Let’s Have This Fight

I have not published anything on this blog in many months, but tonight seemed historical somehow. The events of the last week lead me to conclude that there are those whose view of the state of our nation is not just different from mine, but radically different.  The events of the last week bespeak a perspective where the ends justify the means. I can only conclude that there are large swaths of our country that see the world in a way that I have difficulty imagining. This conflict over the Affordable Care Act has laid bare the polarization that plagues our country. Yet, in my heart, I don’t believe that the individuals who comprise our populace are so different from me. Confronted with injustice, the individual American seeks to right a wrong. When faced with families struggling to make ends meet, most Americans want to help. Only in the abstract do we lose our humanity. The ideological fight pits us against the stereotype, the nameless loafer, the free-loading benefits collector, the racist extremist. Demonizing abstract figures comes easily. Our radio and TV hosts figured this out long ago. Those demagogues simplify the stakes of the game. Good guys versus the bad guys. Political philosophy neatly packaged and backed up with emotionally charged assumptions that are preached as truth. This appeals to those who seek confirmation of the views they wish to hold and those whose powers of reasoning are too tired to challenge these tirades. We all want the world to fit neatly into a box that is predictable, understandable and conforming to the truths we hold dear. But these yearnings leave us susceptible to suasion. And as I have watched the clock tick down to a government shutdown, I think that that demagogues have done their jobs too well. The congregation of radio faithful do believe! The words tossed into those microphones, spoken again and again, criticizing, convincing, confirming the philosophies held dear have finally borne fruit. The converted are now acting on their beliefs, and their actions now control their legislators.

But I think they have done their jobs too well. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the boomerang of a conservative tirade is now reaching the Congressional coastline, an irrational tsunami of discontent. The rules that have given predictability and strength to our government have been cast aside as the righteousness of a cause demands that rules be ignored.

It would seem I need to reconsider my view of how government works. Laws are no longer really laws. The will of the people, as expressed and voted by their representatives in accordance with our Constitution, can be frustrated.  Thus, no law is really law. The government, the markets, the financial well-being of the world can be upended by a disenchanted minority.  Have we really reached this point?  Is a law whose aim is to afford health care to as many people as possible really the source of such discontent, or is it a lightning rod for something deeper?

Throughout history ideas have been proven good or bad.  The future implementation of the Affordable Care Act will determine in which category it belongs, but  the conduct of the House over the last week suggests that the rules of the game have changed.  A passionate minority now seems committed to the idea that their ideas justify extraordinary, unprecedented means.  I disagree.  The strength of our system and our value to this world hinge upon a willingness to advocate your ideas within a framework that ultimately produces an outcome.  The drafters of our system carefully constructed a process that strived to protect against the extreme.  If an idea makes it through this process, then it deserves allegiance if not respect.  Laws have meaning.  A group of legislators in the House now seem willing to adopt a new set of rules that opens our system to ambiguity.  If one chamber of one Branch of our Government can effectively rescind a law, then the framework of our Government is at risk.

I don’t want to risk that framework.  If the Government must be shut down to bring this to a head, then so be it.  We need an electorate that focuses, even for just a few days, on these events.  This House of Representatives has put ideology before duty.  As bad as they may think the Affordable Care Act is, and as horrible as they believe the consequences may be, our system will allow such horrors to be addressed.  But these legislators know that.  They understand how laws are passed and how they can be changed.  So, in my mind, this is not really about protecting us all against the horrors of the ACA.  There are pathways to accomplish that end.  Something more fundamental is underway.  This shutdown marks the first real skirmish in the battle for the soul of our country.  So for those of you who have been on the sidelines, it may be time to suit up.


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Christie’s Missed Opportunity And What He Might Have Said

Governor Christie’s free ride had to end sometime.  The expectations were simply too high.  He maximized his public persona with waves of town hall meetings where he waged a deft social media campaign to mold himself into the tough-talking, ass-kicking Governor from the rough and tumble State of New Jersey.  I never saw a “Jersey Strong” bumper sticker before he came to Trenton.  His badass brand appealed to voters nationwide who hunger for leadership.  Many wondered whether he might be the savior who could bark some sense into a populous in need of a dose of reality when it comes to the sacrifices looming down the Turnpike.   But I think he overestimated the nation’s affection.  As this year progressed, he looked interesting, even promising, but the jury was still out.  Unfortunately, his performance this week missed the mark, and the jury will remain out. But he should take heart, others have suffered similarly and lived to campaign another day.

To be fair, Governor Christie was overhyped.  He has a strong personality, but I never viewed him as a gifted speaker, and the New Jersey Comeback is another example of his marketing genius.  And yet, here he was, with an audience ready to anoint him as the heir apparent in 2016.  I’m sure he’s thinking backstage that if he brings his blunt, fist-pumping “A” game, he can’t miss.  I’ve seen him deftly handle the powerful unions, strong-willed Democratic opponents and other traditional power brokers in New Jersey.  His manipulation of town hall meetings demonstrated a media/marketing savvy that catapulted him to national renown.  He stole headlines stoking his New Jersey chutzpah in clashes with loudmouths in town meetings and on the Jersey boardwalk.  This guy thumbed his nose at millions of federal dollars for a new tunnel to New York City.  So, when his moment finally arrived, I was not surprised when he stepped from behind the curtain and pumped that meaty arm into the air clapping like he’s about to lead that sea of milk toast onto the gridiron.

And then he gives his speech.  No real surprises I guess.  I had a few flashbacks to my high school football locker room, and I wanted to tell him to stop yelling at me.  I don’t want an offensive line coach as my President, but I figured he’d be burlier than usual.  But as the speech dragged on, you could feel the Convention audience begin to sag, like football “dummies” softened by years of blocking practice.  His yelling seemed contrived and his ego inflated.  I sat for awhile, like so many others, and realized that this speech was by him, about him and all for him.   Big mistake.

When you are the Governor, especially in New Jersey, you can make it about you.  You hold tremendous authority and as a Republican you are in pitched battle with a Legislature that will always be Democratically controlled.  When he came to Tampa, we already knew he talked tough and followed through on his promises.  We had followed his many visits outside New Jersey where he threw his weight around and bolstered the campaigns of his more testosterone challenged fellow Republicans.  We didn’t need more of that.  We needed to see another side of our Governor, something more than the brusque football coach.  Republicans hoped that he would add some heft to their Presidential candidate, whose personality is so unlike our Governor’s.

Maybe Governor Christie was swept up in what must be an intoxicating swirl of accolades.  Perhaps he felt that 2012 should have been his year.  For whatever reason, he put himself before the team and everyone could see it.  All of these Convention speakers should understand one thing.  We don’t want to hear you tell us how great you are (or how tough your grandfather had it).  We want to reach that conclusion on our own, discerning greatness and promise as we listen to your vision for our country.  We yearn for the reluctant, charismatic leader who demands and inspires us to be better. Governor Christie seemed intent on bullying us into believing he should be President.  Instead of touting his record, as distorted as it was, he needed only to build the case for Governor Romney.  Had he done so, he would have set the table for his 2016 campaign.  As it is, he did serious damage to his chances.

As I thought about it, I got to thinking what he might have said.  So, for whatever it’s worth, this is what I think he should have said:

I stand before you tonight as the humble servant of the people of the State of New Jersey.  Humble because this son of New Jersey, who grew up in the most modest of circumstances, believed in a system that rewards hard work and perseverance.  My mother taught me that fervent study in a strong public education system would prepare me for the work ahead.  She encouraged me to give back to my fellow citizens.  She made me believe that my time in politics would afford me the privilege of service to my fellow citizens.  She taught me that plain-speaking candor and honesty resonate with a public hungry to improve this great country of ours.  Some say I may have taking that advice too far, but if I have, I did so with the goal of overcoming a mode of governing that doomed future generations to a lifetime of excess debt and financial failure.   I have dedicated myself to calling things as I see them and pulling no punches.  I have been very fortunate thus far in my career in that my New Jersey brothers and sisters have entrusted me to abandon the traditional approach to governing and take bold steps to undo decades of short sightedness by elected official from both sides of the aisle.  And if I never do more than serve out my term and make this speech tonight, I will live my life content that I lived the beliefs my mother instilled in me.  I think that’s all each of us can expect to do, live out our beliefs in a world that challenges them so steadily.

Tonight will be no different.  I will speak plainly and honestly, because I believe in what I am telling you, and I am confident in the man of whom I speak.  Our country finds itself at a crossroads.  My generation has stood on the shoulders of those who came before us, and we have enjoyed the fruits of their sacrifices.  As we grew, so did the wealth of this country.   The Cold War ended, the Wall came down, totalitarianism failed, and we saw ourselves striding confidently into a 21st Century where our values and our leadership might change the world forever.  But as we enjoyed this prosperity, the seeds of the great challenges we now face had already been sown.  In our contentment, we let our guard down.   Those of us in this conventional hall tonight, elected representatives with a duty to our fellow citizens, collectively failed to guard the corridors of freedom.  Following a pattern well worn in civilizations past, our wealth and our success dimmed our vision and loosened our grip on the levers of government.  Our country prospers when our citizens participate in its governance.  In recent times, we lost our way.

And now we must pay the price. Prosperity is not pre-ordained, and borrowing our way to prosperity is a prescription for permanent pain.  The shock of the last few years has disoriented many and disillusioned more.  Correcting the damage will require a plan.  Not just any plan will do.  We need a plan for our future that will day by day, month by month and year by year guide us back to prosperity.  I have waited patiently for almost 4 years to hear that plan.  But my patience is at its end.  Some call me a moderate.  But I think that simply means that when I deal with someone, if you speak the truth, regardless of your party stripes, I will work with you, even support you.  Had I heard a plan, had I been convinced that the collective train encompassing each of the states of this great nation was embarking on a new journey with a clear vision for our country, I would gladly climb aboard.  But ladies and gentlemen, this train has no locomotive.  We have no engineer, and we desperately need one.

Our dire financial circumstances demand extraordinary leadership.  We need the best engineer.  We need the strongest locomotive. Governor Romney arrives at this moment in history with an unmatched resume for taking charge of this train.  Our greatest problems are financial in nature.  This country, this business of ours, needs fixing, and Mitt Romney has spent his life fixing broken businesses.  They called him to Salt Lake City to fix the Olympics and he did. He understands like no one else how our economy impacts our businesses.  Most of us would find tedium in the business of balance sheets, income statements, chains of distribution, ROI’s, mergers, and countless other financial minutia consumed, analyzed and organized with an eye toward increasing value and improving efficiency.  But in this present moment, where our nation’s balance sheet has never been worse, we need the wisdom of someone who can discern a path from this dark place, fire up the engines of this economy and get this train moving once again.

We can’t waste more time.  We can’t hope for a new vision from our current President.  He means well, but cannot bring to bear the toolchest carried by our nominee.  Providence has delivered Mitt Romney to this moment in history.  He seeks this office not to sing us songs or tell jokes.  He’s not promising a smooth golf swing.  He’s not checking opinion polls in Europe.  No, Mitt Romney asks for your vote so he can get to work.  That’s what he does best.  And he’s ready to get to work saving our country.  As I stand before you tonight, I beg you and my fellow citizens with all my heart, to get aboard the train, and come November, make damn sure Mitt Romney is driving.

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Paul Ryan Won’t Talk Specifics

I was driving this morning and listening to the Larry Kudlow show on WABC.  I do not share Larry’s unmatched enthusiasm for supply side policies, but if you are interested in the economy, his discussions are informative, and it helps me understand the arguments on both sides of the debate over our national debt, deficits and monetary policy.  Today, he played an interview with Paul Ryan that I found revealing.  Larry appreciates Congressman Ryan’s supply side pedigree, but he also understands that you can’t just endorse a plan for solving the economic woes of our country without getting specific as to how you would achieve tax cuts for wealthy Americans without raising income taxes on the middle class.  A Wall Street Journal editorial by Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s former President of the Council of Economic Advisers, drove this point home this week.  Citing a report I mentioned in an earlier blog post, Mr. Goolsbee notes that if Ryan and Romney follow through on their budget plan, the lost revenue from tax cuts benefitting the wealthiest Americans “exceeds the value of all the relevant deductions and exemptions in the tax code combined—charitable giving, mortgage interest, state and local taxes, health insurance not counting as taxable income, etc. So to keep the deficit from increasing, middle-class tax increases are inevitable.” Economists on the left claim Romney’s plan would “could impose a trillion-dollar tax increase on the middle class while still managing to increase the deficit by an additional $2 trillion.”

Larry Kudlow sees the soft underbelly of Ryan’s plan, recognizing that you can’t tout a budget plan without explaining what steps you plan to take to achieve the outcomes you claim. In his interview with Ryan, Kudlow gently prods Paul Ryan, referencing the Goolsbee article (implicitly acknowledging its credibility) and asks him to be specific. Citing the $4M shortfall created by the Romney plan, Larry tries to pry some specifics from Ryan. Check out his efforts here. At minute 9:55, 12:45 and 14:22, Kudlow seeks specifics. By the end, with no specifics from Ryan, he simply seeks estimates of the spending cuts that would be necessary, $700B, $800B, $1T? Like the Apostle Peter, Paul Ryan has three chances to own up to the details of his budget plan, and three times he bobs and weaves. When Larry asks him for the third time, Ryan says these details will be the subject of a “long debate” with Congress.

In essence, Paul Ryan has no plan and is asking that we trust him. He assumes, perhaps correctly, that people’s eyes glaze over when it comes to these details, and he will get a pass as long as he keeps tossing out phrases like “pro growth” and “get people back to work”. I welcome someone to post or explain to me how his plan will achieve the tax cuts he proposes, protect Defense spending and balance the budget. Not possible. From what I have seen so far, he is no guru or economic savior. He speaks well, uses all the right supply side lingo, but when pressed, refuses to get specific. I will vote for anyone, regardless of Party, who acknowledges the fiscal problems we face, speaks honestly on the sacrifice necessary to fix it, and asks those who have benefitted the most from our “free markets” to give up their low tax rates, forswear offshore tax shelters and accept means testing of governmental benefits. Instead, I expect what we will see is hundreds of millions of dollars pouring into Republican superpacs in an effort to protect the vast wealth migration that our lobbyist-induced tax code has enabled a sliver of our citizens to accomplish over the last 20 years.

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Pandering to the worst elements of the far right, Governor Romney returned to his “roots” and said “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.” Mitt’s unspoken insinuation is that doubts remain as to where the President was born. And Mr. Romney knows all too well that the birther movement feeds on an undercurrent of strong feelings, cultivated in fear, that subtly deem the President as foreign or un-American. These sentiments allow for billboards like this or comments like this from this Judge in Texas.  Rather than speak out against these hate-filled zealots, Governor Romney gives credibility to their disturbing rants. These personal slights breed in the same slime pool that spawned Michelle Bachman’s claim that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin is a Muslim Brotherhood agent.

Fortunately for the President, every time Governor Romney begins to gain ground in the polls, he makes unscripted comments in public. Determined to show his creds as the arch conservative he’s not, his comments bring into sharper focus a man uncomfortable with who he is and thus willing to pander to the worst elements of the crowd he finds himself in. He flys over to Israel and starts dissing Palestinians as lesser humans when he’s preaching to the Israeli Jews. While he’s at it, he throws Mexicans under the bus as subsisting in a a lesser culture. He reminds me of the guy we all know who leans over and whispers some comment or slur and gives you the elbow in the ribs and the big smile “you know what I’m saying”? I get the feeling that Romney is one of those guys. He’s searching for himself, and his history of shifting policy positions reinforce this unfortunate truth.

I hope he finds himself soon, because I am tired of the people he’s pandering to. Nuns taught me to take care of your fellow man, have compassion, don’t judge. Few of us follow the model very well, but I can’t get behind a platform that says take care of yourself and and trust the super rich guys to run businesses that will treat us really well. Mitt doesn’t seem willing to stand up to the crazies in his own party and that scares me a bit. My hope is that come November, while no one may be asking for his birth certificate, there will still be some who want to see his tax returns.


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Obama the Conservative

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August 17, 2012 · 10:09 pm

My Debate Wish

The clashing political views polarizing our society will reach a fevered pitch as the debates draw near.  No doubt each campaign will prep their candidate with facts and figures, pulling from the political histories of the candidates and their VP choices. Candidate Romney will hammer Obama over the $3+ trillion debt padding and Obama will remind Romney that Romneycare was the archetype for Obamacare.  Romney’s missing tax returns will counter Obama’s missing economic recovery.  The dark lord of Bain Capital versus the neo-Socialist, advocate of big government.   The candidates will serve up predictable, rehashed critiques of their opponent’s record that come October will be the well-worn subject matter of ads paid for by overfunded superpacs.  

For my money, give me one debate that prohibits the candidates from criticizing prior votes, prior budgets, prior statements, plans or positions. Give me a debate where the past is prohibited.  (I understand that prior conduct and statements are relevant when deciding who to vote for, but by October we will all be super-saturated with the records of these two men).  What we need is a debate where we hear in the clearest possible terms what these two guys are planning to do for us.  I want to know how they will deal with our national debt without pushing us back into recession.  What do they see as the biggest challenges facing our country?  What are the real threats to our security in the next decade or so, and how should we realign our forces to deal with them?  What should be our relationship with China be?  What are the goals of our educational system for the next 25 years and how will they mold it to make us competitive in this rapidly changing world?  What sacrifices are you asking for from the American people?  

I don’t know about you, but I am ready to sacrifice, provided I understand the context of the ask.  What vision for our country am I being asked to get behind?  I don’t want to hear about liberals who want to undermine our freedoms or the conservatives who favor big business over the underprivileged.  No stereotypes please, no shameless appeals to the unsupported assumptions based on barbershop wisdom or email chains Uncle Roy sent you.  I don’t have time for us versus them, because I work with “them”, I am related to “them”, and I am protected by “them”.  

I want to know what plan these future Presidents have for our country.  I want to be inspired, I want to be led.  Tell me how we will tap into the incredible capacity for work and unmatched productivity of this country.  Don’t blame the most recent wave of immigrants for our problems. Please tell me how you will tap into the drive and energy that brought these people here and make them part of the solution.  No more blaming.  We don’t have time anymore.  Give me a realistic assessment of where we are, and a fair plan for how we get to where we need to be. Be brave gentlemen, our country needs courage right now.  

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Ryan Deserves Your Scrutiny

I did not know much about Congressman Paul Ryan when Mitt Romney announced his choice for Vice President.  I had seen him doing one of those Republican responses to the President’s State of the Union, or some such speech.  From what I saw, he spoke well, looked young and fit, and did not produce in me any immediate, negative reaction.  He seemed a little unemotional, but, as a Catholic, I felt a certain affinity to  this young, energetic guy with the Irish name.  In my mind, how bad could he be?

Once I heard he was the choice for VP, I figured I better do my homework on Paul Ryan.  I read a good article in the New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/08/06/120806fa_fact_lizza), written just days prior to Saturday’s announcement.  I looked at information on his web page about his budget proposal.  I read articles on the webpage for the Tax Policy Center (http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/).  In searching these documents, I did so concerned that Mr. Ryan may harbor some of the same illusions as his  running mate about how easy it is for poor people to rise above their worsening economic circumstances.  I have written previously on my belief that Mr. Romney’s comments abroad suggested a lack of perspective when it came to the socio-economic forces standing in the way of upward mobility for many Americans.  Was Mr. Ryan another Social Darwinist using his personal life experience as a yardstick for measuring the upward mobility of his fellow Americans?

The answer seems to be a hardened “yes”.  In reaching that conclusion, I believe Mr. Ryan is probably a good man who believes fervently in the views he espouses so energetically.  But his record is unmistakable and deserves your scrutiny.  His current proposal radically cuts funding to Medicaid by making Medicaid a block grant program.  He proposes massive tax cuts with few details on where much of the money will come from to offset these cuts. His plans for a two-tiered personal income tax system with rates of 10% and 25% would drastically reduce revenue, but he refuses to consider higher rates for the wealthiest Americans.  This ensures that millions of poor and middle class voters will pick up the slack.  His plan for Medicare ventures raises serious questions about whether those vouchers will keep pace with rising health care costs.  Make no mistake, his policies and proposals reflect choices.  He believes that saving money for rich people and their businesses beats providing the most basic aid to poor people.  There is no other explanation for these policies.  What makes them especially abhorrent is that Mr. Ryan has no personal life experience that would justify the extraordinary degree of certainty he brings to policy positions that work such harsh consequences on the most vulnerable in our society. Even the Catholic Bishops take issue with the morality of his budget choices.

I also have yet to see justification for the claim that he is the “detail” man for the Republicans on budget issues.  In searching these documents, I see a massive tax cut with lots of gaps on how these cuts will be funded.  I also see gaps in Mr. Ryan’s perspective.  Like his running mate, he has never had to wonder whether his family will be safe financially.  He has not had to consider life without health insurance or walking to work in a crime-ridden neighborhood.  I don’t think his safety net has every been in real jeopardy.  From what I can tell, he has not held a job in the private sector since high school.  And while you could say the same thing about me on many of these points, the difference is that I know it.  What makes these guys scary is that they believe their own success justifies policies that rely upon a creed that says the path to success for all Americans can follow a route similar to theirs.  When it comes to making decisions on how the most vulnerable in our society will be treated, I think I will cast my lot with the guy whose character was forged in more challenging circumstances and whose perspective casts a pessimistic eye on the idea that investing in our richest citizens will somehow benefit the least of us.


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Romney’s Delusional Drift

Fresh off his trip abroad, Mitt Romney’s performance adds new fuel to a fire whose slow burn has been getting hotter.  This tax thing won’t go away, and the Democrats will drive his campaign into a dark corner over it.  If it is as bad as it is starting to appear, I have a tough time believing the powers that be would have let him get nominated.  And yet, Sarah Palin comes to mind.  If he paid little or no taxes over the last decade or so, how could the Republican establishment have endorsed his nomination?  Based on Harry Reid’s recent comments, these tax problems have surfaced before.  In normal circumstances, the faltering economy would make the President’s re-election next to impossible, but Mitt’s wealth and his apparent track record of paying a meager tax bill may offset the President’s economic bad news.  I don’t believe people should pay more taxes than the law requires, but the question here is how far did Mitt go in manipulating arcane provisions of our tax code and moving money offshore.  If he went as far as I suspect he did, then his recent comments about the “cultural” differences between Palestinians and Jews and the U.S. and Mexico, suggest he has no appreciation for the significant advantage that his wealth and his ability to hire the best tax shelter specialists have given him.  More disburbing, they bespeak a belief that hard work amidst unregulated corporations produces financial success for him and anyone willing to match his efforts.  As voters begin to sharpen their focus, these beliefs and the extraordinarily favorable tax treatment he received will not sit well with the 99%.  Before he criticizes those whose circumstances deny them the opportunity of ever achieving his financial success, he should  acknowledge that his privileged upbringing makes such comparisons absurd.  Perhaps he has acknowledged this already (and I applaud his tithing), but I sense that he has moved though life in a delusional existence and has no appreciation for how most of the world lives.  Unless he wakes up and admits that he has been successful in large measure due to good fortune and a very friendly tax code, his campaign will drift inevitably into the hands of an angry mob of voters unfamiliar with such good fortune and who pay a far larger share of their income to the Government he now hopes to lead.

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NJ Political News | NJ Political Topics | Say What NJ

NJ Political News | NJ Political Topics | Say What NJ.

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Krauthammer Critical of Romney

I don’t always agree with Charles Krauthammer, but he is a conservativeforming his opinions based on what he really believes.  Unlike the talk radio types, he does not appear to be motivated by a singular, political purpose of unseating our President. While I know he would revel in a Romney victory, he remains willing to criticize his guy.  Others in the media save all their venom for OBama or whomever they have targeted and refuse to cast a critical eye toward whomever they are rooting for. Click link  below for video.

Krauthammer on CNN.

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