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Dem pickups: PA
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To our Jewish readers: Shanah tovah!

Sunday Mailbag

This week's mailbag is a little less hefty than last week's. And it will be posted on time. Those two things might be related.


M.S. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: I think that lost in the "political theater" aspects of the Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) fly-out and the Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) bus-out, is the fact that the immigration process is still broken and precious little is being done about it at the federal level (both branches). To be clear, I do not support what DeSantis/Abbott are doing (putting people on a conveyance under false pretenses and not involving local leaders at the other end), but I can appreciate their unhappiness.

In discussing this issue with a pro-immigration friend, we were discussing this possible line of (not forthcoming) response:

In theory, the Biden administration could just say, "Look, as you know, people who are in the U.S. pending asylum review register where they are every week, and the municipality in question gets $150 per day per person to spend toward support, and we monitor where people might be clustering and offer them transportation support so they can go elsewhere if they want." Right?

But I sort of suspect that the U.S. government has no idea where pending-asylum people are, and that there is no federal funding stream that follows people around, growing larger as the number of people in the U.S. grows.

If Texas and Florida believe they are bearing an undue fraction of the burden, and they're wrong, then the federal government could point out how wrong they are, right?

And, indeed, this has not been the response at all. Nothing of the sort. Instead, Kamala Harris says, "the border is secure but we also have a broken immigration system, in particular over the last 4 years before we came in...". That seems totally non-responsive, and even counter-factual. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), said as much in a CNN Smerconish interview.

So maybe there's something to these stunts that can move the needle on a genuine response. It's the forest that matters...

R.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: This is a great objective and nuanced overview of our immigration "problem." And it's from The Bulwark? Did they hack your site and publish an entry for next week?

O.L. in Valley Forge, PA, writes: I'm increasingly frustrated that leaders on the left and right—and journalists as well—are failing to identify the true scope of so-called immigration issues on our southern border. It's really looking more like a refugee crisis with each passing day. Calling it what it really is might make a difference in terms of getting immigration policy rebooted in ways left and right can agree on.

The fact that rapidly growing numbers of Latin Americans are showing up on our southern borders seeking "asylum" is telling us something important. Using the word "asylum" to describe what's going on should be triggering a due diligence process for serious-minded Americans. Why are these human beings seeking asylum, what does asylum even mean, and what countries are they from?

It should come to no surprise to anyone that the exploited group of individuals who this week ended up on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts courtesy of Ron DeSantis (and Florida taxpayers) come from Venezuela. Venezuela is a failed state—or, at best, a failing one. Expect a lot more Venezuelans to try to seek asylum in the United States, not fewer.

As long as we're talking about failing states, we pretty much have to include Guatemala in that category. Guatemala is a country whose population has about tripled in the past 30 years. This jump is not a reflection of robust economic growth and job opportunity. To the contrary. It's a barometer of an encroaching chaos—courtesy of organized crime, the drug trade. and a collapsing social order. So, it follows that we should expect more, not fewer, Guatemalans seeking asylum in the States.

To be sure, all the humans seeking to enter the United States are immigrants—or aspiring immigrants, anyway. But a rapidly growing number of them—e.g., Venezuelans and Guatemalans—are also refugees who are literally running for their lives. That's why they're seeking asylum. If this flow of refugees expands to include big numbers from other countries in Central America and the region, Mexico could be destabilized. A destabilized Mexico would be akin to an encapsulated tumor metastasizing, unleashing dangers far and wide. We cannot let that happen.

Calling all this an immigration crisis might be accurate in a narrow sense. But it also seriously misses the mark. By some estimates, this is shaping up to be a massive refugee crisis, second only to the one on borders around Ukraine, notably the Polish-Ukrainian border. So, let's call this challenge what it is: namely, a refugee crisis.

Calling this a refugee crisis would create the appropriate political circumstances to potentially be able to address the challenge robustly and strategically. We need to collaborate with allies to address the problem. Perhaps the U.S. and Mexican militaries can work together to build and maintain refugee camps; perhaps this is an occasion to use U.N. peacekeeping forces; and perhaps Vice President Harris can build significant political capital by spearheading the sort of international effort that's required.

In any event, we need to think big, or at least bigger. To let the status quo continue and devolve into more reactivity and stupid political stunts is to flirt with a crisis that will have much bigger consequences.

B.B. in Detroit, MI, writes: Perhaps the sample size is too small to draw any conclusions about which Northern states and cities are targeted for the busing of immigrants north, but so far, at least, swing states have not been targeted. They have been sent to states whose electoral votes are locked in. It is perhaps ironic that in the swing state of Michigan, the city of Detroit might well benefit from an influx of immigrants, having lost so much population over the past several decades. But if Texas or Florida were to send busloads to Detroit, I would guess the reaction of voters overall would not be favorable to a candidate from Texas or Florida. And I think the same could be said of voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, etc...

P.D. in Charlottesville, VA, writes: E.F. in Baltimore opined that lying to migrants in the course of transporting them isn't a crime. I respectfully disagree. Knowingly deceiving a person in the course of transporting them may violate the Texas prohibition against unlawful restraint, which can be a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances.

Sec. 20.02 of the Texas penal code criminalizes unlawful restraint: "A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly restrains another person." Sec. 20.01 provides that "'restrain' means to restrict a person's movements without consent, so as to interfere substantially with the person's liberty, by moving the person from one place to another or by confining the person." (Emphasis added.) Moreover, it further provides that "restraint is 'without consent' if it is accomplished by ... force, intimidation, or deception[.]" (Emphasis added.) Unlawful restraint is generally a misdemeanor but may be a felony under certain circumstances (e.g., when the victim is a minor).

I'm not licensed to practice in Texas and unfamiliar with Texas case law concerning that statute, nor am I knowledgeable enough of the specific facts to opine on the exposure of those involved in this case. However, the statute clearly contemplates criminal penalties for transporting someone under false pretenses (even without force).

E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: Thanks for the midweek shoutout, I feel like I've been promoted to the big leagues!

While I'd be happy to see this stunt short-circuit Ron DeSantis' imminent presidential candidacy by making him a one-term governor, I expect he has a good sense of how it will play out among the Florida electorate as a wedge issue. Especially with his brand new goon squad of voter suppression police ready to put their fingers on the scale.

But in 7-dimensional chess news, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was extolling DeSantis' stunt this week, and calling for it to be doubled and redoubled in the coming days. Ted sees DeSantis as his rival for the nomination, and privately must have been gnashing his teeth over having been left on the sidelines. Or was he? Maybe Ted agrees with you, and is hoping DeSantis has just dug his own grave, and wants to encourage him to dig himself in just a little bit deeper.

F.C. in DeLand, FL, writes: I thought you might be interested in my (a Florida libertarian thus theoretically on the right) thoughts about the trip to Massachusetts. I posted this on FaceBook a couple days ago:

What's the difference between Abbott's and DeSantis' shipping of migrants to Democratic controlled areas up north?

I can think of several.

Fiscal prudence. Abbott is using charter buses while DeSantis is using charter airplanes.

Choice of destination. Abbott is shipping them to major cities, which should be able to absorb them, while DeSantis sent them to a location with no jobs and no facilities for the poor and homeless.

Local migrants. Abbott is shipping a small fraction of the migrants that Texas deals with while (apparently) there are so few migrants in Florida that DeSantis had to ship some in from Texas before continuing their journey onto Martha's Vinyard.

And I'm supposed to vote for a governor who uses taxpayer resources to fund a publicity stunt? (And then vote for this same clown for President?)


R.D. in Austin, TX, writes: As a long time reader of the site—it's my politics go-to above anything else—I note how the polls tend to swing back and forward in certain races and how certain polls show a high number of undecided voters. In particular, I'm thinking of the recent Utah poll that showed it as Sen. Mike Lee (R) 36%, Evan McMullin (I) 34%, which means 30% were undecided.

Bottom line folks, if you want to do all you can to make sure the Trump-loving duma is not elected, make sure you vote. Do so for every race—from Congress, to governor, to local schoolboard. Make sure your voter registration is updated and that your ID is current if you are in such a state. And finally, as someone who can't drive due to a disability, make sure anyone you know who feels the way you do—and who otherwise can't get to the polls because they can't drive, or who can't get their registration updated because they can't fill out a printed form due to blindness or other disabilities—gets help from you so that their voice can be heard. We who oppose the Trump agenda outnumber those who believe in it, and if all of us show up and vote, we will win. But if some of us sit at home because we don't think it matters, we and the world will lose.

D.W. in Fremont, CA, writes: I keep reading about concerns that the election polls could be inaccurate. Frankly, due to annoying telemarketer calls and caller ID, I never answer the phone unless I know who the caller is. Most of my friends are doing the same thing, and I suspect that a lot of other people are doing this too. This situation removes a sizable number of people from the polling data. How can a pollster possibly get accurate information, if so many people are refusing to participate in the polling? Would the subset of people who do answer their phones and do participate in the polling really reflect a good cross section of voters? Have the pollsters addressed this problem, or are they continuing to take polls as if this issue did not exist?

W.H. in Brookline, MA, writes: As an epidemiologist, I would like to offer a friendly amendment to the President's characterization of the end of the pandemic and your coverage of it in your Tuesday edition. Most likely, the pandemic is over and COVID-19 has transitioned to an endemic situation. While there is no strict definition, pandemics represent global (or widespread) infection and have high peaks of infection as well as troughs. Endemic diseases have a relatively constant level of infection. Endemics can have outbreaks of disease and vigilance and common sense approaches can prevent that. But the public health approaches of dealing with endemic diseases are different than pandemics, as we are experiencing. So we should be able to satisfy all parties by amending the President's comment to say that the pandemic phase of the virus is over and it has become endemic. We have to change our approach, but not pretend the virus is gone, or we will certainly have outbreaks.

The Democrats

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: Regarding your item "Predicting the 2024 Democratic Field," the bit I found interesting was that while Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) appears in the pundit and Predictit lists, he isn't registering in the polls. That tells me that he's not well-known (or not well-liked) by voters outside of California, which is something he's going to have to put some major work into if he's going to have a shot at the nomination.

J.L. in St. Joseph, MO, writes: You have done an excellent job pointing out ratfu**ing in many races. Some in the media have been critical of the Democrats for doing this and so have some leaders of the Party. The other day, it was Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Some in the media are having the attitude that it is wrong or unethical. But is it really that bad? In many cases now, the only difference between the moderate and the extreme is the extreme is direct about their intentions and the moderate has "concerns" but goes along anyway. Is it better politics to at least have the devil you know on the ballot to give people the choice? Especially when the moderate will follow the extreme stance in order to not be "primaried" in the upcoming election?

The Republicans

S.K. in Bethesda, MD, writes: I'm sure I won't be the only one to point this out, but the tactic of creating information overload by rapidly spouting out "facts" and arguments and theories so that the opponent cannot respond completely is called "The Spread" in modern debate. It is discussed in detail and explicitly linked to the tactics of Donald Trump and the conservative media in the novel The Topeka School by Ben Lerner.

J.E. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: On Monday you cited a Washington Post article that analyzed the Republican party's flagrant willingness to fraudulently cry voter fraud.

I think this article in The New York Times by David Leonhardt (published the day before) serves as an interesting sister-piece. It's a thoughtful study on the merging of two forces in American political culture: the Electoral College and shifting population patterns.

The basic conclusion is that the Electoral College historically wasn't much of a problem. For example, California voted for Republican and Democratic candidates an equal number of times between the Great Depression and 2000. However, over the past two decades of hyper-polarization, Americans have geographically sorted themselves by political identity into large metropolitan areas. The mechanics of the Electoral College are not equipped to handle this imbalance. The result: millions of "wasted" Democratic votes and "special privileges" to red states.

Both articles reminded me of a conversation I recently overheard with a retired man who's probably around 70. He said: "It's terrible what's happening. I grew up in Ohio. Ohio was good to me. That's where I was educated. That's where I met my wife and raised our kids. I moved to Long Island 20 years ago for a job offer. Today, I can't even speak to my relatives back home. They all say the election was rigged. They believe in all that QAnon crap. It's sad, just really sad."

It is really sad. For me, Ohio is the perfect example of the trending effects outlined in the Times article. As every reader knows, Ohio, still a state with a large blue population, has a deep-red state legislature with an artificially firm grip on power thanks to ruthless partisan gerrymandering. The problem is they can't create new jobs in professional sectors at the rate they want to because: (1) the legislature is in general completely out of whack with corporate culture; and (2) the young, smart, educated folks are moving out. Unlike the gentleman quoted above, Ohio isn't being good to them and it's not where they want to start living their young adult lives. Ohio's legislators are winning their battles, but they're losing their future.

Where the two articles merge for me is how the willingness of Republicans to disenfranchise progressives folds right in with all the other repugnant traits of modern conservatism—racism, homophobia, xenophobia and gun violence—just for starters. The very same issues that drive Democratic voters to climes more favorable to their values.

But my main takeaway from both articles is the seeming inevitability of it all. Shameless disenfranchisement of less conservative neighbors and family members will inspire people to move to places where their vote counts. After all, who wants to live where they're not wanted? The result over time could be a massive acceleration of the ongoing brain drain to the coasts. (I've lived in Brooklyn for 18 years and never before have I heard so many Southern and Southwestern accents).

I fear that as this trend continues, blue states, while home to the majority of Americans, will find themselves beholden to a federal government that's wholly representative of a (mostly rural white) minority—one that is morally, ethically and culturally divergent from majority interest—and a Supreme Court that's even more off the rails than the current one. Federal laws will pass that are repugnant and even dangerous to metropolitan dwellers, and this in turn will stoke anger and resentment. Meanwhile, red states will find themselves more and more "canceled." Resentment and grievance will have no bounds.

I've already experienced this frustration surface with myself. My wife suggested we go to the Florida Keys, since we've never been. My response was, "Huh? I'm not spending my money in a red state!"

It's no way to live in a Democracy.

Trump Legal Matters

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I know you have readers who don't want to hear any more about Donald Trump, but from my perspective as an attorney, it's less about him and more about whether our justice system can handle this unprecedented attack on our democracy by a former president. The jury is obviously still out, no pun intended, since nothing has been resolved, but I'm at least encouraged that the various levels of law enforcement are taking steps to investigate his wrongdoing. It must be an enormous undertaking that is exhausting a lot of resources, but it has to be done. And as tired of him as we are, we still have to pay attention. People like him count on being able to wear us down. Resist. He has lost his latest fight, thanks to two judges he appointed, who made it clear that, while their ruling was a narrow one, they are equally unimpressed with his general privilege claims.

I believe in our justice system and so I will continue to cheer on the folks who understand the importance of holding the powerful accountable.

D.C. in Columbia, SC, writes: My firm belief is that the lawyers representing Donald Trump in the Mar-a-Lago documents case have absolutely no idea what paperwork the FBI took from the property on August 8. I don't believe Team Trump has ever had an inventory of what was originally taken in January 2021, much less an ongoing tally of what was returned prior to August 8 this year. If Judge Raymond Dearie was of a mind to humiliate Team Trump legally, he would require them to produce an inventory. Since Trump's lawyers have the same idea of the documents recovered on August 8th that I do, I predict that their reply to the Court will be along the lines of "we have no cause to dispute The Government's inventory at this time."

J.L. in Paterson, NJ, writes: Your response to L.S. in Greensboro about judges is essentially correct, but I want to quibble with your reference to a judge "prov[ing] to be problematic once things get underway" as a basis for recusal. Litigants are notorious for believing (often fervently) that "this judge is obviously biased because he or she just ruled against me on something." That doesn't fly. Only very occasionally will an appellate court couple a reversal of a judge's ruling with a directive that the case be reassigned. Recusal is far more commonly based on a pre-existing conflict of interest, such as a judge's ownership of stock in a company that's a party. Furthermore, as you point out, the courts must discourage venue-shopping, so a mere advance indication of a judge's probable lean is not enough.

A current example: I sometimes look in on an avidly pro-Trump message board. When Judge Donald Middlebrooks dismissed Donald Trump's lawsuit against Hillary Clinton and numerous other defendants earlier this month, the Trump partisans thought that Middlebrooks should not have heard the case because he had been appointed to the bench by Bill Clinton. On the other hand, they have no problem with Judge Aileen Cannon hearing a case involving Trump, who appointed her. This example involves Trump supporters, but many people on the left are also inclined to apply a double standard to recusal issues.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: You mentioned that Critton Luttier Coleman LLC received $3 million from a Donald Trump PAC, but that no one was discussing why. The firm is based in West Palm Beach, Florida, near to Mar-a-lago. According to the website, Critton is deceased. Coleman specializes in complex commercial litigation, personal injury and wrongful death. I suppose Trump could have hired him to assist Alina Habba with the civil litigation in New York, but for Chris Kise-level money? Seems high. That leaves Luttier, whose specialty is "Marital & Family Law" Why might Trump need a Palm Beach County lawyer expert in marital law? I Really Don't Care, Do U?

S.H. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: A happy thought for the first day of autumn: Donald Trump may believe that "Winter is coming," but given this week's events, he should realize he will first need to experience a fall. How appropriate...

J.T. in Orlando, FL, writes: I commute through one of America's blighted, forgotten small towns on my way to work, and regularly pass by Nordic Gun & Pawn. (I'm sure they thought that was a tasteful compromise for Aryan Gun & Pawn. But why not just let it all hang out?) Like many gun shops, they have bars over the windows, and for years they've had a Trump campaign sign hanging in the window behind those bars. I always chuckle at the irony, or the shop's lack of awareness thereof. So many times I've thought of sending in a photo of it to the E-V mailbag, but then I talk myself out of it, thinking that many gun shops have barred windows, and many of them must have Trump signs, so it isn't worth submitting. But then just the other day they added a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump. It was just too much, and I just couldn't help myself:

It looks like Trump is in prison

To Trump or Not to Trump? That Is the Question

L.S. in Black Mountain, NC, writes: A number of readers/writers have complained about the almost-daily stories on about The Former Guy, and (V) and (Z) have said they would love for the site to be free of such stories, but they are obligated to report on the politics involved. I suggest that the reason many of us are semi-obsessed with these stories is the same as with any soap opera or murder mystery—we want to know what happens next, and we want to see the bad guy get what's coming to him. If and when that finally happens, it will be like reading the last page and closing the book—both satisfying and disappointing.

K.H. in Corning, NY, writes: N.G. in New Orleans lamented the way Donald Trump still sullies our daily news, even when a site only includes him as necessity.

While reading N.G.'s note and your reply, I thought about whether having any Trump news be at the bottom of the day's post would help. That way, as soon as you see Trump's name in the headline, you could perform self care and switch immediately to the Senate Tipping Point page to avoid the trigger.

Comment is mostly in jest, but even while I read the updates, I completely understand the fatigue with reading about that person, and so pondered ways of doing necessary news with an off-ramp.

(Side note: I have been laughing inwardly when readers abbreviate him as "The Former Guy," or TFG. I know it started as that, but the audio in my head now plays a voice that says, with derision and disgust, "That F**king Guy." A small pablum against the constant irritant.)

G.O. in New York City, NY, writes: Since you started the freudenfreude segment on Fridays, to finish the week on a more positive note, I have just jumped to read the freudenfreude post first and then skip backwards to end my week with some satisfying schadenfreude. I wonder if it's just me, or if I am not alone in delighting in the comeuppance more than the uplifting.

R.C. in Des Moines, IA, writes: I don't know how anybody can say that Donald Trump "is just superfluous at this time". Yes, he floods the field with sh** on a daily basis. But part of why he does this is to get people who don't pay close attention to consider him "superfluous" so he can get away with all the nefarious misdeeds he has attempted since he was inaugurated. Trump still holds significant sway with the Republican Party—as evidenced every day that so-called traditional Republicans cower in fear of him and his rabid fans. Brushing him off as "superfluous at this time" is why a man like him attains power and why he would eventually bring American democracy to an end. Superfluous? Anything but.

The Amazing Trumpskin (Kreskrump?)

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I have to confess that this week I've been carrying around in my mind a humorous scene where Orange Jesus is psychically sending forth the command: "Declassify." To which Joe Biden responds with his own psychic blast: "Classified." That unbeknownst to us all that for the past two years there has been a psychic battle on a cosmic scale which looks something like this, showing Biden's side of the battle:

Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier from the X-Men

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: If Donald Trump really possessed telekinesis, his golf game would be better.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: Oooo, oooo. Contest time! Name the things that Donald "Only I can fix it!" Trump can do just by thinking:

I can keep going, but I want to save room for everyone's else's responses.

Licensed to Shill, Part II

B.A.R. in South Bend, IN, writes: Which Bond villain is TFG? What a fun question! I cast my vote for Le Chiffre from the Daniel Craig-led Casino Royale. This is for two reasons:

  1. Just as Le Chiffre had a 'tell' in poker, Trump also has a tell. His is when he tells a story about someone who always starts off by calling him 'sir.' Whenever he drops that 'sir,' you know it's a fictional story of fealty created in his strange mind.

  2. Just as Le Chiffre enjoyed his torture moment with a naked Bond strapped to a chair, Trump seems to relish his torture of those he considers underlings (which appears to be everyone). While I can't confirm this, I suspect that during that odd Cabinet meeting when he went around the room garnering over-the-top praise and obeisance from all his loyalists, the bottoms of all the chairs of the Cabinet members were cut out. Many people are saying so.

P.N. in Austin, TX , writes: Trump is Pussy Galore for one reason and one reason only... It's the name that would most upset him and his supporters.

J.M.C. in Portland, OR, writes: As a lifelong fan of the Bond movies (and original books, though I now feel that both are very problematic as far as stereotypes) I have been thinking over your question of which Bond villain Trump is most like.

I feel like the easy answer is Auric Goldfinger from the movie Goldfinger. Blow away hair, has his own golf course, pays women to spend time with him. Fat Bastard seems to be largely based off of the appearance of Goldfinger. But there is also Max Zorin from A View To A kill, played by Christopher Walken. He also has the wispy blond hair and like Trump is fine with causing half of California to be destroyed to get what he wants. This one is set in the 1980s, which means Zorin even looks like what Trump did in that timeframe.

What I love about this is that Goldfinger and A View To A Kill are basically the same plot, with different window dressings. Both villains also have badass henchmen—or, in Zorin's case, henchwoman.

But the truth is, Trump is not like any of the Bond villains other than the fact that he is also cartoonishly evil. Even the most poorly written of the Bond villains is written and portrayed as very intelligent, mostly wealthy based on their own skills, and often times with a high degree of mastery in some field, such as Oceanography for Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me. The only major flaw for all Bond villains is that they give away their entire plan and then walk away without finishing the job. And I never felt that this was their fault. It is clearly the fault of lazy writers who prefer a monologue rather than having to write a well-crafted scene where Bond does actual spycraft and figures it out for himself. In my opinion, Trump can only wish he was as impressive as a Bond villain. He is more like the Queen of Hearts from Alice In Wonderland. Inherited wealth and prestige, surrounded by sycophants, flies into rages and threatens enemies with death for little to no reason. Also, they both have ridiculous hair.

I.O. in Boulder, CO, writes: I was not able to think of a good example within the Bond canon. Those villains tend to be cartoonish, yet a bit too smart and serious. If the question could be expanded into the Batman world (the one from the sixties) then I'd go with The Penguin.

J.W.N. in Walnut Creek, CA, writes: The SPECTRE of a possible Trump return to office is scarier than any Bond villain I could think of. He stole so many documents marked For Your Eyes Only that perhaps his only escape is to drag his son Baron Samedi and the rest of his goon-brood back to the Whyte House. Or maybe his tiny Goldfingers are getting restless in retirement, and he feels as President he'll have more opportunities to grab his female admirers by the Octopussy. After all, it's obvious he's not getting Pussy Galore from Melania anymore. In the general election, his pal Putin would certainly send him some help, From Russia With Love, but fortunately I think any opponent would beat the Living Daylights out of him; he'd have better luck with his next business venture, Casino Royale with Cheese.

All Politics Is Local

J.N. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: You asked about the presumed rightward shift in the Nevada senate race. There are several local factors that are having an impact:

  1. The breakdown of the Democratic machine: Harry Reid built a political machine that harnessed the power of the two big Vegas unions—the Culinary Union and the Service Employees International Union (CU and SEIU). Among other things, the unions' political arm would provide hundreds of precinct walkers who would (somewhat annoyingly) knock on my door 4-5 times per week up until Election Day. The problem is that there is a break between the membership of these unions and the leadership, with the members increasingly leaning more toward the Sanders/AOC wing of the party, and the leadership in the more traditional wing. This conflict has been exasperated by...

  2. The takeover of the state party by Democratic Socialists: The party leadership was ousted by the DSA, causing the party to transfer much of their funds to the national party prior to the swearing in of the new leadership. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D), along with several other prominent Democrats, said at the time she would run her campaign independently. I don't know if they have mended fences yet, but even in the best-case scenario there are some real breaks between the current party leadership and the current party representatives in Congress and state government. On the activist level, this is exacerbated by the tensions from the 2016 state convention where things got out of hand and was followed by some pretty vile rhetoric directed at Roberta Lange (currently a state Senator, she was the state chair of the party at the time). A lot of this tension still lingers.

  3. The pandemic hit Nevada hard: Two-thirds of the state population is in the greater Vegas area and our main economic driver is tourism. The casinos voluntarily shut down shortly before the state government issued quarantine orders, and we stayed in quarantine for longer than many other states. We also had a mandatory mask order long after the quarantine lifted. This came from a state government dominated by Democrats and, as you're aware, these sorts of orders are not politically popular, particularly among a certain segment of the population.

All that said, many of the same tensions exist on the right as well. There was a concerted effort by the Proud Boys to take over the state party apparatus for the GOP, the rural counties are dominated by MAGA politics, and we have multiple election deniers on the ballot. The traditional Republican base in Nevada leans toward the libertarian parts of the Party platform and isn't thrilled about Trump. And the state is notoriously difficult to poll, in part because we have a highly transitory population. At this point in the cycle most political prognostication is a crapshoot, and I would argue that is doubly true here. If I were forced to offer a prediction, I would say Cortez Masto will win by 2-3 points, but I wouldn't put any money on it.

S.C-M. in Scottsdale, AZ, writes: Wow! It is quite the feat for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to be disliked by every polling crosstab. I wonder if this will be used as an example of what not to do politically in a swingy state like Arizona.

L.D. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: You wrote: "Having a nutcake run Wyoming elections doesn't actually matter since no Democrat could ever win anything there, even in a fair election, but Arizona is a swing state."

I disagree. Why? Because things change. Arizona has only recently become a swing state. If Arizona had installed a "nutcake" to run its elections back when it was comfortably red, it would not now be a swing state. Or, at least, it wouldn't matter, because it would still be in the bag for the GOP. The same is even true of California, if you go back far enough.

If red states can put into place the mechanism to permanently remain red states, no matter what, then it becomes just a matter of time until the shifting electorate of the remaining states allow them to lock in a national majority, at which point democracy ends. It may appear, now, that only swing states' election-related positions are important to staff with objective candidates, but that is only true in the short term. In the long term, corrupt election officials anywhere are a poison.

International Affairs

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, writes: I read your comments about Alternative für Deutschland this week. I agree this party is full of d**ks. Not only are they xenophobic and authoritarian, they are unabashedly pro-Russia. Along with Hungary's ruling Fidesz party, they are probably the most pro-Russian political party in the European Union today.

In fact, five AfD politicians are going on a "solidarity" tour in Russia and the Russian-occupied regions of Eastern Ukraine right now. They claim to be going to see what the humanitarian situation is like, but the politicians have expressed admiration for Putin and they frequently talk about strengthening ties with Russia. They are traveling there with the full protection of Russia's secret service. I am sure they are well aware that the Putin government will use their visit as a propaganda tool to give his regime and his attack on Ukraine legitimacy in Russia. Russian state media will frame the visit as "proof" that their actions have European backing and that the situation in Ukraine is not so bad.

The party is an utter disgrace, and it's particularly disturbing considering what region of the world they come from. Russia has a recent history of forcing people of the Baltic Sea region to live under its repressive rule. Maybe the AfD should visit the people of East Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and ask them what they think about Russian influence and leadership in the region. I'm sure they will hear a lot of bad memories.

J.I. in Drexel Hill, PA, writes: Ich habe gesehen, was du getan hast!

You wrote: "AfD leadership thought they might put a kinder, gentler face on the party, and might make some inroads with the kiddies, if they commissioned some gummy candies inspired by the party logo."

That was clever, using both German and English words for children in the same sentence!

V & Z respond: We always wonder if people will pick up on more subtle wordplay like that.

It's the Economy, Stupid

S.K. in Bethesda, MD, writes: It's hard not to take the bait from J.K. in Short Hills. There are so many things wrong with J.K.'s analysis that it's hard to pick from among them. J.K. refers to the study from the San Francisco Fed (which J.K. mystifyingly refers to as the "think tank" for the central bank—as an economist working in this community, I can say that I have never heard anyone refer to the SF Fed as the "think tank" for the system, and it is not generally considered among the top research organizations in the Fed system—except perhaps as regards International Trade in the Asia-Pac region). J.K. pulls a 3% number from their March 2022 report—but that number refers to the American Rescue Plan (ARP) impact in 2021, and the report goes on to say that this is based on limited data and may be an overstatement. It also goes on to say "without these spending measures, the economy might have tipped into outright deflation and slower economic growth, the consequences of which would have been harder to manage." That doesn't sound like they think the spending was "irresponsible".

More recent analysis by other Fed analysts, and many other non-partisan economists, places the current impact of the ARP at something between .1% and 2%—which leaves a whole lot of inflation to be explained by other things. In addition, if the ARP is, as J.K. says, "in large part" responsible for inflation, they'll have to explain to me and the rest of the Econ 101 students they refers to why inflation is also high in the rest of the world. I'm pretty confident that the Econ 101 students would look to supply-chain impacts of the COVID pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They might also agree that the ARP—and the several trillion dollars of previous stimulus during the Trump administration—might have contributed. What they might not fully understand—and what J.K. seems to completely miss—is that a large part of the current and near-future dynamic has to do with housing costs (which are about a third of CPI). And since this is the area I actually know best, I can assure you that the ARP's impact on housing costs is immaterial—overwhelmed by issues related to historically low supply, shifts in demand driven by pandemic impacts (particularly the ability to work from home), demographic trends (millennials and Gen Z need homes and the boomers aren't vacating them yet) and the long period of low interest rates.

Since housing costs work their way into the inflation calculation slowly (it's very complicated and has to do with the fact that housing costs are based on an estimate of how much it would cost to rent a home, and rents only increase when leases turn over, which they do slowly over an extended period, leading to large lags) and housing costs have risen sharply in the last 2 years, they will continue to drive consumer prices for some additional time, even as other costs have flattened or reduced (oddly enough—that SF Fed report also addresses this!). Rising interest rates have already stopped the increase in housing costs on a spot basis (home prices are declining slightly, rents have stabilized), but since they are still higher than a year ago, they will still contribute to inflation for at least a few more months. But they will stabilize some time in the next 6 months (depending on how quickly home prices drop). This will be a major driver of changes in inflation—and it has nothing to do with ARP.

I won't pretend to know how all this will turn out (for instance, if the war in Ukraine magically ended tomorrow, there is a pretty decent chance that there would not be a recession in 2023-2024). And there is no doubt that the Fed and most economists underestimated the inflationary impacts of the pandemic, and possibly of the Trump and Biden administration stimulus packages. And the packages were not particularly well targeted or administered. But they likely prevented a catastrophic economic situation and at worst are a marginal contributor to inflation today.

K.F.K. in CleElum, WA, writes: You wrote that while gas prices are in people's faces most days of the week, housing prices are not. This seems reasonable on the surface, but in my rural Washington state county it is not true. Our experience may be somewhat unique but I am not certain. When my daughter bought a rowhouse in Baltimore, the interest rates were low but the competition was insane, as was true when we recently sold a house in Minneapolis. In Baltimore, Minneapolis and Kittitas County, it has been a seller's market for quite a while, with many would-be first time home buyers struggling to find and make a purchase. Rents are sky-high in Minneapolis and here in Kittitas county, making it hard for service-industry-type jobs to pay enough to afford housing.

Kittitas county is experiencing an explosion of new luxury homes being planned and built. This is likely due to the beauty of the mountains, the slightly over an hour commute to Seattle, and the ability to work remotely. It is a very red county and this boom, plus a scarcity of rentals and affordable housing, is on everybody's minds most of the time. The blame often goes to west side developers who want to get rich off our natural beauty by spoiling it, and liberals who want to move here, change the county's values, and strain our already strained infrastructure. Now, if housing were cheap and the roads weren't clogged with west side visitors looking for alternate routes back to Seattle every weekend would people vote blue? It's not likely, but nevertheless housing is clearly an issue here, and is likely to stay front and center for many upcoming election cycles.

A.B. in Chesapeake, VA, writes: With the greatest respect for you and what you do, I am writing again about your statement that $5.02/gallon was the "highest average price in American history." This is a war and you guys are a weapon in the war, whether you choose to be or not. It would be so simple to add "adjusted for inflation, the highest price was in 2008 under Republican president George Bush—$4.11, which is $5.70 today." Since the MAGAts will use all information to attack, they will use this. The "adjusted for inflation" addition to your analysis takes away the attack.

D.W. in Evans City, PA, writes: In the item "Powell Makes His Move," you wrote: "If T-bills start paying 3-3.5%, some money is bound to flow into T-bills and Treasury bonds and out of the stock market."

According to, the rate over one year is 4.03%. The interest rate for a series I bond bought until the end of October is 9.62%. That rate will adjust at the beginning of November, but given that it is tied to inflation, I wouldn't expect it to change much.

As for people investing in bonds over the stock market, I have already done that. I am not putting any more money into stocks. I am buying bonds instead. In sum, I believe what you suggest as a possibility is already happening.

The Great American Novel, Part VIII: Blood Meridian

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: I'm not enough of a reader to weigh in on the "Great American Novel" suggestion list, but I was disappointed that no one has mentioned Cormac McCarthy. He's been called the American Shakespeare. Blood Meridian is part lyrical poetry, part gritty Tarantino western. And a close look at the brutality of a formative event in U.S. history (the Mexican-American War).

N.P. in Ames, IA, writes: Blood Meridian. This Cormac McCarthy novel takes a deep bite into the establishment of America and its push west for Manifest Destiny. It shows the raw ambition, greed, and cruelty that helped America exploit the value of this land. I don't think it sugar-coats the bad balanced with good like values of the Joad family or the inherent humaneness seen by some characters in Huckleberry Finn. It doesn't suggest America has always been that "Shining City on the Hill" at its core. It is a cautionary tale much like 1984 or A Brave New World, with lessons about mindless violence that obviously resonate today.

It is also based on a ton of historical research (see Notes on Blood Meridian, a PhD thesis, also an exceptional read).

P.J.T. in Raton, NM, writes: I'm always suspicious of "greatest" lists and declarations, and much prefer the word "favorite," for its implicit acknowledgment that such opinions are subjective. But honestly, I can't choose. My mind went immediately to two novels that are linked, as I have always believed that Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea was his literary answer to Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (as I also believe that Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It is his answer to both Melville and Hemingway). These two novels, to me, tower over most American literature. Melville is masterful in his psychological insight (this novel is nearly 50 years ahead of Freud and more than 60 ahead of Jung), and his portrait of Captain Ahab stands alongside Oedipus, Don Quixote and Captain Michalis (from Nikos Kazantzakis's Freedom or Death) as the most poignant portraits ever written. Ahab doesn't even appear until one-third of the way through the novel, but our expectations of his character have, by then, been so well cultivated and have so well germinated in our thoughts that the reader shudders when the Captain's wooden leg finally thumps on the Pequod's wooden deck. Hemingway's Santiago, on the other hand, is a simple man, impoverished and desperate, who finally represents both the futility of supreme struggle and its nobility.

More contemporary works also come to mind, but are too recent for us to know their destiny in the years ahead. I will list them, without explanation, though, for fear of being too wordy: Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Toni Morrison's Beloved, Rikki Ducornet's The Fountains of Neptune, Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea novels, and Chickasaw novelist Linda Hogan's Power. And it would be a travesty for this discussion to neglect Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Don DeLillo's Underworld, Rikki Ducornet's Phosphor in Dreamland and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five or Cat's Cradle.


S.T. in Philadelphia, PA, writes: I was surprised not to see George W. Bush in your list of tattooed presidents. So a DKE brand on the buttocks doesn't count as a tattoo?

M.D.H. in Coralville, IA, writes: My late father was a merchant seaman on an ammunition ship during World War II, and later served in the U.S. Navy. He gave his Equator Crossing Certificate to my nephew. He had no tattoos. So it's possible that the presidents who served in the Navy during World War II didn't get tattoos: while they were common among sailors of that era, they weren't universal.

Gallimaufry: Video Games Edition

P.L. in Santa Barbara, CA, writes: I've been reading your site for a couple of decades now, but never felt I had anything to add to the discussions. However, after reading (Z)'s comment about spending most of his time playing Civilization, I just had to pass this on.

I'm a member of our city's pro-am chorus (another name for "really tough auditions to get in") and really fell in love with the music of Christopher Tin for Civ IV when we performed it a few years back. Specifically, "Sogno Di Volare" and "Baba Yetu." There are great performances of his music on YouTube from all around the world.

During lockdown, we held weekly Zoom meetings with various people that are important to choral music, including a whole 2-hour session with Chris! It was really great hearing what interests him, where he gets inspiration and what's he's got in the works, including more games. (Hint: There was a Quasar telescope behind him.)

C.W. in Myrtle Beach, SC, writes: I love Civilization as well.

Civ III in particular. Every Independence Day, I play a whole campaign as George Washington, and every time I accomplish something in my business I use the Ozymandias quote "Look upon my works ye mighty and despair" (I know that's not a quote that originates from Civ, but it works better in Leonard Nimoy's voice.)

P.M. in Palm Springs, CA, writes: I was amused to see that (Z) was a fan of "Red Dead Redemption." My son was a lead programmer of that game and one of the original developers of "Red Dead Revolver." Although he is not a political junkie like I am, your site is about the only one he trusts and visits daily. Mutual respect, there.

V & Z respond: Thanks to him for his work on a great game!

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