Decibel Decisions Not Deliberative Dialog Spell Defeat And Disaster.
No Public Option Is Not An Option; No Public Option Is Defeat!
One of my onion skins is that of a practicing Parliamentarian, and I am damn good. We have an adage, one that holds forever true: “Confuse; you lose.” and right now the healthcare debate is being treated to a healthy dose of demonization, falsehoods and deliberate confusion…the formula for defeat.
If President Obama and the Democratic Congress surrender the public competitive option to the belligerence and bellicosity of the right wing “Defeat Obama” brigade; they will have handed the White House back to the right, back to the Neocons, back to the oil sucking warmongers in 2012. It is just that simple. The Democrats need to develop some brass gonads and drive the program home to acceptance, even if they do not have a single Republican vote in support.
If someone tries to sell you on the public co-op notion as a reasonable compromise; they are simply off their rocker and haven’t the foggiest idea of what they are proposing. No public, diminutive impotent co-op is going to be able to complete with Corporate insurance and pharmaceutical companies! Got it!
Healthcare reform by spin master cosmetic legislation might just as well be vetoed because it will constitute a meaningless exercise that might just make the situation worse. The Republicans are feasting on change like Piranha and they won’t be satisfied until there is a bare bone carcass lying on the floors of the House and Senate.
In an interesting MSNBC day time discussion program I happened on the point was well and disturbingly made, that the American Electorate is no longer a well-informed electorate as so many have turned to TV and Radio talk shows that have nothing to do with illumination of the truth. Where many tout the vast numbers who have turned to cyber space for their information; the point again was well made that the war of slant and spin has rapidly replaced what was once journalistic reporting, and that it requires citizens more thoughtful than most of today’s American populous to discern the truth surrounding complicated issues, healthcare being only which was offered as an example.
The panel was seriously concerned that most “journalistic” outlets have retreated from reporting and have taken up the position of entertainment, pot stirring and political advocacy equal to that of political parties, and that journalistic integrity, an independent informative press is all but dead!
In 2000 the General Accounting Office did a study (PDF) of health insurance purchasing cooperatives. This study should shed important light on the issue of insurance co-ops pushed by Senator Conrad and the problems of health insurance exchanges without a public option. The study found that:
Despite efforts to negotiate lower premiums, cooperatives have only been able to offer premiums that are comparable to those in the general small group market. The cooperatives we reviewed typically did not obtain overall premium reductions because (1) their market share provided insufficient leverage, (2) they could not produce administrative savings for insurers.
These purchasing co-ops may or may not be part of the co-op proposal promoted by Senator Conrad. (Note: Conrad has repeatedly refused to provide any concrete details for his co-ops idea.) The study makes it clear that collective purchasing co-ops will be useless at reducing premiums or controlling the spiraling cost.
The five purchasing co-ops that the GAO investigated work in a manner very similar to the state based health insurance exchanges that are likely to be a part of health care reform. Like the state based exchanges, they pool together health insurance purchases for small employers.
The California and the Florida co-ops at one time were both larger than many of the state based exchanges are projected to be. The CBO calculates that roughly 11% of the Americans will get health insurance from an exchange. The California co-op once had more members than that 11% that state exchanges are expected to enroll. While state based exchanges should give individuals and small businesses greater choice, they are unlikely to do anything to reduce premiums.
Another model of how new health insurance exchanges are likely to work is the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program. The FEHB is a health insurance exchange for federal employees. It does a great job of offering many choices but a terrible job at controlling cost. From 1985-2002 the premiums in the FEHB program grew only 0.1% slower than the rest of the private insurance market. The FEHB does not include a public option.
Finally, there is the example of Massachusetts. They implemented reform that would be similar to what Baucus is proposing. It also created a new health care exchange for small businesses (called the Commonwealth Connector) which did not include a public option. Massachusetts' reform did a good job at reducing the number of uninsured, but failed to control the spiraling cost of health insurance. Now Massachusetts is looking at some massive structural reforms to control cost.
There are only two “successful” health insurance companies which are co-ops, Group Health Cooperative in Washington and HealthPartner, Inc. in Minnesota. Conrad wants to replicate these instead of a public option. Even the National Cooperative Business Association admits that competition drove most of the health insurance co-ops out of business or forced them to abandon the co-op structure. While Group Health Cooperative provides a good quality of care, its premiums are still spiraling out of control.
Whether it is the Federal Employee Exchange, Commonwealth Connector, gateways, or state based purchasing co-ops; efforts to pool individuals and small businesses in a single health insurance marketplace does not help control cost. State based exchanges should help provide individuals and small business employees with greater choice. But without a public plan or massive structural changes, they will do basically nothing to arrest the devastating increase in cost of health insurance.
Obama has long tried, and so far failed, to reach a bipartisan agreement on health care reform. He has given incredible leeway to Max Baucus to come to some kind of agreement with Chuck Grassley. Obama has been very malleable, willing to concede on several important issues to gain some Republican support. But everything changed on Wednesday when Grassley told people to be afraid the Democrats had a secret plan to kill grandmothers.
As noted in today's Progressive Breakfast, the White House's stance on a public health insurance option is not new. The President and his staff have always made a strong argument for a public option, but have always refrained from refusing to sign legislation that does not include it.
What does that say about the White House strategy? It either means that they want it, but also want to leave their options open to avoid political embarrassment. Or, it means that they never really wanted it, but wanted to put it front and center as a punching bag, so they can take it off the table and "compromise" for what they always thought was politically realistic.
Which is the case? Who knows? And frankly, who cares.
We do not serve our objectives by playing armchair pundit, but by being active citizens.
The right-wing knows this. They don't just sit around and listen to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. They take that misinformation, and thrust it upon the political system, bombarding Congress with phone calls and hijacking town halls.
Sure, there are well-funded special interest lobbying operations helping them along. But exercising the basic tools of a democracy and engaging your representatives is something we can do just as well.
Whatever President Obama's intentions, by talking repeatedly about the public option, he has put the issue in play. But not making it a non-negotiable item, he is implicitly telling us: if you want this, don't assume I can or will ram it through. You have to fight for it.
The right-wing wants to kill health care reform so bad, they are willing to make complete fools of themselves on national television.
How bad do you want a public option? Bad enough to spend 5 minutes calling your President, two Senators and House representative? Bad enough to find out where a town hall is happening in you area?
The polls for public plan option have consistently been on our side. But the grassroots intensity has not.
And that's what's needed to convince skittish politicians that their political careers depend on doing the sensible thing.
So, how bad do you want it?
Progressives Fight Back Hard To Protect Public Option
WH again tries to calm progressives after hinting at dropping public option. The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder: "An administration official said tonight that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius 'misspoke' when she told CNN [Sunday] that a government run health insurance option 'is not an essential part' of reform ... The official said that the White House did not intend to change its messaging and that Sebelius simply meant to echo the president, who has acknowledged that the public option is a tough sell in the Senate and is, at the same time, a must-pass for House Democrats, and is not, in the president's view, the most important element of the reform package."
WH spokeswoman Linda Douglass releases similar statement: "Nothing has changed. The president has always said that what is essential is that health insurance reform must lower costs, ensure that there are affordable options for all Americans and it must increase choice and competition in the health insurance market. He believes the public option is the best way to achieve those goals."
TIME's Karen Tumulty notes little new actually being said: "Hardly a new development, considering that the White House and the President have been sounding pretty flexible for months on the subject of a public option ... When I asked Obama about the public option in an interview on July 28, he described something that sounded more like an insurance company than a big new government program ... 'It shouldn't be something that's simply a taxpayer-subsidized system that wasn't accountable, but rather had to be self-sustaining through premiums and that had to compete with private insurers.' ... he said: 'I think in theory you can imagine a cooperative meeting that definition. Obviously, sort of the legal structure of it is less important than practically how can it operate.' ... Obama has never presented the public option as anything other than a means to an end — one that he would be perfectly willing to achieve through other avenues if necessary."
ALSO FROM JULY TIME OBAMA INTERVIEW: "There are concerns that in the past, attempts at setting up co-ops have not been successful because they just haven't been able to get off the ground; sort of the start-up energy involved may not exist if you're doing a state-by-state co-op effort as opposed to a broad national plan."
Sen. Rockefeller pushes back hard in support of public option. NYT: "On Sunday, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, affirmed his support for the public option. 'I believe the inclusion of a strong public plan option in health reform legislation is a must,' Mr. Rockefeller said in a statement. 'It is the only proven way to guarantee that all consumers have affordable, meaningful and accountable options available in the health insurance marketplace.' ... [WH aide David] Axelrod said the nuances of how to develop a nonprofit competitor to private industry had never been 'carved in stone.' ... Axelrod said one downside of a co-op, from Mr. Obama’s point of view, was that it might be unable to 'scale up in such a way that would create a robust' competitor to private insurers ... whether a co-operative would actually bring Republicans on board with Mr. Obama is unclear..."
W. Post sums up strong progressive reaction: "Liberal leaders reacted strongly to the idea that Obama would walk away from what they consider a central element of reform. 'I don't think this bill is worth passing without a public option,' said Howard Dean, head of the grass-roots group Democracy for America. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) said it would be difficult to pass a bill in the House without a robust government alternative." In These Times' Art Levine adds: "it’s not at all clear what will happen to the grass-roots efforts of progressive groups and unions on behalf of a public option plan as part of health reform if the White House is not on board."
FireDogLake's Jane Hamsher reminds progressive House members needed to pass a bill: "There are 57 Democrats who signed the July 30 letter saying that they 'simply cannot vote' for a bill that 'at minimum' does not have a public plan. There are 7 more not listed on the letter who have pledged to vote against any bill that does not have a robust public plan. That makes 64 Democrats who won't vote for the 'co-ops' that both Kathleen Sibelius and Robert Gibbs say the White House is 'open' to."
Change.org's Tim Foley details the frustration with the WH strategy: "...the White House's support for the public option is bipolar. There’s been a wearying two-step going on month after month... Step number one involves a high-ranking official ... This official says something suggesting that the public option isn't the be-all and end-all of health care reform ... Step two happens the next time President Barack Obama gets asked about a public health insurance option in public. Then he always, always, always [says] why he thinks it’s important ... Which of those steps is the real one? Which is the posturing? Is this like the other handful of times when we’ve gone through the exact same media drill?"
NYT's Paul Krugman sees the WH going for the Swiss model: "[A] third route to universal coverage relies on private insurance companies, using a combination of regulation and subsidies to ensure that everyone is covered. Switzerland offers the clearest example: everyone is required to buy insurance, insurers can’t discriminate based on medical history or pre-existing conditions, and lower-income citizens get government help in paying for their policies ... I and others believe that a true public option competing with private insurers is extremely important: otherwise, rising costs could all too easily undermine the whole effort. But a Swiss-style system of universal coverage would be a vast improvement on what we have now. And we already know that such systems work."
DailyKos' nyceve sounds the grassroots call: "Okay gang, put up or shut up time ... Bring your video cameras and let them know that we'll see them at the polls in 2010." DailyKos' slinkerwink urges calls to the White House.
Matt Taibbi warns he's about to drop the hammer on Obama, Reid and Pelosi: "...my forthcoming article on the health care business [focuses] on the treachery of the Democratic leadership — Pelosi, Reid, the White House — for bargaining away real health care reform before this process even started."
The Plum Line finds Sen. Grassley walking back his charge against voluntary end-of-line consultations: "Over the weekend, and very quietly, Senator Chuck Grassley completely retracted his widely-reported claim last week that people have 'every reason to fear' that the House health care proposal would create a 'government program that determines if you’re going to pull the plug on grandma.'"
The Health Care Blog's Matthew Holt slaps Rick Scott for lying about what the British say of their own system: "Surprise, surprise, the British women who appear in the so-called Conservatives for Patients’ (so-called) Rights propaganda are complaining that their words were twisted completely out of context. 'We were duped': Two British women tricked into become stars of campaign to sabotage Obama's healthcare reforms. Further the British oncologist featured was told that he was appearing in a documentary, not in a right wing advertising campaign."
Obama Pay Czar Asserts Clawback Authority
Reuters reports Obama's pay czar asserts authority to "claw back" excessive exec comp: "Kenneth Feinberg, the Obama administration's pay czar, said on Sunday he has broad and 'binding' authority over executive compensation, including the ability to 'claw back' money already paid, and he is weighing how and whether to use that power. Feinberg told Reuters that Citigroup Inc. oncluded the contract of energy trader Andrew Hall in submissions due Friday by seven major companies still locked in the federal government's TARP Program. Feinberg said he hasn't looked at Hall's contract, which reports have said could pay him as much as $100 million this year. 'Whether I have jurisdiction to decide his compensation or not, we will take a look and decide over the next few weeks,' Feinberg said."
Bloomberg reports Citigroup trying to compromise on massive bonus: "Citigroup Inc., under pressure from the Obama administration to reduce executive compensation, may try to persuade energy trader Andrew Hall to accept stock instead of cash in 2010 after paying him about $100 million last year, people familiar with the matter said. Hall isn’t likely to accept such an offer because his pay is based on the performance of the Phibro LLC unit he heads, not the bank’s, making the sale of the business more likely as a way of placing him outside the government restrictions, the people said, declining to be identified because talks are still under way."
Naked Capitalism analyzes: "Citi decided to file documentation on Hall Friday. That suggests either that they want to look minimally cooperative or that they are not as certain of their position as their bluster of last week suggests."
Stimulus Skepticism Lingers
USA Today poll finds uncertainty about stimulus effect: "57% of adults say the stimulus package is having no impact on the economy or making it worse. Even more —60% — doubt that the stimulus plan will help the economy in the years ahead, and only 18% say it has done anything to help improve their personal situation." ALTHOUGH: 41% say it has made the economy "better," only 24% say "worse."
State govts finish painful sessions. Stateline: "This year’s state legislative session will go down as one of the most brutal in recent memory as the national recession forced lawmakers to find money to cover a staggering $215 billion in estimated budget gaps for 2009 and 2010 ... Even with the federal stimulus package dumping billions of dollars into the states, California, Kentucky, Nevada, New York and Washington are among states that struggled with the largest deficits in modern history ... While most statehouses have shuttered their doors for the year, newly emerging budget shortfalls caused by less-than-anticipated revenues will force many legislatures to reconvene to balance their budgets as required by law."
Old Coal Plants Get Off Too Easy?
W. Post looks at possible climate bill loophole: "Many public health and environmental advocates say too little attention has been paid to facilities such as Fisk and Crawford -- 'legacy' plants grandfathered in under the 1977 Clean Air Act and largely exempted from its requirement that facilities use the best pollution-control technology ... Advocates hope the climate-control legislation pending in Congress would force these plants to close. But they also warn that, depending how various aspects of the bill play out, it could instead motivate companies to increase their reliance on archaic plants ... legislation passed by the House in late June -- known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act -- mandates a 50 percent carbon reduction by 2025 for new plants, but puts no site-specific carbon-reduction requirements on existing facilities."
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines scaremonger as, "one inclined to raise or excite alarms especially needlessly." It's an excellent definition, but for anyone struggling to understand it at the gut level, I'd suggest trying to visualize the face of Former Representative Dick Armey. Many people already knew this, but I didn't realize just how true this is until I saw the fearless leader ofFreedom Works on Meet The Press yesterday.
I cannot recommend watching his shockingly inflammatory "performance," but I also would be remiss not to recount ten great scaremongering tricks that he displayed. Truly, I don't think that I've seems such virtuosity since Dick Cheney was responsible for defending our civil liberties.
1. Distract - Blame the bad behavior on the left. Apparently, moveon.org ran a 2003 ad, which compares the Iraq invasion to Nazi war crimes. That's in bad taste, and totally irrelevant.
2. Diminish - Downplay the bad behavior. "There are always colorful people that show up with town hall meetings, a lot of people with a lot of colorful statements." We're not talking about your weird uncle coming to the holiday party in high-water pants. We're talking about people screaming and chanting anything and everything from rude questions to the Pledge of Allegiance to prevent any substantive dialog from occurring.
3. Deny - According to Armey, Freedom Works, "...encourage them [colorful people] to go and make their points clearly, assertively and with good manner." This does not exactly jibe with a Washington Post article that quotes him on the Freedom Works website as saying, "If you are going to go ugly, go ugly early."
4. Reveal - He characterizes a single-payer option as, "...the largest hostile government takeover in the history of the country..." What's worse is that, "...somebody in a bureaucracy with a degree in sociology..." could be in the position to deny you healthcare. Today, of course, an insurance industry bureaucrat who has no degree is already doing the same thing.
5. Involve God - Armey was sure to relate the fact that he and his Minister have discussed Medicare, and the right to withdraw from it. This way, we know that he goes to church and that his religious leader shares his fear of liberals.
6. Wear the Flag - Armey proudly declaims, "...freedom, the right to buy your own insurance..." Really?
7. Praise Capitalism - There are, after all, 1,300 insurance companies; if only government would get out of their way, they would make everything all better. To hear such talk, you would never think that the status quo is a problem. And didn't we just learn out that too little government involvement can be just as bad too much?
8. Act Grassroots - Armey extols the "...enormously impressive grassroot[s] uprising across the country..." while failing to mention that, "...major financial [Freedom Works] backers have included MetLife, Philip Morris and foundations controlled by the archconservative Scaife family, according to tax filings and other records." That last bit is courtesy of the aforementioned Washington Post article.
9. Demonize - Check out the Freedom Works web site, where you will be greeted by the least flattering photo of Nancy Pelosi ever taken, the word "unconstitutional" and the reminder that "Health Care Is Not A Right." (That whole life, liberty and pursuit of happiness thing apparently does not apply to health.)
10. Yell - When all else fails, use volume to drown out your opponents.
What's sad is not that Dick Armey would resort to all of this; he's just a politician, turned lobbyist, who misses the limelight. Sad is that these scaremongering tactics are so effective. They make it easy to forget that we rank #37 in world health, a statistic that tends to whitewash the avoidable human suffering it symbolizes.
Follow Michael B. Laskoff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mlaskoff
August 17, 2009 7:18 pm ET
Radio host Rush Limbaugh falsely claimed during the August 17 edition of his program that he has "not used the word 'death panels,' except in quoting Sarah Palin." In fact, during the August 13 edition of his program, Limbaugh -- in his own voice -- referred to end-of-life counseling sessions mentioned in a provision of the House's health care reform legislation as "death panels."
From the August 17 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
LIMBAUGH: No. I have not used the word "death panels," except in quoting Sarah Palin. I have talked about the reality of what's gonna happen. Here's what I have said.
In the first place -- I want to -- before I get to that, I do want to object -- I don't think the government has any business telling doctors that they're gonna sit and talk to people about end of life. I don't think that's the government's job, or it's not -- none of [President] Obama's business or any bureaucrat that he would select.
Limbaugh: "[T]his story in Oregon ... illustrates that they are death panels"
Limbaugh used the phrase "death panels" while speaking in his own voice, called the term "a great way to phrase these end-of-life counseling" sessions. Indeed, during the August 13 broadcast of his program, he asserted: "Now, this story in Oregon involving Barbara Wagner -- again, it's in Mark Levin's book Liberty and Tyranny -- illustrates that they are death panels. And it's a great way to phrase these end-of-life counseling and so forth." [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 8/13/09]…(more)
If following the battle over healthcare reform through the lens of the mainstream media is getting you sick, The Nation magazine has a prescription that will help. Our editors have combed our 144-year-old archives and put together a 45-page pack of articles beginning when we first opened our pages to a debate on national healthcare.
As the battle heats up and national polls show that roughly 70 percent of respondents favor a Medicare-style public plan as part of healthcare reform, The Nation's Christopher Hayes notes that the mainstream media fails to question the "insane hypocrisy of people on Medicare screaming about the dangers of government-run healthcare" at town hall meetings.
"The problem is the overwhelming instinct on the part of pundits and the mainstream media to look and see old white men in overalls and Legionnaire hats, and think they are watching someone give voice to the sentiments of broad swaths of the electorate."
Well, as you'll see, this is nothing new. As far back as 1928, opponents of a national healthcare program have fought fiercely, most importantly in Congress and the media. The term "socialized medicine," which was applied to any proposed change to the healthcare system, was really an insinuation that reform would bring communism.
Click here to read more about this fascinating new collection from The Nation, available as an instant download for only $9.95. Travel back and read some of the best reporting and analysis on the healthcare debate over nearly 80 years to add historical perspective to President Obama's epic battle. It's a great way to understand the real story behind healthcare reform as it unfolds over the next several months.
How To Turn Off People Expressing Themselves Directly To The White House..Scare Them!
Conservative media have baselessly suggested that people who reportedly claim to have received unsolicited email from White House adviser David Axelrod may have been added to a White House "enemies list" after emails they sent that were critical of the Obama administration were purportedly forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org. These media figures have failed to provide any credible evidence in support of this conspiracy theory.
Conservative media baselessly suggest unsolicited emails linked to White House "snitch website"
Limbaugh: "If you're getting an email from Axelrod and the White House, I guarantee you it's a result of the snitch website." From the August 14 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
LIMBAUGH: The White House is gathering an enemies list. People are getting emails from Joe [sic] Axelrod, and they don't know how they got their address. It's the snitch website. You people understand what's happen -- people are sending in stories and emails. If you're getting an email from Axelrod and the White House, I guarantee you it's a result of the snitch website. The White House is clearly out of whack.
Fox's Kelly asks if White House is using alleged "database" of dissenters "to market its own personal message."
MEGYN KELLY (co-host): Well, is the White House collecting the emails of those who disagree with its health care policy? First, the White House asked Americans to forward to it the emails of those who raised fishy claims about health care, which some say pits Americans against their fellow Americans. Two days ago, I asked the deputy White House spokesman what the White House does with the emails of those people who are complaining, the so-called fishy. Here's part of that exchange.
KELLY: On the heels of that, Major Garrett asked press secretary Robert Gibbs about reports that some who say they never provided their email to the White House now say the White House is nevertheless contacting them.
KELLY: The point is, does the White House have some database of emails of people who have complained about the health care reform efforts? And is it then using that database to market its own personal message or for some other reason? Or is it just keeping it in storage, where it will ultimately become public record and somebody else might compile it for a nefarious reason? [Fox News' America's Newsroom, 8/14/09]
Fox & Friends baselessly suggests link between email@example.com and unsolicited emails.
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): I remember Richard Nixon had that enemies list. Everyone talks about that, because he's caught on tape saying, you know, "Let's get our enemies. Let's round them up, and let's target them." And that's a problem. And is that something that's happening right now?
STEVE DOOCY (co-host): Well, it is just a -- it's just a little scary because last week or 10 days ago we heard about that snitch list -- if you see something fishy about health care send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. And then you've got all these people who are getting spammed, and now for the White House to blame third parties and a glitch, I don't know if that's enough, because if you send an email to somebody else and suddenly that group puts you on the list at the White House, and then the White House spams you, something's really the matter with that. [Fox & Friends, 8/17/09]
American Spectator baselessly connects email@example.com and unsolicited emails.From The American Spectator's Washington Prowler blog:
It was also revealed the White House had put in place a plan to collect email addresses of citizens who opposed the administration's health reform proposal, and then last week we learned that the Obama administration had negotiated deals with companies like Google and YouTube to collect and provide citizens' personal data, such as Internet addresses, when they visit government websites. Within days of this new policy being revealed, U.S. citizens who had not signed up for any information about the Obama health care bill received e-mails from the White House and Obama adviser David Axelrod touting ObamaCare. [The American Spectator, 8/17/09]
Bill Sammon: White House request for "fishy" emails is "the other part of this scandal."Bill Sammon, Fox News' vice president for news and Washington managing editor, said:
SAMMON: In other words, "It's not our fault," is what the White House is saying. Although they did say that they hoped no one was too inconvenienced by receiving these unsolicited emails. Basically, what the White House is saying is that third-party groups must have gone on to the White House website and entered in the names of unsuspecting Americans, one by one, so that those unsuspecting Americans suddenly got onto the White House email list. That's the explanation they're giving. Whether that will satisfy, you know, the hundreds, if not thousands of people who have complained about this, I'm not sure. Also, it doesn't seem to address the other part of this scandal, Bill -- if you can call it a scandal -- and that is this idea where the White House has asked for Americans to forward fishy emails that are critical of the president's health-care proposal. That could be some kind of an enemies list. So that's still out there. [Fox News' American Newsroom,8/17/09]
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