Yesterday's item on the railroads, with a report from reader J.G. in Chicago, got quite a response. So, we will start there.
L.E. in Santa Barbara, CA, asks: First, I want to thank J.G. for their detailed and thoughtful explanation of the railroad employees' working conditions, and how that ties into the current rail strike situation. I was horrified to learn that not only do they not get any sick leave, they have to request time off to be sick before they are actually sick. So, J.G.'s item allowed me to do some more web searches trying to find out why railroad workers have no sick leave. Can (Z) expand on and provide more historical detail as to why railroaders in such a hazardous profession don't have even the basic health and welfare benefits that so many in our country enjoy?
V & Z answer: There are at least three key dynamics here. The first is that some industries are essentially governed by the same union contracts and workplace expectations as they were a century or more ago, when paid sick leave basically did not exist. The rail industry is one of those; the law that allowed Congress to step in and impose a contract dates back to the 1920s.
The other two dynamics were addressed by J.G. One of those is that it has been (blue) state governments that have taken the lead in requiring sick leave for workers, but railroads are considered to be a federal industry not subject to state law.
The other is that, because the railroads are trying to get by with as few employees as is possible, the loss of a single day of labor from an employee can throw a giant wrench into the works. This being the case, the railroads have fought sick leave tooth and nail. They are not worried about the cost of the sick leave, per se, but instead the damage that would be done to overall efficiency if employees were able to bow out of work at the last minute. Of course, this could be solved by having stand-bys on call, the way that school districts have a pool of substitute teachers. But that's a cost and a logistical challenge that the railroads prefer not to bear if they don't have to.
I.M. in Madison, AL, asks: Why do you think there are so few media outlets covering labor's side of issues, as you noted in your item today on railroad workers?
V & Z answer: First, because it's a slow-moving, months-long story that is kind of "inside baseball." Most media outlets gravitate towards "simple" and "dramatic," and haggling over labor contracts is neither of those things. Second, because most media outlets are either right-wing, or are scared to death of being accused of "bias." Labor's perspective on a story like this is perceived as left-wing, so both the former and the latter tend to stay away from it. The only items we've seen from news outlets that speak to labor's perspective were produced by unabashedly left-leaning sites like Slate.
And note that the fact that we ran J.G.'s item is not a tacit acknowledgment that we are an unabashedly left-wing site. We are not journalists, we are academics, and so we are trained to consider all sorts of evidence. In particular, (Z) is a historian, and so an academic who places a high value on primary evidence (e.g., accounts from participants in/witnesses to an event). We have run many firsthand accounts on various subjects this year, and would just as readily have run a submission from a railroad executive, had one written in to us.
J.K. in Brooklyn, NY, asks: One thing I don't get: If the deal was so terrible for the workers, why did 8 of the 12 unions involved agree to it?
V & Z answer: There are numerous possibilities, though note we can only speculate without doing a fair bit of field research that we most certainly have not done. First, it is entirely possible that some of the unions represent members who are less affected by the sick leave issue, and so were happy with the proposed contract.
Second, some union members simply cannot go without pay, and so are unwilling to strike under any circumstance.
Third, many union members just go with the recommendations of management on these things, and the management of many of the unions said the contract was the best they were going to do, and recommended ratification.
Fourth, and finally, some union members are conscious of the PR aspect of things, and vote based on their sense of "the big picture." That is to say, something along the lines of "If we reject this contract, and wreck the economy right before Christmas, the public will take management's side, and the next contract proposal will be worse than this one." As a general rule, strange as it may seem, the American public is quite hostile to organized labor.
D.P. in Seattle, WA, asks: With the allegations surrounding Herschel Walker's Texas residency, electing to take Texas' homestead exemption, and now that he has rented out his Georgia home for seventeen years without living there, could the Senate possibly refuse to seat him if he wins the special election? Article I, Sec. 3, Cl. 3 requires senators to be an inhabitant of the state which elected them at the time of election. And Article I., Sec. 5, Cl. 1 makes each house the judge of its elections and qualifications of its members. Have there been any judicial decisions placing limitations on that ability? And would the Democrats play that kind of ball if they could?
V & Z answer: From a political standpoint, Walker is a carpetbagger. But from a purely legal standpoint, he is a resident of Georgia.
Georgia law dictates that someone is a resident if, during the current calendar year, they spent part or all of at least 183 days in the state. This is called statutory residency, and since Walker has been a Senate candidate for the entire year, and has been campaigning accordingly, he's surely cleared the bar (and can prove it). He probably also has domicile residency in Texas, which means his homestead exemption might be legal. Put another way, it's possible to legally be a resident of more than one state.
M.G. in Los Altos, CA, asks: Are the early votes in the Georgia Senate runoff counted before or after the votes cast on December 6? In other words, should we expect a Democratic or a Republican bias when vote totals are first announced?
V & Z answer: Georgia allows counting of early votes and absentee ballots to begin at 7:00 a.m. on Election Day. Of course, nothing is actually announced until the polls close. What will likely happen, in practice, is that the first announcement of vote tallies, around 9:00 p.m. ET, will include a big chunk of the early votes and the Election Day votes, but few or none of the absentee ballots. By 10:00 p.m. ET, the state should announce roughly how many votes in total were cast in the election (they can't know for sure, because extra time is allowed for some ballots, like those from the military, to arrive). By around midnight ET, most or all of the early and Election Day votes will be known. The absentee ballots, on the whole, probably won't be tabulated until Wednesday or Thursday.
What this means is that if it's neck-and-neck at midnight on election night, or if Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) is ahead, then Herschel Walker is in trouble. The absentee ballots will almost certainly skew Democratic, and will probably add between 10,000 and 40,000 votes to Warnock's total.
J.B. in Bend, OR, asks: Allen Weisselberg's testimony in the Trump Organization tax fraud case appears to have been entirely: "I did it; Trump didn't know about it." Can you think of a reason why the prosecutors would cut a plea deal for him when it doesn't appear they've gotten much useful testimony? Even without him testifying, the case seems pretty strong against the organization. What's to be gained by Weisselberg saying it was all his doing?
V & Z answer: We would imagine that two things are going on. First, Weisselberg may just be a medium fish, but the authorities like to see to it that medium fish pay the price for their misdeeds, as well, and getting him to cop a plea achieves that goal. Second, now that Weisselberg is on the record, the Trumps themselves have a limited range of defenses available. They can argue that Weisselberg is lying about committing fraud, which nobody will buy, since why would he do that? Or they can argue that they (the Trumps) were such poor managers that they allowed fraud to take place right under their noses for the better part of two decades, and were totally in the dark. Does that sound like a defense that the Trump family will be able to take the stand and sell to a jury? Not to us it doesn't.
And note that the Trumps didn't have to know about Weisselberg's activities, per se. If they should have known, and remained ignorant because of gross negligence, then they would still be in trouble.
D.R. in Hillsboro, VA, asks: You wrote that House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) may now be in possession of TFG's tax returns, and included as his options that he is enabled by law to provide a copy to Senate Committee on Finance Chairman Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). Is Rep. Neal forbidden to provide them to anyone else? May he share them with his committee? If he provides them to a reporter, say Maggie Haberman at The New York Times, is that legal? Would it be considered bad form? Do the same restrictions apply to Sen. Wyden and the various committee members? Obviously, the more people who receive legal copies, the more likely that it will leak to the press, and immediately thereafter, to the public at large. But what do the "rules" say?
V & Z answer: The relevant law here, Section 6103(f) of the Internal Revenue Code, is really wordy and really abstruse, but it makes very clear that Neal and Wyden are free to share the returns with their committees, and with the Congress. They can also share the returns with the general public, if the committee votes to do so, and if they have a legitimate reason for it. Conducting an investigation into the procedures for auditing presidential tax returns, and then announcing the results, would be a perfectly legitimate reason. Neal won't have time to do that before he loses his chair, but Wyden can do it.
In other words, if the members play things by the book, then they can make the returns public... eventually. If their goal is simply to get the information out there, so as to damage Trump, then "an aide" could leak them. Or, a member of either chamber could stand up in committee, or on the floor of the chamber, and read the returns into the Congressional Record. The Speech and Debate Clause of the Constitution immunizes members from liability for anything they say in that context. So, even if sharing the content of the returns was generally illegal, that wouldn't matter in this particular circumstance. Whether that would be politically wise, since it would play into Trump's argument that Congress only wanted the returns for political reasons, rather than legitimate oversight reasons, is a different matter.
S.E.Z. in New Haven, CT, asks: You (and others) frequently say that Congress could raise the debt limit to an extremely high number to avoid the repeated need to raise it.
Why couldn't Congress just repeal the limit and instead authorize the Treasury to borrow enough to cover the difference between the income and spending that Congress legislates? The only downside for Congress in doing this would be that our citizens might start to expect Congress to always pass laws that are simple and practical (when possible). Is there something else preventing the current Democratic majorities from doing this?
V & Z answer: To start, anything the Democrats do on this front will have to be via reconciliation, which means that it would be a 10-year fix rather than a permanent fix. Beyond that, it's all about the sound bites. If the blue team kills the debt limit (even if it's just for 10 years), then the red team will spend the next 2 years talking about how the Democrats don't care about how much of the people's money they spend on their reckless godless socialist welfare programs. On the other hand, if the Democrats just raise the limit to a comical number, then it helps them make the point that the debt limit is nonsensical, and it makes it a little harder for the Republicans to sell their talking points. Not impossible, mind you, but harder.
J.W. in Minneapolis, MN, asks: While my husband and I are relieved that the Respect for Marriage Act was passed, I'm wondering if this could eventually be a situation where "The battle was won, but the war was lost." I say this because the primary financial benefits that come from gay marriage are mostly at the federal level. Although we were married in Minnesota, in 2013, where it was legal at the time, we had no federal-level benefits. For example, my spouse would not be able to "inherit" my higher Social Security benefit if I died and we could not benefit from filing our income taxes jointly. Although I was able to add him to my health benefits program through work, the value of those benefits was treated as taxable income to me, which was not the case with straight couples. (That latter example may be more of an individual employer decision rather than a federal-level issue).
Obergefell changed these limitations at a federal level and we gained the same benefits available to other married couples. My question is this: If the Supreme Court overturns Obergefell, the Respect for Marriage Act means my marriage will still be recognized in Minnesota and in other states, but what would be the effect at a federal level? Won't we lose those federal-level rights?
V & Z answer: The Respect for Marriage Act, in addition to requiring states to recognize marriages performed in other states, repealed the Defense of Marriage Act and decreed that as far as the federal government is concerned, any marriage between two consenting adults must be considered valid. So, overturning Obergefell would no longer affect federal law.
R.L. in LaCrosse WI, asks: Won't Republican states just file a lawsuit in response to the Respect for Marriage Act, claiming they shouldn't be required to recognize marriages (from other states) they dislike? Then they can appeal all the way to the Supreme Court, where the six conservative judges will agree with them, making this all a big waste of time and public money. I hope it doesn't happen, but given Republicans' obsession with lawsuits, I don't see why it won't.
V & Z answer: The Republican states may very well try, but they have a tall mountain to climb.
To start, they would have to establish standing, which means they would have to make a compelling argument for how the law harmed their states or the residents thereof. Then, they would have to make a compelling argument for why the Congress' actions were unconstitutional or otherwise contrary to the law. After all, Congress does many things that "harm" citizens, but that it definitely has the power to do, like draft soldiers and impose taxes. In this case, Congress is backed by Article IV, Section I of the Constitution, which is known as the Full Faith and Credit Clause, and which says: "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof."
If Republican AGs (or Republican activist groups) somehow manage to overcome these hurdles, and to get before the Supreme Court, the six conservatives would still be in a tough place if they wanted to re-outlaw same-sex marriage. The suggestion—and remember, it's only in Clarence Thomas' dissent that this came up—was that Obergefell was problematic for the same reason Roe was problematic, namely that the decision was rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy. Since the new law is an act of Congress, and not an interpretation of a clause in the Constitution, SCOTUS would first have to say "Oops! When we said [X] was the problem, we really meant [Y] was the problem." And then they would have to find a way to explain how "Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof" doesn't actually mean "Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof."
In short, it is not very likely that the law will be overturned.
D.S. Newark, OH, asks: I did a quick internet search of Nick Fuentes. It appears that he has no job or visible means of support. Who is backing him? His parents? I am not a conspiracy theorist but, could a foreign government be financing him to sow seeds of discontent?
V & Z answer: He does not make a point of sharing his funding sources, but he does accept donations from his fanbase. He also stages conferences and other events, and pockets some of the proceeds. On top of that, it's not only possible that he's getting money from foreign troublemakers, it's a known fact. Last year, he got the lion's share of $500,000 distributed by a far-right, terminally ill Frenchman before that Frenchman took his own life. This is only known because it attracted the attention of the FBI, but there are probably other "donations," as well. It also would not be surprising if Fuentes is secretly being funded by right-wing fat-cats in America who share his views and want those views publicized, but who don't want to be known as associates of his. For example, there isn't a whole lot of daylight between the political worldview of billionaire German immigran Peter Thiel and Fuentes.
B.P. in Pensacola, FL, asks: The recent news coverage of this odious human Nick Fuentes has included clips of him referring to a "Catholic Nation" and "Catholic Government," etc. I looked at Wikipedia and it says he's an adherent of something called Catholicism Integralism, which sounds a lot like the Taliban, but for Catholicism. He also claims to be a Roman Catholic, though his views seem entirely anathema to the vast majority of those of the Roman Catholic Church, except perhaps for his views on abortion. I am not Catholic, but would think that the Church, particularly under the current pontiff, would disclaim his views. However, I haven't seen anything to that effect. There are some very conservative Bishops in the U.S., but I would be surprised if any are white supremacists. Has there been any movement by the Catholic Church to denounce Fuentes?
V & Z answer: There is actually a sizable number of radical-fringe sects made up of people who claim to be Catholic. Sedevacantists believe that every pope who has served since the Second Vatican Council is a heretic. They recognize no pope, and continue to conduct services in Latin. The Palmarian Christian Church agrees with the Sedevacantists, but they have elected their own "real" pope, Joseph Odermatt, who styles himself Peter III. The True Catholic Church also elected its own "real" pope, Lucian Pulvermacher (a.k.a. Pius XIII), but hasn't quite been able to figure out what to do since he died back in 2009. The Orthodox Roman Catholic Movement didn't elect its own pope, but it did invest supreme authority in the ultra-far-right Bishop Robert McKenna, who hated immigrants and loved to perform exorcisms. He's dead now, too, and his "church" is in flux. Rather than pick a new pope, the Divine Truth movement did one better. They follow Alan John Miller and Mary Suzanne Luck, who claim to be the reincarnations of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, respectively.
The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, the one-billion-person-strong organization headquartered in Rome, decided long ago that engaging with any of these groups just gave them oxygen without achieving anything positive. So, the Church just ignores them.
D.T. in San Jose, CA, asks: Could Joe Biden make recess appointments for all of his judicial nominees who are still awaiting confirmation by the end of the lame-duck session?
The Senate would still need to formally confirm everyone before January 2025, but a temporary recess appointment would allow Biden's nominees to get on the job now, rather than waiting another 18 months for their hearing.
Is there any reason Democrats should not do this?
V & Z answer: To start, we think of Democrat vs. Republican as the predominant tribal loyalty in Washington today, and it is. But we should not forget that there is a significant legislature vs. executive dynamic. And the Senate, even if it is run by Democrats, would not be enthused about ceding this much of its power to the President. Once a recess appointment is in place, it's very hard to get rid of them, and if it did happen, there would be a bunch of stories about "Democrats in Senate rebuke Biden, remove judicial pick from bench." That's bad PR.
On top of that, if the Democrats pulled a stunt like this, the Republicans would do the same the next time they controlled the Senate and the White House. And they would seat judges far more extreme than anyone the Democrats might seat. There is a presumption that Team McConnell has no limits on what it will do in the vulgar pursuit of power, but that is not the case. There are some things they won't do until the Democrats have given them cover.
J.W. in Newton, MA, asks: You make a good case that Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn't pass the "drinking buddy" test required of most successful presidential candidates. Yet DeSantis was re-elected in a landslide. Sure, Charlie Crist (D) may be a boring candidate, but he's not nuts. I just don't buy the argument that this was a case of candidate quality swinging the vote by 5-10%.
What do you think is going on here?
V & Z answer:We are not residents of Florida, and so are happy to be corrected by readers who know better. However, we suspect that three things are going on. First, Crist's weaknesses may not be the whole story, but they are part of the story.
Second, the Democrats were basically hopeless in Florida this cycle. And if there are no contests where people think their vote will matter, they often stay home. In other words, DeSantis' success is partly an illusion created by low Democratic turnout.
Third, DeSantis seems to have tapped into some things that resonate with Floridians in general, or with some segment of the Florida populace in particular. For example, he seems to have unusually strong support among Cubans, and we also wonder if there wasn't something of a latent anti-Disney feeling among many voters. These things might not translate outside the state.
Note that we have similar suspicions about DeSantis' would-be foe, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA). We think his overwhelming reelection win makes him look stronger and more popular than he really is, and for some of the same reasons as DeSantis.
D.T. in San Jose, CA, asks: For a moment, let's assume that Donald Trump makes it all the way to the start of the Republican primaries (meaning he hasn't dropped out, died, or been incarcerated). At that point, do you see any plausible scenario where a Republican other than Trump ends up becoming the next President?
Do you think it is possible for someone like Ron DeSantis to defeat Trump in the primary, and then survive Trump's whining enough to also win the general election?
V & Z answer: Trump hates to lose and he loves to grift. So, if he makes it to the primaries, and he's not winning, he's very likely to launch a third-party bid. Then he could "win" by screwing over the Republican nominee, and he could also continue the grift. And even if Trump is somehow persuaded to bow out, he's likely to go scorched earth and to badmouth the Republican nominee. That person will have zero margin for error, and if just 5% of the MAGA Republicans stay home on Election Day, that's fatal.
It would help the Republicans in this scenario if the Democrats somehow put up a godawful candidate. Al Gore and John Kerry are still alive, after all. But really, the best option for DeSantis (or any other non-Trump Republican nominee) would be to try to find a way to make Trump a part of the team. Offering a pardon might do it, though it wouldn't help Trump in Georgia. Finding a well-heeled donor willing to write Trump a check for $200 million might do it. Or it might work to announce that as a respected leader of the party, Trump would be appointed to his choice of positions in a Republican administration. Of course, it's hard to think of a patronage job he'd want. And it's even harder to think of one he could actually get approved for by the Senate. Ambassador to Russia, maybe?
R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, asks: I read your item about Ronna Romney McDaniel's position as chairwoman of the RNC this week. While she is being attacked by some Republicans, she doesn't seem to have much serious opposition. Her only declared opponent, Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, is an absolute riot. He is a former crack addict, a Christian fundamentalist, and one of the most prominent "Stop the Steal" conspiracy theorists. He is the target of lawsuits from Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic to the tune of billions of dollars because they say he defamed them by falsely alleging they support electoral crime. He seems paranoid and I believe his paranoia is driving his political activism. If the RNC chooses him as chair, they really have gone past the point of no return. The GOP would become more focused on false conspiracies that are far outside the mainstream of political ideology and it would be political suicide for them.
However, I do not understand why the Republicans would support Romney McDaniel's continued leadership. Do you think she has been effective? Since she became chairwoman in 2017, the Republicans lost both houses of Congress, the White House, multiple winnable Senate races in 2021 and 2022, and are on the verge of losing another Senate race in Georgia. Why do you think they continue to support her and what do they have to gain by keeping her in that position?
V & Z answer: Forgive us for using this line yet again, but you can't beat someone with no one. And so, while McDaniel has been a pretty lousy RNC Chair, she'll keep her job if she doesn't draw a serious opponent. And the problem is that no serious person seems to want the job. This is hardly surprising; as long as Donald Trump is the real head of the Party, it's an impossible job to do well, and so is something of a dead end.
We suspect a second factor here, although one not nearly as important is the first, is Republican identity politics. That is to say, there is some portion of the Party leadership that believes that if they have a woman in that job, then women voters will flock to the GOP banner. This is the same exact logic as "If we nominate a Black candidate, we'll win huge numbers of Black votes." This is dumb, but some Republican pooh-bahs believe it, nonetheless.
J.D. in Sydney, NSW, Australia, asks: I read your item regarding the Democrats' most difficult Senate seat to defend in 2024 with great interest.
I realize that there are not many, but I would be interested to hear your take on what would be best seats for the Democrats to target in the 2024 Senate races?
V & Z answer: Barring major new developments (which certainly could come to pass), there are no excellent targets in 2024. Nothing like Pennsylvania this cycle.
That said, we can see four seats Democrats might be able to put into play if things break right:
- Florida: Florida is red these days, but maybe not as red as it looked in 2022. And Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) is quite extreme, and has said some unwise things, like suggesting that maybe it's time to get rid of Social Security. Val Demings got crushed, and it's hard to imagine a stronger candidate than her, but maybe the Democrats can find someone to give Scott a run for his money. Maybe a white man who was a sheriff for a long time or a popular mayor or a big city.
- Indiana: At the moment, this is the only Republican seat that will be open. And the Hoosiers do sometimes send Democrats to Congress. Maybe if the blue team can convince a member of the Bayh family to come out of retirement. It will probably have to be Evan, however, as Birch is, well... dead.
- Missouri: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) has turned into a nutter, and Missouri has something of a blue streak. Maybe the Democrats can persuade Jason Kander to take another shot at it.
- Texas: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is really unpopular. Texas is still pretty red, but maybe there is someone who can knock him off. Our guess is a moderate Latino, like maybe Rep. Henry Cuellar (D), would have the best shot.
Again, 2 years is a long time. Further, the world of politics is always good for a few surprises. So maybe this list is different 1 year from now. But at the moment, this is how we have it.
N.E. in San Mateo, CA, asks: I noticed that you did not include Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on your list of most vulnerable senators. Do you think she will run again in 2024 and, if so, do you think she's actually safe from being primaried?
V & Z answer: That item was meant to identify the seats most likely to flip from blue to red. Feinstein is not likely to run in 2024. And if she does, she'll draw a strong primary challenger and will likely lose. But whatever happens, the seat will remain in Democratic hands. So it's not at risk of flipping, even if it's very likely to change hands.
J.H. in Boston, MA, asks: Your item on Rep. Donald McEachin's (D-VA) death and the consequences for the speakership vote have me wondering: Why did he stand for reelection? Since he died so close to the election, surely his cancer diagnosis was known, and even if you're sure you're going to beat your cancer, you'd be better off doing so with some time off work.
V & Z answer: It is entirely possible that McEachin did not know how close to the end he was, or that he was in denial. Remember, he had to make the decision to run many months ago, at which point he might have been feeling OK, or might have been in remission.
That said, even if we assume he knew he would be dead by December, there might have been some strategy here. The rumor is that his widow, Colette McEachin (D), is planning a run. And if so, she's more likely to win a special election than she is to come out on top in a contested primary. In the special election, she'll get some sympathy votes and she'll likely have greater name recognition than the other candidates.
T.W. in Norfolk, England, UK, asks: Why do educational organizations, high schools no less, conduct political polls? What's in it for them? I'm from the U.K., and such a thing is completely unheard of: I can't imagine my local high school having the time, money, inclination or—most importantly—expertise to do such a thing.
V & Z answer: It's a pretty cheap and effective way to get some P.R. for the school's "research." If a historian publishes a book they spent years working on, they're lucky to get an interview on CSPAN-2. If a physicist publishes a paper they spent years working on, they're lucky to get a mention in National Geographic. But polls take a week or two to conduct, and get published by thousands of outlets the moment they're done. Think of a major university, and then try to think of the last time you heard about the research being produced by the people at that university. Then think of how many times in the past 6 months you've heard the name Emerson, or Quinnipiac, or Marquette.
There aren't many high schools that would see value in this sort of publicity. But Phillips Academy is a highfalutin' private school for the kids of the elite. And they market themselves as, in effect, a high school with a university faculty. So, they are very mindful of burnishing their public, scholarly image.
P.M. in Palm Springs, CA, asks: So, since Phillips Academy really is a high school, why did you include it on your map? Is it because polling on the Georgia race is so scarce or is it to prod East Cupcake Junior High to step up its game and get its own poll out before the weekend? The political world anxiously awaits.
V & Z answer: We used them because they've got a track record, and that track record is good enough to make the cut for us. In the end, it doesn't matter what kind of school we're talking about—a large pool of free/cheap labor is a large pool of free/cheap labor. What matters is the people who are running the poll, and the two fellows at Phillips who run that department actually know what they are doing.
G.S. in Basingstoke, UK, asks: I'm sure you've seen that Alex Jones has been hit with a $49 million judgment and had filed for bankruptcy protection. I know the two of you have said repeatedly that you are not lawyers, but I wondered whether you might be good enough to try to answer the following.
With U.S. bankruptcy law, is there a chance that Jones will simply be able to avoid the huge judgments made against him in this case? To illustrate the point, TFG's companies have been made bankrupt numerous times, and he hardly lives as if he's short of a bob or two. Over here, bankruptcy is a really serious thing; very often you're legally limited in the kinds of accounts banks can give you, and your chances of obtaining any kind of credit are close to zero. I'd love to hear some reassurance that this is not some chicanery to avoid accountability.
V & Z answer: The U.S. Bankruptcy Code, specifically 11 U.S. Code Sec. 523, makes clear that certain kinds of debts cannot be discharged. Among them is damages assessed "for willful and malicious injury by the debtor to another entity." In other words, Jones is screwed, and his bankruptcy filing isn't going to save him.
Jones could try to hide his assets, either by moving them offshore or putting them in the name of someone else, like his family members. However, he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and the feds are going to be on the lookout for such stunts. If he's caught trying to do this, he'll end up in front of a judge, who will take a dim view of this, and who will invite Jones to spend several years as a guest of the federal penal system.
D.M. in Santa Rosa, CA, asks: I have seen you write that the Department of Justice only brings charges when it is sure it will win. And that it gets convictions in 95% of its prosecutions. The prosecution of the Oath Keepers, however, was a mixed bag. They got lots of convictions, including seditious conspiracy, but by my count they brought 28 separate charges against 5 individuals and got 17 guilty verdicts. All five are guilty of something, but no one was guilty of everything. So, is the DoJ conviction rate 100% here, since everyone is going to face a sentence? Or is it 60%, since there were 11 not-guilty verdicts? Or even 40% since only two of the five got convicted of seditious conspiracy, the most serious charge? My guess is that it will be counted as 100% since the figure is really only used to scare future defendants into plea bargaining.
V & Z answer: Your guess is right. The actual stat is properly rendered something like this: "In 95% of cases when the Department of Justice brings felony charges, it secures at least one felony conviction." So, as long as they nail a defendant to the wall on one charge, that means the DoJ went 1-for-1 for purposes of their batting average, even if the defendant was acquitted on other charges. The trial of Stewart Rhodes and his accomplices thus counts as 5-for-5.
K.C. in West Islip, NY, asks: Can you give me a compelling reason why the nomination process for both the Democrats and Republicans shouldn't be a one-day nationwide primary with a specific, nationwide earl-voting window? I see the way we currently do it as an entirely absurd way to choose candidates. For starters, having individual states or groups of states voting on different days doesn't mimic the general election whatsoever, second it's always struck me as ridiculous that we could very well know the nominee long before many states have had their say; in 2020, the New York primary was on June 23 and we knew well before then that Joe Biden would be the nominee. I voted (for Amy Klobuchar) just because I have a sense of civic obligation to not skip elections, but I knew it was a pointless exercise. Thirdly, I feel as though doing nominations this way has the added effect of occasionally sticking us with bad candidates (ahem, TFG) because they're able to gain momentum and donations based on strong finishes in a handful of states.
V & Z answer: In the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucus, there were 10 different people who got at least some votes, including Tom Steyer, Tulsi Gabbard, Deval Patrick and Andrew Yang. At that time, all those folks felt they might just have what it took to go all the way. And if every single primary had been held on that day, then the winner of the Democratic nomination would have claimed the prize with something like 25% of the vote. That person might have been the best candidate, but it might also have been someone fringy.
And if the primaries are one-day, winner-take all, then it would encourage many, many more people to throw their hats in the ring. If running for president means "I have to build a serious campaign organization and spend months in Iowa going to county fairs," then a lot of would-be candidates end up deciding it's not for them. If running for president means "I announce my intentions, and then appear on every news station to talk about my presidential bid,' then many, many more aspiring presidents would jump in, with the hope that they somehow caught fire. There could be a field of 20 or 30 or 40 contenders. And in that circumstance, it might take only 5-10% of the vote to land the nomination.
Under those circumstances, the process would not necessarily favor the strongest candidate, or the candidate that is acceptable to the largest number of party members. No, it would favor the candidate who had a devoted fanbase. And sure, that might be Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). But it might also be Howard Stern, or The Rock, or Michael Jordan. In short, your proposed system is considerably more likely to produce a fringe candidate, not less so. Otherwise, it would favor someone who happens to have massive financial resources, like Michael Bloomberg.
D.R. in Phoenix, AZ, asks: I am still not clear: Why doesn't the Fourteenth Amendment disqualify Trump and many other officeholders who participated in what was clearly an insurrection? If nothing else, can't we use it to at least put TFG out of running for the presidency, at long last?
V & Z answer: The Fourteenth Amendment disqualifies from federal officeholding anyone who "engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof."
The problem is that when the Amendment was written, everyone understood it was meant to apply to the people who had been a part of the Confederacy during the Civil War. And so, the Amendment doesn't specify what, other than waging a civil war, qualifies as engaging in insurrection or rebellion. Instead, that question is basically left to Congress, which "shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article."
What the Democrats would really like is for a federal judge to step in and make a finding that Trump and/or other 1/6 participants, were guilty of fomenting insurrection. Then, disqualifying those people from officeholding would be a fairly nonpartisan act. And it might well happen; once the 2024 cycle heats up and Trump is officially set to appear on ballots, there will certainly be lawsuits brought under the Fourteenth Amendment.
As an alternative, Congress could pass legislation decreeing that Trump and other 1/6 participants are insurrectionists and are disqualified from holding office under the Fourteenth Amendment. However, that would be the hottest potato that Congress ever handled. And it's very unlikely 10 Republicans in the Senate would vote for such a law.
G.R. in Iqaluit, NU, Canada, asks: Are sore-loser laws constitutional? Doesn't the constitution state eligibility to be president? By having these laws, isn't it like adding another requirement for office (that you haven't lost a primary)? If TFG loses and wants to run anyway, couldn't he challenge those laws in court and possibly win? Has anyone else challenged them before?
V & Z answer: On one hand, states are not allowed to create additional requirements for office beyond those laid out in the Constitution. On the other hand, they are allowed to establish certain reasonable rules for ballot access. If all someone had to do was declare their intent to run for president and pay a $5 fee, then there would be 10,000 names on the ballot and it would be useless.
And so, while sore-loser laws have been challenged, the courts have generally said that they are OK. The most recent major challenge came in 2018 from Don Blankenship when he was beaten for the Republicans' U.S. Senate nomination in West Virginia, and then tried to run as a third-party candidate. He lost that case.
Trump could very well try to sue, and he might win, since there hasn't been much litigation related to presidential sore-loser laws. But he probably won't win.
D.F. in Ann Arbor, MI, asks: I had a conversation with a Republican yesterday who was upset about the House race in Alaska because the two Republican candidates got more first-place votes than the Democratic candidate did, albeit by a very small margin. His argument was that the voters "clearly" wanted a Republican in the House. His comment was that RCV is "okay," but only if there is only one candidate from each party allowed in the general election. That sounds like ranked choice voting for parties then, not candidates. How would you respond to that suggestion?
V & Z answer: Well, ranked choice voting doesn't make any sense unless there are at least three people on the ballot. And the best way to make sure that happens is to allow more than one candidate from the same major party.
As to what happened in Alaska, the voters there clearly did not want "a Republican." If they did, they could have voted for their favorite Republican first and their second-favorite Republican second. They did not do that, because each half of the Republican voters hated the candidate of the other half. And if this had been a straight election, without the RCV, it would have been Rep. Mary Peltola (D-AK) vs. Sarah Palin (R), and Peltola still would have won. Your Republican acquaintance really needs to stop blaming the system, and start blaming the quality of the candidates the Alaska GOP put up. Keep in mind that all the other offices were also decided by RCV, and Republicans won all of those races.
H.R. in Pittsburgh, PA, asks: Trump's theft of Top Secret Documents appears to be as close to a slam-dunk case as any of his multitude of crimes (other than the election tampering case in Fulton County, GA, perhaps).
I know there's no guarantee Trump will ever be charged for his theft, given that the Department of Justice may be reluctant to reveal Top Secret documents to the defense during discovery. But if he ever is, will the trial be held in Florida, where the crime was discovered, or in D.C., where the theft occurred?
Can you please reassure me that it will be the latter, because, if it is the former, then finding a jury to convict him in deep red South Florida will be well-nigh impossible.
V & Z answer: If the Department of Justice does charge Trump in relation to the stolen documents, they are allowed to do so in either Washington or in Florida, as elements of the crime took place in both places. The DoJ will undoubtedly choose Washington, since: (1) the judges there are more likely to be versed in the relevant issues, (2) it's more convenient, geographically, and (3) the jury pool is less likely to contain a bunch of MAGA zealots.
In turn, Trump's attorneys would certainly move for a change of venue to Florida. But they would not likely be successful. As a general rule, much deference is given to the DoJ in their choice of venue, and there's also a general predisposition to try a crime in the place it commenced, as opposed to the place where it ended. So, the defense would have to persuade a judge that Florida is a substantially fairer and/or more apropos venue, and they would also have to convince that judge that they are certainly not—cross-my-heart, hope-to-die, pinky-swear—not venue-shopping. Of course, venue-shopping is exactly what they would be doing, so a judge is not likely to be convinced.
B.Y. in Salem, OR, asks: It seems like every week, Donald Trump loses a verdict in some court case or another and appeals, loses, and appeals again. Rinse, repeat. I guess I always assumed that there had to be a concrete reason to seek an appeal. If not, what is the point of a trial and verdict if it is essentially meaningless pending a higher court's decision? Seems like a waste of resources and time. Not to mention a way for a savvy attorney to game the system.
V & Z answer: The U.S. decided, long ago, that it preferred to err on the side of caution when it came to protecting defendants' rights.
That said, when someone appeals, they do have to have a concrete basis for that appeal. Further, the appellate court does not re-hear the whole case, it only examines the issues that form the basis for the appeal. So, the original trial judge (and possibly jury) do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to hearing testimony and other evidence, and evaluating same. Appeals generally only use up a small fraction of the time the original trial did. And Supreme Court appeals are even more laser-focused, with arguments lasting a couple of hours at most.
J.H. in Boston, MA, asks: Today, as Boston prepares for visits by both President Biden and Prince William, who will be having some kind of meetup at the JFK library, I got to wondering about the history of relations between the royals and the presidents. Would I be correct in assuming that the relations were like between U.S. and ISIS today, which is to say, none at all? When did relations first normalize? Who was the first royal or reigning monarch to visit? Did they ever visit when we were colonies? Who was the first U.S. president to be fêted at Buckingham Palace?
V & Z answer: For a fairly long time, the relationship between the U.K. and the U.S. was like the relationship between the U.S. and China today. Partners in some matters (particularly economic), rivals in others (particularly geopolitical), and the nature of the interpersonal relationships depended a lot on who was serving at any particular time. For example, George Washington had a fairly cordial relationship with George III as president, despite having led the rebellion against the King. That was because they shared a lot in terms of their general philosophical outlook. On the other hand, Thomas Jefferson's feelings about George were rather more chilly, since Tom J. was an anti-monarchist. It also did not help that George's cheese was rapidly slipping off of George's cracker by the time Jefferson became president.
All of this said, the relationship between presidents and monarchs was long-distance and conducted through intermediates prior to the 20th century. Before then, it simply was not plausible for a leader to be away from their nation for the length of time it took to travel (and to make the trip worthwhile; you're not going to spend 10 weeks traveling for a 2-day visit). So, while some presidents visited the U.K. before becoming president (among them Jefferson), the first sitting president to do it was Woodrow Wilson, who swung by London on his way home from the post-World War I peace talks. And the first reigning monarch to visit the U.S. (either in the colonial era or the post-colonial era) was George VI, who came at the invitation of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939.
D.L. in Uslar, Germany, asks: Seeing FDR's New Deal come up in the Word Cup got me wondering. Was giving this name to his program a deliberate callback to cousin Theodore's Square Deal? It had been a long time since TR had used the term—especially since Congress blocked most of his efforts in his second term—and a quick search doesn't show any sign of him using it again 1912, but I could see it having some resonance with older progressive Republicans.
V & Z answer: Absolutely. Although the two Roosevelts were of different political parties, and although their respective branches of the family sometimes did not get along all that well, FDR regarded TR as his political role model. And so, FDR did just about everything he could to follow in his cousin's footsteps. That not only included the Square Deal/New Deal, it also included holding the same exact political offices. Both men were members of the New York State Assembly, Assistant Secretary of the Navy and Governor of New York before their presidencies. The only elective office that TR held that FDR did not was vice president, and that was not for lack of trying, as FDR was the Democrats' (unsuccessful) VP candidate in the election of 1920.
G.C. in South Pasadena, CA, asks: For those who think that financial crazes are only current, in the mid-1600s, Holland had a tulip bulb craze. At the time, a single tulip bulb might be valued at 10,000 guilders, comparable to the value of a mansion. But there are many things where the price of something is "this" because people agree that it is. So, a Mickey Mantle baseball card is worth $12.6 million. A self-destructed Banksy artwork is worth $25.4 million. All of these (sort of) prove that the value of something is worth that much because people are willing to pay that much.
Despite all this, for years, I've been comparing cryptocurrency and NFTs with tulips, but not with baseball cards or artwork. Am I right or wrong?
V & Z answer: Diamonds have a certain intrinsic value because they can be used as a cutting tool. Gold and other precious metals have a certain intrinsic value because they conduct electricity and can be used to make wiring. But for most things that are "valuable," that value is just an abstraction that everyone has agreed to acknowledge. Even for things with intrinsic value, like the diamonds and the gold, their sale price is far above their intrinsic worth.
So, you are right that the value attached to tulip bulbs, crypto/NFTs, artwork and baseball cards is, in all cases, basically arbitrary. However, you are also right to group tulip bulbs/crypto/NFTs as separate from art/baseball cards, we would say. And the difference is that, in the latter two cases, people have been assigning serious value to the commodities for multiple generations (or more). It is reasonable to presume that an artwork that is valuable today has a good chance of being valuable in a year or a decade. On the other hand, tulip bulbs in the 1630s and crypto/NFTs today lacked/lack that kind of track record. So, they were/are riskier investments, with limited evidence of cultural staying power.
P.L. in Groningen, The Netherlands, asks: As a Dutchman, I support the 'orange team' at the World Cup as I have done for 40 years and I'm looking forward to the match vs. the U.S. today.
On Dutch television, I saw President Biden support Team USA during a visit to a factory in Michigan, and noticed that the websites of CNN and The New York Times pay lots of attention to the World Cup. Even your website has a Word Cup. But no Word Series!
Is there a real change in popularity of the sport in the U.S.? Or is it just (political) opportunism of Biden, CNN, the Times and... electoral-vote.com?
Please give some context on the popularity of association football in the U.S. And may the best team win.
V & Z answer: For at least 30 years, Americans have been told that one day, very soon, soccer will be king in the United States. And yet, like Texas turning blue, that day has not yet come and does not appear to be arriving anytime soon.
Truth be told, our resident sports watcher—(Z)—is not persuaded it will ever come. Soccer does have a solid following in the U.S., but it's still a niche sport, trailing American football, basketball, baseball, hockey and probably golf and tennis in popularity. It's just not a great cultural fit. American sports not only tend to have a lot more scoring, but they also tend to reward different levels of accomplishment. A football team might score 2, 3, 6, 7 or 8 points on a possession, depending on how well they do. A baseball team can score 1-4 runs on one hit, depending on the circumstances. A basketball team can score 1, 2, 3 or 4 points on a possession. Hockey may only have 1-point scoring, but at least goals are scored with some frequency. With soccer, it's all or none, and the vast majority of the time it's none. To put it in a crude American sports context, it's like if an American football team could only score on a running play of 50 yards or more (very rare), but if they do it, they get 30 points (a huge number).
Also, Americans tend to be used to extreme precision when it comes to time—when the clock is running, how much time is left, etc. There are many, many athletic contests that are decided based on the management or mismanagement of just a few seconds of gameplay. The soccer custom of running the clock at all times, even when someone is laying on the ground injured, and then tacking on some semi-unpredictable amount of time at the end, which is itself only a rough guideline to how much time is actually left, does not square well with the American sporting style.
And finally, American sports fans really don't like it when athletes act like they have been shot in hopes of getting a penalty call. This behavior was doing enough to harm the NBA's brand, in particular, that the league began imposing penalties for flopping. But in soccer matches, the players give Academy Award-worthy performances any time any other player so much as breathes on them.
That is not to say that it's just opportunism when Joe Biden, or E-V.com, or any other American takes an interest in the World Cup. People often pay attention to the "crown jewel" events, even if they ignore all the rest. That's why people in the U.S. (and worldwide, really) care about swimming for roughly 1 week out of every 4 years, why some people only watch Wimbledon, why the Super Bowl attracts 10 times the viewers of any other American football game, etc.
T.V. in Portland, OR, asks: This morning I ran across a CNN article describing preparations for the White House State Dinner. The story included this paragraph:Unfortunately for the White House social offices and usher's office, the final date also meant pulling off the ritual of holiday decorations and dozens of White House holiday parties in tandem with a debut State Dinner, something that has not been done before during a modern presidency. The White House calligraphers, kitchen staff, service teams and floral shop all worked to juggle the demands of overlapping, high-caliber events.
Would you be willing and able to free-up one or two calligraphers from your staff to help the White House through this extra busy season? I know this is a HUGE ask and would be very disruptive for the remaining staff at E-V.com, but such is life.
V & Z answer: If we loan our staff calligraphers to the White House, then who exactly will do the invitations for our annual cocaine and... well, you know.