Saturday, February 18, 2012

Adele: "Set Fire to the Rain" (Live at the Royal Albert Hall) and "Someone Like You"

Music on Saturday @ The Reaction

I wouldn't call myself a huge Adele fan, but I have enormous respect for her -- needless to say, she has an incredible voice and is a gifted songwriter -- and I like her a great deal. (I have both of her albums, 19 and 21, on my iPod and currently have a number of her songs in frequent rotation.)

And, certainly, compared to most of the rest of today's popular music, much of it on display at last week's Grammys, she stands in a category of her own well above the self-aggrandizing bombast and dreck. And I don't think it's exaggeration at all to say that some of her songs are truly great.

On this quiet Saturday of a long weekend (with Monday being President's Day in the U.S. and Family Day here in Ontario), let's take a break from the politics (and the Republican Party's ever more staggering descent into deeper and deeper madness) and post her amazing performance of "Set Fire to the Rain," one of her best songs, at London's Royal Albert Hall on September 22 of last year (available on DVD). It's mesmerizing. She's mesmerizing. And incredibly beautiful.

And... yes, I'm probably more of a fan than I'm letting on.

Okay, that's wonderful, but not enough. More Adele! Here she is performing another one of her best, "Someone Like You" -- at home:

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Stop the Linsanity: Religion, sports, and the abject ignorance of David Brooks

David Brooks has his lofty perch at the Times, and on PBS, in large part because compared to most other conservatives he seems to be a fairly reasonable fellow. (Yes, it's all relative, relative to the likes of Hannity, O'Reilly, and Dear Leader Rush.) I'm not sure if he's liberals' favorite conservative, but he's certainly near the top.

But being fairly reasonable doesn't make him right, and beneath the veneer of calm reasonableness he's wrong a lot of the time. I'm hardly the first to point this out, and it seems futile even to make this point anymore, so often has it been made, but Brooks's embarrassingly bad column today on Jeremy Lin and religion in sports prompts me to stop ignoring him for a moment and address his inanity.

Consider just the laughable opening paragraph:

Jeremy Lin is anomalous in all sorts of ways. He's a Harvard grad in the N.B.A., an Asian-American man in professional sports. But we shouldn't neglect the biggest anomaly. He's a religious person in professional sports. 

I'll give him the first two -- maybe. There aren't many Harvard grads in any North American sports league, that's for sure. There aren't that many Asian-Americans either. But how is it possible to write with a straight face that being "a religious person in professional sports" is an anomaly? Has David Brooks ever watched professional sports? Does he know anything about the athletes who play professional sports?

To be fair, he acknowledges "the faith-driven athlete and coach, from Billy Sunday to Tim Tebow," but his argument is essentially that professional sports, with the egotistical drive to win that is a core characteristic of the professional athlete, is antithetical to religious belief: "The moral ethos of sport is in tension with the moral ethos of faith, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim," as he puts it.

He's wrong. I would say that the "moral ethos of sport" is in tension with Brooks's simplistic understanding of "the moral ethos of faith":

Ascent in the sports universe is a straight shot. You set your goal, and you climb toward greatness. But ascent in the religious universe often proceeds by a series of inversions: You have to be willing to lose yourself in order to find yourself; to gain everything you have to be willing to give up everything; the last shall be first; it’s not about you.

For many religious teachers, humility is the primary virtue. You achieve loftiness of spirit by performing the most menial services. (That's why shepherds are perpetually becoming kings in the Bible.) You achieve your identity through self-effacement. You achieve strength by acknowledging your weaknesses. You lead most boldly when you consider yourself an instrument of a larger cause. 

That's one way of looking at it, but certainly not the only way. I would describe this as the Nietzschean view, the view of Christianity in particular as self-denying submission, as slavery. There's something to this, yes, but these three religions and the faith they inspire are rather more complex.

What, for example, if you think that you should use what you believe to be your God-given physical abilities to compete for His glory? What if you think that not using them would be to insult your God? Have you seen Chariots of Fire? This is what the great Scottish runner and rugby player Eric Liddell believed. Was it wrong for him to run in the Paris Olympics in 1924? Was he not being properly Christian, David Brooks?

Please. Brooks is no expert on any of this, whatever his various pontifications. It's obviously possible to be a highly competitive athlete, amateur or professional, and also be a person of sincere and devout faith. And the NBA and every other major professional sports league in North America is full of such people. And it's not just Tim Tebow. Every NFL game seems to culminate with a prayer circle at midfield. Baseball players point to the sky, to Him, after home runs. Does Albert Pujols ring a bell? Or my own favorite football player, Troy Polamalu?

Does Brooks have any clue at all?

Rhetorical question. Let's just move on.

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Bruno Mars at the Grammys and the spirit of James Brown

I spent a couple of hours watching the Grammys last weekend. I am neither qualified nor interested in providing a critique of the show or the winners or much else to do with the program. The one thing I really liked was Bruno Mars. Maybe that's because, to my mind, he and his band are seriously retro, and, as I told a friend, I hope the James Brown estate got paid. It's all good. Great to see.

Like I said, I really like what they did on Sunday: the energy, the style, the tightness of the act, and especially the super-cool dance steps coming from the horn section.

This is the clip from the show.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Memo to Obama: Keep the focus on Romney

According to the WSJ, "President Barack Obama's re-election campaign has begun discussing whether to attack Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum and try to define him for a general-election audience, potentially breaking from its focus on Mitt Romney."

I would say no. Don't.

1) While Santorum is leading Romney nationally, as well as decisively in both Michigan and Ohio (but not Arizona, where Mitt's well ahead), and appears to have a ton of momentum right now, Romney still has an overwhelming edge in both money and organization. With the Michigan primary still a week and a half away (February 28), he has more than enough time to narrow the gap. And if he wins Arizona and at least makes it close in Michigan (though a win would hardly be a surprise), he'll be in good shape heading into Super Tuesday (March 6), particularly if he also does well in Washington (March 3).

2) Santorum is weakening himself in the long run with his insistent focus on issues like abortion and birth control. He's waging the culture wars of the 1660s 1990s and is proving himself to be ridiculously out of touch with the overwhelming majority of Americans.

3) Santorum has been able to get to this point not just because he's been a solid candidate, polished and seemingly authentic, and not just because he's just because he's the only credible anti-Romney candidate left, but because he's been able to avoid the spotlight as a result of being so far out of it for most of the race. His recent wins in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado were the best things that happened to him in this race but perhaps also the worst. The media are paying attention. And so are the voters. (And so is the Romney campaign, which has turned its attack machine on him the way it did Newt. Newt was crushed by it. Sure, there was more to attack in Gingrich than in Santorum, but the the attacks will take their toll over the long run.) Santorum has what it takes to hold up better than others under the spotlight (e.g., Perry and Bachmann, not to mention Cain), but it's possible that he's peaking now and will only wither from here on out.

4) In large part because he wasn't a serious contender until Iowa, but really until those wins in the three states on February 7, Santorum lacks the campaign infrastructure to keep up with Romney. Sure, the money will flow if he keeps winning, and he'll attract the needed expertise, but it's probably too late.

5) Even if he somehow were to win the nomination, Santorum would be no match whatsoever for President Obama. Unless the economy were to collapse, an Obama-Santorum match-up would likely result in a landslide victory for the president, both Electoral College and popular vote. Even with the deep divisions between the two parties, even with all the virulent rage on the Republican side, wouldn't a 60-40 Obama victory be possible, with Santorum only winning the Deep South and isolated right-wing states like Utah and Idaho?

All of which is to say, it's probably not worth going after Santorum right now. Why bother? It seems like a huge waste of time.

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Women of GOP Land: What do you see in those men?

By Ramona

Hello, women of the Republican Party: Democratic female of the liberal persuasion here. I know it looks like we couldn't be any farther apart when it comes to ideology, but I know us. I know when it comes to the big issues -- our futures and the well-being of the ones we love -- we're sisters under the skin.

We should talk. I mean really talk. I don't mean the usual chit-chat, the talk about kids and work and what's for dinner. I mean about politics. When we're together we do everything we can to side-step the issue and it does keep us friendly, but you must have noticed that the upcoming presidential election is becoming the bull elephant in the room.
I know you won't want to hear this, and I hear you when you tell me it's none of my business, but for a couple of weeks now I've been especially worried about where you're going with the men in your life. It strikes not just me but a lot of us that the relationship is becoming, well -- abusive.

At the moment these four men -- Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul -- are vying for your affections, and from where I sit no matter which one you choose it'll be bad news for you. And, okay, if any one of them wins, it'll be bad for me too. But it's you who has to take control of the situation. When any one of the four tells you he's going to work hard to take away a woman's right to free birth control, it's really disheartening for the rest of us to have to watch you applaud and cheer, as if he was God's gift and aren't you lucky to have him?

At least one of them, Rick Santorum (father of seven, no surprise), doesn't believe in birth control in any form. He says birth control can actually be "harmful to women," suggesting that it promotes sex outside of procreation, which apparently, even for those of us not still living in Medieval times, is a bad thing:

One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country... Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that's okay, contraception is okay. It's not okay. It's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."

He blames "radical feminists" for taking women out of the home and into the workplace, yet he's done nothing to help improve the economy enough so that women who want to stay home can stay home. In his book, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, written in 2005, he wrote, "Sadly the propaganda campaign launched in the 1960s has taken root. The radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness."

Ron Paul, a former OB/GYN and a libertarian to boot, said, "Forcing private religious institutions to pay for contraception and sterilization as part of their health care plans is a direct assault on the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty. On my first day as President, I will reverse this policy."

Sexual harassment in the workplace? No problem, women. Dr. Paul says, just quit:

Employee rights are said to be valid when employers pressure employees into sexual activity. Why don’t they quit once the so-called harassment starts? Obviously the morals of the harasser cannot be defended, but how can the harassee escape some responsibility for the problem? Seeking protection under civil rights legislation is hardly acceptable.

Newt Gingrich believes strongly in a Personhood Amendment that says life begins at conception -- a loony view with ramifications for everything from the morning-after pill to in vitro fertilization. In his bid to destroy Planned Parenthood, he lied when he said the organization's main thrust was performing abortions. He went so far as to pull a fantastical number out of the air -- 90% of all services were abortions -- when the truer number is three percent out of nearly five million visits a year. In truth, only 34 percent of visits to Planned Parenthood are for reproductive services.

Mitt Romney wants to cut off contraceptive services at community centers as well, and, if he had his druthers, he would kill Planned Parenthood entirely. Even after all the evidence to the contrary, he is still trying to convince you that nothing good comes out of Planned Parenthood, when we all know that in so many communities they've become an essential health-care lifeline. not just for women of reproductive age but for men and women of all ages.

My question is, what is it that you see in these men? When you're out there applauding and encouraging men who want to take womanhood back to the status forced on us even as late as the middle of the 20th century, does it bother you even a little bit that you're egging them on, knowing -- because they've told you in every way possible -- they want to own every little piece of you?

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Nobody Asked Me, But...

By Carl
Special Get Carter edition
I figure I have about five more of these I'll have to write to cover my sports heroes.
It's hard to believe he was only four years older than I was. In point of fact, it's hard to believe he was older than I am.
Gary Carter, baseball Hall of Famer, perennial All-Star, and former New York Met, died last evening at age 57.
The one thing I remember most about his play and his attitude was, it transported me back to a time when ballplayers had to dig ditches in the offseason, when the game was fun and not dominated by money, when it was still viewed as a child's game. He got a hit, he smiled. Even when he lost a game, it might take him a while, but he could be counted on for a level-headed interview and a smile. It was as if he had been blessed to remain a kid all his life, and he knew it and appreciated every second of it.
Let me get some of the negativity out now about this: number one, Carter was a devout born again Christian. He was arrogant and self-indulgent and self-promoting. And his death from gliobastoma in his brain suggests the possibility that at some point Carter experimented with steroids, probably late in his career.
All that said, he's a hard man to hate. There are very few people in this world, much less professional sport, who combine cheerful positivity with the smoldering intensity needed to compete and win at the very highest level of achievement that Cary Carter managed. He rarely wore his heart out on his sleeve (especially with respect to his faith) and encouraged everyone by meeting them on their map of the world and making them better players, better people.
You saw this on the playing field when he would handle a young pitcher, like Ron Darling or Dwight Gooden in the mid-1980s. Somehow, he made them believe even more in their ability and themselves.
It showed in his own performances, too, that he could will himself to greatness. Take his first game with the New York Mets in 1985. I will never forget his rextra-inning walk off homerun. I was jogging along 30 Street in Long Island City, a few blocks from home, passing a Greek Orthodox church and I remember glancing over as he stepped up to the plate and throwing a quick prayer skyward.
I don't know if God heard either my prayer or Carter's prayer, or if he even cared. All I know is, with one swing of his bat, Gary Carter created a whole new legend in New York Sports.
It seemed to happen over and over: when the chips were down, when the Mets needed a kick in the ass, Carter provided one. In 1986, in the playoffs against the Houston Astros, he had struggled at the plate, until he squibbed a single over second base, and sparked a rally.
In the World Series that year, he really could have been the MVP of the contest between the Red Sox and the Mets. After the Mets lost two games at home, they stormed into Fenway Park in Boston, winning game three, and making Boston remember that they had won 108 games that year and weren't going to go quietly.
And then Carter took the reins in Game Four and unleashed two titanic homeruns that tied the Series and set up one of the most remarkable games in baseball history, Game Six of the 1986 series.
If you say "Game Six" to any baseball fan, they will immediately know the game you're talking about. Carter set up the most memborable inning in baseball history by tying the game on a sacrifice fly in the eighth. He scored the first run in tenth after singling with two out, and down three runs.
All he could think as he stepped to the plate was, "I will not make the last out of a World Series." That spark, that decision to practically will a ball past the infield and to drop into the outfield safely, inspired the next three hitters-- Kevin Mitchell, Series MVP Ray Knight and of course, Mookie Wilson-- to keep the rally going.
The Mets of Gary Carter, after all, "invented" the rally cap. If it hadn't already been a hackneyed and ancient phrase, "You Gotta Believe!" would have been this team's motto.
This is not to take anything away from the great players on those teams, like Keith Hernandez or Darryl Strawberry or Gooden or Darling or Knight, but Carter really was the impact player that a championship is built around.
I had season tickets for parts of the seasons of 1987 and 1988, and so Carter became something of a must-see player. I remember sitting with a pregnant wife, cheering Carter on in 1988 as he sought his 300th career homerun, and every time he came to the plate at Shea, the thundering cheer "Gah-REE! Gah-REE! Gah-REE!" would rise from the stands like a sudden release of skyrockets. Even the fetus that would later become my daughter got into the action, stomping her feet on the placenta.
There were three pregnant women in that section, Mezzanine section 27, that year. It was funny.
Carter's career effectively ended that year, 1988. He hit 11 home runs, and the Mets, the dazzling team that just kept winning, won a hundred games, and met the LA Dodgers in the playoffs.
A team they went 10-1 against during the regular season. In a cold and rainy playoff series, the Mets lost. The crushing blow actually came early in the series, in game four, when Mike Sciosia hit a two run homer in the ninth off Dwight Gooden who was pitching a one hitter up until then, and who was seriously coked up.
What is it about boyhood heroes that cause us to reflect in their glory as if it was our own?
To some extent, Carter's death is a sudden reminder that life does end, sometimes earlier than we expect, and that each day is precious enough to treasure and cherish as tho it all ends tomorrow. Carter was 57. He was the last of my sports heroes that I thought I'd have to memorialize, as he was the youngest. He was also among a handful of men I admired as an adult, as opposed to an adolescent who was still wet behind the ears and hadn't experienced the heartbreak and ennui of adulthood.
Perhaps Carter brought me back to my childhood, where I could spend entire days in my backyard playing basketball or throwing a tennis ball against a wall thirty feet away, trying to take self-batting practice, and pitching to a chalk outline on the same wall, adjusted in height to compensate for the short distance. His nickname, after all, was "The Kid."
Perhaps it's that I foolishly decided to pick up the scraps of a ballplaying career last year and deluded myself into thinking I still have the chops for this game when I took batting practice and was still able to clear fences. I didn't want to believe in mortality, in aging, in breaking down and atrophying, in eyes that can no longer track a baseball into my waiting glove, in legs that can't break twenty seconds around the bases as I nurse a tearing Achilles tendon and a tennis elbow that screams in terror with each throw and swing, in the pain the days after a game, in the sleepless nights of worrying if I can just get that one last hit to get to .500 again, all things I took for granted in my youth.
To see Carter leave this plane means one less hope for a recaptured youth, I guess. We all have totems in our lives, things that mark us as older, signposts that remind us the arrow of time moves left to right and cannot be reversed. You can't make a U-turn, when your favorite childhood actor dies or gets pregnant or becomes a grandmother. You can't bring a favorite aunt or uncle or parent or sister or brother back from the grave. You can't undo the maturation into adulthood and all the responsibilities and duties of life that are thrust upon you, much like life itself is thrust upon you, much like birth is a traumatic experience. 
The cocoon of childhood, the womb of baseball, dries and shrivels as we get older. I see it now not as a game but as a business, Baseball Incorporated. It's hard to cheer a bunch of millionaires to win a championship that stands to benefit a cartel of billionaires, but moreso when you've played the game and fell in love with its beauty and elegant simplicity.
You throw a ball. You catch a ball. You hit a round ball squarely with a round bat and if you're really good, you hit safely three out of ten times. And yet entire industries have been built around exploiting this play, and others and if you're an astute observer as I pretend to be, you begin to realize it's all a fucking joke, that the ultimate extension of all this is baby's first step becomes a market for collectibles. 
I sit here, crying, wishing for one last opportunity to see that smile, to cheer "Gah-REE! Gah-REE! Gah-REE!" once more as he paws the dirt in the batter's box, digging in for one last home run. And one more milestone passed in my own life.
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Gary Carter (1954-2012): A fan's tribute

Gary Carter, the Hall of Fame catcher and one of baseball's greats, has died at the age of 57. He had been diagnosed with brain cancer last year.


Growing up in Montreal, I was an Expos fan from an early age, and Carter was my favourite player -- even with all the talent on those Expos teams of the late-'70s and early-'80s, particularly the great outfield of Andre Dawson, Warren Cromartie, and Ellis Valentine, and later Tim Raines. Part of it was simple. He wore #8 and 8 was my favourite number -- the Expos retired his number in 2003. But it was also his great talent and wonderful style of play: the hustle, the intensity, the leadership. In my youth baseball career, I think I played catcher for a half inning and hated it, preferring to pitch and play SS or 3B. But Carter was my clear baseball idol, the way Guy Lafleur was my hockey idol, the way Terry Bradshaw was my football idol, the way Larry Bird was my basketball idol.

I even met Carter once. At the Montreal auto show, I think. He was signing posters. The line was long, but I had to meet him. I'm sure I was terribly nervous. We chatted for a couple of minutes as he signed the poster -- he was in a Mets uniform in the poster, as it was after his trade to New York, but no matter, he was always an Expo to me. He asked what position I played. He wished me good luck. Something like that. I still have that poster somewhere. And I still remember what he signed: "Catch ya later!" It was awesome. He smiled the whole time. You never know with athletes, or with celebrities in general, whether they're sincere or not, but he seemed like the real deal to me, a generous man who cared about his fans and who understood, humbly, how important he was to them. I saw that in him then, even as a boy. And it just made me a bigger fan. Even a fan of him in a freakin' Mets uniform. Dammit.

1981 was the great year for us. A strike broke up the season, but Montreal had a really strong team and made the playoffs. We beat the Phillies 3 games to 2 in the unusual first round, the Division Series, of that unusual year. Carter hit .421 with 2 HRs and 6 RBI. But then there was the NL Championship Series against the Dodgers, which the Expos lost 3 games to 2. The deciding fifth game hurt. I still remember it well. It was 1-1 in the top of the ninth. The Expos brought in their ace, Steve Rogers, to pitch the ninth. Wtih two outs, he gave up a HR to Rick Monday. We got a couple of guys on in the bottom of the inning off Dodger ace Fernando Valenzuela, but closer Bob Welch came in to get the final out. It was one of the most devastating sports moments of my life. Yes, I cried. Carter didn't have a great series, hitting .438 but ending up with no HRs and no RBIs. It wasn't his fault. It was a tough series.

I also remember the All-Star game from that year. Carter was the starting catcher for the NL. He hit two HRs and was named MVP.

Carter was with the Expos from 1974-84 and then again in 1992, ending his Big League career where it began. It was hard for me, and for Expos fans generally, to see him play anywhere else, but I was happy when he won a World Series in 1986 with the Mets. He was a leader on that team and still a great player. He deserved to win it all, just as he deserved to make the Hall. He was an 11-time All-Star, winning the MVP twice. He won three Gold Gloves and five Silver Sluggers. He ended up with 324 HRs and 1,225 RBI, 2,092 hits and 1,025 runs -- all in an era that wasn't nearly as offensive as the one now. He was an outstanding defensive player. He was a great leader. He was one of the greatest catchers of all-time. And he just seemed like a good guy. Yes, he was a great baseball idol.

After retiring, he went into broadcasting and then coaching/managing. He had some success but seemed to be struggling to move up through the ranks. But I think he would have made it to The Show again. He just had too much talent and too much fight in him not to. Ultimately, though, some things beat you no matter how hard you fight.

Gary Carter, who died at the age of 57, will be greatly missed.

So long, Kid.


Here are some things you should read:

-- "Gary Carter's passing stirs emotions of Montreal fans," by Stu Cowan of The Gazette.
-- "Remembering Expos Hall of Famer Gary Carter," by Ian MacDonald of The Gazette.
-- "Gary Carter, Baseball Hall of Famer, dead at 57," by Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star.
-- "Former Expo Gary Carter dies," by Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun.
-- "Adieu le Kid," by Marc Antoine Godin at La Presse (in French).

And some clips you should watch:

-- Keith Hernandez remembering Gary Carter on SNY.
-- Carter's 2003 Hall of Fame induction tribute.
-- The Expos retiring Carter's #8 at the Big O in Montreal.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Republican men to all women: Put an aspirin between your knees, pray to God, submit to us, and shut the fuck up about birth control

Not all Republicans are saying that, whatever the implications of their crusade against birth control, but one prominent one is, Santorum's main benefactor, via his super PAC, the repugnant Foster Friess, who had this to say today about what women should do about birth control:

On this contraceptive thing, my gosh, it's so inexpensive. You know, back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly.

With Republicans on their theocratic rampage, you knew it was only a matter of time before one of them brought this sort of thing up, but it's still somewhat hard to believe that it would be quite to this extent, with its sense of paternalistic oppression. It's one thing, after all, for the Catholic Church to say in theological terms that birth control is wrong, or even for Santorum to talk about how sex should be "special," quite another to tell women to do what they're told. And make no mistake, this isn't about women having a choice, or being empowered to say no, it's about controlling women so that sexually, and indeed socially, they are really nothing more than receptors, willing or not, for sperm.

Oh, and it's not like things were so wonderful in Friess's "days." Women, like men, are sexual beings who may not want to have to close their legs. Abstinence is fine for some, and certainly for those not yet ready for sexual activity, but it should be a choice, not a requirement, and it's ridiculous to think men or women will just abstain from all non-procreative sex. And, of course, some men will force a women's legs open whether she likes it or not. This was true in Friess's "days" and it's true today. Women have been liberated from the shackles that constrained them for so long, as have men as well. And if you're such a fucking idiot that you don't understand what sex is really all about, in all its multifaceted ways, you should really just shut the fuck up yourself.

But also make no mistake, Friess isn't alone in thinking this. Just today, as you may know, House Republicans led by the repugnant Darrell Issa held a hearing on birth control that featured no women testifying. And across the country Republicans are  promoting "personhood" legislation that would criminalize abortion. It isn't enough to say Republicans are re-waging the culture wars of the '90s, and on issues like birth control the '60s or even earlier. This is now an all-out assault on women's rights, the goal being to deprive them of control over their own bodies and more broadly to restore a sexually tyrannical social order based largely on the dominance of men and the de-humanization of women.

I'd like to think it's hard to believe that we're even having this conversation in 2012, that birth control and women's rights are even issues anymore, but of course this is the Republican Party we're talking about, a party that is descending further and further into madness, a party increasingly of fringe extremism, a party deeply out of touch with the overwhelming majority of Americans, out of touch with contemporary life generally.

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Football season is over, baseball will soon be upon us

By Richard K. Barry 

But first, an intro from MJWS:

Ah, baseball. Seriously, it's time to get this going. It's been tough for me since the Steelers lost in the playoffs to the Tebowners. They're my team. I love them. And I'm emotionally invested in them in a way that at times leaves me completely drained. I followed the NFL playoffs, of course, and wrote about them here, but what's been more compelling is following the Steelers' challenging off-season: new offensive coordinator, contract restructurings, looming free agency, the draft. It's a year-round obsession. I'm still draining, but there's always next year.

And, really, I haven't been into hockey and basketball at all this year. Perhaps because the Canadiens are so bad and the Raptors are even worse, but also because I don't like either sport as much as football or baseball, especially basketball. It's supposedly a golden age in the NBA. So says Bill Simmons. Yet I just can't get into it, not with the prima donnas and widespread lack of fundamental skills. I grew up a Celtics fan in Montreal, with Larry Bird one of my idols. Now I hardly care at all. (And Linsanity is just annoying, though the guy's certainly a breath of fresh air in a league full of pretentious assholes.) Being Canadian -- and specifically from Montreal -- I can't get hockey out of my system, but it's just not doing it for me this year. Maybe I'm just worn out after the NFL season. Maybe I just need a break. Even from fantasy. My two hockey teams are doing terribly. I won my hardcore 12-team league last year. This year I'm in last. Alas.

But I'm excited about the upcoming baseball season -- and fantasy baseball season (baseball's my best fantasy sport by far, and I've won my similarly hardcore 12-team league seven of the past nine years). A lot of this has to do with my love for baseball generally. It's just such a beautiful game. I love the daily play, the season's rhythms. And I love having the baseball package on TV, where I'm able to watch every game. I don't, of course, but I catch a lot of them, and I like those summer evenings when I can flip from game to game.

But a lot of it also has to do with the Jays. I grew up an Expos fan and remained one until they left for Washington. (I still remember that crushing loss to the Dodgers in '81. I was a kid, and that one really hurt.) That was it for me. No way I could root, root, root for the fucking Nationals. And having lived in Toronto for many years now, I just gravitated to the Jays, somewhat reluctantly at first -- I don't by default like this city's sports teams. I despise the Leafs, for example -- following them in the AL as I followed the Expos in the NL. And I suppose I've been a serious fan for a good five or six years now, maybe a bit more.

It's hard to get too excited with the team in the AL East and in a league with a ridiculously unfair system that lets the rich spend whatever they like without much of a penalty while everyone else struggles to catch lightning in a bottle. But I am excited about these Jays. At the very least, they have a ton of potential and might just field an exciting, and perhaps surprising, team this year -- and hopefully in years to come will be serious contender. I'll be following them closely this year, as I have throughout the off-season, and I look forward to heading down to the Rogers Centre from time to time to take in a game. Good times.

Anyway, we'll be writing about baseball here throughout the season. Maybe not with the regularly we did with football, but we'll try to break up the politics now and then with some baseball talk.

For now, though, over to Richard...


Jose Bautista
Football is my sport. Baseball is in second place, but it is, I must admit, a distant second, though I like the game and the promise of spring that comes with a new season.

A few weeks ago, my beloved New York Giants won the Super Bowl. I will be months coming down from that, but it is over and baseball is around the corner so I'd better start thinking about it.

I grew up a Mets fan in New York but have been in Toronto for so long that I am now mostly a Jays booster. I was here for the two World Series championships in the '90s and still hope they can return to former glory one of these days. In 2011, they were 81-81, perhaps something to build on.

With the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays likely in a position to outdo the Jays again this year in the division, it may take some real effort to get all that interested in the proceedings in 2012, but I promise to try. Yes, I am a fair-weather baseball fan.

For those who follow such details, the Jays' pitchers and catchers report on February 21st and the full squad on February 24th. The first spring training game is against the Pittsburgh Pirates on March 3rd and opening day is an away game against Cleveland on April 5th (3:05 p.m.).

To friends and family all over Canada and U.S. who root for different teams, I say good luck. Good luck to Rob who suffers with the Cubs and Keith who lives and dies with his Astros (and hates the Mets); all the best to my relatives from out east in Canada, who probably cheer for the Red Sox, and Sean, who follows the Tampa Bay Rays, and the other Sean, the Phillies fan, and my relatives in New York, who have been Yankee fans forever, and to the old gang from my childhood who probably still have hopes for the Mets, sad as that is these days. 

Did I forget anyone? Probably.

Time to play ball, almost.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Whitney Houston and our fucked up priorities

UPDATE: And, seriously, lowering the flags in New Jersey? Ridiculous. You have fucked up priorities as well, Chris Christie, and not just with your anti-gay bigotry.


As you may have heard, Whitney Houston's funeral on Saturday will be broadcast on TV and the Web. No doubt it will be on CNN. (Could Anderson Cooper and Piers Morgan be milking her death any more shamelessly, particularly the latter? Cooper, at least, seems to be a genuinely sincere guy, while Morgan is a smug, smarmy, dim-witted hack.)

In not unrelated news, a new study shows that five children die every minute as a result of malnutrition. (via)

This is exactly what I was getting at the other night in writing about Whitney's death and its coverage in the media.

And it's captured in this image someone sent me the other day -- share it, and do let me know if you know where it came from:

Yes, we do have our priorities all fucked up. And fucked up beyond any hope of fixing the problem -- and of dealing with the world's real problems.

(I would just note that the image significantly understates the problem. How many millions are crying over Whitney? And how many millions of children, how many millions of people generally, are dying?)

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Americans don't much care for Newt Gingrich

And, indeed, he may be the most disliked politician in America today. (At the very least, he's probably the most disliked national politician. There's got to be a municipal figure somewhere who's even more widely loathed.)

Really couldn't be happening to a more deserving guy.

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Behind the Ad: Romney strongly (and wrongly) suggests Obama caused the auto sector crisis

(Another installment in our "Behind the Ad" series.)

Who: Mitt Romney in an ad called "Growing Up."

Where: Michigan.

What's going on: In the ad, Romney is driving around in a car on a street somewhere in Michigan. He is narrating himself as various scenes are shown depicting the Detroit auto show, workers at a Chrysler plant, and the General Motors tower in downtown Detroit.

The Washington Post provides this analysis, which is bang on:

Mitt Romney clearly wants to remind Michigan voters that he grew up there and his ad, the first one designed for the state's Feb. 28 primary, is an explicit home-town appeal. He reminisces about his father, a popular former governor and auto executive, name-checks the renowned auto show and uses imagery designed to remind voters of the Motor City's glory days. If that's not enough, he concludes by asserting that the state's fate is "personal" for him.

The ad comes at a delicate time for Romney. While he recovered somewhat by winning Maine's caucuses last weekend, he's still nursing wounds from Rick Santorum's sweep of nominating caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota, and Missouri's non-binding primary. Santorum's momentum has pushed him ahead of Romney in a handful of national polls and in early Michigan surveys. If Romney is to regain momentum before the potentially decisive Super Tuesday primaries on March 6, when 10 states vote, he badly needs to win in Michigan.

But the part about the ad that really stinks is the strong suggestion that President Obama is somehow to blame for Detroit's woes.

Again, The Washington Post:

He also implies that Obama's policies played a role in the auto industry's collapse, which is not the case. After noting the industry's decline in one breath, Romney then says Obama "did all these things that liberals have wanted to do for years." Regardless of the merits of Obama's policies, they didn't bring about Detroit's ills. The auto industry in general, and Chrysler and General Motors in particular, were collapsing before Obama took office in 2009. The decision to continue the bailout of GM and Chrysler, which Romney doesn't mention, was one of Obama's first major decisions in office. Romney publicly opposed the bailouts and reaffirmed his stance this week in an opinion piece published in The Detroit News.

I don't know if I should give the ad grudging respect for creating a grossly false impression without actually lying or if I should be disgusted by yet another example of bullshit coming out of Romney's mouth to support his run for the GOP nomination.

Well, actually, I do do know. This is pathetic.

Hard to believe that anyone could actually lower the level of political discourse coming from the right, but Mitt Romney has.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Romney and Santorum and inequality

Yesterday, Bill Burton, former Obama White House deputy press secretary, tweeted the following:

In 2010, Santorum made $983,000 and paid 28.5% in taxes. In 2010, Romney made $21.7 million and paid 13.9% in taxes. 

So unfair. So unjust. (Seriously.)

But at least Santorum got Megadeath's Dave Mustaine's endorsement. That's... positive... right? I mean, he's a major... cultural... figure... who will bring in masses of metalhead votes. Take that, Mitt!

Oh, right, Romney got Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's endorsement.

What's better -- the governor's support with the primary coming up or having half the tax rate of your opponent?

Doesn't matter. Romney has both.

So very, very unfair.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Best Republican of the Day: Jerry Sanders

In the past, we've gone with "Smartest Republican of the Day." But why not just "Best"? It's not every day there's a "best" Republican, but it's important to recognize Republican goodness when we can find it, however rare.

And today the award goes to San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders for being, unlike most in his party, not a bigot on same-sex marriage:

When a coalition of mayors launched a campaign to push for marriage equality a month ago, there were about 70 individuals signed on to it. Now, there are 153 involved in Mayors for Freedom to Marry, with the Republican mayor of one of the nation's largest cities serving as a co-chair.

"This is an equality issue, nothing more, nothing less," San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders (R) told The Huffington Post during a sit-down interview on Wednesday. "History is going judge us 10, 20, 30 years from now. I think it's going to be very different then. We're seeing the landscape change dramatically."

Well done, Mr. Mayor. We, at least, will judge you well.

(See also this article at SD's LGBT Weekly, where I found the photo.)

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How Ronald Reagan unwittingly laid the groundwork for the death of capitalism

Guest post by Marc McDonald 

(Ed. note: This is Marc's second guest post at The Reaction. His first, on how Steve Jobs represented much of what's wrong with the U.S. economy today, can be found here. For more of his writing, check out his great blog, Beggars Can be Choosers. -- MJWS)


Marc McDonald is a Texas journalist who runs the progressive political blog Beggars Can Be Choosers. 

Thanks to tireless efforts by historical revisionists over the past two decades, Ronald Reagan has gotten a lot of credit for achievements that he had nothing to do with. "Winning" the Cold War is a good example.

In reality, Reagan's policies had little or nothing to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, the last thing the Military Industrial Complex ever wanted was to see the Cold War's end (and with it the trillion-dollar gravy train of "defense" contractor funding). 

On the other hand, Reagan should get credit for something that he actually did achieve: laying the groundwork for the death of capitalism as we know it. 

Capitalism had its first near-death experience during the Great Depression. Ironically, it was saved by the most progressive president that the U.S. ever had: Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although attacked by the business community at the time, FDR's New Deal in fact resurrected capitalism and gave it new life. The New Deal created the Great American Middle Class: tens of millions of well-paid workers that actually had the money to buy the products that the system produced. 

It was a wonderful arrangement that made America a superpower and the most envied nation on the planet for decades to come. 

However, America's wealthy never got over their hatred of FDR and the New Deal -- despite the fact the latter saved capitalism from itself. The Rich & Powerful constantly plotted to abolish the New Deal. And in 1980, with Reagan's election, the wealthy class finally saw its chance to begin the attack on the New Deal -- a process that continues to this day. 

Under Reagan, middle-class entitlements were slashed, as were programs to assist the poor. And sweeping changes in tax policy began to favor the very wealthy, at the expense of the middle class and the poor. Also, labor unions and labor laws were gutted. Lastly, under Reagan's disastrous "free trade" policies, America started shipping all its good-paying manufacturing jobs overseas. 

The result of all this was that, under Reagan, the Great American Middle Class began to shrink -- a process that continues to this day. And with a much-weakened middle class, U.S. capitalism has hit a major crisis in that fewer and fewer consumers are able to buy the products that the system produces. 

The latter is a crucial component of capitalism that has long been curiously overlooked by the "free market" Chicago School zealots who've long championed a completely deregulated economy. I find it interesting how these zealots are always so concerned about the plight of the "over-taxed, over-regulated" rich (who they claim are the only necessary ingredient for successful capitalism). 

Of course, what these ivory tower zealots overlook is that capitalism as we know it simply can't function unless there is a strong, prosperous middle class around to buy the products created by the system. 

Although Reagan's policies gutted the U.S. middle class, the resulting devastation to capitalism didn't become readily apparent until much later on. This was because the whole crisis was masked by America's increasing embrace of credit-fueled consumption, which created the mirage of prosperity. 

Under Reagan, America simply stopped paying its bills. The government started borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars from the likes of Japan. And consumers increasingly started pulling out their credit cards to pay for purchases, rather than using cash. 

Finally, a series of bubbles came along to further create the illusion that the American economy was much more prosperous that it really was. These included the Dot Com bubble and the more recent housing bubble. 

Of course, the whole Ponzi scheme all came crashing down in 2008. Since then, the U.S. economy has remained on life support. The nation continues to plunge further into debt, even as the U.S. dollar continues to hit new all-time lows. The middle class is all but extinct these days, as are the good-paying jobs that once help make the American economy the mightiest on earth. 

Virtually all of this is a legacy of Reagan's policies. And unlike capitalism's first near-death experience, in the 1930s, it's extremely unlikely that we'll see another FDR ever come along to give the whole system a new lease on life. In our Citizens United era, that's simply not ever going to happen. 

Reagan (or more specifically, his wealthy backers) originally aimed to crush the New Deal and return the U.S. to an unregulated 19th century dog-eat-dog form of capitalism. They hoped that this would propel capitalism to new heights. But by ignoring the key role of middle class consumption in their calculations, they unwittingly severely damaged capitalism itself and turned America into a second-rate power. 

We continue to see the corrosive effects of the Reagan legacy to this day. The serious problems that began to emerge during his presidency (out-of-control fiscal and trade deficits, a shrinking middle class, the loss of good manufacturing jobs, and a plummeting dollar) continue to this day. 

Of course, the wealthy class to this day continues to live in denial that the whole capitalist party is now over. They continue to cling to the hope that the crisis caused by the 2008 economic collapse will eventually be fixed and the capitalism will somehow continue. 

The problem is that the good-paying manufacturing jobs are gone for good. And the much-hyped service economy jobs that were supposed to replace the latter have in fact been poor substitutes, offering vastly lower pay and benefits, for the most part. In fact, to this day, America continues to bleed what few good manufacturing jobs it has left, thanks to the utter absence of any kind of intelligence trade policy. 

What's more, given the ever-weakening dollar and the ever-growing trade and fiscal deficits it faces, America has less and less clout on the world stage. For the entire post-World War II era, America could simply print more dollars to bail itself out of fiscal crises, given that the dollar was the world's international reserve currency. That era, clearly, is near an end. 

With the demise of the dollar, America will be a much weaker and less wealthy nation. For the entire post-World War II era, America has been the standard-bearer for capitalism. With the latter now discredited, it's clear that the rest of the world is increasingly rejecting the U.S. model of economics and is instead turning to the regulated, technocrat-led economies of China and Singapore as the new role model. 

Not only did Reagan's era doom capitalism, but his toxic legacy ensured that America will find it extremely difficult to remedy the crises that resulted from his administration. These range from the deterioration of public education that resulted from Reagan's budget cuts to America's crumbling infrastructure. These two factors alone will make it increasingly difficult for America to compete globally in the years to come. 

But perhaps the most toxic legacy of all was Reagan's abolition of the Fairness Doctrine. This ensured that America's mainstream media would increasingly do little more than parrot the official corporate line. Americans today are hopelessly misinformed on the issues these days. And a nation that is misinformed is going to find it difficult to ever take the necessary steps needed to fix the crises unleashed by Reagan's policies.

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New poll shows Santorum crushing Romney nationally

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Via twitter:

Rasmussen poll has Santorum up 12 nat'l over Romney, up 21 in 2-man race. (link)

-- Ed Morrissey (@edmorrissey)

I don't think this will last, or at least I can't imagine it lasting, even with the crazy unpredictability we've seen so far in this race -- not least because of Romney's significant financial and organizational advantages, and also because the GOP elite wants nothing to do with Santorum, who would be an utter disaster as nominee, and will do whatever it takes to stop him. (And also, of course, because the race will be decided on a state-by-state basis, where Romney can do extensive damage to Santorum, not in a national poll.)

But these numbers certainly point to Romney's astonishing weakness as a candidate and even more so as the supposed frontrunner who basically has the nomination to lose.

We all knew that for all his money and organization (and even sense of inevitability, Romney was especially vulnerable to the emergence of a strong, credible conservative alternative, particularly one who could unite the right (i.e., the non- and anti-Romney vote), it's just that none emerged with any real staying power (e.g. not Perry and not Newt).

Until now, it seems.

And who thought it would be Rick Santorum, a guy who, while proving to be a polished and even appealing candidate, hates gays and birth control and porn and wants to institute a right-wing theocracy that runs counter both to human nature and to the American Way? (Maybe not so surprising, actually, given the current state of the GOP.)

Indeed, the fact that it's Santorum just makes it so much worse, and so much more telling, that Romney is doing so poorly, particularly given his advantages and expectations.

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Romney slams auto bailout, adopts political suicide strategy in Michigan

Mitt Romney was wrong about the bailout of the auto industry -- he was against it, and therefore in favor of the industry collapsing, and it's been a rousing success -- and yet continues to be riding the wave of his own failure.

In an op-ed in yesterday's Detroit Newt, Romney argues that the bailout was a bad idea, notes reluctantly that there has been some "indisputable good news" (i.e., GM and Chrysler still in business -- he doesn't mention all the jobs that would have been lost, all the lives ruined, all the families destroyed), and then shifts course and blames President Obama for mismanaging the bailout, apparently because criticizing the bailout itself is now ridiculous.

And for what specifically does he blame Obama. Well, it should come as no surprise that Romney plays the ever-popular-in-GOP-circles union-bashing card and blames him for not "standing up to union bosses," specifically Democratic and pro-Obama union bosses. And also for giving "American taxpayers," through the Treasury Department, a share of GM:

This was crony capitalism on a grand scale. The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse. I believe that without his intervention things there would be better.

Instead of a bailout, Romney preferred "managed bankruptcy." In other words -- surprise, surprise -- he wanted the banks to win, not the union -- not, that is, the workers.

By the spring of 2009, instead of the free market doing what it does best, we got a major taste of crony capitalism, Obama-style.

Thus, the outcome of the managed bankruptcy proceedings was dictated by the terms of the bailout. Chrysler's "secured creditors," who in the normal course of affairs should have been first in line for compensation, were given short shrift, while at the same time, the UAWs' union-boss-controlled trust fund received a 55 percent stake in the firm.

Confused? (Sure, it's complicated.) I'll let emptywheel's Marcy Wheeler explain:

He's complaining, of course, that VEBA (the trust fund run by professionals that allowed the auto companies to spin off contractual obligations – retiree healthcare – to the unions) got a stake in Chrysler while Chrysler's secured creditors took a haircut.

So, in part, he's basically complaining that the bailout preserved the healthcare a bunch of 55+ year old blue collar workers were promised. He’s pissed they got to keep their healthcare.

He's also complaining that banks took a haircut, as would happen in any managed bankruptcy.

But it's more than that. He's complaining that a bunch of banks that themselves had been bailed out had to take a haircut. He's complaining, for example, that JP Morgan Chase, Chrysler’s largest creditor at the time and the recipient, itself, of $68.6B in bailout loans, had to take a haircut on $2B in loans to Chrysler.

When Romney says he wants the free market to do what it does best, he must be referring to the sort of vulture capitalism over which he presided at Bain Capital, the sort of capitalism that rewards banks and investment firms will billions upon billions in profit with no regard for the human toll of their actions.

As Travis Waldron writes at ThinkProgress:

In the editorial, Romney, whose former company profited from a government bailout, called on the government to sell its shares in GM and return the profits to taxpayers. In other words, Romney is fine with destroying the company when it isn’t succeeding, but then wants to seize its profits if it turns around.

Meanwhile, he continues to ignore the success of the rescue plan he criticizes. Chrysler posted its first profit more than a decade in last year and expects those profits to continue growing in 2012. It has added 9,400 jobs since its rescue and plans to add 1,600 more at a plant in Illinois this year, and the success of Chrysler and General Motors has helped American automakers control more than half of the industry's market share. The industry has hired enough workers to make up for all those laid off during the recession, and American and foreign automakers plan to add 167,000 jobs at American plants this year.

Now, the demerits (and privileged rich douchebaggery) of his argument aside, what of the politics of his positioning? Surely this will kill him in Michigan, where he's currently trailing Rick Santorum, no? Er, no. As David Dayen notes at Firedoglake, "This isn't quite as suicidal as it looks. Romney needs to win Michigan, and Michigan Republicans actually don't support the auto rescue, in true what's-the-matter-with-Kansas fashion. So though this looks like the opposite of pandering, that's what it is, playing to the conservative lizard brain conception of greedy unions." Mistermix makes the same point at Balloon Juice:

We all know that Santorum is toxic as a national candidate, but the problem for Romney is the only way to beat Santorum is to adopt the same anti-gay, anti-woman and anti-progress positions in the primaries and bet that he can somehow reverse course this Fall. The longer the contest draws out, the more Romney has to pander, and the more he turns himself into the Goldwater-like candidate that the Republican establishment is desperate to avoid. There are two more debates before Super Tuesday and Mitt's going to have to be pretty fucking severe if he hopes to keep up with the new front-runner.

But of course it is suicidal in the long run, assuming he wins the nomination and finds himself up against Obama for real. Dayen again:

For the state as a whole, however, it's a really dumb double-down, especially when it can be so easily characterized as Romney favoring banks over people's health care. Not to mention the fact that Michigan's unemployment rate has fallen precipitously, led by manufacturing. Romney's lament about managed bankruptcies and union trust funds sounds like a fan whose football team has won 35 games in a row complaining about the new trim on the uniforms.

Well, it sounds much worse than that. It sounds like a privileged rich douchebag with a plutocratic sense of entitlement (as I've been writing for some time now) who got it terribly wrong but who is lashing out at Obama, advocating for the interests of the super-rich at the expense of everyone else (and at the expense of the economy, which he needs to be in bad shape to have any hope of winning in November), steadfastly refusing to acknowledge his own errors, and shamelessly pandering to the extremist base of his party.

Basically, what else is new?

The problem, for him, is that in doing and saying whatever it takes to win the Republican nomination, now more of a challenge with Santorum posing such a serious threat, he's effectively destroying whatever hope he has of winning in November. And the longer this remains a tight race, the longer Santorum keeps up the fight, the worse it will be for him.

Survival now, suicide later. Or, rather, survival through suicide. Isn't it ironic?


For more on all Romney's attack on the auto bailout, see Steve Benen at his new home at The Maddow Blog, where he posts this clip from last summer -- Romney being so very, very wrong, and certainly not someone who should be trusted with the presidency:

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