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Education & Inequality

Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Thanks to Mother Jones and Free Democracy, I was able to re-visit my long lost favorite columnist Paul Krugman. Krugman harps on a very serious problem both with conservative and liberal economic policy. Conservatives don't seem to care that there is a massive problem of inequality in this country - that only the top 10% seem to be receiving any income gains whatsoever. The smarter (and more honest) sort of right-winger points to a the rising importance of education in determining income. Liberals take this idea and run with it, suggesting that expanding access to education will level the economic playing field.

If only it were that easy. It turns out that having a college degree isn't leading to income gains either. The sad reality is that over the last generation the primary benefit of having a degree is that it permits one to tread water - real income gains for college graduates is only about 1% a year. Hey, at least their incomes aren't falling like those without a college degree, right?

No, the truth is that income gains in America are almost exclusively concentrated on those who have very high incomes - who are in the top 1% of the income scale. And since there is so little social mobility in America, those in the top 1% are usually the children of those in the top 1%. Hello oligarchy!

Matt Yglesias takes the poor relationship between income and education to minimize the importance of universal college education. While I agree with Matt that inequality won't be reduced by getting everyone to go to college, there are other reasons to do so. I for one would much rather have an educated citizenry than an uneducated one. They tend to be much better at democracy. Yes this would likely come at a very high cost, but how much is democracy worth to you?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:41 PM

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Why Don't They Fight?

Monday, February 27, 2006
Brazen Hussy and I took a much-needed respite and spent the weekend at a bed and breakfast out of town. One morning we were gathered around a big table with the other guests, and the discussion inevitably turned to politics. I didn't start it - I rarely do - but it went there anyway. Once again I heard the familiar Mantra of Frustration from the left: why don't Democrats fight? Why won't they say what they stand for?

The depth of disillusionment with our elected party leaders is such that I can't get into a political conversation with a civilian without hearing these complaints. I've tried to explain why it's difficult to organize a coherent message when you're in the absolute minority, how there are Democrats saying all the things they want to hear but who can't get media coverage. I've described how a collective action problem is at work - elected officials are concerned not with stopping conservatives but with getting re-elected. They have thus far managed to do this, and therefore see no reason to change. And I have also wondered how many of these emotions were continuing disillusionment due to our defeat in 2004.

None of these statements really seems to satisfy. And I suppose that they shouldn't. Because they're just excuses. I suppose it's time to admit that the Democratic party is very poorly led, and that we have been for quite a long time. It doesn't go back just a few years - I don't think Clinton was a very effective party steward either. The party was demonstrably weaker when he left office than when he arrived.

So what do we do to fix the problem? It's hard to say. I can identify to what aren't answers, like some Quixotic attempt to create a new party. I suppose the best thing we can do is promote those leaders who we like (like Feingold) and hold accountable those we don't (like Lieberman). Beyond this, I think it is time for those of us who have spent a number of years in the peanut gallery to become leaders ourselves. We are not immune from responsibility for our present mess. After all, we elected these people in the first place.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:40 PM

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Abortion Apocalypse

Thursday, February 23, 2006
As I alluded to yesterday, South Dakota has passed a law (pending an inevitable approval by the Governor) banning abortion. The only exception is the life of the mother - not her health, not rape or incest, no other exceptions at all. Even this exception doesn't amount to much, since apparently her life must be seriously at risk. If there's just a chance she might die of complications, the ban is still in effect.

This radical piece of legislation is going to explode several myths about the abortion debate. The first is that the pro-life community is not completely insane and has some vestigal respect for women. I would like someone to tell me with a straight face that the Theocons don't hate women. If her health, or decision to have sex at all, is not taken into consideration, what else do the anti-choice crowd think other than that women are baby delivery vehicles? One of the arguments that anti-choicers have deployed is that women must "bear the consequences of their decisions." According to this logic, if women are naughty enough to have sex, then they have to live with the risks of pregnancy. But this law doesn't even make an exception for rape. Hell, those people are one short step from legalizing rape, since they think the woman probably "wanted it." What a bunch of lunatics.

The other myth this explodes is that the last Supreme Court nominations weren't about abortion. Do you think it's a coincidence that this law was introduced the second Alito and Roberts were on the Court? The media went along with conservative obfuscations that these nominees had no fixed position about Roe. We all know this is bullshit. Yes, yes, Anthony Kennedy voted for Casey and he's still on the Court. Theoretically Roe has a 5-4 majority. But what if Kennedy proves to be a pushover as he was during the Bush v. Gore case? Or what if Stevens dies of a heart attack? What happens then?

I think that the Republicans have made an awful gamble. An outright ban of abortion invites a major political backlash. The smart play for them is to have the Court incrementally uphold restrictions on abortion without overturning Roe in a blatant way. But this strategy relies on incremental policy by the states, which the South Dakota law clearly is not. What do Roberts and his friends do? They could overturn the South Dakota law, causing a firestorm on the Republican side as the Theocons decide that they have been betrayed. They could uphold the South Dakota law, inviting a massive defection of the political center. They could choose not to hear the case, which means that the lower court ruling would stand. This would be a muted version of the first two scenarios - if the lower court overturn the law, the conservatives will be angry, if they uphold it, then the pro-choice majority gets mad.

I've said many times that although I am pro-choice, I don't think that it's the most important political issue. But if the South Dakota law is implemented, it will be. In fact, it will be for everybody. Every state legislature, every congressional session, every election at every level of government will be consumed by abortion politics. If you think you're tired of arguing about this issue now, just wait. It's going to get a lot worse.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:39 PM

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I Didn't Know This

Wednesday, February 22, 2006
And I bet a lot of other people didn't either:

The opposition to the deal brought expressions of befuddlement from shipping industry and port experts. The shipping business, they said, went global more than a decade ago, and foreign-based firms already control more than 30 percent of the port terminals in the United States. They include APL Limited, which is controlled by the government of Singapore and operates terminals in Los Angeles; Oakland, Calif.; Dutch Harbor, Alaska; and Seattle.

Globally, 24 of the top 25 ship terminal operators are foreign-based, meaning most of the containers sent to the United States leave terminals around the world that are operated by foreign governments or foreign-based companies.

(via the NY Times)

I can't believe Bush is threatening his first veto over this issue. But then isn't he an honorary sultan in the UAE or something? Anything and everything for his rich oil buddies!

One other comment in this article sent me through the roof - a cavalier comment on globalization demonstrating everything wrong with elite sentiment on trade:

"This kind of reaction is totally illogical," said Philip Damas, research director at Drewry Shipping Consultants of London. "The location of the headquarters of a company in the age of globalism is irrelevant."

Oh really? So how are we going to feel when every corporation that does business in the United States is based in Shanghai? How comfortable will we feel about corporate decision-making? And are we just going to hope that the Chinese government doesn't use its leverage to get those very same companies to screw us?

What a pack of fools.

P.S. Here we go!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:39 PM

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Worth Fighting About

Tuesday, February 21, 2006
In a recent piece in the Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum asserts that American politics is essentially stalemated because there are no "grand issues" under debate. The liberals have nothing left to accomplish, and the conservatives have failed in their attempts to overturn liberalism - because the voters would never tolerate it. He concludes with the following:

Although the heat of battle often obscures this, the unhappy reality is that modern American politics is mostly played at the margins. In practical terms, we're no longer fighting seriously over grand principle, we're just fighting over who gets the most toys. The fact that Impostor—perhaps unwittingly—lays this so bare makes it a worthwhile read not just for its intended conservative audience, but for liberals as well. If progressives ever want to break our current political stalemate, they're going to have to open a new front.

I really don't understand what Kevin is talking about. The erosion of civil liberties, the decline of the Middle Class, the perversion and decay of our democratic institutions, a deteriorating environment, the crusade being waged by the American Taliban, the compromising of the New Deal & American prosperity by globalization, the death of the labor movement, and our ludicrously bad educational system - all of these major problems don't constitute issues significant enough to warrant "serious" politics?

There are 2 things wrong wth Kevin's analysis. The first is that the conservatives have in fact been quite successful in undermining the accomplishments of 20th century liberalism. They just haven't been able to do so in any naked way because of the risk of electoral retribution. Instead they have just gradually squeezed liberal programs to death, accelerated trends that undermine the New Deal settlement, used executive orders to weaken regulations, and are packing the Courts full of people who will at best uphold moves to weaken liberalism and at worst just overturn the 20th century.

The second problem with Kevin's perspective is that he doesn't seem to grasp the full implications of the Nixonian politics of the Republican party. These guys simply have no respect for democratic, centrist, consensus-based politics. They have built an awesomely corrupt political machine while doing everything they can to short-circuit any potential accountability. The democratic process itself might not be "sexy" enough to rank with the Civil Rights Movement, but how different is it to say that a group of people are being systematically disenfranchised through segregation as opposed to making elections generally meaningless? If it quacks like a duck, etc.

Kevin is right about one thing - the conservative agenda in particular and America's contemporary problems generally haven't been enough to really inspire the attention of the voters. Where he goes wrong is to assume that our problems don't deserve that kind of attention. It is exactly this public disinterest with our contemporary challenges that make this era so worrying and allows conservatives to be so successful. There is no big, dramatic attack on the American way of life. Instead there is a creeping, incremental assault on everything we thought we stood for. It's the basic "frog in the pot" problem: a sharp increase in temperature will inspire us to act, but a slow worsening of conditions will just encourage our torpor - until we are dead.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:38 PM

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This Is How I Feel Today

Friday, February 17, 2006

Just too much very bad news for one day.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:37 PM

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Teflon Can Kill You

Thursday, February 16, 2006
(via Feministe)

So if Teflon can give you cancer, what does that mean for the "Teflon President." Is Dear Leader going to die from cancer? Or will he give other people cancer? I know what I'm betting on.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:37 PM

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The Suburban Treadmill.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006
The residential patterns of the postwar era are finally bearing their poisonous fruit. People started to fleet the cities because of their problems rather than stay and try and fix them. They moved to distant areas that enabled them to create a hybrid of small town and urban living that depended of the vitality of both. But then these communities began to get too built up, transforming into an unsightly sprawl that re-created the growing pains of urban growth. Then they moved further out, and further.

The result? Small towns are disappearing. Inner cities have been struggling for years, although doing better since the 1990's. Now inner suburbs are struggling as well. So you're telling me that our public policy is only benefitting exurbs? Where's the justice in that?

Don't worry, I'm not going to harp on the "car culture" stuff (again). But I will say that inner suburbs would probably benefit from seeing themselves as a direct extension of the big cities, rather than as distinct. I know that they were originally created as a backlash to what was going on in town, but that day is long over. Now they seem to have the same problems. Not that they be annexed, but that our public policy begin treating metropolitan areas as the unit of policy analysis, rather than artificial distinctions like "exurb" and "suburb." This would not only bring the inner suburbs into the mix, but reduce the biases towards exurbs and incorporate the externalities they generate. Exurbs create a lot of problems for other communities, and it's long past time that they bear full responsibilities for what they cause.

In other news, the Bush Administration is continuing to argue that the Constitution has no bearing on what happens overseas. I have a couple of questions about this position. Are they aware that the Constitution has always protected aliens within U.S. jurisdiction? What the founders thought of their position? How much do you trust a government that looks for excuses to torture? And what happens when other countries do the same thing to our citizens?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:35 PM

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So Much To Say

Tuesday, February 14, 2006
So little time.

Sorry for not posting yesterday. Just wasn't up to it. But to make up for my absence, today I am going to bombard you all with commentary on a whole bunch of news.

1. On the "bad thematics" front, some senior Democrats are saying that domestic spying is okay, it's the way the President did it that's wrong. This is very reminiscent of the well-meaning but ineffective Iraq position during the 2004 campaign that the idea of the war was fine, but it was just badly executed. Look, you can't take a strong political position on this issue if you concede the merits of the enemy's position. Our message is simple: "Spying on Americans without a warrant is wrong, it's illegal, it's unconstitutional, and it's un-American. If we aren't going to defend our civil liberties or our way of life, then what are we fighting for?" Is that so hard?

2. The U.S. and Israel are trying to figure out how to destabilize the Hamas regime in Palestine. Look, I'm not defender of Hamas - they're pretty evil people, as far as I can tell. But should we really in in the business of telling countries that we don't like the results of their elections and trying to change them? This is what democracy is, people - you can't say it's popular sovereignty and then only accept the results when they turn out the way you like. Frankly this situation begins to look more like the U.S. trying to set up puppet governments with a patina of democratic legitimacy than really trying to develop responsible political institutions in the Middle East.

3. This focus on the Dick Cheney shooting accident is just silly. I just don't see where the political upside for us is. We should move on.

4. The medicare prescription drug plan takes 40 forms to get a drug approved. Are the Republicans trying to create a parody of big government bungling? I just can't make up my mind whether this program is an example of bad public policy, naked political corruption, or machiavellianism. But then I suppose I don't have to choose just one, do I?

5. There is more than a little gleeful condescension written between the lines of Fareed Zakaria's piece on the "decline of Europe." I don't want to get bogged down in the reality of this decline or not, although I would like to say the Europe's relative lack of competitiveness is interesting given its higher standard of living, and that its problems are almost exclusively wrapped up in its declining population. What I want to focus on instead is that if Europe goes down, so do we. America is in any meaningful sense a Western European country. We share a common history, culture, worldview, economic system, etc.If Western Europe encounters difficulties, we are going to share in them. It's long past time that we (and the Europeans) stop pretending that our futures aren't married to each other. Just because we aren't sleeping together at the moment doesn't mean that we aren't sharing the same bed.

6. The conservatives apparently outnumber liberals on Sunday talk shows. This is no big surprise - it's why I stopped watching those shows a few years ago. I used to have a Sunday morning ritual of viewing as many as I could, but during the aftermath of the Iraq War I grew so frustrated with the cheerleading that I gave it up in disgust. I'm a little less sanguine than Waldman on fixing this problem, though. Conservatives have effectively stacked the deck, and I can see them screaming bloody murder if news executives changed it. The media aren't exactly living embodiments of intestinal fortitude, y'know. As for the methods used by Media Matters, I question their data of just "identifiable" idealogues. For a real picture of balance, should you employ a middle category of "neutrals?" I suspect it would make the imbalance even more obvious.

7. E.J. Dionne just gets it wrong here. Call me an absolutist on the issue of abortion, but I fail to see what middle ground needs bridging. From the perspective of political positioning, it does make sense to emphasize the birth control angle, although I worry that it rhetorically gives away too much ground to anti-choicers (give them an inch...). But I really question this statement from Dionne:

I have more sympathy than most liberals with the right-to-life movement because I
believe most right-to-lifers are animated not by sexism or some punitive
attitude toward sexuality but by a genuine desire to defend the defenseless.
Surely that view should encompass efforts to reduce the number of abortions in
our nation.

I'm not even going to address whether this is true or not (although I have my suspicions). It doesn't matter whether someone intends for their policies to be authoritarian or discriminatory if the effects of their policies are hostile to women. I think that their ideology is motivated by these beliefs, whether their advocates are aware of it or not. Just because you don't know why you're doing something doesn't let you off the hook.

And by the way, who are these "defenseless," anyway? Doesn't that implicitly accept the (tenuous) argument that a foetus is a person? And where are these people when it comes to defending defenseless children, or minorities, or the unjustly accused, or the poor? Unless they really are "seemless garment" anti-choicers, I don't think they have enough credibility to avoid charges of hypocrisy and selective moralizing.

Okay, I've run out of material (and energy). Happy Valentine's Day.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:34 PM

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What Does One Say About This?

Friday, February 10, 2006
So Gatsby doesn't seem to know the difference between a statue of a dog and a real live dog.


Should I be concerned?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:32 PM

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Hugh Hewitt & Ashton Kutcher, Sittin' In a Tree

Thursday, February 09, 2006
Mary Katharine Ham, lapdog to the Patriarchy.

Writing at Hugh Hewitt's webpage, she makes the spectacular assertion that "Beauty and the Geek" is good television. It takes some audacity to argue that ANY reality television show is socially constructive, with their low budget values, pathetic script, puerile "drama,' and ritual humiliations. This show is especially pathetic, since it blatantly trades on gender stereotypes that are covered up only in the most transparent fashion by a PC social message that "everyone has something to offer."

The show fails on its own premise, since the men aren't that bad-looking and the women not only aren't that pretty, but are obnoxiously stupid. I'm talking dumber than rocks here. Operating on brain-stem dumb. (Brazen Hussy pointed out to me that the women are so stupid that it must be an act. NOBODY could really be that mentally deficient. Could they?)

What drives me insane about this show is that you have a group of reasonably intelligent if maladjusted males who still believe that the only criteria that matters in a female is a measure of physical attractiveness. It also perpetuates the view that beautiful women simply can't be that smart.

The program is essentially dedicated to the humiliation of women. Sigh. What else is new?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:31 PM

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Talk about furthering a Republican theme! Hey Democrats, if you believe that the voters aren't sure what the party stands for, the first thing you should NOT do is say to a New York Times reporter "Our party lacks focus." I talk a lot about our party's lack of organization, and no where do you see the effects of this more than in message discipline. We have fifty people out there saying fifty different things, busily displaying our internal debates in public. It's no wonder people don't know what we believe!

But I guess it could be worse. If I have to choose between vigorous intra-party debates or an ideological authoritarianism that prohibits it, I suppose I'd lean toward the former. Imagine for a moment that you are sitting in a restaurant near two different couples. The first couple is busily bickering about every little thing, while the second sits in silence and eats, the husband occasionally giving the wife orders. Which couple do you think is in betters shape? The semblance of order does not indicate health.

Having said that, could we please not air our dirty laundry in public? If you're in a position of authority and have something to say to the party leadership, say it to them over dinner, not on the evening news. Don't act like bloggers - we have no choice BUT to talk in public. We'd gladly trade places with you if we could. You have one job to do and we have another. All we want is for you to do yours.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:30 PM

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Things I Agree With

Tuesday, February 07, 2006
First: Barack Obama is one classy guy. It's been a while since I've read such a sincere-seeming put-down.

Second: surprise surprise, there's actually a good piece on the Gonzalez hearings in the NYT. The title is the typical sort of "balanced" trash, but the content is actually quite good. To summarize, there is no conflict between the FISA law and the 2001 Congressional authorization to fight Al Quaeda. FISA stands because the 2001 resolution did not specifically repeal it. This is all a smokescreen, anyway. Bush asked for Congress to amend FISA in the Patriot Act and they said no, so how can he claim now that the 2001 "war" resolution authorized it? What a liar.

Third: I've been avoiding entry into the Muhammad Cartoon Imbroglio of 2006. Some of the conservative blogs have been surprisingly reasonable about the whole thing, which is kind of funny because I'm sort of unreasonable. Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff has it exactly right - those people have a lot of nerve to protest against intolerance when they are busy oppressing their own minorities. No I don't think the cartoons were funny, but in a diverse society we are going to have to live with people saying stupid and tasteless things. We must be willing to overcome our own offense.

Frankly I wish more people would recognize how little separates intolerant fundamentalists in the Muslim world with those we have at home. Have you noticed how quick the religious right in America is to scream "intolerance" or "oppression of Christianity" while at the same time they are eager to impose their views on others? They have no principled adherence to tolerance. They use the word as a rhetorical device when they only ideas they want "tolerated" are their own.

Imagine, if you will, what would happen in the United States if someone made similar cartoons about Jesus. And then tell me how free we are.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:30 PM

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A Big Objection To A Small Thing

Monday, February 06, 2006
(Via Josh Marshall)

On Friday, 21 of Georgia's 34 Republican state senators _ all Cagle supporters _ signed a letter urging Reed to withdraw from the race, saying his involvement in the Abramoff scandal "threatens to impact the entire Republican ticket."
When did "impact" become a verb? Why is this necessary? What's wrong with saying "harm" or "undermine" or even something as neutral as "affect." I know that I have lots of typos on my blog, but I write it quickly at 7 o'clock in the morning. In a public letter to an important political figure, I would try to get my language straight.

Yes, yes, I know that the English language changes. That "impact" as a verb has come into common usage, and will doubtlessly be in the dictionary before too long. But this just makes me disillusions me about the integrity of dictionaries. My God, I heard "bling" is in there!

Oh, by the way. Ralph Read: Ha ha! Ha ha all OVER you!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:29 PM

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The Great Cat Invasion of 2006

Friday, February 03, 2006
Where the hell do I sleep?


Oh well. I suppose that instead I shall smile wryly at the election of John Boehner as House Majority Leader. From the Washington Post:

He [Boehner]struck a more cautious note in private, assuring Republicans that he would not overreact to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and eviscerate the lax travel and spending rules they had come to enjoy. As the candidate himself realized, Boehner as the reform candidate was not an easy sell. His beach parties for rich donors were notorious, as were the stories of how he handed out checks from tobacco executives on the House floor a decade ago.

"Yes, I am cozy with lobbyists," he told lawmakers concerned about his K Street connections, "but I have never done anything unethical."

P.S. The latest installment of Dynasty Watch: Mary Landrieu's brother is running for Mayor of New Orleans. Turns out his daddy was Mayor too. Awwwwwww......
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:29 PM

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Conservative Moral Fiber

Thursday, February 02, 2006
They must have to eat a LOT of oat bran.

Our "resolute" leader proposes energy conservation after dithering and obfuscating on the issue for 6 years. Then he encounters resistance from his Saudi buddies and his oil company contributors. Now he's backpedaling, claiming that he didn't really mean it. That sounds like bold leadership, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, evangelicals have decided that their fealty to corporate America is more important than their religous scruples. Big surprise.

We all know what the Republican party is about, don't we? Exacerbate social tensions while robbing the store. I just wonder when the American people will figure this out.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:27 PM

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Me Too

Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Like Josh Marshall, I just can't bring myself to watch State of the Union speeches. It's not just George Bush. It's the entire model. I'm a connoisseur of speeches, and as far as rhetoric goes, the State of the Union is the equivalent of the fat, smelly guy sitting next to you on the plane. Yuck.

As for the content of Bush's speech (from the transcript), it was pretty tepid. Once again Shrubby demonstrates that he is immune to irony:

The President whose energy bill is a complete sell out to Big Energy wants energy independence (read: more domestic drilling!).

The President who swiftboated John Kerry calls for more civil discourse (read: stop attacking me!).

The President busily undermining civil liberties and democratic elections claims to be spreading democracy (read: the Iraq War was a good thing. Let's invade Iran!).

The President whose gigantic budget deficits are indebting us to China talks about international competitiveness (read: more tax cuts!).

The President who bungled social security privatization (ha ha) and medicare reform talks about curbing entitlements (read: more benefit cuts more the middle class & poor!).

I could go on, but you get the point.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:25 PM

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