National WASP WWII Museum

As we remember Pearl Harbor today, I will share some photos from a recent visit to the National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater, Texas. I learned that just over 1,800 women who’d already earned at least Private certificates were invited to train as Women Airforce Service Pilots (closer to 1,000 completed the program). The museum does a good job of walking visitors through the progression of training to fly military aircraft.

I knew that WASPs had ferried new aircraft from the factory to military bases, but I didn’t realize that they’d also towed targets for live fire practice (video interview). Remarkably, none of the women were killed during this activity.

Some details on the admissions and training processes:

Note that an interview with Florida-native superstar pilot Jacqueline Cochran was required.

The museum preserves some of the trainer aircraft (airworthy, apparently; note the oil drip pans) and shows off the skeleton of a “Bamboo Bomber”:

There are some poignant stories and memorials regarding each of the 38 WASPs who died during the two years that the program existed. No WASP was ever in combat, but there was plenty of potential for a mechanical problem in an airplane made without CNC machine tools. There was no moving map, no GPS, no NEXRAD for weather, etc.

WASPs were civilians, though Jimmy Carter retroactively made them military personnel (on the one hand, their job was nowhere near as dangerous as being a combat pilot and they never had to deploy overseas; on the other hand, their job entailed far more danger than that faced by millions of military men, e.g., those who worked stateside at desks). The museum highlights later female-identifying military pilots. The sign below makes it sound like an F-14 crash was the plane’s fault (after mismanaging an approach, Kara Hultgreen stomped on the rudder like a student pilot, which killed one engine, and then failed to manage the single-engine go-around).

The sign below about Colleen Cain caused me to search for more. She and two fellow crewmembers died going out at night into horrific weather to try to save seven sailors on a fishing boat. They had trouble with navigation, plainly, and ended up hitting terrain. They would all likely still be alive today given GPS and moving terrain maps. It is tough to understand how people can be brave enough to fly helicopters for the Coast Guard. A core part of their job is going out into weather bad enough to sink ships.

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The museum’s conference room featured incredibly comfortable “sled” chairs that allowed a slight recline and had sufficient cushioning. It looks like they are Office Master OM5 stacker chairs. I am tempted to order some for kitchen table use!

Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

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A visit to the Nobel Peace Center

Today is 9/11, the anniversary of the 2001 jihad, our reaction to which was to engage in years of war. I’m going to devote today to describing a visit to the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo.

The Peace Center is in a former train station, no longer needed because Oslo, unlike Boston, constructed a tunnel to unify all of its trains into one station. A view from the National Museum (mostly art):

The red brick towers behind the building are the City Hall, where the Nobel Peace Prize is actually awarded.

The visitor experience begins with a history of Alfred Nobel, whose father was an impoverished entrepreneur and engineer. In addition to being a chemistry nerd, he loved to write fiction:

When he was young and poor, women refused to marry him. When he was old and rich, he didn’t want to get married.

This is what set him up to die without heirs and, therefore, endow the Nobel Prizes.

Treason is not just for Donald Trump and the January 6 insurrectionists. Alfred Nobel was also convicted of treason:

The visitor can use a touchscreen “peace personality” explorer. If you put in zero interest in helping anyone, the software says that your closest match among Peace Prize recipients is Barack Obama.

Moving upstairs, we find a room devoted to polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who later become a diplomat. Nansen seems to have been one of the originators of the idea that people in non-Malthusian situations are obligated to send money, food, and other aid to prevent the consequences of Malthusianism. His lecture in 1922:

“When one has stood face to face with famine, with death by starvation itself, then surely one should have had one’s eyes opened to the full extent of this misfortune. When one has beheld the great beseeching eyes in the starved faces of children staring hopelessly into the fading daylight, the eyes of agonized mothers while they press their dying children to their empty breasts in silent despair, and the ghostlike men lying exhausted on mats on cabin floors, with only the merciful release of death to wait for, then surely one must understand where all this is leading, understand a little of the true nature of the question. This is not the struggle for power, but a single and terrible accusation against those who still do not want to see, a single great prayer for a drop of mercy to give men a chance to live.”

In the spirit of Nansen, the UN World Food Programme won the prize in 2020 “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”

There is a room of tablets on sticks, a bit like some of the installations in Marfa, Texas (“Visitors are required to wear masks indoors”, said the site on September 4, 2022). Each prize winner gets a tablet:

Following Olympic viewing procedure, we will concern ourselves only with Americans. Barack Obama (2009) is featured for creating “a new climate in international politics”. Quite a few winners are featured for ending wars, but somehow the Big Guy didn’t win in 2021 for ending our war in Afghanistan? Al Gore won in 2007 and Jimmy Carter in 2002. Notorious racist Woodrow Wilson won in 1919 for his role in founding the quixotic League of Nations. Norman Borlaug won for deferring our date with Malthus via the Green Revolution.

A notable non-American winner is the Dalai Lama, some decades before “Dalai Lama Says Europe is for Europeans, Refugees Should Go Home and Rebuild” (Newsweek 2018) and “Dalai Lama Says a Female Successor Must Be Attractive, or People Won’t Want to Look at Her Face” (Newsweek 2019).

The museum promotes “freedom of expression”, but the gift shop suggests that some perspectives are more welcome than others. A sampling:

Gro Harlem Brundtland, Prime Minister from 1990-1996, liked to say “It’s typically Norwegian to be good at things.” (source) The Nobel Peace Center is certainly consistent with this point of view.

Readers: What are you thinking about today with respect to the events of 9/11/2001?

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Are there Ukrainian refugees in your neighborhood?

Our Florida neighborhood, which has no “immigrants welcome” signs, is now home to at least two groups of Ukrainian refugees (mother-child in both cases). That’s out of a sample of about 200 houses and apartments.

Our former neighborhood, in Lincoln, Massachusetts, has more than 2,000 homes and perhaps 4,000 “migrants welcome” signs (squeezed in among the rainbow flags, BLM banners, In This House We Believe… laundry lists, and #StopAsianHate memes). The Ukrainian refugee count there? According to friends who still live in Lincoln… zero.

Readers: What’s the story in your own neighborhoods? Have you met any displaced Ukrainians or does the war remain an abstraction for you?

Related:

  • If you’re looking for a way to help Ukrainians and don’t want to copy me by giving money to displaced Ukrainians and/or their hosts (part of my overall offer to pay for food to anyone who says that he/she/ze/they support expanded immigration and are willing to host migrants in their own homes), you can look at The Bond of Sports Foundation (disclosure: I am actually a board member of this 501c3 corporation, the first of whose core values is “empathy” so you know that I am a huge contributor in non-monetary ways)
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Memorial Day reading: The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors

For Memorial Day, let me recommend The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, a book about the Battle off Samar, in which puny destroyer-escorts and destroyers charged heavy Japanese cruisers and battleships in an attempt to prevent destruction by surface fire of American escort carriers (cargo ships with a flight deck, essentially).

The situation was the opposite of the typical American military engagement, in which we enjoy an overwhelming advantage in numbers and equipment. Most of the American fleet had steamed far away, distracted by a Japanese decoy force.

The book is also timely because the events are the opposite of what happened in Uvalde, Texas. There, the heavily armed, full armored, and numerous police were so intimidated by a single teenager that they took no action. Off Samar, however, captains of absurdly small vessels steamed forward into what they expected to be near-certain death in order to protect the escort carriers and their crews.

Here’s the Samuel B. Roberts, at 1350 tons:

She was sunk by the Kongō, 36,600 tons.

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Is Joe Biden fighting an undeclared war against Russia?

According to the Constitution, it is Congress’s job to decide when to declare and wage war on a foreign country.

What is the Biden administration doing?

“U.S. Intelligence Is Helping Ukraine Kill Russian Generals, Officials Say” (NYT, May 4, 2022):

The United States has provided intelligence about Russian units that has allowed Ukrainians to target and kill many of the Russian generals who have died in action in the Ukraine war, according to senior American officials.

Ukrainian officials said they have killed approximately 12 generals on the front lines, a number that has astonished military analysts.

The targeting help is part of a classified effort by the Biden administration to provide real-time battlefield intelligence to Ukraine. That intelligence also includes anticipated Russian troop movements gleaned from recent American assessments of Moscow’s secret battle plan for the fighting in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, the officials said. Officials declined to specify how many generals had been killed as a result of U.S. assistance.

The United States has focused on providing the location and other details about the Russian military’s mobile headquarters, which relocate frequently.

If a country did that to the U.S., would we call it an “act of war” and flatten their capital in retaliation?

“U.S. Intelligence Helped Ukraine Strike Russian Flagship, Officials Say” (NYT, May 5, 2022):

The United States provided intelligence that helped Ukrainian forces locate and strike the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet last month, another sign that the administration is easing its self-imposed limitations on how far it will go in helping Ukraine fight Russia, U.S. officials said.

The targeting help, which contributed to the eventual sinking of the flagship, the Moskva, is part of a continuing classified effort by the Biden administration to provide real-time battlefield intelligence to Ukraine.

What if a country helped some jihadists conduct an operation similar to the USS Cole bombing, e.g., by letting the attackers know exactly where one of our ships was?

What about funding? One way to figure out if a country is at war is if its taxpayers are funding a war. From a May 4 NYT article in which the President actually does run a proposal by Congress:

This week, the Senate will take up a request from President Biden to send $33 billion in aid to Ukraine, mostly in the form of artillery, antitank weapons and other military and security assistance. If the measure goes through, the United States will have authorized a total of $46.6 billion for the war, equal to more than two-thirds of Russia’s entire annual defense budget.

The request comes just weeks after President Vladimir Putin of Russia called on the Biden administration in a formal diplomatic letter to stop supplying advanced weapons to Ukrainian forces. If it didn’t, Putin warned there would be “unpredictable consequences.”

It sounds like Americans been doing everything on the Ukrainian side except the final trigger pull. We are funding the entire Ukrainian military, just as we fund our own military. We are directly running the Ukrainian military’s electronic and satellite intelligence branch. With some assistance from NATO allies, we are designing and building the weapons that the Ukrainian military uses in combat.

The above should not be intended as an opinion regarding the Russia-Ukraine war. (I don’t understand the languages, the history, etc.) The topic for this post is the process of governing the U.S. If the Constitution says “Congress shall have Power . . . To declare War” (Article I, Section 8, Clause 11), how is Joe Biden allowed to do all of the stuff that he is apparently doing without specific Congressional authorization?

Related:

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If you’d like to help Ukrainian refugees, I have two options

If anyone expresses support for low-skill migration into the U.S., one of my standard tropes is to offer to pay for a year of food for any migrants that the gracious welcomer wants to shelter in his/her/zir/their own home. After 20 years of making these offers, I have not had to spend one penny. Here’s the typical exchange:

  • friend posts hatred regarding the Texas governor busing migrants to neighborhoods in D.C. where every lawn has a “migrants welcome” sign (and the Florida governor piling on with “I hope these welfare-dependent migrants don’t show up in Orlando wanting taxpayer-funded gender ID education at Disney World)
  • I respond with “If you’d like to house any asylum-seekers or migrants in your own home I will be happy to pay for a year of Costco food for them. Just let me know how many you’re planning on welcoming!”
  • friend responds to the above with “not the point”

It seems that my bluff has been called, however, by an Irish helicopter enthusiast friend. He and his wife have welcomed a Ukrainian and her 15-year-old son into their suburban Dublin house (to occupy a couple of bedrooms that have been vacated by adult children). From WhatsApp: “They arrived last night with a cabin size bag and 2 shoulder bags.” Although he didn’t ask for any help, I decided to send 500 euro for a gift card at the local shopping mall (impossible to buy online with a U.S. credit card, so I did a bank transfer with his IBAN number and he will buy it; I trust him not to spend the money on essential-in-Maskachusetts-and-California marijuana because weed is illegal in Ireland). The mom will have a “PPS number” by next week and, therefore, will be allowed to work in Ireland.

One of our loyal readers (I won’t share his name until I get his permission) is married to a Ukrainian and is sheltering up to 7 of his wife’s relatives in his suburban Paris home. They’ve gotten health coverage from the French government, but, as in the U.S., housing is a human right to which a 10-year waiting list is attached. We could get together and try to cover some of his hypermarché bills. I met this reader in person when I was in Paris with my mom so I can vouch for him. And I’ve seen the pictures of the crowded kitchen table.

Why send money direct to individuals in this manner? Donating to a non-profit org has the advantage that it might be tax-deductible, but Elvis Presley wouldn’t deduct any of his donations because he said that it “took away from the spirit of the gift.” Also, I don’t want to help a non-profit executive boost his/her/zir/their salary from $1 million per year to $2 million per year, even if that only keeps pace with housing inflation.

Finally, let me add that the Ukrainian friend whom I talk to most regularly is ambivalent about aid to refugees. He prefers to assist those who’ve chosen to stay in Ukraine (his own father has refused to bug out despite a quiet suburban American existence being within relatively easy reach (dad is over 60 and therefore free to leave Ukraine at any time)).

On the third hand, I feel sympathy for anyone who has to live under Irish weather conditions…

(above: part of Newgrange, where no refugees will be housed, from a May/June 2019 trip in which it rained for an entire week)

Comment here and/or email me (philg@mit.edu) if you want to be connected.

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How are American non-profits able to get donations while the war in Ukraine rages?

A money manager friend recently attended a charity fund-raising dinner in Palm Beach. The beneficiary is a liberal arts college in the Northeast. If they reach their goals, the Second Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion will be able to hire a second assistant and the Office of 2SLGBTQQIA+ Allyship can get some gender-neutral Steelcase chairs. No doubt these are worthy objectives, but why are donors giving anything all when there are millions of Ukrainian refugees who need assistance? (One of our loyal readers is housing 7 Ukrainian relatives in his house in France, for example; they can get health care and education, but “no hope for housing, they go into the general multi-year queue for social housing.” (as in the U.S., the French think that housing is a human right, which is why some people get taxpayer-funded houses, but it is not enough of a human right that the French are motivated to tax themselves sufficiently to build sufficient taxpayer-funded housing).)

Speaking of Palm Beach, here are some photos from a recent trip to The Breakers where a friend was paying $2,000 per night for “a tiny room” that afforded “glimpses of the ocean.” It seems that $2,000 is the new $500 because that was the room cost in all previous years.

At the entrance we learn that if you tip the valets sufficiently, even the simplest rental Chevy can occupy pole position:

The beach in Palm Beach is crummy compared to what we enjoy in Jupiter, with heaps of rocks dumped on the sand to prevent erosion:

A cold front with thunderstorms had just rolled through, so the beach and pool were mostly empty:

Although there are no homeless encampments, visitors from San Francisco should still feel right at home:

For $2,500 extra per day, you can rent a pool-side day-use room with attached bathroom:

Back inside the hotel, a wedding takes shape:

(Note that, statistically, the more money that is spent on a wedding, the higher the probability of a subsequent divorce lawsuit.) The other big event in the hotel that night was a black tie ball raising funds for a nearby hospital (already on the 20-percent-of-GDP gravy train).

I wasn’t sorry to leave. Palm Beach is a nice island (literally), but almost any path in or out goes through some depressingly impoverished neighborhoods. In Jupiter, by contrast, you can go from the ocean to Interstate 95 and beyond without encountering anyone unable to pay $1,500 per month for an apartment. It’s presumably nice to be rich enough to afford a $50-100 million house (“brokers fear they may run out of mansions to sell”; “We’re now seeing $50 million transactions on almost a weekly basis.”) that is occupied only 2 months per year, but I wouldn’t want to be regularly reminded of How the Other Half Lives. Maybe the answer is that the residents of Palm Beach never actually leave the island (until it is time to catch the G650 at KPBI), but send servants out for supplies that are available only in West Palm.

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Brandeis students’ concerns while Ukrainians are shelled

A photo taken last week, while Ukrainian cities and homes were being destroyed, on the Brandeis University campus:

While bravely behind a Zoom screen, students identifying as BIPOC could participate in the “Surviving White Spaces” support group, for example. There was “drop-in” support for the pandemic (where “drop-in” is defined as clicking on a Zoom URL). For those who weren’t sure whether they belonged in the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community, there was “Gender & Sexuality Exploration”, from which one could presumably segue into “LGBTQ+ Support Group”.

What about Americans who aren’t in college and who aren’t in Ukraine? They too are experiencing a “tragedy” according to Atlantic magazine’s “How did this many deaths become normal?”:

The U.S. is nearing 1 million recorded COVID-19 deaths without the social reckoning that such a tragedy should provoke. Why?

Why did the CDC issue new guidelines that allowed most Americans to dispense with indoor masking when at least 1,000 people had been dying of COVID every day for almost six straight months?

America is accepting not only a threshold of death but also a gradient of death. Elderly people over the age of 75 are 140 times more likely to die than people in their 20s.

How much of this extra mortality will the U.S. accept? The CDC’s new guidelines provide a clue. They recommend that protective measures such as indoor masking kick in once communities pass certain thresholds of cases and hospitalizations. But the health-policy experts Joshua Salomon and Alyssa Bilinski calculated that by the time communities hit the CDC’s thresholds, they’d be on the path to at least three daily deaths per million, which equates to 1,000 deaths per day nationally. And crucially, the warning lights would go off too late to prevent those deaths. “As a level of mortality the White House and CDC are willing to accept before calling for more public health protection, this is heartbreaking,”

There is some good news in the article. Most of us do follow Science:

a poll that found that mask mandates are favored by 50 percent of Americans and opposed by just 28 percent

Apparently, there is nothing that can happen in Ukraine that will stop us from focusing on the concerns that we had prior to February 2022.

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A world-class military tries to subdue a vast land (England versus the American rebels)

Portions of The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III (Andrew Roberts) are, unfortunately, timely.

The American rebellion surprised the experts:

One of the reasons why British politicians failed to comprehend that Americans would soon be agitating for nationhood was the paradoxical one, considering the propaganda of the independence movement twelve years later, that they were not being persecuted in any discernible way. ‘The colonists were the least oppressed of all peoples then on earth, politically, economically and nationally,’ noted Hans Kohn in his seminal book The Idea of Nationalism in 1944, written when half the world knew genuine oppression. ‘Politically the colonists were infinitely freer than any people on the European continent; they were even freer than Englishmen in Great Britain. The favourable conditions of frontier life had brought Milton’s and Locke’s teachings and English constitutional liberties to faster and fuller fruition in the colonies than in the mother country.’19 Royal governors and colonial assemblies generally ruled Americans with the lightest of touches, and the colonists certainly paid the lightest of taxes in the empire. The average American in 1770 paid a tiny fraction of what his British cousin paid in direct taxes, and crucially all of what he did pay stayed in America.

In the words of Edmund Burke’s biographer, ‘The general belief was that responsible people in the colonies accepted British sovereignty; that the disturbances in America were the work of a small minority of trouble-makers; and that American resistance would collapse if confronted with a show of force. If a war proved necessary, Britain would win it quickly and easily. Not until Appeasement in the 1930s did virtually the entire British establishment get something so important so badly wrong.

The British Army was tasked with domestic policing as well as wars with foreign nations because there was no permanent police force in England until 1829. The number of soldiers was miniscule by modern standards:

In 1775 there were only 48,000 men in the entire British Army, including the 8,000 already stationed in North America, which with its other global commitments would be nothing like enough to subdue the 2.5 million inhabitants of thirteen colonies that stretched over a thousand miles from north to south and several hundred miles inland.

In the summer of 1775, the British Army had 10,000 men already in America (mostly in or around Boston) and Canada, or sailing there; 7,700 in Gibraltar, Minorca and the West Indies; 7,000 in Ireland, which at half its normal peacetime establishment was dangerously low; and the remaining 23,000 in the United Kingdom, the minimum number for defence and domestic control, of whom 1,500 were unfit for duty.

The Cabinet continued to suffer under the delusion that the British Army and Royal Navy that had defeated France (with her population of more than twenty-five million) and Spain (nine million) only a decade earlier, and won a great empire in Canada and India, would, if necessary, similarly destroy the untrained and semi-organized militias of far fewer Americans. The crucial difference was of course that Britain had not needed to invade and occupy France or Spain in order to be victorious in 1763.

What were these professional soldiers up against?

As well as their proficiency with firearms, the Americans also had the advantage of numbers. According to Benjamin Franklin’s calculation in 1766, if a quarter of the remaining male population bore arms, and Loyalists, pacifists and seamen were deducted, about a quarter of a million Americans could theoretically fight against the Crown.

Supplying troops in the field wasn’t any easier then:

The logistical supply problem was immense too: because the local population tended to be hostile – with the American Loyalists providing far fewer troops than the British government had hoped for and expected – food had to be either foraged (that is, requisitioned, with all the local unpopularity that entailed) or bought (routinely at high margins), or else transported 3,000 miles over an ocean that was vulnerable to storms, colonial privateers and, later, enemy navies. Once the British armies penetrated inland, their lack of knowledge of the interior and the inescapable problems of reinforcement and supply both told against them heavily.

I recommend The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III, but you might want to skim over some of the exhaustive/exhausting explanations of 18th century English politics (at least as complex as anything we have today and political disputes quite often resulted in violent clashes).

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Democrats are willing to fight anyone except a foreign invader?

Democrats frequently promise to “fight” when seeking election. Here’s the party’s thought leader, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “‘We can and must fight‘: AOC urges Americans to ‘get to work’ to defeat Donald Trump following Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death” (Independent 2020). Nancy’s Pelosi’s 2010 statement on President Obama’s Economic Speech says Democrats are “fighting” for the middle class. The most excellent of current Democrats, as evidenced by his/her/zir/their elevation to the Presidency: “I want to make sure we’re going to fight like hell by investing in America first,” said Biden. (NYT, December 2020) Biden’s inaugural address: “I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.” Biden in April 2021: “the climate crisis is not our fight alone. It’s a global fight.” The godlike Obama in 2018: “You can make it better. Better’s always worth fighting for.” Obama in 2009: “I will fight for you. … I got my start fighting for working families in the shadows of a shuttered steel plant.” Hillary Clinton’s concession speech: “I have, as Tim said, spent my entire adult life fighting for what I believe in. … please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

A Quinnipiac University poll, however, found that there was one thing Democrats did not want to fight against: a military invasion.

As the world witnesses what is happening to Ukraine, Americans were asked what they would do if they were in the same position as Ukrainians are now: stay and fight or leave the country? A majority (55 percent) say they would stay and fight, while 38 percent say they would leave the country. Republicans say 68 – 25 percent and independents say 57 – 36 percent they would stay and fight, while Democrats say 52 – 40 percent they would leave the country.

Here’s more granular data (from the above URL, click “download as PDF”):

White men were the group most likely to say that they were willing to fight, at 75 percent. We’re informed that Americans who identify as “women” are generally strong and independent, but, in the event of an invasion, only 40 percent say that they’d be willing to fight. Americans identifying as “Hispanic” were actually slightly more likely than whites to be willing to fight while Americans who identify as “Black” already had one foot over the border (only 38 percent would be willing to stay and fight, the lowest percentage of any demographic group).

Although most apparently won’t be fighting, Americans who identify as “white women” are the ones who are truly suffering from what is happening in Ukraine, with 65 percent saying that they’re feeling anxious:

When we combine decades of political rhetoric with the poll results, is it fair to say that Democrats are enthusiastic about any fight except one involving a foreign army that is trying to take over the U.S.?

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