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Crisis Averted... for Now

As the clock was ticking down, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) bowed to the inevitable and put a short-term spending bill on the floor of the House that was acceptable to most Democrats and most Republicans. It passed that chamber 335-91, then passed the Senate 88-9, and then was signed into law by Joe Biden late Saturday night. So, the government will not shut down, at least not now.

The bill is, it can fairly be said, a model of bipartisanship in that everyone got some of what they wanted and nobody got everything. The bill will keep the government open, and also will extend the charter of the FAA, which are things that nearly everyone who is not a Freedom Caucuser wanted. In addition, the bill contains funding for some natural disaster aid, which is something that had broad support. On the other hand, the lefties had to give up on Ukraine funding (for now) while the righties had to give up on more money for the border (for now).

There are three obvious questions that remain unanswered at the moment:

  1. What Will the FCers Do?: The general consensus is that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and his cronies in the Freedom Caucus are going to move ahead with a motion to vacate the chair, perhaps as soon as Monday. That certainly seems plausible, especially given the FCers' interest in performative politics. However, we note once again that the "vacate the chair" move is kind of like those single-use fire extinguishers: Once it is gone, it is gone. It is nearly inconceivable to us that any future speaker would agree to the same terms McCarthy did, just having (hypothetically) watched McCarthy's head roll less than one year into his tenure. So, we do not think it impossible that the FCers will prefer to keep their "Use in case of emergency" card in their back pockets a while longer.

  2. Did McCarthy Take Out an Insurance Policy?: Everything came together so quickly, there's no information on what deals McCarthy made with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and his caucus. Maybe McCarthy made no deal, and knew that House Democrats would have no real choice but to vote for the stopgap bill. Maybe there's an agreement that the Democrats will protect McCarthy's job, if and when that is needed, in exchange for concessions (e.g., an end to the impeachment investigation). Either option is well within the realm of possibility.

  3. Not So Sweet November?: The bill that was signed into law last night covers just 45 days (until Nov. 17). Undoubtedly, that choice was not a coincidence, because there will be much motivation to not shut the government down right before Thanksgiving. That said, we have no doubt that Democrats gave up on Ukraine Aid and Republicans gave up on border money because they knew it was only a temporary surrender. It will not be so easy to reach an agreeable compromise next time (well, unless they kick the can down the road again).

This was very late breaking news, so more information may come out today or tomorrow. Or not. Who knows?

Also, as long as we're all joining hands for a round of bipartisan kumbayah, Senate Republicans have already confirmed they do not plan to block the Democrats from replacing Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on the Senate Judiciary Committee. As we wrote yesterday, the risk-reward analysis for attempting a blockade really doesn't add up for the GOP. And it would make even less sense to lie about it and then try it anyhow 2 days later. So, the Judiciary Committee should have its full complement of Democrats as soon as Feinstein's replacement is named (note that the replacement might not end up on Judiciary, but it makes far more sense to do one new organizing resolution with the new senator's assignments and with the new Judiciary member than it does to do two in the span of a couple of days). In fact, it is unlikely that an appointed senator with the least seniority in the entire Senate gets such a coveted assignment. More likely, a more senior Democrat gets it and the newbie gets to fill in the gap left behind when someone else got the seat on the Judiciary Committee. (Z)

Sunday Mailbag

Some weeks, 60% of the letters are directly related to politics. Others, it's 70% or 80%. This week, it was 95%, which is unusually high, even given that our focus is politics.

Peanut Pickin' Politickin' Man

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: Today is President Jimmy Carter's 99th birthday. Not too many expected us to see this happen when he announced he was entering hospice care earlier this year. But with this occasion, he will now formally enter his 100th year of life. So that's a remarkable accomplishment in itself.

I was a young boy during his presidency. So I had to rely on the history books to tell me what it was like. There were some good points, and also some bad points in his 4 years in the White House. But one undeniable truth is that he always conducted himself with great honor and decency. While his actual presidency was not that impressive, his post-presidency is now the gold standard for everyone to follow.

Recently, we've heard constant news about another former president. I'll only say he is the complete opposite of Carter. There are currently five living former presidents. At least for today, it's time to recognize the most senior of this exclusive club.

Politics: The Republican Debate

D.E. in Lancaster, PA , writes: Regarding the second Republican debate—or, as I like to call it, "The Race To See Who Will Be Humiliated The Least"—you wrote: "For the next one, however, we're going to have to come up with something, just in order to get through it without giving ourselves the Oedipus treatment." So are you saying that you would rather have sex with your mothers than watch the next debate? OK. A little extreme for me but to each their own.

Personally, if Fox were to lay a bear trap in front of a TV with the debate on and the trap were to slam shut on my leg, I would not hesitate to start chewing on the trapped limb to get away from having to watch. Or maybe stick my head in the garbage disposal and flick the switch on or take a pair of long sharp knitting needles and jam them... Oh, wait. I see where you were going with the Oedipus remark. Never mind. On second thought, you would have to make sure to ram the needles in your ear drums as well to get away from the true horror the is the GOP debates, the sound. My God, the horrible sound.

BTW, I think Otto the staff dachshund is the best political pundit out there. He did what I've often wanted to when seeing Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). You taught him well. Unlike my first dog, a beagle named Spotty (give me a break, I was 6 when I named her) who whenever Nixon would come on TV would go lick his image. My family and I were at a loss to explain her affection for Tricky Dicky until we remembered that on meeting others, dogs often sniff and lick each other's buttholes. They also will roll in and/or eat every filthy thing they find in the yard or street if you don't watch them like hawks.

D.C. in Portland, OR, writes: Reading your commentary on the "debate"—which I had no intention of suffering live—I was reminded of 2015 and the kiddies table sessions.

It struck me that in 2023, the seven adults standing on that stage were also de facto the kiddies. With Trump's lack of presence, that is the only table that remains.

This amorphous blob of a thing they call their party; it is such a fluid poorly defined thing and yet these people make it their life's mission to be its leader, humiliating themselves in the process as they execute their plastic performances.

It is a shocking situation that these smart and successful people can lose sight of reality and get caught up in such a dark comic tragedy, with democracy itself at stake.

Their utter lack of control over the situation and the inevitability of their failure is really quite historic.

T.B. in Nowata, OK, writes: Talking about firing the IT or Sound guy, Fox makes the same stupid mistakes with sporting events, especially football. I've only followed one NFL team for nearly 60 years, the great Green Bay Packers. And there is only one college team worth watching, the Oklahoma Sooners. Every week I anxiously check to see if either team will be shown locally or on Dish. (I am one of those who live deep in a rural area without sufficient bandwidth to stream games.)

However, when they are to be on a Fox outlet, the disappointed wails commence. Fox always has the crowd noise up so high that the announcers can barely be heard. After about a quarter, I finally have to mute it. Many people have complained in various forums, but nothing ever seems to get done. Some speculate that Fox is using a sound protocol that doesn't decode properly on certain TVs. Maybe, but it is more likely they just are trying to build false excitement. Sounds like something Fox would do, right?

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: You wrote, "Does this kind of sacrifice for the greater good [watching the debate AND the Donald Trump speech] maybe make us eligible for a Nobel Prize, or something like that?"

No, but I will tip a bottle with you in your commiseration.

Also one for Otto.

Last one is for me.

E.H. in Washington, DC, writes: Well, maybe instead of a Nobel Prize, it might be that a Purple Heart is in order. I'd certainly have been bleeding from the ears after that.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

A.J.C. in Williamsburg, VA, writes: I know there was a lot of news to cover on Friday, but I am quite surprised that you didn't mention the speech Joe Biden gave in Arizona dedicating the John McCain Library. We watched it "almost live," and in my opinion, it's the best speech Biden has ever given. It was the clearest defense of American democracy and the threat posed to it by "MAGA extremists" that I've heard. He's running to save America, and he looks ready to go from where I sit.

P.M. in Reading, England, UK, writes: This is from the 80s, but it shows how polls can be manipulated depending on who books them:

Politics: Trump v2.0

G.W in Oxnard, CA, writes: In "Trump v2.0," you wrote, "By making everyone half a dozen levels down from the top a presidential appointee, only clerks, secretaries, cafeteria workers, and janitors will be protected from being fired for political reasons..."

You are perpetuating myths about the federal civil service. The 50,000 jobs that Trump v2.0 would make political appointees would be management positions. The 50,000 is a big number, but the federal civil service employs a bit over 2 million people. Most federal civil servants are educated professionals. Sure, the federal government has a lot of clerks. The first amendment to the Constitution gives the people the right to redress grievances to the government. The vast majority of grievances are redressed by submitting a form to a clerk. Many of those forms are dealt with by professionals. Many secretary jobs are done by support contractors. The government facilities that have cafeterias (a lot fewer than the old days) are operated by a concessionaire, not federal workers. Janitorial services are contracted out. This policy goes back to the Reagan administration.

Taking myself as an example, I was an engineer for the Navy for many years. It took me years to achieve the level of expertise and experience to do what I did, and you can't hire someone from industry to do what I did, because no one in industry owns a navy. The Trump v2.0 architects at least understand that you can replace my boss's boss with a political hack and still get the job done (Donald Rumsfeld did that to a large extent, though far short of Schedule F, and our ship procurement program is still so messed up today that he couldn't have been any more effective if he had been an enemy of the U.S.).

Vivek Ramaswamy, on the other hand, gives every indication of being stupid enough to think federal civil servants are all worthless leeches on society and any engineer could do my old job, so give it to a political loyalist. He also seems to be stupid enough to think that a handful of political loyalist engineers could do the work of my agency, or he might be stupid enough to think that the Navy can get by just fine without an agency doing engineering and logistics for stuff the Navy owns.

A.G. in Concord, NH, writes: In your "Trump v2.0," after re-reading the article and rewatching a recently released analysis by a lawyer YouTuber I follow, I respectfully submit that your description of the threat of Project 2025 was greatly understated. This Heritage Foundation plan (sorry, I don't think this can be said enough times, and those of us who have been readers of your site for a while now will immediately recognize the implications of that fact) is not just if Trump manages to become president, but for any potential Republican president.

Further, there's a lot more to their manifesto than just the administrative state; there's all sorts of religion-based items, as well as revocation of rights for LGBTQ, women, reproductive rights (not just abortion), and even pornography, if you can believe that! The theocratic state of Iran will have nothing on the theocratic state of America by the time they're done if they have their way.

D.S. in Oakton, VA, writes: In "Trump v2.0," you detailed a short list of plans Donald Trump has mentioned for when he is elected il Duce. I recommend adding to the list the invasion of Mexico, ostensibly to halt drug trafficking.

Not only would the U.S. enter pariah status with our neighbors and allies, but guacamole would become much more expensive, vehicle production would halt or slow, oil prices would rise, and 1.6 million Americans now living south of the border would have to make some big decisions. What other countries would we need to invade to stop fentanyl smugglers? China for sure, and then India.

And who would pay for these wars? Mexico, of course.

R.P. in Gloucester City, NJ, writes: You're making me scared. This is everything I've believed about Donald Trump's desires but never believed could happen. Now I'm starting to worry it could happen. I don't want to live in the United Fiefdoms of Trump. If it looks like he's going to win (or successfully steal) the 2024 election, I'm not sticking around. I'll defect to Canada.

Politics: Legal Matters

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I'm very surprised that the remedy that Judge Arthur Engoron ordered for the Trumps hasn't gotten more attention: He put all of the corporate defendants AND "any other entity controlled or beneficially owned" by any of the individual defendants into receivership and canceled their New York business licenses (certificates to operate). They cannot legally operate now without court oversight. This is an aggressive and unusual move and one that reflects the Court's finding that fraud is ongoing and the folks at the helm can't be trusted to run those companies honestly.

The appeals court quickly denied Trump's motion for a stay, in part, because Trump could attempt to move assets from those entities during a stay, making a judgment impossible to satisfy.

As you'll recall, the judge appointed the Hon. Barbara Jones as an independent monitor when the court granted the preliminary injunction to ensure no fraud took place while the case was pending. In his order, the judge noted that Jones reported that even with the PI in place, "defendants have continued to disseminate false and misleading information while conducting business." So, a court order wasn't sufficient to keep them from committing fraud. The court had no choice, then, but to cancel their certificates so they can't legally do business at all, and that order goes into effect immediately. The parties were ordered to provide names of potential receivers within 10 days and in the meantime Jones will continue to monitor the business activities to ensure compliance with the order.

Once a receiver is appointed, that person has the power to sell any of the assets to satisfy a judgment. It's clear the media doesn't grasp how significant this is—the receiver takes control of all aspects of the operations—the owner no longer has any rights to any part of those businesses. It's no wonder Trump is furious—this hits him where it hurts.

I suspect that the next news item from this case will be a contempt hearing for Trump violating the Court's order and trying to hide his assets.

A.B. in Chesapeake, VA, writes: In your answer to E.W. in Skaneateles, who asked "why isn't [Donald Trump facing] a criminal fraud case?", you left out: (7) a civil case, requiring a preponderance of evidence, does not preclude Alvin Bragg bringing a criminal case which requires guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder when charged criminally, but found guilty when charged civilly.

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: On Justice Clarence Thomas, I think you overemphasize the political aspects of the whether Missouri would disbar him. The real problem is that discipline would have to be based on the Rules of Professional Conduct or the Code of Judicial Conduct. For the most part, the Rules of Professional Conduct applies to practicing attorneys, not judges. There is a catch-all provision for judges in the Rules of Professional Conduct that they have to abide by the Code of Judicial Conduct, but I am unable to recall a case in which Missouri has sanctioned a judge's bar license for violating the Code of Judicial Conduct. As to the Code of Judicial Conduct, Missouri only has the power to enforce that against state judges.

If somehow the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel (the office charged with enforcing the Rules of Professional Conduct) thought that they had authority to disbar an attorney for misconduct as a federal judge, the case would ultimately be heard by the Missouri Supreme Court. Given the process for selecting Missouri judges (a nonpartisan commission nominates three candidates and the governor picks one), the Missouri Supreme Court has traditionally been moderately, but not uniformly, conservative. For example, the Missouri Supreme Court has blocked multiple attempts to enact voter ID laws. Probably, asserting the authority to disbar a U.S. Supreme Court justice would be a step too far, but some of the current judges would find the arguments on that issue to be interesting.

On civil vs. criminal, you mentioned summary judgments. For readers who are not lawyers, a basic principle of American law is that juries are there to decide facts while judges are supposed to decide the law. For every type of claim, there are a series of facts that the jury has to find to decide for the plaintiff. In most major civil cases, both sides while file motions for summary judgment. The essence of a summary judgment motion is that those key facts which the jury is supposed to decide are not truly in dispute and the only issue is one of law. For historical reasons, this type of motion is permitted in civil cases but courts have treated the right to a criminal jury trial as a higher right and do not permit summary judgment motions in criminal cases.

Politics: Life Expectancy

K.H. in Ypsilanti MI, writes: M.L.M. in San Jose may be a math and science teacher, but both they and you erred in your projections of Joe Biden's chances of completing a second term based on Social Security actuarial tables.

You both overlooked that the 80-year-olds in those tables include substantial numbers of men with significant health issues that will lead to or contribute to their demise, and who will make up the vast majority of those who won't make it to Jan. 20, 2029. Those who reach 80 in good health—as Biden appears to be—have an excellent chance of surviving to 90 or beyond. Much better than the 49 percent chance that M.L.M. calculates.

As this will undoubtedly be revisited ad nauseam between now and the election, it would be good to have solid data on the 5-year survival odds of healthy 80-year-olds rather than just basing predictions on the general population.

J.C. in Oxford, England, UK, writes: It would be unwise on my part to start a fight with a high school math teacher, but when I look at the actuarial tables I get somewhat higher probabilities for Donald Trump and Joe Biden surviving to the end of a second term—55% rather than 49% for Biden (actually a little higher, since I'm assuming he's 81, which he is not for a couple of months) and 70% rather than 65% for Trump (actually a little lower, since I'm assuming he just turned 77 when in fact he did so in early summer).

Beyond that, my experience of health statistics is that by those ages the numbers are significantly skewed by those with existing known conditions. So, both numbers should be quite a lot higher for people we can see are mostly mobile and mostly functional.

T.C. in Stone Mountain, GA, writes: M.L.M. in San Jose calculated that Joe Biden has a 50% chance of living to July 20, 2028, and Donald Trump has a 66% chance. I don't disagree with the calculations, but I do disagree with the methodology. Presidents are not typical U.S. residents. Most of them had better access to good medical care and nutrition as children and young adults and all of them have better access as adults and senior citizens (even if they don't always take advantage of the available better nutrition). I think a better way of estimating longevity of Trump and Biden would be to look at recent presidents and vice presidents.

Every president since Richard Nixon and every vice-president since Nelson Rockefeller either lived into their 90's and/or is still alive today. Another way to look at the data is to note that Biden and Trump were born in the 1940's. There were seven presidents or vice presidents born in the 1940's (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Trump, Biden, Dan Quayle, Al Gore, and Dick Cheney) and ALL of them are still alive.

I would be willing to wager that both Biden and Trump will be with us on July 20, 2028.

Politics: The 2028 Presidential Race

U.S. in Monrovia, CA, writes: Every 4 years, the main presidential candidates almost always come by the L.A. Times to meet with the editorial board (even the Republicans, though they have little chance of winning in California).

One of the benefits of working in the sports department, like I do, is that almost every presidential candidate who talks to the board wants to stop by the sports department, which must sound more glamorous to them than it actually is. So I've been fortunate to meet a bunch of them over the last 32 years.

Bill Clinton, by far, had the most personal charisma of any candidate. It's not even close. When he came by sports in 1992, I was just the desk assistant, the lowest man on the totem pole. I answered the phones and ran errands. But he stopped by my desk, shook my hand, and spent about 5 minutes talking to me about sports. And for those 5 minutes, he made me feel like nothing was more important in the world than talking to me. It was the same way with everyone else in the sports department that day. We were all amazed. Deep down we knew he was a politician working the room, but darn if we didn't fall for it.

I can't remember if it was just before he was elected governor or just after, but Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) would be a close second to Clinton in this regard. He came by the department and made sure to talk to everyone, and devoted his full attention to you. So, while his becoming president is not guaranteed, of course, I am quite sure he could win over voters in other states, just like Clinton did.

On the opposite end, the person who left the worst impression was Hillary Clinton. She seemed to want to be anywhere else. I'm not sure why she even stopped by sports. She met my wife, who worked in a different department, separately that same day, and my wife came away with the same impression. Maybe Hillary was having a bad day, but she certainly didn't inspire you to rush out on Election Day and vote for her.

Never met Donald Trump or Ross Perot. Never met Joe Biden, as our offices were closed for the pandemic. And now we all work from home, so it's doubtful I'll meet any more.

J.C. in Washington, DC, writes: I appreciate the fact you both have (significant) ties to California—I was born and raised in the state. However, I believe your appropriation of Gavin Newsom is misguided. The Golden State is a political pariah.

I can tell you that even folks on the left are concerned. Based on my conversations and personal observations a Democrat from the Midwest is best for the next cycle (yes, I'm talking '28).

Biden is it for '24. It will be close.

Politics: Fairness Doctrine

J.C. in Portland, OR, writes: I agree with your answer to S.G. in Manassas that the time of the Fairness Doctrine has come and gone, but I also think its repeal has had a more profound impact on life in the U.S. than most people realize.

Without the rise of right-wing talk radio, a lot of the last 30-35 years probably looks very different. The building blocks of what became the right-wing mediasphere were developed on talk radio and primed millions of people to accept a right-wing message.

In particular, the audience most primed where low-wage and trades workers (e.g., delivery drivers, shop techs, etc.) who either had few options on the radio in their company trucks or were otherwise compelled to listen to it all day. Growing up in a blue-collar, rural town I saw this happen multiple times, including to my own parents.

Putting it another way, do we have a Sean Hannity without Rush Limbaugh or a Tucker Carlson without Michael Savage?

Obviously it's impossible to know, but having a tested product that is ready to go once new media came about gave the right a structural advantage they've never lost.

B.C. in Farmingville, NY, writes: In your answer to S.G. in Manassas, you question the power of right-wing talk radio. I think you may be vastly underestimating the number of older white men who have conservative radio on in their cars or offices 24/7. I lived next to a guy who used to blast it all day long while working outside. I think most people know someone in their lives that does that. But the ones I know don't seek out Fox. I am talking about, in particular, professions like truckers, carpenters/tradesmen, accountants, tech consultants and others that whose careers afford them the opportunity to listen to the radio all day long. Granted, most that do this are probably voting for the GOP anyway, but they could have pushed Donald Trump over the edge in states that have a large amount of white men, like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

It is my personal opinion that the sexist online trolls, Reddit, gamergate sentiment, and 4chan actually were a much larger part of getting Trump elected than anyone cares to acknowledge.

Politics: Net Neutrality

D.M. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: You brought up net neutrality and your unequivocal support for it. I have something that I think might temper that support. Perhaps the greatest beneficiary from non-net-neutrality is the entertainment industry. When illegal P2P download sites are allowed to have the same unencumbered speed as say Netflix, or Disney+, that harms entertainers. Part of the throttling and concomitant fees of non-net-neutrality are, in part, to ensure it's an honest broker using up those GB/S. It was actually a bit of a coup for Trump to impose these restrictions because, all of a sudden, folks in music and TV and films started to see their revenues go up again as more and more people abandoned slow illegal P2P sites for low-pay subscription high speed sites. I often thought of it as the "Nixon-China" thing, as only Trump could care about protecting the sanctity of entertainers, given that he was one. No one else in the Republican field at the time said a peep about overturning it. As someone in the entertainment industry for nearly 30 years, I can say this is the sole thing Trump did that I agree with. I'm sure he's still steamed that more people have not thanked him for effectively saving the entertainment industry.

Now you could, of course, say "Screw all those famous people with their billion-dollar concert tours and multi-million-dollar box office returns" but that is still an important economic engine that suffers. I'd imagine that the disinformation sites that are super far in the dark corners of the Internet won't mind the shackles coming off, either.

BTW, you know who also loves net neutrality? Internet Service Providers. They don't care what data goes over their wire just so long as there's a ton of it that they can charge to their customers. No surprise then that they are the #3 highest donating lobbying group behind fossil fuels and pharma. When you consider the company ISPs are in, it becomes a litter harder to root for them.

B.K.S. in Salem, OR, writes: To add to your response to R.C. in Des Moines regarding Republicans and net neutrality, I can add a bit from the viewpoint of an IT Communications and Security Specialist.

The telecom industry has long wanted to be able to pull the stunts that you listed, especially the larger corporate owned ISPs, mostly to increase profits. They have consistently fought against laws and regulation that would have classified them as utilities and forced them to remain neutral for both traffic-carrying fairness and service (such as ensuring underserved neighborhoods within their coverage areas received broadband). They were largely successful when Ajit Pai, a former executive of Verizon, was appointed chair of the FCC by TFG's administration.

Then, not only were they lobbying to keep governments from creating their own municipal broadband with arguments of "We cannot compete with the government, because the government can do it so much more cheaply and efficiently" while at the same time imploring "The government is wasteful and inefficient," but now they had an "inside man" that knew where the pressure points where and one of the first attacks was the "net neutrality" rule.

The arguments from Pai (and other "free market" types) included such gems as "with net neutrality rules in place, a broadband provider cannot set up tiers of service and charge more for faster delivery to the customer, and this anti-capitalist regulation will cause all the ISPs to stop making fast broadband investment." This was not at all the situation. A customer could (and can) pay for as fast of a connection they could afford and was available in the service area (woefully inadequate in so many places due to lack of competition and initial setup cost for an ISP utility), so long as all traffic delivered to that connection were treated equally. As typical, these sorts of straw-man arguments played on the ignorance and inattentiveness of the general public.

If the ISPs and cable providers had been charging all GOP and right-wing content providers 5000% for delivery (or blocking it outright), there would have been a clamoring for net neutrality on the right long ago, as it is now in Congress where there is a loud angry noise from the GOP regarding how unfair Alphabet (Google), Facebook and the like are for daring to "censor" and fact-check them—along with the need to regulate those companies. I suppose they would still have, "X", though.

My, how the worm turns.

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: You gave a list of reasons to R.C. in Des Moines why conservatives don't like net neutrality, which seems as good an explanation as any.

But there is a strong conservative argument in favor of net neutrality, since it's all about freedom of speech and equal access. It's worth pointing out that the first net neutrality rules were devised by a Republican FCC commissioner under George W. Bush. That was before the party had adopted their opposition. In the Barack Obama era, some Republican congressional staffer released a whitepaper arguing for it, as a conservative priority. It was quickly squashed by the party.

The classic conservative proponents lost that battle with the Party, and Trump's FCC guy Ajit Pai followed party orthodoxy and killed net neutrality upon taking office. But the Trump wing of the party often talks about section 230 and imposing some neutrality requirements on internet services like Google and Facebook. They often use net neutrality-based arguments.

Now depending on your understanding of internet layers, Google and Facebook are applications built on top of the internet, not the pipes themselves, and so exempt from net neutrality. But I see a path for a deal between pro-net neutrality Democrats and Trump-era populist conservatives, where some kind of neutrality requirements are devised for both network layers and application layers.

Would I support a deal that guaranteed net neutrality but also barred Facebook from removing ivermectin conspiracies and Russian election disinformation? I dunno, tough call. But maybe.

Politics: Labor and the Environment

S.O. in San Francisco, CA, writes: I am a union member of over 28 years and an environmentalist. For the second time in as many weeks, (V) has made an assertion that the UAW strike at the Big 3 is somehow dividing workers and environmentalists. This is absolutely not the case.

In fact, many environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, The Sierra Club, and 350 are in full agreement with the UAW and their demands in this strike, and have echoed the workers' demands for a "just transition" in the conversion from ICE vehicles to EVs.

In fact, Labor Network for Sustainability hosted an hour-long webinar in August that featured speakers from the UAW (including rank and file workers) and environmental organizations, with Bill McKibben as a Keynote Speaker.

By perpetuating the myth of workers versus environmentalists you are actually unwittingly spreading Donald Trump's talking points and the Big 3's divide-and-conquer propaganda.

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: You wrote, in the context of potential political conflicts associated with Biden's support of the striking UAW workers, you wrote: "They [environmentalists] don't care where electric cars are made or by who as long as they are made."

I'm sure that you (and most of my fellow readers) know that isn't really true. It's also just not true that there is some kind of choice between auto workers' interests and environmental ones, no matter how hard the auto companies try to spin it that way. The only conflicts are between workers' interests and company profits and (possibly) environmental concerns and company profits.

B.S. in Raleigh, NC, writes: I'm not sure about the assessment that President Biden going to the picket lines may cause repercussions down the line, putting him in a "squeeze," as you put it.

Yes, the Midwestern states (especially Michigan) are crucial to his re-election. And yes, environmentalists are not going to be pleased if the transition to electric vehicles is delayed. Some may even be loudly displeased. But... what's their alternative? They can't vote for the Republicans because that simply won't serve their interests. And abstaining from voting (or voting third party, for that matter) is going to cause the same result. In the end, environmentalists have no choice but to support the Democratic Party. So while they might complain loudly about it, it doesn't seem as though that will put much pressure on Biden and the Democrats. To me, at least.

B.B. in Bedford, MA, writes: I took a closer look at the signs at Donald Trump's Michigan rally and found that the text on the lower right of the signs seems to say "Paid for by Donald Trump for President." And there is no union badge on the sign.

Shocking that the Union support seems superficial.

Politics: Clothes Make the Man

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: I guess I'm just a fuddy duddy, but the Senate dress code thing reminded me of a story worth telling. Around 1977, Jimmy Carter promoted energy conservation by dictating that thermostats be set to 65F for heating and 78F for cooling in public buildings. A freshman Democratic congressman from Texas, Jim Mattox, decided to draw some attention to himself and support his president by coming onto the House floor in slacks, a short sleeve dress shirt, no jacket, and no tie. CSPAN was brand new then. When he did it, Speaker Tip O'Neill (who had no doubt been "tipped" off) had the sergeant-at-arms take hold of Mattox while he was still in the aisle, before he had taken his seat. On CSPAN, O'Neill "reminded" Mattox that the founding fathers had worked in an unconditioned building in Philadelphia in July of 1776 to found this great country, and then "explained" to Mattox that he was not going to disrespect the assembly that descended from the one in Philadelphia by coming to work in casual attire. Then O'Neill ordered the sergeant-at-arms to remove Mattox from the chamber.

O'Neill did the right thing by squelching a show-off upstart. Sometimes it takes rules to keep politicians, especially first-termers, from being attention hounds. Not everyone is classy, but you shouldn't let them get away with being tacky.

(If you are wondering, Mattox continued in various offices and peaked out as Texas Attorney General before so many Democrats in Texas began identifying as Republican and made him unelectable. Mattox was one of a few that stuck with their party even if it meant the political end for him.)

B.W. in Suwanee, GA, writes: I'm barely a Boomer (born in '63) but I think this is ridiculous. I almost never leave the house without being clad in flip-flops (not a hoodie guy, though). I think the younger generations would have no problem being represented by a senator with those dress choices. It really just paints the senate as old and stuffy/stale. I could see not allowing speedos or bare chests, but flip-flops?

Politics: One Of These Days I'm Gonna Sit Down And Talk To Paul

R.W. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: In regard to the mental condition of Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), I think you would have done well to consult the staff neurologist rather than the staff psychiatrist. Gosar's odd physical mannerisms have led many to speculate that he suffers from Parkinson's or perhaps even Huntington's. Both diseases can cause mental decline, including reduced impulse control. While Gosar denies that there is anything wrong with him, I think the facts on the ground point elsewhere.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: The scariest thing about Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) is his constituency. Who votes for an obviously unhinged person? More evidence that he's not actually human, but he's Gozer the Gozerian?

D.W. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: Louis Brandeis said "the states are the laboratories of democracy." Jon Stewart said "Arizona is the meth lab of democracy" and it's obvious we are just, here in Arizona, cooking bad meth...

Not a point of pride.

T.P. in Cleveland, OH, writes:

E-V: First of all, it's "hanged," you idiot.

Reader [to self]: It's about time somebody said that. [smiles and sips coffee]

E-V: If you say that in a better society, the sodomites would be hung, you're asking for something very different than you presumably intend to ask for.

Reader: [coffee all over the desk and monitor]

Thanks, (Z). I needed that. :-)

J.A. in Taunton, MA, writes: Your comment on Paul Gosar's "Newsletter (which incidentally is probably what Der Stürmer looked like): funniest thing I've read from you guys in the last 2 years, at least.

Politics: Country Cousins

J.R. in Berlin, Germany, writes: You wrote: "Anytime we see a picture of state Sen. Colton Moore (R-GA), we for some reason start to think about the many and varied benefits of picking someone other than your first cousin to reproduce with."

Reminds me of the old joke: "If a couple are married in Mississippi, have children in Alabama, and divorce in Georgia, are they still brother and sister?"

J.F. in Fort Worth, TX, writes: I know you're gonna get a lot of flak over the joke about Colton Moore looking like the child of first cousins, so I'm going to counter that by saying that I thought it was hilarious and dead-on.


S.A.K. in Bangalore, KA, India, writes: I found the reference to reproducing with one's first cousin unexpected and frankly, distasteful.

Mind you, I am as much put off by a fellow like Colton Moore as any other sane and decent person.

I know your readers are primarily Americans and that they mock such relationships. "They" primarily referring to secular Americans.

I also know full well that both of you are secular and not particularly religious. Even so, you could have used one of several other references to call that fellow's stupidity out.

What you should strongly consider is not an insignificant percentage of your readers belong to religions and cultures where such relationships are allowed and practiced. An obvious example is Islam. Hindus, too (specifically in Southern India ). Possibly, Jews as well (at least for some, if not all of them).

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your site for several years. Stuff like this does put me off a bit.

I am sure (Z) is a well-read guy and appreciates my point.

J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, writes: While marrying your first cousin may be illegal in many states, there is absolutely no concern biologically. The problem becomes when you do it for repeated generations of first cousins marrying each other, like three or four generations in a row, as we see in the Royal Houses of Europe, where recessive traits are concentrated in the classic Punnet Square—and, of course, many genetic diseases are recessive. This is more than a biological point, as I often point out to my students when we get to genetics, since there are many cultures where cousin marriage is a preferred avenue and they are too often unfairly stereotyped for this.

S.F. in Fort Oglethorpe, GA, writes: Speaking as a sapphire-blue voter who lives in both GA-14 and GA-SD-53, I just love being reminded that I'm represented in my national and state government by those two flubber-brains, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Colton Moore. If you are wondering why Moore likes to hear himself talk so much, it is that his actual job (aside from disrupting the Georgia State Senate) is running his family's bulldozing business and also serving as an auctioneer. He was a finalist a few years ago at some national auctioneering competition. Moore is only 29, so we have a lot more of this to come unless he wants to try to take out MTG at some point (and, unlike MTG, he is actually a native of this district).

My representative in the Georgia House is Mitchell Horner (R) who is also 29. He's pretty quiet, though. The only thing he's done of note so far is to push for Georgia to ask the Supreme Court for the 5 zillionth time to adjudicate the disputed location of the border between Georgia and Tennessee. SCOTUS has not seemed terribly interested in doing this in the past and that's unlikely to change. Given what else I've got, though, having a state House member who just seems inert would be a blessing.

A Day of Atonement

C.M. in West Hartford, CT, writes: I am an Irish-American daughter of two lapsed Catholic parents (McCarthys from West Cork), so I really don't have a dog in this race. However, all week I have been thinking over your response to J.G. in East Greenwich and their message to you about Jews not using the internet on Rosh Hashanah. These are the two things troubling me:

  1. I understand your response, and I don't doubt it is factually true. But J.G. wrote that it spoke to a larger issue, where he noticed that you have not sufficiently differentiated between denominations (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox); individuals within those denominations, and secular or cultural Jews. They have myriad opinions on when life (the soul) begins, and for that matter on same-sex marriage, intermarriage, and keeping kosher. I know the freedom Catholics enjoy in the U.S. to support anti-abortion policies and politicians, or (like Ted Kennedy did and Joe Biden does) support a religiously pluralistic society.

  2. My second question goes more to the spirit than the letter of the law. I have noticed this on more than one of your responses this year. They have been very quick (it seems) to defend your position and to prove you are not wrong. A conversation is most enlightening when each participant takes the time to, if not agree with the comments, at least comes to an understanding of their point of view. Maybe "takes the time to" is the key issue. You have been overwhelmed by the amount of information (and lies) to be addressed every day. I commend you for you invaluable work, but maybe sometimes take a deep breath, walk the dogs, and remember that people who write in with comments and questions are generally looking for a thoughtful and mutual exchange of ideas.

J.L. in Glastonbury, CT, writes: I don't know if you set up the contrast intentionally, but anyone unclear on where wokeness crosses the line into sanctimonious, antisocial behavior, I offer up the contrast between the Unhappy New Year (Rosh Hashanah) comments of R.R. in Potomac and J.G. in East Greenwich. R.R. takes your Rosh Hashanah greeting in the spirit it was offered, and concisely informs through a tolerant frame of excusing the inadvertent error. On the other hand, J.G. offers an aggrieved lecture on the "pattern of the way you treat Jews and Judaism on the site." For anyone not looking for an excuse to take offense, it was plain (V) and (Z) were trying to be respectful to a slice of their audience.

But J.G. feels it necessary to take them to task for not being as deeply immersed in the culture, customs, theological history and diversity of Judaism as J.G. is. R.R. showed that this is far from necessary. In a diverse world we can be "woke" to the different ways our friends and acquaintances experience life in our culture by being curious and kind. Lectures don't help.

(V) & (Z) respond: If we get letters that approach an issue in different ways, we do indeed try to select and run one or two examples of each approach.


N.S. in North Hollywood, CA, writes: It was cool to see Genesis lyrics in "Today's Corruption News, Part I: Bob Menendez." During the pandemic, I got really into their music. I have become convinced that if you take the entirety of their catalog, including the members' solo albums and other projects (e.g., Mike + the Mechanics), the end result is slightly better than if you did the same with the Beatles. And I love the Beatles.

Tony Banks' keyboard solo in "The Cinema Show" might be my absolute favorite piece of music. However it also might not even be the best keyboard part on the Selling England By the Pound album, dueling with the incredible playing/composition of "Firth of Fifth." And the keyboard might not even be the best part of "Firth," possibly losing to Steve Hackett's alternate realm-entering guitar solo. And, oh yeah, Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel are also in the band.

M.S. in Canton, NY, writes: When you referenced "Don't You Forget About Me" in your write-up of the Republican debate, I was surprised that you linked to the official video instead of the final scene from The Breakfast Club. It got me wondering which of the participants was "a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal." OK, the criminal skipped the debate, but as for the other categories... yeah, never mind, some jokes are just too obvious.

C.J. in Branford, CT, writes: I have to disagree with your assessment of John Bonham's ability to extend drum solos "longer than any other drummer" in "Trump Legal News: Moby Dick." To be sure, Bonzo was an excellent drummer. But if you listen to his "Moby Dick" solo, you'll notice that there are many prolonged periods where he barely plays. And there seems to be no rhythm or pattern to his playing. Contrast that to Ginger Baker's drum solos, like the one in Blind Faith's "Do What You Like." Not only does he keep up the pace, but there is a purpose to his playing, not just random banging of percussion parts. And Baker was not just a drum player. He studied percussion instruments from all over the globe for decades, most notably when he lived many years in Africa. If you have not seen the BBC documentary Beware of Mr. Baker, I recommend you do so when you have the time.

H.R. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: As a long time reader (15+ years by my reckoning, although memory plays tricks when one is having too much fun!), I have often fallen out of my chair reading the hilariously clever wordplay that so characterizes this site—dare I say, even cleverer than the insightful political analyses that make it the first thing I read every morning (like so many others).

But nothing to date in my admittedly fading memory matches the absolutely side-splitting mix of metaphors from "Trump Legal News: Moby Dick." Leave alone the "great white whale" analogy (hilarious in itself), but the "long shot-waste a bullet-tilting at windmills" setup was more than I could take. "Side-splitting" doesn't come close to describing it, so I tried to look up a superlative that might be more appropriate, but it was a quixotic search, predictably doomed to failure (apologies for my cringeworthy attempt at extending your brilliant mix of metaphors).

If you don't know already that your writings are a ray of brilliant sunshine in these dark times, let me say again, on behalf of everyone who reads this site: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you. May you live long and prosper.

(V) & (Z) respond: We are very grateful for the incredibly kind words!

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: If football didn't exist, shooting at windmills would probably be the Texas state sport.

Final Words

L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: The last words of the great British painter J.M.W. Turner were reportedly "The sun is God." Considering Turner's brilliant use of light, no wonder.

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