Wealth Inequality

Why So Many Are Angry


Reading time – 3:59; Viewing time – 5:42  .  .  .

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was promoted as a surefire way to increase the wages of working Americans and promote the hiring of additional workers. “More than 70% of this [tax cut] will be returned to workers,” said White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, reading from official White House notes. It didn’t work out quite that way.

Corporations used far more of their tax savings on stock buy-backs than on anything that would directly benefit workers. The total used for stock buy-backs has surpassed $1,100,000,000,000 and the primary beneficiaries of that are people who are already wealthy.

Let’s try one more example.

After filing for bankruptcy, Sears closed many of its stores and the pink slips they put into workers’ pay envelopes told them that there would be no severance pay for them due to the bankruptcy. Now they’re giving out $25 million in bonuses to top executives. These are atta-boys for the very geniuses who drove the company into bankruptcy.

Want another example?

Wisconsin voters elected to boot Republican Gov. Scott Walker out of office and replace him with a Democrat. The lame duck session of the Republican state legislature then passed a series of bills designed to dramatically limit the power of the incoming Democratic governor and Walker has signed those bills into law. That keeps power in the hands of the people who lost the election and effectively thwarts the will of the people.

This post isn’t about railing against fat cats or Republicans. Rather, it’s about why we citizens are angry. It’s about real grievances rooted in the lives of millions who suffer while the powerful few enrich themselves.

I’m all for capitalism, but it, like anything, can be used to abuse, which is why we have regulations. Sometimes those regulations are ignored by those in power. Sometimes they pass laws that either directly or indirectly pad their own pockets and those of their “donor class,” often at the expense of the rest of us.

One last example.

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was President Trump’s first national security advisor. He was lobbying for a foreign government at the same time that he was receiving top secret U.S. national security briefings. What’s wrong with this picture?

Flynn lied about it. Trump tolerated it. How are you feeling about the performance of the primary job of the federal government – to protect our country and ensure national security? Flynn got $600,000 for his deceit.

When it consistently feels like you’re the screw-ee, there comes a breaking point for all of us and we get very angry. Some want to carry torches in the street and burn it all down and they will vote for whoever speaks to their rage. As long as that rage is continuously validated, all other leadership outrages can be ignored, like putting numbers on the forearms of child detainees at our border concentration camps instead of assertively dealing with the crisis of people seeking asylum.

One of the reasons we remain so very angry is the continuing Russian propaganda machine that has permeated our nation. Russia has worked to divide us, polarize us, confuse us, sow dissent and stoke our anger against anything that we used to see as bedrock of our nation. The people in our national security agencies are working to unravel that, but the most important point is that the leader of our country refuses to crack down on the Russians. Rather, he continues to create chaos – distracting, America-defeating chaos – making the stock market tumble, shaking our international alliances and making foreign autocrats applaud.

All of that and more is why so many of us are angry.

One more thing in two points .  .  .

First, the government is shut down. That isn’t about immigration. It isn’t about national security and it isn’t even about a wall. It’s entirely about Trump’s infantile ego. He declared on TV, “If I don’t get what I want, I’ll shut down the government.” (Play the audio below for the recording.) That has absolutely nothing to do with what’s best for our country.

Trump is promising to hold his breath and turn blue until he gets his way. And he thinks that’s what we should care about.

How is that working for you – or for the thousands of federal workers who won’t be getting paid?

Second point: Trump’s tweet that he will swiftly remove our troops from Syria came as a surprise to literally everyone, including our own Defense Department. Trump intends to cede the entire middle-east to the Russians, the Turks and the Iranians and abandon our allies, the Kurds, again. That is past the line of what Gen. Jim Mattis can tolerate, so he’s leaving the Defense Department. That’s shaking up our allies because there are no longer any adults in the room.

Main point: As important as these two issues are, recognize that Trump has effectively changed the national story away from the known 17 current investigations into the Trump Crime Family. Keep your eye on the ball.

Last minute correction: I’m informed that the numbers being written on the forearms of detained kids at our southern border are being written by welfare workers. I don’t know how that makes a difference from the same thing being done by government workers, but I’m told that it does. Just get that if these kids hadn’t been separated from their parents there would be no need for Gestapo-like numbers on their arms or any other form of ID. And get that this tattooing is being done in your name.

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Ed. Note: I don’t want money (DON’T donate) or your signature on a petition. I want you to spread the word so that we make a critical difference. That’s the reason for these posts. To accomplish that goal requires reaching a lot of people, so:

YOUR ACTION STEPS:

  1. Pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe (IT’S A FREEBIE!). No subscriber information is ever shared with anyone, anywhere, any time.
  2. Engage in the Comments section below to help us all be better informed.

Thanks!


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Perversion


Reading time – 4:41; Viewing time – 6:43  .  .  .

First they were the “silent majority.” Then they were “values voters,” which seemed to imply that those who didn’t see things exactly their way had no values. Now they’re “the base” or “Evangelicals.” Regardless of the label, they were and are focused on being a minority holding power over the heathen majority as though it’s a religious imperative. It’s a most exclusionary position, as in “I’ve got it and you can’t have it.” Whether it’s citizenship, civil and voting rights, power, superiority – it doesn’t matter. It’s all about we-who-are-right-and-good-and-godly versus all the people who are wrong and less-than and probably unpatriotic, too. Whatever advances their agenda is okay.

Paul Weyrich was the Dean Wormer of voter suppression.

Paul Weyrich, a conservative commentator and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, declared the Republican marching orders in August, 1980 while speaking to the Religious Roundtable, saying,

“I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Republicans have been pursuing Weyrich’s repressive dictum tied to a fairy tale of religious purity ever since. They’ve made claims of massive voter fraud without any evidence to suggest that it even exists and have warned of dire consequences to our country if the “wrong” people are allowed to vote. They’ve quite ably reduced opposing voter turnout by:

– Purging voter roles for spurious reasons, primarily of people of color and the poor

– Purging voter lists of people only because they haven’t voted in the past few elections

– Closing offices, making it difficult to register to vote

– Closing polling places making it difficult to vote

– Challenging ballots due to minor errors, like omitting a middle initial

– Dirty tricks, like sending mailings with the wrong date or place for voting

– Requiring IDs that many poor people simply don’t have

From The Onion, of course. Click the pic for the article.

– Refusing to accept IDs that many people do have

– Rejecting voter registrations on ridiculous technicalities

– Redistricting (gerrymandering) that effectively neuters votes

– Claiming voter fraud with absolutely no evidence of it having occurred

– Packing the courts with right wing judges who allow these perversions to stand

Voter suppression advances the control and wealth of the minority to the detriment of the majority, which perverts our democracy. Right now there is no equivalency on the Democratic side, although there has been in the past. But there is perversion equivalency somewhere else: it’s the Big Money influence on our politicians and our democracy. Now, that’s an equal opportunity perverter.

There’s a reason you’re paying crazy high prices for your meds. It’s because the pharmaceutical industry lobbies in the form of direct and indirect cash support for politicians. That monetary influence reduces their inclination to do anything that the big companies wouldn’t like, such as opposing mergers and acquisitions that reduce competition. The near-monopoly created by those mergers allows and even encourages med makers to raise prices. And it’s actually worse than that.

In economic terms, pharmaceutical price hike damage is compounded by what’s called inelastic demand. That means that your purchases won’t be reduced if the price goes up because your life depends on those meds.

We have plenty of anti-trust (i.e. anti-monopoly) laws on the books, but they’re pretty much ignored. There was the breakup of AT&T in the 1980s (which has by now been largely negated) and the Microsoft suit in the 1990s, but not much else for decades. Meanwhile, the mergers of major companies continue.

Many of our air carriers have merged, like Continental being absorbed by United and US Air was bought by American and, unsurprisingly, ticket prices are rising. And if the T-Mobile and Sprint merger is allowed to happen, and regardless of which carrier you now use, what do you suppose that will mean for your cell phone bill? That’s right: it will go up.

And it’s not just your financial burden that might be affected.

The gargantuan size of companies resulting from allowing already big companies to merge can be a contributor to a decline in democracy and even a rise of fascism. Here’s how it works.

When we feel powerless, we look for someone to lead us back to a feeling of being in control of our lives and our country. But the autocratic leader we choose then partners with the huge companies to get their loyalty and support. In return, those companies get to avoid accountability for their actions and we pay the price.

In the end, we’re left even more powerless and our democracy will have been perverted. Read Tim Wu’s piece “Be Afraid of ‘Bigness.’ Be Very Afraid.” Bigness – monopoly – warps government, which perverts democracy and invites autocracy, which steamrolls you.

This discussion wouldn’t be complete without making clear that all of our perverting craziness is for the purpose of the ultra-wealthy few keeping and grabbing even more power by undermining our democracy. The drum major for that band is, of course, Donald Trump. But all those denials of rights of our citizens are part of the perversion.

It’s in Trump’s interests to kneecap the system that’s in place and to diminish those in his path. He went on a tweet storm last week bashing Robert S. Mueller and the FBI. You owe it to yourself to review CNN’s clear-headed, examination of what he tweeted. As you read it, be clear that his is not just a temper tantrum. It’s a perversion of our democracy.

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Ed. Note: I don’t want money (DON’T donate) or your signature on a petition. I want you to spread the word so that we make a critical difference. That’s the reason for these posts. To accomplish that goal requires reaching many people, so:

YOUR ACTION STEPS:

  1. Pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe (IT’S A FREEBIE!). No subscriber information is ever shared with anyone, anywhere, any time.
  2. Engage in the Comments section below to help us all be better informed.

Thanks!


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

The Republican Juggernaut Against Government


Reading time – 2:10  .  .  .

In a recent conversation, a friend wondered why working-class voters vote for politicians and support policies that are at odds with their own interests. It’s my belief that these voters don’t think through the situation. All they recognize is that a program of small government and low taxes sounds good. That’s the promise that has been lied to them. But the promised decrease in taxes means that there is less money to pay for the services that taxpayers want. That’s the part they don’t see and nobody tells them it’s coming.

George Will has said for years that Americans want about $300 billion more in services than they’re willing to pay for. That, of course, leads to politicians telling otherwise sensible Americans that they can have those services without paying for them – just, “Vote for me!”

And we do. We all like something for nothing. And that’s what it looks like we’re getting as we vote for small government and lower taxes. It’s only later that we learn that our child’s school room has 37 kids, the books are 36 years old, the roof leaks and the walls are water damaged and the boys bathroom is out of service and the teacher has to buy the paper and markers for the kids, as well as the Band-aids for bruised knees. Then the teachers reach the point where their personally funding the education of everybody’s kids is unsustainable and they wind up in the rotunda of the West Virginia or Oklahoma state house carrying signs. That is when, in a stunning admission of failure, the governor says he doesn’t have money to pay them more or to upgrade schools.

This is what the people voted for, perhaps without recognizing those inevitable consequences. But the citizens of Kansas, the land of Gov. Brownbeck’s miserably failed experiment in state strangulation, could have told them this was coming.

We can be fooled very easily. George W. Bush sold his tax reduction plan by sending a check for $300 (or $600 if you made more money) to every taxpayer. That cash in hand – seemingly something for nothing – sold his  plan to give away billions of dollars to rich people. Slick politics, indeed. That blunder was magnified as he lied us into two wars at the same time, which meant that we not only had a bigger cost to run the country, but we had hamstrung ourselves with less revenue for the fundamental services Americans want.

Oh, wait – I forgot that the reduction of taxes on rich people would pay for itself because of the stimulus to the economy that Bush’s tax reduction would create. We’re still waiting for that windfall to reach the rest of us. Worse, our 115th Congress and President Trump just fooled us into this very same tax deceit once again with a tax plan that ensures that 83% of the tax reduction benefit goes to our ultra-wealthy citizens.

That false promise of small government and low taxes has brought us trillions of dollars of debt, a grotesque equity imbalance and our kids still aren’t getting a good education, except in high income neighborhoods.

The Republican juggernaut against government has consequences. Failing our children is one of them.

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Ed. note: I don’t want your money or your signature on a petition. I want you to spread the word so that we make a critical difference. That’s the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people, so:

YOUR ACTION STEPS:
  1. Pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe (IT’S A FREEBIE!).
  2. Engage in the Comments section below to help us all be better informed.

Thanks!


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

A Special Message to Congress on Your Win


Reading time – 2:05; Viewing time – 2:54  .  .  .

Dear Congress:

Well, really not all that dear.

This week we had a train wreck in Washington, as an Amtrak train flew off the tracks near Tacoma. People have been injured and some have died; perhaps yet more will die.

We’ve had another train wreck in Washington, as our Republican majority Congress (that means YOU, Republican senators and congresspeople) has managed to pass tax legislation that will further injure an enormous number of Americans and will allow many of us to die prematurely.

In both cases you who are in charge seem to have forgotten that your job is to protect and serve the people and to do it with care.

With the passage of the Republican-only, so-called tax reform act, once again you have managed to do exactly the opposite of what the American people want you to do.

By an overwhelming majority we Americans disapprove of your hateful bill and wanted you to stomp it to death. You didn’t do that.

Study after study have shown that we want sensible gun safety laws, universal healthcare, protection of our national parks and wilderness areas, clean air and water, excellent public education, an end to our endless wars, a solid battle against global warming and more; but you consistently deliver the opposite.

This time you managed to put yet more billions of dollars into the pockets of already rich people, create an additional $5,000 of debt for every one of we 320 million Americans and you dumped the burden primarily on the backs of our poor and middle-class children. Congratulations on successfully sucking up to your rich donors, padding your own pockets and the pockets of the President and blowing off the rest of us.

You Republicans passed this junk legislation without any input from Democrats, with no input from tax experts and with no hearings in Congress, listening only to yourselves and those rich interests that have their hands up your back. This is exactly why we don’t trust you.

See if you can answer these three simple questions:

  1. We want you to do things cooperatively and help to end our culture wars, not to make them worse. Exactly what is your problem with that?
  2. How you can be so dumbfoundingly deaf to the voices of the people?
  3. 81% of Americans disapprove of you (that’s you, personally) and the job you’re doing. Can you figure out why?

C’mon now, Republican congresspeople – you’ve been in charge for 7 years and ought to know by now what we the people want. Yet we’ve known for a long time that you don’t want to hear from us, but we want to hear from you. Answer my questions.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we’re on a path to continually fail to make things better. It’s my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That’s the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe (IT’S A FREEBIE!) and engage.  Thanks!

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

(Mostly) Quick Hits – They’re Linked, I Promise


Reading time – 6:49; Viewing time – 9:59  .  .  .

First, a heads-up for the impatient: The lede is buried at the end of this post.

A Really Tough Time for Republicans

Judge Roy Moore was removed from the bench twice for flaunting our laws in favor of his absolutist religious beliefs. Yes, he was an Alabama Supreme Court judge who disrespected the rule of law – that’s why he was removed from the bench – did I mention “twice”? Apparently, in Alabama that’s not a disqualifier for becoming a United States Senator. As you know, though, the story gets far worse.

Several women have gone public, accusing Moore of sexually violating them and  most were minors when the accused sexual predator allegedly violated them. We’re talking pedophilia. Here are some peculiars about this:

  1. There are only allegations of Moore’s wrongdoing – nine as of this writing – there have been no legal proceedings. If we still believe in innocent until proven guilty (and that’s questionable, given the Trump hysteria of “lock her up”) why are so many calling for Moore’s political lynching?
  2. We all know he’s a slime ball, with a history of his absolutist views being the only ones he deems of value, and his taking a million dollars from his charity for his personal use. He’s hurt both the Constitution and a lot of people and has that self-righteous stink of a hypocrite. That makes it easy to leap to a public opinion conviction of this guy.
  3. Donald Trump has slithered his tweets about how awful are the two wrongdoings of Sen. Al Franken (D-MN).  Oddly, even with the multiple accusations of Moore’s pedophilia, Trump hasn’t said a thing about him. That’s a mistake. I believe that the best thing that can happen is for Trump to weigh in on Moore’s alleged sexual predatory behavior. After all, other than Harvey Weinstein, Trump is the guy with the most experience in this field. Okay, that was snark.
  4. Why aren’t all Republicans leaping at the opportunity to fry Roy Moore? This is a political no-brainer.
  5. This is a really tough time to be a Republican with a spine, with a moral compass, with a drive to do what’s right for others and for our country. If such folks stand up for what’s right, the extremists will fire them from from their jobs in Congress and the state houses. That’s because about half of us – most of the reasonable, centrist Americans – don’t bother to vote, leaving to the extremists the decisions about who goes to Congress and our state houses. The solution to this is obvious. So, help a good-guy Republican by showing up and voting for the reasonable folks in every election.

Education

George W. Bush created the No Child Left Behind plan, which forced teachers to instruct students how to take standardized tests, rather than teaching them what they need in order to succeed in life. The name of that plan is something we all support and encourage, so the spinmeisters did their job. The only problem is that No Child Left Behind left millions of children behind.

Speaking of our children being successful, it seems we don’t actually want that to happen. We continue to provide the majority of funding for our schools through property taxes, which is a great plan if the properties are in a wealthy area. It doesn’t work quite as well if the area is poor, because that results in low tax revenue for schools and inadequate resources for turning out well educated kids. That’s how we systematically condemn poor kids to poverty and our country to less than our best possible future.

Leadership

Being clear about what’s going on and about what needs to be done is hard work. Someone needs to stand up and declare, “THAT WAY!” and it isn’t at all obvious who’s up to the challenge. The call has to be inspirational and it must be clean and crisp and memorable so that we maintain focus and continue putting one foot in front of the other and in the right direction. But that call seems as yet uncrafted. In the face of challenges all around us, which way should we go? And who will you follow?

Monopoly (not the board game)

The Justice Department case against Microsoft 17 years ago for anti-competitive practices is the most recent enforcement of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, legislation designed to prevent monopoly. The  purpose of that act was to keep excessive economic power from being concentrated in too few hands, because otherwise society – that’s the rest of us – would be harmed. Ronald Reagan essentially terminated the Sherman Anti-trust Act through non-enforcement and not much has been done to prevent anti-competitiveness since then, even as large corporations buy competitors and consolidate power for themselves and largely at the expense of you and me. Think: airlines; investment companies; accounting firms; pharmaceutical companies; and banks.

Taxes

You already know that the basic fact of the proposed Republican tax plan is primarily a cash giveaway to the rich. That’s accomplished by taking benefits from poor and working class Americans. The Republicans are claiming that this corporate and rich people’s mattress-stuffer bill will deliver the wondrous magic of driving economic growth, new and better jobs for Americans and rising income for all. Plus, everybody gets their own pony in the back yard. But what if all the goodies (other than the cash gift to the wealthy) are really just a phantom that was dreamed up years ago in order to sell trickle-down?

Bruce Bartlett was a key guy in creating the trickle-down myth in the 1980s, so he knows something about this. Read his piece in the Washington Post, where he ‘fesses up to having been a true believer in trickle-down and now unmasks the fraud that it is. He pulls back the curtain about the claim that reducing taxes primarily on the wealthy will result in rising income for working Americans. Be sure to pass along his piece to your fiscally conservative brother-in-law and be sure to remind him of the $1.5 trillion debt the Republicans’ plan will create. That should make for a spirited Thanksgiving discussion.

Banking

The Glass-Steagall Act was passed following the Great Depression as a preventative against some reckless banking practices that helped lay waste to our economy and devastate millions of Americans. In 1999 that law was repealed, allowing investment banks, commercial banks and insurance companies to merge and invent heretofore unimaginable products that put the entire world on the precipice of economic disaster.  There have been many calls for the big banks to be broken up since then, precisely because they enjoy de facto monopoly of our financial world and can pose an existential threat to our country. Those break ups haven’t happened and the banking instruments that put our economy in peril in 2008 are vastly larger today. What do you suppose might happen?

Freedom

It’s time to pay attention to what’s going on and make sense of it all. Here’s a sampling of what some very wise people had to say about that.

Our government . . . teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. Justice Louis Brandeis

He Screwibus Union

The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion. Edmund Burke

The people of every country are the only safe guardians of their own rights, and are the only instruments which can be used for their destruction. And certainly they would never consent to be so used were they not deceived. Thomas Jefferson

If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.  W. Somerset Maugham

We need clear, rational thinking and action in order to protect what we hold dear. Who would have thought that doing so would require courage on the part of those in Congress?

What we’ve seen so far are extensive connections to Russia and fatuous lies told about those connections by nearly everyone high in the Trump administration. What has been confirmed by 17 intelligence agencies of the U.S. is that Russia hacked of our election and tried to influence the votes of millions of Americans. Instead of believing our own experts, Trump believes Putin when all he offers is, “nuh-uh.” Trump maintains a submissive, lapdog posture toward Putin and his manipulation of and access to information makes it look like there’s been a bloodless coup, a Russian theft of America.

You are incrementally being put at greater risk by powerful people concerned solely with their own wealth and power and apparently without the slightest concern for our country. I assure you that staying quiet about this, doing an ostrich, will allow more harm to be done to you and to America. Robert Mueller is doing his job, but that may not be enough. Perhaps it’s time for you to stand up and speak up.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we’re on a path to continually fail to make things better. It’s my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That’s the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

P.R. and a Guest Essay


Reading time – 3:25  .  .  .

A guest essay follows a few comments on our federal “Who cares about it anyway?” crisis.


How is it possible to explain the inadequate and, reasonably labeled as cruel behavior of the President of the United States toward the people of Puerto Rico and the mayor of San Juan?

We questioned the foot dragging of federal help for victims of Hurricane Katrina, wondering if the response would have been as slow and miserly had the miserable victims holed up in the Superdome been white and had not been poor. Consider the same question in our current circumstances, substituting “had they not been Puerto Rican’s.”

Relief arrived a lot faster in both Houston and Florida last month. How come it has been so slow in Puerto Rico?

Where are the Army MASH units? Why has it taken a week and a half to dispatch a Navy hospital ship?

Why are there locked shipping containers of critically needed food, water and medical supplies sitting on a dock in San Juan instead of being opened and the supplies distributed to the hungry, thirsty people?

The mayors of cities and towns on that island are operating from vehicles instead of from their offices because many of their office buildings no longer exist. So, why are FEMA bureaucrats demanding memos from them in order to dispatch relief to the people?

This weekend citizens of Puerto Rico are dying, as there is no power for dialysis machines, no more insulin and they are drinking unclean ground water because there is nothing else available. All that horror and more is happening, while the leader of the free world tweets his venom and plays golf this weekend at his posh resort in New Jersey. Let’s call him President Reprehensible.


Guest Essay

College pal Al Shuman is something of a thinker and a stringer of words who often has something to say offline about these Disambiguations. His recent comments, though, prompted me to ask his permission to post his pennings here, suspecting that others may find them useful. See what you think and offer your notions in the Comments section below.

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I’ve almost written responses to the last couple of Disambiguation pieces and still may. I learned a new word from the last piece – I had not heard “limbic” as an adjective (or actually known its meaning) and it’s good to get new words.

What I had begun to write was that what I was reading felt like it was a transmission from my thoughts to your keyboard – all except one thing. I am sad that I no longer get a lump in my throat when I see the country celebrated (in the “usual” ways). Such events usually stir thoughts of jingoism, and I often feel uncomfortable. I get the lump now in the presence of true acts of courage, involving commitment to principle rather than an automatic performance of a ritual, which suddenly, in this moment, strikes me as akin to idol worship.

So, I am sitting in anticipation of your next piece, which I expect to be a commentary on Trump’s handling of the Puerto Rico fiasco and his shameful tweeting about the mayor of San Juan. It was not surprising, but I think that this is the lowest he’s gone and I want to put my hands over my ears and shout, “SOMEONE PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!!!” Mr. Mueller, you must have enough stuff by now; please hurry up and help bring this nightmare to an end.

And in defiance of what WE think is ALL common sense, his “base” is forever unmoved. The fact that they* feel empowered as never before provides the filter through which all events are viewed, all evidence is judged, interpreted, or dismissed. These people have too much at stake to abandon their commitment and “see the light.”

Although I think I understand what motivates these people and wish not to disrespect them, I confess that I continue to think of a wonderful line in Blazing Saddles where the Waco Kid says to Sheriff Bart, “You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the New West. You know . . . morons.”

Guilty as charged.

*Acknowledging that many Trump supporters are expressing party loyalty and/or political expediency, the “they” in this case are not those; they’re the ones whose support many of us judge makes no sense.

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Last Chance!

If you’ll be in the Chicago area on October 4, come join us for a presentation by Mike Papantonio, host of Ring of Fire Radio. Here’s a link to get tickets. Space is limited, so, “Don’t you wait and be too late.” This promises to be a terrific evening for those who continue to believe we can be better.


Best news headline of the week:

Hugh Heffner’s bedoom

Officials Investigating Hugh Hefner’s Death Suspect Foreplay

From The Onion, September 28, 2017

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Healthcare Reality


Reading time – 3:44; Viewing time – 5:17  .  .  .

The most recent policy issue – in contrast to the daily dump of Trumpian crazy – was healthcare. That issue deserves one last piece of clarity.

Conservatives believe that small government is best. They like minimum taxes, which obviously means that in their view the government cannot take on the 17% of our economy that is healthcare, because taxes would have to increase to pay for that. That’s a key reason they rail against Medicare and Medicaid, claiming that the government has no business being in that business. Some say that the issue should be handled by the states, while others think the citizenry, we rugged individualists, should be responsible for ourselves and that government should just butt out. These notions are offered in earnest, but let’s get serious about the actual facts, not magical thinking (see How America Lost Its Mind). Let’s take a look at Medicaid.

Medicine has changed dramatically over the past 100 years. We have amazing pharmaceuticals and they come with astronomical prices. We can replace joints and modify genes, all at very high cost. Medicine is finely specialized and the medical people in those highly specialized fields spend ungodly amounts of money for the schooling required and, in consequence, it’s expensive to use their services. Medical tools like MRIs and robots that do surgery are crazy expensive, but if you need what they do in order to save your life or restore you to health, there has to be a way to pay for that.

The point is that when Doc Smith came to the house with his black bag, it was possible to pay his bill with a couple of chickens. But Doc Smith doesn’t work that way today and the price of everything is orders of magnitude higher now. So if all you have are a couple of chickens, unless you get help from somewhere, you’ll have to go without healthcare.

In the absence of Medicaid, that means that poor people never visit the doctor until things are dire. Then they go to the emergency room, where they can’t be turned away even though they can’t pay for their care. By the time they get there, symptoms are far worse than had they earlier been under the care of a primary physician. They require even more extensive and more expensive medical care, all delivered in the very costliest manner, in the ER; worse, the patient may be too ravaged by disease to be saved.

What that means is that leaving people nothing but the ER for their medical care produces less than the best outcomes and has the highest cost. Because hospitals have to admit ER patients who can’t pay for their care, the cost of their care is passed along to the rest of us through inflated charges when we use the system, like the $40 Band-Aid. And what that means is that one way or another you and I have, are and will pay for the healthcare for poor people.

Medicaid was created so that poor people could get better, earlier medical care at lower cost and not have to rely solely on the ER. Limiting or removing that support will make the cost to taxpayers that much higher and cause unnecessary suffering and even early death for poor people.

So, forget the idea that getting government out of healthcare is fiscally sensible. The libertarians, conservatives and neo-cons are simply wrong – factually wrong about who covers the costs.

Click for the commercial

Yes, we have higher taxes on you and me to do that. The alternative is a dramatically higher cost you and I will pay when we go to the hospital. It’s a little like that old Fram oil filter commercial. You can pay your mechanic a little bit now to install a new oil filter, or you can pay him big time later when  your engine breaks down. Translated to healthcare, you can pay for healthcare for our poor through taxes or by grossly inflated hospital and doctor charges when you need care. Pick one.

And another thing  .  .  .

On his way out the door of the White House in January, 2001, President Clinton issued a pardon to Marc Rich, the financier and hedge fund manager who had fled to Switzerland to avoid prosecution for tax fraud. Using his wife’s name, Rich donated $1 million, distributed among Hillary’s campaign for the Senate, the Democratic Party and the Clinton Library. Righties and lefties alike cried foul, as this had the profound and unmistakeable stink of Rich having bought a pardon.

Now that President Trump has issued a pardon to the justice flaunting, law breaking, immigrant hating Joe Arpaio, one of the first public officials to endorse Trump for President, I’m looking for that same blend of howlers from the law and order types. Where are those tough-on-crime voices now that a severe rightie is the perp and the President is a Republican? I want to hear the Congressional tough guys and the Fox News propeller heads and the radio talkers crying, “Foul!” As of this writing, it’s been eerily quiet.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Plans for What?


Reading time – 2:45; Viewing time  – 3:58  .  .  .

Healthcare is our current favorite distraction from the Russian cyber invasion of America and the possible involvement of Trump groupies, so let’s have a look at what the geniuses in Congress have proposed for the health and well being of all Americans.

It’s well established that the House and Senate attempts at delivering on the brainless “repeal and replace” mantra have little to do with healthcare delivery to Americans. Healthcare is simply the cover for an $800 billion dollar gift to already rich people. In the unlikely circumstance that you aren’t fully enraged by that, consider that part of the windfall for the wealthy is a reimbursement of taxes paid on financial transactions, money that was used to fund Medicare expansion for our poor under Obamacare.

That’s right: these plans dig a deeper hole of debt for America because the 1% need more money. I guess I missed that turn when Republicans stopped obsessing over debt. Nice to know that it doesn’t matter any more, so it’s okay to slather more cash on the rich.

Enough about the struggling wealthy. We’ll let them pull themselves up by their Gucci bootstraps and instead have a look at how the House and Senate plans will affect you.

Click me to see the 5 things to know about Mitch McConnell

If you’re poor, you’re screwed. The Congressional Budget Office”s analysis is that under the House plan 23 million more Americans will be cut out of healthcare insurance entirely, which will effectively leave them without primary healthcare; under the Senate version that number drops to an only slightly less cruel 22 million more Americans whose medical needs we’ll ignore. Either way, tens of millions of Americans will have nothing but a last ditch, begging for mercy trip to the emergency room as their primary healthcare. Those trips are always made well after medical attention is needed, so the conditions presented to emergency room staff are far worse and often irreversible. That means people who might have been cured will die.

Plus a visit to the emergency room costs more than any other way to deliver healthcare, driving our overall cost much higher. Be clear that every hospital is required to deliver healthcare to whoever shows up at their door, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. That means that the cost to care for a poor person who drags into the emergency room and receives that expensive care is passed along to all the patients who can pay, like you. That’s how slashing Medicaid will drive up your cost of healthcare.

Click me to link to the article

The Kaiser Family Foundation has crafted a nifty way to learn how the various cruel congressional plans stack up against the ACA (Obamacare). Access the comparison with the Senate plan (“BCRA”) here; link to the comparison with the House plan (“AHCA”) here. Just enter your age, income and the state in which you live. Then click on your county, review the results and decide which plan you like best. Be sure to look ahead to what these plans will cost you 10 or 20 years from now. Good chance you’ll be surprised – and not pleasantly so.

But that’s just you. Before deciding which plan to support be sure to consider the poor people who will have no place to go but the emergency room for medical care under either congressional plan. Also, don’t forget the rich people who need your financial support.

Click me to link to the article

The net of this is that both the Republicans in Congress and the president are so desperate to “get a win” that they are sucking up to the wealthy and abandoning our poor. That is to say, the win means more to them than life or death of our most vulnerable.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

YOUR ACTION STEPS: Offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe and engage.  Thanks!  JA

 

 


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

The Platform is a 4-Letter Word – Part 2


Reading time – 6:20; Viewing time – 9:38  .  .  .

This is the continuation of my notions of a national platform begun in the last post. It’s necessary to make an addendum to point #5 regarding healthcare.

Memo to Lawmakers: Only 20% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing and that number hasn’t varied by more than a few percentage points since 2006. The disapproval rating of Congress stands at 74%, meaning that 3 out of 4 Americans think you’re doing a really lousy job. You really should feel terrible about that. Here’s what you need to know.

A big piece of the public disapproval of you is due to your making back room deals – sleaze behind closed doors – like what the Republican senators have done with their cruel healthcare plan that keeps millions of Americans from getting healthcare at all. That’s why We the People don’t approve of you.

All you have to do is to craft something that provides healthcare for everyone and do your deliberation in public, opening the process to comments from actual American people who will be impacted by what you do. This is not complicated and you really can do this.

Memo to Republicans in Congress: We the People know that your American Health Care Act (“AHCA”) isn’t really about healthcare. It’s about giving an $800 billion cash windfall to already rich people. Can you be any more disingenuous? Shame on you.

8. George W. Bush may go down in history as our worst president because he started two unnecessary wars which are likely to continue for decades. Donald Trump is trying to one-up him by tweaking the nose of an infantile nuclear dictator, thumbing his nose at our strongest allies, buddying up to Vladimir Putin and refusing to endorse Article 5 of the NATO charter.

Memo to lawmakers: You already know that only Congress has the power to declare war. Put on your big boy/girl pants, take a stand and fulfill your obligation. We don’t need perpetual war initiated by autocrats.

Economic teaching moment: War robs us of huge amounts of money – trillions of dollars. The cost of every bullet or rocket that’s fired is lost forever; in contrast, the money spent in America, on America gets recycled nearly perpetually to the benefit of all of us.

Mortality teaching moment: Our military people who get killed in our unnecessary wars really don’t come home and resume their lives. They’re dead and if you didn’t stand against our unnecessary wars, it’s your fault. Do you support our military? Then stop sending our people off to die for no good reason.

9. If Trump gets his way we’re going to de-fund the National Institutes of Health, the EPA and gut our diplomatic corps. so we’ll cut spending on cancer research, let our air and water get polluted again and make the military our only foreign affairs tool, all to save less than a couple of percent of our budget.

Memo to lawmakers: Really?!!! Please wake up and tell us you’re not that self-defeating. Put on those big boy/girl pants and take a stand for America.

10. Stephen Bannon wants to tear down our established order and so far Trump seems to be his puppet in charge of dismantling what makes the American government work. At the same time Trump is collapsing the international coalition that has kept us strong and safe for 100 years, while at the same time sucking up to vicious autocrats around the world. Using duck logic, this looks, walks and quacks like a duck that is in the process of the self-immolation of America.

Memo to lawmakers: Get a grip on reality, stop this un-American president and put our government back together. Note that once again this will require that you put on your big boy/girl pants.

11. Fossil fuel is on the way out because we’re choking on its exhaust and the planet is warming at a staggering rate that will cook us all. We need clean energy, not more oil extracted from ecologically perilous places.

Memo to lawmakers: You’ll be okay without Big Oil and Big Gas campaign contributions – I promise. So, stop the idiocy of, “I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know about global warming.” Craft legislation that will drive a complete transformation of our energy infrastructure – a moon shot – like solar collectors on all roofs, solar farms, wind energy, tide energy, a new smart grid and all the rest. If you don’t care enough about your grandchildren to do this, then do it for mine.

12. 100 years ago graduating from 8th grade was a fine accomplishment and enough education for someone to get a good job with good pay. A few decades later a high school diploma was needed for a good job, so we made high school tuition-free for our kids. The world has changed and even more education is needed today. Right now there are 6 million jobs going wanting, many because employers can’t find people with the education required for those jobs.

Memo to lawmakers: Make state college education tuition-free. And find a way to get past property taxes being the primary funding for our schools, because this antiquated system leaves kids in poor areas unable to get a good education. That sentences them to a sub-standard life and robs us all of their contributions to a better America. And stop the efforts to privatize education because that isn’t the answer, even if big donors want you to believe it is. Yes, all of this will have tax implications, just as the switch to tuition-free high school did. Figure it out.

13. Russia is not our friend. Russia is an opponent and, considering their ongoing cyber attack on the U.S. and our allies, they may be considered our enemy. Failing to vigorously oppose their behavior and impose penalties on them is ineptitude in the extreme and possibly treason. It’s true that the Executive branch conducts American foreign policy. It’s also true that both the House and Senate are investigating Russian hacking and possible collusion from within. The problem is that those investigations are cumbersome and glacially slow, which means that the president has plenty of time to undermine American security.

Memo to lawmakers: I really don’t care how much money the president owes to Russian interests or the pictures they may have of him or any other pressures Putin can put on Trump. I don’t care about Trump’s notion of making friends with Russia. They are antithetical to our beliefs, our way of life and our safety. Find a way to stop the foreign policy disasters that Trump is creating.

14. It’s absurd to be able to say this, but we are living in a world where millions actually believe in alternative facts and fake news. Surprise, Donald Trump didn’t invent it. This has been going on for a long time. The concept of shame for one’s despicable actions like lying no longer seems to exist and people are prepared to dismiss provable facts. Indeed, millions regularly dismiss reality because they have been told by self-serving types that others are lying to them. That itself is a lie, but it’s crafty stuff for those wanting power and for whom integrity isn’t high on their list of personal attributes.

Memo to lawmakers: Are you lying or misleading the public? Stop it. Stop manipulating to get control of the Supreme Court. Stop telling Americans that it’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs and then doing nothing to stimulate job growth. Stop saying we’ll have better healthcare at a much lower cost when you can’t deliver either one. Stop telling the American people that those who report on you are liars when they report on your dalliances. Stop claiming your programs won’t privatize Social Security and Medicare when that’s exactly what they will do. Stop creating enemies like the press just to gain popular support for you, because now the truth has become an enemy and that is corroding our society. One last time: Put on your big boy/girl pants and tell the truth.

Final memo to lawmakers: What I’ve outlined in this post and the one prior is what Americans want. This isn’t fringe stuff, but doing this won’t be easy. In fact, it will be hard. There are competing interests and some are legitimate and quite valuable, with the exception, of course, of the issue of lying. Nevertheless, everything is either a negotiation and a compromise or it is stagnation through polarization. It’s your choice. Choose well, especially when it’s hard.

Unavoidably, our solutions come down to a 4-letter word: WORK. Roll up your shirt/blouse sleeves and get to work. Not the hateful, in-your-face behavior that we see so often or the misleading, hyperbolic idiocy that dominates the news, but work that’s focused on a better America and improving the lives of all Americans. If you can’t do that, just resign, because otherwise We the People will be sending you home real soon.

Get to work.


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

The Platform is a 4-Letter Word – Part 1


Reading time – 6:40; Viewing time – 9:54  .  .  .

This post was created in the days just before the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and the injuring of 5 others at a baseball practice. Clearly, the shooter had problems; yet that event has put into stark relief the extent of our political polarization, the frustrations of the American people and the extremism that some of our leaders have helped to deepen, all of which underline the points that follow.

DC is crazy and everyone knows it’s crazy. The president thinks everything is all about him and that his job is a popularity contest won by appealing to extremists. Many of those in Congress think their job about is serving special interests. The Republicans who speak loudly are anchored in the primordial Reagan ooze as though there is something holy about continuing to do what has never worked. Democrats don’t seem to be able to do much other than be against Trump and Republican extremism.

Meanwhile, We the People think it’s about America and Americans. That leaves it to us to be sane about the future of America, so here are the first seven of my Platform Points in bite-size portions. The key is that the vast majority of Americans are in line with these notions and our solution comes down to a 4-letter word. Note that my more aggressive comments are for the folks with big, extremist megaphones and not for the reasonable legislators who only want to make things better for everyone.

1. A minimum of 78% of Americans believe that big money infects and distorts our democracy and they want that changed. They want a We the People Amendment that negates the craziness of Buckley v. Valeo, Citizens United, McCutcheon v. F.E.C. and the rest of the enabling decisions and legislation that allow the rich to buy America and impoverish the rest of us. Said another way, Americans want Congress to prevent the buying of Congress so that instead we can have an actual representative democracy.

Memo to Lawmakers: I understand that the present system requires you to grub for donations and seek the big buck donors. In fact, the system is the problem. In order to stop that, vote for the We the People Amendment to the Constitution. Get on the side of Americans, on the right side of history and end your begging for dollars. You’ll be glad you did it, because you know you hate begging for cash.

2. Just before the vote on the 2008 legislation that created Medicare Part D, Representative Billy Tauzin (R-LA) inserted an amendment into the legislation that prohibited the U.S. government, the largest purchaser of meds in the world, from negotiating with the pharmaceutical companies for better pricing. That sure was good for Big Pharma. Billy Tauzin didn’t run for re-election that year, preferring instead to go to work for PhRMA, the lobbying organization of Big Pharma. They gave him a pay increase to $2 million per year.

Memo to lawmakers: We the People are angry about the revolving door between Congress and lobbying. Clean up this sleaziness. Make the Tauzin behavior illegal. And change the Part D law so we can negotiate better pricing with Big Pharma.

3. Until a few years ago when the NRA went on a campaign to change the meaning of the Second Amendment, we all knew that violent offenders and those not mentally stable shouldn’t have firearms. We still know that, but now over half of all deaths by firearms are suicide (also here) and many of those are our returning vets. A gun within arm’s reach makes suicide and homicide real easy and we have to wonder if that shooter at the Republican baseball practice would have taken any action at all if he were not able to obtain an AR-15 assault rifle. Over 80% of Americans want sensible gun safety legislation, including a huge majority of NRA members.

Memo to lawmakers: NRA campaign contributions are nice, but you’ll be okay without them. And the “cold, dead hands” mantra may bring about a satisfying testosterone rush, but it’s killing Americans. Pass sensible gun safety legislation.

4. The FDA has dragged feet for years on an Obama era requirement that restaurants display calorie counts on restaurant meals. “Now the FDA has indefinitely postponed the implementation of the rule which would require food manufacturers to list added sugars along with more visible calorie counts and clearer serving sizes.” They’ve also refused to require labeling that would let us know if a food product contained genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Why doesn’t the government want us to know what we’re eating?

Memo to lawmakers: You already know the answer to the question: It’s the Big Food lobby. They fear that if we consumers know the crap they put in their products that they’ll sell less of it to us, so they “incentivize” lawmakers and agencies to stall disclosure laws. This isn’t a key issue, but it is another case of Big Money buying our government in large and small ways, getting what it wants at the expense of We the People. Labeling changes cost next to nothing. Make them do it.

5. The American people don’t want bickering over how many millions of us should be shut out of healthcare by the various idiotic proposals being considered. By a significant margin, we want Medicare for all, universal healthcare, single payer – call it what you will. The statistics show that Medicare costs about 25% less than care that is provided through private healthcare insurance – that’s for equivalent healthcare procedures and outcomes. The cost differential is largely due to the overhead costs of private insurers, like marketing, sales expense and really high pay for their C-level executives. Switching to single payer will make a significant dent in our bloated spending for healthcare and will save individual Americans a lot of money.

Memo to lawmakers: Yes, it’s true that single payer will put out of business many of the private healthcare insurance companies that make lovely campaign contributions. The buggy whip makers had a similar challenge 100 years ago when something better came along. Those formerly making buggy whips figured out how to get along; so will our healthcare insurance folks today. Single payer is what Americans want, so your choices, lawmakers, are to continue to do the stupid dance over this issue (now being done in secret to jam it through the Senate) or you can get on the right side of history.

6. Trickle down economics never trickles down. It was factually wrong when it was proposed and it has consistently failed for nearly 40 years. Supply side stimulus doesn’t grow businesses; demand does, but demand isn’t stimulated by the upside down economics of trickle down. Let’s be specific about what actually happens: Giving more money to rich people with the expectation that they will expand their businesses and hire lots of Americans and pay good wages doesn’t happen. Making this worse is that because their personal wants and needs were already met before any tax windfall, rich people don’t spend the new trickle down money, so we don’t get a boost to the economy. Instead, overwhelmingly, rich folks have put their trickle down money into their investments so that nearly all reward has gone to them. The rest of us have stagnated.

Memo to lawmakers: Stop the dishonest schemes that only enrich the wealthy, like Bush’s tax cuts, Trump’s one-page “tax plan” and the disingenuous AHCA which would give huge tax breaks to rich people, funded by refusing healthcare entirely to 23 million Americans. The tax breaks will not redound to the rest of us, as history shows. Come up with a progressive tax plan that makes sense for all. And don’t ever again say “trickle-down” or “supply side” or we’ll know you’re lying.

7. Everyone knows that our infrastructure is failing. We have 55,000 bridges that need substantial repair or complete replacement. Our roads need a huge amount work. Our airports and trains are second rate compared to most of the industrialized world. The water and sewer pipes in all our major cities are over 100 years old. In short, there is a long list of what needs to be done if we are to remain the world leader.

Memo to lawmakers: Stop whining that the Obama Recovery Act (the “stimulus”) didn’t work. The spending you authorized was about half of what was needed for all those “shovel-ready” projects; then you gave half of it to rich people in the form of tax breaks that, once again, didn’t trickle down. The stimulus plan could have worked and our bridges would have been safer by now, but in your mania to ensure that Obama had no wins you submarined it. America is falling apart and you finger pointers with a big megaphone are a key reason why. Cut the crap and pass a major infrastructure plan.

This is the end of Part 1 of the Platform. You’ll find Part 2 in the next post and it will include the unveiling of that key 4-letter word.


Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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