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Sunday Mailbag

It's a much more eclectic mailbag than last week, though it's telling, we think, that we got relatively few comments about Donald Trump's announcement.


R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: Prior to the election, Steve Bannon put a lot of energy into getting his followers to sign up to be election workers. I guess he thought they would sow chaos and change some votes. By all accounts, many of these people signed up. Given what your reader-correspondents have written, I have to wonder if these people learned instead that elections are very secure, there are multiple layers of checks and balances, and widespread fraud to change a result is pretty much impossible. Perhaps these people learned that Bannon has been lying to them and the entire cult of election denial is nothing more than a house of cards. I can certainly hope that, in spite of TFGs presidential announcement, his followers become disheartened and go back to whatever they were doing prior to 2016.

O.R. in Milan, Italy, writes: Your reply to M.W. in Northbrook, and the 1994 quote by Barry Goldwater regarding the danger posed by the religious right, reminds me of a conversation I had in the mid-1980s with a Sudanese colleague about the sharia-based legal system imposed in Sudan in 1983 by the then-president Omar al-Bashir. This person saw no hope of sharia ever relinquishing its hold again. "It's like with herpes—getting rid of the virus once you've been infected is impossible; you're lucky if you manage to keep the outbreaks in check." Now, 40 years on, it looks like my colleague was right; although last year the sharia-based system was abolished, a majority of the Sudanese still feel that law should be based on sharia.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: Inevitable? You forgot to mention Howard Dean.

That one was particularly disappointing to me as I was a big supporter of Dean. Likewise, John Edwards... until we found out a few things. Sometimes, as you correctly pointed out... "inevitable" becomes "unelectable."

Let us hope we can add Ron DeSatanist to that list.

B.J. in Boston, MA, writes: Sometimes, recounts actually do change the results. This one overcame a 0.6% deficit: "The race for the Hillsborough [NH] County House District 16 seat in Manchester, saw Democrat Maxine Mosley defeat her Republican opponent Larry Gagne by a single vote. Mosley won the seat with 1,799 votes to Gagne's 1,798. Before the recount, Gagne led Mosley by 23 votes."

V & Z respond: But that's the exception that proves the rule. If flipping votes is basically a coin flip, then you're more likely to come out ahead if there's only 100 coin flips as opposed to 1,000. Eventually, the law of averages kicks in.

Politics: The Democrats Look Downballot

M.U. in Seattle, WA, writes: I'd like to add a little more context to "Democrats Did Well in the State Legislatures." You wrote: "For the first time in more than 10 years, Democrats made the state legislatures a priority this time, pouring money into state races, which is why they did so well." This doesn't quite tell the whole story. If anyone is to get credit where credit is due it is Jessica Post, the current executive director is the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC). The DLCC still wasn't getting the kind of funding that was necessary this last cycle, so Post decided drastic measure were called for.

As she explains, "[I] went looking in the couch cushions." She started calling state congressional members that were in safe districts begging them to transfer funds. She ended being allocated an extra $100 million and got to work. So, it seems Democrats and their donor class still didn't really get the memo of how important the state legislature battles were this last cycle. Surely they must realize now what decent funding of the DLCC can do. Right? RIGHT?! Post has said in the past of how difficult it has been for her to get funding. If her hard work and results this time around don't convince Democrats to throw their wallets at her, I'm not sure anything will. And I would implore any readers who are Democrats that give regularly to the DNC, DCCC and DSCC to throw some of your hard-earned dollars to the way of Jessica at the DLCC, too.

D.E. in Austin, TX, writes: Thank you for writing about the school board battles.

Much to my surprise, the school board takeover did not happen at my Texas district, nor at the neighboring district. The "hate slate" set of Trustee candidates, as it became affectionately known—funded by almost entirely outside money—got around 33% of the vote. They won no seats in my district. In the neighboring district, which is similar to mine, they won one of 4 seats—with 35% of the vote, because the other 2 safe candidates split the rest with 32% each. There is no runoff vote in the school board elections; that is one problem.

To defeat them, a very in-the-know group of people in my district organized a small campaign to back 4 candidates. These were PTA-type powerhouses—mothers and socially connected people who have always supported the schools. The community probably looked up to them. They had to work at it hard, but it would appear by word of mouth, some Facebook postings, volunteers organized for the polling stations, good signage, they got voters to turn out and defeat these guys. (I am told the "hate slate" got and spent about $500,000 vs this group's $50,000 of only local money). Many of the voters, including myself, only got clued into what was going on within a couple weeks of the election.

Quite a few articles were written about this, although the articles were often written in the "there are good people on both sides" kind of way.

The group(s) that tried to take over our district had a plan. It was a good plan, but it failed mostly because people listen to trusted community members when it involves the schools in the suburbs. My suburb is a bit more worldly than much of the rest of Texas, but to the extent that it has Republicans, the vote for the "hate slate" was much weaker than for other Republican candidates. One thing is we are now all acutely aware of this outside effort and our community will probably be very prepared when the next set of school board elections come up in 2 years.

T.F. in Austin, TX, writes: I've been voting for almost 30 years, and this is the first year I've experienced real anxiety over our local school board race in Round Rock, TX, a suburb of Austin. The race included used tampons sent through the mail, a forged letter used to try to smear the current board president, and a former Austin city council member who, several years ago, lost custody of his daughter due to physical and emotional abuse, to name just a few of the more scandalous events of the last few months.

This has been a race years in the making, but the summary is that conservative activists put forth a slate of five right-wing culture warriors in an attempt to take over the school board. They failed, with all 5 losing by 15 points or more, and with two moderate incumbents getting replaced by progressives. The "hate slate," as they were labeled, were well organized and well funded (mostly by money from outside the district), so the outcome was far from certain.

Fortunately, the community took notice early on and organized against them. A group of local parents started a grassroots PAC that provided yard signs, sent mailers, campaigned door-to-door, organized poll greeters during early voting and on Election Day, and countless other things. It worked, and now the two conservatives who were already on the school board will remain the only two, at least until they face re-election in 2 years (they weren't up for election this year).

I wasn't happy to see the school board culture wars so close to home, but watching the community push back so successfully was encouraging. Our purple-but-maybe-turning-blue community decisively defeated the book-banning, anti-CRT crowd. I hope to see more of that in the future.

Politics: Nancy Pelosi Steps Down

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: I have deep respect for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). She is setting an example as an elder by stepping aside to make room for a new generation of leadership. This is the natural course of things. In traditional societies, elders don't hang on to power until they die. Through their attained wisdom, they recognize when it is time to yield. But they don't disappear. They remain on the sidelines, available to offer their wisdom to the new leaders. In leaving leadership while remaining in Congress as a back bencher, Pelosi is modeling what folks like Strom Thurmond, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and so many others never seemed to understand.

Thank you, Nancy.

P.G. in Berkeley, CA, writes: I met Nancy Pelosi at a Congressional Breakfast in 1998 that was held to endorse legislation for paid family Leave. She was then second in the Democratic Party to Dick Gephardt (minority leader) but she was clearly a star, especially to the women representatives from California who surrounded her. It was one of the great privileges of my life to have shaken her hand and exchanged a few words. She's a legend.

S.S.T. in Copenhagen, Denmark, writes: I think your current assessment of Nancy Pelosi as #3 in the history of Speakers of the House is correct at the moment. However, I think she will fairly quickly end up in #2 slot for her brave political choices in diffucult times shepherding through important legislation at nearly impossible odds and by the fact that she broke "the glass ceiling."

A.C. in Zenia, CA, writes: About the Pelosi hagiography: I was living in San Francisco when she was coronated by what everyone called the Burton Machine. We didn't get to vote among the many possible people in the vibrant left wing of the city. (Shades of Hillary 2016? "It's her turn," etc.) When the Presidio became an area for potential arts and culture and social activist and human rights offices, it was Pelosi that killed it, making it a place dominated by corporate interests with a token hand wave to the many progressive interests. You write that she "turned out to have prodigious fundraising skills." Well, what a surprise, she comes from a fantastically wealthy family and is married to a guy who is in real estate and owns venture capital investment and consulting firm.

These two interests have done much to make San Francisco unfriendly to artists, activists, and working class people. Not our hero. Yes, she's managed to get important legislation passed that categorically would not have passed without her. I got a life-saving heart surgery that I could not otherwise have afforded thanks to the ACA, and I thank the moderate wing of the party for fighting for that. I wouldn't be alive today without the ACA. (This realpolitik on my part is why a lot of my further-left friends think I've drunk the Kool-Aid, FYI.) Politics is about power. Why is that so hard for some on the left to get?

Politics: Red House

J.B. in Denver, CO, writes: The question from J.A. in Kansas City sent a shiver down my spine. Besides what you pointed out as to why it would be bad for the Democrats to help elect a whackdoodle Speaker, what I thought of is genuinely terrifying and can be summed up in one sentence: We'd be only two heartbeats away from President Boebert.

I'm not sure ratf**king is a powerful enough word to properly describe such dereliction of duty. Being in Colorado but thankfully not in her district, I'm ashamed to admit that my state, rich in so many good qualities, could... excrete out a person as vile and objectively stupid as BoBo.

D.B. in Mountain View, CA, writes: Regarding your question about who the voters were in Kevin McCarthy's 188-31 leadership vote, The New York Times says: "He only needed to secure support from a majority of his conference—including incumbents, newly elected members and candidates in uncalled races—in a secret-ballot vote held behind closed doors at the Capitol."

Rollcall clarifies that last category is "anticipated members-elect who were leading in uncalled races."

V & Z respond: Thanks! We looked for quite a while and couldn't find this information.

TrumpWorld 2022: The Announcement

B.A.R. in South Bend, IN, writes: Irrelevant is the right word to use. Yeah, I watched. It was like a bad acid flashback to see him up there, sweating and lying and bloviating.

But didn't it all seem... lackadaisical? It was boring in its repetitiveness and a throwback to American Carnage. I feel that Americans are looking for better and more positive news. I just don't think his shtick is going to cut it any longer. Since CNN cut away, I didn't see until today that he was bitching about Angela Merkel. To what point? I guess he's still mad that she just wasn't that into him.

I can only hope that the media is done with him, too. I can't stomach 2 years of hearing the crap he's shoveling, and I'm betting that I'm not the only one.

D.S. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: In his announcement, Trump claimed his goal was to "Make America Great and Glorious Again." In brief, MAGAGA!

Gotta love it.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: It may be wishful thinking to hope that Trump gets less coverage or is less influential with the Republican Party. With McCarthy kissing his... ring to ensure his post as Speaker, Trump will control the House and all its investigations.

It's all well and good to say it's a waste of time and resources to stage hearings about Hunter Biden, but the media makes no distinction between (1) a legitimate committee investigating an insurrection and coup attempt, and (2) pretend investigations ginned up to posture for the base. CNN already has a headline about the "5 investigations Republicans plan to launch." Therein lies the problem. The bothsideisms and "we report, you decide" mentality will kick into high gear and the public will be treated to the same coverage of the Republicans' hit pieces. I know we've been saying this for years now, but we'll never move on from Trump while the media cowers before the dreaded label "biased." And now that Trump is back on Twitter, his lies will go uncensored.

In fact, the only thing I see stopping the Trump machinery is Jack Smith, which is a fantastic name for a special prosecutor. Trump should be careful what he wishes for because while he may have won a minor skirmish, he most certainly has not won the war. By all accounts, Smith does not shy away from going after corrupt public officials. I'm sure he will have a few things to add to the current investigation and not in a way that will benefit Trump or his co-conspirators. So, yes, that may take some time but when that hammer falls, it'll fall hard.

TrumpWorld 2022: Legal Matters

D.C. in Portland, OR, writes: You wrote that the appointment of a Special Counsel was a "gift" to Trump, a conclusion with which I tend to disagree.

I read yesterday (sorry, source unknown) that Trump's lawyers had feared an appointment as a worst-case scenario and are not at all happy. There are a few reasons this could be a net negative for Trump, and perhaps very negative indeed.

First, this could signify the beginning of the endgame. AG Merrick Garland is not shirking his responsibilities, as he must still make the final call on prosecution. But he knows the case inside out and if inclined against prosecution, wouldn't it be easier to just end the process now? On the other hand, if he were inclined to prosecute, what better tactic than to procure the recommendation and support of independent counsel?

Second, the fear this decision may slow down the process appears overblown. Both Garland and Special Counsel Jack Smith stated clearly they saw no reason that should be the case. We're talking about a potentially slam-dunk case, at least with respect to the stolen classified documents. The investigation is surely near to completion and most likely needs little more than a bow to be tied around the work already completed. So a couple of weekends' deep study should bring Smith up to speed and no doubt he's already completed that. Further, and perhaps most importantly, Smith has the huge advantage that he can bring this to a close without getting bogged down by the rusty anchor of progress, that is the massive DoJ bureaucracy.

Third and lastly, John Smith by all accounts is the exact opposite of some hypothetical dithering, delaying analytical wall-flower that Team Trump would surely prefer as an investigator. Rather, he seems to be somewhat a bad-ass, no-nonsense untouchable, who would never hesitate to throw the book at a serious criminal, regardless of who that criminal happened to be.

V & Z respond: Yes, we meant to write that it was a short-term victory for Trump, and since he tends to think in only short-term terms, he'll be happy. Longer-term, we agree that Smith will haunt the former president's nightmares.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: TrumpWorld should not be dancing at the appointment of Jack Smith as Special Counsel. He is a stone-cold career prosecutor who makes charging decisions based only on the strength of the cases. He's also a "mechanic," called in to fix or stabilize situations, such as becoming head of the Public Integrity section at DoJ after the Ted Stevens debacle. In addition to prosecuting both Democrats and Republicans, Smith also declined to charge in several pending investigations. He was subsequently sent to be First Assistant U.S. Attorney in Nashville; he had no prior connection to Tennessee, which indicates he was again being sent to fix or stabilize something.

He's also never been a political appointee—he became Acting U.S. Attorney in Nashville for six months because he was the No. 2 when the U.S. Attorney was purged as part of the mass forced resignations/firings early in the Trump Administration. He is thus even more apolitical than Merrick Garland, Lisa Monaco or the Assistant Attorneys General for the Criminal and National Security Divisions, who have been overseeing the investigations so far. I agree that won't mean anything to the MAGA cultists, but it should mean something to everyone else who cares about the rule of law.

I also don't think there will be undue delay. DoJ was not going to indict before the Georgia Senate run-off, and nothing happens over the holidays—except Smith, who has a reputation for a relentless work ethic—is going to read the reports from the line prosecutors and agents, and view the relevant evidence. I am convinced that Garland thinks there is enough to indict—as others have pointed out, he didn't need to appoint a Special Counsel if he were going to decline to charge Trump. It's also bad news for Trump that there is now one person whose sole job is to consider prosecuting him and his conspirators. Garland, Monaco, etc., all have other, important duties to which they have to attend, and political considerations can leak in even among the most upstanding of political appointees. Smith, the new decision-maker, will be apolitically laser-focused on Trump. Friday was another in a long line of bad days for Donald Trump.

TrumpWorld 2022: WTFG?

M.L.H. in Florence, KY, writes: Regarding part of your response to B.L. in Reading on Saturday, I prefer to believe that "TFG" stands for "The False God."

T.B. in Leon County, FL, writes: Every time I see "TFG," I know it refers to The Donald, but I read it as "The Fall Guy." I'm just waiting for him to fall (as in, to wear striped clothing).

B.H. in St. Paul, MN, writes: Hmm... I could've sworn it stood for (cue "Sopranos" soundtrack and mildly offensive Italian accent) "That Fu**in' Guy."

S.C. in Mountain View, CA, writes: S.C. in Mountain View, CA, writes: I would like you to follow the lead of The New York Post and from now on just refer to The Former Guy as "Florida man":

The headline for the day after Trump's
address reads 'Florida Man Makes Announcement'

Anger Man: The Legend of Ron DeSantis

S.B. in Los Angeles, CA , writes: You wrote about whether or not Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is inevitable as the 2024 GOP presidential nominee, and observed: "DeSantis has had a lot of success in getting votes in Florida, no doubt about that. But he has never taken his show on the road." One factor that may have been overlooked or you chose not to expand on, is that DeSantis is very much a Florida phenomenon.

DeSantis was elected governor of Florida in 2018. As you have noted on numerous occasions, over that period of time he has managed to overwhelm and browbeat all the other institutions in Florida to the point that he is, in essence, an authoritarian strongman ruling over the state. Through gerrymandering he has co-opted the legislature. He has appointed four of the seven Florida supreme court justices. He had appointed lackies to the significant state agencies.

I completely agree with your assessment that his persona and character is lacking for a national run but it should also be pointed out he appears so strong and in charge in Florida because he has taken advantage of weak democratic institutions in that state that would have provided alternative, possibly better, solutions.

His ability to overrun the state institutions of Florida may not be so readily transferable to other parts of the nation.

J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: One thing I feel like I haven't seen talked about amid all of the hype around Ron DeSantis is that if he wants to beat Trump at some point he is going to have to attack Trump. Given that he rode to prominence on Trumpism and that there is probably no small amount of overlap between their followings, I wonder whether his candidacy will be derailed by this.

If he attacks Trump, he may gain some moderates and peel off some Trumpists, but won't he also lose Trumpists? Given how fiercely loyal that 30% or have been to Trump, what reason do we have to believe that they would desert him for someone who is attacking him? To say nothing of the fact that "DeSanctimonious" is just Trump tuning up. One assumes that now, having announced his candidacy, that the attacks will become more severe. I think DeSantis might find that you can't have the Trump cake and eat it too.

Meanwhile, how many moderates is the guy who kidnapped immigrants from another state and flew them to Massachusetts or who promotes 'Don't Say Gay' bills really going to win? What about when Republicans and Democrats alike start to dig into the oppo research?

I think DeSantis is a paper tiger, is peaking too early, and that he'll be the next Howard Dean, or Scott Walker, or Rudy Giuliani, or Gary Hart, or...

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: I'm sure you are getting a lot of mail on this topic. DeSantis can't wait to 2028 if he ever wants to be president. What makes him popular to the MAGAt/Republican party is his stunts to own the libs. But since he has to keep escalating to keep their attention, there isn't enough ammunition left available to him to sustain this for 6 years. There might not be enough for 2 years. The best thing that could happen to DeSantis for President is for progressives to make noise about their pet projects, create another phrase like "Defund the Police," and reload his outrage cannon.

His second-best option is to push for a repeal on his own term limits. It's not on his radar yet, but were it not for term limits, DeSantis could establish an autocracy in Florida like Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping have in their domains. He might enjoy having near-absolute control of the Kingdom of Florida over the thankless job of POTUS. The Magic Kingdom then joins the ranks of Monaco, Liechtenstein, Andorra, and Brunei.

P.M. in Edenton, NC, writes: I thought the readership might be interested in this perspective from my relatives in Luzerne County, the ones I have written about who were solid Democratic voters for decades before voting for Donald Trump in 2016. All of them were big supporters of him in that election, still on his side in 2020, but now are tired of him. It varies based on the individual, but the overall consensus is that Trump is too erratic, too petty, overall too crazy, and they want someone else who doesn't have his baggage or with investigations constantly dogging him. None of them really want Trump to be the Republican nominee in 2024, but they would vote for him again if he is. They really want someone else to be the Republican standard-bearer in the next presidential election, and all of them speak favorably of Ron DeSantis. I think this may say something about what might happen in the coming titanic battle between Trump and DeSantis, among folks who are generally reasonable but not full-in on MAGAism.

All Politics is Local: Arizona

B.C. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: When everybody decided that Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs (D-AZ) had beaten her, Kari Lake (R) tweeted "Arizonans know BS when they see it."

Exactly right you reprehensible nutter! And that is why you weren't elected! I am immensely proud of most of the folks in my state.

M.S. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: I've admired your coverage of Arizona politics, but I think you have missed some important context. By way of background, I have more than a decade working in Arizona politics. I have been on staff for both incoming Governor Katie Hobbs (who, among her many virtues, can cuss better than anybody I've ever known) and outgoing Speaker Rusty Bowers (who is a lovely man with a gorgeous singing voice, but thinks "butt" is a vulgar word). I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what's going on around the state. And for what it's worth, I am a fifth-generation Arizonan. My earliest ancestor arrived in what was then the brand-new Arizona Territory in 1864.

The reason Hobbs won is that Christian nationalism does not play with the old-time Arizona crowd. Yes, we have been a reliably red state for many, many years. But that redness has never been an evangelical Republicanism: Barry Goldwater, Sandra Day O'Connor, and even Rusty Bowers have been pointedly secular in their approach to politics. I have sat in hundreds of legislative hearings and find it telling that the most Bible-thumping legislators are all transplants. Yes, transplants are the majority of Arizonans, but a full 1/4 of white Arizonans were born here.

Enter Kari Lake. Her whole shtick was "restoring" Christians to their rightful place of supremacy. That sort of campaigning may work well in Missouri, but the descendants of cowboys, miners, and LDS pioneers don't take kindly to this sort of talk. Half the reason our ancestors moved to this horrible desert is that it is God-forsaken! That memory does not go away and is triggered by dog whistles of theocracy.

And what happens when you alienate 1/4 of your base with concepts we find foreign and repulsive? People like my blue-collar dad leave the ballot blank, and people like my college-educated suburban-woman LDS mom happily vote for the Democrat—for the first time in her life. And then you lose the election.

J.C. in Washington, DC, writes: I want to offer a bit of a "debrief" as a no-party voter from the Grand Canyon State.

First, I played with fire. In Arizona, us no-party voters can vote in whatever primary we choose to vote in. I chose the Republican ballot and voted for all of the crazies—classic "ratf**king," as you call it. As of this moment, my gamble appears to have paid off. Katie Hobbs and Secretary of State-elect Adrian Fontes (D) are on their way to the state capitol. The AG and Superintendent of Public Instruction races are still in play, but I still feel good.

As a veteran and passionate American, this election was visceral for me. So much so that I had to go to the National Mall last night after the gubernatorial race was called. It was beautiful. And I cried. The license plate on the left was the one we had on our vehicle while we were in Afghanistan:

You can see the author's feet, a 
license plate with an Afghan flag next to them, and the Washington Monument in the background

I took today off and am going to reflect on the future of our country, which I feel is on a much better footing than it was a week ago. I'm also going to ride the D.C. Metro's first train to Dulles International Airport this afternoon.

Thanks for all that you both do—the community doesn't give you enough credit. I can tell you unequivocally that policymakers are paying attention to your dialogue on a daily basis. Democracy matters.

V & Z respond: Thanks so much for the kind words! We usually exclude those sentiments from letters, but in this case felt they were organic and could not be removed without altering your intent.

All Politics is Local: Georgia

S.M. in Morganton, GA, writes: I got myself IDed as both a Herschel Walker (R) and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) voter before the general election. Since Tuesday, I have received six texts about the runoff from the Warnock campaign and supporting organizations.

From the Walker campaign and allies: crickets.

L.A. in Waynesboro, PA, writes: Seen on Coronavirus Gallows Humor Facebook page:

A yard sign says 'Werewolves and Vampires for Warnock;
Vote December 6

It's an unusual endorsement, to say the least, but I understand that Candidate Walker mentioned these two constituent groups in a comment the other day.

V & Z respond: True. Those who wish to know more can read the story here.

D.N. in Arlington Heights, IL, writes: I think your analysis is wrong on the Georgia runoff. I'm pretty sure most Georgia Republican voters recognize that 51 Democrats gives them more flexibility with Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), and will be voting to prevent this. Also, you've missed the other quadrant of analysis: Democrat voters might stay home now that the Senate is secured. You're right, though, that the reality is that nobody knows how this is going to play out. Personally, I think the Chase Oliver (L) voters—a not insignificant number of people who were willing to show up—might end up making the difference.

All Politics is Local: New York

C.M. in Syracuse, NY, writes: I want to push back against the assessment from R.H.D. in Webster of cashless bail. They claim that there have been "terrible consequences" of these reforms, but I believe they are just repeating right-wing talking points.

John Oliver did a great segment on cashless bail recently that R.H.D. should probably take a look at. This segment includes how the NYPD commissioner outright lies to the media about the "consequences" of cashless bail, while testifying to the state legislature that there really is no issue with the reforms.

I don't doubt R.H.D.'s assessment that a stronger, less Trump-y candidate would have been able to defeat Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY), but I give that "credit" to the fact that Hochul is extremely unpopular, even among Democrats. This is thanks, in part, to her ties to former governor Andrew Cuomo and former lieutenant governor Brian Benjamin.

I also don't see New York moving to "swing state" status anytime soon. That's a pretty absurd statement, as long as New York City exists. We just need a stronger statewide candidate and to not take these newly drawn House districts for granted.

That's the Ticket?

K.C. in West Islip. NY, writes: While TicketMaster/Live Nation is clearly guilty of some serious funny business, which came to light years ago when Pearl Jam went to war with them for the very same reason K.H. in Maryville describes—a monopoly on ticket distribution, there is of course another reason why ticket prices are through the roof. This reason first hit the music listening world with the very public dispute between Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich and the file sharing service Napster. Ulrich's complaint about people getting music for free was frustrating at the time. I remember thinking that I actually bought more CDs because of Napster because I could preview the bands for free and choose to support them by buying their music later on. (Of course, the real reason I bought so many CDs was because Columbia House always kept giving me eleven free if I just bought one, but I digress.)

Today, the CD (and record, cassette tape, 8-track) is little more than a relic to be used as a drink coaster. They don't even put CD players in new cars anymore, and when I purchased one two years ago it rendered my collection of probably a thousand CDs totally useless. Therein lies a problem. Yes, you can buy music on Apple or Spotify or whatever the cool kids are using these days, but you can also get it for free on YouTube and I'd imagine other platforms. Artists used to tour in support of their albums but now that there isn't a need to buy a physical album (although they do of course still exist), the artists need to make their money elsewhere and that's on ticket sales. Ticketmaster feeds off that to artificially crank up the prices of tickets... if the artist can charge more, then so can we!

It used to be that you could wait until the very last minute and buy a ticket someone was trying desperately to get anything for, but Friday I went on Live Nation trying to get a ticket to see the Dave Matthews Band Saturday and I was put on a waitlist. A couple of days earlier there was no queue, and the cheapest ticket was about $40 more than it had been when I looked a month ago. While $160 for a ticket in the nosebleed section pales in comparison to a $26,000 ticket for Taylor Swift tickets (yes, I did look), it's preposterous that dynamic pricing for any event ticket should be a thing. Suppose that a ticket normally costs $50 and assume that the buyer also owned the $20 CD, it doesn't take the staff mathematician being sober for a few minutes to understand that $70 does not equal $26,000.

I know when I see bands playing at smaller venues with capacities of 100-200 or so, the band themselves control the sale of tickets through their website. It's when you try to see a bigger act that Ticketmaster is involved and I believe it's incumbent on these artists to get control over the sale of their own tickets. No one in their right mind would pay five figures to see a two-and-a-half-hour concert and it's insane that the artists would even allow that kind of price gouging to affect their fans. Taylor Swift did speak out against Ticketmaster and the fiasco which ensued but it seems that if any of these musicians wanted to really take the next step, they would demand the right to set their own ticket prices and sell them directly through their sites, bypassing Ticketmaster entirely. I suppose there would be other hurdles to leap over, which I'm sure other readers may be able to explain, but if I had a shred of musical talent and legions of adoring fans, I certainly wouldn't want them to go broke seeing me perform and would prefer to have total control over the price of my tickets. This is what the DoJ should focus on (aside from their focus on TFG): giving power back to the artists and curtailing the ability of the Ticketmaster monopoly to change prices however they want, whenever they want.

V & Z respond: We'll note that Ticketmaster has exclusivity agreements with nearly all large venues, so it is not currently possible to perform at most stadiums and arenas without dealing with Ticketmaster.


T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: The crypto currency market always to me seemed a little like the Dutch tulip market in the 1630s. For folks who are not economic historians, there was a big fad in tulips in the Netherlands in the 1630s and folks began speculating in tulip bulbs with prices going through the roof. After a couple of years, the frenzy passed and the market spectacularly collapsed.

The big difference between the tulip frenzy and crypto currency is that there was something of value (not a lot of value, but still some value) in the tulip market. Crypto currency relied entirely on the faith of the market in this created currency. Needless to say, I have little surprise that the bubble in crypto currency would eventually burst, bringing down a lot of investors with it.

D.H. in Boston, MA, writes: The only connection I see between the insanity happening at Twitter and the various cryptocurrency problems is that both cryptocurrencies and the stock market are cyclical, although with different cycle lengths, and the cycles happened to line up pretty closely with a peak in both about a year ago. Or maybe cryptocurrencies are being assimilated into the broader financial system.

One reasonable metric for the stock market valuation is the overall P/E ratio, the ratio of stock price to how much companies are actually making in profit. As you can see if you click the link, we recently hit the highest peak since 2000. Twitter's stock price didn't really take part in that rally, but Tesla's did, which is what made it possible for Elon Musk to finance his Twitter deal, using a chunk of his Tesla shares. Since then, share prices have come down, which has caused funding problems for many companies. The same thing happened with cryptocurrency prices. The two phenomena are probably related.

I'm not a cheerleader for capitalism, but I have tended to think of it as the least bad economic system. However, as a Twitter user (for now), I think the deal was really a failure of capitalism. In my opinion, the board should never have approved Musk's deal, which put a bunch of new debt on the company. Twitter provides a vital service, but it isn't especially profitable, rendering it vulnerable to deals like this. Maybe the government should take it over, or provide a similar service, but then it could be subject to political influences. I don't know if there's a good solution. It looks like people are migrating from Twitter to Mastodon, which has many different nodes that provide different levels of content moderation. It may be better. We'll see how it goes.

B.K. in Dallas, TX, writes: I am an IT person (retired). I was frequently reminded that a person who is good at one thing seems to think he can be good at something else. Mostly because they don't understand people.

Elon Musk thinks that being good at running an auto manufacturing company should translate running an IT company. For one thing, the employees are different. The IT people I've worked with are passionate about their work. They don't have to be encouraged to work harder. They might even be insulted when asked. I suspect that auto employees are not that passionate.

Non-IT people think that something is (should be) easy to do, when it really isn't. They also miss out on things that really are easy.

J.L. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I am extremely proud of this meme!

It's a reference to the movie 'The Princess
Bride,' and it includes a picture of Fezzik as played by Wallace Shawn, and the man in Black with Elon Musk's face
pasted over that of actor Cary Elwes, and it says 'You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous of
which is Never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: Never spend $44 billion to
buy a social media platform, take the company private, and then drive away all your employees and advertisers while
alienating most of your users!'

Complaints Department

G.W. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: A habit you've developed that seems problematic is your constant use of the "staff mathematician" as the one to belittle/insinuate drunkenness about/etc. You may also be aware (and I can attest as founder of the National Museum of Math in New York) that the U.S. has a serious math phobia/cultural aversion problem, that creates a real obstacle for its progress in an ever-technologizing world. I completely get the value and self-effacing humor of picking on imaginary staff members, and of a running joke, but don't add fuel to the fire of this real cultural problem by always having it be the staff mathematician. Mix it up and sometimes pick on the staff psychologist, geographer, translator, or what have you, and maybe even once in a blue moon praise the staff mathematician. Mathematicians, like all professions, add tremendous value to our society. Thanks for considering.

V & Z respond: We'll take this under advisement, but note that we actually have referenced other staff members, such as the Teutonic Affairs consultant. And the purpose is not actually to denigrate a particular profession or area of expertise, it's to provide a nominal excuse for possible mistakes when we venture into areas that are at the fringes of our expertise. As in, "We have to do this math because the real expert, the staff mathematician, is not available."

R.F. in Madison, WI, writes: I don't normally respond to these things, but I'm concerned about your comment referencing "Mrs. Grumby's School for the Mentally Challenged (it's a feeder school for certain universities in downtown L.A.)." While my understanding is that it's representative of Donald Trump's incoherent attacks, that comment and parenthetical felt like a cheap shot at people with intellectual disabilities. I'm sure that wasn't your intent, but it was jarring to read.

V & Z respond: Let us start by noting that the full quote was: "Trump had much to say that presented the Democrats and their leader as some combination of the Keystone Kops, Satan's armies and the student body at Mrs. Grumby's School for the Mentally Challenged (it's a feeder school for certain universities in downtown L.A.)." And what we were going for is that Trump presented the Democrats as incompetent, evil and stupid. It was easy enough to get the first two, but we spent at least 10 minutes trying to think of a group or institution that would be understood as collectively stupid. We came up with that, and added the indirect reference to USC to try to make clear we were speaking about low intelligence rather than mental disability. Unfortunately, it was not clear, as we got many complaints.

B.P. in Chicago, IL, writes: The Democratic Party abandoned its support for the candidate in OR-05, yet you continue to write corporate media spin when it comes to progressives and center-right liberals in America.

You really need to do better at getting the full picture.

J.B. in Nashville, TN, writes: Who writes this supercillious bull**it?

V & Z respond: Well, if it has a (V) after it, it was written by the Votemaster and if it has a (Z) after it, it was written by Zenger.

Complaints about Complaints Department

J.M. in Arvada, CO, writes: J.M. in New Glasgow wrote in about the significant difference in coverage on between the attack on Paul Pelosi and the planned attack on Brett Kavanaugh. J.M. then went on to point out that an actual attack is obviously significantly worse than a planned attack and he stated that they are not claiming that left-wing rhetoric is worse than right-wing rhetoric.

I think J.M. answered their own question there, but to take it a step further, did any notable media or politicians (or sons of politicians) try to dismiss the attack on Kavanaugh as a false flag operation? Did a former president spread conspiracy theories about the planned attack on Kavanaugh? Did the richest man in the world broadcast a verifiably false story about the planned attack on Kavanaugh? The reason that the Pelosi attack got so much more coverage, on top of the reasons J.M. already listed, was because of the rumor-mongering and conspiracy theories generated by the far-right media machine and supported by those in power who knew better but helped cover for the fact that their rhetoric helped feed the attack. In contrast, the planned attack on Kavanaugh wasn't supported by anyone with a significant audience or microphone on the left.

J.J. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I find myself compelled to write in response to J.M. in New Glasgow. It would be understandable for reader J.M. to be frustrated by's, or any other outlet's, failure to accurately and fairly cover threats against the lives of elected officials and their families. However what J.M. fails to account for in their critique of's coverage is that the story for politics-watchers is about more than just the violence, it's about the response from politicians and political parties.

Few, if any, elected Democrats suggested, implicitly or otherwise, violence against Kavanaugh. And when that story broke, I can similarly recall few, if any, Democrats offering endorsements, conspiracy theories, or praise. Simply, the system worked (the attempted attacker was foiled) and the public registered a response and moved on. The same goes for the attack on Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA). The official narrative was never picked apart or questioned, or used to score cheap political points.

The response to the Pelosi attack is incredibly different. It brings conspiracy theories into play, homophobia, infidelity, and much, much more. Nancy Pelosi has been the target of violent rhetoric (if not play acting) on the part of Republican officials and their candidates for years, and now we are seeing the impact of that.

Further, J.M. writes about the Democratic response to the Kavanaugh attack, "There was no assailing of left-wing figures for 'thoughts and prayers' type responses and failure to address the core problem, nothing." I offer this: there was no response because Democrats have been trying to tackle these problems for years. Gun control, funding for mental healthcare, toning down rhetoric... these have been calling cards of the party for decades, table stakes to be a Democrat in this moment.

The Great American Novel, Part XIII: Grab Bag

J.H. in Lodi, NY, writes: I'm a little late into this, and instead of nominating a title for The Great American Novel, I'd like to nominate John Dos Passos' U.S.A as the greatest forgotten American trilogy. Its three novels include The 42nd Parallel (1930), Nineteen Nineteen (1932), and The Big Money (1936).

The 42nd Parallel was innovative, radical, and groundbreaking in literary technique when it came out, and the sequels follow the same style. In addition to several storylines that take a long time to come together, Dos Passos adds non-fiction elements to provide background and insight: Newsreels (news headlines, snatches of popular songs, and the like), The Camera's Eye (where the author adds personal observations), and biographical sketches of famous and not-so-famous contemporaries. In the fiction he encompasses the American dream and his characters include a tycoon, various laborers, and people in between, all struggling to succeed. There is comedy, tragedy, satire, and, by the end, a sense of bleakness as the Great Depression is just beginning. Dos Passos was then a leftie, but he was no friend to the communists. I read U.S.A. when I was in college. It was not assigned reading, and I was not an English major, so I don't remember now how I stumbled on Dos Passos. Nobody I talked to then had ever heard of him, and he may be even more obscure today.

Note: It was only as I was finishing this up that I ran across this quote from Norman Mailer, "Dos Passos came nearer than any of us to writing the Great American Novel, and it's entirely possible he succeeded." So I guess he has already been nominated.

D.M. in Wimberley, TX, writes: I am aware this will be a minority position, but my vote for Great American Novel goes to Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs.

"But that book is obscene, incoherent, and lacks a plot!" Indeed. It is like a combination of a painting by Hieronymus Bosch and a Looney Tunes cartoon caper, as experienced by an unwilling subject of Project MKUltra, who had LSD snuck into their Wheaties. It evokes the American experience with vivid force and has the best evocation of our idiomatic speech since Huckleberry Finn (which I agree is another great contender). Donald Trump would fit right in. You could describe a Trump rally and paste in one of his winding, poisonous sales pitches of himself, to himself, and Doctor Benway would give it a slow clap.

H.M. in Paris, France, writes: I am not an American, so I won't comment on The Great American Novel, but as an occasional editor or proofreader. I was always of the opinion that so many expressions from The Wizard of Oz had become part of the American language that it made it a classic par excellence. You can often find such expressions peppered on this site.

V & Z respond: Pay no attention to the Votemaster behind the curtain.

N.O.D. in Chicago, IL, writes: My pick is a Man in Full by Tom Wolfe, a complex novel with gripping plot lines and a number of multifaceted characters. Set in the late 20th century, Wolfe skillfully depicts the social juxtaposition of Americans at various levels of the economic scale while exploring what it takes to be a man in the time-honored sense of the word. Wolfe explores many facets of American culture: social class, racism, entrepreneurialism, consumerism, gender roles, and religiosity. The true meaning of success and social tension are his underlying themes. The book is accessible to older teenagers, with enough sophisticated elements to hold adult interest. Wolfe was a skillful and wonderfully inspired wordsmith, and presents his tale of drama and satire elegantly and with verve.

R.S.B. in Palm Springs, CA, writes: Since this is a political website, Allen Drury's Advise and Consent.

Drury was a political writer of great renown and exceptional storytelling ability and won the Pulitzer for Fiction in 1960 for the book. He captures the essence of the American political establishment like no other story ever written. Drury also continued to write the story of The American Governmental Experiment over five more books. I read all six books over the summer of 1981, my 16th year on this planet. No other political story I have read is more elegant or consequential in its authenticity and impact.

I believe to this day that teenagers who end up as conservatives read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand while liberals read Advise and Consent. The term "liberal" in this context is not consistent with the current definition of the word, but rather is the classical definition of a "political and moral philosophy based on the rights of the individual, liberty, consent of the governed and equality before the law."

Jon Meacham wrote an elegant sort-of obituary that was published in Stanford Magazine in 1999.

We're Corrupt but We'll Fight On

J.W. in Newton, MA, writes: In response to R.O. in Santa Fe, you took the high road and argued that USC is not particularly scandal-prone. I appreciate your generosity of spirit. Given your long-standing tradition of presumably ironic, hilarious digs at the University of Spoiled Children, you likely found it unseemly to dump on them in earnest. I also agree with you that all big universities have embarrassing scandals, and that the press loves to cover such events, especially for universities associated with the coastal elite.

That said, R.O. is correct: USC has a demonstrated record of appallingly corrupt management. In 2021, the USC administration was found guilty of covering up sexual abuse by gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall for decades, resulting in a staggering $1.1 billion settlement to a generation of victims. Dr. Carmen Puliafito, the dean of the medical school, had a secret life of methamphetamine abuse and wild parties with prostitutes and drug dealers, in venues including his office at USC. When a 21-year-old prostitute overdosed in his hotel room, he was allowed to step down as dean quietly, and continued to see patients until the sordid story finally became public. Although many universities were implicated in the Varsity Blues scandal, in which rich kids were admitted to universities above their level of qualification, USC was all-in, with several coaches and the senior associate athletic director implicated. For readers who wish to read these sordid stories in more detail, there is even a new book about them (among other L.A. scandals).

I have several friends among the USC faculty. Excellent scholars and even better people, they would agree that USC has been rotten at the top for years. Let's hope that recent changes in the administration can repair the extensive damage.

J.M. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: My condolences. I watched the USC-UCLA football game and was (for various reasons) rooting for UCLA. UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson was just too inconsistent and your defense too porous.

V & Z respond: How were you able to reach this assessment of the UCLA defense? (Z) watched the entire game and never saw any evidence that the defense was even there.


M.W.W. in Port Orchard, WA, writes: I was surprised at your response to B.L. in Reading, who asked about the ongoing digs at Canada. I was very sure it was based on South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut and its satirical point the many people have to blame someone/something else for their own failings, and Canada was a fun and prime target. Blame Canada!

V & Z respond: Well, it's kind of an old bit that predates both South Park and Canadian Bacon (see below). (Z)'s first exposure to the general concept was actually a popular 1980s and 1990s L.A. radio show, where the host was always (ironically) railing against Canadian actors like Michael J. Fox and Jim Carrey stealing the jobs of hardworking American actors.

S.R. in Ottawa, ON, Canada, writes: I think the origin of a lot of Canadian humour (with the "u," please) comes from the great John Candy 1995 comedy Canadian Bacon. Directed by a young Michael Moore, it's a great satire about America looking to Canada as a new Cold War adversary after the collapse of the USSR, with an amazing cast, many of whom are Canadian. And as an American who now lives in Canada, I can only the say the jokes are even funnier north of the border.

J.R.S. in Peterborough, ON, Canada, writes: Nice to see your explanation of your speculation about Canada's invasion plans. I had supposed you'd made the assumption was that someone here thought the movie Canadian Bacon was a documentary, and so we ought to retaliate.

In any case, if we were to want to take hostages, there seem to be at least a couple of your citizens there who don't look like they'd put up too much of a fight...

D.J.M. in Salmon Arm, BC, Canada, writes: Obviously, the debt ceiling should be $314,159,265,358,979,323,846,264,338,327,950,288,419.71

You can have your cake and eat it too.

V & Z respond: Or your Pi, at least.

D.S. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: Re: "20,988,936,657,440,586,486,151,264,256,610,222,593,863,921."

(V) & (Z), now you've gone and published my private key. Shame.

V & Z respond: You should probably take a cue from King Roland and President Skroob and switch over to 1-2-3-4-5.

B.J.L. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes: 2^128 and Ferrier's prime. That's worth an 11!

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: P.D. in Smithfield wondered why the Saturday posting is consistently later than the other days. And you answered:

It's the most time-consuming post of the week to put together. Also, there is more likely to be a late-night commitment that delays the start of work on the post. There aren't too many things that end at 11:00 p.m. on Wednesday nights, but there are plenty of things that end at 11:00 p.m. or midnight or 1:00 a.m. on Friday nights.

Please, tell me this has nothing to do with (V) & (Z) spending the evening with the staff mathematician...

V & Z respond: Please. He's invariably passed out under the table no later than 8:00.

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