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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Jordan Gets Rivered
      •  Trump Gets Cheesed
      •  Sunday Mailbag

Jordan Gets Rivered

In Texas Hold 'em poker, a player can have a strong hand after the first three community cards (the flop) are revealed. And they can still have a pretty strong hand after the fourth community card (the turn) is revealed. And then, it can all fall apart when the fifth community card (the river) is revealed. When everything falls apart after the third round of reveals, that's called "getting rivered." And it also describes pretty well what just happened to no-longer-speaker-designate Jim Jordan (R-OH).

When it became clear that Jordan was 20-30 votes from winning the speaker's gavel, Plan A was to try to strongarm the holdouts. And Plan B was to keep holding floor votes in hopes that the holdouts would be shamed/scared into falling in line. Consistent with that, there was a third floor vote Friday morning. And, as with the second floor vote, the number of "no" votes grew. Here's a list of every Republican member who failed to cast a vote for Jordan at least one time across the three rounds:

Member     District  Dist. PVI Biden 18? Round One Round Two Round Three
Don Bacon NE-02 EVEN Yes McCarthy McCarthy McHenry
Gus Bilirakis FL-12 R+17 No Absent Jordan Jordan
Vern Buchanan FL-16 R+7 No Jordan Donalds Donalds
Ken Buck CO-04 R+13 No Emmer Emmer Emmer
Lori Chavez-DeRemer OR-05 D+2 Yes McCarthy McCarthy McHenry
Anthony D'Esposito NY-04 D+5 Yes Zeldin Zeldin Zeldin
Mario Diaz-Balart FL-26 R+8 No Scalise Scalise Scalise
Jake Ellzey TX-06 R+15 No Garcia Garcia Garcia
Drew Ferguson GA-03 R+18 No Jordan Scalise Scalise
Brian Fitzpatrick PA-01 EVEN Yes Jordan Jordan McHenry
Andrew Garbarino NY-02 R+3 No Zeldin Zeldin Zeldin
Carlos Giménez FL-28 R+2 No McCarthy McCarthy McCarthy
Tony Gonzales TX-23 R+5 No Scalise Scalise Scalise
Kay Granger TX-12 R+12 No Scalise Scalise Scalise
Wesley Hunt TX-38 R+12 No Jordan Jordan Absent
John James MI-10 R+3 No Cole Miller Donalds
Tom Kean Jr. NJ-07 R+1 Yes Jordan Jordan McCarthy
Mike Kelly PA-16 R+13 No Scalise Boehner Scalise
Jen Kiggans VA-02 R+2 Yes McCarthy McCarthy McHenry
Nick LaLota NY-01 R+3 Yes Zeldin Zeldin Zeldin
Doug LaMalfa CA-01 R+12 No McCarthy Jordan Jordan
Mike Lawler NY-17 D+3 Yes McCarthy McCarthy McHenry
Mariannette Miller-Meeks IA-01 R+3 No Jordan Granger McHenry
Marc Molinaro NY-19 R+3 Yes Jordan Jordan Zeldin
John Rutherford FL-05 R+11 No Scalise Scalise Scalise
Mike Simpson ID-02 R+14 No Scalise Scalise Scalise
Victoria Spartz IN-05 R+11 No Massie Jordan Jordan
Pete Stauber MN-08 R+8 No Jordan Westerman Westerman
Derrick Van Orden WI-03 R+4 No Jordan Jordan Absent
Steve Womack AR-03 R+15 No Scalise Scalise Scalise

Besides Jordan, at least one vote across the three rounds has gone to former speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA); House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA); Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry (R-NC); Reps. Byron Donalds (R-FL), Tom Emmer (R-MN), Mike Garcia (R-CA), Tom Cole (R-OK), Kay Granger (R-TX), Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Bruce Westerman (R-AR); former speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and former representatives Candace Miller (R-MI) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY).

The final tally on Friday was 210 votes for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), 194 votes for Jordan and 25 votes for other Republicans. Jeffries' total was down two from previous rounds, not due to defections, but because Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX) and Donald M. Payne Jr. (D-NJ) were absent. Jordan's tally, meanwhile, declined from 200 in round one to 199 in round two to 194 in round three. And the clear theme of round three was moderate members growing weary of putting the team above their own needs. As you can see from the table, the three members who voted for Jordan in rounds one and two, but for someone else in round three (Fitzpatrick, Kean and Molinaro), are all members of the Biden 18.

After the third floor vote, Jordan knew full well that his bid for the speakership had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. So, he tried a Hail Mary, and asked the House Republican Conference to vote, via secret ballot, whether he should continue as speaker-designate. It is not known what the tally was, since it was a secret ballot. But it is known that Jordan lost the vote, unable to claim a majority even among members of his own party. And so, he is no longer speaker-designate.

With the decline and fall of McCarthy, followed by the decline and fall of Scalise, followed by the decline and fall of Jordan, just about every ambitious member of the Republican Conference looked in the mirror and said "Why not me?" And so, as of this moment, there are no fewer than seven declared candidates for the speakership, as well as three others who say they are thinking about it. The filing deadline is noon today. Here's a rundown ("FC" means "Freedom Caucuser" and "ED" means "Election Denier"; we have no comment on their status in relation to anything else "ED" might indicate):

Candidate District Dist. PVI Status FC ED Main Selling Point
Jodey Arrington TX-19 R+26 Considering No Yes Chair of House Budget Committee
Jack Bergman MI-01 R+13 In No Yes Retired Marine Corps lieutenant general
Byron Donalds FL-19 R+19 In Yes Yes Would let Republicans claim to be the party of diversity
Tom Emmer MN-06 R+12 In No Yes House Majority Whip
Kevin Hern OK-01 R+14 In No Yes Chair of the Republican Study Committee, the largest GOP caucus
Mike Johnson LA-04 R+14 In Yes Yes Vice Chair of the House Republican Conference
Dan Meuser PA-09 R+21 Considering No Yes Known for ability to work with people
Austin Scott GA-08 R+16 In No Yes Advocate for rural voters
Pete Sessions TX-17 R+14 In No No Probably the most moderate candidate
Roger Williams TX-25 R+19 Considering No Yes Advocate for small business owners

Sometime this week, probably on Monday or Tuesday, the Republican Conference will hold a vote, and one of these individuals will become the new speaker-designate, very possibly with less than 20% of their colleagues' votes. There's never been a situation quite like this before, and so no real basis for predicting what will happen. If ever there were a time for ranked-choice voting, this is it, but it's not going to happen. That said, we can see three potential ways that this list allows Republicans to move forward and install an actual speaker:

  1. The Conference, weary of this ongoing embarrassment, simply falls into line behind speaker-designate #3, figuring there's no real path to seating someone better.

  2. Donalds wins, and some sizable number of the Jordan "no" voters support Donalds, either because he hasn't threatened their families or because they see political benefit in becoming the first party to seat a Black speaker.

  3. Sessions wins, and that lays the groundwork for reaching across the aisle to get some Democratic votes.

We're not saying any of these three outcomes is likely, mind you, merely that they are conceivable. If you're going to lay a bet, the smart money, of course, is on "more chaos." (Z)

Trump Gets Cheesed

Donald Trump has been on an absolute rampage over the last 36 hours on his boutique social media platform, presumably because he knows that he's now in deep, deep trouble in Georgia.

Historically, the former president has shown a remarkable ability to attract people willing to do his dirty work and then, more importantly, to take the fall for him if and when the piper needed to be paid. Think Allen Weisselberg, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, etc. Whatever black magick (orange magick?) Trump was using does not seem to be working anymore, as Trump suffered a second defection in as many days on Friday, with Kenneth Chesebro joining Sidney Powell in turning state's evidence.

The terms of Chesebro's plea deal are as follows: He will plead guilty to "conspiracy to commit filing false documents," and in exchange Fulton County DA Fani Willis will recommend 5 years' probation and a $5,000 fine. Like Powell, Chesebro will have to write an "I'm sorry" letter to the people of Georgia. And like Powell, Chesebro has already recorded some testimony, and will be required to appear for the prosecution in future trials related to the Georgia election fraud.

Reader A.R. in Los Angeles—who, we will remind readers, is a lawyer, unlike us—was kind enough to share some thoughts about the news:

As predicted, Chesebro has copped a plea, but what's interesting about this deal is that it's a better one than what he was offered a couple months ago and it mirrors the deal given to Powell, albeit he's pleading guilty to one felony charge while she's pleading guilty to misdemeanors only. This seemingly goes against the adage that the first to flip gets the better deal. This tells me a couple things: (1) that Chesebro must have more damning information than the prosecutors realized, and (2) he must have the receipts. He hasn't been as visible or given a press conference with black ink running down his face, but he was the architect of the fake electors scheme and present at the Dec. 18 meeting. In fact, my guess is that he's the one who first told Trump about the Jan. 6 date, the certification process and Pence's role. Trump wouldn't have had any reason to know about that date unless someone told him. And remember that it was right after that meeting that Trump first summoned his supporters to Washington on Jan. 6, promising that it "will be wild." Also, Chesebro and Powell must be telling the same story, and given her rather, ahem, eccentric reputation, that goes a long way to erasing any credibility issues.

One other consideration that could account for the relative lightness of the sentence, and that I haven't heard anyone mention, is that this plea deal essentially means they're admitting to the allegations in the federal case. I've heard some commentators say that Powell (and presumably Chesebro) could still assert the Fifth, but I don't see how that's possible. The terms of their deal require them to testify without limitations to their role and everyone else's role in this plot. For example, they were at the Dec. 18 meeting, so they must testify about everything they know, which necessarily implicates them in the wrongdoing. All the same facts underlie both cases, so when they testify in Georgia, they can't turn around and deny that testimony in federal court. So, one factor could also be a recognition that the deal means they'd have to cooperate in the federal case as well. Lots of chess pieces moving around the board and so far, Willis is the superior player.

Thanks again, A.R.!

Thanks to the extra day to turn things over in our heads, we've had time to think of half a dozen ways that Chesebro's plea is really, really bad news for Trump. Here they are:

  1. As A.R. in Los Angeles notes, Powell is rather... flighty. Her reputation for kookiness might be enough to allow the defense to muddy the waters and nullify her testimony. Chesebro does not have that reputation. He has a J.D. from Harvard Law School where he was a research assistant for Prof. Laurence Tribe. He continued to work with Tribe after graduating and later worked on Bush v. Gore in support of Gore. Until 2016, he was a registered Democrat. Later he represented Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) in a voting rights case. He can't be brushed off as weirdo like Powell. If he and Powell are saying the same things, then their version of events all of a sudden becomes very solid.

  2. There is now enormous pressure on the other indicted lawyers—Jenna Ellis, Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman—to flip, as well. In particular, it's hard to see why Eastman would be willing to go down with the ship. He knows enough to know that Trump is in deep trouble, and that even if he (Eastman) was open to sacrificing himself, it's rather pointless to do so now. Ellis is a bit player and it is very unlikely she is willing to go to prison for Trump. Giuliani is in a very complicated position, what with being indicted in Georgia, an unindicted coconspirator in the federal case, and being sued left and right with no money to pay lawyers to defend him in any of the cases. His only hope is that Trump decides he must keep Giuliani from flipping at all costs, and agrees to pay for all of Giuliani's lawyers. It's a slim hope, but it is all America's former mayor has.

  3. Even if the other lawyers remain steadfast, Trump's best (and only?) defense is shot. What he was surely planning to do was claim that he was acting on the advice of counsel, and therefore that he thought he was acting lawfully. Now, at least two counselors are going to say that is not so. To have any hope of convincing a jury, Trump himself would have to take the stand to explain his version of events. There is just no way Trump can afford to do that, and if he tries it anyhow, there is no way he can give testimony more compelling than that of two (or more) of his lawyers. As a witness, he is, of course, a defense lawyer's nightmare and a prosecutor's dream.

  4. Since Chesebro and Powell exercised their right under Georgia law to have a speedy trial, it meant that Trump's defense team was going to get a very good look at the prosecution's case. Now that Chesebro and Powell have both reached plea deals, that won't happen.

  5. As A.R. in Los Angeles points out, the testimony of Chesebro and Powell will also serve to prove significant elements of the prosecution's case in the Washington, DC, trial. In fact, there is much supposition (though no publicly announced proof) that Chesebro and Powell have already talked to Special Counsel Jack Smith and his team. If that hasn't happened already, surely Smith will soon invite them over for tea and a pleasant chat.

  6. Recall that Trump (and the other indictees) are all charged under Georgia's RICO Act, which requires an enterprise (two or more people) who conspired to commit two or more crimes. Just based on Powell and Chesebro alone, the "enterprise" part of that is a done deal, since Trump was clearly a part of the effort to overturn the Georgia result (see Brad Raffensperger, phone call to). And with Powell and Chesebro having plead guilty to different crimes, the "two or more crimes" part of that might well be a done deal, too.

In view of this news, we've had several readers suggest we let people guess who will be next to flip. Ask, and ye shall receive. The survey lets you vote on which of the 17 will flip next (or if you think none of them will), and also has space for you to explain your thinking, if you wish. We'll run an item with the results sometime this week. (Z)

Sunday Mailbag

Thanks to everyone who sent in well wishes; (Z) is happy to report that the effect of the vaccines has abated considerably, excepting that his joints feel like those of an arthritic 150-year-old.

There were also a few e-mails from people who felt this was an opportunity to... win? Or something? For example: "A guy's gotta be a schmedrick to get three vaccines at once, including one with well-known side effects. A diploma is obviously no substitute for a functional pre-frontal cortex."

Hm. For what it's worth, (Z) anticipated side effects and tried to plan accordingly; the surprise was that the side effects kicked in later than expected. In addition, (Z) considered spreading the vaccines out, but decided to get all the side effects out of the way at once, as opposed to risking the chance of three different weekends being ruined.

There were also some folks who proposed that the shots should have been spread out so that (Z) could accurately report on which one was responsible for the adverse effects. Ah! How could (Z) be so selfish? Too late to change course now, but for what it's worth, of the three injection sites, the pneumonia shot site hurts by far the most. Plus, (Z) knows someone who had COVID and flu at the same time, but not pneumonia, and had no problems. So, if you have to guess which it was, guess "pneumonia."

Also, due to yesterday's post being spiked, we didn't get a chance to give a second hint as to the Friday headline theme. So we'll tell you now that lumberjacks probably have an advantage when it comes to solving the puzzle, particularly if they first put on women's clothing, just like their dear papa.

We're going to start today with some comments on Israel; we'll also have more of those on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Israel: Opinion Is Divided

R.M. in Sacramento, CA, writes: One thing I keep reading and hearing about Israel is "it's such a complicated issue." It's really not that complicated at all. Sure, how to finally achieve peace in the Middle East is beyond complicated. What is not complicated, however, is how to talk about what is going on in this exact moment in time in Israel and Gaza. It's no more complicated than this: Terrorism is horrible and the acts committed against the people of Israel were beyond inhuman and can not be justified or explained away. Likewise, any "response" to said-terrorism that includes the denial of food, water and power to a million people, displacement of families, destruction of homes, and the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians is equally morally repugnant. There isn't any more nuanced way one needs to look at this.

C.A. in Atlanta, GA, writes: In response to several letters about Hamas:

For Benjamin Netanyahu's government, Hamas' extreme anti-Israel positions were considered a feature, not a bug. The Times of Israel ran an article about this at the top of their homepage in the days following the attack. The first two paragraphs sum it up nicely:

For years, the various governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu took an approach that divided power between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank—bringing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to his knees while making moves that propped up the Hamas terror group.

The idea was to prevent Abbas—or anyone else in the Palestinian Authority's West Bank government—from advancing toward the establishment of a Palestinian state.

I think it's perfectly reasonable to feel horrified by Hamas' attack, mourn the lives lost, and at the same time think deeply about how Israeli government policies like the one above shaped events, and how the current response will shape future ones.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: V.P. in New York writes: "[I]t's time the world focused on finding a permanent solution to Palestine."

That's going to be impossible as long as there are armed factions focused on finding a Final Solution to Israel.

B.B. in Dothan, AL, writes: I propose an E-V survey.

Part I: Which is worse?

  1. 1,300 Israeli civilian deaths
  2. 1,800 (and counting) Palestinian civilian deaths
  3. All of the above

Part II: Which entity has the greatest ability to solve the conflict?

  1. The entity with 9 million population, nuclear weapons, F-35 fighters, smart bombs, drones, rockets, mortars, 170,000 active duty and 465,000 reserve soldiers and $500 billion GDP
  2. The entity with 2 million population, drones, rockets, mortars, 15,000-40,000 soldiers and $30 billion GDP
Israel: Genocide and Apartheid

B.F. in Washington, DC, writes: Your glib dismissal of Rep. Rashida Tlaib's (D-MI) description of the Israeli military action in the Gaza strip as "genocide" was not just wrong but also condescending. On the same day you quipped "thanks for cheapening the term [genocide], Rashida," the UN's Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights issued a press release titled "Gaza: UN experts decry bombing of hospitals and schools as crimes against humanity, call for prevention of genocide." In the piece, UN experts write "We are sounding the alarm: There is an ongoing campaign by Israel resulting in crimes against humanity in Gaza. Considering statements made by Israeli political leaders and their allies, accompanied by military action in Gaza and escalation of arrests and killing in the West Bank, there is also a risk of genocide against the Palestine people."

At least one of you is a student of history, so you should know the generally accepted definition of genocide. You should also know what the warning signs of genocide can include, such as preventing aid organizations from entering an area, indiscriminate bombings, dismissal of a group's humanity, giving impossible evacuation orders to civilians, to name a few awful acts we've seen in the recent past.

Tlaib did nothing to cheapen the term "genocide." However, your snide rejection of the only member of Congress of Palestinian descent has only detracted from the important discussion of what is happening in Israel and Gaza.

A.P. in Walnut Creek, CA, writes: Your comments in regards to congresswoman Talib referencing genocide in Palestine were offensive. You may not agree with her; however, that does not mean her use of the term "cheapen[s]" it. You can disagree without making a snide comment and referring to her by her first name, which is generally only done to discount women (e.g., Hillary, but never Donald). UN human rights experts have warned that Palestinians are in danger of ethnic mass cleansing and she is not the only one to use the term genocide. I would encourage you to think about your biases and expertise on this issue before discounting the views of people with lived experience.

(V) & (Z) respond: If one wants to argue that what is happening in Gaza is a proto-genocide, then that is a defensible position. If one decides to accuse Joe Biden of being a co-perpetrator, and one continues to repeat discredited information in support of one's position (for example, that Israel bombed the hospital in Gaza), that makes it clear that this is not a serious argument, and that it's just rhetoric. And when the word "genocide" is deployed as mere rhetoric, that most certainly cheapens the term.

Also, we refer to Donald Trump as "The Donald" all the time.

A.T. in Seminole County, FL, writes: I think the word was already cheapened when people claimed that Russia is doing a "genocide" in Ukraine.

Putin may be a bad guy, but the Russian invasion is not a genocide, it's just a standard war.

G.G. in Johannesburg, South Africa, writes: I was taken aback by the rather over simplistic comparison of historical South African and Israeli apartheid offered by C.S. in Newport.

C.S. writes: "[A]ll that the ANC asked for was equality for everyone. They did not deny white South Africans their right to live in South Africa. Hamas, on the other hand, denies Israel's right to exist." True enough, but the criticism of Israel is not that it subjects Hamas to apartheid-like injustice, it is that it subjects all Palestinians to apartheid-like injustices. Substitute "Palestinians" for "the ANC," "Israelis" for "white South Africans," and "Israel/Palestine" for "South Africa", and the statement remains broadly true. To claim otherwise is to equate "Hamas" with "Palestinians," which would be akin to equating "the Taliban" with "Afghans," "al-Qaeda" with "Saudis," "Boko Haram" with "Nigerians," "the IRA" with "Irish," or "the Michigan Militia" with "Americans." Nationhood is not defined by the most nefarious actors within a society.

For decades Palestinians have only been allowed to live in specific areas (which are being systematically shrunken over time), have only limited self-governance and restricted freedom of movement, all while ultimately under the authority of the Israeli state. There is a fair amount of symmetry between that and the Bantustans of apartheid South Africa. And while the ANC brought broad civil liberties and democratic institutions to what had been an oppressive authoritarian state, let's not pretend it was an entirely bloodless struggle. The ANC had gifted, intellectual leaders, but it also had a military wing—uMkhonto we Sizwe—which did not commit the kind of atrocities Hamas has, but was "active" enough to land the ANC on the U.K. and U.S.'s list of terrorist organizations. Nelson Mandela himself remained on the U.S. government's list of "known terrorists" until 2008, which ought to say something about western powers' willingness to reassess their positions in the face of new evidence.

Israeli actions have already resulted in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians in the last two weeks. Even if you believe that many of those were Hamas militants (which is possible, but of which I am not aware of any direct evidence), it is inevitable that hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent civilians who vehemently opposed Hamas's tactics have already been killed by Israeli forces. Many more will follow. Look at any of the images coming out of Gaza now and it is simply not credible to argue that Israel is launching highly-targeted strikes against known terrorist individuals. To the contrary, ordering Palestinians to evacuate northern Gaza is all but admitting that the Israeli military will unleash indiscriminate destruction, so it is advisable to get out of the way. Attempting to forcibly displace over a million people, closing the southern border with Egypt (thereby disallowing safe passage out of the country), and simultaneously cutting off access to food, water, electricity, and fuel will directly lead to preventable suffering and death. It is a crime against humanity, just as Hamas's indiscriminate slaughter of Israelis was a crime against humanity.

Conflict is messy, and horrible. When there are actors clearly on the wrong side of history, that does not inevitably mean the responding actor is on the right side of history. Inhumane actions should be called out no matter who is perpetrating them; the decades-long Israeli apartheid system is among these. There are more than two choices in this conflict; it remains possible to condemn both Hamas and Benjamin Netanyahu at the same time. The enemy of my enemy need not be my friend.

Politics: The House Will Be Called to Disorder

M.K. in Sacramento, CA, writes: OK, let's just spare the niceties and cut to the chase. Jim Jordan is a moron and a bully. The fact that he is sitting in the halls of Congress is a very poor reflection on what the good folks of Ohio are looking for in a Representative. He is part of a storied (except for the sexual abuse part) wrestling program at The Ohio State University. He achieved great success on the wrestling mat through singular determination, never backing down, and physical/mental domination of his opponents with no quarter given. Jordan is incapable of intellectual growth and has continued to act in Congress as he did in the wrestling room. Amazingly, he has ascended to a position of great influence, but has now run smack into a wall and just keeps bashing away with the only toolset he knows—intimidation and never backing down. Like Wile E. Coyote, he ain't going to achieve his aims.

D.G. in Santa Cruz, CA, writes: Jim Jordan is a bad vote counter. He has never run for a leadership position, so he never had to count caucus votes. He has never made a serious attempt to pass any legislation—no need to bother counting there. Vote-counting is WAY more than keeping a tally. It is reading faces. It is listening for weasel words ("I really want to vote for you" or "You are the best man for the job"). Vote-counting takes experience and an ability to put aside what you want to hear so that you can really listen to what someone is saying. For you kids out there just getting started, here's some advice: Don't begin vote-counting by running for Speaker of the House.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: Various articles in the media have stated it was Jim Jordan's election denial that doomed him. If that was truly the case, and not the media's wishful thinking, then the caucus sure didn't learn their lesson with the new list of contenders for the speakership. They are all within a few degrees of election deniers. Most signed the amicus brief to SCOTUS for the "Hail Mary" Trump lawsuit disputing the 2020 election in Texas v. Pennsylvania. The majority of the candidates objected to the certification of the electors on January 6, 2021. Only a small handful condemned the violence of the day and none of them voted to impeach Trump for the insurrection or even voted to have committee hearings into the incident. Not one of them inspires the smallest quark of confidence that they will put democracy over political power.

And that's not even considering their views on other matters. Most are running in ruby-red districts. They are unanimously anti-abortion. The great majority of them are virulently homophobic, xenophobic and Islamophobic. Most are anti-climate change and believe more rape of the environment is just fine. Needless to say, all want their guns pried from cold dead hands rather than enact any modicum of gun legislation. All voted with Trump at least 90% of the time, with most having significantly higher "follow the leader" scores. Most have a bipartisan index score of 0, which means they would rather have molten steel knitting needles jabbed repeatedly into their eyes than work with the Democrats, even the more centrist Democrats.

Yes, we dodged a huge bullet by denying Jordan the Speakership but none of these clowns have shown they'll do what it takes to put our country first. All are varying degrees of vindictive, venal and thick-witted. None has given any hint that they have the spine to stand up to Donald Trump or, more importantly, the real bosses of their party, Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and the Freedom Caucus. We are all so screwed and we are without a doubt headed towards a protracted and debilitating government shutdown. This is what this caucus wants, but they want to be able to say the "Democrats made them." If it ain't about the grift, then it's always about the victimhood.

R.B. in Bartlett, IL, writes: I know that most of the Republicans placing blame on the Democrats for current mess in House of Representatives are just playing politics. But, I have to say they are not wrong.

Now, before I get skewered, let me say, most (90%?) of the blame lays squarely on the GOP side and their embrace of the MAGA movement. However, the Democrats had a chance to be the adults in the room. Despite Kevin McCarthy's past issues, he had just proven that, when push came to shove, he would find an agreement to keep the government open. Hakeem Jeffries could have gone to McCarthy and made a deal: Democrats would provide just enough votes to save the speakership and McCarthy continues to find a way to compromise. Not only would this have kept us out the mess we are in now, but it would have severely hurt Matt Gaetz and his cronies. Maybe the Democrats didn't think finding a new speaker would take this long or that the Republicans would nominate someone less appealing the McCarthy? Whatever the case, we are now going on three weeks of paralysis in Congress.

B.B. in Pasadena, CA, writes: CNN did a good job of live on-the-air button-holing republicans emerging from their secret ballot that tanked Jim Jordan. But then...

The latest party talking point is that this disgraceful predicament is the fault of the idiot 8 AND the Democrats failing to support the Republican nominee.

Not once have I seen a reporter (or anyone else so far) push back and ask one of these people why, then, didn't they solve the problem by having 10 or so vote for the guy who got the most votes: Hakeem Jeffries... Problem solved!

P.N. in Austin, TX, writes: Republicans should publicly schedule a vote. Then about ten or so of them should have "emergencies." Then add two scoops of B.S. about how they have to go forward with the vote, for some procedural reason. Republicans voters will buy it, as long as it plays into their victimhood. Then let Hakeem Jeffries be elected as Speaker with 212 Democratic votes...

Then Republicans proceed as the "minority," but with the majority. What could be better? They won't have to govern, which is good, because they don't want to anyway. Anything the Democrats bring to the floor can be crushed. And they can further their aim of installing a kleptocratic fascist theocracy by destroying half of the legislative branch, all while blaming the Democrats and their "majority." Only downside is they lose the impeachment option.

C.R. in Pelham, AL, writes: Given the events of the last few weeks/months/years, it's difficult to decide if the modern Republican Party can better be described as the Treason Caucus or the Dysfunction Caucus. But on a deeper level, perhaps it is fortunate that the Treason Caucus is so dysfunctional, as it makes it that much harder for them to actually achieve their aims.

Historically, these have been closely linked. The thirteen colonies were famous for their inability to get along, so much so that the Continental Congress had great difficulty imposing a central authority, eventually requiring the replacement of the Articles of Confederation with a much stronger federal Constitution. And the so-called Confederacy, founded on the primacy of "states' rights" (foremost among them the "right" to practice chattel slavery) could not get its members to cooperate either, as you have pointed out previously, with governors including Georgia's Joseph Brown and North Carolina's Zebulon Vance refusing the central government's troop and tax levies, believing that those resources were best allocated at the state level, thereby hindering the insurrectionist armies in the field. And the events of January 6, 2021 were also poorly coordinated and led, possibly because one of the lead insurrectionists had soiled himself and required a change of undergarments. So perhaps it is good that treason and dysfunction are so closely wedded at the hip—it makes a successful unnecessary revolution that much harder to achieve and tends to favor the maintenance of the status quo. As Napoleon (allegedly) famously said, "Never interrupt your enemy when he is busy shooting himself in the foot!"

D.H. in Lisbon Falls, ME, writes: I found the best way to watch Jim Jordan's three attempts to become Speaker of the House -was to crank up the volume of my sound system speakers as I played Warren Zevon's song "Disorder in the House"...

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

D.M. in Holden, MA, writes: My description of why some people are turning away from the Democratic party and towards the candidacy of people like Cornell West received a forceful rebuttal from R.E.M. in Brooklyn. R.E.M. does a fair job of representing the typical reaction to my thoughts.

I would ask R.E.M. to consider not just the question of who was president during a particular conflict, but also how Democratic politicians in Congress voted to expand or contract a military conflict and military funding.

Furthermore, why does Joe Biden get credit as peace-loving for ending the conflict in Afghanistan? What about his actions in the 20 years before the withdrawal? Under R.E.M.'s reasoning, Richard Nixon was peace-loving because the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam while he was president.

R.E.M.'s summary of the last 25 years of foreign policy gives us a pretty good sense of how the Democrats will approach the next 25 years. There will be a never ending serious of opportunities to initiate conflict and bomb and invade countries across the globe. Barack Obama provided a template for a vast network of conflict administered by drone warfare. Donald Trump and Joe Biden have both continued down this path.

When Democratic politicians advocate for entering these conflicts they will applaud themselves for standing up for human rights. When the conflicts go terribly, and the outcomes are awful, they will applaud themselves for withdrawing in the name of... I guess peace. The result of this will be a continuation of the ever-expanding military budgets and the American military empire. Some voters would prefer a different path.

Politics: Master and Commander, Redux

R.M.S. in Stamford, CT, writes: I agree with P.N. in Austin that removing dogs from environments they are not comfortable in or not socialized to handle well is always the wisest course of action to prevent aggression. I have owned both dogs and cats my whole life, and some pets have been very comfortable with large groups of people in noisy environments. Others have become agitated or fled the room when they are around people they are unfamiliar with. The problem is that many dog owners are in complete denial about their dogs' aggression. Inevitably, everyone insists their dogs are harmless, when we know the statistics do not back this up. According to Forbes, there are 4.5 million dog bites every year in the U.S., and hundreds of thousands are severe enough to require medical attention.

I am a delivery driver for UPS and I have had my fair share of encounters with aggressive dogs. In fact, last week, I was at a residence in New York. When I pulled up to the roadside in front of the house, I saw an unattended Giant Schnauzer running around in the yard unrestrained. I texted the homeowner and told him I would be leaving his package by his mailbox unless he brought the dog inside because I did not feel comfortable going onto a property with an unmonitored dog. He refused and sent me an incredibly patronizing response implying that I was the problem, not his dog running loose in the yard, and that I had nothing to worry about from his dog. I refused because even though I love dogs, I know not all of them love me, especially territorial dogs.

One of my coworkers was bitten on the arse in 2022 so badly he was out of work for 2 months and required stitches. Doing basic daily tasks like driving a car or using a toilet was enough to put him into agony the first 4 weeks after the injury. I don't want this to happen to me. I also do not try to pressure people to be around my dogs if they feel uncomfortable doing so.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: The decision to get additional training for Commander was correct; however, the training should have been conducted in situ, at the White House with the trainer in residence. The dog is not able to transfer one training environment to someplace else. He should have been trained with family, staff and security detail present so he could learn that these people are not intruders. Also, something that is routinely missed in a protective dog's behavior—never get your head near the head of the person the dog protects, as in leaning in to speak quietly to the protected person, or to give a hug or a kiss. (Lots of ex-boyfriends realizing, "That's why her dog hated me!")

Politics: Campaign Finance

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: A friend of mine owns a mid-sized decorating company based in SoCal.

His company sets up and tears down the tables and bunting and stages and electrical cables and such when an exhibitor holds an event such as a trade show in a convention center. (Those tables and lights and such you see at those events? They're typically rented from the decorating company.)

My friend inherited the company from his father, who built it from nothing.

Joe says the best business-related advice he ever got from his father was: "For political campaigns, always get cash up front, no matter who the candidate is."

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: Yes, until the balance sheet is zero, one must continue to file with the FEC, even years after running. I actually ended my own campaign for NC Senate in the black. I have money in the bank. I also have one debt I am unable to pay since the company is out of business... and I am unable to obtain any information.

I offered to escheat the debt to the Board of Elections for them to hold in escrow... but no response on that yet. It's a debt I would like to get off my books, but I have no idea how to do it.

I am not in an active campaign anymore, so I only have to file semi-annually, and the numbers are always the same, but I must still file unless I were to close out my file, and the money then would be given to my designate on the forms I filled out when I formed my committee... in my case, the Wake County Democratic Party.

The other thing I can do is give money to other candidates, even out-of-state ones. So I have, on occasion, given money to other campaigns I supported from my own campaign funds. But you can't ever, legally, give the money to yourself, unless you are repaying to yourself a loan you made to your own campaign, and there's paperwork involved in doing so.

I actually spent very little money in my campaign, and also raised very little, less than $2,500. I depended on retail campaigning, which I am actually very good at, and which I enjoy far more than fundraising, which I actually hate doing.

I will say that I did five times better than anyone expected me to do... getting 27% of the primary vote against an establishment favorite who had run once before, had a ton of lead time on me because of gerrymandering, and had almost all the endorsements. I got the Freethinkers, though. And Planned Parenthood refused to endorse either of us, as we had BOTH returned "perfect questionnaires"—they literally could not decide between the two of us.

Oh, and my opponent had a nice, thick Rolodex of wealthy donors I did not have, and outraised me about 20-to-1. No hard feelings, she and I are friends to this day. But I wanted to show your readership the power of retail campaigning, which Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) really hates.

I ran in a purple district, against an establishment favorite who had every advantage you could ask for, and I managed—as the first openly trans woman in NC history to run for State Senate—to get 27% of the primary vote... in my first run ever. And I did it on the power of retail campaigning.

I actually figured out that I spent about 22 cents per vote. Not bad.

Politics: Sortition

T.G. in Walla Walla, WA, writes: I saw your hat tip to sortition. Thanks for dropping a reference!

As you noted, it's not really realistic in that application. This is where most applications of sortition in politics run awry. They introduce too much randomness, too much chance into the system. Western civilizations, from Greece on down, are all very heavily meritocratic. But many an idealistic writer has opined a utopic existence where sortition reigns. The all-for-one-and-one-for-all schtick appeals. A whole lot of communes in the 60's flamed out shooting for this kind of thing.

The nice thing about sortition is that, used judiciously, it can be used to break up power blocs. Take the speaker ascendancy debacle. What if we kept a similar system but thew in a little randomness? For example:

  • Use the system as is today, but make the elections snap, with no real warning (and could the House please come of age and use electronics and dispense with the whole call out one at a time, e-mail/text your vote to a scoreboard server in a 5 minute window, done, save taxpayers 1000+ man hours of government labor).

  • Select 10 or 20 candidates from the bloc, let only them be put forth as candidates. If a majority can't coalesce after a vote or two just like now, do another round. This gives a big enough pool to select a competent leader from, but reduces the years of wasteful power-angling that go on.

  • Invert that process, normal politicking by all, allow a few votes of support, randomly choose from any candidate that can get 60% of the House to say they'd be ok with them.
History Matters

J.H. in Bloomfield Township, MI, writes: In addition to Friday's excellent Freudenfreude about the Gettysburg Address, there is another deconstruction of Lincoln's speech that is worth reading. Members of the American Bar Association's Litigation Section have for many years been given cogent essays on good legal writing by George Gopen, Professor Emeritus of Rhetoric at Duke University. Gopen recently reviewed the Gettysburg Address with an emphasis on Lincoln's music. (The article is here in PDF form). One of the reasons that the Gettysburg Address is so memorable is because Lincoln used structure, rhythm, and repetition to crescendo to the speech's climax of government "of... by... and for the people." Gopen's essay could be used by any parent helping a student memorize Lincoln. And his other articles are worth studying by anyone who wants to write well, not just lawyers (even though lawyers need help more than most writers).

A.H.-S. in Brier, WA, writes: I wish the phonograph had come in time for the Gettysburg Address.

An apocryphal story: My mother (b. 1919) was told by her grandfather (who was present) that Mr. Lincoln's emphasis was "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

I like to think that it was true.

S.C. in Bossier City, LA, writes: Please don't overlook the PowerPoint slides that President Lincoln used for his famous 1863 speech.

These certainly improve the experience.

S.K. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: For "This Week in Freudenfreude," you wrote about the Gettysburg Address and noted how much of it would be anathema to today's Republican Party leaders. The thing that truly struck me, that you didn't mention, was how Republicans have embraced a leader who has repeatedly denigrated "the honored dead" who "gave the last full measure of devotion." It is truly remarkable that the party of Lincoln became the party of jingoistic patriotism and flag lapel pins, and now has fully supported a man who calls wounded military vets losers and suckers. The same man whose vanity kept him from paying respect to fallen soldiers lest his hair get wet. The man who mocked families of fallen soldiers.

Sadly, none of this matters to most Republicans. Every character flaw and moral failing is easily overlooked as long as Trump effectively serves as their totem of anger toward their shared enemy, the dreaded liberal.

M.B.F. in Oakton, VA, writes: Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address is, to my mind, an even greater masterpiece of rhetoric than the Gettysburg Address, and, like many, I consider it to be the most eloquent speech or writing by any American president. I say this despite not agreeing with its theme of attributing the Civil War to the wrath of God upon the whole of the Union.

The tone of it is remarkable for the moment in which it was delivered: the cusp of victory. It dismisses any celebratory note, not just as premature, but as a misreading of the origins of and responsibility for the war.

Lincoln dispatches any triumphal notions in the brief first paragraph with the observation that he trusts that the progress of the war is both satisfactory and well known to all. That's it.

He then succinctly encapsulates how the war began in the second paragraph, while also foreshadowing its view of the Civil War as a foreordained punishment from God for the sin of slavery, the act of secession being quickly subsumed to that:

While the [First] inaugural address was being delivered from this place devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.

Lincoln develops the theme of the Gettysburg Address in its third paragraph by casting the entire war as a punishment inflicted by God upon the entire United States for the sin of enslaving human beings. It then pinpoints the war as the cleansing of this great collective sin through a great, and deserved, collective trauma:

Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

In the last, most famous paragraph, Lincoln concludes by sharpening and intensifying his theme at Gettysburg: if the cause of the war was slavery, and the war itself was punishment for that great offense to God, then the only proper response to the apparent approach of the end of that punishment is to transform the nature of the Union through generosity both to the defeated South and the Freedmen "with malice toward none, with charity for all," and in the last phrase promising a transcendent "just and lasting among ourselves and with all nations."

B.O. in Thorndale, PA, writes: M.S. in Canton writes: "I was amused by your reference to the relative obscurity of Millard Fillmore. I briefly lived in Fredonia, NY, and almost every day I drove down Millard Fillmore Drive in adjacent Dunkirk, NY. It's all of one block long, with a decaying strip mall on one side and a freeway fence on the other. It has to be the least impressive street named in honor of a president anywhere in the U.S."

Having been a resident of Thorndale for the past 15 years, I always found the "James Buchanan Dr." a bit of an insult to our most famous resident. Buchanan had a summer house here, the now shuttered "Thorndale Craft House" restaurant, another victim of COVID. His "drive" is about one block in length, hosting the back entrance to a CVS, the Chester County Assistance office, and a now-empty two-story building. The only historically interesting thing about the Drive is that it ends on Lincoln Highway, which connects Philadelphia to Harrisburg.

K.F.W. in El Dorado Hills, CA, writes: For the history buffs who want some trivia—and like to Google—my candidate(s) for most obscure President of the United States would probably be Thomas McKean (picked for length of term) or, most obscure of all, Henry Middleton (4 days). Of course there are (technical) reasons these folks aren't well known, but perhaps they should be (especially Huntington through Griffin).

P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, writes: Millard Fillmore aficionados may take heart at knowing that he has appeared on The Simpsons. This 50-second clip reveals the genius of this show, at least in its first seven seasons or so:

A Note of Concern

J.S. in Wada, NL, writes: You wrote: "It's been a downer of a week, news-wise."

That's pretty much an apt description of basically most if not all weeks since the end of 2016. No wait, since Bush v. Gore. No wait, since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher prevailed over basically decent human opponents end set out their still resonating march of destruction against society.

It's no surprise, or it shouldn't be, that there's actually pretty strong evidence following the news is a mental health risk hazard. Then again, we humans fall prey to many dopamine-producing cycles of addiction. The news is one of these. So it's hard to escape.

Among the basic advice to stay sane is to be very selective in choosing news sources, and digesting them judiciously. To choose textual information over visual triggers. To be mindful of how you react. And to make sure there's room to recuperate.

Well and true, and given this issue (and its inevitability) it's a very good thing, I'd say, that is out there, if only because it's a an alternative preferable to many others, a way to opt out of submission to Fox "News" (etc.).

But I do worry about those having to actually create You don't get the luxury of being selective (at least, not enough, I suspect); you don't get to recuperate; instead, you get full exposure to stress-inducing blasts, containing visceral and potentially quite traumatic content—even in relatively minor doses.

We've been in torrential depressing news maybe as long as I can remember; certainly so since the aforementioned Reagan, Thatcher turn for the worse, and its global correlates. I wonder how you manage to stay sane. I wonder if you manage to stay sane, even; it must be hard to say free of PTSD, doing what you do.

(V) & (Z) respond: We appreciate the kind words and the concern, but we think we do an OK job of maintaining our sanity. Though we will say that some of the lighter stuff we do, like the Friday "theme" game, or the scavenger hunt, are an important part of cleansing the mental palate.


K.M. in Pullman, WA, writes: Regarding the imminent invasion from the north, they're not even being subtle anymore:

The cover of 'American Philatelist' magazine honors Canada

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: Poor M.F. in Burlington, ON. From now on the entire will know them as "one of those Canadian M.F.s!"

Final Words

B.D. in St. Agatha, ON, Canada, writes: When the author William Saroyan died in 1981, his last remark as he was dying was: "Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?"

I was in my first year of grad school at the time, and thought, "gee, it must be wonderful to be so smart..."

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct20 Piranhas in House Turn on Each Other
Oct20 Biden Tries to Nudge Congress
Oct20 Trump Legal News: The Cheese Stands Alone
Oct20 Butler Walks Away
Oct20 I Read the News Today, Oh Boy: Spam Maps
Oct20 This Week in Freudenfreude: Parrot Lincoln? We Think Not
Oct19 If at First You Don't Succeed, Fail, Fail Again
Oct19 Speaker Mess Produces Its First Bit of Fallout
Oct19 Biden Goes to Israel
Oct19 Crematoria of Democracy?
Oct19 Scavenger Hunt, Part VII: Pithy Quotes
Oct18 Error, Jordan
Oct18 Lesko Is Done With This Mess
Oct18 Biden Will Take a Pass on Jordan
Oct18 Trump Legal News: Hate Me Harder
Oct18 Campaign Finance News: This Really Stinks
Oct18 Who Is Hurt by RFK Jr.? The First Polls Are In
Oct17 Biden: I Shall Go to Israel
Oct17 Jordan Is Approaching the Promised Land
Oct17 Trump Legal News: You Talk Too Much (And You Never Shut Up)
Oct17 Tim Scott's Campaign Has Entered Its Death Spiral, Too...
Oct17 ...And So Has Marianne Williamson's
Oct17 Ted Cruz Is Not Exactly Raking It In...
Oct17 ...Though Andy Kim Is
Oct17 No Impeachment in Wisconsin... Yet
Oct16 Jordan Apparently Unaware "Whip" Is Just a Metaphor
Oct16 Q3 Fundraising Numbers Are Rolling In...
Oct16 ...And the Pence Campaign Has Entered Its Death Spiral
Oct16 Biden Reminds Iran of the Other Half of "Speak Softly"
Oct16 Trump Legal News: Money and Corruption
Oct16 Louisiana Veers Rightward...
Oct16 ...And So Does New Zealand...
Oct16 ...But Not Poland (Maybe)
Oct15 Sunday Mailbag
Oct14 Next Man Up
Oct14 Saturday Q&A
Oct13 Scalise Needed to Be Redder
Oct13 Biden Keeps His Eye on the Ball...
Oct13 ...While Trump Pokes Himself in the Eye
Oct13 Bob Menendez Is in Deep Trouble
Oct13 My Gift Is My Song: The Great Gig in the Sky
Oct13 This Week in Freudenfreude: Soldiers, Churches Show their Civic Spirit
Oct12 Big Black Smoke
Oct12 Israel Quickly Becoming a Political Football
Oct12 Bye, George?
Oct12 Don't Bank on +1 for Democrats in South Carolina
Oct12 Uygur Declares Presidential Run
Oct11 Animal House
Oct11 Trump Legal News: Come on, Aileen
Oct11 Steve Garvey Makes It Official in California...