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Streetwise Professor

September 28, 2011

The Dogs That Do Bark

Filed under: Russia — The Professor @ 12:48 pm

Some time back I told a story about my encounter right near Red Square–adjacent to St. Basil’s actually–and a pack of stray dogs.  The one where the Italian professor I was walking with freaked out because she’s afraid of dogs, and the other Italian professor I had dined with hid behind me because he was afraid of dogs too.  Anyways, one commenter, Ostap Bender, called bullsh*t on my claim that there are packs of wild dogs roaming Moscow.  Several other commenters took my side, one (an extreme Putinophile, actually) saying that Ostap must indeed have been on a bender.

I bring this up because of a story in today’s Independent about the wild dogs of Moscow.  The article states that there are an estimated 25K dogs on the streets, and 12K more in shelters.  There is a plan afoot to move the sheltered dogs from Moscow into a huge new facility in Yaroslavl.   As I recall (and I don’t have time to go back and verify now), previous plans to build a megashelter in Moscow were beset by rumors of corruption.  (In Russia?  In Moscow?  Go on.)  My memory is that a Luzhkov relative was involved.

If the plan goes forward (officials claim that it has been scrapped, but leaked documents suggest otherwise) this would take care of the 12K dogs already in shelters.  What about the other 25K.  You know, those ones  that exist only in my imagination, according to Ostap.  (Who has been scarce around here lately–although maybe only under that name.)

September 27, 2011

The FRBNY Goes Able Danger?

Filed under: Economics,Exchanges,Financial Crisis II,Politics,Regulation — The Professor @ 9:34 am

When I was in London last week, I went to a cafe that is located in what used to be the trading floor of the London Stock Exchange.  History-phile that I am, I thought I would take a picture of the quite attractive building.  I had my phone cam up and was just about ready to take the shot when I felt a burly hand grab my shoulder, and heard a gruff voice–”No photographs ‘ere, sir.”

I thought this ironic, given that one is photographed pretty much everywhere on the street in London.  They can photograph you: you can’t photograph Them, I guess.

This came to mind when I read about the NY Fed’s plan to monitor “key bloggers” and various social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) for conversations mentioning the Fed.  More ominous than the passive “listening” part of the program is the active “influencing” part, intended to “identify and reach out to key bloggers and influencers.”

“Reach out” sounds so innocuous.  Brings to mind old ATT ads: “reach out and touch someone.”  But there is always reason to be concerned that the Fed’s touch will not be a light one.  We don’t need the government doing much more outreach and “influencing”, thank you very much.

I’m not big on conspiracy theories, but the potential for mischief here is large, especially given the government’s (and the Fed’s) proclivity to rationalize ever greater intrusions on privacy and liberty as essential for national security.  One can see the Fed convincing itself that to fight “rumors” and “speculation” that call into question the stability of the financial system, it is necessary to exert pressure on those that need to get their minds right, to make sure they get with the program.

This was illustrated by an interaction with an executive from a major French bank that has been in the news of late (which one hasn’t?) who went ballistic when someone else in the conversation asked what financial blogs I read, and I mentioned FTAlphaville and heaven forfend Zerohedge.  I mean ballistic. The Gallic spit was flying before  he turned on his heel and left in a huff.

Yes, there are potentially multiple equilibria in these markets, and social media and blogs can in theory coordinate shifts from good equilibria to bad (“run away!”) equilibria.  But it is quite ominous that the Fed appears to be contemplating the creation of systems and measures that could be used to manipulate information flows.

Hey.  Maybe I’ll ask Ben about this when I see him next week.  Maybe that’s a great way to get SWP at the top of the list!

September 26, 2011

An Unintended Consequence?

Filed under: Clearing,Commodities,Derivatives,Economics,Exchanges,Politics,Regulation — The Professor @ 6:34 pm

No, it’s not all Kudrin all the time here at SWP.  I know there are those of you looking for your clearing fix.

A brief thought about an unintended destination on the Road to SEFdom–a vertical silo.

Long time readers will know that my transactions cost economics-based analysis predicts that dominant execution venues will vertically integrate into of post-trade services, including clearing and settlement.  Many dominant markets are already “silos” and others are moving in that direction.  The days of an execution venue obtaining post-trade services from a “horizontal” CCP or settlement provider (like LCH.Clearnet) are numbered except when regulation (like RegNMS) socializes order flow.

Horizontal, independent clearers (or settlement providers) can survive in an OTC market, where there is no centralized execution venue.  Vertical integration economizes on transactions costs and double-marginalization costs when there are back-to-back monopolies (and near monopolies).  No execution venue, no back-to-back monopoly problem.

That’s where the SEF mandate comes in.  By forcing exchange-like execution of swap transactions, there is a very real possibility that a dominant execution venue will emerge–and that the resulting frictions in the dealings between that venue and its clearer will lead to a merger between them (or some sort of long-term, exclusive contract.)

Whether this outcome occurs depends on the rules for SEFs.  There is likely to be a proliferation of SEFs early on, but rules for SEFs will determine whether a handful or one survive for a particular instrument class.  If SEF regulations (a) require them to operate auctions (rather than, say, RFQs), and (b) do not impose obligations on SEFs to direct orders to other SEFs offering better prices, then network effects will lead to tipping to a single venue.  Conversely, if there are SEF order handling rules analogous to RegNMS, multiple SEFs may survive.  Under the first alternative, integration is likely to occur.  Under the second, the likely outcome is for multiple SEFs to be served by one horizontal CCP.

SEF rules are still up in the air, and I have not seen any discussion of inter-SEF obligations–or lack thereof.  In contrast to SEC, CFTC has no tradition of even contemplating, let alone imposing, order handling rules.  The issue has never really come up.  I think the presumption in the agency is there will be rigorous competition among SEFs, but that conclusion depends crucially on SEF rules.  In particular, rules relating to the way SEFs compete.  If SEFs are required to operate auction-like mechanisms, and are under no obligation to direct orders to markets displaying better prices, markets will tip to a single SEF.  This will lead to integration.  If regulators impose order handling obligations, multiple SEFs will survive, and integration is far less likely.

Has anybody thought this through?  Are order handling rules even on the table?

Father Knows Best?

Filed under: Economics,Financial Crisis II,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 5:58 pm

Given that Kudrin has resigned, it appears that Putin has not interceded on Kudrin’s behalf; Kudrin ran to daddy, and daddy did not intervene on his behalf.  Perhaps not surprising, given that one interpretation of Kudrin’s outburst is that it was directed not at its ostensible target–Medvedev–but at Putin instead.  But who knows for sure?  Perhaps Putin told Kudrin to keep his powder dry, and at some decent interval after the election, Medvedev will have served his purpose and be kicked to the curb.  But I cannot get beyond the fact that everything Kudrin said about Medvedev’s profligacy (especially with respect to defense) really applies to Putin.  This cannot have escaped Putin.

Playing that out, the implication is that Putin has decided that short run political goals are of overriding importance, and that medium-to-long run economic consequences are of lesser concern.  Pushing that line of reasoning still further, that is hardly a signal of confidence and political strength. It would mean that Putin is convinced that he needs a splashy, decisive political victory in December (the Duma elections) and May (the Presidential election), and that he needs to politic and bribe to get it.  If he were truly a Russian Colossus, standing astride what used to be 11 time zones, why would he think this way?

No, the Kudrin affair suggests deep fissures within the Russian elite, and deep insecurity at the very top.  Very deep.

Golts’s Take Similar to Mine

Filed under: Economics,Financial Crisis II,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 1:27 pm

Alexander Golts has a similar take on the Kudrin affair, arguing that (a) Putin is really responsible for the spending spree that unsettles Kudrin, and (b) that Kudrin was sending a message to Putin:

In reality, however, it was Putin and not Medvedev who approved the increase in military spending. Therefore, any talk of a difference between Putin and Medvedev on defense expenditures is meaningless. The real reason for Kudrin’s sharp statement is that he does not want to be held responsible for the looming financial disaster that the Putin government is provoking.

It is no wonder that Kudrin placed so much importance on wasteful spending on defense. The re-armament program alone will cost 20 trillion rubles ($623 billion) from 2011 to 2020. These expenditures were approved despite the fact that all previous weapons programs have ended in complete failure. The plan is being implemented at a time when arguments between the Defense Ministry, military design bureaus and manufacturers over the exorbitantly high price of weapons systems reached their peak this year, resulting in many contracts going unfulfilled.

Putin is more responsible than Medvedev for this state of affairs. After all, it was during Putin’s presidency that the defense industry became a parody of the Soviet military-industrial complex. Several hundred defense companies were corralled into state-owned conglomerates, destroying the remaining elements of competition among military firms. The majority of companies that were merged into state-owned giants were highly ineffective and on the verge of bankruptcy. As a result, the end price for any piece of military equipment — from missiles and armored transport vehicles to combat aircraft — included not only the amounts that were stolen, but also the huge operating losses of inefficient factories.

Kudrin could not remain silent anymore on the massive waste and inefficiency in the defense sector, and there is a good reason for this. He understands perhaps better than anyone that Russia’s fiscal ship is sinking, and he has decided to jump overboard while he still has an opportunity.

Kudrin is the first to jump ship. Who will be next?

Shave Their Bellies With a Rusty Razor?*

Filed under: Russia — The Professor @ 1:23 pm

It’s not August, but that doesn’t mean that it’s safe to go in the water in Russia:

The drunken sailors who accidentally rammed a nuclear submarine in a fishing trawler off the coast of Kamchatka last week tried to flee the scene, Navy officials said Monday, RIA-Novosti reported.

The Donets glanced the stern of the Svyatoi Georgy Pobedonosets, or “St. George,” which was moored and above water, after the submarine’s crew tried unsuccessfully to contact the trawler via radio and alert its crew with red flares.

After the collision, which lightly damaged both ships, the Donets’ crew allegedly turned off the ship’s navigation lights and increased its speed in an attempt to flee the scene. The getaway ended after the Navy’s local command ordered all ships in the area to halt and drop anchor.

The submariners were prepared to open fire during the crash but opted not to, the report said, without elaborating.

Investigators who boarded the trawler the same morning discovered traces of the submarine’s plating and determined that the fishermen — and their captain in particular — were drunk.

Drunken sailors?  Really?  This stuff virtually writes itself: what could it be possible to add? Other than: is there anyone in Russian transport who is not drunk?

Well, there is this little bit, just to assure that all is well:

The ship’s papers, however, were in order.

Well, thank God for that!  I was worried there for a minute.

* A reference to the sea shanty “What do you do with a drunken sailor?”  I actually hate–hate–that song.   At Navy, during plebe summer, whenever marching in formation in the yard–which is a lot of the time–each company must sing.  Some of the common songs are absurd and actually kind of entertaining.  But the Drunken Sailor one was just like finger nails on a blackboard.  Unfortunately, one of my classmates–whom I shall not name–would always start with this song when it was his turn.  Usually there would be a chorus of groans from the rest of the 34th Company plebes, but he would plow ahead anyways, and choose that tune day after day.

Running to Daddy

Filed under: Economics,Financial Crisis II,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 11:28 am

The Kudrin-Medvedev thing is going critical very quickly.  This morning Medvedev called out Kudrin at a public meeting in Stalingrad . . . I mean Tsaritsyn . . . I mean Volgograd.

“Such statements appear improper … and can in no way be justified. Nobody has revoked discipline and subordination,” an angry and stern Medvedev told Kudrin at a meeting of officials in the central Russian city of Volgograd

“If, Alexei Leonidovich, you disagree with the course of the president, there is only one course of action and you know it: to resign. This is the proposal I make to you.”

To which Kudrin replied:

Responding to Medvedev, Kudrin said: “Yes, it is indeed true that I have disagreements with you. I will take a decision on your proposal and will consult with the prime minister (Putin).”

In other words: Daddy has to decide this one.

Now Andrew Osborne (@A_osborne) just tweeted:

Russian finance minister #Alexei Kudrin falls on his sword after an insulted President Dmitry #Medvedev pushes him #russia stability?

. . .

Kudrin says he resigned, Medvedev’s people that he was fired. kudrin started it anyway and must have known what he was doing.

Medvedev can’t fire Kudrin–Putin can.  I haven’t seen any statement from Putin.

So stay tuned.

FWIW, the ruble is down about 1.3 percent vs. the dollar now, after being down about .8 percent before I heard the Kudrin resignation news.  But the dollar strengthened generally during that interval (having been down against the Euro earlier in the day, but up now).

This will be something to watch.  Would Putin throw Kudrin under the bus? Was there some grand bargain between Medvedev and Putin that ensured that the former would cede his job to the latter, and Kudrin is the odd man out in the deal?  Osborne thinks that Kudrin is playing it smart here–maybe he’s going for broke because he has no alternative.

The interesting thing going forward is how this affects the balance of power going forward, or put differently, whether this presages a broader struggle for position among the elite.  Like I’ve said many a time, Putin’s job is to balance contending factions within the state.  Is that balance changing?  Will he be able to restore a new equilibrium?  How vulnerable is the balance to external shocks, of which there are likely to be many?

Video of the cage match here:

September 25, 2011

Putin’s Brain Rebels

Filed under: Economics,Energy,Financial Crisis II,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 6:31 pm

The most surprising development to follow the unsurprising (to me) Putin return is the revolt of Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin:

“I will definitely refuse,” Kudrin, 50, said when asked whether he would join Medvedev’s government. He spoke in Washington at a World Bank meeting.

“I have many disagreements with Medvedev on economic policy, first of all concerning the significant military spending,” said Kudrin, who is widely seen as the architect of Russia’s economic stability in the 2000s.

Spending on national defense will grow by 2.1 trillion rubles ($65 billion), or 3 percent of gross domestic product, from 2012 to 2014, Kudrin said, adding that this is how much the state is spending on education this year.

He did not comment on a declaration by Putin on Saturday that he would also push ahead with the army’s modernization.

Kudrin’s attack on Medvedev is facially farcical.  Putin has been Mr. Big Spender.  He has been the one who has been promising to spend huge quantities re-arming the Russian military (as suggested in the last quoted sentence).  Moreover, Putin has also been promising the sun and the moon domestically, from higher pensions to delaying increases in utility tariffs that would move prices closer to market levels.  The target of Kudrin’s ire–Medvedev–has done little more than his usual Sancho Panza impersonation.  Putin has led the way.

So what is Kudrin’s game?

Possibility 1: he really wants to be prime minister, and this is his way of knee-capping Medvedev.  Putin needs Kudrin way more than he needs Medvedev, and the threat to leave may be a sure fire way to get Putin to jettison Medvedev.

Possibility 2: Kudrin is truly alarmed at Putin’s profligacy, especially in the face of an impending financial crisis that could crater the price of oil and thereby completely undermine the Russian fisc.  Kudrin cannot call out Putin directly, so he slams the hapless Medvedev as a way of sending a message.

Possibility 3 (suggested by @ninaivanova on Twitter): Kudrin is having problems with his deputies, and wants the authority to choose them.  Threatening resignation could lead to Putin to agree to these demands.

Kudrin’s attack on Medvedev (and his silence on the truly culpable one, Putin) is so risible that I am leaning towards Possibility 2.  Kudrin has to know that Russia’s position is precarious (so is everybody’s, but as in 2008 Russia could suffer immense collateral damage that is actually more devastating than the harm suffered at the epicenter of the crisis).  He has to know that Russia has the thinnest margin for error, and that raining rubles on the defense establishment (where much of it will be skimmed, and disappear without a trace) and pensioners, etc., will make that margin disappear–and actually put the country in a hole.  Kudrin knows–and has said repeatedly–that the feasibility of the government’s budget depends crucially on the the price of oil, and that the price of oil is hostage to hair-raising developments abroad.  He further knows that he cannot publicly scold Putin–especially now.  Under these circumstances, sending a message to Putin by slamming Medvedev makes sense, in a perverse way.

It will be far more interesting to watch this play out than the scripted election.  Kudrin is Putin’s brain when it comes to anything economic, and Putin cannot function coherently in this sphere without him.  Hell, he can barely function coherently in this sphere with him.  This goes double in current circumstances, with the rumblings of disaster emanating from Europe.

Two other entertaining sidelights to this story.

One is this quote from the MT article:

Putin pledged to improve the investment climate and fight red tape by ”consulting the entrepreneur community” on economic legislation.

Where would that community be, actually?  Putin probably imagines his judo buddies to be entrepreneurs.  As if.

The second is something that came across my Twitter feed.  It purported to be a quote from Kudrin: “Я бы предпочел работу в более гетеросексуальном коллективе”: “I would prefer to work in a heterosexual team.”  My inclination is to believe that this is a joke–in which case it is pretty funny.  But perhaps it isn’t–in which case it would be riotously funny.  Either way, I can see it being an accurate reflection of the way the manly men in the Putin circle view the elfin Medvedev and his group.  Can anybody cite a reliable source that quotes Kudrin saying this?

September 24, 2011

He’s Baaaacccckkkk!

Filed under: Economics,Financial crisis,Financial Crisis II,History,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:44 am

Dmitri Medvedev announced today his support for Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012.  According to the NYT story, Medvedev made the announcement in a voice cracking with emotion.  His statement touched off uproarious applause: this seems like something out of a Communist Party Congress of Soviet days.

Forcing Medvedev to make the announcement, standing alone before the United Russia party members, was the ultimate humiliation to this rather pathetic figure.  It completes his slow-motion emasculation, and although the process has gone so far it would seem to require microsurgery to finish the job, Putin did it with a figurative chainsaw–just so no one could miss the point.

I admit that I was surprised–wrong–that Putin did not attempt some constitutional judo to remain in the presidency in 2008.  So why the change in 2011?  The answer to the question is overdetermined.  Numerous factors all push in the same direction.

First is Putin’s narcissism and love for power.  I don’t put too much weight on this factor as even as mere Prime Minister he has remained the dominant force in Russian politics, and has been able to work non-stop at building an ego building cult of personality.

Second, there is no constitutional obstacle this time around.  Legitimacy is important, and although the issue could have been finessed in 2008, doing so would have compromised his legitimacy and left him open to challenge on constitutional grounds.  He squared the circle by appointing a cipher to succeed him, all the while retaining an iron grip on the true sources of power in Russia (even though these are formally in the remit of the president).

Third, Russia felt itself to be flying high in 2007-2008.  Oil prices were soaring.  Growth was robust.  The US was reeling from its engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.  There were no readily apparent threats to stability.  A relaxation of the system of unitary control seemed safe.

But everything changed almost exactly 3 years ago, mere months after Medvedev’s election, with the financial crisis in the West.  Although Putin at first boldly stated that Russia would weather the storm with no difficulty, that turned out to be a wildly inaccurate prediction.  The crisis hit Russia harder than any major country, and shook the country’s economic and political system to the core.  The seemingly inexorable rise of the country proved chimerical: collapse and chaos were serious possibilities.

Although Russia and Putinism survived the crisis, the country–and Putin–were shaken by the experience.  Listen to Putin’s rants against the West generally, and America in particular.  They reveal a control freak who rages against the fact that there are existential things outside of his control.

The country emerged from the crisis–the first crisis–shaken and weakened.  The crisis undermined the flow of rents that keep the natural state together.  Although growth has returned, it is not nearly as strong as in 2006-2007, and is unlikely to reach those levels any time soon.

Thus, whereas Putin probably calculated that circumstances were so favorable in 2007 that the country’s political and economic system could withstand a division of the power vertical, his calculations are doubtless far different now.  A near death experience has a way of concentrating the mind.  The heady visions of 2007 have proved illusory.

And importantly, another crisis looms, a crisis could actually be more shattering than the last.

In brief, it is likely that Putin believes that his system can no longer operate safely with the ambiguities and slippages and potential for conflict and division inherent in a duumvirate.  Hence Medvedev’s public humiliation and Putin’s triumphant return.

A final note on the implications of this for the US.  It is clear that this development puts paid to Obama’s sucker bet–the “Reset.”  The administration foolishly thought it could play divide and conquer, and quite transparently courted Medvedev and treated Putin with disdain.  Indeed, it is hard to express just how self-evidently foolish this was, and harder still to explain how the administration could have possibly thought this would work.

The administration will soon find out that payback is truly a bitch, and that Putin is all about payback.  It is in his DNA.  Expect Russia to become even more truculent, obstructionist, and revanchist in the months to come.  Putin and Obama–and whoever succeeds Obama, either in 2013 or 2017, for Putin will be around that long, health permitting–will not be burger buddies.  But I hear Dmitri has time on his schedule.  (Would that they share their burger in retirement, reminiscing about the old days when they were somebody.  In 2013.)

What happens in the coming months is highly contingent on what happens in Europe.  The EU is teetering on an economic precipice, and I cannot conceive of a plausible scenario which does not involve it plunging over the edge.  In that (likely, IMO) event, the consequences will be shattering worldwide, but especially so in Russia.  The last crisis showed its vulnerability, and a bigger crisis closer to home will subject the system to a daunting test.

The real possibility of such a crisis is exactly why I believe Putin is returning.  Putnism is under threat, and Putin has concluded that it can survive only in its pure, unadulterated form.

I’ve Been Working on the (Intercontinental) Railroad

Filed under: Economics,History,Politics — The Professor @ 6:36 am

Obama repeated his gaffe about the “Intercontinental Railroad.”  I’ve stayed at Intercontinental Hotels.  I regularly fly in or out of Intercontinental Airport.  But I’ve never ridden on the Intercontinental Railroad–nor has anyone else in the US.  The US pioneered the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and intercontinental air travel.  But the Russians get credit for the first intercontinental railway–the Trans-Siberian.

No, what Obama was referring to was the Transcontinental Railroad, completed in 1869 with the driving of the Golden Spike.  The “Pacific Railroad” (as it was called) was the culmination of a movement that began in the 1840s and reached a fever pitch in the 1850s.  Although Obama invokes the project because of its connection to Lincoln, and hence the Republican Party (due to the fact that the enabling legislation was passed in 1863), the railroad’s most passionate booster was Lincoln’s main rival–Democrat Stephen Douglas.  It was his almost monomaniacal focus on the Pacific Road that spurred Douglas to champion the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  The road was more of a sectional issue, with “westerners” like the Illinoisan Douglas being the main advocates of a northern route contending with slave state legislators advocating a southern route.  The Kansas-Nebraska Act’s elimination of the Missouri Compromise was a way of securing Southern support for Douglas’s dream.

Ironically, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was a major impetus for Lincoln’s return to politics, and was a major subject of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.  So, in a sense, the connection between the railroad and Lincoln is quite a bit more complex than Obama’s set-piece suggests.

The Act was also a major turning point in the nation’s road to dissolution and Civil War.  Talk about your unintended consequences.  But if Obama can’t even get the name right, one shouldn’t be surprised that he’s a little hazy on the checkered history of the “road that spanned the continent.”

One thing that I find fascinating is that Obama harkens back to a time most Americans couldn’t care less about (a huge number of Americans can’t date the Civil War to within several decades).  Yes, the lame, lame, lame WWLD trope is part of it.  But in recent decades, whenever a politician has tried to demonstrate the failing of the current generation to live up to the example of its predecessors, he or she has  quite typically used space exploration as the standard to be met.  ”If we can put a man on the moon we can [insert pet project here].”

Although the vision of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon is becoming less compelling to most Americans, it is still far more evocative than the image of guys in stovepipe hats shaking hands in front of two trains in Promontory Point, Utah.  So why does Obama invoke events of 140 years ago, than something in living memory?

I think the reason for that is pretty clear.  He’s effectively gutted NASA.  Pretty hard for a guy who has pretty much terminated the manned space program to use the manned space program as an example of what America can achieve when it sets its mind to it.

Truth be told, I am ambivalent about NASA and manned space programs.  Even though I grew up when the race for the moon was a subject of intense national interest, and I have pretty distinct memories of major events (the landing itself, Apollo XIII, the fire on Apollo III, the Christmas Eve orbiting of the moon), I was never all that interested in it: history and things here on earth have always been more intriguing to me.  Moreover, I bring an inherent skepticism to any huge government program.  This is particularly true today, when the country’s financial condition is so fraught.  I understand, intellectually, the arguments about the innovations produced as a result of NASA, but have yet to see a convincing demonstration that the current rate of return on investments in NASA–including the value of any information or innovations that it generates–makes the investment of billions a paying enterprise.

So I am not slamming Obama on slashing NASA.  I don’t know enough about it to make a judgment one way or another.  I just find it very interesting that his slashing has eliminated a common rhetorical trope from his repertoire, and forced him to harken back to a day that no one remembers and very few care the slightest about in order to flog his stimulus proposals.

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