Them That Are at Ease in Zion

Woe to them that are at ease in Zion. (Amos 6:1:)

I have not been able to get this verse out of my head since I learned yesterday that the US House of Representatives narrowly voted to eliminate 800 billion dollars of benefits designed to help the poorest Americans get health care in order to fund an 800 billion dollar tax cut for the wealthiest. I have never seen a starker example in my country of the wealthy and powerful manipulating the structures of society in order to enrich powerful people at the expense of the most vulnerable members of society. This is exactly the sort of thing that the prophets were always talking about.

I’m not at all interested in arguing the merits of the legislation. If you think that what happened yesterday was a good thing, then stop reading now; you’ll just get angrier as you go on. Scroll down to the comments section and make the inevitable observation about me being a “snowflake” or an “SJW” or comparing me to Stalin. I can handle it. In Amos’s day, you would have been able to throw rocks.

I want to talk to the people who are opposed to what happened–who either think that some level of health care is a basic right or who, failing that, at least agree that there is something wrong with powerful people creating a health care system that drives prices well beyond market levels with insurance subsidies and then makes it impossible for a large portion of the country to get insurance (but still requires them to pay inflated prices for health care). To the people who are angry about any of this I want to say, you are probably not angry enough.

I want to convince you to be more dismayed than you already are. So upset that you can’t think of anything else. I want you to be so obsessed with making this right that you don’t want to do anything else until it has been reversed. Eating should be a burden, and sleep should be unthinkable. Don’t even bother to bathe or change your clothes. You should think and talk about nothing else until justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Amos 5:24)

If you get to this point you will understand something of what it is like to be a prophet. Very few prophets of the past were presidents of stuff. They didn’t run things or lead people. They came from the margins of a society to tell  rich and powerful people that they were working against the Kingdom of God. And they were compulsively unable not to speak against the injustices that they saw. To be a prophet was to be unable not to speak about social inequality. Amos was a Social Justice Warrior before it was even an acronym. He could not be anything else. Just listen to him in Chapter 2:

Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes; That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek. . . . And they lay themselves down upon clothes laid to pledge by every altar, and they drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god. (Amos 2:6-8)

Christians of any stripe who scoff at the idea of “social justice” must either ignore or violently misinterpret every book that we teach our children to read and revere. Every one of them charges us with creating a society–with whatever mechanisms citizens use to create societies–that reins in the powerful and protects the poor. When we actively seek to create social structures that allow powerful people to enrich themselves at the expense of less powerful people–all the time saying that they are “obeying the law” because the law has been bent to their interests–we are working directly against the Kingdom of God.

But Amos wasn’t even talking to the wealthy and powerful who bent the law to their desires. Not really. Those people don’t listen to prophets who preach against them, since they can always afford prophets who say things they like. The prophet speaks, not to the people who make injustice happen, but to people who let injustice happen. Amos had a special name for such people. He called them “them that are at ease in Zion.” And all he had to say to them was “woe.”

We are all responsible for the world that we make. And those of us fortunate enough to live in a democracy are responsible for the world that we vote for or the world that we do not work hard enough against. “Social justice” is not an invention of the God-hating left. It is a scriptural requirement for anybody who claims to care about the Kingdom of God. When faced with injustice in a world that we have any ability to influence, our best bet is to be like Amos and stand up on a wall someplace and say,

They sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes.

Comments

  1. Well said. That sound you hear is me getting to my feet and applauding!

  2. Yes! Beautifully expressed. Alas, the people who most need to read this will not do so.

  3. Amen. Amen. And amen.

  4. I am NOT at ease. I’m so unhappy that I burst into tears at random moments (countdown to some snarker laughing at that: 3 … 2 … 1 …). I can’t give money any more, but I’ve ramped up giving what I have to give — mostly historical research to scholars, or hopefully inspiring blog posts to cheer a reader for the moment — which of course does nothing to heal the sick or shelter the refugee, but it’s all I have. I am brought to impotent tears every time I think of that awful, awful, awful lds.org blog post assuring us that “everything will work out in the end” as if my reassurance of that fact (which I do believe) relieves me of the need and desire to help somebody, somewhere today cope with their troubles, or to do something, somewhere to heal some small corner of the world, or at least not to make things worse.

    I’m not a prophet. I don’t have the power or the right to pronounce “woe” on anyone else — there is enough woe in the world today as it is. What I need is a prophet who will help me find some way to make things better, for someone, in a small way, for a moment. Where do I turn for that?

  5. SteveP says:

    Yup, thanks for this. We’ve never been a so-called “Christian Nation,” but now even the ‘Christians’ are abandoning the pretense.

    And Mormons who are on board with this mess have failed against even more light:

    D&C 104
    16 But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.

    17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.

    18 Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.

  6. Mark L says:

    Socialism only works until you run out of other people’s money. And the national debt is evidence that the Federal Government is very generous with other people’s money.

  7. Six comments in and already we’re at the “quoting anti-socialism bumper stickers as the sole argument against healthcare reform” stage?

  8. If it weren’t Saturday evening, Eric, I don’t think it would have taken six comments.

  9. Er, Friday evening. I so want this week to be over.

  10. jaxjensen says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with everything except the idea that gov’t is the vehicle best suited to achieve “social justice” or to establish “zion”. We should absolutely be ashamed, and we absolutely will be held accountable, for creating a social system that treats the poor as terribly as we do. But if you think that using gov’t is the method best designed to fix it, then I think you ” must either ignore or violently misinterpret every book that we teach our children to read and revere”. We’ve made absolutely horrible choices in US society regarding the poor, and amongst them is thinking that government will fix the problem.

  11. It’s a blind ideology to think that government won’t be the answer so it shouldn’t be considered. I very much want to feed the poor but I don’t have the resources of time, money, and knack to feed them. That is why we want government to step in and use time, money, and knack to feed the hungry. We all have agency to do what we want but none of us can individually work out all the problems that exist in our community, state, and country.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    AFAIC, the Republicans can do whatever they want with health care, on one simple condition: that they not exempt themselves from the impact of the bill (which this bill in fact explicitly does). Instead of their gold plated congressional insurance, they, their families, their staff should have to purchase individual policies on the open market, pay the premiums and copays, be subject to the full panoply of what they have wrought, including premiums five times what young people pay, preexisting condition exclusions, limits on coverage and all the rest. I’d be willing to live with whatever they enact for themselves.

    Of course I can say that because I know they would never, ever, do such a thing.

  13. “So long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannise will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men.” Voltaire

  14. Government is the mechanism that people in a democracy use to create the society that they want to create. It doesn’t even make sense for somebody in a participatory democracy to say, “we need to create X kind of society, but we can’t work through the government to do it.” There is simply no other thing that we can work through. That doesn’t mean that the answer is always the redistribution of wealth (though it also doesn’t mean that it isn’t sometimes the redistribution of wealth). But government does much more than this: it creates the laws that form the ground rules for a social system. And of those laws allow wealthy and powerful people to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor and powerless, wealthy and powerful people will enrich themselves at the expense of the poor and powerless, and they will use the mechanisms of government to do it.

    And if, every time powerful interests use the power of government to cause social problems, people start spouting off barely relevant slogans about how “the government can’t solve social problems,” what you get is a whole lot of genuinely decent people tricked into being comfortable with deep, structural inequalities that their quiescence helped to create.

    This is especially relevant to the health care debate because HEALTH CARE IS NOT A FREE MARKET!!!!!!! Rich people have figured out how to build health care subsidies into their employment benefits under the name of “insurance,” which has driven the cost of life-saving care well above any rational market value. But the people who don’t have insurance still have to try to buy health care at ridiculously inflated, non-market prices. This is not a free market; it is a compulsory upward transfer of wealth done under the cover of laws that enrich the rich at the expense of the poor.

  15. First, agreed, thank you, and “isn’t it obvious!”

    Second, discursively, I’d like to underline the fact that the House voted to reduce health care and reduce taxes. There is no pretense that this is about fixing health care or improving the system. It is all about the role of government.

    We have got to fix health care. And the logic, economics, and dynamics of the market makes government involvement indispensable. It is demonstrable that individualized insurance in an unconstrained market doesn’t work. Nobody has located or argues for the existence of sufficient private charity to make it work. Ultimately we have a big collective action problem and that means government, which is how we deal with collective action problems.

    Fixing means large programs (big insurance pools or single payer or single provider). I’m persuaded that we have to go national–that enough states have proven themselves unwilling or unable, and enough insurance companies and large health care organizations have proven themselves private-profit-shareholder-value oriented, and that (like it or not) we have to take this up at a federal level.

    Fixing means taxpayer funding of subsidies (more money than ever before, unless/until costs are better controlled) or mandated participation (essentially a tax in reverse). I think there is more political hostility to mandates than to subsidies, but there’s no avoiding the fact that there is no “none of the above” option. Subsidies or mandates or some combination.

    Anything less puts me in mind of the already quoted D&C 104:18: “if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.”

    Privately I have violent revolutionary thoughts about this stuff. But publicly I’m committed to the rule of law in a representative democracy, and that means speaking up now (to my representative who has proven that he’s not listening–a prompt for some of those private violent thoughts) and voting for change.

  16. Mary Lythgoe Bradfford says:

    Lowell lBennion would agree with you—right on!

  17. Think on this: The Urban Institute projects that if the AHCA becomes law, “the average person earning $200,000 or more will get a 1% increase in income . . . the average person earning less than $10,000 will experience a 33% net loss of income.”

  18. Matt Evans says:

    Michael, regarding your core contention that scripture obligates us to use government as the primary vehicle to shape a moral society, this would seem to obligate Mormons to using government to eliminate adultery, pornography, abortion, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, etc. No?

  19. Alanna says:

    The last part of this article perfectly sums up how I feel about abortion, actually. How can we live in a society that allows such atrocities to be committed against its most innocent and defenseless members? How can God not hold us accountable for this?

  20. Matt Evans: No.
    That’s not what Michael said.
    You’re suggesting a false equivalency.
    Your comment is a common evasive tactic.
    And to the substance, when and how government is right and useful is a complicated case by case discussion. The case being made here is that government is right and necessary for health care. Stick with the subject.

  21. Matt Evans says:

    Christian, see Michael’s last comment.

  22. Matt Evans says:

    Also, I should clarify that I’m sympathetic to the argument that we can use government to address basic problems like health care for the most vulnerable. I’m a pragmatic conservative.

  23. Matt, I didn’t quite say that the scriptures enjoined us to use government to create a moral society. I said that 1) the scriptures enjoined us to create a society where powerful people don’t have license to enrich themselves at the expense of vulnerable people; and 2) that, in a participatory democracy, government is the appropriate mechanism to effect this kind of structural/legal change.

    If I thought that, as a Latter-day Saint, I was supposed to try to create a society where everybody observed the same dietary restrictions and sexual mores that I, as a matter of Faith, chose to observe in my own life, I would definitely try to use the mechanisms of the government to create such a society. As it happens, I do not want to create such a society, which, I think, would be a rotten place to live. In fact, I actively work against such a society while, at the same time, choosing to observe both the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity as a matter of personal religious choice.

    I don’t have any desire to try to force all of my personal values on everyone in society–just a few of them, like the one about not letting the rich get away with screwing the poor.

  24. Ffrsnc says:

    I was sickened earlier this week by the vote as well. Thus, Michael, I am sympathetic to your argument. However, I worry that your zeal hurts your chances at winning the hearts and minds of careful conservatives.

    If you want to argue in favor of using government to help solve social ills, then you should engage with the legitimate economic arguments that the opposing side might have. For example, you are arguing that a law that lowers taxes on the rich and increases them on the poor is bad. But, I think you would admit that there is a limit to this preference. For example, I suppose you would be against the rich being taxed at a 95% rate (in part because this would seriously distort work incentives)?

    Your post comes across as making the argument that any law that disproportionately hurts the poor and helps the rich is bad. But, this is only true if you think our current level of redistribution is not sufficient and the distortions caused by the redistribution are relatively low. (Again, you would probably be in favor of reducing taxes on the rich if the tax rate was 95%).

    You should be open to engaging with people who are Christ-like, caring, Amos-like individuals who worry about the distortions that taxes can cause and who believe that taking a consertive approach to tax policy might be the most effective way to help all people (including the poor) in the medium to long run.

  25. jstricklan says:

    1. We have a distorted vision of what most OT (and BoM, and NT) prophets were. Thanks, Michael, for highlighting the voice crying from the wilderness. We should be that voice more often.

    2. I’m interested in hearing from the “The government is not the way to create social justice!” folks. If the government is the wrong way, what’s stopping us from doing it the right way? Use itemized deductions to avoid paying the government income tax and do it on our own.

    3. Or are we denying that we have a responsibility on this issue? Because that’s a different argument entirely, and seems to run counter to, say, Christs explanation of what scripture teaches. Let’s run a test argument and see where it leads: “If we are not pursuing the protection of the weak against the strong, we are denying all of the law and the prophets.” Response?

    4. The Voltaire quote, Evan, doesn’t do anything without context and an argument. Frankly, I see a whole lot of tyranny being run out of the capture of our government by the wealthiest members of our society. I take your quote and use it for myself. (Besides which I don’t accept Voltaire’s every word as scripture — I don’t accept every word as scripture, but that’s another story — so you’re going to have to make an argument even if he’s got a point.)

  26. Kristine N says:

    Dude, I would wholeheartedly support a 95% income tax on income beyond a certain amount. The ‘disincentivizes work’ argument is crap–5% of anything over $1 million (or whatever level you set) is still money, and honestly, is there any job in the world that is truly worth $1 million dollars a year? No single person adds that much to the economy that they deserve such a massive income. I am actually totally for taxation that incentivizes spreading work around. There are plenty of able-bodied, intelligent, educated people struggling for work. Why not tax the uber rich to such an extent that they’re encouraged to spend more time with family or on hobbies, or simply find some other way to value themselves than how many more zeroes are behind the first number on their paycheck?

    Admittedly, I am not a conservative.

    So, you want to drop taxes on rich people, that’s one thing. Making up for the budget shortfall by then raising taxes on the poor is simply evil and disgusting. Taxation shapes the economy. Period. It doesn’t matter if the tax is flat or progressive or regressive; the process of the government extracting resources from the people who are connected to it is going to incentivize or deincentivize activities. It’s up to us to decide what activities we’d like deincentivized, by taxing them, and incentivized, by letting them be relatively un-taxed.

    The thing is, deincentivizing poverty by taxing it doesn’t really work all that well, so maybe we shouldn’t try that one.

    These hypothetical Christ-like, caring, Amos-like people who are worried about the distortions caused by government taxation need to realize that the only choice we have is which direction the distortions face. Do we want to reward people for honest work by requiring they be paid a living wage and provided the services they need to get by in a modern society? Or would we rather continue to restrict the numbers of people who are ‘worthy’ of sufficient income and access to services like education and health care all so those at the top can live their fabulous, fantastical lifestyles? If they’re so worried about distortion that they’re willing to put up with the status quo, yeah, woe unto them.

    Nice job Michael. I am in fact mad as hell.

  27. Chadwick says:

    Jaxjensen

    We the people, ok? We are the government. The government is not some other; it’s literally us. So why can’t we use us to fix our problems?

    Studying the D&C this year in church, I’m amazed at all the references to eliminate the poor among us. THAT was the whole purpose of the law of consecration. Universal access to healthcare is step 1 on that journey. I’m heartened and disgusted this passed by one vote. Yes, I am mad.

    But alas, as long as we find it ok to boo the homeless among us, I find myself feeling in a place of charity fatigue.

  28. jaxjensen says:

    “I’m interested in hearing from the “The government is not the way to create social justice!” folks. If the government is the wrong way, what’s stopping us from doing it the right way? Use itemized deductions to avoid paying the government income tax and do it on our own.”

    The only thing stopping us is our own refusal to do so. We absolutely refuse to “have all things common” and make sure there are “no poor among us”. There are groups of people among whom this isn’t a problem, but among Mormons we’ve refused to do it (despite our repeated covenant making to the contrary).

    On a large scale, the Amish do a much better job at this than we do. There are still some inequalities there, but nobody is left to starve. Without gov’t involvement they just choose to look after each other.

    On a smaller scale, I know several families that do this amongst themselves. They don’t kick kids out to sink or swim, they care for their elderly. They live with everyone sharing the profits of the business and sharing the work. Their combined efforts pay the bills and medical expenses. Nobody is left struggling on their own. A few of the families I know that do this ARE Mormon.

    But as a church, as a people, we’ve chosen (and continue to choose daily) to NOT look after each other, to NOT abase the rich to exalt the poor (D&C 104), to NOT live with things in common. If we were to ever choose to do those things, we would have to have the gov’t out of the way to accomplish it. Why can’t we use gov’t to fix our problems? Because that isn’t what government is good at doing… they aren’t capable of doing it!

    If the gov’t takes all the excess then we can’t use it to help our poor, can we? Do we really think the gov’t is qualified to lead us in consecration (Chadwick)? The Amish are only able to do what they do largely because the various levels of gov’t have chosen to leave them alone because their lifestyle is just simply incompatible with modern governance. Ours is not, by our own choice.

    We choose to take expensive vacations, build McMansions, and in almost every other way to participate in the western culture of extravagance and satisfying personal lusts. Apparently we choose instead to feel like we’ve fulfilled our Christian duty if we’ve paid a sufficiently high level of taxes!?! That is a disgraceful distortion of what we’ve covenanted to do. Honestly, how can that not be considered “mocking God”?

  29. Jaxjensen,

    Long comment here, and my apologies for that, but my suspicion is that many people who are still scrolling down this far will see your comment and say, “Oh, he’s a kook,” and not engage your claims. As a fellow kook though (actual card-carrying member of the Democratic Socialists of America, committed Bernie Sanders supporter, and someone who has long experience with exactly the sort of families, co-ops, and churches you mention who pool their resources, live and work in community, and create small-scale Amish-type environments of relative equality and sustainability), I want to try to re-direct what you’re saying above, and suggest where you’re right and where you’re wrong.

    First, you’re absolutely correct that American Mormonism has overwhelmingly accommodated itself to consumer capitalism and the pursuit of personal wealth. Even as prophetic teachings (both scriptural and historical) about building communities of justice, equality, and love–about seeking Zion, in other words–remain and are still discussed among us, there is basically no consensus regarding, much less any official emphasis upon, actually acting on those teachings.

    Second, however, it is not the case that in the absence of such action, American Mormonism is entirely bereft of concern for the well-being of others. Tithing and fast offering donations are made, and money is spent–spent on paying the electric bills of unemployed members, paying the rent for people who have been too sick to work, paying for food and clothing for those who are without family or other sources of support. Bishop’s storehouses and ward welfare–not to mention endless service projects–really do save lives; I’ve seen it myself, and so probably have you.

    Third, the very fact that such fellow-feeling is manifest mostly in the form of ad-hoc cash or Saturday afternoon assistance may seem appealing to your anti-government sentiments, but it actually points to the ways in which the Amish example is not of much immediate assistance to thinking about building Zion. The Amish operate, almost without exception, in homogeneous, enclosed, limited agrarian communities, as opposed to the expansive, specialized, individualistic, post-industrial economy that most American Mormons take for granted. 19th-century Mormons experimented with building Amish-type communities, all of which failed. While specific circumstances were very diverse, the primary reason they failed was not simply the greed of the people; it was also that specialized, individualistic, profit-driven economies regularly generate wealth, in a way which collective farms or business co-ops rarely do. And people do want wealth–because they like being able to obtain better food, better clothes, better medical care, and better internet connections. But the pursuit of that wealth means that people are socio-economically separated out from one another, busy pursuing their own interests and responsibilities, and thus writing the occasional tithing check and showing up on the occasional Saturday is really the best they realistically can do. That is something which 19th-century apostles and prophets condemned (the separation of the Mormon people into classes, and the feeling that one can serve from a distance), but that is where we are.

    Fourth, I recognize that we should aspire to re-think what is “realistically” possible. There are people who do (like I said, I hang out regularly with quite a few of them), but even they admit that, absent a committed community of authoritatively bounded-together like-minded people (the Amish, again) their ability to break out of the imperatives and expectations of wealth-generating consumer capitalism on their own is more a function of luck than effort. Could you and four of your neighbors–the unemployed accountant busy taking night classes to get a teaching degree, the IT worker who never finished college, the kindergarten teacher, and person working the night shift as a pharmacist at Walgreens–all get together and pool your resources and sustain yourselves entirely? With what joint labor projects? Which would then be sold on what market? Or would you grow your own crops, raise your own livestock, preserve your own food? What, right there in Price, UT? In that soil, with that weather? And would you provide your own medical care? What about the IT worker’s autistic child, or the kindergarten teacher’s cancer diagnosis? Where do you find the specialized care needed among you, or how could you pay for it, or do you collectively, morally, simply accept tragedies which the immense wealth of the world has created ways to respond to, but which you choose not to partake of? Who knows? Maybe you all really could pull it off. It’s certainly worth trying–work with them towards that goal, and see what happens! The more people who try such experiments, the better off the world will be. But every particular experiment needs to know that the odds will not be in their favor.

    Fifth, the reason why is that, in the end,, nearly all of us actually really like the fruits of the modern, specialized, competitive, globalized economic world we inhabit, even while we recognize its many massive injustices and its incompatibility with scripture. No one I know knows yet how or even if a world this busy, this rich, this divided, this specialized, this individualized, this big can really reach the standards of Zion (at least, not without total environmental and economic collapse, killing off millions of us and forcing the discipline of poverty, subsistence agriculture, and gratitude upon all the rest). We should keep trying, though; that’s a commandment.

    Sixth, to finally get to the point, using the power of government, which is tied up in all the above systems and processes for all the reasons others in this thread have already laid out, to shape tax rates, to set up health insurance markets (or to replace them with something more outright socialistic), to regulate trade, to build roads, to do a thousand things which can either provide relief and support to all those people we busy, financially-implicated Mormons can otherwise only benefit with tithing checks and service projects, seems to me one very obvious way to also “keep trying” to create Zion-like conditions. Do high levels of taxation or business regulations interfere with the ability of people to do all that they financially can to create, in their own local places, communities of justice and equality and love? Yes, probably, sometimes. (That’s why I’m at least as much an anarchist and decentralist as a socialist and an egalitarian.) But if you think pushing back against taxes and redistributive schemes to help pay for health care is a good way to move towards Zion, I’m going to have to insist you’re wrong, because lowering taxes and making health care more a luxury good and less a right does nothing to alter all the complex, specialized, mutually re-inforcing socio-economic expectations and imperatives that I’ve laid out. Paul Ryan’s health care plan is not a revolution against consumer capitalism and an aid to our freedom to create an egalitarian Zion. On the contrary, it will Increase the injustices and incompatibility with scripture that a competitive, profit-generating consumer-capitalist market invariably involves, by taking away certain, however minimal, collective efforts to use the government to minimize such harms.

    TL;DR: your call to reject wealthy ostentation and instead support one another in ZIon-like communities is a good one. Accomplishing that will, however, entirely a revolution in the way our whole economic system is structured. Simply seceding from it, or shrinking the government’s involvement in it, will not change it; in fact, it will probably make it worse for the poor, which are exactly those whom scripture invokes Zion as a succor for. Government, for all its flaws, for better or worse, needs to be part of how we move towards Zion; it is only very circumstantially an obstacle to it.

  30. jaxjensen says:

    RAF, I don’t think Mormons are bereft of concern for the poor. Far from it. But being concerned about them and being will to contribute some offerings is different than being consecrated and creating equality. We do the first, but refuse the second.

    I also know the Amish aren’t “zion” either. But they do better at taking care of each other than we do in my estimation. My sole point is in mentioning them was to point out that gov’t involvement isn’t required to care for the poor. In my estimation it is a detriment.

    I think it is realistically possible to build Zion. I believe 1Nephi 3:7. I think it has been done and that we simply refuse to do it. I think that arguments like “we aren’t ready” or “our society makes it impossible” could be dried out and used as fertilizer. The only thing making Zion impossible is our unwillingness to pursue it. Odds not being in our favor sounds an awful lot like a lack of faith in God… that He will prepare a way for us to accomplish what he’s commanded.

    I don’t think we would have to give up the internet, the combustion engine, or MRI machines in order to build Zion. I don’t think it is a prerequisite that we lose the fruits of the global economy.

    Unfortunately the conditions needed for Zion to be built, like the freedom to use our goods/services/efforts/moneys for our own ends, also allow for corruption, greed, and the accumulation of great wealth and power. By and large we see that people have used it for those negative ends, don’t we?

    Satan has used the wealth of this world to build up and support the Military Industrial complex (Armies and Navies), religious oppression and brutality (false priests) overreaching gov’t intrusions into our lives (Tyrants), all of which contribute to the blood and horror of this world. He has largely accomplished what he promised to do. I hardly think we are pushing back against Satan’s designs, and thus accomplishing God’s, by strengthening the very organizations he promised to use to enact his evil upon us.

    I will forever be an advocate for a very small and limited government. I don’t want Donald J Drumpf having power over my life!! Do you? I don’t want any person having the power we’ve handed our government officials. I want to make my own decisions, my own decisions. I want to be free to CHOOSE Zion. That is the only way Zion will come about. I wish more people would make that choice instead of choosing selfishness, personal gratification, and wealth accumulation. I wish we’d not choose to give tyrannical power to people who’ve proven they can’t wield it wisely (all political parties!).

  31. jaxjensen: There’s an embedded question of size. There’s a lot to say for government being as small as possible, but I find it more useful to think in terms of working at the smallest or most local level possible, which will be different issue by issue. Education has different issues than police force, and health care different than defense. I object to broad generalizations about government and keep wanting to say stick to the subject.

    (As I said previously) I have come to a national or federal conclusion regarding health care. I acknowledge room for debate at the level of State vs Federal, and some of our Representatives seem ready and able to engage in that debate (but that’s not what the AHCA is about).

    One reason I come to a federal conclusion is very personal. As a now 10-year survivor of a very rare cancer, I vividly recall learning that there were only four people in the United States who could effectively treat me, only four operating rooms in the country set up for what I needed, and that none of the four were in my state or even any bordering state. And that just 10 years earlier there would have been just one doctor in the United States, operating on a experimental basis and corresponding with one other in Japan. What we have come to expect of medicine, in terms of drugs, equipment, and specialization, now requires a national and arguably global scale.

    What that means to me is that retreat into a local/family/community/small scale Zion is not an option==at least not for health care–and that we have to engage in the challenge of fixing the state and federal government we have.

  32. @kristine n.
    Dude, your not quite getting it. There is a limit to which taxes on the rich may be bad. If you are unwilling to admit that, then you are not a reasonable person in the discussion. How about a 99% tax on the first $100k that you make? I promise I can come up with a hypothetical where most people will say that is too much. Once you admit that there is a line where the wealthy would be taxed too much, we can then talk about whether we are over that line or not. I happen to think we need to tax the wealthy much more than we do, but you have to engage with reasonable conservatives who worry about distortions. I’m glad you think distortions are crap, but nearly all economists (be they liberal or conservative) worry about distortions at some point. So you are pretty lonely in thinking they are crap.

    All I am asking is that as liberals, we need to be thoughtful in our critiques and engage in considered discussion. Otherwise, we shoot ourselves in the foot. This doesn’t seem like a controversial point.

  33. jaxjensen says:

    Christian, the fruits of the global economy helped treat your cancer, but that doesn’t mean that paying for that care needs to be handled on a global scale, or even a national one. On your scale, this is something that should be handled at a very local level, meaning city level or smaller. A community can and should handle the care of their own. There is no need for national mandates or tax levies. Gov’t should place no limitations on our transactions (like purchasing across state lines, etc) nor mandates (you WILL purchase, etc). They should have no rules whatsoever except to protect people from otherwise criminal acts like theft, fraud, or malpractice.

    National defense needs to be handled nationally. Environmental concerns cover huge regions are often best handled on a national level. There are issues were national involvement is needed. Health Insurance isn’t one of them. The vast majority of health care interactions are localized (yours is an exception). How to handle payment for services can and ought to be handled locally as well.

  34. Rachael says:

    I am livid about this AHCA vote. Other than contacting representatives and senators, donating to the resistance, and protesting (which I am unable to do, due to health concerns), does anyone have any ideas for what else we can do to register our disgust at this apalling and un-Christian health care act?

    And Ffrsnc, you have put forth a fallacious slippery slope argument which in no way engages Michael’s main point. It is possible, you know, to believe in a principle without arguing that it should be enforced everywhere and to the utmost extreme. Of course we should implement these principles in a reasonable way, just as we should with every other ethical principle. What each person thinks is reasonable will vary from person to person, but I do think it is interesting that Christ had no problem asking a very wealthy disciple to give all to the poor.

    Not only that, but you say, “All I am asking is that as liberals, we need to be thoughtful in our critiques and engage in considered discussion.” Who do you think is disagreeing with that? Michael is not, and neither is Kristine N. The whole point of the post is so that others can engage in considered discussion. Do you really think so little of your fellow BCC-ers that you think we want unthoughtful critiques and unconsidered discussion?

  35. jaxjensen: While individually rare cancers look like one-off special cases, collectively rare cancers comprise 22% of all cancer cases. In that sense my case is not such exception.

  36. Rachael says:

    FFrsnc, I just wanted to clarify that I know that you said the last point was uncontroversial, and yet you made the point twice, once to register some apparent disagreement with Michael’s rhetorical approach to this topic. Since considered discussion is the hallmark of BCC (that’s why I follow it), I fail to see why you would need to make the point twice if you didn’t think that someone was falling short on that score.

  37. when will the prophet read this?

  38. California is on its way to a single-payer health care system. http://ktla.com/2017/04/27/bill-to-create-single-payer-health-care-in-california-passes-1st-test-in-committee/

    This is a 10th amendment solution. We shall see how this works out. If it works well, it will likely be adopted in other states, and those not happy in states without single-payer plans will move to California. If it doesn’t work, then back to the drawing boards.

    California also has a progressive income tax with a top rate of 13.3%.

  39. All of Utah’s representatives voted for the bill. I have all confidence Lee and Hatch will follow suit. So much for any hope coming out of Utah.

  40. D&C 38:25-27 is hard stuff, and it ends in a phrase that we hear a lot, but have divorced from context:

    25 And again I say unto you, let every man esteem his brother as himself.
    26 For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just?
    27 Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.

    When the issue of poverty comes up in Sunday School classes, the discussion often jumps straight to the homeless and whether to give panhandlers money. Of much more impact, in my mind, is the public policies (and the parties and politicians who enact those policies) we support. When democratically elected governments grind the faces of the poor, woe indeed.

  41. Mark N. says:

    Is this a good place to reference Nibley’s “Work We Must, But the Lunch Is Free”?

  42. As an Australian reader, there are a couple of things that I don’t fully understand. First, the American healthcare system ( it seems incredible to me that there isn’t a universal healthcare system in the US), and second, the religious right of American politics.

    That being said, what I truly don’t understand is anyone calling themselves Christian and who supports a political decision such as this. For full disclosure, I was a lifelong Mormon until 9 months ago. Leaving the faith of my childhood was the best thing ( for me personally) to do. I just don’t understand how any Christian votes for a party that appears to openly platform on the interests of the rich at the expense of the poor.

    My understanding of Christ, and Mormon theological teachings, is that the poor need our love and support, not just our thoughts and prayers.

    I am really at sea on this one. I look at people who claim to follow Christ but have little or no compassion for the poor and needy (beyond a “generous” fast offering) and know not what to think.

    I truly want to understand how American “Christians” can support Trump and his policies. And I also want to understand how American Christians think that government is not the answer to society’s problems? I don’t understand how that fits with a long-held narrative of the US being the greatest democracy on the planet.

    Any help at understanding these issues would be greatly appreciated.

  43. The U.S. government is us. We render unto each other through this instrument. Our leaders certainly understand its role in improving society when encouraging us to support moral issues by voting. There is no greater moral issue than sacrificing to care for the least among us — and government budgets are our moral documents. How we vote and who we send to our legislatures will be used to separate the sheep from goats as much as any other charitable act. If past history shows our institutions or representatives to be inadequate to the task, retreating to our private Zion enclave is not the answer.

  44. Great comment, Russell.

  45. Kristine N says:

    Ffrsnc, while my specific comment was not the most unemotional on the thread, I would argue this thread is overall a fine example of considered discussion. You know how much difference I expect any of it to make? Nada.

    I never said distortions are crap. I said we need to choose which distortions we’ll accept because there are ALWAYS distortions. People who don’t want to do anything because whatever we do will distort the economy miss the point. Any action we take will distort the economy for someone. The question is do we distort the economy in such a way that poor people are systematically unable to care for themselves, which is what the AHCA will do, or do we restructure tax burdens in such a way that the burden falls more proportionately on those who have more than enough?

    Is there a way to create a tax system that’s unfair to rich people? Sure. If taxation removes from them their ability to care for themselves and their dependents that’s unfair. The example you give is fundamentally unfair in that way and so, yeah, I’d agree with you on that. Of course, your example is egregiously unfair to *everyone*.

    Can we admit, though, that AHCA does the converse–it deprives the poor of their ability to care for themselves and their dependents, and is thus unfair to them? Poor people are already struggling. Why do we feel the need to add to that, and at the same time increase the reward to those who are not, by any reasonable measure, struggling financially? And then argue about the fairness of it?

    Which, I also realize is not really _your_ argument. My frustration is that your argument seems to me a way to excuse those who would consider themselves as compassionate and conservative. Personally I think the time for that is past. Rich people have successfully lobbied for tax breaks that benefit them, and then convinced a significant portion of the US population that a) they deserve their wealth because they obviously work so hard and b) the poor deserve their poverty because obviously they’ve made bad choices or they wouldn’t be poor. Again, not really your argument, I know. It’s an attitude I’ve found common among “Christ-like, compassionate, Amos-like conservatives” who are supposedly paralyzed by the economic distortions of taxes..

  46. Marian says:

    Spaldo,

    I’ll take a shot at answering your questions. In order to understand this bill you need to understand a mindset that assumes government intervention to be detrimental at best and evil at worst. This mindset is most prevalent in rural communities where people turn first to neighbors and churches for help and where “big government” is nothing but an unwelcome intrusion. I believe many conservative Christians, including mormons, would answer your question by saying that the government is incapable of working to societal good and in any case it is the job of the church and the individual, and not the government, to care for the least among us.

    Of course this mindset tends to be flipped in urban areas, where no amount of patchwork charity efforts can replace government in tackling issues like homelessness, unemployment, violence, pollution, or child hunger. Populous urban areas tend to be more liberal and supportive of government intervention to solve problems (see Salt Lake City, which votes democratic in a republican state). Because of the way our voting districts are drawn and the way the electoral college is designed, less populous rural areas have more per capita influence in elections than more populous urban areas. This is why we have seen popular vote/electoral college splits in recent elections, and why “liberal” policies that are supported by the majority of Americans (more gun control, paid family leave, enhanced health care protections) fail to make it into law.

    As for how you can distrust government and revere democracy, that is a whole other discussion that goes back to the political philosophies of our founding fathers.

    Personally, I find this bill incredibly stupid and cruel, and as such a fair reflection of our current administration.

  47. I’d like to add my two cents’ worth (or two dollars, as is more likely the case) to this fine and important conversation.

    First, let’s start calling he AHCA what it really is: the Abominable Health Care Act. And it is inexcusable that a bunch of white males got together after passing this abomination and partied. Would you party if you had just condemned thousands of people to death, bankruptcy, or both?

    Second, the conservative element in America seems to think that government has no role in our lives except to get out of our way so that we can have “freedom.” That’s BS. Those who are for “small government” must, then, also be in favor of “small corporations,” because corporations in America are generally large authoritarian institutions that, if not restrained by government, have every incentive pollute, create unsafe products and working conditions, pay workers as little as possible while demanding increased productivity, and funnel as much money as possible to shareholders. Conservatives give lip-service to freedom, but what they really mean is freedom for the wealthy (often misnamed “job creators), not so much for the average citizen. Without a large and powerful government to rein in the worst inclinations of large business, we would have precious little freedom in this country. As it now stand, we have free enterprise between business, but very little within businesses (what Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot have called “free intraprise”). Most often we have freedoms because of government intervention, not in spite of it. Health care is a good example. In most countries, the people feel a lot more free with their “socialized” systems than we do. They can go to any doctor or hospital without worry of bankruptcy. They know they can’t be denied care or priced out of the market for pre-existing conditions. Their government-run systems are not perfect, but they offer far more freedom to most citizens than our awful system.

    Third, why is health care so different from education? We agree (well, maybe not the Betsy DeVosses of the world) that a decent education for all is an investment in society. A well-educated populace is better for all of us than having most families priced out of the education market. Education is a social good whose benefits reach far beyond the individual being educated. It creates a more informed citizenry (unless all they use their education for is to watch Fox News and get their opinions from social media). It provides economic benefits by producing an educated workforce. It improves society through ingenuity and entrepreneurship. In short, there are only weak arguments against quality education for all. So we fund public schools. Some states are even experimenting with free tuition for higher education. I would argue that health care is very similar. It is better for us all if all of us are as healthy as possible. It is also cheaper for us all if we can all get early and effective health care so that we can avoid expensive care after minor health annoyances escalate into significant problems. Our businesses would lose fewer work days to illness. Our insurance premiums would go down. I remember seeing an estimate that before the ACA, people like me, who have health insurance, were paying on average $1,000 per year to cover care for people who did not have insurance. That care often came too late and in the most expensive form possible: emergency room visits. It is just common sense to provide health care for everyone and not assume that health care is a market good like a toaster or a rutabaga. It is not. It is a societal good that we all have an interest in maximizing. The only thing that is preventing us from acting in a rational, common-sense way is the rigid and benighted ideology of the Republican Party.

    Maybe this issue will finally convince many Mormons that GOP does not actually stand for God’s Only Party. If ever there were a law straight from hell, it is the Abominable Health Care Act of 2017.

  48. What are you all going to do when faced with the reality that when you tax the rich you still won’t have enough money to pay for all government spending?

  49. jstricklan says:

    What are you all going to do when faced with the reality that Jesus was naked and you didn’t clothe him, hungry and you didn’t feed him, in prison and you didn’t visit him?

    There is enough and to spare in the world to take care of the poor. It’s just that people don’t want to. Don’t get me started. I have more proof verses than I know what to do with them.

    Don’t want to do it with government? Fine. Do it yourself. Why wait for government, anyway? But do it. And do it now.

    D&C 104

    15 And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.

    16 But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.

    17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.

    18 Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.

  50. Marian says:

    Mark L,

    At last count no one has come up with a way to pay for increased defense and border security spending, or a way to offset tax cuts for the wealthy. I don’t think either party is fiscally responsible, just focused on different spending priorities.

  51. @Spaldo,
    I’ll also try to answer the question. When Jesus kept instructing his followers to help the poor, did he want the poor actually provided for, or did he want his followers having a hands on experience attempting to provide for the poor? If the person-less government provided for the poor, and all you did was pay your taxes, would that help you become the Christ-like person – who takes care of the poor -, or does it do nothing for your soul? Or would Christ be happy that you vote for representatives to write laws to take your money via taxes, to provide for the poor?

  52. Mark N. says:

    If we really need as much defense against whomever as would be indicated by the total number of dollars being spent on it, we must be doing something drastically wrong in the world to attract that many enemies.

  53. Marian says:

    Mark L, agreed!

  54. PNWReader says:

    No prophet of God can be a SJW. That’s like a stake president running a planned parenthood clinic.

  55. Mark L says:

    Go ahead and remove military and defense spending, my main question remains, what are you going to do after taxing the rich and there is not enough? Does that mean everyone has to be taxed more? What if there is still not enough?

  56. Loursat says:

    Collective action, including government programs, can work well when it is wisely administered. The fact that it is hard to do does not make it not worth doing. We can do hard things.

    The answer to Mark L’s question is that we have to do the work of administering finances correctly. We don’t walk away from doing good works just because it’s hard.

  57. “we must be doing something drastically wrong in the world to attract that many enemies.”

    We must be doing something right that so many in the world want to come to the United States.

  58. jader3rd – I see you question, but I think you are looking at it from the position of the wealthy alone. Do the truly impoverished care if the wealthy are giving to them as a learning experience or as a chance to be more Christlike or for some other reason? Would not Jesus be as much a leader of the poor as the wealthy?

  59. jader3rd,

    “When Jesus kept instructing his followers to help the poor, did he want the poor actually provided for, or did he want his followers having a hands on experience attempting to provide for the poor?”

    Are you actually arguing that Jesus didn’t care about the needs of the poor, but only about the need of his disciples to develop morally? I’m getting exhausted by discussions about how to help the poor in which the actual needs of the poor are irrelevant; the truly important needs are the needs of the well-off, who need to have their character built. How many people are we willing to let die, I sometimes wonder, in the name of providing opportunities for the affluent to spiritually develop (e.g., by ensuring that the government plays no role, because the affluent need to do it voluntarily or it won’t get them celestial brownie points)?

  60. Rachael says:

    Yes! Thank you, Lynnette!

  61. @Lynnette, it’s not an argument I believe myself (though I did lean towards it for a while), but it is one that I’ve heard local church leaders give. Not over the pulpit, but in personal conversation when discussing how no good Mormon could possible vote Democrat, and how any good Mormon must vote Republican. Spaldo asked the question and that’s my understand of the answer.
    Personally I have struggled the last twelve years or so with aligning my vote with gospel principles. Thinking about whether or not God would be pleased with they way I voted.
    @Retx, I haven’t studied up on the attitudes of the poor in regards to how they receive charity. So I can’t say for sure. Personally I believe that the best solution is a Broad Base, Low Rates, Progressive tax structure, with no exemptions. One geared towards battling inequality in society. Of course it wouldn’t prevent people from making such poor decisions, that they end up destitute; but it does provide the most opportunities for semi-responsible adults to work their way out of requiring direct hand outs. I’m rather certain that most people would prefer that form of “charity” over any other. Sure, the rich will complain that they’re getting taxed more than those in the middle class, but Adam Smith argued that the rich should pay more than the majority of society; so I’m cool with it.

  62. jstricklan says:

    RE: MarkL — We obviously have different worldviews, and probably I can’t convince you to my position even if I point out facts, but I’ll try anyway. see D&C 104 again before I engage with your utilitarian arguments. God says we have a distribution problem, not a scarcity problem. Engage with that.

    RE: jader3d

    Without engaging with what I consider an inappropriate self-focus in fulfilling God’s commandments, I want to address how God actually wants us to serve people: half-way or whole-way. On the subject, said the Lord and Master:

    25 ¶ And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
    26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
    27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
    28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
    29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

    36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
    37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

    Levite and priest: “Not my problem, I’m too busy.”
    Samaritan: “I’ll do all I can to help this person, whatever tools are available to me.”

    So without bringing the government into it, we agree that actually helping people is the standard that the Savior presented as neighborliness, correct?

  63. jstricklan says:

    @jader3d — given your response to Retx, I withdraw my specific question, since I think you show that you agree. (Your response came up while I was typing mine, so I didn’t see it. That crazy socialist Adam Smith.) To the next point, then, do we agree that to love one’s neighbor is to actually serve them and not just to do good by ourselves? (This is a Kantian ends and means issue — can I really love my neighbor if they’re just a means for me to get my own salvation secured?)

  64. @jstricklan, it’s fine, I’m happy to answer your question. Yes, actually helping people is the standard that the Savior presented as neighborliness. And we have a wealth of knowledge about how different government of done so, and we are capable of using evidence to pick regulations and ordinances which actually accomplish their desired outcomes vs. ones which fit our ideology.
    Yes, we agree that loving ones neighbor does mean serving them vs. just hoping that a rising tide will lift all ships.

  65. Like Spaldo I as an Australian enjoy a universal healthcare system which covers everyone. If one works but does not have private health insurance( due maybe to cost) on can pay a Medicare levy. Many doctors practice bulk billing which the government covers the cost. It is very popular especially with Mothers with children. My neighbour had open heart surgery. Did not cost a thing. My Medicare levy along with others paid for that. I may never need that but it is such a blessing that should I need it I will never need to sell the house. Medicines are subsidise. .

  66. jstricklan says:

    @jader3rd: Good, more common ground! It’s satisfying to find common ground on its own, even it doesn’t lead to agreement. Thanks for that.

    Is your basic concern, then, that providing appropriate health care for all people would not be enough — for a Christian, it could easily lead to a Pharisaical feeling of accomplishment without having addressed the two great commandments? Based on your reply to Retx, I want to make sure I understand your position and not caricature it.

    Also, everyone listen to the Australians! As far as drawing analogies among societies, it’s never going to be a great fit, but comparing the U.S. to Australia isn’t as bad as most…

  67. Thanks for the clarification, jader3rd! I understand better where you’re coming from. (The argument you cite but don’t endorse about the spiritual betterment of the well-off is evidently a hot button for me.)

  68. Jared vdH says:

    I’d also argue that Acts 6:2-3 is an argument against the idea that the Savior wanted his disciples to help the poor personally and directly, rather than seeing to it that they were helped, even if it was by other hands:

    2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.

    3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.

    I think God is just fine with delegation of duties.

  69. Just a few scattered thoughts on helping the poor, much of which has already been covered in one form or another:

    1. As Lynette says, this is not about you developing moral character. When the Old Testament prophets, and the New Testament Christ, command us to take care of the poor it is because they want the poor taken care of. I treat this in some depth here:

    https://bycommonconsent.com/2016/04/04/why-food-stamps-and-free-tuition-dont-have-anything-to-do-with-satans-plan/

    2. Why in the world would anyone think that working for change on a large scale is not “helping the poor”? I get very dismayed by how many people in our democracy see the government as “them” instead of “us,” and see political action as somehow inferior to “real action.” Amazingly, a fair number of the people who seem to think this way imagine themselves as some variety of “originalist” or “Constitutionalist”–people who admire the Founding Fathers and want the kind of country that they tried to create. I can guarantee you that none of them saw participating in a democracy as “doing nothing.” We are the government. The whole point of having a participatory democracy is that actual people can use it to do actual things on a large scale.

    3. And really, there is no either/or here. It is a both-and situation if ever one was. There is no danger that any government program is going to help the poor so much that they will be living the high life on the taxpayer’s dime. This is a pure fantasy. Ensuring that all people have a minimal level of basic health care is not going to make even a dent in the many ways that we all can, and should help the less fortunate in our society. Really, opposing health care reform because it removes the need to engage with the poor makes exactly as much sense as opposing civil rights legislation because it takes away our opportunity to treat people equally, The poor will be with us always, so nobody is going to lose out on celestial brownie points because they aren’t dying of smallpox anymore.

  70. “opposing health care reform because it removes the need to engage with the poor makes exactly as much sense as opposing civil rights legislation because it takes away our opportunity to treat people equally”.

    I’m stealing this.

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