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Tuesday :: Nov 25, 2014

Bring Out The GOP's Ugliness


by Deacon Blues

New York GOP congressman Peter King has almost outdone himself today with his suggestion that President Obama call Ferguson, Missouri police office Darren Wilson and thank him for going through a tough four months for simply doing his job.

We all know Wilson was simply doing his job and wasn't demonstrating unnecessary force when he pumped two slugs into the head of a wounded, unarmed black man at twenty-five feet, right Pete?

And King's not alone, as other members of the GOP clown car now blame Obama for the unrest in Ferguson, as if all those uppity black agitators and commies had no reason to engage in civil disobedience had it not been for Obama's pronouncements, or even his presence as the Black Man in the White House.

I wonder what these GOP Jim Crows think of white civil disobedience when it comes to Cliven Bundy protests, white pride militias acting up, or other white people when they parade around with their NRA-protected assault weapons. Not a word from King and the rest of the neo-Klansmen in the congressional GOP about those "patriots." (If you want to get whites to reconsider gun control laws, simply start an African American version of the NRA, and empower African Americans to legally walk the streets with their assault weapons.)

Does the House and Senate GOP really want to commence their new power with a race-based smear job again? Come to think of it, they really haven't stopped since the night Obama was sworn in back in 2009, so why should now be any different? Plus, the GOP has a habit of derailing incoming Democratic surges with misdirection moves away from the Democrats' desired agendas (see Bob Dole's "gays in the military" move against Clinton, Bush's Iraq surge against the newly-ascendent House Democrats in 2006, and everything Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have thrown against Obama since 2009). Maybe it's time for Democrats to launch a full frontal attack against the new GOP majority on race and equality issues and force the Republican ugly side into the sunlight early in 2015, depriving the GOP's agenda of oxygen.

With control the Congress now for the next two years, I predict the GOP will actually take a step back in time and counter the Democrats' demographic advantages in the 2016 electorate by jacking up the GOP's white base with fears over crime and safety. Watch carefully over the coming months as the GOP returns to Nixonism with a law and order focus to cloak their racism. Suddenly, we'll be hearing about crime and lawlessness as a stalking horse for racial attacks against the underclass. Even the polls will mysteriously suddenly talk more about crime and safety instead of the root causes like stagnant wages and a lack of economic opportunity. Democrats need to be ready to combat this GOP misdirection and deception effort away from economics, and point out why the GOP wants to avoid a "root cause" debate.

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Monday :: Nov 24, 2014

Hagel Latest Casualty of White House Control


by Deacon Blues

I was all set today to do a quick post on how the House GOP just gave Hillary Clinton her free shot to the White House with their late Friday news dump that they found nothing to their own Benghazi conspiracy theories after all. Sure, Lindsey Graham wants to still make headlines by attacking his own party for issuing a report that he says is "full of crap", but Trey Gowdy's committee now is pretty much dead before it started with this final report from the House intelligence committee dismissing their own theories that Hillary and the White House engaged in a massive cover-up of their own deriliction of duty.

John McCain is already downplaying Hillary's candidacy by saying she accomplished little if anything while at State. That argument though now goes by the wayside with his criticism of today's news that Chuck Hagel is resigning as Secretary of Defense over problems with the White House national security staff, namely Susan Rice, and over disagreements with the White House over policy. It was already known that both John Kerry and Hagel disagreed with the befuddled White House policy on ISIS and Syria. Now the whispering campaign from the White House is that Hagel wasn't seen as the right SecDef to run Obama's new war effort in Afghanistan, which came out as a surprise late last week, whereby the USA will now support the new Afghanistan president and his partnership with Pakistan by allowing our military to stick around through 2015 to actively fight the Taliban. With the Pentagon now moving back into active war-fighting mode as supporters of local forces both in Afghanistan and now Syria/Iraq, Hagel's desire to focus on policy and not operations was seen as a bad fit.

Yet this is just the latest chapter in a book whose ending we already know. McCain's complaints about Hillary's thin track record lose credibility when he rightly blames the White House for micromanaging the Pentagon. Simply put, all national security policy, both at the Pentagon and at Foggy Bottom in this administration is run through the National Security Advisor and White House staff. Whether it be Clinton, Kerry, Hagel, Panetta, or Gates, the cabinet officers in this administration have limited freedom of movement themselves. Susan Rice and Denis McDonough run foreign policy and are responsible for the ISIS and Syria policy failures, and ultimately the president himself is responsible for those failures. Chuck Hagel, a good man who simply wanted to do good work and leave the place better than he found it, is just the latest casualty of this reality that John McCain fails to be honest about.

The problem Obama now faces is that he needs to fill a SecDef vacancy in a hostile GOP senate, when those senators have no respect for the White House staff. And with it clearly known that this same outmatched White House team is still calling the shots on foreign and defense policy, why would anyone with the necessary clout from the outside, like a former senator come aboard for these last two years, just to watch Rice and McDonough act like they know how to run multiple military campaigns from the White House?

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Wednesday :: Nov 19, 2014

Shut Up John


by Deacon Blues

I have a simple message for John Boehner when he whines about President Obama not following the will of the people in opposing the Keystone pipeline: shut the f*ck up.

"Let's be clear about this. A Keystone pipeline veto would send the signal that this president has no interest in listening to the American people," Boehner said. "Vetoing an overwhelmingly popular bill would be a clear indication that he doesn't care about the American people's priorities. It would be equivalent of calling the American people stupid."

When all you have in your rhetorical bag is a Gruberian swipe, then you're pretty bankrupt Johnnie.

When Boehner cites “the American people’s priorities” to make his case that Obama is going against the wishes of the American electorate in opposing a pipeline that Big Oil has lied to them about, perhaps Democrats can now employ the “Boehner Rule” in responding.

For example, under the Boehner Rule,
-The GOP-led House should have passed gun background checks (92%-Quinnipiac) legislation months ago;
-The GOP-led House should have passed immigration reform (71% - Pew) months ago;
-The GOP-led House should have endorsed the EPA’s pending limits on power-plant emissions (64%-Pew) months ago;
-The GOP-led House should make corporations pay more in taxes (66%-Gallup);
-The GOP-led House should have passed incentives for solar (76%), wind (71%), and natural gas (65%-Gallup) rather than oil months ago.

Yet the Boehner-led GOP House has done none of these things except sit on their asses and vote over 40 times to repeal Obamacare.

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Monday :: Nov 17, 2014

Jerry Brown's Empty Legacy


by Deacon Blues

As California Governor Jerry Brown heads into his historic fourth term in 2015, his record since returning to Sacramento has things to admire. But as some in the media and elsewhere have noted, what exactly will his legacy be at the end of this next term? Yes, he has turned around the state’s finances and long-term bond rating from the mess he inherited from the outgoing Schwarzenegger administration. But what will be the lasting imprint Brown leaves upon the state?

To put it bluntly, not much. Brown’s signature “think big” initiatives are the ill-advised bullet train and the Delta water tunnel projects, both of which require billions in bond indebtedness for questionable value to the whole state. In fact, the Delta water tunnel project would make Northern California and vulnerable water districts pay the bill for its water to be shipped to Southern California. As for the bullet train, the funding for this limited-utility boondoggle could have been better directed to existing deficits in our transit systems.

Brown has already done the hard work of imposing his frugality upon the California legislature, especially his Democratic allies, to the degree that the electorate may support an extension of the tax increases he pushed through several years ago, if the electorate saw a good use for that money. Instead, Brown’s fourth-term policy cupboard is bare except for the ill-advised train and SoCal water grab. And it happens at a time when the cost of borrowed money may be at an all-time low. So with that in mind, let me suggest some alternatives, all of which would have a positive economic impact.

Brown has pushed through Proposition 2, the multi-billion dollar water initiative to create more storage capacity. But instead of the Delta water tunnel project, why isn’t the state using its bond authority to embark on a major push for water desalination plants up and down the state, powered by alternate energy? Local water districts are limited in their ability to take on costly plants by themselves, but with an endless supply of water just off our shores, why can’t the state commit itself to creating at least ten percent of its needs by 2030 through sea water?

Although it’s too late to stop the bullet train and redirect that commitment elsewhere, Brown should have focused on a multi-billion dollar infrastructure bank and bond funding, in partnership with local governments.

Brown could have reversed the tragic harm Ronald Reagan did in the 1970’s and rebuilt the state's mental health system, which would greatly benefit cities, counties, our human capital, and business climate.

Brown can ensure that the Medi-Cal program can accommodate the Medicaid expansion enrollment growth by replacing the soon-to-be-expiring full federal funding of 2013-2014 primary care rate increases (under the Affordable Care Act) with permanent state general fund dollars, so that more primary care physicians participate in the Medi-Cal program and our state no longer hovers in the bottom five of state Medicaid rates. And to ensure that California has enough physicians, Brown could work with the federal Department of Health and Human Services on changes and expansion of the graduate medical education programs and federal health service programs to encourage the UC medical schools to churn out family/general practice and internal medicine medical residents who commit to serving their first three years in California primary care settings in exchange for medical school debt forgiveness.

At a time when the University of California wants years of five-percent tuition increases, and the state university system (CSU) cannot accommodate the enrollment that it has at an affordable cost for thousands of California students, Brown could have done something bold and developed a plan whereby any California high school student with at least a 3.75 GPA would be guaranteed admission at reduced or no tuition to the CSU campus of their choice, with another guarantee that they will be able to graduate in five years or less, without crushing student loan debt. Your first priority as a state should always be to your own students and their opportunity. Why have a taxpayer-supported higher education system that leaves your own residents behind?

These are just some of the things that Jerry Brown could have committed himself to in a second term, and he would have been a very consequential governor if he had done only 1 or 2 of them. What’s worse is that his dad, who gave California its roads, universities, and water system in the 1960's would have done these things without a second thought, with the legislature his son has right now.

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Thursday :: Nov 13, 2014

Time for Reid and Pelosi to Go


by Deacon Blues

Despite pleas from Democratic leaders to not act unilaterally on immigration until at least after an omnibus spending bill can be passed in the lame-duck congressional session, and from Republicans who've been warning him not to forego opportunities for collaboration with the new Congress, the White House is letting it slip out today that Obama will act next week by way of executive order to shield up to five million immigrants from deportation.

This happens on the same day that the Senate Democratic caucus re-elected Harry Reid to be their leader, but not without opposition from centrist Democrats who questioned Reid's strategy to prevent exposing purple and red-state 2014 incumbents to risky votes in the current session. The upside is that Elizabeth Warren and other women Democratic senators have now ascended in the Democratic caucus, but the downside is that at a time when the Democratic brand and public support for Democratic leadership has cratered, are Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi the answer?

It should be clear by now to both Reid and Pelosi that Obama is going his own way these last two years, and will do politically stupid things out of self-interest without regard for things that legislative Democrats need to do for restoring the public's confidence that the party can govern. The action on immigration only confirms that Obama only wants to draw bright lines against the GOP and incite them, without any interest in getting things done. That's fine if you only care about yourself, but Obama is also responsible for what happens to the party as a whole, yet he seemingly has turned off both Reid and Pelosi and assumes he can operate now without them.

I would argue that both Reid and Pelosi have outlived any usefulness and in fact are not what the national party needs anymore. Both the House and Senate Democratic caucus should be sending signals that they will now go it alone from the White House out of self interest, and the first sign of that should be that both Reid and Pelosi face serious defections to more marketable alternatives who can tell the White House "don't assume our support anymore". Both caucuses need to chart their own courses and redevelop economic narratives based on the party's core principles for 2016, while showing voters that to the degree Repbublicans come over towards the Democrats a little, they may find willing partners separate from what the White House wants. This would actually encourage some in the GOP to do so, as they would lunge at any opportunity to poke the president in the eye.

I've reached the point where I no longer care if something harms the president politically anymore, all I care about is the party's ability to reclaim its credibility with the electorate and demonstrate that a rush to the GOP is dangerous. Democrats cannot do that anymore if they are tethered to this president because the public has turned him off, just as they have turned off Reid and Pelosi. Both caucuses need to show independence from the White House, not to be GOP-lite, but to credibly offer a Democratic alternative with new faces that will not be automatically dismissed as "same old, same old."

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Wednesday :: Nov 12, 2014

Six Years In, And Still Clueless


by Deacon Blues

I'm not sure whether to be madder and more disappointed at the diminishing prospects for the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) long-term prospects, the news that Obama is seemingly daring the GOP to impeach him on immigration, the news that the administration is giving a top Treasury slot to a M&A hack from Wall Street, or the news that Obama's ISIS policy has already run aground.

Yes, the four conservative hacks on the Court decided to hear the ACA appeal in their ongoing effort to kill the landmark statute. Forget all the talk about how unlikely it is that even the conservative bloc would knowingly vote to strip health care coverage from millions of Americans. Get this through your heads: the five conservatives on the court, even the somewhat revered Anthony Kennedy are nothing more than right wing political hacks wearing robes. These five had no hesitancy about gutting the Voting Rights Act and suppressing the votes of millions of African Americans, seniors, and college students. Does anyone really think they’d stop for a minute and care at all about stripping health care from millions of families?

Yes, Obama has the executive order authority to relax deportation requirements, and yes, he should hold this over the GOP’s heads to get something from them elsewhere. He also knows however that the possibility of him taking this action drives the GOP nuts, and threatens whatever collaboration, even limited, can take place with the GOP in 2015. So to even let it leak that he’s planning to move ahead anyway leads me to conclude that the White House’s real strategy is to drive the House GOP into an impeachment fury. If Obama goes ahead with this now, without trying to get something for not doing it, it means he’s inciting the GOP to go crazy.

And really, the best you can do to fill a domestic policy senior position at Treasury is to appoint a Wall Street mergers and acquisitions banker to the job, instead of someone who might, you know, be an expert on job growth and growing median incomes?

No, instead I’m just befuddled that we’re learning this afternoon that Obama is already rethinking his ISIS strategy, and wants it recast to include getting rid of the Syrian regime. Yes, Turkey and the moderate states wanted this from the outset, and yes, the hardline Republican critics have beaten the drums for this from Day One. But if both John Kerry and Chuck Hagel have been saying that the political assumptions and strategy behind this policy were flawed all along because it was a Fool’s errand to assume you could successfully roll back ISIS without dealing also with Assad, then one wonders who authored the strategy that only focused on the Iraq part of this problem without also dealing with the Syrian part of the problem? Well, those of us who are students of the Obama foreign policy legacy know the answer: the White House and National Security Advisor Susan Rice hatched this strategy rather than the foreign and military policy professionals at State and Defense. They did this to Hillary in the first term, and the White House staff is still botching things up in the second term. Incredible, simply incredible.

Deacon Blues @ 4:38 PM :: Link :: Comments (3) :: TrackBack (0) :: Spotlight :: Digg It! ::
Monday :: Nov 10, 2014

Maybe Paul Should Rethink His Talking Points


by Deacon Blues

Politico's Mike Allen tells us today that Rand Paul's 2016 plans center on attacking Hillary Clinton for being wrong on Libya and being too old for the job. Wow, there's a full argument for you.

Paul thinks that his stature as a fiscal conservative who wants less intervention overseas will sell well with independent voters. He may be right, but the real question is how will someone with that orientation even get the GOP nomination in 2016? Paul would have to get past Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and any number of GOP governors wanting to look tough to even have the opportunity to run against Clinton. Even if he did somehow pull that off, would the GOP establishment, the defense/security industry, and John McCain toss aside their DNA just to sign onto the campaign of a green isolationist when those same people prefer Clinton's views to Paul's?

And that's before the electorate gets to weigh in on a candidate who thinks that age is an issue for women candidates, but was never an issue with St. Ronnie Reagan.

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Sunday :: Nov 9, 2014

Letting the GOP Steal Populism


by Deacon Blues

In Salon today, Thomas Frank makes a crucial point about what just happened in the midterm elections: Once the GOP money class scared Democrats away from running a populist campaign on economic grounds against GOP obstructionism, it left that argument wide open for those same GOP plutocrats to steal it and beat the Democrats over the head with it. And it worked.

Frank notes that the Koch brothers and Karl Rove ran a populist campaign against Democrats, using some of the same arguments that Democratic incumbents should have used against their corporate GOP challengers, and did it with the advantage of unlimited and untraceable corporate cash thanks to the treason foisted upon us with Citizens United. Democrats could have run this same campaign against the GOP, focusing largely on economic issues and how the GOP obstructionism of these last six years has cost middle America, younger voters, and yes, immigrants of economic opportunity. Instead, as I argued earlier this week, the party ran on cultural issues and never even talked about kitchen-table issues in an election where the electorate doesn't want to hear about anything except security and dollars and cents.

As Frank notes, Democrats fell victim to their own narrative that they've become so good at data mining and turnout operations that they can overcome GOP advantages with their base electorate and win elections regardless. But numbers are numbers, and the Democrats' base electorate doesn't vote consistently like the GOP's does. This managerial class of Democrats that feels they can accomplish anything because Obama's campaign team won two national elections has now been slaughtered in two midterm elections because they have simply forgot what James Carville told them 22 years ago: "It's the economy, stupid."

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Saturday :: Nov 8, 2014

Letter From California


by paradox

11/08/14 0535.22 PST
San Jose, California

It is an old tale, utterly predictable in result with nothing particularly exciting in the product, but the California Democratic Party rout for election 2014 still is a legitimate story nonetheless and should make weary liberals and progressives feel better in these terrible times.

California is the greatest republic the world has ever seen, or will ever see. Democrats swept every statewide office and the Governor got his puny, tentative initiatives passed. As the federal government becomes more irrelevant every hour States will inevitably fill the vacuum to some extent, and there is great hope and promise the California republic can accomplish good liberal goals in the future, they’ll have to be accomplished somehow.

Continue reading "Letter From California"
paradox @ 6:43 AM :: Link :: Comments (1) :: Spotlight :: Digg It! ::
Friday :: Nov 7, 2014

Brooks Detachment Syndrome, Volume 2


by Deacon Blues

I admit to reading David Brooks, partly for the intellect, and partly for his detachment from reality about the modern Republican Party. In the aftermath of the GOP's drubbing of woeful Democrats this past Tuesday, Brooks penned another column on Friday telling us all is well with the world now that so many Republicans with religious, military, or corporate backgrounds have cut past Tea Party candidates to ascend to the Senate. To hear Brooks tell it, the GOP now can demonstrate to the country that it truly is the "dominant governing party".

Republicans didn’t establish this dominant position because they are unrepresentative outsiders. They did it because they have deep roots in four of the dominant institutions of American society: the business community, the military, the church and civic organizations.

Yet once again Brooks almost totally ignores the presence of the Tea Party in the GOP, and he assumes that all these newly-elected GOP senators with corporate backgrounds will be the adults in the room to fend off the Tea Partiers clamoring inside the Senate GOP caucus. What exactly does Brooks think will happen in the next two years when these "adults" tell the Ted Cruz's and Mike Lee's and the Joni Ernst's to sit down and let the corporate types take over again? What exactly does Brooks think will happen inside the GOP when the Tea Party sees the GOP establishment insist upon a Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush as the party's 2016 standard-bearer? How will the "governing" party look then?

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Thursday :: Nov 6, 2014

Calling McConnell's Bluff


by Deacon Blues

"There is only one Democrat who counts, the president. . . . Democrats in Congress will support whatever he agrees to do."
--Mitch McConnell, yesterday, making a false assertion

In all the reporting yesterday on the conversations between congressional GOP leaders and the president, the one comment I found interesting was the observation by Mitch McConnell that congressional Democrats were irrelevant, and that all that mattered was what Obama agrees to do. McConnell clearly assumes that the Senate Democratic caucus will follow Obama’s lead in lockstep, and will agree to support whatever deals Obama cuts with McConnell, or at least enough Senate Democrats will go along with whatever deal Obama and McConnell agree do to get past a filibuster. But is such an assumption warranted?

In a worst-case scenario, the GOP will rack up 55 seats in the next session, meaning that McConnell would need to pull five Democrats or four Democrats and Maine’s Angus King along with Obama and McConnell (I’m assuming that Bernie Sanders will never agree to anything that Obama and McConnell cook up that harms consumers or the middle class). And it’s not at all clear that King would go along with whatever deals McConnell and Obama cook up. What could those deals be? MSNBC’s Michael Steele posited last night that chances for collaboration in the new Congress between the GOP and the White House would be dictated by immediate action on two issues: the Keystone pipeline and immigration reform. Steele believes that any chance for bipartisanship next year on tax reform, trade deals, and balancing the budget are left hanging until it can be proved that Obama and McConnell can strike deals on Keystone and immigration. But note the choice of issues here.

Clearly, getting the Keystone pipeline through is a big deal to the GOP, and it’s just as clear that the Senate GOP wants to address immigration reform well in advance of facing voters again in 2016. But the Senate GOP also wants to prevent Obama from taking unilateral action on easing deportations as he threatened to do again yesterday. If Steele’s information is correct, and if Obama suddenly became a good negotiator, the White House could leverage McConnell early next session to reintroduce and pass the 2013 bill that passed the Senate in exchange for Obama not acting unilaterally on deportations. As for Keystone, and again if Obama was a good negotiator, he could leverage approval of the pipeline with energy-related goodies the Democrats want. Which takes us to the rest of the agenda.

The GOP plans to use its new majorities in both houses to now ram through tax reform and deficit reduction through the budget reconciliation process and not expose both to possible Senate Democratic filibusters. If successful, John Boehner and McConnell would be sending Obama budget bills with the poison pills of entitlement cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps coupled with lower tax rates for corporations and the wealthy. They openly believe they can logroll Obama into signing these, or threaten blaming him for budget-related shutdowns. But is it a credible assumption by McConnell that he can pry away a few Senate Democrats to vote for such deals (the fig leaf of bipartisanship) with the threat that the GOP will hammer those incumbents in 2016? Maybe, maybe not.

The political landscape for 2016 is much more favorable to Democrats than the GOP, and it will be the GOP that may lose numerous seats that year. Specifically, these are the Senate Democrats up for re-election in 2016. How many of them could McConnell push to vote for cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps, or risk being threatened in their states by the GOP?

Michael Bennet (Colorado)
Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut)
Barbara Boxer (California)
Patrick Leahy (Vermont)
Barbara Mikulski (Maryland)
Patty Murray (Washington)
Harry Reid (Nevada)
Charles Schumer (New York)
Ron Wyden (Oregon)

That’s right, virtually none of them except Reid and Bennet. Reid isn’t going to do it, and McConnell’s only hope would be to get someone like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin to go along, which he won’t do. So the truth is that McConnell’s boast that the Senate Democratic caucus is irrelevant if Obama agrees to a deal is itself laughable, because the Senate Democratic caucus could stand together on any bad deal cut by the White House on “entitlement reform” and simply reject their own president and save their own asses for 2016 and beyond.

As for the Senate Republicans up for 2016, they have almost two-dozen incumbents before the voters that year, including more than a half-dozen where a vote against seniors and Medicare may prove lethal.

So the takeaway here is that McConnell may already be overplaying his hand, and Senate Democrats should stick together and get as much from the GOP in these early test cases on Keystone and immigration as they can. But remember, the GOP needs action on immigration reform for 2016 more than the Democrats do, who only have to demonstrate pressure upon the GOP to get the 2013 bill into the House while berating them for going after brown people. It’s useful for Democrats to demonstrate a willingness to work with the GOP on these early issues, and then dig in and wait for the GOP internal fissures to emerge inside each caucus between the Tea Partiers and the rest, and between the 2016 candidates and the rest. But when it comes to going along with any White House grand bargain that gives Obama his legacy moment at the expense of entitlement “reform” so that the 1% can get away with it again, the Senate Democratic caucus should surprise both Obama and McConnell and just say “do it without our votes."

Deacon Blues @ 10:34 AM :: Link :: Comments (1) :: TrackBack (0) :: Spotlight :: Digg It! ::
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