Fair and Unbalanced
We didn’t have any races in Colorado in the latest round of pre-midterm elections, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t feel the ripples of another bad Republican night. In fact, the most critical political question now is which of the state’s Republicans should be most worried come Election Day in November.
I’d say it’s a toss-up among Mike Coffman in the 6th CD, Walker Stapleton in the governor’s race and any state senator in a swingish district.
It’s an off-year election, which is generally problematic for the party that holds the White House. And in this off-year election, it’s not just any Republican president, it’s Donald Trump, who, I think I can say without contradiction, is unlike any president belonging to any party in any part of the universe.
If the expected blue wave actually happens — and if there’s anything I learned from Trump’s victory, it’s to be slightly more cautious on the prediction front — it would obviously affect U.S. House races. Since the Civil War — and, kids, you can do the Google if you’re fuzzy on the dates — the presidential party has lost an average of 32 House seats in midterm elections.
But how deep would it go? A blue wave would likely mean a major swing in governors’ races, where Republicans hold a huge majority. And Democrats are busily investing important money in state legislative races, where Republicans had feasted during the Obama years. That makes 2018 the kind of year (like almost all others) where people say we’re facing the most important election of our lives. But this is one where some people might actually mean it. And most of those people would be Democrats.
If Mike Coffman were a normal Republican candidate — and not a bonafide escape artist who not only beats tough opponents in thought-to-be-tossup races, but beats them handily — I’d say he should be the most worried. But underestimating Coffman, as Democrats have learned, is a fool’s game.
In advance of this race, he has done his best to separate himself from Trump on some key issues, particularly immigration reform and DACA kids, but it’s hard to escape the fact that a Republican House is Trump’s House and the Republican Party, as constituted, is Trump’s Republican Party and, in any case, Coffman votes with that party and president overwhelmingly.
The news out of Ohio, in CD 12, is that the Republican candidate seems to have squeaked by in a special election by less than a percentage point. That would be good news for Republicans if it weren’t a district that Republicans have held since 1982 and have lost only once since the Depression. And it would be good news if Donald Trump hadn’t carried the district by 11 points. And it would be good news if there weren’t a distinct trend line here, in what is being called the rural/suburban divide. The rurals are sticking with Trump, the suburbans not so much. And then there’s the enthusiasm gap. What’s not to worry about?
According to the numbers crunched by FiveThirtyEight.com, since Donald Trump first stepped into the Oval Office, special election House races have shown a 16-point Democratic lean. By any count, that’s a lot of leaning. According to the Cook Political Report, there are 66 at-risk Republican House seats and five Democratic seats at risk in November. That’s a lot of risking. And Coffman’s seat is once again rated a toss-up.
Yes, Trump just tweeted that he’s expecting a red wave, and, I’m sure, somewhere in the background, Mike Pence is nodding in agreement. But is there anyone else who agrees? The reliably right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial page calls such thinking “an illusion.” I’d go with delusion, but I guess that’s why I don’t write for the Journal.
And so, you get this from Sen. Lindsey Graham, a sometimes Trump ally and a sometimes Trump critic: “There’s a real likelihood that (Democrats) not only win the House, but they win it by 10 or 12 more seats than they need.”
He adds, “If I was a House guy in an R +10 or less seat, I’d be getting on the phone and raising money and putting a sign on my dog.”
I don’t know if Coffman has a dog. I do know that his district is Democratic leaning, that Hillary Clinton carried it by nine points. And I know that, in the last two elections, both considered toss-ups going in, Coffman beat Morgan Carroll (2016) by nine points and Andrew Romanoff (2014) by eight points.
By my math, that’s two big wins for Coffman, but two wins under Graham’s +10, and if a blue wave is coming, it may take more than Spanish lessons (you remember Coffman’s classic Spanish-language debate with Spanish-fluent Romanoff) to pull out another highly contested race, this time against Jason Crow.
Democrats need to swing 23 seats in order to win the majority in the House. Most of the smart handicappers make them at least a slight favorite. Some have even suggested the possibility of a 50-seat swing. There can be no 50-seat swing that Coffman survives. It’s hard to see how he could survive Graham’s 35-seat scenario.
The problem for Coffman, and for every Republican in a swing district in Colorado, is Trump, who lost to Clinton by five points here. And one of the biggest problems with Trump is that he doesn’t believe he’s a problem. Trump’s plan for October and November is to be on the campaign trail every day he’s not at one of his golf courses.
Republicans have enough trouble winning the governor’s seat in Colorado — only Bill Owens in the last 40-plus years — without Trump. They’re hoping that Jared Polis is seen as too liberal for Colorado, but I’m wondering if the election will be about anything but Trump. You’ve seen Stapleton, who more than embraced Trump during the primary, trying to dodge the question of whether he wants Trump to campaign for him. He finally had to say he would, while not-so-secretly hoping Trump would stay away.
Maybe, if Stapleton is lucky, Republicans will send Ivanka as the Trumpian surrogate who can say she thinks locking children in cages is a bad idea. But if Stapleton is out there talking constantly about so-called “sanctuary cities” — as he almost certainly will be — he’ll basically be bringing Trump’s Mexicans-as-rapists-and-murderers bigotry with him.
And since many millions of dollars will be spent on television ads by both sides in the governor’s race, immigration will be constantly on, and in, the air. It’s just one more reason Coffman, a five-term incumbent, has to be worried. As he should be.
Photo credit: ResoluteSupportMedia, Creative Commons, Flickr.
It had to happen. Denver’s KKK-stained history has gone national. A New York Times story Tuesday, written by the excellent Julie Turkewitz, questions whether Walker Stapleton’s election run for governor will be affected by the state’s “grappling with his family’s past.”
I had a different question. What grappling?
As you may know, Stapleton’s great-grandfather, Ben Stapleton, was a five-term mayor of Denver. And when he was mayor, he was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan, which, shockingly, ruled the state. Many people are probably unfamiliar with this shameful period in the 1920s or the hooded Klansmen who paraded down Denver’s streets.
But does anyone really believe that it will matter in Stapleton’s race against Jared Polis? Do you think Polis will make it an issue – or even mention it?
In the Times story, Turkewitz notes that Colorado may not be so great at dealing with the shameful parts of its past. Is that changing? It is true that as Southern states argue over what to do with Confederate monuments, the Stapleton neighborhood did vote on whether to change the neighborhood organization’s name, given its namesake’s KKK membership.
That vote, by the way, failed — falling short of the two-thirds requirement.
I’ve lived in states — Virginia and Texas to name two — that are obsessed with their past. Colorado is obsessed with its 21st-Century problems, and I don’t mean the tractor slow-chase in downtown Denver. We are a state overflowing with newcomers who are probably more concerned with fast-rising housing costs and an overwhelmed infrastructure than with Colorado’s past.
For a brief history lesson, Colorado’s Klan — the violently anti-black, anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic hate group — is said to have been the second largest group in the country in the 1920s. Ben Stapleton embraced the Klan, filled his office with Klan members and somehow survived the period with his reputation largely intact, which says little for our state. This particular Klan era, which lasted about a decade, is inarguably one of the more shameful periods in the state’s history.
But it has nothing to do with Walker Stapleton. You know, sins of the fathers and the great-grandfathers and all.
What do you know about the politics of your great-grandfathers? Two of mine came here from Russia, one from Hungary, one from Poland. The 1920s rise of the Klan — less well known that the post-Civil War terrorist-group Klan or the 1960s Civil Rights-era terrorist-group Klan— was in large part a reaction to that wave of immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was a force in states across the nation.
But if Stapleton’s family isn’t the issue, that is not to say that Stapleton is off the hook. In the governor’s race, the past is far less important than the present. And in the present, the specter of immigration remains a major issue. Just ask Donald Trump about the wall he wants to build to keep out the so-called rapists and murderers. Or ask him about the agents he had sent to literally grab children from their parents’ arms at the border.
In the present, one of Stapleton’s principal issues is the defunding of so-called sanctuary cities, which is little more than a dog whistle to those who believe that undocumented immigrants represent a danger to our state. It’s an issue that would have played well in the ‘20s.
In the present, Stapleton — who is a Bush family member and who has seen both Bush presidents come out strongly against Trump — has embraced the president, sort of. He certainly embraced him during the primary season and now has no idea how to deal with the fact of Trump’s unpopularity among independents and Democrats. He is stuck with the same Trump whom I like to describe — at the risk of repeating myself — as a demagogue, a xenophobe, a misogynist, a bigot, a sexist, an authoritarian, a boor, etc., etc. Some in Colorado seem to agree with that assessment. In the last poll I saw on Trump’s favorability in the state, he was underwater, 55-to-42.
In the present, Stapleton has welcomed the endorsement of Tom Tancredo, who nominated him at the state assembly. Stapleton, you’ll remember, had planned to petition his way onto the ballot but had rather badly botched the signature-gathering process. And so, in a last-minute change, he had to try to win at least 30 percent of the vote at the state assembly. Enter Tancredo, who was brought in to help Stapleton appeal to the assembly’s right-wing fringe. It worked then. But how about in November?
I don’t have to tell you about Tancredo. Whether it’s suggesting the bombing of Mecca or defending white-nationalist groups, Tancredo has been at the ugly center of the immigration issues for decades. Trump is somehow president, and Tancredo is the Trump precursor who ran for president once himself and who now writes columns for Breitbart.
As you know, Tancredo ran for governor three times. He failed in the first two runs and dropped out in the last campaign. Not only has he never been elected governor, he has never won the Republican nomination for governor. The only time he made it onto the ballot was as the Constitution Party candidate in the year of the Dan Maes fiasco.
In the present, Tancredo was called out just this week by 9News’ Kyle Clark, who noticed a Tancredo retweet of what seemed to be an anti-democracy rally by Muslims. Superimposed on the photo were the words: “It Won’t Happen Here, You Say? Hello, This is Dearbornistan, Michigan.”
Of course, it wasn’t Dearborn, Michigan, where many Muslims do live and where, to be fair to Tancredo, he has never advocated bombing. The photo was from Afghanistan, which, as Clark noted, you could learn in 10 seconds on the Google. In other words, Tancredo, to no one’s surprise, had retweeted a vile, fake-news Internet meme. And yet he told Clark he didn’t know who would care other than the “snowflakes.”
Which struck me as pretty funny. The year Tancredo did make it onto the ballot, I attempted to cover his election-night party. He had heard I was coming, though, and, apparently unwilling to face me himself, had two extremely large bouncers there to kick me out. Do you have to wonder who the snowflake really is?
And do you have to wonder whether Stapleton has far more problematic relationships in 2018 than with a hood-wearing mayor who died, as Stapleton points out, 30 years before he was born?
We’ve finally reached a point where people — and not just people, but even some Republican people — feel the need to go there.
You know, there.
Not collusion there or obstruction-of-justice there or anything to do with the emoluments clause or Don Jr.’s Trump Tower meeting with the Russians. But there, where the real, dark question lies: Is Vladimir Putin actually holding something over Donald Trump’s head?
The question has been there all along — whether the answer is with the so-called pee tape or in his undisclosed tax returns — but it was inevitable following the Trump-Putin joint press conference in Helsinki that the question would go mainstream. Where was the Trump we know — the bully boy who had just stormed his way through NATO — suddenly being described as somewhere between servile and toadying? What else do you call an American president who stands next to Putin and and says he trusts Putin’s gangster government more than his own.
It was so clear that tabloid headline writers were calling Trump “Putin’s poodle” and Time magazine had Trump morphing into Putin on its cover. They’re not as bad, I guess, as former CIA director John Brennan calling Trump’s behavior “treasonous,” but I’m pretty sure Trump took the poodle insult harder.
It’s not that there can’t be alternative explanations for Trump’s deference, starting with his overriding concern that any admission of Russian involvement in his 2016 election only serves to delegitimize his upset victory, which, as you know, he won overwhelmingly despite not actually having won the popular vote.
But when Jeff Flake, the retiring Republican senator from Arizona and frequent Trump critic, goes to the Senate floor to question why Trump would go to Helsinki to side with Putin against America’s intelligence agencies or to blame America’s “foolishness” and “stupidity” and “rigged witch hunt” for our bad relations with Russia, Flake couldn’t resist going all the way.
Trump’s behavior, Flake said, “now leaves us contemplating the dark mystery: Why did he do that? What would compel our president to do such a thing?”
It’s no mystery what Flake meant by mystery. Flake wanted to know why Trump and Putin met alone — apparently at Trump’s suggestion — for more than two hours and why Trump’s closest advisors still don’t seem to know what Trump and Putin had agreed to. As many have pointed out, Kissinger was there with Nixon in Beijing and Reagan had a whole team with him when he met Gorbachev in Geneva.
The dark mystery. It has everyone talking now. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN that while he wanted to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, “More and more, I come to the conclusion that after the Helsinki performance and since, that I really do wonder whether the Russians have something on him.”
I can’t bring myself to believe in watershed moments any more regarding Trump. I read the polls. He’s been running a solid 40-42 percent approval rating for a year now. Charlottesville didn’t change anything. The outrage over the placing-of-children-in-cages story, which, by the way, gets worse with each new revelation, hasn’t seemed to change anything.
But in Friday’s New York Times, Texas Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican who spent many years in the CIA, wrote an op-ed beginning this way: “Over the course of my career as an undercover officer in the CIA, I saw Russian intelligence manipulate many people. I never thought I would see the day when an American president would be one of them.”
Meanwhile, there’s the viral video of Dan Coats, the current director of national intelligence, being informed by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that Trump had invited Putin to visit Washington in the fall. “Say that again. Did I hear you?” Coats said, clearly stunned to hear the news from a reporter and not, say, from his boss. “OK, that’s going to be special.”
Coats had already defended the assessment that the Russians interfered with the 2016 elections and were going for it again in the 2018 midterms. No wonder they were saying at the White House that Coats had gone rogue. It may be just a coincidence, but The New York Times had a story earlier saying that all of this — all the Russian interference in 2016, all the connections to Putin — were laid out for Trump by intelligence officials two months before he took the oath of office.
At the same conference, in Aspen, FBI Director Chris Wray refuted the Trump claim that the Mueller investigation was a witch hunt. When told that Trump was still saying that the Russians aren’t active — which he sort of walked back in what is now semi-officially known as Trump’s Walkback Week — Wray said, “He’s got his view. I can tell you what my view is.”
The fact that both leading Trump officials would dispute the president so clearly means either they’re both expecting to be fired or that, for a few, country over party is still a thing. Just don’t spend much of your time looking to Congress for guidance on that.
Meanwhile, there’s the matter of what Trump called Putin’s “incredible offer” to have the Russians interrogate 11 Americans, including a former ambassador, in exchange for giving Robert Mueller access to the Mueller-indicted Russia 12. A day later, Sarah Sanders said the idea was actually being considered, at which the time the outrage meter blew so high that the Capitol dome was set atwirl. Maybe Trump wasn’t a very stable genius after all.
In a rare Trump rebuke, the Senate voted 98-0 for a resolution saying, in effect, no American president would ever hand over Americans to that extra-judicial nightmare that is Putin’s Russia. It was only 98-0 because two senators weren’t there for the vote. For once, there wasn’t a poodle in sight. That streak lasted for maybe five minutes — when two other similar, but tougher, resolutions were shot down without a vote. Pretty soon Republicans will be back trying to shut down the Mueller investigation.
In my last column, I asked if anything would change after Helsinki or, for that matter, anything else Trump does. That’s the other dark mystery — deep, dark and, 18 months into Trump’s disastrous presidency, still unsolved.
Photo by The White House for Creative Commons in Flickr.
For those keeping score at home, Donald Trump hit an all-time low in his post-summit news conference from Helsinki with his friend (co-conspirator?) Vladimir Putin.
This is not an overstatement. There is no possibility of overstatement here. In fact, you couldn’t possibly disagree with this assessment unless you were either Mike Pence or Sean Hannity.
The moment the news conference ended, CNN’s Anderson Cooper rolled out “disgraceful” to describe Trump’s performance, and for the next few hours, pundits and politicos would compete in a deep thesaurus dive searching for the perfect word or phrase: shameful or astonishing or deeply troubling or devastating or dangerous or imbecilic or disingenuous or shocking or unprecedented or Munich-like appeasement or, according to former CIA chief John Brennan, treasonous. Brennan also called for “patriotic Republicans” to finally stand up to Trump.
I’ll go with David Gergen, who has served under every president in recent memory and who put it this way: “Never have I seen a president so badly betray his own country on the world stage.”
Meanwhile, Politico summed up the news conference in a succinct tweet.
Reporter: Do you hold Russia accountable for anything?
Trump: We’re all to blame.
Check the link. Trump says Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned him that Putin was to blame for interference in the 2016 election. Trump says Putin made an “incredibly strong and confident” argument that he wasn’t. If you’re wondering which side Trump came down on,Trump said “I do not see any reason why it would be” Russia’s fault.
This was such a low point that you’d almost — yes, I said almost — think that such a presidential-sized betrayal would finally shock the nation into action.
Ok, we know what happened — Trump chose Putin over country while slamming the FBI in front of the former KGB agent — even if we’re not sure why. Does Putin really have something on Trump? Is this yet another reworking of the Manchurian Candidate? As a confirmed anti-conspiracy theorist, I’ve long thought that Trump’s unwillingness to concede Russia’s role in the 2016 election must be about his ego and the Electoral College or maybe something in his tax returns or perhaps just his bromance with the world’s tyrants. In a video message to Trump, Arnold Schwarzenegger went with the groupie theory, saying Trump looked like a “fanboy” ready to ask for Putin’s autograph.
As The Atlantic’s James Fallows put it: Conscious tool or useful idiot? In some ways, it doesn’t matter. There are a hundred other theories, which we can probably leave Bob Mueller to sort out. The question is not whether Ronald Reagan is rolling over in his grave, but what do we do now.
There is an answer, but it could come only from Trump’s Republican enablers. This is what they call a gut check. If you don’t count John McCain, who is home battling brain cancer, Republicans hold a 50-49 majority in the Senate. This is easy math, if difficult politics. If only one Republican were to become an independent and caucus with Democrats, imagine the stunning change, the subpoenas, the hearings, etc.
Actually, the lone Republican — yes, more would be better — wouldn’t even have to defect. All it would take is joining Democrats in protecting Mueller’s investigation and in calling for hearings on Trump’s Make Russia Great Again summit.
I don’t expect that to happen. I don’t expect much to happen. Some are suggesting that any Trump aide with a conscience should resign. Some are suggesting that if this crisis heats up, there could be the need for a scapegoat. John Kelly, anyone?
If you think this is a crisis point for America — and I certainly do — that doesn’t mean you have to believe it will play out any differently from all the rest. Isn’t the essence of Trumpworld that we now live in the post-tipping-point era?
There has been tough criticism from some Republicans, mostly from the usual suspects like McCain — who said he’d never seen a U.S. president so “abase himself” before a tyrant — and from those who have already announced they’re not seeking re-election. More often the comments resemble those from our own Cory Gardner, who said he strongly disagreed with Trump’s words and actions in Helsinki (and presumably those from Belgium earlier in Trump’s world travels), but couldn’t actually bring himself to mention Trump’s name.
He also couldn’t bring himself to defend Mueller or to note that it was only three days ago that Coats had warned of more Russian interference, saying “the red lights are blinking again.” Instead Gardner said he hoped this administration wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of past administrations. You could call that weak tea. I’d call it weak-kneed.
The best American moments in Helsinki came from an AP reporter and a Reuters reporter — you know, enemies of the people — who were the lone American journalists called on to ask questions at the news conference. They put Trump on the spot in asking him to choose between Putin and U.S intelligence. We watched Trump as he faltered, once again blaming the “witch hunt” for the problems between Russia and the United States instead of blaming the witch — OK, the thug — standing next to him.
It was a disgraceful performance, but hardly surprising. I mean, you weren’t really expecting Trump to debate Putin on Crimea, were you? When Mueller indicted the 12 Russian intelligence agents for interfering in the 2016 election, Trump’s game plan was set. After lashing out against our allies in Europe, Trump would buddy up to Putin, who deserves great credit for not once cracking a smile as Trump prattled on about Hillary Clinton and her emails and Peter Strzok and his texts.
You can argue, I guess, whether Trump betrayed his country by his performance. What’s inarguable is that he humiliated himself and everyone who has ever supported him.
A 2017 photo of actors in prosthetics in London in by Paddy Power Joe Pepler, via Flickr: Creative Comm
As you may have heard, Indy editor Susan Greene was handcuffed and detained by two Denver cops Thursday in front of the state Capitol for — and I can’t emphasize this enough — simply trying to do her job and for nothing more.
It’s an outrage, of course. This standoff between cop and reporter is not a product of the Trumpian fake news era, by the way. This is the product of a longstanding police issue with what we’ll call transparency and which long predates Donald Trump.
But if you read the comments on Greene’s column — a column that went viral because the First Amendment apparently still means something in America — you’ll see the national divide being played out in its usual ugly form. Greene, many of the commenters complained, was whining, she was disrespectful, she was a cop-hater, she was out to exploit the man held by the police, she was a purveyor of fake news. If you read carefully, you could almost hear those at a Trump rally cheering the commenters on.
Evidence for what had happened with the man — cuffed, naked except for a smallish towel — and what happened to Greene for investigating the incident should be available from the cop-cams that police officers wear. We’ll see. To this point, the police have refused to release the evidence to The Indy. In the days of #blacklivesmatter, more and more cops across the country are wearing cameras, but we’ve also seen how often the cameras are somehow turned off when the situation grows dicey.
Greene was driving down Colfax and saw a group of cops surrounding a man sitting on the sidewalk, with just a cloth covering the parts that, by law, needed to be covered. It looked, well, potentially dicey. As a reporter who writes often and well on social justice issues and especially criminal justice issues, she pulled over to find out what was going on. (For evidence of Greene’s profound interest in this area, you can read here of her award last year from the ACLU of Colorado for her work in civil rights.) Among other things, she wanted to know why the police had not covered up the man sitting exposed on the sidewalk.
This is what reporters do. Meanwhile, what cops often do when confronted with nosy civilians or nosy reporters is to try to shoo them away and try to shut them down. Any reporter can tell you of such confrontations. I can’t say how many I’ve had, but I can say that none of them ended with me in cuffs. These cops crossed a line this time that must never be crossed.
Greene was taking pictures with her smart phone. The cops told her she couldn’t. She explained it was a public sidewalk and that, according to the Supreme Court’s reading of the First Amendment, she can take all the pictures she wants in a public place. One cop then said — and this was amazing both in its ignorance of the law and, I’ll concede, in its speed of reply — that she was violating HIPAA rules by taking photos of a mostly naked guy.
The cop was wrong, of course, in about a half-dozen ways — HIPAA rules? Seriously? He could have made a better case for spitting on the sidewalk. That didn’t stop him from detaining Greene for obstruction, slapping on the cuffs, roughly twisting her arm while insisting she was resisting the officers, advising her to act more ladylike. For the record, and in what should be obvious to anyone, Greene wasn’t interested in photos of the man in question or anything that would invade his privacy. She wanted photos of the cops surrounding the naked guy. And that was the issue.
This is no story of cops facing danger, as they too often do. This is no story of split-second judgment in which mistakes are inevitably made. This was the story of a reporter doing her job and cops going to extraordinary measures to prevent her from doing her job, which, they should know, is protected both by the Constitution and by state law.
The police defended their actions by saying the man in question was “in crisis” and that they were awaiting medical help. The man was not arrested. He was taken to a hospital, from which he has been released. What this explanation doesn’t do is explain how Greene ended up in cuffs in the back of a police car.
It’s no secret that the news-gathering institutions are under assault. Days after five reporters were killed at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Trump was in North Dakota at a political rally and, predictably, back on his fake-news kick. We journalists are not alone, of course. Trump also insulted a dying John McCain, a frail 93-year-old George H.W. Bush, and Maxine Waters’ supposedly low IQ.
In Denver, the story is different. We know of the needless deaths of men in police custody who have mental issues, maybe issues not so different from the man Greene saw on the sidewalk. We know of these stories because Greene has been at the center in covering them. Most of the officers involved have been lightly reprimanded despite the evidence uncovered by Greene and other reporters, the same evidence that has led to millions of dollars in settlements with the families of those who died.
It’s something in that history that led Greene to pull over. It’s something in that history that led Greene to be cuffed.
It’s something in that history that is prompting the Denver police to launch an internal investigation of the matter.
It is something — no, everything — in that history that should worry every Denver resident.
Photo of marks left by restraints on Susan Greene’s wrist after Denver Police detained and then released her. Photo by Susan Greene.
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