlling the number of guns in circulation.

It would seem one key statistic has been incredibly stable for several decades; that is the percentage of households owning guns. The data shows that percentage was 43% in 1972 and...42% in 2020. Over that entire time, the percentage has remained within 5 points of this level.

For all the energy poured into both sides of the debate, it would appear to be nothing but kabuki theater; we all know exactly where we'll be 40 years from now.

P.S. in Portland, ME, writes: The solution to gun violence is the same as the solution to the opioid crisis and many other problems in the U.S. We are all just animals and we are all stressed out if we can't do enough of what I call the 3-Fs: Feed, Frolic, and Fornicate. Or, said another way, we are all stressed out if we do not have: (1) the ability to take care of ourselves the way any modern human being would want to be taken care of, (2) the time to play, and (3) someone to witness our lives. If you don't have enough of the 3 Fs, you are stressed and you become mentally ill. Mental illness leads to gun violence, opioid addiction, and all the crazy behavior we are witnessing.

A broken economy can be defined by having a large swath of people that cannot possibly get the 3 Fs. The U.S. population is just way over-stressed as a result of 40 years of trickle-down economics leading to massive wealth inequality. The only way to actually solve these problems is to fix the broken economy. Everything else is just mitigation.

And as to the Other Joe...

P.B. in Chicago, IL, writes: I think you overestimate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). I think he is just a huge egomaniac. He is from one of the smallest and poorest states and really feels like he knows what is best for the entire country. I am from Chicago and he knows nothing of what is best for us here. He just wants everyone to bow down to him. He cares nothing about the USA.

I can't wait until the Dems get at least 51 Senators so we can tell him to shove it!

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Here are a few fantastic pieces of legislation that could pass if the Senate Democrats would use a simple majority vote as opposed to the 60 currently needed to break legislative filibusters:

  • $15 minimum wage
  • Universal gun background checks
  • Dream Act
  • "For The People" Act
  • John Lewis Voting Rights Act

Why can't these pieces of legislation pass? Because for Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), it's far more important for them to be liked by Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, etc. Being buddy-buddy with Republicans takes precedence over passing some of the most important and needed legislation in 5 decades.

And the thing is, passing such profound legislation will help Democrats in the 2022 and 2024 elections. Electoral politics will take care of itself when you can run ads being able to talk about such accomplishments as a $15/hour minimum wage, gun background checks, Dream Act, etc.

My late father had a saying about his brother: "he bought things he didn't want, with money he didn't have, to impress people he didn't like." This is a slight variation, but Manchin wants to impress people who would not hesitate to throw him under the bus if they were in power.

Who Hates Gaetz?

R.M. in Pensacola, FL, writes: As readers of this website know, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has found himself in a bit of hot water in the last couple of weeks.

I can't say that I'm at all surprised, for a number of reasons. As a constituent of his, he has never at all shown much interest in the actual process of being a member of Congress.

First, look at his record. Not one bill that he has introduced has become law. Most have just been assigned to committees where they were never seen again. While this is likely common for a member of the House who is early in their third term, given how often he is on Fox News or in front of any other camera, you would think he was quite the accomplished legislator.

Secondly, he is not in the district a lot. When he first entered Congress, he was always having events that he called "Open Gaetz" across the district. However, since he won re-election in 2018, the number of these certainly decreased. Yes, the pandemic had an impact, but I would frequently hear stories about how he was in Orlando or Montana or Orlando or Mar-a-lago or Orlando or some other far-flung location. Stories about him doing things locally have been few and far between of late.

Finally, his Twitter feed has been very telling these last couple of weeks. As a parent and someone who has been in management for most of my adult life, you can tell when things don't look good for an individual in a given situation. He knows that he is in a lot of trouble. To what extent, only investigators and Gaetz know.

At this point, if there was an election tomorrow, he would win. This district is just too Republican. But if he is facing criminal charges and gets convicted, he would be out of Congress, and then there would be about 30 Republicans from the area fighting in a primary. Whoever won that would win the seat. Again, it's just too Republican of a district.

My guess is that Gaetz won't finish out this term, because there is just too much smoke at this point and Donald Trump has basically turned his back. My hope is that, whoever my next representative in Congress happens to be, they take the job more seriously.


H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Instead of describing the new Georgia voting law as "Jim Crow 2.0," a more accurate characterization would be a "clawback." Georgia Republicans just lost 16 EVs and two Senate seats to the Democrats. If changing the state's election laws (and losing the MLB All-Star Game) is what it takes to get back to the status quo, then the GOP will do it. While the term clawback originally referred to practices in business and finance, it sure seems to be the perfect way to describe what Republican state legislators are doing to defeat Democrats and return to power.

J.T. in Marietta, GA, writes: Regarding the recent electoral "reforms" enacted in Georgia, I think it's important to avoid glib generalizations such as "the new Jim Crow" and look at the actual law. A Republican representative on a local NPR program ("Political Rewind"—all your Georgian readers should be following it) challenged listeners to actually read the legislation. I thought that was a good idea, so I did. This CNN article actually does an excellent job of summarizing and explaining it. I found nothing in there that did not correspond with what I read in the text of the legislation.

I really think that the reactionary dismissal of the whole thing as racist and "Jim Crow" is not only misleading, it's interfering with the ability to address and combat the bad parts of this new law. One has to remember that in Georgia there is a long history of rural antipathy towards the Atlanta Metro area. This is only partially due to race; it's more accurately described as a generalized suspicion of a vaguely defined "cosmopolitan elite," of which the many educated and affluent Black Atlantans form a significant part. Republicans don't want any urban voters, Black or white, to have an easy time of it.

Having said that, I was relieved to see that the absentee-voting ID portion of the law was not as onerous as I feared. You don't have to copy your I.D.; you can just provide the license number or, if that fails, give them the last four digits of your SSN and your birthdate. I actually think this could be an improvement—there's a long history of absentee ballots being rejected based on subjective judgments of a signature "mismatch." Similarly, the requirements to add voting machines or additional precincts in locations with long lines (although an unfunded mandate) could actually help if there are resources to make it happen.

The most worrisome area is the legislative takeover of election supervision. While the new state elections supervisor is supposedly "non-partisan," they will be selected by the Republican General Assembly. I have little faith the Assembly will choose a neutral party. (On the other hand, having an elected Republican Secretary of State perform that role is probably equally partisan, so maybe that's a wash.) The state takeover of counties that are perceived as problematic is incredibly dangerous, however. Notice they are limited to four counties at a time. That's enough to cover Fulton, DeKalb, and Clayton—which largely gave Democrats their recent victories—and have one left over for Cobb or Gwinnett. That gives Republicans almost unlimited possibilities for monkeyshines in counting votes. The other horrifying possibility is that large numbers of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) wannabes will flood polling places to take advantage of the "unlimited voter challenges" provision and create chaos on Election Day. The new restrictions on provisional ballots are also designed to discourage less affluent voters who may not have time or transportation to get to their proper precinct (although this will probably also affect a very small number of votes).

However, the most outrageous part of the bill (besides the "no sharing of food and drink" rule) is its rationale. The preamble to the bill rambles on vaguely about voters not having "confidence" in the election. It points to no specific instances of fraud or problems, and comes in the wake of a highly successful and honest general election and runoff. This law is a solution in search of a problem.

B.S. in Santa Maria, CA, writes: You are my favorite read! So, with only the best of intentions, I would like to suggest keeping in mind that some people are lurkers, glancers, skimmers, etc. I know many people who garner their news and opinions from titles or captions. With that in mind, the titling of the item "Maybe the Georgia Law Isn't As Bad as Feared" might lead some to read the headline and step back from a position of concern about the law because it causes one, at a glance, to think "(V) and (Z) believe it's not a bad law."

I did read the complete item, so I realize your position is more analytical than this blanket statement and I also recognize that you are writing about Nate Cohn's article and statements. But, just as a suggestion, maybe next time consider putting a title like that in quotes. Honestly, even I read that heading as if you were suggesting a de-escalation of concern about the law.

M.G. in Newtown, PA, writes: Last week, R.L. in Alameda wrote:

Regarding the boycotts of Georgia businesses, it's worth noting that Stacey Abrams and the New Georgia Project are not asking for them. They have pointed out that boycotts can hurt the very people who are at risk of losing their franchise. Consider all the stadium vendors, parking lot attendants and ticket takers who won't be working on the day of the MLB All-Star Game. These people are more likely to be Black and feel the economic pain of a missed day of work way more than the owner of the Atlanta Braves will.

It's also worth noting that the ball got rolling on the decision to move the All-Star Game out of Atlanta because the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) voiced their objections to keeping the game in Atlanta after the bill was passed. This union represents a diverse demographic, as 42% of active MLB players are non-white. It is probable that many MLB players privately indicated they would consider opting out of the All-Star Game if it stayed in Atlanta. This put MLB in a position where they could have an All-Star Game with several prominent players publicly boycotting the game, creating a watered-down version of the contest tied to bad publicity (and lower ratings and less revenue).

The MLBPA determined that they did not want to participate in a game that would put their players in the thankless position of having to choose to either sit out what, for some athletes, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in an All-Star Game or to feel compelled to play in a game that violated their beliefs and principles. MLB determined that the bad publicity wasn't worth the potential financial headache, particularly at a time when the game is trying to grow the sport among younger and non-white fans.

It is unfortunate that black workers in Georgia will bear the negative brunt of this decision, but the game isn't being canceled, rather moved to another location. Presumably, non-white workers in Colorado will now reap the economic benefits described by R.L. above with an extra day of work they wouldn't have had previously. In a broader sense, this is a net neutral move in terms of job and income opportunities, not an absolute loss for the working class.

Regarding the idea of not wanting corporate America to be the "unofficial fourth branch of government," I emphatically agree! Corporations in America wield too much power. MLB specifically should not have an antitrust exemption and the federal, state and local tax breaks that individual teams and billionaire owners receive to build stadiums that cost hundreds of millions of dollars should mostly or entirely disappear. However, compelling or requiring a corporation to do business in a state that passes legislation that openly discriminates against a significant chunk of their employees would be an example of government wiedling too much power, not the other way around.

MLB and the MLBPA do not represent the state of Georgia or its constituents. The Georgia governor and state legislature do, and based on recent history they surely had to know that losing business in the state was a potential consequence of this legislation. The loss of the MLB All-Star Game is on them and them alone.

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: As I was reading the item on the latest Texas voting bill, I was struck by how many of the provisions lined up against things Harris County (greater Houston) did creatively to compensate for COVID-19 in the November election. It looks more like it was aimed as a "screw you" to Harris County than a cunning plan to discourage Democratic voters. When the court case to eliminate straight-ticket voting was pursued in the first place, one of the reasons was to protect incumbent county-level Republican officials from being run out of town as Harris County was flipping blue. Squelching Harris will also squelch the blue-trending counties following behind it: Dallas and Bexar (San Antonio).

B.G. in New York, NY, writes: Texas' straight-ticket voting ban is not about what you think. It's about Beto O'Rourke having been so popular in the big cities that straight-ticket voting took a lot of down-ballot local races into the Democrats' column. This is why, for example, you had zero-experience 29-year-old Lena Hidalgo elected to the most powerful office in Houston (Harris County judge) over the popular incumbent, Ed Emmett. It flipped the mayoral race in my little suburban town and many, many other races as well.

It may also make the lines longer, but that's not why it's a priority.

...Vaccination, and...

M.A.K. in Sacramento, CA , writes: I wanted to comment on my current Alice-in-Wonderland feelings about the COVID-19 vaccination process. It's been more than a year now since this horrible pandemic reared its ugly head. The previous administration treated COVID as a PR problem, which led to the U.S. leading the world, with over 500,000 deaths and counting. Our friends in Europe, while struggling mightily against the outbreak, managed to mostly get it under control (or, at very least, not enduring long lasting tsunamis of cases). It was so grim for the U.S. that Europeans began expressing pity for their poor superpower friend across the Atlantic. I'm sure China was giddy at the perceived decline of their chief rival and the demonstration of how our system of governance was clearly flawed.

Now we are just shy of 3 months into the Biden administration and the script has totally flipped. Europe, for many reasons, is in the midst of a new wave of cases and is reluctant to deploy the AstraZeneca vaccine that they were heavily invested in. While we are certainly not out of the woods yet, we are approaching 20% fully vaccinated, including very high percentages of 65+ Americans and teachers. Most remarkably, everyone I have spoken with who has been vaccinated has commented on the efficiency of the process and how the folks staffing these events are focused and friendly. It reminds me of many moons ago when the America at that time seemed to me to be a country that could get big, tough things done. I'm going to hold on to the thought that we can build on this experience and pull together, at least occasionally, if we can focus on causes that truly benefit all Americans.

G.S. in Basingstoke, UK, writes: I read with interest your comments on the "fierce blowback" to the U.K.'s possible adoption of vaccine passports. It is certainly true that this issue has led to strange bedfellows in the opposition shared by certain liberal and conservative factions. However, I do think you might be overstating the case a little. The U.K. is presently in the process of rolling back our third national lockdown. This has (certainly for us) effectively been in place since just before the festive season—leading to the droll meme "only 371 sleeps until Christmas" as well as other pithy British epithets that would probably not survive to publication. Today, the U.K. passed 60% of all adults having had their first vaccination; one of the few bright spots for a government that has largely mishandled and wished away the pandemic since February of last year.

This latest lockdown has caused my own and other regulation-compliant families significant heartache through prolonged separation from parents and friends and the from closure of businesses nationwide. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that public opinion seems squarely behind the idea of vaccine passports, with a strong majority (78%) in favor of requiring them for overseas travel and even six in ten supporting their use for a visit to the pub (when they reopen next week for outdoor business—hurrah!). People's justifications have ranged from the need to reopen the economy (62%) to the encouragement it will give to others to get vaccinated (61%)—these are seeming to outweigh any ethical, privacy or legal concerns. If ever there was a Prime Minister with a willingness to gain a political win from a populist cause (see: Brexit, the) then it is the current incumbent, so perhaps it is not quite as unlikely as you think. Speaking personally, I think I would be willing to accept the obvious concerns as a temporary measure in furtherance of being able to see loved ones again.

J.R. in Bucksport, ME, writes: I think the "need" for a vaccine passport will come and go quickly in the U.S. With 3-4 million doses/day, we will quickly get a shot into everyone that wants one. When we get to that point, the COVID-19 deaths will start to approach "bad flu year" territory. Very few people really can't get the vaccine and so about everyone that catches a bad case of COVID or dies from it then will just be the idiots who chose not to get vaccinated. There will be zero sympathy for these morons as we are all just so sick of COVID and will not be looking back.

V & Z respond: Except that some (innocent) people are immunocompromised, there is not yet an approved vaccine for young people, and there is never going to be a vaccine for infants.

D.S. in Wilson County, NC, writes: I would certainly expect Disney to strongly encourage vaccine passport usage by having all but one queue at the front gates of their theme parks being vaccine-passport-only. The non-passport line will be very long and time-consuming (6 feet of distance, please!) and require full medical screening. Once Disney does it, I would expect all of the other theme parks to follow suit, such as the Six Flags locations in Texas. I would not be surprised if Disney rolls out their own private vaccine verification system that would be integrated into their My Disney Experience mobile app.

M.C. in Chicago, IL, writes: As a Bears Fan and small business owner. I have to respond to your item on vaccine passports.

I own several franchised hair salon locations in Chicago and the suburbs. My stylists have been working and—yikes!—touching people since we reopened in June 2020. We have had no in-salon transmission in my organization. I spent thousands on PPE, including a variety of masks, face shields, gloves, air purifiers—you name it. If they asked, or I saw it as a pop-up on the Internet, I bought it to keep my staff and client safe. My stylists are getting vaccinated when eligible and are united in saying everyone needs to wear a mask in the salon for the foreseeable future. I agree and will continue to do everything as safe as possible. If I did not, my employees would go work elsewhere.

Since January, customers are coming in, usually old white guys, throwing off their masks, and claiming they are fully vaccinated and do not need to wear a mask. Then they go on a rant how it is illegal, or against their HIPAA or constitutional rights for us to ask for proof. The employees' answer is that the evil owner (me) makes them follow the CDC guidance requiring masks for everyone in our salon because we do not know if everyone in the salon is two weeks post competing their vaccination(s). Most grumble and comply, while others leave, saying they will never return to such as a horrible business that does not respect their rights. But now, with your inspiration, I can tell the stylists they can ask the maskless client if they are Packers fans and if they say yes, tell them we are sorry we do not give haircuts to Packers fans. (Kidding!)

As a business owner I would like Vaccine passports. It will encourage these suddenly anti-vaxxers to get vaccinated. Even more I would like the Chicago Bears to win the Super Bowl.

V & Z respond: Wait. You wrote this letter, so you're literate. And you're also a productive member of society. And yet, you say you're a Bears fan? Something doesn't add up here.

...Trans Rights

S.B. in New Castle, DE, writes: I feel that A.B. in Wendell and I have been making a concerted effort to address the transgender political and social concerns that have been in the news lately. Some of your followers either aren't reading current news on this topic or they simply have an opinion that isn't worth their time to verify as correct by even a one-click web search before writing to you.

J.G. in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK wrote: "Are we really to believe that strong and confident girls are in fact boys, and that caring and sensitive boys are in fact girls? And that those who seek to obtain both the feminine and masculine virtues will find that they are 'non-binary'?"

Seriously? Strong girls and sensitive boys exist. So do trans girls, trans boys and non-binary kids. You call yourself a TUMF (Trans Uncomfortable Moderate Feminist). Just embrace the label TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) and own it. Perhaps J.K. Rowling will give you some TERF-love on one of your social media posts.

L.E. in Putnam County, NY, wrote: "Don't virtue-signal with flashy pro-trans blinkers." is dedicated to the discussion of current political topics, regardless of a left or right lean on the spectrum. You may not like that transgender topics are in the news, but the last president made us a political hot topic by broadly attacking the LGBTQ+ community as a whole and by targeting transgender people very specifically. Guess what? Trans people are still in the political news today: Virginia bans Trans Panic Defense, Why the G.O.P. is obsessing over Trans Girls, and Anti-Transgender Laws Pass in Arkansas and Tennessee. It took me one web search click to find these articles and a myriad of others. Trans news is current event news. Get your anti-trans blinkers fixed. They're in continuous flash mode. I'm sure there's a therapist near you who can help you work out whether it's a transmisic or transphobic problem and how to deal with it.

For those readers who have an actual interest in our very small minority in this amazing diversity of humanity, here's a great website that addresses most transgender questions in a nutshell: The Gender Dysphoria Bible.

J.E. in San Jose, CA, writes: J.G. in Newcastle upon Tyne wrote, "Are we really to believe that strong and confident girls are in fact boys, and that caring and sensitive boys are in fact girls?"

In response, I would say that it does not matter what anyone else believes. These are judgments. I would rather let individuals have autonomy over their identity. Makes it easier for me, too, because I do not need to question anything.

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: Hugely disappointed at the transphobic comment last Sunday dismissing trans women as not being "actual women."

And yes, the word is "transphobic." "Transphobic" and "transphobia" are the words for hate and intolerance towards the trans community and have been for a very long time. It's the same for "homophobic" and "homophobia." One day it may evolve to "transmisic" and "homomisic," but it hasn't yet and I suspect you already know all this, so please stop playing like you don't. (Spell check doesn't recognize them either.)

Discussions about "phobia" really being about fear are no more than purposeful tone deafness and intellectual masturbation. A dangerous and unnecessary distraction from the very real transphobia faced by the trans community and others perceived as gender non-conforming. That it was instigated and encouraged by this site saddens me.

That said, trans women are women. Trans men are men. Why is that so fu**ing difficult for people to wrap their heads around? There are no exceptions for bathrooms, sports and women/men only events. Period! Don't blame the trans community if you can't get on board with that. They are not the problem, you are the problem.

Don't use a discussion on how language evolves as an excuse for transphobia and homophobia. Let's instead discuss and appreciate all the new ways we can talk about and understand gender and sexuality. Many people are gender non-conforming. Some gender non-conforming people are trans, but many are not. Others may identify as non-binary, which is different than trans. Gender is different than sexuality.

To learn more I would suggest A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities by Mady G. and J.R. Zuckerberg and A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson.

Nobody should be judged for how they present their gender to the world. Everybody deserves to be judged only on their character and actions. That's not too much to ask.

P.S.: I love this art as a simple way of expressing that what's between our legs is not the only barometer for gender:

A person who is very male from the waist up
but not from the waist down, and a person who is very female from the waist up, but not from the waist down, are standing next
to each other, spray-painted in gold paint.

V & Z respond: For those who are not familiar, those are lifelike renderings of trans activists Buck Angel (l) and Allanah Starr (r).

J.N. in Renton, WA, writes: J.E.L. in Henderson wrote:

You listed three reasons why some people prefer the word "transmisic" over "transphobic." You forgot the fourth, and most important, reason: When many people hear the word "transphobic," they believe that "phobic" means "fear." But, very often, people who bully or insult transgender individuals do not actually "fear" them—a better description of their state of mind would be "hate" or "dislike." Hence, the "misic" suffix is usually more precise.

It's almost a cliché now that when someone is accused of homophobia or transphobia, they respond: "But I'm not afraid of them."

I wanted to say that it can easily be argued that they are, indeed, afraid of them. I had a guy years ago back in the 90's say exactly that when we called him homophobic for his opinions on gay people. He insisted he wasn't afraid of them. I said: "But you are afraid of how they'll influence your kids. That's a form of fear." Everyone, except him, agreed with me that day. I'd say in every case, homo (and other LGBT+) phobia is often the person's fear of how things will change if gay or other folk have rights. In reality it shouldn't have much effect on non-gay people, so I never understood why them having the same rights and responsibilities in society should be such an issue.

D.K. in Iowa City, IA, writes: I believe that racial prejudice and related fears are major problems in this country that distort our politics. The best remedy for these feelings is increased interactions. People who have worked together or played sports with or served in the military with people of other races or ethnic groups are more likely to get over their prejudices. We need to have policies that will increase the interactions and experiences that bring people of different groups together. That will require imagination as well as regulations and money.

C.K. in Albuquerque, NM, writes: I wanted to address the transgender and feminism-related discourse that has been stirring for the past few weeks. As a transgender woman, I've been trying to stay out of the fray, but I now find myself having to respond as some of the comments get increasingly personal for me.

First off, to people like J.G. in Newcastle upon Tyne and L.E. in Putnam County: I understand your concern. I do. You're afraid that (cis) women's spaces are being invaded. (And let's be fair: Transgender rights are about more than transgender women, but discussions like this always seem to revolve around the women, don't they? Our AFAB brothers never seem to cause this much heated Internet discussion, even when they're playing sports and entering bathrooms.) You're afraid that if anyone can declare themselves a woman and be entitled to all the gains for which feminists have fought and bled, then those gains are cheapened and trivialized. That the spaces you worked so hard to create are no longer safe. I once saw a Tumblr post that described the transgender movement as the imperialist patriarchy "colonizing womanhood," a phrase that has stuck with (and wounded) me throughout my own transition. And yes, J.G., I even understand the confusion about gender identification versus gender stereotypes and presentation, having grappled with that same question at the start of my own transition. (The short answer is that we're talking about two completely different things. No one is saying that all caring and sensitive boys are in fact girls, but we are saying that some of them might be, and that some of the stoic rough-and-tumble types might be too, and that saying they're not allowed to be is harmful for everyone.)

I expect that last week's letters will generate a lot of responses, and that many of them will be less polite than this one. I suspect that you will in turn take the shouting as a further proof of the hostility toward you and your sisters—the classic "misogynist punching down" of which L.K. in Boulder was so afraid. This discussion will go in circles, fruitlessly, because trans women and cis women each feel like marginalized and vulnerable groups being further threatened by the other. For us, this is a two-pronged issue: One, we are not here to conquer you, and I am sorry for any of our rhetoric that gives that impression. Two, this is an existential issue for us. All we want is to exist, and much of the rhetoric we receive in response feels like people would rather we not.

We are tired. We are looking for a place to rest our weary heads, and find no welcome even from those who should be our allies. Not only does the right see us as society-corrupting deviants, but apparently, so does the left. The most tiring part of this is that we can't push back against this. I am reminded of now-Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA), who had to walk a tightrope during his campaign wherein he pushed back against his opponent's smears without pushing so hard that he could be portrayed as a "scary black man" stereotype. I am reminded of how Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign was hamstrung by how muted her response had to be against Donald Trump's blatant and repeated below-the-belt grade-school bullying. Us trans folk find ourselves having to fight for our right to exist on one flank, while simultaneously assuring the other flank that we come in peace, even when they clearly do not. We have to turn the other cheek on accusations like those that L.E. put forth, that letters like ours are "virtue-signalling" for a "pro-trans echo chamber" (are we not among this site's readers, too?) as if running our letters is some sort of assault in a way that running yours isn't. We have to respond to even the most bad-faith attacks with, "Yes, we're sorry to have upset you" in our most soothing customer service voice, lest we be seen as predators. It's exhausting. If the other responses are snippier than this one, I suspect it is because we're all so tired, both in the "of this" sense and in the sense of a general existential malaise.

We don't think you're bigots. However, we do think that you appear to have bought into the right's "men in dresses sneaking into women's restrooms to prey on them" alarmism, and we think that those talking points are bigoted. Besides, if the LGB-drop-the-T folks get their way, then where are the Ts supposed to go? If you reject and eject us from your spaces and your community and demand that we go find or build our own somewhere else, then maybe you shouldn't act so surprised that the spaces and communities we build end up seeming like they're mad at you for some reason.

Scholars and Their Methods

E.C.R. in Helsinki, Finland , writes: J.B. from Bend challenged your brief description of the historian's method and you gave a pretty fair defense. I would only add this observation from my field of Computer Science (CS), which happened about 20 years ago at a conference in North America. Two research groups at two different universities had submitted papers reaching diametrically opposite conclusions about the same CS question. Rather than attempting to divine which paper was correct, the Program Committee accepted both as a single paper and requested that the research groups figure out the discrepancy between them and present a single unified paper. The result was one of the better papers of the conference as (V) may remember, since I'm pretty sure he was also present.

These sort of course corrections, rethinkings and dueling polemics happen all the time in all of the "hard" sciences. For example, a famous CS paper from many years ago was entitled "Comments Considered Harmful," and argued that the proliferation of "comment lines" purporting to clarify complex computer programs were in fact adding clutter that rapidly became outdated and even flat out wrong as well as encouraging bad programming practices. In the case of Biology, the number of human chromosomes was for decades believed to be 48 (24 + 24) until Swedish researchers counted carefully and established that even in all of the old previously published pictures only 46 (23 + 23) chromosomes were present. Thus, one should not single out historians, because the scientific method of academic inquiry works similarly in all fields.

E.M. in Milwaukee, WI, writes: Thank you for calling out some of the many outstanding qualities of Civil War historians. However, you seem to have overlooked their exceptional modesty.

V & Z respond: Hm. That may have been a mistake, except that, as we all know, Civil War historians do not make mistakes. So, guess not.

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire

M.G. from Chicago, IL, writes: Quite shocked you did not consider financial bankruptcy as a possible cause of the end of the U.S. (in the next 50 years let alone 250). Can anyone say $25 trillion?

M.B. in Chicago, IL, writes: I'm writing in response to the question from J.F. in Toledo ("Why the USA might not last") and feel obligated to point out that global warming should merit consideration as a possibility.

S.C. in Geneva, Switzerland, writes: Your answer to J.F of Toledo begs the definition of the U.S. "surviving." The 250 years from 400 to 650 saw the demise of the Roman Empire for all practical purposes, but without it having fallen in the manner described in any of your three scenarios. Indeed, it might be argued that the Roman Empire continued to exist until November 1918.

My own best guess is that the central government of the U.S. in 2276 will continue to exist, but will have very little effective control over the total U.S. land area, with most control having devolved to states, or in some states to even more local controls. The reason for this devolution will be effects of climate change. And because it will affect all other countries as well—including China—this doesn't really fit any of your collapse models, although it would effectively be one.

K.B.C. in Raleigh, NC, writes: In your answer to the question asked Saturday, you left out what I see as the most likely and historically precedented form of "ending" for the U.S.: not a wholesale dissolution or conquering, but rather a transformation into something very different than the current democratic republic. The Roman Empire was a very different entity than the Roman Republic it replaced; modern Oligarchic Russia is a different country than the USSR and Imperial Russia, despite holding much the same borders and people; and so forth. If the absolute worst-case scenarios some people foretold had come to pass, and Donald Trump (or Barack Obama, if you pay heed to the fears of the Far Right) had made himself president-for-life, I'd argue that the U.S. would cease to exist, whatever the North American region between the 31st and 49th parallels might call itself thereafter.

T.C. in Stone Mountain, GA, writes: In your reply to J.F. of Toledo, you list three scenarios the "U.S., as we know it, comes to an end." I think the most likely scenario is we evolve into something which we would no longer recognize as "our" United States. I suspect a person from 1787 would look at the country today with slavery outlawed, women's suffrage, a large standing army, and an imperial presidency and would think "this is not my country." That is, the country would become very different, but there would be no one event to point to and say "That's when it happened."

S.T. in Glen Rock, NJ, writes: Just to confirm that when you replied "or another unfriendly superpower" in your answer to how the U.S. might end, I presume you were referring to those dastardly ne'er do wells from the Great White North. The film "Canadian Bacon," about a Cold War between the U.S. and Canada that is almost won by Canada, is not a comedy, it is a prophetic warning we ignore at our peril. Waiting until 2276 is nothing for the Canadians, who are clearly playing the long game.

V & Z respond: That is exactly what we were thinking.

What's In a Name?

A.E. in Oakland, CA , writes: To continue the "What's in a Name?" submissions, here is a true story from December of 1982. While our newborn daughter was in intensive care, her father went down to the registrar's office. He couldn't help overhearing the exchange between the Alta Bates Hospital staff member and the father ahead of him. When the registrar asked this man what the name of his baby was, he answered, "BB." The registrar spoke up and said "Sir, I don't think that is very kind." You see, the daughter's last name was Gun.

The man quickly retorted, "Oh well, she'll get along fine with her brothers, Tommy and Ray."

The registrar, flummoxed, had no reply.

So when our daughter's dad stepped up, and offered the name Cortelyou as our daughter's first name, the registrar was completely unfazed. (Note: The Cortelyou name traces back to Jacques Cortelyou, the first land surveyor of Manhattan—see the Castello Map.)

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: I was once at a wedding between a woman, surname "Peck," and a man, surname "Butt." They elected to use their given names on their wedding signage. They even solicited suggestions for a joint name change, but sometime later, they couldn't resist announcing the impending arrival of "Baby Butt." I'm not a close enough friend to know whether or not the child was born breech.

And in the same vein as the "SNL" skit, I also knew someone actually named "Peter Paul." Asking "Where's Mary?" wore rather thin on him.

D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: When Dianne Feinstein was Mayor of San Francisco, she received Deng (pronounced Dong) Xiaoping, then leader of the Peoples Republic of China. Her embarrassment was palpable every time she addressed him as Mr. Deng.

And on a different (sort of) subject, San Diego California has a Goodbody Mortuary.

D.F. in St. Paul, MN, writes: Apt names for businesses abound, apparently. Therefore, I submit my own entry (named for founder Edmund Cease) from the north woods area of my own beautiful state:

A sign for Cease Funeral Home

R.L.D. in Austin, TX, writes: The story of the Crisp Crematorium reminded me of two families back in South Dakota who ran what at the time were called funeral homes. The founder and patriarch of one was named F.O. Jolley and in the next generation it was the Jolley Brothers Funeral Home.

J.M. in Knoxville, TN, writes: Though now deceased, a long-time and highly respected gynecologist in my town had the unfortunate name of Dr. Diddle.

M.S. in Hamden, CT, writes: I've read with interest and amusement people's names that are particularly appropriate to (or ironic for) their jobs. However, until this week I completely forgot about one such name in my own backyard (so to speak): The director of the soil testing lab at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has the wonderful name of Gregory Bugbee.

M.A.B. in Kilmarnock, VA, writes: I no longer have the clipping from a North Haven, CT, throwaway about a local boy graduating with a degree in seed agronomy, but here is a fellow with the same surname who supervises the SDSU Seed Testing Laboratory: Voila Dr. Turnipseed!

K.E. in Newport, RI, writes: This is one of the funniest names I've seen yet. There is a woman who doesn't live very far from me by the name of Gloria Hole. I wonder if Mrs. Hole regrets taking the name of her spouse. If you don't know what I'm talking about, let's say it's something former senator Larry Craig of Idaho might have enjoyed.

Incidentally, our perfidious neighbors to the north in Canada have a doughnut shop in Toronto called Glory Hole Doughnuts. I think I will check it out next time I am in the city but I will make sure I stay out of the washrooms.

V & Z respond: We are reminded of the frozen yogurt stand in West Hollywood (the LGBTQ HQ of Los Angeles) whose flavor names include "I'm Comin' out Cake Batter," "Peppermint Dipstick," "Lezbionic Tonic," and "Harvey Milk Chocolate."


B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: You wrote: "Incidentally, note that gambling advice is given for entertainment purposes only, and the management assumes no responsibility for any direct, indirect, incidental, special, consequential or other damages arising out of any individual's use of this information."

Far too modest. For years, my wife and I have made a good living following your advice on games of chance. The key is knowing the secret code for translating the site's cultural references into betting odds. Another benefit of Gold Member status.

V & Z respond: Maybe so, but we doubt you'll get rich betting against Matt Gaetz, since everyone seems to be doing so these days.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr10 Saturday Q&A
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Apr08 Biden Will Announce Executive Action on Guns Today
Apr08 First Georgia, Now Texas
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Apr08 Boehner Blames Trump for the Capitol Riot
Apr08 Republicans Get a Deadline on the Infrastructure Bill
Apr08 D.C. Statehood Bill Will Come Up This Month
Apr08 Why Don't Republicans Hate Kamala Harris?
Apr08 Marjorie Taylor Greene Is Raking in the Big Bucks
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Apr07 DCCC Will Play it Pretty Safe in 2022
Apr07 Alcee Hastings Is Dead
Apr07 Gaetz the Latest to Learn that Loyalty to the Trumps Is a One-Way Street
Apr07 Fear of a Black Planet
Apr07 St. Louis Has a New Mayor
Apr06 Good News, Bad News for Biden on the Infrastructure Bill
Apr06 Fauci Concedes What Everyone Should Already Have Known
Apr06 Whither the GOP, Part I: Corporate America
Apr06 Whither the GOP, Part II: The Religious Right
Apr06 Whither the GOP, Part III: The Right-Wing Media
Apr06 Putin Apparently Isn't Going Anywhere
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Apr05 Maybe the Georgia Law Isn't As Bad as Feared
Apr05 Other States Are Watching What Happens in Georgia
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Apr05 Thanks, but No Thanks
Apr05 Trump Scammed His Supporters
Apr05 Private Property Is Socialism
Apr04 Sunday Mailbag
Apr03 The First Shoe Drops...But What Will Follow?
Apr03 Saturday Q&A
Apr02 Let the Games Begin
Apr02 Gaetz' Troubles Mount
Apr02 Democrats Hope Johnson Breaks His Word
Apr02 Past as Prologue, Part II: Midterm Elections and the House
Apr02 Guess It Kinda Worked Out, After All
Apr02 COVID Diaries: No Light at the End of the Tunnel
Apr01 Biden Unveils His Big Plan
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Apr01 No Gas Tax or Mileage Tax, Either
Apr01 Democrats Are Arguing about H.R. 1