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In defending his decision to fire Shirley Sherrod, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack explained multiple times that his department has a "sordid" and "checkered" history of both overt and institutionalized racism. But with the term "racism" being tossed around rather a lot recently, it is important to understand both what he meant -- and what role that acknowledged racism played in Shirley Sherrod's life.

It's also important to understand that Andrew Breitbart's timing of the release of the grossly distorted video of Sherrod, which he admits having had for weeks, may not be entirely random. Congress will soon vote on whether to fund part of a settlement between the USDA and African-American farmers who faced acknowledged discrimination -- farmers like Sherrod and her husband used to be. It's a tiny piece of the upcoming war supplemental bill.

The USDA settlements with African-American farmers are a longtime bête noire of the right, which they deem a giveaway to a core Democratic constituency. It's not clear whether Brietbart's release of the video was specifically intended to hurt the chances of other African-America farmers to receive recompense from decades of discrimination that caused them to lose their farms, but conservatives immediately used the video to attack the settlement. The discrimination claims, known globally as the Pigford settlement, is the elephant in the room, so here's the background.

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They say you can never go back, but if there's one thing TPM has learned over the years, it's that Glenn Beck doesn't adhere to conventional wisdom. Which is why we cooked up some Easy Mac, cracked open a Keystone Light, and revisited TPM: The College Years by enrolling in the online lecture series known as "Beck University."

In the latest installment Wednesday night, called "Charity 101," we learned what charity has to do with federalism. (Hint: Nothing.)

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1||July 21, 2010: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) debuts her House "Tea Party Caucus," a group of roughly three dozen conservative House members who aim to give voice to the Tea Party movement on Capitol Hill. (There's actually been some confusion on Bachmann's end about who exactly is a member and who isn't, but we're going off her latest list).

So without further ado: Meet the Tea Party Caucus.||Jeff Malet/

2||Louie Gohmert (R-TX)||Jeff Malet/

3||Steve King (R-IA)||Jeff Malet/

4||Paul Broun (R-GA)||Jeff Malet/

5||Michele Bachmann (R-MN)||Jeff Malet/

6||Dan Burton (R-IN)||Jeff Malet/

7||John Culberson (R-TX)||Jeff Malet/

8||Joe Barton (R-TX)||

9||Michael Burgess (R-TX)||Newscom/RollCall&&

10||Pete Hoekstra (R-MI)||

11||Phil Gingrey (R-GA)||

12||Trent Franks (R-AZ)||Newscom/CQ&&

13||Gary Miller (R-CA)||Newscom/KRT&&

14||Jerry Moran (R-KS)||Newscom/RollCall&&

15||Mike Pence (R-IN)||Newscom/Zuma&&

16||John Carter (R-TX)||Newscom/CQ&&

17||Tom Price (R-GA)||Newscom/UPI&&

18||Joe Wilson (R-SC)||Getty Images&&

19||John Fleming (R-LA)||Newscom/RollCall&&

20||Cynthia Lummis (R-WY)||Newscom/RollCall&&

21||Walter Jones (R-NC)||Newscom/RollCall&&

22||Randy Neugebauer (R-TX)||Newscom/UPI&&

23||Pete Sessions (R-TX)||Newscom/UPI&&

24||Cliff Stearns (R-FL)||Newscom/CQ&&

25||Todd Tiahrt (R-KS)||.gov&&

26||Lamar Smith (R-TX)||Newscom/RollCall&&

27||Doug Lamborn (R-CO)||.gov&&

28||Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD)||Wikimedia Commons&&

29||Denny Rehberg (R-MT)||Newscom/UPI&&

30||Todd Akin (R-MO)||Wikimedia Commons&&

31||Tom McClintock (R-CA)||cc: McClintock for Congress&&

32||Rodney Alexander (R-LA)||Wikimedia Commons&&

33||Rob Bishop (R-UT)||Newscom/KRT&&

34||Tom Graves (R-GA)||Newscom/RollCall&&

35||Adrian Smith (R-NE)||.gov&&

Former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT) will begin running TV ads in the Connecticut Senate race that he seemingly quit in May -- fueling speculation that he never really quit at all.

Last week Simmons said that he hasn't made any "final decisions." He still has $1 million in the bank, and his name remains on the primary ballot. In late June, former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO and Republican frontrunner Linda McMahon publicly accused Simmons of continuing to run a stealth campaign against her.

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In the wake of the Shirley Sherrod debacle, and his Keystone Kops-eqsue role in it, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack shifted into a full damage-control mode this afternoon. He reportedly called Shirley Sherrod to offer her back her job (she was, at publication time, still considering), held a press conference at the Agriculture Department at which he offered her a public apology and prepared to follow it up with a reported confab with the Congressional Black Caucus.

So much for limiting the fall-out from the Breitbart video.

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The Tides Foundation, which prosecutors in California say was among the targets of the anti-government unemployed carpenter Byron Williams before he got into a chaotic shootout with several law enforcement officers Sunday, is also a favorite topic of Fox News host Glenn Beck.

Beginning in 2009 (and as recently as last week), Beck has repeatedly included the group -- along with ACORN, the SEIU and George Soros -- in his cabal of liberals and liberal organizations that are supposedly agents of President Obama's plan to spread Marxist and socialist ideas throughout the United States.

Of course, that doesn't mean that Beck necessarily inspired or influenced Williams' alleged plan to attack the Tides Foundation. But the group has been something of a whipping boy for Beck over the last year.

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His father, the Senate Majority Leader, may be back on top in his Senate race against Sharron Angle (R), but Democratic Clark County Commission Chair Rory Reid is foundering in his campaign to become Nevada's next governor, a new poll suggests.

A PPP survey released today shows Republican Brian Sandoval, the former federal judge, with a commanding 14-point lead over Reid.

The poll has Sandoval with 52% and Reid with 38% of the vote. Those numbers are a bit tighter than those from the three most recent Rasmussen polls -- which had Sandoval's margin over Reid at more than 20 points -- but they nevertheless seem to spell trouble for Reid, whose favorable rating is only 34%, compared to Sandoval's 42%.

The TPM Poll Average gives Sandoval a lead of 54.5%-35.5%. The margin of error of the latest PPP survey is ±3.9 percentage points.