Nel's New Day

January 3, 2019

Shutdown, House Moves Forward

Day 13 of government shutdown: Thanks to the intransigence of Dictator Donald Trump’s (DDT), ICE has immigration problems. Tens of thousands of immigration officers and agents have no pay while they show up for work at the Mexico border. Many judges and clerks in immigration courts, already backlogged by almost one million cases, have been sent home while over 2,000 migrants are taken into custody each day. Sixty-five of these border crossers are families and children who are being released in the streets of El Paso (TX), Yuma (AZ), and other border cities. The E-verify website to check on the immigration status of potential hires has been shut down.

In addition to delayed IRS refunds, the Emergency Food Assistance Program may have delayed delivery of food to soup kitchens, food banks, and pantries. Frozen guarantees to back loans from the Small Business Administration mean millions of small businesses lost access to federal assistance loans and technical assistance. Homebuyers will be delayed in getting mortgages. Access to marriage licenses in D.C. has been suspended.

Parks are filthy, restrooms are closed, and museums are closed. Because of health and safety concerns, campgrounds at the Joshua Tree National Park were closed. Areas around parks are losing an average $18 million a day from tourism, and the government is losing money from not collecting fees at the parks where people crawl over fences and gates. Staff shortages create a feeling of “lawlessness” in the parks.  [Trash at the Washington Monument.]

One of DDT’s arguments for the wall is his claim that the Obama D.C. home has a surrounding ten-foot wall. As usual, DDT is wrong. One of the Obama neighbors commented that DDT “has a very active imagination.” Fox “news” reported on DDT’s information but not the reality.

For the second time in a government shutdown, federal workers are suing in protest of the requirement that “essential” employees must work without pay. Some affected agencies, including the VA and Defense Department, have enough money to pay employees until next fall, but nine other departments and dozens of agencies have been closed except for “essential” individuals who not only won’t receive pay but can’t take vacations or sick leave. Even if employees are in the hospital, they can be fired for being absent without leave. Employees also sued during the 2013 shutdown, and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims required that employees must be paid twice their back pay because the government violated the requirement that employees be paid on time for their services.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a woman elected as Speaker of the House for the 116th Congress, beat out Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in a vote of 220-192 despite 15 Democratic dissidents. She celebrates her position in the 100th anniversary of women voting for federal candidates in the United States. Pelosi needed at least 216 votes for the position to obtain a simple majority of members on the chamber floor because one Republican was absent, one had not been seated, and three Democrats voted “present. Other votes went to Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), 4 votes); Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), 2 votes; Rep. John Lewis (D-GA); Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA); and Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL). Two people who are not House members, former VP Joe Biden and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, each received one vote.

The Democratic and Blue Dog representative for my Oregon district, Kurt Schrader, voted for Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH). The super PAC for Schrader’s “No Labels” group spent over $2.5 million during the recent midterms to support vulnerable GOP House candidates trying to keep their position. Only half that amount supported Democrats. No Labels declared candidate DDT as one of their official “problem solvers,”  and No Labels tried to prevent Pelosi from becoming Speaker. Schrader maintained he wanted a younger House leadership before he voted for the 66-year-old Fudge for Speaker and supported older House representatives for other leadership positions.

The House promptly went to work today. In an effort to stop the shutdown, the House passed two bills with the support of a few Republicans. One package of six bills, passed by 239-192, funds agencies that are not considered controversial including the departments of Treasury, State, and Justice through the 2019 fiscal year at the end of September. The second bill, funding DHS through February 8, maintains the department’s funding at current levels which includes $3.1 billion for border security.

The first GOP senator has called for reopening the government with a CR that doesn’t give DDT his money for the wall. Cory Gardner (CO) suggested continuing negotiations after federal agencies open and “let Democrats explain why they no longer support border security.” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) agreed with Gardner, but her opinion carries no weight because she never follows through with her promises. After the House passed a bill last month mandating $5.7 billion for DDT’s wall, the Senate approved a CR without that funding to keep the government open until February 8. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that no vote will occur without DDT’s previous sign-off. In essence, McConnell abdicated all the power of the Senate to the executive branch. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed out that the House bills are the same as the ones supported in the GOP Senate Appropriations Committee.

Pundits like to talk about how disliked Pelosi is. In the most recent Gallup poll, she is rated more favorably at 38 percent than either Senate leader (Democrat Chuck Schumer from New York at 32 percent and GOP Mitch McConnell from Kentucky at 30 percent) with the same unfavorable rating, 48 percent, as McConnell. Outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) received a 34-percent favorable rating with his unfavorable 50 percent at two percent higher than Pelosi, but the media has had few comments about these ratings.

On, Perry Bacon wrote that all congressional leaders are unpopular. It’s the job and the fact that Congress is unpopular, but increasing partisan polarization has led to increasing partisan hatred of the leaders of the opposite party. As Bacon pointed out, any Democratic House Speaker will be disliked. Congressional leaders also receive negativity from the opposing party but little support of their own. The sexism adds to the mix: Pelosi is the only female congressional leader in the House or Senate, the country fails to elect a woman president, and almost half the states have never elected a woman for governor.

Republicans undoubtedly dislike Pelosi because she gets things done, including the vote for the Affordable Care Act. They complain that she is too liberal, but much of their distaste for the new House Speaker comes from her gender. The GOP wants women to vote for them, but they don’t want women in office. The 116th Congress is evidence of that philosophy.

The question is why some Democrats oppose Pelosi. Some might believe that she’s not progressive enough, although the 15 dissidents are so conservative that the Blue Dogs supported DDT before his election. Other Democrats blame her for their party losing Congress because they need someone to blame. Sometimes Democrats are offended when members of their party try to compromise while at the same time they excoriate the GOP for not working with the Democrats.

An overview of the House membership in the 116th Congress: Three Republicans come from districts that Clinton took in 2016, and 31 Democrats came from DDT-majority districts.

Today is a big milestone for DDT: it represents the longest period of time that DDT didn’t play golf since he was inaugurated. DDT hasn’t visited a golf course and one his personally owned properties for 39 days. Before that time, he spent 166 days at one of his golf clubs and another 22 days at one of his properties. President Obama didn’t hit even 100 rounds of golf until the end of his first term. On the campaign trail, DDT said that he wouldn’t be able to visit any of his properties while he was in office because “I’m going to be working for you.” The man who calls himself the best negotiator possible sat around the White House for two weeks and waited for Democrats to come talk to him.

January 18, 2013

A Letter about Entitlements to Rep. Kurt Schrader

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:49 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Last week I wrote a letter to Rep. Kurt Schrader (R-OR) indicating my distress regarding his repeating myths that guns don’t kill people. In addition to this statement, he wrote an op-ed for The Oregonian asking people to “demand the [House] members agree to $800 billion in entitlement reform.” When he said “$800 billion,” I’m guessing that he means over a decade, which means $80 billion per year.

Here is my response to Rep. Schrader:

Cutting entitlements might help reduce the deficit so I am providing some suggestions about the ones that I would “demand” the House members to eliminate.

First, the House should do away for the following entitlements that they passed in the “fiscal cliff” bill: NASCAR, $43 million over two years; railroads, $165 million a year; movies, $150 million for two years; mining companies; Goldman Sachs Headquarters “tax exempt financing,” $1.6 billion; off-shore loophole for banks; $9 billion; foreign subsidiaries, over $750,000 million a year; and bonus depreciation, R&D Tax Credit, $110 billion for two years. I’m sure that there are far more than these, but these are the ones that I could easily find. Just these would take care of the $800 billion that you want to cut.

If that isn’t enough, however, here are some other entitlements that could be cut: tax financial transactions, $100 billion a year; tax preference for capital gains and dividends, $80 billion per year; no progressive estate tax on large fortunes, $40-60 billion per year; overseas tax havens, $100 billion per year, and subsidies for excessive executive compensation, $18 billion per year.

Another way to save money is the Public Option Deficit Reduction Act, allowing consumers to opt into a government-run health insurance plan in the Obamacare exchanges. This could save up to $100 billion over the next decade. Passing the Dream Act could cut the deficit by $2 billion, and a cap-and-trade policy would be another $20 billion. That’s another $12+ billion.

Taking care of the following entitlements can save you $6 trillion in ten years—much more than just $800 billion: close multiple loopholes in the capital gains law, $174.2 billion; eliminate the capital gains altogether, $900 billion; reduce the “non-defense expenditures” for U.S. overseas military bases and other military perks by 20 percent, $200 billion; allow the government to negotiate with drug companies, $220 billion; enact DoD-friendly cuts to military budget, $519 billion; enact Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s “Fairness in Taxation Act” for very high earners, $872.5 billion; eliminate corporate tax loopholes, $1.24 trillion; and create a financial transactions tax for high-volume Wall Street trading, $1.8 trillion.

Huge entitlements go to the oil industry. It’s the most profitable industry in history, on track to make profits of over $100 billion in 2012. Yet we taxpayers will still give the industry $40 billion in tax giveaways over the next ten years unless you change this. They’ve been racking in tax money for almost 100 years and will continue for another 100 if you don’t change this. U.S. corporations have increased their after-tax profits by 171 percent during the past four years; they can afford to pay more than the minimal taxes—sometimes under five percent—that they do now.

Rep. Schrader, I’m guessing that you don’t consider Social Security as an “entitlement” because it has nothing to do with budget deficits. Law demands that all SS money comes from its trust fund which has been in surplus for almost two decades because of contributions. The only “deficit” is when the trust fund collects on the government IOUs, but I’m sure you agree that the government should pay its debts.

In case you do consider SS an “entitlement,” please remember that benefits are already meager for most SS recipients. The median income for people over 65 in the U.S. is less than $20,000. I’m sure that you understand how little this is for an annual salary because you make at least eight times as much. Almost 70 percent of people depend on SS for half of their income, and the average SS benefit is less than $15,000 a year.

You might think that Medicare is another “entitlement,” but people also pay into that account. The answer is not to deny people Medicare funds but to do something about the exorbitant cost of health care in the United States. This country already spends almost 18 percent of our entire economy on health care compared to an average of 9.6 percent in all other wealthy countries. Paying double, however, doesn’t make people in the U.S. healthier. In fact, the life expectancy at birth (78.2) in this nation is shorter than other rich countries (averaging 79.5 years), and the infant mortality (6.5 deaths per 1000 live births) is almost 50 percent higher than theirs (4.4).

Computers with patient records cannot share data, resulting in costly errors as this information has to be reentered. And insurance companies make lots of money because doctors and hospitals have to collect from the insurers who get paid for collecting from policy holders. A major occupational category at most hospitals is “billing clerk,” and a third of nursing hours are devoted to documenting what’s happened so insurers have proof. Cutting Medicare and Medicaid costs won’t stop this; it just ends up in less care. Medicare’s administrative costs are about 3 percent, well below the 5 to 10 percent in large self-insuring companies—and much lower than the 25 to 27 percent of premiums. That 3 percent is far below the 11-percent costs of private plans under Medicare Advantage.

Healthcare costs would be further contained if Medicare and Medicaid could use their huge bargaining leverage over healthcare providers to shift away from a “fee-for-the-most-costly-service” system to a system focused on achieving healthy outcomes.

I realize that you are proud of being a part of the disappearing Blue Dog caucus and part of the new No Labels coalition to reform Washington. I ask you to use the coalition to deny ALEC laws and support the people in the nation who make less than $250,000 by eliminating the entitlements for the wealthy, the drug and insurance companies, other corporations like the oil industry, and the defense bloat. Don’t let the GOP continue to pay out these entitlements.

Please support your constituents instead of the conservative GOP who wants to make the poor and middle class suffer while increasing the wealth of the rich and the corporations.

January 12, 2013

A Letter about Gun Control to Rep. Kurt Schrader

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:29 PM
Tags: , , , ,

schraderThis past week Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) cited the two usual myths of providing safety for people in the United States through gun control: (1) there are already unenforced laws on the books that would take care of the problems; and (2) “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” I take particular offense at his ill-conceived statements because he is the representative from my Congressional district and purports to be a Democrat.

Here is my response to Rep. Schrader:

After Vice-President Joe Biden met with a number of groups from pro-control victims and public health officials to the NRA, he released these seven points for reform that will be presented to President Obama next Tuesday. It is to be noted that none of these are existing laws and therefore cannot be enforced.

  • Close the so-called gun show loophole. Congress passed a law in 1986 that allows people to buy firearms at any of the thousands of gun shows without licensing, background checks, waiting periods, and reporting sales to authorities. Today, 40 percent of gun sales annually across the county occur at gun shows, and by some estimates 80 percent of weapons used in crimes are bought at gun shows.
  • Require universal background checks for gun buyers.
  • Improve background check database. The second and third points are connected. Although Congress has passed various laws to bar felons, the mentally ill, and drug addicts from owning guns and instituted a federal system of background checks and a five-day waiting period, three-quarters of the states refuse to share information about felons and the mentally ill with federal authorities. In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that states did not have to comply with the reporting requirement. Even after a 2007 law creating federally administered grants for states to send information to the Justice Department, only a dozen states account for most of the data six years later. Nineteen states have each submitted less than 100 mental health records to the FBI database, and another 19 states have policies allowing someone who has been found to be mentally ill in court to get a gun.
  • Limit high-capacity bullet magazines.  In 1934, when Congress passed the first federal gun-control law, they severely taxed machine guns because gangsters used these for the worst mass killings at that time. Modern semi-automatic weapons fed by high-capacity bullet clips are as deadly as machine guns.
  • Allow federal research on gun violence.
  • Remove gag orders on federal agencies that collect gun data. Like the background check hurdles, these two proposals are intertwined. Starting in 1996, the NRA lobbied Republicans in Congress to restrict key federal agencies’ ability to conduct research on gun-related violence. Not car accidents, just gun-related violence. In 2003 Congress barred the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from sharing data in its records that traced gun sales. The result is no information on what kind of weapons are used to kill most people, how many weapons are trafficked, does gang warfare use firearms, are guns used in crimes legally purchased—none of that information is available because of the 2003 law.
  • Target purveyors of violence as a cultural norm. For decades the NRA has been encouraging people to fight government with armed insurrection, an attitude particularly notable since the most recent shooting. Two years ago Sharron Angle, Nevada’s candidate for U.S. Senate, used the Second Amendment as a talking point for retribution if people didn’t like government’s actions. Media accounts showed that former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ shooter in Arizona was obsessed by this Constitutional “by-any-means-necessary” fantasy. Trained Marine veteran Joshua Boston claimed that he would not obey a law to register his guns because he might have to fight “against a government that had overstepped its boundaries.”

One more excellent idea, again that the NRA opposes, is the requirement for “smart guns” that can be shot only by their owners. One alternative is a fingerprint key on the trigger, and another is a magnetic ring. The trigger has a magnetic block that doesn’t allow it to be pulled back unless the shooter is wearing the matching ring for the gun. That system usually has an override function as well; once the ring is ready to fire (wearing the right ring) you can disable the ring function, allowing anyone to fire.

The New Jersey Institute of Technology is also working on a Dynamic Grip Recognition technology, which would track the owner’s hand size, strength and grip style. This system has a 90% recognition rate or higher. New Jersey already has a law that future handguns be “smart guns,” but all the states need to require this for effectiveness.

Although laws are currently being enforced, they are weak, and SCOTUS has said that states are not required to comply with federal mandates. Federal law and the laws of most states allow anyone who can pass a Brady Act record check to walk into a gun store and leave with as many guns as they can pay for. The guns are not registered, and purchasers don’t need a license. Because the Brady Act covers only federally licensed firearms dealers, purchasers who are not licensed dealers can legally resell or transfer ownership without doing a record check and without reporting or registering the change of ownership.

Some states limit aspects of this essentially open market. A Pennsylvania law channels resales through licensed dealers, but provisions inserted at the NRA’s behest make the law nearly impossible to enforce. Because owners don’t have to register guns or report transfers of ownership or thefts, law enforcement cannot identify who owns a particular gun. Federally licensed firearms dealers must report large-quantity sales to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (AFT), but authorities can do nothing unless they monitor the purchasers and catch them doing something illegal, which requires an inordinate expenditure of time and resources.

People actually oppose NRA’s positions of no licensing, no registering, no background checks. An example is Wisconsin where almost two-thirds of the voters oppose the legislators in their determination to pass a law allowing people to carry concealed weapons in public places. Even gun owners want gun control: 82 percent support requiring a criminal background check of anyone purchasing a gun.

Rep. Schrader, I realize that the NRA gave a higher contribution to your campaign than to the one GOP representative in the state, but I ask you to look at Vice President Biden’s points and seriously consider them. In response to your comments, (1) laws have to exist for them to be enforced; and (2) if people have to have guns in order to kill other people. Those who voted for you want to feel safe, and that doesn’t mean keeping an armed guard on every school, business, mall, street, mall, etc. It means legal management of weapons.

Please support your constituents instead of the conservative GOP who wants to continue the Russian roulette of our lives. If you can’t, then I would suggest that you change your affiliation to Republican, because that is what your policies currently reflect.

December 7, 2011

Corporations, Wealthy Work to Increase Political Control

Fortunately, I don’t live in Iowa—or New Hampshire—or any other state that will have primaries or caucuses early in 2012. Those are the states where people have to watch television advertising for and against Republican presidential candidates nonstop unless they have a way to block these ads or just don’t watch TV.

At least TV stations are making big bucks because corporations and super PACS are permitted unlimited spending in federal campaigns, thanks to George W. Bush’s Supreme Court. The activist approach of conservative Roberts court was made obvious in its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturned key provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, rules that kept corporations–and their lobbyists and front groups (as well as labor unions)–from spending unlimited amounts of cash on campaign advertising within 60 days of a general election or 30 days before a primary for federal office.

Former Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, explained the results of the ruling: “We’re now in a situation where a lobbyist can walk into my office…and say, ‘I’ve got five million dollars to spend, and I can spend it for you or against you. Which do you prefer?’” To give all this money to the conservatives, who will probably spend 90 percent of this advertising money and swing the elections toward the far right, the court used the concept of “corporate personhood.”

Grayson said, “One-hundred years of settled law meant that corporations cannot buy elections inAmerica, and they [Supreme Court] not only allowed corporations to buy those elections, but they made it a constitutional right.” Although the plaintiffs said nothing about the First Amendment, the court decided to use this as the basis for their decision. Justice John Paul Stevens noted that the conservative majority had “changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”

Corporate personhood’s origin in English law was based on the approach that companies have to be considered “persons” in order to sue them. An inanimate object can’t be sued.

The nineteenth-century robber barons managed to get a few corrupt jurists to codify the idea that corporations enjoy the same constitutional rights as living, breathing people in the 1886 decision Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. The railroad used the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to avoid paying taxes because states had different tax rates.

The courts bought the argument, but historian Thom Hartmann found no mention about “corporate personhood” in the original verdict. This declaration comes from the headnote to the case—a commentary written by the clerk, which is not legally binding—in which the Court’s clerk wrote: “The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Over 100 years of Supreme Court decisions have been based on an incorrect headnote written by J.C. Bancroft David, a corrupt official, who had previously served as the president of a railroad, working “in collusion with another corrupt Supreme Court Justice, Stephen Field.” The railroad companies, according to Hartmann, had promised Field that they’d sponsor his run for the White House if he assisted them in their effort to gain constitutional rights.

Even after the ruling, Hartmann noted, the idea of corporate personhood remained relatively obscure until corporate lawyers dusted off the doctrine during the Reagan era and used it to help reshape the U.S. political economy. Nike, Sinclair Broadcasting, Dow Chemical, J.C. Penney, tobacco and asbestos companies—all these corporations used the amendment written to free the slaves for their own benefit to avoid surprise inspections, keep secret dangers of their products, and continue practice illegal discrimination. All these companies succeeded except for Nike.

Legal reporter Dahlia Lithwick condemned the court’s “systematic dismantling of existing legal protections for women, workers, the environment, minorities and the disenfranchised.” Those who care about spiraling inequality, she wrote on the Slate, “need look no further than last term at the high court to see what happens when—just for instance—one’s right to sue AT&T, one’s ability to being a class action against Wal-Mart, and one’s ability to hold an investment management fund responsible for its lies, are all eroded by a sweep of the court’s pen.”

Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), among others, are fighting back against this corrupt vision of corporate control by introducing and supporting a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. Udall’s proposal would authorize Congress to regulate the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns, including independent expenditures, and allow states to regulate such spending at their level. It would also provide for implementation and enforcement of the amendment through legislation. Over 750,000 people have signed petitions to void the Supreme Court ruling.

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) also provided the following: “The SCOTUS made a mistake in the Citizens United ruling by equating money with political speech. We must redress this error before special interest money comes to dominate political campaigns and determine the outcome of American elections.

“On June 24, 2010, I joined with my colleagues in the House to pass HR 5175, the DISCLOSE Act, which aims to curb the ill effects of Citizens United in the near-term. Had the DISCLOSE Act passed in the Senate  it would have required corporations, unions, and other interests to adhere to campaign finance disclosure and expenditure requirements similar to those already in place for candidates standing for election to Congress. Although this bill would not have prevented an influx of money in federal elections, it would have made the sources of such money transparent to the public and prevented foreign intervention.

“In the 112th Congress, I have reintroduced a proposed amendment to the Constitution of theUnited States, H.J. Res 72, to address the long-term and fundamental problems presented by the Citizens United ruling. My proposed amendment would add a new and unfortunately necessary clause to the Constitution affirming that money can be a corrupting influence in a democracy and therefore excessive use of money to buy elections can be restricted under the Constitution of our great country.

“Money does not equal speech. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure free and fair elections in Oregon and throughout the United States of America.”

At least one judge is determined to go farther than the Supreme Court in allowing corporations carte blanche. Although the Supreme Court ruling allowed unlimited independent expenditures in political campaigns from corporations and other organizations, it did not overturn the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates campaigns. Judge James Cacheris of Virginia ruled that “Citizens United requires that corporations and individuals be afforded equal rights to political speech, unqualified.” The Department of Justice is appealing Cacheris’ ruling to the 4th Circuit Court.

Worse yet, Karl Rove has asked the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) if he can run coordinated political advertisements, featuring candidates the PAC is supporting. He justifies his request in this way: “While these advertisements would be fully coordinated with incumbent Members of Congress facing re-election in 2012, they would presumably not qualify as ‘coordinated communications.’”

After debating the question of whether super PAC ads featuring a member of Congress would violate the coordinate ban, which blocks certain interactions between independent groups and candidate committees, the FEC deadlocked at a 3-3 vote. The PAC’s lawyer, Thomas Josefiak, said, “Certainly they’re coordinated, but we’re using that in the lay sense. The question is, is it coordinated from a regulatory perspective?”

The topic was a source of discussion–and hilarity–on Stephen Colbert’s comedy show, The Colbert Report. Typical of Colbert’s tongue-in-cheek approach, he provides a solution to Rove’s request: “To avoid the appearance of collusion, the F.E.C. could rule that candidates can appear in Super PAC ads only against their will,” he wrote. “They’d have to be kidnapped, blindfolded, and thrown in a van before being forced to read a statement supporting their goals and then returned to their fundraisers in time for dessert.”

Commissioner Ellen Weintraub thanked Colbert for “shining a light on this little corner of government” as she brought up the hundreds of comments the commission had received on Rove’s request from viewers of his show.

The thin line between comedy skits and supposedly serious political discussions has dissolved.


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