Thursday, May 17, 2007


Today is the 20th anniversary of the U.S.S. Stark incident.

You recall the Stark incident, dontcha? That was when an Iraqi Fighter jet cruised out into the Persian Gulf, ignored several radio warnings to identify itself, and shot a couple missiles into the side of an American ship-- incinerating 37 sailors.

Saddam Hussein apologized for the "mistake", and the U.S. promptly forgave him and turned its attention to... IRAN. That's right. In the aftermath of what was the bloodiest peacetime naval incident in U.S. history, the Reagan administration showed forgiveness to the Stalinist madman known as Saddam Hussein, and ratcheted up its rhetoric against Iran (with whom we had a few subsequent skirmishes). Iran and Iraq were still at war at the time of the incident, and the U.S. was, "officially" neutral.


The Stark incident occurred twenty years ago today. That was five years after Saddam committed the crime for which he was executed in December 2006.

The Stark incident occurred twenty years ago today. That was two years after the CIA began assisting Saddam's military, and giving it timely satellite imagery of the battlefield on its eastern border. Iraq used this imagery for "target data", to better aim its mustard gas "WMD's" on Iran's troops.

The Stark incident occurred twenty years ago today. That was during "Chemical Ali's" hideous Al-Anfal extermination campaign against the Kurds, which included the use of "ground offensives, aerial bombing, systematic destruction of settlements, mass deportation, concentration camps, firing squads, and chemical warfare".

The Stark incident occurred twenty years ago today. That was a year after the U.S. illegally shipped 1000 TOW missiles to Iran-- IRAN!-- in a covert deal to illegally fund the Contras.

The Stark incident occurred twenty years ago today. At the Memorial service for the crewmembers Ronald Reagan gave a speech, and said:

There's a reason why, since 1949, American ships have patrolled the Gulf. Every American President since World War II has understood the strategic importance of this region: It is a region that is a crossroads for three continents and the starting place for the oil that is the lifeblood of much of the world economy, especially those of our allies in Europe. Even more important, this is a region critical to avoiding larger conflict in the tinderbox that is the Middle East, and our role there is essential to building the conditions for peace in that troubled, dangerous part of the world. And it is this objective that has guided us as we've sought to end the brutal war between Iran and Iraq, a war that has gone on for over 6 and 1/2 terrible years and taken such an awful toll on human life.

Peace is at stake here, and so too is our own nation's security and our freedom. Were a hostile power ever to dominate this strategic region and its resources, it would become a chokepoint for freedom -- that of our allies and our own. And that's why we maintain a naval presence there. Our aim is to prevent, not to provoke, wider conflict, to save the many lives that further conflict would cost us.

Twenty years ago, we helped Saddam use mustard gas "WMD's" on Iranian troops, and ignored him when he used the Bell helicopters we sold him to drop chemicals on "his own people". We forgave him for incinerating 37 U.S. sailors, so we could screw around with Iran (who we had also recently armed). This is how we aimed to secure "peace", and save countless lives and preserve our "freedom".

Some, like Senator Ted Kennedy, disagreed with this support of Saddam Hussein. A year after the Stark incident, Kennedy proposed that the Reagan administration impose sanctions on Iraq but the Reagan administration

strongly opposed sanctions, or even cutting off financial assistance.
The next year, President George H.W. Bush's administration actually doubled US financial credits for Iraq. A week before Hussein invaded Kuwait, the administration vociferously opposed legislation that would have conditioned US assistance to Iraq on a commitment not to use chemical weapons and to stop the genocide against the Kurds.

At the time, most conservatives didn't care about these matters. Only 15 years later did they really start talking about the atrocities during Saddam's rule. They did this in support of Bush's Iraq War-- the biggest strategic blunder since Vietnam. Five years later we're breaking our army on a civil war in Iraq, and protecting a dithering government that is rather friendly to Iran.

We call this the War on Terror-- the War on Terror Protects our Freedom from the Evildoers who would "follow us home" should we pull out of the civil warzone before "victory" is achieved.

I wonder how this misadventure will look in 20 years.

And today we learn that the Bush administration opposes a 3.5% pay increase for the army. They call it "unnecessary".

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Mardis Gras merde 

A (large) dog found a stuffed Carnival toy and ate it. Then the dog shat that toy on our front mini-lawn.

Despite its intestinal journey, the toy is still quite purple and yellow and green and ... endlessly fascinating to Pearlgirl. Every morning, we walk out the door and she has a thousand new questions about the Mardis Gras dog pile:

"What is that? Why is it purple? Why is there a toy in the dog poo?

One question she doesn't ask is "Why don't you clean it up, Daddy?" I don't know the answer to that. The damn thing won't bio-degrade, so it's not going away any time soon-- but some irrational part of my mind still holds out hope that the dog's owner will stroll by (2 weeks later) and decide to belatedly scoop up the colorful poop.


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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

In a Fix 

Matt McBride tells us we're royally screwed. Due to decisions made by US Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans is actually more vulnerable to flooding than it was before the Federal Deluge. He concludes with an urgent plea:

The Corps will not fix the walls. They will rely on their beloved yet untested, unproven, and defective floodgates (we won't really know they work until a storm hits), leaving New Orleans in a more perilous condition than before Katrina. Residents should think long and hard about relying on the gates, the MWI pumps, and the unrepaired walls to save them. The situation has become unbearable, and I hope people realize it before the worst happens, rather than when it's too late.

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Day Zero 

I like how New Orleans Recovery Czar Ed Blakely is unafraid to put his personal prestige on the line at every available opportunity.

Asked during a morning news conference whether he's sticking to his pledge to have construction "cranes on the skyline" by September, Blakely said: "Absolutely."

Construction cranes becoming the official city "bird" was one of Nagin's great unfulfilled promises. Getting some up in the sky by September would be a visible mark of progress.

"I have found this (recovery) process to be right in the place it should be at this time," said Blakely, who joined Mayor Ray Nagin's administration about four months ago. "Now, obviously I wish we had started this process one month after the disaster. But if we consider Day Zero (to be) Jan. 8, the day I came, then we are right on track."

Yes we will now consider "Day Zero" to be the day Blakely came into town. What else could it possibly mean for us? I swear this man has the ego the size of Betelgeuse (but we already knew that).

Blakely... disputed the widespread perception that the city planned to use only rundown properties as collateral for the blight bonds, saying it has always been his intent to include [other] assets.

"The blight bond is alive, it's well," Blakely said. "The blight bond lives, Virginia."


Why am I still a quasi-apologist for this blowhard? Because in the universe of potential candidates which Nagin could have chosen, I believe Blakely is not so bad. Everything positive I write or say about Blakely must be viewed in that context. Comparing him to some Platonic Ideal of a Recovery Czar is rather useless, because, frankly, Ray Nagin is never going to discover or appoint an immensely talented figure like a George Marshall. Blakely has many obvious weaknesses, but in a weird way I believe his strengths complement Nagin pretty well. I believe he won't hedge and spin if/when the results he promises don't materialize.

But if, say, cranes aren't in the sky come September, and Blakely passes the buck or blames an undisclosed serious medical condition... then I might not be his quasi-apologist anymore.

Blakely also said that recent conversations with FEMA have prompted the federal agency to consider increasing some of its cost estimates for repairs to city buildings.
"There's no doubt that our relationship with the city has improved," [FEMA spokesman Ronnie Simpson] said. "We have a better understanding of their needs, and they better understand our responsibilities."

That's important.


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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Confession: I am a closet Free Trader 

Compared to the divisive issues in the Republican party like Iraq, immigration and abortion... the Dems have to feel pretty good that the main thing that divides them, according to economist Paul Krugman, is international trade policy.

Yet, in a brilliant piece, Krugman illustrates why there's little basis for substantive disagreement. I recommend reading the edited version at DeLong's place, but here's the conclusion, with which I agree:

So what’s the answer?... [A]ll-out protectionism isn’t acceptable, and labor standards in trade agreements will help only a little.... Democrats [who] really want to help American workers... have to do it with a pro-labor policy that relies on better tools than trade policy. Universal health care, paid for by taxing the economy’s winners, would be a good place to start.

Tariffs are almost always unhelpful, and often disasterous. Protectionist Dems must learn that the undesirable effects of globalization (i.e., the worldwide labor arbitrage) can't be cured through enhanced trade policy "protections".

Update: Here's a great imaginary conversation about it.
Update #2: Much more from James Galbreath, here.

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McCain: our troops are safest in Iraq 

Consider this snippet from Senator Str8 Tawlk on Meet the Press 5/13/07

MR. RUSSERT: But, senator, the Iraqi parliament, a majority of the Iraqi parliament, has signed a petition asking for a date certain for withdrawal of American troops. If the Iraqi parliament wants it, a majority in the Congress want it...

SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT: ...then why do you stand there and say, "No, you can't have it"?

SEN. McCAIN: Because it's my job to give my best estimate to the American people, no matter what the political calculations may be, as to what's the best in our nation's national security interest. Young men and women are risking their lives as we speak in, in, in Iraq. And I know that they will be in greater harm's way if we withdraw from Iraq, as we keep debating over and over and over again. And I know what's best, in my mind, in my experience, in my knowledge, in my inspiration, as to what's best for this country. So political calculations such as polls, I understand that if the American people don't continue to support this effort that we will be forced to withdraw. But it's also my obligation to tell the American people and my constituents in Arizona that I represent, what the consequences of failure will be... catastrophic.

Let me get this straight: McCain "knows" that the "young men and women" who are risking their lives in Iraq "will be in greater harm's way if we withdraw from Iraq".

"Greater harm's way if we withdraw from Iraq"?!

That's the motherscratching zenith of absurdity.

McCain is arguing, basically, that our troops are safest in Iraq. Seriously, look at the "logic" he's using. Iraq is the least "harmful" place for our troops, because if they withdraw from Iraq, they will be "in greater harm's way".

What a pathetic argument that is. It's just a variation of Bush and McCain's "puppy dog" rationale (if we don't fight them there they will follow us here), but this time McCain claims that even our troops will be in greater harm's way if we withdraw. Withdrawal will have "catastrophic" consequences because, as McCain has previously explained, "if we come home" then "bin Laden and Zarqawi... are going to follow us".

If the Democrats prevent our troops from doing foot patrols in some seething Baghdad ghetto, that actually puts our guys in greater harm's way, according to McCain. Therefore, we must babysit the Shia Sadrists in Iraq's parliament or else Sunni extremists like Bin Laden (in Pakistan!) will "follow us" home and put us in greater danger.

Don't the young men and women who are risking their lives in Iraq deserve a much better explanation of their mission? And if we can't provide a better explanation than this one, don't we owe it to them to bring them home ASAP?

Currently, McCain is the default Republican nominee for President. And his best argument for keeping our overextended army in a civil warzone is absolutely, patently absurd. It impresses bright stars like Lorie Byrd from Wizbang!-- Does it impress you?

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The nation's benefits "created the problem" 

Like David says, you must help broadcast John Barry's piece in the Wapo titled "Our Coast to Fix-- or Lose". Talk about it, email it, excerpt it, link it... just do it, people. Do it! I don't care if you normally write about Chococat, it's time to coordinate and unite towards the greater good.

Nobody argues for coastal restoration more persuasively than Barry. In the concluding paragraphs from his piece, Barry handles Chris Matthews "cab driver" question, which our mayoral candidates couldn't answer satisfactorily in the debate MSNBC televised last year:

Fact 6: Without action, land loss will continue, and it will increasingly jeopardize populated areas, the port system and energy production. This would be catastrophic for America. Scientists say the problem can be solved, even with rising sea levels, but that we have only a decade to begin addressing it in a serious way or the damage may be irreversible.

Despite all this and President Bush's pledge from New Orleans in September 2005 that "we will do what it takes" to help people rebuild, a draft White House cuts its own recommendation of $2 billion for coastal restoration to $1 billion while calling for an increase in the state's contribution from the usual 35 percent to 50 percent. Generating benefits to the nation is what created the problem, and the nation needs to solve it. Put simply: Why should a cab driver in Pittsburgh or Tulsa pay to fix Louisiana's coast? Because he gets a stronger economy and lower energy costs from it, and because his benefits created the problem. The failure of Congress and the president to act aggressively to repair the coastline at the mouth of the Mississippi River could threaten the economic vitality of the nation. Louisiana, one of the poorest states, can no longer afford to underwrite benefits for the rest of the nation.


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Monday, May 14, 2007

Good News from Iraq 

1. The SCIRI, who were the "winners" of Iraq's purple finger elections two and a half years ago (celebrated by many conservative pols like Bobby Jindal) will lessen its identification with Ali Khameini, the theocrat who helps run Axis of Evil member Iran. Juan Cole writes:

The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq held its annual party convention on Thursday and Friday and, according to Mariam Karouny of Reuters has decided to make some significant changes. They will drop the part of their party platform where they say that they take guidance from Iran's Supreme Jurisprudent, Ali Khamenei. Instead, they say they will be guided by the fatwas of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Najaf, the spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiites.

2. From the AP:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed to give Sunnis a bigger role in security operations in their areas, lawmakers said Sunday, in a deal that staves off a threatened Sunni walkout that could have toppled the Shiite leader's embattled government.

The deal reached with Iraq's Sunni vice president could help assuage long-standing Sunni complaints that Shiite-dominated security forces unfairly target Sunni areas but avoid cracking down on Shiite militias linked to influential politicians.
That deal was necessary to avoid an immediate political breakdown.

3. Here's some "lagniappe" from Afghanistan:

The Afghan government and NATO have confirmed that Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah was killed during a U.S.-led operation in southern Afghanistan Saturday night.

Dadullah was the Taliban's chief military planner and the most senior leader killed since the Taliban regime was overthrown in 2001.


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Dis, Dat... 

1. The [Indian] Tribune writes:

Indian expatriate Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal has been nominated Vice-Chairman of the Homeland Security Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attack.
Mr Jindal said the responsibilities of the committee were of great importance to the United States. There was no higher priority for the Federal Government than the continued protection of Americans and winning the war on terror.

"Expatriate" is clearly the wrong word to use there. Why would The Tribune describe Jindal as an "expatriate"? Surely they know better.

2. Fresh one, Rudolph!

[With] evidence that thousands of people who worked at ground zero have become sick, many regard Mr. Giuliani’s triumph of leadership (after 9/11) as having come with a human cost.
City officials and a range of medical experts are now convinced that the dust and toxic materials in the air around the site were a menace. More than 2,000 New York City firefighters have been treated for serious respiratory problems. Seventy percent of nearly 10,000 recovery workers screened at Mount Sinai Medical Center have trouble breathing. City officials estimate that health care costs related to the air at ground zero have already run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, and no one knows whether other illnesses, like cancers, will emerge.
Records show that the city was aware of the danger in the ground zero dust from the start.
Violations of federal safety rules abounded, and no one strictly enforced them.
Much has been said and written about Christie Whitman, then the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, and her statement a week after the towers fell that the air in New York was safe. But even then, the air above the debris pile was known to be more dangerous than the air in the rest of Lower Manhattan.

In those first days after 9/11, Mr. Giuliani made it clear that workers needed to wear masks at ground zero because it was more contaminated than elsewhere. But as time went on, and workers failed to heed the warnings, the record indicates that his administration sometimes said otherwise.

Even after the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found that workers were "unnecessarily exposed" to health hazards, officials played down the danger.

3. The critical day care shortage in New Orleans continues. Why?:

Before Hurricane Katrina, nearly a third of the city's children in day care, many of them infants and toddlers, spent their days in 2,682 registered "family child-care" homes. Currently, just 2 percent of day-care children receive that care, in a mere 25 homes. The virtual elimination of family child-care shifted demand to more institutional child-care centers, whose numbers also have plummeted from 275 prestorm to 86 today. More than two-thirds, 69 percent, remain shuttered. Those that have reopened are struggling to find trained staff.

Of the family homes, some were flooded. Others, in leased homes, have been pushed out by the post-storm real estate shuffle or by today's higher rents. Most of the closed centers were flooded badly. Like many businesses, they were often underinsured and so their owners are rebuilding slowly, as they find the money to do so.

4. Adrastos writes that "State Representative Jalila Jefferson-Bullock plans to run for the Uptown State Senate seat being vacated by the term limited Diana Bajoie". She's calling it a "promotion", which is the same term Derrick Shepherd successfully used when he ran for State Senate in the summer of 2005. I was a paid consultant for one of his opponents in that race. I recall that after my candidate threw her hat into the race, we got an immediate call from Coca-Cola, who wanted to donate $7,500 to the campaign if we would support having soft drink vending machines in the schools. (We declined.)

A couple weeks later, we got a call from John Georges' people, who were underwriting Wayne Baquet's candidacy. They offered to pay for our candidate's expenses if we would withdraw. (We didn't.) My candidate lost badly, and Derrick Shepherd won outright in the primaries, getting a huge majority of the West Bank vote.

During the campaign, my candidate confided in me, saying that she had a real "bad feeling" about that summer. I took that premonition with a grain of salt. Interestingly, one of her pet issues was developing an intra-state light rail system that would provide, among other things, an easy way for families without cars to evacuate in case of a hurricane. I told her that that proposal was unlikely to draw many votes, and advised her to get off "the trains" and call for a boycott on Tom Benson for not making a firm commitment to keep his Saints in New Orleans. (The aim was to generate publicity, which it did.) Anyhow, a few months later I lost a mountain of opposition research on Derrick Shepherd in the Federal Flood. The most recent bit of news I heard about Shepherd is that he proposed a bill to double his pay as State Senator. I guess after being "promoted" he believes he deserves a "raise".

Anyway, this year, I'm already quite sure that I'll end up supporting whichever BOLD candidate opposes Jalila Jefferson's "promotion". (My preference is Cheryl Gray.)


From Singularity, I found an interesting Businessweek article from 2005 on Cerberus' boss, Stephen Feinberg. (Cerberus is on pace to own everything on Earth by 2020. Today we learned that the private equity fund is going to take Daimler-Benz of its Chrysler millstone.)

The mind-boggling rise of Cerberus -- from a fringe vulture fund started with a grubstake of about $10 million in 1992 to a Wall Street powerhouse -- has been driven by its enigmatic boss, Stephen A. Feinberg, 45.
Feinberg is breaking important new ground in the hedge-fund business. While many funds stick to a single, sharply focused strategy, Feinberg casts a wide net. Not content simply to trade securities the way other funds do or to assemble assorted companies for resale in the same way as many buyout firms, he's forging what looks more like an integrated industrial conglomerate than an investment firm. His secret weapon: a deep bench of 80 seasoned executives who troll the world for investment opportunities and stand ready to parachute in and run the companies he buys. Put all the elements together, says David M. Rubenstein, Carlyle Group co-founder and managing director, and "Feinberg may have perfected a new business model."

More on the Carlyle Group here.

Update #2:

I forgot to mention a claim McCain made during his Press the Meat interview, yesterday. Here's the part that stood out, in my mind:

MR. RUSSERT: The Iraqi parliament says they want to take a two-month vacation while our men and women shed their blood.

SEN. McCAIN: I am, I am unalterably opposed to it. One of the real difficulties we face in this conflict, obviously, is whether the Maliki government will act as an inclusive government, and whether the Maliki government will do the things that are necessary to be done. And I'm very concerned about it. All of us are very concerned about it. This government has to pass the oil revenue sharing law. This government has to pass de-Baathification. They have to declare elections in the provinces so that Sunni, who now want to take part in the electoral process, can have their representatives.

Ok, this brings us to question number one for McCain and all those who (like Rep. Bobby Jindal) support Bush's surge strategy, and who say we should "stay the war-course" until victory and that we should keep throwing money and men into this godforesaken morass:

DO YOU TRUST MALIKI AND THE IRAQI GOVERNMENT? What in the HELL makes you think we should "bet" more blood and treasure on these guys? Do you think they share our interests? Do you think they share Iran's? To what extent are they using the U.S. for their own sectarian/tribal ends? War supporters must be forced to answer these questions. Here's how the interview continues:

MR. RUSSERT: They've had four years to do this.

SEN. McCAIN: They have had this time, and they have done some things. It took us about 100 and some years before we had a bloody civil war to decide the future of our country. This is a fledgling democracy. I'm not, I'm not making excuses for it, but they have not been in this business before. And yet that does not change the fact that, in my view, unless they act, it could jeopardize what is already in jeopardy.

Aside from the "100 and some years" error, what the hell is McCain talking about? Is he arguing that, by American standards, Iraq is on the "accelerated plan" for a democratic state? Are we to think that a civil war is just one of the natural stages a young nation goes through? Why would he make it a point to refer to America's Civil War? That's a very curious argument, there. And as I recall, neither England nor France nor any other country was stupid enough to get in the middle of our Civil War.


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"If they dare touch a hair on your head, I'll fight to the last breath..." 

Bouquets to Rep. Jim McCrery for bucking his party and voting FOR House Resolution 1592, the "Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007," which passed (237 to 180) in the U.S. House of Representatives on May 3rd.

Some were puzzled as to why a conservative Republican from a safe district in a Southern red state would vote for this gay-friendly, "thought crimes" bill. I found that Pam's post (which quotes Down with Tyranny) offered a straightforward "inside" analysis of the voting:

Interestingly, several closeted Republicans refused to oppose the bill-- Phil English (PA) and Jim McCrery (LA) actually voting with the Democrats and Denny Hastert abstaining. Dreier, the best known of the Republican closet queens in the House, voted against the Hate Crimes bill. The Republicans who voted yes were a strange combination of Northeast moderates (relative moderates) like Rodney Frelinghuysen, Michael Castle and Chris Shays and Republicans thought to be in serious jeopardy of losing their seats next year due to extreme wingnut voting records, like David Reichert (WA), Deborah Pryce (OH), Jon Porter (NV), Mark Kirk (IL), Mike Ferguson (NJ), etc.

I'll just let that speak for itself, and will ask a related question: is McCrery's heart really in legislating, anymore? Is he considering retirement? Recall that he needed a phone call from Bush to convince him to run again in 2004. And now, after the 2006 election results, McCrery finds himself in the minority party. Will he continue to vote his conscience on social issues if he doesn't have to worry about running again?

For example, when I go to McCrery's site and click the "In the News" link, there's a story from two years ago, and only two archived press releases from the past three years. That's as recent as it gets in terms of new information. Even the Hurricane Katrina link in the Constituent Services section is defunct. In fact, the only recent item I can find on McCrery's site is a photo of him standing beside Jeffrey after Jeffrey got his mercury denatured.

Rather than update his site for his constituents, Representative McCrery did have time recently to write a Townhall column on taxes and fiscal responsibility. But after being complicit in some of the most spendthrift Congresses in human history, McCrery's praise for the GOP's fiscal rectitude was not well received by Townhall conservatives. As one commenter named "DevilsPaintbrush" put it:

Every letter I receive from the GOP begging for donations basically says the same thing. If you don't vote for us the big bad democrats are going to sneak into your house, pull down your pants and insert some kind of stick in your butt. Guess what Congressman, YOUR party has been in control of that stick for years now and it's starting to stink. How dare you condescend to us about how much you care for us poor taxpaying slobs. You are exactly the same as the democrats and we are all sick of it. It amazes me that you think you can still scare us with the democrat boogyman. At least we know the nasty things the democrats will do with that stick so we can lube up with some KY in advance.

You and the Gop just ram it in and yell, "squeal like a pig!" Well guess what congressman McCrery, a day of reckoning is coming and it's the people who will wield that stick. Make sure you and your cronies stock up on KY, its gonna hurt.

What a delightful choice of metaphor, there.

And bricks to Rep. Charlie Melancon for voting against the bill.
* The title quote is from "Hand in Glove", the Smiths debut single. According to Wikipedia, the Smiths were "disappointed and somewhat aggrieved at the single's poor performance".

I agree. Those pop songs about gay fisting never get a fair shake on the billboard charts.

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