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Debt Ceiling II: Return of the Boehner

Demonstrating the shrewd political acumen for which he has become known, House Speaker John Boehner has come up with a new strategy to galvanize American voters before the election. Seeking to top his electrifying "Pledge to America" campaign from 2010, Boehner promised yesterday a bold new plan that may be the popular Republican campaign in history: Debt Ceiling Standoff, Take Two.

The Speaker is aware that the debt ceiling is a complicated legislative mechanism well beyond the understanding of most real Americans, so he asked me to help make sense of it. I will now take several questions from an imaginary interlocutor in order to help the ignorant electorate understand this exciting campaign.

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Obama's Big, Bold To-Do List

In a scene from Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act by South African dramatist Athol Fugard, a small boy builds an imaginary house in the sand. It has two rooms for his impoverished family of six. A man sees him playing and encourages the boy to expand.

"If you're going to dream," he says, "Give yourself five rooms, man."

President Obama has been playing in the sand ever since the Republican-dominated 112th Congress convened last year, a body so divided and deranged that it can barely pass routine measures, let alone critical legislation. As the election looms, Obama's chance of getting any bills passed is asymptotically approaching zero, and his proposals are like imaginary houses that will never be built.

That has not stopped him from producing them. His latest gambit is a five-point "to do list" for Congress. Its elements are all measures that he has previously proposed without success, including various tax incentives to encourage hiring, mortgage refinance efficiencies, and a jobs programs for veterans.

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A Cardinal's Regret

In 1975, the Catholic Church of Ireland sent Father Sean Brady to interview two teenage boys who had been abused by their priest, Brendan Smyth. Brady recorded their harrowing testimony and submitted it to his superiors, who transferred Smyth to a different parish, again and again. Twenty years later, Smyth was finally imprisoned after being convicted on 153 counts of child abuse in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, Father Sean Brady moved up the Church hierarchy. He is now Cardinal Sean Brady.

After the BBC recently reported his role in Smyth's investigation, Brady publicly expressed regret. He regrets that his superiors dealt inappropriately with Smyth. He regrets that the Church had no "guidelines" for handling pedophilia by priests. He regrets that he and others did not understand the "full impact of abuse" on the lives of children.

But for his own role in abetting child abuse, Cardinal Brady's regret is rather meager. He explained that he was nothing more than a note-taker without any authority to act. As to why he remained silent when his superiors transferred Smyth, he reluctantly conceded, "I also accept that I was part of an unhelpful culture of deference and silence in society, and the Church."

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Thomas Friedman, Michael Bloomberg, and the Coming Implosion

On Wednesday, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman repeated his call for Michael Bloomberg to run for president. Friedman has finally given up on the fantasy that America's "radical center" might coalesce around a moderate third-party candidate, but in his latest column, he argued that even if Bloomberg can't win, he could still make a difference:

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The Not-So-Mighty Center

Bill Keller, the former editor of the New York Times turned social commentator, has once again cast himself the great champion of good ol' boringness, an aging journalist-warrior who defends civilized institutions against barbarous onslaughts from Occupy Wall Street, digital pirates, and the Huffington Post, to name a few unsavory elements.

In Monday's column, he stood up for the long-suffering moderate center of American politics. "Centrism is easily mocked and not much fun to defend," he proudly conceded, "White bread, elevator music, No Labels, meh."

Lo how the mighty moderate has fallen. Once hailed as the elector of presidents, the honorable compromiser, the reasonable thinker, the Great American Moderate has been reduced to...sigh...white bread.

But hark! Before we seal them up in plastic and bury them in the freezer, Keller bravely assured us that the moderates live on and will play an important role in the upcoming presidential election. Keller seems to believe that his thesis is contrarian, radical even.

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No More Bible Stories

I sat quietly several rows back, playing the respectful atheist. My young cousin blushed and simpered on the bema--the wide, raised platform at the front synagogue. This was her day.

The rabbi called out my mother's name in Hebrew. She rose from her seat beside mine and ascended to the bema. Two more honored relatives took their places at either side of a curtained cabinet embedded in the wall--the Holy Ark of the Torah. As they drew back the curtains, the congregation rose and began to chant reverently in Hebrew. Few of us understood the words. Translated to English, they plead, "Arise, Lord! May your enemies be scattered, may your foes be put to flight.'"

The rabbi then reached into the Ark and withdrew the sacred Torah, two massive scrolls of parchment trussed in velvet and silver. He held it up lovingly like a trophy or the urned remains of some revered ancestor.

"One is our God, great is our Lord, holy is his name," sang the congregation in Hebrew. Then the rabbi placed the Torah gently into my mother's arms. As she paraded it slowly around the room, the congregants reached out to touch it with prayer books or pieces of cloth--never bare hands--and then reverently kissed the item that had come in contact with the holy Torah.

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Santorum Invokes the "Real Republican" Defense

Like a fairy tale hero, Rick Santorum hopes to win the Republican nomination by spinning poop into gold.

On Sunday, he laid into a New York Times reporter, saying, "Quit distorting my words. ... It's bullshit."

The public use of an expletive by a "serious" presidential candidate provoked condemnation from his opponents, while respectable news outlets gleefully smeared the word "bull----" across their august pages.

But Santorum is trying to make the most of the shitstorm. On Fox News, he proudly declared, "If you haven't cursed out a New York Times reporter during the course of a campaign, you're not really a real Republican." He followed up with a fundraising letter titled, "I Am Ready to Take On The New York Times."

Republican analysts are closely evaluating the effectiveness of Santorum's "Real Republican" response, which could become a staple of right-wing damage control strategy. Focus groups have responded positively to hypothetical retorts by other conservatives who have taken wrong turns up shit creek. Here are few examples:

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When Etch A Sketches Go Bad

Mitt Romney is in a bind. He must present himself as a staunch conservative in order to appeal to skeptical right-wing voters in the Republican presidential primary, but if he plays it too conservative, he'll alienate moderate voters in the general election.

Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom is not overly concerned, though. On Wednesday, he expressed confidence the campaign would hit the "reset button" after the nomination and redraw Romney as a moderate candidate.

"Everything changes," he explained on CNN, "It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again."

Fehrnstrom's comparison of his boss' campaign to a toy tablet ignited a political firestorm. Internet wags imagined Mitt Romney as an Etch A Sketch drawing, while his primary opponents, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, gleefully brandished Etch A Sketches at campaign events. Romney rushed to contain the damage by promising to be a true conservative forever.

It won't work.

Fehrnstrom has accidentally stumbled on something profound. He may not have much experience with Etch A Sketch technology. With all due respect to that iconic American toy, its legendary reset abilities have never been quite up to scratch. Dark smudges tend to mar the perimeter of its silvery slate, and no matter how vigorously you shake the thing, you can never quite obliterate the residue. Even so, the real-life Etch A Sketch in all its splotchy glory actually offers a better metaphor for American politics than the fantasy of a clean post-primary slate.

Read the full article at CNN.com

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Quietly Celebrating Death

Several weeks ago, I met a man with a Jewish wife. Though he was not religious himself, they were raising their young daughter to be Jewish. A year ago, he went with his family to a children's service for the festival of Purim at an Orthodox synagogue in Mexico. The rabbi there spoke briefly to the children about the events that Purim celebrates. "Many years ago in Persia," he gruffly explained, "They tried to kill the Jews. But we killed all of them instead. Ha ha!"
 
This is not exactly the Purim story that most Jewish children learn in the U.S. Most Sunday school teachers focus on the brave, beautiful Queen Esther and her clever cousin Mordechai as they outwit an evil official named Haman and foil his plot to slaughter the Jews of Persia.
 
At the end of the story, the children do learn that Haman hangs for his crimes. Some teachers might mention that Haman's ten sons hang as well. Few relate the last part of the story--how the Jews take up arms and slaughter some 75,000 of their Persian enemies.
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Why Evangelicals Love Santorum, Hated JFK

Sen. Rick Santorum, who is campaigning to become America's second Catholic president, disagrees from the bottom of his gut with the first Catholic to hold the office.

In October, he told a Catholic university audience that when he read the 1960 speech in which John F. Kennedy said: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute," he "almost threw up." More recently, he elaborated on his dyspeptic condition in an ABC television interview, calling JFK's credo "an absolutist doctrine that was abhorrent at the time of 1960."

But the Baptist ministers who witnessed Kennedy's speech surely felt differently. In the 1960s, evangelical leaders were not concerned that Kennedy was too secular; they were concerned that he was too Catholic.

Read the full article at CNN.com

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Biography

Michael Wolraich is a non-fiction writer in New York City. He co-founded dagblog and has contributed  to the Atlantic, the Daily Beast, New York Magazine, CNN.com, TalkingPointsMemo.com, Reuters, and Pando Daily.

Books:

Wolraich is also the computer genius who maintains dagblog's state-of-the-art software, but he denies responsibility for technical glitches and advises users to "quit sniveling." In his spare time, Wolraich raises peach mold and performs live impressions of the law of gravity.

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