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Abortion ruling pushes businesses to confront divisive politics – PBS NewsHour

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The Supreme Court’s decision to end the nation’s constitutional protections for abortion has catapulted businesses of all types into the most divisive corner of politics.

Some companies that stayed silent last month — when a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito was leaked to Politico — spoke up for the first time Friday, including The Walt Disney Company, which said it will reimburse employees who must travel out of state to get an abortion.

Facebook parent Meta, American Express, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs also said they would cover employee travel costs while others like Apple, Starbucks, Lyft and Yelp reiterated previous announcements taking similar action. Outdoor clothing maker Patagonia went so far as to post on LinkedIn Friday that it would provide “training and bail for those who peacefully protest for reproductive justice” and time off to vote.

But of the dozens of big businesses that The Associated Press reached out to Friday, many like McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Tyson and Marriott did not respond. Arkansas-based Walmart — the nation’s largest employer with a good portion of its stores in states that will immediately trigger abortion bans following the Friday’s Supreme Court ruling — also kept quiet.

Meanwhile, the Business Roundtable, an organization that represents some of the nation’s most powerful companies, said it “does not have a position on the merits of the case.”

READ MORE: The ‘air is thick with disbelief and grief’ at a Louisiana clinic as abortion ends

A lot is at stake for companies, many of which have publicly pledged to promote women’s equality and advancement in the workplace. For those in states with restrictive abortion laws, they could now face big challenges in attracting college-educated workers who can easily move around.

Luis von Ahn, the CEO of the language app Duolingo, sent a tweet Friday aimed at lawmakers in Pennsylvania, where the company is headquartered: “If PA makes abortion illegal, we won’t be able to attract talent and we’ll have to grow our offices elsewhere.”

The ruling and the coming patchwork of abortion bans also threatens the technology boom in places like Austin, Texas as companies like Dell — which was already becoming more flexible to remote work because of the tight labor market — struggle to recruit newly minted tech graduates to their corporate hubs, said Steven Pedigo, a professor who studies economic development at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Rather than stay in Austin, do you go to New York or Seattle or the Bay Area? I think that’s a real possibility,” Pedigo said. “It becomes much more challenging, particularly when you’re looking at a young, progressive workforce, which is what technology workers tend to be.”

Emily M. Dickens, chief of staff and head of government affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management, said in a statement that nearly a quarter of organizations in a recent poll agreed that offering a health savings account to cover travel for reproductive care in another state will enhance their ability to compete for talent.

“But how these policies interact with state laws is unclear, and employers should be aware of the legal risks involved,” she said.

Dickens noted that companies that use third-party administrator to process claims on their behalf — typically big employers — are subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act rather than state law. But companies that have to buy their own health insurance for their employees — typically small businesses — are subject to state regulations and have less flexibility in designing benefits.

READ MORE: Missouri’s last abortion clinic finds itself in center of Roe fallout

Offering to cover travel expenses could also make companies a target for anti-abortion lawmakers. In March, Texas State Representative Briscoe Cain, a Republican, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Citigroup, saying he would propose legislation barring localities in the state from doing business with any company that provides travel benefits for employees seeking abortions.

In his concurring opinion released Friday, Justice Brett Kavanaugh suggested it would be unconstitutional for a state to bar residents from traveling to another state to get an abortion.

“In my view, the answer is no based on the constitutional right to interstate travel,” Kavanaugh wrote.

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But a corporation’s right to fund what would be an illegal act in another state is still questionable, argues Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas.

“That’s not an interstate commerce question, per se,” she said. “So you’d need the right plaintiff.”

Meanwhile, tech companies are facing tough questions about what they’ll do if some of their millions of customers in the U.S. are prosecuted for having an abortion. Services like Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft routinely hand over digital data sought by law enforcement agencies pursuing criminal investigations. That’s raised concerns from privacy advocates about enforcers of abortion laws tapping into period apps, phone location data and other sensitive online health information.

A letter Friday from four Democrats in Congress called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the phone-tracking practices of Google and Apple, warning that location identifiers used for advertising could fall into the hands of prosecutors or bounty hunters looking “to hunt down women who have obtained or are seeking an abortion.”

The Supreme Court ruling comes at a time when companies have become increasingly reliant on women to fill jobs, and especially as they face a nationwide labor shortage. Women now account for nearly 50% of the U.S. workforce, up dramatically from 37.5% in 1970 — three years before the Supreme Court ruled abortions to be legal in Roe vs. Wade — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Denied access to abortion could hit low-income workers the hardest because they’re typically in jobs with fewer protections and that are also demanding, from loading groceries onto store shelves to working as a health aide.

“As a direct result of this ruling, more women will be forced to choose between paying their rent or traveling long distances to receive safe abortion care,” said Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union, which represents nearly 2 million janitors, health care workers and teachers in the U.S. “Working women are already struggling in poverty-wage jobs without paid leave and many are also shouldering the caregiving responsibilities for their families, typically unpaid.”

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants told The Associated Press that the ruling was “devastating.”

“It cuts to the core of all the work that our union has done for 75 years,” she said. “This decision is not about whether or not someone supports abortion. That’s the distraction … This is about whether or not we respect the rights of women to determine their own future.”

Maurice Schweitzer, a professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, said the handful of companies are taking a stand on the court’s ruling because their customers and employees are expecting them to speak out.

“We’re in this moment in time where we’re expecting corporate leaders to also be leaders in the political sphere,” he said. “A lot of employees expect to work in companies that not only pay them well, but whose values are aligned with theirs.”

But the vast majority of executives will likely avoid the thorny topic and focus on things like inflation or supply chain disruptions, he said.
That, too, comes with risks.

“They can either support travel for out-of-state care and risk lawsuits and the ire of local politicians, or they can not include this coverage and risk the ire of employees,” Schweitzer said.
___
AP business writers Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island; Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit; Barbara Ortutay in San Francisco; David Koenig in Dallas and Ken Sweet in New York contributed to the story.

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Tech, global politics make CHIPS and Science Act necessary – Daily Leader – Dailyleader

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Mississippi Republican U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith are in near-lockstep on their votes — skewing conservative on fiscal and social issues and reflecting the views of their conservative Mississippi constituencies.

But on the matter of the CHIPS and Science Act, Wicker and Hyde-Smith found themselves on opposite sides of the legislation. Wicker voted in favor of it. Hyde-Smith voted against it.

The split vote of Mississippi’s U.S. Senate delegation becomes even more interesting when one considers that a year earlier, Wicker and Hyde-Smith were united as signatories on a bipartisan letter calling on President Joe Biden to increase U.S. semiconductor production in reaction to the global computer chip shortage after the COVID pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the tenuous global semiconductor supply chain.

The original legislation under U.S. Senate consideration was a measure that would have provided $52 billion in subsidies/incentives to encourage chipmakers to open U.S. semiconductors production/fabrication plants. The bill that passed the Senate, the House and went to Biden’s desk was a much larger, more expansive legislation that analysts put in the $280 billion range to supercharge research and development for America’s domestic semiconductor industry and to fuel direct competition with China in these economic sectors.

Fleishmann Hilliard senior vice president Matthew Caldecutt — in guiding communications professionals to be able to discuss the complex, 1,000-page plus legislation, wrote on August 1: “The CHIPS and Science Act is primarily a way to directly pay semiconductor companies for setting up semiconductor fabrication plants — or “fabs” — and making future investments in the U.S. It sets aside around $50 billion for semiconductor companies with $39 billion to build, expand or modernize domestic facilities, and $11 billion for research and development. Another $2 billion will help fund other areas of the semiconductor industry — education, defense and future innovation.”

But that definition misses the mark of the full scope of the CHIPS and Science Act — in which Congress authorizes but has not finally appropriated some $81 billion for National Science Foundation research over five years, another $11 billion for U.S. Commerce Dept. Technology Hubs, and $9 billion for National Institute for Standards and Technology. In short, the NSF authorization could be the largest — if they are indeed finally appropriated — funding increase since the agency’s 1950 inception.

So, Hyde-Smith’s immediate concerns over the bill’s deficit spending and national debt impact have a basis. But what then of Wicker’s vote supporting the CHIPS Act? Wicker’s gutsy vote took the long and globally strategic view that the U.S. must not be dependent on our adversaries.

The Semiconductor Industry Association defines semiconductors as the brains of modern electronics, “enabling advances in medical devices and health care, communications, computing, defense, transportation, clean energy, and technologies of the future such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and advanced wireless networks.”

While the U.S. semiconductor industry remains a worldwide leader with $258 billion in sales (2020) and over 250,000 employees, competition from Taiwan, China and South Korea is substantial and growing. As it was in shipbuilding after World War II, America has seen the substantial offshoring of semiconductor fabrication and that trend is growing exponentially.

The U.S. has the most powerful Navy in the world — yet no less than a Pentagon report verifies that the Peoples’ Republic of China has the largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines. In comparison, the U.S. Navy’s battle force was approximately 293 ships as of early 2020.

In June, the Center for Strategic and International Studies offered this bipartisan assessment: “All major U.S. defense systems and platforms rely on semiconductors for their performance. Consequently, the erosion of U.S. capabilities in microelectronics is a direct threat to the United States’ ability to defend itself and its allies.

“Moreover, the U.S. civilian economy is deeply dependent on semiconductor-based platforms for its daily operations. Ensuring U.S. leadership in semiconductor technology and securing the integrity of the value chains that design, manufacture, package, and distribute these chips are perhaps the preeminent economic and national security concerns of the modern era,” the CSIS concluded.

Doubt it? The average new automobile in the U.S. has over 1,000 computer chips. Now think about military planes, ships, tanks, or NORAD monitoring. Technology and global politics make growth in high-end semiconductor fabrication and research a matter of national security.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.

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The Politics of Searching a Former President’s Home – The New York Times

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Experts on high-wire investigations say that the Justice Department would have carefully weighed the decision to poke around Mar-a-Lago — and that it might want to tell the public why it was necessary.

The F.B.I. does not take a decision like searching the private home of a former president lightly.

As Garrett Graff, the author of a biography of James Comey — the F.B.I. director who oversaw the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server, then went on to run the Russia inquiry before Donald Trump fired him in 2017 — put it, “This was presumably the highest burden of proof that the Justice Department has ever required for a search warrant.”

As a matter of political sensitivity, he said, the Mar-a-Lago search ranked with the subpoena of Richard Nixon’s secret Oval Office tapes and the decision to sample the DNA on Monica Lewinsky’s infamous blue dress to see if it belonged to President Bill Clinton.

Graff noted that the Justice Department’s “fumbling” of several aspects of its investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign and the controversy over its handling of the Clinton email investigation would probably raise the bar for what might prompt such a high-profile step this time around.

Christopher Wray, the director of the F.B.I., Attorney General Merrick Garland and their top deputies would be well aware of the minefields involved — including the possibility, as Trump proved on Monday when he announced the search in a news release, that it would draw the department into the very sort of political maelstrom Garland has sought to avoid.

All of that suggests the investigation is both serious and fairly well advanced.

In May, Garland reissued the department’s traditional guidance on politically sensitive investigations — and he kept the language approved by his predecessor as attorney general, Bill Barr. That move led someone to leak the memo to Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, who criticized Garland for sticking with Barr’s policy.

Former Justice Department officials said the search fell into a gray area, as Trump is not officially a candidate for anything at the moment. The policy, moreover, applies only to the coming midterm elections, not to the 2024 presidential election.

But that’s just the technical, legal side of this move. Politics is another story.

There are a few hints that Trump thinks — with some justification — that the search will help him secure the Republican nomination in 2024. First, he announced it himself. Second, Republicans have already rallied to his side. Third, there’s no sign that any of his putative rivals in the shadow G.O.P. primary are ready to throw him overboard just yet, which suggests that they fear crossing him.

Consider Ted Cruz, who ran against Trump in 2016 and might do so again in 2024. On Tuesday afternoon, Cruz sent a text message to his supporters calling the search “a raw abuse of power.” He also accused the F.B.I. of becoming “the Democrat Party Police Force.” For good measure, he threw in a fund-raising link.

News of the search is probably not helpful to Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, either. She has a tough primary next Tuesday, which she is widely expected to lose. Given Cheney’s role as vice chairwoman of the Jan. 6 committee, it’s likely many G.O.P. base voters will associate her with the F.B.I. search.

As far as we know, however, that would be a mistaken impression; there’s no reason to think the bureau’s investigation has anything to do with Jan. 6, let alone with Cheney herself.

Cheney’s opponent, Harriet Hageman, isn’t worried about the nuances. She tweeted this morning, in a tone that could have been written by the 45th president himself:

If the FBI can treat a former President this way, imagine what they can do to the rest of us. It’s a 2-tiered justice system – one for elites & another for their political enemies. Like sending 87k IRS agents to harass citizens. Or the J6 committee. Political persecution!

Kenny Holston for The New York Times

In February 2021, when Garland testified before the Judiciary Committee ahead of his confirmation vote, he began his remarks by observing that “the president nominates the attorney general to be the lawyer — not for any individual, but for the people of the United States.”

He added, in case anyone didn’t get the message, that he wanted to “reaffirm that the role of the attorney general is to serve the rule of law.”



<!–

Behind the Journalism

–>

How Times reporters cover politics.
We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

Liberals have complained more or less constantly since Garland took office that he has taken his hands-off approach to an extreme, emphasizing his independence and deliberative approach at the expense of moving with the alacrity many on the left would like to see in an investigation or investigations against Trump.

So there’s an alternate possibility, some former Justice Department officials speculated — that Garland is so concerned about demonstrating just how independent and by-the-book he is that he might have considered it imprudent to tell the F.B.I. not to execute the search just three months before the midterms, at a time when Trump is making noises about running for president a third time.

Then again, modern presidential campaigns never really begin or end, so it’s hard to say when an appropriate moment for such an aggressive investigative step might be.

Ironically, some said that Garland might want to be more transparent about why the search was necessary, to keep Trump from filling the vacuum with his own narrative.

That’s fraught territory, too.

After all, it was Comey’s effort to be transparent — in both announcing the investigation into Clinton during the heat of the 2016 campaign and in updating Congress when the bureau discovered a new trove of emails on Anthony Wiener’s laptop — that made the F.B.I. director such a lightning rod.

Comey, asked to offer his own thoughts on the F.B.I. search, replied in an email: “Thanks for asking but it’s not something I’m interested in talking about.”

Two news conferences, congressional testimony, leaked notes and a tell-all memoir later — now he tells us.

— Blake

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

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For a new politics of ruralization – Resilience

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In this post, I aim to pick up where I left off last time with my review of George Monbiot’s Regenesis, mostly in reference to its theme of urbanism (there’s also a bit of housekeeping and an apology at the end).

But first, since it’s kind of a propos, some brief remarks on the trip I took last week, which involved me bicycling from Frome to Chepstow and back, among other things for an enjoyable in-conversation session with eco-philosopher and activist Rupert Read at the Green Gathering (a recording of most of it is here).

Much of the southern part of my route followed leafy cycle tracks repurposed from disused railways, flanked by large arable fields. Then a ride through central Bristol, swerving to miss a strung-out drug user sprawling on the track, took me onto another leafy cycleway through the Avon Gorge – once a place of heavy industry and shipping, but now far too small for the modern incarnations of those trades.

I crossed the Avon on a bridge I shared with the M5 – the first of several motorways entwining my route. These roads feel calm enough when you’re inside a car, but coming suddenly upon them on my bicycle I was shocked every time by the volume of traffic, its furious speed and sound, and the concrete-intensive brutalism of all this inter-city hurry. A sign by the Prince of Wales Bridge later in my trip reported that 25 million vehicles cross it annually. That’s a lot of kinetic energy to pack into three miles of road.

There were Samaritans telephones on all the major bridges I crossed, with their melancholy signage – “Whatever you’re going through, you don’t have to face it alone”. Back by the Avon, the suburb on the other side of the M5 bridge seemed dilapidated. I swerved around Nos canisters, rode through underpasses scattered with fly-tipped garbage and emblazoned with sinister graffiti and then weaved my way through a giant industrial zone of landfill sites, warehousing, sewage works, construction sites and massive wind turbines.

So, a journey from bosky rural byways that don’t quite conceal their industrial cradling, through mostly salubrious city centres and then rougher suburbs housing their workaday servitors, to the new industrial zones that potentiate them, accompanied by the ever-present roar of vehicles and people moving at speed to sustain it all. And gangs, drugs, loneliness amidst multitudes and suicide. Of course, this is only one way of representing what George Monbiot calls the given distribution of the world’s population, but I dearly wish he and others would question its given-ness a little more sceptically, and weren’t so darned pleased about what they see. During my ride, even in the leafy rural parts, it sometimes felt as if the whole fabric of this corner of southwest England was a kind of dysfunctional, ecocidal, industrial machine, sustained by its rushing human functionaries, with only a thin green veneer here and there concealing it.

Anyway, back to George’s book. So far as I know, he hasn’t seriously engaged with critiques of it from the intellectually more thoughtful end of the spectrum, preferring to post online some of the more fetid threats he’s received, which elicit no small number of ‘Go get ‘em, George’ replies from supporters displaying considerable disdain for rural and agrarian life.

And so another skin-deep culture war, benefitting nobody, judders into life. The case for ruralism over urbanism as I see it is simply that the dynamics of climate, energy, water, soil and political economy are going to propel multitudes of people to the world’s farmable regions sooner or later. The question we should really be addressing globally, though regrettably we’re not, is how to manage that process in the most humane and least disruptive way.

One of the best criticisms of my argument for this agrarian localist future that came my way in the wake of my Regenesis review was that it would be energetically costly to establish it. This, I think, is true. But it’s also true of every other proposal to put humanity on a surer long-term footing. The great advantage of agrarian localism is that once its basic structures are established, its recurrent energy costs can be low. Whereas schemes to preserve the urban-industrial status quo invariably have high recurrent energy costs. This certainly applies to George Monbiot’s farm free future, as Steve showed in his calculations under my previous post.

It’s obvious, really, that a proposal to replace sprawling farmland spaces using free solar radiation to energize production with highly concentrated industrial spaces using electricity transformed from other energy inputs by other human industries probably isn’t going to stack up well energetically. George’s vision of manufactured food, like many other ecomodernist schemes, assumes there will be abundant and cheap clean energy at humanity’s command in the future.

It seems to me more likely that concentrated energy will be scarce and pricey compared to the fossil fuelled bonanza experienced by present generations, and it will make no sense to waste it producing food when free solar energy metabolized by plants can do the job. The diffuseness of this solar energy will be a driving force of human biogeography in the future. Today’s world is one of urban concentration built on a legacy of mining energetic stocks. Tomorrow’s will be mostly one of rural de-concentration oriented to skimming renewable energetic flows.

Presently, there is no broad-based politics geared to this emerging reality, certainly in the richer parts of the world with the longest histories of stock-mining and capital-concentration such as southern England. We’re still stuck with the exhausted legacies of modernist politics, with their emphasis on market signals, nationalist symbols or class struggle as the key to redemption. All of these fix their eyes too firmly on capital cities, government machineries, political centralization and hurried inter-city journeys to build the economy. All of them take as a given the centrifugal relationship between countryside and city that I discuss in Chapter 15 of my book, where the countryside works as a basically inferior servitor to the city, albeit dotted with pleasant islands of retreat for the wealthy who’ve made their money in the latter.

As I’ve already said, I think ‘simple energetics’ or simple biogeography are going to redistribute populations away from urban areas and towards rural ones in the future. In England, the countryside will no longer be largely the preserve of the rich. Like it or not, people of many kinds will go to it to seek prosperity. This creates the potential for people to forge local agrarian autonomies and genuinely agroecological culture. But that’s not a done deal just because of the maths of a more populated countryside. It’s possible that cities and their elites will retain their centrifugal pull.

To prevent that happening requires politics of a kind we don’t yet have – a politics where cities serve the countryside and its inhabitants at least as much as they’re served by them. I indicate this diagrammatically on page 210 of A Small Farm Future (Figure 15.1) and discuss it in the last part of Chapter 15 in terms of rural disruptors to the centrifugal pull of the city – disruptors that build local political and economic autonomy, that extricate themselves as far as possible, which means not totally, from long-distance trade and geopolitically-centred bureaucratic rule.

Since, as I’ve said, there isn’t a mass politics around this at present, I’m currently quite supportive of many kinds of initiative where people put themselves in the disruptor role. I’m supportive of rich people buying houses in the country with big gardens, growing their own vegetables and joining community organisations. I’m supportive of impoverished van dwellers parking up in laybys and trying to minimize their housing costs. I’m supportive of farm shops, independent town councils, guerilla gardening, allotment associations, people buying small plots of farmland or woodland and living in caravans on them while they start market gardens or charcoal businesses, people occupying (considerately) disused or misused land, people trespassing on aristocratic estates to (sustainably) pick edible mushrooms, wealthy smallholders, impoverished peasants, wily farmers and so on and so on.

Eventually, all of this will have to coalesce into a new politics of local autonomy and access to land, which I think will have to be a populist politics of alliance. We’ll get onto that in more detail when I move to discussing the final part of my book in this blog cycle. But just as George’s gloop factories require a substrate or a feedstock in order to ferment their new kinds of food, so we require a substrate or a feedstock in order to ferment new kinds of agrarian localist politics. It’s from the low base of our present politics and of people trying to get by in the countryside that we need to start creating it.

There are genuine grounds to worry that the outcomes of this local political brokerage won’t always be congenial. Perhaps they’re balanced by the equally genuine grounds to worry that centralized national politics no longer offers that certainty either. The liberal-democratic firmament of late 20th century politics has almost gone now. It seems likely that, locally, nationally or globally, nobody will be coming to save us – unless there’s some other iteration of the centralized state that I’ve not foreseen to safeguard against the potential tyranny of localism, without becoming a tyranny itself?

Even so, I think it’s worth taking seriously the downsides of a new politics geared around rural disruptors. At the session I did with Rupert Read, somebody raised the issue of the conformism of rural society and the greater possibilities for finding one’s tribe in urban settings, particularly for people with spiritualities, sexualities or other traits at variance with majority assumptions in conservative countrysides. That’s sometimes been true in the past, though it remains a story of the future that’s yet to be written. But instead of further belabouring my take on this point, I’d be interested to see what other people make of it in the comments below (note that to be sure of getting my attention, comments should be posted under the relevant post at Small Farm Future and not at other sites where this post may be syndicated). I’ll try to formulate some further thoughts in the light of anything that comes back to me.

Finally, and talking of posting comments, I recently noticed there were a few comments that had been sitting in the moderation queue undetected by me – some from long established commenters, and one from a new commenter. Please accept my apologies for the oversight. If you do post a comment that doesn’t appear, feel free to nudge me about it via the Contact Form. On the rare occasions when I actively choose not to publish a comment it will be for a reason, and I will contact you to explain what that reason is. So if you post a comment that doesn’t appear and you don’t hear from me, it’s best to assume simple incompetence on my part and act accordingly (it’s probably best to assume simple incompetence on my part in a wide variety of other circumstances, but let us not digress at this late stage in the post). Also, finally, if you include more than one hyperlink in a comment it will automatically be held for moderation as an anti-spam measure. So reference judiciously…

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