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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

Jared Diamond wrote about guns, germs, and steel. We run letters about guns, germs, and...root beer.

Political Wrangling

B.R. in Union, NJ, writes: In your item "Durbin Doubles Down on Filibuster Reform," you wrote that "forcing elderly Republican senators" to engage in a talking filibuster "in order to make their party happy is going to destroy whatever relationships still exist between senators of the opposing party." I must dissent.

Given how toxic the relationship between the parties has become in both houses of Congress under the Gingrich/McConnell model, I'm hard pressed to see how changing the filibuster can make it much worse. Indeed, it might just be the start of an improvement. Historically, the requirement that those who wish to exercise their right to filibuster must actually filibuster did not damage relationships between the members of the opposing parties in the Senate. Certainly, the 1950s and 1960s demonstrate that. There was the occasional filibuster, particularly on civil rights bills, but to the extent there were animosities among the Senators they were based on personality (think Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX) and not political orientation and certainly not because a particular Senator had engaged in a filibuster.

In fact, I think that reinstating the talking filibuster could lead to improvements in the relationships in the Senate. For one thing, it would show who's actually opposed to legislation, as compared to simply following party leadership in blocking bills from coming to the floor. And that could lead to negotiations with those senators from the opposing party who are not opposed to a bill, which in turn could lead to bills with more bipartisan provisions. And all this talking could just lead to improved relationships overall.

While that is perhaps a bit naïve and certainly a bit speculative, I would submit that it's manifestly obvious to everyone that the current system is not working and something needs to be changed. I can't imagine that senators in the majority enjoy being in the majority but having no chance to actually legislate. And similarly, I have to think that senators in the minority, at least those who aren't aspiring to higher office, like Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Susan Collins (R-ME), etc., enjoy being senators, when being in the minority means having no chance to influence what happens in the country and to try to make things better. It's not like they ran for the Senate just to then spend all their time dialing for dollars to support their next runs because the rules don't allow them much other impact.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I agree that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is overplaying his hand. What President Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) understand is that Americans react to elected officials who can get broadly popular things done. The fact that COVID relief passed with no Republican support sent a stark message to the country that Republicans are stuck in this loop of loyalty to Trump and infighting that has resulted in paralysis when it comes to acting on even efforts to provide relief from the pandemic, relief that they supported when Trump was in office.

And now, Biden wants to move on to voting rights and infrastructure, also broadly popular. Meanwhile, McConnell and the Republicans have not even considered moderating their stance of obstructionist behavior. As David Litt pointed out, the filibuster used to be used sparingly, as a way to maintain whites' hold on power. But now Republicans use it simply to block anything the opposing party introduces no matter how popular or moderate. While Americans may not punish Republicans for their hypocrisy in refusing to seat a Supreme Court nominee in February of an election year and yet ramming one through a mere 6 weeks before an election, they notice when one party opposes direct checks to Americans or money to winterize the electric grid. If reforming the filibuster allows noncontroversial but important bills to pass, I predict the Democrats will be rewarded at the ballot box. I'm glad to see they're finally moving in this direction and learning from Barack Obama's mistakes in dealing with Republican obstructionism.

M.B. in Menlo Park, CA, writes: Democrats often get lazy and don't come out to vote in midterm elections when a Democrat is President (e.g., 1966, 1994, 2010). I'm wondering if what the Republicans just did in Georgia will have the opposite effect of what the Repbulican Party wants: to energize and mobilize Democrats to vote in massive numbers in the 2022 midterms, unlike previous midterms.

F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: Just a hare-brained scheme...

South Dakota has a one-day residency requirement. It is particularly popular with nomads (i.e., people in RVs, motorcycles, etc. that tootle about the country), partly because there's no state income tax.

So, a bunch of Democrats can go to see Mt. Rushmore, or maybe attend the Sturgis Motorcyle Rally, spend the night, claim residency and then register to vote. However, they should be sure to de-register in their previous state!

Hey, presto! South Dakota is blue! Two more Democratic seats in the Senate, one more in the House, and a blue governor to boot! Oh, and did I mention that there is no state income tax?

It'd only take about 150,000 people to make it happen.


M.R. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: My brother, sister-in-law, and I were all U.S. officials based in Central America in the last few years. We all were tackling illegal immigration but in different sectors, using different tools and over different timelines.

The sad truth is that no one administration can get rid of illegal immigration. At best they can put forward a couple of moderately successful programs and a bunch of small changes in policy. Any large changes will need a vision, years of diplomacy, and buy in from the next administration and will likely take years or generations to succeed.

Illegal immigration, like many complex situations, has to be managed using an assortment of tools. The quick and drastic methods usually result in large side effects.

For example, whatever the criticism, the border fence is very effective in making crossing much harder. I interviewed thousands of people who had crossed illegally, and the border fence gets harder and harder to cross. In the 90's, people just walked or swam across but from 2001 onwards it involved a longer and more arduous journey eventually involving 5-6 days of hiking through deserts and/ or mountains. The cost went from 25 cents for a rubber-dinghy crossing in 1991 to several thousands of dollars nowadays. The side effects are that organized crime became much stronger, coyote is now a profitable occupation (especially for teenagers), and seasonal workers who used to go home for the winter are forced to live in the U.S. and have even brought their families up North.

The Merida Initiative is an example where the U.S. partnered with Mexico to reduce drug trafficking. The U.S. pays for roughly 1/13 of the drug war in Mexico, supplies personnel and intel, and Mexico actually has a war against drug trafficking. This makes drugs much more expensive in the U.S., which makes people reduce their use or find a domestic drug (like meth) and reduces incentives to produce or transport drugs. The side effect is crippling violence where the cartels moved from relying solely on drug money to including activities like extortion and kidnapping. Drug wars on the cheap involve assassinations of cartel leaders, which also leads to violence and splintering.

Some of the tools without major side effects are very expensive or slow. Economic growth support involves helping businesses in Central America thrive and takes years to take effect, but reduces the incentives for illegal activities and reduces the pool of migrants. Education can take generations to have effects. Educated women have fewer kids and fewer kids means fewer migrants 10, 50, and 100 years down the road. It was petty of Donald Trump to try to shut down these activities and it increased illegal immigration in the short and especially the long term.

One place I worked focused on providing worker visas for farm labor. This worked incredibly well, in that farms in the U.S. paid farm labor to come to the U.S. for the season and then go back to their home country afterwards. This worked well for all parties and had no side effects I can think of. To enter the program workers had to not have worked illegally in the U.S. for some years so it often took years to enter the program and, once in, workers went to the same farms every year. When Trump shut down the program it made a mess. Workers had to decide between sitting on their hands for a few years and waiting it out or crossing illegally and risking being banned from legal travel for years. Farms had to find other solutions and many employed illegal immigrants or simply let produce spoil.

One place I worked did a bureaucratic trick which made it easier for tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants to convert to legal status, which improved the lives of all concerned. With decreased pain, more people converted to legal status and reduced the pool of undocumented immigrants in the US. I never heard whether this was shut down but my guess is that it was too in the weeds for Trump officials to understand. This was the result of one person or committee being very clever. I imagine there are a number of minor solutions like this, if people look carefully and have the support of their superiors.

My guess is that NAFTA is the best tool the U.S. ever deployed for reducing immigration. Skilled immigrants can come to the US for legal work and the three countries involved all grow their economies. As the Mexican economy grows, people are less interested in moving North. Immigrants from more southerly countries often decide that Mexico is a fine place to stop and never make it to the US. The side effect was massive upheaval in industries. Textiles companies in the U.S. went out of business and factories found it cheaper to move to Mexico. Depending on the product, farmers either found their income was increased or, in many cases, they had to go out of business. Mexican small-scale farmers just couldn't compete with Big Ag in the U.S. or Canada, so tens of thousands of family farms went out of business. Sabotaging NAFTA was a huge error. All the initial pain of revising the economies had to happen all over again, but in reverse. Someone described it as someone driving over your foot and, when they see the damage, deciding to back up over the foot in an attempt to heal it.

I honestly have hope that the U.S. government can find ways to reduce illegal immigration, but it usually takes decades and I imagine any possible appreciation for this administration will come from people far in the future.

D.R. in Irapuato, Mexico (formerly in Caracas, Venezuela), writes: I'm one of your mythical 18-30 year-old readers, and part of the 20% of your visitors who aren't Americans, but who are into your inside-baseball stuff about American politics.

This is the second time I write to you (the first one was last September), but there's one major difference between then and now: I finally left Venezuela. I moved to Mexico because it turns out that it's extremely pleasant not having to worry about not having functional electricity and water services, finding food in the market, getting into a public university that isn't falling apart and, you know, irrelevant stuff like having a future and living without fear. It also certainly helps having my only near and welcoming family (namely, my mother and my little brother) here, a decent-but-not-good-paying temporary job, as well as the fact that Mexico is on track to LGBTQ+ equality. In summary, I'm happier than ever before since I got here three months ago.

However, it turns out that not everyone feels as good as I am in this country. When I started working as a dishwasher at a fancy restaurant, I met a nice guy who was working as a cook. He's 50-60 years old and has no college education and two families to take care of, but is pretty smart (his English is good and he understands U.S. politics). Two weeks ago, he didn't show up at work and everyone wondered what was going on. This week, he texted the chef and talked to him. To our amusement, he's now in San Francisco, CA.

I fully understand why he left. He basically earned a little bit more than I after working at that restaurant for two years (I've been working there for a month and a half), but again, I can keep all my money because my mom (and her partner) can provide for the family. He, on the other hand, is somehow expected to provide for several children and their mothers. On top of that, Irapuato has become an increasingly dangerous place since three years ago because it's a major crossroads of Mexican highways, which means that several drug cartels want to take control of it (which has pushed it into the list of the most violent cities of the world). The prices are rising rapidly, taxes are pretty high and people is extremely sick with the nastiness and corruption of Mexican politics.

The point of all this is: Please have mercy on the migrants. God knows that everyone deserves to live without fear and to be able to provide for their families and themselves. And while I'm willing to settle for Mexico in order to stay away from the Venezuelan tragedy, I can't blame all of those who are putting their hopes and prayers in President Biden (and this Democratic Congress) to, if not to help to solve some of the problems of Mexico and Central America (for which, in some cases, such as the drug traffic, the U.S. is to blame), at least give them the opportunity to leave everything behind, stay legally in the U.S., and have the life standards that their countries deny them.

I beg you.


L.B. in Boise, ID, writes: Let me start by saying that I have been around firearms all my life. My father was a hunter's safety instructor and I got my first firearm on my 12th birthday. I know gun safety, and I know odds. And odds are that you are more likely to experience gun violence if guns are around.

I was disappointed at the most recent shooting in Boulder. I have been to that particular store multiple times. I was immediately texting to see if my people were safe, and thankfully they were. It is the second location in that area that I have been shopping at before a mass shooting (Walmart a few years before). I have been at the location of one other mass shooting before it happened as well. I do get around, but there seem to be lots of crazies with guns. The most likely person to kill a Republican with a gun is a Republican with a gun. Most gun deaths in the United States are suicide. Many of the mass shooters are people with mental issues and no particular agenda.

I have always been amazed at how terrible the left is at messaging. They need to say things like "Republicans are doing everything possible to make sure that schizophrenic Muslims, angry Black people, persistent women and [insert minority here] can get guns to come and kill your family, while Democrats just want background checks and common sense restrictions to protect you from these people." Maybe then we could find out which is stronger, the right's fear of minorities or their love of guns. I am guessing the latter, although both do go well together for them.

For most things, there is no simple solution. For this, I propose a simple, well-regulated market based solution: $100k of insurance required per bullet of capacity in a firearm, and certified safety training along with current militia membership. Let the market decide what the risks are, and just like automobiles, require people to be licensed and insure their possessions/hobbies that can be dangerous to the public.

M.L. in Golden, CO, writes: Here in Colorado, we have Democrats in nearly all positions of power. Yet we are one of the most targeted states by mass shooters. It is clear that Colorado has no effective gun control laws to stop these killers. The reasons for this are well stated in your item "Gun Control Kabuki Theater, Part 168." Even if legislators find the courage to pass effective laws, the current makeup of SCOTUS will not likely allow these measures to pass constitutional muster. I should add that our law enforcement in Colorado is hesitant and unlikely to enforce effective measures even if passed and found constitutional. They rarely enforce laws already on the books. Legal prohibitions, consequently, will not likely change the landscape and we all will have to endure the consequences if something else is not tried.

Legal prohibitions are not the only means at our disposal, however. We can also use social prohibition measures in a manner similar to those the right wing uses to limit abortion. The Boulder shooting is a good example where social prohibition might have worked. He was able to purchase his weapon about one week prior to using it to murder 10 people. This is true even though he has previously displayed acts of violence and mental instability. Our Governor, our President, the Boulder DA, the FBI and local Police all tell us that they will find out why he committed his heinous act. They seem not to go much further. The reason why he did it is an important question which might assist in preventing further mass killings. More questions must be asked. The most important additional question that must be asked is how he was able to do it. How did this angry and unstable man find himself in possession of a semi automatic weapon of mass destruction? We should all have a right to know who in our community has profited from weaponizing the killer. As an example:

John Smith of Arvada, CO, earned X dollars from the sale of the Ruger. Here is who Smith is. This is where and from which entity Smith made his purchase of the Ruger he resold to the killer. Here are the profits made by that entity and these are the individuals who profited from owning the entity. Here is the manufacturer and here are those profiting from the manufacturing. These are the politicians who profited from supporting the individuals controlling the gun sales.

Follow the money. After all, the reason we all suffer from this horrendous plague is that it is profitable for many of our neighbors. Maybe we are unknowingly owning a small part of these entities by way of stock ownership. Perhaps if we knew who among us profited from the Boulder or similar massacres, we might make some social effort to make these neighbors aware that we know what they did to assist the killer of our other neighbors. Maybe some of our neighbors just might take their position in providing these weapons more seriously.

C.R. in Pelham, AL, writes: You wrote: "In truth, Alissa relocated to the United States as an infant, has been in the country for 20 years, and appears to be someone with untreated mental issues, and not a political radical."

His brother says Alissa was bullied constantly for his name and his faith at affluent, largely white Arvada West High School (same demographics as Columbine High, for those keeping track). In the ten years I lived and worked in Colorado, a colleague's children received similar abuse at white, affluent Lewis-Palmer HS for daring to be Jewish. It's part of the reason that I don't live in that sick, intolerant society anymore (and when people are fleeing your intolerance to move to Alabama, you probably ought to look in the mirror!).

While not excusing Alissa's actions, which he alone remains responsible for, and must answer for, it is worth pointing out that he arrived in the U.S. just after 9/11 and grew up in its wake, making the ten victims in Boulder casualties of that day, and of the anti-Arab, anti-Muslim bigotry it engendered.

C.J. in Fairfax, VA, writes: Just an observation, but in the first paragraph of your item on the mass shootings, you said one shooting "...certainly looks to be racially motivated" and just two sentences later you took right wingers to task for their "presumptions" about the second shooting. Personally, I think it is too early to make any presumptions about either shooting.

V & Z respond: Inasmuch as the Atlanta shooting was a week earlier, more is known about it. Further, the odds that six of eight dead, across three different locations, just randomly happened to be Asian women? Very low. The odds that someone is not a political radical, even if they have an Arabic name? Pretty high.


A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: I had to write in response to L.K. in Boulder...specifically to her allegation that "so-called TERFs (Trans-exclusionary Radical Feminists) have been the object of horrific vilification and verbal violence by the trans community for years—a clear case of misogynist "punching down."

As a transgender woman, I categorically object to that definition. And to that perception. This animosity in the trans community for the so-called TERFs has not happened in a vacuum! First, I will tell you that, like many trans women, I look up to and admire women, and always have. If anything, I am far more likely to lean towards misandry rather than misogyny! And I do not believe I am unique in the trans community in this.

But let's actually look at the history of this animosity, and where it comes least from the transgender perspective. I came out in the mid-1990's, and it was a far different world then than it is today. Back then, there was no LGTBQIA+ community. There was the GLB community, in that order, and even the B was very barely tolerated. There certainly was no "T" back then.

Around that time, same-sex marriage was not even being talked about. The issue of the day was ENDA (The Employment Non-Discrimination Act), which is a forerunner to the modern-day Equality Act, and it only addressed employment. Now, from the trans men, lesbian women, and bisexual people could hide who and what they were enough to get through a job interview. Not that they should have had to, but they could! Trans like such luck. One search of Social Security Number history would turn up our dead names, just like that. In fact, this is still true today. And it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened when Dave became Mary all of a sudden!

Then, too, many GLB people had what we call "passing privilege"—something very few of us trans back then enjoyed. I was one who did, but the background check would still nail me every single time. So it was our contention that we needed these protections far more than the GLB did, and yet WE were the sacrificial lambs on the altar of political expediency. We were expected to fight for bills that we were deliberately cut out of in order to make them "more palatable" to conservative legislators, with the promise that they would "send the boat back for us." The problem is that the boat never did come back for us. The only time we got the boat back was when we sent a tugboat after it and dragged it back ourselves!

Witness, for example, that New York State outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2003, and then it was 16 years later that transgender New Yorkers acquired the same rights. Unacceptable!

At the time, HRC (The Human Rights Campaign) was headed by Elizabeth Birch. Who, frankly was a Janice Raymond clone. Birch was quoted in Bay Windows (a GLB publication) as saying "trans will be included in ENDA over my dead body." So, right there is the foundation. And the attacks from many of the political LGBs (who are different from rank-and-file LGBs, I might add) kept coming until 24 activists got together in 2008 and passed The Dallas Principles, leading to the modern-day LGBTQIA+ community. Forget the fact that time and again, LGBs have violated The Dallas Principles many times. Notably by shifting focus away from Employment Rights, which affected all of us, to a focus on same-sex marriage, which was basically all about them.

From the trans perspective, we have seen LGBs make leaps and bounds in rights, social acceptance and social sympathy, all of which we lack. From our perspective, the LGBs greedily grabbed all the progress for themselves and then never bothered to look over their own shoulders to see if we were being carried along (we weren't.)

Take all of that history, and couple it with the womyn (this is a term many TERFS use to describe themselves) who show up at Women's marches with signs saying "Transgender Women ARE MEN!" and perhaps one can make a case for understanding the trans animosity towards the TERFs. They say we are verbally violent to them...what do they think denying us our identity is? That is the ultimate verbal/psychological violence you can dish out to a transgender person!

As a transgender person, I am not about to sit here and let your readers believe that the TERFs are sweet, innocent little victims here...they made this bed by the way they disparage us. And they expect no response from us? Yes, some trans do take this a bit too far...but, frankly, calling out TERFs for their exclusionary and violent behavior is not misogynistic in any way. It has everything to do with their exclusionary tactics and message, and nothing to do with their sex or gender.

D.B. in Franklin, TN, writes: Full disclosure: I am a cishet male with exactly one transfemale friend.

But! I was shocked at your decision to publish the transmisic diatribe of L.K. of Boulder.

First, she spills copious pixels implicitly and explicitly misgendering transwomen:

  • She accuses transwomen of "misogynist [...] punching down"
  • She claims the "energy, tone and style of speech, and physicality" of transwomen is "inconsistent" with women-only spaces
  • She defends trans-exclusionary spaces as a necessary "safe refuge from the dominance of men"
  • She asserts that they were "raised as boys", and thus psychologically male
  • She balks at accepting transwomen "regardless of the stage of their transition". And then, in the middle of her passionate denial of the essential womanhood of transwomen, she hand-wavingly dismisses the argument that "somehow", this means she denies the essential womanhood of transwomen.

She then claims that since trans-exclusionary spaces don't actually do the physical violence, they're not complicit. In reality, trans-exclusion is violence, just not physical. Further, denying a certain class of women access to a women's safe space free of gendered violence is 100% complicit, every bit as much as refusing to accept asylum seekers into your country is dooming them to torture and death.

Had this been a letter about race, open borders, and racial identity politics, I doubt you'd have printed it. I expect better from liberal spaces, and I'm heartbroken when I am reminded that our own liberal conversation still permits trans-exclusion.

P.V. in Kailua, HI, writes: L.K. in Boulder made a number of inflammatory statements about transgender women that I, a cishet woman, feel compelled to address:

"So-called "TERFs" (Trans exclusionary radical feminists) have been the object of horrific vilification and verbal violence by the trans community for years—a clear case of misogynist "punching down."

Screenshots of vile Twitter comments alone are not proof of anything other than that Twitter is a vile place. We will take as given that no person or group deserves to be subjected to hateful threats or name-calling, but to say that criticism of a cisgendered group by the trans community is "punching down" implies that those cisgendered people are "in a position of social, political, or economic weakness" relative to transgendered people. This is clearly not true.

"There are transwomen whose energy, tone and style of speech, and physicality can sometimes be perceived as inconsistent with women-only spaces."

Of course there are also cis women, like me, whose energy, tone and style of speech, and physicality might sometimes be perceived as inconsistent with women-only spaces. Is exclusion to be based on someone else's perception? Who gets to be the arbiter of what is acceptable femininity in women-only spaces? Are we to put a "femme-meter" at the door? Are we to exclude cis women who look and sound like Lea Delaria and Hannah Gadsby? How about Rachael Maddow, Tilda Swinton, Glenn Close or Patricia Arquette?

"The next step in this argument is that if transwomen aren't recognized as women, they are more vulnerable to bigotry and to physical attacks"

Trans women are more vulnerable to bigotry and physical attack because they are marginalized. All marginalized women—poor women, Black women, indigenous women, sex workers and, yes, trans women—are more vulnerable because predators rightly assume that general society doesn't care about crimes committed against them and thus the risk of any repercussion is vanishingly small. As long as trans women are denied the right to exist as women, they will continue to be marginalized and thus be at increased risk.

"And never mind that being a cis woman doesn't protect us from male violence—on the contrary, violence against women is endemic worldwide." There is no one who thinks that being cis protects a woman from male violence. That would be nonsensical. It should go without saying, but evidently I need to say it anyway: violence against all women—cis, trans, gay, straight, rich, poor, white, Black—is pervasive and horrific. All women are at risk. However, as stated above, the risk is greater for some than others. As an example—Oklahoma police officer Daniel Holtzclaw did not assault wealthy white women. He preyed on poor Black women with criminal records. He knew that they would be afraid to report him. Even if they did, the police would not believe them or not care. He was brought to justice only because he incorrectly profiled one of his victims. She was Black, but she was not poor and she had no criminal record. She had the support of her family and enough social standing to make someone pay attention when she reported the assault.

L.K. may well have had negative personal experiences with transgender women that have influenced her opinions. Regardless, I object to sweeping generalizations that are presented with no evidence. I also object to the L.K.'s claim that the women's movement has made only meager gains. I highly recommend Gail Collins' entertaining 2009 book, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. There is still a long way to go, but give those women the credit they deserve.

S.B. in New Castle, DE, writes: I am a transgender woman and LGBTQ+ activist. I suspect that L.K. in Boulder received some serious blowback from the trans community for her comments. At the risk of being deemed a transgender apostate, I want to defend her legitimate female concerns as well as address the related issue of transgender athletes.

L.K. asks for restraint from being skewered by the political barb of TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) because of the desire of many women to have safe refuges from men. She wrote, "There are transwomen whose energy, tone and style of speech, and physicality can sometimes be perceived as inconsistent with women-only spaces."

A lack of "passing privilege," transgender parlance for one's ability to blend into female culture unnoticed, is what L.K. is describing. Passing privilege is achievable for some trans women with makeup and a discipline to express themselves within the broad spectrum of female manner, conversation, voice, and custom. For others, surgery, hair removal, voice training, etc. is required. For others, their basic body structure and voice are unlikely to ever fall within the norms of a female framework. And finally, there are those who identify closer to non-binary, emulating only some aspects of the female social culture. In short, the umbrella of transgender women is large for our small percentage of both the LGTBQ+ community and the greater whole of humanity.

Although L.K.'s description of transgender women can be perceived as transphobic, I think she's made her point as carefully as one can. The very definition of being transgender is that we do not identify with our DNA-dictated sex. Our bodies do not reflect our souls. I acknowledge that much of humanity's gender structure is social and I do actively advocate for the expansion of those structures to include the LGBTQ+ community as a whole and trans people, specifically. However, both ends of the gender spectrum have been anchored by genetic sex since before the beginning of written history and they are unlikely to be uprooted before the end of it.

A report released this month by the World Health Organization shows that 1/3 of the women in the global study suffered from some sort of abuse by men. The percentage of vile men who dominate, degrade, and demean women far exceeds the reverse. L.K. made the broad and overly harsh assessment that transgender women make "demands to exploit and dominate the meager gains carved out by the women's movement in recent decades." If a similar survey polled trans women, I'd venture to say the results would be greater than 95% of trans women have been harassed or harmed by both cis-gender men and women. That said, I believe L.K. has a valid point regarding safe spaces for cis-gender women.

Cis-gender women do need safe spaces, especially those who have experienced traumatic events at the hands of men. Similarly, lesbians who want to date other cis-gender lesbians should have venues that allow for that. However, the valid need for safe, cis-gender spaces should not be an excuse for trans-exclusionary behavior in more general LGBTQ+ or female settings. A trans woman should be welcome to attend a gay women's dance, women's book clubs, restrooms, church groups, etc. Conversely, a trans woman should not be offended by being excluded from cis-gender women's groups where biological sex is an important factor, such as rape/sexual abuse therapy groups and lesbian-only dating sites. As a matter of manners I think that a trans woman in a generally female setting should be respectful of the feminine nature of that space and cis-gender women should be likewise gracious to their trans sisters, regardless of their appearance or presentation.

This bridges my discussion into the related and contentious topic of transgender athletes. I believe the biggest error on both sides is attempting to find a one-size-fits-all answer (i.e., professed gender identity, testosterone levels, DNA, etc.) Every sport, like every trans person, is unique. It is my thought that the governing body of each sport should evaluate their playing criteria against the athletic norms for female and male athletes. Curling has different strengths and skills than hockey; rugby requires different talents than volleyball. Trans athletes who meet the sport-specific gender competitive norms should be allowed to compete. I imagine this would fairly accommodate nearly all of the rather small group of trans people to whom this applies. Outliers should be afforded competitive, inclusive courtesies as the sport deems appropriate (special heats, exhibition games, etc).

The above doesn't solve every problem, but I feel it would move our society a lot closer to viable solutions. Thank you L.K. for your insights. I hope what I've written fairly addresses some of your concerns.

The Return of the COVID Diaries

D.G.G. in Durham, NC, writes: Paul Dorsey's observations on Friday were informative and reasonable as usual, but I have a couple of quibbles.

First, while it's true that the vaccines in question reduce rather than eliminate the risk of infection and symptomatic disease, among fully vaccinated individuals the risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 appears to be cut to almost zero.

Second, he makes an important point that while there might be long-term risks of the vaccine we don't yet know about, the dangers of COVID-19 aren't just hypothetical. But I think it's worth remembering that COVID-19 hasn't been around long enough for us to know all its long-run dangers either.

Thus, someone nervous about unknown risks of vaccination must balance them not only against the known risks of the disease but against the unknown risks of the disease as well.

B.C. in Farmingville, NY, writes: I enjoyed your post today in regards to the COVID vaccine from Dr. Dorsey. One of the things that I feel is not studied enough is when people have an insufficient immune response to the vaccine. I read an article recently that pointed out that while all of the vaccines look to invoke an antibody response, there are questions as to how long it will actually last. I would feel that they should promote the mRNA vaccines more for anyone at risk of COVID, and give the J&J and other non-mRNA vaccines to people at low risk.

M.D. in Monroe County, PA, writes: My wife is a cardiologist working in an area of Pennsylvania that was one of the first hit with COVID-19 because of all the New Yorkers who moved here and commute to New York City. We are now in the 4th wave, but it is much different than the previous. Positivity is up, though there are many fewer hospitalizations. However, what she is seeing in her hospital is that the people who are hospitalized are much sicker than even a year ago before there were any treatments for COVID patients. She thinks this is related to the mutations, but that is not her field of expertise.

What is her field of expertise is dealing with all the post-COVID long-haulers in her office. These people are still sick with weird symptoms months after having had the virus. Heart issues (atrial Fibrillation is a major thing with them), chronic fatigue and "brain fog." These are well documented in the literature and anyone who would rather chance getting COVID and the possibility of these long-term effects rather than take the vaccine is playing with fire.

Get Vaccinated, for God's Sake

P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, writes: I appreciate your respectful, reasoned response to C.F. of Nashua about legitimate religious reasons for refusing vaccinations. Too many folks go straight to emotions on such questions, which muddies opportunities for clarity and understanding. I recall having dinner with colleagues once where a theological question arose and several people jumped in with responses emotional in nature. As an historian of American Catholicism, I offered the theological grounds for the matter at hand. Yet, this did not immediately calm the discussion until our Vice President of Academics backed me up, saying I was theologically correct though people do not have to agree with that theology (and trust me, they did not).

Also you missed an opportunity for a cheap shot at Canada in your first response of the day. Has Canada filed a multi-billion defamation suit against Electoral Vote?

V & Z respond: We are not saying that Canada had sued us, and we are not saying that Canada hasn't sued us. What we ARE saying is that you should disregard everything we've previously said about Canada, which is a swell country. Maybe the swellest in the world. And if we decide to run a special guest posting on Canada by the MyPillow Guy, please understand that he does not reflect the views of the staff, the management, or our sponsors.

C.L.C. in Petaluma, CA, writes: Religious reasons are not legitimate reasons for denying medically necessary medical healthcare to minors. We need to stop this deference to religion.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: I am not a Christian Scientist, but I play one on TV.

No. What I mean to say is, I am not a Christian Scientist but I married into the heart of it and I have spent a good bit of time with Christian Scientists and in Christian Science churches. They are not anti-vaxxers. Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the church, did not herself object to vaccinations. Their primary principle is Love. They have a responsibility to be law-abiding citizens and to love their neighbors. They don't really believe in faith healing. Ontologically, their position is that the spiritual is real, and the material is unreal and illusory. It gets complicated in practice and I don't want to speak for them, but while they have and will carve out exceptions for themselves under American law at times and in certain ways, they are not inherently anti-vax.

A.B., Lichfield, United Kingdom, writes: You note that those who might object to a COVID vaccine on religious grounds could include those 'who object to the consumption of pork and pork byproducts, which can be found in some vaccines. That list includes, of course, Judaism and Islam'.

I was living and working in Egypt until August of last year. The local political and religious authorities are well aware of the issue, and are taking steps to address this through rulings from, and cooperation with, the country's religious bodies. These include some of the most important centers of learning and Islamic jurisprudence in Sunni Islam (notably Al-Azhar University). Rulings have been issued stating that: (1) vaccines that contain pork byproducts do not breach the prohibition on pork, and (2) receiving the vaccine in daylight hours during Ramadan (which begins in April this year) will not breach the Ramadan fast.

No, there's no central religious authority in Sunni Islam (which includes 85-90% of the world's Muslims), and some Muslims may choose to ignore these rulings, but they also help show the extent to which some of the most internationally important institutions in the moderate Sunni world are taking the issue seriously, and are strongly supporting the delivery of vaccination programs.


P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: E.W. in Skaneateles gave me a challenge last week about NPR's bias. E.W., I have met your challenge, and you will not be disappointed. As I said, I now believe that NPR stands for "Nothing but Politics and Race," since they are so obsessed with both topics that they can't help to bake them into every story. I will begin by providing a number of examples of the "Race" aspect, starting with a story that aired this past Thursday.

On Morning Edition, Steve Inskeep had a chat with Jerome Powell about how the Fed is going to pull back on emergency spending related to the pandemic. The initial question and answer back-and-forth was fine, and relevant. But, some 7½ minutes in, Inskeep had to bring up a racial point; specifically, a New York Times story about how of the 417 economists in the Fed, only two were Black. Why did he go there? What relevance did that have? From where I sit, it has very little—listen to the story yourself, and you'll see how Inskeep basically shoehorned it in. Why? It has no connection to the Fed's cutting back emergency pandemic-related spending, and seems to be more of NPR's obsessive need to discuss race when it isn't warranted (and, additionally, Inskeep brought up climate change in the interview too, when it wasn't germane to do so).

If that's not enough for you, there are many more examples. A major one is the coverage of the death of Jazmine Barnes, which occurred on December 30, 2018. It was initially thought the shooter was a white male parked in a pickup truck next to the car that Jazmine and her family were in. With that supposition, there was an enormous outcry about racial injustice, how they needed to find the murderer, etc. NPR vigorously reported this story, discussing the poor girl and the impact on her family. A week or so later, two Black men were arrested for the murder—and NPR suddenly went silent. No more stories about Jazmine, how her family was faring, and so on. Why not? Because the story lost its "racial hate crime" edge, and they lost interest. The poor girl was still dead. Her family was still affected. The folks at NPR don't care about her, and never did, despite all professions about her and her family's welfare—they cared only about the racial elements of the story, because they're obsessed with the topic.

There's more. A day or so after the Capitol invasion, there was a lede on "All Things Considered" where the host discussed how "a black police officer led the rioters away from the Senate chamber." Why is officer Eugene Goodman's race relevant? Why not simply say "a police officer"? Answer: they're consumed with discussing race, and cannot help but to bring it in to every story wherever they can. If these examples aren't enough for you, I can cite several others.

Morgan Freeman once said the best way to deal with racism is to stop talking about it. Always pointing out that someone is a person of color, or their sexual orientation/identify, or whatever, just serves to divide rather than unite. He's not "black cisgender male Morgan Freeman," he's "Morgan Freeman"—his gender status and race are irrelevant. Constantly bringing it up just sows divisions.

Oh, and lest I forgot about the "Politics" aspect of "Nothing but Politics and Race," and how they have their own opinions dripping all over it—well, that's easy. Two examples immediately spring to mind.

On the day of the Capitol invasion, I was listening to their live news reporting while driving. Most of it was okay—but, at one point, a commentator whose name I don't recall (someone who is a regular on the network, though not one of the hosts of "All Things Considered") said "every Republican voter needs to look in the mirror and realize they have a part in what happened here." I said out loud "Bull****. That is your opinion, which you are presenting as factual." The main hosts continued on, but the fact that statement was made by someone at their network, at a moment of literally breaking news, clearly shows their bias and how they feel the need to inject it whenever they can.

The second example deals with the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. Rachel Martin interviewed Missy Carr, an old friend of Justice Kavanaugh. Carr said she did not believe the accusations made against Kavanaugh, and Martin essentially tried to bait Carr into saying that they had some truth to them—or, to at least acknowledge it was possible Kavanaugh did what he was accused of. Carr had none of it, told Martin so, and the interview ended. Listen to it yourself and/or read the transcript, and you'll see how Martin's opinion was baked in to the point where she was attempting to influence Carr.

How are either of these two cited examples any different from what Hannity does, in trying to make his audience feel and react in a certain manner? I can't see one, other than a differing political perspective.

Again, it's clear to me that they are Nothing but Politics and Race, and once you start listening for it, you'll notice it too. And it's so sad, as it is totally unnecessary, and completely possible to run an intellectually-based radio news network without bringing it up constantly. I genuinely enjoy listening both to the BBC and to the outstanding network our insidious neighbors to the north run with the CBC—something I am looking forward to hearing over the air when driving to meet S.S. in Detroit a little over a week from now. Both of these networks are models for how it can be done right, and not with an obsessive asinine focus on these two topics. NPR discussing this stuff constantly, an ostensibly neutral news network throwing in their political slant and obsession with race, serves only—like Morgan Freeman observed—to divide rather than unite.

E.H. in Stevens Point, WI, writes: When I read P.M.'s letter two weeks ago about this site and NPR, it really resonated with me. I do not listen to much NPR anymore—the timing is bad for me. About two months ago I turned the radio on and did listen to NPR again. They have always shown a slight left leaning in their choice of stories, but the reporting had been excellent. This time, however, the reporting carried a heavy moral message. I think the story was about refugees, and all stories about refugees do carry heavy emotional messages. But this was different—it was not news, it was a call for political change. Not as heavy-handed as the TV infomercials about how "pennies a day can make a difference," but it made me uncomfortable that NPR had chosen to air such a piece. Never in my years of listening had I felt that way before, so this was noteworthy.

More recently I was able to listen again. This story was also heavy with a moral message, but in fairness it was about the Grammy Awards—an event that typically exudes liberal political views—so the message could reasonably be excused as fair reporting of a left-ish event. Because I do not listen to NPR much anymore (again, primarily because of timing issues), I can't give any sort of summative opinion of their stories as a whole. All I can say is that the December story struck me as unnaturally heavy-handed, compared to years past.

I likewise agree with P.M. about the tone of this site—in recent years it changed noticeably (at least to me). P.M.'s phrase "left-wing cheerleading" rings true for me. It is not so much, as F.S. from Cologne suggested, that "(V) and (Z) are now far left"—I have not noticed a dramatic spectral shift. Instead, it has been a change in tone. I wish I could give F.S. good examples, but the change wasn't overt—it was more a case of the authors inserting far more personal interpretations and opinions into their pieces than they did in the past. I looked back a little and tried to pick a "random" day without major news stories; I chose October 21, 2020. If you reread that day, the stories are reasonable—but look at where the authors add interpretations. These skew heavily against the GOP (and Donald Trump in particular). If you choose another day in the last two years, you will probably get a similar result.

I really do not mean to pick on (V) or (Z). I think these changes (here and NPR) are a direct result of Trump and his actions. Not Trump's political actions, but his assault on the media, on the notion of reportable truth, and on the norms of U.S. political decency. These attacks on truth represented an existential threat to the notion of unbiased reporting, in a way that no previous administration ever did. (V) and (Z) have talked about the challenges of reporting "both sides" of an issue; I think when Trump (and much of the GOP) essentially declared war on any reporting that disagreed with them, the authors felt they had to respond.

The good news is that the specter of Trump is finally fading; with that change, I have also noticed a change in this site more towards its original style. As an example, March 15 (the day after P.M.'s letter) had an excellent item analyzing Mitch McConnell's strategies for finding Senate candidates without adding any slights directed towards the Minority Leader—just a pure article filled with impartial analysis. Hopefully we can all breathe more easily now that Trump's star is fading.

M.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: On Sunday, F.S. in Cologne, Germany, asked for examples of why long-term readers felt that had moved to the left and asked for specific examples.

I would say that your leftward slide has not been reflected in content so much as it has been the equivalent of leftist micro-aggressions. For example, in a March 17 item on Ted Cruz, you wrote (emphasis mine):

Everyone who knows him says he's a really smart guy, and we're willing to believe them, even if we haven't seen all that much evidence ourselves. However, while he might be smarter than Donald Trump (not a high bar to clear, to be sure), Cruz has two real challenges when it comes to reinventing himself as Trump v2.0.

This is an entirely gratuitous comment. Everything in italics is snark, and while it may fall within the political demographic of your readership, it adds nothing to the analysis. This perfectly fits the trope of coastal elites looking down their noses at the great unwashed—please don't fall into that caricature.

I would suggest that this type of writing would not have appeared on the site in 2008 or 2012, and exemplifies why readers say you have moved to the left. Your data analysis is still good, and has kept me coming back since 2004, but with needless jabs like this, you are leaving the pretense of objectivity at the door.

V & Z respond: Donald Trump forced the Overton window appreciably to the right. What was once seen as centrist (e.g., not approving of mobs of armed people invading the Capitol) is now seen as leftist. If anything, the times have changed and now being neutral is perceived as being on the left. As to being part of the great unwashed, far be it from a couple of academics to say that a person who graduated from Princeton cum laude and Harvard Law School magna cum laude and who is now a United States senator is part of the great unwashed.

D.M. in McLean, VA, writes: Responding to F.S. in Cologne's challenge regarding Electoral-Vote's bias: Having read Electoral-Vote since its first election (way back in 2004) I think I would know if the site shifted in its outlook. Although I would agree that Electoral-Vote has always been slightly left of center, which matches up with my own bias quite well, I don't think the site has shifted significantly in recent years. What I do believe is that the right has shifted further right over the years and that makes a center-left appear far-left by comparison. I don't believe there has been a comparable shift in bias on the left, at least not to the degrees as that on the right. I'm sure there is a nice chart showing the level of bias for the right and left and how it has shifted over the years. That would make a very telling exhibit in how politics has changed.

J.S. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: I have to object to your assertion that Sen. Minority (yay!) Leader McConnell is either lying or ignorant when he claims there is no racial history connected with the filibuster and that historians are unanimous in their agreement.

I'm disappointed in your lack of objectivity. The easily-researched, empirical fact of the matter is that Sen. McConnell is always lying and ignorant when he talks about anything except expanding his power either to corrupt our nation or to obstruct any effort to clean up corruption. The term that applies to your comment is "false choice."

Center-Left Sources

G.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: As you have solicited recommendations, I strongly recommend The Christian Science Monitor if folks are looking for truly centrist coverage. It is the one paper I currently have a subscription to (I have also subscribed to The Post and The Guardian—both fine outlets, but definitely leftish). Not only is The CSM an excellent news source (seven Pulitzers), but because it is not as well-known a source as others, it's harder for people with a bias to object to it (they haven't heard of it/it hasn't been targeted by propagandists as "fake news"). Plus, the name itself is useful in winning over folks on the right.

V & Z respond: The question was actually about center-left sources. However, we and the readership both had a tough time drawing the line between "center-left" and "center." That line is much easier to draw with media outlets on the right, which might be...instructive. In any event, we're going to run a bunch of the suggestions we got, and then folks can decide for themselves about the politics of the outlet (or the lack thereof).

G.R. in Carol Stream, IL, writes: Commenting on the question about centrist sources of information. I recommend The Atlantic. Besides the magazine, they have a good web site, e-mail newsletters, and podcasts.

I think they used to be center-right but the political right has moved way beyond them. They have consistently well written articles and usually stay away from fluff.

As my way to reduce my weight of online news, I make a point of reading every issue in its entirety.

E.L. in Richmond, VA, writes: Surprised you did not mention The Atlantic, which has long been notable for extended dives into current issues, generally with a progressive bent.

Also CityLab, which until very recently used to be a part of Atlantic Media. CityLab focuses on the nexus between policy, urban issues, and data and research. It's now owned by Bloomberg News, but its content is still generally available without a subscription.

J.S. in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, writes: I'm surprised that your recommendations didn't include Taegan Goddard's Political Wire.

M.H. in Salt Lake City, UT, writes: I'd like to know the reason for not including The Huffington Post on your list. I consider it very mainstream with a center-left tilt. Is it because it's primarily an aggregator of news articles?

I'd also like to add a personal favorite: AlterNet. Unlike Huff Post, there's no fluff, but like HP it does present articles found elsewhere.

V & Z respond: The primary reason we did not include the HuffPost is that they are too fast and loose, in our view, with the op-eds they are willing to run. It makes the quality-to-crap ratio poor enough that we did not feel comfortable recommending them.

H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: The Independent (UK), which is similar to The Guardian's U.S. edition, and Mother Jones, which is more activist than journalist, but still worth a look.

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: I find Al Jazeera and BBC News to be important tools to help me understand both international and domestic news. They, and especially Al Jazeera, often have more substance and less bias about the U.S. than what's readily available from U.S. sources. I believe they're considered center-left, but that is now said about pretty much any news source that reports facts and news not shaded with right-wing conspiracy theories. I'm also often amazed at how much is going on in the world that is completely ignored by the U.S. media.

G.B. in Manchester, UK, writes: I recommend TLDR News on YouTube. The original channel is focused on U.K. news, but they also have a U.S. channel, an E.U. channel, and a global channel, as well as a couple of others. The commentary is fairly centrist but will not hesitate to criticize people on either side of the political spectrum. The videos also feature anthropomorphic "countries with shoes" as well as "states with shoes" for Americans.

J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, writes: For the most unbiased news source in the world, I recommend World Press Review, because it has all the biases in it.

J.M.B. in Oakland, CA, writes: VOX, Ezra Klein's old project after leaving The Post and before joining the NYT, and Democracy Now, which is much more left than center-left, but its headline news is a good daily summary and it has more international coverage than typical.

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Ian Millhiser at VOX does very informative stories on Supreme Court and other legal issues, as well as judicial nominations.

L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: Law professor Rick Hasen's Election Law Blog provides timely analysis and news about a critical issue of our time.

K.L. in Nashville, TN, writes: I always find The Brad Blog to be an early leader in discussions of election integrity and voting rights.

Dirtying Up Brainwashing

D.B. in Kirkland, WA, writes: In response to the letter from P.J.K. in Los Angeles regarding brainwashing, and your call for suggestions on how to deprogram someone, I offer an amusing suggestion that a friend of mine suggested:

When visiting a brainwashed parent/sibling/friend's house, if you have a few minutes alone with their TV, enable the parental controls feature and block the channels that are feeding the conspiracy (Fox, Newsmax, OAN, etc.). Since the channels can't be unblocked without entering the parental PIN code/password (which only you know), they won't be able to undo it without your cooperation.

I have not tried this, as I am lucky to not have parents in the cult of Trump. However, my friend did admit that he has used this trick on the TVs found in hotel lobbies if he's able to find the remote control!

C.S. in Linville, N.C, writes: I remember when I was a young teenager in the mid-90s my older brother and father would argue because my brother would make the TV skip Fox News so that my dad couldn't watch it...and my dad couldn't figure out how to un-skip a channel. Literally deprogrammed.

I believe he ended up voting W, W, O, O, T, B.

P.S. in Portland, ME, writes: I have found that the best way to "work" with those individuals brainwashed by right wing media is to stay at the single-issue level. If you are successful in getting them to switch opinions on just one issue, then it plants a seed of doubt that can grow and break the ego-denial-ignorance cycle. My favorite is education and free college tuition. I usually say something along the lines of:

You know, at some point in history we decided to give access to public education to everyone through Grade 12. We sort of put a thumb up in the air and said...yeah, that seems about right (and do put your thumb up in the air!). But what is magic about the choice of Grade 12? All we progressives are saying is that it should now be through, say, Grade 16. There is just so much more to learn now in order to advance, and our brains are just no bigger.

Then be prepared to say "Of course there should be qualification exams. Of course some should go to trade schools. Of course free college doesn't apply to private schools, like Harvard and Yale. And so forth." Also, never forget that being brainwashed is a form of mental illness. It is never, ever productive to get mad at a mentally ill person. Hearts and minds is all that will really work.

C.F. in Nashua, NH, writes: I have never been able to come up with a good answer as to how to deprogram Republican cult followers. However, I did find this video could possibly be helpful for people who are close to you:

B.B. in St. Louis, MO, writes: When interacting with members of a different political persuasion, it may be helpful to keep in mind a comment from one of this site's more conservative readers that being told what to do will merely make him feel defensive and dig in his heels. As a health care provider, much of what I do is to try to encourage behavior change. Whether getting a patient to quit smoking, to eat a more balanced diet, or simply to take their medicines, behavior change is at the heart of all these healthcare strategies. And yet nowhere in medical school was I ever taught how to bring behavior change about. There is perhaps a naïve notion that simply explaining to a patient the health risks associated with their current behavior will bring about an "Aha!" moment and you will have made a convert for life. This does not happen.

Whenever you tell a patient "You should..." or "You must..." you will immediately cause them to become defensive and dig in their heels. More success can be obtained with a technique called Motivational Interviewing, and I recommend reading Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change by William R .Miller and Stephen Rollnick. The idea is that rather than telling someone what behavior they must adopt, you ask them a series of questions that allows them to come to that conclusion themselves. With smoking, it usually follows along the lines of "Can you tell me some of the health risks associated with smoking? What do you suppose you could do to avoid those risks? How would you go about making those changes? Are there any specific barriers or obstacles that stand in your way?" Occasionally you will run into patients who insist that there are no health risks associated with smoking, at which point you note down that they are in the pre-contemplative phase of change and that prescribing nicotine patches will be a waste of time.

In politics, I imagine the conversation would usually follow along the lines of "Can you tell me what issues are of importance to you? Are there any policy changes that you think might bring about improvement?" If they propose something that seems outlandish, then you might follow with "That is an interesting suggestion. What would it take to convince you that might not work?" Directly challenging a belief system is not likely to be productive, but by encouraging someone to challenge their own beliefs, you might stand a chance.

I suspect that the large current interest in conspiracy theories stems from the American myth that with sufficient hard work, anyone can become successful. Members on the fringe know that they are working hard and deserve to succeed, therefore if they do not then it must be because a conspiracy is working against them.

S.S. in Toronto, CA, writes: For many years I was an elementary school teacher. I once found myself suddenly thrust into one of those "teachers are all overpaid and underworked" conversations with a very successful businessman. Instead of taking a defensive stance, I said, "Oh, you're absolutely right! I only work 10 months of the year, and only from 9:00-3:30, except for a few hours here and there doing lesson planning, grading, finding appropriate teaching materials, and having parent-teacher interviews with you. Definitely overpaid and underworked. Don't you wish you'd gone into teaching instead of taking on a high-stress job like yours?" He backpedaled a mile a minute.

My point is, agree with your detractor. "Oh, Joe Biden is definitely a socialist! So much so that he wants to increase your Social Security, expand your health care, feed your grandchildren in school and [fill in the blank]. We certainly shouldn't allow our politicians to put any money back into the hands of the ordinary people in this country."

If they want to continue to be argumentative, they will have to start defending Biden. Otherwise they will have to speak against their own interests. I bet they start to concede a few points, and that's a foot in the door.

International Politics

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: Last week, H.D. in Baltimore, wrote that "Calling the Democratic Party 'right wing' in comparison to European parties is a common trope, and is simply not true."

If I look at the issues, I would definitely say that the Democratic Party is very left-wing by German standards when it comes to deficit spending and probably pretty left-wing when it comes to immigration. But there are definitely some other issues which seem to be left-wing by American standards, but are now supported (or at least not opposed) by center-right parties in Germany (and in most other Western European countries). For example:

  • Universal health care
  • No sky high university fees
  • Unemployment benefits are generally more generous in Germany than in the U.S. (at least before the COVID-19 crisis)
  • Paid sick leave
  • Gun control is far stricter in Germany than in the U.S.
  • Income taxes for wealthy people are generally higher in Germany than in the U.S.
  • The minimum wage in Germany is higher than in the U.S.
  • Environmental regulation in Germany is generally stricter than in the U.S.

Maybe Democrats will implement some of these reforms in the U.S., but despite having the trifecta during the first 2 years of the Clinton and Obama presidencies they didn't implement them, though Obamacare was certainly an important progress. As long as they don't pass these laws, I won't call the Democratic Party left wing by German standards. Now Democrats have the trifecta, so there are no excuses.

K.W. in Sydney, Australia, writes: I've been enjoying your discussions of the electoral systems of other countries. While I do have a fascination for U.S. politics (hence my daily reading of your site), it has long struck me as a particularly dysfunctional democracy, and one crying out for reform. I note that you have looked at a few proportional representation systems, but those seem like too large a leap for the U.S., and so are perhaps not a particularly useful comparison. Australia, by contrast, might offer a way forward for U.S. democracy (not for the first time, of course; the secret ballot was originally called "the Australian ballot").

Australia is quite a similar country to the U.S. in that it is a federation of states in a liberal democracy, with a federal parliament made up of a House of Representatives (to which people are elected via single-member electorates, 150 in total; when a party wins 76 seats and they form a government) and a Senate (with 12 Senators elected from each of the six states, and two each from the two mainland territories, 76 in total).

Election Day is always on a Saturday, and voting typically takes place in local school halls (and thus provides big fund-raising opportunities for those schools), and being the weekend, there is something of a carnival atmosphere, with sausage sizzles (or "democracy sausages," as we like to call them), cake stalls and other fun things. Voting is also compulsory, so turn-out is always high (in the 90%+ range), even though the compulsory bit is not heavily enforced (people occasionally grumble about this, but it's been compulsory since 1924, and so the vast majority just see it as part of society, like paying taxes).

Voting for the House is via the instant runoff system (we call it preferential voting), wherein no one is elected before they reach 50% of the vote (e.g., Candidate A gets 42%, Candidate B gets 38%, Candidate C gets 20%, and so Candidate C's voters' second preferences will decide the winner). The Senate is elected state by state via proportional representation (again via preferential voting), which ensures that at least a few minor parties get elected, and generally means that neither of the major parties (Labor on the Left and Liberal on the Right) control the Senate and therefore get carte blanche.

The whole thing is run by a respected independent authority, the Australian Electoral Commission, which is in charge of running elections, counting the votes, and conducting redistributions (or redistricting, as you know it in the U.S.) in each state at least once every seven years. Partisan politicians get to make submissions, but basically the whole process is above party politics.

Of course, no system is perfect, and personally I'm generally not happy with the governments that we end up, but I am confident that all of our governments have at least the tacit approval of over 50% of the voters. Compulsory voting also means that the big parties don't need to appeal to the "base" to drive up turn-out, so our politics have always veered between the center-left and the center-right, and kept away from the extremes.

So: Do you think the US could learn anything from that lot?

C.S. in Newport, UK, writes: There is nothing inherent in proportional representation that makes forming a government difficult. Scotland and Wales both have a form of PR (and Scotland ended up with 7 parties plus 2 independents after the 2003 election), yet both always had a government within four weeks after an election. The reason for that is simple: The law states the Scottish and Welsh parliaments must a elect a new First Minister no later than 28 days after the election, which rather concentrates minds.

If there is no agreement before the 28th day, then a vote must be held, and whichever candidate wins most votes is elected (even if that is only a simple plurality, e.g. in 2007 in Scotland Alec Salmond was elected with 49 votes versus 46 for Jack McConnell and 33 abstentions). That person might not have a majority in the parliament but can only be dislodged if someone else is elected First Minister instead. Add to that the fact that a sitting first minister can effectively dissolve the parliament if the budget is not passed makes for rather stable minority government if no coalition can be formed.

L.S-H. in Naarden, The Netherlands, writes: I've had a very busy week, so I'm just getting around to reading your very thorough and entertaining explanation of Dutch elections. But I think your closing statement is not entirely true:

So, the next time you bemoan the fact that the U.S. has only two major parties and two small-but-somewhat-viable parties, consider the alternative: Everybody can vote for a party he or she loves and then the politicians get together in a smokeless room to determine who won, without having to consult the people.

While it's technically true that there are no primaries for Dutch elections, it seems to me that the multiparty proportional voting system used here functions as a primary. And obviously, the party with the (commanding) vote majority is the natural winner, but how much influence other parties have—and indeed, if they are even invited to be a dance partner—depends on how many votes they received. Witness the recent election, where many thought that PM Mark Rutte's party was so safe that they could afford to vote for someone else they really preferred. And I say "someone else" because, even though you're voting for a party, the person leading the party is the one invited to the discussions. As we now know, D66 surprised everyone (or not?) and put up a strong second-place finish. So, along with the math needed to get to 76 seats, it's not really a surprise as to who will be leading the government. I think this system is much better than the "winner takes all" U.S. election system, but the history (largely physical) of both countries obviously dictates their current election methods.

P.S. I was especially happy to vote for a woman for the top job, for the second time in my voting life on either side of the Atlantic.

History Matters

R.L.D. in Austin, TX, writes: Sorry, but this is a particular pet peeve of mine. The Constitution requires that the maximum size of the federal capital district be "ten miles square." This refers to a square 10 miles on a side for a total area of 100 square miles. I guess the staff mathematicians had another wild Friday night!

Also, the only example of "carving states out of other states" is West Virginia. This is not a frequent thing because Article IV requires the consent of the legislature of the state concerned in addition to that of Congress. Pretty much the only reason West Virginia passed muster was because the regular Virginia General Assembly was in active rebellion at the time and so the body formed by the western counties was held to be the only legitimate legislature at the time and thus empowered to consent to split themselves off. What you meant, obviously, was carving states out of much larger territories, which was pretty frequent there for awhile. And, of course, Maryland ceded the land that now comprises the District of Columbia, so has no claim on it any longer.

V & Z respond: We changed the wording about D.C.'s size, but note that the fellows who wrote the Constitution often used strange word orders, so their meaning is not 100% clear. Given the idiom of the day, one actually would have expected them to write "10 miles on each side" if they meant they wanted 100 square miles.

As to state-carving, the circumstances have been a little different in each case, but Congress has most certainly had other cases where it took a role in such maneuvering. It played a role in resolving a dispute over whether or not Vermont was part of New York or a separate entity, for example. It most certainly carved the state of Maine out of the then-much-larger state of Massachusetts. It stepped in and split the territory of "Dakota" into two states. The anti-D.C.-statehood types who claim there's no precedent for conferring statehood, just because Maryland once owned that land, are not correct.

C.J. in Hawthorne, CA, writes: Regarding your answer to R.W. from Churchill, I think your definition of "lame duck" is overly broad, but I suppose it makes some sense nowadays (presidents do seem to get more pushback in second terms). Though, taken to its ultimate end, what would be the real power of any President since they only will be in office a time limited by the Constitution? They can't run for endless terms like members of Congress (or FDR).

I really don't agree with labeling Presidents from the 19th century as lame ducks, though. I'm nearing the end of reading Carl Sandburg's magisterial six volume bio of Abraham Lincoln, and it has contained all sorts of side notes as one would expect of something that large. I was particularly intrigued by the idea that many/most seemed to have back then that post-Andrew Jackson, no President should ever serve a second term. There was even a push to get that enshrined in the Constitution.

So, I wouldn't think that James K. Polk's pledge hurt him at all, especially given how productive his Administration was.

C.R. in Cromwell, CT, writes: I enjoyed your trivia question: "What is the longest filibuster by a woman politician in U.S. history?"

I realize that "at the national level" was implied in the question. But please don't forget about Wendy Davis's 2013 filibuster in Texas, which clocked in at over 11 hours. Between her filibuster, some additional parliamentary maneuvers by Democrats, and some raucous protesters, the final vote on a restrictive abortion bill was delayed just past midnight. It was the last day of that legislative session, and so the bill was successfully sidelined by the efforts.

V & Z respond: We went back to clarify our meaning, and we appreciate that you added a sidebar that we should have thought to add ourselves.

B.A. in Walnut Creek, CA, writes: You noted that "14 presidents in a row have wrestled with [the Palestinian] problem without much success." For 13 of those 14, I wholeheartedly agree. However, Jimmy Carter, through sheer persistence and negotiating savvy, brokered a peace between Israel and its most dangerous protagonist. That peace between Israel and Egypt has become a cornerstone of the foreign policies of both nations for the past four decades, to the great benefit of both nations.

That treaty was accomplished despite the recalcitrance of Menachim Begin and the significant chance that it would cost Anwar Sadat his life, which it ultimately did. A strong case could be made that it was the most important U.S. foreign policy achievement of the past 70 years. "Without much success" doesn't really seem to capture that.

V & Z respond: Fair point.

Root Beer

R.H. in Seattle. WA, writes: Now that we're talking about root beers, my favorite is Hires!

S.V.E. in Renton, WA, writes: While not quite the connoisseur of root beers that (Z) is, I am also a fan. While I have not tried Hank's (and will definitely look for it in the future), my family did an advent-calendar-style sampling of root beers this holiday season. Our winner from the several dozen we tried was Brownie Caramel Cream Root Beer. In the unlikely event that you haven't sampled it, I recommend you give it a try.

V & Z respond: That one's been around for nearly 100 years, which is ANCIENT in the soda game. And you're right, it's very good.

D.B. in Bajor Sector, Alpha Quadrant, writes: Then you must be quite a fan of the United Federation of Planets. I hear hear it's their favorite drink. Once you drink enough of it, you come to like it. It's quite insidious.

V & Z respond: We're always up for a Trek reference. Unfortunately, root beer is not a warrior's drink, unlike, say...prune juice.

J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, writes: Bravo. Hank's is indeed the best root beer. And as a Quaker, I affirm your preference for root beer over beer.

I taught in Morocco for over a decade. When I was traveling through Germany during Ramadan, I was delighted to meet a Moroccan family in a small restaurant, who, upon finding I spoke some limited Moroccan Dareeja, invited me to eat with them. Unfortunately, I had also been excited to purchase root beer and Dr. Pepper right before then, as those are not available in Morocco. And sadly, when I popped one open at the meal, the father of the family was horrified, and immediately ordered me to leave their table. In vain I told him in Arabic that there was no alcohol in it—he would not listen. It was a sad moment in what could have been one of great joy breaking bread together.

What's In A Name...Continued

C.P.S. in San Jose, CA, writes: One of the original partners of the New York City law firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton told me that when the firm was founded there was an extended discussion of what name it would have. Among the founding partners there were several notable members, including Henry Friendly, subsequently a judge on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, Hugh Cox, previously Assistant Solicitor General of the United States, and George Ball, subsequently US Ambassador to the United Nations. Someone suggested Friendly, Cox & Ball as the firm name but it was voted down.

W.A.B. in Almere, NL, writes: The "What's in a Name" letters remind me of my time in basic training at Fort Dix, NJ in '68. When the time came for mail call, someone would stand in front of the group, letters in hand, and read the recipient's name: last name, first name.

A chuckle always permeated the company when Hugh Funk received a piece of correspondence.

V & Z respond: One of the foremost bits of (true) lore at UCLA is that the main library was dedicated in honor of Professor Hugh G. Dick, who was commemorated with a plaque on the ground floor, one that conveniently disappeared during a renovation about 10 years ago.

T.V. in Kansas City, MO, writes: From the "nominative determinism" department:

  • Dr. Richard Chopp of Austin, TX, a doctor of urology.
  • A New York attorney named Sue Yoo.
  • A meteorologist named Storm Field.
  • A my favorite, a BBC correspondent named Matthew Correspondent.

I could go on, but I won't. Instead, I will answer S.S. in Detroit's request for a Canadian joke:

Q: What is the difference between a Canadian and a canoe?
A: Canoes tip.

R.L.D. in Austin, TX, writes: I don't see his billboards much any more, but apparently Dr. Dick Chopp is still doing vasectomies in Texas.

V & Z respond: That's two Dick Chopps for us in one week. We could be a rabbi.

D.M. in Tampa, FL, writes: I've seen a lot of good (bad?) names listed. My addition is my dentist, who is an excellent dentist, but his name is Richard Assing.

D.S. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: If we're going to continue this theme, I have to pitch in: There was a listing in my hometown phone book with the particulars of one Nipples, Harry. In later books I learned that the given name had been changed to Clyde.

L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: The Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Kevin Puts was born Kevin Putz. I discovered this through a press release that used the older spelling.

P.R. in Saco, ME, writes: Here in Maine, which has a relatively high French-Canadian population (sorry about the latter part), a friend told us one day he was making house calls for the power company he worked for. The homeowner corrected our friend's pronunciation of his last name. Apparently "Outhouse" is pronounced "Oh-toose."

We are reminded of a Saturday Night Live sketch that is apparently risqué enough that NBC has decided not to put the video online. However, there is a transcript available, where you can see the punchline of the sketch: "Uh...listen..that's 'Os-wee-pay'!" (click the link if you can't reverse-engineer the misunderstanding).


M.M. in Sheffield, UK, writes: You wrote: "Guess whose name only appears in one question today?"

A: Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)

V & Z respond: True, but perhaps not whom we were thinking of.

D.T. in Mar-a-Lago™, FL, writes: That dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack Mitch McConnell was only mentioned once in one of your Readers' questions. I guessed it Right! Of course, I'm always Right.

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: 500 MPH Rolls Royce engines? Great Scott! To anyone who has an iota of engineering or scientific background, the phrase "500 MPH Rolls Royce engines" sounds...well, a bit like "a screen door on a battleship." Airplane engines are not rated by speed; they are rated by thrust, in units like pounds or kilonewtons. When's the orange butthead gonna finally make like a tree and get out of here?

V & Z respond: But do they need 1.21 gigawatts of power?

N.C. in Columbus, MS, writes: Longtime reader, never written in before—but, as a Shakespeare professor, I enjoyed your line about how judging your site by a single news item was "like judging a Shakespeare play solely based on the stage directions for Act III, Scene i."

If the Shakespeare play in question is Titus Andronicus, then Act III, Scene i is where you'll find my all-time favorite stage direction: "Enter a Messenger, with two heads and a hand"—which will give you an entirely accurate impression of what the whole play is like!

V & Z respond: "Exit, pursued by a bear" is also in Act III, and also gives a pretty good sense of what "A Winter's Tale" is like, though it's in Scene iii.

K.H. in Maryville, TN, writes: You wrote: "Maybe he chose that city because baseball season starts next week, and he knows the people of Pittsburgh will be in need of some good news."

You just wait! The mighty Pirates will show you!

V & Z respond: Undoubtedly, they will show us...lots of new and innovative ways to lose ballgames.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: You wrote: "She's a Civil War historian turned political blogger. That's almost invariably a formula for total, utter, awe-inspiring brilliance."

Hmmmm. There is something suspicious here. I just can't put my finger on it.

V & Z respond: Presumably that the statement was merely rendered in pixels on your screen, as opposed to being carved in marble on a monument.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar27 Saturday Q&A
Mar26 Biden Faces the Music
Mar26 Republicans Are Losing the Filibuster Debate
Mar26 Cheney 1, Trump Jr. 0
Mar26 Old Presidents Never Die--They Just Fade Away
Mar26 Pelosi Flexes Her California Muscle
Mar26 COVID Diaries: The Return
Mar26 Bye-Bye, Bibi?
Mar25 Harris Gets a Job
Mar25 So Does Rachel Levine
Mar25 Senate Begins Advancing S. 1
Mar25 Manchin Will Support a $3-Trillion Infrastructure Bill If Democrats Raise Corporate Taxes
Mar25 Trump Wants to Build a Huge Dark-Money Machine
Mar25 Missouri Senate Race Heats Up
Mar25 Newsom Picks New AG for California
Mar25 A Look at the 2022 Gubernatorial Races
Mar25 Republican Governors Miss Trump
Mar24 Gun Control Kabuki Theater, Part 168
Mar24 Hirono, Duckworth Want (and Get) More Asians in the Biden Administration
Mar24 Here Come De Judge(s)
Mar24 The Significance of Johnson
Mar24 Poll: Newsom Appears to Be Safe
Mar24 Israeli Gridlock Likely to Continue
Mar23 Team Biden Prepares to Move on to Bigger (and Better?) Things
Mar23 Biden's Cabinet Is Complete
Mar23 The Significance of Warnock
Mar23 Two Candidates Toss Their Hats into the Ring...
Mar23 ...And Two Candidates Remove Theirs
Mar23 Sidney Powell Tries to Save Herself
Mar23 Israel Will Try Again Today
Mar22 Republican Attorneys General Are Suing Biden for...Everything
Mar22 Why McConnell Really Fears Abolishing the Filibuster
Mar22 Durbin Doubles Down on Filibuster Reform
Mar22 Weisselberg's ex-Daughter-in-law Is Talking to Vance
Mar22 Report: Trump Will Start a New Social Media Platform
Mar22 Trump Force One Is Grounded
Mar22 Grassley and Johnson's Indecision Is Freezing Key Senate Races
Mar22 Former North Carolina Justice Will Run for Burr's Senate Seat
Mar22 Dead Congressman's Widow Is Elected to Replace Him
Mar21 Sunday Mailbag
Mar20 Saturday Q&A
Mar19 Vlad Is Mad
Mar19 100,000,000 and Counting
Mar19 Today's Appointments News
Mar19 Senators Gang Up
Mar19 What Insurrection?
Mar19 Untruth and Consequences
Mar19 Keep It Up, Joe!
Mar18 Poll: Voters Love the New COVID-19 Relief Law
Mar18 ... But Florida GOP Politicians Are Fighting over It