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MPAA Publicly Threatens to Stop Writing Checks (techdirt.com)
514 points by nextparadigms on Jan 21, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 105 comments

The minute they stop writing checks is the minute they stop having power. They may back republicans, but I doubt it.

So Hollywood's finally figuring out their representatives can't be trusted to act in their interests? Shame, that. Must be tough. They have my sympathy. No, really, I mean it. Can't imagine what they're going through.

Does this constitute a confession on Dodd's part? Seems like some law enforcement types would, I dunno, investigate that sort of thing...


Except that, in the US, bribing congress(wo)men is legal.

"Hollywood" has traditionally favored Democratic candidates. If this stays a "hot" issue it is going to turn into a political battle one way or another. Still, this seems to me a far better situation than some under the table deals.

I am still thankful to Reddit, Jimbo, even Google who forced through their blackouts traditional media to report about it and therefore not allowing to push it off as some "resistance by stealing pirates from the internets".

Traditional media is still probably shocked about realizing that their blackouts are no longer that effective. Just Google and Wikipedia combined have a huge reach. The ironic part is that several from the traditional media were calling the activism of Google and Wikipedia an abuse of power.

> several from the traditional media were calling the activism of Google and Wikipedia an abuse of power.

Yeah, because it threatens theirs. Strangely enough, they had no problems putting up a bunch of billboards and commercials right after that, which amounts to the same thing.

I'm not from the U.S. ... did the traditional media do blackouts over there? (or did their threaten or similar)?

Blackouts, as in, they did not cover the story.

Chris Dodd called it an abuse of power, are you sure the media were calling it that as well?

Yes, some news anchor from CNN.

I'm guessing they're going through the same emotions as every ordinary voter has gone through for the past few decades...

Covertly or publicly - anyone who wants to buy politicians tends to do it across the political spectrum.

Lobbying is legal. Donating to campaigns of politicians you like is legal. I'm not sure why people are surprised.

The answer isn't to kick these specific bums out. It is to change campaign finance laws to make contributions illegal. I'm not sure what people here would agree to that doesn't amount to censorship though. Should the MPAA be disallowed to make a political commercial and pay for its broadcast?

Nicely summarized and a valid question.

From what I gather, direct campaign contributions and the way corporations are funneling money into elections are not connected. Corporations are NOT making direct contributions to campaigns. They are making indirect and anonymous contributions to superpacs.

We don't need to "make contributions illegal." Nor do we _need_ publicly financed campaigns. That would be very hard to get.

We can start by having superpacs disclose their donors. Or by setting a limit on individual, and by extension corporate, contribution to said superpacs.

The loophole is that you can't make a large contribution directly to a campaign, yet you can make a contribution of any size, anonymously, indirectly to the corresponding superpac. This is why money = voice.

In answer to your question: "Should the MPAA be disallowed to make a political commercial and pay for its broadcast?" They should be allowed to make a political statement by contributing to a superpac that runs the commercial, but the contribution should not be unlimited nor anonymous. In effect, they'll need other companies in the pool to get enough money for that commercial. Now we can say corporations are people, problem solved.

I think you are making the implicit assumption that some people should not have a greater voice than others. Is that correct?

If so, do you favor removing Paul Krugman or Glenn Beck's bully pulpit? If not, why not?

The implicit assumption is that you shouldn't have the legislator's ear because you have a fat check in hand. Chance are that the check will win over a petition.

If we are to have freedom of speech, then Beck should be able to have his show. That's the easy part.

Beck converts money into public opinion. Arguably, SuperPACs do the same. Hence the Citizens United decision. In practice, SuperPAC donors just tell the legislator why the check was written, or in which case it will be. Nothing wrong with the premise (free speech), plenty wrong with the outcome (money = voice, or rather money = ear?)

Now that I ran this circle, I can see how publicly financed campaigns might be the only answer. Thank you for asking a difficult question to answer. I'll definitely think about this more.

In practice, SuperPAC donors just tell the legislator why the check was written, or in which case it will be.

If it were not a check, but merely using influence, would things be better? I.e., if Krugman were to offer to endorse Romney only on the condition that Romney expands Obama/Romneycare, would that be acceptable?

Or how about if some rich person stated he would buy a newspaper and use the newspaper to push Romney?

How about capping the donations? I really don't like how a few entities/persons can have such a dramatic impact on elections because of how much they donate to that politician.

The vote is equal in a democracy, but donations aren't, and in a way donations are like a parallel vote, which huge discrepancies between each donation. Obviously the politician will listen to his biggest donors first, even if 10,000 of his normal supporters want the opposite thing.

Direct contributions are capped at $5,000. SuperPAC contributions are not capped at all and are anonymous until well after the election. [wikipedia]

> Should the MPAA be disallowed to make a political commercial and pay for its broadcast?

The MPAA has been known to make Dem-friendly movies. How do you distinguish between that and a commercial?

Note that Citizens United was about a movie, not a commercial.

People pay you to see movies. You pay other people to watch commercials.

That is the heart of Citizens United v FEC.

I don't really think Citizens United has the implications people give to it. For example, there is little to stop the MPAA from giving its head a big bonus, and then that individual making a commercial or movie to political ends. What is the difference between that commercial and something I post on youtube expressing my opinion?

Money flows into politics because of the power of government. One of the only ways I see to limit that money without limiting speech is to limit the power of government.

Unless you're talking about abolishing the commerce clause and the ability of congress to make laws, good luck with that.

I'd set my sights on the somewhat easier "limit the ability to bribe government".

I am also confused by the uproar about this, why is what Dodd said wrong? Are campaign contributions not a sign that you support the goals of the politician in question? So if that politician is no longer espousing your values, you move your contributions somewhere else.

I guess my question comes down to what is the difference between contributing to whichever campaign forwards a platform and bribery (the assumption that Dodd was engaging in the latter being what caused the furor)?

> I guess my question comes down to what is the difference between contributing to whichever campaign forwards a platform and bribery (the assumption that Dodd was engaging in the latter being what caused the furor)?

Dodd's implication is that the politicians should not have listened to their constituents. Or at least that's how I pick up on it. The tone says to me that his money should have solidified or shaped the opinions of those his industry donated to.

That's very different from trying to get someone elected because you believe their view of how to best serve their constituents aligns with your platform. Now, I'm sure you will find many people here who will argue that that, too, is corrupt. But it's not so blatant.

However, there's one more piece to the puzzle: None of the politicians have said they are going to give up on passing legislation that fights copyright infringement. They've shelved two bills, that's it. They haven't announced any bad intentions toward his platform, and they haven't established a pattern of ignoring his platform. So to claim that they aren't supporting his platform would be a gross overreaction. It more like Dodd feels his industry is entitled to these particular bills, and he is whining that they didn't get them.

> I am also confused by the uproar about this, why is what Dodd said wrong

It's not that people are upset that he is freely admitting to bribery or lobbying (depending on your viewpoint), but that is should be wrong for him to be admitting it. You are totally right. If I stand behind a congressman or woman because I agree with their actions and values, then one day I notice that they are supporting things that I am against, no one should be upset if I move my donations and support elsewhere. The problem comes from how he openly admits to the influence everyone already knows the media industry has over our legislative body.

If the media industry is as massive as they claim it to be, then every single one of those people employed in that industry has a right to support and back congressmen and women that support the values that help them strengthen their industry. The fact that the industry itself can, in parallel to those that work in the industry, also donate and support congressmen and women is the problem, as it creates exponential power with linear growth (if everyone was hypothetically contributing equally to the industry).

The same idea applies to any industry, really. No one ideally wants to reduce the size of any industry, but to limit the power any single industry has over the direction the country drafts it's laws to help and protect to be fair to everyone.


"Bribery, a form of corruption, is an act implying money or gift given that alters the behavior of the recipient. Bribery constitutes a crime and is defined by Black's Law Dictionary as the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or other person in charge of a public or legal duty."



"Extortion (also called shakedown, outwresting, and exaction) is a criminal offence which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person(s), entity, or institution, through coercion. Refraining from doing harm is sometimes euphemistically called protection. Extortion is commonly practiced by organized crime groups."


$500 = bribery

$5000000 = lobby

Extraordinarily blatant. I'm amazed that 30 years (thirty years!) in the Senate didn't teach Dodd to be more subtle in the uses of power than this. I mean, this guy ran for President. This is the best you can do, Dodd?

My cat would be a better lobbyist.

Or possibly, 30 years in the senate may be where he fine-tuned his arrogance.

When the people don't care too much about what goes on at the top, or when the people at the top notice how easy it is to sway public opinion on certain policies one way or the other, they start caring less and less about stuff like that.

Being in the senate taught him that senators take bribes for industry favors and everyone gets away with it. According to his controversy section on wikipedia, he received bribes from countrywide, fannie mae, freddie mac, AIG, while being chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. Apparently he was also caught funneling a ton of AIG money through his wife in an offshore holding company.

As Greenwald points out in his latest hit piece, Dodd also denounced the revolving door and said he would never be a lobbyist.

First, I'd like to say that what follows is in no way an attempt to justify what Dodd said, or find excuses for him. I believe what he said was chocking.

However, it does raise questions about lobbies in general. I'm not american, so when I arrived here, I was surprised by how widespread the phenomenon was, and I've been trying to understand the reasons behind it. From what I read, lobbies basically give money to politicians for their campaigns is that right?

My first question is: why do they need that money? I mean, where I'm from (France), politicians don't spend a tenth of what their american counterparts spend for there campaign. So how did the US arrive to a point where so much money is needed to win an election?

My only guess is that they noticed that the probability of being elected was proportional to their media visibility. Meaning that some people vote for the guy they see the most on tv. And when I say "some people", I mean a lot of people. So my second question is: "Is our voting behavior not responsible for the phenomenon of lobbying"?

Again, this is an external point of view. Please do tell me if I'm missing something.

Edit: grammar

Well, a more cynical explanation might be that this money barrier constitutes a filter for keeping politicians who aren't bought out of the process. That is, it's a quite intentional state of affairs. Politicians who try to run honest campaigns are shut out of the process.

I don't know if anyone remembers 2000, but Nader wasn't even allowed in to watch the debates, let alone participate.

In my view, the only answer to all of this is 100% publicly funded elections.

> In my view, the only answer to all of this is 100% publicly funded elections.

And what are you going to do about newspapers that promote candidates?

How about movies that promote a candidate or party?

Can I make a sign and put it in my front yard with my money? How about if my neighbor and I decide to put up a bigger sign across the border between our lawns?

Yes, I know, to make an omelet, you've got to break a few eggs. However, breaking eggs doesn't mean that there's going to be an omelet.

How about disallowing political ads on TV and newspapers for a few months before election, except for publicly funded ones in secured slots for that purpose?

And what about political TV programming and editorials? Should those be censored as well?

In Israel, where I live, some forms of political speech in political TV programming and editorials is disallowed in the pre-election time period.

That would require a constitutional amendment:

"Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..."

It's an arms race. The ideal position is a. spend as little as possible and b. outspend your opponent. This inevitably results in spiraling escalation that harms both parties. The obvious solution that the US has avoided and France has embraced(1) is enforceable limits on spending. Like many applications of the prisoner's dilemma, the existence of external authority limiting the freedom of participants actually results in a better outcome for everyone involved.

1. This is the entirety of what I know about French campaign finance as of five minutes ago: http://www.loc.gov/law/help/campaign-finance/france.php

The minute Barack Obama does something I really don't like, the minute I stop donating to his campaign.

There, I said it!

That statement is neither proof that I am a corrupt insider, nor is it sufficient evidence that I have control over Barack Obama.

If you modified your statement to "The minute Barack Obama does something I really don't like, the minute I stop donating tens of millions of dollars to his campaign." the outcome might be different.

Now change "does something I really don't like" to "stops executing policies I dictate" and you're getting somewhere..

This is a good argument. +1, but I still have reservations.

There is a bit of a difference, though. When you supported Obama, I assume it was to elect someone that you believed would do a good job as Chief Executive, overall. It wasn't in order to pass one piece of self-serving legislation. The fact that you weren't acting purely in your own interest, and that the interest was broader than one single issue, makes it somewhat different. But different enough to overcome your objection? I'm not sure.

Many people make their voting/donation choices based on a single self-serving issue. Is it wrong for sexually active people who don't want children to vote/donate based on abortion, or for gays to vote/donate based solely on gay marriage?

I'm not accused of having Obama in my pocket. If everyone was accusing me of having bought out Obama, you darn well bet I wouldn't mention him and money in the same paragraph.

Honestly, I would LOVE to see the MPAA and RIAA stop writing checks to politicians.

Many folks think that there is already way too much money in politics, particularly to those politicians who are incumbent. Consequently, if the MPAA/RIAA stop buying our politicians out from under us, maybe we'll get them to pay attention to us again.

That's really where the MPAA should be spending its money anyhow: convincing individual voters that piracy is hurting their business and what the effects will be. Honestly, I do think we need some modifications to the copyright regime in this country (US). I just want the MPAA/RIAA to stop bypassing the voters and appealing to the folks we elected to represent our interests.

If the MPAA/RIAA stop funding elections, that means victory for the rest of us.

They aren't going to stop writing checks, they are going to write checks to different politicians (or people trying to get elected).

While the electorate are apathetic, moneyed interests will get their way.

In principle, I don't necessarily disagree with the idea that people should be allowed to use their resources to get their message out. I do feel that's limiting speech.

What I disagree with is the conveyance of funds to front groups that obscure WHO is doing the speaking. There is a distinct flavor to the PACs && SuperPACs that connecting the message to the author would allow the public to gauge WHY they are taking a particular position. Given the government's/industry's attempts to limit the anonymity of individuals, I find the corporate attempts to enhance and leverage that anonymity troubling.

I don't think we'll get the money out, but I do think we need transparency in the process for all or for none.

I agree with your call for transparency. In California statewide self funded candidates, millionaires like Whitman or Huffington, tend to fail. The same is true of blatant corporate initiatives.

Perhaps those of use who truly care about intellectual freedom should be writing checks too. I have no problem buying politicians for the right reasons. It appears to be the way business is done in the United States. Anyone interested in starting a lobbying organization that supports real patent reform and a free Internet?

I have a problem buying politicians for the right reasons. We are already paying them handsomely to act in the country's best interests. I'd rather start an organization that supports real governing than pass more money to these goofballs.

I searched for "office" in this thread and nothing showed up. Why is the far more effective option of running for office never considered in our circles? We could certainly use a new political party, and we most definitely could use public representatives who actually "represent" us.

Running for office, of course, will not address the critical short-term, but do consider that the intersect between Technology and Governance will become even more critical in the upcoming years. To sum: we shouldn't complain about public servants being servants of moneyed interests, if none of us danes to ever even think of serving our nation as public servants. Run for office.

Running for office doesn't really work if you can't get your message out because the media and political parties refuse to declare anyone but the incumbent "electable." I've worked on a political campaign before, and also know people who are delegates for their respective parties, and the inertia incumbents have is extremely difficult to counteract.

One problem is that people with lots of money can afford to pay others to work full time in their interests, while those of us actually doing stuff with our time can't afford to spend eight hours a day in caucuses, party delegate meetings, city halls, legislators' offices, etc. trying to fight for an issue and/or get elected.

Why is the far more effective option of running for office never considered in our circles? We could certainly use a new political party, and we most definitely could use public representatives who actually "represent" us.

Running for office is a good thing, but I'm not sure it's "the far more effective option." For most people, running for office - unless they are already rich, well known, and/or politically connected - isn't going to accomplish much.

Not that I'm saying not to run for office. Hell, I did it myself (Libertarian Party candidate for Lieutenant Governor of NC in 2008), but I'm just being realistic in saying that running for office is no silver bullet. All of "us" could run until we're blue in the face and probably none of us would get elected. OTOH, getting elected isn't the only goal. For example, I did appear in a statewide, televised debate, which gave me a small platform to promote the principles and ideals I believe in, and presumably some number of people were exposed to those ideas (and to the LP) who had not been before. In my own case, I got right about 125,000 votes, which was good for about 3%. So somebody was paying attention, but still a minority by far.

It wasn't a waste of time to run, but I never had a snowball's chance in hell of getting elected and most of the people here probably have about the same chance. So for us to effect change by running for office is going to be a slow, difficult, painstaking process. Now to be fair, I ran as a 3rd party candidate which hurt my chances a lot, but it would have been dishonest to do otherwise. And I'm guessing that out of the crowd of HN people who would hypothetically run, a lot of us would also be 3rd party or independent candidates.

A good point indeed.

Along with the oldest profession, the oldest wish is for honest rulers. Look. In Afrikaans we have this saying: "Jy gaan agter die berg om a bobejaan te vang." which literally translated means you're going behind the mountain to catch a baboon. The need to save the Internet and our freedoms is now and it's urgent. If you're hoping to change the way US government works and then use your new honest government to keep the Internet free, you're setting yourself up to fail. Just use it like the manual says to. Pay the man.

You could donate to eff :-)

Where were they during this sopa stuff though? They should have gone all out on that.

The EFF make it their job to look for issues like this. They were the first place I heard about SOPA and PIPA, and I doubt I'm the only one. I certainly wasn't spending time monitoring congress and reading proposed legislation, and even if I was I'm not sufficiently versed in US law to know what the bills might imply.

Obviously it's difficult to measure, but I would be surprised if the EFF weren't critically instrumental in the earliest stages of awareness about the implications of these bills, which led to people taking action.

How would you propose they could have made a more significant contribution?

They had a twilio integrated page that allowed anyone in the US to call their representatives from the page. 300,000 people directed there during the blackout from Mozilla alone did exactly that. I don't have complete numbers, but they were far from silent.

More to the point, where were they between SOPA/PIPA and the last big internet bill? I only hear things from the EFF when someone is out to destroy our freedoms. Why aren't they using the same process to buy internet-friendly legislation? It would be nice to have a roadblock in front of the the next SOPA.

You were downvoted, but as a longtime EFF member I have much the same question. I pay them to get out in front of issues like SOPA/PIPA, and I was disappointed to see that it didn't happen. I don't believe I saw a single instance of press coverage, either online or off, where the EFF's name was prominently associated with the anti-SOPA resistance effort.

Given the press is controlled by the same people pushing SOPA, do you really find that surprising? IMO, that (being able to control the distribution/slant of a story to the masses) is what is so dangerous about the entertainment oligarchy.

I regularly donate to the ACLU. I'm not sure if/how they were involved with SOPA/PIPA, but, besides doing good work on many important fronts, they originated the suit in which part of the Communications Decency Act was ruled unconstitutional.

I don't understand how he (or anyone) can get away with saying things like this--it's practically a straight up admission that they're buying votes.

How is this not corruption?

because to prosecute, you would need to prove a quid pro quo in a particular instance.

Hmm, first we would need to bribe the lawmakers to legislate away their ability to be bribed. It feels like there is some NP hardness here.

Because it's just speech...

Wow, the only time this guy takes his foot out of his mouth, is to shoot himself in said foot.

Actually let us hope he makes a few more comments like this one so that even more people can see what the MPAA are really about.

Dodd's just doing his job. Now, that job is one that most of the populace would consider 'corrupt', but that's another story. What's amazing is how explicit he is in that statement with regards to how the system works.

I fully agree with the hope that he continues to do this. I honestly can't believe that this battle is devolving this quickly.

I am absolutely shocked by the thick layer of spin that goes around a couple seconds of actual edited footage:


I watched the footage you linked to. The quote in the OP is longer, so there must be another video.

However, from the footage I watched, it does not look like a spin at all. Nothing is taken out of context. The guy is basically saying that they are unhappy with the current actions of the administration and they will stop giving money. Where is the spin?

They imply the only campaign at risk of losing funding is Obama's. I seriously doubt these people put all their eggs in the same basket, specially when there are so many other baskets for sale. And while they mention Fox supported SOPA, they fail to mention Fox is also a member of the MPAA and that Chris Dodd also represents their own interests.

That's exactly what I thought when I saw it. How can they completely ignore the fact that he publicly states how heavily they lobby, and yet all Fox takes away is "See, Obama takes in way too much in donations from Hollywood."

Fox's website sucks. Here's a relevant clip from their video: http://youtu.be/4LH3aao799Y

It's actually really sad, that it took a a joint effort on some of the web's largest companies to shove it in the faces of ordinary people, what could happen if such destructive legislation would pass.

It goes to show how apathetic the general population is, how representative democracy really hinges on funding from corrupt corporations, and how the entire government structure of the United States needs reworking. It might be the people who vote, but right now, every politician knows that money buys more votes (campaigning, etc) than doing the right thing.

I think you're being overly-pessimistic on several fronts:

1) I don't think the public was apathetic on this issue, just unaware. And that's YOUR fault (okay our fault), not the fault of the media or corporate interests.

2) the blackouts were an appeal to the voters, making them aware of the issue and urging them to call their congress-critters; in the end it was effective communication uniting people that killed these bills: democracy won over corporate money.

3) A longer response to "the entire government structure of the United States needs reworking":

this is simply false. The system we have is the result of the incentives in place. For all the obvious, bipartisan agreement that corporate money is corrupting politics, there hasn't been a movement formed to unite people behind reform, probably because people don't realize that changing the system and changing the incentives are easy, not hard.

You change the incentives and politicians will come around overnight. And it doesn't have to start with a constitutional amendment; there are creative finance reform ideas that can be implemented immediately that would have huge effect: http://republic.lessig.org/

Me personally, I am not so much shocked as I do have an overwhelming feeling of deja vu. Similar stories of greed, power and also corruption are a regular occurrence (everywhere). Actually, I find a bit candid honesty refreshing.

And out of the many shocked, only a couple of people seem to have the audacity to point to the root causes of this problem and talk reforming campaign financing and lobby laws, and even less talk about reforming the way the democratic process now works.

You hint that changing the system via the incentives in place could be very easy.

But this begs the question, why isn't this done yet? Is it not that big an issue actually? Is there a majority with a vested interest in the current system? Surely the thea party has shown that a well organized vocal group can gain influence, so a starting minority doesn't have to be a problem to further political ideas.

Does anyone from MPAA ever read what Internet industry, bloggers or customers have to say? Do they read any articles like these or it is just falling on deaf ears?

The MPAA is not the intended audience. We know they don't care, they only care about their wallets.

Does anyone have a link to the actual video?

I'm looking for it myself. I wouldn't be surprised if Dodd himself requested the video pulled from the network.

I am ashamed Chris Dodd was once my senator. :(

That, and: he was the guy who seemed _more_ sane than Lieberman.

Seriously, I actually liked Dodd. He was a friendly, sanely leftist Senator. Where did the MPAA bit even come from?

What worries me is the unpredictability here. Haven't researched this (downvotes incoming, I suppose) but Connecticut has few ties to Hollywood...how can we know which Senators will leap from a reasonable voting record to outright offensive actions within months?

Dodd got a taste of money when he ran for President. He instantly turned from a progressive to a cash hound. At the start of his campaign, he sponsored an email drive to oppose some anti-corruption bill (I forget which), but it was actually just a front to collect email addresses for his campaign fundraising. Way to misread your constituency under the influence of greed.

> Where did the MPAA bit even come from?

Most of the congresspeople the MPAA buys are "sanely leftist", for whatever reasons.

Money in politics is a huge problem. I'm not one to actively campaign, but I do recommend people check out Larry Lessig's Rootstrikers - http://rootstrikers.org/.

There are some local rootstriker groups starting up in SF and what not trying to come up with a sane solution.

Someone finally took the time to say publicly how things work... what's all the fuss about?

And this is the same Dodd who supposedly reformed WallSteet

When writing checks with ROI expectations to politicians happens in (for example) eastern europe it's called corruption and hopefully penalized (and I agree with it). when it happens in "developed" democracies it's called "that's how the gov. works"?

No, it's called "We used to think this was preposterous but the Supreme Court told us it's not."

Is it wrong that he is saying this on the record? I dont agree with the lobbying system either, but dont shoot someone just for being transparent about the way the system works.

I don't think it's going to help public perception of the MPAA, though...

I hope Google finally starts writing bigger checks in response.

Rather then purchase content from Hollywood, where else could one place their entertainment dollars to help squeeze Hollywood ? Games ?

This sounds like influence peddling I think a prosecutor needs to look into this.

SV will have to multitask. Kick ass and lobby at the same time.

I tend to think they will get what they want, eventually. Congress is bought and paid for, and if they keep trying to pass bills like SOPA, issue fatigue will set in at some point among common folks. Blacking out Wikipedia can only work so many times.

Yeah, and there is no drugs in any Hollywood studios, right?

"Corrupt Politician" is an oxymoron.

You mean a tautology.

Argh - I am an idiot - I meant to say the opposite. You are right, tautology what I was looking for.

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