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Sunday Mailbag

We have many fewer Trump messages these days, and among the ones we do have, the ratio of "serious comment about Trump" to "Trump is the butt of the joke" has definitely shifted in favor of the latter. Perhaps that says something about his 2024 hopes.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

O.E. in Greenville, SC, writes: As a South Carolinian, I have a few thoughts on Nikki Haley. During her first run for office in 2010, she was highly unpopular, and got elected with a far lower margin than many other Republicans. The same thing happened in 2014.

Most of her views were and are similar to other right-wing Republicans, with nothing much to distinguish them. The only reasons she is considered to be "moderate" are: (1) Her response to the Charleston shooting (which was not different from what most politicians would have done); (2) Criticizing Donald Trump (A position that most politicians would have taken years ago); (3) Not race baiting (Ditto); and (4) Not taking action against trans athletes (as she didn't know of any in the state).

One thing she changed from her predecessor, Mark Sanford (R), was her pushing for corporate welfare to subsidize businesses coming to South Carolina. Some of those businesses would later pay her back with airplane rides (revealed not long before she resigned her U.N. Ambassadorship) and a Boeing board position. (It's worth noting that, per whistleblowers, the Charleston plant has produced planes with numerous defects compared to the planes made in Seattle.)

One minor scandal. A local reporter for a TV station reported that her 14-year old daughter had been given a job in the state House gift shop. When the reporter questioned her about it, she accused the media of targeting her family and threatening her children's safety. (The reporter in question was a graduate of Bob Jones University, so it's safe to say it was not due to any political bias.) It's nowhere near a Jared Kushner/Hunter Biden level scandal, but it's still too nepotistic for my taste.

Given the rise in the number of "fire-eaters" in SC, it's likely that neither she nor Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) will do well, compared to Trump or Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). (Shame.)

D.R. in Unalakleet, AK, writes: Here is another theory why Nikki Haley is running for the GOP nomination, and why Donald Trump has reportedly encouraged her campaign. The more GOP candidates that run, the easier it will be for Trump to gain a plurality, like he did in 2016.

W.K.D. in Houston, TX, writes: You criticized Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R-FL) COVID leadership/lack of leadership for the umpteenth time with the following statement: "Florida was third in COVID-19 deaths with 84,605. Maybe if DeSantis had pooh-poohed it more, it could have passed Texas (93,025 deaths) and made it into second place."

This is to somehow suggest that Florida, the U.S. state with the third-highest number of people, could have anything other than the third highest total of COVID-19 deaths. In this regard, there is little Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) could have done to prevent Texas (second in population) from having the second-highest number (93,032) of COVID-19 deaths. There is little Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) could have done to prevent California (first in population) from having the highest number (99,893) of COVID-19 deaths. There is little Andrew Cuomo/Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) could have done to prevent the state of New York (fourth in population) from having the fourth-highest number (76,451) of COVID-19 deaths. Would it surprise (V) & (Z) to hear that the state with the fifth-highest total population (Pennsylvania) also has the fifth-highest number of COVID-19 deaths?

But (V) & (Z) are very, very smart people who undoubtedly know this and surely know without a doubt that only an estimate of per capita deaths could (even begin to) allow insight into which states' policies might have had an impact on COVID-19 deaths. Since (V) & (Z) undoubtedly know this, it remains a bizarre mystery as to why (V) & (Z) keep picking on Ron DeSantis's COVID leadership (or lack thereof). What one begins to wonder is whether or not (V) & (Z) are allowing their ideological biases blind them to reality. Florida is 16th in per capita in COVID deaths. This... isn't terrible. In fact, it's better than New York, which sits at 11th. Even worse, from an ideological perspective, Texas is only 33rd! How'd that happen, y'all??? Thank goodness California ranks 39th. At least the accepted ideology mildly aligns with reality there. There are so many real things to criticize about Ron DeSantis, things that are accurate and true and real, that it remains unclear why (V) & (Z) continue to criticize him for...the number of people who live in the state of Florida.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: If Ron DeSantis really does use "Florida is where woke goes to die" as a primary campaign slogan, oh boy, I've got the perfect visual to crush it. Imagine the slogan superimposed over a sea of pointy, white KKK hoods. I'd run that on social media, print rally and yard signs, and even buy billboards located at busy freeway interchanges where traffic is going to crawl at rush hour. Bet you could hear the collective shriek from The Villages all the way across the country.

C.S. in Newport, Wales, UK, writes: I agree that Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH) could be a very strong presidential candidate. But I think he could be so even if there are other non-crazy Republican candidates, as I feel he will be able to clear the lane pretty quickly.

All he really needs to do is to be top non-crazy in Iowa—and that shouldn't be too difficult. I suspect you are right that as a fourth-term governor he has "accomplished whatever he set out to accomplish" and will thus have no trouble taking long vacations in Iowa. And as a four-times governor of a small cold state that prides itself of its retail politics, I think he will have no problems with campaigning in a small cold state that prides itself on its retail politics. And if he becomes top non-nutter in Iowa (and obviously New Hampshire, a foregone conclusion), then I suspect the other non-crazies will drop out—it would be crazy not to...

Politics: As the Congress Turns

A.A. in Austin, TX, writes: I can answer the question from A.J. in Highland Park, about Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), right now: "How did she manage to keep the Democrats together through the unravelling of the Iraq War, passing of Obamacare, impeachments, the 1/6 Committee... and without losing her grip? How did she corral the grandstanders, the contrarians who prefer self-sabotage to common sense? We may find out when she writes her memoirs."

How could she manage and corral all of that? Simple. She is the mother of five children.

S.H. in Hanoi, Vietnam, writes: (Z) mentions not being comfortable judging the offensiveness of Rep. Ilhan Omar's (DFL-MN) previous statements that led to her ouster from the Foreign Affairs Committee, so offering my 2 cents here, which are: (1) I'm hardly a fan of Omar and definitely think that she's made several statements that are worrisome, but (2) nothing she has said comes remotely close to the torrent of tweets and posts by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) in the years preceding her election to the House, and (3) as you noted, Omar has at least apologized for her most insensitive remarks, while Greene has not, for the most part. It's one entry in the continuing parade of false equivalence that the Republican Party, as well as many members of even nonpartisan media, continue to engage in.

Many readers on this site will recall the recent flap in the world of professional basketball in which Kyrie Irving tweeted a link to an overtly antisemitic movie, which resulted in a brief suspension. That is the equivalent of Greene's tweets and pronouncements, and Omar has never come anywhere close to that kind of outrageous behavior. Her criticism of Israel has been vociferous, but none of what I've read strikes me as grounds for the kind of punishment meted out by Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and the Republican House leadership. Indeed her criticisms of AIPAC (a so-called pro-Israel lobbying group) reflect misgivings that many Jews have right now about the state of affairs in Israel. But criticizing Israel is a long, long way from saying the Holocaust didn't happen, or that there is a secret Jewish cabal bent on ruling the world, both of which Ms. Greene tacitly supported before becoming Congresswoman Greene. So yes, the hypocrisy is real, and not even subtle.

M.S. in Parma, OH, writes: You wrote: "It's possible that McCarthy and the more moderate Republicans are just paying the bills from the Speaker's election..." by punishing Ilhan Omar. On the contrary, McCarthy has been promising for over a year to do this as a way to curry favor with the base, and to fundraise. He promised repeatedly to "fire" Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell (both D-CA) and Omar, and sent out e-mails and videos. I imagine that he wasn't satisfied that the pictures of two middle-aged white guys would generate sufficient outrage, votes and donations, so he added the young, Black, Muslim immigrant woman for maximum effect. I'm sure it had the desired results.

R.C. in Des Moines, IA, writes: You wrote: "(Kevin McCarthy) is either stupid or lying, and the smart money is on lying." My money is on both.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: Guys, you know how much I respect your political analysis, but this time you said something so fantastical that it beggars the human imagination. In your item Both Parties Prepare for a Special Election That Probably Won't Happen, for the very last line you wrote: "With some luck, he ('George Santos') might be able to hang on until the 2024 election is at hand and then McCarthy would say 'let the voters decide.'" Really? You're going say that has a possibility of happening? No, I'm not talking about that weird pudgy pathological liar with huge self-esteem issues and odd sartorial choices hanging on like the parasite he has always been, but rather the ideal of Kevin McCarthy holding on to the Speakership until 2024! Really, you're going out on a limb on that prediction? That should get a boldness score of 506,784,210 out of 5.

I'm sure you're aware of the concept of the multiverse. I think if someone had the ability to travel throughout the multiverse they would be hard pressed to find even one where McCarthy hasn't gone down to the Freedom Mob in 2024. Heck, I don't think it's that much of a stretch to say that there are probably more than a handful of universes where good ol' Kev has already gotten the ax, or he never even got the speakership, or the Republicans are still holding votes. But the idea the McCarthy will hold on to the Speaker's gavel is so fantastical that it would be derided at a Science Fiction convention.

(V) & (Z) respond: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) does bear a striking resemblance to Jobu Tupaki.

Politics: Today's GOP

P.R. in Arvada, CO, writes: Your item "Trans Is The New Abortion" got me wondering why people hate trans people so much. One of the biggest changes I have made in myself was becoming an atheist (a very long time ago). One thing that forced me to do was to justify my feelings towards others. There was no longer a book or "pillar of the community" I could look towards to justify hating groups of people. The result of that was a quick realization that my previous negative opinions of other groups were not based on anything I truly believed, and so I went from dislike of other groups to a more apathetical—I don't care about the label you have been given, I either like you as a person or I don't.

After reading your item I ran through some reasons why I thought people would not like trans people and to be honest, I am at a loss as to why someone would dislike them so much.

My first thought was it has to be religion. That will be why trans people are so hated. It doesn't make any sense to me, though. I mean, why that particular group? Maybe there is something about it in the Bible or another religious text but surely there are worse things people do. When someone gets divorced, they break their vow to God. How is breaking a vow to God not worse than surgery? If there was a reason to hate people based on religion, surely making a promise to God and breaking it would be the worst thing you could do. I'm pretty sure no one has made a promise to be male or female and gone back on it. I struggle to see how you could use religion to justify this level of hatred, but be fine with other behaviors. A woman talking in church has an actual penalty spelled out so it must be more offensive to God, but no one seems to care about that. If someone says their religion leads them to discriminate against trans people, then they have to justify why that is so bad but so many other things specifically called out in the Bible are OK.

Maybe it is because they think trans people are somehow sexual perverts just trying to molest children or people of the other sex. If that was the case, though, people like Matt Gaetz, Gym Jordan, Donald Trump, et al., would be absolute pariahs. They clearly aren't so there cannot be any real desire to hold sex perverts to account.

Maybe they are scared of people who are different than themselves. Maybe if it was liberals who had this fear, I could get on board. It seems to be the people who are most definitely not snowflakes, though, who are against trans people. These big brave people clearly are not going to be scared of someone they see as inferior, though, are they?

I can't figure out why anyone would truly be against trans people. Maybe someone can explain to me why they feel trans people should be discriminated against and how they justify it. The trans people I personally know are some of the nicest people I have the pleasure of knowing. They have had a lot of hate thrown at them and their journey has been far from easy. I may not truly understand what they went through or why they made the decisions they did but I do know it wasn't a spur-of-the-moment thing or to have a chance at winning a medal or some other petty reason. Just once it would be nice to see people on the right stand up and tell their representatives that they do not support this kind of baseless hatred of people. Of course, maybe it isn't baseless, and they can actually justify their position. Somehow I doubt it, though.

M.R. in Nutley, NJ, writes: I have a small semantic quibble with the assertion that today's Republicans are theocrats. While they favor a particular religion, even to the point of declaring it to be the official and only legitimately recognized religion in the United States, they're not saying that the country should be ruled by priests. Is there a word for "rule by rabid media personalities"? "Con-artistocracy" maybe? Until now, "kleptocracy" has worked pretty well as a descriptor.

J.L. in Chicago, IL, writes: I am not at all on board with the House Republican agenda or messing around with the full faith and credit of the United States. However, I do disagree a bit with the position you have taken a few times that it is unreasonable to use the need to raise that limit as an opportunity to discuss spending. Sure, the immediate effect of raising the debt limit is to permit borrowing already approved by Congress. However, it is not totally off the wall to take a position along the lines of, "Yes, we clearly need to raise it this time but let's not find ourselves right back here in a year or two." It is a point of leverage to negotiate future spending and therefore future needs for debt limit increases.

This basic dynamic can come up in many situations where people need to make joint financial decisions, including taking on debt, such as marriages or business partnerships. In the end, one likely is going to sign the document that keeps the house from being foreclosed or the business from going under but it is not hard to imagine coupling that with a demand for a serious discussion about changing spending patterns to keep future debt under control.

Don't get me wrong. I do not agree with the specifics of the Republican plan. I don't think they even really have one, in the sense of a set of numbers that both add up and could get 218 Republican votes in the House. However, in general, using a debt limit increase to discuss future spending (and/or taxes) is not inherently ridiculous.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: Have you yet noticed the "controversy" swirling about Band-Aids' launch of "ourtone" bandages? My god, it is crazy that some people are apparently outraged by this.

All I can think of with this is George Carlin's observation about Band-Aids way back from the 1970's:

Politics: Givers and Takers

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: In response to F.F. in London, you write that politicians don't usually make a lot of hay about the apparent hypocrisy of the discrepancy between federal expenditures on red states and their opposition to social safety net public spending because of exceptions to the rule like New Mexico, and because attacks on voters are impolitic.

Sure, that's true. But also there's no hypocrisy at all. Conservatives from poor states and rich states alike never wanted to spend money on the poor of their state. They didn't create Medicaid or food stamps and would be happy to see them die. Even the ones from the poorest states. Especially the ones from the poorest states, because those are the only ones for whom it matters. They prefer to cut taxes and hope the job creators will lift all boats.

So liberals cannot push too hard about ending the federal expenditures on social safety and let each state fend for itself. The conservative response will just be "OK yes, that's what we've been asking for all along," and then the poor of the red states will go without those services. They have never wavered from that position, and there is no hypocrisy.

Where I do see hypocrisy though is when there's a hurricane or flooding, which can affect the conservative homeowner class. Then all of a sudden red state politicians are desperate for Federal FEMA dollars, which they opposed the outlay of for blue states under identical circumstances.

M.C. in Reno, NV, writes: There's been some discussion lately on the question of which states are "takers," and net more tax dollars from the federal government than they send in taxes. I would urge your readers not to draw too many conclusions here. The problem with these statistics is that they include money the federal government spends on employees, and facilities, most notably the military.

If the U.S. chooses to locate a military training base in a poor state (which is a good idea, because there's a lot of cheap land available), then all the money the government spends there counts as "returning" to that state. This is obviously unfair, and skews the figures, and I'm not familiar with any statistics that back out this effect. And given the size of the Pentagon budget, it's not a small one.

Politics: Other Stuff

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Regarding the question from R.L. in Alameda, about the impact of Dobbs on college application rates, part of the answer could depend on how states with legal abortion deal with the issue. For example, in California, a law just went into effect that requires every state university to offer medication abortions to students.

There's also funding available on some campuses if the student has private insurance that doesn't cover the cost of an abortion or if a student on their parents' insurance doesn't want them to know. More states are following California's lead, like Massachusetts and New York. I have to believe this will drive a lot of decisions about where to apply for college.

M.F. in Oakville, ON, Canada, writes: For the record, I actually quite deliberately didn't use "Number One" to describe Kamala Harris because I don't think VPOTUS is analogous to the Executive Officer of a warship.

I have been an Executive Officer (of a "stone frigate"), and my job there was to execute the orders, directions, and policies of my Captain.

The job of VPOTUS is to chair the Senate (and break ties), and to have a heartbeat just in case. Neither of those inherently involve executing the will of the President.

G.R. in Carol Stream, IL, writes: Thank you for the brief mention of Al Franken. I had thought his case and the way he was disposed of were very unsatisfactory, but had disconnected from the story out of sheer fatigue. Your mention sent me on an Internet research trip and eventually to this New Yorker article which, amazing, was not paywalled (YMMV).

Seen now from a distance, it was clearly just a standard political hatchet job, which the Democrats fell for.

This Week in TrumpWorld: Trump 2024

F.J.V.S. in Acapulco, GR, Mexico, writes: You and some of your readers comment that El Donald may not be the Republican candidate because of his legal troubles or health issues. Every time I see that comment about his health, I think in this saying that we have in Mexican Spanish: hierba mala nunca muere (bad weed never dies).

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: Of the options available to trumpy Republican voters should Trump lose the primary, you wrote: "Then, in the general election... hope that most of the Trumpy Republicans come home, figuring that a non-Trump Republican is still better than a Democrat. Or, at very least, that they stay home and don't cast burn-down-the-house votes for the Democrat."

I highly doubt there would be many "burn-down-the-house" votes for the Democrat from this demographic. Remember, Trump himself IS the burn-down-the-house candidate. I would expect "write in Trump" to get more traction. And, as you noted, Trump may very well run as an independent, saving them the trouble of having to remember how to spell his name on the write-in line.

E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: You (perhaps inadvertently) hit the nail on the head, right in the first paragraph of "Trump Actually Starts Campaigning." One of the most important reasons Trump declared so early was so that he could begin using campaign funds to patch up that flying white elephant. He was never going to spend his own money. Trump never pays for anything. The reason he got it so cheap is that it's highly uneconomical for the airlines to operate that model. Big fuel/maintenance hog.

This Week in TrumpWorld: Donfoolery

C.W. in Littleton, CO, writes: D.R. in Unalakleet asked asked: "Has the Trump team made any serious plans to create a Trump Presidential Library? If not, why?"

Your answer was comprehensive and informative. However, I believe one of Trump's "adoring fans" has already created a Trump Presidential Library, albeit a virtual one. Perhaps some of your readers have already visited this vestige of virtue, but, here's the information, just in case.

Two of my personal favorite features are The Hall of Enablers and the Grift Shop.

D.M. in Clayton, CA, writes: The question about a possible Presidential library for TFG spurred me to the following observation: The phrase "Trump library" is clearly an oxymoron of the first order. I suspect one could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that TFG was ever inside one (not counting, of course, his private-but-temporary library of classified documents).

J.G. in Chantilly, VA, writes: You wrote: "You might say that if Trump faces off in court against the porn star, he'll have to do it without help from his Pecker. And that's really a terrible place to be."

I just spewed my ice tea over my laptop. Thanks, you guys make my day!

L.S-H. in Naarden, The Netherlands, writes: With the hilarious comparison of Trump's imagined and real organs, D.E. in Lancaster is quickly becoming my favorite contributor!

E.R. in Irving, TX, writes: Check it out. "St. Orange's Ego" anagrams to "George Santos."

This Week in TrumpWorld: Grifty Goods

J.S. in Bellevue, WA, writes: I was curious about the 'gold bar' ads from "No National Brands Are Advertising on Truth Social." As a casual collector of historical coins and bills, I know most commemorative types of currency are barely one tiny step above completely worthless. Still, I wondered how much they sold for. As I have no interest in signing up for Truth Social to find out, I did a quick Internet search and found a number of bars available from eBay or similar sources. Although one entrepreneur was asking +$30, most were selling for around $8-$15. While I found it amusing that the griftees would pay even that much, the really hilarious part was in the small print for the one offered below:

An eBay listing, it shows the Trump
gold bar with China as the country of manufacture

Country of Manufacture: China.

T.P. in Kings Park, NY, writes: As far as the $100 gold bars go, it may be worth adding that a one-ounce gold coin is a little larger than a half-dollar and sells for nearly $2,000. If the bars in the image are to scale with the hands and were made of nearly pure gold they should be worth about $200,000, so it is pretty safe to call that ad a scam.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: As an actuary, I was intrigued by the Truth Social ad for America First Insurance Group. Since insurance is one of the most highly regulated industries in the country (any insurance product sold in the U.S. has to be filed with and approved by the insurance regulators of every state in which it is sold and must abide by the strict laws and regulations of those states) I felt it likely that it isn't an out-and-out scam. Exploring a bit, I found that it's not an insurance company at all, but rather an insurance agency which sells products manufactured by various insurance companies—that is, an independent insurance agency. Interestingly, the CEO says that while they carefully vet the companies whose products they sell, he can't guarantee that those companies don't donate to causes that he would not support.

I dug a little further. For auto and homeowners, they go through "Help Covered," who work with just about all the major companies readers are aware of (Travelers, Liberty Mutual, Nationwide, The General, etc.). For Life you can't really tell what companies they deal with, although they use a pretty typical term quote engine, so I would guess that most of the major carriers are involved if they don't want to be consistently underpriced by other major quote engines. Health is the one that appears sketchy, since they deal with Joppa Health Share, which is not an insurance company at all but rather a "religious health sharing ministry," where members agree to share in each other's health care costs, so there are no real guarantees, just dependence on the goodwill of fellow members. Not saying this can't be effective, just that it would lack the protections of state-regulated insurance companies. This article has more.

So really, all they are promising is that this particular agency won't donate to "woke" causes. I would guess that donations from agencies are a tiny fraction of those from major insurance companies. Therefore, I suspect that people buying from them are getting legitimate insurance products except for health, where they join a ministry. The "scam" is that they believe they are buying from companies that don't support "woke" causes, which is likely not the case (insurance companies have been leaders in D&I, Green initiatives like LEED certification, etc.). All they really are getting is that the agent they buy through isn't personally supporting those causes.

G.L. in Schenectady, NY, writes: I just wanted to take a moment to ask you not to lump prepping with being a culture warrior. There are an increasing number of liberal and leftist preppers in the world. I can only speak for myself, of course, but I assure you that, while building my go bag, and securing my food, water and energy supplies... I'm not about the culture wars at all.

I could argue that those folks are actually the reason I prep, but I assure you that I am not with them in any way.

All Politics Is Local: Local Contests

H.R. in Jamaica Plain, MA, writes: I've been wanting to write in about this story for some time, but it only finally resolved this week.

Rep. Kristin Kassner (D) is being sworn in (a month late) to a seat in the Massachusetts House today (Feb. 3). On Nov. 8, she was down by 10 votes to incumbent Rep. Lenny Mirra (R) in the race for representative of the 2nd Essex state House district. When the recount finished on Dec. 8, Kassner was ahead by one vote, 11,763 to 11,762. There followed court challenges with a ruling that the Mass House, itself, would need to decide, which it did, yesterday, nearly 3 months after the election. Rep. Mirra continued to serve in the seat until today's swearing-in. Also worth noting is that redistricting played a role in the incumbent Mirra's defeat after 5 terms. I know your readers don't really need to hear this, but, perhaps this story can be used to persuade others that every vote counts.

C.E. in Clifton Park, NY, writes: You wrote: "We should also point out that there is a nightmare scenario here for the Democrats: 1. Feinstein decides to run again..."

I would add 1.5 here: "No party leaders speak out publicly against her out of respect and fear of hurting her feelings," eventually proceeding down your path where she gets beaten by a non-whackadoodle Republican in the general election.

Joe Biden, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and the rest need to stop worrying about hurting someone's feelings. Govern with an eye on the long term. A lesson you'd think Democrats would have learned after they foolishly fumbled away Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Supreme Court seat. But Democrats gonna Democrat.

D.M. in Boulder, CO, writes: Thank you for using the verb "interfere" in "NRSC May Play Favorites This Time." I can understand when the NRSC or the DSCC wants to prevent a nutty candidate from winning the primary, but I don't approve of the national party picking winners in a primary when both candidates are reasonable. That should be the voters' job!

In 2020 in Colorado, John Hickenlooper and Andrew Romanoff faced off in the Democratic primary to challenge the Republican incumbent U.S. Senator. The DSCC put the thumb on the scale for Hickenlooper. Romanoff is a former Colorado Speaker of the House, knows the legislative branch and had previously run against appointed U.S. Senator Michael Bennet the first time Bennet had to face the voters. Many of us were very unhappy with the DSCC, who was also rumored to have recruited Hickenlooper to run for the U.S. Senate.

Colorado now basically has two clones in the Senate. Besides both being heterosexual, married, white, Christian-ish males from Denver, both have degrees from Wesleyan University. Michael Bennet is Hickenlooper's former chief of staff indicating that they are closely aligned politically. Both ran unsuccessful, lackluster presidential campaigns in 2020. They are not a good representation of the diversity of Colorado or even of Colorado Democrats.

With political parties calling the shots, it's no wonder that so many voters are jaded.

S.N. in Santa Clara, CA, writes: You recently suggested that Iowa Republicans tend to be sane. I grew up in the state and have continued to pay some attention to their politics over the decades. I am less certain than you that sane Republicans are in charge. Over the last 5-10 years Iowa Republicans have followed just about every bad Republican idea and enshrined it into law in some form.

In my lifetime Iowa has always leaned toward conservatism, particularly on social issues. What is happening in the state now is very different from the conservative politics of the 1970s.

M.S. in Canton, NY, writes: In "Could Arizona Republicans Blow It Again?," you wrote: "The core problem is that Arizona Republicans love the crazies and the crazier they are, the more love they get."

Or, as someone once put it: Remember, you can't spell "CRAZY" without "R-AZ"!

All Politics Is Local: Local Sources, Part III

L.A.D. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: Great to see examples of not-dead-yet local media outlets sent in by your readers.

Here's one I read daily: The Nevada Independent has a keen eye on state-wide politics as well as useful info on items of local interest on the rest of things Nevada. It's online and free, and exists on donations and fees for ticketed events. The publication has developed a growing stable of journalists and interns with wide-ranging interests and talents.

The best part is the expertise of Indy founder and CEO Jon Ralston, who is often tapped by national media when they need the inside info on Nevada politics.

Even media-unfriendly types (unless speaking to a Republican outlet), like our new governor, have agreed to a 90 minute public conversation moderated by Ralston, who as a non-partisan has been known to ask some pointed questions no mater the political leaning of his victim...uh, interviewee.

J.M. in New York City, NY, writes: While searching for some notions as to what in tarnation is going on with Kathy Hochul's intraparty shenanigans regarding her attempted appointment of judge Hector LaSalle and the Democratic-controlled state Senate's block of that move, I came across New York Focus, founded in fall 2020 to provide worthy reportage and analysis of all things Albany (i.e., the state capital).

They are pretty good on the issues into which they sink their journalistic teeth. If only they had a higher tempo of articles and updates, the site would be a daily must-read. New York Focus relies on foundation support as well as individual donations, noting they are "a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom."

D.M. in Burnsville, MN, writes: One more from Minnesota: Sahan Journal.

Just starting out, but looking good!

E.R. in Irving, TX, writes: News, especially local, is changing. In addition to curated news publications, the way to consume it now is directly from the journalist on Twitter or Mastodon. Much of what they learn and observe is communicated in real time in advance of the "news."

Steven Monacelli, here in Dallas, is one of the best. I also follow a bookmarked list of national journalists too lengthy for this note.

R.H. in West Grove, PA, writes: For those interested in Southern Chester County, PA, the Chester County Press has all-local coverage and is pretty inexpensive for a weekly paper. Recently they started making most of their stories available free on their website, though you'll need a subscription for the editorial page.

A broader view of Chester County can be had at the Daily Local News, though I've found they include a fair amount of reprinted WaPo stories, and it also costs more than the Chester County Press.

Education Matters

R.S. in Milan, OH, writes: I'm writing to address characterizations of where and when critical race theory is taught. In some undergraduate courses I have taught, dating back a decade and a half, the course content has included coverage of critical race theory. In these courses, it hasn't been a large component of the course, but it has been part of one day's lecture/discussion. In two of these classes, coverage of critical race theory has emanated from the textbooks I have used for the course, and those textbooks were designed for undergraduate courses. Given that, I have to think I'm far from alone in addressing critical race theory in undergraduate courses.

This also gets at a larger concern I have with the "it's not being taught" type of response to public discourse on critical theory. Rather than run away from critical theory, folks should be leaning into it. Based on my exposure to it, I think critical theory has a lot to offer to the very people who are being convinced it is evil. I think lots of people are not explicitly racist, but they take part in practices that implicitly reinforce racism. Heck, that's one of the core ideas that I teach: learning about race means being committed to a willingness to consider how things one might not have realized involve race actually do involve race. I think a lot of folks who are not explicitly racist struggle and get defensive when they are called out on the ways they are complicit with racism. Critical race theory provides an answer here because it allows us to recognize that racism is structural and thus goes beyond individual attitudes. It provides a path for folks to feel okay about themselves while also recognizing that they, often unknowingly, do things that contribute to racism (and with that recognition, folks can help work to change things). Unfortunately, these folks are being convinced that critical race theory is something very different from that, and when we run away from critical race theory, it compounds rather than addresses that misrepresentation.

D.S. and K.S. in Newark, OH, writes: We have to respond to G.L in Fairport.

Both of us read G.L.'s comments and, we also watched Tim Ryan on Bill Maher's show. We are both lifelong middle-of-the-road Democrats; college graduates having been raised in unionized Democratic households. I have lived and worked in the central Ohio area for 51 years of my 59 years. I spent 8 years in the military in the United States Air Force. My wife has lived and worked in the area her entire life. Neither of our fathers graduated high school. They both worked in the same unionized factory and both retired after 30 years. Prior to, and after, our retirement we have traveled the United States and the world and, have a good understanding of the realities outside our area of central Ohio. We stay informed, follow the news, and vote.

There was nothing that Tim Ryan said with which we disagreed. We further take issue with the view that Bill Maher trashed college education. Maher was critical of colleges and universities graduating students with useless degrees and large amounts of student loan debt. When our youngest daughter was looking at colleges to attend, the college finance person was trying to convince her to borrow over $100,000 to finance her education. We were given a dirty look when we explained to our daughter that it made no sense to borrow $100,000 to get a college degree that will lead to a $50,000/year job. With our guidance, our daughter was able to go to college and become a Doctor of Physical Therapy without an overwhelming amount of college debt. Colleges that push students to borrow large amounts of money are never concerned if the student will ever be able to pay back the debt.

Tim Ryan was an excellent fit for Ohio. Why he lost is a combination of three factors: (1) the national Democratic Party gave him no support, (2) Democratic turnout was down from 2020 and (3) the Ohio Democratic Party just flat-out abandoned him. But, let's look at the results compared to other Democratic candidates.

Nan Whaley, the candidate for governor, received 37.38% of the vote compared to Tim Ryan's 46.92% of the vote. Ryan also outperformed every Democratic running for statewide office by an average of 5.63%. Ohio Democrats are historically, middle-of-the-road middle class and union workers. Ryan appealed to these voters.

As to education, Ryan received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Bowling Green State University in 1995. In 2000, Ryan earned a Juris Doctor degree from Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, NH.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: I sometimes wonder (and worry) how you guys can write reliably and with depth of background about so many different topics. How much can (V) in Europe really know about the College Board's AP program? Over a 40-year teaching career, I taught AP courses and attended College Board meetings and AP workshops. Everything (V) wrote sounds exactly like the College Board I came to know. Namely, expect the College Board to be more concerned about the College Board than anything else, and especially its own bottom line. Second, never believe a word the College Board says; it's all self-serving.

At a meeting of the National Association of Independent Schools, I once witnessed the head of the AP program telling a packed room full of teachers things they knew from direct experience not to be true. It's the closest I've ever come to an angry mob. If it had gotten any worse, I would have opened a pitchforks-and-torches concession stand.

J.H. in Flint, MI, writes: Regarding your item about Ron DeSantis and the College Board, I have one response: post hoc ergo propter hoc.

As a college professor who's been involved with the College Board for many years, I know something about how the College Board designs curricula. It takes years to design a curriculum, and even minor changes to a curriculum go through a substantial revision process that takes years to complete.

The AP African American Studies course that DeSantis criticized was being piloted in 60 classrooms during the 2022-2023 school year. The curriculum being used was not yet in its final form; after all, that's why you have "pilot" courses. The "official" curriculum for the course, which presumably incorporated lessons learned from the pilot study, was announced on February 1. Since February 1, is also the first day of Black History Month in the U.S., I presume that the release date was intentionally chosen long in advance.

And then, of course, DeSantis made his public remarks attacking the course a mere 2 weeks before the scheduled Feb. 1 release date.

At that point, College Board is in a no-win scenario. If it goes ahead with its planned announcement, with the already-planned revisions, it looks like College Board caved to DeSantis by revising the course. If the announcement is delayed, that makes it look like DeSantis bullied the College Board into silence.

Keep in mind that, just a year ago, when conservatives were making all sorts of noises about banning required topics in AP courses, AP responded by saying (paraphrasing) that any school doing that would lose the AP designation on their courses. I find it implausible that College Board would take a defiant stand against conservatives in one year and surrender in the next year.

Sometimes, coincidences do happen. In my opinion, that's what happened here.

B.J. in Arlington, MA, writes: This isn't about politics, but since we're talking about AP courses, I thought I'd share my perspective.

I'm a STEM kind of guy. In high school in the 80s, I loved math and felt I was really good at it. I took all the math and science AP courses my school offered. That included AP Calculus, on which I got a 5 (highest score) on the "BC" (harder) variant of the test.

Then I went to MIT, thinking I might major in math. With my AP Calculus test score, I placed out of the first freshman calculus course, skipping instead to the second, "multi-variable" calculus course (think "Div, Grad, Curl, and All That"). It was a MISTAKE. I was not ready for college level calculus. I realized that despite aceing my AP class, I did not really understand the concepts. I fell behind in math and never recovered, struggling through the remaining required math courses and never taking another one.

I majored in computer science instead, which I loved, and I've had a great career and life. However, when my kids are making similar decisions, I will certainly encourage them to take the hard/AP courses in high school, but I will not encourage them to skip college classes as a result. There is enough time to learn the material you want in college, and if going further makes sense, there is always grad school. Why rush?

D.S. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: Never in my recollection has censorship in the public schools been as blatant and reprehensible as it is now, at least temporarily, in what Rachel Maddow would nonetheless refer to as the Great State of Florida. I suspect there are more chapters to play out in this drama. But meanwhile, it is also true that never in anyone's recollection have there been as many readily available, often free sources of additional reading and media material that parents can, if they choose, employ to augment the education that their offspring receive during the school day. Perhaps parents might excuse a day or so a month of Ferris-Bueller-style sick time that would include some suggested online access to the various materials that Big Brother thinks are no longer available to the youth of Florida, or anywhere else where official education is seen to be falling short. Telling the kids that this is contraband should increase their willingness to give it a look.

B.B. in Columbus, OH, writes: I find it ludicrously absurd that the contents of physical books in schools is being made an issue in a time when most children can easily access any political, economic, and sexual information they want on the Internet. To those who have grown up in the digital age, their legacy educators' attempts at censorship are utterly irrelevant. Ron DeSantis and fellow culture warriors are evidently too outdated to understand this and/or are cynically pandering to those who are similarly outdated.

(V) & (Z) respond: Wait. There's stuff about sex... on the Internet?

Legal Matters

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: (V) wrote about a system where an even number of Supreme Court Justices could be a regular occurrence: "Having an even number of justices sometimes wouldn't be a disaster as an even split would just leave the appeals court decision in place (for its circuit)." I disagree. A good chunk of the Court's docket is resolving "circuit splits," situations where one circuit has gone one way, and another, well, another (for example, the Eleventh and Fifth Circuits reaching different conclusions on the Florida and Texas Internet regulation laws). Affirming both by an equally divided Court with no opinion and no precedential effect would be a disaster. It would result in a hodge-podge of inconsistent laws and enforcement throughout the United States.

L.S-H. in Naarden, The Netherlands, writes: In response to your item on Bigo demanding a jury of his peers, S.S. in West Hollywood commented that "For the record, 12 people who can't figure out how to get out of jury duty are not my peers."

I politely disagree. When I lived in New York CIty, I was called for jury duty. Having a busy job that entailed long hours, I was able to "get out of jury duty" twice. But I believe that New York has a rule that you can't refuse a third time—and my curiosity at what jury duty entailed, plus the fact that I knew I was moving abroad so this would be my only chance—made me tell my boss that I couldn't refuse again so I had to serve.

What followed was a very interesting 2 weeks. After just 1 day of reporting for duty (where, after my ID, etc. was checked, I took my seat in a room that resembled a theater), I was quickly part of a group of 12 consecutive seats called to report to a courtroom. Here we were peppered with various precise questions to determine if one was suitable to sit on a jury. Once they learned that I worked as a data analyst for an insurance company, both sides were happy to have me on the jury.

The trial itself was very interesting. Basically, two people entered an alley, one person was shot but no one saw it, and the other person left the alley. Drugs and drug dealing were suggested to be involved.

There was a witness who clearly had previously agreed to testify but suddenly pretended on the stand that they didn't understand English. There was a motion to treat the witness as a hostile witness. When even that didn't work, we were recessed until a Spanish interpreter could be secured. Then testimony resumed with simultaneous interpretation (which required extreme concentration on the jury's part). Later there was some more interesting testimony about bullet trajectories, etc. The next time someone says, "What will I ever need math for? I'm never going to need it later," well, now you know why math is important.

During about 2 weeks of not knowing what was going to happen that day (and getting a long lunch recess each day), the time arrived to deliberate. We ended up returning a guilty verdict. I have no idea what happened to the accused after that (probably better for all involved), but it was 2 weeks that I'm glad I couldn't refuse.

Dead Presidents

M.J. in Newton, LA, writes: In response to J.D.Z. in St. Paul: Years ago, Lewis Black did a bit about electing a dead president to show the rest of the world just how insane we here in America really are. He thought Ronnie Reagan was the right choice:

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: Could a reincarnated FDR win a lawsuit allowing him to be re-re-re-re-re-elected, on grounds that applying the Twenty-Second Amendment to him would be ex post facto? Maybe, maybe not.

Article I, Secs. 9 and 10 of the Constitution prohibit Congress and the states from passing a bill of attainder or ex post facto law. Those prohibitions are understood to apply only to legislative acts that would criminalize conduct that was not criminal when performed.

The Constitution does not explicitly prohibit civil statutes that apply retroactively. Retroactive application of a civil statute sometimes—but not always—runs afoul of the due process clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments (and could conceivably cross the equal protection clause as well). Most statutes are written to apply only to conduct that occurs after enactment, and in doubtful cases the Supreme Court generally prefers to construe laws that way. But some civil statutes are both retroactive and constitutional. For example, the Superfund law made people who contributed to abandoned hazardous waste dumps liable for the cost of the cleanup—even though the dumps had been created years before the law. And when judge-made common law creates a new civil liability, the decision almost always is retroactive.

But the big reason the outcome of Roosevelt's lawsuit would be in doubt is that the Twenty-Second Amendment amends the, um, Constitution. So it can't be "unconstitutional," no matter what the rest of the Constitution says. The decision would come down to a matter of construction. Did the Congress and state legislatures that adopted the Amendment intend for it to apply retroactively? Tough to say, considering that the only people to whom that might have mattered were, um, dead.

Urban Cowboys

I.M.O. in Norman, OK, writes: L.S. in Greensboro asked asked if there are any urban areas in the Dakotas or Wyoming. As an annual visitor to North Dakota who also drives through South Dakota, the answer is certainly "yes." The latest population data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that Fargo had a 2021 estimate of 126,000, with 2023 estimates of approx. 134,000. A handful of cities are at 50,000 or above. South Dakota's largest city is Sioux Falls, at almost 200,000, and it has one more over 75,000. Wyoming's overall population is smaller even than the Dakotas, and its largest city is Cheyenne, at about 65,000.

States whose largest cities have smaller populations than the South Dakota's largest city include: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: I was with L.S. of Greensboro about the urban-ness of the Dakotas and Wyoming, but on further reflection, Sioux Falls alone accounts for about 22% of the population of South Dakota, and that's clearly an urban area. Rapid City is also pretty urban and accounts for another 8%. Wyoming doesn't have any cities as big as Rapid, but by the time you add up the top three—Cheyenne, Casper, and Gillette—that's 156,000 and nearly 27% of the state. Coupled with a fairly low bar for being considered an urban area (5,000 people? Really?) it makes sense that Wyoming and the Dakotas would be more urban than they appear. On the other hand, ranking by the percentage that live in urban areas and the definition of "urban" being that people live there, is kind of a circular argument. Any category that includes both Belle Fourche, SD, and New York City, NY, is not a helpful category.

On Bended Knee

E.V. in Derry, NH, writes: Knee issues! A political topic I can write about! K.M. in Tacoma asked about what (Z) did for his knee. I'd like to chime in. My layman's knowledge is based on my (unfortunately) extensive personal experience, and my years as a sports coach.

I tore my meniscus 13 years ago, and my doctor's approach was to strengthen and not operate. The idea is to keep the muscles strong, and keep balance and range of motion to limit stress on the knee. I also used a neoprene knee sleeve for longer walks. That goes against the conventional wisdom, since the sleeve is doing some of the work of the muscles, but I found that I could walk a lot farther with it. I used one with a knee opening, and adjustable straps.

That worked for a couple of years until a little flap on the tear began inserting itself into places it shouldn't be, causing sharp pain. Restrictions I could deal with. Pain meant not doing things I wanted to. So I got the operation.

A few years later my cartilage began deteriorating. A possible reaction to knee trauma, I was told. I went through the various hoops that insurance required—PT, cortisone injection, etc. One doctor said "you'll just have to live with it." None of these was a solution. Finally, a knee surgeon with a good reputation looked at my x-rays and the first thing he said was, "when do you want the operation?"

The recovery was tedious but tolerable. I also had to recover strength lost the previous several years. Six years later, things are still good and pain free.

Interestingly, bicycling was an activity I could do through it all. Maybe because it is non-weight-bearing, and that the leg is never locked or fully straightened. In fact, I did a 100 km ride the month before the knee replacement, and another one 2 years after it.

My advice is work with the way things are until they are too painful or restrictive, then move to the next step. Find the path and progression that works for you. Good luck!

E.D. in Dansville, NY, writes: November 2012. It doesn't go away. Live with it. I used a brace that Medicare did not pay for and was supposed to pay for. That's my right knee. Something is going on in my left knee. Same advice. Live with it. Once last year I used a walker when no one was looking to question me. I use a ski pole when I'm out to keep from falling. I never thought of x-rays or PT. I'm 78 (or as, I can now say, "I'll be 80 next year!") Of course, I have to turn 79 on Bernie Sanders' and Ruby Bridges' birthday first. Turning 80 next year gets more sympathy. Ace Bandages work, but mine always fall off. I don't run much anymore. I would be skiing if someone was here to pick me up if I fall. Skiing (cross country) is great because it doesn't stress your knee as much as walking. Sitting is the very worst. Something you both probably have to do a lot of.


D.K. in Chicago, IL, writes: As a conservative Catholic, whenever Pope Francis makes one of those "off-the-cuff" remarks, it doesn't take me too long to think of the Catholic version of the "Picard facepalm":

The pope holds his face in his hand while sitting on the papal throne

Oh well, more material for SNL and Lutheran Satire.

President J.C in the Winter Khan Palace, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, writes: Barack Obama also lived in Hawaii, also grew up partly overseas, his dad also had multiple wives, he also went to Occidental, and he also has a wicked dry sense of humor—all his life, he has been copying me, just 10 years earlier. I am gratified to now learn that he also had a 45-second commute to work, as I do now.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: Oh, come on—the best way to apply to USC is to be 6'5" and weigh 300 pounds while catching twenty passes and running for 19 touchdowns in each of the last three games of your "high school" (sic) career.

Don't worry about that academic stuff—other people will take your tests for you.

(V) & (Z) respond: How many USC football players does it take to screw in a light bulb? Only one, but they get 4 credits and a Porsche for doing it.

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