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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Sunday Mailbag
      •  Today's Senate Polls

Sunday Mailbag

Sorry all, yesterday's Q&A never came together, despite the best laid plans of rodents and humans. (Z)'s knee turns out to have a torn meniscus and a torn MCL, and until that is properly addressed, there are some days where sitting at the computer is very difficult.

The good news is that next week's Q&A will be supersized, and today's post is still good to go. The most common subject in the mailbag this week, as you might guess, was Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA), although Paul Pelosi surged at the last minute and nearly took the lead.

Fetterman Still The Better Man?... Yes

A.R.S. in West Chester, PA, writes: For anyone who saw the John Fetterman/Mehmet Oz debate and are having second thoughts, it time to be as Machiavellian as the Republicans would be in a similar situation. A less-than-articulate Fetterman is a far better choice. So, even if it is ultimately determined that he cannot physically function and has to be replaced, the Governor of Pennsylvania (at this point, more than likely, Democrat Josh Shapiro) will appoint someone to full his term until the next general election. So, there would be a Democratic Senator for at least two years, and perhaps longer, a far better situation than 6 years of quack Dr. Oz!

C.W. in Carlsbad, CA, writes: I have to admit I was pretty frosted when I first read your Wednesday item about the Fetterman-Oz debate. I waited until Thursday to write this because I didn't want to stick my own foot in my mouth if you had some further Thursday observations. I will say this: I think in your effort to be "timely" in your Wednesday response, you may have inadvertently fallen in with a crew of politically-motivated responders who would rather strike first than get it right. That's unfortunate. The real story from this debate; the story that I believe has some sticking power; is Oz's concept of local politicians being part of a woman's health choice "decisions." I'm sorry, but that statement is absurd on its face. So do we elect someone who has some trouble speaking, or do we hand a senate seat to someone who has trouble caring? (Not like that hasn't already happened.)

It's personal for me as an adult with ADD. Attention Deficit Disorder is all the rage now, but when I grew up, I didn't have any tools in my bucket other than various coping strategies. I got a constant rain of comments from teachers and parents about how I wasn't living up to my abilities. The solution nowadays—to give kids drugs—is not appealing but at least we know now that there are things we can do to help improve how kids learn and to show that they have learned. I didn't get any of that, and even though I had a successful career as a scientist and engineer, I was hampered through it all with the constant feeling of being unworthy. As Kermit the Frog said, "It's not easy being green."

Fetterman is, by all accounts, getting a first-hand look at the "wall" special-needs folks must scale just to get respect, and if he is elected, he will govern with that sensitivity. However, I am reminded of TFG making fun of a disabled reporter in his 2016 campaign. I don't need to go into the details of how much work it is for these special-needs kids and adults to get through every day; in schools and the workplace or just on the street. Yes, the debate was not a good format for Fetterman at this stage of his post-stroke journey, and he shouldn't have agreed to it... but we the public have our work cut out for us in assessing these candidates' true capabilities and limits, and the media don't make it any easier with their constant pursuit of ratings. Would we insist on having a foot-race between Tammy Duckworth and her political opponent, with all the instant critics going "Tsk tsk" as she crawls across the finish line hours later? No! So why give the media any attention for this coliseum event? It's already painfully obvious that Oz is completely uninterested in doing his job should he be elected. He doesn't even seem to know what a senator does. I keep hoping we are better than this. But in all honesty we have a ways to go as a society, and we should be electing people who can help society take steps in the right direction. It is our goal, right? Forming a more perfect union?

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: Here is what I would like to hear in John Fetterman's closing argument to Pennsylvania voters:

Sure, my debate performance wasn't great. Like so many other Pennsylvanians, I suffered a stroke recently and I've been having trouble getting the right words out, particularly while under the pressure of a debate stage. But, like so many of you, my mind is as sharp as ever. And, like so many Pennsylvanians, I understand the fear and anxiety that goes along with a medical crisis. I'm running for Senate not to give fancy speeches under pressure but to fight for you. I'm going to vote for sensible policies to fight the inflation that is crushing so many of us. I'm going to fight to reduce medical costs and drug prices. I'm going to fight for sensible immgration reform, reasonable gun control to help reduce crime and bodily autonomy for women and trans people. Unlike my New Jersey-born-and-bred opponent, I won't support MAGA Big Lie proponents in order to burn democracy to the ground. I'm doing this for you, my fellow Pennsylvanians and if you honor me with your votes, I'll do everything in my power to honor you with my service.

He needs to turn his debate performance into lemonade by reminding people of his authenticity and that he has suffered through a medical crisis, just like so many others have. I believe there is an opportunity here.

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Yes, John Fetterman's performance was poor, but it truly did take courage given what he went through in May. And Mehmet Oz didn't do anything to make him more likable, while his answer about abortion as a decision between MDs and local politicians was a championship-level gaffe along the lines of George Allen's "Macaca" moment.

Let's be honest, a U.S. senator truly does not need to be a great orator, and most aren't. Hell, many senators don't give floor speeches. The most important things Fetterman will do as a senator is vote on judicial and executive nominees, and bills/treaties.

If Fetterman is an "aye" vote for Joe Biden's pick for the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, then that is far more important than his speeches...

J.P. in Horsham, PA, writes: It seems to me that John Fetterman's performance in Monday night's debate was no less incoherent than a typical stump speech by one Donald J. Trump, albeit without the implicit racism, sexism, and xenophobia.

M.S. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: The Democratic whining and crying about Fetterman's post-stroke performance once again proves the #1 problem we have in our party: the ability to allow Republicans to fabricate talking points and then bend over and accept them happily. What relevance does Fetterman's ability to talk perfectly have with respect to doing his job? Has anyone asked him to step down as Lieutenant Governor? So he can do that job and run for Senate, but he can't be Pennsylvania's representative in the Senate?

This is such bull**it and I am so sick of this double standard. The Republicans literally have a man who can barely speak a coherent sentence, has paid for abortions while claiming to be anti-abortion, and wants you to think he's a warm and fuzzy family man when the reality he has kids scattered all over Georgia and every Republican is up his a** fully "behind" him because they want to win Georgia at all costs. All that matters is the Republicans get the seat. In Pennsylvania, Oz pretends to be a man of the people but he has swindled folks out of money for years with bogus health products and claims, and now owns, what, 10 houses? None of which are in Pennsylvania. Republicans shrug. Who cares? He'll vote how we want and that's all that matters.

Democrats? All they care about is allowing Republican nastiness to control the narrative. It is disgusting what a bunch of whiny idiotic people we have in the Democratic Party. We're supposed to be the intelligent ones! There is absolutely nothing about Fetterman's current health that indicates he can't do his job. Nothing. Meanwhile there is literally nothing that Oz or Walker could do or say that would lead to a single Republican voter handing over a fresh sound bite to the media to make either of them look bad. Democrats, on the other hand, are killing each other to slam Fetterman. Way to go folks, that's really smart.

To readers, I say: Make no mistake about it, if you're slamming Fetterman or bitching that Oz just won that seat, and he does win it... it's partially your fault. Shut your trap and support our candidate, that's how you win elections. But when have Democrats ever been focused on actually winning?

J.E. in Gilbertsville, PA, writes: I'm not sure yet how Tuesday night's debate might affect the Pennsylvania race for Senate, but if it impacts the race it won't be in the way everyone keeps predicting, which is that undecided voters will be swayed to Oz's side. There are no undecided voters in Pennsylvania. We all made up our minds ages ago.

The Pennsylvania Senate polls can't be trusted—their algorithms are off. Like many places across the country, typically in a mid-term election Democrats here stay home while the Republican voters dutifully show up. The poll algorithms no doubt have taken that history into account. I've taken my own informal poll of the people I know who vote regularly and I have gotten some very unusual results. [It should be noted that while my informal polls have a small sample size, they have accurately predicted the Pennsylvania results for the last 3 cycles.] Some reliable Pennsylvania Republican voters plan to sit this one out. For example, when I asked my one friend if she was voting she said "No! The whole thing is disgusting." Another person who usually votes Republican said "I'm voting straight Democrat... not giving Republicans even one inch! Mastriano scares the crap outta me." By contrast, all the Fetterman supporters have expressed a steely-eyed determination to vote. One person (in response to Fetterman's poor performance) actually said "I would vote for Fetterman if he were dead."

So, will the debate change the race? Maybe, but not because it will influence undecided voters. If it changes the race it will be because it convinced some reluctant Oz supporters to show up. The blood in the water may motivate them to vote.

In the end we will have to wait to see how many people turn up on Election Day.

Fetterman Still The Better Man?... Maybe Not

M.B. in Montreal, QC, Canada, writes: I think the real story about John Fetterman is that I question his judgment. He was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AFib) and ignored medical advice to take a blood thinner. This is no better than the anti-vaxxers. When my AFib was diagnosed in 2005, my doctor took the time to explain how blood pools and then clots in non-working atria and how the clots can break off and cause a stroke. And in those days, the only effective blood thinner was actually rat poison (coumadin) and I would to be tested every 6 weeks to put the blood coagulation time into a fairly narrow window. I did it and quite often, the dosage had to be micro-managed (e.g., go from 7 mg every day to 7 on M/W/F and 8 mg the other days). More recently, better blood thinners have been developed. Since Fetterman appears to have ignored medical advice on this, I have to question his judgment. Of course, I would still vote for him over Oz. I would vote for Fetterman's dog over Oz, for that matter.

P.B. in Bowling Green, OH, writes: I've been reading your site since 2003, and will continue to read it every morning. But you really screwed the pooch when it came to Fetterman. This disaster of a debate is not news—he was horrible at the debate in the Democratic primary. Before the stroke. Go back and watch. It was worse than Michael Bloomberg's first debate. But you kept pushing him. I really hope you've come to your senses and will stop pushing him as presidential material. Pennsylvania screwed up picking him when Conor Lamb was coherent and competent from the start.

J.J. in Johnstown, PA, writes: As a lifelong Pennsylvanian and a political junkie (including reading this site every day for over a decade), I watched the Oz/Fetterman debate with great interest. I'm also a reliable Democratic voter in a very red county. I had already set the bar pretty low for John Fetterman in this debate and it was a disaster. I already voted in this election and I did vote for Fetterman but I can tell you that I'm now questioning that vote. I can't stand Oz and would never vote for him, but in a way I feel guilty voting for Fetterman. My main concern: Is his health so bad that being a U.S. Senator would literally kill him? I certainly hope not, but I'd feel guilty for putting him in that position if that were to happen.

The Attack on Paul Pelosi

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: So Paul Pelosi's attacker wielded a hammer. This is California, after all. If the attack had occurred in Texas, the attacker would have had a gun and Pelosi would be dead.

L.E. in Santa Barbara, CA, writes: Since many of your readers also follow Political Wire, they might have already seen this from earlier this past summer in the Disqus comments, courtesy of poster Dean Barbour. This is the first thing that came to mind, yesterday, when I read about the vicious attack on Speaker Pelosi's husband:

It has a picture 
of Donald Trump and a definition of the term 'stochastic terrorist': Stochastic Terrorism is the use of mass
communications to incite lone wolves to carry out unpredictable violent acts. The Stochastic Terrorist is certain that
his inflammatory rhetoric will stir up violence. He just does not know exactly what will happen or who will do it, or
where or when.

My spouse and I are deeply saddened at the direction of our country, victims of the hate machine that has consumed the Republican Party.

D.C. in Portland, OR, writes: Terrorism. That is what the Republican party now stands for; they are the promoters, sponsors and enablers of white domestic terrorism. Listen to Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA), barely able to contain himself with glee. The issue is not one of mental health but of the Republican party's ruthless pursuit of power at all and any costs. This is a party of spineless cowards too afraid to stand against Trump and MAGA hate, who lack any concern for the damage their connivance has done and is doing to our country and it's people. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is responsible for the attack against Paul Pelosi, as are House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and, yes, even the Grand Wizard of Invertebrates, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT). All of them are equally for refusing to save their own party, refusing to speak up for common decency, justifying it all by their own personal political gain, with utter disregard for the consequences. Mad? Yes, I am furious.

D.K. in Iowa City, IA, writes: The right-wing politicians' lack of condemnation of violence may come back to haunt them. There are violent people on all sides. If a person has a strong commitment and no fear of going to prison or being executed, he might decide it is a good idea to kill a Supreme Court Justice or a senator or a congressperson. Violence has a tendency to encourage more violence and there are a great many people with guns all over this country. I am surprised there haven't been more assassination attempts already. It might become a national pastime.

R.O. in Santa Fe, NM, writes: After having vilified Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in the most despicable terms for decades, Republicans should not be surprised that one of their own took them seriously. I am reminded of an anonymous saying:

Watch your thoughts, they become your words.
Watch your words, they become your actions.
Watch your actions, they become your habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

B.K. in Dallas, TX, writes: I wonder if this is another October surprise in favor of the Democrats. This is going piss off more people and cause more of them to vote.

K.D. in Alkmaar, The Netherlands, writes: The attack on Paul Pelosi reminded me of the similar assault on, and murder of, British parliamentarian Jo Cox. A week later the British people voted in favor of Britain's departure from the European Union, the very thing that Cox was campaigning against. Will the United States public similarly hand power to the forces of denial in ten days' time?

Adding insult to dreadful injury, Pelosi was treated at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

Progressive Politics

R.R. in Pasadena, CA, writes: F.S. in Cologne wrote about how the Democrats have failed progressives because they have the trifecta and have not passed a plethora of progressive wishes. And, he tops it off by calling Biden a "liar" for not passing abortion protections now.

This kind of attitude is supremely frustrating. Exactly how many of those progressive laws would have been passed by a Trump administration or a Republican Congress? None of them, and none of the laws that the Democrats did pass (which do a whole lot of things progressives say they want). In fact, I'd bet that pretty much every progressive initiative would have moved backwards, just as they did during the Trump administration... the only reason that they didn't move even more backwards is they couldn't manage things like overturning Obamacare because a couple decent Republicans refused to go along. So, it's basically idiotic to pretend that things are the same between a Biden administration and a Trump administration; history has already shown that the current trifecta is hugely beneficial to progressive programs compared to the first two years of the Trump administration.

And the solution is not to vote for Democrats? I mean, sit the election out, let Republicans win and run roughshod on our system and crash the economy (again!), as if somehow that will make Democrats pass more progressive legislation? The current Democratic leadership has been buried in trying to recover from the failures of the Trump administration, just like Barack Obama had to deal with the George W. Bush recession, and that doesn't leave a lot of time to make progress. And, of course, there's the political reality that some Democrats just won't go along with progressive programs. Though, if F.S. wants a party that will follow party rules at all costs they can try the Republicans, or maybe Putin's party in Russia.

There is, of course, another solution: Vote in as many Democrats as possible. Sure, they won't all be progressives, they won't all want to work together on everything, but they also won't install judges that remove a woman's rights, or allow everyone to carry a concealed firearm, or pass all the other legislation that Republicans have queued up. You want LGBT+ rights? You want women to be able to participate in free society? You want green energy? There's only one choice in America, and that's to vote for Democrats... and let's not forget that Republicans are also working to undermine the ability of Americans to vote and have our freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution.

Pouting and not playing the game is grade-school behavior; in the adult world you sometimes have to accept good enough as the best you'll get now, and then try to work towards better in the future. The Democrats are good enough, especially when the alternative is militant evangelical Christianity ruling our lives. Stop pretending that punishing Democrats by giving Republicans more power will somehow create a progressive utopia, because all it will really do is end our democracy.

J.M.B. in Oakland, CA, writes: Your hatred of the left is showing in "House Progressives Screw Up."

Your assumption that calling this a leak was a lie seems extreme.

The content of the letter is simply not that crazy: It does suggest opening negotiations, but the one bargaining chip in mentions is to offer a reduction in sanctions. (Critics keep trying to portray this as caving in to Putin and offering territory—in fact, the letter praises Biden's actions in supporting an independent Ukraine.)

You wrote: "There's the shot-in-the-arm for Republicans and for Putin, as described above." The extreme reaction from the "moderates" such as yourself may be the real shot in the arm. You're cranking up the circular firing squad right in time for the midterm elections.

And if this all goes wrong again, you'll never look in the mirror, but instead blame it on those damn lefties.

G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: When I read the Jayapal letter, I was reminded of a time when I was on a university governing body of which a "devout Marxist" (although I rather suspect that he was as much a "Marxist" as someone who claimed to be a "Christian" on the basis of reading the Cliff's Notes version of "The Bible" was a "Christian") was also a member.

After several months of suffering through rather long, rambling, and convoluted polemics at board meetings, I finally had enough and rose on a point of personal privilege to move that "The secretary record that Mr. ___ delivered 'Standard Revolutionary Rhetoric Speech #7' (full text to be supplied by Mr. ___ and inserted into the record) and that we move to the vote on the matter."

That motion was carried with all votes save one (guess whose).

I raised the same point of personal privilege at subsequent meetings whenever it appeared that Mr. ___ was merely speaking so that he could hear the sound of his own voice and had nothing of substance to add to the discussion and it passed by the same margin every time (although I never bothered to check to see if Mr. ___ had actually delivered the full text of his "speech" for inclusion in the minutes).

The "Jaypal Letter" most certainly falls into the category of "Standard Progressive Rhetoric Letter #7."

Tulsi and Friends

D.M. in West Sayville, NY, writes: On October 12, (Z) wrote regarding Tulsi Gabbard and her leaving of the Democratic Party, and supposedly embracing irrelevance: "We assume we will never again have a need to write about her." And yet, less than 2 weeks later, you are already promoting her to potential running mate material. Funny how that happens, eh?

V & Z respond: Yes, we didn't foresee that she was making a play for the VP slot on the Republican ticket.

D.R. in Tucson, AZ, writes: You commented on the possibilities of a Trump/Greene or Trump/Gabbard ticket in 2024 should le Grand Orange (apologies to the ghost of Rusty Staub) decide to run. There is a third possibility: If she wins the governorship in Arizona in a couple of weeks, Kari Lake (R) is also worth speculating about. Is she Trumpy? Oh, yes. Telegenic? Sure—20+ years as a news anchor in Phoenix, and for the Fox station, no less. Ignorant and bat guano crazy? Sure, but why would that be a drawback? Plus, she'd have the advantage of coming from a swing state, just like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). And she'd probably pull votes from guys like the 80-something-year-old man my wife spoke to while canvassing for the Democrats: "Yeah, I'm gonna vote for her because she's cute." It is also arguable that her makeup people are at least as good as Trump's; at least she appears tanned and not oranged.

All Politics is Local

M.P. in Leasburg, MO, writes: Just took advantage of early voting on Friday. I always absentee vote because our precinct votes in a church. I don't drink beer in church and therefore, do not believe that I should be voting in a church. My only option is to absentee and select "religious belief" as my reason. I am not sure if it really makes a difference, though, since I have to walk the gauntlet of religion to get into the courthouse office to vote; a large stone cross in the garden out front, "In God we Trust" written across the front of the building and an open Bible on the wooden table just outside the county clerk's office. Nonetheless, here are the differences I observed this year: (1) No seating outside of the office door. In years past, you could take advantage of the long wooden 'pew' outside the door. It is no longer there; (2) We absolutely had to have a current form of ID; my current voter registration card was actually pushed back at me when I tried to use it. The 95-year-old lady ahead of us was sent away because her driver's license was expired. She did however, tell them she would be right back and pushed her walker across the street to the license office to get a current ID. Wow. If you make it to 95, why the hell can't you just vote—no questions asked??

As usual, all of the county offices were uncontested Republicans as no Democrats will even make an attempt to run in our county. The one redeeming quality was Amendment 3—recreational marijuana. Our legislature is so red, the only way the majority of Missouri citizens can get anything passed is through ballot initiatives. I love it when we have controversial initiatives on our ballot; it's the only thing that dulls the pain when going to vote here these days. Not sure if our former Governor Blunt is for it but, if weed the people prevail, it's ganja be really interesting here come November 9th.

P.V. in Kailua, HI, writes: You wrote, "But we would be interested to learn about the state that does not have any issues at all (OK, maybe Hawaii)". This feels like bait! I could say a lot but am short on time this week and honestly doubt that details of the challenges facing our small and esoteric state are of much interest to your general readership. The condensed version is that our complete economic reliance on the mainland presents a myriad of problems both chronic and acute. Nevertheless, I am very happy to be back living in my very blue home state.

H.M. in Wilmington, DE, writes: Regarding the number and orientation of yard signs, I've read with interest the various letters from other contributors in Pennsylvania. Though I live in Delaware, I am only a few miles from the border with Pennsylvania—specifically, Chester and Delaware counties west of Philadelphia—and spend a good deal of time driving through there. Whenever I hear anything about statewide elections in Pennsylvania, it is always pointed out that this is one of the primary regions that determine election outcomes in the state. What I can report is that there are a ton of signs. You can't drive a mile, whether on the highways or on back roads, without seeing at least a hundred. Every election there are a lot of signs in these counties, but nothing like this! The signs seem to be split pretty evenly between Democratic and Republican candidates. I don't know what, if anything, this predicts about the outcomes of the races, but here at least it seems apparent that engagement with the elections this year is sky high.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: It was Homecoming Saturday in Stillwater, OK, home of Oklahoma State University, and this is from the parade:

Two people wearing 
orange shirts and carrying an orange sign that say 'Joy'

Note that Joy Hofmeister's campaign color is orange, not blue, which just so happens to be OSU Cowboys' color. Clever way to distance herself from those radical pinko commie blue-state Democrats.

Also, the person who sent me the photo said "everyone hates Stitt," but she didn't expound upon that.

K.Y. in Tumwater, WA, writes: The closest statewide election in Washington state was in 2004, when (eventual two-term Governor) Christine Gregoire (D) pulled ahead of (perennial loser) Dino Rossi (R) on the second recount. What everyone learned from that election is that, as my late father put it, "you can see all the votes you need from the top of the Space Needle."

I've lived in Washington all my life. It used to be much more swingy. But Greater Seattle is so big and so blue that the state is pretty insurmountable for a Republican these days. If Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) gets less than 53% of the vote, I'll be surprised.

I never make predictions anymore, but I just do not see Tiffany Smiley (R) winning. We'll find out soon enough.

T.J.R. in Metuchen, NJ, writes: The news reports on Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) truly irked me. The entirety of the story is "Senator Menendez is under investigation." That is it. The remainder of the stories (including, sadly, yours) just rehashed his previous accusations, trial and, if you read far enough, find out that it was a hung jury and the charges were dropped.

If something concrete comes up, OK, that is something. Until then, I don't understand the purpose of this story. Oh, I guess I do, a Democrat from New Jersey is corrupt, yeah, yeah, yeah. But isn't that exactly the same as the clichés about California you railed about the other day?

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: When the debate between Lee Zeldin (R) and Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) came on, I didn't want to see it at first. But I went along to see how it would fare. Overall, I was impressed. It was mostly civil, flowed very well, and both sides got to make their case without too many interruptions or theatrics.

Yes, Zeldin was catching up in the polls by hammering on the crime issue. But for every attack he made against Hochul, she was ready to respond with a defense of her record and hitting back on him for his own positions. Overall, Hochul did well enough to assure voters of giving her a full 4-year term.

21st Century Slavery

R.P. in Gloucester City, NJ, writes: You wrote: "In the end, if it's important to make prisoners work in order to rehabilitate them, then they should be paid for their labor, even if it's only minimum wage. That's not only the decent thing to do, but it might allow them to build up a little capital for use upon release."

Current prison systems make a point of squeezing each prisoner (and their family or outside support groups) for every penny. Serve poor food in the cafeteria and charge huge prices at the canteen. Charge for digital music. Prohibit free book donations in favor of charging for e-books on crappy tablets. End face-to-face visits in favor of video visits that they can charge you for (this trend started before the pandemic). And on and on. I'd wager that it's well-nigh impossible for a prisoner earning minimum wage to save any of it.

M.L. in Winter Park, FL, writes: Been a long time visitor to your site (2004) and loved the mention of the Thirteenth Amendment issue and prisons. However, there's a darker side to this issue in that some corporations, through affiliations with state or privately run prisons, utilize prison labor to manufacture products. I started research on a law review article a few years back and was shocked. Strictly prison labor is one thing, but private companies making a profit is another.

P.Y. in Manhattan, NY, writes: I was disappointed to see you miss another betrayal of the Thirteenth Amendment—the draft. Looking at even the Civil War itself, there is a market price for soldiers and if a people aren't willing to pay that price, they should reconsider fighting the war.

Now, a convicted felon has offended society, but I still agree on fair payment for the offender's labor. I have read SCOTUS's decision affirming the draft, but I don't agree with it. I would hope that before we worry about convicts laboring under an explicit carve-out in the Thirteenth, we should first focus on not seizing bodies against their will to fight wars like Vietnam. And it is telling that gentlemen such as William Clinton and George Bush used their privilege to avoid serving.

Good Vibrations?

J.G. in El Cerrito, CA, writes: With regard to the item about how California now has the 4th largest economy in the world, (Z) rebuked the perpetual left-coast dissers with some appropriate freudenfreude for our state:

This is not to say that California doesn't have its problems. [But...] The fact of the matter is that, far from being proof that liberal/Democratic policies don't work, California seems to suggest that they do. It's entirely plausible that the state's economy is being substantially aided by its excellent climate, abundant resources, and fertile land. But it's clearly not a failure, and it's dishonest to pretend otherwise.

My initial gut reaction was the same as yours—that this is proof that Democratic policies can work, and co-exist with robust economic development. But the more I think about it, the less happy I am. I know it's unrealistic to expect social and physical infrastructure even remotely similar to that of Germany, even if we have equivalent GDP, but in more ways than we often care to admit, the California Dream just doesn't hold up to the light of day.

My public highschooler was in their fourth gun-related lockdown event of the academic year as I started to write this, choppers circling overhead. Our once-vaunted public schools are now ranked 40 out of 50 states, hamstrung by lack of funding, deep racial and economic segregation and the resultant achievement gaps, and were dead last 50th out of 50 states in terms of returning to school after the pandemic. There isn't enough budget for teachers and academic programming, let alone metal detectors or security, or enrichment activity. We did have an excellent climate until 1998, but we are now parched with megadrought, fires, and smoke, and we are increasingly unable to irrigate that fertile land. Despite being woke to the risk of climate change, and "eager" to mitigate the risks, our attempts to build consensus for prescribed burns is patchy, our progress toward building more reservoirs painfully slow, and we don't even price water in a way that provides incentive for efficient use. Though we can expect to have rolling blackouts, even most solar panel arrays are not allowed to be configured to provide home power when the grid is down. Our public infrastructure ranks 39 out of 50 for energy grid, and 45 out of 50 for transportation. I could go on.

While I am proud of our good work in public healthcare, and agree that we should become a sanctuary state for a woman's right to self-determination, would it be too much to ask to lead by example with a California version of green new deal? Or at least come together to tackle some of complex problems that affect us all? If not us, who? If not now, when?

G.M. in Salt Lake City, UT, writes: Not only is California about to be the 4th largest economy in the world, making the argument that liberal politicians are about to turn the U.S. into Venezuela look pretty ridiculous, but the other liberal-leaning states are doing pretty well too. You can look a the list of states by GDP per capita here. It is 2021 data, which has the order scrambled somewhat because of COVID effects on business.

Even so, of the top 25 states in GDP per capita (which represent well over half the U.S. population) 17 voted for Joe Biden, 8 for Donald Trump.

Of the bottom 25 (plus D.C.), 9 voted for Biden, 17 voted for Trump.

R.S. in Tonawanda, NY, writes: What could give me a four-ibuprofen headache, then make me burst out laughing aloud, then make me sad?

Answer: Your Wednesday posting.

First, the headache, caused by the first two items (the Oz-Fetterman debate, the "open letter" on Ukraine from the Progressive Caucus to the President). Two more examples of the Democrats saying to the Republicans, "Here, a very nice cudgel for you. Would you kindly beat us over the head with it?"

Now, the laugher: Alaska Republicans censuring Mitch McConnell. Funnier than Northern Exposure.

And finally, in regard to "Californiaphobia." It made me recall a time when I was having breakfast at a diner with my best friend from high school and his adult son; the elder is a lifelong Republican, his son's affiliation I don't know. The subject of earthquakes came up, and the image of California (as the song goes) crumbling to the sea was invoked with obvious delight. I thought—should have said, but didn't—"Really? You want the sixth-largest economy in the world to fall into the Pacific? Along with a fair number of Republicans? And by the way, human beings of both parties?" The thoughtless disdain, the caricaturizing of "the other," the notion of "Real America" and "Real Americans" make me very, very sad. Or pissed off. (There, MAGA; you don't have a monopoly on being pissed.)

V & Z respond: Every item that day generated e-mails from readers. That's pretty much the definition of a successful posting.

History Matters

N.E. in San Mateo, CA, writes: With due respect to J.E.S. in Sedona, the first to fall in a presidential rumble would almost certainly be William Henry Harrison. As a President unhealthy enough to mainly be remembered for surviving roughly 30 days in office, and the oldest by several years up until Ronald Reagan, he is going to be an early goner and likely the very first to go—whatever his military qualifications when much younger.

P.B. in Gainesville, FL, writes: In response to an earlier comparison to Bill Bryson's writing style, B.C. in Walpole gave a rather unflattering assessment of his book A Walk in the Woods. I must protest on behalf of Bryson: My wife and I both thoroughly enjoyed his book Down Under (released in Australia as In A Sunburned Country), from both our perspectives (we were born and grew up on either side of the Big Pond = Pacific Ocean). We found that he honestly, engagingly, and insightfully portrayed his own discovery process, from his initial befuddlement upon arrival of what Australia actually is (it is not a version of the U.S. from the 1950s!), to a good understanding (for a Yank!) of what constitutes the Australian psyche, including sensitive commentary on the status of Australian First Peoples. It was also frequently LOL funny.

The Great American Novel, Part XII: William Faulkner

G.W. in London, England, UK, writes: As I Lay Dying is the greatest American novel.

It's not just the characterization—how each unhappy member of this unhappy family is tragic in their own unique way. It's not just the satisfaction of puzzling it out, of slowly unwrapping the stream of consciousness narration so that eventually you understand not just what is being said but what you are actually being told. It's not just the black humor which pervades the book with a drip, drip, drip like Addie Bundren's decomposing corpse.

It's the fact that this novel has terroir. It is rooted in the place where it was crafted. The oppressive heat of the deep South suffuses and suffocates as you are dragged behind Addie's coffin across the Mississippi countryside. For me, the greatest American novel not just because it is such a masterpiece but because feels like it couldn't have been written anywhere else but in that Mississippi basement, and it couldn't be of anywhere else.

At least, that's what this Londoner thinks!

G.H. in Melbourne Village, FL, writes: Personally I like Huckleberry Finn better than Tom Sawyer. It is The Odyssey compared to The Iliad. Great for all the reasons you list for Tom Sawyer, and even more frequently banished from schools. I'm more likely to reread it.

Another American Odyssey is The Unvanquished by William Faulkner. The Civil War rages. The family horses and mules have been stolen. Two kids, master and slave but too young for that to matter, pursue the thieves. if he happens to grab you, Faulkner is perhaps the most powerful American novelist, this one of his most accessible books.


K.H. in Albuquerque, NM, writes: Please see attached. And thanks in advance for what will surely be a terrifying election night (or week):

It's one of those costume-in-a-bag
setups you buy at stores, labeled 'Political Analyst.' It has a picture of the Votemaster, and says it includes polling data,
(V) and (Z) initials, MINIX diskettes, and a 'Nate' name badge.

C.J. in Boulder, CO, writes: Er, S.E.Z. in New Haven does know there already is a Wright Brothers $1 coin, right? So there is no need to wait to punish us numismatically.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: OK, so I have to wonder why when anything or anyone goes down quickly, there is always a Titanic reference. Maybe it is just the fact that I grew up in the Great Lakes, but whenever I think of a ship that went down real fast, I think of Edmund Fitzgerald.

Titanic took over two hours to sink. Fitz went down in ten minutes. Just sayin' from my perspective, Fitz is a better analogy for Liz.

V & Z respond: For that matter, the Hindenburg took only 30 seconds to be fully destroyed. It would even be culturally apropos to say that her premiership went over like a lead zeppelin.

Today's Senate Polls

More evidence that Tiffany Smiley (R) may come close, but she's not gonna get the cigar. One of us (V) was recently in northwest Washington and saw Smiley signs everywhere. From the signs, one would think she was a shoo-in. But signs can be misleading. That is a low-density area and even if everyone in the county votes for Smiley, she won't win. So signology makes sense only in areas that are known to swing. (Z & V)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Washington Patty Murray* 51% Tiffany Smiley 45% Oct 25 Oct 26 Triton Polling and Res.

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct29 Paul Pelosi Attacked
Oct29 Saturday Q&A
Oct29 Today's Senate Polls
Oct28 Can Ways and Means Finally Have Trump's Taxes?
Oct28 A Grift Wrapped in a Con Job inside a Racket
Oct28 Biden and Harris to Campaign Jointly for Fetterman
Oct28 Time to Outlaw Slavery?
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Oct28 This Week in Schadenfreude: All Trussed Up with Nowhere to Go
Oct28 This Week in Freudenfreude: The Decline of Fossil Fuels
Oct28 Today's Senate Polls
Oct27 Trump Ending the DeTente?
Oct27 Trump Is Officially Subpoenaed
Oct27 Democrats on the Upswing
Oct27 Pennsylvania Senate Race: The Day After
Oct27 Georgia Senate Race: Do I Hear Three?
Oct27 Washington Senate Race: Rescuing Patty Murray
Oct27 I Am Not a Crook... Unless I Am
Oct27 Today's Senate Polls
Oct26 Fetterman Flops
Oct26 House Progressives Screw Up
Oct26 Congressional Republicans Have Drama, Too
Oct26 Alaska Soap Opera Just Keeps Going
Oct26 The Strangest Poll of this Cycle
Oct26 California Uber Alles
Oct26 Today's Senate Polls
Oct25 Prime Minister Gerald Ford
Oct25 DeSantis, Crist Debate
Oct25 All Eyes on Fetterman
Oct25 Alaska Gone Wild
Oct25 Graham Gets a (Brief?) Reprieve
Oct25 This Isn't Going to End Well
Oct25 Today's Senate Polls
Oct24 Trump Organization Trial to Commence Today
Oct24 Trump Subpoena Chess Game Begins
Oct24 Trump-Greene 2024?
Oct24 Republicans Ride to the Rescue of Stitt
Oct24 It's Chili in Alaska
Oct24 No Go for BoJo...
Oct24 ...But Xi Is Eternal
Oct24 Today's Senate Polls
Oct23 Sunday Mailbag
Oct22 Legal Setbacks All Around
Oct22 Saturday Q&A
Oct22 Today's Senate Polls
Oct21 Another One Bites the Dust
Oct21 Not a Good Day for Debt Forgiveness Opponents...
Oct21 ...Or for Lindsey Graham
Oct21 Don't Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch
Oct21 This Week in Schadenfreude: Bad Company