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Political Wire logo California Gas Prices Hit New High
China Warns Biden Over Taiwan
Stacey Abrams Won’t Rule Out White House Bid
Will Biden’s Big Win Turn Around His Political Fortunes?
Paid Leave Could Be Decisive In Key Senate Races
How Inflation Could Take Down Joe Biden

United Nations COP26 Climate Summit Ends with a Fizzle

Diplomats and leaders from over 200 countries got together in Glasgow last week to try to save the planet. Scientists agree that a change of even 2°C (3.6°F) in average temperatures would have devastating effects. The negotiators all agreed that something must be done, only they didn't agree on exactly what or exactly when. But if everyone continues to do what they are doing now, the average temperature on the planet will rise by 2.4°C in this century. To prevent catastrophe, all nations need to cut their carbon dioxide emissions in half this decade. That won't be easy or cheap, as this photo of coal barges in Indonesia by Willy Kurniawan of Reuters makes clear:

Coal barges in Indonesia;
there are a lot of them, and they are absolutely loaded. There must be 500 tons of coal visible in the picture.

The climate talks finished Saturday with a declaration, as they usually do. Some of the main takeaways from the declaration are:

  • A call for a phase-down of unabated coal use and a phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies
  • Rich countries promise to help poor countries deal with the climate-induced change
  • Rules for carbon offsets have been set
  • Countries are encouraged to revisit their 2030 targets once in a while
  • Some observers think that limiting the planet-wide temperature increase to 1.5°C might be doable

Not everyone is smiling and praising their great work. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres responded by putting out a statement thanking the U.K. government for being lovely hosts. But it went on to say:

Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread.
We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe.
It is time to go into emergency mode—or our chance of reaching net zero will itself be zero.
I reaffirm my conviction that we must end fossil fuels subsidies. Phase out coal.
Put a price on carbon.
Build resilience of vulnerable communities against the here and now impacts of climate change.

In short, he feels it is too little, too late. Better something than nothing, but the Earth won't wait until Sen. Joe Manchin (D-Coal) is out of office.

The agreement does have some nice-sounding words though. Phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies sounds good. Does that mean we now need efficient fossil fuel subsidies? How does one measure the efficiency of a fossil fuel subsidy? Of course, phasing out subsidies is not the same as phasing out coal itself. The problem with fuel and other areas is that making changes is very disruptive and expensive and somebody will have to pay for it. People are now going nuts about 6% inflation. Imagine energy costs going up enormously. That won't be popular in Arizona (think: air conditioning in the summer) or Minnesota (think: heating in the winter).

The deal is just words, of course. It is the implementation that matters. In each country, domestic politics will play a huge role. In the U.S., if the Biden administration and a Democratic Congress are replaced in 2025 with a Trump administration and a Republican Congress, the implementation might just be a bit different. Currently, the U.S. and the European Union have promised to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2050. China has promised it by 2060. But a Trump administration, under pressure from fossil fuel companies, could just say "climate change is a hoax" and rip up the plan.

Many countries are already seeing the effects of climate change in the form of more wildfires, fiercer storms, flooding, and other effects, but the rich countries can manage it. California will not be depopulated due to more fires. But if the global temperature rises by 2°C, the country of the Maldives will be under water and uninhabitable. So will much of Bangladesh. Florida will, too, but at least Floridians can move to Georgia or Alabama. The Dhivehin and Bangladeshis have nowhere to go. Hundreds of millions of climate refugees will try to escape to other countries. It won't be pretty.

The rich countries have promised to double the current $100 billion/yr given to the poor countries for adaptation and mitigation, but whether that actually happens remains to be seen. The track record is not promising.

The current administration will do its best, but the Republicans will undoubtedly do everything possible to block all the necessary steps because: (1) climate change is a hoax, (2) the Democrats want to do it, (3) not doing it will own the libs big time, (4) the oil, gas, and coal companies don't want to do it, and (5) it will cost a lot of money and that means either new taxes or energy prices will have to rise or both. If Congress refuses to pass the necessary laws (e.g., banning the operation of coal-fired electric power plants by 20[XX], banning the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 20[YY], etc.) there is only so much Joe Biden can do by executive order and every step he does take by XO will be met by an equal and opposite lawsuit and likely a counter-order the next time a Republican is in the White House.

On the other hand, if fighting climate change becomes a dominant issue in 2022, it could help the Democrats since most people—and especially the college-educated suburban voters who pulled the lever for the Republicans in Virginia and New Jersey—believe climate change is real and something needs to be done about it. Calling it a hoax and pooh-poohing it will probably not work well as a campaign issue for the Republicans next year. They are better off trying to make the midterms about parental rights, not climate change. (V)

Biden's Approval Continues to Sag

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll has good news and bad news for Joe Biden. The good news: A majority of Americans support the $1.2-trillion infrastructure bill that Congress just passed and also the almost $2-trillion reconciliation bill now being hashed out in Congress. The bad news: Biden's personal approval rating has hit a new low (41%) and if the next election were held today, 46% of all adults would back a Republican for Congress and 43% would back a Democrat. Among registered voters, the red team wins 51% to 41%. People are funny like that. They like the Democrats' policies, they just don't like the Democrats.

How come? Half of Americans blame Biden for inflation. Of course, that isn't fair since there is almost nothing a president can do to tame inflation—except maybe appoint a Fed chair who is a huge inflation hawk, with all the consequences of that. But people are angry and somebody has to be blamed, and it is usually the president. At the very least, Biden could be out there talking about inflation more and doing meaningless things to slow it down, just to show that he is trying. Even an Oval Office address on the subject would be worth something.

Biden's approval on the economy and handling the pandemic have both tumbled. The former has gone from 52% in April to 39% now. On the latter, he has gone from 2-to-1 approval to an approve/disapprove tie now.

Part of Biden's problem is that his standing with Democrats is weakening. In June, 94% of Democrats approved of how he was doing his job. Now that is 80%, and only 40% approve strongly. Given that Republicans all despise him, Biden has to keep his support up there among Democrats, and he is not doing that.

This graphic is based on the question: "How much has Biden accomplished so far?:" Poll on whether Biden has accomplished anything;
8% say a great deal; 27% say a good amount; 18% say not very much; 45% say little or nothing, and 2% have no opinion

Having half the country say that he has accomplished next to nothing is not a good place for Biden to be. He did get the American Rescue Plan through Congress and now the infrastructure bill, but the endless sausage-making in Congress has clearly taken a huge toll on his popularity and given people the impression that he can't do anything. It is not clear how much he could have done to get Congress to move faster, but people think he isn't even trying, and that's what matters. And certainly he could have sold the American Rescue Plan much better.

On the "positive" side for the Democrats, a large majority of people think that neither party is in touch with their concerns, with 62% saying the Democrats are out of touch and 57% saying the Republicans are out of touch. Again, Biden should have done a far better job of selling both the infrastructure bill and those things likely to make it into the reconciliation bill. He simply isn't using the bully pulpit very effectively.

Another item the poll showed is that there is huge support for parents having a say in what schools teach. Only it breaks down along partisan lines. And just imagine school board meetings in which half the parents demand that the children learn how great it was to be a slave in 1860— you know, not having to pay rent, buy food, look for a job, or pay taxes—while the other half are not exactly in favor of this lesson plan. Overall, 44% think the Democrats can do a better job on education and 41% think the Republicans can do a better job. Education was always a Democratic strength. With one sentence in a debate, Terry McAuliffe destroyed that edge nationally and it's not coming back quickly. (V)

Administration Members Talk about Inflation

Joe Biden is sufficiently aware that he has an "inflation problem" that he had two of his top economic officials appear on television yesterday to explain that his Build Back Better program will help reduce inflation. National Economic Council Director Brian Deese went on ABC, NBC, and CNN yesterday to admit that Biden recognizes that inflation is high, that he realizes it is tough for people, and that he is working on it in the short term and the long term. But mostly Deese touted the reconciliation bill currently being hacked together by Congress, saying it will help families once it is enacted.

According to many economists, the inflation is fundamentally due to dislocations caused by the pandemic. For over a year, going shopping in a store was risking your life, if it was allowed at all. Some people bought stuff online, but less than they would have bought in stores. Now that shopping in person is relatively safe, there is a temporary explosion in prices because companies making the stuff can't produce it fast enough and the supply chains that deliver it are all clogged up. According to these economists, this is a temporary phenomenon that will take time to iron out, but it will eventually go away. This is the view that Deese was selling. When asked if spending as much money as the bill contains would add to inflation, Deese said that because the bill is fully paid for, it wouldn't add to the debt and thus wouldn't add to inflation.

When asked by CNN's Jake Tapper whether Biden would consider opening the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve or stop exporting oil, Deese avoided answering. The Reserve doesn't contain enough oil to make much of a difference in gas prices for very long and violating existing contracts to export oil to various countries would make the U.S. be regarded as an unreliable supplier, which would have long-term negative consequences. Neither of those options is very good, which is why Deese didn't want to talk about them.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen went on CBS' "Face the Nation." Her responses left little doubt as to the cause of the inflation. The first question was about Yellen's earlier comments that the inflation will slow down next year. Yellen said: "Well, it really depends on the pandemic. The pandemic has been calling the shots for the economy and for inflation. And if we want to get inflation down, I think continuing to make progress against the pandemic is the most important thing we can do." When Interviewer Margaret Brennan asked "When does it get better?" Yellen said: "You know, when the economy recovers enough from COVID, the demand patterns, people go back to eating out, traveling more, spending more on services, and the demand for products, for goods begins to go back to normal."

In other words: "It's not our fault and there really isn't a lot anyone can do about inflation until the pandemic is beaten down." Nevertheless, Yellen said the administration is doing its best to unclog the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Savannah and is working with large retailers to get them to move their containers to their distribution centers more quickly. The Secretary also talked about China and how an economic slow down there would propagate to the rest of the world. She also pitched how some of the elements of the reconciliation bill would help reduce costs for families. For example, free universal pre-kindergarten will mean that families won't have to spend money on child care when the moppets are in school. Finally, when Brennan asked her whether Biden should reappoint Jerome Powell to another term as Fed chair, she said that was Biden's call, not hers. (V)

Redistricting Has Become Everyman's Game

The number of private citizens who are getting involved with the redistricting process has surged to previously unseen heights. In Washington State, the independent redistricting commission has received input from 7,000 people. Some have sent in comments; others have participated in virtual meetings. This is a three-fold increase since 2010. The commission has also received 1,300 proposed maps.

Back in February, we had a story about how easy making a district map is now using Dave's redistricting software. Apparently, it has really taken off. Dave Bradlee, who founded the redistricting website, said that the site had 10,000 unique users in October and they produced 153,000 maps.

In California, the independent commission has received 13,000 comments. In Michigan, 9,000 people have applied to sit on the new redistricting commission and those who were chosen have received 10,000 comments.

Sam Wang of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, a nonpartisan group that monitors gerrymanders across the country, said: "It's very clear that there is a lot of public engagement everywhere." Some of the engagement is a result of the extremely partisan maps the Republicans drew in 2010. Since then, activists have forced some states to set up independent commissions to draw the maps. Now cartography is political. Everything is political.

Sending in maps is not the only thing activists are doing. A group called the Equal Ground Education Fund is training voters on how to submit testimony and comments and how to speak when addressing legislators. In Michigan, a group called Voters Not Politicians has given hundreds of presentations to groups as diverse as the Farm Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, and book clubs with only a few members.

Of course, the reality is that user input matters only in states with an independent commission, whose members may take the comments seriously. In a state like Texas or New York, where partisan legislators are drawing the map, the only comments that are appreciated are ones that make their partisan gerrymander even more effective. If a private citizen figures out how to squeeze out an extra seat for the controlling party, the legislators are all ears. (V)

Nationalized Races for Governor Could Hurt Democrats Next Year

Joe Biden's lack of approval isn't just a matter of his potential reelection in 2024 or the congressional elections in 2022. It could also affect the gubernatorial elections next year—and not in a good way for the Democrats. Joe Biden won Virginia by 10 points and yet the Democrat lost the gubernatorial race. Next year there are Democratic governors up (or a Democratic vacancy) in eight states that are less blue than Virginia. They are Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Will they go the way of Virginia?

Three of these states are crucial to 2024. The only thing guaranteeing that the Republican-controlled legislatures in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin can't clone the new voting laws in Georgia is the veto of the Democratic governor. If those governors are defeated, count on all three states passing restrictive voting laws by February 2023. In Pennsylvania, it is technically an open seat, but all of the Democrats have lined up behind AG Josh Shapiro to replace the term-limited Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA).

Normally, gubernatorial reelection races are about how well the governor has performed, but in Virginia and New Jersey, national politics played a far bigger role than usual, and Joe Biden's sagging approval rating could take down any of the governors. When large numbers of people say the country is on the wrong track, they could easily demonstrate their dislike for how things are going by voting for the party not currently in the White House, no matter what race it is.

Of course, in politics a week is a long time and a year is forever, so the Democrats have time to get their act together. One thing they need to work on is this parental rights thing. Suppose Republicans propose gutting the public schools in order to funnel all that money to private schools, charter schools, and religious schools, where parents have far more control over what is taught and over the health-related rules. Many, if not most, of these schools charge tuition, so Republicans may effectively be advocating for good schools (partially funded by the government) for well-off kids and garbage schools for everyone else. They will probably hire a good ad agency to phrase it somewhat differently, but few people will miss the point. Unlike senators, who don't have much influence on education, governors have a lot of influence on it, so education could become a key issue in the gubernatorial races next year.

One factor that could help the Democrats is that there won't be Democratic gubernatorial primaries in any of the key states, whereas there are sure to be nasty Republican primaries in all of them. The nastiness would increase tenfold or more if the Republic Governors Association backs one candidate and Donald Trump backs a different one. A bloody primary rarely helps a party and having a Trump-backed weak candidate win the nomination is certainly not a plus for the GOP. Wisconsin is ground zero for this situation. As of July, Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) had $7 million in his campaign account while the Republicans are gearing up for a Trump vs. the RGA primary. The Republican establishment wants former lieutenant governor Rebecca Kleefisch (R) to be the nominee but Trump is trying to draft Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI). In addition, wealthy businessman Kevin Nicholson (R) may dive in. It is likely to be a very negative campaign and voters will be bombarded with ads from each campaign saying what terrible people the other candidates are. The voters might remember some of that in November.

Democrats aren't only playing defense, though. They are playing offense in three important states: Arizona, Georgia, and Maryland. In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) is term limited and the Democrats are mostly lined up behind Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D). Half a dozen Republicans have filed, including wealthy businessman Steve Gaynor, former TV news anchor Kari Lake, wealthy real estate developer Karrin Robson, former congressman Matt Salmon, and current state Treasurer Kimberly Yee. It could get very messy very fast.

In Georgia, everyone expects Stacey Abrams (D) to run again. She almost won in 2018 and knows the ropes better this time. Also, Donald Trump will do everything in his power to defeat Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) in the primary. If Kemp loses the primary, it will be an open-seat election. If Kemp wins the primary, that will put Trump on the spot. Will Trump's desire to see Kemp defeated trump his desire to have a Republican governor in Georgia in 2024? If he puts his tail between his legs and supports Kemp in the general election, it will show him to be a paper tiger. But if he doesn't, it could cost Kemp his job and get Abrams elected governor and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) reelected easily. Predicting what Trump would do if Kemp wins the primary is a fool's errand.

Maryland is a likely Democratic pickup as Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD) is term limited and Maryland is a very blue state. (V)

Cawthorn Is Changing Districts

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), North Carolina's answer to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), is switching districts in an attempt to block establishment Republicans from being elected. Or so he says. Cawthorn said that instead of running in the new NC-14, where he lives, he is going to run in NC-13, which is the home district of NC House Speaker Tim Moore (R). Representatives don't have to live in the district they represent, although anyone trying to run in a "foreign" district is going to be called a carpetbagger. Cawthorn said: "I have every confidence in the world that regardless of where I run, the 14th Congressional District will send a patriotic fighter to D.C. But knowing the political realities of the 13th District, I'm afraid that another establishment, go-along-to-get-along Republican will prevail there."

Many people had expected Moore to run in NC-13, which was specifically designed to be an easy win for him. Cawthorn's ploy worked. Within hours of his announcement, Moore turned tail and ran—but not for Congress. He said he would seek reelection for the state House instead of the U.S. House. Such is the power of a 26-year-old freshmen representative who doesn't even use his given name (David). Of course, Senate Minority Leader Addison McConnell doesn't use his either, but "Addison" sounds too snooty, whereas "David" doesn't sound snooty enough.

NC-13 overlaps somewhat with Cawthorn's old district. About half the counties in NC-13 are counties he currently represents. These are his voters, but the other half probably don't know him all that well. NC-13 includes the western part of Mecklenburg County, as well as all of Gaston, Cleveland, Burke, McDowell, Rutherford, and Polk counties.

Some people have a different view about why Cawthorn switched. Charles Jeter (R), a former state House member, said: "@RepCawthorn isn't choosing to run in the 13 because he's worried about the 'GOP establishment.' He's running in 13 because it's easier for him to win the general. This isn't a noble effort. This is ambitious cowardice at its worst. He's an embarrassment that we need to defeat." The NC-13 district was carefully crafted to make it easy for a Republican to win. It was intended for Moore, but it is an easy win for any Republican, so Jeter may well have a good point. The group that runs reacted to his announcement by putting up a new website, chickencawthorn, which shows Cawthorn in a chicken costume. David Wheeler, who is behind the websites, said: "He clearly realized he was going to be beat and is hightailing it out of his hometown."

While Moore is out, the filing deadline for the primary is still weeks away, so Cawthorn might still get a serious Republican challenger. He's not home free until the filing deadline passes. (V)

Can A Gay White Man Beat a Straight Black Woman?

Maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves here, but in reality, the 2024 presidential race is well under way, so maybe not. The Washington Post has a story that compares Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Vice President Kamala Harris. It's not much of a secret that if Joe Biden decides not to run again in 2024, these two are going to be among the top contenders for the Democratic nomination. So how are they doing in their current jobs?

Buttigieg started his week talking about the infrastructure plan that Congress just passed with bipartisan support. He praised the plan and Biden's role in crafting it. Buttigieg was careful to note how it will benefit minorities, to show them that he cares about them (because he noticed he wasn't getting much love from them in his 2020 presidential run and wants to work on that). Buttigieg is constantly in the spotlight pitching the plan, which is entirely legitimate because it deals with roads, bridges, tunnels, harbors, and airports, all of which fall under his department. He has also visited a dozen states and made 300 calls to members of Congress. And this is just the beginning. Being in the news all the time also has the effect of giving him a huge amount of free publicity. He is generally regarded as competent, handles the media well, and is a good public speaker. All of these things, combined with a positive message, burnish his image as a serious young man on the way up.

Meanwhile, Harris was off in France trying to deal with the fallout of the U.S. making a deal with Australia to sell it nuclear submarines—and thus dashing the hopes France had of selling the Aussies diesel submarines. The French were not amused. Harris has also been assigned the job of dealing with immigration and the border, which is basically a problem only Congress can solve, but it is too paralyzed to do anything. But she gets the blame when things (not people) go south. She also requested being put in charge of fighting the voting restrictions many states have enacted and got that assignment as well, but how many times a day can she beg Joe Manchin to please consider making the Republicans actually filibuster until they drop like flies? Although she requested and got that job, carrying it out depends on getting one (or maybe two) recalcitrant senators to cooperate with her. Of course, if she can make lemonade out of one or more of the lemons on her plate, she will get a huge amount of credit, but that will be a tall order.

So we have a very asymmetric situation here. Buttigieg gets to talk about a positive achievement that pulls the country together and delivers real benefits to millions of people. Harris gets to talk about intractable problems that she can't solve any more than Jared Kushner could bring peace to the Middle East. In principle, people ought to be able to separate the message from the messenger, but in reality, not so much.

Needless to say, if Buttigieg and Harris became the top two near the end of the primary season, it would not be (only) about whether there is more prejudice against gay white men vs. straight Black women, although Harris has two "strikes" against her to Buttigieg's one. Highly relevant is the fact that on Jan. 20, 2025, Buttigieg would be 43 (having celebrated his 43rd birthday on Jan. 19, 2025). Jack Kennedy was also 43 on his Inauguration Day, but this would make Buttigieg the youngest-ever elected president by 8 months. Since Lloyd Bentsen is dead, Buttigieg can safely compare himself to JFK and say it's time for a new generation, just as JFK, who replaced the elderly Dwight D. Eisenhower, said. In Harris' favor is that there are a lot more Black voters than gay voters and a whole lot more female voters than gay voters. However, if Buttigieg is smart (and his degrees from Harvard and Oxford suggest that he is), he will run as a "young American," not as a "gay American."

It is important to keep in mind that in the primaries, only Democrats (and in a few states, independents) matter. In terms of who gets the nomination of the Democratic Party, it doesn't matter which group(s) Republicans hate more. The Democrats get to pick their candidate. If either one gets the nomination, 2024 won't be at all like 2020, which featured one old white guy against another old white guy. Enthusiasm would go through the roof on both sides.

Also, what's in a name? Everyone can correctly pronounce the Secretary's first name and no one can correctly pronounce his last name. With the Veep, it is the other way around.

Another thing that shouldn't matter but could is the subject of children. Harris has no children of her own (although her husband has two adult children from a prior marriage). For better or worse, there are people who find a woman with no children problematic. In contrast, the Buttigiegs just adopted fraternal infant twins. During the 2024 campaign, Buttigieg will no doubt parade his cute 3-year-old twins around and talk endlessly about how he wants to make America better for all children and all parents. If the Republican tries to make "parents' rights" a key theme (as Glenn Youngkin did in Virginia), Buttigieg will be able to make the point that he is a parent of young children and has some skin in the game, which Harris does not (nor does Trump anymore, although he has grandchildren). If the reconciliation bill finally passes and includes universal pre-kindergarten, Buttigieg's twins will be ready to enroll in it. Just imagine the powerful story that will tell.

On the subject of diversity and barriers broken, it is worth nothing that Harris' husband, Doug Emhoff, is Jewish. If she is elected president, Harris would be the first female president and Emhoff would be the first Jewish FGOTUS (maybe FiGOTUS?), and also the first Jewish FSOTUS. We can only imagine the conspiracy theories the Q crowd will come up with. Of course, if Buttigieg wins the presidency, Chasten Buttigieg would become the first gay FGOTUS and FSOTUS. Either one of them would make plenty of history.

Catholic Bishops to Meet Today

In a potential primary battle between Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris, religion would probably not play any role, as they are both Protestants. He is an Episcopalian and she is a Baptist. But more broadly, religion plays a huge role in American politics, probably more than in any Western country except maybe Israel. Joe Biden, of course, is the second Catholic president and today the Conference of Catholic Bishops will put him on trial—or not. The issue is keeping abortion legal, which the Catholic Church opposes and which Biden supports. Some bishops want to go on record saying that politicians who oppose Church policy on abortion should not receive Communion. Note that Church policy also opposes the death penalty, but we have never heard a bishop say that a politician who opposes Church policy on the death penalty should be denied Communion. If they did, that would mean never allowing any Catholic Republican to receive Communion and that would be very political. Can't go there.

The highest-profile item on the bishops' agenda today is a teaching document that discusses Communion. There was a big battle within the Committee on Doctrine about what to do about Biden. The end result is that abortion is mentioned only once and Biden isn't named at all. But the Conference could change that before it is adopted. Some of the bishops want very much to do precisely that, but others would prefer keeping politics out of the document to keep from driving Catholic Democrats away from the Church.

Currently there is no national Catholic policy on who gets Communion and who doesn't. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, has made it clear that Biden is welcome to receive Communion in the capital. Do the bishops really want to take Gregory on? Maybe. Some archbishops, including Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, are rarin' for a fight and want to deny both Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Communion.

Also arguing against the bishops going after Biden is the fact that the President met with Pope Francis at the Vatican last month. Biden said that the matter of abortion was not raised, but that the pope supports him and said that as a good Catholic he should continue to receive Communion. Do the bishops also want to take on THE Bishop? The Catholic Church hasn't had a really good schism since 1378, and probably few of the bishops want another one now.

For some politicians, the debate is not so abstract. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the majority whip and a practicing Catholic, has been denied Communion in his home diocese of Springfield, IL. However, he is welcome in a church in Chicago. Still, he is unhappy about this situation.

Another thorny issue the bishops have on their plate is racial justice. Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has been critical of "social justice" movements, saying they distract from true religion. Other clergy have denounced Gomez. So it looks like religion has been politicized as well as everything else in America. Maybe the bishops could wear blue or red mitres to indicate which team they are on. (V)

Hooray for Hollywood: Readers' Favorite Films (Honorable Mentions, Part I)

Today, we commence a bunch of movie-related content. And we do mean a bunch. Why is a politics-themed site talking about movies? Well, we could point out that all movies are political—either overtly, or more subtly. That would be an entirely fair justification. Alternatively, we could point out that we received a question from S.S-L. in Norman, and we're delivering the answer that we promised. We could also say that politics is often a heavy-duty subject these days (see the letter this weekend from S.T. in Tuscaloosa) and we think this will be a respite that many readers will enjoy. Feel free to pick the explanation that you prefer.

Affirming our sense that something like this is of interest is that we got a little over 600 responses to our request for e-mails about people's favorite movie/movies. (And that's after we deleted the ones that referred to "favourite" movies; since we all know where those came from.) The average respondent gave us the names of roughly 5.5 films, which resulted in a total of 3,322 distinct "votes," ultimately naming a little over 500 distinct films.

The plan was, and is, to unveil a Top 50, 10 films at a time. In fact, we've already finished compiling that list (the first place film was in first place by a mile). However, that would mean that 90% of the films mentioned by readers would get no mention. Some of the films that didn't make the Top 50—Gandhi; The Hunt for Red October; Kill Bill, Vol. II; The King's Speech; Love, Actually; and Shaun of the Dead were among the near-misses—are widely known, so big deal. But others are more obscure, and yet clearly struck a chord with at least one reader.

Since this all began with a search for new and interesting movies to watch, we thought we would start this series by sharing some films that aren't terribly well known, and where the reader gave an intriguing description of the movie. The Top 50 was compiled objectively, by counting up votes/points, but this portion is an entirely subjective exercise. We'll do 20 today, 20 more tomorrow, and then we'll commence the countdown. This is an eclectic mix of movies that are quirky, often challenging, and generally not mainstream. But if there is even one film on these two lists that piques each reader's interest, then that is well worth the column space (well, the pixels).

Recall also that this round is entirely about most enjoyable films. We'll do "films everyone should see" (those that are important, influential, great) after we finish this Top 50. There will undoubtedly be some overlap between that list and this one, but that's OK. You have a little time before we get to that, but if you care to get a jump on it, you can send your film or films that everyone should see to us anytime you want. You can give us one, or 10, or 12, or whatever number you like. Comments/explanations are welcome, but not required. Please do make sure we know your initials and hometown, though.

And now, here are 20 "honorable mentions" from the "most enjoyable films" e-mails. They are in alphabetical order, and the initials are those of the reader who wrote the comment on the film:

  1. About Last Night (1986; Edward Zwick, dir.): Amazing screenplay by David Mamet based on his play "Sexual Perversity in Chicago." The scene with Elizabeth Perkins explaining what a virgin is to her kindergarteners is priceless. (A.R. in Los Angeles, CA)

  2. Bagdad Cafe (1987; Percy Adlon, dir.): A delightful, heartwarming, multi-faceted, inter-cultural social commentary set in my favorite environment, the California desert. (L.E. in Santa Barbara, CA)

  3. The Brand New Testament (2015; Jaco Van Dormael, dir.): The surprising and very funny quest of God's daughter (for some reason, we usually only hear about God's son) to write her own addition to the Bible. The ending may be the most uplifting one of any film I've seen. (L.B. in Savannah, GA)

  4. Breaker Morant (1980; Bruce Beresford, dir.): A great anti-war film that clearly displays the hypocrisy of those leading a war. On the one hand, they are more than willing to accept an atrocity, but once they get caught they are outraged that someone would carry out their policies. (L.B. in San Marcos, CA)

  5. Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972; Franco Zeffirelli, dir.): I know it's not completely historically accurate, but I've seen it some 100 times, and love the portrayal of St. Francis. Also, it has great music by Donovan. (J.C. in General Trias, Cavite, Philippines)

  6. Cash on Demand (1961; Quentin Lawrence, dir.): Peter Cushing plays a Scrooge-type bank executive whose bank is robbed by Andre Morrell in a rather clever way... (R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA)

  7. Cuties (2020; Maïmouna Doucouré, dir.): Netflix took a lot of heat for this one, from people whose knowledge of the film only came from the poster. It's really a shame, as it's a very good movie about a girl's coming of age, the clash between a strict immigrant culture and the comparative freedom in the West, and how women deal with the various forms of oppression they encounter. It also passes the Bechdel test with flying colors—out of the countless conversations women have in this film, maybe two concern men. (L.B. in Savannah, GA)

  8. The Dead (1987; John Huston, dir.): Wonderful adaptation of a short story by James Joyce. The scene featuring Angelica Huston grieving over the death of a teenage suitor that occurred many years ago is as beautiful a piece of cinematography as you'll ever see. (T.M. in Geneseo, NY)

  9. Desperate Living (1977; John Waters, dir.): Best of Waters' older, insaner works. Didn't feature Divine/dog-s**t-eating, so is less well-known than Pink Flamingos. But Desperate Living is much more cohesive, crazier, and funnier. (P.P. in Minneapolis, MN)

  10. Drive-In (1976; Rod Amateau, dir.): Starring absolutely nobody you ever heard of. This is sort of a send-up of the Nashville genre, combining a day in ordinary small Texas town life with a totally insane disaster movie parody at the drive-in theater. Whatever did happen to Randolph Scott? (D.S. in Palo Alto, CA)

  11. The Electric Horseman (1979; Sydney Pollack, dir.): Spectacular scenes of southern Utah and one of the great chase scenes in movies (horse beats cars). Stars Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, and the supporting cast is delightful: Wilfred Brimley, Willie Nelson, and especially John Saxon as the corporate villain. (J.H. in Bloomfield Township, MI)

  12. Honeyland (2019; Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov, dirs.): Staggeringly beautiful testament to humanity and ecology; a documentary that plays like great fiction. (D.B. in Los Angeles, CA)

  13. The Hounds of Notre Dame (1980; Zale Dalen, dir.): A Canadian biopic of Father Athol Murray—a hard-drinking, chain smoking, soft-hearted priest and headmaster. (T.B. in Winston-Salem, NC)

  14. The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958; Mark Robson, dir.): True story about Gladys Aylward, a naive young lady who emigrated from London to China to take care of an orphanage. Ingrid Bergman starred. (J.P. in Whitehorse, YT, Canada)

  15. Juarez (1939; William Dieterle, dir.): With Paul Muni, John Garfield, Bette Davis, Claude Rains, Brian Aherne, Gale Sondergaard, Gilbert Roland, and a long list of stars, the best defense of democracy on screen (perhaps at the expense of historical accuracy, but who goes to the movies to learn history?) (J.F. in Toronto, ON, Canada)

  16. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949; Robert Hamer, dir.): Serial murder, and Alec Guinness as the entire D'Ascoyne family. A genuine favorite since childhood, also standing in for the Ealing Studios comedies in general. (L.R.H. in Oakland, CA)

  17. Let There be Light (1946; John Huston, dir.): A recently re-released documentary (available on YouTube) on the treatment of World War II veterans suffering with what we now call PTSD. Must see! It was withdrawn from showing because certain government officials from the South did not want people to see black and white veterans being treated together. (D.A. in Riverdale, NY)

  18. The Love God? (1969; Nat Hiken, dir.): Not just the comic genius of Don Knotts, but also a fascinating insight on the changes in American attitudes toward pornography and sex. It is important for the viewer to understand that the film was already an anachronism when it premiered in 1969. (G.W. in Oxnard, CA)

  19. The Man Who Would Be King (1975; John Huston, dir.): Absolutely wonderful retelling of the Kipling classic, with Sean Connery and Michael Caine. (T.C. in Danby, NY)

  20. My Man Godfrey (1936; Gregory La Cava, dir.): Introduced to me by my father, who was born in 1921 and saw the forgotten men almost daily, as he commuted on the Big Red Car from Pasadena to his father's factory in downtown L.A., as a child and adolescent. Humorous and yet poignant. (L.E. in Santa Barbara, CA)

Up tomorrow: More honorable mentions; the ones with titles starting "N" through "Z." (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov14 Sunday Mailbag
Nov13 A Sleeping Giant Awakens
Nov13 Murkowski Is In...
Nov13 ...And Cherfilus-McCormick Scores the Win
Nov13 Saturday Q&A
Nov12 Trump Buys More Time for Himself
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Nov09 Six More Subpoenas from the 1/6 Committee
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Nov09 Lessons from the 2021 Elections, Part II: Gavin Newsom and Glenn Youngkin
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Nov06 Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Is a Go
Nov06 Saturday Q&A
Nov05 A Few More Results Are In