Noam Chomsky: GOP’s Soft Coup Is Still Underway One Year After Capitol Assault

Noam Chomsky

In the third and final presidential debate of 2016, Donald Trump had signaled that he might not concede the election should he lose to Hillary Clinton. However, he did say to his supporters a day later that he would definitely accept the results of the election if he won.

Trump’s threat to reject democratically run election results should have disqualified him from running for the highest office in the land.

But instead he went on to win the 2016 election and then divide the country like no other incoming president. And when he lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden, he not only refused to concede defeat, but he also sought to block the certification of the electoral vote by urging his fanatical supporters gathered at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, to “stop the steal” of the election. Months earlier, he had already put his base on high alert by saying, “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.”

Under a less incompetent wannabe strongman, the assault on the Capitol could have led to the actual overthrow of the U.S. system of representative democracy. But the January 6 attack instead featured Trump’s hallmark disorganization and lack of a coherent plan.

A day after the attempted coup, Trump announced that there would be an “orderly transition” of power on January 20, but that did not mean that he had plans to “go gentle into that good night.” On the contrary, he continued to spread lies about the 2020 election, which he himself called the “Big Lie,” even after he had failed to convince officials in Georgia and Arizona to overturn those states’ results. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, also tried to convince a federal judge in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to overturn hundreds of thousands of votes in the state.

Trump’s position was quite simple: If democracy fails to give me the desired election results, damn democracy!

Trump’s “Big Lie” continues to hold sway over the overwhelming majority of Republicans voters, and the Republican Party itself is increasingly unwilling to accept defeat. Subsequently, states with Republican legislatures have passed waves of new laws restricting voting and are taking over local and state election boards. These developments speak volumes of the anti-democratic mindset that has become the trademark of the GOP in the Trump era.

In the interview that follows, Noam Chomsky reflects on the anniversary of the January 6 insurrection and offers us his own insights on what may lie ahead in a country where a very sizable segment of the population still believes in Trump’s lies.

Noam Chomsky is internationally recognized as one of the most important intellectuals alive. His intellectual stature has been compared to that of Galileo, Newton and Descartes, and his work has had tremendous influence on a variety of areas of scholarly and scientific inquiry, including linguistics, logic and mathematics, computer science, psychology, media studies, philosophy, politics and international affairs. He is the author of some 150 books and recipient of scores of highly prestigious awards, including the Sydney Peace Prize and the Kyoto Prize (Japan’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize), and of dozens of honorary doctorate degrees from the world’s most renowned universities. Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT and currently Laureate Professor at the University of Arizona.

C.J. Polychroniou: A year ago, on January 6, 2021, a mob of Donald Trump’s supporters broke into the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to block certification of the electoral votes — a routine procedure following a presidential election — that would have formalized Joe Biden’s victory. The Capitol building had been breached on a few occasions in the past, but this was the first time in the history of the country that an assault on democracy was actually incited by an outgoing president. In fact, months later, former President Trump would go so far as to condemn the criminal prosecution of those who took part in the Capitol attack that day even though he had denounced the insurrection after he had been impeached over it. From your perspective, Noam, how should we understand what happened on January 6, 2021?

Noam Chomsky: Participants in the assault on the Capitol doubtless had varying perceptions and motives, but were united in the effort to overthrow an elected government; in short, an attempted coup, by definition. It was furthermore an attempt that could have succeeded if a few prominent Republican figures had changed their stance and gone along with the coup attempt, and if the military command had made different decisions. Trump was making every effort to facilitate the coup, which would surely have been applauded by a large majority of Republican voters and by the Republican political leadership, which, with a few exceptions, grovels at his feet in a shameful display of cowardice.

Implications for the future are all too clear. The Republican organization — it’s hard to regard them any longer as an authentic political party — is now carefully laying the groundwork for success next time, whatever the electoral outcome may be. It’s all completely in the open, not only notconcealed but in fact heralded with pride by its leaders. And regularly reported, so that no one who is interested enough to pay attention to the American political scene can miss it. To mention just the most recent discussion I’ve seen, the Associated Press describes how the GOP is carrying out a “slow-motion insurrection” and has become “an anti-democratic force,” something that has not happened before in American politics. A few weeks earlier, Barton Gellman outlined the plans in detail in The Atlantic.

There is no need to review the many well-known flaws of the formal democratic system: the radically undemocratic Senate, the enormous role of concentrated wealth and private power in determining electoral outcomes and legislation, the structural advantages provided to a traditionalist rural minority, and much else. But there are also broader issues.

What was progressive in the 18th century is by now so antiquated that if the U.S. were to apply for membership in the European Union, it would probably be rejected as not satisfying democratic norms. That raises questions that merit more attention than they receive.

With all due respect for the Founders, one question — raised by Thomas Jefferson in his own terms — is why we should revere the sentiments of a group of wealthy white male 18th-century slaveowners, particularly now that the amendment system has succumbed to the deep flaws of the formal political system. No less curious are the legal doctrines of originalism/textualism that call on us to decipher their pronouncements with little regard to social and economic conditions as a decisive guide to judicial action. Looking at our political culture from a distance, there is a lot that would seem passing strange. Read more

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California’s Cap-And-Trade System Proves Limits Of Market-Based Climate Action

CJ Polychroniou

California is not making sufficient progress to meet the 2030 emissions goals. With current policies, it could take easily at least a couple more decades before the 2030 goals are met.

California has cast itself as a leader in the fight against climate change and global warming. The state set the stage for its transition to a low-carbon economy with the passage of AB32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which called for a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and ultimately reducing them 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. AB32, signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), was carried out by various state agencies, and its implementation was funded by a fee collected from large sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

AB32 was the first program in the country to embark on a comprehensive approach to address the looming threats of global warming while keeping economic growth on a solid track. And it was, initially, a moderate success. Emissions fell for the first time below 1990 levels. In fact, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions returned to 1990 levels four years ahead of schedule, while California’s economy kept growing.

In 2016, Governor Jerry Brown (D) extended AB32 with the passage of SB32, which raised the goal for greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

California’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction policies revolve around the promotion of zero-emissions electric vehicles, imposing limits on the carbon content of gasoline, and implementing a cap-and-trade mechanism for polluters.

Briefly, a cap-and-trade system is one where the government sets a cap on the maximum level of emissions and creates allowances in tune with that cap. Polluters obtain and surrender a permit for each unit of emissions. They can obtain permits from the government or through trading with other emitting firms. California’s cap-and-trade program is the main component in the state’s plan to reduce emissions and bolster a clean energy economy

The current Governor of California, Gavin Newsom (D), has also taken some bold measures to combat climate change and global warming by moving the economy further away from fossil fuels. These include ending the sale of new gas cars by 2035, phasing out harmful oil production by no later than 2045 statewide, and pushing forward a $15 billion climate package to tackle wildfire and drought challenges.

All in all, California has aligned itself with the emissions reduction targets set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It has committed itself to reducing emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and going carbon neural by 2045.
California’s efforts in leading the fight against the climate crisis is the result of bipartisan political support and overall public support. According to a 2019 study by the Public Policy Institute of California, majorities of Californians regard global warming a very serious threat and are in support of the state’s renewable energy goals. A plurality of adults (48%) and likely voters (45%) also said that policies to combat global warming will lead to more jobs.

This is not to say of course that there hasn’t been opposition to California’s global warming policies.  California Business Roundtable is one organization that has consistently raised objections to aggressive climate policies because of its concerns that such efforts were hurting companies. Many progressives, on the other hand, have been quite critical of the state’s cap-and-trade system. They oppose it as being too business friendly, a stance probably vindicated by the mere fact alone that California Business Roundtable has offered enthusiastic support to this “market-based mechanism” for controlling emissions.

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“Localization” Can Help Free the Planet From Neoliberal Globalization

Helena Norberg-Hodge – Photo:

Localization offers the means to return to a real and stable economy not based on speculation, exploitation and debt.

Is there a viable alternative to the economic, social, political and environmental problems stemming from globalization? How about “localization”? This is the antidote to globalization propounded by Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder and director of Local Futures, an organization focused on building a movement dedicated to environmental sustainability and social well-being by rejuvenating local economies. Norberg-Hodge is a pioneer of the new economy movement, which now has spread to all continents, and the convener of World Localization Day, which was endorsed by the likes of Noam Chomsky and the Dalai Lama. Norberg-Hodge is the author of several books and producer of the award-winning documentary, The Economics of Happiness.

In this interview, Norberg-Hodge discusses in detail why localization represents a strategic alternative to globalization and a way out of the climate conundrum, the ways through which localization challenges the spread of authoritarianism, and what a post-pandemic world might look like.

C.J. Polychroniou: The global neoliberal project, under way since the early 1980s following the so-called “free-market revolution” launched by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the U.S. and U.K., respectively, has proven to be an unmitigated disaster on all fronts. Why does a shift toward economic localization, a movement which you have initiated on every continent of the world, represent a superior strategic alternative to the existing socioeconomic order, and how do we go about making this transition?

Helena Norberg-Hodge: The process of globalization with its disastrous effects is a consequence of governments systematically using taxes, subsidies and regulations to support global monopolies at the expense of place-based regional and local businesses and banks. This process has been going on in the name of supporting growth through free trade, but it has actually impoverished the majority, that has had to work harder and harder just to stay in place. Even nation states have become poorer, relative to the trillions of dollars circulating in the hands of global financial institutions and other transnational corporations. This has systematically corrupted virtually every avenue of knowledge, from schools to universities, from science to the media.

As a consequence, instead of questioning the role of the economic system in causing our multiple crises, people are led to blame themselves for not managing their lives well enough, for not being efficient enough, for not spending enough time with family and friends, etc., etc… In addition to feeling guilty, we often end up feeling isolated because the ever more fleeting and shallow nature of our social encounters with others fuels a show-off culture in which love and affirmation are sought through such superficial means as plastic surgery, designer clothes and Facebook likes. These are poor substitutes for genuine connection, and only heighten feelings of depression, loneliness and anxiety.

I see a shift toward economic localization as a powerful strategic alternative to neoliberal globalization for a number of reasons. For starters, the increasingly planetary supply chains and outsourcing endemic to corporate globalization are systematically making every region less materially secure (something that became starkly apparent during the COVID crisis) and enabling ecological and labor exploitation cost shifting such that feedback loops that could promote greater transparency and thus responsibility are severed. A recent study showed that one-fifth of global carbon emissions come from multinational corporations’ supply chains. Localization means getting out of the highly unstable and exploitative bubbles of speculation and debt, and back to the real economy — our interface with other people and the natural world. Local markets require a diversity of products, and therefore create incentives for more diversified and ecological production. In the realm of food, this means more diversified production with far less machinery and chemicals, more hands on the land, and therefore, more meaningful employment. It means dramatically reduced CO2 emissions, no need for plastic packaging, more space for wild biodiversity, more circulation of wealth within local communities, more face-to-face conversations between producers and consumers, and more flourishing cultures founded on genuine interdependence.

This is what I call the “solution-multiplier” effect of localization, and the pattern extends beyond our food systems. In the disconnected and over-specialized system of global monoculture, I have seen housing developments built with imported steel, plastic and concrete while the oak trees on-site are razed and turned into woodchips. In contrast, the shortening of distances structurally means more eyes per acre and more innovative use of available resources.

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The Global Green New Deal Can Pave the Way for the Formation of a United Left Front in 2022

CJ Polychroniou

Environmental and labor movements need to join forces by embracing the global Green New Deal.

2021 was a year marked by destruction, frustration, and perplexity. The pandemic killed more people in 2021 than in 2020, while also deepening inequality and worsening living conditions for poor people across the world; Trump supporters invaded Capitol Hill; the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan; democracy continued to backslide across the world; supply chains faltered;  the global refugee crisis continued with unabated force; and countries kept failing the climate crisis challenge.

2021 also offered us a ray of hope. Neofascist attempts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election failed; billions of people were vaccinated; activists scored some significant victories for conservation and climate; and Latin America’s politics made a decisive turn to the left.

What the new year will bring to the world depends on a myriad of action-outcome contingencies that sometimes are even difficult to imagine, let alone predict. However, what we do know is that transformative change requires collective effort. Only through determined, long-term, energetic efforts can we hope to make the world a better place. And that, as far as the vision of the political left is concerned, requires strategic unity, especially on the climate front.

The left remains deeply divided across the world. True, the left has a long history of failing to keep its ranks together, which is not the case with the rightist and reactionary forces. Yet, this is no time to engage in battles over ideological purity. We need a United Left Front. In the age of neoliberalism and global warming, progressive forces need to mobilize behind a shared vision of democracy, equality, justice, security, and sustainability. Issues of race, class, gender and the environment must be structured around the vision of a society beyond capitalism and with an understanding that socialism is about democratic participation, human dignity, and freedom.

To be sure, the challenges ahead are daunting. We have to deal with massive inequality, authoritarianism, systemic racism, widespread environmental destruction, and climate breakdown. Moreover, there is no magic formula for tackling all of these problems simultaneously. But there are good reasons to believe that an effective strategy for dealing with the climate crisis can also tackle economic inequality, racism, and authoritarianism.

The global Green New Deal is a sweeping plan to shift away from dirty fossil fuels towards clean, renewable energy sources. Its implementation requires international cooperation, yet both the know-how and the financial resources are available to create a green economy which will keep the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius. But as if saving the planet is not enough, a global Green New Deal will also create more than 24 million green jobs, according to the International Labour Organization.

A study at the renowned Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst found that every $1 million dollars shifted from fossil fuels to green energy results in a net increase of 5 jobs. PERI researchers have also produced specific studies that develop just transition programs, which are absolutely essential for the successful implementation of the green economy project.

A global Green New Deal will not merely expand job training for skilled workers, but will also revitalize the role of trade unions, shrink income inequality and do away with environmental racism since poor air and water quality affect disproportionally racial minorities.

Finally, it is quite conceivable that stronger, fairer economic growth, combined with a just transition, will contain the spread of authoritarianism. People across the world are dissatisfied with the functioning of society and politics in the age of neoliberalism. The social-psychological effects of neoliberalism haven’t yet been widely studied, but they could very well be related to the apparently inexplicable support granted to authoritarian rulers by a large segment of the citizenry across the world.

The climate crisis is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. This fact alone should be sufficient to bring about the formation of a United Front Left in the second year of the third decade of this century. Environmental and labor movements need to join forces by embracing the global Green New Deal. Climate activists need to speak to coal miners because both sides are facing a common challenge: survival.

We have just 12 years to limit a climate catastrophe, according to a much publicized United Nations report.

The global Green New Deal is possible. And it can indeed pave the way for the formation of a United Front Left. After all, we have a world to win.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

C.J. Polychroniou  is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in numerous universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His latest books are The PrecipiceNeoliberalism, the Pandemic and the Urgent Need for Social Change (A collection of interviews with Noam Chomsky; Haymarket Books, 2021), and Economics and the LeftInterviews with Progressive Economists (Verso, 2021).

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Killing Nature Must Be Treated As A Crime On A Par With Genocide And War Crimes

CJ Polychroniou

The time has come for drastic measures to protect the environment and save the world from a climate catastrophe.

The first United Nations Scientific Conference on the Environment, also known as the First Earth Summit, was held in Stockholm, Sweden, from June 6-15, 1972. Ιt established a Declaration of Principles and adopted an action plan with recommendations for the preservation and enhancement of the environment. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, it led to the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Since then, environmental issues and climate evolution have figured prominently on the global agenda, yet pledges made to protect the environment and reduce emissions are not being fulfilled. Without an international enforcement mechanism, governments are not legally bound to make good on their commitments, for example, to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2040, which is what Biden pledged that the US will do.

Equally significant, environmental legislation aimed at imposing criminal penalties on corporations and their officials remains weak and, in some countries, even non-existent. In the US, where several types of criminal violations are specified in the Clean Air Act and whose definition of an air pollutant includes greenhouse gas emissions, following a 2007 US Supreme Court ruling on the matter, many states regularly look the other way when it comes to protecting public health and the environment from illegal air pollution from oil refineries and chemical plants. Texas, for example, failed between 2011 and 2016 to penalize 97 percent of illegal polluters.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top two US greenhouse gas emitting companies listed in the new edition of Greenhouse 100 Polluters Index Report by researchers at the renowned Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst are based in Texas. Vista Energy and Duke Energy released a combined 194 million tons of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere in 2019, and this figure does not include biogenic carbon dioxide emissions (emissions released by a stationary facility from the combustion or decomposition of biologically-based materials other than fossil fuels).
Under the Trump administration, polluters and corporate interests had more freedom than any other time over the past few decades to destroy the environment. More than 125 environmental regulations were rolled back during Trump’s nightmarish reign of power.

Of course, let’s not forget the US military’s carbon footprint, which spews so much greenhouse gas emissions from fuel usage alone that if it were a country it would rank as the 47th worst polluter in the world, according to a 2019 report released by social scientists at Durham University and Lancaster University in UK.

In the meantime, China has emerged as the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, with 60 percent of its power provided by coal, although it is still far behind the US in terms of per capita emissions.

Thus, nearly half a century after the First Earth Summit, most environmental problems have worsened, and nature and climate are subsequently on the verge of breakdown. The rate of species extinction is accelerating, according to scores of scientific studies, and there continues to be a relentless rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil which causes temperatures to rise, producing the phenomenon of global warming.

Essentially, what we have is a cause-and-effect relationship between anthropogenic climate change and species extinction. Higher temperatures lead to a chain reaction of other changes around the globe, with tremendous impact not simply on people but also on wildlife and biodiversity.  Today’s extinctions proceed at a pace faster than ever before, with around one million species already facing extinction, “many within decades,’ according to a major United Nations 2019 report.

The time has come for drastic measures to protect the environment and save the world from a climate catastrophe. Polluting the environment is a crime, but environmental criminals are almost never prosecuted. Environmental crime is still regarded a “white collar crime,” subject mostly to civil charges and accompanied by fines, when the reality on the state of the planet mandates that environmental destruction be conceptualized as a crime against humanity.


Fines are surely not enough to deter greedy and ruthless capitalists from destroying the environment, even if fines happen to be as steep as those involved in the historic greenhouse gas enforcement case between the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Hyundai and Kia that forced the automakers to pay $100 million civil penalty for, among other wrongdoings, emitting more greenhouse gases than reported to EPA or, even more recently, of the seemingly humongous fine of $1 billion levied against German automakers Volkswagen and BMW by the European Union. Both automakers were fined for colluding to curb the use of emissions cleaning technology.

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Chomsky: Outdated US Cold War Policy Worsens Ongoing Russia-Ukraine Conflict

Noam Chomsky

The tension on the Russia-Ukraine border represents an ongoing conflict between two nations with many cultural affinities, but is also part of a much larger rivalry between the U.S. and Europe on one side, and Russia on the other. As Noam Chomsky reminds us in the exclusive interview for Truthout that follows, in 2014, a Russia-supported government in Ukraine was forcefully removed from power by a coup supported by the U.S. and replaced by a U.S. and European-backed government. It was a development that brought closer to war the two main antagonists of the Cold War era, as Moscow regards both U.S. and European involvement in Ukraine and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) continued eastward expansion as part of a well-orchestrated strategy to encircle Russia. The strategy of encirclement is indeed as old as NATO itself, and this is the reason why Russian President Vladimir Putin issued recently a list of demands to the U.S. and NATO with regard to their actions in Ukraine and even parts of the former Soviet space. In the meantime, senior-level Russian officials have gone even further by warning of military response if NATO continues to ignore Moscow’s security concerns.

As Chomsky notes below, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is a solvable problem, but one wonders if the U.S. will remain dedicated to a “zombie policy” that could produce potentially awful consequences in the event of a diplomatic failure.

Noam Chomsky is internationally recognized as one of the most important intellectuals alive. His intellectual stature has been compared to that of Galileo, Newton and Descartes as his work has had tremendous influence on a variety of areas of scholarly and scientific inquiry, including linguistics, logic and mathematics, computer science, psychology, media studies, philosophy, politics and international affairs. He is the author of some 150 books and recipient of scores of highly prestigious awards, including the Sydney Peace Prize and the Kyoto Prize (Japan’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize), and of dozens of honorary doctorate degrees from the world’s most renowned universities. Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT and currently Laureate Professor at the University of Arizona.

C.J. Polychroniou: Following the undoing of the USSR between 1980-1991, people in Ukraine voted overwhelmingly in 1991 to declare independence from the crumbling communist empire. Since then, Ukraine has sought to align closely with the European Union (EU) and NATO, but Moscow has objected to such plans, as it has always considered Ukraine to be part of Russia, and, accordingly, continued to meddle in the country’s internal affairs. In fact, Ukraine became a battleground in 2014 when Putin decided to annex Crimea, which he called the “spiritual source” of the Russian state, and, since then, tensions between the two countries have been very hard to diffuse. In your own view, what’s really behind the conflict between Russia and Ukraine?

Noam Chomsky: There’s more to add, of course. What happened in 2014, whatever one thinks of it, amounted to a coup with U.S. support that replaced the Russia-oriented government by a Western-oriented one. That led Russia to annex Crimea, mainly to protect its sole warm water port and naval base, and apparently with the agreement of a considerable majority of the Crimean population. There’s extensive scholarship on the complexities, particularly Richard Sakwa’s Frontline Ukraine and more recent work.

There’s an excellent discussion of the current situation in a recent article in The Nation by Anatol Lieven. Lieven argues realistically that Ukraine is “the most dangerous [immediate] problem in the world,” and “also in principle the most easily solved.” The solution has already been proposed and accepted — in principle: the Minsk II agreement, adopted by France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine in 2015, and endorsed unanimously by the UN Security Council. The agreement tacitly presupposes withdrawal of George W. Bush’s invitation to Ukraine to join NATO, reaffirmed by Barack Obama, vetoed by France and Germany, an outcome that no Russian leader is likely to accept. It calls for disarmament of the separatist Russia-oriented region (Donbas) and withdrawal of Russian forces (“volunteers”), and spells out the key elements of settlement, with “three essential and mutually dependent parts: demilitarization; a restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty, including control of the border with Russia; and full autonomy for the Donbas in the context of the decentralization of power in Ukraine as a whole.” Such an outcome, Lieven observes, would not be unlike other federations, including the U.S.

Minsk II has not been implemented because of disagreements about timing of its various measures. The issue has been “buried” in U.S. political circles and media, Lieven writes, “because of the refusal of Ukrainian governments to implement the solution and the refusal of the United States to put pressure on them to do so.” The U.S., he concludes, has been keeping to “a zombie policy — a dead strategy that is wandering around pretending to be alive and getting in everyone’s way, because U.S. policy-makers have not been able to bring themselves to bury it.”

The imminent dangers make it imperative to bury the policy and adopt a sound one.

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