Class Warfare Blog

June 24, 2017

Call Them Scum and See them Flock to Your State!

Who said “ye shall reap what ye sow?” (That particular phrase is not in the Bible, but equivalent phrases are, many times.)

Republicans have been beating on teachers for years, calling them “pigs at the public trough,” and undermining their collective bargaining rights, as well as blaming them for all of the ills of our public schools. (The last complaint is like blaming auto workers for the bad designs of General Motors cars in the late twentieth century.)

The law of unintended consequences applies, though, and Nevada, a leading Republican bastion, is facing a 22% shortage (!), that’s one in five, in qualified teachers in their schools (see here). Who needs ‘em, you ask? Ask the kids in classes that have one of the bodies plugged into place in their stead. The qualifications for teachers were not established by teachers, they were established by democratically-elected school boards and democratically-elect law makers to set minimum standards of competence for teachers. What does it say when your schools boast of having one of five teachers not up to minimum standards?

But then, many in the GOP are in favor of doing away with democratically-elected school boards anyway. Replace them with corporate boards. They are much more responsible to their communities needs.

Missing in all of this is the reason the GOP and their conservative backers have gone after unions: basically teachers tend to vote democratic and had the temerity to form unions which not only work for better benefits and rights for teachers, but also advocate for students. Them students should learn to sit down and shut up and be happy with whatever paycheck they end up with.

Too much democracy is not a good thing. This is also why GOP state governments are disempowered local jurisdictions (cities, counties, etc.) wholesale.

This is not “alt-right” stuff but alternate universe stuff. Sheesh!

June 22, 2017

Trumpcare Will Remove Drug Addiction Treatment Because …

According to Nicholas Kristof’s NY Times column today:

A Times investigation published this month estimated that more than 59,000 Americans died in 2016 of drug overdoses, in the largest annual jump in such deaths ever recorded in the U.S. One reason is the spread of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is cheap and potent, leading to overdoses.

About as many Americans are expected to die this year of drug overdoses as died in the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.”

Read that last sentence again and then line it up with the GOP plan to remove addiction treatment from insurance policy requirements.

Now you know where their hearts are: the GOP is only interested in tax cuts for the wealthy. The rest of us, very, very little.

May 20, 2017

An Argument for a Minimum Wage

There have been myriad studies about the impact of having a minimum wage. Some indicate that there is no particularly strong linkage between creating a higher wage for low wage workers and some indicate that a rise in the min wage causes unemployment.

The politicians arguing against a min wage use a very simplified argument: namely that if employers have to pay their workers more, they will only be able to hire so many workers, mostly fewer. This is way too simple in thinking this. For one, if people are paid more money, they then spend more money (what goes around, comes around) which is good for business. There are many more facets to this issue.

If labor costs go up, and they have myriad times due to labor contracts, etc. how, oh how, do companies cope? (Yes, I am being sarcastic.) The amount of money that goes to labor in any company is not a fixed amount or even a fixed percentage of the company’s budget. There are many, many ways that those increased labor costs can be offset. For one, you can raise prices for the goods created. You could decrease profits. You could find other ways to reduce operating costs (reduce energy costs by going solar, etc.).

Knee jerk responses to these actions abound, of course. “If we raise prices, we will reduce sales!” Really? Companies never raise prices, then? C’mon, get real. Just raising prices alone, of course, is the lazy way to deal with increased labor costs; a combination of actions would be better.

Most of these minimum wage discussions are shallow and politically motivated. Basically, the opponents of min wage increases give minimal arguments and only add to them if we don’t accept (aka we reject vehemently) their overly simplistic argument.

Let me explain a real reason for min wage increases. Minimum wage increases are justified for the simple reason is that business interests (aka the plutocrats) have conspired to suppress wages for a long, long time. This involves bribing politicians to undermine union powers and privileges, delaying minimum wage increases, changing the laws in favor of employers over employees, etc. They have been particularly effective over the past 40 years (see the chart below as to the effectiveness of wage suppression over the past 40 years). The only power source of ordinary people to oppose these powerful business interests is government. The cabal wants wages low (too low) and so government must set a floor on wages. It is not simple but at least that is the political dynamic.

If you want to see this playing out right now, consider the current stance of the GOP. The GOP has been the champion of local rights for a long time. Education, for example, should not be a federal issue, but should reside in the states, with the states deferring to local communities and their school boards. So, what has been the GOP response to cities who have enacted their own min wage increases? GOP dominated states are passing laws to roll back those democratically achieved minimum wage increases and to bar such local increases in the future. Local control doesn’t mean a fig when the GOP’s paymasters issue directives (You will keep wages down, or else).

May 18, 2017

GOP Gives Lie to Their “Small Government” Goal

The GOP has clamored for smaller government, mostly at the federal level, for many decades. “Big Government” was a term said only as a slur. In particular, the GOP has advocated that the federal Department of Education should be dispensed with as education was the responsibility of the states. (I do not argue with that point.)

But, well, times have changed. In particular, the GOP is in power and positioned to do almost anything they want to do. So what do we get? According to a press release from the American Association of School Administrators:
“Alexandria, Va. – May 17, 2017 – Legislation pending in Congress would create new opportunities for corporations and successful investors to earn huge profits by transferring public funding to private schools, according to a report released today by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
“The legislation—the Educational Opportunities Act—would put two new federal voucher tax shelters within reach for many more Americans and lead to an explosion in funding for private schools. It would also keep in place an existing federal loophole that permits savvy taxpayers to benefit from ‘double dipping’ practices, where they receive a federal deduction and state tax credit on the same donation to a private school entity. At present, high-income taxpayers in nine of the 17 states offering voucher tax credits can turn a profit using this technique.

So, apparently, federal meddling in the state’s business of educating the next generations is now okay now, because … money.

May 5, 2017

Egad, Economic Uncertainty is Real!

During the recent Democratic administration, Republicans often ranted about “uncertainty” with regard to investment. You see, the economy tanked in 2008 and the recovery was feeble (still is). Banks were given huge amounts of money at zero interest with the hope they would loan that money, cheaply but profitably, to businesses looking to expand. The key word was “hope” in that the government attached no strings to those zero interest loans. Consequently the banks bought securities with the money, causing the stock market to “recover” rapidly but no one else. When upbraided about this anti-social behavior, the Republicans countered with there was “too much uncertainty” in the market for business to expand. They rather should have stated there is too much bullshit in politics; that would have been closer to the truth.

The real reason businesses did not expand with all that cheap money around, is that they possessed even cheaper money (U.S. businesses had $2+ trillion dollars in cash reserves at one point.) and they weren’t spending that either. The reason? Simple: no demand. This is shockingly self-evident for people who know nothing about economics other than “supply and demand.” If there is no demand, supply is irrelevant (even though some economists tried to claim the opposite—see Say’s law). There was no demand because those business’s customers were broke, still are.

So, when Mr. Trump was elected and the GOP captured both houses of Congress, well … “Happy days are here again, the skies …” uh, no? No. Even though gasoline is quite cheap now, no one is buying much. Retail business are offering lower and lower pricing and still no surge in buying.

People are sitting on the sidelines economically because, well, they are uncertain about the future. When a person’s future is potentially very bad, they hunker down, save their money, and prepare for the worst the best they can.

Mr. Trump’s policies have never been particularly coherent, which was by design. When Mr. Trump claimed he was going to deport 11 million “illegals” from the country, many people translated that into “I will have more job opportunities.” (Right, by picking crops and doing day labor out of the local Wal-Mart?) When Mr. Trump claimed that he was going to transform Obamacare into something better, people applied their own definitions of what “better” meant. But healthcare is a complicated subject (“Who knew?”) and Mr. Trump’s party’s first effort at it was horrifically negative. (Hunker, hunker, hunker,…) Then there was the “tax reform” promised. People thought “my taxes will go down” and “I could use the money.” What they didn’t think of was that rich people’s taxes would go down much more, thus reducing government tax receipts, causing many government programs to be terminated, government programs that ordinary citizens are dependent upon, of course, not the rich. (Hunker, hunker, hunker,…) Then the current administration launches missiles in Syria and threatens nuclear war in North Korea. (Hunker, hunker, hunker,…) and….

The economic uncertainty of businesses as a reason for why they weren’t investing in their own businesses was pure political spin. They were anything but uncertain, in fact they were absolutely sure there was no demand, so no expansions. But the economic uncertainty of individual citizens is palpably real. We are not spending much money right now because we don’t know whether we will have affordable healthcare available, whether Social Security will still exist, or Medicare … all of these have been threatened by the GOP.

All of these threats are coming home to roost. We are in line for another recession, possibly as early as this summer. The ordinary tools used to combat recessions are not available (cut interest rates … why? … how?) and the GOP is dead set against deficit spending (the tool that really works) unless it enriches the rich or the military industrial complex.

Buckle your seat belts, folks. If you think things are uncertain right now, well, winter is coming.

May 2, 2017

Please Stop with the “Trump This …” and the Trump That …”

Recent articles have crowed about the GOP cave-in on the budget by talking down Mr. Trump’s vaunted “negotiation skills,” as if the President actually negotiated budget agreements (none do). These headlines are part of a long series of headlines claiming the source of this or that activity by “Trump …” when clearly they are not Mr. Trump’s ideas or initiatives.

To wit: can you name one idea that is Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Trump’s alone? The Wall? Remember John McCain’s campaign stop in Arizona at “the Wall?” Heck, it was being built before Mr. Trump even mentioned it. How about tax reform? (Please, this is as common as there are people with tax axes to grind.) Money for the military? Get tough on NATO … the Chinese (currency manipulators?) … the Russians? All pre-existing ideas.

Can you name one initiative of the GOP that Mr. Trump has tried to husband through? (Hint: There is only one.) The GOP health care initiative? (Got it in one! Good job!). Mr. Trump actually picked up the phone and called some fence-sitting legislators about this one, but clearly this was not Mr. Trump’s plan, it was a mishmash of whatever the GOP thought it could get away with and call it “health insurance reform” or rather “The Repeal of Obamacare!” Mr. Trump did blurt out that he was releasing a tax reform plan within a week, which resulted in that bizarre one page memo that was anything but. Where is the vaunted organizational skills of the GOP on display. Can’t they enroll their usual allies in the Think Tank World to crank out some of these plans, on topics they know they want to address? How could they not come up with a decent tax reform plan? (I can understand the health care miasma (It’s complicated; who knew?), but tax reform is low hanging political fruit.)

I know it is traditional to put the president’s name on all initiatives of his administration, but this is giving our president too much of what he clearly craves: attention. If he deserves it, fire away. Otherwise direct your comments where they belong, at the people leading the charge.

I can’t wait for some foreign leader, when asked to respond to one of Mr. Trump’s tweets or one page memos, to say: “Mr. Trump says many things. We will wait until he actually does something to comment.”

What he has done so far can be described as “a number of things done in the last administration have been undone.”

April 20, 2017

Why Conservatives Used to Fear Big Government and Now Only Pretend To

I used to believe that Conservatives opposed government because government was the only social institution that had the standing to oppose anything they wanted to do. I thought the Party of Big Business was just taking care of business.

But I was wrong and I have to apologize to those previous Conservatives. It is not as simple as I made it out to. So, if there are any Conservatives out there reading this, I apologize for underestimating you.

Here’s what I think the situation is now.

You Know Who

Back in the late 1800’s, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America:
I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest — his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind ; as for the rest of his fellow-citizens, he is close to them, but he sees them not — he touches them, but he feels them not ; he exists but in himself and for himself alone ; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country. Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood ; but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in perpetual childhood : it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness: it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances — what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living? Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent ; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range, and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things : it has predisposed men to endure them, and oftentimes to look on them as benefits.

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned them at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting : such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence ; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

Sorry for the length of that quote but I think the vision is important, and obviously it was had a long time ago and probably before de Tocqueville. In the 1800’s the American experiment was still quite an odd affair. People governing themselves with no king or emperor? Preposterous. It took World War I to break the pattern of the divine rights of kings. But while Americans were afraid of despots taking over then as now, that is true fascism, de Tocqueville observed that it is quite possible that The Government Itself could become a substitute despot. And de Tocqueville was not alone.

Many Conservatives feared “Big Government” back in those days for that very reason, a good reason. And compared to the size of “government” now, it was puny back then. This anti-Big Government trope became a cornerstone of Conservative ideology that has lasted to this day—Do not let government grow to the point that our lives are ruled by it. So, the insistence that the Founders of the Constitution were small government advocates (most were not) came from there and a lot of other stuff.

But the New Deal, combined with the expansion of the federal government as a response to World War II drove the Conservatives a bit over the edge. A number of them decided that “if you can’t beat them, join them.” Instead of actually opposing big government, they decided that while the posturing would continue, the goal was the capture of the government and the running of the government for their ends into the future.

“So, while it looks like Conservatives fear Big Government,
they do not really fear it any more.
They have accepted that it is despotic,
that they couldn’t defeat it, but they could co-opt it.”

So, while it appears that Conservatives oppose “Big Government” only because it is the only social institution left that can oppose the will of Big Business, that is only a scrim, a stage setting. The monied interests (rich individuals and corporations) have already purchased our governments (sufficient of them in number to constitute a majority). They own the GOP. They have purchased most of the Democrats. They own the Courts. Now “shrinking of the government” is only a guise for the rubes. The drive to “reduce the amount of government regulation” (cue the voice of Foghorn Leghorn) is not to “reduce the size of government,” it is to get government out of business pockets. The drive to have tax reform is not to “reduce the size of government” but to cut taxes on the rich, so they will have even more money to buy governmental interests.

They are now officially, but not openly, okay with big government. (Most people didn’t notice that under the last six presidents, the government grew more under Republicans than Democrats.) Now with regard to government, it is the more the merrier, as long as it address their needs. Can you imaging the howling if the federal government picked out one business, say FedEx, to “defund” and to pull support from as they have done with Planned Parenthood? The howls could be heard on the Moon. But Planned Parenthood? It is okay for the federal government to attack it … now. You will see more of this.

So, while it looks like Conservatives fear Big Government, they do not really fear it any more. They have accepted that it is despotic, that they couldn’t defeat it, but they could co-opt it.

Until we, The People, deal with the oligarchs and roll back despotic government, it will continue to hang like ripe fruit in front of the eyes of rich men and corporations who know what to do with it. And it is for sale, no matter what we might wish.

April 11, 2017

You May Want the Federal Government Run Like a Business But Do You Want It Run Like One of His Businesses?

A common GOP trope now is that the federal government, all governments really, should be run like businesses. This idea is quite silly but has caught on because of the general dissatisfaction with government, something brought about by a propaganda campaign against the government by the GOP. Interesting gambit that: drum up general discontent creating a climate for the solution you favor. (Can you spell Nazis, boys and girls?) Their solution, by the way, is not running government as a business but running government for business.

As a little experiment, list all of Mr. Trump’s executive orders and then force each of them into one of two categories: 1) good for the people (makes the government better or stronger) or 2) good for business owners. This, of course, is a false dichotomy as many of these things will ultimately prove to be bad for both, but just doing this will take the temperature of the current administrations actions. (Actually, most of the EOs are symbolic in nature and at the beginning of long paths to implementation of anything, but that is another topic.)

Back to my main topic. Mr. Trump runs his businesses by squeezing labor by employing undocumented immigrants, avoiding union contracts, etc. and by squeezing those who are in agreements with him: local governments all the way down to the vendors serving his businesses. He also uses the courts to create advantages for himself: for every bankruptcy he has actually begun, he has threatened many more. He has threatened to sue people so many times that he could be the senior partner in a law firm. When one has considerable capital and can hire lawyers, nuisance lawsuits provide a lot of leverage over people for whom the legal costs are ruinous or at least damaging. And, I do not think he could threaten bankruptcy for the federal government, but he could create economic chaos through government shutdowns, debt defaults, etc. All of these are the high drama, high profile scenarios Mr. Trump favors as his business style.

Businesses owners are often casual at best toward the externalities of their businesses. Externalities are the physical “commons” we all share responsibility for. So, historically, businesses have dumped their wastes into the air, into the water, and onto the land with no thought of taking responsibility for the problems those waste “disposal” processes create. Did businesses lead the charge to clean up our waterways? our air? our waste disposal sites? If you are old enough, you remember that the “business community” fought these actions tooth and nail and are still doing this. It was government that lead the charge. (I remind you the our governments are effectively “us” for the purpose of collective actions.)

It was government, especially the federal government, that passed things like the Clear Air Act and other sets of government regulations that have made our air quality far better than it used to be. When I was in the fifth grade on the San Francisco peninsula, I was sent home from school one day because of smog. LA was far worse as the SF peninsula was surrounded by water and had clearing winds. Such smog alerts no longer happen, thanks to government regulations. Then there was the regulation for unleaded gasoline to prevent lead poisoning (opposed by business), the regulation for unleaded paint to prevent lead poisoning, especially of children (opposed by business), the gas mileage standards (opposed by business), the acid rain regulations (opposed by business), … need I go on?

So, has Mr. Trump made us safer or healthier by his diktats? Let’s see, he has made it okay for coal companies to go back to dumping their toxic waster (laced with heavy metals, like mercury, etc.) back into streams, he has set aside higher gas mileage standards, he produced an EO that asks agencies to review any regulations that could “potentially burden the development or use” of oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources so that action could be taken to eliminate regulations. So much for wind and solar, who needs them and what’s a little pollution from coal power plants or nuclear ones; we can safely store radioactive waste, somewhere, we’ll figure it out. Doesn’t sound like a promising start, but then he did promise to “do away with burdensome federal regulations,” but not at any time being specific as to whom or what they are a burden.

So, if Mr. Trump’s Administration is being run like a business, who are the workers and who are the customers? If you are a worker, you will continue to be squeezed as that’s what Mr. Trump and his minions do in their businesses. Customers “buy” from a business, that is services or goods. If you pay taxes, then you are a customer. Do you expect better service? Mr. Trump has promised less of it (except military services and Homeland Security services). He has promised better service, but his budget proposal (actually Mr. Trump had almost nothing to do with the current budget proposal but it is traditional to attach the “ultimate cause” label to all presidents, so …), his budget proposal slashes services to “customers” right and left and then slashes the budgets of the agencies that are providing what remaining services there will be. How this equates to “better” is very hard to see.

So, do you think Mr. Trump is running the federal government as a business or for business? What do you think?

April 6, 2017

I Don’t Get It

The definition of “it” in the title is probably very, very long (very!). In this case it is our current debate about healthcare.

There is continuing support for certain functions of government to be paid by the government. Unlike knuckle-dragging conservatives, I do not see “government” as being some outside agency closely representing a skin cancer (something you want shrunk and or carved out), but as a representative of “us.” We are completely fine with “single payer” K-12 education. Citizens and non-citizens alike can register their children to attend a neighboring school and there the children receive an education with no further costs. (Yes, I do know there are myriad costs associated with a child in school, but those are not directly related to the education they receive.) This is, accurately, not a “single payer” system as multiple government agencies are involved, so maybe a better description is “government paid” for this schooling. We also have many other services that are “government paid.” For one, the military. For another, our government offices. When you go to your local councilman or alderman’s office for information or a complaint, there are no fees associated with those services. In all of those cases, the “government”—remember that means “us”—picks up the full tab.

The argument goes that those services are “essential,” that is we all need them and money should be a barrier to whether or not you receive those services.

Oh, there are also the police, fire services, the courts, etc. There are many things that fall into this category of “things we all pay so everyone can partake equally.” In some cases, this is the “many” protecting itself from the “few.” Many vaccinations are low cost, even free, to avoid the spread of diseases.

I don’t get why health care is not one of those things.

I understand that people, especially politically conservative people, have bought into a capitalistic “pay as you go” culture, uh, well, kinda sorta. The biggest proponents of “individual liberty/individual responsibility” are not all self-made people, many inherited money. If Donald Trump had invested all of the money he inherited in stock market index funds, he would have four times as much money now as he claims to have, according to some accounts. (So much for him being a good businessman, he has managed to lose only three quarters of his potential net worth. He is, at best, a mediocre businessman.) The Koch brothers inherited millions (and built upon those, yes). Mitt Romney, who claims that nobody helped him, was given two million dollars of “seed money” to help him get started as well as being given access to his really well-connected father’s associates. The Walton clan … well, daddy made the big pot for them.

For those without great wealth in this group are people who received help along the way from government (aka “us”) agencies. Help with their educations, help with business loans, help from other government agencies, etc.

But them poor people, they lack drive and ambition. They should go out and start a business. Really, you mean those business startups that have a 90% failure rate after three years? Where would they get the money to take that very risky venture? The banks? Wall Street? Venture Capitalists? (Sorry, laughing so hard my sides are aching.) If you haven’t noticed, over the last 30-40 years, businesses have stopped investing in their own business. They have accumulated trillions of dollars of cash reserves that are just sitting there. So, these are the people poor people are to emulate? (Step 1 Pile up a mountain of money. Step 2 Sit on it. Neoliberal Business Practices 101)

Poor people need to go out an get a job, then? Oh, do they mean the jobs conservatives have suppressed wages on for decades so they do not pay enough to meet a person’s expenses? Those jobs? All of the anti-union, anti-minimum wage rhetoric is not coming from poor people, it is coming from the same conservative ass holes who are insisting that everyone should “pay as you go.”

I do not want single-payer healthcare. (Currently I have Medicare and a Medicare supplement policy, and I pick up the slack those two do not cover, so there are at least three payers there, certainly at least two.) I want government paid health care. It is at least as important as an education for our kids, if not more so.

There’s more but my spleen just gave out.

* * *

Poverty is not due to a lack of character, it is due to a lack of cash. (I don’t know who said this first.)

March 20, 2017

The New Administration’s Budget

As vague descriptions of the new administration’s 2017-8 federal budget are being circulated, people are shocked, shocked I tell you, that that proposal eviscerates the Environmental Protection Agency and myriad other federal programs that actually help people (Meals on Wheels … gone, Support for Planned Parenthood … gone).

I do not see how anyone could be shocked at these long promised moves. This is the political party that has railed against and taken every opportunity to diminish labor unions, organizations that only exist to protect workers and their rights. It has also railed against Social Security and Medicare, the two most successful programs ever created to avoid poverty, especially in senior citizens.

They have reasons for doing these things, but if you watch carefully, you will see their lips moving, a clear sign they are lying. They are gutting these social programs for one big reason, their paymasters desire it. All of these efforts make working class people more compliant, less likely to strike back, and place as little opposition to what the plutocrats wish to do as possible.

The GOP said it wanted to, it tried to do it before, and now it is doing it. If you are surprised, you are an idiot.

Let me now … warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party….
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration.
It agitates the community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms,
kindles the animosity of one part against another….

George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796

In this new era of globalization, the interests of companies and countries have diverged.
In contrast with the past, what is good for America’s global corporations
is no longer necessarily good for the American people.

Ralph Gomory, Former IBM VP

Wake up people, the corporations own this administration.

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