Rather more reality

May 10, 2012

Dan Rather is on a book tour this week. Rather always was a forceful personality, still is. For quite a long time, Dan Rather was the anchor of a well regarded news program, and for a good deal of that time, the program got good ratings.

It was Rather’s bad luck that he ran a piece accusing a sitting President of a crime committed years earlier, and that the President’s people set him up with a faked piece of evidence. Presumably, it was a faked piece of evidence, nobody really knows. CBS hired a lawyer to look into the problem, who said it was fake. Richard Thornburgh, well known Republican. CBS could have hired a non-affiliated lawyer to look into the problem. Could have hired a Democrat. But they hired a Republican, because Rather was not getting the ratings he had enjoyed in years past. Well, that can happen, when part of a man’s success is being a ruggedly handsome character. Rather is still a rather talented journalist, and as his book title will tell you, he is still Rather Outspoken. But by 2004, Dan Rather was getting old with the viewers, even if he was not showing signs of senility or debility. CBS set up the tribunal to clear the decks, and that is what they did.

Incidentally, except for the fact that the font might have not been invented when the memorandum should have been typed, nobody ever showed that there was anything wrong with it. All of the allegations in Rather’s expose were true, it is still the case. George W Bush, who later became 43rd President, was absent without leave, from an Air National Guard assignment that was a gift to start out with. Bush ne er was subject to the draft. He did not enlist, like Mr. Kerry. He did not serve in the National Guard and go to Vietnam like Mr. Gore. He never had to appear in a theater of war, never was exposed to enemy fire. Paperwork associated with Mr. Bush showed that he could actually fly an F-104. Maybe that is true, maybe not. The F-104 was difficult to fly, compared to other aircraft. It required a higher level of attention to detail than most other planes. In fact, it was mostly obsolete… the US Air Force stopped using the F-104 except for a small number that had been modified to go after missile and radar installations. Diogenes never figured out why the Air Force did not take the specialized equipment out of the one aircraft and put it into another better aircraft. Maybe it is because they were losing them on a regular basis anyway – going after missile installations is a very dangerous business. In any case, Lt. Bush did not have one of those, he had an ordinary F-104, and he was never going to be sent into danger. His father was a Congressman. His grandfather had been a US Senator. His mother was known to be a particular fierce Republican (a fierce Pierce), the thing that Richard Nixon liked best about her. Lt. Bush was not fulfilling his duties as a pilot, because he was out of his mind on cocaine, for the whole year. That was Rather’s point, and he was correct.

So, Dan Rather was greased out of the anchor chair at CBS. The network made plans to bring in a younger and more attractive anchor, Katie Couric. The interim anchor, Bob Schieffer, was a close family friend of George W. Bush, a fact that CBS did not advertise, but which they no doubt noticed.
Schieffer, incidentally, was the moderator for a debate between Bush 43 and Senator John Kerry during the 2004 campaign. In an earlier debate, John Edwards made a complimentary comment to Vice President Cheney, about the subject of his daughter, a well-known lesbian. The Vice-President acknowledged the compliment, and they went on. During the next debate, Schieffer asked a question that elicited a similar compliment about Mary Cheney, but this time the Republicans were ready to pounce. They raised every kind of stink about bringing Mary into the debate, even though the Cheney campaign had her assigned to work with the gay community. It was worth a couple of votes in a couple of swing states, and that favor by Mr. Schieffer helped George W Bush to limp over the finish line with a majority in the Electoral College.

An eventful year at CBS.

Rather now has a program on a cable channel, and a new book. He talks about the story that ended his career in a way that indicates that he did not know the skids had been greased well in advance of his hitting them. It is sometimes the nature of reality that people who do very well are totally focused on the task ahead of them, and Diogenes thinks that Rather was insufficiently paranoid. In fact, though, maybe it would have made no difference. CBS was under pressure from the Bush 43 administration, who didn’t play hardball, because hardball requires actual rules. Mr. Bush should have known baseball rules. One of the businesses run by Bush 43 before he became President, was a professional baseball team, and Mr. Bush’s partner in the enterprise was Bob Schieffer’s brother, but it has not been demonstrated that Bush ever actually played by the rules.

The Texas Rangers baseball team never had a winning season while George W Bush was associated with it. Never had a lot of fans in the stadium. The thing that made the team worthwhile was that
the Rangers ball club owned its stadium. It was built by a municipality, on land that was condemned by the local government. Here in New York, if land is taken by condemnation, the city always has to pay relatively top dollar for it. Not the case in Texas, they took the land for next to nothing, built a stadium and gave it to a ball team that had a politically connected partner. Diogenes is still working on which partner that could have been.

Diogenes noticed at the beginning of the Obama administration, that the new President said he was going to look forward, not back. At the time, Diogenes was thinking this was a wimpy way to go about business. The Bush people had done so much deliberate damage, including the death and destruction in Louisiana that led to riches for people associated with Mr. Bush, and taking a sufficiently large number of flood-homeless out of New Orleans that the Republicans won the next election for Governor. And here in New York, where Mr. Bush’s Attorney General signed off personally on an investigation of a man who patronized a brothel. Eliot Spitzer, who had to resign from office in disgrace, might have had a chance to get the New York State budget under control. With the upheaval and uproar and the fact that the next Governor just was not a powerful figure, the budget work and some of the other long term problems had to wait to be addressed. Maybe Spitzer deserved what he got from the Bush people, but the State of New York did not.

Diogenes remembers the Eisenhower years. Republicans were not done trashing Harry Truman, who was perhaps the best President of the twentieth century. The Republicans used the rallying cry, Twenty Years of Treason. Assholes. When Richard Nixon ran for President, he disparaged Truman the whole time, even though he’d been out of office for eight years. Diogenes was very amused during the Bush 43 administration, when Bush compared himself to the most admirable figure he could think of, Harry Truman. Bush kept a bust of Churchill on his desk, and maybe someone told him that Churchill admired Truman, and considered him a friend.

Now, the Republican nominee, who really looks Presidential, says that the problems of America are due to the failed policies of the current President. That is just so much bull-shit. The truth is that the problems of America are due to the failed policies of the Republican Party. Mr. Bush never was much of an idea-man. He certainly was not so stupid as he pretended, but ideas really never were his bag. Like his father, Mr. Bush 43 never had that vision thing. All of his policies were factory made in the think tanks of the Koch’s. Pre-wrapped by the pre-eminent Republican henchman, Mr. Rove.

Passed by the Republican controlled Congress. When Mr. Romney talks about failure, maybe he doesn’t remember the time from 1994 to 2006, when the Republicans had control of the Congress.
Failed policies is right! The failed policies of the Republicans. Tax relief for the people who need it the least. Failing to watch out for foreigners hijacking airliners. The French knew there was an Al-Queda plot to hijack airliners and fly them into the Eiffel Tower. The FAA wanted to order the airlines to install stronger doors on every aircraft. The Republicans in the Congress were able to kill that piece of intrusiveness. Can you imagine how much that would have cost, to replace every control cabin door on every airliner. And for what? Nothing, except it would have prevented the attacks of 9/11, the loss of five thousand lives. And the World Trade Center. For that matter, the reason there was so little loss of life at The Pentagon, is that the airliner hit the one side of the building that had been made stronger just in case of attack. By now, Diogenes hopes the whole building has been modernized, in case of another attack. But at the time, the Republicans in the House were complaining about strengthening the Pentagon – as if anyone would ever attack the Pentagon.

NY Rent Regulation

April 27, 2012

This week the Supreme Court decided not to hear the case about New York Rent Control and Rent Stabilization. The case was brought by James Harmon, a very capable lawyer who used to be an Assistant US Attorney. Even though he is now the best known Landlord-Tenant lawyer in the United States, Harmon does not practice this kind of law. He says Landlord-Tenant law in New York is actually much more technical and difficult than bringing a case before the Supreme Court of the United States, something he has done before this as well.

Harmon’s case in a nutshell, is that the State of New York has taken his property, several apartments in the brownstone building that he lives in. His grandfather had it, then his parents, now he has it, and Jim Harmon has at least one grandchild. The apartments on the second, third, and fourth floors of this building, are renting for one thousand dollars each, per month. If the apartments were not under rent control or rent stabilization, they would rent for more than two thousand dollars a month, perhaps $2600 per month. Each.  This adds up to a lot of money. Harmon is not a big landlord – this is the only building in his name in the City. But it is anyway a lot of money, and he thinks it should belong to him, not to some collection of tenants who happened to live there and got a lifetime tenancy at reduced rent as the result of the laws.

There is a lot to be said for Jim Harmon’s case. Regrettably, none of it will be heard in the Supreme Court. Harmon does not say whether he thought he would win, only (as you would expect from a competent lawyer) that he had a strong case. His petition cited cases, as one would expect, and used a quotation from Mr. Justice Scalia to make his point. Diogenes is not a lawyer, and would not be able guess the outcome anyway. Really good lawyers cannot always do it. Remember, David Boies thought he had a chance to win Bush v. Gore. The lawyer for the City of Washington DC probably thought the city could ban private handgun ownership, based on having the highest handgun murder rate in the US, maybe the highest outside of Afghanistan. And based on the fact that the Supreme Court had never, since John Jay was Chief Justice, never said the second amendment guarantees gun ownership to every individual in the United States, until the Roberts Court.

The members of the current Supreme Court include five right-wing justices and four moderates.

Maybe Harmon thought the five would side with a private property owner, because right-wingers like private property, and because they do not like New-Dealish social welfare programs. Evidently the five like the rights of states to do any damn thing, more than they like private property rights, excluding guns. When Mr. Justice Souter was on The Court, they decided that a municipality could take the property of a group of Rhode Island home-owners, and give that property to a land developer. This case is not so much different from that case, and to the extent of the difference, New York had a stronger case than the town in Rhode Island.

Diogenes discusses the political aspect of this case, because he does not have the skills to discuss it as a law case, or as an economic case. Diogenes hopes that some economists might look at this, because it is very important in New York, and it also applies in other cities.

There is a very large number of apartments, all built before 1973, and most of them are rent controlled or rent stabilized. For this reason the value of similar units that are not under this law, is greater.

Not only are the rents in non-stabilized units higher than in stabilized units, they are also higher than they would be if all of the units were not stabilized. It is very much in the interests of landlords who have mostly non-stabilized apartments, to keep the situation the way it is. If for some reason the law were to go away, the market level rents would decrease, on average. Now, scarcity keeps the prices high.

Diogenes has always imagined that the reason why the law still stands, is that the number of tenants registered to vote in New York outnumber the landlords by 50 to 1 or maybe 100 to 1.

Some of the landlords live in other states, some landlords are large corporations. And as much as Willard Romney says that corporations are people, my friend, they still cannot vote in state elections.

Diogenes thinks that might not be the only thing: The interests of the landlords with mostly rent-stabilized apartments and the landlords who have mostly de-stabilized apartments, are in opposition.

Another effect of the rent regulations, is that nobody in their right mind would build apartment buildings that are intended for working class or lower middle class people. If it costs $60 thousand per unit, and if the rent is two thousand, the landlord cannot ever make enough money to cover his costs and also make a profit. So the only rental housing that has been built since The Great Depression, is luxury buildings. Landlords are people who need to make a living from their investments, almost like regular people. The housing market is made up of rental units, and also co-operatives and condominiums. If a landlord is not making a living from renting out apartments, he might decide to turn the building into a co-op or a condo, and cash out that way. In the 1950′s and 1960′s quite a lot of buildings were put up, specifically to be co-op’s. Except during the real estate bubble of the 1990′s and part of the 2000′s, when some luxury condo buildings were put up, all of the condo and co-op apartments were conversions from rentals. In addition to producing a lot of money for the developers, this also had the effect of raising rental prices for the remaining non-stabilized apartments. This situation is ridiculously complex. It looks like it would be unstable, as well, as the winners and losers are not divided according to any kind of rules. However, even though it looks like it might look unstable, it is cemented in place by votes and voters, by owners who profit from the situation as well as those who lose by it, and by the politics of the US Supreme Court, which is likewise not susceptible to logic or reason.

Whether one likes these laws, originally called Emergency legislation in the 1940′s, those laws are not going away any time soon. This is bad news for some landlords, who really thought they could win this on the law or on the equity. It might be good news for people who would like to buy properties, because the people holding out for a positive decision, will now be getting out.

That raises other issues, although maybe not to Jim Harmon, who is the third generation owner, and who has two generations behind him. The issue is the value of a residential income property.

Obviously, that would be an amount agreed by a willing buyer and a willing seller in an arm’s length transaction. But what does it mean, in money?

Used to be, years ago, that a property would be valued at about five or seven times rent-roll. That is, the yearly total of all the rents collected from the apartments in the building, plus, if the landlord is lucky, some extra money for rent of cellphone tower space on the roof. If an investor buys a building at seven times rent-roll, he can make a profit. If he buys a property at ten times rent-roll, he might be able to make a profit, if he does not have a mortgage. Nowadays, every landlord who has properties thinks that a Saudi Prince will want to live there, and make it into a one-family house. Of course someone like that will not care about the price, and in the case of an Upper West Side brownstone, that asking price is 20 or 25 times rent-roll.. So landlords are not selling. Particularly owners of buildings that could become a private residence, like the Brownstones on the Upper West Side, in Harlem, and in parts of Brooklyn. The property owners, all of them, are holding out for a sheik or a movie star to buy their property at the price they want; they have little interest in giving it away at market rate.

Good Luck to all of them!

the failed policies

April 25, 2012

Willard Romney won primary elections in a lot of states Tuesday. Many more delegates than he failed to win in Iowa, although there was little coverage of the primary elections in New York and Pennsylvania and the others. In one speech after another, Romney is talking about bringing America back, and attacking the “failed policies of this President” that have kept us in recession.

It is interesting that neither Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich were able to scare up a lot of votes in the Keystone State, even though both of them were born and spent childhoods there. Gingrich famously moved to Georgia, Santorum talked about living his life in the hard-scrabble Appalachian highlands, but he moved his family to Virginia when he was elected to the Senate, and when he lost, big-time, he kept the family in the Old Dominion.

Both Santorum and Gingrich have been criticizing Romney for not being a Conservative. Actually, Romney probably is a Conservative, in the manner of Everett Dirksen and Henry Cabot Lodge, and David Brooks. All of those individuals are far to the left of the mainstream of the Republican party, and hardly on the same planet as the Tea-Party and the Libertarians. As David Brooks says, he is a Conservative, the people who are far to his right are Right-Wing Exteremists. The reason why so many Republicans do not like Willard Romney is that he really is not one of them. Because it is the nature of Republican voters to cast a vote for their candidate under all conditions, Romney is going to get their votes on election day, even if there is fire and high water. Except that some of them might stay home, and some might decide that it is a poor idea to stay a Republican. In any case, all of the Republican candidates are pretty much in agreement about the failed policies that have brought this great country to its knees.

In the past, when Romney ran for a seat in the US Senate, against Ted Kennedy, he was pretty Liberal. At that time, maybe a little to the left of where President Obama is now. Later, Romney ran for Governor of Massachusetts, and in that campaign and as Governor, he was pretty much of a centrist.

The centerpiece of his centrism was the Massachusetts health care law that his primary campaign opponents called Romneycare. There are a lot of people who do not like the Massachusetts plan because it is too solicitous of the profits of the Health Care Insurance Industry. Those people prefer something like the single payer plan used in Canada and the UK, or a public option, that would include competition between the really efficient private enterprise good guys, and a heavily burdened publicly funded entity that is staffed by people with no incentive to work or to to provide high quality care to the patients. Diogenes guesses that if reality were anything like that scenario, the private insurers would end up with most of the business, and would not have to worry about competing with a government entity at all. Maybe the health care companies know something they are not telling. Do you think so?

In all of the debates about health care, the Republicans have been deriding single-payer as a socialist doctrine. In actual fact, the first of these plans was designed by Winston Churchill toward the end of WWII, although it was largely put in place by his political opponents, Labor, after the war. Churchill as a great hero to many in the US; a bust of Churchill sat on the desk of President Bush 43.

The Massachusetts Health Care Act was designed by an economist at MIT. All right, it is kind of a left-leaning institution, but mostly that is about a tilt towards reality on the part of the Liberals and Progressives and Centrists. Joe Gruber, who designed the plan, says that it absolutely will not work unless everybody participates. In order to have a health plan that serves the purposes of caring for sick people and preserving the health of not-sick people, everybody has to be a part of it.   Joe Gruber also spent some time working on the plan that passed two houses of Congress and was signed by President Obama.   The plan the Republicans deride as Obamacare.

In short, Joe Gruber is probably the best informed person to make comments about both the Massachusetts plan and Obamacare. Joe Gruber says they are the same.   Does not matter that Willard Romney is now sixty degrees to the right or where is was a few years ago, the plan is the same.   Saying that the plan is OK for a liberal state, but might not be OK for all of the states, is just wrong. That plan has grown in cost since it was enacted, but the growth of costs in the Bay State  is lower than the growth in costs in states that are run by right-wing elites, and lower than the average of all states. In short, the plan has been shown to be quite an improvement over the option of no plan. The Republicans don’t like this, so they talk about how unpopular Obamacare is. Well, duh! Spend a billion dollars to attack each part of the plan that does not optimize the interests of every group, pretty soon a lot of people won’t like it. Interestingly, when people are asked about parts of the Affordable Health Care Act without the label, over 80% of Americans approve of it.

One of the things that is best about the Act, is that it actually saves money. That part the Republicans to not like to talk about. If they repeal the Act, they will have to come up with a lot of money to pay the difference. Another thing they do not like to talk about is that the Act actually improves American competitiveness on the world’s markets. For many years, American manufacturers have been paying much more for very inefficient health care, making American goods more expensive than the goods of all of our competitors.

Willard Romney is closely associated with the Affordable Health Care Act, the biggest of the failed policies he talks about. What are the other failed policies Romney talks about?

The bailout of General Motors and Chrysler. Whoa, that’s picking winners, and Government should not be in the position to pick winners.  In this instance, the people who work for those two companies, and the people who work for suppliers to those companies.  And Ford, because if the suppliers went out, they would go too.

The Erie Canal, a state government enterprise, should not have been built in the 1820′s, because it picked winners. It made New York the biggest seaport in the world. It created farms and industries all across the United States. When Chicago was built, everything used to build it,except the lumber, came up the Erie Canal and across the lakes. Everything grown on farms in the upper Midwest, came to market down the Erie Canal.

In the 1860′s, the railroads became the major form of transportation. Every one of them had government subsidies. The trans-continental railroads go huge US Government subsidies.
The ship-builders got subsidies. The airlines and airplane manufacturers got big government subsidies. The auto manufacturers and truck makers, the trucking companies and bus lines, all got huge government subsidies. Including the signature achievement of he Eisenhower administration, the Interstate Highway System.   These subsidies by and large helped not only the industries that got them, but others as well, that is why they worked. These subsidies, the government picking winners, have been part of America for a long time. But no, that was picking winners, and we should not have built a large and prosperous nation.

Willard Romney also faults the stimulus. Diogenes agrees that the stimulus has not worked to expectation. However, the problem has been that there was not enough stimulus. Krugman, Robert Reich and others have suggested that the stimulus was about a third or half as big as it should have been. Maybe they are correct, or maybe Mr. Obama correctly perceived the size of stimulus he could get through two Houses of Congress, and went with that. Romney has noted, in his failing effort to court the votes of non-right-wing women, that the unemployment rate among women has increased since Mr. Obama took office. The stimulus helped states to retain policemen and firefighters and teachers and nurses. When those funds dried up, because the Republican controlled House would not permit more spending, no state wanted to lay off police and keep all the teachers. Of course.

Romney sometimes criticizes the TARP. Diogenes thinks this is quite funny. The TARP was designed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, in the Bush 43 administration. There are things to criticize about the TARP, but at the time, the big money companies really had the economy by the throat, and they got what they wanted, and they did no further violence to the United States. Like doing business with the Barbary Pirates. The TARP might be a failed economic policy, but if this is what Romney is running against, he is running against the wrong President.

Candidate Romney does not like the Dodd-Frank bill, not one bit. He says it is killing the entrepreneurial spirit of American Financial Institutions by making them fill out a lot of bureaucratic red tape. He is right, it is about regulation. Romney must be hoping that no voters will remember the financial collapse that occurred exactly because the financial firms were not regulated, and refused to regulate themselves. Diogenes is reminded that the big accounting firms did not want any regulation. The spokesman for these firms was Harvey Pitt, a Brooklyn boy and a graduate of Brooklyn College.
Pitt said exactly that the big eight did not need any instruction from the government, they knew their business very well. Pitt was appointed head of the SEC by Mr. Bush 43, and he left that office after a series of scandals, not the least of which was Enron. Mr. Romney’s rhetoric about the financial companies knowing what to do sounds remarkably like the words of Harvey Pitt.

Willard Romney is now doing his victory dance. He has the Republican nomination unless they find a live boy or a dead girl in his bed. Maybe even if they do. He clearly needs to say something, of course, and it would be impolitic to talk about his actual plan. The only things he is sure about is repealing Health Care, repealing Dodd Frank, and keeping the Bush Tax Cuts.

Diogenes thinks that Mr. Romney should keep talking about these exact points. He is unlikely to talk about them in any detail because the actual policies he advocates – that is, the policies of the failed Bush 43 administration and the failed Hastert and Boehner Speakerships, those policies will sink him with the voters, not just the women and Hispanics. If non-right-wing Economists and political analysts actually examine Willard Mitt Romney’s positions, he will be lucky to win his own state, whichever one that might be.

Economics, a real science?

April 24, 2012

Sometimes it comes to our attention that some kinds of science are similar to each other. It is especially true when some kinds of science come under attack. As example, right-wing Christians (and some fundamentalist Jews) do not believe in Evolution. Specifically, they deny everything Darwin wrote in his Origin of Species. Likewise, right-wing coal and oil producers and their flacks, deny that burning fossil fuels has anything to do with climate change, in spite of a good deal of evidence in favor of the theory, and no evidence to challenge it. If glaciers in Asia and North America and South America and Europe are melting, that is a pretty strong case that something is going on. The fact that some low-lying countries are going to get wiped out by rising sea level, that is another piece of evidence.

In view of these challenges to established fields of Academia, Diogenes observes that Economics is very much like Astrology. Both involve a lot of very serious observation and calculation, and it is not evident that either is connected to the rest of the universe.

Last week a Romney Economics flack (one economist friend thinks it was Glenn Hubbard) was on the radio. The flack prefaced some number of mis-statements and un-truths with the phrase “As a professional economist, I can tell you…” Diogenes noticed that this radio guy used a wonderful Republican trick, of putting three untrue items into a sentence, so the host cannot even try to keep it honest. Good work! These people, radio guy and Romney, have been saying that the economy is in bad shape because or the failed policies of the current President. Not because of the failed policies of the previous President, of course, because those are the same policies Mr. Romney would bring back. Diogenes appreciates the idea that all of the blame belongs to Mr. Obama. The Congress has no part in this, do they? Because if the Congress actually had the power to pass laws and budgets, it would not all be the fault of the current occupant at #1600. Who was it that said “Job One is to make sure this President is a one term President?” And then used his forty votes in the Senate to filibuster everything the President proposes. Diogenes needs a reminder. And which Speaker of the House was unable to collect enough votes to come to a common-sense compromise about the budget deficit? And while we are at it, which party in The Congress caused the budget deficit starting in 2001?

People on the political right like to talk about economists and the economy.
They have some people who practice this arcane art, but who do not agree in principle with others, on the left and in the middle, about some of the main areas of study in Economics.

Diogenes suggests that in actual Science, two physicists would not argue endlessly
over the speed of light. Few weeks ago, some physicists announced some test results that would have overthrown Einstein’s assertion that nothing can exceed the speed of light. When that subject did come up, as one would expect in a real science, somebody looked at the test apparatus of the guys who were
disputing Einstein and found that it was calibrated in a silly way. There were people who disputed Einstein’s work very forcefully in the 1930′s, calling it Jewish Science. Those views did not prevail, of course. That’s the way it is, in real science.

Diogenes has a BA in Political Science. Even in politics, professionals in the
field seldom argue over actual facts. The causes and effects, of course.
When somebody does question an obvious fact, like the Birthers, they are
ridiculed, and nobody with a PhD in Political Science would go on the radio
to say “As a professional political scientist I can tell you Barack Obama
was born in Kenya.” They might say that Gore actually had more votes in Florida than Bush, and they might actually be able to prove it. Not that it matters at this late date. The election of 2000 was decided by exactly one vote, that of Mrs. Justice O’Connnor, who chose party loyalty over the rule of law. But there is not a dispute about who won the election, or of the principles of Political Science.
Economics is different. Republican Economists insist on the truthfulness and the applicability of the Laffer Curve. Of course, there is no evidence that the Laffer Curve has actually existed, only “it stands to reason.” And there is evidence that the Laffer Curve is actually upside down, according to the work of Mike Kimel and others. Republican Economists insist that the problems with the economy are due entirely to the lack of competence of the current President, who in other ways has shown himself to be a very capable guy by normal, non-Republican standards.

Diogenes has never actually studied Astrology. .Never heard some guy on the radio saying, “as a professional Astrologer I can tell you that this or that will take place on a specific date in the future.”

If there is a practitioner who feels that this essay unfairly disparages their life-work, one hopes he will come forward.

Rationality of Banks

April 24, 2012

Like most Americans, Diogenes knows nothing of economics and finance. But quite a lot about the ways that banks work, or don’t work, has become public knowledge.

Remember when we were taught that economics was about rational markets. Milton Friedman, patron saint of Republican economists, used to say on TV that everything is rational. Keynes thought markets were more or less rational, except when they went nuts, the government had to step in. Mr. Romney still says it in public. Just a little private enterprise competency in the White House and everything will be hunky-dory, or however they say that in the language of the Harvard Business School. It will get to be as good as it was the lasts time we had a President with a Harvard MBA (irony alert).

Nowadays there is not so much rationality. Especially about the toxic assets. The whole economy is in pretty bad shape, but the colossal failure started with the Real Estate Bubble. A little of it was about Fannie and Freddie and the very powerful and very evil Barney Frank, but over 80 per cent of the problem was The Banks and Wall Street and good old private capital.
For a while Diogenes was associated with a company who told the world they had $10 billion from overseas investors, and that these investors wanted to buy the toxic assets of US Banks, at 26 cents on the dollar.

Seemed like a pretty straightforward assignment, just call some large number of banks, talk to the people responsible for unloading the things, and arrange a deal. Not one bank that wanted to do a deal. For a while people said this was because we let them know the price in advance. It really was no secret how they came to the price of 26%: When Merrill Lynch had to unload a ton of these assets in order for Bank of America to take them over, the assets sold in a hurry at that price.

It was not about price. It turns out that all of the banks preferred to let the assets get picked up by FDIC for 16%, instead of selling them privately for 26%. HSBC turned over the assets that my associates wanted to buy at 26 cents, and gave them them up to the government at a lower price, 16%.

Seemed pretty stupid to me. And some of the banks lied to me. The VP at IndyMac told Diogenes they were selling these assets (actual foreclosed houses) one by one at 90 cents on the dollar, and would not entertain any bulk sales of any kind. And that they were working the portfolio down at a rate that was acceptable to the regulators. Turned out not to be true.

In order to actually make a deal with investors, someone at the bank would have to take responsibility for de-valuing assets, in writing. That is, the bank officer would have to make a decision to sell assets that were on the books for a billion dollars, and make the bank lose 740 million dollars, before the sale could take place at 260 million. That guy would immediately lose his job and he would never be able to work in the banking business again. Let it go to FDIC, nobody has to sign off on it. As we say here in Brooklyn, Poi-fict.

The whole banking fiasco was based on an interlocking network of stupid ruled and irrational markets.
It is no wonder that if failed in a spectacular way. It’s a good thing the Republicans have decided to end the Dodd-Frank bill, and get Big Government out of the way of the bankers who really know how to operate the money markets. The collapse of the world economy has been so much fun, that we really ought to give them another go at it (irony alert).

Debt and Deficit; Economy and Jobs

April 19, 2012

Candidate Mitt Romney let everybody know what he thinks is important in the Presidential campaign.
Four words that ought to come back to haunt the billionaire ex-governor of a liberal state.
Mr. Romney thinks the campaign will boil down to four words. Debt and Deficit. Economy and Jobs.
That is what he is saying now that Romney is the GOP nominee-presumptive, and now that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are endorsing him.

Diogenes believes that Romney has it right, this time. Of course, nobody knows what will happen the next time the etch-a-sketch is shaken up a little more, but in this instance, and for whatever length of time Mr. Romney will hold on to this core idea, the two sides should be seriously discussing this.

Debt and Deficit and Economy and Jobs. Boehner and McConnell. In the opinion of Diogenes, and probably in the opinion of most people in Brooklyn, those ideas are very important. And we should tie them around the neck of Mr. Romney like one of the Hermes neckties that he will not wear again until some time in November.

Note to the Mainstream Media: Do any of you people remember that the economy was doing pretty well in 1998 and 1999? Not so good as it could have been, by any means, but anyway pretty good.
Diogenes remembers when George W. Bush won the election of 2000 by exactly one vote – the vote of Sandra Day O’Connor. Mrs. Justice O’Connor could not decide on the law or on the facts, so she had to balance her dedication to the United States of America against her Republican blind loyalty.

Soon, the Democrats found out how loyal their House and Senate soldiers in tough districts were: We got the Bush Tax Cuts. Remember, these tax cuts were going to jump start the entrepreneurs and get everybody working at a productive good paying job. It did not work out that way. When the Republicans got control of both houses of Congress and the White House and the Supreme Court, we did not get a period of un-precedented prosperity.

We did get a period of un-precedented Supreme Court decisions, but the prosperity seems to have eluded us. Between 2003 and 2009, we did not have prosperity. We had two wars. The first one, in Afghanistan, looked too easy. It looked like such a slam-dunk that the Republicans decided to not pursue Osama Bin Laden. Took our troops, who were actually being successful at taking out the Taliban, and put them in Iraq. That great GOP philosopher, Rumsfeld, liked to say that you cannot fight with the army you want to have, you have to fight with the army you really have. He was trying to say that Mr. Clinton had left the Army in bad shape. It wasn’t true. Diogenes would like to know, please, why those patriots Charles Grassley and Peter King and Darryl Issa, who can see every defect in Mr. Obama’s administration, did not see anything wrong with starting a land war on the asian continent, before finishing the first land war on the asian continent.

Well, they got away with it between 2001 and 2008. Nobody could do anything about the economy until the War President was out of office. Well, Mr. Obama got our people out of Iraq. The Republican critics said at the time that pulling out our troops would reduce Iraq to civil war and brigandage, but that did not happen. The Republicans talked at great length about how Mr. Clinton missed chances to kill Osama Bin Laden, and maybe that is partly true. But they were totally in charge for quite a while, and could not manage to take out the greatest enemy of the United States since the death of Hitler in 1945.

It required the attention to detail of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Gates and others, and the focus on the big items of Mr. Obama, to be able to go after Osama Bin Laden. They found him. They went after him in his safe haven, where he had bribed people who said they were our friends to hide him. And they killed him, as he deserved and as the safety of the world required.

While this was going on, Mr. Obama was focused on getting people back to work after the worst economic collapse since the 1920′s. The crash of 1929 was brought on by right wing Republicans, and the crash of 2008 was similarly brought on by right wing Republicans.
Getting out of a depression, that is more of a job for Democrats. The President asked The Congress for a stimulus package in 2009. He asked for much less than was necessary, probably because he knew that amount of money was not going to be approved. He asked for a pretty large amount, and the Republicans demagogued that subject until at long last a much smaller amount was approved, an amount that guaranteed a slow recovery. Each time the President suggested aid to the states, to allow them to keep police and firefighters and school teachers on salary, the Republicans attacked him for spending money we just do not have. Of course, we do not have the money because the Republicans passed the Bush Tax Cuts, and when the time came, they insisted that the Bush Tax Cuts had to be renewed.

Even now, Mr. Romney is insisting that tax cuts will unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of American Business. The idea of reducing taxes on the wealthy, it didn’t work during the Reagan Administration.
And it really did not work under the Bush 43 Administration. Maybe it will work now, but probably not. Diogenes is wondering if there is a Republican flack economist who is willing to bet on this failed piece of right wing policy will work, if we try it for a third time. Diogenes will line up a lot of Democrats to take the other side of the bet, as Romney Republicans like to bet a lot of money all at one time.

If we want the economy to perk up, it will require a lot more than tax cuts to the wealthy.
It will require hiring more teachers, to start. Mr. Romney is attacking Mr. Obama because a large percentage of people who have lost their jobs since 2009 have been women. Well, if you don’t help the states, and they have to lay off a lot of teachers, that is what you are going to see. Diogenes might not be very smart. Maybe there is some way that reducing taxes on the very rich will result in women getting hired in large numbers. For sure, spending some money on hiring teachers will help the teachers, and will help the students, and it will help the towns and villages and cities where the teachers live.

There are exactly three ways to take care of a deficit problem.
1. Cut the budget. The British and others in Europe are doing this, and it is not working.
2. Increase taxes. The Republican majority in the House will not permit this.
3. Both budget cuts and taxes, using Simpson-Bowles or something similar.

The right wing pundits – some of whom pretend that they are pretty middle of the road, are attacking the President for not signing on to Simpson Bowles. Right – because if only Mr. Obama had approved it, the Speaker would have been able to bring all of his people on board with it. The same way the Speaker was able to marshal all of his forces to come to a deal on the national debt, the last time that came up. Maybe from where you are, you cannot hear Diogenes sardonic laughter.

The four things that Mr. Romney wants to talk about. Debt and Deficit, Economy and Jobs.
Those things should hang around the necks of the Republicans in the Congress, until the voters in the middle can see what a bunch of lying hypocrites they are… And did we mention that Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell have both endorsed Governor Romney for his economic program?

Who would have guessed that the leaders of the Right Wing, have a great sense of humor?
Of course, Mr. Romney has endorsed the Ryan Plan as his economic program.
Cut the budget. Cut the budget. Cut the budget.
Cut out the entitlement programs.
The poor people are getting rich on the taxes of the hard working people. The rich should not pay anything, because the rich are the fountainhead of all the economic growth in the USA

Means-testing Social Security will be a good idea, because it sets up a fight between two sides, those with money and those who do not. And the aspirational who hope to some day be rich, will vote to end Social Security altogether, the way the John Birch Society wanted to do in the 1950′s, and for which President Eisenhower called them idiots. Another way to go at this problem would be to collect FICA on all earned income, not only on the first $100,000. This would take care of the whole problem in Social Security, with enough left over to pay for a good deal of the Medicaid deficit. The right-wing are not going to allow that soon.

Debt. Deficit. Economy. Jobs. It is time for the pundits who are not right-wing flacks, to go after these issues. One at a time, or all in a bunch, these are the things that will re-elect President Obama and maybe put the gavel back in the capable hands of Mrs. Pelosi.

Eye of Newt

April 11, 2012

Yesterday, Rick Santorum, the holier-than-thou candidate whose name means holier-than-thou in Latin, suspended his Presidential campaign. We will not get into the meaning of the name that Dan Savage created for the man that can be found in Google.

Immediately, Newt Gingrich popped up to demand that all of the delegates pledged to Santorum at the convention, should run to stand behind the former Speaker of the House. Always the opportunist, Newt. It is not obvious when he dropped the Pennsylvania German pronunciation of his surname. When Diogenes lived in Central Pennsylvania, his family doctor was named Gingrich, pronounced GING-rick. One of the students in Diogenes’ eighth grade class at Warren G Harding Junior High School was named Gingrich, pronounced the same way. And when Diogenes did business with a fellow who spelled his name the same way in the 1990′s, his name was pronounced in the Pennsylvania German manner. A second cousin of Newt’s sister – Newt was adopted into the Gingrich family, not related by DNA.

Newt wants some delegates, so he can show up in Charlotte with the ability to force Romney far to the right. Or at least, to extort the promise of a cabinet position.

Until recently, Diogenes had a strongly held opinion that Newt Gingrich did not actually intend to make a serious run for the Presidency. Newt is such an obvious opportunist. The dozen consulting companies, the silly contradictory moral positions. But Newt has confounded Diogenes. Running for the White House has cost each of those companies a lot of cash money, and each of those companies was Newt. One would have guessed that a man who has a personal account at Tiffany’s, would have serious regard for earning money, but it seems not to be the case. Now that the Newt campaign has run its course, hundreds of companies are claiming money. In brief, they say they were burnt by Newt.

And as more of these companies show up, other companies, who assumed that Newt’s for-profit companies would pay them for work performed, or what-ever, are also starting to make noise about payments. Diogenes thinks he remembers when the Republicans pushed through a bankruptcy law.
It is now much more difficult for an ordinary debtor to discharge his obligations by way of the US Bankruptcy court, a function that is actually named in the Constitution. Newt, of course, did not try skipping out on his lawful debts by means of bankruptcy court. No, he is using a less formal method, skipping out by actually skipping out. Newt’s moral fiber is amazing. It is amazing for its flexibility. It is amazing for its plasticity. It is amazing for its transparency. Newt’s fiber is like the wonderful fiber of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

The people who Newt helped to election in the House in the 1980′s and 1990′s, the people who worked closely with him, all endorsed other candidates this year. Except for one, of course, his old chief of staff from the House Speaker days, was Callista Bisek, and she still stands by him. She stands by him wearing the Tiffany’s jewelry, the fabulous helmet hairdo, and the very strained smile.

Callista holds so strongly to her Roman Catholic faith, that she had Newt convert and marry her in The Church. Marriage in the Church of Rome requires a quaintly named ceremony called The Inquisition.
The clergyman who is to officiate, asks questions of both parties. One of the questions is whether the individuals have been married before, and whether they have children. Of course, Newt was married before. He had children with his first wife, Jackie, who are supporting his candidacy this year – good for them! Newt is not known to have fathered children with is second wife, Marianne, who he met through is Republican connections. If the official is doing his job properly, he is required to ask whether the relationship before him, had something to do with the failure of the previous marriage.
He is required to do this whether the previous marriage was in the church, or not. Maybe he forgot to do that. Newt, who was very punctilious about Bill Clinton’s marriage vows, might have neglected to mention that he had been having sex with his girlfriend Callista for over six years, most of the time he was married to Marianne. And at the time he was impeaching Mr. Clinton because he was alleged to have had some kind of sex with a woman who was not his wife.

At this point, Diogenes has to ask a question:
Mr. Adelson, and Mrs. Adelson, you knew this before you gave Newt more than ten million dollars.
How could you give that kind of money to a guy whose main characteristic is that is has no moral character of any kind? How can you think that Newt is superior in any way to the current President, if Newt is unable to uphold his financial commitments. He is unable to uphold his marital commitments.
When he was Speaker, he sold his influence to Rupert Murdoch and to everybody else with sufficient funds. Murdoch’s deal with Newt is especially humorous: Newt pushed a telecommunications act that benefitted Murdoch billions of dollars. Murdoch offered Newt a book deal with a front-end payment of fifteen million dollars – then by some means, the deal was disclosed, so Murdoch never had to pay up.

Newt is very proud of the fact that he is a historian. The research for his PhD thesis, about the effect of education policies in the Belgian Congo immediately before independence, did not include any interview with any person in Africa. Not students, not teachers, nobody who actually saw execution of the policies… there is no integrity there, either.

How can anybody support this guy? Diogenes is waiting to see what Mr. Romney is going to offer to Mr. Gingrich. Waiting to see what Newt will offer to Mr. Romney. Also waiting to see how Mr. Gingrich is going to make his next fortune.

GCB – truth on TV, vs reality

April 2, 2012

In the past, there were prime time soap operas that had no point except to deliver a lot of
pairs of eyeballs to the advertisers. Dallas comes to mind, and Knotts Landing. Of more recent vintage, Brothers and Sisters, and the still current quasi-medical Shonda Rimes shows.

A few times, Mrs. Diogenes has insisted on time together watching the new show, GCB. Mrs. Diogenes insists that this show really shows the hypocrisy of the people who claim to hold the patent rights to the Judeo-Christian heritage.

The show does show the Christians, or at least many of them, in a very bad light. The show is not entirely without merit. The central character is played by Leslie Bibb, an actor who has a very strong resemblance to a young Jessica Lange. Her mother is played by Annie Potts, who is still very attractive, and who is able to camp it up in much the way Joan Collins did, many seasons ago.
And the central character’s nemesis is played by Kristin Chenoweth, whose acting talent, comic talent, and most of all, outstanding singing talent, is wasted in this show.

In last night’s episode, there is a church fund-raiser. The Chenoweth character always provided the talent for the show, but in this episode another striver for the pastor’s attention gets the assignment, and hires Sheryl Crowe. It is too bad they could not have had a singing contest: It does not indicate disrespect to Crowe that Chenoweth is a much better singer.

Regrettably, the people who are in focus turn out to be no better and no worse than most of us, but better looking. Some of them are hypocrites, still holding a grudge from High School. Maybe even doing it in the name of their savior. Diogenes did not see anything that showed up the hypocrites. But more to the point, Diogenes would have been very angry if the teasing and hyping and spinning were actually accurate representations.

Perhaps that one would show a bishop in Connecticut who is appointed a Prince of the church for his success in squashing lawsuits alleging pastoral abuse. Or it might show one of his predecessors, wearing an actual dress and women’s make-up, at a party attended also by J Edgar Hoover, in a flapper dress and make-up, but with cigar and hairy legs.

It is a very good thing that the TV networks are able to advertise more than they deliver. The real thing, in this instance, would be an attack on people who do not deserve it, the real GC’s of Texas.
There are some things to attack, about Texans. They execute more prisoners than all the other states put together. They do not have a justice system worthy of that name, so they end up executing some number of people who are in fact innocent of the crime for which they died.

There are a good many right-wing leaning programs available. Some of them are entertaining. Diogenes likes murder mysteries – and was surprised recently to find that they are very popular with people who consider themselves Conservative. Apparently these people like the certainty, a criminal is apprehended, prosecuted, and ends up in prison. And they think it is real life.

Here’s some example of real life vs TV:
Mrs. Diogenes is a big fan of Tom Selleck. Sometimes used to threaten to go to Hawaii to look him up, when Magnum, PI was on the air. Watches Blue Bloods every week. In one episode, the Tom Selleck character, the Police Commissioner, forces a deputy inspector to retire. An old friend, who had taken a bullet for the future commissioner, twenty years earlier. The reason was that the old dear friend had altered crime statistics for his command, a very serious offense. In real life, a similar drama has been playing out in the actual NYPD. The commissioner has a problem with crime statistics.

The problem is that the crime rate is very low, and there will be a time when continuing the reduction will be totally impossible. Many people who know about the crime rate in New York, think that we are way past this point. There is a real life policeman who had knowledge of stat-bending, Adrian Schoolcraft. You can read articles about him in the Village Voice (while it stays afloat) and the New York Times. As the result of Schoolcraft’s whistle blowing, the high level officers who lied about crimes committed or not committed, are still in place. Schoolcraft is suspended from the NYPD without pay. For a week , he was held incommunicado in a mental hospital in Queens, entirely contrary to New York law, and the rules of the NYPD, and any kind of prefessional ethics. The real police commissioner will not take any question on the subject.

Diogenes does not like most of the shows that pretend to be real, but their failings are much easier to accept than the failings of reality.

The lying enemies of Rupert Murdoch

March 29, 2012

The Enemies of Rupert Murdoch are lying about him, according to Murdoch himself.

It is hard to imagine an individual who could arouse so little sympathy or even belief, with claims about enemies and lies, as the man who owns Fox News, the home of O’Reilly and Hannity and Palin..

 

Rupert Murdoch was talking about his involvement with stealing signals from a pay-TV service in the

UK, and providing the stolen services on his own network. He vows that he will have revenge over his enemies.

 

However, Rupert Murdoch might not be threatening his commercial rivals, as it would seem.

The Parliament have been having a field-day with Murdoch, having to do with the phone hacking scandal. And at the same time, another scandal that involves paying Scotland Yard policemen and high ranking officers for access to private, non-public information.

 

So many politicians in the UK are having fun at Murdoch’s expense, that he has been fighting back.

The Sunday Times of London, Murdoch’s flagship newspaper, has released recordings of Conservative Party hacks, offering access to Prime Minister David Cameron, for a paltry million dollars per access.

 

Diogenes finds it amusing that Rupert Murdoch would want to blow the lid off the Conservatives. After all, Murdoch put them in power a few years ago. Apparently Murdoch is not so amused about the buffeting he is getting in the UK. Probably he believes that the influence he brought to bear, should have been used to shield him from the phone hacking scandal. And the influence peddling scandal of his own. And the B-Sky-B scandal.

 

Although Murdoch is an Australian by birth, and even though he bought the victory for the Conservative party in the last election, Rupert Murdoch is now a US citizen. And the holding company that owns all of the British properties that are now in big trouble, including the one that created the latest scandal, are owned by this US holding company.

 

Interestingly, now that it has become public knowledge that Murdoch bribed a lot of public officials, he will be in big trouble here in the United States. We have a law that makes it a felony to bribe officials in foreign countries. Not only is it a felony, but it could jeopardize all of Murdoch’s radio and TV licenses in this country.

 

Diogenes suspects that when Murdoch threatens his enemies, he is not only talking about Australian Financial Review, which has been publishing very harsh news stories about him. Murdoch is directly threatening the British politicians he has been supporting, who are not watching his back. And he is threatening the US politicians he has been supporting – mostly the Republicans. Although, for a while, Murdoch supported Hillary Clinton, when she represented New York State in the Senate.

 

The latest scandal, recording individuals ready to accept a bribe, is a shot across the bows to anybody in office as the result of Murdoch’s influence, who fails to back him up in his hour of need. Let’s watch to see if the people who benefit from Fox News, will stand with Murdoch now, or whether they will be willing to risk his wrath, when he is brought to criminal court here.

Mister Justice Scalia

March 28, 2012

Call me Diogenes.

Mister Justice Scalia really works at pissing me off.

Actually, all of the right wing five are very annoying most of the time, and in a aggregate they have caused a good deal of harm to the United States. But Antonin Scalia works so hard at it, you have to give him the prize.

 

The second day of argument before the Supreme Court had quite a lot of testy exchange,

The entire thing was broadcast on NPR – here in Brooklyn I listened on WNYC AM.

 

Mister Justice Scalia asked the Solicitor General, representing the US Government, whether the requirement that every individual buy health insurance, wasn’t exactly the same as requiring every citizen of the United States to buy broccoli. Diogenes does not understand why none of the commentators mentioned this, but Tito’s question was a snide and deprecating way of getting at the point. Tito has a reputation for humor, and he was exercising his right to belittle the position of the United States Government from his seat on the high court.

 

It is a very good thing that Diogenes is not the Solicitor General.

Among the reasons why, of course Diogenes does not own a morning coat and striped pants.

The not-excusable remarks of Tito Scalia are never mentioned as gaffes in the way that remarks of the current President and the remarks of the Vice President are criticized.

 If the Solicitor General did not have a respect for the right-wing five, he should have stopped his remarks right there and said,

 

“Mister Justice Scalia, of itI do not think it is a proper exercise of your prerogatives as as Associate Justice, to belittle my argument with silly comments. The case that is most similar to the case we are arguing, is from the 1940′s, and in that case, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that the amount of wheat that could be grown by a farmer who swore that he was not going to sell any of it, but only use it for his own family – the monetary value of that wheat was sufficient to put the wheat into interstate commerce, and under the control of the United States. Only a few years ago, you personally wrote an opinion that said that the amount of marijuana grown by a man in a state that permits growing marijuana for medical use, and to be used medically only by himself, was sufficient to put that cannabis under the enforcement powers of the United States.

 

“I suggest, Mister Justice Scalia, that the subsidy that is required for each person who might choose to avoid buying health insurance, and who will some day absolutely require health care, is greater in each case than the value of the wheat, and is greater than the value of the marijuana grown by an individual for his own medical use. Your arrogant and derisive attempt to say that the power of the United States to control health care – which accounts for over 15% of the US economy, is about the same as the power to order everyone to buy broccoli, would be about par for the course, on the Rush Limbaugh show. Your humor is about as elephantine as Rush’s. I suggest, Mister Justice Scalia, that the broccoli metaphor would be out of place in a high class rant, such as Bill O’Reilly’s. I suggest, Mister Justice Scalia, that if you said exactly the same thing on Morning Joe, Mr. Scarborough would ridicule you for it, as you would deserve.

 

Diogenes imaagines that at this point – or maybe much earlier, he would be interrupted by the Chief Justice, Mr. Roberts.

 

“Mister Diogenes, you are completely out of order. We show respect for each other on this court.”

 

“Yes, Mister Chief Justice,” Diogenes would say, “I have seen the respect that the right wing five showed to precedent, in the Citizens United case, where you and Tito and the other three, just plucked an idea from thin air, overturned acts of Congress and more than one hundred years of decisions by this court, liberals and conservatives alike. I loved what you did with the DC gun ownership case, where you showed respect by creating a meaning for the Second Amendment that would have made John Adams puke. You five wingnuts just grabbed an idea from the gun manufacturers and importers, and Total respect for this court is about the same as urinating on the Constitution.”

 

When Mr. Chief Justice Roberts would ask if I intended show contempt for the court, I would give him Mae West’s answer – “ I am doing my best to hide it.”

 

 

It is a good thing Diogenes does not actually speak for the US Government.

 

 

 

 


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