Everything seems so peaceful in America. I took a dip in the ocean today, blue sky overhead, little kids running around, people passing on kayaks or boards: it all seemed so normal. You’d never know the “defense” budget is once again pegged near $750 billion; you’d never know America is in a state of permanent war; you’d never know that even basic services like mail delivery are under attack by the Trump administration. Even as the postal service is starved of funds, in an attempt to discredit it and privatize it for corporate greed, even as Americans lose their health care during a pandemic, people are still taking vacations, enjoying the sun and fun. Can you blame them?
I suppose it was like this at the tail end of the Roman Empire. People were partying, enjoying life, acting normal, even as the empire was collapsing around them.
And so it goes in this hot and humid American summer. Meanwhile, greed-war has been with us since at least the 1950s, as C. Wright Mills noted, and war is an even bigger racket now than it was when retired General Smedley Butler lodged his dissent in the 1930s.
If America is to reverse its decline and fall, putting an end to greed-war should be first on the list. But how are we to do this, when Congress kowtows to the military-industrial complex and our presidents lack the guts to challenge seriously the military and its corporate handlers and fellow travelers?
Perhaps we might recall that one day, long ago, America took pride in a small military and a foreign policy that tried to avoid unnecessary foreign entanglements?
Just about the only candidate who took on the military-industrial complex was Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard; for this, she was smeared as a Russian asset by no less a chickenhawk than Hillary Clinton. NBC News also accused Gabbard of being a servant of Russia just before she announced her candidacy. And yet Gabbard is a serving officer (a major) in America’s armed services.
Naturally, when Gabbard withdrew and endorsed Joe Biden, she suddenly became a patriot again to the powers-that-be. Her fate is a cautionary tale to anyone who attempts to pump the brakes on greed-war in America.
Maybe I just need to take a deep breath and another plunge into the ocean, while there’s still time …
Ike in 1959: Too critical of the military to be elected today
President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his most powerful speech as he left office in 1961. He warned the American people about an emerging military-industrial complex, a complex that was already beginning to erode democratic rule in America. Originally, Ike had Congress as a collaborator with and enabler of that Complex, but he deleted the reference in the final version, apparently deciding that by alienating Members of Congress, he’d only push them further into the Complex’s corner.
The military-industrial complex, the Complex for short, has only grown in power over the last half-century. Today, more than half of Federal discretionary funding goes to it. With the post-9/11 addition of Homeland Security and more and more intelligence agencies (seventeen of them at last count), the Complex continues to grow like Topsy. It consumes roughly $750 billion each…
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34 thoughts on “Greed-War: The Power and Danger of the Military-Industrial Complex”
Unless our ability to negotiate becomes stronger than our ability to destroy, we are in a rather bad spot…let’s all take a deep breath and plunge back into the ocean!
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In theory, one must always negotiate from a position of STRENGTH to get one’s way, or the most beneficial-to-your-side compromise. But it would sure be a refreshing change if our country could negotiate from a position of MORAL strength, rather than the threat of annihilation of large expanses of the planet. The US has reduced itself to a position of essentially ZERO moral credibility.
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THAT’s certainly the truth!
I had not been aware of Ike’s last-minute revision of that famous warning speech. I am forced to continue to view Ike as the last more or less genuinely decent POTUS. Oh, we can talk about Jim Crow and a lot of other things that continued on his watch; but he did send Federal troops to escort young black kids into public schools. And sorry, any JFK-worshippers who may be reading this, but I refuse to believe he really planned to withdraw troops from Vietnam. The story of our US Presidents post-Eisenhower is sordid almost beyond belief. [William Jefferson Clinton was somewhat “less bad,” but hardly a force for progressive change!] How about we put ALL their heads up on Mt. Rushmore…and then blow the whole damned thing up?! Crumble, Empire, crumble. But faster, please!…And Bill Astore, watch out for the Great White Sharks!
Slick Willie “less bad?” I think NAFTA and the Glass-Steagall repeal make him as bad as any other chief executive post-Eisenhower. Present incumbent excepted, of course.
As for JFK, see National Security Action Memorandum 263. Info here:
The above is just one source. I absolutely believe he intended to withdraw from Vietnam, and that’s why he was dead six weeks after that memo. He wanted to end that greed-war, and the MIC wouldn’t stand for it.
About what the Kennedy/Johnson team “intended” to do vis-a-vis the dead-from-the-start U.S. military intervention in Southeast Asia. From The Best and the Brightest, by David Halberstam:
“The other thing I learned about the Kennedy-Johnson team was that for all their considerable reputations as brilliant, rational managers they were in fact very poor managers. They thought they were very good, and they were always talking about keeping their options open, even as, day by day and week by week, events closed off those options. The truth was that history – and in Indochina we were on the wrong side of it – was a hard taskmaster and from the early to the middle sixties, when we were making those fateful decisions, we had almost no choices left. Our options had been steadily closing down since 1946, when the French Indochina War began. That was when we had the most options, and the greatest element of choice. But we had granted, however reluctantly, the French the right to return and impose their will on the Vietnamese by force; and by 1950, caught up in our own global vision of anti-communism, we chose not to see this war as primarily a colonial/anticolonial war, and we had begun to underwrite most of the French costs. Where our money went our rhetoric soon followed. We adjusted our public statements, and much of our journalism, to make it seem as if this was a war of Communists against anti-Communists, instead, as the people of Vietnam might have seen it, a war of colonial power against an indigenous nationalist force. By the time the Kennedy-Johnson team arrived and started talking about all their options, like it or not (and they did not even want to think about it) they had in fact almost no options at all [emphasis added]. In fact, for a team of Democratic politicians they were sooner or later going to be faced with the most unpalatable of choices: getting out, and then being accused of losing a freedom-loving country to the Communists, or sending in combat troops to fight an unwinnable war. ‘Events,’ wrote George Ball, paraphrasing Emerson ‘are in the saddle, and ride mankind.’ In addition the Kennedy-Johnson team never defined the war, what our roles and missions were, how many troops we were going to send and, most important of all, what were we going to do if the North Vietnamese matched our escalation with their escalation, as they were likely to do. It was an ill-defined commitment, one made in stealth and in considerable secrecy, because those making it were uneasy about their path and feared an open debate, feared exposing the policy to any serious scrutiny.” [emphasis added] pp. xvi-xvii
Yes, exactly. The Vietnam War was built on lies. In “Crash Course,” Bruce Franklin stresses this fact here:
One widespread cultural fantasy about the Vietnam War blames the antiwar movement for forcing the military to “fight with one arm tied behind its back.” But this belief stands reality on its head. The American people, disgusted and angry about the Korean War, were in no mood to support a war in Vietnam. Staunch domestic opposition kept Washington from going in overtly. So it went covertly. It thereby committed itself to a policy based on deception, sneaking around, and hiding its actions from the American people. The U.S. government thus created the internal nemesis of its own war: the antiwar movement. That movement was inspired and empowered not just by our outrage against the war [but] also by the lies about the war, lies necessitated by the war, coming from our government and propagated by the media. Although it was the Vietnamese who defeated the United States, ultimately it was the antiwar movement, especially within the armed forces, that finally in 1973 forced Washington to accept, at long last, the terms of the 1954 Geneva Accords, and to sign a peace treaty that included, word for word, every major demand made by the National Liberation Front (the so-called Viet Cong) back in 1969…
The truth was that for three decades our nation had sponsored and then waged a genocidal war against a people and a nation that had never done anything to us except ask for our friendship and support [during and after World War II].
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Many things egregiously wrong with our society can be traced back to the Reagan years. The movie character ‘John Rambo’ was concocted, troops returning from Vietnam were said to have been spat upon at airports, and the story of the US’s utterly unjustified actions in Southeast Asia was revised to “reveal” that the Americans would have won if not for the domestic anti-war movement. Yup, 600,000 US personnel (I’m including Navy units on the water and support personnel in places like Thailand and the Philippines) sure looks like the US was fighting with one arm tied behind its back!! More explosives deployed than in all of World War II! Yup, there’s that crippled war effort again!
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However, one can’t conflate Kennedy and Johnson. JFK’s philosophy was diametrically opposed to Johnson’s, which is why JFK issued Memorandum 263, but Johnson authorized escalation immediately after JFK’s assassination.
And an even more salient observation by Mr Halberstam related not just to the Kennedy/Johnson administration, but to any U.S. administration that thinks it can “manage” an out-of-control military Leviathan determined to devour any and all national resources to feed its own insatiable appetite for self-aggrandizement. [bold font for emphasis added]
“The Kennedy commitment changed things in other ways as well. While the President had the illusion that he had held off the military, the reality was that he had let them in. They now began to dominate the official reporting, so that the dispatches which came into Washington were colored through their eyes. Now they were players, men who had a seat at the poker table; they would now, on any potential dovish move, have to be dealt with. He had activated them, and yet at the same time had given them so precious little that they could always tell their friends that they had never been allowed to do what they really wanted. Dealing with the military, once their foot was in the door, both Kennedy and Johnson would learn, was an awesome thing. The failure of their estimates along the way, point by point, meant nothing. It did not follow, as one might expect that their credibility was diminished and that there was now less pressure from them, but the reverse. It meant that there would be an inexorable pressure for more – more men, more hardware, more targets – and that with the military, short of nuclear weapons, the due bills went only one way, civilian to military. Thus one of the lessons for civilians who thought that they could run small wars with great control was that to harness the military, you had to harness them completely, that once in, even partially, everything began to work in their favor. Once activated, even in a small way at first, they would soon dominate the play. Their particular power with the Hill and with hawkish journalists, their stronger hold on patriotic-machismo arguments (in decision making they proposed the manhood positions, their opponents the softer, or sissy, positions), their particular certitude, made them far more powerful players than men raising doubts. The illusion would always be of civilian control; the reality would be of a relentlessly growing military domination of policy, intelligence, aims, objectives and means, with the civilians, the very ones who thought they could control the military (and who were often in private quite contemptuous of the military mind), conceding step by step, without even knowing they were losing.” pp. 178-179
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Halberstam was so sharp. He knew of what he spoke. And his insights are still telling and relevant today.
Yes, “on paper,” the Pentagon is under “civilian control.” Just as, “on paper,” a US citizen still has freedom of speech. As some US military veterans on the streets of Portland, Oregon have recently discovered, the price to pay for attempting to exercise this right included being pepper-sprayed directly in the face and having some bones broken by police batons. As for the demise of “the New Camelot” of Mr. Kennedy, I prefer to keep the Mob in the lineup of suspects, infuriated that they were unable to regain “their” properties in Cuba. Not that I’m letting certain “intel” agencies off the hook! “The military mind”! Ah, such fond memories! This was one of our favorite oxymorons as enlisted peons in the US Military Machine.
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We just don’t know what JFK would have done. For what it’s worth, I wrote about that here.
Even before JFK became president, he fabricated what today might be called “alternative facts.” He invented a missile gap vis-à-vis the Soviet Union that didn’t exist. In fact, the true missile gap was the opposite of what JFK claimed, in that the U.S. had many more nuclear ICBMs than the Soviets did. When he became president, JFK embarked on a strategic policy of “Flexible Response” (suggested by General Maxwell Taylor) that activated and empowered more conventional operations by the U.S. military. In practice what this meant was that the U.S. became embroiled in conflicts that were secondary to national interests; worst of all, of course, was a major land war in Vietnam that was essentially a lost cause even before Kennedy chose to escalate it with more advisers and materiel aid.
Defenders of JFK suggest he grew in office and would have seen the folly of continuing in Vietnam, but there’s little evidence to support this narrative. The recent Ken Burns series on the Vietnam War cites Kennedy as saying the U.S. couldn’t win in Vietnam, but that he couldn’t order a withdrawal because to do so would cost him his reelection in 1964. JFK, moreover, fancied the notion of Flexible Response, his New Look military and its emphasis on special ops forces such as the Green Berets, and he saw Vietnam as a test bed for a “counterinsurgency” approach to defeating communism. What LBJ did in 1965 in escalating that conflict by committing U.S. ground troops is probably what JFK would have done if he had lived. (In his book, Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam, Fredrik Logevall suggests JFK may have had the political will to resist escalation in 1965, effectively allowing South Vietnam to fall to communism, an intriguing if unprovable scenario.)
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Then what about National Security Action Memorandum 263?
I’d have to say that memo has been historically overemphasized by the adorers of Kennedy. And in a putative second term, it would have been easy as pie to issue new memos revising the official view of the war.
I wouldn’t stress any one memo or document. I’d look to a pattern of behavior since 1945. That pattern, in a word: hubris. The idea America could win any war that it set its mind and will to winning. Together with the idea we had to “pay any price” and “bear any burden” in our efforts to thwart communism. And domestic politics: mainstream Dems are always trying to prove they can scream as loud as Republicans for war.
But, again, we’ll never know for sure.
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Astute observations there!
I wouldn’t “credit” Kennedy personally with inventing any US strategic policies. He had his “brain trust,” led by Robert McNamara, to cook such things up. It is part of the unwritten–as far as what we mere civilians are entitled to see–Job Description for POTUS that you embrace “American Exceptionalism.” In the military, this is called “You better get with The Program, soldier!!” This is why an apparently mild-mannered professor of Constitutional Law from Chicago emerged from two terms in the White House as a full-throated proponent of US Full-Spectrum Dominance of the world.
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Agree with your second sentence about revising that memo. I personally don’t think that would have happened, but who knows?
I don’t, however, think that the memo was overemphasized. It simply WAS. It existed, it ordered de-escalation, and it infuriated the military. As JFK was killed shortly after he issued it, we’ll never know how its issuance would have played out. As it stands, however, it speaks to JFK’s state of mind about the war; it’s the last thing we have to go by.
Had he survived long enough, I’m confident the good ol’ MIC would have swayed Kennedy to see things their way, to put aside his earlier doubts about the wisdom of being in Southeast Asia. Kennedy was a hardcore Cold Warrior and certainly wouldn’t want history (as written by Americans, at least) to have tagged him with the epitaph “He Caved in to World Communism”!!!
Agree that JFK started out as a Cold Warrior and ran his campaign accordingly. But the Bay of Pigs appalled him, though it was planned on Ike’s watch, and the Missile Crisis taught him that MAD wasn’t the way to go. He’d opened back channels to both Castro and Khrushchev. When the MIC realized that he’d changed his philosophy, he had to go.
Well, we enter the realm of sheer speculation as to whether JFK had any real “change of heart” after “Bay of Pigs,” the October Missile Crisis, etc. Without a functioning time machine, we’ll never be able to find out. Apparently the truth about the assassination has been remarkably effectively buried for all time. How could that be possible? Some State Secrets are just “too big” to leak out!
Was re-watching “The Rock” last evening, wherein the National Security Chief was saying that Sean Connery’s character had to be killed because he “….knows everything, All the secrets. What happened with the aliens at Roswell, who really killed JFK….” It was kind of a [unintentional?] moment of comic relief. And J. Edgar’s ghost ain’t talkin’, either.
But I submit that JFK was serious about de-escalation, and the fact that he didn’t survive his memo is at least circumstantial proof. Likewise, MLK and Bobby. I’m convinced that, among them, they would have accomplished a sea change. But the powers-that-were, and still are, didn’t want that change to come about.
More never to be answered questions: Who, really, is Sirhan B. Sirhan and on whose behalf did he reportedly shoot RFK? And what was the real chain of orders that put James Earl Ray in motion that terrible day in Memphis? In the latter case, with Dr. King having inadequate security (while under J. Edgar’s watchful eye), I could see an individual hater pulling off that hit. But Sirhan? I vaguely recall he was said to be a supporter of freedom for the Palestinians, but who knows? Who really knows?
You owe me a drink, Greg 🙂
Ha!! Just try to collect! Anyhow, I am relieved that Susan “National Security State” Rice was left on the sidelines. Some elements in the African-American community–especially in CA–will likely be up in arms over this choice (Ms. Harris was accused early on of overzealously prosecuting people of color, if you recall). In the plus column for Uncle Joe, from the Establishment’s viewpoint, he can say “See, we’re a law and order ticket. No violent anarchists will be running wild in the streets once we’re in office.” Wow, I’m thrilled!
“. . . there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things, because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them. Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly, in such wise that the prince is endangered along with them.” — Machiavelli, The Prince
The Muddled Ages
(with gratitude to Anthony Burgess for his verse-novel Byrne)
Polemic couched in poetry requires
No Introduction laying out The Plan.
The title’s pointed paradox aspires
To motivate the woman, child, or man
Equipped to grasp the tortured soul’s desires:
Put out the fire, or conflagration fan.
Chaos and confusion make things muddy.
Anarchy can quickly turn them bloody.
But such complicity marks Empire’s Age
That hurls commands to ‘Pay up!’ then to ‘Die!’
Mask-wearing politicians kneel on stage,
Though joint resort vacations give the lie
To their professed hostility. The rage
Of unemployed infected proles, they sigh,
Owes to those “leftists,” not those further “right”:
Play-acting pugilists who’ve faked a “fight.”
The witch (accused) screams “No I’m not!” then burns,
A euphemism for “those Russian bitches,”
Imprisoned for “legitimate concerns,”
The use of scapegoats scratches fascist itches.
The Congress pays their donors, then adjourns,
And blames the graft on “hacked” computer glitches.
In helplessness, the put-upon ask “Huh?
Senile Joe Biden? Deus ex Machina?”
The Muddled Ages now. Collapse beginning
With, first of all, two-thousand-sixteen’s “choice”
Of Pillory or Pompous, two frauds grinning,
Their siren song sung with a single voice.
Neither at all convinced that war means sinning.
Genetic gentry, both kill and rejoice
At Power’s perks, both risible and crass,
Like two cheeks of a mule’s or horse’s ass.
The protonymic “Chronic Argonaut,”
So-called by H. G. Wells before perfecting
The Time Machine’s Victorian theme and plot,
Might serve, as well, to label those selecting,
From times gone past, a living corpse who’s not
Named Trump: Joe Biden, ballot mark rejecting
The person they don’t want and blame on Putin.
Their man? Let’s just say, “Hardly Isaac Newton.”
But Wells got things ass-backwards in his story
Supposing that, in time, the ruling class,
Would morph into the Eloi, Morlock quarry,
Or food for working stiffs who once ate grass.
Instead proles vote Republican (or Tory);
For Democrats, with tits and balls of brass,
Who promise to “resist” along with “darkie”
While serving up rapacious oligarchy.
No new thing has a chicken’s chance. No change
Will come from movements led by those imbued
With jaded jargon slogans that estrange
More than convert. How easily unglued
Their “sticking power,” once the rich arrange
To fund their “fighting” flag, a yellow-hued
Co-opted symbol, like some words spray-painted
On everything, which leaves Maoism tainted..
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2020
Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas. Syððan ærest wearð
Often Scyld Scefing, from the army of his enemies,
from many warriors, took the mead-benches
terrified the nobles. After he was first
(in approximate accented-alliterative American
with apologies to Anglo Saxon pagans in perpetuity)
Now we know. No news.
Silence imposed by Secret Service.
Apparently purloined, propaganda
Leaks loudly. Affronted flacks
And minions mumble misinformation
That bosses (bungling blowhards) deny.
Hardly heroic hired help
That Presidents pick to push policies
Donors demand. Devious ministers
Sabotage structure of popular programs,
Fired for embarrassing Boguswolf. Bluster,
Staining his image with scrofulous ink.
Accenting always a recycled rhetoric,
Clichés and slogans cynically selling
Old dogs as new tricks, obvious and numbing.
Boguswolf bombing for business and accolades,
Tossing in prison the poor and the powerless,
Peace-prizes won for the practice of war.
Gun-selling grifters gravitate gladly to
Tawdry, tendentious “intelligence” trite.
Highly inhibiting proof of the pudding,
“Likely,” or “possible,” “plausible” pandering
Counts on consumption of credulous crap
Boguswolf’s lips, badly blistered.
Too much tooting his own horn.
Both arms broken, piously patting
Himself on the back for “success.” Bullshit.
Game concluded. Gruesome “greatness”
Made again to grate and grind.
Peace and freedom, precious, fleeting
Drugged and poisoned. Damage permanent.
Fortunes fled, few held accountable.
Fabulous crimes, fortunate criminals.
Global Gangsters grabbing governments,
National sovereignty nowhere seen.
Boguswolf’s banker buddies beatified,
Power to print all that money matters.
Once called “Indulgences,” wonderfully dubious
Deities promising debt-cancelled paradise
Later. But peasants must labor presently.
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2020
Eisenhower’s last minute edit is another cautionary tale: appeasement emboldens. Never hesitate to alienate.
BTW, this piece was a bit more persuasive to me than some of your others…perhaps the ocean theme helped ; ) “Blue Mind”…that is the key!
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The military industrial complex is a marvel. It works so well. As always, the administration leaders and the many powerful industrial managers enjoy their position with no danger that anything proposed for so many places around the world will in any way hurt them, just the opposite. Flex those political muscles and feel the elation of making things happen while “standing up” to this or that enemy of the day.
There is no draft so the protection of self while doing fine extends right on down through middle America.
Those at the bottom of the economic system can be counted on to volunteer for anything and everything they are told to do, in order to make some money through reliable employment with the chance of on-the-job training for when they get out.
800 military bases. Think of all the employment and the out-sourced work that feeds so many companies. Even the fighting can be farmed out.
All the suffering and deprivation and risk to life is on the other side and they are the faceless that speak strange languages. Who cares?
Ike saw it. It comes with the nature of our economic system and our technology putting us head and shoulders above and disconnected from those that pay the price of what we do. Think of the old tax farming. We do conflict farming. We not only get along with somebody else’s troubles, we cash in on them. Who in the 19th century lost sleep over what was happening in colonies? We’ve gotten rid of all that administrative hassle that made the colonizers look bad while retaining the ability to raid resources and pay ourselves to do it.
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What a chilling analysis! Scary accurate.
Cogent observations indeed. The “beauty”–for the exploiters–of Neo-Colonialism is that mostly it’s Capital that’s sent overseas rather than troops. But things don’t always go terrifically well for the practitioners of these policies. Gross failure in Southeast Asia–I typed “total failure” initially, but we must recall Vietnamese factories are now making some of our electronics toys–folks in Cuba, Venezuela, etc. still not surrendering to the US Colossus, and residents of Beirut so sick and tired of being trampled on by their country’s elites they rose up and drove Lebanon’s government from office. One can only fantasize, for now, about such an upheaval occurring here.
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I believe I’ve found the way to avoid split posting…
1) sign in to WordPress before coming to this site (I can’t stay signed in for some reason)
2) attempt to post, it will hang telling me that my account name is already signed in
3) refresh this site’s page
4) comment again. This time when the comment window opens it will say “commenting as clif9710 signed in to WordPress”
5) post the comment – it works.
Now if I can remember all this!
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Good gawd — what a workaround. Thanks for your persistence!
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