Senate page     Feb. 13

Senate map
Previous | Next

New polls:  
Dem pickups: (None)
GOP pickups: (None)

Sunday Mailbag

We commence with the big story of the moment, and what is probably the most instructive letter of the week.


J.R. in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, writes: Saturday evening here, and I can attest that although some Ukrainians are concerned about Vladimir Putin invading, many aren't. Am in the western, very Ukrainian part of Ukraine. Many in Ukraine struggle with getting by day-to-day and they don't care much about which group of thieves run the government.

The possible scenarios:

  1. Most people still think Putin's likeliest path is no invasion.

  2. A potential second path, with significant likelihood of coming to pass, is to fake a provocation and take the Russian-backed rebel-held areas of the Donbas (and a bit more—maybe the strip along the Sea of Azov to Crimea).

  3. A more remote possibility is that Putin takes a wide arc of eastern Ukraine from Kharkov to Dnipro to Odessa (historically more pro-Russian areas) and closes off the Black Sea from the rump of Ukraine that would be left.

  4. Very unlikely would be a full invasion with the intent to take over and absorb the entire country.

My thought is the West should continue to warn of severe sanctions (including cut-off from the SWIFT network and the closure of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany).

As for why I stay in Ukraine—personal reasons and I think my risk is extremely low here. I worked for years in a war zone, this seems not so dangerous compared to what I already lived through. Safe parts of the Moldovan border are less than 2 hours away. Romania is just a bit farther.

V & Z respond: We may find out today. The Biden administration issued a 48-hour warning on Friday, and if ever there was a time when attention will be distracted, it's when the world is watching the Olympics and Americans are watching the Super Bowl.

T.T. in Bedford, NY, writes: I think that from the start, Vladimir Putin's plan regarding Ukraine was to create a significant crisis and then lower the temperature and settle for a "reasonable compromise." For example, settle for increasing Russia's already substantial influence in the regions in southeastern Ukraine that have seen lethal conflict between Russian and Ukrainian forces for years. Maybe that is accomplished with a limited number of the Russian military actually crossing the border into the disputed territory or with additional "volunteers" joining the separatists presently in place or through some other mechanism.

Recently, Joe Biden made comments that sounded to like "That would be OK by me." before his words were walked back.

The world would heave a great sigh of relief, congratulate itself on diplomacy winning out, cooler minds having prevailed and a diminished Ukraine limping forward to Putin's next gambit.

K.S. in West Lafayette, IN, writes: I have my doubts regarding your repeated assertions that a ban on Russian banks being able to access SWIFT would be an effective sanction. Russia has its own domestic version of SWIFT, which was developed by the Central Bank of Russia in response to, ironically, calls from the U.K. government for Russia to be banned from using SWIFT after their illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.

That is not to deny that there would be an effect; however, the more severe effect would most probably come from an immediate devaluation of the Russian ruble. This article is in the Russian language, but a quick use of Google Translate indicates that it is an article about prominent Russian economists hypothesizing about a potential limit on ATM withdrawals from bank accounts. This would lead to skyrocketing prices and inflation, and all of the ripple effects that follow. Regardless of what happens, the world will be watching with bated breath, while the Ukrainian people (and, most probably, everyday Russians) will be forced to pick up the pieces.

P.J.T. in Raton, NM, writes: Ever wonder why there are so many Russian speakers in Ukraine? In case anyone wants to really understand Russia's relationship to Ukraine, in 1932-33 Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union deliberately starved to death 7 million Ukrainians in an event known as the Holodomor—the Terror Famine. Prior to that, the Russian Empire banned the use of the Ukrainian language, so that Ukrainian writers had to either write in Russian or publish under assumed names so that they would not be prosecuted. Russia has always recognized Ukraine as a distinct and separate culture, a people they can murder, exploit and torture. To view this relationship without the filter of Russian propaganda telling us "We are the same people," read A Hunger Most Cruel: The Human Face of the 1932-1933 Terror-Famine in Soviet Ukraine.

V & Z respond: The Holodomor was mentioned in a letter last week, but it is worth reiterating the point.


S.C-M. in Scottsdale, AZ, writes: What is McConnell up To?

I believe Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has extensive polling data which shows while Donald Trump-endorsed Senate candidates can win Republican primaries, they will lose in the general election. McConnell has to disrupt Trump before the primaries, otherwise his goal of being Senate Majority Leader again is lost.

His strategy is certainly data-driven, but I also think it shows a certain desperation on his part. Trumpers may stay home in the general election after their Trumpy candidate loses in the primary and those voters need to show up in the general for the Republican nominee to prevail.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: Responding to E.H from Ossining, I posited a similar scenario a couple of months ago. You are essentially calling it possible but not plausible. I'll counter with another of your common phrases: A week is a long time in politics and 11 months is an eternity. Given the nascent split between the Trump wing and the McConnell wing of the party (your words), I can totally see a scenario where the fever has broken and enough Republicans have left Trump that this becomes a real option. This is how a parliamentary system works, right?

Donald Trump gets his power from Republicans who give it to him. They had an opportunity to leave him behind on Jan 7. The '22 election may be another opportunity and McConnell is clearly laying the groundwork to do so. Poking House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in the eye by putting up a moderate for Speaker who is palatable to enough Democrats to get him or her elected would be another nail in Trump's coffin.

J.F. in Fort Worth, TX, writes: You wrote that Sarah Palin "played a sizable role in the degradation of American political discourse, in particular by introducing to presidential politics the notions that expertise, experience, and facts don't particularly matter."

Dan Quayle has a few things he'd like to say about "family values," Murphy Brown's baby, and the proper way to spell "potato."

P.B. in Gainesville, FL (formerly of Sydney, NSW, Australia), writes: Just a short addendum to your reply to E.W. in Skaneateles about the Liberal Party in Australia. As further demonstration that your answer was correct, when the LP forms a governing party in national or state elections, it is almost always in coalition with Australia's Country Party (also called National Party in some states). As its name would suggest, the CP is most interested in the concerns of rural voters who tend to be more politically conservative, as in the United States. Therefore, in Australian news and polling, they are together often referred to as the LCP, or simply "the Coalition." To distinguish between Liberal and liberal in spoken communications, one says "small-l liberal" for the latter. Yes, it's all silly, but people are used to it.

The center-left Labor Party almost always runs alone, and often tries to make hay of the "two-party preferred" vote (meaning, not counting coalitions) where it almost always leads in polling, but with limited impact because Australia has ranked-choice voting, and LP and CP preferences always flow to each other.

Democratic Messaging

J.D.M. in Cottonwood Shores, TX, writes: I have been thinking about this letter for over a month, and have been working on a draft for nearly a week. I continue to be amazed at the way you two pump out content that I look forward to reading every morning.

I will echo G.R. in Basel in saying that I often find that the letters I didn't get written due to my time constraints are usually provided by other authors in words superior to my own. This last Sunday, that was the case with the missives from M.O. in Metamora and J.B. in Hutto discussing how Democrats could better speak to the complicated subject of abortion.

But I will also use those two excellent letters to help make my month-long-in-the-making points about the Democratic Party's messaging problem. I agree with those two writers that the Democrats are partly to blame due to their own poor choices. The abortion issue is just one of the most egregious examples. However, I believe that the preponderance of low-information voters makes it very difficult to communicate nuanced positions that require multiple sentences such as those suggested in their letters.

Furthermore, the news media greatly exacerbates this problem by reducing any nuanced, multiple-sentence statement to the most attention-grabbing single phrase possible. For example, the recent harm-reduction drug treatment bill is turned into a proposal to hand out free dope pipes to drug users. M.O.'s proposed statement would generate headlines like "Mayor Pete pushes free birth control for teenagers." And, as the excellent Paul Krugman points out repeatedly in his New York Times articles, all of the latest economic news is about inflation when the more complete story is that we are in the midst of one of the biggest economic expansions in decades. And "real wages"... well now, that is already too many sentences isn't it?

A.S. in Akron, OH, writes: In your item "Cori Bush Won't Back Down," you posed the following question: "But are there really that many people that would be willing to vote Democratic, but for the wokeness, and so are going to vote for Trumpism instead?"

I live in a purple-ish part of Ohio and I can tell you anecdotally that, no, "wokeism" won't drive Democrats to embrace Trumpism... but it absolutely plays a role in stifling Democratic turnout and helping moderate Republicans. The vast majority within my acquaintance group sits either slightly left or slightly right of the American political center. Of the Democrats, a non-insignificant chunk of these people have stayed home or voted for protest candidates over the past several election cycles. A fair number of them also supported John Kasich in 2016 (Hillary hate is very real in these parts). Terms like "wokeness," "PC" and "cancel culture" have become increasingly vitriolic statements in these parts—including with Democrats. Meanwhile, on the right, moderate conservatives have been much more willing to hold their noses and vote for local Republicans candidates (even in instances where Joe Biden got their votes at the top of the ticket).

In short, "woke" politics—at least the way they're framed by Democrats like Rep. Cori Bush (MO)—are doing legitimate damage to Democratic candidates in my swingy part of the country and I would guess it's similar elsewhere.

P.M.G. in Denver, CO, writes: I am one of those life-long Democrats/liberals who have been turned off by "defund the police" and the general emphasis on "wokeness" over other issues. While I agree with you that people like me will never vote for Trumpism, and will always vote Democratic, the issue may be with donations. Last year was the first year in over a decade that I didn't donate to any political candidate. That should be the real concern for the Democratic Party, especially as I suspect this phenomenon also drives donations to the right.

Also, it is also very unfortunate that there has been a rise in crime that likely has nothing to do with "defund the police," but the timing is terrible. The number one topic on my neighborhood message board is about the hold times on 911 calls and the slow response of police. People are not happy about that. Many of the key suburban swing voters are being lost to the Democrats, as far as I can tell.

P.C. in San Francisco, CA, writes: It is always cringe-worthy to hear when a member of Congress seeks to "defund the police" or submit something for approval as a law (Sen. Tim Scott, R-SC) on police matters. Congress has the power to regulate the police forces that come under its jurisdiction—federal law enforcement officers, military police, park rangers, etcetera. Congress does not have the power to regulate city, county, and state law enforcement officers. That power rests solely in the hands of local municipalities and the state. Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) looks like an idiot and fool when she makes her "defund the police" statements because she has no power to defund the police.

If Bush wants to make changes in police funding, she should run for county, city, or state offices where she can actually do what she is proposing. It is embarrassing that she, as an elected official, does not seem to understand this. As a caveat, she may understand this, but be making such statements for grandstanding purposes. In any case, I, as an educated voter, become very annoyed and frustrated when I hear such statements. It also says something about the media when she and Scott are not challenged on their statements, and are not asked specifically what they are going to do on a federal level (the area that they actually can effect).

L.R. in Vienna, Austria, writes: I would agree that Cori Bush is among the most "outspoken" members of Congress, but I am not so sure about "progressive." According to FiveThirtyEight, she voted with Biden 90% of the time; the only Democrat (in both chambers) with a lower value being Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME). She not only voted (like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marjorie Taylor-Greene) against the infrastructure bill, she also voted against emergency funding for Capitol security (!). For me, the most progressive members of Congress are people like Barbara Lee (D-CA), who also represent hyper-blue districts, but who vote party line on economic issues and are against using "Defund the Police" as a slogan.

Podcasts Killed the Radio Star, Part III

M.M. in Charlottesville, VA, writes: In the hope that you run one more week of podcast recommendations, I would like to offer Opening Arguments to your readership. Hosted by a lawyer and a layman, the podcast focuses on law-related current events, and especially the intersection of politics and law. The podcast does have an unapologetically liberal (and even at times progressive) bias, but the legal analysis is par excellence—especially in the face of a media that often fails to grasp the nuance of the legal issues on which it is reporting.

B.D. in St. Agatha, ON, Canada, writes: I procrastinated, and L.B. In Savannah got in ahead of me to recommend "Behind the Bastards" as a good podcast on politics. Robert Evans might not be everyone's cup of tea (BtB can be a bit profane), but I really like his humor and his well-researched approach to his topics. He has also worked on several other podcasts of interest. The Assault on America is very good, about the January 6th fracas. He also works on It Could Happen Here, looking at what the future could bring, the bad and possible good outcomes.

Canada Rules! soccer, at least.

V & Z respond: B.D. is originally from New Mexico. Blink twice, B.D., if you are being coerced in any way.

S.V.E. in Renton, WA, writes: My favorite politics podcast is Pod Save America. It's hosted by Jon Favreau (not the director), Jon Lovett, Tommy Vietor, and Dan Pfeiffer, all of whom are former staffers in the Obama administration who started a media company to add a progressive voice to the media discourse. They have two episodes a week and cover current events in politics along with an interview (nearly) every episode with a notable politician, activist, or journalist. Each episode is about an hour long and features in-depth discussions with a lot of "inside baseball" accompanied by a healthy dose of humor and snark. Overall, the tone feels like an amped up version of, but with a strong liberal/progressive lean.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: On the conservative side, I've become a big fan of Politicology, hosted by Ron Steslow. It's a spinoff of the former Lincoln Project podcast. He does a deep dive on a single topic with an expert on Wednesday and a round up of the news with a panel of people from both sides of the aisle on Friday (the conservatives on his panel are mostly former Lincoln Project founders). Steslow is measured, even-handed and restores my faith in the possibility of sane conservatives coming back into power. Mike Madrid, a regular panelist, is an absolute genius at understanding electoral politics.

Michael Steele, the former chair of the RNC, has one that is, strangely enough, called The Michael Steele Podcast. Another sane conservative, he dives into current events with an eye towards racial issues that has this liberal nodding his head in agreement and understanding. There is much common ground here that both sides could get on board with.

K.R. in Atlanta, GA, writes: I really like Political Rewind, a radio program from Georgia Public Broadcasting, available multiple ways, including as a podcast (with no commercials).

It covers Georgia politics (state, local, and federal). Bill Nigut hosts—he is a very experienced political journalist in Georgia, and the guests are typically a panel of Georgia lawmakers, officials, and journalists.

This Week in TrumpWorld

E.S. in Maine, NY, writes: Donny has a new theme song" "15 flushes and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in....well you know!"

Now we know why Donny was so obsessed with having to flush a toilet 15 times. Not sure if top-secret documents are harder to flush that just secret ones, but I am sure Donny could tell us in 11 hours of testimony under oath.

A.F. in Boston, MA, writes: In your item "Someone's Gonna Get Killed," you pose several questions asking if Republicans know the consequences of their ads and rhetoric. The last one, "Or do they know, and just not care if a Democrat (or a Republican opponent) gets shot?", seems to be the most likely explanation. The natural gut reaction to the suffering of the Other is almost certainly dismissiveness at a minimum, and celebration at worst.

I like to think that I'm a caring and compassionate person, but even I have to wait for my prefrontal cortex to take over and remind me of some people's humanity. Over the past half decade, I've frequently gone back to the Passover Seder tradition to remove a drop of wine for each of the ten plagues upon Egypt. While they were necessary for redemption, we should not celebrate the pain or death of any human being and lessen our joy (i.e., wine) accordingly.

As a party seemingly committed to purely emotional appeal, Republicans are preying on people's natural reaction to shrug their shoulders at the death of an Other and the GOP has worked really, really hard over the past quarter century to Otherize anyone that disagrees with the most extreme party orthodoxy. It's cynical, dangerous, and never leads to good places.

T.V. in Kansas City, MO, writes: So, if you're arrested by Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene's (R-GA) "gazpacho police," do they restrain you with a Borscht Belt?

V & Z respond: Nah, the Representative is just full of bullsh**baise.


B.W. in Cambridge, MA, writes: Your answer to B.B. in St. Louis was correct in terms of why people (in this case, Canadian truckers) might honestly be against the vaccine mandates. But, in fact, it seems most protesters are doing it for reasons other than actually being against the mandate. It seems to be more about using the mandate as a cover for anti-government protests, so as to rile up the public against Justin Trudeau and, now, Joe Biden.

From Heather Cox Richardson: "The Fox News Channel is cheering on the so-called 'Freedom Convoys' of disgruntled Canadians driving commercial trucks who have shut down Ottawa, Canada's capital, a well as key border crossings between Canada and the U.S. They have created traffic jams that have made it impossible for auto plants on both sides of the border to get the parts they need, and the resulting production cuts, as well as the idling of hundreds of millions of dollars in trade, are hurting the economies of both countries."

According to Justin Ling in The Guardian, the convoys appear to have been organized by James Bauder, a conspiracy theorist who believes COVID-19 is a political scam and has endorsed the QAnon movement. Canada's recent vaccine requirement for crossing the Canadian border provided a catalyst to pull together a number of different groups opposed to public health measures with anti-government protesters. The protests were neither popular nor representative of truckers: there were never more than about 8,000 protesters, 90% of truckers crossing the border are vaccinated, and the Canadian Trucking Alliance strongly opposes the protest.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Canadian Trucking Alliance told Rose White of MLive that many of the Freedom Convoy protesters "have no connection to the trucking industry and have a separate agenda beyond a disagreement over cross-border vaccine requirements." Ling noted that the convoy participants flew neo-Nazi and Confederate flags and had QAnon logos on their trucks, but Bauder urged his supporters stick to the message of "freedom."

The "Freedom Convoy" has been pushed by fake accounts on social media and has picked up supporters from the U.S. right wing, including leading lawmakers. Facebook officials told NBC News that fake accounts tied to content mills in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Romania, and several other countries have been pushing the convoy. Their disinformation is working; donations from the U.S. have flooded into accounts supporting the convoy protesters.

Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and others have endorsed the convoy, and Fox has talked about the convoy two and a half times as often as CNN and five times as often as MSNBC in the last month, according to Philip Bump of The Washington Post. Matthew Gertz of Media Matters for America tweeted that the network has spent more than ten hours on the story since January 18, with the network personalities—especially Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity—explicitly calling for an American version of the protest.

The idea of shutting down supply chains does not interest the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which yesterday denounced the convoy. "The livelihood of working Americans and Canadians in the automotive, agricultural, and manufacturing sectors is threatened by this blockade," Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said in a statement. "Our economy is growing under the Biden Administration, and this disruption in international trade threatens to derail the gains we have made. Our members are some of the hardest workers in the country and are being prevented from doing their jobs."

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: I've heard there may be trucker protests in an attempt to disrupt the Super Bowl. I'm not a sports fan—nearly everything I know about sports was compulsory in school—but even I know this must be the stupidest tactic that can be deployed if one is trying to win Americans over to your side.

Millions of Americans who are now kinda apathetic about anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers, and millions more who are a little sympathetic to them, will immediately hate anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers with a white-hot passion if they actually disrupt the game. Millions of Americans are OK with hundreds of thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in lost productivity, but let their 7-layer dip go to waste and ruin their party and they will turn on you. Also, since this idea came from Canada, Americans would finally see the threat posed by the Canadian menace, should the Super Bowl be disrupted.

Tariffs or Abominations?

D.G. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: In response to the question from C.M. in Winston-Salem, you dismissed the effect of the tariffs imposed by the former guy on current inflation. You wrote: "Most of those tariffs were in place by 2019, and all of them by 2020, but the current high rate of inflation did not commence until the latter part of 2021."

Macroeconomics 101 teaches that for an economy the size of the U.S., the effect of substantive changes take 18-24 months to materialize, which fits with the timeline of these tariffs, especially considering that part of that time was in a deep recession.

J.K. in Short Hills, NJ, writes: One of the regular discussions on in the past couple of months has surrounded Democratic messaging. The past two days have been emblematic of the problem. As typical, the two primary themes for each of the entries were that Republicans are evil and Donald Trump is the Devil. Terry McAuliffe would assuredly tell you that one does not win elections that way.

"It's the economy, stupid" made James Carville a legend. Despite the CPI soaring to a four decade peak and exceeding expectations among Wall Street economists on Thursday, there was a solitary mention of inflation—a Saturday question that implicitly asked whether Trump's various tariffs have boosted consumer prices. While the data should recede somewhat ahead of the midterms because of technical reasons, the statistics will still be elevated. Moreover, the damage has been done, for the price of milk will not be coming down anytime soon. Frankly, the GOP's blaming $1.9T of stimulus for contributing to higher costs on Main Street (true) will likely stick more than the Democrats pointing to issues with the supply chain (less true) and corporate greed (ludicrous). In response to the surging CPI, the market is pricing in action from the Federal Reserve that would potentially invert the treasury curve (interest rates being higher for shorter term bonds than those for the long term) by early 2023, which, if history is a guide, would push the economy into a soft patch and on its way to a recession by the homestretch of the 2024 Presidential campaign season. Such a plausible scenario, as opposed to the Republicans gumming up the works when naming a post office, should be keeping Democrats up all night in 2022.

L.B. in Ashburn, VA, writes: You responded to C.M. in Winston-Salem regarding the link, or lack thereof, between the Trump tariffs and inflation. (V) & (Z) rightly pointed out that those tariffs went into effect in 2020, while the inflation began in late 2021. The argument was that these events are unlikely to be strongly correlated.

While I would not suggest a direct cause and effect, I think the indirect effects may be more tangible in three ways:

  1. Many businesses do not like to change prices, as their customers depend on stability. Thus they price so they can absorb small changes in their costs. Eventually, multiple changes create a situation where they must raise the price. All of those changes contribute equally, even if they accumulated over a number of years.

  2. Business could see the Trump tariffs coming a mile away. Many rushed to import additional inventories ahead of them being enacted. Eventually, those inventories were depleted resulting in a delayed impact of the tariffs.

  3. Because of the targeted nature of the tariffs, many had slow-moving follow-on effects. For example, there is ample evidence that the steel tariffs hurt domestic machine parts businesses. Many obtained raw materials overseas, but then did the machining in the United States. With the tariff, it suddenly became cheaper to buy the part where the machining was done overseas as finished parts had no increased tariff.

How does the last one impact inflation? Well, raw materials were frequently (when the price was stable) stockpiled in the United States. Bespoke finished parts are not. Now, when a business has a key part on their machine fail, taking down their production line they can either pay a much higher price to one of the domestic machine shops still able to make it quickly, or wait, with their line down a longer time, for the overseas part. Both increase costs that get passed along to the consumer, and they happen the next time the machine breaks, not the day the tariffs were implemented.

I think both sides are being disingenuous here. Did the tariffs cause all of the inflation? Absolutely not. Did the tariffs have no effect on inflation? Absolutely not. My best guess, based on the amount of inflation and the impact of the tariffs, is they may have resulted in 5-15% of the inflation we see today. The one statement that is correct is that repealing the tariffs will not make inflation go away, and would likely have minimal impact on reducing it.


J.L. in Chicago, IL, writes: If the ERA were proposed again, I would enthusiastically urge my representatives in Congress and the Illinois General Assembly to vote for it. However, considering it already ratified is a really bad idea. Perhaps if the Supreme Court, especially the current one, upheld that 9-0, it would be OK. However, while it's one thing to have a 5-4 or 6-3 split on some point of constitutional interpretation, a lack of consensus about what is even in the Constitution at all seems like too much. It is, for good reason, hard to amend the Constitution and it seems safest to say that if we are not sure if we have amended it, we have not.

Someone is going to say, "Safest for whom?" Safest for all of us. Constitutionally protected rights do not help much in a world where we have allowed the Constitution to go down the same road as so many other parts of our civic life—now including elections—where we no longer even have near-universal agreement on facts or the need to respect them, even when one does not like the immediate outcome.

As a practical matter, I also have some skepticism about pushing for the ERA at this point without some fair probability of success. It's an implicit concession that the Fourteenth Amendment doesn't already provide the same protection and I'm not so thrilled with conceding that. There have been a number of rights not immediately recognized under that amendment that were later recognized, so it might make some sense to take the approach that the ERA is not needed and try to win that point.

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: There is a precedent that the archivist could (and probably should) follow for the ERA.

There were some legal issues surrounding the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. In part this involved the status of Reconstructed governments and in part this involved whether states could rescind their ratifications (an issue in the current debate over the ERA).

Given these issues, Secretary of State William Seward initially issued what could best be described as a conditional certification that the Fourteenth Amendment had been ratified—noting that some of the ratifications came from bodies that "purported" to be state legislatures of states that had been in rebellion and that other states which had ratified the Fourteenth Amendment had subsequently attempted to rescind that ratification. Subsequently, in response to a concurrent resolution from Congress that the Fourteenth Amendment had been ratified, Seward issued a new proclamation without the conditional language.

While I doubt that Congress today would be able to pass such a concurrent resolution, the original conditional certification gives the archivist a "neutral" path forward—certifying that if rescission of ratification is not permitted and that there is no time limit on ratification, the ERA has been ratified. At that point, it would be up to the courts to determine if the conditions in the certification are legally correct. Probably not what either side wants, but something that the archivist could do to avoid getting drawn into the fight.

College Costs

D.B.Y. in White Lake, MI, writes: Regarding the question from A.A. in Kingwood about college expenses: When Gerald Ford went to University of Michigan in 1930, his high school principal gave Ford two $100 bills, the first for tuition and books, the second to pay for room and board for his freshman year. Now it is $16,000 for tuition, and a like amount for your books and dorm.

T.L. in San Francisco, CA, writes: Regarding college costs, government student loans for undergraduates have not really increased that rapidly (and have not increased since 2008). So, they are not really the driver for increased college costs for undergraduates.

However, government loans for professional school (like medical and law) students can be much greater. Also, some parents are willing to take out parent loans or cosign private student loans for their undergraduate students.

But there are other factors driving increased college costs. One is that state subsidies for state universities have been declining. For example, in California, voters over the decades have approved propositions that reduced or limited taxes, set floors on K-12 school spending, and required higher prison spending. That leaves higher education as one of the things that the legislature has the ability to cut when tax revenue falls during economic downturns. Another is that colleges, especially private ones, increase list prices to capture more revenue from wealthy parents who are willing to pay, while continuing to practice price discrimination (financial aid and scholarships) to allow some students from non-wealthy families to attend.

Note that undergraduate student loan debt can vary considerably by state, probably due to variation in state policies, state geography, and preferences for private versus public college among students and parents.

T.H.W. in Marlboro, VT, writes: At the end of your explanation of why education costs so much, you mention that the costs of actual instruction are not driving the rising expense, in large part because less and less of the instruction is by tenured teachers, and more and more of it is by adjuncts (now approximately 60% nationally).

This has many damaging effects. First, and most obviously, as colleges and universities devote ever larger proportions of their budgets to administration, bureaucracy, dormitories, theaters, laboratories, studios, gyms and playing fields, dining halls and other "facilities," the proportion of the expense that actually pays for the education that will make a lasting difference in students' lives goes down. More of what people are paying (or going into debt for) goes for temporary creature comforts and less for long-term changes in knowledge and skills. Some of those facilities, even the academic ones, can actually be counterproductive: If your experience is that the only way a play can happen is in a theater better than anything this side of Broadway, your opportunities outside of college, may look limited unnecessarily.

Second, whereas the ideal model of an academic faculty is, more or less, a community of scholars who have roughly equal freedom and responsibility to the institution and to education, the ideal model of academic administration is, roughly, an efficient business. Students entering into a college or university too often experience an "education" where the power and resources lie with the administration.

Third, people who teach as adjuncts may come from a more idealistic academic experience, but the life of adjuncts is uncertain, ill-paid (certainly not the six-figure salaries you mentioned that tenured full professors command), and often characterized by multiple short-term, part-time positions in which dedication to teaching (which is hard to quantify) is under-valued and unrewarded. These forces undermine the quality and strength of a system of education that has been one of the greatest resources for the country and, indeed, for the world.

Fifty Nifty United States

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: The hypothetical idea from D.M. in Granite Bay to redraw these United States into 50 states of equal population brought to mind this map that I first saw about 8 years ago. I think it is an intriguing idea, but agree completely with you that it would never work in reality. Like many things, it is a fun thought exercise, but will never be anything beyond that.

J.L. in Paterson, NJ, writes: You weren't aware of anyone who had drawn a map of the United States with 50 states of equal population. In fact, there've been several such maps; see here and here for examples.

You cite some of the reasons this will never happen. The creator of the map at the first link agrees, saying, "this is an art project, not a serious proposal. So take it easy with the e-mails about the sacred soil of Texas."

I do, however, disagree with your example of the problems that would result if Wilshire Boulevard suddenly crossed a state line. As long as we have state lines, these problems must arise somewhere. With current lines, escaping criminals speeding north in New Jersey along state Route 17, a major highway, will suddenly find themselves on state Route 17 in New York, as will the pursuing New Jersey State Police officers.

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: In addition to all the logistical problems you mention to D.M. in Granite Bay, there is also the fundamental legal/political/constitutional issue: the United States is a federation, a collection of self-governing states, not a unitary state with provinces. A central government can redraw province or district boundaries at will, but who is going to redraw state boundaries? The federal government only has those powers enumerated in the Constitution, which is a document organized around the principle of limited powers of the federal government, and all remaining powers reserved to the states. It would have to be completely scrapped and rewritten (with the consent of the existing state entities) to turn the United States into a unitary government (and probably change the name too).

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: Besides all the practical concerns of redrawing state boundaries every 10 years, there's a huge constitutional issue you didn't even touch on. Specifically, Article IV, Sec. 3 says "New states may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new state shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state; nor any state be formed by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states, without the consent of the Legislatures of the states concerned as well as of the Congress." The intent was clearly to have states be practically permanent. OK, in theory this is possible if all the states agreed. You maybe could convince Nebraska and Wyoming to consent to transferring the panhandle of the former over to the latter, but getting all 50 states to agree to basically dissolve themselves? No way.

Complaints Department

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: You wrote: "Ronna Romney McDaniel, you blew it. You got that one completely wrong. You should have talked to Uncle Mitt (R-UT) before opening your pretty mouth."

I really try not to be the PC police. However, between us friends, I wouldn't be me if I didn't point out that your fictitious line for Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in reference to RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel was, well, jarringly sexist and borderline mansplaining. I know you were just being funny, but I don't think you would have used, "you blew it... opening your pretty mouth" if you were referring to a man.

At the very least, you would not have used "pretty" and probably would have said something like, "Robert McDaniel, you screwed up. You got that one completely wrong and should have talked to Uncle Mitt (R-UT) first." Just sayin'.

V & Z respond: Unlike, say, "gypped," or "off the reservation," or "down the river," this phrase does not have problematic origins. It comes from Italian, and emerges from how that language handles superlatives. In its original usage in the 1870s, and for generations thereafter, it was primarily used to refer to poseurs, not specifically to women. Think something along the lines of "Your big talk does not match your pretty little mouth." That said, it's understandable that it could be taken the wrong way in English, and in the 21st century, so we struck it.

J.T.M. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: As a longtime reader, I must say I'm really disappointed in your snarky take on Joe Rogan included in the piece on The Daily Wire. In my opinion, you missed the mark by a wide margin. It sure seems like you are simply parroting the group think/virtue-signalling that is part of the apparent attempt to take Rogan down for daring to entertain ideas that don't fit in the box. I suspect you have not listened to Rogan outside of snippets and are relying on secondhand accounts. To equate Rogan to Ben Shapiro and Candace Owens is frankly laughable.

If you consider Rogan to be right-wing, like Shapiro and Owens, then clearly you have not listened to his podcast much at all. And to get to the really disappointing part, if you think Rogan is a racist based on the video cherry-picking instances of use of the n-word, then I really don't think you're using critical thinking skills. Context matters. I'd recommend this take on the issue from Glenn Loury and John McWhorter.

Gallimaufry—Pandemic Edition

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: G.W. in Oxnard should let the other prophetic shoe drop and add the prediction that the Thanos Variant of COVID will wipe out half the population. Whoops, my bad, that "accomplishment" is already taken by the Republican Party Variant.

But (semi) seriously, folks, if what Dr. Anthony Fauci says is true that nearly everyone will come down with COVID at some point, then I want my turn to be with the Groot Variant. On second thought, if the Steve Rogers (Captain America) Variant causes me to grow taller, develop a Greek God physique and become drop dead good looking à la Chris Evans, then infect me now! Seriously, I volunteer. Now, dammit!

S.K. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Formerly famous Kitson on Robertson in Los Angeles. Maybe trying to grab another 15 minutes of fame:

The display window has a bunch of text mocking 
Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-CA, like 'French Laundry, Part 2' and 'Masks are not mandatory at this venue, like at SoFi Stadium

Previous | Next

Back to the main page