Monday, May 28, 2007

Carbon Tax

This is inspired by an LA Times article from some days ago, but it is something worth talking about, a carbon tax. First, lets face the fact that global climate change is a reality and is something we need to face up to and deal with. If we act in the near future the cost of dealing with the issue can be extremely small or even nonexistent. For all of you who believe that acting on global climate change amounts to imposing some additional cost on you, I say rubbish. Use of fossil fuels requires dumping wastes into the general atmosphere. Neither you nor I own, in our own names, the atmosphere, so it is only right and proper that we might have to pay some modest fee to make use of that resource. To date we have been generously subsidized by having the right to dump, for free, our wastes into this general resource. It is high time that that subsidy be reduced or eliminated.

The LA Times article discusses two good methods for getting carbon emissions under control, a cap and trade system and a carbon tax. I agree that of the two the better choice is the carbon tax. We need to get passed the idea that all taxes should be considered radioactive and that the very nature of a tax is somehow wrong or unfair. Taxes are appropriately imposed to charge for the very valuable services provided by the existence of a government. One of the main valuable services provided by a government is the management of general resources, like the atmosphere, and part of that management is to charge for the use of the resource. Hence a carbon tax.

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Democratic Consultants

This story from TPM is both all too common and, in my opinion, completely insane.
Former John Kerry adviser Jim Jordan allegedly told him in 2002 that he would "never be President" unless he voted for the Iraq War.
This was the "wisdom" of our pundits, consultants and leaders, that voting against the Iraq war resolution would be fatal. But why, what possible reasoning, lead to people believing with such certainty that that was the case? I mean had no one noticed that in 1992, after the Democratic party had in large measure voted against the first Gulf war resolution, Bill Clinton was elected President, as a Democrat. Given that history, why was it considered beyond question that an anti-war stance would be a deal breaker for a presidential candidate? Why?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Monica Goodling

Well, Monica Goodling has given her immunized testimony. I could not follow it in real time but I gather from news reports that it did not provide any ground breaking shockers. She does admit that hiring was done on a party line basis. This is unacceptable and illegal. The general disarray of the Justice Department, and the perpetual mendacity of Alberto Gonzales, was made clearer.

We need to keep in mind that this is how an investigation proceeds. These Congressional hearings rarely provide great theater, and thy should not be expected to do so. Recall how long it took Fitz to investigate the Plame leak. This story will continue to develop, and will probably do so for years to come.

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War Resolution

Ok, huge disappointment, no question. The bill, as is, is pretty much a failure, the Democrats should have pushed longer and for more. The Democrats still have not learned that the reason they have been seen as week on defense is not their failure to call for invading this nation or that nor for their opposition to this weapons system or the other. They have been seen as week on defense for the way that they stand up to Republicans on issues of national defense.

Democrats and progressives don't seem to see that their position on war effectively follows the postition of Sun Tzu in "The Art of War", namely
True excellence in the Art of War comes not in fighting a hundred battles and winning them all, but in accomplishing your national objectives without fighting a single battle.
The Democrats have been reluctant to authorize military action because the nation would be better off achieving our national goals by other means. The nation as whole wants to hear this clearly and well argued, and if the Democrats did argue this position forcefully, they would be seen as strong. Instead they are caught in this belief that to appear strong on national defense they must support Republicans. Not only does this not make them look strong, it makes them look weak.

Now, I say that Democrats still don't realize this. As a party, this is true, the leadership is still way behind on this, but the message is seeping in. A growing portion of the leadership is starting to understand this and so we say the fight over the appropriations bill. Don't despair, we lost this fight but we are pushing forward. Keep in mind that it took 16 years, at least, for conservatives to rise from the 1964 to gain the control they wanted. We've been organizing for at most seven, and really more like 3-4. Also, with George Bush in office there is almost no chance of ending this war before he is gone. We might get a constitutional crises, but an actual end to Iraq will take time. The withdraw itself will take a year, in any case.

Another problem that we face in changing the culture in Washington is the inside the beltway mentality. The people who comprise the Senate and House, along with our political consultants and journalist pundits, comprise a very insulated population. In that world, the withdraw from Iraq is still seen as a crazy idea, and the perpetual hunt for a miracle in Iraq is a good idea. In that world Republicans are still seen as wise and strong on foreign policy and our national pundits are still viewed as sage counselors. We, the people, simply must keep up the pressure and do the work of getting the message into that culture that these things are simply not true. And furthermore the vast majority of the American people no longer believe them to be true.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Copyright Protection

The current state of copyright law gives another example of the distortions to sensible policy that have been growing in our society. Matthew Yglesias has been on this topic a great deal, and should be read and listened to. His most recent posts are here and he links to another author on the subject here. To understand the current state of copyright, and of greater concern where it is headed, read the inspiration for Matt's post, this opinion piece by Mark Helprin arguing for perpetual copyright.

Helprin's view is that it is his natural right that he should have, forever, the sole right to publish any work produced by him. Likewise any other author has, by nature, the same rights. It is societies obligation to protect this right. This position is completely wrong. The protection of a copyright is a special privilege that society grants to the holder. Society grants this right in the expectation of some return, not solely for the benefit of the inventor. It is not an inherent right of the holder's that society is obligated to provide.

In fact, in my opinion, there is no reasonable expectation of any intellectual property right (IP) in nature or in market economics. Recognize that it is the nature of intellectual property that in order to make money off of intellectual property the author needs to get me to pay him money to put a copy of it into my head. It is then that copy, in my head, that copyright law is trying to control. Consider a song, for example. It is of value to the author only if he plays it for me, in one form or another, thus putting a copy in my head. By all rights, I should be able to use that copy for any purpose I choose. The copy in the author's head is, of course, his own to do with as he likes.

The problem then is that in order for an author to enjoy copyright protection he needs to control the use of the copy in my head. There is no inherent right to control that at all. To control that copy you need to have the agreement of society and the authority of a government. Now indeed, the implication of this is that being an author, or writing songs and the like is not naturally a very profitable enterprise. Society, through government, artificially makes it more profitable, but does so in order to derive some benefit to society in general. It is worthwhile to society to artificially make being an author or inventor more profitable than nature or the market makes those activities, so it is a good thing to grant copyright protections for some period of time. But it would be a detriment to society if author's had permanent control over any work that they created.

For these reasons Congress is empowered by the constitution
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries
This grant of exclusive right is a special privilege granted "to promote the progress of science and the useful arts" and it granted "for limited times".

Mark Helprin takes a quite different, and I would say quite selfish point of view. He believes that society is obligated to him and to his descendants a perpetual control over any work he has generated. Despite the fact that controlling the use of an author's work requries the cooperation of government and society, and requires generations of individuals to agree to not make use of ideas in their own heads, ideas that they might well have paid money to acquire, Helprin feels that the wealth generated is entirely his and nothing is due him in return. The obligation, in Helprin's mind is a one way street. The rest of society needs to grant him sole use of these ideas, in return he owes nothing. That one way street, is, I believe, very much in the nature of today's conservatism.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

The Nature of the Blogs

Matt has a good point here. If you are going to get much out of reading blogs, you need to be discriminating. You need to have a means of filtering out the crap. And indeed there is a lot of crap. Not just crap published by one's political opponents, which will often be stuff you have little regard for, but a lot of crap from people who are supposedly your allies. As Matt points out 95% of everything is crap. If you just read a dozen blogs randomly you might conclude that blogs are worthless. But if you just read a dozen books randomly (and I mean a truly random dozen of all the books every publishes. Not published and preserved, and not just great books, I mean any and all books.) you'd get much the same impression of the printing press. But if you have some standards for what constitutes good, intelligent, thoughtful writing, you can easily find a substantial collection of excellent stuff. Each person's standard for what constitute crap, of course, varies, but I will submit that for good writing look for the following:
  • The writer supports claims with evidence
  • The more serious the claim, the more solid, and the greater amount of evidence is supplied
  • While confident, some measure of uncertainty should be present (we are none of us God)
  • The writer shows some signs of self criticism
On a related subject, the Republicans are apparently quite far behind the Democrats in the area of on-line activation and are trying to catch up. I have to agree with Blue Girl, Red State that the conservative movement will have a tough time fitting into the on-line environment. The top down approach that the right has long favored, as BGRS points out, is not suited to the net. With everyone free to express their own opinion, it is just about impossible to keep everyone on message. I think that is the least of their problems, however. The on-line environment makes checking you claims very easy. The right has long worked on the basis of Rush Limbaugh (or whoever) saying anything, really anything, repeatedly and being free from any checking. The claims can be entirely false and easily shown to be so, but no outlet is present for getting that information out to the listeners. That is not true on the web. If you post some claim on your blog that is false, any number of people can see it, comment on it with references and demonstrations of the inaccuracy of the claim. Anyone who is not already devoted to you can easily find these rebuttals via any number of web tools and most will go away unconvinced. The current conservative movement is in no position to handle that kind of easy critical review. That, I think will be the huge stumbling block to the Republicans making serious inroads on-line for some time to come.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Selling Out

I agree with Atrios on this one. If you have an opportunity to make money, go for it. Certainly the modern progressive movement would seem to be quite comfortable with people making money, to an extent that the old movement perhaps was not. For example, Markos and Jerome in "Crashing the Gates" (and elsewhere) argued for the need to better support our young progressives financially. Young people entering conservative politics, people who wish to work on campaigns , policy development etc. can expect decent salaries and a real prospect for career advancement. Young folks entering liberal politics have long been expected to do so for free, or for minimal compensation. Today's progressives are arguing that that needs to change. Folks on the left are not opposed to making money and acquiring wealth. What we are opposed to are the special privileged that conservatives want to bestow upon the wealthy. We are opposed to the idea of heavily subsidizing the wealthy and only the wealthy with the services government can supply. We are opposed to the two class, privileged/servile, society favored by the right.

There is one other thing about the idea of "selling out" that relates to the things I write here. If some band, or other artist, has done some great work illustrating the importance of progressive ideals some ten hears ago, then the work of art continues to demonstrate those ideals whatever the artist might do afterwards. Later changes to what the artist does, shouldn't change the meaning of things done earlier. If I may be forgiven a bit of a tangent, there is a good example of this concept in the debates about evolution and creationism. (I said there would be a tangent). Over the years various folks on the creationist side have often put forth what is often refered to as "The Lady Hope" story. In short, supposedly a very Christian women of the name of Lady Hope converted Darwin on his deathbed to fundamentalist Christianity and to renounce evolution. Now the reaction of evolutionists is two-fold. On the 0ne hand the story is false and the historical evidence of it's being false if presented. But the other reaction is, so what? If Darwin had recanted that would not in the slightest change the value of "The Origin of Species" or the validity of natural selection. We know that modern species are linked by ties of common ancestry and that natural selection is the process which promotes increased diversity because the evidence shows it to be the case. Whatever Darwin himself might think. In a similar way, the original artistic work carries whatever message it had originally, whatever happens afterwards.


The Way to Do Things

This is very good news. Apparently Harry Reid is planning to have a pro forma session of the Senate every 10 days during the August recess. By doing this, Bush will be denied the opportunity to make any recess appointments. There won't be a recess long enough to kick in the President's recess appointment power. I've wondered if something like this could be done and am glad to see that it can and will be done. This is how to play hardball, and hardball is what the Democrats need to be playing.


The Supreme Court

Read about Clarence Thomas' participation on the Supreme Court.

I've long thought that we could replace Clarance Thomas with a mop and give Scalia two votes, no one would notice for six months.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Time to Leave

Read what Kevin Drum has to say about Iraq. He pretty much sums up my thinking on our presence in Iraq.

Al Quaeda is growing stronger in Pakistan. The primary factor making this resurgence possible is the US presence in Iraq. The presence directly drives recruitment. More than that, however, is the absence of security in Iraq makes possible a robust industry of kidnapping for profit as well as a host of other illegal activities that are being used by Al Quaeda groups to fund their resurgence. Our invasion of Iraq has been from the beginning an ill-conceived, poorly planned military operation that has long since ceased to provide the US or Iraq any substantial benefit. The resources put into Iraq would serve us much better if they were withdrawn from Iraq and directed elsewhere. It is now clear that our presence in Iraq has become a huge detriment to the US and to Iraq. The only purpose still served by our forces in Iraq is to save American conservatives from having to admit that they were profoundly wrong and screwed up.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Keep the Faith

Well Josh Marshall has another story about discouragement among the Democrats and that the Democrats are about to cave. We've heard this several times already and it has not happened that way yet. The latest with the McGovern amendment in the House and Reid-Feingold in the Senate weren't supposed to happen, but they did. In fact, many were predicting that the Dems would cave right after the veto. So let's not take this story as the final word. And let's certainly keep the pressure on the Democratic leadership to not cave in. The Democrats have been funding the troops and George Bush has been refusing to do so. The Democrats need to stick to their principals.

Ever More Amazing

This administration has no limits on the depths to which they will go. The administration is opposing the Democratic proposal that the pay raise for our service men and women be 3.5% rather than the 3.0% proposed by the Administration. Now in my opinion neither 3.0 n or 3.5% is particularly large, and for our troops in the field it seems to me that 3.5% is the least we can do. To add to the shame the administration is also opposing a $40 a month increase for widows' benefits. This is ridiculous, and this is really only the tip of the iceberg of this administration's stinginess with regards to the well being of our troops. Read the details here.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wolfowitz is Out

The amazing thing is the shamelessness of these people. After intense pressure he is finally resigning, but he will stay on until June 30 so as to get a $400,000 bonus. Given the embarrassment and loss of prestige that he has cost the United States, he is still grubbing for cash. I find the times we are lining in amazing. The supporters of this administration seem, to me, to admire them because the administration is perceived to be high class, elegant and mannered. Consider the David Broder quote from the 90's regarding Clinton coming in and "trashing" the place. The Bush administration is seen to be the opposite. There are numerous stories of the press being won over on the Bush campaign trail over the fine, elegant treatment.

Yet for all that impression, these things like the Wolfowitz saga, Bush with the Queen, Cheney shooting his friend in the face and on and on, I can only conclude that these people are among the most ill mannered, boorish clods ever assembled in one place.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

War Czar

Josh Marshall has a very good post on our new War Czar. I've been mostly snarky in my comments so far, but this is a serious matter and raises some important issues. In the first part a knowledgeable TPM reader comments on some little noted but important features of the appointment of Lt. General Lute. He notes that
It’s not that the administration had to lower their sights to a 3-star. The amazing thing is that they had to fall back on an active duty general – a guy they could order to take the job. All the previous names floated were retired folks who had the luxury of turning the offer down.
If this is supposed to be an important position needed to coordinate these two essential fronts on this war of such monumental importance to the nation, the inability to find someone who is willing to take the position voluntarily is striking and is bad. Clearly there are few people who actually believe that the position has any prospect for success. No one would turn down the chance to take such a high profile position if there were any substantial chance of success. The value of being that successful leader is simply too great. History shows unless the odds are long indeed there will be no shortage of men willing to try for the glory. Yet this Administration can find no such men to fill this position. But consider this too. When a country is in a desperate situation and it faces ruin or destruction, there are again many who will take the chance, however long, to be the nation's savior. The glory again outweighs the odds. But again this position has no takers. The inescapable conclusion is that the odds on success are very long and the potential benefit to the nation is slim. This war is simply not the matter of national existence that the conservatives would have us believe it is.

Another problem raised by this appointment and discussed by TPM's knowledgeable reader is the chain of command problems raised by having a three star general in this position.
I’ve never met Lute, but his resume is solid. It’s particularly noteworthy that his last three jobs have all been joint positions. He will probably be an effective organizer. But as a currently serving 3-star, he will be at best a coordinator, outranked by many of the key people he needs to coordinate.
There are some additional serious issues with regard to this whole idea. Issues beyond the questions of current competence in the White House if the President needs to appoint someone else to run the war (he is the commander-in-chief after all) the time taken to fill the post (the fact that no one wants the job indicates that we have a problem) and the evidence from experience that this is just a means, on the part of the President, of ducking responsibility for his lack of leadership to date. But more than that the very position is problematical.

This country has been very successful and very fortunate in keeping its military forces under civilian control. We have been blessed with a long tradition of dedicated officers who have not fallen to the temptations that have bedeviled other nations. Officers are trained to give orders, but they are also trained to follow them. A military organization works best when it is given objectives to achieve and the resources to do so, but when those objectives are set by another, civilian entity. As I said above, the United States has been skilled and blessed to have achieved something so very close to the most proper balance between civilian and military leadership throughout its history.

But this balance does not come without effort and a number of principals and guidelines need to be followed if the balance is to be maintained. This War Czar position seems to not only be conceived without proper regard to these principals, but to be blithely ignorant that they even exist. For one thing, the position is reported to be responsible for coordinating both military and civilian affairs. As such Lute, an active duty officer, will be overseeing the operations of civilians in the State Department. The proper role is to have the military responsible to the civilian leadership, not the other way around. The earlier search for a retired General to take the position did not raise this concern as a retired General is no longer in the military chain of command. He is essentially a civilian. An active duty general officer with responsibility to direct the State Department is a new precedent which should be given serious and careful consideration before being implemented.

This is not just a problem, however, of potential overreach of the military. The ability of the military to function effectively in the future is also put in jeopardy due to the ever increasing responsibilities heaped upon it. Our system works well by keeping the roles of the military and civilian leadership distinct, not by conflating them. Overextending the military by including in its mission tasks that are best run by civilians runs the risk of serious long term damage to the effectiveness of our military forces. To quote from Josh's readers again
What we hear repeatedly expressed as the danger now...both with this nomination, and with constantly rhetorically making Gen. Petraeus responsible for "the plan" in that the military will be held accountable for the policy. As a military friend privately comments, "This is simply wrong".

There's also a serious debate going on within military circles about what might be termed Constitutional issues...a debate which could well get to the Congress, since the Senate will be required to hold hearings and to approve Lute's nomination. Here's the private comment of a very well-known retired general, which has resonance for Japan's debate over revising Article 9:

"The czar business is certainly unprecedented and is either a tacit admission that the in-place structure does not meet the needs of the time or is a political maneuver by a desperate president shuffling the deck chairs.

This is serious stuff, indeed, for it calls into question the basic construct of the US military for over half a century.

It remains to be seen what Lute's brief will be and given Title 10, what authorities he is given. In any case POTUS is tampering with fundamentals and it will have serious consequences that I hope have been fully analyzed and understood.

Certainly the Congress which gave birth to the National Security Act and all the legislation that followed has to weigh in on this.

Given the anti-Bush temperament of that body, I find it stunning that the President has given it another reason to attack him for not knowing what he is doing.

The days ahead will be most interesting."

It is clear that this Administration will not give the due, serious consideration that the implementation of this position requires. Let us hope that Congress will, and let us put pressure on our Senators to give that proper oversight.

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Mark Your Calendars

Monica Goodling is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee next Wednesday, May 23rd at 10:15 AM. Ms. Goodling has the distinction of being the highest ranking member of the Justice Department to ever plead the fifth amendment in regards to informing Congress about her duties in the Justice Department. She has been in the middle of the US Attorneys purge and knows a great deal about what went down. Her testimony will be very informative and given her immunity the testimony should be relatively candid. At this point for her to try and help the cover up will subject her to legal liability.


Reid Feingold Goes Down

Well the proposed Senate Reid-Feingold bill to cut off funding for the war was defeated today with the failure to achieve cloture. The vote was 67-29 against the bill, so it was not at all close. Interestingly though, the Presidential candidates were, for the most part, with the bill. The pressure generally for ending the Iraq mess is growing.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

We Have a War Czar

Well a nominee at least. And I was so skeptical that they White House would be able to find someone for the job. Of course, they weren't able to find anyone very high profile

Lute is a widely respected officer, but is by no means a high-profile player in Washington. Before assuming his position at the Pentagon, he was the director of operations for Central Command while Gen. John Abizaid was the commander.
But for the oversight of the Afghan and Iraqi wars do we really need to worry about getting the best that the Pentagon has to offer?
Filling the position had become a priority for the White House, after a handful of retired generals told the White House they did not want the job. Among them, retired Marine Corps four-star Gen. Jack Sheehan, who proved an embarrassment to the White House after he wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post saying there were "huge shortcomings" in the White House view of the strategy in Iraq.
Now of course, he will still need to confirmed by the Senate, so that will be a hurdle. Those Senate Democrats might try and insist that the person in charge of running the war perhaps ought to be the commander-in-chief, but George could still get his man. Then he will be set with someone official to blame for the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To be a bit less flippant, it will be interesting to see if Gen. Lute will have any authority to shape our military policy in Iraq at all. I'm betting that the answer is no. This war czar position is created to provide cover for George Bush and Dick Cheney, they can now point to this guy to blame. Also, the appointment and confirmation process will help drag out for a few more months discussions of bring the war to an end. Well, the White House will try to use it this way. The new Czar won't get to Iraq with his new title until August or September. Yet the White House and Congressional Republicans will be insisting that we give this new Czar six months to can produce success.

I should point out that the White House's political strategy runs directly counter to sound military strategy. The political strategy is to keep dragging out the process. A small build up and new offensive last year before the elections, then a surge early this year, then a bit more surge, then a war Czar and a bit more time. Each step is designed to keep the ball in the air for a bit more time. The thing is that the basics of military strategy are to assemble your maximum forces and one point in time and one place and strike with all your strength at once. Attacking piecemeal is much, much less effective that attacking in force. Yet to try and satisfy the Bush/Rove political calculations, we are following the worst of possible military strategies.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Remember Alberto

Remember Alberto Gonzales and his dreadful job explaining why the USAs were fired? Yet he is still cooking along as our Attorney General. I explained my reasons for thinking that no matter what Alberto was not going anywhere (the Bush Administration needs an absolute loyalist, too many things hidden, but they can't get one through Congress). McJoan over on Kos gives a bit broader discussion of why Alberto is not going anywhere soon.

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Exit Strategy

From Senator Mitch McConnel with Wolf Blitzer talking about the ineffefctiveness of the Iraqi government
BLITZER: And if they're not going to do what they need to do, what happens then?

MCCONNELL: Well, the Iraqi government is a huge disappointment. Republicans overwhelmingly feel disappointed about the Iraqi government. I read just this week that a significant number of the Iraqi parliament want to vote to ask us to leave.

I want to assure you, Wolf, if they vote to ask us to leave, we'll be glad to comply with their request.
So the Republican leader in the Senate is saying that the disposition of American troops overseas is in the hands of this Iraqi parlament. The attitude of the Republican leadership is to hand over the decision making regarding the disposition of our armed forces to the Iraqi government. With the current conservative administration and leadership the military forces of the United States of America are left jumping to the commands of the Iraqi government, coming or going at their command. How low this crowd can bring the mighty.

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Better Analogy

Another discussion on the nature of blogging. One thing though is the oddly poor analogies provided for what blogging is like. Dana Goldstein provides
A better analogy between bloggers and graffiti artists would be if we bloggers had defaced en masse newsstand copies of major papers and magazines in March 2003, writing "LIES LIES LIES" in black magic marker.
But that is hardly accurate. Bloggers don't deface anyone else's property. Blogging is like having property with a barn along a highway and printing up commentary on the day's news on the side of the barn. Folks can read it as they pass or ignore it. They can plan their trip to see what you wrote or take another route. No defacing at all.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Death Tax

Mark Kleiman gives a good overview of why the protests against the so-called death tax are so misguided. I just want to add one thing to the discussion. When accumulating large quantities of property, having a government available to secure that property is essential. Without the defense and police protection provided by a government, one is extremely limited in how much property one can accumulate. Consider the fact that there are no times in man's history, no places on the face of the earth where people have accumulated large quantities of wealth and property where there is no government. The value of the security provided by government is great, and so, not surprisingly, government charges a fair bit to those who own that property, in the form of taxes, in return for the services rendered. Now we have a system whereby those who have a great deal of wealth postpone a good bit of those expenses until the day they die. Now any reasonable person would conclude that having some large and onerous expense postponed until the day one dies, would reduce the pain of that expense to the bare minimum. However, were we to listen to the conservative opponents of the so-called death tax providing this extremely valuable service and then not charging people until they die is an intolerable burden upon those people of great wealth and fortune. This is nonsense.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Klein on Broder

Joe Klein responds to Glenn Greenwald's most recent on David Broder, and Glenn responds back. Glenn's points are good and you should read the exchange between the two. But one thing struck me about Joe Klein's comments that ties into what I write about critical review, and gives me a good opportunity to do a better job of explaining what I mean.

Klein's response "Is he saying that people like Broder and Ron Brownstein and me shouldn't talk to people outside the Beltway?" is striking in how completely it misses Greenwald's complaint. Greenwald is clearly not saying that Broder shouldn't talk to folks outside the Beltway. Glenn is constantly harping on the failure of people like Broder and Klein to understand the opinions of folks outside the Beltway. What Greenwald is clearly saying is that however much Broder and Klein try to find out what people think outside the Beltway, they are doing it very badly. They may well be trying very hard to feel the American pulse, but they are clearly failing to do so. Greenwald does think that Broder and Klein should talk with folks outside the Beltway, but that they should do it well, not badly.

But additionally, it seems to me that this is characteristic of our Beltway press corps, and much of our leadership in America. These people don't even consider the possibility that what they are doing, they are doing badly. It is simply assumed that if Broder is trying to understand the opinions of most Americans, he is doing it well. Neither Broder nor Klein seem to even consider the possibility that they are doing a poor job of what they are trying to do. But this self confidence is so ingrained that they even conclude that criticisms of what they do must be for the things they are doing not for the quality.

This ties into the very nature of critical review. To achieve true excellence in something, anything, you must keep in mind the possibility that you are doing it poorly and that there are ways to do it better. One must be constantly on the lookout for evidence that you are failing, or that you are doing the job poorly. There is thus a tension between self-confidence, which is necessary and this self-doubt which is also necessary. To let either dominate will result in failure. One of the chief characteristics of our Beltway culture is to be dominated by self-confidence to the point of abandoning any self-doubt and thus abandoning critical review. The results are at best mediocre and frequently disastrous.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Note to

Shouldn't the spell check software within blogger, the software used to check blog posts before posting them, recognize words like say blogger. I'm just saying, you know.

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New Media

There is a lot that is important in this post at Talking Points Memo, concerning purgegate and the fired US Attorneys. However, one thing stuck out at me that concerns not politics but the media. It was this
(ed.note: As I mentioned over the weekend, our new reporter-blogger, Laura McGann, started at on Monday. And in the post linked above, she was, to the best of my knowledge, the first to report on the firing call Graves received back in January 2006. The Times followed a short time later with more details -- jmm.)
Emphasis added. The possibility of a new media, much more competitive and much more capable of reviewing itself (well the different parts reviewing each other) and self criticism is emerging. It ought to be possible in this day to find large reporter-bloggers in every community and thereby build an effective source of information around the world. It looks like Josh Marshall is doing that, and getting scoops. More power to him. This is the wave of the future.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

King George

So now George Bush is saying he will veto the latest measure that House Democrats are proposing for Iraq war funding.
House Democratic leaders are now putting together a proposal that would pay for the war through September but come with a different set of conditions: About half of the money would be dependent on Bush reporting to Congress this summer on the Iraqi government's progress toward meeting security goals.
Even this degree of oversight and accountability is too much for this President.
President Bush would veto the new Iraq spending bill being developed by House Democrats because it includes unacceptable language restricting funding, White House press secretary Tony Snow said Wednesday morning.
Apparently any restrictions whatsoever on George Bush spending will draw a veto. Keep in mind that he is threatening to leave our troops without support in the field (it is questionable how true this is, but that is his claim) unless he gets everything he wants. Furthermore, this latest proposal would not, in any way, hamper the ability of our military to function. No, this President is simply being petulant and insisting that he get his way. More significantly, he is indicating that he can't function if there is going to be any review of his work. This is simply intolerable. The American people are sovereign and have every right to hold their President accountable for his performance as commander-in-chief. We must do exactly that. Pressure needs to be brought upon our Republican members of Congress to no longer support the childishness of this President.

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Different Universe

The other day I wrote of the different Universe in which we find the likes of Mitt Romney, and many other conservatives. But the population filling this odd space is actually much larger than the politicians or even conservatives. Glenn Greenwald has a post up here illustrating the huge disconnect between our journalists and pundits and much of the rest of the country. Glenn's point hinges on an exchange between Mike Gravel and Tom Edsall as reported by Jebediah Reed here. According to Reed
Beaming after the Columbia event, Gravel walks with Alter to a nearby Cuban restaurant for a late lunch. On the way they encounter a gray-haired gentleman in owlish glasses. Alter greets him very respectfully. "This is Tom Edsall," he says. Edsall was a senior political writer for the Washington Post for 25 years. He retired from the paper in 2006 and now writes for the New Republic and teaches at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

Gravel smiles broadly and says, "Hey, can you straighten out David Broder?" Broder, an influential columnist at the Post and the unofficial godfather of the D.C. press corps, has been a target of much criticism from liberal blogs for seeming to provide political cover for Bush on Iraq, even with a majority of Americans now opposing the war. "He doesn't believe in the power of the people!" Gravel says. Edsall blinks and looks perplexed. "David Broder is the voice of the people," he replies matter-of-factly. Gravel starts to smile, assuming Edsall is making an absurdist joke. But Edsall is not joking. The two men look at each other in awkward silence over a great gulf of unshared beliefs, then Gravel chuckles and walks ahead into the restaurant.
The disconnect is striking, but it is far from unique. Consider first that it is not just that Edsall believes Broder to be correct and Gravel (and much of the left blogesphere and much of the country) believe that Broder is very much out of touch. Rather, Edsall truly believes that Broder is the "voice of the people" and Edsall cannot seem to understand that many of "the people" feel that Broder is out of touch. Consider the disconnect between poll results on the opinions Americans have of the Iraq war and of Bush with Broder's expectation of a Bush political resurgence. Or consider Broder's views on Bush's veto with those expressed by Americans again via polls. However much Tom Edsall might respect and like David Broder, there is clear reason to believe that he might be a bit out of touch, and the title "voice of the people" cannot clearly be assigned to him any longer, if it ever could be.

This is, I believe, a common theme of our times (probably of all times). It puts me in mind of Richard Feynman's conclusions on the Challenger disaster. One of the more striking discoveries he made was the disparity in opinion concerning mission safety between engineers and management.
It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures come from the working engineers, and the very low figures from management. What are the causes and consequences of this lack of agreement? Since 1 part in 100,000 would imply that one could put a Shuttle up each day for 300 years expecting to lose only one, we could properly ask "What is the cause of management's fantastic faith in the machinery?"
In both cases we have a population of leaders, people in charge, who are seriously disconnected from the reality they are in charge of. Whatever good reasons management had to believe the shuttle safe, their estimate of 1 in 100,000 were absurd. As Feynman points out those in charge then believed that the shuttle could be launched every day for 300 years with but one failure and we've had two in the comparatively tiny number of launches to date.

Now this disconnect is a broader problem that has surfaced many times in history. One need read only briefly of the various high commands during the first World War to see the same kind of utter disconnect between those in charge and those at the front. With little difficulty one could find many more examples, I'm sure. This disconnect is, I believe, a predictable consequence of the kind of privileged/servile society I've written of elsewhere.

My arguments elsewhere on this blog is that the modern conservative movement is motivated by a desire to create, a belief in the superiority of, a society consisting of a privileged, leading class and a servile, subordinate class. While they have not succeeded in creating that society, great strides have been made over the past few decades. The policies advocated by the conservative movement, for all they talk of freedom and equality, their policies are consistently directed and the one object, granting privilege to those with substantial ownership in property and making subservient those whose ownership of property is sufficiently limited that their subsistence depends upon their labor.

There are two main problems with this model of society, however. On the one hand it is wrong. There is no justification for granting special privleges to some members of society that are denied to others. Among the foundational principals of this nation was the fundamental equality of all people under the law. Secondly, a society composed of the privileged and the servile is weaker and more succeptible to failure than a society based upon equality. The disconnect of our press corps, of NASA management, of the commanders of WWI all derive from the growth of a two class system. Such a system does not make our nation better able to face the dangers we will face but rather less able.

Conservatives have been selling the idea that with leadership taken from our proper leading class we will get the strong leadership that will make us safe and secure. But instead we have the disconnect of the press, 9/11, Katrina, Iraq, Challenger and other failures of even basic management. Our hope lies not in a saviour from our privileged class, but rather in the strength of all of the people of America.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Correction, Anonther Universe

My earlier comments about conservatives inhabiting a different world from the rest of us should be revised. They are moving into a different Universe. From Mitt Romney, one of the top tier, leading candidates in the Republican party running for President,
"It seems that Europe leads Americans in this way of thinking," Romney told the crowd of more than 5,000. "In France, for instance, I'm told that marriage is now frequently contracted in seven-year terms where either party may move on when their term is up. How shallow and how different from the Europe of the past."
Do these people just make stuff up? Do they not notice that it has nothing to do with the actual, for real Universe? Do they care?

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Green Buildings

This is from a Newsletter I just got from my Senator Ben Cardin.
From the cars we drive to the buildings in which we live and work, I believe all Americans increasingly want to save energy and protect the environment.

I recently introduced The American Green Buildings Act, S.1165, to require that the federal government construct all new buildings to be energy efficient and environmentally friendly. While we need to enact a comprehensive, long-term energy policy, this bill is a step in the right direction.

Buildings are big consumers of energy. In fact, buildings account for more than a third of all energy consumed in the United States. The technology now exists to help us save energy in the way we construct new buildings or renovate existing ones.

My legislation would require all new federal buildings follow the green building LEED (Leadership and Energy in Environmental Design) Silver standard set by the U.S. Green Building Council. These standards were created to promote sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, material selections and indoor environmental quality.

The average LEED-certified buildings in the United States use 32% less electricity, 26% less natural gas and 36% less total energy. In aggregate, to date LEED-certified buildings reduce carbon dioxide by 150,000 metric tons, the equivalent of 30,000 passenger cars sitting idle for one year.

We can become energy independent in a decade if we commit ourselves to that goal, and we can do it in a way that protects our environment and our national security.
Given the magnitude of the potential problem that Global Climate Change poses, this is certainly a fairly small scale proposal. Having said that though, there is plenty of room for both small and large scale proposals, and for a small scale proposal, this is a good one. Getting something like this through is an excellent step. I am glad to hear that Congress is seriously considering this issue and we are seeing proposals like this brought forth. Having the Federal Government start on something like this could well be similar to the forty hour week, a very good reform started by the Feds, which eventually became the norm.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Donna Edwards is In

Donna Edwards has officially files to run against Al Wynn for Maryland's fourth Congressional district for the Democratic primary. She is putting together quite a good and experienced team. Given how close she came in '06, it looks like '08 will be quite a race.

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Republican Shake Up

Over on the Moderate Voice there is a good discussion of a recent Newsweek article on some of the potential fractures in the Republican party. The focus of the Newsweek article is on a number of descendants of famous, leading Republicans who are deeply disenchanted with their party. Disenchanted even to the point of contemplating a switch. The folks in question are lifelong, prominent Republicans, but of the so-called Country Club set, with names such as Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Goldwater. If these folks are considering leaving the Republican party then a major realignment, or possible dissolution, of the Republican party is a distinct prospect. I recommend that you go over and read what is written over there. Constructive Interference is clearly a blog that is not very warm toward the Republican party. My opinions on the current state of the Republican party are not favorable. The Moderate Voice is a good bit more centerest and friendly to the Republican party, so their perspective is well worth checking on.

To me it looks like the current trends in the Republican party are towards the neocon, ultra conservative wing, and thus towards eventual irrelevance in American politics. I can't believe that will happen without a realignment, but what that realignment will look like I don't know. Although I am a solid Democrat and rather liberal in my politics, understand that one of the main themes I discuss is the need for critical review, oversight, accountability. These things are essential if we are to make any complex system work. That includes a modern government. Therefore, while I will remain a Democrat, I want there to be a vigorous, effective Republican (or other oppostion) party to provide that critical review, oversight and accountability. The current Republican party cannot play that role because the current Republican party is ideologically opposed to critical review, oversight and accountability. I want a good Republican party back.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Another World

Conservatives really are drifting off into another world. It appears now that a portion of the conservative world believes that Youtube is biased against them so they've gone and created a conservative centric version called Qubetv. This follows closely on the heels of Conservapedia, discussed here, the conservative movement really is trying to mark out an alternative reality. We now have three of the Republican candidates for President coming out solidly against the science of evolution as well.

Look, reality is just not that good a fit to conservative ideology. Existent species are linked by ties of common ancestry. Iraq is not flowering as a western democracy, science does work, oversight and critical review are necessary for good government, and the people of a nation ought to be soverign over their government not vice versa. When confronted by a reality that does not fit with ones ideology, change the ideology. Trying to create an alternative reality will not work.


Friday, May 04, 2007

Democrats are Holding Firm

The AP reports that Democrats are holding tough on the Iraq funding.
Bush and Congress have been discussing a possible compromise on a war spending bill needed to finance combat operations through September. The president demands the money without strings attached and so far has found strong Republican support. But Democrats say Bush eventually will have to accept some conditions on the U.S. commitment in Iraq because of the war's unpopularity among voters.
So earlier rumors that Democrats were going to cave were premature. That is good. The Democrats need to hang tough, they are on the right side of this issue and the country needs resolution to this war. It appears that the Democrats are leaning toward a short term funding bill, perhaps with limited restrictions on the President. I believe that is an excellent tactic and has a great chance of success.

Republicans will try their best to portray this issue as one of Democratic intransigence.
Congressional Democrats have signaled they're not ready to back down in their confrontation with President Bush on Iraq, spurring Republicans to accuse them of causing political gridlock.
However, the fact is that the Democrats are providing funding for our troops, the President is refusing to spend the money provided. That is how the matter stands. It is clear too from much of the commentary on this issue that the Democrats are expected to back down first. I can only conclude that it is widely believed that Republicans have so little regard for our troops welfare that they will never give up their perceived political objectives in order to support our men and women in uniform and in harm's way. Indeed it is far more reasonable to expect that the Democrats in Congress will deviate from their political objectives out of concern for and sympathy for our men and women in the field. They will do so far sooner than Republicans ever will. However, the Democrats in Congress and in particular their leadership do understand that the ultimate welfare of our troops depends upon getting funding with the appropriate controls on our reckless President. With that kept in mind, the Democrats will get a bill through that supports our armed forces and brings this war to a close.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Other War

Meanwhile things are not going so well in Afghanistan. This is why we should not have gone into Iraq and why we should be trying to extricate ourselves from that nation as soon as we can. Bush's insistence in 2002-2003 that we needed to redirect our forces toward Iraq was a towering strategic blunder that we need to correct. It is an elementary rule of military strategy that you concentrate your forces, do not disperse them. Taking on both Iraq and Afghanistan was a unnecessary dispersal of forces for which we are paying the price.

Now it is not the case that we are on the verge of utter defeat in Afghanistan. But considering how important success there is, the current situation is grave. Keep in mind that the Taliban was close aligned with those who actually attacked us. For them to be resurgent is a serious blow to American prestige. If we take someone out, they should stay taken out (out like the German Nazi party). What then of these reports
The civilian deaths are a byproduct of the intensifying conflict over the past year between thousands of Taliban fighters and about 47,000 U.S.-led and NATO forces. Significant armed clashes now occur regularly in a half-dozen provinces, and the Taliban has launched a campaign of suicide blasts and bombings triggered by remote control in urban areas, as well as against military targets.
Thousands of Taliban fighters, and the Taliban launching a campaign of bombing against civilian and military targets. This is not a group that has been defeated. Furthermore, our efforts to combat the Taliban is cutting away support for the Karzai government.
In eastern Nangahar province this week, hundreds of demonstrators repeatedly blocked a main highway, accusing U.S.-led forces of killing six civilians, including a woman and child, during a counterinsurgency raid. Some students burned President Bush in effigy and shouted "Death to America"; they also demanded that Karzai resign.
The problem is exacerbated by the length of time this has been going on. Afghanistan was supposedly cleared of the Taliban in 2001-2002 and yet the fighting continues and actually grows worse.
"The intention may be very good to fight terrorism, sometimes mistakes are made, but five years on, it is very difficult for us to continue to accept civilian casualties," Karzai said. "It's not understandable anymore." He said he had worked hard to improve coordination between foreign and Afghan forces, especially during raids on villages. "Unfortunately, that has not given results, and we are not happy about that."
Afghanistan needs peace, it is in the US interests for Afghanistan to have peace. If we could serve to create a peaceful, prosperous, democratic Afghanistan, that would serve to help stabilize the Middle East. The principal thing standing in the way of accomplishing this, however, is our instance on continuing the wasteful and failed mission in Iraq.

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Syrian Meeting is On

Well the rumors proved true and Secretary of State Rice did meet with the Syrian foreign minister Walid Moallem for a half-hour at the conference at Sharm el-Sheik in Egypt. This is good news. The US needs to keep it's communications open to all parties, particularly in the Middle East. By all accounts the meeting was cordial and professional. Hopefully, this will be the start of more productive conversations. Thanks again to Nancy Pelosi for starting this ball rolling.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Override Fails

Well the vote to override the veto failed as all expected. The purpose of the vote was only to put Republicans on the record on this issue. I was hardly going to comment on the vote, however one sentence in the WaPo article stood out for me.

The bill he refused to sign yesterday would have required the administration to begin the "phased redeployment" of U.S. troops out of Iraq no later than Oct. 1, with a goal of removing all combat forces by April 1, 2008, except those carrying out security, training and counterterrorism missions.

The highlighted part of the paragraph is what struck me. Now this has nothing to do with the appropriations bill itself, or Democratic strategy or the Iraq War. For that read Kos, or Digby or MyDD. The thing about that highlighted part is what it says about ability of today's press to actually report anything. A journalist reporting on the fate of a bill passed by the United States Congress ought to have at least a basic understanding of the American legislative process. The issue was not that Bush refused to sign it. If he had only refused to sign it, it would have become law on May 8. The President's signature is not needed for a bill to become law. It just isn't. The President did not refuse to sign the bill, he vetoed it. He sent it back to the Chamber in which it originated with his objections to the bill for it to be debated again and voted on again. That is different from refusing to sign. It may seem a minor point, but we should expect that reporters for the major daily newspaper of the nation's capital will at least get the minor points right. What I am describing is not a new feature of the Constitution. Our reporters should be familiar with the document.

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To My Representative

I just sent the following off to my representative inspired by Matt Stoler.
Yesterday, George Bush vetoed the supplemental spending bill approved by both Houses of Congress. The bill as originally passed was a good bill and should have had the President's signature. The timelines and restrictions in the bill simply reflect the will of the American people. George Bush has no right to demand a blank check from the American people for his war. Therefore, I am concerned to hear that some members of the Democratic leadership are talking now of removing those restrictions from the next version of the bill. That should not be done.

First I urge the Democratic leadership to put the bill up for another vote to overturn the veto. Let those who support the President go on record that they would deprive our soldiers of needed supplies in order to support George Bush's unreasonable demands. Secondly, a new bill should be passed providing funding for only two months. Let the issue be brought up and debated so that we, the American people, can be assured that progress is indeed being made in Iraq.

Finally, the Reid-Feingold proposal should be the basis of the Democrats position from this point forward. Clearly state that the war will not be funded after a set date in the future and stick to that position.

Let yours know how your feel. Your representatives contact information can be found here.

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Now Syria is OK

So now it would seem that perhaps talking to the Syrians is OK? It seems that Condoleezza Rice may be meeting with the Syrian foreign minister in Egypt later this week. Now in all fairness the meeting is not confirmed at this point, yet when asked about it she said that she "wouldn't rule it out." So, apparently talking to the Syrians isn't quite the horror we were lead to believe just a few weeks ago. Or perhaps Speaker Pelosi opened an important door for us. I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case.

But humor and irony aside, this could be an important development. Never underestimate the power of this Administration to mess things up, but talking to Iraq's neighbors is vital to US interests. Lots of the people so solidly opposed to the war now, especially those who were supportive or unsure at its start, have long argued for the need for less US involvement and more international involvement. Had the effort to stabilize Iraq since 2003 been more international, it would have been perceived less as an occupation, and thus would have had a better chance for success. The need for international involvement has only grown as the ability of the US to control the situation has diminished. It is good to see the Bush Administration taking some small steps in the right direction. It will make things easier for their successors at least.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Bush Cuts Funding for Troops in Field

Today George Bush, the President of the United States, cut funding for our troops in the field in Iraq. The people of the United States, through their representatives in Congress, had previously authorized further funding to support those troops in the field, provide them with equipment supplies and support, and to aid their safe return to their homes. Out of his petulant insistence in having his own way in all things, George Bush vetoed that funding and put the safety and security of those brave men and women at risk. This is a sad day for our country.

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Good Questions

Blue Girl, Red State has some excellent questions regarding the DC Madam scandal that has been slowing brewing in the background for the past few weeks. All the discussion I've seen so far has been on the political fallout here in the US. BGRS correctly asks though, what about national security. It is generally thought to be a breech of security for you highly cleared people to be engaging in risky behavior that can cause them legal or personal trouble. That opens people up to blackmail and being turned. What with Karl "multiple violations of basic security policy" Rove still holding his clearance, I guess folks have become inured. But it is a good question. Ask your Congressman.

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Denialism Blog

This, The Denialism Blog, looks like it will be a very valuable resource. The blog is dedicated to talking about sound practices of reasoning and argument, in large part by examining unsound practices. The blog looks in particular at the kind of cranks who deny various claims that are well supported by evidence. People who deny the holocaust, the 4.5 billion year age of the earth, global climate change, etc. If we of the reasoning folks are going to win these arguments we need to be well prepared, both to make our own arguments more sound and to recognize what is wrong with our opponents arguments and to be able to communicate those failings clearly. The Denialism Blog will help with that tremendously.

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Mission Accomplished

Fourth year anniversery of the great "Mission Accomplished" moment. And to mark the occasion April was the deadliest month in 2007. In fact, for coalition forces it was the fourth deadliest month of the entire war, including the initial hostilities in March of 2003. Indeed the casualty rate has not been this high since January of 2005. Quite an accomplishment Mr. Bush

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