Monday, October 31, 2011

The Con

So Herman Cain has a little bit of scandal going on after this weekend.

Now, whatever charges are there will be proven or dis-proven on their respective merits, and I generally wouldn't say anything about rumors.

But look at what his campaign spokesman said while refuting the allegations: people who can't beat Cain on ideas are going after his character, and a direct (unsubstantiated) rumor that those people are "liberals."

Maybe that guy is paying attention to a different campaign than I am, but it ain't the "liberals" having trouble with Cain's ideas. By all means, bring the 999 plan to the general election, and the fair tax joke into the national consciousness. Please. It also bears out that if the "liberals" were going after Cain, and had some scandal evidence against him, they'd want him to win the primaries, and would hold off their allegations until after the nomination was made.

No, the folks having the most electoral problem with Cain and his "ideas" are the other Republican candidates for President. First of all, he's rolling out the logical conclusion of the flat tax without the appropriate marketing strategy, and most Americans aren't liking what they see (a massive tax hike on the middle class and a kneecapping of economic demand and purchasing power). Second, he is contending for the Southern states against a powerful three term Texas governor. We all remember what happened when the last Texas governor to become President needed to win Southern primaries against a political opponent whose name ended in "Cain," don't we?

Leave "the liberals" out of this one, fellas. All we're doing is kicking back with the 3D lenses and a tub of popcorn.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Politics Are Local

While there is no question that the #Occupy movement has touched a nerve, and completely flipped the script on the national conversation (HT Levees Not War), it must transform into direct electoral and decision-making participation before it can deliver on the policies it advocates or affect the positive change it claims to desire. Though there are some positive signs that this is in fact happening, plenty of caution must still be applied until it produces demonstrable results.

My examples today come from Georgia, made a de facto one-party state by the abandonment of the national Democratic Party at the same time the GOP focused their efforts on controlling or coopting all local and statewide political machinery. It is there they have created a strong base for right wing ideas, and near total political dominance of culture.

Because of that, the President's approval rate in the Peach State is down around 38%. While this is a better number than it should be for a state as dominated as it is by the GOP, this is down from the 47% of Georgia voters he took to the polls in 2008. The lack of consistent and organized community political involvement on the Democratic side of the ledger has absolutely removed Georgia from a toss-up state to that of a "solid-GOP" state. That is just one way local involvement affects national policy in big ways.

Jay Bookman also points out how the GOP knows the 2012 election will turn on the involvement of their local groups, the Tea Party and right-wing organizations will be vital to elect any Republican to the Presidency. But notice the attention also paid to down-ticket elections. As in: if the GOP nominates someone who doesn't inspire folks on the local levels, it will directly affect control of the United States Senate.

I think about that whenever someone tells me that "the people" can't do anything at a local level to affect national policy.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

"You Are Paying Their Taxes"

New Orleans City Councilwoman Stacy Head puts the power of property tax assessments into perspective:

“Fair assessments are key to a democratic and fair society,” she implored. “If you are paying your fair share, if you are assessed properly, and your neighbor’s not, you are paying their taxes.”


I'm wondering how many single home owners' taxes are subsidizing other citizens' large estates or rental home empire? I wonder how many good landlords are paying to keep their properties in commerce while speculators are allowing properties to become blight to avoid a higher assessment? And then there is the consideration that these property taxes directly affect our standard of living.

Potholes? Property taxes. That street that's about to collapse? More property taxes. The city's Sewerage and Water Board infrastructure? Yeah, that too.

#OccupyYourAssessorsOffice. Because you don't need to go to Wall Street to make a change on Main Street.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The #OccupyStuff Trailer

Pretty good from an explanatory standpoint, and actually exciting to watch. Pretty smooth marketing for an organization that "doesn't have a message."

And like I said on facebook, the most important part of this comes at the very end, when #OccupyYourVotingBooth flashes on the screen for a second. But all the history from Elizabeth Warren is pretty good.

I guess they could have given Ron Paul a shout out with the "audit the Fed" stuff, but why muddy the waters of the most effective Democratic Party messaging of the last generation? (Because this is obviously slanted that way.)

Via G-Bitch and Lord David.

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Los Catalanos

My whole life, I've identified with Generation X. Even when you try to put too fine a point on it, and come up with hard beginning and end dates for that particular group of kids, it never mattered. I guess it has a lot to do with the slightly percieved cultural shifts that defined those born pre and post Reagan.

A "generation" lasts roughly 20 years, right? Something like that. If you restart the clock with the Baby Boom in 1945, at some point you have to account for the 5 extra years to get through to 2000. Generation X could be 1965 - 1980, and that sounds about right to me. Culture really started chainging in big ways after 1980. And pop culture was always a year or two behind in the South, where I grew up. So I'm covered. And even after all those calculations and social investigations, it appears I'm being too broad.

Because someone wants to come up with the folks between X and Y - people like me who were born during the Carter administration - and figure out who we are.

Catalano? Lord help me.

And, hey, when did Generation Y become The Millenials? Damn these kids, always trying to confuse people.


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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Power of Marketing

This post by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones reads like a Cracked.com spot or a Mythbusters episode.

Here are some political narratives that you've heard so often you accept them as true, but they aren't, never have been, and never will be. They have to do with the big buzz words:

1. The Stimulus
2. The Deficit
3. Lower Taxes
4. Regulation
5. The Dollar
6. Job Creators

The marketing is so powerful, I don't even need to tell you the rest of the sentence for you to be able to finish it on your own. No wonder that stuff is accepted as conventional wisdom, it has the most "name" recognition.

Its OK, I used to think the same things. But reality came calling.

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#OccupyCynicism

Andrew Sullivan warms up to the #OccupyStuff folks, in spite of himself. They have picked the exact right target at the exact right time.

From the late 1940s to the early 1970s, the median American household saw its income double. Since then: a screeching halt, or barely a 5 percent rise in incomes for the less-affluent 90 percent of Americans. But between 1979 and 2007, the top 1 percent saw their incomes soar by 281 percent. Add to that the collapse in home values, and soaring costs for health insurance and college, and it becomes remarkable that we haven’t seen much more unrest.


I have to say, I'm still very cynical about the #OccupyStuff folks. I can't help it, it is just the knee jerk reaction after trying so hard to get people involved for so long. They always had other things to do. There was never any time for the "government stuff." I was actually told one time that "politics were complicated." They walk around shouting "we're not going to take it anymore" and then don't show up to vote.

Hell, I told the same things to Tea Party types, or anyone who complained about politics, really. The conversation often comes to an abrupt halt when I ask, "well, you voiced your opinion about that at the school board, didn't you?" Because the truth is, it is far easier to complain over a beer than it is to affect positive political change in your community. Once you start getting involved, you see that all the crowd-pleasing sound bytes come down to somebody's political connection getting a contract from someone you thought you'd support because they say all the right things in front of the camera.

Now, I'm not the expert on being involved - far from it. I participate where I can when I can, and that really isn't a whole lot. But I show up enough to tell you that there are plenty of folks who would rather protest in the streets than show up at meetings where decisions get made.

And yet, despite the ridiculous drum circles and Che Guevara t-shirts (how cli-CHE), I can't help but wonder if whatever this thing is might actually bring about some positive change. Maybe people will be inspired to take back control of their own government and institutions. Maybe people will figure out that if they like a certain standard of living, then no, they don't have anything better to do.

That would be a big change.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Mumme Poll Ballot Week 8

This year, I'm voting in the Mumme Poll, run by the college football blogs Get the Picture and Third Saturday in Blogtober. It is a cool thing to do if you're a college football fan, because it envisions college football rankings in a very different way.

Instead of a top 25, participants fill out a top 10, with a single vote for the best team. Then you simply tally up how many voters ranked who, and that gives you your rankings (which could be more or less than 25 depending on how many teams get support). This week's poll took me about 5 minutes to fill out, and about half an hour to explain my vote and write this blog post.

I didn't participate in past years because I didn't know if I would remember to do this for the college football season, but now that I'm doing it, I find the whole thing fascinating. Participants have until Tuesday to submit their ballots, and the poll comes out on Wednesday.

Here's my submission for this week:

LSU*
Alabama
Boise State
Stanford
Clemson
Oklahoma State
Michigan State
Oklahoma
Wisconsin
Oregon

These are the teams that I think will finish the year in the top 10 by virtue of undefeated or 1 (maybe 2) loss seasons. I expect these will be the teams that A) win or participate in conference championship games, B) make it to the BCS as at-large selections.

I'm not going to drop OU or Wisconsin out of my top 10 based on the losses yesterday. If anything, the Wisconsin game demonstrated that Michigan State should join the Badgers in the top 10, not replace them. Oklahoma is always good for one head scratching loss a season, and I wouldn't expect them to sleepwalk through the rest of their games after last night.

I know that I am not including several unbeaten or 1 loss teams. But the fact is, I just don't think Kansas State's magic will hold up, or that Houston plays the same level of competition as these top teams. Arkansas and Virginia Tech could still play their way into my top ten, but that remains to be seen.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

#OccupyYourLocalSchoolBoard

You think it is more important to camp in parks with witty signs and try to shame bad faith actors into behaving more appropriately? You think your participation on a local level doesn't matter?

Well, those bad faith actors sure seem to think local elections matter. And they're hard at work while you're away in the park.

I can't imagine how helpful additional positive participation would be to a grassroots campaign for school board. There is change to be made right there at home in everyone's community.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

All About the Subsidies, Baby

I love how Republicans, especially those pandering to the right-wing, Tea Party types, get to call President Obama out for being a socialist, communist, Kenyan-anti-colonial free spending agent when it comes to taxpayer money. I really love the overall narrative that spending taxpayer money is bad, and that government spending can't create one private industry job. Not one. I love how partisans will line up behind these two seemingly consistent views, label such policies as anti-job, all the while trying to convince voters that the Democratic elected officials just want to spend other people's money and choose the winners and losers in the free market.

That makes it all the more adorable when those very same Republicans go out and find taxpayer money to support private industry jobs, blaming the Democratic officials for not spending enough taxpayer money to protect private industry jobs.

It would be helpful if people saw all this for what it was.

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Summing Up the Immigration Issue

There really isn't a big issue. There is a mountain made out of a molehill because our politics favors bombast and soundbytes over positive action that actually does what it is supposed to. Here's a vision of immigration from the left:

I think the federal government should do its best to stop illegal immigration. It should do it humanely, it should do it efficiently, it should do it without trampling on civil liberties, and it should do it without mistakenly scooping up lots of citizens and legal immigrants in its net and putting them through hell.


Of course, that's the problem with a "debate" that's two main "solutions" as proposed by the nation's leaders are A) spread as much hate and misinformation as possible, because scared people will vote for you and give you money, and B) use the bullshit present in "A" to avoid having to come up with any real policy.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Investigation Dance

Some folks on the UN Human Rights committee want to investigate the manner in which Quaddafi met his demise. I can get that report together off the top of my head.

1. Is it really Quaddafi?
2. The man ran a for-life absolute dictatorship, with no real government institutions, no checks on his personal power, and the nation's laws changed on his personal whims.
3. The popular, armed revolt against him has taken place without real leadership, institutions, and is based mainly on which group of armed people gets where first.
4. If you run your government like 2, then you risk your due process be handled by 3.
5. The armed people who got there first decided to shoot the guy.

End of investigation.

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How Urban Retail Infill Works

Costco is moving to New Orleans, and will occupy a currently vacant and blighted parking lot right next to the interstate. Neighborhood groups are receptive.

Though the facility will still focus on automotive traffic, the way the zoning will cascade from major commercial corridor to high-density apartments to neighborhood scale is something worth watching. This is especially true as governments become less able to subsidize suburban and exurban living, and the external costs of commuting long distances between work and home continue to increase.

As more people move back into the cities and urban areas, abandoned retail sites (the dead mall phenomenon - per Dante) will again have value for commerce.

Not only that, but the type of retail is also important. Right now, the only comparable places to shop are outside Orleans Parish, and sales tax dollars go somewhere else. And when you consider the low number of grocery stores in New Orleans, and the high food costs associated, any addition of this nature is welcome. Oh, and new jobs for New Orleans.

(And with a development anchor, maybe we can convince folks to extend the streetcar line down Carrollton, and really work on the pedestrian/bicycle infrastructure around that interchange. Maybe wishful thinking, but we might at least leverage this into a bus route.)

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Change I Still Believe In

Andrew Sullivan and a Dish reader look at Obama's record:

If you'd told me in January 2009 that the banks would pay us back the entire bailout and then some, that the auto companies would actually turn around with government help and be a major engine of recovery, that there would be continuous job growth since 2009, however insufficient, after the worst demand collapse since the 1930s, that bin Laden would be dead, Egypt transitioning to democracy, al Qaeda all but decimated as a global threat, and civil rights for gays expanding more rapidly than at any time in history ... well I would be expecting a triumphant re-election campaign.


And that's without mentioning the DADT repeal.

All that considered, the misconceptions with which this President is viewed is one of the greatest ironies of our time. It proves to me that people in this country would rather choose the land of make-believe over reality every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Back of the Bus

Religious practices are your rights and all, but I thought we dealt with this issue about segregated public busses back in the 60's.

Now, if the bus culturally or socially segregates, that's one thing. Because that's voluntary. Like all religious practice in this country has to be.

But if a rider isn't a part of your religious community, and they're riding a public bus, you can't make rules forcing them to segregate. They ain't a part of your club. The same taxpayers who pay for the bus and protect your right to worship as you see fit in your own way have also made it clear we don't tolerate you telling people what to do when using the stuff in which we all share ownership.

Don't like it? Well, God gave you two feet. Hit the bricks. Or, like Bloomberg said, buy your own bus and pay for it with your own money. And that's on top of the taxes you're still going to pay, by the way, because we've still got to run transit through your neighborhood. Not everyone who travels through your community is a part of your club after all.

And I'm not sorry to tell you that.

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The Prison-Industrial Complex

I saw a quote on Facebook today that was so damning, I thought it had to be a fake. It doesn't appear to be.

The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.


While we've we've known for a while that for-profit correctional facilities were becoming a problem, that problem magnifies when a publicly traded company that can donate unlimited campaign funds to any elected official who legislates or approves government contracts clearly states that their bottom line is affected by legislation and government contracts.

We have a prison problem in America because people who make money off running prisons are writing the damn laws. And they're making millions off of us.

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Pass The Jobs Bill

It really is shameful to see how many people are standing in the way of a good idea.

The bill would be a first step towards addressing one of the great ironies of public economic policy in the United States—that at this time when the need for jobs and enterprise tops the national agenda, we not only ignore one of the major sources of new jobs and businesses in the economy, but we actually penalize their creation.


And who is teaming up with the obstructionist GOP to kill this bill? The supposedly "centrist" Democrats.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Permanent Rivalry Solutions

So it looks like the SEC could be adding Missouri any day now. I'll believe it when I see it, but if it does occur, that means one of two things can happen: Mizzou can buck geography and join the SEC East and balance things numerically, or Mizzou can join the SEC West while Auburn moves to the SEC East.

With any 14 team conference, it is fairly obvious that the conference schedule will inlcude 9 games - 6 divisional, 3 interdivisional. The only monkeywrench in the plan are the SEC's permanent rivalries. These are interdivisional rivalry games played every year, and they are (or have become) very important. Each team used to have two of these every year, but that made rotating through the rest of the other division a long term process. I like the one-permanent, two rotating interdivisional game model.

Right now, the biggest of the permanent rivalries are Auburn-Georgia, Alabama-Tennessee, and Florida-LSU. Lost to this format was Auburn-Tennessee and Auburn-Florida. While moving Auburn to the East would reestablish some very big rivalries, what happens to Auburn-Alabama? If the schools rearrange their permanent rivalry game to play the Iron Bowl every year (one of the biggest rivalries in capital-s Sports), Alabama and Tennesse lose the 3rd Saturday in October.

And this is the SEC, so it ain't like we can take that lightly.

There's a way around that, without forcing Mizzou into a geography-bending Eastern division. Auburn should move to the east, and Alabama gets 2 permanent interdivisional rivals. The balance would be that some team from the West has to give up all permanent rivals to make this happen. Who would it be? Probably Mizzou.

Alabama - Auburn, Tennessee
Arkansas - South Carolina
LSU - Florida
Ole Miss/Miss State - Vandy/Kentucky (don't really know which is which)
Missouri - ??
Texas A&M - Georgia

I'm assuming two things: Georgia will likely try to pick up TAMU because playing in Texas every other year may help with recruiting, and I think TAMU would pick UGA for the same reasons. Georgia also has an open permanent rivalry spot if Auburn joins the SEC East, and they end up playing every year anyway. But also, as the most geographically far flung member of the conference, Mizzou will need a crash course in SEC football, and what better way to introduce them to it than to play as many different SEC East teams as possible? It also gives them something unique with membership.

Thoughts?

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Hunger

This is a full comment on Owen Courreges' Louisiana Purchase op-ed over at Uptown Messenger. I left an abbreviated comment over there, but I had a lot more to say:

Combating poverty is very difficult, from a policy standpoint.

Thing about it is, SNAP benefits aren't designed to "combat poverty," at least in an immediate sense. They are designed so less Americans go hungry, and if that's the bar that is set, it is a very, very effective program. I remember the mile-long line of people waiting outside the Convention Center to sign up for temporary benefits in 2008, because all the hourly-wage workers couldn't work for a week because of the Gustav evacuation.

Plenty of those folks still had $10 in their pocket, or cigarettes in their purses, or beer in a cooler back at the house. But they needed those benefits because - while you can get cigarettes and beer for $10 - you can't feed a family for a week.

That being said, it is infuriating to see individuals who appear to be gaming the system or taking any advantage of any government program designed so that children, senior citizens, the disabled, and able bodied adults down on their luck can continue to eat. When you see anyone cutting corners, it can be maddening from an emotional standpoint, even if you know the program mostly helps people that desperately need it.

Hell, it doesn't matter if you're in a room watching a program actually helping 99% hungry kids and the elderly right in front of you, your eyes will track the 1% of able-bodied adults cutting in line to go back for seconds or loading up their plates and throwing a lot away. And you'll see red about it, and question what good the program is really doing. You'll question the effectiveness of the program, even if it is obviously working, because a few folks can get away with something.

And, yeah, you want to shame them for it. That's natural. "Hey, buddy, why don't you let Miss Elderly Lady have first crack at those potatoes?" "Why did you just throw half a plate of rice and beans in the trash?" In the same vein, you wonder how many more kids $10 could feed, instead of buying beer and cigarettes.

Thing is, anything we do is going to have corner-cutters and folks taking advantage somewhere along the line. Any organization or program is going to run into pathologies present in human nature. Not that we shouldn't try to stop fraud, but we have to have perspective on where fraud really exists, and how much extra cost we put on the tab to ensure more strict compliance.

In this case, I don't consider someone buying beer or cigarettes with pocket money - while using their SNAP benefits to buy food - to be a major drain on the program, even as I understand how the visuals are terrible if it takes place right in front of you. I understand the gut reaction that rejects such behavior. I've been in a similar place more than once.

Luckily, I have the luxury of being removed from that situation right now, so I can look at things with a greater perspective. Despite that immediate and natural reaction of "how dare they," people have to look past that and think about how many people are actually eating tonight specifically because of a program. How many people wouldn't eat if we ended the program to end the fraud, or put so many obstacles on the program to prevent fraud that it didn't work? Those are the important things to ask.

Perspective is always important. There far are bigger drains on the public dollar than a $10 purchase of cigarettes and beer, and I don't believe in the Welfare Cadillac Queen fairy tale.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

This Looks Familiar

Andrew Sullivan explores the "state enabled terrorism" currently taking place in the Middle East. Apparently, government and police agents are colluding with radical fundamentalist elements to commit violence against minority or politically powerless populations and peace activists. They're also appear to be burning places of worship.

Where have I heard about stuff like that before?

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I'm Not Alone

For the record, here is about where I am when it comes to the #OccupyStuff folks. Glad to know others out there have a similar view:

In New York, marchers chanted, "This is what democracy looks like," but, actually, this isn't what democracy looks like. This is what freedom of speech looks like. Democracy looks a lot more boring. Democracy requires institutions, elections, political parties, rules, laws, a judiciary, and many unglamorous, time-consuming activities, none of which are nearly as much fun as camping out in front of St. Paul's cathedral or chanting slogans on the Rue St. Martin in Paris.


Another:

Protesters in London shout that "we need to have a process!" Well, they already have a process: It's called the British political system. And if they don't figure out how to use it, they'll simply weaken it further.



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Monday, October 17, 2011

"Some People Pay More...

...and some people will pay less."

Herman Cain defends his ridiculous tax plan.

Of course, when a Democratic candidate says the exact same words, they are a "communist, socialist, class warring, Kenyan-anti-colonialist."

Strange how that works.

Mr. Cain, under your plan, the people who pay less are the people who should pay more, and the people who pay more are those who can least afford to do so. That's about as simple as it gets.

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"Do Not Cooperate"

Check it out: when you apply direct pressure to specific problems, things start to change. I'm hoping this is the turning point that will move the #OccupyStuff movement from emotional reaction and street spectacle into specific community engagement. You don't have to go to Wall Street to protest the excesses and lack of accountability that the major financial institutions of this country demonstrate in wrecking this country's economy.

A woman has the money to pay the bank, they force her into a no-way-out loan modification "process," refuse her money, and foreclose on her home? Go public with that. Go public with all of that, and plaster it all over every news organization and social media platform that will carry it.

This is the biggest thing I've heard the #OccupyStuff folks doing thus far, and I think it might be the most important. It sure isn't going to fit the right-wing caricature of these folks as hippies and communists if they're out there actually participating in Americans saving their homes. The other important thing is that an individual family was able to have their voice heard, and the attention that came along with it proved to assist in the redress of grievances against what appeared to be impossible odds. This is what government is supposed to do, through the processes and the courts, for individual citizens. Instead, this family had to go outside the government to get something done. I think that probably sums up the frustration that has led people to the streets.

On a related note, anyone else hear the story about the folks who weren't allowed to close their bank accounts? Apparently, you can't be a protester AND retain the right to access your money. Yeah, the bank is going to hide behind the spectacle the ladies were creating, and cite that as a "reason," but they were customers before they were protesters, and that's an important distinction to make.

What will the big national banks do when people flee with their money to local banks and credit unions? Does it count as a "run" on the banks when people take the money out and put it in other banks, that they have judged safer and less onerous within the rules of the free market?

We'll see.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

More Truth, Please

This pretty much sums it all up.

I still think one of the reasons folks feel cut out of the governing process is due to non-participation. I only hope the folks in the streets will use this as more inspiration to get involved in those parts of the process where participation is the most vital. From there they can affect the change they are asking. But the fact that so many people relate to what is going on in the streets should tell you exactly where we are as a country.

It is hard to argue with the points made on that link. I agree with every word.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

The Biggest Tax Increase in US History

That's what Herman Cain, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for President, is proposing.

And it is just that simple. Any lower federal taxes that I end up paying by lowering my annual rate to 9% will be far more than offset with the 9% increase in sales tax on every damn thing I buy, ever. Quite easily put, my taxes will go up. A lot. And I'm not somebody who buys a lot of stuff on a monthly basis.

Business would flee from New Orleans, as the local and state sales tax rates are already 9%. That puts us into the 18% sales tax bracket as a municipality. Who will come here to spend money with that kind of overhead?

In the macro sense, people that buy the most stuff will be forced to stop buying so much stuff. If businesses don't have a market, who are they going to sell things to? While that's probably a good thing when it comes to ending our unsustainable economy (people buy less crap), and while that's a good thing for the environment (people buy less crap), this will be murder on every single business in this country that sells goods of any kind.

And that's before you look at what happens if the business cycle gets into a downturn: if sales are already weak, what happens when demand plummets further? Luckily, we already have those numbers.

You remember which governments depended on sales taxes to make up significant parts of their revenue stream? The states. The cities. And since the 2007 economic collapse, how, exactly, have those governments been doing?

Exactly.

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$7,000,000,000,000

That's what rising sea level and subsidence is expected to cost the United States by 2070. That's the total we arrive at when looking at human costs and "exposed assets."

If you look at exposed assets rather than total population, then Miami, New York-Newark, New Orleans and Virginia Beach all climb higher on the list, with $7 trillion in assets vulnerable to severe coastal flooding by 2070.


That effort to restore the already disappearing Louisiana coast doesn't look so expensive when seven trillion dollars of loss is factored in, now, is it?

As a matter of fact, the $40 million effort, called "wasteful government spending" by some, looks like it isn't going to be up to the task. We're going to need a bigger boat.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

53% Bull

It sure doesn't take the right wing long to manufacture a new meme, does it? Like they were just waiting to roll that out. Their target audience are people like me - folks who work jobs and pay taxes and who might be lured into a state of cultural and economic panic if I thought there were a bunch of poor folks out there getting away with stuff.

It doesn't matter that plenty of the other 47%, those lucky enough to have poverty-wage jobs, still pay income taxes, and end up eligible for a tax return. It doesn't matter that everyone has "skin in the game" because everyone pays taxes on almost any service they recieve, or depend on those services and infrastructure to support the dynamic economy necessary for them to rise out of poverty. What matters is how easily it is to demonize the most at-risk populations in this country, who have the least political agency. What matters is selling a lie that there is some 53% of hard-working Americans "supporting" the other 47% of lazy Americans.

It is an easy lie to sell to folks, given enough economic insecurity. But it doesn't take a lot to get past it. When I pay taxes, I don't get angry that people who don't make as much money as I do pay less income taxes. That wouldn't make sense. I do get angry that people who make more than me - sometimes much, much, much, much more - pay less income taxes. Or when those folks get special government rules and tax-breaks for projects that would make them even more money. Guess where that money comes from?

But right-wingers don't want me to think about things like that. They want me to resent the less fortunate as if folks living in poverty are getting away with something. But you know what? That they would so shamelessly lie to me about the way of the world really pisses me off. They can't just advance a different political vision of the country (like Ron Paul does), they have to try and scare me into a panic with easily repeatable lies. And I know they are lies, living as I do in a city where you can find both crushing poverty and immense wealth. Some of us might call that "the real world."

That doesn't matter to the right-winger, despite all their talk-talk about accountability and Real America (TM). That's because existing in the land of make believe has its advantages when it comes to building political narratives to try and win elections. You can get away with so much more than if you have to consider reality, reason, and accountabilty.

Luckily, Jon Stewart already destroyed this meme some weeks back. Or, at least, the previous incarnation of it. I'm sure once this 53% nonsense fades away, they'll roll out a different way to tell the same lie.


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Halls of Power

In the US Congress, the Senate scrapped Obama's jobs bill. Luckily, the President seems to realize that one way to get all this stuff done is break each bill into its constituent parts. That way, the people can see exactly how their Republican representatives are voting against infrastructure and public schools, in case the issue isn't yet clear enough.

If the President had done that with the original stimulus, we'd probably live in a very different country, politically.

On the local and state levels, Topeka, Kansas has opted to do away with their domestic violence ordinance because they spend too much money bringing those cases to court. Apparently after subsidizing real estate developers and handling contracts with the sanitation companies for trash pickup, the city can't afford to do things like investigate or prosecute crime. Instead, they'll stick that bill on the state and county governments, and hope that those organizations can find a line item in the budget to enforce the laws. In the meantime thirty individuals currently facing domestic violence charges were released, while the various governments work it out.

There is no word of change, however, on the local marijuana laws. Priorities, I guess.

For all of those #OccupyStuff folks who think they're in the park with their ironic posters because they aren't allowed to participate in government, not one of the Topeka city council candidates received more than 2,000 votes. Most won their seats with far less.

Still think you're doing anyone a favor by camping out in a park?

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NOLA on the Occupation

Oyster thinks the #OccupyStuff folks need to learn from the Tea Party.

Passionate Tea Party demonstrations have succeeded in pushing Republican candidates to the right, and supporters helped the GOP retake the House of Representatives in 2010.


This was the greatest success of the Tea Party, which should give hope to the #OccupyStuff kids. Think about it: both "movements" are more emotional responses to cultural and economic panic than an organized faction with goals and a coherent message. Both also lamented a perceived lack of agency when it came to participating in the process of governing. I guess that's why all the school board and city council meetings where decisions are made are sparsely attended affairs.

Over on the Yellow Blog, Jeffrey levels a more brutal assessment of "the 99%":

Mostly what we're seeing is a lot of Yuppies suddenly disappointed that their decision to buy into a corrupt system hasn't affirmed their claim to superior personhood through material reward. Particularly telling is that so many of the messages include citations of advanced degrees. We're hearing from people who think they're entitled to something they've "earned."


That's more scathing than any tired trope the right-wing has been trotting out in recent days to engage in their favorite past time of hippie-punching. (Yes, I'm looking at this nonsense.)

But Jeffrey doesn't stop there, he looks at the deeper educational narratives as well, and how they have contributed to the cultural and economic panic of both the Tea Party and the #OccupyStuff crowd:

[T]hat complaint only makes sense if you believed the con in the first place. 99 Percenters who believe, like Rick Scott wants them to believe, that "education is the key" to the comfortable life and have dutifully committed their time and resources to pursuing whatever bland ambition Scott prescribes for them are understandably feeling a little ripped off right now. Because they've internalized the con, however, they're just as likely to remain disdainful of those who haven't, in their estimation, "earned" the right to demand a fair living standard.


Damn. And people thought I was being harsh.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Result

Of course, if you fail to have a serious conversation because you ignored all the lessons of the past you might learn because the pursuit of a classical education isn't considered valuable, you fall prey to big lies that folks want you to believe about your world.

The oil is still here. The poison is still here. People are still getting sick. The land and sea is corrupted, and there isn't a whole hell of a lot we can do about it, because most people have wished away the problem like in a fairy tale.

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Education, Inc.

Jeffrey explores the educational value, especially as it pertains to the old middle-class aspiration of "success" and the right-wing narrative of "not valuable unless it prepares you for a trade."

Because why would anyone need to know about history, literature, social science, and the humanities? I mean, isn't life more fun when we just make stuff up as we go along?

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A Serious Conversation

The Great Recession? The Stimulus? American politics?

This is as good a place to start as any.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Failed Revolution

Oh, the old Eastern Bloc, where they're not even trying to hide the return to the bad old days. I mean, it takes a lot to make price-gouging Russia and financial-basketcase Europe appear sympathetic in the story.

When I think about the #OccupyStuff folks, who forego their invitations to participate in their own governing process because they'd rather hang out in parks with ironic posters, I think about what it must be like to be a citizen of the Ukraine.

Years ago, you go into the streets for the Orange Revolution to throw out the corrupt oligarchs. All you get is a fractured government that can't get things together. That government is forced into unpopular shady deals because the oligarchs are obstructionists who weren't helping the country, and the revolutionaries have to figure out a way to keep the lights on. When the deals fall apart, the finger pointing begins, and the new government that came into power with the will of the "revolution" collapses. This collapse hands the country back to the oligarchs.

Some revolution. And those are folks who were real revolutionaries. They didn't have any political voice. They had to go into the streets and throw out the old guard. They had to shut down the country to ensure free and fair elections. They were part of the team that brought down the Soviet Union.

So if the Ukranian revolution didn't get very far, I can't imagine the #OccupyStuff folks will last through Christmas. Hell, the #OccupyAtlanta folks couldn't gather enough consensus to let John Lewis speak at their event. John Lewis, an actual hero of a former American revolution, was down there to tell folks he supported them. But he never got the chance to.

I guess the #OccupyStuff folks don't need to listen to guys who actually put the work into changing the country, and have the scars to prove it. That tells me just about all I need to know about this.

If they don't step up from spectacle to actual involvement (as the Tea Party ended up doing successfully), even at the most local levels where the work is the most tedious, they aren't going to change one damn thing.

Not one.

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A Mystery, That

Worst Louisiana shrimping season in memory? Yup. There's just no explanation why. I mean, not even the reporters from the New York Times could figure out what might be the problem.

Could have been too hot. Louisiana doesn't get hot in August, after all. Could have been the Mississippi River floods this spring. Mississippi River never floods in the spring. Maybe Tropical Storm Lee done scared all the shrimp away. We hardly ever get tropical weather in Louisiana. It has to be something like that - I mean, the industry experts all said the massive oil and chemical spill we're not talking about anymore wasn't really a big danger at all. Hell, magic bacteria in the Gulf of Mexico eat oil and poisonous chemicals because oil and chemical spills are natural as the ocean water itself.

It could be any number of factors really.

< / sarcasm >

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Saturday, October 08, 2011

On Taxation

I'll let the history of the Republican Party do the talking.

Tell me again how these fools today took over that brand?

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Why Fox News is a Joke

The headline on this article says it all. Especially considering the video evidence, which shows something more like a crowd dynamic (large crowds tend to press) and what their report calls "storming the barricades."

This is not a spoof, it is a real article passed off as real news by what is still considered by many as a real news organization. Fox News is none of those things. It is truly a propaganda machine, where editorial decisions are made to support a specific political agenda while sowing the seeds of mass cultural panic and bunker mentality amongst its viewership. Only in such a context does the videotaped activity have any resemblance to "storming the barricades" with "Democrat support."

Disgusting.

Of course, this Washington Post op-ed gets far closer to the truth of the matter, not the singular incident, but the overall activity. Or the way Slate adds it to coverage.

But don't pay attention to them, some would say, they represent the "liberal media."

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Friday, October 07, 2011

Tulane to the Big XII?

Buried in the bottom of the article. Is this an idea with legs, or more media speculation?

If the SEC takes Mizzou and the Big XII wants to go back to 12, the Wave have a shot.

Not a good shot, mind you. But if Texas and Oklahoma are looking for some in-conference schedule fodder, especially with the liklihood of picking up small enrollment, private Conference USA schools, Tulane is in the mix.

From a purely financial standpoint, the city of New Orleans has to want this to happen. I cannot imagine the revenue this city could generate hosting Oklahoma or Texas every other year.

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The Liberalism of Open Markets

Here's a reminder that by moving this country more towards a system of open markets and free enterprise, the effect would be liberalizing and progressive.

Two points to illustrate this:

One, hidden fees mean consumers cannot make informed choices.

If you want to know why so many people hate liberals, this is it. We're annoying! And now, thanks to us, you have to pay a monthly fee to use your debit card.

Unfortunately, it's hard to explain why this is, nonetheless, a good thing. But here's the nickel version: the old fees were largely hidden. The new ones aren't.


(HT to Andrew Sullivan)

It is an inherently liberalizing and progressive system that forces businesses to properly disclose their actual costs. That's part of the role of government in regulating business. It is liberalizing and progressive to make businesses "pass the cost on to the consumer" because that's how a market system works. It is only at that point when consumers can make the appropriate fiscal decisions for themselves - when all the costs are laid out in front of them.

Two, tax incentives inspire regressive, closed markets. When the government chooses the "winners" and the "losers" in any system, it violates the idea of competition for consumer business, and undercuts the ability of workers to develop and invest in their own businesses. It stifles innovation - why take an already considerable risk when the government artificially increases your risk by subsidizing your competitors?

Sometimes, the cost for not incentivizing is higher than the cost of incentivizing (such as agriculture subsidies that normalize food prices), but even those incentives are often taken advantage of. And once you've incentivized an otherwise unsustainable system, removing the subsidies would collapse it, leading to a spreading instability that threatens even healthy markets.

For example, we've subsidized sprawling real estate development, gasoline production, and air travel to such a degree that our entire system is now dependent on those three sectors maintaining artificially low costs. Those are just some of the painful and unpopular choices our nation and our government really have to make to get our fiscal house in order.

Because if we don't address those issues while we can still let ourselves down easily, the hard fall is going to go very, very badly for us.

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Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Suburban Ponzi Scheme

Yet another study that points to development patterns as a key factor that created our unsustainable economy.

In particular, we must emphasize obtaining a higher rate of financial return from existing infrastructure investments, focusing on traditional neighborhoods where large public investments in infrastructure are currently being underutilized.


That's a very long-term and financially-healty way of looking at things, even though it will doubtless be described as outside the "business friendly" model so many municipalities use to subsidize politically connected developers to encourage short term "growth." But let us not be confused - the current subsidization (Ponzi scheme or not) that makes sprawl possible is the social engineering model forcing people into an automobile-centric culture. While ending that subsidization won't bring a halt to all sprawling and suburban development everywhere (ht: Dante), what it will do is bring more realistic market forces into account when driving development.

If people who lived in the sprawling suburbs had to shoulder more of the actual costs of living where they live, they might make different choices. Right now, the cost of living outside town is artificially equalized to the costs of living inside town. While you will always have folks who want to live in a place with a big yard and commute for an hour every day, I think more people would choose to live in cities and towns if it weren't artificially cheaper to live in the suburbs. Self-interest being what it is, people will make decisions based on their personal economics, and it is only natural they would congregate where it appears they are getting the most.

Unfortunately, and here's where the Ponzi scheme analogy becomes appropriate, many of them are now unable to maintain their decisions now that the artificial economic supports are being rolled back due to budget constraints, or have moved on to other areas of artificially subsidized "growth." That is putting the big hurt on our economy right now.

This is also related to the Highway Ponzi scheme, and it is becoming obvious that both development and transportation models currently associated with "sprawl" are increasing the burden on the US taxpayer at all levels, and are not delivering the return on investment needed to maintain a dynamic econmomy over the long term.

(HT: Alli on both links.)

Truth be told, these realizations come from the reality-based fiscal conservatism I can believe in:

Marohn feels strongly about these things, but he is about as far from a radical as you can get. He is fundamentally a soft-spoken, common-sense Midwesterner’s Midwesterner, and a fiscal conservative. But it is precisely that conservatism that has driven his organization's philosophy in the direction of smart growth policies and supporting traditional towns and neighborhoods.


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To the People in the Streets Today

I hope you're well. I hope you protest peacefully. I hope everything goes as planned, and you have a great day in fellowship with your friends and family and those who stand in solidarity with you.

I can see how the frustration with the system is driving people into the streets. I get it. I do.

But I want you to take the next step.

You can count me as one of the folks who wants you out of the streets. The streets are fun. The streets are easy. I want you to take the next step, and start taking advantage of the political agency you already have just by being a part of this great American system of government.

Instead of the streets, how about getting involved in the boring stuff like:

#OccupyYourLocalSchoolBoard
#OccupyYourLocalCityCouncil
#OccupyYourStateRepresentativeRace
#OccupyYourLocalJudicialElections
#OccupyYourLocalCriminalJusticeSystemDecisionMakingProcess

Not just for one meeting, but for all the meetings. Go, or have your friends and family go if you cannot make it. Then make it a point to get to the next meeting.

You know how difficult it is to get people to show up for these things? Hold a protest and thousands can bail out of what they're doing and take the time. Ask folks when their next school board meeting is, and you get a blank stare.

If you really want to change some of the crap sandwich we have in this country, you've got to roll up your sleeves and participate in some activities that are thankless and have no real place for witty posters. And you have to stick with it. You have to participate in your own governance because no one is going to do it for you, no one is going to be shamed into doing it for you.

Oh, and if you've got a problem with "the Democratic Party" or "the Democratic leadership" how about:

#OccupyYourLocalDemocraticPartyMeetings

They'll let you in. They'll let you speak. They'll generally be thrilled because so few people show the hell up with any consistency. So few people are willing to volunteer their time for something as boring as participating in government, that if you show up enough, for a long enough time, they'll probably invite you to join in the decision making process. They'll invite you to join in the planning process. They'll beg you to step up and run for office.

Because we can all get together and yell and chant and make posters about how "the system" is screwed up, but until you take advantage of all the agency you already have in "the system" but aren't using, no amount of spectacle is going to change one thing.

Not one.

(This post is a revised comment left on a First-Draft post.)

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Myth-Making Machine

I hate the narrative on both the left and the right that claims President Obama's policies towards international terrorism are anything like the demonstrably failed horror-show the world had to live through during the Bush/Cheney administration.

[I]n claiming that Obama has adopted Bush administration policies he’d once criticized, Cheney seems to believe there’s no difference between, on the one hand, torturing captured detainees and, on the other hand, “taking robust action” (as, he allows, Obama has done) against an avowed enemy of the United States who has done our people harm and is in a position to do more.


The President is handling the wars as closely to the strategy he campaigned on, he has done so with a relentless consistency difficult to match in American history, and has found considerable success in doing so. The repeated idea that the President's successes are attributable to the former administration are as jaw droppingly false as the hysterical claim that his shortcomings equate him with the former administration's worst failures.


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Bad Analogies

I am tempted to say that news organizations in bankruptcy giving bonuses to their managment to "maintain proper incentives" for their failing efforts is a little like the White Star Line giving bonuses to their fleet managment team at the end of the 1912 fiscal year for getting most of their passengers safely to harbor.

But that would be a terrible analogy, because it compares bad business practices that cost money to bad business practices that cost lives.

Besides, thanks to Bocephus, the country has already hit our hyperbolic and inappropriate analogy quota for this week.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Being Honest

The #OccupyWallStreet crowd has been successful, from a visual and attention-seeking standpoint. And yes, their "movement" is growing.

But I'm still very confused as to what this "movement" hopes to accomplish. Besides serving as a solidarity snapshot of the American center-to-left, and providing a cathartic blowing off of steam at how things suck now, what is going to be accomplished? These men and women can get on all the news programs, say whatever they want about Wall Street, and live in a park for three weeks, but they still didn't even affect local school boards or city councils from a "power" standpoint.

The problem in this country has never really been getting people into big crowds for a big purpose (sports and music festivals do that), the problem has been how people feel they have no agency to govern themselves, but have difficulty realizing what agency they do have. For the most part, however, it is there for the taking, and has always been. I've never been denied access to a local political meeting, a school board meeting, a city council meeting, or any meeting regarding the community interest. Governing decisions are made in such places.

Camping out in the park may reignite some of the passion for being a liberal in the same way that attending a Tea Party protest gave catharsis to the cultural panic of older white Americans. But at least the Tea Party had an end goal: take over all elected offices everywhere.

For those keeping score at home, that's just what they did in 2010.

I wonder if the #OccupyParks folks will ever turn the corner from participation in spectacle to participation in governing.

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Monday, October 03, 2011

Campaign Obama

Campaigning I believe in. It is time to really start highlighting the differences between the President and those who want to replace him.

That's as good a place to start as any.

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One Thing Leads to Another

I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.

At some point, all this right-wing panic-inspiring bulls___ about Democratic, Liberal, and Progressive folks (and all their affiliated organizations) and their make-believe ties to groups trying to violently overthrow the United States government* is going to get some people hurt.

These are not unhinged commentators on a fringe website, these are folks at an esteemed publication that helps drive and define modern American "conservatism."

It makes me wonder what really is going to happen if individuals in that camp win complete political control of the United States again, and their demonstrably false "tax cuts = jobs" fantasy continues to fail as spectacularly as it has in the the last decade. What groups of people do you think their pundits will continue to blame? This train is never late.

Add the "violent union thugs" or "Ground Zero Victory Mosque" fantasies to those airwaves, and what do you think will happen if any sort of national protest against such policies gets even a little bit out of line?

It isn't a tough line to cross, going from shooing demonstrators out of a capitol building to gunning people down in the streets. We've got a bit of a history with that, in this country, especially in times of emergency or confusion when the popular culture of the moment has dehumanized your targets or labeled them inherent physical threats.

And please don't act like I'm "demonizing" anyone for pointing to actual American history as opposed to the revised version the Tea Party prefers. This stuff actually happens, and the more you consistently equate peaceful political enemies with violent national, economic, and cultural enemies, the closer we come to real history repeating itself.

* At the same time they control that government and use it to oppress you. Depending on how tangled and incoherent you'd like your right-wing serving of bull.

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Sunday, October 02, 2011

Trading Schools for Oil Profits

Maitri reminds us that subsidies and tax credits for oil refineries take away access to education for America's children.

Because oil companies don't make enough money to maintain their own oil refineries. Poor oil companies. Maybe they should organize a bake sale.



Another reminder? There are plenty of massive-profit industries the government pays for at the expense of government services like public schools. Funny thing is how they then go around telling folks that the "public school model" is a failure.

Maybe someone should get that memo to these folks:



Because I think we could significantly cut down on government spending if we let a little bit more of the market into the US corporate "business friendly" model. And if these industries decide to keep their massive profits, bonuses, and golden handshakes while passing the "cost" onto the consumer, well, then the consumer can make the decision based on their own personal cost-benefit analysis. That's what a free-enterprise system is all about.

Wish we had one.

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