Dem 51
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Sunday Mailbag

Fewer letters overall today, but also an above-average number of letters on the long side. That's how it runs sometimes.

Politics: Donald Trump's Legal Problems

J.W. in Madison, WI, writes: I see little downside in letting baby have what he wants in terms of trial delays. Let him lose either the Republican primaries or the general election and then cue up the Perry Mason theme song. At that point he won't be able to claim presidential immunity nor political persecution, and it would sidestep any potential constitutional issues. Besides, the longer the delay, the less inheritance for Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka, Barron, and what's-her-name.

E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: The indictments are already out there. Nothing can change that. But even if the grand jurors' published identities are incorrect, doxxing them now still serves the purpose of "reminding" potential petit jurors of what might happen to them, if they dare to convict Lord Savior Trump, thus pre-tainting the jury pool. Just like jurors on any mob trial, they'll know what they're risking.

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA , writes: You wrote: "There's been some speculation that [Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)] turned state's evidence. He denies it, but he's also an inveterate liar, so take that denial with a grain of salt or two."

Um, alternative explanation: Liar or not, for one's own safety, one does not publicly admit to turning state's evidence in a RICO case until one's participation becomes irrefutable.

T.S. in Memphis, TN, writes: Just took a look at Judge Scott McAfee's YouTube site you linked to. Videos of his courtroom hearings actually are listed, under the "Live" tab. There are only a few there, and at least one includes some very grisly images, but the one notable element to consider is that there's one camera specifically focused on the defense table, with the defendant sitting at the table. Not sure if for the Trump trial they're going to get a table for each of the 19 defendants and all of their attorneys, or if it's going to be one loooooong table, but we might just get a closeup of TFG huffing and puffing his way through the hearings. Oh, please, video gods, let this happen!

It was interesting to take a look at one of the other videos. At minute 35, it shows the prosecution and defendant side of the hearing. Seems I've heard that defendant's name before! Does this crowd NEVER stop?

A.S. in Black Mountain, NC, writes: You wrote: "Rudy Giuliani, who is up to his neck in hair dye, and in debt, is now blaming the "crackpot" lawyer Sidney Powell for everything."

Rudy Giuliani, who is down to his neck in hair dye, and in debt, is now blaming the "crackpot" lawyer Sidney Powell for everything. There, fixed that for you.

Politics: Trump and Reagan

M.M. in Plano, TX, writes: Ronald Reagan Is Dead? Reagan's three pillars of conservatism lead directly to Trump.

Fiscal conservatism was always phony. Its true objective was always dismantling the working-class safety net. It wanted (and still wants) to kill Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, aid to education, unemployment insurance, TANF, "welfare", etc. Eliminating the deficit was never really on the table; only low taxes for millionaires. The Reagan, Bush and Trump tax cuts did nothing to raise employment or real median wages.

Social conservatism was (and is) a movement to get government to invade private life. Social conservatives have been unable to market abstinence to young adults, but still relish the idea of a nation of forced virgins. They hate gays. They hate contraception. They cannot conceive of a heterosexually assertive woman. They abhor religious minorities. Reagan's embrace of social conservatism was honest; Trump's is obviously phony, but both used it as a tool to sow division.

Both threw huge wads of cash, without strategic thought, at the Pentagon. No one has acted to fix the capability creep that exploded the costs of the F-14, the Zumwalt-class destroyers, the B-70, the B-1, the F-35. The Pentagon budget is a trough at which weapons manufacturers gorge. After six decades of malfunction, we still lack a working replacement for the M-16 rifle. For both Reagan and Trump, the greed of the military-industrial complex came before the needs of the soldier.

It took a generation, but that which Reagan sowed, Trump reaped.

L.C. in Boston, MA, writes: I have to look askance at your claims in "Ronald Reagan Is Really Dead". Yes, Republicans under Reagan claimed that the three legs of the Republican stool were "fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and national security hawks," just as they still claim today, but they were lying then and they are lying now, with the main remnant of truth being in the claim to social conservatism.

Remember that Reagan himself blew up the budget, funneling massive amounts of welfare to wealthy corporations even as he cut welfare and other social services for non-rich people. Defense contractors were major recipients of that corporate welfare, even when what they produced was largely useless to national defense, if it even worked at all (as the Strategic Defense Initiative didn't). And he was perfectly willing to cozy up to dictators as long as they were considered HIS dictators, and sometimes even when they weren't (remember Iran-Contra and associated scandals, including a Nixonian deal with the Iranian Revolutionaries to make sure that the hostages were released after he was inaugurated)? So the only truthfully described leg of the Republican stool was the social conservatives, and since those people lie and lie and lie (then and now) to achieve their aims, they really do fit right in with the Republicans.

The fact is, the corruption within the Republican Party goes back way before Trump, and Trump is not a radical departure from the Republican Party of Reagan's time, but rather the completely unsurprising outcome of its logical evolution up to this point.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

M.M. in Atlanta, GA, writes: I guess it's a tribute to the Republican propaganda machine that we constantly get these speculations about Joe Biden suddenly dropping dead. He is 81, exercises and eats well, and has the best medical care available on the planet. T***p, on the other hand is 77, obese, addicted to junk food, and going through some extremely stressful stuff. Any actuary at any insurance company in America would probably put T***p's chances of suddenly dropping dead at 10x Biden's, or more!

At this point Biden only needs to stay alive and functional for a little more than a year. Sure, anyone can drop dead or have a debilitating stroke at any time, but there's no reason to believe there's any more than a minimal chance it will happen to Biden in that interval.

M.H. in Salt Lake City, UT, writes: I think there's a solution to the "Kamala Harris" problem, and the answer is "Merrick Garland." Because of our current AG's timidity in bringing charges against Trump, his time in office cannot end soon enough. Harris is an experienced state AG. I suggest President Biden encourage Garland to retire from a distinguished career (perhaps a promise of his stolen seat on the Supreme Court?) and replace him with Harris. If Biden can find an acceptable running mate, then announce the switch prior to the election. Then the challenge will be to find that acceptable running mate.

R.S. in New York, NY, writes: So, my takeaway from the news of a super PAC's open memo suggestions to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is that to be successful at the first debate, the candidate must keep reminding himself (in a Todd Rundgren-inspired beat, of course): "I don't wanna 'woke,' I wanna bang on the Ramaswamy drum all day."

M.S. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: I follow the headlines on Fox News dot com closely, as they cover the real news hardworking Americans such as myself really deserve to read. After all, you don't see the lamestream media covering the "One Thing Shania Twain Refuses To Do Before Concerts," for example (these headlines get screenshot and distributed among my peers for their "edification").

One thing I've tracked through the years is the network's preferred candidate. With DeSantis flamed out and Trump looking at the remainder of his natural life in the slammer, they've moved on to Vivek Ramaswamy. And frankly, as a gay person and fan of democracy, that terrifies me. It'll be interesting to see if he catches on.

P.V. in Kailua, HI, writes: Riggers? This is my favorite comedic bit on the topic of words that unfortunately sound like other words:

D.M. in Burnsville, MN, writes: This is to notify you and your colleague(s) that I will no longer refer to a certain former official of the U.S. government as "The Former Guy" (TFG). I find that the word "guy" evokes a sense of camaraderie, of closeness, of carefree caring. I do not wish any such feelings to cloud my future evaluations of this person's misdeeds. Instead, you may expect future references of that certain person to be "The Former Person" (TFP), as in "Person of Interest" (apparently the next step in law and police procedurals below "Suspect").

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: I hate to disappoint A.A. in Kingwood, but the ultimate authority, Randy Rainbow, has already established that the "J" in Donald J. Trump stands for Jessica.

Politics: Hindsight is 20/20

A.K. in Cleveland, OH, writes: Interesting Historical Perspective on

August 3, 2015: "Finally, we come to Donald Trump. It is hard to figure out what to make of him except he is not going to be the Republican nominee is 2016."

August 18, 2023: "In any event, this item has two points to it, and neither of them is 'Vivek Ramaswamy might just become a serious presidential candidate.' That's not happening."

(V) & (Z) respond: As they say, if you don't miss a few, you're not taking enough swings. Trump always had the numbers to be a contender, we just erred in our confidence that the Republican Party and/or the American electorate would never let him within a mile of the White House. Ramaswamy, by contrast, doesn't have the numbers.

T.B. in Nowata, OK, writes: I believe that when Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the Republican caucus decided it would be best to keep their hands clean and let the Democrats take care of Trump, they made one of the worst decisions ever, one that greatly damaged our rule of law and that continues to cause them direct harm today.

They could have taken care of the problem long ago by supporting the two impeachments, the Congressional hearing and many, many other jumping off points. It is hard to jump off a tiger, but the longer you ride, the madder and hungrier it gets.

This simplistic, yet calculated, cowardly and conniving choice may continue to do grave damage for decades.

All Politics Is Local

K.H. in Ypsilanti, MI, writes: I was pleased to read about the Ohio anti-gerrymander ballot issue campaign, but feel obliged to point out that it is clearly modeled on the successful Michigan ballot issue from 2018, right down to the name of the group behind it.

Citizens Not Politicians is the Ohio group, whereas Voters Not Politicians is the Michigan organization that was created for the 2018 campaign and remains active in pro-democracy efforts in the state. The ballot proposal itself is similar to Michigan's, including both being amendments to the state constitutions to create independent redistricting commissions composed of Democrats, Republicans and independent/unaffiliated voters, with at least two votes from each group required to approve any district maps.

I say this not out of any state rivalry or claim to one-upmanship, but merely to express my satisfaction that the Michigan initiative, which I was involved with, is serving as a model and having a positive effect beyond our state boundaries.

Also, if one were to assert any claim to interstate or university superiority as a result of this, I'd merely note that the initiative was based on Lansing, not that other town to the southeast, so whatever meager credit may be due belongs there, however Spartan that credit may be.

Go Green!

K.H. in Maryville, TN, writes: A couple interesting things here in Tennessee. Gloria Johnson (the white lady of the Tennessee Three) has formed an exploratory committee to see about running against Sen. Marsha Marsha Marsha (Blackburn, R-TN, that is). And the esteemed Governor of California is the keynote speaker at the Tennessee Democratic Party's annual fundraising dinner later this month. Isn't that just the sweetest thing; Gavin Newsom (D) making time to come to Nashville!

M.P. in Leasburg, MO, writes: I just wanted to share our experiences regarding Mississippi. It is one of our favorite vacation destinations, so we visit as often as we can. Over the years, we have made many Black friends in the Vicksburg and Natchez area. We refer to them as our Mississippi family and they refer to us as their Missouri family. We've had many conversations with them about how votes matter. Our inner circle there totally agrees. But all of them will agree that the Black population there has been so voting suppressed that they are genuinely convinced their votes do not matter. They talk of having tried so hard to convince friends and family that their vote does actually matter but it simply will never matter if they don't go cast it. They are stymied by the apathy.

During a previous visit, we happened to be in the Vicksburg area on one of their voting days. In the lobby of the hotel where we were staying sat two young, Black gentlemen. I greeted them and then asked them if they had taken the time to vote that day. They both admitted they had not. When I asked why, neither had a good reason but both really thought it wouldn't matter anyway. To put things into perspective, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) was on the ballot...

I asked them how old they were; one said he was 29 and the other said 32. I asked if they realized what a Cindy Hyde-Smith meant to the health of their politics. They reacted with a tired look and noted that nothing was ever going to change. I reiterated to them that it is their age group that will make the difference, but they have to go vote and they have to convince others to do so as well. While we were there, we asked some of our friends what was going on. The age group of our friends range from the late 40's to about 65, along with one gentleman who is about 80 now. They all said they get that very same reaction; they just can't seem to break through the stigma surrounding voter suppression.

They validated that voter apathy there is learned generationally and there is little to no education in the household about the politics of the state or how to register to vote unless the parents have a vested interest in doing so. The consensus is if Stacey Abrams, or someone dynamic like her, took an interest in their state getting voters registered, it would make a difference. They also said that a compelling candidate who actually tried to make connections with all, not just part, of the Black community would be a uniting force. One thing that was unanimous, across the board, was they were sick to death of their current governor, Tate Reeves (R). Every time we visit, we encounter more and more Black residents taking a more active role in educating themselves about the situation and their options. Quite a few admitted that they did not know anything about gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley (D) but they were starting to do the research. He might just be the anomaly they have been waiting for. A recent marriage to the daughter of both a former Mississippi Democratic Auditor and Governor, one Ray Mabus, might help in getting him over the finish line—who knows.

B.A. in Oskaloosa, KS, writes: There are plenty of things wrong in Kansas, but this is not about them. Gov. Laura Kelly (D) announced on August 2 that she was launching a PAC to support moderate Republicans and Democrats as a bipartisan effort. It's appropriately called Middle of the Road PAC, as a nod to the theme of her reelection campaign last year. She has consistently talked about being a "middle of the road" politician and I believe many Kansans see her as such, even though the makeup of the legislature doesn't seem to support that. My hope is that it will make progress toward breaking the Republican supermajority hold on the Kansas legislature too. With the abortion issue fresh in everyone's mind, I was surprised and little disappointed that it didn't happen in 2022.

One of her initiatives that has languished is Medicaid expansion. It was passed during the Brownback era, but he vetoed it. Her projections are that 70-80% of Kansans want this and yet it hasn't even made it out of committee for a vote during her tenure. I believe it's possible that the shine on being a Trump supporter is wearing off a little in Kansas. If that's true, then perhaps that increases the chances that this might start to move us back to middle.

M.G. in Newtown, PA, writes: As a resident of PA-01, I thought I'd chime in on your item about Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R).

While it would be impossible to say that a Republican representative in a House district that went for Joe Biden by six percent in 2020 and for Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) by seven percent in 2022 is a certain winner, Fitzpatrick has a great deal going for him beyond merely his incumbency. He's a well-liked former FBI agent who represents a region that doesn't have too many truly liberal/left areas outside of the Bucks County seat of Doylestown. Even by Democrats like me, he is perceived as a straight shooter who is willing to cross party lines. He voted for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, has an "F" rating from the NRA because he voted for a bill banning assault weapons, and he has generally been strong on LBGBTQ rights. To be certain, all these things could hurt him in a primary, but he has run against far-right candidates before and generally gets about two-thirds of the vote in his primaries. Many of the Republicans here are old school, fiscal Republicans who care more about their taxes and businesses than anything else. There aren't a lot of Trump signs in my part of the district, and while you certainly can find them as you get to the more northern, rural parts of Bucks County there really isn't enough volume in those votes to oust Fitzpatrick in a primary. Perhaps most importantly, the local GOP machinery hasn't been taken over by Trump acolytes.

It will likely also help his cause that the Democrats generally haven't fielded strong candidates against Fitzpatrick. Perhaps that will change if the state or national Democrats smell blood in the water, but their bench in this region is thin or nonexistent.

I'll almost never vote for a Republican ever again, but I wish more Republicans were like Fitzpatrick, who I disagree with on most issues but who comes across as genuine in his desire to want to serve his constituents and seems sincere in his values and beliefs. He's the rare candidate in this polarized climate who will get people to vote for him while voting for Democrats on the rest of their ballots.

Clarifications from Readers

J.L. in Paterson, NJ, writes: With regard to the possible removal of the Georgia criminal case to federal court, thanks for your correction that it would not bring the defendants within the President's pardon power. Sorry to pile on, but I must also correct your suggestion about RICO. Even if there's a removal, Trump and his co-defendants will still be subject to Georgia's broad RICO statute, not the less expansive federal one. Hence, prosecutors could still use forgery as one of the predicate offenses.

In defense of the staff dachshunds: At least they were correct that removal would tilt the jury pool in the pro-Trump direction.

I've seen some comments that removal would be wrong because a federal court couldn't apply state law. In civil cases, federal courts do this often. The reason is that, in 1787, people identified strongly with their states rather than with the nation. The Framers feared that, in a dispute between residents of different states, a state court would be biased toward its own citizen. Therefore, federal courts have "diversity jurisdiction" to handle some of these civil cases. If the case arises from state law (e.g., most actions based on personal injury or breach of contract), the state law is applied in federal court. The same is true in the much less common instance of removal of a criminal case.

O.E. in Greenville, SC, writes: You noted that the South Carolina primary is on Feb. 24, 2024, and that states run the primaries. Both are not entirely correct.

Back in 1944, the Supreme Court ruled in Smith v. Allwright that segregated primaries were unconstitutional. South Carolina responded by getting out of presidential primaries and leaving it up to the parties. The state did not even fund presidential primaries until 2008, when the parties asked the state to help cover the funds they needed. (Now, the local election authorities often provide people to staff the primaries, and the parties reimburse the poll worker salaries, but it doesn't mean the state runs them.)

In 2000, there was a lawsuit challenging the Republican primary, after it was revealed that 20% of the polling places would not be opened. The Republican Party signed a consent decree pledging to provide a week's notice of the closed polling places. However, many weekly papers were not notified in time. Further, several additional polling places in my county were closed, ostensibly due to lack of poll workers. (I was called and asked to work the polls. I offered to help, but never had a return call.) Both John McCain and Alan Keyes called for an investigation, but George W. Bush dismissed their calls for it, telling them to contact the party chairman. (Said chairman is now Governor.) Needless to say, this was a major step in my radicalization.

Since 2008, both parties have had their primaries funded but, given the push by many Republicans to anoint Trump, and by the Democratic establishment to anoint Biden, as well as budget issues, it may not be the case next year. I still intend to work both primaries—the Democrats on February 3 and Republicans on February 24.

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: While it is true that the president effectively gets a security clearance ex officio, there is still the need-to-know part of security that applies. For example, when I was in training at Ft. Gordon, GA, for encrypted radio, part of the training was explaining the rules. We were allowed into the classroom with all that classified material, both because we had the necessary clearance and because our names were on the list of people allowed into the facility—that is, had been determined to have a need to be there that day. They explained that if the president showed up that day, and on a whim decided he wanted to sit in on classified training, he wouldn't be allowed in, because his name wasn't on the list. I presume that if he *really* wanted to he could probably get his name on that list with some planning beforehand. On the other hand, considering how unlikely it would be that he would ever need to use that equipment, it's plausible to me that it might take some doing to make the case that he needed to be on that list. I mean, probably not; like his clearance, his need-to-know could be assumed. Still, there are protocols.

D.H. in Redwood City, CA, writes: A.S. in Bellevue asks about, "Clarence Thomas' federal tax returns to see if bothered to report the value of the 'gifts' received from his various billionaire benefactors."

Speaking as someone who has some experience as a tax professional, I would note that Clarence Thomas has no legal responsibility to report the value of any gifts received (if they can truly be interpreted as gifts, as opposed to compensation for services or as bribes, which both have an income reporting requirement). The obligation would be upon the respective billionaire gift-giver to file a gift tax return if the aggregate value of gifts given in a year exceeded the gift tax exclusion (e.g., $17k for 2023). That gift tax return may not, however, require an actual payment of any tax at that time as the giver has the option of reducing their eventual estate tax exemption ($12.9M in 2023).

Climate Change

L.E. in Santa Barbara, CA, writes: Several of the answers to S.B. in Winslow brought this article to mind: "Are humans a cancer on the planet? A physician argues that civilization is truly carcinogenic"

And this one: "How climate scientists feel about seeing their dire predictions come true"

(Clearly, I tend to align with your more pessimistic readers.)

J.S. in Dripping Springs, TX, writes: Something (Z) worte in "This Week in Freudenfreude: Hot Fun in the Summertime," about young people tackling climate change, struck a chord with me.

Many years ago I served on the local school board and when our computer science teacher retired, I shot my mouth off and told a principal that upon my retirement I would come teach CS. After 30 years at IBM I retired, and he called my bluff. So, I became a public school teacher and, in addition to teaching computer science, I also picked up some engineering sections.

One of our engineering lessons deals with data collection, analysis and modeling. I think (V), as a distiller of polls, would enjoy a lesson that introduces high schoolers to these concepts. The students learn how to use spreadsheets to make simple models. To complete the lesson, I give them a number representing an anonymous measurement and a rate of change number and ask them to model a value n time intervals in the future. The students are then told the original measurement represented the average annual amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the annual rate of change, as reported by the first U.N. IPCC assessment report in 1992. (Fun Fact, the original copy I found online was a non-searchable, scanned PDF, since the report predated Adobe's first product by a year; (V) and I have witnessed a lot of changes since we punched cards). I then ask them to compare their predicted value for CO2 with the actual. It turns out that after 30 years, the scientists miss the prediction by less than 2% and are missing it on the low side.

I tell the students the old folks don't seem to be working on this, so it is their problem to fix, and if anyone had doubts about what climate scientists are saying things will be like in 30 years, they should remember how close the scientists in 1992 came with their predictions. Driving it home as forcefully as I can, maybe with a little shock, I tell them MY personal plan for 30 years from now, after being part of the generation that got them here, is to be dead, and it won't matter to me whether they solve it or not. But they should get busy working on it anyway.

Side note, for my efforts in attempting to make lessons relevant or at least meaningful, my principal and superintendent have received, over the last 3 years, e-mails accusing me of teaching CRT. Yes, in computer science and engineering classes—CRT. Not sure how that works, but to liven things up a bit, last year I placed a copy of the 1619 Project on my desk along with 2 other books; CRT Design (a really OLD text on cathode ray tubes) and CRT Approaches (this was a how to book on something called cardiac resynchronization therapy). Never mentioned these books in class, but there they sat. Unfortunately, no one took the bait.

On This Subject, I'm Catholic

R.L. in South Pasadena, CA, writes: In response to L.V.A. in Idaho Falls, I'd like to add a fourth category to their list of groups raised Catholic, which would fit between "Lifetime Catholics" and "Born-again non-Catholic evangelicals." We are folks who, once we were out in the world and old enough to fully understand the failings of the Catholic Church to live up to the teachings of Jesus, found refuge in non-evangelical communities that preach Radical Inclusion. It's difficult to put a pithy name to this group, but I do wish our group of liberal Christians were recognized more often in writings about religion. And to prove to the readers that we aren't a mirage and there are Christian voices on the left side of the political spectrum (and have been for decades), I direct you to this article from the way-back presidential election of 2004.

M.B. in San Antonio, TX, writes: I think the responses by J.C. in Ulaanbaatar and A.B. in Lichfield, regarding critical thinking in the Catholic (and Orthodox) Church, prove (Z)'s original point.

As their discussions suggest, the precepts of the Church, for better or for worse, were not arrived at in a haphazard, arbitrary manner. There are entire libraries devoted to even minor points of Catholic faith, ritual, dogma, etc. Yes, of course some of the conclusions that were reached defy the tenets of logic and science, but nobody can say they were reached without a great amount of discussion. However misguided, the doctrine of the Catholic Church is not arbitrary, but the result of much critical thinking, often by learned theologians and intellectuals over the millennia. And let's not forget that the condemnation of people like Galileo and Bruno were eventually, even if belatedly, rescinded, the result of even more critical discussion.

J.D. in Cold Spring, MN, writes: Perhaps four letters on Sunday discussing the intellectual basis of Catholicism is already too many for a political blog, so I hesitate to add yet another. However, given the huge political influence of non-denominational, evangelical Christian sects, perhaps it is worth recognizing that religion need not be antithetical to rational discourse and democracy.

As background, I am one of those "type 3" cultural Catholics that L.V.A. in Idaho Falls identifies (raised Catholic, presently an atheist). However, I studied and taught philosophy at Catholic universities for the better part of the past 50 years. As an atheist, I respect the Catholic intellectual tradition and deeply respect many Catholic intellectuals. An important caveat: Nothing in what I say is meant to deny that the Catholic Church has acted corruptly, dishonestly, unethically, or has acted in partnership with fascists and authoritarians, or has been guilty of pig-headed dogmatism (e.g., Galileo), sexist stupidity (e.g., its treatment of women), or pure evil (e.g., sexual abuse of minors). But, and this is perhaps the key difference between the Catholic tradition and the nondenominational evangelicals, Catholicism has within itself the intellectual and ethical tools needed to critique and self-correct, and to do so in a publicly accessible and rational manner. (Dare I suggest that in this Catholicism is like science?)

Present belief ("dogma") is always open to revision upon new evidence. For example, like science, the Catholic Church has changed its beliefs about Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin. The core belief ("dogma") of that Catholic tradition (and some other mainstream Christian denominations) is that there is no, and can be no, conflict between the truth (dogma) of religion and the truth of science and philosophy. There is only one "Truth"—God's truth, if you will—and therefore any conflicts between faith and reason must be only apparent and not real. Philosophically, Catholicism is always open to rational analysis in both science and ethics. Why else has the Catholic tradition been the single greatest creator and supporter in history of colleges and universities? I challenge you to name one good evangelical university (Bob Jones University? Liberty University?).

The Catholic intellectual tradition has always welcomed dialogue with science and philosophy. One cannot understand the giants of the Catholic intellectual tradition, Augustine and Aquinas, without understanding Plato and Aristotle, for example. Great Catholic theologians have always engaged with and adopted the thinking of the best non-believers. Catholic clerics have made lasting contributions to science, including LaMaitre in physics and Mendel in genetics. Again, Catholics have often failed to live up to these standards—just as scientists have often been slow to adopt new paradigms—but the resources for rational analysis and persuasion remain embedded within the tradition. Returning to politics, one need only compare this tradition to the intellectual foundations—to the degree that there are any at all—of the nondenominational evangelicals so active in today's Republican politics. Dialogue, reason, analysis, and persuasion are not welcomed. Truth is to be found in scripture and in a personal relationship with Jesus and no amount of critical analysis can change that. This is the dogma of the Christian nationalist right-wing.

In recent years I have had several occasions to attend nondenominational, evangelical services (all funerals). In each case I came away reflecting on the differences between those experiences and the Catholic services I have attended. Catholic services reminded me of an old-fashioned college lecture. The sage on the stage lectured us on truth and we were expected to listen and think about what he (always a he) said. Not the best pedagogy, perhaps, but it reflected a wider model of teaching, thinking, learning. In contrast, I came away from the evangelical services singing "hot August night."

To make this point in other terms, there is a theology (a logos of theos) to Catholicism (as there is in Lutheran, Anglican, and other more mainstream religious traditions), but there is not, as far as I can see, a logos for evangelicals. There is an authoritative dogmatic holy book and it means what I say it means. Their dogma is subjective, emotive, personal. Confront these folks with the contradictions of their supposed Christian faith and MAGA politics, and they have no response (see here, for example). Confront Catholicism with similar contradictions and you are likely to get an exhaustive ("Jesuitical?") reply. Tedious, yes, but also rational. There is no room for rational dialogue and persuasion within the evangelical movement as there is in Catholicism. This is a major part of why these Christian nationalists are enemies of democracy, and Catholicism (despite its atrocious historical record) need not be.

A.L. in Highland Park, NJ, writes: Your discussion on critical thinking within Catholicism has drawn some comment. There seems to be a dichotomy between dogma (you must believe this) and reason (here are some convincing arguments as to why you should believe this), at least within Western religious thought. As a Hindu (actually it's Santana Dharma, or eternal truth; "Hindu" was a term imposed by invaders to South Asia that caught on), I do not recall being compelled to pledge fealty to any particular set of beliefs.

I dug into the scriptures and right there at the core of the Rig Veda is the Nasadiya Sukta (Hymn of Neither Being nor Non-being): Any "Creator" ("first mover") begs the question, what caused it to move? Even the Creator does not know how/when it all began, what allowed/compelled him to create. It's about as clear a statement of agnosticism as you can get in ancient verse form. There are interpretations of Vedic philosophy that basically reject any sort of personal God(s). Buddhist philosophy un-asks the very question of a Creator. My personal take as a Hindu born and brought up in the Midwestern U.S. was "look, we admit right up top a lot of it is made up, but here are some cool stories that might help you navigate life."

Of course religions have played a role in creating identity and political cohesion. They have been used to forge nations out of disparate tribes and mobilize against the other. And given the slant of your website, this is the role of religions you might be most interested in. But this jingoistic role of religions should be separated from the attempts at building a consistent philosophical structure.

Fox Before Fox?

Z.A. in Harrogate, England, UK, writes: Your mention of Wally George brought back memories of growing up in Orange County, CA, in the 80's when Wally's Hot Seat was a feature on UHF channel KDOC and something of a minor phenomenon at the time. Orange County was a Republican stronghold back then and even though I was a budding high school liberal, I never missed a show. My friend was such a fan that he got himself on the show posing as a liberal activist only to get himself rinsed by Wally and the baying audience.

Wally called himself the "Father of Combat TV" in his later years, perhaps thinking of Jerry Springer and others who tackled controversial social issues on air—some shows ending up in fisticuffs. But it's clear to me that the political heirs to Wally are none other than Fox hosts like Sean Hannity, particularly if a liberal guest is coaxed on air. Whenever Jesse Watters shouts down token (but extremely effective) liberal Jessica Tarlov on The Five, I have flashbacks to Hot Seat and my poor outnumbered friend.

Having died in 2003 with his career long over, it's amazing to me that Wally doesn't get more attention in biopic form, either for his fascinating personal life (his estranged daughter was 80's film star Rebecca DeMornay) or the cues taken by modern conservative political figures in the decades that followed (although E! did a documentary on him in 2000). Even his hairstyle (hairpiece?) echoed that of a certain future president who took combat TV—or media in general—to a whole new level. The baying audience on CNN's town hall with Trump was straight from Hot Seat.

Maybe we don't owe Wally a debt of gratitude for all this, but it's fair to cite him as an innovator of sorts, if only to keep our current political climate in perspective. With the right personality, combat politics has happened before and—perhaps someday—we'll get tired of it again.

D.S. in Albuquerque, NM, writes: While those on the right have complained about "left-wing bias" in NPR's news coverage for decades, many of us on the other side have noticed an ever-increasing conservative slant to their reporting, going back 30 years or so. That's why I especially appreciated the historical context provided by K.C.W. in Austin. Since its inception in 1970 the network has had to endure constant harassment—with the drumbeat reaching fever-pitch during the Reagan era—from reactionary culture-warriors in Congress, seeking to either control or defund it. For them it's an easy target and their favorite perennial whipping boy, even though its budget is a tiny slice of overall federal spending. What they don't like is that it's a fact-based forum that adheres to established journalistic standards (unlike their preferred source, Fox "News"). These performative proto-fascist thought-police and book-burners understand that their quest for minority rule can only be achieved by stamping out the free exchange of information and ideas. They know that when you take away every alternative to their narrative, it is much easier to control people—part of the same playbook authoritarian despots have always employed, whether they had the use of mass-media or not. And speaking of mass-media, this past April's NPR vs.Twitter kerfuffle, sponsored by right-wing lunatics Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and Elon Musk, is just the latest attempt to rid the airwaves of anything to the left of OAN and InfoWars.

But back in the day, not only was there bullying and coercion from above, pressure was building from below as well. By the end of the 1980s, with the fall of the Iron Curtain, the government-funded, CIA-initiated, anti-communist propaganda network Radio Free Europe lost its raison d'etre and a lot of its employees suddenly found themselves out of work. So, naturally, many of these experienced radio people migrated to NPR down the hall. Little wonder then that they brought their hard-right perspective with them, which soon seeped into NPR's programming. What I noticed at the time was an increase in "religious" stories told from a decidedly evangelical perspective, as well as more air time being devoted to Republican politicians and conservative pundits. The religious stuff eventually tapered off, but I agree with K.C.W.'s current assessment: "milquetoast." Yup—centrist, mealy-mouthed, out-of-touch at times, with a bad case of elitist, inside-the-beltway myopia. Yet somehow they occasionally produce good journalism when they're not trembling in fear of Republican retribution.

NPR does have one redeeming quality though, at least for one loyal listener. Having grown up near Baltimore, this homesick Albuquerque transplant really enjoys the occasional human-interest feature story where they venture out from staid, boring old Washington and into the strange and quirky world of Balmer, just 30 miles away, hon. To switch on the radio and hear one of my fellow Murlunders call water "wooder," police "poh-leece" (singular) or "pleece" (plural), and pronounce Druid Hill Avenue "Droodle Avenue" makes it all worth it.

History Matters

R.P. in Alexandria, NY, writes: Your response to A.P. in Kitchener was exactly how I taught the U.S. History survey course for many years, including even using the Eric Foner text for the last several years as the "other" text for a contrasting perspective to Howard Zinn. For each time period/topic, I would assign the appropriate chapter from Zinn along with an essay question to keep in mind for the discussion. Then we would discuss the question from the reading while sitting in a circle so that everyone was on the same level and encouraged to weigh in, while 2-3 students were self-assigned to lead off the discussion twice a semester. (This was only possible because the classes were capped at 35 students.) Two sample essay questions: Was the conflict between the colonies and Britain a revolutionary war or a war for independence? Do you agree with Zinn's thesis that racism was encouraged in the plantation colonies to establish slavery as the principal labor source to replace indentured servitude after Bacon's Rebellion?

I used the Foner text to develop a chronology of events and significant causal factors in the developments of each period, with the students researching specific terms to share as we presented the chronology. They were required to give Foner's—or occasionally Zinn's—take on the term and an outside source. It was very common to see an expanded discussion of their terms in their essays.

Students would sometimes bring friends to sit in on the discussions, and once a student returned to campus after graduating to tell me his copy of Zinn was circulating clandestinely in his local public high school.

D.M. in Burnsville, MN, writes: I was educated in a one-room schoolhouse the first six years of my life and then moved to a small (tiny?) high school in rural Minnesota with a class of about 30. This began in 1948 and ended in 1959. FWIW, I concur completely with M.S. in Canton and L.S. in Greensboro about the prevarications, sidesteps and outright stretching of the truth by my teachers when in came to the Civil War. All of whom, surprisingly, were never raised or educated south of Wisconsin. We did learn a great deal about KKK activity in our "neck of the woods," though. It was real, and it was deadly. And they came after the Irish, too!

A.A. in Austin, TX, writes: Both M.S. in Canton and L.S. in Greensboro wrote about being taught Lost Cause ideology (or, at least, Lost Cause-adjacent ideology) in non-Southern schools. As L.S. wrote, "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." One reported being educated in the Northeast, another in Wisconsin. And both are Boomers; one self-identified, and the other by virtue of their school years.

I have an explanation for how this might have happened. For many, many years, Texas more or less determined the textbooks for the whole U.S. Because Texas was so large and had so many students, textbook publishers would submit textbooks for approval in Texas, and then publishers would use that same Texas-approved book as its version for the rest of the country (it is cheaper for publishers to print large runs of the same book, rather than print small runs of different books). It was called "The Texas Effect."

Since Texas did secede (despite Gov. Sam Houston's strong opposition), and joined the Confederacy, the Lost Cause ideology was (is) alive and well in Texas. No Texas history textbook would ever be approved without paying homage to the Lost Cause. Consequently, the ideology is reflected in Texas (and ultimately the nation's) history textbooks. As a Boomer educated in Texas schools at the same time as M.S. and L.S., I learned the exact same things they mentioned. We probably had the same textbooks!

Before anyone gets hysterical, I'll note that The Texas Effect is no longer as influential as it once was. That's fortunate, because the elected Texas State Board of Education, who approves the textbooks, is pretty whackadoodle (or, at least, a majority of the members are).

All this shows how interrelated the states are; red state mania can seep in where you least expect it. It also shows how profits drive education, even to the detriment of truth.

R.H. in Macungie, PA, writes: While in 7th grade at Washington Irving Jr. High in Springfield, VA (1962-63), my history teacher would only allow us to refer to the Civil War as "The War of Northern Aggression." He insisted that slavery had no role and that the primary cause of the war was economic (and slavery didn't figure into that?). My mother got into an argument with him and ended the argument when she brazenly told him that her favorite song was "Marching Through Georgia." My grades in his class never recovered. True story.

See, We're Not Making It Up

M.M. in Centralia, IL, writes: You wrote: "... injecting some levity, in various ways, meets with the approval of a sizable majority of readers."

Count me in that majority. The Trump era has cast an enormous pall over American politics. As you well know, this monster knows no bounds about anything, and every day there is a significant threat of some manner to persons, institutions, or even our democracy, coming from him or his minions. We are now in a period of existential crisis, constantly in anticipation of the giant foot falling out of the sky to crush us, per the Flying Circus opener.

The "gallimaufry," as you call it, in the context of political discussion helps lighten things a skosh, allowing us to step back and take a breath. The levity gives us the opportunity to discern for ourselves what's real and what amounts to blathering drivel. It's this stepping back for the broader view that preserves our sanity.

So keep it up, and thanks for everything you guys do.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: In any publication, everything can't be for everybody. The beauty of print, unlike other media, is that you can skim for what interests you and skip what doesn't. I have a friend to whom I have recommended many times, but he doesn't read it. Why? "Too many words." There are days when I don't have time to read the page, so I skim it and come back later. The pieces are well constructed so that you can get the gist of the article quickly, and you can skip articles that seem too deep into inside baseball for you. If you don't read the fun bits, that shortens your reading time. Also, I think it is a good plan to read five days a week and take the weekend off. Well, I thought that until I found reader questions and comments as interesting as the weekday content.

J.J. in Johnstown, PA, writes: I would just like to say that as a daily reader of your site, I love the weekend posts with letters and Q&A. Not only does it give you a change of pace, but it gives us, the readers, a change of pace as well. Not only that, but it's nice to have questions/letters about current events that are hypotheticals or simply not covered in "news" elsewhere. Keep up the great work, it is appreciated!

T.P. in Cleveland, OH, writes: It wasn't the goofiness that got me here. But, if you gacked the goofy, it would get godawful grim around here. So, good going. Go get 'em!

P.S. In all seriousness, this site isn't the same thing that (V) put up during Bush-Kerry. That was a data project. Today, it's a community. Some community building activities are necessary. And fun.

(V) & (Z) respond: Thanks to all of you; you have captured our thinking quite well.


S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: Holy Emergencies, Batman! The Musk-Signal has been activated in Newark, NJ!

A pair of skywriting trails are crossed, forming a giant 'X' in the sky.

Barry Katz in Hell's Kitchen, NY, writes: When I was reading the question and answer about how to pronounce "Chesebro," it made me think of this. John Cleese's father's last name was Cheese. He got tired of being made fun of, so he legally changed it. John Cleese, of course, realized that having the name John Cheese would have fit him well. In the end, he decided against changing back, as he thought no one would actually believe that it was his family name.

(V) & (Z) respond: And the mirror image of that story involves Michael Caine, who finally legally changed his name to Michael Caine because he was tired of being harassed at airports by staffers who looked askance at his passport bearing the name Maurice Micklewhite.

M.R. in Atlanta, GA, writes: On vacation up in Quebec... I was bouncing around the Internet, and found this; you may be on to something: Defence Scheme No. 1. There's even a map!

Map of Canadian plan to invade the U.S.

I'll let you know if we see any suspicious activity at the cheese shops.

(V) & (Z) respond: Hmmm. The map neglects to include the hockey, Saturday Night Live, and Jim Carrey/Michael J. Fox/Alex Trebek/William Shatner phases of the plan.

G.B in Dallas, TX, writes: Hearing about y'all getting rickrolled was funny, but it's better in the original Klingon:

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Actually there is only one M.M. where there appears to be many, because of the multiverse. You'll probably need to consult Doctor Strange for a full explanation.

Final Words

B.C. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: Considering the many references in lately to Phoenix, AZ, heat and conservative Christian views, I've thought of the epitaph I want on my tombstone: "All of the concerned Christian friends of this old Phoenix atheist should be comforted by the fact that this is merely a change of address."

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