Vinoth Ramachandra

“Not the Economy, Stupid”

Posted on: October 12, 2012

“It’s the Economy, Stupid” was Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaign slogan in 1992.

Economics began as the science of political economy, but now most conventional economists regard the economy as a quasi-autonomous area of human interactions, shaped by trade and technology far more than politics. How refreshing, then, to discover two recent books by Nobel Prize-winning economists- Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz- who emphasize the role that politics has played in bringing the American economy to where it is today. (In the interests of transparency, let me say that I have not read either book, only browsed them in bookstores and read some reviews.)

We all know that the biggest transformation in the American economy since the 1980s has been the stagnation of the middle classes and the dramatic rise of the “1%”- the “super-rich” to which men like Mitt Romney belong. In the five years to 2007, the top 1% seized more than 65% of the gain in US national income. In 2010, their share was a staggering 93%. This did not create greater prosperity for all; on the contrary, much of this gain was “rent-seeking behaviour”, taking wealth from others rather than creating new wealth. In the last three decades, while the bottom 90% have seen their wages growing by 15%, the top 1% have seen wage increases of 150%.

When Republicans talk of wanting “limited government”, what they really want is a government that subsidizes the rich, that panders to big business rather than helps meet the basic needs of the majority.  Those who use the language  of self-reliance and  equal opportunity are usually parasites themselves, feeding off  inherited fortunes or the labour and sacrifices of others.  In 2008, insurance giant AIG was bailed out to the tune of $150 billion by US taxpayers- more than the total spent on welfare to the poor in the entire period 1990 to 2006.

Stiglitz, among many others,  has documented the way the US government regularly subsidizes economic activity that has real costs for both American and global society—whether by failing to require companies to pay a tax on their carbon emissions or allowing billionaire hedge fund managers to pay taxes at rates far lower than those affecting middle-class families.

Government-subsidized agribusiness giants wreak havoc on American farmlands. They also contribute massively to rural poverty in other parts of the world.  The spectacular profits of the U.S energy industry rely heavily on what economists call “negative externalities”: costs that the rest of society pays for (e.g. climate change, environmental degradation) but which do not appear on the accounts ledgers of the corporations that are responsible for those costs. Similarly, the aggressive trading that goes on in Wall Street creates huge risks for the economy as a whole. Yet, without effective regulation, the people who bear the costs are the struggling millions who are thrown out of their jobs or their homes or both.

Putting a stop to these and other forms of rent-seeking behaviour would thus promote both efficiency and greater equality. Both Stiglitz and Krugman are passionate about the need for political reform. They lament the growing isolation of America’s economic and political elite from the struggles of ordinary Americans. A majority of Americans have consistently told pollsters that creating jobs is a much higher priority than tackling the deficit. And when asked how deficits might be reduced, the public strongly endorses increasing taxes on the wealthy and cutting defence spending. But these opinions cut no ice in Washington.

Democracy in the US is now largely a sham. The US Supreme Court has interpreted the US Constitution in a way that removes all restrictions on campaign spending. What this amounts to is that rich American individuals and corporations can buy presidents and congressmen. The support of a billionaire now counts vastly more than that of an ordinary citizen, making a mockery of the principle of “one man, one vote”.

Moreover, as the Princeton political scientist Anne-Marie Slaughter has pointed out, “Both major US parties routinely use their power when they win to redraw electoral districts’ lines to favour themselves and hurt their opponents. And, in some states, the Republican Party is openly trying to impede voting by requiring citizens to show official photo identification, which can be difficult and expensive to obtain. These requirements are a new version of the poll tax, which Democrats in the American South used for years to disenfranchise African-American voters.”

I have criticised Obama often enough in this Blog for his use of extra-judicial executions, unpiloted drones (imagine the response of the U.S citizenry to daily terror inflicted by Iranian or Pakistani drones on their towns), and the failure to close down Guantanamo Bay and  prosecute all those responsible for sanctioning torture in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, on the domestic front,  he deserves some sympathy.  He has had to battle racial prejudice and religious phobias. To get the Affordable Care Act through Congress, he has had to confront well-financed defenders of the status quo, and compromise with major industries like pharmaceuticals and insurance.

But, given his failings, how any sane person can vote for Romney/Ryan simply baffles me! One belongs to the class of tax-dodging parasites. The other proclaims himself to be an unashamed devotee of Ayn Rand’s militantly atheist creed of glorified selfishness and ruthless greed. And they both have absolutely no understanding of the world beyond the U.S. One cannot imagine deeper depths of moral bankruptcy and intellectual sterility to which the Republican Party can sink.

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31 Responses to "“Not the Economy, Stupid”"

You summarize our sad political situation exactly. The most perplexing aspect of the whole thing is the way the vocal members of the American evangelical church have gone to such lengths to promote the Romney/Ryan candidacy. I understand why the global elite and the transnational corporations are so eager to fund and fight for the ideas promoted by Romney and Ryan. I am baffled, and deeply troubled, at the way those who should know better have allowed the religion of the rich such power. I find myself reviewing James 2, and wondering why we can’t hear it: “has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom . . ? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?”

You really need to stop reading the talking points from the far left. Your caricature of the Republicans is so misinformed it is nearly impossible to respond too.

There are many who class themselves as American evangelical, but who also are attempting to distance themselves from what you describe relating to the Republican party. They might even want to vote for Obama/Biden, but because of matters revolving around conservative social issues they simply do not. There are some Roman Catholics who greatly embrace the social ideology of the Democrats, and who truly want to vote for Obama/Biden, but because of the abortion issue (as an example) will vote for Romeny/Ryan in the upcoming U.S. election. The question then remains … what are citizens to do when caught between the ideologies of two parties? I suppose they are left to write-in “none of the above”.

“When Republicans talk of wanting “limited government”, what they really want is a government that subsidizes the rich, that panders to big business rather than helps meet the basic needs of the majority.”

I can’t decide if you are lying on purpose or you are just ignorant.

To address your last point about being baffled by a sane person voting for Romney/Ryan. “Being baffled” is not necessarily an indication that the idea being considered is wrong. Sometimes it is an indication of the limitation of the person who is baffled. Many people are baffled by calculus; that does not mean that calculus is somehow defective and in need of change. In your case, your devotion to a liberal political philosophy prevents you from seeing things clearly. If you are interested in the truth, you would work toward ridding your self of this bias.

My guess is that Romney/Ryan will lose the election, but rest assured there are many sane people who will vote for them.

Vinoth isn’t repeating the talking points of the far left – he’s summarizing the deep concerns of many in the middle. I’m a moderate independent – frequently voted Republican in the past, and will vote for some local, fairly independent Republicans who refuse to align completely with the direction their party has gone. But if you’re interested in the truth, there is a significant volume of non-biased, non-partisan material available about the selfish agenda of the global elite, the very cynical lack of transparency of both Romney and Ryan, and the bending of rules to favor huge corporations to the great expense of private citizens, small companies, and small-scale farmers around the globe. Yes, there are sane people who will vote what they’ve been told, but if you’d take the time to dig a bit, you’d be appalled at what you’d find. I started the election season thinking it was a simple coin toss between two somewhat flawed platforms, and have become convinced that the situation is far different than what I had been led to believe. I will be voting, but definitely not for Romney/Ryan.

Carol, many of the statement made in the blog are are taken almost verbatim from the most liberal cable news shows. They show an appalling lack of logical, critical thinking, and originality. It is pure propaganda and is reminiscent of one of the most evil aspects of war; to dehumanize your enemy (or in this case, political opponent). He describes his opponents as greedy, selfish, morally bankrupt, and intellectually sterile and only an insane person would vote for them.

In that spirit, shouldn’t democrats be described as promoting class warfare, punishing those that are successful, encouraging dependence on the government, celebrating the death of babies, and encouraging sexual immorality?

I am all for reasonable criticism – I just wish Vinoth was.

As a middle class, small business owner in the the health care industry I find your arguments compelling but unnecessarily slanted against the right and in favor of the left. In the USA the political class and the banking class are brokering deals with each other to ensure their status and survival. I do not think that the Romney/Ryan group nor the Obama/Biden group have any distinction in this matter. President Obama is as complicit in aligning with the power elite as his predecessors. His policies appear as cynical as his opponents and structurally will place power in the hands of a few.

You sympathize with him for his domestic efforts saying,

“But, on the domestic front, he deserves some sympathy. He has had to battle racial prejudice and religious phobias. To get the Affordable Care Act through Congress, he has had to confront well-financed defenders of the status quo, and compromise with major industries like pharmaceuticals and insurance.”

Yet, the the Affordable Care Act is one of the most cynical and disingenuous pieces of legislation brought forward by his administration. This act will not provide any more healthcare servies than the current system. What this act will do is saddle people with more financial hardship without providing an increase in the providers of health care. I know this personally because I am a small business owner in the health care industry. Over the 20 years I have worked in my field I have provided more free services than I can remember. I have found that when I can work directly with my patients I can provide services that are of economic advantage for them and my business which, by the way, provides for my family of six.

Underneath the feel good language of “providing affordable healthcare” this effort is no example of a good domestic policy. It will do more harm then good. It is set up to fail so that those in favor of a single payer system have an stronger emotional argument to move in that direction. That type of system, may function very well in for 34 million Canadians but will it work with 330 million US citizens whose government demonstrates great inefficiency?

The problem is bad policy like past and current banking regulations and cynical efforts like the Affordable Healthcare Act. Obama is no less guilty of the things you accuse of Romney. He may utter rhetoric that makes people feel good and speaks of fairness and justice but he too has failed to be any different than those who have gone before him. Since neither Obama nor Romney can nor will do much different your argument is with the structure of the system not the practices of one parties leadership.

DRH, thank you for your comments. I cannot debate this complex issue here, but may I simply say that the health care act is a diversion in the debate over the US budget deficit. The latter was created, not by widening health insurance or social welfare programs, but by the massive tax cuts for the rich and increased military spending of the two Bush administrations, 2000-2008.

Greg, may I point out that not only do I not watch what you call “liberal cable news”, but I don’t have a TV at all (and never have)?

Please don’t quote me out of context. Selfishness and greed are hailed as virtues in Ayn Rand’s writings (which I am sure you have never read)- and Paul Ryan’s devotion to Ayn Rand’s philosophy is not a secret. Alan Greenspan, the now discredited former head of the Federal Reserve, was also an acolyte of Rand’s.

If you want argument, fine. Read Krugman and Stiglitz and respond to them. And could you demonstrate to me some “logical, critical thinking” about the issues in my post (like DRH does, for instance)? And please explain to me the moral argument that claims to be “pro-life”, but supports policies that impoverish poor mothers, forcing them to have abortions, and doesn’t care about the deaths of Palestinian or Pakistani babies. Are white American foetuses more valuable than other human persons?

I think people like you and Luke (above) need to learn that flinging words like “liberal” and “far left” at arguments you don’t like only reveal your profound ignorance- one that you would do well to dispel by wider reading and exposure.

Could we have some hands “reaching across the aisle” — both in U.S. politics and on this forum?

Thanks, Vinoth, for saying succinctly what I have been noticing. I have also noticed that many people’s objections to Pres. Obama seemed based on the many lies that are still being spread in the evangelical community. I remain puzzled that people who worry that Obama, in spite of his frequent public admissions of faith in Jesus, could be a Muslim, don’t care that Romney is a Mormon. Neither group is Christian. I left my Christian faith due to reading Ayn Rand’s book, but God was gracious and pursued me back. The trickle down effect is failing as we have tried it for years. In our area, there are now double the number of homeless people, and over half are families. So how will cutting social welfare and letting the rich keep their money help? So far, not one of the wealthy people in our area has stepped up to the plate and told us that he or she will build a homeless shelter. I so appreciate your wise observations.

Vinoth,

First, your allegation that I have quoted you out of context is simply erroneous.

On another topic, you said, “flinging words like “liberal” and “far left” at arguments you don’t like only reveal your profound ignorance”. Upon further reflection, I hope that you will be able to see the profound irony that you would make such a statement. If you are unable to understand the irony, I will make it clear: your posts are full of labels and insults.
You made a series of statements that reflect almost perfectly a political ideology that would universally be described as “liberal” or “far left”. I do not know why reveals a profound ignorance. I am somewhat familiar with a few different types of political ideologies. I have the intelligence and understanding to compare what you have stated to those ideologies and conclude that you have a politically liberal ideology. I genuinely do not care if you are liberal; what I concerns me is that your analysis is compromised by what appears to be a deeply ingrained bias. I am equally concerned by my friends whose conservative bias has distorted their view of things.
But if you dislike my labels then I am more than happy to use other language to restate my point:
Some of your analysis and subsequent name calling are mistaken.
There are only 3 logical options that I see:
1) You are intentionally being untruthful
2) You do not know all the pertinent facts
3) You have a bias in your thinking that prevents you from arriving at a conclusion consistent with the facts.
Greg

Response to comment by Greg (Comment 13)

Greg, you write, ‘would universally be described as’, no it would not be. You again write ‘perfectly a political ideology that would universally be described as’, no it wouldn’t be.

A British Christian who is on the political right, in American terms would be a Lefty.

An example: British Conservative Christians support the National Health Service (NHS), which is centralized government provided heath care, which in the US would be described as socialism. So please don’t claim universality for what is not universal. The Left vs Right political spectrum is a rather juvenile way of thinking about politics. (This also refers to the comment by Luke M.)

As a political science student, I would humbly suggest that anyone who still feels the need to think about politics using the Left vs Right binary, do a bit more reading about the etymology of the word ‘left’, ask questions why the word ‘Right’ in the political sense is the same word as right in the sense as being the opposite of wrong, and read a bit more on the social history of the Left vs Right political spectrum and how it has been used to defend the status quo and resist change.

I do believe citizens within any particular political community will have different ideas on what constitutes a good society, and so what I am rejecting is not the differences in ideas but the juvenile mentality that reduces political ideas to ‘left vs right’, and using terms like ‘liberal’ and ‘far left’ or ‘conservative and ‘far right’ to dismiss or silence the views of the other side, instead of making an intelligent and coherent argument on why one’s own political ideas make for a better society. And if one is a Christian, why one’s own political ideas are Scripturally grounded.

Greg, I am lost for understanding on why you think that Vinoth’s analysis is mistaken.

Phillip,

I think that all this hand wringing over labels is a little silly. Of course no one fits perfectly within any category, but that doesn’t mean that in general discussion that labels aren’t useful.

But, I do apologize for my lack of clarity. I was speaking about the U.S. political landscape. As that was the focus on the original blog, I didn’t think that clarification was needed. My point was that anyone familiar with U.S. politics would describe his positions as liberal or far left within the U.S. context. (Not that those labels carry the same meaning in all political systems). I could have chosen better words. Drawing the conclusion that Vinoth espouses political ideas that closely align with what is described in the U.S. as “liberal” does not make me “profoundly ignorant,” as Vinoth stated.

As I mentioned in my previous post, my concern is not one’s political philosophy, but whether or not they allow their philosophy to skew their thinking. I do think that is the case in Vinoth’s blog.

I don’t dismiss Vinoth’s ideas because they are liberal or far left. I actually agree with some of what he says – the U.S. spends too much money on national defense, we should have never gone to war Iraq and at least parts of the Affordable Care Act are helpful. (to name a few areas of agreement)

What I reject is his caricature and demonization of those who disagree with his political viewpoints. I think that any fair-minded person would be appalled by the language in his post.

Greg, I am sorry, but I fail to see how you have demonstrated that Vinoth’s analysis is mistaken. If your problem is with his use of language, that is the prerogative of the blog-writer, you and I are free to not read this blog. But to call the writer’s analysis mistaken and then fail to produce any explanation, leaves me wondering what your purpose is for making comments. I do look forward to reading your robust substantive response to Vinoth’s mistaken analysis. Thank you!

Philip,

My purpose is to encourage the author to honestly examine his biases and to engage in thoughtful debate, rather than name calling.

Greg

Thank you, Philip, for the reminder that the world is bigger than the US and that the political climate of the US church does not – thankfully- mirror the of political posture of Christians in other nations.

Rereading this discussion, I find myself grieving yet again at the blindness that assumes that labeling a point of view gives one leave to dismiss it, and at the almost complete inability to hear, digest, and respond to specific concerns. Stiglitz and Krugman, Hacker and Pierson in Winner Take All Politics, Chrystia Freeland of Reuters, in Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, and even the Economist in its latest issue (hardly a left-leaning publication) along with a host of others make very clear that unless our growing extreme inequality is addressed, our economy will become more precarious, our political values will continue to be compromised by money in politics drowning out the private voice, and the common good will continue to be eroded not just for the poor and the middle class, but for the wealthy themselves.

This is not, as far as I can see, a left vs right issue, although those who benefit from the status quo prefer to characterize it that way. It’s an issue that should concern and engage us all. Constructive dialogue is only possible when we choose to listen to what’s said, rather than try to dismiss it as “talking points” from our political opposition.

Sounds like someone just handed you standard talking points from the left and you parrotted the same without actually doing your homework. You just lost a lot of credability on the political front with that one.

As I said, Arvind, “Constructive dialogue is only possible when we choose to listen to what’s said, rather than try to dismiss it as “talking points” from our political opposition.”

Reblogged this on multivocality and commented:
I hear the objections to extreme language (eg. ‘parasites’) that Vinoth uses. While not acquainted personally with Vinoth, those I know who are assure me of his respectfulness, graciousness and humility. This is not to enter into a debate about Vinoth’s character (so completely inappropriate as that would be), but rather to help highlight that I think a post like ‘Not the economy, Stupid’ exercises a particular ‘voice’ which some of the commentators here seem to have missed.

Vinoth’s post, more than a self-indulgent venting of personal opinion (to which we are all entitled), stands firmly in the prophetic tradition. Here are a set of conventions of communication. Restrained, detatched clinicality, is rightly set aside in favour of the impassioned, extreme advocacy for the poor and vehement criticism of the rich, according to the rhythms and rhetorics of the prophets, with quite a bit of name calling; Amos who called rich women ‘cows’ and Jeremiah who called the people of God ‘dung’ – though here in Australia, we’d parse that with a bit more frankness. In my view, by Hebrew Bible prophetic standards, ‘Not the economy, stupid’ is only in third gear – it could be more extreme.

The idea of eschewing ‘bias’ in political discussion seems to have eluded the prophets. An out and out bias for the poor, in unbalanced, almost unbearably emotionally honest, searing expressions from the Biblical Prophets makes the standard ‘leftist’ talking points seem middle of the road and respectable. And this is not what is required.

The invocation of the prophetic voice is not to abandon reason, but to express truth which is stronger than mechanical rationalism or polite intellectualisma. ‘Constructive Dialogue’ is important, but debate that is perceived as ‘even’ can actually be contrived, or even worse, neutered. Life is far from ‘fair’ for most of the world, so the notion of a ‘fair exchange’, in terms of removing bias, is somewhat ill-fitting for such a topic.
This is no to say Vinoth’s post doesn’t make sense, or engage us intellectually – there is no shortage of strong argument here – but it is not tempered with hedged emotion, or disinterest.

I have minimal interest in the roadshow of American politics, but I have a great interest in the ways we speak about humans. Classic ‘red vs blue’ or Oxford style debates which pretend a ‘level playing field’ and proceed ostensibly in pitting reason against reason, perpetuate the myth that appeals to rationality are more reliable than righteousness, that justice is subject to individual judgement, and detached argumentation is morally superior to impassioned objection.

The God of the Hebrew Prophets knew no such restraint. Appropriately in this forum – a public blog – Ramachandra also relinquishes the faux voice of restrained niceties, in favour of the full- throttled hyperbole of prophetic calling names and calling to account.

The voice of reason is one of the ‘Gods that fail’.

@Beth, really enjoyed reading your comment. Refreshing and liberating. I could hear ‘brueggemann’ in the background cheering you…

@ Beth, Gold!
@ Vinoth, I thought a well thought through and reasoned piece, with the possible exception of the bit about “any sane person”, although I quite enjoyed that and felt that it added some color to the article. Thank you for taking the time to pen this.
@Vinoth’s detractors. Really? I have to admit that I do take a certain perverse joy when the die-hard Republicans come out in the “debate”, I shall miss this when the election season is over.
Anyone who does not agree with their point is “liberal” or “socialist” or a “dirty commie”. They come out with criticisms of authors, or launch on their name calling or talk about how unreasonable and biased the piece is. They do not however, ever seem to offer an intelligent alternative, an independently researched study, a critical thinking response that dismantles the “clearly biased” article that they are critiquing. It really does not fill me with admiration for their position. On the upside, I do find it funny and it brings a smile to my face.
As for Obamacare, there are many western democracies that operate health care in a similar fashion and it works just fine, many would say substantially better than the US health care system. As an example, Australia introduced it in 1975 and it still works. The occasional conservative politician will experiment with the thought of removing it, but find quickly that it is still very popular and it would be a serious political mistake to touch it. The health care there is exceptional, and available to everyone. No one has gone bankrupt because of the very small levy placed on their taxes to pay for it.
I am a swinging voter, I beg the die-hard Republicans to step up with intelligent responses and not just school yard name calling. I want to hear real, honest, genuine alternatives.

Fascinating. I would have never thought Vinoth would get to the point where he would, albeit mildly, render support for a Presidential candidate who openly supports the mass execution of the pre-born. Tell me, do you, Vinoth, subscribe to the liberal theory of the absolute autonomy of the human individual? The theory out of which fuels the “pro-choice” position. If so, how do you square this position with your confession of the Trinity?

Or have you given up on that too?

Interesting, a few questions to this one, I am interested in how they are resolved.
Romney/Ryan just released a TV commercial where they say adamantly that Romney is NOT against abortion. How does that fit?
Have we ever seen a Republican president actually repeal abortion laws? OR are they just tickling our ears?
I have just read a study that suggests that making abortion illegal does not effect the rate of abortion, and if anything seems to increase it. What does effect the rate of abortion is economic circumstances, especially for the poor and middle classes.
I wonder if the church treated single parents a little better, if we were less likely to shame them, if we made sure that they were really well cared for, if we made sure that the poor were…not, I wonder if we are REALLY against abortion this should be where we place our efforts. Just a thought.
I think that a human being happens at conception, all other arguments are secondary. I would love a world where abortion is not considered a real option. I wonder how we best get there.

The word “parasite” is not abusive. It describes EXACTLY the behaviour of most of the rich in most countries (the US, Russia and UK being the most blatant): feeding off public funds and ancestral inheritances, privatizing public assets, and securing all sorts of privileges through their political connections.

The net financial flows in the global economy, just as in the US economy, are not from the rich to the poor but from the poor to the rich. This has been amply documented by many economists, including Stiglitz whom Vinoth quotes. What word would the “Gregs” of this world use to describe such a state of affairs?

There are plenty of FACTS and ARGUMENTS in Vinoth’s posts, but people like Gregg always evade them and deflect criticism to minor matters of language. Their moral indignation seems pretty warped to me.

Vinoth himself has said exactly what Beth (above) says in his post of 2 July 2010 called “Necessary Anger”. May I suggest that all of you look that up?

Thanks Vinoth for your sharp and incisive comment as ever.

‘One cannot imagine deeper depths of moral bankruptcy and intellectual sterility to which the Republican Party can sink.’
Scarily, Romney was by far the most moderate of the Republican presidential runners. The scariest individual who was in the race (and thankfully dropped out) was Rick Santorum, who some have called a lunatic.

Vinoth,

I find your blog to be refreshing to my thinking as a lemon sorbet to my taste buds. This post and the accompanying comments is no exception.

I remember you talking about dialogue versus banter in a workshop one time. I wonder if there will be a circuit breaker that creates more space once again (was there ever) for dialogue in democratic politics? The emergence of minority governments in a number of democracies leads me to feel that something is closer to changing (a realisation of voter discontent). Any ideas about what could usher this along?

@Phillip I found your comment regards the nature of the left vrs right helpful. It is a trap I see lots of Christians fall into in my context. You mention some reading would help bring
understanding to break that pattern. Can you recommend anything directly I could start with?

Excellent as always but hold on.. you don’t have a TV??????!

Yeah he doesn’t have a tv but he has a computer :) TV’s are not necessary to be “connected” in today’s internet world. He’s not as ‘cut off’ as it seems.

@Peter, I am away from home for a week and will surely respond to your request once I get back. Sorry about the delay…

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