The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Since the Inauguration of President Trump anyone who’s flipped on a news program, watched a typical talk show, has picked up a newspaper or read stories on line has been besieged by a never-ending series of stories that are negative.  Most of those have been directed toward the president – but Republicans in general have also been beneficiaries of the sometimes brutal tripe that is put out for our consumption.

One of the loudest cries has been, “They have had seven years to come up with a replacement for Obamacare and they don’t have a plan to replace it.”  Well, the House passed a replacement plan the other week.  So, of course, the usual parade of vitriol, directed to a bill that will probably little resemble the final version if it even gets past the Senate, has begun.  Both sides are missing the point – and in their obfuscation of the facts, the American people have been led down the proverbial primrose path as well.

Neither the Obamacare legislation nor this replacement are about healthcare.  They are both about health insurance. Before I attempt to establish my point, we should have a brief discussion about the nature and purpose of insurance.

Insurance is a vehicle by which two parties share risk on an agreed basis and in exchange for a certain amount of money (premium).  That principle is the same whether the risk is a home, a car, an individual’s health or his life.  Having insurance does not suggest that your home won’t be lost in a fire, your car will never be involved in an accident, you will never get hospitalized or that you won’t die.  It merely mitigates the financial effect should any or all of these things happen.  That’s insurance plain and simple.

One, but not the only problem with the Obamacare insurance scheme, was that it was based not on reality but on ideology.  This explains why insurers are abandoning the exchanges in droves.  It might be politically correct to charge the same premium to men and women of the same age the same premium.  But those premium charges ignore the facts that women are more expensive to insure than men because they typically have more hospital stays than men – in part due to pregnancy.  Similarly, it is absurd to consider a person who has an extensive history of heroin addiction to be in the same health as a person who has never used the drug.  Yet their premiums were mandated to be the same by the law.  Abandoning sound, actuarial facts results in financial chaos for the insurers.  And that is the simple explanation of why they have been withdrawing from Obamacare.

Now those on the left will point to their exit as being a function of sheer greed on their part.  But think about this.  If an insurer cannot assemble a risk portfolio which enables them to earn a profit, eventually they will run out of capital to pay legitimate claims.

The new replacement law will probably not do much better because it also is predicated on the misconception that health insurance and healthcare are interchangeable terms – which they are not.  And this fixation on health insurance, were it not such a dominating force in this discussion, would be laughable.

I am not arguing that insurance, whether health or any other kind, has no value.  It does.  It gives the owner some peace of mind.  But insurance is unique in that it is the only product whose owner hopes never to collect on it thus recouping his premium payments.  No one wants their home blown away by a tornado or their car wrecked in an accident or wants to have a serious medical problem or have a loved one die just so they can collect on the insurance proceeds.

So as we have seen, the value of insurance is in mitigating the effect of a financially tragic event.  It does nothing to prevent that event.  Real healthcare would focus not on responding to disease but in preventing it in the first place.  That is an argument that is seldom heard in the Congress, the medical industry or the press.  One can only wonder why.  And the old saw, “Follow the money,” presents perhaps the simplest and most likely answer.

Our focus as individuals should be on staying healthy rather than getting better. So what if the new “healthcare” bill had a provision that funded a massive effort to eliminate cancer or cardiovascular disease?  That would be something that would receive great press and high endorsement from the voting population.  But one has to wonder if all those “charities” that have been raising money and paying their executives high six and seven figures for the last fifty years would be on board with that.

The truth of the matter is that there is a great deal of money and profit in having a population that is diseased.  If a cure for diabetes were announced, how would that impact the profits of those companies who manufacture insulin and all the ancillary products that are used to deliver it to the patient?  Their profits would plummet.  Do you feel they would adopt a laissez-faire attitude were the announcement of such a cure to be imminent?

We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars funding the CDC and NIH.  Presumably, we do so because we trust the research and recommendations that these two organizations make.  They are supposed to be independent and free from political pressure.  And they may well be.  But once they make a recommendation, it is up to our politicians to review and, if it has merit, to implement it.  So let’s look at the reality of what really happens.

Both of them have attributed the rampant ratchet up in overweight, obesity and diabetes to Americans’ over-consumption of sugar.  Have you heard even a whisper of this analysis in the “healthcare” debate?  Of course not.  And the reason is very simple.  The sugar industry not only contributes to the re-election campaigns of our politicians as do Coca-Cola and Pepsi, two of the companies that substantially contribute to Americans’ sugar consumption

One can understand how a company wants to maximize it’s profits and sell as much product as possible – irrespective of it’s harmful effects – until forced by public opinion and ultimately government to accept responsibility.  But what is truly amazing is that the American sugar industry is subsidized by our government, the NIH and CDC reports notwithstanding.  (By the way, the tobacco industry which is widely reviled, also still receives federal crop and insurance subsidies – even as the feds and local governments continue to heap large excise tax increases on tobacco products).  These obviously conflictive official and “real” policies can only be described as disturbing – if not downright corrupt.

This is an excellent example of the swamp about which candidate Trump spoke when he was campaigning. And I suspect now as president, Mr. Trump is probably amazed that swamp is as extensive and thoroughly alluring to those who have helped create it.  Sadly, running and fixing a massive federal bureaucracy is going to be more challenging than running or fixing a business.

Perhaps that reality is no more apparent than as regards the border wall.  What most voters believed was going to be a solid and impenetrable brick and mortar edifice may have morphed into something less contiguous and involving more modern methodologies than Hadrian employed in Britain.

What we should realize is that the point of building the wall is not “building the wall.”  It’s securing the border and cutting down on the inflow of illegal immigrants who have had free reign to come into the country.  One of the tools which, based on the recent decreased number of illegal entry attempts, is not the wall, which has not progressed, but the mere threat, the power of the Trump administration’s bully pulpit with respect to enforcing the laws that are already on the books.

I view and always have seen the “border wall” in somewhat metaphorical terms.  If we could accomplish the goal of reducing the illegal flow of people into the country without spending money to construct a physical structure, I’m fine with that.  After all, accomplishing that goal should be our primary focus.

Wouldn’t it be great if we viewed “healthcare” in that same light?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE CLINTON AUTOPSY

Just when you thought (or at least hoped) that the reason or reasons for Hillary Clinton’s loss were fully understood, now comes the candidate to revitalize the conversation all over again.  My view of this subject is perfectly represented in Mrs. Clinton’s statement before the committee investigating Benghazi, “What difference at this point does it make?”  Apparently, there are people who do not share my opinion.

After the Clintons left office, a joke began circulating which might be the most logical explanation of all.

President Clinton was walking barefoot on a tropical beach when he stubbed his toe on something buried in the sand.  Out of curiosity, he dug up the object which resembled one of those lamps that Aladdin found.  Just for grins, he rubbed the lamp and was shocked to find a genie emerge from it.

Clinton was all smiles.  He said, “This is great.  Now I get to make three wishes – and you have to grant all of them.”

The genie responded, “Well, Mr. President – there’s good news and bad news.  The good news is that I will grant your wish – but you only get one.  You see, we’ve unionized and that’s the way it is under our current contract.”

A bit disappointed, Clinton thought to himself, “Well, one wish is better than none.”  And he began to think what that should be.

One of the legacy items that was most important to Clinton was his effort to negotiate a lasting peace deal in the Middle East.  Those efforts had gone unrewarded.

So he said to the genie, “I wish peace for all the people of the Middle East.”

The genie removed his turban and scratched the few wisps of hair on his head.  He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a very old and fragile map and said to Clinton, “Look here.  This is a map of the region going back three thousand years.  Notice how many enemies the Jews had.  There were the Ishmaelites, the Moabites, the Hagarites not to mention the Egyptians.  To be honest, I don’t think even the president of our union could fix this mess.  But since I was unable to grant that wish I am giving you a different wish and the map as a souvenir.”

Clinton accepted the map and thought for a moment.  He said, “Well, could you make it so that people like my wife Hillary?”

The genie paused for a moment and responded, “Let me see that map again.”

How many autopsies do we need to perform to conclude that the beast is dead?

 

 

 

 

FUNDING THE ARTS

Andres Serrano's Piss Christ

The debate over whether the government should use taxpayer money to fund the arts took off seriously in 1989 with the display of Andres Serrano’s photograph of a crucified Christ, submersed in a container that contained Serrano’s urine.  The photo was entitled, “Piss Christ”.  The piece set off a fireball of controversy, not surprisingly much of which came from Christians.  Serrano had received a grant to pursue his photographic art through an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

There was talk in the recent budget negotiations that President Trump wanted to eliminate the NEA from it.  That naturally brought howls from those who support government grants for the arts.  Hollywood came out in force.  “A Great Nation Deserves Great Art” was once again trotted out as the discussions took place.  Honestly, I agree with that slogan. But what are the impacts on art when it is government funded – at least in part?

The Serrano piece is certainly a piece of “art” if we define art to include photographic images.  Some people might think it is brilliant.  In my view it is, at the least offensive and vulgar.  Concerning taste, there can be substantially different views on everything from art to pasta sauce.  Freedom to produce art is as much protected by the First Amendment as is freedom of speech.  We might even define art in some forms, painting and ballet, for example, as non-verbal speech.

The only way to ensure that art may be freely produced is to ensure that the First Amendment guarantee is preserved.  It is remarkable that those who were most upset about the proposed defunding of NEA have cohorts who are, at that same time, trying to narrowly define the First Amendment to restrict the right to speak of those who have views that differ from their own by describing those who dissent from their viewpoint as spewing “hate speech”.

Even if this argument were valid, which I do not believe it is, who is to define what constitutes this sort of speech?  Should the government define rap music as hate speech since many songs use lyrics are filled with vulgarity, the n* word, refer to women as b*tches and advocate for the killing of police?  A government which finds this music and its lyrics objectionable might do just that but for the First Amendment.  But there is a flip side to this coin.

What if a government funds artists – but only those artists who convey a message that they want disseminated?  That’s exactly what happened in the Soviet Union.

Sergei Eisenstein was a Latvian movie director.  He and his mother moved to St. Petersburg when he was young.  Although raised as an Orthodox Christian he became an atheist.  After completing his term of service with the Red Army he decided to study engineering which was his father’s profession.  But he became interested in a new industry – film making and made his mark with the silent film, Battleship Potemkin.

By the late 1930’s the winds of war were howling across Europe.  Stalin was firmly in power in the Soviet Union and he called on Eisenstein in 1938 to make an historical/propaganda film, Alexander Nevsky, a film about the invasion of Mother Russia by the Teutonic Knights which occurred in the 13th century. The monk who accompanies the knights is the very epitome of evil both in appearance and action as he picks up Russian baby after baby, blesses them and throws them on the raging pyre, purging them of their apostasy.  This film was propaganda at it’s finest.  And it was propaganda for which the government paid.

Funding controversial art is part of defending free speech which is currently under assault.  It seems to me that the solution to this problem is simple for those actually seeking a solution.  If you don’t like what someone’s saying, walk out of the lecture.  If you don’t like an artist’s work, don’t look at it or buy a ticket for its performance.   But the arrogant left doesn’t truly want either free speech or art.  They want the Stalinist version of that.

Should the government continue to fund the NEA?  To me, that’s the smallest part of the fight that is ongoing.  The unique characteristic of being able to express ourselves without reservation is the real target.  And if each of us doesn’t rise up, refuse to be silenced and speak out for it, this most precious liberty may well be lost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve all heard that the police are here to serve and protect us.  I want to devote this post to the first of those two missions.

Have you ever needed to return something you purchased to a store?  You changed your mind, it’s too big or too small or it doesn’t go with your chartreuse shoes the way you thought it would.  And there you are, annoyed because you have to waste your time going back to the store, waiting in line with all the rest of the customers who are as annoyed as you because they’re doing the same thing.

Then you get to the desk and find a young lady who is thinking that it’s only another two and a half hours until she can get lunch and she’s had a morning filled with nasty customers who believe that she is responsible because their purchase doesn’t go with their chartreuse shoes.  But you’re confident in your ability to expedite this entire process.  You’re going to be pushy and cranky and demand a refund – no store credit will be acceptable to you.

It’s an immovable object and irresistible force kind of thing.

I would be willing to bet that many of the people who work in customer service entered that line of work because they are “people persons.”  Or at least they once were.  But as they listen to never ending complaints, especially when they are expressed without the civility of a “Please” or “Thank You,” well, it does takes its toll on the human spirit.  Illegitimi non carborundum be damned.  And who are the perpetrators of this destruction of the human spirit?  They are nice, everyday, “normal” people like you and me.

Now let’s consider the police and their mission to serve the public.  On the light end of things, we have those who are assigned to traffic duty.  I’ve known quite a few people who were caught committing a moving violation.  When they’ve explained this experience it is generally done by using rather salty language, thoroughly interspersed with expletives.  I have yet to hear someone describe their arrest by saying, “You know, I had the best morning.  The nicest policeman, an Officer Friendly, pulled me over for doing 65 mph in a 40 mph zone.  I am so grateful to him that he reminded me that by travelling at that speed I was endangering other motorists, pedestrians and myself.  I’m certainly going to take this to heart and stay within the speed limit in the future.”

The prudent motorist while awaiting the arrival of his ticket and the return of his registration and license is probably not cursing out the arresting office aloud.  But I am sure many of those in that circumstance aren’t thinking about buying tickets to the Policeman’s Ball either.  And I’m sure the body language is sufficient for the officer to pick up on their antipathy toward him or her.  And they get that every day, every time they stop another abusive motorist.

But as I said, that’s the light end of the job.  Take those who work in drug details or are assigned to a unit that specializes in trying to track down those who rape children or commit murder.  Dealing with that sort of depravity on a daily basis has to take a toll on a person’s spirit and humanity.  I know that’s a job that I couldn’t handle for very long.

Has any member of the police force ever made a mistake – one perhaps that resulted in an innocent person’s death?  Of course.  We all make mistakes – or there would be no need for a police force or a court system or jails.  But the current narrative that the police are some sort of occupying force whose goal is to beat the citizenry into submission – well, I just don’t see that.

To those who do work on our police forces, I am grateful that they have accepted the responsibility to serve the public generally and me in particular.  And I wish them well and offer a heartfelt, “Thank you.”  Perhaps if more of us took a moment to say those two words to the people we meet, we could help reduce the hostility that seems to have enslaved so many of us.  It’s worth a try, don’t you think?

When I was in my grammar school orchestra, our music teacher and conductor introduced us to a recently written short piece entitled, “Who Am I?”  I no longer recall the name of the composer nor have I been able to discover that despite a lot of internet searching.  I really didn’t care for the piece (or I would remember who wrote it) but the title is incredibly pertinent to an understanding of the world view that many have adopted – Identity Politics.

There is probably no thinking human who has not at some point asked the questions, “Who am I; Where do I come from; What am I doing here; Where am I going?” Religion and science have both addressed those questions.  I suspect our lives would be far easier if we definitively knew the answers to those questions.  But as we don’t we have to cope with life as we perceive it.  That includes how we see ourselves and our relationship with the world and other people in it.

Without question, most of us would prefer to have a simple answer and way of dealing with all the challenges that come our way in life.  Unfortunately, simple solutions are not always the best solutions.  Pigeonholing people into a class or group whether by race or gender or sexual orientation makes a fundamental flawed assumption that anyone who can be identified as a member of some particular group is part of a homogenous mass of people all of whom are defined by some particular specific trait and are all exactly the same.

As convenient as it is to define people including ourselves in this way, it is incredibly narrow-minded and denies a basic reality.  There are people whom we proscribe to a group who do not fit into the criteria that we ascribe to all members of that group.  This leads to one of two options.  Either we can consider changing our views based on the evidence in front of us or we can deny it or pretend it simply doesn’t exist.

Years ago, the Roman Catholic church in America had a very serious and embarrassing problem.  There were a number of priests who were pedophiles and rather than addressing the problem honestly, the hierarchy chose the path of covering it up, denying what obviously had happened.  The media coverage was both relentless and extensive – as it should have been.  Most people recognize that sex offenses are serious crimes.

Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is currently serving a fifteen month prison term for molesting teenage boys when he was a teacher and wrestling coach.  That story also got a fair amount of media attention.  There is no surprise that both these stories were covered as widely as they were.  A large number of people in the media seem to support a secularist view in their reporting.  And most share a highly anti-Republican/conservative bias.

There is a similar story that is making it challenging for a Democrat incumbent mayor to retain his position in Seattle.  Ed Murray who is openly gay has been accused of paying an underage boy small amounts of money in exchange for sexual favors.  This is not the first such allegation against Murray.  Two teenagers made similar accusations in 2007 regarding events that were supposed to have taken place twenty years earlier. No charges were filed in either of those allegations.  By and large, the media seem to be in denial on this story and is sweeping it under the rug.  Gays are one “protected class” of people that Identity Politics has defined as sacrosanct.

It doesn’t much matter other than to Murray and his purported victims whether these allegations are true.  With the proliferation of sexual predation, it’s hard to imagine that at least one person who is a member of the gay community has not at some point been engaged in inappropriate and illegal behavior.  To deny that is to defy common sense.  But if that example were found and proven, it would be completely inappropriate to condemn the entire gay community because of the actions of only one person.  Unfortunately, that is where Identity Politics inevitably leads us when it is applied rigorously and universally.

If you can find one word which completely describes and defines who you are, you have more than likely self-circumscribed yourself and are comfortable in the limiting world of Identity Politics.  As for me, I would like to give myself a little more credit .  I think I am a little more complex than that.  In fact, I think we all are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

XENOPHOBES

If it weren’t for the ancient Greeks, we wouldn’t have such wonderful words as xenophobe or xenophobia.   The roots are xenos which means foreign or strange and phobos meaning fear.  You’ve heard that word more in the last three months than you did in your entire previous lifetime – irrespective of your age.  Of course, the modern understanding of the word is that it means not fear but hatred of foreigners.

So why have these words been transformed in the common usage?  We can thank the Greeks once again.  The word meme comes from mimema which means that which is imitated, often with slight variations.  Think of the old game of “telephone” in which a message is passed from one person to the next until it reaches the person who initiated it. When that message gets back to the person who originally made it, it is often distinctly different from what its originator actually said.

But our gratitude to the Greeks shouldn’t end there.  Among other ancient cultures, they gave us people to whom we still refer to by using a single name.   Yes, long before we were blessed with Twiggy and Cher there were people like Demosthenes and Plato, Pythagoras and Socrates – people who actually were important and left their stamp on history and human thinking.

For years, western colleges and universities employed the Socratic method of teaching.  It was a system where open debate between the student, other students and the teacher was encouraged.  A person was welcome to hold any opinion.  He simply needed to explain and defend the logic of that position to others engaged in the debate.  Compare that to today’s American schools where there is no need or permission to engage in debate since everything has already been decided.

Apparently the mission of our schools today is to infuse and genetically bond into its student body the “truths” that have been revealed to tenured faculty and make sure that when they hand over that diploma, the student has been thoroughly indoctrinated into this wisdom and be able to cite it, chapter and verse.  We used to refer to this not as educating but as memorizing and, in its most extreme form, brainwashing.

Returning to xenophobia, the word has been used exclusively to accuse and deride those who the memists deride as the “alt-right”.  As justification for their view they cite the effort by President Trump and conservatives to provide a secure border, enforce existing laws on immigration and remove from the country those who are already here illegally and have demonstrated violent behavior.  They attribute racism to those who support those goals as the vast majority of people who are here illegally come from Mexico and Central America.  Yet the very same people who cry xenophobe the loudest are perhaps its strongest proponent.  Take the case of Russia.

From near and far, high and low, those on the left who represent their districts and states in Congress to the masked mobsters who roam the streets wherever there is an opportunity to demonstrate, the word is out that, “Russia interfered with our election and there is an as yet unseen trail leading to President Trump and his staff who purportedly facilitated this subversion.”  So I am confused (which happens more often than I would like to admit).

Aren’t Russians foreign people?  Whatever our political posture in this age of divisiveness I think we can at least agree on that.  So wouldn’t that suggest that the true xenophobes are those who oppose Russian interference – not the right?  Why should the Russians who aren’t even here be expected or compelled to follow the laws of the United States any more than the illegal immigrants who are here and in some fairly large percentage ignore them – well, technically all of them?

We need not reach all the way back to classical Greece to find an accurate description of this sort of behavior.  Groucho Marx hit the nail on the head with this memorable song from his best movie, “Horse Feathers.”

Some come to rallies or protests with bull horns.  Others show up armed with brass knuckles and soda cans filled with concrete.  America’s detractors.  The vocal “progressives” throughout the country who sing a song of cacophonous discord.  Their vision of America is that of a country filled with hateful people who are racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic and who espouse more phobias than would be needed to fill all five boroughs of New York City’s phone books.

Now it is rather remarkable that these same people are anxious to see America filled with an extensive group of new immigrants from the highways and byways of the world.  The thought occurs to me rather naturally, are these progressives sadists?  Why would they want more people to be subjected to living in the dreadful environment which they describe today’s America to be? And, despite the widespread dissemination of news, are people who believe America to be a cesspool and still want to come here completely insane?  We do not need to import more lunatics to this country.  We already have enough of our own.

For all those who share this view of our country, I have a two word rejoinder.  Weight Watchers.  Let me put that in context.

Back in the ’60’s there were two stocks that traded on the NYSE which were blazing white hot.  The first was Xerox which had developed plain paper copying.  The second was Mead, Johnson  which manufactured a meal replacement product called Metrecal.   Making a Xerox was interchangeable with making a copy.  And having a Metrecal was interchangeable with being on a diet.  But there was one significant difference between Xerox’s achievement and in Mead, Johnson’s.

While Xerox effectively put the smudgy carbon paper industry out of business, Mead, Johnson gave serious impetus to the existence of a brand new industry – the diet industry.

Among the list of the Seven Deadly sins is gluttony.  But gluttony can only exist in an environment where there are the necessities to fulfill it.  In other words, it’s hard to overeat if there’s no food to consume.  The Protestant Reformation in part came into being by criticizing the “cloistered virtue” of Roman Catholic religious orders for depriving their members of the right to exercise free will by removing the temptations that the laity faced and had to deal with on a daily basis.

In America we have no lack of food – and no lack of people who are consciously or otherwise willing to take advantage of that fact.  Inevitably, that has resulted in a fair amount of tummy bulge leading us now to the point where we are “achieving” obesity rates that dwarf those in every other country worldwide.  This is not a new phenomenon – but it seems to be accelerating it’s pace.

We were gaining weight back fifty years ago.  And the marketers of Metrecal (available in four equally repugnant flavors) hit on something big.  Americans were obsessed with their appearance and their weight.  And we were obsessed with our God-given right to get what we want and get it as quickly as possible – including weight loss.  Metrecal was the “miracle product” of the day.  Pop a can open and you too could look like Raquel Welch.  Had its manufacturer been able to make it more palatable to the average person’s taste, it might have been the biggest product ever invented..  At least that’s what stock investors hoped would happen.

While people grew tired of Metrecal, they didn’t get tired of trying to achieve the perfect, svelte body.  Diet books were published by the hundreds – often with diametrically opposed advice on the most effective way to lose weight.  But those books required a lot of effort.  First, you had to read them.  And then you had to implement the advice they contained.  That was a lot of work for many of us – far too much.  But the diet industry came up with a solution, Weight Watchers – another child of the early sixties.

Weight Watchers recognized a principle of weight loss that we still accept today.  A person who consumed more calories than he expended was going to gain weight – the converse resulting in weight loss.  But for us Americans who want instantaneous results, seeing a pound or two drop off after a week of self-imposed dietary discipline was discouraging to many.  So Weight Watchers incorporated support meetings to encourage us on our journey – and to console us when we failed to see progress.  And they charged a weekly fee to participate in their version of a seven step program.

No stranger to weight problems herself, Weight Watchers’ current spokesperson is Oprah Winfrey.  She purchased a ten percent interest in the company in 2015.  The company needed a high profile PR person to represent them since they spawned a number of competitors including Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig  – and a host of diet pills which to some is far easier than having to weigh and measure.  Of course, the latest phase of the diet industry is selling portion controlled meals, available in frozen form, which thanks to the invention of the microwave oven seems to be the way the industry may go in the future.

Weight Watchers has no operations in Burkina Faso or Venezuela or Sri Lanka or Somalia.  The reason is obvious.  The vast majority of people in those countries do not have an issue with being overweight.  Their challenge is to find enough food to sustain themselves.  And if you don’t believe that a nearly endless food supply makes America different and great – just ask Weight Watchers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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