Is there no limit to the damage wrought by Clinton?

Staying on the subject of Trump:

Russia’s foreign minister has dismissed as “blather” the charges levelled by the FBI special counsel against 13 Russians for election meddling.

Sergei Lavrov said at a major security conference in Germany he would not comment further until he saw “facts”.

According to the indictment:

The 37-page indictment says a group of Russians:

Posed as Americans, and opened financial accounts in their name; some visited the US

Spent thousands of dollars a month buying political advertising

Purchased US server space in an effort to hide their Russian affiliation

Organised and promoted political rallies within the United States

Posted political messages on social media accounts that impersonated real US citizens

Promoted information that disparaged Hillary Clinton

Received money from clients to post on US social media sites

Created themed groups on social media on hot-button issues, particularly on Facebook and Instagram

Operated with a monthly budget of as much as $1.25m (£890,000)

Financed the building of a cage large enough to hold an actress portraying Hillary Clinton in a prison uniform

The indictment says those involved systematically monitored the success of their internet posts.

All of the 13 people named were charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States. Three have also been accused of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and five have been accused of aggravated identity theft. Three companies have also been charged.

This is pretty weak sauce, and if the American election can be unduly influenced by this then the nation is in trouble indeed. And as Tim Worstall points out, the Americans intervened to a far greater extent in the Russian general election in the early 1990s, supporting reforms which went a long way to creating the discontent which Putin capitalised on to maintain his grip on power.

What this is, and always has been, is an attempt to save Hillary Clinton’s face. She lost the election fair and square because she was an appalling candidate, and rather than accept it, her supporters are prepared to wreck already fraught relations with a serious geopolitical rival to spin this ludicrous narrative. The damage this woman has done to the USA is incredible, and still it continues, yet everyone blames Trump. There are people out there, some of whom laughably call themselves conservatives, who believe this latest indictment is proof that Russia is at war with the United States. Yes, there are supposedly serious politicians and commentators calling for war with Russia because they don’t want to face up to the fact that Hillary was a lousy candidate.

Whereas I suppose Putin has found much of this genuinely amusing up to now, this indictment changes things. The individuals named are in Russia and so unlikely to be arrested, but the intent is there. Putin has often accused foreigners working for NGOs in Russia of interfering in politics, shutting down various organisations in the process. He was rightly criticised for this, but it’s hard to see why Russians should tolerate Americans doing political work in Russia if Americans believe disparaging Hillary Clinton on Facebook is an offence worthy of FBI indictment. If Putin chooses to do so he could start making life very difficult for Americans in Russia now, and the American government wouldn’t have a damned leg to stand on. Those who may find themselves languishing in an icy cell on dubious charges of political subversion can thank Hillary Clinton, her insatiable ego, and her thoroughly corrupt supporters for their predicament.

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Russian Rifle Raid Reveals Ravenous Reptile, Reds Responsible

Via JuliaM, this story from Russia:

Russian police searching for illegal weapons in a St Petersburg house faced a scaly surprise in the basement: a two-metre (6.5ft) Nile crocodile.

Where the hell did they get it from in the first place? I’ve been to Saint Petersburg, and one thing you don’t see among those strange creatures basking in the mud along the Neva river or the fountains at Peterhof are Nile crocodiles.

Police said the reptile did not cause any injuries – but now they must find a new home for it. Russian media say the house is used by a nationalist group.

With a penchant for Lacoste?

A stockpile of illegal arms was found in the raid, in the city’s Peterhof suburb, RIA Novosti news reports.

It included explosive devices and copies of Kalashnikov assault rifles.

A 40-year-old man arrested in November is suspected of illegal possession of weapons.

I admit this is some way outside my line of work, but I reckon if I was assembling illegal weapons in my basement I’d find the presence of a large crocodile somewhat distracting.

The St Petersburg news website Fontanka says the property houses a “patriotic youth militia” called Red Star (“Krasnaya Zvezda” in Russian).

Red Star doesn’t sound very nationalistic, does it? More Communist, I’d say.

The crocodile was living in a pool that had been dug into the concrete floor.

I want to know what it ate. Small children? Putin’s enemies? So many questions. It’s at times like this when I mourn the death of traditional journalism.

Leningrad Zoo says it has no extra space to take it in.

Aw. I expect it’ll remain in Saint Petersburg, albeit in the form of a handbag in the window of a shop on Nevskiy Prospekt.

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Mismatch

From the BBC:

Britain’s armed forces risk falling behind Russia without more investment, the head of the Army will say.

General Sir Nick Carter will say the British Army’s ability to respond to threats “will be eroded if we don’t keep up with our adversaries”.

When I first read this story about an hour ago, they used words to the effect of the British Army not being able to match the Russian Army in battle. Since then the BBC have updated it to the above, perhaps realising they were making stuff up.

But leaving that aside, when have the British armed forces ever been able to match Russia’s? Sure, a platoon from 2 Para or a troop from 42 Cdo would likely make short work of a Russian infantry platoon, but the military as a whole? There may have been a period around 1992 when Russia’s military officers hadn’t seen any pay in over a year leaving half of them flogging weapons out the back of the camp and the rest passed out under a missile silo having drunk a litre of distilled shoe polish, but otherwise the British Army hasn’t been a match for the Russians probably since the Crimean War – and especially not on their turf.

For a start the Russian forces have an overwhelming numerical advantage in terms of men and kit, and even if we allow for the fact that their organisation and logistics is likely shambolic and spectacular SNAFUs will be the norm, they still know how to deploy highly effective artillery and air defence systems when they have to. In addition, even though the average recruit in the Russian Army might be uneducated, undertrained, underfed, and ill-disciplined he will probably have the stomach for a decent fight. By contrast, the British Army is fast turning into a social welfare programme where recruits fret over battlefield prayer facilities and a unit’s success is measured not on how many battles it’s won, but on how much diversity it has in its ranks.

Any role Britain has in opposing Russia will consist in its entirety of supporting the Americans as best they can, assuming our Yank friends are interested in getting involved. Otherwise, if Russia is a genuine threat, we’re probably better off learning a few words of Russian and learning how to drink vodka neat from tumblers than increasing the Army’s budget.

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Renaming Roads

This is actually a neat bit of provocation:

Washington DC has renamed the street the Russian embassy sits on after a murdered Russian opposition politician.

The city council voted to rename the street outside Russia’s embassy complex after Boris Nemtsov, who was shot outside the Kremlin in 2015.

A statement from the council said the decision to honour the “slain democracy activist” passed unanimously.

It might seem a bit petty to some, but the murder of Boris Nemtsov was appalling. True, five Chechen men (who else?) have been jailed for it, but I doubt even Russians believe it was their idea, assuming they even had anything to do with it. There’s not much anyone can do about it, other than:

His daughter, Zhanna, travelled to Washington DC in early December to advocate for the name change.

Well, good for her. Nobody sane thinks the US should start dropping bombs on Moscow over this, but if they can rename a street at the behest of the murdered man’s daughter and annoy their political enemies? Well, why not?

Frankly, I think this practice should become more widespread. We could rename the road on which the Argentine embassy sits Falkland Islands Avenue, the street which houses the Zimbabwean embassy Ian Smith Street, and the location of the French embassy White Flag Drive. What’s not to like? Suggestions for others in the comments, please.

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Still Keeping Britain Safe

I see the Royal Navy is talking tough about Russians again:

A British frigate shadowed a Russian warship through the North Sea near UK waters on Christmas Day, the Royal Navy has revealed.

“Near” UK waters. If this chart is accurate, that could be well out into the Atlantic or up towards the Arctic circle.

HMS St Albans monitored the Admiral Gorshkov’s “activity in areas of national interest”, it said.

Uh-huh. Shame stopping boatloads of illegal immigrants reaching Europe isn’t considered in the national interest, isn’t it?

The Admiral Gorshkov, a new guided-missile frigate, is still undergoing trials, Russian media report.

Is there any reason to believe this isn’t true? What else could it be doing? Looking to launch a guided missile at Rockall?

The Royal Navy says there has been a recent “upsurge in Russian units transiting UK waters”.

Numbers please. Russia has been active in Syria for quite some time, and the quickest way from one to the other by sea is via the English Channel – an international waterway Russia has every right to use. Short of details, this statement looks like a weak attempt to justify the continued existence of the Royal Navy.

HMS St Albans was sent on Saturday to “keep watch on the new Russian warship Admiral Gorshkov as it passed close to UK territorial waters”, the Royal Navy said.

In case of what?

“I will not hesitate in defending our waters or tolerate any form of aggression,” Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said.

“Britain will never be intimidated when it comes to protecting our country, our people, and our national interests.”

Oh please! We heard all this tough-sounding crap from Michael Fallon last year when a handful of Russian ships went through the Channel. Do these idiots think we’ve forgotten the Royal Navy’s capitulation to the Iranians in 2007? Or that we haven’t noticed the absolute last thing our political class is interested in is “protecting our country, our people, and our national interests”?

The Admiral Gorshkov, the first of a new class of multi-role frigates, has still to complete missile tests before entering service with the Russian navy next year, Russian media report.

It has reportedly been sailing regularly between the White Sea off Russia’s northern coast and the Baltic.

Rear Admiral Chris Parry, a former Royal Navy Officer and former Nato commander, describes the deployment of the war ship as “normal”.

He told the BBC: “She’s perfectly entitled to do that under international law. It’s demonstrating the right of innocent passage.”

So why all headlines and mouthing off? Here’s why. The British political classes, having given up completely on protecting Britain’s national interests, believe by jumping on the bandwagon of Russia-bashing they will convince the public otherwise. Nice try.

I half wish the Russians had opened fire, just to see what HMS St Albans would have done in response.

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Theresa May, Russia, and Fake News

Yesterday Theresa May addressed one of main issues concerning everyday British citizens. Immigration? Brexit? House prices? Terrorism?

Alas no, she instead spoke about fake news being spread by Russians:

Theresa May has accused Russia of meddling in elections and planting fake stories in the media in an extraordinary attack on its attempts to “weaponise information” in order to sow discord in the west.

The prime minister spoke out against “the scale and nature” of Russia’s actions during an address at the lord mayor’s banquet, saying it was “threatening the international order on which we all depend”.

If the international order can be upset by fake news being planted in the media, it doesn’t say much about the international order, does it? But the reason fake news gains so much traction in the west is twofold: firstly, major news organisations are flatly refusing to cover serious issues affecting millions of ordinary people, thus giving the (correct) impression that the news is carefully managed by the political establishment. This then leaves the floor clear for nefarious parties to come in and talk about these issues unopposed. Secondly, trust in the mainstream media has fallen to rock-bottom because people have finally realised they are also in the business of peddling fake news, and now consider the difference between them and the likes of RT to be one of degree not form. The mainstream media and the politicians they pander to have only themselves to blame, but they are so lacking in self-awareness they can’t see how much they’re projecting. Consider this statement for example:

“It is seeking to weaponise information. Deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and photo-shopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the west and undermine our institutions.”

How many fake news stories regarding Donald Trump does the BBC peddle, then? Just last week it was complicit in the fake story about Trump dumping the fish-food into the pond all at once, and relies mainly on unsubstantiated Twitter posts in its initial reporting of a story. And how much airtime did the BBC give to the non-story that was the Paradise Papers? Consider too this post from Rob Fisher at Samizdata:

Leaving aside the question of whether the state has a role in telling broadcasters what news they can broadcast (it does not), let me take a quick look at the front page of the BBC News website right now.

Here is my translation of the pertinent headlines (stories that are political I have marked in italics, and neutral stories I have omitted):

– Big companies like Apple should pay more tax.

– Tax avoidance is wrong.

– Lewis Hamilton should pay more tax.

– Bono should pay more tax.

– Rich people should pay more tax.

– The state should control who has guns.

– Mugabe wants his wife to take over from him.

– Plastic is bad and greedy people are destroying the planet with it because they are greedy.

– Global warming is still really real and only states working with the UN can save us.

– Trump is being mean to Turkish people.

– Trump wants Japan to help defend against North Korea.

– People were kidnapped in Nigeria.

– A writer used politically incorrect language.

– A woman who was rude to Trump got fired.

– People who voted for Trump probably regret it.

The idea that the BBC is an impartial reporter of the news contrasting with RT’s politically-motivated propaganda is laughable. So is this:

Listing Russia’s attempts to undermine western institutions in recent years, she said: “I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed. Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of western nations to the alliances that bind us.

Whatever damage Russia has done to western institutions is eclipsed by that carried out by the political establishment of which Theresa May is very much part. True, the Russians might not succeed in destroying western society but they won’t have to: the likes of Theresa May will manage that all on their own, cheered on by the mainstream media while ordinary people are ignored, belittled, insulted, threatened, and imprisoned.

If the western democracies were as resilient as May is making out, RT’s output wouldn’t matter. Russia presented far more of a threat during the Cold War, and there were more than enough people in the west working in Moscow’s interests, and yet we survived intact. May knows this, and so does the entire political and media establishment. Politicians want someone to blame for the divisions in society that they have caused, and the media want to silence a rival outlet that doesn’t play by the same rules as they do, i.e. by refusing to cover stories that are politically inconvenient. The sooner May is booted out and the mainstream media goes bankrupt, the better. RT might peddle crap, but they are not the biggest problem Britain faces, not by a long shot.

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A Change in Government

I expect there are a few examples like this:

In 2008, eight years into his addiction, doctors told him he had one year left to live and Georgy realized he needed help. He began a drug substitution therapy called OAT to safely wean himself off drugs.

At that point, Crimea, where Georgy lived, was still part of Ukraine and substitution therapy (OAT) was legal. But when Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, the peninsula’s new leadership announced the therapy would be banned.

By May that year, more than 800 drug users who had been receiving OAT, including Georgy, found themselves cut off from treatment. Now local and international rights groups say the ban is fueling a resurgent HIV epidemic with fatal consequences.

Amid the many legal and ethical problems with Russia annexing Crimea in the manner it did, it’s hard to claim it was actively opposed by the majority population. However, I suspected they thought there would be only upsides – understandable, given the shambolic state of Ukraine – but over time various drawbacks would present themselves. Some were obvious: being cut-off from the rest of Russia and dependent on Ukraine for electricity and water were two, as well as the collapse in foreign tourism. This ban on OAT treatment is another, and I suspect it’s only a matter of time before a Crimean mother is weeping over the death of son drafted into the Russian army. Whatever the situation becomes in Crimea, I suspect decent reporting on the subject will be scarce and we’ll be squeezed between propaganda on both sides supplemented with the occasional rumour.

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Why Trump is fond of Putin

This is hardly surprising:

President Vladimir Putin feels insulted by allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US election, Donald Trump has said after meeting him briefly at an Asia-Pacific summit in Vietnam.

“You can only ask so many times… he said he absolutely did not meddle in our election,” the US president said.

Mr Putin later dismissed the allegations as “political infighting”.

The US intelligence community has already concluded that Russia tried to sway the poll in favour of Mr Trump.

President Trump has refused to acknowledge a reported assessment by the CIA and other intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the run-up to last year’s presidential election.

You don’t actually need to trust Putin an inch to believe he is telling the truth that he didn’t try to swing the outcome of the US election. None of this passed the smell test from the beginning, and the whole think reeked of an effort to explain Hillary’s catastrophic loss and an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency. I always suspected Putin found all of these accusations highly amusing; other than the usual shit-stirring that Russia’s spy agencies have been involved in since the Soviet times, exploiting divisions in US society to sow chaos as part of their zero-sum rivalry with America, I very much doubt Russia had any involvement in the US election. For one thing, it’s never been explained why Putin would have preferred Trump to Clinton.

Of course, those who don’t want very much to change in US politics are aghast at this:

This says less about how much Trump trusts Putin than how little he trusts branches of his own government. And who can blame him? Both the FBI and Department of Justice disgraced themselves during the election with regards to Hillary Clinton, and Obama spent eight years politicising other branches such as the IRS. Moreover, Trump’s efforts to “drain the swamp” have been met with ferocious opposition from what people call the Deep State, or (a term I prefer) the Permanent Government, i.e. those who have done extremely well from the status quo and for whom Trump represents an existential threat. Is the CIA part of this? Of course it is. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Trump could probably get a warmer reception walking into a branch of the Russian government in Moscow than an American one in DC. I’d even go so far as to say parts of the American government represent a far greater political and even mortal danger to Trump than Putin does. If you were Trump, who would you believe? Putin – who at least doesn’t pretend to have America’s interests at heart – or known liars in the American government who have sworn to remove Trump from office using fair means or foul? That’s a tough one.

Then there’s this from Andrew Neil:

Let me take a guess. Perhaps Trump has realised that the entire American political establishment wants him gone and is doing everything they can to undermine and remove him; half the American electorate has gone into meltdown and, a year on from his election, are calling him a white supremacist Nazi when they’re not screaming at the sky; and supposedly intelligent and educated foreigners, particularly Europeans, are acting in a spectacularly immature manner over Trump while their own countries descend into chaos. Standing out from all this is Putin who, for all his faults, is remaining reasonably calm, acting like an adult, and not throwing around childish insults. Little wonder Trump is taking him more seriously than anyone else.

The lessons that ought to be drawn from this are that if you demonise your own president and try to bring him down, he will take his friends where he finds them; and if you insist on acting like a child, the adults in the room will ignore you and talk among themselves. Thus far, the reaction seems to indicate the exact opposite.

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Bridges to Sakhalin Island

This story has popped up every year or two since I can remember:

An epic 8,400 mile railway route will link London to Tokyo in an ambitious project proposed by the Russian government.

Vladimir Putin’s officials are currently in serious talks with Japan about constructing a 28-mile bridge to enable trains to cross the sea.

Serious talks? I’d love to get hold of the Russian version this is based on.

The blueprint for the project, once mooted by Stalin

Projects which have been mooted for seventy years rarely come to fruition. The glaring exception was the Channel Tunnel, on which early efforts were made in the 19th century.

You can guess why I’m interested in this, can’t you?

Russian’s vice premier Igor Shuvalov said: ‘We are seriously offering our Japanese partners to consider the construction of a mixed road and railway passage from Hokkaido to southern part of Sakhalin.’

Sakhalin is Russia’s largest island – and it would take a 28-mile bridge or tunnel to link to Hokkaido in northern Japan, which is connected to the country’s super-efficient rail network.

Shivalov said: ‘We are close to starting our part of the job.’

Hmmm. Technically it’s probably feasible, although that straight line from Sakhalin to the mainland looks as though it was done by an intern at the Daily Mail. Why you’d build a bridge at an angle like that I don’t know, starting from some random spot along the coast of south-west Sakhalin. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever in that area other than a few decrepit and largely abandoned towns that were once fishing collectives. I know this because I’ve been there and took some photos, so you can see for yourselves. It would be far more sensible to take the line up to the midpoint where the mainland is closer and put the bridge there; I suspect the word “proposed” in that part of the drawing is somewhat misleading.

But even if this is technically possible, as an economic prospect it’s laughable. If the Japanese want to get to Europe they can fly and, with their being short, leg-room isn’t a concern even on long-haul flights. Why on earth would they choose to go by train which would take anywhere between one and two weeks? Okay, there is a certain romanticism still attached to the Trans-Siberian railway and die-hard travellers still take it and enjoy it. I never did it, but I have spent 3 days and 2 nights on a train between Moscow and some snowfield near Nizhnekamsk in Tatarstan and let me tell you, the novelty is gone an hour or so into the second day. The biggest problem by far is that Russia, when viewed from the train, is mind-numbingly boring for 90% of any given journey. I’ve done a fair few trips on Russian and Ukrainian trains and mostly I remember vast snowfields the size of France and as flat as a billiard-table stretching out of sight in all directions. And for some confounded reason they line the damned tracks with birch trees so you couldn’t see anything anyway. On Sakhalin we had mountains to look at (through gaps in the brown sludge that adheres to the windows) and it was nice enough for a few minutes, but hardly something you’d pay very much to do. As the Daily Mail says with a certain tongue in cheek:

Passengers would be able to marvel at the snow-capped mountains in Siberia before discovering the stark and deserted countryside of Russia for bulk of the trip.

Uh-huh. Of all the people I knew in Russia, just one did the Trans-Siberian from Khabarovsk to Moscow: a Dutch girl who was mad as a hatter and would later go on to build schools in Zimbabwe using her hands. She loved this sort of stuff, but I doubt many others would.

As a freight route it would be equally useless. The population of Sakhalin is around 200-250k people; the biggest population centre is Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk with 174,203 people according to Wikipedia. This hardly represents an enormous, untapped consumer market just waiting to be opened up. Some Russians might appreciated being able to nip to Japan for the weekend by train, but it’s hard to see why any Japanese would go the other way except for a few who like to shoot bears and the fewer still who like to get yelled at by staff in restaurants. What about the connection to the mainland? Well, back in the construction boom I was sending men and materials from Sakhalin to De Kastri and they’d take the overnight ferry from Kholmsk to some absolute shithole of a port on the mainland whose name I forget. The ferry was some stinking thing from the Soviet era and most people opted to sleep in their vehicles. Anyone not lugging scaffolding around took the plane. In short, nobody is very much interested in going between Sakhalin and the eastern mainland unless by plane, and even then it’s not many. With sea freight costs being what they are, the idea of taking goods halfway around the world by train, or sending them from one wasteland to another, doesn’t make much economic sense.

A bridge between the Russian mainland and Sakhalin has been costed at around £4 billion, while a link to Japan is likely to be more expensive.

The scheme was unveiled at Russia’s Eastern Economic Forum hosted in Vladivostok by Putin.

I bet Putin wasn’t around when this scheme was unveiled. This is a PR stunt for some company or technical college, nothing more. Well done to the Daily Mail for covering it, though.

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The Media Bubble

The news around Europe is that the Dutch have formed a government after a record 208 days of negotiations; Austria has elected an anti-immigration leader in a notable lurch rightward; and the Czechs have chosen a Eurosceptic as a prime minister (h/t Adam for the roundup). You’d have thought this would be a major point of discussion in the British media especially with the ongoing Brexit negotiations, but what was the BBC’s main headline yesterday afternoon? This one:

Never mind European populations swinging to the right and voting Eurosceptic politicians into office, what is important is who is saying what about Trump on Twitter.

Amusingly, Times columnist Oliver Kamm has an article at Capx urging the government to severely curtail Russia Today. Presumably it wasn’t considered good sport for the Times to call for censorship of a rival outlet on its own pages, so Kamm makes the call somewhere else. But here’s what he says when bragging about his own prescience:

I pointed out on the programme that RT was not a normal news station like the BBC, CNN or even Al Jazeera, but a state propaganda channel venting preposterous and pernicious conspiracy theories.

Most sensible people I know, including Russians, acknowledge that RT takes an unashamedly pro-Kremlin line. What is far more worrying is that many people believe the likes of BBC and CNN are unbiased, credible news organisations working on a higher moral plane. The bullshit emanating from the BBC might not be quite as blatant as RT, but nobody is forced to pay for the latter and nor is it wheeled out as some kind of national treasure. Between the two I don’t think there’s an awful lot to choose from, particularly on subjects such as Brexit and immigration which the Establishment are incapable of covering impartially. Anyone who writes for the Times and criticises RT while praising the BBC and CNN is seriously lacking self-awareness. Consider this remark from Kamm:

At the margin, Russian state propaganda has had an effect. David Coburn, an MEP for the UK Independence Party, unabashedly states: “RT gave UKIP publicity when nobody else would.”

In the wake of Brexit, how much of a bubble must one inhabit to think this is an argument for censoring RT rather than an example of the colossal failings of the established media?

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