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President Obama says the magic words: government creating a platform

It's really nice to see President Obama using the metaphor of government as a platform. Here's the money quote in the Rolling Stone interview:

"The free market is the greatest generator of wealth in history. I'm a firm believer in the free market, and the capacity of Americans to start a business, pursue their dreams and strike it rich. But when you look at the history of how we became an economic superpower, that rugged individualism and private-sector dynamism was always coupled with government creating a platform so that everybody could succeed..."

Thinking of government as platform rather than an end-to-end solution provider is a way to resolve the conflict between left and right in politics. It's clear that government is too big, and yet the problems that we need to solve collectively are still bigger. The notion of government as a platform focuses government on doing the things that only government can do, building key infrastructure that will catalyze the private sector.

We saw this platform dynamic with smartphones. Before the iPhone, smart phones worked a lot like government procurement. The manufacturers and the carriers got together in a back room and figured out what they thought people needed. Phones came with 20 or 30 apps. But when Apple figured out how to turn the phone into a platform, there were hundreds of thousands of apps delivering ideas that no one at Apple had imagined.

Examples of government as a platform include the Interstate Highway System, GPS, and open data. (For example, at the local level, governments opening up transit data feeds enables transit data in google maps or 3rd party smartphone apps far more effectively than if governments tried to build all these apps themselves.)

But I think President Obama is right when he also points to social safety nets as part of government acting as a platform. Continuing the quotation above, he says:

"But when you look at the history of how we became an economic superpower, that rugged individualism and private-sector dynamism was always coupled with government creating a platform so that everybody could succeed so that consumers weren't taken advantage of, so that the byproducts of capitalism, like pollution or worker injuries, were regulated. Creating that social safety net has not made us weaker – it's made us stronger. It liberated people to say, "I can move to another state, but if I don't find a job right away, my kids aren't going to go hungry. I can start a business, but if it doesn't work out, I'm going to be able to land on my feet." Making those kinds of commitments to each other – to create safety nets, to invest in infrastructure and schools and basic research – is just like our collective investment in national security or fire departments or police. It has facilitated the kind of risk-taking that has made our economy so dynamic. This is what it means for us to live in a thriving, modern democracy."

I think that's right. But it's important to design these safety nets so that they are enablers rather than replacements for private sector activity. Designing effective platforms is hard, and there's a history all through the computer industry of platform providers choking off innovation on the platform by doing too much.

What Lao Tzu said about government 2500 years ago still stands:

"When the best leader leads, the people say 'We did it ourselves.'"
Chris Nandor (Pudge)'s profile photoAnton Wahlman's profile photoOscar RdG's profile photoKevin Russell's profile photo
We should build an information highway. Lay fiber all over and give "free" internet like we have "free" roads. Taxes can cover maintenance same as roads.
Two most important aspects of any platform are its capabilities and its API. Talking about API aspect, in short, a platform is expected to behave as promised. Obama has a huge gap between his promises and what he actually did... I would not trust any platform of his unless he's serious about fixing it.
whatever dude. I don't think you fully understand the bailout implications. It can still be done. Building the road system opening up the country and creating suburbs helped bring us out of the depression. It could essentially be replicated. But we fight over stupid things instead of creating solutions.
Government can't create a decent "platform." It's a bizarre pipe dream of those who, quite obviously falsely, believe that smart people with guns can do better than free people making their own choices.
Government's only function is to protect the liberty of individuals, who might in turn want to "create a platform".
+Tau-Mu Yi You probably want to go check out the "logical fallacy" thread. ;-) I'm pretty sure that uninsured children dying in the street isn't going to be found in any manuals of formal rhetoric. In fact it sounds like the kind of thing legendary American statesman John Edwards might say.
Very nice quotes from Obama! I hope he can really follow up on it.
Obama knows nothing about how wealth is created, as evidenced by his actions as well as his ignorant statements. That's OK; we don't expect politicians as a general rule to know much about anything other than how to cling to power.

I do wish however that more Americans understood how things worked, why suing employers is bad for the employees, why borrowing too much money is foolish, and so forth. How have we reached this disastrous stage where we have borrowed so much money both as individuals and as a nation, in order to live the lifestyle we prefer, while sacrificing the future prosperity of our children and grand-children?
I would post the record # of R filibusters in the senate as a retort to the above negative comments, but the line by line vote is so large it would run off the screen into your kitchen, eat all your catfood, and drink your milkshake.
Can you imagine trying to create a business platform with a side that always defects from good faith negotiations? See- deficit reduction for example.
Who is this Obama person you guys speak of?
+Tim O'Reilly Thoughtful analysis. Members of Congress should read it and consider doing something positive to help the country rather than continue the current completely dysfunctional state.
+Tim O'Reilly and +David Brin ... it's really interesting having both of these folks in my following circle. I get to watch world-views collide. Tim sees everything in terms of the potential to engineer better solutions and David sees everything in terms of the potential to engineer oppressive power structures. I think the glass is half-confused at this point ;-)
A Rolling Stone interview with Barak Obama? Can you say "Puff Piece" boys and girls? I think you can.

He's not man enough to debate Limbaugh...
And now they put all americans slaved to pay taxes to banks for his 6 trillion dollar spendings! STOP INSANE DEBT!
Meh, more and more government intervention is why we went from 2 year market corrections or less after bubbles to ten+, and why our economy has slowed down immensely of late.
starting your own business?? Dear Mr. Obama it is not as easy as you make it sound. Pursue your dreams and strike it rich?? As long as we have walmart hogging up all the markets small business suffers
I suspect Obama spends more time talking to wealth creators than most of us, +Terry Traub. That's a big gripe from the left.... I suppose we could go back to the Bush era of "the Haves and the Have Mores, or as I like to think of you, my base."

I also wish that more Americans understood how things worked, that market consolidation is destroying innovation, that media driven politics (enabled by consolidation - fewer outlets, less diversity of voices) gives too much power to incumbents and stifles challenges. Obama is hardly the originator of borrow and spend economics and I find it curious how many opponents that notion has vs how many we heard from in 2001-2009.

Government as a platform sounds harmless enough but we should be watchful for anyone who wants to "run government like a business." 
+paul beard all it takes is the public educating itself. Sadly we seem more interested in The Voice and Jersey Shore than paying attention though.
We need lower taxes! Instead of rising the taxes for the 1%, how about lowering for the middle class???
Their are things government does well such as roads and GPS. Then their are things it fails at like "the war on poverty". At some point we need to realize what this "platform" is good at and what things it cannot deliver on. The problem with government platform analogy is that bad programs never go away. When someone builds a crappy iphone app, no one is forced to pay for it.
More government is always bad. Show me ONE PROGRAM that actually works as designed, without wasting millions of dollars.

The congress is incompetent. They get too much power to do too many things, and it shows!
Maybe our economy is slowing because we treat it like a mine and mines get worked out. We seem to have moved to a resource extraction model, where some extract the resources (money) but don't put it back into circulation, on a more agricultural model.

What's the benefit to USD piling up in the caymans or Switzerland? If I made $1billion in 2011 and lost 90% to taxes, how would I survive? Oh, I dunno, $100 million should see me through til payday.

Even when the top rate was 91% no one paid that, as George Romney proved back in 68.

+Schroder Voyles Thought you might find this article interesting given the whole platform analogy... How's it going brother? What do you think?
+paul beard How come those websites say nothing of the additional 5 trillion dollars in debt the Obama regime has accumulated? After all that is a huge accomplishment. Job well done:)
+Brian Fahrlander So how do we fire the bums? In the age of media campaigns, the cost of campaigns stifles challenges. Pete Stark is facing a challenge for the first time since 1972: 40 years, 20 election cycles. Speaker Boehner has about 20 years: how many real challenges has he faced? And no, we don't need artificial term limits: we have perfectly good ones, known as elections.

There's a big part of the problem. It costs millions to campaign and where do you get that kind of money? From voters? Or lobbyists, pacs, and corporations? 
+paul beard I'm afraid we're about to find out, when the 101st Airborne lands and shuts down Congress and the president.

I don't see any way out of it. The corruption is so bad, this just can't end "softly".
+Steven Sudit if by long way you mean less than half a percent over ten years, then yes. A long way.
+Chris Nandor So it was private industry that invested in GPS and then opened it up for use by all comers? It was private industry that built the highway system? It was private industry that funded the research that brought us the internet?

Try to be serious.

Government does a lot wrong, but it also does a lot right. I'd love to see you go live in a country without government. They are pretty unpleasant places.
+Steven Sudit Apparently you are unaware of the fact that government revenues increased after the Bush tax cuts went into effect. Sure, you will have short term spike in government revenues if taxes go up, but then they will begin to shrink because GDP will decline. No matter how high the tax rate has been, no more than 22% of GDP was brought into government coffers. High tax rates benefit no one, except politicians looking to blame their failures on the rich. The real problem is spending.
+Steven Sudit The Bush tax cuts are a tiny SPLINTER in the huge hollow tree of debt we find ourselves in. We need a woodsman; someone like Coolidge who'll come in and cut the federal government in HALF.

But that man is losing to Romney as we speak. Romney's the establishment guy, so just like after Reagan when we got the MOOSH called Bush, we have to stay away from the Conservative policies that will keep us out of the Second Great Depression.
+Steven Sudit We only need lowering taxes, if you hire tax from richest, they won't be able to invest their money in the country creating jobs.
+Kurt Fehlhauer That debt was accumulated solving problems that were put in place by his predecessor: two unfunded wars, tax cuts that promised growth but didn't deliver it, and a financial crisis that was at least partly the result of deregulation and the notion that government should just get out of the way. Well it did get out of the way of Wall Street, and we all got royally screwed. Trying to blame Obama for paying the price of anti-government policies is silly.
+Tim O'Reilly It was the military that brought us GPS and the Internet. The last time I checked most of the roads are built by private contractors paid through tax dollars collected from the people.
+Tim O'Reilly My biggest problem with the Bush administration and the Republican congress was that they spent like drunken sailors. This is the same problem exists with Obama, except it has been accelerated. Obama called Bush unpatriotic for increasing the debt during his 8 years. Yet Obama blows by Bush's number in just over 3 years . Does this mean Obama is unpatriotic by his own definition?

The financial crisis has been brewing for years and goes way back and blaming Bush shows a lack of understanding of the issue. When the government tells banks that they have to make loans, they are going to do it and then offload that bad debt through derivative instruments. Really, what did you expect them to do? This is what happens when government over-reaches and tries to regulate too much.

How about we reduce regulation that inhibits growth and let everyone have the opportunity to fail? No bailouts and no corporate welfare. That is how it is in the world of tech and every time someone tries to tax or regulate the Internet everyone is against it. There is a reason for that, we all know how well government regulations have worked for other industries.
+Steven Sudit Misdirection by blaming the repeal of Glass-Steagall is a nice diversion, however it does not address the underlying problem that banks were forced to make bad loans by the government. The repeal of Glass-Steagall just allowed for the packaging of loans as derivatives and some will even make the case that was going on before the repeal. The problem of bad loans has been looming for decades. It is just an inconvenient truth.
+Steven Sudit Conflating issues is not helping you make your point. Illegal/unlawful activities should be punished. They should have the book thrown at them for robo-signing.
Yea he's catalized the private sector. Good job with solyndra. The now Russian owned battery maker and the list goes on. He's either to slow or to idealogocal to grasp big government is the problem and needs to get out of the way. Even more redicules is the housing bubble part 2 hes working on. (Student loans).
You people do realize your pissing matches between views just takes away from your original point. Justifying bad behavior by pointing to other bad behavior. Hey i have a idea. Why do you open a messenger window to each other and continue there? But i guess that's to easy and to argue about everything and nothing all at the same time in real time.
Health care is the ultimate job creating, creativity unlocking government platform service. One example, in Canada independent music flourishes in large part from giving musicians the ability to take a risk on less income because they don't need to pay for health care. The "startup costs for life" if you like, are lower when preventative health and emergency services are covered universally. The government should be there to enable the people to prosper and reach their potential. Government service as platform is the perfect concept for this and it should be taken even further.
nice...where you move to? i want to be there as well.
Well I live in Australia and I have health care that is paid for I have a home and a wife and two pets. I can eat well and I live within my means. The U.S. is doomed. Doomed I tell ya.
The ideals of America--"the constitution" Is composed of the greatest ideals of western mans Culture at its apex.....Unfortunately those ideals have been subverted into a tyranny masked as "nobility" and is quickly devolving into a slave socialist state.

Up here in Canada seems we are naturally evolving into those ideas laid out in the American Constitution ...Though there are those of a servile adolessant childlike mindset that want large government-mother and father socialist tyranny----
I'm a strong supporter of the government as a platform principle. For instance there are many enterprises which form natural monopolies. Public Infrastructure such as roads and power are one good example. In such cases the free market does not apply as the fundamental principles of open competition, substitute products and low switching costs do not exist. Additionally the direct productivity of those products is low, however the indirect productivity of those products (by enabling other marginally related products to become viable, develop and grow) is high.

In such cases it should be expected that the government maintains ownership and investment of those products and subsidies them based off their total contribution to society as opposed to their direct contribution to users.

However I believe that while government ownership in the form of a public trust is required actual administration is best served by the private sector where competition can provide the best solution through competitive tenders. Such in the case of contractors for road construction.

I'm also a big believer in stakeholder democracy. Where all stakeholders in a system should get representation in the system and should be required as a duty to exercise that right of representation (through, for instance, compulsory voting). The government is not there to protect your freedoms, the government is there to enable your freedoms in exchange for you exercising your public responsibilities, for instance by obeying the communities laws and performing your required civic duties. I don't see why voting is any different from say, jury duty, where its agreed that the government can compel you to engage in an act of civic responsibility.

One area that I think really needs a shake-up of stakeholder democracy is corporations. Currently corporate governance is controlled through representation of capital owners (shareholders). I would say that companies should be required to provide equal governance representation to their employees as well. Allowing them to vote members to the board and on things like wage agreements, mergers and corporate strategy. After all its in the employees best interest to have a successful company employing them so there should be no reason why their rights should not be directly represented on the board. Since all ventures are a joining of capital and labour without either of them capable of undertaking such ventures on their own I see no reason why the shouldn't have equal representation in the governance of the venture either.

Additionally I believe that in many companies where they exceed a certain market cap (duopolies and oligopolies) or are subject to public interest regulation should also have the public's interest represented. Where the government can appoint an individual or small minority of members to the board whose sole purpose is to promote and ensure regulatory compliance and that the companies behaviours can be reasonably expected to satisfy a public interest test. A good example of where this would have been useful is the banks and capital firms. If they government could appoint a person to the board to ensure regulatory compliance and public interest test a lot of the illegal behaviour would not have happened or been discovered earlier which could have avoided the GFC. Another good example would be News Corp. If they had a member of the board ensuring regulatory compliance and public interest test appointed by the government do you think that all the illegal phone hacking and corrupt lobbying practices would have happened?
+Jared Pace I meant for children. I have considered moving, but have never found anywhere "better" in my opinion. If not for my desire to start a family, I may feel differently.

I think if you go to the Detroit ghettos, or to Kona Hawaii (both places I have been in the USA). You will have vastly different people and attitudes. So I am not sure that America is the problem. Could it be the same in Thailand?

I think that life is what you make of it. You can be happy anywhere if you concentrate on the good, and ignore and/or fix the bad. If Thailand makes it easier for you to be happy, that is awesome. I think it is naive to think that people should follow suit and leave the country tho. I think many others would just be moving their problems somewhere else.

I feel if the government is ruining your life that much, it is partially your fault. Generically, not calling you out personally, I do not know your situation. People from Thailand come here for opportunity as well.
getto lyf is g so long as u respect ur self
+Mac Burks the issue with bribery is separate from the issue of representation though. Ideally what would happen is that the regulator (in Australia we have the Australian Securities and Investment Commission) would appoint a member to the board to promote and ensuring regulatory compliance and a public interest test.

For that position to work systems would need to be in place to ensure their independence and that they act according to the charter given. Such systems would be transparency of information and severe penalties for non-compliance (such as criminal prosecution in the case of bribery).

The issue with lobbyist is not their existence as people should have the right to lobby representative members with their concerns, including the shareholders and owners of companies. But the lack of transparency to the voters electing or appointing those representatives to the level of lobbying received and funds spent.

Another issue is the fact that those lobbyist also represent campaign donors, and corporate campaign donations are something heavily relied on by representatives seeking election. One of the fastest ways to remove the influence of lobbyists would be to eliminate donation based campaign funding and electoral advertising.

Have the electoral commission provide to every voter a political CV of the candidates standing where they can describe their policy platform and why they would be best for the job. Allow politicians unlimited public events (door knocking, handshaking, town hall debates, etc) but no purchased advertising (TV, news print). Suddenly the money is no longer necessary to get elected and politicians no longer NEED to court lobbyist and donors to keep their war chests stashed because they can no longer use them. Put in place a ban on independent advertising and campaigning for individual candidates and parties. This would help ensure that independent campaigning and lobbying is done purely on policy position, not on what representative takes that position best, and remove the giant lever that wealth is using to ensure disproportionate representation.
+Tim O'Reilly you're smarter then to fall into the blame game. This President ran on getting us out of those wars sooner than his predecessor would but hasn't come through. In the meantime he's spent more money on other "interventions" and has us on the brink of two more wars.

Then there's the failed qe1, qe2 (you're welcome teacher pension funds), and qe3 on the way.

At some point the blame game stops working, and that point has already passed.
+Kurt Fehlhauer Yes, and that's a problem. Part of what "government as a platform" needs is garbage collection, and I don't mean the kind provided by municipalities. But when you start thinking of it as a platform, rather than a collection of direct to consumer services, you start to ask yourself different questions about what should be in that platform, how it should work, and what you can learn from other successful platforms. And to the extent that technology has got to shape the next generation of government reinvention, the platform analogy can be very helpful.
+Kurt Fehlhauer You say "It was the military that brought us GPS and the Internet. The last time I checked most of the roads are built by private contractors paid through tax dollars collected from the people."

Last time I heard, the military was a major part of our government apparatus, and tax collection and disbursement are key government platform services.

As to contractors actually building the highways, I fail to see how that detracts from the point. Do you say that the iPhone is not an Apple product because it's built by Foxconn?
Darpa is a good example of competent public sector innovation. They created some of the underpinnings of what we now call the Internet, and they have developed other game changing technologies, all on surprisingly small budgets, often measured in millions of dollars or tens of millions of dollars.

I favor more public spending on R&D, especially on basic science, because in the long run, this is the platform on which all our technical innovations and economic expansion are based. It provides career paths for our brightest young minds to go into the sciences rather than be diverted into destructive or parasitical occupations such as law. If we Americans don't get on the ball, some of our smartest young scientists will be seeking employment in other countries, and the U.S. will become a third rate country for scientific advancement.

I oppose further expansion of government social services because they don't drive innovation or economic expansion. The Obama argument that mandatory health coverage coupled with treatment panels and the other features of the Healthcare Affordability Act create a platform for economic growth is a theoretical one not grounded in real life experience. How innovative and expansive are the economies of western Europe, with their cradle-to-grave health care and other wonderful benefits? They have consistently lagged behind the U.S. in the post WWII era, even as the U.S. lurched closer to the European model while spending much of its wealth on military priorities.
+Tim O'Reilly So it was private industry that invested in GPS and then opened it up for use by all comers? It was private industry that built the highway system? It was private industry that funded the research that brought us the internet?

No. And?

Try to be serious.

You first, Tim. You see, you are just blindly assuming we are better off for government having done those things, but there is literally no reason whatsoever to do so. It's a cute trick, but it doesn't work on me. You have to actually make a case, not chilidishly give a list of things you like.

GPS is a red herring because the government would not have allowed anyone else to do it, because of the security implications.

I think -- and there's plenty of examples and evidence showing it -- that we'd be better off with private management and construction of our highways.

As to the Internet, most of the design and management came from people outside of government, so that's not really a good argument for your case. Much of the funding and technology came through government funding, but that's a poor argument: because government was giving out the money, anyone working on those sorts of things was going to take that money.

Let's say that government designed and ran the cell networks and the phones that came on them, and we all had pretty cool phones, like Blackberrys of several years ago. We could look at that and say, "government gave us awesome cell phones! that proves that government does a lot right!" We would not even be able to imagine how much better they could be without government, with the iPhone. So let's not pretend that you're actually making a case here.

Government does a lot wrong, but it also does a lot right.

I am not talking about "right" and "wrong", I am talking about "meh" and "better."

I'd love to see you go live in a country without government. They are pretty unpleasant places.

I'd love to see you stop resorting to this tired straw man fallacy.

Oh -- and I know you don't care about this, but I'll mention it anyway -- the fact is that most of this federal "platform" is unconstitutional, as per the Tenth Amendment.
+Tim O'Reilly How the 6 trillions Obama spent was a military problem created by bush??? And if he spent the money because of Bush, he did it wrong, because it did not solve anything!
I don't get it... Obama have the merits of killing Osama, but bush have the guilt of creating the war!??? Democrats are running on crack???
Americans watch out for "government social services" , in Brazil they use it for buying votes! Lula and Dilma are eternal presidents of my born country, because they have a assistance called "bolsa família" that pays 25$ dollars for each family member. As the taxes in my country is like 40%, the government have the money to control and do what they want. Don't let Obama do that! Vote for smaller government or they will control you.
+George Coelho It's funny that Democrats voted en masse for going into Iraq, and Obama left Iraq precisely using Bush's timetable and signed Status of Forces agreement. Bush decided on December 2011 when he was still President, and signed the agreement. Obama followed Bush's agreement, and we left in December 2011. That's basically it.

And all Obama did to get Osama, literally, was look at the intelligence given him (by people who were mostly there under Bush), and say, "OK, go get him." It was an easy decision anyone in his position would've made. Biden said, "we never had more than a 48 percent probability that [Bin Laden] was there." But so what? In my book, you go in even if you have only a 5 percent chance he's there. It was an exceptionally easy decision to make. The only reason you don't pull the trigger is if you fear domestic political repercussions for failure, and the fact that he isn't such a coward isn't, in my book, cause for rejoicing.

I don't mean to say Obama did a poor job ... but there's not much rational reason to give him a significant amount of credit for getting out of Iraq or getting Osama.
I think what he's trying to say is 'free market socialism' > 'free market capitalism'
I discussed this post with 1 person in a hangout.
Almost all of the bad loans during the housing crisis were priate party loans. The government "forcing" Banks to make bad loans had almost nothing to do with the housing crisis. It's nonsense spouted by people who are either too lazy or ignorant to bother spending 5 minutes looking at some actual numbers
+Pete Anderson Almost all of the bad loans during the housing crisis were priate party loans. The government "forcing" Banks to make bad loans had almost nothing to do with the housing crisis.

You're confused. Fannie/Freddie -- which is private, but not really -- insured nearly half of the loans as it started out, and they purchased nearly half a trillion dollars worth of subprime-backed securities for the few years leading up to the crisis.

Further, even without the GSEs, the federal government did much to encourage lending to under-qualified borrowers, such as the CRA.

Simply looking at whether the loan is private or not doesn't tell much of the story.

There's also the fact that government should have known this problem was coming, and was incompetent and did nothing. Which brings me to the worst thing government did: create the illusion that our financial institutions, and the products they provide, are safe. This is one of the worst crimes of government, because it encourages people to do things with their money and resources thinking that it's much safer than it is, which feeds into the whole mess more than anything.
+Steven Sudit that's very narrow minded, and very wrong. Libertarians very much understand the consequences of their views. That would be.. wait for it... liberty.
+Jared Pace "Leaving America has been the best choice I have ever made"
There's a saying from the 60s-70s: "America, love it or leave it!"
Another saying from around that time: "My country, right or wrong!"
This is actually a corruption of a 19th century Senator's speech which was (roughly): "My country, right or wrong; if right, to keep it right. If wrong, to make it right."

I have a lot of problems with how this country is being run, but it never occurred to me that I would help matters by emigrating. Anyway, hope it works out for you.
+Steven Sudit If the Bush tax cuts on the rich were repealed, that would go a long way towards cutting the debt.

Actually, no, it would not cut the debt in any way whatsoever. It would cut the deficit, perhaps, but not by much: recent estimates are that the the annual cost of the tax cuts is under $130 billion, whereas our annual deficit is over $1.3 trillion.

And that's for ALL the tax cuts, not just the tax cuts on the rich.

Then again, so would ending Bush's wars and raising taxes on the 1% in general.
Yes, and we "ended" Iraq on Bush's explicit timetable. And Obama doubled down in Afghanistan for some reason I've never understood.

And the 1%? They pay more than their fair share already. Yes, really. They pay the highest effective tax rate.
Before 1913, the only contact most Americans had with the federal government was going to the post office. We need to return to freedom.
... and they lived much better than nowadays, didn't they, +Anton Wahlman? Well, maybe not...
Anton mate, that's a monumentally sill thing to say. Peace.
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