Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 14, 2010

CONFUSION-BASED RAGE.... National Review published a couple of items recently about President Obama having cut taxes for 95% of working families. This is, in reality, what happened, but the conservative magazine was incredulous. "If the taxes of 95 percent of Americans actully [sic] had been cut, surely somebody other than Obama would have noticed," one NR writer put it.

It was a curious argument. It doesn't matter what President Obama did -- in this case, approval of a tax cut -- it matters what people perceive, even if the perceptions are patently false.

And perhaps no group of people is fueled more intensely by misperceptions of reality than the Tea Party crowd.

Of people who support the grassroots, "Tea Party" movement, only 2 percent think taxes have been decreased, 46 percent say taxes are the same, and a whopping 44 percent say they believe taxes have gone up.

Now, we know that this 44% is wrong. We also know that in nearly every instance, the 46% are wrong, too. Indeed, my challenge to them would be to go look at their most recent paystub, and then dig up their paystub from, say, December 2008, before Obama took office. The math isn't that hard -- did their tax rate go up, down, or stay the same? Opinions and perceptions are nice, but arithmetic can be stubborn.

But as this relates to politics, John Cole noted that these folks "don't even know what they are mad about." Indeed, it's easy to forget this, but the first Tea Party crowds started protesting in March 2009 -- exactly one month after President Obama signed one of the largest tax-cut packages in American history into law. The protestors wanted to make clear that they are "taxed enough already," choosing to pretend that they hadn't just received a tax cut from the president they hate so intensely.

John added, "It really is quite amazing what you can do with a group of people who are completely uninterested in the truth, unwilling to believe anything that comes from someone other than Rush or Glenn Beck or an 'acceptable' source of information, and who have a vested interest in believing what they want to believe, reality be damned."

This is important to the extent that there are still some who believe the political mainstream should do more to listen to the Tea Party crowd and take its hysterical cries seriously. But how can credible people take nonsense seriously and hope to come up with a meaningful result?

The truth may sound rude, but in general, Tea Party activists have no idea what they're talking about. Their sincerity notwithstanding, this is a confused group of misled people.

Steve Benen 8:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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The protestors wanted to make clear that they are "taxed enough already," choosing to pretend that they'd just received a tax cut from the president they hate so intensely.

don't you mean "...they had not just..."?

Posted by: me on February 14, 2010 at 8:10 AM | PERMALINK

I think it's crystal-clear what angers these people: a Democrat is in the White House and Democrats control Congress. Very simple.

Posted by: BrklynLibrul on February 14, 2010 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

You need to be a little careful here. As Bob Somerby points out, it is hard to be critical when the news doesn't put this information out there. The average person doesn't realize that taxes have been cut for them.

I remember having a discussion several years ago with a person who was a Republican, but believed in bipartisanship. He fancied himself a "libertarian Republican", although he didn't follow the libertarian movement. He did enjoy watching Chris Matthews.

Anyways, we had a discussion about how the deficit was out of control under Bush, much worse then any predecessors. He didn't believe me. I referred him to the Cato Institute. He didn't know who the Cato Institute was, and asked how I could trust their studies. This guy isn't a tea partier, just typical of a misinformed American, who is constantly told that the news is biased by liberals.

In effect, I'm saying the issue is not "stupid Americans", but that nobody is telling the "stupid Americans" the truth.

Posted by: DR on February 14, 2010 at 8:28 AM | PERMALINK

Not to be completely shameless here, but there's a book I can recommend, Steve.

Posted by: charles pierce on February 14, 2010 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

BrklynLibrul said:
I think it's crystal-clear what angers these people: a Democrat is in the White House and Democrats control Congress. Very simple.

I think that for the TeaBaggers, the issue is . . . umm . . . more black and white than that.

Didn't Republican leader Rush Limbaugh call the president "uppity" last week?


Posted by: SteveT on February 14, 2010 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

The protestors wanted to make clear that they are "taxed enough already," choosing to pretend that they hadn't just received a tax cut from the president they hate so intensely.

If these were rational people, we could tell them, "Look, you know how your political leaders are always talking about lowering taxes as the solution for everything? Well, your political opponents have actually done it and you didn't even notice. What does that suggest about the realism of your political goals?"

Posted by: RSA on February 14, 2010 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

I've stated to many a teabagger and others on message forums that Obama signed a tax cut. They say it's not about taxes but the $787 billion stimulus. I say the stimulus included the tax cut. They say they don't care, he will raise taxes when the Bush cuts expire. It don't matter what the facts are, so with these people it's all about Obama being black and you can't convince me otherwise. How many are included in the above % who believe this way is unknown, but I am quite sure it is many.

Posted by: Dave on February 14, 2010 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

As Richard Hofstadter documented so clearly, these people have always been with us, their profile raising or falling depending on circumstances.

The present circumstance includes not merely an economic downturn (always fruitful in bringing these folks to the fore) but also the establishment of a media/propaganda machine which now actively and purposefully works to foment them. For many of the operations doing so, it is a money-maker. But that lone doesn't describe adequately the dynamics in play.

That FOX and Limbaugh (probably the two key elements in this system) work to forward Republican electoral opportunities isn't news. What is news here is the relationship between the Republican Party and the tea party phenomenon and that is described accurately by Frank Rich this morning...

“the party is exploiting the Tea Party movement to rebrand itself as un-Washington while quietly conducting business as usual in the capital.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/opinion/14rich.html

Posted by: Bernie Latham on February 14, 2010 at 8:38 AM | PERMALINK

Peoples taxes went "up" recently due to the payroll tax holiday expiring at the end of the year. Another issue that people don't understand, but that was self inflicted by Obama

Posted by: Chris Fabri on February 14, 2010 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

"... these folks don't even know what they are mad about"

Oh, many of them know very well what they are mad about. It's just that you can't say in public that the swarthy people are taking over everywhere.

Posted by: eserwe on February 14, 2010 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

The Tea Party has no arguments. None of what they are told to be angry about is true. This leaves only one conclusion, and I haven't found anyone who can convince me it isn't so: these people are racists. That's all there's to it. They can use the Constitution to 'backup' their idiocy as much as they like, but they are still bigoted know-nothings.

Posted by: Ben on February 14, 2010 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

Examination of the Teabagger crowds seems to show people for whom American life has not been that generous-they have the look of also-rans to me.
And so they turn their rage and resentment on the people who are trying to help them. They empower those who will make their lives even more precarious and move the American dream further out of reach. These people are retards, indeed.

Posted by: bob h on February 14, 2010 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

People will probably see the results of the tax cut when they do their tax returns for last year. The value was $800 for a couple and this is a direct tax credit not a deduction that would only net around $200.

Posted by: CarlP on February 14, 2010 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

Here's why they don't realize they got a tax cut: In my experience as a manager, most employees don't understand withholding, and they don't know the difference between that and the actual taxes they owe. They are clueless about why they owe more or get a refund in April. The only tax cut they understand is when you actually send them a check as GWB did. Steve's idea is a good one, but nobody holds onto their stubs that long.

Posted by: Eric Riback on February 14, 2010 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

I'd say this post says volumes to the failure of our public education system to educate our fellow citizens even to the basic workable knowledge of how our government works and what their common interests are, but then I thought most of these Teabaggers were probably home-schooled! If we ever learn the percentage of these fine Teabagging sorts who were taught by family instead of state, we may be able to more readily tell them to get an education worth something! =Kevo

Posted by: kevo on February 14, 2010 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

Yep, what Eric Riback said.

My Orange County, blue-collar Republican patients will look me in the eye and tell me that the problem with California is that taxes "are too high" and that "taxes go up every year" which couldn't be further from the truth. The problem is that we can't actually raise taxes. If you look at taxes by state, California is medium to low (business taxes and don't even get started on business property taxes which are a scandal).

People also don't understand marginal tax rates. A right-wing friend of my husband's recently said that "with your income, you must be paying two-thirds of your income in taxes". Um, no.

Posted by: J Bean on February 14, 2010 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

This is just another in a long line of posts telling Democrats they're smarter than everyone else and the other side is stupid.

Maybe so, maybe not, but the other side is actually organizing and getting voters to agree with their side and beating you on your own turf and derailing your biggest initiative.

They've been beating you for almost 30 years now so perhaps they're not nearly as dumb and stupid as you think.

Posted by: Observer on February 14, 2010 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

Never argue with a troll.

Observer, no one is saying that they are dumb, just ignorant. People work hard, often at more than one job, have families, and are not particularly interested in politics/tax law/government. They have fears and interests that are unrelated and they don't like being given information that makes them uncomfortable. They are being grossly misled (aka "lied to") by FNC. Where I live, they are also victimized by a couple of local church pastors.

There are objective truths.

Posted by: J Bean on February 14, 2010 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Observer...beating us for 30 years? Well, yes and no. Take a look at the rising numbers for repealing DADT... And by "beating," do you mean "getting a beating?" Take a look at the flow of money in our society over these last 30 years, with middle and lower classes sinking down, down, down...

Posted by: paul on February 14, 2010 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

Here's a good video of interviews with attendees at the Tea Party Convention in Nashville:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHItY5Anj3s


Posted by: eric on February 14, 2010 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

J Bean: over the years, especially on this blog, yes Steve and others are saying that republican operatives are dumb. and a simple perusing of other blogs state in many ways the same thing.

The people you describe as working hard are *not* the same people as the teabaggers. Those people are the "voters" the teabaggers are convincing over while you (Dem operatives) sit on the sidelines over analyzing whether the voters are dumb or ignorant.
I'm talking about the teabaggers; steve was writing about the teabaggers.

Posted by: Observer on February 14, 2010 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

Paul, I hope you wouldn't go into, say, a black neighborhood with that argument; "well sure you're getting poorer everyday and sure we can't get you decent healthcare at a good price but at least some of your gay children can grow up and join the military".

I can't name a single major Democratic legislative victory in the last 30 years that actually helped anyone. Can you?

I don't mean political victories like passing NAFTA. I mean a philosophically Democrat ideal that is identifiably opposed by Republicans because it would actually help people.

Not a single one. Health care? corporate tax? estate tax? subsidies to corn farmers? green energy? environmental standards or clear cutting? safety standards? reform of the electoral process? subsidies for rail transportation?

Not a single one.

Posted by: Observer on February 14, 2010 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

Observer...got it, you're one of those savvy folks abusing your confused followers. There's no percentage for you in this fight.

Posted by: paul on February 14, 2010 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

The Winter Palace was stormed by 'a confused group of misled people'.

The thing to watch is who's doing the misleading.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on February 14, 2010 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

Observer, here's one for you:

"The Deficit Reduction Act of 1993 — passed by both the House and Senate without a single Republican vote — put America on the road to fiscal responsibility and led to the end of perennial budget deficits. Having inherited a $290 billion deficit in 1992, President Clinton's last budget was over $200 billion in surplus. The Clinton/Gore Administration was responsible for reducing unemployment to its lowest level in decades and reducing crime to its lowest levels in a generation."

That's from a 60-second Google Search. Now, you point to republican legislation that has actually helped working class citizens. And don't point to the unfunded tax cuts that are responsible for most of the massive deficits we are facing now. The truth is, most republican legislation has severely damaged this country through limiting the effectiveness of government.

One thing you can say about the GOP: they've perfected the practice of bad government.

Posted by: bdop4 on February 14, 2010 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

John added, "It really is quite amazing what you can do with a group of people who are completely uninterested in the truth..."

You mean the "liberal" mainstream media, right?

Posted by: pParkerT on February 14, 2010 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

Observer... Of course, you're only affirming what the OP said - that it doesn't matter to the hysterical know-nothings what the objective truth is, that $275 billion of the stimulus package were directly made up of individual tax cuts. Among these were an $800 credit for married couples and a new $8000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers, as well as cuts in withholding taxes.

That's objective reality. But all you have to fall back on is how well your side is convincing voters that black is white, that taxes went up when they really went down. Republicans should just admit that they don't like this president or his party for the simple fact that they don't like them. When I see senators on the right supporting a deficit-reduction panel one day, only to be against it after it's endorsed in turn by the Dems.... When I see not a word spoken by any of these so-called populists during the 8 years when Bush was in office and turned a surplus into a record deficit... All I see is a lot of incoherent political gamesmanship. God forbid you should focus on actual policy.

Posted by: Travers on February 14, 2010 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

Your problem is not with conservatives. You have lost the independents.

Posted by: Barry Soetero on February 14, 2010 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

"The Deficit Reduction Act of 1993 — passed by both the House and Senate without a single Republican vote..."
Posted by: bdop4 on February 14, 2010 at 12:18 PM

Far more than just voting against, the Publicans at the time -- led by Newt Gingrich, among others -- loudly and repeatedly claimed that the Clinton tax increases were job-killers that would devastate the economy... IOW, exactly the exact same lies they're mouthing now.
For that matter, they're the exact same lies they threw at the proposed Reagan tax increases of 1982.
I truly do not understand why nobody's yet made a TV ad out of just the tapes of one Thuglican pol after another mouthing such predictions, with charts (just like Perot, for those who remember) and a voiceover reviewing the actual impacts each time: the economy grew, unemployment and poverty dropped -- and the deficit was reduced under Reagan, and turned into a surplus under Clinton.
An especially good and detailed review of this, by a Republican economist, is here:

http://www.forbes.com/2009/02/26/obama-budget-reagan-clinton-bush-opinions-columnists_higher_taxes.html

Posted by: smartalek on February 14, 2010 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe the old Republican question should be asked.

Are you better off at the end of 2009 then you were in 2008? Tax cut or no. It doesn't feel like one to the average middle class American. Seems like we Americans are getting caught up in a blame game when we should be coming together to fix this mess.

Posted by: walker on February 14, 2010 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

Wake up, people. There was a change in tax withholdings, not taxes. We will all owe the same amount as before come April 15; we've just paid down less of it than if the administration had not pulled this trick.

Posted by: smokeandmirrors on February 14, 2010 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

So a minority of Americans are frustrated that the majority of Americans aren't as smart as them.

They are still a minority.

Posted by: John Smith on February 14, 2010 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Hey John,

Who's the minority? Most polls show that voters place the blame on Congress and Bush, not Obama, and more people blame the repubs for not even trying to offer real solutions.

The idiots are in the minority, they're just getting a lot of air time because they're LOUD.

I agree that a lot of Democrats are uncomfortable with getting in people's faces about the stupid things they say. They're going to have to get over that phobia.

The problem solvers have to get more aggressive, or this country will be relegated to third world status for the next 20-30 years.

Posted by: bdop4 on February 14, 2010 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

Holy crap, the Deficit reduction act of 1993?
I guess that means there's no deficit now, 17 years later. Even when you "win" you lose.

The "objective reality" as one commenter put it, is that your, (our), common opponents don't really need a coherent line of argument to organize around. They just need any line because if there's an angle to find, they'll find it and organize around it to beat you at the polls the next time.

They can do this because they know their people will go out and get mad and they know that Dems will sit back on the sidelines and do nothing while calling them stupid.

It's not the line of argument that's important, it's that there's any line at all.

So the answer to Travers point about policy is that there is no use in focussing on policy if your people aren't going to go out and fight for it down in the trenches. It's not the high road; it's no road at all. Because you'll never get to implement any of this policy if you can't win on the ground.

Dems have the House, Senate and Presidency and *still* all the bills are littered with Republican poison pills.

The "stupid" teabaggers stopped healthcare by winning in Mass, are about to boot Crist of the ticket in Fla, have numerous elected GOPs kissing their ass, and have the entire MSM broadcasting their message by showing up at their convention.

For a bunch of stupid people, they sure get results.

What have the high-minded Dems or progressives done in the past 30 years while being focussed on "actual policy"?

Feh.

Posted by: Observer on February 14, 2010 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

You are forgetting that Obama raised the cigarette tax and that the tax credit is gone for this year, so he in fact has raised taxes on a significant part of the under class.

This is without the 50 trial balloon taxes he has floated including cap and trade and cadillac health care and others ad infinitum.

Posted by: mckinley on February 14, 2010 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

Instead of the "political mainstream" taking the Teabaggers seriously in the sense of agreeing with their irrational complaints, how about if the "political mainstream" paid attention to the clear information gap and try filling it.

Now that would be change I could believe in.

Posted by: karen marie on February 14, 2010 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

Observer -

You're missing the plot. The point being made is that right now the Republicans are so focused on short-term political gains that they're forgetting how to govern. Just one example is that bipartisan deficit reduction panel Republican senators were clamoring for last year, and then walked away from it as soon as Obama agreed to it. What's bad for the country is bad for Obama's poll numbers, so why NOT just sit on your hands and obstruct, obstruct, obstruct?

Democrats are taking a lot of heat for trying to craft some necessary, painful solutions to problems that have been allowed to fester for 30 years.

Health insurance costs have skyrocketed in the past decade, and what did Republicans do to curtail them during that time? During SIX years of controlling all branches of gov't, as opposed to just the past one that the Dems have had. And what did Republicans do to curtail a budget deficit during that time?

Reality check: one of the largest entitlement expansions in history, the prescription benefit added to Medicare - NOT PAID FOR.

TWO wars - NOT PAID FOR.

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see why many of the Republicans' most virulent criticisms come off as disingenuous, cheap political ploys.

I try to be as politically independent as possible, but when I look at the two major parties, I see one trying to actually govern, and one doing NOTHING and reaping the rewards of an ill-informed electorate.

Republicans like to say the gov't is the problem and not the solution - well, maybe the way you run it...

Posted by: Travers on February 14, 2010 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

It is important to keep in mind that most people don't know the difference between federal and state and local taxes. I remember back in the 1990s a local man-on-the-street interview where the guy was complaining about Clinton because his property taxes went up. Various state and local taxes may well have gone up over the last year as those governments dealt with budget deficits.

Plus I think it is just an axiom for many people that taxes are always going up. Just like the price of everything is always going up whether it it really is or not. I bet if you interviewed the same people back in 2002 or 2003 they would have said their taxes were going up.

The stimulus bill included numerous tax cuts, including the Make Work Pay credit which did not just lower withholding, it did lower the income tax owed. Lowering withholding was the mechanism for getting money into people's pockets quickly. It was also thought people would be more likely to spend it if it was just a small amount each week rather than a check which people often save. Sound economics, but it probably obscured the fact of the tax cut for many people. Plus the withholding adjustment in 2009 was spread over fewer months since it only went into effect in March or April. So in 2010, with the credit spread over a full year, the impact in each paycheck is smaller which might make it seem like taxes are up.

But I honestly I don't think these nuances are what motivate people. They are unaware that their federal taxes have gone down because they just *know* taxes always go up.

As for Democrat achievements over the past 30 years, how about the SCHIP program. But keep in mind that over the last 30 years, Democrats have controlled the White House for Bill Clinton's 8 years and Obama's 1. The better question is what have Republicans accomplished given their dominance over the past 30 years.

Posted by: BChaplin on February 14, 2010 at 7:22 PM | PERMALINK

People that pay taxes look at their take home pay. While Federal taxes may have lowered, state taxes often went up to make up for it.

The tea partiers itself also are not just concerned about Obama, but also Bush and Congress, both Repubican and Democrat. They are concerned about big spending.

Either government or the private sector is going to have to lower their spending, and the rate the government is going at it, the private sector cannot make enough to fund the government.

Posted by: win on February 14, 2010 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

"But keep in mind that over the last 30 years, Democrats have controlled the White House for Bill Clinton's 8 years and Obama's 1. The better question is what have Republicans accomplished given their dominance over the past 30 years."

Take it back to 1955 and Democrats dominiated Congress for a very long time. Congress does appropriations, not the President. If spending is the issue, then a President and both houses of Congress of the same party, especially by large margins, is the worst.


Posted by: win on February 14, 2010 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

BrklynLibrul, a beter way to state this is "I think it's crystal-clear what angers these people: a BLACK MAN is in the White House and Democrats control Congress.

End of story.

Posted by: Sammy on February 14, 2010 at 9:14 PM | PERMALINK

But J Bean, isn't it normal that if these people are like being given information that makes them uncomfortable, that they would spend a few minutes of the day trying to learn?

And I don't care how many jobs someone has are you telling me that they don't care to find out about politics, tax law or government, especially if it might affect their lives? At some point that has to be a glimmer of curiosity about what is going on in the country and in the world.

There is no excuse for ignorance. With the internet, libraries, book stores existing every few blocks people would rather be clueless than informed?

I would be personally embarrassed not to keep myself informed.

Posted by: Sammy on February 14, 2010 at 9:25 PM | PERMALINK

For all of you people who think that the tea baggers are upset because Obama is black, you seem to forget that they were just as upset about Bill Clinton. Unless you think they literally believed Bill was the first black president, the problem they had was a Democrat was the President.

Posted by: DR on February 14, 2010 at 10:21 PM | PERMALINK

The point is that the Repubs lots of achievements over the past 30 years...they've all gone to the wealthy class.

It's always been a two-prong strategy: 1) work the refs and tilt law towards the wealthy class while 2) keeps the base voting by throwing up "social" issues that will rile them up to vote.

It was never about doing the best for the country.
So, on their own terms, they've succeeded.

Dems were supposed to back-stop this and have failed miserably.

If you drew up a Repub wish list 30 years ago, they'd say they've accomplished a lot.

If you did the same for Dems, there's nothing on that list that's been accomplished. SChip just doesn't cut it.

Posted by: Observer on February 14, 2010 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

They've been beating you for almost 30 years now so perhaps they're not nearly as dumb and stupid as you think.

Er, no. That doesn't mean they aren't stupid - it just means that stupidity is workable politically. This has been known for, what, 8000 years or so now.

Posted by: DH Walker on February 15, 2010 at 6:57 AM | PERMALINK

... are you telling me that they don't care to find out about politics, tax law or government, especially if it might affect their lives?

Are you serious? Many people, given the choice, would much rather remain angry and complain than learn things that might deprive them of reasons to be angry and complain.

I would be personally embarrassed not to keep myself informed.

Agreed. But these are people who are never embarassed by themselves, regardless of how much reason they have to be.

Posted by: DH Walker on February 15, 2010 at 7:05 AM | PERMALINK

For all of you people who think that the tea baggers are upset because Obama is black, you seem to forget that they were just as upset about Bill Clinton.

"Just as"? No. They hated Bill Clinton, sure. But they HATE HATE HATE Obama. There really isn't much comparison.

Posted by: DH Walker on February 15, 2010 at 7:08 AM | PERMALINK

The only reason these people are against anything Obama says or does, is because they don't want someone black telling them what to do. PERIOD!

He cuts taxes and they say we've been taxed enough? HUH? What am I missing? He says we're going to take the fight to the Taliban and they say, we should bring our troops home, yet they want to stay in Iraq? HUH? What am I missing? They claim they're "fiscal Conservatives" yet they appreciate all the "pork" their Reps. are bringing home to the district. HUH? What am I missing? The teabagger's are nothing but a bunch of crazy white people with nothing better to do with their time than scream to the top of their lungs..."WE WANT OUR COUNTRY BACK"...as if it actually went somewhere. It's comical!

Posted by: JJ Flemming on February 15, 2010 at 8:20 AM | PERMALINK

this is a confused group of misled people.

Wrong. This is a clear-minded organization of dedicated racists.

Everything they say is just cover for their single goal: get that nigger out of the white house.

Posted by: Yellow Dog on February 15, 2010 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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