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Krugman and I differ on Obamacare

This is sad.  I really like Paul.  We agree on so many things.  He’s one of the few people who is getting a clue about the myth of structural unemployment.

But with Obamacare, he’s hopeless.

I think it has to do with his own social isolation.  He lives in Princeton surrounded by some of the most successful individuals in the world.  Of course, all around him is the detritus of 6 years of dismantling of the R&D industry.  He only has to cross Route 1 to visit the now shuttered lab where I worked for 15 years. Some of the smartest people I know are having a really hard time figuring out what just happened to them.  But it’s unlikely that Krugman knows many of them, or any of the less accomplished people I know.

Here’s the part of Paul’s latest Conscience of a Liberal post on Obamacare that I resent most:

The current state of public opinion on health reform is really peculiar. If you’ve been following the issue at all closely, you know that the Affordable Care Act is one of the great comeback stories of public policy: after a terrible start, it has dramatically exceeded expectations. But hardly anyone seems to know that.

It’s easy to understand how that happens for Fox-watchers and Rush-listeners, who are fed a steady diet of supposed Obamacare disaster stories.

Um, I HATE Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.  I consider them to be on the same par as pneumonic plague.  They spread misinformation quickly and the effect is always malignant.  I don’t watch cable news of any kind and I don’t listen to Rush.  So, where could I have possibly gotten the crazy idea that Obamacare is a disaster waiting to happen??

Maybe it’s from my own data and observations.  Maybe it’s because the plans are not so great for the price.  Maybe it’s because some of us could afford the lousy premiums if we could get a subsidy but our incomes are too low to qualify (could someone please explain how that even makes sense??).  Maybe it’s the persistent feeling that Obamacare is leading to a less secure job market.  Maybe it’s because for some of us, it’s a choice between cashing in some of our IRA and facing a steep tax penalty to pay for our premiums or being forced into Medicaid where the state may collect our estates from our heirs when we are dead.  There are a million reasons why Obamacare might not be working so well for the rest of us, 40 million approximately.  If Obamacare is only reaching 7 million new subscribers, doesn’t that leave most of the 47 million uninsured still uninsured?

Here’s my take on Obamacare: It’s full of poison pills.  There’s just enough in it to help people with pre-existing conditions and some self-employed people to thrill the cockles of the liberal’s heart.  For everyone else, cost controls are not in place, there are no mechanisms to force competing carriers in a local market to cooperate with each other leaving the unsuspecting facing steep out of network costs, the unemployed are still mostly not covered (and they can’t afford the premiums anyway without a subsidy) and to get any kind of public option, aka Medicaid, you have to give up nearly everything you own and have spent your whole life working for.

This is not a good plan, Paul.  Most people do not live in Princeton or NYC.  They live ordinary lives with ordinary wages and this plan seems to have bypassed many of them.  Obamacare was cobbled together by a chief executive who seemed to want to wag his penis around instead of actually pushing for a well crafted piece of legislation.  Then it was severely compromised by Congress, first by Republicans who are malignant narcissists and then by Democrats who repeatedly sold out their constituents in a desperate attempt to prop up a guy who was not ready to be president.  Why the push to ram this extremely flawed piece of legislation through so quickly?  Why was it more important to save Obama’s ass than to ask him to do a good job?  Why aren’t enough liberals asking those questions?

Don’t insult us, Paul, especially those of us who are die-hard liberals who find the right wing utterly repugnant.  It’s not going to make Obamacare better and won’t help the party.  It reminds me of the days when anyone who saw through Obama in 2008 was called a racist.  It’s not fair and it’s beneath you.

I wouldn’t count on complacency

Krugman wrote a post on The Political Economy of Permanent Stagnation pointing out that the economy just plods along with high unemployment and sluggishness and people are just getting used to it:

But won’t there be an ever-growing demand from the public for action? Actually, that’s not at all clear. While there is growing “austerity fatigue” in Europe, and this might provoke a crisis, the overwhelming result from U.S. political studies is that the level of unemployment matters hardly at all for elections; all that matters is the rate of change in the months leading up to the election. In other words, high unemployment could become accepted as the new normal, politically as well as in economic analysis.

I guess what I’m saying is that I worry that a more or less permanent depression could end up simply becoming accepted as the way things are, that we could suffer endless, gratuitous suffering, yet the political and policy elite would feel no need to change its ways.

Given that I am sort of *living* the rude awakening from the American Dream and see many people in similar distressing circumstances, I can tell Krugman that there is definitely not complacency out here.  There’s anger, bitterness and resentment.  The resentment is not because we want to be rich or have two or three nice Lexus SUVs and a Pied a Terre in Lower Manhattan.  It’s that some of us can’t afford rent on a small row house in a 70 year old affordable housing development and pay for a health insurance policy on an exchange.

The administration should not get complacent and assume that the great unwashed masses out here have no idea what a raw deal they’re getting with Obamacare.  I am quite surprised at the number of people making a lousy $11/hour at their less than full time jobs who know better than some bloggers exactly how much they’re going to have to pay in taxes and penalties if they can’t afford a policy. I’ve met young healthy guys who can’t afford a doctor and physical therapist to treat their possibly dislocated, inflamed shoulders that they use every day to dig trenches.  They know exactly how the bonus class is screwing them.

All they need is a charismatic, take-no-prisoners, energetic politician to speak for them and there will be plenty of change.  That’s why the moneyed elite will fight back tooth and nail and smear any such politician who challenges it.  That’s why we have Obama.

They’re going to try to run a woman next time.  The Republican campaign against modernity will make her extremely attractive.  I don’t think it will be Hillary for the same reason that Krugman feels that stagnation is something we have gotten used to.  Hillary’s best chance was 2008. Her policy wonkiness, knowledge of the executive branch and vision would have been well suited to tackling the financial collapse and turning back the worst of the Bush policies.  That’s why she didn’t get the nomination in 2008.  The moneyed class didn’t want experience, knowledge and competency.

By the time 2016 rolls around, Republican policies will be more firmly set and it’s going to take someone who is bold enough to shake the foundations to really make a difference and roll back 16 years of stingy conservatism and bad financial and business decisions.  Can she do it?  Sure she could.  But the forces who kept her out in 2008 will either make her kiss their rings, in which case, she’d be useless to us, or they’re going to try to take her out again.  If the establishment Democratic party starts pushing her as their nominee genuinely, I’d have to question how much she’s been co-opted.  She’d almost have to run against her own party.  I haven’t seen that yet and given what a loyal Dem she is, don’t expect to.

Anyway, my point is that there’s plenty of discontent.  The people in charge might want to seriously consider what they’re doing.  The people I’ve been talking to are majorly pissed off right now at their prospects and we’re talking about manual labor all the way to the most educated among us.  A whole swath of Americans of all socio-economic levels are just waiting for a sign.  At this point, I don’t know if it’s going to come from the right or the left but when it happens, it’s going to be big.

One other thing: The bonus class shouldn’t sit on its laurels after the Voting Rights Act was gutted last week.  The discontent has spread so wide now that it is no longer confined to the generational poor and minority voters.

O-care

Paul Krugman’s latest column is about the mess of our national health care system.  He makes a good point about how social insurance programs make us freer people, allowing us to change jobs and start new enterprises without the fear of economic catastrophe.  But I’m not sure the so-called “jahb creators” care about economic catastrophes that happen to ordinary people.  To them, the only thing that counts is success.

I’ve got to admire Paul’s sunny optimism about Obamacare but, frankly, I think it’s a pretty fricking bad piece of legislation that didn’t rein in health care costs, locked us into a decidedly UN-free marketplace  with zero competition, and was only achieved by throwing women’s right to an abortion under a bus.  So, you know, there’s that.  I don’t particularly like Obama’s method of getting universal healthcare.

It beats me why he didn’t take his own state of Hawaii as a model for healthcare where employers can choose from several tiers of coverage for their employees, from basic coverage to more swank.  Oh, wait, that sounds more like what Hillary proposed during the 90s.  You know, the system that everyone whined was too complicated?

At this point, I would take even a basic plan.  My COBRA coverage runs out at the end of this month. I can’t complain about my insurance provider, except for the outrageous premium, even with group rates.  The coverage was superb. That’s what my French company negotiated for us. But getting insurance on the open market is fairly terrifying.  I will be looking into CHIP programs for the kid.  It’s going to be an adventure.  Spending hours and days trying to justify my need after the decades I spent as a hard-working taxpayer is not how I want to spend my time.

Nothing new under the sun

From Bring Up The Bodies, the second book about the life of Thomas Cromwell by author Hillary Mantel:

“In March [1536], Parliament knocks back his [Thomas Cromwell's] new poor law.  It was too much for the Commons to digest that rich men might have some duty to the poor. If you get fat, as some men do who profit from the wool trade, you have some responsibility to the men turned off their land, the laborers without labor, the sowers without a field. England needs roads, forts, harbors, bridges.  Men need work.  It’s a shame seeing them begging their bread, when honest labor could keep the realm secure.  Can we not put them together, the hands and the tasks?

But Parliament cannot see how it is the State’s job to create work.  Are not these matters in God’s hands, and is not poverty and dereliction part of his eternal order?  To everything there is a season- a time to starve and a time to thieve.  If rain falls six months solid and rots the grain in the fields, there must be Providence in it.  God knows his trade. It is an outrage to the rich and enterprising to suggest that they should pay an income tax only to put bread in the mouths of the work shy. And if Secretary Cromwell argues that famine provokes criminality, well, are there not hangmen enough?

The King himself comes to the Commons to argue for the law.  He wants to be Henry the Beloved, a father to his people, a shepherd to his flock. But the Commons sit stoney faced on their benches and stare him out. The wreckage of the measure is comprehensive. “It is ended up as an Act for the Whipping of Beggars”, Richard Rich says.  “It is more against the poor than for them.”

And with the newest proposal by Republican Representative Steve Pearce to test the pee of the unemployed for illegal drugs, the whipping of beggars never goes out of style.

Paul Krugman argues that there is some kind of psychological need to impose austerity, a moral imperative of sorts.  More likely, the wealthy have found a convenient way to convince politicians to project the blame for spilling the milk onto the table itself.

But let’s not kid ourselves.  This is the way of the powerful.  They do not want to worry about the lives of others.  That’s what makes power so appealing.  So, knowing that, our problem is not how we convince the powerful to think beneficently and empathetically towards other people.  Power makes them immune from such supplications.  Our problem is to convince ordinary people that there is power in sheer numbers.  The media has been very good at promoting learned helplessness.  That’s where they excel.  What we need is a movement that counteracts that message.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Breitbart goes after Krugman. Yessss!

Breitbart, or whoever is running the show over there since the founder let his ire get the best of him, is claiming that Paul Krugman has filed for personal bankruptcy in the past.

OooooOOOooooo, the geeky professor with sharp wit is starting to get under the skin on the right.  He might even be making sense.  Is it possible that his message is getting through to the average American? And he’s so fricking persistent.  Well, we can’t have that.  Must. Smear. Relentlessly.

Excellent.  He’s making progress.

Bwahahahahahhhhh!!!

How you know the End is Nigh

We’ve been living with out of control capitalism, now in New Accelerated Format, for almost five years now.  It’s a quickened version of what’s been happening over the last 30 years.  Ever since Reagan, the media has bamboozled the public into giving the rich whatever they damn well please with the expectation that the rich will let us keep our jobs.  The evidence has shown that this does not work but you’ll have to read Krugman for the wonky stuff and teensy (or completely absent) labels on the x and y axises of his graphs.  I guess economists don’t need labels and units but it drives this chemist crazy.

I’m not here to talk about all the overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing that has been going on since 1980, or the massive layoffs that have probably permanently impoverished my generation or the fact that all of this has happened with the complicity of an older generation of seniors who thought the whole world revolved around what happened between women’s legs.  No, I am here to talk about the end times.

In this case, it will be the period of time when the strip miners of Wall Street have taken the top off the mountain almost completely and there is very little wealth left to extract and more and more middle class people are waking up to discover that “we wuz robbed” and there’s just no THERE, there anymore.  Where will the excess gobs of cash come from then?  I mean, after the obscenely rich have cornered all of the disposable income, and then some, in their underground lairs surrounded by their faceless, nameless goons in cold and modern chic livery, do they sit around with their heads in their hands weeping like Alexander that there is no more money in the world to conquer?

Heck no!

NOW, they get in on the payday loan scam.  It’s fricking brilliant!

Major banks have quickly become behind-the-scenes allies of Internet-based payday lenders that offer short-term loans with interest rates sometimes exceeding 500 percent.

Subrina Baptiste of Brooklyn says JPMorgan Chase allowed payday lenders to seize child-support funds in her account.

With 15 states banning payday loans, a growing number of the lenders have set up online operations in more hospitable states or far-flung locales like Belize, Malta and the West Indies to more easily evade statewide caps on interest rates.

While the banks, which include giants like JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, do not make the loans, they are a critical link for the lenders, enabling the lenders to withdraw payments automatically from borrowers’ bank accounts, even in states where the loans are banned entirely. In some cases, the banks allow lenders to tap checking accounts even after the customers have begged them to stop the withdrawals.

What are the chances that Barack Obama will look up from scheming with his 25 year old male senior advisors to “help” the Congress “win” in 2014 by focussing all of their PR efforts on a couple of distracting issues instead of fixing the problem of chronic unemployment and gross exploitation of average Americans, or directly challenging the Republicans with muscular Liberalism, and actually develop some sense of outrage that is strong enough to prod his justice department to actually, you know, DO something to the banks besides taking them to the back bedroom, closing the door and instructing them to wail loudly as he smacks the bed with his belt?

Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

By next year, when we’re all on Obamacare (sorry, Democrats, you’re going to have to own this one in an election year.  Hope you’re ready, but all indications are that you are not.) and trying to pay all of our bills on time, with a heaping side of gigantic health insurance thrown in for good measure, there will be an increasing number of us vulnerable to the siren song of the payday loan.  “Borrow now against your paycheck, pay 500% interest later!”  What could be more natural?

The big banks are investing in it heavily, wouldn’t you know.  So, this has to be one of the signs of the end.  Now that the MBAs have skillfully evolved the work place every two seconds in accordance to their bonus shortened attention span, AND severely crippled productivity by putting all the burden of getting things done on the shoulders of a few, and because they have so completely decoupled the cause and effect relationship of work with positive reinforcement, given the fruits of labor to the shareholders, closed the pension funds, and divested themselves of all responsibility to the people who, you know, WORK,  now that they’ve scraped every last penny out of every last bank account, it is now time to reserve all incoming pennies for their own purposes too.

All our monies are belong to them.

And then what?

I’m not sure but I suspect it ain’t going to be pretty.

Jon and Paul

I’m still here!  Still working on that project in a super secret location and had some surprises lately that have kept me busy.

In the meantime, I’ve seen the kerfuffle between Jon Stewart and Paul Krugman over Platy, the $1 TRILLION dollar platinum coin and I’m going to side with Krugman on this one.

Jon Stewart, meet me at camera 4.

Ok, see here’s the thing.  I know the coin idea, which was viable until the Fed shot it down, sounded bug f^&*ing nutz. I’m guessing your brother had something to do with your attitude.  Maybe there’s some internal family related capture going on there that you might not be quite willing to admit to.

But I figure it this way. It’s like someone is trying to abduct you in the grocery store parking lot.  If they’re going to get all insane, YOU need to get all insane.  Like roll your eyes back in your head, let out some blood curling shrieks, foam at the mouth, lose control of your bladder.  If you don’t do anything just as crazy to make the abduction more trouble than it’s worth, the crazy guy is going to take you for a nice loooooong ride from which you may never return.

Besides, Jon, you can’t claim to be just a funny guy and then get all serious when you interview people like Chris Christie.  Or conversely, you can’t not do your homework, make some half-assed, pompous pronouncement and then pull this “Oh, I’m just a funny guy with a fake news program” shit. People will get confused. You know and I know and Paul Krugman knows that there are a lot of people who depend on you to circumvent the media filters to tell the truth.  I’m sorry, Jon, but you have become a Peter Parker and with your power, you have an awesome responsibility.

I was very disappointed in the way you behaved on Monday night when you lectured Krugman.  You’ve done a lot of good, Jon, but Krugman is on YOUR side and when you pulled that crap on Monday night, you just created a rift that the Republicans and their media allies are going to drive a truck through. It would have been better for all of us for you to invite Paul on The Daily Show and then go at him hammer and tongs.  Krugman would have made a great guest.  Even if you don’t agree with him, he’s got a rapier wit and at least his arguments make sense.  Sniping with your megaphone just looks childish ego trip.  Perhaps you need to spend some time attending David Brooks’ Humility course at Yale.

You’re not the only game in town.  You are merely one of the more important pieces in the rag-tag group of allies trying to fight the forces of meanness, inequality and exploitation.  Get your head out of your ass.

I’ll be right back… sooner or later.  Carry on.

To all those rich people who think they are the most productive people on earth

Don’t flatter yourselves.  Dragons are not productive.

Every school kid knows this.

Just sayin’.

********************************************

Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz have a chat:

 

Stuff that go together: How the rich are getting it wrong

Davos, Switzerland- Home of the World Economic Forum, the small evil group that runs the world to which no one we know belongs.

Chrystia Freeland discusses Plutocrats with Sam Seder on The Majority Report

Conjuring a High Tech Labor Shortage by Stan Storscher of Talking Union

Technology or Monopoly Power?, Paul Krugman, Conscience of a Liberal.

and the consequences:

The Drug Shortage No One is Talking About by Charles Pierce, Esquire

Study Ties Drug Shortage to Poorer Cancer Survival, Fox News (Ewwww)

Growing Drug Shortage Problematic for Patients, Doctors, ABC News

The drug industry in America has ceased to be.  It is an ex-industry.  It has joined the choir invisible.  The remaining multinational Pharmas’ strategy is to buy up the patents of struggling small biotechs and to use academic labs for the research they jettisoned.  But I’m reminded of something Mark Lynas said in his recent lecture on why he is no longer anti-GMO.  In our frenzy of making sure that big companies adhere to strangulating limits on their technology, we have allowed monopolies to thrive in the GMO industry while killing off emergent competition and potential diversity.

In the case of the drug industry, we have demanded so much hoop jumping in order to create the most perfect, side effect free, litigation proof drug that the only companies that can afford to get a drug through the approval process are the largest ones with the deepest pockets.  And even those companies can’t do it after having invested billions of dollars in research.  If you are a small biotech, the costs of verifying that your lead compound meets the increasingly more stringent safety profiles is cost prohibitive.  No matter how hard you work for how long, it is more and more likely that you will have to sell your miracle drug patent to a large pharma at a fraction of its potential earnings just in order to recoup your investment.  The drug industry news is full of small biotechs having to lay off their entire research staff in order to take their discovery through the next phase of development.  That throws the research community into ever increasing precariousness, diminishing the prospects of young scientists and discourages students from pursuing science as a career.  And that, in turn, is eventually going to affect the quality of academic research upon which many big multinationals now intend to feed.  I’m still predicting that the brains are going to go to western Europe to do research because governments there still have a commitment to education and protecting their workforce.

Our research capabilities in this country have shrunk profoundly in the last 5 years.  We don’t introduce many drugs to the market anymore.  What is in research are new, even more expensive technologies.  But since the research community is much smaller, there is a bottleneck we have imposed on research.  Only a tiny fraction of the potential is being investigated now.  It’s primarily centered around cancer, which is very important, of course.  But what if your problem isn’t cancer?  What if you just need your thyroid medication?  Or your generic ADD medication?  Well, there’s no money in generics and to repair the plants is expensive and that eats into “shareholder value”.  So, the cost of generics is going to have to go up.  The result will be more expensive generics as patents expire, more older generation drugs for everyone, a few very expensive newer drugs for those that can afford them and the cost borne by all of us.

The plutocrats and their political allies have allowed this to happen.  They have overvalued their own importance and undervalued the importance of everyone else.  They have put the attainment of money and the acquisition of power at the pinnacle of the greatest of human achievements and have demoted the quest for knowledge.

Chrystia Freeland makes some interesting points in her discussion with Sam Seder on the nature of money and plutocracy.  She has talked to plutocrats of the Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg variety.  And they have told her that to the billionaire and the mailman, a Big Mac is still a Big Mac.  In other words, you can only consume so much in your lifetime.  Even if you buy the best of everything and search out the most perfect experiences, you may have more money than you will ever be able to use in your life.  Of course, a perfect experience to one person may not be a perfect experience to another.  For example, I’ve lived close enough to NYC to see many Broadway plays in the 20+ years I’ve been in New Jersey.  At this point, Broadway is no big deal to me anymore.  Oh, sure, I’d love to see the Book of Mormon but I could be content to see the touring company at a opera house in a smaller city.  The performances are going to be pretty much the same.  Maybe I would miss the lights of Times Square afterwards but I’ve been there so many times that it’s not a heartstopping thrill anymore.  There are other things that are interesting that don’t cost much money.  I still like Big Macs.

A similar observation can be made about the nature of work.  I understand that billionaires these days are the “working rich” and that their days are filled to the brim with lots of thinking and decision making and that those thoughts and decisions affect thousands of people.  But then I think about how hard my colleagues and I worked in the last year we were employed and those days were also filled to the brim with thoughts and decision making that affect thousands of people.  Just because we did a lot of it on our feet or with our hands as well as our minds does not make it less important to the world.  It is hard to see how Mark Zuckerberg could be working harder than we did in absolute terms.  In other words, to the billionaire and the drug discoverers, there are still only 24 hours in a day and some of those hours are taken up with sleeping, eating and excreting.  I suppose you could eat your lunch at your desk while you multi-task.  Yep, we did that too.

So, it’s not consumables that set us apart except in quantity and quality because taste and temperament may play a role.  And it’s not the degree of hard work or time because we all face the same time constraints.  And it’s not genius because I worked with a lot of extraordinarily smart people who were not rich and know some extraordinarily rich people who are not smart.

What it seems to be the crucial component is being, or being born, in the right place at the right time with the right idea for which you can capture a market or schmooze your way to the top of the corporate ladder or gamble away other peoples’ money at the global casino.  It is this elusive property of being struck by lightning at least once in your lifetime that counts.  And with that once in a lifetime experience, you can dictate the lives of others, elevate your own contributions and denigrate theirs.

And ruin the drug supply.

So, all we need to do is add “Leadership Council” to our soiree

I was reading Krugman today about how Starbucks did a Komen with the “Come Together” campaign to make customers pressure their Congress reps and senators to shred the social insurance programs when I decided to look up the infamous “Fix the Debt” website.  It’s run by some shadowy group of rich people called the CEOs Fiscal Leadership Council.

Starbucks does a Komen

The CFLC is populated by the usual suspects of deadbeat corporate executives that we’ve seen in the past 4 years.  The CEO’s of Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and AT&T are on the list.  But so is T. Rowe Price, the 401K specialists.  (There couldn’t be a conflict of interest there, could there?  Nahhhh)  According to the Huffington Post, the CFLC consists of some of the most notorious pension plan underfunders.  Isn’t that sweet?  They are leading us to give up the only means of surviving in old age after they raid their company pensions to pay those M&A bonuses.  Now that’s Leadership.

Then I got to wondering, who commissioned this group?  I mean, was there a Congressional decree?  Did the President assemble this meetup of malefactors?  Because, how else did they get the “Leadership Council” thing in the title?  Who do they think they are leading?  I don’t remember asking for leadership off the so-called “fiscal cliff”.  I’m wracking my brains trying to figure out who appointed these guys, and they are almost all guys.  Wait, let me check.  There are 4 recognizably female names on a list of approximately 150 members. Good job, guys!  Does that mean women can’t be leaders or that they resist being lead?  Clarification is needed here.

And then I started to think, why don’t we left of center unpaid pundits (yes, I do flatter myself. If I don’t, no one else will) have a leadership council or many leadership councils?

For example, where is the Senior Research Investigators Leadership Council that will put pressure on Congress to stop listening to whiny pharma CEOs who keep telling our elected officials that they can’t find good help anymore?

How about a New Deal Democrats Leadership Council to tell Congress to stop listening to whiny rich CEOs that robbed us blind in the past four years?

Or a Dirty Fucking Hippy Leadership Council to tell Congress to get its shit together and do the right thing before we get our shit together and run against them?  Just an idea.

Or a La-La-La I Can’t HEAR You Leadership Council that will help Americans kick the cable TV news and talk radio habit so they’ll stop being suckered in by self-interested CEOs whose messages clog the airwaves.

Add your Leadership Council titles and purposes in the comments section.  I formally commission the best Leadership Council idea.  No, no, don’t thank me.  I take on this burden of Leadership for You.

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