Saturday, June 19, 2010

It's Coming Apart! The Center Cannot Hold "Bubbles Or Fraud?" Don't Worry Anymore, All's Been Forgiven - It's Over - On To the Next!

(EXTRA: If anyone could make a contribution to my PayPal account (or otherwise - contact me for further info), it would be sincerely appreciated as I've just gone off the cliff financially. I really appreciate everything that my kind readers have done for me in the past financially and otherwise. Now . . . back to your regular viewing.) (Extra!) As a shout-out about my own unemployment problems (very long-term (and trust me, I've been told by employment professionals that this is not a lie and hasn't been for a very long time - the magic age was 40 when I went through this devastating process back in the 90's)) (emphasis marks added - Ed.):

Experts say that age discrimination is severely compounding the jobs crisis for older workers, although the phenomenon is difficult to quantify or to prove, and remains under-examined by the government. This time, it is not just making it more likely that these workers will be laid off. It is also making it much harder for them to gain new positions.

Last week, a hearing called by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights examined the issue, attempting to determine whether part of the reason older workers have such trouble finding work, on aggregate, is due to employer biases out of their control. The unemployment rate is a comparatively moderate 7.1 percent for workers over the age of 55 — it’s 9.7 percent nationally — as older workers are more likely to retire early or leave the workforce if they lose their jobs. But that hides the troubling reality for those who can’t afford to leave the labor force.

The unemployment rate for over-55s is at the highest level since 1948. Since the recession started, both the number of older people seeking work and the rate of unemployment for over-55s have increased more sharply than for all other demographic groups. And older workers comprise a high share of the long-term unemployed.

Here are some insider details from someone in the know, who is obviously a fed-up Republican (or one of the upper-class Tea Baggers?), who doesn't think that Ben Bernanke is "Man of the Year" either - although he would like to see him forced to testify truthfully - prompted by his own integrity, of course (and had, Sen. Jim Bunning, of all people, ask him several questions he didn't answer during his confirmation hearing) (and please forgive me for running almost the whole essay, but you never see anything this illuminating in the progressive press - except for that liberal whacko, Glenn Greenwald, of course). Read The Cunning Realist below, who captures the flavor of the mendacity currently rampant on Wall Street perfectly. (He's a New York City resident in his early forties, an investment professional (former trader) and a lifelong conservative with an MBA in International Business from Columbia University.) (Emphasis marks added - Ed.)

Proxy Fight June 15, 2010

Regular readers know I've written before about the possibility of government intervention in the stock market. I'll explain shortly why this issue just became more urgent. For now, here are some of the reasons this matters. The details of any intervention would determine the degree to which these apply, but conceptually these are the main implications:

1. It would reward the speculator class at the expense of the investor class. The former includes high-frequency traders and algorithmic, program-oriented, and momentum players. The latter prefers to buy stocks at favorable valuation levels, incrementally and over a period of time. This becomes harder when intervention prevents stocks from finding their natural levels.

2. It would constitute a backdoor bailout of Wall Street, which obviously depends in many ways on rising stock prices.

3. It would essentially make the stock market a giant money laundering mechanism for corporate insiders, with public funds used to buy stocks and keep the market inflated while insiders sell.

4. It would affect the perception of risk across the entire asset spectrum (not just stocks) and encourage the same malinvestment and misallocation of capital that contributed to the credit bubble. (As a former trader on one of Wall Street's top sell-side desks, I've seen how belief in the existence of a backstop influences the perception and tolerance of proprietary risk.)

5. It would create the potential for abuse if a Wall Street firm is involved in the scheme. This would include frontrunning the orders before they are executed or tipping off other parties to the activity. If the scheme involves a government promise to backstop the Wall Street firm against losses, insufficient controls would allow the firm to claim losses greater than what it incurred.

6. It would have various political implications, including the ability to boost the stock market before an election, after an important presidential speech, or during or after high-profile testimony by Federal Reserve or other economic officials.

During the debate over Ben Bernanke's reappointment, I posted this list of questions for him. Sen. Jim Bunning then submitted those questions in writing to Bernanke. One of the questions was the following:

Before the financial crisis there was a widespread sense, especially on Wall Street trading desks, that the stock market was strangely resilient. This encouraged excessive risk-taking in various types of assets. Do you have direct or indirect knowledge of the Federal Reserve or any government entity or proxy ever intervening to support the stock market (or any individual stock) via futures or in any other way? If yes, who decides the timing of such intervention and with what criteria? How is it funded? Which Wall Street firm handles the orders, and who sees them before they are executed?

Bernanke's written response (page 25 here):

The Federal Reserve has not intervened to provide support to the stock market or individual stocks by trading in futures or any other financial instrument. I have no knowledge of any other U.S. government entity providing such support.

I then wrote that Bernanke's response was incomplete because he ignored the word "proxy," an important part of the question. After I posted about Bernanke's dodge, I was contacted by Rep. Alan Grayson's office for input on this issue and a possible follow-up question. In February, Grayson submitted various written questions to Bernanke (the full set along with responses is here). This question was first on the list (my bolds):

The Federal Reserve has taken extraordinary measures to prevent losses by large financial institutions. This has led to widespread speculation that such measures might include intervention in the stock market. Has the Federal Reserve - alone or in concert with the Treasury Department or any part of the government - ever taken any action with the purpose or effect of supporting the stock market or an individual stock?

The means to do so included in this inquiry include, but are not limited to, the futures market, the Exchange Stabilization Fund, foreign custody accounts, the System Open Market Account, and any other account, mechanism or financial instrument. Has the Federal Reserve, Treasury, or any part of the government ever directed, acted in conjunction with or otherwise engaged a proxy or intermediary - including but not limited to a private sector entity or foreign central bank - with such a purpose or effect? Please respond to both parts of this question. Please note that we are asking you to enumerate each such action, with a description on each occasion of who, what, when, where and why.

This question was designed to prevent another Bernanke dodge. It specifically and explicitly asked him to respond to the proxy/intermediary issue. Here is his complete written response, which Grayson has now received after three months:

The Federal Reserve has not intervened to support the stock market or an individual stock.

That's it.

Whatever one might say about Ben Bernanke - and regular readers know I've said a lot in the past - inattention to detail is not part of his personality.

Whether written or spoken, his answers to questions are clear, strikingly thorough, and often expansive (indeed, see his responses to the rest of Grayson's questions here, and note his diligence in addressing each part - every sentence and every word - of the other questions). A momentary lapse on one question (Bunning's) is possible. For Bernanke, twice is inconceivable, especially in the context of the question's specific request to "respond to both parts."


1. Congress has oversight of the Fed. The Fed's chairman is refusing to respond fully to a question from Congress. Congress needs to find out why. That means submitting the question again in writing, noting that the previous response was incomplete and suggesting that it should not take another three months to answer a single question (and if it does, that would say something deeper about this issue). There is no need to change the question's language; it is already as specific and comprehensive as possible. If the opportunity arises to ask Bernanke the question in testimony, it should be taken, but getting an answer in writing is important for this type of question. Fed General Counsel Scott Alvarez should also be asked this question in writing.

2. Tim Geithner should be asked the same question for several reasons. In his response to Bunning in December, Bernanke said that he had "no knowledge of any other U.S. government entity providing such support." In his recent response to Grayson, Bernanke limited his answer to the Fed. In the months between those two responses, did Bernanke learn of some sort of activity at Treasury? Or did he regret his previous answer? Was he advised, perhaps by a Fed attorney, to limit the scope of his response to Grayson?

Another reason to query Geithner is explained by the New York Post's John Crudele, who wrote this column in which he referenced my original question for Bernanke verbatim (Crudele has been all over this issue for many years). Briefly, if Treasury is running market intervention, it could do independently of the Fed (almost). Treasury's possible role in an intervention scheme has been the subject of speculation for years, partly because of Alan Greenspan's comments in two 1995 FOMC meetings.

From the January 31 transcript: "I am really sensitive to the political system in this society. The dangers politically at this stage and for the foreseeable future are not to the Federal Reserve but to the Treasury. The Treasury, for political reasons, is caught up in a lot of different things." From the March 28 transcript: "We have to be careful as to precisely how we get ourselves intertwined with the Treasury; that is a very crucial issue. In recent years I think we have widened the gap or increased the wedge between us and the Treasury, as Ted was mentioning. In other words, we have gone to a market relationship and basically to an arms-length approach where feasible in an effort to make certain that we don't inadvertently get caught up in some of the Treasury initiatives that they want us to get involved in. Most of the time we say "no." In both cases, Greenspan's comments were in the context of Treasury's use of the Exchange Stabilization Fund for Mexico.

Moreover, in 1998 Ron Paul submitted a written question to Treasury that was similar to Grayson's, in which he specifically asked about the proxy issue and use of the ESF to intervene in the stock market. Treasury took a full year to reply, and even then its response was incomplete.

3. As a practical matter, since Treasury lacks the trading infrastructure to conduct intervention, it would probably have to use the Fed's New York desk. This would likely be the operational nexus for any intervention, whether Treasury or Fed-directed. Officials there need to be asked the same question that Bernanke dodged. That should certainly include William Dudley, as well as Brian Sack and related employees.

While Bernanke and Geithner are clearly "all in" and willing to say anything at this point, less-senior cogs in a scheme may not be willing to risk legal consequences by providing false answers, especially to conceal something in which they might be unwitting or reluctant participants.

This issue has always been seen as the province of conspiracists and bitter short-sellers. It was also long understood in Washington that there were certain questions one didn't ask in public, and this was one of them. Because of the Fed's conduct during the past few years, that taboo is gone. With the assumption of intervention now widespread on Wall Street and in the hedge fund community, and risk perceptions influenced accordingly, this issue is important. Bernanke's selective and uncharacteristic brusqueness makes it even more so. (Tuesday, June 15, 2010)

Two commenters replies were worth noting:
1. I'd be surprised if they weren't doing it. If there is one thing I have learned over the past decade it is that the Elite are runing this country for their own narrow benefit and telling the public whatever they have to to keep them quiet. It helps that people still seem to believe that Truth, Justice and the American Way still all belong in the same sentence.More people are starting to get it though. There is still enough obfuscation that they don't know exactly what's going on. But they know that they are being lied to and treated unjustly. 2.I've always wondered about the movements the day before the Pres. election in 2004. The Dow had been descending inexorably throughout the summer and fall of that year, and the day before the election it had an extremely brief intraday dip below the "psychologically important" 10,000 level. Then it shot up and rallied back well above 10k. Bush was elected narrowly, by virtue of votes in Ohio. Perhaps this was just a jump due to programmed computer trades, but I know more than one person at the WH was sweating election day headlines of the Dow closing below 10k. Whether or not the market got government support in 2004, that was certainly the type of situation where I'd expect such intervention to occur, if it were to occur for political purposes.

Read on for other well-informed comments.

I always enjoyed that silly song "Stuck in the Middle with You" when I was a teenager. Not so much now.

Still. There's something to be said now for the essay by Jay Rosen below. Quite a bit in fact. (Emphasis marks added - Ed.)

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: On the Actual Ideology of the American Press

Dana Milbank is the Washington Sketch columnist for the Washington Post. To me, Milbank is one the most extreme ideologues in the business. I say that because of lurid passages like this . . . .

On Tuesday, I learned that I am a right-wing hack. I am not a journalist. I am typical of the right wing. I am why newspapers are going broke. I write garbage. I am angry with Barack Obama. I misquote Obama. I am bitter. I am a certified idiot. I am lame. I am a Republican flack.

On Thursday, I realized that I am a media pimp with my lips on Obama’s butt. I am a bleeding-heart liberal who wants nothing more than for the right to fall on its face. I am part of the ObamaMedia. I am pimping for the left. I am carrying water for Obama. Lord, am I an idiot.

I discovered all this from the helpful feedback provided to me in the “reader comments” section at the end of my past four columns on

The conceit of Milbank’s column is that he had never read the comments before, but on the advice of an editor he finally went sewer diving. “As a sociological experiment, it was fascinating.” He discovered that everyone’s a bitter ideologue — except him, the columnist who by duty observes the foibles and excesses and pure BS of the hotheaded believers on both sides. What I mean by an “extreme” ideologue, then, is that Milbank is extremely likely to see the world is this hyper-symmetrical and self-congratulatory way.

. . . In Meacham-land “center right” is the right place for politics to be played not because the center-rightists have the best answers to the nation’s problems but because “the reality [is] that America is a center-right nation.” Now we’re near to the beating heart of the ideology that holds our political press together. That is when journalists try to win the argument not by having better arguments but by standing closer to a reality they get to define as more real than your reality.

Trust me on this: If you try to factor in the behaviors I’m describing, you will soon find that we don’t have a ready language for the kind of politics that is operating. What we have is an exhausted critique of media bias. In my own criticism I’ve tried to remedy this. Re-description has therefore been my aim.

So here are some of the key terms in the strange language I’ve had to invent . . . .

1. The Church of the Savvy. This is my name for the actual belief system that prevails in political journalism. I’ve been keeping a kind of public notebook on it via my Twitter feed.

Prohibited from joining in political struggles, dedicated to observing what is, regardless of whether it ought to be, the savvy believe that these disciplines afford them a special view of the arena, cured of excess sentiment, useless passon, ideological certitude and other defects of vision that players in the system routinely exhibit. As I wrote on Twitter the other day, “the savvy don’t say: I have a better argument than you… They say: I am closer to reality than you. And more mature.”

Now in order for this belief system to operate effectively, it has to continually position the journalist and his or her observations not as right where others are wrong, or virtuous where others are corrupt, or visionary where others are short-sighted, but as practical, hardheaded, unsentimental, and shrewd where others are didactic, ideological, and dreamy. This is part of what’s so insidious about press savviness: it tries to hog realism to itself.

2. The Quest for Innocence, which is the agenda (I say) the press must continually serve, even as it claims to serve no one’s agenda.

Innocence [is] a determination not to be implicated, enlisted, or seen by the public as involved… The quest for innocence in political journalism means the desire to be manifestly agenda-less and thus “prove” in the way you describe things that journalism is not an ideological trade.

3. Regression to a Phony Mean, an especially dubious practice that is principally about self-protection.

Journalists associate the middle with truth, when there may be no reason toWriting the news so that it lands somewhere near the “halfway point between the best and the worst that might be said about someone” is not a truthtelling impulse at all, but a refuge-seeking one, and it’s possible that this ritual will distort a given story.

4. The View from Nowhere, the taking of which journalists associate with their claim to legitimacy.

Occupy the reasonable middle between two markers for “vocal critic,” and critics look ridiculous charging you with bias. Their symmetrical existence feels like proof of an underlying hysteria. Their mutually incompatible charges seem to cancel each other out. The minute evidence they marshall even shows a touch of fanaticism. It can’t be that simple, that beautiful, that symmetrical… can it? Temptation says yes.

When you have an obligation to remain outside the arena, it is also tempting to feel above the partisans who are struggling within that arena. (But then where else are they going to struggle?) You learn the attractions of a view from nowhere. The daily gift of detachment keeps giving, until you’re almost “above” anyone who tries to get too political with you, or at least in the middle with the microphone between warring factions. There’s power in that; and where there’s power, there’s attraction.

5. He said, she said journalism, a formation I have been trying to bust up by pushing for more fact checking.

You're getting the picture now. Good dissection of a never-spoken-of in-group decision about how to report news. Please read on for the full treatment. - - - - - - - To keep up to date (although I wrote most of the essay below last month before all hell broke loose in the Gulf), we should first take a look at Robert Reich's current "inside information" (NOT) in order to keep us on our toes about what's dead ahead. This is what happens when you have a population ignorant of economics enough to believe that only more and more and more tax cuts are needed to stimulate employment. (Emphasis marks added - Ed.)

Why We Are Moving Toward a Recessionary Era, and Why Keynes is Being Exhumed Double-dip watch: Retail sales in May took their biggest nose-dive in eight months, according to today’s report from the Commerce Department. Remember: Consumers account for 70 percent of the nation’s economic activity. American Corporations are sitting on huge piles of cash but they’re not investing, and they’re creating only a measly number of new jobs. And they won’t invest and create jobs until they know there are customers out there to buy what they sell.

For three decades, starting in the late 1970s, the biggest economic problem America faced on an ongoing basis was inflation.

Demand always seemed to be on the verge of outrunning the productive capacity of the nation. The Fed had to be ready to raise interest rates to stop the party, as it did on several occasions.

During this era of inflation economics, it appeared that John Maynard Keynes – and his Depression-era concern about chronically inadequate demand — was dead. So-called “supply siders” told policy makers that if they cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy, they’d unleash a torrent of investment and innovation – thereby increasing the productive capacity of the nation. The benefits would trickle down to everyone else. But the pendulum may now be swinging back to the earlier era in which demand always seems on the verge of trailing the nation’s productive capacity. The biggest ongoing threats are chronic recession or even deflation, because consumers don’t have enough money to what the economy is capable of selling at full or near-full employment. Despite gains in productivity, little has trickled down to America’s middle class.

John Maynard Keynes is being exhumed because his Depression-era worry about inadequate demand is once again the nation’s central economic problem. Keynes prescribed two remedies – both of which are now necessary: Government spending to “prime the pump” and get businesses to invest and hire once again. And, as Keynes wrote, “measures for the redistribution of incomes in a way likely to raise the propensity to consume.” Translated: Instead of big tax cuts for corporations and the rich, tax cuts and income supplements for the middle class.

Why the Main Street Economy Isn’t Getting Any Better
Today’s most important economic news: U.S. household debt fell for the seventh straight quarter in the first three months of 2010 as Americans continued to respond to the recession’s fallout. But like all economic news, its significance depends on where you’re standingwhether you’re a typical American or someone at the top. The common wisdom is that excessive debt-financed spending was one of the causes of the recent recession, so the news that household debt is dropping is being celebrated by business cheerleaders as reason to believe we’re on the mend. Baloney. The reason so many Americans went into such deep debt was because their wages didn’t keep up. The median wage (adjusted for inflation) dropped between 2001 and 2007, the last so-called economic expansion. So the only way typical Americans could keep spending at the rate necessary to keep themselves — and the economy — going was to borrow, especially against the value of their homes. But that borrowing ended when the housing bubble burst. So now Americans have no choice but to pare back their debt. That’s bad news because consumer spending is 70 percent of the economy. It helps explain why we so few jobs are being created, and why we can’t escape the gravitational pull of the Great Recession without far more government spending. It’s also a bad omen for the future. The cheerleaders are saying that for too long American consumers lived beyond their means, so the retrenchment in consumer spending is good for the long-term health of the economy. Wrong again. The problem wasn’t that consumers lived beyond their means. It was that their means didn’t keep up with what the growing economy was capable of producing at or near full-employment. A larger and larger share of total income went to people at the top. So in the longer term, it’s hard to see where the buying power will come from unless America’s vast middle class has more take-home pay. Yet the economy's moving in exactly the opposite direction: Businesses continue to slash payrolls. And the hourly wage of the typical American with a job continues to drop, adjusted for inflation. Here’s more news: A Federal Reserve report Thursday showed the net worth of Americans rose a fourth straight quarter in January-March. Don’t be fooled by this one either. That increase was almost entirely based on the stock market’s rise in the first quarter. But the market has since fallen back to where it was at the start of the year. More to the point, most Americans don’t have many assets in the stock market. To the extent they have any net worth, it’s in their homes. And home prices continue to languish. Don’t be fooled by the cheerleaders. The economic news continues to be dismal. Why Economic Advisors Are Paid To Be Economic Advisors Say you’re a high government official with some responsibility for advising the President on what he should be doing and saying about the economy. You know the economy is still in a deep hole, the deepest since the Great Depression. The jobs report for May was dismal — a mere 41,000 new private sector jobs, when the economy needs at least 100,000 to keep up with population growth. The Fed projects gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic activity, to rise about 3.5 percent this year — a pace barely above that needed to keep pace with the growth in the labor force. You also know that consumers don’t have the buying power to get it out of the hole because they can no longer use their homes as collateral for loans, as they could before the crash of 2008, and they also have to get out from under huge debts. The housing market is still awful. You know businesses are reluctant to create new jobs if there are few customers for their goods or services. And you know export markets are drying up because of a high dollar that’s made our exports more expensive, and Europe has embarked on austerity measures to shrink its deficits. You also know state revenues are way down because of the deep economic hole, and they’re forced to raise taxes, cut services, and lay off large numbers of state workers, including teachers. Oh, and one more thing: You know that all the boosters keeping the economy barely going now are coming to an end. The Fed can’t keep interest rates near zero for long because it’s starting to worry about inflation. It’s already stopped buying Treasury securities and mortgage bonds, and its own deficit hawks are squawking. The federal stimulus is 75 percent spent, and the money will be gone in a few months. Census workers will also be gone by the end of the summer. So what do you do? A) Tell the President the economy will either go into a “double-dip” recession or, at best, suffer anemic growth over the next five years — creating enormous pain and suffering for millions of Americans, and imperiling his reelection — unless he immediately champions a $300 billion jobs bill, including zero-interest loans to states and locales to prevent them from having to raise taxes and cut services, public-service jobs (cleaning up the Gulf), and a one-year payroll tax holiday on the first $100,000 of income. To sell this, he’ll need to explain to the American people why larger short-term deficits are necessary now, in order to get jobs back and the economy growing again so that long-term structural deficits (read health care and Medicare, mostly) can be tackled. B) Tell the President you understand the political pressures for deficit reduction are growing, and Republicans are making headway fooling the public into believing that this terrible recovery is due to to excessive government deficits. So so it’s perfectly fine for the President to bend to those political pressures. Cut the budgets of most federal agencies by 5 percent, enforce “pay-go” rules that don’t allow bigger deficits, build up expectations for the report of his “deficit commission” on December, and tell the American public that we now have to move toward fiscal austerity. If you choose B, you shouldn’t be advising the President.
And now, back to the business at hand: understanding how we got here and what we can do to rectify the errors and build a better country. From Barkley Rosser at EconoSpeak we get the following analysis. (And, yes, I know you're probably not that interested anymore, having the latest sports games to keep up with and tomorrow night's barbeque, but still . . . it won't hurt you to read on a little bit further. And no, I don't agree with their conclusions. I just want to share with you that these are the people who reached the common consensus that we should forgive those gamblers in the Wall Street casino because their practices didn't provide the final blow to the economy and bring on the latest devastation. (Right.))
Were Bubbles Or Fraud More Important In The Crisis?
This was not explicity the issue at hand at the conference on Consumer Decisionmaking: Insights from Behavioral Economics I attended recently at the Dallas Fed (cosponsored with UT-Dallas), but it emerged as an issue in the final talk by Christopher Foote of the Boston Fed, who tilted to the bubbles side, drawing on the earlier keynote speech by George Akerlof, although George did not pose it this way. For Foote, even though fraud and corruption increased during the bubble (and Akerlof argued that they tend to generally in bubbles), it was the housing bubble that sent everything over the top to come crashing down so disastrously ultimately. Most of the other talks tended to focus either on misbehaviors by lenders and how to stop them (many participants among the 250 or so being people from many Feds or other govt agencies such as the FTC), or on the many psychological tendencies and limits that afflict consumers making them prey to such fraudulent and misleading activities. A good summary of these was given by the other keynote speaker, Sendhil Mullainathan. These include failures of perception, failures of analysis even when perception is accurate, and then failures to act even when both perceptions and analysis are accurate. I note a few other things reported including by Eckel and Croson of UTD that women, parents with children, and African Americans are too risk-averse for their own financial well-being, but from Jeff Carpenter of Middlebury, that risk preferences are not in general related to income or social class. Also unsurprisingly, people with low numerical ability tend to get into more trouble with their mortgage payments, all other factors held constant.

I support all the moves to educate people better, to regulate the lenders more to be more transparent in their activities, and so on. But in the end I think I agree with Foote that it was the bubble and the psychological tendencies ("animal spirits") to such that led us into this most recent disaster, not the longrunning exploitation of innocent victims by fraudulent lenders that did so.

Read More... From Econospeak commenters: Peter Dorman said...

Interesting question, Barkley. My hypothesis, for which I have no evidence at all (and how could I?), is that there is always widespread malfeasance in financial markets, but that this is largely invisible as long as prices hold up. During deflations it emerges in all its nasty splendor. Is there any reason to believe this is untrue?

anne said...

Can you explain how so many liar loans could have been issued without fraud?

Would a bubble have grown so large without so many loans issued to consumers who had no hope of ever paying them back? How could ratings agencies slap AAA ratings on really terrible financial instruments without some kind of fraud at play?

Outside of the case against the fabulous Fab, what "fraudulent and misleading activities" by lenders, investment banks or ratings agencies are being prosecuted? With the feds bailing out banks whose terrible business practices left their businesses essentially bankrupt, and no cases being brought against fraudulent lending practices, what will prevent another catastrophe from happening again? Just wondering!

Me two.

Suzan ___________

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