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Sunday Mailbag

A day of candied culture wars, think tanks, phony congressmen, Donald Trump's organ, and dogs, among other matters. Not all is lighthearted, of course.

Politics: Don't Get Passive

H.R. in Jamaica Plain, MA, writes: P.M. in Edenton writes that we should not get too worked up about politics, because: "Life will go on either way; live it." I'm afraid I have to disagree. The climate crisis is existential. Life on Earth, as we know it, may not go on. I agree that the constant state of worry and angst is probably not healthy, but I can't ignore the threat to life on Earth nor the unnecessary deaths we hear about every day. What I try to do is focus on personal and family joys (an upcoming wedding, the birth of a new member of the family, a lovely sunset) and the phrase "hope is a discipline" (coined by Mariame Kaba). But I believe it is important to practice that discipline for life to go on and I try to do that every day.

R.Y. in Knoxville, TN, writes: D.E. in Lancaster writes about playing with a full deck being an optional requirement for GOP candidates, gives several outrageous well-below-the-fold examples—so bizarre I had to confirm them—and asks: "Shall I go on?"

The answer is "yes." Constant exposure of the crazies brings the racism and the misogyny into the sunlight. Rather than making it mainstream, the exposure shows the corruption of morals, common sense, and respect for science for what it is.

Politics: The Great M&M War

P.N. in Austin, TX, writes: Before anyone comments on the recent M&M's hullabaloo, I think it's really critical to watch this short video:

You can't speak on that which you don't know, and hoo boy, lemme tell you, M&M spokescandies are not what you think they are. For those who don't care to watch, the salient point, for the sake of discussing the recent Republican outrage, is that M&M spokescandies are largely not all of the same species. I wonder what Tucker would have to say if he realized that the left's corporate underlings are promoting cross-species relations?

D.T. in San Jose, CA, writes: When you posted the old vs. new designs for the M&M mascots, I was searching for the difference between pictures. Finally, the one thing I noticed was that the "skin" color of their arms and legs has changed from "obviously Caucasian," to "white sleeves/pants, with hints of their candy color."

I don't follow Tucker Carlson, so I'm not sure if he specifically complained about this. But I'm sure that the racists in his audience would perceive this skin color change as a great insult to white people everywhere.

I am reminded of Megyn Kelly confidently arguing that Santa Claus was white.

M.S. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: I can think of no more succinct observation about this ridiculous hypocrisy than to point out Tucker and his ilk are the exact same people that started calling liberals "snowflakes" for getting upset about things that Republicans viewed as unimportant. And yet here is Tucker, getting his panties in a bunch over... what shoes a fictional character wears.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: "M&Ms will not be satisfied until every last cartoon character is deeply unappealing and totally androgynous" according to Tucker Carlson. He seems disappointed. Do you think he's got a thing for Bugs Bunny in drag, too? (Garth Algar, you're not alone.)

T.V. in Kansas City, MO, writes: A letter home from the Great M&M War:

My dearest Penelope,

I write to you with the smoke of scorched candy shell coatings hanging in the morning air like tears. The carnage of the Battle of the Milky Way can scarcely be conveyed. In the infirmary, men bore wounds that exposed their chocolatey centers, and the battlefield ran with rivers of Red Dye #3. Yet I believe the Woke Army will prevail.

Tomorrow, we march on the garrison at Snickers Point. It is a perilous mission; the reinforcements there are hangry and desperate, led by the Mad General himself, Tucker Carlson. I may never look upon your face again, nor share with you the beauty of a Skittles-colored sunrise. But know that whenever you detect the scent of nougat on the air, I am with you.

Your faithful servant,

Politics: Theocracy in America

J.R. in Harrogate, England, UK, writes: You wrote: "If you want a label for the fringy elements of the Republican Party, they are not anarchists. They are theocrats."

The truly spoon-bending epiphany isn't that the wackadoodle Republicans are a theocracy, but rather that building a bridge between the Republican Christian Theocracy and the Islamic Caliphate would not require much in the way of building materials.

S.B. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: In your item about the baker in Colorado and the web designer who refused to do work for LGBTQ individuals, you pointed out that Pope Francis has called for the decriminalization of homosexuality worldwide and that anti-LGBTQ folks should see they are fighting a losing battle. I certainly agree with your observations but I think it may actually harden the resolve of these folks. Generally speaking, most of these individuals subscribe to some form of the evangelical church[es], which can be quite antagonistic with the Catholic Church. Hearing that the Pope is softening will probably just convince them fight harder.

Politics: WTF, DOJ?

C.D. in Jacksonville, FL, writes: First of all, as has been stated multiple times, the specific facts concerning the classified documents that were inappropriately retained and stored by President Trump and by President Biden are very different. Criminality or lack thereof will certainly rest on those facts. Meanwhile, I am a little taken aback by the DOJ's public handling of the two situations. Specifically, at President Trump's home, the photograph with myriad confidential documents apparently spread haphazardly across the floor was seemingly released to have an impact within the court of public opinion. I wonder if a similar photograph from President Biden's home is forthcoming—documents spread haphazardly on the hood of a 1967 Corvette Stingray, for instance.

Testimony has shown that many in the DOJ were hostile to President Trump from the moment that he was elected. While President Trump's behaviors can be inexcusable, for the DOJ to maintain their credibility and effectiveness, their actions must not appear to be politically motivated. A standard they have repeatedly failed to achieve as of late.

Politics: Comparing Caucuses

J.G. in Lexington, KY, writes: In reference to "Debbie Dingell Is Starting a Heartland Caucus," I enjoyed the full list of existing caucuses, available via link. It was fascinating. However, you missed the obvious question: Now that he's a full member of Congress, will Santos join the Volleyball Caucus?

V & Z respond: Are you kidding? He founded it.

S.B. in Hood River, OR, writes: When you listed the various caucuses, I needed to find out what the Rock Caucus was concerned with. To my surprise, it is the music and not the objects. Also surprising is that the membership is bipartisan.

V & Z respond: At least it's not the wrestler. Even if the MAGA crew ARE prepared to give The People's Elbow to the U.S. economy.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: I think if I were in the House, I'd join the Bourbon and Candy caucuses and serve my term in happiness!

Politics: Think Tanks

J.K. in Portland, OR, writes: The RAND Corporation was the first and at some times (perhaps still) the biggest, and at some times (perhaps currently) the best think tank. Its commitment is not to the policies of its sponsors, but instead to what the conclusions of its policy analyses are, on the basis of logic and evidence and following the highest standards of peer review. One of its most famous publications was Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy: Options and Assessment, published in 1993 and often called by the shorthand name Gays In the Military. RAND was asked by Bill Clinton's Secretary of Defense, Les Aspin, to conduct the study. They approached this request with great trepidation; if they said that gays could not serve effectively, people would claim that they did this only to keep their defense contracts, but if they said that gays could serve effectively, they might lose some of their defense contracts. However, this was an important question and RAND believed itself uniquely qualified to do the necessary research and analyses. So they took it on. The outcome was that RAND stated that gays could serve effectively, but only if Department of Defense leadership supported such a policy. And so it came to pass—a "don't ask, don't tell" policy was more or less formulated and less than more implemented; it claimed to be the RAND recommendation, even though a more accurate reading of the RAND document would be better captured by the sound bite "don't ask, don't shout." It took a long time, but eventually the RAND recommendation was adopted during the Obama administration.

Yes, most think tanks push the policies of their funders, and the great majority of those funders are right-wing. The Oregon example is the Cascadia Institute, whose recommendations over many studies might be summarized by, "The free market is the solution to the problem. Now tell us again, what is the problem?" Hoover and the American Enterprise Institute are bigger, similar, and better known by the general public.

M.G. in Newtown, PA, writes: Your think tank answer reminded me of one of my favorite David Letterman jokes: "Dan Quayle's spokesperson announced that following his vice presidency he will be joining a think tank in his home state of Indiana. He'll be cleaning out the filter."

Politics: "George Santos"

B.C. in Farmingville, NY, writes: I am a resident of a district near George Santos'—in NY-01, to the east. He didn't win because of all of the things Bill Maher said, but rather he won because of New York's jump to the right and his name had an (R) next to it. I have a feeling that our governor's race was so close also due to this. The state Democrats trashed Andrew Cuomo, a strong governor, due to false accusations and a woke political agenda, but didn't realize they were not in as strong of a position in the state as they thought they were. I suspect that even if their original redistricting favoring the Democrats went through that there still would be more Republicans winning districts. This is likely in future elections as well. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) was a weak candidate and the ideas of the GOP won the New York city suburbs. I saw just about zero Hochul yard signs and tons of Lee Zeldin (R) signs.

P.M. in Port Angeles, WA, writes: Acknowledging your enjoyment of song and movie references, I just happened across a movie on Roku, from 1955, titled Stranger on Horseback and starring Joel McCrea as a circuit court federal judge in the "Wild West." In the first 10 minutes of the film, there is a scene in a sheriff's office, where the idea of skirting federal law/jurisdiction involving monetary transfers was elucidated: a value of $499.00 was the issue. Within the movie, a number of land transfers at $499.99 were on local record, but $500.00 was the threshold for Federal oversight. So the Santos reporting trick of $199.99 to circumvent the $200.00 reporting requirement is at least 60+ years old. Perhaps what we thought to be new is in fact old and possibly a bit hackneyed.

V & Z respond: Former speaker Dennis Hastert also knows a bit about this particular maneuver.

Politics: I Went Too Colidge!

G.L in Fairport, NY, writes: I occasionally watch Bill Maher's weekly HBO telecast. I understand that Maher is an entertainer first and a political pundit second. Furthermore, I appreciate his willingness to present more than one side of a given issue, although I don't understand his desire to constantly trash Democrats far more than he does Republicans. But after watching his latest episode on January 27), it's pretty clear to me that he is a Republican (forgive me if he's already admitted this on air, and it's his right to be one), or at least he is more aligned with many of their "values."

On his latest broadcast, he chose to trash a traditional college education. While I agree that this route is not for everyone, and maybe too many are enrolled in this path, does he not understand that the private jet he unapologetically confesses to use (and I don't fault him for that) was not designed by a person with a high school degree and that community colleges offer a huge number of training programs necessary to compete in today's job market, including trades and manufacturing skills? Perhaps Congress should have more high school dropouts like Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) in it. He really lost me.

Also on the show was Tim Ryan. He agreed with everything Maher was saying, though I suspect he has a college degree. After hearing him speak, I now understand how he lost a potentially winnable election. He clearly campaigned to get as many non-MAGA Republicans to vote for him while paying absolutely no attention to the Democratic base in Ohio. Is it any wonder Democrats in Cleveland, Columbus, Akron, and Cincinnati were totally unenthused toward his candidacy?

M.C. in Wilmington, NY, writes: Greetings again from your Chicago Bears fan that lives in Elise Stefanik's district.

In the late 80's during graduate school, one of my jobs was as a résumé checker for a small recruiting firm in New York City. This was before the Internet, so everything was done by phone and résumés were done on a typewriter.

About one in 10 did not verify for all of the education they claimed to possess. The most common was individuals saying they graduated from a school they only attended for some courses, but no graduation.

I think most of these individuals had used these résumés for at least their current job and felt no one could ever take the time to check and find out. If someone did not verify, it was my job to call them to make sure we had the information correct. I would tell them what the school said and then, after the surprise that we really checked, came the reasons. "I wanted to graduate, but ran out of money" was number one. "I took a class as part of their continuing education department," "My records are on hold for financial reasons," or "I had to work/got a great job during the summer and did not go back." Once an Ivy League school had zero record of someone and when I called him, he claimed he was accepted there, but could not afford to attend.

George Santos/Anthony Devolder/Kitara probably felt that he could get away with this and made it further than most would think. Maybe in your spare time, with a few student assistants, you could start a sister site or, Take presidential, House and Senate résumés from their websites and fact check them for education, military service and employment. If the staff has time they could add memberships service and political organizations. My staff cat tells me that we might find some very interesting information.

V & Z respond: That's a very interesting idea.

Politics: And Now for Something Completely Different

J.F. in Sloatsburg, NY, writes: You are fond of the phrase, "A week is a lifetime in politics," and of making comparisons from there. Given that we are just over 92 weeks out from the 2024 elections, I figured I would submit a timescale that shows where we are in history if a week is, indeed, a (70-year) lifetime in politics.

If, as they say, a week is a lifetime in politics, and we count Election day as 2024, then we are currently (as of 1/29/23) in the year 4436 BC. It is the Stone Age. The largest city in the world is Uruk, population 5,000. The written word, the widespread use of bronze, and the rise of the Indus Valley Civilization are still about 1,000 years off, each appearing sometime in early May. There are nearly 6,500 years of human history ahead of us (so and counting!). Moving forward:

In other words, if a week is a lifetime in politics, we have all of written history and then some to get through before the next election. Therefore, take the predictions of any pundit with about the same seriousness as you would someone making prophecies from 4436 B.C.

This Week in TrumpWorld

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: You wrote, in the list of presidential musicians: "There are rumors that when Donald Trump visited Russia, he showed off his organ playing. That last line was probably in poor taste, but oh, well. If you would like to sue us, Mr. Trump, you know where to find us."

Poor taste possibly, but I have to clean the coffee off the monitor. Now I need to go get some paper towels. Thank you for my Saturday morning interlude.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I just wanted to let you know that your Trump organ playing line made my day! What you forget to mention is that Trump's mental image of his organ is something like this:

A huge church organ

But in reality looks more like this instead:

A tiny toy organ for children

M.F. in Oakville, ON, writes: Regarding those charged with offences related to January 6, (Z) wrote: "...those defendants who have not taken a plea deal might want to look at that 97.5% conviction rate (typical for federal prosecutors) and think twice about going to trial. Then again, if they were capable of thinking twice, they wouldn't have attacked the U.S. Capitol."

I suggest the word "twice" is superfluous.

All Politics Is Local: Local Sources, Part II

M.N. in Arlington Heights, IL (but a native of western Nebraska), writes: In terms of local sources, I rely on the Nebraska Examiner for my local Nebraska news. It is independent and nonpartisan.

N.S. in North Hollywood, CA, writes: For Los Angeles political journalism, I would like to give a nod to Knock LA. They published Cerise Castle's award-winning piece on the rampant presence of gangs within the LA County Sheriff's Department, which became an enormous issue for then-Sheriff Alex Villanueva. Villanueva continuously denied the existence of deputy gangs, which played a large factor in him losing his reelection bid by a margin of 22.6%. Knock was also very on top of the recent scandal over leaked racist/conspiratory audio recordings of L.A. City Council members, being the first outlet to publish the raw audio and transcripts.

Additionally, Knock regularly livetweets meetings of the City Council, County Board of Supervisors, and other local political bodies.

With most of LA's independent journalism outlets gone, and The Los Angeles Times having been purchased by a billionaire and moved out of the city to nearby El Segundo, Knock has really filled an important hole in Los Angeles journalism.

I.S. in Durango, CO, writes: I've been following The Colorado Sun since it was formed in 2018 by former employees of The Denver Post. They are a journalist-owned news outlet, set up as a public benefit corporation, that strives to cover the whole state, though they do tend to be Front-Range oriented. They have politics-specific newsletters, but I'm happy just reading the political coverage (as well as environmental and other issues) on their website, though I do get their daily general e-mail newsletter.

L.R. in Salem, VA, writes: Cardinal News covers southwestern and southside Virginia. The guiding light, and frequent contributor, is a former reporter for our so-called newspaper-of-record (The Roanoke Times), which still publishes daily but largely ignores vast swaths of its (former) coverage area. Cardinal News is entirely financed by donations and has recently qualified as a 501(c)(3) organization.

V & Z respond: We continue to welcome additional suggestions for good coverage of local politics and other issues.

Race Matters

P.H. in Mayo, FL, writes: Most civilian police departments worldwide have academies that train police in the use of firearms, the law, police procedures and citizens' rights. All have a psychological evaluation as well—except here in the U.S.A. The result? Murderous Roaming Thugs in Uniform. Tyre Nichols, 29, and 149 pounds, was viciously attacked by five police "officers"—after a traffic stop—20 days ago, yanked out of his car, beaten with billy clubs, handcuffed then punched, kicked, tased, kicked again on the ground, 80 yards from his home, desperately calling out to his mother, while handcuffed and prostrate on the pavement. That these thugs did that while body cameras were rolling can only be explained by the legal doctrine of "Qualified Immunity"—resulting in Arrogant Impunity. The five murderers—a part of the Memphis Police Department's SCORPION squad, now disbanded, whose name stands for Street Crimes Operation To Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods—have been charged with second-degree murder. May they rot in hell.

Not to excuse each from such outrageously anti-social behavior—the deliberately malign torture and execution of a fellow human being—but to say this is a systemic, institutional problem would be an understatement of the highest order. There are 18,000 police departments here in America, but ZERO Federal Statutes setting standards of policing, let alone ANY kind of consistent accountability for organized state-sanctioned, morally repugnant violence.

1200+ citizens a year are killed in summary street engagements by "the law."

3 each and every day.

Tyre Nichols was just ONE of them.

J.E. in Manhattan, NY, writes: One of the huge problems in discussing race and racism—and I see it among your readers as well (who, judging by the posts I have seen anecdotally, probably skew white) is treating racism as an interior state, an emotion, a personal attitude. Defining it as "the belief that other races of people are inferior" contributes to this, as well as a strong Puritan/Calvinist tradition in the US, which treats issues of, for example, salvation, as internal—what matters is what is in the heart, actions are secondary.

And this comes up in a lot of your items about the GOP, and for example, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and the discussion of "sane" Republicans. The problem is, whether someone is a racist at a personal level does... not.... matter. Because racism is not, and never has been, a matter of personal attitude. It's a system of oppression directed at people who are "other" in some fashion. In the U.S., it is specifically directed at people who are "not white"—which whiteness being variously defined at different time, but generally based on law, culture, language, phenotype, and social class. The mixture is complicated, but what's fascinating is how we have all internalized it so much that most Americans can identify white people and quickly identify non-white people.

So when I say racism is a system, that means it doesn't matter what your personal attitude is. It doesn't matter whether you "really believe" in the inferiority of Black people. If you act in ways that prop up a system of differential rights and privileges for white people, and specifically white men, then whatever your "real beliefs" are doesn't bloody matter. Kevin McCarthy, and the GOP leadership, long ago decided that giving racists and bigots power was the way to electoral success, and when that seemed like it wouldn't work, rather than ousting those people from the party, they decided to try and dilute the voting power of the people who stood against them. That is doing racism. Because racism expresses itself in actions.

Whether any current GOP leader—Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), whoever it is—has Black friends, or doesn't use the N-word, or has never expressed any particular animus towards people who are different, does... not... matter. Whatever is in Ron DeSantis'—or anyone else's—heart is unknowable, but that does not matter to discussions of racism. Racism is prejudice, yes, but it is also prejudice plus power. Your average Black person simply does not have the power in our society that a white person does. In that sense, speaking of Black racists in our society is simply silly, because no matter how much a Black man hates white people he simply isn't going to be able to create the havoc for white people that a single white man can create for Black people. There is no history of mobs of Black people going to white neighborhoods, burning homes, and murdering the inhabitants—but white people have been able to do that to Black people many, many times without repercussions. "A Black person was mean to me once" does not have much to do with racism. That Ben Carson exists doesn't matter either; nor Clarence Thomas—all that tells you is that people can be co-opted, or take on the beliefs of the powerful in the hopes of having a small piece parceled out to them. Their existence doesn't alter the actions their party has taken to disenfranchise people of color.

In your items on the GOP you often speak of whether a pol is "throwing meat to the base" or not. I submit that none of that matters, any more than it mattered in the 1920s when people asked "does the NSDAP really believe in antisemitism or the more terrible things they propose?" That question got asked a lot, and a more than one columnist said Hitler would be more moderate as he governed. We all know how that ended.


A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: You item on "Bigo" really piqued my interest, particularly, his claim to have not been tried "by a jury of his peers."

As a transgender woman, I have been very careful in life to be squeaky-clean, because I KNOW I would not get a jury of my peers... in fact, I'd be far more likely to get a group of twelve who would not give a hang for the evidence presented in any trial, and see an opportunity to punish me for being trans.

I know, it's paranoid, but this is how trans and other minorities have to think in this country. I am super-careful to NEVER be around children, unless there are adults I trust around who can vouch I did nothing wrong. Again, it sucks, and it's paranoid... but it's how we have to operate within this American society where we all are supposedly equal.

We who are minorities know that we are less equal than others who are not minorities, no matter what the laws or Constitution say. And it is precisely why I am so upset over the accusation that people like me are "groomers" or pedophiles, as we have been accused of. The accusations, made often enough, end up being believed, and we end up guilty till proved innocent, and good f**king luck proving yourself innocent, especially with a potentially hostile jury!

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: For the record, 12 people who can't figure out how to get out of jury duty are not my peers. Goes to the Dogs, Again

D.K. in Chicago, IL, writes: Since R.E.M. in Brooklyn shared the video of the herding dog at work, I thought I would contribute another happy shiny video, this one of an English Springer spaniel by someone in England who trains service dogs:

V & Z respond: Wow. He's better than having a butler.

T.S. in Bainbridge Island, WA, writes: Thank you for sharing the touching story about Gemma. However, I could not help but note the none to subtle dig on all dogs that are not dachshunds: "Jean Findlay is a lifelong dog owner, with a preference for setters. Please don't judge her too harshly; not everyone has been enlightened as to the fact that the best dogs are hounds, particularly of the dachshund type."

Those of us who know and love Irish Setters are used to this treatment. That said, I challenge you and your merry band of dachshund lovers to find an example of a member of that fine breed paddling a kayak:

A person kayaking with a dog on his lap

T.W. in Norfolk, England, UK, writes: Thank you so much for running the story about Gemma.

It was extra special as it happened to be my birthday, but also—and more importantly—it was something of a tonic to read your generous words since the day before we had to say goodbye to our faithful Labrador Retriever Bonny after nearly 13 years. Sadly, cancer and a particularly vicious infection overtook her and as heart-breaking as it was, it was kinder to spare her any further pain. It's been a hard few days, but the sparks of light here and there, including the lovely words from those who responded on Sunday have helped start the healing of my heart. To P.W. in Springwater, I can say we will certainly have another Retriever in the future (possibly a Flatcoat), and to A.B. in Wendell, I have to admit that I've been hankering after a Bernese Mountain Dog for quite some time... I just have to persuade my better half that we really do want a large floof in addition to our many Setters. I know I'll get my way in the end!

V & Z respond: We, along with Otto and Flash, send our condolences on the passing of Bonny. We are glad we could help facilitate the healing process, in some small way.


K.H. in Maryville, TN, writes: Actually... your work for SPECTRE should not necessarily preclude you from getting a security clearance. Because if you had worked for SPECTRE, no one should know...

I submit that the known members of SPECTRE were not careful enough to stay concealed, and perhaps got too greedy?

And now we will never really be sure, will we...

S.C. in Bossier City, LA, writes: After reading the question from J.H. in Camano Island about the proposed rule in Missouri and Florida state legislatures to ban sleeveless blouses and dresses, I realized there are constitutional issues at stake here.

These proposed rules infringe on the Second Amendment right to bare arms.

J.G. in Cushing, ME, writes: Thanks to S.K. in Atlanta for explaining how to get to play on the car radio. I've tried that, but my 2005 Subaru Outback's radio has enough trouble with FM, and doesn't seem to "pair" with my iPhone.

J.A. in Rochester, NY, writes: In regards to J.G. in Cushing and S.K. in Atlanta: The correct way to listen to is to set the iPhone's voice speaker to Daniel (Enhanced) under English (UK). You can find him under Settings > Accessibility > Spoken Content > Voices > English. On the Spoken Content tab, you can enable Speak Screen to swipe two fingers down from the top of any screen to read the page. Tables and links become a garbled mess, but otherwise, Daniel's subtle snark is worth it. Best of all, he will tell you that articles are written by Zed.

V & Z respond: Did we forget to mention that (Z) is the Master of Shadows?

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