Author Archives: Scott Gurvey

The GOP Clown Show

It is said that insanity is repeating the same action over and over expecting to get a different outcome. At least we have a name to put on the Republican clown show on full exhibit in the House of Representatives.

With the entire world watching Republicans, who hold a narrow majority in the House, have failed to muster a majority in the vote for Speaker, the powerful leadership position vacated by Democrat Nancy Pelosi following her party’s loss in the last election.

Eleven times in three days the Representatives-elect have voted for Speaker. Each time Democrats have been unified, voting for Hakeem Jeffries of New York. Jeffries would be the first African American to lead the House of Representatives and each time he has received the most votes. But each time Jeffries has fallen short of a majority for the simple reason that the Democrats do not have the majority.

The majority is held by the Republicans, who in speech after speech have proclaimed their victory indicates a clear mandate from the American people to change the direction of government. If you believe that, I have a gavel I’d like to sell you.

The Republican majority is the result of extreme gerrymandering and a series of false steps by Democrats who, among other disasters, managed to lose four seats in the Democratic stronghold of New York.

But this is a story about Republicans, whose majority leader, Kevin McCarthy of California, has failed in eleven votes to fulfill his lifetime goal of becoming Speaker. McCarthy has a solid two hundred votes, numbering among them more than one hundred insurrectionists who voted to overthrow the legally elected president in the January 6 coup attempt just two years ago.

But McCarthy falls short because he has repeatedly failed to convince another twenty Republicans to go his way. These twenty are, if it is possible, even more insane than McCarthy and his followers. While the McCarthy crew strives to take power while exhibiting nothing in the way of policy or strategy, or any indication they are prepared to govern, the crazier twenty appear to want to destroy the government as we know it without any plan beyond the chaos they desire.

McCarthy has been reportedly making tremendous concessions to the crazy twenty, in effect turning the speaker’s gavel over to them, but it has not proven to be enough to win their votes. He has even called in the insurrectionist in chief, Donnie Trump, to make calls to the crazy twenty on his behalf. Trump’s calls did not change a single vote.

There is of course, a bipartisan compromise. It would only take a dozen or so Republicans, who actually want to see a functioning government, to agree on a compromise candidate Democrats could support. That would produce a bipartisan majority to elect a speaker. Don’t hold your breath.

And so, we sit, going into a fourth day and a twelfth ballot, with the world watching, wondering if the Republicans can get their act together.

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Our House is a Mess

For the first time in one hundred years, the House of Representatives could not elect a Speaker on the first ballot.

As the 118th Congress convenes, the first order of House business is the election of a new speaker — and current Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California is being stymied by a group of GOP hardliners demanding concessions.

To win the gavel, McCarthy needs a majority of the members-elect who are present and voting. But because the GOP holds only a five-seat advantage, a small number of defections is so far stopping McCarthy from gaining the office he’s long sought. In fact, on the first two ballots McCarthy lost his caucus by nineteen votes. That grew to twenty votes on the third ballot. The Democrats were united through it all, supporting minority leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York with their 212 votes.

The House can conduct no other business until a speaker is chosen. For the first time in a century, the vote is requiring multiple rounds.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The Republicans are too divided to govern, The Democrats are too stupid to get elected.

Updates as appropriate.

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Winners and Losers

We still, the day after, do not know which party will have the majority in each house of Congress. But we do know that this was no rno ed wave, with Republicans sweeping to big time majorities.

I credit myself. Obviously, it was my impassioned plea that got out the vote and produced results that confounded the wisdom of the pundits. Patting oneself on the back is declassee, but all the commentators do it. I may as well too.

Georgia is once again heading into a runoff for one of its Senate seats. That may decide the balance of power in that body. In the House, while the Republicans are favored to take control it appears that it will be by the slimmest of margins, meaning a challenge to Kevin McCarthy for the Speakership and a headache for whoever becomes the Speaker in trying to corral his or her wild herd over the next two years.

So, who wins and who loses? Besides me of course? Joe Biden and the Democrats win by not losing too badly. That bucks the general trend for an off-year election and a party holding the White House. And of course, the Republicans also win. Even with a narrow majority in one house they will be able to play their favorite role of pain in the ass for a Democratic president.

Pro-choice supporters seem to have won in most of the places the issue was on the ballot. According to exit polls, 27% of voters picked abortion as “mattering most in deciding” their vote, coming in second of five choices. Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont all chose to enshrine abortion rights in their state constitutions.

And young people won. In her always insightful column, Professor Heather Cox Richardson notes that the Gen-Z-ers turned out and voted, a fact supported by the exit polls. And they appear to have favored Democrats by a 28-point margin.

Who were the losers? Both Democrats and Republicans again of course. And Donald Trump, who made a lot of noise endorsing his favorites and stumping for Republicans, only to find more of his chosen ones on the losing end of the ticket than on the winning side. The well-respected Politico Playbook writes that Trump had as great an impact, on the negative side, as Biden had on the positive side with his last-minute appeal to democracy and decency.

Trump also loses because of the big, big reelection win for Gov. Ron DeSantis, who beat his opponent in the Florida election by nearly 20 points. DeSantis has succeeded in turning Florida red, a big loss for Democrats, and many Republicans want him to run for president in 2024, against, if he runs, Donnie Trump.

Another Trump enemy, Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, easily beat Democrat Stacey Abrams. Kemp stood up to Trump’s attempts to overturn the results in Georgia in 2020.

If that all wasn’t bad enough for the former president, one of the other winners of the night was Liz Cheney. Both of the Democratic House members she endorsed (Elissa Slotkin in Michigan and Abigail Spanberger in Virginia) won their races, and Lake in Arizona, whom she opposed, is behind as this is being written.

I will have more later, as the picture becomes clearer, but I would not hesitate to say the biggest winners of the night are us. So, pat yourself on the back. We faced the abyss. And stepped back in time.

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How Could You?

If you are voting for Democrats, you can leave now. This isn’t for you.

If you are voting for Republicans, or not voting at all. Stick around. I have a question for you.

What the hell are you thinking?

Do you hear the words, “Democracy is on the line” and chuckle? Don’t. It is.

There are more than three hundred people running for election who believe the Big Lie that Donnie Trump won in 2020. He didn’t. Sixty judges and scores of election officials, many of them Republican, said he didn’t. There is hard physical evidence that HE knows he didn’t. NO evidence of improper voting that changed the outcome of the election was discovered anywhere.

The big lie is a politically expedient cover for a coup, a takeover of the government. If these three hundred co-conspirators win this election, your vote in 2024 won’t matter. If their right-wing cabal wins, they will declare the election legitimate. If they come up short at the ballot box, they will throw away your votes and substitute their own. Heads they win, tails everyone else loses.

Just remember, Hitler was elected. So was Mussolini. So was Putin.

And why are you voting against the Democrats and in favor of the insurrectionists? Because your gasoline prices are too high? Guess what? So are mine.

You sit on your rears and let the MAGA Republicans, I use that term because Republicans in the mold of the party of Lincoln could never win a primary in today’s Republican party, tell you that President Biden is to blame for the higher gas prices, and for inflation overall.

Those lies are amplified by the jackals of the right-wing media, led by the Rupert Murdock brigade at Fox. Anyone with a high school education in arithmetic who is willing to do a little research can demonstrate that these are lies. But that takes a little work, and you can’t be bothered.

The principal cause of the current inflation is pent-up demand. We are making up for the Covid years. Remember them? For two years we stayed at home. We didn’t drive. We didn’t fly. We didn’t buy gasoline. Now we are.

There is little President Biden or Congress itself can do in the short run to lower prices. The Federal Reserve can, and is, raising interest rates. That will snuff out the flames of inflation eventually. But the Fed will have to be very skillful, and lucky, to do that without causing a recession.

The Republicans also complain that the Covid stimulus spending was inflationary. Yes, it was. But it was a tradeoff and well worth the balance. Inflation now while cushioning the impact of Covid then. The stimulus kept food on the table. It kept people from losing their homes. It raised disadvantaged children above the poverty rate.

And it helped make the huge loss of jobs a temporary phenomenon. The unemployment rate is now fully recovered from the Covid spike. And this all happened on Joe Biden’s watch.

In fact if you check you will see that the Covid impact was much worse in America than other countries. That’s because of the denial by Trump and the Republican governors. It cost hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

The national debt, which grew during the Covid downturn, has stabilized under the Biden administration. And despite all the caterwauling by the Republicans, the debt does NOT historically rise under Democratic administrations. It DOES rise under Republican administrations because their one and only economic strategy is to lower taxes on the wealthy and corporations so that the richest people in the country get richer and many of the most profitable companies pay little or no tax on their profits. Cut revenue and the debt goes up. Got it?

Go ahead. Look it up. “America,” as the great writer Aaron Sorkin once wrote, “isn’t easy.” Do the work. Stop listening to the lies of Trump, and Steve Bannon, and Rupert Murdock, and Tucker Carlson. Think for yourself.

The Republicans have no plan for inflation. Give them control and all they will do is cut taxes for the rich. Then cut Social Security and Medicare for the rest of us. They will reverse attempts to lower the cost of medicine. And investigate and impeach anyone and everyone in the Biden administration, tying up the government with a few shutdowns along the way until 2024.

And if crime is what’s bothering you, do the homework. Violent crime rates are NOT skyrocketing. Violent crime rates are higher in the red states than in blue states. MAGA Republicans are lying to scare you. And you are falling for it.

Republicans do have plans to convert most government jobs from civil service into political appointments, creating a huge patronage army of loyal subjects. They will make sure the only promotions in the real army go to officers who are willing to use force to achieve their right-wing goals. What Trump, called, “My generals.” They will place a religious litmus test on judicial appointees, who Donnie called, “My judges.” And purge the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, and the offices of inspectors general of anyone who would follow the law and stand in their way.

They will delete references to science in government studies, websites, or in Department of Education approved curriculum. They will remove the United States from world organizations and from the world stage and give a green light to and support any authoritarian government the holds out a hand.

And of course, they will enact national restrictions or even a ban on abortion. MAGA Republican Mehmet Oz, running for the senate from Pennsylvania, the state next to his home in New Jersey, told us so. He says the federal government should have no say in a woman’s decision to have an abortion. He believes that decision should be made by the woman, her doctor, and her local government representatives. You can’t make this stuff up

They will also legislate against LGBTQ rights, affirmative action, free speech, immigration reform, and any other so called “woke” movement most of us call civil liberties. They profess to favor civil liberties, but that in their eyes means the liberty to be whatever they believe in.

This is not debatable. The MAGA Republicans have made their intentions clear. And every political poll that I follow indicates they will win.

Samuel Adams said to have a villainous ruler imposed on you was a misfortune. To elect him yourself was a disgrace. The disgrace is upon us. It has been nearly 250 years since the founding. As representative democracies go, it was a decent run.

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Dobbs 3. What’s Next?

When Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, stripping American women of the Constitutional right to make their own healthcare decisions and making the personal religious dogma of the majority the law of the land, he tried to reassure the shocked nation that other rights would not be endangered by future decisions, writing, “to ensure that our decision is not misunderstood or mischaracterized, we emphasize that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh went so far as to put down his beer and write a separate concurring opinion specifically naming cases people arguing that Roe v Wade be upheld see at risk:

First is the question of how this decision will affect other precedents involving issues such as contraception and marriage—in particular, the decisions in Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U. S. 479 (1965); Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U. S. 438 (1972); Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1 (1967); and Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U. S. 644 (2015). I emphasize what the Court today states: Overruling Roe does not mean the overruling of those precedents, and does not threaten or cast doubt on those precedents.

I don’t buy a word of it.

To believe other rights are not in danger you would have to be as naïve as Senators Susan Collins and Joe Manchin. I think, and certainly hope, my readers are smarter than that.

For once in his life it may be Justice Clarence Thomas who is unabashedly telling the truth. Thomas could keep a mental health professional fully employed just dealing with his neurosis but his repressive self-loathing is on display for anyone who has taken an elementary psychology course. Of legal interest is the fact that he is a walking talking conflict of interest. But the most egregious of his conflicts involve his wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas.

Ginni represents many companies and others with business before Congress and the courts. But her husband refuses to recuse himself when sitting on cases involving them. Recently we have read emails released by the House Select Committee to investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol revealing that Ginni Thomas worked with Trump lawyer John Eastman, who had written a detailed plan to attempt to persuade then-Vice President Mike Pence to throw out the 2020 election results on Jan. 6. Ginni urged Arizona lawmakers to replace their electors, pledged to Joe Biden by popular vote, with electors supporting Donald Trump. Ginni won’t appear before the January 6th Committee. And Clarence won’t recuse himself from cases regarding the more than eight hundred, at this writing, people charged with crimes in connection with the scheme to overturn the 2020 election.

But on the question of overturning fundamental rights, Thomas to up front and tells us in a concurring opinion to Dobbs exactly what he has planned:

in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Because any substantive due process decision is “demonstrably erroneous,” Ramos v. Louisiana, 590 U. S. , (2020) (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment) (slip op., at 7), we have a duty to “correct the error” established in those precedents, Gamble v. United States, 587 U. S. , (2019) (THOMAS, J., concurring) (slip op., at 9).

What Thomas is correctly pointing out is that the majority, in striking the right to abortion after fifty years, questions the Roe majority’s use of a legal doctrine known as “Substantive Due Process,” which I discuss at some length in my last column. If the use of substantive due process was “egregiously wrong” in Roe, how could it not be egregiously wrong in other cases, which relied on the same doctrine?

If the Court can differentiate in future cases, as Alito and Kavanaugh suggest in Dobbs, involving other rights, from Roe, it just demonstrates how Dobbs is not based on Constitution or law but is based on the personal views of the new religious majority. The Dobbs majority is capricious and fanatical. They have hated Roe for fifty years. Now they finally have the votes to overturn it. So they did. It is a power trip, pure and simple.

And what are the cases Thomas suggests will be up for review in the years ahead? Griswold v. Connecticut, the right to use contraception, Lawrence v Texas, gay rights, and Obergefell v. Hodges, same-sex marriage.

There is another case, also relying on substantive due process, that Thomas suspiciously omits from his target list. It is Loving v. Virginia, a 1967 ruling that declared it unconstitutional to ban interracial marriage. That decision was written by then Chief Justice Earl Warren himself. How could Thomas miss that? Could it because Clarence Thomas is black. And his wife Ginni is white?

We have replaced the Congress, the President, and the Constitution itself and are now subject to the whims of a power hunger majority on the Supreme Court. They need no rhyme or reason for their decisions. They impose their will on the nation simply because they can.

And if you still have any doubt about the rise of the religious majority, read the 6-3 decision which came down the next business day after Dobbs. Justice Neil Gorsuch, occupying the seat rightfully belonging to Merrick Garland, raised Catholic but now attending an Episcopalian church, writing in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, sent the doctrine of separation of church and state, dear to the Framers, to the shredder.

The case asked if Joseph Kennedy, a high school football coach, had a First Amendment right to pray with students at the 50-yard line after games. According to some teammates, this practice coerced players into joining, and practicing Christianity at school, for fear of incurring the coach’s disfavor. Nonetheless, Gorsuch’s opinion for the court found that Kennedy’s school violated his rights when it asked him to pray in private.

Gorsuch followed the Trump playbook in endorsing his own version of the big lie in Kennedy, writing that Coach Kennedy was simply engaged in quiet, private prayer at the 50-yard line and students voluntarily joined him. Justice Sonia Sotomayor outed Gorsuch as a liar by including photographs in her dissent, something I’ve never seen in a Supreme Court opinion. The pictures showed there were TV cameras present and elected officials and people were storming the field and knocking over the tuba players to join the prayer.

Gorsuch also lied in the manner of Trump by stating that a prior test for church and state situations, to determine if the First Amendment prohibition against establishing a religion and derived from the 1971 case Lemon v. Kurtzman, was dead, “The country didn’t know it, but we quietly overruled the Lemon test at some stage in the past 20–30 years. I’m not going to pinpoint when, but trust us—it happened.”

Trust him? I have a bridge to sell you.

Gorsuch is always certain of the power of his argument. For him, it’s damn the facts. Full speed ahead. In Kennedy, he tells students who are not religious, who felt coerced into joining the prayer circle, that they should just be more tolerant.

Any reasonable observer would look at what Kennedy did and say, this is an endorsement of Christianity. This is an employee of the school, in uniform, in the middle of his official duties, expressing thanks to a Christian God. Gorsuch gets around that problem by saying, “That test is overruled. We have a new test, which is ‘history and tradition.’ Go back and figure out what James Madison would’ve wanted in public schools today.” And the majority’s policy preferences turn out to match their own personal preferences, which becomes their imagined idea of what James Madison would’ve wanted.

Do you think it would have turned out this way if the coach was a Muslim and he brought his prayer rug to the fifty yard line?

And the religious majority didn’t stop there. The next day they effectively declared that the separation of church and state, a principle enshrined in the Constitution, is, itself, unconstitutional. Their 6–3 decision in Carson v. Makin requires Maine to give public money to private religious schools, steamrolling decades of precedent in a race to compel state funding of religion. Carson is radical enough on its own, but the implications of the ruling are even more frightening. As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in dissent, it has the potential to dismantle secular public education in the United States.

It was Breyer’s last dissent. He retired two days later after nearly 28 years on the Court, fighting the good fight for the rights of ordinary Americans. Ketanji Brown Jackson, the Court’s first black, female Justice, was immediately sworn in as Breyer’s successor. But that will not change the ideological balance of the Court. Breyer, 83 years old, had stepped aside so the 51 year old Jackson could be appointed, just in case the Republicans gain control of the Senate in the mid-term elections.

Breyer’s was a sacrifice we should all appreciate.

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Dobbs 2. Religion Rules.

When I was in college, as it happens the same college Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was attending, and just beginning to get interested in American government and the Constitution, conservatives were up at arms over a series of Supreme Court decisions. They faulted what they branded an “activist” court for expanding on cases before them to consider issues not raised by the facts in dispute, for finding in the Constitution rights and powers not actually written in the text, and for in effect writing laws, a power assigned to Congress with the approval of the President.

They were talking about decisions like 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education, which reversed Plessy v. Ferguson, a ruling which allowed the segregation of black and white students into separate schools. Chief Justice Earl Warren, a former Republican governor of California, appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower, who called him a “liberal-conservative,” wrote Brown, effectively ending racial segregation in public schools.

Warren strongly believed that the highest purpose of the law was toright wrongs by applying equity and fairness. His Court expanded the constitutional rights of defendants, ensured equal representation in state legislatures, outlawed state-sponsored prayer in public schools, and paved the way for the civil rights and voting rights legislation of the 1960s and the legalization of abortion in 1973. Warren was also a consummate politician, and a hallmark of his leadership is the fact that Brown, Gideon v. Wainwright (right to counsel in criminal cases), and Cooper v. Aaron (states are bound by Supreme Court decisions) were all unanimous decisions. Engel v. Vitale (banning prayer in public schools) had only one dissent.

These landmark decisions on fundamental rights worked through the Fourteen Amendment’s due process clause.

The conservatives hated each and every decision, thought Warren was a traitor to his party, and Eisenhower’s greatest mistake. Republican Richard Nixon, who is the only President to resign his office in disgrace, feuded with Warren for thirty years.

Now comes the most dramatic expression so far of the conservative’s hatred. Alito’s opinion overturning Roe v. Wade takes from American women the right to an abortion, which had been guaranteed since Roe in 1973. In writing Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Alito literally screams, “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start.” Alito’s campaign to overturn Roe began at least as far back as 1985 when he was working in the Department of Justice.

The actions of the Dobbs majority are about as “activist” as you can get. Even Chief Justice John Roberts thinks they went too far. He concurred in upholding the Mississippi law but wrote he would not have overturned Roe, something Mississippi had not asked for. But this Chief is not in control of this Court.

In his sweeping opinion Alito attacks the use by the Roe majority of the Fourteen Amendment’s “Substantive Due Process” clause. We will avoid getting into the deep weeds of Constitutional Law. There are many, many, many sources on this issue if you are interested. The Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School says:

Substantive due process is the principle that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments protect fundamental rights from government interference. Specifically, the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the government from depriving any person of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” The Fifth Amendment applies to federal action, and the Fourteenth applies to state action.

The Constitution is one of “enumerated rights,” the Tenth Amendment reserving rights not specifically listed to the States or the People. Just as the Fifth Amendment protects the people from the federal government, the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court has held, protects people from their state government.

Until Dobbs. Now the issue of abortion, which Alito notes is not to be found in the Constitution, is said to be a right that should be administered by each individual state. Just as a practical matter, in a nation where people and goods freely cross state lines, the idea is ridiculous. Alito branded Roe‘s reasoning “exceptionally weak.” Dobbs is weaker still. The right-wing of the Court threw the very lives of millions of Americans into the hands of state lawmakers just one day after they ruled those same lawmakers are not competent to decide the terms under which they issue concealed carry permits for guns in their own states.

Alito argues that abortion is different from other issues because a “potential life” is at stake. This is not a term to be found in the Constitution either. And if the Roe proposition that the viability of a fetus could be marked by trimesters was “weak,” the Dobbs proposition put forth by Alito and many state legislatures that life dates to the moment of conception is weaker still. The Constitution, for what it is worth, in the Fourteen Amendment, defines citizens as, “All persons born….” Not “conceived.”

The reason Alito cannot make a stronger argument for his irrational proposition is that there is none to be made. Neither law nor science can define when life begins. They couldn’t do it in 1973. They cannot do it today. If we could state with specificity when life begins, we could put forth a solution to what is a moral dilemma. Since we cannot, I opt to believe a women must be allowed to make the decision about what happens to her own body and that neither I nor the government should interfere.

Alito and those who support his position fail on at least two fronts. First, they are hypocritical because they claim to be striving to save a life. Yet they will not support universal health care to protect that life, or pre-natal care, or obstetric care, or pediatric care, or additional aid to public education, or school lunches, or any other of a lengthy list of things they could do to ensure a good life for every “person born….” They opposed supplemental aid which lifted millions of children above the poverty level during the pandemic. They can’t even ban assault rifles to keep kids from getting massacred in school. Even in a statement supporting the Dobbs decision, the Vatican makes this point.

Second, they fail because they are making what is at its core a religious argument. And their religion does not speak for every American. The belief that life begins at conception is a very Catholic belief. And Alito is very Catholic. So are Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Chief John Roberts. Neil Gorsuch was raised Catholic but is now a member of an Episcopalian church. Sonia Sotomayor, who usually votes with the left-wing and dissented from Dobbs, is also Catholic.

This is not reflective of the U.S. population. And more on point, the Roman Catholic doctrine of the majority is not reflective of a majority of those who hold religious beliefs.

Opinion on abortion is far from settled. More importantly, public views on abortion by religion reflect the difficulty most people have with the question of how and when life begins. While Roman Catholic doctrine is clear, there are different views held among the major religions. And among various denominations with religions.

For several religious, theological scholarship places the health of the mother in a paramount position under some circumstances. That, simply put, means many laws banning abortion will violate the religious beliefs of millions of Americans.

With their opinion in Dobbs, The Court’s Catholic majority has established their religious views as the official dicta of the state. Try wrapping your First Amendment around that one.

And there is more to come.

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