NOVEMBER 2017

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The Rise of the Billionaires Leaves the Middle Class Stranded

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Friday, April 22, 2011

RUNNING AGAINST SOCIAL SECURITY

I would say that Bertrand Snell is a shinning example of the “Peter Principle”. Bertrand (above, with his ideological opponent, FDR) started out life as a bookkeeper. Then he successfully ran a cheese factory and then a lumber company in upstate New York. He was well qualified to fill all of those positions. For awhile he was the president of a small college. This success led, in 1915, to Bertrand being elected to congress. In 1931 he became the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. That led, in 1932, to his being elected Minority Leader in the House of Representatives. And that made him one of the primary architects of the disaster that befell the Republican Party the first time they ran against the New Deal in 1936. In short, it was Bertrand Snell’s fault. Of course, he had some help.
Herbert Hoover had not only lost the 1932 Presidential Election, he lost it by almost 18 percentage points. His ineffectualness at dealing with the Great Depression (the stock market crash had occurred just 6 months after he first took office) was so obvious that Herbert won only 6 states – Pennsylvania, Delaware, R.I., Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. And yet Herbert still had hopes he could engineer a come back. Yes, FDR’s New Deal had already created six million jobs, and had doubled industrial production and sent corporate profits from a $2 billion loss under Hoover to a $5 billion profit under Roosevelt. But there were still 8 million Americans unemployed, and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) was charging that the new Social Security Administration was part of a facist/communist take over of the federal government. Does any of this sound familar?  But, back to our story...
On June the ninth, 1936, Herbert addressed the Republican National Convention in the Public Auditorium in Cleveland, Ohio, and did his very best to rally the faithful to his cause. As Time Magazine detailed, “After 15 minutes (of) yelling, shrieking (and) hooting, (Hoover) was allowed to begin. …
He warmed up quickly. Acording to Time, Hoover told the faithful, "Fundamental American liberties are at stake. Is the Republican Party ready…to cast your all upon the issue?" "Yes!" roared the crowd….".. have you determined to enter in a holy crusade for freedom which shall determine the future and the perpetuity of a nation of free men?" "Yes!" roared the crowd in ecstasy.” The faithful went on chanting “Hoo-ver, Hoo-ver, Hoo-ver,” long after Herbert had left the stage.
Noted Time; “The demonstration could not be stopped for half an hour, even when Speaker Snell tried to introduce a little old lady, surprisingly pert for her 77 years, the widow of President Benjamin Harrison.” Finally Bertrand banged his big gavel and informed the crowd that Herbert had already boarded a train for New York. Stunned, the floor demonstrators paused for a breath, and in vague confusion the demonstrations petered out.
Except, Herbert had not left the building. He was in fact, just off stage, waiting to be recalled by the carefully prepared demonstrations, and proclaimed the nominee by acclamation. That was the plan, anyway. But Bertrand had already determined that the party nomine would not be Hoover. It woould be Governor Alf Landon, known affectionately to the faithful as “The Kansas Coolidge”. The party chairman had cut the ground out from under Hoover.
Alf, was the only Republican governor re-elected in 1934. He had a reputation as a fiscal conservative who cut taxes and balanced the state budget. That made him the Republican wonder-kid, the perfect man to oppose the “tax and spend” Roosevelt.
Alff's candidancy had a few problems, of course. First; Landon had balanced the Kansas budgets because the New Deal had kicked in millions of dollars to offset the state's deficits. Second; Alf publicly supported so many parts of the New Deal that he was at odds with the Republican party platform. Third; Alf was a terrible public speaker. He mumbled. And like any good mid-westerner, even when speaking clearly he didn’t blow his own horn very much. As H. L. Mencken noted, he "simply lacks the power to inflame the boobs."
The party platform that Alf was going to have to stand on had been engineered by Chairman Bertrand and forty-four year old John Daniel Miller Hamilton (above), the “crinkly haired” “jut-jawed” G.O.P. general counsel, who reeked of “animal vigor.” Hamilton was paid $15,000 a year to be the parties’ attack dog. He was described by one fellow Republican as having, “…a seven-devil lust to live and shine under the blessings of the rich”. Both Bertrand and Hamilton were Af’s front men, and Hamilton made Alf's nominating speech. And to seal the deal, Hamilton read a telegram from Governer Landon promising to support the anti-New Deal platform.
Said the Republican platform; “For three long years the New Deal Administration has dishonored American traditions…has been guilty of frightful waste and extravagance, …has created a vast multitude of new offices, …set up a centralized bureaucracy, and sent out swarms of inspectors to harass our people. It has bred fear and hesitation in commerce and industry, thus discouraging new enterprises, preventing employment and prolonging the depression….We pledge ourselves: To preserve the American system of free enterprise, private competition, and equality of opportunity.. We advocate: Abandonment of all New Deal policies that raise production costs, increase the cost of living, and thereby restrict buying, reduce volume and prevent reemployment. …”.  Sound familar?
But the platform saved its most vicious critisim for that newest New Deal program, Social Security. It was Social Security that had "engergized the base".  As it was initially passed the program did not cover farm workers, the self employed, state, federal or local government workers, railroad workers, or domestics. There was no aid for the disabled, and there were no cost of living alliances. Still,the Republcan platform for 1936 charged, "The New Deal policies, while purporting to provide social security, have, in fact, endangered it", and claimed that "the fund will contain nothing but the government's promise to pay" and is "unworkable".  Again, does any of this sound familar?
Bertrand had a master plan for victory, funded by a $14 million war chest (equal to $207.5 million today), with over a million of that coming from just three families – DuPont, Pew and Rockefeller – and the rest almost entirely from business leaders anxious to prevent further Federal regulations of their business.
And then there was “The Liberty League,” described by one historian as “…the best-financed and the most professionally run…anti-big-government organization ever to come down the pike.” The League was the original "Astro-turf" grassroots organization. It raised and spent as much cash as the two established parties combined (30% of it coming from the DuPont family alone). Its national headquarters occupied 31 rooms in the National Press Building, and there were 20 state branches. Hamilton confessed later, "Without Liberty League money we (the GOP) wouldn't have had a national headquarters."
The campaign that followed saw the constant repetition of the attack. The New Deal became “The Raw Deal”. Franklyn Delano Roosevelt became “Stalin Delano Roosevelt”. William Randolph Hearst asserted in a pro-Landon editorial, “The Bolshevist tyranny in Russian has ordered all bolshevists, communists and revolutionaries in the Untied States to support Roosevelt!" It all sounds so familar in the post-health care bill world of 2010. Or the Republican attack on Social Security in 2011. The term "repetition" leaps to mind.
In late October 1936 the Republican National Committee sent checks for $5.00 to 400 black pastors in Maryland, along with a letter, which began, “Dear Brother,” and then argued that the G.O.P. had always done more to help blacks than the Democrats had - Not since the Civil War, but its the thought that counts, right?
The Young Republicans organization was founded during this election to get out the "youth" vote. And to encourage women to vote Republican, fashion shows were staged.  Every show would start with a woman wearing a wooden barrel on suspenders, marked, “If The New Deal Wins”, followed by lovely models in Paris designs, marked “If Landon Wins." Women were expected to be swayed by such "fashion politics".
A few weeks before the election, thousands of workers opened their paychecks to find what looked like an offical government notice. In fact it was from their bosses and the Republican Party, warning the workers that if Roosevelt were re-elected, come January they would all suffer a 1% pay reduction. This prompted the head of the Social Security Board, a life long Republican, to issue an immeidate response, asserting that
""Any political message in a worker's pay envelope is coercion. It is a new form of the old threat to shut down the mill if the employer's candidate isn't elected. We're supposed to be beyond that in this country."  Well, we are approaching a century later and we still aren't!
Finally, Landon himself was coaxed into joining the anti-Social Security bandwagon. In a Milwaukee speech, he called the program ""unjust, unworkable, stupidly drafted and wastefully financed."  It was socialism, communism, and an attempt at the resdistrubution of wealth. Boy, does that ever sound familar!
However, it appears that most Americans saw all of this Republican effort in the same light as that expressed by the voter,  who said that Roosevelt was "the first man in the White House to understand that my boss is a son-of-a-b-tch"  In 1936 the Democrats came out swinging, inc;uding FDR, as illustrated in a speech he delivered in Boston, and which he wrote himself. “In the summer of 1933 a nice old gentleman fell off a pier. He was unable to swim. A friend ran down the pier, dived overboard and pulled him out. But his silk hat floated away with the tide. After the old gentleman was revived he was effusive in his thanks. He praised his friend for saving his life. Today, three years later, the old man is berating his friend because the silk hat was lost.”
The election of November 3, 1936 was the most lopsided since James Monroe ran unopposed in 1820. Eighty-three percent of eligible voters showed up at the polls and Roosevelt won almost 61% of their vote. He carried every state in the union except Vermont and Maine, giving rise to the Democratic twist on the old adage, “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont”.
Roosevelt won 532 electoral votes to Landon’s 8. Seventy-one percent of Black Americans voted Democratic, as well as 57% of women, 63% of men, 76% of low income voters, 80% of Catholics and 86% of Jewish voters. After the election the Democrats held the Senate, 75-16, and the House, 332 to just 88 Republicans.
Landon would admit that his attack upon Social Security had been a mistake, and henchforth he publically opposed any attempt to dismantle this New Deal program. John D. Hamilton would say after the election, "The Lord himself couldn't have beaten Roosevelt in 1936, much less the Liberty League." Maybe; but the election was the death knell of the Liberty League. They lingered into 1940, when the DuPont family finally pulled their funding, and the group then quietly died. Long before that John Hamilton had his own reactionary reckoning.
In 1937 Hamilton's wife sued him for divorce, on the grounds of “gross neglect of duty, abandonment and extreme cruelty.” That same year Alf Landon had Hamilton removed as Party Chairman, as Landon tried to rebuild the party in his own Midwestern less reactionary less-idelogical image.
Under Landon's non-red baiting non-FDR hating guidance the party stopped trying to overturn the New Deal and began to climb its way back. The Republicans would gain strength until 1948 when it looked like they were certain to regain the White House. But late in that campaign they gloated too publically about finally overturning the New Deal, and that public gloating handed Harry Truman his turn around re-election. It was not until Ronald Reagan in his 1981 inaguration speech that the G.O.P again openly call for overturning the New Deal programs. It has become a mantra for the party ever since.
And Bertrand Snell, the Minority Leader of House of Represenatives? He had been one of the few Republicans re-elected in 1936. But he did not run again in 1938. Instead, he went into the newspaper business. He published the "Potsdam, New York Courier-Freeman" and ran it until 1949. He also became the owner of the New York State Oil Company. He was ably qualified for both of those jobs. He died in 1958, while a Republican occupied the White House. That Republican was Dwight D. Eisenhower, He was a national hero, and a product of the Landon influence. But the conservative wing of the GOP charged that "Ike"was a Republican In Name Only, and his administration was nothing better than a "little New Deal" administration.
It seemed that with time, the Republicans managed to forget the lesson Alf had sacrificed himself to teach them.
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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

THERE'S A WAR ON!

I find it instructive that the citizens of Halifax, Nova Scotia (above)  have never obsessed over how the disaster of December 6th, 1917 could have happened to them. They have asked the obvious questions, but have been willing to quickly accept that they would never know the whole truth. In part this was because so many of those responsible were already dead, and in part because it was a time and a place where obsessions could not be tolerated. There was a war on, as the saying goes, and that explained the unexplainable, as you would know if you have ever considered the full implications of that phrase; “There’s a war on.”
Halifax exists because it is one of the largest, best protected ice free harbors in the world, a gift of the Sackville River. The Sackville rises in the center of “New Scotland” near Mt. Unijacke and meanders its way for 25 miles south eastward, spilling from one lake to another until it reaches the head of The Bedford Basin.
Here the Slackville disappears into a drowned river valley, a protected anchorage four miles long by two miles wide. At its southern end is “The Narrows”, which closes to a little less than a mile wide channel. In 1917 the town of Halifax, home to 50,000, rose on the steep hills along the west side of the Narrows, while the suburb of Dartmouth, with a population of 6,500, occupied the east shore.And beyond the bottleneck of The Narrows was Halifax Harbor, which opened directly to the North Atlantic. The salt water here is warmed by the nearby Gulf Stream Current, and the Great Circle commercial route is just one hour sailing time out to sea. That combination, the harbor and the nearby Great Circle Route, made Halifax a convenient place to rest and load coal before challenging the North Atlantic, or to recover after a harrowing voyage to the new world. And during World War One the Bedford Basin was the logical place for allied convoys to form up in hidden safety.
Early on the morning of Thursday, December 6, 1917 there were some fifteen cargo ships crowded into the Basin and several Royal Navy warships in Halifax harbor.
But atypical of all of these ships was the Steam Ship Monte Blanc; 3,121 tons, 320 feet long, and inbound for Bedford Basin. At any other time she would have been a pariah, and expected to unoad her cargo outside the port, on McNab's Island. But there was a war on.
The SS Mont Blanc was just out of New York carrying 2,300 tons of the explosive trinitrophenol (TNP), 200 tons of trintritoluene (TNT), 10 tons of gun cotton and 300 rounds of small arms ammunition. In addition she had 36 tons of the high octane Bezol fuel piled about her decks in 50 gallon drums. In short the ship was a floating bomb. And as the Monte Blanc approached The Narrows she found herself head-on to the outbound 5,043 ton, 430 foot long Norwegian SS IMO, running ballast, outbound for New York to load humanitarian supplies for occupied Belgium.
As the two ships approached they each signaled by ship's horns their intention to maintain course and speed. Then without warning the Mount Blanc turned to the right, as if moving to dock at a pier on the Halifax shore. Seeing this, the Imo (below) desperately reversed her engines, intending to slow and give the Mount Blanc room. But the reverse spin on Imo’s propeller pulled her into the center of The Narrows, and directly into the path of the looming Monte Blanc.
It was 8:45 A.M., local time. The towns of Halifax and Dartmouth were just starting their work days. Large crowds stopped to watch as the two ships sounded their horns in alarm and drew inexorably together. Workers at the new rail yards up the harbor were drawn to the excitment. Everyone in town, it seemed, stopped what they were doing to witness the drama unfolding.
As if in slow motion the two ships struck. The Imo’s prow sliced into the starboard bow of the Monte Blanc. Benzol drums were thrown about Monte Blanc’s deck, spilling the corrosive fuel. Mont Blanc’s cargo hold was penetrated. For a long moment the two ships hung there in the middle of The Narrows. Then, as the Imo backed away, the scrapping of crumpled metal against torn metal, threw sparks. A fire quickly broke out aboard the Monte Blanc, ignited or fed by the Benzol, sending grey smoke skyward. Within 10 minutes the Mont Blanc’s forty man crew had been forced to take to  their life boats. Once there they shouted a warning for the Imo’s crew about their volital cargo. But none of the Imo's crew spoke French. The drifting burning hulk now brushed past Halifax’s pier six, setting it afire as she passed.
The Canadian Navy tug and mine sweeper "Stella Maris" (above) joined the Imo in attempting to throw water on the fires, and the "Stella Maris" also sent a boat crew to attempt to take the abandoned wreak under tow.
Meanwhile the Box 83 alarm at the Halifax Fire Department sent men and equipment racing toward the harbor and the burning dock. They arrived there just after 9:00 a.m., forcing their way through the growing crowd along the shore, all drawn there by the spectacular show.
But even now a few sensed the impending disaster. Mr. P. Vince Coleman, a dispatcher for the Inter-Colonial Railway yards (above)  just a few hundred yards inshore from the piers, not only saw the accident, but knew of the Monte Blanc’s deadly cargo as well. He and other workers in the yards ran for their lives. But then Coleman remembered that a train loaded with 300 passengers from Saint John’s was due to arrive in a few moments. He ran back to his post and tapped out the following message on the telegraph key, “Stop trains. Munitions ship on fire. Approaching pier six. Goodbye.” Every operator up and down the line heard that message. Then, precisely at 9:04:35 the line went dead.
In that instant, in a single white hot flash, the 3,000 ton Mont Blanc was converted into shrapnel - jagged sections of iron weighing from slivers to half a ton. They were ripped from the hull and sent spinning away at supersonic speeds. Part of the Mont Blanc’s anchor landed two and a half miles away.
At the center of the blast the temperature exceeded 9,000 degrees Fahrenheit, instantly converting the 40 degree sea water in The Narrows to steam. First a high pressure shockwave raced through the air at 500 feet a second, flattening everything within 4 square miles. Then a fireball took just 20 seconds to rise a mile into the air, where an enterprising photographer snapped a picture (above) from thirteen miles away.
Then a tidal wave 36 feet high swept back and forth across The Narrows, sweeping away everything onshore in its path. An entire Innuit village of 22 families on the Dartmourth shore was drowned by the wave. Windows were shattered 10 miles away. Buildings shook 78 miles distant. And the explosion was heard in Cape Breton, 225 miles to the east. Out of the tug Stella Maris’ crew of 24, only five survived. On board the Imo, the captain, the harbor pilot and five crew members were killed. The 430 foot long Imo was thrown against the Dartmouth shore like a toy in a bathtub (below), her bottom ripped out. Every other ship in Halifax harbor suffered casualities and damage.
Of the ten firemen who had just arrived at the dock, nine were killed, including the Fire Chief and Deputy Chief. The sole survivor, engine driver Billy Wells, wrote, “The first thing I recalled after the explosion was standing quite a distance from the fire engine…the explosion had blown off all my clothes as well as the muscles from my right arm.”
At least 2,000 people had been killed outright, and 9,000 wounded, not counting the Innuit dead. (Native peoples, quite simply, did not count.) More than 1,000 of those who witnessed the explosion were blinded by flying glass and slivers of wood and steel. Nova Scotia lost more of her citizens in that one instant than were killed serving in her army and navy units in all four years of World War One.
Slowly rescuers began to move into the devastated square mile, removing the dead, comforting the wounded and searching for survivors in the rubble of their homes and businesses. Then, as darkness began to fall that night, “…almost as if Fate, unconvinced the exploding chemicals…had struck a death blow to Halifax, was now calling upon nature to administer the coup de grace…”. It began to snow.
The worst blizzard in ten years buried the shocked port in several feet of snow and condemned untold injured to death by freezing.
Every year, the city of Halifax donates a Christmas tree to the city Boston, as thanks for the assistance which was rushed to them in the weeks after the explosion. And every year, on December 6th, from 8:50 a.m. to 9:25 a.m., there is a memorial service held  in Halifax to remember the victims of the largest man made explosion on earth ... which was superseded only by the first atomic bomb test in 1945, when there was another war on.
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Sunday, April 17, 2011

THE LITTLE GREEN HOUSE ON K STREET - PART THREE.

“I can take care of my enemies all right. But my damn friends, my God damn friends...they're the ones who keep me walking the floors nights.”
Warren G. Harding.
On the night of October 31, 1918 crowds jammed 9th Street in Washington, D,C, lined with restaurants and bars, to share a final drink. Then, at midnight, November 1st, 1918, the District of Columbia went bone dry, by federal fiat. It had been the pro-prohibition states that had re-elected President Woodrow Wilson in November of 1916. The imposition of prohibition in the one place on earth he could dictate it, was his reward for them. Opponents tried to give the local residents a vote on the issue, but Wilson complained, “There is no voting machinery in the District of Columbia. It would have to be created.” Still the option of giving democracy a chance inside the district was only defeated because the vote was tied – 43 pro and 43 con - and VP Thomas Marshall refused to cast the deciding vote – either way. That opened the door to the Sheppard Act, sponsored by Senator John Sheppard of Texas, which allowed the politicians to assure their moralistic supporters back home (in places like Texas) that they were being morally pure in far off Washington, D.C. Like bad fish,  the situation reeked with hypocrisy from the head.
- sung to the tune of “My bonnie lies over the ocean” -
My father makes book on the corner,
My mother makes illicit gin.
My sister sells kisses to sailors,
My God how the money rolls in.
(Chorus)
Rolls in , rolls in,
My God how the money rolls in, rolls in.
Rolls in, rolls in,
My God how the money rolls in.
When the Democrat Woodrow Wilson vacated the White House, he had the residence's extensive liquor stockpiles shipped to his new private home across town. The incoming President, Ohioan Warren G. Harding (above right), ordered his Attorney General, Harry Daugherty (above left), to replace it. The AG simply instructed his newly appointed Treasury Officer in charge of prohibition, Roy Asa Haynes, to stock Wells Fargo wagons with seized “illegal” booze and transport this forbidden aqua vitae several times a week,  guarded by armed IRS agents, to various locations inside the district for the consumption by privileged public servants. One of those locations was the second floor of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. Another was the “little white house” on H Street where Harding himself relaxed with alcohol and female companionship away from the prying eyes of the press and Mrs. Harding. Another was the little green house on K street, where something much more carnal than extramarital sex was going on.
My mother asks home politicians
To play in a night full of sin.
My father pops in with a camera.
My God, how the money rolls in!
(Chorus)
The tailored Howard Mannington was almost fifty when he arrived in Washington to work with the Harding administration. He was described as “jowly, square-headed, heavy-lidded, thick lipped with a pug nose.” He was a close friend of Daugherty's, and had been involved in Ohio Republican politics for more than twenty years. He was a charter member of what became known as The Ohio Gang. His partner was Mr. M.P. Kraffmiller, treasurer of the General American Tank Car Company, out of Chicago and Warren, Ohio. General American not only built railroad tank cars, but financed the purchase of them, much as car companies today finance the purchase of their cars. In both cases the leases provided yet another source of profit for the manufacturers. And that was the skill which Kraffmiller brought to the table for the Ohio Gang - managing large sums of cash. He and Mannington started out sharing a room in the Lafayette Hotel, at 16th and I streets in Washington. But that was too visible a location. As of May 1, 1921, they signed a lease on the house at 1625 K street. It was perfect for their needs.
My mother's a bawdy house keeper,
Every night when the evening grows dim.
She hangs out a little red lantern,
My God how the money rolls in.
(Chorus)
What Federal Agent Gaston Means liked about the house at 1625 K Street was that it had both a front and a rear exit. A gate in the backyard fence gave access to a twisting ally which led directly to the Justice Department, and the offices of both Attorney General Harry Daugherty and his flunky, Jess Smith. Two blocks south of the house faced with green limestone, and a short walk across Lafayette Park, was the White House.
The first floor front room of the Little Green House (above) was a parlor. Beyond was Howard Mannington's office and conference rooms. On the second floor was a bar and poker rooms, and an office for Mr. Kraffmiller. On the third floor were the bedrooms, both public and private. In the basement Agent Means had his office, filled with files and maps of ports and highways, used for the distribution of now illegal liquor. Means' office was adjacent to a dinning room that seated 20, a kitchen with 3 stoves, a bathroom, and a laundry room. And in the back yard was "the safe".
My sister's a barmaid in Boston,
For a dollar she'll strip to the skin.
She's stripping from morning to midnight,
My God how the money rolls in.
(Chorus)
Agent Means had constructed the safe himself. The back gate was “as strong as the door on a bank vault”, Means testified later. “Entering this gate (with a special key), one was then inside a steel cage-confronted by another gate, equally as strong and opened only by another special key.” Beyond, in the very center of the yard, Agent Means dug a square, several feet wide. “After getting down a couple of feet or so, I had a wooden platform built...with an open space in the center. Then, I dug down...for twenty feet-and I lowered into this twenty-foot-deep hole a terracotta pipe about eight inches in diameter....I had a small steel box, which I kept lowered into this pipe by a strong rope."
In that steel box Howard Mannington said he usually kept between $50,000 and $5,000,000 in cash. For what the Ohio Gang was selling was the ultimate goal of every Washington lobbyist - access to key political decision makers. And the proof that they were very good at doing this, was that on an official public salary of seven dollars a day, agent Means owned a Washington townhouse with three servants and a chauffeur driven limousine. Two or three times each week Daugherty's sycophant Jess Smith dropped by K street to meet in private with Mannington in his first floor office, which is when and where the money changed hands. Agent Means admitted to often humming a tune to himself as he made deposits and withdraws from his backyard  K Street “bank”. The tune was “My God, how the money rolls in”.
My father makes rum in the bathtub
My mother make two kinds of Gin
My sister makes love for a living
My God how the money rolls in
(Chorus)
I’ve tried making all kinds of whiskey
I’ve tried making all kinds of Gin
I’ve tried making love for a living
My God the condition I’m in
(Chorus)
- 30 -

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