Sunday’s Forum

Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Well, your friendly neighborhood Jim Brown found himself involved in Balloon Gate the past 8 days or so.

    If I’m the Chinese, I’m pretty satisfied with the psychological effects of the operation. The angst, the conspiracy theories, the fact that the Leader of the Free World was the decision authority to shoot down A FRIGGIN BALLOON (which by the way we’d been tracking over Alaska and Canada for days and could have shot it down with zero fanfare.) Yes, I’d conclude (and they will) that the population, and military command authority was simply not ready for war.

    – Yes, it was “spy” balloon. This particular Balloon probably malfunctioned as its altitude climbing and descending capability was not observed. It stayed consistently at the same altitude, which takes away any possibility of steering it.

    – Yes, we know it’s payload and capabilities, which is why Biden said to wait till it was over water and shoot it down (and frankly the shoot down order was only to protect himself from being labeled weak by the Right. ) Other than the Raptor pilots getting the fun of a non-training, live-fire mission, it was a waste.

    – Yes, this has happened before (and will again) Not enough to be considered regular but definitely periodically. The payload and capabilities are not advanced enough to justify multimillion dollar kill missions to eliminate.

    Yes, these balloons are common and have been in niche use with the DOD and CBP (and other Countries) since the early aughts. You simply can’t predict with certainty where you can steer them …or how long they can loiter in the area you need them. This is exactly why you don’t put advanced payloads of sensitive surveillance or communications equipment on them. You can’t recover these things over enemy territory once launched.

    IMO…The message we think we “sent” is not the one the Chinese will receive. They saw a national circus driven by the Media, which forced the nation’s leader to take an unnecessary action against a non-threat. That’s useful information to know.

    The better kinetic messaging would have been engagement off the coast of Alaska highlighting the command was given by the Commander of NORAD. It’d show streamlined Command and Control and decision making.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    From Mother Jones:

    In September 2020, George Santos’ congressional campaign reported that Victoria and Jonathan Regor had each contributed $2,800—the maximum amount—to his first bid for a House seat. Their listed address was 45 New Mexico Street in Jackson Township, New Jersey.

    A search of various databases reveals no one in the United States named Victoria or Jonathan Regor. Moreover, there is nobody by any name living at 45 New Mexico Street in Jackson. That address doesn’t exist. There is a New Mexico Street in Jackson, but the numbers end in the 20s, according to Google Maps and a resident of the street.

    Santos’ 2020 campaign finance reports also list a donor named Stephen Berger as a $2,500 donor and said he was a retiree who lived on Brandt Road in Brawley, California. But a spokesperson for William Brandt, a prominent rancher and Republican donor, tells Mother Jones that Brandt has lived at that address for at least 20 years and “neither he or his wife (the only other occupant [at the Brandt Road home]) have made any donations to George Santos. He does not know Stephen Berger nor has Stephen Berger ever lived at…Brandt Road.”

    The Regor and Berger contributions are among more than a dozen major donations to the 2020 Santos campaign for which the name or the address of the donor cannot be confirmed, a Mother Jones investigation found. A separate $2,800 donation was attributed in Santos’ reports filed with the Federal Election Commission to a friend of Santos who says he did not give the money.

    The punchline:

    Mother Jones did contact several top donors to Santos’ first campaign who confirmed they had made their contributions. One reported giving to the Santos campaign in 2020 after requesting that a campaign fundraiser have someone from the National Republican Congressional Committee contact him and vouch for Santos. Within an hour, the donor said, a man who identified himself as being with the NRCC called to affirm its support for Santos. “I had and still have no reason to believe the call was not legitimate,” the donor says.

  3. CSK says:

    @Jim Brown 32:
    Thanks very much for this explanation.

  4. Mikey says:

    Here’s my take on the Chinese balloon, based on what we know since yesterday, especially the DoD’s statement similar balloons have transited the continental US before, including during the Trump administration. Notably, Trump not only did nothing, but did not even reveal this to the American people.

    I think these balloons are China’s equivalent of our U-2 surveillance aircraft. The balloons would normally be at far higher altitude, near the stratospheric levels of weather balloons, but to echo @Jim Brown 32’s assessment, this one malfunctioned and dropped to only 60,000 feet where it was actually visible to ground observers with the naked eye.

    Now, certainly we do not like foreign surveillance aircraft transiting our airspace, and our foreign adversaries do not either, but it is something that has been done for decades by every nation with the capability. It’s one of those parts of espionage operations the participating nations basically allow so they will also be allowed to do. Which IMHO explains why Trump’s administration knew but didn’t say anything.

    But now we had one down where people could get pictures of it from their backyards. I know the question is “why didn’t we splash it over Alaska?” but so far I have not seen any indication it was so low until it got over Montana, so maybe it was working properly until then. If it was still at proper altitude over Alaska then it seems likely Biden was going to do the same as Trump.

    So why didn’t we drop it over Montana? The official position is we didn’t want to risk injury to people on the ground, but I think it was actually because we had RC-135 Cobra Ball aircraft gathering imagery and signals intelligence on it. The DoD has also stated they were able to prevent it transmitting any of its own intelligence back to China.

    In any case, now it’s down in what’s reportedly only about 45 feet of water so it should be relatively simple for the Navy to bring it back up so we can study the hardware. If it stores images onboard we will also have those and therefore know what the Chinese are interested in seeing.

    The GOP will blather on about “Sleepy Joe” being “owned by the Chinese” (actual words from people I know) but as with all things concerning international relations, the issue is far more complex. IMO the administration’s response was proper and they exploited an opportunity that has gained America an advantage in surveillance operations.

  5. Jax says:

    Northeast OTB friends, check in! Did you survive the arctic blast? I saw that video of that mountain, the wind looked vicious!

  6. Scott says:

    Reviewing the entire week and aftermath of the Balloon Gate episode, this movie from my early youth sprang to mind:

    The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming (1966). Actually a pretty funny movie that got great reviews and even awards.

  7. MarkedMan says:

    Interesting piece in The NY Times (no subscription needed) describing how productivity in the construction industry has stagnated or gone down over the past 50 years, while it has risen in virtually every other industry. The author, Ezra Klein, looks at a number of different theories, and then speculate that it has to do with regulation and interest groups. That makes sense, but the list of five most productive and five least productive states doesn’t seem to line up with that.

  8. JohnMc says:

    @Jax: That’s Mt Washington in what’s called the presidential range of the White Mtns in New Hamsha. The highest wind speed ever measured was recorded there; best I recall, 231mph.

    Appalachian trail goes right over the top.

  9. Jen says:

    @Jax: The Mount Washington Observatory is definitely in the right spot to record some awful weather!

    We’re fine. This cold snap only lasted a day, we’re back up into the 20s already and the forecast has it getting into the 40s by this afternoon. The dog was NOT amused yesterday when taken out for her daily. I’ve never seen her accomplish the task quite so rapidly.

  10. Mikey says:


    The highest wind speed ever measured was recorded there; best I recall, 231mph.

    You recall correctly.

    Mount Washington: Home of the World’s Worst Weather

    Hurricane force winds occur an average of 110 days per year. Mount Washington holds the Northern Hemisphere and Western Hemisphere records for directly measured surface wind speed — 231 mph, which was recorded on April 12, 1934.

  11. MarkedMan says:

    @Jim Brown 32: Thanks for the interesting insight. On this though, I think you might be worrying too much:

    They saw a national circus driven by the Media, which forced the nation’s leader to take an unnecessary action against a non-threat.

    Before Xi was the leader he worked his way up through local, then provincial, and finally national offices. And if there is one thing that officials at all those levels learn, it’s that the most crucial thing to your career isn’t how you respond to problems overall, but how you respond to them once the general public starts discussing them. Prolonged periods of negative public chatter can be fatal to one’s advancement and, in the most egregious cases, simply fatal. If one of our balloons over China had become public in such a way, I strongly suspect it would have been shot down immediately regardless of the risk the debris posed. And if there were a public trip in the offing it would have been cancelled. Of course if it had not become public it would have been quietly monitored and tracked in much the way we did in past instances.

  12. EddieInCA says:


    Here’s what we know as fact so far:

    1. Santos has dozens and dozens of fraudulent donors who donated the maximum to his campaign. This is a fact.

    2. Santos has dozens and dozens of fraudulent expenses to a myriad of S. Florida businesses. This is a fact.

    3. Santos has dozens and dozens of donations which cannot be verified as from legitimate companies. This is a fact.

    4. Santos listed an accountant to his legal FEC filings who says he’s not associated with the Santos campaign whatsoever. That’s a fact.

    5. Santos cannot and will not explain the source of his income nor how he lent his campaign $700K in 2022, when in 2020, he listed debt of $55K and no source of income. This is a fact.

    Why is this man not facing charges yet? Seriously. Someone explain it to me. What’s the delay in charging him? What am I missing?

  13. steve says:

    Visiting son in Boston. Hit -10 I think. No snow and its warming quickly so really not that bad.

    I think Jim Brown nails the balloon thing. I was imagining that a couple of lower level Chinese functionaries were fantasizing about some way to tie Americans in knots for days and cause them to needlessly spend millions of dollars and thought they would take a wild swing and use the balloon. Those guys are probably getting promoted.


  14. Kathy says:

    Very near miss at Austin over the weekend.

    Reminder, the deadliest aircraft accident involved the crash of two B747s at Tenerife in 1977

  15. CSK says:

    Still here, thank you for asking. It was very, very cold. It will be 44 degrees by this afternoon.

  16. Jax says:

    @CSK: Now I’m jealous. We’ve barely gotten above 20 since our big freeze last week! Boy, that 20 sure does feel good, though. 😛

  17. Scott says:

    @EddieInCA: Look how fast Sam Bankman-Fried got charged. On a vastly more complex situation. Why is it that when it comes to the political world the law moves extraordinarily slow.

  18. EddieInCA says:


    Exactly my point. We know the facts. What’s stopping NYC, the State of NY, or the Fed charging him with the relevant crimes?

  19. EddieInCA says:


    The FEDS, not The FED

  20. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy: Scary

  21. MarkedMan says:

    @Scott: I imagine SBF was being investigated for a long time before he was indicted.

  22. Sleeping Dog says:


    The ambient low at notre petit taudis au bord de la plage was -11 and reportedly the local windchill was -35.

    Yes the hardy folks manning the weather station atop Mt. Washington enjoyed a -108 windchill. But that location suffers from some of the nastiest weather not in the Antarctic or Arctic. For decades that weather station held the record for highest wind speed, in excess of 200mph, subsequently that record has been broken.

    EDIT: Today and tomorrow are predicted to be a balmy 45 with 50 later in the week. Global warming returns. This has been a very St Louis like winter.

  23. MarkedMan says:

    A minister has a column in The Atlantic and says this:

    Yet for two centuries, Americans’ religious devotion counterbalanced this individualism with denunciations of self-centeredness and calls to love your neighbor. The Church demanded charity and compassion for the needy, it encouraged young people to confine sexual expression to marriage, and it encouraged spouses to stick to their vows. Bellah wrote that American individualism, now largely freed from the counterbalance of religion, is headed toward social fragmentation, economic inequality, family breakdown, and many other dysfunctions.

    He comes across as a decent, well meaning guy, but I think this is wishful thinking. If we extend his hypothesis even a little bit we get an easy prediction: communities that are more religious in traditional ways (I.e. Protestant Christian) should have lower divorce rates, fewer pregnancies outside of marriage, more people abstaining from drugs and alcohol, etc while those communities that are more secular should do worse than average on those metrics. In reality, the exact opposite is true, and by a pretty dramatic amount.

  24. Michael Cain says:

    @Jax: We’re farther south than you but on the other side of the mountains. The Chinook blew in here in the wee hours of Saturday morning. It was 52 by the time I got up.

  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: Evangelical churches are the segment that is driving most of the growth stability, such as it is, of American Christianity. Evangelicalism is not a particularly traditional expression of Christian thought or behavior being based on marketing principles–“Jesus, the Best Salesman Evah!!” is a more common sermon topic than “Jesus, Lamb of God.” The marketing principles combined with a notion that “God loves us unconditionally” make for a religion that would not be able to impose discipline of the sort for which you are looking on it’s followers even it didn’t believe that sort of discipline was “bad for business.” People who are seeking better ways to live will need to find those ways outside of evangelicalism; it doesn’t have the desire to produce better culture.

  26. gVOR08 says:

    @MarkedMan: A philosophical question. Plato, Leo Strauss, and many other in between, and still, believed that a stable society had to be based on a lie. For many the necessary lie is religion. Did any of them address what society should do once a large number of people recognize the lie for what it is?

  27. CSK says:

    Trump’s going to have a field day with this if someone brings it to his attention:

  28. MarkedMan says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Interesting. So if I understand correctly, if we excluded Evangelistic church it would better reflect the type of religion/Christianity this minister was describing as having a beneficial effect on family stability, etc? That actually feels right common-sense-wise.

  29. MarkedMan says:

    @gVOR08: If that question was addressed to me, you’ve got the wrong guy! 😉

    But outside of religious philosophy we can point to societies like those in Europe, which have moved farther away from religion than the US. It would be hard to argue it had a negative effect on society and the family as compared to US.

  30. JohnSF says:

    Strauss seems to have believed that; it’s less clear that Plato did, outside of Strauss’ interpretation of him. I suspect Plato might have been a tad pissed off by Strauss.

  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Scott: I haven’t seen it in a long time. It is a funny flick.

  32. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MarkedMan: how productivity in the construction industry has stagnated or gone down over the past 50 years

    I have to wonder what metrics he is using because I know that over my 35 years They expected more and more from me. And they got it. One obvious productivity gain was going from driving nails with a hammer to using a nail gun. I do know that safety regs became more stringent. When I started out, I didn’t even know what a fall harness was and by the time I retired we were using them at any point damned near anytime we were more than a step ladder above the ground. I exaggerate a little bit, we didn’t use them when on extension ladders but you had to have somebody at the bottom of the ladder as a spotter. I always joked that his sole purpose was to point and say, “Yep, that’s the spot he landed on.” Another safety reg change was outlawing bump guns. For good reason, I once put a #16 nail thru my hand when the gun recoiled and then hit the 2x I was holding in place but the nail skipped off it and found my hand instead.

  33. Jax says:

    I would like to announce that it is now….31 degrees. Above zero! I was sweating feeding cows, had to peel off layers. Everything is melting and it’s kind of an ice rink on the packed snow. I even saw a little patch of dirt in the makeshift road we plowed out when the real road blew in! 😛

  34. MarkedMan says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: His speculation is that most of the loss of productivity occurs before doses go in the ground, due to all the approvals, remediations, offsets etc.

  35. MarkedMan says:

    @Jax: Welcome back from the ice planet!

  36. CSK says:

    It’s a tropical 51 degrees here, having been 7 yesterday. Bring me a voka and tonic, please.

  37. gVOR08 says:


    The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming (1966). Actually a pretty funny movie

    Everybody to get from street!

  38. dazedandconfused says:

    For those who remember the discussion about Roman concrete, which was imagined to be vastly superior to what we use today, which in a couple ways it is, it’s that deep-freeze quick thaw condition we experience in these northern latitudes which precludes its usage.

  39. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: I haven’t read the article, but it would seem that eliminating evangelicalism from the model would make the argument he’s trying to make more plausible. (After all, evangelicalism didn’t even exist as a religious philosophy 200 years ago.)

    But he may just be doing “It’s not like it was in the old days.”*’

    *And to finish the joke, “and it wasn’t like that back then either.”

  40. Kathy says:


    The weird thing is the the passengers in the Southwest flight might not have noticed anything amiss. If the crew didn’t inform them afterwards, they’d have found out when they read the news, if they noticed that item.

  41. JohnSF says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    There’s a lot of theological fuzziness about these day, but there’s an essential difference between two categories of Christians that tend to get mixed up:
    pentecostals, and evangelical fundamentalists.
    The big difference is fundamentalists tend to be hardcore Calvinist, and by definition Biblical literalist.
    Whereas Pentecostals are “holy spirit” types: prophecy trumps both tradition and text.
    And are often not strict predestinationalist.
    In the US the Pentecostals have tended to align with evangelicals; but that’s not the case elsewhere.
    And probably unlikely to persist longer term even in America.

  42. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Scott: Because the political world has repercussions. Like it or not, we’d like to think politicos are subject to the same laws we are… And they are, but the guardrails are entirely different.

    Peons like you or me? Go ahead, indict. Who cares? A Rep? A Sen? A Pres? Whoa… better make sure you have all your t’s crossed and your i’s dotted, because a D admin indicting a GOP politoco is a delicate thing.

  43. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MarkedMan: Thanx, that makes sense.

  44. Jax says:

    Cows are so damn funny. It was so warm out I decided to get the plow tractor out and start smoothing out the area around the stackyard I’m feeding out of so it won’t be such an ice rink tomorrow, then I cleared some more rows in the snow to put hay down in (you lose about half your hay putting it straight down on 2 ft of snow).

    I looked behind me on the last row, and every single cow was lined up in a zipper formation on all the rows I made. Plodding along, get to the end, turn around, go down the next one. 😛

    I have high hopes, friends. In about 2 weeks I’ll move to a whole brand new stackyard, and I’ll have to plow an inital row to put hay down in. I think for the first one I’ll try to do a big smiley-face with glasses, and try to drone the cows moving into it, if Dad will run the feed tractor for a few.

  45. JohnMc says:

    Re: The Russians are Coming movie, recall it as really funny. Would also recommend the scenes in ‘The Mouse That Roared’ in which the Finwickians invade NYC.