2:00PM Water Cooler 12/23/2019

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, this will be an abbreviated Water Cooler because I have struggled into my yellow waders to go through Trump’s letter to Pelosi. Since we have a new poll, I’ll include those, and also a conversation starter on politics. Talk amongst yourselves! –lambert

* * *


“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51

“They had one weapon left and both knew it: treachery.” –Frank Herbert, Dune

Here is a second counter for the Iowa Caucus, which is obviously just around the corner:

* * *


Alert reader dk (not to be confused with DK) is in the process of developing the following interactive chart.

Nationally, we have a new poll from Ipsos as of 12/23/2019, 11:00 AM EST, unfortunately not after the debates. The pattern of Biden first, Sanders strong second, then Warren and Buttigeig is stable, though Undecided took a chunk from everyone; in fact, the only candidate really rising is Buttigieg.The top four seem to be an established pattern (or, if you prefer, narrative). On to Iowa, which is looking quite close (and given Pelosi’s impeachment scheduling, which will take Senators off the trail, Sanders may be quite far-sighted to work so hard in California).

And the numbers:

To repeat: It would be nice if we didn’t have an enormous gap between the debate and the next round of polling, though truth to tell, I don’t know either how long it takes for the biomass to assimilate poll results, and I also don’t know if Xmas and the holidays will have an effect.

CAVEAT I think we have to track the polls because so much of the horse-race coverage is generated by them; and at least with these charts we’re insulating ourselves against getting excited about any one poll. That said, we should remember that the polling in 2016, as it turned out, was more about narrative than about sampling, and that this year is, if anything, even more so. In fact, one is entitled to ask, with the latest Buttigieg boomlet (bubble? (bezzle?)) which came first: The narrative, or the poll? One hears of push polling, to be sure, but not of collective push polling by herding pollsters. We should also worry about state polls with very small sample sizes and big gaps in coverage. And that’s before we get to the issues with cellphones (as well as whether voters in very small, very early states game their answers). So we are indeed following a horse-race, but the horses don’t stay in their lanes, some of the horses are not in it to win but to interfere with the others, the track is very muddy, and the mud has splattered our binoculars, such that it’s very hard to see what’s going on from the stands. Also, the track owners are crooked and the stewards are on the take. Everything’s fine.

I think dk has started a really neat project, and in the near future we’ll seek your feedback (within reason) for the tool “live.”

* * *

And the conversation starter:

“Obama talks up Warren behind closed doors to wealthy donors” [The Hill]. “[F]ormer President Obama has gone to bat for Warren (D-Mass.) when speaking to donors reluctant to support her given her knocks on Wall Street and the wealthy. And if Warren becomes the nominee, Obama has said they must throw the entirety of their support behind her. The former president has stopped short of an endorsement of Warren in these conversations and has emphasized that he is not endorsing in the Democratic primary race. But he also has vouched for her credentials, making it clear in these private sessions that he deems her a capable candidate and potential president, sources say.” • So, shoring up the Democrat relationship with the donor class by making Warren relatable, a highly suitable role for any ex-President, as Jimmy Carter showed. Oh, wait..

* * *

Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, (c) how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal, and (d) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi and coral are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please place it at the start of your mail in parentheses: (thus). Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. Today’s plant (Lee):

Lee writes: “In Alameda, California a poppy blooming in November, later than is typical. Late bloomers are possibly earlier adapters to climate change.”

* * *

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


    1. shinola

      I caught a TV news piece over the weekend that claimed Buttgag had been voted “most likely to become president” (or something to that effect) when he was a senior in high school. That got me thinking “Why does this not surprise me?”

      Well because I had encountered exactly this type of person in some advanced placement classes in my HS senior year who claimed that his goal was to one day become president of the US. The word that comes to mind when I recall that guy is “insufferable”. I had never encountered anyone before that proudly displayed such naked ambition. I hadn’t really thought much about that fellow since then – until Buttgag came on the scene and I was immediately reminded…

      1. turtle

        Yes, the new Netflix series “The Politican” is exactly about one of these types (student at a rich high school who plans to be president). Not sure yet exactly what angle they take since I’ve only watched the pilot and other random bits, but it’s at least interesting. As with any good writing they seem to want to show complexities of the character.

        1. Bugs Bunny

          That spec screenplay was considered one of the greatest unproduced films for many years before it was finely shot.

          Read it sometime, there are plenty of copies in circulation. It’s simply brilliant.

          The film differs slightly from the script, I suppose it was hard to do it exactly. There are two different endings that I’ve seen. Neither is the one from the original script.

      2. CoryP

        On my current tangent about proper language. I like that we are able to make fun of his name and turn it into new nicknames. The guy’s name has “butt” in it, after all. Let’s free our inner 12-year olds.

        As a gay man, I call him Butt****, with all the derision normally associated with that term. Theoretically that should be offensive to me.

        Anyway interesting. Buttgag works well. ++

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        In which case, the DemParty Convention will have presented the American electorate with a “Truman’s Choice”.

        1. CoryP

          Random. Pretzel, I’m glad to see you here. I’ve enjoyed your comments at MoA even though the comment section there is a garbage fire.

  1. Craig H.

    Is this like open thread?

    Ram Dass, Beloved Spiritual Teacher, Has Died

    My favorite angle on this is the alternative physician Andrew Weil was the snitch who first got Leary and Alpert/Dass in trouble with Harvard University. Weil was jealous that his roommate got invited to the drug parties and he didn’t. Leary’s early stuff is summarized in this book:


    In the beginning, before he became a celebrity, Leary’s work was phenomenally great. In those days almost all of his supervisors considered Freudian psychoanalysis to be scientific. It is kind of a shame what happened after but hindsight is always much clearer than being in the middle of it.

    1. Appleseed

      I thought the Tricycle obit was a loving, fair, and accurate assessment of RD’s influence on the culture in a multitude of ways. Thanks for the link.

      The documentary, ”Dying to Know“, is a thoughtful and comprehensive overview of Dr. Tim’s & RD’s work and legacy. As for insight into Weil’s youthful dirty work, and a well sourced slice of psychedelic history, I recommend Don Lattin’s The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America. A pertinent excerpt regarding Weil was posted at the Daily Beast when the book was published in 2010. Not in the excerpt, but relevant, Lattin reports that Weil and RD met in later life and though Weil seem contrite and apologetic for his role in the Harvard Crimson coverage, RD was cool and remote. Apparently, he was human enough to not totally forgive AW. For his part, Weil has come around, and is no longer the arrogant, ambitious, vindictive person depicted in Lattin’s book. He’s a big fan of the medicinal, mental, and spiritual healing properties of fungi. He’s also a pioneer in the field of integrated medicine. His website includes a fair bit of commercial material, but his Ask Dr. Weil section provides solid, thoughtful healthcare/wellness perspectives.

      1. Craig H.

        > Apparently, he was human enough to not totally forgive AW.

        Just think of all the mega karma credits to be had there! That is the veritable leaving of twenty dollar bills laying on the sidewalk.

        1. Appleseed

          Which could lead to mega karma credit swaps that immanentize the Eschaton for many lifetimes to come! All because Ram Dass couldn’t forgive and forget.

    2. Eureka Springs

      RD was a somewhat frequent guest speaker in my parents church and our home, late 70’s through early 80’s. Although I was young and didn’t know much of his history at the time, he made lasting impressions for which I will always be appreciative and a little better at this thing called life because of it.

  2. diptherio

    My neighbor told me she saw a buttercup blooming yesterday. For the record, that’s usually the first sign of spring around here….strange times…

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      most of my fruit trees still have leaves clinging to them…even green ones. this, after a lot of nights in the 20’s, and even two spells where i went ahead and shut off the water and drained the house(i loathe being a cold plumber, and therefore setup the house with this tactic in mind)
      and i’m still seeing grasshoppers!…much fewer…like 500 less per 100 sq feet…and very lethargic…but still!
      a disturbance in the Force.

        1. marku52

          Heading towards the driest Nov-Dec on record here in SW OR. Seattle just got hammered with inches of rain.

          1. RMO

            And I just saw a couple of flies buzzing around my front door. A little weird, seeing insects up and about outdoors north of 49 at Christmas time.

      1. diptherio

        A couple of hard frosts in October took all the leaves off the fruit trees here (we got our first snow early, in late Sept), but it was 50 F yesterday…in NW Montana! I can’t remember another December like this.

    2. polecat

      In Port Angeles, Wa. my scrophularias, cape honeysuckle, some of the sages, and penstemons still look fine .. albeit without blooms … usually, by this time, they’ve burned succumbed to no-stop nightly frosts, or even lowland snow .. which, admittedly, we don’t aways get every winter. The shibupkins and koi in our little pond are still accepting food – usually by this time, they’re in a state of torpor .. not this winter, so far .. Humm, I wonder if, in a few years, I’ll be able to grow citrus ??

        1. polecat

          We have cherries (sweet &sour), berries(red rasp, black rasp, logan), huckleberries, blackberries,blueberries – as you can see, we’re in berry good hands’;] .. a couple of medlars (interesting historical references there), grapes, and lastly, one apple, in the chicken yard .. for the neo-dinosaurs eating pleasure ..
          So we’re pretty well covered as far as fruit bearing plantings go. But still, a mandarin say .. or even a loquat, would be the topper !

    3. Bugs Bunny

      Mosquitoes buzzing around my apartment in Paris.

      Now, I have no idea what to make of that.

      It’s been around 10-15°C, you would think they’d at least be sleeping.

  3. Hepativore

    So, the fact that Obama is willing to put in a good word for Warren on behalf of the wealthy elite should give you a clue as to which side Warren is really on. While many non-political “normies” look upon the Obama years with rose-tinted glasses, I wonder if the disillusionment that many people had in retrospect with Obama has sunk in to mainstream political consciousness yet. If that is the case, an Obama endorsement might actually backfire among progressives, seeing as how it has become evident that Obama was basically a silver-tongued neoliberal in the same mold as Clinton and Pelosi.

    I know that Warren is a political careerist at heart, but I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt when she first launched her 2020 presidential campaign. However, it has become increasingly clear that she has hitched her wagon to the wrong horse as the neoliberal corporate Democrats which she is aligning herself with are a sinking ship. I honestly do not think that she would even be fit to be Sander’s vice presidential pick at this point considering how wide the political gulf between Warren and Sanders actually is. A better choice would be Nina Turner as Sander’s running mate, with Tulsi Gabbard as his Secretary of State if he gets that far.

    1. shinola

      “…an Obama endorsement might actually backfire among progressives…”

      It hit me pretty much the same way – that’s a strike against her.

      1. Pelham

        My guess is that this is why he’s working behind the scenes, minimizing the chances of a backfire on the left. Of course, how behind-the-scenes is it if it’s reported by Politico? Still.

        I’m actually undecided on Warren. There was that story last week about her supposedly pushing Hillary in 2016 to name decent people to her cabinet if elected. But then you have to ask why that particular story surfaced at the particular time when Warren was sinking in the polls.

        If true, though, and if what the new Politico story says about her clashes with Obama are true, maybe Warren isn’t quite as objectionable as we tend to think. Then again, she came right out last week (I believe) and said Medicare for All would be a matter of choice under her plan, emphasizing that “choice” factor.

        So I’m confused. But maybe that’s what she, her campaign and various surrogates want at this stage.

        1. jrs

          Yea I remember the choice article being pretty misleading as she was nowhere saying that, that was just a headline. But she’s not going for immediate M4A implementation (not that this issue isn’t all kind of a long shot if there is an R Senate).

        2. kimyo

          I’m actually undecided on Warren.

          maybe this will help you decide?
          Our military can help lead the fight in combating climate change

          It starts with an ambitious goal: consistent with the objectives of the Green New Deal, the Pentagon should achieve net zero carbon emissions for all its non-combat bases and infrastructure by 2030.

          having the pentagon ‘lead the fight’ against climate change is akin to appointing prince andrew as head of the global task force against pedophilia and child trafficking.

          1. anon in so cal

            Yes, that plus Warren’s comments during the Council on Foreign Relations interview, which were frightening (to me, at least).

          2. Jeff W

            “maybe this will help you decide?”

            Or one or both of these two What’s Left podcasts:

            “The Left Case Against Elizabeth Warren” here

            “Warren’s Medicare For All ‘Plan’” here

      2. polecat

        OMNSHO .. both the O-man, and his sidekickass – HER-> … should be in irons, behind barrs !

        …. considering their conspiratorial tendencies.

    2. petal

      It’s kind of nice this Obama secret endorsement thing is lining up with/proving what a lot of people around here have been saying about her for some time now. The pieces are coming together.

    3. Big River Bandido

      A few weeks ago I read in this spot that while Clinton people hate Sanders and like Warren, Obama was pushing Buttigieg because Warren was such a pain in his ass. Seems he’s finally given his signal. Hopefully it’s the kiss of death for both Warren and Buttigieg.

      1. Darius

        Buttigieg takes no votes from Sanders. While Warren does on the margins. I think Obama’s calculation is simple as that. She also has special appeal to the virtue signaling liberals that are Obama’s base.

    4. jeremyharrison

      I can’t wait for the Warren – Trump debates, where Trump will show up wearing a full-length American Indian headdress.

        1. inode_buddha

          Nothing stopping Warren from showing up in a orange wig with a really bad comb over. And a loud tie.

            1. CoryP

              Have to admit I laughed.

              But tranny is an offensive term. Which I nonetheless appreciate in the right context. …. whatever you can’t censor people’s thoughts.

              Everything has become an offensive term, generally when it’s used intentionally to cause offense. We have to be able to insult these people somehow!

              I thought of Dearieme. As much as his comments got me worked up it’s made me realize what a fine line there is with censorship.

          1. wilroncanada

            I was going to say about Trump’s American Indian headdress that it would have orange feathers. You beat me to it with the Warren wig. As a wag, I must be getting slow.

      1. jrs

        Why assume there will be debates?

        I’m betting he would refuse to debate any coherent candidate (that being most of them except maybe Biden, he might happily debate someone if they are going to stumble over all their words). Incumbents don’t always do debates. He can always tweet instead.

    5. DJG

      Hepativore: When I see these reports that Obama was favoring Buttigieg (really?) and now may lean toward Warren, I’m reminded of his attempts to drag Hillary Clinton along–but I am also reminded of the syndrome in many organizations in which the revered founder or stellar organization man has serious trouble picking a successor and eventually settles on someone who is a disaster. Whether this is conscious or unconscious, I do not know. But I have seen it often enough to consider it a syndrome: The Founder Wrecks the Succession.

      Buttigieg? Surely Obama isn’t that much a naif, especially as we see him and his people playing hardball over the confiscation of Jackson Park in Chicago.

      I am reminded of Suzuki, the revered founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, who picked Baker as successor–who was eventually cast out.

      I suspect something like this is operating here.

      1. CoryP

        The question is: does Obama really care about getting a Democrat elected or would he be fine with a Rep.

        Or is he just attempting to sabotage the primary?

        It’s very questionable how much they actually care about being elected. I think this will be a revealing indicator.

    6. notabanker

      as the neoliberal corporate Democrats which she is aligning herself with are a sinking ship…..

      Bingo. Trump’s letter goes right to the heart of it. These clowns are completely exposed and Obama hawking Warren to donors while the blob talks up a gay McKinsey/CIA Indiana Mayor shows just how far they have fallen.

    7. CoryP

      I definitely saw this as a black mark against her (ooh edgy unintentional pun).

      But I sadly don’t think enough people realize what a slime ball Obama is.

  4. jeremyharrison

    Re: the newest poll – nice to see “Undecided” making a surge. That might be the Dems’ best hope.

    People are saying that no one can beat Trump, but I think “NO ONE” would beat Trump by a landslide.

      1. foghorn longhorn

        None of the above, has won every election for the last 3+ decades.

        Hillary-> was so damn clever, she even gave us a signature name,
        The Deplorables.

        1. Hepativore

          That almost sounds like a late-1970’s era punk band name. There probably is a band called the Deplorables now if there is not one already.

          1. Phillip Allen

            There is. The Deplorables, “A Southern Illinois band with a local all star line up playing the best of classic rock and pop from The Eagles to Maroon 5 \ Prince to Adele and more!!!!” Their slogan is “Making Music Great Again”.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Who is on first.

      What is on second.

      I don’t know on third.

      Why in left.


      And for the manager – No one.

      1. Phillip Allen

        This assumes that Sanders is the nominee. In my view, abstention is always a valid choice, if one cannot genuinely support any candidate on a ballot for any given office. There is no moral or legal obligation to vote, period, nor any obligation to vote ‘lesser evil’ or ‘strategically’ or whatever. As a powerless prole, sometimes the only valid statement is nonparticipation, since participation equates to consent in the whole grotesque spectacle. When the outcome of voting is only ever more immiseration, more war, more devastation, participating in voting without meaningful differences between candidates is to defile oneself and betray one’s community.

  5. ewmayer

    My “Pickup Truck Price Index” Crushes “CPI for New Vehicles” | Wolf Street

    For the 1990 model year, the base MSRP of the F-150 XLT was $12,986. In the 2020 model year, it’s $34,160. That’s a price gain of 163%.

    Let that sink in for a moment. Over the same period, the CPI for new vehicles (green line, right scale in the chart below) rose just 22%:

    Note that from 1990 through 1998, the CPI for new vehicles closely tracked the price increases of the F-150. But this surge in CPI was too disturbing, apparently, and so the CPI methodology was enhanced with aggressive hedonic quality adjustments and other methods to bring CPI down, and it actually fell from 1997 through 2009, even as new vehicle prices were soaring.

    Note the inherent class warfare aspect of the dynamic here: Technological advances are inherently deflationary, in that they allow a manufacturing worker to produce ever-more value-add per hour. In a fair world, said workers would share in that increased value-add via salary gains, which would largely offset the price increases of the higher-value-add products they and others produce.

    1. inode_buddha

      “Note the inherent class warfare aspect of the dynamic here: Technological advances are inherently deflationary, in that they allow a manufacturing worker to produce ever-more value-add per hour. In a fair world, said workers would share in that increased value-add via salary gains, which would largely offset the price increases of the higher-value-add products they and others produce.”

      I entered the workforce in ~1984, and I have yet to see the workers get a share in anything.

    2. Craig H.

      In Eric Weinstein’s podcast with Tyler Cowen they have an argument about the CPI and the hedonic adjustment. Cowen claims that the finance markets are totally cool with CPI as is and if you think it is messed up then you have the basis for an investment play that will make you a ton of profits if you are correct.

      This is the kind of argument that has given rhetoric a bad name for 2500 years.

      If you do not have the patience to listen all the way to the end (I am not proud to say that I did) you will learn that Cowen and Weinstein are sure that they have impeccable taste in music. They sound like one of those cartoon characters like Phineas Whoopie the man who knows everything.


  6. clarky90

    Re; “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors….”

    Russian monk singing the Lord’s prayer in Syriac (Aramaic)

    It is thought that Jesus spoke Aramaic in everyday life. His Name (Jesus, in the West) would have been pronounced; “Ee-Sho” or “Eesa”, depending on the Aramaic dialect.

    I imagined Mother Mary calling Jesus, the child, for lunch or His naptime. Eesa, Eesa, Eesa…!

    Happy Holidays to all the NC commentariat!

    1. Robert Hahl

      p.s. Lunasa have two upcoming dates in the U.S. Their shows are always great.

      March 13, 2020 Bailey Hall Cornell University
      Location: Ithica NY USA
      Venue: Bailey Hall Cornell University

      March 29, 2020 Reston Community Center
      Location: Reston VA USA
      Venue: Reston Community Center

  7. Carey

    This comment on Muilenburg’s departure from Boeing found at Leeham News, seems
    about right to me:

    “Old Tart
    December 23, 2019

    Muilenburg’s departure is WAY overdue, but Calhoun is not the answer. He will be a continuation of the GE/McDonnell Douglas cancer that has metastasized through Boeing since 1997. He was part of the decision making process that approved a $20 billion stock buyback almost exactly a year ago (after the first MAX crash), following his approval of more than $40 billion in buybacks the 5 years prior to that. Boeing could have launched at least two new airplane programs with that cash. And as long as all Boeing managers are cycled through the Harry Stonecipher charm school in St. Louis, that culture will continue to trickle down throughout the company.”

    1. Carey

      Adding: As I see it the 737 MAX situation is a bellwether event, and the corporatists really
      don’t, so far, get it.. “labor force” issues will be coming to the fore, and soon, IMO.

      1. JBird4049

        Looks like the Democratic Party is doing what the Republican Party did a decade ago; anyone not fully aligned with the received Word is declared a heretic and cast out of the church or cult Party. Tulsi Gabbard, whatever her faults, is not a supporter of all wars, all the time foreign policy, which makes her unacceptable.

  8. Summer

    A blast from the past.
    I ran across this over the weekend, a clip from the Mike Douglass show in 1974.
    If this aired on TV today, Twitter would MELT DOWN and shatter into zillions of screaming bits….


    Fireworks start at 32:11 with the arrival of the Democratic Party Congressman to the panel of guests…

    1. lyman alpha blob

      Thanks for that. Ali was the best and I don’t think they’d even let that air on TV today.

    1. Summer

      “That the diminutive new president had grown in her memory…”

      They really are throwing everything in the psyops kitchen sink.

    2. LifelongLib

      Easier to demonize Putin than to have long boring articles about how different countries have different national interests, and how he works for Russia not us. To say nothing about discussing who exactly is it that decides what national interests are anyway…

    3. CoryP

      I very much enjoy watching or reading Putin’s speeches. No doubt he’s lying in the same way all politicians do. Yet, when he castigates the West he is right on target and I like him for it.

  9. CoryP

    If this is an open thread then maybe this is my chance to say that the new His Dark Materials series is SO DAMN GOOD.

    The casting is amazing and it made me cry in scenes where I already knew what was going to happen.

    It’s very gratifying to see this, after the Golden Compass was such a hot mess of a film. And I actually thought Nicole Kidman was perfect in the role until I saw Ruth Wilson.

    That said it’s a bizarre story and I always feel hesitant to recommend it to people even though I read the trilogy in two days. This must be some kind of weird self consciousness because obviously enough people love it that BBC/HBO has spent a fortune on this.


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