Decoding dogwhistles

Trigger warning: racism, anti-immigrant violence, deportation, police violence, ethnic cleansing

On Tuesday, Donald Trump became frustrated at a press conference. To journalist and eight-time Emmy Award winner Jorge Ramos, Trump responded to a line of questioning about how on earth he was going to deport millions of undocumented people by saying, “Go back to Univision.” In case the thinly veiled language is able to pass you by undetected, one of Trump’s supporters confronted Ramos after he was expelled from the event and made it even more explicit.

“Get out of my country, get out.”

Donald Trump himself did say “Univision”, a Spanish language news network based in the United States, but the implications of it, that Ramos did not belong in the room, were heard loud and clear and seized on almost immediately by someone less able or willing to hide the nature of what was being discussed. That slipping of the curtain behind what Trump said and what others correctly heard him mean is not only a confirmation that “dogwhistling” – the use of subtle language to indicate support for unpopular and extremist groups – will continue to be a key part of the Republican presidential primary, but also a confirmation of what many had already suspected about the specifics of the anti-immigration animus currently propping up Donald Trump.

Jorge Ramos is a US citizen. While he was born in Mexico, he immigrated at the age of twenty-four with a legal student visa. The following thirty-three years of his life, he has lived in the United States first on that visa and later as a naturalized citizen. Whatever political stance you take on undocumented immigration isn’t a stance that at least personally implicates him, and yet, the language ultimately used to dismiss him is identical to that used against undocumented people. That’s because, for all the bluster about legality and criminality, Donald Trump’s campaign doesn’t care about documentation of immigration, they care about immigration, full stop.

In hindsight, this is obvious. In his announcement that he was running, Trump famously spoke with open hostility towards undocumented immigrants from Mexico, stating they were intrinsically criminal people guilty of not only failing to obey immigration laws but also habitually engage in various violent crimes. His description actually doesn’t connect what he sees as an anti-social nature among those immigrant communities to their undocumented status, but rather their national origin. “Mexico sends” them, is how he put it – technically including legally documented Latin@ immigrants like Ramos, who left his birth country after facing pushback for critical coverage of the Mexican government. While the focus is on what’s possible policy-wise to do towards the undocumented, the political desire clearly expressed targets all immigrants regardless of documentation status.

The anti-immigrant politics defining Trump’s campaign only become more obvious from there. The first of his rallies to attract the size of crowd first associated with Bernie Sander’s populist rhetoric was in Mobile, Alabama, where he appeared on stage with Senator Jeff Sessions. His host has previously used his weight in the Senate to upend proposals about legal immigration – essentially he’s opposed to immigration in any form. Trump has added him to his team specifically to design immigration policy for him. Tellingly, this is what the crowd that greeted the two of them in Alabama looked like:

trump in mobileFrom here.

Alabama is in many ways not just the type of place where Trump draws the largest support but also the kind of population that Trump wants to create with the policy of all undocumented people being “returned”. Years of anti-immigrant policies culminated in Alabama in 2011 with the passage of a strict profiling-encouraging law inspired by an Arizonan forerunner. As many news outlets noted at the time, one of the most immediate impacts on Alabama was that many neighborhoods were in essence ethnically cleansed. As the New York Times put it –

“By Monday afternoon, 123 students had withdrawn from the schools in [Albertville, Alabama], leaving behind teary and confused classmates. Scores more were absent. Statewide, 1,988 Hispanic students were absent on Friday, about 5 percent of the entire Hispanic population of the school system.

John Weathers, an Albertville businessman who rents and has sold houses to many Hispanic residents, said his occupancy had suddenly dropped by a quarter and might drop further, depending on what happens in the next week. Two people who had paid off their mortgages called him asking if they could sell back their homes


Rumors of raids and roadblocks are rampant, and though the new law has nothing to say about such things, distrust is primed by anecdotes, like one told by a local Hispanic pastor who said he was pulled over outside Birmingham on Wednesday, within hours of the ruling. His friend who was driving — and who is in the United States illegally — is now in jail on an unrelated misdemeanor charge, the pastor said, adding that while he was let go, a policeman told him he was no longer welcome in Alabama.

‘I am afraid to drive to church,’ a 54-year-old poultry plant worker named Candelaria said, adding, ‘The lady that gives me a ride to work said she is leaving. She said she felt like a prisoner.'”

For many this is perhaps a not terribly revealing moment, but this marks an opening in which the motivations behind policy are being revealed, making them visible for some for the first time. What Donald Trump is running is at its core an anti-immigrant campaign that is built to validate what was said to Jorge Ramos – that this is a White person’s country and not his. The basic idea that Trump’s campaign sells is that Ramos shouldn’t feel entitled to ask questions as a journalist, that Latin@ people shouldn’t feel entitled to drive or go to school otherwise exist in the US publicly, that Candelaria shouldn’t feel entitled to go to church. The targeting of the undocumented for deportation is just the most visibly violent part of the system he’s trying to set up.

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Pay up

Trigger Warning: heterosexism, cissexism, assistive reproductive technology

If you followed along on twitter this morning, I attended an event organized by California Assembly Member David Chiu this morning in San Francisco about one piece of pending legislation – the Equal Protection for All Families Act. One of the speakers at the event, Polly Pagenhart, spoke about her personal experience as a parent affected by the current state policies on the recognition of her parenthood. The years-long process of making certain that both her and her partner were legally and custodially recognized as such was spurred by a hope to make a potential family disaster (such as an unexpected death) as manageable as possible. That’s what current law is designed to do for families who do not use gamete donation, in vitro fertilization, or other assistive reproductive technologies to have children, but not ones like hers.

Pagenhart spoke particularly movingly about how not only was the process of giving her family security a difficult one, but also a costly one made her her words “insurmountable” when she lost her then current job. In the midst of my liveblog, that prompted me to tweet-

That cuts to the very heart of a number of problems in terms of how even well-intentioned people both within and outside of LGBT communities fail to actually address LGBT people’s needs. A refusal to understand the struggles against heterosexism and cissexism as having economic dimensions is disastrously common. The past talk of boycotts of everything from pizza places to entire states might make that sound strange, but there’s a recurrent pattern to how economics enter the pictures of LGBT rights. The recent announcement of The Economist’s conference on how LGBT inclusivity could encourage economic growth shows how when economic issues are brought up, it’s almost always framed in the other direction – in terms of how LGBT people could benefit others economically, even including how others should accept our business with the implication that we are a community with resources to be tapped if not taken and removed. This runs directly into some of the most toxic aspects of how even “liberal” and “accepting” parts of straight and cisgender dominated culture continue to exploit LGBT people and organizations, with Pride and other community spaces for example framed as places for self discovery and actualization for everyone, not only LGBT people.

This transfer of money for essentially basic respect and of community spaces and resources for the weakest form of tolerance fits a very specific definition: that of material oppression. An essential part of this process before any exchange even happens is the projection of an image of power and wealth to ease the bargaining process. The issue, of course, is that that provides rhetorical cover to those who don’t want to help the LGBT people unable to make whatever payment is demanded of them for their security and stability.

A hearing on this very bill by the California State Senate’s Judiciary Committee saw a hint of this in fact. Cathy Sakimura from the National Council for Lesbian Rights stated (viewable here, after 1:45:00) that

“We receive hundreds of calls from families who are conceiving their children through assisted reproduction and a large number of these calls are coming from families who are doing at home insemination because they just cannot afford the cost of using a sperm bank or a doctor to assist them with the conception […] Unfortunately we have to let these families know that they’re currently unprotected under California law. […] For non-married parents, the non-biological parent is not able to get on the child’s birth certificate and may not be able to put the child on their health insurance.”

This was followed up by personal testimony, which committee chair Hannah-Beth Jackson interrupted (at 1:49:52), saying, “It is my hope […] that things have improved dramatically since then [the time of those personal experiences]. So let us… let us assume that they have.” This presumption of security, safety, and stability is part of the challenge LGBT activism now faces.

lgbt homelessnessThere’s no economic hardships to accessing civil services among those… at higher risk of homelessness? Image from here.

Even with the current bill having passed both houses of the California state legislature, there’s the possibility that a similar line of thought could influence Governor Jerry Brown, motivating him to leave the bill where it is. That’s part of why Assembly Member Chiu held the event this morning, however, to encourage people to write to him directly and discuss how important and relevant this bill is. If you don’t have the time to craft a personal letter, here‘s a petition I’ve put together to urge him to sign the bill. Maybe we won’t have to pay up this time.

Full disclosure, I was conceived in California by a couple affected by the current law. My mother shared our experiences in the personal testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Why we’re all keeping an eye on the interest rate

The New York Stock Exchange has continued well into this week its steady (and for many, confusing) decline. Among the other effects of that is the stifling of an earlier conversation about the Federal Reserve raising the US’s federal funds rate. An incentive typically retained for crises or to address inflation, a heightening of that rate would increase the interest on loans between banks, credit unions, and other institutions, ultimately raising the interest rates on most other loans and forms of investment in the broader economy. Since a low interest rate is so useful in a crisis, the argument goes, the already currently quite low rate should be maintained to give investment circles and other parts of the financial system a bit of a breather.

federal funds rateThe historical federal funds rate, from here.

A crucially missing part of that expectation that the Federal Reserve should keep the historically low rates is a very specific understanding of why the Federal Reserve lowers rates. In the view that argues for keeping the current rate, a lowered rate is in and of itself the goal. A lower rate, so the theory goes, means transactions happen. It’s an indirect and finance-heavy form of economic stimulus. Is the lower figure on the interest rate itself the necessary end though? Can’t the lowering of the rate also be in and of itself a process?

Financial institutions act a specific way before the rate is lowered, and then alter their behavior when it reduces. In short, it’s about changing how they act through changing expectations of how profitable a given investment, loan, or other action would be. The key word there is change. This is about altering expectations of what a given rate would be.

In light of that differing view of the federal funds rate’s power, what use is it in the situation of an anemic economic recovery and jittery investors? What’s more, there’s not really anywhere for it to go lower to. It’s tapped out as a means of promoting economic action that otherwise wouldn’t happen within the economy. While raising it is probably not the wisest choice either, since it’s possible that would create a ripple effect of rising and disincentivizing interest rates across the economy, the centrality of the interest rate in the on-going discussion of how the US government can respond to a disastrous week on Wall Street is a bit odd.

A more illuminating portrait of the economic situation, in which the federal funds rate is only a bit player, was painted by Paul Krugman. He noted that a key part of what’s gone wrong so far on Wall Street is indicative of an on-going pattern of crises: first the economic downturn of various Asian economies in the 1990s, then the the boom-bust of the US economy from the early 2000s on, then a 2009-2010 Euro crisis, and finally another currency crisis in many other less developed economy (most notably Brazil). Krugman links these together as a recurring pattern of speculative “gluts,” each fed by the former as a source of initial investment funds and feeding the latter by driving investors there after that specific economic bubble pops.

In essence, the uncertainty of investors that could pull their funds out of the US economy and create economic distortions elsewhere is the problem, and the possibility of a not-very-well-timed federal funds rate increase is simply a justifying moment of bad luck. That’s the spark that could light a powder keg of huge investing resources concentrated in globally a small number of flighty hands and given greater mobility than ever before historically. The interest rate can’t go up, and various political groups are noting that necessity, but the structural reality that has made that and virtually all other stimulant economic policies must-haves to avoid an economic catastrophe needs to be talked about as well.

Our financial system (like many others around the world) is essentially set up to fail, and at moments like these it seems like there might be a clear reason why: to make anything less than stellar news for the financial sector even more disastrous for everyone else. There’s no better way to keep the policies you want than to make them in everyone’s best interest.

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An upcoming event

Trigger warning: anti-lesbian heterosexism, sexism, assistive reproductive technology

For all the jokes (and fears) about California state law being at the forefront of inclusivity towards LGBT people and specifically the recognition of LGBT parents, there’s been a dark history carried from the heart of the 1980s and 1990s “lavender baby boom” within LGBT communities into present day. Laws on sperm donation still specifically restrict parental rights to only biological parents with the exception for the husband (that word is specifically used) of a married woman who conceives with donated sperm. That policy and language remains law, but perhaps not for long.

California’s General Assembly already passed a new law earlier this year which seeks to dramatically improve state law on this issue, which made its way through committee and was passed by the California State Senate earlier this month. Activists and LGBT community members are holding tomorrow a mix of press conference and celebration of the hopefully soon-to-be-signed-into-law bill, which is now making its way to the governor. I will be among them, and livetweeting about the event which starts at 9 am Pacific this Wednesday. Tune into twitter to follow along. If you can join the event in person it will be on the steps of the Earl Warren Court in San Francisco, near the Civic Center Plaza.

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Whose protest is driving the conversation on climate change?

Trigger Warning: colonialism, climate change

Recently, many activist spaces and organizations in wealthy, early-to-industrialize nations have been prioritizing action on global climate change, and have even seen some response from among others, the Obama Administration itself. As I’ve noted before, both colonized people living within those parts of the world and people living with the fallout of centuries of colonialism and other policies in other areas have much more at stake in this warming world, have done much less to create the current situation, and unfortunately have significantly less international power to influence the developing crisis. That doesn’t mean they aren’t trying, however.

Hurricane Danny's projected path into the Lesser Antilles this weekend or MondayHurricane Danny is expected to make landfall in the Lesser Antilles before this coming Monday, from here. More info here.

Most visibly, Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu, famous for his anti-Apartheid activism in his home country and more recent HIV/AIDS activism, has publicly called on United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Barack Obama to set even more ambitious targets for declining greenhouse gas output – specifically a total cut of emissions by 2050. His open letter to those two officials is not only being circulated but presented as something that any interested person can also sign in support. Public protest actions within the countries most responsible for the global warming are important, but it’s important to also center the voices of people in the broader world who have a different language to describe the nature of the problem.

The featured image is of some of the indigenous participants in the 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City, from here.

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We can walk away from the table

Trigger Warning: war, sanctions, imperialism, medical violence

It’s easy to dismiss the rejection of the new accords between Iran and the US as a sort of simplistic radicalism. Actually, with people like former congressional representative Michele Bachmann, saying that these terrible deals are ushering in the end times but are also great because its, again, ushering in the end times, it’s difficult not to conclude that it’s a mix of strange eschatology and hypernationalism that has led to members of both nations to speak out against the deal.

To be fair, that isn’t an entirely unrealistic depiction of the case in Iran, where the government has “suspended” one newspaper for stating that Iran’s negotiators gave away too much ground in this deal. Support for the deal, which would end the international sanctions which have devastated Iran’s economy and restricted access to critical medical supplies and other necessities, is clearly something that many people are willing to show. The dangers and difficulties to be faced by the majority of Iranians if the deal doesn’t go through – the threat of invasion, of war, of economic hardships – are visible, known, and actually a coercive factor in pushing all but the most fiercely militaristic into supporting the deal.

That isn’t the lived experience for most residents of the United States, however. Involvement in some sort of war in broader Middle East and southern Central Asia has been on-going, a part of American life for more than a decade now. But for all but the small minority of people in the US military, it’s a distant reality. War is something that happens somewhere else to someone else. The tiny fraction of the population engaged directly in the conflict is only shrinking further, for that matter, as new military policies and practices replace ground troops with (increasingly automated) drones. There are of course the people who under those conditions are rather jingoistic, and in a Bachmann-esque manner call for an apocalyptic war they won’t have to fight.

iranian protest favor of dealAn Iranian family supportive of the deal hold up a sign welcoming the end of sanctions which reads “Hello, World!” From here.

But there are also numerous “moderates” for whom a rejection of the deal is more than not political toxic, at times politically viable and even useful. Much has been made of Senator (D-NY) Chuck Schumer’s planned rejection of the deal. He was joined yesterday by Bob Menendez (D-NJ). Neither of those Senators are particularly known for voting with the more reflexively militaristic Republicans, and yet, they have found themselves on that side of the vote on this. The processes influencing that are multiple and complex, but fundamentally, there is the reality that the US and Iran come to the negotiating table unequally. We have the ability to reject the deal in a way that they do not. We cannot overlook and equate our critics of negotiation with theirs, because we aren’t them and we don’t have a stake in this the way they do.

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Jus Soli

Trigger Warning: racism, anti-immigration politics, deportation, antisemitism, antiziganism, fascism, The Holocaust, slavery

Last night, Melissa Harris-Perry filled in for Rachel Maddow on the latter’s nightly news program and brought to light a worrying political process happening within the Republican presidential primary. Before Donald Trump’s entry into the race, the immigration policies that dominated were variations on a light-handed approach designed to avoid alienating the increasingly nativist Republican base or the growing Latin@ share of the electorate.

His bombastic arrival stuck out so much because of its overt hostility towards Latin@ immigration, and his campaign has maintained its sizable lead by calling most recently to dismantle jus soli – the “right of the soil”, or in plain English that location of birth can create citizenship. Harris-Perry noted that the various Republican competitors looking to unseat Trump as frontrunner have decided to jump on board, at least becoming willing to consider dismantling the birthright citizenship system central to not only US law but also this country’s image of itself.

jus soli
This would make the US only the second mainland American country to not have total jus soli. In the above map the darkest blue countries have absolute jus soli, light blue with restrictions, and pale blue previously had and have since abolished. From here.

The inevitable question that dismantling jus soli as a legal principle leads to is this – what are we doing instead? The legal world by and large contrasts jus soli with jus sanguinis, the “right by blood”. There are fewer world maps of countries proudly proclaiming they maintain citizenship and related legal rights as a matter of bloodlines, and for obvious reasons. It’s generally a remaining legal practice from earlier, imperialistic, undemocratic eras.

Throughout Europe, jus sanguinis largely became practice as a way of retaining the citizenship of members of the same ethnic group, scattered across conquered holdings away from their nation’s core population. To the extent that jus sanguinis has a democratic history, it’s one tarnished in the long view of history. It echoes a kind of classical Athenian democracy, reserved for a minority of unenslaved men with the right pedigrees.

That notion of citizenship was the norm for most of democracy’s history in Europe, first under Greek and Roman governments that all steadily descended into a toxic mix of corruption and imperial ambitions. Those ideas about democracy later resurfaced with that particular legal quirk in the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment. The many ethnically German thinkers who saw the slow rise of a more modern nation-state out of feudal localism are often forgotten, but their ideas on citizenship left their mark on the Europe that emerged from the medieval era. While Immanuel Kant (although himself quite racist) viewed race as something historically gained and otherwise subjective and environmentally-influenced, later German philosophers like Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel developed the idea of a sort of objective ethnicity without complexity or question.

The path from those opinions to the (then) perpetual statelessness of Jewish and Rromani people was long and complex. But the idea that ethnicity is something objective, with no context, complexity, or ways of operating across otherwise distinct groups helped create the policy of total exclusion of those groups. It helped create a system for legally classifying them. It ultimately bears some responsibility for the violence against them that made possible.

Historically, jus soli also has its own skeletons of course. It’s popularity in the Americas is inseparable from its use under settler colonialism. That history, however, is complicated. The rights of the soil were systemically denied to large populations within the United States, namely to settlers of color, slaves, and indigenous peoples. That said, at many times jus soli was a legal concept used to press against those actions and to insure marginalized communities’ right to live as they wished within the country.

While the origins of birthright citizenship in the United States are complex, its current centrality to our legal system is a byproduct of Reconstruction. The Fourteenth Amendment’s citizenship clause expands already present ideas about natural citizenship often tied into location of birth and declared that literally everyone “born or naturalized in the United States” is a citizen the same as everyone else. At the time, that was a radical statement of equality between former slaves and former slavemasters, but it has since evolved as a legal value that defines a central preoccupation in US law – our shared equality (at least in theory) before it.

Rooted in the national abolition of slavery, our brand of absolute jus soli has been a defining legal tool to expand denied rights to a wide array of disenfranchised groups. In short, the proud history of what it means to be a citizen of the United States articulated time and again by this country’s first president of color and the multiracial and otherwise diverse coalition that was key to electing him is impossible to fully separate from birthright citizenship. When we talk about the country we are becoming, we have to acknowledge the ways in which the expansive and unhindered practice of jus soli in the US has key in us going just this far. That is part of the context we have to understand the rising contempt for birthright citizenship as being at least in part within, a call for a metaphorical destruction of that new concept of what this country could be.

The featured image of this article is from a July protest against deportation policies that would separate birthright citizens from their parents, from here.

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But they’re not the cops

Trigger Warning: anti-Black racism, gun violence, police violence, anti-protester violence, anti-labor violence

On the one year anniversary of the death of soon-to-be college student Michael Brown in Ferguson by police officer Darren Wilson happening this past Sunday, the tensions in the small Saint Louis suburb erupted once again. Notably, this time the presence of the Oath Keepers, a militant organization created after Obama’s 2008 election, was a strange third party not fully aligned with the interests of either the disproportionately White police force (and their supporters) or the predominantly Black population. This little-known group has become an increasingly visible presence in the town, made only flashier by their many and prominently displayed weapons.

oath keepers fergusonAn Oath Keeper member, gun in hand, atop a roof in downtown Ferguson, from here.

Founded to enforce (their interpretation of) constitutional law against the presumed threats to it by the country’s first Black president, the Oath Keepers themselves are an overwhelmingly White group of mainly former service members, but also many active duty ones, as well as police and other first responders. Even in only the immediate circumstances, they arrived in Ferguson’s predominantly Black neighborhoods as an obviously outside force, armed to the teeth. From their initial reasons for organizing, to their status as heavily armed White people patrolling Black neighborhoods, they clearly have their commonalities with those that many Black residents of Ferguson and many other parts of the United States live in a near constant state of fear from.

In fact, in recent publications, the Oath Keepers Movement admits that their involvement in Ferguson began in something like coordination with the police – where they “protected some businesses” from “rioters and looters” that the police allegedly weren’t keeping safe. That same announcement from a Missouri-based group of Oath Keepers criticizes the police from that angle, saying that they are violating the constitutional rights of people to seemingly defend their businesses and selves from alluded to alleged lawlessness going so far as to call it “criminal endangerment”. In short, “that’s why the violence problem in Ferguson is on-going.” In essence, they have grown critical of the police in Ferguson and other areas, but not from any sense of empathy for those faced with repeated police violence against their communities. Quite the contrary, their judgment of the police is typically that they are inadequately suppressant of presumed militancy.

In spite of this, federal mainstream coverage of their increasing presence in Ferguson has implied a common cause between them and the protesters against police violence, rather than a very arbitrary moment in which their different politics aren’t diametrically opposed. This misimpression of them only shrinks the events in Ferguson to an example of police violence, free from racial dimensions that can operate in other times and in other ways. While the killing of Michael Brown was a key catalyst in the building of the Black Lives Matter movement, a lot of its momentum from Brown’s death reflected the pain and sorrow in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death and George Zimmerman’s acquittal. Himself a self-appointed keeper of the peace in spite of having no official status or relationship with the police, Zimmerman is something of a dim reflection of the same sort of person involved with the Oath Keepers.

Black anti-racism activists appear to have recognized those commonalities and have for that reason emphasized the need to expunge anti-Black racism in all people, whether they are police, non-police who collaborate with police forces, or even those who actively seek to replace or otherwise disband current police forces. That racial dimension to the current conflict between residents and police in Ferguson is easy to erase given the largely White critical response to the police that the Oath Keepers represent, but fully understanding that is critical to responding to that faction.

The Washington Post was one of the few non-local sources which felt comfortable noting the growing relationship between the Oath Keepers and various business owners in the area, admittedly as a cheery, positive part of their presence. The ways in which that reinforces existing fears about Black violence which justified many of the recent killings of Black people by police and others isn’t part of the assessment. As long as fascism is a bit of buzzword in modern US politics, it’s important to note that this is how fascism began – as an organizational bargain between Italian and Spanish landowners and armed gangs, circumventing a state viewed as not hard-hitting enough to deal with socialist and anarchist agitators.

migrant field laborers emilia region italy 1930sMigrant field workers in 1930s Italy, from here.

Scott Walker may be the quieter Donald Trump and consequently have his extremist positions overlooked, but the Oath Keepers, decked out in guns, are just as bombastic as Trump. But their contextual dissatisfaction with the police and momentary media spotlight have coincided, seemingly obscuring the nature of their politics. As fascism has been watered down to simply imply a constrained, dictatorial politics, those who very closely embody a revival of it have been able to escape being critically connected to it as long as their ideologies are framed through freedom and liberty. Make no mistake, however, what’s beginning in Ferguson is a historied relationship that we have a word to describe.

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Balmy congressional climes

Trigger Warning: racism, colonialism, climate change

President Obama began this month with a coordinated political message about climate change. Over the course of his presidency, he has emphasized the need for action on that environmental issue among others and been criticized for it. Until this point, however, he has had difficulty directly confronting the US’s responsibility for the warming climate. Instead, his most visible policy action has been inaction – his mild mannered blocking of the Keystone Pipeline. More quietly, his administration has dramatically increased federal investment in environmentally friendly power sources, but that seems like a mild alteration of policy rather than a concrete effort to change the environmental impact of the United States.

The newly released climate plan builds on the expected returns from that increased federal funding of wind, solar, and other more or less carbon-neutral energy sources. The expected fruits of those investments are to be harvested with a reduction in electricity producers’ carbon outputs to just over two thirds of 2005’s levels by 2030. The regulatory system is merely an expansion of existing limits on other chemical pollutants, namely Mercury, Sulfur, and Arsenic. It also incorporates guidelines in public planning, anticipating increasingly destructive climate conditions to existing infrastructure, which will be implemented with a task force of state, local, and tribal leaders. In short, it avoids almost every major pitfall to the Republican statements on climate change during the 2012 election from the bafflingly unrealistic expectations to open disregard for indigenous communities and other specific populations particularly at risk of existing climate change impacts.

Is that enough though? The pragmatic nature of the climate plan sets distant goals, deliberately to provide the private industries significant time to comply with the announced regulations. There is a history of that sort of long term program ending up derailed, as the US’s backing out of the Kyoto Protocol (and that plan’s other failures) demonstrates. Careful, meditated action has its strengths, but on this particular issue it has a history of justifying apathy and further kicking the can down the road. While something of a defining characteristic of Obama’s technocratic style, as with other issues (such as health care reform), his measured reforms fail to damper Republican and conservative hostility to solutions on this and other problems.

Almost immediately after Obama’s announcement, former congressional representative Bob Inglis critically stated his regulation-minded program was anathema for Republicans. Instead, he floated a vague “fix” of the economics, which he finally specified would mean a carbon tax matched with a corresponding tax cut would be what Republicans could support, or at least not vote block. Alex Wagner, hosting the program he was a guest on, called him out on the duplicity almost immediately – “If we’re talking about you know poison-pills or language that is just kryptonite, do you think this President would have more success saying the word ‘tax’? Or Republicans for that matter would have more success pushing for a tax, rather than regulation?”

Inglis, who has been out of office since 2011, didn’t skip a beat and immediately had an alternative for Wagner, Obama, and anyone else motivated to address climate change. He offered, “How about this deal. [Obama or another democratic leader should say] we’ll give you the votes for pricing carbon dioxide, and you, Speaker Boehner, choose the corresponding tax cut.” Shifting the discussion from regulations to direct taxation doesn’t really make sense, especially since a commodity tax is difficult to predict the revenue of, so creating a predicted counter-revenue tax cut will actually be near impossible. Of course, that’s not the point, which is gaining leverage. In essence, what can the demand for action on climate change do for congressional Republicans?

Residents of Kiribati piling stones and sandbags to stave off rising ocean waters, from January 2015Kiribati residents have taken as of the past year to piling stones and sandbags to stave off rising ocean waters in the low-lying nation of islands in the Pacific, from here.

It’s fitting that the wealthy in the industrial world can not only economically profit from the putting of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere but also reap political capital from almost any and every plan to reduce that output. The rhetorical context that makes that possible has its own history. Any and all responses to the looming threats of climate change have to responsible, reasonable, and essentially adult. They have to emphasize, as Obama’s announcement did, that they will act on that problem while also “lowering energy bills, ensuring reliable service, and paving the way for new job-creating innovations”. There has to be no objectionable element, no cost, no difficulty, no discomfort. Even when that is promised, it won’t be believed, and another, new, slightly tweaked version of the same sort of policies can be held up as the actually feasible policy.

Inglis’ new idea is to push for other policy desires (for more tax cuts, in this case) to be fulfilled at the cost of each and every action on the threat of climate change, but expect to see that bog standard congressional Republican tactic (recall the government shutdown) increasingly applied to desperately necessary action on climate change.

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Haunted by history

Trigger Warning: nuclear warfare, racism, genocide

The first Republican presidential primary debate will be held tonight at 6 pm Pacific / 9 pm Eastern. Much of the pre-debate analysis has so far emphasized the newly invented (and continuously updated) metrics for determining which of the seventeen major candidates could appear on stage and otherwise be as visible as possible. I won’t be able to livetweet tonight’s debate, and probably won’t even be available to offer any commentary at all while the debates occur, so I won’t be around to question and complicate that somewhat narrow focus on the debaters themselves. Instead, I want to ask a small thing of you while you watch it without me. Before the debate begins, meditate on two curiously coincidental anniversaries that fall on today of all days, and cast their long historical shadow on the current policy prescriptions of the Republican Party.

On August 6, 1945, the United States used the first atomic weapon ever used in wartime on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The vast majority of affected people were non-combative civilians, which by some estimates caused approximately 66,000 deaths in the initial blast. That fails to account for many of the deaths in the following months, form exposure and resulting poverty as well as from radiation sickness and related complications – but which are also estimated to number in the thousands.

The overwhelming nature of the death and destruction in Hiroshima (and later Nagasaki) is something that the United States has failed to fully grapple with, if the tantrum-like demands for a similarly apocalyptic war with Iran among some political figures is any indication. Instead, conflict and war has become almost an invisible backdrop of American life, shielding those who expect war without debate or question from criticism. US military deployment has become a perpetual state of being on multiple continents, seemingly without even a hypothetical end. As Guantánamo reminds us, this military infrastructure is often on other countries’ land, unwanted, and in some senses an occupying force. We have yet to fully break with this expansive militaristic tradition, but keep your ears peeled tonight to see how much the Republican Party’s major candidates want to reject the possibility of ever doing that.

On August 6, 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) into law, securing most particularly the rights of Black citizens of the United States of access to the ballot box, but giving similar protections to various other systemically disenfranchised groups – namely indigenous and Latin@ communities. Since then, these guarantees have come under an unforgiving cynicism from conservative figures either coordinating with or directly a part of the Republican Party. The aims are at times quite transparent, particularly in the less official political circles, where talk of “demographic winter” makes obvious the racist fears underpinning a large swathe of the conservative movement.

As the United States steadily returns to being, among other things, a less White country, there have been a number of political responses. Chief among them has been to softly roll back numerical presence as a force within our democratic system, most obviously by resurrecting voter suppression tactics common in places where the White population was a minority or a much slimmer majority than electorally desirable. Jim Crow and related policies of racist political, social, and economic control have not been dismantled fully, but the specific policies of the Republican Party have become ones designed to maintain what has remained and reconstruct what parts of those have been dismantled. Listen to hear the new, politically correct (or not so much) those policies will be discussed tonight.

hiroshima also vra(Left – Hiroshima after the bombing, Right – President Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr, and Rosa Parks after the VRA was signed. From here and here respectively)

So, on the night of the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and the 50th anniversary of the passage of the VRA help the phantoms those events raise haunt the Republican Party. As desires of military confrontation with Iran are raised, let the image of the shattered Atomic Dome rise in your mind. When talk of the need to protect the ballot box from voter fraud comes up, allow the pain of the tear gas used on those on the March to Selma pass over you. These are our ghosts, and we cannot will them away. Don’t help the Republican Primary brush them off either – either in how they talk about them, or refuse to talk about them altogether.

The featured image for this article is an drawn rendition of the Oglala Lakota’s Ghost Dance as performed at Pine Ridge in 1890, from here. There are many ghosts in US history.


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Twitter Livecast

It’s been a while since I’ve liveblogged much of anything, and I’m going to hop back into that with a bit of an experiment. I’m going to try out my new phone’s twitter mobile by combining a liveblog with some local politics. The Alternative Night Out, put on by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and affiliated with the #SafetyIs campaign will be held tomorrow night 5 to 8 in Oakland, at the Lake Merrit Amphitheater. I’ll be there, noting away what the ambitious event, which will in part be about “collectively developing alternatives” to the policing and security politics reinforced by the national Night Out, at which police and their local communities meet and coordinate.

As always, you can follow my reactions to, thoughts about, and descriptions of the event here, on my twitter.

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Planned Parenthood: the medical provider we need, not the one we want?

Trigger Warning: eugenics, abortion, racism, sexism, cissexism

The US Senate is scheduled to vote on Planned Parenthood’s funding today. In light of the recent videos released by David Daleiden and other anti-abortion activists, what that vote has focused on are some of the outcomes for services that only account for three percent of Planned Parenthood’s budget. In cases of abortion where adequate fetal stem cells (which medical researchers can use to treat and understand certain illnesses and disabilities) can be taken from aborted fetuses, Planned Parenthood asks if patients are comfortable donating those tissues that would otherwise be disposed of as either medical waste, mourned and buried, or otherwise not used for medical purposes.

In the grand scheme of modern medicine, this isn’t a radical break from much of anything. Organ donor stamps have become an unremarkable sight to see on driver’s licenses, and one of the places those tissues and organs end up is ultimately in the hands of researchers – whose own websites make it quite clear they will reimburse the people doing the difficult work of removing and safely transporting various organs and tissues. The payment involved in Planned Parenthood’s “sale” of fetal tissues is more or less the same, a coverage for the work involved, to maintain a system that makes sure the donated tissues are, well, actually usable to the researchers who receive them.

The moral outrage and demand for reform seems tied to the actual specifics of what tissue is being taken and which organization is doing it. From that oddly unique criticism of Planned Parenthood, a whole host of shifting, chimeric complaints has emerged in the past few weeks. Chief among those are the implications that Planned Parenthood is essentially a eugenic enterprise, seeking to curb if not undermine the reproductive freedoms of people of color and particularly Black people. Sarah Palin has been among the most vocal advocates of that line of criticism, which she has in her classic style muddied into the also on-going debate over confederate imagery. Last Sunday, she put up an image on Facebook contrasting the Confederate Battle Flag and Planned Parenthood’s logo, which asked “Which symbol killed 90,000 Black babies last year?”

Among the problems with that question is the fact that you could argue Planned Parenthood is drastically underserving Black communities and other communities of color in the United States. How many deaths in those communities has Planned Parenthood prevented, and how many more could it be preventing? The majority of its budget and services go to providing help in ways other than providing abortions, and while a large chunk of that is contraceptive in nature a large amount involves perinatal care. As a key source of medical care for low income people, there’s a valid question to be asked if Planned Parenthood and medical centers capable of offering an abortion if needed are inadequately available in majority Black neighborhoods. Only six percent of them nationally are in those types of areas.

There is a worrisome discussion to be had about those types of medical providers admittedly, given that more abortion-heavy clinics (which provide 400 or more abortions in a given year) are slightly less unusual to see in majority Black and Latin@ neighborhoods. Black academics in particular have been promoting an open analysis of that for decades now, with one of the most topical being Dorothy Roberts’ Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. She lays out quite explicitly the needs of cisgender Black women in the US when it comes to reproductive freedom in the introduction, saying

“The story I tell about reproductive rights differs dramatically from the standard one. In contrast to the account of American women’s increasing control over their reproductive decisions, centered on the right to an abortion, this book describes a long experience of dehumanizing attempts to control Black women’s reproductive lives. The systematic, institutionalized denial of reproductive freedom has uniquely marked Black women’s history in America. Considering this history – from slave masters’ economic stake in bonded women’s fertility to the racist strains of early birth control policy to sterilization abuse of Black women during the 1960s and 1970s to the current campaign to inject Norplant and Depo-Provera in the arms of Black teenagers and welfare mothers – paints a powerful picture of the link between race and reproductive freedom in America.”

From there, she immediately transitions into discussing how underserved Black cisgender women were by the denial of access to abortion in public hospitals following Webster v. Reproductive Health Services. The Black community, to say nothing of the various communities of color in the United States, is not a monolith, but when describing the intersections of race and reproductive freedom, their tendency has been to emphasize the need for freedom from coercion, for bodily autonomy, and for economic security. Those goals then underpin what policies should be pursued. In light of that, Planned Parenthood and similar organizations – capable of providing abortion but focused on more generally giving low cost high quality medical care – are perhaps exactly what those communities need, as an alternative to the current alternatives of inconsistent, low quality, overly abortion-focused types of care or worse no care at all.

planned parenthood health care happens hereProtesters in Oregon on July 28, 2015, from here.

That’s possibly the key misunderstanding that continues to crop up in these discussions. Planned Parenthood is a medical provider. Like other medical providers in similar contexts, they pay people to transport donated tissues and organs. Like other medical providers in our privatized medical care system, they generally do not provide enough care or the right kind of care in low income neighborhoods and to communities of color. Almost all of these criticisms of Planned Parenthood ultimately lead back to a criticism of medical care in general, and the need for it to be administered more carefully and compassionately. From a reformist mindset, Planned Parenthood is hardly perfect, but seems committed to improving itself and improving the world.

But that’s quite clearly not where the current complaints are coming from. The desperate search for a problem to have with Planned Parenthood shows that there are issues with all medical services that can induce discomfort and concern for many if not most people. The use of that, however, is just against Planned Parenthood, or perhaps abortion providers in general. What’s developing here is yet another way of codedly confronting the issues that abortion stirs up in a way that won’t openly process where those come from and what drives them, and what’s more will obscure the concerns and problems around other issues dragged into it as justification fodder. We’re having a national anti-conversation on abortion, in which everyone walks away from it more unclear over what’s at stake.

But that’s the anti-conversation the US Senate would like to have, going by the eighteen Senators now threatening a government shutdown unless and until Planned Parenthood is defunded in full. The Center for Reproductive Rights has begun circulating a petition to convince them that not only is this unproductive, but also wildly unpopular, which might be the only way of convincing them to stop.

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The fundamental danger

Trigger Warning: police violence, racism, suicide mentions

More than two years later and the wisdom in this tweet has only been further demonstrated. We are currently in the middle of an epidemic of deaths of people of color (and particularly Black people) while in police custody, which has been promoted by us focusing on anything other than the needlessness of those deaths.

Freddie Gray, a twenty-five year old Black resident of Baltimore was arrested the night of April 12, 2015. He was charged with possessing an illegal blade (which is now disputed as having been outside of legal size ranges) and according to various eye witnesses was subject to some form of police violence, corroborated by a cell phone video that shows him being dragged to a police vehicle. Some have theorized that his spine may have been damaged before he even entered that car. Regardless, the “rough ride” he was then subjected to apparently caused significant neurological damage, which led near immediately to a coma and his death within a week.

Although several police officers present at the scene of his arrest have been indicted and charged with manslaughter (with a pending acquittal or conviction), the current public discussion of responsibility of Gray’s death is alarming. A Fox News reporter already openly approached the Baltimore police with the pitch that he would cover them positively, while others have clearly attempted to frame the response protests to Gray’s death as the actual problem. The Baltimore police appear to have encouraged this closing of public discussion of their culpability, allegedly having prevented Rihanna from holding a combined protest and concert in the city. Heading into the trial, efforts appear to have been made by the Baltimore police and others to downplay Gray’s death.

The cost of shutting down that conversation is already mounting. Eleven people – overwhelmingly people of color – have died in police custody in the past month. Most publicly discussed has been the case of Sandra Bland, an activist who was arrested for failing to use her turn signal while being pulled over by the police (and subsequently resisting arrest – meaning challenging police conduct that violated standards). According to the police, she committed suicide in a holding cell. Bland, who was six feet tall, supposedly hung herself in a rather low ceiling part of her cell. Her death came not long after she allegedly made a phone call in which she discussed feeling unsafe in police custody.

Many aspects of Bland’s death are becoming recurring in the most recent cases, with many activists in communities of color being targeted for arrests and their and others’ deaths being presented as suicides. Choctaw activist Rexdale Henry died in police custody earlier this month as well, and so far the police have refused to release autopsy reports, compounding critical questions about his mysterious death. The lingering unwillingness to condemn what was done to Freddie Gray has seemingly encouraged cavalier attitudes at best and malicious violence at worst, now specifically targeted at not only fairly randomly selected people of color, but activists organizing (among other reasons) to reduce and stop the deaths in their communities at the hands of the police.

Some have pointed out that even the police’s treatment of Freddie Gray didn’t happen in a vacuum. Many other apprehended people of color were given “rough rides” before him. As Jay Smooth’s tweet can remind us was done in the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the killing of Trayvon Martin and countless other acts of violence against people of color and particularly Black people in a policing context. These are ripples that don’t dissipate, they magnify each other.

How the upcoming trials for many of these cases – vitally those of the police charged with manslaughter against Freddie Gray but also a similar case in Cleveland – will affect the responses to this horrifying, new rush of deaths and to a degree whether there will be more deaths in the coming days. Currently, Baltimore is sounding as it has been forced into an uncomfortable silence and the Cleveland police union is auctioning off a weapon to raise funds for the police officer under legal scrutiny. Those are not the best of signs. It’s easy to hear that and think of rioting and other direct responses to these on-going patterns of violence, but the real danger is the same as it always was: more George Zimmermans.

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The F Word

TW: racism, heterosexism, cissexism

With both the 2016 presidential race now beginning to dominate national media and a whole host of Republican candidates running, many people have felt its time to check the temperature of one of the US’s two major parties.

Although still a major, national party in this country, it’s easy to forget the Republican Party technically went into the “political wilderness” after losing the presidential election and remaining the minority in both houses of Congress in 2008. While congressional elections since then have chipped away at the federal dominance of the Democratic Party, internal divisions have made it hard to talk about there being any unifying, specific themes to the Republican Party. The only near universal trend seemed to be opposition to the Democrats and President Obama specifically. Even though the presidential field is quite wide this year, the fact that only one candidate can secure the nomination promises that there will at least be some open debate among Republicans and others about who Republicans are and what they represent.

The meaningfulness of who stands in for the party in the presidential race is compounded by the possibility of someone less of a consensus candidate, like Romney or McCain, taking the lead. Both of them were able to navigate different types of popular conservative circles and placate (or even represent) the wealthy interests that exert considerable influence over the Republican Party. If they symbolized anything, it was the increasing difficulty to maintain the Reagan era bargain between various non-economic populisms and the most economically powerful individuals in the country. 2016 may ultimately come down to a similar tortured dynamic, but so far, there’s a palpable hope among Republicans for something far more engaging to emerge (and among Democrats for something even less effective).

As of now, Trump remains the front runner and the clearest embodiment of a possible alternative. Although he more or less shares Romney’s and McCain’s economic status, he openly notes his wealth rather than hides it or attempts to have it overshadowed. He argues for his candidacy in part on the basis of it. Also like Romney and McCain he similarly comes with a far more moderate-seeming past, but again he’s broken with their tone. He taps into the contemporary conservative political language and philosophy so deeply that he so far has largely not been declared an outsider seeking support. Gone are the days of economic elitism donning the mask of virulent faction politics – he’s coming across as openly wealthy and truly motivated by conservative cultural and social standards.

Trump hasn’t just changed how leading primary candidates speak but are also spoken about. Noting that Republican ideals seem to be increasingly uncomfortably close to fascism – once the third rail of politics in the US – is something that no longer has to wait until after Republicans are elected or remain unnoticed outside of alternative media. Newsweek ran an opinion piece that doesn’t even stop at the low-hanging fruit of Trump’s racial, religious, and “traditional” convictions (although it notes their historical, fascist analogues) but delves into how he demands a return to the specific mercantilist moraines long ago fossilized within fascism and abandoned in democratic capitalism. Slate has already put up one response which reminds us that this isn’t just a fascist “Trumpism” but “the underlying passions of the GOP base.” That’s why he’s the frontrunner after all.

But again, just like Trump isn’t just shouting what McCain and Romney tiptoed around, here Trump isn’t even the only one excavating a fascistic philosophy from within the Republican Party. While his image-conscious campaign draws most national attention, among others his fellow candidate and current Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has been making more or less the same noises. His comment about possibly waging a war on Iran from his first day in office managed to attract some attention, but Walker has a long history of more or less hitting the same notes that have galvanized Trump’s surge to the top of the primary’s polls. And that’s paid off for him almost as well as Trump – he’s now contended for second place with Jeb Bush, once the presumed nominee.

This sort of politicking defines Walker though. It’s not a gimmick, as some are quick to dismiss Trump’s most recent political incarnation. There’s his lengthy history when it comes to a disquieting comfort with racism and his contempt for economic redistribution perceivable as “socialism” or “communism”. His recent statement about warfare only add a checkmark under most definitions for fascism, with its obsessive drive towards conflict and conquest. It almost seems as though Trump’s bombastic style is lending credibility to calling him fascist, which unfortunately lets a more mild-mannered packaging of the same politics slide by with possibly no criticism of that type. A not too distant cousin of the invisible racist, are Walker and possibly others in the current campaign now inaudible fascists? Is the US public at risk of not just letting Trump get away with this, but failing to hear the same dangerousness coming out of a more calm mouth?

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This ain’t a scene: Trump and the spectacle

Earlier this week, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the Republican Presidential Nomination in 2016. This is hardly the first time he’s stated his interest in holding that position and even stated he was running, but his official, public announcement on Tuesday earlier this week goes beyond prior runs. More than new for Trump, as Rachel Maddow pointed out for instance, this is something of a reflection of the brave new world of the Republican Party. In a not entirely positive way, Trump is groundbreaking for his use of paid actors to pack his announcement site. Maddow herself hints at the open question of what this means even as she traces Trump’s rising visibility within Republican circles and the growing encouragement of that by those circles.

At the announcement, from here.

That history is actually much longer and detailed that Maddow can (or probably wants to) delve into. There’s echoes in Trump’s crowd-for-hire of Mitt Romney’s personally circulated, photoshopped image of supporting crowds in Nevada. Trump himself stands as a figure that perfectly exemplifies the glossy, image-conscious branding with minimal basis in reality that is increasingly powerful within the Republican Party. That said, he’s only a symbol for the underlying trend – that has played out in smaller demographic appeals and more extensive grandstanding for decades now.

At first glance, that broader trend is somewhat baffling. How does overstating popular support create popular support to win elections? But that assumes that winning elections is even the goal. It’s become almost a perennial punchline in Republican jokes to noticed that they don’t seem interested in governing. Perhaps they actually aren’t. That’s possibly the outcome of the anti-government ethos that has become at least rhetorically dominant in the party in the past decades. In the name of that, Republican government official shave held up non-governmental work as superior and pushed policy designed to encourage the development of an ultra-rich socio-economic class freed of social expectations. Those are the true beneficiaries of Republican political rule – not, at least to the same degree, the (typically similarly wealthy) members of the same class who decided to run for office and (apparently regrettably) won.

The false image of significant popular support is a salve for both candidates and their potentially quite vanishingly rare supporters. That only makes the loss all the more bittersweet and their subsequent appearances as commentators in partisan-affiliated media all the more filtered through supposedly righteous indignation. In short, this is an emotional production. It’s about maintaining face among candidates by carving out a paradoxically commoner politician, at once a voice of the people and silenced loner. That candidate attracted so much attention and yet couldn’t quite assail against something unassailable, maybe the liberal media? For Republican voters, it’s a similar deal. This crafts a figure they can declare it only “common sense” to support and yet have him be also simultaneously overwhelmingly unsupported. It’s security and thrill, normalcy and specialness.

The only problem is, maintaining all those confusing contradictions means giving up some other uses of the democratic process, most notably electability, governance, and responsibility.

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