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November 7, 2008

Tracking America's Shifting Political Coalitions

(Photo by Robin Holland)

This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with economic and political critic Kevin Phillips about the results of the 2008 elections and what they tell us about the future of American politics.

Phillips, whose 1969 book THE EMERGING REPUBLICAN MAJORITY [PDF link] correctly predicted an era of dominance for the GOP, said:

"I think the Democrats are going to have enormous problems over the next four years [with] a coalition in which they represent new emerging demographic groups [like minorities and the under-30 vote] but also, based on contributions and political geography, represent the financial community now -- the upper-income groups. And how they straddle this, which is something they've never had to straddle before, especially in difficult times, I think will strain the demographics."

Pointing to the success of California's Proposition 8, which found strong support from minority groups in its bid to ban gay marriage, Phillips suggested that the victorious Democratic coalition might fracture in years to come:

"I think that only supports the division between the ordinary people and the financial elites, the fact that blacks and hispanics on some cultural issues are a lot more conservative than the suburbanites in Fairfield Country, Connecticut or Morris County, New Jersey... I can conceive that they would be more open to some of the black conservatives and Republicans who say 'you can't trust those people.'"

What do you think?

  • Will the Democrats' electoral coalition prove durable over the next several election cycles?
  • Over the next few decades, do you expect Democratic and Republican party platforms to change significantly from those of today?


  • October 31, 2008

    Bill Moyers Asks: Has Either Candidate Addressed The World As It Is?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on THE JOURNAL, Bill Moyers asked media expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson and scholar Glenn Loury if either candidate has “addressed the world as it is.”

    Loury said:

    “Well, I don’t know that the world as it is can be addressed in a political campaign. Isn’t there something about the very nature of this marketing and persuasion enterprise which is the selling of a candidate that obviates dealing with the world as it really is? ... We draw lines and boundaries about what is legitimate and illegitimate to be said, and then we conduct our political conversations mindful of those boundaries. And oftentimes profoundly important, substantive matters get left by the wayside.”

    Jamieson said:

    “The problem with the way we’re campaigning is it doesn’t forecast governance, and it means that people have been promised many things that can’t probably realistically be delivered on in current circumstances... And then when [the President] governing doesn’t keep those promises, people feel betrayed. If he keeps those promises, he’s irresponsible. That’s a pretty bad double bind created by poor campaigning.”

    What do you think?

  • Has either candidate addressed the world as it is?
  • Can candidates tell hard truths and still win?


  • October 10, 2008

    Partisanship, Dirty Politics, and the Truth

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Conversing with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, media expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson suggested that misleading political attacks can undermine the quality of our discourse by emphasizing talking points and exaggerated rhetoric over facts and truth.


    “You hope that the partisan audience has enough exposure to places that give you both sides so they're able to hear the other side and are able to hear credible sources and accept... when their side is wrong and when the other side is wrong. It's easy to hear those times in which the other side is wrong. It's much harder to be in places to hear that your side is wrong. First, because increasingly we're not going to those kinds of places, but it's also difficult because of the way we hunker down in our own ideology for us to hear when our own side is actually not telling us the truth.”

    What do you think?

  • Is the campaign you're supporting mostly telling the truth? What about those campaigns you oppose?
  • How do you feel about instances when campaigns you've supported have stretched the truth? Do the ends justify the means?


  • October 3, 2008

    Bailout Blues?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, scholar Emma Coleman Jordan talked about the economic crisis and the controversial government bailout legislation. When Bill Moyers asked who stands to lose in the economic rescue package, she replied:

    “The middle class is getting the short end of the stick, and those who are in that bottom quintile, the bottom 20 percent, who are not getting basic needs met and are struggling to get by everyday.”

    As the McClatchy Washington Bureau reports, many citizens and elected officials have been ambivalent about the bailout, troubled by some of the legislation's provisions but reluctant to stand in its way.

    "Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., summed up the feelings of many of his colleagues when he described the legislation as 'far from perfect' but acknowledged: 'The way I see it we don't have much choice.' ... Lobbyists from banks and giant corporations joined ordinary citizens throughout the week in urging House members to support the bill. Public opinion earlier ran strongly against the measure — widely perceived as a bailout for Wall Street — but sentiment shifted after the first House vote, when a stock-market plunge hammered millions of stock-backed 401(k) retirement plans."

    What do you think?

  • Do you support the bailout package that President Bush signed into law this afternoon? Why or why not?
  • Do you trust lawmakers to practice effective stewardship over the economy?
  • What actions do you suggest Americans take to try to prevent similar crises in the future?


  • October 1, 2008

    Register to Vote

    This is the last weekend to register to vote in many states.

    Are you registered? Do you know where to vote? A few non-partisan institutions are working hard to make sure every potential voter can navigate the voting laws of their state.

    866ourvote.com is a project of the non-partisan Election Protection coalition. Their Web site has a state by state guide to voting laws, as well as guides for specific communities such as college students or people who have recently lost their homes in the mortgage crisis. They also operate a hot-line for voters who show up at the polls to find their names removed from the voter list: 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

    Take a few minutes to go there now, familiarize yourself with your state's
    voting laws, and register. And, remind your friends and family of the upcoming deadlines.


    June 6, 2008

    POLL: Is It Possible To Run A Race-Neutral Campaign In America?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In this week’s JOURNAL, Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Ron Walters discussed how race has affected the presidential election process and the media’s coverage thereof.

    Jamieson said:

    “I heard a commentator say, when Senator Obama announced, that he’s running to be 'the first black president'... He’s running to be our president, the president of all of us. And to some extent to say that he’s running to be 'the first black president,' I knew what the commentator meant, but I thought that is problematic for that candidacy.”


    We invite you to discuss in the space below.


    May 2, 2008

    Kathleen Hall Jamieson Asks...

    [Photo by Robin Holland]

    This week on THE JOURNAL, political expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson returned to offer her perspective on 2008’s extraordinary campaign season. Conversing with Bill Moyers, Jamieson posed two questions.

    “Politicians from the beginning of political campaigning have tried to find all of the avenues that they could to identify with the people who largely are not going to be as well-off as they are. That's just the nature of the structure that produces political candidacies. Essentially, one has to make the assumption that candidates are capable of governing with an understanding of the circumstances of people who don't live the kind of lives they live... The question is, how do they find a way to understand the circumstances out there? And then how do they address it in a way that makes sense to the people who are actually experiencing those problems?”

    What do you think?


    April 25, 2008

    The Controversy Over Wright

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC) in Chicago and Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Il) pastor for more than 20 years, who’s been embroiled in controversy.

    “When something is taken like a sound bite for a political purpose and put constantly over and over again, looped in the face of the public, that's not a failure to communicate. Those who are doing that are communicating exactly what they wanna do, which is to paint me as some sort of fanatic or as the learned journalist from the New York Times called me, a "wackadoodle"... I think they wanted to communicate that I am unpatriotic, that I am un-American, that I am filled with hate speech, that I have a cult at Trinity United Church of Christ... To put an element of fear and hatred and to stir up the anxiety of Americans who still don't know the African-American tradition, know nothing about the prophetic theology of the African-American experience, who know nothing about the black church, who don't even know how we got a black church.”

    Some have argued that TUCC’s “Black Value System,” which emphasizes commitment to the “Black community” and “Black family” rather than to communities and families in general, prioritizes racial identity in an inherently racist way. Arguing that Wright himself might be a racist who holds racial animus against certain groups, commentators have pointed to his statement that “white folks’ greed runs a world in need” and to his accusation that the U.S. government “invented the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.” Furthermore, Wright’s association with Louis Farrakhan, whose history of anti-semitic and anti-white statements has been condemned, has brought further controversy.

    In contrast, some have come to the defense of Wright's rhetoric and his notion of “the prophetic theology of the African American experience” and black liberation theology. In today’s Dallas Morning News, Gerald Britt dismisses “attempts to delegitimize Dr. Wright and Trinity United Christian Church for its Afrocentric theological emphasis” and argues that the black church “has been admired for its powerful presence within the African-American community; its worship is envied for its emotional freedom.”

    What do you think?


    March 7, 2008

    How Responsible Are Candidates For The Views of Their Supporters?

    After Pastor John Hagee of CUFI endorsed John McCain for President, some groups offended by his views called on the Senator to repudiate the endorsement. In response, McCain said today:

    "We've had a dignified campaign, and I repudiate any comments that are made, including Pastor Hagee's, if they are anti-Catholic or offensive to Catholics."

    John McCain isn't the only candidate to run into trouble over controversial support.

    Barack Obama's campaign has repeatedly faced criticism about his Afrocentric church's connections with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, especially after the controversial minister publicly endorsed Obama. An Obama spokesman said:

    "Senator Obama has been clear in his objections to Minister Farrakhan's past pronouncements and has not solicited the minister's support."

    Continue reading "How Responsible Are Candidates For The Views of Their Supporters?" »


    February 29, 2008

    Election Ads, Narratives, and Political Discourse

    In her conversation with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, media expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson suggested that politicians' campaign ads and other media appearances are akin to puzzle pieces that together form a larger, albeit ambiguous, narrative of the candidates' lives, characters, and campaigns:

    "We elect a person, not a set of issues... The strength of an underlying biographical narrative is extraordinarily important. You can't underestimate its importance when you're attacked, as every candidate will be, with a counter story... One of the things that advertising is able to do is to make some things more important in your decision about who should be president. And so ads are always a contest about what is important as an issue and what is important as an attribute about the candidate... There's an element of emotion in all of this... And we shouldn't lose track of the fact that advertising doesn't exist in isolation. People are drawing material from news, from what they are talking with their friends about, from the front pages into advertising to create a composite message"

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree that Americans vote for candidates as people rather than for their "set of issues?"
  • Can sound bites and 30-second ads sufficiently inform citizens about the issues, the candidates, and/or the policy differences between them? If so, has this happened so far in the race to November?
  • How would you like to see candidates and issue groups use the media to elevate political discourse?


  • Are you a populist?

    In her conversation with Bill Moyers, Nell Painter talks about populism then and now — and how the image it suggests is more often than not, off the mark:


    It sounds as if people who are throwing "populism" around are throwing it around as a dirty word. And if it is a dirty word, they don't know what they're talking about. I think they think it's a dirty word, because it pits Americans against each other, as if we would all be hand in hand if it weren't for populist agitators....They're probably talking in very veiled terms about class issues. Class is the dirty little secret in the United States.

    WEBSTER'S DICTIONARY defines "populism" as "a member of a political party claiming to represent the common people."

    The COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW lambastes the term's use in campaign 2008 for its implied negative associations: "anti-capitalist and backward-looking," and vague positive attributes: "reformist, anti-elitist, and yes, anti-big business."


    Tell what you think about 21st century populism — and whether your consider yourself a populist.


    February 8, 2008

    Bill Moyers' Reading Recommendation

    Last week, Bill Moyers asked viewers what book, other than the Bible, they recommend the next President bring to the White House. In the clip below, he reviews many of your submissions and reveals his own pick for the future President-elect.

    Watch Video

    We invite you to continue sharing your thoughts on Moyers' and others' recommendations and submitting your own suggestions for Presidential reading.

    (Please note that due to your overwhelming response our "complete list" keeps growing and growing. We invite you to view our books feature, complete with slideshow of popular suggestions and video of authors, as well as, peruse all the suggestions on the blog.)

    Here are the current top titles.

    • Naomi Klein, THE SHOCK DOCTRINE

    • Howard Zinn, A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

    • Kim Michaels, THE ART OF NON-WAR

    • Jared Diamond, COLLAPSE

    • Chalmers Johnson, BLOWBACK triology

    • Tom Paine, COLLECTED WORKS/COMMON SENSE

    • Al Gore, ASSAULT ON REASON/AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH

    • David Cay Johnston, FREE LUNCH

    • George Orwell, 1984/ANIMAL FARM

    • Naomi Wolff, THE END OF AMERICA: LETTERS TO A YOUNG PATRIOT

    • Greg Mortenson, THREE CUPS OF TEA

    • Barbara Ehrenreich, NICKLE AND DIMED

    • Barbara Tuchman, MARCH OF FOLLY

    • Doris Kearns Goodwin, TEAM OF RIVALS

    • David Korten, THE GREAT TURNING

    • John Steinbeck, THE GRAPES OF WRATH

    • Ayn Rand, ATLAS SHRUGGED

    • John Dean, BROKEN GOVERNMENT

    • John Perkins, CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HITMAN

    • James Carroll, HOUSE OF WAR

    • Thomas Friedman, THE WORLD IS FLAT

    • Lao Tzu, TE TAO CHING

    • Tim Weiner, LEGACY OF ASHES

    • Dr. Seuss (THE LORAX, HORTON HEARS A WHO, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO, IF I RAN THE ZOO)


    Is Amnesty a Winning Strategy?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In his conversation with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, Hispanic evangelical Samuel Rodriguez argues that Republicans’ opposition to amnesty for illegal immigrants could undermine the GOP’s prospects for attracting Hispanic voters:

    “The Republican Party really had it going on. I mean, they really made significant inroads. 44 percent of Latinos voted for George W. Bush in the 2004 elections... All of a sudden, the Republican Party is hijacked de facto by the Sensenbrenners and Tancredos... There's an anti-Latino, a nativism, xenophobic spirit emerging out of the Republican Party. As a result of that, the Republican party will be hard pressed to engage anything close to 25 percent in the 2008 elections. And they may lose the Latino vote for two or three generations...

    [The Latino evangelical vote can be decisive] if the Republican Party nominates a candidate that addresses the issue of immigration reform, that really repudiates the xenophobic and nativist threat, and that apologizes... The question is whether or not McCain will continue to be committed to an immigration reform platform. I mean, there's an incredible amount of push back from the conservative voters in the Republican Party.”

    Polling from Rasmussen confirms Rodriguez’ assessment that many Americans oppose amnesty, but suggests that the “incredible amount of push back” might come from more than just conservative voters:

    “Fifty-six percent (56%) of American adults favor an enforcement-only approach to immigration reform. Only 29% are opposed. However, support falls sharply when 'a path to citizenship' for illegal aliens already in the United States is added to the mix. Just 42% support the more 'comprehensive' approach while 44% are opposed.”

    What do you think?

  • From where do you think opposition to amnesty for illegal immigrants is coming?
  • Should either or both parties campaign on an amnesty platform? Why or why not?
  • What are your thoughts on extending amnesty to illegal immigrants?


  • February 7, 2008

    Kathleen Hall Jamieson Answers Your Questions

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Last week, media expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson, accepted viewer questions regarding the road to November.

    Her response is as follows, and we invite you comment below:

    Continue reading "Kathleen Hall Jamieson Answers Your Questions" »


    February 1, 2008

    Power Reading

    On the CBS EVENING NEWS, Katie Couric asks candidates from both parties which book, other than the Bible, they would bring with them to the White House and posits:

    "It's true you can't judge a book by its cover, but you can tell a lot about a person by what he or she reads."

    Find out what the candidates said on the CBS NEWS Web site.

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree that you can tell a lot about a person from what he or she reads?
  • Were you surprised by what the candidates picked?
  • What one book do you want your next president to read?

    Greetings to all. This is Bill Moyers, and I want you to know I read every offering this evening. I wish that I could answer all of them because each one of you has made an interesting suggestion for a book. We'll give air time to a few next Friday night and put out a press release with a list of all the books recommended. I appreciate very much your taking the invitation seriously.

    Bill Moyers

    (Please note that due to your overwhelming response our "complete list" keeps growing and growing. We invite you to view our books feature, complete with slideshow of popular suggestions and video of authors, as well as, peruse all the suggestions on the blog.)

    View Bill Moyers' suggestion. Watch Video

    (Please note that due to your overwhelming response our "complete list" keeps growing and growing. We invite you to view our books feature, complete with slideshow of popular suggestions and video of authors, as well as, peruse all the suggestions on the blog.)

    Here are the current top titles.

    • Naomi Klein, THE SHOCK DOCTRINE

    • Howard Zinn, A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

    • Kim Michaels, THE ART OF NON-WAR

    • Jared Diamond, COLLAPSE

    • Chalmers Johnson, BLOWBACK triology

    • Tom Paine, COLLECTED WORKS/COMMON SENSE

    • Al Gore, ASSAULT ON REASON/AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH

    • David Cay Johnston, FREE LUNCH

    • George Orwell, 1984/ANIMAL FARM

    • Naomi Wolff, THE END OF AMERICA: LETTERS TO A YOUNG PATRIOT

    • Greg Mortenson, THREE CUPS OF TEA

    • Barbara Ehrenreich, NICKLE AND DIMED

    • Barbara Tuchman, MARCH OF FOLLY

    • Doris Kearns Goodwin, TEAM OF RIVALS

    • David Korten, THE GREAT TURNING

    • John Steinbeck, THE GRAPES OF WRATH

    • Ayn Rand, ATLAS SHRUGGED

    • John Dean, BROKEN GOVERNMENT

    • John Perkins, CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HITMAN

    • James Carroll, HOUSE OF WAR

    • Thomas Friedman, THE WORLD IS FLAT

    • Lao Tzu, TE TAO CHING

    • Tim Weiner, LEGACY OF ASHES

    • Dr. Seuss (THE LORAX, HORTON HEARS A WHO, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO, IF I RAN THE ZOO)


  • January 11, 2008

    Guest Blogger: Debate Watching 101 with Kathleen Hall Jamieson

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    By Kathleen Hall Jamieson

    1) I recommend not watching the coverage immediately before the debate and, when the debate is finished, turn the television off and talk with your family about what you saw and what was important to you. And think about what you saw.

    2) Candidates make different assumptions about government's role, about economic policy, about the value of government regulation, about the role of the US in the world, about appropriate use of military power, about US relationships with other countries... and the like. What are the governing philosophies of the candidates?

    3) Come to a debate with a list of the issues that matter to you and ask what you learned about each candidate's record and promises on those issues. Where are they similar and how do they differ?

    4) When a candidate promises a new program or any move that will reduce government revenue -- how will the candidate pay for it? Increase the deficit? Cut spending elesewhere and if so where? Raise taxes? On whom?

    5) How accurate are candidates' descriptions of opponents' programs? And how accurate are a candidate's descriptions of his or her own record?

    6) Is the candidate willing to tell voters things they don't want to hear about the challenges facing the country and what is required to address them?

    7) If the country were faced with a crisis, what can you know from the candidates' past performance, character, and dispositions about whether the country would be in good hands?

    Continue reading "Guest Blogger: Debate Watching 101 with Kathleen Hall Jamieson" »


    January 4, 2008

    Crashing The Parties?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    Discussing elections with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, Kathleen Hall Jamieson highlighted the importance of citizens left out by the polarized and exclusive process of selecting Presidential nominees:

    “You could say that at issue in both Iowa and New Hampshire is going to be: Where are the independents going and what does that say about the country? We tend to think, because the primaries are so structured around party, that this is about Republicans and it's about Democrats. And Ron Paul only gets into this discussion because he comes in as a libertarian but runs as a Republican in the party... But we forget in the press that people who vote and the people who are governed are not only Democrats and Republicans. There are libertarians there. There are undecideds there. There are people who legitimately say ‘I don’t identify with any of this. I’ll call myself independent.’”

    In his interview with Moyers, Ron Paul suggested that America’s two-party system belies our democratic rhetoric.

    “We send boys over there to promote democracy in Iraq, but we don’t really have democracy here. If you’re in a third party, if you’re in the Green Party or Libertarian Party, you don’t get any credibility. You can’t get on debates. You can’t get on ballots hardly at all. It’s very, very difficult. And the two parties are the same. You don’t really have a democratic choice here.

    Foreign policy never changes. Domestic fiscal policy, the welfare entitlement system never changes. Monetary policy won’t even be discussed. And that’s both parties. The vehicle that you use I think is not as relevant as the message. And that has been what has driven me, the fact that we need to change course in this country.”

    What do you think?

  • Does the two-party system adequately provide citizens with real choices on various issues? If not, can citizens reform the parties to change this?

  • Does the two-party system essentially mandate the exclusion of serious third-party contenders?

  • As Ron Paul’s Web-based, grassroots-driven campaign has seen some success, do you think the Internet can democratize the political process and/or the two-party system?


  • Media and the Presidential Election

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    In her conversation with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, Kathleen Hall Jamieson discussed the media's influence on ‘outsider’ candidates like Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich:

    "Those two have provided a clear alternative in the debates and expanded the range of discourse within each political party. Alternative parties don’t get to have debates. They don’t get that kind of television coverage. We don’t have any way to have those ideas percolate back into the mainstream. We don’t have any way for the public to see that those are legitimate and viable options and as a result, potentially, to rally behind them. And so, when those voices are marginalized, where people are taken out of the debate, that’s problematic for the process.”

    Dennis Kucinich agrees. Having been rejected from THE DES MOINES REGISTER debate before the Iowa caucuses and now the ABC News debate before New Hampshire, Kucinich tells Moyers:

    "How can you have a debate if you don’t have a voice that challenges all the others? Right now every other Democrat on that stage will be for keeping our troops in Iraq through at least 2013. Every other Democrat on the stage will be there to keep a for-profit healthcare system going with all of these Americans who don’t have coverage. Everyone else on the stage will be there for the continuation of NAFTA and the WTO. I mean, my position on the American political scene is to show people there’s a whole different direction that America can take here at home and in the world. And the Democratic Party in narrowing the choices and the media in trying to block the point of view that I represent is really doing a disservice to the American people.”

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree that media and its political coverage has too great an influence on the elections?

  • Does mainstream media effectively serve the public interest in elections and create informed voters? If not, what are ways in which it can improve?

  • Do you think we have too many or too few debates? Are we including enough participants in the debates?


  • January 3, 2008

    Bill Moyers Rewind: Ron Paul (2002)

    This week on THE JOURNAL, Bill Moyers conducts two conversations with presidential contenders, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) and Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), candidates with an inside view of the process who know well the power of the press to set expectations and transform the agenda.

    Congressman Ron Paul appeared on NOW WITH BILL MOYERS in 2002 and explained why he was not yet convinced that an invasion was necessary and justified:

    Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry of TechPresident, a blog which focuses upon how 2008 presidential candidates are using the Web, recently wrote:

    "Over time, online strategies that shift power to networks of ordinary citizens may well lead to a new generation of voters more engaged in the political process. That, in turn, could make politicians more accountable, creating a virtuous circle where elected officials who are more open and supportive of lateral constituent interaction, and less top-down, are rewarded with greater voter trust and support."

    Do you agree? What effects will the Internet have on future presidential elections?


    December 13, 2007

    Obama and His Base

    Dr. Ronald Walters, in his interview with Bill Moyers this week, Daily News coverexplains that he believes some African Americans have not embraced the Presidential candidacy of Barack Obama because the Senator is focused on a national middle ground, and thus unable to highlight the core issues of the African-American community. Walters states:

    Barack Obama has to maintain that middle. And, therefore, he has to marginalize, to a great extent, over hot button racial issues...

    ...His campaign has said that, "We have to continue to develop our base in the white community. We have, therefore, to continue to make them comfortable with the idea of your candidacy. We can't do that if we're going to bring up these hot button racial issues."

    What do you think?

  • Can a Presidential candidate, searching for a multi-racial national base in order to be elected, avoid alienating his/her own minority base?


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