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Sunday Mailbag

A good mix today, we think, starting with thoughts on the Supreme Court's newest member.

All The Way with KBJ

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Friday started off on a positive note. Watching the ceremony in the White House garden with President Biden, Vice President Harris, and the newly confirmed SCOTUS justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was a proud and historic moment. Then, no sooner than that event was winding down, I saw a news flash about how the domestic terror suspects who plotted to kidnap and/or kill Michigan governor Gretchen Witmer were acquitted in their trial, while two other suspects' trial ended in a hung jury.

You have got to be kidding me. The evidence against the MI terrorists was overwhelming. You had audio and video evidence, plus two other members of the group who were cooperating with the prosecutors. You would think a C-average first-year law student at a mid-level school could have convicted these people. But all the defense needs is one MAGA sympathizer and the case is won.

If the Michigan terrorists could not be convicted, then how. in. the. world. could a prosecution ever convict Donald Trump for anything?

W.K.D. in Houston, TX, writes: I predicted Ketanji Brown Jackson would get 10 Republican "yeas" during her confirmation vote.

Well, when you're wrong, you're wrong. And I have to say that even a hardened cynic like me is disappointed. It's tough to say something like "our country is more broken than I thought" because everyone recognizes that the country is super broken. But Ketanji Brown Jackson is not more liberal than Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Ginsburg was confirmed 96-3 in 1993. Jackson's also quite a bit more conservative than Sonia Sotomayor, who was confirmed 68-31 in 2009. 2009 wasn't that long ago. Have we really fallen so far so fast?

R.V.G. in Bainbridge Island, WA, writes: You mused, in a post about the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson, that "the only remaining questions were: (1) Would the Republican members of the Committee be able to score any political points through smears on the nominee?" And, in response, you wrote "Based on polling, it does not appear that Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) or Tom Cotton (R-AR) did any damage to Jackson, or did themselves any real good."

I would like to suggest that you missed the point of their grandstanding, and therefore came to the exact wrong conclusion. It was never about Jackson personally. It was solely about their continuing effort to sully the Democratic brand, on a purely emotional and gut level, so that their followers would have a very hard time voting for any Democrat or Democratic-endorsed policy without having their stomach uncontrollably turn, even if they logically did not believe any of the claims. I believe they have been extremely successful at this, including this time around.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Arianna Freeman was abused by Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley because she is a Black woman. Her work for the Federal Defenders Office is merely a fig leaf, as it was with Kentanji Brown Jackson, to clothe their racist pandering to the Republican base. I am surprised you did not note this common factor in response to the question from J.W. in Kansas City.

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: During the circus known as the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, Lindsey Graham declared the next time there was a nominee from a Democratic president, the GOP would give him/her the same "treatment" that Kavanaugh got from the Democrats. Graham, along with his GOP colleagues on the committee, surely kept their promise with Ketanji Brown Jackson.

There has been some recent news about Clarence Thomas, which hasn't been positive. It has to make anyone ponder what would happen if say he, or another current conservative on the Court, were to leave while Joe Biden was still President and the Democrats controlled the Senate.

Based on what transpired with the Jackson hearings, the GOP would really freak out and intensify their vitriol towards anyone President Biden potentially nominated. He could nominate a white, Christian male to the Court and the likes of Sens. Hawley, Graham, and Cruz would stoop to even lower depths to make him look worse than Vladimir Putin.

For years, the Republicans have accused Democrats of using the courts to advance an agenda that they can't achieve legislatively. But it's them who treat the judiciary as the holy grail to uphold their views on matters like abortion, gun rights, voting rights, affirmative action, etc. It's all about maintaining control of their 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court at any cost and pandering to their base. Even if that includes using dog whistles to slander a well-qualified Black woman like Ketanji Brown Jackson. Truth, decency, and the American way be damned.

B.J. in Boston, MA, writes: If the Democrats insisted on a "All Supreme Court nominees get a vote within 60 days, and if the first two nominations fail, then the third one is automatically granted Senate consent" rule as you propose, then the Republicans would nominate obviously ineligible people (serial killers, foreign dictators, whatever) twice and then whatever in-their-pocket political hack they actually wanted third.

There is no set of rules that a good-faith party can impose on a bad-faith party to ensure proper behavior in the future.

Also, I do not see how "if the Democrats do it a little, the Republicans will do it more" is a great argument against anything. The Republicans have shown they are happy to break new ground on exploiting the system if they think they can get away with it. Cases in point: Merrick Garland, Neil Gorsch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.

Perhaps the Democrats should propose a constitutional amendment improving the Supreme Court system (e.g., every president gets two, or whatever) and then pre-approve enough justices for the next hundred years as negotiating leverage.

To your earlier point, though, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and/or Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) wouldn't go for it. Nor would Joe Biden. Sigh.

T.M. in New York City, NY, writes: "My first two nominees are Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity. My third is Neomi Rao."

This three-strikes rule would be ripe for abuse.

The War in Ukraine

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: You wrote that counterattacks by Ukraine on Russian petro infrastructure was impossible because the oil rigs are in Siberia, out of missile range. But last week there were reports that Ukraine had attacked a Russian oil depot in Belgorod, on Russian soil. For the first time of the war.

Ok, when I googled this today, reports are now saying Ukraine denied the attack and it's probably a Russian false flag operation.

But either way the point is that someone, either Russian or Ukrainian, thinks Ukrainian counterattacks are plausible. Just a depot, not a significant portion of the nation oil output, on the scale you consider in your answer. But maybe still worth mentioning.

L.D.K. in Vienna, Austria, writes: You wrote: "There is no evidence that Russia has, as its goal, the elimination of the Ukrainian people. In other words, the particular intent that is key to genocide simply does not appear to be present."

While I agree that the evidence for Russia's genocidal intent was somewhat circumspect until very recently (though there certainly were some indications that this was, in fact, the case), about a week ago they seem to have removed all doubt. The primary source Snyder refers to was published on April 3, 2022; while it is technically not an official government document, it seems to be quite close to being so, any Snyder is not an amateur when it comes to this topic, either. (I assume that Professor Ochs was also not aware of this document when she wrote her op-ed.)

Just pointing this out in case you want to add to your answer.

V & Z respond: We pass this along so readers are aware of it, and can examine it for themselves if they wish. However, we have significant questions about whether Snyder is correctly characterizing the contents of the document and also about the assumption that this document represents the official policy of the Russian government.

R.R. in Boston, MA, writes: With all the moral outrage associated with Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and at the risk of venturing into a bit of "whataboutism," I wonder if people remember a certain invasion of our own in search of WMD after Iraq flew planes into the twin towers on 9/11 (We invaded them, so they must have done it, right?). If I recall there was also controversy over torture, and abuse of prisoners associated with that action.

That may not be the same as shelling civilian populations and mass executions or other things being reported in Ukraine, but our own country is far from innocent when it comes to invading another country based on trumped up charges for political gain.

S.K. in Chappaqua, NY, writes: I can't be the only person whom Russian troops' actions in Ukraine reminds of the Viet Nam era's "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: When the U.N. was established in October 1949, the five major victors in the recently-concluded World War II were given "permanent" seats on the Security Council, where they had veto power over any actions to be taken by the United Nations.

China's "permanent" seat was given to the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-Shek. When Generalissimo Chiang moved to Taiwan two months later, he took his U.N. veto with him.

In 1972, the U.N. General Assembly voted to give "China"'s seat to the People's Republic of China, leaving Taiwan with no U.N. representation. This act was not subject to veto by the Nationalist government, because they no longer HAD a veto after the General Assembly vote.

When the U.S.S.R. imploded in 1991, the U.N. General Assembly voted to give the U.S.S.R.'s "permanent" seat to Russia instead of to any of the other SSRs.

I'm not an International Law expert, nor do I play one on the Internet, but it looks like there is precedent for taking the U.S.S.R.'s permanent seat away from Russia and giving it to another former SSR—such as Ukraine.

International Politics

G.T. in Budapest, Hungary, writes: I am really depressed by the results of the Hungarian elections. I was expecting better results for the united opposition and was hoping even for a win. The poll I trust (Median) predicted they would lose but they lost much worse than the predictions.

Your item about Prime Minister Orbán was mostly on point, but let me correct just one thing. Orbán's Fidesz party did not take 70% of the vote, "only" 54%, but this was enough for them to claim 68% of the seats in the Parliament. They did achieve a 2/3 supermajority in each of the last four elections. Having a supermajority is important because with it they can change the constitution as they wish. Theoretically, they could abandon elections and declare Orbán president for life. They did not do this; however, they replaced the constitution with a new one, replaced the election law with a new one, and they doctored these laws for maximizing their advantage. This includes but is not limited to gerrymandering.

You correctly note that nobody questions seriously the legitimacy of the vote-count. Several of my relatives volunteered for the job and they did not see anything untoward. The handling of the mail-in votes were the worst (see below), but those represent a small fraction of all the vote. In fact, the rules about mail-in ballots is part of the vote-maximizing efforts of Fidesz. Those Hungarian citizens who do not have a Hungarian address can vote by mail, while other Hungarians, who live abroad but have legal Hungarian addresses, and those who live in Hungary, cannot. In the first group most are ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries, who could receive Hungarian citizenship without ever setting foot in the country and they are mostly loyal Fidesz-fans. They can vote by mail, while the large number of Hungarians working in Austria, Germany or the U.K. had to wait in very long lines at the Hungarian consulates. Coincidentally, they typically do not support Fidesz. Anyway, the worst story of shenanigans are about the mail-in ballots that were not delivered to Hungarians in Serbia by the Serbian postal service, but by a local Fidesz-alligned civil group. They often insisted that the ballots should be filled in on the spot while they wait. In other places they failed to deliver the ballots but asked the voters to come and fill the ballots in at the group's office. Another news story depicted partially burnt mail-in ballots (filled in for opposition candidates) found in a ditch in Transylvania.

As I noted, however, mail-in ballots represents a small part of all votes and the most of the ballots seems to be legitimate. Many Hungarian people really like Orbán. I have a colleague whose parents live in a small town and have two framed pictures in their living room. One depicts Jesus, the other Orbán. Such a cult is supported by the 90% of Hungarian media that is directly under the directions of the group around Orbán. This includes the state radio and TV stations (opposition politicians got five minutes in the state TV before the elections and this represents their total airtime in the last 4 years). Other stations and many print and on-line media are controlled by Fidesz-friendly oligarchs. The last independent radio station lost its last remaining frequency more than a year ago, now they operate online.

You remark that you don't know, but can guess, the party line on trans women, CRT and vaccinations. Well, CRT did not enter Hungarian politics yet and you were mistaken with regard to the vaccinations. The government has always been pro-vaccination and prided itself early last year with higher vaccination rates than most E.U. countries. This was achieved by not relying on "Brussels bureaucrats" but independently importing vaccines from Russia and China. Later Chinese vaccines turned out to be less effective and the government did not keep up the push for vaccination, so vaccination rates fell well below the E.U. average. By the way, another advantage of the vaccination effort for Fidesz was a database of e-mail addresses (everyone had to register on-line for the vaccine) that they later used to deliver campaign messages.

As for trans women, you hit the nail on the head. The government initiated four referendums all on trans issues that were held on the day of the elections. The questions were really stupid; one of them is this: "Do you support the promotion of gender reassignment treatments for minors?" Anyway, anti-LGBTQ sentiments were harvested to mobilize the vote. In the preceding months the government changed the constitution to make it contain the text "the mother is a woman and the father is a man." (They have previously written verbiage in the constitution about marriage being possible only between a man and a woman, but wanted to add something more.) They also passed legislation that made it impossible to change one's officially recognized gender for whatever reason and also laws similar to the "don't say gay" legislation in the United States. As the only positive outcome from last Sunday, the opposition campaign that everyone should put invalid ballots in on the referendum questions worked: The valid answers did not reach the required 50% in any of the four referendum questions.

I have no insight as to why the polls were wrong. I can speculate, however, as why the opposition lost over 10% compared to the last election 4 years ago. But this is pure speculation. One of the six parties in the joint opposition this round is the Jobbik ("The Right One") party. They used to be a standard extreme-right party majoring in anti-Romani ideology and minoring in antisemitism. They used to have a paramilitary wing (Magyar Gárda = Hungarian Guards) who loved to march around in uniforms in Romani villages "to protect low and order." This group was later disbanded by the courts. When the ruling Fidesz party turned so much toward the right that it was hard to maintain their status of "more extreme right" they decided to reform themselves and turned toward a more centrist-right direction. By now it is quite believable that they are not extreme, but they had to do some internal fighting to achieve this.

As a result of the internal fighting a splinter group left the party in the middle of the last parliamentary term. They are called "Mi Hazánk" (= "Our Homeland"). So, my speculation is that their electorate did not like the new direction of the Jobbik. They really needed a racist party to represent them. So some of them voted for Mi Hazánk, while others voted for the Fidesz. As a result Mi Hazánk got into the Parliament with 6% of the vote and Fidesz got stronger too, while the opposition did not gain anything by joining forces with the reformed Jobbik. By the way, Mi Hazánk is supposedly an opposition party, but they really struggle to find issues to distance themselves from Fidesz. In the last cycle they always voted with the ruling Fidesz party. They take what they can: (you guessed it) vaccination. Mi Hazánk made the anti-vaxxer stance their main policy plank.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: Not enough has been said about the sham election in Hungary. I get that this is not a foreign policy site, but Hungary ought to be considered a canary in a coal mine for democracy and the story of the "election" deserves more than three paragraphs at the bottom of your page and a request for Hungarian readers to write about it.

I'm a California reader and here is what I have to say about this: We need to be paying very close attention to Hungary because this is where we are headed if a Republican wins in 2024. Orbán has taken control of the media, such that his opponent had 5 minutes of air time per 24 hours while Orbán's speeches were repeated 5 times a day. He has gerrymandered the country to oblivion in order to take over their parliament. He basically owns all the judges. Really, the only means of campaigning available to the opposition has been going door-to-door in a country with a population of 9.7 million. And they have found that many people are afraid to even take their pamphlets for fear of being arrested as sympathetic to the opposition.

If you really want to hear more about Orbán's tactics and impact, I implore readers to take a listen to Ben Rhodes' interview with European Parliament member Katalin Cseh from last week's Pod Save the World (recorded prior to the election). The interview starts at 59:31.

N.L. in Austin, TX, writes: I live in Texas, so obviously I'm no more capable of giving behind-the-scenes insights than anyone else, but one thing I've seen brought up repeatedly in coverage of the election in Hungary that you didn't mention is that Orbán seems to have successfully spun the opposition's willingness to get tougher on Putin as "If I lose, the left will drag you into a war with Russia!" This obviously doesn't hold up, but his base bought it overwhelmingly and the opposition apparently didn't do nearly enough to counter it.

Of course, this is not to deny that there might also have been some electoral shenanigans going on. I'm told Hungarian elections are heavily pen-and-paper based, so they're hard to steal, but Orbán's party Fidesz has certainly engaged in lots of gerrymandering and other shady pre-election day behaviors.

E.K. in Brignoles, France, writes: By the time this letter is published, most of us in France will have already voted in the first round of the election.

A few weeks ago, Emmanuel Macron's reelection seemed to be a done deal. But I sent a prediction back in December or early January where I expressed my doubts about that outcome. First I thought it was Valérie Pécresse who would beat Macron 51.5/49.5. But after her disastrous campaign, I think it's Marine Le Pen who has a real chance on April 24. Her election is very possible. Almost probable.

The readers of this site have to understand that Emmanuel Macron, especially outside big cities, generates an gigantic amount of anger, resentment or even hatred. The "rally around the flag" effect is now almost gone, and many, many people just have had enough of the taxes, inflation, crime and Macron's style of governance. Because of the war in Ukraine, Macron basically didn't campaign, and has made a disconcerting amateurish choice: His only rally happened last Saturday, when no TV channel could air it because of the limits on the amount of speaking time allotted to every candidate during the last two weeks before the election. Even I, whose vote has never been in doubt, couldn't articulate why I should vote for him again after watching his rally on the Internet.

Meanwhile, Éric Zemmour's candidacy has made Marine Le Pen look like a moderate, sensible, down-to-earth woman who loves cats and smiles a lot. We have forgotten what exactly she is for, but we all know what she is against: Emmanuel Macron. In a time where "anyone but Macron" has become a rallying cry, we can have a weird electoral coalition on April 24: very few Mélenchon (a.k.a. "the sound and the fury") voters will vote for Macron, and many will vote for Le Pen, who will also benefit from many Zemmour and Pécresse votes, and that's how Emmanuel Macron can become former president on April 25.

The "republican dam," unfortunately, doesn't exist anymore. If on Sunday at 8 p.m., the results, with a dismal turnout, are something like Macron 25/Le Pen 22, then we're in deep, deep trouble. Macron has to run a way better campaign for the second round. If he doesn't, then you can add France to the very long list of countries having succumbed to the populism.

National Politics

J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, writes: Our experience with Title 42 was slightly different from what you described. When I and my two young children returned to our home country in September, my non-citizen wife was denied entry. Title 42 was never invoked, but she and I were explicitly told multiple times that she had no right to an attorney. My investigation indicates that this is only when Title 42 is happening. We were not requesting asylum—we were coming to the States for a few months on her visitor visa so that we, the U.S. citizens, could get vaccinated. So Title 42 appears to have been used, but for a non-asylum case. Additionally, of the four of us, she was the only one who was fully vaccinated at the time. So the raison d'etre for Title 42 was a hollow lie—if the desire was to "protect America from COVID," then it should rightfully exclude the three U.S. citizens and not my wife. (In the 24 hours we were in the States, I was able to get my first shot of Pfizer, when none was available for me in the Philippines. Then, the Filipino government was kind enough to honor that first shot so I could get the full complement three weeks later.)

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: My interpretation of the White House call log story is that it's been driven either by disingenuity in the media, or deliberate obtuseness of the White House/National Archives staff, or both. When I hear the phrase "switchboard log," I understand it to mean all calls routed through any part of the White House phone network, including both internal and external calls, whether routed by a human operator or by a computerized switch (though, naturally, excluding cell phones). But it seems now, according to the CNN article shared by B.T. in North Brunswick, that the term was used to refer only to calls facilitated by a human operator. By running with the story without making this distinction, the media has made a mountain out of a molehill. Feeding Trump's and the right wing's persecution complex like this was the last thing we needed.

C.L. in Boulder, CO, writes: J.D. of Ames wanted to know how to respond to Reagan's incompetent government charge. This may not be exactly what J.D. had in mind, but I remember arguing with a Reagan fan in the early 90s who complained about the Democrats' "tax-and-spend" philosophy. My rebuke was that "tax-and-spend" was better than "borrow-and-spend."

Consider the numbers. In the 1970s, when I first became politically aware, the debt-to-GDP ratio started at 35% and hovered in the low 30% range through 1980, when Reagan was elected president, and into his first year in office. But then Reagan began cutting taxes and borrowing and spending. In 1988, when Bush the father was elected, the debt-to-GDP ratio was 50%. It took until Bill Clinton's second term, 1997, for the start of a course correction that continued on a downward trend until Bush the son, 9/11 and the Iraq War. The numbers have since soared upward with 2021 clocking in at 124% debt-to-GDP.

For one who thought government was incompetent, Reagan didn't seem to mind going into hock to pay for more and more of it.

All Politics Is Local

P.F. in Fairbanks, AK, writes: R.C. in Des Moines asks: "What are the chances of Sarah Palin not only winning the House seat in Alaska but then being elected Speaker?"

Addressing the first part of RC's question:

Palin has put her foot in her mouth about having "never left Alaska." That's a lie, and we all know it. Palin certainly still has supporters in Alaska, but my feeling is that she's been gone too long and has been getting headlines for the wrong reasons. She was a fairly well-liked governor, but resigning mid-term has dogged her, and many will not forgive her for quitting.

As just one moderate voter, I predict she earns single digits and finishes in the fourth quartile. Palin is a non-story for Alaskans because Palin no longer credibly represents Alaska. The collective eyeroll when it was announced she was running could probably have thrown Earth's rotation off balance.

S.B. in New Castle, DE, writes: I was saddened, but not surprised, when I read your item "Trump Claims Another Victim." Before I moved to Delaware, I lived in Rep. Fred Upton's (R-MI) district for over 20 years and met him on a few occasions. Although I didn't always agree with his politics, I always felt that he sincerely wanted to represent his constituents in the best way possible.

While Upton does come from the very wealthy family who owns Whirlpool, the family is one that has always been invested in the community. Like many wealthy people, they do have their own foundation and support many local charities. But more importantly, they have kept Whirlpool in Benton Harbor, MI, and made serious attempts to restore the damage done by "white flight" from Benton Harbor across the river to St. Joseph, MI, even though relocating would be financially advantageous.

I was pleased when Upton stood on principles and voted to impeach Trump, but have been disappointed with many other recent votes. My feeling is that Fred was holding out, hoping when Trump left, some sense of normalcy might return. As we've all seen, that isn't the case. He's had a long career and was very popular in his previous district. I have to think the lingering Trumpism, redistricting, and his age made him decide to toss in the Washington towel and move toward doing good more locally.

V.S. in Martha's Vineyard, MA, writes: About that ad by Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black: Did you notice that they used the Law & Order font? A subtle thing, but one that gives more credibility on a subliminal level to the ad's content.

A New Deal for the Democrats, Part II

R.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: You had asked about possible Democratic slogans a few weeks back. Why isn't the Party hammering Republicans on education? The GOP is literally criminalizing education right now. Two slogans on this theme could be: (1) Stop Criminalizing Education or (2) Don't Lock Up Our Teachers.

The Democrats can easily justify their position as curriculum and/or teacher disciplinary matters being the domain of the local community/school district. Big government should butt out.

In Ohio, it's even worse. Right now they're introducing legislation to repeal the training requirements for concealed carry with the intent of teachers bringing guns into schools. The Ohio Democratic Party should be blasting ads out that say "keep weapons out of our schools." Despite senators having nothing to do with this, they could turn it into a wedge issue for that race too.

I'm also baffled why I'm not seeing "truck commercials" toting the bipartisan infrastructure deal. By all accounts it was a BFD, yet the Democratic party is treating it like it's an albatross around their neck. A voiceover saying "the largest infrastructure deal in generations, sending your tax dollars back to you" might get some eyerolls on the Internet, but it'll promote a Democratic win while also encouraging the message that it's not government spending but really giving back tax dollars.

D.S. in Havertown, PA, writes: I wanted throw my 2 cents on the slogans for the Democratic Party.

Based on the Virginia and New Jersey elections last year, it's obvious that running against Trump and Trumpism every time. all the time isn't a winner. On the other hand, voters have very short memories, so I think a quick reminder of what we all felt on January 6 is still valuable:

Infrastructure or Insurrection: Your choice in 2022.

This theme is short, briefly reminds people of what Trumpism means, yet also hits the Biden Administration's signature achievement to date.

P.N. in Austin, TX, writes: I suggest: "Democrats, for democracy."

It emphasizes Republicans' weakest issue, focuses on an issue about which all Democrats agree, uses alliteration, and can be spun into additional slogans like, "Democrats, for justice," "Democrats, for jobs," and "Democrats, for sanity." Well, OK, maybe that last one is a bit too honest.

G.S. in Spokane, WA, writes: I'm not a graphic designer, but here's my suggestion for a bumper sticker:

It reads Good Ol' Putin, with the 
G, O, and P stylized to cause them to stand out, accompanied by the tagline 'Vote Democrats, vote democracy.'

I did this before reading the letter from S.Y. in Skokie, but clearly our great minds were running along the same channel.

Also, I believe you made an error in your answer to R.H.D. in Webster about World War III. It's the Organization for Determination and Adjudication of Martial Nomenclature—ODAMN.

L.O. in Atlanta, GA, writes: "Vote Decency" (blue background).

Everyone will understand the implication. Covers a lot of territory. Besides, we need this. What would the counterpoint be? "Vote Republican"? Yeah, sure.

A.L. in Osaka, Japan, writes: I always thought that "YOUR Government" might be effective as a Democratic slogan. Yesterday, you wrote about Ronald Reagan and his relentless push: "The government is the problem, not the solution." Wouldn't this slogan directly question challenge Reagan's argument? Also, it would fit nicely with the Democratic anti-authoritarian message. Instead of a government of pointy-headed bureaucrats, it is a government that we the people have chosen together.

Strategic Voting

J.E. in San Jose, CA, writes: In response to C.S. in Philadelphia and M.B. in Cleveland, I would like to remind them why we vote in the first place: civic duty. Speaking more generally, one of the reasons we are entrenched in a two-party system is because we (collectively) have this urge to vote for a winner. That is why there are so many Yankees fans. Do you really want to be a Yankee fan?

Put another way, you get one vote. That we think one vote will make a difference is a failure to grasp statistics. I am not the reason Al Gore or Hillary Clinton lost, and picking on third-party voters is just another way to bully a minority.

I am registered Peace and Freedom. I never get what I want. And yet my one vote for a candidate who gets 85,188 votes vs. someone who gets 81 million votes is inconsequential, because as a person I am inconsequential. That's just the cold truth. I matter just as much as everyone else, and my vote matters just as much as everyone else's, which is to say not that much.

So, C.S. and M.B., vote for who you want to represent you. That's what voting is for. The only thing worth less than a single vote is the bucket of warm liquid we associate the vice presidency with. And that's by design. No one of us is that special. It is only collectively that we have the democracy that we have, at least for now anyway.

The only thing less consequential than voting is not voting.

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: One of the few things I liked about Texas when I lived there was when you registered to vote, you didn't choose a party affiliation. When you showed up at the polling place, you told the poll workers which party's ballot you wanted. The only limitation, really, was that if there was a run-off, you had to stick with the same party in the run-off as you voted in the main primary—no switching horses mid-stream, even if your first party settled all their races on the first round. I always voted in the Republican primary, not because I felt any kinship with the Neocons who were running things when I moved there, or with the fruitbaskets who were running things by the time I left, but because I was confident that the Democrats didn't need my input to choose a good candidate and the Republicans definitely did. My wife at the time felt this was somehow traitorous or something, but I, having grown up in a state where you chose your party and it was a pain to change, felt like it was glorious freedom to be allowed to change my mind on where to use my vote, up until the last second. Registration is different here in Wyoming, but I still trust the Wyoming Democrats to avoid nominating criminals and/or clowns more than I do the Republicans, so that's the party I plan to vote with in the upcoming primaries. If it comes down to it, I'm prepared to launch my own campaign for a Republican nomination if necessary to bring some intelligence and integrity to the process.

I'm not a fan of strategic voting, though, by which I mean everything from ratf**king to voting for a candidate I don't like just because I think it's the only candidate with a chance to win. One of the many reasons third parties don't do well in this country is the self-fulfilling prophecy "The can't win." The Republicans were a "third party" right up until they weren't, dethroning the Whigs, and it's not impossible for some other group to do the same to the GOP. I mean, not bloody likely, but still just-barely-possible. And if your voting strategy is "only vote for parties that have a chance to win," then in Texas and Wyoming, that would mean limiting yourself to just the Republicans. No one ever seriously proposes this as a valid strategy vis-a-vis the Democrats and they shouldn't vis-a-vis the Greens or the Libertarians, etc. In other words, I say vote for the candidate you believe in whether or not you or anyone else thinks they have a snowball's chance in Texas, and without regard to their party affiliation.

D.S. in Newark, OH, writes: In response to M.B. from Cleveland, vote in the primary for the person whom you feel would make the best Senator. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) is the likely Democratic nominee for Senate and in my view is the best choice. But remember Congressman Joe Crowley? How about president Hillary Clinton? Many people thought they were going to win, but instead we got Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and, as my late father would call him, the big orange bullshi**er.

But, more importantly, M.B. did not have to wait for the start of early voting to request an absentee ballot in Ohio. My absentee ballot requests for both the 2022 primary and the 2022 general election were in the mail the day after the 2021 general election. My primary ballot was mailed to me on April 5, and I received it in the mail Saturday, April 9 (I monitored its status on the local board of elections website). I will drop it off at the Local board of elections on Monday, April 11.

J.E. in Akron, OH, writes: M.B. in Cleveland nicely summed up the options I have been considering for the Ohio primary. Despite your advice, I'm picking option #2 (support the sane Republican). In addition to trying to avert the short-term horror of a Senator J.D. Vance, as a center-left voter, I would really like to support the longer term goal of reconstituting a normal center-right party. I mostly support Democrats, but in the longer term, I'd like to have a viable alternative in case they drift too far left.

J.H. in Canton, GA, writes: In response to the question from M.B. in Cleveland's about primary ratfu**ing, let me offer a cautionary tale of the single vote I regret most in my life.

In the 2016 Presidential preference primary, it was clear to me that Hillary Clinton had locked up the Democratic nomination despite Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) not yet conceding. Erick Erickson had announced that a vote for Donald Trump in the GOP primary was a vote for Hillary Clinton in November. Scared of the prospect of a President Ted Cruz, I voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 primary, thinking that the Never Trumpers would ensure a Clinton win. My wife and kids still give me a hard time over it.

I still crossover vote. It's the only way to have a voice in local elections. I just vote for my preferred candidate of the bunch when I do so. For instance, I intend to vote for Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger in the Georgia GOP primaries this year (Stacey Abrams and Bee Nguyen have the Democratic nominations locked up). However, I will never again vote to elevate someone I find to be evil just because I think he is easier to beat. That just leaves us with worse choices and we end up with worse leaders.


T.J. in London, England, UK, writes: On Oklahoma's incredibly harsh abortion law, you suggested it would be ineffective on the grounds that, even if a doctor had performed an abortion which wasn't a medical emergency, could it be proven beyond all reasonable doubt in a court of law that they were lying if they said it was necessary?

I'll be honest, my thoughts went the other way: Given that Oklahoma is so red it was the only state where Obama didn't win a single county in either 2008 or 2012, if a doctor faced with a medical emergency where they needed to perform an abortion, how confident would they be that they'd be acquitted by a typical jury of Oklahomans, even in a case which virtually all doctors would consider it was essential to save the mother's life?

B.B. in Metairie, LA, writes: These near-total abortion bans recently passed in several states are draconian, to be sure, but they suffer from a fatal flaw: Between 10-20% of human pregnancies terminate spontaneously as a so-called "miscarriage." That likely results in significant uterine bleeding, so that a woman experiencing such a loss might well have to go to the ER or a hospital. How is the doctor supposed to know what caused the termination? Was it spontaneous or induced? If some busybody reports the patient's condition to the authorities, how will they prove an induced abortion took place? Will the patient, and her doctor, be arrested and imprisoned because her pregnancy failed spontaneously? I doubt that these laws will stand once such instances occur and are commonplace. Legislators really need to understand human reproductive biology before they even think about restricting it. Obviously, many of them don't.

Loan on Me

R.K. in Mill Valley, CA, writes: M.L.M. in San Jose offered a very informative take on student loans and their attractiveness to lenders. Still, M.L.M. lost me at the very end, by refusing to take debt to finance higher education.

Not a politics take (on the surface), but the world fundamentally works on haves vs. have nots, access vs. lack of, availability vs. exclusion, and so on. There is some stratification to this upcoming point, yet if you get accepted into Harvard and can only afford UCLA, you take out debt and go to Harvard. UCLA is truly a fantastic school, a richly deserving #2 to Cal as far as public universities go. But it is no Harvard and what that Boston school's name means for the rest of your life, worldwide, regardless of what you choose to do.

If you get accepted into UCLA and can only afford junior college, take out the debt and go to UCLA. And so on.

The concentration of wealth that is continuing to happen in this country at the top is both incredible (over $1 trillion in 2021), and sad. Higher education is an exclusive club, full of (mostly) old money that wants to protect its place in the hierarchy by rewarding and enabling its own. So if my kids get into Yale but really love what UCLA has to offer, and don't want to deal with east coast weather (and New Haven as a town is terrible anyway), too bad. Here's a winter coat. I would beg, borrow and Lori Loughlin steal to put my kids at the highest strata possible. Employers, friends, even potential life mates, are lazy and just look at an Ivy credential as having validated them.

I wish it weren't this way, but given that it is, and I am powerless (and unwilling to try, if I'm being honest) to effect this kind of change in my lifetime, or at least by the time my kids are at the doorstep of higher education, it's an arms race to ensure they are as credentialed as possible to succeed in however they so choose.

History Matters

J.M. in Stamford, CT, writes: I've been following the "how many World Wars is it by now" discussion with pleasure. I noted your comment that: "Heck, the gap between the First and Second World Wars was just 18 years (1919-37), and nobody would blend those two together as one."

And it brought back an odd memory. Taking an European diplomacy and history course in college in the late 70s, I distinctly remember the professor offering for our consideration the idea of World War I and World War II being, indeed, one continuous war, albeit with a hiatus for rearming and recovery in the middle of it. He suggested that the conflict be called the "Second Thirty Years War," following the naming model of the scattered and ongoing religious conflicts that ravaged Central Europe in the early 1600s.

His point, as he developed it slightly, was that the first phase of the conflict, ending in 1918, really settled nothing about what we might call the "German Question." That is: "Should Germany rule all of Europe or should it not?" The Germans came right back and tried again in the early 40s after a break and a breather; it was resisted by more or less the same alliance that had blunted and temporarily halted its first effort in the mid-10s. Only after Germany's final and much more convincing defeat in 1945 can Europe, and the outside powers of the U.S. and Russia/U.S.S.R., really be said to have answered the German question, twice-and-for-all, you might say.

Now I got the impression at the time that he was being deliberately provocative, in order to get us to think about what the World Wars of the 20th century really were. I would even guess that he was citing the provocative scholarship of some other academic, rather than coming up with it on his own. But... his idea does challenge your assertion that "nobody" would ever "blend those two together as one."

E.B. in Oakland, CA, writes: (Very) far be it for me to take issue with an assertion of a Civil War scholar about what made Ulysses S. Grant a more successful general than George McClellan, but I don't think it was that Grant was better at computing the political calculus. Grant was a far more aggressive battlefield commander. As General Sherman, conqueror of Atlanta, said: "I'm a damned sight smarter than Grant; I know more about organization, supply and administration and about everything else than he does; but I'll tell you where he beats me and where he beats the world. He don't care a damn for what the enemy does out of his sight but it scares me like hell." To the calls to fire Grant after his unentrenched army was roughly handled at Shiloh, Lincoln replied, "I can't spare this man-he fights." Grant's battle maxim was pithy: "Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on."

McClellan, on the other hand, always believed he was vastly outnumbered when the ratio of forces was actually very much the other direction, and accordingly he acted with trepidation, even when he was given the Confederate plans and dispositions before Antietam. While McClellan supported slavery and didn't wish to engage in the "hard war" that was Sherman's specialty, that wasn't what made him an ineffective commander.

As to politics, Grant tried his best to avoid it and simply follow orders. One exception was when he tried to expel the Jews from his military district for engaging in trade with the enemy. Lincoln promptly ordered him to rescind the order, and Grant later admitted that criticism of his hasty action was well-deserved.

V & Z respond: Being a bold/fearless leader does not exclude an awareness of the political dimensions of war, though. Grant and Sherman both understood well that the Northern public had to be kept happy with regular progress, and that the Southern public had to be broken through feeling "the hard hand of war." Those are political considerations.

Tall Ships

J.M.C. in Dayton, OH, writes: While J.E.S in Sedona notes that all carriers since the Nimitz (CVN-68) are named after elected officials, nine of the next eleven were named after Presidents and two after other officials closely related to the Navy, CVN-70 (Carl Vinson) and CVN-74 (John C. Stennis). CVN-79, the John F. Kennedy is under construction, as is CVN-80, the Enterprise. Jimmy Carter was not used as a name for a carrier, but was the namesake of SSN-23, an attack submarine, and since he was associated with Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear submarines, this is probably fitting.

The one that doesn't fit the pattern is CVN-81, the USS Doris Miller, also under construction. Doris Miller was a black cook, serving on the USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor, who won the Navy Cross for fighting back against the Japanese attackers. He was killed in action during World War II. So the latest Navy carrier will be named after a Black enlisted man. Maybe the Navy is making progress.

F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: An unusual exception on the naming of aircraft carriers...

USS Hornet launched the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, in April of 1942. Franklin D. Roosevelt, not wanting to sink ships with loose lips, told reporters that the raid was based from Shangri-La, the fictitious land in the book Lost Horizon by James Hilton.

USS Shangri-La (CV/CVA/CVS-38) was launched in February of 1944 and was commissioned the following September. One of her commanders was none other than Vice Admiral John S. McCain, Sr.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: I feel for anyone serving on USS Cowpens (CG-63).


B.M. in Birmingham, AL, writes: In response to B.M. in Parker, I feel your pain. Ever since the "progressive professor" joined the site, it has taken a hard left. That said, I am a loyal watcher of Tucker Carlson, so I use this site to hear "the other side," as the truth is somewhere in between. This site saves me the pain of listening to the utter nonsense spewed from the Democratic operatives on CNN and MSNBC, who I honestly believe would favor Al-Queda over Donald Trump (to that point, I would have loved to see that in the brackets). To this site's credit, at least the arguments from (Z) are coherent and intellectual, even if I disagree wholeheartedly 90% of the time. And if more conservatives would send in comments for Sunday review, I believe they will publish them. But be warned, the readership will come down very hard against any conservative views.

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: Contrary to what M.H. in Geneva and B.M. in Parker wrote, I think you're more than fair in your assessment of the racists and hypocrites that like to call themselves Republicans these days. I can see where the site might be less useful in a classroom setting, because while your site isn't any more or less liberal or conservative than it has ever been, it is certainly more partisan. Personally, I think this is good, right, and proper when one party is un-apologetically advocating against democracy itself, and standing up for violent overthrow of the government. I also think that going out of your way to find nice things to say about Republicans would end up damning with faint praise. If B.M. thinks there are nice things to say about the GOP, I'd like to see what they are. Give some examples, B.M.

D.T. in San Jose, CA, writes: I am sure that plenty of your other readers will already be providing rebuttals to the accusations of bias from B.M. in Parker, CO.

Rather than add my own variation of "Reality has a liberal bias" to the chorus, I will instead focus on the most glaring problem with the original letter: "You even do hit pieces on moderates at this point (Bill Maher, Joe Manchin, Mitt Romney, etc.)."

Bill Maher is not a moderate—he is extremely liberal. He is an environmentalist and a member of PETA. He opposes corporate welfare and openly disdains special treatment for religions. Maher regularly describes himself as a "progressive."

Bill Maher is also an a**hole. This is a critique of his personality, not his politics.

The only way you could argue that Maher is a "moderate" is if you consider "being an a**hole" a trait associated with the right end of the political spectrum... although, if that is your position, you won't get any argument from me.

J.A. in New York City, NY, writes: I read, with interest, the two small notes about's alleged left-leaning bias drifting further left over the years. I feel like this topic rears its head every now and then, but I always find it interesting that the complaints are very general and very vague in nature and often through an interesting lens. The fact that "woke" is being thrown as an insult may be more telling about the people using it than anything else. Being "woke" just means you are aware of and work to address social inequity concerning race and other historically disadvantaged groups. I guess some people think this is a bad thing.

I would urge people who think that you have drifted too far left to take a step back for a moment and pick which is more likely to be neutral and objective.

Is it more likely that two people who have curated a politically centered web site for the better part of 20 years, have great historical knowledge, and have very varied news media sources, have decided as they get older to go full AOC?

Or is it more likely that the media you consume—that are run by for-profit organizations and whose revenue streams depend on ginning up the viewership for engagement—and the people who claim to be "conservative" leaders in this country—who are regularly caught lying, calling for violence, and making insane claims about any topic that will get them applause lines without evidence—are skewing the truth?

Admittedly, I am on the center-left side of the political spectrum from New York (read "communist" for the "conservative" readers), but I think my political views have not changed much since 2000.

What has turned me off from the Republicans is not their conservatism, but their "conservatism," which J.A. from Middelkerke hit on the head. There is no conservative party in the United States anymore. We have an inept and incompetently led Democratic center-left party, and we have a bats**t crazy Jewish-space-laser party. There is no way to cover those two deficiencies in the same "neutral" way.

D.C. in Portland, OR, writes: J.A. in Middelkerke hits the nail on the head in their response to the accusations of left-wing bias—and especially increasing bias—often lodged against

Given its relationship to academia and the stated intent of its authors—that be an extension of their teaching—and considering its very active and well-informed reader base, it is hard to imagine a platform more resistant to the forces that might lead to wayward thinking and political bias, than this one.

Do the readers who perceive increasing bias misinterpret the political snark as such? Seems to me said snark is directed primarily at political shenanigans, that so happen to be the M.O. of one side more than the other.

Oops, but there I'm guilty myself of this "both sides" thinking. It really is hard to escape that myopic view of them against us; one side against another, with the "reasonable observer" perched squarely in the middle.

This illusion is perhaps inevitable given how much of our political system is built around a "two sides" paradigm that the system itself perpetuates. (For example, the bizarre concept of being required to register your political allegiances—primarily a choice between two sides—before being allowed to vote.)

There is a certain comfort to the feeling that one's own perspective has a solid, unshakable foundation and it's the world that's moving around you. But this is like watching the shores slide away while both feet are planted firmly on the deck of a large ship.

And that's how I reconcile the views of those readers, comfortably docked for a while against the E.V. shores, but unaware over time of the true source of movement. As reality slides their ship further from the dock and the shores become increasingly out of reach, they say adios.

D.P. in Boston, MA, writes: I hope you ignore the first two "bias" letters and enshrine the last one as one of the finest you have ever run on your site (which I have read more or less regularly since Bush vs. Kerry). J.A. in Middelkerke wrote a tiny masterpiece. Sounds like you have attracted some cons who (as usual) are trying to work the refs. As if you need to sacrifice the tens of thousands of your daily readers who love you just the way you are, to make the Michael Savages and Mark Levins of the world "happy."

Clearly, if you gents made any substantial changes to satisfy new readers who were Trump supporters, your existing reader base would go berserk. Needn't be said. It would cause as much turmoil as a 'Nuck squadron storming America over the Upper Peninsula.

Change nothing about


M.C. in Newton, MA, writes: In response to the letter from J.L. in Baltimore about famous Zs, I feel compelled to ask:

It's an image of Dr. John A. Zoidberg
from the show 'Futurama,' along with the caption 'Why not Zoidberg?'

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: Cannot believe you guys forgot the most famous Z of all...the one who even had the letter burned into his brain...

Zaphod Beeblebrox!

V & Z respond: We also forgot Zed from Pulp Fiction. In our defense, Zed's dead, baby. Zed's dead.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: So many times I begin my weekend hopeful that at some point one of the many news and political websites will make mention of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, only to have my hopes dashed. Then, I turn to and... Zappa!

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