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The Liberalism of Barack Obama

I really really really need to stop reading articles about politics. It just keeps setting me off. The latest was this, based on Gallup polling which suggests the Democratic “brand” is down in the porcelain fixture:

George W. Bush drove Americans away from conservatism, but Barack Obama is even more rapidly driving Americans away from liberalism.

Liberalism? Liberalism? Really? As represented by David Swanson’s little summary, for instance?

… tripling of weapons sales to foreign dictators last year, Obama’s willingness to cut Social Security and Medicare, the kill list, imprisonment without trial, warrantless spying, corporate trade agreements, the continued so-called “Bush” tax cuts, the war on Afghanistan, the drone wars, the increased military budget, the murder of Tariq Aziz and of Abdulrahman al Awlaki, the weak auto efficiency standards in the news that day, the refusal to prosecute torturers, Obama’s sabotaging of agreements to counter global warming, etc.

The “etc.” includes little things like dumping the civil rights of half the population so that the state can be seen as supporting religion.

If that’s a “liberal,” I have this nice bridge in Brooklyn to sell you (needs minor repairs but is an essential artery).

Here’s an alternate theory. Maybe people object to betrayal. He did not, after all, campaign on any of the stuff he’s done. And he’s done none of the stuff he campaigned on. Maybe they don’t like Obama.

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Being down on Republicans is all the Democrats have?

This article set me off. Shorter version: ZOMG! The Republicans are racists.

Look, pardon me for being snooty, but if that’s news to you, you haven’t been paying attention. The Repubs have been chasing the racist vote ever since it became available in the early 1960s. Before that, the Democrats had it sewed up. But then they had a brief come-to-Jesus moment and went and supported Civil Rights in the early 1960s, and that was that.

Everybody, everybody, knows the Republicans are racists. The more interesting question is why the Democrats have such a hard time convincing people they’re the Good Guys™.

Could it be because people aren’t total idiots? Could it be because they see that the Obama crew worked hard to bail out the banks and did next to nothing for regular folks? Could it be because they see unemployment up over their ears, and a White House that’s bored by their plight? Except in campaign speeches.

On one side we have racist corporate shills and on the other side we have corporate shills. On one side we have women-hating troglodytes and on the other side a man of wealth and taste who quite agrees that bishops shouldn’t have to put up with anything so anti-religious as civil rights for female citizens.

So pardon me for not caring when the well-dressed shills who are selling me out tell me to get hysterical over the other well-dressed shills who are selling me out.

Now, if there was a side defending my civil rights, if there was a side pushing Medicare for All, if there was a side with a real economic stimulus that switched us to green, clean, sustainable energy, then I’d be listening.

(You might say there is such a side, but, as Jill Stein pointed out, “[In Egypt], it was illegal to have third parties. Here it’s just impossible.”)

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Here’s an idea: civil rights for everyone!

You know, everyone. Including those everyones who are female.

Rights are the solution to the Todd Akinses of the world, and it would be unspeakably obvious if people could remember that rights matter.

For some reason, even people on the left don’t get it. I had somebody say, when I was carrying on about free speech rights and Pussy Riot, “Fuck theories of speech. Free Pussy Riot.” So, let’s see. “Forget about rights. Give ’em their rights.” Uh huh. That makes a lot of sense. And that’s the “thinking” on the left.

People don’t even get it when it concerns their own rights. There are way too many examples, but here’s just one from Lexia commenting at Reclusive Leftist: “…the woman’s mother, who had worked as a nurse (she had wanted to be a doctor), but mostly as a wife, and so was left at retirement age, divorced, impoverished and living in a trailer with thirty seven leaks….

“The woman’s mother said to me, in response to some remark I made about women’s rights: ‘But that has nothing to do with us.'”

I’m not sure where this reluctance to think about principles comes from, but that’s why we have a problem. That’s why we can’t see that


I know we’re not supposed to shout, but, honestly people, what is so hard about that concept?

Take religion, for instance. At this point, it’s enough to say, “But it’s my religion!” to excuse just about anything. The media just stand there, being respectful, when a Todd Akin says “Women don’t count. I’ll tell ’em when they’ve been raped. I’ll tell those uterine incubators what to do. It’s my religion.” The Left mostly nodded along when Obama quite agreed that Catholic bishops shouldn’t have to put up with anything so anti-religious as female citizens making their own medical decisions. (But because he’s such a nice guy, it won’t be as bad as if that horrible Other Party was giving the bishops their wishes).

May I make a suggestion? I think we need a Church of Savage Death to all Godbags. They’re interfering with my religion, which is that we all leave each other in peace.

Yeah, I know. That’s about as logically consistent as destroying women while Allah is said to be Merciful and God is said to be Love.

It always takes only about one step to fall into complete logical absurdity if religion is put above civil rights.

It’s obvious if you think about it at all. No other right means anything if you are not, as the old language had it, secure in your own person. If you can be imprisoned until you agree with me, you have no freedom of thought. If I can requisition a kidney from you (because I’m dying and my life is at stake and you’re a perfect match and my religion is pro-life), you’re nothing but ambulatory organ storage.

If all that drivel was understood in the context of rights, the Todd Akinses and their spiritual cousins, on up to the mild-mannered and socially acceptable versions in the White House, would all be obvious for the antidemocratic throwbacks they are. They’d never get near the teevee. Because the media are dimly aware that no religion is so important that it can demand human sacrifices. Not even female ones.

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Throwing away your vote on a “loser”

I can’t stand either liar running for Prez. But I’m told I have to vote for one of them or I’m so-called “throwing my vote away.”

Listen to that closely. Let’s take this out of politics for a second, just to make it clearer. Pretend I’m in Walmart, looking for a lawnmower. But something odd has happened since the last time I visited the store about twenty years ago. There’s nothing but shelves and shelves of fully recyclable turnip twaddlers and artisanal lego doghouses.

So, since I need a lawn mower, my only choice is to plunk $100 down on a twaddler. Otherwise I’m throwing my money away.

Say whuuuut?

The worst thing that could possibly happen to me is leaving with nothing? Really?

I know. In the political world, Walmart will follow me home and foist off on me either the twaddler or the doghouse, no matter what.

I don’t see how giving them my money — or my vote — improves my situation in any way. Paying to get something bad only increases my loss. I don’t need either of the useless blots. I need better choices.

As Jill Stein said recently,

“[In Egypt], it was illegal to have third parties. Here it’s just impossible.”

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Okay. Now it’s a heat wave

The interior of Southern California has been slow-roasting, like everybody else in the U. S. of A. It’s so bad, people are being told to use their A/C less, to let their houses go all the way up to 78°F (25°C). The utilities have been moaning about having barely enough power to meet needs

They’ve been bewailing the temporary shutdown of the San Onofre nuke like the loss of the last drop of drinking water. (The thing has cracks in hundreds of steam pipes due to design flaws.) It provides 2200 Megawatts. It’s loss is terrible. We’re all dying out here.

A complete load of horsefeathers. I live near two natural gas power stations, and they’re barely ever even on. If it’s as bad as all that, you’d think they’d have to use them, yes? One produces 560 Megawatts, the other 1516MW. But they don’t. Especially the 1516MW one. If I see it running two days out of the year, that’s a lot. Admittedly, I don’t spend my life staring at it, so I might miss a day or two, but not much more than that. The other one seems to run maybe 14 days out of the year.

Then, yesterday I went for a hike and saw this:

view of Pt. Mugu

Nice, you say? What are you complaining about, you say? Well, look at those two wisps coming out of the two power plants. They’re running! They’re producing power!

Ormond Beach Generating Station

Half of it is down right now due to a fire, so it’s only producing about 730MW. (Notice also that line of photochemical smog.)

Mandalay Generating Station


The neat thing about natural gas plants is the utlities get pollution credits for them because they’re so (relatively) clean. So — this is just a wild guess — by not running them, they can use those credits for dirtier plants of theirs. Or sell them to other needy utilities.

Meanwhile, they can weep and wail and gnash their teeth over how we must turn the nukes back on now now now! Or else we might have to turn the A/C all the way to 79°F.

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I hate MarketSpeak

I am so fed up with marketers, I can’t tell you. What brought on this particular fit was some nonsense quoted on the BBC.

The article is discussing a rule that’s gone into effect in the UK, requiring web sites to let users know about all the cookies they plan on storing and asking users’ permission to do it.

In other words, it’s opt-in, not opt-out. Needless to say, practically nobody opts in. Cue the moaning of the marketers in 3 …, 2 …, 1 …

“Plain and simple – this will kill online sales.”

Oh, really? Seems to me online sales grew from nothing to huge before all this tracking crap got under way.

But British Telecom has the solution. Revert to opt-out with this clever little bit of marketspeak:

The cookie settings on this website are set to ‘allow all cookies’ to give you the very best experience. If you continue without changing these settings, you consent to this – but if you want, you can change your settings at any time at the bottom of this page.

“To give you the very best experience”? “To give you the very best experience”?!

Is the feel of all those cookies tracking me supposed to make me all warm and fuzzy and less alone in the world?


They’re not talking about me, and they know it. The “you” having the “very best” experience is the advertiser paying the web site’s bills.

So, here’s the PlainSpeak change that’s needed: “The cookie settings on this website are set to ‘allow all cookies’ to provide us with the most revenue.”

There. Fixed that for ya.

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Our mutilations are good, yours are bad

I haven’t closely followed the story about male circumcision in Germany. A judge ruled that as an elective surgical procedure with permanent effects, it required the informed consent of the patient. Just about the most basic right is control over what gets done to your own body, and the ruling makes every kind of sense. Newborns can’t informedly consent, so suddenly circumcision of male babies was illegal.

Cue indignant protests by observant Jews. But it’s part of our religion. Cue protests by others. The Germans! Are telling the Jews what to do! Or rather not to do! Besides, circumcision helps prevent Aids.

Christ on a bike, people. You either agree to the principle that others can’t mess around with your body without your consent, or you don’t. If you do, there’s no difference — except that we in the West are used to it — between generally minor mutilation of male babies for the sake of Judaism or medicine, hacking away at the genitals of female children as is done in parts of Africa, or performing cosmetic surgery on a six year-old so she can win perversions such as Toddlers in Tiaras.

The judge was right the first time on this. Parental rights should not extend to reshaping the physical bodies of their children. Parents don’t own their kids. They take care of them. Or they should.

And religious rights can not trump human rights without running smack into a complete utter idiotic logical absurdity. What if my religion was to kill your religion?

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Climate Change Bozos

Remember the folks who said warming wasn’t a problem because plants use more CO2 when it’s hot?

Corn field drying up in southern Wisconsin, USA, July 16th, 2012. (wxmom on flickr)

How’s that working out for you?

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Who benefits from ObamaRomneyCare?

David Dayen has Obamacare / ACA summarized in a sentence. He’s been doing excellent work on the implications of the Supremes’ decision to sort of uphold it when individuals have to pay, but to let states opt out at will.

About that last, he’s pointed out repeatedly that there really is no reason to assume all states will go along with the Medicaid expansion because it’s free federal money. The career Democrats’ are taking it for granted that hospital lobbyists will twist Republican governors’ arms to take the cash already. But the hospital lobbyists “don’t sound confident about their magical powers of persuasion”

States can also opt out of the federally administered medical insurance exchanges and force their defunding. That would leave millions of very poor people without even the access to Medicaid that they have now and no access to the new subsidized-and-expensive insurance exchanges.[Update, Jul 7: the Urban Institute has a pdf with more detail.] Democrats don’t seem to expect much voter pressure about these issues. Again, “like the Medicaid expansion, Democrats are hoping that the industry will force these governors to comply, or force the appropriations through at the federal level.”

The crumbs that reach actual people from Obamacare are good, but they are crumbs. People aren’t going to get excited about crumbs. What’s interesting is that the Democrats know perfectly well who’s getting the loaf and who might actually push.

This persistent hope on the efforts of industry to force compliance actually tells us quite a bit about the Affordable Care Act itself.

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Humans are the only thing we can’t fix

So this is not actually good news:

The Fukushima nuclear disaster was the result of “man-made” failures before and after last year’s earthquake, according to a report from an independent parliamentary investigation.

A technical glitch, an unforeseen cascade of technical glitches, an accident exceeding design parameters, all those things can be dealt with, assuming money is no object.

But even if money can be spent like water (and if you have to, why use nukes to begin with when there are cheaper, better, cleaner alternatives?), but if you can spend no end of money, you still can never fix the fallibility of human beings.

We will always make mistakes.

It’s therefore insane to depend on a technology that must have perfection or else it kills us.

It’s unspeakably more insane when there are cheaper, healthier, and more effective alternatives out there. You don’t have to take my word for it. The evidence just keeps piling up (pdf).

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What Really Makes Us Fat

Let’s face it. People feel the fat-antifat kerfuffle is a struggle between good and evil. Gluttony is bad! It’s not gluttony. It’s a disease! It’s not a disease. It’s genetics. It’s okay. It is not okay. And so on and on.

Folks, we’re talking about biology. It could be all of the above and then some. “Then some” is actually my preferred answer and I’ll discuss it in a bit. But in the meantime, it’s worth remembering that none of the above are mutually exclusive. The answers vary from person to person and there is no single thing that is true for everyone, or even for one person all the time. As they say on Facebook, it’s complicated. In that spirit, it’s well worth looking at research that tells us about parts of the answer.

Gary Taubes writes about a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Ebbeling et al., 2012) on What Really Makes Us Fat:

[T]he study tells us that the nutrient composition of the diet can trigger the predisposition to get fat, independent of the calories consumed. The fewer carbohydrates we eat, the more easily we remain lean. The more carbohydrates, the more difficult. In other words, carbohydrates are fattening, and obesity is a fat-storage defect. What matters, then, is the quantity and quality of carbohydrates we consume and their effect on insulin.

Chalk one up for the Atkins Diet, but don’t therefore assume the American Heart Association is “wrong” when it tells you to eat a low-fat diet of whole grains, fruits and veggies. The AHA is trying to help your heart. Their advice is perfectly good for your heart. The Atkins Diet is trying to help you lose weight. This research says it does. It says nothing about your cholesterol or the kidney-damaging effects of long term excess protein, especially in people with borderline kidney disease they may be unaware of.

The research shows an interesting piece of the obesity puzzle, but unless fat storage regulation is the biggest reason for obesity, it’s not actually going to deal with the epidemic. And the biggest causes can’t be fat storage regulation gone awry. Human physiology hasn’t changed in the last few decades. We have the same fat-storage hormones we’ve always had. Likewise, people have always wanted to eat too much. Nor have our genetics changed a whole hell of a lot in the last few dozen years. And yet obesity (as medically defined and meaning more than mere overweight) has gone from being a rather rare issue to being a problem for a third of all US adults.

The thing that’s missing in too many current discussions of the obesity epidemic is environmental effects. This is not a comment on the research, because that wasn’t its topic. But every single discussion for the general public needs to beat that drum until we all get it. Environmental factors are the only ones that have changed recently. Plus, that explains why we have an epidemic. Epidemics are public health issues, and they’re all embedded in the environment.

The reason it’s so important for everyone to understand the biggest causes is because obesity really is an epidemic, and it really is destroying the health of millions. It’s causing and will continue to cause horrible suffering in people who go blind or need amputations due to diabetic complications, or who become paralyzed after strokes. This stuff is no joke. Nor is it just a conspiracy by the fashion industry (although it’s that too). To the extent that obesity damages health, it’s vital — literally — to understand and fix the real causes and not to waste time on sacrificial food offerings to gods who don’t care.

I think two environmental factors stand out like sore thumbs.

  • Advertising for fat-making food and drink
  • Endocrine disruptor environmental pollution

You may not think of ads as an environmental factor, but what I mean by that is it’s out there, in your environment, and not something you control. You can’t simply ignore ads, no matter how many people blithely tell you to. Ads have their effect whether or not you pay attention. Your only real choice is to turn them off. An individual can choose to eschew most media, but on a population level, that’s not going to happen.

So we’re in an environment saturated with unavoidable messages to have fun with food. At the population level, some proportion of people some of the time will find themselves wanting that food, wanting that cola, and taking it. At the population level, some proportion of people get more calories than they otherwise would. And some proportion of them get fat.

It’s important to remember that getting fat, being a biological process, is not a simple matter of balancing calories in and calories used. Nothing in biology is simple. Calories in is a factor, certainly. If it wasn’t, you’d see fat people among famine sufferers.

But how the body stores fat stands right between the two halves of the equation. That is a complicated, hormonally controlled process we’re only beginning to understand. Insulin is one of those hormones, but only one. Sex hormones are also among the messengers that carry out the regulation. The starkest example of fat storage gone crazy is rare genetic conditions where the body’s hormones that promote fat storage are so active, they don’t leave enough glucose circulating in the blood for metabolic needs. Everything goes into fat, there’s too little left over for the business of staying alive, and the person is literally starving while putting on weight.

A big contribution of Ebbeling’s and her colleagues’ research is demonstrating the subtle effect of fat storage regulation that’s within the normal range. And since hormones are part of that process, hormone disruption can be expected to have a huge effect on fat deposition.

Which brings me to the second big environmental factor: a whole group of chemicals. They’re called hormone disruptors and they come from some plastics, pesticides, hormonal medicines, and so on. Those break down into hormone analogues and get into the environment. As I said in an earlier post on the Obesity Epidemic, if hormones help regulate energy balance, and if we’ve flooded the environment with bad substitutes for hormones, is it any wonder that people are having trouble regulating energy balance?

So, you may be asking, what does it all mean? What are we supposed to do about it? I’ve said it before so I’ll just say it again:

Like all public health issues, nothing less than a population-level approach will work. Dysentery, cholera, and typhoid are never wiped out by drinking boiled water. They’re wiped out by building municipal sewers. Smallpox wasn’t eradicated by avoiding smallpox patients. It was eradicated by universal vaccination. The individual actions aren’t useless. They just don’t change the widespread causes of the widespread problem.

Modern health problems like cancer and obesity aren’t going to be wiped out by eating fresh vegetables. Eating veggies is good, but it doesn’t address the basic problem. That’s going to take nothing less than a change to clean sustainable industry.

It’s almost enough to make you wish a mere diet really was all that’s needed.

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Everything wrong summarized in one picture

tractor using fuel to vacuum grass clippings on a sod farm

Vacuuming grass clippings at a sod farm


A sod farm grows lawns for people who can’t be bothered with the whole grass-seed-and-careful-watering effort. It takes tons of fossil fuel. It takes huge quantities of water. You see farmworkers carefully moving the irrigation pipes every few days so that none of the sod gets marred by having a pipe on it too long.

You also see farmworkers walking the fields in formation, plastic bags on their belts, gently using a screwdriver-like tool to remove any weed trying to invade the living astroturf.

And, of course, the new grass has to be cut regularly for the sod to form a nice even carpet. More fossil fuel. Also, grass clippings. The clippings can’t be allowed to matt down. So they are vacuumed up.

We’re living in a world where it’s worth building huge wells drilling thousands of meters down to bring up ancient decomposed bacteria that are refined in enormous factories and then trucked everywhere while releasing their carbon to cook the planet so that fuel can be put into tractors to vacuum grass clippings.


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The Lysistrata option bothers me

Women either want sex or they don’t. They’re either equal partners in desire — and biology says they very much are — or they aren’t.

If they want sex, if it’s a desire and not a fungible commodity, then women would no more withhold sex to get something they want than men would.

If, for men, sex is something more than a compulsory sneeze, then withholding sex wouldn’t have much effect on them in any case.

Which says that the Lysistrata option is really rather crap. (You know the story. Ancient Greek woman who organized the ladies to withhold sex from their husbands until the guys agreed to whatever it was.) The story requires the whole patriarchal poison pot of sex as masturbation for men that women put up with for reasons of their own.

Could we all stop buying into that?

It is not some kind of empowerfulling for women (or men) to see how much they can get in the market for sex. It’s stupid.

Sex isn’t some kind of candy you buy or consume. It’s not something you use. It’s a conversation. It’s something you do.

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Criminal bystanders enable Sandusky

I don’t mean McQueary. I mean everybody who makes this necessary:

man who testified against Sandusky leaving courthouse with a black bag covering his head
Man who testified against Sandusky leaving courthouse with a black bag covering his head.

And also everybody who makes this necessary: Sandusky trial sketch artists offer a blurred view of accusers.

The people who can’t show their faces have withstood wrongs and are even fighting against them. That’s the definition of heroism. Why would they want to hide? They should have nothing to expect but admiration and praise, right?

(By the way, that image has been pulled from the web, as far as I can tell. Only the thumbnail is left. Everywhere, it’s been replaced with pictures of Sandusky’s smiling mug. What does it say when shame about the shame is so strong we’re ashamed even to see it?)

There is something wrong here, and it’s not Sandusky, vomit-worthy as he is.

The people who want to be invisible aren’t hiding from him. They’re hiding from everyone else. They’re hiding from the millions of “innocent” bystanders. From those who did nothing, which allowed him to do everything.

It’s bystanders who provide the air for predators.

It’s the millions of kids on playgrounds who don’t stop the bully, the guys at frat houses who don’t stop the rapists, the voters who re-elect leaders that sign off on torture.

In my world, those millions aren’t bigger criminals than the perp. But just being anonymous doesn’t make them that much smaller either.

There are many articles out and about just now, wondering how predators keep escaping notice when we ought to have learned by now. How many powerful pedophiles does it take? How many celebrity athlete rapists? How many executive sharks?

It’s pretty obvious, I think. As many as it takes for bystanders to leave their safe anonymity, to suffer the embarrassment of calling out the high or mighty, and to stop committing the crime of going along.

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Surviving the stupid

With thanks to Charles Pierce, it’s good to be reminded that the Republic was as stupid in the past and did survive. Now isn’t then, of course, but still. Here’s his Morning Dooley:

“An’ so it goes. Ivry day a rayporther comes to th’ house with a list iv questions. ‘What are ye’er views on th’ issue iv eatin’ custard pie with a sponge? Do ye believe in side-combs? If called upon to veto a bill f’r all mimbers iv th’ Supreme Coort to wear hoop-skirts, wud ye veto it or wudden’t ye? If so, why? If not, why not? If a batted ball goes out iv th’ line afther strikin’ th’ player’s hands, is it fair or who? Have ye that tired feelin’? What is your opinion iv a hereafther? Where did you get that hat? If a man has eight dollars an’ spends twelve iv it, what will th’ poor man do? An’ why an’ where an’ how much?’ “Thin, if he don’t answer, ivry wan says he’s a thrimmer, an’ ought to be runnin’ a sthreet-car an’ not thryin’ to poke his ondecided face into th’ White House.”

— Finley Peter Dunne, 1899.

(By the way, “thrimmer.” What a perfect word!)

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Ann Romney and her horses

You know what? LEAVE ANN ALONE. She will not be running the country. What she does with her time is not relevant to the election. How about — I know this is a weird idea — telling us about Mitt’s record as Governor of Massachusetts?

I’m talking about this sort of thing from the NYTimes, which is all over the place right now.

…a glimpse into dressage, the chosen sport of Mitt Romney’s wife, and into the rarefied world of horses that cost up to seven figures….

We get it. She’s rich. The Mitt is rich. They’re rich.

That is also irrelevant to being President, just as it would be if the candidate was poor.

FDR was rich. That didn’t make him a bad President.

Reporters are needed to cut through the candidates’ speeches and tell us what they have actually done as leaders. That’s the part that’s hard for a mere amateur to find out. That’s relevant to being President.

So, O great Paper of Record, how about getting on task? And that goes for everyone else too. Including me, I guess.

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