• Today's Senate Polls
The mailbag is always rather eclectic, of course, but today's entry may have broken the record. Among other subjects, you'll find hurricanes, Jimmy Carter, the Pennsylvania Senate race, whistleblowing, British politics, the Stonewall Riots, Civil war interpretation, Charles Darwin's grandfather and, of course, hookers and cocaine. Interestingly, Donald Trump barely appears.
Also, the Top 25 events of modern U.S. history was of enough interest that we're going to run responses over several weeks. That means that there is still time for readers to weigh in, if they have a suggestion for the list. Please do include an explanation of your suggestion, and remember we're talking 1877 to the present.
Politics: Hurricane Ian
A.B in Miami, FL, writes: Will [Hurricane Ian or some other Event X] be the tipping point that convinces Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and other Republicans in Florida to take global warming seriously? I loathe DeSantis and all the other insurrectionist, fascist, science-denying bigots that are the red team, let's get that out there up front. That said, they aren't entirely heads-in-sand when it comes to rising sea levels and such. They do support mitigation/adaptation efforts, so long as you don't tie it to taboo-to-them wording like "global warming." For example, the state is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to raise sea walls, roads, etc. In some areas they're also requiring property owners to pay for their own mandatory increases in sea wall height. Some of this comes from cities/counties that are controlled by Democrats, but even in those areas, the Republicans seem to go along fine—so long as it's framed as "adaptation." And DeSantis touted a "resiliency" fund. It's very true they don't support efforts to slow changes in climate; but they do seem willing to undertake efforts to adapt to it.
That's an interesting take on things. I've followed the climate issue for a very long time (even launched a non-profit to help combat it decades ago; which closed down due to lack of donations). A big problem is that the societal changes necessary to actually slow the onrushing juggernaut are sacrifices that many people aren't willing to make, especially when the painful damage from global warming hasn't yet hit them directly and indisputably (e.g., hurricanes have always hit Florida, so the increased damage from more/stronger ones isn't in the Captain Obvious realm yet). Thus, asking people to give up air travel, give up beef, give up automobile travel, etc., is still a bridge too far. (And probably always will be, since living in a vegetarian 1800s isn't most people's idea of fun. If it were, we'd still be there.)
So it unfortunately seems almost a certainty to me that we won't "stop" substantial climate change. It's coming. If we're not already past the point of no return, we're not hitting the brakes near fast enough and we'll shoot past said point. So, I take it as a given. Thus, we really do need to put effort into adaptation, as best we can. And, much as I loathe the red team, they are willing to put effort into adaptation. They do see sea levels rising—we get more localized flooding than before from King Tides, for example. So they're okay with efforts to raise sea walls, etc. As long as it's a demonstrable, specific problem that can be directly adapted to, they don't seem opposed (so long as they don't have to say the cause is man-made, or give up things like driving, flying, beef, etc.).
D.A.Y. in Troy, MI, writes: With yet another devastating storm striking the U.S. to cause death and destruction, I think we need to rethink our development of our coasts and flood plains. Natural barriers meant to take the brunt of storms tropical and otherwise have been become some of our most developed areas. Even barrier islands, which get their very name from the fact they protects the mainland from the wave action of tropical storms, have neighborhoods and even towns on them. Swamps and marshes along the coasts and river banks have been filled in and paved over. Rivers are walled off with levees so the flood plain can be converted to cropland and cities.
The result when the weather comes knocking is devastation. We have seen the Mississippi River and its tributaries blast through earthen levees to flood what had been denied it. Hurricanes have hit not just Florida but also Houston and New Orleans, to causing more destruction with their rain and storm surge than the more widely reported winds. In Florida and North Carolina, there are many cases of barrier islands being cut in half and the road built on them being severed to cut off the communities at either end from each other.
As the climate warms and bigger, stronger, wetter, and slower hurricanes threaten our coasts and temperate storm systems drench our river valleys, it is high time we rethink developing in areas meant to protect us from these events. As Florida rebuilds, it should not just tighten up building codes (yet again) but set aside coastal regions to be allowed to return to their coasts wetlands and mangrove states. This would take human lives, property, and economy somewhat out of harm's way while providing a natural buffer for its protection. Efforts have been made in the most vulnerable areas of the Mississippi River system, despite protests from some.
I doubt this will happen in Florida, though. They will move in, rebuild on the coasts and barrier islands, and we will then wait for the next hurricane. They have done this before, and I do not see any reason why they will not do it again.
E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: The nine most terrifying words? Saint Ronnie certainly knew how to deliver his scripted lines. Always a guaranteed applause line at Republican campaign events. Big laughs. But whenever FEMA shows up at a disaster like Hurricane Ian in Florida, I feel obligated to say, "Don't sound so funny now, do it Jethro?"
R.J. in Pasco, WA, writes: I was wondering about the electoral ramifications of Hurricane Ian and decided to look at the counties it hit the hardest and left the most severe destruction... Looks like it hit almost exclusively red counties.
From the pictures and reporting I've seen, it is easy to assume 70-80% of homes may actually be uninhabitable, with possibly only 1 in 5 being covered by flood insurance. Do you think we might see huge displacement of these populations? Didn't we see something similar with Katrina?
Many may leave the state all together.
I'm wondering if this could dramatically change the electoral makeup of Florida...
Politics: Redistribution of Wealth
K.C. in West Islip, NY, writes: It seems to me that the lawsuits in regards to the Biden plan to forgive parts or all of student loans, as is often the case with Republican economic ideology, completely miss the mark.
The bottom line is that anything which puts money back in the pockets of people who don't have copious amounts of money to begin with is a good thing. Instead of paying back loans for years on end and getting nothing tangible out of it, that money can go towards keeping the wheels of the economy turning. Unfortunately, the GOP is permanently stuck in the era of St. Ronnie's trickle-down format, where all the money trickles down into the pockets of the already wealthy who stash it away in offshore accounts or in the market instead of using it to keep the economy churning along. Of course, the personal economies of they and their exorbitantly wealthy friends have always come before the economic health of the country and I wouldn't hold my breath for them to change that thinking any time soon. What helps them get richer is good, what helps the average Joe and Jane Citizen is bad.
It's completely mind-boggling they've devoted their energies to convincing people that things like abortion, gay marriage, hating trans folks and being able to freely possess and use quite literally any kind of firearm are more important than being able to comfortably pay for, well, anything. It's equally mind boggling that so many people agree with them.
R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: I'd like to broaden the Freudenfreude. My parents grew up in Oklahoma. Smart but poor, they married young. No job prospect offered a future, and the best job available was for my dad to join the Army. This is before the Vietnam draft. His soldier's pay was enough to let my mom, with family providing my child care, get a college degree at a local state college. She was able to get a job teaching high school home economics. With her pay and dad's GI Bill benefits, he was able to get a degree from a local state college. He got a professional-level job and Mom went back to get Masters and Ph.D. degrees. After that she became a college professor. Their incomes paid for me to go to a better state college and become an engineer. The moral of this story is that, even though I have never spent a day in uniform, I and my children owe our economic "privilege" to the United States Army and the GI Bill. May the caissons go rolling along...
Politics: Other Issues
A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Thank you for the item about the importance of the downballot races for positions like attorney general. We have seen how some state AGs abuse the enormous power they wield, not only to suppress the vote but also to use abortion restrictions and other criminal laws to target pregnant women.
In the item about whether Republican legislatures are going too far on abortion, you wrote: "No state has criminalized getting an abortion, as the PR would be horrendous." That's not actually the case. Women have been increasingly subject to prosecution for attempting to terminate their pregnancy, even for miscarriages that authorities claim are due to drug use or other alleged self-harm. Most of these women are reported to police by medical staff. All states have criminal laws on their books that can be misused, and have been misused, to punish pregnant women. You may remember the Texas case from just this year when Lizelle Herrera was charged with murder and spent 3 days in jail for allegedly causing the "death of an individual" via abortion after the 6-week ban was instituted there. The charges were eventually dropped but others haven't been as lucky. In 2015, a woman in Arkansas was charged with "concealing a birth" and a Georgia woman was arrested and charged with "malice murder" after a self-managed abortion. There are many other examples Just since 2017, 45 women have been subject to pregnancy-based prosecution in Oklahoma and 15 have been jailed or sentenced to prison.
These stories are not unique, but most of them don't make the headlines because they involve poor women of color with no power or resources. In fact, Oklahoma has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest incarceration rates for women in the world. And the far-right candidates for these offices will only continue this trend if elected. In Kansas, Kris Kobach (R) is back running for AG after his failed gubernatorial bid and is pledging to crack down on abortion in spite of voters decisively defeating a ballot measure to further restrict the procedure. You can bet he'll work with local DAs to find creative ways to punish women and providers to effectively outlaw abortion.
These elections for district attorney and attorney general are critically important for women, especially if they're pregnant and living on the margins. Pregnancy is already dangerous in these states, which have the highest maternal mortality rates, but terminating a pregnancy or even miscarrying can land women in jail depending on who sits in that office.
Thankfully, voter registration among women has skyrocketed since Roe was overturned. So, I'm glad these offices are finally getting the attention, resources and candidates they should to hopefully right these injustices, and I'm hopeful that at least some of the more extreme candidates will be defeated.
R.C. in Des Moines, IA, writes: You wrote, referring to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA): "So, we must conclude there is some very justifiable schadenfreude in the news of her pending divorce. Not because the setback will hurt her, but because it might just open her eyes a little bit." My response: Hahahahahahaha! You're joking, right? Fat chance Greene opens her eyes a little bit about anything.
V & Z respond: We did say we weren't optimistic.
T.H. in Albuquerque, NM, writes: You wrote: "And if the Speaker decides not to take action, then she can become a part of the United States' long history of disregarding its promises to Native Americans."
There is no escaping that history, but the U.S. fulfilled its promise of enfranchisement through the Voting Rights Act of 1965, finally guaranteeing Native Americans the same voting rights as other U.S. citizens. Cherokees and other Native Americans already have representation through their respective state congressional districts, not comparable to your examples of American Samoa and the Marianas (to say nothing of D.C. and Puerto Rico). To apply the 1835 New Echota Treaty today would give Cherokees a kind of dual representation. They could not have predicted back then that members of the Cherokee Nation would not remain their own separate jurisdiction, but would be integrated politically into the future state of Oklahoma's congressional districting.
J.S.G. in East Hampton, NY, writes: You overlooked two other reasons that Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) might have postponed this week's scheduled 1/6 Committee hearing. He knew that Hurricane Ian would consume the news cycle (and headlines), relegating the hearing and any new findings below the fold. You did note that Thompson might have wanted the widest possible audience, which is related, but the point still seems worth mentioning. The second reason is that Ginni Thompson testified before the Select Committee this week. Surely they'd want to include that in the final hearing before the midterms.
Politics: Happy Birthday, Mr. President
R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: We've been hearing and reading about a certain former president lately. I'd like to mention another one, but this time for the right reasons.
This Saturday, our 39th President Jimmy Carter, turned 98 years old. We don't hear too much about him lately. Needless to say, we haven't read about the FBI searching his modest home in Plains, GA, or him endorsing fringe candidates in the upcoming midterms. Nope. He has lived a quiet, yet active life since he left the White House in 1981. Heck, when he lost his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan, he conceded while states were still voting. I don't seem to recall him saying the election was rigged or stolen. Nor did he make any speeches on Jan. 6, 1981, calling for his supporters to "fight like hell" and storm the U.S. Capitol. In fact, he did everything possible to ensure a smooth transition for the Reagan team while securing the safe release of the Iranian hostages before leaving office. Not an easy feat!
That is the definition of class. President Carter was raised right and has done right for almost a century. I truly pray he can make it to 100 in two years. Carter's presidency may not have been the best in U.S. history. But I would rather have another four years of him over TFG anytime.
So while we continue to endure the news of the man from Mar-a-Lago, here's a salute to the man from Georgia. The latter is a model of what we expect from our former presidents.
Politics: Participatory Democracy
M.S. in Westchester County, NY, writes: Helping voters? You don't have to leave home! Become a volunteer on the New York Democratic Lawyers Council New York State voter helpline. While NYDLC is a Democratic-affiliated organization, the helpline is operated on a purely non-partisan basis. NYDLC wants everyone to be able to vote and to have their vote counted. You do not have to be a lawyer, just a person who is committed to voting rights and has a willingness to learn and help voters. There are an array of others who are behind-the-scenes assistants if you have a question. You will need a desktop/laptop and a phone. You can also act as a poll watcher/observer on Election Day. There are training sessions for all of this.
R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: If I may, I'd like to offer a piece of advice for those of you considering making political donations at this late stage of the election. I think it's really important to get the most bang for your buck by looking at how much cash your favorite candidates already have on hand. For example, suppose you are concerned about holding Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto's (D-NV) seat (she is probably the most endangered Democratic incumbent). Would it be worthwhile to donate your hard-earned cash to her? A quick search on Ballotpedia shows that she has raised $23,605,210 and has $9,850,372 of cash on hand compared to $7,346,384 and $2,146,394, respectively, for her opponent, Adam Laxalt (R). So, while this is a competitive race, she has plenty of funds and I am therefore choosing to send my money elsewhere.
Please look downballot. There are some important governor and secretary of state races along with about 50 competitive House races. I'm donating to toss-up races where my preferred candidate is behind in fundraising. Senate races are the most high-profile and, for the most part, don't need any more fundraising at this point. If you are really feeling ambitious, you could look into flippable state legislatures and donate there as well.
FiveThirtyEight has much more data than E-V.com on the competitiveness of House and Governor races. (Perhaps after you guys become flush with cash from Patreon, you can hire some number crunchers to add these races to your site for 2024.) Ballotpedia literally has every race from Senate down to dogcatcher, but they don't have much polling data. I'm sure there are other places to look.
My three cents (inflation, ya know).
J.C. in Washington, DC, writes: Proof of life that the election is truly underway—I cast my Arizona ballot this evening.
I recommend that both you and your readers take into account that real voters are already casting real ballots in parts of the country as we all evaluate the constantly evolving electoral landscape.
As you consistently say, a week (day? hour?) is a lifetime in politics.
License to Shill, Part III
J.C. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: Regarding which Bond villain Donald Trump most closely resembles, let me first comment on your admonition regarding Fat Bastard. He was based on a combination of Red Grant, played by Robert Shaw in From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger, played by Gert Frobe in the movie of the same name. I believe that when you blend gold, or yellow, with red, you get orange. So perhaps FB is not too off the mark. However, Red Grant was quite physically fit, and clearly Trump is not. So, hands down, Goldfinger gets my nod based on his girth, his greed and his willingness to tank the economy (by robbing Fort Knox) for his personal gain, regardless of how many will suffer as a result.
J.P. in Horsham, PA, writes: Isn't it obvious? As a Bond villain, Trump is clearly Emilio (Mar-a-)Largo from Thunderball.
R.P. in Gloucester City, NJ, writes: Thinking outside the box, I would compare Trump not to a Bond villain but to Hans Gruber of the original Die Hard movie. He goes through all sorts of distractions to hide his true goal, which is money. He also cares absolutely nothing for his confederates, letting them be eliminated by his adversary with no compunction.
E.R. in Loomis, CA, writes: The movie villain that Donald Trump most resembles—physically and emotionally—is the Dune character Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.
All Politics Is Local
V.S. in Charlottesville, VA, writes: I know many Democrats are worried about the tightening in the Pennsylvania Senate race between Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) and Dr. Mehmet Oz (R). Looking at the polling, especially for those firms conducting at least two polls in this race, the main thing I observe is that it appears the GOP voters have solidified their support for Oz. It's not so much that Fetterman lost support. The other thing is that Fox News switched to their likely-voter model this week when they released their recent round of polling. The earlier polls were of registered voters. If anything, I would argue that the polling in this race has only changed within the margin of error and is not statistically significant. However, the media needs a horse race, so "the polls are tightening."
What's perhaps the more interesting development is the gubernatorial race, with AG Josh Shapiro (D) opening up what appears to be a double-digit lead. I suspect if Fetterman is able to ease concerns about his health, and Shapiro handily carries the state, Fetterman will be swept to victory by Shapiro's coattails.
As background, I grew up in southwest Pennsylvania just outside the blue oasis known as Pittsburgh. I have family in the area that are most certainly of the opinion that the 2020 election was stolen from TFG.
J.B. in Radnor, PA, writes: I wanted to respond to your comment about being skeptical that the John Fetterman-Mehmet Oz Senate race in Pennsylvania is tightening.
You are correct that Oz has made a lot of gaffes like the one you highlighted Friday that make him look elitist and out of touch with Pennsylvania. However, he has been hammering away at Fetterman and Democrats on crime. And I think he has a clear advantage there in Pennsylvania, because Philadelphia in particular has experienced a surge in violent crime the last couple of years, and it has gotten a lot of news coverage here. I don't expect Philadelphians to vote for Oz in significant numbers, of course, but the Philadelphia suburban swing voters might. While they have leaned more toward the Democrats generally in recent elections and they are more progressive on social issues, they also are likely to respond to ads that stoke fear about violent crime in a city they work in and/or like to visit.
My point being, while I still think Fetterman will win in the end, it will not be the convincing win that it should be on paper, given the quality of candidates.
D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I am pleased to announce that I received my absentee ballot today. In another case of synchronicity, early this week, I had planned to call the registrar to ask about my ballot. The next day, without doing anything more than thinking about it, I received an e-mail informing me it should arrive shortly. Lo and behold, it is now here although I might wait another week or two before sending it in.
As readers might be aware, I live in a very Republican district, so much so that I call it "Trump's Own Country." For previous election cycles, I have offered my completely unscientific and extremely anecdotal perspective on the election. So far, this election is showing signs that something different is perhaps in the air. Perhaps fellow Lancasterian E-V.com readers have evidence to prove other insights.
For one thing, the sign that something is amiss is the lack of signs, and by that I mean yard signs. There are a smattering of signs but nothing like the battles of years before. I can't help but wonder if this might not portend a lack of enthusiasm. But, then, that would be enthusiasm on both sides, although I have seen one or two signs for Fetterman. Perhaps I'm being visually self-selective.
Another unusual sign is that for the race for the local state Representative. I start receiving ads for one candidate, April Weaver, but on her ads and website there was no mention of whether she was a Republican or a Democrat. She had that cookie-cutter Republican look to her but her position blurbs sounded more like a moderate Democrat trying to pass themselves off as a Republican. Ultimately, I resorted to asking Google which party she belonged—I guess I can judge a book by its cover, as she's a Republican. I find this lack of identification curious. Perhaps she is so arrogant and assured of her rightness that she assumed that everyone would identify her naturally as a Republican. Or perhaps she is worried that with all the Republican bagage that it would be more advantageous to hide her affiliation, but that seems unlikely given the redness of the area.
Regarding the more national races, this area still remains virulently anti-Democrat. Just yesterday, I heard someone declare that Joe Biden was feeble and senile while at the same time causing the explosion of the Nordic pipeline to ensure that the price of gas remains over $5 a gallon (the actual average for the area is $3.20 a gallon—but perhaps they were referring to methane power cars, which I was unaware existed, but which would be effected by the disruption of the methane Nordic pipeline) and personally willing Hurricane Ian into Florida. This person exclaimed several times, "Biden, he's an idiot!" This person also proclaimed we are in a recession and that the unemployment is the highest it has ever been since the Great Depression. Seriously, where do these people get this stuff? Oh wait, I know the answer to that one and his first name rhymes with Sucker.
Speaking of the Tuck, it seems like the entire Republican Sleaze Machine is totally baffled on how to attack Fetterman. Just recently the Tuck mewled about Fetterman's tattoos, claiming they were fake. Fetterman was quick to explain that each of his tattoos are the dates and names of citizens of Braddock, PA, the town he was mayor of, who were murdered during his time in office. This of course allows Fetterman to seque into how he was able to reduce the crime rate and talk about the tragedy of gun violence. That impressed me even more, but that is like preaching to the choir. Although I'm not sure how effective criticizing these tattoos are, since tattoos commemorating those lost to gun violence are as ubiquitous to the area as gun ownership, excessive alcohol consumption, chain smoking and seething resentment—it's the rural lifestyle. Additionally, I would have to say that "Dr." Oz is unpopular with the Republican base. During the primaries, I heard several people wonder, despite his endorsement by Trump, whether Oz was a secret Democrat. In fact, this area went by a sizable measure for Oz's opponent, David McCormick. Will that keep the majority of the dyed-in-the-wool Republicans from voting for him in the general? Of course not, but it just might increase the margins of those who are so unenthusiastic to vote or who might just skip making a selection and that could prove fatal for Oz. So I don't think the race is tightening at all. Even Trumpers For Life thought the whole crudités/veggie tray made Oz look ridiculous. They might forget that for Trump, but never ever for the foreign-born Oz!
The other high profile race is for governor. In previous years, yard signs for Mastriano were everywhere. This year, not so much. What makes this so incredible is that when the locals want a change of pace of blaming Biden for everything and anything, they blame current Governor Tom Wolf (D). According to locals, if they stub their toe on a rock, it's because Wolf was lurking in the nearby bushes and put a rock in their path when they weren't looking! Wolf is vehemently denounced and detested for every piece of unpopular legislation coming out of the Republican-controlled state legislature and that's pretty dastardly! So one would think Mastriano would be on everyone's lips, but no. In fact, I hadn't even heard about the photo of him in a Confederate uniform until I read it here. Instead, what I heard about more was the discovery that Mastriano believes that all women who have an abortion should be prosecuted for murder. That seems to be what little buzz about him is focused on and I'm not sure that's all to his good. In regards to his poorly attended rally in Harrisburg, his camp likes to blame the small attendance on the Penn State football game. First of all, what political idiot schedules a rally in Pennsylvania anytime around a Penn State game, which is a more sacred event than church? Second, the Penn State game started at noon (Mastriano Rally started at 3) and was a blowout (38-17). Fans of both the Nittany Lions and Mastriano, a Venn diagram of almost completely overlapping circles, could have made both events if so inclined. So, that pathetic rally makes me wonder if this cycle if your average Republican might not be more than a little embarrassed at the clowns they have running for office. But then they're the ones who picked them... or was it Wolf who chose such poor candidates?
One last factor: Perhaps Trump has finally done a good job at selling something, in that how many of his supporters believe in his Big Lie. But therein lies the rub, because I also hear a state of inevitability to the grumblings of his fanatics. Yes, they believe he will ride to their rescue but at the same time they seem resigned to the notion that the fix is in and there's nothing they can do to change the outcome. I'm not sure if this state of inevitability is a case of their minds subconsciously working through the ramifications of Trump's Lie or if it is rather a symptom of the lies that our minds tell us when faced with uncomfortable truths.
Make of this what you will.
B.S. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: I am a native of Arizona and would like to comment on the gubernatorial race here, because I believe that I could possibly offer some insight.
The biggest difference between the Katie Hobbs (D)/Kari Lake (R) gubernatorial campaign and the Sen. Mark Kelly (D)/Blake Masters (R) U.S. Senate campaign comes down significantly to candidate strength—and I'm not commenting on the disparity between Masters and Kelly, but rather Hobbs and Lake.
Kari Lake was a long-time news anchor in Arizona and really popular. While I am young, and Lake has long been off the air, even I can remember her being on TV and being good at what she did. With her expertise in public relations and general charisma, she can get the base behind her. Meanwhile, Hobbs is a fairly unknown name, even holding statewide office. Her current position as state Secretary of State was not so much won by her as it was lost by her previous opponent. Hobbs won the position after a botched 2016 election where people were waiting in polling lines several hours longer than even your traditional lines. Hobbs managed the 2020 election well, but we are all familiar with the feelings of the far right about that election in general.
Hobbs is also simply spouting traditional talking points for a Democrat running against a Trump-endorsed Republican. She is not exciting, she is not charismatic, and she is not particularly well-known outside of people who pay attention to politics. I can fairly confidently say that any success Hobbs is having is not because of her, but rather because of anti-fascist sentiment. An apt comparison would be comparing this governor's race to the presidential race of Trump and Biden in 2020. I personally knew very few people who were excited to vote for Biden, while Trump still has those who worship the ground he walks on. Any success Hobbs has can be attributed to the fact people want Lake to lose, compared to wanting Hobbs to win, as well as being able to ride Mark Kelly's coattails.
I don't know if this is information that you already have and have chosen to not comment on, but I have sensed a deep understanding of Kelly/Masters and why Kelly is leading in polling (which is spot on; my father-in-law is a die-hard Republican and even he says "Blake Masters is gross and evil and I don't like how he makes me feel") while there is some confusion about Hobbs and Lake. So while Kelly/Masters is a case of a bad Republican candidate, any of Hobbs' successes can be attributed simply to her not being a Republican rather than her own personal strengths as a candidate.
J.K. in Short Hills, NJ, writes: In response to the question posted by A.B. in Wendell, I'll address the easy stuff first. The media most frequently quotes the Dow Jones, for it has the longest track record among U.S. equity indices. It is a largely useless average, however. The Dow is a compilation of only 30 tickers and is price-weighted, so the UnitedHealth Group, Goldman Sachs, and The Home Depot own a roughly 25% aggregate weighting merely as a consequence of their high share price. The "pros," though, instead focus almost exclusively on the S&P 500 because of its supposed natural diversity, market cap weighting (Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Tesla are its biggest constituents) and its being the underlying security for the most popular equity future, ETF, and passive index funds. To be fair, the S&P 500 is not perfect. The weighting of the technology sector is debatably too great.
The question of whether the prevailing direction of the stock market accurately reflects the health of the economy is a bit trickier. To answer it, one needs to understand how investors make decisions. Information for the current environment is theoretically perfect but is quite imperfect for the future. We know how well or poorly a company did in the last quarter because its executives told us when releasing earnings. Market participants, on the other hand, can only take educated guesses on how a corporation will do when it announces performance in upcoming quarters, which strongly correlates to the present equity valuation of that company. An investor will buy a stock if he or she believes that its price underestimates the corporation's ability to generate profits in the intermediate-to-long term and will sell when the opposite is true. In addition to things such as the effectiveness of the company's management team or the demand for its products, the overall economy will have considerable influence on earnings. While the stock market is not the economy, it is therefore an excellent leading indicator on where it potentially is going in the next 6 to 12 months.
Does that mean the current selloff for the S&P 500 guarantees that a recession is coming in 2023 or 2024? Probably, but not definitely. The price of the index divided by the expected earnings of its constituents for the next year computes to 15.2x. A typical trough ratio for a recession is closer to 13.0-13.5x, so the extra wiggle room suggests that there are many investors who assign a meaningful probability to a sustained contraction in growth being avoided. Those optimistic believe that a strong jobs market and large pile of cash sitting on individual and corporate balance sheets will allow for a soft landing. As more of a strategist than an economist and one who has been publicly bearish since January 1, I disagree thanks to, among other things, the current selloff of stocks and a deeply inverted yield curve. The latter is arguably the best predictor for a recession.
T.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: I guess the most important thing about the Dow Jones Average is that it is a measure of the price of "blue chip stocks." It only covers thirty of the biggest companies although those companies tend to be in different sectors of the economy. There are other broader measures of how stocks are doing, like the Standard & Poor Index or the NASDAQ index which take into account a much larger number of stocks. Regardless of which index you look at, in theory, the price of stock reflects how businesses are doing. If a business is doing well, people are more likely to buy their stocks (to get higher dividends).
There are three problems with using stock indexes as measures of the economy. First, there is always a significant chunk of money available for investment. That money has to go somewhere. So, when other alternative investments like bonds are doing "poorly" (i.e. low interest rates), the demand for investment opportunities will drive up stocks even if businesses are not doing well. On the other hand, even if businesses are doing well, if interest rates are up, more people will invest in bonds (less risk), and the price of stocks will go down.
Second, most major businesses are now international. The price of, for example, Royal Dutch is based on how it is doing in Europe, Asia, etc. as well as how its U.S. operations are doing. Because of how large the U.S. is as a share of the global economy, it is hard for the global economy to be doing well while the U.S. economy is doing poorly. But because overseas operations play a part in the company's success, the price of stock reflects other factors besides the state of the U.S. economy.
Third, even if stock prices purely reflected the profit-per-share of companies, the profitability of business is merely one aspect of a healthy economy. Other measures include unemployment, average wages, inflations, gross domestic product, etc. While profits of business will, to some degree, also show up in the gross domestic product, high profits do not say anything about unemployment, inflation, or wages. (In fact, keeping wages and workforce down tend to increase profits, and high inflation can increase the nominal value of profits as long as the higher prices of raw materials can be passed onto consumers.)
There is, of course, some truth to the claim that the wealthy do well even when the economy is doing poorly. Businesses in a recession tend to shed the employees directly involved in the manufacture or sale of a product. Those layoffs are less likely to reach the upper level of management (who, at most, may miss out on some bonuses). And the wealthy have more reserves to survive a recession without feeling much pain. And, even if the paper value of their investments declines during a recession, that lost value is quickly recovered when the economy picks back up.
D.L. in Washington, DC, writes: A.B. in Wendell wrote: "It is as if America itself is rigged to make sure only the big boys always win, and regular folks are the only ones to ever really take it on the chin."
Not sure about disparate wins, but certainly as to disparate opportunities, the financial system has a glaring example of rigging: the pattern day trading rule allows greater freedom to richer people than to poorer people.
Investors with more than $25,000 in their margin accounts may buy and sell stocks as many times a day as they like; those with less than $25,000 may do so no more than thrice in a five-day period. (If you make three round trips on a Tuesday, you can't make another one until the following Tuesday.) Of course the government legitimately restricts people's freedom in many ways, but usually not with explicit disparity according to how much money they have in the bank.
(And yes, progressive tax brackets—reducing richer people's financial freedom—are something of a counterexample.)
D.A. in Santa Clara, CA , writes: You wrote, in reference to the use of the word "ministerial" in the proposed Electoral Count Act: "For a bill that is supposed to eliminate a huge ambiguity, it is rather opaque."
Legally, ministerial refers to the official duty of a public officer wherein the officer has no room for the exercise of discretion, and the performance being required by direct and positive command of the law. The Act in question is a law, and must use legalese. And any legal challenge would have to take place using legalese.
Finally, the legislative history of the Act is clear and leaves no room for wiggling out of the well-defined meaning and usage offered above. Well, no judicially cogent or defensible wiggle room. And if our courts are so compromised to try such a wiggle on such a matter and certification of the presidential election results, no amount of legislation will save the proper functioning of our laws and our republic.
R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Although the usual civil standard of proof is "preponderance of the evidence" (think, more likely than not) in civil fraud cases, it's "clear and convincing evidence," a standard higher than mere preponderance, but lower than "beyond a reasonable doubt." For example, in New York (where I practice civil litigation), "The clear and convincing evidence standard is satisfied when the party bearing the burden of proof has established that it is highly probable that what he or she has claimed is actually what happened" (see page 7 of this pdf from the New York Courts website. So, obtaining a verdict against the Trumps involves showing that it's not simply that it's more likely than not that they committed fraud, it's "highly probable" they did so.
Note also there is a fourth reason to bring a civil action against them, which you have mentioned at other times: If they assert the Fifth Amendment, the trier of fact can take an adverse inference that truthful testimony would hurt the witness-defendant. So either Trump and the family testify during the course of the proceedings, opening themselves to criminal fraud and/or perjury charges, or hand Attorney General Tish James something close to a walk-over on liability. Indeed, I predict that if the Trumps continue asserting the Fifth Amendment, the trial judge will grant the plaintiff summary judgment on liability and fashion injunctive relief, leaving only damages to be tried by the jury.
R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: (V) wrote: "If [Donald Trump] is found guilty in the civil trial, that might make it easier in the criminal one, as the prosecution could say: 'A jury already found him guilty. Surely you agree and aren't going to let him off this time?'"
As I recall (from long ago), a criminal conviction is admissible in a civil trial over the same issues, but civil convictions are not admissible in criminal trials, because the standard of proof is different.
In other words, the plaintiff's attorney is allowed to say "He's already been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of having done these things, so it's obviously more likely than not that he did them," but a prosecutor cannot say "it's already been found to be more likely than not that he did these things, so it's clearly been proven beyond a reasonable doubt."
Blowing the Whistle
A.J.B. in Marbury, MD, writes: J.M. in Silver Spring asked why you referred to Edward Snowden as a whistleblower, and brought up the argument that since "there are specific channels to use to report government abuse (even classified abuse) with impunity," and Snowden did not use those channels, he does not qualify as a whistleblower. You agreed that it was a poor choice in wording.
I contend that Snowden is a whistleblower. The problem with the given argument lies in the nature of what defines the act of whistleblowing.
To blow the whistle on an act of wrongdoing is to report that act to a higher authority, one which is not itself complicit in the act. For example, if you see your co-worker in the next cubicle breaking the rules in a harmful way, you may very well just report that to your mutual boss.
But if you see things which lead you to think that your boss is involved in the wrongdoing, then giving the report to that same place would obviously not do any good. Typically, whistleblower rules allow for you to bypass the normal reporting chain in that sort of case; you can try to go to the next level of management up, or talk to another appropriate manager, or go through other established whistleblower channels. Likewise, if the next person to whom you would report also seems to be involved, you can bypass that layer of authority in similar ways. Eventually, if the corruption and complicity seems to go all the way to the top, you take the report instead to an outside authority—a relevant governmental entity, or the media and thus the public.
In the case of Snowden, unless I've been grossly misinformed, the "specific channels" which exist for reporting wrongdoing in such a way as to bypass the normal reporting chain didn't bypass far enough. If he had used those channels to blow the whistle on the abuses he was seeing, where would that report have gone to?
He was a contractor for the NSA, which is where he saw the abuses happening. The various higher management levels of the NSA were already aware of the actions which Snowden saw as being abuses or wrongdoing, and were not stopping those actions. If the report had gone to them, it is reasonable to assume that they would have brushed it off, and even if whistleblower rules meant that he didn't get penalized the abuses would still have continued.
The FISA court was already seeing the things Snowden saw as being abusive, and was signing off on them as being allowable. Thus, the FISA court was also complicit in allowing those presumed abuses. If the report had somehow gone to them, there is no reason to believe that they would have seen that as any more reason to prohibit the activities involved than the things they'd already seen.
The next oversight level up, not beholden to either of those two authorities, would have been the congressional committees responsible for overseeing the intelligence community. The members of those committees who had clearance to know about the programs which Snowden saw as being abusive had already been informed about seen the same activities he saw as problematic, and had not considered them to be abuses that needed curtailing. If the report had gone all the way up to those committees, it would very probably have gone before only those members already cleared to know about the programs involved, and would presumably have been brushed off on the same basis as was used to sign off on these programs in the first place.
As such, every layer of oversight to whom the official whistleblower channels would have sent a report appeared to be complicit in allowing the abuses to occur. So, what Snowden did was to send the report instead to the only level of authority to which the members of the Congressional oversight committees have to answer, and the lowest level of authority in the chain which did not seem to already be complicit in the wrongdoing: the American public.
It's simply unfortunate that he did not have any way to report the abuses to that final authority without also making the same information public across the entire world, including to our adversaries. It's also, in my opinion, even more unfortunate that it happened to be Russia that he was located in when the documents that allowed him to travel were revoked and he was unable to continue moving.
And it's possibly even more unfortunate that our laws are such that if he ever did return to the U.S. and face trial, he would not be allowed to assert in his defense that his actions were justified; the Espionage Act does not allow that type of defense.
D.M. in Berlin, Germany, writes: You implied that Vladimir Putin's announcement of Russian citizenship for Edward Snowden was aimed at an American audience. I think it was aimed at a European audience. Snowden exposed that the U.S. spies on its allies. The reactions I've seen from people in the U.S. are all "duh, doesn't everyone?", but that seems to be a cultural difference. Germany, in particular, was genuinely deeply shocked from top to bottom and almost gave Snowden asylum before it chickened out of angering the U.S. that much. Legislation at the E.U. level followed: websites that store user data on servers that are physically located in the U.S., where No Such Agency has known access to them, must announce that as part of the cookie notice so people can decline to use these sites before they give all their data away.
However, if Putin's goal was to stir up anti-Americanism in the EU and split NATO, it didn't come anywhere near success. Snowden is not in the news in Germany. After all, nothing has changed for him in practice.
F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: I wonder if Vladimir Putin gave Snowden Russian citizenship so the latter could be drafted to fight in Ukraine.
International Affairs: Russia
F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: You wrote:And once he's [Vladimir Putin has fired off one nuclear weapon], how can there be any certainty that he won't fire one at Tokyo, or Berlin, or Paris, or London? If the leaders of those nations were to do little to nothing to deter him, only to see millions of their citizens perish in such an attack, that would be the end of them and of their political parties. That being the case, a direct confrontation with the Russians, on some level, would seem to be politically necessary, to say nothing of the necessity in maintaining the world order. If NATO is unwilling to do this, then why was it such a big deal that Finland, with its lengthy shared border with Russia, joined the alliance? Also, note that Ukraine has now applied for NATO membership. So, there would be some basis for defending them as if it were a member.
Here are my thoughts about this issue: As long as Putin doesn't directly attack a NATO country, Germany and NATO wouldn't attack Russia militarily. No German politician would survive that. If you asked the German population "Would you support an attack against Russia as long as Russia doesn't attack a NATO country?", very few Germans would answer "yes." I honestly have no clue what would happen if Russia uses nukes. More severe sanctions against Russia and more military support for Ukraine seem very likely, but military attacks against Russia by NATO seem unlikely to me. NATO regards itself as defensive alliance, so members are probably safe. At least Russia (or the Soviet Union) never attacked a NATO member. So Finland will be safe as a NATO member. NATO usually doesn't defend non-member-states as if they were members—for example, NATO refused to implement a no-fly-zone in Ukraine although the Ukraine government demanded a no-fly-zone. It seems unlikely to me that Ukraine will become a member soon.
J.H. in Richmond, VA, writes: I'd like to take some issue with your interpretations of Vladimir Putin's actions and options, in the friendly spirit of give-and-take rather than the usual dog-eat-dog academic critique. There is a lot of debate (much carried out on Twitter, but between well-educated and thoughtful scholars), so I'll just channel what seem to be the major interpretations.
As for Putin's reasons for war and his endgame: No one can imagine where Putin is heading. He probably does not know, either. Why he launched the war remains mysterious. So many months in isolation, because of his deathly fear of COVID, might have pushed him closer to or over some psychological edge. He has been fixated on Ukraine since before the Orange Revolution; every time he thinks he has Ukrainians in his grasp, they push back with some success. Why fixate on Ukraine? First, Putin's thinking contains a crude but powerful (and historically uninformed) form of Russian chauvinism and imperialism. Alas, he is not alone in this thinking over there. Second, the problems with Ukraine have really been about losing it to a Western orbit: more the EU than NATO, since the EU means a different kind of political system and political economy than the system he has tried to create. Finland has been a nice, neutral source of shopping for many Russians (although there is much more to enjoy there than shopping, as I can attest personally). The Baltic countries are small fry in Putin's mind, unimportant. But Ukraine is a sort of "other" for Putin and many Russians, and they can't be that different. Third, let's face it, Putin is a small-time mafia bandit who was canny and lucky enough to make it big. He is more a creature of a bad rip-off of The Godfather (maybe Philip Tattaglia or, perhaps, a thuggish Fredo on steroids). Ukrainians, or Russian elites, who stand up to him are the equivalent of someone telling Vito Corleone "I don't like my job." That's just something you don't do. Putin will ignore those who are weak but (seemingly) useless, bow resentfully before those stronger, and beat up those he thinks are weaker but pose a possible danger.
So why did he go to war? Hard to tell. Very doubtful it was a response to problems at home. There were problems, but they were closed to a slow burn, and Russians were the proverbial frogs in slowly heating water. Putin was fearful of taking COVID lockdowns too far out of fear that citizens might have become too enraged; why take this risky step? Further, there is no unified opposition; Alexei Navalny leads a minority. So I doubt public displeasure with his policies was the root of his actions. What is clear is that his people were certainly caught off guard as much as the rest of us were. What happens next? He has never painted himself into a corner like this. For example, one day he annexes four Ukrainian territories, and the next day Ukraine scores a major military victory to keep pushing Russia's "army" further east. Hard to do anything else except keep fighting for "Russian" soil. Some scholars fear he will keep escalating: likely the sabotage of the Nord Stream lines was not only to avoid lawsuits (Gazprom was about to get in trouble about not supplying as per contracts, now an "act of God" clause can be used), but also to show that he is crazy enough to do material damage outside Ukraine, including damage to the environment. In game theory, one strategy is to seem mad enough to do anything, although I'm nor sure Putin is thinking that strategically and clearly. (His tactics have been successful at times, but his strategies less so.)
One thing, though: He will not flee. This would require that he accept being in a situation that he does not control. Forget all the wealth: first, a lot of it is probably under sanctions at the moment, and second, the wealth was always a means to an end, and that end was a symbolic representation of how powerful he is (was). He came to power using kompromat to threaten or imprison competitors, with polonium tea and fifth-floor windows the last option. As I think is written in the Gospel of Matthew, "He who lives by polonium tea, dies by polonium tea." Further, flight would be an admission of total failure. It is one thing to back down momentarily to a more powerful other (the U.S. when he came to power, China now); it is another to give up entirely. The last 8 years have looked eerily like the 1930s and 1940s: from Anschluss to the bunker. He will only go when pushed out a window after accidentally drinking some polonium tea.
Last point: nukes. Will he use them? He can give the orders to do so, but that doesn't mean those who have to sign off (Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov at the moment) and those responsible for using tactical or bigger nukes will go along with the plan. They have more to lose, and know it. (Ramzan Kadyrov, who called for using nukes, is a blowhard dangerous mostly in Chechnya, but the policy elite tend to ignore him. Dmitrii Medvedev, who has also rattled the nuclear saber, had the cheese slip off his cracker back in March.) How NATO will respond is anyone's guess, which is probably a good thing. One thing I've seen proposed is using conventional weapons to render the Black Sea Fleet into the basis for a future underwater Black Sea Disney theme park. If there was any time to rattle the nuclear saber, it is today, as the Ukrainians retook Lyman and are about to cut major supply lines to the Kherson front—essentially humiliating Putin as well as his officers and army. Yet not a peep. (Maybe he's spending the day composing his own long letter to you folks.)
M.S. in Knoxville, TN, writes: Is it too soon for pools on when and how Putin leaves office? I say that, on October 26, 2022 (the 105th anniversary of the fall of the Russian Winter Palace), Putin abdicates to a secret fortress in Iceland.
March 15, 2023 (the 106th anniversary of Tsar Nicholas' abdication) is tempting but, frankly, I don't think Vlad can last that long.
International Affairs: The U.K.
G.S. in Basingstoke, UK, writes: My fellow Briton S.T. in Worcestershire, England, wrote: "how can you possibly hold fast to [a leader] that has steered the nation into a full-blown economic crisis in just three weeks?"
Technically true, but 12 of those days were taken up with the Queen's death and run up to the funeral, during which political activity largely ceased out of respect. By this metric, Truss has managed to do it in barely a week. No British leader has ever managed to get a public slap on the wrist from the IMF within a month of taking office. I warned you about her being so dense light bends around her...
In scarcely believable timing, we've got American friends visiting from Missouri next weekend. They are, quite literally and to their absolute delight, going to get more pounds for their dollar than anyone since Hamilton stopped rapping. Let's hope they pick up the bar tab.
Also, a "sister" site of yours has crunched the numbers and determined that any general election held here now would result in a Labour landslide with them taking some 381 of the 650 seats.
That said, there has been a poll out this week (from a reputable pollster, YouGov) that gives Labour a staggering 33 point lead. Plugging this into the site's predictor, the Tories would be all but wiped out, with both the PM and her newly minted Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, losing their seats.We can but hope.
R.O. in Manchester, England, UK, writes: Just to try and put some context around how epically, astonishingly, biblically bad the U.K. government's "mini-budget" was: During the nine months of the Blitz, German bombing inflicted just under a billion pounds worth of damage (in modern money) to the British economy every night. This translates to a total cost to the country of roughly £250 billion across the period of September 1941-May 1942 (actually rather less, since bombing wasn't consistent, and was often did much less than £1 billion of damage).
The mini-budget has wiped about £500 billion off the value of British stocks and bonds in the space of 6 days.
Liz Truss has literally caused twice as much economic damage to Britain as the Luftwaffe, and she managed in it one week, not eight months.
S.C-M. in Scottsdale, AZ, writes: I am no economist, but cutting taxes in the midst of high inflation seems a tad crazy. I also naively thought the British Conservative Party was more rational. I bet the folks over at the Bank of England are tearing their hair out over this irresponsible stunt.
I really doubt if Parliment will go along with this policy, but it appears the damage has already been done.
International Affairs: Italy
E.R. in Padua, Italy, writes: As an Italian, I would like to add my two cents to your piece concerning the Italian election.
I mostly agree with M.M. from Milan, but it is useful to remark that the good result of Fratelli d'Italia is more a realignment within the Italian right than a true sea change, and even that might be considered a slight overstatement.
First, if we look at the coalition results for the "center-right" parties in the last 4 general elections, we find that they got 47% in 2008, 29% in 2013, 36% in 2018, and 44% now. The "dip" in the 2010s can be mostly explained with the emergence (and now, decline) of the "apolitical" Movimento 5 stelle (M5S), which was not on the ballot in 2008, but got 26% in 2013, 33% in 2018, and 15% this year: M5S started as a populist/protest movement with a platform focused on fighting corruption, but also with a mix of left-wing (e.g. "reddito di cittadinanza": a basic income guaranteed to everyone) and right-wing (dislike of the E.U. in general and of the euro in particular; a somewhat xenophobic position on immigration) positions; in 2013 and 2018 M5S attracted votes from both right and left, but now (after 5 years in government, most of them in a coalition with the center-left Partito Democratico) it is perceived as a leftist party, and many former right-wingers went back to their original stance. So, in my opinion, Italian public opinion did not really shift to the right; rather, in the 2010s the Italian right underwent a split, due to the birth of M5S (and, to a lesser extent, to the weakening of Berlusconi's leadership) which is now fixed.
Second, in theory Giorgia Meloni's post-fascist party is the most right-wing of the centre-right coalition; in practice, that is far from clear. During the Berlusconi governments (1994; 2001-2006, 2008-2011), the leadership of the post-fascist Alleanza Nazionale (an ancestor of sort to Fratelli d'Italia) was consistently more centrist than its main allies (Berlusconi's party, "Forza Italia," and the xenophobic Northern League). In more recent times, Forza Italia moved (back?) towards the centre, but the Northern League remained as right-wing as ever (its leader, Matteo Salvini, toned down the anti-southern-Italy rhetoric which was at the origin of his party, but compensated by putting a very strong emphasis on nationalistic and xenophobic themes); in 2018 the League became the leading partner of the centre-right coalition. Salvini is way Trumpier than Meloni, and I'd say he's a bit of a Ted Cruz (perhaps even Marjorie Taylor Greene), whereas Meloni sounds more like Mitch McConnell. In short, Meloni is somewhat unknown, and might still turn out to be as right-wing as Salvini, but I doubt she'll be able to be worse than him; and it's quite possible she'll be no worse than Berlusconi.
A final comment on the term "Il Duchessa." The latin word "Dux" evolved into two Italian words: "Duca" (perfectly equivalent to Duke), which is now used a nobiliar title (though Dante still used it in the sense of "guide", "leader") and is relatively common; and "Duce," which until the 1920s only meant "leader," but was far less common. Mussolini "saved" the word from oblivion, but also modified its meaning, so much so that when they find on of the few occurrences of "duce" in the Divina Commedia, people wonder whether Dante was a fascist. Anyway, "Duchessa" is the feminine of "Duca" (and so means "Duchess"); whereas the feminine of "Duce" should be "Ducessa." Furthermore, being a feminine word, it should be introduced by a feminine article; so, "La Ducessa" rather than "Il Duchessa."
History: Top 25 Events of Modern U.S. History, Part I
A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: Good job on the Top 25 list. I guessed at the Nineteenth Amendment and also the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima (I counted those as two separate incidents) and Rosa Parks.
Here's a few notables you did not include, and I bet you could do an item on all the items you did not include, and which other readers will send:
- Downing the Berlin Wall
- The Space Shuttle Challenger (with the teacher on board)
- Sinking of the Titanic (many of America's richest perished in that)
- Torpedoing of the Lusitania (my family emigrated to America on the Lusitania, incidentally, in 1913, two years before she went down)
And this last one is of a more personal nature, and probably doesn't belong anywhere near the top 25, but, as one who was born and raised in the Great Lakes, I had family who worked on Edmund Fitzgerald... a great uncle and a cousin. Neither of them went down with her, they were on different boats when that happened.
Also, while on the subject of the Great Lakes, the Cuyahoga River on fire is one I think might break into a Top 100, anyway.
I think you should try and fish the readership for some other items to include. Could be fun.
V & Z respond: That's the plan. See above.
S.C. in Geneva, Switzerland, writes: Inasmuch as you allow ties, I suggest that there are ties for:
- #15: In addition to the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, add (1894) Pullman strike
- #25: In addition to first VISA card issued, add (1913) establishment of the Federal Reserve
T.O. in Portland, OR, writes: I believe you understate the value of Lend-Lease in your analysis. Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, and Marshal Georgy Zhukov were quoted as crediting it for victory on the Eastern Front. The Red Army marched west while eating American rations, wearing American boots, driving American trucks and locomotives, burning American fuel, and flying American transport planes. The Soviet Union lost most of its food production and a lot of its industry in 1941/1942. Without Lend-Lease it's debatable if the Soviets could have held the line—they may have, but without it it's fanciful to imagine they could have undertaken the strategic offensive that ultimately ended in Berlin.
Without the Eastern Front the US/UK alliance would have had to pay the bulk of the butcher's bill to defeat the Wehrmacht. Whether public support for the war could have been maintained in such a scenario is a longer discussion, regardless, I think it is more than deserved to say that Lend-Lease did substantially change the course of events.
N.C. in Mountain View, CA, writes: I'm neither gay nor a historian, but it seems to me that the Stonewall Riots had such social and political seismic effects on the entire country that should qualify it for a top 25 event.
J.S. in Bellevue, WA, writes: I was very surprised not to see the Fall of the Berlin Wall as one of the Top 25. I read the list a few times to be sure I wasn't missing it, then read the description again to be sure I wasn't missing something in the context. I realize this is a list of U.S. history, not world history, but if we can talk about the Tet Offensive, the Battle of Midway, China becoming communist and Russia getting the bomb, surely the fall of the Berlin Wall is worth considering as a Top 25. It marked a singular moment in the Cold War, was a central event in the Revolutions of 1989, and was the most visible indicator of the imminent collapse of communist governments throughout Europe and eventually the Soviet Union.
This has led to a huge shift in U.S. foreign policy, economic growth, human and political change over the past 30 years, and is still affecting history to this day (Ukraine/Russia).
History: Interpreting the Civil War
C.J. in Lowell, MA, writes: I read with interest your rundown of historical interpretations of the Civil War. However, your list did not go as far left as we have experienced in recent years. I would say there is one school, which it occurs to me maybe you don't see as legitimate (which would be fine with me), further to the left than emancipationist. I would call this the Presentist interpretation, whereby some people like to impose modern assumptions and values on the Civil War generation, particularly Southerners. They are completely unforgiving of anything having to do with slavery and cannot see anything redeemable about those who owned slaves despite the practice being common and acceptable at the time. They also automatically label all who fought for the South traitors despite understandings of loyalty and the nature of the Union being different at the time. They want to "cancel" all who defended slavery and even some of earlier generations who held or traded slaves. Even references to plantations trigger some of these people and they seem to insist that every reference to slavery include reminders (as if we would forget) that it was BAD, BAD, BAD. They see only hate and not history in Confederate symbols and statues. I don't know about a representative film, but the 1619 Project is probably a good case study.
V & Z respond: The representative film would be Kevin Willmott's C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America.
P.V. in Kailua, HI, writes: My admittedly amateur's view of the U.S. Civil War was that it was a battle for control of North America between the (relatively) democratic industrial North and the aristocratic agrarian South. Though there were many individuals who acted heroically, I see little about the motivating forces for the war itself that are moral, courageous, or romantic. Slavery was a cause of the war in that the enslavement of Black people was the only way to maintain an economy and lifestyle that the South wanted to perpetuate and the North wanted to circumscribe. Defeating the South would certainly mean the end of slavery, but as (Z) has pointed out, there were very few abolitionists in the North. And as Southerners are happy to point out, the Emancipation Proclamation didn't free slaves anywhere the Union had authority to do so.
In my (again, amateur's) view, I think that Black people don't get enough credit for basically freeing themselves. When the Union Army moved into Virginia, slaves in the area made a beeline for the pickets. General Benjamin Butler's unilateral decision to declare them "contraband of war" allowed them to remain in the protection of the Union Army rather than be returned to their owners under the Fugitive Slave Act. This wasn't entirely altruistic, as it provided a low (or un-) paid pool of labor for the Union Army while denying the same to the Confederates. Butler's clever ploy let the Union avoid the political hot-potato of whether or not the escapees were emancipated, seeing as how "contraband" implied that they were still property rather than actual human beings. But hey, it was a step in the right direction.
I suppose you could call my opinions the Cynical Unionist interpretation. (Representative film: Ride with the Devil? Shenandoah?) As for heroic figures—it would be hard for me to call the murderer and terrorist John Brown a hero, however I can't help but respect his unflinching dedication to and sacrifice for the righteous cause of abolition.
V & Z respond: Most historians would say that your assessment fits pretty well in the Emancipationist tradition.
S.R. in Baltimore, MD, writes: I must dispute your assertion that one reason Doug Mastriano's wearing Confederate garb in 2014 is not a big deal is that "the Confederate soldier has become a truly problematic symbol only fairly recently."
A Pew Research survey in 2011 found that half (49%) of respondents believed that it was inappropriate for public leaders to praise Confederate leaders. That was a nationwide survey. Had it been conducted only in states outside of the South, or even solely in Pennsylvania, the percentage would have been much higher.
People might have been more tolerant of an average citizen wearing Confederate garb than they would be now, but even so, politicians were and still are held to a higher standard than average citizens.
V & Z respond: By recent, we meant "in the last 30 years," not "in the last 5 years." And we did say that 2014 was clearly on the wrong side of the line.
A.H. in Willemite Valley, OR, writes: You wrote: "It is (Z)'s brother [in the Confederate costume photograph], who is exactly 3½ years younger, and who lives a hippie lifestyle in a hippie state (Oregon, specifically the suburbs of Eugene)."
Thanks for the recognition of our true and unapologetic attitude in Oregon Whine Country.
History: They Blinded Us with Science
J.C. in al Wakrah, Qatar, writes: I love that my favorite theory showed up not once but twice in this week's Q&A, and that you gave a shout-out to the red-headed-stepchild of evolution, Alfred Russell Wallace. He gets far too little credit, and as you point out, the origins of the theory could be described with no reference to Charles Darwin and only speaking of Wallace.
And yet—neither of them gave us evolution. Evolution was advocated and known long before Darwin. Consider his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, who wrote on it. Or Islamic thinkers like Ibn Khaldun and the Brethren of Purity argued for evolution centuries before Darwin, making it arguably a Muslim concept long before it made inroads in the West. Darwin and Wallace's genius was, rather, natural selection (an idea which, ironically, most religious conservatives accept). They gave us for the first time a mechanism for evolution. And of course, as much as we are indebted to them, how it all worked was unknown to them, until Mendel was rediscovered and DNA was discovered. Hagiography has no place in science.
J.E. in Manhattan, NY, writes: You mention, as an aside, that if Albert Einstein had not had his simply amazing year (1905) that relativity's discovery was not imminent. Most physicists would agree that Einstein had a singular insight that allowed him to synthesize a number of different threads that were present at the time. But getting into the questions of the history of science, it's important to note that those threads were still present, and it's pretty likely that they would have come together (though not from one person).
To explain: the idea of the invariance of the speed of light was something touched on by Hendrik Lorentz, whose famous transformation is used in teaching any special relativity section. Lorentz didn't think through the implications (this is what Einstein did) but it meant that the mathematical basis for special relativity was certainly there, and Lorentz contributed enough that relativity was once referred to as Lorentz-Einstein theory.
Other hints abounded that something was clearly wrong with the way we were conceptualizing certain phenomena. Electromagnetism is a proof that Einstein is correct about special relativity precisely because current through two wires results in attraction or repulsion between them depending on the direction of the currents. James Clerk Maxwell's equations provide another clue. If one uses them to calculate the speed of light one finds that it is the same in any reference frame. This is something any algebra student can do, and I myself was rather surprised at the results when I saw them in my second semester physics class. I have asked physicists why Maxwell didn't see it; the usual answer is that he died before he had a chance to really work on the problem and that in his time the idea of an "aether" that transmits light waves was still current.
Finally, the Michelson-Morley experiment showed pretty conclusively that if there was some special reference frame—a kind of "objective" point of view—there was no evidence of it in the speed of light. It was Lorentz who first proposed a resolution to the problem (length contraction along the direction of motion).
Einstein's genius was to take all these disparate pieces of evidence and put them together. But if Einstein had never been born, I submit that relativity or something like it would have appeared around the same time, though likely synthesized from the work of many different people, rather like quantum mechanics, which is a whole set of theories and models that arises from the work of Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, Paul Dirac, Wilhelm Wien, Arnold Sommerfeld, and even Marie Curie (since the very existence of radioactive elements hints at quantum mechanical phenomena). That list only includes the early work that is roughly contemporaneous to Einstein's relativity papers—there would be at least a dozen others if we get into the 1920s.
All that said, it's important to note that science is not a string of "lone geniuses"—it's very much a collective effort that sometimes one or two people are able to build on in unexpected and important ways. Even Sir Isaac Newton said he had to sit on the shoulders of giants.
The Great American Novel, Part IX: Women Authors
J.C. in al Wakrah, Qatar, writes: What is the greatest American novel? The one that most captures America? The best written by an American author? Some combination therein?
As I contemplate this, I honestly am not that enthralled with American authors; I'm more inclined to the British, like Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley, George MacDonald, and J.R.R. Tolkien. For the greatest American authors, I think we have to go with the short story authors—Edgar Allan Poe and O'Henry. But those are not novels.
So, I answer in three parts: For the American novel that in truth most encapsulates America: Gone With the Wind. It's not only full of racism and sexism, it justifies them, including marital rape. It was the most popular book in the U.S. after the Bible, and to this day the film supplanted that even more racist film Birth of a Nation as the highest grossing in constant dollars. It has had a huge influence on how we see the Old South baptized into a glorious chivalrous society and such a shame what those dastardly Northerners did to it. None of this is good—but it is America: racism and sexism, justified and gaslighted away.
I'm partial to science fiction, so I regard the best-written novel by an American to be Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles. Yes, I'm cheating—they are a collection of short stories. But see above. It is really the greatest Martian Novel, but if we can accept some cultural appropriation on the planetary level, then what Bradbury does is transplant the Old West on to the Red Planet, with convincing characters and deep philosophical punches—and the stories remain in my personal zeitgeist to this day.
And for the novel that combines the two—well written and about America—I cried when I first read it at 12 and 40 years later tears still come to mind when I think of what happened to poor Charlotte. A good author can anthropomorphize animals to portray quintessential small-town America. A great author makes us cry about the death of a spider. I salute you, E.B. White—with apologies for the spoilers of Charlotte's Web.
H.R. in Jamaica Plain, MA, writes: I'd like to nominate The Dollmaker by Harriet Arnow. This book moved me as much as any other book I've read and captures through the eyes of an Appalachian woman, the mid-20th century dynamics of an American family starting in Eastern Kentucky and forced by economics and war to Detroit where the family confronts the challenges wrought by war, labor strife, race, and automation. There are also a strong religious and artisan themes in the book. In 1971, Joyce Carol Oates characterized this novel as "our most unpretentious American masterpiece."
D.N. in Elgin, IL, writes: The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. I first saw the movie, which is very well done, but it naturally leaves out some parts of the story and distorts others, like the relationship between the teenage girl and her mother. It's set toward the end of the Great Depression. The theme is the inability to communicate on so many levels and in so many relationships, but the backdrop is the recession, race relations, economic inequality and the resulting loss of talented people. It was the first, and generally regarded as best, novel by Carson McCullers. Her portrayal of race relations alone, in both this book and Member of the Wedding, are well ahead of their time.
D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: I too put The Grapes of Wrath at the top of my list, but I don't think a book has to be great literature to influence your life. When I was 15, I read Anya Seton's The Winthrop Woman. My mother, a very strict Catholic, asked what I was reading and I told her it was a novel on early New England history. Actually it was sort of a "bodice ripper" about a woman who broke all the rules and made her own life. It made me think about the kind of life I wanted. As a consequence, I left home a year later, and eventually was the first in my family to get a college degree. I did not marry a Catholic man with a good trade. And (gasp) I married more than once. I've also had my own small business for over 40 years. I still go to church occasionally; for a wedding or a funeral.
Gallimaufry: Patreon Edition
D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: You wrote: "Incidentally, about 90% of readers who wrote in with comments were amused by that bit [the hookers and cocaine party], while 10% found it in poor taste."
Why do you assume that those two views are mutually exclusive?
R.R. in Memphis, TN, writes: The people in the $20/month tier should at least get an automatic invite to the cocaine & hookers party.
V & Z respond: That's fair.
A.B. in Lichfield, England, UK, writes: While, under normal circumstances, I would be delighted to accept my pending invitation to more frequent site contributors for the site's annual cocaine and hookers party; regrettably the recent collapse in the value of the pound means I can no longer afford my share of the party's two core attractions.
One more thing to blame on Liz Truss...
P.V. in Kailua, HI, writes: I am more than happy to donate to your efforts. At what level of support does one receive an invitation to the cocaine and hookers party? If I had any suggestion at all, it would be to have a site search function and to offer psilocybin at the party rather than cocaine.
You wrote, "Maybe one day our cultural references will come from a year that starts with a '2,' but don't bet on it." I think you should get partial credit for "Greene's Day". Billie Joe Armstrong and company started in the late 1900's but really hit it big in the early 2000's. At least Green Day is GenX, not Boomer.
V & Z respond: Psilocybin or cocaine? Why not both?
M.A. in New York City, NY, writes: You wrote: "We are also pleased to report that we did get one $6.66/month pledge."
Such a transparent attempt to get somebody to subscribe at $420.69. For shame.
V & Z respond: You saw right through us.
N.Z. in Seattle, WA, writes: Congratulations on the positive reception of your new Patreon!
I have been a longtime reader, I'm happy I can now support you a tiny bit each month.
You happily reported that you received one $6.66 recurring donation. I wanted to make sure you had meme-worthy numbers so I decided to pitch in a $4.20 per month. I would actually be surprised if I were the only one at that rate. I was actually a campaign manager for a few years on a statewide ballot initiative to legalize cannabis. The effect cannabis initiatives have on both statewide and local elections is not insignificant. They mobilize activists, drive voter turnout, and prompt politicians to take hardline and nuanced stances on the issue.
Tangentially related, I believe the Satanic Temple to be a politically motivated group and very artfully so. They have made political headlines in recent years and are the subject of a recent Netflix documentary, Hail Satan, which I recommend.
Here's to hoping some bitcoin billionaire can sign up for a $69.69 monthly donation.
V & Z respond: Well, we WERE thinking about creating a Bezos tier.
Republicans were hoping for magic in Colorado, but they have some rocky mountains to climb to win this one. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) is a popular incumbent who is quietly doing his job well in a blue state.
|Keating Res. + Magellan Strategies
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