a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

That’s a shame

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd December 2008

By way of inching back towards blogging again, I’ll relate a short post-election story, from the weekend after the election.

I had just completed the first installment of my fall tradition of moving leaves from the front yard to their mulch heap atop the defunct vegetable garden, and grubbing wads of mouldering wet leaves out of the gutters.  The latter task involves moving a heavy ladder around the house, climbing up, grubbing leaf wads, climbing down, repeating.  So I was a bit tired and didn’t have my usual rapier-like wit handy for what came next.

Impeach them: yes we can
Yes We Can.
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew.

A lady came walking by my front yard, saw me, took the “IMPEACH THEM” sign standing along the street between thumb and forefinger, and asked “Do you still want this, now that there’ll be a new administration?”

“Sure do,” I replied, adding “we still can, you know…”

To which the lady replied, “That’s a shame.”

Huh.  “Why is that a shame?” I asked.  “Oh, I don’t know,” she answered, and went on her way, leaving me figuratively like some beached fish, mouth silently opening and closing.  I’m still a little ticked off about it — if I were to wander by someone else’s yard and take issue with their opinions, I should hope I’d have the common courtesy to explain myself, especially if I acted like the owner was some kind of unreasonable nut.

Over at, folks are pleased about Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s (D-NY-8) H. Res. 1531, which seeks to shame our 43d president out of issuing blanket pardons to his minions for their roles in approving torture, subverting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and whatnot.  Spake Judiciary subcommittee chairman Nadler in a press release:

H.RES.1531 is in response to President Bush’s widespread abuses of power and potentially criminal transgressions against our Constitution. The Resolution aims to prevent undeserved pardons of officials who may have been co-conspirators in the President’s unconstitutional policies, such as torture, illegal surveillance and curtailing of due process for defendants.

The resolution would express the sense of the House that…

(1)…granting of preemptive pardons by the President to senior officials of his administration for acts they may have taken in the course of their official duties is a dangerous abuse of the pardon power;

(2) … the President should not grant preemptive pardons to senior officials in his administration for acts they may have taken in the course of their official duties;

(3) … that James Madison was correct in his observation that “[i]f the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds [to] believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty”;

(4) …that a special investigative commission, or a Select Committee be tasked with investigating possible illegal activities by senior officials of the administration of President George W. Bush, including, if necessary, any abuse of the President’s pardon power; and

(5) the next Attorney General of the United States appoint an independent counsel to investigate, and, where appropriate, prosecute illegal acts by senior officials of the administration of President George W. Bush.

Of course, we should ask our representatives to join us in supporting the resolution, but I hope the good people at will forgive me a bit of headshaking about it: if only Nadler had been so outspoken about Bush’s crimes against the people and Constitution of the United States sooner.

While I know — and I assume Nadler knows — that impeachment has no statute of limitations and that in fact a pardoned person can still be impeached, that lady who walked by my house probably doesn’t know it. And among the main reasons she doesn’t know or care is that political leadership of this country — Mr. Nadler prominent among them — have by their inaction these past many years confirmed her likely opinion that none of these things were worth impeaching or prosecuting anyone about in the first place.  Meanwhile, the not entirely different political leadership comprising President-elect Obama and his more fervent supporters have not been shy about implying that his ascendance will in and of itself wash the country clean of the our sins — and I use the words “our” and “sins” advisedly.

I don’t mean to be a scold to my neighbors, and I had lately become a little tired of harping on these subjects even here. But it’s gotten to where far too many of us won’t see crimes when they happen, won’t even try to punish them when we find out about them — and then have the gall to act as if that’s the wise and charitable thing to do.

And that’s a shame.

PS: Thanks to those readers who have returned to finally find actual writing as opposed to mere link-mongering.  I hope the “delicious” links were occasionally interesting, but I’m undecided about continuing them as more than a sidebar; input welcome.

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What trumps a pardon?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th October 2008

In one very important way, impeachment does — and maybe soon.

The news was quickly buried under an avalanche of financial crisis, Palin, debate, and election horse race stories, but it was significant all the same.  In late September, Murray Waas reported in that Department of Justice investigators were zeroing in on former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s July 24, 2007 testimony to Congress.  In this testimony, Gonzales asserted that in a critical March 10, 2004 meeting — immediately prior to the notorious “hospital confrontation” between Comey, Ashcroft, Gonzales, and Card — a key group of Congressional members privy to intelligence secrets* shared a “consensus” with Cheney, Addington, and Gonzales that the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program described to them should go forward.

Unfortunately for Gonzales, this assertion was denied** by many of the congressmembers involved. Waas:

Gonzales said that he had told the congressional leaders “in the most forceful way that I could [about] … the disagreement that existed.” Gonzales said that in response to that, there had been a “consensus in the room” from the legislators, “who said, ‘Despite the recommendation of the deputy attorney general, go forward with very important intelligence activities.’ ”

This assertion that there had been “a consensus” is currently under investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general as possible perjury or as a false statement under oath.

According to Waas, Gonzales also developed after-the-fact “notes” on the March 10 meeting, at the direction of President Bush; beginning with one sentence(!) , jotted down on March 11.  Gonzales asserted he wrote up the remainder of his notes on the March 10, 2004 meeting “the following weekend,” i.e., March 13 and 14.

But on March 11, when he renewed the NSA warrantless surveillance program, Bush could only have had Gonzales’s say-so and the alleged one sentence note as “documentation” of Congressional acquiescence.  According to accounts like those by the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman, Bush finally modified his March 11 order on March 19 — well after being informed by Comey, on March 12, of likely widespread resignations at the Department of Justice should the program continue in its prior form.

The NSA warrantless surveillance program may well have always been an impeachable offense.  Its continued approval through March 19, 2004, despite the March 12th disapproval of Acting Attorney General Comey — was even more certainly one, at least in my view and that of many others.  Should the March 11th reapproval have been based on evidence of congressional “acquiescence” known to be false or even suborned, that would be yet further grounds for Bush’s impeachment.

But I think it’s also crucial that by feigning that evidence — and by restating that lie in his July 24, 2007 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee — Alberto Gonzales can be impeached as well. And there’s nothing President Bush could do to stop that — not even a pardon.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Hey Senator Obama! Why not buy some airtime for this great ad?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 20th August 2008

Dear Senator Obama, I realize we Internet folks have been asking you NOT to do a lot of stuff. Please don’t vote for telecom immunity. Please don’t make Evan Bayh your VP. Nag, nag, nag… right?

Well, this time we’d like to ask you TO do something. There’s a great independent ad up on youtube, you can see it here:

We think your campaign should get behind it, and buy it some air time on TV! Its a great ad on its own merits, and it would show that you understand the power of user-created media.

So please, Senator, get behind this ad.

(Text and ad via the facebook group named, appropriately enough, “Hey Senator Obama! Why not buy some airtime for this great ad?”)

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Jane Mayer: Powell not told about al-Libi doubts

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 29th July 2008

From the Jane Mayer interview by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!:

JANE MAYER: Many of the detainees have said they lied to stop the torture. Shaykh Ibn al-Libi was perhaps one of the most fateful cases, because he was taken into custody by the CIA, sent to Egypt, where he was basically beaten up. While he was in Egypt, this was before the war in Iraq. He was asked, “Are there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? And are there connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein?” He later said he had absolutely no idea. He didn’t even really know what weapons of mass destruction were. But he told his interrogators whatever they wanted to hear. And what he told the interrogators made its way into Colin Powell’s speech to the UN, which was one of the major turning points in selling the war in Iraq. Colin—

AMY GOODMAN: February 5, 2003, five weeks before the invasion.

JANE MAYER: Right. And it was a speech that was very powerful, convinced an awful lot of people who were on the fence about whether we needed to go to war. One of the things Powelll talks about in that speech is the information that came from al-Libi saying that there was WMD and that there were connections between terrorists from al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

Almost one year after Powell’s speech, this same detainee, Shaykh Ibn al-Libi, recanted. He told the CIA he made it up. He said he had to say something, because they were killing him.

You know, one of the things, though, that I think people haven’t picked up on in that story is not only the disinformation that came out of this program, but that there were really doubts about al-Libi at that time that Powell gave that speech, and Powell was not told about the doubts. The DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, already suspected that al-Libi was fabricating things, because his confessions lacked all the kind of detail that’s convincing. And the DIA was sounding an alarm, but Powell wasn’t told about this when he gave his speech.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was Cheney’s role?

JANE MAYER: Well, Cheney vetted the speech, so he—his office was just deeply involved in almost all of these issues. You know, David Addington was up in Congress not very long ago, and he testified. And again, people didn’t pick up on this much. But he said as kind of an aside that he was very involved in the CIA’s interrogation program, which is extraordinary. Now, why is the lawyer for the Vice President involved in the CIA’s interrogation program? Well, when the history of this is told—and I did my best to tell it in The Dark Side—you’ll see there’s sort of fingerprints from Cheney and the people in his office all over this program.

While this hasn’t escaped attention before now, there are two reasons the bolded parts remain important and worth emphasizing, I think. First, obviously, a key convincing spokesman went to the United Nations with a story that was built on sand — leading to the deaths and maimings of (at minimum) tens of thousands of Iraqis, and thousands of Americans. Second, perhaps less obviously, there was an effort — a conspiracy, to put it bluntly — to have him do so. I’ve compiled a short and no doubt partial list of other major instances of this kind of deception here — “Practice to Deceive.”

For people to argue that torture or deception leading to war (or, in this case, both) were somehow done in good faith is to “hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil.” It’s wilful blindness in the face of overwhelming evidence. In my view, these were part of a conspiracy of war crimes, crimes against U.S. statutes, and impeachable acts. There must be accountability for them; all I can do, I suppose, is point that out — and hold it against politicians, pundits, and others who argue otherwise.

UPDATE, 7/29: Support Dennis Kucinich’s call for impeachment hearings here; your name will be forwarded to your Representative.

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The rotten tree

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 30th June 2008

In the years and decades and centuries ahead, John Yoo’s and David Addington’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last week will become a simple, memorable marker about just how low this country fell in the early years of the 21st century. A former Department of Justice counsel and a current chief of staff to the Vice President of the United States proved unwilling to say that the president could not legally order torturing children or burying people alive.

Since last week’s events are well known enough, I’ll make just two points, and ask a question.

First, torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading abuse of children by United States military, intelligence personnel, and/or U.S.-hired contractor thugs is not a hypothetical situation. I’ll list just two cases, but more have been reported, and no doubt yet more remain unreported. Abu Ghraib sergeant Samuel Provance told a German news team about “interrogation specialists” pouring water on a boy, driving him around in the cold night, smearing him with mud — and then displaying the result to his father, who (Provance was told) broke and promised to tell all he knew. In an even grimmer story, Tara McKelvey reported (in her 2006 book “Monstering) about at least one alleged rape of an underage detainees — photographed by a fellow soldier. The investigation was desultory at best. In cases like these, the cruelties and/or the whitewashes can be traced to policies made in America.

Second, the way in which Addington and Yoo answered — that is, failed to answer — Congressional questioning should itself set off emergency sirens for our democracy. These two are, in a very real sense, enemies of our state. They are our enemies. Whether delivered with Addington’s coolly contemptuous attitude or Yoo’s baby-faced pseudo-naivete, we simply can not afford to have legitimate questions to the executive branch by the legislative one “answered” this way. To pretend to fail to understand the distinction between “would” and “could” is the kind of ‘trick’ a 3rd grader wouldn’t get away with. Contempt of this sort by the Bush administration should be … that is, should have been… met by Congress with contempt of its own — direct, immediate, Congressional sergeant at arms, off to jail you go contempt.

Meanwhile, at least the future narrative is clear. We were attacked. We panicked. Our elected leaders in the White House threw away our country’s honor and our alleged principles, and set about subverting our own political system in order to do so and to get away with it. Meanwhile, our elected representatives in Congress did next to nothing to prevent it.

People have often tried to lay the abuses in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere at the feet of so-called “bad apples.” The future will know those “bad apples” didn’t fall far from a corrupt and rotten tree, and can roll the tape above to prove it. The question for us is how far and deep that rot extends — to the White House only? To its alleged “check” and “balance” on Capitol Hill in the “opposition” party — capable of belated video theatrics, but not of real oversight?

Or does it extend deeper yet? A recent study (by suggests that the United States is more akin to brutalized societies like Egypt, Azerbaijan, or Russia than those like Europe’s when it comes to accepting torture under some or even any circumstances. To agree that the state may completely own an individual, make this one say something … anything, turn that one into a screaming thing — that, to me, seems a kind of original sin. As we approach our Independence Day with the usual fanfare, self-congratulation, parades, and hot dogs, I may wish that this country were not so easily tempted to that sin. But wishing doesn’t make it so. Maybe 9/11 really did change everything. Maybe the terrorists have really won.

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It’s Yoo again

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 23rd May 2008

In today’s Washington Post article “Sentence in Memo Discounted FISA,” Robert Barnes reports that Senators Whitehouse and Feinstein have finally pried loose an Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion purporting to provide legal cover for ignoring FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) as the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance may be conducted. Barnes quotes John Yoo:

“[u]nless Congress made a clear statement in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that it sought to restrict presidential authority to conduct warrantless searches in the national security area — which it has not — then the statute must be construed to avoid [such] a reading.’

Or as Barnes puts it, “In short, in this context exclusive does not mean exclusive because Congress did not specifically rule out the alternative approach sought by the administration.”

Now we’ve known that Yoo is a dangerous authoritarian hack for years, so yet more evidence of that may evince nothing but yawns. Still…

  • It took 2008-2001 = 7 flipping years for this opinion to come to light — and even now only to Senators.
  • As ‘emptywheel‘ (“firedoglake”) writes, the document is part of a set of four by Yoo that Senator Whitehouse quoted from in the Senate late last year, all of which purport to let the President be the principal arbiter of what his Article II powers are under the Constitution. Yoo was writing the recipe for a silent putsch.
  • As Barnes reports, the Department of Justice continues to rely* on the 2001 authorization of military force (AUMF) against Al Qaeda as justification for warrantless electronic surveillance — despite a vociferous denial by the Majority Leader at the time, Tom Daschle, that the legislation gave such authority.

I also want to add another point to these, one that’s smaller in some ways, perhaps important after all in others.

After New York Times published Risen and Lichtblau’s initial story on the NSA warrantless electronic surveillance, it developed that the publication was prompted in large part by Risen’s threat to scoop his own story by publishing it in his then-upcoming book “State of War.” In the course of the last few days I’ve been poking around the Internet looking for background and discussion of those decisions — first, not to publish, and later to publish after all. One of the tangential items that hunt turned up was “Risen vs. Risen,” a comparison, by Slate’s Jack Shafer, of Risen’s book with his and Lichtblau’s reporting. Shafer sniffed at the allegedly poorer standards in the book:

…when Risen writes in his chapter about the “small, select group of like-minded conservative lawyers” in the Justice Department who Attorney General John Ashcroft assigned to write legal opinions to support the secret NSA surveillance. “They may have been some of the same lawyers involved in the legal opinions supporting the harsh interrogation techniques,” Risen writes, bringing two thoughts to mind: 1) They may also not be and 2) such unsupported speculation would never pass muster in the Times.

Well, Shafer can rest his little head easier tonight. In fact, it was exactly the same lawyer involved.

I’m no expert on the journalistic protocols involved here. I assume if Risen wrote “they may have been some of the same lawyers involved ” it’s because sources told him “they may have been some of the same lawyers involved.” And that’s good enough for me — even if there weren’t a lawless, stonewalling mafia of an executive branch involved.

What gets me is Shafer’s snotty attitude towards a journalist by someone allegedly concerned with journalistic standards. Shafer both leavened and sharpened the charge in his conclusion:

Enough of my ungrateful carping: James Risen deserves our thanks for both his book and his newspaper work. But my point stands. The fundamental difference between good book chapters and good newspaper articles boils down to this: The highest journalistic standard in New York book publishing is one of liability. “Did we libel anybody?” At newspapers like the Times it is, “Is it true?”

Given this week’s news, Mr. Shafer, your point doesn’t stand either. Actually, this is just the coup de grace — it never did. What Risen said was true either way, and worthwhile writing either way, and it was shabby to imply otherwise.

And let me suggest a second set of questions to distinguish Risen the book author from Times editors’ Hamlet-like indecision over his and Lichtblau’s story: do we fail the country and our journalistic mission by not publishing this story? Or do we sit around and wait for someone braver?

* Memorandum from Brian Benczkowski, Deputy Attorney General to Senators Whitehouse and Feinstein, published at “firedoglake” via “emptywheel”. As a side note, it took the Post 2 days longer than this (excellent) blogger to report the story — and the Post failed to supply any links like this one to supporting documentation. Advantage: blogosphere.

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Moral authority is for a**holes, not players

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 9th April 2008

Your former Undersecretary of Defense and mine, Douglas Feith, speaking with Philippe Sands (“The Green Light,” Vanity Fair about the good old days when he played a role in approving torture:

“This year I was really a player,” Feith said, thinking back on 2002 and relishing the memory. I asked him whether, in the end, he was at all concerned that the Geneva decision might have diminished America’s moral authority. He was not. “The problem with moral authority,” he said, was “people who should know better, like yourself, siding with the assholes, to put it crudely.”

Crudely indeed. This rings a couple of bells for me. One is Sir Richard Rich in Robert Bolt’s “A Man for All Seasons.” Early on in the story he disdains a mere teaching position Thomas More offers him, preferring the wealth and glamour of being a player in the time of Henry VIII. Ultimately he perjures himself to send Thomas More to the executioner’s block and gain, in return for an appointment to high office.

As Bolt has More put it, Sir Rich gave his soul not even for the whole world, but for Wales. Feith gave his… for what? The chance to brag to a disgusted interviewer. And, I suppose, for a teaching position at Georgetown.

The other memory the statement evoked is still a sad one for me: Eric Alterman’s recent remark, at a book reading I attended, that “principles are a form of moral vanity.” Alterman might well argue that opposing impeachment as inopportune and impolitic is not the same as undermining solemn treaty and human rights obligations. On the other hand, it’s precisely the latter transgressions that impeachment would punish (or would have punished). Which is worse — mocking the principle of human rights, or mocking the principle that justice should be done for abrogating those rights?

I’ll add that I’ve been reading Alterman’s book — not his most recent one, but the more scholarly and interesting “When Presidents Lie.” More on that another time, maybe. Suffice it to say two thumbs up, and one reader still puzzled by Alterman’s concluding advice to presidents in that book (“…do not, under any circumstances, lie”), set against his allergic reaction to the remedy of impeachment for those who do so and worse.

EDIT, 4/10: asterisks in title. I had no complaints, but the title appears via RSS feed in aggregators and some blogs, so a belated effort not to offend others seemed called for.

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Thoughts on "Bush’s War"; on the road

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 26th March 2008

I haven’t meant to keep quiet here quite this much since last Thursday — but now the pause may get extended through the weekend. We’re on the road to Connecticut to see an old friend, so new posts may not be possible and won’t be a priority.


I watched part 2 of Frontline’s “Bush’s War” documentary last night. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it; with a good Internet connection, you can watch it online.

One might quibble with the title; it wasn’t just Bush’s war: it was Rummy’s, Cheney’s, Condi’s, Powell’s, Tenet’s, Bremer’s, Franks’s, Casey’s, and Sanchez’s war as well — and ours too, at least for those of us (like me) who let ourselves be swayed into ever supporting it. I feel like I’ve said my mea culpas — and probably ought to extend them sometime. But so what, it’s still “mea culpa” and that doesn’t undo anything.

As far as the documentary itself: there’s a real value to retrospectives like this even if you think you follow the news closely. For me, having Condoleezza Rice’s role laid out as it was last night was revelatory. She obviously is the “last man standing”, so to speak, among the original Iraq war cabinet — and the “surge” is laid at her doorstep and that of Philip Zelikow, of 9/11 Commission fame.* They both failed to see that local “clear, hold, build” occupation successes — such as they were — in places like Tal Afar couldn’t be replicated across all of Iraq, even with a few thousand more U.S. troops. Rumsfeld was actually an opponent of a “clear, hold, build” strategy executed by U.S. troops, arguing that was the job of (nonexistent) Iraqi military units.

But at least one thing I don’t buy in the documentary is the implication that higher level administration officials — Cheney, Tenet — really, truly expected WMD to be found; they knew they’d been twisting arms or had their arms twisted to turn up what little fool’s gold they’d come up with.

* And, apparently unbeknownst to that commission, an author of the 2002 NSS (National Security Strategy) advocating preemptive and preventive defense.

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The "W" stands for "waterboarding"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 9th March 2008

Noted with contempt: Bush Announces Veto of Waterboarding Ban (Washington Post, March 8):

President Bush vetoed Saturday legislation meant to ban the CIA from using waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics, saying it ‘would take away one of the most valuable tools on the war on terror.’

‘This is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe,’ Bush said in his weekly radio address.

The people who voted for this mental and moral washout — especially the second time around — deserve their own special nod of appreciation as well. I’m glad to see Barack Obama among leading Democrats like Pelosi, Reid, Feinstein, and Kennedy who’ve joined many others in condemning the veto.

To add a bit of value here, I’ll point to Mother Jones’s “Torture Hits Home: When the Unthinkable Becomes Acceptable” issue, with a timeline and articles on APA (American Psychological Association) complicity, extraordinary rendition, Iraq veterans, even — somewhat weirdly — a playlist of music used to deafen prisoners. Worth reading.

EDIT, 3/13: “washout” for “pygmy”, the latter describing a group of people who don’t deserve to be (arguably) used as an expression of contempt, or associated with a lowlife like Dubya. Thanks to Cricket for pointing out the unintended slight.
EDIT, 3/20: title changed from “President Torture.”

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Hail to the Chief, he’s the only one we’ve got

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th February 2008

Here’s some stuff Bush has said about and during his trip to Africa:

  • America is trapped in this notion that we care about human life.
  • I mean, you got the Dalai Lama crowd. You’ve got global warming folks.
  • We believe in human rights and human dignity. We believe in the human condition.
  • We live in a world where everything’s, like, instant.
  • [Condoleeza Rice] asked me whether or not I really cared about Africa and my answer to her then is the same answer I will give to you now: Absolutely, it’s in our national interests that America help deal with hopelessness.*
  • You’re right, my presidency does end. And that’s one of the great things about American democracy.

As ever, it’s all true. Before the trip, Dubya really turned the tables on one foreign radio journalist who was acting a little too smart during a roundtable in the Roosevelt room:

Q: Mr. President, I’m impressed by your policy statement on Africa today.
THE PRESIDENT: Were you listening?

* Added context bonus: this was from a Bush response during “Joint Press Availability” with President Kikwete of Tanzania, at the State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
NOTE: Most items viaWhatever it is, I’m against it,” but I found the last one all by myself.

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