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    The Paul Ryan Challenge

    Politics is a serious matter, of course, of course. The future of the country is at stake, a great war of ideas and all that. Individualism and equality and security and liberty and lots of other weighty words.

    But as we harrumph our way through the Economist and the New Republic, anyone looking over our shoulder might notice that we'd slipped the latest issue of People between the pages. For all our puffing about Ideas, we spend most of our political leisure time obsessing over gaffs and scandals and expensive haircuts and bad tans.

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    Good Assassinations and Bad Assassinations

    Iran's government condemned the suicide bombing that killed five Israeli tourists in Bulgaria yesterday.

    "The Islamic republic, the biggest victim of terrorism, believes terrorism endangers the lives of innocents," stated Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast.

    But Israel's leaders blame Iran for the attack. They say that the bomber was a Hezbollah agent acting at Iran's behest.

    "The attack yesterday in Bulgaria was carried out by Hezbollah, the long arm of Iran," charged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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    Before Politics...

    Before politics, there was love.

    Even the priggish old Bible that hurried God's busy hands into the dawn of time honored the proper order of the world. Before God admonished the first people to shun evil, he begged them to multiply. The old world's profession was the dating consultant.

    I'm getting married on Saturday.

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    When the War Began

    Readers and friends,

    I'm happy to announce that I've signed a deal for my second book, When the War Began: Teddy Roosevelt, Republican Progressives, and the Birth of Modern Politics.*

    It will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in the Spring 2014. Palgrave is a great publisher, and I'm excited about the deal.

    I haven't met with my editor yet, but I would like to ask her permission to publish excerpts of my work-in-progress in order to get feedback from all the clever folks at dagblog.

    In the meantime, here's a brief description of the book:

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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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    Confessions of a Valor Thief

    I am concerned that I may soon be arrested, for I am a shameless Valor-thief. In my defense, I did not realize that it was a crime. I thought Valor was an ethereal substance like Truth, Beauty, and Mitt Romney's political agenda. But our government feels differently. In 2006, Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act and made me a federal criminal.

    Accord the act, I may be imprisoned for up to six months for falsely claiming to have been awarded "any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States, or any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, or the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration or medal, or any colorable imitation thereof."

    One of my partners in crime has already been arrested. Xavier Alvarez was an important man in his community, a member of the board of directors of Three Valleys Municipal Water District in California. At a public meeting, he told people that he had received the Congressional Medal of Honor as a Marine. It was all lies. He is a Valor-thief.

    But Alvarez is a petty criminal compared to me. I am the kingpin of a notorious Valor-theft ring based in midtown Manhattan. Over the past six years, I have claimed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of military honors that I have never received, and I fear that I may have to spend the rest of my life serving consecutive six-month sentences for Valor theft.

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    Satan vs. Santorum

    Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum sparked a media firestorm on Saturday when he accused President Barack Obama of promoting a "phony theology...not a theology based on Bible."

    To many, his accusation smacked of the old smear--whispered through right-wing email chains--that Obama is a covert Muslim. In response to such concerns, Santorum publicly expressed his confidence in Obama's Christian faith. "If the president says he's a Christian," he assured reporters, "He's a Christian."

    But what Santorum means by "Christian" is a bit different from the way most Americans understand it. He may acknowledge that the President worships Jesus Christ, but he regards Obama's Christian faith as polluted by secular and liberal ideals. And not just Obama's. Santorum believes that most of mainstream American Protestantism has been corrupted in both doctrine and practice.

    Corrupted by whom?

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    Lies My Pastor Told Me

    The Christian Anti-Defamation Commission (CADC) is a not-for-profit 501(c) (3) Education Corporation whose purpose it is to become the first-in-mind champion of Christian religious liberty, domestically and internationally, and a national clearing house and first line of response to anti-Christian defamation, bigotry, and discrimination.

    As America slides down the slippery slope into secular abyss, Christianity itself has come under attack. Nowhere is the assault on religious liberty more ruthless than in our schools. Just last month, a malicious little atheist forced a Rhode Island high school to remove its students' inspirational prayer from the wall of the gymnasium.

    But one brave man refuses to stand by as the secular state annihilates our childrens' religious liberties. Rev. Gary L. Cass, president of the celebrated Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, has recently launched a new organization called DefendStudents.org, which is dedicated to defending religious liberty in our schools.

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    Panetta: Iran to Enter "Immunity Zone"; Israeli Attack Imminent

    When will the Israelis attack? That's what the world has wondered ever since 1984, when an anonymous source predicted that Iran would develop a nuclear bomb within two years.

    Twenty-eight years later, Israeli may have finally set a date for its long-awaited assault according to United States Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

    Panetta reportedly told David Ignatius of the Washington Post that Israel is likely to strike Iran sometime in April, May, or June of this year.

    According to Panetta, the Israelis believe that Iran will soon enter what they call the "zone of immunity," which sounds like either a science fiction episode or a game of tag. Soon after the Post reported Panetta's remarks, the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak confirmed that the Israelis were very concerned about Iran's imminent arrival in the Immunity Zone.

    But the report raises an intriguing question:

    Why did Leon Panetta announce the schedule for Israeli's surprise attack?

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    What's the Matter With Mormons?

    Last week, blogger MuddyPolitics wrote a piece that took a swipe at Mitt Romney for his Mormon faith. The article provoked a passionate debate, one that is likely being repeated in various forms across the country this election season.

    The question is this: Should we consider Romney's religious beliefs when assessing his fitness for the presidency?

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    The Capitalist and the Zombie: Romney's Threat to the GOP

    A number of Republican presidential hopefuls and not so hopefuls have attacked Mitt Romney as a heartless capitalist who destroyed jobs while a partner at Bain Capital. Newt Gingrich compared Romney to a looter. Rick Perry called him a vulture. Jon Huntsman suggested that Romney likes firing people.

    The anti-Romney offensive has raised the ire of many Republican leaders, who have condemned the charges as disrespectful to heartless capitalism. Their concern is understandable. Heartless capitalism is the very soul of Republican Party. Without it, the party would resemble some toothless decomposing zombie that blunders haplessly into disgusted voters while gurgling about taking back the country.



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