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April 21, 2011


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Is the artifically-suppressed US Dollar also part of this discussion of mindless ideology? Hurts to admit that I agree with Steve Forbes in this respect. So what am I missing?

What is Forbes' thesis? I don't think global economic forces allow for much artificial weakening of the dollar.

It can always get worse but sometimes serious effort can make it a bit better. The question of this age is not how to engineer an American resurgence but how to distribute the pain of the ongoing [inevitable] decline. Two choice readings from this week:

"Could this be how it’s always felt inside a great imperial power on the downhill slide? Could this be what it’s like to watch, paralyzed, as a country on autopilot begins to come apart at the seams while still proclaiming itself “the greatest nation on Earth”?"

And commenting on the tendency to blame the people at the top (while demanding from them the radical course correction no one really wants):

"The election that mattered here wasn’t Reagan’s relatively narrow victory in 1980, but his landslide in 1984, when most of the nation registered its approval of a policy shift that spared them the costs of the transition to sustainability.
...The payoff the Reagan administration offered the American people was the same unearned prosperity that wrecks most democracies in the end. That payoff was cashed in, in turn, by cultivating a degree of fiscal irresponsibility no previous American administration had ever considered: cutting taxes, increasing government payouts, and simply borrowing the difference."

It seems all elections are pivotal, that had the result gone the other way, history would have changed dramatically. But something happened to this country that is making me doubt the power of "we" to change much if anything. I'm not suggesting a conspiracy here so much as an alignment of bad stars in the American firmament. In 2001, with federal coffers bulging from surplus revenues, it suddenly became imperative to "give the money back" to the taxpayers. That is with tax receipts at record levels in large part to increased FICA revenues, it was suddenly imperative to cut taxes, particularly for the wealthy, just as Boomers were about to retire. Did we miss something here? All the sturm und drang of the Greenspan Commission from the early 80s evaporated in the morning light. The gnomic Greenspan himself said there was an actual danger from this surplus, that we better cut taxes quickly or else. The sages nodded.

Then, we had to go to war or else. And we didn't have to budget for war since "you can't put a price tag on freedom". And then there was a new and expensive entitlement, Medicare Part D that didn't need to be paid for, which also served as a lavish payoff to Big Pharma. About this time, the housing market began to seriously overheat. Greenspan helpfully suggested there was no danger here, that the economic fundamentals of a Chinese-financed housing frenzy were sound. Once again, the sages nodded.

When everything crashed, a black man was given the nation's worst job, pace Onion News. We soon found out how dangerous socialism and deficits were. Witless rubes who could barely express a coherent thought without exposing their utter ignorance of basic reality became media darlings for their "concern" that their country had gone astray. And they wanted it back! Pronto! The sages agreed.

So, here we are, somewhat surprised that this nation is on the precipice of right-wing revolution without - literally - a safety net. And whose fault is it? That woman popping out babies that boils Joe Sixpack's blood? Better her, it seems, that the arbiters of our slovenly discourse, the same "serious" people who counsel tax cuts for the rich - AGAIN! - and social spending cuts for everyone else.

Our destiny is intertwined with our obsessions about race and identity. That's why elections increasingly validate foreordained conclusions. We are not one nation, one people, or one project. Our collective soul is merely a mishmash of odd impulses and resentments. Into this void, a helpful explanation enters: it's their fault. The people who are not like us.

We've been gambling this nation's future on a adrenaline rush of id-fueled rage. Everything that we are, everything that we pretend to be, turned out be nothing so complex as a piercing scream: I'm white and I'm the real victim. That's the shining city on the hill we reverently invoke to justify burning down the house. It's the election we hold between our ears in traffic jams and fast-food orgies. Behold your American dream.

It's now too expensive to fuel my gas-powered lamp.


Steve Forbes on the weak dollar:

This has been his crusade for several years, representing an unrelenting assault against Geithner and Greenspan's policies.

What happens if in 2012 the GOP experiences the opposite of a "revolution" and Dems instead come out on top? Nothing? Would it not allow Obama to institute sweeping "change" that he was not able to deliver in his first term? It seems that far-right Republican ideology is losing ground, even in Arizona where Gov. Brewer has reporting more support than not for vetoing worthless and dangerous legislation.


Obama is a Chicago lawyer. Nothing more, nothing less. He and Blago are one and the same. They are cut from the same cloth. Products of a corrupt political machine. I have always expected the worst from Obama, and so far he has not disappointed me. He is in it for the money and the perks. The best perks of any political position in the world. If you set your expectations a low as possible, he will not disappoint you.

Never forget: Chicago lawyer.

azreb, it's impossible to dispute the evidence leading to your conclusion. My own expectations were quite low when I voted for him, & still I'm disappointed. All he had to do to make me happy was begin prosecutions and give humble thanks to Bradley Manning.

AZrebel, I think the corrupt Chicago machine meme is nothing more than ooga-booga messaging from the right. As we discussed in the previous thread, corruption is less a bug than a feature of a politics based on money and privilege. In this sense, corruption of the old school is actually preferrable since there's some balance in the economic interests on the take. Unions and machines taking a slice out of public projects were at least redistributing wealth downward. I'm a good-government (goo-goo) type myself and this sort of corruption always bothered me. That is, until I saw what systematic plutocracy does in its stead.

Obama is a Hyde Park liberal and much too comfortable with Wall Street. The power in our economy shifted to the financial service sector over the past 25 years and now that corruption has so debased our economy and our politics that there's no balance left between the rich and everyone else. The rich own the system lock, stock and barrel.

The real scandal in our politics isn't a "street thug from Chicago" terrorizing decent white suburbanites. It's the corporate ownership of democracy. It's complete now. Obama's failure lies in not speaking directly about this coup.

"It's the corporate ownership of democracy. It's complete now."

Well-said, Soleri! And isn't the weak dollar advantageous for the large multi-nationals? It is times like this when I wish I'd been a finance major!

Re: Steve Forbes on the strength of the dollar.

Very clever the way he implies that the lack of productive investment to create jobs and the Wall Street casino of derivatives and hedge funds are mere rational reactions to the lack of a stable dollar. This is free-market fundamentalism and wrong.

Steve and his rich buddies are holding dollars in the greatest income inequality since the eve if the Depression, corporate cash is at a record and profits back to pre-boom levels -- all held in dollars. So the buck can't be that bad. In reality, the casino economy is a result of deregulation and low taxes. The relative dearth of productive investment is a combination of cheap labor overseas, the gambling/biz school culture, industry consolidation, technological change, etc.

Conservatives such as Forbes believe the Fed's only job is to provide price stability. They also believe government stimulus is bound to fail, aside from cutting taxes. Both these dogmas were proven wrong not only in the Great Depression, but in the horrendous pain of the late 19th and early 20th century panics. With no major public works stimulus from Obama -- most of his stim went to tax cuts and backfilling state budget deficits -- the Fed had no choice to avoid deflation but two rounds of quantitative easing.

Now, as the world's reserve currency, which is of immeasurable value to us, the dollar necessarily fluctuates in value. The fluctuation can be based on many things. The moves produce winners and losers. But we've tried a gold standard -- failed. Tried Bretton Woods with a fixed rate -- failed. There was never a golden age of dollar stability. Remember the 1960s gold runs and the 1980s Plaza accord fights?

The relatively weak dollar now benefits exporters. The danger is if the GOP pushes us into a new recession by further budget cuts, or continued wars bankrupt us, or Mr. Forbes buddies at the country club continue to be fine with a deindustrialized, financialized America with 13.5 million unemployed and millions more underemployed, income inequality, a collapsed middle class. All this will eventually cause the dollar to lose its reserve currency status. It won't be the fault of failing to be niggardly.

My quote for the day. "All physical geographical empires decay, rot and disintegrate from the inside out. Makes no difference if it is your body or the “great” Rome or United States. And as the decomposition takes places the weakness is ravaged and pummeled from the outside by the Huns of Rape and pillage. The next great empire will be a village of minds that becomes a galactic city of awareness seeking a path through the cosmos." Cal Lash and his dog spot from their space ship somewhere in the vast galactic ocean of space.
Great stuff Jon and Soleri and AWinter and morecleanair but AZREBEL is not worng just kinda like me not as economically scholarly in his opinion. Thats all I can offer guys I only had two semesters of economics.

Jon, As part of your growing fan club I offer that I enjoy your mystery's and their history. I also enjoy your analysis of the planets economic and political situations. Given your great analysis and detailed writing in the economic field I feel that in the tow of the undercurrent out there in the space between your ears is a great and detailed 500 page economic killer mystery book.

Thank you, AZRebel.

Late breaking news:

The Nobel Peace prize committee has requested the medal back from President Obama so that they can engrave images of little Predator Drones on the back of the medal. They are hoping that President Obama may get a hint from their action.

A White House spokesperson (paid liar) released the following statement:

"As a boy the President never was able to enjoy the pleasures of owning and operating radio controlled toys. While he thinks he is just playing a video game, the boys down at the CIA don't have the heart to tell him the missles he is firing are real and the people he is killing WERE real."

Jon: thanks for debunking Forbes-o-nomics vis a vis the weak dollar! I admit to being dumb as a box of rocks about this subject. Unfortunately, Larry Kudlow (CNBC) and his histrionics are also fueling Mr. Forbes' cause!

OK AZREBEL, lets ask who wants to meet SAT 043011 or SUN 050111 at 9 AM or 2 PM at Gallo Blanco. I can go anytime.
cal at
6023161755 or

Cal, I'd write it if I could find a publisher. Maybe next time I'm back home I can host the fan club...

You are all nothing but socialists fomenting class warfare with your radical talk of raising taxes and increasing regulation of our good godly virtuous job creators. I shall have need of smelling salts and fainting couch posthaste!

Krugman makes an excellent point about the dollar hysteria on the right:

Donna, I am a 70 year old conservative miltant agnostic Scotsman with my own line of salts and a leather couch designed for falling down on. My capitalist prices are right and provide me a decent income. I can also arrange for some Orwellian mind control therapy.
Would be happy to see you at the next Jon Talton Fan Club social.

What people like the guy who emailed you complaining about poor people having kids fails to understand is that most public assistance - food stamps, Medicaid, reduced/free school lunches, etc - goes to people working shitty low wage jobs. Those assistance programs along with the EITC, which is directly tied to work, function as a welfare subsidy to low wage corporations like McDonalds and Walmart. It's easy to dismiss the little bit of help a poor single mom gets as being not that much (and I certainly wouldn't want to take it from her) but when you consider that Walmart is the largest user of Medicaid in many states, including AZ and CA, it may be time to cast a jaundiced eye on this policy of taxing the middle class to keep the lowest wage workers mollified so their employers can keep their labor costs down.

I think business should undergo welfare reform similar to what Clinton did with AFDC in the 90s. When you start a business you get a few years where your employees can get public assistance. If after that period of time you aren't paying your employees a living wage and providing them with benefits then we start fining you to help pay for those social programs.

Donna: Sounds good I will let you and the experts on the subject debate such.

Donna, while I agree with your aversion to large employers like Wal-mart essentially offloading huge health-care costs to the rest of society, I think the solution would be simpler if we went instead to a single-payer system and relieved corporations of that burden. Wal-mart plays the system the way it's constructed, a way that is hurtful and counterproductive for both corporations and individuals. Of course, given our politically-powerful-cartels-and-rich-people-first lifeboat ethic, single-payer is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

This subject is of special interest to me since I'm being squeezed by high insurance costs. What's behind them is a health-care system with little cost containment capability. Essentially, hospitals and professional cartels have little incentive to keep costs down since insurance companies don't see it as their job to check inflation. What insurance companies do is little more than skim somewhere between 15 and 30% of health-care dollars off the top so we get hit two ways: expensive insurance and a very costly health-care system. As long as corporations and other powerful interest don't complain, the system carries on as if nothing is wrong. We pay 18% of GDP in this country for health care. Japan pays 8%. An MRI in Japan costs around $80. Here's, it's around $1000.

My personal physician recently completed a remodel of his house on Missouri Ave that is a stunning architectural statement. I mention this because I assume his income is somewhere in the neighborhood of $300K a year. He's a general practitioner, not a surgeon. He's good but not great at what he does. I used to joke with him that he was going to drive me to Mexico in an effort to find affordable care. I've stopped laughing.

I'm continually amazed when I talk to people how most have internalized the meme that it's insurance companies that keep health-care "free", i.e., not "socialist". Of course, most people have never been to a truly advanced democracy where health care is a right, not a privilege. If they had, they might be curious why the doctors abroad don't see it as their sacred duty to have high-powered lifestyles, or why it's more important that we get gouged by a system in the name of "freedom" than served by a system that simply assumes health care as a human right.

The ability to buy medical coverage across state lines would help quite a bit in lowering costs: competition and all that old fashioned capitalistic stuff, don't ya know.

Terry, that is simply not true. What advantages would there be? Insurance companies would simply relocate to the state (say South Dakota) that offered the laxest regulations and the least oversight. The consumer would be at the mercy of business interests that have no particular need to play fair.
When you're paying a 30% surcharge for the privilege of non-socialist health care, it's unlikely that insurance cartels will suddenly become competitive. Since they already exert disproportionate power in our political system, if something promised to actually lessen their profits, do you think they'd allow that? They know it's a joke. That's why they keep telling it.

OTOH, if you're on Medicare, congratulations. Liberals were looking out for you.

Soleri, I'll take "non-socialist health care" anyday. I've seen the socialist kind, and it sucks! And, yeah, I'm in Cal's league; and, BTW, tort reform would help lower costs also.

Terry, do you realize Medicare is "socialist" using the definiton of the lunatic right? Similarly, every other health-care system among advanced democracies? And that these nations enjoy pay much less (on average, about 50% less) for outcomes equal to better than ours? And that no one needs to declare bankruptcy because of unpayable medical bills, like the majority of all bankrupticies in the US?

In March 2009, Obama had a meeting with congressional Republicans on the topic of upcoming health-care legislation. He said everything was on the table, including tort reform. The Republicans refused to deal. But if they had, nearly every credible expert on the subject tells us that about only 1% of all our health care costs could be attributed to the GOP's favorite movie monster.

You need to ask yourself why private health insurance is so necessary for "freedom". What is it about these leviathans of greed and amoralism that so persuade millions of unthinking Americans that their very lives hang in the balance? Why would corporations whose bottom line depends on denying care to sick people somehow have managed to persuade you that they're the ones wearing the white hats?

Terry, it's called propaganda. They rule through talk radio, Fox News, and the grotesque edifice of lies that substitutes for modern political communications in this woebegone nation of ours.

Given health-care inflation, our health-care sector is eventually going to bankrupt us. This "freedom" to be gouged by private interests is coming with a heavy price tag. It's one reason why single-payer is not only a moral necessity but a practical one. This isn't simply a matter of bleeding-heart liberals like me wanting to give stuff away to blacks and Mexicans. It's fundamental to any future this nation might have.

The Ryan proposal to privatize Medicare is a disaster for most Americans. A person in his or her late sixties would have no peace of mind in securing adequate health care at a time of life it is most needed.

The suggestion that a subsidy to individuals would encourage them to shop for insurance and thus reduce medical costs is a pipe dream. The primary purpose of subsidies has been to raise prices with the most notable subsidy program being price support subsidies to farmers.

Profit maximizing insurance companies would have to charge a hefty insurance premium to elderly customers to justify the policy. The alternative would be not to offer coverage to this age group.

How would adding $500 to $1000 per month in health insurance expenses to future retirees' personal budgets effect their savings in anticipation of retirement? Get a better paying job? We all want that now. Save more? Not so much. It will most likely discourage retirement savings because retirement would not be attainable at any point in most Americans life. Do the math.

As I read the experts on medicine and is it a right or a privilege my humanity leans to a “right.” However I understand the intoxication of folks in my age bracket with Medicare. Since I turned 65 and six months I have only paid $35 dollars out in medical expenses. That includes a number of internal medicine surgeries, two eye surgeries and major skin cancer procedures plus all my regular physician visits, physicals and blood work. And at least 50 percent of my dental work has also been paid for. The other trick here is as a union president and member I worked hard to get a good after retirement medical program from the City of Phoenix. And I have never had a complaint about waiting, generally I have been able to complete all procedures immediately or within a few days, surgeries included. Consequently even though I paid into Social Security for 12 years prior and again after my employment with the city of Phoenix I don’t complain that I am denied 75 percent of my Social Security payment as of a result of having a separate law enforcement retirement.
Give medical care should be a right I am still a huge fan of reducing the worlds population by at least 50 percent and Obama declaring Arizona a Wilderness.

I'm a little uncomfortable with the idea that the American right lies reflexively. I say that as someone who believes they do, and that the consequences for this nation are grave. But my squeamishness arises from necessary doubt. Truth is not property. It's usually somewhere between my ears and your tongue. Still, this piece by Rick Perlstein helps explain why we have surreal debates about topics like health care. Something has happened since the Reagan Revolution that has essentially turned politics into a blood sport for religious zealots. It's not that right-wingers are necessarily religious in the conventional sense, only that they believe things so fervently that they might as well be fundamentalists. And what is their core belief? I would contend it's the victimhood of white people.

Lies reflexively
In my 70 years I have known people that lie reflexively. The thing that bothered me most about their statements was that these people didn’t appear to know that they lie reflexively. An attempt to point out such to these people in many instances brought them quickly to a physical altercation position.
My position (already well documented on this blog) about Organized Religion (OR) is that it is really Organized Crime (OC). And since man came out of the cave and into the village OR has been a blood sport for people that seek to dominate others for their own personal gain and satisfaction. In my opinion (“victimhood of white people”) fear is the driving force in most cases to manipulate others and is exploited daily by a few to control the many. Zealot is not a word I use as I can think of a few occasions where a zealot may have been an OK person with a noble cause. I prefer the word “Kook.” After reading the Mother Jones article posted by Soleri I would suggest that most of the people depicted were not Kook’s, a few were zealots but many were generally normal acting and appearing faithful “true believers” in the “faith” that their god was right. Which fountain of truth are you drinking from?
The Kool Aid comes in many forms.

Cal, knowing you as I do, I would never think that you might harbor some fatal germ of certitude. Yet, you do believe things just as I do. And if your religion, like mine, is environmentalism mixed with nature piety, it is still couched in enough doubt to keep the dogs of fanaticism at bay.

Skepticism is a mixed blessing. We're open to correction but the price we pay necessarily makes us less effective advocates. We believe but we stop short of actual violence. If you won't kill for your God, your God will repay you with inconsequence. It's the paradox of democracy.

I guess I am a conservationist Kook that would probably find it easier to kill in the name of DOG than God.
Long live Hayduck

Worth watching: a young, supply-side congressman encounters informed citizens instead of sheep:

What will it take to wake up people? Assume everything Republicans tell you is a lie.

soleri, you are right, of course, that a universal single payer system would be better but my comment presupposes the continuance of the so-called "free market" based health care system. (The level to which the government guides the "invisible hand" of this market via subsidies and monopolistic advantages belies that descriptor.)

soleri said:

"And what is their core belief? I would contend it's the victimhood of white people."

Yes and I would offer that it coexists with an even stronger core belief: Rigid division of gender roles with men firmly on top. This is what underlies their views on reproductive issues, gays, and social spending. That last is important. Unpack the objection to "welfare" and it's not just that the money of upstanding white people is going to undeserving brown people. It's going to women who have the audacity to have sex and procreate (or choose not to procreate) without being under the proper ownership of a husband.

Donna, one reason I don't get into the gender thing is my sense that right-wingers are more likely to be racial tribalists than gender chauvinists. Is race more basic than gender in that case? I really don't know. Certainly, you catch the patriarchal anxiety from people like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly. And culture warriors seem to have slightly better arguments for sexual roles than they do racial stereotypes. That said, the animus on the right for Obama is a very telling clue. In 2008, Hillary suddenly became a heroine on the right for standing up for the white working class. And since her elevation to Secretary of State, her rehabilitation is such that she's now the most admired woman in America. OTOH, Nancy Pelosi is the devil that Hillary used to be.

Hurling an epithet like "bitch" at Hillary seemed to express some deep-seated misogyny. Still, it's reserved for liberal women, not conservatives. Around 10 years ago, I used to frequent AOL political chatrooms. As an experiment, I adopted a screen name, "Jamal" that suggested blackness. The hostility I encountered was overwhelming. By contrast, liberal women in those chatrooms were patronized and mocked, but they didn't have death threats casually tossed at them.

The original sin in America is slavery and race is its vehicle. While jerks like Rush seem to live up to our worst expectations about male chauvinist pigs, it's their obsession with the black "other" that really reveals the moral fracture of the American soul.

Oh soleri, dude, really?

I'm not underestimating racial animus at all. I was a feminist Obama supporter during the primary. I caught all sorts of hell for that.

But my position is informed by years of observing the anti-choice movement. Ever engage a social conservative in a real conversation about reproduction? Within the space of a few minutes it devolves into them screaming some variation of "sluts need to keep their legs closed!" Every time.

Conservative women are protected because they play the game within the lines and attack other women. Phyllis Schlafly is the Queen Mother of this. She had nannies raise her own kids while she went around the country lecturing American women on the need to give up their career aspirations for their husbands and children. It's a neat trick if you can pull it off and she did it. The key is to convince men that you're exceptional among women. They buy it most every time.

Recently, Schlafly dissed women who voted for Obama.

'“Unmarried women, 70% of unmarried women, voted for Obama, and this is because when you kick your husband out, you’ve got to have big brother government to be your provider,” said Schlafly, president of Eagle Forum and infamous for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.'

And don't forget that Birtherism is most likely linked to resentment at Obama's white mother for her race traitorous miscegenation with his Black African father. I'm pretty certain that Stanley Ann Dunham violating the sexual taboos of her era has more to do with the frothing anger of Birthers than even garden variety racism does. Do I know this for certain? No. But I'll bet you my last dollar that if they did a poll that compared disapproval of interracial relationships with Birtherism there would be a big overlap.

Donna I think our views are shaped by our experiences and backgrounds; be they gender, race or nationality. However on this issues I tend to side with the other dude (Soleri) because in my experience I've seen gender a lesser issue than race, ethnicity and immigration (Mexicans). I also tend to think that the Birther issue has more to do with Pres. Obama's father being a foreigner and the President's foreign sounding name.

As for "sluts should keep their legs closed," I tend to be much more liberal in my view and think that both men and women should wisely invest in contraception. Being gay, I understand the importance of wrapping it up being on, well to put it bluntly, whichever end I find myself upon. I think the responsibility slightly falls more on the receiver's side (females in straight sex) since, like gay men, if they fail to do so could result in unwanted consequences.

Donna, one example I'd throw out there is Ann Coulter. She gives every bit of evidence being a modern woman. She's never been married. She likes dressing provocatively. Among her numerous boyfriends was the son of the porn mogul Bob Guccione (who gave her a character reference for her "oral technique"). Ann's friends are mostly gay men - "homocons" - and her favorite food is white wine.

An even better example is the strange and near-sociopathic Ayn Rand, whose star is once again ascendant. She fiercely defended abortion and the rights of women. She was openly atheistic. Her personal affairs with younger men were messy and abusive. And she's the intellectual darling of the right in a way Phyllis Schlafly would never be.

Freud might now ask: what do right-wing males want? I think it's fairly clear that the odd coalition of Jesus freaks and Randian superstars are like oil and water. They tolerate one another because, partly, that's what the coalition needs at this moment. More importantly, a coalition of this sort is grounded on turbo-charged emotions of zealous belief and resentment. But I have no doubt which part of the coalition has the younger contingent. From Paul Ryan to Rand Paul, it's the economic libertarians. The holy rollers are the downscale cousins from Dogpatch.

Race remains the tenderest of wounds in the American psyche because its effects are so long-lasting and self-reinforcing. We immiserate millions of black people in inner cities and then mock them for having to deal drugs because the unemployment rate is catastrophically high. The passion play on the right is between Augustinians who believe the hand of God has predestined blacks to this hell and the more forgiving Pelagians who see salvation as near as the next tax cut.

I agree with you that the rights of women are under assault from the right. But middle-class women who break glass ceilings and demand reproductive freedom are far less hated than black women who have children out of wedlock and live on food stamps. This is just as true for liberals, which is why I lament the loss of unions. When we lost the white working class, we also forfeited our primary moral cause: the rights and needs of the working poor. The right racialized class war and liberals seemed almost too eager to wave the white flag. This is our moral failure. Not the right's. Ours.

Homocons on Fox? I don't watch TV enough, I knew it. Hmmm, gives new meaning to "gay for pay."

PSF, aside from Shep Smith, I don't know of any gays on Fox. Smith himself wouldn't qualify as a homocon. But there are quite of few of them elsewhere, needless to say. From Matt Drudge and Andrew Breitbart to Fred Karger and David Dreier (not out).

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