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Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category

Harsher Security Tactics? Obama Left Door Ajar, and Donald Trump Is Knocking

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Beginning with George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks, the Federal government has embraced tough (and sometimes illegal) security measures. Obama did not fix it. Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times:

As a presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump vowed to refill the cells of the Guantánamo Bay prison and said American terrorism suspects should be sent there for military prosecution. He called for targeting mosques for surveillance, escalating airstrikes aimed at terrorists and taking out their civilian family members, and bringing backwaterboarding and a “hell of a lot worse” — not only because “torture works,” but because even “if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway.”

It is hard to know how much of this stark vision for throwing off constraints on the exercise of national security power was merely tough campaign talk. But if the Trump administration follows through on such ideas, it will find some assistance in a surprising source: President Obama’s have-it-both-ways approach to curbing what he saw as overreaching in the war on terrorism.

Over and over, Mr. Obama has imposed limits on his use of such powers but has not closed the door on them — a flexible approach premised on the idea that he and his successors could be trusted to use them prudently. Mr. Trump can now sweep away those limits and open the throttle on policies that Mr. Obama endorsed as lawful and legitimate for sparing use, like targeted killings in drone strikes and the use of indefinite detention and military tribunals for terrorism suspects.

Two decisions by Mr. Obama in 2009 set the tone for his leave-it-on-the-table approach. They involved whether to keep indefinite wartime detentions without trial and to continue using military commission prosecutions — if not at the Guantánamo prison, which he had resolved to close, then at a replacement wartime prison.

Told that several dozen detainees could not be tried for any crime but would be particularly risky to release, and that a handful might be prosecutable only under the looser rules governing evidence in a military commission, Mr. Obama decided that the responsible policy was to keep both the tribunals and the indefinite detentions available.

The president refused to use either power on newly captured terrorism suspects, instead prosecuting them in civilian court. But by leaving the options open, he helped normalize them and left them on a firmer legal basis.

Mr. Obama followed a similar course with several national security practices that became controversial during his first term. After his use of drones to kill terrorism suspects away from war zones led to mounting concerns over civilian casualties and other matters, he issued a “presidential policy guidance” in May 2013 that set stricter limits. They included a requirement that the target pose a threat to Americans — not just to American interests — and that there would be near certainty of no bystander deaths.

But the Obama administration also successfully fought in court to establishthat judges would not review the legality of such killing operations, even if an American citizen was the target. Mr. Trump — who has said he would “bomb the hell out of ISIS,” beyond what Mr. Obama is doing, and go after civilian relatives of terrorists, prevailing over any military commanders who balked — could scrap the internal limits while invoking those precedents to shield his acts from judicial review.

Similarly, after a surge of criminal prosecutions against people who leaked secret information to the news media and bipartisan outrage at aggressive investigative tactics targeting journalists, the Obama Justice Department issued new guidelines for leak investigations intended to make it harder for investigators to subpoena reporters’ testimony or phone records. It also decided not to force a reporter for The New York Times to testify in a leak trial or face prison for contempt.

But the Obama administration also successfully fought in court to establish that the First Amendment offers no protection to journalists whom the executive branch chooses to subpoena to testify against confidential sources. Mr. Trump, who has proposed changing libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations, could abandon the Obama-era internal restraints and invoke the Obama-era court precedent to adopt more aggressive policies in leak investigations.

Geoffrey R. Stone, a University of Chicago law professor who is a friend and adviser to Mr. Obama, defended the president’s approach. He said that after 2010, when Republicans took over the House, internal executive branch restraints were the only option because Congress was not going to enact legislation limiting national security powers.

He also said that even if Mr. Obama had gotten rid of indefinite detention or military tribunals, Mr. Trump could have brought them back.

“Short of legislation that restricts things, there is not much a president could do in these matters to restrain a successor,” Professor Stone said.

Still, Bruce Ackerman, a Yale University law professor who is helping with a lawsuit alleging that Mr. Obama is waging an illegal war against the Islamic State because Congress never specifically authorized it, said Mr. Obama had contributed to the growth of executive powers that Mr. Trump would inherit. That includes “the fundamental institutional legacy” of relying on executive branch lawyers to produce creative legal opinions clearing the way for preferred policies, Professor Ackerman said.

The two areas where Mr. Obama broke most cleanly with Bush-era practices were torture and the indefinite military detention of Americans and other terrorism suspects arrested on domestic soil. Mr. Obama issued an executive order requiring interrogators to use only techniques approved in the Army Field Manual, and he later signed a bill codifying that rule into statute. He also resisted repeated calls by Republicans to put newly captured terrorism suspects arrested in the United States into Guantánamo-style military detention.

But the Obama administration also ruled out criminal investigations into Bush-era officials for involvement in torture practices that the Justice Department had blessed as legal under a sweeping theory that the commander in chief could not be bound by anti-torture laws.

And the Obama administration fought lawsuits brought by Jose Padilla, an American terrorism suspect who had been imprisoned and interrogated as an “enemy combatant.” The administration successfully argued that courts should dismiss the litigation without ruling on whether his treatment had been lawful, preventing any clear repudiation of the Bush-era legal theory.

A spokesman for Mr. Obama’s National Security Council declined to comment. But Gregory B. Craig, who was Mr. Obama’s first White House counsel and participated in early policy deliberations about what to do about Guantánamo-style policies, said that in 2009, the president “was not thinking about 10 years out, but about 10 days out.” And he especially did not want to send signals to Republicans that he was a zealot or out for revenge, Mr. Craig said.

Mr. Obama, Mr. Craig said, “was thinking about working with Republicans and developing postpartisan relations on Guantánamo-related national security issues, not about what was going to happen a decade later.” . . .

Continue reading.

So Trump has ready access to a big drawer of sharp tools to use in various ways.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 November 2016 at 11:38 am

Military Veteran: Standing Rock Is The First Time I Actually Fought For The People

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Will Griffen writes at

‘I’ve been on the wrong side of history’

I was in Iraq when President Bush announced the “surge” in January 2007.

I was in Afghanistan when President Obama announced the “surge” in December 2009. But it wasn’t until I visited Standing Rock in October 2016 when I actually served the American people. This time, instead of fighting for corporate interests, I was fighting for the people.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), or Bakken Pipeline, is a 1,172-mile oil pipeline project that will transfer crude oil across four states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. From the Bakken fields of North Dakota, the pipeline will carry in excess of 450,000 barrels per day of crude oil to Patoka, Illinois, and possibly on to Texas and near the Gulf Coast areas for refinement or export. The project will cost $3.7 billion, while creating 8,000-12,000 temporary construction jobs and only 40 permanent operating jobs.

But I didn’t visit North Dakota to learn about the whopping 40 permanent jobs. I traveled to North Dakota to stand with the people of Standing Rock. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has called people across this nation and around the world to prayer, action and support for efforts to stop DAPL or, as the people of Standing Rock call it, the Black Snake. They, along with over 300 other Native American tribes, realize that the pipeline will eventually leak and spill oil into their fresh water supply.

A spill into the Missouri River would affect 17 million Americans downstream that depend on the river for their drinking water. The people of Standing Rock are not just fighting to save themselves, they are fighting for tens of millions of others.

The Sioux struggle against the pipeline embraces so many other struggles in this nation. It encompasses struggles against climate catastrophe, a history of breaking treaties with Native Americans, attacks on the right to assemble, assaults on journalists, the militarization of police, and placing corporate profits over human rights.

I traveled to Standing Rock with a small group of members from Veterans For Peace (VFP). VFP has had a continued presence at Standing Rock for months now, rotating members in and out. Two VFP members, Tarak Kauff and Matthew Hoh, were arrested on Oct. 10, Indigenous People’s Day, while peacefully protecting (not protesting) the water. We were also joined by VFP members Ellen Davidson, Sam Adams, Richard Gilchrist, Martin Bates, Michael Sullivan, Ann Wright, and drone whistleblower Cian Westmoreland.

During our time there, we met many distinguished activists, including Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!; Winona Laduke, who ran for vice president alongside Ralph Nader in 1996 and 2000; and Madison, Wis., city council member Rebecca Kemble. Several famous actors and actresses visited the camp that we did not meet personally, but it was great to know they were there supporting Standing Rock – people like Shailene Woodley, Adam Beach, A Martinez from the Netflix show Longmire, and recently Mark Ruffalo, a.k.a The Hulk.

While camping at Standing Rock (the official camp name is Oceti Sakowin; Standing Rock is the reservation), we were treated as family. Everyone called each other relatives, brother, sister, mother, grandmother and so on. Water, coffee, food, snacks, tents, clothes and various camping equipment were available to all without a price tag. The only request was for people to be unarmed and drug and alcohol free. There is virtually no cellphone service on the camp. If you wanted to find somebody, you had to actually walk around, look, or even ask people if they’ve seen who you’re looking for! Fellow veteran Matt Hoh and I agreed the camp was a reminder of Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) in Iraq and Afghanistan, without the mortars or rockets blowing up everywhere.

Matt and I also agreed that after our military “service” and multiple deployments to two wars, this was the first time we served the American people. After going to a few nonviolent direct action protests against the Black Snake, we realized what it actually meant to stand by the American people and fight in their interests. We suddenly had this feeling of honor, something we never had from our deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan.

We agreed that the only “people” we served overseas fighting were the likes of Halliburton, KBR, AECOM, DynCorp, Raytheon, Environmental Chemical, and so many more. We know that our own government lied to us. We know that the world is not a safer place than it was before the United States illegally occupied Iraq and Afghanistan; we understand that militaries don’t bring peace. Looking into the eyes of the police at Standing Rock, we saw ourselves. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 November 2016 at 9:33 am

Podesta May Have Cost Democrats the Election With Push for Obama Legacy

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Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

Yesterday, WikiLeaks released a new email that synthesizes why Hillary Clinton and the Democrats suffered such devastating losses in Tuesday’s election, losing states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that should have been easy wins for the Democrats.

The email clarifies how Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Chairman, John Podesta, had created an impossible conflict in how he was running Clinton’s campaign: he wanted it to serve the dual role of embellishing President Obama’s legacy, thus muzzling Clinton on criticizing the President’s policies. It should have been readily clear that this was a losing gamble as tens of thousands turned out at Senator Bernie Sanders’ primary rallies as he called for a “political revolution” against the establishment in Washington while Clinton attracted modest crowds with her stay the course mantra.

The email shows that on October 7, 2015, Hillary Clinton’s advisers were working on an OpEd that would map out her position on needed reforms of Wall Street. The OpEd would come within a week of the first presidential primary debate where both Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley were expected to endorse the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act. The repeal of that 1933 legislation, sacked by President Bill Clinton and his pro-Wall Street administration in 1999, caused the Wall Street collapse and unprecedented bailout in 2008 by allowing banks holding trillions of dollars in taxpayer-backstopped insured deposits to gamble those funds away in exotic securities and derivatives. (See related articles below.)

In the email thread, Mandy Grunwald of Grunwald Communications said she liked the opinion piece “a lot” and made the following suggestions:

“1. I am concerned about the Glass Steagall paragraph. I would recommend  cutting it. Three things will antagonize: 1) saying she respects those who support it, is kind of patronizing; 2) calling it ‘old’ is an insult to the work done on the new version and 3) saying it will have unintended economic consequences will annoy.  Why not just skip this?

“2. On giving regulators the power to break up banks that are too big, can we say that there are several that are bigger than before the crisis and should be looked at right now?

“3. Can we lose the phrase ‘not just in the big banks’? This seems to denigrate the importance of the big banks when we don’t have to. Our point is just additive — these other financial institutions need to be held accountable too.”

Unlike Grunwald, who was focusing on substantive issues in the OpEd, John Podesta zeroed in on the lack of “love” for Obama in the piece, writing the following:

“I am worried that there is not enough love here for Obama. Implicitly critical. We are skating on thin ice after TPP, syria, Cadillac tax, immigration. Need to beef up credit.”

The next day, an OpEd under the byline of Hillary Clinton appeared at Bloomberg News. Obama’s name was mentioned four separate times in a highly favorable light. Clinton said Obama had signed into law “important new rules” after the 2008 financial crash; she was going to “build on the progress we’ve made under President Obama”; “thanks to President Obama’s leadership” the economy is now on “sounder footing”; and the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation that Obama signed into law had “made important reforms, but there’s more to do.”

Since Bloomberg News is heavily read by people on Wall Street, this was a signal to them that Hillary Clinton would leave the bulk of her husband’s cash cow deregulation in place by following in the footsteps of Obama. What Obama’s administration had done in 2010 was to create the illusion of regulating Wall Street by proposing hundreds of vaguely worded rules in the Dodd-Frank legislation, then putting crony Wall Street regulators in charge at the SEC and U.S. Treasury to be sure the rules were never actually implemented in any meaningful way. (Under Dodd-Frank, the U.S. Treasury Secretary now sits atop a new financial stability body known as the Financial Stability Oversight Council. The crony Federal Reserve, which failed to see the crisis coming, was given enhanced supervisory powers over the largest Wall Street bank holding companies.) Obama even ignored one of his own rules in Dodd-Frank. It called for Obama to appoint a Vice Chairman for Supervision at the Federal Reserve to police Wall Street. It’s six years since the passage of Dodd-Frank; Obama has been called out time and again for failure to make this appointment; and yet he continues to thumb his nose at putting a real cop on the beat on Wall Street.

There is another telling fact in the email. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2016 at 3:35 pm

The New York Times Has a Fatal Wall Street Bias

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Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

A few years back, when William D. Cohan was writing for Bloomberg News, one could reliably count on him to hold Wall Street’s feet to the fire. Now Cohan is writing for the New York Times and it feels like the Times sent him for an in-house lobotomy or at least a crash course in reoriented thinking.

Consider Cohan’s article from yesterday in the Times, titled Why Washington Needs Wall Street. First Cohan piles on to the recent bashing of Senator Elizabeth Warren by Roger Lowenstein in the pages of the Times. Warren has led a meaningful, multi-year charge to expose the failed reforms and lapdog regulators overseeing Wall Street, which is hands-down the most corrupt industry in America and located in the same home town as the New York Times.  (If you can’t clean up your own home town, what good are you?)

Cohan calls Warren a demagogue, writing that “she goes overboard and seems like she is receiving way too much gratification getting headlines and television time for her stern and condescending lectures.” (If the business model of your industry is fraud – as Senator Bernie Sanders has correctly stated and the serial charges of crimes further attest – can anything said about you be condescending?)

But here’s where Cohan really flips wildly from his former personality. Cohan writes that there’s a “drumbeating” coming from the likes of Senator Bernie Sanders, Warren and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich to prevent anyone with a Wall Street background from filling cabinet or subcabinet posts if Clinton becomes the next President. Cohan now sees this as a bad thing, writing:

The fact is that many jobs in Washington could be filled by someone with a Wall Street background to the benefit of the American people. What better way to improve the inner workings of the capital markets than by having someone with the authority to regulate them who knows precisely how they work, or how they are manipulated.

Now consider the tune Cohan was whistling just a little over three years ago at Bloomberg News. Cohan wrote:

…we get stuck again and again with people whose ties to Wall Street run deep. Indeed, the ‘revolving door’ between Wall Street and Washington seems to have been spinning faster than ever during the first five years of Barack Obama’s administration, contrary to what candidate Obama led us to expect. Is it just a coincidence that the president’s most important economic advisers — Jack Lew, the Treasury secretary; Sylvia Mathews Burwell, his choice to head the Office of Management and Budget; Gene Sperling, the director of the National Economic Council; and Michael Froman, a senior White House economic adviser — are all acolytes of Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary and longtime Wall Street honcho at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc.?

Thanks to WikiLeaks, the American people no longer have to guess why President Obama promised meaningful change and then stuffed his administration with Wall Street cronies. Emails released by WikiLeaks show that in the months leading up to Obama’s 2008 election win, Michael Froman, an executive at Citigroup, was emailing Obama and his advisers with the recommended personnel that he and his cronies wanted to see in the new administration. (See our coverage here and here.) Almost without exception, Wall Street got its way.

The outrage of Michael Froman submitting his personnel rosters to the future President in the Fall of 2008, using his official Citigroup email address, is that at that very moment Citigroup was an insolvent bank in the process of unraveling and on life support from the taxpayer. When the dust finally settled, Citigroup would receive the largest taxpayer bailout in U.S. history: $45 billion in equity infusions; over $300 billion in asset guarantees; and more than $2.5 trillion in secret below market-rate loans from the Federal Reserve.

Let that sink in for a moment. Citigroup’s business model of fraud had collapsed the bank and in the midst of that collapse one of its executives is in charge of staffing the next President’s administration. The man sitting at the helm of the New York Fed, Tim Geithner, who was funneling all of those secret loans to Citigroup, became Obama’s first Treasury Secretary. The Citigroup executive who received a $940,000 bonus while Citigroup was insolvent, Jack Lew, became Obama’s second Treasury Secretary with enhanced supervisory powers as head of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (F-SOC).

The New York Times is the one paper in America that should be viewed with particular skepticism when it comes to Wall Street. It was a cheerleader for years on its editorial page, promoting the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. As its editorial page editors acknowledged in 2012: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2016 at 4:23 pm

“What it’s like when law enforcement intervenes in an election—it happened to me.”

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Vincent Gray, local DC politician, writes in the Washington Post:

Anyone who has ever been a candidate will tell you that politics is a rough-and-tumble business. Cheap shots, low blows and worse are to be expected. Good campaigns prepare responses and deflections. What campaigns do not prepare for, however, are sudden broadsides from law enforcement.

That’s what happened to Hillary Clinton in recent days. The same thing happened to me, too.

In March 2014, one week before the beginning of early voting in the District’s Democratic primary, then-U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen dropped a bombshell on my mayoral reelection campaign. He brought the kingpin of a political crime operation into court, announced that he’d struck a plea deal — and at a news conference thereafter, suggested that I was a co-conspirator and would soon be indicted.

The press and my primary opponent pounced. The circuslike atmosphere that followed dominated every news cycle until the polls closed April 1. Muriel Bowser had beaten me for the nomination.

Before what became known in District politics as “Machen Monday,” my campaign substantially led every public poll and our internal polls, as well. That lead, however, quickly evaporated, and there was no time to recover.

A year and a half later, long after the November general election, the U.S. attorney’s office ended the case. No charges were filed against me, nor was an iota of wrongdoing proved. Machen is back in private practice.

The case was much ado about nothing, but my reelection was sabotaged, and District voters were duped.

On Oct. 30, 11 days before Election Day and at a time when millions of Americans were already voting, FBI Director James Comey sprung a similar surprise on Clinton’s campaign, disclosing to Congress that the bureau had found a new batch of emails that could be pertinent to its investigation into her private server. News outlets and her opponent have focused on little else since. The damage to Clinton is yet to be determined.

The Justice Department has standards that direct prosecutors and law enforcement officials to avoid the appearance of meddling in elections. In my case and Clinton’s as well, these directives were disregarded.

Nothing is more important to candidates than . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 November 2016 at 7:29 pm

Comey’s asymmetric sensitivities

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James Fallows has an excellent column that I urge you to read. This is in the column:


Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2016 at 3:51 pm

In defense of James Comey

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In the New Yorker Ryan Lizza has an interesting column making the case in favor of James Comey, and I highly recommend it. As he points out, Loretta Lynch, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama had previously muddied the water to the point where Comey felt that what he did was appropriate and necessary. It begins:

On October 11, 2015, President Obama was asked by Steve Kroft of CBS News about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server while she was the Secretary of State. It was an awkward question for Obama. The F.B.I., led by James Comey, whom Obama chose to run the agency, was in the middle of an investigation into whether Hillary Clinton mishandled classified information. His Administration has been unusually aggressive in prosecuting government officials who leak classified material. But the Clinton e-mail investigation had also turned into a highly partisan issue, with Republican Presidential candidates making wild and unsubstantiated claims about her conduct. Still, Obama could have remained silent. There is a long-standing tradition by which Presidents do not comment about ongoing F.B.I. investigations, especially when a former member of their own Administration is under scrutiny. Obama seemed to want to follow that protocol and swat the question away. “Well, I’m not going to comment on—” he said before he was cut off.

“You think it’s not that big a deal?” Kroft asked.

If Obama had intended to stick to the standard “no comment” that tradition dictated, he changed his mind. “I can tell you that this is not a situation in which America’s national security was endangered,” the President said, asserting a firm conclusion about the matter eight months before the investigation was completed.

The following April, after it was revealed that classified information did pass through Clinton’s unsecured e-mail server, Obama was asked by Chris Wallace of Fox News if the President stood by his October comment. “Can you still say flatly that she did not jeopardize America’s secrets?” Wallace asked. Obama again hesitated. “I’ve got to be careful because, as you know, there have been investigations, there are hearings, Congress is looking at this. And I haven’t been sorting through each and every aspect of this,” he said.

But once again the President added a seemingly exculpatory comment about the target of an ongoing investigation. “She would never intentionally put America in any kind of jeopardy,” Obama said, of Clinton.

The second comment was less specific than the first, but, as Benjamin Wittes, the editor-in-chief of the Lawfare blog and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Jack Goldsmith, a former assistant attorney general in the Bush Administration, note in a careful analysis of the e-mail investigation, “Both of these statements gave the appearance to many observers that the President had prejudged legally relevant aspects of the investigation.”

Obama’s Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, who oversees the F.B.I, allowed herself to be similarly compromised. On June 27th, President Bill Clinton boarded Lynch’s plane while it was on the tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and the two spoke for about thirty minutes. Clinton and Lynch, who both insisted that the e-mail investigation was not discussed, quickly admitted that the meeting was a mistake. “People have a whole host of reasons to have questions about how we in government do our business,” Lynch said in an interview with Jonathan Capehart, in Aspen, Colorado, on July 1st. “My meeting on the plane with former President Clinton could give them another reason to have questions and concerns.”

An aide to Bill Clinton told CNN that the meeting “was unplanned” and “entirely social” but “recognizing how others could take another view of it, he agrees with the attorney general that he would not do it again.”

To remove any doubts about political meddling in the matter, Lynch said that she would accept whatever recommendations career prosecutors sent to her in the investigation, but later a Justice official muddied that position by insisting that Lynch would actually be “the ultimate decider.”

Two days later, on July 3rd, the Times reported that “Democrats close to Mrs. Clinton say she may decide to retain Ms. Lynch, the nation’s first black woman to be attorney general,” a report that did little to ease the concerns of those who were worried that Lynch and Obama and the Clintons were trying to unduly influence the investigation.

Why does any of this matter now? Because the statements and actions of Obama, Lynch, and Bill Clinton are necessary to understand the context of Comey’s unusual decision this week to break with long-standing Department of Justice procedures about not taking actions or making public disclosures that could affect an election. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2016 at 1:03 pm

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