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Machiavellians Manipulators Bag of Tricks

News Sociopath attack methods Toxic Managers Recommended Links The psychopath in the corner office Machiavellians Manipulators Tricks Deception as an art form
Isolation as a psychopath attack strategy Demeaning Projection Workplace mobbing Gaslighting Deception as an art form Devious Political Tactics
Cutoffs and Deniable disclosure Surviving a Bad Performance Review Insubordination Threat Ignoring personal boundaries Doting  Smothering Emotional blackmail
Office Stockholm Syndrom Understanding Micromanagers and control freaks Rules of Communication   sociopaths Films depicting sociopaths  Anger trap The Fiefdom Syndrome
Surviving a Bad Performance Review Authoritarians Workplace mobbing Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Anger trap Learned helplessness Office Stockholm Syndrome
Femme fatale Pollyanna creep Psychological manipulation Fake Sexual Harassment Claims Insubordination Threat Toxic managers Female bullies
Dangerous Liaisons The Last Seduction Fatal Attraction The Devil Wears Prada Borderline Psychopaths Divorcing Borderline Psychopath Humor

Note: The central pages of the series is Toxic Managers page.

Most Corporate Psychopaths can be also classified as Mayberry Machiavellians. The tactics  Machiavellians use can make it seem like they're mentoring, caring, defending, almost anything but intimidating.  The most dangerous part is that they can pretty well read the person and see strong points and weakness, sometimes more objectively then the person himself/herself.

These tactics are hard to recognize as merely clever ploys. The main difference is that the manipulator is pretty versatile and in no way is only a bully:  for him this is just one method in the arsenal that can be useful for achieving their goals. They are really concentrated of achieving goals, usually climbing the ladder at whatever cost, and excels in political games. Psychopath always looks at people as a means to an end, pawn that can, if necessary for the game, be sacrifices.  Those who he/she needs to run over on the way to the top are casualties he writes off.

See Salon Books Machiavelli personality test. Try to answer it guessing answers that your boss would give in your opinion. If based on your intuition your boss achieve the score 75 or more, there is a danger. But again precise classification is difficult.

In Sheep's Clothing- Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People is a good book on the subject. Chapter 9 is probably the most important chapter of the book. In this chapter the author lists typical tricks used by "Mayberry Machiavellians".

Among typical manipulation techniques are:

  1. Minimization: This is when a sociopath is attempting to assert that his behavior is not really harmful or irresponsible as someone else may be claiming.  That the other party is exaggerating the event, etc.
  2. Lying.  Often facts to detect false statements are not available when they are presented. One thing to protect you is to know that those personalities will stop at nothing to win and you can expect them to lie and cheat. Lying by omission is a most subtle way to deception -- manipulator simply withhold critical information.
  3. Denial: "Classic "Who...Me ?" tactic invites the victim to feel unjustified in confronting the sociopaths about some inappropriateness. this is done to toss out the accusation, before the victim goes into details.
  4. Selective inattention: Children often close their ears when they do not want to listen to something. You can counter this tactics with selective speaking. Stop talking as soon as they lose attention. When they turn back and restore the eye contact you can resume.  Generally the less you talk for them, the safer you are. See Tactful communication and Minimize office gossip
  5. Rationalization: This is an excuse that aggressor is making to justify his reprehensible actions.
  6. Diversion: Changing the subject is classic example of diversion.
  7. Evasion: Deliberate use of vagueness is classic example of evasion. Evasion of responsibility is often connected with "leaving no written trail" giving orders only by phone or via patsies.
  8. Covert intimidation:  Find a weak spot and try to push on them
  9. Guilt-tipping: This is a classic trick: to pass the blame for own mistakes, actions or inactions on you.
  10. Shaming: subtle sarcasm and put-downs as a mean of increasing fear and self-doubt. Also can be used to weaken moral principles and as such is widely used in seduction. 
  11. Playing victim role: Portraying themselves as victim of circumstances, somebody else behavior in order to gain sympathy, evoke compassion and thereby get something in return.
  12. Vilifying the victim: Sociopath try to pretend that he/she was only responding (i.e. defending himself/herself).
  13. Playing a servant role: By pretending working hard for somebody sense (usually superior) goals, sociopaths conceal their ambitions, hunger for status and power and quest to position to dominate others.
  14.  Gaslighting": this is  a pressure tactic that is especially successful on the person with the high level of conformity. From Wikipedia:

    Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity.[1] Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.

    The term "gaslighting" comes from the play Gas Light and its film adaptations (see Ingrid Bergman in the 1944 film Gaslight). The term is now also used in clinical and research literature.[2][3]

  15. Isolation and exclusion The most powerful technique bullies (and all sociopaths are bullies)  use is the isolation and exclusion, which in high school environment can take grotesque forms: 

My "lunch tray moments" consisted of going from table to table, trying to sit down, and kids telling me I wasn't welcome to sit with them, and then eating by myself in the detention room, the only place that would have me.

My "gym class moments" consisted of being the girl left over when the last team captain chose the second-to-last girl, and then the other team captain declaring she never picked me and that I was not on her team.

I adapted first making friends with the neighborhood dogs who all accepted me with love and dignity, and then by getting involved with out-of-school activities and making lots of friends outside of school. By 10th grade, I had friends at school again.


The author discusses those issues in Chapter 10.  He recommends:

First let's put this term into historical perspective. In him Amazon review to Prince Wayne A. Smith wrote:

There are two good reasons to read Machiavelli's classic, "The Prince."

First, so you'll know what everyone is referring to when you come across the adjective "machiavellian" in news stories or other media. This adjective has become so commonplace (and overused) it is almost a cliche. Also, most who use it have never read this letter from Machiavelli, a Rennaisance courtier to his Prince (written from prison), but they insist on peppering writings with this noun turned adjective so much that as a matter of clearly understanding what is meant by the term, famiality with this brief treatise is helpful.

Second, this book does describe most (not all) power situations very well. From politics to corporations to most settings where advancement, influence and control exist, Machiavelli's observations and rules apply.

You will also discover that Machiavelli was not as evil as he is understood to be in popular thought. What he was doing was describing the rules of the game that have existed and always will exist for many situations involving selfish humans in competition. Machiavelli's rules are neither good nor bad in themselves -- they describe a process. What is good or bad is how those who master Machiavelli's rules use their power and position, in a society that tempers actions according to law and basic Judeo-Christian principals. When those principals do not exist (as in Nazi Germany, the Middle Ages or under Communism, or by those who refuse to live by these constraints), Machiavelli's rules take on their demonic and evil cloak; usually because they serve demonic and evil ends. In societies where positive constraints exist, for example the U.S. political system, Machiavellian behavior can produce excellent results. A good example involves Abraham Lincoln, whose ambition led him to use every legitimate trick and strategy to master (and remove) political opponents. His mastery of Machiavellian behavior constrained by the US political system allowed him to save the Union and end slavery.

To fully appreciate the modern lessons that can be taken from this writing, one must translate Medieval sensibilities to their contemporary counterparts. The casual way in which Machiavelli discusses the need to kill opponents was necessary to those who wished to be princes 500 years ago. Today, of course, "killing" is translated as rendering less powerful, or taking an opponent out of the game.

What does one get from this book? It is a roadmap with insights and lessons about how to

  1. get ahead of others to attain power; and
  2. maintain and expand one's power in the face of others who would usurp one who is in a desirable position.

This book is about ruthlessness and putting the attainment and preservation of power ahead of any other consideration. Plenty of maxims that are also tossed about frequently in media are to be found in Machiavelli's book: "the end justifies the means," "it is better to be feared than loved," "if you fight the prince, kill the prince" to name a few.

It is essential reading to anyone who would be in a competitive environment and hope to advance, if for no other reason than many of one's competitors operate by Machiavelli's dictums (which arise out of human instinct and selfishness). One does not have to operate according to Machaivelli's code -- many examples of altruism and "pluck and luck" exist to defeat any claim that Machiavelli's road map is essential for success. However, human nature and human history deliver far more examples of ruthless self-interest (Machiavellianism) behind success in power situations.

Is Machiavellianism bad? Not in and of itself. Remember, one must translate the Middle Age ethos to current practices -- there usually isn't blood spilled as a result of today's Machiavellian duels, just power and position. Most political and business leaders are at least partly Machiavellian. The trick is using one's power to good ends. Thus, even though Lincoln and all of our presidents were Machiavellian in their climb to the White House, some of them did darn good work there. The same is true for business leaders. Jack Welch (GE), Bill Gates (Microsoft), anyone who advances past the first few rungs of the corporate ladder or dominates markets at the expense of competitors is using Machiavelli's dictums. The trick of a just and good society is to set the bounds by which power can be attained and exercised so that good and benefits will flow from those who are able to "claw their way to the top."

To summarize, read this book if you want to

This category of corporation psychopaths is also closely connected with the category of toxic incompetents.  "The Reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis" is the nickname of rule of ruthless, toxic  incompetents; putting in high positions people who has zero abilities to perform ("subzeros").  Bill Joy once proposed an elegant explanation for the apparently inevitable metamorphosis of cool start-ups into hideous corporations, which he called the Bozo2 Principle. Wizards, he said, hire other Wizards. Bozos hire Bozos. As a company grows rapidly, it is inevitable that some Wizards will slip and hire Bozos, given the scarcity of the former and plenitude of the latter. However, once a Bozo has been hired, he hires another, and "everything beneath them turns Bozo after that." (This is related to Steve Jobs' famous: "A people hire A people. B people hire C people.").

Machiavellism now is usually understood as cynical and ruthless manipulation of the public to support policies far different from the issues that are advanced openly;  that  makes is close to Lysenkoism. For example Neal Gabler[Gabler2004] suggested:

Stories of Rove's ruthlessness are legion. Consider the South Carolina 2000 Presidential primary. The South Carolina Presidential primary in 2000 is a case in point. John McCain threatened to defeat George Bush, as he had in New Hampshire. Suddenly, as Ron Suskind describes it, "Bush loyalists began distributing parking-lot handouts and making telephone 'push polls' and fomenting whisper campaigns that McCain had fathered a black baby by a prostitute, his wife was a drug addict, and that he had become unstable due to his years in a Vietnamese prison camp.

The McCains had adopted a baby from a Mother Teresa orphanage in Bangladesh. "Bridget, now eleven years old, waved along with the rest of the McCain brood from stages across the state, a dark-skinned child inadvertently providing a photo op for slander." McCain lost.

The most important is that such tricks appeal to the instincts that might be not the best part of human's psyche. Also  despise and disregard for truth is self-evident and further link Machiavellis and Lysenkoism: both have stubborn insistence that  "facts does not matter".  If facts does not correspond to the desirable line of policy, too bad for the facts :-)  Here we rely on the characterization of Neal Gabler:

 "When neither dissent nor facts are recognized as constraining forces, one is infallible, which is the sum and foundation of Rovism. Cleverly invoking the power of faith to protect itself from accusations of stubbornness and insularity, this administration entertains no doubt, no adjustment, no negotiation, no competing point of view. As such, it eschews the essence of the American political system: flexibility and compromise.   

The second issue is "power grab". Lysenkoism like any cult is definitely antidemocratic and thus can be characterized by high level of concentration of power at the top. Similar situation seems to exist with Machiavellis. John DiIulio, former Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, wrote "Karl is enormously powerful, maybe the single most powerful person in the modern post-Hoover era ever to occupy a political advisor post near the Oval Office." After Republicans won the midterm elections, another senior White House official told Ron Suskind of Esquire:

 "Karl just went from prime minister to king. Amazing . . . and a little scary. Now no one will speak candidly about him or take him on or contradict him. Pure power, no real accountability."

Former Bush Treasury secretary Paul H. O'Neill characterized Machiavellis as "putting politics before sound policy judgments".

Echoing a criticism leveled by former Bush aide John J. DiIulio Jr., who coined the term "Mayberry Machiavellis", O'Neill said that appeal to "basic instincts" and to images and slogans instead of substance is another important similarity. As Neal Gabler observed in Machiavellism, toughness is the only virtue:

The mere appearance of change is intolerable, which is why Bush apparently can't admit ever making a mistake. As Machiavelli put it, the prince must show that "his judgments are irrevocable."

... ... ...

Boiled down, Rovism is government by jihadis in the grip of unshakable self-righteousness — ironically the force the administration says it is fighting. It imposes rather than proposes.

You can learn a lot about their methods following depiction of methods used by cults.  Here is relevant (albeit large) quote from How Cults Manipulate People

Many people now agree that cults frequently psychologically manipulate their membership to ensure conformity and control. Steve Hassan's excellent book "Combating Cult Mind-Control" is a great starting point. The following points come from numerous sources. Not all of these are found in every cult but enough of them are found in most cults to make them very frightening places that inflict deep psychological damage on their membership.

1. Submission to Leadership - Leaders tend to be absolute, prophets of God, God Himself, specially anointed apostle, or just a strong, controlling, manipulative person who demands submission even if changes or conflicts occur in ideology or behaviour.

2. Polarized World View - The group is all that is good; everything outside is bad.

3. Feeling Over Thought - Emotions, intuitions, mystical insights are promoted as more important than rational conclusions.

4. Manipulation of Feelings - Techniques designed to stimulate emotions, usually employing group dynamics to influence responses.

5. Denigration of Critical Thinking - Can go so far as to characterize any independent thought as selfish, and rational use of intellect as evil.

6. Salvation or Fulfillment can only be realized in the group.

7. End Justifies the Means - Any action or behaviour is justifiable as long as it furthers the group's goals. The group (leader) becomes absolute truth and is above all man-made laws.

8. Group Over Individual - The group's concerns supersede an individual's goals, needs, aspirations, and concerns. Conformity is the key.

9. Warnings of severe or supernatural sanctions for defection or even criticism of the cult - This can go so far as to apply to negative or critical thought about the group or its leaders.

10. Severing of Ties with Past, Family, Friends, Goals, and Interests - Especially if they are negative towards or impede the goals of the group.

11. Barratrous Abuse - Some cults use "cult lawyers' to sue ex-cult members and critics often using fabricated evidence and causing finacial stress by repeated trivial law suits. The cult's aim is not so much to win the lawsuit (though they often do) as to harass and intimidate their critics into silence.

Cult Conversion Techniques

Conversion into a cult is usually the result of two interacting dynamics. The first is the personal vulnerability of the potential recruit. This vulnerability may be enhanced by, but not limited to, transitional situations such as divorce, abuse, job or career change, moving away from home or leaving college, an illness, or death of a loved one.

The second dynamic are the tactics used to convert, indoctrinate (brainwash) and hold the members. Some groups attempt a radical and rapid conversion over an intensive week-end or week, such as The Forum or Scientology. Others have a more subtle approach which may take weeks or months, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses. The following are techniques of unethical thought reform and mind control:

The importance of cognitive dissonance

Any person will act so as to reduce conflict between their thoughts, their emotions and their behaviour. When these things are at odds with each other a person experiences 'dissonance" (the opposite of harmony). Cognitive dissonance is when what a person knows is right is at odds with either what they feel is right or what they are doing. Cults quickly move to control four key areas of a person's life during the conversion process -

The combination of all these factors make it very likely that if the new recruit stays in the cult for any length of time they will come to believe in it utterly. We are not as objective as we like to think and when all these powerful forces combine ven very intelligent people will be "converted" but not by God.

A Quick List of Nasty Practices

  1. A Focus on felt needs, defects, with exaggerated promises of fulfillment.
  2. Rigid Control of Time and Activities - Often physically and emotionally draining activities leaving little time for reflection, questioning and privacy.
  3. Information Control - Cutting off or denigrating outside sources of information especially if it is critical of the group. This can also include misrepresentation and information overload.
  4. Language Manipulation - Ascribing new "inside" meanings in ordinary words or the use of an exclusive vocabulary subtly moving a person to want to become an insider.
  5. Discouraging Critical, Rational Thought and Questions - For instance, comments like, "Satan is the cause of all doubt; he wants to keep you from the Truth", or, "one must move beyond the cognitive left-brain and get in touch with one's higher self, his right-brain, intuitive self for true knowledge".
  6. Instruction and Repetition in Trance Induction Techniques - These include progressive relaxation, chanting, hypnosis, meditation, trance states, guided imagery or visualization, deep breathing exercises, all of which make a person highly suggestible, often unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality, and can cause psychopathology such as relaxation induced anxiety.
  7. Confession Sessions - Promoting full disclosure of all secret sins, thoughts, temptations which can become a powerful tool to manipulate, blackmail, and emotionally bond people to the leader or group. It is actually a depersonalization or stripping of the inner self , a forced submission to the group.
  8. Guilt, Fear - Weapons used to maintain group loyalty, suppress questions and defections.
  9. Control of Sexuality and Intimacy within the Cult - This may extend to marriage decisions (Moonies), sexual relations, promiscuity (Children of God), group sex (New Age Therapy groups), child sex, adultery, and polygamy (Branch-Davidians).
  10. Excessive Financial Obligations - More and more money is needed to attain higher degrees of spirituality (Scientology), or complete submission to God requires one to give up everything to the group or leader (pp. 26-29).

The more points of ideology and conversion methodology that are in place, and the degree of intensity of their application is proportionate to the effect and damage of mind control.

These factors tend to make normal evangelism, or even dialogue, much more difficult. Therefore, some people have looked to deprogrammers or exit-counselors to help break the mental head-locks of their loved ones in an attempt to rescue them from the cult.

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[Oct 4, 2006] Hirsh Bush, Ike and Questions of Competence - Newsweek Michael Hirsh - By Michael Hirsh

Ike was right. Eisenhower's only litmus test was competence. If only the Bush administration would follow his example.

Oct. 4, 2006 (Newsweek WEB-EXCLUSIVE COMMENTARY). He was a Republican president from Texas at a time of great peril for America, a moment in history when the conservative base of his party was dominated by radical thinking about how to take on the nation's mortal enemy. It was an election year, and the GOP was making political hay by mocking Democratic weakness. Among the most radical Republican critics was one of the president's own top cabinet officers, who called for pre-emptive war.

But Dwight D. Eisenhower said no to that. In some of the most important yet little appreciated decisions ever made by any U.S. president, Ike faced down both his own advisers and his base in the early to mid-'50s and embraced the containment policies of the other party. And he did it for a simple reason: he knew they were right. His only litmus test was competence.

It's important to remember this relatively obscure chapter of American history today, a time when the GOP-the supposed party of adults-is being accused of incompetence on almost every level: from running a war to managing the nation's budget to overseeing its sexual mores. And it's useful to remind ourselves that, just as old Harry Truman once said, the buck does indeed stop in the Oval Office. Donald Rumsfeld may be the disastrously clueless and arrogant secretary of Defense portrayed by Bob Woodward's new book, "State of Denial." But cabinet secretaries are disposable, as is every presidential appointee who ill serves the nation, and their advice can be ignored. All that is needed is a president with the judgment to dispose of them-as it appears even Laura Bush wanted to do with Rumsfeld, according Bob Woodward-or at least to ignore them.

One of the virtues of the Woodward book is that it helps to move us away from the template we've all used to write about the Bush administration, in which Bush is routinely seen as a strong leader, and every mistake is blamed on Rummy, or Dick Cheney or Condoleezza Rice, among others. It restores a sense of balance about how government is supposed to work and who's in charge.

On that score, it's interesting to compare Bush to Eisenhower, who is often caricatured as a president who saw his office as a retirement sinecure and played golf for eight years. Historical records, some of which came to light decades after his death, show that Ike was actually fiercely engaged in the details of analyzing and deciding critical national-security issues. And he dominated thinking about policy in a way that seems unfamiliar to the post-9/11 generation of Americans.

During the 1952 election campaign against Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson, many Republicans endorsed John Foster Dulles's "policy of boldness" or "rollback" toward Moscow, a repudiation of Truman's "mere" containment of tyranny. But within six months of taking office, in June 1953, Eisenhower convened a top-secret "Operation Solarium" (named after the White House sun room) to thrash over various approaches to the Soviets over a five-week period. There were three teams. Team A proposed continuing Truman-style containment; Team B pressed for a more aggressive form of it, and Team C argued for martial rollback. Among those present was George Kennan, who had served only in Democratic administrations and who later remarked that Ike took total command of the process, demonstrating "his intellectual ascendancy over every man in the room." In the end, Eisenhower opted for Team A's plan, and he forced Dulles, by then his secretary of State, to fall in line.

By contrast, there is no evidence that President Bush ever held a high-level strategy meeting on how to fight the larger war on terror in which all the variables were laid on the table: What was the strategic goal? What were the opportunity costs of invading Iraq? After an initial post-9/11 meeting at Camp David, when Bush settled on a retaliatory response in Afghanistan, the administration abruptly shifted its attention to Iraq with little apparent discussion.

At least two more times in the mid to late '50s, hard-liners such as Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay urged pre-emptive war on the Soviets. Eisenhower (who was born in Denison, Texas, though he moved to Kansas as a toddler) simply showed them the door, noting at one point in his diary that starting such wars violated American values and tradition. During the Suez crisis of 1956-which occurred 50 years ago this month-when Egyptian leader Gamel Abdel Nasser seized the canal, it was Eisenhower who restrained the Europeans, rather than the other way around, saying that he was "determined to exhaust every feasible method of a peaceful settlement." Finally, the records show that he resisted Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Arthur Radford's 1954 advice, endorsed by Vice President Richard Nixon, to use U.S. air power to bail out the French at Dien Bien Phu. Upon leaving office, Ike left the incoming Kennedy administration a bit of sage advice: don't put American troops in Vietnam.

At the same time, Eisenhower was not overcautious. As Princeton historian Fred Greenstein notes, "his most famous decision was to go ahead with the D-Day invasion of Europe in the eye of a hurricane."

Yes, Ike had his own lapses of judgment and courage, notably when he stayed silent for too long while the demagogue Joe McCarthy took over the GOP. But at least he knew where the buck stopped, just as his predecessor Harry Truman did. Recall Eisenhower's famous contingency message in 1944, the one the supreme Allied commander planned to issue to the public in case the D-Day landing failed. "If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone," he wrote in a note he tucked into his wallet. He didn't get along with his predecessor, Truman, but the latter also shared this quality of personal integrity. "When things went wrong, he took the blame," wrote Truman's secretary of State, Dean Acheson, in his memoirs. "When things went right, he followed his hero, 'Marse Robert,' General Robert E. Lee, by giving one of his lieutenants the credit." Compare that to Bush and Rumsfeld's habit of laying everything off on their generals, or disgraced Congressman Mark Foley's absurd effort to blame his sexual depredations on alcoholism and a childhood molestation.

Are there no Ikes or Harrys extant?


[Oct 24, 2004] LA Times/ Karl Rove America's Mullah By Neal Gabler

** This election is about Rovism, and the outcome threatens to transform the U.S. into an ironfisted theocracy. **

Los Angeles Times
October 24, 2004,1,2272052.story

Even now, after Sen. John F. Kerry handily won his three debates with President Bush and after most polls show a dead heat, his supporters seem downbeat. Why? They believe that Karl Rove, Bush's top political operative, cannot be beaten. Rove the Impaler will do whatever it takes -- anything -- to make certain that Bush wins. This isn't just typical Democratic pessimism. It has been the master narrative of the 2004 presidential campaign in the mainstream media. Attacks on Kerry come and go -- flip-flopper, Swift boats, Massachusetts liberal -- but one constant remains, Rove, and everyone takes it for granted that he knows how to game the system.

Rove, however, is more than a political sharpie with a bulging bag of dirty tricks. His campaign shenanigans -- past and future -- go to the heart of what this election is about.

Democrats will tell you it is a referendum on Bush's incompetence or on his extremist right-wing agenda. Republicans will tell you it's about conservatism versus liberalism or who can better protect us from terrorists. They are both wrong. This election is about Rovism -- the insinuation of Rove's electoral tactics into the conduct of the presidency and the fabric of the government. It's not an overstatement to say that on Nov. 2, the fate of traditional American democracy will hang in the balance.

Rovism is not simply a function of Rove the political conniver sitting in the counsels of power and making decisions, though he does. No recent presidency has put policy in the service of politics as has Bush's. Because tactics can change institutions, Rovism is much more. It is a philosophy and practice of governing that pervades the administration and even extends to the Republican-controlled Congress. As Robert Berdahl, chancellor of UC Berkeley, has said of Bush's foreign policy, a subset of Rovism, it constitutes a fundamental change in "the fabric of constitutional government as we have known it in this country."

Rovism begins, as one might suspect from the most merciless of political consiglieres, with Machiavelli's rule of force: "A prince is respected when he is either a true friend or a downright enemy." No administration since Warren Harding's has rewarded its friends so lavishly, and none has been as willing to bully anyone who strays from its message.

There is no dissent in the Rove White House without reprisal.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki was retired after he disagreed with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's transformation of the Army and then testified that invading Iraq would require a U.S. deployment of 200,000 soldiers.

Chief Medicare actuary Richard Foster was threatened with termination if he revealed before the vote that the administration had seriously misrepresented the cost of its proposed prescription drug plan to get it through Congress.

Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was peremptorily fired for questioning the wisdom of the administration's tax cuts, and former U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III felt compelled to recant his statement that there were insufficient troops in Iraq.

Even accounting for the strong-arm tactics of Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, this isn't government as we have known it. This is the Sopranos in the White House: "Cross us and you're road kill."

Naturally, the administration's treatment of the opposition is worse. Rove's mentor, political advisor Lee Atwater, has been quoted as saying: "What you do is rip the bark off liberals." That's how Bush has governed. There is a feeling, perhaps best expressed by Georgia Democratic Sen. Zell Miller's keynote address at the Republican convention, that anyone who has the temerity to question the president is undermining the country. At times, Miller came close to calling Democrats traitors for putting up a presidential candidate.

This may be standard campaign rhetoric. But it's one thing to excoriate your opponents in a campaign, and quite another to continue berating them after the votes are counted.

Rovism regards any form of compromise as weakness. Politics isn't a bus we all board together, it's a steamroller.

No recent administration has made less effort to reach across the aisle, and thanks to Rovism, the Republican majority in Congress often operates on a rule of exclusion. Republicans blocked Democrats from participating in the bill-drafting sessions on energy, prescription drugs and intelligence reform in the House. As Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) told the New Yorker, "They don't consult with the nations of the world, and they don't consult with Congress, especially the Democrats in Congress. They can do it all themselves."

Bush entered office promising to be a "uniter, not a divider." But Rovism is not about uniting. What Rove quickly grasped is that it's easier and more efficacious to exploit the cultural and social divide than to look for common ground. No recent administration has as eagerly played wedge issues -- gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research, faith-based initiatives -- to keep the nation roiling, in the pure Rovian belief that the president's conservative supporters will always be angrier and more energized than his opponents. Division, then, is not a side effect of policy; in Rovism, it is the purpose of policy.

The lack of political compromise has its correlate in the administration's stubborn insistence that it doesn't have to compromise with facts. All politicians operate within an Orwellian nimbus where words don't mean what they normally mean, but Rovism posits that there is no objective, verifiable reality at all. Reality is what you say it is, which explains why Bush can claim that postwar Iraq is going swimmingly or that a so-so economy is soaring. As one administration official told reporter Ron Suskind, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. . . . We're history's actors."

When neither dissent nor facts are recognized as constraining forces, one is infallible, which is the sum and foundation of Rovism. Cleverly invoking the power of faith to protect itself from accusations of stubbornness and insularity, this administration entertains no doubt, no adjustment, no negotiation, no competing point of view. As such, it eschews the essence of the American political system: flexibility and compromise.

In Rovism, toughness is the only virtue. The mere appearance of change is intolerable, which is why Bush apparently can't admit ever making a mistake. As Machiavelli put it, the prince must show that "his judgments are irrevocable."

Rovism is certainly not without its appeal. As political theorist Sheldon Wolin once characterized Machiavellian government, it promises the "economy of politics." Americans love toughness. They love swagger. In a world of complexity and uncertainty, especially after Sept. 11, they love the idea of a man who doesn't need anyone else. They even love the sense of mission, regardless of its wisdom.

These values run deep in the American soul, and Rovism consciously taps them. But they are not democratic. Unwavering discipline, demonization of foes, disdain for reality and a personal sense of infallibility based on faith are the stuff of a theocracy -- the president as pope or mullah and policy as religious warfare.

Boiled down, Rovism is government by jihadis in the grip of unshakable self-righteousness -- ironically the force the administration says it is fighting. It imposes rather than proposes.

Rovism surreptitiously and profoundly changes our form of government, a government that has been, since its founding by children of the Enlightenment, open, accommodating, moderate and generally reasonable.

All administrations try to work the system to their advantage, and some, like Nixon's, attempt to circumvent the system altogether. Rove and Bush neither use nor circumvent, which would require keeping the system intact. They instead are reconfiguring the system in extra-constitutional, theocratic terms.

The idea of the United States as an ironfisted theocracy is terrifying, and it should give everyone pause. This time, it's not about policy. This time, for the first time, it's about the nature of American government.

We all have reason to be very, very afraid.

--Neal Gabler, a senior fellow at the Norman Lear Center at USC Annenberg, is author of Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality.

M of A - Rovism

LA Times has an analysis by Neal Gabler on Rovism. Even without the religious extremes taking over the Republican party, as has been discussed here in recent threads, the piece finds that the concepts applied by Rove in and of themself constitute a theocratic scheme.

This election is about Rovism - the insinuation of Rove's electoral tactics into the conduct of the presidency and the fabric of the government.

All politicians operate within an Orwellian nimbus where words don't mean what they normally mean, but Rovism posits that there is no objective, verifiable reality at all. Reality is what you say it is, ...

When neither dissent nor facts are recognized as constraining forces, one is infallible, which is the sum and foundation of Rovism. Cleverly invoking the power of faith to protect itself from accusations of stubbornness and insularity, this administration entertains no doubt, no adjustment, no negotiation, no competing point of view.
Americans love toughness. They love swagger. In a world of complexity and uncertainty, especially after Sept. 11, they love the idea of a man who doesn't need anyone else. They even love the sense of mission, regardless of its wisdom.

These values run deep in the American soul, and Rovism consciously taps them. But they are not democratic. Unwavering discipline, demonization of foes, disdain for reality and a personal sense of infallibility based on faith are the stuff of a theocracy - the president as pope or mullah and policy as religious warfare.

Boiled down, Rovism is government by jihadis in the grip of unshakable self-righteousness - ironically the force the administration says it is fighting. It imposes rather than proposes.
All administrations try to work the system to their advantage, and some, like Nixon's, attempt to circumvent the system altogether. Rove and Bush neither use nor circumvent, which would require keeping the system intact. They instead are reconfiguring the system in extra-constitutional, theocratic terms.

Psychological manipulation - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Simon[2] identified the following manipulative techniques:

Chapter 4 Diversity and Individual Differences

The Master Squirrel... ; - 48 Laws of Power and The Machiavellian Personality... ;

Machiavellianism derives from the views of Prince Machiavelli that a ruler is not bound by traditional ethical norms. A prince, therefore, should only be concerned with power and be bound only by rules that would lead to success. Prince Machiavelli deduced these rules from the political practices of his time:

High machs (Machiavellists) tend to constitute a distinctive type. They tend to be charming, confident, and glib; but they also are arrogant, calculating, and cynical, prone to manipulate and exploit. In the context of laboratory experiment games, high machs display a keen and opportunistic sense of timing, and they appear to capitalize especially in situations that contain ambiguity regarding the rules."

Political Savvy Accelerating Career Success through ethical organizational politics.

I work for a self serving (Machiavellian) boss. Is there any thing I can do it about it"-- Office Worker

Too many people believe all they can do is take it. While it is a difficult situation, one is not entirely helpless.

The Political Savvy have several options at their disposal. They might look to be on as many cross functional teams as possible. Connections made on these teams can provide routes to laterally move out from under their current boss.

Supporting the part of the boss's agenda that one believes is in the best interest of the business gives one a way to still contribute as they wait for an opportunity to get out from under.

Additionally the Political Savvy use their existing networks to find opportunities to work on tasks that can lead to working for another boss.

If the boss is truly a manipulative tyrant then the boss is bad for the organization as well as subordinates. The Political Savvy will look for ethical and savvy ways to get the true nature of the boss known to those higher up in the organization.

There are other possible actions to take that deal with this type of tough situation including allowing such bosses to do themselves in. The Savvy Advantage provides a range of options.

How to Work for an Idiot Boss

The Machiavellian Boss. Smart, shrewd and ruthless. MB's believe the chair at the top of corporate ladder is theirs by divine right. An MB will rip out your heart, slap it in your hand and say, "Nothing personal."

Care and Feeding: Approach with utmost caution. Consider a transfer.

Dealing With Manipulative People

For a long time, I wondered why manipulation victims have a hard time seeing what really goes on in manipulative interactions. At first, I was tempted to fault them. But I've learned that they get hoodwinked for some very good reasons:

  1. A manipulator's aggression is not obvious. Our gut may tell us that they're fighting for something, struggling to overcome us, gain power, or have their way, and we find ourselves unconsciously on the defensive. But because we can't point to clear, objective evidence they're aggressing against us, we can't readily validate our feelings.
  2. The tactics manipulators use can make it seem like they're hurting, caring, defending, ..., almost anything but fighting. These tactics are hard to recognize as merely clever ploys. They always make just enough sense to make a person doubt their gut hunch that they're being taken advantage of or abused. Besides, the tactics not only make it hard for you to consciously and objectively tell that a manipulator is fighting, but they also simultaneously keep you or consciously on the defensive. These features make them highly effective psychological weapons to which anyone can be vulnerable. It's hard to think clearly when someone has you emotionally on the run.
  3. All of us have weaknesses and insecurities that a clever manipulator might exploit. Sometimes, we're aware of these weaknesses and how someone might use them to take advantage of us. For example, I hear parents say things like: "Yeah, I know I have a big guilt button." – But at the time their manipulative child is busily pushing that button, they can easily forget what's really going on. Besides, sometimes we're unaware of our biggest vulnerabilities. Manipulators often know us better than we know ourselves. They know what buttons to push, when and how hard. Our lack of self-knowledge sets us up to be exploited.
  4. What our gut tells us a manipulator is like, challenges everything we've been taught to believe about human nature. We've been inundated with a psychology that has us seeing everybody, at least to some degree, as afraid, insecure or "hung-up." So, while our gut tells us we're dealing with a ruthless conniver, our head tells us they must be really frightened or wounded "underneath." What's more, most of us generally hate to think of ourselves as callous and insensitive people. We hesitate to make harsh or seemingly negative judgments about others. We want to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they don't really harbor the malevolent intentions we suspect. We're more apt to doubt and blame ourselves for daring to believe what our gut tells us about our manipulator's character.

Dealing with Manipulative People -

This is essentially In Sheeps Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People review.

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Antisocial Personality, Sociopathy and Psychopathy A Machiavellian is a personality type who is a cross between an antisocial personality and a narcissist, and someone who also has an extremely high sense of entitlement.

Salon Books | Machiavelli personality test

Machiavellianism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Niccolò Machiavelli - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

WBI- Workplace Bullying Studies

John Dilulio letter

On October 24, John DiIulio, a former high-level official in the Bush administration, sent the letter below to Esquire Washington correspondent Ron Suskind. The letter was a key source of Suskind's story about Karl Rove, politics and policymaking in the Bush administration, "Why Are These Men Laughing," which appears in the January 2003 issue of Esquire. On Monday, December 3, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said that the charges contained in the story were "groundless and baseless."

After initially standing by his assertions, DiIulio himself later issued an "apology." Esquire stands strongly behind Suskind and his important story.

To: Ron Suskind
From: John DiIulio
Subject: Your next essay on the Bush administration
Date: October 24, 2002

Dear Ron:

For/On the Record

My perspective on the president and the administration reflects both my experiences at the White House and my views as a political scientist and policy scholar. Regarding the former, I spent a couple one-on-one hours with then-Governor Bush during a visit he made to Philadelphia a few months before the Republican Convention there. I helped with certain campaign speeches and with certain speeches once he became president. I spent time with the president in briefings, in meetings with groups, and on certain trips. I was there in the White House during the first 180 days. I was an Assistant to the President, and attended many, though by no means all, senior staff meetings. I was not at all a close "insider" but I was very much on the inside. I observed and heard a great deal that concerned policy issues and political matters well outside my own issue sets. Regarding the latter, I have studied American government and public policy and administration for over twenty years. I have worked and run research programs at both liberal and conservative think tanks, developed community programs through national non-profit groups, and so forth.

In my view, President Bush is a highly admirable person of enormous personal decency. He is a godly man and a moral leader. He is much, much smarter than some people-including some of his own supporters and advisers-seem to suppose. He inspires personal trust, loyalty, and confidence in those around him. In many ways, he is all heart. Clinton talked "I feel your pain." But as Bush showed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he truly does feel deeply for others and loves this country with a passion.

The little things speak legions. Notice how he decided to let the detainees come home from China and did not jump all over them for media purposes. I could cite a dozen such examples of his dignity and personal goodness. Or I recall how, in Philly, following a 3-hour block party on July 4, 2001, following hours among the children, youth, and families of prisoners, we were running late for the next event. He stopped, however, to take a picture with a couple of men who were cooking ribs all day. "C'mon," he said, "those guys have been doing hard work all day there." It's my favorite-and in some ways, my most telling-picture of who he is as a man and a leader who pays attention to the little things that convey respect and decency toward others.

But the contrast with Clinton is two-sided. As Joe Klein has so strongly captured him, Clinton was "the natural," a leader with a genuine interest in the policy process who encouraged information-rich decision-making. Clinton was the policy-wonk-in-chief. The Clinton administration drowned in policy intellectuals and teemed with knowledgeable people interested in making government work. Every domestic issue drew multiple policy analyses that certainly weighted politics, media messages, legislative strategy, et cetera, but also strongly weighted policy-relevant information, stimulated substantive policy debate, and put a premium on policy knowledge. That is simply not Bush's style. It fits not at all with his personal cum presidential character. The Bush West Wing is very nearly at the other end of this Clinton policy-making continuum.

Besides the tax cut, which was cut-and-dried during the campaign, and the education bill, which was really a Ted Kennedy bill, the administration has not done much, either in absolute terms or in comparison to previous administrations at this stage, on domestic policy. There is a virtual absence as yet of any policy accomplishments that might, to a fair-minded non-partisan, count as the flesh on the bones of so-called compassionate conservatism. There is still two years, maybe six, for them to do more and better on domestic policy, and, specifically, on the compassion agenda. And, needless to say, 9/11, and now the global war on terror and the new homeland and national security plans, must be weighed in the balance.

But, as I think Andy Card himself told you in so many words, even allowing for those huge contextual realities, they could stand to find ways of inserting more serious policy fiber into the West Wing diet, and engage much less in on-the-fly policy-making by speech-making. They are almost to an individual nice people, and there are among them several extremely gifted persons who do indeed know-and care-a great deal about actual policy-making, administrative reform, and so forth. But they have been, for whatever reasons, organized in ways that make it hard for policy-minded staff, including colleagues (even secretaries) of cabinet agencies, to get much West Wing traction, or even get a non-trivial hearing.

In this regard, at the six-month senior staff retreat on July 9, 2001, an explicit discussion ensued concerning how to emulate more strongly the Clinton White House's press, communications, and rapid-response media relations-how better to wage, if you will, the permanent campaign that so defines the modern presidency regardless of who or which party occupies the Oval Office. I listened and was amazed. It wasn't more press, communications, media, legislative strategizing, and such that they needed. Maybe the Clinton people did that better, though, surely, they were less disciplined about it and leaked more to the media and so on. No, what they needed, I thought then and still do now, was more policy-relevant information, discussion, and deliberation.

In eight months, I heard many, many staff discussions, but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions. There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues. There were, truth be told, only a couple of people in the West Wing who worried at all about policy substance and analysis, and they were even more overworked than the stereotypical, non-stop, 20-hour-a-day White House staff. Every modern presidency moves on the fly, but, on social policy and related issues, the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking-discussions by fairly senior people who meant Medicaid but were talking Medicare; near-instant shifts from discussing any actual policy pros and cons to discussing political communications, media strategy, et cetera. Even quite junior staff would sometimes hear quite senior staff pooh-pooh any need to dig deeper for pertinent information on a given issue.

Likewise, every administration at some point comes to think of the White House as its own private tree house, to define itself as "us" versus "them" on Capitol Hill, or in the media, or what have you, and, before 100 days are out, to vest ever more organizational and operational authority with the White House's political, press, and communications people, both senior and junior. I think, however, that the Bush administration-maybe because they were coming off Florida and the election controversy, maybe because they were so unusually tight-knit and "Texas," maybe because the chief of staff, Andy Card, was more a pure staff process than a staff leader or policy person, or maybe for other reasons I can't recognize-was far more inclined in that direction, and became progressively more so as the months pre-9/11 wore on.

This gave rise to what you might call Mayberry Machiavellis-staff, senior and junior, who consistently talked and acted as if the height of political sophistication consisted in reducing every issue to its simplest, black-and-white terms for public consumption, then steering legislative initiatives or policy proposals as far right as possible. These folks have their predecessors in previous administrations (left and right, Democrat and Republican), but, in the Bush administration, they were particularly unfettered.

I could cite a half-dozen examples, but, on the so-called faith bill, they basically rejected any idea that the president's best political interests-not to mention the best policy for the country-could be served by letting centrist Senate Democrats in on the issue, starting with a bipartisan effort to review the implementation of the kindred law (called "charitable choice") signed in 1996 by Clinton. For a fact, had they done that, six months later they would have had a strongly bipartisan copycat bill to extend that law. But, over-generalizing the lesson from the politics of the tax cut bill, they winked at the most far-right House Republicans who, in turn, drafted a so-called faith bill (H.R. 7, the Community Solutions Act) that (or so they thought) satisfied certain fundamentalist leaders and beltway libertarians but bore few marks of "compassionate conservatism" and was, as anybody could tell, an absolute political non-starter. It could pass the House only on a virtual party-line vote, and it could never pass the Senate, even before Jeffords switched.

Not only that, but it reflected neither the president's own previous rhetoric on the idea, nor any of the actual empirical evidence that recommended policies promoting greater public/private partnerships involving community-serving religious organizations. I said so, wrote memos, and so on for the first six weeks. But, hey, what's that fat, out-of-the-loop professor guy know; besides, he says he'll be gone in six months. As one senior staff member chided me at a meeting at which many junior staff were present and all ears, "John, get a faith bill, any faith bill." Like college students who fall for the colorful, opinionated, but intellectually third-rate professor, you could see these 20- and 30-something junior White House staff falling for the Mayberry Machiavellis. It was all very disheartening to this old, Madison-minded American government professor.

Madison aside, even Machiavelli might have a beef. The West Wing staff actually believed that they could pass the flawed bill, get it through conference, and get it to the president's desk to sign by the summer. Instead, the president got a political black eye when they could easily have handed him a big bipartisan political victory. The best media events were always the bipartisan ones anyway, like the president's visit to the U.S. Mayors Conference in Detroit in June 2001. But my request to have him go there was denied three times on the grounds that it would "play badly" or "give the Democrat mayors a chance to bash him on other issues." Nothing of the sort happened; it was a great success, as was having Philly's black Democratic mayor, John Street, in the gallery next to Mrs. Bush in February 2001 at the president's first Budget Address. But they could not see it, and instead went back to courting conservative religious leaders and groups.

The "faith bill" saga also illustrates the relative lack of substantive concern for policy and administration. I had to beg to get a provision written into the executive orders that would require us to conduct an actual information-gathering effort related to the president's interest in the policy. With the exception of some folks at OMB, nobody cared a fig about the five-agency performance audit, and we got less staff help on it than went into any two PR events or such. Now, of course, the document the effort produced (Unlevel Playing Field) is cited all the time, and frames the administrative reform agenda that-or so the Mayberry Machiavellis had insisted-had no value.

Even more revealing than what happened during the first 180 days is what did not, especially on the compassion agenda beyond the faith bill and focusing on children. Remember "No child left behind"? That was a Bush campaign slogan. I believe it was his heart, too. But translating good impulses into good policy proposals requires more than whatever somebody thinks up in the eleventh hour before a speech is to be delivered, or whatever symbolic politics plan-"communities of character" and such-gets generated by the communications, political strategy, and other political shops.

During the campaign, for instance, the president had mentioned Medicaid explicitly as one program on which Washington might well do more. I co-edited a whole (boring!) Brookings volume on Medicaid; some people inside thought that universal health care for children might be worth exploring, especially since, truth be told, the existing laws take us right up to that policy border. They could easily have gotten in behind some proposals to implement existing Medicaid provisions that benefit low-income children. They could have fashioned policies for the working poor. The list is long. Long, and fairly complicated, especially when-as they stipulated from the start-you want to spend little or no new public money on social welfare, and you have no real process for doing meaningful domestic policy analysis and deliberation. It's easier in that case to forget Medicaid refinements and react to calls for a "PBOR," patients' bill of rights, or whatever else pops up.

Some are inclined to blame the high political-to-policy ratios of this administration on Karl Rove. Some in the press view Karl as some sort of prince of darkness; actually, he is basically a nice and good-humored man. And some staff members, senior and junior, are awed and cowed by Karl's real or perceived powers. They self-censor lots for fear of upsetting him, and, in turn, few of the president's top people routinely tell the president what they really think if they think that Karl will be brought up short in the bargain. Karl is enormously powerful, maybe the single most powerful person in the modern, post-Hoover era ever to occupy a political advisor post near the Oval Office. The Republican base constituencies, including beltway libertarian policy elites and religious right leaders, trust him to keep Bush "43" from behaving like Bush "41" and moving too far to the center or inching at all center-left. Their shared fiction, supported by zero empirical electoral studies, is that "41" lost in '92 because he lost these right-wing fans. There are not ten House districts in America where either the libertarian litany or the right-wing religious policy creed would draw majority popular approval, and, most studies suggest, Bush "43" could have done better versus Gore had he stayed more centrist, but, anyway, the fiction is enshrined as fact. Little happens on any issue without Karl's okay, and, often, he supplies such policy substance as the administration puts out. Fortunately, he is not just a largely self-taught, hyper-political guy, but also a very well informed guy when it comes to certain domestic issues. (Whether, as some now assert, he even has such sway in national security, homeland security, and foreign affairs, I cannot say.)

Karl was at his political and policy best, I think, in steering the president's stem-cell research decision, as was the president himself, who really took this issue on board with an unusual depth of reading, reflection, and staff deliberation. Personally, I would have favored a position closer to the Catholic Church's on the issue, but this was one instance where the administration really took pains with both politics and policy, invited real substantive knowledge into the process, and so forth. It was almost as if it took the most highly charged political issue of its kind to force them to take policy-relevant knowledge seriously, to have genuine deliberation.

Contrast that, however, with the remarkably slap-dash character of the Office of Homeland Security, with the nine months of arguing that no department was needed, with the sudden, politically-timed reversal in June, and with the fact that not even that issue, the most significant reorganization of the federal government since the creation of the Department of Defense, has received more than talking-points caliber deliberation. This was, in a sense, the administration problem in miniature: Ridge was the decent fellow at the top, but nobody spent the time to understand that an EOP entity without budgetary or statutory authority can't "coordinate" over 100 separate federal units, no matter how personally close to the president its leader is, no matter how morally right they feel the mission is, and no matter how inconvenient the politics of telling certain House Republican leaders we need a big new federal bureaucracy might be.

The good news, however, is that the fundamentals are pretty good-the president's character and heart, the decent, well-meaning people on staff, Karl's wonkish alter-ego, and the fact that, a year after 9/11 and with a White House that can find time enough to raise $140 million for campaigns, it's becoming fair to ask, on domestic policy and compassionate conservatism, "Where's the beef?"

Whether because they will eventually be forced to defend the president's now thin record on domestic policy and virtually empty record on compassionate conservatism, or for other reasons, I believe that the best may well be yet to come from the Bush administration. But, in my view, they will not get there without some significant reforms to the policy-lite inter-personal and organizational dynamics of the place.



Excerpts from Ron Suskind's story on Karl Rove

Suskind's story on former White House adviser Karen Hughes

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