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“An outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere”

A wide view of Grand Central Terminal with an unusually sparse crowd during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in New York City. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

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New York governor Andrew Cuomo has become the articulate, compassionate political face of government competence in fighting a pandemic.

That’s quite an achievement for a man who as late as early March 2020 trumpeted: “Excuse our arrogance as New Yorkers… We think we have the best healthcare system on the planet right here in New York. So, when you’re saying what happened in other countries versus what happened here, we don’t even think it’s going to be as bad as it was in other countries. We are fully coordinated; we are fully mobilized.”

New York was neither fully coordinated, nor was it fully mobilized.

In fact, it became the pandemic’s prime hotspot in the United States, accounting for the highest number of infection cases and the highest mortality rate. Its hospitals were overwhelmed, its stockpiles depleted, its frontline workers perilously exposed to risk of contagion. Many of the deaths could have been prevented had Mr. Cuomo opted to lock down the Big Apple earlier.

For now, that recent history has largely been forgotten. Mr. Cuomo thrives in his element, a rising star on America’s political ferment. His sober but empathetic, fact-based daily briefings project him as a man in command with a mission to ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of his state.

If Mr. Cuomo, a veteran of dealing with the aftermaths of disasters like Hurricane Sandy, learnt anything from his delayed response to the coronavirus pandemic, it was that “an outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere.”

Unlike other epidemics in recent years such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS in the early 2000s, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012 or the eruption of Ebola in West Africa in 2014, the coronavirus, dubbed COVID-19, left no corner of the globe untouched.

It is a lesson that goes to the heart of all that is wrong with global, regional, and national healthcare governance. It is a lesson that calls into question social and economic policies that have shaped the world for decades irrespective of political system.

It is also a lesson that goes to the core of the relationship between government and the people. It positions social trust as a pillar of an effective healthcare policy in a time of crisis.

In an era of defiance and dissent as a result of a breakdown in confidence in political systems and political leadership that kicked off with Occupy Wall Street and the 2011 Arab popular revolts and led to the rise of populists, mass anti-government demonstrations and in 2019 the toppling of leaders in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq, lack of trust complicated government efforts to counter the virus.

Distrust persuaded many Iranians to initially refuse to heed public health warnings to maintain social distancing, stay at home and install an Android app designed to help people self-diagnose and avoid rushing to hospital.

Pakistanis put their faith in religious leaders who rejected government demands for a halt to congregational prayers. So did many Russians as bans on mass gatherings split the clergy and threatened to undermine the Russian Orthodox Church’s key support for President Vladimir Putin.

Post-mortems of governments’ handling of the crisis once the coronavirus has been contained could increase the trust deficit.

Moreover, in an indication of pent-up anger and frustration that could explode, the imposition of curfews and stay-at-home orders failed to prevent incidental outbursts, including protests in mid-American states, quarantined Egyptian villages and poorer Tunisian and Moroccan hamlets.

In an echo of the Tunisian vendor who sparked the 2011 Arab revolts, 32-year-old unemployed and physically disabled Hammadi Chalbi set himself alight in a town 160 kilometres southwest of Tunis after authorities’ refused to license him as a fruit seller. In Lebanon, a taxi driver set his vehicle on fire while fruit vendors dumped their goods in the streets in expressions of mounting discontent. The protests suggest a universal corollary with the pandemic: an outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere.

Protesters in 2019 went beyond demanding the fall of a leader. They sought the fall of political elites and radical overhaul of failed political systems. The pandemic called an abrupt halt to the protests. Protesters like the rest of the population went into temporary hibernation.

When they re-emerge, they are likely to put government leaders who prioritized political advantage above their health and economical well-being at a cost that surpasses that of the 1929 Great Depression on par with crimes committed against humanity during times of war.

Social, economic, ethnic, and sectarian fault lines are likely to be hardened in countries like Pakistan and Iraq where militants stepped in with healthcare and other social services to fill voids created by lack of government capacity.

The pandemic further painfully illustrated the economic cost of not only failing to confront a health crisis in a timely fashion but also the risk inherent in policies that do not ensure proper healthcare infrastructure in every corner of the globe, guarantee equal access to healthcare, make sure that people irrespective of income have proper housing and nutrition, turn a blind eye to the destruction of healthcare facilities in conflict situations like Syria, Yemen, Libya, Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh, Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, tolerate millions of refugees existing in sub-standard living and hygiene conditions, and disregard environmental degradation and climate change.

The pandemic casts a spotlight on the deprivation of populations of proper healthcare as a result of politically motivated discriminatory social and economic policies.

The non-discriminatory nature of the coronavirus forced the Israeli government to ramp up testing in communities of Israeli Palestinians which had been described by public health experts as a ticking time bomb.

The experts warned that Israeli Palestinians, who figured prominently among frontline doctors and nurses treating Jews and Palestinians alike, were an at-risk group, many of whom suffer from chronic diseases, live in crowded conditions, and are socially and economically disadvantaged.

Ramping up testing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 constitutes an immediate effort to stem the tide but does little to structurally prepare Israeli and Palestinian society for the next pandemic.

Pre-dominantly Palestinian “East Jerusalem is gravely neglected in every possible way in terms of the infrastructure. Most neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem don’t have sewage systems. Just about every possible public service you can think of is underbudgeted and lacking in East Jerusalem. The only thing they get a lot of is parking fines and (punitive) housing demolition orders, said”  left-wing member of the Jerusalem municipal council Laura Wharton.

A Monopoly board centred on Jerusalem given to her by Moshe Lion, the city’s mayor and a former economic advisor and director general of prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s office, illustrates the political calculus that potentially puts not only Jews and Palestinians but populations elsewhere at risk in a future pandemic.

“You have here the City of David, the Mount of Olives, the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), the Montefiore windmill, the markets, (the ultra-orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of) Mea She’arim. Al Aqsa (the third holiest Muslim site) is not here, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is not here. Basically what you have is a bunch of Jewish sites and various illusions to other things. It’s not a very balanced picture of Jerusalem,” Ms. Wharton noted pointing at various landmarks on the board.

African Americans, Hispanics and native Americans tell the story, They have fallen disproportionately victim in the United States to the coronavirus.

US surgeon general Dr. Jerome Adams, a 45-year old African American vice admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, one of America’s eight uniformed services, pulled out his inhaler at a White House press briefing in April 2020, saying he’s carried it around for 40 years, “out of fear of having a fatal asthma attack.”

Looking fit and trim in his dark uniform, Mr. Adams said he also had a heart condition and high blood pressure. “I represent that legacy of growing up poor and black in America. And I, and many black Americans, are at higher risk for COVID.”

The surgeon general said that “its alarming but not surprising that people of colour have a greater burden of chronic health conditions. African Americans and native Americans develop high blood pressure at much younger ages… and (the virus) does greater harm to their organs. Puerto Ricans have higher rates of asthma and black boys are three times (more) likely to die of asthma than their white counterparts…. People of colour are more likely to live in densely packed areas and multi-generational housing, situations which create higher risk for the spread of a highly contagious disease like COVID-19. We tell people to wash their hands, but a study shows that 30 percent of homes of the Navajo nation don’t have running water, so how are they going to do that?”

What goes for one of the wealthiest nations on earth goes for the rest of the world too, particularly with the last two decades suggesting that pandemics occur more frequently and are likely to do so going forward.

What started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 had by April 2020 brought the world to a virtual standstill. Millions across the globe were infected, tens of thousands did not survive, economies shut down and the prospects for recovery and return to what was normal seemed a mere hope in a distant future.

Andrew Cuomo may be the exception that confirms the rule. There is little in the response of leaders from China’s Xi Jingping to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald J. Trump that suggests that the lesson that an outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere has persuaded them to think in terms of structural change.

If the first six months of the coronavirus are anything to go by, the name of the game has been jockeying for political positions, ideology trumps science, and everyone for him or herself in a race to the bottom rather than apolitical banding together globally, regionally and nationally to fight a dangerous and debilitating common enemy.

The response to the pandemic reflected the crumbling of the post-World War Two international order that is in the grips of a struggle by big and medium-sized powers to shape global governance in the 21st century.

The struggle has already crippled the United Nations and politicization of the coronavirus and healthcare threatens to undermine the World Health Organization, the one, albeit flawed, structure capable of coordinating a global response.

Complicating the response, was the rise of civilizationalists like Mr. Xi, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, Hungarian prime minister Victor Orban and Mr. Trump who think in civilizational rather than national terms.

They conceive of their nations as civilizations in which Hans, Hindus or Christians rule supreme and there is no equal place for minorities rather than nation states defined by legally recognized borders, population, and language.

Theirs is a world of neglect for international law, increased conflict, political violence, and mass migration that promises to be even less prepared for the next pandemic. It is also a world in which early warning systems are weakened by muzzling of a free press.

Former US president Barak Obama, in his opening blast against Trump in the run-up to the November presidential election, put his finger on the pulse.

“What we are fighting against is these long-term trends in which being selfish, being tribal, being divided and seeing others an enemy, that that has become a stronger impulse in American life. And by the way, you know, we are seeing that internationally as well. And it’s part of the reason why the response to this global crisis has been so anaemic and spotty… It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset of what’s in it for me and to heck with everybody else – when that mindset is operationalized in our government,” Mr. Obama told a virtual gathering of his former staffers.

The pandemic demonstrates the need for coordinated policies ranging from global, regional, and national stock piling, international cooperation in medical research and development, conflict mediation, protection of minority rights, environment, absorption of refugees and robust but diversified supply chains.

It also highlights the importance to healthcare of eradication of poverty and proper social security nets, housing, hygiene, and access to water in a world in which an outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere.

The pandemic positions an approach towards healthcare that is integrated into sustainable social and economic policies as a matter of global and national security on par with regional and national defense and security policies and investments.

It also raises the question of what role major non-governmental institutions like the Clinton Initiative, George Soros and the Gates Foundation can play.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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Americas

Who won the interaction with the “free press” at the Geneva Summit?

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Before the much anticipated Geneva Summit, it became clear that President Biden would not be holding a joint press conference with President Putin because Biden wanted to go speak to the “free press” after the meeting. This was Biden’s way to show Putin, to rub it into Putin’s face that in Russia the media is not free.

Then the day of the meeting came and it turned out that Biden had a list of pre-approved reporters “as usual” whose names only he had to call. And Biden told everyone to the dismay of not only Republicans but pretty much anyone, including the free press.

Then Biden had a hard time answering questions even from that list. When CNN’s Kaitlan Collins asked him a regular question along the lines of “why do you think this would work?”, Biden lost it and suggested that Collins did not belong in the journalistic profession.

Collin’s question was a softball question, in fact. It was not even a tough question according to international standards. It was a critical question from an American mainstream media point of view, assuming Biden as the good guy who just can’t do enough to stop the bad guy Putin.

It was not even a tough question and Biden still couldn’t handle it by mustering something diplomatic and intelligent that makes him look like he was in control. Biden is no Obama. We knew that already but he should be able to at least respond to a regular question with a regular answer.

If you think American mainstream media were mistreated at the Geneva Summit, you should have seen how the rest of the international and local media were treated at another venue, at the request of the American government. I already described what happened at the point where the Biden and Putin convoys were going to pass. You should have seen how we were treated, at the request of the US authorities, and how the Swiss authorities really played by the US’s drum. Later on, White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan said on CNN’s State of the Union that Biden gave Swiss companies exemptions from sanctions imposed on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Biden refused a joint press conference with Putin because he wanted to rub the “free press” in Putin’s face. Well, Biden surely showed him. It was the other way around, in fact. Biden didn’t take questions from the other side. Putin took highly critical questions from American journalists and he did it like it was business as usual. Putin didn’t have a list of blocked or preapproved journalists from the other side, or people he dismissed on the spot. Russian journalists were in fact denied access to the venue, in front of Parc la Grange.

Supporters of Black Lives Matter like me naturally didn’t like the substance of Putin’s answers. President Putin attacked Black Lives Matter, even though ever since the Soviet times the treatment of black people has always been a highlight of Russian criticism of American society and values. It seems like President Putin doesn’t want a big, sweeping movement that would reform everything, so that the issues can persist and so that Putin can keep hammering on the same point over and over again. If one is truly concerned about rights and well-being, one has to be in support of the social justice movement trying to address the problems.

In fact, Putin’s approach to black people’s rights is a lot like the FBI’s view of the radical, violent far left: the FBI do not wish to address the violent elements which probably represent 5% of the whole movement, just so that the FBI can keep the issues alive and discredit the whole movement. One saw that the Capitol riots groups really calmed down as soon as the FBI stepped in but FBI director Chris Wray is not interested in doing the same with the violent radical left, precisely so that the issues can persist and the FBI can keep pointing to violent “Black identity” extremists. It is the FBI’ style to keep little nests of fire here and there, so that they can exploit or redirect them in their own preferred direction from time to time. Let’s not forget that the leader of the Proud Boys was actually an FBI informant for a long time, probably taking instructions from the FBI.

At the Geneva Summit, Putin also stated that he saw nothing criminal in the Capitol riots on 6 January that undermined democratic principles and institutions. That was an example of someone trying to use and support existing forces within American society in order to undermine it.

But the substance of Putin’s answers had nothing to do with the process of interacting with the “free press”. Putin took questions from everyone, Biden didn’t. Putin didn’t screen out or dismiss journalists from the other side, Biden did. Putin didn’t lash out on anyone suggesting that they should not be in that job. Biden did and he did it even to his own pre-approved list of media that he was supposed to like.

In terms of process, Putin passed the test and Biden couldn’t handle interacting with the free press even in very restricted, sanitized conditions. Despite what you think of each leader and their policies, it has to be said that Putin handled interacting with the media as business as usual, and Biden struggled in his interaction with the media. Even when Biden was reading from a teleprompter, even with a preapproved list of journalists and even when he was not in the same room as Putin, Biden still made mistakes and couldn’t handle it. Even when everything was chewed for him, Biden still couldn’t do it.

In fact, Biden looked more like an overwhelmed Kardashian abroad who had to have his hand held at any moment and less like the leader of the free world. First lady Jill Biden in fact did hold Biden’s hand on occasion and rushed him out of places like a child when the President seemed to wonder off in the wrong direction, such as at the G7 Summit in Cornwall. And that guy has the nuclear codes?

There have been concerns with Biden’s cognitive abilities. President Biden confused President Putin with President Trump, while reading from a teleprompter. What was remarkable is that Putin stated that he found Biden to be actually knowledgeable and prepared on the issues, and that Biden is actually not in a mental and cognitive decline contrary to mainstream understanding. While on the face of it, the statement sounded 100% positive and in defense of Biden, this was a very aggressive, veiled jab of the sort “many are saying that but I don’t think that”. Putin raised the doubt, gave Biden an evaluation and proved to be a total player.

In total, the bottom line of who won the interaction with the “free press” at the Geneva Summit was clear: Russia 1, the US 0.

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Americas

Joe Biden’s European vacations

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Joseph Biden, better known as Joe Biden, is an American politician from the Democratic Party who won last year’s presidential elections amid scandals and accusations of fraud. In his autobiography, Biden describes himself as a leading figure in determining US policy in the Balkans, and openly admits having convinced President Bill Clinton to intervene militarily in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and becoming the main architect of NATO enlargement.

Here are just a few facts from his past that can shed light on the possible  line of actions that could be taken by America’s current President.

Biden is certainly no stranger to Balkan issues. In 1999, he played an important role in the administration of President Bill Clinton, when NATO bombed Yugoslavia without a UN resolution, an act of aggression that resulted in Kosovo being proclaimed an independent state and which is now home to the largest US military base in Europe – Camp Bondsteel.  In 1999, the current US president was one of the most outspoken supporters of the bombing of Yugoslavia, which is something he took pride in.

“I propose to bomb Belgrade. I propose to send American pilots and blow up all the bridges over the Drina River,” said Biden, then a US Senator.

On September 1, 1999, Senator Joseph Biden visited Bulgaria as a representative of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, meeting with President Peter Stoyanov, Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mikhailova and local lawmakers. Biden has become a key figure in Bulgaria’s integration into the North Atlantic Alliance.

Today, after several years of lull, tensions in Ukraine are shooting up again.  At the close of 2013, a series of riots were provoked there eventually leading up to the 2014 coup and the subsequent conflict in the country’s eastern regions. During the armed confrontation, the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics were established, which to this day remain at loggerheads with Kiev. After a region-wide referendum, over 95 percent of the residents of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea announced their desire to reunite with Russia. The role of Washington in the violent overthrow of power in Ukraine was clearly visible. US officials openly supported the Maidan, and Senator John McCain met with future government officials. Victoria Nuland, then US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, publicly stated that Washington had allocated $5 billion to support democracy in Ukraine. She personally distributed food to “peaceful demonstrators”, many of whom later ended up on the Maidan with weapons in their hands. Nuland, who served as Assistant Secretary of State to three presidents: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, retired in 2017. Today, Biden is bringing her back into politics, nominating her to the post of Assistant Secretary of State for Political Affairs – the third most important in the State Department.

Biden visited Ukraine five times during and after the Maidan. The United States, along with Germany, Poland and France, forced the country’s then-President Viktor Yanukovych to make concessions to protesters, which quickly led to the government’s collapse. Immediately after the resignation of Yanukovych in February 2014, President Barack Obama appointed Biden as his official representative in Ukraine. A little later, Biden’s son, Hunter, was appointed to the board of directors of Ukraine’s Burisma gas company.

After the coup, the Americans took deep roots in Ukraine with their representatives appearing both in economic structures and in the government and special services. Years later, details of their work became available to the media. Former US President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudolph Giuliani said that he had managed to find witnesses and obtain documents demonstrating attempts to cover up violations of the law by Burisma and Hunter Biden’s involvement in the laundering of millions of dollars. Giuliani unveiled a scheme how $16 million, including $3 million “earned” by Biden Jr., had been withdrawn through a network of companies, a number of which were located in Cyprus. Other investigations initiated by the media have also revealed large flows of “dirty” money that was flowing from Ukraine through Latvia to Cyprus and other offshore companies such as Rosemont Seneca, founded by Hunter Biden and Devon Archer.

In April 2019, journalist John Solomon published a post in the American edition of Dakhil about how Joe Biden was helping his son in his business dealings after leaving the post of vice president and bragging to foreign policy experts that, as vice president, he had forced the dismissal of Ukraine’s chief prosecutor. Biden related how in March 2016 he threatened Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that Washington would withdraw its $ 1 billion loan guarantees and drive the country into bankruptcy unless Attorney General Viktor Shokin was dismissed immediately. And dismissed Shokin was, accused of not being active enough in fighting corruption. However, when talking about his victory, Biden misses an important point. Prior to his dismissal, the attorney general had launched a large-scale audit of the Burisma mining company where Hunter Biden was working. According to the US banking system, between spring 2014 and autumn 2015, Hunter’s company Rosemont Seneca regularly received transfers from Burisma to the tune of about $166,000.

This whole story gives us an idea of what kind of a person Joe Biden really is  and the question is how he will behave in the future.

Even before Biden’s inauguration as president, media representatives and analysts predicted an aggravation of the military situation, an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine and an increase in US activity in the Balkans. In the spring of 2021, these predictions were confirmed, and the military rhetoric of the US administration began heat up. In a March 17 interview with ABC TV, Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “killer.” Even during the Cold War, world leaders did not allow themselves such disrespect for one another. Similar statements from American politicians are often made against foreign leaders whom they want to overthrow or physically eliminate. A number of analysts believe that the absence of an apology from Washington indicates that such a statement was not accidental, but well thought out and comes as a new step in the information war against Russia.

The further development of events in the international arena appears more and more is scary each day. In the media and in public statements by a number of politicians the topic of possible military action is almost becoming “business as usual.” Therefore, the new American president’s personality and his inner circle is extremely important for understanding the future and assessing global risks around the world.

From our partner International Affairs

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Americas

The Private And Public Joe Biden: Belief And Policy

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Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith

Joe Biden supports abortion rights politically, a position conflicting with doctrine in the Catholic church.  Despite the pope issuing a warning to act with care, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is now ready to prepare a teaching document that could potentially bar Biden from receiving Holy Communion at mass.  A central sacrament during mass, Catholics believe that eating the consecrated wafer dipped in wine, representing the body and blood of Jesus Christ, unites them with their savior fortifying them to face evil temptations.

The USCCB vote to prepare the document was an overwhelming 168-55, and a committee of US bishops has been assigned the task.  Responding to questions, President Biden called it a private matter.  The document is expected to be ready in time for debate at the November bi-annual conference of US Catholic Bishops.

If that is one headache for Biden, another is in the offing.  Perhaps as a consequence of US policy towards Iran, the election of a hard-liner in Iran’s presidential election seems almost certain.  Judge Ebrahim Raisi, who is also Iran’s top judge, is on his way to victory on the basis of the votes counted so far.

The 60-year old cleric spent most of his life as a prosecutor until he was appointed Iran’s top judge in 2019.  He is fiercely loyal to his fellow clerics, particularly to Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader who has the final say in all matters.  All the same, the president does the administration and has significant input in both domestic and foreign policy.  Suffice to say, Raisi lost in a landslide to Hassan Rouhani, who sought accommodation with the West, in the previous election four years ago.

Having played hardball with Iran, the US is repeating itself with a Russia anxious for better relations.  Following the G7 meeting in Cornwall a week ago, President Biden flew to Geneva meeting President Putin at the Villa La Grange for a closely-watched summit.

Relations between the two countries have been tense following a series of events including the Russian annexation of Crimea.  The latter was transferred to Ukraine for administrative convenience when a connecting bridge was being constructed so that both ends of it would fall under the same authority.  The people of Crimea have no other connection with Ukrainians other than they were both part of the Soviet Union. 

Climate change, arms control, cyber security and American interest in jailed dissenters in Russia including Alexei Navalny .  Reading the riot act to Mr. Putin does little to further stability in relations.  Peace is not a problem among like-minded countries with a commonality of interests, it is a challenge when the parties are rivals, nuclear armed, and capable of blowing up the world.  Mr. Biden may be proud of his performance but is he able to accept the challenge, for if not where does it leave the rest of us …

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