I like this post on how the public would react to an American bombing of Iranian nuclear sites, but the real threat to Obama would be that it would be crossing a line, the line, that he couldn’t hope to cross with his base without creating a permanent break. It would be like, I don’t know, a Republican president nominating someone squishy on abortion. Presidents are able to maneuver in ways that the rank-and-file of their parties don’t really approve of, but there are limits to that, and attacking Iran would almost certainly be one. I doubt that all Democrats would line up in opposition, but many certainly would, and a party divided down the middle is a terrible thing to lead into an election. Lyndon Johnson destroyed his party when he went into Vietnam, so much so that he couldn’t even win renomination to another term, but it took about three years for that to happen. It would take less than three months for that to happen to Obama, who leads a very different party that includes few hawkish Southerners and not very many Paul Douglas-esque hawkish conventional liberals. Liberals have tolerated a lot from Obama that they wouldn’t have from Bush on foreign policy, and the reasons for that are complicated. But an Iran strike is different from drone strikes and intervention in Libya. For the better part of a decade, the idea of an Iran strike has held a talismanic influence among neocons on one sides and antiwar liberals on another. It’s hard to express just how worried many liberals were that Bush would attack Iran during ’07-’08, because his popularity was so in the dumps that he had nothing to lose (or so the thinking went), and many on the right (reportedly including Dick Cheney) were fixated on pressuring Bush to do it because they feared Obama would refuse to. Were Obama to lead or participate in such an action, he’d be fulfilling the darkest fears of liberals that Obama isn’t even plausibly interested in rolling back the warfare and violence of the Bush years, and the likely results will be immediate disillusionment, a steep drop in support among the left (and a bump in the polls for the Green Party’s Jill Stein), and suddenly accusations of political opportunism coming from both sides of the spectrum would become mainstreamized. I myself would not disagree in the event, and would be inclined to wash my hands of any support for Obama. I don’t think I would be alone.
Even though Obama has not always showed the greatest ability to reach out to the left–there’s been a gradual improvement from the outright hostility of the Rahm Emanuel era to the indifference of the Bill Daley days to the modest outreach and rapprochement that we currently see–I think he pretty clearly grasps that he cannot bomb Iran without encountering tremendous blowback from his own party, and I don’t think he’s especially interested in being the next LBJ in the sense of blowing up his party. Or of causing economic panic, torpedoing any hope of Middle East peace, etc. My guess is that he’d be less likely to “get tough” on Iran in his second term, as without the stringent Iran antagonism of Hillary Clinton within the Cabinet, the great likelihood of Ahmadinejad being out of the picture as President of Iran, and without the need to “play nice” and avoid irritating AIPAC anymore. This is, admittedly, just a guess–it could be that Obama would decide to launch an attack on January 21st, the day after his Inauguration. But I doubt it. The neocons who want Iran bombed have only a few months to try to psych Obama into doing it, and I don’t see him as being inclined to take the bait.
This doesn’t make sense to me:
Romney’s aides — resigned to the current news cycle until after the Olympics end — said in interviews this week that they see a safe landing: The vice presidential announcement, followed up by the Republican convention, offer Romney a chance to retake control over his own narrative.
And this squares with the “bland, white guy” approach how? Either these guys are stupid–which is a possibility that can’t be ignored in the light of current events–or they’re pulling a fast one on just about everyone. The latter makes more sense if you give them the benefit of the doubt. Picking Rob Portman as VP will provide Romney with some amount of press attention, but if he’s looking for something like a Palin-level media-political earthquake, he is sorely mistaken. When Palin was selected she had no reputation as a right-wing attack dog (“with lipstick”), she was known as a young governor with some independent reformist tendencies that could have been interesting (like oil socialism!) had they played out. Not really all that radical a selection on paper, but not exactly like the names bandied about, Tom Ridge, Pawlenty, Lieberman. The reason she was selected was because she was a “game changer,” and McCain aides figured that selecting a complete unknown would make the media go nuts, and change the contours of the race. It did–it took away McCain’s central argument and saddled him with a running mate hopelessly out of her depth. But it worked tactically because of an incredulous, “Who the hell is she?!” reaction from the media that immediately scoured everything about her, and found a number of hooks for interesting stories.
If Romney plays it safe, he’ll pick either Portman or Pawlenty. Both of whom are well-known to the press, unknown to the country, and suffer from lukewarm popularity in their own states (according to a bunch of polls, 1/3 of Ohio voters like Portman, 1/3 do not, and fully 1/3 have no opinion). The press’s reaction would likely be one of anticlimax–after a frankly insane choice last time, picking a dull but competent running mate will attract modest attention, and since both men are well-enough known to the press, there just won’t be much reason to kick into overdrive. The contours of the race would not be altered by much, though picking Kelly Ayotte could plausibly swing New Hampshire over to Mitt. I just don’t see how picking an unexciting, expected choice is going to result in a news frenzy.
On the other hand, let’s say that Romney is planning to perfect the concept that McCain tried–find someone unexpected and energizing, only someone who isn’t deeply ignorant and a drag on the ticket. Given how solid the conventional wisdom is for a bland pick, a Nikki Haley selection would provoke a lot of attention. Haley wouldn’t exactly win over the country, though it could scramble the race for a while, get the Tea Hordes all riled up again. Or perhaps he could bite the bullet and just name Republican Senate nominee Ted Cruz to the slot. I’m assured he’s a genius, and since Tea Stars like Rubio don’t do anything there anywhere, why not fast-track him? Successful government to the Tea Party just means applying the same principles regardless of effect, so what does experience have to do with it? Or maybe even Condi Rice, whose only talent is in remaining popular despite being one of the worst high-level staffers in the Bush Administration! (Well, no, because she’s pro-choice.) But you get my point. It’s not just the media, it’s practically everyone who’s convinced that Romney will pick one of a handful of bland, boring, white pols because he’s completely risk-averse. It would be a masterstroke if he’d set all that up just to shock them with a VP pick. But in general, Team Romney isn’t all that big on elaborate strategies or secret plans, preferring mostly to fumble about from one thing to another. So…I don’t expect it to happen. But it could! And if he goes this route, it could pay off…for as long as it paid off for John McCain, at least.
Reading this post inspired me to do a little detective work. Markos writes at the end of a well-reasoned post: “But even those national numbers should really worry the conservative billionaires bankrolling the sleazy Super PACs currently targeting Obama. They are supposed to be eroding Obama’s support. Instead, the opposite is happening.”
SuperPACs are a new part of the election landscape, and one of the biggest ones out there is run by Karl Rove. The man’s name inspires intense emotions in most partisans on both sides, but not mine. I’m firmly convinced that Rove is a liability to the electoral fortunes of the GOP. His “strategy” in 2000 lost the election for Bush, but luckily the Supreme Court picked his fat out of the fire. And his nasty 2004 strategy very nearly lost what ought to have been an easy election for Bush–Kerry outperformed his fundamentals and came within a small number of votes in Ohio from winning. I would say that Ken Blackwell, then the Ohio Secretary of State, picked Karl’s fat out of the fire again, only the guy seems so incompetent he’d probably botch throwing an election if he tried to. And in 2006, Rove had nothing to work with. I’ll admit that Rove concerns me, aside from the electoral factors the man is a malignant force in our democracy, and has helped make political discourse uglier, and masterminded many of the schemes that destroyed the Clinton surplus. He is generally just not good news. But an awful lot of people have an investment in the evil genius narrative. My guess is that Rove having all that money is probably a net negative to the GOP because Rove is incapable of persuasion, only of polarization, and the money he takes in could have gone to someone more talented (i.e. it’s an opportunity cost).
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. How has American Crossroads done so far? I moseyed over to OpenSecrets, and while they didn’t have much information on Crossroads GPS, the more secretive arm of his operation, the American Crossroads information paints an interesting picture. Here’s what they’ve been up to:
- The lion’s share of their spending has, unsurprisingly, gone to ads waged against Barack Obama. Obama has not been known to suffer any damage as a result, even though they’ve made several large ad buys recently. (Also, he spent a tiny amount in favor of Mitt Romney, which seems about right.)
- Next up is Tim Kaine, whose tiny lead over George Allen remains about the same as it has been, aside from the occasional outlier.
- Rove’s next biggest target is actually in favor of someone, namely Heather Wilson, Republican Senate candidate in New Mexico. She trails in the polls, though that might be because the people of her state know her all too well.
- Rove’s outfit spent a significant quantity of money in the NY-26 special election that was interpreted as a referendum on the Paul Ryan Medicare Plan. She spent money in favor of Jane Corwin, the Republican who embraced Ryan, and against her two opponents. She lost.
- He spent big against Bob Kerrey, the Nebraska retread who is set to lose the Democrats’ seat there. Rove probably deserves credit for that.
- A large amount of money spent against two Nevada Democrats, Shelley Berkeley and Kate Marshall. The former is having trouble, but no thanks to Rove–she’s got an ethics investigation headed her way. The latter lost a special election for the House.
- Rove spent a lot on the recent special election in Arizona to replace Gabby Giffords. He spent against Democrat Ron Barber and in favor of his Republican challenger. Barber won, easily.
- He also has spent some against Claire McCaskill of Missouri, but it’s a relatively small amount, so he probably can’t claim credit that her campaign is struggling.
It’s an interesting list. Rove spent a lot on special elections in the West, which makes sense given that he sees that as a trouble point for Republicans in the future, as well as the ideological point at stake in New York. But this isn’t a terribly successful list, his biggest successes were in torpedoing Marshall’s campaign, which was initially rated a toss-up, with Kerrey and to some extent with McCaskill. But Marshall was running in Nevada’s most Republican district, and McCaskill and Kerrey are running in Republican states. Which means, yes, that Rove is only any good when he’s able to polarize and has a built-in advantage with the composition of the electorate. The national electorate doesn’t favor Karl in the same way, so I wouldn’t expect him to pull a rabbit out of his hat in Ohio or something.
This isn’t to say that SuperPACs aren’t a blight on our democracy. But I see no reason to fear Karl Rove’s operation for now–he’s shown little talent for what he needs it to do, and there aren’t very many Ben Nelson types out there for him to terrorize anymore.
So saith Markos:
Now NBC is very specific that this was the first modern Republican candidate in their polling to have a net-negative favorability rating. So that suggests a Democrat has been there before, I’d guess Walter Mondale and probably Jimmy Carter. I decided to look up John Kerry’s numbers, since I assumed he would’ve also been underwater.
It turns out that Kerry, according to NBC polling, never had a net-negative favorability rating. At this point eight years ago, he was 42/35. Even after his September 2004 Swiftboating, he stayed above water 43/42, and was 44/43 right before the election.
For all the comparisons with 2004, that’s one big difference—Kerry was far better liked than Mitt Romney. And Kerry wasn’t exactly beloved.
Republicans are putting together quite the ticket—the least beloved Republican ever, alongside the most boring white guy they can find.
Can you feel the excitement?
Indeed. And this isn’t a puzzle. The 2004 election was mostly about foreign policy, and Kerry had reasonably good credentials to run on that issue. What he didn’t have was any sort of strong critique of Bush. Romney has even less of a critique against Obama than Kerry had against Bush, and while Kerry could point to his war record and his years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as reasons for voters to trust him, Romney seems to be losing those reasons as the campaign moves onward. His gubernatorial record is off-limits, apparently, and one wonders just how he’ll be able to approach his experience at Bain going forward. The ridiculous distraction of the “you didn’t build that” comment Obama made is a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that his primary selling point for the campaign has been decimated, though much more successful than prior attempts like dangling Condoleeza Rice as his running mate. Where does he go to next? If his case transitions into being all about the Olympics, then he’ll have entered even greater heights of irrelevance and self-parody (and, if this is true, he might have more questions to answer on that topic as well).
Of course, the two men do have things in common. Both became nominees out of entirely pragmatic calculations–Democrats were afraid of Howard Dean, Republicans of Rick Santorum, and both times a vanilla pick was picked by the elites. Kerry did manage to earn the trust (if not excitement) of the rank-and-file in a way that Romney has entirely failed to. Both Romney and Kerry relied to a large extent upon public dissatisfaction with the leadership rather than bold new visions. Romney is luckier in that he’s running in an economy where public dissatisfaction with the leadership is much higher than it was when Kerry ran, but you could argue that Kerry played a worse hand better, at least going by what we’ve seen to date. At the very least, he managed to keep above water when it came to favorability.
A new thought about Mitt Romney’s tax reticence:
Huffington Post noted yesterday that Romney never released his so-called FBAR documents, special forms required from filers who have bank accounts in other countries. But the issue actually came up in a conference call back in January. Particularly about a Swiss bank account with UBS.
In that call, Romney blind trust advisor Brad Malt was asked whether Romney had “filed any and all required FBARs in a timely fashion.” To which he responded: “The people required to file FBARs are Mrs. Romney and myself, and we have filed all FBARs.”
The campaign has yet to release those FBARs. Why they’ve gotten pressed so little on it is a bit of a mystery to me.
But here’s where it gets interesting. Back in 2009, the IRS instituted a major tax amnesty program for folks who had previously secreted money in Swiss and other offshore banks. The amnesty stemmed from a settlement the US government had reached with UBS that year. Those who came forward voluntarily in the prescribed period of time could pay their back taxes, pay their fines but avoid any criminal penalties.
So, did Romney or anyone acting on his behalf or for some entity he controlled take advantage of the 2009 UBS amnesty program? You’ll note the reporter’s question flagged above asked if all FBARs were filed “in a timely fashion.” Malt didn’t address that part of the question. He just said all had been filed. So in addition to the question of the amnesty, were FBARs retroactively filed?
It’s an interesting idea, but I think that this whole thing can be explained fairly simply. While the tax returns undoubtedly include some embarrassing information, the real reason Romney is refusing to release them is because President Obama and other Democrats are insisting they do. We know that Romney’s campaign is self-consciously trying not to repeat McCain’s supposed weakness in confronting the Chicago politics of the Obama team, so it only makes sense that, the more they demand something, the more you stonewall, regardless of what it is. That’s how you show toughness, of course.*
Thing is, Romney is walking straight into a trap. It’s in Romney’s interest to appear squeaky-clean and a paragon of integrity. A clean release of tax documents and explanations for any seeming discrepancies would help repair his not all that great image. Getting a reputation for secrecy and high-handed assertions of privilege is the opposite of what he would want. Obama is already moving to attacking Romney over the Ryan Plan, an attack that will not be hindered by the argument that Romney refuses to pay his taxes, refuses to clarify his status at Bain during key years, refuses to discuss issues really at all (e.g. what he’d do in Afghanistan), and so on. We don’t know that much about Mitt Romney, Obama could argue, because he doesn’t want to let Americans know who he is and what he’s done. But there are things we do know: his corporate career was riddled with layoffs, outsourcing, profiteering off the backs of hardworking folks and predatory capitalism. He didn’t care one whit about creating a job at Bain, that wasn’t his job. And as Governor of Massachusetts, he was an utter failure at creating jobs. Romney doesn’t care about creating jobs, never has, he only cares about making money for wealthy people, even if it means screwing the American worker. Speaking of the Ryan Plan…
This is a pretty powerful argument, probably the best Obama can manage in the current economic climate. It hits a populist tone without torching the Wall Streeters whose support Obama covets too badly. It really does make Romney part of the problem, economically, the country is going through. But it’s not perfect. Obama’s campaign has been utterly ruthless in putting the pieces in place to make it happen, and to a large extent he has. What makes it smart, really, is that the weakest points in it are the ones where Romney, personally, is least likely to attack. If Mitt Romney were to release all his returns today for the past, say, six years, and take ownership of whatever landmines occupy them (“it was all in a blind trust” won’t be enough, IMO), then he can move forward saying, I released my returns, I’m being straightforward and honest with you, the public. Wouldn’t be true in a general sense, but it might be enough. But Mitt “Let’s send my bus to honk at an Obama rally” Romney thinks it’s to his advantage to be a complete horse’s ass to Obama that he can’t appreciate just how significant this point will be. Romney releasing his returns would be a minor defeat for his campaign, but unless there’s something indictable in there it won’t stick. Unreleased, Obama can rely on the power of suggestion to paint a picture, and use that picture as a key part of his re-election.
I think this explains why Republicans are jumping all over one another insisting that Mitt release his returns. The extent to which Romney is seen as sleazy is the extent to which he disqualifies himself as a contender–shadowy corporate boss plays substantially worse with the public than nonideological technocrat–and they see what Obama’s Campaign is cooking up down the road. But almost all of those Republicans are establishment Republicans, and R-Money is okay with ignoring them. Looking weak in the eyes of the Tea Party, though, is the mortal fear here as always. I wouldn’t be surprised if he mobilizes that group to defend him on this–he’s already got a start on that.
* If you’re a stupid person.
Let’s “pause for two beats” and pay homage to the “ruthless killing machine that is the” Obama campaign, says Mark Halperin at TIME. “They have parceled out their opposition research in a manner both strategic and tactical,” ensuring that the Bain story and the controversy over Romney’s unreleased tax returns remain almost constantly in the news. “And, make no mistake, the Obamans are sitting on even more research that they will unfurl down the road.” It’s no wonder Republicans are complaining.
It has been suggested that the attacks on Romney hearken back to the brilliantly ruthless blows to John McCain in 2008. There’s a similarly thrilling element to them I admit, but overall 2012 just doesn’t feel much like 2008. What I remember most about 2008 was how much fun the general election was. It was fun to watch Obama lay into the dumb, shopworn arguments of McCain, and he seemed to be having fun doing it. Obama’s being barely able to restrain his laughter while mocking Phil Gramm’s “nation of whiners” complaints (ironically, a whine in and of itself) was just the best moment of the campaign for me. To have someone out there saying all the things that you’d been thinking for eight long years, and doing it in a way that didn’t suggest bitterness but rather optimism, was really just this amazing thing. There was nothing like it.
This election is just very, very different. The ruthlessness is still there, but it doesn’t feel the same. There’s just an overwhelming grimness about the whole thing, even though Obama is again saying a lot of things that are, from a progressive perspective, correct and undersaid. But nobody’s having much fun this time. Obama isn’t cracking up while mocking Romney surrogates, his party isn’t jubilant over the prospect of massive change (because the prospect isn’t there, except for an entitlement-shredding “grand bargain” that I don’t even want to think about). But ultimately this isn’t anything new–with the onset of the financial crisis, suddenly the whole situation took on a different air. Obama’s inauguration speech was famously sober and grim, no doubt because he was just becoming aware of how much shit we were in. I’m convinced at this point that the financial-then-economic crisis was what led to Obama’s self-consciously serious and dour attitude during much of the first term, and also what was behind his insistence on working with Republicans. Because, after all, the country comes together during a crisis, don’t we? Like after 9/11 (for like two months). One can understand his Administration’s early, cool disposition toward the left through this lens–don’t these folks realize that we’re in a crisis, and this is no time for politics? To which the general response was, tell that to Republicans. Obama’s self-presentation was what he thought the country wanted to see, but I think it was not that great for morale.
Neither was the crappy economy, of course, and that probably has a lot more to do with setting the nation’s mood than anything else. Just something I was thinking about today.
ElsieElsie over at the GOS gets into it:
The President’s campaign knows Romney’s folks don’t want to talk about his time as Massachusetts governor because that leads to discussion of Romneycare, and they enjoyed the benefit of Romney’s stumble and faceplant after the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act. This leaves Romney’s one option – to pivot to his business experience. The Obama campaign was ready and tripped Romney mid-pivot. In the process of the Romney campaign’s flailing before national doubt and ridicule, the President’s campaign has effectively charged up his base, frustrated and depressed the GOP base, and inserted doubt into the swing voter’s mind about Romney. If the GOP candidate can’t run on governing Massachusetts, and can’t run on his Bain record, and in fact is running FROM both of those parts of his record…what’s left?
The apparent answer is saving the Olympics, which I’m really not sure people care that much about, and it’s twelve years old in any event. How many people even remember that the games twelve years ago were in trouble? I don’t know. I suspect this will do little for Romney, though. Keeping going an event meant to showcase international cooperation doesn’t mix well with the boisterous, hawkish nationalism that Romney has cultivated throughout the process. It has the side effect of clashing with one of his main themes.
Romney’s position hasn’t weakened dramatically in the polls–at least, not yet–as a result of the past few weeks of bad Bain coverage. But I’m not convinced that the Obama Campaign is interested in a mere ephemeral bump in the polls from this episode. Romney’s attempts to bring up his business career will be met tit-for-tat with any number of counterattacks down the stretch. Every minute spent fighting over whether Romney’s career was incredibly successful or inhumanly awful means less time spent on discussing the economy, and thus is probably lose-lose. If Team Obama can pull this off, history tells us that Romney SuperPACs like Restore Our Future will spend enormous sums carpetbombing the country with negative ads, hoping to disqualify Obama unilaterally. Which was probably the plan all along: phase one is Romney establishes himself as minimally competent and trustworthy, phase two is fathomless negativity courtesy of the PACs. I guess we’ll just have to see how it shakes out, though it’s worth noting this tactic’s failed him in two of his three prior campaigns.
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