Monday, June 11, 2012

Beyond Wisconsin

 Stuff from my inbox about the Wisconsin Recall election last week.

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From the AFL-CIO:

Dear Michael,

A year and a half ago, Gov. Scott Walker and his friends in the Senate forced through an extremist anti-worker agenda that divided the state.

Li
Last night, Wisconsin took back its Senate. While Gov. Walker remains in office after being only the third governor in American history subjected to the humiliation of a recall, his divisive agenda has been stopped cold.

Though Walker was shielded with a flood of secret corporate cash, Wisconsin made its voice heard.
While we came closer to recalling Walker than many expected, we ended up coming just short.

The work we did together was about much more than just this one election.

We laid the groundwork for a powerful movement to push back against Walker-style anti-working family policies everywhere. The energy and momentum in Wisconsin have inspired working people from all walks of life to stand together in solidarity in unprecedented ways.

We cannot stop now.
Click here to sign our solidarity pledge to commit to building on the momentum working people created in Wisconsin and beyond to protect good jobs, working families and workplace rights.

Wisconsin is a small piece of a broader global movement of people pushing back on the corporate-driven policies that have favored the super-rich at the expense of good jobs, education and the health of our communities.

And we are winning. We’ve seen it in Tunisia, Yemen and other countries where the Arab Spring has taken hold; in Greece and France, where voters rejected the failed, Draconian policies of austerity; and here in the United States, where members of the Occupy movement continue to shine a much-needed light on Wall Street greed and ballooning economic inequality.

Working people are making history every day through their courage and resolve to work together for a better world. For you, it may have begun with Wisconsin, but it should not stop there.

Click here to sign our pledge of solidarity to say you will continue to stand with other working people to protect good jobs, working families and workplace rights.

Thank you for everything you have done and will continue to do for working families.

In Solidarity,

Richard Trumka
President, AFL-CIO

P.S. Want to be the first to hear about our exciting new campaigns planned for the summer?
Sign our solidarity pledge now so you can be one of the first to receive updates.

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From DFA

Michael -

Right-wing Gov. Scott Walker and Citizens United may have won last night -- but this was a step forward for progressives.

Walker outspent Democrat Tom Barrett by more than 7-to-1 -- and that doesn't take into account the tens of millions of dollars that Republican Super PACs poured into the state.

But despite the avalanche of spending, a people-powered movement kept us in the race -- and DFA members were a powerful part of that movement.

Members in Wisconsin knocked on over 140,000 doors and members across the country made over 200,000 calls in the final six weeks of this campaign. Thanks to that work, Democrats won back control of the State Senate last night.

I have never been more honored to work with you and I look forward to the fights we have ahead -- reelecting President Obama, sending Elizabeth Warren to the Senate, and taking back the House from John Boehner and his Tea Party majority.

As always, thank you for everything you do.

-Jim

Jim Dean, Chair
Democracy for America


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From Truthout


The World Watches Wisconsin: Tom Morello Gathers Messages of Solidarity

Tuesday, 05 June 2012 09:33 By Tom Morello, Truthout | Op-Ed 
 
Tom Morello played a concert in Madison, Wisconsin, on Friday in solidarity with the effort to recall Governor Walker. In advance of the concert, he solicited messages of solidarity from around the world and they came pouring in from Spain, Quebec, Chile, Greece, Tunisia and Egypt.
Here is a collection of the statements.

From Spain: 
From Madrid, we send our support and solidarity to the people of Madison on their fight, which is our fight too. We are part of a global non-violent movement that claims for a true, direct and participative democracy of people and for the people. Because we are the 99% we fight for a change in the system, since the current system does not represent us.
The ruler's mistakes, sponsored by the dictatorships of markets and financial systems, are provoking the destruction of the deepest roots of the Rule of Law. We will not allow more reforms to undermine the basic rights.
The same claim sounds all around the world, in different languages: "we don't gonna pay this crisis" in Spain, "Your time is up" in Wisconsin and it has the same meaning: the power belongs to the people. "Madison, we are with all of you. We are the 99%."
(From Toma Madrid, the communication group of the 15M.)

From Quebec:
The fight we are currently leading in Quebec is the same as the ones workers and students of Wisconsin and throughout the world are in.
We are only a small part of a global struggle against social and economic injustice.
We have to restart to think about concrete ways to ensure solidarity between our struggles.
Over the borders, over our own interests, over our differences, we can find a global link that unites us all.
We are eager to be free.
Free from domination, oppression and domination from the corporate elites.
We might only be writing the first lines of the story of a global fight, but one thing is for sure, we all know the end of that story.
In the end, our solidarity will beat their oppression!
Quand l'injustice devient loi, la résistance est un devoir!
Which means: When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes a duty!
(From the Quebec student organization ASSESolidarite, sent in by ASSESolidarite member Guillaume Lagault.)

From Chile: 
Un fuerte abrazo desde Chile a todos los estudiantes y trabajadores de Wisconsin. Hemos estado luchando durante más de un año, y contra todos los pronósticos, para mantener la bandera de la igualdad de derechos para todos y por un sistema de educación pública y gratuita. No permitan que un grupo de personas decidan por todos, sin hacerles ver las injusticias que ustedes demandan.
Mantengan la fuerza, deben seguir luchando por sus derechos!
A warm hug from Chile to all the students and workers from Wisconsin. We've been struggling for more than a year and against all the odds, to maintain the flag of equal rights for everyone and for a free public education system. Don't allow one group of people to decide for all, without letting them know the injustices that you're complaining for.
Keep up your strength, you all must fight for your rights!"
(From Giorgio Jackson, a Chilean student leader.)

From Greece:
From Greece and Europe to Wisconsin and the Midwest, bankers, politicians and the 1% club are trying to make the rest of us pay for their crisis. In the process, they are attacking salaries, pensions and basic labor and collective bargaining rights. It is time for all of us to say: Enough is enough! It is time for all of us to join the movement of resistance to social and economic injustice, a movement that has been spreading from Tahrir square to Madrid's Puerta del Sol; from Greece to Iceland; and from New York's Zuccotti Park to Madison, Wisconsin, and hundreds of other cities and towns around the country and the world. Stop the social barbarism they have in store for us, join the struggle!
(From Costas Panayotakis.)

From Tunisia: 
18 months ago, we defeated a 23 year long dictatorship, one of the worst in the world. The power had not heard the silence of the crowds which announced a global geopolitical earthquake that began in a small town, in a small country in North Africa.
Today, the World citizens growl and revolt and the power refuses to hear the bells tolling for him. Institutions that govern the world are inhabited by men; the decisions taken there are human choices. We can change them right away; it is our choice to live differently. The pains, injustice and misery of our world are not inevitable, but the choices we make.
It is for this reason that I reiterate the call of Tunisian revolution to the world.
It Is Time For action. We Must Stand Together Against the Same Forces That Oppress and Exploit Us Both - Us All. The World is Art Of Being One, instead of being Nothing. This is a call to action. This is a call for the freedom. For the outliers. For the forgotten. This is a call for intellectuals. A call for journalists. This is a call for free thinkers. A call for the intelligentsia. This is a call for poets. A call for the strong. And a call for the weak. This is a call to the youth. To the wise. To the clever.
Occupy the World, Occupy your mind, get back the power.
(From Kerim Bouzouita, a well known Tunisian musician, professor and cyberactivist.)

From Egypt: 
The truth of revolution is the ecstasy that never shows a way ... neither sends you away. It's a faith that its path would never let you lose hope ... neither it'll let you lose the confusion. And that's a faith that us, revolutionaries need, others don't. There's no march that is just another march. Keep rocking the chair. Some people might call us ignorant, radical or they might just wave us way wishing us to grow up. I say we actually are radical - a revolutionary never takes half-answers, that's what tells revolution and defeat apart. And we might be ignorant of what's behind the hill, but we just know that we hate that goddamn hill! With revolution, time and space become meaningless ... thus we never age. If these words of mine come across, then know ... the revolution is well.
(From Amor Eletrebi, a young organizer who spent weeks in Tahrir Square leading up to the ouster of Mubarak.)

*******************

From Truthout

The Silver Lining in Walker's Victory

Thursday, 07 June 2012 14:12 By Arun Gupta and Steve Horn, Truthout | News Analysis 
 
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker did not win the June 5 recall vote because a parade of Daddy Warbucks stuffed his suit full of six-figure checks. The Democratic challenger Tom Barrett did not lose because he raised a scant $4 million to Walker's $30 million war chest.

Walker won because he had a vision, however brutish, and he forged a rich-poor alliance that supports it. Barrett lost because he stood for nothing, because the Democrat Party shuns organized labor, because labor retreats from street politics even when they have the upper hand and because progressives confuse elections with movements.

In short, Walker's cakewalk is a microcosm of why American politics tilts further and further right year after year, and why the Democrats, progressives and unions have an endless capacity for self-inflicted wounds. As much as liberals whine "big money thwarts people power" and the Obama campaign dismisses the loss as due to local conditions, the election portends deep trouble for a president and party facing an energized right in November's election.

The recall is also a study in the paths not taken for the Wisconsin Uprising and why the Democratic Party is the graveyard of social movements. There was an expression among activists in Wisconsin that went, "One year longer, one year stronger" a year after the beginning of the "Uprising." But the reality is that, one year longer, the left as an organizing force is, in actuality, "one year weaker."
Mike McCabe, director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in state politics, argued the secret behind Walker and decades of Republican success nationwide is "a rich-poor alliance of affluent suburbs and poor rural counties." In the recall, Walker dominated country and suburb alike. McCabe said in 2010, "Walker carried the 10 poorest counties in the state by a 13 percent margin," which used to be reliably Democratic. He said, "Republicans use powerful economic wedge issues to great impact. They go into rural counties and say, do you have pensions? 'No.' Well, you're paying for theirs, referring to public sector workers. Do you have healthcare? 'No.' Well, you're paying for theirs? Do you get wage increases? 'No.' Well, you're paying for theirs."

The scenario was far different 50 years explained McCabe, "The Democrats were identified with programs like Social Security, the G.I. Bill and rural electrification. People could see tangible benefits. Today they ask, 'Is government working for us?' And often their answer is no. They see government as crooked and corrupt. They figure if the government is not working for us, let's keep it as small as possible."

Into this story of Reagan Democrats - working-class white Democrats who shifted to the right years ago - entered the Wisconsin Uprising. In February 2011, thousands of university teaching assistants and striking public school teachers in Madison sparked an occupation of the Capitol after Walker unveiled plans to strip public-sector workers of collective bargaining rights and hack billions of dollars from public schools, higher education, health care, poverty and children's programs. The takeover of the state building foreshadowed the Occupy movement, while the six weeks of nonstop protests by tens of thousands were "the biggest sustained mass rally for workers since the 1930s," according to Matt Rothschild, editor of the Madison-based Progressive Magazine.

Charity Schmidt, a Ph.D. student in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-president of the Teaching Assistants' Association, explained the uprising broke new ground "because it moved beyond the interests of organized labor to address health care for all, voting rights, education funding and accessibility, housing rights, immigration rights and so on."

The UW-Madison teaching assistants got the ball rolling, explained Schmidt in "It Started in Wisconsin," edited by Mari Jo Buhle and Paul Buhle. After Walker introduced his "budget repair bill," on February 10, 2011, teaching assistants conducted a Valentine's Day's action in the Capitol and coordinated with labor groups organizing a door-knocking campaign in Republican Senate districts around Madison to demand public hearings on the bill. Rothschild said the next day, February 15, Madison public school teachers "held an all-membership emergency meeting. They all took a democratic vote to say we're going to go out on an illegal strike for the next four school days." The same night, teaching assistants and students came prepared to sleep over at the Capitol so as to provide a continuous supply of voices to testify against Walker's bill in legislative hearings. An attempt to squelch testimony backfired and the weeks-long occupation of the Capitol building began.
Just like the Occupy movement months later, the Wisconsin Uprising crackled with life. Rothschild said, "I would look out my window three blocks from the Capitol and see people stream up the street every day for a protest." There wasn't just outrage and anger, he noted, "There was jubilation, there was creativity; there was cleverness; there was fun. But there were also hard-edged slogans like, 'How do you solve the budget crisis? Tax, tax, tax the rich.'"

It was also historic. Rothschild said, "Every sector of public workers was there. You had private sector unions like electricians, carpenters, machinists, teamsters. I've never seen anything like that. I'd read about it in history books and Howard Zinn's works, but I've never seen real solidarity be a living, breathing thing instead of a hackneyed cliché at the end of a union meeting."

The Wisconsin Uprising fired the imagination of liberals and leftists in Wisconsin and across the country because it was a mass, democratic uprising. Labor was taking radical action in defiance of all the powers arrayed against them. The occupation maintained the cause in the public spotlight for weeks. The crowds grew from thousands to tens of thousands. The air rippled with talk of a general strike.

That seemed the next logical step, à la the Egyptian revolutionaries who had just ousted Hosni Mubarak, but few thought Madison could pull a mass walkout. Allen Ruff, a former lecturer in US history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said talk of a general strike was pie in the sky, but added, "If one trade union leader had followed the lead of the teachers and called for solidarity strikes or to stay out, even short of a general strike, then the political and social terrain would have been far different."

Rothschild contended other radical alternatives were possible. "There could have been a rolling blue flu epidemic in which workers in one occupation after another call in sick. There could have been work to rule, just doing the bare minimum that the contract requires. But none of this."
Schmidt listed factors why a general strike was premature ranging from "the lack of infrastructure to make sure children are cared for and families have money for groceries and bills" to the need for "rank-and-file democracy" and "strong networks of support with community groups" to an "overdependence on representative democracy and the courts to solve our problems." But ambivalence crept into her assessment. Observing that the main labor federation in the Madison area "endorsed taking steps to prepare for a general strike," Schmidt said, "It is a mystery to me why the movement did not go into a general strike and instead went into a recall."

Ruff pinned the blame on labor leaders who have become "too accustomed to business unionism and politics as usual and too fearful of penalties that would have resulted from a mass action." Ruff suggested psychology played a role, too: "There was a general deference among the masses of people present in the Capitol to established norms and authority like the Democrats, to trade union leaders, to the police."

Rothschild added that local labor leaders "did not understand the power that was present in those huge numbers. I think they were not only surprised by, they were scared by that magnitude of a protest they couldn't control and maybe go in a direction they wouldn't want. They didn't have a strategic plan for this uprising."

Even as the uprising was blooming, it was being co-opted and demobilized. A telling moment for Schmidt came early on when "The message of collective bargaining and the middle class became dominant." She said that the language in the Capitol consciously included all segments of society - the poor, elderly, immigrants and children. "The talk about the middle class fueled a division.
Obama and the national Democratic Party, meanwhile, shunned the uprising because it threatened their corporate benefactors, not just the right's. Rothschild said in February and March of 2011, "We thought we're fighting alone while the snow is falling and our ears are getting cold and red. Where is this president who said he would get his marching shoes on when labor rights were under attack?" In fact, Obama vowed in 2007, "If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I'm in the White House ... I'll walk on that picket line with you."
Ruff said state-level Democrats actively demobilized the uprising. "One got up in the middle of the Rotunda when there were a few thousand people present and asked them to walk out to show we are willing to compromise and around 1,200 people left the Capitol with him. At the last big rally in March, with more than 200,000 people present, Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, said 'I don't want to see you people back here. Go back to your home communities and work on the recall.'"

Rothschild ticked off reasons why demobilizing the protests for elections was a mistake. He said, "It diffused the energy of people emotionally. It geographically diffused people. It fed the misconception that there are no routes for exercising power other than the electoral arena, that there is no workplace strategy you can do, there is no street strategy that you can use. Finally, elections feed the illusion that the only option is working through the Democratic Party."

Labor and the Democrats have little to show for three rounds of elections since the uprising began. Republicans snagged a critical state Supreme Court post in April 2011. That August, the GOP clung to a razor-thin majority in the state Senate by holding four of six seats up for recall. Having pummeled the Democrats again by a 53-46 percent margin, Walker and the right are riding high. The only bright spot for Democrats is they captured one of four state Senate seats, giving them a 17-16 majority. But no legislative session is expected before January 2013 after regular elections for half the Senate, so the Democrats may lose their majority before they ever exercise it.

The sad fact is Walker should have been history. State prosecutors investigating political corruption have been circling the waters around him for two years and have picked off three of his former aides, an appointee and a major campaign contributor on criminal charges, stoking speculation that Walker is the big catch. In November 2011, as the recall kicked off with signature gathering, Walker was floundering with a 58 percent disapproval rating. And in addition to igniting the uprising, he pissed off most women in Wisconsin after bashing teachers and nurses, pay equity, sex education, abortion rights and social programs. But he glided to victory over a sputtering Democrat who did not offer voters a compelling route out of the economic chaos.

We got an inkling of how disconnected Democrats and labor are from genuine politics days before the recall. We slipped onto a conference call organized by We Are Wisconsin, a liberal coalition that channeled millions of dollars into Barrett's campaign and coordinated the Democratic get out the vote effort. First up for discussion among the dozen representatives of liberal groups and unions was debunking a Marquette University Law School Poll that showed Walker with a comfortable seven-point lead. The analysis went like this: "It is partisan. The data set was skewed. It is an outlier compared to other polls. The news and numbers are trending Barrett's way."

Except Marquette hit the bull's eye - Walker notched a 6.8 percent margin. Plus, other pre-election surveys came to the same conclusion. Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Poll, told us that of 18 surveys conducted in the gubernatorial race since April, "Walker led in 17 in those and one was a tie."

The verdict was already in, but the veteran organizers on the conference call were convinced against reality that victory was in their grasp. The rest of the discussion burbled with talk of volunteers, early voting patterns, door knocking, mailings, "making three passes" at 535,000 phone numbers, analytics, television ad buys, voter suppression. It was all tactics. The sole mention of politics was a quick rundown of the issues in the Democrats' ad campaign: the corruption cloud hanging over Walker, cuts to education and the "war on women." There was no conversation about labor rights, Walker's attack on democracy or the strangling of social welfare - the issues that catalyzed the uprising.

Whereas the recall began as a democratic, populist revolt, by the end, the politics were dictated by consultants, pollsters and advertising campaigns. Rather than spending the last 16 months organizing workers and the unemployed, building community groups, educating the rank and file on radical social history, democratizing union decision making, going door to door relentlessly and patiently explaining how unions can increase everyone's wages and benefits, all the energy was spent on futile campaigns for Democrats who support austerity-lite policies.

Perhaps it is expecting too much of labor to act in the interest of all workers - as capitalists tend to act in the interest of all the rich. Robert Fitch, author of "Solidarity for Sale," described unions as "fiefdoms" that are afflicted by "corruption and stagnation." In a 2006 interview, Fitch said, "Essentially, the American labor movement consists of 20,000 semi-autonomous local unions. Like feudal vassals, local leaders get their exclusive jurisdiction from a higher level organization and pass on a share of their dues. The ordinary members are like the serfs who pay compulsory dues and come with the territory. The union bosses control jobs - staff jobs or hiring hall jobs - the coin of the political realm. Those who get the jobs - the clients - give back their unconditional loyalty. The politics of loyalty produces, systematically, poles of corruption and apathy. The privileged minority who turn the union into their personal business. And the vast majority who ignore the union as none of their business."

Rothschild echoed this view, "A lot of labor unions have become sclerotic. The day-to-day functioning of the union has been with a small group of people." That began to change during the uprising, he said. Workers would say, "I've been a union member for 10 or 15 years but I've never really been involved in my union." Since Walker effectively eliminated collective bargaining and cut workers pay by forcing higher pension and medical costs on to them, many public-sector unions in Wisconsin have lost half their members or more. The loss of collective bargaining is a huge blow, but it does provide labor with a well-traveled if hard path out of the mess. Rothschild said some stewards and local labor heads recognize "they have to involve their members in the day-to-day functioning of the union. If unions are to succeed in this next generation, they need to be able to talk to their members and organize at the base, rather than just run an office."

Charity Schmidt said, in her opinion, "Unions must rebuild internal democracy and establish connections with wider movements for economic and social justice." She added that, at a tactical level, labor should "maintain a program of direct action from interrupting legislative hearings and votes to sit-ins on campuses and in Capitols to protesting banks and chambers of commerce to occupying our public spaces and homes under foreclosure."

But the immediate task is dealing with the fallout of the triumphant right. Rothschild said Walker's win has many negative ramifications. "It will be psychologically devastating to tens of thousands of people in Wisconsin and materially devastating to people who've already seen a 10 percent cut in their pay and no longer have collective bargaining in any real sense." In terms of policy, Rothschild said, "Every item on the progressive agenda is at risk: the environment, the social safety net, public education." Nationally, Walker's victory "will hurt Obama's chances in Wisconsin and maybe nationwide. And the message to every Republican governor and legislature is you can put your boot on the throat of labor and get away with it." Finally, Walker's cakewalk indicates how the right is energized, which will demoralize liberals and labor going into the presidential contest.

This is the pickle Obama is in. Mitt Romney and the right will have a king's ransom in advertising dollars to promote their vision of Biblical fanaticism, 19th century Social Darwinism and high-tech surveillance and repression. It's a bleak future, but the Democrats have nothing to offer than, "me too!" and Obama has little progress to point to. He came into office hyping a New, New Deal, but punted on the home foreclosure crisis even when the banks were on their knees, rubber-stamped a woefully inadequate economic stimulus and bungled health care reform.

Going into the election, the right's strategy is to portray Obama as a failed overreaching liberal - which is working - but the lesson is Obama did far too little. Take the auto bailout, which while deeply flawed, saved an estimated 1.5 million jobs. Many of those jobs are in Ohio and Michigan, two swing states where Obama is polling better than expected. So where the Democrats can point to policies that benefit people, they are more likely to notch wins in November. But it may be too little too late with a pumped-up right facing off against dispirited liberals and inept unions.

Referring to Walker, but possibly foreshadowing a Romney victory in November, Charity Schmidt sees a silver lining. "There are two possible effects. One is people feel utterly defeated and just drop out of the movement. Or the other effect is people realize the change they want to see is not going to happen through electoral politics. Our power is through collective action, our power to withhold our labor, our power to interrupt their work."

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From NationofChange

"Walker Wins Wisconsin Recall Election: Flooded With Outside Spending"
Paul Abowd
Iwatch News
June 6, 2012

With a 7-to-1 fundraising advantage and record turnout, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker defeated a union-led recall challenge by Democratic Mayor of Milwaukee Tom Barrett.

The Wisconsin vote captured national attention, and a flood of out-of-state money. Of the $63.5 million dollars spent, $45 million came from Walker’s campaign and supporters, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The record spending total was made possible thanks to the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision — which had the effect of invalidating Wisconsin’s century-old ban on independent expenditures by corporations and unions — and a state law that allowed unlimited contributions to the incumbent in recall elections.

Eager to repudiate Walker’s restrictions on collective bargaining for public employees, national unions focused money and manpower on the state, but struggled to keep up with the governor’s fundraising machine.


 The nation’s three largest public sector unions sent at least $2 million to two outside spending groups — We are Wisconsin and Greater Wisconsin — which fought for airtime with the Republican Governors Association and the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

In the weekend before the vote, Greater Wisconsin spent $68,000 for online ads opposing Walker, and $30,000 more for a last-minute TV blitz. The Republican Governors Association spent more, dropping $475,000 on TV ads and $50,000 on Facebook ads opposing Barrett, and $94,000 on robocalls supporting Walker.

Barrett supporters looked to close the fundraising gap by deploying a vast network of union-funded field offices. We are Wisconsin hired campaign staff for an extensive get-out-the-vote campaign. The group reported through its Twitter account that its 50,000 volunteers would “knock on 1.4 million doors & make 1.5 million calls” by the time polls closed.

The effort appeared to work in Madison — a Barrett stronghold. The city clerk projected that turnout was on pace to surpass 100 percent in the city — signaling an influx of new voters registering at the polls. In Barrett’s Milwaukee, poll workers reported running out of voter registration forms.
The state’s Government Accountability Board predicted between that 60 and 65 percent of Wisconsin’s 4.4 million eligible voters would cast ballots, which would set a nationwide record for a gubernatorial election.


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