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New Ground 95

July - August, 2004

Contents

  • "Free Trade" and the Coming National and Global Economic Train Wreck: an Open Letter to John Kerry by Ron Baiman
  • Fear the Voter: Mexicans Abroad Getting Into Politics by Jorge Mújica
  • Other News compiled by Bob Roman
    Congress Hotel Strike
    Bridging the Health Care Gap
    Health Care Justice Act
    International Conference
    New DSA E-list
    Cook County Living Wage
    Alex Maximiac Died on May 28
    Honorees
    Loveless for the State House

  • "Free Trade" and the Coming National and Global Economic Train Wreck:

    An Open Letter to John Kerry

    by Ron Baiman

    Dear Mr. Kerry:

    I'm not going to harass you about the evils of capitalism or try to win you over to the premise that there can be no real political democracy without economic democracy, though I firmly believe in both the evils of the former and the promise of the latter. I will save it for another day and another time as I want to focus on current world macroeconomic mismanagement that poses an immediate near term threat to the livelihoods and life prospects of all humans (including capitalists) on this planet.

    I'm not referring to the growing U.S. federal budget deficit, though this clearly cannot be ignored indefinitely. I'm not even referring to the shameful and disastrous Bush war in Iraq, though this has clearly got to stop and be turned around. The cause of my concern is deeper, more systemic, and will be more difficult to address than either of these. It is also an important factor underlying both the federal budgetary unraveling and the increased global threats and tensions.

    The imminent threat is the grossly out of balance, and teetering on the verge of collapse, world trade system, with the U.S. economy at its core. Let me stress, this is not an academic issue. In the 20th Century, both WWI and WWII can be related to international economic collapse. Today, the catastrophic failures of the market fundamentalism underlying the "New World Order," or more aptly "Neo-liberal Globalization," have now reached a boiling point. The hopelessness and despair that this system has inspired around the world can no longer be glossed over. It has fostered a resurgence of hatred and victimization on both sides of the global divide.

    Simply put, we can no longer pretend that "free trade" in goods and capital can run itself on autopilot. Though the few and the powerful have reaped obscene rewards, the system as a whole has undermined whole economies and now threatens to drive the global economy, including that of the U.S., over a cliff.

    Why is this the case and what must be done?

    Broadly speaking there are two layers of macroeconomic policy that any political economic system must deal with. First, at the most general level there is the aggregate demand problem. The economy needs to grow at a fast enough rate to absorb new workers and offset productivity increases. As John Maynard Keynes noted many years ago, this has been the central problem of capitalist market economies at least since the 1930s. Second, as has become increasing clear in the current "recovery" and has been increasingly obvious in the U.S. since at least the mid-1970s, is the distribution problem. Economic growth has to translate into new jobs and wide spread income growth as productivity rises.

    My remarks will address both of these fundamental levels of macro policy but will primarily deal with the first: the aggregate demand problem.

    As Cambridge University macroeconomist Wynne Godley and his collaborator Alex Izurieta have emphasized, a simple macroeconomic identity lies at the root of any understanding of national aggregate demand. This identity states simply that over any given period of time total spending is equal to total income. In its simplest form, we have: National Income = private spending + government spending + net spending of the rest of the world.

    But the fact that in the aggregate income is equal to expenditure does not necessarily imply that for any given sector in particular its spending is equal to its income. In other words, excesses of expenditure over income of any given sector (dis-saving) are likely, but these have to be matched, up to the last penny, by excesses of income over expenditure of the rest (saving). Thus, the above identity can be as well written in the form of financial balances of the main sectors of the economy. Generally: Government deficit = Private sector balance ­ external balance.

    Furthermore, an excess of spending over income of any sector is matched, at the end of the day, by an identical excess of income over spending of all sectors that make up the entire (macro)economy. Conversely, an excess of income over spending of any one sector implies an equivalent rise in its net acquisition of financial assets, which are in turn financial liabilities for the rest of the sectors considered at once. Thus, the above identity, after considering that a 'trade deficit' is an excess of income of the rest-of-the-world over its spending of our goods, can be as well written as: Trade Deficit = Government Deficit + Private Sector Deficit.

    At its most basic level, these three major sources of aggregate demand (the foreign trade surplus or exports minus imports; the government deficit or government spending minus taxes; and the private sector (household and business) deficit or consumption and investment minus labor and capital income) interact in a symmetric way to their financial (im)balances. Furthermore, financial (im)balances relative to income flows have to stay within certain limits if debts are not to grow excessively.

    A precursory look at the evolution of these three sources of aggregate demand reveals that in the postwar period the U.S. has had three major types of macroeconomic policy regimes.

    From the end of the WWII to the early 1970s we had a "golden age" period of balanced growth. This period was characterized by a fairly stable and rapid growth employment, output and income that led to fast growing and widely shared increases in living standards. During this time, the private, government, and international trade, sectors were more or less in balance with a modest private surplus generally offset by a modest government deficit.

    As is widely known, this prosperous high-growth "Keynesian" era slowed down and appeared to unravel by the mid-1970s as the economy went through a bout of inflation and two major recessions until about 1982. This was a period that also saw the demise of the Bretton Woods international trade and finance accords that had provided for stable exchange rates and balanced and rapidly growing international trade since 1945. In the "post ­ Bretton Woods" period there have been two major macroeconomic policy regimes in the U.S.

    From about 1983 to 1992 macroeconomic policy followed a "Reaganomics" "government and trade twin deficits" path, as the Reagan tax cuts, high interest rates, and an overvalued dollar (induced by Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker's tight money policy) led to growing U.S. international trade deficits and increasing federal budget deficits for the first time in the postwar period. Aggregate demand was maintained by offsetting the growing trade deficit with the large and expanding federal budget deficit that had been caused by a combination of Reagan's massive military build-up and federal large tax cuts ­ mostly for the wealthy. The policy regime worked to restore economic growth though of an uneven and unequal variety. From an aggregate demand perspective this was clearly not a sustainable policy stance as neither the government or trade deficits could increase indefinitely. Indeed, toward the end the period efforts were made to get both deficits under control, and though progress was made, it came at the expense of aggregate demand growth with the onset of a recession in the early 1990s.

    In reaction, in the following 1992-2000 period the macroeconomic policy regime switched to a radically new "Rubinomics" (after Clinton Secretary of the Treasurer Robert Rubin) "private sector/international trade twin deficits" stance. This period of tight fiscal policy (curbs on government spending relative to tax collection) and loose monetary policy (easy credit and declining interest rates) was the opposite of the Reaganomics pattern of loose fiscal and tight monetary policy.

    However, both the Reaganomics and Rubinomics "free trade" regimes shared the same central and overwhelming aggregate demand problem: a growing U.S. international trade deficit with the rest of world that reached about 4% of GDP by 2000. Though, during the Rubinomics period the U.S. foreign trade deficit was offset by a private, rather than public, sector deficit. As you know by the end of the 1990s the federal government deficit declined to the point of reaching a surplus by 2000. In the 1990s aggregate demand thus became entirely dependent on private sector deficit spending. Indeed private sector (and especially household) debt reached a record of over 5% of GDP at the end of the period.

    From 2001-2004 the U.S. (and world) macroeconomic imminent train wreck continued to unfold. In aggregate we appear to be back in a "Reaganomics" "twin public/trade deficits" aggregate demand configuration. The overall private sector was back to a deficit of only about 0.4% of GDP by 2003 Q3 due to corporate surpluses even as household debt continues its unsustainable increase. However, as the external deficit continues to increase (to a record 5% of GDP or $525 billion in 2003), the aggregate demand identity implies that an offsetting injection has to again come from the public sector. This is exactly what has happened. The Bush administration has presided over one of the most massive and unsustainable federal deficit spending binges in post war history.

    In short, in the last 30 years we have not yet found a sustainable solution to the growing and ultimately infeasible world trade imbalance. Instead, we have tried to postpone the inevitable massive readjustment through the use of public or private deficit spending. The U.S. economy has been functioning as the world's "buyer of last resort" for more than two decades now. Such a pattern is no more than saying that our own institutions (public and private sectors) have been spending relentlessly, and in doing so have been accumulating hazardous levels of debt. What is more, since global demand was driven by unrelenting spending (and borrowing!) of U.S. sectors, there has been little incentive for the rest of the world to add to net demand by increasing their absorption demand. This is not sustainable and we may be reaching the end of the run. May I submit that ideology, in particular of the "free trade" and "free market" Neo-liberal variety, is an important part of the problem both on the international and the domestic macroeconomic policy fronts?

    Mr. Kerry, is it not clear that world cannot be sustained by a "race to the bottom" policy regime structured to deflate world and national aggregate demand? This, after all was Keynes' major concern at Bretton Woods, a concern that was only partially addressed by the compromise accord that, in any case, collapsed 30 years later. Is it not clear that depending on largely unregulated "free trade" to rebalance and reflate the world economy is a misguided and dangerous illusion that only serves to perpetuate a regime of global low-wage production and high-price accumulation of government and household debt for the benefit of a elite class of property owners? Is it not clear that mutually beneficial trade between countries with vastly unequal wage, environmental, and social costs, cannot be directed by "free market" forces? And most important to the policy direction that you seem to be going in, is it not clear that cutting the federal budget deficit without cutting the trade deficit will simply throw the economy back into recession?

    Mr. Kerry, I appeal to you to not turn away from the major challenge of the 21st Century: the reconstruction of a sustainable world economy.

    This needs to include a "global Marshall plan" for the poorest developing countries and a new and viable international trade and capital flow accord. The later needs to include "solidarity trade" policies that force countries to raise their standards, or face equalizing tariffs. The revenue from these tariffs then needs to be redirected back to low-wage countries of origin to be used to raise their labor, environmental and social standards over time.

    Though the dollar will undoubtedly fall this will not be adequate to rebalance world trade, especially with countries such as China that have become so dependent on exports to the U.S. No conceivable dollar decline can make up for the huge production cost disparities that are currently driving "north-south" trade. At a minimum, policies to require enforcement of labor standards and minimum wages, and advanced country reflation, must be at the heart of any rebalancing of world trade. This requires taking on the U.S. and global private financial interests that have been so successful at creating the current Neo-liberal world economy that works against the many for the benefit of the few.

    I have not addressed the second macroeconomic policy layer dealing with how macroeconomic growth should be allocated and distributed, as this I think is much clearer and more obvious, at least to the politically progressive. Suffice it to say that though Bush has correctly applied a massive short-term stimulus to pull the economy out of recession, the income allocation (and job generation numbers) resulting from this huge federal largess are obscenely unfair and inadequate. For example, a recent Economic Policy Institute analysis indicates that after seven quarters of recovery labor has only a 40% share of the increased output, the lowest in post-war history and far below the 75% average at this point in a post war "recovery". Moreover, the two layers of macroeconomic policy (aggregate demand and distribution) are clearly linked as a unequal distribution leads to unsustainable debt (as opposed to income) driven consumption. One measure of the degree of imbalance in the U.S. economy alone is the astounding (and astoundingly under reported) finding of a comprehensive and in-depth study of U.S. tax returns that shows that 94% of the growth in total income from 1973 to 1998 in the United States went to the top 1% of taxpayers!

    This, Mr. Kerry, is the major macroeconomic problem of the day. I hope that you will be called upon to address this. My fear is that you and the Democratic Party policy making elite do not recognize the seriousness of the problem or the decisive and radical measures that will be needed to confront it. Please prove me wrong! I can think of no other more urgently necessary political economic challenge of such great underlying importance. This central and systemic failing is also clearly an important factor underlying related current world problems of disease, poverty, crime, ignorance, and terror.

    Very Sincerely,

    Ron Baiman

    __________

    Author's Note: the whole approach of this essay follows the work of Godley and Izurieta, both currently at the Cambridge Endowment for Research in Finance (CERF) at the University of Cambridge, U.K. Both were previously at the Levy Institute of Bard College in the U.S. Their numerous papers and publications on this issue can be accessed via the web sites of either of these institutions: www.cerf.cam.ac.uk and www.levy.org. See also "The U.S. Economy: Weaknesses of the 'Strong' Recovery" in Banca Nazionale del Lavoro Quarterly Review, June, 2004.


    Fear the Voter:

    Mexicans Abroad Getting Into Politics

    by Jorge Mújica

    As the regular legislative session approaches in México, the issue of Mexicans voting from abroad in 2006 turns hotter, but migrants have started to move in other ways, not willing to wait for Congress!

    So far, 15 initiatives for the vote from abroad have been presented to Congress, most of them in the lower House. All the three main political parties, Institutional Revolution (PRI), National Action (PAN), and Democratic Revolution (PRD), have presented initiatives. The oldest one is from 1998, and the newest is only a few weeks old.

    This last one, introduced to Congress on June 15, was supposed to be the one that ended the discussion and result in a political agreement between the three parties. It was anything but.

    Three and a half years after taking office as President of México, Vicente Fox finally did what he had promised all along his campaign trail, which included the United States, and in his further trips to this country. He presented Congress with an initiative that would allow Mexicans abroad to cast their vote in the next Presidential election.

    But his initiative, far from what migrants requested from him, did not recover the best of the older 14 initiatives. Rather short, it even went back in time to the first initiative presented in 1998, which limited Mexicans abroad to vote for president and no other branch of government. Since 2001, migrants have consistently requested to "be voted for," meaning to elect Congressman and Senators that represent them in Congress. On December 3rd, 2000, a delegation of migrants delivered to Vicente Fox their own initiative, which includes the representation in both chambers of Congress.

    Just a Few, Just a Little Bit

    Fox's initiative calls for a very limited vote. First, because is limited to vote only for president, second because it extends this right only to Mexicans living abroad who already have a voter's registration card, or that obtain it before December of 2005.

    Unlike other countries, due to the shaky history of electoral fraud, México's voter cards are a most sophisticated credential. The card includes 13 security measures, and it takes about two months to process. It includes a photograph, a magnetic strip, a fingerprint, and it has sophisticated holograms.

    Mexicans who migrated legally into the United States after 1999 are likely to have such a prized credential. Before that year, the credential did no exist yet, so all Mexicans abroad for more than 5 years never got it.

    Also, those migrants crossing the border undocumented lack the credential, since migrant's smugglers do not allow anyone to carry a single document across.

    Obviously, the measure would benefit those Mexicans abroad traveling at the time of the election, plus the members of Consulates and embassies, students and the like, all of whom have no problem getting an electoral credential. But Mexican migrants, especially those without documents in the United States, would have to travel twice to Mexico, once to request the credential, another time to claim it. Frankly, we do not believe any undocumented migrant would cross the desert twice to do so.

    Thus, from the possibly 10-12 million voters abroad, the presidential initiative would allow only about half a million to cast their vote in 2006.

    Fox's initiative also restricts campaigning abroad, out of the fear that "U.S. consortiums would influence the Mexicans' vote and Mexico's autonomy would be compromised." Candidates could not have any kind of public meeting abroad, nor any campaign ads could be broadcast outside México, never mind if half a dozen pre-candidates for the Mexican presidency in 2006 are already campaigning in the United States. One clear example is Manuel Ángel Núñez Soto, Governor of the state of Hidalgo, which presented himself before the delegates at the League of United Latin American Citizens, LULAC, at their National Convention. While John Kerry promised immigrants a path for full citizenship in the first 100 days of his government, Núñez Soto backed President's Bush program for temporary workers.

    With the Law and Besides the Law

    As of the middle of July, all initiatives are being discussed by a special commission set up by Congress to solve the issue. So far, their only agreement is that migrants have the right to vote, and little else. The discussion seems at an impasse, and often derives to the "how," pointing out at all of the possible flaws when voting from abroad.

    From "intelligent ballots," to the Internet, mail and regular voting places, the discussion is going nowhere fast. Every possible method has flaws, either the cost or the "reliability" of the system, and the flaws are the perfect excuse to postpone the agreement and the decision.

    In the end, it is expected that the two largest political parties, PRI and PAN, will decide on a formula that does not scare away their leaderships. The PRD will vote along under the argument that it has fought so long for these rights that it would be unthinkable to vote against it. Some migrants will be able to vote, their rights will be regulated and eventually exercised, and their participation will not be significantly enough as to decide who wins the presidency. Both PRI and PAN won't have anything to fear, and everybody will be happy. Except, of course, the migrants themselves.

    At the last state election in Zacatecas, which reportedly has about 50 percent of its population living in the United States, four migrants were elected to government. Two as State Representatives, and two as mayors of their hometowns. One belongs to the PRI, one to the PAN, and two to the PRD.

    The most famous one, Efraín Bermúdez, dubbed "El Rey del Tomate" (the Tomato King), since he got rich after creating a machine to crop tomatos in the United States, ran for the second time after losing his first election not in the polling places but to the Election Court in 2000. Another one, Manuel de la Cruz, also lost his Congressman position in the Election Court in 2003. Together, though they belong to different parties, they lobbied for the "Migrants' Law," a State Constitutional Amendment in Zacatecas, which made an obligation for all parties competing in an election to present women and migrants in key candidacies.

    Michoacán's Governor Lázaro Cárdenas, who presented the first initiative in Congress for the vote abroad while Congressman in 1998, tried the same kind of law in his State, only to see it blocked by the PRI's State Representatives. This month in Chicago, Cardenas publicly announced that regardless of the law, his party, the PRD, will have at least two migrant candidates for the 2005 State election, and that he hopes other parties follow the example.

    So, while President Fox and the political parties are pondering whether the right to vote from abroad might "endanger México's autonomy" and whether "U.S. corporations might influence" the migrant's vote, they are already running, and so far, they are winning in this marathon.

     

    Editor's Note: Jorge Mújica is a leader in the International Coalition of Mexicans Abroad in Chicago. For earlier chapters in the struggle of Mexican migrants to win the right to vote, see New Ground 90, New Ground 89, New Ground 88, New Ground 85 and New Ground 84.


    Other News

    compiled by Bob Roman

    Congress Hotel Strike

    HERE Local 1 marked the one year anniversary of their strike against the Congress Plaza Hotel (see New Ground 89) with a monster picket line in front of the hotel on the afternoon of June 15. Well over a thousand people from a broad cross section of the Chicago labor movement nearly encircled the building. Pickets were accompanied by two huge inflated rats as statements on the management's attitude. The picket was accompanied by some ritual civil disobedience (blocking Michigan Avenue) and a creative infiltration of the hotel to drop a three story banner demanding justice from a window. News reports said 15 people were arrested.

    Chicago DSA supported the picket by publicizing the event by a postcard mailing, email alert and a web listing. I counted nearly two dozen Chicago DSA members on the line though, as usual, we were invisible as a group.

    About a month later, UNITE and HERE held a joint convention in Chicago to formalize a merger between the two unions. The delegates took time off to rally across the street from the hotel, bringing some 1500 demonstrators to remind hotel management that without justice there'll be no peace.

    For photos of the June 15 picket, go to http://www.chicagodsa.org/c040615.html.

     

    Bridging the Health Care Gap

    June 19 was chosen as a national day of action to protest the growing gap in health insurance coverage. According to a recent Families USA report, some 81 million people were without health insurance for some or all of 2002 - 2003. This includes 3.5 million people in Illinois. The rally's program was designed to educate attendees in detail about the problems of the uninsured and to provide quotable salacious factoids for the mass media. More than a thousand people attended the rally on a truly beautiful late Spring day in Lincoln Park.

    SEIU's Central States organization provided the organizational center, but the rally was endorsed by a wide cross section of Chicago unions and community groups, including Chicago DSA. Speakers included Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., Representative Jan Schakowsky, State Senator Miguel del Valle, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. Health care consumers from inside and outside the labor movement provided testimony that illustrated the plight of the un and under insured, including one person who was jailed as a result of an unpaid hospital bill. Debtors' prisons, anyone? Master of Ceremony duties were shared by SEIU's Carole Travis, Dr. Quentin Young and Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis Gannon.

    Chicago DSA supported the rally by publicizing the event through a targeted postcard mailing, email alert and a web listing. We also contributed $150 toward expenses and distributed some 200 DSA buttons that demand universal health care at the rally. For photos of the rally, go to http://www.chicagodsa.org/hd040619.html.

     

    Health Care Justice Act

    The Health Care Justice Act, HB2268 (see New Ground 94) was accepted by the Illinois House as amended by the Senate. It was sent to Governor Blagojevich on June 24 for his signature. At press time, the Governor had taken no action, and the Campaign for Better Health Care was urging folks to call him (312.814.2121) to demand his signature on the bill.

    Massachusetts has joined Illinois in passing a health care justice act mandating the formulation of a universal health care plan on a state level.

     

    International Conference

    An international conference on the various national struggles against corporate globalization will be held at the DePaul University Lincoln Park campus on August 5 through 8 (see the ad on page 5). Among the speakers expected at the conference will be: Penelope Duggan, International Viewpoint, Paris; Boris Kagarlitsky, Institute of Globalization, Moscow; Jie-Hyun Lim, historian, Hanyang University, Korea; Jean-Pierre Page, trade unionist, Paris.

    Chicago DSA has endorsed the conference and will be cosponsoring a panel with News & Letters entitled "Beyond Anti-Globalization: the Humanism of Marx as Grounds for a New Society." The panel will be Friday, 8/6, 2:00 PM , Room TBA. Panelists Peter Hudis (co-editor of The Power of Negativity and The Rosa Luxemburg Reader), Kevin Michaels (contributor to News & Letters), Marilyn Nissim-Sabat (professor emeritus of philosophy at Lewis University), and Makalani Adisa (a Chicago activist) will address these questions: Is the anti-globalization movement sufficient to ensure justice for all workers? How deep must the uprooting of globalized capitalism be to bring about a new, truly human society? Since the Seattle protests, two theoretical works have sparked discussion and debate in the left, taking very different approaches to the questions of anti-globalization and revolution. Both Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri and The Power of Negativity by Raya Dunayevskaya seek radical alternatives to the current social order. The Power of Negativity addresses on the importance of philosophy, dialectics, and humanism in Marx's works to envision a new society. Empire takes up a new force of revolution, the multitude, which must confront and overcome Empire through practical experimentation.

     

    New DSA E-List

    DSA has created a members only, moderated email discussion list, "dsamember". The purpose of the dsamember list is to further the work and practices of DSA. Therefore dsamember is not a general political discussion or chat list. The prime topics for discussion are DSA strategy and tactics, program, ideology and practices. A wide variety of opinions and proposals are expected and encouraged, but the moderator has been instructed to not tolerate rude or abusive behavior, or personal attacks on one participant on another.

    As the list is open only to DSA members, you must request an invitation by sending an email to moderator@dsausa.org. Your request must include your real name as well as your email handle so that we may check your membership status. Only current DSA members may participate in the list. Checking eligibility can take time, especially if there are many requests to process, so please be patient.

     

    Cook County Living Wage

    Cook County is among the many governmental bodies that has a Living Wage Ordinance (see New Ground 60) that mandates some of its vendors to pay rather more than the minimum wage. There is a new proposal to expand the scope of which vendors are covered by Ordinance and to raise the minimum to $9.43 an hour with health insurance or $10.68 an hour, without health insurance. As this issue of New Ground went to press, Commissioner Roberto Maldonado held a press conference prior to the County Board's July 13 meeting to pressure the Board to take up the issue.

     

    Alex Maximiac Died on May 28.

    Dear Alex,

    When you didn't come to the Deb's dinner I knew something was wrong and meant to call you. Then I saw the obituary and knew that it was too late.

    You were such a steady hand. Always there when we needed help. A rock of Oak Park. I can't believe that you've gone to that "pie in the sky" with Joe Powers and all the other good comrades in the struggle to make this world a better place.

    From the torture training at the "School of the Americas" to the disastrous war in Iraq, you saw what was coming and tried to stop it.

    We will do our best to continue your efforts as you would want.

    Goodbye, Alex. May you finally rest in peace.

    Ron Baiman,

    Co-Chair Greater Oak Park Democratic Socialists of America (GOPDSA)

     

    Honorees

    DSA member (among other affiliations) Betty Willhoite was awarded the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs' "Courageous Voices" award at their annual meeting on June 3rd. The Cook County Board passed a resolution thanking Betty Willhoite for her work at their June meeting.

    Bob Breving was honoree and roastee at DePaul University's Labor Education Center's annual fundraising dinner on June 18th, it also being the occasion of his retirement. Roastmaster Jack Metzgar kept him evenly cooked.

    Ed Sadlowski was elected to the Board of the Illinois Labor History Society and to the Board of the Eugene V. Debs Foundation.

     

    Loveless for the State House

    DSA member Marc Loveless is running as the Green Party candidate for the Illinois 14th District against Democrat Harry Osterman. No Republicans are in the race. Two objections are pending against Loveless' ballot status.


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