Lots of different kinds of stuff today, including a first round of podcast suggestions and a second round of letters from international readers explaining their interest in U.S. politics/our site. We also got some very interesting letters about homelessness, including two lengthy ones that we are running because they were very enlightening. First up, though, are a few more letters about readers' two favorite senators.
S.B. in New Castle, DE, writes: In your item "Arizona Democratic Party Censures Sinema," you wrote: "What is [Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-AZ] up to? If she just likes attention, she could have been a loyal Democrat, continued to wear fashion-forward clothes, gotten reelected as a Democrat (incumbents generally win), and become the face of LGBTQ+ America. She'd be in the news as much as she wanted."
As an LGBTQ+ woman and activist, I've often wondered the same, exact thing. When Sinema first won the seat, I was delighted that an openly bisexual woman had accomplished that feat. I also enjoyed seeing her bold, artistic style. That's one of the delightful aspects about many people in our Rainbow Radiant community. I fully expected her to be something of a superstar in the LGBTQ+ community, much like Pete Buttigieg and Rachel Levine. However, she's turned out more like Caitlyn Jenner, which is why her political views have soured me on her. It's not to say that I don't think we can have conservative LGBTQ+ representation in Congress, but those representatives need to represent us well. Shutting down voting rights is not doing that.
P.M. of Currituck, NC (but currently in Wilkes-Barre), writes: I saw this on US 11/15 near Liverpool, PA. I thought it was worth sharing:
R.B. in Fairfax, VA, writes: A.R. in Los Angeles asked why Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) didn't get the voting rights legislation passed "by keeping the Senate in session and forcing Republicans to talk, talk, talk thereby guaranteeing a vote, even if delayed." You offered five possible explanations; however, there is a sixth, and I think it is the most likely to be correct, because it comes from one Charles Schumer. It is found in the procedural motion he offered, which was voted down 48-52, to change the filibuster rules for the voting rights bill: "the only debate in order during consideration of [this bill] be on the question of adoption [of the bill]; further, that no further amendments, motions, or points of order be in order and that any appeals be determined without debate."
In other words, under the Senate rules, although each senator only gets to speak twice on a given day, that is not the minority's only tool to gum up the works and delay a vote. After each Republican Senator had spoken once, they could all start offering amendments. Then each amendment is up for debate, and each senator gets to speak twice, for as long as they want, on each amendment, one after the other. And they can raise points of order and force debate on those. So, without a change to the rules, the Republicans basically could have forced the Senate to keep debating the voting rights bill for the rest of this year without Schumer ever being able to bring it to a final vote. And forget about confirming judges or other nominees or getting anything else done.
V & Z respond: We considered this, except that there is a limit on the number of amendments to a bill that can be proposed, and since the Majority Leader gets to go first, he can fill the amendment tree. That was a favorite technique of Schumer's mentor Harry Reid. Also, even if the Senate had to spend all year fighting for voting rights over Republican obstruction, we're not so sure that would be a bad thing for the blue team, politically.
P.R.M. in Atlanta, GA, writes: I am grateful to you both for getting my multi-stanza limerick into the wrap-up for the "December to Rhymember" series. Limericks are fun. They lend themselves to mockery, which is kind of a sweet spot for me.
As such, here early in my retirement, I have set a daily limerick quota of 1 for myself. Naturally, "ripped from the headlines"/political stuff is a recurring theme. Here's the one for Jan. 14, "Observations on a now-canceled floor vote":The Freedom to Vote Bill has been impaled
Torn, mutilated, to the cross of gold nailed
By non grata persona
From Tucson Arizona
And so MLKs mountaintop remains yet unscaled
D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: In response to the Tennessee School Board banning the Pulitzer-Prize-winning graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman, isn't it always amazing that when Republicans turn to banning books, which they do in an all-too-regular frequency, the first books they ban are about the Holocaust or slavery? I mean, that has to be a coincidence, right?
Another odd coincidence: Republicans can watch the most gratuitously violent, blood soaked film without a batting an eye but the minute someone tries to depict the historical atrocities that came about during the Holocaust and the African Slave Trade, then their panties get in a bunch and they reach for their smelling salts. "We can't show little Tyler and Ashley these horrible things" they screech in indignation as they swoon towards the nearest fainting couch. But have a bullet-fest shoot out and that's just good ol' American fun! Again, this has to be a coincidence, doesn't it?
T.B. in Tallahassee, FL, writes: You wrote: "[I]t is hard to separate those who see Trumpism as the problem and those who see Trumpism as the solution." You hit the nail on the head. This is an example of why so much polling is basically meaningless, without follow-up nuanced questions. For example, I believe 40% of the country thinks Joe Biden is a failure because, well, he's part of the "Democrat [sic] Party"; and a third of the rest of us think Biden is a failure because he cannot control a certain Coal Baron (D?-WV) and a certain exGreen-cum-electedDem-cum-BoughtByLobbyists (D?-AZ) or because Democrats talk too much about the issues (just a sound bite please [after an off-the-record conference meeting], or better yet, a chantable slogan).
G.K. in Blue Island, IL, writes: You wrote: "Unfortunately, the pollsters didn't ask: Why?"
Exactly. I realize pollsters may think the "right/wrong track" question is a succinct way to sum up general voter approval, but I no longer think the question is a proxy for "Do you think current legislative priorities and administration policies have this country on the right track?" Voters can be largely satisfied with the efforts of the party in power, but still feel the country is on the wrong track due to legislative gridlock, pandemic abatement efforts, an almost unprecedented zeitgeist of anxiety, etc.
If pollsters want their polls to be more predictive of electoral outcomes, I think they need to figure out a way to get at voters' true dissatisfactions, where they're laying the blame for each, and realize also that it's likely not binary across all anxieties—there's a question of proportion that needs to be addressed.
J.A. in Puerto Armuelles, Panama, writes: I really must take issue with your comment that a more than 70% score for those saying the country is on the wrong track foreshadowed a crushing defeat for the party in power (the Democrats) in 2016.
After 8 years holding the White House, Democrats lost the presidency by the skin of their teeth despite winning the popular vote with a candidate with a truckload of baggage (deserved and undeserved). In the Senate, Democrats gained two seats and in the House they gained six. They also gained in vote share for both chambers (although for the Senate this is comparing apples and oranges, to be sure).
So unless one is the Harlem Globetrotters, it is difficult to squint hard enough to make that out as a "crushing defeat."
D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I have to take issue with the comment of S.K. in Bethesda. For one thing, students or even high school teachers themselves calling their curriculum topics "Critical Race Theory" does not make it Critical Race Theory any more than calling a description of the Bohr model of an atom "Quantum Mechanics" makes it Quantum Mechanics. Updating the narrative of U.S. history in the high schools to include a substantial discussion of racism, the origin and refinement of white privilege, and the special exploitation of Black labor is not CRT but simply a welcome move towards accuracy and relevance, one that is a necessary but not in itself sufficient condition for overcoming systemic racism in the USA. Characterizing it as CRT misleadingly gives the impression that it is sectarian or concocted ideology of the left.
The class in New York City mentioned in S.K.'s letter is an elite private school situated in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, which is extremely wealthy and very liberal. The curriculum the student refers to is no doubt approved of (and rightly so) by the parents and not at all an example of something imposed by the state. That there exist in this country a handful of schools that are beginning to seriously address racism in their history classes is a welcome start but hardly reflective even slightly of the educational realities in most schools. And the joke of it all is... it isn't even CRT (nor should it be).
I do think that I am in agreement with S.K. on one key point. Arguing that "it's not CRT" is pretty pointless. The correct argument is: "whether you call it CRT or whatever, it is high time that history classes reflect historical reality, and recognizing the continued presence of systemic racism in our land gives us the opportunity to improve our country and achieve its promise."
L.B. in Savannah, GA, writes: Podcast Recommendation? For anyone interested in history, Robert Evans' "Behind the Bastards" introduces listeners to some of the worst people and institutions of the modern era. Recent episodes explored the child prisons of Texas, the rise of Jeff Bezos, and the origins of the Boy Scouts and how its founder, Robert Baden-Powell, contributed directly to the recent sex scandals. Evans' approach is detailed, humorous, and irreverent while always according respect to the victims of these atrocities.
A.S. in Bedford, MA, writes: Not politics, but "Hardcore History" by Dan Carlin is vivid, engaging and well-produced. Unfortunately, the World War I series (my favorite) is no longer free, but at ~20 hours long, it could be worth purchasing.
A bit politics adjacent, but the "Beyond the Scenes" podcast, which is an offshoot of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, tackles current events, especially around race. It's a bit rambling, so you may want to multi-task while listening. If you listen to just one episode, I recommend the one on CRT with special guest Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw.
Also not quite politics, but I enjoy "You're Wrong About," which unpacks news events from the past few decades (such as the O.J. trial and the Princess Diana saga). This is great for Millennials like me who weren't old enough to understand those events in real-time. It has a special interest in questioning the contemporary coverage of events, and remediating the reputations of people (women, mostly) who were unfairly judged in the press while the events were taking place.
T.H. in Edmonton, AL, Canada, writes: I wanted to draw your attention to this excellent podcast series that looks at American right-wing radio over the last 100 years and how it sowed the seeds for the current precarious state of democracy in the U.S. today: CBC Radio Podcast "THE FLAMETHROWERS--How Right Wing Radio Took Over American Democracy."
D.H. in Marysville, WA, writes: I love the "Strict Scrutiny" podcast. It is hosted by three incredibly smart, witty and wickedly funny "lady lawyers" who know a thing or two about the Constitution, the Supreme Court and the skin care regimen of Samuel Alito. They spend each week breaking down the cases and oral arguments before the Court. It can get pretty far into the legal weeds and it's about the Supreme Court and not politics specifically, but hey, these days there isn't much difference.
T.W. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: I have always had an interest in the Supreme Court, so I really enjoy "5-4" (pronounced "five-to-four"), which is self-billed as "a podcast about why the Supreme Court sucks." Hosted by three irreverent lawyers, each episode focuses on a single case decision.
B.B. in St. Louis, MO, writes: I read with interest your response to yesterday's question describing how the former president might be able to pay his Deutsche Bank loans by getting a loan from JPMorgan. This financial strategy reminds me of the comic strip character Andy Capp, whose monetary woes were dealt with by seeking ever larger loans and going more deeply into debt. While I might want to have that lovable Geordie on my soccer team, I certainly wouldn't want him setting fiscal policy.
V & Z respond: Similarly, how come the banks can't figure out that Wimpy never actually pays you back for the hamburger once Tuesday rolls around?
G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: Your reviews of the latest polling results convince me that the "Republicans" (whatever that means) have a problem. If the current trend continues, then, that means that they will have to either:
- Run Donald Trump as their candidate and stand a very good chance of losing
- Run someone else as their candidate—without having Trump also run—and stand an excellent chance of losing (which might mean that they end up with control of the House and Senate but with a "Democrat" (whatever that means) sitting in the Oval Office
- Convince Trump to go "elder statesman" and stay out of the election campaign entirely in order to maximize their chances of winning
The odds on the "Republicans" being successful with option 3 closely approximate the odds that Barack Obama will win a third term with a landslide victory achieved through write-in votes.
That leaves options 1 and 2 as the potentially viable ones and, taking Trump's demonstrated character and grasp of political realities, it means that the only really viable one is option 1.
S.C. in Mountain View, CA, writes: I read on Political Wire that Nikki Haley wants Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to resign.
Who knew that Haley can't wait to see President Nancy Pelosi?
S.S. in Detroit, MI, writes: Before I became a prolific writer of letters, I fessed up to living in Macomb County because my wife inherited her parents' house there. I was born, raised, educated in Detroit: St. Scholastica, Benedictine and Wayne State. I have lived in 6 houses in Detroit. So I sign myself S.S. in Detroit because that's how I identify. You may have missed that letter. I'm in the hospital now so not functioning well.
V & Z respond: Our best wishes on a swift recovery!
M.C. in Oak Ridge, TN, writes: Responses to S.S. in Detroit seem wrong in suggesting that where a person lives, or their recent voting record, allows partisan affiliation to be inferred.
Self-sorting is an emergent group phenomenon that does not apply to individuals with any confidence. Many factors determined where I would live but an important one was simply that I happened to get better job offers from Tennessee employers. My neighborhood is located for an easy commute to work.
Neither of the major parties hews closely to my views. I am not a Democrat but presently I am forced to support them to limit the harm done by Republicans' self-serving lies. If the GOP recovered some decency then I would be glad to have a real choice once again.
R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: I gotta say, I have my own doubts about S.S. in Detroit's lack of lean in their independence, but I know the limits of my mind-reading skills. And I really hate when other people claim to know my own thoughts better than I do myself, so I refrain from making such claims about other people. Me, I'm a liberal Republican (much as I hate to associate myself with those slimy politicians in the GOP who wouldn't know a principle if it bit them on the ass) by which I mean, I support a large portion of the Democrats' agenda but for conservative reasons. That's not conservative as in "Support the Damn Turd Pol (The Internet Anagram Server: Anagrams for Donald Trump) no matter what," but conservative as in "let's make sure that if we're going to be borrowing money to run the government we should be getting all the bang we can for those bucks." I've spent a lot of time and energy thinking about how I want to describe my political philosophy and would absolutely prickle at anyone suggesting they knew better. Therefore, I support (V) and (Z) likewise refraining from directly contradicting S.S.'s claims of independence.
Though I live in Wyoming, I haven't traveled as widely and talked to as many Wyomingites as the Travels in Cheneyland reporter, but the anecdotes feel like a good representation of my fellow Equality State-ers. The one who said that re-electing Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is equivalent to turning the state blue, however, is smoking something that isn't yet legal here. But those who say they need a representative who isn't just using the office as a stepping stone to the White House are spot on. They need a representative who won't blindly cut taxes for the wealthy people who are pricing the hard-working people of Jackson into homelessness by buying up all the local housing at California prices. They need someone who is willing to vote to restrict the power of the Presidency even if the bill is sponsored by Democrats. Whether the people of Wyoming realize this is what they need or would be willing to actually vote for such a candidate remains to be seen.
C.L. in Boulder, CO, writes: T.M. in Downers Grove asked about non-citizens voting in local elections, and you responded that "no state has extended the franchise to non-citizens." But the reverse is true. In 2020, a "citizens" initiative (Amendment 76) passed in Colorado which prohibits extending the franchise to non-citizens (just in case). The opposition to Amendment 76, one of 11 statewide measures on the ballot, was feeble at best.
Most Coloradans, if they thought much at all, probably thought that the initiative titled "Citizenship Qualification of Voters" was only preventative with no immediate impact. The only change was from "Every" to "Only a" in the following sentence in the Colorado constitution: "Every citizen of the United States who has attained the age of eighteen years ... shall be qualified to vote at all elections." In fact, the change disenfranchised 17-year-olds who would be 18 by the time of the general election, and who had been able to vote in primary elections.
This mostly-unforeseen consequence can be fixed while preserving the publicized intent of the bill by passing another ballot measure to insert the following all-caps language: Only a citizen of the United States IS QUALIFIED TO VOTE IN ELECTIONS. EVERY CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES who has attained the age of eighteen years..." Non-fiscal measures can only appear on the Colorado state ballot in even years so 2022 is the first opportunity to fix Amendment 76.
People who vote in their first three elections when they are young are likely to become lifelong voters. Starting the voting habit while still living in the community you grew up in, rather than registering in, say, a strange new college town is something that we, as a nation, should encourage rather than discourage.
S.M. in Bexley, OH, writes: C.M. of Downers Grove, and your response to them, reminded me of how widespread the practice of non-citizen voting once was. Ohio's first constitution in 1803 granted the vote to all resident white males of 21 years who had paid taxes, much to the chagrin of the Federalists. I have no doubt that a number of my German and Irish ancestors availed themselves of that provision until a new edition of Federalists could see to a new constitution in 1851.
J.L.J. in San Francisco, CA, writes: I would like to offer thoughts on the letter from B.M. in Carlsbad, and their observation that what is "really shocking Americans and making them flip Republican this year are the increases in crime and homelessness."
I consider myself an expert of little, though I do think personal experience has informative value. I come from poverty on a small sustenance farm in rural Georgia. After a brief stint in the Army, cut short by a medical discharge resulting from a severe auto accident that took more than a year to recover from, I moved to San Francisco. Why? No good reason. To get away? I literally pulled "San Francisco" out of a hat, where it competed with numerous other cities I randomly thought of at the moment I was writing them down. I had no money, no plan, and crushed dreams.
Nothing prepared me for urban living in a major city. I had culture shocks every day—including my very first day, where, for the first time in my life, I heard a white man call a black man the n-word to his face, intending cruelty (I spoke of this in a published letter eons ago so won't re-tell it here). Shortly after arriving, I fell hard on my face, and spent several months as a homeless person—a working homeless person, but nevertheless, I crashed on the streets (what I remember most is all the raining it did, which it hardly ever does anymore). It is the thing I think of when reflecting on my homeless experience—torrential rain. While I grant it was a long time ago, the Pleistocene Epoch it was not. Score one for climate change.
I have spent my adult life living in a neighborhood called the Tenderloin, which is claimed to be a horrible and crime-ridden cesspool. Even Bari Weiss mentioned my neighborhood and how horrible it is just last Friday while a guest on Real Time with Bill Maher. My own mayor gave a fiery speech about its lawlessness several weeks ago. And, boy, I just don't see it.
There were years where I could go only months between assaults and muggings. I can't count how many dead people I've come across—one was dead in my foyer, with blood everywhere and a knife in his back. It was while I was standing over him in shock that a police officer appeared at the gate. Yes, I was literally caught standing over a dead guy with a knife in his back! Fortunately, the cops were actively chasing the suspect, so I needed only let the cop through the gate, and when I asked how to "get out" the cop simply said "Step over him," which I did. Most dead people I have seen, however, have been drug overdoses rather than murders. One, at the base of the stairs, still had a needle in his arm. I didn't know he was dead when I was leaving, but finding him still there when I got home, made it clear. My last corpse was a woman lying out at the foot of the gate to my building, which I coldly stepped over, having become a pro. I've come across, personally—as in "in person"—at least a dozen or so dead people here. I've been mugged or assaulted about the same number of times. Either leaving or coming home, I regularly saw handcuffs on my gate, to prevent the gate from closing—this announced that cops were in the building:
For the past several years, I've worked at a shop only three blocks from my apartment, and so I spend all day every day of the year, with few exceptions, within this neighborhood and nowhere else. To put it plainly, after over 20 years, if there is one thing I'm reasonably close to qualifying as an expert on, it's this neighborhood.
Looking back, what I recall most acutely is all the addicts, dealers, homelessness, muggings, and death. But it's been nearly a decade since I last came across a corpse; about the same since I was last assaulted or mugged. I look around and see an astonishingly improved neighborhood. Akin to the rain of years past, I recall the horrors as tales of long ago. The contrast, when I consider it, blows my mind. I do not know what "they" did, but whatever it was, it has clearly, objectively, dumbfoundingly, improved the quality of this neighborhood.
Now, I grant, there are all manner of things that continue to annoy me, and that I can whine about. But not getting pistol whipped to the point of unconsciousness (yes this happened) is a clear improvement I'm certainly grateful for, and the point of this comment is to consider where we are, and not to whine about those things I whine about all the time while at work.
And so to this, I am left befuddled about what people are complaining about. Why is the mayor suddenly making a negative issue out of what is to me an amazing achievement? What I've come to is this: recency bias.
For one, there are numerous new housing developments where nearly all the residents are white and likely in tech. I read an article where the author was lamenting the horrors of the Tenderloin, while noting that they moved to San Francisco in 2012. That was the point I stopped reading. Yes, there are homeless people and addicts and dealers. That makes a "bad" neighborhood, sure. But an increase in blight and crime? Compared to what? The crime stats are amazingly good. Do crimes still happen? Of course! Anywhere near what was once normal? Not even close!
Late last year I got a direct message on Facebook from a friend in Louisiana—she said she just heard about my neighborhood on the news and wanted to know if I was okay. Perplexed, I looked out the window at a nice quiet sunny day, and wrote back one exasperated word: "What?"
I do not have TV nor do I have streaming services save for one—I do use my roommates' HBO Max account. As a result, I occasionally watch Real Time with Bill Maher (he mostly annoys me, especially his guest choices). I therefore do not know in "real time" what TV news is saying about my neighborhood and crime, generally, but I can say, as a near-expert on the Tenderloin in San Francisco, that they have to be, at worst, completely full of it, or are, at best, comparing it to Atlantis or Oz or some other fabled "perfect" city, where it shall always compare as an outrageous hellscape, no matter what.
There are a lot of poor people here. I am one of them. There are a lot of black and brown people here. Considering the ethnicity and salary of the new techies moving in, I am forced to consider that those conditions are counting as blight. But the crime rate? According to the Marshall Project, which tracks crime data provided by the FBI, the violent crime rate in San Francisco is down 41% since I moved here, and more than half lower than it was in the mid-nineties. Don't even think about comparing things to the eighties or (gasp) the seventies. Every single category isn't just down, it's down by a lot. Not only does the data support it, so does living through it. This applies nationally, too.
I think two or three things are going on. Probably a modest uptick in some crimes (especially those large-scale smash-and-grab organized crimes, though the overall trend is down, down, down) coupled with a bored and sensationalizing media looking for molehills to turn to mountains, as well as more white well-off folks gentrifying traditionally rougher neighborhoods. The media care because the young reporters are moving here, and the politicians care because that's what the media is talking about. None of this is helped by pearl-clutchers like Weiss, who build careers off sensationalizing the trivial. So, we get a re-enforcing story about how horrible the Tenderloin is—and, I imagine, about similar places across the country—from people who just moved here and have no frame of reference.
My neighborhood being mentioned on Friday and the comment from B.M. in Carlsbad seem to have triggered me. This moment has also reminded me of another friend of mine, an apolitical married woman with five children, who went to Portland for a family vacation right at the height of all the Portland-in-Chaos stories. Her social media was filled with perfectly pleasant photos of a nice family vacation at the exact same time I'm seeing others share posts about how Portland was erupting into civil war. One is a photo of mom, dad, and five smiling kids in downtown Portland—all with smoothies—and the next post I scroll to is from my dad about how Portland has been overtaken by communists and we need to send in the National Guard. It was both revealing and hilarious.
I fear folks are getting their pearls in hand because things actually aren't all that bad, but we need to be outraged by something, and crime, the old standby, is the lowest-hanging something.
S.K. in Bethesda, MD, writes: I'm not sure where B.M. in Carlsbad got the idea that crime and homelessness are the reasons voters are "flipping" to the Republicans (on second thought, I have a pretty good idea), particularly since crime actually rose at a slower rate in 2021 than it did in 2020 (and homelessness in Carlsbad itself has actually fallen in the most recent periods reported). But since B.M. is so convinced these are the real issues, I thought they would be happy to know that the Build Back Better bill includes $175 billion for affordable housing, including a significant component aimed at reducing homelessness. I guess it's possible that Republicans have an even more aggressive plan for addressing homelessness, but since they haven't shared an actual policy platform in a long time, it's hard to be sure.
D.C. in Portland, OR, writes: B.M. in Carlsbad argues that Joe Biden's low approval ratings are largely due to "liberal policies in large cities [that] have exacerbated the homeless problem." Specifically, B.M. assails city leaders for "choosing not to enforce existing laws, resulting in very significant increases in crime."
This is a grossly inaccurate simplification and frankly an exercise in demonization of some of society's most unfortunate and vulnerable. Suggesting the problem is merely one of law and order is a convenient way to side-step the complexity and blame someone else—in this case, the homeless themselves and those wacky, bleeding-heart liberals who enable them.
Let's get real for a moment. The causes of homelessness are complex and many but also at some abstract level, brutally obvious and simple: We live in a system that has an inherent and increasing tendency to funnel the vast majority of the fruits of society's labor to the wealthiest of the wealthy and that, as a direct and downstream result, defecates human beings on to the street.
Creating unfathomable wealth for a select few is not a moral problem in and of itself, but is unsustainable in practice. This system cannot sustain the survival needs of the most unfortunate alongside the space-hopping ambitions of the most wealthy. The homeless—who come from all over the country, including red states—are people who have been unable to stay afloat in a system that has evolved to oppress them; they have no life support.
Their suffering writ large is not the result of poor choices. Rather, their numbers are inevitable because our system has no room for them. Millions are condemned to unemployment and poverty by design, thanks to the magical "Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment" (NAIRU)—a fantastical construction, that removes the economic ladder just as the last to climb are getting a leg up. Rather than using the poorest as a foil against inflation, how about we do something radical and, oh I dunno, tackle inflation where the actual money is, avoiding overheating the economy through a wealth tax or vastly higher top-rate tax?
As in most blue cities and states, the homeless are often not native to the area but are attracted to Democratic-led cities, because we offer better services and improved chances for survival. Yes, this situation has led to an unprecedented number and size of homeless camps around our cities—an awful testament to the country we have become. But suggesting the problem can be fixed or even improved simply by choosing to enforce laws is blinkered, wishful thinking.
The solution will require a dramatically restructured economy that: (1) prioritizes the needs of the less fortunate and commits sufficient federal dollars to addressing their plight, and that (2) drains excessive pools of extreme wealth as necessary, to avoid exhausting available resources and causing inflation.
The Federal government can *always* find the money to pay for its priorities as neatly exemplified by yet another huge increase to the military budget ($7.5T over 10 years at current pace) despite a distinct reduction in war engagement over the last few years. If the need is there in the states then the federal government must step in to assist with real economic help, such as, you know, a massive spending bill comparable to our military excesses, so that we can build peoples' lives back better.
If Joe Biden's polling numbers are sagging, it's not necessarily because he has failed to make the right moves. Rather, I would posit it is because so many answering these polls are also suffering under the inequality of the system and while not (yet) homeless themselves, can achieve some level of comfort and superiority by swiping down at the poor folks below them, while shaking an angry fist at those currently in charge: Joe Biden and Democratic city leaders.
J.N. in Raleigh, NC, writes: I was catching up on Sunday's post when I saw what B.M. in Carlsbad wrote. I happened to watch The Purge last night (I'm sorry). B.M. might like the New Founding Fathers' solution to crime and homelessness. I couldn't find a clip that showed the reasoning for it, but "The Purge" is 12 hours one night every year when all crime is legal, focusing mostly on "purging" homelessness and crimes the homeless commit.
E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes: In the item about vaccine hesitancy and white grievance, you wrote, "for reasons best parsed by a psychotherapist, pills are less subject to conspiratorial thinking than vaccinations are."
I'm an experimental psychologist, rather than a psychotherapist, but here are a couple of links that suggest why that might be the case: "Is COVID Vaccine Hesitancy Just Needle Phobia?" (need a free account to access) "The Psychological Roots of Anti-Vaccination Attitudes: A 24-Nation Investigation" (just the abstract, but you can get the gist from that).
I think a few key sentences from the first of these links state it well. "Mandates, for one—there are few other medications that you are required to take as part of your job." "There's the fact that you give vaccines to healthy people. Most medicines are given to treat something." Also, "it hurts, of course; no one likes getting a shot. But maybe there's more than that—a psychological feeling of violation that people are hesitant to put words to."
I would add that taking a pill is more like the natural process of eating something, whereas there is no natural analog to injecting ourselves (or being injected) with something. Receiving an injection is a learned behavior in a way that taking a pill is not.
R.S. in San Mateo, CA, writes: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s comment on the Holocaust, while reprehensible, is not the headline of his speech. Instead, it's this rant that followed:Within five years we're going to see 415,000 low-orbit satellites. Bill Gates says his 65,000 satellites alone will be able to look at every square inch of the planet 24 hours a day. They're putting in 5G to harvest our data and control our behavior. Digital currency that will allow them to punish us from a distance and cut off our food supply.
This is street-corner-on-a-cardboard-box kind of stuff. If he said these things in any other venue (other than perhaps a Trump rally), he'd be ridiculed and his family would have him evaluated. I'm shocked that people are taking him seriously and engaging him. The appropriate response is to decline to address his comments, stating that there's no virtue in attacking the mentally ill.
A.C. in Aachen, Germany, writes: I wanted to respond to the question from M.A. in West Springfield about the reasons for international readers' interest in U.S. politics.
As a short introduction: I first actively recognized that there is a country called the United States and that there are presidents to be elected and that this might be a fun thing to follow in 1980, at the age of ten, when Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter. My first campaign that I closely followed with the means of that time (Internet was not a factor then) was the George H. W. Bush vs. Michael Dukakis matchup in 1988. Since then I am a close observer of American politics and elections. I stumbled over this website in the early 2000s; I remember that it was my main source of information in the George W. Bush vs. John Kerry matchup (besides E-V.com, I also had a look at electionprojection.com now and then, which the other day was mentioned by an other reader). Since then, I have been an enthusiastic reader of E-V.com and very much appreciated the entry of (Z) and the switch to an every-day-all-year-long format. I don't agree with every bit of analysis but gained very much knowledge and insight to U.S. politics via E-V.com.
And now, my threefold answer to M.A.'s question. First, let's face it, the U.S. is rather significant. If the U.S. wants to do so, it inspires the world with great political ideas (Bill of Rights). Or it throws nuclear bombs at some countries (Japan), removes leaders of other countries or initiates their removal (Iran, Panama), invades other countries (Vietnam, Grenada, Afghanistan, Iraq), uses vast amounts of material resources and emits carbon to an extent that makes other countries sink under water. Or it liberates whole continents from Nazis and protects same from the Soviets for decades thereafter. So there are very good and not so good things that come from the U.S. and it's better to know what is going on there.
Secondly there are some factors which make following U.S. elections an excellent exercise in strategic thinking. There are 50 states, countless districts and counties, there is a president, a Senate, a House, there are governors and much more. There is a complex election system and an electorate which is divided in so many relevant subgroups to consider (urban and rural voters, ethnic groups, religiously motivated voters and those who don't care, blue-collar and white-collar, etc.). There are so many rules and regulations (which might differ from district to district), there is the Supreme Court to be considered, etc. etc. Add it all up and we have an n-dimensional chess game, which is a fascinating thing to deal with—and which has complexity you wouldn't find in any other country I know.
Thirdly, hell, it's so entertaining! Where else could one watch a TV show host getting elected president? Or a young senator setting the groundwork for a presidency with a 12-minute-speech? Or the whole country discussing the question of whether or not a certain sexual practice, which happened at the Oval Office, may really be counted as sexual practice? Think of people like Richard Nixon, Kennedy (actually at least three of them), Reagan, Carter, W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, John McCain, Hermann Cain, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin, Pete Buttigieg, Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Joe Manchin, Jesse Jackson, Dick Cheney! These folks and the stories related to them would so easily fit into Hollywood movies (especially in Ronald Reagan's case)—and oftentimes would be refused as being too far exaggerated. This is not to say that in Germany there wouldn't be charismatic characters, and dumb ones, and fun stories and scandals etc. But a spectrum like this, from trashiest soap operas to overwhelming ancient-Greek-style dramas, might be found only in the U.S., at least in this frequency and density.
There are so many moments to sit, watch, have some popcorn and think "Hell, is this for real?"
D.J.M. in Salmon Arm, BC, Canada, writes: Why are foreigners interested in American politics? The obvious answer is we are political junkies interested in other cultures and how they manage their affairs. However, I think you can add to the list that many are tuning in for entertainment in addition to a genuine concern for our own well-being. Politics has long been a source of entertainment, led by late night talk shows and political cartoonists. Your tribute to Matt Wuerker highlights the satirical and fun nature of the craft. However, in recent years, we no longer need comedians, as American politics broadens our morning smiles with news about Cyber Ninjas, space lasers, press conferences adjacent to porn shops, M&Ms and so on. I am reminded of the comments by Yousef Munayyer about the January 6 attack on the Capitol, that "the center of the American government fell in two hours to the Duck Dynasty and the guy in the Chewbacca bikini." I have to admit that sometimes American politics brings tears to my eyes.
However, more often than not these days, those tears are beginning to manifest a genuine concern that the insanity of American politics is permeating our borders. In Canada, there is no doubt that we are experiencing some Trump effects. Just this week, a truckers' convoy is traveling across the country to protest vaccine mandates at the border. Their claims are nonsensical, not supported by the majority of truckers (85% who are vaccinated) but they are loud and boisterous and their mantra is "Mah Freedom." They illustrate a complete misunderstanding of freedom as exemplified by RFK Jr. in his comparison of the plight of anti-vaxxers to Anne Frank. The anti-mandate truckers and their supporters claim they are marching against a "tyrannical government" and Donald Trump Jr. has jumped on board, voicing his support. The Trumpian penchant for grift is also evident as a GoFundMe campaign led by a Trumpian-style Canadian separatist has raised five million dollars. The fund has been frozen by GoFundMe for lack of transparency on the part of the organizers. At this time, in Canada, we fortunately lack the critical mass of the far-right-wing conspiracists that currently exist in the United States... but we are watching fearfully. As Russia assembles on the Ukrainian border we too will soon mount a supply of Timbiebs and start throwing them as a warning sign of an imminent invasion.
S.T. in Copenhagen, Denmark, writes: I follow American politics because I have many personal connections to the U.S., because it is very important to any European given NATO and our common history, and because it is very interesting to compare to domestic Danish politics.
Besides, Danish coverage of American life and politics is, to put it mildly, of very low quality with very little reflection.
I prefer E-V.com because it is the least-biased source I have come across, though Sabato's Crystal Ball and Cook Political Report are also well written and managed.
L.R. in Nancy, France, writes: Many of your international readers may simply be Americans living abroad. That is the case for my husband and myself. We've lived in France for nearly 30 years and are avid readers of your site. Thanks very much for your efforts, which have helped keep us sane in these crazy times!
V & Z respond: It is our honor!
T.R. in Austin, TX, writes: Saw your solicitation of Antarctic readers. I'm not there now, but have been there a number of times.
In January of 2016, I was aboard a Korean oceanographic ship on an expedition along the Antarctic coast. We had a mixed nationality group aboard, mostly Koreans with several Europeans and a couple of Americans. As one of the two Americans, I got asked, "What is going on with Donald Trump up there?" I answered with, "He certainly is a phenomenon, but there is no way that the power brokers and financial backers of the Republican party are going to allow him to get the party's nomination."
In Jan 2001 I was in New Zealand en route to Antarctica and got into a conversation with a local resident. She was concerned about George Bush's recent electoral victory and asked me what I thought. I told her, "If he really lives up to his 'compassionate conservative' talk, then he will probably be all right."
I am beyond that traveling part of my career now, so I no longer spread bad political insights around the Southern Hemisphere.
G.L. in London, England, UK, writes: You wrote:The U.K. also has Sunday news shows, and British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab (who, unlike Kamala Harris, really is the second most powerful person in the government) went on Sky News to warn Putin that if he invades Ukraine, the U.K. will stand shoulder to shoulder with the country.
A person reading this who didn't know about Westminster government would conclude that Dominic Raab, as deputy prime minister, holds an important post. Nothing could be further from the truth. The U.K. deputy prime minister aspires to one day hope to have the relevance and purpose of an American vice president, since at least that bucket of warm (choose your liquid) is mentioned in founding documents, rather than doled out randomly if the serving Prime Minister of the day decides they want to have one.
While Raab is a powerful politician, this comes from his positions as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, which means he oversees the country's legal system and court operations (a severe distinction from American-style separation of powers, as he is simultaneously a very senior member of all three branches). The Lord Chancellor is actually senior to the Prime Minister, and the Secretary of State for Justice is the immediate underling of the Prime Minister (and the two offices are always these days held by the same person).
Dominic Raab is indeed the second, if not the most, powerful person in the U.K. government, but he's barely going to be aware of the DPM hobby-title which is mainly awarded so it sounds like there's a vice president.
B.C. in Hertfordshire, England, UK, writes: You wrote: "British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab (who, unlike Kamala Harris, really is the second most powerful person in the government)."
He really isn't. Deputy prime minster is a pretty much meaningless title, a non-position which often has no incumbent at all. The most powerful positions in the U.K. government, after the Prime Minster, are the so-called great offices of state, which are home secretary, foreign secretary and chancellor of the exchequer. Raab was recently foreign secretary until he embarrassed himself by getting seen swanning around in Greece on a paddle board while the Taliban overran Afghanistan. When he was sacked, the title of deputy prime minster was seen as a mere sop to save his blushes.
There is no automatic succession in the U.K. government. If the Prime Minister disappears permanently (as seems about to occur) his party chooses his successor, it does not automatically fall to anyone in government. And if the Prime Minister disappears temporarily (as happened when Boris Johnson recklessly, and successfully, exposed himself to COVID-19) control devolves upon whomever the PM has designated as his deputy which, at the time Johnson was indisposed, was the Foreign Secretary, Raab. If something similar happened now, there is zero chance Raab would deputize again, as he is damaged goods and something of a laughingstock. For what it's worth, the current foreign secretary is Thatcher-wannabe Liz Truss (who just yesterday was described as "demented" by Paul Keating, former PM of Australia), the home secretary is the totally ineffective and cerebrally challenged Priti Patel, and the chancellor is the wet-behind-the-ears Rishi Sunak, who is about to find himself in a world of pain as inflation, tax rises and Brexit wreck the economy. Yes, Brexit again: the UK has only just—this month—begun imposing controls on imports from the EU, with more controls coming along later in the year. So, our imports—including 40% of our food—are soon going to be as wrecked as our exports already are.
Incidentally, my recent prediction about the fate of Prime Minister Johnson looks like it's going to come true even sooner than I expected. The New Year was greeted with a major new development in the Partygate scandal when Johnson himself was proven to have attended at least one of the lockdown-breaking parties. This scandal has now been supplemented by two more: Blackmailgate, whereby an MP from Johnson's own party has accused party officials of blackmailing other MP's to support Johnson, and has taken his allegations to the police; and, most recently, Islamgate where a Muslim MP (again in Johnson's own party) has alleged that she was sacked from her ministerial post because of her religion (something which, if true, would be a crime because religion is a "protected characteristic" under Britain's Equality Act, and would be a big problem for Johnson with his own track record of racist and anti-Islamic statements).
So it's all fun here as the country falls apart and the government is totally ineffective, being completely tangled up with ever more inquiries into its own behavior.
M.D.K. in Portland, OR, writes: I wonder if "Blame Canada!" humor might soon be a thing of the past.
I have always enjoyed this genre. Playfully ascribing sinister motives, and surreptitious plots, to such an affable, upstanding, and harmless country as Canada is absurd. It's a break from scary thoughts about my own surly, corrupt, and not at all harmless country.
What takes the wind out of my chuckles lately is the sense, expressed in this op-ed from The Toronto Globe & Mail, that if or when the U.S. goes fully off the rails, Canada might be the indispensable nation pulling us back on track and keeping us there. I, for one, would welcome a new Constitution that rewarded affability and honesty.
When I grew up in the sixties, Polack jokes were dependably funny. For those too young to remember, the Polacks of Polack jokes were dumb as dirt and just as ugly. They blinked out of existence in August 1980, when the real Poles we saw on the news every night were brave Solidarity trade union members in the shipyards of Gdansk, standing up to the Polish government for their rights.
If someday Canada's moral authority overcomes America's lack thereof, it won't be funny any more.
J.A.W. in San Francisco, CA, writes: The proposed "Jesus country" gerrymandered map of Alabama in the item "The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away" reminded me of the Jesusland map, a classic Internet meme from 2004:
Being a California native, I would gladly vote in the United States of Canada—is that seditious or what?
V & Z respond: Yes, it is. You and M.D.K. in Portland just stay where you are, and some nice men in suits and aviator glasses will be by shortly for some much-needed reprogramming.
J.C. in General Trias, Cavite, Philippines, writes: I read with interest your answer suggesting that if Vladimir Putin felt free to take Ukraine, he could then expand into Poland and Hungary and Slovakia. As it would happen, I was just this week contemplating why my grandfather came over to the U.S. in 1901 from Finland. I was piecing together that at the time they left, when Finland was still the Grand Duchy and an autonomous part of Russia, there was increasing Russification. It really appeared to all of the world that Finland was about to become an integral part of the Russian Empire, with no Finnish culture remaining.
They got out while the getting was good, though. What saved Finland? Nothing less than the Communist Revolution. Thank God for the Communist Revolution! There but for Karl Marx... But hey, Finland is much more juicy than Poland. They were part of Russia, and are not part of NATO, so, carte blanche. Though there seems to be some indications that they are now reconsidering...
Q.C. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: Your item "A Useless Idiot" offers "at least four major reasons" why the GOP is cozying up with former KGB agent Vladimir Putin. I'd like to add a few more:
- Ideological Sympathy: While the old Soviets publicly supported Marxist socialism, which threatened traditional GOP interests, Putin's Russia is now an oligarchy, a kleptocracy and corporatist. One writer describes the current political economy in Russia as "the highest and culminating stage of bandit capitalism." To an American political party that's comfortable with inequality and "all about the grift," it's hard not to see Russia as an attractive model.
- Authoritarianism: Closely related to item 5, Russia may be an attractive model to GOP members that either openly support authoritarianism or simply prioritize winning over democracy.
- Money?: Russians have funded OAN and the NRA. Putin dangled a Moscow development project in front of Donald Trump. Is it possible that Russia might be funding some of its American boosters? Michael Flynn's infamous "Turkey ... our greatest ally" editorial (underwritten, of course, by Turkey) seems a like a good parallel to the uncritical Russian support now coming from some conservative commentators.
B.B. in Dothan, AL, writes: Another, possibly one of the stronger underlying reasons that conservatives favor Vladimir Putin and (the currently composed) Russia is that the conservative worldview favors the "strict father" approach. See George Lakoff's writings (e.g., Moral Politics), about how liberals and conservatives think. Liberals find the "nurturant mother" model more appealing.
Elsewhere, Lakoff has said, "... the strict father model explains why conservatism is concerned with authority, with obedience, with discipline, and with punishment. It makes sense in a patriarchal family where male strength dominates unquestionably. Authority, obedience, discipline, and punishment are all there in the family, organized in a package."
Given that Putin might just be the strictest father around right now, it's not surprising that many conservatives admire (or at least appreciate) his strength.
B.C. in Manhattan Beach, CA, writes: In response to the question from Z.C. in Beverly Hills about cryptocurrencies: Fiat currencies have one undisputed advantage over cryptocurrencies, namely that the government that issued a fiat currency is guaranteed (obligated?) to accept its own fiat currency in exchange for amounts payable to the government (for taxes and other payments). To my knowledge, there is no one obligated to accept cryptocurrency, so it is the obligation of the holder to find a willing counter-party.
J.H. in Edison, NJ, writes: Interesting article: "Cryptocurrency Is a Giant Ponzi Scheme."
C.E. in San Francisco, CA, writes: Some other resources for people that want to learn more about the grift of cryptocurrency (and related technologies):Web3 is going just great is an ever-growing compilation of the "rug pulls," hacks and other mishaps in the space. It's like "This Week in Schadenfreude," but a few times a day.
Line Goes Up--The Problem With NFTs is a long-form video essay by Dan Olson that gives a good introduction to other parts of the blockchain, including NFTs, play-to-earn games, and DAOs. The central theme is that they're all essentially schemes to get you to buy more crypto so that early investors can cash out. I think E-V.com readers will appreciate its information-to-snark ratio.
S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: It's been five days since my and others' SCOTUS/Stephen Breyer predictions were published, and they're already up in smoke. Oh well.
J.F. in Ft. Worth, TX, writes: I will gladly take the swing-and-a-miss for (apparently) getting the Breyer prediction completely wrong! I was expecting history to serve up a sinking slider ball and instead I whiffed on a standard middle-of-the-plate pitch.
J.A. in Austin, TX, writes: For all of the readers who predicted Breyer's retirement, well done. And to (V) & (Z), congrats for assigning boldness points and publishing prior to the event. Well timed.
S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: R.E.M. in Brooklyn wrote, in defense of Justice Brett Kavanaugh's statement on Donald Trump's presidential privilege case, "the precedential rationale for the privilege was that aides might not give fully candid advice if they worried about their remarks being published in the future." Allow me to submit that if a presidential advisor is worried that the future publication of some advice they intend to give the president will expose them to prosecution, they should seriously reexamine the advice they intend to give, and/or their choice of career.
C.F. in Boston, MA, writes: To the commentary about the U.S. being two (perhaps three) countries joined together, I would recommend to you and your readers the excellent book Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer.
In summary, because the book is a heavy lift, it boils down to: the 2 dominant subcultures in tension nowadays are the Puritans/East Anglians (settled into U.S. Northeast, northern Midwest, then Pacific West) vs. peasants from Lancashire/Scots/Irish (settled into the U.S. Appalachia/South).
The differences: (geography is destiny...):
- East Anglians had an 80% literacy rate for males, highly unusual for the 18th century, due to its vibrant trade with the Netherlands, and some due to Bible-reading. It started New England's high educational achievement, which endures. Further, the geography of estuaries limited farming expansion and created denser cities where work specialization could blossom, whilst slave labor died due to cold.
- Lancashire/Scots, on the other hand, were 20% literate, and went into their traditional farming; geography helped, and so did climate for slavery.
The book has of course a lot more details that also explain the endemic weaponry/violence in the South, etc.
J.V. in Aberdeen, NC, writes: The observations about Lyndon B. Johnson from J.T. in Greensboro are spot on; Johnson gets little credit for some of the most progressive policies in executive history. However, John F. Kennedy was prepared to end U.S. participation in the Vietnam War and he never flinched when facing down the Soviet threats—Cuban Missile Crisis and Berlin; he also gave us the nuclear test ban treaty, and these are not the small accomplishments of a person with a sketchy résumé. A moral review of JFK's philandering is not related to the issue of executive greatness and has no place in the equation.
D.R. in Louisville, KY, writes: My mom's all-time favorite bumper sticker was "Dick Nixon—Before He Dicks You."
M.G. in Boulder, CO, writes: Every few weeks you print a letter that says, "Hey, you guys used to be politically center and now you're not. Why can't/don't you go back to that?"
It seems to me that (V) answered that last week when he described Politico: "Politico itself really tries to be neutral. That doesn't mean it is even-handed. When one side lies and the other doesn't, the site doesn't say 'they both do it.' It tries to stick to the truth, even when that de facto favors one party or the other, depending on the issue."
When he said that, he was also describing E-V.com. If the day comes when we have Eisenhower-Republicans and Stevenson-Democrats or a similar balance, I'm pretty sure we'll see E-V similarly balanced, as E-V continues trying to stick to the truth.
J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: I'm baffled by the letter from B.M. in Carlsbad. By American standards, I'm firmly and comfortably on the left. I'm sure most Republicans would characterize me as "far left." I've been reading E-V.com since John Kerry was the Democratic nominee for president and I would never have characterized this as a center-right website. I definitely think the website has taken a more editorial tone since (Z) joined, but I also wonder if part of the perception that this website now has a far-left bias is simply because the Republican party has moved so far to the right—and because the Republican party has embraced dishonesty, hobgoblinry, and personal attacks so thoroughly since 2015. To simply choose to report on some of the day-to-day activities of denizens of Trumpworld may seem like a slant. As the old saying goes, "the truth has a liberal bias."
B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: About Joe Manchin's green suit, you wrote: "That made him look like a televangelist, or else someone headed to his night job selling Lucky Charms cereal."
Searched the entire Internet as far as Google would take me. Your site is the only one within recent memory to reference a night job selling Lucky Charms.
V & Z respond: We were just assuming that someone has to do it when this guy clocks out at 5:00:
E.A. in Okemos, MI, writes: In the 2022 predictions for Congress, D.S. in Havertown predicted "Joe Manchin will have a 'come to Jesus' moment" and you commented that Jesus has probably never visited West Virginia, and so awarded a potential 5 points for boldness. You might want to knock off half a point there. Jesus doesn't have to appear in West Virginia. All he has to do to visit Joe is walk on water to his houseboat on the Potomac.
V & Z respond: We doubt he'll be admitted, unless he can turn coal into wine.
A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: If you are going to mention Reefer Madness you should at least include a link. You are derelict in your responsibilities. I have taken this opportunity to compensate for your omission with a link to the trailer:
C.K. in Kensington, Maryland, writes: Gentlemen: I am a long-time female reader and have an amazing quilt of great intricacy with much gorgeous embroidery. I am attaching three photos, left to right, of the middle section. They read: Blaine-Logan; Mrs. A.B. Grubb Iowa, 1886; Cleveland-Hendricks. I purchased this quilt from an antique shop in my town, as a present to myself on my 50th wedding anniversary. It was my husband who figured out what it referred to, as I had never heard of Blaine.
C.L. in Warwick, RI, writes: Well, that will teach me to proofread my own stuff!
In my "political quilt block" letter to you I said the answer to the question was "d", but it should have been "c," "Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too!" No joke there, it was really one of the names given to the pattern! So sorry!
V & Z respond: We fixed it after hearing from you. The most important thing, though, is that, thanks to you and C.K. in Kensington, L.V.A. in Idaho Falls can no longer complain that we aren't living up to our promise to focus on quilting patterns.