An Open Letter to FCNL

December 26th, 2011

This email to Diane Randall, Executive Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), was written in response to an email fund appeal from her. I have written a number of such emails over the course of the last 3 years, and I normally get no response. This one I am going to make public.

Dear Diane Randall,

For decades, I contributed regularly to FCNL. I felt it stood for what I believed in, and I could count on it. I thought it was largely free of partisanship.

Then came the Obama election. After the election, I saw a metamorphosis in FCNL. It seemed to become a branch office of the White House - of a President who campaigned on escalation of the war in Afghanistan, increasing the military budget, and increasing the number of military troops. These were all things FCNL traditionally would have opposed. The President kept all those promises, and FCNL supported him in that. It campaigned for a budget that increased military spending and devoted over half of all discretionary spending to the military. Joe Volk, then FCNL’s Executive Secretary, sent out an email asking supporters to write letters to the editor supporting the President’s Afghanistan policy.

At that point, I resolved to stop supporting FCNL. I pointed out this radical change in FCNL to others, and urged them to not support FCNL. Many FCNL supporters had the same reaction. If you will look at donation trends, you will see that FCNL’s income dropped dramatically during that time. The FCNL budget and staff were reduced. The official propaganda from FCNL was that this was due to the economy, but I’m sure FCNL’s betrayal of its values was a large factor.

Gradually FCNL moved back to its traditional positions. However, it has yet to publicly admit it got off course. I am a Christian. I believe in repentance and redemption. But fundamental to that is admitting the sin. I believe there are thousands of us willing to come back as FCNL supporters if FCNL will admit it went seriously off-track after the Obama election, and pledges never again to sacrifice its values to engage in a partisan effort. But we’ve been waiting for years for this, and so far have not seen any sign of an admission by FCNL that it went terribly wrong in that period. I continue to wait.

Bill Samuel

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An Open Letter to President Barack Obama, Christmas 2010

December 25th, 2010

Merry Christmas, Mr. President, to you and your lovely family.

In your Christmas radio message you said, “many are fighting halfway around the globe – in hopes that someday, our children and grandchildren won’t have to.” I believe that you were sincere in saying that, but I ask you to look at that statement in light of the facts of history.

Many of your predecessors said the same thing with respect to the wars they were fighting. People on both sides of every war seem to say that. World War I was called the “war to end all wars.” This hope has proven itself through thousands of years of history to be misplaced. To the extent that history can be said to have proven anything, I believe it can be said to have proven that you don’t bring an end to wars by waging war. It not only doesn’t sound logical; it just doesn’t work.

Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Jesus said, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) Is it just possible that Jesus knew what he was talking about? Is it possible that you really do not achieve good ends by slaughtering people?

In your Nobel address, you said you could not be guided as President by the examples of Gandhi and King. Your implication was that the ideas of peacemakers are impractical in “the world as it is.”

Is it possible that it isn’t people like Jesus, Gandhi and King who aren’t facing the reality of “the world as it is” but those that advocate and wage wars? None of these men ever held political office. Yet each of them accomplished a lot more for good than you, the most powerful political leader in the world, will ever achieve by squandering our nation’s dedicated people and resources on wars. And they lived in “the world as it is.”

Mr. President, I implore you to re-consider your following of an approach that has proven over and over again to be ineffective, and causes untold misery. I ask you to abandon the approach of endless wars and instead offer us the politics of hope and lead our country in more positive directions that will constructively use the idealism of those currently on the battlefield and our material resources.

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Reflections on Independence Day

July 4th, 2010

Today in the United States is Independence Day, when the country celebrates the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence back in 1776. At my church, we were completing our annual God in the Movies series, and we focused on the John Adams mini-series. What caught my attention was a particular remark by John Adams, and what I drew from it was quite different from what the day’s speaker did.

The comment, made by John Adams at the Second Constitutional Convention, which caught my attention was that the end would be worth the means. My own Christian understanding is that the end can not really be separated from the means. Rather, we must be sure we are using ethical means if we hope to achieve a good end. The ethical way may seem naive and impractical, but in fact it is not only the right choice, but the only pragmatic one if we really desire a good end.

As the speaker noted, John Adams was a man who really sought to do the right thing. There is much to admire in his life. However, he made a critical error in his thinking in his belief that the willful shedding of the blood of many people could be a means to a good end. This critical error was not only made by most of those who attended that Constitutional Convention, but also by most societies throughout the ages. The universality of the error does not make it right.

Our Lord Jesus Christ allowed his own blood to be shed for the freedom of all. But he refused to be a part of shedding anyone else’s blood, and rebuked Peter for cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant at his arrest. The early Christian leader Tertullianus said, “the Lord afterwards, in disarming Peter, ungirded every soldier.” This was the almost universal view of the Christian church before Constantine.

One wonders how history would have unfolded had there been a Gandhi in America in the period in which the Revolutionary War took place. In India in the 20th century, as in America in the 18th, there were many who were calling for war against British imperial rule. Yet Gandhi’s different way captured the imagination of the Indian people. In America during the Revolutionary War era, the Society of Friends (Quakers), which has a strong testimony against war, was still a major religious body. However, they had largely withdrawn from the public arena, after having been very active earlier in the colonial period. What would have happened if they had proposed an alternative, nonviolent strategy?

The political leaders in America chose to engage in war against the British. At great cost of lives, they “won.” However, let us look not only at the independence of the United States, but what has happened since.

Born in violence, the United States has a long history of violence since. We have fought many wars, most of them wars of aggression and domination, since, up to and including the present day. We suffered a great Civil War. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “America is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” When you use the means of violence, the end is violence and bloodshed.

And what about freedom? The “free country” enslaved African-Americans and engaged in genocide against native Americans. The country has taken military, political and economic action to deny many countries their own freely elected governments. How, for example, might the story of Iran be different if the U.S. had not instigated a coup against Iran’s democratic government in 1953 and installed a tyrant?

We reap what we sow. American leaders in 1776 unleashed a campaign of violence which still reverberates today. Our independent country is #1 in its military, but behind almost all other industrial nations in almost every indicator of economic and social well-being. We have stirred resentment throughout the world through military interventionism, the undermining of free governments, the support of tyrannical regimes and economic imperialism.

The good news of Jesus Christ is that God can redeem anything. If we “repent and believe the good news” our course can be changed and we can enter the blessed community of peace and well-being promised in such prophecies as Isaiah’s Peaceable Kingdom. Let us pray for and work for the day the United States humbles itself, confesses its sins, and turns from its ways of violence and domination.

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Share the Burden

October 31st, 2009

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There was a time when, if a nation went to war, the leader actually led the army into battle, risking his own life. Such a leader shows a meaningful commitment to the cause. He wasn’t like today’s “leaders” who send others into harm’s way, but don’t get in harm’s way themselves. This makes it much easier for them to take their nation into war. They claim sympathy for the poor chumps who get killed and wounded, but aren’t willing to make the commitment they ask others to make.

We need a Share the Burden Act. This legislation would require the Commander in Chief, whenever he (or she) sent troops into harm’s way, to spend a substantial portion of their time in the battle zone, actually leading troops in some of the most dangerous situations in the war. Likewise, the Secretary of “Defense” (a euphemism) and any Member of Congress who supported the military action, including by voting for funds for it, would be required to actually spend time in harm’s way.

Such an Act would separate the chicken hawks from those who actually believed in the military actions. I suspect that such a requirement would result in our nation’s leaders suddenly finding there were good non-military means of dealing with international situations and that war was not really necessary.

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Obama’s Double Standard

June 5th, 2009

In his June 4 speech at Cairo University, President Barack Obama said “Palestinians must abandon violence. . . . Hamas must put an end to violence . . .”

Now I strongly believe that Palestinians should abandon violence, and that includes Hamas. But what struck me in the speech is that no one else was asked to abandon violence; only the Palestinians.

President Obama nowhere in the speech demanded that Israel abandon violence. And nowhere did he promise that the United States would abandon violence. In fact, he spent a significant part of the speech justifying the U.S. war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States is still, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said on April 4, 1967, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today . . .”

I agree with President Obama’s statement in his speech “that violence is a dead end.” But if it is, why ask only one party to abandon it and why not abandon it ourselves?

I don’t think President Obama is even conscious of the inherent contradictions in what he said. Our society is so used to using “violence” (and “terror”) only to refer to actions by the marginalized that a mainstream politician like the President isn’t even thinking of the actions of Israel and the United States in terms of violence. This shows how distorted and sick thinking is in our society and in other privileged societies.

Later in the speech, the President said “we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments . . .” It isn’t spelled out explicitly, but the context makes it clear that what he is really saying is that the United States is justified in refusing to talk to the democratically elected Hamas because it is not a peaceful government. And despite the univeral sounding language, he is really only referring to one government, and he does not apply the same standard anywhere else.

The President strongly defended our ties to Israel even though their government is by no stretch a peaceful government - it kills far more innocent civilians than does Hamas (and it does so generally with U.S.-supplied weapons). And I think it is safe to say that the President would not take well to other governments refusing to deal with his Administration until it abandoned violence.

The contradictions I am pointing out here seem quite obvious, and yet I have yet to see another commentary that mentions them. I think addressing these contradictions is critical if we are to get to the point of realizing what the President correctly called “God’s vision” where “The people of the world can live together in peace.” Realizing the vision requires that the powerful as well as the marginalized turn from the ways of violence and domination.

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No to Irresponsible Spending Proposal

January 27th, 2009

Below is a message I sent to my Representative and Senators:

This is to demand you oppose Obama’s “American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.” He said in his inaugural address that it is time for a “new era of responsibility.” Then he proposes the most irresponsible fiscal package in my lifetime! He was right in what he said in his speech. He is absolutely wrong for refusing to lead us into that new era, and instead going in the opposite direction. Obama proposed massive spending without saying how it would be paid for.

Public debt in this country is already 45% of GDP. We are bankrupt! And the national debt amounts to a massive income transfer program. Future generations of ordinary taxpayers will have large amounts of their income transferred to holders of the debt (currently mostly foreigners, as is the case with any bankrupt country). You may not be around then, but how can you sleep at night condemning them to misery because of the irresponsible policies approved by the U.S. Government now?

Democrats rightly criticized President Bush for being fiscally irresponsible. The answer to that is not for Democrats, when in power, to be far more irresponsible. Democrats used to look back at the Clinton years, and note that he moved the Federal budget into surplus. That was a good thing! You should imitate the fiscally responsible policies of the Clinton era instead of seeking to outdo Bush in irresponsibility.

Much of the proposed spending in the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan” is for good things. But it has to be paid for. It could be, but you would have to make hard choices which would enrage interests which give large amounts in campaign contributions. Do you have the courage to do so? Here are some areas where we might get the money to pay for selected portions of the proposed spending:

  • the bloated military budget, over half of the relatively controllable portion of the budget, and larger than that of all other countries combined. Rep. Barney Frank in October proposed a 25% cut in the military budget, which would be a good start.
  • repealing tax breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations.
  • repealing subsidies for corporate farms and animal-based agriculture (cause of 18% of global warming, according to the UN).
  • repealing subsidies for corn-based ethanol, which have caused world grain prices to skyrocket resulting in poor people dying of starvation according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, and which is environmentally irresponsible.

The only responsible choice is to refuse to vote for any massive spending plan which is not matched with means of financing it. I urge you to vote responsibly.

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I Am Thankful

November 26th, 2008

We are on the eve of Thanksgiving in the United States, where it is a major holiday. I believe in having an attitude of gratitude.

I could go on at great length with things I have to be thankful for, but I will just list a few today:

  • I am thankful for my Lord, Savior, Teacher and Friend Jesus Christ, in whom I live, move and have my being.
  • I am thankful for my sweet, loving wife Young, who brings me so much joy.
  • I am thankful for being raised by loving parents who showed me by example how to live.
  • I am thankful for Cedar Ridge Community Church, a loving faith community dedicated to growing in discipleship.
  • I am thankful for the several small groups of which I am a part, places of spiritual growth and friendship.
  • I am thankful for my work situation, in which I can do meaningful work as part of a team of great people.
  • I am thankful for my colleagues on the Board of Consistent Life, a delightful group with which to work for a world in which all human life is treated with respect and dignity.

Who have you thanked today?

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On the Criminalization Question

November 11th, 2008

In 2007, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, 90,427 forcible rapes were reported in the United States. It is well known that many rapes are not reported, so the actual incidence of rape is greater than that.

Rape is a felony in every jurisdiction in the United States, and has been for a very long time. So does the incidence of rape prove that criminalization is a failure and should be abandoned in favor of rape reduction strategies?

It would be hard to find anyone who would make that argument. But most would agree that criminalization is not enough by itself. We also need other efforts to address the causes of rape. In recent decades, there have been many efforts along this line. But they are not seen as alternatives to criminalization, but as complements to it. To the contrary, at the same time there have been efforts to strengthen the criminal laws against rape.

Now this multifaceted approach to address the problem of rape in our society is not controversial and in fact is generally accepted. But this is not true with regard to all other social ills. In particular, it is not true regarding abortion.

We frequently hear people saying that laws against abortion are not advisable because some would continue to have abortions even if it was illegal. Some say we should abandon criminalization strategies in favor of abortion reduction strategies involving such things as supports for pregnant women.

Abortion reduction efforts are, in fact, critical. We need to address the reasons why people have abortions. There are a whole range of public policies and nonprofit sector programs that can be helpful in addressing the desperation many women feel when they learn they are pregnant. And most of them have very important additional benefits as well. We should indeed be working hard to see these put in place.

The problem comes when people approach the question of laws restricting abortion and other abortion reduction strategies in an either/or manner. There is no real conflict between these strategies. Both affect the incidence of abortion. They are, in fact, complementary. I believe there is a synergistic effect when you move forward on multiple approaches to the problem at the same time.

So I implore all those that are seeking to protect the unborn to avoid either/or formulations and not to attack those who are concentrating on different ways to work for life. I ask those focusing on legal restrictions on abortion not to attack those emphasizing other strategies as not really being pro-life. I ask those emphasizing other approaches not to attack those emphasizing legal restrictions. We are all needed in the effort to get all human life treated with dignity and respect.

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Why I’m Voting for Joe

October 19th, 2008

On November 4, we have an Election Day in the United States which will result in the choosing of the next President. Many people have explained for whom they’re voting, and I’ll join them in that. And that often includes why they’re not voting for someone else.

Very few of my friends seem to have seriously considered voting for John McCain, and I don’t think most of them would expect me to vote for him. So I won’t devote much energy to explaining why I’m not voting for him. I will reference him occasionally, but the major issue in the circles in which I move is whether to vote for Obama or for some non-duopoly candidate, so that is what I will principally address in this post.

Why I’m Not Voting for Obama

Since many people are making the assumption that if you don’t want McCain to be President, you should vote for Obama, let me address why I disagree.

I don’t believe in voting for the lesser evil. I think voting for evil is morally wrong. Of course you aren’t likely to agree with any candidate 100%, but it seems to me that you need to view them as on the whole working in the right direction to vote for them in good conscience. Since I believe that the fundamental assumptions that underlie much of the policies of the country are wrong, that means I don’t vote for candidates who basically uphold those assumptions, even if they may tweak them slightly in the right direction. Obama does not seem to reject any major assumption of our system, and has never stood for any significant change to the best of my knowledge, so he is not seriously in contention for my vote.

Let me just outline a few of the ways in which Obama represents the wrong way:

  • He has voted to spend over half of the discretionary budget on the military - current and future mass murder. And his campaign position is that we spend too little on the military, and should spend more. Furthermore, he wants to increase the size of the active duty military forces. [McCain's official position is virtually identical on all of this, although he did cite the military budget in the last debate when asked where he could cut.]
  • He favors massive escalation of the war in Afghanistan [so does McCain], and military attacks on Pakistan [McCain has criticized him for that].
  • He has said that the first thing he will do when in office is sign the “Freedom of Choice Act” which would outlaw all restrictions on abortion by the Federal, state, and local governments [McCain opposes it]. This is consistent with his record of opposing all abortion restrictions in the past. And while he says he is in favor of reduction in abortions, he refuses to support the Pregnant Women Support Act, a Democratic-sponsored measure which would provide the kind of social supports that make it easier for women to choose life.
  • He favors the death penalty, even though he admits it is ineffective, because he believes in vengeance.
  • He is a strong supporter of subsidies for corn-based ethanol [McCain opposes them]. Simply from an environmental standpoint, this is bad because producing a gallon of ethanol from corn uses most of the energy the gallon contains. But its most disastrous effect is on the poor. The diversion of corn to ethanol production is a major contributing factor to the precipitous rise in world grain prices we have seen (the International Food Policy Research Institute estimates bioenergy accounts for 30% of the increase). Skyrocketing grain prices mean poor people can not afford the food they need to survive. UN Food and Agricultural Organization Director-General Jacques-Diouf said, “The fact is that people are dying already.”
  • He favors “clean coal” [as does McCain], although experts say that there is no way to make coal production environmentally responsible.
  • He decided to attempt to buy the election with the massive sums he can raise, much of it from Wall Street and other corporatist elements, instead of accepting public funding of his campaign, even though he promised to accept public funding if his opponent did [and McCain has accepted public funding, resulting in having less than 1/6 of the funds Obama has].

Poverty and the “Matthew 25 Network”

There is a group calling itself the “Matthew 25 Network” organized by a Democratic operative which has recruited a number of pastors. Despite the name, it does not exist to encourage people to act in accordance with Matthew 25. It is rather an attempt to use Christ to support partisan political purposes, which is arguably blasphemy. Christ refused to align himself with any of the major religio-political parties of his day, and instead preached and practiced an alternative vision.

The “Matthew 25 Network” exists to support Barack Obama for President. This despite the fact that Obama’s policies are in direct contradiction to the principles Christ outlined in Matthew 25 of supporting the poor and outcast. Not only are his subsidies for corn-based ethanol production currently killing poor people, but his skewed national priorities directly result in killing the poor (most of the casualties from war) and also result in the lack of resources for programs to address social needs. As former President Dwight Eisenhower noted, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

Jesus did not say of the righteous:

For I was hungry, and you used the grain that could have fed me to produce ethanol. I was thirsty, and you used water resources to produce “clean coal” and ethanol. I was a stranger, and you bombed foreigners. I needed clothes, and the money you spent on clothes went for military uniforms. I was sick, and you devoted your resources to wars so there wasn’t enough for health care. I was in prison, and you executed me so the society could wreak vengeance.

If Not a Duopoly Candidate, then Who?

McCain and Obama aren’t the only people running for President. There are some who are on many state ballots, some on a few, and others running solely as write-in candidates. Many of these candidates represent a markedly different vision than that of McCain and Obama.

On many issues, I agree with the positions of Ralph Nader (independent) and Cynthia McKinney (Green Party). However, while these candidates stand for life in many respects, their campaign platforms do not stand up for the unborn, the veritable “least of these” (whom the “Matthew 25 Network” ignores). Nader seems preferable because he did come out in a 2004 interview for banning feticide, so seems at least open to recognizing the dignity and worth of the unborn. Nader is on 45 state ballots, more than any other alternative candidate. So if you’re going to vote for someone on the ballot, I would suggest you vote for Ralph Nader.

I intend to vote for Joe Schriner. He is a Christian who is running as a consistent life ethic candidate. He is right on all the life issues on which Obama is wrong. He is a strong environmentalist, and an advocate of simple living. He had hoped to run in the Green Party primaries, but his campaign was blocked by state Green Party leaders who objected to his being pro-life on abortion. I urge everyone to write-in Joe Schriner for President and Dale Way for Vice President. He is a registered write-in candidate in several states, including my state of Maryland.

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The Palins and Changing Gender Attitudes

September 12th, 2008

Sarah Palin has burst onto the national scene with her selection as John McCain’s running mate. She has generated an unusual amount of excitement. When someone generates the level of excitement she has, it is usually because they represent something to people. Somehow, they strike a chord.

Palin is a politician with a generally right wing perspective. It isn’t her views which excite people. There is nothing particularly notable about them. And in fact many who are excited by her don’t share most of her views.

Some call her “hot” but it isn’t her looks which are responsible for the phenomenon. She doesn’t dress provocatively or project an “available” image. And she has generated the most enthusiasm not among men looking for a sex object, but among women - and usually moms. She has an 80% popularity rating among white women, and there has been a remarkable political shift of 20 points in that demographic since she was nominated.

So what does she represent? She calls herself a feminist, but is definitely not aligned with the feminist establishment - mostly upscale white women with a heavy ideology that has never attracted the masses. She lives out the idea that a woman can do anything, and importantly that it is not a choice between having a family and doing something in the world. She is proud of having defeated the “good old boys” in her amazing gubernatorial election where she first toppled an incumbent governor in the primaries and then defeated a popular former governor in the general election. She is definitely feminine and not a man-hater, but unafraid to challenge men in what were traditionally the provinces of men. Her life becomes a symbol with which many ordinary women strongly identify.

Let’s not forget the man she calls “my guy” - her husband Todd. He seems like a “man’s man” - a TV commentator during the convention called him “studly.” Blue collar oil production worker, commercial fisherman, champion snowmobile racer - he really seems to fit the typical masculine image in so many ways.

And yet he is not the stereotypical macho male who feels the need to dominate women. He doesn’t seem interested in dominating his wife. He doesn’t seem to feel challenged by her success, but to be genuinely proud of her. And he doesn’t seem to have a problem with staying home and taking care of the kids while his wife is governing the state. Being “First Dude” is just fine with him.

The Palins have been flexible about roles. There was a time when she was a stay-at-home-mom - the “hockey mom” - and Todd was the breadwinner, and they were largely living “traditional” roles. Now she’s Governor and Todd spends a lot of time on the home front, taking care of the kids. They adjust to changing situations. They seem to have a secure, happy marriage, and love their kids and can adjust when their children don’t do what they hoped.

The Palins present a model of not being boxed in by rigid role assignments. It is a model that in no way challenges marriage and family, but shows that you don’t have to choose between that ideal and doing what draws you regardless of traditional gender roles. Their right wing politics highlights that this is not a way of living associated with a particular political ideology, but is something for everyone across the spectrum.

In some ways, the Palins seem to represent the triumph of the feminist movement. Those who have flown the feminist flag are divided in their reaction. Some have exploded in rage, because Sarah Palin is clearly not one of them. Others admit to admiring her, while being appalled at many of her views. Sarah does not spend her time bashing the feminist establishment, although the only feminist group she has felt able to identify with is Feminists for Life, which itself attracts mostly people with a very different political perspective than hers. And it has been interesting to see the dynamic between Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. They seem to respect each other. Some would like to see Hillary lash out at Sarah, but Hillary doesn’t seem to be interested in that. I think she will keep their differences political, and not make it personal.

In part what we are seeing is a generational shift in attitudes. In that, Palin has a lot in common with Obama. They are of the same generation. Just as Obama is African-American but doesn’t get boxed into being a black politician like prior black candidates, Palin is proudly a woman but doesn’t get boxed into the old image of a feminist politician. So, while there is much going on in America that discourages me, I can see signs of important positive movement in my lifetime on some very important matters. The younger generations just aren’t hung up on race and gender in the way so many Americans were when I was young. They’re more willing to let people be people, and not box them in.

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