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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dick Burr, Banking Genius 

"Tonight, I want you to go to the ATM machine, and I want you to draw out everything it will let you take. And I want you to tomorrow, and I want you to go Sunday," Senator Dick Burr told his wife Brooke following a briefing on the looming banking crisis by the Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson last year. "I was convinced on Friday night that if you put a plastic card in an ATM machine the last thing you were going to get was cash."

After the senator's rather revealing confession made a national ripple yesterday, Burr's spokesman tried to damp down the amazement: "The senator is simply trying to express what was on his mind as Congress was attempting to respond to the financial crisis last fall."

What was clearly on his mind was grabbing all the cash he could before the rest of the country found out what he'd been told as a privileged individual who gets briefings from the Treasury Secretary.

A panicky senator with little to no understanding of the U.S. banking system, combined with the "me first" attitude of your run-of-the-mill survivalist ... that's our North Carolina boy!

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cutting Shuler Some Slack 

...and pretty soon that blue dog is sleeping on the neighbor's porch.

Long profile piece about how people feel about Shuler in the NC-11 in today's Smoky Mountain News. Mainly, people feel just swell about the fourth most likely Democrat in Congress to vote with the Republicans, especially Republicans.

Some Democrats are not so thrilled. Jane Allison, a Swain County Democrat, said that while it was maybe "cute" two years ago for Shuler to vote with the Republicans, since "the Democrats weren't going to get anything passed anyway," it's not so cute now with the whole country struggling to get out of the Bush depression.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Unbearable Lightness of Virginia Foxx 

Screwing her puss up into that perpetual scowl of the Right-Wing Republican Beset by a Democratic President, Virginia Foxx clicks her tongue in advance of President Obama's speech tonight:
...she hopes that Obama will avoid such words as "crisis" or "catastrophe" when talking about the state of the economy.

"We keep hearing it's a catastrophe, a crisis, it's all negative. I fear that his continual talking down of the economy down is really doing damage, because people won't spend. They're scared to," she said.

Because, ya see, the downness of the economy is all a function of Democrats talking about the reality of the economy. It's just that simple. There's no history to consider here, nothing to remember about the Republican administration of the last eight years. Just President Obama saying those dangerous, hateful, totally consequential words.

Madam Foxx was one with the Bush administration in denying that any problems even existed, as the Republicans deregulated us into this current house of cards. Then when she and her fellow foxes could no longer deny the obvious, her solution was to do nothing. Absolutely nothing. She'd offer to pray for us. She'd use her right knee for Catholic prayers and her left for Baptist ones. What she would NOT do was use her vote for anything remotely helpful to the struggling citizens of the Fifth District.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lowe's Goes Slow 

Hardware-and-lumber mega-giant Lowe's Corp. is freezing executive salaries ("all vice presidents and above") and reducing raises for everyone else. In a housing-market collapse, you'd pretty much expect housing-construction and home-improvement businesses to crash out, wouldn't you?

"Right now, shoppers are avoiding big-ticket, professional renovation projects that propelled the recent boom, and it's unclear whether sales in that category will ever return to the level of a few years ago."

But, so far Lowe's is doing slightly better than its (larger) chief competitor Home Depot.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

The Republican Economy 

HT: Progressive Pulse.


Friday, January 30, 2009

Unemployment in Watauga 

The Employment Security Commission of North Carolina released new out-of-work figures for every county in the state today, and Watauga's unemployment went up from 5.1 (Nov. 2008) to 5.7 percent in December ... a much smaller increase than in several other counties. North Carolina counties with unemployment rates over 10 percent exactly doubled, from 17 counties in November to 34 counties in December.

Worst city for jobs: Rocky Mount, with 11.7 percent unemployment.

Best city for jobs: Durham, with 6.1 percent unemployment.

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Furloughs Coming to ASU? 

UNC President Erskine Bowles says he's going to ask for authority to furlough university employees in response to cuts in state appropriations. The Chancellor of NC State jumped in and said that "faculty leaders" at his institution are willing to volunteer for unpaid furloughs in order to save support staff jobs. Mighty nice of 'em.

Hard times comin' for the North Carolina higher education workforce ... as for everyone else.

Meanwhile, Virginia Foxx and the Mummy Party say (a) the American economy can still basically take care of itself and (b) it's all the Democrats' fault.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

No Honeymoon for Virginia Foxx 

NC-5 Rep. Virginia Foxx, critiquing President Obama's Inaugural address:
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-5th, said she thought that Obama was "too negative" in his assessment of the economy in his inaugural address.

Foxx said she is sympathetic with those who have lost their jobs in the current downturn, but said she thinks that the current problem is "not the worst situation we've faced in this country economically since the Great Depression," citing the stagflation of the 1970s.

"I think it's possible to talk down about the economy to the point that it hampers the economy," Foxx said in an interview. "Yes, we have problems, and I'm quite familiar with them, but we don't solve our problems by being negative."

Apparently, we'll solve our problems by being relentlessly ideological.

Well, at least she's finally acknowledging that "we have problems," though she's clearly prepared to start blaming them all on President Obama for being too negative in his assessment.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Bottom Drops Out for Recyclables 

It seems counter-intuitive to us, that the market for recycled cans, paper, plastic should have collapsed, since one might think that in a down-economy, salvaging use out of discards would be a smart move.

But no. High Point, N.C., is currently stockpiling recycled cans and paper because the market for them is so down that the city will lose money ... from what had been a fairly profitable transaction. Greensboro had projected a profit of $450,000 from its recycling program in fiscal 2008, until the bottom dropped out.

"We've seen prices where we have to pay to get rid of it," said a regional manager for North Carolina municipal recycling. Ouch.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Running on Empty? 

Haven't seen a peep in the local press about automobile sales, but The Smoky Mountain News, which covers mountain counties south of Asheville, is reporting today that sales have slumped down there anywhere from 15 to 60 percent. Particularly hard-hit are domestic makes (duh). No mention in the article of foreign car dealers, though we can't imagine that they aren't feeling the pinch, since money for car loans has tightened up across the board.

"One big problem with the auto business in Western North Carolina is that there are too many dealerships," said the co-owner of Smoky Mountain Chevrolet in Franklin. He also noted that part of GM's plan, if it gets the government bailout (mighty iffy), is to close hundreds of dealerships. (Note to the co-owner of Smoky Mountain Chevrolet: all three U.S. reps for the NC mtns -- Foxx, McHenry, & Shuler -- voted against the bailout yesterday in the U.S. House.)

The main bright spot? Maintenance departments at car dealerships are doing (relatively) well as more people hold on to older models.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Crap Sandwich 

That's the term House Minority Leader John Boehner used to describe the financial rescue package, but he could have been speaking of any number of meals served up in the waning days of the failed Bush presidency.

Just this a.m. are headlines that would have attracted major fainting spells in any normal universe but which, under the present circumstances, get only yawns:

Citigroup Eats Wachovia Whole; Charlotte Can't Find Its Pulse

US Congress Passes $25 Billion Loan Guarantees to Fossils in Auto Industry

While her congressional leadership all prepare to munch on Bush's failure, Madam Foxx has been signaling furiously that she'll vote against the financial industry bailout. We think we'd join her in that. We think. Hard to know, since the wrong vote could actually be crucial in sending the whole she-bang into some bottomless tank.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

He Shaved His Legs for This? 

If there is a decided downturn today on Wall Street, John McCain owns it. It's his fault. Evidently, the market dropped 130 points in the first two minutes of trading, discouraged by Sen. McCain's race to put a monkey wrench into the agreement being worked out yesterday.

The Senator comes roaring back to Washington, crying, "I'll fix it! I'll fix it!" and then sits mute through the White House conference, offering precisely zero, while the House Republicans bail out of an agreement that Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats, and the White House had basically agreed on (it was NOT the Paulson plan, which was dead as a doornail approximately 15 minutes after it was proposed).

Some House Republicans are apparently now comfortable taking the whole country down to prove a point: "According to one GOP lawmaker, some House Republicans are saying privately that they'd rather 'let the markets crash' than sign on to a massive bailout. 'For the sake of the altar of the free market system, do you accept a Great Depression?' the member asked."

Unless this is all just a giant fake-out meant to save John McCain's candidacy. Maybe it's all just a set-up so that today McCain could pretend to get the House Republicans in line, who were in line already all along but pretended otherwise. Now wouldn't that be something if McCain could ride triumphantly into Oxford, Mississippi, as the conquering hero who saved the American economy from complete collapse?

It was perfectly clear yesterday at the White House pow-wow that McCain had no plan of his own, other than grandstanding for the photo-ops. Meanwhile, the impression of the man as dangerously erratic sinks deeper into the American psyche.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Hot (Warm?) Breath of the Law 

Maybe there's potential job growth in one sector of our economy at least ... forensic accountants.

We learn this a.m. that the F.B.I. is investigating the American International Group (AIG), Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Lehman Bros., IndyMac Bancorp Inc., and Countrywide Financial Corp. for accounting fraud, insider trading, and failure to disclose the value of mortgage-related securities and other investments. In fact, F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller admits that he's got 24 large financial firms under investigation.

'Bout time.

But this news does raise another, related issue. The Bush administration wants Congress to donate up to $1 trillion to this bunch of thieves for their worthless paper "securities"? Boggles the mind.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

1.4 Trillion 

That's the projected cost to taxpayers, adding up what we've already spent on Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, and the new $700 billion Congress is being stampeded into passing before anyone thinks too hard and long about what we're doing.

So how do you like Republican Socialism? It's different from other socialisms. It's Trickle-Down. Bailouts for the already rich mis-managers of financial institutions with apparently no strings attached. Even foreign banks get some love but not the individual homeowner with an adjustable rate mortgage.

All of this has made John McCain hop faster and higher than a frog on a griddle. If the man ever did have a set of core principles, they're dust today. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has seen to that. McCain was Mr. Deregulator on Monday. He's not that today, or at least not in public.

But back to that $700 billion (maybe more) they're asking us to give to the Bush administration, which couldn't manage the aftermath of a hurricane (make that two hurricanes, if you've checked in on Texas lately) and which invaded a country we didn't need to invade on false pretenses. They don't want Congress asking too many questions about this bailout. They don't want us citizens to worry.

What, me worry?

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Brokeback Presidency 

El Presidente will be in Greensboro on Sept. 30th for a fundraiser for John McCain, and we can't help noticing the quick exit from his general vicinity of any Republican running in a tight race. Like Liddy Dole, who's already said (cough, cough) that she's planning an aneurysm that day or needs to be at her home in Washington, D.C., on the 30th to pet the cat and pull a dead leaf off the ivy.

But apparently, the 30% of Americans who still approve of George W. Bush mostly live in North Carolina (and some 65% of that 30% live in Blowing Rock!).

Watching El Presidente's (non) performance this past week during the financial market meltdown certainly identifies him as an intellectual partner to McCain. It must be a proud moment for both of them, presiding over the nationalization of private debt. The apotheosis of Conservatism.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

WSJ on McCain: "Un-Presidential" 

The Wall Street Journal this a.m. rips the sheet with John McCain, to wit:

McCain doesn't understand what's happening on Wall Street.

He's scapegoating Christopher Cox, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission: "...this assault on Mr. Cox is both false and deeply unfair. It's also un-Presidential."

"Mr. McCain is sounding like a candidate searching for a political foil rather than a genuine solution. He'll never beat Mr. Obama by running as an angry populist like Al Gore, circa 2000."


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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Clueless John 

The word is that if John McCain becomes president, Phil Gramm becomes Secretary of the Treasury. Considering that Gramm, when he was a U.S. senator representing Texas, wrote much of the deregulation that has reaped us this current financial whirlwind, that's certainly a rosy scenario to look forward to.

Watching Sen. McCain flounder about for the last two or three days is truly akin to watching a scuttled ship go down. The sinking has taken considerably longer to achieve:

1. November 2005: Sen. McCain told the Wall Street Journal, "I'm going to be honest: I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated." His hoped-for "education" is complicated by the tension between his plans to continue many of the economic policies of the unpopular incumbent Republican president he hopes to succeed, and his pledges to improve the American economy and shake up Washington.

2. January 2008: at one of the early Republican debates: Sen. McCain argued that Americans were better off than they were eight years ago.

3. By summer 2008: Sen. McCain had released an advertisement that said "we're worse off than we were four years ago." (What happened to those other four years is a deep mystery, and already we've got the beginnings of a migraine!)

4. July 2008: Sen. McCain's top economic adviser, Phil Gramm, has a public tantrum, says that the United States is only in a "mental recession" and has become "a nation of whiners."

5. Monday morning, this week: Sen. McCain says, as he has many times before, that the fundamentals of the economy are "strong," even as Lehman Bros. was filing for bankruptcy, etc.

6. Monday afternoon: the McCain campaign, realizing that their candidate had just stepped off into very deep water, begins lunging for driftwood, tries to explain away McCain's remarks by saying he was referring to the American people as fundamentally strong.

7. By Tuesday a.m.: Sen. McCain appears on all the network & cable morning shows, treading water furiously. He begins calling the current economic situation "a total crisis," denounces "greed" on Wall Street and in Washington, and calls for a commission to study the problems. (Sorry: When Republicans want to study something, it means they intend to DO nothing. Our migraine is now blinding.)

8. By Tuesday p.m.: the McCain campaign has produced a new advertisement asserting that his experience and leadership were necessary in a "time of crisis." Part of the rationale for that claim is supposedly McCain's chairmanship (years ago) of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees telecommunications as well as aviation and trade but NOT banking, financial markets, housing, or insurance -- the prime sources of the current crisis.

9. Also Tuesday p.m.: in the increasingly frantic attempt to make McCain seem less clueless, one of his financial advisers loudly proclaims to reporters that McCain was responsible for the development of the Blackberry.

10. By Tuesday night: the McCain senior staff disavows the Blackberry claim -- "obviously a boneheaded joke."

Please, God, make it stop.

Top McCain-Palin official Carly Fiorina said yesterday that neither John McCain nor Sarah Palin is capable of running an American company. Today, McCain campaign officials say we won't be seeing Carly Fiorina on TV any more for awhile.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Bush McCain Economy? 

Reynolds American Inc. is cutting 16 percent of its workforce in Winston-Salem, some 570 jobs.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Another Unwelcome Ripple 

We're beginning to figger out the Republican philosophy for handling the U.S. economy: privatize profits while socializing losses. As in ... Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Seems ever more likely that we taxpayers will be saddled with the losses from bad management, while the CEOs and their fellow suits make off with the profits.

But immediately after reading about Fannie and Freddie and little Hankie Paulson, the Bush administration treasury secretary, and their mutual benefit tea party, we also noticed this warning note about the Dell manufacturing plant in Winston-Salem.

The Wall Street Journal is saying that Dell may sell the plant just three years after the corporation received more than $6.5 million in city incentives and nearly $1.2 million in county incentives. There's something called a "claw-back clause" in the incentive deal that would force the company (supposedly) to pay back up-front incentives if it sells or closes the plant before Oct. 2010. If it closes or sells the plant between 2010 and 2015, it's liable for only half the incentives.

That's if Dell decides to honor the contract. A company that needs to downsize as badly as the W-S Journal suggests it does might find ways to get outta town scot free. Isn't that why they have lawyers?

What's up with Dell's cash-flow?
The plant and the employees ... are on the wrong side of an industrywide trend toward slowing desktop sales and surging notebook sales as the price of notebooks continues to fall. Dell has said repeatedly that it has no plans to assemble notebooks at the Forsyth plant, citing much lower production costs overseas.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

No One Is Better Than You 

My mother's creed is the American creed: No one is better than you. You are everyone's equal, and everyone is equal to you.

My parents taught us to live our faith, and treasure our family. We learned the dignity of work, and we were told that anyone can make it if they try.

That was America's promise. For those of us who grew up in middle-class neighborhoods like Scranton and Wilmington, that was the American dream and we knew it.

But today that American dream feels as if it's slowly slipping away. I don't need to tell you that. You feel it every single day in your own lives.

The above, excerpted from Joe Biden's acceptance speech last night in Denver. Biden, one of the poorest members of the super-exclusive club of US senators, had one of the best family-values moments of the year as he paid tribute to his mother, Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden. Catherine Biden's wonderful face, with those sharp bright eyes, is forever sealed in memory now. That IS the face of America, and those values honored by Joe Biden are American values.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

You Might Be an Elitist (4)... 

...if your wife's $100 million of inherited dough puts you in the top 100th of the top one percent of the nation's wealthiest people. John McCain's joke that $5 million might make you rich was setting a low threshold indeed for the 15,000 Americans in his money bracket, but not for the rest of us 301 million lower-income slobs. McCain's tax plan "delivers by far the biggest boost to the average incomes of the richest households; Obama's plan does the opposite. McCain really does double-down on Bushonomics, which takes the inequities inherent in today's market outcomes, and injects them with a dose of steroids" ("Why McCain's Wealth Matters").

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Foxx Gets an 'F' on Middle-Class Issues gave Congresswoman Virginia Foxx a flat 'F' on her first two terms in Congress, for votes on issues of importance to the middle class, and currently rates her at 25% on her unfinished third term in Congress, on 20 different pieces of legislation that rates as important for the "squeezed" middle class. (HT: TL's letter in today's W-S Journal)

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Friday, August 22, 2008

The Next Question for McCain: How Many Servants Do You Have? 

Buried at the end of a article ("McCain Family Owns Eight Properties") is this further (quite telling) detail:

"The McCains increased their budget for household employees from $184,000 in 2006 to $273,000 in 2007, according to John McCain's tax returns."

Let's assume that maybe the McCains are paying an average living wage of, say, $50,000 a head. That would give them basically 5 1/2 butlers and upstairs maids. But if they were more penurious and paid an average of, say, $25,000 a head, they could easily have over ten servants.

The man who wants to continue the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy. Got it!

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Weather Continues Fine, With Good Visibility 

Apparently, if you've got enough political mojo, you can find an economist to predict whatever you want predicted, which perhaps accounts for all that continuing willful belief out there that the economy is actually just hunky-dory, and if we say or (heaven forbid!) THINK differently, we're WHINERS or off our friggin rockers, so we're not supposing here that the economic analysts cited below are any more infallible than the Bush Team of Certified Geniuses, but still. Some smart people think we're in deep doo-doo and that Republican economic policies are largely to blame, starting with their deregulation of the mortgage industry.

John Mauldin, for example. He seems to have predicted the housing bubble back in 2005, and now he's predicting the largest credit contraction in DECADES (he uses all caps too), based on projections that there are another $1.6 TRILLION in bank losses (world-wide) yet to come, "four times official estimates and enough to pose a grave risk to the financial system."

In other words, IndyMac in California and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the tip of a very large iceberg.

Large and unpredictable enough to cause Treasury Secretary Paulson to say last Thursday that "no bank is too big to fail. That is for public consumption." Large and unpredictable enough even to cause John McCain to change his tune, abandoning Republican boilerplate gospel (no government intervention), which he was still spouting in May, to his blind staggers of last Thursday following Secretary Paulson's dire warning: "Give us government bailouts. Please!"

"And, by the way, please put me and my slavish adherence to Bushonomics in charge of your economic futures. I promise to be as sunnily clueness as our last schmo."

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Anyone Up for Dominoes? 

If this news doesn't make your throat go a little dry, you've maybe drunk more of the George-Bush-Virginia-Foxx economic Kool-Aid than is necessarily good for you.
"The federal government took control of Pasadena-based IndyMac Bank on Friday in what regulators called the second-largest bank failure in U.S. history."

Yep, "defaulted mortgages" cited as the prime cause.

T-Men also are standing by this weekend to take over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which together hold almost half of the nation's mortgage debt.

IndyMac is the fifth FDIC-insured failure of the year. No one expects it to be the last.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blamed (in part) Bush administration regulators for allowing IndyMac to run out of control; Bushies and IndyMac executives blamed Schumer for prompting a run on the bank. It's always nice to have someone else to blame.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bonkers, We're Going 

"Home foreclosures in North Carolina increased 78 percent in June..."

We had to read that sentence twice to make sure we weren't hallucinating.

But, of course, it's all just a mental disorder. To make anything sinister out of that statistic is not only crazy but probably unpatriotic.

Forgive us. We need a padded cell.

Doctor Gramm and Nurse Foxx will no doubt serve us herbal tea and Graham crackers. And talk us back into the bright, spangly pleasure-dome of the Bush economy.

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How to Win an Election: Tell the People They're Crazy 

If you think the economy's bad ... you have a mental disorder. So saith ex-Senator from Texas Phil Gramm, Senator McCain's top economic advisor.

But compared to our own congresswoman Madam Virginia Foxx, Gramm is an amateur psychologist-come-lately. Madam Foxx has been lecturing us since she got into Congress that we just need to stop complaining and ADMIT that the Bush economy is very close to PERFECTION:
With sustained job growth, falling deficits, low interest rates and a booming housing market, America's economy is robust and getting even stronger.
--Virginia Foxx, in the recent past

That's what SHE said. Among many other pronouncements refracted through her rosy spectacles.

Here's what she really thinks about the actual struggles of actual people in the seventh year of the Littlest Angel: she voted NO on regulating the subprime mortgage industry.

But as soon as Sen. Gramm gets us some psychotropic drugs, we'll promise to stop thinking gloomy thoughts about the Bush economy. Or start living in a ditch and eating wallpaper, whichever comes first.

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