Posted on 20-09-2012
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

A friend put this up on Facebook.  The image says it all.  Original tweet here.

 

Somewhere Harry Reid is chuckling.

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Posted on 18-09-2012
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

The political world is buzzing with the scoop by David Corn of Mother Jones, who posted video of Mitt Romney unplugged at a fundraiser.  The video below has attracted the most attention.

 

 

At some level Mitt Romney’s disdain for the economically underprivileged is hardly surprising.  Republicans and other defenders of the “suffering” wealthy have been peddling the silly statistic peddled by Romney above.   Ezra Klein notes just how misleading this statistic it.  Also see here.  The 47% Romney casts as moochers on the public dole are succinctly broken down by the chart below from the tax policy center.

 

 

It is troubling that a man whose candidacy is based on his alleged knowledge of the economy gleaned from a very successful career as a tax arbitrage corporate raider is so clueless about this basic issue, or perhaps does not give a damn.

A few of interesting oversights by Mr. Romney must be noted here.  28.3% of the mooching 47% pay payroll tax.  As a result they probably pay a higher tax rate than the plutocrat running for President – Romney’s tax burden is paid largely through capital gains tax and he likely paid no payroll tax the last few years.  And seriously, does Romney really mean to tax the elderly living off their savings/and or social security to further reduce taxes for people of his class? Given his vague plans sprinkled with pixie dust, who knows.

Speaking of handouts, the reason Romney pays so little in taxes is because of a sweetheart handout granted by the government to people like him for the management of venture capital firms.  It is also a bit rich for a man who said it was a qualification for the presidency to not pay more taxes than due to denigrate the poor for not paying taxes when they had no capacity to do so.

Sensing trouble for an already reeling campaign, Romney tried to dismiss this as speaking off the cuff in a hastily convened press conference (consisting of three questions and a hurried retreat from journalists). Video below:

 

 

This is the latest bout of condescension from a fabulously wealthy candidate who has shown no ability to relate to people outside his economic class. The partisans committed to removing Obama may not care, but I wonder how this will play with independents.

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For the second time in a few months Mitt Romney has inspired a twitter meme mocking him.  The first during his disastrous Europe trip this summer was #RomneyShambles.  Now after a few days of loud chest thumping (noted previously here and here) the assertion that Romney’s strength would have prevented the embassy attacks trigerred the tweet below from Josh Marshall:

Romney Adviser: If Romney were prez no one wld attack r embassies because of Romney strength http://t.co/hT23DXPc via @
@joshtpm
Josh Marshall

And so #RomneyStrength was born:

#RomneyStrength Defending America with the impenatrable force field of unmovable hair
@TricksieJones
Tricksie Jones

#RomneyStrength filling out a suit with nothing of substance
@nctomatoman
Craig LeHoullier

Mitt Romney once pulled Corey Booker out of a burning building. #RomneyStrength
@UOJim
Jim Henley

A cop pulled me over once. I let him off with a warning. #Romneystrength
@MlTTR0MNEY
Willard Mitt Romney

#RomneyStrength - ability to dismantle a pension plan in a single conference call
@derekjjohnson
Derek Johnson

Romney supporters now appear to taking to twitter in his defense and the campaign itself appears to have purchased advertising space on the hashtag.  It will be interesting to see how long the conflation of Romney to Chuck Norris jokes continues.

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Posted on 14-09-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Religion) by Rashtrakut

Free speech has been in the news a lot lately.  From the blasphemy set up of an underage Pakistani Christian child with Downs syndrome, to a cartoonist who hurt the tender sensibilities of India’s ruling class and in the last few days the Islam bashing cheap production that predictably has drawn mobs out all over the Muslim world.  Two questions are raised by these brouhahas.  First, is violence, particularly mob violence, an appropriate response to speech – however insulting?  Second, what is the culpability of the person uttering the offensive speech?

On the first issue, I cannot think of any justification for the type of rioting taking place in Egypt and now Yemen and other places (Libya may have been a terrorist hit on the anniversary of 9/11).  On a personal level I suppose I can make a case for self defense in the event of imminent bodily harm.  The penalization of fighting words varies across the globe – though typically is a prosecutable offense in certain jurisdictions and not a license to fisticuffs.  But in the final reckoning, the primary blame should fall on the person who responds to words with violence.

A few years ago I had a discussion with a hyper-religious neighbor who was loudly asserting that free speech was not a license to say whatever you wanted.  The comment was ironical given that he did not understand that his previous statement informing me of my ultimate fate in hellfire for my choice of deity was extremely offensive even if it was a core belief for him.

Freedom of speech implies the freedom to offend – otherwise it would not be a freedom that needed codifying.  The obvious question is how far can you offend and what can you make offensive statements about.  On this issue there is wide divergence.  Countries prone to ethnic or religious violence are very sensitive about statements intended to incite, and they prohibit such statements.  Others like some European countries have tried to erase a history of discrimination and prohibit racist of bigoted statements in a surfeit of political correctness.  And then you get countries like Pakistan, where the practitioners of the whose majority religion are so insecure in their faith that they penalize blasphemy with the death penalty.

The problem with these restrictions is that they infantalize public dialogue to the level of the most thin skinned cry baby in the community.  Blasphemy laws are even worse because they can be misused.  For lightening the mood of this discussion Monty Python’s mockery of blasphemy laws in a Life of Brian is posted below:

 

 

In my opinion the American rule of free speech is something that should be a desirable goal.  It requires maturity on the part of society to take to heart the old nursery rhyme on Sticks and Stones.  But while I disagree with criminal liability for the speaker, I do not wish to absolve them of any criticism.  It is one thing to toss out a provocative hypothesis to advance a discussion.  It is another to throw a match on gasoline in the form of taunts, abuses and other offensive statements just to get a rise out of someone.  Most human beings engage in self-censorship from time to time as a basic element of good manners or the understanding that rights do not exist in a vacuum.  They co-exist with responsibility in creating the obligations of citizenship.  The American constitution (in contrast to the Indian constitution) does not explicitly spell them out, but they are implied in the desire to form a more perfect union.  By leaving it to implication they are relying on the judgment of the citizenry in deciding the narrow line between advancing public debate and tossing the match.

In my opinion the producers of the Islam bashing film and for that matter the Islamophobes who infest the right-wing commentariat do the latter.  So while the rest of us protect the rights of these bigots to speak, we should be free to condemn as harshly as possible the content and intent of the speech.

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Posted on 13-09-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy, Politics) by Rashtrakut

Last November, Mitt Romney offered up powerful chest thump:

“If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will get a nuclear weapon.  If we elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not.”

Of course like his arithmetic challenged tax plan or his mutating mysterious Afghanistan policy, there has been no substance offered to support this platitude.  Since Mitt Romney feels that the harsh sanctions regime Obama has imposed on Iran is a sign of weakness (or more commonly asserts does not exist), he evidently has access to some magic pixie dust that will stop an Iranian dream that dates back to the Shah.

Today, facing withering fire for his statements on the embassy attacks one of his foreign policy advisers offered up more pixie dust.  The inspiration is likely the tweet below from the most incompetent defense secretary of our generation:

The attacks on our embassies & diplomats are a result of perceived American weakness. Mitt Romney is right to point that out.
@RumsfeldOffice
Donald Rumsfeld

This conveniently ignores the fact that there were 12 such attacks under Bush, including 8 on Rumsfeld’s watch.  This is the highest number in American history and if it were an appropriate measure of strength would make 43 one of the weakest presidents in history.  Rummy’s amnesia spreads to the neo-cons advising Romney.  Richard Williamson, who worked in 43’s administration, asserted that the Muslim world would be so cowed by the man who does not have the guts to take on Rush Limbaugh or Donald Trump that they would never dare send an unruly mob (or organized assault) against an American embassy.  That or they have magic pixie dust at their disposal.

Barack Obama’s foreign policy is not perfect.  He has made mistakes.  There are legitimate questions about the security for the Libyan embassy.  But the Republican assertions of a weak President are ludicrous figments of their imagination.  Romney on foreign policy is a sad caricature and should quit making a fool of himself.  But of course he won’t.

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Posted on 13-09-2012
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

In stark contrast to the Egyptian President, Libyan President Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf promptly condemned the attack on the Benghazi consulate that resulted in the death of the American ambassador.  Libya has also started rounding up suspects for the attack.  As a result, Barack Obama called the Libyan President to thank him for expressing condolences.  Which of course gave Fox Nation (the propaganda tool operated by Faux News) a green light to twist a fairly innocuous diplomatic exchange into the inflammatory headline and article below.

 

 

Disgusting, even for Fox Nation and Faux News.

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Posted on 13-09-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

David Frum has an odd article up criticizing Barack Obama for his “Foolish Embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood.”  According to Frum:

Nobody remembers now, but after Mubarak’s fall there was much debate whether the Muslim Brotherhood should be allowed to participate in Egypt’s new political system. It is hardly illiberal to ban a party that aims at the overthrow of a liberal state. West Germany banned neo-Nazi parties after 1945; the post-1989 Czech Republic forbade former communist officials to hold government jobs – and both democracies are stronger for it. In the end, the Muslim Brotherhood escaped the ban by promising not to run a candidate for president, a promise it promptly broke.

First let us begin with the prime fallacy in Frum’s argument.  Unless he intervened in the debate like prior American interventions in Latin America (and thankfully he did not do something that silly), this was not America’s decision to make.  American intervention here would have backfired badly on all concerned.  Years of blind American support for Mubarak has led to widespread distrust of America on the Egyptian street.  Obama did the wise thing, he stayed the hell out of another country’s political debate.

Let us also dismiss the comparison to the Nazi ban in Germany.  That is an extremely unique situation based on the horrors of the Second World War and German determination to prevent such extreme groups from ever returning to power.  It is rarely duplicated in western democracies (the American ban on the Communist Party in the height of Cold War paranoia is an exception) for a very good reason, because it is an extremely illiberal act.  The ban in Germany is also sustainable because the neo-Nazis are a fringe group despised by German society at large.  The Muslim Brotherhood is not a fringe group and has mass support.

The problem with quasi-secular incompetent dictatorships like Mubarak is that they often leave religious fundamentalists as the most organized opposition to the regime.  Not co-opted by the tools of the autocratic regime and often subject to persecution, Islamic groups often emerge as the most coherent opposition to dictatorship.  Perversely, the dictators often allowed the Islamists to remain the only organized opposition to marginalize secular opponents and to gain support in the west from fears of the Islamist bogeyman – Mubarak did both. Iran under the Shah was another example.

It is true that the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in politics did cause unease.  They were the most organized political opposition to Mubarak and that gave them a huge advantage over the rest of the fractious opposition.  To soothe such fears they promised to not run a candidate in the Presidential elections.  As Frum notes they broke that promise.

Banning the Muslim Brotherhood would have been a profoundly stupid move that would have triggered significant unrest.  It would have given them instant martyrdom.  Given the lack of administrative experience of the opposition, it is very likely that when they eventually came to power it would have been in an even stronger position.

Turkey demonstrates this scenario very well.  The regime instituted by Ataturk aggressively excluded devout Muslims from the public sphere – to the extent that women were not allowed to wear headscarves in government buildings.  The military was the power behind the throne and repeatedly intervened by open or quasi coups.  This system survived until the 1990s.  By then the global consensus had moved to democracy.  The communist bloc had collapsed.  All the dictatorships in Latin America were gone.  And Turkish politicians were extremely corrupt and incompetent.  The Islamists were the only alternative left standing, and they kept winning elections only to have the army force them out.  Eventually the Turkish army had to bow to popular pressure leaving Recep Erdogan and his Islamists firmly ensconced in power.  Erdogan’s competence compared to his predecessors has kept him in power.

Egypts generals were likely aiming for the old Turkish model, but for now Morsi has outflanked them.  Morsi has displayed some disturbing tendencies of attacking critics for lese majeste, but has not yet become a Sunni reincarnation of Ayatollah Khomeini.  For now there are checks on his behavior from the Army, parliament and civil society.

There are many on the right who bemoan our abandonment of the Pharaoh to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to come to power.  This is an extremely short sighted view that contributes to widespread distrust in the Arab World (along with charges of hypocrisy) against the self proclaimed “leader of the Free World”.

Ultimately I see three likely (though not exhaustive) scenarios resulting from the Muslim league assuming power:

  • They turn out to be spectacularly incompetent, resulting in a drop of support (e.g. the Ayatollahs in Iran) and eventual defeat at the ballot box.
  • They turn out to be competent stewards of Egypt’s economy and manage to tap into its human capital.
  • They lapse into populist claptrap like Hugo Chavez, take delight in poking Uncle Sam in public forums or worse and drive the Egyptian economy to a ditch.  They then rig elections like Chavez to stay in power.

The third scenario is the most disturbing.  However in this scenario, Egypt rapidly loses military aid and is not really in a position to cause too much damage – help that they have no oil either.  They will be a nuisance but not a threat.

Ultimately it just is not our problem.  Egypt deserves the right to do what the United States has done for over 200 years – choose its own leaders and chart its own destiny.  Blaming Barack Obama for his “foolish embrace” of the party that was likely to win a fair election is silly.  Engaging Egypt and insentivizing it for good behavior was the smart thing to do.  If Egypt fails to do just that, it is Egypt’s loss.

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Posted on 12-09-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

On September 12, 2012 the alliance between Egypt and the United States appears to have officially faded away.  Its end was not surprising. Under Sadat and then Mubarak, Egypt became an American ally and one of the biggest recipients of American aid after Israel.  Then the Pharaoh was swept away by the Arab spring and Egypt began its messy transition to democracy.  The much ballyhooed freedom agenda of George W. Bush withered away when it became clear that the popular franchise would not magically bring friends of the United States to power.

The transition in Egypt has been interesting to say the least.  Pharaoh Mubarak was forced out of power after popular protests, but the departure (like Tunisia) was stage managed by the army.  The Egyptian generals were showing signs that what they would live with was a “managed” democracy like Turkey until the 1990s and Pakistan today.  The civilians could rule within the margins set by the men in khaki.  If so, that belief was misplaced.  In August, the newly elected Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi – a former leader of the Muslim brotherhood – fired his military chiefs and nullified their constitutional declaration that gutted his office.

So far Morsi has not ended the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel, but it is clear that relations with Egypt had changed.  The embassy attacks highlight just how much.  The Libyan attacks were met by apologies of the Libyan government and were condemned by the government and people.  Indeed, the Libyan attacks appear to be more of a planned attack than triggered by the anti-Islam film.

In contrast the response from Morsi for a failure of his government to honor its diplomatic obligations has been….crickets.  For domestic consumption Morsi has ordered his embassy in Washington to try to make the pointless effort to prosecute the twits who made the movie that was used as an excuse for the riots.  David Frum speculates that Morsi is using this to solidify his power base.  Notably, President Obama’s statement today pointedly did not mention the Egypt attacks but evidently has sent the message to Egypt that it has the obligation to protect American diplomatic establishments.  This evening the Egyptian police dispersed the crowds without violence.

This evening Obama also gave an interview that made a now obvious point.  Egypt is not an ally, but is not an enemy either.  Clips of the interview from the Rachel Maddow show below:

 

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

 

This is a huge strategic change in the Middle East.  Left unsaid (unless it is in the full interview to be aired tomorrow) is what happens to the huge aid package that went to the former ally.  The conduct of Morsi in the last couple of days is not likely to endear his government to Congress – where many on the right are already fulminating at the abandonment of the dictator to allow the election of Islamists to office.  Will the drying up of American military aid encourage Morsi and the khaki clad men who remain in line for now to temper their actions?  It is unlikely that the Obama administration would use this to encourage a Latin American style coup and it should not.  It complicates the strategic situation for Israel, which is already facing the possible replacement of the devil it knows in Syria with chaos.  It makes Netanyahu’s obsession of a war with Iran even crazier.

Ultimately, I am not upset about the end of an alliance forged with an unpopular dictator rather than with a government backed by public support.  The former is inherently unstable and makes the United States look away from abuses that tarnish our reputation by association.  The latter are generally more enduring.  Far too many foreign policy hawks pine for the client state relationships that existed in the Cold War.  They gave a type of negative stability but cost America in the long run.  Other countries have interests too and they will not always align with ours.  That is the basic principle that in coming years will guide American relations with India, Brazil, South Africa and other countries with whom we will have warm relations without a NATO style alliance. In the long run it is a healthier and more mature approach.

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Posted on 12-09-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Today was a brutal day for Mitt Romney.  His irresponsible and incoherent political cheap shot while the American embassy was under attack blew up in his face today.  Even as Romney doubled down in his mendacious irresponsibility in a smirk filled press conference, most Republicans did not follow his position.  When America is under attack there is one President, and John Boehner, John McCain, Lyndsey Graham etc. followed that basic principle.  The Republicans supporting Romney tended to be of the caliber of the quitter turned reality show star, the bloviating windbag and Torquemada.

This evening President Obama observed Romney’s tendency to shoot first and aim later.  Video below:

 

 

This is not the first time Romney has made a fool out of himself by this tendency.  This summer Romney took to the airwaves to accuse the Obama administration of abandoning Chinese defector Chen Guangcheng, while negotiations with the Chinese were still ongoing.  After Chen was allowed to depart for the United States even Bill Kristol called the attacks foolish.

Tsar Vladimir stuck the knife into Romney today by using Romney’s nutty classification of Russia as our primary geopolitical foe.  He noted that the danger of someone like Romney assuming the presidency made him firm up his opposition to a missile defense system based in Europe purportedly aimed at Iran.

The problem is that Romney has not given foreign policy much deep thought.  His foreign policy team is largely composed of the geniuses who gave us the foreign policy debacles of the Bush years.  His conduct in the last 24 hours raises serious questions about his temperament and fitness for the Presidency.

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Posted on 12-09-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

This blog excoriated the politicization of the death of an American diplomat in a violent attack on the embassy in Benghazi yesterday.  Turns out the attack was even worse.  The death toll currently sits at 4, including the American ambassador Christopher Stevens.  Video below:

 

 

This blog is about as militant a supporter of free speech there is, but has no sympathy for deliberate provocation to stir up trouble.  Most countries do not have our free speech protections or do not share our heritage of protecting them.  So acts/statements by private individuals who then walk free are easy tools to gin up anti-American violence in the region.  Personally I find riots based on an obscure statement by an unimportant asshole on the other side of the world profoundly stupid.  But since the Satanic Verses we have known that insults or presumed insults against the Prophet Muhammad or the Quran trigger a reaction that most Americans find puzzling and overheated.

The movie blamed for the riots was a deliberate attempt to goad the bull.  Congrats Sam Bacile, Terry Jones and the other assholes who made or are promoting this film.  It worked.  You proved how easy it is to trigger riots in the Muslim world.  You have exercised your right to free speech.  Now others will pay the price.  That will range from American diplomats and citizens in the Arab world to Coptic and other Christian minorities.  I hope you are happy with the results as you head into hiding.

 

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Posted on 12-09-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Every time Mitt Romney opens his mouth on foreign policy he makes me very nervous.  He typically makes me very angry too because some muscle in his tongue makes him spew a diet of misleading statements or outright lies.  A film produced in California mocking the Prophet Muhammad triggered attacks on American diplomatic establishments in Egypt and Libya.  An American diplomat in Benghazi was killed.  This is the latest incident where an insult (or in some cases an alleged insult) to the Prophet Muhammad or the Quran draws out anti-American mobs into the streets across the far reaches of the middle east.  America’s freedom of speech gives bigots the ability to goad Muslims and without fail the bait is taken.  Even though this was not an act by an American governmental actor, it is American institutions abroad that take the heat.

One cannot reason with irrational fanatics and the smart thing to do is to distance yourself from the triggering cause and do your job of protecting American interests.  So before the embassy attacks, the American embassy criticized the attempt to incite Muslims.  Yet the riots happened anyway, triggering condemnation from the administration.

But a flailing Romney campaign has a narrative to sell.  Even though it has been widely debunked, Mitt Romney’s standard line is to accuse the Obama administration of apologies.  After all Mitt Romney, who curls into a fetal position when confronted by windbags like Rush Limbaugh, is a macho macho man when it comes to foreign policy.  Video below:

 

 

 

So Romney did, what Romney does.  He politicized the tragic death of the diplomat and twisted the chronology of events to fit his mendacious Obama apology tour meme.

Even more despicable is RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, whose contribution to the politicization of the tragedy was this:

Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.
@Reince
Reince Priebus

The few sane Republicans left on foreign policy keep assuring us that Romney is only playing to the galleries.  But so far his foreign policy pronouncements have needlessly antagonized Russia, promised a trade war with China, seem to back Netanyahu’s attempts for a shooting war with Iran, and presumably pour oil on fires when Americans in the middle east are at risk.  When it comes to Afghanistan, he has every position (video below):

 

 

It is scary that Republicans evidently believe that parking yourself in a French chateau as a missionary to gain an exemption from the Vietnam War draft (after marching is support of the war in college) and a business career overcome a serious deficiency of foreign policy gravitas.

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Posted on 11-09-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

To the likely delight of the stumbling Romney campaign, Benjamin Netanyahu threw a temper tantrum, after a week of warnings from his allies, bulldozing his way into the Presidential race and attempting to blackmail the American political establishment into joining him in an unnecessary war of aggression against Iran.  The last three years have been an amazing case of the tail wagging the dog.  The United States is committed to the preservation of Israel.  But both are sovereign nations with independent interests.  Yet the entire Republican party and a large chunk of the Democratic party have essentially sworn fealty to Israel and given Netenyahu carte blanche in the West Bank.  Even worse they have backed the Obama administration into a position likely to lead to a premptive war.

The war drums on Iran are insane.  Nobody has proven that Iran actually wants to build a nuclear weapon.  Many people think, what Iran actually wants is what Japan has – the ability to build one if needed.  And that unfortunately is not explicitly barred by the ridiculous Non Proliferation Treaty.  Maintaining a nuclear arsenal is expensive and if that is the goal, it would be a smart one.  Iran having a nuclear weapon or the capacity is highly undesirable, because it would remove a check on their actions and would trigger a domino effect in the region.  Yet it would not be the end of the world.  The far more psychotic North Korean regime has one and has been contained.

Contrary to propaganda, Iran’s Ayatollahs have shown a high sense of personal preservation.  During the Iran-Iraq war the actually issued a decree allowing deviation from Islamic tenets when national interest was at stake.   This is not a behavior of a bunch of suicidal zealots.  Oh and one other thing – Israel has nuclear weapons and is under the United States nuclear umbrella.  Iran would have to be batshit crazy to launch a strike on Israel.

The other problem is that a military strike almost certainly will not work.  For one thing, Israel may not have the capacity for such a long range strike even if it wanted to.  In that case Netanyahu’s statement that “[t]hose in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel,” is even more offensive.  Because it requires active American assistance in a war he wants to start even if America does not want to join.  And by pulling this stunt just before a presidential election he is counting on the craven Mitt Romney attacking President Obama for “abandoning” Israel.  Worse, even an American bombing campaign would at best delay Iran’s program, would likely make up their mind to actually build the bomb, would make it easier for the mullahs to make their countrymen rally around the flag and could send the global economy into a spiral.

Its not as if the Israeli establishment is united around the war drums.  Israeli Defense Minister (and former prime minister) Ehud Barak is a hawk on Iran too.  But he appears to have recognized the wisdom of trying to blackmail the United States at such a delicate time.  Netanyahu is playing a dangerous game here.  Most Americans oppose a war with Iran.  Israel has benefited from bipartisan political support in the United States.  If Netanyahu’s gambit helps throw the election to Romney (or is perceived to have done so), the backlash for Israel will be severe.

Increasing numbers of Americans (and for that matter American Jews) are no longer willing to give Israel free rein with the Palestinians.  Netanyahu’s tendency to refer to such critics as anti-Semites or self-hating Jews does not help matters.  The brazen gambit by Netanyahu also reaffirms why all of his western allies – including the last 3 American presidents – distrust and dislike him.

It appears that calmer heads may be prevailing for now.  However, I am pessimistic that this will be the last war gambit before the election.

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Dear Laura Ingraham, the answer is nowhere. Because only Faux News is the only network dishonest/stupid/both enough to post them.  What am I talking about.  This doozy displayed on the Three Stooges this morning:

Leave it to Faux to compare apples and oranges, let alone attributing job losses for Obama commencing on day 1 of his Presidency.  As has been repeated often, Obama inherited an economy that was hemorrhagic jobs, something that took a few months to staunch.  It really makes no sense to blame him for the job losses in the first few months of his presidency – and yes dear Republicans that started under Bush not Obama.

Then there is the lazy mendacity of using the standard unemployment rate for 2009 and the unemployment rate that includes part time workers who want to work full time and those who have given up on day two, to make it appear that employment has doubled under Obama.  Since others have done yeoman’s work breaking down and debunking this bullshit, I will just link to their article here.  Kudos to Media Matters for breaking another Faux News exclusive.  I am not really sure what an unemployment rate for government workers is supposed to signify, and why people being out of work is something to cheer about.  Clip from the Three Stooges is below:

 

 

Evidently Larry, Curly and Moe will issue a correction tomorrow.  My prediction, they will ignore the point above about the state of the economy when Obama took office and pretend that (a) things were just fine, (b) he caused the recession and made it worse, or (c) both.

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Posted on 11-09-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

A mural in Corvallis, Oregon put up by a Taiwanese American businessman has drawn the ire of China.  It depicts “riot police beating Tibetan demonstrators, Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule and images of Taiwan as a bulwark of freedom.” See the picture here. Consular officials contacted the mayor to express their displeasure at the mural.  The should have stopped there.  But perhaps used to pliant officialdom in other parts of the world (like in India when the visit of Chinese officials is a signal to sanitize New Delhi from those pesky pro-Tibet demonstrators), they went further and asked for help in getting this taken down because Tibet and Taiwan are internationally deemed parts of China (though Taiwan is not necessarily deemed part of the corporatist state in Beijing).  They received a helpful response from the mayor’s office that the first amendment prevented them from taking any action.

And then the silly consular officials went to Corvallis in person (something few people unaffiliated with Oregon State University or attending a sporting event typically do) to make the  case in person to protest “political propaganda.”  Gee whiz!!  What part of free speech and the First Amendment did you not understand.  Perhaps Baidu censors the definition of free speech and the First Amendment to the United States constitution.  But a quick Google search gives you the easily comprehensible this and this.  Now evidently the second meeting did not have any demands but perchance they were attempting the strategy in the video below:

 

 

Well suffice it say a doubling down with a strenuous objection does not trump the first amendment either.  Sadly, given its track record China could seek revenge in the form of petty retaliation against relatives of the offending businessman who make the mistake of travelling to China.  Such are the insecurities of rising superpowers.

 

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Posted on 10-09-2012
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

Before the Democratic convention the Republicans engaged in the odd tactic of praising the President they tried to impeach to the skies.  Some were delusional enough to think that Bill Clinton would come on the stage and take down Barack Obama.  And then Bill Clinton delivered a barn burner that eviscerated Mitt Romney.  But the Republicans have spent the last 30 years perfecting the tactic of repeating bullshit often enough for the credulous to eventually believe that something repeated so often must be true.

So out comes Gingrich with the doozy that the Clinton speech was actually an attack on Obama.  Mitt Romney has being trying to make the same case too.  Which gives this delighted blogger the chance to do what he could not last week since his blogging activities were in hibernation – A chance to post excerpts from Clinton’s brutal take down of the mendacity or Romney/Ryan.  Videos below:

1.  On Medicare – It Takes Some Brass To Attack A Guy For Doing What You Did

 

 

2.  Welfare Reform

 

 

3.  “Arithmetic”

 

 

4.  Health care reform

 

 

5.  “We left him a total mess…he hadn’t cleaned it up fast enough so fire him and put us back in!”i

 

 

 

Yeah this was “eerily anti-Obama.”

 

 

 

 

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Posted on 10-09-2012
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

In the aftermath of the party conventions it appears that Mitt Romney got no or even a negative bounce in the polls while Barack Obama got a measurable bounce in the polls.  To calm freyed nerves, Mitt Romney’s campaign issued a public statement that can be summarized by the video below:

 

 

For the actual statement see here.   The statement itself is rather odd since it provides no polling data to back it up and makes some weird comparisons to the 1980 campaign – for starters Reagan left the RNC with a huge lead.  Also Romney’s campaign had confidently predicted a 11 point lead after the conventions in the aftermath of his selection of Paul Ryan for vice president.

To be fair to Romney, all is not lost.  Two months is a long time for bad economic news to turn up (likely via Europe) or for something stupid to happen with Iran (which could tank the economy too). The ad barrage financed by the Super PACs of his billionaire friends is about to begin.  Super PACs in general have played fast and loose with the facts, but here they complement Romney’s cynical campaign.

The latest from Mitt Romney culture warrior is a promise he will not take God off the currency.  The rest of his riff refers to the fact that the Democratic platform did not originally explicitly mention God – though there were explicit mentions of faith all along.  Of course nobody is seriously talking about taking “In God we Trust” off the currency or the cold war insertion of God out of the Pledge of Allegiance.   But a desperate Romney will swing at anything, and he lacks the moral core of a John McCain that would prevent his campaign from going to the gutter.  This will be a long two months.

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Posted on 10-09-2012
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

Charles Koch, one of the billionaires trying to buy the election for Mitt Romney, posted a column in the Wall Street Journal today bemoaning corporate cronyism.  The general premise of the article is fine since there is often an unhealthy link between government and business, Charles Koch is the wrong person to deliver the message.  The article reeks of the childish Republican campaign twisting President Obama’s comment that businesses did not build their success by themselves.  It lurches into libertarian fantasia about how getting government out of the regulation business will create economic utopia – after which (kinda like communism) rich people will suppress human instinct and will not feel compelled to use their power to twist the system to their benefit.  Then Mr. Koch attacks government attempts to create a clean energy sector “some of which benefit Koch Industries” but conveniently makes no mention of the subsidies that his core oil and gas businesses receive.

As this article notes, Koch Industries vigorously lobbies against environmental regulations, relies heavily on government contracts, seeks corporate bailouts and maintains a vigorous lobbying operation to benefit himself.  Basically Koch and his brother belong to the class of oligarchs who believe that the public good is achieved when the government adopts policies that benefit THEM.  After that the trickle down fairy will take care of the rest of us schlubs.  After all this sort of oligarchy has worked so well in Putin’s Russia…oh wait!!

Meanwhile the man bemoaning crony capitalism is busy trying to buy an election for his favored candidate.  For good measure I will also note, this oligarch made his fortune the original way.  He inherited it.  You dislike crony capitalists?  Charles Koch, take a look in the mirror.

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Posted on 10-09-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

This weekend I posted about the travails of Aseem Trivedi, who is being accused of sedition for mocking venal India politicians who deserve to be mocked.  Trivedi’s alleged offense is mocking national symbols, the constitution etc.  However, a blog article I noticed right now made a very important point.  It notes that all Trivedi did was mock India’s Parliament in cartoon form.  India’s politicians have degraded the entity they shed crocodile tears far more grievously and far more frequently.

The complaint that landed Trivedi in jail was a private complaint.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  So dear Indians, start filing these complaints against these political thugs.  Harass the hooligans who turn Parliament and the legislatures into physical battlegrounds by hauling them in court for sedition, like they did to Aseem Trivedi.  If the police officers refuse to register your complaints, file sedition charges against them too.  But above all act within the strict letter of the law.  Turn these draconian laws on their head.

A few months ago when a hockey stick wielding uniformed apparatchik was harassing Mumbai’s night life I had joked to a friend who was particularly worked up that they should use Section 3 of the Prevention of insults to National Honour Act, 1971 to their advantage.

3.     PREVENTION OF SINGING OF NATIONAL ANTHEM
whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Indian National Anthem or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extended to three years, or with fine, or with both.

When the apparatchik interfered with them, make sure to file the proper police complaint under strict letter of the law.  Make sure the judges are aware of the minimum punishments in Section 3A.

3A.        MINIMUM PENALTY ON SECOND OR SUBSEQUENT OFFENCE
Whoever having already been convicted of an offence under section 2 or section 3 is again convicted of any such offence shall be punishable for the second and for every subsequent  offence, with imprisonment for a term, which shall not be less than one year.

A Google search as I was typing this article discovered that this draconian act was already being used for civil disobedience.  Sadly in that case the high court is shielding the bureaucrat whose reaction to the protest was to basically abuse criminal law.

India’s political and police systems are ridiculously out of control.  In the aftermath of partition and secessionist movements in different parts of the country, India’s politicians realized the utility of Colonial era police laws that remain on the books.  But many of these laws are antiquated and grant a private citizen the right to initiate complaints.  Perhaps it is time for Indians to use them against their tormentors, and bury them with paperwork in strict accordance with the letter of their ridiculous laws.

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Posted on 09-09-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

While Syria and Iran draw the attention of the world, the country between the two has a slow burning fuse heading towards civil war.  It is a bad sign when a country divvies up the top political positions on sectarian grounds.  The failure of Lebanese democracy in the 70s should have given people some pause.  Yet Iraq divides its presidency into three components – a president and 2 vice presidents – to give Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis equal representation.  The current President of Iraq is a Kurd.  The Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is Shiite.  The Shiite Vice President,a rival of al-Maliki, resigned last year.  That leaves Iraq with just one vice-president, the Sunni Tariq al-Hashemi.

Unfortunately, since December 2011 Mr. Al-Hashemi is on the run.  The Prime Minister has accused him of running Sunni death squads.  So far none of Iraq’s Sunni neighbors have given this accusation much credibility.  Mr. Al-Maliki returned to power in early 2010 after a very controversial election and has shown the usual authoritarian instincts.  The arrest warrant on Mr. Al-Hashemi was conveniently delivered the day after American troops left Iraq.  Iraq’s Kurdish president refused to surrender the fugitive Vice President when he was in the Kurdish autonomous zone.  Since then Mr. Al Hashemi has traveled to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia before settling down to exile in Turkey.

Yet the Iraqi prime minister is undeterred.  This weekend Mr. Al-Hashemi was sentenced to death in absentia, an escalation hardly likely to endear Mr. Al-Maliki to his Sunni countrymen or neighbors.  Whether or not the charges are true, nobody seems to believe them.  As Iraq suffers through another bout of suicide bombings, it shows disquieting signs of a slow slide into civil war.

Like Afghanistan, Iraq needs a statesman in charge.  While Al-Maliki does not appear to be as corrupt and incompetent as the Mayor of Kabul, he has shown tendencies to sectarian one-upmanship and no signs of being the unifying figure the country needs.  The Kurds for all practical purposes have seceded into their ethnic enclave subject to resolution for their claims to the oil rich province of Kirkuk.  Sharing oil revenues is still a sore subject.

With its current leadership, it seems only a matter of time that this erupts into civil war.  If/When that happens it will be a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and its allies and Iran.  Turkey could be sorely tempted to intervene and stomp the Kurds.  Hopefully sane leadership arises to pull this country from the brink, but my pessimism reigns.

Iraq should be another cautionary tale on blindly stepping into the Syrian morass.

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Posted on 09-09-2012
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

The video below highlights a Senator who believes the bullshit his party makes up.  The enduring meme of the Obama years presented by the Republican Party is of the explosion in government under President Obama.  This leads to the video below where Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is incredulous at Paul Krugman’s assertion that there are fewer government employees under Obama than Bush.

 

 

 

Yet facts can be inconvenient for the meme.

(the two sharp spikes in 2000 and 2010 represent temporary census hiring)

Many observers have pointed out that the failure to hire government employees during a recovery is a marked difference from the recessions under Bush and even Reagan.  The job recovery under Obama has been pretty much driven by private sector jobs – yet another area where Republicans indulge in the lazy mendacity that Obama has not overseen any job growth.  And on this issue is the final word from Paul Krugman.

 

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Posted on 09-09-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

India’s politicians are not covering themselves in glory these days.  Widely despised for their venality, they increasingly take shelter behind presumed outrage to national institutions.  Last year communications minister Kapil Sibal drew widespread condemnation for trying to censor social media sites for offensive posts that mocked the government leadership.  Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has dissipated the goodwill from ending more than 30 years of communist rule last year by bizarre displaying a megalomaniacal persecution complex.  First a professor was locked up (after being roughed up by her party goons) for the “cybercrime” of forwarding a fairly innocuous political cartoon.  When asked inconvenient statements at public rallies students and farmers can be labelled maoists and arrested.

Now comes the case of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi.  Americans who huff and puff in outrage about flag burning being called protected speech should pay close attention to what happens when a state criminalizes the mockery of national symbols.  Trivedi’s crime was posting the cartoons below on the internet during Anna Hazare’s protests last year.  The cartoons range from pure mockery to over the top.

 

National Toilet

 

 

National Emblem

The hand of Congress on the mouth of the common man

Facebook

National Drink

Gang Rape of Mother India

Cross of Corruption

But that has got Aseem Trivedi his day in court.  Arrested Saturday he now faces jail time for putting into cartoon form something 99% of Indians say, think or feel every day.  Fulfilling Kapil Sibals censorship wet dreams, his website was taken down after a private complaint by a Bombay lawyer.  Samuel Johnson once said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.  India’s scoundrels have added national emblems as an additional refuge.

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Posted on 09-09-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Religion) by Rashtrakut

Fall is here and soon Christmas will be upon us.  That means the Faux News annual crusade to make Americans aware of the non-existent war on Christians and Christmas will soon be upon us.  If the past years are any guide it will be be led by head clown master Bill O’Reilly.  The sufferings of Christians in this country will come as news to people like poor Rimsa Masih in Pakistan.  But why should facts interfere with a Faux News meme?  I would be tempted to laugh at the stupidity of some of these people if they did not hold positions of power.  Example:  Rep. Valerie Hodges of Louisiana

Which is also why I was delighted to see this helpful quiz posted by the Rev. Emily Heath that walks Messers Bill O’Reilly and others through a checklist of what constitutes religious oppression.  Rev. Heath’s quiz is below

“How to Determine if Your Religious Liberty Is Being Threatened in Just 10 Quick Questions.” Just pick “A” or “B” for each question.

1. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to go to a religious service of my own choosing.
B) Others are allowed to go to religious services of their own choosing.

2. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to marry the person I love legally, even though my religious community blesses my marriage.
B) Some states refuse to enforce my own particular religious beliefs on marriage on those two guys in line down at the courthouse.

3. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am being forced to use birth control.
B) I am unable to force others to not use birth control.

4. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to pray privately.
B) I am not allowed to force others to pray the prayers of my faith publicly.

5. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) Being a member of my faith means that I can be bullied without legal recourse.
B) I am no longer allowed to use my faith to bully gay kids with impunity.

6. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to purchase, read or possess religious books or material.
B) Others are allowed to have access books, movies and websites that I do not like.

7. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) My religious group is not allowed equal protection under the establishment clause.
B) My religious group is not allowed to use public funds, buildings and resources as we would like, for whatever purposes we might like.

8. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) Another religious group has been declared the official faith of my country.
B) My own religious group is not given status as the official faith of my country.

9. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) My religious community is not allowed to build a house of worship in my community.
B) A religious community I do not like wants to build a house of worship in my community.

10. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to teach my children the creation stories of our faith at home.
B) Public school science classes are teaching science.

Scoring key:

If you answered “A” to any question, then perhaps your religious liberty is indeed at stake. You and your faith group have every right to now advocate for equal protection under the law. But just remember this one little, constitutional, concept: this means you can fight for your equality — not your superiority.

If you answered “B” to any question, then not only is your religious liberty not at stake, but there is a strong chance that you are oppressing the religious liberties of others. This is the point where I would invite you to refer back to the tenets of your faith, especially the ones about your neighbors.

Thank you for compiling this Rev. Heath.

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Posted on 08-09-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Syria was always the most dangerous tinderbox to catch fire in the Arab spring.  While it is not important in oil geopolitics, it occupies a strategic location between Turkey, Iraq and Israel.  Its population is two-thirds that of Iraq and its ethnic quilt far more patchy.  Like Iraq under Saddam Hussein it is ruled by a brutal Baathist regime of a faith different than the vast majority of its people.  The fact that Baathists arose in the socialist and nationalist currents of the 1960s means that the non-Sunni groups like the Christians have been fairly ambivalent in wanting to replace the Alawite regime.  To make things worse, Syria is a proxy between the Sunni Gulf monarchies and Shiite Iran (the biggest sponsor of the Assads).  As previously noted here, the Assad regime is brutal but the Saudis have no business lecturing anybody on human rights – particularly after helping the Sunni Al-Khalifas supress their restive Shiite majority in Bahrain.  If this was not complicated enough, the Russians have proved extremely resistant to letting their last former client state in the region fall.  The expansion of the Libyan intervention from saving Benghazi to toppling (and ultimately lynching Gaddaffi) probably means that Russia will stand firm.

And the fighting is getting worse as Syria’s largest city is now the front-lines of  what is essentially a civil war.  The problem is that the opposition to the Assads is and incoherent hodge podge and there is no clarity on what follows the fall of the regime and how much autonomy to give groups like the Kurds.

Like Iraq, Syria was more of an abstract concept before its creation (like Yugoslavia and Iraq) in the aftermath of World War I by carving up the Ottoman Vilayets of Damascus, Beirut and Aleppo – the residues ending up in Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Turkey.  Like Iraq this state was notoriously unstable until the Assads came to power.  And they have absolutely no incentive to leave.  Likewise the Alawites can probably expect a bloodbath when the Assads fall – so they have no incentive to stop supporting the Assads either.  Syria’s Christians have probably taken a look at the fate of their brethren in Iraq and the worries of the Copts in post-Mubarak Egypt.  Until they can be convinced the fundamentalist element will be kept at bay, they will likely at best remain ambivalent too.

I have to wonder what Israel thinks about the fall of the Assads.  There is no love lost there, but would they prefer the devil they know versus the devil they don’t?

It is striking that the West is calling for Assad to leave but there has been precious little public debate on what happens next.  What have they learned from the Iraq fiasco that they will use to prevent a cycle of violence and ethnic cleansing?  And who will intervene? The EU’s minister in charge of pontificating on foreign policy, Baroness Ashton has made all the necessary pronouncements about organizing the opposition blah blah blah.  There still seems to be nothing on the ground.

There seems precious little appetite among the loudest critics of the Assads (other then war mongerers like John McCain) to bell the Assad cat.  The Libyan or Northern Alliance solution leaves the risk of an ethnic bloodbath at the finish.  Yet preventing the opposition from arming would repeat the tragedy of Bosnia – where the Muslims fought with one are tied behind their back and the Serbs were funded by Yugoslavia/Serbia.  So the tragic civil war continues, as the world ponders the dilemma posed by yet another flawed offspring of Versailles.

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Posted on 08-09-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Tsar Vladimir’s (f/k/a Filaret) latest Jacques Cousteu impersonation is a doozy.  Dressed in white coveralls the Tsar flew a hang glider to help guide cranes into a new migration path (basically to avoid Afghanistan where they are hunted).  The actual details of the event are bit farcical and may have actually killed some birds.  But after tacking mammals on land and on sea in the past it was time to take to the air.  This is the latest feat of strength the Tsar has used to distract from the dismal reality of life in his corporatist petrostate.  Of course his infamous archaeological scuba dive defied credulity and was rapidly exposed as a setup.

But the Tsar still knows his limits.  He laughably refers to his luxurious digs as the life of a galley slave.  And recently he recoiled when a priest tried to pay him obeisance and kiss his ring.

 

 

 

Hopefully this means the sight of the Tsar displaying a healing touch is still far away.

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Posted on 08-09-2012
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

David Gregory has for a while personified a typical lazy establishment media hack to this blogger.  I understand the part of journalist is not to create the news.  But they cannot act merely as stenographers when politicians and elected officials are peddling bullshit.  Yet when confronted with this issue Gregory’s previous response was to pass the buck on people misled by the prevarications politicians.

Mitt Romney, the most mendacious and cynical politician to run for president in our lifetime (this includes Bill Clinton), appeared on Meet the Press hosted by Gregory this weekend.  This is a rare excursion for Mr. Romney outside the safe confines of Faux News where he has felt free to run his post-truth campaign.  But the anticipation is that Gregory will lob softballs and probably not challenge Romney on his whoppers on welfare, medicare, saving detroit, Obama foreign policy etc.  Trending on twitter right now is#DavidGregorysToughQuestions.  Brings some needed hilarity to this weekend as this blogger tries to recover from his Aggies blowing yet another double digit lead in their first SEC game.

This tweet probably captures why journalists like Gregory are the way they are:

Governor, is there a question I can ask that won't threaten future access for interviews? #DavidGregorysToughQuestions
@JohnFugelsang
John Fugelsang

And I do have some sympathy for this dilemma.  But to peddle false equivalencies when one political party has gone batshit crazy is to fail in what ought to be (but frankly never was) the goal of your profession.  It is also probably an additional reason (beyond the financial pressures caused by Craigslist, Google etc.) why the mainstream media is slowly dying.  It has also made cable and network news basically unwatchable.

 

 

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