Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 6, 2014

Insights on Peace From Avigdor Lieberman?

Since he returned to his post as Israel’s foreign minister after a break to fend off failed attempts to prosecute him on corruption charges, Avigdor Lieberman has been treated with the same disdain by the international media and many of Israel’s foreign friends as he got before he was finally acquitted after a decade-long prosecution. Even in Israel’s roughhouse political scene, Lieberman is the proverbial bull in a china shop. The general assumption is that Lieberman, who does not speak fluent English and has a tough-guy political fixer image dating back to his origins in the former Soviet Union, can’t be trusted to deal with nuanced issues. Prime Minister Netanyahu stripped him of any responsibility for relations with the United States as well as the peace process with the Palestinians since he first assumed this crucial Cabinet post. But though Lieberman’s significance has more to do with domestic Israeli politics, occasionally he utters statements that show us he has a better grasp of the situation than the wise guys who often put him down as being out of his depth.

That happened yesterday when Lieberman addressed a conference of Israeli diplomats in Jerusalem and said something that you wouldn’t have expected from someone associated (at least in the view of many of his country’s critics) with something quite so sensible. As Barak Ravid wrote in Haaretz:

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday that Israel must accept U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposal for a framework agreement with the Palestinians since “any other proposal from the international community won’t be as good.”

Though that is not what much of the Israeli right—with whose views he is usually associated and for whose votes he will be seeking in the next election when his Yisrael Beitenu Party competes against Netanyahu’s Likud rather than running as its partner as it did in the last two Knesset elections—wants to hear, Lieberman is correct. This does not mean, however, that he is drifting to the left. The minister also noted that although he supports Kerry’s efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace, he and his party will never support an agreement that does not involve an Israeli surrender of territory inside the 1967 lines where Arabs predominate, a position that has been called racist by his opponents. But rather than dismissing this as a poison pill that will, like the Palestinian claim to the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees, ensure that peace will never be achieved, Lieberman’s critics should listen closely to what he says.

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Since he returned to his post as Israel’s foreign minister after a break to fend off failed attempts to prosecute him on corruption charges, Avigdor Lieberman has been treated with the same disdain by the international media and many of Israel’s foreign friends as he got before he was finally acquitted after a decade-long prosecution. Even in Israel’s roughhouse political scene, Lieberman is the proverbial bull in a china shop. The general assumption is that Lieberman, who does not speak fluent English and has a tough-guy political fixer image dating back to his origins in the former Soviet Union, can’t be trusted to deal with nuanced issues. Prime Minister Netanyahu stripped him of any responsibility for relations with the United States as well as the peace process with the Palestinians since he first assumed this crucial Cabinet post. But though Lieberman’s significance has more to do with domestic Israeli politics, occasionally he utters statements that show us he has a better grasp of the situation than the wise guys who often put him down as being out of his depth.

That happened yesterday when Lieberman addressed a conference of Israeli diplomats in Jerusalem and said something that you wouldn’t have expected from someone associated (at least in the view of many of his country’s critics) with something quite so sensible. As Barak Ravid wrote in Haaretz:

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday that Israel must accept U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposal for a framework agreement with the Palestinians since “any other proposal from the international community won’t be as good.”

Though that is not what much of the Israeli right—with whose views he is usually associated and for whose votes he will be seeking in the next election when his Yisrael Beitenu Party competes against Netanyahu’s Likud rather than running as its partner as it did in the last two Knesset elections—wants to hear, Lieberman is correct. This does not mean, however, that he is drifting to the left. The minister also noted that although he supports Kerry’s efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace, he and his party will never support an agreement that does not involve an Israeli surrender of territory inside the 1967 lines where Arabs predominate, a position that has been called racist by his opponents. But rather than dismissing this as a poison pill that will, like the Palestinian claim to the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees, ensure that peace will never be achieved, Lieberman’s critics should listen closely to what he says.

Lieberman has repeatedly dismissed the Palestinian Authority and its leadership as not being a peace partner, yet he praised the secretary of state for his work in trying to get them to recognize Israel as a Jewish state—a formulation that is synonymous with accepting the end of the conflict. Kerry’s pursuit of an agreement is a mistake at this point because of the division between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza. It’s also foolish to think that any group of Palestinian leaders can sell their people on genuine peace on any terms in the absence of a sea change in opinion that will enable them to let go of an existential conflict that is integral to their identity as a people. Nor should Israelis regard the Obama administration’s clear tilt toward the Palestinians on the issues of territory and Jerusalem with complacency.

Peace process enthusiasts who prefer to ignore the truth about the Palestinians consider such views intemperate. Yet Lieberman is correct when he notes that Kerry’s acceptance of Israel’s demand that the PA accept Israel as a Jewish state—something that its leader Mahmoud Abbas has sworn he will never do—is a victory of sorts. That is something Israel cannot expect to hear, as Lieberman notes, from anyone else in the international community.

Yet it is likely that Lieberman’s resurrection of his party’s proposal for trading the “triangle” of Arab towns adjacent to the “green line” in Israel’s central region will cause his usual detractors to dismiss him as someone seeking to sabotage chances for peace. But while it is difficult to imagine this ever happening, it is possible that this seemingly radical idea may not be as unreasonable as some think.

After all, if it is a given that peace requires some Israelis to be turned out of their homes in communities in the West Bank and that other such settlements in blocs close to the pre-1967 lines should be incorporated into the Jewish state in exchange for other Israeli territory, why should that swap involve areas where people who now call themselves Palestinians rather than “Israeli Arabs” predominate?

There are two reasons that explain why the Palestinians refuse even to consider, must less to discuss this proposal.

One is that their notion of swaps—a concept specifically endorsed by President Obama—is so minimal as to be insignificant. Even if one assumes that the PA is serious about wanting peace—something that its ongoing policy of honoring terrorists who have murdered Israeli civilians and fomenting hatred against Israel and Jews renders not credible—it has shown little willingness to accept a map based more on demographic reality than a rigid insistence on the 1967 lines.

The other is that their goal is not to have two states for two peoples—the concept that Obama, Kerry, and the Israelis have discussed—but a Jew-free Palestinian Arab state on one side of the border and a mixed Jewish-Arab nation on the other whose balance would be altered by an influx of millions of Arabs, vastly overwhelming the Jewish majority and, in the bargain, expunging the explicitly Jewish state the United Nations voted to establish in 1947. While some Israelis have spoken of accepting a token number of these so-called refugees, Lieberman is right to refuse a single one, a stance justified by the international community’s unwillingness to recognize the fact that an equal number of Jewish refugees from the Arab and Muslim world lost their homes after 1948.

Of course, it is understandable that the Arab citizens of the triangle would prefer to stay inside Israel where, despite their complaints and alienation from the Jewish state, they enjoy its democracy and equal rights that no Palestinian enjoys under the rule of either Fatah or Hamas. But the very fact that Arabs would prefer to live in a majority Jewish state than to be incorporated into the putative Palestinian one tells us a lot about what kind of country that would be.

No one should expect Netanyahu, let alone Kerry, to start listening to Lieberman. But rather than dismissing him, perhaps the secretary should be listening closely to the foreign minister’s insights. Until he can convince the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and negotiate a deal that would truly be a solution of two states for two peoples, Kerry’s peace efforts will remain a fool’s errand.

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GOP Incumbent Losses Will Hurt Too

For most of the past year, much of the prevailing narrative about the 2014 midterm elections has focused on the flood of Democratic retirements in the Senate that have made retaining control of the upper body an increasingly difficult task. While a certain amount of turnover is usual, the retirement of longtime Democratic incumbents in red states like West Virginia, Montana, and South Dakota, as well as vacancies in potential swing states such as Michigan and Iowa have raised the stakes in the competition for the Senate this year. This is all the more crucial since the Democrats are defending far more seats in November, thus raising the prospect of the Senate flipping to the GOP. But anyone who assumes a Republican majority is guaranteed forgets that there were similar opportunities for the GOP to regain the Senate in 2010 and 2012 that were derailed by poor candidates as well as President Obama’s coattails, at least in the latter contest.

Assumptions that the Republicans will hold onto their House majority seem a lot safer. But even there, the loss of incumbents could hurt. While most of the seats that are being vacated in the lower body—whether by retirement or by the member seeking election to the Senate or other offices—are probably safe bets not to change hands, some of those leaving Congress may put their seats in play. The latest example comes from a Republican who was in no danger of losing in November: Pennsylvania’s Jim Gerlach. While Gerlach’s departure that was announced today may not be the difference between a Speaker Boehner or a Speaker Pelosi a year from today, Republicans need to understand that his retirement, like that of fellow Republicans such as New Jersey’s Jon Runyan and Virginia’s Frank Wolf, are individual decisions that could prove crucial if 2014 proves not to be as friendly to the party out of power as is traditionally the case.

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For most of the past year, much of the prevailing narrative about the 2014 midterm elections has focused on the flood of Democratic retirements in the Senate that have made retaining control of the upper body an increasingly difficult task. While a certain amount of turnover is usual, the retirement of longtime Democratic incumbents in red states like West Virginia, Montana, and South Dakota, as well as vacancies in potential swing states such as Michigan and Iowa have raised the stakes in the competition for the Senate this year. This is all the more crucial since the Democrats are defending far more seats in November, thus raising the prospect of the Senate flipping to the GOP. But anyone who assumes a Republican majority is guaranteed forgets that there were similar opportunities for the GOP to regain the Senate in 2010 and 2012 that were derailed by poor candidates as well as President Obama’s coattails, at least in the latter contest.

Assumptions that the Republicans will hold onto their House majority seem a lot safer. But even there, the loss of incumbents could hurt. While most of the seats that are being vacated in the lower body—whether by retirement or by the member seeking election to the Senate or other offices—are probably safe bets not to change hands, some of those leaving Congress may put their seats in play. The latest example comes from a Republican who was in no danger of losing in November: Pennsylvania’s Jim Gerlach. While Gerlach’s departure that was announced today may not be the difference between a Speaker Boehner or a Speaker Pelosi a year from today, Republicans need to understand that his retirement, like that of fellow Republicans such as New Jersey’s Jon Runyan and Virginia’s Frank Wolf, are individual decisions that could prove crucial if 2014 proves not to be as friendly to the party out of power as is traditionally the case.

Gerlach’s seat in the Philadelphia suburbs was a key battleground in the last decade as Democrats devoted considerable resources to ousting him. But after the redrawing of district lines by Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature trimmed majority-Democrat towns from his 6th district, Gerlach won in 2012 with better than 57 percent of the vote, his largest majority in six victories. In that same election, Mitt Romney took the sixth with 51 percent of the vote that should, at least in theory, make it a safe red district. But the trend that Republicans have been fighting in the suburbs and exurbs of many major cities is one that runs against the GOP. Though they were once traditional strongholds of Republicans, districts like the sixth have now become battlegrounds.

That shift is partly the result of these formerly heavily white regions becoming more demographically diverse. But it also testifies to the manner in which Democrats have made gains in some swing groups, especially middle-class white women, who have been influenced by liberal rhetoric about the so-called Republican war on women.

His party will miss Gerlach—who was often considered a vulnerable Republican marked for extinction by Democrats—since his retirement moves the district from the safe Republican column to being a swing district. Though the GOP has a marginal edge in registration, the weakness of the top of the Republican ticket in Pennsylvania this year, as Governor Tom Corbett seems to have little chance of reelection, could substantially alter the odds. Mere party affiliation will not hold the sixth for the GOP. The party that nominates the best candidate there will win, regardless of Gerlach’s past success.

The point here is not that this will be the thin edge of a Democratic wedge, but that it, and other potential losses of incumbents, reduces the GOP’s margin of error. Putting together majorities in either the House or the Senate requires a mix of luck, good candidate recruitment, and fundraising. Though Democrats don’t appear likely to win back the House—or at least less so than the GOP is to take the Senate—Gerlach’s departure is bad news for a party that needs its incumbents to stay put every bit as much as their rivals need theirs to remain in office.

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Peter King’s Misguided Attack on Rand Paul

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s strengths as a prospective presidential candidate are generally well known, but there’s one that probably doesn’t get enough attention: he tends to get in his opponents’ heads all too easily. There was his filibuster over drones, which drew the accusation from John McCain that Paul was one of the party’s “wacko birds,” even when many who wouldn’t instinctively agree with Paul on the issue expressed admiration for his principled stand.

And there is his ongoing rivalry with Congressman Peter King, who is apparently contemplating challenging Paul for the GOP nomination in 2016. Paul’s criticism just before Christmas of National Intelligence Director James Clapper–who quite clearly misled Congress to avoid divulging classified information at a hearing–put King right out of the holiday spirit. “It’s an absolute disgrace,” King said of Paul. “He disgraced his office and he owes General Clapper an apology immediately.”

With all the revelations about the NSA data collection, it was unlikely to be the last installment of the King-Paul spats on the subject. And sure enough, King raised the ante yesterday on Fox:

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Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s strengths as a prospective presidential candidate are generally well known, but there’s one that probably doesn’t get enough attention: he tends to get in his opponents’ heads all too easily. There was his filibuster over drones, which drew the accusation from John McCain that Paul was one of the party’s “wacko birds,” even when many who wouldn’t instinctively agree with Paul on the issue expressed admiration for his principled stand.

And there is his ongoing rivalry with Congressman Peter King, who is apparently contemplating challenging Paul for the GOP nomination in 2016. Paul’s criticism just before Christmas of National Intelligence Director James Clapper–who quite clearly misled Congress to avoid divulging classified information at a hearing–put King right out of the holiday spirit. “It’s an absolute disgrace,” King said of Paul. “He disgraced his office and he owes General Clapper an apology immediately.”

With all the revelations about the NSA data collection, it was unlikely to be the last installment of the King-Paul spats on the subject. And sure enough, King raised the ante yesterday on Fox:

“Rand Paul does not know what he’s talking about,” King said after being asked to respond to Paul’s comments about the NSA. “And, Rand Paul is really spreading fear among the American people.”

“He was also was comparing General [James] Clapper to [Edward] Snowden,” King continued. “To me, he’s either totally uninformed or he’s part of that hate America crowd that I thought left us in the 1960s.”

“In any event, he doesn’t deserve to be in the United States senate for spreading that type of misperception and absolute lies to be honest with you,” the congressman concluded.

“Hate America”; “absolute lies”; “doesn’t deserve to be” a senator–these are strong words. They are also a disservice to the cause King is advocating, which is ostensibly a safe, strong America. And further, they are unnecessary. Based on the foreign-policy-related remarks from the other possible 2016 candidates, Paul appears to be in the minority on policy grounds–if not on the NSA, which isn’t particularly popular right now, then on a more holistic approach to foreign affairs.

Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, and by all indications Mike Pence believe in a more robust American presence in the world and are more comfortable with the projection of U.S. power than Rand Paul. Yet perhaps that’s what is motivating King after all–a belief that he needs to separate himself from the pack.

But King risks setting himself apart from the pack in another way, and not one that puts him on the side of the majority. King’s comments, yesterday and in other settings, carry the tone of someone far less trusting of his fellow citizens than of the government’s vast bureaucracy. The truth is, each day brings stories of the harm the NSA leaks can do to U.S. national security as well as reasons to demand answers from the agency itself.

Today, for example, Robert Samuelson warns that the disclosures could greatly damage the public-private collaboration on cybersecurity that is so greatly needed right now: “This may be the Snowden affair’s most insidious (and overlooked) consequence.” Yet Lachlan Markay notes that according to an internal report, the NSA was warned about possible Snowdens way back in 1996, prompting Gary Schmitt to comment that while Snowden betrayed his country, he “had (unwitting) accomplices who either ignored implementing existing security measures or failed to establish the most obvious and rudimentary security plans for contractors.”

Rand Paul has often been far too credulous of Snowden and his antidemocratic, self-righteous duplicity. As I wrote recently, Snowden believes he has the right to break federal law when members of Congress give statements he finds insufficient, and his grasp of American history would embarrass a grade-schooler. Paul should know better.

But so should King. Even if King believes the government has the legal right to collect the meta-data involved in the NSA programs, is he not concerned that the agency has time and again implied it can’t safeguard or control the information it collects? Does he honestly believe that there’s no room in the United States Senate for a civil libertarian like Paul?

This discussion demands a serious defense of America’s post-9/11 national-security infrastructure that also grapples with the changing conditions on the ground and the growing public skepticism toward government. King’s unusually personal attacks on Paul haven’t provided it.

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Kerry’s Iranian Mosaic of Appeasement

Yesterday while speaking to reporters about his ongoing efforts to promote negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry described his ideas for a possible solution to the conflict as a “puzzle” whose pieces “actually fit together like a mosaic.” The Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn makes it increasingly clear that this puzzle is virtually insoluble, but the mosaic metaphor seems an apt way to characterize Kerry’s approach to other contentious issues in the region. That was made clear by another shoe that Kerry let drop during the course of his remarks that, understandably, attracted more international attention than his latest ruminations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As the New York Times reports, Kerry’s bombshell about a decision to possibly involve Iran in the upcoming international talks about the future of Syria is an ominous sign of how important improving relations with the radical Tehran regime has become to Washington. Some have foolishly treated President Obama’s decision to embrace an effort to walk away from confrontation over Iran’s nuclear-weapons drive as a one-off policy. But it’s now apparent (if it wasn’t already) that the astonishingly weak deal Kerry cut in Geneva in November with the Iranians comports nicely with the administration’s decision to back down on the president’s previous determination to do something about Syria. If there’s any pattern here, it’s part of a mindset that regards opposition to the Islamist regime’s drive for regional hegemony as something that no longer interests the United States.

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Yesterday while speaking to reporters about his ongoing efforts to promote negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry described his ideas for a possible solution to the conflict as a “puzzle” whose pieces “actually fit together like a mosaic.” The Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn makes it increasingly clear that this puzzle is virtually insoluble, but the mosaic metaphor seems an apt way to characterize Kerry’s approach to other contentious issues in the region. That was made clear by another shoe that Kerry let drop during the course of his remarks that, understandably, attracted more international attention than his latest ruminations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As the New York Times reports, Kerry’s bombshell about a decision to possibly involve Iran in the upcoming international talks about the future of Syria is an ominous sign of how important improving relations with the radical Tehran regime has become to Washington. Some have foolishly treated President Obama’s decision to embrace an effort to walk away from confrontation over Iran’s nuclear-weapons drive as a one-off policy. But it’s now apparent (if it wasn’t already) that the astonishingly weak deal Kerry cut in Geneva in November with the Iranians comports nicely with the administration’s decision to back down on the president’s previous determination to do something about Syria. If there’s any pattern here, it’s part of a mindset that regards opposition to the Islamist regime’s drive for regional hegemony as something that no longer interests the United States.

The talks to which Kerry may be inviting the ayatollahs’ representatives are not nearly as significant as the nuclear talks because they are based in a scenario that may have already been overtaken by events. As the Times notes:

Mr. Kerry said there would be limits on Iran’s involvement unless it accepted that the purpose of the conference should be to work out transitional arrangements for governing Syria if opponents of President Bashar al-Assad could persuade him to relinquish power. Iran has provided military and political support to Mr. Assad.

All of which means that the talks being held in Switzerland in the next week on this issue are pointless since Assad is in no danger of being pushed out of power by a fragmented opposition. Indeed, with the anti-Assad forces increasingly dominated by radical Islamists that Western foes of the tyrannical Damascus regime want no part of, the chances that either the U.S. or Western European nations will act to topple Assad are virtually nil.

As analysts like our Max Boot and Michael Rubin have repeatedly pointed out, it didn’t have to be this way. Had the U.S. acted decisively when the Arab Spring protests quickly led to an open rebellion against the Assad clan’s four-decade-long reign of terror, the chances that he might have been replaced by forces that the West could have lived with were far higher than they are today. But instead, all President Obama did was to vainly predict that Assad “must fall” and then sit back and watch as Tehran came to its Syrian ally’s rescue with an unlimited flow of aid and shock troops in the form of its Lebanese Hezbollah auxiliaries.

When Assad used chemical weapons against his own people last year in direct contravention to President Obama’s warning that such a crime would cross a “red line” that would trigger U.S. action, the administration was forced to threaten strikes against Syria. But faced with Russian and Iranian opposition as well as by his inability to rally either Congress or the American people behind a much-needed policy, Obama gave up. The result was a fig leaf of a diplomatic process that allowed the Russians to take charge of any chemical weapons Assad might surrender. But the big winners were both Assad and Iran since the bottom line of the negotiations was that they made Western intervention against a regime that had already killed more than 100,000 of its own people impossible.

Just as the Iranian nuclear deal has granted implicit Western recognition to Iran’s “right” to refine uranium, setting the stage for an eventual nuclear breakout by Tehran, so, too, has the deal over Syria ensured the survival of the ayatollahs’ main regional ally.

Even contemplating inviting Iran to participate in the talks about a theoretical replacement for Assad is yet another overt acknowledgement that the U.S. has abandoned a policy aimed at isolating this brutal regime, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, a threat to both Israel (at which it continues to spew anti-Semitic venom and threaten with annihilation) as well as to moderate Arab governments. Instead, the U.S. has chosen to try for a new détente with Iran. Though this decision was sold to Congress and the American people as a reaction to the election of the so-called “moderate” Hassan Rouhani to the largely symbolic post of president in 2013, the secret nuclear talks the administration conducted last year predated that faux election.

All the U.S. gains from this détente is an excuse for President Obama to slink ignominiously away from a confrontation with Iran over either its nukes or over Syria. But the reality of a situation in which an even more powerful Iran dominates Syria as well as Lebanon is one in which Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are clearly less safe even if one believes, based on no discernible evidence, that the U.S. is actually doing something to postpone the nuclear threat. This is a policy mosaic that has accomplished nothing but to make the Middle East an even more dangerous place than it had already become. But given the determination of Obama and Kerry to pursue it, it appears the only chance the mosaic will fall apart would be if Tehran’s rulers tire of stringing along the Americans and move quickly to go nuclear. While that potential should not be discounted, given Iran’s success in letting the administration give them what they want with no great effort or sacrifice on Tehran’s part, it would be a colossal mistake to rely on this dubious strategy.

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What Was Human Rights Watch Thinking?

I blogged here last week regarding the failure of Human Rights Watch to rescind and reinvestigate reports for which it had relied on information contributed by al-Karama, whose president the U.S. Treasury Department recently designated as an al-Qaeda financier. When it comes to any reporting, regardless of subject, the old adage “garbage in, garbage out” applies. Human Rights Watch can certainly plead ignorance that it was not aware of al-Karama president Abd al-Rahman bin Umayr al-Nuaimi’s financial transfers. What Human Rights Watch should have been aware of, however, was Nuaimi’s other public activities.

Nuaimi was secretary-general of an organization called the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign (GAAC), an umbrella group which coordinated leading luminaries from al-Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Ummah Conference. Here is a statement from the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign explaining its mission:

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I blogged here last week regarding the failure of Human Rights Watch to rescind and reinvestigate reports for which it had relied on information contributed by al-Karama, whose president the U.S. Treasury Department recently designated as an al-Qaeda financier. When it comes to any reporting, regardless of subject, the old adage “garbage in, garbage out” applies. Human Rights Watch can certainly plead ignorance that it was not aware of al-Karama president Abd al-Rahman bin Umayr al-Nuaimi’s financial transfers. What Human Rights Watch should have been aware of, however, was Nuaimi’s other public activities.

Nuaimi was secretary-general of an organization called the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign (GAAC), an umbrella group which coordinated leading luminaries from al-Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Ummah Conference. Here is a statement from the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign explaining its mission:

The Muslim ummah – in this era – is facing a vicious aggression from the powers of tyranny and injustice, from the Zionist power and the American administration led by the extreme right, which is working to achieve control over nations and peoples, and is stealing their wealth, and annihilating their will, and changing their educational curriculums and social orders.

 And this aggression of a totalitarian nature has been portrayed through falsifying truths about Islam’s teachings and in attacks against the Quran and the Prophet Mohammad may peace be upon him, as well as through misleading media campaigns and economic extortion. The worst of its examples is the armed occupation of countries and peaceful peoples, similar to what has happened in Iraq and in Afghanistan, which have destroyed the core and foundations of society and shed the blood of women, children, and elders, and destroyed cities upon the heads of its residents, insulting human dignity, which all creeds and religions have honored, and ignoring agreements and covenants. This is all in addition to what is carried out by the Zionists in occupying the lands of Palestine and killing and displacing its resilient people, and insulting their rights and desecrating their holy sites for more than half a century.

 This vicious aggression sets humanity back to the despised era of colonialism when colonizing countries attacked the dignity of weak peoples, stole their wealth, undermined their positions, and this legality of the villain was superior. And in resistance to this aggression, the signatories of this statement announce the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign as a vessel uniting the efforts of the children of the ummah, and to remind [the ummah] of its obligation for victory, and to raise [the ummah’s] awareness for its right of self-defense, and to combat the aggressor in a legal manner through effective tools.”

So, Human Rights Watch chose as its partner a man who accepted uncritically the most vile conspiracy theories and had dedicated himself to advancing the cause of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, and similar groups. His vessel, in this mission, was not only the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign but also Human Rights Watch, utilizing the group to defend the Muslim Brotherhood and its adherents, and to castigate and tar those who sought to combat the group through legal means. Hence, when the United Arab Emirates in just one instance disrupted a plot by the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islah group to stage a coup, al-Karama swung into action and, in partnership with Human Rights Watch, simply attacked the United Arab Emirates.

Human Rights Watch got used, plain and simple. It’s the biggest misstep by a human-rights advocacy group since the American Friends Service Committee shilled for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the early 1970s. At least when the true ideology and actions of the Khmer Rouge were exposed, the American Friends Service Committee had the decency to acknowledge its error. As for Human Rights Watch, its researchers speak Arabic and so it was either aware of the activities of its partner’s president, or it was negligent in its most basic assessments. Either way, it should be deeply embarrassed. Withdrawing any report which al-Karama touched should only be the beginning. Perhaps it is time for Kenneth Roth, the organization’s executive director, to submit himself to the questioning of his board and to explain just how Human Rights Watch came to partner with a man whose views are outlined so starkly in the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign manifest.

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Democrats Sacrifice Unemployed Pawns

On yesterday’s Sunday news shows, Democrats doubled down on their preferred issue of the new year: income inequality and unemployment insurance. Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and senior Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer railed at Republican opponents of extending unemployment benefits and sought to portray the GOP as a conclave of heartless Scrooge McDucks chuckling while the jobless suffer. This is good politics for liberals, whose New Year’s resolution was to do everything in their power to change the national political conversation from the ObamaCare debacle, as well as good television. Given the popularity of these proposals, the discussion about the course of the debate has largely followed the lines Democrats like. Thus, the reluctance of most congressional Republicans, especially the leadership of the House of Representatives, to act on President Obama’s proposal to again extend unemployment insurance plays into themes that work well for Democrats such as fairness, conservative apathy about the “47 percent” who get federal benefits (to use Mitt Romney’s infamous and foolish formulation), and a “do-nothing Congress” led by a dysfunctional Republican Party.

It’s debatable whether Republicans are doing themselves a favor by opposing the president on issues where he and his allies can appear to claim the high moral ground. But there are two main problems with this strategy for the Democrats. One has to do with how much traction these liberal talking points really have with the electorate in a midterm election year in which Democrats are defending far more competitive House and Senate seats than their opponents. The other goes to whether Democrats are actually serious about helping the unemployed or anyone else disadvantaged by the income inequality they’ve been talking about. If their genuine goal were to really extend the benefits, all they would have to what their media cheerleaders keep telling the GOP they must do in every other context: compromise. If they were to agree to some spending cuts in order to pay for the benefits, it’s likely that even the House GOP would go along with the idea. Yet since they won’t, it is evident that their purpose is not so much to alleviate the travails of the unemployed as it is to outmaneuver the Republicans. As such, any tactical advantage the Democrats may gain may be fleeting.

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On yesterday’s Sunday news shows, Democrats doubled down on their preferred issue of the new year: income inequality and unemployment insurance. Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and senior Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer railed at Republican opponents of extending unemployment benefits and sought to portray the GOP as a conclave of heartless Scrooge McDucks chuckling while the jobless suffer. This is good politics for liberals, whose New Year’s resolution was to do everything in their power to change the national political conversation from the ObamaCare debacle, as well as good television. Given the popularity of these proposals, the discussion about the course of the debate has largely followed the lines Democrats like. Thus, the reluctance of most congressional Republicans, especially the leadership of the House of Representatives, to act on President Obama’s proposal to again extend unemployment insurance plays into themes that work well for Democrats such as fairness, conservative apathy about the “47 percent” who get federal benefits (to use Mitt Romney’s infamous and foolish formulation), and a “do-nothing Congress” led by a dysfunctional Republican Party.

It’s debatable whether Republicans are doing themselves a favor by opposing the president on issues where he and his allies can appear to claim the high moral ground. But there are two main problems with this strategy for the Democrats. One has to do with how much traction these liberal talking points really have with the electorate in a midterm election year in which Democrats are defending far more competitive House and Senate seats than their opponents. The other goes to whether Democrats are actually serious about helping the unemployed or anyone else disadvantaged by the income inequality they’ve been talking about. If their genuine goal were to really extend the benefits, all they would have to what their media cheerleaders keep telling the GOP they must do in every other context: compromise. If they were to agree to some spending cuts in order to pay for the benefits, it’s likely that even the House GOP would go along with the idea. Yet since they won’t, it is evident that their purpose is not so much to alleviate the travails of the unemployed as it is to outmaneuver the Republicans. As such, any tactical advantage the Democrats may gain may be fleeting.

Conservatives who are urging GOP leaders to stand firm on both the unemployment issue and other “inequality” wedge issues are right. Endless extensions of benefits as well as hiking the federal minimum wage are both economic snake oil. As I wrote last month, such a measure is good for neither the nation’s fiscal health nor, as many serious economists have pointed out, for the long-term prospects of the unemployed since it irresponsibly produces two grim results: it discourages searches for work and transforms what was designed as a stopgap measure into something that is well on its way to becoming a permanent unfunded entitlement. But it is also true that opposing anything that can be portrayed as helping the unemployed is a certain political loser. The more Republicans take the Democrats’ bait and engage in debates about these issues, the more they are merely helping their opponents change the subject from the growing costs and dysfunction of ObamaCare as well as the fact that this administration is a lot better at politics than it is at governing.

But, as even the New York Times’s analysis of this argument noted, although Schumer claimed yesterday on ABC’s This Week that these inequality wedge issues would come back to haunt Republicans in theoretical swing seats in the midterms this coming November, there’s no evidence whatsoever that any of this will have a discernible impact on the results.

More importantly, Obama’s and Reid’s grandstanding on the unemployment issue highlights yet again the major difference between the current Democratic team and Bill Clinton’s far more successful presidency. Clinton was able to beat up Republicans on issues like this almost at will. But at the same time, his keen political instincts and natural governing ability enabled him to cut deals with his GOP opponents to get things done. This is exactly the kind of moment when Clinton would have compromised with his House Republican rivals in order to get something like an unemployment benefits extension and then taken all the credit for it even though the other side would have done as much if not more to make the deal. By contrast, though Obama may score a few points at the Republicans’ expense by refusing to move in their direction, it won’t change a wretched political narrative that is likely to be far more influenced by the more far-reaching impact of the rising costs of health care and insurance over the course of the year.

By acting in this manner, Obama and the Democrats are doing more than failing to achieve their stated objectives; they are also effectively sacrificing the unemployed as expendable pawns in a losing game of political chess. Like the vast population of middle class, younger voters, as well as the elderly all of whom stand to lose as ObamaCare continues its downward spiral, it’s unlikely that the unemployed will thank the Democrats for serving as cannon fodder in their war with the GOP. Taken as a whole, this strategy may turn out to be an even bigger political loser than a Republican decision to stick to conservative principles and to refuse to budge on unemployment or the minimum wage.

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Hillary Clinton and the End of the Presidential Campaign

The “perpetual campaign” is a term we have accustomed ourselves to using while it is still a bit of an exaggeration, except in the case of a first-term president consumed by winning a second term. In all other cases, the speculation about who will run for president precedes the actual campaign. But that actual campaign’s start date keeps getting earlier, while the speculation has become perpetual. What happens when the two finally overlap? A tear in the time-space continuum? Nope, the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

That’s one of the takeaways buried in Maggie Haberman’s profile of Hillary Clinton’s “shadow campaign.” Haberman writes about Clinton’s meeting with party strategists about a presidential run last year, and about the bevy of outside groups, super-PACs, Obama campaign veterans, and others who have created “a virtual campaign in waiting” for her, at once demonstrating her potential strength as a candidate and the personality-cult politics that have the Democrats so desperate to avoid any internal conflict over the 2016 nomination.

The effort to scare off potential rivals includes language that is already seeping into news stories. Haberman tells us that these groups sometimes cooperate and sometimes compete “to prepare a final career act for the former senator and secretary of state, whose legacy as the most powerful woman in the history of American politics is already secure”–a dubious assertion at best. (More powerful, already, than Edith Wilson? Absurd.) But Haberman does discuss the fact that there are some close to Clinton who would prefer she not run:

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The “perpetual campaign” is a term we have accustomed ourselves to using while it is still a bit of an exaggeration, except in the case of a first-term president consumed by winning a second term. In all other cases, the speculation about who will run for president precedes the actual campaign. But that actual campaign’s start date keeps getting earlier, while the speculation has become perpetual. What happens when the two finally overlap? A tear in the time-space continuum? Nope, the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

That’s one of the takeaways buried in Maggie Haberman’s profile of Hillary Clinton’s “shadow campaign.” Haberman writes about Clinton’s meeting with party strategists about a presidential run last year, and about the bevy of outside groups, super-PACs, Obama campaign veterans, and others who have created “a virtual campaign in waiting” for her, at once demonstrating her potential strength as a candidate and the personality-cult politics that have the Democrats so desperate to avoid any internal conflict over the 2016 nomination.

The effort to scare off potential rivals includes language that is already seeping into news stories. Haberman tells us that these groups sometimes cooperate and sometimes compete “to prepare a final career act for the former senator and secretary of state, whose legacy as the most powerful woman in the history of American politics is already secure”–a dubious assertion at best. (More powerful, already, than Edith Wilson? Absurd.) But Haberman does discuss the fact that there are some close to Clinton who would prefer she not run:

Among their concerns: Why put herself through the campaign pulverizer again and risk ending her groundbreaking career on a low note? She could still wield plenty of influence from the outside ­— and enjoy a normal, fulfilling family life for the first time in who knows how long. People insist her health is not a worry, but it was just a year ago that she suffered a blood clot in her head after fainting.

Chief among those in the “no” camp is Clinton’s chief of staff at the State Department, Cheryl Mills, according to several people familiar with her thinking. Another close Clinton confidante, Maggie Williams, who took the helm of the 2008 campaign after a staff shake-up, is also said to have reservations for the same reason — the DNA-altering experience of a modern presidential campaign in which nothing is guaranteed.

All reasonable concerns. Then we learn this:

Several sources said in interviews that her team is discussing how she will weigh in on policy debates over the course of the next year. She is working closely with clusters of aides on different policy initiatives — one involves child development, and Clinton is also being advised to address income inequality. Her memoir about her time at the State Department, initially expected for June, is likely to be out later in the summer, putting a book tour closer to the time when she would campaign for candidates in the midterms. That’s also closer to when she’s likely to announce her plans, after the November election.

She’s going to announce her plans after the November (2014!) midterms? Of course, Haberman doesn’t say–because no one knows–how far after the early-November elections. But the formulation is a funny one to use if it’s far after those elections and into 2015. Even if she doesn’t formally announce, it appears that she will make it abundantly clear–not just to her inner circle but to anyone paying attention–whether she’ll run right around the time of those midterms.

That means we’ll finally have, in actuality, the perpetual campaign, which in turn means we won’t really have a presidential “campaign” at all. The prospect is horrifying, though since Republicans are less worshipful of their candidates (they can’t nominate Zombie Reagan, after all), perhaps they’ll put the breaks on the process. But if Clinton appears to gain from the gamble, it won’t be so easy.

Additionally, some of those who might try to convince Clinton not to run are going to need better arguments. Specifically, those who don’t want Clinton to “risk ending her groundbreaking career on a low note” are missing the point of her “groundbreaking career.” The Clintons are the ultimate political power couple because of their single-minded pursuit of political power. After leaving the White House Hillary was offered a Senate seat, so she took it. Then she was offered the job as secretary of state, despite a total lack of relevant experience, so she took it.

And her term as secretary of state was famous for her refusal to get involved in serious efforts that could fail, thus haunting her presidential ambitions. She wasn’t a senator or secretary of state for its own sake–though in fairness she wasn’t the first nor will she be the last political personality driven by an ambition for power and always reaching for the next rung on the ladder. What she wanted, and what she presumably still wants, is to be president of the United States. An advisor or friend seeking to persuade her not to run will need more of an argument than “Hey, you had a good run.”

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Iran’s Long History of Nuclear Threats

Over at the Washington Free Beacon, Adam Kredo notes that yet another Iranian official has suggested that the Islamic Republic should utilize nuclear weapons in order to eradicate Israel:

A top Iranian lawmaker and cleric said that the country’s uranium enrichment program could allow it to build a nuclear weapon “in two weeks” in order to “put down Israel,” according to multiple reports in the Farsi language press. Iranian lawmaker and cleric Muhammad Nabavian said on Friday that Iran would be able to build a nuclear bomb in “two weeks” if it gets “access to 270 kilograms of 20 percent [enriched uranium], 10 tons of 5 percent, and 20 thousand centrifuges,” according to reports on Iran’s Radio Farda and in Fararu.

Nabavian’s statements may be shocking—seldom since President Hassan Rouhani took office and launched his diplomatic offensive have the views of those in Supreme Leader (and ultimate power) Ali Khamenei’s circle shown so clearly through—but they are not the first nor even the second nor third time that Iranian officials have let it be known that dropping an atomic bomb on Israel is not only possible but preferable:

Over at the Washington Free Beacon, Adam Kredo notes that yet another Iranian official has suggested that the Islamic Republic should utilize nuclear weapons in order to eradicate Israel:

A top Iranian lawmaker and cleric said that the country’s uranium enrichment program could allow it to build a nuclear weapon “in two weeks” in order to “put down Israel,” according to multiple reports in the Farsi language press. Iranian lawmaker and cleric Muhammad Nabavian said on Friday that Iran would be able to build a nuclear bomb in “two weeks” if it gets “access to 270 kilograms of 20 percent [enriched uranium], 10 tons of 5 percent, and 20 thousand centrifuges,” according to reports on Iran’s Radio Farda and in Fararu.

Nabavian’s statements may be shocking—seldom since President Hassan Rouhani took office and launched his diplomatic offensive have the views of those in Supreme Leader (and ultimate power) Ali Khamenei’s circle shown so clearly through—but they are not the first nor even the second nor third time that Iranian officials have let it be known that dropping an atomic bomb on Israel is not only possible but preferable:

  • December 14, 2001: Expediency Council chairman (and ex-president) Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, labelled a moderate or pragmatist by American journalists and diplomats, declared, “The use of an atomic bomb against Israel would totally destroy Israel, while the same against the Islamic world would only cause damage. Such a scenario is not inconceivable.”
  • February 14, 2005: Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer Kharrazi, secretary-general of Iranian Hezbollah, declared, “We are able to produce atomic bombs and we will do that. We shouldn’t be afraid of anyone. The U.S. is not more than a barking dog.”
  • May 29, 2005, Hojjat ol-Islam Gholam Reza Hasani, the supreme leader’s personal representative to the province of West Azerbaijan: “An atom bomb … must be produced as well… because the Qur’an has told Muslims to ‘get strong and amass all the forces at your disposal to be strong.'”
  • February 2006: Mohsen Gharavian, a Qom theologian close to Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, was quoted on the Rooz website as saying it was only “natural” for the Islamic Republic to possess nuclear weapons.

Perhaps negotiator Wendy Sherman and Secretary of State John Kerry should not be so grateful that Mohammad Javad Zarif, a man who as foreign minister has absolutely no power to affect Iranian behavior, has promised them that they can take Iran at its word.

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Abolish the Corporate Income Tax

This morning, to my slack-jawed astonishment, the New York Times ran an op-ed calling for the abolition of the corporate income tax.

The author, Laurence J. Kotlikoff, an economics professor at Boston University, writes, “That might sound like a giveaway to the rich. It’s not. The rich . . . can take their companies and run — and not just from Washington State to, say, North Carolina. To avoid our federal corporate tax, they can, and often do, move their operations and jobs abroad.”

Could it be that the Times has finally realized that capital has feet? The U.S. corporate income tax is now the highest in the world and the requirement that income earned abroad is taxed when it is repatriated has kept trillions in American capital from coming into this country. This has had very adverse economic effects, as Professor Kotlikoff shows by detailing the positive effects of abolishing the tax.

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This morning, to my slack-jawed astonishment, the New York Times ran an op-ed calling for the abolition of the corporate income tax.

The author, Laurence J. Kotlikoff, an economics professor at Boston University, writes, “That might sound like a giveaway to the rich. It’s not. The rich . . . can take their companies and run — and not just from Washington State to, say, North Carolina. To avoid our federal corporate tax, they can, and often do, move their operations and jobs abroad.”

Could it be that the Times has finally realized that capital has feet? The U.S. corporate income tax is now the highest in the world and the requirement that income earned abroad is taxed when it is repatriated has kept trillions in American capital from coming into this country. This has had very adverse economic effects, as Professor Kotlikoff shows by detailing the positive effects of abolishing the tax.

The corporate income tax was instituted under President William Howard Taft as a means of taxing the incomes of the rich until a personal income tax amendment could be added to the Constitution (which it was in 1913). At the beginning of the 20th century corporate stock was owned almost entirely by “the rich.” Today, however, the situation is entirely different. Corporate stock is very widely held, with much of it in the hands of pension funds, mutual funds, and the tax-deferred retirement accounts of middle-class families. Billions more is owned by eleemosynary foundations.

And who actually pays the tax is a very knotty economic problem. Depending on the competitive situation in the particular industry, the tax is paid by some combination of workers, through lower wages, customers, through higher prices, and stockholders through lower stock prices. And the corporate income tax forces companies to focus not on pretax profit—which is wealth creation—but on after-tax profit, which is largely a matter of lobbying success in Washington. So abolishing the corporate income tax would be very bad news for K Street and almost no one else. (Soaring unemployment in the lobbying industry? Pardon me while I shed a tear.)

Corporate income tax receipts in 2012 were $351 billion, less than 10 percent of total federal tax receipts, but still that would be a big hole in the budget if that were all there was to it. But, as Professor Kotlikoff explains, it’s not:

Fully eliminating the corporate income tax and replacing any loss in revenues with somewhat higher personal income tax rates leads to a huge short-run inflow of capital, raising the United States’ capital stock (machines and buildings) by 23 percent, output by 8 percent and the real wages of unskilled and skilled workers by 12 percent.

Abolishing the corporate income tax, thus, would largely pay for itself. In other words, changes in tax policy have dynamic economic effects and lowering taxes has positive economic effects, often-dramatic ones. Who knew? And the utter lack of coordination between the personal and corporate incomes taxes has been one of the prime drivers of ever-greater tax complexity and unfairness for those who can’t play one off against the other.

Abolishing the corporate income tax would be a big step in the right direction.

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ObamaCare and the Law of Unintended Consequences

I wanted to add to Seth’s fine post on the new study, published in the journal Science, that found that people who gained health-care coverage through Medicaid used the emergency room 40 percent more than those who were uninsured–exactly the opposite of what President Obama promised when selling his health-care plan. (Over at Forbes, Michael Cannon lists some of Mr. Obama’s shattered promises related to this matter.) 

It might be worth calling attention, then, to a paper by the 20th century sociologist Robert K. Merton, who in 1936 published an essay in American Sociological Review, titled, “The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action.” (Merton helped popularize the theory of unintended consequences.)

In citing some of the major factors of unexpected consequences, Merton listed ignorance and error. About the latter, he wrote the following:

Error may also be involved in instances where the actor attends to only one or some of the pertinent aspects of the situation which influence the outcome of the action. This may range from the case of simple neglect (lack of systematic thoroughness in examining the situation) to pathological obsession where there is a determined refusal or inability to consider certain elements of the problem… In cases of wish-fulfillment, emotional involvements lead to distortion of the objective situation and of the probably future course of events; such action predicated upon “imaginary” conditions must inevitably evoke unexpected consequences.

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I wanted to add to Seth’s fine post on the new study, published in the journal Science, that found that people who gained health-care coverage through Medicaid used the emergency room 40 percent more than those who were uninsured–exactly the opposite of what President Obama promised when selling his health-care plan. (Over at Forbes, Michael Cannon lists some of Mr. Obama’s shattered promises related to this matter.) 

It might be worth calling attention, then, to a paper by the 20th century sociologist Robert K. Merton, who in 1936 published an essay in American Sociological Review, titled, “The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action.” (Merton helped popularize the theory of unintended consequences.)

In citing some of the major factors of unexpected consequences, Merton listed ignorance and error. About the latter, he wrote the following:

Error may also be involved in instances where the actor attends to only one or some of the pertinent aspects of the situation which influence the outcome of the action. This may range from the case of simple neglect (lack of systematic thoroughness in examining the situation) to pathological obsession where there is a determined refusal or inability to consider certain elements of the problem… In cases of wish-fulfillment, emotional involvements lead to distortion of the objective situation and of the probably future course of events; such action predicated upon “imaginary” conditions must inevitably evoke unexpected consequences.

What the mix was of ignorance and error (or perhaps knowing deceit, as was the case in Mr. Obama’s promise that people could keep their health-care plan if they wanted to “period, end of story”) is impossible to know. But this much we can say: The Obama years, and ObamaCare in particular, are turning into one giant national seminar when it comes to the failures of progressivism, the dangers of technocratic arrogance, and the inability of liberals (or anyone else for that matter) to finely manage and orchestrate an untidy and complicated world. 

One of the virtues of conservatism is its appreciation for the complexity of human society and some degree of modesty in what we can achieve. I suspect that after the Obama era, the American people will more fully appreciate that virtue than before it.

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