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News and commentary from John Archibald of The Birmingham News

Last Build Date: Thu, 21 Feb 2013 17:29:44 UTC

Copyright: Copyright 2017

Where is John Archibald?

Fri, 01 Feb 2013 14:36:16 UTC


You can see all of John Archibald's new columns at on his profile page, and read more opinion and commentary at

You can see all of John Archibald's new columns at on his profile page, and read more opinion and commentary at

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley dances with Manti Te'o's girlfriend

Thu, 21 Feb 2013 16:56:33 UTC


There's not much to hold on to. Gov. Robert Bentley: I get it. I do.  You believe in your heart that expansion of Medicaid under the new healthcare law is bad medicine and bad business. And of course bad politics. You don't like it, you don't buy it, and you won't participate in it. Which means you won't let your constituents  participate either. Even if their lives and pocket books depend on it. We get it. We do. You and your staff have said it over and over, and they said it again today. Alabama "will not expand Medicaid under its current structure." Your priority is "fixing the system we have, not expanding a broken system." You have made your stand. And why wouldn't you? Standing in the hospital door against Obamacare pays far bigger political dividends in Alabama than merely standing up for Alabamians. But it won't pay off in other ways. It will cost us money and business, the health of your constituents and -- not to sound too dramatic -- maybe even lives. It is a stand against a shadow, a straw man. There is nothing there. It's like all of Alabama is dating Manti Te'o's girlfriend. She looks good on paper, or on the internet, but when it gets to be time to dance, there's not much there to hold on to. It is time, governor, to reconsider. Other, more strident governors than you have changed their minds. Just this week Gov. Rick Scott of Florida --  who fought the president's healthcare package like it was the devil itself - agreed to accept Medicaid expansion. "While the federal government is committed to paying 100 percent of the cost of new people in Medicaid, I cannot in good conscience deny the uninsured access to care," he said. This is a guy who whose hatred for the president's health care law spurred him into the governorship in the first place. This is a guy who swallowed hard and took the medicine his state needed to take. Even when it hurt. And Scott doesn't face the budget problems you do. Alabama's Health Officer, Don Williamson, just this week warned lawmakers of our looming Medicaid crisis. The Medicaid budget is on a downhill slide toward a Sonny Bono end. It will be $100 million short by 2015, and you know better than most, governor, that Alabama is way too broke to make up that kind of cash.Even if it wanted to. And the federal plan -- paid in part with our taxes, whether we accept a return on them or not -- would help us pay for more than we could ever afford on our own. The feds would pay all the health care costs of expansion in Alabama during the first three years, and most of the costs for the next few years after that. By 2020, according to a UAB study that laid it all bare, Alabama would spend about $771 million in matching funds. The feds, in that time, would spend $11.7 billion on Medicaid in Alabama. On Alabama people and hospitals. And in the end, on its economy. Think about that. It's like buying a Big Mac and getting a $50 rebate. It's like paying for a Toyota Camry, and getting a home in Vestavia Hills in return. It's like paying a guy minimum wage for a year, and getting a quarter million dollars' worth of services. Pay a little. Get a whole lot. For Alabama. Take the money, governor. And then work to fix what you believe is broken. Take the medicine, and then we can heal together. John Archibald's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the Birmingham News, and on Email him at Via: The Advisory Board Company [...]

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Looking behind the numbers in Alabama's "Worst Cities"

Wed, 20 Feb 2013 16:45:24 UTC


Statistics can't tell you what you need to know. Gadsden, it's lovers will tell you, has it going on. (Contributed by Downtown Gadsden)   Some things can never be measured by numbers. You can't count, for instance, the way Bobby Welch of the Gadsden Cultural Arts Foundation hurtles through the Mary G. Hardin Center for Cultural Arts, rattling off works and wonders in and around that place. There's the dance conservatory and the children's museum and the orchestra and the art school and the confetti from the balcony and the living, breathing human sculpture projects and - gasp for air - the food and the fun and the books and the guy up the street with a gallery that is waaay more avant garde than what you'd expect for Gadsden. Stop and breathe, Bobby. Stop and breathe. Or don't. Because it's the passion of that non-stop voice that rings of truth. It is the machine-gun fire of devotion that finds its mark. This guy is in love. With his town. With his downtown. With its people. You can't measure that sort of thing with statistics. And Welch is not alone. Welch is far from alone. I've been on a tour of sorts lately, traipsing through cities and towns that scored poorly on our recent list of Alabama's mythical "Best" and "Worst" cities. In many ways I learned what I already knew: Numbers can be as true as a best friend, and still lie like man's best friend. Statistics can't tell you what you need to know about Albertville. Residents there brag of their musical heritage and the love they share for their town. Look around, they say. How can you see the natural beauty of northeast Alabama and still put them among the... Worst? It is ... inconceivable. You hear the same in Decatur, where the majesty of the Tennessee River and the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is surpassed only by pulled pork from Big Bob Gibson's, or from not-as-famous Whitt's down the street. You can't measure Selma by the numbers. The romantic ghosts of history hang in the air as tangible as Spanish moss in the ancient trees at Live Oak Cemetery. You can't count out the people of Oxford, who treasure biking, outdoor recreation and arts. The strength of that town is perhaps best measured in its will to stay financially fit after the loss of too many Department of Defense jobs. Anniston also suffered those losses. But that city has an immeasurable sense of community built around its own sense of self-worth. And a grand old newspaper. You see it in Bessemer's hope. It still holds pride in old institutions like the Bright Star, but optimistic new generations see a city that has rebounded in ways few believed possible. You really find the incalculable quality in Mobile, with its proud and colorful culture rooted more deeply than its live oak trees. You admire it in Prichard, which will acknowledge its problems but not its defeat. And I see it in Birmingham every day. It is a city that has heard so much about its decline over the years that it finally, finally stopped listening. It - or the people in it - have stopped caring what people say. It doesn't give a whit what the numbers show. Because it has come to understand that the people committed enough to the city to stick around - or to return - are those with the kind of passion to stand against the numbers and be heard. Like Welch does in Gadsden. Like Tony Cochran does in Albertville. Like so many in Decatur and Oxford and ... On and on. There are problems, sure. They do not define us. Not unless we let them. Numbers are wonderful tools. They can point toward areas that need attention. But they cannot genuinely tell of a community's worth. Only people can do that. John Archibald's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the Birmingham News, and on Email him at   [...]

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Alabama word games? A contest so stupidly criminal it should be a farceny

Mon, 18 Feb 2013 15:26:35 UTC


A challenge of grits, gridlock and the gridiron. (The Huntsville Times/Eric Schultz)   Good old English words don't suffice in Alabama. Not anymore. We need new terms to describe the state of our affairs and the affairs of our state. What do you call it when Montgomery politicians become so wedded to their own beliefs that they blush when they have to look at the ideas of others? Ideologamy. What's the word to describe that sinking feeling you get when you wake up and realize football season is almost over? Januwary. Yeah, we need new, better, more succinct words to describe all the sad and wonderful eccentricities of life in the Happy Heart of Dixie. So let's look for new ones. The Washington Post has done it for years with its famous Style contests. The best, I'd venture, asked readers to create new words by adding, subtracting or substituting a single letter in an existing word, or by transposing two letters. The greatest word ever coined, arguably, was ignoranus. It described someone who is both an idiot and an ass. And that, no doubt, would work well as an Alabama-specific word. If it referred to one of our politicians. But it is not original. So it is time for us to get to work ourselves. So first I ask you to submit your own Alabama-related words, with apologies and nothing but the sincerest flattery to the Post. Email your new creations - along with their definitions -- to the address below. Or just post a comment. I'll ask you to pick a winner from the top answers later. And now for my own. Farceny -- When a Montgomery politician does something so absurd it ought to be criminal. Damnesia -- When voters forget the farceny of incumbents every time an election rolls around. How else can Alabama explain its congressional delegation? Grituity -- Tips for how to serve, or how not to serve, grits. What do you mean pass the sugar? Illuminoti -- Politicians who claim they have special knowledge of what is in your best interest. Not! Illiterati -- The people who vote for them. Over and over again. Processtional -- The funereal exit from Bryant-Denny Stadium by departing teams, after having learned the nature of Nick Saban's "process." Environmenial -- Giving lip service to ecological concerns, as when all those green-sounding groups funded by Alabama utilities opine about the curative qualities of coal. Testimoney -- See above. Camouflag -- When you hide your misguided political motivations behind the banner of the state.We dare defend our rants. UnBeasonable -- A law so embarrassing and expensive it makes no sense at all. Frustate -- When you love this place like mad, but you still thank God for Mississippi. John Archibald's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the Birmingham News, and all the time at . Write him at [...]

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Amendments in the Bill of Rights, as it turns out, are not created equal

Thu, 14 Feb 2013 21:08:25 UTC


We are under attack from Osama been laden-with-liquor.   I'm a Bill of Rights kind of guy. I don't want to wrest reasonable guns from reasonable people. Not any more than I'd want somebody else trying to silence my attempts to find reasonable words. Stick to your guns, I say. Use all the free speech you can spit, speed up those trials and petition your government with all the gumption you've got. I've always been a Bill of Rights guy. But James Madison on a cracker, people. It's growing clearer by the day that all the rights guaranteed by the founding fathers are not created equal. Free speech? Not a priority. Dozens of people have been charged of late with the catch-all crime of "making a terrorist threat," which can mean everything from threatening genuine terrorism to popping off at the mouth. Cause a "disruption," and you can be a terrorist. Like the Ozark man who lost his lucidity when a druggist refused to fill a prescription, or the drunk guy mouthing off in front of a Gulf Shores Walmart. We're under attack, all right. From Osama been laden-with-liquor. But across the country, and particularly Alabama, citizens look the other way. It's the price we pay, cops and lawmakers tell us, for security. The Second Amendment, though? That's another keg of gunpowder. These days, whole bunches of lawmakers are willing to fight and die not just to protect No. 2, but to expand it. Gardendale's Sen. Scott Beason is best at it. He has sponsored a bill that would take away a sheriff's discretion in issuing gun permits. It would fine cops personally --up to $100,000 -- if they make an improper gun arrest. It would let people carry guns into ballgames, public demonstrations, and just about anywhere. "It's a terrible law to even consider," as Jefferson County Chief Deputy Randy Christian put it. "To think of taking away the screening process that we have in Alabama to lawfully carry a concealed weapon is contrary to public safety." Beason's bill does concede some things. It'll be up to individual judges, it says, to decide if people can actually bring guns into courtrooms. Yeah, we dare defend our rights. At least the ones that tell us what we want to hear. But the Bill of Rights is a lot like the Ten Commandments. We love it, revere it, worship it. Or most of it. Don't murder? Check. Don't steal? Got it. But start talking about adultery, or keeping the Sabbath holy, and you'll hear how times have changed. It's the same with our Bill of Rights. All rights, the way we look at it today, are not created equal. Maybe it's time to just give it up, to acknowledge that times have changed so much that we need a Revised Standard Version of our Bill of Rights. We'd have to drop some of the boring amendments and reorganize others. We'd have to keep it simple, for the Twitter generation. It would go something like this: No. 1. Congress (the scumbags) shall make no law promoting any religion. Other than that of our One True God. No. 2. There shall be no law abridging the freedom of speech. Unless said speech is offensive (to us). No. 3. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. If you want to know whether a gun is legal, ask the NRA. No. 4. The right of people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures is ... a good suggestion. But hey. "Unreasonable" is in the eye of the beholder. No. 5. Speedy trials are great. Unless taxes are required to pay for them. No. 6. Ditto excessive bail. Cruel punishment is ... not unusual. And No. 7. Powers not delegated to the U.S. are left to the better judgment of the Alabama Legislature. They're going to claim them, anyway. Like I said, I am a Bill of Rights kind of guy. Or I used to be. John Archibald's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the Birmingham News, and all the time on Emai[...]

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Is the charge of "making a terrorist threat" as dangerous as terrorism itself? (poll)

Fri, 01 Feb 2013 19:41:41 UTC


Have we gone too far?

"Making a terrorist threat" is the charge de jour.

With a few dumb words on Facebook or a poorly chosen sentence in a school -- or about a school -- you can find yourself held without bond in jail.

A Dothan woman was charged with making a terrorist threat after telling a teacher's aide "They can shoot up this whole school as far as I care." A Blount County man was indicted on the charge for posting this on Facebook: "I am so irritated I could shoot up an elementary school."

Under Alabama law, making a terrorist threat is a Class C felony. A person commits such a crime if he or she threatens violence or damage to any property by: Intentionally or recklessly terrorizing another person, causing the disruption of school activities, causing the evacuation of a building, place of assembly, or facility of public transportation, or other serious public inconvenience.

The "disrupt school" thing is big. So here's the question.

Is it a necessary charge, used correctly to prevent unthinkable acts of terror? Or is the charge itself a threat to our way of life? In the wake of Columbine, Aurora and Newtown, have we gone too far?

Take the poll.

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Why rank best and worst Alabama cities? Because we're only as pretty as our ugliness

Thu, 31 Jan 2013 21:19:57 UTC


You can't really know the best or worst of any city until you know its soul. Birmingham (Mark Almond/   I feel a little dirty. Like some beauty pageant judge, sitting back marking a scorecard as the contestants go by. There's a pretty face. But look at the big old feet on that one. A nice personality, but ... I spent the last few days gathering data on Alabama cities, or those with populations of more than 20,000. It was a wide array of data, 22 categories in all. It included U.S. Census Bureau surveys, health insurer numbers, crime statistics and more. It was clear from the jump that the results - or most of them -- would be predictable. Mountain Brook wins! Again. Prichard loses! Again. Because Prichard always loses. Mountain Brook has a median household income of $131,000, which is almost five times that of Prichard. Nobody is hungry in Mountain Brook. Few are disenfranchised and desperate, left to survive without a family safety net and a skill set to take on the world. So I look at Mountain Brook's pretty face. And it is pretty. And I look at the bruises on the face of Prichard, the wrinkles on Selma and the tired but solid old frames of Mobile and Birmingham. And I give Mountain Brook the prize. Because hey, this is a beauty contest. And by all the statistical measures, by the number of shots fired and the bodies carried, by the size of the paycheck and grandeur of the college degrees, there is no denying the winner. But I still feel dirty. Because I know a pretty face is never the best measure of ... anybody. You can't really know the best or worst of any city until you know its soul. Because places with grit and energy and loud noises at night are often a whole lot more fun than those that are safe and unsurprising. Because how a city treats "the least of us," as they say in Gadsden, is how a city shines the most. And the fact remains that none of the cities that rank among Alabama's best would achieve that standing without cities on the other end of the spectrum. How can we look at the pretty faces of Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills without looking at the heart of Birmingham? How can we look at Madison without seeing Huntsville, at Daphne without Mobile? We are, whether we care to admit it, one body. And in the end, when a pageant judge admires a pretty face and cringes at the same contestant's drooping, um, talent, the face alone does not win the prize. The bouquet goes to the contestant with the face and the talent, the dress and all the other stuff. With the complete package. So why hold the contest in the first place? Because we have to know where we stand. Because we have to know how we look to the world and how the world looks to us. We have to see that we the people of Alabama are only as strong as our greatest weakness, and only as pretty as our worst feature. Because we have to know what needs work. Until every part of our state is as healthy as it can be, Alabama will never be well. Until our hands and our hearts are as clean as our faces, we will always be just a little dirty. John Archibald's column appears in the Birmingham News and on Email him at [...]

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The bad news: Bama's "not-hot-cities" list (photo gallery)

Thu, 31 Jan 2013 16:57:43 UTC


The worst is no longer yet to come.

The worst is yet to come. No. the worst is come.

We gave you the best, the hottest cities in all of Alabama, or at least the hottest cities with more than 20,000 residents.

Mountain Brook bought -- I mean earned -- the top spot.

Now it's time to look at the dreaded Not-So-Hot list.

How does a city make this list? How does it fall so far as to be considered among the least livable places in Alabama?

We used 22 different measures, including crime, tax and health numbers, the percentage of families below poverty and the number without jobs. We looked at access to parks and entertainment, the number of artists and musicians employed, the quality of schools and travel time to work, among other things.

So here -- deep breath -- is Alabama's list of the worst. Click here to see the cities in a photo gallery.

Sources include:

American Community Survey Main - U.S. Census Bureau; Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH);; FBI -- Table 8 - Alabama, 2010 Census, State and County QuickFacts; Alabama Department of Revenue - Sales Tax; Alabama Department of Education Public Data Reports;

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The ultimate hot list: Bama's best cities (photo gallery)

Wed, 30 Jan 2013 17:03:25 UTC


Tomorrow: The 10 worst cities

Numbers lie. This we know.

Numbers, after all, tell us Justin Bieber is the coolest kid around, and that Russell Wilson could never make it in the NFL.

Numbers lie like dogs.

Just not as much as people.

So we gathered numbers and nurtured them. We let them lead us to the unanswerable answer to an impossible question.

What is the best place to live in Alabama?

And on the flip-side, of course, what is the worst?

We used 22 different measures, from FBI crime reports, health data from government sources and insurers, the U.S. Census and state departments of education, among others. We used data compiled over the years by the Birmingham News. We looked at money and parks, tax rates, unemployment and commute times. We factored in access to art and entertainment. We looked at dog parks and diversity. In the end, because of data availability, we settled on cities with population greater than 20,000.

So today we give you Alabama's 10 hot cities. Click here to see the cities in a photo gallery.

[UPDATE: See Alabama's not-so-hot cities]

Sources include:

American Community Survey Main - U.S. Census Bureau; Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH);; FBI -- Table 8 - Alabama, 2010 Census, State and County QuickFacts; Alabama Department of Revenue - Sales Tax; Alabama Department of Education Public Data Reports;


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Five reasons Alabama utilities need a formal rate review

Mon, 28 Jan 2013 21:36:55 UTC


The more it costs, the more they get to charge. Alabama Public Service Commission member Terry Dunn has asked for a formal rate review of the largest utilities, but fellow commissioners balked.   Forget the politics and partisanship, the corporate spin and the subterranean smears. Alabama's largest utilities, subject as they are to regulation by the Public Service Commission, need a formal rate review. And here are the top five reasons why. 5. Because times change. Natural gas prices have plummeted of late. Prices dropped 56 percent over the last five years, and 38 percent over the last decade, according to industry benchmarks set at the Henry Hub terminal in Louisiana. At the same time, gas prices in Alabama rose. At Alagasco, the state's largest gas company, rates climbed about 20 percent in that decade. That's not a smoking gun, of course. It is more complicated than merely buying and selling gas. But it is a reason, again, to look. 4. Because what's good for the cook is not necessarily good for the goose. For three decades now, the PSC has allowed Alabama's largest utilities a return on equity above 13 percent. That's the minimum, and it's still far above the national average. It is, frankly, enough to cause utilities across the U.S. to gape. The range has shifted slightly over the years, but it now allows the utilities a return in the range of 13-14.5 percent. If the return goes down, rates can go up, and vice versa. But focusing on the range isn't the trick. The head-scratcher is how we settled on a system that actually encourages Alabama utilities to spend as much as they can to produce and deliver energy. The more it costs, after all, the more they get to charge. 3. Because fair is fair. As's Ben Raines has reported (to loud protestations from the power company), Alabama is a buy-low-sell-high market. Alabama Power Co. spends less than its neighbors to produce electricity, but sells that power to Alabama residential and commercial customers at higher rates, he reported. Between 2006 and 2011 Alabama Power produced the electricity it sold to customers a billion dollars cheaper than Georgia Power could have produced it, Raines found. Yet the company sold it to Alabama customers for $1.5 million more than Georgia could have sold it. 2. Because fair is fair, part II. Raines also found that customers of Alabama's two largest gas utilities - Alagasco and Mobile Gas -- pay more than double the rates of customers in Mississippi. He reported, again to protestations from the utilities, that Alagasco can charge customers triple what a Georgia utility can charge for operations and maintenance costs. Those costs translated to more than a quarter billion dollars charged to Alabama customers in 2010. 1. Because politics isn't power in Alabama. Power is politics. And because regulation of all that power needs to be as transparent as possible. In the 9-year period between 2003 and last year, the regulated monopoly that is Alabama Power Co. spent more than $178 million to sway public opinion and influence politics. It comes to $20 million a year. It comes under the heading, on the power company's reports to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, of ''expenditures for certain civic, political and related activities." FERC defines that category as a place for reporting money spent to influence public opinion, public officials or public actions. That category, by the way, does not show up on you power bill. But Alabama Power spends far more than other utilities in that area. It is money spent by a government-sanctioned, regulated monopoly on lobbyists,  political operatives and PR. To maintain the st[...]

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PSC chief Twinkle Cavanaugh wants to block formal rate review to "exclude the environmentalists"

Thu, 24 Jan 2013 22:26:15 UTC


The PSC move is about silencing voices. Twinkle Cavanaugh   Alabama Public Service Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh has said it emphatically, pointedly, with gusto: A push for the PSC to formally review the rate structure of Alabama's largest utilities is a "full-frontal attack" by "environmental extremists" who want to kill Alabama jobs. Pow! "Their agenda-driven actions threaten to raise the rates you pay for electricity and other utilities, and they harm our ability to remain competitive with other states while creating new jobs and opportunities for our citizens," she wrote in a recent op-ed published on the PSC website. Bam! The old one-two punch. And maybe my head is reeling, but I'm still trying to understand. Why would reviewing the rate structure of Alabama Power Co., Alagasco and Mobile Gas -- monopolies which have been allowed a return on equity that remains above the national average - kill jobs? How can a formal review of the rate structure - particularly in light of reports that show Alagasco customers often pay higher rates than those in Mississippi, and that Alabama Power commercial and residential customers pay more than their counterparts in Georgia - be bad for the people or the economy? I asked Cavanaugh once Thursday. I asked her twice, and I still didn't get a good answer. The closest thing was this. Cavanaugh said a formal rate review - like the one suggested by PSC Commissioner Terry Dunn this month and blocked by Cavanaugh and commissioner Jeremy Oden - would bring too many lawyers to the table. "In a formal hearing, what happens is ... lawyers talk to lawyers and no one trusts anybody," she said. As if everybody trusted everybody now. Outside the PSC and the utilities it is supposed to regulate, that is. What she meant was that a formal rate review would bring other voices to the table. Voices that do not have a vested interest in keeping the cozy rate structure as it is. Which means ... this is not about jobs. It's about silencing voices, marginalizing political opponents, muting those who would ask for cleaner air or water, discrediting those who would land like flies in the ointment of Alabama's utilities. I asked her, just to be sure. Is this not just a way of excluding those environmental groups from the process? "Maybe so," Cavanaugh said without apology. "You can write that. I want to exclude the environmentalists from taking part in the process." Say this for Cavanaugh. She owns what she says. But who are the "extremists" who would kill our jobs? I asked if there are environmental groups she does not consider extremist. And she paused. "I'll get back to you," she said. She did acknowledge that she had a green side of her own. "I am all for the environment," she said. "I hunt, I fish, I bait worms on the hook for my little girl." But in the end the real answer to the real question never came. There was no answer for how a long-overdue review of the rate structure kills jobs. Because the truth is it is far more complicated than that. Particularly in places like Jefferson County, where air pollution, especially soot associated with coal-burning power plants, car exhaust and heavy industry, has for years put Birmingham in violation of federal air quality guidelines. That, in turn, blocked the area from landing industry that might pollute it further. There has been progress in Birmingham's air recently. But the outlook is still hazy. What is clear, in the state's largest metro area, is that pollution has been a far bigger job killer than any run-of-the mill request for a formal review of rates will ever be. The issue of the [...]

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