The Great Nebraska Unicameral Committee Mystery

Have you ever wondered why Nebraska, among the reddest of the red states and seemingly a bastion of all things conservative, has tax rates (income and property) that are among the highest per capita in the nation? Were you surprised last year when Medicare expansion legislation was defeated here in Nebraska by a mere whisker (and then only because of a massive grass-roots uprising at the last minute)? In a state that sports 579,000 Republican voters to only 371,000 Democrat voters, does it puzzle you as to why a simple and sensible law requiring voters to present some sort of photographic identification at the polls has been defeated in the Unicameral year after year? If Huskerland is so effusively conservative, why do such corrosively liberal public policies prevail more often than not?

Fret no further, gentle reader. There is an explanation for these and many other manifestations of pernicious progressivism where none should exist … and it begins in the rules under which the Unicameral selects committee members and, more importantly, committee chairpersons.

Let’s review a little state-house civics (bear with me … this is the part that we all slept through in high school civics class):

  • Committees are where the bulk of the legislative sausage is made, i.e., ideas are vetted, costs/benefits are weighed, research is carried out, hearings are held and eventually the legislation is either moved along to the entire assembly or killed. The Unicameral boasts 14 of these “standing” committees, as well as 4 “select” committees that direct and oversee all administrative aspects of the legislative process. Additionally, there can be “special” committees established for specific purposes such as performance audits, building maintenance, and the dissemination for information. Currently there are around six of these.
  • The most important of the select committees for the purposes of this discussion is the redundantly named “Committee on Committees.” The C of C is made up of 12 members, 4 from each federal legislative district, who are selected by their respective caucuses, i.e., all the members from their legislative district. The entire legislature then selects a chairperson for the C on C from among the twelve. The C of C then proceeds to handpick members for each of the 14 “standing” committees and presents its choices to the entire house, which then approves the C of C’s selections. Once approved the entire legislature then elects chairpersons for each of the committees. Note that this is done by secret ballot so we have no way of knowing who voted for whom.

And the committee member and committee chairperson selection is where it begins to get interesting. Michael Dulaney, author of “A HISTORY AND DESCRIPTION OF THE NEBRASKA LEGISLATIVE PROCESS”, has a laughably understated way of putting it; he says “It is not unusual for some “politicking” or “jockeying” to occur even before the committee meets in order to secure positions on certain committees”, which is a bit like saying “during yesterday’s thunderstorm, a few raindrops were noted.”

So what happens?

Most citizen-legislators will, upon arriving in Lincoln for the start of the session, quite naturally be interested in obtaining committee assignments on those committees which will likely deal with issues important to the constituents in their districts, so well-intentioned senators from the 3rd District, for example, will compete vigorously for seats on Agriculture, or Natural Resources, or perhaps Transportation & Telecommunications. Point is, many senators horse-trade their votes for committee chairmanships (don’t forget – the whole legislature selects the chairpersons) in order to be appointed to committee(s) of their choice.

Soooo … if the Committee on Committees is predominantly of one particular political persuasion it is easy to see what then occurs;  you guessed it – a preponderance of committee chairpeople of that same political bent. And remember, Committee chairpersons have virtually autocratic control over what legislation does and doesn’t get approved.

It’s pretty simple once we follow the mouse through the maze.

Just to illustrate the point further, consider the legislative session of 2014 (ended last April). The unicameral was composed of 49 supposed “nonpartisan” (muhahahahaha …) senators, of whom 30 were registered Republicans and 17 were registered Democrats, and two (Brad Ashford and Ernie Chambers) were said to be “Independent”. I think we can all agree that Ashford can comfortably fit into the Democrat ranks (especially now), and who knows what Ernie is – maybe an “Ernie-tarian.”

So, on the basis of a 30 – 18 member majority (with Ernie out there browsing in the fringe somewhere), we would expect that Republicans would have a comfortable, or even a hurtling majority of the committee chairmanships, right? Guess again, grasshopper.

Of the 14 standing committees, 9 are chaired by Dems (counting Ashford, who nobody with an IQ above that of a rutabaga would call an Independent), while only 5 are run by Republicans. Actually, it’s much worse than that – at least 2 of the Republican chairs (Hadley and Campbell) are notorious RINO’s, and tend to support, and often vote for, Democrat/liberal initiatives.

                      2013-2014 Unicameral Committee Chairmanships

CommChairs

So, in what the rest of the world thinks is a red, red state, we have liberals and progressives running 11 of the 14 legislative committees – which means that the vast majority of bills that ever get considered, let alone voted upon,  are only those of which the Dem/lib/progs approve.

How can this be? Simple – Legislative Districts 1 and 2 (think Lincoln and Omaha) tend to have more state senators per square inch (more population), and a much larger proportion of those senators tend to be of a liberal mindset (than the 3rd District). Since the C on C members are selected by the three district caucuses, it becomes a relatively simple matter to pack the Committee on Committees with libs (usually something like 8 to 4).  The Dem-heavy C on C then proceeds to dole out sought-after committee seats in exchange for votes for their (Dem/lib/prog) candidates for the chairmanships. Isn’t politics wonderful?

And what can we, the Great Unwashed and Uninformed, do about this particular brand of rascality? Not much, except to let them know that we are aware of their scamming ways and we will be watching and waiting at the next election. They won’t care, of course, since they know we will almost certainly have rushed off in pursuit of some other sparkly or another long before the next election day.

Every time I drive by the Capitol Building and read the inscription over the main door that says “The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness of the Citizen”, I have to suppress a chuckle.

Will this shell game be repeated in the upcoming legislative session (January 2015)? Bet on it.

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9/11/01 & 9/11/12

                 sept11-01        Never forget …

                                                                  sept11-12

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No light, but rather darkness visible

ParadiseLost

The title of this post is taken, of course, from Milton’s description of Hell in Paradise Lost. There will be those who deem my selection of the title as hyperbolic, too dramatic by half – possibly even maliciously intentioned – but they aren’t standing where I stand, and they don’t see what I see ….

I can’t speak for every citizen in this hallowed republic but I believe most Americans, whether of the multi-generational variety or newly-minted, to be fair-minded and reasonably even-tempered. We’re quick to praise, slow to anger, and we’re willing to forgive most venal, and even a few mortal, affronts. But we do possess a very real threshold of tolerance for shameless villainy beyond which the prudent interloper will not venture – a fact which politicians and other public panjandrums are blithely ignoring (at their peril).

In what can best be described as an orgy of disdain for not just their constituents, but indeed for all Americans, elected (elected!) government officials continue to ram dystopian laws up and down every available orifice of the citizenry. Blatant lying, flagrant self-aggrandizement, hypocrisy, betrayal, and arrogance (oh my stars, the arrogance) – all have become acceptable, even laudable, tactics among the ruling class.

Lest I be reflexively accused of hyper-partisanship, let me hurry to assert that I do not view this as a partisan matter, folks … Democrats and Republicans are measles and mumps … spiders and snakes … flotsam and jetsam … sturm und drang (for the Wagnerians among us). Why in the world doesn’t someone – anyone – stand up on the floor of the House or in the well of the Senate or at their desk in the Unicameral and just … raise … hell? Is there no one left in Washington (or Lincoln) who would like to move up from craven annelid to merely invertebrate?

Here in Nebraska we are treated to the spectacle of our senators (capitalization intentionally omitted) spending days earnestly debating whether or not Neighborhood Watch Patrols should be allowed to have amber lights on the cars and more days discussing the fate of a half dozen scrawny mountain lions (which 99.9% of Nebraskans don’t even believe exist). They take a break from time to time from such solemn policy matters to assure us that our tax situation here is Huskerland is just hunky-dory, even though it is well-documented that we enjoy one of the highest tax rates in the nation. That is just one small taste of the folly that seems endemic in the Unicameral these days; a comprehensive list of their shenanigans would run to several pages, so I will defer (for now). The same sad stories are repeated all over the nation – just crank up your Google-machine and punch in “legislative silliness” and stand back.

Rebellions are not that easy to initiate – King George perpetrated all manner of mischief and humiliation on the colonies before a bunch of easy-going good ole boys with muskets finally said ‘enough’ at Lexington and Concord. Lincoln practically had to put fire ants in Jeff Davis’ drawers before the Confederacy reluctantly cowboyed up and started shooting at Fort Sumter, and the French street fumed and frothed for years before Louis XVI finally turned his gendarmerie loose on those thousands of pesky sans-culottes tearing up the bastille and stomping around the Versailles courtyard shouting for his head. See, even the most lethargic giant can be awakened if he is sufficiently poked and prodded ….

That being noted, the gang of rotters currently infesting Washington as well as state-houses all over the nation should be aware that the electorate which they have been so exuberantly abusing for years are, I suspect, dangerously near their flash point. I have no knowledge of planned insurrection, and I certainly do not advise such action, but when a government so completely scorns those whom it was created to serve, the options left to the people are seriously limited – and those remaining courses will almost certainly be considerably less … uh … civilized than the pols might wish.

I have been interested in and moderately well-informed about matters political since the early sixties, and I can recall no time in which the degree of people’s anger and frustration with their leaders at virtually every level has even approached its current intensity. And the politicians don’t care – they are secure in the knowledge that We the Sheeple will continue to let them abuse us to whatever extent they choose. They are wrong … and their time to avoid swift and certain rescission grows short. My hope is that their repudiation will be based in ballots, and not bullets.

That old curse is coming true … we are living in “interesting times.”

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Burke and Paine … Together Again

burkepaine

I have long been interested in what can best be termed “First Causes” as a way in which to try to understand complex ideas, especially those pertaining to politics, society and governance. Accordingly, I have spent a lot of time hacking my way through the grandiloquent rhetoric of the likes of Plato, Montesquieu, Locke, Adam Smith, Hume, Burke, Hayek, Paine and, yes, even Karl Marx. And many others. These folks wrote brilliantly, but they did so in the literary fashion of their times, and Lordy – for we children of a later century, their hyper-baroque argot can be a slog.

Fortunately, for those who are into the origin/derivation of political ideas, but find it nettlesome to wade through the florid prose of those ancient notables, there is good news. Yuval Levin, founder and editor of National Affairs, and a contributing editor to National Review and the Weekly Standard has just published a marvelous work called The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left. Levin has set himself the unenviable task of examining the philosophical and existential origins of the Right and Left, and, in my opinion, succeeds brilliantly, writing with a style that is clear, coherent and always elucidative.

He does so by contrasting the writings and speeches of Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine. At first blush, this seems an unlikely juxtaposition to study the roots of the two primary descriptors of our modern western political philosophy, but it works. Levin is at pains to explain that he views both men as operating within what he calls the liberal tradition (i.e., classical liberalism) but goes on to show how their views develop over time to subsume both modern conservatism (Burke) and modern progressivism (Paine).

It is worth noting that Levin, though of a well-documented Conservative bent, goes to considerable trouble to present both sides evenly. He allows Paine the expression of his full-throated revolutionary neo-liberalism without partisan traducing, while at the same time Burke is provided equal opportunity to explain and promote his concept of moderation and respect for political tradition. Tis a tricky course indeed, but one well accomplished.

The author masterfully contrasts and compares the origins of the Right and Left mode of thinking by using “pairs” of ideas, each pair encompassing opposing views of a salient concept, such as “Nature and History”, “Justice and Order”, “Choice and Obligation”, “Reason and Prescription”, and “Revolution and Reform.” The first term in each pair is presented as the approach taken by the Left (Paine), and the second that taken by the Right (Burke).

Perhaps because I hew more to the Right than to the Left, I found Levin’s explication of Burke’s thinking more intellectually nutritious than that of Paine’s, but this is not to diminish his handling of either subject. For instance, Burke’s resolute support of partisanship in politics was a revelation to me, as was his thorough rejection of the cherished concept of the so-called ‘state of nature.’ Further, I have always been somewhat unsure of the reasons for Burke’s almost rabid disapproval of the French Revolution. – Levin clears that up for me.

There were a host of other “aha’s” for me, but listing them would be unwieldy to say the least. Just know that I cannot recommend this work too highly. If you are at all interested in the philosophical underpinnings of our American political heritage, then you can do no better than to read this book.

Let me close, as Levin did, with the following paragraph:

In our day-to-day political arguments, we hear echoes of a deeper debate that we easily mistake for remnants of an argument between capitalism and socialism, or for faint precursors of a long-predicted ultimate clash between religious traditionalism and secular cosmopolitanism. But more likely, these echoes are in fact reminders of the defining disagreement of the political order of modern liberalism. That disagreement was given early and unusually clear voice by Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, and becomes far easier to comprehend when we pay careful attention to what they have to teach us.

The source.

 

 

 

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Internet Anonymity, or, Cowardice Unchained

cowardlylion

In his book, All Things Considered, G. K. Chesterton wrote

 “Anonymous journalism is dangerous, and is poisonous in our existing life simply because it is so rapidly becoming an anonymous life. That is the horrible thing about our contemporary atmosphere. Society is becoming a secret society. The modern tyrant is evil because of his elusiveness. He is more nameless than his slave. He is not more of a bully than the tyrants of the past; but he is more of a coward.”

Chesterton wrote these words in 1908 and, his great genius notwithstanding, could not have known about that looming digital hydra known to us today as the Internet, yet it would be difficult to find a more apt characterization of the Internet than the above few lines – especially the part proclaiming anonymity as cowardice, a sentiment with which I emphatically agree. The Internet didn’t invent the scurrilous practice of anonymous attack but it has unarguably provided a vast and sheltering venue for those who would spread their venom with little or no danger of reprisal or sanction.

Internet anonymity, like love, hides a multiplicity of sins, but, as Proverbs 17:9 tells us, love overlooks transgression to draw people closer together. Contumacious electronic anonymity on the other hand seeks only nefarious ends. Nowhere is this notion more validated than in the “Comments” section of virtually any website, whether blog, news source, opinion column, or commercial site.

It has become sport of the meanest kind to digitally and anonymously snipe with impunity at anyone who dares to tender ideas, thoughts, opinions, articles or any other kind of expression.  Everything is now fair game for the incognito, the pseudonymous, the unidentified, the innominate, and all the others of purposeful namelessness – all species of that noxious genus Internetus posterus anonymosus,  variety Lowus Informationus Commenterus.

The Internet has made this possible – man’s fundamental perversity has made it inevitable, and the complex nature of the ‘Net has made it virtually unpunishable. The “Comment” section has become a haven for small minds; opinions, no matter how inane, offensive or unsourced, are completely unmoored from any vestige of personal responsibility.

More than 100 years ago, George Bernard Shaw noted that hatred is the coward’s revenge for being intimidated, and these no-name denizens are rightly called cowards – cowards who hate and bizarrely conflate anonymity with courage; unsigned ad hominem is their only refuge.

I recently had an exchange with an anonymous commenter on this topic; he/she claimed that anonymity in commenting was prudent because someone (anonymously, of course) had taken umbrage at a comment and threatened him/her (the exact wording was something like “You better watch what you post, buddy!”). To this frightened commenter, I can only note that if one presents opinions in such tone and language as to incite threats of violence, then maybe one needs to reconsider either the opinion or at the very least the manner in which it is stated, or both. I have been posting under my own name for a long time, and no one yet has offered to whup me, or burn my house, or anything of the sort. Several have offered speculations on my IQ, my ancestry, and my general worth as a human being but hey – if you’re going to ride, you’re going to feel the wind once in a while.

Knowing that we will be held to account for our actions and opinions has a profound leavening effect on what we do and say … and write in a comment section. Remember: the worst people are not those who disagree with you, but those who are too cowardly to own that disagreement.

There is a concept used primarily in the field of economics known as “moral hazard”, which Wiki defines as “a situation where a party will have a tendency to take risks because the costs that could result will not be felt by the party taking the risk.” That neatly describes the anonymous commenter – he/she is incentivized to say pretty much anything – the more outrageous the better – because there is essentially no liability involved for the commenter, no matter how egregious his/her postings may be. In other words, no downside, no consequence, no matter how shameful the misconduct. That is simply wrong, by any ethical system one embraces.

There are many spurious arguments made in favor of maintaining anonymity when expressing opinions; the most common are:

1)      Identification may imperil one’s person or possessions; I have dealt with this above.

2)      Anonymity is somehow protected, even encouraged, by the U.S. Constitution; this is a sham contention. Some quote the so-called “privacy clause”, however the Constitution does not specifically mention a right to privacy. It is true that Supreme Court decisions over the years have established the right to privacy as a basic human right by virtue of their collective interpretations of the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 9th and 14th Amendments. The Court has generally read the various “guarantees” of the cited Amendments to guarantee a fairly broad right of privacy encompassing decisions about child rearing, procreation, marriage, and termination of medical treatment. It is, however, instructive to note that the cases upon which this interpretation rests involve protections for parties aggrieved, not for those assaulting the wronged party. This, it seems to me, hardly embodies Constitutional protection for what often amounts to little more than hate speech.

3)      Perhaps the most popular justification for anonymous word-mongering is the bogus claim that The Federalist was written completely anonymously. If some of the most famous political document(s) in our history were authored by unnamed sources, the argument goes, all anonymous polemic is therefore legitimized. The fact is that we are well aware today, and those contemporaneous with the writers were aware of or could easily discover, who wrote which Federalist Paper. In fact, an edition of The Federalist printed a few years after it was written actually identified the authors (Madison, Hamilton, and Jay) by name. The “anonymous” publication of a wide range of opinion was standard practice in colonial America; it was a matter of authorial fashion in which opiners assumed nom de plumes, usually of Roman or Greek extraction such as” Publius”, “Junius”, etc., in order, one presumes, to lend an air of gravitas as well as voguish currency to their writings. Here is a quote from Joseph N. Hosteny,  an intellectual property attorney  and former Assistant US Attorney, from a piece entitled “The Federalist Papers Versus Anonymous Bloggers”: “Modern bloggers and commenters need some standards. They should check their facts….[and] They should be willing to stand behind what they say, by disclosing their identities.” (emphasis added – auth.)   Moreover, even had the composers of the Federalist been truly anonymous, the caliber of their thinking and authorship was demonstratively superior to that of today’s secret complainers. To again quote Hosteny, “unlike so many of the posters these days, the authors of the Federalist Papers had actually gotten past third grade. They could spell, punctuate, construct a sentence, and didn’t use emoticons … Today’s lesser commenters don’t measure up to those standards.”

Let me close as I began – with Chesterton, who says to those who think their anonymous cavilings bold and courageous:

“It is not so much that we are too bold…it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities…”

Bottom line? If you choose not to include your name with your opinion, then neither is worth very much.

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The Silence Is Deafening

ArtV

Back about the second week of December I wrote here at some length of the current effort to call a Convention of States via the so-called “Article V” modality, for the purpose of offering Constitutional amendments. Mark Levin and others have written extensively about this effort, and it seems to be, if not exactly burgeoning, at least making steady progress. In a nutshell, the Article V process requires that 2/3 of the state legislatures (34) submit application to Congress to call such a convention. Congress has no authority to deny such application, so it becomes a completely “state-driven” exercise. Once such a Convention is called then presumably amendments dealing with limiting federal power, requiring a balanced budget, term limits, etc. would be offered. If approved by said Convention, the ratification of ¾ of the state legislatures would then be required for final implementation, just as in the standard Congressional amendment process.

Since the main mechanism of the Article V methodology is clearly the various state legislatures, I thought it might be instructive to assay the feelings/opinions/biases/etc. of our very own legislators in the Unicameral. On December 12, 2013, I therefore sent off a politely worded email to each Nebraska state senator asking for their personal inputs on the whole Article V notion and sat back to await the flood of replies.

It has now been more than six weeks and I have received four (count ‘em – 4!) replies … and they all came within the first 72 hours. I have no clear reason as to why the other 44 (I only sent 48 queries since Ernie Chambers refuses to make an email address available) declined to answer. Apparently they had other pressing matters, or they didn’t care enough, or they just thought the whole idea was silly … or some combination of those three.

I initially planned to summarize the results for publication on this blog, but 4 replies are hardly statistically significant, so I have elected not to bother. I will, however, make public the names of those who were kind enough to respond. They were, in no particular order, Sen. Tom Carlson, Sen. Sue Crawford, Sen. Mark Christensen, and Sen. Sara Howard. My thanks to each of them. To the rest … well … thanks for nothing.

I continue to believe that the Article V movement is a robust and evolving tool for bringing some sort of leavening to the devastating overreaches of the federal government. Importantly, it may be the last arrow in our quiver, which makes it all the more important for those for whom personal liberty, reduced federal government, lower taxes, etc., are desired goals. I urge everyone to support the Article V movement, even though most of our state legislature seems to regard it as too trivial to comment on.

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Becker, Brisket (and Huckabee)

I had an opportunity last evening to attend a fund raising event (dinner, silent auction, etc.) for the Todd Becker Foundation here in Kearney. For those unfamiliar with this Foundation, it is a movement founded by Keith Becker, brother of Todd Becker who was killed in an alcohol-related automobile accident a few years ago. The focus of the Foundation is a Christian mission to bring the message of the dangers of alcohol and drug use to teens, and has been notably successful in carrying this mission out. Over the nine or so years of its existence, tens of thousands of teens have been reached and each year the movement expands. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I am a big fan of the Todd Becker Foundation.

The highlight of the evening was a talk (I won’t say “speech” because it wasn’t that formal – or that dull) by former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Anyone who has heard Huckabee can vouch for his chops at this sort of thing; he was affable, funny, knowledgeable, yet mortally serious in his Christian-rooted moral sense. I came away with a new appreciation for the guv’s knowledge, speaking ability and sense of groundedness. My favorite line was “Fish and Baptists are alike in that they both start to spoil as soon as you take them out of the water.” He then hastened to explain that he could say that because he was a Baptist – which indeed he is, and an ordained minister in the bargain.

My message to you in all this is simply this: if you get a chance, go listen to Huckabee talk – even (or maybe especially) if you’re a progressive atheistic drunken drug addict – you’ll enjoy yourself, and maybe even learn something.

The Huck was questioned afterward by some local TV reporters on a variety of issues other than his interest in the Becker foundation. His responses were candid and refreshing. You can listen to what he said here.

Couple of mildly interesting side notes to the evening; during the usual and customary pre-prandial milling, smiling and hand-shaking I noticed a few notables in the throng (which amounted, I estimate, to around 1500 souls). Maybe most noticeable was the gleaming pate of none other than J. Peter Ricketts; equally illustrious, if less glistening, was Sally Ganem (Heinemann) and former Governor Kay Orr. Interestingly, as we were parking my wife’s Hyundai, I noted Ben Sasse’s large motorhome (that of the HUGE Sasse lettering on the side) but didn’t see hide nor hair of the Ben hizownself at the Becker doings. Mayhap he was at another function or maybe he saw the bevy of automobiles outside the Younes Conference Center (where the event was held) and figured he’d hang around and see if he could cadge a vote or two. Who knows? At any rate, if he was in the hall I did not see him.

One other observation – I’ve been around this neck of the woods for the big end of 55 or 60 years, and, while I am a very small fish in this or any other pond, my longevity has allowed me to come to know, at least by sight, an awful lot of people, especially those with whom I share a world-view. And I can tell you that it has been a looooong time since I have witnessed such a sizeable collection of what I would term Christian Conservatives as were present in South Kearney last night. I do not claim official membership in the Christian Conservatives, but I am a Christian and will admit to being closer to their general cultural, economic and political philosophy than any other of which I am aware.

At the risk of being accused of poor taste, I observed to the missus that one well-placed hand grenade could have turned a 20 county area in central Nebraska from the reddest of red to midnight blue. I mean every Conservative I know, and hundreds more that I don’t know, were present. There may have been a Progressive, (or Liberal, or Collectivist, or Democrat – pick your term) around somewhere, but I did not see one that I could verify. If one combines Christians, conservatism, and charity into one event, the scarcity of the Left at said event probably shouldn’t surprise.

All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening – good food (the brisket was heavenly), good friends, good cause, and a chance to listen to one of the best socio-political commentators of this or any other age.

Finally, give a couple bucks to the Todd Becker Foundation – they need the support and you’ll be glad you did.

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