Hillary is not the “lesser of two evils,” America

If I hear one more person say about how the choice between the Donald and Hillary is “the lesser of two evils,” I’m going to platz.

This election is mostly about one evil. But even that is debatable. Initially, let’s step back and acknowledge that even the Donald is not actually evil. He may be an Übernarcissistic blow hard con-man, but I don’t think the Donald is actually evil. Which is not to say that he’s not actually dangerous. I think the #1 guy that the Donald has conned is himself. He seems to believe his own hype.

In the past I have argued, along with others, that the Donald is more like Silvio Berlusconi than Adolf Hitler. Berlusconi, the Italian media tycoon who has been Prime Minister of Italy on (count them!) four different occasions has not ruined the country of Italy. But he also has not helped. Berlusconi was more interested in partying and sexually harassing women while the Donald is more interested in limitless self-aggrandizement. Of course, Berlusconi has never had a nuclear arsenal at his command, which makes the Donald’s potential ascendancy all the more troubling.

If he were elected President, I’m guessing the Donald would be somewhere between completely ineffective and actively destructive to the United States of America. What there is virtually no chance of is that he would be an effective leader of any kind. But he could do an awful lot of damage.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is not evil at all. Not in any shape or form. She has a politician’s unfortunate tendency to prevaricate and to equivocate, and that’s part of the reason that I voted for Bernie Sanders. I’ve argued in the past that Hillary Clinton has lived too long in a bubble, and that she is the candidate of the liberal corporatocracy. I’ve also argued that Hillary is the female, democratic version of Mitt Romney: an ambitious policy wonk who has wanted to be President for too long to remember. Those, and her vote for the Iraq war, are some other reasons that I voted for Bernie Sanders in the Massachusetts primary. (That, and the fact that voting for a septuagenarian Socialist Jew as a serious candidate for President filled me with a kind of childish delight that’s hard to describe.)

But for all I know Bernie Sanders might be a dick. I know that another of my political heroes, former 4th District Congressman Barney Frank, is definitely a dick.[1] I know that from personal experience, from the experience of others, and in particular from my friend who was the sign language interpreter for Barney Frank on at least one occasion.

Hillary Clinton, by contrast, has tended to win people over when they’ve had the chance to work with her. This was true in her work prior to becoming the First Lady of Arkansas, it was true at the Rose Law Firm, and it was especially in her eight years as the Senator from New York. Hillary won people over by being a work horse and not a show horse. She was cooperative, she was prepared, she was not a diva, and she did not grandstand. Even her Republican colleagues agree on this. Again, when called into the Obama administration as Secretary of State, she won over the President but, just as significantly, almost all of her colleagues in the administration.

Now, Bill Clinton, when he was President, made some mistakes during the course of his administration.[2] These include, as people now acknowledge, his part in deregulating the financial industry, his support of the omnibus 1994 crime bill, and his pursuit of welfare reform.[3] But with one exception, these mistakes need to be laid at his doorstep, and not hers. That one exception is, of course, the bungled attempt at enacting a universal health bill.

But lest we forget, Bill Clinton was the steward of a long stretch of economic prosperity in the United States, just as Barack Obama leaves this country in much better financial shape than how he found it at the beginning of his presidency.

Hillary Clinton has been the real deal for a long time. Many people forget that right out of law school she was invited to work on the staff of the Congressional Watergate investigation. She was a protégé of Marian Wright Edelman and has been fighting the good fight, especially for women and for children, for just about all of her political life.

As I’ve argued before, people who hate Hillary have been successfully propagandized by partisans on the right. Whether it’s Hillary’s email server or her non-role in the Benghazi incident, the Republicans have made something out of nothing over and over again. These conspiratorial attacks have exacerbated one of Hillary’s worst tendencies, which is to get all defensive the moment that someone criticizes her. At the same time, no one has been attacked more successfully about things that are essentially not her fault than Hillary Clinton.

She is not evil.
She is not a compulsive liar, like Donald Trump.
She is not a terrible candidate.
She is the real deal.
Get over it, America.

[1] Interestingly, although you would think that they should, given that they are both cranky septuagenarian unreconstructed Jewish leftists, Bernie and Barney don’t get along very well.

[2] Thomas Franks has argued quite forcefully that Bill Clinton essentially enacted much of the Republican agenda while in office.

[3] Whether welfare reform was a success or not depends on where you sit. It did succeed in reducing the welfare rolls, but also increased levels of poverty and homelessness, especially among minority communities.

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This is why we’re obsessed with terrorism

If we want to know why Americans are obsessed with terrorism, all we need to do is look at the coverage of the two home-grown “terrorist” attacks that took place last Sunday night. One was the pressure cooker bombing attacks perpetrated by Ahmad Khan Rahami in New York and New Jersey, and the other the mall slashing attacks perpetrated by Dahir Ahmed Adan in Minnesota.

Both of these guys are ungrateful radical converts who decided to screw over the country that welcomed their families into its proverbial bosom. Both proved to be incompetent terrorists, lucky for us. And both of these stories deserved some coverage, but not the wall-to-wall coverage that it received in the national press.

I normally Tivo ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir. I don’t watch the whole thing, but I’ll watch 10 minutes of whatever might be interesting to me and then delete the rest. Last night the first 10 minutes of the broadcast was devoted to nothing but these two attacks. Nobody got killed. Both guys mostly demonstrated their ineptitude. With one of the bombs not exploding and still having a cell phone attached to it, I knew it would take the FBI like 5 minutes to track that idiot down.

Here’s something we forget, something that I’ve certainly forgotten. Jeffrey Toobin recently finished his fascinating history of the Patty Hearst affair – American Heiress (The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst) – and he makes the point that in the early 1970s, there were on average about 1500 political bombings a year.

I seriously did not remember that.

But I have no reason to believe that it’s not true.

Somehow we weren’t as obsessed with domestic terrorism back then as we are now with every little act of homegrown “Islamic” terrorism that pops up on our radar screen these days. It’s not that these acts are meaningless. I’m not saying that at all. But put them at the end of the newscast and give them the proportionality that they are due. Otherwise every Trump-wannabe is going to crawl out of their bunker in the years to come and run for office screaming bloody murder relative to terrorism.

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Not this time, Captain Hoodwink. (No, Hillary didn’t start the birther movement.)

One of the things that we attempt to do here at the Skeptic’s blog is to point out propaganda when we see it. Today is one of those days. Yesterday we wrote about the Donald’s acknowledgement last Friday that “President Barack Obama was born in the United States.” While this was step in the right direction – for the Donald to finally acknowledge that the whole birther controversy was an outright lie and falsehood – we also wrote what so many other pundits and commentators have been writing, which is “not so fast” Donald.


Because the Donald clearly intends to reverse his position and then not have to explain the reversal or apologize for the fact that he had been intentionally and unjustifiable trying to demean President Obama on an issue that no thinking person would ever buy into. If you are a thinking person, you would know that the Republican Party, whatever else they may be, are NOT so incompetent as to allow an adversary to assume the Presidency if there were any chance at all that he did not meet one of the few explicit requirements for becoming President of the United States.

You would have to believe that the Republican Party, a party that if anything is known for its Machiavellian tactics – see the Wikipedia entries for Lee Atwater and Karl Rove if you don’t know what I mean – was so asleep at the switch that they allowed a despised adversary to assume the nation’s highest office TWICE without bringing as Constitutional challenge.

The birther movement was founded on an abject and obviously provable lie. And that is Trump’s legacy.

In his Friday announcement, Trump tried to slip another abject and provable lie into his 10 word announcement admitting that he was wrong, and announcement so short that it would have left 79 characters left on a single twitter post.

His new lie is the proclamation that “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy.”

Trump then unjustifiable claimed credit by adding “I finished it.”

Yesterday I wrote that even ABC’s fact-checking this claim gives it more credibility than it deserves. But alas, our political environment is now so poisoned and there are so many people out there who hate Hillary even though they cannot articulate why[1], that as many as 40% of our electorate will probably believe that Hillary had something to do with the birther movement.

So, let’s debunk that little nugget even though it shouldn’t need any debunking at all.

The basis for the claim that Hillary’s 2008 Presidential campaign had something to do with the Birther movement is a story from Politico that was published in 2011. As patiently explained by Factcheck.org Politico wrote on April 22, 2011, that “At the time, the Democratic presidential primary was slipping away from Hillary Clinton and some of her most passionate supporters grasped for something, anything that would deal a final reversal to Barack Obama.” The notion that Obama wasn’t born in the United States was supposedly that something.

Unfortunately for people who actually care about the truth, the Hillary campaign had nothing to do with the Birther movement. What did happen was that Philip Berg, a former Deputy Pennsylvania Attorney General and a Clinton supporter filed a lawsuit over Obama’s birth certificate. Berg’s suit was dismissed on grounds that he had no legal standing to file it. One of the authors of the Politico story, Byron Tau, admitted to FactCheck.org that although they looked, “we never found any links between the Clinton campaign and the rumors in 2008.”

The other coauthor of the Politico story, Ben Smith, now the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, previously told MSNBC during a 2013 interview that the conspiracy theories traced back to “some of [Hillary Clinton’s] passionate supporters.” But he said the theories did not come from “Clinton herself or her staff.”

That’s it. That’s the whole basis for this rumor.

It should also be mentioned, as explained by Factcheck.org, that On March 19, 2007, then Clinton adviser Mark Penn wrote a strategy memo to Clinton that identified Obama’s “lack of American roots” as something that “could hold him back.” That memo cited Obama’s “boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii” as life experiences that made his “basic American values … at best limited.” But Penn’s memo did not question Obama’s birthplace or his birth certificate. It advised Clinton to contrast her life experiences in middle America “without turning negative.”

As Buzzfeed noted, Trump tweeted in August 2012 that “An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud.” In September of that year, Trump shared via Twitter an article claiming the birth certificate was fake. In a June 2014 tweet, Trump boasted, “I was the one who got Obama to release his birth certificate, or whatever that was!” And in 2013 he retweeted someone who alleged the long-form birth certificate was “a computer generated forgery.”

The Donald, as we should all know by now, is an asshole. But he’s also a lying, conning asshole who, like Fox News, will proclaim anything loudly and then, when caught in the lie, will just move on without explanation or apology.

Not this time Captain Hoodwink. It appears that the media has actually gotten so fed up with being lied to that they are – miracle of miracles – pushing back. Not this time, Captain Hoodwink.

[1] People who hate Hillary usually point to her being “dishonest” and that she somehow jeopardized our national security with the use of her private email server. The answer to which should really be a giant collective eye roll and a sigh of OH PLEASE! Compared to the Donald Hillary is the patron saint of honesty. While Hillary sometimes prevaricates and can be defensive, the Donald is provably and unambiguously a compulsive liar. In addition, the same people who are so up in arms about Hillary’s private email server conveniently have complete amnesia when it comes to the 22 million emails that the Bush White House lost during the U.S. Attorneys scandal.

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It’s not time to hit the Panic Button yet, my liberal friends

As the polls have been tightening, again, a number of my friends who have been freaking out about it. And then, right on cue, Michael Cohen over at the Boston Globe wrote an opinion piece entitled “Panicked Liberals are Petrified.” In the article, Cohen suggests that it’s not time to panic yet, and sets forth a number of reasons in question-and-answer style format. And it really isn’t time to panic yet. The race is much closer than it should be, but in the end it will only be the final result that counts.

Both candidates haven’t had very good weeks. Speaking at the LGBT for Hillary Gala in New York City on Sept. 9, 2016, Hillary Clinton made her comment about “half” of Trump’s voters being in a “basket of deplorables.” And then she had her pneumonia episode during which she almost fainted. For his part, Donald Trump decided to leave the birther movement a few days ago, of which he was practically the CEO. Now he thinks that somehow this outrageous reversal is not going to follow him. Let’s take this issue by issue:

Basket of Deplorables

Who speaks like that? Hillary Clinton is a professional. She should know much better than that. Now, some of my “liberal” friends have noted that deplorable is not a noun. Using a phrase like this is – how can one put this? – deplorable. Merriam-Webster defines “deplorable” as “lamentable; deserving censure or contempt.”

In short, it’s not a way that you want to define a group of voters, whatever their shortcomings might be.


There are some pundits who’ve argued that this wasn’t a mistake, that this was more of an “intentional” gaffe that Hillary wanted to make. I don’t know about that. But frankly, it’s not likely to hurt her much, as the people in the cohort she was describing were definitely not going to vote for her anyway, and the few undecideds left out there aren’t likely to be sufficiently offended for it to matter.

Still, it was a very weird episode and a little too reminiscent of Mitt Romney’s “47 percent remark” in 2012.

Birther Movement Reversal

Boy, Trump must really hold us all out to be extremely gullible if he thinks that this one is going to pass muster, even with his own crowd. Trump tacked the following on to the end of a campaign appearance with military veterans at his new hotel in downtown Washington: “President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period. Now, we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”

Whoah there Kemosabe! Not so fast! Trump has been riding this horse since 2011, and has for all practical purposes been leading the cavalry charge on it. He doesn’t get to change horses in the middle of the stream without explanation.

Predictably, the Congressional Black Caucus wasn’t buying Trump’s birther turnaround. I don’t think the rest of Black America is going to be buying it either.

Then, to compound his error, Trump tried – in an attempt that can only be branded as completely ludicrous – to pin the origin of the birther movement on Hillary Clinton. ABC News actually fact-checked this claim, which act alone gives the idea more credibility than it deserves.

Why We Shouldn’t Panic

I know that it’s absurd that this is even a close race. There is something so seriously wrong with America that even after Hillary is elected, we are all collectively going to have to address.

With respect to Trump, the American electorate is divided between those people who find him “liberating” and “refreshing” and those of us who think he’s a completely unqualified lunatic. There ain’t much in the middle. Luckily, those of us who think he’s a completely unqualified lunatic are still in the majority. (Not by much, but just enough.) This is a “hard ceiling” that I don’t think Trump is going to be able to make any kind of dent in.

Then there are the Hillary haters who think that she’s school-marmish and untrustworthy and for whom she is like nails on a chalkboard. There’s a lot of these people, but they are not yet a majority. And then there are a number of people who aren’t very excited about Hillary but still recognize that she is by far the most qualified candidate in the race. Some of these people are Republicans. In short, her ceiling is not as hard as the Donald’s is.

We still have the Presidential debates to come, and while Hillary is not the showman that Trump is, she is so much more substantive than he could ever be. In lengthy one-on-one debates, she will likely acquit herself well – Lord knows, she has enough experience in these formats – and while the Donald will have his wise-cracking moments, he will ultimately prove that Emperor really does have no clothes.

One can only hope and pray.

In any case, I’m not hitting the panic button yet. If Trump were to get elected President, we can then really start to worry about the demise of Western civilization. The Roman Empire redux. Much more likely, Clinton wins a narrow victory, and then we have to deal with the reality of a deeply divided electorate where both sides basically hate each other, and address the question of whether any kind of repair is conceivably possible.

“God” help all of us, because irrespective of the outcome, we’re going to need all the help we can get.

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Talk about a Rigged System: Apple Corp is in bed with Ireland

If you want to talk about a “rigged” system – but one that you can bet we won’t hear Donald Trump talking about – then look no further than the announcement out of the European Union that Apple owes approximately $14.5 billion in back taxes that it failed to pay.

Apple’s is a complicated story of tax avoidance and what multi-national companies can do. The company has used what’s been designated the “Double Irish” strategy based on a loophole in American tax law that allows companies to avoid an income tax if that income was earned by a subsidiary overseas, even though the American company owns the subsidiary. The way the system works is this:

  • The company creates several subsidiaries, and licenses it to a subsidiary based in Ireland. The first Irish company is legally based in an offshore tax haven such as the Bahamas or Cayman Islands.[1]
  • This offshore company licenses the patent rights to a second Irish company, which receives income from the first Irish company, but whose taxes are low because of royalties and fees paid by the second Irish company to the first Irish company.[2]
  • The United States company – in this case Apple – does not pay any Federal taxes on the income from the Irish companies because the earnings were not made in the United States.

And Apple is hardly the only company guilty of these kinds of practices. Google, Facebook and others are not far behind.

Part of the problem here is clearly that these companies can create all these fictitious subsidiaries that don’t actually do anything besides open a P.O. box and move money around. Wouldn’t it be nice if a corporation had to actually DO SOMETHING before being allowed to exist just anywhere.

Yeah, good luck with that idea.

It turns out that worldwide Apple pays an effective tax rate that has been estimated at 0.05%, unlike the approximately 15% that many middle class Americans pay. And yet, Tim Cook still has the gall to claim that Apple pays its fair share of taxes. (On this issue, he is prevaricating with the likes of Donald Trump!)

The European Union finally got tired of the way that Apple does business, and after a lengthy investigation decided to sock them with the $14.5 billion bill. (Not much chance that Apple will pay it, mind you.)

The European Union found, among other things, that

  • Apple chose to record all sales in EU countries as sales in Ireland.
  • In 2014 Apple paid an effective tax rate of 0.005 on EU sales.%.
  • That the illegal tax breaks began in 1991, but that the EU can only order “recovery” from 2003 through 2014.

All of this has put the Irish Finance Minister, Michael Noonan, is the awkward position of promising to appeal a ruling which would send a massive amount of tax funds to his government.

Strange bedfellows, Apple and Ireland.

By the way, Apple is not the only business facing a hefty tax bill after EU regulators scrutinized member country policies. In addition, Starbucks has been ordered to pay up to 30 million euros to the Netherlands, and McDonald’s and Amazon are both waiting for decisions about deals they struck with Luxembourg.

[1] Apple has in fact incorporated two companies in Ireland: Apple Sales International and Apple Operations Europe.

[2] These royalties and fees are deductible expenses, so no taxes are paid on them.

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Trump’s Justification for the Border Wall: Propaganda in Action

Yesterday we were talking about what would be involved in actually enforcing a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Today, I want to highlight an interesting article from Michael Cohen of the Boston Globe, entitled “On Immigration: Trump’s World vs. Reality.” In this article Cohen does a nice job of summing up the unreconstructed lies that the Donald used in his speech in Phoenix to justify his anti-immigration policies:

  • Schrodinger Immigrant2In Trump’s world, America is dealing with “record immigration.” In reality, from 2009 to 2014, more immigrants returned to Mexico than stayed in the United States.
  • In Trump’s world, “countless innocent American lives have been stolen” because of undocumented immigrants committing crime.[1] In reality, the Obama administration has prioritized the deportation of undocumented immigrants who’ve committed crimes, all the while presiding over the deportation of 2.5 million people — the highest number of any president in history.
  • In Trump’s world, “Hillary Clinton has pledged amnesty in her first 100 days and her plan will provide Obamacare, Social Security, and Medicare for illegal immigrants breaking the federal budget.” In reality, none of this is even remotely true.
  • In Trump’s world, Mexico will pay for the wall he wants to build along the southern border. In reality, the Mexican president told Trump, in person, that Mexico would not pay for the wall – several hours before Trump delivered his speech.[2]

Again, this blog has been very concerned with demonstrating propaganda “in action,” and here it is. A Presidential candidate shouldn’t be allowed to lie without any compunction. This is so much different from Hillary Clinton’s occasional shading of the truth – which is something that I’ve upbraided her for on multiple occasions.

[1] In his Phoenix speech the Donald recounted several gruesome tales of murders committed by immigrants, and falsely blamed the Obama administration for allowing “thousands of criminal aliens to freely roam our streets.”

[2]It should also be noted that undocumented immigrants pay taxes, are ineligible for food stamps, Medicaid or welfare, and add billions of dollars a year to the Social Security system that they will never see in benefits.

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What would really be involved with building a Wall

If you watched the news yesterday than you know that inimitable Presidential Candidate Donald Trump accepted an offer from Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to take a jaunt south of the border and say hello. And indeed, that’s what the Donald did. It was kind of a public relations disaster for the Mexican President, who is apparently the “second most unpopular man in Mexico,” (after Donald Trump, of course).

In any case, after his lightning visit, Trump camp back and delivered a speech in Phoenix about his immigration proposals. Anyone who thought that the Donald was going to back off of some of his more outrageous ideas was, of course, sadly mistaken. The Donald doubled down on his promise to build a wall with Mexico, and doubled down on his promise to make Mexico pay for it.[1]

John Oliver has previously taken down Trump over his proposal to build a wall, and I’m not going to regurgitate that here, because Oliver’s explanation is much more brilliant than anything that I could produce. Or to point out that Trump’s promise to make Mexico pay for the wall is complete nonsense, and that no thinking person – and I include some of the Donald’s supporters in this designation – believes that he means it. Everyone knows that he’s bullshitting. Some people just like the way that sounds. (As in “yeah, fuck you Mexico!”)

But I do just want to point out what’s involved in building a wall and using it to keep citizens in our out, that people haven’t really thought about.

There is a model for wall building that we can examine closely, and that model comes from the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR), more popularly known as East Germany. This country, which was formed out of the old Soviet occupation zone – the French, British and American occupation zones became West Germany, before these two countries were unified – was very concerned with keeping their citizens in, rather than letting them out. After suffering many years of defections to the West, the East German regime decided to build the Berlin Wall in 1961. In fact, the 55th anniversary of its commencement passed just a few days ago, on August26th.

But the DDR regime didn’t just build a wall in Berlin (which was essentially an island inside the East German state). No, they built a wall – or more properly, two fences with a number of border fortifications – along the entire border between East and West Germany. This border was fortified in stages, and these fortifications reached their apex in 1967, and included all of the following:

  • A 5-kilometer restricted zone before you could even reach the border (for which you had to have special permission to go there if you didn’t already live there). [2]
  • A “hinterland” fence (Signalzaun), which was the first border fence.
  • A perimeter behind the first border fence, which could include runs (Kettenlaufanlagen) along high-risk sectors of the border patrolled by dogs. These dogs were normally chained to 100-meter steel cables.
  • A series of watchtowers (Beobachtungsturm) and bunkers.
  • An outer border fence topped by barbed wire (Stacheldrahtzäune) that was generally about eight feet high.
  • Anti-vehicle barriers in certain parts of the border, where the fences were susceptible to being rammed.
  • A control stripe (Kontrollstreifen) running parallel to both border fences.
  • Anti-personnel mines in certain parts of the Kontrollstreifen.

In effect, then, there were eight separate measures designed to keep East Germans from escaping to the west. In addition, as anybody who has seen Bridge of Spies knows, East German border guards would literally shoot you if they caught you trying to escape over the border.

Yet despite all of this, people still escaped! Estimates are that for the period from 1961 through 1989, when the DDR was dissolved, there were something in the order of 40,000 escapes across the border, including the Berlin Wall.[3]

The old East German border fortifications then, are a good example of what kind of security measures would be needed to actually create a secure border between one country and another. [4] Needless to say, the American border with Mexico is much longer than the East German border was with West Germany, and you would have to find border officers who would literally be willing to shoot-to-kill anyone coming over the border.

Finally, if the Donald were to succeed in building a wall between the United States and Mexico he would discover another issue with his plan: that there is an approximately 1200-mile-long coast line along the Gulf of Mexico from the top of Florida to the south of Texas. And more coastline in California. For people who couldn’t make it across a USA-Mexico wall, that’s a lot of coastline through which they could enter.

Don’t believe me? See the War on Drugs and how successful that hasn’t been.

[1] The Donald apparently didn’t talk about this part of his proposal with the Mexican President while he had his ear.

[2] My own grandfather lived in the small town of Harbke, which was within the restricted zone when the DDR was still a separate state, and that made it virtually impossible to visit him there. Visiting anyone in East Germany was fraught with extraordinary difficulties.

[3] Roughly 616,066 East Germans are believed to have escaped during this period. Some of them escaped through other countries, such as Poland or Czechoslovakia; some defected after having received permission to go abroad; a few were ransomed by the West German government.

[4] One can also look at other famous borders, including the Korean demilitarized zone and the barrier between Israel and the West Bank for examples of borders that are quite secure, and what is required to make them so.

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