Commentary Magazine


Topic: Arne Duncan

The Unions’ Warning to Hillary Clinton

Arne Duncan can rest easy. The current secretary of education has lately been on the receiving end of the pitchforks-and-torches treatment from the major national teachers unions, but he’s not really the target. They are calling for his job, not because they expect to radically alter the course of this administration but to encourage the others, as they say.

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Arne Duncan can rest easy. The current secretary of education has lately been on the receiving end of the pitchforks-and-torches treatment from the major national teachers unions, but he’s not really the target. They are calling for his job, not because they expect to radically alter the course of this administration but to encourage the others, as they say.

To recap: the Obama administration has been sufficiently deferential to the public unions that fleece the taxpayers to get Democrats elected at the state and national levels. The president’s hypocrisy on school choice is not only a sop to the unions but particularly glaring–it’s not unusual for a president to send his kids to private school, but it is rare that one does so while working assiduously to end opportunity scholarship programs in the same city simultaneously.

President Obama’s choice for education secretary, however, made the unions slightly nervous. Obama calmed their nerves by making sure that Duncan would simply carry out Obama’s antichoice crusade and not think too much for himself. But Duncan spooked the unions recently by saying something that is anathema to Democrats even if it was commonsense by any reasonable standard.

Last month, a California court ruled unconstitutional the union protections that made it virtually impossible to fire bad teachers and which have steadily degraded the quality of education in America’s public schools. This was a victory especially for poor and minority students, which tend to be harmed the most by the Democrats’ education policies. The courts were a last recourse for these students, thanks to the policymaking stranglehold the unions have over the state’s Democrats. Duncan understood that this kind of ruling was the only way to effect real change, by forcing the hand of the school systems:

The ruling was hailed by the nation’s top education chief as bringing to California — and possibly the nation — an opportunity to build “a new framework for the teaching profession.” The decision represented “a mandate” to fix a broken teaching system, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. …

Duncan, a former schools chief in Chicago, said he hoped the ruling will spark a national dialogue on a teacher tenure process “that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift.”

At a minimum, Duncan said the court decision, if upheld, will bring to California “a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students’ rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve.”

“The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students. Today’s court decision is a mandate to fix these problems,” Duncan said.

But teachers unions have mostly become a job preservation program, with the education of the students a secondary, at best, concern. So they lashed out at Duncan for defending the minority students over which the unions were running roughshod. In other words, for doing (at least part of) his job:

Delegates of the National Education Association adopted a business item July 4 at its annual convention in Denver that called for his resignation. The vote underscores the long-standing tension between the Obama administration and teachers’ unions — historically a steadfast Democratic ally.

A tipping point for some members was Duncan’s statement last month in support of a California judge’s ruling that struck down tenure and other job protections for the state’s public school teachers. In harsh wording, the judge said such laws harm particularly low-income students by saddling them with bad teachers who are almost impossible to fire.

Now the American Federation of Teachers has joined the mob, yesterday approving a resolution calling for his job–unless Duncan follows the unions’ proposed rehabilitation process, erasing even the façade of independence the administration would have from its union benefactors.

Duncan is to be commended for his comments. And he can take solace in the fact that the NEA and AFT attempts to wreck his career are not really about him anyway–a fact the reporting about this contretemps tends to miss. They are, instead, a warning shot. The unions want Hillary Clinton, or whoever turns out to be their next nominee, to see where the unions have drawn the line for a future White House. And Duncan is on the wrong side of that line.

For the teachers unions, anyway. He’s on the right side of that line for the country, and for public education. The unions aren’t interested in saving this particular ship, as long as their leaders and veteran teachers are guaranteed a lifeboat and a generous pension when it finally sinks.

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Gay Marriage Distraction Intentional?

Ed Morrissey has an interesting column in This Week, arguing that Joe Biden’s gay marriage comments may have been a shrewd political calculation as opposed to a slipup during routine bloviation. I think he’s giving Biden too much credit, but there’s definitely a case to be made that this helps the Obama campaign in several ways:

Consider the coincidence of Education Secretary Arne Duncan offering a corroborating point of view the day after Biden’s statement. Brought to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to discuss Teacher Appreciation Week, Duncan was greeted by TIME’s Mark Halperin with this “icebreaker” question: “Do you believe that same-sex men and women should be able to get legally married in the United States?” Despite the tortured syntax of the query and an objection to the question by a “Morning Joe” panelist, Duncan gave an ironic “I do” in reply, pushing the issue even farther into the public consciousness, and giving Biden some much-needed political cover.

Nor do the coincidences end there. This comes just after the much-publicized departure of foreign policy adviser Richard Grenell from the Romney campaign. …

Even more likely, though, Biden’s gambit was an attempt to keep the media preoccupied with issues other than jobs and the economy. It’s also no coincidence that this eruption came just 48 hours after another disappointing jobs report.

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Ed Morrissey has an interesting column in This Week, arguing that Joe Biden’s gay marriage comments may have been a shrewd political calculation as opposed to a slipup during routine bloviation. I think he’s giving Biden too much credit, but there’s definitely a case to be made that this helps the Obama campaign in several ways:

Consider the coincidence of Education Secretary Arne Duncan offering a corroborating point of view the day after Biden’s statement. Brought to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to discuss Teacher Appreciation Week, Duncan was greeted by TIME’s Mark Halperin with this “icebreaker” question: “Do you believe that same-sex men and women should be able to get legally married in the United States?” Despite the tortured syntax of the query and an objection to the question by a “Morning Joe” panelist, Duncan gave an ironic “I do” in reply, pushing the issue even farther into the public consciousness, and giving Biden some much-needed political cover.

Nor do the coincidences end there. This comes just after the much-publicized departure of foreign policy adviser Richard Grenell from the Romney campaign. …

Even more likely, though, Biden’s gambit was an attempt to keep the media preoccupied with issues other than jobs and the economy. It’s also no coincidence that this eruption came just 48 hours after another disappointing jobs report.

Read the whole thing if you have a chance. Even if Biden’s gay marriage comments weren’t intentional, the Romney campaign will need to be careful with how they proceed on this. According to a new Gallup poll out today, fully half of Americans are in favor of same-sex marriage, compared to 48 percent who oppose. Several of Romney’s most prominent donors are also active in the fight for gay marriage rights.

Many of Obama’s key donors support gay marriage as well. So while the issue is a pleasant distraction for him from economic talk, and yet another opening to bludgeon Romney as far-right and out-of-touch, it also puts the president in a bind. Already some top Obama donors are withholding money from his campaign based on his rejection of a gay rights executive order, Greg Sargent reports. And Obama’s hedging on the gay marriage issue is sure to fuel the perception that he’s choosing politics over principles.

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The White House’s Gay Marriage Dance

Vice President Biden kinda-sorta embraced gay marriage during an interview with David Gregory yesterday – which the administration promptly downplayed – and this morning Education Secretary Arne Duncan came out in favor of same-sex marriage on MSNBC (via Buzzfeed):

The Obama administration tiptoed even closer to supporting gay marriage today, with a second member of the Cabinet coming out flatly in support of treating same-sex couples the same as couples of opposite sexes.

TIME’s Mark Halperin asked Education Secretary Arne Duncan on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today whether he believes “that same-sex men and women should be able to get legally married in the United States?”

“Yes, I do,” Duncan replied.

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Vice President Biden kinda-sorta embraced gay marriage during an interview with David Gregory yesterday – which the administration promptly downplayed – and this morning Education Secretary Arne Duncan came out in favor of same-sex marriage on MSNBC (via Buzzfeed):

The Obama administration tiptoed even closer to supporting gay marriage today, with a second member of the Cabinet coming out flatly in support of treating same-sex couples the same as couples of opposite sexes.

TIME’s Mark Halperin asked Education Secretary Arne Duncan on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today whether he believes “that same-sex men and women should be able to get legally married in the United States?”

“Yes, I do,” Duncan replied.

This certainly gives the impression the administration is relaxing its gay marriage stance. But is it smart or not? Best case scenario for the Obama campaign is if gay marriage supporters take these comments as a winking endorsement from the White House, and leave it at that. It’s a bit risky at this point for the president to personally come out in favor of gay marriage, particularly when many black Democratic voters adamantly oppose it. But as we know, Obama would obviously have more “flexibility” –in this area and others – if he’s reelected. And he likely hopes that message has been subtly transmitted to gay rights advocates through Biden’s remarks.

The political downside of Biden and Duncan voicing their support for gay marriage is that there will no doubt be a frantic rush to parse out whether Obama has personally “evolved” any further on the issue. Stay tuned for Jay Carney fielding gay marriage questions at the briefing. Obama will almost certainly try to avoid taking a firm stance on this. But if frustrated gay marriage advocates get tired of letting him dance around the issue, that could cause problems for the president.

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RE: Jumping When Unions Holler

A keen-eyed reader sounds the day’s irony alert: while the administration and the Democratic congressional leaders are undermining scholarship opportunities for poor, minority D.C. schoolkids, the administration is out touting its commitment to “civil rights” in education. No, really:

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will call today for stepped up enforcement of civil rights laws in America’s schools and colleges, as the Obama administration pushes to overhaul the nation’s education system and improve opportunities for minorities. … The Education Department will send out a series of letters to all U.S. schools and colleges, giving guidance on 17 topics related to equal access to education for minorities, women and students with disabilities, said Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights. The department also plans to review one school district’s treatment of students who speak English as a second language, she said. She declined to name the school.

For this crew, “civil rights” apparently doesn’t include promoting opportunities to go to a decent school. For the Obami, the civil rights bogey men are still white bigots and sometimes hapless bureaucrats. The solution is lawyers — lots of them, filing all sorts of lawsuits for any perceived racial slight and ready to pounce on school officials who have not complied with the myriad of “equal access” rules. And perish the thought that we should insist on children learning English!

But aren’t teachers unions the ones blocking the school doors that D.C. kids want to enter (e.g., the Sidwell Friends School, where Obama’s kids go and which is accessible only by scholarship for these children)? Really, the Obami’s is a cramped view of civil rights, indeed — one that neatly spares the Democrats the difficulty of telling their most generous campaign donors to back off. It is intensely self-serving and ultimately harmful to the minority kids the administration claims to care so much about.

A keen-eyed reader sounds the day’s irony alert: while the administration and the Democratic congressional leaders are undermining scholarship opportunities for poor, minority D.C. schoolkids, the administration is out touting its commitment to “civil rights” in education. No, really:

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will call today for stepped up enforcement of civil rights laws in America’s schools and colleges, as the Obama administration pushes to overhaul the nation’s education system and improve opportunities for minorities. … The Education Department will send out a series of letters to all U.S. schools and colleges, giving guidance on 17 topics related to equal access to education for minorities, women and students with disabilities, said Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights. The department also plans to review one school district’s treatment of students who speak English as a second language, she said. She declined to name the school.

For this crew, “civil rights” apparently doesn’t include promoting opportunities to go to a decent school. For the Obami, the civil rights bogey men are still white bigots and sometimes hapless bureaucrats. The solution is lawyers — lots of them, filing all sorts of lawsuits for any perceived racial slight and ready to pounce on school officials who have not complied with the myriad of “equal access” rules. And perish the thought that we should insist on children learning English!

But aren’t teachers unions the ones blocking the school doors that D.C. kids want to enter (e.g., the Sidwell Friends School, where Obama’s kids go and which is accessible only by scholarship for these children)? Really, the Obami’s is a cramped view of civil rights, indeed — one that neatly spares the Democrats the difficulty of telling their most generous campaign donors to back off. It is intensely self-serving and ultimately harmful to the minority kids the administration claims to care so much about.

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Jumping When Unions Holler

Obama’s promise of  a better, cleaner, and more transparent brand of politics has not been fulfilled. Not by a long shot. The president appoints the SEIU boss to the deficit commission. Congress behind closed doors churns out colorfully named sweetheart deals on ObamaCare. And then they really reveal the depths of their dependence on special-interest patrons.

Writing in the Washington Post, Kelly Amis and Joseph E. Robert Jr. explain that the $450 billion spending bill last year “effectively dismantled a small, successful education program benefiting low-income children in the nation’s capital.” All hope is not lost that a scholarship reviled by Big Labor as a threat to its education monopoly may disappear. But we’re getting close. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) is trying to restore the program. Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may prevent the Senate from even voting on the measure. He has, it seems, little support from Democrats:

Who wants to vote against an effective program serving poor minority children?

Congress needed only to reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program — as the local community asked it to do and as the research should have compelled it to do — but the members who mattered ignored the families outside their white marble offices, even rescinding scholarships to hundreds of hopeful students.

Where is Obama in all this? Nowhere to be found. They write:

Obama could have stood up for these children, who only want the same opportunities that he had and that his daughters now have. Instead, his education secretary, Arne Duncan, proffered an argument that would be funny if it weren’t so sad: Scholarships for poor students aren’t worth supporting because not enough of them are given out.

Note to Duncan: You could give out more.

The mayor and school chancellor support the scholarship plan but not the Democratic leadership. (“Unfortunately, congressional leaders — especially Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) — crumpled before teachers union threats, led by American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, who declared everything open to negotiation ‘except vouchers.'”) Vouchers, of course, threaten to send students to schools with no teacher unions, and teacher unions are in the business of sustaining their unions, not in maximizing educational opportunities for students. So the union squawks, the Democrats jump, and the D.C. kids get the short end of the stick.

Amis and Robert note that there is a bipartisan group — which includes Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), and John Ensign (R-Nev.) — seeking to save the program. But what the D.C. schoolchildren and their parents need is the president and Senate and House Democratic leadership. Too bad they’ve got Big Labor patrons to mollify.

Obama’s promise of  a better, cleaner, and more transparent brand of politics has not been fulfilled. Not by a long shot. The president appoints the SEIU boss to the deficit commission. Congress behind closed doors churns out colorfully named sweetheart deals on ObamaCare. And then they really reveal the depths of their dependence on special-interest patrons.

Writing in the Washington Post, Kelly Amis and Joseph E. Robert Jr. explain that the $450 billion spending bill last year “effectively dismantled a small, successful education program benefiting low-income children in the nation’s capital.” All hope is not lost that a scholarship reviled by Big Labor as a threat to its education monopoly may disappear. But we’re getting close. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) is trying to restore the program. Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may prevent the Senate from even voting on the measure. He has, it seems, little support from Democrats:

Who wants to vote against an effective program serving poor minority children?

Congress needed only to reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program — as the local community asked it to do and as the research should have compelled it to do — but the members who mattered ignored the families outside their white marble offices, even rescinding scholarships to hundreds of hopeful students.

Where is Obama in all this? Nowhere to be found. They write:

Obama could have stood up for these children, who only want the same opportunities that he had and that his daughters now have. Instead, his education secretary, Arne Duncan, proffered an argument that would be funny if it weren’t so sad: Scholarships for poor students aren’t worth supporting because not enough of them are given out.

Note to Duncan: You could give out more.

The mayor and school chancellor support the scholarship plan but not the Democratic leadership. (“Unfortunately, congressional leaders — especially Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) — crumpled before teachers union threats, led by American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, who declared everything open to negotiation ‘except vouchers.'”) Vouchers, of course, threaten to send students to schools with no teacher unions, and teacher unions are in the business of sustaining their unions, not in maximizing educational opportunities for students. So the union squawks, the Democrats jump, and the D.C. kids get the short end of the stick.

Amis and Robert note that there is a bipartisan group — which includes Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), and John Ensign (R-Nev.) — seeking to save the program. But what the D.C. schoolchildren and their parents need is the president and Senate and House Democratic leadership. Too bad they’ve got Big Labor patrons to mollify.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A Katrina-like abomination: “The United States has suspended its medical evacuations of critically injured Haitian earthquake victims until a dispute over who will pay for their care is settled, military officials said Friday. The military flights, usually C-130s carrying Haitians with spinal cord injuries, burns and other serious wounds, ended on Wednesday after Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida formally asked the federal government to shoulder some of the cost of the care. . . The suspension could be catastrophic for patients, said Dr. Barth A. Green, the co-founder of Project Medishare for Haiti. . . ‘People are dying in Haiti because they can’t get out,’ Dr. Green said.”

Speaking of Katrina, imagine if a Republican Secretary of Education said of New Orleans: “that education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable.” In a cabinet filled with underachievers, by the way, Arne Duncan has certainly not lived up to his reviews.

Gail Collins lectures her readers that opposition to the KSM trial in New York is just selfishness run amok. You will find no better example of liberals’ contempt for the concerns of ordinary Americans and the blithe dismissal of the risks of a jihadist trial. You wonder if the Obami cringe — are they capable of shame? — when they hear their harebrained scheme defended in such a fashion.

Her colleague Charles Blow is convinced this is all a communication problem. How is it that liberals can simultaneously rave about Obama’s eloquence and conclude he’s not getting through? Well, he’s too “studious” for us and doesn’t understand Americans are “suspicious of complexity.” Ah, you see, we are not worthy of such a leader as he.

On the administration’s proposed Defense Department budget: “The lack of big weapons cuts is causing some outcry from congressional Democrats. ‘I don’t think that we have to protect military contractors. And I want to make that distinction very clearly,’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.). ‘I do not think the entire defense budget should be exempted.'” You can’t make this stuff up.

The public doesn’t much believe Obama on the economy: “The president in the speech declared that his administration has cut taxes for 95% of Americans. He even chided Republicans for not applauding on that point. However, just 21% of voters nationwide believe that taxes have been cut for 95% of Americans. . . The president also asserted that ‘after two years of recession, the economy is growing again.’ Just 35% of voters believe that statement is true, while 50% say it is false. Obama claimed that steps taken by his team are responsible for putting two million people to work ‘who would otherwise be unemployed.’ Just 27% of voters say that statement is true. Fifty-one percent (51%) say it’s false.”

The Washington Post editors: “The best chance of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear capacity lies in a victory by the opposition — and so it follows that the Obama administration’s strategy should be aimed at bolstering the self-styled ‘green movement’ rather than striking deals with the Khamenei regime.” First, Richard Haass and now the Post — we are all neocons now.

You know things have gotten bad when Maxine Waters sounds saner than the Speaker of the House: “During an interview on Friday, the congresswoman stressed it was going to be ‘very difficult’ to pass that legislation in the coming weeks, mostly because House and Senate leaders are still without a ‘roadmap’ and have yet to address key policy differences between the two chambers’ efforts.”

And when Sen. Susan Collins sounds like Andy McCarthy: “Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) on Saturday hammered the Justice Department for treating Flight 253 terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a ‘common criminal’ —  a move she described in her party’s weekly address as a ‘failure’ of the entire justice system. The decision to read Miranda rights to Abdulmutallab — better known as the Christmas Day bomber — is symptomatic of the White House’s general ‘blindness’ in its handling of the larger War on Terrorism, Collins stressed.”

A Katrina-like abomination: “The United States has suspended its medical evacuations of critically injured Haitian earthquake victims until a dispute over who will pay for their care is settled, military officials said Friday. The military flights, usually C-130s carrying Haitians with spinal cord injuries, burns and other serious wounds, ended on Wednesday after Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida formally asked the federal government to shoulder some of the cost of the care. . . The suspension could be catastrophic for patients, said Dr. Barth A. Green, the co-founder of Project Medishare for Haiti. . . ‘People are dying in Haiti because they can’t get out,’ Dr. Green said.”

Speaking of Katrina, imagine if a Republican Secretary of Education said of New Orleans: “that education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable.” In a cabinet filled with underachievers, by the way, Arne Duncan has certainly not lived up to his reviews.

Gail Collins lectures her readers that opposition to the KSM trial in New York is just selfishness run amok. You will find no better example of liberals’ contempt for the concerns of ordinary Americans and the blithe dismissal of the risks of a jihadist trial. You wonder if the Obami cringe — are they capable of shame? — when they hear their harebrained scheme defended in such a fashion.

Her colleague Charles Blow is convinced this is all a communication problem. How is it that liberals can simultaneously rave about Obama’s eloquence and conclude he’s not getting through? Well, he’s too “studious” for us and doesn’t understand Americans are “suspicious of complexity.” Ah, you see, we are not worthy of such a leader as he.

On the administration’s proposed Defense Department budget: “The lack of big weapons cuts is causing some outcry from congressional Democrats. ‘I don’t think that we have to protect military contractors. And I want to make that distinction very clearly,’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.). ‘I do not think the entire defense budget should be exempted.'” You can’t make this stuff up.

The public doesn’t much believe Obama on the economy: “The president in the speech declared that his administration has cut taxes for 95% of Americans. He even chided Republicans for not applauding on that point. However, just 21% of voters nationwide believe that taxes have been cut for 95% of Americans. . . The president also asserted that ‘after two years of recession, the economy is growing again.’ Just 35% of voters believe that statement is true, while 50% say it is false. Obama claimed that steps taken by his team are responsible for putting two million people to work ‘who would otherwise be unemployed.’ Just 27% of voters say that statement is true. Fifty-one percent (51%) say it’s false.”

The Washington Post editors: “The best chance of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear capacity lies in a victory by the opposition — and so it follows that the Obama administration’s strategy should be aimed at bolstering the self-styled ‘green movement’ rather than striking deals with the Khamenei regime.” First, Richard Haass and now the Post — we are all neocons now.

You know things have gotten bad when Maxine Waters sounds saner than the Speaker of the House: “During an interview on Friday, the congresswoman stressed it was going to be ‘very difficult’ to pass that legislation in the coming weeks, mostly because House and Senate leaders are still without a ‘roadmap’ and have yet to address key policy differences between the two chambers’ efforts.”

And when Sen. Susan Collins sounds like Andy McCarthy: “Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) on Saturday hammered the Justice Department for treating Flight 253 terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a ‘common criminal’ —  a move she described in her party’s weekly address as a ‘failure’ of the entire justice system. The decision to read Miranda rights to Abdulmutallab — better known as the Christmas Day bomber — is symptomatic of the White House’s general ‘blindness’ in its handling of the larger War on Terrorism, Collins stressed.”

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