Dem 51
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Sunday Mailbag

If your opponent is shooting themselves in the foot, let them. Clearly, Joe Biden is embracing that as his mantra, as evidenced by how little news and comment he's generating right now.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

D.H. in Redwood City, CA, writes: The discussion of Donald Trump's fundraising haul from the release of his mugshot piqued my interest. I was curious whether TFG's associated donation page required that one uncheck the option for monthly donations, lest that become the default choice. I was a bit surprised that TFG was not committing what I consider a form of elder abuse this time, contrary to what he has done in the past. But it did send me down the rathole of then wondering about the entirety of the Freedom (sic) Caucus. So, I took a look at the candidate donation page for every of the 40 members, as speculated by Pew Research. Without further ado, I give you then the three griftiest members, whose page requires explicitly rejecting the monthly donation checkbox: Lauren Boebert (CO), Ken Buck (CO) and Harriet Hageman (WY).

Jeff Duncan (SC) gets honorable mention for being the only one to provide a link to enable accepting crypto donations.

But the grand prize has to go to Mike Collins (GA), who lists the donation amounts that he's soliciting, starting from largest at $17,100 down to the smallest at a paltry $1,700. Or one can, of course, choose "other." One may ask, "How is he able to request an amount that exceeds the Federal $3,300 limit?" The answer is explained in the fine print, which says that a $17,100 donation will be allocated $3,300 to primary, $3,300 to general, $2,900 to 2022 campaign debt and $2,600 to 2014 campaign debt, which he posits are "for a total of $17,100 per person." One small problem: Those four amounts add up to just $12,100. And to preempt any discussion of whether perhaps he accidentally left a campaign debt out of that list, it's worth noting those are the only two elections in which he ran for Congress (losing a close one in the 2014 primary).

Oops, almost left out that Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) is the only candidate on the debate stage whose webpage makes monthly donations the default choice unless the donor explicitly chooses to opt out by unchecking the monthly recurring box.

(Saturday update: I just re-looked at the donation pages for Tim Scott, Lauren Boebert, Ken Buck, and Harriet Hageman. Now only Hageman continues to make monthly donations the default choice. I'm not sure what to make of it. I visited all these sites with cookies/tracking disabled, but could WinRed possibly have decided to play it straight after my high visitation rate without any actual donations, based on IP address? But if so, then why does Hageman continue to show as a checked recurring monthly box? Mysteries of the universe.)

V.M. in Cincinnati, OH, writes: With all due respect to C.S. from our shared fair city, I have to make a small contrary point to their characterization of the (admittedly excellent) school that Vivek Ramaswamy went to. While it is indeed an excellent school and I have many friends who are proud graduates, it is maybe overly optimistic to believe that "I doubt he learned there the reactionary views he puts on display."

Terrible ideas flourish even in the best institutions (I bet even at UCLA, as evidenced by moving all sports to the Big Ten). Other notable graduates of the school include Charles Keating (of "Keating Five" Savings and Loan corruption fame), his brother William (publisher of the Cincinnati Enquirer during the worst of its GOP house propaganda rag days), Si Leis (grandstanding former prosecutor, judge, and sheriff; think Joe Arpaio with a midwest twang), and Tom Brinkman (grandstanding state rep who believes all taxes are arrows shot from Satan's bow). I would also note that Ramaswamy is actually on the school board of trustees (though on sabbatical while he is out poisoning the political waters).

Just want to be clear that VR is not alone in his swinery as a graduate (and actually valedictorian) from his school.

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: I think President Biden has a very good chance at re-election, especially since his opponent is likely to be one Donald Trump. Most of the 84 million or so that voted for Biden in 2020 did so because they hated Trump... and if you hated Trump in 2020, you likely only hate him more now given the events of 1/6 and the documents issue. And the age thing, while it's a weakness for Biden, pretty much washes even with Trump. The former president is only 3 years younger and far heavier than the current one. There's no striking contrast like there was, say, in the 2008 election.

But the U.S. Senate is a different story. Democrats could very well have the White House and House in 2025, but not the Senate. I'd bet if Democrats control the White House but not the Senate, Biden would be lucky to have 10 judges confirmed in 2025-26 (so far, Biden has confirmed about 140 judges). That's why the time is now to confirm judges. The Senate is in for most of the fall, starting Tuesday when they return from summer recess. Also, they should be in regularly in 2024 until September, then for two weeks during that month, then out until after the election.

One similarity between Trump's and Biden's judicial picks is that they are getting much younger. So vacancies will start to dwindle as more and more late-30s and early-40s judges are confirmed to the courts.

Politics: The Trials of Donald Trump, Part I—The Donald

B.H. in Greenbelt, MD, writes: A number of news outlets have carried stories along the lines of this one by Michael Tomasky in The New Republic.

The basic idea is in the headline: "Trump's Trials Don't Interrupt His Campaign—They Are His Campaign." The idea is obvious once you see it. Trump's trials reinforce his standing among his base much better than campaigning. I'm afraid the media's coverage of this is making the same mistake as in 2016. Trump's campaign is so unconventional that people don't see how it works, and assume—based on the conventional wisdom—that he is toast. He's not. And while I think in the general election there will be enough disgust at his antics that he will lose badly, I'm not very sure. Something could happen, like COVID did in 2020, that could totally upend things, and result in him winning more or less by default. Joe Biden's death or health-related incapacity in October would do the trick.

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: In your response to the question from E.R. in Irving about Donald Trump's co-defendants calling the former president as a witness, you indicated that Trump would simply take the Fifth on the witness stand. As a practical matter, Trump would never get near the stand.

The first problem is that Trump is not a resident of Georgia. That means that his co-defendants in the Georgia case are not able to just issue a regular "Georgia" subpoena. Instead, they will have to use what is known as an "out-of-state subpoena." Unlike a regular subpoena (or a federal subpoena for the two federal cases), an out-of-state subpoena is a request to a court in the state in which the witness resides (which therefore has personal jurisdiction over the witness to enforce the subpoena) to order the witness to go to the requesting jurisdiction to testify. Before the "home state" court can issue that order, it must hold a hearing at which the witness can produce evidence that complying with the order would be an undue hardship. While usually it is merely time consuming to get an out of state subpoena, in the case of Trump, that hearing could be problematic for the defendant requesting the subpoena. At such a hearing, it is likely that Trump would simply tell his home state court that he intends to assert the Fifth Amendment. And, given that he has asserted the Fifth Amendment in the past, the home state court would probably find that it is an undue hardship to make the witness go to Atlanta merely to refuse to testify.

The second problem is that, even if he were compelled to go to Atlanta, his attorneys would inform the trial court that Trump would be asserting the Fifth Amendment. Under well-established law, it is improper to place a witness on the stand for the sole purpose of having that witness invoke the Fifth Amendment in front of the jury. As such, if the defendant insisted that they still wanted to call Trump, the trial court would hold a hearing outside the presence of the jury to confirm Trump's intent. Assuming that he again asserted the Fifth Amendment, the trial court would excuse Trump and not allow the defendant to actually call him to the stand.

Given these two barriers, unless the defense attorneys wanted to waste time and money, they are unlikely to pursue calling Trump.

D.G. in Santa Cruz, CA, writes: Your item "Follow the Money" affords a clear display of our two-tiered justice system. The two tiers are not red and blue, but rich and poor. Professor Randy Zelin says that attorneys' fees for the accused will be at minimum $250,000 unless they plead out. And spending that kind of money is certainly no guarantee of a good outcome. Separating this from the Trump Crime Syndicate, defendants all over the nation are facing these kinds of decisions.

Wealthy defendants have an enormous advantage over poor defendants. The ability to file motions, exclude evidence, do sophisticated jury selection and appeal decisions makes all the difference in the world. Prosecutors who work without fear or favor is a fantasy (apologies for excessive alliteration). It necessarily follows that rich people may do things with impunity that poor people cannot. Rich people may get probation, including counseling, while the poor just get prison time (lots of prison time).

Is it possible that the Trump crime wave could become a catalyst for judicial reform that includes greater funding for public defenders or limits on frivolous motions? Are there other reforms that could find the light of day as Democrats and Republican constituencies find common ground?

I muster all possible optimism to say that Trump is simply a dark cloud over democracy. Perhaps it goes too far to suggest there is a silver lining.

S.T. in Worcestershire, England, UK, writes: My relaxed Sunday afternoon trawl through the mailbag stopped abruptly ended when I read the suggestion from J.H. in Boston that "[Donald] Trump could easily set up shop in London and be untouchable."

Ye Gods, haven't us poor Brits suffered enough with Boris and "Lettuce" Liz? We have enough populist buffoons of our own, thank you very much, without providing sanctuary for U.S. ones who have long exceeded their "best before" date!"

Politics: The Trials of Donald Trump, Part II—Rudy, Rudy, Rudy

J.T. in San Bernardino, CA, writes: I used to work at a plaintiff's-side employment-whistleblower law firm where we worked on a contingent fee (we only got paid out of the proceeds of a judgment or a settlement—that is, we only got paid if we "won").

Very often, we'd decline decent cases because we'd take a look at the potential employer/respondent and suspect them to be "judgment-proof." That is to say, they're "immune" to a civil court judgment because they wouldn't have the money or assets to cover it, and even if we won we'd just spend a lot of time spent throwing good money after bad trying to collect money that might not exist. As a contingent-fee firm, we couldn't take cases like that and had to send the potential clients away. It always kind of stunk that bad actors could get away with violating civil codes because they were operating on the margins, but that was the business.

For better or worse, it appears Rudy Giuliani, like a crooked, fly-by-night trucking company, is approaching "judgment-proof" status. Unfortunately, money is the way we've determined for the civilly damaged to be compensated and there might not be enough money in Fort Knox to compensate for the damage America's Former Mayor has done.

J.R. in New York City, NY, writes: You wrote: "The fact that [Giuliani] is selling his lovely bachelor pad (his third divorce was finalized in 2019) indicates that he is indeed in need of some quick cash."

As a New Yorker, I am glad that Guiliani is finally getting taken down after a lifetime of misdeeds and I hope he will go to prison for his crimes. Quick cash, however, it may not be and certainly not enough to pay his bills, which are as big as his hubris. If he gets $6 million, then he has to deduct lawyers and realtors' fees, 2.5% flip tax to the building, local taxes and all the other fees. It may take a long time for find a buyer, as it seems the rich folks prefer condos like the glass and steel monstrosities on Billionare's Row these days. The fancier the building, especially grand old wealthy prewar buildings like his, the harder it is for a buyer to be approved by the co-op board, as it takes more than just money to be approved by a picky board who can reject a buyer for almost any reason. If a buyer is rejected by the board, it's back to square one for seller who has to re-advertise it. Here's a fun article about high end buildings like Rudy's.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: The question from A.C. in Zenia really got my attention! Let me try to 'splain it from the perspective of one who got the CRAP END of Giuliani's policies...

At the time I lived in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, some 80-100 miles from NYC. I observed something then... which I am learning about now in my studies in Criminal Justice at community college. I observed that when Guiliani cracked down on gangs and drugs in New York, drug and gang activity exploded in the Poconos, where we had never had this problem. Certainly, nowhere near the level it was happening.

I am describing something which is called "displacement" by scholars. Displacement happens when police crack down, and, in response, criminals relocate to neighboring areas outside the enforcement zone.

Giuliani did not "clean up New York"—HE EXPORTED HIS PROBLEM OUTSIDE OF NEW YORK, AND LEFT US TO DEAL WITH HIS MESS! For this reason, long before 9/11, I had a disparaging view of Giuliani, one which even 9/11 did not dispel.

Politics: The Trials of Donald Trump, Part III—The Other Defendants

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: I am thinking that the Fulton County DA's Office can't be that upset with some of the defendants wanting a speedy trial.

Yes, having all nineteen in the same trial would be nice, but it's also would be logistically hard. And there will be benefits to having three or four go first.

First, because of the RICO charge, the prosecution will be able to put on all of the evidence for each defendant, even if only three or four of the defendants are on trial. Thus, it really does not matter which defendants are in the first batch, the prosecution still gets to make its full case.

Second, assuming that the case is as strong as it looks and a fair jury gets impaneled, the first batch of "volunteer martyrs" will be found guilty. That will add to the pressure on the remaining co-defendants to flip to save their own skins. Of course, waiting until after the first trial will probably result in stiffer sentences than if they flip before the first trial, but it will be harder for them to stay loyal once it is clear that they are facing a likely conviction and a long sentence. And the more little fish that flip, the easier it will be to land the head of the conspiracy.

W.S. in Austin, TX, writes: You wrote: "We cannot imagine why these various Trump cronies, especially the ones who are veteran lawyers like Eastman is, keep going on TV to talk about the case. Are they trying to taint the jury pool? Are they so angry/offended/hurt that they need to vent, regardless of the consequences? Are they attention seekers trying to extend their 15 minutes of fame? Are they raising money for their defense funds? Those are our best guesses."

There's no doubt something to these positions, especially regarding defense funds, but there's another take the two of you—academics both—seem not to have considered.

Trump was always quite obviously a scam artist. Working for him or associating with him was always foolish. Those who chose to do so anyway revealed their folly. Should we be surprised when foolish people, once put under pressure, subsequently go on to do foolish things?

It reminds me very much of the way Trump voters simultaneously believe that: (1) Joe Biden was able to rig the 2020 election, when he WASN'T yet president; (2) Biden won't be able to rig the 2024 election, when he IS president. I'd call that textbook cognitive dissonance, except that form of dissonance requires cognition, doesn't it?

See also this passage from Politico: "The landlord of the strip mall that's home to the Juke Box Diner, [Rick] Weland had no doubt about Trump's viability against President Biden because the felony charges the former president is facing 'are bull**it' and explained that Trump 'is the only play for the Republican Party' because he's 'a proven commodity.'"

That not a rational analysis of either the past or the future.

In that sense, it reflects the "various Trump cronies" you have in mind. These are not terribly bright people.

T.V. in Kansas City, MO, writes: I have a different answer to the question you raised about Donald Trump's co-defendants: People like John Eastman are delusional enough to believe they were in the right and their actions were legal, or at least, that a majority of Americans think they were defensible. Think about the January 6 insurrectionists, and how many of them recklessly spread their identities and locations all over social media as they were rampaging into and through the Capitol, smearing feces on the walls, and ransacking legislators' offices. Why did they do that? Because they were deluded or brainwashed enough to honestly believe that most Americans would regard them as heroes and that their actions were justified in light of how the election had been "stolen" from their hero. Why would they conceal their whereabouts or identities when they would inevitably be feted as patriots, right?

I'm not saying all the Stop the Steal conspirators are this far off the twig, but some—Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell—certainly are, and Eastman may be one of them. Insanity defense, anyone?

H.M. in Murphy, TX, writes: Looking at Donald Trump's lawyers, and his co-defendants' appearances on TV, it seems to me that they have realized there is no legal strategy to defend their actions, so the only way out is the political path. And hence they keep trivializing the fact that they only asked Mike Pence to delay certification by a week. So most Americans will think: "A week is very little and reasonable time, what is wrong with it?" So they want to win election by trivializing their actions and then of course getting pardons.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Since your discussion of the inadequacy of Mark Meadows' removal claim that he was acting under color of his federal office, I've been trying to think of what I would argue for him (although I am not an election law expert, and there is not an extensive body of law on federal criminal removal under 28 U.S.C. sec. 1442). The key is to find a "colorable" federal basis for Meadows' actions—that is, the basis doesn't have to be proven, just shown to be worth litigating over. If there is such a litigable issue, then removal to federal court is appropriate.

So I'd go with something like this: The President is charged with seeing that federal laws are faithfully executed. The Voting Rights Act is, of course, federal law. Section 11(a) provides, "No person acting under color of law shall fail or refuse to permit any person... qualified to vote, or willfully fail or refuse to tabulate, count, and report such person's vote." Section 12 criminalized a violation of Section 11(a) and the altering of a record of voting. Trump and Meadows believed there had been widespread voter fraud, and they were merely attempting to see that various state officials would act in a way that would vindicate the Voting Rights Act by ensuring that only proper votes were counted. Thus, they were acting under color of their federal offices and have the Act and the Supremacy Clause as colorable defenses for their actions. Therefore, removal to federal court under Section 1442(a) is appropriate.

I'd love for someone who actually knows something about this area of the law to explain why I'm wrong!

T.W. in Colorado Springs, CO, writes: I was amused to see Cathy Latham's daughter wrote in the crowdfunding plea that: "My mom has always lived her life with integrity. She has always tried to do what was right, even when people pushed back. When coaches would ask her to change grades, she would offer to work with the player, but the student would have to earn it."

When Cathy Latham was asked to help change Donald Trump's "grades," she didn't hesitate, even though it wasn't possible for him to earn it. Her integrity went right out the window.

(V) & (Z) respond: She still hasn't cleared $20,000, much less the $300,000 goal. The prayers do continue to roll in, though.

Politics: Today's Republican Party

C.Z. in Sacramento, CA, writes: According to The Washington Post, Texas is finding new ways to keep pregnant women confined within their anti-abortion state, by trying to block their travel by car. After Roe v. Wade was reversed, I predicted that all women and girls in red states would have to prove they are not pregnant before they would be allowed to leave the state. I'm sorry to see that, courtesy of the Texas Taliban, it is really happening. Next, women and girls won't be allowed to board airplanes, buses, or trains without a note from their doctor stating that they are not pregnant—you know, just in case they might be seeking an abortion. The Taliban won't let women drive cars, but at least they allow them to be passengers! Hmmm, I guess I shouldn't dye my gray hair if I'm planning a trip through a red state...

J.J. in Johnstown, PA, writes: Your item "DeSantis Refuses to Accept $350 Million for Florida" immediately brought to mind this bit from Key and Peele about Republicans going against things simply because they are proposed by Democrats:

C.L.C. in Petaluma, CA, writes: A video about what a Republican politician would say if they were being honest:

Politics: In Congress

R.C. in North Hollywood, CA, writes: In your response to the question from J.L. in Los Angeles regarding the makeup of the House in 2020, you wrote that Liz Cheney, the sole representative from Wyoming, would not have held a decisive vote in the event that the House was charged with electing the President, since at the time the Republicans controlled 26 state delegations vs. only 21 for the Democrats. But the Constitution states, in both Article II and the Twelfth Amendment, that "a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice." In other words, 26 votes are required to elect a president, meaning that if Liz Cheney refused to vote for Trump, and all the Democrats held the line, Trump would fail to get a majority, and would not be elected.

Of course, at the same time, the GOP-controlled Senate could conceivably have elected Mike Pence VP, meaning Pence could have assumed the presidency. You missed your chance, Mike!

(V) & (Z) respond: You're right, and we stand corrected.

R.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: Recent events regarding Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) remind me of Rhode Island Democrat Sen. Theodore F. Green. He became the oldest person to ever serve in Congress at the time, and there were similar concerns about his cognitive abilities. Then-Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson stepped in to give him the "Johnson Treatment" to gently encourage him to relinquish his chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee. He did so during a meeting of the committee, but in an apparent act of kindness (albeit insincere), the members flattered him and made a motion for Green to reconsider. Honored by this, Green stated that he would consider it. LBJ then called for a short recess during which Green was quietly (re)convinced to resign the chairmanship.

Green retained his seniority and his committee assignment in this arrangement and was able to finish his term. He retired from Congress at 93 and eventually passed 5 years later.

I first read about this in Sen. Sherrod Brown's (D-OH) book Desk 88: Eight Progressive Senators Who Changed America. It includes a short narrative of Green's life and political career, among seven other progressive senators that have all shared Desk 88 over the years. I would highly recommend it.

Politics: Indian Voters

A.L. in Highland Park, NJ, writes: Your answer to J.R. in Lyon about Indian Americans' political instincts is basically right.

The House India caucus is composed largely of Democrats. The GOP has always given off a repellent whites-first vibe, made worse by Donald Trump. I must add, however, that racism is not always a deterrent. As an Indian American, some of the vilest, most racist anti-Black comments I have ever heard have been in Indian gatherings, spoken softly in Hindi or another regional tongue. Stuff that channels Strom Thurmond or Lee Atwater; the usual calumny about high taxes, welfare layabouts, crime, etc. Any protests I raise are laughed off, as those from an out-of-touch, American-born, ivory-tower academic. Thankfully, my immediate family is staunchly progressive, but like the rest of America we have had to make difficult decisions about who we continue to socialize with.

All Politics Is Local: Ron DeSantis Edition

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: While hurricanes may not have anything to do with the poor track record of Floridian White House bids, it occurred to me that Florida's lack of campaign finance limits might have something to do with it. The two rule sets reward different strategies/skill sets, meaning that ability to win in Florida does not correlate with ability to win nationally, the way ability to win in states with similar rules as the feds might.

A.H. in Midland, GA, writes: In regard to the question from J.H. in Boston about Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and how good of a campaigner he is, I think it is important to remember that his blowout win in 2022 was a re-election campaign.

When he had to face Andrew Gillum, an opponent with serious political skills and monetary backing, in 2018, DeSantis barely eked out a victory.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I would like to add an addendum to #3 about how DeSantis was re-elected to the Florida governorship. Yes, Charlie Crist was a poor candidate who ran a weak campaign. But he's also a turncoat in a lot of people's eyes, especially in this "Us and Them" society when he switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. He did win the Democratic primary, but there were still those who didn't trust him. God knows, any Republicans turned off by DeSantis probably didn't trust him. It might not be fair, but it is the way in our polarized world. While I don't know for sure, I would guess that Florida Democrats thought being an ex-Republican would give him some crossover vote vibes. Whenever Democrats try to settle for someone who appeals to the other side they get into trouble... but, then, whenever Democrats go with their passions they get into an equal amount of trouble.

C.L. in Boulder, CO, writes: What I hear from someone who ran for office in Florida a couple of years ago and still commutes there regularly for work: Floridians loved that Ron DeSantis didn't shut down the state when COVID hit. Maui told tourists to stay away after the devastating Lahaina fire and is now begging them to come back. Florida's beaches stayed open throughout COVID!

P.B. in Gainesville, FL, writes: In answer to J.H. in Boston (and I've written in to on a few occasions about this), the reasons that DeSatan won so big in Florida last year (besides the reasons (V) & (Z) already outlined) were mainly that: (1) Florida Democrats have become more and more useless at connecting with voters while we've lived here (since 2008), Charlie Crist's pathetic campaign being the latest example, and (2) the GOP raised a gigantic amount of money for the off-year election, so they just ran the table. But then, Republicans been quite good at that in Florida for some time (e.g., Sen. Rick Scott, R-FL, was—and likely will be again—a formidable campaigner and fund-raiser).

Democrats in this state are just well-nigh invisible on a day-to-day basis. Supposedly Nikki Fried, as current Democratic party chair in Florida, has a plan to make 2024 all about reproductive rights, but I've only ever heard of that on Outside of the major metro areas like Miami, you never see any Democrats criticizing GOP positions or op-ed-ing on any news platform. For most Floridians, what do Democrats even stand for? Short of a massive cash infusion and some really dynamic candidates showing up, I don't see this changing for some time.

T.J.R. in Metuchen, NJ, writes: I believe you have mentioned before that Ron DeSantis basically ran a TV ad campaign, rather than a kiss-the-babies type campaign. And I would guess he avoided media outlets that he believed would portray him negatively. While that strategy might work in a state, it just doesn't translate to a national election, where both of the above are unavoidable.

(V) & (Z) respond: Yup. If you want to be elected president, there are quite a few things you have to kiss.

Mass Appeal

D.K. in Chicago, IL, writes: I don't know if either of you are Catholic (maybe the staff dachshunds have been blessed at a St. Francis Day pet blessing?), but in response to "Is the Pope Catholic," there are some blanks that need to be filled in.

You write "it's a good bet the Americans and some of their like-minded brethren elsewhere are going to form a large enough faction to choose a replacement pope who is so far right he'll make Tomás de Torquemada look like a Unitarian Universalist". That is highly unlikely for multiple reasons. First, Pope Francis has appointed close to the two-thirds of the cardinals, which is the number needed to elect a Pope. If you follow his appointments, it is highly unlikely that they will elect a far-right firebrand. Case in point, in California, he overlooked two archbishops (Gomez and Cordileone) and instead gave the red hat to San Diego Bishop McElroy, who many on the right criticize for being too liberal. Second, if you look at the recent meetings of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, any vote to deny Communion to politicians who supported abortion did not succeed.

Instead, the "noise" from conservative American Catholics may not be from bishops (the Burkes and Stricklands are in the minority) as much from internet podcasters such as Michael Voris (from Church Militant) and Dr. Taylor Marshall (who earlier this summer considered entering the 2024 Republican presidential contest).

If you are interested in seeing whether the Pope is really going to change Catholic doctrine, follow the upcoming synod of bishops in Rome called the "Synod on Synodality," and the situation of the German bishops "Synodal Way" (which is trying to push same-sex blessings) and the how the Vatican handles that.

I'd write more, but this Catholic needs to get ready to lector at Saturday evening Mass.

H.Z. in Point Pleasant, NJ, writes: Having been raised Catholic, although a non-practicing one now, I have observed the Church for many years, and despite (Z) having written a fine well balanced article, he may have overthought the matter a bit. For years, various forms of (missionary) Christianity have traditionally gone into countries and consistently sided with the political right. It is difficult not to see this as a financial thing—the churches' keeping the masses in line with a promise of a better next life helps them to gain favor with the more affluent conservative donors. I think the Pope's issue is that he sees this going on in America now, and the bishops don't want the spigot turned off, even if they have, as you correctly assert, a champion of the poor and downtrodden on their hands. Catholic dark money related to the abortion issue alone here is immense. With the tremendous drop-off in church attendance in recent years, the big donors have become far more important. You are correct in asserting that the American versions of various religions are much farther right, but then the pot is far larger than elsewhere, also. Follow the money.

B.C. in Manhattan Beach, CA, writes: In "Is the Pope Catholic," you wrote that "the American versions of various religions tend to be pretty far to the right of their world counterparts."

That may frequently be true, but I don't think it is universally so. As a counter-example, I give you the United Methodist Church, which is grappling with the issues of same sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ clergy. Recently, about 20% of Methodist congregations in the U.S. have withdrawn from the denomination because of disagreement over these issues—which implies that roughly 80% of U.S. congregations support this move.

This somewhat parallels what happened in the Episcopal Church (which is the main U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican communion). About 15 years ago, a conservative breakaway group, called the "Anglican Church of North America," formed, with the primary disagreement being whether to allow same sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ clergy.

In both cases, the majority of the U.S. churches (those that did not break away) are more liberal than many of their non-U.S. counterparts on this issue, especially in Africa (and, to a lesser extent, southern Asia and South America), where opposition to same sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ clergy remains strong.

Z.A. in Harrogate, England, UK, writes: Regarding your claim that "the American versions of various religions tend to be pretty far to the right of their world counterparts," please consider America's runner-up monotheistic faiths, Judaism and Islam.

Recently, American Judaism has begun to voice its discomfort with the hard-right steer of Benjamin Netanyahu's government in Israel. Yes, it's more political than religious, but there are religious arguments buttressing both sides of the political divide. Demonstrating American Judaism's liberal tilt, witness the rising influence of J Street as an alternative to the Netanyahu-supporting AIPAC. J Street leans into Jewish "values" to support a more balanced approach to Israeli governance and the Palestinian issue and notes that Netanyahu himself has begun to "see that the majority of American Jews are liberal, they're Democrats, they want a two-state solution." Evidence of this has been strong of late, but the general history of Judaism in American shows adherents aligned with a liberal sense of social justice and voting overwhelmingly Democratic (at least, since the Democrats became the liberal party).

As for Muslims (and as a practicing American one in the U.K.), let me tell you that American Muslims are seen as the most liberal (both demonstrably and perceived) in the world by far. Surveys show they are the most liberal on issues such as homosexuality and abortion. American Muslim scholars (including high profile converts such as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Imam Suhaib Webb), politicians, and personalities are routinely criticized by their global counterparts (and even threatened with death by the likes of ISIS). Even a statement by many American Muslim scholars affirming a traditional stance on LGBTQ people and inroads by Republicans to sway Muslims on the issue have not been enough to keep a record number of Muslim Americans being elected to public office—the vast majority, as with their Jewish cousins, as Democrats.

This isn't to say that these views couldn't change over time, but the liberal drift for these two faiths is clear to me.

A.B. in Lichfield, England, UK, writes: You asked "Is the Pope Catholic?" Well, that rather depends on which Pope we're talking about.

If you mean Francis, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province (etc.), then yes, Francis is a Roman Catholic.

However, Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria & Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Apostolic See of Saint Mark the Evangelist of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, is not Catholic; he's the leader of the non-Chalcedonian Oriental Orthodox Coptic Church of Egypt. Meanwhile—and this is where things get really confusing—Theodore II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, is the leader of the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church that traditionally has responsibility for Africa. The fun doesn't end there; 'Tawadros' is the Coptic version of the name "Theodore," so there are currently two Popes Theodore II of Alexandria based in Egypt.

The earliest-known use of the title "Pope"—which is derived from the Greek word for "father"—to refer to a senior bishop was for Pope Heraclas of Alexandria (232-248) in the third century; it's remained a traditional title of the Patriarchs of Alexandria ever since. The first Bishop of Rome that we know was referred to by the title "Pope" seems to have been the johnny-come-lately Marcellinus (296-304), some 50 years later. The two patriarchates of Alexandria then split from each other following the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451 due to a dispute over the relationship between humanity and divinity within Christ's person. It was only in the 11th century that Gregory VII unilaterally declared that the title—widespread for bishops in the early church—should be reserved for the Bishop of Rome. But since that was some 25 years after the Great Schism of 1054, and just over 600 years after the Council of Chalcedon, neither of the Popes of Alexandria paid much attention.

Short version: Only one third of current Popes are Catholic.

E.W. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: When reading your item "Is the Pope Catholic?", I must admit that I didn't expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition.

(V) & (Z) respond: Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Junk Fees

A.C. in Zenia, CA, writes: In the item on "junk" fees, you wrote: "Banks and credit card companies are notorious for all manner of hidden fees: account balance too low fee, late payment fee, returned check fee, and many more. They are lobbying hard to prevent Congress from taking action..." I can't find the reference now, but I think it was in a book by David Graeber that claimed that some banks made more that 70% of their profit on fees to their customers. If it's only one-third of that, expect "financial services" companies to prevent any action on this, period. They have more control over government than you would ever believe. You'd have more luck trying to get Congress to recognize Palestine as its own country with a right to exist.

R.D. in Snohomish, WA, writes: I just want to point out that (at least the last time one of my kids were college), many colleges tack on junk fees with the tuition bill—public transit passes, IMA (gym) fees, and more!

S.K. in Atlanta, GA, writes: You wrote "For example, many hotels have a (mandatory) "resort fee" to cover use of the business center, gym, and WiFi, even if the guest doesn't want to use any of them. Or fees to allow people to pick their own seats on a flight."

I do have preface this by noting that I am airline management and that I do not speak on behalf of my employer, but I completely disagree with your assessment of the airline industry. For one, airlines are one of the few travel providers that must show a total price that is inclusive of all fees and taxes. This is not something that applies to hotels and car rentals. Second, and more apt to your comment, most major airlines do have a majority of the seats available for free selection for regular fares.

At no point are seat selection fees ever mandatory or hidden, even if the only seats remaining are paid seats. You just book without selection and get assigned at check-in. This even applies to the most discount of discount carriers, including Frontier and Spirit.

You mention Europe as a fine example of all-inclusive pricing, but I challenge you to find one airline in Europe that doesn't have a seat to sell in the economy cabin, from Ryanair to British Airways (in the case of British Airways, even all but the priciest Business Class fares pay to assign seats ahead of check in). This doesn't touch the fact that even in the E.U. you pay for carry on bags on some carriers and checked bags on most.

As such, I disagree with your assessment of "junk fees" for seat assignments as neither a mandatory product which it isn't (even on Ryanair) and provides a distinct product (front row, more legroom, etc.) that true junk fees like hotel destination surcharges do not.

While I agree with the sentiment about junk fees, this is not an example.

Twitter Down the... Well, You Know

S.F. in Hutto, TX, writes: In "Does Being Indicted Help Trump?," you asked: "[I]s there even a word for posting something to X?"

May I suggest a "whyzee"?

J.L. in Chicago, IL, writes: '[I]s there even a word for posting something to X?"

Xcreting, with the result being an xcretion or xcrement.

J.S. in Wadenoijen, The Netherlands, writes: You ask, "is there even a word for posting something to X?"

Well, glad you asked.

It used to be "tweeting" but, as you note, that isn't apt anymore. It isn't "posting," because Zuck now owns that word apparently.

I believe the proper word for putting blurbs on X should be "xitting", with pinyin pronunciation for the "X." So, we should start referring to xits for items xitted on x.

The same action on the superior Mastodon is called "tooting," which seems particularly apt. Echoing a toot is called "boosting," which of course should have been "blasting," for obvious reasons of consistency. But I digress.

E.R. in Irving, TX, writes: Here, I fixed this sentence for you: "Republicans in Congress see tech companies banning lies as outrageous censorship an existential threat, so they are never going to pass a law allowing people to sue the companies for publishing the lies."

History Matters

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: Wait, I say, hold on a second there! I found myself most horribly confused, discombobulated even, when reading this week's Q&A History section. What is all this stuff and nonsense about "Reconstruction," "The Gilded Age," and "The Roaring Twenties?" Why, I've never heard such nonsense in my life! When I was taught American History in grade school in the 60's in the Great Commonwealth of Virginny, I was schooled that American History effectively came to an end right after you Yankees signed the truce at Appomattox for the War of Northern Aggression (what you Yankees so quaintly call the "Civil War"). You Yankees even get the name of the battles wrong—it was Manassas, not Bull Run, and Sharpsburg, not Antietam!

The North knew the blessed Confederacy had them on the ropes—ready for a TKO, that is. After we rid those Yankee intruders from our sacred soil, everything went right peaceful like for the next 100 years or thereabouts. Oh a brief mention was given to the last of the great Virginny-born presidents, Woodrow Wilson, who evidently involved us in some foreign skirmish but otherwise had an uneventful presidency. There was some mention of him wanting to join some club of foreigners, but we know that's a lie because a good Southern Boy wouldn't truck with such Horse Feathers! So all this boonswoggle about the Gilded Twenties or the Roaring Reconstruction are just fake history—fiddle faddle, that is.

P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, writes: Counting anything before FDR's election as the 1920s, cannot (Z) extend his discussion of that decade beyond 10 minutes with an examination of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930? You gotta try harder, man.

(V) & (Z) respond: The issue is not that there isn't enough to say about the Twenties, it's that doing it properly requires far more time than available, resulting in an abbreviated, surface-level version. And Smoot-Hawley/Hawley-Smoot actually belongs, and is mentioned in, the discussion of the Great Depression.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: May I suggest that you include the ugliest underbelly of the 1920s in your 10-minute lecture on the period? Namely the pervasive rise of the Ku Klux Klan, especially in the Midwest and West, and its grip on local, state and national politics? There were more Klansmen north of the Mason-Dixon than there were in the South. Without a large Black population to hate on, these Klan folk focused on Jews, Catholics and "foreigners" with as much viciousness as did their brethren in the South regarding Black Americans. I was surprised to learn that Notre Dame's "Fighting Irish" sobriquet comes from the night a large Klan rally, aimed at intimidating the students, got routed and chased back to the Klan's headquarters by nearly the entire student body, who then purchased a few bushels of potatoes, hurling them at the building until they had broken all the windows! Something poetic about that, no?

I recommend Timothy Egan's A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan's Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them. It's an eye-opener for sure and a good supplement to our incomplete education.

(V) & (Z) respond: As chance would have it, the first paper (Z) wrote for grad school was on the 1920s Klan, specifically their (short-term) seizure of city government in Anaheim, CA. And the KKK actually does show up in the brief overview of the Twenties that appears in the Great Depression and New Deal Lecture. Should anyone be interested in the slides from that part of the lecture, showing what is (briefly) mentioned, they are here in PDF form.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: Regarding the question from S.K. in Sunnyvale, your answer was succinct, clear, and thorough and needs no explication. I'm only adding an "Amen." I taught U.S. history for 40 years. When I read (Z) asserting that Reconstruction is the most difficult era to teach, I didn't blink. I know from experience that it is very complicated, people know nothing about it and anything they ever learned about it didn't stick, and there are constant contradictory currents, cross-currents, and undercurrents. It's messy—difficult to teach and difficult to grasp.

As to the comment from D.B. in Mountain View (concerning the 1920s), the Great Depression was neither an aberration nor a mistake. It was a direct result of policies the U.S. government followed in the 1920s. To explain the coming of the Depression, you have to explain how we created the necessary conditions for it in the previous decade.

Also, "Amen" to your answer to J.D.Z. in St. Paul. Until you've done it, it is difficult to imagine how little time you have to devote to any particular era in U.S. history in a survey course.

(V) & (Z) respond: Anyone who looks at the PDF linked in the previous question will see that "The Stock Market Gets Overheated*" appears on the outline. The asterisk is the clue to students that "This is the critical material; this is what might show up on a test." In other words, the other key themes of the 1920s get a mention, but the way in which it set up the Depression is the point of emphasis.

B.C. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: Of presidents' states of origin, you wrote: "[T]here are going to be anomalies, such as Vermont (Chester A. Arthur and Calvin Coolidge) having produced more presidents than California (Richard Nixon)." Wait, wasn't St. Ronnie of Reagan from California, too? I don't see anything on His wiki page that says he changed his state of residence.

OMG! Does this mean that conferring sainthood wipes out or somehow nullifies your record of being president? And does that mean The Orange One can get the Vatican to elevate him, thereby assuring his goal of being President for Life?!

(V) & (Z) respond: We got quite a few e-mails about that; we share yours because it was the most amusing. In any event, we went back and changed "produced" to "birthed" to make our meaning more explicit. If we are speaking of states where the candidate was domiciled as an adult, then Coolidge is a Massachusetts president and Arthur is a New York president. The only people who have run for a major party nomination as an actual resident of Vermont are Howard Dean and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Leggo my LEGO

B.C. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: I've always preferred paper to screens for organizing and planning, since one of the richest guys I've ever known told me "If you don't write it down, you won't remember to get it done." To this day, I still use a paper organizer, only using the calendar on my cell phone for alarms and reminder notifications. I also prefer holding and reading paper books, convinced that I absorb more information, and do so more completely, by employing multiple senses (a concept which seems to be supported by scientific studies).

I've also always been a fan of Lego bricks, believing them to be a marvelously creative toy. The mashup of Legos and braille would seem to me to be a further shining example of employing multiple senses to improve learning.

M.W. in Northbrook, IL, writes: Clearly you are not Seth Myers fans. I enjoyed the Freudenfreude story on Lego bricks, but you should know that the plural of "Lego" is NOT "Legos."

B.C. in Boise, ID, writes: I appreciate you posting the item about braille Lego bricks, and wanted to toss another thought your way.

Beyond convenience, braille serves another important role that text-to-speech doesn't solve alone, that of the deaf-blind. I had the opportunity to attend a speech given by just such an individual (on the topic of designing software to be useful to the differently-abled), and she demonstrated using a text-to-speech screen reader in conjunction with a braille "display" that allowed her to get reactions from the audience.

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: Ah! The pain of stepping on some Lego bricks in the dark of the night and realizing that someone forgot to pick them all up.

Not only did our children play with them, but also our grandchildren and now happily GAWD is roaming Amazon to buy the first set for our GREAT GRANDSON!

(V) & (Z) respond: Congratulations to you and your family! We don't drink actual beer, but we are right now raising a root beer in your honor.


L.S. in Queens, NY, writes: I thought the Index was calculated by votes from dachshunds who answer your very local poll.

(V) & (Z) respond: That may explain why the third most popular site on the Internet is

A.A. in Kingwood, TX, writes: Oh. My. God. The Zilog Z80 processor... That brought a bunch of great memories back, I wrote a lot of assembly code for it back in the 80s. The X and Y registers rocked!

Thanks for that!

(V) & (Z) respond: This has got to be the only politics-focused site where that line could actually land with some readers.

C.L. in Boulder, CO, writes: You wrote: "We do not know why his nickname is Tré, since his real name is Gus Lusk Hargett III."

I can't speak to the Tennessee Tré specifically, but one of my 17 Louisiana cousins has a son who goes by Tré, and, yes, he is also a III.

(V) & (Z) respond: We got quite a few messages that said the same thing. The only reason we were uncertain was the accent, which seems just a little precious.

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: As I sit, warm and dry in my car, waiting for the attendant to pump gas for me in a rainstorm, may I remind you that we are proud New Jerseyans (people), not New Jerseyites (minerals).

J.E. in San Jose, CA, writes: I am sure many others will write in with the same feedback, but I would pay good money for a Votemaster-Zenger 2024 bumper sticker.

D.K. in Chicago, IL, writes: Since someone added the "Votemaster/Zenger" campaign logo, here is one for the sci-fi geeks from 2012 (I don't know if it will be updated for 2024):

It says 'Saxon/Zod '12, Peoples of the
Earth: Please Attend Carefully'

I know they are not constitutionally eligible, but sometimes both sides of the political divide need some humor to lighten up the day.

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: Hello to all my non-Midwest friends in the mailbag! For reference, a skosh is roughly equal to a dab, slightly larger and definitely more squishy than a bit, and quite a bit bigger than a pinch. In liquid measure, there are at least two blops to the gurgle, but neither of them can reasonably be compared to the skosh. For my Western friends, you can pretty much exchange your skoshes for mites at pretty close to 1:1 but keep in mind you'll rarely see more than "just a skosh." The skosh is almost always used to modify an existing measure that is already nearly correct and only needs minor adjustment. Gacking, on the other hand, I'm not familiar with.

S.F. in New York City, NY, writes: If C.S. in Duluth, MN's 90-year-old grandmother lived in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, she could have gotten an answer to her question "Am I dead?" from the county's Office of Vital Records:

The online death certificate request
form asks the user if they are requesting a copy of the death certificate for themselves or for someone else

Final Words

K.M. in Tacoma, WA, writes: From H.L. Mencken: "As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

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