Dem 51
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Sunday Mailbag

Bet you can guess who dominates today's mailbag. The very first letter is a reminder of our past, wild-eyed naïveté on that subject.

Politics: Trump Legal News

T.C. in Danby, NY, writes: You wrote: "It used to be that there was at an item of Trump legal news nearly every day. But these days, a day with just one such story is pretty rare. Now, the general rule is that there are multiple stories every day."

Do you remember the good ol' days when you speculated about the date of the first Trump-free day (or week) of

J.S. in Yreka, CA, writes: Should Trump be convicted, how about sending him to Guantánamo? This would have several advantages:

(V) & (Z) respond: A sizable number of readers wrote in with this exact suggestion.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I think I have the perfect solution to where Donald Trump can be imprisoned. Plum Island Animal Disease Research Center. I understand it is now abandoned. The Research Center is only on a part of the island. I hear there's a very, very nice beach where terns nest. He can go for walks on the beach or swim in the ocean for up to one hour. Under SWAT team surveillance, of course. It sounds charming.

It's either that or Baltimore State Hospital For the Criminally Insane, where Dr. Chilton can blare around-the-clock TV evangelical programming and Multiple Miggs, his neighbor down the hall, can provide styling gel for the thing on TFG's head. I'll be content with either one.

Oh, and Mr. Trump, just one more thing: Love the new jumpsuit.

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: Should Donald Trump receive a prison sentence, I think justice would be best served by placing him under house arrest at Mar-a-Lago, confined to the staff accommodations. His room should preferably have a view of the golf course (which he, of course, would not be permitted to use), and have neither a TV nor any Internet-connected device.

D.R. in Harrisburg, PA, writes: You wrote: "The government is ready to start turning over documents immediately, and will begin doing so in short order. The total is a staggering 11.6 million pages. Do you know how many bathrooms it takes to store that many?"

Assuming an 8.5" x 11" x 2" inch ream of paper (500 sheets, 187 cubic inches), then 11.6 million sheets (23,200 reams) have a volume of 2510 cubic feet. Boxes stacked 6 feet high would fill a 21' x 21' room or roughly four 8' x 12' bathrooms.

On the other hand, all the data would fit on a USB drive that could be hidden in the tissue box. And probably is.

Disclaimer: These numbers have not yet been validated by the staff mathematician. It's the weekend, you know.

(V) & (Z) respond: Quite a few readers wrote in with their estimates, which ranged from "two bathrooms plus a little floor space in a third" to "17 bathrooms."

R.S. in New York City, NY, writes: Regarding two orders of a New York court against Trump, you wrote: "[T]hat means the former president went 0-for-2 in New York, which means that, this season at least, he is eminently qualified to bat leadoff for the Yankees."

I would add: "or cleanup for the Mets."

Politics: Trump's Defense(s)

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: You guys may still get those honorary J.D.s that I know you covet!

You did a great job with a range of legal questions this week, especially explaining the final judgment rule and the rungs in the federal court appellate ladder. One little quibble about your response to D.P. in Pittsburgh: It is true that appellate review by the U.S. Supreme Court or by a full, en banc federal court of appeals are discretionary. The vast majority of such requests are denied. But initial appeals of final district court judgments, heard by 3-judge panels of the relevant federal court of appeals, are taken as of right. The appellate court does not have discretion to refuse to consider them. As you might imagine, this rule results in many meritless appeals of judgments of criminal conviction. The courts of appeals long ago learned to dispose of such appeals quickly, often without formal opinions.

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: In most places, having a mental disease is not, by itself, a defense. There are four different ways that mental disease can play a role in a criminal case. Here is how I explain it to young attorneys...

The first potential issue is whether a defendant is competent to proceed. The defendant must understand that he is being charged and be able to discuss his case with his attorney. This does not require that defendant have a "lawyer's understanding" of the details of the charges or the case. For example, it is not unusual for an offense to be the product of intoxicated behavior (whether from alcohol or controlled substances) and the night is just a blur to the defendant. But that does not render the defendant incompetent. If the defendant is not competent, the case is not allowed to proceed further, but the presumption is that defendants are competent. In other words, the court can reject a doctor's opinion that a defendant is not competent even without a competing opinion, although that rarely happens.

The second potential issue is what lay people would characterize as "insanity." The majority test for insanity is that the defendant is unable to determine right from wrong. As I explain it, the insanity defense requires that the defendant knows what he is doing but thinks it is okay because of his mental disease. The classic example is the delusional defendant who shoots his neighbor because the dog told him to do so and thinks that the dog is the voice of god. In many states, the burden of proving insanity is on the defendant.

The third potential issue is what is frequently called diminished capacity. Basically, this means that the defendant knows that certain acts are wrong but, because of mental disease, did not know that he was doing the illegal act. For example, if a defendant with PTSD has a flashback and thinks he is back in combat, he does not know that he is shooting his neighbor without justification. Or, if as a result of a delusion, she thinks that she is chopping wood as opposed to her sleeping husband's leg. While there has to be some evidence before the defense gets an instruction on this issue, typically, the burden of proof is on the State, as diminished capacity challenges one of the elements of the State's case (that defendant acted intentionally).

The final way that mental health can come into play is at sentencing. At sentencing, the court gets to consider a defendant's full character to determine how serious the offense is and what punishment is merited. Often, even if it does not rise to the level of a defense to the charge, defendants will still present evidence about their mental health diagnosis to show that they are less blameworthy than somebody with no mental health issues.

Of course, other than competence (which can be raised by either side), other mental health issues have to be raised by the defense. The defendant has the right to tell his attorney to not present a mental disease defense. In the case of Donald Trump, I have trouble seeing a circumstance in which he would allow counsel to present a mental disease defense, even if it might be valid.

E.R. in Irving, TX, writes: In your response to R.M. in Lincoln City regarding why Jack Smith pursued a search warrant for Trump's Twitter account, you mentioned the collection of non-public data, such as private messages and metadata (like timestamps). Device metadata should also be in a responsive dataset, which could allow the Special Counsel to demonstrate at trial that public messages/tweets and private messages alike were authored by Trump on his personal device(s) and not a designee with access to his account.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I don't practice criminal law, so I don't know the answer to this, but Judge Aileen Cannon's order requires an explanation for why, post-indictment in Florida, a D.C. grand jury is still operating. That is, while it's appropriate to investigate in any jurisdiction where there are witnesses or element of the potential crime were committed, once you pick a venue for trial, further grand jury proceedings in connection with the indictment (like seeking evidence for a superseding indictment) might only be appropriate in that venue. I could imagine Judge Cannon being concerned that the Special Counsel is trying to avoid her supervision of the post-indictment grand jury by doing an end-run out of Washington, where rulings on privilege or subpoenas would be made by a D.C. federal judge. Andrew Weissmann's and Joyce Vance's comments don't address that point, and I simply don't know the answer to whether it's a valid concern.

L.B. in Cardiff, Wales, writes: I was listening to the Face The Nation podcast while walking home from work, hearing one of John Lauro's media blitz appearances as he tries to persuade the world that Donald Trump is a pure soul. I was half-distracted until I heard him say, with no hint of irony whatsoever, that "West Virginia would be an excellent venue to try the case—close to DC and much more diverse!"

I was lucky I wasn't taking a sip of my drink at the time as it would've ended up downing me.

West Virginia! The same West Virginia that's 93% white? SOOO diverse. A place that no part of the crime is alleged to have taken part in? That isn't even as close to D.C. as Maryland or Virginia? I wonder what made him come up with that—can't possibly be that it was Trump's second strongest state? If this is one of the best defenses they can come up with, Trump is screwed.

And if Trump stiffs Lauro, I think he should look into going on a stand-up comedy tour to raise the money. Certainly gave me a great laugh.

Politics: American Jesus

A.F.R. in La Mesa, CA, writes: Donald Trump saying "I'm being indicted for you" is not new. The 1949 film All the King's Men has a line in it (about 1:31 into the movie), when Willie Stark is desperately trying to save his political career: "He roared across the state, making speech after speech, and all the them adding up to the same thing: 'It's not me they're after, it's you.' Willie hollered 'Foul!' Willie knew that if you hollered long enough, hard enough, and loud enough, people begin to believe you."

All the King's Men is based on the life of Huey Long. Perhaps Trump has been reading Huey's playbook?

M.D.K. in Portland, OR, writes: As a former Medieval Studies major, I did not have "21st Century False Messiah" on my bingo card. Well, not an orange one.

As with the medieval false Messiahs, such as Sabbatai Tzvi, the followers of Trump are clearly having a ball, awash in serotonin and purpose. The only surprise is that the Orange Jesus didn't come up with this gambit sooner.

I want to ask his followers, "Did Jesus sell merch? No, he threw the moneychangers out of the Temple. Your Trump has his own table in the Temple, hawking 'Get your t-shirts here! Get your MAGA caps!' How much has he sucked out of you?"

A.A. in Kingwood, TX, writes: How did we miss the fact that the "J" in Donald J. Trump stands for "Jesus"?

J.E. in Whidbey Island, WA, writes: Donald Trump may be saying, "I'm being indicted for you," but there are probably a few hundred insurrectionists—not to mention some fraudulent electors—for whom those words are probably ringing hollow.

J.V.W. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: Just a reminder that Donald Trump's god complex goes back to well before he was indicted for the greater good of America, or whatever.

Remember "I alone can fix it!" Remember how Trump was going to stop the American carnage (tell it to the third precinct building in Minneapolis)... Remember how he thought that electing Biden would "weaken God."

I don't think Trump is intentionally impersonating God or Jesus; I don't suspect he knows enough about either for the mimicry to be this good. I think that he just walked the line between overconfident and insecure for so long that he matches well with a deity that demands worship or he'll kill everything living thing on the planet (save two of each animal, and Noah and family). Trump may not have had the power to flood or burn the world, but he did make a bit of a show of letting blue states and territories suffer during natural disasters. Ultimately I think Trump can see what his base likes, and he keeps doing it, in this way the MAGA crowd has molded trump in God/Jesus's image and Trump doesn't know any better than to become the messiah they demand.

E.G-C. in Syracuse, NY, writes: After reading your comparison of Donald Trump to L. Ron Hubbard (scarily accurate, by the way), I'd just say: Look out for Hubbard's followers rummaging through your garbage looking for info to embarrass you. I don't believe your Thetan level may be high enough to spare you their "attention," so Tom Cruise might come to get you!

(V) & (Z) respond: The one of us who lives in the same town as Tom Cruise puts the trash into a dumpster that's about 5½ feet tall. So, there's absolutely no chance Cruise (or David Miscavige, for that matter) could get into it.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

J.G. in Des Moines, IA, writes: Scenes from the Iowa State Fair:

RFK speaking and
a plane flying a banner that says 'Be likable, Ron!'

On the left is RFK Jr., on the soap box. He's out of voice, which doesn't matter too much because nobody's listening anyhow. On the right is a banner that flew over the fair for much of the day.

An all-Trump fair booth
and an all-fat hamburger sandwich

In the varied industries building at the Iowa State fair, they always put the Democratic booth across from the Republican booth. The Democratic booth is just the usual booth this year. As you see, the Republican booth is not Republican booth. It is Team Trump.

The other picture has nothing to do with politics, but it does otherwise capture the essence of the State Fair. A cheeseburger with "buns" made of bacon-grilled-cheese sandwiches. Not sure if it's kosher or not.

M.N. in Madison, WI, writes: You wrote: "DeSantis 2024 has other problems, beyond a candidate who cuts a less-than-dashing figure, and who is roughly as good at retail politics as Jeffrey Dahmer."

This comparison would seem to be massively unfair... to the late Mr. Dahmer. His court-appointed psychologist described Dahmer as "amiable, pleasant to be with, courteous, with a sense of humor, conventionally handsome, and charming in manner." Sounds like he had DeSantis beat on the retail politics front. Actually, it sounds like Dahmer had DeSantis beat on the "cutting a dashing figure" front, as well.

C.W. in Carlsbad, CA, writes: Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) deploying Quaker Guns? As a person from a family of former Quakers, I just want to share some armament with the Governor. Hope it's not too woke:

It's an ad for Quaker cereal
that says 'Rice shot from guns is as gay as a picnic.'

R.R. in Nashville, TN, writes: Concerning "Neither Trump Nor Biden Can Win": I heard a story—though I have not been able to confirm it—that during a particular World War II-era World Series, a sportswriter (I think Ring Lardner) wrote, "Both teams are so bad, I don't see how either of them can win."

D.M. in Burnsville, MN, writes: S.P. in Harrisburg writes "Donald Trump is a fighter. No other Republican president, like him or not, fought to fulfill his campaign promises to the extent that Trump did without wavering. Name pretty much any other Republican politician, and you see a politician that got sucked into the Washington swamp. Any other Republican compromises, wavers, and rolls over to the Democrats once the pressure builds. Would a would-be President Romney ever have shifted the balance of the Supreme Court in the remaining weeks of his term?"

Might I suggest: Teddy Roosevelt? Ulysses S. Grant? Dwight D Eisenhower? (Even) Herbert Hoover?

Politics: Clarence Thomas

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: I was glad that you highlighted how the largesse of "friends" probably makes Clarence Thomas extremely reluctant to surrender to the temptation of retirement. After all, even with a good federal pension, his retirement travels would probably not be of the style to which he and Ginni have grown accustomed.

It used to be that appointment to the federal bench was the pinnacle of a lawyer's career—a lifetime job with prestige, power, and a good salary. Today, however, a former federal judge can make vastly more money in private practice. More and more, judges serve a few years, or even a decade or two, and then cash in. I've known a number of federal judges who stepped down from the bench right around the time they started paying multiple college tuitions for their children. I've even litigated against one, who at our first hearing reminded the presiding judge that "We went to judge school together." To my delight, the presiding judge drily responded, "I don't remember."

Overall, I don't think this trend is good for the quality and credibility of the federal courts. But at least it provides a partial counterweight to the current trend of appointing federal judges at the youngest plausible age so a president and Senate can leave a long-lasting ideological afterimage. It hardly makes sense for vested moneyed interest to "befriend" the entire federal judiciary (though there are plenty of other perks that make the rounds, like "educational seminars" inculcating conservative legal tenets at cushy golf resorts).

But keeping a single Supreme Court justice happy on the bench? That's a good investment.

M.B. in New Orleans, LA, writes: Regarding the second part of the question by C.H. in Atlanta about Clarence Thomas, and your answer, I think you're likely missing some very important things that his donors are getting in return for their bribes. He only gets to vote once, but he can also tell them anything he can think of that would help them win their case. I'm by no means a legal expert, but it's easy to see how this could include any legitimate legal advice (which billionaires are probably well on top of already), but more importantly, he's one of the best people to know what sort of arguments work on each of the other justices, and exactly how the case should be presented for the desired outcome.

In addition, he can (and most certainly will) relay any amount of inside information that only a Supreme Court Justice could be privy to, such as what the other justices are saying about the case as it is progressing. Not to mention that he's in one of the best positions possible to try and influence the other justices directly. Getting one vote that was already in the bag is certainly not what billionaires are expecting in return for their money.

J.L. in Chicago, IL, writes: The general assumption seems to be that there is just about nothing Justice Clarence Thomas could do that would convince Republicans either to pressure him to resign or to remove him by way of impeachment and conviction because it would give President Biden a seat to fill. And that probably is right, but it occurs to me that there could be a way out through compromise. Even if he were a model of virtue, Thomas may have only so many years left on the Supreme Court. Republicans know that if he were to leave in an unplanned way, due to health problems or death, Biden or another Democratic president might be able to fill the seat with a young justice to the president's liking who could remain for decades. If he left now as part of a deal (admittedly one that would have to be struck with a great deal of discretion), that deal could include nominating and confirming a justice acceptable to both parties and/or old enough to be unlikely to serve for decades. The Republicans would reduce their risk of an appointment they hate and Democrats would get rid of a justice they strongly dislike for multiple reasons.

Politics: Climate Change

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, writes: I read your item about Arizona's Republicans burying their heads in the sand over global warming this week. From my experience, it is mainly Republican Baby Boomers who are resistant to change on this issue. Most of them haven't had any education on current environmental science and formed their worldviews based on outdated information.

There has been much attention paid to the scorching temperatures and drought in the Southwestern U.S., as well as devastating wildfires in Hawaii and California. People are being killed by the heat and fires, which gets a lot of attention.

However, the eastern half of North America is also being affected by global warming. There have been several large wildfires in Northern Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia driven by unusually hot and dry weather far to the north. The smoke spread down across the Great Lakes states and Northeastern states. The air quality in May and June in Connecticut was the worst I have ever experienced in my life and there was thick brown smog covering the region for weeks.

The ocean along the entire East Coast has been warmer than ever. The water around Southern Florida down into the Caribbean reached 103 degrees in July. That's about the temperature at which I have showers.

The algae on the Atlantic coast has been overwhelming over the past few summers. I frequently go to the beach in Rhode Island and Massachusetts in the summer. Recently, the amount of red algae in the water has made it like swimming in red cabbage soup. A man who was in his early 70s complained loudly to a lifeguard about the seaweed. I interjected and told him it is caused by global warming. He simply laughed in my face. I told him there is nothing to laugh about, because it's bad for wildlife as well as tourism.

The warmer water gives algae more time to grow and spread over a larger area. It should be clear to people by now that global warming is contributing to this issue as well. However, I have given up any hope that older Americans will react with any urgency to the problem. It is going to be up to people under age 50 to change policies.

S.C.-M. in Scottsdale, AZ, writes: Yes, it was a really hot July here. While it is not uncommon to have highs above 110 degrees Farenheit, it was very unusual to have them for so long. Also, the lows in our urban area averaged above 90F which means it did not cool done much at night.

The official Phoenix temperature is recorded at the airport, which is in the Salt River flood plain and generally is a few degrees higher than Scottsdale, which is at a higher elevation. It was still very hot everywhere in the valley.

In addition the summer rainy season (the monsoons) was almost non-existent this year and due to the lack of rainfall and the high persistent temperatures, even the saguaro cactus are stressed.

We may have reached a tipping point here in the Southwest and this summer may become the new normal.

Addendum: I remember after the IRA passed, environmentalists in the know predicted what would happen. The IRA uses tax credits and other incentives as investment multipliers and thankfully the private sector is responding. I am installing rooftop solar and the 30% tax credit makes the economic decision a lot easier to justify. This strategy is a lot better than a top-down approach.

(V) & (Z) respond: Installing rooftop solar strikes us as a top-down approach.

Politics: Little Green Men

P.B. in Gainesville, FL, writes: In response to P.M. in Edenton, and to other coverage of this story by the mainstream news organizations, I for one am glad you did not waste any pixels on flying saucers (or, more euphemistically, UFOs or UAP) at As a professional scientist, I continue to be amazed by how breathlessly these sorts of pseudo-scientific fantasies are treated. Further, the fact that members of congress "behaved themselves" as public representatives, instead of engaging in their usual political posturing, proves only that they haven't figured out how to politicize Little Green Men. As my mother used to say back in the days of the Soviet Union, communists would never admit that aliens are real until and unless they declare themselves to be communists, too.

Let me be clear: If we actually came across hard, physical evidence for alien life, I would be very excited. A good example of the attitude of most scientists (like me) can be found in Adam Frank's soon-to-be-published Little Book of Aliens. The field of astrobiology is a real endeavor that strives mightily to obtain evidence of aliens based on proper scientific procedures. Most scientists would allow that, eventually, astrobiologists will succeed, most likely by discovering evidence of inhabited, Earthlike planets many light years away, or a direct radio signal, or other technical means. It might take a long time to get to that point, however—real science is hard! What I will bet won't ever turn out to be believable is the kind of hearsay nonsense about "nonhuman biologics" that was highlighted by news media at these hearings. Puh-lease!

Politics: Foreign Meddling

J.T. in San Bernardino, CA, writes: In response to the inquiry from K.G. in Phoenix about the U.S. pressuring Ukraine to sack Viktor Shokin, the sacking of Shokin surely must pale in comparison to say... pressuring the head of state of a country to resign and then sending in the U.S. Marines to kidnap and imprison him when he didn't comply, as the Reagan administration did with Panama and Manuel Noriega in 1989. Noriega was no saint, sure, but it's gotta rate as one of the more aggressive, uh, "diplomatic" moves in U.S. history.

That would naturally lead us to the time that the U.S. was unhappy that a country with abundant mineral resources elected a socialist that planned to nationalize their extraction, so the Eisenhower administration helped engineer a coup d'état to replace him with a brutal military dictator who would rule the country with an iron fist for the next 27 years. That's some pretty aggressive diplomacy.

Shokin is small potatoes! Though certainly a relatively large potato in the world's third-largest potato exporting nation.

Politics: Boycotts

J.W.H. in Somerville, NJ, writes: My daughter has a friend she grew up with, and who recently married "Jim," who has a tutoring business. Jim recently posted a message to his Facebook page with this opening:

Many of you know that I shared a post from my personal blog two weeks ago about transgenderism. The general gist was no one should be bullied or ostracized for stating the biological reality that a man cannot become a woman and vice versa. Anyone who read my piece with an honest eye knows that there is no hate or malice in it.

I read the original blog post, and while it wasn't over-the-top, it definitely (in my opinion) showed intolerance. But it expresses his honest opinions, so that's OK. Jim ended the blog post with this statement: "If people want to break ties with me for kindly standing up for the truth, that's their prerogative. At least I'll be able to sleep better at night."

Now that some people have chosen to break ties, and it's affected his business, he made the Facebook posting quoted above specifically to complain about the (negative) impact the blog posting has had on his business. And he even states in that "in a twist that wasn't completely unexpected..." as he decries being shut out of an advertising channel that previously accounted for 20% of his business. So it seems clear that he actually expected negative repercussions, but now wants to complain about that impact, and present it as others being intolerant.

Since the family he's married into are friends, I've chosen not to engage. I simply will no longer recommend his business to anyone, where before this I had suggested some potentially good connections to him.

P.S.: One of the interesting comments on his post was from a friend who attended his wedding and apparently is transgender. He called him out for his position and asked a question, which Jim refused to address on the site. Jim said he's happy to talk, but not in public. That felt a bit disingenuous after having made this a public discussion in the first place. His friend pointed that out in a follow-up comment, to which there was no response.

All Politics Is Local: Issue 1

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I'm so glad Issue 1 failed and I'm optimistic about what those results portend for the abortion rights measure on the November ballot. I also understand the importance of these ballot measures when the elected representatives aren't actually representing their constituents.

But direct democracy is not a long-term solution. The goal should be to correct the imbalance in the representation and vote out the bums who only answer to a tiny segment of the electorate.

In California, direct democracy, which has become something of a cottage industry and gone way beyond its original purpose, has led to results that we continue to pay for decades after the dust has settled on any one election. Voters are not legislators, nor should they have to be—that's why we elect people to do that for us. But with these ballot measures, we are required to parse the worst written, most convoluted, lengthy legalese imaginable and decide whether it's a thumbs-up or down. That's the other problem with these measures—it's all or nothing. When a bill moves through a legislature, it can be revised multiple times and vetted by countless lawyers whose job it is to analyze and opine on its costs and benefits. Inevitably when voters are faced with this overwhelming task, the side that spends the most money wins. That's not how bills should become law. Compounding the problem is that once these things are passed, they can't be modified except by another ballot measure. So, all the unintended consequences that often flow from the passage of these measures just adds up and makes good governance all but impossible.

Elect the right officials so they do the job and pass the right bills so you don't have to.

A.L. in Tigard, OR, writes: I noticed that the Susan B. Anthony List claims that Ohio is an anti-abortion state. No, it is not. In 2022, Baldwin Wallace University Ohio Pulse Poll conducted a poll and 59.1 percent of Ohians support a constitutional amendment to make abortion a fundamental right in the state. This is why Republicans are underwater on this issue. They simply refuse to acknowledge the facts.

And also, the part about churches telling people to go out and vote "yes"? This is why churches need to pay taxes, if they are going to be political operatives.

M.L. in Athens, OH, writes: The anti-abortion activist group Susan B. Anthony List decreed, "Millions of dollars and liberal dark money flooded Ohio to ensure they have a path to buy their extreme policies in a pro-life state. Tragically, some sat on the sideline while outsider liberal groups poured millions into Ohio."

The New York Times notes that Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America (Washington, D.C.) contributed nearly $6.4 million to Ohio Issue 1. Hypocrisy much, Susie?

J.C. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: I'm told this meme was super-effective in getting out the 'no' vote:

It's a scoreboard-style graphic
that says 'Imagine if Issue 1 was a football game' and then has Ohio State losing despite outscoring Michigan 59-41

G.W. in Dayton, OH, writes: You erred when you suggested that Karl Rove's ploy 20 years ago to put anti-gay-marriage proposals on state ballots, and a possible move by Arizona Democrats to put an abortion measure on its 2024 ballot, are parallel situations. Rove offered a solution to an emergency that didn't exist until he created it. (More correctly, he used Gavin Newsome championing gay marriage in San Francisco to incite panic among conservatives nationwide.) Access to abortion directly affects a large swath of our population; its ramifications are intensely personal. Those who flocked to the banner of forbidding gay marriage had zero stake in it other than distaste. Rove cynically used their distaste to gain power. Those advocating today for access to abortion are not doing it to elect Democrats, even if that proves to be a happy side-effect.

All Politics Is Local: Other Issues

E.M. in Milwaukee, WI, writes: On Friday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on comments by state Rep. Robin Vos (R), who is Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly and the most prominent and vocal Republican leader in the state. He floated the idea of impeaching recently elected Wisconsin Supreme Court judge Janet Protasiewicz, The Journal Sentinel reported that he said in an interview on WSAU in Wausau that, "... He does not believe impeachment should be considered lightly by lawmakers. But he said the idea could move forward if Protasiewicz does not recuse herself on cases he said she 'prejudged' during her campaign for a seat on the state's highest court."

Such a recusal would, of course, lead to a tie vote on any redistricting questions.

Besides the hypocrisy of worrying about prejudging for a liberal and not for a conservative hack like former justice Michael Gabelman (of biased and shambolic election fraud investigation fame), the redistricting question is clearly the one that could break the current massive Republican gerrymander in the state. Vos has complained that Protasiewicz has prejudged other issues, but I'm sure that redistricting is by far the most important topic for him.

My personal opinion is that Vos had better stay away from impeachment or the subsequent special election for a replacement is likely to be reminiscent of the recent special elections for Tennessee representatives.

R.M. in Williamstown, WV, writes: In regard to "Manchin and Sinema: We Belong Together," I'm writing to tell you how tough things here in West Virginia, if you are even moderately liberal. We have a Democrat/Republican governor, who ran initially as a Democrat, then once elected decided he was a Republican, then got reelected as a Republican. He has now decided (since he is term limited as governor) that he'll replace Sen. Joe Manchin (D?-WV) in the Senate. But he has a noisy Trumper in the person of Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV) who also wants the job, and is busy trying to paint Justice as a RINO.

Justice is, indeed, something of a strange duck. He works hard on being a folksy "good ol boy" (he even takes his dog, an ugly bulldog named Baby Dog, with him everywhere he goes; Baby Dog sits quietly in a chair beside Justice). And he has, at times, confounded the Republican Legislature by championing things they hate.

Then we have Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) as one of our senators. She tries to sell herself as a moderate, sane Republican. But she nevertheless is constantly shouting "How high?" when ever Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says "Jump."

That, of course, leaves Manchin. And I'm going to venture a guess that even Joe doesn't know what he's going to do. He's in a tough spot. He's a Democrat representing a very Republican state. However, he has managed to aggravate the daylights out of almost everyone. Democrats are upset with him for all the shenanigans he's pulled over the last couple of years in the Senate. Republicans don't like him because in spite of doing a lot of things they support, he has still voted for most of Joe Biden's programs. He has toyed with the No Labels idea, which I'm sure even he knows is going nowhere. And now, he's making noises of becoming an independent. So, all in all, who is a moderate Mountaineer supposed to vote for? The pickings are slim indeed.

S.S. in Athens, OH, writes: From time to time, I drive through West Virginia, and when I do, I see billboards for Manchin Injury Law Group. If Joe Manchin can't decide which race to run in, or wants to get out of politics altogether, I'm sure that he would be welcome to join the family ambulance-chasing business.

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: I've been following recent posts about the Senate situation in Kentucky and Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY). I agree that he will not engage in any shenanigans, should anything happen to Mitch McConnell. He is a man of great integrity and only does what he thinks is right for the Bluegrass State.

That being said, I see Gov. Beshear as a potential ray of hope for the blue team when it comes to the Senate. Here's why: He's still fairly young (in his 40s) and has a potential long political career ahead of him. He's won statewide office as Kentucky AG and Governor, and his father, Steve, served two terms of his own as governor. I've seen him respond compassionately to natural disasters affecting his state, along with the mass shooting in Louisville this past spring. I've been impressed with his leadership from afar, and can see him as a senator from Kentucky for a long time. I don't know if he would run for McConnell's seat, or take on Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), but Beshear has already won against a Trumpy Republican in former governor Matt Bevin.

Provided Beshear wins his gubernatorial re-election this November, and polls suggest he's the slight favorite, he is someone to look out for the Democrats in the near future as they try to maintain, and strengthen control, in the U.S. Senate.

D.R. in Tetovo, North Macedonia, writes: Why were you so dismissive of Brandon Presley's (D) effort to unseat Gov. Tate Reeves (R-MS)? Of course Presley is the underdog, since he's a Democrat, Reeves is a Republican, and we're talking about Mississippi. But consider these facts:

I would submit that it's plausible that Presley could pull this off. Not likely, but plausible. Maybe he can use the Jackson water crisis to drive up Democratic turnout and his skill at retail politics to win over some of the Republicans who are angry at Reeves and looking for a change.

(V) & (Z) respond: An incumbent Republican in a deep-red state does not often lose, and we did check the polls, which have Reeves up 10-17 points, before we wrote that. But stranger things have happened.


K.C.W. in Austin, TX, writes: I always find it amusing, and not infrequently annoying, when folks refer to NPR as "lefty" or having a "generally liberal slant." I've been a listener for decades, and, if anything, over the last 20 years or more, it's been moving steadily to the right, and the depth of its political analysis, which once could have been called "lefty," is now pretty thin. They regularly provide an outlet for Freedom Caucus members, as they did with tea partiers, and rarely push back against or provide corrections or context to outright dishonest comments.

Let's not forget that, over the years, they have employed or engaged as regular commentators Juan Williams, David Brooks, and, ahem, Tucker Carlson. The latter no doubt got an assist in that appointment from his father, Dick Carlson, chairman of CPB, parent organization for NPR, from 1992-97. Subsequent CEO Kenneth Tomlinson resigned while under investigation by the CPB IG for violations of ethics rules. He had specifically vowed to purge "left-wing bias" from CPB, despite several surveys at the time finding most listeners/viewers found it balanced. Where it stands right now, NPR is about as centrist and milquetoast as one can find in the U.S.


L.V.A. in Idaho Falls, ID, writes: I have two comments on your discussion of Catholicism this week. Full disclosure, I was raised a Catholic and (as a result) fit squarely into the third group discussed below.

First, there are three groups those raised in the Catholic church tend to fit into:

  1. Lifetime Catholics
  2. Born-again non-Catholic evangelicals
  3. Atheists

It is my experience that the third group is the largest.

Second, you wrote "...even if strict adherence to dogma has been the major theme for the last 500 years or so." I fell off of my chair when I read this! Based on my (admittedly limited) knowledge of European and Catholic history, I would rewrite it "even if strict adherence to dogma has been the major theme for the last 2000 years."

G.B. in Buffalo, NY, writes: I am also an atheist who grew up Catholic, like M.L. in West Hartford, CT (in my case it was Italy), and I'd like to chime in saying that I completely agree with them that a characterization of the Catholic church as "strongly associated with a critical-thinking approach to faith" is profoundly mistaken.

In your answer, you mentioned several theologicians as a justification for your claim. However, I think that argument misses the forest for the trees. I'm sure you'll agree that an institution as large and as old as the church could hardly be 100% monolithic, and that therefore one can always find a few examples in favor of one's claims. But what one should do (as you've explained very well in other contexts) is to look at the preponderance of evidence, and in this case the preponderance of evidence points to an institution that is very hierarchical and dogmatic and that, throughout its two millennia of existence, has almost always resisted challenges to authority and/or the canonical "truth" (just think of what they did to Galileo Galilei, Giordano Bruno, the witch hunts, the systematic covering up of sex abuses by clergy and the obstinate clinging to celibacy in spite of said abuses, the fanatical opposition to divorce and birth control and women's equality, to just to name a few).

The Catholic church teaches that priesthood is the intermediary between the faithhful and God, and that the faithful must accept without question everything the Church says. That is the exact opposite of a "critical-thinking approach to faith."

J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, writes: I would have some minor disagreements with M.L. of West Hartford, and your answer on Roman Catholicism. Firstly dogma isn't opposition to free thinking, but simply central tenets of a faith, that are determined through free thinking. For instance, an atheist would have a dogma that religion is untrue (though they do not practice a faith).

Secondly, it is anachronistic to describe Origen as part of the Roman Catholic church. He was certainly part of the Church, at a time when there were multiple equal sees and Rome was merely one of them, soon to become first among equals, and then later with the rise of Constantinople to be considered as something less than first among equals. He certainly had ideas that were challenged, and later (after his death) determined to be heresy by the Early Church Councils, but he is also writing at a time before Church ideas are codified, or dogma, if you like. But I don't think we can describe his ideas as unorthodox at the time, before the canon was even codified, rather than ideas of an Early Church Father that were followed to some extent and helped to some extent to determine what the canon was as well as beliefs of The Church.

A.B. in Lichfield, England, UK, writes: I can't say that I ever expected to write to the site to nitpick over the status of 3rd-century theologians, but I feel I can't let the following Saturday comment on Catholic theology pass wholly without remark: "The church also has a long history of people who challenged and refined elements of church doctrine. Some of those thinkers, like Origen Adamantius, saw their unorthodox ideas become, well, orthodox."

First of all, writing as an [Eastern] Orthodox Christian—and we're only the second-largest Christian denomination, after all—it's slightly odd seeing Origen passed off as a Catholic theologian. Yes, since he pre-dates the Great Schism of 1054 AD, he's technically both Catholic and Orthodox, but Origen's thinking has traditionally been much more influential within Orthodoxy than within Catholicism. Secondly, it's not entirely true that Origen's ideas, as influential as they undoubtedly were, "became orthodox" (in the lower-case sense), though I acknowledge it's difficult to get across the complexity of his status in a single-sentence summary. Nonetheless, some Origenist theology was anathematized by the Fifth Ecumenical Council of 553 AD, which is accepted as valid within both the Orthodox and Catholic traditions. It's arguably Origen's ambiguity as a profoundly influential theologian whose views were partially rejected by the pre-schism Imperial Church—and remain officially anathematized—that makes him such a fascinating figure to many. He's never entirely capital-O Orthodox or small-o orthodox, and remains virtually the only significant early theologian never to have been accepted as a saint in either Orthodoxy or Catholicism.

But irrespective of the status of his theology, Origen remains a crucial figure in the development of Biblical criticism. Here I would argue that one of the most important passages in his surviving works, one that retains some relevance for modern U.S. politics, is this excerpt from Book 4:16 of the treatise variously known as On the First Principles, Peri Archon, or De Principiis (depending on your preferred language):

What intelligent person would fancy, for instance, that a first, second, and third day, evening and morning, took place without sun, moon, and stars; and the first, as we call it, without even a heaven? Who would be so childish as to suppose that God after the manner of a human gardener planted a garden in Eden towards the east, and made therein a tree, visible and sensible, so that one could get the power of living by the bodily eating of its fruit with the teeth; or again, could partake of good and evil by feeding on what came from that other tree? If God is said to walk at eventide in the garden, and Adam to hide himself under the tree, I fancy that no one will question that these statements are figurative, declaring mysterious truths by the means of a seeming history, not one that took place in a bodily form.

Don't tell the evangelicals.

History Matters

J.L. in Jersey City, NJ, writes: M.M. and M.M. in Potomac, asking about state senates, wrote: "At least at the federal level you can point to equal representation for the constituent states in one chamber..."

I agree with what you wrote, but I'd add a historical factor. In many states, there was originally equal representation for the constituent counties. Rural areas benefited because each county, regardless of population, got one senator. As you note, this copied the federal model. The Supreme Court decision in Reynolds v. Sims (1964), applied the one-person-one-vote principle to declare this arrangement unconstitutional. All state senates are now apportioned by population. The institution endures even if one original purpose (protecting rural people from feared urban majoritarian tyranny) is gone.

(V) & (Z) respond: On a slightly related note, yesterday was a good day for questions from people with the initials "M.M."—our most common combo. Including this question, which came from two M.M.s, there were a total of five M.M. questioners.

J.H. in Lodi, NY, writes: In addition to all the points you made as to how George Armstrong Custer and the blusterer were different, in the same year he died, Custer testified at an impeachment trial against Secretary of War William Belknap, who was accused and found guilty of government corruption.

M.S. in Canton, NY, writes: As a fellow Baby Boomer who was also educated in the Northeast, I don't dispute the account from B.R. in Eatontown of how and what they were taught about the Civil War, but I can report that my experience was different.

While I was not taught Lost Cause mythology, in retrospect I can see that important pieces of what we "learned" were Lost-Cause-adjacent: "slavery was just one of many issues that caused the Civil War," "Lee personally opposed slavery but fought for the South out of loyalty to Virginia;" "Reconstruction was a disastrous experiment in which Northern carpetbaggers took advantage of freed slaves who just weren't ready for self-government." I never got the sense that my teachers were apologists for the Southern cause, or were in any way opposed to the Civil Rights movement that was going on at the time—they were just passing along conventional wisdom.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: I've read with interest the various comments on the teaching of the Lost Cause in American schools. I attended grade school and high school in the 1960s through the early 1970s. I lived in Wisconsin, a proud Union state which loved to honor the Iron Brigade. Every student took multiple field trips to the state Capitol, which included a Civil War museum celebrating the state's Union service.

When taught about the Civil War, we learned that there were many causes, including slavery, states rights, and northern industrialism vs. southern agrarianism. We were taught that Lee was a great general, and that while Grant was seen as a hero, he only won because of superiority in manpower, resources, and the Union's industrial might, basically bludgeoning the superior Confederate armies with brute strength. The only things I really remember about the units on Reconstruction is learning about carpetbaggers and scalawags, so the focus was on the Lost Cause perspective. When The Birth of a Nation was mentioned, it was to emphasize its importance in cinematographic innovations and as one of the first popular films to tell a full, coherent story. It wasn't until decades later that I learned it was based on The Clansman, and glorified the KKK as defenders of southern white womanhood. I do remember seeing the photographs of the famous Klan march on Washington during the second Klan era, but never was taught that the revival of the Klan was largely driven by that movie.

So even in a staunchly Union state, I can attest that Lost Cause ideology had infiltrated the textbooks and coursework in U.S. history courses.

P.V. in Kailua, HI, writes: I absolutely agree with M.B. in San Antonio in regard to the especially horrific conditions for slaves in the Caribbean. I should have more correctly said that the enslavement of Black people in the New World (rather than just the U.S.) was uniquely awful. My point was to refute those who attempt to downplay slavery's crucial role in U.S. history (and the rest of the Americas) by saying that slavery existed since time immemorial so we should all just get over it already. The race-based generational slavery in the New World was distinctly different from the ways slavery was practiced in antiquity and throughout the Old World and has had long-lasting economic and societal effects.

As for the unmatched brutality of slave plantations in the Caribbean, a theory put forth in the recent book by Jonathan Kennedy, Pathogenesis: A History of the World in Eight Plagues (which might as well be called Germs, Germs and Germs in comparison to Jared Diamond's bestseller Guns, Germs and Steel is that it was a result of infectious diseases, particularly malaria, to which Africans had some acquired immunity while Europeans had none. Kennedy proposes that the Caribbean climate was so lethal to white people that, rather than settling permanently as they did in the American South, the plantation owners' aim was to make as much money as they could in as few years as possible then flee back to their more temperate homeland. Because their goals were short-term, they had an economic incentive to simply work their slaves to death.


C.J.P. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Anthrax? I didn't that one coming! I knew there was something I liked about you guys, but I always assumed it was the snark.

I've lost count of the number of times I have seen Anthrax, but I have seen them more than any other band. The first time was at the Capital Theatre in New Jersey and the most recent was at The Grove in Anaheim. I purchased the VIP package as a Christmas present for my sister and we ended up right at the edge of the mosh pit.

As a blogger, I sometimes include song lyrics at the top of the page and last December I was able to use "Got The Time." So mixing commentary and Anthrax is not completely unheard of!

D.H. in San Francisco, CA, writes: Oh fu**, I can't stop laughing after getting Rickrolled by P.R. in Arvada. I don't know which was funnier; getting Rickrolled myself, or knowing that both of you two did, too.

P.R. in Arvada, CO, writes: I would like to extend my apologies to (V) and (Z); firstly, for Rickrolling you, and secondly for your having to field complaints (if there were any) that you had linked to the wrong video. Rickrolling you was a necessary evil, unfortunately, to enable a greater chuckle at the expense of everyone else who still believes everything they read on the Internet.

For future reference, I am not paying to use better AI tools, no matter the end result, because I am a cheap Scotsman.

Also, really, no one rose to the challenge of creating a video of Trump being serenaded to the tune of "Every Breath You Take"?

(V) & (Z) respond: We did get a few complaints about the bit, but no e-mails from readers who thought we got the wrong link. And nobody sent in a Smith/Police video.

P.M. in Edenton, NC, writes: I loved the reference to the Fish Guys (the Antedian aliens) in your answer yesterday to the question about the clothing of Ron DeSantis and Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA)! It made me laugh out loud. That random episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of my personal favorites—watch for the scenes of the guy on the holodeck who keeps trying to take out Dixon Hill!

(V) & (Z) respond: Note to all, the link really is to Trek content, and does not include Rick Astley in any form.

G.R. in Tarzana, CA, writes: I was pleasantly surprised to see my comment about propositions posted on today's, but what really put a smile on my face was your serendipitous section title of "Not Necessarily the News" right under my contribution. That was the name of the HBO show which was my first WGA credit and got me into the Guild that I now spend every day proudly walking the picket line for.

At least I'm assuming it was serendipitous, and not because you guys are maintaining CIA/FBI quality files on all your contributors.

(V) & (Z) respond: How could we maintain files on so many readers? Where could we possibly find that many spies, eh?

Final Words

D.B. in Mountain View, CA, writes: "Now comes the mystery." - Henry Ward Beecher

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