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The Tea Party and the Ancien Regime

2010 March 29
by Ian Welsh

ancien-regime-dress-from-the-metThis has occasioned some comment:

The fact that many of them joined the Tea Party after losing their jobs raises questions of whether the movement can survive an improvement in the economy, with people trading protest signs for paychecks.

The economy is not going to recover enough to put most of these people back to work.  The administration’s own figures show they expect this year’s job gains to be barely at the rate necessary to keep up with population increases.  Indeed, it is extremely that employment will not recover before the end of this economic cycle.

This wasn’t necessary.  A real, properly put together stimulus bill would have got them back to work.  For example, a program to make every building in America be at least energy neutral and preferably creating energy, would have kept them usefully employed.

The bottom line in America today is that while everyone who isn’t paid not to know, knows how to fix what’s wrong with America (for example, instead of the mess called Health Care Reform, pass single payer), nothing that really fixes anything fundamental will be allowed to occur.

America is controlled by what economists call rent-seeking behaviour.  Virtually everyone important has a revenue stream, and they don’t want anyone to take that revenue stream away.  So pharma and insurance companies, who would have been damaged badly by single payer (they would have lost hundreds of billions) made sure that a plan to provide everyone with better health care for a third less than current costs was never even considered.

The most important game in America today is the contest for control of government, so that government can directly or indirectly give you money.  Health care “reform” in which the government decided to force Americans to buy private health insurance or be fined is merely the latest (and most blatant) example.  Virtually every industry, from finance to telecom to agriculture is involved in this game.  It is in all their interests to make sure the game continues, but they do fight amongst each other for the spoils.

This game will continue until the US can no longer afford it.  Indeed, even now, some industries are taking it on the chin, loosing out to their better connected cousins.  For example, the current downturn has seen the prison-industrial complex losing ground.  They get most of their money from State governments, and the States simply cannot afford to keep locking up so many people at so much cost.

This is the downward spiral of a great power in senescence.  It ends in collapse, reformation or revolution, when it becomes clear that the rents of the Ancien Regime can no longer be afforded, and too many of those who were bought off are thrown off their dole.

The Tea Partiers, however misguided they may be in many respects, have been thrown off the dole.  Whatever they are called, they will not be going away.

35 Responses
  1. March 29, 2010

    Age makes the teabaggers a self-correcting problem in the medium term. Especially if medicare and social security lose out to the apex predators of the rentierism ecosystem: the Pentagon and Wall Street.

    It’s the 40-65 age bloc that’s going to cause even more problems. These people will object to losing their economic future but are of the mentality to ignore reality and demand right wing solutions for their problems. When their right wing ‘solutions’ fail, they’ll demand even more extreme right wing solutions.

    Get ready for 40 more years of the ever tightening right wing ratchet.

  2. Ian Welsh permalink
    March 29, 2010

    Apex predators is a lovely description, which I will borrow unless you object.

  3. Albatross permalink
    March 29, 2010

    America doesn’t HAVE a “middle term.” Certainly not a “long term.” We’re a couple of years away from an economic collapse that will make 2008 look like HITTING the iceberg, with the sinking following later.

    We’ve HIT the iceberg, and the aristocracy know it. They’re grabbing as much of the silver cutlery as they can and crowding aboard the short supply of lifeboats.

    The rest of us are in steerage.

  4. March 29, 2010

    Wow, Ian, I just tweeted this before coming here: “Friends & neighbors, I am NO economist. I just read this and that and distill it down. Bottom line: we are smarter than our government.”

    Great minds think alike. 🙂

  5. March 29, 2010

    Obamacare will add another one million jobs lost. In my industry, medical sales, we have already lost 40,000 high-paying jobs in medical sales. Who will pay for this new entitlement with so many out of work? Simple economics.

  6. votermom permalink
    March 29, 2010

    I’m definitely on the left, but the Tea Part has a powerful truth on its side: You Can’t Trust The Government. W proved it, and O is out their outproving W’s proof.
    I don’t know how the actual left can counter that when the every administration for the last 10 years has made it their mission statement to lie, rob and betray. I don’t know what the actual solution is either.

  7. Ian Welsh permalink
    March 29, 2010

    Yes, that is a powerful truth, alas.

  8. beowulf permalink
    March 29, 2010

    Ian, you ever read Col. Dunlop’s 1992 paper, “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012”?

    Commentator James Fallows expressed the new thinking in an August 1991 article in Atlantic magazine. Musing on the contributions of the military to American society,Fallows wrote: “I am beginning to think that the only way the national government can do anything worthwhile is to invent a security threat and turn the job over to the military.”

    He elaborated on his reasoning: According to our economic and political theories, most agencies of the government have no special standing to speak about the general national welfare. Each represents a certain constituency; the interest groups fight it out. The military, strangely, is the one government institution that has been assigned legitimacy to act on its notion of the collective good. “National defense” can make us do things–train engineers, build highways–that long-term good of the nation or common sense cannot.
    http://www.uwec.edu/sfpj/Origins.pdf

    As a writer of fiction, Dunlop’s no Harry Turtledove, but he’s quite right to highlight Fallows’s comment. All the time you hear conservatives preface their obligatory “the government can’t do anything right” with, “other than the military”. If a military coup is the worst case scenario, the best case scenario would be for the right wing power centers (military, religious right, big business) to recognize that the FIRE sector (finance, insurance and real estate) is threatening their own political power by roiling the public with income (and healthcare) inequalities and to assert their own political power to cut the FIRE sector down to size. It like the Victorian Prime Minister (and “One Nation” Conservative) Benjamin Disraeli put it, the castle is not safe if the cottage is unhappy.

    I’m not optimistic, it always seems easier to make the gate communities more secure than to reform the city outside the gates.

  9. Ian Welsh permalink
    March 29, 2010

    I haven’t read it Beowulf, but Stirling and I, in our conversations, often comment that the only way to get anything done in the US is indeed to make it a military project. One possibility is to retool the military for “nation building” then have them practice in the US, for example. (nation building = green/renewable infrastructure, so let’s build it in the US first so we know how!)

  10. March 29, 2010

    “This game will continue until the US can no longer afford it.”

    One quibble: until the US can no longer borrow. The nation could not really afford the last decade or two.

  11. beowulf permalink
    March 29, 2010

    I apologize for misspelling Dunlap’s (with a). He’s now a Major General in the Air Force (Deputy Judge Advocate General, the AF’s number 2 lawyer).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_J._Dunlap,_Jr.

    I disagree with one of Dunlap’s suggestions, to reduce down the size of the National Guard (which are controlled by the state governors until called up to active duty service by the president). I would go the other way, reduce the Army and Air Force to a training cadre for the Army and Air National Guard forcse of each state and expand the Guard, by a draft if necessary, to provide a strategic reserve. I’ve mentioned here before Truman and Marshall’s proposal for Universal Military Training, every young man healthy enough to pass a physical would undergo 6 months of military training and then serve a term of years as active or inactive reservists.

    There are enough active duty personnel in the US Navy to hold the line, besides its surface and ballistic missile submarine forces, it has the second biggest Air Force in the world (number one, of course, is the USAF). The Navy Department also controls a large land force of its own, the three active duty and one reserve Marine divisions are huge, each is the size of 2 Army light infantry divisions. The advantage of decentralizing military power to the states is it allows state governors to use its reservists for the nation-building role you and Stirling envision without expanding the military’s political power at the federal level. If a Huey Long-type governor gets a little too (as they say) forward leaning, the president could federalize that state’s guard units to keep them in line, as Eisenhower and Kennedy did during the Civil Rights era with Arkansas and Alabama respectively.

    On another note, those tea partiers are a piece of work, cashing those unemployment and social security checks and using their Medicare cards because they re just “getting what they deserve”, but stand foursquare against other citizens to also benefitting from government assistance. As long as they view themselves on the side of the haves against the have nots, they’re letting the actual haves divide and conquer.

  12. Albatross permalink
    March 29, 2010

    Steve Dill: spare us the stale RNC talking points. At least the health insurance thing went through the CBO – our current fiscal mess is due to two off-budget foreign military occupations and the Wall Street heist bailout.

    The MILITARY as the ‘effective’ branch of government? Here’s how well they undertook the straightforward task of “training” the Iraqi police force:
    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503543_162-20000970-503543.html

    Mind you, eight years is nearly enough time to get a Ph.D. but our military couldn’t teach zeroing a rifle’s sights in that time.

    We may yet experience a military government in America, but I don’t expect efficiency out of such a system… and I surely don’t recommend the idea.

  13. March 29, 2010

    “One possibility is to retool the military for “nation building” then have them practice in the US..”

    Not really.

    In all seriousness, it is the (as somebody at FDL put it) “war making industry” that is “Too Big To Fail”. The actual US military is a means, not the end – it is the tap to draw the revenue stream, not the beneficiary of the “security rent”. The game here is profit through privatization of public tax revenue. That is the driving force behind the National Security State (see Greenwald on McConnell).
    If you think the military matters (“support the troops”), think again – they are increasingly replaced by corporate contractors even in the “kinetic” market, let alone the Pervasive Protection Racket of surveillance and “intel”.

    “Nation building” is just a scam to co-opt State Department resources, mandates and budgets. What you get are the levees, because since the end of Operation Plowshare, Army Corps of Engineers’ projects do not feature substantial use of ammunitions.

    On a less serious note, I have come to see manned spaceflight as a main competitor for re-purposing the industrial capacity that makes for the self-leeching eel of military expenditures. There is a huge overlap between heavy lifter and orbital construction “products” and skillsets and the major players in the aerospace and weapons R&D and industry, and if the choice is between those corporations piling up ammunitions that have to be “written off” on other people and their infrastructure, or having them build an orbital “steam and mirrors” infrastructure that can focus sunlight into useful exergy at minimum maintenance cost, I’d rather have our “overhang” of white Republican engineers shoot their rockets at the great void for a few decades. It is not clear on the merits whether solar energy has the EROI required no matter where it is captured (neither the sunbelt deserts on the ground or synchornous orbit might get us out of Peak Exergy), but we only have those two options left anyway.

    But no matter what kind of repurposing you have in mind, it is the “producers” of armaments (the corporations) and not the consumers (the military that launches the weapons, and the targets that “absorb” them) that are the problem. You have already conceded (maybe wrongly) that the Security Racket cannot be broken – all that is left to try is to re-define security. As we will increasingly run out of useful energy, this might well mean energy security – worst case, as a means to food security. But by the time that is obvious to everybody, there will be nothing left for a new Manhatten Project, and another Apollo (showboating, not construction) will not do.

    To use on of Duncan Black’s favorite quote, “Mars, Bitches!” is not going to cut it. By 2016 we will see the 110+ billion ISS go down in flames, and that will mark the end of any US space program to speak of – it can bearely get out of the atmosphere as it is. But there will still be plenty of Security to be sold. Even if no tangible result came out of a massive Space Solar Power program for decades to come, if it enabled the US to find a consensus on reducing National Security expenditures, US foreign policy would no longer be focused on providing the necessary “conflicts”, domestic infrastructure would benefit, and the feedback loop nurturing the pervasive surveillance state would be broken. The extension of the National Security racket from military to “Homeland” is set to end open society as you know it. If it is impossible to end the irrationality that shapes US policies, maybe it is best to pick an irrational quest that points away from ourselves and everybody else…

    I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the next decade is out, of providing one terawatt, generated in orbit, to ground-based receivers. There – if that what it takes to get the US out of everybody else’s business, so be it. And who knows, maybe the horse will learn how to sing.

  14. John permalink
    March 29, 2010

    Please re-read Catch 22 by Joseph Heller if you think there is any prospect of the “Military” getting us out of our Waist Deep in the Big Muddy. Based on three years experience. Cheers.

  15. March 29, 2010

    What is needed is a grassroots party movement based upon a single issue: purely public financed elections. That is the necessary first step, without that nothing else matters becoz the people that we elect keep selling us out to their corporate constituency. Once we get control of the government again, then we can sort the rest of the stuff out among the people and not the corporations.

    Z

  16. March 29, 2010

    Here’s another idea that needs to happens as well: A Backstop Elimination Bill

    The message that our “representatives” too often choose to hear comes not from their constituents but from lobbyists, corporate America and Wall Street. And that message is this: “Don’t worry about the people or getting reelected. You represent us. We are your constituency. If you don’t get reelected, we got you backstopped and you’ll walk in to a millions of dollars a year “job” provided by us.” What this bill sets out to do is to eliminate this corrupted practice.

    So, the first provision to my bill would make both the Senate and the House 4-year terms with half of the Senate and half of the House coming up for election every two years. In my opinion, the House spends too much time running for elections and the Senate needs to get out of DC more often to listen to and meet with their true constituents.

    Then, I’d add another provision that states that Congressmen or Congresswomen who left their seat voluntarily in good-standing or lost their seat by election, are paid for the next four years by the federal government the same salary and have the same benefits that they had when they were in office. But they can not work in any paid job during this time. What they can do is do charity work, community work, prepare to run again or whatever else they choose to do besides work for money.

    What this accomplishes is the following:
    1. It keeps these public servants closer to the public that they are supposed to serve.
    2. It decreases the temptation to agree to a backstopped deal because four years is a long time to wait for it to come to fruition and many people in positions to make these promises will no longer be in those positions to uphold them in four years.
    3. It likely puts the Senate and House more in flux, which I think is a very good thing, by giving the ex-members that have been voted out an advantage in the next election.
    4. It attracts candidates more interested in serving the public than in using public office as a platform to future riches.

    Some short-sighted folks may claim that it costs too much having these public servants on the public payroll for four years when they are no longer in office, but it would likely cost much, much less than it does in the current system where these politicians are backstopped by corporate America, Wall Street and lobbying groups as long as they make those parties their constituents instead of us.

    Z

  17. Zach permalink
    March 29, 2010

    Z — Is this Backstop Elimination proposal under discussion somewhere?

  18. March 29, 2010

    Zach,

    No, that I am aware of. There’s no way this discussion would ever get initiated through “our” politicians or corporatized media being that it doesn’t suit their interests.

    Z

  19. ballgame permalink
    March 29, 2010

    Apex predators is a lovely description, which I will borrow unless you object.

    You’re a great blogger, Ian, but your remark here shows you to be a ‘mediocre’ commenter.

    😉

    For my part, I’m going to be a ‘great’ commenter and totally steal some of your observations from today’s trenchant post.

  20. March 29, 2010

    re: “apex predator”

    Go ahead and steal it. I got the idea from Steve Hynd anyway.

    re: reforming the system

    Even with a grassroots party, the system is too far gone to be reformed anyway because the people who need to approve reforms are the very people who have caused the problem in the first place.

  21. March 29, 2010

    Curmudgeon,

    The grassroots party movement I am referring to is a whole new party, I don’t see it as being plausible that we can work within either of these corrupted parties. Not that this route is an easy one, but it is the only possible one that I can see to avoid the chaos and ensuing instability of toppling the whole system, which very well may be the most viable path, though probably the most dangerous one.

    Z

  22. March 29, 2010

    I have come to see manned spaceflight as a main competitor for re-purposing the industrial capacity that makes for the self-leeching eel of military expenditures. There is a huge overlap between heavy lifter and orbital construction “products” and skillsets and the major players in the aerospace and weapons R&D and industry, and if the choice is between those corporations piling up ammunitions that have to be “written off” on other people and their infrastructure, or having them build an orbital “steam and mirrors” infrastructure that can focus sunlight into useful exergy at minimum maintenance cost, I’d rather have our “overhang” of white Republican engineers shoot their rockets at the great void for a few decades.

    In my alternate history of the world, the ’92 election would have seen us with a visionary statesman who really ended the Cold War and repurposed the huge military budget into space exploration (as b. points out, same corporate players but a better social outcome). He would have used these two things to draw the Russians, the only other nation with serious space experience, into a cooperative agreement. And then he would have negotiated an arrangement with the Russians for development of Russia’s fossil fuel reserves and completely safe transit of it to the United States.

    He might also have been visionary enough to work seriously with the Russians to make a viable political-business environment and developed a nation with high educational standards, plenty of resources and relatively low wages.

    Instead we got Clinton who figured the only thing swords can be beaten into are more swords; support for the corruption of Yeltsin; the backfiring of the Rubin-Summers “great neo-liberal leap”; and shipping our industrial capacity to an over populated, resource poor nation…thereby setting up a real existential enemy a few decades down the road.

    Thanks, Bill…and friends.

  23. March 29, 2010

    In my alternate history of the world, Jimmy Carter would have been reelected in 1980 and the USA would have a much less fossil-oriented energy infrastructure.

    In my alternate history of the world, the Roman Republic would not have fallen but instead blossomed into a new flourishing of natural sciences, leading to a Mediterranean technological Europe and the colonization of Mars by people with names like Salvius and Livilla.

  24. March 29, 2010

    “In my alternate history of the world, Jimmy Carter would have been reelected in 1980 and the USA would have a much less fossil-oriented energy infrastructure.”

    Is that the timeline in which Carter’s son was elected to be 43 and had to deal with the blowback from Daddy’s and Zbig’s meddling in Afghanistan? I thought the people on Mars were all named Omar in that one…

  25. March 30, 2010

    b.: You’re absolutely right. I chose Carter because he’s such a favorite right-wing whipping boy, the thought of teleporting them to the Carterverse was too funny.

    But the point is, there’s nothing really new under the sun. The idea that a prosperous empire becomes a giant rent-seeking engine is not exactly a surprise. Things are only worse in degree from where they were years ago, but not in kind. The solutions are also the same.

  26. KZK permalink
    March 30, 2010

    Z’s idea about ending backstopping will not work very well. If they can’t buy you off, they’ll buy off your Spouse, Children, Siblings, Parents, Etc. The problem is more fundamental. Money is Fungible.

  27. March 30, 2010

    The Tea Partiers think that government is their enemy. They’re wrong. The rentiers who own the government are their enemy. If they can be brought to see that…

  28. March 30, 2010

    The Tea Partiers also think there’s such a thing as a “free market.” They’re wrong in theory, and wrong in fact. The rent-seeking behavior drives the market now, and not the reverse. That’s the lesson of the bailouts, giant banks getting taxpayer money at 0% and lending it at 6%, and so on and so forth.

  29. March 30, 2010

    That the Tea Partiers are wrong on the “analysis” – as it is – does not mean they are wrong.
    Plus, as Taibbi points out, at least they are doing “research” and take to the streets.

    Both parties work to preserve the system for entrenched interests. The repugs do it through deception, channeling the justified if ill-informed outrage of their abused “constituents” into even more counterproductive politics to support even worse policies. The democrits do it by “fixing” the system so that the abuse can be sustained another decade. That the Tea Partiers “don’t get it” is a logical consequence of noody with a megaphone actually making a decent case against the system. At the least, they “get” that they are being screwed. In that respect, they are miles ahead of the people who still listen to Obama, or tools like Klein or Bowers.

    If you think Josh Marshall is a critic of the establishment, I’d say you still got something to learn from the teabaggers. Maybe there is such a thing as “Teat Partiers” that simply cannot wean themselves of one representative “hero” without (s)electing another one.

  30. David Kowalski permalink
    March 30, 2010

    As a society, we have spent the last 30 years putting off repairs, renovations, and infratructure development because “taxes are bad”, “government is bad”, “businesses create jobs” and other pablum. Maybe the principal function of business at one time was to create jobs but now it is to create profits with high compensation for the highest level managers being a close second.

    What little we have donw has, indeed, been in the police/prison and military industrial complexes.

    The fruits of this stupidity and greed are all around us. The jobs were outsourced or autiomated to maximize profits. The problem with the FIRE sector is that if the economy is stagnant or shrinking, there is no logical place to invest in (perhaps that is why there is the urgent need to privatize Social Security and military-school-police functions).

    The scary thing, of course, is that the Hoover weconomy didn’t really fall apart totally until 1932. Previous to that, “savings” were growing while production and employment was shrinking. Savings of the rich and corporations in a falling economy are not to be encouraged. Not by any means. As for taxes, the wealthy and corporations paid much higher shares in the 1950s and 1960s than they do today. Competition, not takehome, was enough to get the millionaires of the day working and investing. Milton Friedmanism turns out to be an inefficient sytem that leads to ruin.

  31. March 30, 2010

    KZK,

    You are definitely right, paying off spouses, children, etc. is another avenue that the corporations have used to buy off our politicians. However, with that bill, and purely public financed elections, that practice may not get as entrenched as it is now.

    Political corruption in this country is a corrosive process that begins with the initial campaign runs that require a lot of money to fund and then continues … and probably accelerates …. as the newly elected legislate amongst a bunch of senior bought-and-paid-for career politicians that run the show and show the way to contort the system to use the office as a platform to serve their own personal interests. The corrupt senior legislators set the norm for behavior for the rest of congress.

    The more corruption there is in the political ranks, the less accountability there is until you get to the point where now there is practically no accountability and almost every member of congress is a millionaire. We have reached a critical mass of political corruption where corruption is the norm. When you reach this point, the corruption is essentially concealed becoz there is no price to pay for it since the populace cynically accepts that “they are all corrupt”. So, turnover is very important IMO to prevent the corruption from hardening within the system and providing that concealment where the corruption does not stand out and is not punished by the voters at the polls.

    Those bills, together, IMO would work better than what we have right now.

    Z

  32. jawbone permalink
    March 30, 2010

    I vaguely recall commenters saying that Obama et al had missed a great chance to bring many who identify with the Tea Party into the Democratic Party. Of course, Obama would have had to act like a member of the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party and eschewed the Corporatist Wing.

    Many are people on the edge financially — if Obama had made it his objective to save people from the tsunami of the financial crash, he would have been viewed as a rightful heir of FDR and LBJ.

    Instead, he’s made it clear over and over that his Dem Party is just an ever so slightly leftward branch of the Corporate Party. Damn.

    Obama is very good at wasting great opportunities. Unless, obviously, he was selected to do exactly what he’s doing now: Saving the hides of the Big Corporations and their revenue streams. And using this crisis for the Shock Doctrine economic ends Naomi Klein wrote about.

  33. Canoodler permalink
    March 31, 2010

    This post is eerily similar to one under Lambert’s name… Are you sure that you two are distinct entities?

  34. March 31, 2010

    Ian and Lambert are definitely different people. Lambert was quoting Ian.

    So this

    The bottom line in America today is that while everyone who isn’t paid not to know, knows how to fix what’s wrong with America (for example, instead of the mess called Health Care Reform, pass single payer), nothing that really fixes anything fundamental will be allowed to occur.

    America is controlled by what economists call rent-seeking behaviour. Virtually everyone important has a revenue stream, and they don’t want anyone to take that revenue stream away. So pharma and insurance companies, who would have been damaged badly by single payer (they would have lost hundreds of billions) made sure that a plan to provide everyone with better health care for a third less than current costs was never even considered.

    is an accurate and succinct description of the Larger Reality. The big question is, obviously, what to do about it.

    If there is no Grand Reformation (do not wish for a revolution, they are not pretty and no guarantee of salvation) on the horizon, then until such time as we see one—or make one—we are facing collapse.

    Then the only choices we have pertain to when we prefer to see the collapse: sooner or later. Collapse without a Grand Reformation will not be pretty, and collapse is hardly an environment in which you should gamble on a reformation sponaneously arising. I suggest that the only ethical option is later, as late as possible.

    That, alas, involves keeping facehugger capitalism alive as long as possible. That’s why it’s facehugger capitalism. You cut the facehugger, it burns a hole through the floor. Ça y est. Dommage.

  35. other permalink
    April 2, 2010

    hello

    it seems to me like this: in addition to major deficits in the overall u.s. electoral system, both parties are rotten to the core, are essentially the same, serve a more powerful master, and have been actively screwing over the american public (and much of the larger world) for at least several decades now (much longer if you ask the natives).

    yet the larger problem is the screwed over subjects: be they teabaggers clamoring for more potholes and guns and less healthcare, or liberals expecting obama to save them (and now, a year-plus into that accelerating fail, mussing on “obama wasn’t, maybe the military could be the saviour…”).

    hello? how’d that work out in new orleans, or haiti? delivering bread with tanks is just bound to fail, yet again, for so, so many reasons that should be layers beyond obvious, especially in this esteemed forum. puzzling.

    the reason it’s worse to have obama in office vs joe right wing (the evil of two lessers), is the diversion of energy from and placation of real change; even with the sweeping damage done to date, minor rumblings are just beginning.

    i do not have the answers, beyond “pull back towards local, and keep an eye on the big picture”; it’s a rigged and frigged system, and as mentioned by other posters, it’s going to get worse.

    but i do know that supporting the questionably lesser of two evils will not yield edible fruit, they’ll have taken your life force in addition, and more brown people in other countries will have died.

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