Burn Bag: If a T-wall tips over in Baghdad but there’s no media around to hear it, will it make a sound?

Posted: 10:31 am EDT

Via Burn Bag:

“If a T-wall tips over in Baghdad but there’s no media around to hear it, will it make a sound?  What if it crushes a local national contractor working on a USG facility— will anyone mention the man’s death, or can we expect radio silence as usual?  It’s becoming clear that no one back home really cares about what’s going on over here….it’s like 2004 all over again.”

U.S. Soldiers of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, guide a concrete barrier into a new position at Joint Security Station Loyalty, eastern Baghdad, Iraq, on May 17, 2009

U.S. Soldiers of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, guide a concrete barrier into a new position at Joint Security Station Loyalty, eastern Baghdad, Iraq, on May 17, 2009. Photo by Staff Sgt. James Selesnick

Note: “T-Walls” or Texas barriers can reached upwards of 12 to 18 feet in height. Some of the tallest reach 24 feet. According to army.mil, t-walls of the larger variety became symbols of life in Iraq although several variations of shapes and sizes also abound around Iraq.  Read more here.

 

Don’t Worry, Be Happy — John Kirby Officially Takes Over as @StateDeptSpox

Posted: 11:02 am  EDT
Updated: 5:23 pm EDT

 

 

Today, Secretary Kerry tweeted this:

I am pleased to welcome John Kirby as our new State Department Spokesperson. I first got to know John’s work several years ago, when I was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he was spokesperson for Admiral Mike Mullen and then Chief of Information for the Navy. John was known as the Navy’s indispensable utility player – it didn’t matter whether he was serving as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy, a public affairs officer for the Blue Angels, or aboard multiple Navy vessels – name the challenge – at every stage of his career, including in his most recent assignment as the Pentagon’s top spokesman, John has stood out for his impeccable judgment, collegiality, and character. And he understands the media – absolutely. John has always – intuitively, instinctively – gravitated toward diplomacy, and I know that he is looking forward to that focus as he retires from the Navy and moves into civilian life. All of this makes him the perfect person to help tell America’s story to the world.

I also want to recognize the extraordinary work of Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf, who stepped in seamlessly as Acting Spokesperson over the past few months. Marie has made a contribution to every important thing I’ve done as Secretary and plays a particularly important role in leading the communications strategy for our Iran negotiations.

I am privileged to work with a remarkable team and grateful to each of them for their contributions.

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NYT’s David Brooks Asks, “Are we in nursery school?” Acting State Dept Spox Marie Harf Reax. Tsk-tsk!

Posted: 11:41 am PDT

 

So last week, SecState #56 and SecState #60, both Republican-appointed Secretaries of State wrote an op-ed about The Iran Deal and Its Consequences.

The Acting Spokesperson Marie Harf was asked about this during the April 8 Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION:  Henry Kissinger and George Shultz published a piece in the Wall Street Journal today that raised a lot of questions about the deal.  These are diplomatic statesman types.  Do you guys have any reaction to that?  Do you think they were fair?
MS HARF:  Well, the Secretary has spoken to a number of his predecessors that were former secretaries of state since we got this agreement – or since the parameters – excuse me – we got the parameters finalized.  And we’re having conversations with other senior officials.  We are happy to have that conversation about what this agreement is, what it isn’t, the work we still have to do, and how we are very confident that this achieves our objectives.  And that conversation will certainly continue.
[…]
QUESTION:  Okay.  So one of the things they say is that “absent a linkage between nuclear and political restraint, America’s traditional allies will conclude that the U.S. has traded temporary nuclear cooperation for acquiescence to Iranian hegemony” in the region.  Not true?
MS HARF:  I would obviously disagree with that.  I think that an Iran backed up by a nuclear weapon would be more able to project power in the region, and so that’s why we don’t want them to get a nuclear weapon.  That’s what this deal does.
QUESTION:  Back when —
MS HARF:  And I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives.  I heard a lot of sort of big words and big thoughts in that piece, and those are certainly – there’s a place for that, but I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives about what they would do differently.  I know the Secretary values the discussions he has with his predecessors regardless of sort of where they fall on the specifics.
QUESTION:  Well, I guess one of the criticisms is that there aren’t enough big words and big thought – or people argue that there are not enough big words and big thoughts in what the Administration is pursuing, its overall policy, particularly in the Middle East right now, which has been roiled with unrest and uncertainty.  And I think that’s what the point is they’re making.  That you reject, it, I understand that.  One of the —
MS HARF:  Well, in a region already roiled by so much uncertainty and unrest —

On that same day, conservative talk show radio host Hugh Hewitt had NYT’s David Brooks as guest and was asked about the Kissinger-Schultz op-ed, and the State Department’s official response to it. Click here for the transcript: Below is an audio of the exchange.

HH: David Brooks, this is the critique of the critics, is that we don’t have a lot of alternatives. In fact, every critic I’ve heard has alternatives, and I’m sure Kissinger and Schultz do. But a lot of big words? Really?
DB: Are we in nursery school? We’re not, no polysyllabic words? That’s about the lamest rebuttal of a piece by two senior and very well-respected foreign policy people as I’ve heard. Somebody’s got to come up with better talking points, whatever you think. And of course, there are alternatives. It’s not to allow them to get richer, but to force them to get a little poorer so they can fund fewer terrorism armies.

The Daily Caller caught that story and posted this:  Are We In Nursery School?’: David Brooks Slams Marie Harf Over Kissinger, Shultz Op-Ed Criticism.

Ouch!

But that’s not the end of the story.

William M. Todd, apparently a friend of the Harf family reposted the Daily Caller story on his Facebook page with a note that says: “Team Obama bans polysyllabic words !!”

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 11.17.57 AM

Here is the State Department’s Acting Spokesperson on Mr. Todd’s FB page.

Marie Harf Bill – I’m not sure how you could think this article accurately portrays me or how I view complicated foreign policy issues, given how long you’ve personally known me and my family. Does your hatred of this administration matter so much to you that it justifies posting a hurtful comment and a mean-spirited story about the daughter of someone you’ve known for years and used to call a friend? There’s a way to disagree with our policies without making it personal. Growing up in Ohio, that’s how I was taught to disagree with people. I hope your behavior isn’t an indication that’s changed.

She also posted a lengthy follow-up response here from the Daily Press Briefing.

William M. Todd responded on FB with the following:

I certainly can understand why your Team would disagree with Henry Kissinger and George Schultz on policy matters. However, what is amazing to me was your condescending and, almost childish criticism of what I considered to be a well-reasoned and thoughtful op-ed on the current Middle East crisis.

So, this is where we are people.

That’s potentially the next official spokesperson of the United States of America to the world.

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VIDEO: U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Mark Lippert: ‘I feel incredibly lucky’

Posted: 5:37 pm PST

 

Mark Lippert, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, joins TODAY to talk about the terrifying moment he was attacked by a man wielding a knife. He’s out of the hospital and recovering, and says he feels safe in South Korea.

 

[grabpress_video guid=”cc1015019bb9da7b0bacbea8548cddc8376b6fcd”]
Related posts:

Shuffling the Spoxes: Admiral Kirby Out, Psaki to White House, New Spoxes Race Is On!

 Posted: 11:05 PST

 

Yesterday, we heard that the Pentagon Spokesman, Read Admiral John Kirby is stepping down to make way for a new civilian spokesman under the new Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter.

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We’re going to miss Admiral Kirby from that podium, and we’re going to miss the fake one, too. This one via @Doctrine Man sums it up:

John Kirby brought three things to the podium that are a rare combination in this business: credibility, character, and competence. Together, they equated to a presence that was second to none. He earned the respect and admiration of the Pentagon Press Corps, built relationships that spanned to the soggy side of the Potomac, and calmly managed each and every crisis that ballooned within the walls of The Building (and there were quite a few). In a tenure that lasted just 14 months (I know, it seemed like more), he became a calm voice of reason in Washington unlike any other, eclipsing both the White House and State Department press secretaries at a time when there was more than enough bad news to go around.

 

Today, news broke that the State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki is returning to the White House as communications director:

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The State Department spokesperson, more than the White House spokesman is the public face of the United States to the world.  The spokesperson is not only speaking on behalf of Foggy Bottom but on behalf of the United States.  Here’s our short list for the next podium king/queen:  We’d like to see one who can stay on message, and still be credible, one who inspires respect not derision; a sense of humor and some humility would be nice, too. We’d like to see an intelligent, natural performer with solid international affairs experience up that podium. And of course, somebody  eloquent and quick witted to spar with Matt Lee.

 

Peter Van Buren Writes An Embassy Evacuation Explainer For DipNote No, Reuters

Posted: 01:04 EST

 

On February 11, the State Department  suspended US Embassy operations in Yemen and relocated its remaining skeleton staff outside of the country until further notice.  News report says that more than 25 vehicles were taken by Houthi rebels after the American staff departed Sanaa’s airport.  According to WaPo, Abdulmalek al-Ajri, a member of the Houthis’ political bureau, said that the seized vehicles would be returned to local staff at the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday evening, with a U.N. official observing the handover.

Ajri said the U.S. Embassy was being guarded by Yemeni security forces, which have fallen under the Houthis’ control. The security forces have not entered the embassy compound, which is still being managed by the facility’s local Yemeni staff, he said.
[…]
Ajri said he did not know how many embassy vehicles the group had seized at the airport. He claimed that a fight broke out over the vehicles between local embassy staffers, forcing Houthi fighters to intervene and seize them.

We haven’t heard anything about the return of those vehicles to Embassy Sana’a. As to this purported fight between local embassy staffers over the embassy vehicles, that is simply ridiculous — what, like the local employees are fighting over who could take which armored vehicle home? That’s silly.

What is not silly is that we still have local employees at Embassy Sana’a. They, typically, are not evacuated when post suspends operations.  In 2003, Ghulam Sakhi Ahmadzai, the building maintenance supervisor at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul was  the Foreign Service National Employee of the Year. He was recognized for his exceptional efforts in Afghanistan during the 13-year absence of American employees and following the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in December 2001. His loyalty to the U.S. government and to maintaining the integrity of the embassy during that absence, despite personal risk, could not be repaid by that one award. No doubt there are other Ghulams in Tripoli and Sana’a and in other posts where we have suspended operations in the past. Please keep them in your thoughts.

Reading the newsclips and the tweets in the lead up to this latest evacuation, one cannot help but note that most folks do not really know what happens in an evacuation. Former FSO Peter Van Buren wrote a helpful explainer about embassy evacuations for Reuters.  This is an explainer that should have been on DipNote.  For folks who might be upset with this evac explainer, go find those anonymous officials who talked about this evacuation while we still had people on the ground.

The mechanics of closing an embassy follow an established process; the only variable is the speed of the evacuation. Sometimes it happens with weeks of preparation, sometimes with just hours.

Every American embassy has standing evacuation procedures, or an Emergency Action Plan. In each embassy’s emergency plan are built-in, highly classified “trip wires,” or specific thresholds that trigger scripted responses. For example, if the rebels advance past the river, take steps “A through C.” Or if the host government’s military is deserting, implement steps “D through E,” and so forth, until the evacuation is complete.

Early steps include moving embassy dependents, such as spouses and children, out of the country on commercial flights. Next is the evacuation of non-essential personnel, like the trade attaché, who won’t be doing much business if a coup is underway. While these departures are underway, the State Department issues a public advisory notifying private American citizens of the threat. The public alert is required by the U.S.’s “No Double Standard” rule, which grew out of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing of a Pan Am flight. In that case, threat info was made available to embassy families, but kept from the general public.

These embassy drawdown steps are seen as low-cost moves, both because they use commercial transportation, and because they usually attract minimal public attention.

Continue reading, Who gets out when a U.S. embassy closes, and who gets left behind?

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US Embassy Manila on Anikow Murder: Nobody “served a day for that brutal crime.”

— Domani Spero

 

In November 2012, we blogged about the murder of a spouse of a U.S. diplomat assigned to the US embassy in the Philippines (see US Embassy Manila: George Anikow, Diplomatic Spouse Killed in Early Morning Altercation; and George Anikow Murder: “A Macho Against Macho Issue” Says Philippine Police).

In an interview last week with Philippine media, Ambassador Philip Goldberg expressed disappointment over the disposition of the murder case:

In an interview with ANC, Goldberg said nobody “served a day for that brutal crime.”  The diplomat is referring to the murder of US Marine Major George Anikow’s killing on November 24, 2012 at a security checkpoint in Bel-Air. The incident was partly captured in a security camera. Charged were Juan Alfonso Abastillas, Osric Cabrera, Galicano Datu III, and Crispin de la Paz.

Goldberg noted only two suspects were convicted of homicide “but were given probation” by the trial court. The two others got scot free from any charges. […] He said it’s been hard explaining to the family as to “why this happened in a case of very brutal murder.”

The Philippine Justice Department had reportedly filed murder charges previously against the four suspects who, according to reports, come from well-to-do families — Juan Alfonso Abastillas, 24; Crispin dela Paz, 28; Osric Cabrera, 27; and Galicano Datu III, 22.

News report from the Philippines indicate that the victim’s sister, Mary Anikow and his 77 year-old mother traveled to Manila to observed the trial in 2013.  “The United States is not perfect; everyone knows this. But most people generally don’t get away with murder,” Ms Anikow said.

Ambassador Goldberg in the ANC interview said that the Philippine Department of Justice promised the embassy there could be something done with regard to the probation. “But it has been appealed once, and it was denied. So it looks like it’s the end of the road,” he said.

‘Well-to-do kids accused in murder of American diplomat’s husband get visas to study in the United States’ — please, can we at least make sure we don’t end up with a headline like that?

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USCG Istanbul Charles Hunter Finds Love in Turkey — Tebrikler!

— Domani Spero

 

The news that our top diplomat in Istanbul is set to marry his Turkish boyfriend in Wisconsin have been making the rounds in Turkish media.

“As my family, friends and many colleagues know, I am gay. I have been open about that fact for several decades and view sexual orientation as both a private matter and merely one factor contributing to each individual’s uniqueness. I look forward to continuing to represent my country and its values, including tolerance and diversity, throughout my assignment in Turkey,” Hunter told the Hürriyet Daily News on Dec. 12 after reports in the Turkish media. via 

The Wisconsin Gazette has also covered the news about his impending marriage to Turkish musician Ramadan Çaysever. Same-sex marriage became legal in Wisconsin this past October.

Congratulations and best wishes!

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State Dept Spox’s Hot Mic Moment: “That Egypt line is ridiculous.” No Kidding

— Domani Spero

 

Via The District Sentinel/Sam Knight

 

Here is an excerpt from the transcript of the 12/1/14 DPB:

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the court’s decision dropping the charges against former President Mubarak?

MS. PSAKI: Well, generally, we continue to believe that upholding impartial standards of accountability will advance the political consensus on which Egypt’s long-term stability and economic growth depends. But beyond that, I would refer you to the Egyptian Government for any further comment.

QUESTION: So you don’t criticize at all?

QUESTION: What does that mean?

MS. PSAKI: It means that in general, we believe that courts should be —

QUESTION: It sounds to me like it means nothing.

MS. PSAKI: In general, we believe that impartial standards and the justice system should work as planned —

QUESTION: Yeah —

MS. PSAKI: — but I don’t have any specific comment —

QUESTION: But did —

QUESTION: But are you suggesting it wasn’t impartial?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more specifics on —

QUESTION: But I – wow. I don’t understand that at all. What does that mean? You believe that – of course you do. But was that – were those standards upheld in this case?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything – any specific comment on the case. I’d point you to the Egyptian Government.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) justice was served? Do you think justice was served in this case?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything specific on the case.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) not try —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: — to argue with you or ask about the comment. Are you trying to understand what is – does – this decision means?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more for you.

Do we have anything more on Egypt?

QUESTION: Do Egyptians explain to you what’s going on?

MS. PSAKI: We obviously remain in close touch with the Egyptians, but I don’t have anything more to peel back for you.

QUESTION: Jen —

MS. PSAKI: Any more on Egypt? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean, Transparency International is basically disappointed with that. And some international organizations have also expressed concern over, like, dropping all the charges against Mubarak, who’s accused of having murdered – having ordered the murder of protestors —

MS. PSAKI: I’m familiar with the case, yes.

QUESTION: — and also corruption, other things. And so you’re not willing to show your concern over that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we speak frequently, including in annual reports, about any concerns we have about – whether its rule of law or freedom of speech, freedom of media, and we do that on a regular basis. I just don’t have anything more specifically for you on this case.

QUESTION: Can you see if – can we ask for – push your people a little bit harder? Because I mean, you call for accountability and transparency all the time from any number of governments. And so if no one is held to account, if no one is being held accountable for what happened, it would seem to me that you would have a problem with that and —

MS. PSAKI: If there’s more we have to say, Matt, we will make sure you all know.

QUESTION: But I mean, what you have said, that the – what you said says nothing. I mean, it just – it’s like saying, “Well, we support the right of people to breathe.” Well, that’s great, but if they can’t breathe —

MS. PSAKI: If we have a further comment on the case, I will make sure all of you have it.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: I mean, aren’t you a little bit annoyed that the person who was elected by the Egyptian people, Morsy, is languishing in prison while the person who is accused of murdering hundreds of people is actually out on —

MS. PSAKI: I appreciate your effort, Said. I don’t have anything further on this case.

QUESTION: No, the reason we ask isn’t because —

MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m sorry. We’re going to have to move on.

 

Tsk! Tsk! Can’t imagine Ambassador Boucher accepting that kind of crap from any bureau. Next time, make the talking points drafter write in Plain English so we, the natives would understand what our government is talking about. And by the way, President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010Adobe Acrobat Reader icon on October 13, 2010. That law requires that federal agencies use “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.” This response is neither clear, nor usable.

So — if the talking points do not improve with plain language, go ahead and please kick the door.  And if that doesn’t work either, get Madame Secretary to sign  a reassignment order (apparently the Secretary of State does that kind of thing) and send the drafter and/or approving officer off to Angola.

Noooo, not/not to Portugal. And check the mike next time.

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 Updated below on 12/15/14 @ 2:09 am via Ali Weinberg of ABC News:

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US Embassy Hungary: A well managed, productive mission awaits Ambassador Colleen Bell

— Domani Spero

 

So apparently, Senator John McCain led a CODEL to the Munich Security Conference a couple weeks back last February and made a four-hour side trip to Budapest. Bloomberg View’s Jeffrey Goldberg writes that, he suspect, though he could not prove it, that the good senator from Arizona decided to meet with two dozen Hungarian journalists in Budapest mainly so that the delegation would be asked questions about a woman named Colleen Bell.

Who is Colleen Bell? Bell is a soap opera producer — “The Bold and the Beautiful” is her masterwork — who was nominated by Barack Obama’s administration to serve as U.S. ambassador to Hungary. Bell, one of Obama’s larger fundraising “bundlers,” bought this nomination with more than $500,000 of mostly other people’s money.
[…]
In Budapest, they’re highly interested in her. When a reporter, early in the press conference, asked McCain about Bell, a devilish smile played across his face.

“We’re very fortunate,” he said, “to have with us today the chairman of the committee that holds the hearings that these nominees come before, and that is Senator Murphy, and he is very knowledgeable about these issues.”

Three things then happened. First, most everyone at the press conference laughed. Second, one of the people who didn’t laugh, the aforementioned Senator Chris Murphy, a freshman Democrat from Connecticut, approached the podium as if it were covered in rat poison. Third, McCain winked — not at all subtly — at the three American journalists sitting in the front row.

This is a pretty hilarious piece, although definitely not/not hilarious if you are Colleen Bell. Just imagine being in her shoes — you have yet to arrived at your host country and a couple dozen journalists who presumably will cover your tenure in Budapest, were already laughing at your expense.

Screen Shot 2014-12-03

Reax via Twitter:

NYT’s Mark Leibovich, author of This Town, Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital says:

FP’s David Rothkopf thought this is bad news but ….

World News Tonight ponders the how:

Fox News talks credentials:

WaPo’s Daniel W. Drezner reacts to WH spox spin about this nominee. Really a bad sign when the spox pulls out the “I wasn’t part of this decision process” excuse.  The dudester is … who the heck expects the spokesman, even of the White House to be involved in the deliberation of ambassadorships?

Oh, John McCain. The former straight talker, and former presidential contender, is apparently not happy about this nominee according to ABC News. Although, we’re not sure if the senator has been happy about anything since 2008.

“We’re about to vote on a totally unqualified individual to be ambassador to a nation which is very important to our national security interests,” he said.

“I am not against political appointees … but here we are, a nation that’s on the verge of seceded its sovereignty to a neo-fascist dictator getting in bed with Vladimir Putin and we’re gonna send the producer of ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ as our ambassador,” McCain said. (via)

 

Isn’t our capital city just the most marvelously enchanting reality show ever?

But there’s more.

Today, Reuters is reporting that Hungary’s Foreign Ministry summoned Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend, our acting ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest over comments made by Senator McCain on Tuesday, calling Prime Minister Viktor Orban a “neo-fascist dictator.”

This, we suspect, will not/not be a boring tour. The next time Senator McCain rants about Hungary, the MFA will be calling in the new ambassador. It would certainly help smooth relations if she is likable instead of grouchy.

In any case, Ambassador-designate Colleen Bell, the producer of ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ will officially be our top American representative in Hungary once that country accepts her credentials. You may not like that, but the Senate confirmed her nomination and she’s one of ours now.  She will not only be the chief of mission at our embassy in Hungary, she will also be responsible for foreign service and other agency personnel and their family members at post. Embassy Budapest employs 95 Americans and 232 locally employed (LE) staff members, servicing five agencies. The total mission funding for FY 2013 was $17.5 million, which includes Department of State (Department) funding of $11.5 million and excludes U.S. direct-hire salaries. The total bilateral assistance for FY 2013 was $1.8 million.

We hope that the ambassador-designate spent the last year while waiting for confirmation to learn more about her host country. She’ll need it.  She will be America’s face in a country where the elected government doesn’t have a lot of fondness for America.  She did graduate with honors from Sweet Briar College with a bachelor’s degree in political economy, a dual major in political science and economics, so she’s not stupid, despite a near disastrous confirmation hearing. The good news is — she’ll assume charge of a mission that has been “A well managed and productive, and led by a talented chargé d’affaires(CDA),” who arrived in August 2013. (The Hungarian right is apparently hoping that CDA Goodfriend would be recalled or replaced).  According to the OIG inspectors, Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend effectively leads a collegial and active country team and is preparing carefully for the arrival of a new ambassador.

So — let’s wish the new ambassador well in her new assignment and hope that she be a good steward of Mission Budapest.

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