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March 16, 2006


Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley, in his March 15 Times column, claimed: "It is odd that the same senators who believe in water torture for the president of the United States vigorously oppose similar water-related interrogation techniques when used on captured enemy terrorists." Blankley contrasted the actions of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), who he claimed "jumped the [Democratic] que [sic]" on March 13 by introducing a resolution to censure President Bush over his authorization of warrantless domestic surveillance, with those of "more seasoned, team-playing Democrats," who he said want to "use the old Chinese water torture on the president" and "drag[] out the agony for months and months." Blankley added: "But then I suppose the president is not covered by what [right-wing radio host] Michael Savage calls the Democratic Party's 'Terrorist Bill of Rights.' " Absent from Blankley's column was any distinction between the metaphorical "water torture" he claimed that Democrats want to use against Bush and the very real interrogation tactic known was "water boarding," whereby a prisoner is made to feel as though he is drowning.

From Blankley's March 15 Washington Times column:

[Senator] Russ Feingold [D-WI] is notoriously not a party man. This may play well in his conscience and in the countryside, but it is a non-starter in this two-team town. The Senate Democrats may well agree in principle that the president should be censured or keelhauled, or de-trousered or short-sheeted or inflicted with some other indignity.

But there is a long line of more senior Democrats who have been waiting patiently to get their licks in. Sen Feingold jumped the que [sic] -- if not the shark. The more seasoned, team-playing Democrats want to use the old Chinese water torture on the president -- dragging out the agony for months and months. Or, as they call it in Washington, the issue "would spark a worthwhile debate."

It is odd that the same senators who believe in water torture for the president of the United States vigorously oppose similar water-related interrogation techniques when used on captured enemy terrorists. But then I suppose the president is not covered by what Michael Savage calls the Democratic Party's "Terrorist Bill of Rights."

Categories: News

In a March 14 article by staff writer Alexander Bolton, The Hill made a poorly substantiated claim that "tax experts" believe that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonprofit government ethics watchdog group, may have violated Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations governing nonprofit organizations by filing ethics complaints with the Justice Department and Federal Elections Commission against mostly Republican members of Congress, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN). In fact, Bolton's article quoted a total of three "experts" -- including one who demonstrated inaccurate knowledge of the issue and another who acknowledged not knowing enough about CREW's conduct to render a definitive opinion. Only one of the three, a professor at an Ohio law school,who said he thought there could be a "good case" against CREW, hedged those comments, saying "at least preliminarily." The Hill is a Washington-based newspaper that covers Congress.

The headline of the article -- "Watchdog's tax status, politics are questioned" -- gives no hint of the partisan nature of those asking the questions; the report appears based only on statements by National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) spokesperson Brian Nick, who told The Hill that Republican lawmakers are "weighing ... options" for a such complaint.

CREW is classified by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization, meaning contributions to it are tax-deductible. Although the IRS released new procedures for the 2006 election cycle governing nonprofit organizations, to date, CREW has not been identified by the IRS as the subject of any scrutiny. Nonetheless, the Hill article suggested that, by filing ethics complaints with the Justice Department and Congressional ethics committees, CREW may have violated a prohibition on 501(c)(3) organizations engaging in activity that aims to influence the outcome of federal elections.

Bolton's article quoted three people to support the premise that CREW may have violated that prohibition, two of whom either acknowledged not knowing enough about the case to render a judgment about it or demonstrated that they did not know enough about the case by getting the basic facts of the case wrong.

Rosemary Fei, a lawyer at the San Francisco law firm Silk, Adler & Colvin, acknowledged in the article that the IRS would have to investigate "all the facts and the circumstances" before determining whether CREW violated the prohibition against influencing elections. And Miriam Galston, co-chairwoman of the American Bar Association's political and lobbying subcommittee on tax-exempt organizations and a professor at George Washington University Law School, told The Hill, "the fact that they [the ethics complaints filed by CREW] are all on one side could create the foundation for a claim like that [of the NRSC]." However, that assertion is refuted by Bolton's own reporting, which shows that CREW has filed ethics complaint against members of both parties, and listed Democrats and Republicans among the "13 Most Corrupt in Congress" in 2005.

The third "tax expert," Richard J. Wood, said in the article that the NRSC "is probably right" to believe that CREW may be violating IRS regulations, reportedly citing a memo written by the IRS general counsel saying that a group's "long-term strategy can be used to determine that it is engaging in prohibited behavior," although neither he nor Bolton indicated any knowledge of CREW's "long-term strategy" or suggested how it could be used to determine that CREW "is engaging in prohibited behavior." Wood is a former employee of the IRS Office of Chief Counsel who is currently a law professor at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, which according to its website is the largest university affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

CREW executive director Melanie Sloan is also quoted in the article pointing out that CREW's complaints are "solidly grounded," given that several of the lawmakers that the organization has targeted have either been indicted (as in the case of DeLay and Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA)), are widely expected to be (as in the case of Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH)), or are still under investigation (as in the cast of Frist).

On the day The Hill published the article, Fox News anchor Brit Hume repeated the article's claims on Special Report with Brit Hume, using its thinly supported premise to state that "an advocacy group that claims to be a nonpartisan ethics watchdog here in Washington could soon be in serious trouble with IRS." He then repeated the charge that the majority of CREW's ethics complaints have been filed against Republicans, and quoted Sloan's defense of the organization, noting that she is "a regular guest on the left-wing network Air America."

From the March 14 edition of The Hill:

Tax experts say the activities of a controversial government watchdog group that has publicized four ethics complaints against Republican lawmakers since the beginning of this year raise red flags at a time when the IRS has renewed its focus on the political activities of tax-exempt groups.

In the past few weeks, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed complaints with the Senate and House ethics panels against Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas). It has filed more ethics complaints against congressional lawmakers than any other prominent advocacy group in the past two years.


Republican Party officials say they are weighing a tax complaint against CREW for engaging in partisan activity.


Since its inception, CREW has prepared ethics complaints against or demanded probes by the ethics panels or the Justice Department of 12 sitting Republican lawmakers: Frist, Santorum, Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska), Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), Rep. Bob Ney (Ohio), Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (Colo.), Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (Calif.), House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (Calif.), House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Johnson.

In addition, the group has filed Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaints against Frist, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), the leadership PAC of then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas), then-Senate candidates Mel Martinez and Alan Keys, both Republicans, and the Bush 2004 presidential campaign.

Republican Party officials say that CREW's activities violate regulations for tax-exempt organizations and that they are weighing filing a complaint with the IRS.

"It's certainly a possibility. We're weighing our options on that," said Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Tax experts say that CREW's seemingly lopsided focus on Republicans will raise flags at the IRS, but they caution that determining violations of tax status so depends on the specific facts and circumstances of each case that it is impossible to predict how the IRS will act.

"At least preliminarily, I think they have a good case," said former IRS official Richard J. Wood, referring to the concerns of Republican officials. "It looks to me that they're probably right."

Wood is a professor at Capital University Law School, teaching about tax issues and business associations. He worked at the IRS from 1980 to 1990.

He cited the legal case pitting the New York City Bar against the IRS in which a court found that the bar violated its tax-exempt status by rating the qualifications of judicial candidates facing election. He also cited a memo from the IRS general counsel, GCM 39811, which states that even if a group does not intervene in the election of a candidate its long-term strategy can be used to determine that it is engaging in prohibited behavior.

Rosemary Fei, who represents tax-exempt and nonprofit groups as a lawyer with Silk, Adler & Colvin, said that the apparent one-sidedness of CREW's activities raises concerns but that it is impossible to know how the IRS would act without knowing all the facts and circumstances of the group's activities.

"If I were at the IRS, the imbalance in complaints would certainly cause me concern about whether the organization might have violated the political-intervention prohibition, but on the other hand that prohibition is based on an evaluation by the IRS of all the facts and the circumstances," she said. "While a single fact like this looks pretty bad, the IRS would need to investigate to see if the charity had legitimate public-policy or public-education or civic duties in mind when it brought these complaints."

But Sloan said she has criticized Democrats, including Reps. Neil Abercrombie (Hawaii) and Norm Dicks (Wash.), for ethically questionable conduct -- in quotes appearing in Capitol Hill publications, in The American Prospect magazine, and in the Los Angeles Times. She also noted that her group included two Democrats, Reps. William Jefferson (La.) and Maxine Waters (Calif.), on its list of the 13 most corrupt members of Congress, released last year. The list included 11 Republicans.

Sloan said that CREW's ethics complaints are solidly grounded. She noted that Cunningham recently pleaded guilty to accepting bribes, that DeLay was indicted in Texas in a campaign-finance investigation and that the Justice Department is widely expected to indict Ney in the near future. She also said that Frist, the target of a complaint CREW filed with the FEC, is struggling to resolve with the agency questions about his fundraising activity.


Miriam Galston, an associate professor at George Washington University Law School and the co-chairwoman of the American Bar Association's political and lobbying subcommittee on tax-exempt organizations, said that the IRS would likely look at how an organization handles its drafted complaints.

"Filing those complaints would not constitute, taken by themselves, intervening in a political campaign," Galston said. "If they went further and publicized the list and publicly tried to make some political mileage out of fact of the allegation and tried to sully campaign prospects using their own complaints, they could be said to be intervening in a political campaign."

Galston said that a group could be found to be engaging in improper political activity even if an election is not on the horizon.

"You could easily see that any kind of good-citizen or civic group would want to file complaints, but the fact that they are all on one side could create the foundation for a claim like that," she said.

CREW has publicized its complaints against Republican lawmakers on its website and through press releases.

Sloan said that she has filed complaints almost exclusively against Republicans because they control both branches of Congress and the White House and, as a result, are more likely to be the recipients of corrupting gifts and contributions.

"Republicans are the ones in power," she said. "You're stupid to pay off a Democrat. They can't do a whole lot for you."

Sloan also pointed out that CREW signed a letter from the Congressional Ethics Coalition, a group formed in 2004 to reform the congressional ethics process, that called for the House ethics panel to investigate six lawmakers, including three Democrats: Reps. Jim McDermott (Wash.), Conyers and Jefferson. She did not cite an instance when CREW on its own drafted an ethics complaint against or called for an ethics or Justice Department investigation of a Democratic lawmaker other than Lincoln.

From the March 14 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

HUME: The Hill newspaper reports that an advocacy group that claims to be a nonpartisan ethics watchdog here in Washington could soon be in serious trouble with the IRS. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW's, status as a tax-exempt group bars political activity, but The Hill found since its creation more than three years ago CREW has filed at least 20 complaints against Republican lawmakers, only one against a Democrat. Melanie Sloan, who runs CREW, disputes any claims that the group is biased and claims the current number of complaints against Republicans on the current balance of power in Congress, saying, quote, "You are stupid to pay off a Democrat. They can't do a whole lot for you." She, by the way, is a regular guest on the left-wing network Air America.

Disclosure: CREW deputy director & communications director Naomi Seligman was previously communications director at Media Matters for America.

Categories: News

On the March 13 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews suggested that if Republicans choose Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as their 2008 presidential candidate, they will have "vote[d] for somebody who is not actually one of them." Matthews made his comments during a discussion with Chuck Todd -- editor in chief of National Journal's The Hotline weblog -- about the recent Southern Republican Leadership Conference (SRLC) in Memphis, Tennessee, which featured speeches by McCain and other Republican presidential hopefuls. Matthews asserted that the five issues he said "came out of" the meeting -- same-sex marriage, abortion, illegal immigration, taxes, and judicial nominees -- "aren't the issues he [McCain] talks about."

But while Matthews may be right that McCain did not talk about those issues in his SRLC speech -- he reportedly focused on his support for President's Bush's foreign policy and called for cuts in congressional spending -- he is wrong to suggest that McCain is out of the Republican mainstream on most of those issues. Indeed, on three of the five issues Matthews mentioned -- abortion, judicial nominees, and taxes -- McCain has recently taken positions that are very much in line with those of conservative Republicans.

  • Abortion

According to Matthews, the SRLC participants' position on abortion rights was "no abortion."

On February 28, McCain said through a spokesman, quoted by The Hotline (subscription required), that if McCain was governor of South Dakota, he "would have signed" South Dakota's recently passed law banning all abortions except in cases in which the mother's life is at stake. Doctors who violate the law could be sentenced to as many as five years in prison. In the statement, McCain's spokesman added that McCain "would also take the appropriate steps under state law -- in whatever state -- to ensure that the exceptions of rape, incest or life of the mother were included." But as Media Matters for America has noted, there were no "rape" or "incest" exceptions included in the bill that McCain would have signed, and McCain made no attempt to reconcile this apparent contradiction.

As The Washington Post noted on February 23, the South Dakota law that McCain supported "was designed to challenge" Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision that established the constitutional right to an abortion. The Post explained that the bill's "sponsors want to force a reexamination of the ruling by the court, which now includes two justices appointed by President Bush."

In a January 25 appearance on CBS' The Early Show, McCain told anchor Julie Chen that he had never supported Roe and suggested that it "wouldn't bother" him if abortion were banned:

CHEN: Do you think with him [Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.] sitting on the bench, we're going to see this nation shift to the right on social issues? For example: abortion. Do you see it one day being banned?

McCAIN: I don't know. In his testimony, he intimated, as did [Chief] Justice [John] Roberts [Jr.], that they would not change the status quo. But I don't know the answer to that. I've never agreed with Roe v. Wade, so it wouldn't bother me any.

In 2003, McCain voted against an amendment to the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (which McCain supported) expressing the sense of the Senate that "the decision of the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade ... was appropriate and secures an important constitutional right; and such decision should not be overturned."

In 2003-2004, McCain received an 82-percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). McCain's only two votes against the NRLC position came from his opposition to the Medicare Modernization Act, which was supported by NRLC but had nothing to do with abortion. (McCain received a 100-percent NRLC rating in 2005, but the rating included only one vote.) In those same years, McCain received a 0-percent rating from NARAL-Pro Choice America.

  • Judicial Appointments

According to Matthews, SRLC participants would support a candidate who would "keep appointing conservative justices."

On the July 21, 2005, edition of Hardball, McCain told Matthews that he is "to the right" on the spectrum of judicial selection politics because he "believe[s] that we should have judges that strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States." McCain added that "the American voter was very well aware of what kind of judge the president of the United States was going to appoint and they decided to re-elect him."

McCain voted to confirm both Roberts and Alito. In a January 25 floor statement announcing his decision to support Alito, McCain said that during the 2004 presidential campaign, Bush "stated plainly and often that, if given the opportunity, he would nominate conservative judges to the Supreme Court. True to his promise, the President nominated John Roberts to become the 18th Chief Justice of the United States. Just as true, he nominated Samuel Alito to serve as an Associate Justice of the Court." McCain added, "I was pleased that the President nominated Judge Alito."

On the May 15, 2005, edition of ABC's This Week, McCain told host George Stephanopoulos that he "wanted to see every one of George Bush's nominees confirmed":

McCAIN: I believe that as reasonable people as we have in the past in the Senate, we should sit down together and work this out. The Democrats never should have filibustered all of those judges that they did. It was an abuse of the filibuster. I think they recognize that. I think that that's why compromise is in the air. And I wanted to see every one of George Bush's nominees confirmed.

And in an article in the May 30, 2005, issue of The New Yorker magazine, Connie Bruck wrote that during McCain's campaign for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, he privately assured Gary Bauer -- who had dropped out of the race -- that as president, he would nominate judges opposed to abortion rights:

McCain had hoped that South Carolina's large veteran population would help him win there; but the Christian Coalition, deeply entrenched in the state, became the decisive constituency. Somewhat surprisingly, McCain had the support of Gary Bauer, the social conservative, who had dropped out of the race by that time. "I wanted a commitment from either George Bush or John McCain that if elected he would appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme Court," Bauer told me. "Bush said he had no litmus test, and his judges would be strict constructionists. But McCain, in private, assured me he would appoint pro-life judges."

  • Taxes

According to Matthews, SRLC participants wanted a presidential nominee who would "keep cutting taxes."

McCain opposed many of Bush's first-term tax cuts. But in February, McCain voted to extend $70 billion worth of tax cuts -- including cuts in the dividends and capital gains taxes -- an action that New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote (subscription required) "will worsen the budget deficit while mainly benefiting people with very high incomes." In a February 27 article, Washington Times chief political correspondent Donald Lambro described McCain's support for tax cuts as "a move conservatives say is a political flip-flop intended to further his White House ambitions." Lambro quoted Americans for Tax Reform president Grover G. Norquist saying of McCain: "It's a big flip-flop, but I'm happy he's flopped."

From the March 13 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: And the question's: What comes out of it all? My feeling is issues came out of it, not winners and losers. And all I heard, Chuck, this weekend, were marriage, the sanctity of marriage -- male and female, no gay marriage; abortion -- no abortion; immigration -- lock it up, stop the illegal coming into this country; and keep cutting taxes; and keep appointing conservative justices. I'm not sure John McCain meets that bill in terms of passion.

TODD: Well, it doesn't and that's --

MATTHEWS: Those aren't the issues he talks about.

TODD: And that's why that the most important things for McCain are coming up in the future, and that is: Do the Republicans win or lose the 2006 elections? If they have a poor night in November 2006, John -- that's a good night for John McCain for president of 2008.


TODD: Because then Republicans are going to worry about electability. Suddenly, that's going to jump.

MATTHEWS: So, they are going to vote for somebody who is not actually one of them?

TODD: If that's the case. That's how George W. Bush was able to break away from the pack in '98.

Categories: News

In a front-page March 15 article on Sen. Russ Feingold's (D-WI) call to censure President Bush for "authoriz[ing] an illegal program to spy on American citizens on American soil," Washington Post staff writer Shailagh Murray reported that Feingold's fellow Democrats are "wary of polls showing that a majority of Americans side with the president on wiretapping tactics." In fact, polls consistently show that a majority of Americans disapprove of the wiretapping tactics the administration has used -- specifically, conducting surveillance without seeking or obtaining a warrant.

From Murray's March 15 Post article:

GOP leaders who had been reeling from the impact of Republican political scandals, an unpopular war and Bush's mishandling of the port-security issue sensed that Feingold overplayed his hand and denounced the censure resolution as a political stunt by an ambitious lawmaker positioning himself to run for president in 2008. Many Democrats, while sympathetic to Feingold's maneuver, appeared to be distancing themselves from his resolution yesterday, wary of polls showing that a majority of Americans side with the president on wiretapping tactics.

In fact, most polls show the opposite. A Quinnipiac University poll conducted February 21-28 found that while 79 percent of "American voters say the government should continue monitoring phone calls or e-mail between suspected terrorists in other countries and people in the U.S.," 55 percent say "that the government should get court orders for this surveillance." A CBS News poll conducted February 22-26 asked respondents: "Regardless of whether you approve of the President authorizing the wiretaps, do you think the President has the legal authority to authorize wiretaps without a court warrant in order to fight terrorism, or doesn't he?" Fifty-one percent said the president does not have the legal authority to do so. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll from February 9-12 reported that 50 percent of respondents believed the Bush administration was "wrong" to wiretap "conversations without a court order," while 47 percent said it was "right."

Murray appears to have conflated public approval of spying on suspected terrorists with approval of the means through which the Bush administration has conducted the eavesdropping. Approving of the surveillance and approving of the tactics are two very different things. As the polls show, one can believe the president should conduct surveillance on suspected terrorists and at the same time believe that he should obey the law in doing so.

Categories: News
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By Norman Solomon

The third anniversary of the Iraq invasion is bound to attract a lot
of media coverage, but scant recognition will go to the pundits who
helped to make it all possible.

Continuing with long service to the Bush administration's
agenda-setting for war, prominent media commentators were very busy
in the weeks before the invasion. At the Washington Post, the op-ed

Categories: Blogs
Poor Lieberman keeps trying to tell everyone that Lamont is just a big angry meanie. Hilarious.

U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman took issue Thursday with the tone of his Democratic opponent's campaign.

Ned Lamont formally announced Monday that he will oppose Lieberman for the party's nomination, becoming Lieberman's first Democratic challenger since he first won election to the Senate in 1988.

Lamont has blasted Lieberman for his support of the Iraq war, calling him, "Republican Light." During his kickoff speech said that unlike the senator, he would never be called, "Bush's favorite Democrat."

"This shouldn't be about one issue or about name calling ... angry name calling," Lieberman told the Associated Press Thursday. "I don't think the public wants that."

Lamont denies he is being negative, noting he spent a lot of time talking about issues such as education and health care in his announcement speech.

"I called it an old-fashioned kitchen table debate within the Democratic family," the Greenwich, Conn. businessman said. "I thought it was a great kickoff."

As the Lamont blog points out, Lieberman does seem a wee bit concerned about this race.
Source: Atrios Blog
Categories: Blogs

By David Swanson

If you have not yet seen the film "Occupation Dreamland," I highly recommend it. Co-Director Garrett Scott died on March 2, but he truly accomplished something before he left.

Those who oppose the Iraq War often struggle with the fact that so many U.S. soldiers are willing to participate in it, are willing to attack someone else's country, raid their houses, shoot at their cars, melt the skin off their children with white phosphorous. Why, it's easy to wonder, don't more soldiers do what a brave few have and refuse to fight?

Categories: Blogs
How much worse will things get in Iraq before Bush changes course and Democrats take a position?

Categories: Blogs

Kos reprinted (with permission) Charlie Cook's column on Howard Dean and the necessity of Governor Dean's 50-state strategy. Cook marveled at the full-time DNC staffer assigned to party-building in Mississippi: "In the 33 years that I have been involved in politics, I have never heard of the national Democratic Party assigning a full-time staff member to organizational efforts in Mississippi." He comes out against the Pelosi/Reid mentality that the only places to send support are those eight or nine states with "winnable" races.

Although organizing in Mississippi might not seem important to Pelosi and Reid—after all, the state won't have competitive House or Senate races this year—at some point, conservative Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor will retire, and then the House Democratic leadership may see the wisdom of their party already having a presence in southern Mississippi. When Republican Sens. Thad Cochran and Trent Lott retire, the Senate Democratic leadership just might have a similar revelation. Keep in mind that if Lott had opted to retire at the end of this year, as many had expected, Democrats would have had a pretty fair shot at winning that seat by running former state Attorney General Mike Moore.

The Democratic congressional leaders' shortsighted, penny-wise/pound-foolish complaints show why their party has become bicoastal. Congressional Democrats have trouble winning in many interior states, in part because leaders like Reid and Pelosi have failed to appreciate the importance of maintaining a strong national party apparatus. The Democrats' inability to consistently win elections in places where gun shops outnumber Starbucks is a big reason the party controls neither the House nor the Senate.

Right now, one of the biggest obstacles to Democrats' taking the House back is their failure to recruit strong candidates in many Republican-held districts that ought to be in play. Party building means lining up a solid team—organizing and winning lower-level offices that give the party a talented bench from which to draw for higher contests.

We here at DFA happen to agree, like Governor Dean's 50-state strategy and Democracy Bonds program, we're electing progressive candidates in down-ballot races to create a foundation for change. Check out the 2006 DFA-List candidates for some hand-picked candidates that you can help.

Categories: Blogs