Links 10/28/11

The risks of believing that the Mayan calendar ends December 21, 2012! Carl Johan Calleman (hat tip Richard Smith). The Mayan end of the world is really today! Hope you are prepared.

Conservatives Are More Squeamish than Liberals LiveScience (hat tip reader Aquifer)

The Most Anal CEO Ever Gawker

How a Jellyfish Protein Transformed Science LiveScience (hat tip reader Aquifer)

Astronomers discover complex organic matter in the universe e! Science News (hat tip reader peak oil not)

Decreasing Inequality Under Latin America’s “Social Democratic” and “Populist” Governments: Is the Difference Real? CEPR (hat tip reader Thomas R)

China spoils the party MacroBusiness

CDOs on the brink of collapse: report BusinessSpectator (hat tip reader Crocodile Chuck). The impact of the seizure of US mortgage insurer PMI hits Australian investors.

Art world thumbs its nose in Paris at economic crisis DailyStar (hat tip reader 1SK)

Roger Bootle on the European Crisis Deal: Get Austere or Die Trying Credit Writedowns

The Path Not Taken Paul Krugman, New York Times. On Iceland.

$6.6 billion in lost Iraq cash now accounted for, inspector says The Envoy (hat tip reader Aquifer). Hhhm, a story on CNBC on at least $40 billion being handled in a lax manner, and suddenly we are told everything is hunky dory.

Obama Backers Tied to Lobbies Raise Millions New York Times (hat tip Joe Costello). Quelle surprise! Obama lied!

House Passes the “Even Obama Supported” Non-Jobs Jobs Act Dave Dayen, FireDogLake

On Occupy Oakland and Policing in America Abigail Field. Money quote:

…. consider what a Marine said: “I was involved in a RIOT in Rutbah, Iraq 2004 and we did NOT treat the Iraqi citizens like they are treating the unarmed civilians in our OWN Country. No one was brutalized because our mission was to ‘WIN the hearts and minds.’ why should I expect anything less in my OWN Country.”

Occupying Struggle Street MacroBusiness (hat tip reader Aquifer)

Occupy Phoenix’s most devoted protesters Salon

Mayor Quan Left #OccupyOakland’s GA Rather Than Wait Turn to Speak. But Veterans Showed Up! [Video] Daily Kos (hat tip reader Deontos)

NYPD Union Warns of Lawsuits Against ‘Occupy’ Supporters Wall Street Journal. You cannot make this stuff up. The police union is threatening to sue any organization associated with OWS if cops are hurt.

The big questions raised by anti-capitalist protests Martin Wolf, Financial Times. More support for OWS.

It’s Time for Debt Forgiveness, American-Style William Greider, The Nation

Mr. Hoenig Goes to Washington Simon Johnson (hat tip reader Carol B)

Senators press Obama for swifter REO strategy Housing Wire (hat tip Lisa Epstein)

How Ed DeMarco finally cried fraud Moe Tkacik, Reuters

Rakoff queries Citi’s settlement with SEC Financial Times. I love Judge Rakoff. And one of his questions (I read the claim) was one we raised: what were the losses? The SEC only provided the low end of a range! He also, as before, wants individuals to be punished.

How gross and net CDS notionals really work Lisa Pollack, FT Alphaville (hat tip Richard Smith).

The NYT Touts the Fact That GDP Data Show the World Did Not End Dean Baker

Antidote du jour:

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  1. Rex

    “The Mayan end of the world is really today! Hope you are prepared.”

    Crap! I must have missed the memo. Guess I better get off the internet and do something more dramatic with my last hours.

    But wait. In the article I see, “Around the time that the Sixth night begins on November 8, 2009 we may however expect that the meltdown intensifies and the US dollar collapses and with it the established monetary system in the world.”

    Pretty sure I would have remembered that. Maybe this information is not totally accurate.

    1. Flying Kiwi

      There were reportedly riots in the UK when the Calendar Reform Act of 1750 replaced the Julian Calendar with the Gregorian one, involving the ‘loss’ of a mere eleven days. (September 2 was followed by September 14, 1752). I suppose the fact there hasn’t been any rioting resulting from the end of the world altogether just indicates how disaster weary we all are.

      1. russell1200

        The “accuracy” of the Mayan calander depends an awful lot on what your measuring. Because it has no (known) leap days (other than the 5 day fudge at the end of every year) it is not going to be as accurate as calanders that have the occassional add-on to take care of fractional day lengths in the duration of a year.

        There is also (though I cannot find the link now) a Mayan scholar who thinks that the starting point that is being used is not entirely clear and thinks a good case can be made for the end of the long calander being about 50 years from now.

        1. Dave of Maryland

          The Mayan calendar was based on the planet Venus. It’s the loopiest thing you’ve ever seen.

        2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          This question concerns the deepest mystery in life (as far as I know).

          We use base-10 numeral system because we have 10 fingers (or 10 toes, some say).

          Why do we have fractional days?

          Does God have fractional toes?

          F. Beard, what is your theory?

      2. JimRS

        The eleven day riots were because employers paid wages by the day and landlords demanded rent by the month, and refused to accept less rent pro rata in the month of nearly two lost working weeks. This was impossible for families that were living from month to month barely able to meet the rent from their wages already.

        So the asset-owning labor-employing privileged minority were using “necessary” alterations in public policy to screw the majority. Not that different from today really.

    2. Richard Kline

      I would have a long, detailed, negative appraisal of Calleman’s entire thesis to present here, but no . . . the moment has passed. It was 15 October.

      But for the record: no, world-historcial conflicts are _not_ chiliastic, that is sourced in transitions between Great Year cycles, regardless of what some Mayans may have very peripherally posited or Calleman extrapolates from the fragmentary evidence of same. There are cycles, and organizational stabilities associated with discrete phases do, often, end or at least transform at transtion moments. But there are cumulative, i.e. progressive, trends which contrast to this as well. The historical record is really very clear on both points.

    3. Glen

      And I really must be missing something because EVERY calendar I have in the house ends on December 31, but I just throw them out and hang up new ones.

      My personal theory on why the Mayan calendar ends is that they just ran out of rock to carve it on, and you were supposed to throw out the old rock and buy a new one.

      Maybe I’d better stick to my day job…

  2. financial matters

    CDOs on the brink of collapse: report BusinessSpectator (hat tip reader Crocodile Chuck). The impact of the seizure of US mortgage insurer PMI hits Australian investors.


    Insurance and re-insurance (read kickback). Lots to explore here also

    “”Many of the country’s largest banks received $6 billion in kickbacks from mortgage insurers over the course of a decade, according to a previously undisclosed investigation by the Inspector General of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

    When it comes to insurance, “if I get 50% of the profits, I have to take 50% of the risks,” said Herman Thordsen, a California attorney who defends companies accused of RESPA violations. “If they’re not doing that, then there’s likely a violation. And disclosure has to be there, absolutely.”

    Banks fell far short of both those standards with their captive reinsurance schemes, investigators and the companies’ own records suggest. Over the course of two years, Kubesh and other investigators concluded that captive mortgage reinsurance had devolved into a way to hide illegal business referral fees.””

  3. Name

    I wouldn’t call that obsessive, especially for someone who was involved in product design…

    While I’m no Jobs apologist (“corporate scumbag” is not far from the mark in my view), if more people took the time to refine and perfect things in this way the world would be a better place. “30 minutes” is nothing when you may be reminded of your hasty decision every day for the next 10 years…

    However, that his overall approach was to put form before function has kept me from being interested in any Apple products (that and silly premium they charge for products with restricted inter-operability & lack of modularity).

    1. alex

      I’m a bit tired of all the Jobs eulogies. You’d think the guy was Nikola Tesla and Martin Luther King rolled into one.

      However the one good thing to come of all this nonsense is an indication that it might be a good idea to have a CEO who at least recognizes the company’s products, or maybe even cares about them. Contrast that, for example, with the string of winner CEO’s that HP has had. People who probably wouldn’t know the company’s products if they fell on them. But I can read a spreadsheet, business is business, who cares whether it’s computers or soda pop, I’m a busyness genyus!

      1. FJ

        There’s nothing wrong with recognizing Jobs. It doesn’t detract from anyone else. In my opinion he was a world-historical figure, but not in war or pure evil, for a change. He and Woz did change the world. Technology could have taken a completely different direction.

  4. SR6719

    Re: Art world Thumbs its nose in Paris at economic crisis

    “Art is no longer anything more than a kind of meta-language for banality….” Jean Baudrillard

    “The art market has expanded exponentially and has been losing its shape to achieve monstrous proportions. It is occupying all the space, wildly metastasizing in every possible direction. It is so bloated at the core that it doesn’t seem able anymore to digest all the data. It is on its way to surpass its function…..

    Art is still claiming a special privilege, and behaving as if it had one. But that was pure arrogance on its part, and Baudrillard deflated it roundly in the best Situationist tradition by asserting that art was null – meaning that it had no more “distinctive” qualities. That was a deliberate provocation, and part of his strategy, which consists of pushing the system to the limit until it collapses. And he was right in that respect: withdraw this sense of privilege, and art would be just like anything else. Nietzsche always urged us to shake down what is unsteady. What is crumbling down is a certain idea of art.

    “Now art is free as well to morph everywhere, into politics (the aestheticization of politics isn’t a sign of fascism anymore, nor is the politicization of aesthetics a sign of radicalism for that matter), into the economy, into the media. All the more reason for art to claim a dubious privilege in the face of its absolute commodification. Art is enclosing itself in a big bubble, ostensibly protected from consumer contagion. But consumption has spread inside, like a disease, and you can tell by everybody’s rosy cheeks and febrile gestures. The bubble is quickly growing out of proportion. Soon it will reach its limit, achieving the perfection of its form – and burst with a pop like bubble-gum, or the 1990s stock market.”

    from Sylvère Lotringer, “The Piracy of Art”

    1. M.InTheCity

      Those are some great quotes, SR6719. It is the commodification of all things within our lives – art has been no exception.

    2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Art is not something you hang on the wall.

      Are is about being creative in your everyday life…you can be creative in taking out your trash.

      For example, you can be a realist and take out every last bit of trash…sort of like the brute force method in mathematics.

      You can also be an impressionist – take out whatever bits of trash that impress you the most at the moment (check with your girlfriend, wife or parents beforehand though).

      Once you have achieved this level of enlightenment, you can apply these creative styles to many things in life – like, washing your underwear, brushing your teeth, etc.

  5. russell1200

    The dueling studies on Latin American income inequality are really about the “Dutch Disease” : what to do about high value commodity exports driving drowning out other (possibly more stable) portions of the economy. That the governments are at least attempting to reapportion some of the income generated really should not be questioned. Venezuela tries to spread around the money it earns from oil extraction. That there may still be certain groups that benefit more from this boom in extraction, than the general populace that also receives some funds from this source, would not mean that the redistribution failed.

    What is more important is trying to get out of the trap over consumption fueled by the erratic commodity exports. There don’t seem to be many (any?)small economies that have succeeded. Latin America earlier had tried to push its industrial capacity, but the collapse of industrial production as an employer of labor (which first clobbered out inner cities, and then the rust belt in general) do not make that a particularly attractive prospect.

    1. Dave of Maryland

      Can we not, at long last, say that trade, combined with greed, is the underlying problem?

      Isn’t trade all about splitting production vs: sales in order to skim the profits? Wasn’t that true of the Hanseatic League and the Silk Road and every other trading outfit?

      Fair wages, fair prices, nobody steals the profits, we are all independent and the only items traded are essentials. Oil, if you don’t have enough. Food, if your harvest fails. Not “free trade”, but NO trade.

      But this won’t happen. We have to keep greed going, somehow, and trade will do it. But when the entire world is globalized, please tell me how?

      I can make my own damn shirts. I don’t need to go halfway round the world for simple clothing.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        I think that’s how Neanderthals traded.

        It all fits with the need to embrace Neo-Neanderthalism.

  6. Jim Haygood

    Ken Rogoff, who knows a lot about sovereign defaults (he wrote the freaking book, along with Carmen Reinhart) says the euro is doomed:

    European leaders’ agreement to expand a bailout fund to stem the region’s debt crisis only buys time as Greece will likely still leave the euro in the next decade, Harvard University economist Kenneth Rogoff said.

    “It feels at its root to me like more of the same, where they’ve figured how to buy a couple of months,” Rogoff said as a compensated speaker at the Bloomberg FX11 Summit in New York yesterday. “It’s pretty darn clear the euro does not work, that it’s not a stable equilibrium.”

    “My read of this is that the markets are cheered that they’re still alive,” said Rogoff, 58, a former International Monetary Fund chief economist. “Even in a fairly short period, doubts will start to grow again.”

    “I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’ll see more defaults beyond Greece,” Rogoff said. “The interesting question is will all the countries in the euro still be in the euro? My answer to that is no.”

    There’s at least as much as an 80 percent chance that Greece will leave the 17-nation common currency in the next 10 years, he said.

    “There’s just too many inconsistencies,” Rogoff said. That multiple independent countries are using a common currency “is missing some big things and it’s just not in equilibrium.”

    My sentiments exactly! Instead of decisively amputating its gangrenous Aegean toe, dithering Europe is going to risk losing its whole leg. Hubris kills …

    1. reslez

      Amputating “a gangrenous toe” wouldn’t solve anything: the patient has cancer. Greece is just a symptom. The problem is the Euro, which can’t tolerate an internal trade imbalance. All these problems go away the minute the ECB implicitly backs sovereign debt. But the Germans won’t allow it. They’re too… prudent.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        Put fiscal union to a vote…or two if they don’t get it ‘right’ the first time.

        The kid asks his father: Without that legitimacy, doesn’t this feel like the Rape of Euro, pa?

    2. Maximilien

      “…..Rogoff said as a compensated speaker…..”

      Rogoff got PAID for this grab-bag of commonplaces? Talk about yer firm grasp of the obvious!

    1. aet

      I had thought that it was the US Congress’ job to make Mr.Madoff’s investors/victims “whole again”, with full tax recognition/write-offs for their losses, if not straight-up reimbursement of the sums lost….no?

      So, those “favored Madoff investors”, including members of Mr Madoff’s family, get to keep ALL they took out of the scheme, except for what they withdrew over the last two years?

      Nice to see that fraud can pay so well, and that the Government will cover any losses, if it doesn’t.

  7. Mikey

    I’m beginning to wonder why we should even bother reading Dean Baker anymore. His “analysis” has become so much conventional, soggy (white)bread.
    In this instance he insults the economics profession as either out of touch or simply irrelevant, while just the day before he responded to a NYT Op-Ed (“It’s Consumer Spending, Stupid”) by an economic historian with a condescending “spare me from these amateurs trying to do economics” snottiness.
    But it gets worse: Baker completely ignored the thrust of the argument in the consumer spending piece by scolding the writer for mis understanding Econ. 101 axioms; Net investment falls in relation to GDP as markets develop and mature. Emerging market economies spend relatively more on capital investment because they are building capital stock. Once that stock is in place the relative percentage of capital investment falls. Well Duh! Thanks for the lesson Perfesser.

    But, of course, the writer was asking the next and obvious question: What follows from this? I read his piece as asking: “If private investment is un necessary for growth, what do we need profits (or, for that matter, capitalists) for?
    If we have developed to the point where profits are redundant ( as I think the writer is saying) isn’t that an interesting problem? At a time when massive amounts of idle cash are sloshing around doing nothing, and un employment is at crisis levels, isn’t this a timely and interesting question?

    Well it is to me, but I’m not an economist. That these questions are worthy only of scorn to Dean Baker is quite a bit more telling I think.

    1. anonymous

      “I’m beginning to wonder why we should even bother reading Dean Baker anymore.”

      Uh, maybe because he called the internet bubble? And then went on to call the housing bubble, long before almost anyone else did, and using sound fundamental analysis?

      1. Mikey

        Thus the usage “anymore”. Or, to spell it out very simply: What have you taught us lately?

        Hey Dean, how’s that skin thickener working?

  8. Leviathan

    I have to admit that I am disappointed by the Greider piece. So many errors. He implies that the main stumbling block to mortgage debt “forgiveness” (why invoke religious language? what’s wrong with writedowns or cramdowns?) is recalcitrant banks. But anyone who has read blogs for the past few years knows that other members of the 99% are much more adamant about not letting debtors off the hook than any bankers! Moreover when he talks about “banks” needing to take the hit he is just being disingenuous. The biggest hit would be taken by the taxpayer who would have to dump more cash into Frannie to cover losses. So, there is fairness, there is taxpayer risk, and there is contract law to be taken into consideration. No longer a simple calculation.

    I do, however, like Whalen’s image of this being the “reverse New Deal.” Really sums up what is wrong with our era.

  9. Jim Haygood

    Christopher Whittall of Reuters offers some insights on the European summit’s implications for CDS:

    One senior trader agreed it raised questions over the value of sovereign CDS, but argued it depends on the country the bank in question is looking to hedge against. For example, a European bank can be strong-armed behind the scenes by its regulator into accepting a 50% haircut on its Greek bonds, which wouldn’t trigger CDS and therefore arguably make its hedge worthless.

    However, a non-European bank – or other bondholders such as hedge funds, asset managers or even retail investors – shouldn’t have the same regulatory pressure to participate in a voluntary debt exchange. If they opt not to participate, the principal on their bond would remain the same, and so their CDS hedge would still be valid.

    “There is probably too much moral hazard for a bank using sovereign CDS as a hedge in a jurisdiction where their primary regulator can have an undue influence on them, and people should think long and hard about the benefit of that hedge,” said the European credit trading head at a US bank.

    “But if it’s truly voluntary, then they can’t coerce people to do it outside the Eurozone where they have the policy influence on them. So some banks may lose by having their bonds haircut and their hedge made worthless, while conversely some might win by retaining the bond at par, and retaining [a working] hedge,” he added.

    Let’s stipulate that ‘regulatory moral hazard’ is a very different animal than the traditional moral hazard on the part of the insured party!

    Meanwhile, the article makes the same point that Yves Smith has raised, regarding potential holdouts:

    Any CDS trigger – or lack thereof – should not be for a while. The debt exchange is scheduled to take place in early 2012, at which time the International Swaps and Derivatives Association Determinations Committee would rule on whether there had been a credit event. At present, ISDA has indicated the restructuring should not trigger CDS.

    Analysts have pointed out past emerging market restructurings done a voluntary basis were done with less than 30% haircuts. As a result, the number of hold-outs on a 50% haircut could well be far higher, meaning the authorities may yet be forced into a mandatory debt exchange that would trigger CDS.

    “They struggled to get a participation of 75% when the haircut was 21%. So now they think they’ll get a 75% participation at 50%? I know where my money is on that,” said the European trading head at a US bank.

    Talk about uncertainty — compared to the risks on stocks and bonds (hard enough to quantify), the nebulous uncertainties of CDS payoff are stratospheric. Due diligence would imply that credit default swaps were a gravely defective product from the get-go, whose value cannot be accurately determined.

  10. Jeff

    If the NYPD sergeants claim standing to sue the
    OWS for injuries, doesn’t that set them up for
    counter suits by the injured demonstrators?

    Want to talk enmeshment in contributory negligence?
    The government can’t sue protestors and protestors
    can’t sue the government or the police as a civil
    matter. Once the sergeants get involved in suing the
    demonstrators it could come back to bite them is the ass.

    1. KJMClark

      Yeah, the polar bear is cool, but the spine makes the whole picture kind of creepy. And what the heck has a spine that long and that thick??? I suppose that’s a bit fitting going into Halloween weekend…

    2. Aquifer

      Hmmm, hard to tell the scale for sure – but was wondering if it might be a relative and the bear is paying his/her respects …

    3. reslez

      Jeez, what’s with the last few antidotes? We had a terrified goat, then a starving horse, now a polar bear sniffing at flensed verebrae. It’s a bit… horrifying. Do you suppose it’s a subtle reference to Halloween?

  11. Anonymous Jones

    Hilarious piece on squeamishness.

    It would have never occurred to me that conservatives were bothered by such things. They’re always so tough!

    It’s not like you have to live in a world filled with euphemism, delusion and fantasy to believe in the tenets of the modern conservative movement or anything.

  12. emptyfull

    re: The risks of believing that the Mayan calendar ends December 21, 2012!

    So what are the chances that we get a Friday-evening bad news drop that destroys the market? Maybe the Mayans were just predicting the great 21st-century economic collapse! Tonight!

    1. emptyfull

      Ok, I wrote the above riffing off the title of the article. I just read it and find that that’s exactly the kind of thing he’s predicting. And I woke up this morning wondering if this would be the day the world economy would begin collapsing. I must be a reincarnated Mayan prophet!

      See you all in the New Jerusalem tomorrow! I think I’ll go buy some non-perishables right now…

  13. barrisj

    Re: CDS…as one who is not a trained economist nor ever have worked in the financial industry, but who is reasonably literate, reads all the relevant blogs and literature in the field – strictly as a layperson, mind you, I simply can’t get my head round the notion that a CDS contract represents risk insurance, except when it doesn’t! How can a “financial instrument” be so loaded with “notional” criteria, included net v gross values between buyers and sellers, and whose “triggering” is determined by third-party intermediation – who also then set payout terms, that such a contrivance can rationally be given a “value”? If banks can buy risk insurance in the form of CDS contracts to offset capital requirements, how can it be that this “insurance” in fact is highly conditional, and hardly a replacement for actual capital? What am I missing here?

  14. kingbadger

    re: “we did NOT treat the Iraqi citizens like they are treating the unarmed civilians in our OWN Country”

    The veteranisation of OWS seems highly obtuse to me. This is a drawing an NYC artist did of someone carrying a sign that says “I occupied Iraq / Now I’m occupying Wall Street,” as if you can compare military invasion with camping out in a park. Military types at OWS are being portrayed as defenders of civilians against the violence of police, when the US military is much more effective at killsplatterall damage (I wouldn’t say this to the face of a veteran of course, since I’m a cowardly peacenik).

  15. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    How a Jellyfish Protein Tranformed Science

    If you are injected with that gene (for making GFP) into your skin cells, will you glow in the dark? Can you turn it off? Can we use it on vampire squids?

  16. Patrice

    New York Chic:

    “New York City is all about money, power, speed, greed, and looking out for number one. It is the global capital of technofascism – affluenza, technomania, cyber-mania, megalomania, robotism, globalization, and imperialism.

    New Yorkers are primarily into having – owning, possessing, manipulating, and controlling – money, power, people, things, wealth, culture, media, and ideas. In the words of theologian Paul Tillich, “they are separated from themselves, from others, and the ground of their being.”

    New York City is nothing less than the modern equivalent of the Tower of Babel. It is too big, too crowded, too undemocratic, too regimented, too intrusive, too polluted, too noisy, too commercial, too materialistic, and too dehumanized…..”

  17. aletheia33

    link suggestion: this guardian piece is quite funny and very british.

    also makes an important point. the Occupation is the new valley forge, the Occupiers are saying as they head into winter, but by christmas their predicament will also evoke the most, or second-most, powerful myth of the Western world (not to mention much of the rest of the world).

    churches need to offer their buildings to the Occupiers for winter shelter. already in chicago, a church has allowed some of the grant park protesters to stay overnight. this should spread.

    a cold wind doth blow
    and we shall have snow
    and what will poor robin do then,
    poor thing?

    will he hide in a barn
    to keep himself warm
    and hide his head under his wing,
    poor thing?

    or will he join with other robins
    to keep themselves warm
    and stick their necks out
    and get arrested together,
    (no longer) poor things?

    1. Patrice

      “I gaze across this hallowed ground,
      Where men, tho lamed, by winter’s blow,
      Held fast, and strove, and finally found,
      The strength to vanquish our great foe.

      Huddled, fearful, ill equipped,
      In makeshift shelters spread about,
      Yet from some well of courage sipped,
      The will to stay despite their doubt.”

      excerpted from “Valley Forge” by Wayne Hepburn

  18. Typing Monkey

    I found this interesting:

    Home prices in the Hamptons, the Long Island beach towns that attract summering Manhattanites, surged 22 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier as demand climbed for the most expensive properties.

    The median price of homes sold in the quarter increased to $850,000 from $696,000 in the same period last year, according to a report today from New York appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and broker Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate. The number of houses that sold for $5 million or more almost tripled in the Hamptons and North Fork areas on Long Island’s East End.

    1. MDBill

      Simple supply and demand. The 1% constitute 3,070,065, a good portion of whom work in the financial NYC wonderland. How many palatial mansions are available in the Hamptons? Not that many, I’ll wager. And the 1% have seen a dramatic increase in compensation for their considerable labors of late. That money’s gotta go somewhere.

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