A comment worth revisiting in the Oregonian about the next Oregon 5th district U.S. House race, now that district lines are settled, on the subject of a Republican challenge to Democratic Representative Kurt Schrader.

The 5th, which includes the Oregon City-Salem area and a piece of the central coast, has been and is the most competitive of Oregon’s five districts – one (the 2nd) is very strongly Republican and the other three are definably Democratic. The closest call of those three, the 4th, just got more Democratic in the new reapportionment. And the 5th probably just got a shade more Republican.

Last year, Schrader got a challenge from possibly the strongest candidate Republicans could have pitted against him – then-state Representative Scott Bruun, a well-skilled and experienced candidate conservative enough to win party loyalty but with enough moderate leanings to make him a reasonable fit for the district. It looked like a close race, and it was the closest of the five, but still not a nail-biter even in a strong Republican year – with Schrader winning 51.3%-46%.

So, next time? Bruun evidently was asked about the idea of a rematch, and he appeared to demur, saying that he wasn’t the strongest prospective challenger. That, he said, would be Chris Dudley.

Dudley is the former pro basketball player who came close to beating Democrat John Kitzhaber for governor last year. As Blue Oregon points out, Dudley won the 5th district’s voters in his race.

But Dudley too apparently is taking a pass – and wisely so, we’d think. In 2010 he was a fresh face riding a tide that was heavily rewarding non-governmental fresh faces. He had the best set of advantages he could have, and he came close but didn’t quite cross the line.

So the question: Who can, or will?

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A while back, we posted a congressional redistricting plan for Idaho that kept the Ada-Canyon metro area in one congressional district, at the cost of – well, a real mess. And concluding that it wouldn’t happen because setting up a dumbbell second district consisting of the north and east made no sense.

A bunch of other people have submitted plans along similar lines, and they’ve been posted on the redistricting commission’s site. Have a look.

The takeaway here: Our original point stands.

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More notice ought to be taken – more headlines, even – when you see press releases like this one from Idaho Regence Blue Shield:

Regence BlueShield of Idaho announced today that Shad Priest, deputy director of the Idaho Department of Insurance, will be joining Regence [emphasis added] as the director of legislative and regulatory affairs in Idaho. Priest will begin his new role on August 15.

“Shad’s strong background in insurance, coupled with his experience in working with legislators, industry members and the public on insurance-related matters will make him a valuable member of our team,” said Scott Kreiling, president of Regence BlueShield of Idaho. “He has a track record of developing consensus-based regulatory policies that blend consumer needs and insurance industry priorities, which is especially important in a post health care reform world.”

In a “post health care reform world” – we’d dispute that we’re actually there – or is that intended to mean a world in which reform has come and gone already? – the insurers and the state agency officials who are in theory regulating them would have a tense and standoffish relationship, punctuated with sharp differences of opinion and an uneasy relationship. You might even see as evidence public events (like the contentious June 2 rate hearing Oregon Regence had before Oregon regulators, not that they’ve historically been very tough either) that throw a sharp spotlight on rate setting and practices, this being a world (the world we see) in which fewer and fewer people can afford health insurance because rates keep on rising while coverage scales back.

Don’t hold your breath.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Jack Briggs died at 3 p.m. July 7 in Steele Memorial Hospital in Salmon, Idaho. While his death will be little noted other than by family, neighbors and friends, his passing brought to an end, at age 81, the life of one of those remarkable, vanishing breeds of Idahoans.

He was everything a man should be.

He possessed country wisdom born of experience, was incredibly well-read but largely self-educated. He was an excellent mechanic and worked in the family business, Pocatello’s National Laundry and Dry Cleaning, maintaining a large fleet of delivery trucks while in high school and several years thereafter before moving to Salmon in the fall of 1963.

We always could bring a smile to each other’s face by recalling the scene of his father, Fergus Briggs, Sr., a devout Baptist, holding a rake in hand extended toward the garage ceiling and jumping up in an attempt to hook that early Playboy Magazine pin-up of Marilyn Monroe in a diversion Jack had stapled to the ceiling where he could view it as he rolled out from under a vehicle on which he was working.

Within a few years of moving to Salmon with his wife Lois, a nurse by profession, and their daughter, Theresa, Jack purchased a ranch a few miles up Indian Creek which flows into the Salmon River. He became an outfitter and guide having purchased, with the ranch, rights to the Saddle Springs Area which straddles the Idaho/Montana border.

The family also turned the spread into a successful guest ranch that attracted people from across the United States, even some from Europe. Jack’s hard work, quick wit and ability to tell a good story while puffing on his beloved pipe charmed all with whom he came in contact. Most guests became repeat clients.

He loved to pull a person’s leg to see how gullible they might be, and he suckered many a “dude” with his dead-pan statements one took for gospel, including me, his adoring nephew.

As a resident of “The Canyon,” he was involved in the lives, follies and fortunes of his neighbors, most of whom were noted for eccentricities but all of whom, despite professed independence, were somewhat dependent on each other.

The Canyon has several historic distinctions, but the most noteworthy one was its status as the last hand-crank operated telephone system in the United States, the Shoup Telephone Co-op. Jack was its long-time president. There was one line strung down the Canyon and, of course. it was a large “party line” eliminating any secrets.

When dial phones came to The Canyon in the early 90s Jack, who was used to calling the operator in Salmon for connection to whomever he needed to talk, was bemused and befuddled for awhile by the challenge of mastering the direct dial.

As president of the co-op, his 15 minutes of national fame came with his appearance on a national network television program answering questions about the transition. One would have thought he had been media trained, so smooth was the interview.

He kept the ranch for a few more years following the both premature and belated death of his wife, Lois, in 1989. Lois, on a trip to Idaho Falls, several years earlier, had been in a horrible car wreck from which she never fully recovered.

Jack kept a small parcel of the ranchland and lovingly hand built a log home which he named Berry Creek, the name bestowed on the creek by Clark when he explored down the Salmon on the historic Lewis & Clark expedition in 1805. A true history buff, Jack read everything written about the expedition, including the journals, and possessed a set of maps detailing the expedition.

He could pinpoint key places the explorers had been at in Lemhi County. Active in the county historical society, Governor Cecil Andrus named him to the State’s Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Commission. When the governor called to inform him of the appointment, he tried to decline, citing the fact he had no college degree. Andrus would have none of it, saying simply, “Neither do I, Jack, and it hasn’t stopped either of us, has it?”

Jack’s passing is particularly emotional because he took a paternal interest in me. He will be laid to rest next to Lois later this week in the quiet, tree-lined cemetery on a hill just outside of Gibbonsville, for a brief time Idaho’s first territorial capital before it moved to Lewiston, then to Boise.

With apologies to Will Rogers for the paraphrase, God just ain’t making people like him anymore.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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Tacoma News Tribune columnist Peter Callaghan has an excellent piece out about the impacts of multiples candidacies and the top-two primary election. Among other things, it makes the clear point that the sheer number of (substantial) candidates who run can make a lot of difference.

He cites the 1996 governor’s race, and the primaries in it. In that case, six substantial Republican candidates fought it out, with the plurality win going to Ellen Craswell, a Christian conservative state legislator who had enthusastic support which was limited to a relatively narrow ideological band. The Democrats had three major candidates, the winner being King County Executive Gary Locke, who had a broader base of support. Locke crushed Craswell in the fall.

But that wasn’t the only point. Callaghan: “Republicans so divided the primary vote that even though Craswell got the nomination, she finished third behind both Locke and Rice. If the current top-two primary had been in place, no Republican would have made the general election.”

Even long in advance, Republicans ever since have been trying to rally, early on, around one major candidate (like a Dino Rossi in three major elections, and now Rob McKenna for governor) to avoid that problem. And yet that hasn’t been working out so well either.

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There’s a good deal of discussion in King County about prospective cuts to the King County Metro bus service – major cuts, as plans have it. But what would it actually look like? What would the cuts mean? Is there a way to picture it?

Even if the King bus system isn’t a top priority for you, check out the video put together by a blogger at Communications from Elsewhere. It shows, in dynamic fashion, where the buses run, and which runs are likely to be retained, which cut entirely, and which may be modified in some way. It gives you a good idea of what the real, practical effects may be. (Especially, it turns out, on the east side.)

Becomes almost hypnotic if you stare at it more than a few seconds.

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When you live in a one-party area, you tend to get just one point of view – from your local officials – on the subjects of the day. Here, an atetmpt to break that mold; we’ll try to do this from time to time: Contrasting views about the same thing from different members of Congress, including the arguments made by each.

Topic today is the budget bill marked up – amended – on Thursday by the House Interior and the Environment Appropriations Subcommittee; the budget covers that subject area.

Idaho Republican Mike Simpson, who chairs the subcommittee, had this to say about it:

The Act provides a responsible level of funding for the Department of the Interior, the EPA, and related agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, by saving $2.1 billion from the current fiscal year’s level and focusing on proven, core programs.

“We are living at a time when the federal government borrows over 40 cents for each dollar that it spends. We are also living at a time of record deficits and debts,” Chairman Simpson said during the subcommittee markup. “This committee is taking meaningful steps to help put our country’s fiscal house in order. While reductions in discretionary spending alone will not erase the deficit, the bill before us this morning is a step forward in that direction.”

The FY12 Interior and Environment Appropriations Act funds agencies under the bill at $27.5 billion, a 12% cut from the President’s budget request. The EPA will see an additional $1.5 billion in cuts from the current level. Between this bill and the FY11 Continuing Resolution passed in April, EPA funding has been reduced by 31 percent during the current calendar year.

“Some naysayers will no doubt try to portray Republicans as not supporting clean water, clean air, and a clean environment, but such assertions are simply untrue,” said Simpson. “The reality is that the EPA has received unprecedented and unsustainable increases in recent years. In an environment of historic budget deficits and reduced spending, it should come as no surprise that the agency that saw the greatest increases will inevitably see the greatest cuts.”

The bill also shifts funding away from unproven programs and government growth and focuses it on agencies’ core missions and programs that have demonstrated value to taxpayers. The Chairman’s mark drastically reduces funding for new land acquisitions but provides adequate funding for priorities like National Park Service operations and resource management. The bill cuts funding for expensive and uncoordinated climate change programs by 22% but enables the government to meet its trust responsibilities to Native American communities.

(Follow the link, and you’ll find some additional points Simpson makes.)

Here is Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer, also a member of the committee, criticizing the budget:

“The Interior-Environment Appropriations bill being marked up in Subcommittee today represents an abdication of responsibility on the part of the federal government. Not only does the bill cut funding for clean air, clean water and protection of public lands, but in numerous areas it actually undermines the role of the federal government in protecting our nation’s environment and public health.

“The devastating cuts to the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs), the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the National Park Service, EPA’s operating budget, the Interior Department’s oversight budget for offshore oil drilling and more will leave communities around the country struggling to provide services to their citizens and even to comply with federal laws.

“In Oregon, the cuts to public lands funding in this bill could mean missed opportunities to protect special places in the Columbia River Gorge and elsewhere in the state. In many cases, these cuts will also cripple local economies – studies have shown that every $1 billion invested in water infrastructure creates between 20,000-26,000 jobs. This bill cuts almost $1 billion from the SRFs, which help states finance federally mandated upgrades and repairs to water and sewer systems. It will put additional pressure on already tight local budgets as well as potentially increasing water and sewer rates, which would be an extreme hardship in cities like Portland that have already seen water rates skyrocket in recent years.

“The policy riders in this spending bill can only be described as fulfilling special interest wish list. From blocking clean air regulations and oversight of mining to preventing Federal action to clarify the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act to a new moratorium on listing wildlife under the Endangered Species Act, this bill implements what polluting industries have been asking for. The bill would even allow new hard rock mining around the Grand Canyon.

“If this bill comes to the Floor, I will strongly oppose it and urge my colleagues to do the same.”

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A group called the Coalition for a Working Oregon, a group made up of leaders in such Oregon industries as restaurants, nurseries and others, is at work in Washington (D.C.) trying to oppose a piece of legislation which would require nearly all businesses to use the E-Verify system to determine whether the people being hired are in this country legally. The Coalition is forthright about its situation: Its businesses hire people who aren’t. They do it because there’s not much other way they can get needed work done, within their ordinary budgets.

Many of those people are Republicans, and their efforts appear likely to be setting them on a collision course with other Republicans. To which one nursery executive told the Oregonian, “If you’re 80 percent our friend but the 20 percent puts us out of business, we will have a problem.”

This situation is nothing new in the case of immigration law; Republicans have been dealing with the internal difficulties there at least since President George W. Bush tried to rationalize the system, and couldn’t get enough support.

Consider now, though, the situation in Idaho: Ordinary trade development efforts are becoming enough to rouse concern of foreigners too.

On July 16, at its annual convention, the Idaho Republican Party will be asked to demand the legislature investigate the state’s current efforts to expand trade with China.

It’s a real peculiarity. Trade expansion with China has been something the state has been pushing for a great many years, and it’s one of the initiatives Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter appears to be (with some justification) proudest of. He has worked on a number of agreements, some of which have brought business to the state. There’s been talk of setting up a free-trade zone. There’s been nothing especially secret about this; Otter has enjoyed trumpeting his efforts in these areas.

But the effort before the state GOP would ask the legislature to “inquire 1) how does this not violate our own state Constitution, 2) if this is a security risk to Gowen Field, Mountain Home Air Force Base, the State of Idaho, or the U.S., and 3) why are we not internally developing our own natural resources.”

Try Googling “otter china free trade zone idaho” and you’ll find some peculiar stuff: CHINESE INVASION OF IDAHO « The Radio DetectiveIdaho to be first Chinese stateWhy has Butch Otter invited Communist China to Idaho? … And this goes on, and on.

Is the next step kicking Otter out of the Republican Party for not being rigorously conservative enough?

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The big Tea Party-related event of the season in Idaho has been slated to be “Arise and Awake America: A Solution,” on July 8 in Nampa. It has gotten some attention, some local participation and some name speakers. Evidently, it has not, so far, gotten much by way of confirmed attendance.

Probably one reason for this is that Tea Party events this year nationally have been falling into a pattern: Rather than growing from the energy many had in 2009 and for a while in 2010, they have been cratering – handsful of people showing up where hundreds or thousands did not so long before. And that’s at the free events; you have to pay $10 to get into this one (or $15 for the two-day version, running into Saturday).

But there’s another factor here that the groups own backers acknowledge in an e-mail, as the Idaho Statesman has noted. Seeking more ticket-buyers, the backers launched a recent email with this:

“It has been brought to our attention that the turnout for the Awake and Arise America event has been much less than expected. As one scheduled speaker says “there may be frustrations about religious affiliations or the fact that the speakers may speak on controversial issues, but are we really not then just looking for excuses to not attend? As many of you know, what we once knew as mere conspiracy theories today have varying degrees of truth. Are we willing like so many other people today to turn our head thinking if we ignore the possibilities that these problems will just go away?”

That the organization’s own backers use the phrase “conspiracy theories” should tell you something. So who are the speakers? The keynoter is Stephen Jones, founder of Scholars for 9/11 Truth and Justice, which suggests that the Bush Administration and key industry people knew about but declined to stop the 9/11 attacks. The Statesman described another keynote speaker, Jack Monnett, as “a historian and author of, “Awakening to our Awful Situation: Warnings from the Nephi Prophets.” Monnett explores the Book of Mormon’s account of “Secret Combinations” and how they infiltrated government at the highest levels, and argues such conspiracies are afoot today.”

You can see where the broad numbers of Idaho people, conservative as they may be, aren’t jumping on board with the event.

More interesting is who in Idaho did jump on board and stay there – who is listed as a speaker at the event (meaning, of course, that even if they didn’t originally know who would be keynoting, they could have backed out later but didn’t). These Idahoans include Paul Venable, chair of the Constitution Party of Idaho; Tom Munds, a Constitutionalist Idaho state candidate; state Representative Pete Nielsen; Dale Pearce, area coordinator for John Birch Society; Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation; and Idaho State Senator Monty Pearce.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The latest national Gallup poll on social attitudes reports a new number one issue that most divides the American public. For years the issue has been abortion. Today it is physician assisted suicide (PAS).

While 48 percent of the respondents said the matter was “morally objectionable all the time,” some 45 percent said it could be morally acceptable.

The issue has gained sufficient attention that the nation’s Catholic bishops finally issued a policy statement deploring its increased public acceptance at their annual summer meeting in June in Bellevue, Washington.

It is an eloquent statement, worth reading. It provides effective counter-arguments to those made by PAS supporters that the issue is a matter of “choice” and “compassion.” Sadly, it fails to grasp that one cannot effectively counter an emotional appeal rooted in the fear many have of dying with rational appeals. The challenge is to find an emotional appeal that resonates more forcefully with the public, regardless of whether one believes in God and an Afterlife, and one rooted in hope rather than despair.

Opponents of abortion on demand finally figured this out and began to turn the tide when they started running ads featuring the child at 20 weeks in the womb, with a beating heart and already human form. Those ads made an emotional connection that underscored their message. Consequently, it put abortion supporters on the defensive by casting would-be mothers who use abortion as a contraceptive or simply don’t want to accept the responsibility for a consensual act of sex that produces a third life as being selfish and willing to sacrifice the life of a child because of inconvenience.

Physician assisted suicide is an equally complex issue, which most folks instinctively see purely in their own context. Many can see themselves taking a premature departure if they feel they are being made to suffer unendurable pain, or have become a burden on their families.

Preaching about viewing life as ending only with natural death, trusting God and recognizing that there is Grace in allowing families assisting one through the final transition carries little weight with some, especially non-believers, and those who don’t attend church on a regular basis, which is especially so in the Pacific Northwest, a region known for its religious independence.

Too many people fail to recognize one of life’s major goals is the acceptance of an end and the mastering of a philosophy that helps us learn how to die. Our natural inclination is to want to live and breathe as long as we can. Throughout history, many cultures have viewed suicide as an unnatural, anti-life, selfish act that almost always passes on an individual’s personal pain to loved ones.

Few people argue against one’s ability–as opposed to a right–to end his or her life. Where the issue gets sticky is when proponents say physicians, counter to the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, should be allowed (and someday, mandated) to provide one with the drugs they can ingest to kill themselves. The doctor doesn’t have to witness the death. In fact, no one has to witness the death under Washington’s voter adopted law.

What we have though is the state laying out the criteria (terminally ill, less than six months to live) by which a doctor can write the prescription. If the patient avails themselves of this doctor-explained option (how many may hear obligation, not option?), the law further mandates the doctor signing the death certificate has to list the underlying disease as the cause of death not the lethal dose of drugs.

That is a stretch at best and a lie at worst. There’s something intrinsically wrong with a law that mandates skirting the truth about the cause of death.

In reviewing the bishop’s statement not only was the emotional counter-argument missing, it also lacked an “Action Plan” or even a commitment to develop one that would educate Catholic laity and the general public as to why supporting PAS is truly not in either their or society’s best interest.

Most recognize the title of this essay from Hamlet’s famous soliloquy on whether to commit suicide in William Shakespeare’s play of the same name. There’s another line in that play that reminds one of the futility of not linking words to action.

King Laertes, who has stolen the crown from his brother, Hamlet’s father, by murdering the brother and then marrying his now widowed sister-in-law, is on his knees praying in the chapel asking for God’s forgiveness.

He rises up and says to the audience: “My words rise up; my thoughts stay below. Words without thought to heaven do not go.”

Bishops, listen up.

Chris Carlson was given less than six months to live in November of 2005 when he contracted a rare form of terminal carcinoid neuroendocrine cancer. He obviously is still with us. His objection to PAS led him to the chairmanship of the statewide campaign against I-1000, a Washington state initiative approving PAS that voters passed in 2008.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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A thanks here to Marc Johnson at Boise for taking note of the passing of Carl Burke, an event that didn’t draw a lot of public attention but surely should have.

Read Johnson’s piece on Burke. We’ll add here not a lot more, other than that Burke was Senator Frank Church‘s closest political partner – other than Church’s wife Bethine – for the three decades they were involved in politics. It started with both of them seeking to run, filing for the legislature in Idaho in 1952, and losing – this just four years before Church would run statewide and beat an incumbent Republican, Herman Welker. Surely there was a time when Burke, who was as skilled and polished as Church though in different ways, was also considering elective office. He might have done well had he pursued it.

As it was, he was one of the critical people behind Church’s long political career, and never more than at the beginning, when the core believers around the young Boise attorney, who’d never won a political office, wasn’t especially large. In later years, he was a fine interview – a very likable person. And, it should be noted, widely regarded as one of the best Idaho attorneys of his time.

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Probably there will be more such cases, but watch the numbers coming out of Yakima County.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has developed a program working with local law enforcement: Whenever someone is booked and fingerprinted by local law enforcement, those fingerprints are sent to a national database and matched against fingerprints of people who have been picked up previous on immigration issues. The idea, of course, is to catch illegal immigrants who have committed crimes.

Yakima County will be one of the pilot “Secure Communities” programs. A dozen other Washington counties are lined up to take part sometime after.

It is the first in Washington, but not in the Northwest.

In Idaho, Ada and Canyon counties have been in the program for more than a year (since June 3, 2010), and Kootenai, Bannock, Bonner, Bonneville and Twin Falls – between them, the largest counties in the state – were added this spring. The “The statewide cumulative number of convicted criminal aliens administratively arrested or booked into ICE custody” thus far is reported as 303.

In Oregon, four of the five largest counties (Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Marion) joined the system in the spring or summer of 2010, and four more (Columbia, Clatsop, Jackson, Josephine) this year. The total “criminal aliens administratively arrested or booked”: 989.

It’ll be useful to see how the numbers develop over time.

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Not a lot to add really to the Oregonian‘s editorial today summing up this year’s legislative session, and Governor John Kitzhaber‘s role in it.

With few substantial exceptions (tax policy reform for one), legislators got done this session what they had to get done and actually accomplished a number of things – such as redistricting of both legislative and congressional districts – that few people would have bet they could have done at all. The sweeping education restructuring and health care efforts were the sort of major initiatives that, if done at all, usually take years. But that may be the advantage of having a session that runs close to half a year: There was enough time to consider them, at length, without blindly rushing, and still get them done.

Nothing’s perfect, this legislature included, but lawmakers from elsewhere could do worse than to look closely at just how and what this 2011 session did, and maybe extract some lessons. In a time when partisanship nationally is as ferocious as in many decades (at least), both parties in this case genuinely worked together and worked cooperatively. Occasional brief potholes emerged, but they were navigated around. Overwhelmingly, legislators seemed to display the attitude that they were there to get work done, not to make partisan points. And they got a lot of work done. Anything short of real determination along those lines would have been enough to blow things up, with the House evenly divided, the Senate nearly so, and the governor having a reputation from the past of being quick with the veto stamp.

Plenty of state legislative sessions routinely come in for complaint – that this isn’t the way it should be done. Well, call this a counterpoint: To a large extent, this is how it should be done.

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