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How the GOP became America's anti-democratic party

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One of the most illuminating moments of the entire 2016 presidential contest came in early May last year, when President Trump declared in an interview that the GOP is "called the Republican Party," not "the Conservative Party."

He was right: The clearly not-conservative Trump's own success in clinching the Republican nomination, and even more so his general election victory six months later, proved that the party was no longer unified around the conservative ideology that had galvanized it since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980.

But if the GOP has ceased to be a vehicle for advancing Reaganite conservatism, what is it instead? What do Republicans stand for in the era of President Trump?

Six months into the Trump administration, an answer is coming into focus. And it is deeply disturbing.

Across large swaths of public policy, including how and even whether to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act after seven years of promising to do precisely that, the party is deeply fractured and incapable of acting at all. But in other areas, its actions and inactions make clear that what's distinctive about the GOP in the age of Trump is its willingness to go along with, and sometimes enthusiastically pursue, the shredding of foundational norms of liberal politics. If the Republican Party is no longer a conservative party, it's also increasingly unclear if it's still a small-d democratic party.

This is not hyperbole.

To begin, as always, with President Trump himself, the leader of the GOP clearly believes that the entirety of the federal government, very much including agents of federal law enforcement (the attorney general, the Justice Department, the FBI, and the special counsel's office), owes him personal loyalty — a view that is fundamentally at odds with the rule of law. Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, think their timid and toothless expressions of "concern" about the president's past and present actions count as adequate oversight. Which means they're perfectly fine with Trump acting more like a kleptocratic despot than the head of the executive branch of a democratic republic.

But the problem goes well beyond Trump.

There is, to begin with, the bill that would make it a federal crime (a felony punishable by up to a $1 million fine and 20 years in prison) to support the international boycott against Israel for its occupation of the West Bank. That 14 Democratic senators have joined with 29 Republicans in backing this flagrant assault on the First Amendment is certainly shameful, but it does nothing to diminish the outrageousness of those who like to portray themselves as courageous defenders of free speech endorsing a bill that would drastically curtail it. (And no, I don't support the movement to boycott Israel, just the right of others to do so, which is exactly the way liberal democracy is supposed to work.)

Even worse is the Justice Department's announcement on Wednesday that it is reviving the practice of allowing "state and local law enforcement officials to use federal law to seize the cash, cars, or other personal property of people suspected of crimes but not charged." This practice, known as civil asset forfeiture, has been widely abused by police departments across the country in what amounts to government-backed theft from citizens who are supposed to be constitutionally protected from having their property seized without due process of law. That's why state and local governments, along with the Obama Justice Department, have acted to curtail the practice. But now, in a full-frontal assault on civil liberties, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has given local police departments a way to circumvent these restrictions.

While it's true that numerous conservative writers and organizations have denounced the policy shift, the pertinent question is whether significant numbers of Republicans in Congress (and not just a handful of its most libertarian members) will take a politically effective stand against it. That's how we will know the party's position on the issue.

But worst of all is the administration's Commission on Election Integrity, which President Trump insists is motivated by the "sacred duty" to determine the "full truth" about voter fraud in this country. Too bad the panel's vice chairman and de facto head, Kansas Republican Kris Kobach, ended its inaugural session by declaring in an MSNBC interview that "we will probably never know the answer" to the question of whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump won the popular vote in November of last year, despite official results certifying that Clinton prevailed by approximately 2.9 million votes. Why the uncertainty? Obviously because voter fraud is so extensive that nothing about the outcome can be known for sure.

Never mind that just over a decade ago the Bush administration's own five-year investigation into voter fraud found "virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections." Or that not a shred of evidence has been found to substantiate President Trump's contention that "millions" cast ballots illegally in the 2016 vote. Or that Kobach's own antifraud efforts in Kansas have uncovered a grand total of just 128 cases of noncitizens attempting to vote, and has secured only one conviction since 2011, out of 1.8 million registered voters in the state. (Kobach told members of the commission that the true number of fraudulent voters in Kansas has been estimated as high as 18,000. He provided no evidence to back up the assertion.)

The president and Kobach can talk all they want about uncovering the "full truth." The reality is that there is no evidence of systematic voter fraud in this country, the supposed need for such a commission is rooted in baldly racist conspiracy theories, and the commission itself is almost certain to function as a vote suppression commission launched, promoted, and overseen by a Republican White House and Justice Department. It is a full-frontal assault on the core liberal democratic institution of free and fair elections.

Where are the Republicans honest and principled enough to say so and stand forthrightly against the commission systematically purging names from voter rolls? Where are the Republicans brave and strong enough not to cower in fear before the venal and vacuous president they helped elect? Where are the Republicans willing to prove that they care about the fate of democracy in America?

Until these Republicans show themselves, we'll know exactly what kind of party the GOP has become.

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mrobold
20 hours ago
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Orange County, California
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Wifi vs Cellular

12 Comments and 19 Shares
According to the cable company reps who keep calling me, it's because I haven't upgraded to the XTREME GIGABAND PANAMAX FLAVOR-BLASTED PRO PACKAGE WITH HBO, which is only $5 more per month for the first 6 months and five billion dollars per month after that.
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mrobold
2 days ago
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#same
Orange County, California
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9 public comments
emdot
2 days ago
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Same, but at work not at home. (Ironic: since we're on a network backbone.)
San Luis Obispo, CA
endlessmike
2 days ago
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This is definitely not the case in my house. My internet connection is very stable and I have a good enough router that I don't have issues. Meanwhile my cellular data connection is much slower due to it being a popular provider here.
zippy72
2 days ago
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Weirdly this was already true in the UK for 3G and then reversed for 4G. Now I'm in Portugal it's pretty much evens.
FourSquare, qv
satadru
3 days ago
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For me it is connections to wifi outside the house which turn out to be shitty, but yes.
New York, NY
dianaschnuth
3 days ago
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Yes. This.
Toledo OH
schnuth
3 days ago
Yep. :)
llucax
3 days ago
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Pretty much it, except that cellular data still have a cap, which really sucks.
Berlin
Ironica
2 days ago
Technically we have a cap too (well, it throttles after we reach it, rather than cutting off or charging more) but no one in our family has been able to use more than 60% of it in a month. And unused data rolls over, to a cap of 2x the monthly allotment. So I would have to use more than 30 GB in one month to get throttled, and I don't see that happening anytime soon, even though I almost never turn on wifi. (And I almost never turn on wifi because... see above comic!)
JayM
3 days ago
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Ha
Atlanta, GA
alt_text_bot
3 days ago
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According to the cable company reps who keep calling me, it's because I haven't upgraded to the XTREME GIGABAND PANAMAX FLAVOR-BLASTED PRO PACKAGE WITH HBO, which is only $5 more per month for the first 6 months and five billion dollars per month after that.
olliejones
3 days ago
It's actually called "bufferbloat." It's a real thing. It's due to too much RAM (yeah, too much RAM) in your router.
francisga
3 days ago
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Read it for the alt text
Lafayette, LA, USA

The latest Trump interview once again reveals total disregard for the rule of law

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He can’t see anything other than naked self-interest.

At his confirmation hearings, Christopher Wray promised over and over again that he would run the FBI independently from the White House — just the way it’s always been run. But in a breathtaking new interview with the New York Times, Donald Trump makes it clear — over and over again — that he does not believe the FBI or any other agency should in any way be independent from his personal whims and interests.

Here he is explaining that the FBI director “reports directly to the president”:

TRUMP: And nothing was changed other than Richard Nixon came along. And when Nixon came along [inaudible] was pretty brutal, and out of courtesy, the F.B.I. started reporting to the Department of Justice. But there was nothing official, there was nothing from Congress. There was nothing — anything. But the F.B.I. person really reports directly to the president of the United States, which is interesting. You know, which is interesting. And I think we’re going to have a great new F.B.I. director.

HABERMAN: Chris Wray.

TRUMP: He’s highly thought of by everybody. I think I did the country a great service with respect to Comey.

In reality, James Comey wrote in his prepared testimony before Congress that this is so far from being true that he only spoke to Barack Obama twice during his years of service, and one of the times was a farewell conversation after the election.

Trump keeps sliming Comey for “illegal leaks”

But speaking of Comey, Trump not only fired him but is smearing him on his way out the door as a criminal. At one point, he remarks that “Comey also says that he did something in order to get the special prose — special counsel. He leaked. The reason he leaked. So, he illegally leaked.”

In reality, Comey didn’t “leak” anything at all — Trump had already fired him.

Of course, it would still be illegal for a former government official to disclose classified information. But there was nothing classified about the recollections of his conversations with Trump that Comey shared. Comey himself is obviously going to be okay here. He’s a famous former high-ranking official with good media and political connections and first-rate legal skills who also earned millions of dollars during a brief stint on Wall Street.

But it’s no small thing to be baselessly accused of serious crimes by the president of the United States, and Trump is sending a clear message here to any official of the US government who, at any level, might be thinking of trying to uphold the rule of law rather than bend to his whims. Trump later returns to this wild allegation:

So think of this. Mike. He illegally leaks, and everyone thinks it is illegal, and by the way, it looks like it’s classified and all that stuff. So he got — not a smart guy — he got tricked into that, because they didn’t even ask him that question. They asked him another question, O.K.?

There is, again, absolutely nothing classified about an FBI director’s recollection of his conversation over dinner with the president. Trump is just making things up.

Trump also slimed the deputy director of the FBI

For good measure, Trump also makes up a weird slander about Deputy FBI Director Andy McCabe, who he would like you to believe is essentially on Hillary Clinton’s payroll:

TRUMP: I mean, look at what we have now. We have a director of the F.B.I., acting, who received $700,000, whose wife received $700,000 from, essentially, Hillary Clinton. ’Cause it was through Terry. Which is Hillary Clinton.

HABERMAN: This is [Andrew] McCabe’s wife, you mean?

TRUMP: McCabe’s wife. She got $700,000, and he’s at the F.B.I. I mean, how do you think that?

What actually happened is that McCabe’s wife, Jill, ran for state Senate in Virginia in 2015 as a Democrat. The seat she was running for was considered a good pickup opportunity, so a PAC affiliated with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe put about $500,000 into her campaign and the state party put in another $200,000. Hillary Clinton had nothing to do with it, and the implication that McCabe’s wife was just pocketing Clinton money directly is absurd.

The underlying issue here is that McCabe is a career FBI agent and not a Donald Trump loyalist. His wife is even a Democrat. To Trump, that’s suspicious. But of course, even a Republican like Jeff Sessions could be considered suspect if he were to ever fail to act in Trump’s personal interest.

Trump says Sessions shouldn’t have recused himself

There’s little indication that Trump has really let this damage his day-to-day working relationship with Sessions, but he makes it very clear that he thinks Sessions should have spared him the need to face an independent counsel. The sequence of events, you’ll recall, is that Sessions recused himself from Russia-related matters after it was revealed that he’d lied to Congress about meetings with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

That put Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in charge. Rosenstein is a Trump appointee, but he’s also a career prosecutor and not necessarily a die-hard Trump loyalist. His public reputation was also in a bit of a shambles after his letter arguing that Comey mishandled the Clinton email investigation was used as the White House pretext for firing the FBI director. Then Rosenstein redeemed himself by recruiting former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel to investigate Russia.

Trump’s take on the whole thing is that Sessions mistreated him:

TRUMP: Well, Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.

HABERMAN: He gave you no heads up at all, in any sense?

TRUMP: Zero. So Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have — which, frankly, I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, “Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.” It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president. So he recuses himself. I then end up with a second man, who’s a deputy.

HABERMAN: [Rod J.] Rosenstein.

TRUMP: Who is he? And Jeff hardly knew. He’s from Baltimore.

To a normal person, this is a case of the system working as designed (also Rosenstein is from the Philadelphia area, though he served as US attorney for Maryland). To Trump, that the system worked as designed indicates a systemic failure on Sessions’s part. He thinks Sessions should have alerted him that he wasn’t willing to systematically put Trump’s personal interests ahead of constitutional and legal obligations. If Sessions had been honest with him about that, Trump never would have hired him in the first place and now Trump wouldn’t have these problems.

Trump keeps recapitulating his original sin with Russia

The Trump-Russia scandal is many things. But above all else, it is the story of a man who, faced with a crime that was perpetrated by a dangerous foreign leader and that victimized hundreds of Americans, can’t see beyond the fact that the crime benefited him personally.

He regards all efforts to investigate and punish — or, really, even discuss at all on any level — the crime as an assault on him personally.

And Trump’s Trump-centric worldview radiates out from there. It was wrong of Comey to not defer to Trump’s personal interest in sidelining the investigation. It was wrong of Sessions to not step in and block the appointment of a special prosecutor. It was wrong of Rosenstein, the mysterious Baltimorean, not to do the same. It’s suspicious that McCabe could have a high position in the government without even necessarily belonging to Trump’s political party. And, of course, it’s borderline absurd to think that Trump will view any of this any differently if Wray tries to run his bureau independently of the White House.

Trump is all about Trump.

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mrobold
2 days ago
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Orange County, California
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America is on the verge of a tech panic. And Silicon Valley isn't helping.

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Microsoft cofounder BIll Gates muses about taxing robots to slow down technological progress. Tesla CEO Elon Musk wants to regulate artificial intelligence, calling it "a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization." And Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg thinks mass tech-fueled unemployment might make a universal basic income necessary.

What's this all about? Isn't Silicon Valley supposed to be a font of perpetual, over-the-top optimism? I thought we could solve just about any problem with enough applied data or a really clever algorithm. If those fabulously wealthy folks are gloomy about tomorrow, what hope do the rest of us mere mortals have?

After all, it's been a terrible decade for the U.S. economy. A horrific financial crisis was followed by a historically weak recovery. Every silver lining seems surrounded by a big dark cloud. America is creating lots of jobs, for instance, but wage growth remains so-so. And we're probably still not back to full employment.

But one part of the American Growth Machine that does seem to be fully in gear is the technology sector. The world's four most valuable public companies are American tech giants: Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, and Amazon. The U.S is also home to some 100 startups worth at least $1 billion each — more than twice as many as Asia and six times as many as Europe. What's more, tech innovation may be stronger than economic data suggests. Recent research finds tech equipment prices are probably falling faster than official measures show. That implies innovation in the digital economy is even faster than we think.

And things could get even better. All that innovation has yet to really show up in the productivity numbers that feed into GDP and income growth. But sometimes growth lags behind innovation as businesses work out how to best use new technologies. For instance: It took factories decades to efficiently reorganize themselves around the installation of electric motors. In the 1980s, economists wondered why the computer revolution was having so little observable economic impact. But then came the 1990s internet boom. And some experts think a host of new tech and applications — AI, robotics, e-learnings, big-data analytics — may be ready to transform the physical economy, generating faster growth and higher incomes.

Unless, of course, we screw things up with an anti-tech backlash. As I wrote for the The Week last year, it's not a huge leap from populist politicians blaming trade for all our troubles to blaming robots. There will always be opportunists who play on people's fears. And those concerns might only increase as tech further disrupts the economy and workers' lives. We might be entering an extended time of "technopanic," according to analyst Adam Thierer. Imagine a bell-shaped curve illustrating a "cycle of panic." Starting at "trusted beginnings," Thierer explains, the curve ascends left-to-right to "rising panic" and peaks at "the height of hysteria" before descending to "deflating fears" and finally "moving on."

Unfortunately, we are still probably on the fearful left side of the technopanic curve with the worst yet to come. An analysis by Baylor University researcher Paul McClure found 37 percent of Americans fit the definition of a "technophobe," and are more worried about losing their job to a robot than a romantic breakup or public speaking.

But here's the thing: We need more innovation spread throughout more of the economy to boost living standards over the long term. So maybe the tech community should focus harder on thinking of ways — innovative education and retraining applications seem critical — to make sure the economy, as Dartmouth University political scientist Russell Muirhead writes in a recent essay, "produces wealth and work." Americans need to hear a plausible story about how that happens, and Silicon Valley has a role to play in helping tell it. It's certainly in the self interest of Big Tech to do so given how activists are using fears of tech-driven joblessness to argue for expansive regulation or antitrust actions against them. At least in the near term, that's a far more likely scenario than AI enslaving humanity.

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mrobold
2 days ago
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Orange County, California
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Microsoft unveils a beautiful Cortana-powered thermostat

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Microsoft is partnering with Johnson Controls to build a thermostat. The software giant unveiled the new GLAS thermostat in a YouTube video today. It’s built by Johnson Controls, makers of the first electric room thermostat. It appears that GLAS will include a translucent touchscreen display that will allow owners to alter room temperatures, check energy usage and air quality, and see calendar information.

GLAS will run on Microsoft’s Windows 10 IoT Core operating system, and will have Cortana voice services built into the thermostat. It’s one of the first thermostats to include Cortana integration, after Microsoft revealed its plans to bring its digital assistant to fridges, toasters, and thermostats. Microsoft notes that GLAS has...

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mrobold
2 days ago
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Orange County, California
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MotherHydra
2 days ago
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Sick! I love the Johnson Controls platform.
Space City, USA

Why Australia hasn’t had a recession in 26 years

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In previous posts I pointed out that Australia had avoided recession for 26 years by keeping NGDP growing at a decent clip.  Some commenters suggested that it wasn’t monetary policy; rather Australia was a “lucky country” benefiting from a mining boom.  That theory made no sense, because if your economy depends on highly volatile commodity exports then you should have a more unstable business cycle than countries with large and highly diversified economies.  In any case, recent data completely blows that theory out of the water:

Stephen Kirchner directed me to a very interesting article discussing the views of Warwick McKibbin, who used to be a governor at the Reserve Bank of Australia:

Former Reserve Bank of Australia board member Warwick McKibbin says the world’s central banks should switch to a system of using official interest rates to target nominal income growth to ensure huge household and government debt burdens are unwound safely. . . .

“Inflation has been a good intermediate step because it tied down price expectations and gave people confidence that central banks wouldn’t deflate away their assets,” he will tell a major economics conference in Sydney on Wednesday.

“That’s important when you have high inflation,” as was the case in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

“But you can still have the same credibility if you do have a very explicit income target, which is really growth plus inflation,” he says.

In Australia, he suggests, that would mean the Reserve Bank would attempt to keep nominal gross domestic product growth – which is essentially a measure of how much the economy is paid for the goods and services it produces – at about 6 per cent.

Australia has a population growth rate of 1.4%, and so there is no question that Australia’s NGDP growth rate should be higher than in the US rate (pop. growth = 0.7%), and much higher than in Japan (falling population).  Nonetheless, I think 6% is a bit high, I’d recommend something closer to 5% for Australia.  On the other hand even 6% would be far better than the sort of policy enacted by the Fed, ECB and BOJ since 2008.

Professor McKibbin, from the Australian National University’s Crawford School, acknowledges that in practice the Reserve Bank already pursues an “ambiguous nominal” income growth target because the formal 2-3 per cent inflation target is only applied “over the cycle”

This supports the claim of various market monetarists, who have suggested that Australia was a covert NGDP level targeter during the Great recession.

I’ve argued that the greatest advantage of NGDP targeting for countries like Japan is that it can reduce the burden of the public debt.  McKibbin makes a similar argument:

“What will matter over coming decades will be nominal income growth because the sustainability of high public and private debt-to-income ratios will need higher nominal income growth than in the past.

Interestingly, even a 6% target would seem to call for monetary tightening right now:

According to his proposed income targeting scheme today’s Reserve Bank cash rate of 1.5 per cent is probably too low given nominal GDP rose in the first quarter by 2.3 per cent from the previous three months, and by 7.7 per cent from a year earlier. “Right now the central bank has probably got loose monetary policy by nominal income standards and you’d expect they’d be tightening policy according to this rule because nominal income growth is rising quite quickly.”

Wait, that can’t be right.  My critics say Australia was just a lucky country benefiting from a mining boom.  It can’t possibly be doing well now that mining investment is collapsing.  Or am I missing something?

The Economist describes how smart countries handle re-allocation out of declining sectors:

As the mining boom petered out, the Reserve Bank cut its benchmark “cash” rate from 4.75% in 2011 to 1.5%. The Australian dollar fell steeply (it is now worth $0.76, compared with a peak of $1.10 six years ago). The cheaper currency and lower interest rates have allowed the older and more populous states of New South Wales and Victoria to keep the economy bustling. Property developers are building more houses, farmers are exporting more food, and foreigners (both students and tourists) are paying more visits: Australia welcomed 1.2m Chinese last year, a record.

Re-allocation doesn’t cause recessions, tight money does.

In the past, I’ve argued that Australia might want to target total compensation of employees, rather than NGDP.  That’s because changes in the price of mineral exports can cause big swings in NGDP, without having much impact on the labor market.  Over the past 12 months, employee compensation in Australia rose by only 1.4%, far below the 7.7% rise in NGDP.  You don’t see those sorts of discrepancies in the US.  So maybe Australia doesn’t need tighter money.

PS.  David Beckworth has a new policy paper on NGDP and the knowledge problem facing policymakers.  As usual, David includes some nice graphics.

 

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mrobold
2 days ago
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Orange County, California
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