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I'm a Yellow Dog Democrat! Steve Bates,
The Yellow Doggerel Democrat
POLITICAL GRAVITY -- POLITICAL LEVITY -- VERSE AND WORSE
I'm a Yellow Dog Democrat!
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BlogDoggerel
for February 2009

 



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Stop, Hey, What's That...

[silence]

Everybody look what's goin' down...

Muzak. Yes, that's right: the elevator is going down for the earworm manufacturing company, the heretofore master of vacuous tunes, the remover of all interest from musical arrangements. Muzak has filed for Chapter 11. Try to resist humming along: they've requested that their funeral music include "Killing Me Softly."

(H/T Cookie Jill.)

Steve
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This Week's Contest: Obama 1, GOP 0

Frank Rich reminds us that despite all the Beltway conventional wisdom spewing from media talking heads unable even to consider the measurable increase in Obama's creds with the American public, passage of the stimulus package was demonstrably a political win for Obama: No matter that no House GOPers and almost no Senate GOPers voted for the package, no matter the split nearly down the middle in the public's stated party affiliation, President Obama's percentage popularity increased to the mid-60's or even mid-70's, depending on which polls you believe. In other words, while bipartisanship was a virtual total failure in Congress and in the Village generally, nationwide, the stimulus had majority public support... and Obama himself enjoyed the support of an overwhelming majority, a majority increased by his stimulus success. Maybe the talking heads should try listening occasionally, even if that's not something they are typically good at. Maybe even the GOP itself should... nah. Not a chance. They are trapped in their own mythology.

That said, Paul Krugman has a different message: the stimulus, political victory though it is, is not nearly good enough to save the economy. Krugman calls it "helpful but inadequate." Here's Krugman, first on the politics...

     ...

But it’s now clear that the [Republican] party’s commitment to deep voodoo — enforced, in part, by pressure groups that stand ready to run primary challengers against heretics — is as strong as ever. In both the House and the Senate, the vast majority of Republicans rallied behind the idea that the appropriate response to the abject failure of the Bush administration’s tax cuts is more Bush-style tax cuts.

And the rhetorical response of conservatives to the stimulus plan — which will, it’s worth bearing in mind, cost substantially less than either the Bush administration’s $2 trillion in tax cuts or the $1 trillion and counting spent in Iraq — has bordered on the deranged.

     ...

... and on the deficiencies of the stimulus itself...

     ...

For while Mr. Obama got more or less what he asked for, he almost certainly didn’t ask for enough. We’re probably facing the worst slump since the Great Depression. The Congressional Budget Office, not usually given to hyperbole, predicts that over the next three years there will be a $2.9 trillion gap between what the economy could produce and what it will actually produce. And $800 billion, while it sounds like a lot of money, isn’t nearly enough to bridge that chasm.

     ...

So Obama is better at politics than at economics... no surprise, and not a fatal flaw in a politician, as long as he is good enough at politics to come back for more when the situation demands it, and to win that battle, which may or may not be possible.

I am more concerned about Obama's coming appointment of a task force to "fix" Social Security, a sop to alleged conservatives that will worsen the lives of a lot of people during the coming recession/depression, and which, according to Dean Baker, simply doesn't need fixing:

     ...

The second reason why this task force is strange is that Social Security doesn't need reforming. According to the Congressional Budget Office [.pdf], it can pay all scheduled benefits for the next 40 years with no changes whatsoever.

     ...

I paid into that system all of my working life (well, actually, I spent a few years in Texas Teacher Retirement), and if I end up inadequately funded in retirement because the task force, which according to Baker is not an especially foresightful group of economists, wrecks a working system... I shall take to the streets. I may be old, and I may not be able to walk very fast anymore, but I can carry a pitchfork or a torch with the best of 'em. Remember, Mr. President: senior citizens are not to be trifled with!

Steve
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Saturday Signs

(In your best Cole Porter voice...)

    Lords... for sale.
    Energetic British Lords... for sale.
    ...

(But what were they doing in Mexico?
and why is their price in US dollars?)

Later, folks; Stella and I have plans...

Steve
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Friday The Thirteenth Orange Cat Blogging


Sorry; I couldn't resist. Thanks to the unknown artist.

 

Steve
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Judd Gregg Withdraws Commerce Acceptance - DOGGEREL!

Sen. Judd Gregg withdraws his acceptance of Obama's nomination as Secretary of Commerce. I think that calls for the obvious parody...

The Ballad of Judd Gregg

Come and listen to a story 'bout a man named Judd,
New Hampshire's senior senator and GOPer in the blood,
And then one day, he was talkin' to the Prez,
"I'll offer you Commerce" is what Obama sez.
(You'll be Secretary... I mean, the Cabinet post.)

Well the first thing you know, ol' Judd decides to move,
"In the Senate, I've nothin' left to prove!"
Said, "The Hoover Building is the place I oughta be,"
So he ordered up a limo and he moved across DC.
(That's Herbert Hoover... Nothing to do with J. Edgar!)

But soon he knew he couldn't stand to work for Prez Barack.
It may just be New Hampshire's press was set to clean his clock,
Or GOPers knew he couldn't fudge the Census once again,
Or maybe wants his Senate seat back in Two Thousand Ten.
(Indecisive, that's what they call him now...
Political player. Y'all send him home, y'hear?)

Steve Bates

(Say, did you notice "Judd Gregg" is a Queen Anne name, just like "Flatt and Scruggs"?)

Steve
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On The Origin Of Specious...

... dust jacket images. I suppose my copy of Origin could have a dust jacket picture more contrary to the whole Darwinian notion of natural selection applied to random variation, but someone would have to try awfully hard to surpass the all-too-common "chain of being" image. On the other hand, as wrong as it is, it has one virtue: it makes me laugh every time I see it.

 

Steve
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Anniversaries

What a day Feb. 12 has been in history! Two hundred years ago it gave us Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln... who could ask more of any day... and a hundred years ago the NAACP was founded. There are many celebrations of all three events; Google News is your friend in finding them.

Although it is not their centennial, many other famous people were born on Feb. 12 (warning... some birth dates on that site and that page are not entirely trustworthy): Thomas Campion, poet and writer of lute songs (if you haven't heard his works, they are well worth your attention, and readily available on recordings); Immanuel Kant ("but Genghis Khan," as we used to say); and renowned gossip, socialite and president's daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth ("If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me" ... veritably a political blogger's motto).

I have only one comparison to make between Lincoln and Darwin, whose life circumstances could scarcely have been more different: Both men took trouble... a lot of diligence, in both cases... to acquire their craft, Darwin in taxonomy and Lincoln as a lawyer, as they moved on to great things. If Einstein's genius rested on his ability to fathom previously unremarked patterns in well-known observations, Darwin, by contrast, dearly loved making the observations himself, and acquired the skills and traveled the world to do so. And his graciousness in quite properly sharing credit with Alfred Russel Wallace when he discovered that Wallace had independently proposed a very similar theory of natural selection could serve us all as a model in this age of raw competition.

An aside: if you are unfamiliar with the basics of descent with modification (Darwin's term for what we call evolution, which is the interaction of natural selection with random genetic variation), do yourself a favor: read the popular works of the late lamented paleontologist and science writer Stephen Jay Gould. The early works are more approachable.

Steve
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Motivating Body And Spirit

I intended to write a Darwin bicentennial post this evening, but got distracted by many things. One thing I happened to notice in my readings, something which I had not previously known, is that, although baby Charles was baptized Anglican, in his young churchgoing days, he and his siblings attended Unitarian chapel. Now I admit that British Unitarians are not precisely the same as American UU's (though the interchange is generally friendly), but I couldn't help remembering the following cartoon, which would probably please a lot of the latter:



I can't remember whose blog I "borrowed" this from. Anybody happen to know? I may get to Darwin (the man, not the city) tomorrow, or I may not... most of my distractions remain.

Steve
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Headline Of The Day

I've heard of "smart weapons," but this one mentioned in a headline at Monsters and Critics beats all...

Man with gun looking for Obama arrested in Washington

I'm glad they caught the man, and I hope they took his gun. I wouldn't want to meet that gun in a dark alley.

(This headline has been brought to you by the Department of Dangling Participles.)

Steve
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Obama v. Due Process

Glenn Greenwald shows how the Obama administration clearly has invoked and intends to continue invoking the State Secrets privilege to prevent the introduction of evidence in lawsuits brought by individuals who allege they were tortured by the CIA in cases of "extraordinary rendition." The privilege, intended originally to protect state secrets from disclosure in court on a case-by-case basis, was first employed by the Bush administration to obtain, not protection of individual secrets, but dismissal of entire lawsuits for lack of evidence... evidence claimed by the administration to be, in bulk, a state secret... a procedure now being employed, essentially identically, by the Obama administration.

All of us presumably understand the need to protect particular state secrets from disclosure in court. But despite the howls of some nut-cases, that is in no way what this is about. Rather, this is about a presidential administration... Bush's or Obama's... using the state secrets privilege to force the dismissal out-of-hand of embarrassing lawsuits, some involving allegations of torture by the CIA or other government agencies. This is unacceptable. Justice is ill-served by such dismissals, no matter who is president when they occur.

Sen. Russ Feingold is requesting that he receive a secret briefing on the extraordinary rendition cases so that he... in other words, someone outside the executive branch... can hear an explicit statement of the reasons for the invocation of the state secrets privilege in the cases underway. I tend to respect Sen. Feingold; he has never been one to "go along to get along," as the saying goes. Even if he hears the reason, in secret, and agrees that there is a genuine national security basis for withholding the evidence, I will still be very uncomfortable with what could very well be a politically convenient perversion of justice, but informing Feingold is probably the best we can do under the circumstances.

Some among us, notably Bryan, have said that Obama informed voters before the election of all his plans that could not reasonably be called "progressive." Bryan is, on the whole, correct, and I voted for Obama with my eyes wide open about his admittedly nonprogressive shortcomings. But his apparent undue flexibilities in matters of civil liberties were never talked about before the election; indeed, he emphasized his intentions to the contrary, especially with regard to Guantanamo and (separately) extraordinary rendition. I believe the civil libertarians among us have a legitimate basis to feel deliberately deceived by Obama in this matter. No matter how many times he, his Attorney General, or anyone else in his administration rants on about how no one is above the law now, if individual victims of extraordinary rendition, torture and other forms of prisoner abuse cannot now obtain redress, none of that ranting makes any difference. The truth must out... and illegal acts against detainees must have consequences. Otherwise, we are not, as everyone loudly claims, a nation of laws.

Steve
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New Used Book

I found and bought a used copy of Martin Garbus's The Next 25 Years: The new Supreme Court and what it means for Americans (Seven Stories Press, 2007). (See LibraryThing, right-hand column, for a link to Amazon's listing of the 2008 revised edition, which I will not be reading... the household budget admits only of used books these days, and not many of those.) I've only just begun reading it, but for a notion of the book, you may read Nadine Strossen's jacket endorsement:

If you haven't read The Next 25 Years, you may awaken one morning and ask, "What happened to America?" This is a clarion cry for every American to act before our constitutional way of life is all but a distant memory.

I didn't realize that a clarion could cry; I thought they called. But the thought is clear enough, and I awaken with that question in my mind every morning.

Even in the Introduction, which is all I've read at this point, this book is less than kind to Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Roberts. I'll review the book in a bit more detail when I've read more.

Am I the only one worried about what kind of Supreme Court justices and federal judges President Obama will appoint?

Steve
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Krugman: The Destructive Center

Krugman:

What do you call someone who eliminates hundreds of thousands of American jobs, deprives millions of adequate health care and nutrition, undermines schools, but offers a $15,000 bonus to affluent people who flip their houses?

A proud centrist. For that is what the senators who ended up calling the tune on the stimulus bill just accomplished.

Even if the original Obama plan — around $800 billion in stimulus, with a substantial fraction of that total given over to ineffective tax cuts — had been enacted, it wouldn’t have been enough to fill the looming hole in the U.S. economy, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will amount to $2.9 trillion over the next three years.

Yet the centrists did their best to make the plan weaker and worse.

     ...

Read the rest for details. For starters, the bastards cut schools, health care for the unemployed, food stamps and help for already eviscerated state budgets. Then they give a tax credit for home buyers... all home buyers, including the wealthy; all home sales, including, as Dean Baker points out, the sale of your home to your brother, and as I might add, his sale of that same home back to you. Oh, yeah, sure, that's a stimulus. If you want to stimulate the economy, you've got to get money into the hands of people who will spend it right away (that's typically lower-income people) or else have the government spend money right away on infrastructure and other major societal needs that are the legitimate business of government in the first place. Instead, with this cut by the "centrists," we get... of course... more tax cuts for well-off people, which has a stimulus effect vastly less than that of government spending. Don't take my word for it; James K. Galbraith, via News Writer, gives us a chart from Moody's, from congressional testimony, showing exactly that:

So the actual stimulus gets whacked from both ends... spending and tax cuts.

Krugman blames Obama. So do I.

Considering we may get only one chance at this, perhaps Obama should give this paltry plan the ax. Yes, there would be a political price to pay for doing that. But if he doesn't demonstrate who calls the shots right away, it's going to be a long four years... an economically devastating four years.


UPDATE: Fallenmonk has more terrifying charts on unemployment. None of us has much income, but we can offer you lots of pretty pictures...

Steve
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Good Shepard Arrested

Sic. Sick, actually. Shepard Fairey, the by-now famous street artist who created the universally known Obama "Hope" poster, was first accused by AP of copyright infringement for allegedly using one of their photos of Obama as the model for his poster, and later, Friday, arrested on his way to a party at a gallery presenting his first solo exhibition, and charged with tagging.

Has our society gone fuckin' nuts? I suppose the next step will be to combine the two infractions... to arrest graffiti artists for copyright violations in their street art. We can send a supremely important message, one on which our culture's very survival depends: "Don't you dare paint Mickey and Minnie dancing on that construction site wall!"

At least Fairey's fifteen minutes of fame will be extended...

Maybe it's just as well that America's economy is collapsing: it is clear from these incidents that the rest of the country has already gone to ground. I don't know why GeeDubya is worried about his legacy, because frankly, when a culture actively persecutes its artists, history ends up with no way of remembering that culture. At this rate, school kids in the year 2100 will say not only "GeeDubya who?" but also "Ameri-what?"

Welcome to richly deserved oblivion, America. Enjoy your stay... it may be a long one.

Steve
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Beg? Borrow? Steele!

Some things are predictable: The Sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and GOP high officials get into legal troubles about matters involving their political offices. Such appears to be the case with Michael Steele, the newly elected chair of the RNC. WaPo:

Steele's Campaign Spending Questioned
Agents Contact Sister After Ex-Aide's Claims

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 7, 2009; Page A01

Michael S. Steele, the newly elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, arranged for his 2006 Senate campaign to pay a defunct company run by his sister for services that were never performed, his finance chairman from that campaign has told federal prosecutors.

Federal agents in recent days contacted Steele's sister, a spokesman for Steele said yesterday.

The claim about the payment, one of several allegations by Alan B. Fabian, is outlined in a confidential court document. Fabian offered the information last March as he was seeking leniency for himself during plea negotiations on unrelated fraud charges. It is unclear how extensively his claims have been pursued. Prosecutors gave him no credit for cooperation when he was sentenced in October.

Steele spokesman Curt Anderson said he did not know what information the federal agents were seeking, but he dismissed Fabian's allegations as patently false. "It's from, what, a convicted felon? And it has no substantiation in fact," he said.

     ...

The U.S. attorney's office inadvertently sent the confidential document, a defense sentencing memorandum filed under seal, to The Washington Post after the newspaper requested the prosecution's sentencing memorandum.

     ...

So a convicted crook accused a GOP high muckety-muck in hopes of improving his own cred with the authorities, and we find out about it because a U.S. attorney's office mistakenly disclosed a confidential document. This might not seem the best basis for pursuing possible wrongdoing by Steele, except for two things: one, the crook accusing him was his campaign finance chair; two, well, um, ... they're Republicans, and on contemplating the criminality difference between Republicans and Democrats in the past three decades, one has to admit that the Republicans' victory in the criminality contest is vast... or at least half-vast.

As far as I know, there are no formal accusations against Steele... yet... let alone convictions. But the suspicions alone, triggered by other Republicans, lead one to think that Steele is off to a great start as RNC chair, and is apparently well-qualified in the one skill that matters to Republicans: credibly rendering the late Richard Nixon's infamous claim, "I am not a crook." Oh, wait; that didn't work out so well for Tricky Dick, did it...

Steve
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Saturday Signs

Oh, no! All you Christianist fundies who cannot spell... lock the doors! hide the kids! save yourselves from... Which Craft!

 

Steve
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'Winning,' Democrat Style

Oh, yeah. We ended up with $780 billion "stimulus," of which $350 billion are in tax cuts, not spending. For Americans like me, who happen to be out of work (you must see Krugman's graph), a tax cut is no damned use at all. I guess I won't be spending my "tax cut" all in one place... as Billy Preston sang, "Nothing from nothing leaves nothing."

But of course we have to consider it a great victory, don't we, because Harry Reid told us so:

     ...

We both know that this economy must be turned around - that we must put people back to work and ensure middle- class families can get ahead. We both know that we cannot let partisanship get in the way of doing what is best for the American people.

President Obama gave us good guidance - that we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and that we must move this legislation forward. We listened.

     ...

Y'know, Harry, that business about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good? Maybe you listened a little too well. Whatever happened to the Democratic Party as the party of profligate, out-of-control spending? Couldn't we have a little of that now that the fate of the economy is on the line?

It's not as if we don't have a model for this, a successful recovery effort after a similar economic catastrophe 80 years ago that we could study. But noooo, Sen. Reid is quaking in his boots at the thought of a filibuster, and caves immediately for three GOP votes. I should say "caves again," because it damned surely isn't the first time, or the dozenth.

Once again, Dems snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Are we totally fucked? I don't know; ask again in a few months.

Steve
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Choose Your Crisis

Economic...

  • Welfare Aid Isn’t Growing as Economy Drops Off:

    WASHINGTON — Despite soaring unemployment and the worst economic crisis in decades, 18 states cut their welfare rolls last year, and nationally the number of people receiving cash assistance remained at or near the lowest in more than 40 years.

         ...

  • 598,000 jobs lost last month, 3.6 million since recession began:

    What more is there to say.

  • States' Jobless Funds Run Low:

    Seven Are Already Borrowing From Washington to Pay Unemployment Benefits

    By VALERIE BAUERLEIN

    A growing number of states are running out of cash to pay unemployment benefits, a sign of how far social- welfare systems are being stretched by the swelling ranks of the jobless in the deteriorating U.S. economy.

    Unemployment filings have soared so high in recent months that seven states have already emptied their unemployment-insurance trust funds, which were supposed to see them through recessionary periods. Another 11 states are in jeopardy of depleting reserves by year's end, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which published a January report entitled "The Crisis in State Unemployment Trust Funds." So far, states have borrowed more than $2.3 billion in emergency funds from the federal government, money they are required to pay back.

         ...

  • Unemployment Rate by Metro Area:

    See how bad it is in your area. Houston is hanging in there for the moment.

  • Senate Republicans and the Stimulus: Playing Politics When the Economy Burns:

    Robert Reich explains how tax cuts are obscenely less effective in responding to a depression than government spending. So of course GOPers want an all-tax-cuts stimulus bill.

... or environmental...

  • Sea level rise may be worse than expected

         ...

    Long-term sea level increases that could have a devastating effect on southern Florida and highly populated coastal areas may be even larger than once thought, a report suggests.

    Some studies have suggested that melting of ice in Antarctica and other areas could raise sea levels by 16 feet to 17 feet over the long run, a potential threat to coastal areas such as Washington, D.C., New York City and California.

    But a report in Friday's edition of the journal Science warns that factors not previously considered could one day boost that increase to up to 21 feet in some areas.

         ...

  • Climate change to hit Africa fisheries hard-study

    OSLO, Feb 5 (Reuters) - African nations will be the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change on fisheries, ranging from damage to coral reefs to more severe river floods, according to a study of 132 nations on Thursday.

    Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo were most at risk, according to the report which said it was the first to rank nations by their ability to adapt economically to projected impacts of global warming on fisheries.

    "Countries of the developing world are going to find it most difficult to cope," said Stephen Hall, head of the Malaysia-based WorldFish Center which led the study by an international team of scientists.

         ...

Have a nice day!

Steve
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Friday Face Blogging

Tabitha... I'm pretty sure from context that it's Tabitha... really likes napping on the "leopard" mat, which of course is not made from a leopard or any other animal...



(Posted early for the usual reason.)

Steve
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Troubling: Another Faith-Based Presidency

The continuation of this sort of thing disturbs me:

Obama Announces White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Washington (February 5, 2009) - President Barack Obama today signed an executive order establishing the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will work on behalf of Americans committed to improving their communities, no matter their religious or political beliefs.

     ...

The White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will be a resource for nonprofits and community organizations, both secular and faith based, looking for ways to make a bigger impact in their communities, learn their obligations under the law, cut through red tape, and make the most of what the federal government has to offer.

President Obama appointed Joshua DuBois, a former associate pastor and advisor to the President in his U.S. Senate office and campaign Director of Religious Affairs, to lead this office. "Joshua understands the issues at stake, knows the people involved, and will be able to bring everyone together - from both the secular and faith- based communities, from academia and politics - around our common goals," said President Obama.

The Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will focus on four key priorities, to be carried out by working closely with the President's Cabinet Secretaries and each of the eleven agency offices for faith-based and neighborhood partnerships:

  1. The Office's top priority will be making community groups an integral part of our economic recovery and poverty a burden fewer have to bear when recovery is complete.
  2. It will be one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion.
  3. The Office will strive to support fathers who stand by their families, which involves working to get young men off the streets and into well-paying jobs, and encouraging responsible fatherhood.
  4. Finally, beyond American shores this Office will work with the National Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world.

...

[List item numbers added editorially for discussion below. - SB]

Please read the entire Obama administration statement; it includes a listing of many of the 25 members of the new President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The past administration's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives was a serious mistake (as our nation's founders would have understood), and one of the pitfalls of allowing Bush to establish such an office is that it set a pattern of direct involvement of the federal government in religious affairs. And sure enough, now a president on the other end of the political spectrum, a man of faith himself, has been unable to resist that direct involvement.

Before we talk about missions, let's look first at the people on the Council, as a group. It is hardly surprising to find three flavors of Baptists, various Catholics, and Episcopals; Jews are of course included. But I see no Muslims, Atheists, Pagans, Wiccans, Buddhists, Hindus, or even Unitarians; they're just not sufficiently politically correct. Among the representatives of secular organizations, I note with some dismay the complete lack of members of the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, or any other organization that might counterbalance a tendency to emphasize faith-based approaches over secular approaches, conservative religious approaches over those of less traditional or more liberal religions, and yes, Christian approaches over non-Christian approaches.

Some of us strongly believe... in the political sense, not the religious... that such imbalances are a serious potential hazard to America's commitment to religious diversity through noninvolvement of government in religion. That brings me to the key question about the announced missions of the program: Apart from the 4th listed priority, which is on its face unconstitutional, are there any of the other priorities that cannot be accomplished just as well through the secular departments of the U.S. government as surely as through a group of religious organizations?

Many of our nation's founders were religious men and women. Many of them were not. Many of the religious among them were Christian, but many were not. Virtuous people come in many spiritual shapes and sizes; most Americans recognize that fact. But more than a few Americans who have involved themselves in government in the past two or three decades do not acknowledge that at all, and some come to government with an unabashed agenda of establishing one or another kind of theocracy using the framework of our government. And that is the hazard of creating an effectively cabinet-level department advised by a Council of women and men who are, in many cases, religious leaders within particular faiths: Without questioning their good will at all, one may recognize that such leaders, whether they function within the hierarchies of their various formal denominations or within charitable groups associated with them, inevitably bring to such a department a set of agendas specific to their own faiths. From an American standpoint, that is not a good thing. From a Constitutional standpoint, it is highly questionable.

Prior to the administration of George W. Bush, religious organizations in America did amazing charitable and social work for a couple of centuries, without government assistance and (just as importantly) without government intervention. Government noninvolvement in religious good works is not only good for America's highly religiously pluralistic society... it is good for the religions themselves. I regret that this fact is not better understood by the leaders of some of the more politically conservative religious organizations, and apparently not by our highest political leaders of both major parties.

And so I must conclude that this is a government program that should never have been established under Bush, and should not be continued under Obama. One's spiritual life and one's political life can both lead one to good works, but the connection between them must be, for reasons well understood in our nation's history, entirely inside oneself.

Steve
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US Apparently Threatens UK Over Torture Info

BBC:

'No torture pressure' - Miliband
David Miliband has disputed claims by two judges that the US threatened to stop sharing intelligence with the UK over an alleged torture case.

In a ruling, the judges said the US had forced the UK to suppress information about Binyam Mohamed, a former UK resident who claims he was tortured.

But the foreign secretary said there had been "no threat" from the US.

Mr Miliband said confidentiality was key to intelligence sharing, a view later backed by the White House.

     ...

Opposition MPs have said ministers must urgently address claims the UK was "complicit" in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, who has been held at Guantanamo Bay for four years.

Mr Mohamed, 30, alleges he was tortured by US agents in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan between 2002 and 2004 and that UK agencies were complicit in the practice.

     ...

The judges said they wanted the full details of the alleged torture to be published in the interests of safeguarding the rule of law, free speech and democratic accountability.

     ...

But they said they had been persuaded it was not in the public interest to do this due to the potential impact on UK national security of US stopping intelligence sharing.

     ...

(Emphasis mine.)

Both countries deny the threat. But the ACLU is unconvinced. Here is their complete statement:

NEW YORK - After the British High Court ruled that evidence of British resident Binyam Mohamed's extraordinary rendition and torture at Guantánamo Bay must remain secret because of threats made by the Bush administration to halt intelligence sharing, the Obama administration told the BBC today in a written statement: "The United States thanks the UK government for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information and preserve the long-standing intelligence sharing relationship that enables both countries to protect their citizens."

The following can be attributed to Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union:

"Hope is flickering. The Obama administration's position is not change. It is more of the same. This represents a complete turn-around and undermining of the restoration of the rule of law. The new American administration shouldn't be complicit in hiding the abuses of its predecessors."

When the ACLU learned of the High Court's ruling earlier today, it sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urging her to clarify the Obama administration's position relating to the Mohamed case and calling on her to reject the Bush administration's policy of using false claims of national security to avoid judicial review of controversial programs.

The ACLU's letter to Secretary of State Clinton is available online at: http://www.aclu.org/safefree/general/38660leg20090204.html

The British High Court ruling is available online at: http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/docs/judgments_guidance/mohamed-judgment4-04022009.pdf

If this accurately reflects the actions and policies of the Obama administration, we who supported him have been grievously deceived.

Closing Gitmo is one thing; seeing to it that those who committed crimes under U.S. and international law are dealt with is another. Absent accountability, some U.S. government, at some point in the near or distant future, will cover its lawbreaking with secrecy under the guise of national security.

And threatening the UK with withdrawal of cooperation on security issues is utterly unacceptable.

The Obama administration has some serious explaining to do on this one. I wouldn't disbelieve an assertion that the threat was made under the Bush administration and (inadvertently? temporarily?) sustained by Obama... but if there is such a threat, it must be withdrawn immediately. No desire for "postpartisanship" can be allowed to lead to a cover-up of serious criminal activities by any individual or arm of the U.S. government at home or abroad. Anything short of full accountability endangers America and Americans.

(Corrected TPM's faulty ACLU links after initial posting. Also added words I omitted in paragraph beginning "Closing Gitmo.")

Steve
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Hedges: 'It's Not Going To Be OK'

When I read this essay by Chris Hedges, based largely on a conversation with the ancient and venerable Sheldon S. Wolin, I cannot decide how I feel: deliciously subversive, or utterly despairing. Either way, it's a piece I believe one truly must read.

(H/T Avedon.)

Steve
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Cheney: After Me, The Flood Of Terrorists

If you thought it was bad when Rush Limbaugh said of President Obama, "I hope he fails," you'll be even more offended... though not surprised at all... when you read that Dick Cheney, in an interview with Politico (no link to the interview from this site, uh-uh, but you can get there from TPM), says that if Obama keeps worrying about due process for detainees, i.e., if he doesn't follow the Cheney policy of torturing alleged terrorists and imprisoning people indefinitely without charge and without basic due process rights, the next terrorist attack on America will... well, he doesn't say exactly, but there's no doubt of his meaning.

What, did you think the dictatorial bastard would just retire and STFU?

David Kurtz of TPM sums it up precisely in a short post which I am taking the liberty of reproducing in its entirety:

Today's GOP: Hoping for the Worst

It occurred to me while reading Politico's interview with Dick Cheney, that the GOP's plan to regain political viability in the short term rests on two disaster scenarios: the failure of the financial rescue efforts (stimulus, TARP, and other bailouts) to stave off complete economic collapse and a new mass casualty terrorist attack -- both of which they are positioning themselves to blame Obama for.

Without one of those two, they have to figure it's going to be a long time wandering in the political wilderness. Now think about the curdling effect, the blight on the soul that comes with rooting for such disasters to befall your country. The rot is now eating at the party's very core.

Yes it is. Dick Cheney almost makes me wish there were really a Hell.

Steve
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Comment Of The Hour

PC World offers an article titled

Windows 7 to Ship In Six Different Versions

Commenter Jibby99 responds

will there be 6 different versions of the blue screen?

Minutes later, I'm still laughing.

Steve
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Earth-Shaking Experience? Not Exactly...

MSNBC:

Shaking on space station rattles NASA
Vigorous vibrations caught on video during orbital reboost last month

By James Oberg
NBC News space analyst
Special to MSNBC
updated 1 hour, 12 minutes ago

HOUSTON - A faulty rocket command sequence aboard the international space station caused the 300-ton structure to shake back and forth vigorously for two minutes last month, during what was supposed to be a routine, gentle orbital adjustment. Space experts in Houston and Moscow have spent the last two weeks searching for the cause of the shaking and doing a damage assessment.

Under the worst-case scenario, such vibrations could rattle the station so much over the long term that the structure might begin to crack and leak. One of the solar arrays might bend out of position, affecting the station’s power-generating system. Experts cautioned that it was too early to determine how likely or unlikely these scenarios might be.

     ...

Here's the video:

As most of you are aware, vibration is not good for electronic and mechanical devices. They had better figure out the cause quickly and prevent recurrences, or pretty soon there won't be a space station.

Steve
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Daschle Dashes

Daschle has withdrawn his nomination for Secretary of HHS. Honestly, I shall not miss him. His withdrawal, however, allowed CNN to go to an all-Daschle, all-the-time schedule during my lunch break. Josh Marshall is right: the MSM has in no way acknowledged the change to a Democratic administration and a Democratic Congress. And their apparent attitude is "Can't make me!"

Steve
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Oh, He's A Gambling Rover, Part 2

Rove is going to talk? I'll believe it when I see it.

On the other hand, maybe someone else has already started talking. Or maybe someone threatened The Human Balloon with a sharp pin...

Steve
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Obama's Ordinary Rendition - UPDATED

UPDATE: Please read Glenn Greenwald on the same subject. Apparently I'm far from the only reader who spotted the failure of various authors to distinguish between "rendition" and "extraordinary rendition"; Greenwald offers (among many other insights) a list of the categories of people who might find some advantage in failing to make that distinction.


There seems to be some controversy over Obama's decision to retain the use of "rendition" among accepted legal practices in dealing with terrorist suspects. At first glance, it seems to me to be more a confusion of terminology than an ambiguity in Obama's determination to avoid torture and other practices abusive of detainees: to me, "rendition" means transfer of custody and control to a foreign government (not necessarily abusive); "extraordinary rendition" means effectively kidnapping the suspect and rendering him to a government that has a history of physical and psychological abuse of detainees, or long-term detention of suspects kidnapped in this way, often without habeas corpus or access to an attorney, family members, etc. Unfortunately, not everyone uses the terms in the same fashion, and there is a history of devils in the details in these matters.

The L.A. Times notes that because of the content of Obama's executive orders on rendition, the truly extralegal and/or unconstitutional abuses brought about by extraordinary renditions during the Bush administration are now prohibited:

     ...

Despite concern about rendition, Obama's prohibition of many other counter-terrorism tools could prompt intelligence officers to resort more frequently to the "transitory" technique.

The decision to preserve the program did not draw major protests, even among human rights groups. Leaders of such organizations attribute that to a sense that nations need certain tools to combat terrorism.

"Under limited circumstances, there is a legitimate place" for renditions, said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "What I heard loud and clear from the president's order was that they want to design a system that doesn't result in people being sent to foreign dungeons to be tortured -- but that designing that system is going to take some time."

Malinowski said he had urged the Obama administration to stipulate that prisoners could be transferred only to countries where they would be guaranteed a public hearing in an official court. "Producing a prisoner before a real court is a key safeguard against torture, abuse and disappearance," Malinowski said.

     ...

HRW usually offers a fairly reliable assessment of prisoner rights issues, and I take their statement as sincerely intended to allay our fears. The fears are real enough, though, and certainly justified, if one reads about the extraordinary rendition practices of the Bush administration. Spend enough time with Jane Mayer's The Dark Side and you'll find yourself looking over your shoulder, fearing pursuit, capture, rendition and torture by the CIA, Dick Cheney, John Yoo, David Addington, and all the monsters from Fifties grade B horror movies. Yes, the track record of the thing heretofore called "extraordinary rendition" really is that bad.

Hilzoy at Washington Monthly follows up on the L.A. Times article, and believes there are explicit prohibitions of the illegalities of extraordinary rendition built into Obama's orders. Hilzoy quotes extensively from the language of the orders themselves, including this section, which I reproduce intact:

"Sec. 6. Construction with Other Laws. Nothing in this order shall be construed to affect the obligations of officers, employees, and other agents of the United States Government to comply with all pertinent laws and treaties of the United States governing detention and interrogation, including but not limited to: the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution; the Federal torture statute, 18 U.S.C. 2340 2340A; the War Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 2441; the Federal assault statute, 18 U.S.C. 113; the Federal maiming statute, 18 U.S.C. 114; the Federal "stalking" statute, 18 U.S.C. 2261A; articles 93, 124, 128, and 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. 893, 924, 928, and 934; section 1003 of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, 42 U.S.C. 2000dd; section 6(c) of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Public Law 109 366; the Geneva Conventions; and the Convention Against Torture. Nothing in this order shall be construed to diminish any rights that any individual may have under these or other laws and treaties."

That's a pretty comprehensive list. Hilzoy goes on to quote from the Convention Against Torture the passage that prohibits expulsion or extradition of a suspect to a country where there are "substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture," and that the determination of the danger must be made using all relevant considerations... including the human rights history of the destination country.

I wish I were completely reassured by all this, but I have seen (fortunately not firsthand) what a determined, consistently violent and abusive government such as the Bush administration can do even despite the laws long since in place. And frankly, I still don't trust the CIA in matters of this sort: the Agency still has no visible history of training in nonabusive interrogation practices. (That's really no surprise; they're professional spies, not law enforcement professionals.) And renditions of all sorts except simple extradition tend to be executed behind a screen of secrecy, so it is unlikely that mere citizens like you and me will know what is actually done in individual cases. The international reputation of the United States in human rights matters affects each and every one of us, especially if we travel abroad. But we are not permitted sufficient information about how terrorism suspects are treated to know if their treatment in itself endangers us all. We can only hope the Obama administration keeps a very close watch on the implementation of these orders.

Steve
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Security Bowl XLIII

Hard to believe, but apparently true:

TSA, TIA and Tampa Police Answer Super Bowl Security Questions

Tampa, FL January 22, 2009 -

When: Friday, January 23rd, 11 a.m.

Who:Transportation Security Administration Federal Security Director Gary Milano, Tampa International Airport Police Chief Paul Sireci and Tampa Police Major John Bennett

Where: Tampa Police Headquarters, 411 N. Franklin Street

Details:
For the first time, TSA Behavior Detection Officers, who are trained to observe characteristics indicating a person is about to engage in wrongdoing, will patrol the Super Bowl. TSA will also deploy their Visible Intermodal Protection and Response (VIPER) teams and additional National TSA resources. Director Gary Milano will discuss TSA's role in providing security for the game. Super Bowl Incident Commander Major John Bennett requested the Behavior Detection Officers in an effort to prevent a "lone wolf" attack that was a threat to the Phoenix Super Bowl.

Laura McElroy TPD PIO

Enjoy your Super Bowl. I do not plan to watch it... it only encourages them.

Afterthought: over on TalkLeft, a commenter draws an analogy to Philip K. Dick's Minority Report. Clearly, the TSA has the intent; all they lack is the precognition.

Steve
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On, Daschle!

Not that I've ever been a particular admirer of Tom Daschle, even back when he was minority leader. And one has to admit that it was pretty fucking stupid of him not to mention to team Obama back during the vetting process that he might end up owing taxes... an eye-catching $128k, as it turns out. To that extent, he deserves the hit he's taking: he's an old Washington hand, and we had every right to expect that he would have anticipated a problem in the matter and mentioned it to his vetters.

But let's get real. Daschle brought up the problem himself, directed his accountant to investigate, reported the free "income" and paid the taxes... with interest... as soon as his accountant informed him of them. I'll try to be nice here, and not speculate on what a Republican would have done in the same circumstance.

By contrast, based on 2004 and 2008 records, corporate CEOs appear to give money almost exclusively to Republican presidential candidates. (Aside: I realize the linked table and map are not a scientific study.) And a disturbing number of corporations... two out of every three corporations, from 1998 to 2005... paid no income taxes at all. How do they do that? Good question. I can't help thinking of all the corp's that have relocated their offices to small islands outside the U.S., apparently specifically to avoid U.S. taxes.

It seems to me that if all those GOPers in Congress are really concerned with our government's receiving all taxes due to it, there's something they could do... likely with Democratic support. But believe me, that is not their concern. Indeed, rants about drowning government in a bathtub come to mind. As ironic and hypocritical as those rants are, coming as they do from people whose livelihood is government, they are probably politically effective. Voters are moved by the notion that they are paying too much in taxes. If correcting Daschle's error... face it, it was a mistake more likely than a crime; otherwise, the whole bloody GOP would be in jail... if fixing Daschle's error could really solve the problem, we'd all be on easy street right now, because he fixed it as soon as he knew about it. As political foolery goes, it was damned foolish of him, both to accept favors and not to tell team Obama. But it was not more than that. And Rep. Eric Cantor's (R-VA) joke, "It is easy for the other side to advocate for higher taxes because — you know what? — they don’t pay them," is utter crap. We all pay taxes. By the time Cantor made that statement, Daschle had paid his taxes... which renders Cantor's joke just another flavor of Republican lie.

Steve
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Pajama People - UPDATED

Pajamas Media (sorry; no link from here) is shutting down. (H/T TBogg.) Commentary on their demise by people with outlooks similar to ours is topped by Jane and Thers. The following paragraph from Jane's commentary struck me as particularly apt:

The online right exhausted itself during the Bush years because there was no limit to the propaganda they would push to defend indefensible kleptocrats who wrapped themselves in the flag. They shot their credibility. If it wasn't for wingnut welfare operations like Pajamas Media (R.I.P.), Heritage and other right-wing think tanks like Claremont (who subsidize the Power Tools), it's hard to imagine that public enthusiasm for the "Big Lie" would have seen traffic levels sufficient to keep them afloat.

Few people realize how relatively new conservatism in America is... it's less than a century old, and was certainly unknown to our nation's founders, at least in the form it takes today... but even more to the point, conservatism, such as it was, has been brought to an end as an affirmative political force by eight years of the worst presidential administration ever, and is now necessarily confined to a strategy of obstruction. If there was ever any positive aspect of American conservatism... and based on my reading of history, I find very little evidence for such... it is now defunct.

[UPDATE: Frederick of Mccs1977 reminds me in a comment that conservatism has been around since at least the Roman republic, and is still around in various places and forms. He's right, of course; I'm talking here about movement conservatism in the United States. Dammit, people should read what I'm thinking, not what I write.  ]

You'll forgive me if I do not attend the funeral. The remaining obstructionists are sufficiently bothersome, and some of today's Dems are sufficiently intimidated by them, that we have our hands full, just demanding that our own members of Congress override them, which many seem disinclined to do despite the obvious requirement in behalf of national survival. But during the lifetime of their movement, conservatives have always had difficulty defining exactly what it was they stood for and what they were trying to do (apart from making their already wealthy advocates wealthier, which was hardly a noble goal), and that in turn makes me think that I shall not miss them very much... if they can be compelled to go away, which is no certainty.

(Apologies to the late, great Frank Zappa for the subject line; his song title deserves to be applied to creative efforts far greater than this one.)

Steve
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Selected Links To Recent Posts

 
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Saturday Signs

Three Brothers, all bent out of shape...



Three Brothers Bakery, a fine old family Jewish bakery about a block from my apartment, is the one remaining building in my neighborhood with extensive damage from Hurricane Ike. It was supposed to reopen this month, and there has been considerable progress restoring the interior, but it looks as if those delicious bagels and breads and pastries will not be available for a while yet. And the sign... well, you can see for yourself.

Steve
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Excluding The Rule, Not The Evidence

Yet another chip knocked out of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments:

     ...

This month, Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority in Herring v. United States, a 5-to-4 decision, took a big step toward the goal he had discussed a quarter-century before. Taking aim at one of the towering legacies of the Warren Court, its landmark 1961 decision applying the exclusionary rule to the states, the chief justice’s majority opinion established for the first time that unlawful police conduct should not require the suppression of evidence if all that was involved was isolated carelessness. That was a significant step in itself. More important yet, it suggested that the exclusionary rule itself might be at risk.

The Herring decision “jumped a firewall,” said Kent Scheidegger, the general counsel of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a victims’ rights group. “I think Herring may be setting the stage for the Holy Grail,” he wrote on the group’s blog, referring to the overruling of Mapp v. Ohio, the 1961 Warren Court decision.

     ...

Never, never think judges, even (especially) Supreme Court Chief Justices, rule based on the evidence and the law (or the Constitution) alone. Roberts has been waiting from the day he was appointed by GeeDubya for a case in which he could do this.

Now he's done it, by a 5-4 decision. Some police... not all of them, but enough... will use this ruling to indulge in "isolated carelessness" to the detriment of defendants.

And the Bill of Rights just became a little bit smaller. Nothing to worry about, folks; if you're not a criminal, the police would never do this to you; oh no, of course not...

Steve
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Texas Turning Blue

Steve
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Friday Shadow Blogging

Steve
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Is Yoo Is Or Is Yoo Ain't

Steve
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Blago-Go-Gone

Steve
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Fairly Unbalanced

Steve
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Hellooooo President Obama!

Steve
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A Bit More From Jane Mayer

Steve
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If Budweiser Had Run This Super Bowl Ad

Steve
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Lorem Ipsum Dolor Sit Amet, Consectetur Adipiscing Elit

Steve
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Dems About To Cave On...

Steve
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Oh, He's A Gambling Rover

Steve
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Miscellany

Steve
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The Bush Economy: How Bad Was It?

Steve
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Krugman Debunks The Cheap Shots

Steve
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Go, Kristol Tears

Steve
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Getting Angry All Over Again

Steve
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Lemon Socialism

Steve
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Saturday Signs - 'If You Have To Ask' Edition

Steve
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Changes We Can't Believe In

Steve
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Friday Serious Cat Blogging

Steve
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About Damned Time

Steve
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The Party Of Lawlessness And Torture

Steve
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The Day After

Steve
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Today

Steve
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Afterthoughts

Steve
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President Barack Hussein Obama

Steve
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King Rejects President

Steve
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Gratitude

Steve
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Cheney Pulls Back

Steve
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Malicious Inconsistency

Steve
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Martin Luther King, Jr.

Steve
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From California... - UPDATED

Steve
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Saturday Signs - Personal Shelf Label Edition

Steve
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Those Missing White House Emails

Steve
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R.I.P. John Mortimer, Andrew Wyeth

Steve
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Showing Bush The Door

Steve
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Friday Kitty Tamale Blogging

Steve
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