A Drop of Hell

What’s left in me has been touched afire
Throw away all my desire
Beyond the reach of human range
A drop of Hell a touch of strange

Talk the devil into lightin himself on fire
What hand could have held the knife
That did me to my death?
The meaning of my life,
the reason I draw breath?

They emerged from the fire, alone with their pain
They emerged from the fire, for the first time truely sane

People change for two reasons. Their minds have been opened or

Their hearts have been broken

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Possibly the Worst Argument for 2nd Amendment

I was driving into work today listening to the news when it occurred to me that the current Republican Party wants to make voting MORE difficult and guns EASIER to purchase. It wasn’t always this way. I am a fiscally conservative individual and looking back I think there were a number of Republicans I would have voted for. But not right now. Their hypocrisy is just too much to handle. But that is another blog in itself.

Yesterday I was reading the paper and someone had written a letter  where he quoted Thomas Jefferson,

When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.

This is simply a false premise.

If good government actually came from a violent, armed population, then Afghanistan and Somalia would be the two best-governed places on earth. 

and- There is no evidence that Jefferson actually said it.

As we see time and time again not every citizen should have unfettered access to guns and some guns should be illegal.

They also said that at the time of the writing of the 2nd amendment the writers wanted each citizen to have access to the same type of weapon as the army. At the time of the ratification of the 2nd amendment there was probably LESS THAN 1000 regular soldiers. People were expected to defend their home and property.


Currently (2017) there are 2,363,675 total military personnel. Then you have local, county  and state law enforcement as well as NSA and FBI.  The fire power they have cannot even be imagined.

Largest airfare in the world? USA Air Force.  2nd largest airfare in the world? USA Navy.

You really think you and your friends with guns are going to keep the military power of the USA at bay? You better be careful- crazy thoughts like that and you will lose your gun due to diminished mental capacity.

“A fraud on the American public.” That’s how former Chief Justice Warren Burger described the idea that the Second Amendment gives an unfettered individual right to a gun. When he spoke these words to PBS in 1990, the rock-ribbed conservative appointed by Richard Nixon was expressing the longtime consensus of historians and judges across the political spectrum.

The Second Amendment consists of just one sentence: “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” The amendment grew out of the political tumult surrounding the drafting of the Constitution, which was done in secret by a group of mostly young men, many of whom had served together in the Continental Army.

On June 8, 1789, James Madison—an ardent Federalist who had won election to Congress only after agreeing to push for changes to the newly ratified Constitution—proposed 17 amendments on topics ranging from the size of congressional districts to legislative pay to the right to religious freedom. One addressed the “well regulated militia” and the right “to keep and bear arms.” We don’t really know what he meant by it. At the time, Americans expected to be able to own guns, a legacy of English common law and rights. But the overwhelming use of the phrase “bear arms” in those days referred to military activities.

There is not a single word about an individual’s right to a gun for self-defense or recreation in Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention. Nor was it mentioned, with a few scattered exceptions, in the records of the ratification debates in the states. Nor did the U.S. House of Representatives discuss the topic as it marked up the Bill of Rights. In fact, the original version passed by the House included a conscientious objector provision. “A well regulated militia,” it explained, “composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but no one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.”

Though state militias eventually dissolved, for two centuries we had guns (plenty!) and we had gun laws in towns and states, governing everything from where gunpowder could be stored to who could carry a weapon—and courts overwhelmingly upheld these restrictions. Gun rights and gun control were seen as going hand in hand. Four times between 1876 and 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to rule that the Second Amendment protected individual gun ownership outside the context of a militia. As the Tennessee Supreme Court put it in 1840, “A man in the pursuit of deer, elk, and buffaloes might carry his rifle every day for forty years, and yet it would never be said of him that he had borne arms; much less could it be said that a private citizen bears arms because he has a dirk or pistol concealed under his clothes, or a spear in a cane.”

The NRA was founded by a group of Union officers after the Civil War who, perturbed by their troops’ poor marksmanship, wanted a way to sponsor shooting training and competitions. The group testified in support of the first federal gun law in 1934, which cracked down on the machine guns beloved by Bonnie and Clyde and other bank robbers. When a lawmaker asked whether the proposal violated the Constitution, the NRA witness responded, “I have not given it any study from that point of view.” The group lobbied quietly against the most stringent regulations, but its principal focus was hunting and sportsmanship: bagging deer, not blocking laws. In the late 1950s, it opened a new headquarters to house its hundreds of employees. Metal letters on the facade spelled out its purpose: firearms safety education, marksmanship training, shooting for recreation.

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Apparently unfamiliar with “libraries”, GOP Gov. candidate Bill Schuette proposes radical idea of “dedicated reading centers” to solve illiteracy crisis in Michigan

Apparently unfamiliar with “libraries”, GOP Gov. candidate Bill Schuette proposes radical idea of “dedicated reading centers” to solve illiteracy crisis in Michigan


Despite state spending of nearly $80 million to improve early reading skills in Michigan school kids, reading scores have actually gone DOWN since 2014 in our state. Not even the threat of being held back a year by state law was enough to frighten and threaten these children into learning to read better.

Michigan’s Republican Attorney General, a man who has been running for governor for a couple of decades at least, has a revolutionary idea to solve this seemingly intractable problem: “dedicated reading centers” in all schools staffed with “reading coaches”.

Mr. Schuette is, apparently, unfamiliar with the concept of the “library” and the staff position of “librarian”. However, his political party — the Republicans — are quite familiar with these concepts. Or at least they should be; they’ve been defunding them for years. It’s little wonder that kids are struggling to read in elementary schools after the Republican evisceration of the money used to run them. There’s little point in maintaining a library and paying a librarian when your building is falling down around you and there is no heat in the classroom in the winter or air conditioning in the summer. Schuette talks about “priorities” and that cuts both ways. The lack of prioritizing of reading and other standard functions of public schools by Republicans over the past decade has forced schools to set priorities of their own. Keeping the lights on and teachers in front of the classroom tend to become the focus.

Republicans like Bill Schuette know how to talk about education but when it comes time to actually prioritize it by giving public schools the resources they need, the GOP finds the bank account empty because their single-minded focus in cutting taxes for corporations and wealthy elites has drained them dry. Don’t fall for Schuette’s BS. If there’s one thing he knows how to do more than anything else, it’s to be a good Republican with all that this entails.

Oh, by the way, Schuette’s ten-point plan, a plan he calls “Great Readers on the Way”, “does not include more money for reading programs”. You knew that was coming, didn’t you?

Betsy Devos on 60 minutes


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Maybe We Need to Listen to the Youth.


Last fall I was driving around with my son and I had to apologize for the mess that my generation has made of USA. We are all looking to blame someone for the problems we face. Did it ever occur that the problems are our fault?

I am so proud of the children in Florida who are trying to shape the conversation and shape their future. I am embarrassed by the politicians who would not speak to them. Who shouted them down and who refused to even debate the bill.

We created this world we now live in. We valued SUVs and Trucks more than more economical vehicles. We valued fossil fuels over sustainable energy. We valued a little bit more in our take home pay than better schools. We sold out to the insurance companies instead of implementing universal health care.


The politicians we have voted for seem to value guns over the lives of our children. They certainly value their NRA rating more than the actual will of the people. An overwhelming majority of people in the USA support background checks but the politicians refuse to even talk about it.

Our children are inheriting a social mess. How can they not view it any other way? We have the ability to make the lives of our children safer. Yet we do nothing. We do not even take up the debate. We have made it illegal to even study gun deaths. We have made it impossible to sue the companies who produce these weapons.

We have made this mess and we are passing on this mess to them. I expect them to be pretty pissed off about it. I have more believe in their generation than my own.




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What are we waiting for?


When I was growing up there were two places where I always felt safe. HOME and SCHOOL.

The USA faces another school shooting today. 16+ more people dead.

50 – The number of mass murders or attempted mass murders at a school since Columbine. (FBI records)

141 – The number of people killed in a mass murder or attempted mass murder at a school since Columbine. (FBI records)

68 – The percentage of school shooters who got their guns from relatives or at home. (US Secret Service, US Department of Education)

270 – The number of shootings of any kind at a school since Columbine. (ABC News review of reported cases)

1 – The number of shootings per week, on average, on a school or college campus in 2015. (ABC News review of reported cases)

I don’t want to hear a politician send their THOUGHTS and PRAYERS. I want politicians to DO THEIR JOB! Let’s have gun laws that will make shootings like today harder.

To every politician who sends their thoughts and prayers then cozies up to the NRA or avoids the issue altogether because they are afraid of the NRA money- FUCK YOU!


Most Americans support stronger gun laws — laws that would reduce deaths. But Republicans in Congress stand in the way. They fear alienating their primary voters and the National Rifle Association.


Below are the top 10 career recipients of N.R.A. funding – through donations or spending to benefit the candidate – among both current House and Senate members, along with their statements about the October Las Vegas massacre. These representatives have a lot to say about it. All the while, they refuse to do anything to avoid the next massacre.

1. John McCain
“Cindy & I are praying for the victims of the terrible #LasVegasShooting & their families.”
2. Richard Burr
“My heart is with the people of Las Vegas and their first responders today. This morning’s tragic violence has absolutely no place here in America.”
3. Roy Blunt
“Saddened by the tragic loss of life in #LasVegas. My thoughts are with all of the families affected by this horrific attack.”
4. Thom Tillis
“Susan and I send our deepest condolences and prayers to the families of the victims of this horrific and senseless tragedy in Las Vegas.”
5. Cory Gardner
“My family and I are praying for the families of those injured and killed in Las Vegas last night.”
6. Marco Rubio
“I’m praying for all the victims, their families, and our first responders in the #LasVegas #MandalayBay shooting.”
7. Joni Ernst
“My prayers are with all of the victims in Las Vegas, and their loved ones affected by this senseless act of violence.”
8. Rob Portman
“Jane & I mourn the loss of innocent lives in this horrific attack in Las Vegas last night. We are praying for those taken from us, their families & all those injured in this attack.”
9. Todd Young
“We must offer our full support to the victims and their families as our nation mourns.”
10. Bill Cassidy
“Following closely the horrendous act of violence in Las Vegas. Our prayers are with those who were injured, killed and their families.”
1. French Hill
“Martha and I are praying for the families and victims of this senseless act of evil. […] We must continue to work together to stop this kind of terror.”
2. Ken Buck
“I’m praying for all of those impacted by the evil events in Las Vegas last night. Our country must stand together in support of the families of the victims and the community.”
3. David Young
“My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families and friends of the horrific and evil tragedy in Las Vegas.”
4. Mike Simpson
“Though no words can heal our hurt, and no explanation will ever feel sufficient, I pray that all involved may find comfort as we process this devastating tragedy.”
5. Greg Gianforte
No statement released.
6. Don Young
“Anne and I are praying for all those involved or impacted by this heinous act of violence.”
7. Lloyd Smucker
“Horrific act of violence in Las Vegas. Cindy and I pray for the victims, their families, and the first responders.”
8. Bruce Poliquin
“My thoughts are with all those effected in the horrifying attacks in Las Vegas. The nation is with you.”
9. Pete Sessions
“My deepest sympathies are with all who were harmed by this horrific tragedy.”
10. Barbara Comstock
“I am heartbroken by the mass murder that took place last night in Las Vegas and I am praying for the victims, families, and first responders.”

All of these representatives are Republican. The highest rankedDemocrat in the House is Sanford Bishop, who ranks 41st in career donations from the N.R.A. Among the top 100 House recipients, 95 are Republican. In the Senate, the top two Democrats are Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who rank 52nd and 53rd — behind every Republican but Dan Sullivan of Alaska.

Finally, why are our numbers different from those in Bret Stephens’s column on the Second Amendment? Because ours include money the N.R.A. spends on behalf of candidates, in addition to money it gives directly to candidates.

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What a YEAR this MONTH has been

What A Year This Month Has Been

All of these things happened in January 2018. No, seriously, they really did.


That’s a simple fact that seems hard to believe if you’ve been paying much attention to the news recently. It’s been… a lot. Did that crazy thing happen last week, or was that the week before? Did you completely forget about that major news event that actually happened only a few days ago? Can you believe that incredible story actually happened THIS MONTH?

HuffPost spoke with a number of sources closely associated with the news. Even they were bewildered that news events actually happened within the calendar month. They described January as “long.”

“What month are we in?” asked one.

Another wondered whether the government shutdown happened in December or January.

“That’s crazy,” said a third person, upon learning that the shutdown was still in effect JUST LAST WEEK.

Here, in reverse chronological order, is a list of just some of the things that actually happened in January 2018. (Did we miss any big political news? We probably did. Email us at scoops@huffpost.com.)

Jan. 30

― President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address to Congress.

Jan. 29

― FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe steps down after being targeted by  Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

― Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee vote to release a four-page memo their own staffers wrote that they’d been using to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

― The Trump administration signals it won’t impose new sanctions on Russia and releases a list of Russian “oligarchs” that was cribbed from Forbes.

― Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, becomes the 36th Republican member to announce he will not run for re-election.

Jan. 28

― The president of the United States tweets about Jay Z.

 Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!

Jan. 27

― Hotel magnate Steve Wynn steps down as finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, facing multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.

― The New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton kept an official on her 2008 presidential campaign even though he was accused of repeatedly harassing a young female aide.

Jan. 26

― A Trump administration pick reportedly wore a fake nose to help her daughter pass her driving test.

― Trump goes to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He is praised for being “presidential” when he successfully reads from a teleprompter but is booed when he criticizes the media as “fake.”

Jan. 25

― Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) announces his retirement after it’s revealed that he settled a sexual harassment case brought by a former staffer whom he considered his “soul mate.”

― The New York Times reports that Trump tried to fire Robert Mueller back in July but backed off because his top White House lawyer threatened to quit.

― Fox News host Sean Hannity flip-flops: 

Sean Hannity: The New York Times is trying to distract you. They say Trump tried to fire Mueller, but our sources aren’t confirming that!

Sean Hannity, minutes later: Alright, yeah, maybe our sources confirm Trump wanted to fire Mueller. But so what? That’s his right. Anywho…

Jan. 24

― The chairwoman of the Republican National Committee says a report that Trump asked then-acting FBI Director Andy McCabe whom he voted for in the presidential election is no big deal.

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel on reports Trump asked then-acting FBI director Andrew McCabe who he voted for in the 2016 election: “I think it is just a conversation … I ask people who they vote for sometimes.” http://cnn.it/2rAGcue 

― After floating a conspiracy theory that a “secret society” formed inside the FBI to take down Trump within hours of his 2016 election victory, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) tries to walk it back.

Jan. 23

― Islamophobic comments from a senior White House adviser emerge.

― Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) announces she’s pregnant. She would become the first senator to give birth while in office.

Jan. 22

― There’s a deal to reopen the government. Until Feb. 8, at least.

Jan. 21

― The government remains shut down, and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) is wearing his comfy clothes on TV:

Sen. Lindsey Graham on shutdown: “Somebody’s got to lead. The White House staff has been pretty unreliable.”

Jan. 20

― Trump completes one-fourth of his first term in office. He missed his big party.

― The federal government shuts down.

― Women’s marches are held around the country to commemorate the first anniversary of the global event.

― Four months after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, much of the island is still without power.

Jan. 19

― In Touch Weekly publishes its 2011 interview with porn star Stormy Daniels, in which she talked in detail about her alleged affair with Trump. Trump’s attorney reportedly paid her $130,000, huge money, to stay quiet about it just ahead of the 2016 election.

― Trump appointee resigns after bigoted comments.

― Trump becomes the first president to address the anti-abortion March for Life live.

Jan. 18

― Justice Department prosecutors drop felony rioting charges against 129 individuals swept up in a mass arrest on the day of Trump’s inauguration. But they say they will put 59 other defendants on trial.

Jan. 17

― Trump, who had earlier in the month said he’d issue “Fake News Awards,” tweets a link to a Republican National Committee page. It crashes.

― Most of a National Park Service advisory board resigns in frustration.

Jan. 16

― The Internet questions the results of Trump’s official medical exam, after which he was declared to be in excellent physical condition.

― The girther movement is born.

― Chris Christie is no longer governor of New Jersey.

― Democrats score an upset victory in a special election in a GOP-held district in Wisconsin.

― The Trump administration won’t deal with transgender student complaints.

― The Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security issue a controversial report on international terrorism that critics call misleading because it omits any acts of domestic terrorism and sensationalizes the issue of honor killings.

― Former White House adviser Steve Bannon testifies before the House Intelligence Committee.

Jan. 15

― Martin Luther King Day. Trump breaks with the presidential tradition of volunteering on this holiday to instead golf.

Jan. 14

― Trump’s Department of Homeland Security secretary is offended that people think Trump is a racist.

Jan. 13

― Hawaii accidentally sends a false ballistic missile alert, sending people into a panic.

Jan. 12

― Trump cancels a trip to London to dedicate a new U.S. embassy. He comes up with an excuse about why, but many people believe it is because he would have faced protests.

― The U.S. ambassador to Panama resigns, saying he can no longer work for Trump.

Jan. 11

― After watching Fox News, the president of the United States tweets this ahead of a House vote on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

“House votes on controversial FISA ACT today.” This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?

― Trump’s tweet sets off a scramble. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) calls him. 101 minutes later, Trump tweets this:

With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!

― Later, the House votes to re-authorize FISA.

― Trump reportedly refers to Haiti and African nations as ”“shithole countries.”

― Ecuador grants citizenship to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Jan. 10

― Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a longtime member in a competitive district, says he will be resigning after this session.

― After a federal court temporarily rules against his decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protections, Trump attacks the entire court system as “broken and unfair.”

Jan. 9

– Trump tweets about his support for law enforcement:

― Bannon steps down as executive chairman of the far-right site Breitbart News.

― Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announces that Florida will be exempted from the administration’s new policy allowing offshore drilling. The decision quickly raises questions about the political motivations behind the move.

Jan. 8

― The Trump administration announces the end of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadoran immigrants.

― The country goes nuts thinking Oprah Winfrey might run for president in 2020.

Jan. 7

― White House official Stephen Miller appears on CNN. It doesn’t go well.

“I think I’ve wasted enough of my viewers’ time” is an iconic way to end an interview

The president, however, says it went well and that Jake Tapper “got destroyed.”

Jan. 6

― Trump assures the country he is a “very stable genius.”

Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence…..

….Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star…..

….to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!

Jan. 5

― Attorneys for an unnamed American whom the Trump administration held incommunicado for months tell a court that he’d like to challenge his detention.

― Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury book is released ahead of schedule following a Trump attorney’s cease-and-desist letter attempting to block its dissemination. The book sends the administration into a tailspin over its unflattering portrayal of Trump and his family.

― Mike Rogers of the National Security Agency announces his plan to retire.

Jan. 4

― Trump tweets this about his former chief White House strategist:

I authorized Zero access to White House (actually turned him down many times) for author of phony book! I never spoke to him for book. Full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist. Look at this guy’s past and watch what happens to him and Sloppy Steve!

― A ceramic bowl gives Republicans control of the Virginia House of Delegates.

― Attorney General Jeff Sessions unleashes federal prosecutors to go after state-legal marijuana by revoking an Obama-era memo.

― Under Sessions, federal prosecutors unseal terrorism-related charges against a white supremacist. They don’t tell anyone.

― A year after he claimed millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, Trump ends his voter fraud commission.

Jan. 3

― A Trump associate who testified before Mueller’s grand jury complains there were too many black people on it.

― Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) announces that he will retire.

― Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, facing a variety of criminal charges, files a lawsuit challenging the appointment of special counsel Mueller.

― Trump writes a blistering statement going after his former top aide, Steve Bannon, for comments that appeared in a new book looking at the inner workings of the White House.

― Democrats Doug Jones (Ala.) and Tina Smith (Minn.) are sworn into the U.S. Senate.

Jan. 2

― Minnesota Democrat Al Franken resigns from the Senate over sexual harassment allegations.

― The president of the United States of America tweets this:

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!

Jan. 1

― California legalizes weed.

― The country quietly hopes this year will be less crazy than 2017.

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How Democracies Die.

I am currently reading the book, “How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt , two Harvard professors.  As a former history teacher I find this book compelling, terrifying and a bit depressing but I believe in the lessons of the past.

I read a quote once, “Democrats fall in love. Republicans fall in line”. History is going to be a harsh judge of the Republican Party during the Trump Years. They sold out their beliefs in order to keep their party in power. Their policy push seems to be “roll back everything Obama did.” The hypocrisy in Washington makes me crazy. When Clinton was president he was impeached for getting a blow job. Both democrats and republicans spoke out against his actions. In the year since Trump has been elected (has it ONLY been a year?!) Actors, politicians and corporate executives have lost their jobs due to sexual harassment. Yet the Republican party has continued to support a bully, serial sexual harasser, who paid off a porn star to keep their affair quiet.

Do I care about the presidents sexual life? NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT. I didn’t care when it was Clinton and I still don’t care with Trump. If it was consensual then it is their business. I just wish the politicians would stop acting so shocked by one presidents behavior while they continue to support another’s.

Even at the state level the GOP seems to be breaking all norms. Whether it is gerrymandering districts (The Dems have done this as well) to insure the people are NOT represented or by keeping people from taking ethics positions to oversee state elections (Wisconsin).

It is time someone within the Republican Party stands up. There have been many examples of political parties throwing their weight behind an opposing party because it is better to lose an election than lose our democracy.

Michael Steele recently called out Trump’s evangelical backers after they gave Trump a pass on his paying off the porn star.  Steele is no snowflake liberal. He is the former head of the Republican Party. Did any other republican (or anyone on FOX News) stand with him? NOPE .

On Monday, Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Christian nonprofit Family Research Council, said Trump gets “a mulligan” or “do-over” over allegations that he paid porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet over their reported affair.

Steele wasn’t having it.

“I have a very simple admonition at this point,” Steele said on “Hardball” on MSNBC. “Just shut the hell up and don’t ever preach to me about anything ever again. I don’t want to hear it.”

Steele added:

“After telling me how to live my life, who to love, what to believe, what not to believe, what to do and what not to do and now you sit back and the prostitutes don’t matter? The grabbing the you-know-what doesn’t matter? The outright behavior and lies don’t matter? Just shut up.”

At least it is a start.

Earlier this week I was home cooking dinner listening to NPR   Dave Davies was filling in for Terry Gross and was interviewing Levitsky. The entire transcript is below.

If reading is not your thing, go give a listen to the podcast


This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who’s off today. If watching President Trump and listening to American political discourse these days makes you feel something’s gone wrong, our guests today will tell you it’s not your imagination. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have spent years studying what makes democracies healthy and what leads to their collapse. And they see signs that American democracy is in trouble.

In a new book, they argue that Trump has shown authoritarian tendencies and that many players in American politics are discarding long-held norms that have kept our political rivalries in balance and prevented the kind of bitter conflict that can lead to a repressive state. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are both professors of government at Harvard University. Levitsky’s research focuses on Latin America and the developing world. Ziblatt studies Europe from the 19th century to the present. Their new book is called “How Democracies Die.”

Well, Stephen Levitsky, Daniel Ziblatt, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, you write that some democracies die in a hail of gunfire. There’s a military coup. The existing leaders are imprisoned or sometimes shot. Not – this is not the kind of death of a democracy that you think is most relevant to our purposes. What’s a more typical or meaningful scenario?

STEVEN LEVITSKY: Well, the kind of democratic breakdown that you mentioned was more typical of the Cold War era, of a good part of the 20th century. But military coups, although they occur occasionally today in the world, are much, much less common than they used to be. And, in fact, the primary way in which democracies have died since the end of the Cold War, over the last 30 years or so, is at the hands of elected leaders, at the hands of governments that were often freely or close to freely elected, who then use democratic institutions to weaken or destroy democracy. And we’re very hopeful that America’s democratic institutions will survive this process. But if we were to fall into some kind of crisis, surely it would take that form.

DAVIES: And it doesn’t typically happen the week or month after the elected leader takes power, right? It unfolds gradually.

DANIEL ZIBLATT: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, that’s one of the things that makes it so difficult, both to study and also as a citizen to recognize what’s happening. You know, military coups happen overnight. I mean, they’re sudden instances – sudden events. Electoral authoritarians come to power democratically. They often have democratic legitimacy as a result of being elected. And there’s a kind of gradual chipping away at democratic institutions, kind of tilting of the playing field to the advantage of the incumbent, so it becomes harder and harder to dislodge the incumbent through democratic means.

And, you know, when this goes through the whole process, you know, at the end of the process – this may take years, it may take a decade. You know, in some countries around the world, this has taken as long as a decade to happen. At the end of that process, the incumbent is firmly entrenched in power.

DAVIES: And just to define what we’re talking about, we’re talking – when we say a democracy dies, we mean there is a circumstance in which there are relatively freely elected leaders and, at the end, what?

ZIBLATT: Yeah, so at the end of this process, it’s hard – it becomes harder and harder – it takes different forms in different countries. I mean, so what’s happened in Turkey over the last 10 years, essentially President Erdogan has entrenched himself in power, weakened the opposition, and so it’s become harder and harder to dislodge him. So there may continue to be elections, but the elections are tilted in favor of the incumbent. The elections are no longer fair.

Through a variety of mechanisms, the president’s able to stay in power and to withstand criticism, although public support may not fully be there. Media is – you know, there’s kind of a clampdown on media and sort of a variety of institutional mechanisms that an incumbent can use to kind of keep himself in power.

LEVISKY: Right. As Daniel said, very often these days, the kind of formal or constitutional architecture of democracy remains in place, but the actual substance of it is eviscerated.

DAVIES: And does that describe Russia today? Is its democracy essentially dead?

LEVISKY: Yeah, well, I…


LEVISKY: Russia was never really much of a democracy. If it was a democracy, it was one very, very briefly, so Russia’s really at the other end of the spectrum in terms of the strength of its democratic institutions. But yes, Russia has the trappings of democracy. They still hold elections. They’ve got a Parliament. But in practice, it’s an outright autocracy.

DAVIES: You have a chapter called “Fateful Alliances,” and it’s about circumstances – cases where a populist demagogue, who turns out to be an authoritarian, got help along the way from mainstream political figures or political parties. Do you want to give us an example of that?

ZIBLATT: Yeah, so in our book, we recount a couple of these kinds of scenarios. And it turns out that often the way elected authorities get into power is not just through elections and appealing to the public but by allying themselves with establishment politicians. The most kind of recent example of this that we – and we have this – describe this in greater detail in the book – is the case of Venezuela where Hugo Chavez, kind of with the aid of President Caldera, who was a longstanding politician and establishment politician in Venezuela, was kind of aided along the way in some sense by being freed from jail by President Caldera and his – he kind of gained in legitimacy and then eventually was able to come into power.

A similar story can be told about the interwar years, as well – and interwar years in Europe. So these are the most prominent cases of Democratic collapse, really, in the 20th century – Italy, Germany in the – Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 1930s. In both of these cases, you have Mussolini coming along, who didn’t really – you know, he had some support. But he was able to kind of increase his profile by being put on a party list by a leading liberal statesman Giovanni Giolitti, who included him on his party’s list. And he gained in legitimacy. And suddenly, you know, here he was, a leading statesman, Mussolini himself.

And a similar story – this – you know, Hitler came to power in a similar alliance with mainstream conservative politicians at the end of the 1920s and into the 1930s – was famously placed as chancellor of Germany by leading statesmen in Germany. In each instance, there’s a kind of Faustian bargain that’s being struck where the statesmen think that they’re going to tap into this popular appeal of the demagogue and think that they can control them. I mean, this is this incredible miscalculation. And this miscalculation happens over and over. And in each instance, the establishment statesmen are not able to control the demagogue.

DAVIES: And you note that there have been figures in American political history that could be regarded as dangerous demagogues and that they’ve been kept out of major positions of power because we’ve had gatekeepers – people who somehow controlled who got access to the top positions of power – presidential nominations, for example. You want to give us some examples of this?

LEVISKY: Sure. Henry Ford was an extremist, somebody who was actually written about favorably in “Mein Kampf.” He flirted with a presidential bid in 1923, thinking about the 1924 race, and had a lot of support, particularly in the Midwest. Huey Long obviously never had the chance to run for president. He was assassinated before that.

DAVIES: He was the governor of Louisiana, right?

LEVISKY: Governor of Louisiana, senator and a major national figure – probably rivaled really only by Roosevelt at the end of his life in terms of popularity. George Wallace in 1968, and again in 1972 before he was shot, had levels of public support and public approval that are not different – not much different from Donald Trump. So throughout the 20th century, we’ve had a number of figures who had 35, 38, 40 percent public support, who were demagogues, who didn’t have a strong commitment to democratic institutions, in some cases were quite antidemocratic, but who were kept out of mainstream politics by the parties themselves.

The parties never even came close to nominating any of these figures for president. What was different about 2016 was not that Trump was new or that he would get a lot of support but that he was nominated by major party. That’s what was new.

DAVIES: Right. And you say that there were effectively, for most of American history, gatekeepers at the top of the political party – a process that tended to exclude these people that were more extreme. Describe what that process was like.

ZIBLATT: Yeah, so you know, through the 20th century, even going back to the 19th century, the way presidential candidates were selected has – this has changed over time. And really, only beginning in 1972 have primaries, which we now are all so accustomed to – where candidates are selected by voters – that’s when that began is 1972 to be a really significant system. Before 1972, the system throughout the 20th century has often been described as dominated by smoke-filled back rooms where party leaders got together and tried to figure out who would be the best candidate to represent the party and who they thought could win.

You know, there’s a lot to be criticized about this pre-1972 system. It was very exclusive. It, you know – it’s often picked mediocre candidates. I mean, you can think of President Warren G. Harding, who looked like a presidential candidate but wasn’t much of a president. This was somebody who was selected through the smoke-filled backroom. But the virtue of this system – if there is a virtue of it – is that it kept out demagogues.

DAVIES: So in – starting in 1972, there are multiple primaries in states that lead to the party’s nomination. There are different state rules. But voters get some say in a lot of it. And you’re right that there – but there was always sort of the invisible primary. That is to say you tended to be taken seriously if the party leaders gave you their nod or at least their approval to get in the game. So take us to Donald Trump in 2016. How did this pave the way for Trump?

LEVISKY: Well, the belief among political scientists – and I think it was true for a while – was that winning primaries was hard. This was particularly before the days of social media, when you needed the support of local activists. You needed the support, maybe, of unions in the Democratic Party. You needed the support of local media on the ground in each state in order to actually win primaries. You couldn’t just get on CNN and expect to win a primary somewhere in the West because of what you – or what you tweeted.

You had to have some kind of an infrastructure on the ground. I’m talking about the 1970s, 1980s, even the 1990s. And so the belief among political scientists was you still needed the support of party insiders to win the primaries, to win – to cross the country and accumulate enough delegates, winning state by state by state. You really needed to build alliances with local Democratic or Republican Party leaders, committees, senators, congresspeople, mayors, et cetera.

That became less and less true over time in large part because the nature of media – the rise of social media and the ability of outsiders to make a name for themselves without going through that process, without going through that invisible primary. So Donald Trump demonstrated, you know, beyond any doubt in 2016 that at least if you have enough name recognition, you can avoid building alliances with anybody, really, at the state or local level. You can run on your own. You can be an outsider and win.

ZIBLATT: Yeah. I would add to that what’s an interesting – differences exist between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The Democratic Party has superdelegates. And so there is built into the Democratic Party presidential selection process – continues to exist – this kind of element of gatekeeping. The Republican Party does not have superdelegates. And so one of the interesting kind of things to think about is, you know, had there been superdelegates in the Republican Party, would have Donald Trump actually won the nomination?

Would’ve he run? Would’ve he won? And so, you know, I think that’s kind of an interesting thing to think about. And, you know, superdelegates are now up for debate within the Democratic Party after the Bernie Sanders-Hillary showdown. And so there’s a lot of people who think superdelegates should be eliminated so that – this is kind of an ongoing issue of debate.

DAVIES: Right. And superdelegates are – they’re typically elected officials or very prominent leaders or fundraisers in the party. But in the Democratic Party, there are – what? – like, 15 percent of the total delegates of the convention – something like that.

LEVISKY: Right. It’s about 15 percent.


LEVISKY: It varies.

DAVIES: We’re speaking with Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. They are professors of government at Harvard University. Their new book is called “How Democracies Die.” We’ll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we’re speaking with Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. They are both professors of government at Harvard. They study democracies around the world. Their new book looks at how Democratic institutions can be undermined by authoritarian figures. And it raises the question of whether President Trump is a threat to American democracy. You note that we have a Constitution, which is widely praised and revered. It’s a set of rules, and it’s actually pretty short. But you note that a set of rules, however well-crafted, aren’t enough to ensure that democratic institutions prevail. You say there are norms of democracy that are just as important.

LEVISKY: The rules themselves, particularly in a very simple, short Constitution like that of the United States, can never get a – can never fully guide behavior. And so our behavior needs to be guided by informal rules, by norms. And we focus on two of them in particular – what we call mutual toleration, which is really, really fundamental in any democracy, which is simply that among the major parties, there’s an acceptance that their rivals are legitimate, that we may disagree with the other side. We may really dislike the other side. But at the end of the day, we recognize publicly – and we tell this to our followers – that the other side is equally patriotic, and that it can govern legitimately. That’s one.

The other one is what we call forbearance, which is restraint in the exercise of power. And that’s a little bit counterintuitive. We don’t usually think about forbearance in politics, but it’s absolutely central. Think about what the president can do under the Constitution. The president can pardon anybody he wants at any time. The president can pack the Supreme Court. If the president has a majority in Congress – which many presidents do – and the president doesn’t like the makeup of the Supreme Court, he could pass a law expanding the court to 11 or 13 and fill with allies – again, he needs a legislative majority – but can do it. FDR tried.

The president can, in many respects, rule by decree. If Congress is blocking his agenda, he can use a series of proclamations or executive orders to make policy at the margins of Congress. What it takes for those institutions to work properly is restraint on the part of politicians. Politicians have to underutilize their power. And most of our politicians – most of our leaders have done exactly that. That’s not written down in the Constitution.

DAVIES: You know, it’s interesting. I think one of the things that people say when people warn that Donald Trump or someone else could undermine American democracy and lead us to an authoritarian state is we’re different from other countries in the strength of our commitment to democratic institutions. And I’m interested to what extent you think that’s true.

ZIBLATT: Yeah. Well, so, you know, there’s certainly this notion of an American creed where Americans have a long-standing commitment to principles of freedom and equality. And I think that’s very real. And American democracy’s older than any democracy in the world. The constitutional regime has been in place for hundreds of years. And this is – should be a source of some solace to us, that democracy’s a – the older a democracy is, lots of political science research shows, the less likely it is to break down. And one of the reasons is a commitment of citizens to democratic norms. One thing, though, that kind of gives us kind of pause, and I think that, you know, there is a sub-current – and Steve mentioned this earlier – there is a sub-current in American political culture, and just even in the 20th century, you know, beginning with Henry Ford, you know, as we mentioned, Huey Long, Joe McCarthy, you know, all the way – George Wallace – all the way through Trump, there’s a sub-current around 30 – you know, Gallup polls going back to the 1930s – around 30 percent of the electorate supporting candidates who often seem to have a questionable commitment to democratic norms.

LEVISKY: The creed to which Daniel refers and the initial establishment of strong democratic norms in this country was founded in a homogeneous society, a racially and culturally homogeneous society. It was founded in an era of racial exclusion. And the challenge is that we have now become a much more ethnically, culturally diverse society, taken major steps towards racial equality, and the challenge is making those norms stick in this new context.

DAVIES: And you do note in the book that the resolution of the conflicts around the Civil War and a restoration of kind of normal democratic institutions was accompanied by denial of voting rights and basic citizenship privileges to African-Americans in the South. So this hasn’t exactly been a laudable course all the time.

ZIBLATT: Yeah, so this is this great paradox – tragic paradox, really – that we recount in the book, which is that the consolidation of these norms, which we think are so important to democratic life of mutual toleration and forbearance, were re-established, really, at the price of racial exclusion. I mean, there was a way in which the end of Reconstruction – when Reconstruction was a great democratic effort and experiment – and it was a moment of democratic breakthrough for the United States where voting rights were extended to African-Americans. At the end of Reconstruction throughout the U.S. South, states implemented a variety of reforms to reduce the right to vote – essentially, to eliminate the right to vote for African-Americans. And so after the 1870s, American democracy was by no means actually really a full democracy. And we really think that American democracy came – really, it was a consolidated democracy really only after 1965. I mean, that’s a bit of a controversial view or unusual view for some. But really, it’s clear that with the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, that’s at the point at which American democracy became fully consolidated.

DAVIES: Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are professors of government at Harvard University. Their new book is called “How Democracies Die.” After a break, they’ll discuss their concerns about President Trump and his regard for critical norms of American democracy. Also rock critic Ken Tucker reviews British performer Charli XCX’s new album, and Maureen Corrigan reviews the new book “The Perfect Nanny,” based on a tragic, real event. I’m Dave Davies. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who’s off today. We’re speaking with Harvard professors of government Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. They’ve studied the demise of elected democracies around the world. In a new book, they argue that too many American politicians, including President Trump, are violating long-held norms of American democracy, including a respect for the legitimacy of political rivals and a commitment to some restraint in political combat. Their book is called “How Democracies Die.”

You know, you write that the erosion of these norms of democracy, these unwritten rules, which provide – the guardrails of democracy, in a way, that kind of protects us and keeps us on track – that they began to erode well before Donald Trump became president or was a candidate. When did it start?

LEVISKY: It’s difficult to find a precise date. But we look at the 1990s and, particularly, the rise of the Gingrich Republicans. Newt Gingrich really advocated and taught his fellow Republicans how to use language that begins to sort of call into question mutual toleration, using language like betrayal and sick and pathetic and antifamily and anti-American to describe their rivals.

And Gingrich also introduced an era or helped introduce – it was not just Newt Gingrich – an era of unprecedented, at least during that period in the century, hardball politics. So you saw a couple of major government shutdowns for the first time in the 1990s and, of course, the partisan impeachment of Bill Clinton, which was one of the first major acts – I mean, that is not forbearance. That is the failure to use restraint.

DAVIES: And did Democrats react in ways that accelerated the erosion of the norms?

LEVISKY: Sure. In Congress, there was a sort of tit-for-tat escalation in which, you know, one party begins to employ the filibuster. For decades, the filibuster was a very, very little-used tool. It was almost never used. It was used, on average, one or two times per Congressional session, per Congressional period – two-year period – so once a year. And then it gradually increased in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s.

It was both parties. So one party starts to play by new rules, and the other party response. So it’s a spiraling effect, an escalation in which each party became more and more obstructionist in Congress. Each party did – took additional steps either to block legislation, because it could, or to block appointments, particularly judicial appointments. You know, Harry Reid and the Democrats played a role in this in George W. Bush’s presidency – really sort of stepped up obstructionism.

DAVIES: Did the executive orders that President Obama issued when the Republican Congress clearly was not going to cooperate with his agenda – do you think that that was, you know, a violation of the norm of forbearance?

ZIBLATT: Yeah, so this is exactly a part of the same process that Steve just described. So there’s this kind of spiral, you know, which is really ominous, where one side plays hardball by holding up nominations, holding up legislation in Congress, and there’s a kind of stalemate. And so the other side feels justified in using executive orders and presidential memos and so on. These also are – you know, have been utilized by Barack Obama. So there’s a way in which politicians, on both sides, are confronted with a real dilemma, which is, you know, if one side seems to be breaking the rules, and so why shouldn’t we? If we don’t, we’re kind of being the sucker here.

DAVIES: You know, you do seem to say that the Republican Party led the way and was more willing to violate these norms of democracy. Is that the case? And is there something about the Republican Party that makes it different in this respect?

LEVISKY: Yeah, we do think that’s true. We think that the most egregious sort of pushing of the envelope began with Republicans, particularly in the 1990s and that the most egregious acts of hardball have taken place at the hands of Republicans. I’ll just list four – the partisan impeachment of Bill Clinton, the 2003 mid-district redistricting in Texas, which was pushed by Tom DeLay, the denial – essentially, the theft of a Supreme Court seat with the refusal to even take up the nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016 and the so-called legislative coup pulled off by the Republican-controlled legislature in North Carolina in 2016. Those are among the most egregious acts of constitutional hardball that we see in the last generation, and they’re all carried out by Republicans.

Yes, we believe the Republicans have become a more extremist party. For us, the most persuasive explanation has to do with the way our parties have been polarized along racial and cultural lines. And the way that our parties have lined up, with the Democrats being a party, essentially, of secular, educated whites and a diversity of ethnic minorities and the Republicans being a fairly homogeneous white, Protestant party, or white Christian party, the Republicans have basically come to represent a former ethnic majority in decline. You have many – certainly not all – but many Republican voters who feel like the country that they grew up with, or grew up in, is being taken away from them. And that can lead to pretty extremist views and voting patterns.

DAVIES: We’re speaking with Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. Both are professors of government at Harvard. They study democracies around the world. And their new book looks at how Democratic institutions can be undermined by authoritarian figures, and it raises the question of whether President Trump is a threat to American democracy.

So let’s talk about Donald Trump as president. To what extent do you believe he has violated the norms that protect and preserve American democracy?

LEVISKY: Well, he has clearly violated norms. If there’s one thing that Donald Trump does with consistency in politics, it’s violate norms. But I should say, I mean, he has not violated Democratic rules much. I mean, our democracy remains intact. Donald Trump is very much – is a pretty authoritarian figure. But we’ve got real democratic institutions, and the rule of law has largely worked. The judicial system has largely worked. The media has been pretty effective. And so Trump hasn’t been able to – has not crossed very many lines in terms of actual authoritarianism.

He’s clearly violated norms. I think he’s accelerated the process of norm erosion that we’ve just been talking about – that Daniel was talking about. And that’s almost certainly going to be consequential in the future. But thus far, luckily, our system’s been strong enough to prevent him from breaking any democratic rules.

DAVIES: But clearly, you argue that his, you know, his attempts to demonize the media and undermine its credibility to, you know, treat his opponents of all stripe as sort of not legitimate represents dangerous trends in democracy. Where do you think we’re headed?

ZIBLATT: Yeah, so there’s two real things that Donald – President Trump has done that make us worry. One is his politicization of the rule of law or of law enforcement intelligence. And so you know, we – in a democracy, law enforcement intelligence have to be neutral. And what he has tried to do with the FBI, with the attorney general’s office is to try to turn law enforcement into a kind of shield to protect him and a weapon to go after his opponents. And this is something that authoritarians always do. They try to transform neutral institutions into their favor. And you know, he’s had some success of it. There’s been lots of resistance as well, though, from – you know, from Congress and from society and media reporting on this and so on. But this is one worrying thing.

A second worrying thing is – that you just described as well is his effort to – his continued effort to delegitimize media and the election process. So he – so one of the things that we worried about a lot in the book was the setting up – and we describe how – the process by which this happened – the setting-up of electoral commission to investigate election fraud.

And so it’s – you know, the idea – he set this commission up to investigate a problem that really all evidence suggests does not exist. I mean, there’s been this myth of election fraud in the United States for the last 15 years that’s been pushed by all sorts of different groups. And he has taken the – he took on this mantle and set up this Federal Election Commission to try to collect evidence of election fraud, you know, voter ID fraud and so on. And really, again, no social scientific evidence supports that this is happening at all.

And many worried that this was really an effort to target voters, to disenfranchise voters who would be voting against Donald Trump and voting against Republicans. And so he kind of joined forces with people who’ve been working on this already. The stated goal was to clean up elections, which sounds like a wonderful thing. But the actual goal was to disenfranchise voters who would vote against Republicans.

So it turns out now in the last several months, this commission’s been disbanded because of the – one of the major factors that led to the – to elimination of this election commission was that the states refused to cooperate. So here’s where we see American federalism in action, and I think the checks and balances have worked well. And this has been now transferred over to the Department of Homeland Security. And so you know, in general, this is I think a good news stories. But we don’t know what’s going to happen next, and this continues to be a major risk, I think.

LEVISKY: We often get the response to our book that, well, you know, Donald Trump has been much more bluster than action. He’s mostly been talk. But in practice, he hasn’t done very much. And to a degree, that is true. But there are a lot of consequences to his talk and his words. And let me just point to two – the undermining of the credibility of our electoral process and of the free press, right? There are two – it’s hard to think of two institutions that are more core, more fundamental to democracy than our elections and our free press.

And what Donald Trump has done by over and over again saying that – lying, saying that our elections are fraudulent, that the election was fraudulent, that 11 million illegal immigrants voted, that the election was not truly fair, free and fair is to convince a very large number of voters, a very large number of Republicans that our elections actually are fraudulent – and the same thing with the media.

He has convinced a fairly large segment of our society that the mainstream media – that the establishment media is conspiring to bring his government down, is purposefully lying and making stuff up such that a fairly large number of Americans no longer believe anything but Fox News. In the long term, it’s hard to imagine how that’s healthy for a democracy.

DAVIES: Well, Daniel Ziblatt, Steven Levitsky, thank you so much for speaking with us.

LEVISKY: Thanks for having us.

ZIBLATT: Thank you.

DAVIES: Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are professors of government at Harvard University. Their new book is called “How Democracies Die.” Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews “Pop 2,” the latest album from British performer Charli XCX. This is FRESH AIR.j


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