Friday, May 05, 2006

Winning political questions 

How does Mitch Landrieu effectively blunt Ray Nagin's attempts to attract conservative white voters who supported Rob Couhig?

There are several ways, but I think the best one is for Mitch to pledge to overhaul the police department and stop the rise in crime since Katrina. Then, couple that pledge with a separate effort* to remind every "law and order" conservative in New Orleans that the Nagin administration illegally seized firearms from law-abiding citizens while looters were running wild in the Katrina aftermath.

Whammo!

Make sure every single Couhig voter is reminded that Nagin "took people's guns away" while looters were on the prowl. And, according to Pawpaw's research (he has been all over this issue from the beginning) the Nagin administration lied about the illegal mass firearm seizure, held the guns for months, and (I believe) STILL has not returned all of the firearms to their rightful owners.

Thwack!

So, Nagin's foes should make sure that he's asked the following query prior to the election: Do you believe seizing firearms from law-abiding citizens is Constitutional? And, if reelected, will you order more gun seizures if another hurricane hits New Orleans?

Kerplow!

This isn't an issue that really animates me, but then, I'm not a Couhig voter. If I were, I think Nagin's gun seizures would make me think twice before holding my nose and supporting Nagin, no matter how well he supposedly "understands business".


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Go to these links for more on this: NRA sues Nagin , Nagin snubs 2nd Amendment.

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* this "effort" should perhaps not involve Mitch himself. Landrieu's surrogates could do it, or, better yet, a separate organization could be formed, and they could make some searing talk radio ads. Call the group "New Orleanians for the 2nd Amendment" or some such.
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Creole Cream social 

Lovely, Pearlgirl and I went to the tastiest* ice cream parlor in New Orleans last night. I had a little sampler bowl of the following flavors: blueberry mint, pear and cheese, coffee and donuts (with real donut hunks) and bourbon vanilla and brown sugar. Pearlgirl had the Cookie Monster and Lovely enjoyed a refreshing Apricot and Grean tea sorbet. It was all pretty darn yummy. Then, some good friends of ours came in and the place got crowded-- kids running around everywhere. I talked with one of my many lawyer-friends about his flooded house and the upcoming runoff election. My friend knows just about everyone in the city, and always has some juicy details about the latest scandal du jour. Later on, as Pearlgirl's sugar-high started waning, we decided to leave.

And guess who was there holding the door for us as we left? Rob Couhig, the 4th place finisher in the mayor's race! Inconceivable. I thanked him for the courtesy and decided not to rib him about endorsing Mayor Ray "cuckoo" Nagin.

It really is a fascinating political dynamic playing out between the Ray Nagin and Mitch Landrieu campaigns. Nagin is trying to recapture the conservative white voters who supported him 4 years ago (hence the value of Couhig's endorsement), and Mitch is trying to broaden his support in the African-American community. This foils any simplistic "white/black" media storylines that would have developed had it been Nagin versus any other candidate, and I couldn't be happier about that. In a time of catastrophe and crisis, I'm heartened by the fact that the "swing" voters who will decide this election will be voting for someone with a different skin pigmentation.

That said, I'm definitely pulling for Landrieu, and the main reason is this: the rest of the country knows only the post-Katrina Ray Nagin. They know only the frazzled Mayor who didn't evacuate the entire city, and let all the buses flood, and had no food or water for all those people at the Dome and Convention Center. They know him as the guy who loses his composure on the radio, and who disgraced MLK day with his idiotic "chocolate city" speech. So, if New Orleanians reelect Nagin, the rest of the county will be totally unimpressed. They won't understand it at all, and it will be one more reason for them to write us off, or feel "fatigued", or lose all hope in New Orleans' ability to help itself. The city needs help-- we need federal monies, we need business loans, and we need tourists. Re-electing Nagin will send a very bad message to the nation; it will not inspire confidence in New Orleans.

For example, when my family evacuated to Florida after Katrina, I attended a mayoral debate in Daytona Beach. It was a luncheon, and I was sitting among other businessmen, politicos and "concerned citizens". When the folks at my table learned I was from New Orleans, they naturally had a lot of questions. Finally a cagey old guy chirped up and asked "So what do you think of your mayor?" Now, I can defend Nagin as well as anyone, but it was very difficult to explain to these people why Nagin was the best option four years ago, especially compared to his corrupt predecessor, and why the evacuation of New Orleans should actually be considered a success because "only" a couple thousand died instead of 20k. My tablemates weren't buying it. "He sounds like he's on drugs" one lady said. Several nodded. "He's no Guiliani", the old guy stated triumphantly. Everyone else murmured affrimatively, and looked down at their food, embarrassed for me.

I shudder at the thought of going back to Daytona Beach, where I grew up, and having to explain why New Orleans reelected Nagin, and why our "chocolate city" deserves a greater portion of their tax dollars. That is a tough, tough, tough sale to make. And I presume that everyone else who evacuated had similar conversations at some time or another, with people from out of state.

Voters who believe Rob Couhig's claim that Nagin would be "good for business", are deluding themselves. Nagin's policies are irrelevant compared to what he symbolizes to the rest of the country: a city in chaos, flooded buses, desperate people at the Convention Center, stupid chocolate city remarks... whether this symbolism is fair or not, New Orleans can't afford to endorse it.

The rest of the country would view Nagin's reelection as a crushingly stupid move. That in itself is enough of a reason to vote for Landrieu (although I'll offer a couple more in upcoming posts).


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* Their secret? Extra butterfat!
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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Inconceivable! 

Rob Couhig gives PEACE, er, Mayor Nagin a chance. Even though Couhig aired campaign commercials depicting Nagin as "cuckoo", he now believes the mayor "understands business", and has endorsed him.

Mitch Landrieu collected the endorsements of sheriffs Marlin Gusman and Paul Valteau, DA Eddie Jordan, JP Sheriff Harry Lee, and AG Charles Foti, among others.

Landrieu's new commercials are very good, I think. They show specific neighborhoods, and show New Orleanians on porches talking about why they're voting for "Mitch". The commercials with Landrieu speaking are not quite as effective, but still good. Rebuilding neighborhoods, fixing streets, reducing crime, coming together as one city... these are the right themes for him to be talking about.

*
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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"Singe, don't burn"... unless you want to actually do something 

The best post on L'affaire Colbert is written, unsurprisingly, by jonnybutter at TIA. In fact, he wrote two brilliant posts about this, which should be read in their entirety. Currently (1:20pm CST Wed) not a single commenter had piped up to thank jonny for daring to ask the correct question, and putting the performance in the right context. What exactly were we seeing, there, anyway? Something uncommon, certainly.

From TIA:


If you think the way to evaluate the event in question is to answer the question 'Did Colbert bomb?' - no matter how clever you are about it - the joke is on you.
...

Real satire - like politics itself - is not mere entertainment; it draws blood.
Not 'kind of'; not 'sort of'. Really. Ever get frustrated with our stultifyingly boring American culture? Our crappy, disposable, derivative, remake-stripmined pop music and movies, for instance? Long for the olden days when things 'really happened' - long for them via either envy or its twin (a too-virulent scorn)? Know what the effective synonym is for the words 'quirky' and 'snarky'? It's 'harmless'. Also 'tame'. And 'tractable'. If you're smart enough to know that the Culturo-commercial Borg co-opts and commodifies everything (you are, and it does), you are certainly smart enough to see that, since it will eat anything, there is utility in putting a little 'poison' in its food when you can. Perhaps you are smart enough, but don't care.

Read jonny's posts about Colbert here and here.


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Update: Kung Fu Monkey makes much the same point as Jonny, but from a comedian's angle. (Via Sideshow.)
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And if, afterwards, you want an evil, cringe-inducing laugh with no political value (like I do from time to time) here's a clip to view. Thanks to jkas.
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"Fastidious, frightened, irresponsible, out of touch and, at times, unstable" 

Douglas Brinkley's new book, The Great Deluge is coming out tomorrow. It details the first week of Katrina, and, among other things, excoriates Mayor Nagin's performance immediately before and after the storm. Brinkley has frequently criticized Nagin (and others) during his television and radio appearances since September. But with the runoff elections looming, Nagin will have to deal with some very embarrassing questions sourcing from the Tulane professor's new book.

Nagin deserves to get grilled, though, because he has obviously adopted the tactic of reminding voters about his role during Katrina whenever possible (similar to Bush and 9/11). In recent debates, Nagin boasted that "he was there" during Katrina and "he didn't leave the city"... etc. But what exactly was he doing? What were his heroic moments while "on the ground" in New Orleans, amidst the chaos and desperation?

Did he, for example, show leadership during the crisis by addressing the crowds at the Superdome and Convention Center? According to Brinkley, absolutely not.

Today's Times Picayune article details some of the charges made against Nagin in the book:


Brinkley's harshest critiques are saved for Nagin, whom he paints variously as fastidious, frightened, irresponsible, out of touch and, at times, unstable. Notably, the named sources for several unflattering anecdotes include two of Nagin's opponents in the April 22 mayoral primary, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and Audubon Nature Institute chief Ron Forman, as well as Forman's wife, Sally, who served as Nagin's communications director until her husband declared his intention to run for mayor.
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Landrieu, Nagin's opponent in the runoff, is quoted by Brinkley describing his efforts to find Nagin the day after the storm to ask him "why school buses and those belonging to the Regional Transit Authority hadn't been activated to transport evacuees." Landrieu first encountered Sally Forman, according to the article, who said she was looking for Chief Administrative Officer Brenda Hatfield, who would know where the bus keys were.

"It would have seemed farcical if the circumstances hadn't been so dire," Brinkley writes.

The article says Landrieu eventually found Nagin on the 27th floor of the Hyatt hotel, which had become the emergency operations center and sleeping quarters for city administrators and where Brinkley says -- in one of the loaded phrases that pepper the article -- Nagin was "hunkered down" and "cloistered."

Landrieu tells Brinkley that Nagin was "sitting in a room, trying to pick up information from the TV and radio." After Landrieu asked Nagin if he needed anything, the article says, "Nagin stared straight ahead and answered, 'We're looking for a command-and-control structure.' "

Brinkley then summarizes: "To some observers, the naive politician was turning into a pathetic figure...."

In another anecdote, Brinkley mocks Nagin for spending a long time showering and grooming himself in the bathroom of Air Force One in an anecdote attributed to Ron Forman.

"A top priority for Nagin, in addition to the shower, was that his head be shaved properly, possibly for his photo op with President Bush," [Brinkley] says. "But, like a teenager, Nagin just wouldn't get out of the bathroom. Aides rapped on the door, telling the mayor, 'You've got five minutes and then the president gets here.' They knocked again. But, still, Nagin dallied. . . . One agent kicked the door and told Nagin to get out; the president had arrived and didn't have time to waste on vanity."

In other glimpses of Nagin, Brinkley raises questions about the mayor's mental stability. Blanco, describing a profanity-laced tirade launched by Nagin aboard the president's plane, said the mayor was "falling apart" and told him to "get out of town" to get some sleep.

When Nagin eventually decamped to Dallas for a trip Brinkley says lasted five days, beginning Sept. 7, Blanco railed that he was gone too long. "In the heat of everything that was going on, he's screaming about no leadership and he's a total void."

For the record, Brinkley's book covers much more than the failed political response to Katrina (at all levels). He stayed in New Orleans during the hurricane and witnessed the Mississippi "running backwards" due to the storm surge from the Gulf, and later helped rescue people who were stranded in the city after the levees broke.

He plans to donate proceeds from The Great Deluge to the Historic New Orleans Collection.
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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Long drives 

I hate to have two golf-related posts in one week, but a detail in this AP story about John Daly's gambling addiction struck me as very odd.

Golfer John Daly says he has lost between $50 million and $60 million during 12 years of heavy gambling, and that it has become a problem that could "flat-out ruin me" if he doesn't bring it under control.
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He told one story of earning $750,000 when he lost in a playoff to Tiger Woods last fall in San Francisco at a World Golf Championship. Instead of going home, he drove to Las Vegas and says he lost $1.65 million in five hours, playing mostly $5,000 slot machines.

I don't know all the details here, but I do know that Reno is a helluva lot closer to San Francisco than Las Vegas is. (About 350 miles closer, according to Mapquest). Perhaps Daly had a favorite casino there. Or a valuable Player's Club card with a lot of "credits". Or maybe Bill Bennett had given him some pointers about "hot slot" strategy in Vegas. Hard to say, but it seems odd for an addict to drive an extra five hours to get his fix.

At least Daly's able to admit he has a problem, unlike "Moral Czar" Bennett, who made the utterly preposterous claim that he "broke even" playing high limit slots over eight years.

No way.
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Inexcusable, in every way 

From BlondeSense, our eyes popped when we read the following Raw Story article:

MSNBC correspondent David Shuster confirmed what RAW STORY first reported in February: that outed CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson was working on Iran at the time she was outed.
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According to current and former intelligence officials, Plame Wilson, who worked on the clandestine side of the CIA in the Directorate of Operations as a non-official cover (NOC) officer, was part of an operation tracking distribution and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran.


So let's recap three inexcusable decisions made by the Bush/Cheney administration in the so-called Global War on Terror:

1) In Spring of 2002, Special Forces hunting Bin Laden were transferred from Afghanistan into Iraq.

2) For over a year before the war started, the Bush administration refused to bomb Abu Zarqawi's terrorist training camps in Kurdistan, because it might have impeded their war plans for Hussein.

3) In retaliation for an op-ed they didn't like, Karl Rove and Scooter Libby "outed" a covert CIA agent working on WMD nonproliferation in Iran.


These weren't innocent mistakes. They were deliberate, totally inexcusable choices made by an administration that must be held accountable. I mean, think about those three things. We took our best men off of Bin Laden's trail. We chose not to bomb Zarqawi, and he became the world's most dangerous terrorist. Now, the same folks who wanted Iran to "get nuclear" in the 70's, now have no problem with vindictively outing a covert agent working on wmd proliferation in Iran.

And they view "fighting terrorism" as their foremost political strength.
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"All you have to be is an occasionally thinking American to be sickened" 

From the most notable Rising Hegemon, we learn of Peter King's recent SI column. King's livid. He visited the Gulf Coast a few days ago and could barely contain his rage:

What I saw was a national disgrace. An inexcusable, irresponsible, borderline criminal national disgrace. I am ashamed of this country for the inaction I saw everywhere.

I mentioned my outrage to the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, on Thursday. He shook his head and said, "Tell me about it.'' Disgust dripped from his voice.

What are we doing in this country?
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How can we let an area like the Lower Ninth Ward sit there, on the eve of another hurricane season, with nothing being done to either bulldoze the place and start over, or rebuild? How can Congress sit on billions of looming aid and not release it for this area?

I can't help but think that if this were Los Angeles or New York, that 500 percent more money -- and concern -- would have flooded into this place. And I can't help but think that if the idiots who let the levees down here go to seed had simply been doing their jobs, we'd never have been in this mess in the first place -- in New Orleans, at least. Other than former FEMA director Michael Brown, are you telling me that no others are paying for this with their jobs? Whatever happened to responsibility?

Am I ticked off? Damn right I'm ticked off. If you're breathing, you should be morally outraged. Katrina fatigue? Hah! More Katrina news! Give me more! Give it to me every day on the front page! Every day until Washington realizes there's a disaster here every bit as urgent as anything happening in this world today -- fighting terrorism, combating the nuclear threat in Iran. I'm not in any way a political animal, but all you have to be is an occasionally thinking American to be sickened by the conditions I saw.

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On Saturday, at the Saints' headquarters for the draft, I watched the day unfold with a friend of the team, New Orleans businessman and president Michael Whelan. I told him what I'd seen, and asked him what he thought.

"We spend all this money on the war in Iraq and we can't take care of our own cities?" he said. "You get out of downtown, and it's like a war zone in a lot of neighborhoods still. The government has been a huge letdown. I've heard billions of dollars are going to be sent here. Where are they? Nothing is taking place. I certainly think that now it's back-page news; the government is sweeping it under the rug.''

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And in the comments at Rising Hegemon, lex perfectly captures this story with the following sentence:

I don't know which is worse: that Qatar is giving us $60M in aid [actually $100 mil], that we're accepting it, or that they're acknowledging to the NY Times that they're giving it directly to area institutions because they're afraid if they give it to the (U.S.) government, it won't get to the people who need it.

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More here, and here, for the unfatigued. (H/T DP)
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Citizens should report corruption 

It's imperative that upright, reform-minded, good-government watchdogs like ourselves properly utilize the anti-corruption resources made available to us via our intrepid U.S. Senator, David "Vitty Cent" Vitter*.

That's right. We cannot forget that Vitty Cent has a "Government Corruption Form" on his official web page. Let's endeavour to use it!

You may not know this, but Vitter's feature-rich "Government Corruption Form" enables concerned citizens to file reports about governmental depravity occurring not only in Louisiana, but in every other state as well. How useful is that!

For example, displaced Louisianans in the D.C. area might use the form to bring the emerging Watergate "prostitution ring" scandal to Vitter's attention. This scandal allegedly involves the disgraced, corrupt Republican Duke Cunningham, and other assorted legislators, lobbyists, defense contractors and perhaps a highly placed "intelligence" official. It went on for about fifteen years at D.C. hotels like the infamous Watergate. On the surface, this would seem like a serious matter which Vitter should investigate.

We can't have our public servants whoring around hotels, can we? They could be blackmailed!

What is Vitter's public stance on prostitution, anyway? Since he made "cleaning up corruption" a centerpiece of his campaign for Senate, I'd expect Vitter to be out front on this, making statements about the dangers of public officials paying for sex, but I haven't heard a peep from him about these emerging scandals. Vitter has said before that "Strong Louisiana Leadership" will stop corruption. Well, what's more corrupt than bribed politicians having drunken parties with whores and lobbyists?

Here's what I'd recommend: Vitter should go down to Storyville, and make a prime-time announcement declaring that in the aftermath of Katrina we're dedicated to building a newer, cleaner Louisiana; one that has zero-tolerance for politicians who accept bribes and do the hanky panky with whores. Then Vitter should boldly call for the Canal Street Madam to open up her business ledger, and make public all the names in it. In fact, he should encourage all prostitutes who have done business with elected officials to come forward and name names. He could call it the "Cleaning up after Katrina initiative". Finally, Vitter should reaffirm his pro-family commitments to purity and goodness by offering himself as a personal example for his Congressional colleagues to emulate.

That's one idea, anyway. Whaddya think, Vitty?




Or, perhaps the online corruption forms could be used to complain about all the depraved facets of the Abramoff scandal... but that's another story.



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* Why do I persist in using this silly "vitty cent" nickname? Well, because it is funny, and it rhymes with "innocent".
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Monday, May 01, 2006

Were shots fired at rescue 'copters during the Katrina aftermath? 

No. (The last shot to down a Huey in Louisiana occurred... Long ago.)

But with the help of a breathless Katrina-crazed media, that "single mythical shot" was heard 'round the world, and air evacuations to the Dome were suspended, and a nationwide tv audience shook its head in disbelief, wondering why New Orleanians would shoot the heroes trying to save them.

Thanks to our intrepid colleague Greg Peters, I found a Reason article about this topic which quoted a VERY unexpected source: Tiger Woods.

Golfer Tiger Woods spoke for many of us on September 2 when he remarked, during a tournament in Boston, that "it's just unbelievable how people are behaving, with the shootings and now the gang rapes and the gang violence and shooting at helicopters who are trying to help out and rescue people."

Like many early horror stories about ultra-violent New Orleans natives, whether in their home city or in far-flung temporary shelters, the A.P. article turned out to be false.

I find it interesting that Tiger decided to weigh in on the Katrina aftermath. He's not known for commenting on current events, much less New Orleans. Tiger never plays in the Zurich Classic, and frankly I doubt he has spent much time in these parts... However, that hasn't stopped him from profiting, indirectly, from the city of New Orleans. As a celebrity spokesman for Buick, Tiger made a commercial in 2002 that was supposedly set in the French Quarter. But, rather than actually filming the piece in the Quarter, Tiger was digitally superimposed (a la Kimberly) driving in a French Quarter street scene. (This was Buick's lame attempt to copy a far superior Acura commercial).

Now, I know Tiger doesn't have much creative control over ads, and he can certainly be forgiven for repeating false news claims. But after profiting indirectly from the "atmosphere" of New Orleans, and after fanning the flames of hysteria after Katrina, wouldn't it have been a nice gesture to visit a stricken city when his presence would have mattered most?

I think so.

Anyway, thanks to all the golfers who generously donated their time and money to the stricken city this week. We applaud them for helping a city in need.

Phil "Lefty" Mickelson (whom I normally don't cheer) donated $250k.

Eight "PGA Tour Wives" gutted a flood-damaged house on Mithra Street.

And finally, belated praise to 16 year-old golfer Michelle Wie, who donated half a million dollars to the Hurricane relief fund. Wow!
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Bush chose not to eliminate Zarqawi in 2002 

Kevin Drum spotlights another confirmed story of how the Bush administration didn't eliminate Abu Zarqawi and his terrorist training camp because doing so would have hindered plans for war in Iraq. Bush had the intelligence and the means to bomb the camps, but apparently didn't want to irritate France... (yeah, right).

Zarqawi and his crew trained in Kurdistan, in North Iraq, which Saddam didn't control. These terrorists were "experimenting" with ricin and anthrax in 2002, but weren't worth killing because the U.S. was already set on Baghdad. Now we have Baghdad, and Zarqawi's crew has killed hundreds if not thousands of people, and countless Al Qaeda in Iraq "spinoff" groups have formed.

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So let's review some of the big arguments used to justify war with Iraq. (A war that began, in actuality, a few months after we invaded Afghanistan when we pulled Special Forces out of there and prepped them for Iraq in Spring 2002).

Saddam possesses weapons of mass destruction.

He harbors terrorists like Zarqawi.

He supports groups like Hamas.

So there were no WMD's, we chose not to kill Zarqawi for over a year when we had the chance, and Hamas was elected to power in Palestine. Now we're left with the farce of nation-building an Islamic democracy amidst a trillion dollar war.

Now, the script for Iran will apparently be variations on a theme: 9/11 changed everything. Better fight them over there than over here. Can't 'cut and run' now. Freedom isn't free.... simple meaningless phrases that soothingly cover over world-historic strategic blunders. Josh Marshall believes the political response to this should be "Double or Nothing is not a Foreign Policy".

That's pretty good.

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(This post has been subsequently edited for clarity.)
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