Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Gibbs and his circus

Q So obviously there’s a number of cases sort of wending their way through the courts right now challenging DOMA and “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Last week the Department of Justice filed another brief defending “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It angered a lot of advocates; some legal scholars thought it was a step backwards in terms of dismantling the law. Is the President at all concerned that DOJ is a little insular or tone deaf on issues that are sort of politically sticky, especially those of interest to the L/G community?

MR. GIBBS: I will say this, obviously the President has enunciated his support for ending “don’t ask, don’t tell,” rolling back -- made a commitment to roll back DOMA in the campaign. Obviously, the Justice Department has -- is charged with upholding the law as it exists, not as the President would like to see it. We have obviously taken steps on the front of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and I think we’ve made a genuine amount of progress. I will say, was it odd that they included previous statements from General Colin Powell on a belief set that he no longer had? I don’t think the President would disagree with that.

Q Does the President think it’s constitutional, “don’t ask, don’t tell?”

MR. GIBBS: I have not heard him talk about that.

That's from today's White House press briefing. And I haven't heard Barry O talk about much of any damn thing when it comes to Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I've seen him refuse to do anything. I've seen no progress on the issue. I've seen no leadership.

Is Dan Choi old enough to be president? If he is, that's who we should have elected in 2008. He's shown leadership, real leadership, on the issue. He's shown he's willing to fight and he'll even be arrested for what he believes in if that's what it takes.

Back to Gibbs. He was also asked about Karzai and drugs. And -- what? Yeah, that surprised me as well. Here's MSNBC's report on the drug issue:

A former U.N envoy to Afghanistan on Tuesday questioned the "mental stability" of Hamid Karzai and suggested the Afghan president may be using drugs.
In an interview on MSNBC's "The Daily Rundown," Peter Galbraith described Karzai as "off-balance" and "emotional." Galbraith also called for President Barack Obama to vastly limit Karzai’s power to appoint officials within the war-torn country until he proves himself a reliable partner to the U.S.
"He’s prone to tirades. He can be very emotional, act impulsively. In fact, some of the palace insiders say that he has a certain fondness for some of Afghanistan’s most profitable exports," said Galbraith, in an apparent reference to opium or heroin.

Don't know what to make of that. Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Tuesday, April 6, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Baghdad's slammed with bombings, the refugee crisis is harnessed to offer false praise, and more.

Baghdad has again been slammed by bombings.
BBC News counted "at least 28 people" dead and another seventy-five injured following multiple bombings in the Iraqi capital this morning. The link has video as well as text and the video shows rubble and people attempting to clear it. AFP explains, "Ambulance sirens were heard across the city as emergency service workers rushed to the scenes of the blasts, and a large plume of smoke rose from near a destroyed building in the neighbourhood of Allawi, central Baghdad." Xiong Tong (Xinhua) adds that the death toll increased to 35 and the number injured to 140 and cites a source in the Ministry of the Interior for those numbers and for the assertion that there were seven bombings today. DPA observes, "Tuesday's deadly attacks came only two days after three, apparently coordinated, car bombs killed dozens of people and injured hundreds in the capital, amid tense negotiations on forming a new government after March 7 parliamentary polls." On NPR's hourly news break at 9:00 a.m. EST, Quil Lawrence went with 35 dead and 140 injured as well and noted seven bombings, some of which were strong enough to "bring down buildings." Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) adds, "Security sources said the attacks were implemented by bombs planted near the gates of the buildings in the neighborhoods of Chkook, Shaula, Alawi Al Hilla, Shurta the 4th, Amil and Elam. The attacks came two days after explosions that targeted diplomatic missions in the Iraqi capital, in which more than 40 Iraqis were killed and 224 were wounded." Hammoudi and Hannah Allam also reported that it appears vacant apartments were used as the staging platform for the bombings and they note that, "The story was the same in at least three of the bombed residential complexes: Residents said that unknown renters had leased space in the two-story buildings and never moved in." Echoing that Ned Parker and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) state, "In some of the cases, unknown men had rented rooms in buildings around the city, wired them with explosives and detonated their devices on Tuesday morning." Leila Fadel and Aziz Alwan (Washington Post) remind, "A similar tactic was used on Election Day, when more than 30 people were killed." Timothy Williams and Yasmine Mousa (New York Times) add, "At least five of the bombs were homemade devices placed inside apartment buildings, an unusual tactic. A parker car packed with explosives was also detonated in a Shiite neighborhood in south Baghdad." On today's The World (PRI), the BBC News' Jim Muir.

Marco Werman: Jim, it's kind of rare for these attacks to target apartments, randomly killing these civilians so what do these targets have in common?

Jim Muir: Well they had in common, as you say, that they hit residential buildings. What I would say is this, that since last year we've seen that these coordinated waves of attacks have what I'm calling "themes" to them. Last year, they were hitting government buildings and ministries and so on. In January, we saw a series of attacks, coordinated suicide attacks, nearly simultaneous, on some of the big hotels in Baghdad. This Sunday, it was the turn of foreign embassies in various parts of Baghdad. And now we have the ordinary residential buildings with no particular special people or special facilities there -- just ordinary buildings housing ordinary people. You may ask why? I think they're partly out to show that they can hit all over town at a selected kind of target. They may also be trying once again to provoke the Shi'ite population because most in fact all of these buildings were in areas mainly populated by the Shia Muslims. Now when you had those kind of provocative attacks four years ago it did trigger off a very vicious two years of sectarian warfare which everybody hopes has run its course but the insurgents may be trying to -- or hoping -- to trigger it off once again.

Marco Werman: So if these apartment buildings were targeted in part because they're in Shi'ite neighborhoods -- I mean, does this mean that somebody's trying or some group is trying to stoke sectarian hatreds again?

Jim Muir: That definitely seems to be part of the sub-theme. I mean, I think the overall message is, as I say, they're trying to show that Iraq is deeply unstable, that the political progress and the security progress of the last three years are for nothing and that the insurgents can still strike at random. [. . .]

"Actually, the security situation has improved." Who said that? Here's your hint: Biggest Idiot in US Government. Usually forgets to comb what's left of his hair. Chris Hill. Ambassador to Iraq.
Imran Garda (Al Jazeera) spoke with Hill following Sunday's bombings (link has video) and Hill was trying to Happy Talk his way through the interview. They ought to take that one sentence and just show it over and over at the top of each hour. "There's clear improvement in the security situation," insisted Hill. Hill's US stupid. There's a lot of stupid to go around. But let's move to the White House where the laughable White House press corps asked one of those oh-so-rare questions about Iraq leading Robert Gibbs, White House spokesperson and Spanx spokesperson, to respond, "Well I think many expected that insurgents would use this time to roll back the progress, both militarily and politically, that we've seen in Iraq. The leadership and team here have spoken with our ambassador and with General [Ray] Odierno. He believes that this does not threaten our ability to draw down our roces later in the year. And obviously we are very focused on, and Vice President [Joe] Biden is very focused on, the steps that need to be taken to ensure political advancement in Iraq after these elections." Whole lot of stupid to go around, remember?

None of the reports noting the obvious, maybe in an effort to make-nice with Nouri? But the bombings took place today, yes. Baghdad was slammed with bombings today. And what was the world told yesterday? That's kind of a key detail.

On Monday, Nouri put security forces on high alert. Doubt it?
AFP: "Iraq's security forces were on high alert Monday after three suicide car bombs targeting regional and European embassies rocked Baghdad, killing 30 people. [. . .] Incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose coalition finished second in the March 7 general election, held a meeting with Iraq's national security council over Sunday's blasts, a statement from his office said." Wait, it gets better. Sundays bombings? AP reported Monday that one suicide bomber was taken alive, "The official said Iraqi forces were tipped off about a possible attack against diplomatic targets and had begun beefing up security precautions Saturday -- measures he credited with keeping the embassies themselves from serious damage." Beefing up security in Baghdad on Saturday but unable to stop the bombings you've been tipped off regarding. High alert starting Monday and Baghdad's again slammed today by bombings.

Conventional wisdom continues to be that Iraq's elections resulted in 'confusion' and a 'power vacuum' now exists leading to violence. Sounds like too many reporters talking to themselves. It's not as if Nouri doesn't remain sitting prime minister today with the same security forces and militia at his command. He may be ineffective but, even so, that's not a new development. Violence has increased? Following the election? Like the 2005 election? Well the key there, according to poli sci analysts, was not a power vacuum but the stoking of sectarian tensions as campaign strategy. That may or may not be what's happening currently. However, the conventional wisdom doesn't hold up to scrutiny though it does increase in popularity (Allawi is now repeating it).

In other reported violence,
Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing injured one person, a Baquba sticky bombing claimed 1 life and left three preople wounded, a Mosul roadside bombing injured a child, 1 car mechanic was shot dead in Mosul and, dropping back to Monday, a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left five people wounded.

As noted in
yesterday's snapshot, Wikileaks released video Monday of the deaths of Reuters reporters Nami Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh, killed by the US military. For a critique of Tom Bowman's Morning Edition nonsense, click here. Today, Neal Conan spoke to the Washington Post's David Finkel (who's written about the incident in The Good Soldiers and link has an exerpt of the book) on NPR's Talk of the Nation.

David Finkel: These guys, the Reuters guys, walked into the hottest spot of a very hot morning. There had been running gun battles, there had been a lot of RPG grenade fire and so on. And they were doing what journalists do. They heard about something. They came to it. And they just wanted, from everything I've learned since, they were just there to get that side of the story.
Neal Conan: Can you understand the pain of their families at seeing these videos at last because they'd been pressing for them, Reuters had been pressing for their release, and saying, "How could those helicopter pilots not see that my son was carrying a camera?"

David Finkel: Sure, sure. I can't imagine what it would be like to be them, to be those families and suddenly this video pops up and it would be unimaginable. It's -- I wasn't up in the helicopters, I think that's fair to say. They were a good distance. I'm not quite sure how clear their monitors are. I was told they're only a few inches wide. We're hearing basically intercom chatter [on the video]. It's not like clear radio chatter. Nonetheless, uhm, here comes a group of guys and one of the things they cited on that led to the first burst of fire was an RPG launcher that turned out to be a telephoto lens hanging around a guy's neck.

Finkel did not weigh in on responsibility and noted specifically that he was not villifying anyone or justifying anyone. He repeated this point more than once. We emphasized the above to note the reporters.
Jenny Booth (Times of London) profiles the two reporters and quotes the then-chief photographer for Reuters Bob Strong stating, "Namir was an editor's dream . . . on top of every story. His nose had been broken more than once, he'd been shot in the leg, detained, harassed and threatened, but his quick smile and energy never faded." Of Saeed, Chris Helgren states, "Saeed had a reputation of being fiercely loyal and appeared fearless to me. If you ever needed to get quickly to a dangerous area, passing chicanes of barbed wire and boobytraps, Saeed was your man. But he also had a very quiet, loving side and spoke often of his kids." Mujahid Yousef (New York Times) reports:The family of a Reuters photographer killed in an American military airstrike watched the video of it late Monday and burst into tears as they saw what appeared to be the crews of two American Apache attack helicopters kill their son and 11 other people, gloating at what the crewmen seemed to think was a successful strike on insurgents. "At last the truth has been revealed, and I'm satisfied God revealed the truth," said Noor Eldeen, the father of the photographer, Namir Noor-Eldeen, who was 22 when he was killed in July 2007. "If such an incident took place in America, even if an animal were killed like this, what would they do?"

Kim Sengupta (Indpedent of London) adds:

Reuters had consistently pointed out that its staff were simply carrying out their job. David Schlesinger, the editor-in-chief of Reuters news, said the footage was "graphic evidence of the dangers involved in war journalism and the tragedies that can result".
In Baghdad, the Iraqi Journalists' Union called on the government to carry out an investigation into the killings. The Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York, supported the demand for an inquiry.

Raffi Khatchadourian (New Yorker) explores possible legal issues stemming from the events captured in the video. And, for any wondering, we're not interested in a debate over WikiLeaks. It had information, it released it. That's what it should have done, that's the reason it exists. Neal Conan, for example, appeared confused as to the parents' reactions regarding the release of the video. The record shows that it was painful for them to watch (no surprise there) but that they were glad to finally know how their son died. As would most people be. Reporters Without Borders issued the following statement today:

Reporters Without Borders is asking the US government for increased transparency after the whistleblower website WikiLeaks released a video on April 5th, 2010, of a US military Apache helicopter strike in Baghdad three years ago which killed two Reuters employees and several other people. Wikileaks said that it had obtained the video "from a number of military whistleblowers" and posted it at
Reuters filed a FOIA request in for the video back in 2007 but it was never released.
According to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), all agencies of the U.S. Government are required to disclose records upon receiving a written request, except those records that are protected from disclosure pursuant to nine exemptions and three exclusions.
"We support Wikileaks decision to post the video because the administration did not live up to its responsibilities in this case," said Reporters Without Borders. "We urge the Pentagon to be more transparent and call on the Obama administration to show its committing to justice by reconsidering the request and officially releasing the video and other elements that would help the investigation".
"By not granting this FOIA request, the Obama administration would once again be ignoring its promises of more transparency and accountability'" said the press freedom organization. "It would be a blow to freedom of the press and to the principle that it is not up to the government to define what is newsworthy."
According to the AFP, A US military official did not dispute the authenticity of the video but said it "doesn't give new information, it just gives footage. "Since 2007, we acknowledged everything that's in the video," the official said. "We acknowledged that the strike took place and that there were two Reuters employees (killed)." "We had insurgents and reporters in an area where US forces were about to be ambushed. At the time we weren't able to discern whether (the Reuters employees) were carrying cameras or weapons," the official said.
In July 2007, photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and his driver, Saeed Chmagh, 40, were killed in east Baghdad by gunfire of unclear origin. Witnesses said a rocket was fired from a US helicopter. But other sources told Reuters they could have been killed by a mortar shell fired by Iraqi militia members.
At the time Reporters Without Borders called on both the US army and the Iraqi police to investigate their deaths.
Since the beginning of the Iraq war, at least 221 journalists have been killed, making it the deadliest war for reporters.
On December 31, 2007, George W. Bush signed amendments to the FOIA into law, improving public access to information about federal government activity. However, at that time, 92 videos related to interrogations of Guantanamo Bay prisoners were destroyed and never made public despite a request from the ACLU.
On April 15th, 2010, the CIA will have to release documents detailing meetings between Nancy Pelosi and her aide Michael Sheeny on matters relating to "enhanced interrogation techniques". Reporters Without Borders deeply hope that the US agency will keep its word this time.

The Committee to Protect Journalists' statement includes the following:

"This footage is deeply disturbing and reminds us of what journalists in war zones undergo to bring us the news," said Joel Simon, CPJ's executive director. "The video also confirms our long-held view that a thorough and transparent investigation into this incident is urgently needed."
The video, taken from a U.S. Apache helicopter, shows several men moving about a Baghdad neighborhood. Military forces identify some of the men as armed and open fire, the video shows. Minutes later, a van arrives and appears to assist the wounded. The video shows the helicopter then opening fire on the van. Two children were injured, the footage shows.
Reuters has pressed U.S. military officials to conduct a thorough and objective investigation into the airstrike. In a statement today, military spokesman Maj. Shawn S. Turner said: "This tragic incident was investigated at that time by the brigade involved and the investigation found that the forces involved were not aware of the presence of the two reporters, and that all evidence available supported the conclusion by those forces that they were engaging armed insurgents, and not civilians."
In all, at least 16 journalists were killed by U.S. forces' fire in Iraq, CPJ research shows. While CPJ has not found evidence to conclude that U.S. troops targeted journalists in these cases, its research shows that most of the cases were either not fully investigated or the military failed to publicly disclose its findings.
"The deaths of Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh three years ago were tragic and emblematic of the extreme dangers that exist in covering war zones," said David Schlesinger, editor-in-chief of Reuters news. "We continue to work for journalist safety and call on all involved parties to recognize the important work that journalists do and the extreme danger that photographers and video journalists face in particular. The video released today via Wikileaks is graphic evidence of the dangers involved in war journalism and the tragedies that can result."

Deborah Amos is the author of the just released
Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East. Yesterday, she appeared on The Exchange with Laura Knoy (NHPR) and, except for licking Barack's ass, it was an informative interview.

On Iraqi refugees, she wrongly fawns over Barack Obama. Maybe doing so allows her to avoid her and NPR's little refugee problem? Apparently we have to go historical.

Ethnic cleansing took place -- and the so-called surge provided the cover for it (ugly reality the US government does not want to acknowledge). This led to Iraq's huge refugee crisis. The key moment, and on Amos omits in her book, is November 2007. That's when Nouri al-Maliki began pushing the idea that Iraqis were returning. Initially, CBS News was skeptical. The story began over a weekend and when Nouri and his people saw the news outlets would run with any number they were supplied with, they started inflating their numbers. That's why CBS News was initially skeptical. However, that was that and suddenly all the outlets (including CBS News) were reporting that huge waves of refugees were returning and more would be coming and these were people who wanted to return. At this site, we questioned the numbers (which kept inflating), we questioned the idea that more people were waiting, we questioned the idea that they wanted to return (as opposed to struggling as refugees who weren't allowed to work in their host countries and had exhausted their savings) and more. The news outlets merrily danced along. It was not safe. And I loudly made the point to friends with the UN that if the lie stood, other refugees struggling would think, "Well maybe there is a huge wave returning and we'll be safe as part of the wave." November 22nd, at this site, we loudly called out the
Myth of the Great Return. Barack didn't do a thing at this point -- I know that because I was being hit up every day to donate to him by friends advising the campaign and I would ask, "What's he doing?" He wasn't doing a damn thing.

While the UN decided to sit it out, the Red Cross did step up to the plate and issue a few cautionary notes and then came Cara Buckley and Damien Cave's New York Times reports and the Myth imploded. Who deserves credit? Cara Buckley and Damien Cave and shame on anyone who tries to take that credit away from those two reporters. They earned it. While every other outlet was merely repeating what they were being fed, Buckley and Cave did actual reporting, looked into it and found out what was really going on. And, most important, they reported on it.

What happened then? Other outlets didn't correct their stories, they didn't update their stories even, they just stopped pushing the lies. It would have been great if they could have told the truth. They didn't. But in the wake of Buckley and Cave's reporting, the other outlets stopped issuing Nouri's propaganda. Reporting is supposed to make a difference in people's lives ideally. That's why, in the US, we give it so much respect within the Constitution and the whole free speech tradition. Most days, most years, that doesn't happen. In part because so few of us, as a people, pay attention to actual news and in part because so few outlets do actual news. But it does still happen and Damien Cave and Cara Buckley didn't just type up something and it was fish wrapper two days later. They reported the truth and, by doing so, stopped the lies, stopped the propaganda thereby saving many Iraqi lives. That's true not only due to the fact that it wasn't safe (and it wasn't) but also because those returning were being robbed, kidnapped and killed.

The only two who deserve credit -- and this is in the entire media landscape and, yes, that includes NPR and Deborah Amos -- are Damien Cave and Cara Buckley. Their reporting saved lives. They made a difference.

Amos is correct that George W. Bush's administration (though she seems to imply Bush himself who, honestly, wasn't all that into the issue of refugees and was way out of the loop) wanted the Myth to stand. She seems to forget or overlook that Nouri's the one who started it and, of course, it benefitted him as well. (It was step one in the p.r. for "Nouri has restored security!") She also ignored -- in her conversation -- that people didn't know where Barack stood on refugees when he was elected. Sheri Fink wondered "
Will New Admin. Deliver on U.S. Pledge to Iraqi Refugees?" November 6, 2008. Fink wouldn't have to wonder if Barack had a record on the issue. Writing at The Huffington Post, November 4, 2008, Deborah Amos herself did not note any great work -- or any work -- by Barack on the issue and ended her column stating: "It is up to the new Obama administration to address the long term consequences of the exodus" ("Iraqi Refugees Still Too Scared to Return Home"). In her new book, page 193 contains 2 sentences on the issue:

As a candidate for president, Barack Obama aimed to measure an end to displacement and exile as a benchmark of Iraq's long-term stability. President Obama linked the refugee crisis again when he oulined his plan for an accelarated U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

What? As president, Barack did not present "an accelarated US withdrawal from Iraq." He promised one brigade a month removed upon being sworn in. That was his promise. He broke that promise and went with a slower plan. She may be confusing a drawdown with a withdrawal. But Barack's withdrawal (or 'withdrawal') plan is George W. Bush's plan.

So it's a bit hard to reconcile history, the public record, Amos' own remarks in real time and her own book with her Monday comments and praisings of Barack allegedly putting this issue front and center as a candidate and making the press cover it and blah, blah, blah.
Elise Labott never needed arm twisting to cover this and was covering it long before Barack teamed up with Joe Biden. Joe Biden, by the way, was a leader on this issue. As late as June of 2008, where was Barack? June 20, 2008, World Refugee Day, Biden joined with Senators Ted Kennedy, Chuck Hagel and Gordon Smith were sponsoring legislation (introduced that day by Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid) to create a White House position for a go-to on Iraqi-refugees. Nothing stopped Barack from being a co-sponsor except his lack of interest in the subject. Once Biden is Barack's running mate, at Change.gov.org (the campaign website), you begin seeing papers on the Iraqi refugee crisis. Barack had no foreign policy experience which is one reason Biden was chosen as Barack's running mate. Once on board, the campaign beefed up the team's positions on international issues. For example, "The Obama-Biden Plan" was largely written by Biden's staff including the section on refugees ("Preventing Humanitarian Crisis") and all you have to do is read over it to grasp that especially the part about the US intervening militarily if a genocide were to take place.

There are actual heroes and two of their names are Cara Buckley and Damien Cave. Barack is not a hero on this issue nor is he a leader on it. That was true of Candidate Obama and it's true of President Obama. Deborah Amos has written a great book and we'll note it in the future but I don't play when it comes to the refugee situation and I don't pretend that things happened when they damn well didn't. I'll further add that all these people trashing Bush today? Where were you when we actually needed you? Again, Amos says the US administration didn't want the refugee story covered. Under Bush. Is that why so many LIED. Buckley and Cave didn't lie. And I won't be silent or go along with vanishing their work that they should be very proud of and that all of us who depend upon the press should be grateful they provided in real time.

"Yes, folks, it's true,"
writes NOW on PBS executive producer John Siceloff, "NOW on PBS has come to the end of its broadcast run. The last episode will air on April 30, 2010. PBS announced last fall it was canceling NOW and providing funding for a new public affairs show called Need to Know." Click here for the rest of his essay. The program begins airing each week on Fridays on most PBS stations (check local listings) and this week they look at the economy:

The national economic disaster hit the city of Braddock Pennsylvania like a wrecking ball. But Braddock Mayor John Fetterman -- dubbed "America's Coolest Mayor" by The New York Times -- is taking very unconventional approaches to reinventing the town and re-inspiring its residents. Home to the nation's first A&P supermarket and Andrew Carnegie's first steel mill, Braddock is being revitalized with new youth and art programs, renovations of abandoned real estate, and bold plans to attract artists and green industries. On Friday, April 9 at 8:30 pm (check local listings), NOW sits down with Mayor Fetterman to learn how the 6'8" 370-pound political novice is trying to turn his town around, and if other devastated communities can and should follow his large footsteps.

Lastly, the
Democratic Policy Committee notes:
The Democratic Policy Committee has updated its Special Report on the benefits of health reform in every state, available via the link below, both on and off the Hill. The number of small businesses in each state estimated to qualify for the small business tax credit has been updated to reflect final bill language of firms with fewer than 25 employees and average annual wages of less than $50,000. The previous report used the lower average annual wage threshold of $40,000, which was included in the bill as introduced. The effect has been to increase the number of small businesses estimated to qualify for the tax credit in every state and the District of Columbia .
The Benefits of Health Reform (State-by-State Reports)

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mcclatchy newspaperslaith hammoudithe new york timestimothy williamsyasmine mousa
hannah allam
the los angeles timesned parkerraheem salman
the washington postleila fadelaziz alwan
mujahid yousefthe times of londonjenny booth
nhprthe exchangelaura knoydeborah amos

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