Monday, May 25, 2015

Salvaging a Sane "Indispensable" American Involvement with the World

We are hearing the word "indispensable" a lot, in conversations about the role of the United States in an ever-changing world.  A word almost as misused as the phrase "American Exceptionalism" as a way to create false dichotomies and substitute reflex for thought. 

I’ll get to dissecting some of this flawed analysis of foreign policy in a sec.  But first –

== Doubling down on insane delusions ==

Well, Republicans are nothing, if not consistent. Having doubled down on “Supply Side” fantasies for 30 years, they relentlessly promise that every new tax cut for the rich will “pay for itself and erase federal deficits,” after the rich use each new largesse we pour unto them, to invest in productive enterprises. 

Ah, but then how inconvenient is it to the narrative, that they never did that thing? Instead, as Adam Smith himself said of the “rentier caste,” they almost always pour any excess funds into rent-seeking and asset bubbles.  (Techie billionaires are, of course an exception: but they tend to be democrats and urge credits for RandD, not across the board gifts to the aristocracy.)

And so, instead, every tax cut for the rich sent us deeper into steep deficits and debt. Now? Are they correcting a single assumption, based on 30 years of contrary evidence?  Hah! They're doubling down on the voodoo!

Let's be clear about the contrast: switching to well-proved “demand side” would have hired half a million workers to repair bridges and infrastructure — things we will have to do anyway -- sending high-velocity cash passing quickly through poor pockets and stimulating the economy. They know it would work.  But that would mean admitting Keynsians were right. Indeed, preventing that hi-velocity recovery is one reason the GOP blocked the Infrastructure Bill. (And when bridges collapse and trains topple, you will know whom to blame.)

So, what do they want now? To end the Estate Tax, a cut costing the treasury $269 billion over a decade, “that would exclusively benefit individuals with wealth of more than $5.4 million and couples with wealth of more than $10.9 million. That’s a tax break for only the 5,500 wealthiest households in the country.” And as proof of pure stupidity, the “populist” Tea Party movement backs up this proposal, to the hilt.

Read this article: Republicans push for a permanent aristocracy! Only it leaves one thing out. The Estate Tax need never be paid! Just create a foundation and use most of your riches to do some cool thing in the world, in your name, instead of pursuing the ancient and animal-reflex ambition of inherited aristocracy.

See proof of supply side’s failures here: Do Outcomes Matter More than Rhetoric?

 No wonder they hate science and facts. Feudalism failed across 6000 years.  So those aiming to bring it back must rely — as the Lords always did — on incantations and fantasy.

== Thay’r Baaaack!  The neocons lift their heads… ==

At the urging of economics guru John Mauldin, I’ve read Ian Bremmer’s new book, SUPERPOWER: Three Choices for America's Role in the World.  Alas, I must say that I am less impressed than John is.  Bremmer sets up three possible future scenarios for how the United States (both government and people) might interact with a rapidly changing world.  

Alas, the “scenario” process of engaging with the future is fraught with mental perils and one of them is tendentious leading-the-conclusion.

Of Bremmer’s three scenarios, Moneyball America (aggressive self-interest) and Independent America (isolationism) are clearly set up as strawmen for the author to knock down - knowing that his readership will reject them. He does this in order to extoll an oversimplified third option called Indispensable America – still the key planetary player that must remain engaged with the world, helping it to move ahead toward better and presumably more lawful times.

Well... um… duh?  I am on-record elsewhere demanding that critics of Pax Americana offer up any plausible scenario that would have handled the last 70 years -- setting aside some awful blunders --better in the broadest sense, maintaining a general peace that allowed most (not all) nations and peoples to prosper as never before.  Name one past “pax”… or period of interregnum… that was handled even 1% as well.

Oh, but those "awful blunders" have done harm!  Especially devastating America's ability to continue in a benign leadership role.  And here you get to the tricky part.  Because "Pax Americana" is not just one thing.  When well handled, in the traditions of Marshall, Acheson, Truman and Eisenhower, you get something that at least tries, sometimes, to be decent and mature. At least tries.  More often than not.  Enough to average positive. And proof of that is the plain fact that the USA is clearly the least hated pax in the history of the world.

In sharp contrast, when the U.S. "pax" is pushed as an imperial dominance trip -- the approach declared gleefully by neocon madmen like Wolfowitz, Nitze, Perle, Cheney and both Bush presidents, raving manifest destiny babble concocted by an insane philosopher named Leo Strauss -- then you get calamities that wreck American influence and prestige and even USA power.

Of course we all know that, now.  Both Bushite eras revealed domestic and foreign policy stupidity on a scale of insipidity that might be better suited to 12 year olds, playing DandD, while stoned on Wild Turkey. I have open challenges for republicans to name a single unambiguous and attributable statistical metric of US national health that improved across either span of a Bush Presidency.  (Most such metrics have improved markedly across the Clinton and Obama spans.) This disparity of outcome is so devastatingly clear – like the demolition of Supply Side “economics” fantasies – that it explains the current GOP fixated hatred of science.  Anything having to do with facts is now anathema. 

Bremmer cannot defend the neocons openly, so he goes for a trick, a bit of polemical legerdemain. He proclaims that this mania crosses every partisan divide: "US foreign policy has been reactive and improvisational for 25 years. And we can no longer identify a Democratic or Republican approach to foreign policy."

This amounts to "All right, I am forced to admit that my side has been awful, but... but our opponents are just as bad!"  The clarion call of any modern Republican who has retained a glimmer of sapience.

But it is… um, wrong.  In fact an outright lie. Indeed, I show here that Democrats and Republicans handle matters of war and peace in diametrically opposite ways.  Democrats do fight!  But in totally different styles.  Likewise in every domestic policy at-contention, the differences are total and as clear as they were in 1863.

 Those on both the entire right and the far-left who assert “They’re all the same” are playing up a narrative with one agenda, to staunch the arterial bleeding of sanepeople from an insane GOP, a fevered exodus by almost every person of skill and knowledge.

Sure, there were very cogent moments in Bremmer'sbook! He is a bright fellow and there are decent observations, on a case-by-case level. But sorry.  It is clearly a polemic, arguing slyly that we should let the basic neocon perspective back in, for another go.

No way. America is indispensable for the foreseeable future... and indeed, "exceptionalism" has certain merits. But not as excuses to give reins of power back to the maniacs and morons who today constitute the entirety of the "intelligencia" of the American (confederate) right.

== Others are saying this ==

Sometimes a journalist sums things up just right: "None of the conservatives running for president want to be associated with the last Republican president — not even his brother (for whom stepping away is rather complicated). After all, George W. Bush left office with an approval rating hovering in the low 30s, and his grandest project was the gigantic catastrophe of the Iraq War, which we're still dealing with and still debating. If you're a Republican right now you're no doubt wishing we could talk about something else, but failing that, you'd like the issue framed in a particular way: The war was an honest mistake, nobody lied to the public, and anything bad that's happening now is Barack Obama's fault."

In this cogent and compelling piece -- George W. Bush didn't just lie about the Iraq War. What he did was much worse -- Paul Waldman dissects this assertion both ways. 

If the trillion dollar debacle of Bushite Wars - whose only winners were Iran and Bush-Cheney family companies like Halliburton - was based on lies, then the entire Republican establishment shares decadal and epic levels of blame for outright treason. 

But supposing that George W. Bush and the GOP establishment actually believed those delusional rationalizations… as his father believed it was right to over-rule Gen Schwarzkopff and betray Iraq's Shiite majority, laying bitter dragon seeds for us to harvest … then in fact, the narrative turns even worse. Instead of their treason the blame is our stupidity, for having failed to remove power from the hands of idiots.

The absolutely unalloyed record of negative outcomes from Bush eras - in every statistical metric of US national health - would then reflect a "marching morons" effect of staggering magnitude and implications.

Only it gets worse, as the latest scion of that monstrous family calamity for America now asserts that Iraq is all Obama's fault.

 ooooog… What does it say about today’s Republican party that James Baker is persona non grata and John Bolton is a hero, urging war with Iran on the op-ed pages of the New York Times?

Notice that I am no longer calling on “ostrich republicans” to lift their heads and notice what has happened to the once-proud movement of Barry Goldwater.  There is only one solution left.  To end this phase of the American Civil War the way the others did.  The Union simply has to win.


Paul SB said...

Does this mean that John Mauldin has turned a bit maudlin? Sorry, couldn't resist the pun! In all seriousness, though, I never thought you would get a lot of ostrich Republicans to pull their heads out of the sand. They only ever hear what they want to, and what they want to hear is that they are the superheroes defending America while anyone different from them is the spawn of Satan (which reminds me of an old music video which had a Reagan puppet dressed up as Superman). It was obvious to me decades ago that the right wing is much more dangerously crazy than the left. My old history professor did not want to get her PhD because she would have to have gone to The People's Republic of Boulder to do it (not having the resources to go out of state) and seemed quite frightened of all the "liberals". I reminded her that conservatives tend to be the ones with the guns, while the worst you likely to get from a liberal is an std. One of them you can just say no to, the other has too much momentum to be stopped by words. She didn't think I was very funny.

Tony, in response to last thread - I know, but I have been a member of the Planetary Society for something like 25 years, so the name "Cosmos" sticks in my head. Hopefully once they work out the technicalities and do their engineering test runs, they will send a swarm of them out to the asteroid belt to start assaying the resources out there. A cubesat is pretty little, but enough of them each endowed with different instrument packages might be cheaper and less risky than smaller numbers of larger science missions.

Alfred Differ said...

An isolationist America is worse than a strawman. It's the only credible threat to America in the next century. The only people with the power to take down our Pax is us. Still... it's quite unlikely. While only a small part of our GDP occurs through exports (~9%), that's enough to move elections even if you discount the fact that 40% of that involves Canada. It's probably our enjoyment of imports that would swing elections even wider.

I obviously haven't read the book, so I'm confused how it can't be argued that we are already engaged in aggressive self-interest. (first strawman) There isn't just one US foreign policy. There is what the commercial sector does and then there is what the federal government and a few large states pursue.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "Techie billionaires are, of course an exception"

Wait until their sons take over.


* "raving manifest destiny babble concocted by an insane philosopher named Leo Strauss"

Leo Strauss wasn't insane. He was Evil, plain and simple. His "babble“ was no mere fool's raving but another avatar of Plato's "noble lie", the "The rabble are nothing more than bipedal cattle whose raison d'ĂȘtre is to do the boring and/or menial works that the Philosopher Kings can't be bothered with but they'll get pissed and kill us if we display our contempt too openly, therefore let's tell them flattering bullshit so they keep obeying us" sociopathic, egomaniacal self-justification that social dominators have been using since the invention of sedentarism.

That's why the first thing I'll do when the time machine is invented is stealing it and going back to antiquity in order to smother Socrates and Shang Yang in the cradle.
(The second thing will be to go to ancient bronze-age Judah, use technology to perform miracles and woe commoners and nobility alike and finally use my newfound influence to make sure Abrahamic religions are filled with references to puppies: getting rid of History's most harmful pseudo-intellectuals and puppyfying the planet's dominant religions should suffice to make Humanity civilized enough to have begun the construction of its first Dyson sphere by the time I'm born)


* "Both Bushite eras revealed domestic and foreign policy stupidity on a scale of insipidity that might be better suited to 12 year olds, playing DandD"

I am offended! The D&D campaigns I dreamed up at twelve where much more narratively coherent that "America's Magic Warfare will bring Peace and Prosperity to the Middle East"


* "Instead of their treason the blame is our stupidity, for having failed to remove power from the hands of idiots."

Not stupidity: craven pusillanimity. Modern political debates have an informal rule which can be summarized as:
"Do not accuse the Powers That Be of being deliberately harmful, or else you'll be called a demagogue whose sole ambition is to usurp the elites' powers and privilege."

Since they despise the two-faced status-seekers, the sincere idealists dread the possibility of being perceived as one, and will continue to be played for suckers by the actual two-faced status-seeking demagogues until they cease conforming to this untold rule.

jsn said...

At the top you mention rule of law, but isn't it really justice you are looking for? If "the rule of law is the firmest pillar of good government", bad laws and rule by them is its shakiest foundation.

Bush 1 prosecuted over a thousand fraudsters in the S&L bust, the prototype for what Obama should and could have done if he had kept Volker on board once elected. Instead he opted to turn the Democrats into Republican lite by bringing on Geithner and doubling down on all the surveillance programs illegally implemented by Bush 2.

After foaming the runway for criminal banks with American home owners, it is no wonder Obama's recovery is the first in which all the income gains have gone to the top 1 percent.

Yes the Gorged Old Plutocrats are insane, but the Democrats have become their chefs.

David Brin said...

Yes, my "D&D reference appears to have been my worst online faux pas in a year or more! The orcs and elfs are crying for blood, on twitter! Hey, Y played D&D and made cool worlds and helped publish city guides before most of you were born! (1978) And yes,, snarking-smug-drunk lawful-evil palladins are EXACT parallels to Bush-Cheney in 2003.

jsn sorry, but you do not get to do the "they're all the same" thing. What malarkey. If dems win then the Supreme Court changes, and Citizens United goes away. Reforms might remove HALF of the money from politics and end gerrymandering. That's not perfection but it may allow the Republic to function again.

The dems may be crooks but they are SATIABLE crooks who also want a functioning civilization. Your perfectionism ignores that crucial distinction.

But yes, Gethner was a calamity. Obama should have been the dems candidate THIS year, not in 2008.

jsn said...

The GOP couldn't cut welfare, Clinton did.

The GOP couldn't end Glass Steagall, Clinton did.

George Bushs 1 & 2 couldn't pass the Heritage Foundation's medical plan, Obama did.

Obama, who I voted for, has doubled down on all the Bush 2 policies I hoped most he would change: universal surveillance; treatment of protestors as potential terrorists; extra-judical killings with drones; no consequences for torturers, all in addition to keeping those wars going. Which has he ended?

In addition, his response to leaks, prosecution of whistle blowers, reactions to Assange, Hammond and Snowden, prosecution of Risen and groundless ad hominem against TPP opposition are as bad or worse than Bush 2. More prosecutions of leaks in this administration than all others combined. ( )

I'm not a perfectionist and as a child of the Jim Crow south have great respect for what the Democratic Party has done in my lifetime with formal Civil Rights. But in the context of the abuses of power I describe above and the economic decline of the middle class, supported by both parties since Nixon, they are increasingly meaningless; look at Ferguson, look at Cleveland, look at Baltimore, look at Staten Island, rights on paper are not rights in practice in our current reality: we have the highest per capita and absolute number of people in prison of any country in the world.

Don't get me wrong, the GOP believes its own lies ( ), but at least the average GOP raving loon can claim to have fallen for lies. There isn't an equivalence, but neither of our legacy parties are doing anything to make the country great or even marginally better at the moment and I'm sick and tired of lesser evilism. Both parties are funded by the same corporations, maybe you're right and the Dems will cut off the Citizens United hand that feeds them, that would certainly change my opinion, but I remain skeptical, Hillary is trying to raise $2B.

I just finished Edward Baptist's excellent "The Half Has Never Been Told" which beautifully rounds out your thesis on our on-going Civil War. The penultimate chapter, leading up to Lincoln's election, is about the break down of the two party system and the sudden emergence of the Republican Party.

History doesn't repeat, but as they say, it often rhymes.

David Brin said...

I will not claim that the dems are pure white-hats. But Guantanamo is gradually emptying and many of its practices curbed and it would be empty but for GOP-passed rules. Likewise, the GOP would keep the Patriot Act as-is while I know a fellow on Obama's Snowden Committee and the reforms are genuine... if far too tepid. Am I disappointed? Sure. But the Supreme Court is a huge on-off switch. As is gerrymandering, ending the drug war and ending the Bush Tax Cuts.

Obama coulda been better. The bushes could hardly have been worse.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "George Bushs 1 & 2 couldn't pass the Heritage Foundation's medical plan"

The Heritage Foundation's plan was dreamed up to hide the fact that the GOP wanted to keep the unsustainable (but very profitable in the short term) status quo. It was never meant to be implemented in the first place.

David Brin said...

Laurent, proud to know you. Very few have risen up to openly declare enmity to that vicious enemy of freedom, Plato. (I do not hold any grudge against Socrates, per se. Even in Plato's Dialogues, So-krates is not evil, just smug. But Plato's OTHER writings are works of an enemy mind.

David Brin said...

Pppies? Okay. But also more girl warrior like Deborah! Oh, there's lots.

Tony Fisk said...

Instead of D&D, you should, perhaps, have referred to 'Munchkin' (which is *intended* to parody all the bad and immature D&D tropes)

Paul SB said...

I'm not sure about the puppies (I would rather have owlets, but that's a matter of personal taste), but I am sure about Plato. That whole nonsense about "ideal types" somewhere up in Heaven - that the ideal is more real than what really exists can be used to justify any excretory policy you can name.

Tim H. said...

As it now stands, expecting real reform from the Democrats is comparable to leaning on a pointed stick. The Republicans have been largely purged of anyone who annoys Wall $treet, so we mainly see a subset of conservatism. Reforming campaign finance still sounds like the least change that might do the most good,

Paul SB said...

Tim, I still think what the US needs is a multiplicity of parties, not just the two we have. As James Burke once said (I paraphrase, as I haven't seen "Connections" in a couple decades): Americans would never tolerate only two flavors of ice cream from Baskin Robins, so it's a complete mystery why they tolerate only two flavors of politician. Multiple parties would make it much harder for people to be stubborn and unyielding, and it would mean more eyes watching each other.

Laurent, if what you want is to motivate people to invent, then infusing the Abrahamic religions with puppies might not get us to Dyson Spheres. What might work better is if you wow them with the miracles of technology (like vaccines & cures for diseases) then showed them that these miracles were created by clever people rather than by gods. Leaving all the powers in the hands of gods only motivates people to pray and to enforce blind conformity. If you cut the gods out of the picture and show people that the quality of their lives depends on their actions rather than divine whims, they have a lot more incentive to achieve (with or without puppies).

Tim H. said...

Paul SB, I suppose it's inertia as much as anything that preserves the two party system, and yes, multiple parties would be preferable, but too many believe in the "Wasted vote", so I'll settle for an improved current system. A couple of generations away from the influence of enormous money, even the GOP might surprise us with fewer execrable policies.

Acacia H. said...

Posted this on my FB account, but figured I could get some intelligent conversation on this here so... :)

Here is an idea for a major reform of the American legislature that would help restore the representative nature of the House, while simultaneously encouraging smaller political parties.

We need to expand the number of members of the House to the level in the Constitution for congressional apportionment - 1 Representative per 30,000 people. That would of course require electing a little over 10,200 Representatives... thus I would have the current salaries of the Representatives divided up among the new Representatives. Seeing their new salary would be around $7,000, they would be allowed to keep their current employment and the Reps would meet on weekends.

Rather than meeting in one location, they would use an Intranet with video conferencing. These machines would not have external ports, so some idiot Rep couldn't accidentally load a virus into the entire system.
wink emoticon

Instead of dividing up districts further, the existing districts would remain. Instead, the remaining districts would be based on a Party Vote - you vote not just for the politician you want as your Representative, but also for the Party you want in. These remaining seats for each individual state would be divided up depending on how your political party did - thus meaning you could have Greens, Socialists, or any other party also represented in the U.S. House.

Best of all, you would have a far more proportional system that actually represents the interests of the American people instead of the current gerrymandered system... and lobbying would become far more difficult seeing that it's far harder to buy off 10,700 people than it is 435.


Jumper said...

I was at a party and my friend told me he was a Platonist; I raised my voice and said "You're a Platonist?! I oughta kick your ass!" Everybody looked at us. Not that I was going to, really. It's not the sort of thing you hear at a party very often, granted.

locumranch said...

Insofar as warfare is economic imperialism by another name, I find the incessant celebration of Pax American to be simultaneously tragic, irrational and nauseating, as does Major General Smedley Butler, author of 'War is a Racket', published 1935, wherein the primary beneficiaries of military adventurism are oligarchs, corporations & war-profiteers AND the primary losers are the citizenry who are just stupid and patriotic enough to sacrifice their health, their wellbeing and their SONS for the perpetuation of US corporate interests in foreign lands:

Pax Americana, protecting the economic interests of the US Oligarchy (literally) "From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli", including our participation in the Second Opium War, the Spanish American War, the war with Imperial Japan, the clandestine US 1970-era South American banana war to defend the profits of the American Fruit Company, and all the petroleum-based conflicts that followed in Angola, Iran, Kuwait & Iraq. Huzzah, huzzah. Pax Americana, sacrificing countless american & foreign lives to protect the PROFITS of the International Petroleum Conglomerate for almost 50 years.

Finally, the final insult --the comment that "Feudalism failed across 6000 years" -- even though it has NOT failed but thrived and persisted, the implication being that our brief 200 year old fling with Democracy has somehow triumphed over feudalism instead of succumbing to it, contrary to PROOF that "America is an oligarchy, not a democracy or republic, university study finds":

Memorial Day: This is indeed a HEAVY price to pay for US (Economic) "Indispensibility".


Tim H. said...

A little late for Memorial day, but something to bear in mind whenever military force is considered:
Bear in mind that a big stick doesn't need to be used to have a deterrent value, FUD can work in diplomacy also, if you frequently use force, potential targets will have your measure going in.

Tony Fisk said...

It would be an interesting stunt if someone (eg Baskin Robbins) for one day sold only Republican Raspberry Ripple, or Democrat Blueberry ice cream. (It would probably dissolve into arguments about bias in the flavours chosen, or something)

@Robert: Shorter term, go for preferential voting. I think your method is to elect n* reps for a congressional seat. (eg by the same means n reps are chosen to represent a state in the Australian Senate). Those reps vote on legislation, and present their vote to Congress.

*n should be a prime number that's not just above a power of 2!

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Robert
I disagree
Your MP or congress critter is your top public servant
IMHO he/she should be paid well - at least double their current salary
With one major change - as a servant of the people he/she can have
So he/she should be unable to accept any payments from anybody else,
Any "other income" during their time in office should go direct to the IRS - 100%

I would also extend that for a time after they have left office - 5 years?
During that time they would continue to receive their full salary - and no other income

Income from shares/rents/royalties/investments - straight to the IRS

Considering the size of the economies that they are trying to run the cost of the "top operating level" is tiny
Increasing the resources for the "brain" should be a "no-brainer"

Alex Tolley said...

@Duncan. In addition, congressional insider trading should be illegal and all investments must be in independently run portfolios.

I also like the idea that representatives could work from their districts in this day and age. The loss of personal contact and relationships is mitigated by the potentially lower level of back room dealing.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alex
"In addition, congressional insider trading should be illegal and all investments must be in independently run portfolios."

I would take that for granted - in fact I would deny our "Public Servant" the right to have "investments"

One of the conditions of taking office should be the divestment of all stocks and shares
The money from their sale should go into a bank savings account and the interest straight to the IRS

A very low salary would mean that only the independently wealthy could become MPs or congress critters
I would prefer measures that mean that a rich man (or woman) would have to make some serious sacrifices to become an MP or congress critter

They get enough advantages from being rich - we should be trying to reduce their political power not increase it

Paul SB said...

Lot's of interesting thoughts here...

Tim, I get the idea of the wasted vote, but the key may be in the phrase "believe in." Now on an evolutionary scale culture can change very quickly, but on a human scale it can be pretty unsatisfying. Still, beliefs can change, even among people who vociferously claim to never change. After all, the first nation in human history to reduce their birth rate to replacement was Italy, in spite of what all the Protestants say about Catholic family planning. So perhaps with enough work that belief can be changed.

Robert, although it rankles to think of creating more politicians, it does make good sense to increase the numbers to the point that it becomes prohibitively expensive for big businesses to sway Congress by renting enough politicians. A pitfall I can see is that if we suddenly make that change, the wealthy families that make up most of Congress will simply deploy more members of their families to rent these new offices - like having half the House packed with Medici cousins. I'm not sure what can be done to prevent this, except to go the Athenian route - pick Representatives by lot from among all voting-eligible citizens.

Tony, I don't think Baskin Robins would do only 2 flavors for any appreciable length of time, but I could see them doing this as a special. How about instead of just those two we get flavors for those little parties that hardly get any votes, like Green Lime, Social Strawberry (or should they get Red Velvet?) Nazi Nut Job and a nice Rainbow Sherbert for all those Independents.

Duncan, your point about politicians having no other masters is well taken, but enforcement could be difficult, unless we surgically attach web-streaming cameras to their anatomy. Given the stakes, this might become a serious last resort.

It's funny how loci goes on and on about the evil blue liberal agenda, yet so many of the specific complaints he names are precisely the characteristic actions of the red conservatives he claims kinship with. Admittedly the Dems haven't done much to stop them lately, though I'm not sure how many could be called their chefs.

Acacia H. said...

I suspect that if you talk about increasing the number of Representatives by a significant amount, you would hear howls from the Republicans claiming it's a waste of taxpayer dollars. By taking existing salaries and splitting it among the additional 10K Representatives, you kill that outcry because any griping from politicians looks remarkably like greed talking.

By shifting the Representatives to a part-time job on weekends, you also encourage people to work for a living. And if only 435 Representatives are elected based on the current system, but the rest are selected from the political parties that get the most votes, you will have a wider range of people getting into office. Better yet, having blocks of Greens, Socialists, Libertarians, and the like actually in power and jockeying around, negotiating their votes for passing legislation, and the like... and you start getting a genuine democracy once more.

And let's be honest. Once they get into office, we'll likely see a pay raise voted in. ;)

Rob H.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Robert

Part time politicians

I don't want to go down that path - then only the wealthy could become politicians

It's already like that
Say you had a rush of blood to the brain and decided to become an MP
(which is a LOT cheaper than a congressman)
How do you do it?
You need to be able to make yourself available and to campaign for votes
That is not very compatible with having a full time job
The result is most politicians have sufficient family money behind them that they can effectively take a couple of years off work

The end result is only the rich end up as MP's or congress critters

At least at the moment you only need to be bankrolled to get in - it would be much worse if you needed to have money to live once elected

Paul SB said...

Oh, I forgot Libertarian Lemon! Or would we need different flavors for the Randians & Smithians? Tea Party Toffee, too.

Alfred Differ said...

You don't have to prevent politicians from having other masters. Just require that they do what they do openly. The folks who want to be their masters might not like the light.

Also, I'd rather they were paid a living wage. There is no sense in tempting them to take money in exchange for their votes any more than they already are.

Alfred Differ said...

Also, I argue the US actually does have more than two parties/factions. Look within each of the major parties and you'll find the kind of alliances that a parliamentary system has. The difference is our alliances tend to last longer, but they aren't permanent. For example, where are the Dixiecrats today?

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
"I argue the US actually does have more than two parties/factions. Look within each of the major parties and you'll find the kind of alliances that a parliamentary system has."

The key difference is I get to vote for the different party
You can't vote for the "Green Republican" (if such a beast exists) you can only vote for the "republican" that is standing in your area

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: War isn't necessarily about economic imperialism. Most wars are between nations struggling over shared land or shared resources. One intends to drive off or destroy the other. Imperialism only happens when a nation gets large enough to be a potential empire.

You are missing David's point when he says feudalism has failed. It isn't that it has vanished. It is that it failed to deliver on it's promises to all except the very few at the top during generations before they grow into imbeciles from inbreeding. Think about the ideals promised to those who believed in the Rightness of the Ancient Regime. Did the nobles and priests deliver?

Feudalism is a failure in the sense that many people in 18th century Europe could see it collapsing around them. Once trade went global, their empires grew so wealthy so fast that they couldn't stop people from the lower orders getting richer. Wealth is power in such a society and it got used. The nobles got swamped in the markets by the incoming wealth that fueled a population explosion they couldn't control. They got swamped in the schools when they failed to restrict a philosophy change that made the Rights of Man As Decided By Man something more than a theoretical game.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: I know of a couple of relatively green Republicans, but they aren't electable to a high office within the GOP. Most of them ally with the Dems around here.

Where the occasionally oddball party member CAN be elected is to a local office. Lots of things are decided at that level and people underestimate the power available at that level. That's where third parties and odd alliance members can make a difference right now. Yes.... even Libertarians if they have the courage to compromise.

locumranch said...

Despite Paul_SB's allegations, I have never condemned the "evil blue LIBERAL agenda", nor have I ever claimed any "red conservative" kinship. I am a true LIBERAL who identifies with the Rural Reds, condemns the Blue URBAN Agenda and despises the conservative-progressive right and socialist-progressive left with equal fervour because both are fascists who demand stifling conformity, an oppressive centralised government & a two-tiered urban wealth disparity.

Have any of you played Milton Bradley's "Monopoly" board game?

It's TWO games actually (a first half and a second half) and it represents the perfect analogy for the current state of Western Democracy. In the beginning, it is a true Democracy that gives every player equal assets & opportunity, so every player can participate, winding their way (merrily) around the board, acquiring properties by random chance and earning a living wage by the sake of passing 'Go'. In the second half, after all the properties have been acquired & developed, the game transforms itself into an abattoir of heartless exploitation & forfeits that can only end in Total Victory, Total Loss and Zero Sum Oligarchy.

This is where our current Democracy is NOW, the second half & 'endgame', and our current options are very limited because we didn't have the courage to compromise, call it 'a tie' and end the game in the middle: We can stay the course, obey the game rules and allow the progressives (of either sort) to acquire all the monies as they advance (advancing always, never pausing) toward their ideals, OR we can become the victor by virtue of crushing all our opposition, OR we can concede someone else's imminent oligarchic victory and submit to servitude, OR we can overturn the game board, balkanize and begin anew as democratic EQUALS on a fair-level-balanced competitive playing field of the kind to which our host always sings praises

The choice is OURS, yours & mine, and most of you (excepting the occasional dullard) already know the course I've chosen as a Rural Red Old School Liberal, so I say "Begin again", and may the Progressive Monopolists of both sorts be well & truly damned for their 'Idolatry of the Ideal' Sin again.


I grant Alex that "Most wars are between nations struggling over shared land or shared resources" for ECONOMIC OWNERSHIP, but I must insist that Feudalism never "failed" because (1) it is the most stable form of government time-wise, (2) it never promised anything to those it ruled, (3) it never reneged on any of its unmade promises, and (4) "You don't VOTE for kings!!" Whether or not feudalism is DESIRABLE by modern standards, that is an entirely different question, and I even agree that feudalism is 'undesirable' (IMO) even though our combined opinions aren't worth spit without overturning the current Status Quo. Note, also, that Modern Corporatism is Feudalism, for all intents & purposes, and this is what the West now calls "democracy" (wherein the individual vote is meaningless when compared to the wishes of the Economic Elite), at least according to previously referenced Princeton study (

reason said...

In Monopoly there are taxes (in chance & community chest) and a basic income (pass go and collect $200). Increase the taxes and the basic income and the game can go on forever.

Monopoly can be seen as a warning what can go wrong if social democracy is too weak.

Tim H. said...

Alfred, I'd say the dixiecrats did a flag switch to GOP, then largely assimilated that party. One might say that "Tricky Dick's" southern strategy gave the GOP an STD...

LarryHart said...


Despite Paul_SB's allegations, I have never condemned the "evil blue LIBERAL agenda", nor have I ever claimed any "red conservative" kinship. I am a true LIBERAL who identifies with the Rural Reds, condemns the Blue URBAN Agenda and despises the conservative-progressive right and socialist-progressive left with equal fervour because both are fascists who demand stifling conformity, an oppressive centralised government & a two-tiered urban wealth disparity.

If you are misunderstood here, it is probably because "progressive" is most commonly used as a euphamism for "liberal", and because the common perception is that urbanites tend liberal whereas self-styled "real Americans" in rural red states vote for Republicans who support the corporatist agenda you oppose.

If you're going to use terms in unconventional senses, don't be surprised if your meaning is obscured.

As to your rant on the Monopoly game, I'm sure Dr Brin will call it out as one of your cogent posts. I couldn't have said it better, and I agree on all counts. Except, of course, for...

The choice is OURS, yours & mine, and most of you (excepting the occasional dullard) already know the course I've chosen as a Rural Red Old School Liberal, so I say "Begin again", and may the Progressive Monopolists of both sorts be well & truly damned for their 'Idolatry of the Ideal' Sin again.

Again, I agree with the sentiment, except I have a hard time seeing how siding with the "Rural Red" makes one anything but part of the problem. The mass of rural Red-Stage voters would not identify as "liberal", nor would they vote against the very congresspeople who advance the corporatist agenda (whether or not those voters are themselves in favor of the corporatists). To mangle Ronald Reagan, the Rural Red States are not the solution to the problem; they are the problem.

Howard Brazee said...

A good thing about a federal system is that we can try out some things in Wisconsin, and try very different things in Minnesota right next door - and then look at the results. But that only works if we are willing to look, instead of being told by those with money and power what the results should be.

The comparison isn't as easy with foreign policies. But we can look at what we've done in the Mid East and ask ourselves whether we have achieved our stated goals. Is our country or the world better off now? Was Saddam that much worse than Isis to be worth all of the killing and taxing? Is our country more free now or less free now? Is our example more attractive to other nations or less attractive? Is our country more secure now or less secure now? Is the benefit of the military industrial complex worth the costs to the rest of our economy? Ask the questions and make your best answers. But don't just accept what the media are paid to present!

And while it is true, Republicans are more likely to make those macho decisions - the Democrats have the same bosses (follow the money), and the wars go on.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Robert, I'd had a similar idea that didn't abandon the present setup entirely -- and therefore did not require Constitutional Amendment to pass. Like you, I kept the districts intact -- districting reform becoming a separate topic. Instead, I proposed every district to have a Federal Council of twenty members, elected by *subscription* on an open ballot without primaries. The idea is to correct for the divisions within a district -- if it's over-gerrymandered, the sundered pieces get separate voices; if there are minority parties or factions, their voice is assured; if there are ethnic tensions, they are brought out.

Critically, each citizen can vote for far fewer people than are being elected -- maybe one, maybe two. This means that any political machine attempting to elect a party slate will *have* to divide up its voters to instruct them, whether they want to or not! Otherwise a few preferred candidates will get all the votes and people from outside the local machine will get seats. Running harder will make it less, not more, likely for your faction to gain additional power.

Like in your plan, Councillors get paid minimally, meet on weekends in the district, and review the week' s pending legislation. One key move should be made to ensure that this isn't just a talking shop. _The Representative cannot cast his vote on final passage until his or her Council has voted -- for, against, with conditions, or abstain-- and sent them the vote._ They have the power to override or ignore the Council, of course, but the Council vote will be public record (and on key bills the local news will know what the Council did), so they will have to explain themselves. (For extremely momentous votes, Councillors from throughout a state can voluntarily group together and issue a statement regarding their Senators' vote, but it is a purely symbolic move and has no bearing, nor is it tied to authority to vote in the Senate.)

Furthermore, the Councillors can support or oppose the Representative's re-election; a Council will probably have something like eight members favoring the Rep, five or six opposing him, and five or six representing small interests and acting as swing votes. (It's much more feasible for a minor party or faction to elect a Councillor than a Representative, because it's not winner-take-all; you only need 3-5% of a district's vote.) You can be elected using the old 51%+ strategy, of course, but assembling a coalition of Councillors will probably make your job easier. The idea is to make the alliance or abandonment of communities in the District have political visibility. If you are favoring the factories of Bustletown over repairing bridges in Shandy, the Councillors can speak to that. And factions scattered by gerrymandering can speak to each other electronically, leveraging the communications the Founders never envisioned.

The flip side of this is that Congresscritters don't have to run home eternally to "connect with the voters" anymore; that's what the Council is for. You'll rarely ever be able to speak to your 'critter, but your Councillor is a different matter. With 'critters staying in Washington again, the partisan rancor can decrease as they find chances to speak with each other and realize the other side doesn't wear horns and carry pitchforks. Could this also increase pork barreling? Possibly. But the Councillors are watching, and as you pointed out, bribing ten thousand distributed Councillors is a lot harder than bribing five hundred people in one place.

Paul451 said...

Paul SB,
"Robert, although it rankles to think of creating more politicians"

And that's why it wouldn't happen. Too easy for politicians to play "we hate politicians" when defending their own power. You'd need to call it something else in order to get public support, and by calling it something else it likely becomes unconstitutional.

But since Robert has put up his 10,000 Representatives idea again, I'll yet again put up an idea that I've always been fascinated by: The election of the Doge of Venice. (*) (Or at least the modern statistical version.)

The idea is that you start with the main population and select a small group by random lot, a "jury" of sorts(**). This jury then elects, from amongst the main group, representatives for another group (call it a "council") about five times larger than the jury. Each candidate for the council must be elected by a super-majority of the jury. (In the original system, no more than one member of a single family could be elected on any specific council.)

The newly elected council is reduced down to a second jury, again by random selection. That new jury elects a new council... and so on for a total of three iterations. (Main population -> Jury 1 -> Council 1 -> Jury 2 -> Council 2 -> Jury 3 -> Council 3.) The final council then elects, again by super-majority, the new Doge and the Doge ruled for life.

Each round of random selection breaks up factions, and makes legacies nearly impossible. But the election rounds tend to select respected figures from the broader group. The requirement for a super-majority election of each candidate tends to eliminate divisive types, and encourage conciliation and negotiation, with divisive figures being weeded out. The result is that each round tends to select the least factional, least divisive, wisest and most widely respected figures. Those more like to elect even wiser members in the next iteration.

-- to be cont.

Paul451 said...


In the original system, there were ten rounds, with the numbers varying wildly in each round. Modern analysis gives the same statistical benefits from just seven rounds, with all juries being equal sized, and all councils being five times as large as a jury.

In Venice, the initial group was several hundred oligarchs from the ruling families. The process tended to elect a "wise elder" who was widely respected by the ruling families, and made it easier for them to submit to the rule of the Doge (rather than squabble with each other for power, like the rest of medieval Italy); and the age of the typical Doge meant that he likely only ruled for 5-10 years before he died.

For the US, I'd suggest two parallel Doge-election streams, one to elect the Presidential Electoral College, and one to elect members of Congress for each geographic region (to trim Robert's ten thousand Representatives down to a manageable number.) Otherwise with conventional government and separation of powers as they work today. (Similarly at State and County/City level.) (***)

But it probably works better in a smaller population when it has no recent history/experience behind it (because it helps when everyone knows everyone), so you could start by trialling it in place of lower level elections. For example school boards and similar sized bodies. Prove it works and then move it a level up. Evolve systems to deal with the new, larger scale. Get it working again, then jump another level. After all, short of a violent uprising (to make Locumranch happy), such a radical change isn't going come from the top-down.

(* Wow. Much random. So tyrant.)
(** A "jury of sorts". Get it? Sorts! Sortion! Get it? Oh shut up you.)
(*** But in theory you could go further and copy the whole Venetian process. Actually elect a near-absolute tyrant once per decade; no Congress, no Supreme Court, no Constitution beyond the process of electing the tyrant. Perhaps with the final council (about 45 people) remaining in place as a last check, a super-majority vote being required to overrule any action/law/ruling by the tyrant or his appointees; as a result of this limited power, acting as a council of advisors. Note that this full blown tyrannical system appeals to many of the internal memes of the Straussians. The natural supremacy of the wise elites, and rule by benevolent tyrants; the ignorant masses being fed noble lies, while the wise elites are free to discuss politics behind closed doors in terms that would scandalise the great-unwashed.)

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: I get your point that the 'failure' of feudalism is measured from our perspective using our measures of success, but even by their own they failed to deliver on unspoken (and occasionally spoken) promises. To powerful men, the promise involved a future of the same for their sons by keeping competitors in their place. Do what you are obligated to do by the King and you get what you deserve. If you want more, you can try to climb the ladder, but there are risks that the person above you will get what they deserve and you'll get killed. To the women associated with powerful men, the promise involved relative safety and security for all their children and opportunities for their daughters marry powerful men. To everyone, the priests made promises about knowing what was Right. The field of history was a study of events intended to support prophecy as were other scholarly subjects (like astrology), so they promised a kind of mental security where the world makes sense.

The Kings and Priests failed miserably even before industrialization and the population explosion of the 18th century. An old Greek philosophy regarding an expectation of Change survived and began to reshape Europe a few centuries earlier. By the time the fruit was on the tree, the nobles were imbecilic (where is the security in that?) and the priests were divided (and occasionally at war with each other).

Epic Fail.

David Brin said...

Howard B… we achieved in Iraq Bush-Cheney’s goals which were to enrich Bush-Cheny family companies,,, the only winners, other than Iran

Re demmies and goppers doing war… you must read this:

Catfish, I’d start by challenging each US representative to name a local advisory board, especially one scientist from his district for a national-parallel sc-tech advisory congress. If the rep refuses, she’s a coward. If she appoints a real scientist than any gopper rep will face headlines about her advisor disagreeing. If he appoints a 2nd rate shill, then that comes out, as well.

Wow! Locum actually made an honest effort to … define his stances! Wow indeed! Of course his definitions are truly weird.

Let’s see if I got this right, fellah. Point one: “Progressive” is defined as anything that works toward consolidation of wealth and power into a few hands, ending flat-open-fair competition and creating barriers to entry by new participants. Hey, did I paraphrase right?

Point two: That is a bad thing. Ideally we’ll all be EQUALS again.

You guys, did I paraphrase okay? (Normally I’d ask him - but you know he’ll never say yes.)

Of course, it is utterly bizarre. The “ consolidation of wealth and power into a few hands, ending flat-open-fair competition and creating barriers to entry by new participants” is what DEFINES feudalism! And it is precisely what defines the GOP and Red America.

Ending that insane attractor state was and remains the central goal of the progressive enlightenment…

…and even in today’s loony political environment it remains fantastically successful at creating the most flat-open-fair civilization the world has ever known.

“Note, also, that Modern Corporatism is Feudalism, for all intents & purposes…”

Huzzah! Only then he slags the only adversary that feudalism ever had… the competitive, positive sum games of science, democracy, markets etc.

Congrats for finally stepping up, man. But Weird!

(PS... you know I think I get him now. He knows his own culture is paranoid and devoted to ending flat-open-fair competition and creating barriers to entry by new participants. But like many people, he simply assumes that the other side is just like his own side, only with different colored jerseys. It's not.)

Paul SB said...

I’m trying not to forget people here, as a lot of posts have piled up since I last checked.

Reason said “Monopoly can be seen as a warning what can go wrong if social democracy is too weak.” Exactly the point. Anyone who is smarter than a duck (nod to Rowan Atkinson fans) and has played the game more than a couple times knows that success has little to do with strategy or intelligence and a whole lot to do with the luck of the dice. Likewise lazes-fair capitalism. Once all of the properties have been purchased, death comes to whoever has the misfortune of landing on anyone else’s property but their own. Long before Herbert Spencer the wealthy justified their disproportionate power by claiming superiority to the rest of humanity, but without legislation like the Sherman Anti-Trust Act you end up with rule by the fortunate.

Paul SB said...

Larry (to loci): “If you're going to use terms in unconventional senses, don't be surprised if your meaning is obscured.” What he is doing is following what Evans-Pritchard called “the law of segmentary opposition” (back in the days when it was fashionable to append “law” to any generalizable observation. He associates himself with one group, so all things his group do must be good. Since groups exist to oppose one another, he has to straw man anyone who is not part of his. He may believe things that his rural neighbors would despise, but in his mind they are kin while evil urbanites are opposite in every way. That’s why he can write things like “conservative-progressive” or “progressive monopolists” and the contradiction goes completely over his head. And yet anyone who doesn’t immediately understand the unconventional meanings he assumes to be God-given Truth he takes to be dullards (returning to his pattern of ad hominem – says this flibertgibbet). His conflation of urbanites with the corporatist agenda requires some major mental contortion, especially after the whole Occupy Wall Street movement. He’s probably incurable. Kanneman, Sapolsky and others have pointed out that intelligent people often do not think smarter thoughts or make better decisions than other people. They make dumb choices based on emotional calculus (like the need to have a peer group) then use their mental skills to rationalize their ideas, however irrational they may be. So they are very convincing in their own minds.

“To mangle Ronald Reagan, the Rural Red States are not the solution to the problem; they are the problem.” The ruralites of America have a very predictable button that the Republicans have been pushing for several decades. All they have to do is include the words “God” and “Jesus” in strategic points in any speech or conversation to win their votes. When Democrats do this, however, they tend to roll their eyes, go back to Church and talk about those fakes and liars up in Washington. Segmentary Opposition.

Paul SB said...

Howard (haven’t heard from you in awhile!) “And while it is true, Republicans are more likely to make those macho decisions - the Democrats have the same bosses (follow the money), and the wars go on.”

Back at the height of the Bush Invasion, I heard an interview with the linguist George Lakoff, who had a hypothesis about what distinguishes the liberal from the conservative. His suggestion was that the difference originates in different conceptions of the family. Conservatives see the family as the possession of the “man” of the family – a man’s home is his castle and he is the king. Liberals have a more democratic, less manly, view of their families, sharing control between both parents and showing some respect for children. I thought this was interesting, but I doubt that this one set of conceptions determines whole rest of the suite of conservative characteristics. In fact, I would think the manliness concept would determine the family concept, but still interesting stuff to think about.

Paul SB said...

Paul451, the system that elected the Doge was complicated enough that to get it to work today would probably require a whole lot of transparency, or else we would end up with a bureaucracy as maddening as anything Kafka could cook up. Chances are we would end up with more business cronies like Cheney and less wise despots like (the admittedly fictional) Vetenari. Sorry, I can’t think of any really wise despots whose records are that good – even Louis the Sun King had his failings. And if this system were used to elect people to the highest offices of federal government, most people would see this as hijacking democracy (as most see the arcane Electoral College).

Alfred, on the relative failure or success of feudalism, it is certainly true that feudal lords made and consistently reneged on promises to their underlings, as with the idea of ‘noblese oblige” which was honored more in the breech. But if we judge stability by longevity, as ecologists and evolutionary biologists do, then feudalism doesn’t even come close. Humans have been around for at least 208,000 years, but have spent only 6000 of those years under the rule of state-level organization. That would make no government far more stable than feudalism. But this perspective is like looking at history as a lawyer would – looking for precedent. But a statistician looks at history for trajectory. The lawyer asks: has this been done before, and if so, did it work? The statistician asks: where is this leading? Since the founding of the US with its Bill of Rights and separation of church and state, the trajectory has been toward democratic rule and increasing personal freedom. This is why we need fewer lawyers in office.

Dr. Brin,

It sounds to me like you have paraphrased his words pretty well. The bit about the different jerseys feeds right into segmentary opposition. He never seems to get that the people he has so often extolled (remember his “bless your RED heart” comment) vote for those same corporate feudalists. Is his antiquated sense of machismo at the root of it?

I'm sure I must have missed somebody, and I feel like I gave short shrift to a few. Sorry, too little time...

Jumper said...

"antiquated sense of machismo" Allow me to play the ball back inside the field: you may have hit on it. However, this might be the myth of chivalry, what I was tempted to call a perfect definition of a foma, but I don't know if a "harmless untruth" is accurate when it comes to chivalry. It is, though, that remnant of feudalism which can be stretched and redefined, yes, but which in its essence still appeals to our sense of justice, law, and all that of value which might be salvageable from Christianity after discarding the unchivalrous aspects of that desert religion.
"...if we never get rid of Christianity, chivalry is to blame." The Happy Idol, F. Nietzsche

Catfish N. Cod said...

Dr. Brin, I see your point but the use of appointment would defeat most of the purpose. The natural inclination will be that the most sci-literate 10% will name a real scientist or engineer as advisor; the 10% most ideological will name a creationist or other ideological fanatic or panderer; and the other 80% will play it safe and name a politically loyal and quiet nonentity. The first instinct will inevitably be to reduce political risk, not to get results.

As for Locum, I actually sympathize a touch for he lacks many tools to describe how he feels. His notions of rural egalitarianism and standing against centralizing forces puts him in relatively good philosophical company with Jefferson's notions of small-farmer / small-crafter rural Virginia... Or the free-soil wing of the original Republican Party, those who opposed the Slave Power not for any notions of racial equality but merely out of fear that a Southern rural aristocracy would lead to a Northern aristocracy as well. Both parties, of course, rapidly gained oligopolistic wings after their rise to major party status.

He's also acting off the old incantations dating back at least to the anti-Wobblies movement in the 1910s, where progressivism, socialism, communism, and populist tyranny were conflated (no one was adding fascism and totalitarianism just yet, for rural America had yet to be acquainted with those). By these guilts-by-association practically any urban-originating agenda at all can be declared feudalism in disguise.... directing attention away from the actual, ancient-in-new-clothes feudalism of large landowners, share cropping, and the grinding away of small holdings in the debt and boom/bust cycles. It was FDIC and crop insurance that ended that, though the later years also saw the enablement of Big Agribusiness that actually did crush local farming....

(These incantations explain much about the peculiarities of the red state labor market, e.g., unions are evil yet worker owned coops are good; social insurance is bad but credit unions are good.)

Without some concept of how to translate his ideas into an urban environment, his ideas are doomed; but there actually is some substance to where Locum is coming from. Anyone else have ideas on how to help him express himself more clearly?

Jumper said...

Apparently I have been hornswoggled. The so-called Nietzsche quote seems to be a made-up aphorism by an occultist trickster. Oh, well, I liked it's implications anyway.

David Brin said...


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