Disaster Capitalism’s Catastrophic Success In Ireland … And America, Pt. 2

Terrance Heath

In American politics, especially in post-9/11 politics, what most desperately needs saying is often banished to the realm of the unsayable. It’s either too impolite or too impolitic to utter. This tends to apply more to the left than the right. Almost nothing’s unsayable for right-wingers, and almost everything they say is justifiable. (Just ask them.) The problem is that being impolite or impolitic doesn’t make what the unsayable untrue, or any less in need of someone to say it. But it ensures that no one on the left will say it.

Fortunately, Dean Baker didn’t let that stop him from recently dubbing the GOP "a party of unemployment."


unsayable


1. (philosophy) Not capable of being said.


2. (rare) Not allowed or not fit to be said.

From now until 2 November, the Republican party will be the party of unemployment. The logic is straightforward: the more people who are unemployed on election day, the better the prospects for Republicans in the fall election. They expect, with good cause, that voters will hold the Democrats responsible for the state of the economy. Therefore, anything that the Republicans can do to make the economy worse between now and then will help their election prospects.

While it may be bad taste to accuse a major national political party of deliberately wanting to throw people out of jobs, there is no other plausible explanation for the Republicans’ behaviour. They have balked at supporting nearly every bill that had any serious hope of creating or keeping jobs, most recently filibustering on bills that provided aid to state and local governments and extending unemployment benefits. The result of the Republicans’ actions, unless they are reversed quickly, is that hundreds of thousands more workers will be thrown out of work by the mid-terms.

Baker goes on to explain what the GOP’s continued obstruction (aided by Democrats Who Should Know Better™) of unemployment benefit extensions and aid to local governments means in real terms.

The story is straightforward. Nearly every state and local government across the country is looking at large budget shortfalls for their 2011 fiscal years, most of which begin on 1 July 2010. Since they are generally required by state constitutions or local charters to balance their budgets, they will have no choice except to raise taxes and/or make large cutbacks and lay off workers to bring spending and revenue into line.

State and local governments have cut their workforce by an average of 65,000 a month over the last three months. Without substantial aid from the federal government, this pace is likely to accelerate. The Republican agenda in blocking aid to the states may add another 300,000 people to the unemployment rolls by early November.

Baker isn’t the only person saying the unsayable. Paul Krugam, commenting on the NY Times article about austerity in Ireland, wrote of the birth of "terrible ugliness" out of Ireland’s austerity, and the impending birth of the same in America.

The key thing to bear in mind about calls for harsh austerity in the face of a a depressed economy is that such calls depend on two propositions, not one. Not only do you have to believe that the invisible bond vigilantes are about to strike — that you must move to appease markets, even though right now bond buyers are willing to lend money to the United States at very low rates; you must also believe that short-term fiscal cutbacks will in fact appease the markets if they do, in fact, lose confidence.

That’s why the Irish debacle is so important. All that savage austerity was supposed to bring rewards; the conventional wisdom that this would happen is so strong that one often reads news reports claiming that it has, in fact, happened, that Ireland’s resolve has impressed and reassured the financial markets. But the reality is that nothing of the sort has taken place: virtuous, suffering Ireland is gaining nothing.

Of course, I know what will happen next: we’ll hear that the Irish just aren’t doing enough, and must do more. If we’ve been bleeding the patient, and he has nonetheless gotten sicker, well, we clearly need to bleed him some more.

The message to Americans suffering in this crisis — from the conservatives, "Blue Dogs," and deficit hawks in Congress — is that they need to bleed some more, too. Even as the economy worsens, the message to unemployed Americans, as well as those facing joblessness in the immediate future, is that they have already received all the help they are going to get.

That, essentially, is the message sent to:

  • the 15 million unemployed Americans,
  • the 6.8 million long-term unemployed,
  • the 31.4% of the unemployed who are 55 and over,
  • the 1.2 milion Americans whose eligibility for unemployment benefits have expired,
  • the millions whose benefits expired more than a month ago,
  • the hundreds of thousands of teachers and city and state workers — police officers, firefighters, etc. — and the communities they serve,
  • and more than half of Americans, who have become unemployed, underemployed, taken a pay cut, or suffered a reduction in hours since the crisis started.

But those are just numbers that can’t convey the reality of what’s happening in the lives of Americans caught in this economic crisis. As Joshua Glazer wrote, in a post about a friend who is among the 1.2 million impacted by Conrgress’ inaction, "there are 1.2 million American’s are in the same boat, many with families to feed and underwater mortgages and debilitating credit card debt. Somewhere along the way, this is going to lead to more hungry kids and homeless people and emergency care services stretched to the limit (at the cost of taxpayer dollars)."

What’s likely to happen as a result, and what deficit hawks in Congress seem welcome or at least not care to stop, is what Steven Benen described the day after another failure in the Senate unemployment benefits extension.

I’m delighted this is starting to generate some real attention today — alas, it’s probably too late, unless voters in Maine and Massachusetts start calling Sens. Snowe, Collins, and Brown in huge numbers — but I still don’t think folks fully appreciate the consequences of failure here. As of tomorrow, 1.2 million jobless Americans will lose unemployment benefits. That number will grow by hundreds of thousands next week, and the week after, and the week after that. That’s not only devastating for those immediately affected families, but it undermines the economy — unemployment benefits tend to get spent, which makes them stimulative.

As a result of this bill dying, at least 200,000 jobs will be lost on just the measures in this bill related to Medicaid. The overall number is likely closer to 900,000 job losses. In a fragile economy, with a weak job market, it’s unconscionable that 41 Senate Republicans and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) have the capacity to save those jobs, and chose not to act — indeed, they choose not to even let the Senate vote.

But the real impact is best conveyed by those bearing the brunt of it, like a reader at Andrew Sullivan’s blog, who emailed him about her experience.

Today I receive my last unemployment check. I’ve used up all available extensions. My position was eliminated on Feb. 1, 2009. Since then I’ve diligently searched for work. I have a MA and 23 years experience. I’ve had three interviews and no offers. My savings, including retirement, is gone. I had to sell my house. I’ve moved from Michigan to Massachusetts into the home of my parents, who at 81 and 71 live on their investments (which have been dwindling in this economy.) At a time when I should be getting ready for my retirement and taking care of my parents, I’m back at square one.

This is certainly not where I had planned to be. This is certainly not the American dream I was raised to believe in, one whose premise is that if you work hard, get a good education, you will succeed.

I try to remain positive. It’s difficult when I read articles about companies refusing to hire anyone who is unemployed or about how slow the recovery is or about how many young folks are graduating from college and are now competing for the same positions to which I’m applying. I am doing all I can, reaching out, networking, doing pro-bono work, and taking an internship at a non-profit I love commuting two and a half hours each day to get to the office. To keep myself in balance, I constantly read and think about those around the world whose struggles are greater than mine. Haitians, Afghans, Iraqis, and other Americans who struggle with lack of food, education and life’s basic resources. There but for God, go you or I.

It’s what’s happening to people like Debra Rousey, who told the Huffington Post, that despite looking frantically for a job — any job — since she was laid-off in November, that she’s unable to find work, and is "desperate and devastated."

"I’m desperate and devastated," she told HuffPost. "I didn’t get any warning. I was barely making ends meet on $330 a week, trying to diaper my grandchild and put food on the table for the four people I support. What do I do now? How am I going to make rent next month? I keep thinking, ‘If I end up in a cardboard box, can I find one big enough for everybody, or do I have to send my son to live with someone else?’"

Since Rousey, 45, was laid off from her job as a branch manager for Suntrust bank in November, she says she has been "frantically looking" for a job — everything from entry-level marketing positions to a fry cook job at McDonalds — but hasn’t had an interview in months. As of tomorrow, she will be one of nearly 1.7 million people whose unemployment benefits have prematurely expired while Congress sits on legislation that would renew those benefits.

"I hate being on unemployment," Rousey said. "I haven’t applied for food stamps or Medicaid for myself because I have a work ethic that says if I want to eat, I want to work to eat. I don’t want a handout. But right now I’m at the breaking point. If I don’t come up with cash quick, everything will be cut off within two weeks — gas, electric, water. Five people will be displaced. How am I supposed to come up with the money?"

…"I have put in at least 5 resumés a day since November," she said. "It’s not like I’m not employable. I have a bachelor’s degrees in business, an associate’s degree in marketing, and 25 years of office management experience. But I can’t even get McDonald’s to call me back for an interview."

If her unemployment benefits are not renewed soon, Rousey says she will have no way to pay rent or put food on the table. The House passed a bill on Thursday that would extend unemployment benefits for those who have been unemployed longer than six months, but the bill is moving slowly in the Senate. Rousey said she she’s not holding her breath for help from the government.

It’s what’s happening to the coalition that fueled Obama’s victory in 2008:

Obama won the national election with 53 percent of the vote compared to McCain’s 46 percent, a margin of seven percentage points. Unsurprisingly, he carried African Americans by a 91 point margin (95 to 4) and women by a 13 point margin (56 to 43). But that’s not all. The political coalition that carried him to victory is the wave of the future. Hispanics voted for Obama by 36 percentage points (67 to 31). Youth under thirty — many voting for the first time, and all of them eligible for decades into the future — voted for Obama by a 34 percentage point margin (66 to 32). White youth chose Obama over McCain by ten points (54 to 44). The Obama coalition could be a progressive coalition for a generation to come.

But he seems to have abandoned them. Obama’s people care about jobs but Obama talks about deficits. The Democratic base needs work but the Democrats can’t muster enough votes to extend unemployment benefits or aid to the states to avoid layoffs of teachers and firefighters. Our progressive coalition is ready to fight, but Obama seems more intent on making friends with his enemies (AKA bipartisanship) than making friends with his friends.

Obama’s people are hurting badly. Teenage unemployment stands at 25.7 percent. African Americans as a whole have an unemployment rate of 15.4 percent; black youth from 16 to 24 are unemployed at a horrifying 31.1 percent. The figures nearly double if they include people who are underemployed — working part-time but looking for full-time — or who have simply given up. People in prison don’t even count as part of the potential labor force, so unemployment data acts as if one young black man in nine doesn’t even exist.

It’s what’s happening to those whom Dave Johnson described as "Too Old For A Job, Too Young For Medicare Or Social Security."

Here is a fact: There. Are. No. Jobs. I’m in Silicon Valley where the official unemployment rate dipped in May to 11.2%. This dip was, of course, because of so many people just giving up trying to get a job, certainly not because of some wave of hiring. The underemployed figure, known as "U-6," is 21.7% in California, 16.7% nationally.

You have to know someone to get a humiliating job standing on a corner waving a sign. And if you are over 40, things are even worse than that. Don’t give me any conservative Rush Limbaugh-Ayn Rand dehumanizing nonsense about parasitic lazy people who won’t look — there are no jobs.

I know so many people here who are over 40, were laid off in the 2000-era dot com crash, still haven’t found a regular job and aren’t going to. They have had occasional "contract" positions—which means no benefits, no security, a 15% "self-employment" tax and no unemployment check when the job ends. And now, 10 years later they’re a lot over 40 and are not going to find a job because so many employers here won’t hire people over 40.

Dave told the story of an out-of-work friend in his post. Promting may others to share their stories in the comments.

My brother-in-law, who’s now 67, was having trouble finding work in aerospace, where he’d worked for 25 years, back when he was 50. I’m 56, and trying to find work OUT of the Los Angeles area. I’d like to move to Kentucky, where my fiancee is.

Nothing.

Nada.

Not so much as a call back, and I’ve got 30 years of experience in copy editing, publication design, advertising design and speaking/presentation training. I’ve been doing web design since ’94, when we had to optimize everything for dial-up modems.

I’m "too old".

I -was- told plainly by one recruiter that his employer client wouldn’t consider me because health insurance for me would be too expensive, Fred. It seems experience and talent are no longer valued.


§§§

Unfortunately, the age bias and inability to get a job are not limited to the west coast. I live in Missouri and lost my 13 year job with a municipality 16 months ago because of a political turnover. Previous to this position, I was with another municipality for 18 years. Management in both positions, first as Finance, then in Human Resources. I am 56, with a Master’s Degree and 31 years of municipal management experience. And – I can’t get a job, to save my soul – or my house! I am either under-qualified or over-qualified or just plain don’t even warrant a response at all!

If I get a response to an application or resume at all, it is that they received many applications from highly qualified people and I am not being considered. A recent submission was to a City almost the same size and budget as my previous position, doing exactly what I had been doing, and I wasn’t highly qualified enough to even get an interview. Give me a break!

Some how, some way, we have to get the Senate to approve the unemployment extension for all of us deadbeats out here, who prefer to sit on our rears and live high on our government handouts! My partner and I are both "in-betweeners" (he lost his job last year after 22 years) and we are fixing to lose everything we have worked our entire lives for, just like millions of other hard-working Americans in this Country!


§§§

I lost my computer programming job in February this year.

It was nothing more than simply not having the new skill set the company required and feeling that with my workload the company would look askance at doing any on the job training. So I’m out of work and most likely out of luck.

I’ve had one interview since then with a local company who stated that they wanted someone who could do the work immediately without further training and who would be around for the long term. This from a company that was looking for a programmer after laying off people due to the bad economy. There is no such thing as a long-term job and hasn’t been for decades!

I’m afraid of waiting too long and losing my house if my unemployment runs out before I’ve found something that can make the bills so it’s on the market. I’m lucky that I’m not under water on my mortgage. I’ll take a reasonable profit on the place even though it’s far less that it would have been a few years ago.


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Even more shared their stories at DailyKos and the Huffington Post.

I was laid off April 2, 2001, right after the bust was in full swing for the dot.com’s.

Prior to that point I had been working fairly consistently for nearly 20 years, so I didn’t expect to have too much trouble landing another gig — I had solid experience and a good track record. However, I was also 38 years old.

It took me 3 YEARS to finally snag a contract job at NASA, this despite reducing my expectations to ANYTHING that would get me working again… I hated being idle. Which is why the "lazy" label makes me so nuts — I literally created work for myself to do just to keep sane.

I then jumped to (gah) retail working as a "genius" at an Apple store for a year and a half. At 41 I was working almost as hard as I did getting myself through college.

In no uncertain terms I was extremely lucky to score a job with a fantastic company for the last 5 years. I’m fully aware that this will likely be my last solid gig, and often speculate what I would do should the unthinkable happen and this financially secure business closes, and the reality is that no amount of re-training or career hopping will make a damn bit of difference. Making the situation worse is the "over-qualified" moniker — I don’t even have the option of becoming a janitor.

§§§

Underemployed/unemployed.  SS may kick in, but at minimal rates.  Mine will be $655/mo.  I turned 62 June 5.  First check will arrive August 13.

Three years for any health insurance/medicare. And then that will reduce the SS income and require co-pays.

Eye care?  Dental care?  Long-term care?

Current income $400/mo UI, first small SS check arrives in August. 

Just had emergency laser treatment on my retina.  Haven’t received the bill yet.

Scary all around.

§§§

And after an 18 month job hunt finally landed a job as an entry-level applicant as an admin assistant.  Thankfully, the guy who hired me knew what a valuable package he was getting, so I am working and barely making it.   And I know that I am one of the "lucky" ones. 

I can’t let myself think too much about my future – it is just too damn scary and depressing.

§§§

Would you believe I was told I was unqualified for a job cleaning — get this — dog kennels and scooping cat boxes at a local shelter?  Excuse me, I have had cats my entire life, and dogs off and on for most of my adult years.  I’m perfectly capable of cleaning up after them, feeding them, and checking their eyes, ears, etc.  Hell, sometimes I’ve even caught illnesses in the early stages that the vet didn’t key into until after the lab results came back.

So… I have my box of hair color.  Dark blonde, to blend the gray.  I’ll let you know if it helps.

§§§

51 and still in school and plan on staying there as long as possible.  I had a job that I loved, but it paid very little.  Still, it was a night job that allowed me my classes in the day and enough for gas and mortgage.  Then my car broke down.  Catalytic converter.  Front seal.  I’d just bought tires, so couldn’t afford repair.  Tried to run on bad plates to work/school (I worked at school) but it is an hour away and my first ticket cost me $80.  More than I made a night.  Had to quit both school and job, moved in with a friend in TX, still trying to find a job there with less than two semesters to my BS. 

My only plan is to go on for my doctorate and teach.  But I am planning on doing it in Europe.  It won’t take as long at school and it is easier to get a job as a native English speaker there.  My kids are here, but I don’t see any other way.  I can’t marry because as a widow I will lose my husband’s Teamster pension and his SS, so I’ll just become a woozle lady in some obscure country LOL!  Meanwhile, I just try to keep my mortgage caught up cuz it’s all I have left.

§§§

This happened to my dad.

When my Mom died in 2002, he was 58.  Visibly and understandably shaken, he took some time off work to work through his grief.  Every time he did it, he called in to his boss to inform them.  It was just the occasional day here and there, nothing excessive for losing his wife of 30 years.

That is, until the called him rather unceremoniously and told him not to bother coming back, and they’d ship his stuff to him.

In the intervening years, he never found a full-time job again.  Test scoring, 15-20 hours a week, no insurance.  Some online thing for a few months doing something similar, again for only 15-20 hours a week.  This was a man with 20+ years in the insurance industry… scoring history exams for high schoolers.  He actually enjoyed the work, but couldn’t live on the salary.  Yet he was too young to get SSRI, or Medicare.

He ended up getting sick himself in January of 2008 with stomach problems, at 64 years old, and spent a week in the hospital, 4 days of it in ICU.  To the tune of $44,000.  When it happened again in May of that year, I firmly believe that the idea of another $40-50k in debt scared him and he did not want to go back to the hospital, and instead passed away at home, in bed, where he wasn’t found for two days.

This is an intensely personal issue for me, as you can tell.  We’re allowing people who have paid into the system to just die, live below the poverty level, and/or both.  It’s wrong, and it needs to stop.

Thanks for listening… you wanted my story, there it is.

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I have been in IT since 1964. I’ve written in all sorts of languages and for all types of systems. I’ve done stints as the MFIC and hated it. I love the challenge of elegant code and problem solving. When a new language/system/whathaveyou appeared I bought the books and studied, played with the code.  I got canned in the 2001 dot.com bust and got a job  with a big govvie contracting firm which laid off a whole bunch of us in late 2008. I was on UI for 6 months, sent more than 300 researched and targeted resumes and cover letters. I finally got a job. I make 40% less than I did 15 years ago and don’t give a damn.  I have a job. There are no more high-end ski vacations or luxury cars but they still print books and, of course, there is Daily Kos. I have a job without a fancy title but a whole lot responsibility. What ever needs to get done, gets done and I don’t count the hours. I cannot afford to retire, SS is a total joke.

§§§

My mom is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

She is 62 and has chronic back pain. But she cannot quit work and risk losing her insurance coverage (and it is not exactly stellar coverage but is definitely better than nothing). No employer would hire her because of her age and she went to work after high school in 1968 and never got a college degree. (Can I just say that she is smarter than a PhD when it comes to life?)

Her employer has cut her salary by 20% over the past two years (they recently reinstated 5% of her pay). She makes about 1/3 of what I do on an hourly basis even though she has years more experience. It is just simply wrong.

My only consolation is that I know I will always take care of her if I am able to. For so many people, it isn’t an option.

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In Oct 2008 I was 3 month shy of my

40th. I got laid off. I was the youngest of the group in my department getting laid off and I’m pretty sure it was to show "Oh hey, we don’t do age discrimination"

Uh-huh.

So I go through retraining to be a teacher. I think it is one of the few fields where my age will not be such an issue. However, if my state (OR) doesn’t get some funds from the fed for public sector, there will be no teaching jobs for me to take!

Just how many ways can I get screwed?

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Cruising along at 40k a year as a programmer/DBA.  I and coworker suggest that we could go from borderline breakeven to out and out profitable if he’d just hire on a dedicated salesperson for a year.  No dice.  ‘Not enough money’.  Then the boss, who runs the tiny software company, buys a restaurant, which cuts into his time and attention.  Then he starts a coffee shop, into which he pours a ton of money, far more than hiring a salesperson for our software would have cost.  Coworker reads the writing on the wall, decamps for another company.

I stay loyal, boss declares not enough work, despite having the same customers we’d had for a decade, cuts me back to 3 hr days.  That goes on for a year, during which time, we lose about half the income, as clients decamp because customer service has gone downhill with them only able to work with me for 3 hr days rather than with me and coworker at 8 hr days.

Boss then cuts me down to ad hoc ‘piecework’, and I average maybe 8 hrs every 2 weeks, which is where I’ve been for the last several months.  From the 40k years, I went to 17k reported to the IRS on this year’s forms, and I’m standing at about $4500 YTD this year, and wondering if that means I’ll be below the poverty line if I don’t find a full time job before long.

I thought I was lucky to have picked up a nursing degree a couple of years back and taken and passed my licensing for an RN back in march, but I’ve been calling and putting out resumes for 4 months now and not even been able to get a refresher preceptorship (in-hospital apprenticeship sorta deal) much less an interview for a job.

I’ve got a little under 7 months til my 42nd birthday, so I’m exercising every day and watching my diet in hopes I can get in good enough shape by then to be accepted into the army since nothing else is panning out.  If I can last that long.

§§§

Three years ago I got the notice that unless I could find another position in the company (Hewlett-Packard), my last day would be September 27th 2007. I applied for a dozen positions, one of which was so close to the work I had been doing, the only difference was the pay scale, as it was one level lower than than the one I was on. (I was making just over $100K and had been for a few years). I didn’t get the job, and so I entered into "retirement" at age 57 with 24 years at HP.

I’ve applied for hundreds of positions, many at half of what I was making or less, and none that were offering more that $75K. I was a product of learning on the job for all of my work life since leaving the Navy after a 7 year stint in 1976. I lack a college degree which puts me at a disadvantage for any jobs out there. And this will be the excuse for why I didn’t get hired, not the obvious age discrimination that goes on.

HP made much effort in proving that age discrimination was not at work with the group of people that were being let go at the same time. That’s all well and good, but what I want to see is proof that age discrimination is not at work in their hiring practices.

I was able to get some unemployment, the usual 26 weeks and one extension. That and my wife was working at a well paying job.

That is until the end of 2009, when she was suddenly let go. Six months later her unemployment is running out and we’re living off our savings.

I am still 18 months from Social Security or other retirement benefits. And yet, I feel I am one of the luckier ones, as I don’t think we will lose the house.

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“In October of ‘08 my position was abruptly eliminated due to the financial emergency, and I’ve been unemployed since, with only two interviews. TWO. I lost most of my retirement money in the crash, and have had to spend what was left trying to keep myself afloat I’m 59 years old- apparently “too old” to hire, but too young to retire. I have some chronic health conditions,I don’t drink, or smoke, or do drugs. I have no criminal record. I have an AS degree. I have good computer skills. I’m not completely disabled, so I don’t qualify for disability benefits. I want a job, I want to work, I want to survive.

Now, because the Senate has not passed this legislation, I have lost my benefits. I live in a rented room, and have a car I make payments on. I have no family or friends able to take me in. As of today, I will have nowhere to go by the end of July. I have a beloved cat that I will have to find a home for, or surrender to the shelter. I don’t know how I am going to survive this.

Why is our government allowing this waste of human resources, and abandoning so many people like me- people who have worked, and striven, and contributed to this country?

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I will turn 52 later this month.

Since I was laid off at the end of 2008 (after 12 years with the same company; the last with my best sales & profit results ever) I’ve taken short-term Census positions, continued my part-time photography business (p/t because who’s spending their money on such frivolous purchases these days?), gone back to school, continue to apply for jobs and keep in touch with friends and acquaintances across the US for any hint of an opportunity. My 18 months of cobra-mandated health insurance ran out last month- as did my tier 2 UI payments(I didn’t file until after my 2009 temporary job).

The bright spots- my mortgage is still current. That’s a combination of my savings and not buying in the ‘best part of town’. But even though I paid under $100k here, there’s no way I could sell this place for what I owe in the current market. And I have a great support network (all too many of them also facing financial challenges).

But by next month, without an extension to the qualification date for UI tiers 3 and 4, it will be time to apply for ‘food stamps’.

Austerity comes at a cost, both in economic and human terms. Whether the outcome is worth the cost is a simple matter of who pays the price. And the price of austerity will be born by the same people who have paid the price of the economic crisis thus far.

Images via: Renegade98 @ Flickr, and Blue Jay Day @ Flickr.

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