Monday, April 30, 2012
During the Abe Lincoln canvass, candidates for the presidency were much interested in bonding emotionally with the working class.
They were even more interested in displaying their military badges and ribbons. At one point, Lincoln became so put-off by the imposture that he openly ridiculed, as only Lincoln could do, the grand military hustle of the Democrats. Lincoln’s own military service in the Black Hawk War, three enlistments of about 30 days each, was refreshingly free of heroism. Following the hostilities, Lincoln’s horse was stolen. He and his companion, George Harrison, were compelled to walk and canoe back to New Salem.
Lincoln, of course, was born in a log cabin, though he managed to ease his way into a comfortable middle class berth as a fairly prosperous lawyer.
George Washington -- net worth: $525 million, a cool, half billion in in today’s mostly worthless currency – rates as America’s most wealthy president. Next in line is President Thomas Jefferson, net worth $212 million; followed by Teddy Roosevelt, net worth $125 million; followed by Andy Jackson, the father of the Modern Democratic Party, at a net worth of $119 million; followed by James Madison, net worth $101 million; followed by Lyndon Johnson, net worth $98 million; followed by Herbert Hoover, net worth $75 million; followed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, net worth $60 million; followed by Bill Clinton, net worth $38 million; with John Kennedy bringing up the rear as the 10th most wealthy U.S. President. Mr. Kennedy did not inherit his daddy’s wealth; most of his income and property came to him through a family trust shared with his siblings. Among the top ten wealthiest Presidents, there are but two Republicans in the bunch, and none of this great wealth, much of it held by Democrats who married well, was a bar to the presidency.
If the Father of the Country ever felt the need to put himself forward to electors as a chip off the old middle class block, he manfully resisted the temptation. Jefferson thought of himself as an enlightenment aristocrat; ditto Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution. FRD’s wealth came to him through marriage and inheritance, and when he ran into difficulties with creditors, his mommy bailed him out. For the notable Democratic presidents listed above, great wealth was no bar to public service.
Here in Connecticut, the state’s all Democratic congressional delegation is studded with multimillionaires. Like Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal married well; his wife’s father owns the Empire State building in New York, among other properties. Though U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro often points to her humble roots, she also is a multi-millionaire, and U.S. Representative Jim Himes made his millions on Wall Street not Main Street.
Military service remains for some politicians a springboard into politics. When Mr. Blumenthal sought to inflate his military record during his many campaigns as attorney general, he backed into a truth grinder, and it was discovered that, unlike the more modest Lincoln, Mr. Blumenthal had forseveral years been stealing valor from servicemen who had fought in Vietnam.
His opponent in the race for the U.S. Senate, Linda McMahon, financed her previous campaign from her private fortune. Mrs. McMahon’s great wealth did not come to her through marriage. She and her husband, both bankrupted at one point, earned their riches though enterprise and hustle. And though she never claimed to have been born in a log cabin, Mrs. McMahon’s hardscrabble trajectory does not resemble that of the one percenters who ascended to the presidency. Of course, the differences between Mrs. McMahon and Mr. Lincoln are too apparent not to have been noticed by Connecticut’s vigilant media: One was the CEO of a wrestling empire and the other was a politically astute lawyer from Sangamon County in Illinois well known in the frontier towns for his wrestling prowess.
Claims of modest birth still play well on the stump, even among millionaires operating outside the shadow of the largely mythical log cabin. A military record helps. The anti-authoritarianism lying at the center of libertarianism still tugs at the heart strings, as does an American as apple pie anti-clericalism, which lies at the center of the war on Catholicism being waged by Planned Parenthood and Connecticut’s Democratic congressional delegation, 100 percent of whom have received from the abortion provider a rating of 100 percent on votes important to Planned Parenthood’s money prospects.
Most political claims are gilded hooey, sometimes honeyed hooey, but always entertaining. It’s best during national and state campaigns to take the advice of Mark Twain and swallow the campaign braggadocio with “a ton of salt,” and then, when slipping into the slough of despond, reach for Henry Mencken: “A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in… A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.”
Friday, April 27, 2012
“The great questions of the day will not be settled by means of speeches and majority decisions but by iron and blood” -- Otto von Bismarck
Governor Dannel Malloy’s original education reform bill limited “the influence of unions and collective bargaining in a network of low-performing schools, to allow for more flexibility in turning them around,” according to one news report. The version of the amended bill extruded by the General Assembly’s education committee leaves intact union decision making power in those schools targeted for improvement.
Executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents Joseph Cirasuolo characterized the legislative revision of the Malloy bill as removing from Mr. Malloy’s education commissioner the authority needed “if we are going to make a difference in these schools." The revised bill, Mr. Cirasuolo said, mandates such extensive negotiation with teacher unions in schools needing reform that the bill “could, block a turnaround strategy.”
Reform advocates such as chief executive officer of ConnCAN Patrick Riccards characterized the legislative revision as reactionary and destructive of reform. The revised bill, Mr. Riccards said, is “a major step back” that deprives the commissioner of education of the power and authority necessary to turn around low performing schools. Speculating on the intent of the revised committee bill, a member of a New Haven group advocating reform said, “It's almost written as if one is trying to coax out a veto from the governor. For those who thought the second version is a major step back, this is yet another major step back."
It was German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck who compared the manufacture of laws in a parliamentary system with the production of sausage, never a pretty sight. “Laws are like sausages,” Bismarck said, “it is better not to see them being made.” And the same Iron Chancellor cautioned, “Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.”
The denial that Mr. Malloy’s original bill had been effectively eviscerated and rendered bloodless by union cronies in the General Assembly fell to Malloy factotum Roy Occhiogrosso, who wrote in an e-mail to Connecticut’s media that the bill was “a work in progress,” sausage in the making. It would be more truthful to say that Democratic committee members within the union bought General Assembly now have refashioned Mr. Malloy’s original bill into to the legislative equivalent of a zombie.
As was the case with Mr. Malloy’s first budget, the sausage making process is proceeding merrily along behind closed doors, and the final product will have no Republican fingerprints on it. Within Connecticut’s one party government, the new opposition party is made up of General Assembly Democrats yoked to union interests. All the important bill shaping negotiations are occurring behind closed doors, and very little information concerning the secret negotiations between Malloy administration officials and General Assembly members negotiating on behalf of powerful teacher unions has seeped through the locked and bolted chamber.
"Yes, for now,” Mr. Occhiogrosso told reporters, “the people in the room have agreed to keep the details of those conversations in the room — because that's really the only way you can negotiate. But we continue to take into account the views and concerns of all key stakeholders," provided the stakeholders are not taxpaying constituents of Republican Party members in the legislature.
Mr. Malloy’s spine is not exactly a limp noodle; there is an abundance of blood and iron there. Mr. Malloy appears for the moment to be fiercely committed to those features of his plan without which the reform of failing public schools in the network of schools targeted for improvement would be impossible. The union connected stakeholders in Mr. Occhiogrosso’s backroom intend to decouple tenure and performance evaluations from employment, and the extra money – Where will it come from? – the governor proposes to spend on failing public schools sets their legs a’ tingling.
If Mr. Malloy is adamant that the essential reform features of his initial plan should be preserved in a final bill, he will at some point during the sausage making ordeal need legislative reinforcement from precisely those Republicans he has consistently spurned in budget negotiations. The doors of democracy will then spring open. Whether or not Republicans will rush through to assist Mr. Malloy in his struggle against special interests to advance the public good is, at this point, an open question.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Upon signing S.B. 280, the General Assembly bill abolishing the death penalty in Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy issued the following press release:
GOV. MALLOY ON SIGNING BILL TO REPEAL CAPITAL PUNISHMENT(HARTFORD, CT) – Governor Dannel P. Malloy today released the following statement after signing S.B. 280, An Act Revising the Penalty for Capital Felonies.“This afternoon I signed legislation that will, effective today, replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of release as the highest form of legal punishment in Connecticut. Although it is an historic moment – Connecticut joins 16 other states and the rest of the industrialized world by taking this action – it is a moment for sober reflection, not celebration.“Many of us who have advocated for this position over the years have said there is a moral component to our opposition to the death penalty. For me, that is certainly the case. But that does not mean – nor should it mean – that we question the morality of those who favor capital punishment. I certainly don’t. I know many people whom I deeply respect, including friends and family, that believes the death penalty is just. In fact, the issue knows no boundaries: not political party, not gender, age, race, or any other demographic. It is, at once, one of the most compelling and vexing issues of our time.“My position on the appropriateness of the death penalty in our criminal justice system evolved over a long period of time. As a young man, I was a death penalty supporter. Then I spent years as a prosecutor and pursued dangerous felons in court, including murderers. In the trenches of a criminal courtroom, I learned firsthand that our system of justice is very imperfect. While it’s a good system designed with the highest ideals of our democratic society in mind, like most of human experience, it is subject to the fallibility of those who participate in it. I saw people who were poorly served by their counsel. I saw people wrongly accused or mistakenly identified. I saw discrimination. In bearing witness to those things, I came to believe that doing away with the death penalty was the only way to ensure it would not be unfairly imposed.
"Another factor that led me to today is the ‘unworkability’ of Connecticut’s death penalty law. In the last 52 years, only 2 people have been put to death in Connecticut – and both of them volunteered for it. Instead, the people of this state pay for appeal after appeal, and then watch time and again as defendants are marched in front of the cameras, giving them a platform of public attention they don’t deserve. It is sordid attention that rips open never-quite-healed wounds. The 11 men currently on death row in Connecticut are far more likely to die of old age than they are to be put to death.“As in past years, the campaign to abolish the death penalty in Connecticut has been led by dozens of family members of murder victims, and some of them were present as I signed this legislation today. In the words of one such survivor: ‘Now is the time to start the process of healing, a process that could have been started decades earlier with the finality of a life sentence. We cannot afford to put on hold the lives of these secondary victims. We need to allow them to find a way as early as possible to begin to live again.’ Perhaps that is the most compelling message of all.“As our state moves beyond this divisive debate, I hope we can all redouble our efforts and common work to improve the fairness and integrity of our criminal justice system.
Monday, April 23, 2012
For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again,
But the wicked stumble in time of calamity.
Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles – Proverbs 24
Let’s face it, America – or at least that part of the country enmeshed in the news-entertainment business – loves to condemn a sex scandal.
Politically, sex scandals are an chancy business. Republicans, for obvious reasons, would prefer their party to remain free of the taint of scandal, and Democrats would wish the same. Of course, when the sexually wicked stumble, partisans in either party, oblivious to Proverbs, rejoice when their enemy falls. For all the talk about sexual liberation, we lag moral miles behind Europe – especially France which, in matters involving sex between consenting politicians, pursues a laissez faire policy. But like the gentle rain that falleth on the just and the unjust, any political party can be stricken by sexual scandal.
A scandal that in some sense involves a president is the most troubling. It was not until well after the manufactured fantasy of John Kennedy’s Camelot ran aground on the rocks of reality that people began to realize the extent of the president’s sexual athleticism – even though he had a really, really bad back. At one point, the young and charismatic president had become involved with a lady, a potential Morgan Le Fay of Camelot, who had been connected to Chicago mafia boss Sam Giancana. In the course of Mr. Kennedy’s three year extramarital affair with Judith Exner, Mr. Kennedy’s bed partner was used to pass on to Mr. Giancana classified CIA plans for the assassination of Fidel Castro.
"Face the Nation" Sunday
When Mr. Schieffer asked Mr. Lieberman whether the White House Office of Advance staff might be involved in the scandal, Mr. Lieberman that he had no indication of such involvement but suggested thatthe office “ought to be launching their own internal review of all white house personnel, advance teams and the rest, who were in Cartagena."
It’s better in these matters not to be blindsided by the unknown.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
Some bills offered by politicians in campaign modes are difficult to pass but worth supporting as campaign puffers. They look good, in other words, on a campaign resume: “Democratic contender for the U.S. Senate Leon Trotsky, a proletarian himself whose grandmother worked her fingers to the bone in a soul grinding mill – for slave wages, we may add -- has always favored periotic increases in the minimum wage, while Republicans, mostly grasping yacht owners, have always fancied keeping the poor on the edge of poverty.”
A bill that favors one or another preferred special interest and yet fails to pass in the legislature is not a failure -- provided it may afterwards be molded into campaign bullets and shot at political opponents. And failed bills that entail disastrous consequences are problem free when they fail, because failure decouples crippling consequences from legislation.
There are sound reasons for believing that minimum wage bills hurt the poor and affect large scale business operations not at all.
Too-big-to-fail businesses in Connecticut, some of which have already benefited through Governor Dannel Malloy’s “First Five” program, already pay salaries in excess of the minimum wage proposed this year by Speaker of the House Chris Donovan. Mr. Donovan’s bill, which raises the minimum wage in Connecticut by $1.50 over two years, will only affect companies that pay their employees a minimum wage. In some cases, the wage mandate will force employers who cannot meet the demands imposed on them by Mr. Donovan to resort to unwanted measures. Unable to afford the artificial increase in the price of labor, some employers will either increase prices to recover a loss in profit margins necessary to sustain their business, or reduce the net cost labor by letting some employees go, depending upon those who have not been laid off to take up the slack. Business hours may be cut back; expansion plans may be curtailed; profits that might have been used as seed corn for future growth will be diverted to other ends; some owners of companies may decide to pack it in and more out of state; others may hobble with a broken foot into the future until such time as they are bought out by large chain stores that can afford to pay government mandated salary increases. These are some of the consequences, none of them propitious, that might be aborted were Mr. Donovan’s bill to fail in the General Assembly.
When the Speaker of the Senate Don Williams was asked by a reporter whether Mr. Donovan’s signature bill raising the minimum wage might pass in his chamber, Mr. Williams sniffed that he had polled his caucus and the members “have a lot of questions." Even some House Democrats were cool to Mr. Donovan’s bill, as was Mr. Malloy. The Democratic dominated General Assembly had just passed a first in the nation law mandating that businesses in the state offer paid sick leave to their employees, a bill that will not affect the bottom line of large in-state businesses that already offer paid sick leave. Would Mr. Donovan’s new bill be the straw that breaks the back of business that in the past have hired new workers, helpfully placing their feet on the bottom rungs of a ladder of success the General Assembly likely would remove though Mr. Donovan’s bill?
Confronted with recent news that faltering income tax revenues have punched a $142 million dollar hole in Governor Dannel Malloy’sbudget, General Assembly Democrats may be indisposed to pass Mr. Donovan’s small business punishing bill.
Mr. Donovan, however, was of good cheer. The Speaker’s comic Panglossian optimism in the face of a lingering national recession -- the most severe, many Democrats stress, since the Great Depression – has not often been restrained by the sharp pricks of reality.
“It's always been a good bill to run on at election time,” said the ebullient 5th District Democratic contender for the U.S. House. “That makes it good timing. And for the people who would benefit from the minimum wage, it's good timing for them, too," sort of a win, win bill that would, merely as an unintended benefit, help Mr. Donovan to win a coveted seat in the U.S. Congress.
Even if the Donovan bill fails, the effort will show well on his campaign resume.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
The New Left, both in Europe and the United States, is the old left reanimated by an economic downturn.
In France, former Trotskyite Jean-Luc Mélenchon is being pushed forward politically by a favorable communist wind at his back. It is said that M. Mélenchon’s public rallies rival those of President Nicolas Sarkozy in size and intensity.
The Financial Times reports:
“His policies, including rescinding the new EU fiscal discipline treaty, raising the minimum wage from €1,200 to €1,700 a month and confiscating all income above €360,000 a year, go far beyond even [France’s chief socialist] Mr. Hollande’s proposal to tax income above €1m at 75 percent.”
M. Mélenchon’s poll numbers have surged from 5 percent two months ago to a high of 17 per cent in more recent days, a reaction in conformity with Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion: To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.
M. Mélenchon’s recent popularity is undoubtedly a reaction to austerity measures adopted in Europe that, some suppose, will reverse a crippling economic downslide. The painful austerity measures – now imposed in stricken parts of Europe by economic and autocratic technocrats – are themselves a predictable reaction to unsustainable increases in the cost of labor.
The communist-socialist-union led opposition to austerity measures designed to reverse the European downslide should be viewed as a reaction to a reaction. Newton’s Third Law of Motion may be applied repetitively to every action-reaction sequence.
The same economic forces roiling Europe – extreme debt, unsustainable social programs, timid governments committed to preserving an enfeebling status quo, a radical disproportion between tax consumption and supply -- are blowing hot and cold here in the United States. The United States is not yet Greece or Spain or Italy, democratic governments captured by special interests in the grip of a seeming unending recession, now replaced by autocratic technicians who soon find themselves in disfavor. Austerity measures imposed by technocrats are both painful AND anti-democratic.
Much of Europe today resembles a pre-World War II theater in which Western countries nervously awaited the arrival of its various world altering saviors, a steam pot that brought forward Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy and Stalin in the Soviet Union. Europe is haunted today by its discredited specters. Communism has been exorcised, but its first cousin, fascism, still prowls the world, growling in China, where enterprise is brought under the domination of the state, waving cheerily in quasi-monarchist Muslim saturated Middle Eastern countries. Here at home in the United States, command economies are being carefully nurtured in left of center hot beds, and constitutional restraints upon the withering grasp of state and national governments are regarded as quaint and passé.
Passé also is a Christian infused moral consensus that has completely collapsed. One hears the moral house falling in any rap song chosen at random that entices young people to kill policemen or mutilate women; in prestigious universities that have exchanged research and study for left of center political indoctrination; in a Byzantine justice system that no longer believes in the efficacy of punishment and cannot, in some cases, even convict criminals who are clearly guilty; in racial tensions artificially induced by Elmer Gantry like ministers of the word; in the popularization of violence promoted by a morally adrift “entertainment” industry; in the rise of illegitimate births; in immodest displays of sexuality; in a suicidal birth rate that, in most of Europe, falls far short or the rate necessary to simply replace a dying and decadent civilization.
Economic disorder and end of the century moral dissolution marches hand in hand with the rise of a resurgent Islam in North Africa. The United States is exhausted – and, perhaps more importantly, disheartened – by a twenty year war in the Middle East in the course of which the country first rented out its armed services to overthrow a petty dictator and since has winked at the bloody machinations of Bashir Assad in Syria and the preposterous declarations of theocratic thugs in Iran.
The Los Angeles Times reports that a unified Western opposition to Mr. Assad is prepared to sanction Mrs. Assad by preventing her from traveling in Europe and “halting her reported spending sprees for expensive French chandeliers and candlesticks.” And just in time too. One wonders how rough-rider Teddy Roosevelt, President Barack Obama’s most recent progressive presidential hero, might have handled Assad or Iran’s development of nuclear weapons or the boy wonder of North Korea.All this social and economic roiling portends something -- but what, exactly, no one seems to know.
ADDENDUM TWO DAYS LATER
The Independent reports:
Supporters of the front-running Socialist candidate, François Hollande, could scarcely contain their euphoria when they gathered in Lille for their last big rally on Tuesday night before French electors go to the polls on Sunday. They interrupted the candidate's speech endlessly with chants of "François president, François president".
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Just because President Barrack Obama wants to skin the millionaires, this does not mean that he counts no millionaires among his campaign contributors.
The same fat cat one per centers upon whom Mr. Obama is prepared to shower crony capitalist bucks will undoubtedly contribute lavishly to national Democratic campaigns. And even those who are not so favored will be happy to throw a few hundred thousand into the collection basket as a down payment on Mr. Obama’s elephant ears.
Over the years, the purchasing power of the dollar has declined precipitously, the result of inflation brought on by the unwillingness of presidents and congresses to pay down the national debt with tax increases and spending cuts. For this reason, it takes more worthless greenback to buy ear time and a place at the table.
A million bucks ain’t what it used to be.
Even if all the millionaires in the United States were by some swish of the magic wand to become as greedy, selfish and slothful as Mr. Obama and Connecticut’s Democratic congressional delegation imagine them to be, rivers of campaign contributions from the one percenters would continue to flow into Democratic coffers. Even if Mr. Obama and the three Democratic millionaires in Connecticut’s congressional delegation – U.S. Representatives Rosa DeLauro, among the ten richest legislators in the U.S. House; U.S. Representative Jim Himes, who made his big bucks on Wall Street working for a firm that profited mightily from the sub-prime mortgage collapse; and Senator Richard Blumenthal, who married well – were to invite millionaires to the next Jefferson, Jackson, Bailey fete and cannibalize their assets, campaign funds still would swell the feeder streams that lead to Democratic victories Washington D.C.
Connecticut, as everyone knows, has an abundance of millionaires. Mr. Obama intends to make the eating of millionaires a central part of his political strategy through the eponymous “Buffet Rule,” so named after Warren Buffett, whose secretary is said to have paid more in taxes than the billionaire one percenter. The Buffet Rule, co-sponsored by Mr. Blumenthal, would impose a 30 percent tax rate on all income earned by Americans making more than $1 million a year. This Damoclean sword is not expected to fall upon the necks of the rich anytime soon. A lean and hungry Congress is thinking on it.
Mr. Obama this year escaped flogging as a millionaire because he has been too busy flogging millionaires to write one of his bestselling books, which in the past had pushed him over the edge. Embarrassingly, Mr. Obama’s secretary this year paid more in taxes than the president, according to figures supplied by ABC News.As a general rule, Americans brought up on the malisons of St. Luke upon the rich – “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation; woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger” – would be happy enough during our long and agonizing “Made in Washington and Wall Street” crony capitalist recession to see the rich hanging on hooks in Hell.
Demagogic politicians have strummed Luke’s chord for decades. Mr. Obama has been much in the habit of affirming the more recent malisons of President Teddy Roosevelt and his fifth cousin Franklin, both of whom were progressives, one an aspiring and the other a born to the purple millionaire.
“Eat the rich” is politically titillating both as a political platform and a bumper sticker. However, appropriating all the riches of Buffet and other one percenters in the United States would not make ascratch in the country’s National, State and Municipal obligations. When operative, the Buffet Rule is expected to bring in $47 billion to the U.S. Treasury, a drop in an ocean of debt.
Total national debt in dollar terms is expected to double between 2008 and 2015 and will grow to nearly 100% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a measure of the value of everything produced in the United States. Not included in this projection are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac obligations; obligations arising from direct investments made in response to the 2000 financial crisis until such time as there is a call on them, and payouts for Medicaid, Social Security and Medicare. Payouts to Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) over the next 75 years will significantly exceed tax revenues and consequently require funding from borrowing or other tax resources.The eat the rich demagoguery, to be sure, will draw public attention away from a suicidal spending death spiral, and that is its chief purpose. Winning public office is an irresistible consolation for the lean and hungry politician Shakespeare’s Cesar warns us to be wary of.
The members of Connecticut’s progressive congressional delegation, all Democrats, seem content to spout Mr. Obama’s party line in their own election campaigns, seemingly unaware that the bulk of revenue flowing into Connecticut’s coffers has been supplied by the very hedge fund managers they and the president so easily condemn.
Mr. Blumenthal, who seems to be having a difficult time transitioning from his previous position as Connecticut’s Attorney General to Congress, waxes enthusiastic over the Buffet Rule: “This legislation would ensure that people with the highest income -- including millionaires and billionaires -- pay their fair share of taxes. They should pay the same rates as hard-working, middle-class Americans. Unconscionably, current tax loopholes allow the wealthiest Americans who make most of their income from investments to pay a lower tax rate than middle-class families."
A Connecticut Post reporter notes in his story that the bill, “widely seen as a political device that will enable Democrats who vote for the measure to accuse Republicans who vote against it of coddling millionaires,” will be useful as a campaign instrument.Eat the rich and their taxable income disappears, at which point Main Street is left holding the tax bag. In the absence of spending cuts, it did not take long for the Woodrow Wilson 1913 income tax, a 1 to 7 percent progressive tax levied to reduce crippling tariffs, initially affecting only one percent of the population, to spread from those favored by Wall Street to those taxed on Main Street.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Connecticut’s House of Representatives voted on April 11 to abolish the death penalty prospectively, which is another way of saying that the General Assembly will not apply its morals and its legal prescriptions to the Connecticut 11, inmates presently awaiting punishment on Death Row.The abolition bill having passed both houses of the General Assembly, will be made operative upon Governor Dannel Malloy’s signature.
The prospective abolition bill is the single most cowardly piece of legislation passed in the last half century, and it gives the lie to every argument made in the General Assembly in favor of abolition.
But in the case of the 11 inmates awaiting execution, the bill approved by Mr. Sharkey visits upon them a reciprocal evil. And we would be no less safe, the pro-repeal forces in the General Assembly have repeatedly assured us, if the sentences of the Connecticut 11 had been commuted to life in prison retrospectively. Mr. Sharkey has yet to share with us the moral precept that justifies a penalty of death for 11 Death Row inmates who are to be executed AFTER the law authorizing execution has been abolished.
A death penalty abolition that leaves 11 Death Row inmates subject to execution by no means satisfies the prescriptions of the Paris conference.
In order to make abolition palatable for wavering politicians, the leaders of the Senate responsible for passing the bill, President Pro-tem Don Williams and Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, inserted into the legislation a provision that will retain Death Row for prisoners who in the future commit heinous crimes. Death has been abolished, but Death Row lives on. In time, prisoners who have been spared death, courtesy of the moral epigones in the General Assembly, will mingle in the same general space with others sentenced to death whose crimes will be no less heinous.
Here is House Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey fulminating, just prior to passage, that the death penalty has not eradicated evil:
"Despite having the death penalty in our society here in Connecticut for several hundred years ... it certainly hasn't eradicated evil from our society. If we as human beings created laws that reciprocate the evil that's perpetrated on society, are they really protecting us? ... Our laws more project our better selves."
Following abolition, national president of the NAACP Benjamin Jealous said, “This vote tonight ... allows Connecticut to break with a centuries-old tradition of executing people and rejoin the rest of the Western world, which has long since cut bait with the death penalty. It also moves our nation forward." But as long as the Connecticut 11are subject to the death penalty, it cannot be said that Connecticut has “moved forward.”
Meeting in Paris in February 2007, the forward looking 3rdWorld Congress Against The Death Penalty pointedly noted that abolition was not nearly enough to satisfy the demands of justice: “We recognize that the process of abolition must be accompanied by a better consideration of the needs of victims and by an in-depth reflection on penal policy and prison systems, in the framework of an equitable and restorative justice… We demand with one voice the end throughout the world of justice that kills. No authority has the right to strike out a person’s life. We recall that the death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, that it is contrary to human rights, that it has no utility in the fight against crime, and that it always represents a failure of justice.”
Every argument made in the General Assembly in support of prospective death penalty abolition, sufficient or not, applies as well to retrospective abolition. And every argument made by partisan Democrats in Connecticut in support of abolition would apply equally to the Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act of 2011, a bill co-sponsored by 15 Democratic Representatives. Democratic contenders for congress – most especially Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, who organized support for Connecticut’s death penalty abolition bill -- should be asked in the course of their debates whether they will support the Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act.
Following the vote in the House to abolish the Death penalty, Tom Hill (1320am, WATR Waterbury) interviewed state Rep. David Labriola on April 15.
Sunday, April 08, 2012
Lee Whitnum of Greenwich, running for the U.S. Senate seat that soon will be vacated by Joe Lieberman, is not likely ever to be mistaken for Mr. Lieberman.
In the course of a Democratic debate with other candidates vying for the seat, Ms. Whitnum told moderator Gerry Brooks of NBC Connecticut that she would have to amend her prepared closing statement just a bit, after which she tailspinned into language the normally quiescent Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo later would call inappropriate: “I believe she crossed the line of inappropriateness.”
Gesturing toward U.S. Representative Chris Murphy on her left, Ms. Whitnum said, “I'm dealing with [a] whore here, who sells his soul to AIPAC [American Israeli Public Affairs Committee], who will say anything for the job," and then turning to her right and indicating State Rep. William Tong, she fired yet another bazooka, slamming Mr. Tong as “ignorant.”
It does not take much to bait Ms. Whitnum on all things Israel. About mid-way through their debate, Ms. Whitnum argued that the costs of conflict [in the Middle East] had dramatically weakened the U.S. economy. The connection between America’s failing economy and the country’s traditional support of Israel was clear to anyone who had studied the issue, said Ms. Whitnum. And then, tiptoeing toward the shear precipice, she added that such was obvious unless “you stick your head in the sand like Congressman Murphy ... because he drinks the AIPAC Kool-Aid."
Mr. Murphy replied, “Israel needs friends today now more than ever. Should we stand for this kind of outlandish language about Jewish Americans who stand up for their homeland?"
Thus baited, Ms. Whitnum hastily redrafted her concluding statement.Cornered by the media at the end of the debate, Ms. Whitnum acknowledged that she had gone a bit too far but shrank from offering an apology to Mr. Murphy, a prisoner, one would suppose from Ms. Whitnum’s description, of both AIPAC and neo-conservative propaganda. Mr. Murphy is featured in some pro-Murphy campaign literature as a progressive, and progressives are, almost by definition, not neo-conservative fellow travelers.
AIPAC describes itself as “a 100,000-member grassroots movement of activists committed to ensuring Israel’s security and protecting American interests in the Middle East and around the world.” AIPAC, to be sure, is not everyone’s cup of tea, but lobbying groups have not yet been outlawed in the United States. The American Friends of the Middle East and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, both of which are perfectly capable of plying their wares in the U.S. Congress, are considered by some as anti-Israeli lobbying groups. And, of course, Democratic politicians in the United States opposed to President George Bush’s intervention in Iraq are too numerous to mention. Ms. Whitum is little more than one head in the crowd.
Ms. Whitum’s threadbare debate manners did not advance her arguments a whit, and Mr. Murphy emerged from the verbal fisticuffs with his pro-Israeli halo undented. Not a bad showing, on the whole, for Israel, Mr. Murphy, AIPAC and neo-conservatives, all of whom should remember Ms. Whitum in their prayers.
Lost amidst all the noise was Susan Bysiewicz progressive effect on Mr. Murphy, who has decided that American troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan post haste, a shift in position characterized by Ms. Bysiewicz, according to a report in the Journal Inquirer as a move made by Mr. Murphy to bring himself more in line with progressive voters. The repositioning, said a Bysiewicz spokesman, also brings Mr. Murphy closer to Ms. Bysiewicz, who apparently did not mind the cuddling.
Borrowing a page from the playbook of President Barack Obama, Ms. Bysiewicz has focused on hedge fund managers as the latest threat to the Republic. Fairfield Connecticut’s Gold Coast is paved with golden heggie bricks, and Ms. Bysiewicz intends to mine some of these untapped riches as soon as she alights in Washington D.C. Like Connecticut, the national pocket book is tapped out. Someone has to man-up and pay for the nation’s spending spree, which unsurprisingly has resulted in liabilities. By 2015, the national debt will hit $24.5 trillion; unfunded liabilities are estimated at $144 trillion, roughly $1.2 million per taxpayer.
One of the questions not generally asked of Democratic contenders in Connecticut who hope to replace Mr. Lieberman in Washington is: By how much do you plan to reduce spending once your ambitions are crowned with success? Soliciting from opposing camps questions that might be put to primary debaters certainly would make for a more interesting multi-lateral conversation.
Saturday, April 07, 2012
Q: The death penalty was abolished by the Senate on April 5. It’s a virtual certainty that the House also will approve the Democrat inspired bill. Do you feel safer?A: Can’t say. Part of the abolition bluster was that the death penalty did not prevent murders, always a questionable assumption.
Q: “Bluster?” What ever can you mean?
A: It was never a serious proposition, just a useful piece of propaganda.
Q: But the polls!
A: Think of what is meant when it is said that a punishment deters crime. How do you collect reliable data showing that the death penalty – or, indeed, any punishment – deters an action? Reliable data retrieval showing that the death penalty has deterred Mr. Smith from murdering Mrs. Smith cannot be collected from Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith is invisible. And if he’s smart, he will choose to remain invisible. The pollster can’t find him. Mr. Smith is not likely to step out of the shadows and volunteer that he was contemplating the murder of his wife. The police still toss you into jail for attempted murder. Polls showing that murder is deterred OR NOT DETERRED by capital punishment are so highly attenuated as to border on surmise, mere guesswork. We assume that punishment deters because when we were little boys and girls punished by our parents for some innocent crime, we chose to refrain from recidivism. Dostoyevsky wrote a whole novel about crime and punishment, concluding at the end of it that a sense of honor, religious prescriptions and the tug of conscience very well might lead to confession and redemption. But crime prevention? In the absence of the virtues that may quicken the conscience and lead to genuine redemption, a policeman under every bed in the United States could not deter crime. Like the poor, crime will always be with us. The only question open for discussion is: What do you do with the criminal?
Q: You are not saying, are you, that punishment CANNOT deter crime?
A: That’s right. I am merely saying that deterrence cannot be accurately measured.
Q: The Democrats who approved abolition placed in their bill a provision that would retain Death Row for inmates who had been found guilty of heinous crimes; the death penalty was eliminated, but not Death Row. Why?
A: That is a good question. There are a number of possibilities. Politically, it was a shrewd thing to do. We do not know whether Mr. Williams’ intention was punitive, but it seems so. In a post-repeal interview, Mr. Williams confessed that his ploy was primarily political. Following a visit to Death Row, Mr. Williams returned to meet with abolition legislators at the capitol. On April 9, a couple of days after the vote, CTMirror reporter Mark Pazniokas wrote “ Williams and Looney concluded that repeal was possible only if those sentenced to the new crime of murder with special circumstances faced conditions closer to death row than MacDougall.”
The Democrats could hardly argue that the new punishment tier they had established, “crime with special circumstances,” would deter murder, having argued that the death penalty itself was not a deterrent. Probably it was offered as political bait to draw in legislators fearful that a vote for abolition might be interpreted by voters in the upcoming election as indicating they were “soft on crime.” And, of course, the measure retains the union infused punishment apparatus. Democrats are big on unionization. One has the impression that any proposal made by any Democrat to save money through de-unionization might earn them a ticket to Death Row. Chris Powell, the managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer and its primary columnist, raised some questions about the new punishment tier, but he was the only one.
Q: One of the other points raised against the death penalty by Senate President Don Williams prior to the vote to abolish was that it had been randomly applied: Not everyone who committed murder in Connecticut has been sentenced to death.
A: And a good thing too. In practice, Connecticut’s death penalty punishment was applied ONLY if certain circumstances had been met. Not every murderer qualified. You had to work really hard to merit the death penalty. It is no argument in favor of the abolition of a punishment – say, ticketing for speeding – to say that not everyone who commits the offense is punished. This is an infantile objection: “Mommy, he did it too. How come only I got sent to bed?” Should we abolish ticketing for excessive speed on the highways because – just to fetch for a figure – 98 percent of speeders are not ticketed and of those ticketed 99 percent are not brought to trial? Grow up!
Q: Personally, I would be in favor of abolishing the practice of ticketing for any reason, however specious.
A: Of course you would. I’ve driven with you.
Q: Another argument was that the penalty once applied was irreversible.
A: People who said that the death penalty could be applied in error had to travel outside the confines of Connecticut to find such instances. Or they presented their objection as a theoretical proposition. No one awaiting death on Connecticut’s death row has been mistakenly led there by judicial error.
Q: But the appeals!
A: A means of postponing punishment, a judicial means of jury nullification.
Q: And the money spent!
A: Legal assistance is expensive, most especially when it is supplied “for free” by the state. The economic argument for abolition is possibly the least convincing. If you want a Cadillac justice system, you have to pay Cadillac prices. Towards the end of the debate in the Senate, a provision was introduced in the bill designed expressly to turn some “moderate” legislators towards abolition. The state would create a special process for convicted murderers it no longer could execute. They would be treated in the same manner as death row inmates. The death penalty would be abolished, but death row – very expensive – would remain for murderers who, under the abolished law, were separated and treated differently than, say, prisoners who were jailed because they had too often been randomly arrested for speeding. Given an opportunity to abolish a dollar swallowing death row along with the death penalty, precisely those senators who had argued that the death penalty process was too expensive to maintain chose to retain death row. No one laughed. How expensive might it be to retain Joshua Komisarjevsky in prison for life in a death row like environment? He is a very young man and, of course, all the arguments utilized to abolish the death penalty minus one (irreversibility in case of error) may also be used to argue for the abolition of life in prison. No doubt, tax supported defense attorneys will be permitted to make just such very expensive arguments through the state’s sometimes redundant appeal system. The abolition bill does not and cannot prevent pointless appeals. These are measurable costs. Why have they not been measured? Why has no conscience stricken, economic minded opponent of the death penalty turned his rhetorical fire on a life in prison sentence that will be prohibitively expensive?
A: Because dollars spent on the judicial system – the bulk of which find their way into the salaries of judges, lawyers, some of them legislators, and prison officials -- is a straw man issue, wholly irrelevant. If legislators were concerned about expense, they would have abolished death row.
Q: Well, you don’t have to get so huffy.
Friday, April 06, 2012
Chris Powell is the managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester and writes a regular column for the paper. In the course of our conversation on poverty and social disintegration, Powell made reference to a column by Mona Charen that fairly summed up his general feelings.
Charen's column details some complacency-shattering statistics: “The illegitimacy rate among all Americans has been rising for decades. In 2012, we reached a grim milestone: The majority of births to women under the age of 30 are now outside of marriage. Among blacks, 72 percent of births are to unmarried women. And while some unmarried mothers go on to marry the fathers of their babies, it's rare in the African-American community, where only 31 percent of couples are married. (In 1960, it was 61 percent).”
Pesci: What you call “social disintegration” and others on the left call “poverty” is particularly insidious in cities. My own feeling, though you may disagree, is that even liberals tend to shy away from such terms as “social disintegration,” perhaps because preferred terms such as “poverty” suggest easier solutions to painful problems. And, of course, Republican politicians, especially here in Connecticut, have been frightened away from even casual references to social disintegration. One rarely hears it mentioned. The poverty problem is solved when money retrieved from socially unconscious malefactors of great wealth is transferred by means of a political distribution system to the poor. Social disintegration is a harder nut to crack. Here is Powell writing on a proposal to cap Connecticut’s gross receipts tax:
“Just two days before it complained about cheap gas and sprawl, the Courant reported the arrest of three Hartford Public High School students for raping a 15-year-old girl at the school during school hours. The much-lamented ‘achievement gap’ between city and suburban schools has nothing to do with schools and everything to do with such social disintegration.
“If Connecticut's cities were ever habitable for those aspiring to the middle class and seeking safe and sound upbringings for their children, people would jump at the chance to live there and to save on gas. But as long as the cities are the centers of social disintegration, people will pay almost any gas price to live somewhere else.”
For you, social disintegration is a bridge issue that touches most if not all urban pathologies AND most if not all legislative proposals. Tell us what you mean by social disintegration.
Powell: I mean breakdown in the basic social norms of decent behavior --boys and young men behaving like predators and girls and young women behaving like prey because of lack of parenting; adults unable to support themselves because they have not obtained any education and not learned any marketable skills; a lack of participation in community life so whole jurisdictions become unmanageable except by police, who immediately come to be considered outsiders, or by gangsters. I think most of this comes about because government coddles and subsidizes childbearing outside marriage, in the mistaken belief that doing so is less expensive than taking custody of the neglected children. The mistake is a matter of faulty accounting. Insofar as fewer government employees have to be involved in direct, face-to- face care, it may seem cheaper to leave a newborn in the care of an unmarried, unemployed, unskilled woman who already has three children by three different fathers and who is getting no substantial support from any of them. But it's not cheaper if you count the broad social costs imposed by those neglected kids as they grow up, fatherlessness correlating overwhelming with every anti-social behavior. Demographics in Connecticut are almost entirely a matter of middle-class people and people aspiring to the middle class trying to get away from the slob culture of fatherlessness.
Q: This downward death spiral apparent in the cities, but also seen more frequently in suburbs as the victims of criminality move away from anarchic environments, has been analyzed to death. Your analysis is probably sharper than most. Let’s assume it’s right: Urban pathologies are related to fatherlessness and the breakdown of core cultural values. I think the values have broken down everywhere, but the consequences are more severe in cities – and more pathetic because the pathologies are passed along from children to children uncorrected by the wider society. Studies show that the presence of a father in the home, for instance, is directly related to intelligence in male children. We cannot say that people have been indifferent to the normal yearnings of young people for peace, security, good schools and mediating institutions that are the hallmarks of a sound and nurturing culture. The war on poverty has been fought for a long while, and nothing is more obvious than that the enemy has won. Healthy societies produce cultural antibodies to ward off social pathologies. Where are they? How does it happen that when we act to make things right, everything becomes worse? After years of fatherlessness in cities – many potential fathers are in prison or dead or ought never to have been fathers in the first place – how do we restore the missing cultural antibodies and change this path of generational destruction? What is right and what is wrong about the usual state agency response to cultural genocide?
A: I blame public policy for what is happening. People are usually dumb but they are seldom so stupid that they can't figure out their immediate financial position. Brandeis said government teaches the whole people by its example. Jack Kemp and others said that you get more of whatever you subsidize. Government today doesn't tell people that having children outside marriage is the most anti-social thing imaginable short of murder; government says it's OK and provides a host of subsidies for it -- a basic welfare stipend, housing vouchers, food stamps and WIC support, better medical insurance than most working married couples can get, day care, and such. It's not a luxurious life but in the chain of child neglect and abuse -- fatherless, uneducated, unskilled, unemployable children having children -- it can look pretty good. The War on Poverty ended up destroying the family, not poverty -- which doesn't discredit the objective of alleviating poverty. It just discredits the means chosen. (Unlike most supposed conservatives, I support what is derided as "Obamacare," insofar as it is the conservative national medical insurance system proposed by the Heritage Foundation as an alternative to "Hillarycare" back in 1993. Medical insurance for all -- and there are perfectly market-based mechanisms for achieving it -- will alleviate a lot of poverty.) But I think the biggest part of an anti-poverty program is simple: Grandfather everybody who was made stupid by government welfare policy and tell everyone else that, starting nine months hence, everything changes -- no more subsidies for people who, outside marriage, have children they can't support. The orphanages and group homes would have to be ready but I suspect that the word would get around quickly and behavior would change. I think that for the most part parents and strong families are the missing antibodies you're looking for.
Q: Poverty may contribute to social disintegration. The old bromides are true here. The best welfare program is a job; to which one might add, the best social service department is a family, and the best police department is a father. Over time, as fathers, families, and jobs have disappeared, state proxies – police now posted in schools, social service workers, and welfare bureaucracies -- have replaced these civilizing and mediating institutions. As a result, we now find ourselves bumping up against a political problem. The social configuration has changed for the worst, yet everyone is invested in the new culture, however deficient. Another way of saying this is that politicians, always a timid bunch, dare not follow your prescriptions – cap subsidies and welfare payments and prepare nurturing safe havens for children exposed to violence – because it would not be politically expedient to do so. We are witnessing the opposite of a Babylonian captivity, people rushing from normative institutions into the jaws of artificial and insufficient replacement proxies, running from freedom into a new slavery, all with the blessing of those who should be leading the captives out of Babylon to a land flowing with milk and honey. My question now is: What is the instrument of change to be? How do we get to the Promised Land?
A: Yes, exactly -- the government is now about half the economy, and given the lack of public-interest participation in civic life, the lack of participation by people employed in the private sector, even a government that constitutes a quarter of the economy is probably beyond control. In a column last year I asked and pretty much answered the question: “Is Connecticut past the tipping point?”:
What can turn it around? Probably only self-denial by the government class, which will never happen, or, over the very, very long term, the economic collapse that will result from more growth in government and the resulting departure of what's left of the private sector. As many political columnists on the right have noted, the government class is now a publicly financed, self-sustaining political machine beyond competition. Under the Democratic Party the government overcompensates the public employees and they kick back part of their overcompensation to the party and provide the campaign soldiers to keep the racket going. When half the population is either on the government payroll or has a close family member on the payroll or is getting substantial transfer payments, it's mathematically impossible for an independent public interest to assert itself politically. I keep at it only because my ability to make a living is not transferable, entirely a matter of my 50 or so years in journalism and public life in Connecticut, and, of course, for spite. I would hate for certain people to think that nobody was on to them. But it's not much consolation.
Thursday, April 05, 2012
The death penalty in Connecticut, after several previous attempts, was abolished today by the Senate in a 20-16 vote. The House is certain to pass the abolition bill, and Governor Dannel Malloy has pledged to sign it into law. Senator Edith Prague, who voted in favor of abolition before she voted against it, this time voted to abolish the death penalty prospectively. A prospective rather than a retrospective abolition of the death penalty, it is said by proponents of abolition, will leave untouched the death sentences of eleven inmates awaiting execution on death row,.
After an emotional meeting with Dr. William Petit, the sole survivor of a home invasion Cheshire in which two now convicted murderers took the lives of his wife and two daughters, Mrs. Prague famously said of one of the two murderers convicted and sentenced to death, “They should bypass the trial and take that second animal and hang him by his penis from a tree out in the middle of Main Street.”
But emotional responses, little more than convenient masks politicians sometimes put on to curry favor with voters, are evanescent. When the most recent bill abolishing the death penalty was presented to the general assembly, Mrs. Prague changed both her emotions and her vote.
The abolition of the death penalty raises the question of commutation for those awaiting punishment on death row. Unlike other states, commutations in Connecticut are parceled out by the legislature, not the governor. But it is always possible that an appellate court may strike down that provision in the abolition bill that preserves the death penalty for the 11 convicted murderers on Connecticut’s death row.
The possibility of commutation for the "Connecticut 11" was raised by Senator John McKinney prior to the vote in the General Assembly. Senator Prague allowed that discretion was decisive in judicial findings; for this reason, she said, it was essential that the abolition legislation must “make it very loud and very clear that this repeal cannot apply to anyone who is on death row.”
Mr. McKinney responded that even in the face of unambiguous language in the bill stipulating the abolition law is not intended to apply to inmates already sentenced to death, the courts would view the intent of congress clause as immaterial: “That’s a decision that will be decided in the courts. No one disputes that there will be a legal challenge brought by the public defender’s office and the weight of the legal experts is to say that a prospective death penalty won’t pass constitutional muster.”
The air in the small room, crowded with reporters during a media availability just prior to the Senate vote, was liberally sprinkled with the usual Democratic caucus propaganda. Reporters were addressed by the three vanguards of death penalty repeal – President of the Senate Don Williams, Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, Senator Eric Coleman, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, all three of them lawyers, and Correction Commissioner Leo Arnone. The irrepressible Mr. Coleman could not forbear mentioning that abolition was for him a matter of conscience, “even should it [the death penalty] be repealed prospectively,” leaving eleven prisoners facing death in the absence of a law mandating execution. The three were peppered with questions concerning the likelihood that appellate courts might void that portion of the bill that seeks to prevent abolition for the inmates facing execution.
Dr. Samuel Johnson, were he a member of the General Assembly, easily could explain why the abolition bill cherished by Democratic caucus leaders should have been applied retroactively.
Nulla poena sine lege – “Where there is no law, there is no transgression” – is a part of the Natural Law that informs all laws. When Mr. Johnson was reporting on debates in the House of Commons, he offered this gloss on the doctrine: “That where there is no law there is no transgression, is a maxim not only established by universal consent, but in itself evident and undeniable; and it is, Sir, surely no less certain that where there is no transgression, there can be no punishment.”
Any sound legal defense of prospective capital punishment collapsed upon repeal of the death penalty sanction: Where there is no law, there can be no transgression; where there is no transgression, there can be no punishment. That is the rule of law not simply in Connecticut; it is a part of the natural law written with a finger of fire in the hearts of just men, not excepting judges, though some are prone to political pressure adeptly applied by ambitious politicians.
Death penalty opponents have been in the habit of referring falsely to a just death penalty as “judicial murder.” Having voided the death penalty, what possible moral reason can be advanced to justify what should rightly be regarded as murder, plain and simple? No possible justification can be advanced that does not do violence both to the law and the moral sense of just men and women. The death penalty abolition bill as proposed – with its prospective feature – is political Babbitry of the worst kind, a fainthearted retreat from legislative responsibility. The Democratic General Assembly, having messed its pants with this ill proposed bill, will now expect the courts to wash its diapers and apply through judicial edict the retroactive feature it was too politically cowardly to attach to it.
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