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“Obama And The World’s Ills”: The Republican Story Is: We Don’t Need To Bog Down In Details — Somehow, It’s All Obama’s Fault

It’s hard to recall a time when the world presented more crises with fewer easy solutions. And for the Republicans, all of these woes have a common genesis: American weakness projected by Barack Obama.

People in the Middle East, former Vice President Dick Cheney said recently, “are absolutely convinced that the American capacity to lead and influence in that part of the world has been dramatically reduced by this president.” He added, “We’ve got a problem with weakness, and it’s centered right in the White House.”

Really? It’s instructive to ask: What exactly would a Republican president advised by Cheney do in each of these crises? Let’s take them one at a time.

Iraq. It’s now clear that Cheney’s invasion of Iraq and its subsequent Shiite client state under Nouri al-Maliki only deepened sectarian strife and laid the groundwork for another brand of Islamist radicalism, this time in the form of ISIS, and more backlash against the U.S. for creating the mess. What’s the solution — a permanent U.S. military occupation of Iraq? Republican presidential candidates should try running on that one.

Syria. Obama took a lot of criticism for equivocating on where the bright line was when it came to Syrian use of chemical warfare. In fact, American military pressure and diplomacy has caused Syrian president Assad to get rid of chemical weapons. But the deeper Syrian civil war is another problem from hell. How about it, Republican candidates — More costly military supplies to moderate radicals, whoever the hell they are? A U.S invasion? See how that plays in the 2016 campaign.

Israel-Palestine. A two-state solution seems further away than ever, and time is not on the Israeli side. No American president has had the nerve to tell the Israeli government to stop building settlements on Arab lands, despite $3 billion a year on U.S. aid to Israel. What Would Jesus Do? (What would Cheney do?)

Putin and Ukraine. Russian President Putin’s fomenting of military adventures by ethnic Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has created a needless crisis. But our European friends, who have trade deals with Russia, don’t want to make trouble. So, what will it be — a new U.S.-led Cold War without European support? A hot war?

Iran’s Nuclear Capacity. The policy of détente with Iran in exchange for controls on Iranian ability to weaponize enriched uranium is a gamble that could well pay off. The alternative course of bombing Iran, either ourselves or via a proxy Israeli strike, seems far more of a gamble. Who’s the realist here?

China’s New Muscle. The U.S., under Democratic and Republican presidents alike, has become pitifully dependent on borrowing from China. Our biggest corporations have put the attractions of cheap Chinese labor ahead of continuing production in the U.S.A., creating a chronic trade deficit that requires all that borrowing. Now, China is throwing around its economic weight everywhere from its own backyard in East Asia to Africa and South America. Our troubles with Putin have helped promote a closer alliance between Moscow and Beijing. Anyone have a nice silver bullet for this one?

Those Central American Kids. What do you think — failure of immigration policy or humanitarian refugee crisis? On the one hand, American law says that bona fide refugees can apply for asylum and that children who are being trafficked fall into the category of refugees. On the other hand America is never going to take all the world’s refugees. Border Patrol agents interviewing terrified nine-year-olds lack the capacity to determine who is a true candidate for asylum. If shutting down the border — ours or Mexico’s — were the easy solution, we would have done it decades ago.

And I haven’t even gotten to Afghanistan, or the problem of nuclear proliferation, or new Jihadist weapons that can evade airport detection systems, or the total failure of democracy to gain ground in the Middle East.

The Republican story seems to be: we don’t need to bog down in details — somehow, it’s all Obama’s fault.

Here’s what these crises have in common.

  • They have no easy solutions, military or diplomatic, and U.S. leverage is limited.
  • They are deeply rooted in regional geo-politics. U.S. projection of either bravado or prudence has little to do with how recent events have unfolded.
  • Some of these crises were worsened by earlier U.S. policy mistakes, such as the Cheney-Bush invasion of Iraq, or the bipartisan indulgence of Israeli building of settlements, or the one-sided industrial deals with China, or 20th-century alliances with Middle Eastern despots to protect oil interests.

When I was growing up, there was a nice clean division between the good guys and the bad guys. Hitler was the ultimate bad guy. Or maybe it was Stalin. America won World War II, and we won the Cold War when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed.

Policy choices were easy only in retrospect. The neat world of good guys and bad guys started coming apart with the Vietnam War.

Today’s crises are nothing like the ones of that simple era. Who are the good guys and bad guys in Syria and in Iraq? In China’s diplomacy in South America? Among the murdered Israeli and Palestinian children and the children seeking refuge at our southern border?

To the extent that policy options are even partly military, the American public has no stomach for multiple invasions and occupations.

As Republican jingoists scapegoat President Obama for all the world’s ills and try to impose a simple story of weakness and strength on events of stupefying complexity, you have to hope that the American people have more of an attention span than usual.

 

By: Robert Kuttner, Co-Founder and Co-Editor, ‘The American Prospect’; The Huffington Post Blog, July 20, 2014

July 27, 2014 Posted by | Global Unrest, Middle East, Ukraine | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Convert Or Go To Hell”: The Christian Right’s Obscene, Defining Hypocrisy

For the masochists among us who tune into right-wing media, you soon learn that the all-time favorite fear pundits and preachers love to trot out is that “they” are coming for your children.

Whether it’s liberal college professors supposedly turning kids to Marxism or gay people who are accused of recruiting, over and over you hear the claim that the children of conservatives are in serious danger of being talked into everything from voting for Democrats to getting gay-married.

It’s a peculiar thing to obsess over, and not just because it suggests conservatives have an unhealthy unwillingness to allow their children to grow up and think for themselves. It’s because the imagined conspiracies of liberals trying to “indoctrinate” kids are total phantoms. A little digging shows that accusations of indoctrination are usually aimed at attempts to educate or simply offer support and acceptance. While there are always a few rigid ideologues who are out to recruit, by and large liberals are, well, liberal: More interested in arguing and engaging than trying to mold young people into unthinking automatons.

But I think I know where conservatives get the idea that other people are sneaking around trying to indoctrinate children into unthinking ideologies. It’s because they themselves are totally guilty of it, both in terms of trying to recruit other people’s children and trying to frighten their own children about the dangers of exploring thoughts outside of the ones approved by their own rigid ideologies.

Parents in Portland, Oregon were alarmed to hear that a group calling itself the Child Evangelism Fellowship’s Good News Club has been targeting children as young as five for conversion to their form of Christianity. The group pretends to be similar to more liberal and open-minded groups, claiming they are just trying to teach their beliefs but aren’t trying to be coercive. However, it’s hard to believe, in no small part because they admit they run around scaring children by telling them they are “sinners” who are hellbound unless they convert and start trying to convert others.

One mother, Mia Marceau, told the Associated Press about her 8-year-old son’s encounter with the group. “Within a few hours, however, she didn’t like what the group was telling her 8-year-old son and his friends: They were headed to hell, needed to convert their friends and were duty-bound to raise money for the organization.” Those kinds of tactics aren’t about encouraging free discourse, but about creating a cult-like mentality that discourages questions and free thought.

Accusing liberals of “indoctrination” of children does serve one very valuable purpose for conservatives: It gives them cover to launch initiatives to actually indoctrinate children into rigidly Christian or right-wing views.

Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to the issue of evolution vs. creationism. Evolutionary theory is not an ideology or a belief system. It’s part of science, a world where asking smart questions and looking at evidence and questioning what you think you know is a big part of the equation. But creationists claim that they are the skeptics who are asking hard questions and portray evolutionary biologists as the rigid ideologues who are taking their beliefs on faith. By doing so, they hope to confuse people enough about which is the science and which is the faith system so they can smuggle their beliefs into the classroom where they hope to actually indoctrinate children.

It’s easy enough to see this is true if you understand how the concept of “evidence” works. All of the “questions” creationists claim to have about evolution have all been answered by scientists. That creationists hear these answers and ignore them, preferring to pretend instead that scientists have not answered the questions, shows that creationists are the rigid ideologues in the game.

Meanwhile, creationist arguments fall apart under even the most cursory examination, and unlike scientists, creationists aren’t able to answer the questions people ask them. One reason creationists struggle to get their indoctrination attempts past the courts is that once you actually bother to look at the debate in any depth, it’s clear who is teaching people how to think and who is pushing unquestioning obedience to an ideology.

You’re starting to see the same tactic used when it comes to right-wing attacks on Common Core, a set of national standards for schools endorsed by the White House. Now, there’s plenty of reason for people who are fans of critical thinking to object to Common Core, which feeds into the same “teach the test” mentality and attempts to turn our children into worker bees that have long plagued our public school system. But right-wing complaints about it have nothing to do with that. Instead they stem from a series of fanciful claims that it’s some kind of underhanded way to indoctrinate your children into liberalism.

(Indeed, in a bit of right-wing paradoxical thinking, teaching critical thinking itself is viewed as a form of indoctrination, even though it is, by definition, the exact opposite of indoctrination. If Common Core actually promoted more critical thinking, the right’s claims that it’s “indoctrination” would probably get louder.)

But the whole scare over Common Core doesn’t actually have much to do with the realities of Common Core at all. Most of the conservative claims are a bunch of recycled scare tactics used to scare parents into believing that education itself is the enemy and that kids should be kept at home or within strictly controlled Christian right environments geared to shut down critical thinking and encourage ideological rigidity.

That was made quite clear in Nona Willis Aronowitz’s piece for NBC News where she followed a group of Christian conservatives who hit the road trying to scare people about Common Core in Texas. Never mind that Texas doesn’t use Common Core. Scaring people about a thing they call “Common Core” that is merely a stand-in for fears kids might actually get educated if they go to school is what the entire snow job they’re pulling is all about. By raising fears that kids who get a public education are being brainwashed by some nefarious liberal agenda, these activists can justify their actual desire to, well, try to brainwash kids into unblinking acceptance of whatever authority figures in their life tell them to believe.

One mother said she was protesting the current state of public education because she opposed “deeper, rigorous thinking” for her kids and wanted them to learn “that there are absolutes, that there are right and wrong answers,” even though, in reality, there really is a lot of gray between the black and white. No matter how much conservatives wish otherwise, teaching people to think for themselves is not “indoctrination” and trying to foist a rigidly unthinking right-wing ideology on them is not protecting them.

 

By: Amanda Marcotte, Alternet, July 25, 2014

 

July 27, 2014 Posted by | Christian Right, Conspiracy Theories, Ideologues | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Big Problem With Paul Ryan’s New Poverty Plan”: Accountability Is Only Required Of Poor People

Today, Rep. Paul Ryan is unveiling his latest idea to change the federal government’s poverty programs. For someone who is constantly saying how concerned he is about poverty, Ryan’s previous budgets have relied an awful lot on slashing benefits to poor people. But this time, he promises that his proposal doesn’t cut benefits, but merely reorganizes them. Some parts of the proposal might be worthwhile. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it’s still driven by the longstanding conservative desire to limit the help we give to the poor.

The centerpiece of the proposal is a consolidation of multiple separate programs into a single block grant that would be given to states; they could decide how to dispense the money, and the federal government’s job would essentially be reduced to oversight. States would choose whether or not to participate.

This sounds reasonable until you start to think about how it would play out. In practice, it’s likely that the states most eager to sign on would be precisely those that aren’t too happy about the ways the federal government provides benefits now. The devil would be in the details; what if a state decided to take its entire block grant and devote it to giving lectures to poor people on why they should get married? There could be a lot of needs going unmet while states implement their ideologically-driven visions of how poverty ought to be addressed.

Ryan’s plan assumes that the same Republican states that rejected the federal government’s offer to insure poor citizens through the expansion of Medicaid — in other words, who would rather see poor people go uninsured than get coverage from the government — are now going to be spectacularly committed and creative in working to help those same poor citizens through their time of need. Color me skeptical.

Ryan insists his plan would hold funding for these programs constant, not cut them. But it’s more complicated than that. Conservatives have long advocated block-granting of poverty programs, always with the justification that states will better deliver assistance to poor Americans if they aren’t hamstrung by requirements from Washington. But there’s little evidence that block granting accomplishes anything other than making it easier for these programs to be cut in future years or simply whittled away by inflation. As Jared Bernstein points out, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, which we used to call “welfare,” was block-granted in 1996 and has since then seen its value slashed by 30 percent in inflation-adjusted terms.

One of the real dangers of Ryan’s approach is that it would render the programs unable to deal with economic downturns unless Congress stepped in and supplied more money, which would be unlikely as long as Republicans control at least one house. So for instance, right now the food stamp program is an entitlement; if you meet eligibility standards you’re entitled to food stamps. The program can never run out of money in a given year. When the Great Recession hit, millions of Americans found themselves newly out of work and thus eligible for food stamps.

But under Ryan’s program, food stamps would be part of a block grant whose total amount is fixed. If and when another recession hit, states would be flooded with people who needed assistance, but they’d have the same limited sum of money they got at the beginning of the year. So they’d either have to turn people away or find a way to rob Peter to pay Paul, taking money out of other poverty programs to meet the increased need for food.

(There’s a brief discussion of inserting a provision into the plan to account for this kind of eventuality, but it seems neither particularly well thought-out nor nearly adequate to address what could be a major need.)

Ryan’s plan would also require “accountability” from those receiving assistance, in the form of time-limited benefits and work requirements (how you satisfy those requirements when people can’t find work is its own sad story). This too is a hallmark of the Republican approach to poverty programs, in which poor people have to jump through hoops to demonstrate their moral worth to get benefits. “Accountability” is something that is required of poor people, and only poor people. Farmers who get government subsidies don’t have to be “accountable.” Nor do government contractors who waste huge amounts of taxpayer money. Only the poor are forced to pee in a cup or account for their time or endure a hundred other petty humiliations, so we can be sure that if they get any government assistance they have proven themselves to be morally upstanding enough to deserve help.

That isn’t to say there’s nothing worthwhile in Ryan’s proposal. As he writes in a USA Today op-ed, “Right now, you have to go to a bunch of different offices to enroll in a bunch of different programs, often with different paperwork requirements and eligibility standards. Under the Opportunity Grant, you could go to one office and work with one person.” As anyone who has tried to apply for assistance knows, the paperwork requirements seem designed to hold down enrollment by making it as difficult as possible to apply. Streamlining that process would be terrific.

While this plan isn’t going to become law (at least not any time soon), it does serve a political purpose of showing that Republicans are thinking about poverty, and Ryan isn’t the only one in his party trying to revive “compassionate conservatism.” We can give him credit for addressing the issue. If only there was more reason to believe his ideas would do much to help Americans who are struggling.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; Published at The Plum Line, The Washington Post, July 24, 2014

July 27, 2014 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Poor and Low Income, Poverty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Explosive Failure”: Brownback ‘Experiment’ Blows Up Laboratory Of Democracy

When Louis Brandeis wrote in 1932 that a “single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country,” he was suggesting that state innovations might advance reform on the federal level. The progressive Supreme Court justice surely wasn’t imagining anything quite like Brownbackistan.

Under Governor Sam Brownback, however, the old Brandeis metaphor is especially apt for Kansas, where a highly publicized “experiment” in extreme tax cutting has just blown up the entire laboratory. As Kansans peer through the still-smoking ruins, they evidently don’t much like what they see.

What makes the Brownback blowup feel so familiar is that the same experiment was mounted more than three decades ago, on the federal level, under the rubric of Reaganomics – by some of the same people. It crashed miserably then, too. But the Republican right has a special knack for dressing up old mischief as fresh policy. To put this one over, Brownback has enjoyed heavy support from the Koch brothers — chief financial backers of the ultra-right Tea Party — whose industrial empire is headquartered in Kansas.

The statewide tax cut that Brownback pushed through the legislature in 2012 certainly benefited the most wealthy Kansans – people just like the Kochs – while inflicting higher taxes on middle income and working-class families through sales and property tax increases. Proceeding with expert advice of Arthur Laffer, author of the “supply-side” theory underlying the Reagan tax cuts, the gung-ho governor promised that these regressive changes would promote rapid economic growth. He predicted that his plan would produce 23,000 new jobs and over $2 billion in new disposable income for Kansans. Their tax payments were supposed to offset the loss of nearly 8 percent of state revenues.

But the results have yet to justify the hype. Today, the fruits of Brownback’s experiment include a state budget deficit of nearly $340 million this year; a decision by Moody’s to lower the rating on Kansas bonds; a growing gap in education funding at every level, from kindergarten through college; a ruinous reduction in state and local workforces across the state; and a future that promises even larger deficits and service cutbacks to come.

Advocates of the Brownback cuts – who are much more likely to be found in New York and Washington think tanks than in Kansas itself – insist that with patience, the governor’s vindication will come. Noting that the tax cuts took effect less than two years ago, they say that with time will come the jobs and revenues that Kansans expected. But over the past several months, as most states have added jobs, their state has fallen behind.

The Kansas City Star, leading newspaper in the state, recently analyzed federal employment data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics – and published an editorial comparing Kansas with other states in seasonally adjusted, non-farm total job growth. The bottom line was not encouraging. From January 2011 through June 30, 2014, job growth for Kansas at 3.5 percent was lower than its four neighbors, other Midwestern states, and even “extremely high income tax” New York, not to mention the national average of 6.1 percent. “Kansas has had one of the nation’s poorest rates of employment growth during Brownback’s time in office,” noted the Star editorial, “including since the first tax cuts took effect in 2013.” Moreover, the state actually had fewer jobs at the end of June than it did seven months ago.

As a creature of the Koch machine, Brownback naturally blames this embarrassing data on Barack Obama, the devilish socialist in Washington. But polls show that whatever Kansans may think of the president, they aren’t so easily bamboozled by such arguments anymore. Their opinion of the governor is declining almost as quickly as the state’s revenues — and in some polls he is trailing the lesser-known Democrat, Paul Davis, who bravely challenged him this year. Even some prominent Republicans recently declared they would rather elect Davis than continue the destruction that Brownback is inflicting on their state.

Nationally, the Republican Party still promotes Brownback as an innovator with expertise in growing the economy. The Koch brothers will deluge their home state in dark money and Tea Party propaganda before they let him fall. But if the voters boot him in November, this latest experiment in extremism will be ranked as an explosive failure.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor-in-Chief, The National Memo, July 25, 2014

July 27, 2014 Posted by | Kansas, Koch Brothers, Sam Brownback | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Did The GOP Turn Into Such A Bunch of Clowns?”: Lurching From One Strategic Screw Up To The Next

For a lot of reasons, the current era will probably be seen as unusually consequential in the history of the two parties, particularly the GOP. For Republicans, it has been a time of ideological hardening and bitter infighting. But one aspect of the Republican dilemma hasn’t gotten as much attention as those: This is a time of unusual, even stunning, Republican political incompetence.

Let me back up for a moment, to put what I’m saying in context. As the 2012 election approached, liberals began to understand just how deluded many conservatives were about empirical reality, and in ways that could do them serious political damage. It’s one thing to deny climate change (a denial that may benefit you and your allies), but if you convince yourself that you’re going to win when you’re actually going to lose, you’re hurting no one but yourself. When they began to rally around a guy claiming to “unskew” the 2012 presidential polls that showed Barack Obama heading for a victory, liberals had a great time ridiculing them. But then it turned out that even within the Romney campaign—including the candidate himself—people who were supposedly hard-nosed political professionals had convinced themselves that it was just impossible they could lose, whatever the polls said. As seen in an unforgettable bit of election-night television, Karl Rove, the party’s most celebrated strategist, refused to believe that Romney had lost even when Fox News called the race for Obama.

Once the race was over, there was some soul-searching within the GOP about their loss, but most of it concerned the party’s image as a bunch of unfeeling, out-of-touch white guys who couldn’t appeal to young voters and Hispanics. (Needless to say, this is a problem they’ve yet to solve,) There was some discussion about the conservative information bubble and the distorting effects it can have, but nothing changed—lots of conservatives still get their news from Fox and Rush Limbaugh, and assume that everything in the New York Times is a lie.

There seems to be little question that the alternative media universe they built, which was once a strength for the right, has become a liability. But their biggest problem now isn’t the things so many conservatives believe about the world that aren’t true, or what they think will happen that won’t. It’s about the strategic decisions they make, and where those decisions come from. Think about it this way: Has there been a single instance in the last few years when you said, “Wow, the Republicans really played that one brilliantly”?

In fact, before you’ll find evidence of the ruthless Republican skillfulness so many of us had come to accept as the norm in a previous era, you’ll need to go back an entire decade to the 2004 election. George W. Bush’s second term was a disaster, Republicans lost both houses of Congress in 2006, they lost the White House in 2008, they decided to oppose health-care reform with everything they had and lost, they lost the 2012 election—and around it all they worked as hard as they could to alienate the fastest growing minority group in the country and make themselves seem utterly unfit to govern.

In fact, in the last ten years they’ve only had one major victory, the 2010 midterm election. But that didn’t happen because of some brilliant GOP strategy, it was a confluence of circumstance; the natural tendency for the president’s party to lose significant numbers of seats two years after he’s elected, and the stagnant economy would have meant a big GOP victory no matter what they did.

Since then they’ve lurched from one strategic screw-up to the next, the root of which is almost always the same: It happens because they’re deluded into thinking that the country shares their particular collection of peeves and biases.

In fairness, this is a challenge for both parties and, indeed, for everyone involved in politics. When politics is your life, it’s hard, if not impossible, to think like an ordinary, inattentive voter thinks. When you’ve spent so much time convincing yourself that you’re right; the idea that anyone else who’s even remotely fair-minded wouldn’t agree can seem nothing short of absurd. It can be hard to persuade people when you can’t put yourself in their shoes.

But again and again, Republicans seem shocked to find out that Americans aren’t on the same page with them. They’re flummoxed when the public doesn’t rise up in outrage to demand more answers on Benghazi. They’re befuddled when shutting down the government turns into a political disaster. They’re gobsmacked when the electorate doesn’t reject Barack Obama for saying “you didn’t build that,” and even more amazed when he gets reelected. And in between, they can’t come up with any strategy to accomplish their goals, whether in policy or elections. Again and again, they think the American public is going to see things their way, and when the public doesn’t, they never seem to learn anything from it.

It isn’t always pure bumbling; there are times when the GOP follows an unwise strategic path not because of miscalculation, but because of unavoidable internal dynamics within the party. For instance, they’ve failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform not because party leaders don’t understand the political necessity of doing so, but because most members of the House come from conservative districts where comprehensive reform is unpopular, and therefore it makes sense for them to oppose it.

It would be too simple to put the GOP’s recent string of missteps and disasters down only to the struggle within the party, which yields a course ultimately determined by its radical wing. It is important that Tea Partiers, while being very good at figuring out how to make life miserable for the rest of their party, are abysmal when it comes to devising strategies for appealing to the country as a whole. But it’s equally relevant that the supposedly more pragmatic and experienced conservatives haven’t found a way to handle the snarling beast on their right flank and turn the whole ghastly mess into something that can fight Democrats with any modicum of success.

This shows no sign of changing. They’re going to win seats this November, but once again it won’t be because they came up with some brilliant strategy. If they win the Senate it will be because Democrats are defending more seats this year, many of which are in conservative states. (Two years from now when that situation is reversed, Democrats will almost certainly take back the Senate if they lose it this year.) Republicans will probably gain a few seats in the House, but don’t forget that in 2012, they retained their sizeable majority despite getting fewer votes nationwide than Democrats: Their advantage there is baked into the distribution of congressional districts.

And look at the people lining up to run for the White House in 2016. Does any one of them seem like the kind of brilliant politician who can navigate the deadly obstacle course of a two-year long presidential campaign and win over a majority of American voters, including millions who aren’t already on board with his party’s agenda? Who might that be? Ted Cruz? Rand Paul? Bobby Jindal? Rick Perry? Facing that collection of political samurai, Hillary Clinton must be positively terrified.

There are still plenty of smart Republicans out there. But the days when Republicans would run circles around Democrats, outdoing them in fundraising, messaging, organizing, and every other aspect of campaigning and politics, are a fading memory. The 2010 election may have blinded us to how long it’s really been since they set out to achieve a political goal and made it happen through their acumen and judgment. I’m sure that one day the GOP will get its strategic mojo back. But it could be a while.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 24, 2014

July 27, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Ideology, Republicans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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