After Jefferson was baptized by Jerry Falwell, he visited the Gettysburg address. By Martin Longman
I don’t expect anyone in most of the country to feel any sympathy, but the nightly temperatures here on the Central Coast since I returned have been in the 30s, which is very unusual, and actually much worse than it sounds thanks to high humidity and wind. Since using the heat here for even part of the day costs a medium-sized fortune, I’m blogging in a room with a southern exposure, heavily cloaked but nose still running. If I’m going to be this cold, I wouldn’t mind seeing some snow.
Anyone, here are some remains of the day:
* TAP republishes excerpt from Stan Greenberg’s fine book Dispatches From the War Room, with Stan’s reminiscences about campaigning with Nelson Mandela.
* At TNR Damon Linker provides a long and knowledgeable assessment of the obstacles to any papal-initiated Vatican renaissance.
* At Salon Michael Lind assaults Right’s “voucher-mania.”
* At Ten Miles Square, Sam Knight interviews Daily Caller columnist Patrick Howley about his published defense of the inalienable right of men to leer at women.
* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer reports another big jump in student indebtedness in 2013.
And in sorta non-political news:
* You’d think the budget deal would have produced at least a day’s worth of a rousing rally on Wall Street. Didn’t happen.
Before I wrap up, I’d like to point out that our Ten Miles Square and College Guide blogs, from which I always take a brief sample in the Day’s End post here at PA, are an underutilized treasure always available to readers. TMS combines the best from some of our favorite blogs, but also quite a bit of original content, such as today’s piece from Sam Knight. And College Guide, under Daniel Luzer’s direction, provides the best ongoing discussion of higher ed issues for a general audience you can find at any one place.
These blogs supply two more reasons you should try to make a tax-deductible donation to Washington Monthly today. There’s really a lot under the hood.
Let’s close with one more Kinks song from Arthur: the decidedly non-jingoistic “Yes Sir, No Sir.”
I’d say the one political fact we can all agree on is that the American people (and this time the situation justifies that vast collective attribution) are pretty thoroughly sick of this session of the 113th Congress. Assuming the budget deal gets wrapped up on schedule, I don’t see any appetite for keeping them around Washington (except maybe among the long-term unemployed who might desperately hope, though not with any real justification, that Congress might throw them a lifeline before benefits run out December 31).
So I really don’t get this Senate GOP gambit, as reported by The Hill’s Alexander Bolton:
Senate Republicans will stage a more than 30-hour talkathon on the Senate floor to protest Democrats’ triggering of the “nuclear option” last month.
The GOP protest, which could extend into the weekend, will throw a wrench in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) hopes of wrapping up legislative business for 2013 as soon as possible.
Republicans will delay a final vote on Cornelia Pillard, one of President Obama’s picks for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, until about 1 a.m. Thursday.
Then, Senate Republicans will hold the floor throughout the night, speaking out against Reid’s use of the nuclear option. Reid invoked the controversial tactic before Thanksgiving to strip Republicans of the power to filibuster judicial and executive branch nominees. The rules change did not affect Supreme Court picks.
“When you blow up the Senate rules, there has to be a consequence,” said a Republican senator.
What consequence? Bleeding eardrums? A late start on holiday shopping?
This sounds like one of those GOP exercises in using Congress to communicate an exclusive message via conservative media to “the base,” with all the props and pretenses associated with actual Senate business. This time, though, it will be an extended whine over procedural matters that probably don’t interest even inveterate Fox watchers. And indeed, the conservative activists who do care about the demise of the confirmation filibuster are probably cheering, since it could make it easier to restock the judiciary with Federalist Society members if and when Republicans regain control of the White House and the Senate at the same time.
Or maybe Senate GOPers just want to give some of their more primary-vulnerable members a chance to rant and rave and shake their fists at the Democrat Party before they endure television ads describing them as godless RINOs working hand-in-glove with Obama to impose secular-socialist tyranny on us all. But it’s still a weird way to end a weird year.
CNN’s Peter Hamby does some good reporting in a piece on various Republican discussions about the 2016 presidential nominating process. But the natural tendency of a reporter to overhype the significance of his scoop is painfully apparent here. The following is Hanby’s lede with words italicized that add some questionable drama to the proceedings:
A handful of Republican Party officials is quietly advancing a new batch of rules aimed at streamlining a chaotic presidential nominating process that many party insiders viewed as damaging to the their campaign for the White House in 2012, multiple GOP sources told CNN.
In a series of closed-door meetings since August, handpicked members of the Republican National Committee have been meeting with party Chairman Reince Priebus in Washington to hash out details of a sweeping plan to condense the nominating calendar, severely punish primary and caucus states that upend the agreed-upon voting order and potentially move the party’s national convention to earlier in the summer, with late June emerging as the ideal target date.
Compare this account of what’s actually happening with that of the reigning expert on this whole subject, Josh Putnam of Frontloading HQ, who relies in part on Hamby’s factual reporting. I’m not about to go through Putnam’s vast post, but with his usual painstaking detail he examines what is and isn’t happening, and sees a lot less change in the works than Hamby’s adjectives suggest.
The quartet of privileged states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada) retain their privileges and may be able to delay the starting gun for ‘16 until early February, though late January is more likely. The “severe” penalty for calendar-jumping has mainly been adjusted to keep small states from moving with light consequences. The early convention idea is colliding with the unwillingness of states holding simultaneous presidential and down-ballot primaries to hold both any earlier than they already do. And it’s important to distinguish between the dates for naming delegates and those for binding them to a candidate.
On top of everything else, all this talk must be coordinated with Democrats, who will have their own open presidential nominating contest in 2016.
Why does the difference in tone between Hamby’s account and Putnam’s matter? Well, it’s not earth-shaking, but Hamby’s approach reinforces the cherished MSM meme that for all the craziness of its “base” and “activists,” the GOP is actually run by a small but powerful cabal of shrewd and pragmatic “insiders” who use their superior procedural knowledge (in venues ranging from Congress to campaigns to the nominating process) to manipulate Republicans into doing their will. Just wait and see: the idea that the nominating process is being “overhauled” will soon merge with the idea that “pragmatists” are preparing to grease the skids for a “pragmatic” presidential nominee, presumably Chris Christie.
Truth is, the Republican presidential nominating process is a long way from being rescued from “chaos,” less because of the relative impotence of supposedly almighty party elites than because states still call the most important shots, and the early states are willing to do whatever is necessary to preserve their outsized power. So let’s keep any “reforms” or “schemes” we hear about—and their alleged consequences—in perspective.
If you’ve read a description of the Murray-Ryan budget deal, you probably noticed that a fairly sizable change in the pension contribution requirements for federal employees applied only to new hires. As Josh Barro points out:
Republicans wanted to make federal employees pay more toward their pensions. President Obama has also proposed doing this as a part of his budget.
But Democrats generally are not very keen on this idea, and two of the most powerful Democrats in the House (Reps. Steny Hoyer and Chris Van Hollen) represent districts in Maryland with lots of federal workers whose pay they want to defend.
So Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) came up with a compromise: Require higher employee pension contributions, but only from federal civilian employees who will be hired in the future.
This is a perfect approach because the losing political constituency is invisible. In fact, it’s so compelling, Congress already used it once before this year, as part of the “Fiscal Cliff” deal enacted in January.
This kind of “grandfather clause”—which given the timing might be described as a “Santa Clause”—is pretty common (it’s included, for example, in all the GOP Social Security and Medicare “reform” proposals to exclude current beneficiaries), and is defensible here because it insulates federal employees from what would otherwise be a pay cut. But it also permanently reduces the pay of future federal employees, and should be understood as just that.
I hadn’t really focused on the fact that not one but two Maryland suburban Democrats had an unavoidable hand in the budget negotiations (Hoyer as House Democratic Whip, and Van Hollen as ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee and as Assistant to the Speaker, a leadership post created just for him), but it sure did give some nice super-representation to DC area federal workers.
Sorry for a slight delay in posts, but am trying to secure a replacement for a busted and ancient washer/dryer. Kinda missing the comfort of clean, dry clothes, and laundromat options in the area are very limited.
I’d like to think that if PA went out of commission readers would miss it, too. Yeah, there are plenty of alternatives for gleaning news and views, but none quite so convenient and familiar and—I hope for many of you—“homey.” If you haven’t already, please take the time to make a tax-deductible donation to WaMo, and among other things, you’ll help keep this blogger clothed. And if you’ve already donated, thank you so much, and forgive the continued cup-rattling, which must continue until it’s full.
And now for some midday snacks:
* TIME names Pope Francis its Person of the Year for 2013.
* Glenn Greenwald mocks TIME for passing over his source, Edward Snowden, an obvious contender for POTY.
* At The Monkey Cage, Sarah Binder points out new deal does nothing to restore regular budgeting and appropriations processes.
* House GOPers race to floor for vote tomorrow on budget deal before opposition can fully mobilize. In Senate, Rand Paul and the recently-primaried John Cornyn already indicating opposition.
* TNR’s John Judis reports latest Israeli-Palestinian negotiations brokered by John Kerry seem to be in deep trouble.
And in non-political news:
* Next frontier in wearable tech could be the “smart bra.”
Since we started the day with a Kinks song, let’s continue with another cut from Arthur, Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire. “Victoria” is one of the peppiest (if somewhat self-mocking) contributions to rock jingoism.
To some readers I probably seem like an obsessive crank on the subject of the internal dynamics of the Republican Party, but it’s a subject the MSM and some progressives get redundantly wrong. Among other ills, this leads to mis-diagnoses of the GOP’s direction, all sorts of false equivalency reporting (based on the idea that both parties are composed of equally sized “moderate” and “extremist” wings), and a dangerous underestimation of what will happen if the stars align and Republicans win total control of the federal government.
So I’ve weighed in on the subject more tightly and systematically in a column at TPMCafe that seeks to debunk the idea that Republicans are perpetually involved in a “civil war” or a “struggle for the soul of the party” in which “pragmatists” are fated eventually to overwhelm the “extremists,” because that’s how you win elections or that’s what the business community wants or that’s what will happen when the Tea Party fades and the Great Big Adults take over again.
What this sort of analysis typically misses is not only the extraordinarily broad subscription of Republicans to ideological tenets that would have been on the far fringes not that long ago, but the fixed nature of those tenets—often attributed to the Founders or natural law or God Almighty—which can be violated but never truly compromised. So in the present conservative context, “pragmatism” is by definition semi-treason at best, and many conservative activists would prefer no electoral victories at all to those that won’t produce the policy counterrevolution they desire.
But here’s the dirty little GOP secret I didn’t address explicitly in my column: conservative activists are so skeptical of politicians—at least those this side of Ted Cruz or Rand Paul—that they are perfectly happy accepting an unprincipled “pragmatist” who is totally in their thrall via highly public litmus test signatures and specific commitment to future action. By the time he went down to defeat in 2012, Mitt Romney was an absolute prisoner to the very forces in his party who trusted him least. The same thing happened to “maverick” John McCain in 2008; by the end of his campaign, he was basically a figurehead on a ticket led emotionally and ideologically by Sarah Palin.
My iron conviction is that if Mitt Romney had won last year and Republicans had retaken the Senate, we’d be well into a reign of fire and blood characterized by instant reconciliation-enabled enactment of the Ryan Budget, the total destruction of the Affordable Care Act, and for added measure, a “nuclear option” more thoroughgoing that that recently imposed by Senate Democrats. We might also be at war with Iran; that’s a little harder to assume. But I betcha the vast majority of MSM political writers think life under a Republican government led by Mitt Romney would be simply a more efficient version of life as we know it now. And by 2016, the same people will be cheerleading for a Christie presidency as some sort of latter-day Eisenhower Administration. And they’ll be dead wrong because they don’t understand what’s going on in the GOP.
Anyway, you can read my column, but the key thing is to avoid projecting left-of-center habits of mind onto the right-of-center, and to get out a salt shaker of skepticism any time the next “pragmatic” savior of the GOP—at the moment it’s Chris Christie—is announced. I’m reasonably sure someone like Christie will either be defeated or suborned, and either way, the good old days of “moderate Republicanism” are gone for the foreseeable future.
What’s most ironic to me is that a lot of the folks promoting a fantasy version of the GOP are the very ones who demand unconditional bipartisan respect. I think it’s time to pay conservatives the respect of taking their ideological goals seriously, and stop treating them as part of a silly game that will be pushed aside when it’s time to win elections and govern.
In thinking of reasons I can offer readers for contributing to the continued existence of the Washington Monthly and Political Animal, it’s occurred to me that we have the handicap of reasonable old-fashioned journalism. We aren’t aligned with some fiery faction of torch-bearing ideologues. We don’t feature an abrasive media celebrity or obnoxious ax-grinding reporter. We aren’t very good at cynical efforts to attract readers via techno-tricks or verbal manipulation, and for that matter, we’re not too good at cynicism. We’re kinda like the ex-leper whose healing has damaged his begging career in Monty Python’s Life of Brian:
In any event, if you can overlook our lack of dramatics and see what we contribute to your understanding of current events every day in the blog and in every issues of the magazine, please make a tax-deductible contribution today, for however many drachmas you can afford.
Last week, when I was more than a bit distracted, a big brouhaha broke out over a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Jon Cowen and Jim Kessler of the Third Way organization. These gents penned an intemperately worded attack on Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio, and “economic populism” generally, while advancing deficit-hawky rhetoric about the need for “entitlement reform.”
As a veteran myself of centrist/populist battles over the years, I’m reasonably sure the Cowen-Kessler piece was intended as a provocation to a fight the authors very much wanted to have. Warren and de Blasio aren’t calling for any sort of intra-Democratic Party purge, and both are operating entirely within the zone of acceptable progressive opinion.
The op-ed’s wholesale condemnation of populism, and belligerence towards the New Deal programs—expressed, moreover, in the chief organ of finance capital—was sure to draw blood and then fire, which is exactly what happened.
But I would hope that progressives who are beating up on Third Way as the embodiment of Democratic “centrism” think twice. A better representation of the tone among genuine centrists is a brief symposium published yesterday by the Brookings Institution on what five wonks (Thomas Mann, Bill Galston, Elaine Kamarck, Molly Jackman and Michael O’Hanlon) typically associated with Democratic “moderates” thought should be in the impending budget deal. You don’t have to agree with all their suggestions—I certainly don’t—to acknowledge their tone of civil discussion rather than civil war.
So next time you read any “centrist” broadside or manifesto that seeks to foment a highly public battle over the direction of the Democratic Party, consider the motives of the authors and don’t cooperate in making them the exclusive spokespeople for large tendencies in progressive thinking, when all they may represent is an aching hunger for attention and new donors.
One of my main themes since joining PA has been to point out the extent to which contemporary Republican divisions typically reflect arguments over strategy and tactics, even as the GOP is increasingly harnessed to a radically conservative set of basic principles and goals.
Today’s gabbing over the Murray/Ryan budget deal offers some pretty rich documentation of my hypothesis, as conservative opponents scream that the GOP has again “caved” by “funding Obamacare” (anything that doesn’t “defund” it is “funding” it, you see), while proponents counter that getting fiscal issues out of the way will enable Republicans to spend each and every moment between now and November 2014 shrieking about Obamacare.
Some “civil war.”
As has been expected since the weekend, Patty Murray and Paul Ryan have come up with a budget deal that bipartisan congressional leaders (and the White House) will now try to rush through Congress before it adjourns for the year.
It’s an actual deal that is designed to run for two fiscal years, not just another stopgap measure. It easily meets the deadline set out in the agreement that ended the recent government shutdown, and presumably will also make the next debt limit increase a bit easier to secure. That’s good not only for those who like their politics and governing lukewarm, but probably good also for the economy as a whole.
Relief from the appropriations sequester established in 2011 is the main beneficiary of the deal, with $45 billion in restored spending authorized for FY 2014 and $20 billion for FY 2015 (both divided evenly between defense and non-defense accounts). The non-defense restoration represents about two-thirds of the planned sequester, so it’s not peanuts.
Another $20 billion is burned up at the altar of the decaying Beltway idol of deficit reduction. And the total of $85 billion in “savings” in the deal comes mainly from significantly higher pension contributions by new federal employees and new fees on commercial air travel.
What’s excluded from the deal is pretty remarkable given past budget negotiations. All the “grand bargain” stuff—higher taxes on the wealthy, “reforms” to entitlements—was left out entirely. There were no symbolic nicks to Obamacare funding, best I can tell. And the deal left in place Medicare provider cuts that both health care lobbyists and many Republicans were screaming about.
Most importantly, the deal left out an extension of unemployment (UI) benefits for the million or so people who will run out of benefits—and out of luck—at year’s end. Individual pain aside, that will greatly undermine if not completely cancel the stimulative effect of the deal. It will also represent something of an official surrender by the federal government on unemployment, since the long-term unemployed are increasingly who we are talking about (short-term unemployment is now lower than it was in 2007).
The cost of another year of extended UI was estimated at about $25 billion—not much more than the symbolic money thrown at deficit reduction in the deal. That will bug a lot of congressional Democrats, as it should.
Still, the main political risk to the deal’s implementation comes from House Republicans. Heritage Action has already come out against it. RedState’s Erick Erickson is already denouncing it as another sell-out. Shrieking from the Right will increase each hour today.
If I were a congressional Democrat under orders to vote for this deal, I tell you what: I’d make sure to get as many of my colleagues as possible together on a public pledge to make measures aimed at reducing long-term unemployment my top priority in 2014, whether it’s via restoring benefits in a free-standing bill, or an intensive job placement assistance program, or direct federal hiring. The one thing we know for sure about long-term unemployment is that it tends to be self-perpetuating and socially corrosive, so there is no time to waste. Yes, Republicans will fight almost any relief effort, but they should at least be forced to go on record labeling one million of their fellow citizens as permanently disposable.
On this day in 1941, Germany declared war on the United States. This ended the period of British isolation on the Western Front memorialized by a song from The Kinks, “Mr. Churchill Says.”
Just realized that pretty soon (December 28, to be exact), I’ll be coming up on the second anniversary of my first PA post (a substitute gig for Steven Benen, and also a bit of an audition, since Steve was pretty close to finalizing his gig with MSNBC at that time). I was more than a bit intimidated by Steve’s prodigious daily post quota. And now it’s kinda second nature. I can’t say I’m always fascinated by each day’s political news; there are days when you feel like just reposting stuff from the day before because it’s all Kabuki. But you know what? I’m much better informed than I’ve ever been (even in those days when I pretty much thought I knew it all), and you can be too as a regular PA reader. But whether you dive in or dabble with PA, please consider making a small tax-deductible donation to keep the wheels turning. You’d be subsidizing my continuing education, and perhaps your own and that of a slice of the citizenry.
Here are some remains of this day:
* Profiles in political relativity: Steve Stockman calls John Cornyn a “liberal.”
* Murray and Ryan reported to be very close to a budget deal, probably pretty close to an even split between House and Senate appropriations numbers (but also probably with no provisions for continued UI extension).
* John McCain raises Munich analogizing to new level, comparing Obama’s handshake with Raul Castro to Chamberlain’s handshake with Hitler.
* At Ten Miles Square, Rachel Cohen explains the various proposals to cut back on SNAP eligibility.
* At College Square, Dan Luzer notes MOOC participants mostly people with degrees, not undergrads whose loss from traditional courses is a deadly threat to faculty.
And in non-political news:
* Michael Jordan’s 56,000 square foot Highland Park mansion could be yours for as little as $13 million at auction. It includes, of course, a NBA-regulation size hoops court.
That’s it for the day. Here’s one more shot of Otis, with the much-covered “Hard to Handle.”
If you wonder how and why political people cherry-pick public opinion surveys to reinforce their “narratives” of what’s actually happening, there’s an excellent example today.
The GOP line is that Obama is sinking into irretrievable Bush-second-term-land, his credibility being fatally eroded by Obamacare’s problems. Handily for this point of view, Quinnipiac’s got a new survey out showing the president’s job approval rating sagging to an all-time low (38/57), worse even that last month’s all-time low of 39/54.
The Democratic line is that with HealthCare.gov’s performance slowly improving and attention refocusing on other issues, the November slough for the president is over. And sure enough, a new Pew survey has his approval ratio back up to 45/49 (after bottoming out at 41/53 last month), pretty much where it was before all the HealthCare.gov brouhaha.
The two polls were taken at the same time with roughly equal samples, though Quinnipiac’s was limited to registered voters while Pew polled “adults.” Q-Pac has in the recent past been generally on the low end of measurements of Obama’s approval ratings, for whatever that’s worth.
So: pick your poll and pick your narrative, or better yet, wait until a lot more evidence is in.
Via Greg Sargent, we learn today that Iowa could soon join the ranks of states agreeing to expand Medicaid coverage in exchange for a waiver from HHS allow it to do things not normally permissible under Medicaid:
I’m told that the Department of Health and Human Services has just notified Iowa that it is prepared to grant the state a waiver to pursue much of what it has asked for in response to its request for HHS approval to expand Medicaid-funded coverage to low income Iowans on the state’s own terms. “Iowa has proposed a lot of innovative ideas around the Medicaid expansion, and we’re really pleased to approve the waiver today,” an HHS official tells me.
This could make it more likely Iowa takes federal money to expand coverage — which could impact as many as 150,000 people — and that, in turn, could also signal that other states similarly looking to expand Medicaid in their own way could have an easier time doing that. This is a way out for Republican governors who are hostile to the law, but under internal pressure to accommodate the Medicaid expansion, since it means bucket-loads of federal money to cover their own constituents.
That’s all true, but progressives pleased with the news that states are gradually getting with the program should pause at least a moment to wonder if the waivers HHS is granting carry their own risks.
The one description I’ve found of Iowa’s “innovative” Medicaid “reforms” involves putting one group of beneficiaries though a “healthy choice” program, and another into the Obamacare exchanges where they will obtain private insurance. Perhaps these are good things, and perhaps the coverage expansion is worth whatever states do, but the big picture here is that some states are using ACA to secure total federal financing for a conservative overhaul of Medicaid (in Florida, the waiver Rick Scott had secured before the legislature killed his expansion proposal allowed him to privatize all of Medicaid, not just the portion affecting the new enrollees). It would be smart to keep an eye on these deals, which could have long-range implications for how health care is delivered for our neediest citizens. Lord knows Medicaid is far from a perfect program, but leaving it even more to the states’ tender mercies isn’t necessarily the solution.
It happened gradually, but Republicans associated with the fight against civil rights in the South have pretty much died off (which is very helpful to the revisionist effort to pretend that the GOP remains The Party of Civil Rights), though their doctrines have lived on. The death of Nelson Mandela, however, has revived some embarrassing memories for a later generation of conservatives who provided either active or passive support for the apartheid regime and/or said nasty things about Mandela.
It’s become a real problem for the Cheney family, as MoJo’s Tim Murphy points out today:
In a 1988 op-ed for her college newspaper, Liz Cheney, the daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney who is now running for the Republican Senate nomination in Wyoming (and kicking up a family feud and a GOP civil war), had a stern message for anti-apartheid activists campaigning for freedom in South Africa: “frankly, nobody’s listening.”
The Cheney family has a complicated history regarding South Africa and the effort to end the racist regime that ruled that nation for 46 years. When he was a congressman, Dick Cheney voted against imposing economic sanctions on South Africa’s apartheid government and opposed a resolution calling for Nelson Mandela to be released from prison, saying Mandela was a “terrorist”—a position Cheney defended as recently as 2000, when he ran for vice president. Liz Cheney, who is hoping to unseat three-term GOP Sen. Mike Enzi, has not spoken publicly on Mandela since his death last week. Her campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
In the 1980s, when Liz Cheney was attending Colorado College, a campus group called the Colorado College Community Against Apartheid led regular demonstrations to push the college to adopt a policy of divestment—a form of economic protest in which the college would agree not to invest in companies that had business interests in South Africa. Throughout the country in those years, students at universities and colleges were pushing administrations and boards to dump their investments in firms that engaged in commerce with South Africa, including such corporate powerhouses as IBM. The Colorado College group, as did protesters on other campuses, constructed a “shanty town” on the quad, and it organized an on-stage demonstration at the school’s 1987 graduation ceremony. That year’s commencement speaker: Liz Cheney’s mother, Lynne.
Murphy goes on to note that student journalist Liz Cheney went out of her way to oppose apartheid, and argued that what conservatives often called “economic engagement” with the South African regime could in the long run empower its black citizens. But still, she should probably clear the air by joining memorials to Mandela instead of maintaining what sure looks like an embarrassed silence.
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