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Ow, my head hurts

 

Finally:

Obama is heading into a re-election campaign with plans to step up his attacks against an unpopular Congress, concluding that he cannot pass any major legislation in 2012 because of Republican hostility toward his agenda, according to a senior White House official.

 Here’s what I don’t understand.  Why wasn't it obvious, by the time of the passage of the health care reform act, that Obama would not be able to pass any major legislation in 2011? They compromised from the start, typically, by adopting a Republican plan – it was Romneycare before it was Obamacare – and the Republicans chose to oppose their own policy.   When the Republicans took the house in the fall of 2010, and Mitch McConnell declared it was the party’s top goal to deny Obama a second term, why was the lesson, in Obama’s mind, that Democrats needed to move in the Republcans’ direction?  Hadn’t that strategy been completely discredited by then?

Why has it taken three years for Obama to realize that he has no good faith bargaining partner on the other side?  Has he realized, even now, that he never did?

The culprit seems to be David Plouffe, and his reasoning seems to have been the point the journalist makes halfway through the article: “For Mr. Obama, a heavily partisan strategy carries the risk of alienating independent and moderate voters who are fed up with Washington’s gridlock.”  There are a number of things that are obviously wrong with this.

First, there is no such thing as the independent and moderate voter.  The voters who swing back and forth from election to election are “low information” voters who have no idea how anything works or who stands for what.  If you ask them what they look for in a candidate, they will invariably tell you that they look for someone who stands up for what he believes in.  In other words, the best description is that they are persuadable.  And for the last 30 years, Democrats have been failing to stand up to Republican overreach and have continually given ground to Reaganomics.  They do not make the case for Democratic principles to the persuadable.  In other words, they’ve made no effort to capture the voters they want to capture, because they’ve misdescribed them.

The other thing the Obama team doesn’t understand about “independent and moderate voters who are fed up with Washington’s gridlock” is that if they care at all about Washington gridlock, it’s secondary to a concern with jobs.  If the average voter were presented with a choice between getting a job that’s the result of bipartisanship and getting a  job that’s the result of Democrats ramming through their agenda in the most partisan way imaginable, that voter . . . would not give a shit either way.  It’s the job, not the way it’s legislated. 

But the only thing that was ever going to persuade the Obama crew that they’ve been on a fool’s errand is what’s finally happened.  They ran out of other options.  Everything they tried to get anything done has run into a concrete pillar, and they’ve finally decided to walk around it instead of repeatedly bashing their heads into it. 

.

Sat, December 31, 2011 | link

A Solstice Season Win for Atheism

 

Well, it doesn’t get any more blunt than this.  Why do Christians deserve to put up creches on public property and atheists have to shut up and support it with their taxes?

"There's a very militant atheist movement that's trying to drive out vestiges of the truth. They're trying to deny the truth that this nation is founded on Christian principles," Jameson said.

"These people, atheists, a number of them, like Mr. Vix, are bound and determined to drive away from any public place any manifestation that Americans are God-loving people," Jameson added. "This is not fair, this is not just."

 What happened is this.  Santa Monica allows private citizens and groups to put up holiday displays in a public park.  Because the residents of Santa Monica are equal before the law, the system for allocating the public space consists of a random drawing of applicants’ names.  This year, the random selection turned up a higher than usual number of atheists.  The atheists put nothing on the spaces in the park, or put up quotations from the founding fathers and quotations from Supreme Court cases on the separation of church and state.  Nothing that mocked or condemned religion (unlike this, which just strikes me as unnecessary). 

But, despite all logic to the contrary, a random drawing  is not a fair or just method of distributing this  public space.  A fair and just method would be to distribute it to those whose beliefs are true.  That statement speaks volumes about the religious mind.  It consists of a failure to grasp a fundamental feature of rationality.  The question of belief consists not only of what to believe, but also of why one believes it.  “It’s true because it just is,” doesn’t count.  Neither does “It’s true because I need to believe it,” and nor does “It’s true because I was taught it as a child.” 

It’s important to understand what atheists say when they talk about truth. It is not necessarily to say there is no such thing as truth, though some atheists believe that.  It is not necessarily to say that truth, if it exists, is a matter of social convention, though some athieists believe that.  Many, like me, believe that there is truth in the world, and that it includes moral truth.   Moral realism is well explained here. Naturalistic moral realism says moral truth exists in nature by virtue of the natural features of human beings in their natural environment.  Our knowledge of it is approximate, for the same reason that the facts science produces are merely approximate.  We believe hypotheses that are falsifiable in principle, but that have not been falsified -- yet.  Newtonian physics was approximate, Einstein got it about right, superstring theory is closer.  None of them quite state the truth, because stating the truth is not how science works.  It's all approximation.  And naturalistic moral realism makes only the same modest claim.

Think about how modest the moral realist is, compared to the religious believer.  More important, isn't it clear that naturalistic moral realism is compatible with equality than religion is?  The citizen whose beliefs are tentative by nature and subject to disproof is not committed to precluding the consideration of other beliefs.  He thinks his beliefs are more defensible, but that all believers are entitled to defend their beliefs, however incompetently.

Then there's the claim that a fair and just method of distributing public space would be to give it exclusively to the group whose beliefs correspond to the underlying belief system of the government that controls public spaces. 

Except that there is no such underlying philosophy of government.  You can’t jump from the fact that Christianity was the dominant belief system in the founding era to the conclusion that it’s the underlying belief system of government.  The founding fathers could have created a Christian nation.  But they just didn't.  Where the US Constitution is concerned, it’s not the separation clause that establishes this, it’s Article Six, which bans religious tests for public office.  It’s almost impossible to imagine a clearer expression of the principle that government is not the province of religion.

 

Fri, December 23, 2011 | link

Sun, December 18, 2011 | link

Is David Broder the Worst Historian in History?
 
(originally posted August 2010)
 
 David Broder fails again to understand the history he lived through, the history he cites every time he goes chasing his bi-partisan will-o-the-wisp out into the swamp.
 
Of course, Obama's definition of what would constitute wise, farsighted Republican policy may bear no resemblance to what John Boehner or Mitch McConnell, the GOP leaders in Congress, have in mind. But he's probably not expecting the kind of relationship that Lyndon Johnson enjoyed with Everett Dirksen, the Senate Republican leader who provided the votes that allowed passage of the great civil rights statutes of the 1960s.
 

Obama would be well pleased if he could have someone resembling Bob Dole or Howard Baker, Republican Senate leaders who mostly opposed Democratic presidents but made common cause with them on certain national and international issues.

It's just incredible to me how Broder can cite the history of Everett Dirksen and LBJ, and invoke the legacy of Bob Dole and Howard Baker, and yet completely miss the point.
 
The problem is not the personalities of these figures versus the personalities of Boehner and McConnell. The difference is that the beliefs and policies of modern Republicans are far to the right of where Dirkson, Dole, and Baker were.
 
Dirkson supported the Civil Rights Act because he believed in civil rights. Today's Republican darling, Ron Paul, says explicitly that he opposes it, and he does so on the same grounds, states rights, that Dirkson rejected. Bob Dole pushed the Americans With Disabilities Act -- something that would make Glenn Beck's head explode if President Obama proposed it today. Howard Baker was the voice of reason throughout the late Cold War, admired and respected on all sides for his constant efforts to find common ground not only between Democrats and Republicans, but the US and the Soviets.
 
But today's Republicans are the hyper-partisan children of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove; and are steeped in the ideology of Ayn Rand and 'John Birch.' LBJ never sat down for a drink with the Birchers, and he wouldn't have one with Boehner or McConnell today.
 
It's the substance, Broder, not the people. The problem is that the Birchers of yesterday are now the respectable center of the Republican Party.
 
Sat, July 31, 2010 | link

These Are Democrats?

 

Under the contracts agreed to by the UAW and the automakers during the near-collapse of the economy, new hires are paid half the wage that existing workers get.  The Times had an article on this disparity today, and this caught my eye.

During negotiations with Chrysler, the Obama administration called for "maintaining all-in hourly labor costs comparable to its U.S. competitors, including the transplants," according to an April memo describing the Treasury proposal.

 

The administration proposal also called for all new production employees to be paid the $14 rate, expanding a 2007 labor agreement that set up the lower rate, though only for some "non-core" jobs. In doing so, the administration went well beyond the pay cuts the automakers had envisioned, sources said.

 

"From the manufacturer's perspective, the line workers were always going to be getting $28 an hour," said a source familiar with the negotiations and the auto manufacturers' thinking. The person, who lacked authorization to discuss the issue, declined to be named. "Those jobs are difficult. But there are other jobs in the plant, and those are not nearly as stressful. Those were going to be the $14."

 

"The government didn't say $28 an hour was overpaying people," the source said. "But they saw the $14 rate as a way to lower overall labor costs to be competitive."

Think about that.  A labor contract is being negotiated.  The union has made concessions.   The bosses are willing to accept them.  A Democratic administration comes in and forces bigger concessions out of the union.

 

At first, I read it as that there an oversight.  The Obamas went beyond the carmakers' demands by accidentally agreeing to the half-wage for all workers.  A monumental fuck-up that didn't surprise me, but that didn't enrage me either.  These are the same people who negotiate with Republicans by giving concessions up front and then standing there, doe-eyed, waiting for the thugs to give up something in return.  

 

But re-reading it, I realized that they had done this deliberately.  They actually pushed the unions harder and farther than the car companies did.  What the fuck?  I thought of the GM execs in Michael Moore's Roger and Me.  Brain-dead, heartless bastards genuinely baffled and even offended that anyone would fail to see that, of course those jobs in Detroit had to move elsewhere.  Costs lower.  Workers cheaper.  Nothing about the history or community or identity or people of Detroit seemed to have passed, even momentarily, through their heads.  And the Obama people are more brain-dead than those creeps?

 

Of course in both cases it had to be done, right?  Have to compete with companies with lower labor costs.  If a foreign car company has lower costs and ships its products here, then costs have to be lowered here in order to compete, right?

 

No.  It's bullshit.  We have a trade deficit with China because of the way it manipulates its currency.  Their goods are artificially cheap here.  Not only don't we do that, in the name of "free trade," we don't even push the Chinese to stop it. 

 

And there's no reason we can't put up other barriers to goods made in other countries with lower labor costs.  That will retard their development.  So what?  Why should we destroy Detroit --  city that has gone from a million and a half people to half a million people -- so that China and India can grow?   Go to Detroit and walk through the parts of it -- most of it -- that looks like Berlin after the war and tell me that was the right thing to do.   

 

Will trade barriers hurt us?  Well, there won't be as much cheap shit to buy and Wal-Mart.  But more cheap shit at Wal-Mart is not a better life.  If I have to pay $50 for a camping tent instead of $30, but I live in a stable community with good schools, decent roads and parks, and parents who can spend time with their kids and still pay their bills -- I'll take that deal.

 

It's a chase down the spiral, as it is.  The fucking tent costs $30 instead of $50, but if I work at a shitty service job instead of a well paying manufacturing job, $30 looks just like $50 to me.  I have to dig into the budget to find it.  Somehow we were all convinced that people would have the manufacturing  job wage to buy the cheap shit at Wal-Mart with. 

 

Who benefits from "free trade?"  Only the people who benefit from cheap labor.  That would be Wal-Mart. 

 

And Chrysler, GM, and Ford.

 

These are not the values of the Democratic Party I grew up with.  My party built and maintained the middle class, primarily through its support of unions. 

"The idea of the UAW and the steelworkers negotiating so that workers could make it into the middle class, of allowing them to make it as manufacturing workers -- that is all gone," Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University. "And it's difficult to see how they will be able to find their way back."

 

The two-tier agreement "effectively ends many of the principles established 70 years ago in the UAW's birth," Bill Parker, a negotiating committee leader, wrote in an unusual dissent. "For years, the UAW embodied industrial unionism and the gains of the New Deal. So goes the UAW, so goes the American middle class."

Here's the graph that sums it all up.

 

real_wage_productivity_gap.jpg

Every day, Americans go to work and produce real value that  shows up in the top line -- the total productivity of the US that goes up year after year as that wealth is invested, as we produce technical advances, and the labor force expands.  It's our fucking money.  But the bottom line has been flat for over a generation.  In a richer and richer country, the average person gets no more than their parents did for their labor.

 

The line flattens out around 1980 -- the Reagan era begins. 

 

And now the Obamas are doing their best to keep it flat.  Never making the case against "free trade" and stepping in on the side of management because there's just nothing they can do about wages' being undercut by cheap foreign goods.

 

More change I just can't believe.

 

Sun, July 25, 2010 | link

We Will Remember
 
Even setting aside the Guy Fawkes reference, this really stands out in the annals of pompous horseshit:
 

We Will Remember from Republican Governors Association on Vimeo.

The soundtrack is awesome, isn't it?  Pounding the ink stamp is a staple of negative political advertising, but this is the Hammering of the Ink Stamp of Hell wielded by the hand of Satan Himself, echoing back from the Great Hall of the Netherworld.   I have to admit, though, that the requisite Doomsday Chorus isn't quite up to that standard. 

The content, of course, is even more breathtaking.  At the top of the list is the Sharpton clip.  It's not just that it's taken out of context.  The really remarkable thing is the kind of reality editing that I wrote about below.  All the YouTube versions of this clip were posted by wingers, and all are labelled something like "Sharpton admits Obama's a Socialist."  But you don't have to listen all that carefully to understand what Sharpton's saying:

The Fox guy says something like "Some would argue that it's socialism,"  and Sharpton explains that if that's true then the country voted overwhelmingly for socialism.  Because, you see, the country voted overwhelmingly for Obama. 

What, exactly, causes them to miss this?  Is it dishonesty? Stupidity? Bad hearing?  Or just a perceptual filter, so that they honestly don't hear the Fox guy's comment or understand Sharpton's syllogism.  I'll go with perceptual filter for the former and stupidity for the latter.  Maybe it's the irony behind the syllogism.  Irony always seems to throw them.

Then there's the Alcee Hastings clip, which is actually spliced together to say something he didn't say.  What he said is:

“I wish that I had been there when Thomas Edison made the remark that I think applies here: ‘There ain’t no rules around here — we’re trying to accomplish something.’ And therefore, when the deal goes down, all this talk about rules, we make ‘em up as we go along, and I’m here now 18 years, and a significant amount of that time here on this committee under the leadership of the Republicans…”

It takes real balls to misquote someone by splicing their words together with their own quotation of someone else.  And, again, irony.

Hastings's point was that the R's had used "deem and pass" when they were in the majority.  And not only did they use reconciliation for substantive bills -- that technique was pioneered by none other than the Reagan Administration.  Now that was making it up as we go along. 

But speaking of making up the rules, how about the Hastert Rule?  No Democratic bills ever reached the floor for a vote while Denny Hastert was Speaker because he made up something called the "majority of the majority" rule.   A bill came to the floor, not through the regular committee process, but only if a majority of the Republican caucus voted to allow it to. 

And then there's the Medicare Part D vote.  After the standard 15 minute vote, the bill was defeated, so Hastert held the vote open for another three hours until he could switch enough votes.  Innovative and ad hoc!

If only the Democrats could say "We will remember."  But somehow all of this has gone down the memory hole.

Sat, April 24, 2010 | link

Your Weekly Thersday

 

Episeptic Cloacture

 

It's rather too bad for the kittens, but we find ourselves compelled to discuss "epistemic closure," a subject we had planned to avoid, as it is hopelessly middlebrow altogether (adjusts monocle, brushes invisible dust speck from shirt-cuff, flays peasant). It ought to be sufficient to observe that "conservatives" spew all sorts of preposterous cod-intellectual horseshit, and leave it at that. "Epistemic closure" is I suppose a way of saying that nicely enough so you can still have nice polite conversations with the people you've just called morons. Which is of course just wanking. The proper response for the scientist is to drop the specimens in the bell jar and never mind how they caterwaul. The proper response for the blogger is to fill the bell jars with pee.

Sat, April 24, 2010 | link

This Is Your Once Proud Country
 
Conservative bloggers coined a term -- "Bush Derangement Syndrome" -- that is supposed to describe what people like me say and feel about the Cheney Administration's conduct in office.  All I know is that my country used to speak with moral authority against war crimes and other abuses of human rights. 
 
We don't any more, and if anyone hopes otherwise, watch it and weep.
 
 
 
This is not an isolated incident, but none of it is reported in this country -- with rare exceptions like this.  And of course this wasn't discovered by American journalists.  It's the work of WikiLeaks, an organization that is constantly hounded by your government. 
 
The consequence of this is the inevitable, relentless creation of more and more "terrorists" dedicated to our destruction.  How this "makes us safe" or serves our "national security" is beyond me. 
 
The defense of this action is that, as with all military operations, quick life or death decisions have to be made under limited information.
 
The answer is that this is why we have rules of engagement and military law.  The rules of engagement were violated here.  First, there was no imminent threat posed by any of the people killed -- and not only because the killers were in a helicopter apparently out of range of any attack from their targets.  Second, the duty in the aftermath of a military operation that leaves survivors is to keep them alive, if for no other reason than their potential intelligence value.  Instead, you have the killers here saying "C'mon, let us shoot" at the survivors -- who were, you'll note, not only the original targets, but also some people who stopped and tried to help. 
 
Any citizen of this country with the slightest sense of moral responsibility is obligated to watch this video in its entirety.   It was done in your name.
 
Tue, April 6, 2010 | link

Jokers to the Left of Us, Jokers to the Right

 

One of the byproducts of the HCR debate was some seriously threatening behavior by the teapartiers at the Capitol and around the country.  One predictable byproduct of the media's reporting on this was a series of complaints from the right blogosphere that liberals were equally threatening during the Bush years.  And in fact, they have some pretty good evidence of that. 

 

So what’s the difference?  Well, for one thing, nothing comparable to this is ever likely to come out of the Left.

A political climate that's already more overheated than any time in a generation. Plans for a large-scale rally of firearms enthusiasts in the nation's capital. A fast-growing group of (mostly ex-) military and cops that pledges to disobey "unconstitutional orders" from the president, and an "urgent" call from the group's leader to flood Washington to "shout your oaths in the tyrant’s face" -- on the 15th anniversary of the worst home-grown terror incident in U.S. history, the Oklahoma City bombing.

 

What could possibly go wrong?

No matter how violent the Left’s rhetoric got during the Bush years, lefty protesters didn’t show up to their marches equipped to actually carry out their threats.  But a lot of the tea partiers who went to the congressional town meetings last August carrying guns.  One of them showed up armed at an Obama town hall.

 

This “lock and load” behavior is so cartoonish it would be amusing if it weren't so dangerous.  But the important point is that it isn’t accidental or incidental.  It reflects two permanent and defining features of the American Right.

 

Modern conservatism is strongly identified with the Southern states, so much so that, to the extent the Republican party moves their way, it is in danger of becoming a regional party.  That’s a problem for them.  The problem for the rest of us is the culture of honor that permeates the American South.

“Culture of Honor” is a term generally used to describe a culture where avoiding unintentional offense to others, and maintaining a reputation for not accepting improper conduct by others is important to develop, if necessary through violence. It is sometimes referred to less positively as a culture of violence.

 

The term "culture of honor" has been used in particular to describe notable elements of the prevailing culture of the American South. In the view of Hayes in Re-examining the Subculture of Violence in the South, “the term 'honor' as defined here has more to do with the willingness to use violence when it is expected than the more traditional definition of bravery or moral character.”  Some studies suggest that an important cause of high violence rates in the Southern United States is this cultural quality.

Beyond the fact that the culture of honor is a legacy of Scots-Irish ancestry, its origins are unclear.  One possible, but somewhat dubious, explanation ties it to property rights and the fact that Scotch-Irish agriculture involved more herding than farming, with attendant increased dangers of theft and necessary self-help through violence. 

 

Two things about the culture of honor are certain, however.  The first is that the heirs of this culture are conservative, Republican votersThe other thing is that the South has higher rates of violent crime.  It’s plausible to attribute this to the culture of honor – especially given that one of its more prominent features is the practice of dueling.

 

The second structural feature of conservatism that makes threatening behavior at tea parties more dangerous than superficially similar conduct at liberal demonstrations is, of course, the Right’s deeply engrained gun culture.

 

A discussion thread at a Gunslot forum swings quickly from this:

Remember folks: January 20 is just around the corner.
Pelosi, Reid, Obama, and dozens of other Progressive Socialists are ready willing and more able than ever to do all they can to limit the freedom of all but the elite Americans...
taxes on ammo
availability of ammo
taxes and availability of clips...
"fairness doctrine" eliminating our ability to express our concerns...
all will be pushed hard come Feb, Mar, Apr...
stock up now

To this:

I bought a case of 9mm to feed my PPS, P99 and AR-15 9MM. Also bought 500 rounds, .223 200 7.62x39 and some lead .45 ACP. Now i am broke but I got my ammo.
Also bought some tapco stocks and gallil grip. It looks cool. I will not put the pistol grip on it because I need more parts to be 922 compliant.

And this:

i received via UPS my yugo milsurp brass cased 7.62x39 ammo yesterday!i made a deal with a buddy on some gun work so he ordered me 2 cases of ammo.1260 rounds per case in 15 round boxes.2520 rounds plus what i already have leaves me sitting good for ammo.plus for christmas i got a sportsman warehouse $250 gift card,which will be used to buy powder and primers and bullets for reloading.

And this:

Neighbor around the block was chatting me about the Glocks he customizes...
went in and visited an hour or so and got on subject of stocking ammo...
he quietly took me to his gun safe...room enough for his six Glocks...
the rest was tight with fresh boxes of 9mm to feed them...
I have a way to go...but budgeting a little every month.

 

A couple of other things play into this as well, though they're not so clearly the exclusive province of the Right.  First, Wingers are, frankly, kind of gullible.  The proof is in the notorious chain emails that spread misinformation at the speed of light.  If you think these things are innocuous, think again. 

A member of the Hutaree militia charged with federal crimes was upset because she thought that President Barack Obama had signed into law this month a bill that would spend $20 billion to help the terrorist group Hamas settle in the U.S.

 Finally, it’s tempting to say that they’re just dangerously stupid.  There’s no evidence that, say, IQ scores on the Right are lower than on the Left, but there is data correlating their characteristic beliefs with education levels, and it’s not flattering.

 The less education people have had the more likely they are to believe all of these statements. Consider these differences between those with no college education and those with post-graduate education:

• He is a socialist (45% and 20%)
• He wants to take away Americans’ right to own guns (45% and 19%)
• He is a Muslim (43% and 9%)
• He was not born in the United States so is not eligible to be president (32% and 7%)
• He is a racist (28% and 9%)
• He is anti-American (27% and 9%)
• He is doing many of the things Hitler did (24% and 10%).
* * *
These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,320 adults surveyed online between March 1 and 8, 2010 by Harris Interactive.

 

Similarly, there is no evidence of lower intelligence among the Wingers, but their patterns of reasoning are distinctive.  Path-dependence is characteristic of all human perception and reasoning, but it seems that, on the right, the paths lay out in tight little circles.  The Obama state department recently came out in favor of a treaty governing arms exportations by national governments.

The proposed legally binding treaty would tighten regulation of, and set international standards for, the import, export and transfer of conventional weapons.

Supporters say it would give worldwide coverage to close gaps in existing regional and national arms export control systems that allow weapons to pass onto the illicit market.

Nations would remain in charge of their arms export control arrangements but would be legally obliged to assess each export against criteria agreed under the treaty. Governments would have to authorize transfers in writing and in advance.

But a conservative reads this article and crams the news into his obsessive framework:

On Wednesday the Obama administration took its first major step in a plan to ban all firearms in the United States. The Obama administration intends to force gun control and a complete ban on all weapons for US citizens through the signing of international treaties with foreign nations. By signing international treaties on gun control, the Obama administration can use the US State Department to bypass the normal legislative process in Congress. Once the US Government signs these international treaties, all US citizens will be subject to those gun laws created by foreign governments. These are laws that have been developed and promoted by organizations such as the United Nations and individuals such as George Soros and Michael Bloomberg. The laws are designed and intended to lead to the complete ban and confiscation of all firearms.

Put a gun in his hand and send this guy to Washington to meet a few thousand well-armed conservatives like him, and we have a problem that goes way beyond a few Bush-hating signs.

 

Mon, April 5, 2010 | link

Simple Answers to Stupid Questions
 

Noam Scheiber on the financial reform bill now being written in Congress:

According to this same official, the administration doesn’t expect to have trouble finding one or two Republican senators to break a filibuster, even for a hawkish bill. “Frankly there’s a category of [Republican] who is fed up with the party on the issue. They’ve told me so privately,” the official says. “They don’t want to be caught on wrong side of it.” Which means Democrats have the ability to force Wall Street to move their way—not just on the consumer agency, but across the board. The only question is whether they use it.

No, they won't.

 

Mon, April 5, 2010 | link

Your Weekly Thersday
 

Al Gore... or ROMULANS?!???!!!

 

"I think if you asked most Americans which is the Bigger Threat, Global Warming or Romulans, they would say, "Less Filling!" I know I would, and if you're like me, and I know I am, you would also say, 'Tastes Great.'"

 

 

Mon, April 5, 2010 | link

Victimhood

 

Here’s the incomparable Michelle Bachman blaming the Democrats for the threats made against them by tea-partiers:

 

Opponents of HCR, you see, have been victimized by Democratic lawmakers who thwarted their efforts to kill the bill, so they have only themselves to blame if someone takes a shot at them. 

 

According to Erick Erickson:

First of all, I would point out that it was the Democrats who just took over 1/6th of the American economy despite upwards of 56% of the American public being opposed. And they expect people to . . . what . . . clap?

Tom Smith really brings the self-righteousness:

This latest Dem hysteria over the scariness of tea partiers is just beneath contempt.  Obviously nobody should do anything illegal, but, heck, you trample on people's basic rights in an area of intimate concern to them and put the financial survival of the nation at risk, and everybody is supposed to just lie down and be all polite about it?  What a bunch of cry-babies.  But dangerous crybabies.  They're making omelettes like crazy, breaking eggs by the gross, and when one of them squeaks, "I'm a little chick, please don't hurt me!" it's all, the right wing terrorists are on the loose!  Transparent, contemptible political theater and utter cluelessness about, you know, freedom.  People, as in the People, have every right to be angry, furious, shocked, appalled and disgusted by what Congress and our ambitious young prince have done.  And bringing the FBI into it?  Oh, the FBI is watching!  Everybody be careful that they not get too angry!  Or else who knows who might come knocking at 3 in the morning! It sure looks like a disgraceful attempt to intimidate those of us who don't like what the Dems have wrought, who hate it in fact, into silence.

I’m not sure what accounts for this.  Some of it seems cynical and calculated, as in Eric Cantor’s false claim that a bullet was fired into his district office, or Gateway Pundit's falsely representing a threatening phone call to Bachmann as a threat to Bachmann herself, instead of to her tea-partying cohort. 

 

It’s clear, though, that they really believe that threats and attacks directed at Democrats are deserved and that similar threats and attacks directed at Republicans are comparable instead of, you know, not so much.  I think that it comes down to a fundamental confusion about victims and aggressors.  Liberals are always the aggressors and conservatives are always the victims. 

 

This is something that digby , Glenn Greenwald, and others have talked about for years, which is a persistent culture and self-perception of victimhood.  Conservatives are persecuted by the dominant culture generally and by the media in particular.  It’s one of the most prominent characteristics of the tea-partiers.  It’s clear that they feel oppressed and silenced.  That was, after all, the thrust of their opposition to HCR.  President Obama and the Democratic Congress were thwarting the will of The People – never mind that The People gave Obama the White House with 53% of the popular vote and that the Democrats were given control of the Congress by a comparably large margin, in free and fair elections.

 

Just how radical this misperception is is on display in three videos I came across while checking the links on one of Malkin’s posts claiming that attacks on tea partiers have been under-reported by the dominant media.  (Not all three are linked to by Malkin.  I came across at least one by following a subsequent link). 

 

This video, for example, is billed as an attack on tea-party anti-immigrant protesters by a “Pro-Amnesty Socialist Group.”  If you watch closely, you’ll see a guy with a video camera walk up to the tea-partiers, say something, and then get chased down the street by a picket-wielding Hurley.  Meanwhile, his friend is thrown to the ground and beaten.   

As you can plainly see, it’s the socialist group of two who attack the tea-partiers – although I think I missed that part.

 

Here’s another one.  You’ll see “union thugs” from the Communications Workers of  America whom a Democratic Congressman has packed the town hall with.

 

You can always identify a union thug by his purple polo shirt.  So contrary to what you heard last August, it was union thugs that took over the congressional town meetings and shouted down the tea-partiers.

 

And another.  This is “An Obama Nut Goes Crazy on Tea Party,” helpfully subtitled “Tea Partiers are the Victims!”  Watch how the Obama Nut surrounds ten or so tea-partiers and “plays the race card” by pointing out that some of the other tea partiers' signs are racist, right after assuring the people he is talking to that he doesn't assume that they themselves are racist.  

The most telling moment in this video may be right at the beginning, when a woman complains that "That is your way of oppressing how we feel." 

 

It is about feelings for them.  It's not even ideology, because it's not intellectually coherent at all.  They subsist on Social Security and Medicaid, and blame The Government for high unemployment because it failed to make rules so that jobs wouldn't be exported to India.  And it's all tribal.  I don't care whether you think I'm a racist.  It's enough that you think the other tea-partiers are racist.  You're playing the race card to oppress how we feel.  

 

And, to them, it really is oppression.  Socialists attack tea-partiers by being chased down the street and beaten.  Union thugs dressed in neat, brightly colored polo shirts go to congressional town meetings and force the tea-partiers to shout them down.  Obama Nuts go wild defending themselves from a constantly advancing crowd of shouting Beckists.  The victimhood is what ties it all together -- because it has the capacity to skew perception itself 180 degrees off reality. 

 

Sun, April 4, 2010 | link

Partisan Bickering

 

The worst pathology in American journalism is the prevalence of  he said/ she said reporting.  As in, “Democrats argued that the world is round.  In response, Republicans insisted that the world is flat.”  So is the world round or flat?  If all you read or hear is this report from an American journalist, you’re on your own.  You’d think there’d be an obligation to report, in addition to the above, that the world is indeed round.  You might think that, but you’d be wrong.  The norm is to be impartial, which entails reporting the positions of both sides.  But prevailing journalistic norms do not encourage objectivity, which isn’t the same thing as impartiality. 

 

But the worst journalistic pathology after he said/ she said is a phrase: “partisan bickering”.  The problem is that “bickering” is by definition content-free.  Siblings bicker over whose turn it is to vacuum.   Couples bicker over pressing issues such as  “toilet seat – up or down?”

 

So politicians bicker, and it must be over things that don’t matter, right?    Or, if it’s apparent that the bickering is about big, important issues that matter to millions of people, then something's deeply wrong with the system, correct?  And if the bickering is partisan, it must be that the issues won’t be decided on the merits.  And if that’s true, then it must be that those issues are being debated and decided in an irresponsible way.  And obviously if it’s politicians that are doing this, then politicians are an especially irresponsible, selfish group of people.  The bottom line is that a good citizen will declare himself an “independent” and avoid involvement with political parties.  Or, better yet, just give up on the political process all together in a principled and savvy exercise in cynicism.

 

Well no.  No to all of the above.

 

But it’s pervasive.  Here’s a sentence – a single fucking sentence  from the Wall Street Journal that perfectly encapsulates this pathological terminology.

Mr. Obama campaigned on calling for an end to partisan bickering in Washington, but once in office he launched an ambitious agenda that pursued several long-held Democratic goals.

Got that?  He promised not to bicker with Republicans, but he broke that promise by pursuing Democratic policies and principles.  The conflation of the kind of insignificant things about which we bicker with issues of the greatest import, such as health care reform, is complete.  And, apparently, completely unconscious.  To the author, Jonathan Weisman, it is inconceivable that the president would actually believe in or care about these goals.  He is pursuing them solely to insult Republicans.  The obvious question for anyone who reads this is to ask why anyone should take this president – or the presidency in general, or the political process as a whole – seriously?

 

Two other implications are lurking in that sentence.  Here they are, again perfectly encapsulated by Weisman, again in one sentence.  (I’m quoting two only because it’s needed for context.)

The Senate doesn't work the way game theorists think, said Antonia Ferrier, an aide to Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. A body built on personal relationships is likely to spiral into endless tit-for-tat retaliations in the face of Mr. Obama's new turn, she said.

So it’s regrettable if the Senate turns away from its tradition of operating on personal relationships, because the result of this will be the degeneration of august deliberations into unprincipled retaliation, which is one form of . . .  partisan bickering. 

 

That’s obviously backwards, isn’t it?  Bickering is something couples and siblings do (not to say that only they do it), because it’s a feature of close personal relationships.  If the Senate operates on personal relationships, then bickering’s a feature, not a bug – as everyone knows.   In the actual world, however, the Senate would be better off if everyone weren’t so chummy.  For example, the current “Party of No” strategy of Republicans depends on it.  A single senator’s being able to put a hold on executive branch nominations is a senatorial courtesy, not a constitutional feature of the Senate.  So there was no way to call bullshit on Richard Shelby’s holding up every single Obama administration nomination.  The correct response would be, “Fuck you, Dick.  The effective functioning of the executive branch – no matter who’s in charge of it – is more important than whatever bullshit you’ve got on your mind.”  Even in less colorful language, that would just be rude.  

 

The Senate wouldn’t suffer if it were less chummy.  Civility and principled disagreement don’t require close personal relationships (which, I realize, means that the above is not actually the correct response to Shelby).

 

Weisman’s immersion in the “partisan bickering” trope is so complete, he can’t see contrary evidence when he reports it himself. 

The new tone may be having an impact, though, among some Obama voters who had soured on what they saw as an electric campaigner gone soft.

 

Republicans are getting "better treatment than they deserve," said Don Miller, 68, a California independent and pipe line consultant who said his support for Mr. Obama was rising.

 

"He's not a politician yet, but he's learning fast. As he learns to work the Washington establishment he has become more and more effective," said James Shubert, 83, a transportation-services manager in Tennessee.

 

Robin Moyer, 48, a retired South Carolina school teacher, lamented that the president had been trying to "reach as many people as possible, but sometimes it is overkill."

None of these citizens sees the current state of the national debate as "partisan bickering."  They look at the relationship between Obama and Republicans in substantive terms.  Republican obstruction isn’t business as usual. It’s bad behavior that merits consequences.  Effective government requires standing up to obstructionism, and that’s a quality of a good politician.  Bipartisanship is a good thing, but it’s secondary to actually governing.

 

If this phrase weren't so widespread and persistent, you'd almost have hope for the future.

 

Tue, March 30, 2010 | link

Fred Hiatt's

 

If the world were just and conservatives honest, the editorial page of the Washington Post would put an end to all talk of a “liberal media.”  Fred Hiatt is a neo-con in foreign policy and a shock doctrine operative in domestic policy.  Here’s his latest on the latter.  He says:

 Without health reform, [President Obama] said during a July telephone interview, there would be no hope for fiscal reform. With it, he would be in a position to "start laying out a broader picture about how we are going to handle entitlements in a serious way."

Well, it's been six days since he signed the bill, and he still hasn't saved Social Security.

Just kidding. We can give him another day or two.

But the long-term threat is no joke, as Obama has acknowledged many times. If Obama does not pivot, the country will be in serious trouble.

Why? According to a Congressional Budget Office analysis published last week, Obama's budget plan has the government spending one-quarter of the national economy (25.2 percent of gross domestic product) 10 years from now, while collecting revenue that's less than one-fifth (19.6 percent).

This is dishonest in two ways.  First, the so called Social Security Crisis actually can be solved overnight.  Social Security itself isn’t going broke.  It works on a principle of paying benefits from current contributions, so that the problem is only that current contributions at some point – and all we know about this is that we haven’t reached that point yet – will not cover current outlays, with a shortfall of about 25 to 30 percent.  That problem has already been addressed with the creation of  the SS trust fund in the 1980’s, and it is only this trust fund that’s running short.  That problem is easily cured.  The current contributions of very high income taxpayers are capped.  Remove that cap and voila, the trust fund is put back on track.  The “crisis” in Social Security is the biggest scam going.

 

Second, Hiatt conflates the so-called Social Security Crisis with the overall budget deficit.  Both Social Security and the SS trust fund are separate from the federal budget.  The fact that the trust fund has been “raided” to pay other government expenditures doesn’t change that.  For one thing, revenue is fungible, so the “raid” was built in.  But  more important, the “raid” is by another name using the trust fund as a stopgap measure, a temporary cure, for the deficit.  If we need to resolve a deficit crisis  shouldn’t the program that’s already been used up as a stopgap be the last program cut?  But Hiatt’s first option for curing the overall budget deficit is to cut Social Security, by means of lower benefits and later retirements.

 

He goes on:

Such a gap isn't sustainable for any country. The United States would have to borrow so much money that in interest alone the government would be spending 4.1 percent of GDP -- compared with 1.4 percent this year. Other programs -- for defense, for the poor, for national parks, for everything -- would be squeezed more and more. The United States would be increasingly at the mercy of China, Saudi Arabia and other lenders.

Okay, let’s actually put defense on the chopping block.  It never is, of course, which is yet another bit of dishonesty on Hiatt’s part.  But if we do put it on the block, the defense budget has more than enough money in it to cure the deficit.   Our military budget amounts to 54% of all federal spending.  We spend more on defense than France, the UK, China, Russia, and the next ten countries combined.  (Scroll to the pie chart.)  We spend ten times as much has France, the UK, or Russia, and eight times as much as China.  If our per capita military spending were what it is in any other developed country, we’d have a large surplus.

 

And there’s more:

Here's one measure of the challenge: The president touts health reform in part because it will reduce the deficit -- according to the CBO, by $143 billion in the next 10 years.

That sounds pretty good, until you consider that Obama would need the equivalent of 70 additional health bills to undo the $9.8 trillion that his budgets will add to the deficit during the next 10 years, according to the CBO.

(Actually, it would take something like 220 health-care bills of deficit reduction, because the true savings from health care are more like $44 billion, once you subtract $70 billion in premiums that people will pay for long-term-care insurance and $29 billion they will pay into the Social Security trust fund, all of which will have to be paid out later. But either way, it's a frightening picture.

The problem here is that the health care law is not, amazingly enough, a deficit reduction law.  So to say it is so ineffective at reducing the deficit that we’d need 70 of them is ridiculous on its face; a category error.  Furthermore, that CBO estimate does not include the effects of the health care law in actually improving health, which will result in lower Medicare and Medicaid outlays – this being a principal feature of the law’s design.  And finally, what’s the logic of including the insurance premiums paid  by private individuals in the calculation of the federal deficit?  As explained above, contributions to the SS trust fund shouldn’t be in there either.

 

Is there no end to this guy’s duplicity?  Or is it just stupidity?

 

Mon, March 29, 2010 | link

Coburn in Bizarroland
 
Paul Krugman wrote a column recently in which he argued, correctly, that today's conservatives have been so radicalized that they simply inhabit a different moral universe from liberals and moderate conservatives.  Exhibit A: Jim Bunning's one-man filibuster (he denied unanimous consent on a procedural motion) against the extension of unemployment benefits for millions of Americans.
 
The word at the time was that the rest of the R senators didn't back him on this, but the issue of an extension has come up again, and apparently they are adopting the Bunning approach as the party line.  It's hard to know what to make of this.  My first reaction is that it's more pouting over their loss on health care.  Or it might be an equally petulant but more deliberate generalizing of the Party of No strategy that worked so well with health care.  Some of the R senators seem to want to take that approach - Lindsay Graham threatened to yesterday -- but there's also evidence that some of them realize they thoroughly fucked themselves with it on heatlh care.  But in the end I don't think it's strategic or petulant.  It's just how things work in that alternate universe. 
 
Suppose a senator started talking about the issue of extending unemployment benefits and made the point that the president and congress have it easy and might have lost touch with ordinary people's concerns.  The point would be that the benefits need to be extended, right? And if the senator pulled out a picture of a little girl, the point would be that she shouldn't suffer if her parents are unemployed, right?
 
Wrong.  This is what Senatory Coburn had to say on taking the Bunning approach to the issue.

 "You see it is easy to spend other people's money," Coburn said on the Senate floor, according top the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Especially if you're sitting up here with a good pension, drawing a good salary."

Defending his blockade on the floor today, Coburn turned to the other political stand by, placing a giant photo of an adorable little girl from Oklahoma on an easel next to him as he went on and on about how he was blocking the benefits extension for her.

Do you know what's the worst thing about this?  It's not just that he thinks the abstraction of deficit spending is a bigger problem than the concrete misery of a family's unemployment benefits running out.  It's not just that he's a hardhearted dick.  The worst thing is that he actually believes he's doing unemployed families a favor.
 
He has to know that, given the choice, and unemployed father or mother would take the benefits and screw the deficit.  He can't be that out of touch.  No, here's what he's thinking.  "I'm doing this for your own good, and you'll thank me later."  Or maybe, " Sure you're suffering, but you need to be a little more public spirited."
 
Truly, beyond hardhearted dickishness. 
Fri, March 26, 2010 | link

The Progressive View From The Top
 
The so-called crisis in Social Security isn't one at all.  It's not the system that faces a financial short-fall, it's the trust fund -- a side-car program instituted in the 1980's to deal with a genuine shortfall in Social Security itself. 
 
Social security works by paying the taxes collected by current active workers out to current retirees.  When the baby boomers retire, there will be more going out than coming in.  This problem was addressed in the 1980s by setting up a trust fund -- paid for with a nominal increase in Social Security taxes -- to fill that gap.  We still haven't reached the point where the trust fund is needed.  The current estimate is that that will happen in 2016.
 
The so-called "crisis" is a projected shortfall in the trust fund -- which will happen on a day well beyond 2016, when we first begin to draw on it.  It's a lot easier to fix that shortfall -- collect a little more for the trust fund -- than it is to reconfigure SS itself.   But the idea of a "crisis" blocks out the simple solution and makes radical, entirely unnecessary, surgery look inevitable.  (One wrinkle is that the trust fund hasn't been segregated from general revenue, so that it will have to be borrowed, like the rest of the money we borrow to cover the annual federal deficit.  Why this is a special problem requiring the fundamental overhaul of SS escapes me.)
 
So if the trust fund isn't collecting enough, collect a little more, right?  How could we collect a little more?  High earners -- say the top 1% who make over 200K a year -- don't pay SS taxes on income above about 170K.  That means their SS contributions just stop coming out of their paychecks sometime in the summer or fall, whereas the money comes out of everyone else's paycheck all year long.
 
My wife and I are lucky enough to be in this category.  When we reach the point at which the SS contribution stops coming out of our paychecks, what happens? 
 
Nothing.  We don't even notice it.  Why?  Because it's a tiny amount given the size of our paychecks. 
 
So in a roundtable blog in the NYT on how to fix the SS "crisis"  two contributors make the sensible and the non-sensical proposals.  Teresa Ghilarducci of the New School -- across 13th street from where I work -- writes:

Since most of the earnings growth in the last two decades went to the top paid people, those earning much more than the Social Security taxable salary of $106,800 the system lost revenue. A quick fix is to gradually increase the taxable earnings base from current coverage of just 85 percent of earnings to 100 percent by 2045. That would solve the entire predicted Social Security deficit for 75 years. Done.

In contrast, Andrew Biggs of AEI says:

Finally, I would minimize the role of tax increases. Higher taxes will encourage people to work less (due to lower after-tax pay), save less (since they’ll have less disposable income) and retire earlier (since Social Security benefits will be higher relative to their take-home pay).

Top income tax rates are already slated to rise above 40 percent, with the recent health care legislation increasing the Medicare tax for high earners. That’s enough. We need a vibrant economy as the nation moves ahead.

It would be better, he says, to make us retire later with less generous benefits.
 
Seriously, dude?  You think that a lot of people -- way more than the top 1% who'd be affected the Ghilarducci proposal -- should be substantially disadvantaged so people like me can avoid paying a few hundred bucks that we'd never miss?  Seriously?
 
The idea that tax increases are always the worst option drives common sense right out of the guy's head.  That, and the Randian notion that high earners contribute proportionately more to society, and won't do it if they are taxed. 
 
It's dogma on autopilot. 
 
 
Thu, March 25, 2010 | link

You'd Expect More, But You'd Be Disappointed
 
I can remember when Lamar Alexander was a serious candidate for President.  At the time, it was possible to be a moderate Republican, and he fit that description.  Given that he's still in the Senate, you'd expect him to have moved to the right, and he has.  But in the process, he seems to have been carried along with the Right's descent in to complete incoherence.
 
Remember the idiot at the town meeting last summer who told his Republican congressman to "keep your government hands off my Medicare" ?  Medicare, of course, being not only a government program, but a single payer health care system of the kind progressives favor, and that most resembles the UK's National Health -- a favorite boogie-man of the Right Wing.
 
So here's Alexander on the provision of the reconciliation bill that takes private banks out of student loan lending.  It abolishes a federal program under which private banks issue government guaranteed loans, giving the profit to the bank and all the risk and losses to the government. 

“The Democratic majority decided, well look, while we’re at it, let’s have another Washington takeover,” said Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee and a former federal education secretary. “Let’s take over the federal student loan program.”

That's right.  He's condemning the federal take-over of a federal student loan program.  Not only that, the federal take-over of the federal loan program consists of dissolving it.

 

Sheer genius.

 

Thu, March 25, 2010 | link

An Ominous Sound
 
According to TPM, the Tea Party crazies are still out on front of the capitol, shouting "Kill the Bill!"
 
But they're also chanting "Nan-cy! Nan-cy!"  It's not a cheer, it's a threat.  Show your face, Nancy, and we'll kill you.
 
They are, after all Beck's minions. 
Just three days after imploring his viewers to refrain from "violence," warning them that "just one lunatic, like Timothy McVeigh, could ruin everything," and saying that "it is your patriotic duty to stop" someone who is thinking or talking about turning violent, Glenn Beck staged a scene in which he gave a glass of wine to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then said, "I put poison in your -- no, I -- I look forward to all the policy discussions that we're supposed to have.

If you can stomach Beck's sanctimonious, ignorant ramblings, watch the video.

 
 

 

Sun, March 21, 2010 | link

Ezra Klein Has It Right
 
Ezra Klein's column in the Washington Post today is titled "Twilight of the Interest Groups," and the title is unfortunate because it's led both Glenn Greenwald and Matthew Iglesias to argue against something Klein doesn't say. 
 
Klein's point is not that health industry interest groups were shut out of the process or failed to get what they wanted.  Of course Obama and the Democrats paid them off early in the process -- the pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies themselves.  Klein doesn't dispute that, and he says so outright.  "You can take that [Obama's deals and concessions] as a critique of the bill."  But then he goes on to make an entirely different argument.
 
His point has to do with the industry groups' pull with the Republicans -- that's what's in the twilight.  He says that the GOP set the complete stonewalling and defeat of the bill as its goal from the outset, but this wasn't the health industry groups' objective.  Those  groups would rather have had the GOP play ball, because they could have got everything the health care industry wanted. 
 
What they wanted above all was a law saying everyone in the country has to buy the insurance companies' products -- and they got that.  But if they'd had the Republicans on their side, they would have got more.  They wouldn't have had to surrender the right to deny coverage, terminate coverage, and to gut coverage with co-pays.  But they didn't get any of that because the party wanted to kill the bill entirely.
 
And the reason the Republicans didn't team with the health industry was that they are listening more to their Tea Party/ Glenn Beck base.  Hence the health industry interest groups falling into twilight.  Klein means their influence on Republicans is fading.
 
I don't understand why Greenwald and Iglesias went with the headline instead of reading Klein's column.
 
 
Sun, March 21, 2010 | link

Beyond Arrogance
 
The meltdown of the world financial system had seven parts. 
First, Banks were allowed to act as investment companies and investment companies were allowed to act like banks,. 
Second, both bank holding companies and investment companies new to lending created bad mortgages in the search for higher returns on their money. 
Third, these bad mortgages were bundled and sold as securities -- like stocks and bonds - under the theory that the risk of the few bad mortgages in the bundle would be spread over the good mortgages  in the bundle.  Unfortunately, most of the mortgages in these bundles were bad. 
Fourth, credit ratings agencies like Moody's Inc. gave top ratings to these bad securities.
Fifth, companies like Goldman Sachs leveraged these securities -- used them as collateral on loans greater than the value of the securities themselves. 
Sixth, companies like AIG insured these loans.  When the loans at the bottom of this pyramid went bad, the whole thing collapsed. 
Seventh, the US and other industrial countries had to borrow more money to support demand by consumers, which is the principal step that needed to be taken to avoid collapse of demand an ensuing depression.
Look again at Step Four above.  Among the major enablers of this disaster were the credit rating services that gave high ratings to the securitized mortgages.  They were no more valuable and no less risky than the bad loans that had been bundled to create them, but the rating agencies gave them top marks.  Moody's Inc. is a credit rating service that gave these high ratings, and so contributed significantly to the disaster. 
 
After the meltdown of the world's economy -- including the complete bankruptcy of Iceland --- you'd think Moody's would have lost some of its credibility and a lot of its influence.
 
But how's this for arrogance and irony?  Moody's issued a threat yesterday to downgrade the bonds issued by the very countries it helped to damage.  Why the downgrade?  These countries have taken on too much debt.  That would be Step Six above.
 
Sun, March 14, 2010 | link

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