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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

The mailbox was absolutely dominated by the Hur Report. Well, that and evil Americans. But we repeat ourselves.

Politics: The Hur Report Is Very Bad for Joe Biden...

E.H. in Los Altos, CA, writes: As a Democratic-leaning independent, I must take issue with your coverage on Biden's gaffes. I felt your coverage of Biden was almost Fox-like in its bias. Not only did Biden confuse the name of the Egyptian leader with Mexico, which is fairly weird (while the two countries share pyramids, "Sisi," to my ears, doesn't sound Mexican at all), he made two more gaffes in the past week, both about world leaders. He confused Emmanuel Macron as dead President François Mitterand and misremembered Angela Merkel as her predecessor Helmut Kohl. I agree that an occasional gaffe is not necessarily indicative of mental competence—we all sometimes say the wrong thing, such as Obama saying he visited 57 states—but doing so three times in a short timeframe, especially when people are laser-focused on your mental competency, does not make one feel good about his mental competence. And neither of these recent gaffes appeared in your analysis—I think a balanced report would have alluded to them as well.

While I don't think these gaffes rise to the level of gross incompetence (let alone malignancy, which is what Trump represents to me), having three similar gaffes in one week makes me think it's a concern that his memory is going. As a trivia maven, I agree that dates can be hard for most people to remember, but people aren't nearly as hard. At the very least it sounds like Biden really can't go on the offensive with more press conferences and interviews for fear of adding even more fuel to the fire.

E.K. in Brignoles, France, writes: I want to thank (Z) for "What's on My Mind." I almost didn't sleep the night after having read all the apocalyptic reactions to Hur's report. This is despicable for a prosecutor—to write about a person's mental state just because he knows he's got nothing to prosecute. The cheapest shot was that absolutely irrelevant note about the fact that Biden "couldn't even remember when his son died." Really? There's nothing too low for the Republican Party. It reminds me when Joseph Welch asked Joseph McCarthy: "Have you no sense of decency?" Because even if I assume that Joe Biden really forgot the year his son died (I'd like to hear the interview, because I believe what happened is much more nuanced), what's the point of mentioning it in this report?

Unfortunately, this thing isn't going away. No one cares about Trump confusing Biden with Obama or Nikki Haley with Nancy Pelosi. No one cares about the gigantic amount of hypocrisy, cowardice, immorality, corruption and malfeasance of the Republicans (all of them, without exception—"I vote Republican, but I disagree with Trump" being complete B.S.).

Biden is Biden, so he will continue—like we all do in our daily lives—to misspeak. And the propaganda machine will never stop. I very clearly remember 2016, when "Hillary and her e-mails" was all the media had to talk about, day and night. And here we are for 9 months of "Biden and his dementia" (since "Biden is corrupt" apparently didn't work), thanks to a Republican prosecutor using his status and an official document to give credentials to the right-wing narrative.

The Democrats can't win this game. The Republicans can get away with anything they want. Trump, whose only goals are chaos and personal profit, can delay his trials for an eternity because he has to be treated "fairly." But Joe Biden saying "François Mitterrand" instead of "Emmanuel Macron"? How is it possible to vote for such an old fool?

I have seen a lot of cynicism in my life, but this is beyond the pale.

A.D. in ??????, ??, writes: When I heard the news break, I couldn't wait to see how you defended the President against this scathing report. You did not disappoint in your unfailing adoration for #46, pulling every excuse out of the bag (Humans are terrible with years! The DOJ special council is not qualified to judge mental health!). One could equally argue that a history professor is not qualified to make generalizations about and judgments of the Department of Justice. Fortunately for the site, it has largely turned into an echo-chamber of Democrats, which will at least safeguard your viability as a blog in the near-term. However, at some point, especially if Trump is re-elected and destroys our democracy, those of you who have protected this mentally incapacitated president will be just as guilty as those who pulled the trigger at the ballot box for Trump.

(V) & (Z) respond: You forgot to include your city. Perhaps your memory is failing.

A.K. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Sigh. Unfortunately, Robert Hur's comments about Biden may turn out to as memorable as Hillary Clinton's "deplorables." And equally hard to undo in the public mind. We are so used to Trump's elder moments that they no longer register except as part of his shtick. But Biden persona is more measured and, dare we say, brittle?

R.J. in Pasco, WA, writes: A Harris-Newsom ticket might be the thing!

People have had time to digest Kamala Harris' personality and she's been vetted pretty well... and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) is political gold.

I can see the Democratic base getting behind this if Biden doesn't recover.

Politics: ...Or Maybe It Isn't

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Thank you for your excellent write-up of Robert Hur's hit piece masquerading as a special counsel report. In the end, I'm not sure all the hand-wringing by Democrats is warranted. The condemnation is entirely appropriate, as Hur used a declination document to do precisely what a prosecutor is prohibited from doing—abusing his power and smearing the subject in a blatant effort to damage his reputation. Shame on him.

And of course, the mass media, in its never-ending quest for traffic, gets it wrong and focuses on the salacious bits. You could practically hear the sighs of relief—finally something negative we can run about Biden! Whew!

But at bottom, this report is, to use a technical term, weird. Who exactly was it written for? Hur didn't give Trump what he wanted, which was a prosecution (or, let's face it, just the announcement of a prosecution), so he's sadly mistaken if he thinks he's got a job in a future Trump administration. And the report came out in early February. So, even if Hur thought he could help Donald Trump by damaging Joe Biden, his timing is way off.

And it's a pretty weak effort. All Hur could come up with was to call Biden a few names, imply he has memory issues and say a jury would feel sorry for him. He gave the right-wing media maybe 48 hours of the bad memory stuff. And even that is more below-the-belt than it is hitting home. Hur says Biden couldn't remember the year his son died. We can all relate to that—I can't remember the year my father died unless I look at something, like an old calendar. Plus, why was he even being asked about what must be a very painful memory? I would be annoyed also, and would probably give the same answer just to move onto a different topic. (And as an aside, where was Biden's lawyer in all this? He or she should have put an end to that line of questioning.)

So, I doubt Fox is looking to add Hur to their lineup. And now that he's blown through all the ethical constraints and shown himself to be a partisan hack, he's probably not going to be hired by a reputable law firm. So what was this for? This is yet another example of people ruining their own careers and reputation in service of Trump who will never, ever reciprocate. Sad.

Now that Biden has responded forcefully, he and his campaign need to move on. This nonsense does not deserve any more oxygen. Meanwhile, the other candidate is still facing 91 felony counts over four separate criminal trials. I'd say that is slightly more consequential.

O.R. in Milan, Italy, writes: In my opinion, Robert Hur is a spineless arse-kissing MAGA-jerk just trying to despicably ingratiate himself with his master. Dante would certainly reserve a spot in his Hell for Hur.

I am much younger than Joe Biden. While I have no problem remembering the years of death in my family, I nevertheless experience a total blank when it comes to my mother, although (or perhaps because?) I was very close to her: I need to do the calculation year-of-birth plus age-at-death EVERY. EFFING. TIME.

I do recognize her in photos, though. Trump mistook E. Jean Carroll for his second wife in a photo.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Further to your answer to P.S. in Gloucester, the way Robert Hur's outrageous, partisan flouting of DOJ standards should be dealt with is by a complaint to the Department's Inspector General. This is how James Comey's improper July and October 2016 conduct in the Clinton investigation was addressed. Note that Comey was fired in 2017, and the IG Report was issued over a year later, so being an ex-DOJ employee is no bar.

I'd also like to see the Special Counsel's interview with Joe Biden released in full (subject only to redaction for classified information). The American people should get to hear for themselves what the questions were and how the President answered them.

R.P. in Alexandria, NY, writes: Reflecting on your analysis of how the Biden interview was conducted for the Special Counsel report. I was struck by the memory of the presidential debate in 2020, when Joe Biden endured Donald Trump's shouting over him until he finally said, "Won't you shut up?"

It was a classic case of Trump trying to trigger Biden and, as we had reason to believe later, possibly infect him with COVID.

As a college professor of political science and U.S. history for 40 years, as well as having worked to overcome a childhood stuttering condition, I couldn't help but be angered by the way in which that interview was conducted. Once, when I was giving a public presentation on gun control to a packed auditorium, I was responding to a pro-gun person's question and he started talking over me. I interrupted him and said, "You asked me a question, and I am answering your question. This isn't Fox News. I wasn't speaking while you asked your question. You have to let me answer."

In this light, I feel like the decision to not reverse course on the Super Bowl interview was a prudent move, because the temptations to exploit the current turmoil are so great by any network. Also, as some readers have pointed out, a break from politics on Super Bowl Sunday can be refreshing, especially in this election season. After all, as Lewis Black commented once after watching hours of a post-9/11 Super Bowl pregame show on Fox: "I hated freedom."

Biden will have the State of the Union address in March, and with any luck some progress to report in Gaza or perhaps even on the border issue, and he can call a press conference when that happens. He can't control what the right-wing media says anyway, and it will misrepresent him in any case, so best to continue to do the work and let others speak on his behalf as to his cognitive abilities. By any serious objective measure, there is no comparison between Biden's policy achievements and Trump's lack thereof, so it seems best to stay on that course.

One concern I have with respect to the border issue is that any attempt to be over-eager with restrictions could backfire with Latino voters. Treating the crisis with as much compassion as is allowable is important, with a mind to a longer term solution like what I believe is being done with Palestine, and would make a difference with voters who want government to actually work. It has the added bonus of being the right thing to do.

R.H.-M. in North Haven, CT, writes: There is only one way that Joe Biden could decide at this point not to run without creating chaos within the Democratic party: He would need to step down as president. This would elevate Kalama Harris to the presidency. Regardless of what her approval polls say, it would be politically difficult for any other Democrat officeholder to step up and challenge a sitting president, especially the first woman to hold the office. They would have to rally behind her, and the base would likely follow. No floor fight, and a unified party.

I don't think this will actually happen unless Biden has a serious medical condition, but it is the only way he could decline to run and keep the party together.

D.A.Y. in Troy, MI, writes: I know AG Merrick Garland is getting a lot flak for allowing the Special Counsel's report to be released as is. However, I think it was the best of a bunch of bad choices.

What sunk Hillary Clinton was not the initial FBI report, but them going back into the investigation just a week before the election (as well as the constant stream of embarrassing e-mails released by the Russians whenever she seemed to be gaining momentum).

Garland is looking at the fact that Hur is clearly a political operative who cares little about professionalism. Who is to say, if the AG threw the report back in Hur's face and told him to clean it up, he would not release the original report just before the election? By letting it all out with 9 months before the election, it has plenty of time to fade as more important matters replace it in the news cycle. The reaction outside the right-wing echo chamber has been to condemn Hur for editorializing his findings. Garland needed to minimize the damage, and I think he did as good a job as he could given the circumstances.

Garland's issue is putting this into Hur's hands in the first place. As many have pointed out, in Garland's attempts to keep from looking political, he has allowed things to become political. That is because everything is political for Republicans. It's just another case of us living in a country where one major party has given up on governing to pursue power in the most cynical ways possible.

Though I think this shows that when Republicans accuse left-leaning civil servants of using their positions for politics, they're projecting.

C.W. in Carlsbad, CA, writes: I submit to you the front page of CNN website this Saturday morning. Not a word about Biden:

Indeed, there is nary a mention of Biden

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: You wrote: "There is no question that many Democratic and independent voters are not enthusiastic about [Biden] as the nominee. But it appears that they are not especially enthusiastic about their lack of enthusiasm."

That's it, exactly and succinctly, and I don't think anyone in the various media has really noticed that yet...

(We'd like to have a better choice than Biden, but we love running an incumbent who has already beaten Trump.)

P.M. in Marlborough, MA, writes: Just a quick comment: I think that Nikki Haley's spectacular second place in Nevada disproved one of your basic tenets: "you can't beat somebody with nobody."

Politics: Trump Legal

D.S. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: I want to commend A.R. in Los Angeles for the clear and eloquent analysis of the circuit court immunity decision. I will further add that I understand an additional requirement that reduces delay opportunity: If Trump does not go directly to SCOTUS in an appeal, then the mandate will be returned to the presiding judge tomorrow, while TFG decides whether to request the en banc decision. Nice, eh?

J.E. in Whidbey Island, WA, writes: It appears that SCOTUS will require that the Colorado Secretary of State place Trump on the ballot, but might not actually rule on his eligibility for office. When the ballots are designed, perhaps his name should be accompanied by a footnote: "The Colorado Supreme Court has determined that this candidate is ineligible to hold this office."

J.B. in Bend, OR, writes: I sent a previous e-mail predicting that the Supreme Court would take the easy off-ramp of saying the Fourteenth Amendment doesn't apply to primaries. After listening to how oral argument went, I think the Court is going to come up with a different off-ramp: individual states cannot use the Fourteenth Amendment to rule on a national election. The Court will allow (if they even mention it) that states can use it in their own elections, even for federal office, but they cannot do so in a presidential election because that affects the entire country.

The decision will probably be 9-0, though there could be a couple of concurrences that add something or other but will not dissent.

The more interesting question that will remain unanswered is what happens if Trump is elected. Someone will qualify as a plaintiff and bring the suit in the D.C. trial court, which will start the normal process of verdict and appeal up to SCOTUS. Assuming a trial court disqualifies Trump, then the Court of Appeals or SCOTUS would be asked to enjoin Trump from assuming office until the question is answered.

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: You wrote that the resolution from Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) declaring that Donald Trump did not engage in insurrection colossally stupid, and I don't disagree. But consider this alternative interpretation: Stefanik, the Harvard graduate, recognizes the existential threat posed by the continued operation of the Orange Jesus to the long term viability of the GOP. She realizes all or part of the argument you pose in the item and how it puts the congressional imprimatur on Trump's disqualification for any office of trust under the United States. She convinces Gaetz to go along, and he, like the rest of MAGAworld, only sees Stefanik trying to help Trump, and signs on, further burnishing her credibility with the base. It fails, in the worst-case scenario described, and now Trump is barred from office forever, or until a 2/3 majority in both houses removes the disability, which is pretty close to forever. No one suspects her real motivations, nobody gets death threats, Trump is effectively neutered, and Stefanik gets to go on to bigger and better things, perhaps even the White House (and maybe even has the opportunity to re-moderate her positions). Sure, colossally stupid might very well be the correct interpretation. Or maybe she's a subtle genius!

My favorite part of liberal court decisions (by which I mean decisions that support what liberals want) is when they quote conservative justices to make their case. The D.C. Circuit court of Appeals, in denying Trump his fondest wish to be immune to prosecution, quoted Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Brett Kavanaugh, making it that much harder to overturn the decision since they would be ruling against their own arguments. Beautiful.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: While reading the oral arguments in Trump v. Anderson, it seemed to me that the Supremes' questions were remarkably consistent in their inconsistency; remarkably consistent in that they will go into convulsions to swallow a microbe while gulping down a blue whale with ease; and it is remarkably consistent in playing Pontius Pilate, by washing their hands of the very problems that they are supposed to deal with. Now, I am not a lawyer, I can certainly struggle with some legal theories and, of course, sometimes the questions in oral arguments can be misleading to the outcome. Still the media has declared the Court's decision and thinks SCOTUS will say Trump should be on the ballot because there is no law that activates Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment. If that is the path the Court decides to head down, then it needs to address some very serious questions that it has just glossed negligently over in order to get rid of this hot potato.

A great deal of the discussion about Section 3 treats the clause like it is some strange, completely original new beast, but to me it is exactly the same as Article II, Section 1, Clause 5—the Qualifications for Presidency Clause. Section 3 does is add another qualification to those of being a natural-born citizen, 35 years of age and a resident for 15 years. Now, if the Court is going to say that Colorado does not have the authority to ban Trump, then who has the authority to keep Barron Trump or Arnold Schwarzenegger from running for president? Does the Qualifications Clause have enacting legislation that provides a mechanism to prevent persons not qualified to be removed from the ballot? In fact, what percentage of the Constitution has enacting legislation to support what it declares? I'm going to make a wild guess that it is a low percentage. To me that question skims over the most troubling aspect of their line of reasoning, in that it implies that the Constitution needs further legislation to validate it. I was always under the impression that the Constitution was the supreme law of the nation, that no legislation could usurp it. So, does that mean that the parts of the Constitution that don't have subsequent enacting laws or mechanisms are not valid and are more aspirational than empirical?

Consistent inconsistency should be a patented trademark for the Roberts Court, where states' rights are the law of the land, except when it is inconvenient. I find it funny—and that's funny in a "I feel nauseous" kind of way—the when Trump and his cronies in thought tried to get President Obama thrown out of office for being "born in Kenya," the Supremes refused to hear Kerchner v. Obama without comment. One would think the "best and the brightest" legal minds would have at that point would have at least made a notation that there is no legislation to enforce the qualifications for the presidency. We all hoped, at the time, that it was because there was no factuality to the claims, but since then the Roberts Court has decided to not to listen to facts, except when they're "special super alternative facts." When facts are fungible, consistency is the first victim. It's no wonder that Texas feels safe to ignore SCOTUS' rulings or that the Biden administration is reluctant to enforce. Why should anyone when they know that legality is a multiple choice question with pick-you-choice winners?

During the oral arguments, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh brought up that keeping Trump off the ballot would disenfranchise his supporters. I am compelled to point out that this Court has no business worrying about disenfrachment when it continually undercuts the Voting Rights Act; nor should it have the audacity to concern itself about popular opinion when it consistently flouts it. Besides being cribbed from one of Trump's stump "speeches," this consideration is completely irrelevant to this case for a number of reasons. First off, this case is about Trump being on the ballot of the party primary. For the Originalists in the Court, primaries are a recent invention and not mentioned in the Constitution. The two parties, on both a national and state level, control the primaries and caucuses. States run elections. They also provide additional qualifications to run for the presidency that are most definitely not in the Constitution. Just this week, I read about how the Republicans in Nevada have a $55,000 filing fee to run in the caucus. If I was running for President, I certainly couldn't afford that filing fee, so doesn't that disenfranchise my potential supporters? In addition to filing fees, states require a number of signatures and have filing deadlines.

Rereading the Qualifications Clause, I see no mention of filing fees, deadlines or required number of signatures. Again, I'm going to go out on a pretty sturdy limb and guess that the requirements to get on the ballot differ from state to state. Every election cycle has news stories about how third-party candidates did not meet the requirements to be on the ballots of certain states. If we're going to be concerned about disenfrachment of supporters, then is Kavanaugh saying that some supporters are more worthy of consideration than others? Of course, these criteria to be on the ballot make sense because otherwise our ballots would look like phone books. Should the Court even concern themselves about a candidate's supporters, since if they chose to throw away their vote on an ineligible candidate for office, that is their right? I wonder how many people who write in Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck for President have been disenfranchised because their candidates are imaginary cartoon characters? Which brings me to the most compelling reason why the disenfranchisement of Trump's supporters is a worthless argument, in that if Colorado or any state leaves Trump's name off the ballot, his supporters still have a mechanism to register their support, the write-in ballot. After all, just recently, Joe Biden won the New Hampshire primary with his name (by his choice) not on the official ballot. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) won re-election even though she was not her party's official candidate. But then, those pesky facts have no place in the Supremes' schemes and shakedowns.

Since judges like to deal in hypotheticals, here's one I think they should consider: What if Vladimir Putin were to run for president, even though he is disqualified by two of the qualifications in the Constitution? What is the mechanism to prevent him from being president? Should he even be on the ballot, or if his name was written in, what is to keep him from assuming office? If blue states refuse to certify his electors, but red states do (and that's sadly not outside the realm of possibility) then do we rely on Congress to deny his candidacy on January 6th? If they did deny Putin the presidency (again sadly not a given for today's Republican Party), what then happens to the election? Do we do a mulligan? What if he wins again, since the states can't rule on eligibility and there is no law keeping him from running over and over? On Inauguration Day, would Chief Justice Roberts swear in Putin to the presidency even though he knows without a doubt that Putin being elected to the presidency is the height of unconstitutionality, or would he just go along humpadumpalumpa because there's no law passed by Congress that would throw Putin off the ballot or make his write-in ballots ineligible? Wouldn't it make more sense that instead of letting it get to the point of becoming a constitutional crisis, we put the horse before the cart and not let it get to that point? What is the thing that can keep us from such a crisis?

That last question brings me to the part about this week's arguments and the Roberts Court in general that infuriates me the most. The Roberts Court consistently and without fail cowers from the law. When faced with difficult problems, ones that require resolutions, the Court falls back on two avenues to avoid making tough decisions. They either focus on some minutiae, like they did with Trump, which kicks the can down the road because the Court is too timid and/or too partisan to tackle the tough problems. The other avenue, which it also took with Trunp, is to say "Well gosh darn, it's a cryin' shame the Congress doesn't make a law addressing this issue. What cowardness and dereliction of duty is the Roberts Court!

Ironically, in the Trump v. Anderson arguments, the legal precedent that was much discussed was Marbury v. Madison, in which the Marshall Court took the branch of the government that was the least defined by the Constitution and made it an integral part of our system of checks and balances. While Roberts and his hack justices dither and prattle about the mechanism for upholding the Constitution, they need to look in the mirror and realize that they are the intended mechanism, if only they weren't such a feckless and dissolute Court. The only justification for their lifetime appointments is that it leaves them removed from the pressures of the mob mentality, that they can make tough decisions without fear of losing their jobs by the elective process. If the Roberts Court wants to be bought and paid for, well, they won't be the first; if the Roberts Court wants to throw ethics and morals to the wind, well, they won't be the first there either; and if the Roberts Court wants to blatantly be a willing tool of one party, again they won't be the first or last. But is it too much to ask that they at least try to pretend to have a spine? The issue before the court this week had nothing to do with mechanisms or disenfranchisement. This case should have revolved around whether the president is an officer of the government and whether Trump incited an insurrection. While I certainly believe the answer to both is "yes," I can also see that there are some shades of grey that should be explored. But no, these justices would rather discuss how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. We should just stitch Big Red "L's" on their robes.

G.W. in Boca Raton, FL, writes: In response to the question from V.F. in Orlando. Aileen Cannon has issued very few appealable orders. Paperless orders and calendaring orders are not appealable. So Special Counsel Jack Smith does have much to work with. That said my understanding is the 11th circuit has a "3 strikes and you are out" rule. Cannon has two strikes, if you count her intereference with the initial search warrant. She finally issued an order this week that could be appealable and Smith has filed a motion to reconsider, because she got the law wrong. He basically told her, via his motion, if she didn't reverse herself, he would appeal to the 11th Circuit. Giving her a chance to reverse herself is appropriate. She probably will reverse herself, but stay tuned.

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: You had a question about whether a motion to dismiss is indicative of guilt.

Every case, whether criminal or civil, begins with some pleading (by whatever name it is called) that alleges certain facts about what the defendant did. The purpose of a trial is to determine if those facts are true.

Because the trial will determine the facts, a defendant may not file a motion to dismiss by arguing that he did not do what the prosecution or plaintiff claims that he did. Instead, whether expressly stated in the motion or not, the essence of a motion to dismiss is the argument that "even if I did what the plaintiff/prosecution alleges that I did, there should not be a trial because": (1) what they said I did is not a crime/basis for civil liability; or (2) I have some form of legal immunity. So filing a motion to dismiss does not concede that the allegations are true. Instead, it is an assertion that it does not matter if the allegations are true or not.

Politics: Foreign Affairs

D.G. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: In your response to R.L. in Alameda, who asked why Israel receives aid from the U.S. while the Gazans do not, you missed a couple of crucial points:

  1. The "aid" to Israel is enshrined in the 1979 Camp David Agreement negotiated between the U.S., Israel, and Egypt. According to the terms, the U.S. provides Israel $3 billion per year credit towards purchase of American-made weaponry, (Egypt also receives aid, but in cash). For that aid Israel provides the items you mentioned, and other undisclosed "services," including the storage of in-theatre munitions for U.S. forces in the region, intelligence, and more.

  2. It is not just 12 people of UNWRA who were complicit. The whole organization is substantially supportive of Hamas. It has been known for years that UNRWA, who runs the schools, is perpetuating incitement against Jews and Israel through the books they publish, the maps on the walls showing Palestine replacing Israel, and other similar visual aids. We knew they were funneling the aid to Hamas, rather than to the population at large. We knew they were allowing Hamas and Islamic Jihad to use the school yards as launching pads for missiles against Israel.

    And now the extent of UNRWA's deep complicity has been established beyond anybody's ability to doubt. They allowed Hamas to store weapons in schools and hospitals. They were even providing the electric power to Hamas' main data center in Gaza under their own main headquarters.

    And mind you, the Palestinians are the ONLY group in the world who inherit the "refugee" title, for the 4th generation now. The standard is that the title does not convey to descendants, except for the Palestinians. Why? Why are they so unique compared to all the millions around the world who are real first-generation refugees? Those are more deserving of our aid.

S.S. in Washington, DC, writes: Further to R.L. in Alameda's question about the U.S. pause in contributions to UNRWA, the Congressional Research Service offers an interesting data point: "So far in FY2024, the United States has provided $121 million to UNRWA for Palestinian refugees."


"The pause includes approximately $300,000 in unobligated FY2024 funds and just over $2.5 million in obligated but unpaid balances for FY2023."

So, for FY2024, the pause equates to about 0.25% of the U.S. commitment.

M.G. in Chicago, IL, writes: I believe you forgot one very important and perhaps most self-serving reason for U.S. military support of Israel. It is the best testing ground for weapons and how those weapons compare/compete against the U.S.'s number one military rival, Russia. I suspect information on the performance of U.S. weapons and tactics are a bargain and the most practical way to do large-scale analysis of such weapons.

S.H. in Hanoi, Vietnam, writes: I wanted to follow up on a previous Freudenfreude item, namely, the funding of PEPFAR—President George W. Bush's initiative to combat the HIV epidemic, and his signature accomplishment in the world of public health. And it is worth reminding you that I am not a disinterested player in this, as about 75% of my salary is funded by PEPFAR.

As a quick recap, since its inception in 2003, the PEPFAR program has spent more than $100 billion on HIV treatment programs, mainly in Africa, and is responsible for saving up to 20 million lives or more of people infected with HIV. Since its inception, PEPFAR had been supported in a bipartisan manner until the Republicans regained control of the House in 2020. Since then, members of the Freedom Caucus and their allies have attempted to stop PEPFAR funding, ostensibly because of the Biden administration's decision to allow PEPFAR funds to go to organizations that either provide abortions, provide referrals and information on abortion, or advocate for abortion services (although the PEPFAR funds aren't for these activities).

Following the many turbulent months the House has experienced since August, it appears to be that PEPFAR funding will not be cut to zero—that's the good news. The bad news, however, concerns the mechanism of PEPFAR's funding. PEPFAR had previously been funded in 5-year increments, which allows for more strategic, long-term planning; moreover it allows NGOs working in the HIV sector to develop a stable human resources plan for the work, since turnover is much higher when people know the funding of a given project is over in a few months and may not be renewed. And it means that PEPFAR funding becomes another piece in the ongoing political battles that have led to shutdowns and near-shutdowns over the past many years.

So while the money pipeline will continue to flow for at least another year, the odds are at least even as to whether the money will have the same impact it has in the past, as supply chains and NGOs servicing the community may dissolve, leading to grants going to less experienced organizations, who often need years to learn to navigate the local political systems. It's hard to know exactly how it's going to play out, but on the whole I am not encouraged, and like so many other things in the U.S. government for which there is clear and significant bipartisan support, it may be far less effective in the years to come.

This NPR overview from late September gives a comprehensive breakdown of the situation, and at the end explains the potential implications of a 5-year to 1-year funding mechanism.

Hope that helps explain the back end of these battles in Washington.

All Politics Is Local

B.K. in Hell's Kitchen, New York, writes: Last weekend, I visited my sister, who happens to live in NY-03 (in the house where I was born and raised). I asked for her assessment of this week's special election.

Now, my sister is in an interesting situation. She has worked for local government for 35 years. The local government is tightly controlled and run by the Republican Party. However, my sister is a registered Democrat.

Anyway, E.K. from Massapequa believes Mazi Pilip (R) will win. Her reason is that the local Republican Party is extraordinarily well-organized and efficient. This is based on her spending 35 years at the edge of their beehive. And she has told many, many stories over the years which substantiate her view.

On the other hand, the local Democratic Party is the opposite. One memory stands out for me. When my parents both retired, they decided to get involved closely with the Democrats. They were really looking forward to it. However, they ended up quitting, due to the inefficiency and disorganization they experienced. And they too had stories.

In addition, last weekend, as we were driving around, I saw a bunch of Pilip signs, but not a single Suozzi sign.

I like to think of my sister as being very politically astute. But I'm hoping this time she is wrong (and so does she).

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: Though the NY-03 seat, formerly held by "George Santos," will likely be filled by former Democratic congressman Tom Suozzi, I wanted to inform everyone that another Democratic seat here in the Empire State was recently vacated by Rep. Brian Higgins. He resigned from Congress to become CEO of a theatre company in Buffalo. To date, there has been no word on when the election to fill this seat will take place.

So assuming Suozzi wins NY-03, there will be 219 GOP members and 213 Democratic members in the House.

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: Regarding NJ-07: I know, I know, it's an almost-even district, the Democrats avoided a primary fight, and it's a presidential year. Still, my early money is on Tom Kean Jr. (R). The name is still magic in Jersey. And Sue Altman's current employer, "Working Families Alliance" sounds kind of like... socialism?

I hope I'm wrong.

S.B. in Hood River, OR, writes: J.T. in Marietta took issue with the February 2 Schadenfreude. The Oregon constitutional amendment (measure 113) was approved by the voters after the Republicans used quorum jumping for an unprecedented three years in a row. This wasn't a simple protest, they completely shut down the legislature, leaving dozens of issues unresolved. The frustration felt by the voters was bipartisan. Measure 113 passed with over 68% of the vote.

The measure is generous, with over 10 days unexcused absences required to be declared ineligible. The Killer Bees mentioned by J.T. could have performed their 1979 protest twice in one Oregon session, and would not have run afoul of the law. Oregonians expect their representatives to show up to work for their paychecks, just like the rest of us do. And the measure seems to have had the desired effect. At least from early indications, the current session is shaping up to be more bipartisan in nature. I would call that a successful ballot initiative.

G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: J.A. in Puerto Armuelles wrote: "$236 million was spent on the last U.S. Senate election in Arizona two years ago." and I feel compelled to point out how strongly that indicates the superiority of the American electoral system over the Canadian one.

In the last NATIONAL Canadian election, the total spending by the FIVE main political parties came to around CDN$82.8 million (that's about US$62.175 million) in a country with around 39 million people. That works out to about US$1.60 per person. In Arizona, on the other hand, where there are around 7.26 million people, the expenditure worked out to around US$32.50 per person.

Obviously if the Canadians are only spending 4.92% as much as the Americans are in "selecting" their government that means that the US system is around 20 times better... right?

(V) & (Z) respond: Wonder what the 'Nades might be doing with all that money they're saving. Provisioning an invasion force, perhaps? The Canadian cavalry undoubtedly requires a great deal of moose food.

History Matters: Evil Americans Edition

M.S. in Manhattan, NY, writes: To add to your list of semi-famous evildoers of American history, I would add Ronald Reagan's master of dirty tricks, Lee Atwater, as a most toxic and still-resonant bridge between Donald Segretti and Newt Gingrich.

As an aside, I was walking with a friend behind Newt Gingrich at the BookExpo, the publishing industry's convention, maybe 10 years ago. Gingrich, probably hawking a memoir, was limping as he trumbled down an aisle. Right behind him, my friend asked me why I thought Gingrich was limping. And I'm pleased to say the ear of Newt heard my answer: " I hope somebody did to him what he did to this country for all those years."

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: This nominee may depend on one's politics, and perhaps she's not quite "almost completely forgotten" (though I only became aware of her in the last few years), but I'll nominate Phyllis Schlafly. From Wikipedia: "She held paleoconservative social and political views, opposed feminism, gay rights and abortion, and successfully campaigned against ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution." Who the hell campaigns against equal rights?

A.J. in Palmer, MA, writes: I would nominate the award-winning scientist Thomas Midgley Jr.

A chemical and mechanical engineer, he discovered that tetraethyllead (a.k.a. TEL, a.k.a. Ethyl) improved gasoline's fuel efficiency and eliminated noisy engine knocking. Of course, he had many accomplices in making leaded gasoline ubiquitous, but I find him particularly culpable in this dirty deed. Lead was known as a serious toxin even in ancient times, so this Cornell-educated scientist couldn't plausibly claim ignorance of leaded gasoline's potential danger to life before successfully creating it. More damning, though, were the deaths of fifteen workers and the lead poisoning of many others in the first Ethyl manufacturing plants. Despite these warning signs, he never ceased participating in Ethyl's early development, even after his own bouts of lead poisoning from Ethyl exposure. In fact, to help quell the public's concerns about Ethyl's safety, in a 1924 press conference, Midgley poured Ethyl on his hands, inhaled Ethyl vapors from a bottle for a full minute, and claimed he could repeat this demonstration every day without getting sick. After that brazen lie, he also determined—wrongly—in 1925 that one could work with 1 part Ethyl in 1300 parts gasoline without health precautions.

To this day, hundreds of thousands of people, even after leaded gasoline was (mostly) banned in the U.S. and much of the world, die from lead poisoning every year, to say nothing for the myriad non-lethal health problems of lead poisoning. Leaded gasoline undoubtedly made all these problems far worse, with contamination still found in soil near most roadways and near local airports—propeller planes still use leaded gasoline. In fact, lead contamination was so widespread from engine exhaust that its harmful neurological effects may be part of the reason crime rates in the U.S. spiked in the postwar years and started declining in the 1990s after most leaded fuel had been phased out of production.

In a dark coda, with Albert Leon Henne, Midgley later developed the refrigerant and propellant Freon, whose mass adoption for appliances and aerosols lead to the ozone depletion crisis. However, by T.J.R. from Metuchen's "reprehensible ideas" standard, Freon might not qualify Midgley for the evil lesser-known Americans list, since I'm not aware of any evidence that he or anyone else suspected that Freon could lead to a worldwide environmental catastrophe. Nevertheless, he'd had years to think better of his work on bringing leaded gasoline to the masses, yet he persevered, deceived, and bungled until he left the world with an incalculably poisonous legacy.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Do you rate Roger B. Taney as more evil than Henry Billings Brown? Taney's opinion in Dred Scott is arguably the worst decision in Supreme Court history, precipitating the Civil War four years later. Moreover, it was utterly gratuitous—after finding that Scott had voluntarily returned to Missouri, a slave state, mooting his claim, Taney could have stopped. Instead, he went on to write that Black Americans had "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." Or is Taney too (in)famous to make the list? In that case, I'd also give consideration to James Clark McReynolds, a sadistic bigot and one of the "Four Horsemen of Reaction" who repeatedly struck down New Deal legislation on specious Substantive Due Process grounds.

I'd also nominate Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames, the most damaging spies who ever sold out the United States.

(V) & (Z) respond: We did indeed exclude Taney on the basis that he's still pretty well known.

C.J. in Redondo Beach, CA, writes: On the question of forgotten Americans who were destructive, etc., I'd go with James Clark McReynolds. Not only were his opinions lousy, he was also arguably the biggest jack wagon to ever sit on the court, as none of his colleagues liked him on a personal level either.

(And not to defend A. Mitchell Palmer, since he went off his nut, but he didn't go after perceived radical leftists until his own house was bombed. In fact, prior to the attempted bombing, he was releasing those of German ancestry who had been detained under suspicion of helping the Central Powers during World War I. It doesn't excuse his actions, but it does help explain them.)

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes: I doubt many Americans could name Roy Cohn, but he was involved in a lot of terrible things: the Rosenbergs' espionage trial, Joseph McCarthy's Red Scare (and the related "Lavender Scare" persecution of gay men), being the eventually-disbarred lawyer for Mafia bosses and other sketchy people, and enabling one of the sleaziest real estate developers ever, namely... one Donald J. Trump. Ken Auletta wrote, in an Esquire profile of Cohn: "He fights his cases as if they were his own. It is war. If he feels his adversary has been unfair, it is war to the death. No white flags. No Mr. Nice Guy. Prospective clients who want to kill their husband, torture a business partner, break the government's legs, hire Roy Cohn. He is a legal executioner—the toughest, meanest, loyalest, vilest, and one of the most brilliant lawyers in America."

J.M. in Heidelberg, Germany, writes: I think Lyndon LaRouche deserves a mention. In 2000, the DNC ruled that he could not be awarded any delegates to the national convention, so he tried to obtain a delegate elected from Democrats Abroad. He lived in Germany at the time and several of his followers were elected delegates from local chapters to the Germany caucus. After they misbehaved, they were removed by the Heidelberg police. The Democrats Abroad Germany Chair used the DNC letter as the basis for removal from the meeting. The Chair was the author of this letter.

M.B.F. in Oakton, VA, writes: William M. "Boss" Tweed, for corruption, venality, and election fraud, all on a breathtaking scale.

Theodore Bilbo, Democratic Senator from Mississippi, often cited as the most extreme racist ever to sit in the United States Senate, at least in the 20th century, and who reportedly threw an abusive fit whenever a Black person was in his presence, in any capacity whatever, even an elevator operator.

Orval Faubus, 1950s Governor of Arkansas, whose refusal to comply with Brown v. Board of Education on even a token basis (calling out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent it). He placed nine Black high school children in mortal peril, partly because he invited a mob to assemble in Little Rock to protest integration, and only backed down when President Eisenhower nationalized the Guard and sent in elements of the 101st Airborne, who stayed to guard students for the entire 1957-58 school year.

B.H. Frankfort, IL, writes: Lester Maddox should be on the list of evil Americans. He turned his restaurant in Georgia into a segregationist's shrine. He sold the restaurant rather than serve Black people, and became governor of Georgia by stoking white racist anger.

D.W.B. in Waynesville, NC, writes: I agree with your list of evil Americans, but as a lifelong baseball fan I feel encouraged to nominate the "pro-segregationalist" Cap Anson (primarily a first baseman for the Cubs) and Kenesaw Mountain Landis (first commissioner of baseball). Thanks for trying to ruin the National Pastime, dudes...


O.E. in Greenville, SC, writes: Your reply to J.A. in Woodstock quoted a reference to Sherlock Holmes ejaculating. I can do it even better; in "The Speckled Band," Holmes apologized for "knocking-up" Watson, not long after Mrs. Hudson had knocked Holmes up! (Apparently it's British slang for waking someone up...)

D.J.M. in Salmon Arm, BC, Canada, writes: You clearly recognize that "the meanings of words change over time, and one cannot use the modern meaning if it's not accurate." However, I would argue that the term you cite, "ejaculate," does remain accurate, especially for politicians. For example, "Nikki Haley, you know they, .. Nikki Haley is in charge of security," Trump ejaculated. Or, in reference to the Middle East, Biden ejaculates, "The president of Mexico did not want to open up the gate". Meanwhile, patiently, the press waits for Mitch McConnell to ejaculate. The gerontocracy rules.

M.C. in Koorda, WA, Australia, writes: It sounds like your spell-checker has been hacked by those pesky Canadians!

(V) & (Z) respond: We are sceptical that our neighbours to the north would be willing to put in the labour to do something so uncivilised, eh.

Final Words

J.H. in San Luis Obispo, CA, writes: In response to B.H. in Frankfort, who suggested the Last Words for last week: I did a cursory online search, and discovered that B.P. Roberts was Elizabeth Pearl "Betty" Williamson Roberts. According to her gravestone, she was only 1 month past her 50th birthday when she died. Clearly, she was not a hypochondriac. I seriously doubt that she died laughing—more like frustrated, exasperated, possibly even angry. I would call the humor sardonic.

I would also note that women have traditionally been viewed in our society as hypochondriacs largely because the (traditionally male) medical establishment has systematically ignored women's health issues. As it turns out, there are some very significant differences between women and men when it comes to health and disease. For example, women's heart-disease symptoms are frequently very different from men's, and are likely to be dismissed or overlooked. Even more compelling, four out of five people with autoimmune diseases are women, but this ratio is even worse for some diseases such as lupus (90% female) and Sjogren's (95%). Back in Pearl's day, it took over 6 years of symptoms before the average Sjogren's patient finally got a diagnosis (now that has been reduced to 2.8 years). To make matters worse, until very recently, women were systematically excluded from drug trials—it was assumed that their response to a drug would be just like a man's. And, of course, when women complained about unusual or severe side effects from drugs, they were dismissed as—wait for it—hypochondriacs.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb10 Saturday Q&A
Feb09 A Great Day for Donald Trump, Part I: Let It Roll
Feb09 A Great Day for Donald Trump, Part II: What's On My Mind
Feb09 A Great Day for Donald Trump, Part III: Old Nevada Moon
Feb09 A Bad Week for Mike Johnson: I'll Never Be Free
Feb09 I Read the News Today, Oh Boy: Black Is The Color of My True Love's Hair
Feb09 This Week in Schadenfreude: When It All Goes South
Feb09 This Week in Freudenfreude: Take Me to Your Party
Feb08 Senate Republicans Block the Border Bill They Wrote
Feb08 Biden Will Veto a Stand-Alone Bill Providing Aid Only to Israel
Feb08 Could the Turtle Become Extinct?
Feb08 Some Takeaways from the Appeals Court's Decision
Feb08 Poll: Americans Want a Verdict on Trump's Insurrection Case before the Election
Feb08 The 14th Amendment Will Rise Again--Today
Feb08 Marianne Williamson Is Out
Feb08 Democrats and Republicans Are Worried about Democracy--but for Different Reasons
Feb08 Candidate Quality Revisited
Feb08 Florida Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Abortion Initiative
Feb08 The General Election Now Starts in Swing District NJ-07
Feb07 L'Etat, Ce N'est Pas Moi
Feb07 A Failure at Both Ends, Part I: The Impeachment of Alejandro Mayorkas
Feb07 A Failure at Both Ends, Part II: The Border Act
Feb07 Gaetz, Stefanik Propose Resolution Declaring Trump Did Not Engage in Insurrection
Feb07 Nevadans Head to the Polls
Feb07 Bye, Ronna
Feb07 After ActBlue, This Was the Next Obvious Step
Feb06 The Battle Over the Border Bill Has Begun, But May Already Be Over
Feb06 Today's the Day for Nevada
Feb06 Are You Ready for Some Football?
Feb06 Today's Episode of "How the House Turns"
Feb06 Here Comes Da Judges
Feb06 Better Update Your Resume, Ronna
Feb06 New Hampshire Might Count, After All
Feb05 Should Biden Take the Northern Route or the Southern Route?
Feb05 Trump Has Pulled Even with Biden Among Union Members
Feb05 Houston, We Have a Border Bill
Feb05 Johnson Tries to Cut Off the Senate Border Bill with a Bill that Supports Only Israel
Feb05 Trump's Trial Schedule May Be Upended
Feb05 Fani Willis Confirms Relationship with Nathan Wade
Feb05 MAGAworld May Be Risking a Backlash by Attacking Taylor Swift
Feb05 Andy Kim Leads Tammy Murphy in New Jersey Senate Primary
Feb05 The TV Ads in the Race To Replace Katie Porter Are Getting Nasty
Feb05 Some of the Squad Members Are Going to Face Tough Primaries
Feb05 Wisconsin Edges Closer to Degerrymandering Its Maps
Feb04 Biden 1, Everyone Else 0
Feb04 Sunday Mailbag
Feb03 Saturday Q&A
Feb02 Biden Sanctions Four Israelis
Feb02 Behind Closed Doors: Biden's Sharp Words about Trump
Feb02 Trump Legal News: Fight Fire with Fire?