“Blowback” in Boston, Fort Hood, Iraq, Afghanistan…and Syria?

April 30, 2013

by Eric Swanson

The term “blowback,” the consequences of a covert or military operation that has repercussions for the aggressor or the result of supplying weapons to a conflict only to see those same weapons turned on the supplier, has been used for decades by national security elites. It has been used long enough that the previous definition of “unknown and unintended consequences” has become obsolete. The consequences are well known and openly discussed in national security circles.

In analyzing the tragedy in Boston, the concept of blowback is made clear in a Washington Post article by Scott Wilson, Greg Miller and Sari Horowitz (April 23 “Boston bombing suspects cite US Wars as motivation, officials say.”)  The surviving suspect told interrogators the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan motivated his actions.  The US engages in war internationally, and local tragedy results.

When one looks at how the US national security apparatus has discussed previous instances of blowback and how it appears they will analyze this horrific event in Boston, they treat blowback as a law of nature, an inevitable consequence of immutable causes; as inexorable as an earthquake, as inescapable as an avalanche. Blowback is something that can be interdicted with good intelligence and vigilant law enforcement. It can be diverted with deft diplomacy. It can be muted some with the appearance of solid multinational alliances. But, in the collective understanding of the US foreign and military officials, blowback can never be prevented, and in fact may just factored in as an externalized cost of US war-making. So, in this case, it’s the innocent civilians in the Boston area who paid the cost.

We have seen blowback in the 2004 killing of US contractors in Fallujah, Iraq, the shooting deaths of 13 people and the wounding of 30 more at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009, and the proliferation of drone technology with drones now seen in the hands of non-state actors in just the last few days. At this point there is nothing unpredictable about it. Violence committed and weapons technology sold will pay in kind.

Blowback isn’t a law of nature. It is the predictable result of specific policy decisions. It is mutable. Drones flying overhead and raining death on a civilian population creates, understandably, anti-US sentiment. Wholesale aggressive destruction of entire villages, cities, and regions creates fear, anger, and yes, terror. And that creates individuals and populations ready to send that terror back.

These are equations that can be changed. Moving away from a militarized foreign policy moves us away from blowback. Moving away from selling arms to parties in conflict zones moves us away from blowback. Moving away from accepting our current policies as good business and expecting blowback as the cost of doing that business moves us away from that day when tragedy becomes the norm.

In just the last two days we are seeing the next possible incarnation of blowback as the US ramps up hawk-ish talk about the conflict in Syria. Whether the US floods weapons into the country or directly intervenes with military force there will be consequences. Under those conditions there will be blowback. But, as it is predictable, it is also preventable with a sane foreign policy that isn’t based on militarism and short-term profit but on restraint, humility, diplomacy and international cooperation.

 

Eric Swanson has served as Peace Action’s Database Manager since 1998. He served in the US Army from 1987-1990. Peace Action is the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with over 200,000 members, donors and online supporters. http://www.peace-action.org/

 


Tax Day and The Pentagon. Op-Ed on Common Dreams

April 15, 2013

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/04/14-1

Published on Sunday, April 14, 2013 by Common Dreams

Tax Day and the Pentagon

by Kevin Martin

This month, as budget and policy issues in Washington muddle along inconclusively as usual, grassroots peace activists are busy organizing, educating, protesting and lobbying.

Last weekend, Historians Against the War hosted an ambitious, illuminating conference at Towson University north of Baltimore on “The New Faces of War” with speakers and participants examining rapidly-changing foreign and domestic policies.

Anti-Nuclear activists will converge on Washington next week for the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability’s D.C. Days, for strategizing, training and lobbying on nuclear weapons, power, waste and cleanup issues.

Around the country, peace and social justice organizers will convene local actions on Tax Day, April 15, to educate taxpayers on the country’s skewed budget priorities that favor the Pentagon over human and environmental needs. This year, April 15 is also the Global Day of Action on Military Spending, with activities around the world and in over 30 U.S. states drawing attention to the world’s addiction to militarism and exorbitant “defense” budgets. If you can’t organize or attend a Tax Day event, you can still join our Thunderclap “It’s Our Tax Day, Not Theirs” online social media action.

The prestigious, independent Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) will release its annual report on world military expenditures on Monday, which will show the United States continues to spend over 40% of the world’s $1.7 trillion annually allocated to weapons and war. Randy Schutt of Cleveland Peace Action put together an impressive article titled Our Tax Dollars are off the War – 2013 edition on Daily Kos with charts, graphs and citations comparing U.S. military spending to the rest of the world, and to domestic spending, which serves as a nice complement to the upcoming SIPRI report.

Lastly, an impressive national coalition has come together to organize days of action throughout the month to stop U.S. drone warfare.

All these actions focus on crucial issues, and they come at a time when there is hope not just to impact those specific policies, but when a confluence of events give us an opportunity not seen in at least a decade to fundamentally question the mission and role of the U.S. military in both domestic and foreign policy.

In short, it’s time for the Pentagon to stop weaving all over the road, to get back in its lane, and to stay there.

On domestic policy, the most obvious issue is the metastasis of the Pentagon budget, which has doubled since 9/11. The total “national security budget,” which includes not just the Pentagon but also intelligence agencies, Department of Homeland Security and nuclear weapons spending under the Department of Energy is over $1 trillion per year. Globally, the U.S. accounts for about 43% of total military spending, and more than the next 13 countries (most of which are U.S. allies) combined. The opportunity cost of this Pentagon pig-out is investment in the things we really need to make our country more secure – improved education, health care, jobs, rebuilding our infrastructure and addressing climate change.

While not necessarily the fault of the Pentagon, a creeping militarization of social policy, as seen in policing, prisons, the “war on drugs” and immigration, among other areas, is cause for grave concern and corrective action.

Constitutionally, the arrogation of power by the Obama Administration to assassinate anyone, anywhere on the planet, anytime it wants to by drones or other weapons with little or no congressional or judicial oversight can hardly be what the president ran on as “change you can believe in.”

(The president’s home state senator and former colleague, Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, plans a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing later this month to address this issue, including the Administration’s assertion of the Authorization of the Use of Military Force after 9/11 as the legal justification for drone strikes in countries with which we are not at war.)

Militarization of U.S. foreign policy has been a bipartisan project since at least the end of World War II. And perhaps that’s not surprising for a country founded on and consolidated by the extreme violence of the genocide of the First Americans and imposition of slavery on Africans brought here in chains.

Quick, name the last real diplomatic success by the United States. Anything really significant since Carter’s Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel? That was in 1978 (and of course Palestine is still waiting for justice while Israel gets over $3 billion in U.S. military aid annually).

Look at U.S. foreign policy under our current Nobel Peace Prize laureate president. It’s less obviously and ham-handedly belligerent than Bush’s, okay. But in addition to ongoing drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other countries, he says “all options are on the table” with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, when even military leaders themselves say there is no military solution, only a diplomatic one. The U.S. and South Korea evidently think putting out the fire with gasoline is the right approach to North Korea’s nuclear test and recent threats, evidenced by ongoing war games, simulated nuclear attacks on the North using B-2 and B-52 bombers, and rushing F-22 fighter jets to South Korea to beef up the already robust U.S. military presence in the region as part of the “Asia-Pacific Pivot” aimed at isolating our main banker, China. And last but not least, despite voting for the Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations this week, the U.S. remains the world’s number one exporter of conventional weapons.

Certainly the tens of millions of dollars annually spent on lobbying and campaign contributions by the largest war profiteers — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Raytheon and others — have a toxic effect on our national priorities. It’s doubly galling, in that their profits come almost entirely from military contracts paid for by our tax dollars, which they then use to impact legislation and elections to benefit their interests, to the detriment of those of the taxpaying public.

It is not necessary to pinpoint cause and effect on this state of affairs, where Pentagon interests and macho militarist approaches seemingly run roughshod over everything else, to declare that it is wrong, and needs to be changed. And there is no blame, only respect, for those serving in the military, who need the very best care we can provide as they return home from our misguided wars and far-flung military bases abroad (over 800 of them!).

So what is the mission of the U.S. military supposed to be? According to United States law, it is “Preserving the peace and security and providing for the defense of the United States, the Commonwealths and possessions and any areas occupied by the United States; Supporting the national policies; Implementing the national objectives; Overcoming any nations responsible for aggressive acts that imperil the peace and security of the United States.”

I see nothing there about “full-spectrum dominance” of the rest of the world, as the Pentagon’s joint Vision 20/20 doctrine released in 2000 advocates, and which has seemingly become the military’s de facto mission.

Regardless of what anyone in the military says its mission is, they work for us, the taxpayers that provide their salaries and buy their weapons. So we can overrule them and force the Pentagon to reduce its role and get back in its lane.

It shouldn’t be hard to see how we can get the Pentagon back in its lane, and let more peaceful, just and sustainable priorities prevail in our domestic and foreign policies. Slash the Pentagon budget by at least 25%, and invest those savings in human and environmental needs in order to jump start our economy. Let diplomacy take precedence in foreign policy over military threats and false solutions. I suspect many people, even in the military hierarchy, might welcome such a reduced role in U.S. policy, and in the world. It must be tiring driving all over the road. Staying in one’s own lane can have its advantages.

Kevin Martin is Executive Director of Peace Action, the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with 100,000 members and over 70,000 on-line supporters.

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On Wisconsin! Another Op-Ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, This One on Drones

March 28, 2013

Peace Action Wisconsin has been doing some slammin’ media work lately, here’s another op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, this one on drones, by PA WI board member Conor McMullen.

After years of slumber, Congress is finally starting to wake up to its responsibilities to question the legality, the wisdom and the morality of the administration’s officially and absurdly “secret war” using drone strikes to try to kill alleged members of terrorist groups in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, far from any legally recognizable battlefield.

When President Barack Obama nominated John Brennan to head the CIA, which has been carrying out the officially “secret” drone strike policy, a bipartisan group of 11 senators wrote to the administration and said: You need to hand over to Congress the secret memos written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that purport to justify the legality of the drone strike policy, which we have been seeking for more than a year. If you don’t hand over the memos, they said, Brennan’s nomination could be in trouble.

As a result of the threat, the administration finally shared some of the memos with the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, which are supposed to oversee the CIA. The administration still has not shared the memos with the Judiciary Committees, which are supposed to oversee the Justice Department, which produced the memos, even though Attorney General Eric Holder admitted in Senate testimony that access to the memos was necessary to understand the policy.

Some members of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees have threatened to issue subpoenas for the drone strike memos if the administration doesn’t hand them over, but they have not yet followed through. Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner is a member of the House Judiciary Committee; he could be doing more to press the administration to release the memos to the committee.

When the Senate Intelligence Committee asked Brennan if the administration was claiming that it had the legal authority to conduct drone strikes in the United States, Brennan answered: “This administration has not carried out drone strikes inside the United States and has no intention of doing so.” That was clearly a dodge of the question.

The question wasn’t about what the administration intended to do. The question was about what legal authority the administration was claiming. The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has claimed that the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, passed days after the Sept. 11 attacks, legalized a global war without borders in every corner of Earth. This claim logically begs the question: If the war is legal everywhere on Earth, does that include the U.S.? If not, why not? If it does not include the U.S., what exactly does it include?

Brennan’s subsequent confirmation shouldn’t mean the end of congressional scrutiny of this policy, and it won’t. On April 16, the Constitution subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding its first ever public hearing on the drone strike policy. This subcommittee is chaired by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, and the hearing is expected to include witnesses who can testify to the reality of who is being targeted by drone strikes and who is being killed.

Until now, the administration has publicly claimed that only top terrorist leaders are being targeted and that civilian casualties have been extremely rare. But the record of independent reporting suggests that the standards for targeting have been extremely loose – something along the lines of “military age male in an area controlled by insurgents who looks like a terrorist” – and that civilian casualties have been quite common, with around 20% of the killings from CIA drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004 being civilians.

Progressive Students of Milwaukee and Peace Action Wisconsin are sponsoring a public forum Thursday on the drone strike policy. We’ll be discussing what is known about the policy from independent reporting and what the public can do to help bring this policy into transparent compliance with U.S. and international law.

Conor McMullen is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a member of Progressive Students of Milwaukee.


Good, Concise Analysis of President Obama’s State of the Union Speech by The Progressive’s Matthew Rothschild

February 13, 2013

Mixed Messages in Obama’s State of the Union

By Matthew Rothschild, February 13, 2013

President Obama’s State of the Union Address provided some solace to progressives on some issues, but left a lot to be desired on others.

He was right to point out that we can’t keep “drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next”—a good, clean shot at Republican obstructionism on the fiscal cliff and sequestration.

But for the longest time in the first part of his speech, he focused on deficit reduction, which is an exaggerated problem. He said that “economists” say we need $2 trillion more in deficit reduction “to stabilize our finances.” Which economists was he talking about? Not Nobel Prize-winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, who have urged him not to focus so much on deficit reduction but rather on job creation.

And in his discussion of deficit reduction, Obama hinted that most people are going to suffer. “We can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful,” he said. That doesn’t sound like he’s making a good bargain to me. Instead, it sounds like he’s going to ask “senior citizens and working families” to shoulder a big part of the deficit burden, which they can’t afford to do.

His endorsement of universal pre-kindergarten was a positive step. But he acted like that would even the playing field by itself, saying, “Let’s . . . make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.” Actually, children in poverty are already behind, so how about tackling poverty in America? But Obama didn’t talk about eliminating poverty in the American context, only in the global context.

And as for high schools, he boasted about Race to the Top, which has been a nightmare, and said he now wanted to “redesign America’s high schools” so they can give students “the skills today’s employers are looking for.” What about giving students the skills to be engaged learners or thoughtful citizens?

On the positive side, he did come out for raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour. But why $9 an hour instead of the $10 an hour that Ralph Nader has been calling for?

He did give some welcome shout outs to LGBTS and women and the cause of equality for all.

He did come out strongly for a fairer tax code, for gun control, and for protecting voting rights.

And he spoke forcefully for action on global warming, though he favored a “market-based solution.”

He proposed to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, which was welcome.

And he said he wanted to fix the housing market by allowing “every responsible homeowner in America” to refinance at today’s rates. The problem is, he seems to be calling anyone who ever missed a payment an irresponsible homeowner, when they may have been unable to pay because they got sick or got laid off. Is he not going to help them at all?

He talked about comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship, as he did in his Inaugural address. Fortunately, he added the need to “cut waiting periods,” which can be 20 years or longer right now. Some people will die on that path to citizenship.

On foreign and military policy, he was the most disappointing. He threatened Iran again, saying, “Now is the time for a diplomatic solution,” and warning: “We will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.”

He was blatantly one-sided on the Israel-Palestinian issue, saying, “We will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace.” He didn’t even bother to mention the Palestinians at all.

And appallingly, he defended his drone warfare and assassination policy. “Where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans,” he said. And in the very next sentence, he had the chutzpah to add: “As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight.”

He said his Administration “has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations.” But is it “legal” just because he and his Justice Department say it is?

He also said, in a bald-faced lie, that “throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts.” Try running that past Sen. Ron Wyden, who for months has been trying to get his questions answered on the Administration’s assassination doctrine.

He also sang from the hymnal of American exceptionalism. “America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change,” he said. “In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights.” Tell that to the people of Bahrain.

This was neither Obama’s most eloquent defense of an affirmative role for government, nor was it close to his most honest discussion of U.S. foreign policy.

Instead, it was lukewarm liberalism at home coupled with Bush-league justifications for lawlessness and hypocrisy abroad.


Be a Patriot, Uphold the Constitution: Save Obama From His Tortured Justifications For Drone Strikes, Kill Lists and Targeted Assassinations

February 8, 2013
–Kevin Martin, Executive Director
My cousin David has a cool used record and bookstore in downtown Lancaster, PA (my hometown) called BohoZone, check it out if you visit Lancaster. Bought my son Max a paperback copy of Fahrenheit 451 for Xmas, which he of course forgot and left in the car. So I read it, for the first time since high school (and will now give it back to Max for him to read). Really dug it, forgot that Ray Bradbury knew how to write for popular audiences. Want to see the movie again too (directed by one of the all-time greats, Francois Truffaut, starring Oskar Werner and the inimitable Julie Christie). Gotta admit I dig the future dystopia genre, especially the ones where there is some hope or at least fightback by the people (I also like the “we’re screwed and destined to succumb to the fascist police state and there’s no hope” ones too as I hope they’ll serve as a cautionary tale and wake people up.)
I especially like the one where the supposedly liberal or even “socialist” president decides who he can kill with impunity, using robots to deliver bombs, even if he doesn’t even know the person’s name, in countries with whom we are not at war, with no congressional or judicial oversight, justified by lawyers accountable only to him, with hundreds (at least) of civilians being killed.
Oh wait that’s not some future dystopia, that’s called the Obama Administration.
While many peace activists and human rights researchers have been protesting and educating and agitating about drone strikes and the president’s “kill list” for quite some time, this week seems to have brought something of a breakthrough, at least in media coverage and perhaps in Congressional scrutiny of these morally and legally dubious (and that’s being kind, many folks would just say “illegal”) practices by our Nobel Peace Laureate president. CIA Director-designate John Brennan took much of the heat on this in the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Wednesday (with some justification, as he has been the president’s counterterrorism chief and was in the CIA under Bush/Cheney), but the president is the one accountable for these policies, and the one who could, and should, end them.
Brevity prevents a full listing of all the problematic aspects of drone strikes (our colleague and former Peace Action staffer and board member Duane Shank of Sojourners had a nice rundown on his Drone Watch blog post the other day, with links to many articles), but the civilian death toll and paper-thin legal “justification” for drone strikes being authorized by the Congressional resolution right after 9/11 are enough to call this whole shebang to a halt. (Certainly Constitutional Law Professor Barack Obama would have understood this.)
Those two concerns are the main reasons cited for the announcement late last month that the UN will open an investigation into drone strikes and targeted killings. Unites States’ UN Ambassador Susan Rice said the administration “has not ruled out full cooperation” with the investigation, as if we can pick and choose, as a UN member state. when to cooperate.
Momentum against drones (and I haven’t even gone into the frightening spectre of the proliferation of domestic surveillance drones just on the horizon that even Bradbury couldn’t have imagined) is building fast. Nationally coordinated grassroots actions on drones are planned for April. I had a suggestion the other day that we ought to start a call-in campaign to the White House every Tuesday. Why? That is supposedly the day the president looks at the kill list and approves targets for murder.
I know many liberals and progressives are loathe to criticize the president, and/or feel it’s their job to protect him from the right-wing. But it’s our Constitution that needs protecting, from this or any president who would declare himself judge, jury and executioner. Do him a favor and demand he end this madness.

It’s Not About Obama, It’s About Us!

November 26, 2012

–Kevin Martin

I was asked by our colleagues at the French Peace Movement (Mouvement de la Paix) to write an article a couple of weeks ago for their excellent magazine Planete Paix on the outcome of the presidential election and what it will mean for our work in the next few years. Here it is, and it may appear in longer form somewhere else soon. I’d be interested in your comments!

Relief, rather than elation, was the emotion most U.S. peace activists felt November 6 when President Obama won re-election. While President Obama has been very disappointing on most peace issues (and right now most peace activists are furious at him for drone strikes killing civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and maybe other countries), Mitt Romney would have been awful as president. So what now to expect from a second Obama term?

Most likely, more of the same policies of the first term. Anyone expecting Obama to be decidedly more pro-peace than in his first term is likely to be sorely dispirited. However, there is a diverse, growing peoples’ movement in the U.S. linking human and environmental needs with a demand to end our wars and liberate the vast resources they consume. This, combined with difficult budgetary pressures (which should dictate at least modest cuts in the gargantuan Pentagon budget) could lead to serious restraints on possible militaristic policies such as an attack on Iran, “modernization” of the entire U.S. nuclear weapons enterprise at a cost of over $200 billion, a permanent U.S. force of 25,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 and an absurd military “pivot” toward the Asia-Pacific aimed at isolating Russia and especially China.

We in the peace movement need to be able to think, and act, with both a short- and long-term perspective. In the near term, swiftly ending the war in Afghanistan and ensuring no long-term U.S./NATO troop presence, ending drone strikes, preventing a war with Iran and building support for a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East, pushing for serious cuts to the Pentagon and advocating progress toward nuclear disarmament (including building new boycott/divestment campaigns utilizing the excellent International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons  “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” report) will consume most of our energies. Also, peace activists will build alliances with and lend solidarity to efforts to those working to save social programs and address climate chaos.

In the longer term (and looking through a broader lens), the U.S. is hopefully heading toward, in the analysis of Johann Galtung, “The Decline of the U.S. Empire and the Flowering of the U.S. Republic.” We need to understand and hasten that process as much as we can. We have an opportunity in opposing the outrageous “Asia-Pacific Pivot” (which the military-industrial complex has concocted, without asking the American people if we support or want to pay for it, as an obvious attempt the justify its continuing rasion d’etre), building solidarity with the peoples of Okinawa, Jeju Island, Guam, Hawaii and other nations in the region opposing the spread of U.S. militarism there and advocating peaceful relations with China and all in the region. Surely that is a better idea than trying to isolate China militarily, politically, economically and geo-strategically.

Contrary to the hopes many around the world invested in him (which he didn’t deserve and frankly he never asked for), it’s never been about Obama. It’s about the entrenched power of the U.S. war machine, and about how we the peoples of this country and around the world can work together to demand and create more peaceful and just policies.

 


More on Drones, Pakistan and Afghanistan

October 3, 2012

Last week, we shared (on the Peace Action FaceBook page, not here on the Peace Blog) the devastating Living Under Drones report on U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, written by researchers from Stanford and New York University. If you didn’t read it or watch the accompanying video by Brave New Foundation (available at the same link as above and also on our FB page), you ought to. It is a clear indictment of a policy that is earning our government (deserved, I believe) enmity in Pakistan and around the world for the wanton use of armed drones to kill from afar.

CIVIC and the Columbia Law School also have a report posing hard questions for Congress and the Obama Administration titled The Civilian Impact of Drones: Unexamined Costs, Unanswered Questions. The recommendations to policymakers are worth a read.

Colleagues from many U.S. peace groups are in Pakistan right now on a nonviolent solidarity mission to call attention to and demand an end to U.S. drone strikes, which are killing many civilians in the Waziristan region. Follow the delegation at http://droneswatch.org/

Bob Naiman of Just Foreign Policy is on the delegation, and he explains why, as well as analyzes U.S. drone policy, with an article on Huffington Post.

Last but far from least, our good friend Phyllis Bennis was on Democracy Now! yesterday talking about Afghanistan, our country’s longest war (October 7th will mark eleven years since the start of our war there).

I’m guessing this new aspect of U.S. war-making (drone strikes) will not come up in the Presidential debate tonight, especially as the focus will be on domestic issues, but we will need to raise our concerns about U.S. drone policy in every conceivable way going forward.

 


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