Dem 51
image description
GOP 49
image description

Sunday Mailbag

We may start a new sub-feature today. Read to the end for more details.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: Living as I do in the "Tucky" part of Pennsyltucky, I overhear a lot from the MAGA crowd what their thoughts are regarding the 2024 presidential election. Yes, they will occasionally sigh and state that Donald Trump has been damaged and that the 4 years of his presidency were exhausting. But after they say all that, they turn to TFG and say, in a perverse parody of Brokeback Mountain, "I just can't quit you!" Their dream is that he will run again and win.

When someone mentions Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) they all express their admiration, but their hope is that DeSantis will run as Trump's VP. It's usually at this point that I give away that I've been eavesdropping by letting out a stifled giggle. Occasionally, one of the MAGA crew will ask why I found their dream team so funny. I try to explain that Trump and DeSantis hate each other with a white-hot passion. But the MAGA believers think they're the best of buddies. I reply if those two were the Republican nominees for 2024 then I would expect a fight to break out on the convention stage that will make the Honey Badger fighting for a snack look tame! "Honey Badger don't care. Honey badger nasty!" Not sure which one would be the Honey Badger and which one the cobra but I would pay good money to watch it.

S.S. in Lucerne, Switzerland, writes: It seems to me Ron DeSantis has a bit of bad luck with his name and current events. If he just lies once, Trump can do one better than Lyin' Ted and call the Governor "Ron DeSantos."

A.B. in Chesapeake, VA, writes: Your item on Reaganism brought to mind Jack Balkin's book The Cycles of Constitutional Time, where he discusses the four one-term disjunctive presidents: John Quincy Adams leading to the Jacksonian era, James Buchanan leading to Republicanism, Herbert Hoover leading to FDR and the New Deal Democrats, and Jimmy Carter leading to Reaganism. Balkin postulates the possibility of Trump being disjunctive, leading to the end of Reaganism, but what next?

The horrible possibility exists that Trump gets the 2024 nomination and goes on to win the general by destroying the norms of the popular vote and the Electoral College selecting the President. He does this by cheating and sending the election to the House, where "Republicans" choose Trump 26 to 24 (each state getting one vote). Being elected to a second term would place Trump in the position of being the next reconstructive president, where Trumpism (i.e., governing by corruption) is the next and final cycle of the American presidency.

I know it is dark, but it is possible. I think Trump would be the easiest Republican for the Democrats to beat in 2024 but dare we take the chance?

Politics: Loyalty Oaths

D.W. in Evans City, PA, writes: I read your item concerning the RNC loyalty pledge and would like to propose an alternate theory. I do not believe Ronna Romney McDaniel is delusional or attempting to cover herself. I do not believe the pledge is aimed at candidates like Ron DeSantis. I also don't believe the pledge should be viewed in isolation. I think it is a small first step in the establishment's efforts to regain control of the Republican Party and return to something that can perhaps be described as regular order while giving any potential Donald Trump successors reason to pause. I anticipate that the RNC will take further steps—for example, requiring this pledge of state party chairs. That would allow them to label anyone who refuses as "working against the conservative agenda."

In sum, my theory is that this pledge is a first step, an attempt to get the ball rolling on the establishment's efforts to regain control of the Party.

D.S. in Havertown, PA, writes: So this theory may sound a little nutty at first, but keep reading. After all, "nutty" will be somewhat of a recurring theme here. Ronna McDaniel knows that few (if any) candidates will sign a loyalty pledge. I think she's trying to torpedo any debates. Why would the RNC chair try to eliminate a chance to showcase their "quality candidates" to the country? Why, candidate quality, of course!

The debates will be almost entirely based on some Unholy witches' brew (maybe with a little help from Christine O'Donnell) of: Who's the Trumpiest one of all, who will pass more draconian abortion bans the fastest, who will battle "wokeism" hardest, and who will deny the 2020 (and maybe some 2022) election results the loudest? McDaniel knows that turns off 70%-80% of the country and would make marvelous sound bites that will be played back on never ending loops through October. It's much easier to vote for generic Republican [X] as opposed to nutty Republican [Y], who said nutty things [Z, Q, U, K, and $%*@?!].

It's not a great plan, but the GOP hasn't had a lot of great plans lately. The only thing worse than their nutty plans have been their nutty candidates.

J.R. in San Francisco, CA, writes: From the moment the pledge surfaced, it has seemed to me that the goal is to keep Donald Trump off the debate stage. Trump would never sign the pledge, since doing so would be backing down from his refusal to say whether he will support a nominee other than himself. Backing down is something Trump (and Republicans generally) never, ever do.

To the impartial observer, such as myself, Trump may be a lousy debater, but the Republican debates are what carried the day for him in 2016. The base just eats up his playground antics.

Without Trump on the stage, people will begin to wonder whether he's actually running. (As an aside, I still haven't seen evidence that he's mounting an actual run this cycle.) If people wonder whether he's actually running, that may have the effect of siphoning off votes, the ultimate goal of the Republican establishment.

M.S. in Knoxville, TN, writes: Perhaps Ronna McDaniel is, at least in part, wanting to protect the Grand Old Party against people who might run for president, but might not endorse Donald Trump if he is the nominee. Maybe Mike Pence, Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH), Chris Christie, or Larry Hogan. I don't know that these people, or others who might not want to endorse the Insurrectionist in Chief, will run, or the extent to which any of them might have difficulty being suitably obsequious to Trump if he were nominated. However, remembering the 2016 Republican convention, and Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) refusal to endorse the Donald, a loyalty oath would at least allow McDaniel to weed out anyone from speaking at the convention who had run and, after being subjected to Trump's lies and villification, was unwilling to endorse him in advance.

D.C. in Portland, OR, writes: There's no rationale or Xth-dimension chess at play here. The Republican Party is a vassal organization under Donald Trump's thumb, with Ronna McDaniel propped up at its helm, like the lead role in Weekend at Bernie's.

There is nothing she can do, except make pointless gestures like this.

The party is a runaway train of flaming dumpsters. Insisting that no one is allowed to get off is, frankly, hysterical.

Politics: Fox "News"

D.G. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I think your response to W.R. in Tyson's Corner concerning the potential damage to Fox assuming Dominion prevails was incomplete. While the direct damages sought are $1.6 billion, there are also the punitive damages that can be several times bigger, perhaps $10 billion or more.

Also, Smartmatic's case is even stronger than that of Dominion, since Smartmatic was a small player in the elections, limited to Los Angeles Country only, and could never be accused of throwing the election to Biden.

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, writes: In reply to your answer to W.R. in Tyson's Corner, I agree with you that a $1.6 billion judgment against Fox "News" for defamation would not be fatal to a company the size of Fox. $1.6 billion is a lot of money for any company to pay but it's clear to me that its viewers have been conditioned to believe anything the network says despite a court judgment against it. There is no logic behind their fandom; they like having a TV network that reinforces their existing belief system, similar to how many religious groups operate. Fox "News" has an almost cult-like fanbase, and it's not uncommon for retired Baby Boomers to spend 6-8 hours per day watching it. They won't accept any information unless it comes from Fox.

I have long been a critic of Fox, and I think its influence on the U.S. political culture has been toxic since the early 2000s. In fact, I've seen many people from other democratic countries visiting the U.S. who see it for the first time and almost always express shock and confusion that the network exists at all. No other democratic countries have 24-hour TV stations which operate as a mouthpiece for political leaders.

With this being said, however, I think there is a benefit for the Biden Administration and other Democratic presidents to continue giving Fox a seat at the table. They can use the network as a foil. The Fox trials will probably be the second most explosive trials of the decade after the trials of Donald Trump and his accomplices. The trials will show incontrovertible proof that Fox is owned and managed by dishonest people. Having Fox as a foil to push back against is a good communications strategy that the Biden administration should use. They can push back against Fox's proven dishonesty and make themselves look like the more respectable and believable people in the room.

Both of you were very critical of Donald Trump's communications during his presidency but I think one thing he was very good at was using the press as a foil for his administration, especially when he was talking to female reporters from minority groups. He understood that many people in his base share his disdain for minorities and they wanted to see him sticking it to them. See, for example, this clip from 2020. CBS reporter Weijia Jiang asked Trump if the level of COVID-19 testing was adequate, since the U.S. still had a high death rate from the virus at the time. I thought it was a fair question, but he went on a tirade against her and told he she should be talking to China instead. This kind of behavior brought Trump a lot of attention on right-wing blogs and media.

D.J. in Denver, CO, writes: In response to the question from O.Z.H. in Dubai, I've been watching to see if anyone on the right even noticed that, in private, the Fox personalities hold their audience in contempt.

I had been under the assumption that one of the legion of grifters would eventually see something to gain by going directly after Fox. It had been a whole lot of nothing, and even some people claiming that it's a smear campaign, but then this came across my desk yesterday: "Bannon [at CPAC] goes after Fox: They don't respect you, read the depositions."

This might light the fire. If right-wingers start chatting about Fox in conspiracy-theory terms ("The deep state has been playing us all along, down with Fox, all hail Q!"), it could be all over for them.

G.A. in Albany, NY, writes: In your latest item on the Dominion filings, you wrote: "The person who worked hardest to try to get Fox and its personalities to accept the truth? Hold on to your hats, because there's no way you could see this coming. It's former speaker and current Fox contributor Paul Ryan. That's right, Paul Ryan—Defender of Democracy."

If I might amend that title, that's Paul Ryan—Defender of Democracy and Fox Corporation board member who could possibly be sued for breach of fiduciary duties.

Politics: Other Media

L.E. in Santa Barbara, CA, writes: In response to the question from R.C. in Des Moines about reading comments prior the actual article, I must confess that I, like K.C. in West Islip, often do exactly that. Having been taught several speed-reading techniques, this is simply another tool I use to quickly read, comprehend, and evaluate an article.

Often, the article's title looks too "click-baity" or is vague, and I don't want to waste my time reading drivel or inaccurate, heavily biased writings. Thus, a quick scan of the comments, then reading the first and last paragraphs, gives me a better sense of whether or not the article is worth my time. (In some instances, I am familiar enough with the regular commenters so that I can gauge from their reactions how over-the-top the article's author is or isn't.) In reality, many times commenters imbed links to additional articles that will greatly expand my ability to find out more about the specific topic or issue. (I find this especially helpful when reading articles related to foreign policy and world politics.) And it's super easy to quickly scroll by those "nonsense" comments.

D.R. in Ewing, NJ, writes: Maybe The Washington Post can't find them, but if you mean non-propagandist right wingers, The New York Times just added David French to Bret Stephens and Ross Douthat.

Politics: Political Science

J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, writes: I disagree with M.B. in Boulder. The WIV lab leak isn't a conspiracy theory—it's an idea supported by evidence, including the FBI's "moderate confidence" assessment that it is the most likely origin.

Unfortunately, the scientific support for this possibility has gotten wrapped up in actual conspiracy theories of this being a purposeful release and anti-Chinese bigotry—when there is indeed a good deal of evidence to support the idea of an accidental release from Gain of Function research in a lab with shoddy procedures and poor oversight in a culture well known for covering up anything shameful that does not toe the literal party line.

J.P. in Folsom, CA, writes: I worked for three years for the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), which sits on the edge of the Hanford Site in Washington (one of the three Manhattan Project National Historical Parks, along with Oak Ridge and Los Alamos). If you asked myself and the scientists at the USDOE "What do you do?," the reply would be: The USDOE is the world's premier scientific institution.

In addition to the primary mission of safeguarding the U.S. nuclear program, the USDOE initiated the Human Genome Project, helped confirm the Higgs Boson with LIGO, and has countless inventions (see here for more). In reply to M.B. in Boulder, as well as to (V) & (Z), investigating the COVID-19 origins is well within the wheelhouse and expertise of the USDOE Office of Science to follow through on the White House's request to investigate COVID-19.

As an aside regarding former Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, I was at PNNL/Hanford for his visit after his confirmation as Secretary. The words that circulated through the hallways hours after the visit, when Perry realized what he was dealing with in the USDOE, was: "Oh, $h**!"

M.D.H. in Coralville, IA, writes: DoE has a far wider range of research than most people realize. Its National Labs have been doing biology research for decades, and the DoE plays a major role in Genomic Research. The Los Alamos National Lab, part of DoE, maintains very important virology databases. When I helped put multiple antiviral drugs on the market as a pharmaceutical industry researcher, I made frequent use of the HIV and Hepatitis-C virus databases at LANL.

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: In the item "DeSantis' New Book Gives Away His Platform," you discussed Ron DeSantis' desire to implement schedule F in the federal civil service. He has specifically called for "cleaning out" science agencies like the CDC, NIH, and FDA. According to DeSantis, science has a "woke" bias. Evidently, because of the "success" of DeSantis' COVID policy (good for business, not so much for human health and life), he intends to have all health and public safety decisions made based on business interests. I've been appalled by the politicizing of religion since the Reagan administration, but as a scientist I'm even more appalled that science is being increasingly politicized. Decisions that should be based on science have often been made based partly on political considerations. Now it seems that DeSantis would like to have science not even part of the decision.

A.L. in Highland Park, NJ, writes: You wrote: "Lyndon Johnson put the Johnson Space Center in Texas and NASA's main launch site at Cape Canaveral, Florida. An accident? We don't think so. Johnson was pretty good at politics."

Indeed he was. I was a postdoc at Fermilab, west of Chicago. I heard from the old timers that the Illinois site was a plum LBJ gave to Sen. Everett Dirksen for his help in getting the civil rights legislation passed. Originally, the Main Ring was designed as an upgrade to the Berkeley Bevatron (which discovered the antiproton). Dirksen did all right for his state; the area around the lab was basically farmland, but is now teeming with tech firms, and you cannot afford to buy a house in Naperville anymore.

Of course, this sort of thing works until it doesn't. The Superconducting Supercollider (SSC) was designed as an upgrade to the Fermilab Tevatron collider. But House Speaker Jim Wright, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, and President George H.W. Bush were all from Texas so, no surprise, it went to Waxahachie, TX. Until Wright resigned in disgrace, Bush Sr. lost reelection and Bentsen left the Senate. Suddenly Texas was clout-less and Bill Clinton axed the project. The tunnel is still there, though; people were trying to grow mushrooms in it.

R.R. in Nashville, TN, writes: I realize that the "bake-off" joke for what General receives priority for Space Force funding was one another of your great "zingers," and I liked it and laughed. Those zingers are one of the reasons I love your blog.

However, you may be closer to the truth than you realize. According to sources I have read, one of the reasons J. Robert Oppenheimer wanted to locate the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos was because there was a restaurant at the end of the Chile Line—between the Boys' School at Los Alamos and Santa Fe—where the woman who ran the restaurant made what he considered the most luscious chocolate cake anywhere.

He wanted to be able to have that cake (and yes, eat it too.) So even with the ultra-strict arrangements at Los Alamos, the restaurant was made part of the project. And it became one of the few places outside the fortress that many of the staff were allowed to go.

For better or worse, this is how an extraordinary baked product actually changed the world.

Politics: Education

P.B. in Gainesville, FL, writes: In answer to J.K. in Charleston, you basically wrote (if I may paraphrase) that the new laws being considered for control of curricula in Florida's State Universities would probably be ignored by professors, and in some cases, flouted outright. Maybe (Z) works in a state where this is true, the contracts and unions are strong, and the law is on the side of the faculty. But in my experience, Florida is nothing like that.

I was a faculty member of the University of Florida from 2008-18, so just over 10 years. What I found while I was there was a horrible attitude towards faculty by UF administration, and a consequent bunker mentality among the faculty from top to bottom, because the GOP-controlled state legislature had been attacking the rights of faculty during that whole time. By stacking the Boards of Trustees with political appointments, these attacks were transmitted down the food chain thoughout the administration, the various deans and colleges, the departments and units, and then to individual faculty, not just at UF but (from discussions I had with various colleagues over that time) all similar public universities in the State (e.g., Florida State, Florida Central, Florida Southern, etc.).

For example, there have been several attempts to de-register UFF (the United Faculty of Florida) over that time, only narrowly avoided on each occasion by having membership drives raise the enrollment in the union above the 50% threshold. As a result, the union is very weak, and very averse to conflict with the administration, unless the specific circumstances of a complaint are a slam dunk, in terms of a violation of the governing contract bargaining agreement (CBA). This happened to me one time, when the UF admin tried to deny a professional development Leave I had been duly awarded, but UFF was able to show that the administration were directly violating the CBA and my case would be appealed to the next higher body if they did not relent. Fortunately, this was probably small potatoes to them, so I got my PDL, but by that time I was so fed up with being exploited and abused (several instances of harrowing but non-actionable behavior by the Administration and other faculty) that I left.

Meanwhile (i.e., under Rick Scott's tenure as Governor—shudder!!), several attempts were already made to redefine science curricula in terms of principles that were motivated by religious thinking, but very thinly-disguised. I saw this process play out first-hand, and it failed only because it was run in a very ham-fisted way, and wound up falling on its face after a lot of "soft" pushback by faculty. But I want to underscore that we were all very afraid of this process, which for a time looked like it would be disastrous.

Indeed, surveys of the faculty at UF while I was there, taken every 3 years or so, show the result of this bunker mentality. Faculty sentiment was >50% negative about UF being a "good place to work" at the beginning of that period, and got progressively worse while I was there, to around 75% negative at the end. (And no, it wasn't just my presence!) Each time the survey came around, when asked a question along the lines of "Are you glad to be at UF, or would you rather be somewhere else?" those percentages would appear, with the most popular reason given for not leaving being "I'm tied to UF by family commitments." In other words, personal issues aside, most of the faculty at UF would have left in a heartbeat. I did leave, but am still in Florida for the same family reasons. I would be willing to bet bricks to London that there are a lot of faculty in Florida who are still in their bunkers, with no good options for leaving.

So when the governor and the legislature in FL are talking about fighting "wokeness" in public Florida universities, do not for a second mistake this for mere grandstanding. Your claim that there would be a mass uprising of faculty in Florida if such laws were passed and enforced made me (sorry to say!) laugh out loud. These bastards are serious about turning higher education in Florida into factories of mindless right-wing groupthink. And they will do it, too. You're lucky you don't live here.

Politics: Loans

A.L. in Woodmere, NY, writes: I read your item on forgiving loans during COVID and I would like to offer my perspective. You asked what the difference is between a college student who borrows for college and receives loan forgiveness versus a business owner who borrows to purchase a truck and receives loan forgiveness. In my opinion, there is a significant difference between the two. The college student is not necessarily forced to attend college and take out a loan. However, many businesses like mine were forced to close fully or partially due to government mandates during the pandemic. If the government mandates a business to shut down, they should be compensated for every penny lost during that time. While shutting down businesses may have been necessary for public health reasons, the public should bear the financial burden of such a decision, not the business owners alone. Therefore, forgiving loans for businesses that were forced to shut down due to COVID is not only fair, but necessary to ensure the survival of these businesses and the economy as a whole.

P.R. in Whitestone, NY, writes: This argument that small business loans are not forgiven, so why forgive student loans, is completely bogus. First, the interest on those business loans is entirely deductible from your income for tax purposes. Second, the principal for the loan is deductible over time as depreciation of an asset. So if you are in the 22% tax bracket, you are getting 22% of the principal of that truck/restaurant equipment/oil well "forgiven" every year, while student loans do not have that privilege.

It is fair to point out that this is a giveaway to student loan borrowers, but it doesn't come close to the mortgage deduction giveaway, the depreciation giveaway and all the other tax breaks handed out like candy to other constituents of this great nation.

Politics: Social Security

N.E. in San Mateo, CA, writes: (V) wrote: "The drive to get rid of Social Security comes from the big donors, who don't like paying FICA taxes."

I don't think that's correct: it would not make sense for big donors to care about the Social Security (OASDI) half of FICA taxes. For 2023 the cap is only about $160,000, and it doesn't touch investment income at all—only wage and self-employment income.

Big donors have at least two bigger, practical reasons to undermine Social Security; there are probably others that I'm missing:

  1. Privatization is seen as a huge windfall by some big donors—in some cases because it would provide a large pool of money that could be invested in equity markets, and in others because private entities would be able to collect fees on most of these investments.

  2. Some of them are likely concerned that when the projected trust fund exhausts, the response will be at least in part to raise taxes. This could hurt them a lot more than the current tax, either expanding the OASDI tax base in ways that would affect them, or by making up the difference out of income taxes.

The above are aside from plain old ideology, of course.

K.E. in Richmond, VA, writes: I am truly surprised you neglected to mention that Donald Trump most definitely broke his promise not to cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. His proposed 2020 budget essentially did all three.

According to a Vox article on this, Medicare cuts were to be recouped from "cost savings" due to reduced payments for both services and drugs; Medicaid was to eliminate all expansion and then be converted into block grants to the states, while Social Security was to see a $25 billion cut, including $10 billion from its disability insurance (SSDI) arm.

And of course, every single Republican "repeal and replace Obamacare" plan—all of which Trump most enthusiastically supported—proposed massive cuts to Medicaid in order to pay for tax cuts elsewhere.

You could argue that Trump's laziness about reading anything, and his ignorance of government (and even terminology), made it easy for others in his administration to put things in bills he might not have wanted. You can also argue that Medicaid was the least of his concerns, since he is too stupid to know that many of his own precious MAGA supporters are on Medicaid and/or need Medicaid as their supplement to Medicare, etc.

But the fact remains that he did endorse many proposals that would have cut the very programs he claimed to want to protect.

Politics: Democracy Inaction

G.W. in Framingham, MA, writes: You wrote: "Heck, because there is no requirement for membership in the Republican Party (in contrast to many European political parties), the RNC can't even drum a pledge violator out of the GOP."

More to the point, and the real difference between the U.S. and other countries when it comes to party membership, the parties have no control over who their members are. The membership of a political party in the U.S., at least in those states that have party registration, is only and exactly those people who have of their own free will registered to vote in the party's elections. The party apparatus, even the state party apparatus, has no choice over who its membership is, who gets to vote in its primaries, or (in some states) even who gets to run for city and state party committees.

Europeans (including plenty of people [V] knows, I'm sure) are frequently horrified by this, both that the party has no control over its membership and that the state keeps the membership roster.

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: On the possibility of taxing IRAs and 401(k)s, You wrote: "The reason this alternative is not on the table is that these programs strongly favor upper middle class and wealthy people and they are not keen on losing what is essentially a government subsidy."

In my opinion, a system in which a proposal that could benefit the middle class at the expense of rich people is not even discussed is a plutocracy. So maybe we should view the U.S. as a plutocracy and not a democracy.

G.A. in Berkeley, CA, writes: Polls have shown repeatedly that Americans collectively, and Democrats separately, do not want President Biden to run for reelection. They want to reelect Vice President Harris even less, and are concerned about her competence to preside if Biden is unable to finish a second term of office.

Biden knows all this, but is determined to run again—with Harris. No serious Democratic candidate will oppose them. He will be shoved triumphally through meaningless primaries, with the usual moneyed interests funding their moneyed interests, and Democratic politicians feigning enthusiasm. The duo will then be hailed and renominated at the usual balloon-and-confetti festooned convention.

In the general election next year, presidential voters will be forced, with distaste, to choose between replaying an undesirable, superannuated centrist Democrat and his unsteady sidekick; and risking the future with one or another dangerous, demagogic Republicans.

It's a funny kind of democracy.

R.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: It's telling that I now need a photo ID to vote, but not to make campaign contributions.

J.L.G. in Boston, MA, writes: Your staff theologian has been searching for Biblical references that relate to Christian nationalists' efforts to suppress votes. Perhaps she skipped over the early chapters in her haste; point her to the sentence found at Exodus 18:17.

Politics: Business in Front, Party in Back

M.S. in Las Vegas, NV , writes: Recently, you featured an item that included AI-generated images of the US Presidents. Today, I give you all the presidents... with mullets:

It's all the presidents,
from Washington through Biden, with sunglasses and mullet-style haircuts

Personally I think most of them look pretty good. Except Eisenhower; definitely not a good look for Ike.

(V) & (Z) respond: Well, and Harry S. Truman looks more like Sean Penn. Incidentally, if readers would like a closer look, you can see a larger version of the image here.

All Politics Is Local

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: I wanted to comment on your item about the new people moving into northern Idaho. I have a friend who lives in Spokane, WA, and we have discussed the changes in that part of Idaho over the last few years. While there is a history of white supremacists setting themselves up in rural parts of the state, most of the long-time residents are deeply conservative but traditional Republicans who are quite unhappy about the crazies who are moving into the area.

The ultra-Christian-nationalist types were not present in large numbers until politics sent a bunch of those people to Idaho in recent years. As elsewhere, they moving into the area are demanding that schools and libraries get rid of any book with rainbows or same-sex hand holding. Libraries are losing funding and schools are being told they must remove books they never even had—police were called to the last library board meeting in Post Falls. This issue has also spilled over across the border in Washington; a guy north of Spokane has had similar demands with the rural school districts there, to the ire of the long-time locals.

One danger of the crazies moving into the region is that everyone else will be damned by association; i.e., the traditional Republican types being viewed by others as the same or at the very least facilitating the nuts; when, in fact, they mostly stand opposed to them. But a much larger danger is those people being close to Spokane, which is a rather progressive city right next to them. As such, my friend is concerned about changes to the area.

P.M. in Palm Springs, CA, writes: You mentioned Alpine County, CA, in your segment on Idaho Christian Nationalists. I lived in nearby El Dorado County for almost 30 years and am somewhat familiar with that part of "red California," the Eastern California area of mountains and deserts. You noted the cannabis devotees that attempted to take over the county in the sixties but failed to do so. Also, in the sixties, LGBTQ advocates attempted to set up a "Stonewall Nation" in Alpine County in 1969, failing similarly.

On the other end of the spectrum, a far-right group called Posse Comitatus tried taking over the county in the seventies, also failing. With only about 1,300 citizens, the county seems a likely target, I guess. Now, although this is a red part of California it should be noted that the last time in a presidential election that the Republican candidate got over 50% of the vote was in 1988. John Kerry carried Alpine in 2004, and the Democratic candidate has carried Alpine ever since. About a fifth of the county's residents are Native American. I suspect that there are many environmentally conscious people there wanting to protect the area's natural beauty. Whatever the case, it's an example of "all politics are local." Although it isn't always.

T.I. in Oceanside, CA, writes: I have read that "Preppers," and some who expect the total destruction of civilization, are investing heavily in cryptocurrency (Bitcoin, etc.) as their funds for the future. Does this indicate a total lack of understanding of the underlying technology (blockchain) and its need for electricity and computers? If the "end" they expect comes, there won't be any cyber, much less crypto.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: As one who lives in North Carolina, I can assure you that it may not be 5-10 years before the state gets a nutter governor. Mark Robinson is in the wings right now. Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC) is term-limited. As much as I wish it were not so, this is still North Carolina, and a guy like Mark Robinson has a real chance to win here... even if he is Black.

Robinson is the sort of Black man Republicans are willing to vote for, because he is a hateful bigot.

L.O.-R. in San Francisco, CA, writes: Regarding "A Hotfood for Lightfoot": I think there is one national-scope (but limited) takeaway you can make about the Chicago mayoral election: Democrats are vulnerable on "law and order." That's not new. It's been the case for decades. I don't know enough about Chicago or New York politics, but in each case you see a strong minority of Democratic voters willing to support the traditional tough-on-crime candidate. Here in San Francisco, Mayor London Breed (D) has pivoted sharply in that direction over the past 2 years. It does nothing to actually reduce crime, but the jingoism is appealing. It's why we see the anti-democracy party ramping up this line of attack for 2024 and President Biden responding by cutting off D.C. home rule at the knees.

International Politics

B.H. in Greenbelt, MD, writes: Turnout in the Nigerian election was very, very low. The BBC states that turnout was 27% of those registered. By comparison, the U.S. turnout in 2020 was estimated as 64.8% (FEC) or 66.8% (Census Bureau); the FEC included some people in their estimate of the number of eligible people who are, in fact, not eliglble to vote (e.g., convicted felons).

Why the low turnout in Nigeria? According to the BBC, some of the result was due to "voting day problems in opposition strongholds, where election officials often arrived late—in some places 3½ hours after polls should have closed. This left many voters effectively disenfranchised. At some voting centers in opposition strongholds, voting did not take place at all.

An obvious conclusion is that mail-in voting would have increased participation quite a bit. Although a government that was late opening polling places in opposition areas could just as easily "lose" mailed ballots from those areas.

K.S. in Lafayette, IN, writes: I'd like to say that accusations of logistical issues were made by even the E.U. election observers present in Nigeria. While this probably doesn't constitute any large-scale election fraud, as Ahmed Tinubu's opponents claim, it is important to keep in mind when considering that the election may not have been the smoothest.

Legal Matters

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: Regarding the question about DA Fani Willis, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to how prosecutors file charges.

One model is that you start with the small fish and work your way up. That model tends to be used most when you have a good case against the small fish but can only get to the big fish if the small fish cooperate in that prosecution.

The other model is to charge everyone at the same time and to work out deals for testimony as needed prior to the start of trial. That model tends to be used most when you have decent cases against all of the defendants and cooperation from some, while desirable, is not necessary.

Not knowing the timetable with the Fulton County Grand Jury (i.e., are they still putting together the cases to present or have they started presenting the evidence?), it is hard to say how Willis is planning to proceed. In this case, given the looming 2024 election, it does not seem like the timetable will permit an "indict the small fish first" strategy. That type of strategy could take several months to work its way up the food chain to the primary target and waiting until August to indict Donald Trump is not a good idea. Additionally, Trump and his supporters will likely provide some legal assistance to his codefendants (as we saw during the January 6 committee process) which will delay any potential cooperation from them. My hunch is that we will not necessarily get all of the indictments at the same time, but I would expect them to come in rather quick succession, most likely between April and June.

D.A.Y. in Troy, MI, writes: Justice Amy Coney Barrett is going to be the pivotal vote on student loan relief. If she votes with the liberals to allow Biden to proceed, Chief Justice John Roberts will join her (likely to write the opinion in which he will make clear he is saying it is a case where no one has standing to sue, rather than him saying the Executive Branch has the power to do this). If she's brought back into the conservative fold, then it will be a 6-3 decision against Biden.

While Roberts' line of questioning leaned heavily on the "Major Questions Clause," he has many reasons to let it go forward:

We will see in the coming months. All eyes need to be on Barrett. She's the linchpin to all this.


T.O. in Portland, OR, writes: I can tell you exactly what happened to Scott Adams: He fell into the deep dark recesses of the Internet and never came back up. He may always have held some of these beliefs, or they may be a recent development—from my perspective, as a long-time reader of Dilbert, they emerged in 2016, during the election, though others have earlier examples.

But it doesn't really matter, does it? He now joins the ranks of J.K. Rowling and countless other A-listers who seem to take great delight in engaging with Internet trolls to their own detriment. One might argue they have themselves become Internet trolls. Nor is it always about politics/culture wars issues; you can find A-listers on Twitter who regularly feed trolls of all stripes. Whenever I see it. I'm left wondering why someone who has reached the pinnacle of their profession and obtained "filthy rich" status bothers to engage with the comments section on the Internet. Everything to lose and nothing to gain. I guess they can't refuse the dopamine hit any better than us mere plebeians?

I have occasionally had disagreements with the editorial choices on but one thing I deeply appreciate about your site is that you moderate the comments. You don't allow yourselves to be dragged into the mud. Please don't ever change that.

S.E.Z. in New Haven, CT, writes: So there I was, interning at Goddard Space Center near Washington, DC, in the early 1970s. Another young worker there expressed frustration because the very liberal Montgomery County public library system refused to obtain for her a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Reason?'s readers may not know this, but the Oompa Loompas in the book were not orange like the ones in the 1971 (Gene Wilder) movie version of the story. They were brown. And they worked gladly for no pay, and were happy to be rescued by their boss from the vicious Hornsnozzlers, Snozzwangers, and Wangdoodles which lurked in Loompaland in Africa.

Roald Dahl must have learned about the real slavery experience by reading Margaret Mitchell's book Gone with the Wind or watching the movie version. The MCPL librarians got their "alternate" facts about slavery being unpleasant from the Yankees occupying Washington, DC.

I am a humble aerospace engineer and not an expert on the actual or ideal procedures of the literature sector of the economy, but I say let the liberal librarians and the pro-secession, pro-slavery "patriots" slug it out.

D.S. in Winnetka, CA, writes: When I was a kid, I read a book that I had gotten from the library called Stranger from the Depths by Gerry Turner, first published in 1967. It was classified as young adult science fiction.

The original hardcover version had a subplot about a group of lizard men who are addicted to a narcotic, and another aspect of their biology was that their females were non-sentient.

An abridged paperback version was published by Scholastic publications in 1970, omitting the addiction and non-sentient female plot points.

So rewriting books to be less offensive is really nothing new, especially in the case of books for children or teenagers.

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: D.M. in Oakland mentions the Hardy Boys as another set of children's books which were updated to remove older language for racial insensitivity. Another famous example is the novel by Agatha Christie And Then There Were None. I knew it as Ten Little Indians when I read it as a kid, but even that title had been changed from an earlier, even more racist verbiage.

F.W. in Decatur, GA, writes: Thank you for running the letter from G.M. in San Diego. It brought a nostalgic tear to my eye; you see, I knew Rosel George Brown. I grew up on the same block in New Orleans with her kids, and was in and out of her house constantly. I loved her like a second mother, and Rosel (never Mrs Brown!) was an inspiration; first to understand from my earliest days that books were not some magical artifacts that sprang full-blown into the world, but things that people made, and that I could make them myself some day if I wanted; and second, to love classical languages and go on to study and eventually major in them. I never expected to see her name mentioned on!

But I have a correction for G.M.: Rosel wrote two Sibyl Sue Blue novels. The second, published posthumously, was called The Waters of Centaurus. She also co-authored the novel Earthblood with Keith Laumer. Heartbreakingly, she died at a young age, in 1967.

History: Making the Grade in the Vietnam Era

M.B. in Montreal, QC, Canuckistan, writes: I would like to respond to G.H. in Chicago. I taught at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) from 1964 to 1968. I do not have the same impression of the student reaction to the war that G.H. does. True, there were no Berkeley-type demonstrations, but I think the students were very unhappy about the thought of being drafted. And I felt personally that if I gave a student a grade below C, I might be consigning them to Viet Nam. I was certainly aware of the fact that by artificially boosting their grades, I might be consigning someone else to the war. Eventually, by 1967, I was so unhappy with the situation that I started to look for a job in Canada and, in 1968, came to McGill, where I spent the rest of my career.

One other point. Although G.H. is correct that accepting a student deferment extended your draft eligibility to age 35, they were not actually drafting anyone past 26, as the U.S. Army found it was generally to hard to get them into shape.

T.B. in Leon County, FL, writes: I started college in 1973, so the draft was not an issue for me, but I remember my philosophy professor (at the non-liberal arts institution) telling us that the only way to get a D grade was to earn it and be a veteran who needed the course to keep benefits; anybody else who "earned" a D (and all who earned an F) would be dropped from the class after the final (resulting in no record). The challenge I took from this was to earn a D so high he wouldn't drop me. (I got a C, earned or otherwise; the professor won.)

History: One Smalls Step

H.R. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: The posting on Robert Smalls is as good and uplifting as it gets. Not Matt Gaetz (cue the eye roll)—whose double schadenfreude, as delightful as it might be, is anything but uplifting. What a high note to end on! Kudos to both of you—and the resident historian in particular—for telling us a story that dazzles even in these dark times.

(V) & (Z) respond: We got an awful lot of positive letters about that, and we are of course appreciative. The weekly Schadenfreude/Freudenfreude items have, to our surprise, turned into one of our most popular features.

B.W. in Suwanee, GA, writes: This is such a great story, Being a Navy vet really brought it home. I've read about the base renaming but haven't seen any news about renaming ships.

Thank you!

D.B. in St. Petersburg, FL, writes: Great item about Robert Smalls. If anyone is interested, there is a book Robert Smalls and his courageous act, Be Free or Die: The Amazing Story of Robert Smalls' Escape from Slavery to Union Hero, by Cate Lineberry.

C.J. in Lowell, MA, writes: Regarding the renaming of the USS Chancellorsville, this is getting ridiculous. Battles are, by definition, two-sided affairs and honoring a battle can easily be construed as honoring the fallen on both sides regardless of victor. Should the National Park Service stop protecting sites of Confederate victories too? Northerners and Southerners are all Americans, which the North made sure of by ultimately winning. I used to wonder why the South kept refighting the Civil War with Lost Cause narratives and distorted history. Nowadays I wonder more why we can't just be happy that slavery was ended, the union preserved, and not try to pretend the Confederacy never existed.

Complaints Department

A.G. in Chicago, IL, writes: Twice now, I have asked that you clarify your point concerning addicts being to blame for the drug epidemic in America. To date, I have received no reply. I am a former addict who got hooked by way of over-prescription of pain medication to treat the back injury I acquired in the service of my nation in the Army and the Marines.

You just lost a daily reader and his family.

(V) & (Z) respond: The sentence(s) you object to: "Finding a way to shift the blame to brown people is a way to avoid pointing the finger at the addicts themselves. After all, drug-addicted Americans can vote, while undocumented immigrants cannot." The very next sentence was: "It would be nice if, instead of searching for someone to blame, we could all think of this as a disease that needs treating. But some folks aren't there quite yet."

T.F. in Banks, OR, writes: In the item about Julie Su, a second generation Chinese-American, (Z) wrote: "Of course, every time Biden nominates someone to a top job, particularly when that person is a woman or a person of color, Republicans claim the sky is falling and behave as if the person is a reincarnation of Charles Manson or Idi Amin."

I've previously written to you about how bad the term "people of color" is, to which your response was that is was the least bad of several suboptimal choices, and that you would reduce but not abandon using it. I renew my appeal for you to abolish it altogether. In general, it ignores the 60% of Hispanic people who identify as white but are still discriminated against for having Hispanic heritage. And 60% of 62 million Americans is a rather large miss. In the specific case of Julie Su, it refers to her as Yellow which, unlike white and Black is not an identity but a category, and a pejorative one at that. As a historian, (Z) is certainly aware of the Yellow Peril and Yellow Menace, phrases which are still used occasionally in the GOP. Also, since my Chinese and Japanese ancestors were in America by 1898, this is personal.

I suggest rewriting the middle phrase to say, "particularly when that person is a woman or Hispanic or non-white," which has the same number of syllables but is much more accurate and less pejorative. You could even use the Hispanic term "non-Anglo" instead of "Hispanic or non-white" to cut the syllable count in half, but some Anglos unfamiliar with the term might object and say "Hey I'm not Anglo-Saxon, I'm [some other European origin now assimilated as White]."

B.B. in Pasadena, CA, writes: It has oft bothered me that "swear" words are both considered as such, rather than as perfectly normal descriptive language. Of course, that is just my take on it.

But then there is the usage of asterisks, etc, to "cleanse" such instances, such as you ran here: "Murdoch knew full well that the 2020 election results were legitimate, and described Donald Trump's lies therein as "bulls**t and damaging."

At the very least (though I still think you should not), you might have your own reasons for censoring yourselves as you did here:

In a pre-emptive first strike, the Dept of Justice has sent House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) a letter that can be briefly summarized as:

Dear Chairman Jordan:

Kindly f*ck off.

Sincerely yours,


But when one is quoting someone, the public should be given the full weight of that person's use of a curse word. This would be reporting of the news, uncensored, which seems an admirable position. For more, I refer you to the opinion piece here.

But for the ultimate test, perhaps (Z) is aware of this, when the brilliant George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" ("shit," "piss," "fuck," "cunt," "cocksucker," "motherfucker," and "tits") was deemed unacceptable for public radio, the Supreme Court still printed, in an appendix, the entire routine in full, without censoring. You'll find it in the official reports of the Supreme court, 438 U.S. 726 (1978), and you can read it here. Scroll down to the bottom for a comedic/insightful treat. If Mr. Justice Stevens can do it, why not you?

(V) & (Z) respond: As a general rule, our standard is that if something was uttered or published in a manner that made it likely that kids would see/hear it, then the speaker/author has made the decision, and we run their words uncensored. For example, something uttered in a presidential debate, or a speech, or a press conference, or written in a bestselling book. Or, for that matter, a comedy routine that has been televised and is also all over YouTube. However, we do not imagine that children read Supreme Court briefs or legal depositions, so we tend to censor those.


S.P. in Tijeras, NM, writes: In your response to B.W. in Suwanee, about shipping to Cuba, you said their " ...only option is Cuba, MO." There is also UPS in Cuba, NM.

M.P. in Leasburg, MO, writes: We are frequent flyers to Cuba—Cuba, MO that is! Cuba is literally the next town to the west of Leasburg on highway I-44 and about 10 miles from our house. IT is a small town well known along the Route 66 corridor and is considered the gateway to both the floating capitol of Missouri (Steelville, MO) and the Ozarks. It is the best route to head toward the Ozark Scenic Riverways National Park complex and their Casey's store has THE best pizza in a three county radius. Undoubtedly, you can purchase rum, cigars and coffee in Cuba, MO, but likely not of the quality you might procure in the island nation of the same name!

A.M. in Brookhaven, PA, writes: In response to S.L. in West Babylon, you wrote "In particular, it is difficult to imagine that Americans will ever again tolerate a military draft."

I have two words to refute that: CANADIAN INVASION.

(V) & (Z) respond: Fair enough, though it may not be necessary to utilize a draft when it happens. A bottle of whisky might be enough.

B.C. in Walpole, MA, writes: You wrote: "In fact, it would be pretty easy to just change it from 'This Week in Schadenfreude' to 'The Gaetz-Greene Report.' Of course, that would get old quickly, so we have to be judicious in how often we make one of those two the subject."

Oh, I don't know. I think that could maintain my interest for quite a while. Okay, how about we include Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA): The Gaetz/Greene/McCarthy Schadenfreude Show, with occasional guest stars from, oh, I don't know, the Trump family. Or we do a spin-off from Schadenfreude called "When Bad Things Happen to Bad People in a Very Satisfying Way."

(V) & (Z) respond: If a third person is to be added to the list, the leading candidate would be Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO).

D.S. in Winnetka, CA, writes: I initially missed this MTG comment: "Walmart would not be allowed to place sex toys next to childrens' toothbrushes."

Someone needs to have "electric toothbrushes" explained to her.

And Some Final Words...

K.H. in Boulder, CO, writes: I'm hoping "famous last words" can become some sort of enduring subcategory in the Sunday letters. Anyway, my favorite is Pancho Villa: "Don't let it end this way. Tell them I said something."

(BTW: I also love the idea of famous last words of fictitious characters; famous last words made up by authors, songwriters, etc. I can think of half a dozen categories.)

(V) & (Z) respond: We can give it a try; if we get enough submissions, we could start a tradition of making the final letter of the day on Sundays something that covers notable or amusing last words.

This item appeared on Read it Monday through Friday for political and election news, Saturday for answers to reader's questions, and Sunday for letters from readers.                     State polls                     All Senate candidates