Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Saturday Q&A

Sometimes, it's hard to decide if a question belongs in one section or another. We made an unusually large number of judgments this week that questions were more correctly placed in "Civics" rather than "Current Events," with the result that the former section is longer than the latter.

Also, an additional clue as to yesterday's theme: One of the songs only qualified this week. At the very second it did so, it is arguable that one of the other songs was disqualified. That is not our view, but it could be argued.

Current Events

M.R. from all over, but currently stationed in Washington, DC, asks: Long-time reader and occasional questioner here.

I'm a currently serving military officer (although not senior enough to require congressional approval) and have a cousin in the Air Force who is up for promotion to Major, but caught up in Sen. Tommy Tuberville's (R-AL) holds, so am personally vested in the solution here.

My question is: What is preventing the Senate from staying in session 24/7 to work through these nominations and, especially if Tuberville doesn't want to show up at 3:00 in the morning, having the Democrats stay awake in shifts or something until he leaves and then working through passing things via unanimous consent when he is unavailable to object? Or am I not understanding how unanimous consent/quorums/the Senate rules work?

(V) & (Z) answer: Majority leaders, of either party, are very leery of any trickery that involves waiting until some senator is, or some number of senators are, absent. So, maneuvering along those lines is not likely.

However, we actually meant to include, in our list of possibilities, that Chuck Schumer could announce "Well, I've got no other choice," and begin dealing with multiple nominations per day via normal order. Since the Senate has other things to do, he could set aside, say, 6:00 p.m. to midnight as "confirmations time" every day, including weekends. Presumably, the members would get very tired of that very fast.

Why hasn't Schumer done that already? Only he knows, but maybe he thinks his colleagues would rebel. Or maybe he thinks Tuberville would enjoy the additional attention that he would be getting. Or maybe Schumer regards this as the last arrow in his quiver, and he doesn't want to use it until he's certain all else has failed.

R.T. in Arlington, TX, asks: I'm missing my dose of fiction reading. What is the beef with Arthur Engoron's clerk? So far it hasn't leaked from the Foxoverse into my dimension of the multiverse.

(V) & (Z) answer: The primary source of griping, which began with Donald Trump and spread to his lawyers, is that there is a lot of communication between Engoron and his clerk, including a lot of passing of notes from the clerk to the Judge. If one is prone to paranoia, as Trump is, one might conclude that the clerk is influencing the Judge's decisions.

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, asks: You wrote: "His [Speaker Mike Johnson's, R-LA] job is getting 217 (soon 218) votes for legislation."

What do you mean by this? I know there are currently two vacancies, one in Utah and one in Rhode Island. I presume both states will have special House elections coming up?

(V) & (Z) answer: Yes. On Tuesday, the good people of RI-01 will undoubtedly elect Gabe Amo (D) to replace David Cicilline (D). And on Nov. 21, the good people of UT-02 will undoubtedly elect Celeste Maloy (R) to replace Chris Stewart (R).

L.S. in St. Louis, MO, asks: It seems to me that Israel's response to Hamas' actions has some parallels with the U.S. response to the 9/11 bombing. An incursion by roughly 20 terrorists led to 2,900 deaths on 911 (about 1/1000% of the US population). In response, we invaded two countries in wars that lasted for many years and killed around 50,000 civilians in Afghanistan, 300,000 civilians in Iraq, plus more in Pakistan. Regardless of how one feels about that, it seems to me to be a relevant reference point for thinking about Israel's response. Yet I have not heard it mentioned. Any thoughts about that?

(V) & (Z) answer: Sure, there's a parallel. When it comes to these sorts of responses, the "cure," as it were, is often more damaging than the "disease." And, in general, people have a lot of tolerance for smallish, ongoing amounts of collateral damage. Put another way, 10 people dying each day for a year, or 3,650 people dying at once, produces the same number of bodies. But only the latter is likely to generate widespread outrage, while only the former is likely to continue apace.

That said, there really wasn't any country that could tell the U.S. "no" when it came to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. That's one of the "benefits" of being the world's hegemon. By contrast, the eyes of the world are on Israel right now, and there are most definitely entities who can rein them in, most obviously the U.S. It is therefore improbable that Israel's campaign against terrorism will produce anywhere near the collateral damage of the United States' campaign against terrorism.


R.M.S. in Stamford, CT, asks: Why hasn't Joe Biden agreed to debate any presidential primary opponents? Normally, incumbents don't, but don't you think it would benefit him now, seeing many people are attacking him due to his age and mental capacity? It might be a good way to reassure the public he is still with it.

(V) & (Z) answer: Sharing the stage with any debate opponent (Marianne Williamson? Dean Phillips?) grants them legitimacy. That is not wise for someone with as large a lead as Biden.

Further, the American public has shown clearly that it cannot distinguish between "signs of someone who has a stutter" and "signs of someone who has dementia." Even if Joe Biden gives the best performance of his life, there will still be people who hang on small slip-ups as "proof" of their preconceived notions about him. Meanwhile, if he makes a big error, then there will be a week's worth of headlines about how he's lost it.

Finally, Biden has all the opportunities he wants to show he's still capable, without accepting the downsides of the debate format—for example, his Oval Office address last week. He will also be willing to debate the Republican nominee for president, though if it's Trump, Trump might refuse to do it.

S.P. Harrisburg, PA, asks: Do you believe that the nomination and confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court will be an issue that Joe Biden will campaign and capitalize on in 2024? Do you see her presence on the Court as a winning issue that could contribute to his base's enthusiasm? Recall that Trump campaigned on his nominees to the court, particularly Justices Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett.

(V) & (Z) answer: No, we do not think so. First, experience has shown that Democratic voters just don't care as much about the Supreme Court as Republican voters do. Second, Jackson merely shored up a cadre that isn't close to being in the majority, and so her placement on the Court hasn't had much impact on the Court's jurisprudence. In other words, there are few decisions of interest where Biden can say, "But for my seating of Justice Jackson, we wouldn't have triumphed on [Issue X]."

R.M.S. in Washington, DC, asks: In your recent item about Clarence Thomas's canceled RV loan you wrote "Second, IRS treats debt forgiveness as taxable income to the borrower." Would this apply to student loan forgiveness? If student loans were to be forgiven for students who have large amounts of debt, would they see a hefty tax bill during tax season? If so, why is this not talked about, because I'm sure it would be a shock for a lot of people?

(V) & (Z) answer: The default is that student loan forgiveness is indeed treated as income, and is taxable. However, pretty much every recent student loan forgiveness program, including Barack Obama's Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan Act, specifically waived federal income tax on the forgiveness. That said, a person could still face state income tax, depending on where they live and how much is forgiven.

W.S. in Palm Springs, CA, asks: B.P. in Salt Lake City asked:

Why don't Democrats promote the kind of historic tax cuts Republicans have, but exclusively for lower brackets, to at least counterbalance the top heavy and heralded Republican (Reagan! Bush! Trump!) Tax Cuts?

If nothing else, it would be fun to watch Republicans oppose tax cuts unless they're mostly for their masters.

You answered the question from a revenue perspective, i.e., that lower brackets are responsible for only a small percentage of total tax revenues so there is little to be gained. I think the spirit of the question was political in nature and not revenue based.

So, from a political standpoint, given that there is little impact to revenue, why don't Democrats promote a tax cut for the lower brackets? Perhaps even pairing it with a tax increase for the highest bracket? Certainly there are a lot more voters in lower brackets than the highest bracket.

(V) & (Z) answer: The first problem, consistent with what we wrote last week, is that people in lower income brackets just don't pay much in income taxes. Roughly half of Americans don't pay any income tax at all, so "cutting" their taxes doesn't do anything for them. To help them requires other forms of tinkering, whether that is cutting some other, non-income tax (like FICA) or giving out tax credits.

The second problem is that the Democrats don't have anywhere near the votes needed to pass such a thing, and to overcome the Senate filibuster. Talk is cheap, and if Democrats make big promises about tax cuts and don't follow through, then it will be story after story about how Democrats don't deliver.

The third problem is that the Republicans are very, very effective at spinning tax increases for the rich and/or tax cuts for the poor as communism/socialism/evil/bad for the economy, etc.

All of this said, it looks like the Democrats will get to have this kind of debate as they (and Mike Johnson) argue about the $14 billion or so the Speaker wants to cut from the IRS budget. We shall see how it goes.

M.A. in Knoxville, TN, asks: You wrote about how Republicans are taking control of the election machinery, with a clear goal of discouraging and preventing Democrats (hopefully) from voting. Do they really think that 50%+ of the country will just roll over and let the Republicans rule by fiat? Personally I can't see that happening except in the reddest of red states, where the Republicans would win most of the votes anyway. What is the end game for them with this?

(V) & (Z) answer: Forgive our example, but it's the most familiar one. What the Republicans would be doing is following the Adolf Hitler model. That is to say, when he took power after the death of Paul von Hindenburg in 1934, it looked legitimate enough that there were no mass protests. And then, once Hitler had the reins of power fully in his grasp, it was too late.

We tend to think that huge swaths of the American people will not tolerate rule by fiat, but it very much depends on how "legitimate" the initial acquisition of power appears.

P.M. in Port Angeles, WA, asks: Have you encountered the term "Christo-fascist"? That looks to me a better descriptor than "conservative christian" or "evangelical christian" since "conservative christian" is (in my humble opinion) oxymoronic and "evangelical" can simply refer to preaching the gospel of Jesus. Anyhow, what are your thoughts on using "Christo-fascist" to describe our "American Taliban"?

(V) & (Z) answer:The problem is that some Christos are not fascist (say, Jimmy Carter) and some fascists are not Christo (say, Donald Trump). We don't use the phrase "evangelical" or "evangelical Christian" all that much, and when we do we usually add a qualifier (for example, "the Trumpers, including the Trumper evangelicals, who control the Republican primaries, loathe Pence because he refused to try to overturn the 2020 election results"). But really, "Trumper" and "Trumpists" are usually more appropriate for our needs.

J.D.M. in Cottonwood Shores, TX, asks: Once again, I get my latest update on politics from the late night comedians. Why has there been no discussion in the mainstream media, or, more importantly, on, about the fact that Mike Johnson believes there were dinosaurs on Noah's Ark (shortly after the Earth was created)?

Do you think this could become an issue for him and the GOP?

(V) & (Z) answer: No, we don't. Young Earth Creationism is a somewhat mainstream belief, enough so that there's a museum in Kentucky that has a "replica" of the Ark, including the dinosaurs.

Mocking Johnson's religious beliefs might be good fodder for late-night comedy, but this particular angle doesn't offer much for Democratic politicians to work with. People who think his anti-science views are laughable will already mostly be voting Democratic. And hammering him for them could alienate religious voters who see such remarks as dismissive, condescending, etc. After all, there is much in American religious practice, across various faiths, that runs contrary to what science says.

On the other hand, Johnson's willingness to obliterate the separation of church and state? Now that is a campaign issue. Even very religious people generally realize that if a religion becomes the "state" religion, the odds are pretty good it won't be their religion, at least not when the "wrong" party is in power.

T.S. in Denver, CO, asks: I don't know if you've had a chance to examine North Carolina's new gerrymandered maps yet. However, I'm curious whether or not you think the Republicans got greedy and gerrymandered the districts to such extremes that they've risked tipping a lot of their seemingly R+X seats to their opponents in a strongly Democratic cycle, as opposed to keeping a smaller number of "their" seats very safe. What sort of PVIs reflect a high degree of this type of risk in a gerrymandered map?

(V) & (Z) answer: In general, any PVI from D+5 to R+5 indicates a seat with a reasonable chance of flipping under the right conditions.

That said, the people drawing North Carolina's maps have something going for them, namely that the state's Democrats are highly concentrated in the areas around Raleigh and Charlotte. And so, the new map really only has two red districts that are even nominally at risk, NC-11 and NC-07. There aren't PVIs for them yet, but they are both roughly R+8, and so on the very fringes of "competitive." The only way they flip, barring a scandal or something, is in a wave election.

M.D.A. in Salt Lake City, UT, asks: When a poll asks people about their political affiliation, is there any way to know if someone is lying? I assume the pollsters are not double-checking voter registrations when calling.

(V) & (Z) answer: You're right, it would be impractical to check voter registrations, especially since people don't keep that kind of paperwork after an election is over, and since there are many states where people don't actually register by party.

Some pollsters throw in a couple of questions designed to check if someone's "profile" is consistent. For example, (Z) once did a poll where there were a couple of random questions about musical tastes. It is unlikely that someone who claims to be a lefty Democrat, for example, is a big fan of Jason Aldean. There are also polls where the same question is asked twice, 20-30 questions apart, and if a person gives different answers, it's assumed they aren't answering honestly.

That said, these things are pretty rare, and are generally only used in tracking polls where the same respondents are going to be re-queried, over and over. In general, the pollsters just hope that people aren't misrepresenting themselves or, if they are, that there are an equal number of phonies on the other side.

D.R. in Phoenix, AZ, asks: I keep reading that small-dollar donors are regarded by campaign teams as better than large one-time voters who max out right away, because a candidate can hit up these small-dollar folks over and over again. But how many of the small-dollar donors end up giving as much as a maxed-out large-dollar donor? Seems like most of them would end up at a total contribution level which is well below the maximum levels which the rich dudes pony up right away? So candidates will almost certainly get less money in total from the little guys. So how are they really better? Optics?

(V) & (Z) answer: The optics is part of it, since a larger number of donors implies broader support (that implication is not always correct, but that's the inference that people draw, nonetheless).

More importantly, though, when you read that a politician does well with small donors, it means they have a lot of them. Someone like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) may have already maxed out 2,000 fat-cat donors, producing $6.6 million for the primaries and another $6.6 million for the general election (in the unlikely case he makes it that far). Meanwhile, someone like Joe Biden might have gotten an average of $50 from 264,000 donors. Same amount of money taken in, but few of those folks have hit the limit. Over the next 12 months, those donors represent a maximum potential take of over $1.7 billion. Biden will never realize most of that, but if he realizes even a small fraction, he'll leave DeSantis and his fat cats in the dust.


D.E. in Lancaster, PA, asks: I know that Donald Trump's appearance in court for his New York civil fraud case is optional. Will that be the same for his criminal federal cases and/or his state criminal cases?

(V) & (Z) answer: Per the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, specifically Rule 43: Defendant's Presence, Trump had to be present for his federal arraignments, he has to be present for the start of his federal trials, and he has to be present for the reading of his federal verdicts.

He can choose to absent himself after the start of the trials, up to the point of the verdict being read, if the judge and the prosecutor allow it. Sometimes, a defendant seeks formal dispensation to be excused. Sometimes, they just skip court, and the judge and prosecution decide to proceed without them. Either way, there does have to be at least tacit permission.

The two states in which Trump will go on trial basically follow the same rules as the federal courts do.

T.V. in Moorpark, CA, asks: If Donald Trump continues to violate the various gag orders, are fines and jail the only possible penalties? The fines will need to be in the millions to have any impact and putting him in jail for a day or two only adds fuel to his victimhood narrative. Would it be possible for a judge to require that he attend an 8-hour seminar on how to abide by the gag order? If that fails, maybe a week long seminar followed by a final exam where he needs a least a passing grade or he repeats the seminar.

(V) & (Z) answer: Judges have much leeway to get creative with their sanctions, but creative sanctions are also much likely to be struck down by a higher court. And, of course, this particular defendant is going to appeal anything and everything he possibly can.

If Arthur Engoron or Tanya Chutkan or any of the others decide that fines and/or jail time are not getting it done, they are likely to pursue two other options. The first is to make the gag order even harsher (say, no posting to social media), and to warn that violations will trigger massive fines/a long time in the clink. The second is to move up the start date of Trump's trials (not an option available to Engoron, but one Chutkan has already threatened.

Meanwhile, when it comes to Trump's lawyers, a judge has an additional option, namely referring them to the bar for discipline, including potential disbarment.

M.B. in Boxford, MA, asks: The fines that Donald Trump paid for being in contempt of the gag order in total of $15,000. Where does that money go and for what purpose can it be used?

(V) & (Z) answer: In some venues, the money goes to general fund. Others allocate it for specific, "appropriate" purposes. In the case of New York, it's both; part of the money will go to New York City's general fund, and part will go to the New York State Criminal Justice Improvement Account, which uses the money to aid the victims of crimes.

R.R. in Nashville, TN, asks: If Donald Trump is kicked off the ballot in, say, Colorado, will write-in votes for him be counted?

(V) & (Z) answer: No. Some states do not allow write-in votes at all, some only allow votes for formally registered write-in candidates, and only a few will let write in anyone you want.

Colorado is in the second category, and the state will not allow an ineligible candidate to register as a valid write-in candidate. And even the states in the third category (Alabama, Delaware, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Wyoming) don't count votes for candidates who are not eligible to be president.

R.M. in Lincoln City, OR, asks: I have a question about those "Trump Too Small" t-shirts Steve Elster is not allowed to trademark the phrase, but is there any reason he can't make and sell the shirts without a trademark?

There's lots of anti-Biden or anti-Hillary merchandise around. Nothing stops people from making and selling F**k Joe Biden flags, for example.

(V) & (Z) answer: He can make them, but the trademark does two things for him, business-wise. First, it makes it much harder for Donald Trump to sue. Second, it stops imitators from making and selling the same shirts.

J.R.L. in Cowesett, RI, asks: In response to a question from M.W. in St. Paul regarding the Speaker of the House "acting" as president, you wrote that "if anyone else [other than the vice president] in the line of succession is elevated to the big job, they are only 'acting,' and they only keep the job until a new vice president is selected."

Could you cite a federal law that clearly states that anyone in the line of succession other than the vice president only holds on to the presidency until a new vice president is selected and approved?

(V) & (Z) answer: Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the Constitution reads:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

This makes clear that if the VP takes over, the office of president itself devolves upon them, but that if anyone else takes over, they only "act as president" until a qualified replacement is in place. Congress has no power to appoint a new president, but it can appoint a new VP, once that VP has been nominated by the president (say, on their deathbed) or the acting president. That new VP would instantly become president in this circumstance.

Meanwhile, consistent with the "Congress may by law provide" portion of Article II, Section 1, Clause 6, Congress passed the Presidential Succession Act of 1947. It's been updated since, but only to add new Cabinet departments to the list of succession. The Act reads, in part: "An individual acting as President under this subsection shall continue so to do until the expiration of the then current Presidential term, but not after a qualified and prior-entitled individual is able to act" (emphasis ours).

K.P. in San Jose, CA, asks: I understand that former presidents are entitled to Secret Service protection for life. Do Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter continue to, ahem, use their protection? Not that they aren't deserving, but Plains, GA appears to be reasonably safe, even for a Democrat. Out of curiosity, can you estimate what 42+ years of SS detail would cost?

(V) & (Z) answer: The only president to end their protective detail was Richard Nixon. The Carters definitely still have theirs.

As to cost, we can only give you a very rough guess. If you take the budget of the U.S.S.S. (around $2.6 billion) and divide it by the number of agents (about 3,200), then each agent costs about $800,000 a year. That's salary, but also transportation, support personnel, office space, travel costs, etc. It's generally understood that a presidential detail requires four agents. It's unlikely the Carters add to the baseline cost very much, since they are not often apart, and since they don't travel very much. So, it's fair enough to say that $3.5 million a year, in 2023 dollars, is a decent ballpark figure. Multiply that times 43, and we're looking at $150 million since the peanut farmer left office.


J.L. in Los Angeles, CA, asks: In your This Week in Freudenfreude entry on the Gettysburg Address, you wrote (among many other things!): "...the Rev. Edward Everett, who was a renowned public speaker, a political moderate (he was never officially a Democrat or Republican, though he leaned in a GOP direction)." You also reminded us, quite correctly, that Abraham Lincoln was the first-ever Republican president.

Now, I know that GOP stands for "Grand Old Party." But back in 1863, the Republican party wasn't really "old" yet. In fact, you might have been more accurate had you said he leaned in the GNP or GYP (New or Young) direction. So, my questions are: (1) when did the Republicans begin to refer to themselves as the Grand Old Party, and (2) why didn't the Democrats lay claim to that moniker first, as they are many decades older?

(V) & (Z) answer: The Democrats DID call themselves the "Grand Old Party," as early as the 1850s. But it didn't really catch on, obviously.

As to the Republicans, the word "old" didn't only mean "aged" in the nineteenth century, it also meant something along the lines of "familiar," the way it's used in the phrases "old chap" or "good old boy." It's easy to prove that "GOP" and "Republican Party" began to be used interchangeably in the 1870s. It's harder to prove why that is the case, but (Z) has two answers that he feels confident in. First, most political cartoonists of the Gilded Age were Republicans , and they regularly used "GOP" in their pro-Republican cartoons. Second, the Grand Army of the Republic (Union veterans) had a major role in post-Civil War society, and was overwhelmingly Republican. It surely must have been pretty easy for the phrases "Grand Army of the Republic" and "Grand Old Party" to become closely associated with each other.

A.S.W. in Melrose, MA, asks: We're clearly living in an era of political violence—most of it in the form of threats and harassment, but some physical violence as well. What I'm less clear on is how our current level of violence compares to earlier eras. Clearly, the mid-nineteenth century had its share ('lookin' at you, Preston Brooks), and I imagine that there's always been some baseline of threat against notable officials, Americans being who we are. But where does the current era sit in relation to all of that?

(V) & (Z) answer: Like Donald Trump himself, the Trumpers are very good at speaking loudly, but very unwilling to actually put their threats (explicit and implied) into action.

If you want serious, sustained political violence, look to the South in the 1890s, which averaged two lynchings, every week, for over a decade. Or the South and Midwest of the 1910s and 1920s, when the lynchings continued (although in decreased frequency), there were regular race riots, and tens of thousands of Ku Klux Klansmen marched around in their white dresses. Or the South of the 1950s and 1960s, with all the church bombings, murders of civil rights activists, etc.

And Black people haven't been the only targets. There was a whole century of warfare between the U.S. government and the Native Americans (roughly 1790-1891), including a clear-cut genocide in California in the 1850s. There has been ongoing anti-Asian violence, targeting the Chinese in the 19th century and the Japanese in the early and mid-20th. The Mexican border has been a near war zone, as often as not, and Mexicans have been the target of race riots as well, most obviously the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943.

Thanks to the Internet and social media, the rhetoric is as bad as it's ever been, perhaps. But maybe that's acting as a safety valve of some sort, because we're just not in a high-violence era right now.

J.S. in Durham, NC, asks: I would like to know what books you all would recommend that explain how the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand became World War I. I need something that will not get bogged down in military or logistical statistics.

(V) & (Z) answer: The short answer to the question is that Austria-Hungary grabbed some land from the much smaller and weaker Serbia, and Serbians affiliated with the Black Hand (basically, the Mafia) assassinated the Archduke. In retaliation, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, which triggered a secret treaty between Serbia and Russia. Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary, which triggered a secret treaty between Germany and Austria Hungary, etc., until most of Europe was at war.

In short, if all you want is to learn about the flashpoint (i.e., the assassination) there isn't really enough material there for a book, because it's not that complicated. On the other hand, if you want to learn why Europe was primed for a massive war by 1914, and how an otherwise local dispute between two countries became a continent-wide (and worldwide) dispute between dozens of countries, then there's a lot of meat there. And the book you want to read is Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914.

M.R. in Atlanta, GA, asks: As soon as the war in Israel and Gaza started, I made a conscious decision that my role as a rabbi was to hold a space of grief and compassion for all people. My position has been that the deaths of non-combatants is heartbreaking and—as befitting the Jewish teaching in Genesis that all humans are created in God's image—a tragic loss that we should mourn, regardless of the identity of the victims. I knew that this would evoke strong feelings on both sides of the conflict. Sure enough, some have accused me of being an apologist for "Israeli genocide" for condemning Hamas' mass murder, while others have accused me of being a "self-hating Jew" for expressing regret and concern over the killing of innocent Palestinians by Israel. I expected this response, and have recommitted to my role as I've defined it, honoring everyone's sense of outrage and hurt, while inviting people to expand their circle of compassion to folks they don't normally hold in their hearts.

So where do you come in? The only response that has left me unsure was from a fellow Jew who wrote to me on Facebook, "By your logic the Allies would've lost World War II and you and I wouldn't be here." This got me to wondering. I know that the Allies bombed Dresden and attacked munitions and other manufacturing plants, with resulting civilian casualties. Obviously much has been said about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As historians, what is your understanding of the role of civilian deaths in the victory of the Allies? Can the case be made that without civilian deaths, whether intentional or in the destruction of factories, the Allies would have lost the war?

(V) & (Z) answer: Yeah, we've gotten some not-too-kind e-mails about the various items we've published. When things are this heated, that will happen, as there are certainly folks out there who take the position that "if you don't agree with me entirely, you are therefore against me." So, we admire your approach and also sympathize with you.

As to your question, there was no way that any combatant could have won World War II without killing civilians, for two main reasons. The first is that World War II was a total war, and there was no way to defeat the German war machine (or the Japanese war machine, or the British war machine, or the Russian war machine) without defeating the WHOLE machine, which includes the civilians who sustained their nations' armies. Second, World War II combat was not limited to some cordoned-off area, like a football game is. It took place everywhere, including places where civilians were located.

That said, the fact that civilian deaths were unavoidable does not mean they weren't lamentable. For that matter, soldiers are sure to die in a war too, and that's also lamentable. Plenty of the people involved in bombing Dresden or Hiroshima found the job distasteful, mourned those who died, and felt sadness about their role afterwards. They did what they had to do, but they also learned that, as William T. Sherman knew, "War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it..."

There are also different kinds of civilian killings in a war. The U.S. was frighteningly efficient in its mass bombings, but at least tried to make sure there was a broader purpose being served. By contrast, some World War II killing of civilians was indiscriminate and without purpose, as with the Japanese in China. We'd say this is the category where Hamas belongs. And even worse than indiscriminate killing of civilians is killing for killing's sake. That's the Holocaust, of course.


C.P. in Fairport, NY, asks: This article, about the fight to eliminate the twice-yearly time changes, made me wonder: has there been any serious consideration to permanently "splitting the difference" by shifting the time in each time zone by 30 minutes?

(V) & (Z) answer: A little consideration? Yes. There are even a few instances of people doing it that way, most notably King Edward VII's imposition of Sandringham time at his royal estate. But serious consideration? Not really, just a few academic papers and thought pieces. It's hard enough to figure out the time difference between places; having to account for that half hour would be even tougher.

M.G. in Boulder, CO, asks: M.R. in Atlanta writes: "Progressive Christian pastors I know have begun to let go of those terms [Old Testament and New Testament] out of respect for their Jewish cousins."

What are the current terms? Progressive Christians want to know.

(V) & (Z) answer: We are not the ideal people to answer this, but fortunately, M.R. was willing to help out:

Jews call our Bible the TaNaKh, or Tanakh. Some Christians use that term as well. The capital letters indicate that it is an acronym: The T is for Torah ("teaching"), the first five books. N stands for Nevi'im, the "prophets," like Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Deborah. K stands for Ketuvim, the "writings," which include books that the rabbis of antiquity thought were worth canonizing, like Psalms, Proverbs, and Esther.

The three sections of Tanakh arrange the books according to the level of divine involvement (Torah traditionally being divine, prophets filtering God's word through intermediaries, writings being considered sacred but not divine). By contrast, the "Old Testament" rearranges the books to put them in chronological order—pointing to the birth of the main Christian character, Jesus. Translations are also changed; for example, making a text in Isaiah refer not to a young woman giving birth, as in the Hebrew, but to a "virgin."

For progressive Christian pastors, there are a couple of solutions. As I mentioned above, some use the term Tanakh; others don't see it as useful, since it refers to a version of the text that differs in the ways described above from the "Old Testament." For the latter group, they have begun to use the terms "Hebrew Scriptures" or "Hebrew Bible."

And let me tell you—I really appreciate it!

Thanks, M.R.!

C.W.M. in Monroe, WA, asks: I have noticed that the browser version of your website posts daily updates sooner (sometimes by an hour or two) than the phone app version. This sometimes results in frustration as I have to get to my PC to read your latest. Explanation/remedy?

(V) & (Z) answer: We have no idea why this might be happening, as both are updated as part of the same process (within milliseocnds). It could relate to different devices having different size caches and cache management algorithms. The visible link to the phone page is actually just a symbolic link to a URL like You might try the direct link (which changes every day, but the file name at the end is always three letters for the month and two for the date followed by .html). If you have ideas, we'd happy to hear them.

Reader Question of the Week

Here is the question we put before readers last week:

P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, asks: With the UAW employing what appears to be a new tactic in its action against the Big Three Automakers, I am interested in some good and recent works on the New Deal and the labor movement, the sit-in strikes, steelworker organizing, John L. Lewis, etc.

We can never be sure with these questions, though we knew we were taking a risk with this one. And indeed, the response rate was low. So, we think the best thing we can do is share this page, sent in by reader S.W. in New York, NY, which is from the New York Labor History Association, and aggregates multiple hundreds of reviews of books on various labor-related subjects. That should hopefully give interested readers a lead or two.

Here is the question for next week:

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, asks: Whether alive today, or a denizen of a past era, who might have become president if it was not necessary to be a natural born citizen?

Submit your answers here!

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