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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

The question from B.J.L. in Ann Arbor, asking for good sources of information about the war on the ground in Ukraine, produced an avalanche of responses. So, we are going to edit them together, and run them as a couple of regular items during the week.

The Nuclear Family

P.B. in Gainesville, FL, writes: A small technical correction to your answer yesterday to R.L. in Alameda: "Tactical" nuclear weapons are called that because they're designed to be used in a tactical manner, e.g. in a particular theater of combat such as against an advancing tank-based army, for "limited" tactical gains. As such, they are intended to be launched over relatively small distances (tens to hundreds? of miles), as artillery shells, possibly in small numbers, and they can therefore afford to have somewhat smaller explosive yields.

In contrast, "strategic" nuclear weapons are designed to entirely wipe out an adversary's resources in one fell swoop, across large distances (thousands of miles), typically via silo-, submarine-, or bomber-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and would be employed in overwhelming numbers (otherwise, they wouldn't be very strategic). As such, they tend to have larger explosive yields than the tactical variety.

Having said this, it is true that there is a fair amount of overlap in yields between the two types of nukes, as you said. It's also worth mentioning that, according to conventional military dogma, use of tacticals would be expected to escalate to use of strategics in fairly short order. So, this distinction has little practical meaning for the rest of us: Use of either would be an invitation to calamity.

M.N. in Madison, WI, writes: While the answer to R.L. in Alameda was good, it somewhat skirted the actual definition of a tactical nuclear weapon. Simply put, a tactical nuke is used on the battlefield, in close proximity to allied military forces, where a leader wants to minimize the collateral damage to those allied forces nearby. Thus, lower yields are generally preferable for tactical nukes.

Conversely, strategic nuclear weapons are used away from the battlefield, whether it be a airfield, ammo dump, missile silo, or major metropolitan area. The collateral damage from a strategic nuke is being borne by your enemy, so higher yields are at least somewhat beneficial to the country dropping the bomb.

Cities that are battlefields are tricky. However, since "tactical nuclear weapon" and "strategic nuclear weapon" are as much propaganda terms as technical terms, each side is going to choose the terms that are most beneficial to their propaganda goals. The nation dropping the nuke is going to call it "tactical" to downplay the impact, while the nation being bombed is going to emphasize that a city was nuked (with or without the "strategic" label, and certainly without the "tactical" label) in order to generate emotional resonance regarding the nuking of civilians.

Bottom line, "tactical" vs. "strategic" is based on how they are used.


B.C. in Selinsgrove, PA, writes: You noted this week that Joe Biden's polling basically dipped underwater coinciding with the Afghanistan withdrawal. From my perspective, that was the moment that the mainstream media decided the "honeymoon" was over and it was time for "See? We're critical of both parties!" and commenced with basically negative coverage and never stopped. It began with Afghanistan "hasty/messy pullout" criticism, and then morphed into Build Back Better failure, and then to high inflation/gas prices.

J.R. in Baltimore, MD, writes: My own sense of Joe Biden's turn to negative polling last August is that the Delta variant squashed Americans' fantasy narrative that everything was back to a pre-pandemic and pre-Trump normal. Afghanistan was no doubt part of that, but Delta likely had a more immediate effect on Americans.

I've never been one to expect perfection from politicians, and I wish voters could get a grip and see an administration doing a decent job with a truly horrific set of circumstances, most of which were none of its own doing.

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: That Harvard/Harris poll that has Trump +11 over VP Kamala Harris was worth a laugh... I don't think there is a human being, past or present, who, Donald Trump would defeat by 11% in any hypothetical matchup. I seriously doubt Trump would beat Hitler or Putin in a mock matchup by 11%.

Trump would probably only have a margin-of-error lead against Satan in a head to head matchup...

V & Z respond: In fairness, Trump is winning by more than 11% in every matchup in our March Sadness bracket. So, he CAN do it. And while we are on that subject, let us note that there is one Round of 32 matchup where the lead has switched hands at least 20 times, and where the vote is currently tied 814-814. Which one? You'll find out next week.

J.L. in Paterson, NJ, writes: Concerning the idea of a televised debate about the 2020 election and the alleged fraud, you wrote, "There is no evidence that Trump actually offered to debate anyone, or that anyone turned him down." He actually did make the offer last fall, in his Save America PAC newsletter. His offer was promptly accepted by, among others, Marc Elias (the Democratic lawyer opposing most of the Trumpian lawsuits seeking to overturn the election) and by Judd Legum (a journalist who has covered politics and who also has a law degree). Unsurprisingly, however, Trump has not followed through.

I don't think such a debate would be completely pointless. Although most viewers would simply decide that their side won, the debate would expose Trump's foolishness to some people who aren't now firmly wedded to either position. You're right about Trump's general boorish behavior, though. A good format would be to have each speaker in a separate booth, with a moderator who can turn off the microphone when it's not that person's turn to speak.

C.C. in Nashville, TN, writes: You all keep referring to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) as having the backbone of a jellyfish. While defending Mitt Romney is not generally my thing (not that he needs my defense anyways), I find this somewhat curious, especially since you then compared him to Kevin McCarthy in the same posting: "House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who has an even more flexible backbone than Mitt Romney..."

Say what you will about Romney, but it's suspected that many, many elected Republicans can't stand Trump yet are scared of him so say nothing. And in some cases, they not only don't criticize him but kiss up to him (ahem, Sens. Ted Cruz, R-TX and Lindsey Graham, R-SC). Kevin McCarthy is exhibit A. I wouldn't put the two of them (Romney and McCarthy) in the same sentence. Romney clearly doesn't like Trump, finds him revolting and he has spoken up about it numerous times. He has voted to convict on at least one of the impeachment charges. So I'd say out of all the Republicans, he deserves the "spineless" description just about the least, with the exceptions of Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL).

The only thing that I can think is that people clearly hold Romney to a higher standard because he's a former presidential nominee, or a more old school Republican who should be counted on to bring back the decorum of the Senate, or maybe because he's Mormon. But so is Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and nobody holds him to the same standards. I do agree that Romney is too deferential to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and doesn't buck the party line enough but the spineless charge is a bit much in his case.

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: (Z) wrote:

There was one other surprising revelation in the Post's story: "As Cruz went to extraordinary lengths to court Trump's base and lay the groundwork for his own potential 2024 presidential bid, he also alienated close allies and longtime friends who accused him of abandoning his principles." That's right, apparently the Senator has friends. Who knew?

I was surprised. I thought the paragraph would end:

That's right, apparently the Senator has principles. Who knew?
Legal Matters, Non-Trump Division

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: <sarcasm> Ifind it not the least bit suspicious how the originalists never apply their "do what they meant, not what they wrote" ideology to the second amendment. </sarcasm>

P.M. in Port Angeles, WA, writes: I am both surprised and dismayed that the concept of originalism carries any weight whatsoever! Since the framers allowed for amendments that would most surely be passed after their demise (or after they had kicked their oxygen habits), logically there could not be any interpretation that original intent could be inferred. Amendments require that the first (or original) document be interpreted in light of the new language embodied in the amendment. Since this is language unknown to the framers, it utterly destroys the originalist argument, rendering it specious.

D.H. in Durham, NC, writes: As a Christian and a pastor, I have noticed an alarming parallel between constitutional originalism and fundamentalist Christian theology. The eye-opening experience for me occurred several years ago, when I was reading the dissents to Obergefell v. Hodges. I was astounded at how closely these legal opinions mirrored the position of those in the Christian world who argue from Scripture against gay marriage. But it was not merely the arguments and the words themselves that had this parallelism. More profoundly, it was the spirit of the interpreters which gave me such pause; it was the way the two groups approach the documents which they search for truth and use to address the question of gay marriage. Sadly and disturbingly, in both cases, amazing and profound texts are treated as dead documents, as opposed to the living documents that they are and should be. These dissents were an unanticipated reminder to me from the legal world that fundamentalism in all it's forms is a very dangerous thing.

J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: It also occurred to me during the hearings that Senate hearings aren't unlike academic job interviews. Not just for the fact that hiring committees have a habit of asking questions—whether obliquely or directly—that aren't, strictly speaking, legal/ethical ("So what does your spouse do?").

It got me thinking that while lifetime tenure and lifetime judicial appointments have a very good rationale, they also date to eras where people weren't in the habit of living healthy, robust lives into their 80s. If we imposed, say, a 30-year term limit on judges, it would only have cut a handful of terms short historically. Per Wikipedia, out of the 115 justices ever to serve, only 17 have served more than 30 years (Clarence Thomas is a shade over 30 and counting). However, given advances in medical science and healthcare, general trends in life expectancy, and the fact that they're all quite wealthy, it seems me that Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Ketanji Brown Jackson could all potentially serve 40+ years.

If all of the same protections were in place that are in place now, I can't see how this would negatively impact that court. While some might charge that such a policy is ageist, I would argue that it is somewhat less ageist. While we probably wouldn't stop talking about the age of potential nominees entirely, it would probably cease to be the second thing we talk about after whether they're a so-called "originalist" or not.

Something similar in academic tenure seems reasonable, too... maybe making "emeritus" mean something more than getting to keep your letterhead and library privileges?

K.B. in Hartford, CT, writes: If President Biden gets another Supreme Court nomination, I hope he would consider Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan of the D.C. Court of Appeals. Before becoming a judge, he served in the Solicitor General's office, arguing 25 cases before the Supreme Court. He has three degrees from Stanford, including his J.D. President Obama considered him for Antonin Scalia's vacant seat before choosing Merrick Garland.

I met Srinivasan once at a state bar event and heard him speak. He is both brilliant and down to earth. Born in India, he brings further diversity to the Court.

Now if Justice Thomas would just decide he would like to spend more time with his wife.

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: "The most influential conservative jurist of the last half century" is still Antonin Scalia. Clarence Thomas, I think, is more retrograde than Scalia ever was, but Thomas penned a lot of lonely dissents. Scalia wrote his share of those, too, but also a whole bunch of majority opinions that mattered, and was much more of an inspirational figure in right-wing circles. It was, for example, a passing comment of Scalia's that ultimately evolved into the "major questions doctrine" that The Six are likely to use to hobble government regulation for a generation.

Legal Matters, Trump Division

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Judge David Carter's ruling is absolutely astounding and demonstrates yet again how completely inept all the lawyers around Donald Trump are. By arguing that the e-mails between Trump and John Eastman were privileged, they forced the argument that the crime-fraud exception applies. So, the judge had to make a determination as to whether the documents furthered a crime. And in this case, the crime was obstruction of an official proceeding. That means that now a federal judge has ruled that Trump likely committed a crime. I really hope AG Merrick Garland is paying attention.

C.M. in Frisco, TX, writes: On Friday, you informed us of TFG's lawsuit against Hillary Clinton, the DNC, and many other parties over the slap on the wrist they got relating to campaign finance revelations. TFG must have been champing at the bit to file over this, but going back to his well-known propensity to stiff his lawyers when they send the bill, and your spot-on critique of the substance of the lawsuit, I just had to learn more about who would be willing to author and file this 100+ page behemoth.

TFG's lawyer's website proudly displays a photo of their office, which appears to be in a strip mall in Deerfield Beach, FL (with ample visitor parking reserved just for their potential clients!):

It is indeed a strip mall, and 
it does have a large number of parking spaces in front labeled 'reserved'

Naturally, they appear to be primarily personal injury lawyers, and like the many rows of teeth a shark has, Florida evidently has no shortage of personal injury lawyers who will line up to file mindless drivel for their beloved former president on a pro bono basis to clog up the courts and waste taxpayer dollars. God bless America!

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: Donald Trump won his RICO suit. He got what he wanted: publicity.

The suit was filed for the sole purpose of getting publicity, and he got that.

The lawyers who signed it will probably be hit with Rule 11 sanctions for wasting the judge's time with a suit that was destined to be dismissed.

Either the judge will dismiss on pre-trial motions [including FRCP 12(b)6: "... fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted"] or at request of the plaintiff, who will NOT want to be questioned under oath for a few hours (or days) about his campaign's solicitation and acceptance of Russian assistance.

B.T. in North Brunswick, NJ, writes: It sounds like there may be a less sinister explanation for why there are no calls in the White House call log on the afternoon of Jan 6. According to CNN , Donald Trump routinely used his cell phone, or an aide, to make calls to people. This was especially true when he was in the Oval Office, which apparently was where he moved on the afternoon of Jan 6. This seems to make sense to me. Speaking personally, I can't remember the last time I used a landline to make a call. Anyway, using a cell phone would not have used the switchboard and therefore would not be recorded in the White House call log. Apparently, it was also typical of Barack Obama to do the same thing. The article notes that while in the Oval Office, Obama would frequently have an aide call (via cell phone) the person to whom Obama wished to speak.

If this is the case, it doesn't sound like the switchboard logs were deleted.

If anything, Trump was guilty of not writing down all of his cell phone calls in his diary, but it sounds like throughout his presidency, that was the case. I'd imagine that the 1/6 Committee will subpoena other people, or cell phone records, to find out who Trump talked to that day, but I don't believe he intentionally destroyed any evidence, the way Richard Nixon was accused of doing.

V & Z respond: It would seem so. That's why they say the news is the first draft of history; sometimes it needs to be revised.

Alternatively, this could be the proof that the 1/6 insurrection was really Barack Obama's fault. Thanks, Obama.

A Taxing Proposal

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Voicing skepticism about assets valuation in connection with taxation, you wrote:

And what happens when the billionaire goes to court with five appraisals saying there is a little scratch on his Ming vase so it is worth only $100,000, not the $40 million the government says it is worth?

Well, I would think that the sensible thing would be for the government to buy the Ming vase for $100,000 and then let Sotheby's or Christie's handle the resale.

I.K. in Queens, NY, writes: As a tax accountant, I'm writing in about Joe Biden's proposed new tax. I have two points, both of which come back to a crucial provision in the plan: The taxes the billionaires pay on unrealized gains would be a credit against their taxes when they sell the stocks.

First, this means that the government isn't getting that much more money, it's just getting it sooner. It's essentially a withholding. Basically, the IRS does not always have faith that people will properly file income taxes, so it demands immediate payment on a lot of transactions, to be taken as a credit against future taxes.

The example most people are familiar with are the withholding on your wages—each paycheck, part of your income is paid to the government, and then counts against your tax owed on the tax return. There are many other examples of this, mostly concerned with foreigners (whom the IRS can't track down as easily). When foreigners sell U.S. buildings (Form 8288) or receive investment income (Form 1042), or when people renounce citizenship and leave the U.S. (Form 1040-C).

While this is valuable for the IRS's collection efforts—lots of this income would just never make its way to a U.S. tax return to be taxed—it's not like all of this is extra money for the IRS. On the one hand, this may make it more palatable for people: "It's just another withholding tax, on your capital gains!" On the other, all the headlines about how it'll raise X millions of dollars are likely to be very misleading, and this won't be a panacea for funding the government.

My second point is that this type of tax on unrealized income may gel surprisingly well with the Sixteenth Amendment, because an analog was included in the 2017 tax bill. That law introduced the Section 965 Transition Tax: Anyone who owned a foreign corporation had to pay an immediate tax in 2018 on the corporation's accumulated earnings.

So, these owners were paying tax on unrealized income—they hadn't received a penny of the foreign corporation's earnings. (And, like the proposed law, this tax would count against what they'd have to pay when the earnings were finally paid out as dividends.) Sure, there was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments among these owners. But so far, no one is standing in front of the Supreme Court hollering that such a tax is unconstitutional. So Biden's proposed tax wouldn't necessarily create the constitutional crisis that the billionaires would have you believe.

That said, I agree with your assessment—there are far better ways to raise far more money from billionaires, particularly by just raising tax rates and removing certain deductions. But why would we ever do things the easy and efficient way when it comes to the tax code?

L.F. in Edina, MN, writes: On Monday, you wrote of the billionaire tax: "One area where the proposal breaks new ground is taxing unrealized capital gains." Not even close. You and every one of your readers pays such a tax either directly or indirectly. It's called property tax, and you pay it each year based on unrealized gains, with the value determined by some very opaque valuation formulae.

Since this is done in every municipality (except a few in Alaska), there is substantial expertise in identifying and valuing unsold goods. Some jurisdictions don't limit it to real estate—there are personal property taxes in many places. It's also a terrible tax—ask anyone who has had to sell stocks, borrow from their family, dip into their IRA, or ditch their car in order to keep their home. That's a different gripe, though. I'm no billionaire, so I don't know how such a tax would affect them (they'd probably find a way to avoid it, or spend years in courts contesting their valuations), but it's incorrect to say we don't know how to implement one.

Loan on Me

M.L.M. in San Jose, CA, writes: I thought your item on Joe Biden's failure to reduce each student loan by $10,000 failed to point out some important features of student loans.

Student debt is not the same as the debt taken out for other reasons, like to buy a truck with which to earn a living. The big difference is that most student debt is guaranteed by the government and can not be discharged during bankruptcy (a Bill Clinton change).

Although reducing or eliminating student loans is a good thing for the student, it may not fly politically, as you point out. However, capping the government guarantee ($50,000?) and reinstating the possibility of bankruptcy protection might cut down on certain predatory lending practices. Lenders are assured of repayment at substantial interest so student lending is popular with lenders.

Student lending is also popular with educational institutions, including those that are for-profit (e.g., Trump University). They are guaranteed payment if they can get the student to sign. This is true whether or not the student profits from the education. Reduced availability of student loans exerts downward pressure on tuition growth and university salaries in general, even at UCLA.

In my own case, I have followed Nancy Reagan's advice—Just Say No—when it comes to my daughters. I have told them that if they have to borrow money to go to college they can't go. Both have elected to go to smaller (and cheaper) colleges. Neither has any student loan debt.

V & Z respond: Sorry to correct you, but as someone who has been associated with UCLA for 30 years, (Z) can assure you there is no force in the universe that can keep tuition there from going up, and up, and up...

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: I graduated from college in 1991, I ended up with a relatively small amount of student loan debt, in part because I was smart enough to be born 50+ years ago so that my college was cheaper, in part because I went to a school in my hometown and lived with my parents. I also took ROTC for the first two years, which gave me free elective credit hours and I joined the South Dakota Army National Guard and got a lot of educational benefits. One of these benefits was the Student Loan Repayment program. I did end up making some loan payments of my own, but that program paid the last of my loans before I got out of the service in 1993.

Would I be upset if any of today's graduates had their loans (or even just a significant fraction) just forgiven? Hell, no. When I joined in 1986, both active service and reserve component service (including National Guard) had pretty good educational benefits and the only war you were likely to see was Grenada or Panama. And even then, only in the Regular Army. Our real enemy was the Soviet Union and that war was going to be nuclear if it was anything, and even if it did turn out to be conventional, it was going to require the draft being reinstated. Nowadays, joining the Army—whether Regular Army, National Guard, or Enlisted Reserve—carries a very real likelihood of combat. Nobody should have to put their literal life on the line to get higher education, and if we won't provide reasonable financial aid, and insist on making college completely unaffordable without massive loans, then yeah, forgive the loans. We need an educated workforce and franchise, so that we can be the leaders of the free world. Forcing people to prostitute themselves (probably not literally) after getting that degree just to pay the bill is counterintuitive, and counterproductive.

S.S-L. in Norman, OK, writes: Regarding the cancellation of student loan debt for disabled borrowers, the Biden administration made two choices I found perplexing. The first is that it didn't let disabled students consent to if, or when, their loans would be forgiven. The second is that it didn't waive the usual ineligibility provisions. Consequently, disabled students might now have had their loans canceled with several years remaining in their post-secondary educations, making them ineligible for student loans going forward. Students can potentially become eligible again by signing a form that attests they will never again have debt forgiven on the basis of their disabilities. This means that a student might have $5,000 forgiven now, only to accrue $245,000 in the future, and never again be eligible to discharge that debt based on disability status.

To be fair, students receiving a low enough income on SSI or SSDI could still have their loans put into deferment based upon being low-income. My concern is for students who make more than the applicable low-income deferment threshold and are still underemployed due to their disabilities. Those people will be required to pay into perpetuity. I get it—be grateful for what you're given—I just wish there were a practical way to give eligible students a sort of "get out of jail free" card we could've used at the moment of our choosing. Unfortunately, there's no telling if a future administration would honor it.

Empire State of Maps

P.W. in Springwater, NY, writes: Your item on the new congressional map in New York being struck down in Steuben County caught my attention, since I live in Livingston County, immediately to the north. (In fact, my property line is the county line.) If I was a Republican shopping for a judge, this is where I would go. The new 23rd district that includes Steuben County (as well as my house) is now the reddest in the state. I regularly pass by houses with banners declaring "Trump Won" as well as a few houses posting lewd signs featuring President Biden.

Gerrymandering is not new to this area—for at least 20 years, the congressional districts have been set up to pack more and more Republicans into a few select districts. There are a few upsides, however. Since my district will inevitably be represented by a Trumpy Republican, at least the New York State legislature was trying to offset the gerrymandering of Republican states by eliminating several Republican-leaning seats. And, my current representative has elected to run in the adjacent 24th district, which ends our string of objectionable representatives named Chris: Chris Lee (who lost his shirt soliciting a woman on Craigslist), Chris Collins (the insider trading felon who managed to get re-elected while awaiting trial) and the incumbent Chris Jacobs (bland and Trumpy, but no scandals to date). We briefly had our current Governor as our representative. She won a close special election after Lee resigned, but having a "D" after her name inevitably cost her re-election.

And finally, the New York State legislature certainly gets bonus points for creativity. If they couldn't dump Chris Jacobs, at least they've made it so he'll be busy traveling—his new district literally wraps around Lake Ontario, omitting the heavily Democratic-leaning Buffalo and Rochester areas with a land bridge connecting the eastern and western portions. I wish they could have found a way to un-district the obnoxious Rep. Elise Stefanik (R), but, I guess you can only slice and dice these red-leaning areas so many ways.

Here's hoping that the map survives on appeal!

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: The New York gerrymander opinion is carefully drafted, and its interpretation as to what the New York Constitution requires is reasonable (though an appellate court can always decide the words don't mean what they appear to say). The opinion dissects the infirmities in the procedural steps that were taken with these maps. Part of the problem, which the opinion notes, is that the constitutional amendment doesn't effectively address what happens if the map committee doesn't produce a map with bipartisan support. The opinion also notes the short amount of time to remedy the problem, and I can see an appellate court reinstating the maps for the 2022 election only. But ultimately, I agree with Judge Patrick McAllister that these maps are not what the constitution intended, procedurally or substantively.

Judge McAllister was elected to the Steuben County Surrogate's Court (which has jurisdiction over matters relating to decedents, such as probate, guardianships and other specialized areas) and is an acting state Supreme Court justice. It is extremely common in New York State for judges elected or appointed to limited-jurisdiction courts, like the Civil Court, County Court, Family Court, Court of Claims, or Surrogate's Court, to sit in Supreme Court (which is the trial court of general jurisdiction).

Because the effect of the district maps is felt over the entire state, under New York law an action to enjoin their application can be made in any county. Obviously, the Republicans forum-shopped (as would Democrats, were the shoe on the other foot) and selected rural and heavily Republican Steuben County, 75 miles south of Rochester on the Pennsylvania border.

The appeal will go a panel of four or five Justices on the Fourth Department of the Supreme Court, Appellate Division. I'd estimate about two-thirds to three-quarters of the justices on that court are Democratic appointees. Ultimately, the Court of Appeal will likely decide the case, and all of its judges are Democratic appointees.


M.H. in Geneva, IL, writes: I teach high school government and I used to use your website as a resource for students. You have gone so far to one side that I cannot in good faith use your site anymore. When you become fair again, I may return.

B.M. in Parker, CO, writes: Can your site add a conservative contributor? I've been reading since the Obama years, and you've drifted so far to the left that I feel like I'm reading the Huffington Post. Your site never has anything nice to say about a single member of the GOP, or their views. In fact, you heavily push the woke narrative that Republicans are simply racist. You can't claim to be independent and always have good things to say about one side and bad things about the other. You even do hit pieces on moderates at this point (Bill Maher, Joe Manchin, Mitt Romney, etc.). I guess the real question at this point is: Do you want conservatives to find your website informative? Or is your website meant to be an echo chamber for the left?

J.A. in Middelkerke, Belgium, writes: I must disagree with the view that your site is left-leaning.

This view may seem hard to defend, especially in light of the voting in your March... Sadness brackets. 97% or 98% support for the Obamas is not "in the middle," of course. And these days, eyeballs tend to look at things they like (was it ever otherwise?).

However, I am firmly on the right, at least on the western European scale. In Dutch terms, I may occasionally be persuaded to vote D66 if the Christian Democrats and the [Economic] Liberals decide that nonsense is the best policy, but otherwise I am fairly conservative.

But, yes, conservative with a small "c." I am not sure when exactly the line was crossed (AuH2O, Nixon, Reagan, Bush I or II), probably because modern society doesn't afford us the clarity of an actual Rubicon, but at some point the Republican party stopped being conservative and became a radical right party, a la Vlaams Blok, Front National, Golden Dawn etc.

These parties are not conservative. They are radical. Conservatives, at least in theory, try to look at problems and find proven solutions. The Radical Right doesn't care about solutions, because problems are their life blood. Discontent, in all its forms, is their only means to success, be it via the ballot box or force of arms.

Hate, divisiveness and lies, these are not conservative values in any meaningful sense. Quite the opposite. Reality only has a [left] liberal bias when conservatives aren't actually conservative. Rejecting extremism is a conservative value.

So if neutral observers are faced with a two-party system in which one party—left or right—has gone completely off the rails, doesn't even accept there are rails, and basically says that the only reason you don't have a personal sky-train is because of whomever they are targeting at that particular point in time, then what should those neutral observers do?

Tell it like it is, of course. Not pretend like one is like the other, that the snake is a cuddly rabbit. That we have always been at war with East Asia (or Eurasia), that facts are conspiracies, that the truth and lies have some kind of equivalence.

To stand up to that nonsense is just as much an indicator of conservative values as it is of liberal values.

So I really can't accept the conventional wisdom on your slant.

Just my 1/50th of a Loonie.

Tall Ships

P.B. in Spring Lake, NJ, writes: Loved your item on the naming of ships, especially the part about the naming of oilers. I was on the USS Ponchatoula (AO-148) for 3 years and have visited the Ponchatoula River. You gave the textbook answer about the naming of carriers that we all learned as midshipmen—they are named after battles or famous ships. I served on the USS Randolph, USS Lexington and USS Oriskany. All of which followed this rule. My pet peeve is that the Navy changed this rule many years ago and started naming ships after politicians with a Navy connection or who were responsible for funding the Navy, usually right-wingers. This has backfired, though, and there is a movement to rename the USS John Stennis because of his segregationist past. I would love to see the name changed to someone from the Civil Rights era—MLK Jr., John Lewis or even Barack Obama.

D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: A ship of any name is always referred to as "she" or "her," so it's more than appropriate to give any seagoing vessel a female name.

J.E.S. in Sedona, AZ, writes: In this week's Schadenfreude item, you noted that "aircraft carriers are named after famous battles/past ships." I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1986, and worked for Naval Reactors (who design and regulate the reactors that power our modern carrier and submarine fleets) for many years after that, and during my Navy lifetime, that rubric has not applied. Beginning with CVN-68 (Nimitz), which was commissioned in 1975, every aircraft carrier has borne the name of a senior elected official. Of the ships appropriated and in progress today, only one (CVN-80) does not also bear the name of a person, not a place. That one does hew to the "famous past ships" rubric, as the new Enterprise will replace the legendary CVN-65 Enterprise, the first nuclear-powered carrier in the fleet. Though, of course, I can't swear that the new carrier isn't actually named after a certain starship...

V & Z respond: We'll see if the next carrier is named USS Millenium Falcon.

Podcasting Frequencies Open

K.S. in Lorton, VA, writes: I've always meant to write in, but haven't had a good enough reason until this week. But, responding to the question from J.K. in Seoul about Star Trek podcasts, I highly recommend any of the Mission Log shows produced by Roddenberry Entertainment. The primary series, Mission Log, has been releasing weekly episodes for the past decade reviewing each episode and movie. They just started Star Trek: Voyager so it's a good review on all of TOS, TAS, TNG, DS9, and the first 10 movies. They also have a live edition, and other spinoffs. Roddenberry also has The Trek Files, which covers documents from Star Trek's production history.

There's also the official Star Trek podcast from Paramount, Star Trek: The Pod Directive, hosted by Tawny Newsome (Mariner on Star Trek: Lower Decks) and comedian Paul F. Tompkins.

There are many, many more great ones out there, both niche and general. has several as well. Enjoy!

D.B.G in Minneapolis, MN, writes: I listen to two Trek podcasts. Positively Trek (mostly for the reviews of Trek lit as I enjoy reading Star Trek fiction), and Literary Treks, again for the discussion/review of Star Trek novels and short stories.

D.E. in Atlanta, GA, writes: If you want to go down the rabbit hole of a review of every single episode, I would suggest The Pensky Podcast. Interesting takes on classic episodes and though at times too pedantic, they are enjoyable nonetheless.


B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: B.C. in Soldotka (no relation!) wrote "I wanted my fix of strangers confidently capslocking falsehoods past each other."

I just wanted to thank the other B.C. for that lovely phrasing.

H.S. in Lake Forest, CA, writes: For one who likes to make fun of the miserable fans of Americans notoriously unsuccessful sport franchises, I did not picture (Z) as an Angels fan. I predict retaliatory comments in the near future.

V & Z respond: They won a World Series this century, and they did it without steroids, sign stealing, or industrial-sized quantities of stick-um on the pitchers' hands (and caps, and belts, and shoes...)

J.H. in Canton, GA, writes: In response to your suggestion that we "[t]ry to guess with any confidence which teams will be playing and, most importantly, which team will win" the 2024 World Series, it is quite clear that Alex Anthopoulos has built a budding dynasty in Atlanta, with the core group under contractual control beyond 2024.

I have no clue who will win the little league junior circuit known as the American League, but nobody really cares. Your 2024 World Series Champions will be the Atlanta National League Baseball Club,* which would be their 4th consecutive championship.

* - I use the official name because while I am certain they will win the World Series, I am far less certain they will still be known as the Braves.

V & Z respond: Be careful; an injury here and a bad bounce there, and the team's season could go up in flames. Of course, it wouldn't be the first time that happened to Atlanta.

J.L. in Baltimore, MD, writes: In response to the question about (Z) abandoning his use of the initial, I'd like to remind you of other famous Zs: Zorro, Zapruder, Ziegfeld, Zorba, and plain Z of book and movie fame.

V & Z respond: And don't forget Zappa, Zapata, Ziggy Stardust and Zefram Cochrane.

P.C. in Yandina Creek, QLD, Australia, writes: As a historian, (Z) must surely remember that Neville Chamberlain's "Top Secret" visit to Germany to "take the measure..." of Hitler in late 1938 to was called "Operation Z."

K.F. in Framingham, MA, writes: It is indeed a stroke of good luck that (Z) forgot his keyboard and that he decided to bring the desktop. If he brought the laptop, then decided to take a leisurely stroll down the strip, he may have returned to his room to discover that the laptop had also taken a walk. It wouldn't be long before TFG would lament, "but his e-mails!" or "we need to know what's on (Z)'s laptop!" At a future rally, he would yell, "the failing, led by Zany (Z)! That's right, they call him Zany Z!" So, you see folks, (Z) forgetting his keyboard may have saved the very future of and by extension, our democracy!

V & Z respond: (Z) is not saying that he was paid $100,000 a month to serve on the board of Burisma. And he isn't saying that he wasn't paid $100,000 a month to serve on the board of Burisma.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr02 Saturday Q&A
Apr01 Biden Gives Americans Gas
Apr01 About Those Trump vs. Biden Polls...
Apr01 Judges Smack New York Democrats, Florida Republicans
Apr01 FEC Smacks Hillary Clinton, DNC
Apr01 This Week in Schadenfreude
Apr01 March... Sadness, Part VI (Others, Round 2)
Mar31 Brooks May Change Select Committee's Focus
Mar31 Collins Will Vote to Confirm Jackson
Mar31 Trump Continues to Court Putin
Mar31 State of the State Gerrymanders
Mar31 What Is Pompeo Running for?
Mar31 Will California Voters Bet on Gambling in November?
Mar31 New Missouri Senate Candidate Is in Trouble on Day 1
Mar31 March... Sadness, Part V (The Legislative Branch, Round 2)
Mar30 Haven't We Heard This Story Before? The Case of the Missing Phone Calls
Mar30 So Much for That Billionaires' Tax
Mar30 Clarence and Ginni Thomas Are Giving Both Parties Headaches
Mar30 There's No "There" There, Part I: The 2024 GOP Field
Mar30 There's No "There" There, Part II: Debate Dodging
Mar30 DeSantis Vetoes Florida Map
Mar29 Biden's Budget...Better?
Mar29 Biden's in the Poll-drums...
Mar29 ...But Ketanji Brown Jackson Isn't
Mar29 The Walls Close in on Trump Just a Little More, Part I
Mar29 The Walls Close in on Trump Just a Little More, Part II
Mar29 And Cruz May Be in Trouble, Too
Mar29 About This Weekend
Mar28 Biden's Trip: A Success, but the War is Ongoing
Mar28 Biden's Sanctions Are Working
Mar28 What Would Happen If Russia Launched a Cyberwar?
Mar28 Biden Proposes New Tax on Billionaires
Mar28 Biden Defaults on Student Loan Promise
Mar28 Judge Throws Out Maryland Map
Mar28 Trump May Be Sorry He Dumped Brooks...
Mar28 ... And He May Also Be Sorry He Hasn't Dumped David Perdue
Mar28 Fortenberry Quits
Mar25 Will Jackson Get Any Republican Votes?
Mar25 Russian Military Leaders Won't Talk to Milley and Austin
Mar25 Biden Wants to Kick Russia Out of the G-20
Mar25 Biden: U.S. Will Accept 100,000 Ukrainian Refugees
Mar25 Virginia Thomas Pushed Meadows to Overturn the 2020 Election
Mar25 Prosecutor Who Left the Manhattan D.A.'s Office Says Trump Committed Felonies
Mar25 Arizona Legislature Passes Abortion Bill Copied from the Mississippi Law
Mar25 Supreme Court Delivers for Republicans in Wisconsin
Mar25 Rep. Jeff Fortenberry Is Headed from the House to the Big House
Mar24 "I Think It's Bullshit"
Mar24 Biden Is in Europe Today
Mar24 U.S. Says Russians Are Committing War Crimes in Ukraine
Mar24 Democrats Are Their Own Worst Enemy