Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 7, 2009

NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER.... As "holidays" go, the official National Day of Prayer is difficult to understand. For the faithful, every day is a day of prayer. For a secular government that separates church from state, the idea of a state-sanctioned day in which the public is encouraged to pray is rather odd.

In the early 1950s, when lawmakers were adding "under God" to the Pledge and changing all American money to include the phrase "In God We Trust," Congress created an official annual Prayer Day for the nation. Congress, under pressure from the religious right, changed the law in 1988 to set the National Day of Prayer as the first Thursday in May, which brings us to today.

The good news is, President Obama is choosing to honor the official National Day of Prayer in a very different way than his predecessor.

The National Day of Prayer White House event is history -- for now.

The White House has announced that President Obama will sign a proclamation on the National Day of Prayer, to be held on Thursday, but will not hold any sort of event. This marks a return to the practice of presidents before George W. Bush, who hosted religious leaders for a ceremony in honor of the day.

Conservative Christian leaders who popularized the event are regarding it at a snub, calling it a "boycott." ... During the Bush administration, the first Thursday in May -- the National Day of Prayer, as mandated by Congress -- included a ceremony in the White House East Room with prominent evangelicals. It was headed by Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.

There's no White House ceremony this year.

Good. If Americans want to pray today, they will. If not, that's fine, too. There's no need for the White House to host a special event, organized by evangelical activists, promoting an exclusive and unnecessary "holiday" encouraging worship.

My friends at Americans United for Separation of Church and State noted that Obama is doing the right thing. The Rev. Barry W. Lynn said, "I am pleased that President Obama has made this decision. The president is required by federal law to declare a National Day of Prayer, but there is no requirement that a special event be held at the White House in observance of this event. During the Bush years, the Dobsons and other Religious Right leaders were given special access to the White House. That seems to have come to an end, and I'm glad."

So am I.

Post Script: One prominent religious right activist, Concerned Women for America's Wendy Wright, said, "President Obama may have problems believing in the Christian faith, he should at least honor the traditions and foundation of our country."

First, the president doesn't have a problem "believing in the Christian faith," and these ridiculous attacks only make the religious right appear sleazy. Second, if we're going to honor "the traditions and foundation of our country," I'd remind the religious right that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison specifically opposed government-endorsed prayer days.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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Comments

why did thomas jefferson and james madison hate america?

/snark.....

Posted by: just bill on May 7, 2009 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah!!! This is one of those small victories that makes my day. If the National Day of Prayer isn't a direct, unconstitutional endorsement of religion then I don't know what is.

We need both freedom OF religion and freedom FROM religion. Thank you, President Obama.

Posted by: zoe kentucky on May 7, 2009 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

Amen! To paraphrase Bono...the God I believe in doesn't need White House sanctioned days of prayer.

Posted by: Heather on May 7, 2009 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, he's having an event, all right...a private party with SATAN!!!!!!!

Posted by: shortstop on May 7, 2009 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK
The president is required by federal law to declare a National Day of Prayer . . .
"President Obama may have problems believing in the Christian faith, he should at least honor the traditions and foundation of our country."

"Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion". How's that for a tradition and foundation of our country?

Posted by: noncarborundum on May 7, 2009 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

Does meditation count? I'll be doing my daily Taoist thing.

Posted by: Kevin the Baker on May 7, 2009 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

Oops.

". . . respecting an establishment . . .".

O the embarrasment.

Posted by: noncarborundum on May 7, 2009 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

I thought during the Shrubette Administration, every day was a National Day of Prey.

Posted by: berttheclock on May 7, 2009 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

Wendy Wright is voicing crazy thoughts - perhaps, talking in tongues! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on May 7, 2009 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

You know what? I am glad Obama is a better man than me. I would have collected every obsolete and oddball religion I could find (is the 24 hour church of Elvis still open?) what are the odds that you could find a Zoroastrian? Someone still worshipping Zeus? How about Ra? Some snakehandlers (ok, sadly that one is easy) and then publically invite James Dobson to come give the invocation.

Posted by: Northzax on May 7, 2009 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

Man, you missed the best part! Read the article, the prayer morons "invited" Obama, but since he doesn't toe their line on abortion he wasn't going to be allowed to speak to the group. I guess he was invited to sit there and listen to them, since after all he's just the president and they're with God.

One more thing that Obama should have pointed out to those morons: Jesus Christ himself, according to the bible, told people NOT to pray in public, but in private. Having a national day of prayer is the exact opposite of that.

Posted by: Racer X on May 7, 2009 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, Dr. and Mrs. Dobson -- that book you say is literal fact in every word? Do you think this part of it might apply to a White House National Day of Prayer event?

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Posted by: scott_m on May 7, 2009 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

James Madison, what did he ever do? Write the Constitution? Pfft, whatever. And I wouldn't listen to anything that long-haired hippy Jefferson said.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on May 7, 2009 at 9:10 AM | PERMALINK

And then some hippy dippy librul hanger out with whores and taxcollector winebibber and glutton said: "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly."
No reason for American Christians to pay any attention to Him...

Posted by: MR Bill on May 7, 2009 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK
One more thing that Obama should have pointed out to those morons: Jesus Christ himself, according to the bible, told people NOT to pray in public, but in private. Having a national day of prayer is the exact opposite of that.

Given that he's supposed to be their God incarnate, it's surprising how little regard these people have for things he's recorded as having actually said, with the exception of "no one comes to the Father but through me." No praying in public, no divorcing and remarrying, visiting people in prison, selling all you have? Forgotten.

Posted by: noncarborundum on May 7, 2009 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

damn, and i forgot to get a card.

Posted by: mellowjohn on May 7, 2009 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

"Trouble believing in the Christian faith" sounds likes another "Jeebus, he's a Muslim!" dogwhistle to me.

Posted by: jonp72 on May 7, 2009 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Evangelicals don't really care about Jesus Christ, but they do really care about Ronald Reagan. I wonder how many times Ronnie hosted evangelicals on National Prayer day at the White House.

Posted by: bluestatedon on May 7, 2009 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

Well, I hope at least the White House chef serves spaghetti today, in honor of the Great FSM. Ramen, brothers!

Didn't Jesus say something about praying in private, rather than standing on a busy street corner and making a lot of noise about it, like the pharisees? George Bush loved to make a big, self-congratulatory public show of his faith, and he demonstrates for me pretty precisely what Jesus meant by "pharisees."

Posted by: T-Rex on May 7, 2009 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

Dr Dobson, I know you are not an ordained minister, nor am I. However, would you join me in praying for the resurgence of the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland A's?

Posted by: berttheclock on May 7, 2009 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

Northzax has a good idea there. The president, in the name of inclusiveness, should invite every forking religious nutball on the planet to come to some baseball stadium or other (they'll have to pay for it too) and then let them all pray to their gods one at a time, starting from the smallest congregation and letting the megachurch morons go last.

I can just imagine Dobson sitting there listening to the Pagans praying.

Posted by: Racer X on May 7, 2009 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

I am thankful that President Obama is a man of prayer. It is understandable that he would want to pray in private since when he prays six times each day he must face the east toward Mecca. He, of course, would not want to have a National Day of Prayer observance in the White House and offend all of his muslim brothers.

Posted by: gxn78 on May 7, 2009 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

Re gxn78 at 9:43: It's become way too easy to picture these guys hunt-and-pecking with one age-spotted finger, little piggy eyes glinting among the folds of their fleshy faces, as they look around, smirking, at what they believe to be highly sophisticated wit. Oops, is that ketchup on that gut-stretched golf shirt? No, Thousand Island dressing, perhaps.

Posted by: shortstop on May 7, 2009 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

"It is understandable that he would want to pray in private since when he prays six times each day he must face the east toward Mecca."

And I would have no problem with that if he were a Muslim, which he isn't. I am not familiar enough with the Qu'ran to know if public prayer is discouraged as it is in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:5-6).

Posted by: KTinOhio on May 7, 2009 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

"This marks a return to the practice of presidents before George W. Bush, who hosted religious leaders for a ceremony in honor of the day."

George W. Bush equated this event as a homage to himself. He, after all, is GOD.

Posted by: whichwitch on May 7, 2009 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

First, the president doesn't have a problem "believing in the Christian faith," and these ridiculous attacks only make the religious right appear more sleazy.

And it would not matter if he DID NOT believe in the Christian faith, because I did not support and vote for him as Christian-in-Chief.

Now, having said that, I do think the religion of a candidate is relevant, but as part of the information about the candidate. As we live in a secular society, I do not think it is determinative of the quality of the candidate unless the candidate makes it the standard, as George Bush did.

And gxn78, please get the practices correct. A Muslim prays five times toward Mecca. If you wish to display bigotry, at least be accurate about it. As a Christian divinity student, I try to be aware of the practices of other major traditions.

Posted by: Andrew on May 7, 2009 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder how many times Ronnie hosted evangelicals on National Prayer day at the White House.

Seems to me the evangelicals didn't care for the fact that Reagan was remarried, which in fundieland (back then anyway) meant, with very few exceptions, that you were committing adultery every time you shtupped your (second) wife.

Of course today's fundies interpret the bible differently for certain Republican politicians.

Posted by: Racer X on May 7, 2009 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

whichwitch:

George W. Bush equated this event as a homage to himself. He, after all, is GOD.

Hail Bush, Holy Bush, Bush of Power and Might.

Heaven and Earth are full of the glory of Bush. Dubya in the Highest.

(I think that is part of the prayers Karl Rove recites every morning.)

Posted by: Andrew on May 7, 2009 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

He, of course, would not want to have a National Day of Prayer observance in the White House and offend all of his muslim brothers.

Regardless of whether Obama is a muslim(he's not, but I don't care anyway), if you're saying that the NDoP is only meant for christians, or evangelical christians(as Bush apparently thought), that would be a major first amendment violation. You should be glad that Obama doesn't instigate someone to petition for the law to be invalidated.
Oh, and check the post above, as well as your Bible--Jesus didn't think much of gaudy public displays of one's faith. If you feel that it's necessary, it doesn't say much for the strength of your beliefs.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on May 7, 2009 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

Hmm, is this why, when St Ronny visited Salzburg, the fundies were singing "The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Shtuppfing"?

Posted by: berttheclock on May 7, 2009 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

I think it goes too far to call this the "right thing," though it's at least less of the wrong thing. Declaring a national day of prayer clearly violates the Establishment Clause and Obama should refuse to do so on that basis. But at least downplaying the event is a big improvement.

Is the text of Obama's proclamation available? I'm curious as to exactly what it calls for.

Posted by: JRD on May 7, 2009 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

"And whenever you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they will be seen by people. I tell you with certainty, they have their full reward! But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees from the hidden place will reward you." -Matthew 6:5, 6

"Read the article, the prayer morons "invited" Obama, but since he doesn't toe their line on abortion he wasn't going to be allowed to speak to the group."

Wait, hang on a second- they invited him to a ceremony at the white house. Um... I'm pretty sure he lives there- doesn't that sort of give him prerogative on invitations?

Posted by: Jurgan on May 7, 2009 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

I'm an atheist. You know the old joke about the priest and the rabbi having lunch together? The priest tries to tempt the rabbi with a ham sandwich. "Come on Abe...just a little taste? You don't know what you're missing." The rabbi responds, "Father, I'll have a ham sandwich at your wedding...when you find out what you are missing."

I'll participate in a National Day of Prayer when Congress creates a National Day of Doubt.

Posted by: majun on May 7, 2009 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Jurgan - Does President Obama own the white house or do the people of the United States own it? I don't work for him - at least not yet.

I wonder where that "by the people for the people" thing came from? Probably that Madison guy again. I wonder what that Madison guy thought about starting each day in congress with prayer.

Dangerous ideas. Such thin skin in here.

Posted by: ebs on May 7, 2009 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

"honor the traditions and foundation of our country"

Yeah, like the ownership of people! I'd take a young and supple quadroon, like Thomas Jefferson had!

Posted by: red *cted on May 7, 2009 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Does President Obama own the white house or do the people of the United States own it? I don't work for him - at least not yet.

Don't worry, he doesn't hire morons. It is the people's house, and most of them don't adhere to the wingnut version of christianity, and most don't like the President favoring one particular group of one particular religion over the others.

I wonder where that "by the people for the people" thing came from? Probably that Madison guy again. I wonder what that Madison guy thought about starting each day in congress with prayer.

Since he wrote much of the constitution, I'm guessing he would have included it in there if he thought it was necessary, but he specifically went out of his way not to endorse any religion or faith whatsoever. Maybe you wouldn't have to ask such idiotic questions if you had the first clue about what you're saying.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on May 7, 2009 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

p.s. that "by the people for the people" quote came from Lincoln, not Madison. But don't let your complete ignorance and stupidity stop you from commenting. Lincoln would be sad to see what his former party has become.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on May 7, 2009 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." [Matthew 6:5-6]

Posted by: Jon Cogburn on May 7, 2009 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Wait, hang on a second- they invited him to a ceremony at the white house.

No, there's no ceremony at the White House at all.

Read the article, the prayer morons "invited" Obama, but since he doesn't toe their line on abortion he wasn't going to be allowed to speak to the group. I guess he was invited to sit there and listen to them, since after all he's just the president and they're with God.

The article states that they (the people sponsoring a Roman Catholic prayer event tomorrow) did not invite Obama. They invited Biden, Sebelius, Napolitano and Shaun Donovan, none of whom responded -- perhaps because only anti-choice people may speak? Last year, all major presidential candidates were invited to this event and none responded.

Posted by: shortstop on May 7, 2009 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

"Does President Obama own the white house or do the people of the United States own it? I don't work for him - at least not yet."

True, but neither do the preachers holding the prayer event. Since he was elected to live and work in that house, though, you'd think he has more say than they do.

Let me put it another way. I'm a taxpaying U.S. citizen. If I want to have a party at the White House, do I have that right? Of course not- no private citizens are automatically entitled to use the White House at their discretion. So why do these people think he has to let them come?

Posted by: Jurgan on May 7, 2009 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

All the negative comments. I expected nothing less from this so-called leader. He doesn't even like America! I am glad that I didn't vote for him or his "values". It's people like you that really make me sad. Don't you idiots get it? It's a NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER- FOR ALL FAITHS. "ALL" being the key word. Only people who have a problem with the day and what it stands for- run with the idea that it only celebrates the Christian faith, which it does not. Get educated and before taking the Bible out of context, how about do some studying!

Posted by: Amanda on May 7, 2009 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Of course not- no private citizens are automatically entitled to use the White House at their discretion. So why do these people think he has to let them come?

He doesn't. They're not asking to. No one is hosting a National Day of Prayer event at the White House.

Posted by: shortstop on May 7, 2009 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

President Abraham Lincoln's Proclamation:

A Day Of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer
in the The United States Of America on April 30, 1863


WHEREAS, the senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and Just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has by a resolution, required the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation:

And whereas, it is the duty of nations as as well as of men, to owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord:

And, in so much as we know that, by His divine law, nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us, then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request , and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting, and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain on that day from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

In witness whereof, I have here unto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-seventy.

By the President:
ABRAHAM LINCOLN

The day properly done should be one of unity, not a day of attacks right or left.

Posted by: Peace on May 7, 2009 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Matthew 6:5-6: 5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Posted by: mikeyes on May 7, 2009 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

Next year, the proclamation can be signed with the presidential auto-pen.

To be sure, I'd like all non-binding political gestures banned. If it means my president gets 15 minutes more sleep to do meaningful work better, to blazes with all of it. (This goes for Congress too, get to work.)

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on May 7, 2009 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

At last, a president who recognizes the tradition of a national day of prayer, honors our Founding Fathers who went to great lengths to ensure the separation of church and state, and supports our freedom to pray in our own way. No one is preventing religious people from practicing their faith. The religious right just needs to get over their self-righteous, elitist, holier than thou attitudes.

Posted by: Carol A on May 7, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Constantly be on your guard so that your hearts will not be loaded down with self-indulgence, drunkenness, and the worries of this life, or that day will take you by surprise

Posted by: Luke on May 7, 2009 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

The point in Matthew 6 is about our motives for praying. If we pray publicly to be seen and appear righteous, then it doesn't please God. But if our hearts are focused on God (and remember he knows our hearts) then our prayers whether public or privately are what does please God. We should consider it a privilege to come before HIM. It's a very sad that we have come to a time in the history of our great nation that anyone would make fun of those who choose to pray.

Posted by: Ann on May 7, 2009 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

Ann, I'm pretty sure most commenters (and I'm one) here are making fun of, and objecting to the, the politicization of and capture by a small minority of this "National Day of Prayer". The political exercise is cynical and against the spirit of the Constitutional, and for a lot of us, the plain teaching of Jesus. It's been allowed to marginalize other faiths as well as most of Christianity, and should be mocked. Given the hatefulness spewed by some of the former participants at these media events, Mr. Obama has acted a good deal more temperately than I would in his shoes.

Posted by: MR Bill on May 7, 2009 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

May 7th is The National Day of Prayer. Americans are not asked to pray just one day of in 365. The day serves to highlight the need for intercessory prayer every day for our nation�s leaders and their families. Too often Americans whine about change for our nation yet are unwilling to bring the most powerful tool they process into action - prayer.

We have seen many examples (in newspaper and Internet article headlines) of the transforming power of corporate prayer. Communities have dramatically lowered crime, suicide, unemployment and drug usage in examples where only prayer could be pointed to as the agent of change.

Millions of Americans now participate in the National Day of Prayer each year (1st Thursday in May). Last May 1st, tens of thousands of prayer gatherings were held, covering every state. �Day of Prayer� declarations were made from the President of the United States and all 50 governors. Prayer observances were held in 110 federal prisons, YMCAs, national monuments, Indian reservations, military bases, stadiums, nursing homes, airliners crossing our nation, schools, town halls, in the Senate and Congressional chambers of many state capitols, and overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition to these public activities, people gathered to pray in their homes, churches, and other private places. PrayerFlight, a group of Ohio-based private pilots, organized �50 Capitols� where pilots and their passengers prayed as they flew over each respective capitol. They will fly again this year.
You can find info on events, resources and prayer at www.nationaldayofprayer.org.

P.S. Separation of Church and State is not what you think. It was conceived to keep the Government out of religion, not vice versa.

Posted by: Bob on May 7, 2009 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

Please get your religion out of my face.

Posted by: Zack on May 7, 2009 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

Should the National Day of Prayer ceremony involve finding out where Mecca is and bringing in prayer rugs?

What if your spiritual belief system doesn't utilize prayer or considers your every thought to be a prayer that you be with God and do the Right thing?

What if your spiritual belief system considers prayer to be a sinful waste of time and instead prefers we do works of good?

This is why government should represent our group interests by remaining secular in it's behaviors.

Posted by: MarkH on May 7, 2009 at 8:53 PM | PERMALINK

"All the negative comments...He doesn't even like America!"

Of course, the latter sentence is in no way a "negative comment." Hypocrite, thy name is Amanda.

"It's a NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER-FOR ALL FAITHS."

MarkH had it right. Not all religions involve praying.


Posted by: daniel rotter on May 7, 2009 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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