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We're going to start with some pretty hefty letters about Israel, because it is an important issue that is outside our expertise, and because we got these missives from folks for whom it is within their area of expertise. If you don't like hefty letters, or you're not interested in Israel, you should probably skip the first section and move on to the next set of "Talking to Trumpers" letters.
What Just Happened in Israel?
D.G. in Israel, writes: We recently moved to central Israel from Ohio and I experienced this "round" first hand. It was not fun for our family, and especially for my little kids, as we had to rush to our safe room in the basement with sirens blaring at 1 a.m. I lean politically moderate so I'm no supporter of P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu. However, I wouldn't say there is a "pretty broad consensus" that he began this round of violence. The East Jerusalem evictions are a highly complicated legal topic and I don't even think those were the cause of the war. It's clear to many here—and I would argue there is a broad consensus—that it was Hamas that started this round of violence because Mahmoud Abbas canceled the Palestinian elections. Hamas was slated to win easily in the West Bank and they used the riots in Jerusalem (which happen annually as Ramadan comes to an end) as an excuse to show that they are the "defenders" of Jerusalem. It all began when they fired missiles all the way to Jerusalem and then Israel was forced to respond.
I think that Hamas underestimated how far Israel was willing to go, but in the end they had enough missiles for 2 months of bombardment and they held out. Hamas clearly won this round despite the widespread destruction that they caused (not only from the Israeli response but from hundreds of misfires of their own). The more pictures of destruction they were able to get the better PR they got. Don't forget that they fire from within civilian population centers and it's almost impossible for Israel to fire a single bullet into Gaza without collateral damage. Without a clear defeat in this war Hamas is now poised to win ever bigger whenever the next election is held in the West Bank.
As much as Americans (myself included) like to think they have the most influence of any country in the Middle East, it was pretty obvious at least to me that Joe Biden had little to do with anything this time. While it is commendable that Biden kept the hordes of antisemites at the United Nations at bay and blocked single-sided resolutions, it was Egypt that did most of the work to achieve this ceasefire. In 2014, the war in Gaza lasted 50+ days with a ground invasion. The Abraham Accords and Donald Trump's retreat from the Middle East has left Israel with a very different set of factors to consider any time it goes to war. This round only lasted 11 days without a ground invasion. The Abraham Accords and Egypt were probably the largest factors bringing this war to an end so quickly.
Netanyahu has been obsessed for decades with bringing more peace treaties without having to deal with the Palestinians and he'll do anything to keep them happy now. And I can tell you that most of the Arab countries quietly are just fine with Israel having 1-3 week wars with the Palestinians from time to time.
Don't forget that when Egypt signed its peace treaty with Israel, the Egyptians were happy to leave Gaza in Israel's hands (they wanted back the Sinai, though). Also Jordan made peace with Israel and was just as happy as Egypt to not take back control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which were Jordanian possessions prior to 1967. Egypt and Jordan never considered for a millisecond giving the Palestinians their own state, so they were happy to give those territories to Israel to deal with the issue. Considering Israel would likely give just about anything away if someone really wanted to make peace with them, I'm optimistic that we'll have a political solution in my lifetime. Maybe a real peace will follow in the generation after that when the Arabs realize Jews were never their enemy.
D.G. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, asked "...What do you think the long-term goals are for the Palestinians and Israelis? In particular, what is Hamas thinking by periodically and repeatedly launching rockets at Israel, knowing it will provoke an overwhelming response? Do they think Israel will give up their land because of the rockets?"
In a nutshell, the answer to this question is a resounding "no." Hamas has no illusions about that. While its charter clearly states that its goal is to eliminate the State of Israel and take over its land, there is no doubt that they do not have an expectation that will be a possibility anytime soon, if ever. Hamas's goal in this round of fighting was at-least twofold:
- Over the past few years Hamas's profile has diminished, and this presented an opportunity for them to regain international recognition as an element in the so-called Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Moreover, knowing that Israel would retaliate, and would fire back at their missile launchers placed among the dense civilian population, meaning that non-combatants would be hurt or killed, Hamas knew that would help them once again cry victimhood in the unenlightened world population.
- In light of the anticipated elections imminently declared (and then postponed) by the competing Fatah organization in the West Bank, it provided Fatah an opportunity to reassert themselves as a force in the conflict, and gain support in those elections. It strengthened their position as the supposed defenders and protectors of Islam among the Palestinian factions, and ignored the fact that in their indiscriminate volleys of rockets, some were directed at Jerusalem, where their most revered al-Aqsa mosque exists, and it could have been hit and destroyed. Go figure.
E.W. then asked: "And what is Israel thinking by consistently trying to evict the Palestinians and expanding settlement activity, knowing full well that the Palestinians will inevitably respond? Do they think the Palestinians will somehow disappear?"
Two separate issues here; the eviction of the six families, which was the excuse for the current situation, and the expansion of settlements:
- The eviction: 6 families in the eastern part of Jerusalem were living in housing that legally belongs to Jews, who had purchased them during the Turkish Ottoman Empire, paid for them, and have the title to the properties. During the 1948 War of Independence of Israel, Jordan conquered and occupied that part of Jerusalem, and evicted the Jewish residents/owners, making them technically refugees (they resettled in Israel).
During Jordan's rule, from 1948 to 1967, Jordan allowed families to occupy the premises, but did not confer title to the housing to them. When Israel recovered that area in 1967, the Israeli Government issued these families leases which expired a few years back. The legal owners wanted to reclaim the properties, and the squatters refused to vacate. The owners then asked the courts to evict the tenants. The district court, followed by appellate court, agreed with the owners and ordered the eviction. The matter is now with the Supreme Court, being handled as in any civil country. There is no involvement of the government in that, as it is a civil matter, but the squatters and their supporters turned it into a political adversarial matter.
- The settlements: Israel claims ownership to the West Bank in its entirety, as area taken over from the Jordanians in 1967. The "pre-67 green line," which the world community has been talking about, was only an armistice line from a 1948 invasion by the Jordanians, and does not belong to any "Palestinian" nationhood. There was no "Palestinian" entity in that area ever, and the term "Palestinian People" was not created until 1968, after Israel took that area over. During Jordanian rule, there was no "Palestinian Territory" discussed, nor did the Jordanians create a Palestinian State there. Therefore, it is perfectly legal, by international law (which applies to any nation, but for some reason not the Jews) for Israel to build settlements in all areas except those where someone has a title from the Ottoman Empire days (The British had a mandate over that area from 1918 to 1948, but not a ruling ownership).
As to the question: "Do you think there's any long-range thinking at all at this point?" Probably not. Firstly, the Israeli Government is in turmoil, having gone through 4 elections in less than two years, with no resolution, and probably heading for a 5th election, so everything is being handled in a tactical rather than strategic way. Equally, on the Palestinian side there is competition between the Fatah (Mahmoud Abbas) and the Hamas (Ismail Haniyeh, et al.) factions for leadership. Secondly, the issue is quite thorny: Over the past half century quite a few efforts have been undertaken with or without international involvement, and a resolution has evaded the negotiators. Those who claim that it is an "occupation" in the West Bank should look no further than Gaza, which Israel vacated and retreated from in 2005, and from which rockets are fired way too often. So even if an agreement was possible to be arrived at, retreating from the West Bank would mean exposing its other flank to a similar fate. That is not likely to happen.
And to C.P. in Silver Spring who is seeking books and resources on the recent political history of the Middle East, I would recommend the website mythsandfacts.org, which is presented from the Jewish/Israeli perspective. And for lighter reading, I would recommend my own book, Creating a Homeland.
A.F. in Boston, MA, writes: You wrote: "We'll have some interesting letters on this subject tomorrow, incidentally, from folks who know a lot more about [Israel] than we do."
Ask and ye shall receive! Often times the lone Jewish person in a group, I've often been asked to give an opinion on the situation, so I've made sure to know all sides well enough to argue them all. My personal opinion is that the last time there was long-term thinking about the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea was Theodore Herzl. The modern history of the land is a decades long history of tit-for-tat responses—sometimes small-scale skirmishes and other times full-scale wars.
This is all political theater that civilians are paying for with their lives, and there is no discernible way out of it for any of the political actors in the short run.
Benjamin Netanyahu needs something to rally flailing domestic support, considering his impending trial for corruption. Hamas is always looking for a fight that can bolster their own standing in the Palestinian body politic. Neither one has any reason to step down now or in the near future.
If you want to place blame for the immediate spark in this latest conflagration, place it at the feet of the Haredi, who want desperately to annex and purge the areas around East Jerusalem. Even then, this just keeps going backwards for ever and ever to time immemorial.
Whenever someone says "Well, X started it," I usually point out that they are picking an arbitrary starting point that ignores any previous context. Let's unpack this current conflict to prove that point.
As of this writing, Israel has announced that they killed leaders of the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. This was in response to rockets that killed Israeli civilians overnight. Which was in response to Israeli attacks on Gaza. Which was in response to previous rocket attacks. Which was in response to Israeli raids on the al-Aqsa Mosque. Which was in response to worshipers stockpiling rocks to throw down on Jewish worshipers at the Kotel. Which was in response to Israel moving to evict Palestinian residents in from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. (Taking larger time jumps now...) Which was occupied by Israel from Jordan after victory in the 1967 Six Day War. Which was in response to a build up of Arab armies in a clear readiness for war. Which was in response to losing the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Which was in response to the partitioning of the British Palestinian Mandate between a Jewish and an Arab state. Which was in response to Jewish immigration and calls for self-determination. Which was in response to the Holocaust in Europe and the final dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.
I could go back even further to the waves of antisemitism that drove Jews from place to place, tracking them backwards in time back to the days of the Romans and the Judean Kingdoms. On the Palestinian (Arab) side, I could track backwards through the endless empires and rulers of the land, and that the Palestinians partially come from Arabia and are immigrants to the land themselves in the same grand sweep of history as the Jewish people.
That little strip of land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River is at the crossroads of everything and everyone. Whether that's by fate or by accident or by a cynical superposition of holy sites to erase the past doesn't matter. This land means a hell of a lot to a hell of a lot of people and right now its history is being driven by petty leaders, hateful neighbors, and an unhealthy dichotomy of either obsession or utter indifference by global leaders. It's a damn shame there's such a lack of courage in the leaders of that area to do anything to heal the historical wounds and stem the extremists of either side.
I want nothing more than peace, but I also don't want it to be a one-sided peace where one side is dominated or capitulates. However, between Netanyahu's ego, Hamas's genocidal goals, the Haredis' messianic drive, and the Palestinian people's frustration at stateless entrapment, nothing is going to change in the short run. And that's a crime that no one is going to pay for except the innocent.
E.S. in Coral Gables, FL, writes: I have been following with interest the commentary on your site concerning the latest round of war between Hamas and Israel. Notwithstanding what you call the "consensus" in progressive thinking that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu instigated the fighting for political gain, it appears clear to me that the party wagging the dog in this case was Hamas. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, now in the fifteenth year of his four year term, canceled the scheduled Palestinian elections at the last minute when it became clear to him (and anyone else paying attention) that Fatah would likely win. Hamas then needed to remind the Palestinian world that they were still relevant and considered themselves to be the rightful leaders of "resistance" against Israel. As long as Hamas continues to rule Gaza as a military base to attack Israel, nothing will change for the better in the lives of its inhabitants.
L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: The American media has given heavy coverage to the Israel/Palestinian conflict for decades. Yet I've found that until recently I had little understanding of the real situation.
Obviously, Hamas is a terrorist group and the U.S. is correct not to negotiate with them until they recognize Israel's right to exist. However, I only recently learned that the Gaza Strip is only 141 square miles, or roughly the size of a 12 mile by 12 mile square of land. In that small area roughly 2 million people live. Now there are obviously many densely populated places in the world, but the difference here is that for the past 14 years no one has been allowed to leave, at least for routine reasons.
Imagine a person in their early 20s who has spent most of their life locked into this tiny area. They can't cross to Israel or Egypt to go to school, to shop, to work, to meet friends, to attend festivals, to travel, for anything. Is it any wonder that such a person could become radicalized? Their life has basically been spent in a prison camp, and they see no hope for the future.
Again, I in no way support Hamas. But until the people in the Gaza Strip are allowed to live normal lives, including having the ability to cross outward to get jobs and education and therefore a future, we will continue to see the young people there radicalized and any hope for a lasting peace will be nonexistent.
E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: There's another angle to the ceasefire that's pretty much independent of the political agendas on either side. Try looking at it from an operations research point of view.
There's a steady stream of missiles being smuggled into Gaza, but limited storage space for them. You can't hide missiles inside every school and hospital in Gaza. When the storage gets full, the missiles start flying. Use 'em or lose 'em. Similarly, when the stockpile is nearly empty, a mutual ceasefire is preferable to a unilateral one. You can still pretend you "won."
T.S. in Denver, CO, writes: C.P. in Silver Spring wanted some reading suggestions on the modern Middle East from World War II onward. To gain an even stronger understanding of how the modern Middle East was formed, I'd suggest going back a bit further in time to read how the "Great Powers" carved up the Ottoman Empire after World War I and set many of the peoples in the Levant against each other, with A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, by David Fromkin.
How to Talk to a Trump Supporter, The Optimists (Part II)
M.R. in Cascade, CO, writes: It's a powerful motto: "When they go low, we go high." But it turned out to mean that when they go low we go high and they take us out at the knees. So what's a body to do? In Tai Chi, whether they go high or low, the good practitioner gets out of the way. When blows don't land it puts the opponent off balance, and we can redirect their energy against them. I've been watching for examples of people doing this, and they are becoming more plentiful as we regain our centers and our footing. It won't surprise me if someday we learn of a Biden strategy that is informed by or at least compatible with martial arts practice. The fact that righties are finding it hard to land blows to Biden and get labels to stick reinforces that perception for me. I think there is a lot of communication going on below the radar. Or below mine, anyway.
I wrote ten books of Power Phrases: nine on business communication and one political. Now the political one seems—as Al Franken refers to his previous books on political communication—to be rather adorable. Or, in other words, naïve. It assumes a reasonable level of good faith in communication. That was not a safe assumption then and sure isn't now. It is helpful for me to be disabused of my good faith assumption. It was an affront to me that a family member or friend or even a casual encounter would not feel a need to speak in good faith. I got stunned into silence, thinking but not able to express: "Are you serious? Are you really making that baseless argument? Do you have so little respect for me?" Accepting the reality of win-at-all-costs communication has helped me keep my center.
So, as I see Biden folks do, I stay focused in my own lane except for an occasional quick correction. I speak of my own relief over the new administration and my own concerns, etc. without trying to sell my perspective. I will ask people what their understanding of things is, like when I asked my sister if she believed Biden stole the election. When she expressed her doubts, I casually and briefly explained my own reasons for believing it was legitimate and suggested she listen to the Trump-Raffensperger conversation in total. I inquire into her perspectives to learn from her—usually to learn how the talking points I hear are or aren't landing. I'll let her know that people in my world see things very differently but do not try to convince. It's freeing and I actually think in the long game it's more effective.
Someday I might write a new PowerPhrases book for political conversations in an era of bad faith, but I'm not ready to do that yet. My head isn't spinning any more but I'm not sure it's on straight yet.
B.B. in Westminster, MD, writes: I've found that when speaking about an emotional subject, like politics, it is best to listen much and speak little. By listening you gain the person's trust and you can steer the conversation with questions. People like to share their thoughts—that is why they are only worth a penny after all, and that fee is rarely collected. The right questions are rooted in genuine curiosity, but should lead to self-reflection, which in turn inspires change.
The other important thing to know is when to walk away. If either you or the other person become agitated or emotional it can be helpful to step back or change the subject. As long as you maintain the relationship you can reengage the person some other time when passions have cooled. If you keep the relationship intact there will be time for more conversations.
R.S. in Tonawanda, NY, writes: Two simple questions—"How do you figure?" and "What exactly does that mean?"—can elicit meaningful conversation (or circular answers and/or blank stares).
J.K. in Silverdale, WA, writes: How do you talk to Trump supporters? It's difficult to engage in meaningful conversation with people if you don't grasp their view of the world. Here are some thoughts stemming from my efforts to understand my fellow Americans on the "conservative" end of the spectrum.
In criticizing the invasion of Iraq, I remember hearing those of a liberal persuasion make the argument that democracy cannot be imposed; it has to be the will of the people. I have come to realize that culture war issues are so salient with conservatives partly because they see "the liberal agenda" in a similar light—the hordes from cities (including all those immigrants) are like an invading force coming in to impose their moral values and codify those values into law. For conservatives whose identities are wrapped up in an evangelical Christian, "family values," pro-life and pro-gun stance, liberals are not viewed as fellow citizens, but as an existential threat to their way of life.
The GOP and their media partners have stirred up these fears and resentments to maintain power for decades, though it seems that the party apparatus lost any semblance of civility or control of this message when Trump came along and pumped up the "liberals are your enemy" rhetoric. With Trump's ascendancy and antisocial media monetizing outrage, we now have all the wannabee Trumps competing to outdo each other in the "own the libs" attention market. (V) & (Z) have questioned the political benefit of legislatures in red states rushing to pass anti-trans bills now instead of using the issue for election turnout. Perhaps the goal is to keep the base engaged 24/7 and never let up with the sense of urgency posed by the threat of evil liberals.
How do you talk to people who view you as an enemy? Do everything you can to humanize yourself and make them feel safe. Find anything you have in common with them outside of their tribal political identity and connect with them on that topic (food, music, sports, gardening, anything!) to remind them that there is more to people than allegiance to team red or team blue. Listen to their fears and empathize—modeling empathy may be the most significant step you can take. Ask them about how they view democracy and delicately describe your fears. If they double down, take that as your cue that they feel threatened and return to safety. If there are liberal policies that you don't support, talk about those to help them see nuance.
Of course, these are simply observations and suggestions for those who are willing to try bridging the divide. I can easily imagine a dystopian future where our republic falls apart and some 21st century version of the underground railroad springs up to aid pregnant teenagers and targeted minorities fleeing red states. We shall see.
M.D. in Stroudsburg, PA, writes: I literally avoid Trumpers at all costs but with my donations I support a non-profit group that has spent years training people how to deprogram and communicate with these folks: hearyourselfthink.org.
They train people on how to speak to the rabid right-wingers in a way to get them to actually think about the conflicting beliefs the Trump folks communicate, and to break through the propaganda they've been inundated with. Truly fascinating, but I do not have the people skills or the patience to do it myself. They have videos of themselves going to Trump events and actually knock on Trumpists' doors, speaking to angry cultists and getting some of them to actually think.
They have a new repeating series of online sessions titled "Talk It Out: Communication Bootcamp Series with ProgressPA" that discusses how to talk to people who believe in the "The Big Lie" and COVID conspiracies. It is well worth the small donation they ask just to get some understanding of why these people are so entrenched in this lunacy.
How to Talk to a Trump Supporter, The Pessimists (Part II)
M.A. in Arlington, TX, writes: On the subject of talking to Republicans, I found this well-sourced response more instructive than almost anything I've found on the topic. It draws on political science, history, journalism, and various other primary sources.
For those who do not click through, the author of the comment makes the case that "little c" American conservative political platforms are arbitrary and meaningless and only deployed to obtain American Conservative "Big C" aims. Or more accurately, the solitary "Big C" Conservative Aim, which is the support of an aristocratic class of rulers, or the strengthening of that class. They go on to explain that Big C American Conservativism is the only thing that actually makes sense of conservative American politics over time. Conservatives don't really want to conserve any type of morals or actions as they usually claim—in fact, they will often invent or alter history and facts to suit their needs. That is ultimately because the Conservative philosophy is not meaningfully engaged with action (as progressivism usually is) but identity—if someone is part of the ruling class, they are innately good and their actions, no matter how heinous or hypocritical, can be forgiven. Conversely, anyone outside the tribe of the divinely ordained upper class can never really be trustworthy or good. This is why American conservatives don't actually care when some Republican obtains an abortion or cheats on their wife or exploits government programs. None of those actions matter. All that matters is that they remain a Republican and support and maintain the power of the landed/moneyed/connected/white elites. Meanwhile, the only act that is not forgivable is to turn on the tribe and suggest that conservatives are fallible and thereby weaken their hold on elite privilege. Hence the Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) expulsion and also the fact that Cheney still can't abandon the party that obviously hates her.
Anyways, a gross oversimplification of a very well-researched analysis of American politics (the only omission I would note is race, but it could easily align with what the author has written). It even is very open about the author's own point of view and biases.
All of this is just to say that those commentators who suggested that it is pointless to speak to Republicans have some pretty solid research and analysis that backs them up. No words, actions, or programs will ever appeal to a Republican, because being a Republican ultimately means believing that anyone outside their in-group is a lesser human being. Actions matter not at all. It's really about who you are. They'll chafe and avoid admitting this fact, but it is sadly true.
S.Y. in Skokie, IL, writes: I'm from the south side of Chicago and have always been a White Sox fan. I have a friend who's a lifelong Cubs fan and we've been poking fun at each other for years. Recently, Cleveland beat the Cubs, so I sent him a text in jest: "Cleveland Native Americans 2, Chicago Flubs 1." He went somewhat crazy for Trump this past year so I tried to rekindle the friendship with a little baseball fun.
It didn't work. He equated the Sox with the 1919 team that cheated to throw the World Series "just like Democrats did to Trump" 101 years later. I responded with a joke, "Cheez where are you getting your 'news' these days, Q or OAN?" Got an angry answer that he wasn't part of Q and spits out more vile about the coming downfall of the country under Biden and the fact that "NOTHING" is getting done now that Democrats are in power. Then he sends a picture of Biden in a clown suit, which was enough for me. "You send that after 4 years of orange stainface? No irony here?" I told him his attitudes are scary and that's the soup that Fox, AON, etc. have been feeding to Trump's base. After that a stream of vitriol poured into my text messages (are you ready to renounce your white privilege?), most of which I didn't bother to read. He's nuts, he's very angry, he believes everything the extreme right is saying and it's useless to try to have an objective discussion with him. The friendship is over.
T.G. in Daleyville, WI, writes: The first thing to understand about talking to a Trumper is that you are talking to someone who does not care about good policy, morals, personal responsibility, human life, or our standing in the eyes of the Lord and the rest of the planet. All that matters is Keeping America White. Still.
Unless you are willing to get more racist than Trump, you will never convert Trumpers to the side of sanity. The only way to reliably deal with them is to club them like they were baby seals at the ballot box. The non-Trump community has the demonstrated horses to do so, but the Republicans have the demonstrated capacity to refuse to accept election results.
I don't see a civil-strife-free future any time soon. This is existential for the R-Team, and they are rabidly committed to maintaining power. They have no rules of engagement, and are committed to doing whatever it takes.
There really isn't any point in talking to them. They don't, and won't, listen...
D.N. in Waltham, MA, writes: I've been thinking about how to talk to Republicans over the last few months as I've followed the letters from and responses to P.M. of Currituck. P.M.'s perspectives have been valuable—I've read with interest in their mindset as they've explained, politely and eloquently, that they don't see why they should care about trans people's struggles, told us that race is just a distraction as Black people are murdered on the streets, and talked down to us as elitists while demanding we see their point of view.
These attitudes are emblematic of the selfishness which I see pervading all facets of Republicanism. They cheer pointless bathroom restriction bills that do nothing but make life difficult for others. They hand out guns to people by the thousands as tokens of some nebulous "freedom" as children cry for their dead bullet-ridden classmates. They erode people's confidence in the foundations of democracy just because they feel they deserve to be in power, despite getting fewer votes in every presidential election for nearly two decades. They roll back every regulation that serves to protect the environment so we even have a planet to live on. They applauded as terrorists broke into the Capitol building chanting about hanging the Vice President, then denied it ever happened. They've made taking basic precautions against a pandemic a partisan issue, making themselves literally toxic as well as metaphorically, and still they have the gall to demand respect for their position while giving no respect in return.
And the worst part of it all is that not all of the mindboggling 74 million voters that wanted more of this are doing it because they genuinely believe in it—what's important to them is that they are "triggering the libs" (a phrase that conveniently makes fun of mental health issues as well without them having to make any extra effort). They take delight in hurting us, "popping the liberal bubble" as P.M. himself told us, as they sit back and watch us sacrifice and mask and vaccinate and fight against this artificial weight they've put on us in a desperate attempt to drag everyone out of the pandemic.
Faced with this appalling list, I don't know how to change minds or get out of where we are—there is simply too much. But thinking about the question "what do I want from them?"...I want them to somehow, miraculously, grow out of their childish selfishness and to stop holding the world back.
Trump in Trouble
R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: I know there's a lot of news about the officials in NYC moving towards criminal investigation of Donald Trump, and many think these activities involve tax evasion, his university, falsifying loans documents, and the like.
But I still cannot get this New York Times story out of my head: "F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia." I'm no conspiracy theorist; I don't think aliens are discussing the secrets of the universe at Area 51 with U.S. intelligence, but I think Trump is involved in far more serious stuff than tax evasion and running a fraudulent university. What really happened at that 2013 visit to Russia? How many times has he met with Vladimir Putin, before, during and after his presidency? What about his probable dealings with mobsters in the 1970's & 80's? Did he ever put a hit on anyone?
I'm wondering if the stuff against Trump is so bad the Justice Department is almost afraid to bring charges against a former president. Perhaps because he didn't start World War III and he did eventually leave the White House after he lost the election they are willing to forget about most things. But I simply cannot fathom the only criminal activities he's partaken in only involve taxes and Trump University.
P.R. in Saco, ME, writes: You wrote: "His whole life, Trump has wanted to be wanted, but not this kind of wanted. If he was smart, he would shut up, stop worrying about settling political scores, and start focusing on his defense..."
I have been waiting to say this a long time: He does, in fact, want to be this kind of wanted. It's way better than not being noticed. Look to...oh, what is that guy's name, the one who lied for so long about not taking steroids to win that French bike-a-thon race thingy, I forget his name? If Americans learn nothing about the cravenness of narcissism after this little Trumpy episode in history, then shame on us. To a narcissist, being forgotten and unnoticed is worse than death. Let that sink in.
V & Z respond: Maybe so. We must admit we put that line in, in part, to fulfill our promise last week to reference three 1960s #1 songs by female singers this week. That sentence covered "I Want To Be Wanted" by Brenda Lee (1960), and on Friday we added "Downtown" by Petula Clark (1965) and also "My Guy" by Mary Wells (1964).
F.M. in Hatfield, PA, writes: On Saturday, you referred to Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy each as "Majority Leader;" neither is in the majority and I contend they are not "leaders" either.
You also implied Ron DeSantis (Q-FL) might refuse an extradition order. Given the uses of the word "shall" in the cited statutes, I think it is clear that if DeSantis were to refuse, New York could ask a federal court to enforce the extradition order via U.S. Marshals and also have DeSantis arrested for contempt of court. Somehow, I think DeSantis's self-preservation instinct will kick in by then and, even if it doesn't, the end result would be the same.
V & Z respond: Hard to find much to disagree with here.
A.M. in Olympia, WA, writes: E.R. from Irving raises a good point about your overly undue coverage of this clown. I totally agree. Give it a rest. Mute your ears and put on your blinders like he's Marcel Marceau.
R.C. in Madison, WI, writes: In last Sunday's mailbag, P.M. makes the remarkable argument that the will of the voting public is sufficient justification for whatever policy a government wants to enact. P.M. wrote, "Has it occurred to the readership that such laws and actions are what the voters in those states actually want?" P.M. was referencing a previous piece by (V). If I go back and read what (V) wrote to find the specific "laws and actions," I find that P.M. is asking, has it occurred to the readership of this site that voters in Idaho actually want to ban Idaho schools from assigning To Kill a Mockingbird in literature classes? Has it occurred to the readership that Idaho voters actually think their governor is a "Little Hitler" because he imposed minor restrictions in response to the pandemic? Has it occurred to the readership that voters in Kansas don't care whether their state legislature funds K-12 schools? Has it occurred to the readership that voters in Montana actually want politically-motivated investigations of judges who were appointed by Gov. Gianforte's predecessors? Has it occurred to the readership that the voters in Oklahoma and Iowa want to be able to legally murder liberal protesters with their cars and trucks?
My criticism might be a bit unfair if P.M. was also writing to websites with a conservative slant and asking, has it occurred to the readership that voters in the United States actually want Joe Biden to be president? That Donald Trump was voted out of office because he wasn't following through on the desires of the voters? Many conservative Americans want abortion to be illegal even in a liberal state like Massachusetts. Does it not occur to them that the voters in Massachusetts actually want abortion to be legal? P.M.'s main argument seems to be that it's fine for these states to run themselves this way because it's what the majority of voters want. But if the majority of voters wanted to ban the Christian Bible and confiscate all copies within their jurisdiction, would P.M. be as quick to tell us not to criticize the voters' will?
P.M.'s only other argument seems to be that people are moving to Idaho and Montana to experience conservative government, but I don't know if P.M. has reason to believe that or just made it up. Some websites seem to think people move there to experience a low cost of living, lack of traffic, outdoor recreation, and cold winters. Maybe the new residents see conservative government as a negative that's outweighed by the positives. Of course I don't have evidence the new residents see conservative government as a negative, and I'm sure you don't believe me, but have you given me any better reason to believe you? I'm not even sure if P.M. really believes it either because of the odd phrasing that "an argument can be made." Well an argument can be made that the Chicago Bears are a good football team. It's a bad argument, but still, it can be made.
Finally, P.M.'s compulsion to "pop the liberal bubble that so many who read this site seem to live in" is just a little bit smug, especially when the mailbags have been full of sections like "How to Talk to a Trump Supporter" and so much discussion of the views of Obama-Trump voters in Luzerne County, PA.
L.V.A. in Idaho Falls, ID, writes: In last week's Sunday mailbag, P.M. in Currituck made the argument that "rapid population growth over the past several years" proves that voters in Idaho and Montana like what their elected lawmakers have done. P.M. further states "An argument can be made that people elsewhere like what the elected officials in those states are doing, and are moving to those locations to experience it." Let's examine Census Bureau population growth numbers for the last few decades for Idaho and Montana and the seven states that border Idaho and Montana:
State 1990-2000 2000-10 2010-20 Idaho +28.5% +21.1% +17.3% Montana +12.9% +9.7% +9.6% Washington +21.1% +14.1% +14.6% Oregon +20.4% +12.0% +10.0% Nevada +66.3% +35.1% +15.0% Utah +29.6% +23.8% +18.4% Wyoming +8.9% +14.0% +2.3% South Dakota +8.5% +7.9% +8.9% North Dakota +0.5% +4.7% +15.8%
Examining this data, a much stronger argument can be made that people elsewhere like what the elected officials in Nevada are doing, and are moving there to experience it. (Hasn't Nevada been turning blue in the last few decades?) Even in the last decade the data indicate no significant population relocation, if you ignore the relative outflux from South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. Does this refute P.M.'s overall argument? Maybe not, but it sure weakens it.
Note that the above data do not include the covert influx of Molsen-Golden-drinking cable-chewing beavers from our neighbour to the north. Eh.
V.R. in Grenoble, France, writes: P.M. in Currituck wrote: Has it occurred to the readership (and, by extension, both V and Z) that such laws and actions are what the voters in those states actually want? And, if so, are they not getting from their representatives exactly what they desire? If they were not, they would vote into office others to carry out the will of the people."
I think there is a deep and fundamental misunderstanding revealed by this comment: Elected people are not supposed to do exactly what the voters want! Elected people are called "leaders" because they have the responsibility to show a better way. A politician who is begging for votes and promising anything the voters want is a follower, not a leader. A leader would, on the contrary, put all his/her efforts to convince the voters to change their opinion, they are motivated by a cause. Ask yourself what motivates the follower politicians, aka populists. I'd be interested in any answer other than "self-interest."
D.B. in Winston-Salem, NC, writes: As a fellow Tarheel, I completely disagree with P.M.'s notion that North Carolina has implemented "what the voters actually want."
North Carolina is highly gerrymandered and has been since at least 2010. So what the General Assembly passes may be exactly what their supporters want, but not what Democrats state-wide want. Republicans make up 41% of the electorate, Democrats 43%; and unaffiliated 16%. There are more declared Democrats than declared Republicans, and yet Republicans hold 28 of 50 seats in the NC Senate (56%) and 69 out of 120 seats in the House of Representatives (57.5%).
It is patently absurd to lump the minority view in with the "majority" view to claim all Tarheels want what the skewed legislature passed. That's bad logic and bad disputation.
D.C. in Brentwood, CA, writes: Can we please acknowledge that P.M. in Currituck has jumped the shark?
Two main blatant dishonesties or extreme ignorances were demonstrated in their comment:
- In a first-past-the-post electoral system, it's ridiculous to assert, or even mildly suggest, that every law that gets passed is the will of the people. It's the party you agree with 45% of the time or 25% of the time, because the one you agree with 100% of the time doesn't exist (or isn't a top-two party, and therefore, without some major synchronicity, voting for them is throwing away a vote). And that's not even to mention the systemic discouragement from voting, separate from even the explicit disenfranchisement, that occurs with non-mandatory voting on a Tuesday in a country where many can't take time from their second job to go vote.
- Democracy is not tyranny of the majority. Civil liberties, either enumerated in the Constitution, or acknowledged in the Constitution as not needing enumeration, are protections against that tyranny. It doesn't matter if a majority want to discriminate against a minority, because that minority has inalienable rights.
Acknowledge that or GTFO, please, P.M.
R.S.B. in Ventura, CA, writes: Since (V) & (Z) have left it to readers to respond to P.M. of Currituck, I felt compelled to speak up to pop the "Conservative Lollipop Fantasy" about situational ethics and morality. There is this thing called the United States Constitution, it involves a number of big words and such, and is pretty old so sometimes it can be kind of difficult to parse the language and make sense of it in these here times of insurrection and upheaval. In this document there is this thing called an amendment that was passed after that nasty "War of Northern Aggression," otherwise known to history as the American Civil War. This here amendment thingy was passed and has become a perty large part of current judicial interpretation of law and such. In this thingy it says that everyone, each and every person, each and every human, in the United States of America has the right to equal protection and equal treatment both in law and fact.
If 99.9% of a voting population decides to ban a person's right to use a public restroom, then 99.9% of that voting population is wrong, both morally and ethically. So when those politicians are "just doing what voters want" they are betraying the office to which they have been elected and the oath they have sworn. There is no middle ground on this, there are no opinions, there are no justifications that should ever prevent a Black woman from going to the school or college of their choice. There is no middle ground, no opinion or justification to stop a Black man from eating at a local lunch counter. There is no middle ground, no opinion or justification to prevent a non-binary individual from using public restroom. The list of wrongs goes on and on and on and on for all of the nearly 250 years this country has existed. When will we, as a people, decide enough is enough? That which divides us makes us puny and pathetic. If we as a nation and as a people are not able to treat every human with dignity and fairness, we as a nation are not worthy of the documents the slave-holding bigots wrote for us to improve upon.
Please recognize the snark and sarcasm that may be included in this commentary as humor and not an actual attack on anyone.
Whither the Republicans
S.H. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: The insightful question from C.J. in Boulder asked, in short, "What exactly is the core beef between the two parties? ...what is it that you two find to be the compelling bone that the politic is fighting over that really motivates our deep polarization?" You responded "...if you want the 'linchpin' around which everything else revolves today, and which will be used as shorthand when historians teach this era in the future, we'd say it's something like 'change.' Democrats, by and large, take the position that the world has changed dramatically in the past generation or two...and that there is no choice but to adapt. Republicans, by and large, take the position that change is exaggerated and/or non-existent, and that things could easily be as they once were."
Your "linchpin" (I think you nailed it) was summed up nicely in a 1970s-era Mad magazine article comparing how a liberal and a conservative newspaper would cover the exact same stories with the same information and photos. The motto on the masthead of the liberal paper was "Just because an idea is old doesn't mean it's better," whereas the conservative paper's motto was "Just because an idea is new doesn't mean it's better."
S.C-M. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: As a resident of Maricopa County, I have watched the Fraudit with both alarm and amusement. The coverage by the local paper, The Arizona Republic, has been quite good. On Sunday they ran a long story on the various personalities involved. What I really find hard to believe is how bad and sloppily run this whole project has been.
My general take on all this nonsense is that it is just a giant grift to extract money from the gullible. Like you, I do not believe it will change anything. Those who believe the election was stolen will continue to believe that lie. Hopefully, the Arizona Senate Republicans who voted for this nonsense will pay a price for their idiocy, but I somehow doubt it.
Roe, Roe, Roe the Boat
K.B. in Hartford, CT, writes: Linda Greenhouse thinks the Supreme Court won't overrule Roe next term. She is pretty savvy, but I disagree with her on this one. There was no reason for the Court to take a case striking down a ban on abortion after 15 weeks. There was no circuit split and the lower court decisions were consistent with existing precedent. The Court took the case to reverse the Fifth Circuit and uphold the Mississippi law. Once they decide that pre-viability abortions may be banned, there is no logical basis to distinguish 15 weeks from 6 weeks or earlier. This outcome is entirely predictable. Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito have been ready to overrule Roe since the beginning of time, and the Federalist Society selected Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett to finish the job.
As for the politics, if you think overruling Roe just means the states get to decide, that's adorable and I have a nice bridge to sell you. The anti-choice crowd won't stop until we have a nationwide ban, which means a Republican-controlled Congress and White House.
All of this renews my irritation with the third-party voters of 2016 and the folks who stayed home because they were willing to make the perfect the enemy of the good, not to mention a certain senator from West Virginia and another from Arizona.
K.B. in Newark, NJ, writes: In your answer to the question from J.D. in Rohnert Park, you correctly explained Roe's reasoning. Going into my Constitutional Law class last year, I thought this was the applicable law to examine. However, our professor gleefully told us otherwise. Apparently, it is a hobby of ConLaw professors to tell students that Roe remains a catchphrase for activists, but Sandra Day O'Connor's "undue burden" standard from Planned Parenthood v. Casey gutted Roe's balancing test.
Roe's "essential holding" was that the 14th amendment protects a woman's right to an abortion prior to viability. This remains the facade, but the interior analysis replaced the standard that applied to judging obstacles to getting an abortion (formerly strict scrutiny, a very high standard), with "undue burden" (a much lower standard). In Casey, the court struck down a spousal notification requirement in a Pennsylvania law, but upheld less onerous "burdens" for getting an abortion in the first trimester.
While commentators discuss Roe, the Court's recent cases—Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (2016), June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo (2020), etc.—all apply and tweak the undue burden standard from Casey.
This was important for my ConLaw final. I have no idea whether it is actually important for the Court moving forward.
D.P. in Seattle, WA, writes: Regarding your answer to the question by J.D. in Rohnert Park regarding Roe, Roe isn't actually the standard any more and hasn't been for about 30 years. Planned Parenthood v. Casey is the main framework under which abortion laws are analyzed. Casey rejected Roe's trimester approach and replaced it with a test about undue burden, whether the law's "purpose or effect is to place substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability." SCOTUS upheld that basic test a few years ago when challenges to Texas' laws requiring admitting privileges. It probably doesn't seem like much of a difference, but SCOTUS said in Casey that the best tenet of Roe, that there exists some sort of constitutional right to an abortion, was upheld while the rest of it was thrown out for new tests.
K.R. in Austin, TX, writes: Your item on abortion law in Texas seemed pretty accurate. However, I don't think the part about potentially trying a person who has an abortion and sending them to prison is part of the law. I may be wrong, but my understanding is that the person receiving the abortion cannot be sued under the law. However, anyone helping can be sued (but not imprisoned).
Any private citizen can sue anyone who helps someone get an abortion and get a minimum of $10,000 plus attorney fees. It appears that it would only be the first person to sue who would get the $10,000, if I'm reading the law right. This is the strangest part of the law, in that someone not involved at all with the person getting the abortion can sue and win $10,000. I'd say that someone doesn't have to have a strong stance on abortion to want to claim $10,000.
I also thought of a potential way around the law. A pro-choice organization could partner with an abortion provider and immediately sue everyone involved with each abortion before anyone else is able to. They can provide pro-bono legal services and then either not pursue the $10,000 award or collect it and immediately give the money back to the sued party.
The 1/6 Commission
K.E. in Newport, RI, writes: I wrote to you earlier this year, and asserted that it's vitally important for the American people to know exactly what happened on 1/6 and that a thorough investigation is needed. I predicted that after the impeachment trial failed and a few weeks of outrage, the Republican Party would try to move past it and sweep it under the rug. This is exactly what most of them are trying to do now.
I urge you to read this recent interview with Democratic strategist James Carville. In the interview, he says the Democratic Party needs to make the Republicans own the 1/6 insurrection because there is a direct link between Trump's post-election actions, Republican rhetoric, conspiracy theories, and the events of that day. Imagine if several hundred Black Democrats had forced their way into a federal building without permission armed with pepper spray and metal pipes and injured dozens of police officers. There would be multiple stories about that every day for the rest of the year on Fox News trying to link Democratic officials to the events in question while dividing the party on racial lines.
I remember 20 years ago, after 9/11, the Republicans attacked their opponents to great effect in the 2002 and 2004 elections. They labeled opponents of their policies in Afghanistan and Iraq as supporters or enablers of terrorism and Saddam Hussein. The strategy worked and President Bush was one of the few presidents who saw Congressional gains in a midterm election and it also worked to beat John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. Their basic message was simple: "You're either with us or you're with the enemy." I am sure John Kerry knew the Iraq War was wrong at the time but he was so afraid to be called an enabler of Saddam Hussein he never made any unequivocal statements condemning the war and he came across as a vacillator and went down in flames.
Twenty years later, Democrats control Congress and the White House and they should use the Republicans' own strategy against them. President Biden should give Republicans until Independence Day to support an independent 1/6 Commission. To raise the pressure, he should hold a prime-time press conference with the Vice President, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, the Senate Majority Leader, and the Speaker of the House. He should speak about why the Commission is necessary and say if the Republicans don't support it, they're on the side of terrorists. This would certainly enrage Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy but this is what their own party did in the early 2000s.
And there is no question that the 1/6 capitol attack was an act of domestic terrorism. Here is video evidence of it. This is disturbing but necessary to watch. A bunch of men in red "Make America Great Again" hats forced their way through a police barricade and crushed a capitol officer behind a door. You can hear him screaming for help but they do not care who they hurt and they only care about trying to stop the election certification.
B.S.M. in Chicago, IL, writes: I have to wonder about the point of a congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on Congress. If we all could be realistic for a moment, anything Congress does is going to be seen as fake and/or partisan by half the country.
Also, the members of Congress were at the crime scene when this happened. None of them can be seen as impartial. If a crime was committed, then law enforcement should investigate the crime, and the crimes should be tried in a courtroom.
What is the best outcome Democrats in Congress can hope for? A referral to the DOJ? Wouldn't it be better for the FBI to handle the criminal investigation instead?
I think the Democrats should focus on writing and passing an infrastructure bill and admitting D.C. as a state (for the additional electoral votes and senators), and pretend the Republican party no longer exists.
Of course, this is going to require an end or change to the filibuster. If the Democrats are not willing to do that, then I see no point in trying to do anything that can't be done under reconciliation. Otherwise, it is just a waste of time.
R.R. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I think it's important to note that 1/6 of Republicans voting, voted against the 1/6 commission.
Joe Biden's To Do List
J.K. in Short Hills, NJ, writes: You have done a solid job over the years weaving important aspects of the economy with their implications for the political environment. One item from the past couple of weeks, however, may have slipped underneath your radar. Nonfarm Payrolls, released with the April Employment Report on May 7, badly missed consensus, falling 650K below the worst estimate among Wall Street analysts. The accompanying wage data, on the other hand, soared above expectations despite the hospitality sector sourcing the full increase in staffing and then some. In short, potential workers that typically sit at the lower end of the pay scale and were more impacted by the pandemic are apparently demanding higher wages before accepting new employment.
The Republicans have seized upon the issue, arguing that the $300 Federal supplemental unemployment benefit, which will run through September 6, has acted as a disincentive to return to the workforce. Twenty-two GOP governors have subsequently canceled the added $300 payment. The Democrats have reasonably argued that the fear of catching the virus and, primarily, the lack of child care has restricted the supply of labor despite blue states having been more "conservative" in reopening schools. Economists suspect it is a combination of all three factors that have mostly hurt the payroll numbers. The May report will hit the newswires on June 4. Partly as a consequence of supply shortages and surging commodity prices, the latest Core CPI survey already jumped by the greatest percentage on a month-over-month basis in nearly forty years. While these figures should subside somewhat as we move through the summer, a spike in wages could give those who think that inflation is more than "transitory" much more ammunition and the Democrats a headache as they head into the midterm elections.
M.S. in Houston, TX, writes: Seems like there is an easy solution for handling Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and "buying" his vote: contribute significant funds to "coal conversion" technology. For example, studying the conversion of kerogens and lignite, using chemical processes, to manufacture base hydrocarbon materials that can be turned into other products, such as polymers and useful chemicals. Such "crude-to-chemicals" research is being conducted worldwide, but the Feds can center some of that research in Charleston, WV, home to large chemical producers and the heart of coal country. The research would benefit other "heavy hydrocarbon" and "immature" sources of oil, such as oil shales, heavy crudes, tar sands, etc. And it may spawn start-ups that center around the technology.
The goal is not to burn the coal; the goal is to use it as a source for future use of plastics, pharmaceuticals, etc. Eventually we're going to have to start researching how to get hydrocarbons out of harder sources. Might as well start now.
E.H. in Westford, MA, writes: I was interested to read your assertion that the U.S. Digital Service "is a mess and needs a lot of work" based on the range of projects it's involved in. I wonder if you've spoken with anyone who has worked there; I know a few. It is a unit that provides software user interface and technology consulting; any Federal department can ask for its support. If requested, the elite Digital Service staff will review the department's project and provide a menu of support options, ranging from making recommendations to executing the project themselves. This has resulted in the modernizations of websites, both internal and external, as you note. This organization has its roots in the "tiger team" of industry leading technologists who rescued the Obamacare website; it made itself so popular among the departments that it easily survived the change of administrations. While I agree that such expertise should be far more integrated into the Federal departments, there will probably always be a need for a central service capable of transferring best practices throughout the federal government.
M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: I tried, but couldn't let stand the comment from B.K. in Dallas about pardoning Edward Snowden so he might lead the country's cyber warfare effort go unremarked. Only Glenn Greenwald regarded Snowden as particularly accomplished, because Greenwald is unqualified to judge. Snowden was working as the equivalent of a tech janitor. (Face it, janitors, you did not design or build the structure you help to maintain.) Thanks to Snowden's hubris, he stole billions of dollars worth of tools and programs, completely misinterpreted how these were being used, then unknowingly gave every bit to both China and Russia by merely walking through particular airports with his cache. Edward Snowden is a know-it-all know-nothing shite who couldn't hold a candle to any of the people he robbed.
Vaxxing Is Vexing
M.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: I recall that your staff mathematicians take the weekend off, so I thought you might appreciate it if I ran some numbers for you. I figured I could compare the Ohio incentive (the vaxamillion lottery, with five people winning one million dollars and five students winning a full scholarship to an Ohio state university) to our West Virginia neighbors' incentive ($100 savings bond, value $50):
- Cost per vaccinated citizen: Ohio $1, West Virginia $50
- Ohio citizens pissed off because they were cheated out of something: zero. There is enormous overlap between those who don't understand lottery odds and those who don't understand vaccines.
- West Virginia citizens pissed off because they were cheated out of something: most. You say I'll get $100, but wait, that's not for 20 years, today it's only worth $50? Feels like a bait-and-switch. So they already switched to offering a $100 gift card as an option. Oops, change that cost per citizen to $100. Oh, and by the way, it's only available to citizens under 35 years old, so anyone 36-and-one-day is definitely pissed off about being cheated.
A program that costs about 2% of what our neighbors' costs, without any bad feelings? I'm thinking that Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH) and his team have a knockout here.
A.B. in Denver, CO, writes: J.C. in Binan, Philippines, wrote:
It's too early to know what's happening in the Seychelles at this point, but if the worst turns out to be true—that it's not the vaccines or particular batches of the vaccines or the lack of SD protocols by the vaccinated, but rather that SARS-CoV-2 has mutated so much that B.1.617 and other strains like it are now beyond the reach of our best vaccines—this does not spell good times for the President or the country. He will unjustly be blamed for a resurgence that vaccines don't cover, and if we think it's hard enough now to get people to vaccinate, imagine getting a new, better vaccine to cover the most virulent strains—and then convincing anti-vaxxers that it works, and even pro-vaccination folks that they need to do it all over again. (To say nothing of the 2/3 world that is like where I am, and don't have access to vaccines yet.) The Seychelles situation bears watching—it could be the single thing that scuttles a Biden reelection.
I don't think the data support anything close to a Seychelles = Doom for Biden scenario; quite the opposite:
- The vaccines in question aren't the ones used in the U.S., and there don't seem to be reports of Pfizer/Moderna/J&J having efficacy problems with the variants (so far, knock on wood, etc.).
- The good news is that even those apparently less effective vaccines are preventing serious illness and death in the Seychelles, exactly as you'd hope. Almost all of the vaccinated-COVID cases they found were asymptomatic, and, almost none of the critical and severe cases requiring intensive care had been vaccinated. No one who has been vaccinated has died of COVID-19.
So, that sounds like pretty good news to me, not sky-falling. And if that's the bad news, I'm not going to worry about Biden on that front.
T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: Unlike other sites that described Mark McCloskey as filing to run for Senate, your site correctly noted that McCloskey had only announced that he was running for Senate.
There are several reasons that Mr. McCloskey may not end up being a candidate:
- While I assume that he has now submitted the paperwork to the FEC for a campaign committee, we will not know for several months whether he actually succeeds in raising the type of money that he will need. If fundraising is a dud, he may not end up filing.
- He currently has other expenses that may drain money away from actually running—namely defending himself from criminal charges.
- Most importantly, Missouri does not allow anyone who has been found guilty of a felony to be a candidate. That means that there are two competing clocks running—the clock on when he will get a jury trial (and according to the online docket in the case, it has not yet been set for trial) and the clock on filing. Currently, the filing period is March 2022 for an early August primary. But the delayed release of census data is making it unlikely that Missouri will have new legislative district lines by then. That could lead the legislature to decide to postpone the filing period and maybe even the primary. A delay in the filing period would increase the chances that the criminal case would be resolved before filing.
J.S. in Paris, MO, writes: I sympathize with Missouri being hard to read. I would say that the Show Me State is Exhibit A for the phenomenon that most voters support Democratic ideas, but not the Democratic label. In non-partisan ballot initiatives we have approved stem-cell research expansion, medical marijuana, Medicaid expansion, multiple minimum wage increases, and defeated right-to-work, while at the same time electing veto-proof Republican majorities to both houses of our General Assembly, ensuring that many of these measures are weakly implemented or outright ignored. The state is red, but a more purplish red than the most recent election results indicated. We have, as you point out, had Democratic governors and senators quite recently, and our Electoral Votes were competitive as recently as 2008. I will be interested to see whether, in a reverse of the "Obama Effect" that made states like Wisconsin and North Carolina look bluer than they actually are, Missouri again shows its purple hue once Trump ceases to be a factor.
A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: You have the rules right for federal elections. However, state laws vary. In North Carolina, where I live, a candidate can pay themselves a salary. I never did when I was a candidate, for a variety of reasons, the main one being—as this state's first-in-history openly-trans-woman candidate for State Senate—I had to basically be like Caesar's wife: above even the appearance of reproach.
Other reasons include the fact that I was still making money from my home business, and able to work it while running my campaign—because it did not involve punching someone else's clock, I could schedule around as needed. Additionally, I did not feel that my supporters were donating in order to pay me a salary.
My rules for campaign spending have always been, and shall ever remain, the same: If I am thinking on spending campaign funds, I ask myself one question: "Is this something I would spend money on if I were not a candidate for office?" If the answer is "yes," then campaign funds are not spent on the item. For example, clothes, haircuts, etc. are things I would buy anyway.
I did reimburse myself mileage on my car, as is permitted by state law, but only when the event I was going to was solely a result of my being a candidate. I was really very careful...campaign finance is not something you ever want to get on the wrong side of. And that goes double if you are any kind of a minority candidate; there's folks just waiting to pounce on you.
What's in a Name, FDR Commemorative Edition
C.D. in New York, NY, writes: In your answer to E.S. from Arlington yesterday, you left out two important items: the FDR Highway that runs along the East River in Manhattan, which is mentioned every 10 minutes in the traffic updates on the New York City news stations, and, most importantly, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Station on the Paris Metro.
V & Z respond: A lot of people wrote in about the roadway named for FDR. The original question concluded with the observation that "the only thing significant that FDR got was a 9-mile expressway in New York." We are not especially familiar with New York geography, but isn't the FDR highway in Manhattan what the questioner was referring to?
D.S. in Urbana, IL, writes: Both Line 1 and Line 9 of the Paris Metro system stop at "Franklin D. Roosevelt." Wikipedia says it is the 19th busiest stop in the system. A good number of Americans are honored with metro stops, roads, and statues in Paris—almost all of them Democrats or liberals of some type. For the French Bicentennial in 1989, a statue of Thomas Paine in Parc Montsouris received a fresh coat of gold paint.
And I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a new railway station in Paris (opened 2015) bears the name Gare Rosa-Parks!
D.S. in Seattle, WA, writes: Our neighborhood of Seattle, northeast of downtown, is named Roosevelt—after Teddy, not FDR, with Roosevelt Way running right through it. We cherish a saloon named Teddy's, the high-school football Rough Riders, our annual summer Bull Moose Festival, an apartment block named The Rooster, and another named Medora. For E.S. of Arlington, newer residential developments here are named The Eleanor and Fireside, which always leaves us to wonder if the developers know which president they are honoring.
A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: The main reason FDR is on the dime is because he started The March Of Dimes, which, at the time, was desperately seeking treatments/cures/vaccines for polio, from which FDR himself suffered. These days, The March Of Dimes still exists, but works on other fronts...and in the interest of inflation, I'd love to see FDR moved to the quarter, to replace Washington, who is already on the dollar bill. This would make room for putting Rosa Parks on the dime.
The reason for this is because, in Montgomery, at that time, the bus fare was a dime. And the fact that this move would cause Republicans to froth at the mouth...and there's nothing I love to see more than an apoplectic Republican!
B.S. in Washougal, WA, writes: G.S. of New Zealand asked about compensation to Native American tribes. In addition to what (V) & (Z) mentioned, there is the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. Alaska natives were awarded $962.5 million and 44 million acres of land. More than 200 regional and village corporations were formed to take charge of this land and money. Alaska natives are the shareholders of these corporations, and they continue to receive dividends.
J.L. in Paterson, NJ, writes: M.H. in Seattle asked about the banning of political parties in the United States. The Communist Party was banned by the Communist Control Act of 1954. One federal district court has held it to be unconstitutional, and there have been virtually no efforts to enforce it, but it is still on the books.
K.M. in Denver, CO, writes: Margaret Sanger immediately came to mind when the question was raised a couple of weeks ago about the most impactful Americans in world history. And then, with abortion leading today's post, it seemed imperative and fitting to put forward Sanger's name. For females across the globe, no other life event is as impactful as pregnancy. Margaret Sanger brought women's reproductive issues into the public conversation and her informational and medical outreach eventually led to the global acceptance of contraception, choice, prenatal care, lowered childbirth mortality, and smaller families. It can be argued that those changes then led to more women in the workforce and in politics, more financially independent women, older brides, more divorce, and more leisure time. Whole industries sprang up in the last 100 years to answer the needs and desires of the changing woman and the changing family.
N.E. in San Mateo, CA, writes: Even with the clarification on Sunday, you give Steve Jobs too much credit; Jobs after his return to Apple was an incredible marketer, and it's easy to give him too much credit for his early efforts. The home computer market would have taken off without the Apple II, which was always too expensive, and the GUI would have taken off without the Mac—arguably faster without Apple's "look and feel" lawsuits.
Jack Tramiel, as head of Commodore, did far more to push computers into the home, creating a mass market for them by aggressively reducing costs; Apple and Atari were beneficiaries of his cost-cutting after Commodore bought MOS.
Commodore driving down the prices for home computers opened the door for Microsoft and a horde of companies in the PC clone industry to create the mass market we know today, and Jobs did virtually nothing that others didn't do equally well prior to Jobs' return in 1996.
There's no question that the post-1996 Steve Jobs deserves a huge amount of credit; because a lot of what Apple did since has been the first to actually get things right on the market—they were far from the first to market "interesting" computer designs, music players, smartphones and tablets, but they were the first to successfully sell any of those in any great numbers. And perhaps most importantly, Apple pioneered digital distribution of music and then software which drove handheld device adoption beyond the "PDA" model.
I don't think Jack Tramiel should have made your top 10 immigrants list, but if one were to do a longer top 100, he'd probably fit easily.
D.M. in Burnsville, MN, writes: "V & Z respond: The Democrats also printed up buttons that year that read 'In your guts, you know he's nuts.'"
So true! This one really kicked me in the figurative nuts, because I had spent the very first year of my majority struggling through Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, and Ayn Rand's other works. I was thoroughly convinced that Goldwater was the only salvation for this country. Fortunately, I recovered many decades ago!
F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: On Tuesday you wrote: "(Z), for example, can impersonate every president of the last 100 years pretty well, and does so in lectures as needed, but never touches Obama with a 10-foot-pole". So please show us a video in which (Z) impersonates every president of the last 100 years (except Obama). I would love to watch it.
I.H. in Washington, D.C., writes: I can guess how (Z)'s imitation of Silent Cal sounds (or doesn't), but I'd really like to hear his take on Warren G. Harding.
V & Z respond: There wasn't time this week, but we'll try to put something together for next week. That said, Harding's voice was pretty generic.
J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: Because "snark" was a subject of this week's Q&A, I just want to say that the subtle, dry snark of "Yesterday, he [Trump] wrote on his blog" (5/20) is probably the best example of a dry, acerbic barb I've yet read from this site in 17 or so years of following. It works on so many levels and is threaded through so many different layers of context, some difficult to articulate, and yet on a basic level it is nothing more than an accurate statement of fact. I could write a 3-5 page paper analyzing it.
I have no idea if this was the intention, but I laughed out loud, and then again a few more times through the day. "On his blog!" Unbelievable.
V & Z respond: It was the intention, but it's hard to know if readers pick up on more subtle stuff. Glad you did!
J.F. in Ft. Worth, TX, writes: You wrote: "Where to begin? Probably the first sentence is a good place."
I see what you did there.
M.K. in Toronto, ON, Canada, writes: Your comments, and followups from readers, about (A), (B) and (C) bring to mind this classic Stephen Leacock gem.
V & Z respond: Leacock believes (C) is frail. We think (C) is just lazy.
J.A.W. in San Francisco, CA , writes: Your note about politicians who are real Dicks inspired further research. In addition to knowing about the usual suspects—ranging from Congressional members Gephardt, Durbin, etc. together with Cheney and the nonpareil Tricky Dick Nixon—I found this article: "The 31 Weirdest Political Names Of All Time." Therein, fully six of the thirty-one names relate. I wonder if the current crop of political Dicks are statistically outsized in proportion to the names of the general U.S. population. The given baby birth name Richard swelled then peaked in 1946 before becoming flaccid again.
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May21 Problem Solved--For Now
May21 Biden Wants to Know How Much Climate Change Costs
May21 Trump in Trouble
May21 And About that Reelection Bid...
May21 Gillibrand Will Be Back
May21 Newsom Collects $3 Million Check for Recall Effort
May20 McConnell Now Opposes the Jan. 6 Commission Bill
May20 Trump Lashes Out at Letitia James
May20 Many Democrats Want to Kill Negotiations with GOP on the Infrastructure Bill
May20 Catching Tax Cheats Won't Help Fund Infrastructure Bill
May20 Texas Bans Nearly All Abortions
May20 Florida Opens the Door to Casinos at Trump's Properties
May20 Is the Republican Party Going to Splinter?
May20 Trump Has Kept His Key Staffers--on the Government's Dime
May20 Ambitious Democrats May Cost Their Party the House
May20 Democrats Will Soon Meet in Person
May19 Maybe Not a Civil War, but Certainly a Nasty Squabble
May19 It's Criminal
May19 Giuliani Is In...
May19 ...And So Is Demings...
May19 ...And McCloskey, Too
May19 Peduto, on the Other Hand, Is Out
May18 Ruh, Roe
May18 Not All Arizona Republicans Believe in the Audit
May18 Gaetz' Alleged Partner in Crime Makes it Official
May18 China...the Final Frontier
May18 The Disease Spreads
May18 Cuomo Is Raking It In
May18 That's Funny...
May17 Cheney and Stefanik Take Potshots at Each Other
May17 Poll: Cheney Had to Go
May17 Republican Voters Are Highly Engaged
May17 Republicans Want to Punish Poll Workers
May17 Neera Tanden Gets a Job
May17 Why Is D.C. Statehood So Hard?
May17 Missouri Republicans Fail to Rig the Senatorial Primary to Block Greitens
May17 Wood Sinks
May16 Sunday Mailbag
May15 Saturday Q&A
May14 New York Mayoral Candidates Debate
May14 Kevin McCarthy's Headaches, Part I: Chip Roy
May14 Kevin McCarthy's Headaches, Part II: Matt Gaetz
May14 Kevin McCarthy's Headaches, Part III: Marjorie Taylor Greene
May14 Things Have Gotten Ugly in Israel
May14 FL-28 Battle Lines Are Forming
May14 Ohio Offers Citizens a Vaxxpot
May13 Republicans Boot Cheney on a Voice Vote
May13 The Republicans Are Not Going to Have a Civil War
May13 Republicans Are Already Calling the Jan. 6 Rioters "Victims"