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April 2011 Archives

April 1, 2011

Obama Proves he is Not Machiavellian

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The way the Libya Kinetic Military Action is unfolding, President Obama at least is showing that he is not the Machiavellian many critics have charged.

Machiavelli had a number of suggestions for "princes".

One was, if you decide to attack the king, make sure you kill him and don't just wound him. Wounded kings are dangerous.

President Obama has ignored that advice all right. We are in Libya merely "to protect civilians" and, while saying, "Gaddafi must go," we are not planning to use force to get rid of him. Just wound him, as it were.

Another Machiavellian lesson is that undertakings for real change are difficult, because the people who don't want change will recognize the threat and resist with all their might, while those who stand to benefit will tend to be less motivated to action.

In Libya, we are undertaking real change--if not "Change You Can Believe In"--and that has fully mobilized Gaddafi and his forces, while not especially motivating us, apparently. The President apparently thought it was all going to be easy. We'll be there "days, not weeks," he said two weeks ago.

The third pertinent Machiavellian principle is that when you must choose between a majority and a minority, choose the majority, of course, unless the minority is more intensely committed than the majority; for in that case the intensity of feelings of the few often overcomes the advantages of numbers.

Here again, Mr. Obama has shown he is not Machiavellian. He has stirred up our enemies, who are a minority in the Libyan population, and left the majority of Libyans--who presumably support the rebels--to, well, arm themselves.

In domestic affairs, we get Chicago-style politics from Mr. Obama. In Libya we get United Nations resolutions.

Photo: Salon

April 2, 2011

Somehow, Freedom is Contagious

The estimable Bernard Lewis is interviewed in the Wall Street Journal, saying that we must not expect Muslims to adopt our ideas of "democracy" and "freedom". Yet, as the Journal interviewer notes, people in Damascus nonetheless shout for "freedom".

Prof. Lewis suggests that we would be better off allowing Muslim states to develop within their own traditions of justice. It sounds right, but....

Meanwhile, in Vietnam, noted legal scholar Ca Huy Ha Vu has been sentenced to prison for asserting that the Vietnamese are entitled to freedom, too. Vietnam, of course, is not Muslim. But it is part of the world, and the people there are people. And they seem to want freedom.

It is a Western conceit, I suppose, that we think the whole world would benefit from our experience in the development of free institutions. But maybe it is is a Western conceit of another kind that other cultures are not capable of appreciating the same longings that give rise to such institutions.

Is it possible that freedom and constitutional democracy, like some version of the free market, are universal aspirations, but that it takes exposure, education and assistance to realize them fully? It surely is true that some observers of the Middle East are deluded into thinking all "rebels" are liberal, in the Western tradition. Just as false, however, would be a contention that no significant number are liberal. Surely our job, then. is to find those who are liberal, and help them.

April 4, 2011

The Power of an "ad"

Our libertarian friend, Mark Skousen, has produced a wonderful spoof of those pharmaceutical ads you see on TV, only this one is for "Obamacare".

April 5, 2011

Republicans May Look at Ryan-Rubio Ticket

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All the prospective Republican candidates for President have electoral problems of one kind or another. Two that may have the fewest are Rep. Paul Ryan, who is getting a lot of favorable attention on the top priority issue of budget reform, and Sen. Marco Rubio, the former Florida state legislative leader who won election to the U.S. Senate last fall.

Both of these men come off as likable, well-rounded and thoroughly conversant with a wide range of national policy issues.

When they appeared back to back on the Sean Hannity show the other night, one couldn't help thinking that together they would make a formidable ticket.

Commenting on Rubio's performance, Carl J. Kelm of the Wall Street Journal's online Political Diary took particular note of the freshman senator's rebuke of Obama Administration's confusion in Libya: "Keep in mind that with the possible exception of Jon Huntsman, the ambassador to China, the GOP presidential field has an almost total lack of foreign policy experience. But someone, of course, will win the nomination. And when that person looks for a running mate, it isn't hard to imagine him or her being drawn to the rising star who can win Hispanic votes, crusaded against the debt and took leadership on a foreign policy issue on which the president has been accused of waffling."

Ryan, 41, is youthful, but not inexperienced, having served a dozen years in Congress. Upon assuming office, were he elected President in 2012 at age 42, Ryan would be a few months older thanTheodore Roosevelt was when he became President, and a few months older than JFK. Like Chief Justice John Roberts, Ryan was identified early as a man with a future. He has been examined carefully by friends and foes ever since and passed each test.

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Rubio, who turns 40 in May, looks like a Latin soap opera star, until, that is, he opens his mouth, whereupon he turns into a really adroit, composed debater. He knows strategy, he knows details. Among colleagues he already gets high marks for hard work and solid "people skills."

The "inexperience" label still would be attached to either Ryan and Rubio, of course. Regardless, relative inexperience is probably the least incapacitating of the likely criticisms that will be made of the possible presidential nominees next year. Up against Barack Obama, Ryan's youth--and Rubio's--probably wouldn't matter. Policies, however, would matter. And unlike Joe Biden, voters would find that Rubio chooses his words carefully. Instead of saving Ryan and Rubio for 2016 Republicans may decide to go with their best team in 2012.

(Getty Images)

April 6, 2011

Ryan and Van Hollen Should Debate Budget

Be prepared for all out political demagoguery on Rep. Paul Ryan's proposed reform budget, and unfortunately it will be enabled by biased news coverage. In the New York Times, for example, you have to turn to David Brooks' column on the opinion page today to get a straight account of the issues involved.

Pete Wehner, former Bush aide, writes in Commentary online today about stilted coverage by Dana Milbank of The Washington Post. First Milbank wrote about the failure of Republicans to address the real source of funding imbalance, which is entitlement spending. But then, when the Republicans do address entitlements (as Democrats, including President Obama, have not), Milbank attacks them for their recklessness.

Implicit in all the "news" attacks is the supposed alternative of raising taxes on the rich to cover the huge spending gap. The trouble is, you could get the rich to pay an even higher proportion of income taxes--in fact you could wipe them out--and still not solve the massive deficit and debt problem. Former Democratic officials such as Alice Rivlin and Erskine Bowles, as well as Republicans, are warning that the entitlement problem cannot be blinked any longer. Entitlements have to be brought under control or our whole country's future is in peril.

Here is a suggestion on how to avoid continuous demagoguery on the Ryan proposals: stage a nationally televised debate between Paul Ryan and his House Democrat counterpart, Rep. Chris Van Hollen. The Maryland Democrat, who is ranking member of the House Budget Committee that Ryan heads, has been outspoken in opposing the reforms Ryan proposes. Let him put his criticism to the test of a suitable long public debate that can give ordinary citizens a chance to hear out the contending parties.

In fact, there is a nice, tried and true venue that used to hold debates of the kind I suggest, though it has been underused in recent years. That venue is called the floor of the House of Representatives. There is even at least one TV network that is sure to cover it live and in full: C-Span. Most the time the House floor is the scene of one and two minute exchanges and political feather preening. A real, two person debate would be a welcome and unusual treat.

Gentlemen of both parties: give the American people a two hour debate on this urgent national issue, and let us make up our own minds, unfiltered by reporters who think they know better what's in a proposal than its author does.

Academic Freedom: 1 Step Forward, 1 Step Back

by David DeWolf

A decision issued today by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals at first seemed like a mostly unalloyed victory for free speech in academia. But it contained some bad news for Mike Adams along with the good. Adams is the controversial (because he is conservative and religious) University of North Carolina professor being squeezed by liberal faculty and administrators.

The good news was that the appeals court reversed that part of the trial court 's decision that held that Adams was not entitled to first amendment protections because he was a public employee. The trial court had relied upon Garcetti v. Ceballos, in which the Supreme Court rejected a first amendment claim by a prosecuting attorney that he had been punished for criticizing the issuance of a warrant in a criminal case. Garcetti limited the rights of public employees to speak their mind if they are speaking on behalf of the government. The trial court in Mike Adams' case thought that a similar rule applied to university professors. But the appeals court disagreed, finding that the scholarly publications of a faculty member are not subject to the limiting principle in Garcetti.

That was the good news. The bad news was that in reinstating Adams' case, the appeals court affirmed the findings by the trial court that Adams had not been the victim of religious discrimination or a violation of the equal protection clause. This leaves him to return to the district court to demonstrate that the committee that rejected his application for promotion engaged in viewpoint discrimination or retaliated against him because of his exercise of his first amendment rights. This will require the trial court to distinguish viewpoint discrimination (for example, treating people differently because they are conservative) from judging Adams' scholarship to be inadequate because it isn't sufficiently novel, or significant, or insightful. The appeals court seemed to adopt the traditionally deferential approach to tenure and promotion decisions by university committees, permitting them to be their own judges of what sorts of scholarship deserve recognition for purposes of promotion or tenure. It's fairly rare for a committee to leave a "smoking gun," such as was the recent case of the astronomer at the University of Kentucky.

(David DeWolf, a Discovery Institute senior fellow, teaches law at Gonzaga University.)

April 12, 2011

Another Bad Idea Born at the U.N.

The environmental fringe, having failed on several other fronts, now wants to give "rights" to natural objects, from bugs to plants. That is the law now in Bolivia and that country wishes to afflict it on the globe.

Human beings are "exceptional." Once you depart from that understanding, you wind up doing little to help "Mother Nature", but a lot to lower the rights of real people.

(Discovery's Wesley J. Smith takes on this issue at length.)

"Triangle of Life"--Where to Go in Earthquake

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Most of us may have bad information--or none--about what to do in an earthquake. It turns out that standing in a doorway is not a good idea. Neither is following your instinct and running down a flight of stairs to exit a building. "Drop, cover and hold on," may or may not be a good idea.

Doug Copp, the Rescue Chief and Disaster Manager of the American Rescue Team International (ARTI), has written an article that is being widely circulated. The American Red Cross has criticized Copp, saying his experience abroad (e.g., Turkey) doesn't really apply to the U.S., with our superior building codes. Regardless, I think Copp's suggestions on where to hide to protect oneself can't hurt, especially in older buildings. In the excerpt below, consider the advice for yourself. It could save your life.

The Triangle of Life

by Doug Copp

I have crawled inside 875 collapsed buildings, worked with rescue teams from 60 countries, founded rescue teams in several countries, and I am a member of many rescue teams from many countries. I was the United Nations expert in Disaster Mitigation for two years, and have worked at every major disaster in the world since 1985, except for simultaneous disasters.

The first building I ever crawled inside of was a school in Mexico City during the 1985 earthquake. Every child was under its desk. Every child was crushed to the thickness of their bones. They could have survived by lying down next to their desks in the aisles. It was obscene -- unnecessary.

Continue reading ""Triangle of Life"--Where to Go in Earthquake" »

After Disaster is a Good Time to Visit

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Kyoto, Japan

Contrarian that I am, I have found that the moment that everyone else starts canceling their vacation or business trips because of a disaster is often an excellent time for me to go. In almost all cases--a few weeks after a terror attack, earthquake, revolution--provides a fine opportunity to pay a call. The hotels are still vacant (and the staff very happy to see you), the restaurants likewise, and the locals will be eager for company. You will be treated well.

Yes, of course this advice can be stretched too far! I am not recommending tours to Afghanistan or Libya right now (maybe later). Still, the principle of contrarian travel is worth considering. My late father-in-law canoed down the Danube in the late 30s, just before World War II erupted. In days just after the Japanese invaded Manchuria, my future mother-in-law, was a young girl with family friends visiting China and Japan as Americans--when Beijing was still "Peking". Both came back with indelible, fascinating--sometimes sobering--memories. And both, I might add, had been quite safe.

Continue reading "After Disaster is a Good Time to Visit" »

April 13, 2011

Big Phony News on Embryonic Stem Cells

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Dr. Theresa Deisher, after testifying before Congress last September against funding embryonic stem cell research

Discovery colleague David Klinghoffer has a fine article today at National Review Online about the constant media mistake--a mistake made so often it must be intentional--in conflating embryonic stem cell cures, which don't exist, with cures that come from adult stem cells. Be sure to read it.

The latest story describes Timothy J. Atchison, 21, who was treated, we are told, with embryonic stem cells. So, was it successful? The news media accounts don't say.

Continue reading "Big Phony News on Embryonic Stem Cells" »

Ryan Should Hold an Economy "Teach-In"

Paul Ryan's strategy for budgetary reform and economic recovery is sound, but it is a hard sell for one, overarching reason. It is complex.

To understand it takes time, and nobody--including Ryan's critics--wants to take time to understand the grand plan. President Obama clearly thinks he can just rail against it and prevail. Therefore, if Congressman Ryan wants to win the budget battle he needs some quality time with the voters. He won't get it through the mainstream media.

His big hope is C-SPAN. With "Special Orders" he can secure, say, two hours in committee or on the House floor to detail America's daunting economic problem and the solutions he has devised. He could bring in other Republicans to ask him questions, or he could "yield" time to Democrats to debate him. If he could get Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, to debate him, so much the better.

At the very least, Ryan could use a lengthy presentation to educate and arm at least a quarter of a million or more interested voters. They would operate as inoculations against attempts later on to distort his proposals. Few Americans have ever had a class in practical government economics. Many would be fascinated.

It's not the only way to win public support on the budget, but it is part of a way to win.

In Canada Election, Even Candidates are Bored--but Political Realignment Could Develop

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On a recent report of The National, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation's (CBC) nightly news program, a group of young voters were shown pictures of all four major party candidates for Prime Minister. They couldn't recognize any of them, not even Stephen Harper, the incumbent. But shown a picture of Barack Obama, the young voters laughed; they all knew him instantly.

Canada is having another national election, the fourth in seven years, but three weeks before the election, no one is paying much attention. In contrast, formation of a new government (administration in U.S. terms) afterwards could prove very interesting.

Continue reading "In Canada Election, Even Candidates are Bored--but Political Realignment Could Develop" »

April 15, 2011

The Libyan War is One Month Old Today--Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

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The war in Libya--the one that the President said would take "days, not weeks"--is now one month old. We got involved to stop the killing of civilians, remember? But civilians are being mutilated and killed in such numbers now that the hospital in Misrata is glutted with blood. We don't do enough to enable a rebel victory; we do just enough to prevent a government victory.

Still, the Mall in Washington, D.C. is a scene of vernal bliss. In Harvard Yard the frisbees blow, beneath the proctors, row on row. Gentlemen of Berkeley now abed can almost hear the echoes of percussion bands. "We are the grass roots, we cover all."

It turns out that the anti-war movement in recent years was never anti-war, just anti-Republican wars. A new study from the University of Michigan puts that thesis forth.

Write Michael Feaney and Fabio Rojas: "Overall, our results convincingly demonstrate a strong relationship between partisanship and the dynamics of the antiwar movement. While Obama's election was heralded as a victory for the antiwar movement, Obama's election, in fact, thwarted the ability of the movement to achieve critical mass."

Since the University of Michigan study was reported about two weeks ago there have been few commentaries, let alone denials, from the Left. NPR's coverage tried to chalk it up to the absence of a draft, which would explain why this isn't the Vietnam War, but does not explain the anti-Iraq marches of the past decade. It also is suggested that people are less interested in contesting U.S. efforts to combat terrorism than they were to contest wars. Except that Libya is not about terrorism, per se, is it?

The anti-war movement is essentially the Democratic Party taking to the streets in times when a Republican holds the White House. The same made be said of the government employee union marchers in state capitals like Madison or Columbus.

April 22, 2011

Obama Rules Evoke Film, "Atlas Shrugged"

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The National Labor Relations Board proposed this week that Boeing had wrongfully built a new plant in South Carolina to wreak revenge on the Boeing union in Washington State. It's a strange way of second-guessing a business decision. Without taking sides in present or past labor disputes, doesn't a company have a right to build its plants where it wants without the federal government dictating to it?

Also this week, it was revealed that the White House is considering an Executive Order to require all contractors doing business with the government to provide lists of any campaign contributions it and its executives have made to political parties or candidates. The pose is that of "transparency," but, in fact, it is a bold effort to intimidate businessmen from supporting political foes of the President. Do you think politics is ever considered by this Administration in the awarding of contracts? Does "GM" mean anything to you, or "GE"?

The proposed order notably would exempt campaign contributions by unions. No reason for "transparency", there, no sir!

Traveling around a few hundred theaters this same week is "Part 1" of the trilogy based on Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand's classic novel of libertarianism (or "Objectivism" in the Rand version). Rand's America, in this film set in 2016, evokes the era in which wrote the novel six decades ago, but it also seems set credibly in present day America, as well as a wholly believable imminent future in which government over-spending and over-regulation have wrecked most of the economy and torn apart society. Today's crony capitalism has reached the point (in the film) where almost no one can succeed without government approval and true entrepreneurs are punished. Government language is Orwellian. The Washington officials in the film use Obama-like rhetoric to justify "fair" competition that actually is rigged. The results of such government management of the economy are disastrous. A gallon of gas costs $37.50 and Depression style soup lines are commonplace on urban streets.

Reviews of Atlas Shrugged are mixed, but reliable liberals like Roger Ebert have had to resort to mischaracterizations to damn the project. I am no Randian, and the bloodless heroes are not very appealing in the movie. But the content is timely and provocative, in the best tradition of political films. Last weekend Atlas Shrugged played in only 299 theaters; but this week it expands to 465. If it continues to gain an audience by word of mouth it will be the result of its scary echoes of what Washington, DC already is becoming.

End of the Web?

by George Gilder (borrowed from Disco-Tech blog)

Does the rise of Facebook portend the end of the real world, the collapse of dictatorships, the fall of Google, and the rise of love and peace and network neutrality?

Do smart pods and pads and Edenic walled social networks mean the end of the Web?

From Money, Fortune, the Economist, and Technology Review to a galore of blogs and newsletters, pundits predict the collapse of the web. Last September, Wired put it all together behind a lustrous eye-blasting pink cover, with Chris Anderson-Michael Wolff grafitti declaring "The Web is Dead." Many see Facebook, Twitter, and Apple's mediacopia as bringing about the decline and fall of Google, the outbreak of world revolution, or the revival of the U.S. economy of innovation.

Continue reading "End of the Web?" »

April 24, 2011

Happy Easter! Pope Benedict Hits Evolution, Asserts "Creative Reason"

Pope Benedict XVI, in an Easter vigil message at St. Peter's in the Vatican, made his strongest statement yet in defense of the Christian faith's inalterable insistence on the role of creation in the origin of the world and the development of mankind. The Holy Father's homily is sure to be welcomed by orthodox Catholics and other Christians, and especially by Christian proponents of "intelligent design", stressing as it does the theological imperative on a subject where intelligent design scientists and other scholars emphasize scientific evidence.

"If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature," the pontiff said. "But no, Reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine Reason."

Christian accomodationists who want to avoid a conflict with Darwinism will not be so pleased.

The emphatic statement of the Pope expressly does not endorse "creationism", a literal reading of Genesis, nor does it deny any role for evolution--broadly defined--in the development of life on Earth. But it does seem to repudiate the notion that has gained currency in certain circles of the Catholic Church and its universities, as well as in some evangelical centers, that an unguided process of evolution like Darwinian theory is compatible with Christian faith.

Reports the Zenit news service from Rome: "The world is a product of the Word," Benedict XVI stated, "of the Logos, as St. John expresses it. [...] 'Logos' means 'reason,' 'sense,' 'word.' It is not reason pure and simple, but creative Reason, that speaks and communicates itself. It is Reason that both is and creates sense."

Such language resonates with intelligent design arguments based on information theory and new understandings of DNA. It shows also that the scientific case for intelligent design is fully congruent with a theological case for creative reason, whereas the accomodationist, "theistic evolutionist" viewpoint is not.

Indeed, the modernist, materialist project that deforms culture and intellect is grounded largely in a denial of purpose, reason and design in nature. If that denial were valid, there was no possible original Adam, therefore no second Adam incarnated as Jesus Christ, no resurrection, no salvation. However, many heterodox Christians and even some gullible orthodox Christians have been seduced by the fashionability of Darwinism and have turned a cold shoulder to challenges to purposeless, unguided evolution. Like "anti-anti-Communists" of yore, they have become "anti-anti-Darwinists."

Unfortunately, the Pope's views have not filtered down to all Catholic parishes, let alone universities and Catholic publications. There are even some confused souls loosely connected with the Vatican (the Pontifical Council on Culture, and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, for two examples). But Pope Benedict XVI is not confused at all.

The best book you can read on the subject this spring is God and Evolution, a series of provocative and clear essays edited by Dr. Jay Richards. The theological case against unguided evolution (Darwinism) and for design is explained in terms of contemporary Catholic, Protestant and Jewish scholarship. It couldn't be more timely.

Happy Easter!

April 26, 2011

The Budget Debate Still Not Happening

The public, in polls, holds contradictory ideas. You either can blame the public for that or the politicians and media. Since economics is not a class taught in high school or taken by many in college, it is useless to assume a knowledge base that doesn't exist. Some down-to-earth explanations are needed.

Robert Samuelson's column is about as clear headed as one can get on this topic. He says that the President is being deceitful, talking budget cutting and the need for an "adult conversation" on the topic, while doing nothing to cut spending and attacking those who are trying to do so. As Samuelson says, he's "AWOL".

You can't have a one-sided debate. But Republicans could at least try to get air time--I have suggested repeatedly the use of "Special Orders" on the House floor that at least would get covered by C-SPAN--and lay out the whole truth for the people. A couple of infomercials also might help.

And the story is not only economic. The Republicans will lose the public's support if they don't explain why the budget deficit is a deeply moral issue. Just prattling about "leaving a huge burden for our children" explains nothing. Unless the consequences of present trends are described, the economy, in many eyes, will just be a matter of "creating more jobs," as if unemployment is the result of "greed" or insensitivity.

April 27, 2011

What About Sprint?

Senior Fellow Hance Haney's take on the recent T-Mobile takeover was published today in the San Francisco Chronicle:

If you haven't already heard that the wireless market would be left with a struggling competitor if AT&T acquires T-Mobile USA, you soon will. As the FCC and members of Congress begin debate about what this merger would mean to the wireless industry, and specifically for Sprint Nextel Corp., it's important to remember that the competitor's long-standing struggles have nothing to do with this merger.

Many of today's consumers have long forgotten that Sprint's troubles date back at least to its own problematic merger with Nextel in 2005. The struggling carrier has been losing customers and revenue ever since, and this year alone lost $3.5 billion.

Continue reading "What About Sprint?" »

April 29, 2011

The Issue is Medical, Not Just Moral

The Wall Street Journal is just one of the news media that don't care to examine the embryonic stem cell issue closely. Notice this treatment today of the news that an appellate court has given at least a partial victory to the embryonic stem cell researchers, led by Dr. Francis Collins.

"Supporters of the research say the stem cells, which can develop into any type of body tissue, could help treat ailments from diabetes to heart disease.

"Opponents question the morality of using cells derived from embryos in a process that destroys them, saying that amounts to taking a human life."

Actually, as one of the lead plaintiffs in the case, Dr. Theresa Deisher, repeatedly points out, embryonic stem cell research, after huge sums of money and much time, has not proved successful. Embryonic stem cell treatments often cause tumors. In contrast, adult stem cells (Dr. Deisher's field) are showing very good therapeutic results.

So, the Alice in Wonderland public policy position of the establishment is: Many people regard embryonic stem cell treatments as immoral, but we should pursue them anyhow because they are not successful, while adult stem cells are.

Another point. You hear what Dr. Francis Collins says reported on the matter, and I expect that his views also will be carried in the Seattle press, as well as everywhere else. I wonder how many will carry the views of lead plaintiff Dr. Deisher--including in Seattle, where she lives and has her lab.

(Discovery senior fellow Wesley J. Smith describes the appellate court ruling and where the case heads now.)

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