Commentary Magazine


Topic: George Orwell

Booker’s Nausea Sent Down Memory Hole

Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker is a rising star in New Jersey whose record running the city has earned him applause on both sides of the political aisle. He’s also thought of as something of a superhero after personally rescuing two neighbors from their burning home last month. But as far as the Obama re-election campaign is concerned, he has no more right to think as he pleases than Winston Smith, the hero of George Orwell’s 1984. Just as Smith was forced to concede that two plus two equals five if Big Brother said it did, so Booker tamely walked back his criticism of the president’s re-election campaign ads lambasting Mitt Romney’s business record.

Speaking on “Meet the Press” Sunday morning, Booker was a political superhero blasting the excesses of both Republicans and Democrats as he decried some conservatives dredging up the Rev. Jeremiah Wright issue and was equally strong on his own party’s attempt to demonize Romney’s career:

I have to just say, from a very personal level, I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity. To me, it’s just we’re getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record, they’ve done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses. And this to me, I’m very uncomfortable with. …

The last point I’ll make is this kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It’s nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.

Coming from a prominent young liberal, this was refreshing stuff. Obviously it was a little too refreshing for the White House, but as bad as the “Meet the Press” comments were for the president, what followed didn’t help either. By the end of the day, a contrite Booker posted a video on YouTube walking back his comments about Bain and tamely claiming instead that it was “reasonable” for the Obama campaign to attack Romney on this score. It was as if it were a video from a hostage being held for ransom.

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Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker is a rising star in New Jersey whose record running the city has earned him applause on both sides of the political aisle. He’s also thought of as something of a superhero after personally rescuing two neighbors from their burning home last month. But as far as the Obama re-election campaign is concerned, he has no more right to think as he pleases than Winston Smith, the hero of George Orwell’s 1984. Just as Smith was forced to concede that two plus two equals five if Big Brother said it did, so Booker tamely walked back his criticism of the president’s re-election campaign ads lambasting Mitt Romney’s business record.

Speaking on “Meet the Press” Sunday morning, Booker was a political superhero blasting the excesses of both Republicans and Democrats as he decried some conservatives dredging up the Rev. Jeremiah Wright issue and was equally strong on his own party’s attempt to demonize Romney’s career:

I have to just say, from a very personal level, I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity. To me, it’s just we’re getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record, they’ve done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses. And this to me, I’m very uncomfortable with. …

The last point I’ll make is this kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It’s nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.

Coming from a prominent young liberal, this was refreshing stuff. Obviously it was a little too refreshing for the White House, but as bad as the “Meet the Press” comments were for the president, what followed didn’t help either. By the end of the day, a contrite Booker posted a video on YouTube walking back his comments about Bain and tamely claiming instead that it was “reasonable” for the Obama campaign to attack Romney on this score. It was as if it were a video from a hostage being held for ransom.

Needless to say, Booker was right the first time he opened his mouth on Sunday. Private equity firms such as Bain are the engine of commerce in this country. Though not all the decisions made by any such firm work out, in the long run they are what builds jobs, not Obama’s tax and spend policies. One suspects this is something most Americans understand, which is why the economy is Romney’s strongest issue and the president’s staff is determined to discredit him.

The embarrassing turnabout won’t do much to burnish the superhero politician’s reputation for independence, and many liberals will probably never forgive him anyway for an act of heresy, even one quickly recanted. But what probably really ticked off the president was that Booker’s original juxtaposition of attacks highlighted that the only way he can be re-elected is by tearing down his opponent. After all, the proposed ad campaign that was supposed to highlight the Rev. Wright issue was not the product of the Romney team or even one of the independent groups closely associated with him. It was something commissioned by Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, who actually renounced the effort as soon as it became public. But the attacks on Romney’s business career are something that is being undertaken directly by the president’s campaign.

Tearing down Romney in this fashion is bad enough, but the sinister fashion with which Booker was forced to not just back away from his original position but to directly contradict it speaks volumes about the way the White House seeks to ride herd on Democrats. To diverge from the party line even to decry the nastiness of politics in an even-handed way while stating your support for the president is clearly unacceptable behavior for a Democrat these days. In his recantation video, Booker speaks as though he is about to be sent to a re-education camp if he doesn’t get it right and say that it’s okay to smear Romney. It should be noted however that the Democratic National Committee wasn’t entirely satisfied with the video since it released an edited version of the recantation that contained his agreement that Romney should be attacked with everything else left out.

One suspects that while Booker and the Democrats would like to send this whole incident down Orwell’s “memory hole,” the public won’t soon forget the mayor’s humiliation or how his recantation only buttressed the truths he originally spoke.

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On Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Obama Corrupts Political Language

On the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s pro-choice decision in Roe v. Wade, President Obama said in a statement that Roe “affirms a fundamental principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters.”

To which one might ask: since when is lethal violence used on the defenseless and the most vulnerable members of our society considered an intrusion on “private family matters”?

This line of argument is absurd. Would the president argue that our laws should be silent on matters of spousal and child abuse? After all, based on the Obama Criterion, those, too, might qualify as “private family matters.”

The president’s statement that abortion on demand affirms a “fundamental principle” is evidence of a man who is willing to corrupt the English language in order to advance an ideological agenda — and in this instance, a particularly vicious and brutal agenda.

In his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell wrote, “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible.” He spoke about “the decadence of our language” and how “language can also corrupt thought.” And he alerted his readers to the fact that “Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Pure wind is not solid — and taking the life of the innocent unborn is neither a “fundamental principle” nor a “private family matter.”

On the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s pro-choice decision in Roe v. Wade, President Obama said in a statement that Roe “affirms a fundamental principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters.”

To which one might ask: since when is lethal violence used on the defenseless and the most vulnerable members of our society considered an intrusion on “private family matters”?

This line of argument is absurd. Would the president argue that our laws should be silent on matters of spousal and child abuse? After all, based on the Obama Criterion, those, too, might qualify as “private family matters.”

The president’s statement that abortion on demand affirms a “fundamental principle” is evidence of a man who is willing to corrupt the English language in order to advance an ideological agenda — and in this instance, a particularly vicious and brutal agenda.

In his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell wrote, “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible.” He spoke about “the decadence of our language” and how “language can also corrupt thought.” And he alerted his readers to the fact that “Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Pure wind is not solid — and taking the life of the innocent unborn is neither a “fundamental principle” nor a “private family matter.”

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Bollinger: Big Government News

I thought this headline might be sardonic: “Journalism Needs Government Help; Media budgets have been decimated as the Internet facilitates a communications revolution. More public funding for news-gathering is the answer.” It’s an op-ed from Columbia University professor Lee Bollinger in the Wall Street Journal, so I was hopeful that we’d get a touch of iconoclastic common sense. My hopes were misplaced. And I wonder whether the Journal editors didn’t decide to publish this on their pages just to show how ludicrous liberal statism has become. First, Bollinger’s complains that “journalism” is failing. (Umm, not the Journal, not Fox News — so it’s really only liberal print publications he’s pining over). So the solution is government funding. We learn:

Both the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are undertaking studies of ways to ensure the steep economic decline faced by newspapers and broadcast news does not deprive Americans of the essential information they need as citizens. One idea under consideration is enhanced public funding for journalism.

In other words, taxpayers will be forced to pay for what they won’t watch or read of their own volition. And the journalistic monstrosity will be a merger of PBS and NPR. The result sounds like something George Orwell would have dreamed  up:

To me a key priority is to strengthen our public broadcasting role in the global arena. In today’s rapidly globalizing and interconnected world, other countries are developing a strong media presence. In addition to the BBC, there is China’s CCTV and Xinhua news, as well as Qatar’s Al Jazeera. The U.S. government’s international broadcasters, like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, were developed during the Cold War as tools of our anticommunist foreign policy. In a sign of how anachronistic our system is in a digital age, these broadcasters are legally forbidden from airing within the U.S.

This system needs to be revised and its resources consolidated and augmented with those of NPR and PBS to create an American World Service that can compete with the BBC and other global broadcasters.

He insists that these public employees will exercise complete journalistic independence. That’s right. Liberals working for the government will independently make news decisions and report with no hint of bias. But the punchline — or the giveaway, depending on your perspective – is this:

The goal would be an American broadcasting system with full journalistic independence that can provide the news we need. Let’s demonstrate great journalism’s essential role in a free and dynamic society.

What if viewers and readers, um, don’t think they need what Big Government News is serving up? And how do we know what we “need”? Ah, Bollinger and his fellow Ivy Leaguers will tell us. Such is the state of liberal thinking and the mind of an Ivy League president. Yeah, I’m thinking the same thing: people spend money to send their kids to these places?

I thought this headline might be sardonic: “Journalism Needs Government Help; Media budgets have been decimated as the Internet facilitates a communications revolution. More public funding for news-gathering is the answer.” It’s an op-ed from Columbia University professor Lee Bollinger in the Wall Street Journal, so I was hopeful that we’d get a touch of iconoclastic common sense. My hopes were misplaced. And I wonder whether the Journal editors didn’t decide to publish this on their pages just to show how ludicrous liberal statism has become. First, Bollinger’s complains that “journalism” is failing. (Umm, not the Journal, not Fox News — so it’s really only liberal print publications he’s pining over). So the solution is government funding. We learn:

Both the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are undertaking studies of ways to ensure the steep economic decline faced by newspapers and broadcast news does not deprive Americans of the essential information they need as citizens. One idea under consideration is enhanced public funding for journalism.

In other words, taxpayers will be forced to pay for what they won’t watch or read of their own volition. And the journalistic monstrosity will be a merger of PBS and NPR. The result sounds like something George Orwell would have dreamed  up:

To me a key priority is to strengthen our public broadcasting role in the global arena. In today’s rapidly globalizing and interconnected world, other countries are developing a strong media presence. In addition to the BBC, there is China’s CCTV and Xinhua news, as well as Qatar’s Al Jazeera. The U.S. government’s international broadcasters, like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, were developed during the Cold War as tools of our anticommunist foreign policy. In a sign of how anachronistic our system is in a digital age, these broadcasters are legally forbidden from airing within the U.S.

This system needs to be revised and its resources consolidated and augmented with those of NPR and PBS to create an American World Service that can compete with the BBC and other global broadcasters.

He insists that these public employees will exercise complete journalistic independence. That’s right. Liberals working for the government will independently make news decisions and report with no hint of bias. But the punchline — or the giveaway, depending on your perspective – is this:

The goal would be an American broadcasting system with full journalistic independence that can provide the news we need. Let’s demonstrate great journalism’s essential role in a free and dynamic society.

What if viewers and readers, um, don’t think they need what Big Government News is serving up? And how do we know what we “need”? Ah, Bollinger and his fellow Ivy Leaguers will tell us. Such is the state of liberal thinking and the mind of an Ivy League president. Yeah, I’m thinking the same thing: people spend money to send their kids to these places?

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The Orwellian Peace Process

We are indebted to George Orwell for the observation that the corruption of public life begins with the corruption of language, and nowhere has that been more evident than in the “peace process” — whose very name has proved Orwellian.

The “peace process” has so far produced three wars. The first occurred in 2000, after Israel offered the Palestinians a state on all of Gaza and virtually all of the West Bank. Yasir Arafat rejected the offer, returned home to a hero’s welcome, and commenced a barbaric terror war, quaintly named an “intifada,” waged in Israeli restaurants, discos, hotels, schools, and buses. In 2005, Israel removed every soldier and settler from Gaza to enable the Palestinians to demonstrate their willingness to live “side by side in peace and security”; the result was a rocket war against Israel from new forward positions. In 2008, Israel offered a state on 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem; the “peace partner” rejected the offer. A month later, a new war in Gaza became necessary to bring the rockets to a halt.

In 2003, the Palestinians agreed to a three-phase “Performance-Based Road Map” and then failed to perform Phase One — dismantling terrorist groups and infrastructure — much less Phase Two. The result was that their “performance” was waived and the U.S. pushed immediate Phase Three final-status negotiations. The failure to abide by the Road Map was called “accelerating” it.

“Peace process,” “peace partner,” “intifada,” “side by side in peace and security,” “accelerating” — these are all Orwellian terms designed to mask the fact that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected a state in order to pursue the Orwellian “right of return” — an alleged “right” not given to the millions of other 20th century refugees (including the 820,000 Jews expelled from Arab lands), much less to those whose refugee status resulted from their decision to reject a two-state solution in 1948 and start a war instead.

Even the term “refugee” is Orwellian, since it has been deemed to mean not only the 700,000 people who left the area in 1948 (a large proportion of whom moved out to make way for the invading Arab armies) but also three generations of descendants who have never lived in Israel. It is a definition not applied in the case of any other refugees. The rest of the world’s refugees decrease each year as they are resettled in other countries; only in the case of the Palestinians does the number of “refugees” increase every year — by definition.

The Obama administration has not been in office long but has already made its own Orwellian contribution. Six weeks after he took office, Benjamin Netanyahu met with Barack Obama and offered immediate negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions; Mahmoud Abbas rejected the offer. The administration is now trying to get Abbas to agree to “proximity talks” — the Orwellian description of a non-talk process in which the Palestinians employ George Mitchell to convey their demands for pre-negotiation concessions to the nearby State of Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu, reflecting a national consensus, has said a two-state solution will require that one of the two states be recognized as Jewish (which means no “right of return”) and that the other be demilitarized (to avoid a “peace agreement” that simply repositions the parties for a new war). Those are the minimal requirements for a true peace process rather than an Orwellian one, but they have been rejected by the “peace partner” Palestinians.

We are indebted to George Orwell for the observation that the corruption of public life begins with the corruption of language, and nowhere has that been more evident than in the “peace process” — whose very name has proved Orwellian.

The “peace process” has so far produced three wars. The first occurred in 2000, after Israel offered the Palestinians a state on all of Gaza and virtually all of the West Bank. Yasir Arafat rejected the offer, returned home to a hero’s welcome, and commenced a barbaric terror war, quaintly named an “intifada,” waged in Israeli restaurants, discos, hotels, schools, and buses. In 2005, Israel removed every soldier and settler from Gaza to enable the Palestinians to demonstrate their willingness to live “side by side in peace and security”; the result was a rocket war against Israel from new forward positions. In 2008, Israel offered a state on 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem; the “peace partner” rejected the offer. A month later, a new war in Gaza became necessary to bring the rockets to a halt.

In 2003, the Palestinians agreed to a three-phase “Performance-Based Road Map” and then failed to perform Phase One — dismantling terrorist groups and infrastructure — much less Phase Two. The result was that their “performance” was waived and the U.S. pushed immediate Phase Three final-status negotiations. The failure to abide by the Road Map was called “accelerating” it.

“Peace process,” “peace partner,” “intifada,” “side by side in peace and security,” “accelerating” — these are all Orwellian terms designed to mask the fact that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected a state in order to pursue the Orwellian “right of return” — an alleged “right” not given to the millions of other 20th century refugees (including the 820,000 Jews expelled from Arab lands), much less to those whose refugee status resulted from their decision to reject a two-state solution in 1948 and start a war instead.

Even the term “refugee” is Orwellian, since it has been deemed to mean not only the 700,000 people who left the area in 1948 (a large proportion of whom moved out to make way for the invading Arab armies) but also three generations of descendants who have never lived in Israel. It is a definition not applied in the case of any other refugees. The rest of the world’s refugees decrease each year as they are resettled in other countries; only in the case of the Palestinians does the number of “refugees” increase every year — by definition.

The Obama administration has not been in office long but has already made its own Orwellian contribution. Six weeks after he took office, Benjamin Netanyahu met with Barack Obama and offered immediate negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions; Mahmoud Abbas rejected the offer. The administration is now trying to get Abbas to agree to “proximity talks” — the Orwellian description of a non-talk process in which the Palestinians employ George Mitchell to convey their demands for pre-negotiation concessions to the nearby State of Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu, reflecting a national consensus, has said a two-state solution will require that one of the two states be recognized as Jewish (which means no “right of return”) and that the other be demilitarized (to avoid a “peace agreement” that simply repositions the parties for a new war). Those are the minimal requirements for a true peace process rather than an Orwellian one, but they have been rejected by the “peace partner” Palestinians.

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RE: Keeping the Boot Off

Jen, I too was impressed with Bret Stephens’s powerful column on Iraq – and grateful that he quoted the late Michael Kelly. I have written about Mike before. He wrote so well on so many topics, from politics to his family to matters of war and peace. On the matter of Iraq and the tyranny of Saddam, these words are worth recalling as well:

I covered the Gulf War as a reporter, and it was this experience, later compounded by what I saw reporting in Bosnia, that convinced me of the moral imperative, sometimes, for war.

In liberated Kuwait City, one vast crime scene, I toured the morgue on day and inspected torture and murder victims left behind by the departing Iraqis. “The corpse in drawer 3… belonged to a young man,” I later wrote. “When he was alive, he had been beaten from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head, and every inch of his skin was covered with purple-and-black bruises…. The man in drawer 12 had been burned to death with some flammable liquid…. Corpses 18 and 19… belonged to the brothers Abbas… the eyeballs of the elder of the Abbas brothers had been removed. The sockets were bloody holes.”

That was the beginning of the making of me as at least an honorary chicken hawk. After that, I never again could stand the arguments of those who sat in the luxury of safety – “in advocating nonresistance behind the guns of the American Fleet,” as George Orwell wrote of World War II pacifists – and held that the moral course was, in crimes against humanity as in crimes on the street corner: Better not to get involved, dear.

The last two sentences of Bret’s column are these:

I still miss Kelly. Sunday’s election was his vindication, too.

So do I. And yes it was.

Jen, I too was impressed with Bret Stephens’s powerful column on Iraq – and grateful that he quoted the late Michael Kelly. I have written about Mike before. He wrote so well on so many topics, from politics to his family to matters of war and peace. On the matter of Iraq and the tyranny of Saddam, these words are worth recalling as well:

I covered the Gulf War as a reporter, and it was this experience, later compounded by what I saw reporting in Bosnia, that convinced me of the moral imperative, sometimes, for war.

In liberated Kuwait City, one vast crime scene, I toured the morgue on day and inspected torture and murder victims left behind by the departing Iraqis. “The corpse in drawer 3… belonged to a young man,” I later wrote. “When he was alive, he had been beaten from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head, and every inch of his skin was covered with purple-and-black bruises…. The man in drawer 12 had been burned to death with some flammable liquid…. Corpses 18 and 19… belonged to the brothers Abbas… the eyeballs of the elder of the Abbas brothers had been removed. The sockets were bloody holes.”

That was the beginning of the making of me as at least an honorary chicken hawk. After that, I never again could stand the arguments of those who sat in the luxury of safety – “in advocating nonresistance behind the guns of the American Fleet,” as George Orwell wrote of World War II pacifists – and held that the moral course was, in crimes against humanity as in crimes on the street corner: Better not to get involved, dear.

The last two sentences of Bret’s column are these:

I still miss Kelly. Sunday’s election was his vindication, too.

So do I. And yes it was.

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Not Only Orwellian but Also Disingenuous

The Obama budget proposes to raise $291 billion over ten years from limiting the benefit of deductions to families in the top tax bracket — and justifies the proposal as a response to a “disparity”:

Currently, if a middle-class family donates a dollar to its favorite charity or spends a dollar on mortgage interest, it gets a 15-cent tax deduction, but a millionaire who does the same enjoys a deduction that is more than twice as generous. By reducing this disparity and returning the high-income deduction to the same rates that were in place at the end of the Reagan Administration, we will raise $291 billion over the next decade.

John Hinderaker at Power Line calls this reasoning “Orwellian.” The “disparity” results from the fact that the “millionaire” (defined in the Obama budget as any family with income of $250,000) would pay tax at a rate nearly three times as high (39.6 percent) — and thus obviously receives a 39.6 percent benefit from a deduction. Obama proposes to return to the Reagan rates for deductions (28 percent), but not the Reagan rates for income tax (28 percent). He wants to create a disparity to reduce a disparity.

It is actually even more Orwellian than that, because the Obama proposal is not really designed to address a “disparity” but to transfer huge revenues from charities to the government. If tax rates increase by 13 percent (from 35 percent to 39.6 percent), charitable contributions would presumably increase by at least that amount, since taxpayers could donate 13 percent more at the same after-tax cost. The result would be significantly more aid for charities as taxpayers responded to the increased incentive.

By limiting the deduction to 28 percent, Obama would not only take away the incentive for increased charitable contributions, but reduce the incentive for the current level of contributions, and result in less revenue to charities and more to the government. As the pseudonymous tax lawyer Gregory V. Helvering concluded in “Obama, Charity and Fairness:”

The government needs as much money as it can get to fund its new expanded goals, and Obama has found a way to get a large chunk of it from charities — while justifying the massive transfer of funds to government as something required for “fairness” … George Orwell, call your office.

The Obama proposal affects not only charitable contributions but mortgage deductions (reducing the value of homes) and the burden of state taxes: taxpayers would have to pay their state tax liability but not receive a full deduction of that amount against their federal tax liability. The total effect is to push the nominal 39.6 rate into the mid-40s.

Obama cannot seriously believe this will pass Congress, which rejected it when he first proposed it last year. It would create a huge tax inequity, cause significant damage to charities and home values, and makes no sense. But it enables Obama to present a budget with “only” a 1.3 trillion deficit, instead of the record 1.6 trillion it would be without it. So it is not only Orwellian but also disingenuous.

The Obama budget proposes to raise $291 billion over ten years from limiting the benefit of deductions to families in the top tax bracket — and justifies the proposal as a response to a “disparity”:

Currently, if a middle-class family donates a dollar to its favorite charity or spends a dollar on mortgage interest, it gets a 15-cent tax deduction, but a millionaire who does the same enjoys a deduction that is more than twice as generous. By reducing this disparity and returning the high-income deduction to the same rates that were in place at the end of the Reagan Administration, we will raise $291 billion over the next decade.

John Hinderaker at Power Line calls this reasoning “Orwellian.” The “disparity” results from the fact that the “millionaire” (defined in the Obama budget as any family with income of $250,000) would pay tax at a rate nearly three times as high (39.6 percent) — and thus obviously receives a 39.6 percent benefit from a deduction. Obama proposes to return to the Reagan rates for deductions (28 percent), but not the Reagan rates for income tax (28 percent). He wants to create a disparity to reduce a disparity.

It is actually even more Orwellian than that, because the Obama proposal is not really designed to address a “disparity” but to transfer huge revenues from charities to the government. If tax rates increase by 13 percent (from 35 percent to 39.6 percent), charitable contributions would presumably increase by at least that amount, since taxpayers could donate 13 percent more at the same after-tax cost. The result would be significantly more aid for charities as taxpayers responded to the increased incentive.

By limiting the deduction to 28 percent, Obama would not only take away the incentive for increased charitable contributions, but reduce the incentive for the current level of contributions, and result in less revenue to charities and more to the government. As the pseudonymous tax lawyer Gregory V. Helvering concluded in “Obama, Charity and Fairness:”

The government needs as much money as it can get to fund its new expanded goals, and Obama has found a way to get a large chunk of it from charities — while justifying the massive transfer of funds to government as something required for “fairness” … George Orwell, call your office.

The Obama proposal affects not only charitable contributions but mortgage deductions (reducing the value of homes) and the burden of state taxes: taxpayers would have to pay their state tax liability but not receive a full deduction of that amount against their federal tax liability. The total effect is to push the nominal 39.6 rate into the mid-40s.

Obama cannot seriously believe this will pass Congress, which rejected it when he first proposed it last year. It would create a huge tax inequity, cause significant damage to charities and home values, and makes no sense. But it enables Obama to present a budget with “only” a 1.3 trillion deficit, instead of the record 1.6 trillion it would be without it. So it is not only Orwellian but also disingenuous.

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RE: Why Isn’t He Better at Being President?

Jennifer asks a good question that is more and more on the minds of citizens and the punditocracy alike. Obama is so smart and so eloquent, and yet he has not, at least yet, succeeded as president domestically or in foreign affairs.

One answer, perhaps, is that being a successful president requires skills and attributes that Obama simply does not possess. Being “smart” is not among those attributes. Everyone who gets elected president is smart, for anyone who wasn’t could never make it through the world’s longest and most difficult political obstacle course. George Romney — no dummy by a long shot — came a cropper with a single ill-considered remark about having been brainwashed regarding Vietnam.

But being “supersmart” is not only no help; it is, I think, often a hindrance. Six future presidents were elected to Phi Beta Kappa as college undergraduates: John Quincy Adams, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Of those six, only Roosevelt could be considered a great president. Three of them, Adams, Taft, and Bush, were defeated for re-election, and Arthur couldn’t even get nominated for a second term. (His presidential reputation has been improving of late, however.)

And intellectuals, of course, are all too capable of thinking themselves into disaster. Remember George Orwell’s famous crack about “an idea so stupid only an intellectual could have conceived it.”

One might think that engineers, trained to deal with real-world forces, might make better presidents. But the only two engineers to reach the White House were Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter, both terrible presidents.

So what makes for successful presidencies? It might be fruitful to compare what the two greatest presidents of the 20th century, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, had in common. Neither were intellectuals (Roosevelt hardly ever read a book as an adult), but both were very “savvy,” not the same thing as smart. Both were master politicians, able to assemble and maintain coalitions. Both had immense charm. Both were first-class orators. Both had a great sense of humor and loved to tell jokes. Both were comfortable in their own skins and not given to introspection. Both had an abundance of self-confidence but no trace of arrogance. In both, the inner man was inaccessible, and no one felt he really knew what made either man tick. And both had that indispensable handmaiden of greatness — luck.

How many of those attributes does Barack Obama have?

Jennifer asks a good question that is more and more on the minds of citizens and the punditocracy alike. Obama is so smart and so eloquent, and yet he has not, at least yet, succeeded as president domestically or in foreign affairs.

One answer, perhaps, is that being a successful president requires skills and attributes that Obama simply does not possess. Being “smart” is not among those attributes. Everyone who gets elected president is smart, for anyone who wasn’t could never make it through the world’s longest and most difficult political obstacle course. George Romney — no dummy by a long shot — came a cropper with a single ill-considered remark about having been brainwashed regarding Vietnam.

But being “supersmart” is not only no help; it is, I think, often a hindrance. Six future presidents were elected to Phi Beta Kappa as college undergraduates: John Quincy Adams, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Of those six, only Roosevelt could be considered a great president. Three of them, Adams, Taft, and Bush, were defeated for re-election, and Arthur couldn’t even get nominated for a second term. (His presidential reputation has been improving of late, however.)

And intellectuals, of course, are all too capable of thinking themselves into disaster. Remember George Orwell’s famous crack about “an idea so stupid only an intellectual could have conceived it.”

One might think that engineers, trained to deal with real-world forces, might make better presidents. But the only two engineers to reach the White House were Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter, both terrible presidents.

So what makes for successful presidencies? It might be fruitful to compare what the two greatest presidents of the 20th century, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, had in common. Neither were intellectuals (Roosevelt hardly ever read a book as an adult), but both were very “savvy,” not the same thing as smart. Both were master politicians, able to assemble and maintain coalitions. Both had immense charm. Both were first-class orators. Both had a great sense of humor and loved to tell jokes. Both were comfortable in their own skins and not given to introspection. Both had an abundance of self-confidence but no trace of arrogance. In both, the inner man was inaccessible, and no one felt he really knew what made either man tick. And both had that indispensable handmaiden of greatness — luck.

How many of those attributes does Barack Obama have?

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Why WWII Matters

Matthew Yglesias asks “Do we really need a Richard Cohen column about how World War II was, in fact, a good war? Surely there’s some more pressing topic that the precious Washington Post op-ed page real estate could be devoted to.”

It would indeed be nice if, over half a century later, we did not require Washington Post columnists to remind us that “World War II was, in fact, a good war.” But recently a major American novelist undertook a history of World War II aimed at convincing us, in the words of the New York Sun’s Adam Kirsch,

that the Holocaust was, at least in part, Hitler’s response to British aggression, and that the only people who demonstrated true wisdom in the run-up to the war were American and British pacifists, who refused to take up arms no matter how pressing the need.

Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke (which Yglesias does not bother to mention in attacking the decision to publish Cohen’s piece) was not published by the sort of press that puts out tracts by Lyndon LaRouche or Lew Rockwell, but by Simon and Schuster. The book has received favorable notices in both the Los Angeles Times and New York magazine. It enjoyed, in other words, the blessing of American literary culture. Yglesias has an award for political non-conformism named after him. You’d think he’d be more skeptical of thinkers like Baker and the political sophism they practice, whatever sympathies he may share with them.

David Pryce-Jones’s review of Human Smoke, published in COMMENTARY last month, shows why Baker, with his outrageous moral equivalency, is what George Orwell would call “objectively pro-fascist.”Pryce-Jones writes:

For Baker, Churchill and Roosevelt were just as bad then as Bush is now: foolish, small-minded cowards who ordered the bombing of innocent civilians from the air and so participated in a process of reciprocal killing, both blind and, worse, needless.

Leon Wieseltier’s review of Baker’s 2004 novel Checkpoint (about assassinating President Bush), memorably began “This scummy little book . . .” Judgments about Baker’s latest effort should be no more charitable, and should find their way into even Yglesias’s discussions of the Second World War.

Matthew Yglesias asks “Do we really need a Richard Cohen column about how World War II was, in fact, a good war? Surely there’s some more pressing topic that the precious Washington Post op-ed page real estate could be devoted to.”

It would indeed be nice if, over half a century later, we did not require Washington Post columnists to remind us that “World War II was, in fact, a good war.” But recently a major American novelist undertook a history of World War II aimed at convincing us, in the words of the New York Sun’s Adam Kirsch,

that the Holocaust was, at least in part, Hitler’s response to British aggression, and that the only people who demonstrated true wisdom in the run-up to the war were American and British pacifists, who refused to take up arms no matter how pressing the need.

Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke (which Yglesias does not bother to mention in attacking the decision to publish Cohen’s piece) was not published by the sort of press that puts out tracts by Lyndon LaRouche or Lew Rockwell, but by Simon and Schuster. The book has received favorable notices in both the Los Angeles Times and New York magazine. It enjoyed, in other words, the blessing of American literary culture. Yglesias has an award for political non-conformism named after him. You’d think he’d be more skeptical of thinkers like Baker and the political sophism they practice, whatever sympathies he may share with them.

David Pryce-Jones’s review of Human Smoke, published in COMMENTARY last month, shows why Baker, with his outrageous moral equivalency, is what George Orwell would call “objectively pro-fascist.”Pryce-Jones writes:

For Baker, Churchill and Roosevelt were just as bad then as Bush is now: foolish, small-minded cowards who ordered the bombing of innocent civilians from the air and so participated in a process of reciprocal killing, both blind and, worse, needless.

Leon Wieseltier’s review of Baker’s 2004 novel Checkpoint (about assassinating President Bush), memorably began “This scummy little book . . .” Judgments about Baker’s latest effort should be no more charitable, and should find their way into even Yglesias’s discussions of the Second World War.

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Free Speech, UN-Style

If George Orwell had never lived, we would lack a word to describe the UN’s serial logical inversions of the term “human rights.” Under the banner of human rights, entire office parks of the Canadian court system have been commandeered and charged with the task of silencing those who, in fact, defend such rights. Political correctness and radical Islam have conspired to brand anyone who dare speaks ill of jihadists as human rights violators.

So where better than the UN Human Rights Council, the world’s foremost Petri dish of PC and jihad, to make it official? The Canadian Press reports that last Friday afternoon the Council passed an amendment that calls for their “expert on freedom of expression to report on people who abuse their free speech rights to espouse racial and religious discrimination.”

Friday afternoons are the best times to get shady propositions okayed by bureaucrats in a rush to start their weekends. But in this case I think the amendment would have made it even if it was the first order of business on a Monday morning. Here’s the Canadian Press:

The 47-nation council is dominated by Arab and other Muslim countries.

Pakistani Ambassador Masood Khan, who was speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, denied that the resolution would limit free speech.

This is the UN’s version of free speech: free from criticism of radical Islam.

If George Orwell had never lived, we would lack a word to describe the UN’s serial logical inversions of the term “human rights.” Under the banner of human rights, entire office parks of the Canadian court system have been commandeered and charged with the task of silencing those who, in fact, defend such rights. Political correctness and radical Islam have conspired to brand anyone who dare speaks ill of jihadists as human rights violators.

So where better than the UN Human Rights Council, the world’s foremost Petri dish of PC and jihad, to make it official? The Canadian Press reports that last Friday afternoon the Council passed an amendment that calls for their “expert on freedom of expression to report on people who abuse their free speech rights to espouse racial and religious discrimination.”

Friday afternoons are the best times to get shady propositions okayed by bureaucrats in a rush to start their weekends. But in this case I think the amendment would have made it even if it was the first order of business on a Monday morning. Here’s the Canadian Press:

The 47-nation council is dominated by Arab and other Muslim countries.

Pakistani Ambassador Masood Khan, who was speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, denied that the resolution would limit free speech.

This is the UN’s version of free speech: free from criticism of radical Islam.

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His Name Is Ezra Levant

David Frum and Mark Steyn draw our attention to Ezra Levant–former publisher of the Western Standard, a Canadian political magazine–who, like Steyn, is being harassed by Canadian “human rights” commissars over his apparent lack of sensitivity to fundamentalist Muslims who wish to impose Shari’a law on Canada. In men like Steyn and Levant, the professional grievance hustlers have their hands full.

Levant has his own blog, where he posts missives about his case and republishes statements he’s made to the “human rights” commission. He says rousing things like this:

It is especially perverted that a bureaucracy calling itself the Alberta human rights commission would be the government agency violating my human rights. So I will now call those bureaucrats “the commission” or “the hrc”, since to call the commission a “human rights commission” is to destroy the meaning of those words.

And:

The first [complaint against me] was filed by a radical imam in Calgary, Syed Soharwardy, a tin-pot fascist who has publicly called for Canada to be ruled by sharia law.

And:

Why would my intentions as publisher be relevant in determining whether or not the publication was illegal? The answer is that these ‘human rights’ commissions are interested in what George Orwell called ‘thought crimes’.

And:

No six-foot brownshirt, no police cell at midnight. Just Shirlene McGovern, an amiable enough bureaucrat, casually asking me about my political thoughts, on behalf of the government of Alberta. And she’ll write up a report about it, and recommend that the government do this or that to me. Just going through checklists, you see.

This man deserves not only our support, but a standing ovation–for he is not just defending the basic principles of a free society, but doing so in high style and with a sense of confident outrage that puts his detractors on the defensive, which is the best place they should ever hope to be. His website, again, can be found here.

UPDATE: A Facebook group has been created on behalf of Levant’s cause. It can be found here.

David Frum and Mark Steyn draw our attention to Ezra Levant–former publisher of the Western Standard, a Canadian political magazine–who, like Steyn, is being harassed by Canadian “human rights” commissars over his apparent lack of sensitivity to fundamentalist Muslims who wish to impose Shari’a law on Canada. In men like Steyn and Levant, the professional grievance hustlers have their hands full.

Levant has his own blog, where he posts missives about his case and republishes statements he’s made to the “human rights” commission. He says rousing things like this:

It is especially perverted that a bureaucracy calling itself the Alberta human rights commission would be the government agency violating my human rights. So I will now call those bureaucrats “the commission” or “the hrc”, since to call the commission a “human rights commission” is to destroy the meaning of those words.

And:

The first [complaint against me] was filed by a radical imam in Calgary, Syed Soharwardy, a tin-pot fascist who has publicly called for Canada to be ruled by sharia law.

And:

Why would my intentions as publisher be relevant in determining whether or not the publication was illegal? The answer is that these ‘human rights’ commissions are interested in what George Orwell called ‘thought crimes’.

And:

No six-foot brownshirt, no police cell at midnight. Just Shirlene McGovern, an amiable enough bureaucrat, casually asking me about my political thoughts, on behalf of the government of Alberta. And she’ll write up a report about it, and recommend that the government do this or that to me. Just going through checklists, you see.

This man deserves not only our support, but a standing ovation–for he is not just defending the basic principles of a free society, but doing so in high style and with a sense of confident outrage that puts his detractors on the defensive, which is the best place they should ever hope to be. His website, again, can be found here.

UPDATE: A Facebook group has been created on behalf of Levant’s cause. It can be found here.

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George MacDonald Fraser, R.I.P.

No-one would mistake the Flashman books for great literature. They’re full of cheaply-imagined sex and more than a bit of jingoism. But it would be impossible to deny their serious attention to historical detail, their capture of something essential about the vanished life of the British Empire. George MacDonald Fraser, the man who brought us Flashman and his epxloits (as well as the screenplay for Octopussy) died today at the age of 82.

Flashman began life as a minor character in Tom Brown’s Schooldays, a classic of the boy’s-school genre–a bully who gets expelled for getting drunk. But Fraser reinvented him as a fairly amoral soldier-adventurer in his twelve Flashman novels, the first of which appeared in 1969 and the last in 2005. The novels document Flashman’s doings all across the Empire. It’s a strange, unparalleled literary career: Fraser single-handedly resurrected and re-invented the figure whom George Orwell once called the “Englishman-of-infinite-resource-and-sagacity.” Orwell’s Englishman was usually dully moral; Flashman was most certainly not. For all his flaws as a character, it’s certain the we won’t see his like again, or Fraser’s.

No-one would mistake the Flashman books for great literature. They’re full of cheaply-imagined sex and more than a bit of jingoism. But it would be impossible to deny their serious attention to historical detail, their capture of something essential about the vanished life of the British Empire. George MacDonald Fraser, the man who brought us Flashman and his epxloits (as well as the screenplay for Octopussy) died today at the age of 82.

Flashman began life as a minor character in Tom Brown’s Schooldays, a classic of the boy’s-school genre–a bully who gets expelled for getting drunk. But Fraser reinvented him as a fairly amoral soldier-adventurer in his twelve Flashman novels, the first of which appeared in 1969 and the last in 2005. The novels document Flashman’s doings all across the Empire. It’s a strange, unparalleled literary career: Fraser single-handedly resurrected and re-invented the figure whom George Orwell once called the “Englishman-of-infinite-resource-and-sagacity.” Orwell’s Englishman was usually dully moral; Flashman was most certainly not. For all his flaws as a character, it’s certain the we won’t see his like again, or Fraser’s.

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Low and Dishonest

W.H. Auden was born February 21, 1907, and his centenary year is therefore upon us. “We have one poet of genius today,” wrote Cyril Connolly in 1938 in his inquisitorial memoir Enemies of Promise. This praise has become more or less received opinion, as Auden’s reputation continues to rise, and the debt of contemporary poets to his style of intellect and clever comment remains as evident as ever.

One snag is that Auden in the 1930′s was a Communist fellow-traveler of the silliest kind. Writing his memoir, Connolly certainly knew and approved of the poem “Spain,” which Auden had published the previous year to register his Communist sympathies. “Tomorrow for the young the poets exploding like bombs,” is a line that still lingers in the public memory. A more sinister totalitarian recommendation in that poem is “The conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder.” This caught the eye of George Orwell, who famously savaged Auden as someone who would be elsewhere when it came to pulling the trigger.

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W.H. Auden was born February 21, 1907, and his centenary year is therefore upon us. “We have one poet of genius today,” wrote Cyril Connolly in 1938 in his inquisitorial memoir Enemies of Promise. This praise has become more or less received opinion, as Auden’s reputation continues to rise, and the debt of contemporary poets to his style of intellect and clever comment remains as evident as ever.

One snag is that Auden in the 1930′s was a Communist fellow-traveler of the silliest kind. Writing his memoir, Connolly certainly knew and approved of the poem “Spain,” which Auden had published the previous year to register his Communist sympathies. “Tomorrow for the young the poets exploding like bombs,” is a line that still lingers in the public memory. A more sinister totalitarian recommendation in that poem is “The conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder.” This caught the eye of George Orwell, who famously savaged Auden as someone who would be elsewhere when it came to pulling the trigger.

Given his fellow-traveling, Auden might have been expected to welcome joining the war against Nazi Germany. Instead, 1939 found him in New York, where he sat out the whole period of the Nazi-Soviet pact and wrote another line that stays in the public memory, condemning the “low dishonest decade” then on the point of expiring. Auden’s evasion in New York was too much even for Connolly, who was no good at literary or political enmities. Auden then dropped the infantile Leftism, turned Christian, started re-writing his poems to take out the pro-Soviet nonsense, and so reached apotheosis as a Grand Old Man.

But the Auden centenary now brings up another snag. In May 1951, the Soviet agents Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean were tipped off by their handler, Kim Philby, that they were about to be arrested, and they were ordered to seek refuge in Moscow at once. The day before Burgess fled, he contacted Stephen Spender, whose career as a poet was carried out in Auden’s shadow, to ask him how to contact Auden. It is not quite clear whether Auden was staying with Spender at the time, or was already away in his summer home on Ischia, the island off Naples.

This week, the opening of British intelligence files reveals that when Burgess went missing, Spender informed them of that last-minute telephone call, and also that he had passed the message on to Auden. When intelligence officers questioned Auden, he inexplicably lied to them, denying that Spender had told him anything, and added, “He must have been drunk.” Auden had become an American citizen by then, and the FBI wanted to interrogate him. In due course, in mid-June, the Italian police questioned Auden, and the documents show that he “reluctantly admitted that Spender was probably right.”

Why the lying and prevarication? Most essentially, what could Burgess have had in mind when trying to get hold of Auden as virtually the last thing he did before going into exile, never to return? Was he about to appeal to Auden for protection? There may be an innocent explanation, in that the two had known one another for many years; both were homosexual, and had friends in common. The very least that can be said is that Auden appears to have been anxious to hide something, and in the circumstances this was active fellow-traveling. So in spite of his undoubted great gifts, he was contributing his bit towards making yet another decade low and dishonest.

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Hobsbawm’s Spanish Civil War

Eric Hobsbawm was given three pages to write a cover piece about the Spanish Civil War for the review section of Saturday’s Guardian. He produced a paean to the Communist and fellow-traveling intellectuals of the 30’s, who lost the war but won, he claims, a posthumous victory by “creating the world’s memory.”

The passage in which he deals with the handful of pro-Republican intellectuals who criticized Stalin exhibits Hobsbawm’s own relativistic attitude to the truth. George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, he says, was turned down by his fellow-traveling publisher Victor Gollancz and given a “critical” review in the New Statesman (i.e., a hatchet job) because, as Orwell himself wrote, Gollancz and his ideological allies believed that “one must not tell the truth about what is happening in Spain and the part played by the Communist party because to do so would prejudice public opinion against the Spanish government and so aid Franco.”

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Eric Hobsbawm was given three pages to write a cover piece about the Spanish Civil War for the review section of Saturday’s Guardian. He produced a paean to the Communist and fellow-traveling intellectuals of the 30’s, who lost the war but won, he claims, a posthumous victory by “creating the world’s memory.”

The passage in which he deals with the handful of pro-Republican intellectuals who criticized Stalin exhibits Hobsbawm’s own relativistic attitude to the truth. George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, he says, was turned down by his fellow-traveling publisher Victor Gollancz and given a “critical” review in the New Statesman (i.e., a hatchet job) because, as Orwell himself wrote, Gollancz and his ideological allies believed that “one must not tell the truth about what is happening in Spain and the part played by the Communist party because to do so would prejudice public opinion against the Spanish government and so aid Franco.”


Hobsbawm does not dissent from this craven toeing of the party line; indeed, even 70 years later he still supports it. Smugly, he recalls that Orwell’s book sold “so poorly that the stock was still not exhausted 13 years later” and concludes: “Only in the cold-war era did Orwell cease to be an awkward, marginal figure.” But who marginalized him? The Stalinist intellectuals, of whom Hobsbawm was one, tried to wreck his career and came close to succeeding.

Hobsbawm mentions that W.H. Auden “modified his great 1937 poem ‘Spain’ in 1939 and refused to allow it to be reprinted in 1950.” But he does not explain how and why. In fact, Auden rewrote two lines of the poem in response to Orwell’s criticism. What Orwell took exception to were the following lines, which he read as justifying Stalinist liquidation: “Today the deliberate increase in the chances of death, / The conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder.” Auden altered “deliberate” to “inevitable” and “necessary murder” became “the fact of murder.” Auden later claimed that Orwell had been “densely unjust” in his interpretation, but the fact that he excluded even the amended version of this poem from his Collected Poems suggests that he had a bad conscience about it. Indeed, the phrase “necessary murder” became notorious after Orwell attacked it, despite Auden’s attempt at self-censorship.

Yet Hobsbawm simply glosses over this and other examples of bad faith. For him, the dilemma for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War was about “Marx versus Bakunin.” He adds that “among those who fought for the republic as soldiers, most found Marx more relevant than Bakunin” and he concludes that the war “could not have been waged, let alone won, along Orwellian lines.” Well, the Republicans actually lost the war, not least due to the ruthless policies of the Soviet NKVD agents in their ranks. But Hobsbawm is peddling here the old Communist cliché that “you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” The fact that the Left’s sanitized interpretation of the war, which did indeed come to dominate its historiography, was utterly mendacious does not trouble him at all, either as a scholar or as a human being.

He has harsh words for the “mythology and manipulation of the regime of the victors” and “cold-war propaganda,” but not a word of criticism for the lies of the Communists and their apologists. He patronizes Orwell and ignores completely the other great writer about the civil war who abandoned Stalinism: Franz Borkenau, who was actually tortured by the Spanish Communists and whose justly celebrated book The Spanish Cockpit exposed their machinations. Nor does Hobsbawm mention the leading Spanish thinkers who, while rejecting Franco, rejected Communism even more strongly, among them Ortega y Gasset and Miguel de Unamuno.
In short: vintage Hobsbawm.

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