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Trenchant Commentary on Eric Garner’s Death

[ 19 ] December 5, 2014 |

Richard Pryor on police killing black people with choke holds.

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Rolling Stone…

[ 223 ] December 5, 2014 |

Well, this is a problem.

In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.

Much remains to play out, but at a minimum it does appear that Rolling Stone failed to conduct due diligence in its reporting. As a few people have noted, given the destructive impact of the “false accusation” narrative on rape victims’ willingness to come forward, it’s absolutely critical that journalistic outlets do their best to nail down the facts.

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The Kia of the Fighter World

[ 2 ] December 5, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat takes a look at the export prospects of the Sino-Pakistani JF-17:

The JF-17, a joint Sino-Pakistani fighter project, is a single engine fighter developed, conceptually, as a modern MiG-21. Given how global fighter fleets have deteriorated since the end of the Cold War, the idea seemed sound; a low-cost fighter that didn’t present major technical challenges, and that could serve as a cheap option for revitalizing many air forces. Like many such low-end projects, however, the “maybe good enough” JF-17 has yet to catch on with defence ministries fixated on prestige and technology.

Recently, however, indications have emerged that a few countries might have an interest.

Off to Brazil this afternoon; blogging will be light, but hopefully not non-existent.

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Rod Dreher: A Piece of Work

[ 79 ] December 5, 2014 |

This is Roy’s beat, but his rundown didn’t cover Dreher, whose blog I’ve found myself lurking on lately for reasons I can neither explain nor defend.

Dreher starts off sounding more or less sane, decent, and human, calling the non-indictment “deeply, deeply disturbing” and approvingly quoting a Southern Baptist leader that “ it’s high time we start listening to our African American brothers and sisters in this country when they tell us they are experiencing a problem.”

But then…the updates start. “Bobby” whom we are assured is a lawyer, sets him straight (while getting a key point of law wrong), explaining the non-indictment was the proper outcome. This relieves Dreher of the burden of worrying about things like racial injustice and police accountability, allowing him to settle back into his comfort zone of sneering at liberals. Via more missives from “Bobby” we learn that liberals who purport to be troubled by…exactly what Dreher appeared to be troubled by just the other day are nothing but posturing hypocrites because they hold the absurd expectation that police should work to prevent crime while not unnecessarily killing black people, which is apparently a completely unreasonable request. Yoga classes, “SWPL”s, kale, and gentrification all make guest appearances in what Dreher tells his readers is Bobby’s “wisdom.”

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But Who Moved My Cheese? An Inquiry Into the New Disruptively Proactive Paradigm

[ 73 ] December 5, 2014 |

Well, this is not promising:

The irony is that the end of TNR as we know it comes less than three weeks after the 30-year-old Hughes–who had the good fortune to have been Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard roommate, and helped Zuckerberg launch the social networking behemoth–spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to stage a gala Washington dinner celebrating the magazine’s 100th anniversary. Among the 400 attendees–who supped on “ribbons of beet-cured char,” “beef tenderloin [with] truffled potato crepes” and “apple pecan tart [with] warm bourbon-caramel sauce”–were keynote speaker Bill Clinton, Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. Wynton Marsalis entertained. Vidra also gave a speech, talking mostly about himself, according to one attendee, and, in a brief mention of TNR’s editor, mispronouncing Foer as “foyer”–a gaffe that provoked gasps and laughter.

“That dinner was like the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones,” a TNR veteran told The Daily Beast.

[...]

The friction escalated with the arrival of Vidra, who is said to have complained to Foer that the magazine was boring and that he couldn’t bring himself to read past the first 500 words of an article. According to witnesses, Vidra did little to hide his disrespect for TNR’s tradition of long-form storytelling and rigorous, if occasionally dense, intellectual and political analysis–to say nothing of his lack of interest in the magazine’s distinguished history–at an all-hands meeting in early October.

Presiding at the head of a long conference table, Vidra didn’t acknowledge Foer, who was seated beside him; he didn’t look at him; he didn’t mention him. Instead, as he started to speak, Vidra confided that he liked to stand up and move around the room as he communicated his thoughts, as though he were Steve Jobs unveiling the latest technological marvel. Oddly, he stood up, but he didn’t move.

Vidra spoke in what one witness described as “Silicon Valley jargon,” and, using a tech cliché, declared: “We’re going to break shit”–a vow hardly calculated to ingratiate himself with TNR’s veteran belle-lettrists, who feared that he was threatening the magazine’s destruction. Only a few interns dared to ask questions, which Vidra repeatedly dodged. “The senior people were too shocked to speak,” said a witness. “Jaws were dropping to the floor.” Through it all, Chris Hughes nodded approvingly, an unnerving grin on his face.

To be sure, that meeting was a warning sign. But the manner in which the two technology mavens administered their coup de grâce only two months later has left a bitter taste.

According to informed sources, Hughes and Vidra didn’t bother to inform Foer that he was out of a job. Instead, the editor was placed in the humiliating position of having to phone Hughes to get confirmation after Gawker.com posted an item at 2:35 p.m. reporting the rumor that Bloomberg Media editor Gabriel Snyder, himself a onetime Gawker editor, had been hired as Foer’s replacement. Yes, it’s true, Hughes sheepishly admitted, notwithstanding that he and Vidra had given Foer repeated assurances that his job was safe.

In fairness, I believe them when they say they’re going to “break shit.” Whether anything worthwhile will be built in the place of what was broken is another question. At a minimum, the adaptation-to-the-web issue appears to have been a red herring.

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How to Celebrate Bhopal

[ 35 ] December 5, 2014 |

If you were prime minister of India, how would you celebrate the 30th anniversary of Bhopal, the worst industrial accident in world history? If you are Narendra Modi, you try to recreate it around your country by eviscerating environmental laws and giving chemical companies open season to pollute and kill.

VAPI, India — Factory owners in this city on the western coast of India have been fuming, railing, and arguing for years against a single troublesome number: the pollution index used by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, which identified Vapi as an area so badly contaminated that any further industrial growth there was banned.

They finally got some good news in early June, about two weeks after Narendra Modi was sworn in as prime minister. The new officials at the ministry told them that the pollution index would be revised — and in the meantime, Vapi’s chemical and pesticide factories were again free to expand, and to snap at China’s share of the global chemical export market.

Rightly so, said Harshad Patel, standing outside the plant where he works. The air had an acrid-sweet smell, and reddish-brown effluent was gushing from a treatment plant down the road at a rate of 55 million gallons a day into the Daman Ganga River, but Mr. Patel looked untroubled. “Clean India is fine — we also like clean India,” he said. “But give us jobs.”

Indian industries have often complained that convoluted environmental regulations are choking off economic growth. As a candidate, Mr. Modi promised to open the floodgates, and he has been true to his word. The new government is moving with remarkable speed to clear away regulatory burdens for industry, the armed forces, mining and power projects.

Not surprisingly, Modi is using the same strategy that U.S. corporations want in our nation–devolution to state regulators:

“We have decided to decentralize decision-making,” Mr. Javadekar said. “Ninety percent of files won’t come to me anymore.”

He said the new government was not phasing out important environmental protections, just “those which, in the name of caring for nature, were stopping progress.”

Environmental activists are alarmed at the plan to devolve power to state regulators, in part because state chief ministers have powerful incentives to support industry. “It would be a rubber stamp, because the chief minister would just call the pollution control guy and say, ‘clear it,’ ” said Jairam Ramesh, who served as environment minister under the previous national government. “In the state, the chief minister is the king, he’s the sultan.”

Bhopal for all!

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This Day in Labor History: December 5, 1894

[ 26 ] December 5, 2014 |

On December 5, 1894, Alabama repealed its child labor law in order to convince the officials of the Dwight Manufacturing Company, a textile corporation, to move its mill operations from Chicopee, Massachusetts to its state. Dwight did this, settling in Gadsden. This incident is both an early incident in the history of capital mobility, a phenomenon that plagues workers today, and also shines a light into how the apparel industry was a pioneer in breaking labor resistance through simply closing up and moving operations to a non-union state.

Child labor had long plagued the United States. Of course, children worked in various ways on farms on in the cities but the Industrial Revolution made that work all the harder and more dangerous, with factory owners using children’s small size to hire them in the most dangerous jobs, often around moving and deadly machinery. At the same time, in New England, increasingly restive workers protested against the poor wages and bad working conditions of the textile industry. Moreover, northern states had started passing legislation mandating wages and hours, especially for the female and child workers the textile industry loved exploiting. By the 1903, Chicopee had about 2000 union members in the textile industry and a growing set of state labor laws these unions successfully fought for that today we would see as basic protections for workers.

Stepping into this labor unrest were the southern states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama, who began to see attracting northern investment in textile mills as part of the solution to its persistent white poverty and an economic move befitting a New South image they pushed. The first cotton mill opened in Alabama in 1832 but the industry remained small, despite that state’s centrality in American cotton production. By the mid-1880s, Alabama legislators decided to encourage northern capital investment, offering tax exemptions and cheap labor to textile corporations.

But in 1887, Alabama also became the first southern state to enact regulations on hours and child labor. This created an 8-hour day for most women in factories, an 8-hour day for children under 14 in most work and banned work for those under 15 in the coal or iron mines. This was supported by the Knights of Labor, which was briefly prominent in Alabama, as it was in much of the nation. But with the Knights’ decline in the aftermath of Haymarket, the political will to keep these laws in place quickly waned.

In 1894, the Dwight Manufacturing Company announced it was going to build a southern factory to get away from its restive workers and “oppressive laws” guaranteeing them some rights, as their executives called them. It put itself up to the highest bidder. Dwight didn’t like that it couldn’t employ children. Alabama repealing their child labor law thus made it the winner of Dwight’s race to the bottom. The original law simply excepted Etowah County, where the factory was to go, but 12 days later, Governor William Oates signed another bill repealing it for the whole state. The company refused to transfer workers to Chicopee in order to keep the union traditions away from its new home. About this repeal, Samuel Gompers wrote, “I was horrified by this outrageous piece of legislation…this crime that had been committed by that legislature in sacrificing young and innocent children to the greed and rapacity of the profit mongers.” By May 1897, 17 of the 162 employees in the Dwight spinning department were 10 years of age or younger.

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Northern unions did not take this lying down. The National Union of Textile Workers began trying to organize the southern mill workers, fighting for northern standards in order to undermine the threat of capital mobility. Factories such as Dwight used the standard anti-union procedures–firing unionized workers, kicking them out of company towns, threatening to replace them with black labor, the blacklist. The NUTW and other unions struggled mightily to organize the mills, which were largely seen as public benefactors by many white Alabamans. The labor movement outside the textile industry in the state did however start fighting immediately for new labor legislation. After several failed attempts, a 1903 compromise bill banned child labor under the age of 12 except for some exemptions such as orphans and children of widowed mothers who could be employed at the age of 10. The textile companies, including Dwight, fought against this, but it did pass.

However, it lacked any meaningful enforcement mechanism. With the rising Progressive Era, even in Alabama the continued use of child labor sparked increased concern, and a somewhat better law passed in 1907. The Dwight Mill received a significant amount of negative publicity throughout this fight, including from the Massachusetts State Federation of Labor who had it in mind when it blamed the lack of labor law in the South on “attorneys of Northern capitalists who have large investments in the Southern mills.” Despite this new law, in 1910, Alabama mills still employed 2903 children between the ages of 10 and 13.

By 1927, Dwight had closed its Massachusetts operations and had moved to Alabama full time. While the southern textile operations slowly killed the industry in the northeast, it was not immune from the same problems. In 1934, textile workers around the nation, including in the South, struck over low wages and bad conditions and after World War II, the apparel industry began experimenting with moving their operations overseas. For the Dwight Company, their workers had organized even before 1934 and continued fighting for unionism through the 30s, despite continued firing and blacklisting from the company. Dwight openly defied the National Labor Relations Board and challenged the constitutionality of the Wagner Act, even after the Supreme Court found for its constitutionality in 1937. Because of Dwight, The Nation‘s Maxwell Stewart called Gadsden, “the toughest [antiunion] city in the United States,” although there was plenty of competition for that honor. Finally, when their Alabama workers struck in 1959, the company shut the mill down and threw 2100 people out of work.

By the 1980s, companies like Dwight were leaving the United States entirely because of too many labor laws like the Wagner Act, what with its minimum wages and guaranteeing of collective bargaining rights. The southern mill towns suffered the same fate as did New England. As does any place today that tries to give workers right or pass legislation protecting labor or the environment. Apparel manufacturers pioneered capital mobility and continue to aggressively search for the cheapest and most exploitative labor today, even if over 1100 workers die in a single factory collapse in the process.

This post is based on Beth English, A Common Thread: Labor, Politics, and Capital Mobility in the Textile Industry, a book I found very useful in conceptualizing Out of Sight.

This is the 127th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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Police Brutality: Crucial Background

[ 81 ] December 5, 2014 |

First, Ian Millhiser on the Supreme Court decision that made it much easier for police officers such as the one that killed Eric Garner to escape legal sanction:

Yet the justices’ decision in Lyons likely played a role in allowing police chokeholds to continue to this day. At the very least, Lyons made it much, much harder for victims of these chokeholds to ensure that other people were not victimized in the future.

Worse, Lyons was just one of many individuals that Los Angeles police targeted with a chokehold, often with fatal results. According to law professor and dean Erwin Chemerinsky’s book The Case Against the Supreme Court, Lyons discovered that sixteen people died after being choked by an LAPD officer, almost all of whom were black men. When police Chief Daryl Gates was asked why almost all of these fatal chokeholds involved African Americans, Gates replied that the “veins or arteries of blacks do not open up as fast as they do in normal people.”

Yet the story of Adolph Lyons and the case that bears his name is also the story of how arcane legal doctrines can reshape decades of police practices. Lyons was a 5-4 decision. If just one more justice had sided with Mr. Lyons, it may have enabled the courts to prevent cases like Garner’s from ever happening.

I will observe at this point that 3 of the five justices in the majority (as well as, admittedly, one dissenter) were appointed by the Last Liberal President, Richard Nixon.

Brian Beutler is also making sense here:

If prosecutors and police departments are too tightly linked for due process to mean anything, then puncturing the impunity requires breaking the link.

One way to do this would be for citizens at state and local levels, through ballot initiatives, to take the authority for presenting evidence of police misconduct to grand juries out of the hands of local prosecutors. That authority could be handed to publicly accountable review boards staffed with civilian lawyers from within the jurisdiction, or to special prosecutors’ offices.

The point would be to eliminate the conflict of interest that arises—as it did in Ferguson and Staten Island—when local prosecutors investigate the officers on whom they rely for evidence, cooperation, and political endorsements.

“I think it’s viable,” Ronald Wright, a distinguished professor of criminal law at Wake Forest University told me by phone Wednesday evening. “You could revise state law so that you could describe the category of cases where the appointment of a special prosecutor is mandatory. The governor shall appoint a special prosecutor in the possible criminal wrongdoing by police officer in jurisdiction with the same boundary as the district attorney. You could have an automatic trigger.”

Governors would also face pro-police political pressures, needless to say, but it’s hard to believe this wouldn’t be an improvement.

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Listicles of the Arctic!

[ 5 ] December 4, 2014 |

Latest at the National Interest:

It’s not surprising that Russia has prepared its military for arctic operations better than any other country. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union prepared to fight across the Arctic, both in the air and at sea. Many of the weapons and much of the expertise from that era have remained, leaving the Kremlin with a lethal set of capabilities. Here are five systems we can expect Russia to use in order to defend its interests in the Arctic Ocean, in case the unthinkable ever occurred.

Some other links of note:

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Thoughts On the Quasi-End of the New Republic

[ 157 ] December 4, 2014 |

Interesting. A few points:

  • Evidently, the magazine’s tradition is a mixed blessing.  Ta-Nehisi Coates has been running through some of the lowlights on his Twitter feed, and you know many of them: The Bell Curve, racist cover defending welfare reform, comprehensively dishonest anti-health care reform cover story, Marty Peretz, etc.  Don Graham’s “TNR … looking for a qualified black since 1914!” retort to Ruth Shalit’s terrible affirmative action story should still sting. It’s particularly worth emphasizing an often-forgotten fact about the Stephen Glass story: the fiction that made him was a grotesquely racist story about made-up African-American cab drivers.  (Glass’s major talent was telling people what they wanted to hear, and what Marty Peretz wanted to hear was white supremacist bullshit.)  I regret what seems to be happening to TNR, but we shouldn’t forget this part of their legacy either.
  • Still, since Beinart was replaced by Foer the first time it has, on balance, been an excellent magazine.  A lot of first-rate journalists write for it — Jon Cohn, Rebecca Traister, Brian Beutler, Julia Ioffe, and I could keep going for a bit. They were good hires given the space to do their best work. There just aren’t a lot of remaining forums that pay for serious political and cultural writing, and the fact that one seems to be undergoing a major shift in direction isn’t good news.
  • The empty corporate buzzwords that the magazine’s owner and CEO have used to describe their new vision for the magazine are…not promising.
  • Leah Finnigan’s retort, I think, is understandable but misses the point. If Foer were being replaced with Snyder and nothing else was changing, the reaction would indeed be overwrought.  But, of course, that’s not the case.  In particular, the issue with Wieseltier resigning isn’t the loss of his atrocious column but the loss of a superb literary review editor.  Even when the politics pages have been uneven or bad, the back pages of TNR have generally been outstanding.  I hope I’m wrong, but it seems pretty likely that to the extent that the new TNR covers culture at all, it will be much closer to the BuzzFeed smarm model.
  • It’s possible that the new Gotham TNR will be good.  Gabriel Snyder is very well-regarded, and he might be able to retain and attract enough talent to produce a worthwhile magazine.  But given the aforementioned vision of Hughes and Vidra, I find it hard to be optimistic.

…a lot of interesting points from Ezra here.

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In Sight

[ 69 ] December 4, 2014 |

A central argument of Out of Sight is that when people see horrible things, they are outraged, and thus corporations do everything possible to separate consumers from production so that they don’t see workers dying like at Triangle or rivers burnings like the Cuyahoga. Instead, when these things happen in Bangladesh, it might get the attention to people like me, but the general public basically doesn’t care and thus no sustained movement develops to force accountability on corporations.

Some of the same dynamics are at work with police cameras. I heard a lot of people last night express frustration that the murder of Eric Garner was filmed and the cop still got off scot free. And that’s really messed up. Police cameras are no panacea. But they are a tool. If Garner’s murder is not filmed, no one knows about it. The same dynamic worked with Rodney King’s beating over twenty years ago. The cameras open our eyes to the horrors of racist police violence. Requiring them is something we must do. But just because this stuff is filmed doesn’t mean that it will necessarily lead to more convictions of murderous police officers. There’s a whole infrastructure set up to protect these cops. Unpeeling one layer of this onion brings us closer to justice but doesn’t guarantee it, not when you have a justice system set up to let cops off and not when you have an overwhelming attitude among many white Americans that “these people” should just follow the cops’ orders. But when the cameras bring us out to protest, express outrage, and demand justice, that places pressure on the police and their supporters to clean up their act. If they react like jerks to this pressure, as so many have done in recent weeks, then we can build on that too.

So fight for the cameras. If it’s not for the cameras, people aren’t on the street last night and continuing to express outrage today. It’s just another dead black man otherwise, one of far too many, the vast majority of which die from police violence without any movement for justice arising out of it. Just don’t expect the cameras to lead to prosecutions of cops. Not yet. Even if that’s absolutely what should be demanded. There is much more pressure that needs to be applied at more pressure points first. But like the Triangle Fire and the Cuyahoga River Fire, or for that matter the Ray Rice video, the knowledge that comes from viewing horrible things leads to meaningful calls for change.

Meanwhile, a white cop in Phoenix murdered an unarmed black man last night. Just another case of racist police violence toward people of color.

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Saying The Quiet Part With A Bullhorn, Phyllis Schlafly Edition

[ 59 ] December 4, 2014 |

Dahlia Lithwick and Irin Carmon have good roundups of yesterday’s oral arguments in the UPS pregnancy discrimination case. Evidently, anyone bringing a gender discrimination case before the current Court is usually drawing dead, although this case seems a little less clear-cut. Breyer was also particularly…Breyer.

Carmon cites it at the end of her piece, but connoisseurs of crank reactionary arguments really should examine the amicus brief filed by Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum. As Carmon says, in the policy section of the brief they argue that reading the Pregnancy Discrimination Act as a statute designed to inhibit discrimination against pregnancy would “harm American families”:

In enacting PDA, Congress never intended:
(1)to eliminate stereotypes of husband-breadwinner, wife-homemaker families;
(2)to have women return to work immediately after giving birth to the exclusion of caring for their newborns;
(3)to have pregnant women work as package – delivering truck drivers; or
(4)to privilege the status of female truck drivers over either male truck drivers or the women married to male truck drivers.

While the eradication of typical – or even stereotypical – families was the goal of the feminist movement [cites ommittted -- ed.], Congress generally has taken the more moderate path advocated by UPS here.

[...]

At all times relevant to this action, Young herself was married to a man whose job provided medical insurance. Nonetheless, much of the advocacy and data submitted to this Court press the concerns of single women who work and want to have children. If PDA did allow women like Young and similarly situated single women to impose their pregnancies on coworkers [! -- ed.], PDA might provide enough of a cushion for Young, but it would leave similarly situated single women short, once their children were born. Facilitating single motherhood out of strained sense of equality does not do the women or the children a significant or long – lasting favor.

The last paragraph is followed by a lengthy quote from a 1993 Charles Murray op-ed, arguing that single mothers “must destroy the community’s capacity to sustain itself.” Murray is cited again to argue that all attempts to promote economic equality are futile. Oddly, the cites showing that the typical member of Congress that voted for the PDA shared Murray’s crackpot views are omitted.

In addition, I also enjoyed the fact that the brief argues that reading the PDA as trying to prevent discrimination against pregnant women would threaten the nation’s most precious resource of all, the right of citizens not to have an effective remedy when their rights are violated by state governments:

Finally, although UPS itself is not a state entity entitled to sovereign immunity [the Roberts Court is leaving that until 2017 -- ed.], Young’s broad reading would – as explained below – exceed the power of Congress as applied to states. As such, the canon of constitutional avoidance argues for the UPS reading as a way to avoid an unconstitutional statute as applied to states.

Although Congress enacted Title VII under both the Commerce Clause and, as to states, Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress can abrogate states’ sovereign immunity only under Section 5. For Congress to do so, there must be a violation of Equal Protection taking place. Unlike prior decisions that have upheld abrogating states’ sovereign immunity to address sex discrimination, the PDA reading pressed by Young and her amici seeks preferential treatment (not non – discrimination) based on the state of being pregnant (not based on sex).

The law, in its majestic equality, should treat men and women who get pregnant exactly the same!

Anyway, anyone can make a horrible argument opposing gender equality, but to combine this with a particularly bad federalism argument in a case that doesn’t even involve a state government — that’s some world-class wingnuttery right there.

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