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by Joseph Goldstein, Special to ProPublica

This story was co-published with Slate [1].

Judge Richard Owen of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan gathered a group of lawyers in his courtroom in 2007 to discuss the possible leak of sealed documents in a business case. As the hearing got under way, Owen, then 84, asked for someone to explain this newfangled mode of communication the lawyers kept mentioning -- e-mail. "It pops up in a machine in some administrative office, and is somebody there with a duty to take it around and give it to whoever it's named to?" he asked.

Some of the lawyers figured that Owen, whose chambers came with a mimeograph machine when he became a judge in 1973, was just behind the times. Others wondered if the judge's memory was failing him. After all, the most famous case in his long career -- the back-to-back trials of Silicon Valley investment banker Frank Quattrone -- had revolved around a single e-mail. Yet he now acted as though this was the first he was hearing about it. "He didn't understand what was happening in his own courtroom," said one lawyer present that day.

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Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is further explaining his recent comment, made in a Human Events article, that Democrats passed health care reform because of an "irrational Leftist lust for socialized medicine." As he explained it in an interview just now on ABC News's Top Line, that's not such an incendiary thing to say.

King was asked about the comment, in light of recent commentary over whether heated political rhetoric contributed to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).

"Well, I'd say first that the word 'lust' is more associated with love than it is with violence," King responded. "I didn't think it's an irrational comment at all -- I just see it as the situation we're in. I have an irrational lust to love the Constitution and fiscal responsibility and individualism."

King did say that the people in Washington have a responsibility to tone it down, but also said that he did not think "the anomalous tragedy in Tucson" was relevant to that.

Stephen Colbert last night celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, saying the Civil Rights hero has finally received the reverence he deserves.

Colbert sees signs of progress all around him, not least of all in department stores' "rock bottom prices" on the national holiday. A Ford dealership in New York celebrated with an MLK Day "Sell-A-Bration" and Sears had a mattress sale.

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Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) is chiming in on the recent controversies involving a fellow potential presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, with some mild (but still quite clear) criticism -- that while he does respect her, she should watch what she says.

In an appearance on Good Morning America, Gingrich was asked by George Stephanopoulos about Palin's low approval ratings in recent opinion polls, and how she might turn it around. The recent "blood libel" flap involving Palin's response to accusations that her heated political rhetoric had contributed to the environment in which the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) occurred, was not directly mentioned, but it did seem to hang over the conversation.

"Well, I think that she's got to slow down and be a lot more careful, and think through what she's saying and how she's saying it," Gingrich responded. "There's no question that she's become more controversial. But she is still a phenomenon. I don't know anybody else in American politics who can put something on Twitter, or put something on Facebook, and automatically have it become a national story. So she remains, I think, a very formidable person in her own right."

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Sarah Palin may be reloading, but Americans are retreating from her--at least when it comes to how she responded to the shooting spree in Tucson that killed six and left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in critical condition.

According to a new ABC-Washington Post poll, just 30% of Americans approve of Palin's response to the shooting, versus 46% who disapprove. That low approval is even more striking when compared to Americans' opinion of how Obama responded to the tragedy. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said they approve of the President's response, while only 12% respondents said they disapprove.

Similarly, a PPP poll released this morning also found that a plurality of voters disapproved of Palin's response to the shooting. Forty percent of respondents to that poll said Palin's response was "inappropriate" compared to 27% who said it was appropriate.

And as Greg Sargent points out, not even a majority of Republicans think Palin handled her response well, according to the ABC-Washington Post poll. Forty-eight percent of Republicans said Palin handled the situation well, fewer than the 53% who said Palin's nemesis, the so-called "lame stream media," handled it well.

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The Supreme Court today rejected, without comment, a challenge to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Washington, D.C.

The rejection means the law will stand.

Bishop Harry Jackson, a pastor from Maryland, wanted the high court to hear his case against the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. The board refused to put a marriage initiative on the ballot, arguing that such a move would amount to discrimination.

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In a big development for the 2012 Senate races, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) is set to announce that he is retiring, the Washington Post reports -- opening up a red-state seat that could be very tough for the Dems to hold.

A moderate Democrat, Conrad was first elected to the Senate in 1986. He initially retired in 1992, but was then elected to the state's other Senate seat in a late 1992 special election -- making him the only person to have ever held both of his state's Senate seats during the same day, when he was sworn in from one to the other. He was re-elected easily in 1994, 2000 and 2006.

He was one of the Democrats who helped sink the public option during the health care reform debates, but also helped to provide the 60th vote to pass the health care bill that ultimately did pass and was signed into law by President Obama.

His historically Republican state took an even bigger swing to the right in the past year, though. His fellow Dem Senator Byron Dorgan retired, with Republican John Hoeven easily winning the seat, and Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy was defeated for re-election.

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