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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

The 1/6 Hearings continue to be the topic du jour despite the fact that, apparently, nobody cares about them.

The 1/6 Hearings

S.W. in New York, NY, writes: In the 1980s, I worked for a U.S. Congressman as a scheduler (determining whom he met with and when/where). I can't speak for all congressional offices, but I know this: I would never schedule my member to take constituents that "he met in church" on a Capitol tour or any other tourist activity. My member would meet/greet constituents in the office and then say something like, "I'm tied up with meetings now, but I would love to have you see the Capitol. Do you have time for a tour? Let me have one of my staffers, who is extremely knowledgeable about the Capitol's history, take you on a tour."

A rare exception of this practice could be made if these were extremely close relatives (parents, for example) or extremely loyal and long-term top donors/bundlers who "max out" at every election, but even then, I would have to say that a staffer would lead tours in 99.99999% of cases.

I find it extremely odd that Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), himself, would lead a tour for constituents that he hardly seemed to know—and, especially, when COVID rules did not permit tours. I am sure that this point is not missed by the members of Congress who serve on the Select Committee and who see constituents in their offices daily.

D.G. in Manhattan, NY, writes: I've been discussing security in the Capitol Building—specifically the "tour" given by Barry Loudermilk—with my brother, who has a significant amount of expertise in the area of security.

My brother reports that at no time is photography permitted in certain types of facilities, specifically nuclear plants or government buildings. In fact, if photography is observed, it is considered a "suspicious activity" and must be immediately halted. The individual in question would be asked to surrender his phone and instructed to leave the facility.

That this did not happen and that, further, Capitol police have recently given the "all clear" to this breach are indications that this may have been an inside job.

S.C. in Mountain View, CA, writes: In "Department of Justice, 1/6 Committee Are Sniping at Each Other," you write "it is hard to understand what [Select Committee Chair Bennie] Thompson is up to" by not immediately giving to the Department of Justice all the material they have collected, instead of waiting until their investigation (including the hearings) is concluded.

In fact, it is easy to understand why Bennie Thompson is not turning over all those materials just yet. The Select Committee is telling a story; a very compelling story, as you yourselves have noted. And when telling a story, it's very important to control the narrative. If the Committee were to turn over all their materials to the DoJ now, they would risk losing control of the narrative. Materials could leak or would have to be made public as part of court cases.

The hearings are a compelling miniseries. It's not a "whodunit", because we know who did it, but more of a "howcatchem," in the manner of a good episode of Columbo.

And I, for one, don't want to hear any "spoiler alert!" warnings coming from the DoJ before the series ends.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: So as not to miss a single thrilling minute of the 1/6 Committee hearings, I set my cable TV system to record. When I looked at the list of recordings later, Thursday's event appeared as "The January 6th Hearings, Season 1, Episode 3." I've heard they're airing 7 episodes this season. I know is not IMDB or TMZ, but how many seasons have the writers planned, and what season has the episode, "Who indicted DJT"? Also, do you know how to contact the writers and producers for the show? I've got this great idea for a spin-off series. It would be called, "Merrick Garland, Attorney General," and would follow the adventures of...

V & Z respond: Nobody gets renewed until at least the fifth episode, unless they're Aaron Spelling or David E. Kelley.

M.M. in Leonardtown, MD, writes: Donald Trump attacks Ivanka? This breakup was inevitable; after all, she turned 40 last year.

The 1/6 Hearings: Mike Pence

J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, writes: Having the benefit that the hearings happened at 1:00 in the morning for me, I survived Judge Luttig by watching him after the fact at 2x speed on YouTube.

I wouldn't vote for him (save in a ratf**king Republican primary), but who would have thought that we'd come away from Day 3 of the Hearings with the for a President Pence? I mean, that one day did more to rehabilitate his image than any other in his life. I now see a road to primary victory for him with Never Trumpers and Democratic crossover votes. I did not see that coming—that the hero of the day was VP Pence. And I disagree—I think he is doing exactly the right thing in not testifying. He did something incredibly honorable, in saving our nation. The real hero lets others tell his story, and he accepts the truth in humility.

G.A. in Berkeley, CA, writes: On January 6, 2021, a Trump-inspired mob in the Capitol sought Vice President Mike Pence and others. A few hours later, he opened the known electoral votes favoring Biden, in accordance with the Constitution and the legal advice provided to him. These facts do not make Pence a hero. When Pence agreed to be Donald Trump's running mate, he knowingly sold his soul to the devil. Pence did and said nothing for four years as Trump lied and smashed law, democracy, and decency. His prayers will not redeem him.

B.G. in Kalamazoo, MI, writes: C'mon.

You're the Vice President. You just lost an election. You're being pressured to join a coup attempt. The bare minimum is to publicly acknowledge that you lost the election, that there's a criminal conspiracy happening all around you, and that it needs to be shut down, like immediately and that the perpetrators need to face justice. Again, that's not what a hero would do, that's the bare minimum.

And Pence couldn't even be bothered to do that.

He's been on record that the reason he didn't participate is that he lacked the power to do so. I've never even seen him publicly acknowledge that he lost a fair election.

Hero, my butt.

The 1/6 Hearings: J. Michael Luttig

D.L-O. in North Canaan, CT, writes: I believe your criticism of Judge J. Michael Luttig's delivery is undeserved and narrow minded. I agree that his delivery was difficult to follow at times due to his very slow and deliberate speech patterns. But to criticize his delivery as "a parody of a bad legal professor" is a harsh and unfair criticism. Have you considered that perhaps Judge Luttig has had a stroke and therefore has difficulty speaking clearly without effort? Or perhaps he has a speech impediment of another sort that he is coping with by his slow and deliberate speech pattern. Even if neither of those things is true (and it would be understandable if they were and he didn't want to make any comment or excuse in public), I don't think your criticism was worthy of your usual level of thoughtful and insightful commentary. The effort he was making to speak at all, while ensuring an even and clear delivery was, I thought, quite evident on his face at times.

I too was a bit taken aback at first, but I listened to his words and found them worth the effort of concentrating on what he said rather than how he spoke. I found his closing speech at the end of the hearing even inspiring at times. It was a bit shocking when he said, again very slowly and deliberately but with deep emphasis, "I would have laid my body across the road before I would have let the vice president overturn the 2020 election..." That's quite a statement to leave with the audience he was addressing.

V & Z respond: Our guess was that he was nervous but, in any case, our intent was to suggest the committee might have chosen a poor witness for its purposes, not to critique him. Our writeup did not make that clear.

M.D. in Portland, OR, writes: I too was put off by the testimony of Judge J. Michael Luttig in the January 6 hearings, for the reasons you and other readers have noted.

Then my doctor instincts clicked on, observing the pattern of his speech: A few words, deep breath, a few words, deep breath, a few words, etc. That pattern is called "speaking in short phrases" when assessing respiratory function. Watch someone with normal lungs speak a sentence, and count how many breaths they take per sentence. One or two. Luttig took about ten breaths per sentence.

The man's lungs are shot. That's why his elocution is so awful.

He was a terrible witness to most of the hearing's audience. But to the movement conservatives watching, people who venerate him and need to hear his message, he may have been more effective.

P.H. in Meadville, PA, writes: I believe you were too tough on Judge Luttig. Yes, his presentation was halting but the content was important, especially his closing comments when he shared his faith and warned the country of the clear and present danger Donald Trump and his allies are to U.S. democracy and as he stated are planning the same in plain view for 2024. Also, to compare him to a scene in a silly movie was shabby. I have lost some respect for you after being a faithful reader for many years. Your snark is often amusing but this was cruel.

G.K. in Blue Island, IL, writes: FWIW, although it was excruciating to sit through, Judge Luttig's speech pattern was eerily familiar to me from interactions I've had with some elders. I am not a doctor, but if I had to lay money on it I would guess he's in the early stages of a degenerative neural condition/disease that affects the brain's speech center. It's not that the person is incapable of clear thought, it's just the speed with which those thoughts get articulated by the mouth and, in my experience, it often begins with a "faucet effect"—like words are getting backed up and then someone opens the spigot for a moment before closing it again.


N.D.O. in Portland, OR, writes: You wrote "Until proven otherwise, Trump is the presumptive 2024 Republican candidate, regardless of whether or not he formally declares."

I think it's nearly-impossible for Trump to be a candidate again. People in every jurisdiction in the country will sue under the Fourteenth Amendment to keep him off the ballot, and while a heck of a lot of places have partisan hacks running their supreme courts (e.g., Wisconsin) or Trump loyalists in position to derail the election (e.g., Otero County, NM), that's not universally true. Many, many places will deny him access.

As it stands right now, he almost certainly will not be on the ballot in several states, and be only partially on the ballot in several others. And if the issue went to the Supreme Court, the most likely outcome is them punting by saying it's up to the states.

F.C. in DeLand, FL, writes: I hadn't planned on writing to you about 2024 until after the midterms. But since you brought it up...

Looking at historical precedent, I've noticed something interesting about the presidential elections. It's not about which party wins, but about which party loses. For a party to retain the White House, the party must either nominate the sitting president or the sitting vice president. This does not guarantee victory by the party, but not doing so is almost a guarantee of a loss.

When George W. Bush ran for a second term and kept Dick Cheney as his VP, it guaranteed that the Democrats would take over in four years. It's not that Cheney was Darth Vader, but that there were legitimate health concerns about him. (If I remember, he had four heart attacks by that time. And given that history, it's instructive that he's still alive. Health concerns and a death certificate are not synonymous.) Vice presidents running on a popular incumbent's coat tails is a common phenomenon.

The last time this rule was broken was when Calvin Coolidge was followed by Herbert Hoover, over 90 years ago.

What does this mean for 2024? If this trend continues, the Democrats' only chance for victory is to nominate Joe Biden or Kamala Harris. And I'm not sure either of the candidates would be a strong national candidate. (Not that I'm thrilled with what I've seen on the other side, either. But as you've pointed out, it's early.)

D.E. in Austin, TX, writes: It seems crazy, but John Fetterman looks like the ideal Democratic candidate to win in 2024. Definitely better than Beto and I think all he has to do is have a moderate win in Pennsylvania to look like he can pull it off. Its obvious that he can hit Donald at his base harder than anyone without twisting himself around. He has a similar appeal to that of Biden. He just needs to not to make unforced errors in 2023.

B.C. in Selinsgrove, PA, writes: I would appreciate if would keep the "Fetterman for President" talk to a minimum; you're gonna jinx it!

L.O-R. in San Francisco, CA, writes: I'm sure you know this by now, but Drag Queen Story Hour is a real thing. Drag queens go to libraries across the country and read children's stories to children. It's very popular with libraries, children, and parents. After Fox (What) News and other radical white media ran stories decrying this practice, a group of white supremacist Proud Boys raided a reading in San Lorenzo, CA, terrorizing everyone.

Makes me want to become a drag queen in solidarity.

All Politics Is Local

O.N.E. in Greenville, SC, writes: Last Tuesday, I was a poll worker at my local district in South Carolina. Here are a few observations:

  • While right-wingers may have won in my precinct, the further right-wing (I call them "fire-eaters," after the Civil War politicians) did not do so well in my precinct, and many of them lost in my county. (The only one who might not have been further right than his opponent was Alan Wilson.)

  • Local ties often beat well-known right-wingers. While one candidate (a Bob Jones University alumnus) got second statewide, in this district the winner (who did worse in the state) was a local school board member.

  • One noted right-wing county councilman lost his primary and is calling for a recount and seeking to run a write-in campaign. His opponent was right-wing, but more friendly to the local business community.

  • Our local state house representative voted for several right-wing bills. He faced a challenger from his right for being a gay man. (The challenger has been doing this for a few years.)

  • While this is a strongly Republican area, there was a sizable Democratic vote. (Not sure how big the turnout will be for the runoff.)

  • A word of warning: The biggest problem we had was the DMV not updating the voters' addresses with voter registration. This happened across the spectrum. Readers, when you move within a state or county, don't forget to update your address with your voter registration office!

  • Anyone who needs stakes for their garden, if you can find any signs from people who lost their primary, you can use them for free!

The runoff is the 28th, and I am quite looking forward to it.

V & Z respond: But what do you do if you need steaks for your garden?

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: You wrote about how the Republican primary for U.S. Senator in Arizona is going scorched earth, between AG Mark Brnovich, Blake Masters and Jim Lamon.

In addition, there's a fair amount of scorched earth in Nevada, where 1/6 insurrectionist Joey Gilbert lost the gubernatorial primary to Joe Lombardo. He's claiming the vote was fraudulent, while the rest of the state GOP is calling him a joke, as they're sick of the voter fraud nonsense.

Or next door in New Mexico, the "Cowboys for Trump" electoral commissioners for Otero County, including another 1/6 Capitol insurrectionist, Couy Griffin, refused to certify the primary results, even though the gubernatorial result looks like a complete rout, Mark Ronchetti over Rebecca Dow, because the vote used Dominion machines. New Mexico's Democratic secretary of state sued and the supreme court ordered them to certify, which they finally did on Friday.

Plenty of scorched earth all around the Southwest. Must be some of that climate change.

P.M. of Edenton, NC (currently in Sidney, NE), writes: I am on one of my summer driving trips, and spent the last few days in Wyoming. I wanted to report that I saw a number of Hageman for Congress signs all over the state, including several in downtown Cheyenne. I saw none at all for Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY). This may be an indication of the popular support on the ground in Wyoming to get rid of Cheney.

J.G. in Cushing, ME, writes: There is also an independent running in ME-02 in November. That is mostly why Maine adopted ranked-choice voting. Paul LePage was elected governor twice, but never claimed 50% of the vote, as an independent siphoned off too many Democrats (a Maine tradition). So for ME-02, we have a repeat of 4 years ago when Rep. Jared Golden (D) won because Bruce Poliquin can't poll 50%, either. Add to that, LePage and Poliquin left the state after their loses and just recently returned to run for office. Mainers don't like that.

DR, Unalakleet, AK (formerly from Old Harbor, Anaktuvuk Pass, and Togiak), writes: Thanks for your excellent summary of the election in Alaska. As a follow-up, here's an overview of the crazy stuff done by Don Young during his tenure as our congressman:

  • He called COVID the "beer" virus (referring to Corona beer).

  • To combat domestic violence, he advised people to drink alone.

  • Misquoted Abraham Lincoln, claiming Lincoln called for his political opponents to be hanged.

  • Attacked environmentalists as "self-centered bunch of waffle-stomping, Harvard graduating, intellectual idiots" and said they "are not Americans, never have been Americans, never will be Americans."

  • Once waved a walrus penis bone at the incoming chief of Fish and Wildlife Service, Mollie Beattie.

  • Claimed the BP oil spill was not an environmental disaster.

  • Rejected Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" as "a crock of sh**."

  • After voting to impeach Bill Clinton, he worked with Clinton to support the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA).

  • In 2014, when talking to students at Wasilla High School, he made disrespectful, rude, and profane remarks referring to teen suicide.
International Politics

S.D. in Westerlo, Belgium, writes: In response to your item "'Stop the Steal' Goes National," I would argue that the "Stop the Steal" spin has already gone international (I was going to write global, but I suppose not all corners of the world really care about U.S. politics and/or Donald Trump.

I noticed here in Belgium an awful lot of Trumpy reactions to our public network correspondent's coverage of the 1/6 Committee's work, criticizing them for being blind/asleep, griping about Joe and Hunter Biden (especially the latter) and other accusations or theories as being vastly more important while uninvestigated. All of this without any reference to evidence other than YouTube links (mainly to Fox clips).

The reason the same sentiment exists here as in the U.S. is that a loud minority feels unheard. The (extreme) right wing party is the largest, but still a minority and is not able to find a majority to form a government (even if they actually wanted to). Throw COVID and all the restrictions that came with it in the mix, with a Secretary for Health whose name wasn't on the ballot (as administration members aren't elected directly) and you get #notmygovernment showing up all over the Internet.

Seeing Trump activism this close to home isn't very comforting and indicates the need for global solutions to our society's problems. Populism isn't new, but its weaponry as wielded by Trumpism (social media, fake news and especially the media bubble) are, and turn out to be a booster, instead of media and the availability of information being an antidote. People just want it easy, instead of having to (really) research things themselves...

Legal Matters

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: As someone who clerked for an appellate court (not the U.S. Supreme Court) judge back in the 90s, draft opinions are definitely not an attempt to test the waters. Prior to a judge getting assigned to draft the majority opinion for a case, there is a discussion and tentative vote, with one of the judges in the majority getting assigned the case. So the judge drafting the opinion has some idea of what his fellow judges are likely to agree to. The judge will then draft an initial opinion with the aid of his or her law clerks (whose job is somewhere between research assistant, editor, and ghost writer, depending on the judge and the case).

The purpose of an opinion is to explain why the court reached a particular result in this case and typically sets forth the standard that the judge believes applies to this case, which lower courts will then be obligated to apply in similar cases in the future. A draft majority opinion is ultimately what that judge believes is the right thing to say in this case tempered by the judge's beliefs about what her colleagues would be willing to sign onto given the initial discussion about the case. Because the other judges can change their mind after reading competing draft opinions, no judge is going to put out a draft opinion that they do not think can get the support of the other judges. And, because traditionally, draft opinions do not become public (or at least don't become public until all of the judges in the case have retired), the target audience of any draft is the other members of the court.

Of course, initial drafts aren't always the final opinion. Even in a unanimous case, the other judges might suggest changes to language that they see as problematic. And, if the initial vote was not unanimous, the judges in the minority will often put forth a dissenting opinion pointing out the flaws in the majority opinion. The majority opinion is then reworked to either fix those flaws or address the arguments put forth by the dissent.

While we have not heard much about other opinions circulating since the Alito opinion in February, by this point of the term, all initial drafts of opinions (both majority and dissenting) have typically been circulated. While the exact cutoff date changes from term to term, we either have passed or are about to pass the deadline for final drafts with all that is left is for the justices to decide which opinions they are going to join. While there is no statutory deadline, the U.S. Supreme Court normally issues all of their opinions before July 4, so we have around nine business days left to get the remaining eighteen opinions.

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: Sorry to sound like a lecturing law professor (but I won't sound like J. Michael Luttig!). But it's necessary to be clear about the meaning of the Delaware decision denying Newsmax's motion to dismiss Dominion's defamation complaint.

In a motion to dismiss, a defendant argues that even if every single fact a plaintiff alleges is true, the plaintiff would still lose, because the alleged facts are insufficient to prove a valid legal claim. To decide the motion, therefore, the judge assumes that everything the plaintiff alleges is true.

So Judge Davis did not find that "Newsmax knew the allegations were probably false." The judge did find that "the Complaint supports [that] reasonable inference"—in other words, that the facts Dominion has alleged, if proven, are sufficient to support the inference that "Newsmax knew the allegations were probably false."

I'm not pinhead-dancing here; there is a world of difference. Dominion still has to persuade a jury that the facts it alleged are true, and still has to persuade a jury to make the necessary inferences from those facts. The hardest part of a defamation case is still ahead of Dominion.

Still, Judge Davis's decision is a huge win for Dominion. Presumably Dominion's lawyers would not have included all of those very specific factual allegations if there were not readily available evidence to support them. Newsmax is, as you wrote, in a heap of trouble.

B.C. in Halethorpe, MD, writes: Leave RBG alone.

We'll never quite know if she was planning to retire Feb. 13, 2016, and then realized with horror that not only would politically divergent yet still respected colleague Antonin Scalia not be replaced by an Obama appointee, neither would any absent justice while Mitch McConnell ruled the Senate (which he did, mind you, through Jan. 20, 2021). Even as a shrewd Washington insider, to think she would have foreseen this break with tradition and retired prior to Scalia's death is simply unfair.

While it's of limited value to play the "older generation" card, it's worth noting that she was appointed at a time when President Bill Clinton won several times more overall counties than his wife would 24 years later; on the eve of the Gingrich Revolution of 1994, the country was divided yet not in the same league as 2016. The Supreme Court, some naive among us thought, was believed to be above partisan bickering and it was a justice's obligation to hang on as long as they had the means to do so. Ginsburg can hardly be faulted for her personal habits in keeping herself alive, between her disciplined eating regime and her well-known love of exercise. Hubris? She was just doing what a majority of her predecessors had done.

I'm personally pro-life and plenty right of the late Justice Ginsberg (albeit sufficiently left of Justice Scalia). But to hear her integrity questioned and jurisprudence scathed is simply disheartening as an American. She deserves every inch of the mural I often pass by at work. Maybe she didn't carefully scheme the mortality numbers to ensure a pro-choice majority on the court after her time there, but if her integrity kept her making earnest rulings until her dying day while believing that the Supreme Court deserved higher expectations than a partisan spitting match, then she deserves a far greater reputation than those individuals who criticize her for not retiring.

A mural of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in which she
is wearing a crown and looks more like Thurgood Marshall than she does herself

Economic Matters

J.L. in Glastonbury, CT, writes: Yes, asymmetric price transmission is a real thing, but it's only a footnote.

The deal with gasoline is that both supply and demand are very inelastic (i.e., the supply and demand curves are quite steep compared to products that are more easily substituted for and more easily produced). Inelastic curves mean that prices are extremely volatile; changes in supply and demand translate into big shifts in market price. As a result, market participants have to anticipate times when the retail price does not cover costs (such as during pandemic lockdowns). On the other hand, market participants can make hay while the sun shines.

So the major issues faced are:

  1. Consumers pay what they have to pay because they need to drive where they need to drive. If consumers could easily substitute for gasoline, they would. But they can't, so they pay. At least until they can buy an electric car. Due to the end(?) of the pandemic, consumers want to drive more, not less. So the demand curve is shifting right (towards higher prices and more gas consumed).

  2. Refining capacity requires massive infrastructure investment. So not only does creating more refining capacity take time, it also requires a belief that the capital investment can be recovered over the long term. But this is an industry in its twilight; technological change and climate concerns mean that over the long term, we will need less not more refining capacity. So no one will build a refinery, regardless of current retail prices being high, even if the price of crude was $50/barrel and the price of gasoline $10/gallon. There is less refining capacity globally, thanks to the Putin/Ukraine situation, shifting the supply curve to the left (towards higher prices and less gas produced).

Want lower gas prices? Major options include having a new pandemic lockdown, finding alternatives to gasoline-powered driving, impoverishing the masses, and capitulating in Ukraine. Don't waste time obsessing over the price of crude.

History Matters

B.W.S. in Pleasant Valley, NY, writes: Regarding the question from K.W. in Sydney and your response: my wife found the OverSimplified series on YouTube about a year ago, and we are both avid fans. While it is true that some of the material is presented in a way that might make it harder for younger eyes to perceive as being tongue-in-cheek, I would suggest there are two caveats to that admonition.

First, it's well-nigh impossible, and also ill-advised, to simply try and read history at face-value; making proper sense of it also requires absorption of commentary, often from multiple sources. In fact, there is another series of YouTube videos called "Vlogging Through History," which offers discussion about the content from OverSimplified and other sources, while the videos are playing (well, with pauses). I like these because the presenter expands on the video content somewhat, and occasionally provides another angle to it, or even a bit of critique.

The other caveat, of course, is that younger children probably shouldn't watch stuff like this by themselves. I don't go in for censorship, but there's no harm in asserting "parental guidance" when it's warranted. We let our not-so-young-anymore kids watch history videos with us, and welcome the opportunity to answer questions if they have any.

M.A. in Knoxville, TN, writes: In your reply to K.W. in Sydney, you expressed concern about the sponsor sections of the videos possibly confusing children. I have the perfect solution to that: the SponsorBlock for YouTube extension. It's available for both Chrome and Firefox, and the Chrome extension should also work in Edge. It relies on crowd-sourcing, but channels as popular as OverSimplified will have people submitting segments quickly. By default it's configured to automatically skip all sponsor sections, so kids won't see those potentially problematic sections. It makes YouTube significantly better, even for adults.

Should I Stay or Should I Go, Part V

A.B. in Lichfield, England, UK, writes: T.G. in San Francisco asks for advice on where to move permanently outside the U.S., noting that they have "in-demand skills which should help me find a job." As a fellow 50-something—one who's worked on every continent except Antarctica, has visited somewhere over 40 countries, and previously lived in the United States for the best part of 15 years—I may be able to offer some advice.

The questions that T.G. should be asking include:

  • Do I have moral scruples about living in an authoritarian state? If so, then this likely rules out Persian Gulf countries like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, where a 57-year-old with "in-demand skills" should have no issue finding a well-paid and attractive job in a fascinating and rich culture where expats can happily get by in English, but where significant moral compromises are necessary on a near-daily basis.

  • Do I have any language skills? If so, then it makes sense to prioritize countries where T.G. speaks the language. Yes, many Europeans—particularly Northern and Western Europeans—that T.G. meets in a business environment will speak English, but daily life is considerably enriched—not to mention much easier—if you can manage the local language. But remember that some languages are easier to learn than others; I wouldn't, for example, recommend that a monolingual English speaker looking to live outside their own country for the first time dive straight in to countries with languages from outside the Indo-European language family; which rules out, say, Finnish and Arabic (wonderful though Finland and many Arabic-speaking countries are).

  • What broader standard of living is important to me? It's important to be honest with this one. I think Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are amazing countries with extraordinary cultures, and I can, to varying degrees, speak both Spanish and French; but even leaving aside the political situations, I wouldn't want to live in either (though I've spent spells of over a month at a time in both). Countries with extremes of wealth and poverty can, however, be attractive locations so long as you're aiming for the upper end of the spectrum. I've previously very happily lived in Egypt for example—though (at the risk of sounding neo-colonialist) I was living in one of Cairo's upmarket districts rather than a slum.

Assuming that T.G. does indeed have moral scruples about authoritarianism (which is inherent in the question), is willing to consider both English- and non-English-speaking countries, wants to live in a reasonably secure environment where a decent standard of daily living is achievable, and that we're glossing over the practicalities of residency/work visas, then I would likely recommend prioritizing Western and Northern Europe, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, and—sorry, sorry V & Z—Canada. None of which is particularly original as a conclusion; but then it's also important to ask the right questions.

It's also important to keep an open mind. For what it's worth, I've found something to enjoy in almost every country I've lived or worked in. The only exception is Qatar. It would be impolitic to go into all of the reasons here, especially since I still have friends in the country, but it's the only nation I've previously worked in where I would refuse a job were one to be offered to me.

S.B. in Hood River, OR, writes: To T.G. in San Francisco, we have been exploring this question as well. You will typically want to look at countries that have a Golden Visa. This is a means by which you can gain residency via an investment. This investment could be as simple as buying a house. Others are much more expensive. Canada had a nice program that ended in 2014—now, unless you are rather young and have a critical skill, or are a businessman who can create 10 jobs, you are out of luck. Ireland requires an investment of a million euros. New Zealand you better not even think about unless you have $7 million to invest. Others (like Mexico and the Caribbean) are much more reasonable. I have been unable to find an exhaustive list that is non-commercial but this commercial one lists many of the most popular destinations. Portugal is one that is especially attractive to us; that is one where your investment is to buy your house. We are only at the speculative stage, though.

B.V. in Laguna Beach, CA, writes: My wife and I would recommend Portugal. It's beautiful, and an affordable country with good quality of life. Since they got rid of their dictator just some 46 years ago the country seems to appreciate its new democracy. It also has a similar climate to California, but with more rain. The people we experienced were friendly, and English is commonly spoken. Oh, and really good wine!

A.M. in Olympia, WA, writes: Go to Brela, Croatia. Dalmatian Coast on the Adriatic. My wife and I have been going there since 1999. So much to offer. Weather, friendly locals, affordable, "Looks like Greece, tastes like Italy." Check it out.

J.K. in Silverdale, WA, writes: T.G. in San Francisco should definitely check out Wellington, New Zealand. I visited there in 2005/2006—our winter and their summer. At that time, Wellington felt like a less crowded San Francisco. There's the steep hills surrounding a beautiful bay, a large park in the center of town, a diversity of food options, and that chill San Francisco vibe. I'm starting to think about the possibility of moving there myself.

Which brings me to my comment for C.S. in Linville. I contemplated moving to NZ to raise my family, but I wanted my kids to know their grandparents. I think their family relationships are a significant benefit to them, but if not for that, I would not have raised my kids here. My original response to you when you wrote in about becoming a parent was that my kids give me hope for the humans. They still do, but now that they are adolescents, they are losing hope themselves. My teen, who was a first grader at the time of the Sandy Hook massacre, believes his generation will be the nihilist generation. He makes a compelling argument. I admit that I am a worrywart, so for me, raising kids in the U.S. includes the gnawing fear that they won't come home from school every time I send them, and the knowledge that in addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic, they practice active shooter drills. If I were just having kids now and I had the option, I would leave the U.S. before they started school.

Global Warming, Part II

C.S. in Linville, NC, writes: Thank you to the community for all for your initial responses about parenthood. We were delighted to hear your advice. I have to say, though, that I was a little disappointed by the overt optimism from the readers; I thought I would get more matter of fact responses. Perhaps the oracle left those out on purpose?

Thank you B.J in Boston for the well wishes, honesty and sharing your thoughts about the giant elephant in the room no one seems to want to talk about. I share your concern regarding climate change and feeling of having kids. On one hand, I'm glad it's happening, I'm glad we are having a girl at the end of the month. On the other hand, I am worried for my child's generation to live in and witness a world where mass suffering, sea level rising, mass climate migration, mass famine and starvation and the resulting cause and effects are the new normal and no longer third-world problems.

It is already evident to me that the human brain isn't able to compute all the information we are flooded with via the Internet. Witnessing and experiencing the looming climate catastrophes and incalculable results will be unbearable for many. This will be and has become a huge mental health issue for today's youth.

So what shall we do to lessen the impacts on our day to day lives? I'm curious what real world steps people are taking.

For me, the answer has been clear. An ever-growing portion of our society needs to be able to produce food for themselves and others locally. Not shipped to the east coast from California. No offense, California, your modern-day slave labor does produce great food. I just don't feel like supporting that anymore.

We all need to need to develop an interest in growing food, however big or small.

So, go plant a garden if you have yard space. Put something in a pot in the window if you don't have a yard. Better yet, join a community garden, volunteer at a local farm. Support your local farmers by shopping at a farmers' market. Befriend a farmer. Hug a farmer. Heck Become a farmer! Join a Community Supported Agriculture program.

My partner and I are slowly turning a modest 1/2 acre we own and a local business's 1 acre into am edible food forest. Planting over the last 5 years dozens and dozens of edible perennial fruit and nut trees, blue berries, sea berries, service berries, grapes, raspberries, blackberries, asparagus, rhubarb, just to name some. It's become a real passion of ours and brings us great joy. Not to mention the 5 pounds of strawberries I've been picking daily. Any other garden/political enthusiasts have any recommendations for perennial plants to grow?

V & Z respond: We will be happy to run suggestions.

M.C. in Reno, NV, writes: In response to the letter from B.J. in Boston, which can be summarized as "I wouldn't have kids today because global warming is awful," I'd like to say: I've heard this sentiment before, and in more than a few places. The Atlantic even had an article about it.

I find this argument incredibly unconvincing. For the vast majority of human history, humans have been born into a crapsack world that promised toil and pain in large helpings. And yet, the human spirit endures. Almost every single person alive today exists because generations of their ancestors put in hard work and raised kids in a crapsack world.

Many of us alive today in the West, however, have little memory of this truth, given that we grew up during the Long Peace between World War II and today. Warfare, famine, disease, and other assorted evils seem somehow unusual to us, or surprising. They should not be. They are the way the world has been for millennia.

Raising children is the table stakes for having a stake in the future of humankind on this planet. Those who end up not raising children because they're afraid those children may not have a nice life will cede their space on this planet to those of us who take the risk.

Or, if that's not convincing, consider this proposition: Separate humanity into two groups; those who choose to have fewer, or no, children because of global warming, and those who do have children despite the risk. Eventually the more populous group will simply seize the resources that are left indefensible by the reduced population of the less populous group.

By choosing not to raise children because of your "responsible" viewpoint, you are simply ensuring that there will be proportionately fewer "responsible" people in the next generation.

D.M. in Wimberley, TX, writes: I wish to concur with B.J. in Boston, who pointed out that the climate catastrophe is looming larger than other concerns. I have been working as volunteer social coordinator for Radio Ecoshock for a while, and have thus listened to hundreds of interviews with climate scientists.

The outlook is far worse than most of us realize. All the signs of hope we hear about—promising new technologies, increases in renewable energy usage, social movements—none of these things are significant because the concentration of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere continues its exponential rise, without the slightest dip in the arc. And that is not going to change, because the incentives in our system are too entrenched. The human economic superorganism will simply continue to extract energy and excrete waste until it dies, taking most of us with it.

This information increasingly colors the way I think about everything. Look at it this way; you are on a train. The door to the engine room is locked and the train is accelerating, faster and faster. The brakes don't work. The train is going to crash, you just don't know when. It's moving too fast to jump off of. Your best hope is to try to position yourself somewhere the impact will affect you least and you might be able to escape from the wreckage. Meanwhile, you have a terrible toothache. How important is your toothache? In normal circumstances it would completely dominate your consciousness. But these are not normal circumstances. This is how I think about politics in our current predicament.

Some will say that this only makes politics more important, because if we could get sane, good governance, we could address the problem. I'm afraid it is far too late for that. That might have been true a few decades ago. Even then, it would have taken a complete sea change in human affairs, one that is not now and never has been on our horizon.

So I still read and love, and I still care about politics, and I still vote. But I'm looking at a longer time horizon now, and the changes I'm looking for are much broader and deeper in nature. I'm looking for green shoots of a new cultural ecosystem, one that will perhaps emerge after this one dies. I don't bother arguing about this stuff with anyone. I think if someone wants to know, they know. And who can blame someone for refusing to accept it? But I also thought perhaps I would write this letter, so that others might know they are not alone.

F.M. in Hatfield, PA, writes: Speaking not politically but mathematically, I notice the question "children or no children" has come up in Sunday comments. I would like to point out about a year or two ago, Vox published a research article showing that avoiding having children, or having fewer children, results in as-near-as-makes-no-difference zero affect on the environment while donating to effective climate charities can cause a massive improvement in the environment.

A.B. in Wendell, Part II

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: When I saw that I literally had an entire section in the mailbag...all I could say was...WOW! And I wondered what I might have written that led to it. I followed the links back and figured it out.

I have to say that some of the responses give me some hope—admittedly not much—that my worst fears will not one day be realized in this country. It is nice to know that I finally have managed to really reach a few people, and to adequately make them understand, just what life is like for a transgender person in this supposedly free country. In my experience, it is only a free country if you are not, in some way, different. And even then, it's only as free as someone else says it is for you. Every one of us has our very lives held in someone else's hand (for most of us, it is our boss that holds our life in their hands, because they are the source of our livelihood, and thus ability to live).

What I wrote that reached people... was one of the most gut-wrenching op-ed's I have ever written. I truly eviscerated myself—and laid bare—all the pain I have endured. And since the writing of that, I have lost my one and only client, and so, in effect, am now unemployed, which is a place I fear being above all else. And here I am. Again. Forced to go into what I perceive as a hostile job market, hoping against hope that someone will give me a chance to live.

And, in spite of the words of support, I am still forced to wonder... just how many people really will stick their necks out on our behalf, when and if the proverbial "nut-cuttin' time" really does come. I mean... it's hard enough to even get someone to give me a chance at a job!

Incidentally, "work from home" is the most ideal situation for me, because the thought of going into an office again—and being around co-workers, some of whom are poisonous and absolutely dying to get me fired because they secretly (or not so secretly) hate trans like me—is absolutely terrifying.

Work from home has been my life for the last ten years. I can only hope I find something. If not, likely enough I will lose the house I have eight years invested in, and just two years left to pay off. Finally, I was gonna have something nobody could take from me... and now it is at risk.

Complaints Department

J.E. in Houston, TX, writes: A Hispanic woman just won a special election in a somewhat blue district. Why is this not news other than the fact that she is Hispanic and winning for the "wrong" political party?

When are you going to let other voices be heard instead of appealing only to upper-class white people?

Most people don't give a fu** about January 6th and that's mostly what your website is about nowadays. Completely unreadable partisan upper-class white liberal bulls**t.

V & Z respond: If you would like an outlet that covers politics but ignores the 1/6 hearings, then take a look at a little site called Should be right up your alley.

Making the Grade, Part IV

M.B. in San Antonio TX, writes: One student who almost never came to class, and submitted about a third of the assignments, came to my office and demanded to know why I had given her an F. I answered: "Because the University won't let me give you a G."

And then there's the (probably) apocryphal story that's been floating around academia for a few decades. The professor's exam consisted of the following instruction: 'Write everything you know about X (say, Quantum Physics)." The student looked at the exam for about 10 seconds, signed their name, turned it in blank, and left the room. After getting an F, the student argued: "I know absolutely nothing about Quantum Physics, and thus I have fulfilled your instruction to the letter, and should get an A on the assignment." The professor, seeing the undisputable logic in the argument, gave the student the A, and henceforth reworded the assignment.

B.W. in Boston, MA, writes: When I was a TA for a science course the test question was show the steps of a particular biological cycle. One student answered with a bunch of arrows in a circle. I gave no points. They argued that at least they showed it was a cycle so deserved some credit. Since cycle was part of the question, I disagreed.

P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, writes: Once, while teaching history at a community college in Arkansas, my wife had a student who came to her to ask if he could take a makeup exam because his car blew up. My wife, a kind soul when it comes to students, said that, for this one, she was going to have to have some kind of proof. When she arrived at home that evening and opened up the local paper she had her proof. The front page had a picture of said car being attended to by local firefighters in the middle of the town's main drag. No grandparents were injured in the incident.

F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: As it happens, I was at grad school at LSU when Shaquille O'Neal was playing, and my older brother was there when Pete Maravich was playing.

On his first day of a math class, my brother took his seat in a lecture hall of over 100 students. Of course, with a class that size, they don't bother to take roll. However, there is a roster posted on the door so the students can see that they're in the right place.

The prof steps up and says, "Now, some of you may have noticed that Pete Maravich is enrolled in this class. I can guarantee two things. First, you will never see him in this room. Second, he will get an 'A'."

Shaq did (eventually) get his degree, announcing that he could "get a real job." Maravich dropped out.


K.M. in Tacoma, WA, writes: I would like to recommend two of my favorite father-son movies for Father's Day: Nebraska and Road to Perdition.

V & Z respond: Business Insider had a list on this subject, as well.

M.C.A. in San Francisco, CA, writes: Speaking of Lauren Boebert and the Streisand effect...

Boy, that Lauren Boebert is a funny girl. When she first gained office, her supporters thought "a star is born." Many others realized she was just nuts. Come November 8, let's hope she loses the main event so she can go yentl into the night and send her little fockers packing. Then, for Pete's sake, we can go back to the way we were.

G.S. in... Everywhere?, writes: Greetings, from the illuminati world elite empire. Bringing the poor, the needy and the talented to the limelight of fame, riches and powers, knowledge, business and political connections. This is the right time for you to put all your worries, your health issues, and finance problems to an end by joining the Elite Family of The illuminati!. Are you sick, Barren or having divorcing problems, finding it difficult to get job promotions in your place of work in order to excel in life just like you wish? If YES! Then join the illuminati empire you will get all this numerous benefit and solutions to your problems.

V & Z respond: A very tempting offer...

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun18 Saturday Q&A
Jun17 The 1/6 Committee Hearings, Day 3: Trump (and Eastman) vs. Pence
Jun17 Department of Justice, 1/6 Committee Are Sniping at Each Other
Jun17 Dominion Suit against Newsmax Can Move Forward
Jun17 Senate Gun Talks about to Misfire
Jun17 Walker's Got Kids Everywhere
Jun17 Boebert Plans to Sue
Jun17 This Week in Schadenfreude
Jun16 Select Committee Releases Video of Reconnaissance Tour on Jan. 5
Jun16 Outstanding Lines from Monday's Hearing
Jun16 Inflation Meets Bone Saws
Jun16 Is the Select Committee Even Asking the Right Question?
Jun16 Down-ballot Races Nobody Is Looking At
Jun16 Republicans Are Going Scorched Earth in Arizona Senate Primary
Jun16 Bannon Also Goes Scorched Earth--and Gets Nowhere
Jun16 Poll: Fetterman Leads Oz
Jun16 Jewish Congregation Files Suit over Florida Abortion Law
Jun15 A Day of Few Surprises
Jun15 "Stop the Steal" Goes National
Jun15 A Couple of (Small) Bumps in the Road for 1/6 Committee
Jun15 House Passes SCOTUS Security Bill
Jun15 Walker Is an Oppo Researcher's Dream...
Jun15 ...Boebert, Too?
Jun14 The 1/6 Committee Hearings, Day 2: It's All About the Grift
Jun14 Voters in Five States Head to the Polls
Jun14 The State of the Economy Is Not Good
Jun14 Well, This Is Ironic... or Not
Jun14 Sixteen States and Puerto Rico Make the Cut for Early Voting in 2024
Jun13 The Second Hearing Will Be This Morning
Jun13 Top One-liners from Last Thursday's Hearing
Jun13 Trump Attacks--Get This--Ivanka
Jun13 Over 20 Million People Watched the Hearing--That's a Lot
Jun13 Will the Select Committee Apply the Lessons from Watergate?
Jun13 Senate Might Pass a Watered-Down Gun Bill
Jun13 The Notorious RBG Is Taking a Nosedive
Jun13 Biden Is Working on Salvaging What He Can on Abortion
Jun13 The 2024 Presidential Campaigns are Already Quietly Underway
Jun13 Final House Map Favors the Republicans
Jun13 Trump Works on His Batting Average in Alabama
Jun13 Election Day Has Now Passed--in Alaska
Jun12 Sunday Mailbag
Jun11 Saturday Q&A
Jun10 The 1/6 Committee Hearings, Day 1: It Was Carnage
Jun10 The 1/6 Committee Hearings, Day 1: Takeaways
Jun10 The 1/6 Committee Hearings, Day 1: The Response from the Right
Jun10 Michigan Gubernatorial Candidate Arrested
Jun10 Zinke Survives
Jun10 Lawton Tries to Salvage His Career
Jun10 This Week in Schadenfreude
Jun09 It's Showtime