Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Sunday Mailbag

We have letters on Israel, and perhaps on a couple of other tricky subjects, that we think work better during the regular week.

Politics: Disorder in the House

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Forget the "MAGA Mike"sobriquet. Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) is representative of the American Taliban, in which radical religious extremism dictates policy, in which Bible trumps Constitution and in which tolerance is an alien concept.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: Responding to R.B. in Bartlett: It was the Republican Party that included the clause in the agreement to elect Kevin McCarthy that a single member could raise a Motion to Vacate.

It was a Republican (McCarthy) who lied to Democrats time and time again. The most egregious of these was reneging on the agreement he made with President Biden during the debt ceiling negotiations to pass a clean budget.

It was a Republican (McCarthy) who disparaged and sh**-talked the Democrats within an hour of the Democrats saving the Republicans from themselves by providing more votes for the budget continuing resolution than the Republicans did. (There were Democrats who told reporters off the record that they were considering saving McCarthy until the aforementioned remarks. Turns out that maintaining good relationships with people who are prone to support you is more effective than strong-arm, bullying, name-calling tactics).

It was a Republican (Matt Gaetz, R-FL) who brought up the Motion to Vacate.

It was eight Republicans who refused to step up and support one of their own.

And, by the way, it was the Republicans who did all the extreme gerrymandering that enabled these nut jobs to be elected to Congress in the first place!

The only thing the Democrats did was exactly what the opposition party is supposed to do, vote for one of their own. Can you imagine a world in which a single Republican would have voted to save the speakership of Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) or House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)? Of course not!v

Sorry, R.B. but this mess 100% belongs to the Republican Party.

R.R. in Pasadena, CA, writes: R.B. in Bartlett attempts to blame the Democrats, in part, for the current Republican drama in hte House of Representatives because they didn't vote to keep McCarthy in the Speaker's chair. R.B. is ignoring two things in their argument. First, McCarthy regularly blamed the Democrats for anything that happened, continually told lies about them, and did so again right after the budget deal in an attempt to turn what was obviously Republican misbehavior that threatened our economy into an attack on the Democrats. Why would any Democrat trust McCarthy to hold up any deal he made, when he continually played dirty politics with them? And why would anyone vote to support someone who told lies about them? I doubt R.B. would willingly vote for someone who treated them that shabbily.

Second, the argument that "the Democrats should be the adult in the room"always comes up, and it's straight-up Republican propaganda. The Republicans can threaten our economy, vilify Democratic politicians, but in the end Democrats are always expected to suck it up and do what's best for the nation (disregarding what their political positions might be). And, they always get attacked for taking the slightest political stance in this place, while Republicans are throwing political bombs left and right. It's a completely unfair standard for anyone to hold, and in this case it's even sillier than usual. Jeffries has so far received more votes than any other Speaker candidate, so why isn't it on Republicans to cross over and get behind him? Because the corollary to "Democrats should be the adults" is "Republicans can do whatever they want no matter how bad," and they are never held to a higher standard.

In speakership elections, the parties vote for their own, they don't cross the aisle, ever (and if someone does they will be punished for it). The failure of McCarthy to hold his seat is solely due to Republicans not supporting him... they had the majority of votes and chose not to select him. Democrats remained united behind their Speaker candidate, as it should be, and blaming them for the insanity of the Republican party is completely wrong.

Politics: Today's GOP

L.O.-R. in San Francisco, CA, writes: You have talked on several occasions about there being two "Republican" parties. This week, you wrote: "For a fairly long time, the "Republican Party" has really been a coalition of two distinct factions: (1) the group that wants to govern, but in a very conservative way, and (2) the group that cares little for governing and values only bomb throwing and power for power's sake."

I do agree there are two parties, but I think you misrepresent that second group. It is not that they care little for governing, but rather that they are actively committed to destroying effective government. Language to that effect began with Ronald Reagan and has intensified in rhetoric and gained growing support every since, especially with the Tea Party Movement in 2010 and post-2020 insurrection. It's important to name these things accurately because we cannot ever move the country forward if we keep trying to appease people who do have a clear policy goal: to overthrow the government if they can (Jan 6), and if they can't, then to destroy the government.

M.G. in Chicago, IL, writes: You wrote that the Republican Party might plausibly "purge the nut cases."

The "nut cases" are the primary voters. Hence the problem. The Republican representatives are a reflection of the voting base. The question is how the "establishment" kept them in check for so long. The answer is: There was no Internet. The "nut cases" that were Blue Dog Democrats finally all migrated to the Republican party. These and other events have culminated into a fundamentally different power base for the Republican Party. Those previously in charge, Reagan Republicans, are looking for a new home and have not found it. I do not think they are looking for a way to fit in with the MAGA party. The Reaganites' problem is creating a voting base that is big enough to win elections. The 1%ers or 5%ers will not cut it as a voting base. My bet is they will buy off Democrats as what 1%ers have always done throughout history... buy/bribe influence.

Politics: Trump Legal Matters

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Further to your response to D.E. in San Diego, counting of days under New York law is governed by section 20 of the General Construction Law. It specifies that the day from which a reckoning is made is Day 0. Weekends and holidays are counted (unless the period is 2 days, in which case they are omitted). Under section 25-a, if the period then ends on a weekend or holiday, the time is extended to the next business day.

But the issue of the due dates (October 30 and November 24, respectively) is moot. Trump paid both fines on October 26.

G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: The "usual drill" when resorting to "collection by bailiff" is to impose a "walking seizure" where the good actually remain in the care and control of the judgment debtor but the judgment debtor cannot dispose of the goods "seized" and cannot do anything to depreciate the value of the goods "seized." Normally that is a sufficiency to produce payment on the judgment debt in reasonably short order.

However, sometimes it doesn't work.

I had one situation with a persistent judgment debtor where I finally lost patience and insisted to the bailiffs that I did NOT want another "walking seizure" but wanted an actual physician seizure of goods and told them that a crew of four or five plus a 10-ton truck would probably be sufficient to physically seize sufficient of the judgment debtors' goods to be auctioned off to pay the debt AND that they were to start their seizures with the furniture and other objects in the office of the CEO.

They hadn't quite gotten the CEO's desk into the elevator when a company flunky appeared with a check for the full amount of the judgment debt. I instructed the baliff's to proceed until they had also received a check for the full amount of their fees as well. That check appeared rapidly, whereupon the bailiffs "downed tools" and left. It was up to the employees of the judgment debtor to get the hallway full of stuff back to where it belonged.

Strangely enough, I never had any further problems collecting from that judgment debtor and he "religiously" made all of the required monthly payments in full and on time.

As the famous mule trainer answered when asked why he, with his reputation for kindness and patience in training mules, always carried a 6' 2x4 when training mules is reputed to have replied: "Sometimes you have to get their attention first."

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: Thank you, thank you and thank you for planting that wonderful image in my mind of Thor smacking around Trump with his powerful hammer, Mjölnir! What makes the image especially lovely is that it comes in variant covers. I can close my eyes and see Chris Hemsworth's Thor sending Trump flying; or I can see it happening in the pages of a comic book in the Jack Kirby, John Buscema and Walt Simonson styles. That's what I call bang for my buck!

I'm also going to delude my own vanity and go with that you guys decided to use Thor in the answer as a nod towards my love of Marvel and the MCU. That brought an even bigger smile to my face. Who needs candies on your pillow when you have (V) and (Z) around!

As much as I enjoy the Mjölnir-welding Thor, there is a corner of my mind that pictures one of his targets saying afterwards, "You sick vicious bastard. That really bleeding 'urt. Taking a 'ammer to a defenseless man like that, you 'orrible nasty brute!"

If Mjölnir doesn't work to cure Trump of his arrogant ways, then we'll have to resort to the Uber hammer of all hammers, Maxwell's Silver Hammer, which has a track record of being used in court proceedings.

(V) & (Z) respond: Ivanka and Don Jr. screaming from the gallery/Say he must go free/The judge does not agree and he tells them so, uh oh oh.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: Like many people, you assert that "[Trump's] lawyers must be tearing their hair out," because Trump keeps saying stupid things that tend to incriminate him even further.

I think that's quite unlikely.

I don't know these people, so I can't speak of their personal opinions, but I strongly suspect that they knew who Trump was when they took his money, and they had at least a sneaking suspicion that he'd continue to be the same not-very-smart publicity hound he's always been.

Trump saying crazy things doesn't really make their life harder, it just means more billable hours (assuming, without proof, that he's actually going to pay any bills above the retainer he's already paid).

R.G. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: Thought you'd be interested to know that the New York Times is starting a "Trump on Trial" newsletter to track all of the TFGs legal troubles in one place and answer reader questions.

Seems they're late to the party, since you guys have been on this since... forever.

I have to hand it to them. They've assigned two top-notch reporters to the beat, Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Election

J.A. in Puerto Armuelles, Panama, writes: Regarding the cause of Biden's low approval ratings, and in particular why now "the president is 80% in line with me" is not enough to elicit approval, I think it has a lot to do with the internet.

Back when most people had access to four or five TV stations and a similar number of newspapers, mostly trying to attract eyeballs from as many people as possible, consensus views predominated.

Now you can go online and no matter how extreme or boutique your views are, there will be websites, Facebook groups and the like where you can find a large number of people who agree with you 95% of the time.

This gives people the impression that: (1) they are almost completely right and (2) people who disagree more than slightly are idiots or somehow willfully blind, probably for selfish and/or corrupt reasons.

C.F. in Waltham, MA, writes: When Hillary Clinton was running for president, I cringed for months before the election every time I saw her negative ads. The press already had shown how bad Donald Trump was; why did she waste her time on that message? Every ad should have been about increasing her likeability, the anti-Trump adds just stoked Trump supporters and added nothing for anyone else.

Now Democrats keep putting out ads insulting Republicans and I think it won't help anyone, but will harden the resolve of the Republican tribal voters. In my opinion, the Democrats would be much better off having ads that show how smart and awesome Republican voters are and were, but now the big accomplishments done because of their brilliant votes are being undone by the Republicans in power. The EPA, OSHA, winning the cold war with Russia, etc. The ads should show these really amazing smart voters now changing their minds because they recognize the drastic changes in their party, and how it goes against their own principles, with the Democrats picking up those principles (like with Ukraine).

R.W.G. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: If I recall correctly, the White House hired the woman who ran the Twitter account for the State of New Jersey to work in their social media department. The New Jersey account was everything one might expect—funny, blunt, irreverent, and with more snark than you can fit in a Costco shopping cart. If my recollections are correct and this woman has something to do with the Biden-Harris "Truth" account it will be more fun than a day down the shore.

T.B. in Detroit, MI, writes: I have no data to back this up other than the strong intuition of someone who has been watching local politics very closely since October 7: If the next presidential election were held today, Joe Biden would not win Michigan.

Politics: Tax Policy

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: B.P. in Salt Lake City asked about Democrats proposing tax cuts.

There are two parts of the answer to the question about tax cuts.

The first involves the nature of income taxes. The income tax brackets are calculated on each dollar of income. The first portion of income (income up to the standard deduction or your itemized deduction) is taxed at 0%. The second portion is then taxed at the lowest bracket (whatever it is) and, each additional dollar is taxed at whatever bracket it would fall in (so your one-hundred-thousandth dollar is taxed at a higher rate than your first dollar). In practice, that means that increasing the standard deduction or reducing the percent on the lower brackets will still benefit the wealthy as much as it will benefit people with lower income. Of course, you could offset some of this by increasing the rates for the higher brackets.

The way around this is tax credits. Some tax credits are income-based (e.g., the earned income tax credit). And Democrats have supported increasing some of these tax credits, with Republicans opposing such proposals. One can characterize this as a tax cut. But Republicans, as on other issues, have proven to be good at labeling and insisting that income-based tax credits are just welfare (which, to an economist, is simply negative taxes).

B.B. in Dothan, AL, writes: You wrote: "The problem here is that the main tax that is under the control of Congress is the income tax. And poor people don't pay very much in income taxes—the bottom 50% of income earners pay only 2.3% of all income taxes."

One area that might be available to Democrats is the Social Security income tax. The thresholds haven't changed since 1984 and affects more and more low-income people. SSA projected "that 52 percent of families receiving Social Security benefits will pay income tax on their benefits in 2015" and it is projected to be almost 60% by 2025.

In case readers are unaware, taxes begin being owed on one's Social Security retirement benefit when the adjusted gross income exceeds $32,000 (married couples). Given that the average annual SS retirement benefit is about $19,000, that means that annual income greater than $13,000 (about $250/week) results in SS benefits being taxed.

Even proposing raising the threshold numbers would get a lot of approval, I expect. Moreover, these people vote in huge numbers.

Politics: Gun Control

L.R. in St. Paul, MN, writes: D.D. in Hollywood asked what can be done about the inaction on gun safety issues, beyond donating to candidates who advocate gun control measures. Your response did not mention that it would be useful to volunteer and/or donate to organizations working to enact ranked choice voting in statewide elections. Florida has one. If more candidates in the House and Senate can support bipartisan legislation without the threat of being primaried and losing their seats—as is the case with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)—bills like the Safer Communities Act would have a better shot at passage.

D.A in Riverdale, NY, writes: You wrote that gun control can only happen if there was a Democratic trifecta that allowed the Democrats to: "pack the Supreme Court with 4 or 6 new justices who believe that the Second Amendment applies ONLY to the muzzle-loading smooth-bore muskets available at the time the Second Amendment was passed and does not apply to any weapons not known at that time. AR-15s were not available in 1791."

I have heard this argument before and I suggest that it is more dangerous than you realize. As you are well aware, political winds shift frequently. Prohibiting firearms not available in 1791, as a philosophical position, can also be used should the fascists gain power. I suggest that you look at the Right's favorite target, the First Amendment , which specifically prohibits government interference with "The Press." Since there was no radio, television, or Internet in 1791, under this philosophy, clearly the government can impose itself in any media not specifically "Press." All electronic media can therefore be controlled by the government. If you want freedom to speak out, get a 1791 hand press and have at it. Otherwise, you will have only government approved organs.

I don't want to live in 1791. Do you?

Reports from Maine

S.B. in Winslow, ME, writes: Thanks for running the item "Maine Site of Latest Mass Shooting." Although I'm a new resident to the state, it doesn't take long to acclimate to its 1.3 million population that ranks 50th in violent crime. My fiancée is a long-time Mainer. She and I enjoy watching the local news lead with minor items like someone stealing a package from a postal truck or an exposé on why sagging power lines over a person's driveway haven't been dealt with.

A violent crime of this magnitude, while grossly common in our nation, is new here. Hannaford groceries locked down all their Maine stores almost immediately, and have been slowly reopening them. Several schools are still locked down. Many terrifying on-scene stories are circulating.

And yet... "just another day in America" for so many Assault Weapon Evangelists.

I'm sure little will come of this. And then the next massacre will happen, perhaps at a high school football game or local ballet recital, and "thoughts and prayers" will spill forth from conservative lips like vomit from a poisoned man, until those caskets are closed and buried, so that willfully blind eyes may turn away from this horrific scene to enjoy their version of "freedom."

I don't have "the answer," but I do have a finger pointed directly at one group of people who had the power to at least blunt this, but who willfully chose weapons of violence over peace: the 2008 and 2021 Supreme Courts, which affirmed virtually unhindered gun ownership in spite of the clear, and even "originalist," reading of the Second Amendment which opens, "A well regulated militia, being necessary to secure a free state..."

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote this: "[The Constitution protects] an individual's right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home. That right is not a 'second-class right.' We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need."

Justices Scalia and Thomas, and all your ilk, may you one day be on the slow, painful, receiving end of the "well regulated militia" that you empowered to randomly destroy innocent lives, and may your loved ones watch as it occurs.

D.H. in Lisbon Falls, ME, writes: The event that I have dreaded for decades... a mass shooting in my State of Maine finally happened less than 48 hours ago. Eighteen people were slain, simply because they had decided to go blowing or play a game of cornhole at two popular establishments on a regular Wednesday night in the city of Lewiston. The killer left Lewiston and abandoned his car in the Town of Lisbon a few miles away... Lisbon is my hometown.


All Politics Is Local

J.C. in Washington, DC, writes: Wanted to send along a quick observation as I live in the DC media market which includes Northern Virginia.

Many of the competitive Virginia Senate and House of Delegates races happen to be in this area. The ads have been relentless. One thing of note—the messaging is the exact same for every Democratic and Republican candidate. If you're on the blue team it is solely, "I'll protect your right to choose."If you're on the red team it is solely, "I'll keep you safe while my opponent wants to defund the police."

It will be interesting to see if this trend holds nationally in the summer and fall.

D.M. in McLean, VA, writes: Thought you might like a report on the ground regarding the upcoming election in Virginia.

With the election in about two weeks, we are in full swing here. I live in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. I don't see a lot of yard signs around, compared to a presidential election year, but the TV advertising is in full swing.

The only TV I watch is the local news in the afternoon while I'm cleaning up around the house after work. During the commercial breaks, you are almost guaranteed to have a couple of political ads airing. I say "a couple" because by some design the station I watch always seems to air two opposing candidate's commercials back-to-back.

You don't need to know which party a candidate belongs to ahead of time, as it is always easy to figure out by the content of the ads. If it is a Democrat, at least part of the ad will be about women's choice (a.k.a. abortion rights) with a mix of how they have helped to uphold Virginia's laws or served their country and possibly a side helping of calling their opponent a MAGA extremist. If it is a Republican, the content of the ad will be claiming that their opponent is soft on crime and maybe claim that the other candidate is lying about their position on abortion. It truly is different realities that the two parties live in anymore.

Fortunately, I don't watch enough TV to experience campaign ad burnout and I mailed in my ballot over 2 weeks ago. Fortunately, Gov. Sweater-vest has not pushed to roll back that improvement in the Virginia elections. When I first moved here over 25 years ago, you had to have one of a small number of excuses to use an absentee ballot. Since Covid, it is now possible to join a permanent roll for receiving those ballots and you don't have to provide any reason. Even the certification of the ballot has improved where a separate witness is no longer needed, you just have to provide your birthdate and part of your SSN to verify it is you sending in the ballot.

The press is reporting that both chambers in Virginia are up for grabs. So, I say to my fellow Virginians, get your ballot mailed in, go to an early voting location, or suck it up and stand in line on Election Day. Your, your state's, and your nation's future does depend on it.

L.S.-H. in Naarden, The Netherlands, writes: The last few days I've been receiving e-mails to support Brandon Presley in the Mississippi governor's race. The latest pair stated "A recent poll shows my race VIRTUALLY TIED 47% to 48%."

Just to check which poll appears to give a very hopeful result, I googled and ended up on the relevant page of Ballotpedia. Here it said that a recent Mississippi Today/Siena College poll found that Reeves is leading Presley 52% 5o 41%. Ok, so my money will stay in my bank account. But one of the conclusions stated "the governor [has] a relatively high unfavorably rating and Presley [has] a sizable problem with name recognition"(my emphasis). If voters in Mississippi can't recognize a Presley, then unfortunately I don't think there's any hope for him at all.

T.G. in Daleyville, WI, writes: You posited three guesses about why WI Assembly speaker Robin Vos (R) is backing off of impeaching Judge Janet Protasiewicz:

  1. Vos has reason to believe that an impeachment would backfire badly on the Republicans, and cost them dearly at the ballot box next year.

  2. Vos has reason to believe that if he tries an impeachment, it could be invalidated by the federal courts.

  3. Vos has reason to believe that Protasiewicz' vote is not going to be decisive, and that the gerrymanders are going to be struck down even without her participation.

Perhaps there is another reason: He doesn't have the votes. Republican assembly members are skittish, and the public is 2-1 against impeachment. This is an existential issue for Wisconsin Republicans, and Vos is as ruthless as they get, so him "coming to Jesus"is an asymptotically small possibility. If he could get it passed, he'd do it in a femtosecond. That he is resorting to intimidation to try to spook Protasiewicz is telling. Vos is transparently bluffing.

A.L. in New York City, NY, writes: A fourth possibility: Gov. Tony Evers (R-WI) quietly made it clear to Vos that if Protasiewicz was impeached and suspended, she would resign and he would subsequently reappoint her to the seat. This would have given Vos the worst of all worlds, suffering the backlash of impeachment and exposed to a federal reversal without gaining any of the perceived benefits with the makeup of the Court.

Religious Matters

M.R. in Atlanta, GA, writes: Your Thursday post might have set an record for religious references, so I couldn't help but chime in.

First, I think you got tripped up by the very common mistake in the U.S. of confusing "religious"with "Christian" or "Evangelical." You identify Mike Johnson as both "one of the most religious members of the House"and "deeply religious." While I suppose not incorrect (I had no idea who the guy was until this week, let alone the quality of his commitment to his religion), I think it's worth calling him an "evangelical Christian"(as you do in one place) rather than the more generic "religious,"as there are religious practitioners and teachers like myself who see the racist, anti-LGBTQ, pro-wealth agenda of the modern GOP to be the antithesis of our religious yearnings.

Similarly, I want to push back on the idea that Johnson is out of step with the donor class because "billionaires tend to be more focused on this world rather than the next one." Judaism and Islam both teach about the justice work that must be done specifically in this world—not because it "gets you into heaven,"but because this world is where we have the chance to create holy relationships. Jewish texts teach that among those holy relationships are holy economic relationships, such as rules demanding ethical behavior of employers and landlords.

Further, I know the staff theologian still has a Baha'u'llah hangover, but identifying "the wrath of God"as "more Old Testamenty than New Testamenty" presents a couple of problems. First, "Old Testament"is the Christian name for the Jewish bible. It fits into the supercessionist notion that the "new covenant" of Jesus' blood supplants the old (i.e., obsolete) covenant in the Jewish bible. Progressive Christian pastors I know have begun to let go of those terms out of respect for their Jewish cousins. Finally, identifying an angry God as Jewish in contrast to the loving image of Jesus also has supercessionist overtones. God is the Hebrew bible is quite often compassionate, forgiving people for their transgressions and mistakes. The prophet Jonah (of big fish fame) actually gets mad at God for forgiving the Ninevites, enemies of the Israelites.

In any event, thanks for offering such prolific prose each day. I'm glad you don't have to inscribe it in stone.

R.E. in Birmingham, AL, writes: K.E. in Newport asked, in part, whether there was a basis for Christian Nationalism in the religion. My life experience, which includes being raised in a Southern Baptist congregation and living almost all my 62 years in the "Bible Belt," suggests that the answer to this question is easy. Any idea, any idea at all, can be justified by some interpretation of some obscure Bible verse. The Bible means anything and everything a "believer"wants it to mean.

M.S. in Knoxville, TN, writes: My congressman, Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) apparently told Real America's Voice that Matt Gaetz was sent on a mission from God to make Mike Johnson speaker. Burchett said: "If you can't see the hand of God in this, then you're just not looking."

Rep. Burchett's office denied knowledge of the comment, however, when I called to tell him it was blasphemous.

The only way I can imagine using Matt Gaetz and the hand of God in the same sentence is "Matt Gaetz is in danger of the hand of God whacking him in the head."

Was that borderline blasphemous, too? If so, I apologize, being willing to admit what I said, and say I'm sorry if I offended anyone.

By the way, Rep. Burchett, I'm still looking for the hand of God in the House Speaker fiasco. Still looking. Still looking.

D.T. in Columbus, OH, writes: I think you may be overthinking the reason that most "Evangelical Christians" support Israel. While I don't doubt that there may be a few who believe that there are some Biblical prophecies which require a Jewish state in the holy land, for many conservative Christians, the explanation is far more mundane... they don't like Muslims.

In any conflict which pits Israel against their Muslim neighbors, American conservatives will reflexively side against the Muslims. They don't need to understand the conflict. They just need to know that "Fox News told me that Muslims are the enemy"and also "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."Therefore, for many evangelicals, "support for Israel"is actually just a convenient proxy for "sticking it to the Muslims."

A.L. in Highland Park, NJ, writes: The responses to your posting of D.D's question about flying American flags were illuminating. I was especially moved by the response of A.H in Newberg, and thank them and their family for their civic and military service. But to answer D.D.'s question, yes multiple flags are a signifier.

In the mid 2000s, we were looking to move to a new house. This was the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and South Asians like us were still walking on eggshells a bit. We got a realtor familiar with a bit of New Jersey between Central and South Jersey. There were some new developments mixed with older houses. I really liked the look (and price) of one older house on a tree-lined street. The realtor took one look at us and said "a lot of houses in that neighborhood fly the American flag if you know what I mean." Everyone knew what she meant. Too bad, it was a nice house at a good price.

C.F. in Waltham, MA, writes: I was struck by the comment from A.J. in San Francisco. It is very intense, but is limited in its analysis of how bad religion is for society.

What A.J. missed in railing against religion is that religious people are trained from a very early age to never question anything and to only believe what they are told and/or what they want to believe. It damages or destroys their critical-thinking skills. All religions are trivial to debunk. Nobody can explain who created God, why different gods are worshiped by different religions, or why any religion is different from Greek or Roman mythology, which nobody believes in anymore.

Religious indoctrination makes it easy for completely unsubstantiated and even internally inconsistent or physically impossible conspiracy theories to be believed. It makes it easy for bad actors, such as dictators or Fox News, to manipulate people since they can claim anything, and then say the complete opposite later, but will always be believed. With a critical mass of people who are blindly believing and following someone else (as religion encourages) party tribalism and religious wars are the inevitable consequence.

Unfortunately it is human nature to hate the unknown. So, religious people are often happier, since they have answers to unanswerable questions. This comfort means that it is unlikely religion can ever be eliminated. The much bigger question is, can the human race survive now that we have the technology to annihilate ourselves. We'll only make real progress for humanity if people can stop believing in nonsense, stop feeling so much hatred and contempt invoked by bullies, and instead empathize and care about strangers' well being.

History Matters

K.R. in Austin, TX, writes: In your response to why you use the term "founding parents,"you mention that in that era, men were the public face of the household.

That reminded me of the plaque on a local elementary school. As late as 1970, apparently men were the public face of their household even if the wife was in elected office. It is very striking to me that the two female school board members are listed as "Mrs. (Husband's name)":

Listed on the dedication
are 'Mrs. Bob Wilkes' and 'Mrs. Exalton A. Delco, Jr.'

C.C. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: I agree with the view that men have gotten full credit as the public face of leadership, scientific endeavor, etc. in a way that ignores the function of households, marriages, helpmeets, etc.

I would go further and suggest that even if no women in any way contributed to the founding precepts of our country, there would still be nothing wrong with calling a bunch of Founders "parents."The objection that parent is incorrect because they are all men and thus fathers relies entirely on the premise that we must specify a person's sex or gender if at all possible.

N.S. in North Hollywood, CA, writes: Upon reading your response to W.H. in San Jose that Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) has "unquestionably" more votes for Speaker of the House than anyone else in history (and armed with W.H.'s reminder of which Congress held the most votes ever), I combed through the first 339 pages of The Congressional Globe from the 34th Congress' 1st session and counted the total number of votes recorded for the eventual victor: Nathaniel P. Banks of Massachusetts. Over the course of the 133 elections, Banks' grand total was... 11,212, far more than Jeffries' approximately 3,700.

In order to minimize my risk of losing count as I went through 133 separate elections, I tallied in groups of ten. Banks' totals, in order, were:

You might notice that from 41-50 through 111-120, Banks' total dropped consistently from 1060 to 911 before turning around for the final 13 votes.

I wish I would've kept track of a few other candidates to see if any of them also beat Jeffries; current total.

Thank you to the University of North Texas' Digital Library for providing complete open access copies of the Congressional Globe.

(V) & (Z) respond: You are, of course, correct. When we turn a bunch of e-mails into the Saturday Q&A, there is information we see that doesn't always find its way into the question, such as the subject line. When we chose the question, it was about the "modern" era of Congress (i.e., since the Civil War). We went back to add that important detail.

P.R. in Kirksville, MO, writes: Regarding the discussion of obscure presidents, my town has the usual Jefferson, Franklin, Lincoln and Washington streets. I've always thought it strange that we not only have a Fillmore street, but also Buchanan, Pierce and Harrison streets (don't know which Harrison, but probably the first), and no other presidents. I suspect it's because the town was founded in the 1840s, so streets were named after current presidents at the time. It seems fitting that Fillmore street is chopped up into very short two block sections, interrupted by parking lots.

(V) & (Z) respond: Interesting enough, one of us (V) once lived on a street called "Fillmore Place."

A.R.S. in West Chester, PA, writes: As obscure as his legacy(?) might be, Millard Fillmore is nonetheless remembered locally at least in the Finger Lakes area of New York with the Fillmore State Park.

M.C. in Austin, TX, writes: A.H.-S. in Brier writes: "I wish the phonograph had come in time for the Gettysburg Address."

Here's the next best thing: William R. Rathvon, 9 years old at the time, was the only known eyewitness to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to have left an audio recording describing that experience, on a 78 RPM record 75 years later in 1938.

You can listen to it yourself here.

G.R. in Tarzana, CA, writes: J.H. in Bloomfield Township, who writes about Lincoln's Gettysburg Speak and George Gopen's emphasis of music when writing, is dead on. As a feature and television writer, I'm always telling newer writers that they should think of their writing as music, with each sentence having a beat and a feeling that adds to what is being conveyed, and with the sound of individual words when voiced bringing up images. Declaring there was "a cornucopia" of something rather "a lot"can impact the readers impressions.

Over the years I've had the opportunity to write for a few major websites and constantly found that their editors insisted on changing my choice of words because they "violated"AP Rules. I would attempt to explain the theory of writing and music but they insisted it wasn't up to them, as AP rules the day. Once when I discovered they had, for no apparent reason, reworded an entire paragraph, I demanded to know what was wrong with what I wrote. I was informed that though what I was saying was fine, unfortunately, I had started with the word "but"and I can't start a sentence with that word. I took a moment to assess the situation, informed her ever so politely, "But I can."I then vowed never again to read any of my columns once they were submitted.

The Eye of the Beholder

R.D. in Snohomish, WA, writes: Most of the time youse guys tell a pretty straight story, with a few shots taken at well deserved targets. But writing "That's one way to fight back against Klanned Karenhood" is a cheap shot. I know many fine women named Karen and most of them detest the use of their name to define small minded, bigoted, bossy and rude. It's just unnecessary and reflects that the trend towards creating hard feelings and polarizing 'sides' is still continuing downward.

A.M.S. in Silverdale, WA, writes: Klanned Karenhood! Almost lost my coffee out of my nose when I read that. This is why I love you guys and have been a daily reader since 2004!


B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: Thanks for fielding my sportsball question yesterday. The descent into near-obscurity of our great national pastime and the World Series raises other important questions, not the least of which is, What happens if we capture someone who might be an American, but might be an enemy agent in disguise?

In World War II, you just asked the agent in question, "Who won the 1942 World Series?" Any real American would know the answer. What now? "Which dropped first? 1989, or 1989 (Taylor's Version)?" "What football player did Taylor Swift date?" Or, "Sing as though you were Britney Spears!" If they sing "Baby, baby, baby, baby, baby" in an auto-tuned monotone, then we know they're the real deal? I'm shuddering. With Canadians able to merge undetected into our population, I don't see a path forward for our country.

Wait. This trick question should separate the Americans from the disguised foreign agents: "What is the most popular program of study at the Electoral College?"

S.M. in Watertown, MN, writes: In the question from B.C. from Phoenix regarding supporting, I believe they may have inadvertently developed a new tagline for the site. While I am not currently in a position to become a regular via Patreon, I certainly would buy a t-shirt, mug or bumper sticker that said: ", Everyone here seems to be a rational person, especially the folks who disagree with me."

S.D. in St Paul, MN, writes: It was fitting to reveal all your Monty Python references on Friday, October 27, since that was John Cleese's 84th birthday. "I say, what a simply super day!"

Final Words

D.K.Y, in Kent, Washington, writes: Jazz drummer Buddy Rich was disdainful of one particular music genre, about which he said, "Young people need to realize that there's a lot more to music than just playing one or two chords."

While he was touring in 1987, he suddenly experienced paralysis on his left side which physicians believed must have been due to a stroke. At UCLA Medical Center, doctors discovered a tumor, which they subsequently removed. Since the tumor was malignant, Rich was scheduled for daily chemo treatments as a precaution.

But on April 2, 1987, during one of these treatments, he suffered unexpected cardiac failure and died. Prior to the treatment a nurse, who was inquiring about possible drug allergies, had asked Rich if there was anything he couldn't take.

"Yes," said Rich, "country and western music."

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