Fahrenheit 451

September 11, 2010

I give up. I thought for sure American politics had hits its local maxima for ridiculousness at several points this past year, but now we’re having a national debate over book burning. I know. The President has dispatched some shuttle diplomacy down to the Confederacy in order to negotiate a pre-emptive cease-burning with an itinerant preacher and his congregation of 50. Read that last sentence again.

Honestly, my feelings on book burning are similar to Carl Shurz’s thinking about slavery: this is a practice so obviously and utterly beneath a liberal democracy that trying to oppose it through logic or reason serves only to legitimate the ridiculous and make you a fool. Anyone participating in the practice is, almost by definition, not going to listen. So either gather the votes, or get the guns. If you don’t have the former and you can’t stomach the latter, then leave them to their pathetic selves until you do. But whatever the case, don’t engage these idiots.

Still — and not to go all Who IS IOZ? on you, but — there’s something surreal about President Obama lecturing everyone on how burning a Koran in Florida is going to ignite hostility in the Muslim world towards American and American troops while he himself is presiding over the dropping of explosives onto the heads of Muslims every day. If you don’t want Muslims to think America is at war with Islam, stop bombing, invading, and occupying their countries. I’m talking to you, Mr. President.

And yet, I have a few practical thoughts about book burning: Read more »

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On The Idea of Repealing the 17th Amendment

September 8, 2010

It sure looks like the summer of 2010 is destined to be remembered as the time when everyone seemed to want to get themselves some Constitutional amending. And I’m not talking about your garden-variety balanced-budget amendment or flag-burning amendment or school prayer amendment or line-item veto amendment or any of the other 75 or so amendments that have been proposed in the 111th Congress. I’m talking about stuff like repealing the 14th amendment. Can’t say I saw that coming!

Still, repealing the 14th amendment makes for a boring discussion, because it quickly devolves either into an immigration debate — in which the probability of someone saying something new or interesting (minimal) is only slightly greater than the probability of anyone revising their opinion (infinitesimal) — or, even worse, a debate about race, in which both probabilities are highly likely to be exactly zero.

The same cannot be said for the idea of repealing the 17th amendment, which provides for the direct election of United States Senators. Unlike the 14th amendment, it makes for a rather interesting topic of conversation: it’s not exactly well-worn territory, so there are a lot of fresh thoughts. It doesn’t inherently evoke any partisan or ideological emotions, so people are often willing to think about it at face value.  And since the 17th amendment is a purely structural amendment —  a decision about how the basic framework of the national government should be constructed —  it’s right in the wheelhouse of anyone who spends their free time thinking about the institutional design of the United States Senate (ahem).

Without further ado… Read more »

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How valuable is a great kicker?

September 1, 2010

Simple question:

What is the minimum value of X that would make the following proposition true?

If the worst team in the league had a field goal kicker that was automatic from inside X yards, they would immediately be the favorite to win the championship.

Some things to consider as you formulate an answer: Read more »

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Leisure Reading

August 18, 2010

The short prologue to my novel is now available for download on the fiction page.

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Wait, America has always been in color?

August 17, 2010

The ubiquitous black and white photos from the depression have a tendency to make one perceive that everyone wore clothing in drab shades of gray, and that life was a bleak visage of darkness. The accompanying downtrodden motif of the time usually reinforces that idea as a contemporary psychological construct — why wouldn’t people dress in ugly, depressing colors when the world was collapsing?— and further skews our received interpretation of the era.

Of course, in reality that’s nothing but pure nonsense, as shown in these glorious color photos from the 30′s. People dressed in vivid color, street signs exploded with pastels, and buckets of peaches were, in fact, not gray. But then again, the depression-as-uncolorful-time construct is perhaps squarely wrong as a theoretical matter: ex ante, we might presume that people would dress more colorfully in hard times, as a psychological weapon against the hardship.

In any case, it’s almost shocking to look at the photo collection. Dont’ be surprised if your initial reaction is why are those people from the 70′s wearing clothes from the 30′s and driving around in old-fashioned cars?

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I’ll take great 70′s glam rock for $200, Alex

August 14, 2010

A. This amazing song — that you’ve probably never heard — sounds like Bowie and Meatloaf were inspired by the White Album to co-write a song, and then got Geddy Lee to sing it.

Q. What is Mott the Hoople’s Roll Away the Stone?

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More on ending state marriage…

August 11, 2010

Over at Confirm Or Disconfirm, John is taking issue with my ultra-libertarian view on marriage. To reiterate (or perhaps clarify), I believe the following three things:

1) Intimate human relationships exist prior to the government. I may personally judge some arrangements as inferior to others, but  so long as they occur between consenting adults and stay off my lawn, I don’t think they are my public business in any respect.

2) The existence of government incentives/benefits in favor of certain such relationships is inherently discriminatory against citizens who would prefer other types of relationships, or who would prefer no formal relationship at all.

3) The existence of government incentives/benefits also has a corrosive effect on the favored relationships, as it narrows the range of acceptability within the favored set, bribes people into relationship arrangements they might not choose, and tends to make people in both favored and unfavored relationships believe that only the government-favored relationships are legitimate human relationships.

To correct this, I propose ending all government benefits  for marriage as they currently exist. Equality comes not via the government extending benefits to additional human relationships, but by the government ceasing to offer any incentives for any intimate human relationships.

Now, on to the critiques… Read more »

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More on decoupling marriage and the state

August 10, 2010

In my previous post on the topic, which was somewhat rushed, I asserted that the best solution to the issue of marriage inequality for homosexuals is a libertarian one: make everyone equal not by allowing gay marriage, but by getting the state out of the business of straight marriage. I believe this is not only the easiest consensus political solution, but also the most normatively desireable result. The remainder of this post explicates the argument, in six part:

I) The misunderstanding of the fundamental issue at hand

II) The relationship between marriage and government

III) The advantage of removing the state from heterosexual marriage

IV) Addressing conservative objections

V) Addressing liberal objections

VI) Addressing the conservative-gay objections 

VII) Implementing the idea

Read more »

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Deliberations

August 5, 2010

A lot of people are talking about George Packer’s article on the Senate in the current issue of the New Yorker. I think it’s an ok article; George seems to have a better handle on Senate procedure than most of the DC press corp, although he still doesn’t seem to understand how the filibuster, holds, and unanimous consent are structurally all the same issue, and therefore his reformist position seems a little shaky to anyone who does fundamentally understand the issues. (Case and point: an obsession with “secret holds,” which also plagues the DC press corp, is a pretty good sign that you’re not quite wearing the right glasses yet). On a couple of occasions, he also mistakes the changing shape of partisanship for an increase in partisanship, for instance when he talks about how in the 60′s, the minority leader and majority leader often worked together to break filibusters. Well, that’s because the minority obstructionists were southern democrats hostile to civil rights, members of the majority party. The majority coalition in most filibuster situations was the northern democrats and the GOP. Amazingly, he writes several paragraphs later about how most of the civil rights act of 1964 was written in minority leader Dirksen’s office, but fails to see how the notion of party didn’t really apply in the case of 60′s civil rights battles. It wasn’t a partisan issue.

But leaving all that aside, the thing that irked me most about the article was Packer’s understanding of deliberation. Read more »

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Solving the gay marriage gordian knot, or why you should be a libertarian

August 4, 2010

The issue of gay marriage is now so convoluted that there’s nary any room for a partisan to stand with an ideological straight face. On one hand, you’ve got a federal court ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is more or less a violation of state sovereignty and the federal respect for such sovereignty (read: liberals cheer on states’ rights and conservatives grumble about federal power). On the other hand, you’ve got a federal court ruling invalidating a state ban on gay marriage (read: liberals cheer on federal power and conservatives grumble about state’s rights). Granted, these are only federal district courts and may very well be overturned on appeal by either the circuit courts or the Supreme Court (particularly the DOMA case), but they are strikingly important to the trajectory of gay marriage, and perhaps even such short-term political considerations as the 2010 election or Kagan’s nomination.

It’s hard to imagine the the decisions can square, Read more »

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Born to Sequence

July 27, 2010

Over at Confirm or Disconfirm, there’s some disgruntlement about my re-sequencing of Born to Run. Which we have to take seriously, because John’s from northern Jersey and owns more Springsteen bootlegs than anyone I know. To wit: Read more »

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A hard way to make an easy living

July 26, 2010

A friend of mine asked me a thought-provoking question this weekend: What is the single skill one can have (or lack) that most strongly affects success (or failure) at poker? Read more »

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On Record Sequencing

July 19, 2010

Driving to the grocery store yesterday, I heard Smokin’ by Boston on the radio. Which got me thinking — how many rock albums can you name in which every single song on the album gets regular radio airplay?

I can only come up with two, and they are both arguably not legitimate. The first, of course, is Boston’s first album, Boston.  It is unquestionable that, of the eights songs on the record, six of them (More than a Feeling, Piece of Mind, Foreplay/Longtime, Rock n’ Roll Band, Hitch a Ride, and Let Me Take You Home Tonight) get regular radio airplay. The other two songs  (Something About You and Smokin’) might not qualify for “regular” airplay, but you definitely hear them once in a while.

The other record I came up with is Read more »

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Gentlemen, do I have five numbers correct?

July 12, 2010

I love The Price is Right (henceforth, TPIR). Always have.  I love contestant’s row. I love(d) Barker. I love his skinny little mic. I love his scandals with Barker’s beauties.  I love the pricing games (Plinko is best, I will not entertain arguments to the contrary, especially not arguments involving Hole-in-one-or-two). I love how the crowd can help you. I love how you don’t know you’ll be on the show until they call your name from the live studio audience. I love(d) Roddy.  I love how people wear ridiculous t-shirts and get way too excited about his and hers exercise bicycles.  I love it all.

I can remember racing into my house each day at 11:30 after I got home from kindergarten so that I could see the second half of the show. I can remember being home sick from school, feeling awful, and thinking, “well, at least I get to watch TPIR today.” I can remember scheduling my summer days as a kid around it.  When Barker left, I was sad. The show has lost something without him, but it’s not unwatchable with Carey.

So maybe you haven’t seen the video below before. Read more »

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On federalism, pot, and this November

July 8, 2010

There are very few things in politics that can be said with certainty or even near-certainty, but here’s one that I’m close to 100% sure about: there’s a whole host of staffers in the White House praying that California doesn’t legalize pot this Fall.

If you haven’t been following, the odds of legal pot next year on the west coast are about even money. There’s both a bill in the Assembly and, more importantly,  a referendum on the November ballot that is polling above 50% right now. And we’re not talking Massachusetts-style decriminalization, or even Amsterdam-style psuedo-legalization. We’re talking totally legal, commercial production, distribution, sale, and consumption. Five points: Read more »

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Coupon Maven Update: Watch me ransack CVS

July 8, 2010

So since I last reported on saving 80% at Safeway, I’ve done some coupon maven-ing here and there. I bought five tubes of high-end toothpaste (Colgate with baking soda peroxide) for zero cents; I paid 72 cents for two bottles of shampoo, two Old Spice deodorants, a fancy new Schick Quattro razor and a refill pack of titanium blades, bringing to mind my favorite Onion article that actually came true; I learned that my Safeway has an unadvertised policy of doubling any manufacturer’s coupon under $1, making  every 75 cent coupon quite vaulable; and I got a teenage girl working the register at Safeway to blurt out “Jesus fucking Christ” in awe after I paid less than $20 for a mostly-full cart of groceries.

But I’ve also learned that Safeway is not the best place to execute these tricks. It’s CVS. Hands down. For three reasons: Read more »

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Research Note: Defining “the South”

July 6, 2010

Several times in the last few weeks, I’ve seen claims made about “the south.” Things like polling data that reported regional cross-tabs, political analysts claiming something distinctive about the region and the 2010 election, or just a friend conjecturing about some regional cultural phenomenon. And, as usual, none of the sources defined what they meant by “the south.” Which makes it pretty hard to assess the claim. Of course, part of the problem is that’s there’s not really any utterly stable definition; it depends what you are talking about it.

This is more extreme than it first appears. Read more »

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Executive Power: A quick note from the Kagan hearing

June 29, 2010

In response to a question about executive war power and the detention of enemy combatants, Kagan said that the Obama administration (through the Office of the Solicitor General and the DOJ) has grounded its opinion of its power not under inherent Article II powers, but instead under the statutory powers granted by Congress under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq and Afghanistan (AUMF). Fair enough.

She then went on to talk about the famous “Youngstown” test as articulated by Justice Jackson: a question of Presidential authoriy can fall into one of three situation. First, when Congress has specifically authorized the President to act; second, when Congress has been silent; and third, when Congress has specifically barred the activity in question. The first should be given the widest lattitude, the second somewhat less, and the last should be given the least latitude.

Conveniently, the argument is that the AUMF puts Read more »

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RIP: Robert Byrd

June 28, 2010

Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia passed away early this morning. He will be remembered for many things, some good and some bad. He was the longest-serving Senator in American history, having served over 51 years. He was a staunch institutional defender of Congress in an age of Presidential supremancy, perhaps the last true Whig. And he is the last of the old-line southern Democrats, a once-upon-a-time member of the Klan and active participant in the filibuster against the civil rights act in 1964 (Byrd has long since renounced — and apologized for — both things). Read more »

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It’s a jump-to-conclusions mat. You jump…to conclusions!

June 25, 2010

I was going to title this post, “In which I give away $1 billion,” but that’s just  a recipe for huge snark. Nevertheless, I do think the following idea is a potentially Youtube-esque payday for whoever has the time, perseverence, and risk tolerance to quit their job and form the startup. If I were 23 and unmarried with no kids, it is unquestionably what I would do. But I’m not so I won’t. And now the fabulous idea (which I must co-credit to my brother-in-laws) is yours for the taking. Just thank me when you are the next Internet gazillionaire. Or cut me into the profits.  Here’s the idea: Read more »

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“Last thoughts before I ring me a hearse.”

June 24, 2010

The greatest live-blog ever written. Complete with English turns-of-phrases: A poor sucker at the Guardian, reporting on Wimbledon the day a set goes 120 games.

Begin at 4:05pm for nonstop Isner-Mahut, or read the whole thing to watch the descent of a writer in real-time. Read more »

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…Your Yankee Bluejeans

June 23, 2010

Question: If you had to come up with a list of the top 50 or Top 100 or Top 1000 rock acts of all-time, how many of them would be British?

A lot.  Just off the top of your head, you’d probably say: Beatles, Stones, Who, Zeppelin, Queen, Clash, Pink Floyd, Clapton, Bowie, Radiohead, T. Rex, Sex Pistlols, Black Sabbath, Cream, Def Leppard, ELO, Rainbow, Depp Purple, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Free, Genesis, Faces, Police, Smiths, Kinks, Pet Shop Boys,  and Oasis.

What about America? How many instantly come to mind? Read more »

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Facts that Stun

June 21, 2010

In the past three weeks I’ve read two books — The Best and the Brightest and The Big Short. Despite being written 40 years apart and dealing with utterly different topics (foreign policy in the 60′s and Wall Street in the 00′s, respectively), the books are fundamentally about the same thing: ostensibly smart people making enormously consequential errors because they refuse to accept reality, substituting either outdated or fantastical views of the world for plainly available facts.

In TBATB, the most painful errors (in retrospect) are those of Read more »

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Will our children even understand this ad?

June 17, 2010

Still one of my all-time favorites, but for better or worse, its once-commonplace ideology is quickly fading into America’s past:

Three other World Cup thoughts, none of which I’ve seen in print, but none of which I would even remotely consider novel: Read more »

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In which I buy $22.10 worth of groceries for $4.95

June 15, 2010

So, I’ve always been fascinated with the coupon mavens, the people who allegedly save 80% at the grocery store by skillfully combining store coupons, manufacturers coupons, and sale prices.  But I was always either skeptical or lazy or figured it took too much effort, so I never tried out their strategies.

Until today. Here’s what I did: Read more »

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Research Note: Investigating Disasters

June 11, 2010

Presidential Executive Orders creating, and final reports of, commissions on…

…the assassination of President Kennedy (EO #11130, 11/29/1963). Final Report.

…the Accident at Three Mile Island (EO #12130, 4/11/1979). Final Report.

…the explosion of the Challenger (EO #12546, 2/3/1986). Final Report.

…the oil spill in the Gulf (EO #13543, 5/22/2010). Final Report.

Note that the 9/11 commission was created statutorily by Congress. Final Report here.

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On Strasmas…

June 9, 2010

Given the absolute glut of media attention regarding Stephen Strasburg’s remarkable debut for the ‘Nats last night, I’m not sure I have anything meaningful to say that hasn’t already been said. But let me try.

The moment that got me was when he struck out Delwyn Young in the 2nd. (The link has all of the K’s from last night; the Young whiff is at about the 0:49 mark of the video).  Strasburg has been rightfully heralded as the next Walter Johnson because of the seeming ease at which he is able to throw the ball 100 mph (and maybe once 103 — see picture). But starting with the Young strikeout, Read more »

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Getting your way: lessons from pick-up hoops dispute resolution

June 7, 2010

I play a lot of pick-up basketball, mostly at a park near my house that has a bunch of full-court setups, lights for night play, and almost always at least one decent game going during any hours I’m thinking of playing. The competition is good, and there are enough regulars that the rules and norms are pretty well entrenched; you can show up, inquire about next, jump on a team, and not have to worry about the ground rules.

It doesn’t really matter, though; the games play by pretty much the standard pick-up structure: games straight to 11, everything counts for one, call your own fouls by saying “ball,” no backcourt, checks from half-court after out of bounds turnovers, only call un-ignorable violations (like egregious carries or  travels) and never call offensive fouls, unless you want to fess up to it yourself (like a hideous over-the-back). Winners stay on the court, whoever has next builds a team with the first four guys who asked him, and a queue of nexts builds behind that. All very standard.

What interests me, from both a basketball and non-basketball standpoint, is how disputes both within the game and within the queue structure for next are settled. Read more »

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Swinging on America’s J-Curve

June 4, 2010

I think I’m going to lose it if I have to listen to one more person talk about how America’s fiscal problems are a “failure of the political class.”  You hear this every Sunday on the major talk shows, David Brooks writes some variation of it every other week in the back of the New York Times, and most of the Washington journalistic corp not only buys into the idea, but all of them seem to think they invented the concept because they were the last ones to write about it.

It’s complete nonsense. Whatever shortcomings you might ascribe to America democracy, that the Members of Congress are ignoring a massive pubic outcry  is not one of them. As if somehow the problem is that all the people want nice balanced budgets and a reduced public debt, it’s just that the politicians won’t deliver it to them. Please… Read more »

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Perfection calls Perfection…

June 4, 2010

Vin Scully calls the 9th inning of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, September 9, 1965.

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On Jim Joyce and this generation’s Harvey Haddix…

June 3, 2010

I’m pretty sure that everyone who grew up playing baseball has been supremely jobbed by an ump at least once in his life. I was standing on second base at Krank Park in Albany when the 1989 county little league championship game ended. My West Albany Little League lost 1-0 to City American Little League after Josh Myrtle struck out with runners on 2nd and 3rd. Two pitches earlier, I had scored the winning run when Josh sent a no-doubter high down the left field line and into the south-side night.I was halfway between 3rd and home, trotting with my hands in the air, before I realized they were sending me back to second. Foul ball, my ass. That thing was fair by 20 feet.  And everyone in the park knew it. Even the ump. But he didn’t change his call. And Krank Park still doesn’t have tall enough foul poles. Years later, when we were playing Babe Ruth, Josh was still bitter. “That was my last little league at-bat. That fucker ended my childhood.”

Fast forward to last night. Five thoughts, in no particular order:

1. There is no question in my mind that perfect-game attempts are the most exciting thing that one can randomly happen upon when you’re sitting around watching otherwise-meaningless regular-season sports. Normally, I might choose a Golden Girls rerun over having to watch every pitch of a A’s-Rays game, but make it a perfect game in the 7th inning and I’ll be afraid to go the bathroom. And the Internet / cable TV revolution has made it so much more likely that you’ll be able to get to the game live. I’ve seen all three this month, and it’s been great. Read more »

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On southern nationalism…

June 1, 2010

There’s a house in my town that prominently flies the confederate battle flag on a flagpole in the middle of the front yard.

Now, that’s not something you see every day in northern Virginia. Sure, seemingly every highway here is named after Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, or Robert E. Lee. And yeah, many of the high school mascots are still “Rebels.” But all that stuff… Read more »

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On the idea of “anti-incumbency”

May 18, 2010

You really can’t swing a dead cat around the chattering class these days without hearing about the “anti-incumbent” situation both political parties are facing this primary season and then this November. It’s really become the CW of a wide stripe of armchair political analysts, both the (over)paid type on TV and their counterparts at your water cooler. Judging by those two bellwethers, you’d think that most of the House was in serious danger of losing this fall.

I agree  that there’s something very interesting (and perhaps quite unusual) going on right now in American electoral politics. But I’m skeptical that “anti-incumbency” is the right word for it.The supposed evidence has significant flaws: there was no incumbent running in PA-12. there’s no incumbent running for Senate in Florida. There’s no incumbent running for Senate in Kentucky. The Pennsylvania Senate race featured an incumbent who was facing a new primary electorate for the first time.

But, you say, what about the other primaries? Read more »

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Research Note: On Walking Out

May 17, 2010

Order of southern walkout at the 1860 Democratic conventions in Charleston, SC and Baltimore, MD: Read more »

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Supreme Court Justice Venn Diagram #3: Antonin Scalia

April 4, 2010

Previous Venn Diagrams

SCOTUS

John Roberts, 3/30/12

Clarence Thomas, 3/29/12

GOP CANDIDATES

Michele Bachmann, 12/22/11

Newt Gingrich , 12/19/11

Jon Huntsman, Jr., 12/20/11Up

Willard Mitt Romney, 12/21/11

Rick Perry, 12/23/11

Herman Cain, 12/25/11

Rick Santorum, 12/28/11

Ron Paul, 12/31/11

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