The Week: Conservatives must end their incoherence on counter-terrorism

What do we stand for? It’s not easy to pin down, and that’s a major problem.

In politics, effective leadership requires more than passionate words. You also have to strategize toward an achievable end game. And you must communicate that plan and those goals to your constituents.

Nowhere is this disconnect more apparent than with counter-terrorism policy in America today. Nowhere is true leadership more greatly missed.

In the Bush years, America’s counter-terrorism strategy was driven by unapologetic strategic purpose — deterring state adversaries and defeating international terrorists. This was a worldview with a vision — more freedom would equal more peace. Whether you agreed with him or not, we all knew where George W. Bush stood with it came to fighting terrorists.

Today’s conservatives have failed to offer such a compelling and clear vision on counter-terrorism.

We can’t agree on the threat and how to handle it. We can’t agree on our objectives, and how to achieve them. What do we stand for? It’s not easy to pin down, and that’s a major problem.

Listening to some conservative politicians, you’d consider the Islamist terrorist threat as unitary in nature. But this understanding is neglectful of undeniable facts — the fact, for example, that Shia and Sunni extremists hate each other almost as much as they hate us. It’s not simply us vs. them. There are many thems, and sometimes, it’s them vs. them.

We conservatives have also allowed our counter-terrorism discourse to be tarred by sociopaths like Pamela Geller; deluded souls who see all Muslims as a threat. We have to be smarter and better than this.

We also need to get away from the common conservative belief that regards engagement with the Islamic world as unnecessary. The reverse is true. If we conservatives are silent, Muslims around the world hear only one voice from America — that of President Obama. And let’s face it — his message, even if it’s well-intentioned — is essentially one of equivocation. It breeds the false idea of an America without courage of conviction. An America unworthy of friendship and unworthy of respect.

It needn’t be this way.

Many commentators, especially on the left, believe that America is hated abroad because of our supposedly ill-conceived actions. In reality, though, we’re hated based on the false perception of some nefarious motive behind our actions. This is a critical distinction. We’re hated because instead of articulating why we support Israel, we just support Israel. We’re hated because instead of explaining why Guantanamo Bay must remain open, we just keep it open. We’re hated because we wage wars of liberation and then quietly wish for authoritarians. We constantly fail to justify our actions — even when clear justifications exist.

Conservatives need to step in and remedy this. Defending America doesn’t just require arms. It also requires explanation.

The urgency is profound. But first, we conservatives must get on the same page. And we must get serious.

Click below to read Tom Rogan’s article on The Week’s website.

Yahoo News: Lower tuition for immigrants becomes law in Colorado;

A Bill granting in-state tuition for students illegally in the US signed into law in Colorado.

Immigrant students will pay significantly less in tuition at Colorado colleges under legislation signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday.

Hundreds cheered as the Democratic governor ratified legislation that was first proposed a decade ago but regularly rejected under less favorable circumstances for people in the U.S. illegally.

“Holy smokes, are you guys fired up?” he asked the loud, spirited crowd at the Metropolitan State University of Denver. “Yeah, I thought so.”

Colorado becomes the fourteenth state to allow immigrants who graduate from state high schools to attend colleges at the tuition rate other in-state students pay, rather than a higher rate paid by out-of-state students.

This month, a similar proposal was signed into law in Oregon. Texas was the first pass such a measure in June 2001.

Among those in attendance at the signing ceremony was Val Vigil, a former lawmaker who first introduced the bill in 2003 when only a few states had passed it. At the time, only two people signed up to testify in favor of the bill in committee, he recalled, and more than 20 people showed up to oppose it.

When the plan was discussed in 2008, immigrant students who signed up to testify in favor had their names turned over to federal immigration authorities by opponents of the bill.

When the bill was heard in the House Education Committee in February, no opponents signed up to testify.

“It took 10 years of coalition building,” Vigil said.

The new law grants in-state tuition for Colorado high school graduates regardless of their immigration status. To qualify, students must also sign an affidavit saying they are seeking, or will seek, legal status in the U.S.

The out-of-state rate immigrants in Colorado had been required to pay is sometimes more than three times higher than the in-state rate.

“Every kid matters,” Hickenlooper said. “We need every child that we can get to be as educated as they are capable.”


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The Week: Why Ron Paul is slamming Boston’s response to the bombings

Ron Paul isn't a fan of the "surveillance state."

Criticizing the Boston Police Department, which has been hailed for capturing Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, isn’t exactly a PC move. Here, however, is former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) on libertarian Lew Rockwell’s site:

These were not the scenes from a military coup in a far off banana republic, but rather the scenes just over a week ago in Boston as the United States got a taste of martial law. The ostensible reason for the military-style takeover of parts of Boston was that the accused perpetrator of a horrific crime was on the loose. The Boston bombing provided the opportunity for the government to turn what should have been a police investigation into a military-style occupation of an American city. This unprecedented move should frighten us as much or more than the attack itself. []

He goes on to criticize our modern “surveillance state,” and argues that “we have been conditioned to believe that the job of the government is to keep us safe, but in reality the job of the government is to protect our liberties.”

While Paul appears to be alone in equating the reaction to the bombings with the bombings themselves, plenty of commentators from across the political spectrum have voiced objections to how law enforcement shut down the city of Boston. Comedian Bill Maher warned of a creeping “police state” on his show a few days ago, according to Politico.

And others have said the government is prone to overreaction any time terrorism is involved. “Whenever the word ‘terrorist’ is mentioned in this country, reason tends to go out the window, and many other things go with it, too, such as intellectual consistency, a respect for civil liberties, and a sense of proportion,” wrote John Cassidy a couple of weeks ago at The New Yorker.

Ross Douthat at The New York Times argues that such reactions could set a worrisome precedent if terrorist attacks become more common:

Because the Marathon bombing was such an unusual event, the city of Boston could muster a sweeping, almost crazy-seeming response without worrying that it would find itself having to do exactly the same thing six months later. But if such attacks started happening more frequently, as they obviously very well could, then last Friday’s precedent would put public officials across the country in an extremely uncomfortable bind: Repeatedly reproducing the lockdown might seem like a non-starter, yet not matching what Boston did would open you up to all kinds of scapegoating if, say, an on-the-loose bomber struck again.

Last week, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (D) defended the city’s response, telling The Boston Globe, “I think we did what we should have done and were supposed to do with the always-imperfect information that you have at the time.”

Click below to read the article on The Week’s website.


Army says no to more tanks, but Congress insists

<p> FILE - This undated file photo provided by the General Dynamics Land System shows the production of an Abrams tank in Lima, Ohio. Lawmakers from both parties have devoted nearly half a billion dollars in taxpayer money over the past two years to build improved versions of the 70-ton Abrams, which the Army refers to with a moniker that befits their heft: the M1A2SEPv2. The upgraded tanks cost about $7.5 million each, according to the Army, and service officials say they have plenty of them. (AP Photo/General Dynamics Land System, File)


Built to dominate the enemy in combat, the Army’s hulking Abrams tank is proving equally hard to beat in a budget battle.

Lawmakers from both parties have devoted nearly half a billion dollars in taxpayer money over the past two years to build improved versions of the 70-ton Abrams.

But senior Army officials have said repeatedly, “No thanks.”

It’s the inverse of the federal budget world these days, in which automatic spending cuts are leaving sought-after pet programs struggling or unpaid altogether. Republicans and Democrats for years have fought so bitterly that lawmaking in Washington ground to a near-halt.

Yet in the case of the Abrams tank, there’s a bipartisan push to spend an extra $436 million on a weapon the experts explicitly say is not needed.

“If we had our choice, we would use that money in a different way,” Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, told The Associated Press this past week.

Why are the tank dollars still flowing? Politics.

Keeping the Abrams production line rolling protects businesses and good paying jobs in congressional districts where the tank’s many suppliers are located.

If there’s a home of the Abrams, it’s politically important Ohio. The nation’s only tank plant is in Lima. So it’s no coincidence that the champions for more tanks are Rep. Jim Jordan and Sen. Rob Portman, two of Capitol’s Hill most prominent deficit hawks, as well as Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. They said their support is rooted in protecting national security, not in pork-barrel politics.

“The one area where we are supposed to spend taxpayer money is in defense of the country,” said Jordan, whose district in the northwest part of the state includes the tank plant.

The Abrams dilemma underscores the challenge that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel faces as he seeks to purge programs that the military considers unnecessary or too expensive in order to ensure there’s enough money for essential operations, training and equipment.

Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, faces a daunting task in persuading members of Congress to eliminate or scale back projects favored by constituents.

Federal budgets are always peppered with money for pet projects. What sets the Abrams example apart is the certainty of the Army’s position.


Well it seems that both the Republicans and Democrats still have their stake in the Military Industrial Complex.  Click below for the full article.


US News: 5 Critical Budgeting Mistakes to Avoid

While there’s no simple formula for creating a household budget, there are some basic guidelines you can follow to maintain a realistic and accurate monthly spending plan. If you’re tired of worrying about money—or just can’t seem to meet your savings goals—you’ll want to design a budget that accommodates your lifestyle. Avoiding these common budgeting mistakes will make it easier to keep your finances in check and stress less about money matters each month:

1. Setting budget that’s too rigid. Most of your expenses likely fluctuate from month to month, so avoid making the mistake of setting a budget that’s too strict. For instance, you might spend more over Fourth of July weekend or during the winter holiday season. An inflexible budget will not only make it difficult to save money but could inhibit your ability to maintain an accurate perspective on your finances. Consequently, it’s crucial to leave some room to accommodate for unforeseen expenses.

2. Leaving savings out of the equation. Ideally, you want to include a savings contribution as a monthly expense in your budget. Many personal finance experts recommend using an automated savings approach to get in the habit of socking money away every month and help you resist the urge to blow cash on discretionary expenses.

3. Waiting until the end of the month to review receipts and expenditures. Tracking your spending is essential for sticking to a budget. If you’re not making mindful decisions about your spending because you’re waiting until the end of the month to log expenditures and review your spending habits, it’s easier to go over your budget. Tracking your expenditures on a weekly basis can help you keep better tabs on where your money is going. In addition, logging a receipt on the same day of a purchase can help ensure you’re not spending more than you planned to.

4. Inaccurately accounting for regular expenses. Unless you prepay or have set up a separate account to take care of property taxes, car insurance or other regular monthly expenses, your budget may not be accurate. Consider the typical cost of these monthly expenses and incorporate them into your budget. Knowing how much money goes out each month for necessary expenses will give you a better idea of how much it costs to maintain your lifestyle.

5. Making things too complicated. You don’t need to create an elaborate system or use special budgeting tools to develop a realistic spending plan. Simplify your household budget as much as possible so you can easily keep a running total of your expenses next to your monthly budget and have the freedom to update and adjust your budget regularly.

Well those are some great tips now aren’t they?  If only a certain North American government could budget like that.  Click Below for the full article.

The Week: Is the government stockpiling ammo to thwart gun owners?

A huge purchase of bullets by the Department of Homeland Security is giving conspiracy theorists fresh ammunition.
In February, the Associated Press reported that DHS wanted to buy some 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition over the next few years. While the department contends the purchase and other similar buys are standard procedure, the timing of that report, coming amid a then-raging gun debate in Washington, led some to fret that the government was stockpiling ammo for possibly nefarious purposes.

Conspiracy theorists questioned why the government would ever need so much ammo. Were the feds simply wasting taxpayer funds? Or, perhaps, amassing a secret army? Alex Jones’ InfoWars led the charge on this front, running articles with headlines like the not-so-subtle “Homeland Security Buys Enough Ammo for a 7-Year War Against the American People.”

“This ammunition is purchased for the sole purpose of being used in active fighting. At the same time, it is a violation of the Geneva Convention to use hollow point ammunition on the battle field,” that post read. “This is crucial to understand. It means the occupying federal government is acquiring this ammunition to be used against the American people.”

Yet what began as a fringe conspiracy theory has gained momentum over the past two months, finally making it all the way to Congress.

The conspiracies popped up on more mainstream Republican-leaning outlets like Fox News and the Daily Caller, albeit typically in a less alarmist vein. Then last week, two Republican lawmakers, Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Jason Chaffetz (Utah), lent the conspiracies more credibility, holding a joint hearing to demand answers. And though he stopped short of fully embracing the “secret army” theory, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) said in a separate hearing that the rampant theorizing had reached a point where “the numbers cease to become Internet rumors and they start having some credibility.”

Other lawmakers posited a slightly different theory: The government, uncertain whether new gun laws would prevail in Congress, had authorized the purchases to remove ammo from shelves. If the government couldn’t take away guns, it would just take away ammo instead, the theory went.

In response, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) introduced legislation in both chambers of Congress last week that would place limits on DHS’ ammo-buying capacity.

“President Obama has been adamant about curbing law-abiding Americans’ access and opportunities to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” said Inhofe. “One way the Obama administration is able to do this is by limiting what’s available in the market with federal agencies purchasing unnecessary stockpiles of ammunition.”

Called the Ammunition Management for More Obtainability Act of 2013 (AMMO), the legislation would require the government to report on its ammo reserves, and prevent it from making additional purchases past a certain threshold.

On Monday, Inhofe reiterated his concern in a radio interview with Laura Ingraham.

“We just denied everything that this president and the vice president are trying to do,” he said. “So what are they going to do if they want to, if they want to violate our Second Amendment rights? Do it with ammo.”

Homeland Security has more or less laughed off the suggestions. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the department “found it so inherently unbelievable that those statements would be made it was hard to ascribe credibility to them.”

Click below for the full article.

The Week: Senate Democrats are still clueless on gun control

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) is still pushing for expanded background checks. That's not enough for some Democrats.

Apparently, a group of senators is “quietly seeking a new path on gun control.” Or at least, they were quietly doing so until The New York Times wrote about the once-covert effort. Now, of course, the efforts are less quiet.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is reportedly back talking to Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) about how they might attract more support for a bill expanding the current background check system. The two senators, it seems, are focused on background checks and background checks alone, a move I think wise given the widespread view that such a measure is entirely appropriate.

Unfortunately, the Times also detailed a push being lead by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to revise or expand penalties for firearms trafficking offenses. Now, federal prosecutors really do not need more tools to prosecute individuals they catch trafficking in illegal weapons, but of course, no United States senator has ever gone hungry by being “tough on crime.” And yet… the mere fact that Gillibrand is pushing for more gun regulations at the same time Toomey and Manchin are trying to revive background checks shows that Senate Democrats learned little from their last gun-control fiasco. Furthermore, Gillibrand’s stated reason for pursuing the new law might well be the poster child for the sort of reasoning that keeps gun rights enthusiasts paranoid and the NRA fully funded.

Gillibrand’s quote in the Times is simple, and its logic is straightforward. Asked why she we need stricter trafficking laws, the junior senator from New York explained that “I think trafficking can be the base of the bill, the rock on which everything else stands. I also think it’s complementary to background checks because, let’s be honest, criminals aren’t going to buy a gun and go through a background check. So if you really want to go after criminals, you have to have to do both.”

The most ardent gun rights advocates literally stay up at night worrying that each gun regulation they allow to pass could be the one that sets off the avalanche that turns this nation into some sort of gun-outlawing regulatory hell. This group of people is naturally suspicious of arguments for “commonsense” gun control, not so much because they really think that their gun rights would be in any sense compromised by the recently defeated revisions to the existing background check regime, but rather because they do not think that the advocates for the aforementioned regime will be content to stop once background checks are in place.

Many of these pro-gun individuals would be fine with background checks. But they fear, with some reason, that if they concede on background checks today, then the next time some madman gets a firearm and kills 30 people, the same proponents of background checks will be harnessing public outrage by turning the families of the victims into lobbyists for what they will undoubtedly label “commonsense” reform that decent American couldn’t possibly oppose. For that reason, the position of many gun rights advocates is that they prefer to defend their right to “keep and bear arms” from the Rhine so they will never be forced to do so from the Rubicon.

Even crazy-sounding theories occasionally appear to have at least a tiny basis in reality. Indeed, from time to time, gun regulation proponents appear to push for stricter gun laws irrespective of whether or not particular proposals actually make anyone safer. The fact that President Obama allowed Sen. Dianne Feinstein to push him into calling for a renewal of the assault weapons ban — despite the fact that virtually every non-partisan group that has studied the AWB found that it had virtually no impact on violent crime rates — suggests that at least a few powerful people are more interested in restricting gun rights than they are in actually curbing violent crime. Indeed, the president dramatically weakened the chances of getting background checks approved by attaching it to a push for the AWB, thereby allowing groups like the NRA to, I think unfairly, imply that the president’s motive for pushing reform was more anti-gun than anti-violence.

Which brings us back to Gillibrand and the renewed push for reform. Consider the New Yorker’s stated logic for pursuing tighter gun trafficking laws: Criminals will not buy guns through a complete background check regime, so if we manage to pass that, we also need to pass a another criminal statute relating to the possession, movement, and distribution of firearms. Here’s what every gun person wonders when they read Gillibrand’s statement: “Wait, I thought the whole point of background checks is to keep guns away from criminals… Is she saying that if it works, then we need another law?”

I want background checks to pass, but I hold out little hope that they will. And if they have any chance at all, it will be as a standalone measure not packaged with any other proposals. Senate Democrats need to wake up and stop making the perfect the enemy of the good.


Click below to read the article on The Week website.

Yahoo News: PROMISES, PROMISES: Social Security pledge at risk

<p> FILE - In this July 15, 2011, file photo, members of Progressive Change Campaign Committee upset over potential cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security walk to President Barack Obama's campaign headquarters in Chicago, to deliver 200,000 signatures from people who are refusing to donate or volunteer for his re-election campaign if Obama cuts entitlement programs. As the population gets older, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are eating up more and more of the federal budget, squeezing the ability of the government to pay for other programs. Today, the three massive benefit programs account for 44 percent of federal spending. Left unchanged, they will account for more than 60 percent in 25 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. (AP Photo/David Banks, File)

The issue:

As the population gets older, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are eating up more and more of the federal budget, squeezing the ability of the government to pay for other programs. Today, the three massive benefit programs account for 44 percent of federal spending. Left unchanged, they will account for more than 60 percent in 25 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Unless Congress acts, the trust fund that supports Social Security is projected to run out of money in 2033. At that point, the retirement and disability program would collect only enough in payroll taxes to pay about 75 percent of benefits.

Medicare’s hospital insurance fund is in worse shape. It is projected to run out of money in 2024. At that point, it would only be able to pay 87 percent of costs, according to projections by the trustees who oversee Medicare and Social Security.


The campaign promise:

Obama rarely mentioned Social Security during his 2012 re-election campaign. Four years earlier, he was more forthcoming.

In a 2008 speech to AARP: “John McCain’s campaign has suggested that the best answer for the growing pressures on Social Security might be to cut cost-of-living adjustments or raise the retirement age. Let me be clear: I will not do either.”

On Medicare, Obama told the Democratic convention on Sept. 6, 2012: “Yes, we will reform and strengthen Medicare for the long haul, but we’ll do it by reducing the cost of health care, not by asking seniors to pay thousands of dollars more.”


The prospects:

Obama has already offered to break part of his 2008 pledge on Social Security. Twice in negotiations with GOP leaders, he agreed to adopt a new measure of inflation that would result in smaller cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs, for Social Security recipients. Both deals fell apart. But now Obama has put forward the idea in his own proposed federal budget. If adopted, it would gradually trim benefit increases in Social Security, Medicare and other programs while raising taxes.

His proposed changes, once phased in, would mean a cut in Social Security benefits of nearly $1,000 a year for an average 85-year-old, $560 for a 75-year-old and $136 for a 65-year-old.

Obama and Republican leaders in Congress have held off-and-on talks about possible changes to entitlement programs since 2011, as part of their efforts to reduce government borrowing. But a deal remains elusive. Republicans insist any agreement must include deep spending cuts, while Obama says any deal must include more tax revenue. And many Democrats in Congress are protective of the entitlement programs that Obama now is willing to touch.


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Motley Fool: The Contractors that Will Thrive in the Era of Defense Cutbacks

The United States has ended its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the government is now enacting major cuts in defense spending. As a result, some of the biggest defense contractors now have reasons to be worried. There is less money for contractors but more competition for a smaller pool of money.

Companies that draw a lot of revenue from government contracting such as Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) must adjust. Lockheed currently gets over 80% of its revenue from defense contracts and its biggest contract is an $3.48 billion aircraft contract. However, defense spending is shifting away from traditional military hardware to cyber-security and drones. President Obama is boosting the Pentagon’s spending on cyber-security 21% this year, to $4.7 billion. The government plans to spend a total of $13 billion on cyber-security in 2013.

As a result, companies that are positioned to supply the government with cyber-warfare technology and consulting will do well. SAIC (NYSE: SAI), which is planning to spin its information technology services division off from its other businesses, is one example. Another is Booz Allen Hamilton (NYSE: BAH), one of the top firms for defense cyber-security contracting and the company that just got an $11 billion Homeland Security contract.

Unmanned drones are another field that is expanding as traditional warfare contracts dry up. Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC) can expect to benefit from this trend. Northrop continues to win contracts related to drones, including a $434 million support contract for its Global Hawk long-endurance drone and a $37 million engineering contract for the Hunter surveillance drone.

Others contractors aren’t holding their breath as the government focuses spending on protecting its computer networks and unmanned aerial vehicles. General Dynamics (NYSE: GD) gets almost two thirds of its revenue from U.S. government contracts. But it hopes to make up the expected gap in future defense earnings through its Gulfstream division which is performing well, especially in Asia.

All of these companies are now going to be fighting for government contracts that are smaller in size and focused on a different type of war. While Lockheed Martin is a necessity for supplying military hardware, it’s hard to see it growing in this new environment. Its business is too dependent on traditional warfare. They will need to start pivoting away from this in order to succeed.

SAIC could do well, especially when it completes its computer services spinoff — keep a very close eye on them. Booz Allen Hamilton is the company that probably has the best prospects of all the contractors here. Its focus on consulting has lower overhead and higher margins than other government-focused business. Plus, the cyber-security focus that it has is in very high demand right now.

Northrop Grumman will do well with its drone expertise, as its early development in this space will pay off enormously. General Dynamics, which is trying to compete in the drone space, has been touting its Gulfstream division, but its backlog for planes has been decreasing. The obvious truth is that it is going to win less government money than it did in the past and has not come up with a contingency plan yet.


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Reuters: PRECIOUS-Gold rises 1 percent, holds near one-week high

Gold bars and granules are pictured at the Austrian Gold and Silver Separating Plant 'Oegussa' in Vienna October 23, 2012. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

Gold rose more than 1 percent on Monday and held near its highest in more than a week, as a rebound in prices from multi-year lows failed to damp investor appetite for the precious metal, causing a shortage in physical supply.

Recent bleak U.S. growth data that raised hopes the Federal Reserve would keep its current pace of bond buying at $85 billion a month also supported gold, widely seen as a hedge against inflation.

U.S. gold futures, which often provide trading cues to cash gold, hit a high of $1,472.20 an ounce. By 0553 GMT, prices stood at $1,468.90 an ounce, up $15.30. Spot gold rose $6.70 to $1,469.20 an ounce.

Both cash gold and futures sank to around $1,321 on April 16, their lowest in more than two years, after a drop below $1,500 sparked a sell-off that prompted investors to slash holdings of exchange-traded funds. They touched an 11-day peak above $1,484 on Friday.

“I don’t think gold is out of the woods yet, but there’s room for upward correction. One of the reasons why gold has dropped so much was the strong signs of U.S. economic recovery. Now, we don’t see much of it,” said Joyce Liu, an investment analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore.


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