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No Atheists in Foxholes, No Libertarians in Crises

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"Free market capitalism!" Sounds sorta good, kind of liberating, all about freedom and all. That's where the libertarians got their name, apparently, as that's what they advocate. But wait, what exactly IS a free market? Do they really exist, and if they do, are they a good thing or not so good?

Let's concede there may be free markets in small isolated settings. Think of a farmer's market where the producer supplies directly to the consumer. They agree over the price of the goods, full disclosure about the quality of the goods and each is free to walk away from the deal if they choose. The price may be paid in money or barter. And both parties to the transaction are known and accountable to the other.

But in modern America there are virtually no real free markets. In our transactions today, one party or the other has the upper hand. Markets must be defined, enabled and regulated to some extent by governments federal, state and local, for good reasons. Some regulations are intended to protect consumers, i.e., human beings, and some protect the environment in which all living things reside. And some regulation is intended to help businesses operate, to give good business owners guidance as to how to proceed with their chosen occupation.

In my working career, I managed a metropolitan food safety and inspection program. The prime purpose of the regulations we enforced was to protect consumers from food- and water- borne illness. What I learned from restaurateurs and food suppliers was that the good ones, the ones who sought to provide a safe and tasty product, didn't resent our being there, looking over their shoulders, pointing out this or that to improve upon. On the contrary, they knew that good sanitation brought customers in their door. And they saw how quickly something like a food-borne illness outbreak could put them out of business. (This really happened to some fancy, up-scale restaurants.)

The "good guy" food purveyors asked of us at the health department these three things: That the regulations be based on the science of food safety not on hunches or opinions; that we first educate them before enforcement; and that the regulations be applied equally to them as to their competitors. We tried to live up to those standards and, for the most part, they held up their end of the bargain. Those who fought regulation were the ones who wanted to be free to make money whether or not people suffered.

Notice how calls for free market capitalism are always couched in terms of personal, individual, human-being freedom. That's not what they're talking about, however; it's not about the freedom of individual persons to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It's not even so much about the economic freedom of individuals to purchase as they can and want. The call for free market capitalism is a call to liberate businesses from control, to leave them free to make money at the expense of human beings.

In the libertarian topsy-turvy world, businesses have priority over people, over living, breathing human beings. Does that match your reality? Not mine. Businesses are created by humans to help us go about our day, meet our needs, live our lives. It's "we, the people" who should be in control and are given priority under the US Constitution through which we empower our government to regulate businesses. Despite the recent opinion of the capitalist-friendly US Supreme Court, businesses are not people.

Free market capitalism brought us the "great depression" of the early 20th Century. The stock market and capitalists took advantage to the detriment of our economy. Perhaps someone didn't remember, or it had just been too long ago, but in the 1980s deregulation and free market capitalism re infected public policy. "Government was the problem, not the solution," we were told and "Greed is good." We looked to the stock market to tell us how "the economy" was doing, instead of focusing on the real economy of creating and distributing goods and services.

In the quarter century since then, infection has turned virulent, and it seems all wounds are festering at once these days. The lack of control over the health insurance industry resulted in millions excluded from coverage; thousands have died. The stock market was left free to trade fake assets. The mortgage industry was allowed to rope people into debts they could not pay. Banks were allowed to gamble with our invested dollars and credit card companies were free to inflate rates and add fees. Corporations were free to outsource jobs to other countries. Trade agreements gave advantage to capital over labor. Unions were busted. Heavy industries, especially energy, were allowed to cut corners on things like mine safety and oil drillers could write their own regulations. And it's a "mell of a hess" we're in now, folks. Thank a libertarian next time you see one.

Libertarian economic policy just does not work, and the reason it does not is because it ignores this simple principle any businessman knows: The first purpose of a business is to make money. I'm not putting that down as a bad thing; it's entirely natural. Furthermore, businesses also have other goals, such as helping people and making our communities better. It's just that, unless they meet their first purpose, they can't serve any other purposes.

Furthermore, the larger the business, the more divorced from the secondary missions the first purpose becomes. It becomes more and more about money because more and more money is at stake. Capitalists will fight harder against regulation than will local small businesses. They'll buy media outlets to influence public opinion and skew the information we get. They'll spend millions every day, day after day, manipulating elections and elected officials. And they will demonize anyone who would, through regulation, restrain their primary purpose by calling them socialists and communists and accusing them of taking over health care, being un-American, etc. Sound familiar?

But notice that, come a crisis, libertarians will be quick to demand that the old evil government step in to make things right. And this they do without even the grace to admit they caused the problem in the first place. No wonder several economists have recently said word to the effect that "there are no atheists in foxholes and no libertarians in crises." Free market capitalism will certainly drive us into a ditch, as it has done once again, but it can't get us out of it.

 

I'm a retired public health worker focused these days on supporting a variety of progressive issues, such as criminal justice reform, energy efficiency, environmental protection, universal health care, civil rights, and worldwide peace and respect. (more...)
 
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...stuff you obviously don't understand very well.... by BaronVonRothschild on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 1:55:45 PM
Businesses are not people. And regardless of the r... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 3:03:05 PM
A business is ultimately owned by someone... it's ... by BaronVonRothschild on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 3:16:37 PM
to enable us to deal with commerce. In most cases ... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 3:29:34 PM
I don't even advocate a corporation having rights.... by BaronVonRothschild on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 3:35:35 PM
Private property itself exists only as an intellec... by WML on Thursday, Jun 10, 2010 at 7:52:06 AM
...libertarians and old school liberals (you libs ... by BaronVonRothschild on Thursday, Jun 10, 2010 at 9:39:04 AM
First, you rebut not a single argument I make. Se... by WML on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 7:30:57 AM
a well-reasoned and cogent argument in this thread... by BaronVonRothschild on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 8:51:28 AM
You surprise me with your reasoned reply. I am re... by WML on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 11:24:53 AM
Tyrants....your blith dismissal of individual free... by Chris Bieber on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 2:02:55 PM
Thanks, Chris Bieber, Awesome!... by Margie Laupheimer on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 12:04:54 PM
I guess my vernacular and inferences(subtle and no... by Chris Bieber on Friday, Jun 18, 2010 at 11:02:48 AM
The bottom line with Libertarian economic policy, ... by Sheila Dean on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 2:03:48 PM
"Libertarians are political adults who don't requi... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 3:09:53 PM
without a trading partner... a willing trading par... by BaronVonRothschild on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 3:19:34 PM
there can be no identification and enforcement aga... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 3:37:00 PM
Regulation is set up to protect the business in qu... by Darren Wolfe on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 4:37:53 PM
The gullible are those who believe otherwise. Regu... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 5:04:43 PM
Anyone that claims to know anything about libertar... by Darren Wolfe on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 3:12:37 PM
I started my article about free-market capitalism ... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 3:22:53 PM
The first principle of libertarianism is that one ... by Darren Wolfe on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 4:27:58 PM
describing everything the government does as some ... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 5:23:49 PM
anytime you are required to do something or not do... by BaronVonRothschild on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 8:29:03 AM
In actuality, failure to comply with most of the a... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 11:30:08 AM
If I jaywalk, I can be stopped by police and ticke... by BaronVonRothschild on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 11:39:45 AM
MBL: If you think that all the government does, wh... by Margie Laupheimer on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 10:56:10 PM
but it needs to be universally embraced to be wort... by John Sanchez Jr. on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 4:45:32 PM
And it seems that we have evolved, over time to un... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 5:30:15 PM
Fascism! "Fascism should more properly be called ... by Darren Wolfe on Thursday, Jun 10, 2010 at 6:59:35 AM
Half a million pounds of flour and a cup of water ... by John Sanchez Jr. on Thursday, Jun 10, 2010 at 9:02:11 AM
What is the proper proportion...... of flour and p... by BaronVonRothschild on Thursday, Jun 10, 2010 at 9:49:42 AM
from a combination of two relatively innocuous ing... by John Sanchez Jr. on Thursday, Jun 10, 2010 at 11:38:03 AM
That's really what this bit of semantics is about.... by BaronVonRothschild on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 8:54:58 AM
to a bankrupt family, say, due to a medical emerge... by John Sanchez Jr. on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 1:26:36 PM
...is no morality at all. You talk of "contribute ... by Darren Wolfe on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 1:43:11 PM
Health care is unaffordable because corporations i... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 5:52:01 PM
are examples of the antithesis of free-market and ... by BaronVonRothschild on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 6:04:24 PM
You're rewording my arguments about healthcare. I ... by Darren Wolfe on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 7:03:15 PM
Support for capitalism is done by DEregulation - o... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 10:32:21 PM
The reason libertarians want to claim that all gov... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 5:58:03 PM
between contributing and having your stuff forcibl... by BaronVonRothschild on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 6:11:43 PM
But whatever you have or earn you got from being a... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 6:22:19 PM
Thomas Paine wrote words of wisdom about that:OF T... by Darren Wolfe on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 7:19:22 PM
I'm sure you can pick out quotes from a number of ... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 10:43:53 PM
Unfortunately, society created govt, I might add. ... by Darren Wolfe on Saturday, Jun 12, 2010 at 6:49:20 AM
There has to be a framework on which the society i... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Saturday, Jun 12, 2010 at 12:30:41 PM
"....if libertarians don't believe in the framewor... by Darren Wolfe on Saturday, Jun 12, 2010 at 1:04:13 PM
It just won't work. Because it's based on the inac... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Saturday, Jun 12, 2010 at 5:52:10 PM
We're in society together if we're associating vol... by Darren Wolfe on Saturday, Jun 12, 2010 at 6:13:43 PM
No one is forcing you to associate; indeed many ju... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Saturday, Jun 12, 2010 at 6:50:35 PM
I'm glad to hear that because the next time the IR... by Darren Wolfe on Saturday, Jun 12, 2010 at 7:33:58 PM
DW: I'm glad to hear that because the next time th... by Margie Laupheimer on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 10:31:44 PM
On Feb 02, 2010 the IRS put out this notice:The In... by Darren Wolfe on Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010 at 4:48:09 AM
DW: Yes, those in charge of making sure that we vo... by Margie Laupheimer on Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010 at 5:13:16 AM
this country has because their advocacy of free ma... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010 at 10:49:47 AM
Actually, libertarians are as much against corpora... by Darren Wolfe on Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010 at 12:54:48 PM
Darren: Actually, libertarians are as much against... by Margie Laupheimer on Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010 at 1:37:42 PM
It's what they advocate in economic policy. "Laiss... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010 at 2:29:04 PM
PLEASE READ CAREFULLYCORPORATISM DEFINITION:Corpor... by Margie Laupheimer on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 8:43:15 PM
that a real mutually free market cannot exist wher... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 9:43:40 PM
It seems to me that people are using the flagging ... by Darren Wolfe on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 6:42:41 AM
but a lot of commenting abuse.... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 11:13:29 AM
...was in no way abusive. There is an OEN policy a... by Darren Wolfe on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 2:07:11 PM
And that was the one above where you wandered off ... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 2:20:01 PM
...maybe I should flag your comment since it's not... by Darren Wolfe on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 2:26:40 PM
I tried, but I can't unflag it. I thought at the t... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 4:58:48 PM
MBL: It on the edge of being off topic, but to you... by Margie Laupheimer on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 5:36:44 PM
Here's the thing, though, Darren did not wander of... by Margie Laupheimer on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 4:12:29 PM
As I said, it's obvious to Americans that the tax ... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 5:17:32 PM
Thanks, Mary, I appreciate that, and I mean that s... by Margie Laupheimer on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 5:45:36 PM
I was either having a brain dead moment or the FBI... by Margie Laupheimer on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 9:06:36 PM
I was either having a brain dead moment or the FBI... by Margie Laupheimer on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 9:54:32 PM
I was either having a brain dead moment or the FBI... by Margie Laupheimer on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 9:57:31 PM
If there where no taxes being collected there woul... by Darren Wolfe on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 5:51:58 PM
No matter how you make a living, that income was e... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 6:52:32 PM
Can you please answer this question?Mary, have you... by Margie Laupheimer on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 7:13:55 PM
The roads are safe? There are about 40,000 deaths ... by Darren Wolfe on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 9:13:50 PM
not supported by the facts. I agree with you about... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 9:53:10 PM
You heard me.Now get me banned just like the real ... by Margie Laupheimer on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 10:54:34 PM
Sometimes I've seen people confuse what they consi... by Darren Wolfe on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 6:47:09 PM
That's what helping the less fortunate or down-on-... by BaronVonRothschild on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 2:32:06 PM
"We will reduce the size of government until you c... by kwalsh on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 8:48:20 PM
I just don't understand it. But you and I see eye ... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 8:59:34 PM
I was making the point that collections of private... by kwalsh on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 10:02:59 PM
Please do not use the phrase "no atheists in foxho... by mark barnes on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 9:29:56 PM
An economist Jeffrey Frankel first said it and sev... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010 at 9:40:41 PM
This is really not responsive. Not being the orig... by mark barnes on Thursday, Jun 10, 2010 at 2:39:21 PM
Those who think they are ones are just people who ... by Mark Sashine on Thursday, Jun 10, 2010 at 10:43:07 AM
Because so many of our wars, including the current... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Thursday, Jun 10, 2010 at 11:26:01 AM
is the equivalent of the German Nationalist Party ... by Mark Sashine on Thursday, Jun 10, 2010 at 1:42:04 PM
I hate to break this to you but the facts are diff... by Darren Wolfe on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 1:01:49 PM
Please give examples of increased regulation under... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 5:39:02 PM
...is not deregulation or a free market. The numbe... by Darren Wolfe on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 5:51:07 PM
There is an increasingly vocal and aggressive dire... by Margie Laupheimer on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 4:54:19 PM
Modern Government has become the platform for inan... by Vaikunthanath Kaviraj on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 10:38:18 PM
VK: For the Muslim cannot be a terrorist, since hi... by Margie Laupheimer on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 8:14:06 PM
The Muslim cannot be a terrorist. Those who use te... by Vaikunthanath Kaviraj on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 9:17:10 PM
Okay, Vaikunthanath, you have a point there and a ... by Margie Laupheimer on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 11:00:13 PM
Thanks for reading deeper than the surface. ... by Vaikunthanath Kaviraj on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 11:13:49 PM
My dollar is my god and heaven is when I spend it.... by Margaret Bassett on Thursday, Jun 10, 2010 at 2:55:12 PM
But I'll be darned if I ever got one to drink. New... by Dick Thomson on Thursday, Jun 10, 2010 at 5:59:49 PM
Sounds like what we have now. Is the present syste... by Darren Wolfe on Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 3:35:20 PM
Thank you, Darren. :^)... by Margie Laupheimer on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 10:43:54 AM
A great review of this article by Garry Reed:click... by Darren Wolfe on Saturday, Jun 12, 2010 at 2:28:49 PM
My point was that such things as the DEregulation ... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Saturday, Jun 12, 2010 at 6:12:29 PM
You keep repeating this dergulation mantra in the ... by Darren Wolfe on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 9:41:41 AM
So there's no point in trying to communicate with ... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 12:48:38 PM
Again, this is like Nessie. Regulators are incapab... by Darren Wolfe on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 2:39:46 PM
Since 1978 there has been a strong and consistent ... by John Sanchez Jr. on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 5:00:16 PM
Bush's Regulatory Kiss-OffObama's assertions to th... by Darren Wolfe on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 6:44:16 PM
is not evidence, it is poor argument. Counting pag... by John Sanchez Jr. on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 7:47:33 PM
You know very well that the regulatory structure h... by Darren Wolfe on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 9:10:50 PM
You are attempting to lead us, or perhaps just me,... by John Sanchez Jr. on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 9:23:17 AM
"The ONLY thing that can stand up to the natural g... by Darren Wolfe on Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010 at 4:58:12 AM
When was the last time you elected any board membe... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010 at 1:56:12 PM
"When was the last time you elected any board memb... by Darren Wolfe on Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010 at 2:47:47 PM
I'm well familiar with reglatory capture. And from... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010 at 4:09:09 PM
With the govt controlling education, the media, ba... by Darren Wolfe on Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010 at 5:21:35 PM
Suggetion: Stay away from these subjects: capitali... by Margie Laupheimer on Saturday, Jun 12, 2010 at 10:54:26 PM
Mary Bell Lockhart: But wait, what exactly IS a fr... by Margie Laupheimer on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 1:25:06 PM
I said in only a very isolated and limited sense c... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 3:44:22 PM
Mary Bell Lockhart: I said in only a very isolated... by Margie Laupheimer on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 4:19:54 PM
Actually, technically it was not an ad hominem. In... by Margie Laupheimer on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 10:05:05 PM
This comment has been flagged Reason: (Nas... by Margie Laupheimer on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 8:24:08 PM
I think the question is why do you keep flagging m... by Margie Laupheimer on Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010 at 12:15:31 PM
This comment has been flaggedReason: (Nasty Attack... by Margie Laupheimer on Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010 at 1:06:50 PM
the way it is for libel?... by BaronVonRothschild on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 1:02:29 AM
This entire idea and all its consequences is deter... by Vaikunthanath Kaviraj on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 4:26:29 PM
Nor can they be created; the market, by it's very ... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 9:27:56 PM
MBL: Nor can they be created; the market, by it's ... by Margie Laupheimer on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 9:56:26 PM
Because the market by it's very nature is NOT FREE... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 12:33:32 AM
Margie: Why can't the free market work in modern A... by Margie Laupheimer on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 1:50:18 AM
You are the one running people around in circles b... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 10:06:52 AM
That was no argument at all, not even a bad one. T... by Margie Laupheimer on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 10:31:50 AM
MBL: You are the one running people around in circ... by Margie Laupheimer on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 12:43:05 PM
I flagged your comment but when I went back to it,... by Margie Laupheimer on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 12:59:21 PM
How was my comment spam? Could you explain that, p... by Margie Laupheimer on Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010 at 12:26:47 PM
because in it, I give you all the reasons why it i... by Vaikunthanath Kaviraj on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 2:19:17 AM
But if you think that going to a 3rd world country... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 10:26:01 AM
That is the crux of the matter. If you would have ... by Vaikunthanath Kaviraj on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 1:36:18 PM
No matter how many times you try to insist that bl... by Mary Bell Lockhart on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 2:52:29 PM
Deregulation is another word for creating privileg... by Vaikunthanath Kaviraj on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 3:42:41 PM
Deregulation is another word for creating privileg... by Margie Laupheimer on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010 at 4:24:15 PM
MBL: No matter how much you try to deny it, free m... by Margie Laupheimer on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 4:09:16 PM
Precisely the point I make. But then it is turned ... by Vaikunthanath Kaviraj on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 4:19:13 PM
Hey Vaikunthanath,Yes, and the ultimate Truth as i... by Margie Laupheimer on Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010 at 11:59:46 AM
Big surprise! A career tax feeder thinks she's a g... by James Babb on Sunday, Jun 13, 2010 at 8:02:33 PM
MBL: In the libertarian topsy-turvy world, busine... by Margie Laupheimer on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 11:59:41 AM
The world needs both government and markets, both ... by kwalsh on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 at 5:47:01 PM