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May 24 2017 5:11 PM

The CBO Says Trumpcare Won’t Cover Everybody With Pre-Existing Conditions

One of the ways that the Trump administration and House Republican leaders won key conservative members' votes for the American Health Care Act was by adding a provision that would allow states to waive Obamacare regulations limiting how much insurers can charge individuals with pre-existing conditions. Republicans insisted that a different provision in the bill—funding for "high-risk pools"—would ensure that no one with such a condition would lose coverage under their plan. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office review of the bill released Wednesday afternoon says otherwise. Here's the money quote regarding what's projected to happen in states that waive the Obamacare rules:

... as a consequence, the waivers in those states would have another effect: Community-rated premiums would rise over time, and people who are less healthy (including those with preexisting or newly acquired medical conditions) would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive nongroup health insurance at premiums comparable to those under current law, if they could purchase it at all—despite the additional funding that would be available under H.R. 1628 to help reduce premiums. As a result, the nongroup markets in those states would become unstable for people with higher-than-average expected health care costs. That instability would cause some people who would have been insured in the nongroup market under current law to be uninsured.

The CBO projects that one-sixth of the U.S. population lives in states where the situation described above would play out.

May 24 2017 3:58 PM

Trump Is Not Even Pretending to Keep Promise to Donate All Hotel Profits From Foreign Governments

Shortly before taking office, Donald Trump attempted to explain how he would, in his lawyer’s words, “completely isolate” himself from the management of the Trump Organization. The plan was all show and no substance, and did almost nothing to address the serious problems posed by Trump keeping his stake in the for-profit company that bears his name. But among the many empty promises, one flourish stood out: His vow to donate “all profits” derived from foreign governments doing business at his hotels to the U.S. Treasury. “This way,” his lawyer claimed at the prop-filled press conference, “it is the American people who will profit.”

As I explained then, there were several glaring holes in that pledge. You can define profits a number of different ways, which creates enough semantic space for Trump to pretend to drive a truck through. The Trump Organization—and by extension Donald J. Trump—would also still benefit mightily from the free buzz created by foreign governments holding lavish affairs at its establishments, and from foreign dignitaries drinking at its high-priced hotel bars and dining at his expensive hotel restaurants (as they have done frequently since Trump’s Electoral College victory). Furthermore, hotel fees are only a drop in the gold-plated bucket of the money Trump receives from foreign governments and the companies they control. The far bigger problem is the millions he receives in the form of things like rent from state-controlled entities, such as the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, which will need to renegotiate its lease at Trump Tower during Trump’s first term.

As empty as Trump’s donation promise was, though, it is even more of a sham than it first appeared. According to a document provided to the House Oversight Committee earlier this month, the Trump Organization can’t be bothered to keep a good-faith accounting of the profits its hotels make off foreign governments. Or, as the company puts it in the glossy pamphlet it gave to the committee detailing its plans to separate out such profits, it would be “impractical” to keep tabs on each and every dollar it makes from those with ties to foreign governments. From the document, which was made public Wednesday by Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the oversight panel:

To fully and completely identify all patronage at our Properties by customer type is impractical in the service industry and putting forth a policy that requires all guests to identify themselves would impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand. It is not the intention nor design of this policy for our Properties to attempt to identify individual travels who have not specifically identified themselves as being a representative of a foreign government entity on foreign government business.

Instead, the businesses will only track transactions where it is obvious that the bill is being paid directly by a foreign government, a foreign political party, a sovereign wealth fund, or a member of a royal family. The pamphlet makes clear Trump execs know full well that won’t flag all the relevant foreign cash. “Some may operate through state-owned and state-controlled entities in industries such as aerospace and defense, banking, finance, healthcare, energy and others, which may not be reasonably identifiable as foreign government entities, and therefore may not be included in our calculation of profit to be donated,” the document reads.

Translation: Trump hotels will leave it up to their paying customers to declare whether they are there on foreign-government business. The absurdity of letting foreign actors self-police is easy to see: If the goal is to grease the wheels with President Trump via his bank account, all a foreign official would need to do is keep his mouth shut at the check-in desk while he pays with a company credit card—even if that company is controlled by a foreign government. It’s no wonder this loophole didn’t earn a mention when Trump first unveiled his ethics plan in January, or when the Trump Organization disclosed in March that it wouldn’t be making its first Treasury donation until 2018 at the earliest.

So, does any of this impact Trump’s defense against charges that he is violating the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause? While it puts the lie to another one of Trump’s false displays of benevolence, it doesn’t actually change the legal defense he’s offered to date. Team Trump maintains that hotel fees—along with other money his companies make from doing business with foreign governments—don’t amount to emoluments, but instead are simply value-for-value exchanges. In that convenient constitutional reading, the donations in question are simply voluntary. Many legal scholars and ethics experts read the Emoluments Clause differently—and a group of them are currently challenging the president in court—but if the courts were to ultimately side with Trump on the matter—or to decide that the only constitutional remedy is political—then the fact he isn’t donating as much as he should will have little relevance. Conversely, if the courts were to decide any Trump business with foreign governments is an emoluments violation, then the president is in trouble regardless of how much or little effort his hotels put into their bookkeeping.

In the meantime, though, we have yet one more piece of evidence suggesting that, when it comes to his family business, there’s no reason to believe Trump has any plans to even live up to his side of a bargain he negotiated with himself.

Know anything about a potential conflict of interest in the Trump administration? DM Josh Voorhees on Twitter or email him at josh.voorhees@slate.com.

May 24 2017 3:08 PM

The U.S. Has Been Supporting Brutal Anti-Drug Measures for Years. Trump Just Said It Out Loud.

The Washington Post has provided new details on last month’s already controversial call between Donald Trump and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. According to a Philippines government transcript, Trump praised Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem,” despite widespread reports that Duterte’s unbelievable job has involved thousands of extrajudicial killings. “Many countries have the problem, we have the problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that,” Trump says, adding that, “we had a previous president who did not understand that.”

This is yet another example of the Trump administration’s contempt for human rights. But the truth is that U.S. support for draconian antidrug measures around the world is not exactly new.

The U.S. has pushed countries to adopt tough anti-drug policies for decades, and often funded those efforts directly. The U.S. provided more than $2 billion to Mexico to combat drug trafficking since 2007, despite evidence of dozens of instances of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances by security forces, not to mention the widespread use of torture against detainees as part of the country’s ongoing drug war.

The U.S. devoted more than $10 billion over 15 years to Plan Colombia, an initiative that’s had mixed success at curbing drug trafficking and political violence in the country. There have been allegations of hundreds of extrajudicial killings by the military during this period and the government, with U.S. blessing, gave impunity to paramilitary groups. Earlier this year, Colombia’s former president, Cesar Gaviria, who later came to support drug law reform, wrote an op-ed urging Duterte against “repeating my mistakes.”

In 2003, an allegedly government-approved vigilante campaign against drug dealers in Thailand killed nearly 3,000 people. During that time and the years after, the United States provided Thailand with more than $3 million a year in counternarcotics aid. The U.S. has also continued to provide counternarcotics aid and praise to Indonesia, where nonviolent drug offenders can get the death penalty.

Even Duterte’s Philippines got a boost in military aid from the United States while the Obama administration was criticizing its abuses.

There were some signs of a shift in U.S. policy toward the end of the Obama years. The U.S. withheld some aid to Mexico in late 2015 because of human rights violations and deferred some aid to the Philippines last December. (It’s tempting to wonder if this would have happened if Duterte hadn’t been such a loudmouth, comparing himself to Hitler and calling Obama the “son of a whore.”) With more American states legalizing marijuana, the U.S. has also become somewhat more open to accepting progressive harm reduction strategies, including decriminalization, at the United Nations. (Russia is now emerging as the leader of countries pushing for zero tolerance.)

The Trump administration is likely to set America’s global drug policies back to the status quo. What’s different is that he’s fine with praising governments for killing and torturing people in their drug crackdowns rather than at least saying he’s not OK with it.

May 24 2017 2:31 PM

Seth Rich's Father May Have Caught a Hannity-Endorsed Con Artist Trying to Hack His Late Son's Email

Under heavy pressure from late Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich's family, Fox News host Sean Hannity said Tuesday night that he would stop discussing the bogus theory that Hillary Clinton and/or the DNC had Rich murdered on his TV show. Subsequently, however, Hannity appeared to reverse course, promising on Twitter that he would soon reveal "the TRUTH" about why Rich was killed last July. (Police believe the murder may have been a robbery gone wrong; Hannity believes Rich was targeted for death because he was sending DNC emails to WikiLeaks. There is no evidence of the latter theory.)

On that subject, Hannity has in recent days been repeatedly hyping the extremely dubious claims of hacker and publicity hound Kim Dotcom, who dramatically announced this week that he had been an intermediary between Rich and WikiLeaks. The erstwhile Kim Schmitz has no prior connections to WikiLeaks and was caught fabricating emails to support an unrelated but equally sensational conspiracy claim he'd made in 2014; the Washington Post's David Weigel, moreoever, reported Wednesday that Seth Rich's father appears to have caught Dotcom or someone close to him trying to hack into his late son's Gmail account. From Weigel's piece:

When Seth Rich’s Gmail account received an alert this week from Mega.com, attempting to start a new account on a website created by the New Zealand-based Internet businessman and convicted hacker Kim Dotcom, his family knew that something was off. ... According to experts and Rich’s family, the emailed invitation from welcome@mega.nz appeared to be an attempt to gain access to Rich’s email. Joel Rich, who maintains his late son’s Gmail account, did not click the link.

Seth Rich's father: Smarter than Sean Hannity!

May 24 2017 10:26 AM

Pope Francis Doesn’t Seem to Like President Trump Very Much

Pope Francis and Donald Trump
Pope Francis poses with President Donald Trump during a private audience at the Vatican on Wednesday.

Osservatore Romano/handout via Reuters

President Trump's first foreign jaunt brought him to the Vatican on Wednesday morning. His Holiness Pope Francis—Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God—was pissed. Just look at him.

Jesus.

The Stung Pope.

"When pool entered the study, the pope and the president were seated across from each other at the pope's wooden desk," the morning's press pool report reads. "POTUS told the pope 'it's a very great honor.' The pope did not say anything. He did not smile. He looked at pool several times. We were quickly ushered out at 8:33 am."

Oof. Remember how happy Francis was to see the other guy?

Anyway: "After the meeting," NPR reports, "Trump met with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. When asked about his discussion with Francis, Trump said it had gone very well. 'He is something,' Trump said."

Update, May 24, 2017, at 11 a.m.: The president would like everyone to know that his meeting with the Pope went well, actually. So well, in fact, that he's made a photo of it his Twitter banner.

May 24 2017 12:47 AM

Hannity Says He Will Stop—But Also Never Stop—Pushing the Seth Rich Conspiracy

Sean Hannity doesn’t like to let the truth get in the way of whatever he happens to be saying. This week, that tendency took the form of the Fox News host cajoling a debunked conspiracy theory surrounding the unsolved 2016 murder of Seth Rich from the shadows of the internet and plunking it down on cable news. The story of Rich, a 27-year-old DNC staffer who was killed last year, has titillated the loons online—and now on Fox—with conspiratorial possibility. I’m not going to get into the full extent of the lunacy (you can read more about it from Slate’s Will Oremus here), but the conspiratorial gist is that the Clintons had Rich murdered because he “knew too much” and had been in contact with WikiLeaks, and you can see where this is going.

How flimsy is Hannity’s “investigation” into the PizzaGate-like conspiracy theory surrounding Rich’s death? On Tuesday, Fox News retracted a story on its website touting itself as an “investigation” because “[t]he article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting.” And the degree of editorial scrutiny at Fox News isn't all that high to start with.

Things had gotten out of control enough, thanks to Hannity’s boost, that the Rich family began making personal appeals to the network and Hannity himself to let them grieve in peace. On Tuesday night, after a day full of promoting that what he was up to was so hot that he was about to be fired, complete with a #SaveHannity hashtag, Hannity went on air and said, at the behest of the Rich family, he would lay off the debunked story. For now. Sort of.

Here's Hannity on Tuesday's program:

The unsolved murder of former DNC staffer Seth Rich continues to get attention. I totally and completely understand how upset and how hard this is on this family, especially over the recent coverage of Seth's death. I've been communicating with them. I got a very heartfelt note. I also sent them a heartfelt note back. I reached out personally today to his brother, Aaron. I expressed my condolences over how hard and how difficult this has been for him and his family. As I told Aaron, my heart and soul and prayers—everything goes out to them in this very difficult time.
...As a father, when I saw the video of the parents online saying they want answers—I know the brother Aaron started a go fund me page, it truly pained me. However, out of respect from the family's wishes for now—I am not discussing this matter at this time. Let me explain this. There are so many issues here. Not the least of which is the democratic push of their Russian narrative, collusion, Trump-Russia narrative. The destroy-Trump-media and Democrats, they have been pushing that tinfoil hat conspiracy with zero evidence...

See what Hannity did there? While the Rich family was imploring him to stop rooting around in their personal tragedy, Hannity made it seem as if he was working on behalf of the family to bring them closure. Hannity then launched into a false equivalency about the Russia investigation, which has been the real reason he continued to push the Rich story. Hannity is trying to conflate conspiracy with investigation in the hopes that everything will look the same. Hannity closed with this:

I want to say this to you, my loyal audience, please do not interpret what I am saying tonight to mean anything—don't read into this. I promise you, I am not going to stop doing my job. To the extent of my ability, I'm not going to stop trying to find the truth. That's what we do here every single day. That effort. That's not stopping in any way, shape, matter or form. I'm continuing the work that I promise to do every day for you and at the proper time, we shall continue and talk a lot more. As for my job here at the Fox News channel, there is an effort to silence me. Media is attacking my advertising base. That's what we have called liberal fascism. Attack, boycott, all in an effort to silence conservatives. I serve at the pleasure of the Fox News channel. I'm here to do my job every night. I'm under contract as long as they seem to want me.

That was big of you, Sean?

Or maybe not.

May 23 2017 10:57 PM

Donald Trump Doesn’t Share America’s Values. The Transcript of His Call to the Philippine President Proves It.

Let’s set aside the pomp and baggage of Donald Trump and let’s look at the things he does and says and, apparently, thinks. When you do that, without prejudice or Fox News blaring in the background or the tinted glasses of the Republican leadership, it’s clear what’s wrong with Donald Trump and his young, upheaval of a presidency: Donald Trump does not believe in American values. I mean that literally. He doesn’t even really pay lip service to even the foggiest conception of American values. Donald Trump does not believe in fairness; he does not believe in due process; he does not believe in democracy; he does not believe in human rights; and on and on.

The latest example of Donald Trump’s aversion to principles most Americans hold dear came via the Washington Post on Tuesday, which followed up on reporting several weeks ago on President Trump’s call to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. We already knew Trump invited Duterte—who has waged a deadly extrajudicial war against “drugs” in his country since being elected last year—to the White House for a visit. We already knew Trump expressed admiration for Duterte’s bloody domestic battle that has killed thousands in the streets, some drug dealers, but many drug addicts and bystanders with little regard for which are which.

Trump’s embrace of Duterte and his drug policy that has been condemned from all corners was astounding when relayed through spokespeople and secondhand diplomatic sources last month. But the Post got a copy of the actual transcript of the call between the two and Trump’s outright fawning over Duterte and his murderous drug war, right off the bat and totally unprompted, is staggering.

trumpduertecall
Leaked transcript of the call between President Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Screenshot

“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem. Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

Then Trump blamed Obama, naturally, for not supporting the Philippine government wantonly killing people in the street.

May 23 2017 7:29 PM

Today in Conservative Media: Whatever Happened to Russian Collusion?

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A daily roundup of the biggest stories in right-wing media.

On Tuesday, Fox News retracted a story posted last week suggesting that DNC staffer Seth Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks before his death last year. The claim has been heavily pushed by Sean Hannity even though the story’s key source, private investigator and Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler, has admitted he has no evidence to support it. On his radio show on Tuesday, Hannity defended himself. “This issue is so big now that the entire Russia collusion narrative is hanging by a thread,” he said. “And all you in the liberal media, I am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com. I retracted nothing.”

Breitbart’s Joel Pollak found different ammunition against the Russia collusion narrative: former CIA director John Brennan’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, during which he said he did not know whether Russians colluded with the Trump campaign. “[D]emocrats are thrilled by his testimony, because he said there were contacts between Russian officials and some ‘U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign, and hence an FBI investigation was warranted,’” Pollak wrote. “It is not unreasonable to wonder whether Brennan followed the liberal media down a Russian rabbit-hole, where the absence of evidence would not end his suspicions.”

The Washington Examiner’s Byron York noted that since the firing of James Comey, Trump’s Russia troubles have largely shifted from questions about collusion to questions about a potential cover up. “Focusing on alleged obstruction, the president's enemies no longer have to find an underlying crime on his part to attempt to remove him from office,” he wrote. “Certainly, Trump has good arguments to make in his defense, beginning with what legally constitutes obstruction. But after the last two weeks, his supporters can no longer assume that his detractors will have to find an underlying crime to make big trouble for the president.” National Review editor Rich Lowry concurred. “This evolution removes the pressure from Democrats to produce any evidence of collusion with the Russians, which was supposed to be the scandal at the beginning,” he wrote. “If Democrats take the House next year with any margin for error, I would expect them to impeach Trump even in the absence of a smoking gun.”

In other news:

National Review ran an editorial on the Trump budget, which earned praise for its cuts to Medicaid, Social Security and SNAP—and criticism for its paid family leave program:

Less sensible is the Trump administration’s plan to create an extraordinarily expensive — $25 billion a year — new federal entitlement program: paid family leave. This is a pet project of the president’s daughter Ivanka, and congressional Republicans should reject it out-of-hand. A one-size-fits-all leave program imposed by Washington on every business sector is a plan for disaster, an exercise in sentimentality that almost certainly would prove more expensive than its already large cost estimate. We need to see less of Washington’s heavy hand in the boardroom, not more of it.

Lifezette’s Jim Stinson focused on reaction to the budget in the media. “With Trump in Europe on his first foreign trip, the press let loose their tirades,” he wrote. “The New York Times could barely hide its contempt for the document.”

At Heat Street, Ian Miles Cheong scolded liberals on Twitter over reactions to the Manchester bombing on Monday night. David Leavitt, an “unemployable clown” and a “proud male feminist ally with a BA in Humanities and Social Sciences from University of Massachusetts Dartmouth” had, for example, tweeted jokes about Ariana Grande in the immediate aftermath of the attack. “Clearly reveling in the attention, he doubled down with even worse tweets until his former employers at CBS Local and AXS issued statements distancing their companies from him.” At Red State, Amelia Hamilton singled out a tweet by game developer and Democratic House candidate Brianna Wu that argued sexism played a role in the attack. “[T]here is one grain of truth in her tweet, which one can only assume was accidental,” Hamilton wrote. “According to her Twitter bio, Wu is also 'ready for a bolder Democratic party.' Maybe this version of the Democratic party will be ready to admit that Radical Islam has a misogyny problem.”

May 23 2017 6:29 PM

Today’s Impeach-O-Meter: “Donald Trump United the Entire Muslim World” Edition

In the tradition of the Clintonometer and the Trump Apocalypse Watch, the Impeach-O-Meter is a wildly subjective and speculative daily estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump leaves office before his term ends, whether by being impeached (and convicted) or by resigning under threat of same.

Fresh off stints in Saudi Arabia and Israel that consisted mostly of weird or bungled photo-op appearances, the Trump administration is somehow feeling very good about itself. Here is an actual quote from a "senior administration official" who did a briefing aboard Air Force One on Tuesday:

I think this trip was a big success because it was unexpected. It went in the heart of one of the, I always say that the president is always at his best when he’s doing big things that are unexpected. … He was able to really go into Saudi Arabia, the custodian of the holy mosques, and then Donald Trump united the entire Muslim world in a way that it really hasn’t been in many years.

Presumably, this is a reference to Trump's speech in Saudi Arabia, which my colleague Fred Kaplan described as a signal to oppressive Sunni governments that they can keep on oppressing their people and demonizing Shiites, particularly those in Iran. So, in addition to being obviously ludicrous in the bigger scheme of things, this administration official's claim falls apart even if you read it extremely generously to mean that all Muslim governments liked Trump's speech. (Iran is also a Muslim country.)

All this aside, Trump himself seems to have made it through the day today without committing any horrific, crippling gaffes, which counts as a triumph at this point. We'll lower our likelihood accordingly.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.

May 23 2017 4:13 PM

Trump Called Terrorists "Losers." Is That OK?

Speaking in the West Bank today about the ISIS-claimed bombing in Manchester, England that killed 22 people, Donald Trump called the perpetrators of the terror attack "losers":

So many young, beautiful innocent people living and enjoying their lives, murdered by evil losers in life. I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term. They would think that’s a great name. I will call them, from now on, losers, because that’s what they are. They’re losers. And we’ll have more of them. But they’re losers. Just remember that.

Some observers condemned Trump's words as crass and superficial, questioning the appropriateness of using the same epithet to describe an ISIS killer that he's previously used to describe Rosie O'Donnell and Ted Cruz:

While Trump is indeed well-known for using loser as a generic and more or less meaningless insult, there is actually some logic to deploying it in this instance, as he explained. ISIS has successfully recruited young men across the world by convincing them via social media that by joining the group they will become powerful, important contributors to a glorious collective mission. Using loser to create the impression that the Islamic "State" is in fact a rapidly deteriorating refuge of bottom-feeding criminals is, in addition to being close to the actual truth, of a piece with wider American/European efforts to prevent ISIS attacks by preventing ISIS terrorists from being recruited online in the first place.

The problem is not that Trump calls terrorists losers, but that he weakens a potentially useful word by throwing it around it carelessly elsewhere. In his own life, Trump behaves as if anyone who has not achieved his materialistic definition of success—anyone who isn't rich enough to install gold faucets in the bathroom of their private plane, basically—is a loser. He insists that anyone who has ever lost, at anything, should feel ashamed—a petulant, childish attitude that requires him to go to ridiculous lengths of illogic in arguing that, for example, he didn't really lose the popular vote. And while the Islamic State is certainly a spiritual and practical failure, our response to it doesn't need to involve endorsing Donald Trump's own weird personal definition of the word loser.

There's a definition of the term, though, that avoids this downside, a definition that I would argue is in fact the common one among decent human beings: of the loser not merely as someone who has ever lost, but as someone who reacts poorly to losing—who cheats and blames his or her way through life's inevitable unfairnesses and personal failures. In this understanding, a person who reacts to feeling, or being disenfranchised by killing children and teenagers*—rather than by, say, engaging in political organizing or some other form of non-murderous activism—is, indeed, a loser. Of course, so is someone who reacts to the richly self-induced failures of his presidential administration by making absurd accusations about Barack Obama wiretapping his apartment. So maybe Trump's speech Tuesday morning is a case of getting the right message from the wrong messenger.

*Update, May 23, 5 p.m.: This sentence originally stated that 22 teenagers and children were killed. We don’t yet know the ages of all of those who died.

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