Thursday, January 17, 2013

Me Before You

Please read Ann's "Jane Fonda needs to rethink Django" from last night if you haven't already. 

Ann said all that needed to be said.  And she wrote beautifully and from the heart.
 
Do you know Jojo Moyes?

I didn't until Me Before You.  That's her new book.  I really am loving this book.  I'm exactly at the half-way mark and trying to figure out if I should stay up and keep reading (like I want to) or go on to bed. :(

This is a great book.  It's about a woman Louisa leaving what is safe for her and going to work for a man who's part asshole and part Auntie Mame.  (His name is Will Traynor.)

It's really a lively book and I really do not want to -- Okay, I'm calling off tomorrow.  I'm staying up tonight and finishing the book and I'll just call in and say I'm using a personal day tomorrow.  I have not enjoyed a book of fiction this much in years.

Please make a point to pick it up if you haven't seen the book yet.


"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Wednesday, January 16, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, a contract Nouri signed worth billions gets cancelled, protests continue, Ibrahim al-Jaafari is said to be angling to be Iraq's next prime minister, Nouri's playing the odds himself, and more.
 
The failures just continue to pile up for Nouri al-Maliki.  Security issues, protests, failed deals you name it. 
 
The middle of the week finds Iraq slammed with violence.  Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) counts 55 dead and 288 injured.  KUNA reports "two booby-trapped cars in the northern cities of Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmato" leaving ten dead and over one hundred injured.  The Voice of Russia notes that the Kirkuk bombing was a suicide car bombing "outside the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party" -- the KDP is the political party of KRG President Massoud Barzani.  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports that police sources state 27 people have died in the Kirkuk bombing with another one hundred injured but health officials are saying the death toll is 50.  Mustafa Mahmoud (Reuters) quotes Police Brigadier Sarhat Qadir stating, "A suicide bomber driving a truck packed with explosives detonated the vehicles outside the KDP headquarters. It's a crowded area, dozens were killed and wounded."   BBC News offers this perspective:

The BBC's Rami Ruhayem in Baghdad says Wednesday's attack seems to send a political message.
Kirkuk is rich not just in oil, but in symbolic importance, and seen by Kurdish nationalists as a crucial part of any future Kurdish state, he says.
As always, the identity of the perpetrators remains unknown, and so too will any political aims behind the attack, leaving the doors wide open to speculation, our correspondent adds

In southern Kirkuk (Zab), Alsumaria notes, 1 police officer died attempting to defuse a bomb placed on the side of the road. On the Tuk Khourmatu bombing, The Voice of Russia notes a bombing "outside the branch of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan" -- the PUK is the political party of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.  Fars News Agency counts 2 dead and twenty injured in the Tuz Khurmato bombing.  Alsumaria states it targeted the Peshmerga and that 2 are dead and thirty more injured according to a source who was present when ambulances began arriving but before the police cordoned off the area. EFE adds that "three policemen died and their vehice was set ablaze in an attack by armed men in the Shaab neighborhood of Northeast Baghdad."  Dar Addustour reports a so-called 'honor' killing in Iraq.  A pregnant woman and her husband were murdered by two of the young women's brothers because the family did not agree ot the marriage.  According to what the brothers told police, the husband would not have been killed if he had 'stayed out of it,' that their plan was just to kill their sister.
 
AFP offers this possibility on today's violence, "No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Sunni militants often launch waves of violence in a bid to destabilise the government and push Iraq back towards the sectarian violence that blighted it from 2005 to 2008."  By contrat, Prensa Latina offers, "So far it is unclear whether the attacks are linked to the PKK's decision to open negotiations with the Turkish government, announced by the leader of that organization, Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned in Turkey."
 

In addition, Press TV reports, "Elsewhere, a series of bomb attacks in the cities of Baiji and Tikrit, north of the capital, left two people killed and six others injured.Alsumaria notes a Mosul roadside bombing left two Iraqi soldiers injured.  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports, "A mother and daughter were fatally shot when gunmen stormed their house in a Shiite neighborhood."   All Iraq News adds that a Baghdad bombing left five police officers injured.  The outlet also notes a Falluja roadside bombing targeted the funeral of Aifan al-Issawi left one person injured.  Al Jazeera explains, "Essawi's coffin, covered in an Iraqi flag, was transported atop a 4WD vehicle that was part of a massive convoy of dozens of vehicles." Adam Schreck (AP) reports, "A bomb went off as mourners gathered to mark al-Issawi's death, wounding three of them, authorities said."  From yesterday's snapshot:

Alsumaria also reports that Iraqiya MP Aifan al-Issawi was killed by a suicide bomber in Falluja.
A year ago, Aifan al-Issawi was describing the situation in Iraq to Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal, January 16, 2012) as, "We are preoccupied with how we can finish each other off."  Today he is dead.  Along with being an MP for Iraqiya, al-Issawi was also a tribal chief and one of the founding members of the Sahwa.  The Sahwa are Iraqis (largely Sunni -- but not just Sunni according to then-Gen David Petraeus' testimony to Congress in April 2008) who were paid to stop attacking the US military and their equipment.  April 8, 2008, Senator Barbara Boxer noted they were being paid $182 million a year by US tax payersAll Iraq News notes the attack took place today on 40th Street in central Falluja. Kamal Maama (Independent Online) adds, "Posing as a worker, the attacker hugged Efan al-Esawi before detonating an explosive vest to kill the politician, who once campaigned against al Qaeda after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, police and local officials said."  

Today Sam Dagher and Ali A. Nabhan (Wall St. Journal) report:

Mr. Issawi and other tribal leaders in Anbar rallied their followers starting in 2006 to join the U.S. campaign against al Qaeda that later became known as the Sahwa, or Awakening. Mr. Issawi's Albu-Issa clan had been among the Sunni tribes that welcomed and sheltered foreign jihadists who flocked to Iraq starting in 2003 to fight what was largely seen by Sunnis as an occupation by infidel Americans.
Sentiments shifted when many of the Iraqi tribesmen saw the fighters' brutal tactics firsthand. In interviews, Mr. Issawi had said his mother and several members of his extended family were killed in March 2007 when al Qaeda insurgents detonated a dump truck packed with explosives and chlorine gas canisters.
Men including Mr. Issawi received arms and cash from the U.S. military to join the battle against al Qaeda in Iraq. He forged ties with the Americans, eventually hosting U.S. military commanders and diplomats for poolside barbecues at his farm house near Fallujah. In one living room at the house, Mr. Issawi—who U.S. troops nicknamed "Dark" for his skin tone—exhibited accolades from the U.S. military and photographs showing him with U.S. officials, including a photo taken with then-President George W. Bush during his 2007 visit to Anbar.

The US Embassy in Baghdad issued the following statement:
 
The United States Embassy strongly condemns the murder of Iraqi parliamentarian Ifan Saadoun Al-Issawi and members of his security detail and the wounding of other Iraqis.  We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families and communities of the victims and wish a full and speedy recovery to those injured.
 
All Iraq News notes the Embassy faxed the statement to news outlets today. They also note that the Turkish Foreign Ministry faxed their statement today in which they condemn the attack.  And they note that the office of the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government issued a statement in which Massoud Barzani condemned the attack and and sees the attack as an attempt to sew distrust and sedition in Iraq.  Alsumaira adds that Sahwa leader Abu Risha is accusing Iran of beig behind the attack and states that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard carries out many acts of violence in Iraq already.

In other violence, AFP notes that Turkish war planes bombed over "50 PKK targets in northern Iraq" late Tuesday.  All Iraq News notes at least seven homes were destroyed in Tuesday's bombings.  Xinhua adds that Turkish war planes also bombed northern Iraq's Qandil mountains on Monday.  Bombings have continued today with AFP reporting, "Turkish jets have pounded Kurdish rebel hideouts in northern Iraq in the fiercest aerial campaign in years, military sources said Wednesday, the same day the bodies of three female Kurdish activists who were killed in Paris were due home."  The three women killed were Sakine Cansiz, Fidan Dogan and Leyla Soylemez.   Last Friday, the deaths were discussed on The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) by Diane's guest NBC News' Courtney Kube.  Excerpt.
 
 
Diane Rhem: Courtney, tell us about these Kurdish activists who were slain in Paris on Thursday.
 
Courtney Kube: Yeah, it wasn't -- at first -- a well publicized story and then it really started to break yesterday in the international media.  There were these three Kurdish exiles that were working in Paris.  They went --
 
Diane Rehm: Female.
 
Courtney Kube: Female.  All young women.  I was astonished, one of them was born in 1988.  I thought, "Wow, how young."  But they went missing the other night.  Their friends broke into their offices and they were found to have been executed.  In fact, the French Interior Minister showed up within hours and he said that they were summarily executed on the site.  So the problem with this is, you know, as in situations like this, there's all differenst sides and people blaming -- one side blaming the other.  The PKK is saying that they believe the Turkish government -- Turkish nationalist -- who were angry at recent talks between Turkey and the PKK who don't want the Kurds to have any additional power, autonomy or rights -- that they did this as a show to break down the talks.  The PKK is -- Or, I'm sorry, the Turkish government is saying that there's infighting between the PKK, that these people, they are the ones who are very militant who don't want talks.  I mean, whatever side ends up being correct, if one of the two, what is clear out of this is that the talks that have just began recently -- Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan just acknowledged them, that they've been speaking to this PKK leader who's been jailed in solitary confiencement for the last decade, that the Intelligence Ministry has been speaking to him to try and broker some sort of an end to the violence.  And those talks are in serious jeopardy over this incident.  

 
As the violence demonstrates, Nouri's not provided security.  Six years is an awful long time to fail at providing security.    In a big blow to Nouri's image, Dar Addustour reports that the Russian arms deal has been officially cancelled by the Russian government.


October 9th, with much fanfare, and wall-to-wall press coverage, Nouri signed a $4.2 billion dollar weapons deal with Russia.  He strutted and preened and was so proud of himself.  Yet shortly after taking his bows on the world stage and with Parliament and others raising objections, Nouri quickly announced the deal was off.  The scandal, however, refuses to go away. The Iraq Times stated Nouri was offering up his former spokesperson  Ali al-Dabbagh and others to protect the truly corrupt -- the truly corrupt -- according to members of Parliament -- including Nouri's son who got a nice little slice off the deal.  These charges came from Shi'ite MPs as well as Sunnis and Kurds.  Even the Shi'ite National Alliance has spoken out.  All Iraq News noted National Alliance member and one-time MP Wael Abdul Latif is calling for Nouri to quickly bring charges against those involved in the corruption.  (The arms deal is now treated by the Iraqi press as corrupt and not allegedly corrupt, FYI.)   Latif remains a major player in the National Alliance and the National Alliance has backed Nouri during his second term.  With his current hold on power reportedly tenous and having already lost the support of Moqtada al-Sadr, Nouri really can't afford to tick off the National Alliance as well.  Kitabat reported MP Maha al-Douri, of Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc in Parliament, is saying Nouri's on a list of officials bribed by Russia for the deal. As it became obvious that Nouri could sign a contract but not honor it (that is his pattern -- see especially the Erbil Agreement), the government of Russia apparently tired of being jerked around.


Protests continue in Iraq.  Ali Abel Sadah (Al-Monitor) examines the movement:
 
Protests among Iraq's Sunnis entered into their third week and have only increased in size. They also reached two important Sunni Mosques in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad for the first time. In response, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tried to mobilize his supporters to take to the streets, but these attempts were in vain.
[. . .]
In Baghdad, Sunnis were able to rally demonstrations in the neighborhoods of Adhamiya and Ghazaliya, which is where the two most important Sunni mosques, Abu Hanifa and Umm al-Qura, are located.
The Iraqi security forces erected checkpoints in the vicinity of the two neighborhoods trying to prevent more supporters of the demonstration from entering.
On the other hand, supporters of the Maliki-led Dawa Party came out to Liberation Square in central Baghdad, under the protection of private security forces, protesting "against the sectarianism being pushed by the Sunni opposition movements in the country." However the demonstration, which Al-Monitor correspondents attended, amounted to only a few dozen Maliki supporters.

 
 
Guillaume Decamme (AFP) reports on the ongoing protest in Samarra where thousands occupy the city square, "They sleep in tents surrounding a large platform from where speeches are delivered.  During the day, children wander around the square as Iraqi flags, including at least one flown during Saddam's rule, flutter in the wind."  The tribal bonds that the US government ignored in the invasion and occupation remain and Decamme reports that the tribes in the area are represented in the protests.  Decamme repeats the claim that "335 detainees" have recently been released while apparently forgetting that only 4 of that alleged number were women.  Iraqi media doesn't forget that.  Iraqi media is where that number surfaced.  Iraqi media also doesn't write of 'prisoners' and forget to include the allegations of rape and torture -- allegations supported by the Parliament -- of girls and women in Iraqi prisons and detention centers.   It's always interesting to watch a Western outlet for what they will include and what they will ignore. 

In October, allegations of torture and rape of women held in Iraqi prisons and detention centers began to make the rounds.  In November, the allegations became a bit more and a fistfight broke out in Parliament with an angry State of Law storming out.  By December, Members of Parliament on certain security committees were speaking publicly about the abuses.  Then Nouri declared that anyone talking about this topic was breaking the law. He continued on this tangent for weeks claiming this past week that he would strip MPs of their immunity.  (The Constitution doesn't allow for that.)  As 2012 ended, it was learned that at least four females were raped in a Baghdad prison.  Rami Ruhayem (BBC News) covers the prisons in Iraq:
 

Khairiya Abbas said her sons were held for three years without going to court. After "three years of electric shocks," she said, "one of them confessed to killing people who turned out to be alive".
Such stories have become common. Abu Muhammad is the father of two prisoners who have been held for more than a year. He said one of them confessed after being severely tortured with electric shocks and made to hang by his wrists with his hands tied behind his back.
"He signed his name on a blank paper. The crimes were taken off a computer, where they store information about unsolved crimes."


Also ignored by Decamme is that the released -- regardless of number -- were already set to be released: they'd either served their complete sentences or were never charged.  A press that calls that a 'concession' to the protesters isn't much of a press, in fact, they're pretty pathetic.  So is ignoring who gets arrested in Iraq.  Wael Grace (Al Mada) reports on that noting Parliament is considering passing a law barring the police from arresting family members of suspects.  That's one of the many reasons why Iraqi prisons and detention centers are so crowded -- though don't go looking for the Western press to ever cover this -- if Mohammed Saleh is the suspect and the police want him for questioning about a crime but can't find him, they will arrest, for example his wife and his mother and hold (torture) them in an attempt to find information about where he is.  Article IV, the law the protesters specifically cite over and over as bad for Iraq?  It's the law that currently allows for the arrest of people just for being related to someone -- not for committing a crime, just for being related.

Wael Grace quotes the Badr bloc's head MP Qassim al-Araji stating that the National Alliance favors cancelling Clause II of Article IV which would eliminate the right to arrest the father, son, mother and/or wife of a suspect. al-Araji also sits on Parliaments Defense and Security Committee.

The Western press has also done a horrible job reporting on the call for an amnesty law, the years Nouri has promised an amnesty law was coming and the fact that there's still no amnesty law.  There's an amnesty bill.  It's been read and discussed by Parliament for months now.  Until there's an amnesty law, there won't be any shot at fairness.

This is one of the issues Mushreq Abbas (Al-Monitor) explores  in his essay on the Iraqi 'justice' system:
 
Returning to the root of the term justice, Iraqi law was somewhat confused with how to deal with the legal definition which could solve this conceptual crisis. Even at present, Iraqis do not know whether using weapons against U.S. forces between 2003 and 2012 was a criminal offense or not. The American administration did not invest much effort in this matter because of the volatile nature and general lack of law and order which accompanied this troubled occupation.
As a result of such a legal negligence, it became easy to try those accused of violence against U.S. forces and treat them as criminals, and acquit other defendants facing the same charges and treat them as heroes.
It is no coincidence that Sunni leaders residing in Turkey and sentenced to death in absentia on charges of murder, such as Hashemi, have prompted the Iraqi government to declare Ankara's provision of sanctuary an international crime, whereas other persons with ties to the sectarian war, such as Abu Deraa, have resided in Tehran for years without causing any diplomatic strife with Iran.
Exploring this argument will not lead to a clear conclusion, for it was never intended to distinguish those who took part in the civil war from those who abstained. If this were the case, it would be difficult to find one Iraqi politician who had not participated in one form or another. Moreover, this categorization overlooks the victims of the civil war and of the violence in Iraq from different denominational backgrounds.


Nouri's State of Law has been the biggest obstacle preventing an amnesty law.  This falls on him.  Yet another failure in a career that's nothing but a string of failures.
 
Nouri's claimed a title, he claims the salary, he just isn't able to do the job.  But still he plots.  Ali Abedl Sadah (Al-Monitor) explains:
 
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been bending over backward to dissolve the Council of Representatives and hold early elections within 30 days, based on his vision for a solution to the current crisis gripping the country.
Apparently, Maliki will succeed in his quest, unless MPs renege on their decision to interrogate him. Yet, should Maliki be questioned, confidence could be withdrawn from his government. This is not to mention that the religious authority of Najaf opposes the decision to dissolve parliament.
It must be noted that according to Iraq's constitution, the prime minister is entitled to dissolve parliament with the approval of the president.
Iraqi Vice President Khudair Khuzaie, a prominent Shiite leader of the Dawa Party that defected from Maliki's party, will replace Jalal Talabani, who is in Germany for medical treatment, as per the constitution.
He's not the only one working behnd the scenes.  The Majalla reports on Ibrahim al-Jaafari's efforts:
 
 
According to a statement issued by his office, Al-Jaafari met with Shaways yesterday; they discussed the current political situation in Iraq. During the meeting, Al-Jaafari stressed the need for national unity and the need to address the outstanding issues between various political parties in the country. Media sources reported that Al-Jaafari proposed the idea of holding a national meeting, at his home and under his auspices, in order to bring together the Iraqi parties and attempt to find satisfactory solutions to the country's current political crisis. However, a number of key blocs, most notably the Iraqiya bloc and some Shi'ite parties, boycotted the meeting. This ultimately prevented Al-Jaafari from achieving all his aims, one of which allegedly is to put himself forward as an alternative to Al-Maliki, as some Iraqi political and media circles claim. However, a Kurdish leader stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that "Al-Jaafari will not be an acceptable alternative to Al-Maliki, because they are of the same mold."
The Kurdish source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat that Al-Jaafari "hopes to persuade the Kurdish leadership to accept him as an alternative to Al-Maliki, but these leaders previously experienced his rule during the years 2005–2006. They witnessed his negative stances towards the Kurds first and foremost, and likewise towards the Sunnis, and sectarian discord was prevalent during his reign. Thus it would be hard to accept him as an alternative to Al-Maliki."
 
Following the December 2005 parliamentary elections, al-Jaafari almost became prime miniter again.  The Parliament wanted it.  But the US government refused.  That's how puppet Nouri got to be prime minister in the first place. 
 
 
For months and months and years and years, the US governmen has refused to help the service members and contractors stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan who were exposed to burn pits.  Hugh Lessig (Daily Press) reports on the issue:
 
Hundreds of personnel say they have been sickened by toxic fumes and debris from these pits, and [Iraq and Afghanistan War veteran Jeff] Lamprecht is pretty sure he's one of them.
"There was particulate matter," he said. "There was invisible dust falling from the sky, and it was in our skin and in our water, and we're bathing in it. And then it's in our food. We brushed our teeth with it. We washed our hair with it. I mean, we lived in that filth."
 
The Veterans Administration notes:
 
On Jan. 10, 2013, President Obama signed a new law (218 KB, PDF) requiring VA to establish a burn pits registry for Veterans who may have been exposed to burn pits in Iraq or Afghanistan.
VA will announce how to sign up once the registry is available.
The new registry will enhance VA's ability to monitor the effects of exposure and keep Veterans informed about studies and treatments.
Additionally, VA is conducting studies on possible health effects.
 
 
This took a ot of work and lot of leadership in the Senate and the House.  Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and she supported the measure which easily passed the Senate.  US House Rep Jeff Miller is the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and he had issues with the measure and was considering blocking it and picking it up in the next Congress (which is sworn in next week).  That could be an iffy process, starting all over yet again.  With both Chairs showing leadership, veterans now benefit.  
 
Senator Mark Udall deserves special praise and his office issued the following:
 
 

"Today we celebrate the conclusion of our bipartisan effort to improve the health and well-being of our veterans," Udall said, "This is a victory for our men and women in uniform across the globe, and I am proud to say it was made possible by the strong advocacy of Master Sergeant Jessey and Maria Baca of New Mexico," Udall said. "Just as our veterans have answered the call of duty for our country, we have answered their call for better information and today brings us closer to insuring this special population receives the care and treatment they deserve."

Udall and Corker's Burn Pits Registry Act was included as part of a larger veterans package, S. 3202, the "Dignified Burial and Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2012," which passed the Senate and House in late December 2012.

The bill will create a registry similar to the Agent Orange and Gulf War registries to help patients, doctors and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) determine to what extent air pollution caused by open air burn pits has led to medical diseases among service members.

In 2011, Udall and Corker introduced S, 1798, the Burn Pits Registry Act, with cosponsors Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.).

All five members of New Mexico's congressional delegation also supported the measure in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Udall began work on this legislation after meeting MSgt Jessey Baca and his wife Maria of Albuquerque, who detailed Jessey's battle with cancer, chronic bronchiolitis, chemical induced asthma, brain lesions, TBI, PTSD and numerous other ailments believed to have been caused by exposure to burn pits in Iraq.

Earlier this year, Udall testified before a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on the legislation and mentioned the work of the Bacas, who had traveled from New Mexico to attend the hearing. Video of the Senator Udall testifying before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee is available
here and a photo of Udall with the Bacas here.

As early as 2002, U.S. military installations in Afghanistan and Iraq began to rely on open-air burn pits to dispose of waste materials. The U.S. Department of Defense and numerous contractors made frequent use of burn pits at a number of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Department of the Army, Department of the Air Force and the American Lung Association have confirmed the dangers posed by burn pits, and veterans and their families have reached out to Congress for action.

Creating a burn pits registry was supported by numerous groups, including Burn Pits 360, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Association of the U.S. Navy, Retired Enlisted Association, the Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees and the National Military Family Association.
Summary of the Open Burn Pits Registry:
  • Establish and maintain an open burn pit registry for those individuals who may have been exposed during their military service;
  • Include information in this registry that the Secretary of the VA determines applicable to possible health effects of this exposure;
  • Develop a public information campaign to inform individuals about the registry; and
  • Periodically notify members of the registry of significant developments associated with burn pit exposure.
 
Timeline of the Open Burn Pits Registry:
  • November 3, 2011: Udall, Corker & six co-sponsors introduce S. 1798, the Open Burn Pits Registry Act.
  • June 13, 2012: Udall testifies before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee in support of the Act.
  • September 12, 2012: The Act is included in a larger veterans package, S. 3340, the Mental Health Access to Continued Care and Enhancement of Support Services bill, which the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee passes unanimously.
  • December 19, 2012: The Act is included in an alternative veterans package, S. 3202, the "Dignified Burial and Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2012, which passes the full Senate unanimously.
  • December 30, 2012: The U.S. House of Representatives passes S. 3202 unanimously.
  • January 10, 2013: President Obama signs S. 3202, which includes the Open Burn Pits Registry Act language.
 
 
 
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