Announcement

I’m announcing today that I’ve been offered and have accepted a role writing for the Daily Mail. They’re looking for more diversity in their coverage and think I’ll provide balance. It still involves matching the house style of course so I’ll be away for a few weeks at the Rothermere Conference and Re-education Centre in Portugal to learn the ropes. I’m also being fitted for a uniform although I hear I might be the right size for Paul Dacre’s brown shirt.

I realise this will be a shock to regular readers but I will remain true to the principles of the Yes movement albeit with stylistic adjustments to include ‘vile cybernats’, ‘evil leader’, ‘lunatic economics’, immigrant crisis’ and ‘let the bastards drown’. Otherwise I will stay loyal to the cause.

The editor said my picture by-line would have the strapline Swivel-eyed Bigot, but I think that was a joke. He’s hoping I will finally produce my picture exclusive from inside Stuart Campbell’s hollowed-out volcano in Patagonia from where he plays the bullion markets.

I think my move is a sign that Scotland is moving on and that it’s time to go back to routinely denigrating our country and sneering at our people – in case the next generation gets ideas of adequacy. When I get back from Europe – the place the immigrants come from – I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

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Ode to Joy?

The European Union, its institutions like to tell us, was founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. It is an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers which combats social exclusion and discrimination. We are endlessly told it promotes the protection of the rights of the child. It champions economic, social and territorial cohesion and solidarity among Member States.

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It’s enough to make your heart bleed.

You wonder though how those soaring violins you hear square with reports from one of those liberally-endowed Member States, Greece, of children being abandoned. From cases of newborn babies wrapped in swaddling and dumped on the doorsteps of clinics to children being offloaded on charities and put in foster care, Greece’s struggle to pay off its debts is assuming dramatic proportions. Propelled by poverty, 500 families asked to place children in homes run by the charity SOS Children’s Villages, according to the Greek daily Kathimerini. One toddler was left at the nursery she attended with a note that read: I will not return to get Anna. I don’t have any money, I can’t bring her up. Sorry. Her mother. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/dec/28/greek-economic-crisis-children-victims

You may ask how all that solidarity and justice helped the sharp increase in those taking their own lives in despair.

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In June 2011, when a new round of austerity measures was met with protests and strikes, suicides among both men and women increased by 36 percent and remained high. A 77-year-old retired pharmacist shot himself in the head in the central square of Athens, leaving a note saying that he could not bear the idea of scavenging in dustbins for food and becoming a burden to my child… And anybody who knows Greece well can probably think of at least one acquaintance whose death was prompted, entirely or in part, by financial desperation. http://www.thetoc.gr/eng/economy/article/greeks-lost-almost-40-of-their-income-during-the-crisis

A new study estimates that the average Greek household lost almost four tenths of its income in the first five years of the crisis, reports The New Athenian website. Most of that loss – 23.1% – was in direct income. A further 8.8% was lost to increased taxation and another 7% to inflation not matched by increases in income over the period 2008-2012.

The EU’s desire for solidarity is such that a whole nation is being crushed under its weight. Just how much freedom, security and equality the Greeks can take is open to question. Of course, it’s their own fault and they shouldn’t have been so profligate and lied about their borrowing and their debts and it’s time to pay the price. After all, it’s not as if Britain is in debt, is it? http://www.nationaldebtclocks.org/debtclock/unitedkingdom

The UK would never a debtor be – certainly not long term in a way that implied it would never pay off its debts. Or would it…Here is BBC News last year:…some of the debt being refinanced by the Treasury dates back to the 18th Century. One of these bonds was issued by William Gladstone in 1853 to consolidate the capital stock of the South Sea Company which collapsed during the South Sea Bubble financial crisis of 1720. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-29844961

Should the angelic host of human rights protectors in Brussels remember that proper scrutiny of the national accounts at the time of entry to the common currency would have revealed the stark truth that Greece was never ready for Euro membership…or should they admit that the momentum of the political project to unite us all in liberty overruled the basic need for due diligence? Were the people of Greece, the ones suffering today, responsible for the cover-up of their national debt? Did they even know? Or were they, like working class British citizens today, paying the price for the mistakes and greed of the elite – the political fixers, the institutional investors and the bankers…

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And if the Greek state, manipulated by the coalition since swept away by Syriza, was cooking the books, who helped them? Here’s a clue. Greece’s debt managers agreed a huge deal with the savvy bankers of US investment bank Goldman Sachs at the start of 2002. The deal involved so-called cross-currency swaps in which government debt issued in dollars and yen was swapped for euro debt for a certain period – to be exchanged back into the original currencies at a later date. Such transactions are part of normal government refinancing…But in the Greek case the US bankers devised a special kind of swap with fictional exchange rates. That enabled Greece to receive a far higher sum than the actual euro market value of 10 billion dollars or yen. In that way Goldman Sachs secretly arranged additional credit of up to $1 billion for the Greeks. This credit disguised as a swap didn’t show up in the Greek debt statistics. http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/02/02/the-secret-berlins-bankers-dont-want-europe-to-know-euro-german-exports-greece/

And what about those Germans, fed up with feather-bedding the lazy Greeks. Why should they subsidise the inferior workshy types unable to run their own affairs? (Sound familiar?) This is Der Spiegel. It has become a rule of the euro crisis: While a number of euro-zone countries suffer, Germany profits…A projection by the Munich-based Ifo Institute for Economic Research found that the economies of France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Greece, Portugal and Cyprus would likely shrink. The German economy, on the other hand, is still expected to grow…Germany is benefiting from an influx of new skilled professionals…Germany also profits from a simple symptom of the crisis – the weak euro…For German companies, the sinking euro acts as a kind of crisis buffer. While it reduces demand for German products within the euro zone, these make up only around 40 percent of the country’s exports. But for the rest of the world, a weak euro means cheaper German products, which means they’re more competitive. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/profiting-from-pain-europe-s-crisis-is-germany-s-blessing-a-808248.html

And if Greece borrowed far more than it could afford, who lent it to them for profit? Bloomberg knows the answer: Germany’s banks were Greece’s enablers. Thanks partly to lax regulation, German banks built up precarious exposures to Europe’s peripheral countries in the years before the crisis. By December 2009, according to the Bank for International Settlements, German banks had amassed claims of $704 billion on Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain, much more than the German banks’ aggregate capital. In other words, they lent more than they could afford. http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2012-05-23/merkel-should-know-her-country-has-been-bailed-out-too

And when Germany pulled its money out, it was money from the rest of the currency zone nations that filled the gap, allowing Germany to avoid taking the whole hit – look! solidarity in action…. http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2012-05-23/merkel-should-know-her-country-has-been-bailed-out-too

There’s another irony here seldom mentioned. Historically, Germany has been described as the biggest debt transgressor of the 20th Century, with restructurings in 1924, 1929, 1932 and 1953. Total debt forgiveness for Germany between 1947 and 1953 amounted to somewhere in the region of 280% of GDP, according to economic historian Albrecht Ritschl of the London School of Economics. Today, Greece has an external debt-to-GDP ratio of roughly 175%.

Germany was shown the kind of solidarity and justice the Allies fought for during Hitler’s war and they made massive investments to rebuild the defeated country. Today’s Germany is reluctant to face up to that history. In December 1942 Greece was forced by Nazi authorities to loan German 476m Richsmarks to cover the cost of the German occupation, which it says it has never been paid back. €279bn is 125 per cent of Greece’s €223bn GDP – the money is around a tenth of Germany’s GDP. The modern-day euro figure is the Greek government’s own calculation of what the loan would be worth today.

Will anybody stand up for our Greek friends and fellow Europeans? It doesn’t look to me as the founding principles of the EU are being upheld and that instead Germany is being allowed to run the show for its own seemingly inevitable advantage. The EU is pursuing a pro-austerity, profit-first, beggar-my-neighbour approach which should scare every one of the smaller and economically fragile Member States. A Greek currency exit could bring even worse hardship for Greeks along with a rejection of the entire EU principles leading to withdrawal from all the institutions. The fall-out from that failure could wound the whole project.

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And yet, surely one of the biggest losers would be Germany itself. As Paul Mason writes: If Greece is forced into an accidental default, damage to the euro project and to the EU’s image would be massive. A central bank seen to be colluding in the bankruptcy of banks it is supposed to supervise, and willing the breakup of a currency union it is supposed to be running, would tarnish the ECB’s reputation for a decade.

With Germany as the leading economy in the EU system and viewed as having instigated the exit, its assumed primacy would be damaged – and Europe’s enemies heartened. A longer-term, lower-cost bail-out and carefully constructed people-based restructuring is a smaller cost.

It is time to return to the founding ideals of Churchill, Monnet and Schuman and come to the aid of a European partner in dire straights, one from which Europe learned the very basics of ancient democracy and one which paid a heavy price once before in the 1940s in the war that so horrified civilization that it drove the European movement we know today. Human dignity, liberty and respect!

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My Handy Guide

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There’s been some soul-searching on difficult issues lately resulting in deep-thinking articles and essays across the media, some of them excellent exposes of our national condition. This http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/21/how-alex-salmond-nicola-sturgeon-pulled-off-political-triumph-lifetime from David Torrance is probably the best example with its informative detail within an historic sweep. Nobody does it better – except perhaps Macwhirter. I felt challenged to do the same and then thought: Nahthat’s too tricky for me. There must be a simpler way of making the point without writing 2000 words. So here is my handy guide to some of the big issues of the day – in as few words as possible (explanations below).

Explain the rise of the SNP…. their time has come*1

Full Fiscal Autonomy will bankrupt Scotland…If we’re a basket case, it happened under the Union*2

Our schools are failing poor children…We can’t prevent that without powers to end poverty*3

What went wrong with Labour… You have to believe in something*4

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*1 There is a cultural shift in western society centred on knowledge now being instantly accessible to all, bringing unprecedented scrutiny of authority and convention. Every area of life is challenged by a myriad of questions that cannot be answered. But the search leads us to reject existing power bases in favour of apparently radical alternatives – Syriza, Podemos, UKIP, SNP. Each has a core belief which is powerful but vague and is hard to disagree with – A Stronger Voice for Scotland or Hope is Coming. Postulating that the old ways have failed is easier than justifying them and for electoral success all that’s needed is to present the alternative doctrine in plausible packaging. Appearing always to be on the people’s side rather than the elite’s helps. The British political parties can be neatly lumped together as the dead-end Unionists cheating on expenses, exploiting a corrupt system and enabling low wages and decline. Whatever benefits they bring, the debit quickly outweighs the credit. The concept of Scotland is as strong a message as any around which people can mass and endow it with their own meaning and, if it also signifies rejection of the failed London concept, it serves a dual purpose. Historically, the Union case has declined as knowledge and awareness of its failings and limitations have increased. The side rejecting that and offering optimism and opportunity gains, however nebulous their ideas may be. The idea that Scots have become en masse, nationalists, is ridiculous. Although the more Unionists – politicians and media – deride them for it, the more defiant they become, embedding the nationalist identity as a personal form of resistance and retaliation. The SNP makes them feel good, part of something unifying in a world which tends to isolate, and acceptance of the Union is grudging and resented. It helps that they have clever people and good technique but that’s not the reason they’re winning – many of the new voters and even MPs have only come along since the cultural shift started. Today’s SNP is the alternative to a failing system – for now. Their time has come.

*2 Unionism has trapped itself in a rhetoric of antagonism. Everything is grudging and reluctant. It is the very antithesis of hope, a key political message. FFA in layman’s language is simply controlling the budget, a concept every voter understands and regards as normal. To my knowledge there hasn’t been a single reason in principle why it shouldn’t happen, maybe because you’d have to say to Scots they’re not capable of looking after their own money – although that’s the clear implication. Warning of dire consequences, even if it was true, is the same approach that nearly lost the referendum. And Scots rightly resent the charge that they’re dependent on someone else for their income – there is no more corrosive claim in the debate which is why online threads are filled with triumphant Britnats trumpeting about subsidy. This is deeply damaging to the Union not to Nationalism. Opposition to FFA is simply Project Fear relocated in voter’s minds. If we’re too poor, whose fault is it? It can’t be Scotland’s and can’t be the fault of independence. It’s the status quo that has brought a rich country to penury, if it’s true. Scots now wish to look after this for themselves while remaining in the Union – precisely the idea floated ahead of the indyref. Is FFA practically impossible or is it just another block on our progress? Britain has the third biggest budget deficit in Europe and the Government is borrowing even more than Greece, official figures showed yesterday. The UK racked up a deficit of 5.7 per cent of gross domestic product last year while the national debt soared to 89.4 per cent of national income, according to Eurostat. Britain is the basket case and Scotland suffers proportionately and then some. The powers to grow the economy are largely reserved. Releasing them under FFA gives Scots the levers to change their own country and borrowing controls would allow the deficit to be covered. What are the Unionists afraid of? If we’re a basket case, it happened under the Union.

*3 There has rightly been condemnation of education policy and performance afflicting kids from poorer backgrounds. The SNP stands accused and appears to be taking it on the chin. Good. But this has always been the case and not just in Scotland. Here is the Child Poverty Action Group covering England.

Children from poorer backgrounds lag at all stages of education. By the age of three, poorer children are estimated to be, on average, nine months behind children from more wealthy backgrounds. According to Department for Education statistics, by the end of primary school, pupils receiving free school meals are estimated to be almost three terms behind their more affluent peers. By 14, this gap grows to over five terms. By 16, children receiving free school meals achieve 1.7 grades lower at GCSE.

The evidence is irrefutable. Poverty causes poor performance. The answer lies in tackling poverty, not tackling teachers (although we shouldn’t hide from that). Britain’s tax, welfare, employment and economic policies embed poverty and close off options for improvement. Scotland can do it differently but doesn’t control the means of boosting the economy and supporting the poor. Without that capability (FFA et al) academic improvement will be limited. We can’t prevent poor performance without the powers to end poverty.

*4 A party has to serve a purpose, if not just a cohort of voters. There is little doubt in anyone’s mind that the Tories favour money-making (however incompetent and dysfunctional at it they are) and will represent the interests of those who make, and keep, money. They are personal friends with the bankers, financiers and business executives and run to Europe to uphold the right of bankers to make bonuses even as they slash welfare. Those whose finances allow the need for accountancy, as opposed to a DWP cash payment or PAYE deductions, know they’re more likely to be understood by Tories. Upholding a mostly fantastical idea of British values helps.

What does Labour represent? The working man? Nobody seriously says that today. The decline in unions mirrors Labour’s yet the party failed to back its own support by abolishing Thatcherite anti-union legislation. If you don’t protect the core, you don’t deserve to keep them. Labour pretended to believe in socialist ideals while refusing to use the word. They appealed instead for the home-owning shareholders in the belief that the core would stay loyal. They did – for a while. The message – the belief – is now so confused it can mean something totally different in the mouth of each member. On any subject Labour leans two ways. Trident – ideologically against but voting for. Business – in favour obviously but prone to trade restrictions. Immigration – non-racist but keen to limit. Is Labour in favour of nuclear energy? Do they support onshore renewables? Do they want EU reform? Do they want to sell off RBS? Does anybody know…? In Scotland you could ask the same – how committed are they to devolution? The answer appears to be a) they founded it so yes, but b) they’re really scared of trusting the Scots too much. So Yes – kind of and eh, No – not too much.

Poor leadership performers don’t help but can be forgiven if the message is strong – and popular – enough. It isn’t. Just look at Jim Murphy’s efforts – weak, confusing and incoherent. It won’t do. If you waterboarded a Tory (I’m not suggesting you try) they’d tell you they believed in Markets. If you did the same to a Nationalist, they’d say they believed in Scotland. And if you did it to Labour? ‘We believe in what the focus groups tell us.’ You have to believe in something.

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As Bad As It Gets

Sorry to have disappeared so mysteriously this morning but I’m trying to walk a difficult line between revealing what the public has a right to know and avoiding counter-productive consequences for those involved. bbcscotland3 As I indicated, and as confirmed here by Seve Carrell, http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jun/12/bbc-scotland-staff-consider-industrial-action-in-dispute-over-bullying-claims there is a serious reputational issue confronting BBC Scotland which is impacting on the entire newsroom and on a number of individuals in a damaging and disproportionate way. It is essentially, according to my information, a question of management failure in News and Current Affairs where staff have for years complained of inappropriate and sometimes intimidatory behaviour. This has led to disputes, threats of industrial action, a devastating emotional impact on staff and extremely low morale. Whenever complaints were made, either privately to senior managers or formally through the grievance process, the outcome has been predictable with executives largely ignoring the pleas of staff for help. As a result, an air of desperation and frustration built up and relations with the management, led by Ken McQuarrie, went from dismay to outright hostility with the Scottish organiser of the National Union of Journalists, Paul Holleran, describing them as the worst management he’d dealt with in 20 years. The centre of this acrimony is the Head of News and Current Affairs John Boothman. His dealings with staff are described by those on the receiving end as brutal and often unprofessional. I have described him here previously as miscast as a manager and lacking the skills needed to lead a news department –a not infrequent fate of those who are excellent practitioners at the basics of the job but who are not cut out for management. His personal dealings with the political community seemed to me maladroit for a BBC executive and led to a suspicion of bias – a view still prevalent today (see above). Unknown Management ignored all this and protected John Boothman because they neither like nor respect the journalists at Pacific Quay and because they wanted someone in charge who would force through the staff reductions and cost cutting that has so damaged the department. Boothman not only ensured the cuts were made but did so faster than any other part of the BBC by front-loading redundancies which could have been staved off for years and even eventually dropped as priorities changed. A clutch of good people whose experience could have helped guide the BBC through the referendum were lost as a result and careers ended prematurely. Even at this stage management stood accused of breaching its own protocols on dealing with staff and some were obliged to depart without the dignity their service deserved. I have tired of the stories I have heard of men and women in a creative industry reduced to tears or emotional wrecks by McQuarrie’s management. The only reason there is now a very real prospect of the Head of News being replaced is an error both typical in tone but staggering in execution. In discussing the future of an experienced camerawoman – as it happens the daughter of Margo MacDonald – with a personnel manager, John Boothman repaired to a studio gallery and talked in front of an open mic. It is perhaps the most elementary of mistakes in the whole broadcasting industry. Unknown to them, Zoe McDonald was in an adjoining studio having lunch and heard herself talked about in what one staffer described to me as the most personally wounding way. She recorded the words on her phone. It left Zoe, a model professional and a highly capable woman, crushed and shocked. Boothman, against whom the bullying claim was made, has now apologised. The tape of that recording is the hard evidence of what journalists have been telling McQuarrie and his executives since Boothman was appointed in 2011. I believe it is the only reason action is now being taken – because it can’t be ignored. As things stand, the personnel bloke has departed but I still have no word on the future of John Boothman. I don’t believe the newsroom can function properly while he remains in post. Some staff have been pretty much traumatised by events and this in a major Scottish institution. What were management playing at for so long? Where is the BBC Trust? Do we simply accept that one man may be responsible for bullying behaviour? Or is the entire management at Pacific Quay guilty by implication for wilfully ignoring the damage being done to their own staff on the fourth floor? The evidence of a dysfunctional organisation is written all over BBC Scotland. Can we have a full-blown inquiry into its running and how it plans to meet its commitments? (For managers who accused journalists of disloyalty, here’s a question. What do you think the reaction would have been if someone had leaked, just before the General Election, a headline that said: Labour-linked BBC executive accused of bullying daughter of Nationalist legend?)

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Plan Ahead

It was 1988 I reckon when I headed into North Lanarkshire with a BBC film crew to speak to the new MP for Motherwell North, the ebullient John Reid. At that time he was a Labour likely lad – the working class Catholic from Bellshill who put himself through the Open University before taking a PhD at Stirling, transforming himself from son of a factory worker and a postman into a career-ready politician.

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He enjoyed the craic over a fag – Thatcher, Celtic, David Murray – and had a lively drive and openness in contrast to the cautious and often gloomy luminaries like Dewar and Millan. The Tories had just secured a third successive win and a majority of 102, pouring contempt on top of despair for Labour who had a generation of MPs who’d only known Conservative government in their Commons career.

‘We’ll never win again without PR’, he told me (on camera), going on to suggest a formal tie-in with the Liberal-SDP Alliance – as they still were at the time. A progressive alliance pulling together the strands of left-of-centre thinking would be needed if the Tories were ever to be ousted. Good story, I thought.

Of course, the success of New Labour changed all that stuff about working with others and, as for PR, Labour dallied with it when Blair asked Roy Jenkins to report on it before promptly dropping the subject for good. Reid even campaigned against AV. This may be a good time to revive it.

I was reminded of John Reid – who has now pulled up his political roots by languishing in the Lords – when I read Alastair Campbell report the views of Charlie Kennedy. Campbell said Kennedy had texted him to say they should discuss forming a new progressive, centre-left unionist party in Scotland after the SNP won 56 seats.

‘He basically thought that that the Labour party and Lib Dems up there are knackered.’

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This is an understandable response to crushing defeat but has in the past proved to be wrong although it did lead to the radical rethinking that Labour went through to become electable again. Like much in politics, it has superficial attraction – it is, in other words, fine in theory. But the biggest obstacle to coalition and alliance isn’t policy but personality – individual and collective. When Labour last considered working closely with a partner it was immediately after the 2010 election while the Lib Dems were pinballing between them and the Tories. This is how Polly Toynbee put it then: ‘Their attitude (Labour’s), say my informants, is far from welcoming. The suspicion is they would prefer to sit on the opposition bench and watch the Lib Dems be slaughtered by tying themselves to the Conservatives.

In this febrile moment everyone is jumpy as political life and death negotiations such as these throw up dark suspicions and intense anxiety on all sides. The Lib Dems may be badly misreading Labour’s true intent in which case Labour’s negotiating team had better hug them tight and reassure them. But if the Labour team really is trying to make a deal impossible, they are making a historic mistake. Worse, they are betraying the people they stand for – every pensioner and poor family who always stand better protected by a left of centre government – however difficult that may be to construct. Is Labour’s fatal fascination for a quiet life of internal debate (or strife) on the opposition benches getting the better of them?’

Then finally, she adds: ‘They should remember there is no guarantee they wouldn’t be out of power for a long time, but the call of the wild is never far from their tribal instincts.’

Labour had no heart for a coalition and I’m not sure the country did either but look how it’s turned out – not just for the Lib Dems but for Labour too – facing the prospect of mountainous electoral calculus in Scotland, struggling in ‘the North’ and failure in southern England. Would a Labour-Lib Dem Coalition have saved them? Quite possibly. If the Lib Dems has demanded PR and had Labour finally relented, they might both be in a healthy position today. Under PR there would have been no Tory majority and while the chance of a poisonous deal with UKIP might have put Cameron into Number 10, Labour could have produced a progressive coalition of its own with Lib Dems, SNP and Greens. And yet, what was the truth when something of the kind was offered by Sturgeon? She received flat No from a Labour Party that seems to believe it stands alone or it falls. This smacks of an attitudinal problem, a centralist arrogance that the setback of 2015 (not to mention 2011 in Scotland) should eradicate. If there is a possible progressive grouping to be constructed then it is surely the duty of all those who care for the people who will otherwise suffer to make it work.

The early signs, according to an SNP MP, are not good for Labour cooperation in the Commons. A new politics could start if Labour abandoned its isolationist approach and put people before party like a young John Reid and the late Charles Kennedy.

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