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Sunday, October 19, 2014

"We face a #leadership deficit of global proportions" We Have Reached Peak President by @AaronDMiller2

From @ForeignPolicy, Aaron David Miller tackles the lack of leaders in the world today.

We face a leadership deficit of global proportions. In fact, we seem to be pretty well along into what you might call the post-heroic leadership era

We Have Reached Peak President

Why the time of great American leadership is over.



A couple years back, I gave a talk to a group of Princeton graduate students and faculty on the indispensable role leaders play in successful Arab-Israeli negotiations. Having worked on the Middle East peace process for over 20 years, I had come to the conclusion that, far more than any other factor, it was willful leaders -- masters, not prisoners, of their political houses -- who produced the agreements that endure.
It proved to be a pretty tough crowd.
One graduate student insisted that I had been taken hostage by Thomas Carlyle and his "Great Man" theory of history. Another critic, a visiting professor from Turkey, protested that I had completely ignored the broader social and economic forces that really drive and determine change.
I conceded to both that the debate about what mattered more -- the individual or circumstances -- was a complicated business. But I reminded the professor that she hailed from a land in which one man,Mustafa Kemal -- otherwise known as Ataturk -- had fundamentally changed the entire direction of her country's modern history. We left it at that.
History, to be sure, is driven by the interaction between human agency and circumstance. Based on my own experiences in government and negotiations, individuals count greatly in this mix, particularly in matters of war, peace, and nation-building. Historian John Keegan made the stunning assertion that the story of much of the 20th century was a tale -- the biographies, really -- of six men: Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Churchill, FDR, and Mao. Wherever you stand on the issue of the individual's role in history, its impact must be factored into the equation, particularly when it comes to explaining turning points in a nation's history.
Nonetheless, the professor from Turkey had a point. Today we are consumed with leaders and leadership as the solution, if not the panacea, to just about everything that ails us. We admire the bold, transformational leader who seeks fundamental change, and value less the cautious transactor who negotiates, triangulates, and settles for less dramatic results. And we tend to forget too that great leaders almost always emerge in times of national crisis, trauma, and exigency, a risk we run if we hunger for the return of such leaders. Still, in Holy Grail-like pursuit, we search for some magic formula or key to try to understand what accounts for great leadership. Indeed, we seem nothing short of obsessed with the L-word.
Micah Zenko, my fellow columnist at Foreign Policy, in a column on this very word, notes that if you type "leadership books" into the Amazon search engine you get 126,288 results. Want to study leadership or, better yet, become a leader? There is certainly a program for you. The International Leadership Association lists over 1,500 academic programs in the field. Yale University alone has a Leadership Institute, a Women's Leadership Initiative, a Global Health Leadership Institute, and an MBA on Leadership in Healthcare.
This focus on leaders is understandable, particularly during times of great uncertainty and stress. The psychologists and mythologists tell us that the need to search for the great leader to guide or even rescue us is an ancient -- even primordial -- impulse. But what happens when we reach for something we may no longer be able to have?
Indeed, these days, those who favor and align with the Carlyle crowd and the "Great Man" view of history -- myself included -- have a serious problem.
We are now well into the 21st century, a full 70 years after Keegan's six transformers either tried to take over the world or to save it. Look around. Where are the giants of old, the transformers who changed the world and left great legacies? Plenty of very bad leaders have come and gone -- Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Muammar al-Qaddafi, Slobodan Milosevic -- and some larger-than-life good ones too, like Charles de Gaulle, Konrad Adenauer, Anwar Sadat, Mikhail Gorbachev, Pope John Paul II, and Nelson Mandela.
Leaders, to be sure, can emerge from the most unlikely places and at the least expected and most fortuitous times. Think only of Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. And who knows what kind of leaders history's long arc might produce in the future?
That said, today things don't look that bright. We face a leadership deficit of global proportions. In fact, we seem to be pretty well along into what you might call the post-heroic leadership era.
Today, 193 countries sit in the United Nations, among them 88 free and functioning democracies. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the so-called great powers -- the United States, Britain, France, China, and Russia -- are not led by great, transformative leaders. Nor do rising states such as Brazil, India, and South Africa boast leaders with strong and accomplished records. We certainly see leaders who are adept at maintaining power and keeping their seats -- some, like Russia's Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for many years. Germany's Angela Merkel is certainly a powerful leader and skilled politician.
But where are those whom we could honestly describe as potentially great, heroic, or inspirational? And how many are not only great, but good -- with compassion and high moral and ethical standards -- too? Today, if I were pressed to identify a potentially great leader, I might offer up not a traditional head of state at all, but rather a religious figure: Pope Francis I, whose greatness as well as goodness may well be defined by the irony of his anti-greatness, commonness, and humility.
Nowhere is this leadership vacuum more acutely felt than in the politics of the United States, the world's greatest and most consequential power.
Nowhere is this leadership vacuum more acutely felt than in the politics of the United States, the world's greatest and most consequential power. Greatness is certainly not missing in the American story. Despite talk of decline, America remains the world's sole superpower, with a better balance of military, political, economic, and soft power than any other nation in the world. With 5 percent of the world's population, the United States accounts for a full 25 percent of the world's economic output, nearly half of its military expenditures, and has the best capacity to project its educational, cultural, and social media soft-power resources. We surely have no shortage of great athletes, actors, entrepreneurs, and scientists.

Still, great nations are supposed to have great political leaders too, right? And yet today in America we hear very little talk of greatness in our politics. Instead, the focus is on the leadership deficit, on America the ungovernable, and on the sorry state of its dysfunctional politics. One 2013 poll revealed that the public's view of Congress was significantly less positive than its view of root canal operations, NFL replacement refs, colonoscopies, France, and even cockroaches.
It should come as no surprise that the concern about the leadership deficit in our political class also extends to the presidency itself, an institution that has become, both for better and worse, the central element in our political system.
Yet the centrality of the presidency must be reconciled with the limitations of the office and the constraints that bind it. The presidency has always been an implausible, some might even say an impossible, job. But the following mix of challenges and constraints -- some old, some new -- has made the post-World War II presidency harder still: constitutional and practical constraints on the office itself; the president's expanding reach and responsibilities; the expanding role of a government we trust less, even when we demand more from it; America's global role; and an intrusive, omnipresent, and nonstop media.
These challenges have created the ultimate presidential bind. On one hand, we have become presidency-dependent in a president-centric system; on the other hand, our expectations have risen while the president's capacity to deliver has diminished.
In essence, we are lost in a kind of presidential Bermuda Triangle, adrift between the presidents we still want and the ones we can no longer have.
That bind is the subject of my new book, The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President. And three elements define and drive the core argument:
First, greatness in the presidency may be rare, but it is both real and measurable.
Three undeniably great presidents straddle the American story: Washington, the proverbial father of his country; Lincoln, who kept it whole through the Civil War; and Franklin Roosevelt, who shepherded the nation through its worst economic calamity and won its greatest war. Their very deeds define the meaning of greatness in American political life. So let me be clear about my definition of that greatness: Each of the undeniably great presidents overcame a truly nation-wrenching challenge or crisis; each used his crisis moment to fundamentally alter the way we see ourselves as a nation and the way we govern ourselves too, and in doing so changed the nation forever for the better; and each in the process transcended narrow partisanship and in time came to be seen even by critics as an extraordinary national leader.
In addition to these three undeniable greats, perhaps five others whom historians and the public judge favorably too -- their own legacies secured through great accomplishments at critical moments in the nation's story -- round out the group of top performers. The operative point is that this greatness club has created a frame of reference, a high bar really -- and a problematic one, at that -- against which we have come to judge and evaluate our modern presidents and they have come to judge themselves. In the book's early sections, I look at what defines greatness in the presidency and look at who gets admitted into this elite presidential club and why.
Second, historic greatness in the presidency has gone the way of the dodo.
And it is unlikely to return any time soon. The presidents we judge to be great are very much with us still -- everywhere, really. They are on our money and monuments, stars of our HBO specials and Hollywood movies, and subjects of best-selling presidential biographies. They are everywhere, that is, except in the White House.
As we will see, what I describe as "traces of greatness," both real and perceived, have appeared in several of our more contemporary presidents. But those "traces" are not to be confused with the performance of the three undeniables or the handful of other top performers we hold in high esteem. The greatness I described earlier belongs to an America of a different time and place, to a different country really. In the second part of the book, I explain why the history of the post-FDR presidency has been such a challenging tale, and why the times and circumstances have narrowed the prospects, the need, and the opportunity for sustained heroic action in the presidency.
Third, and there really is no other way to say this: We need to get over the greatness thing and stop pining for the return of leaders we can no longer have.
Like the ghosts in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, great presidents continue to hover, to teach, and to inspire. And we have much to learn from their successes and failures. But there is a risk in thinking, let alone succumbing to the illusion, that we will see their likes again, even in an altered contemporary guise. The world and country have changed and so have we. And besides, we should not want to see them again. Greatness in the presidency is too rare to be relevant in our modern times and -- driven as it is in our political system by big crisis -- too risky and dangerous to be desirable. Our continued search for idealized presidents raises our expectations and theirs, skews presidential performance, and leads to an impossible standard that can only frustrate and disappoint. To sum up: We can no longer have a truly great president, we seldom need one, and, as irrational as it sounds, we may not want one, either. And the final chapters of the book contemplate why.
So what do we do about our seemingly insatiable presidential addiction?
Americans will always aspire to more. And we can no more give up on our presidents than we can on ourselves.
Maybe our story, a journey really through a period of presidential greatness once revealed and now gone, will offer up some answers. And perhaps at journey's end we can even begin to discover a way to narrow the gap between the presidents we want and the ones we can realistically have.
This piece was adapted from Aaron David Miller's recent book, The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President.


We Have Reached Peak President





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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

#Turkey Struggles to Define Its Regional Role @Stratfor

Nearly a century after the renowned British military intelligence officer played a key role in nurturing the 1916-18 Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire, Turkey's leaders find themselves at odds with both Western and Arab states -- the latter far more than the former -- regarding the future of the region.


What role will Turkey play in the international military campaign against the Islamic State? This is perhaps the biggest question regarding the U.S.-led coalition's effort against militants in Iraq and
Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's claim that modern "Lawrences of Arabia" are actively trying to destabilize the Middle East offers some insight into the Turkish leadership's thoughts on this question.


Read the whole analysis on the Stratfor website here:  Turkey Struggles to Define Its Regional Role

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Matti Friedman Responds to Critics of His Essay on #Israel #Media Coverage @TabletMag

"colleagues thought practicing journalism on journalists was a kind of betrayal"

Ongoing Controversy Around 'The Most Important Story on Earth'


Israeli armored personnel carrier seen moving along the border with Gaza on July 10, 2014 on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)
My essay "An Insider's Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth" touched a nerve far beyond my expectations—I didn't think that in our times a 4,000-word essay would be shared 750 times on Facebook, let alone 75,000. A second essay will appear here soon.
The article drew a series of interesting responses. Richard Miron, a veteran of both the BBC and the United Nations, published a reflection on his own similar experiences. In Jerusalem the Israeli historian Gershom Gorenberg, from the left side of the local political spectrum, called it a "must-read, must think about," and Rick Santorum endorsed it on Twitter from Pennsylvania. Some accused me of being an apologist for the Israeli right, and worse. A few former colleagues thought practicing journalism on journalists was a kind of betrayal; others were discreetly thrilled. I have made friends and enemies I'm not sure I need.
There has been no serious public response to the piece, however, from inside the system I'm criticizing—no denials of the examples I gave, no explanations for the numbers I cite, no alternative reasons for the problems I describe. This uncomfortable silence is an admission.
Here I would like to reply briefly to the closest thing to an official explanation that has emerged so far. This is a short essay published by Steven Gutkin, the AP's former bureau chief in Jerusalem, in the paper he currently runs in Goa, India, and highlighted here at Tablet last week. The article is important for reasons I believe its author did not intend.
Steve, who chose to identify himself as one of the editors who appeared anonymously in my account, responds to my concrete examples with generalities, musings about the human condition, anecdotes, and much discussion of his own Judaism. He seems to believe this is about character—he is an experienced journalist, he writes, and is a Jew, albeit one who believes most in "humanity" (as opposed to the ones who, you know, don't). We should thus believe him when he says my essay is "hogwash," even if he can't be bothered to actually disprove anything. I was a junior member of the staff, we are to understand, and spent less time in the international press corps than he, and I am Israeli. Of course all of this is true. But so what? I'm making a case about the coverage. Anyone hoping to dispute what I wrote has to provide, as I do, concrete information about the coverage. 
What I want, he thinks, is for Israel to be "left alone," which is the usual response from people called out for their Israel obsessions. But of course I want no such thing: I want Israel to be covered, as I wrote, "as critically as any other place, and understood in context and in proportion." Steve wants to believe that my argument is that the press corps is "teeming with anti-Semites," because that makes me easier to dismiss. In no way is that my argument. What I believe, and wrote, is that old thought patterns centered on Jews are reasserting themselves in the West. I do not think anyone sensitive to events this summer, particularly in Europe, can believe otherwise. I think the press is central in all of this, consciously or subconsciously, and I show how this works using examples.  
Steve would like readers to think that my criticism of the media's failures has something to do with being "blind" to the Palestinians, and wrote (incorrectly) that I had not once referred to the occupation of the West Bank in my article. In fact I had (he later corrected that detail), and I also wrote that the settlements are "destructive" and a "serious moral and strategic error on Israel's part," which doesn't leave much room to err about my politics. The reason I don't dwell on the occupation is not because I'm unaware of it, but because my essay is about the media, not the occupation. It's also worth pointing out here that the only serious settlement-related investigation published by the AP's Jerusalem bureau during Steve's tenure, an article very critical of Israeli actions, was written by me. I'm proud of it.
Most strikingly, Steve is happy not only to confirm the media's obsession with Jews but to endorse it. If he thinks there's any journalistic problem in a news organization covering Israel more than China or the Congo, he doesn't say so. He thinks, in fact, that Jews—the "people of the Bible," or perhaps the "persecuted who became persecutors"—are really, really interesting. His piece is, in other words, a confirmation of my argument mistaking itself for a rebuttal. 
As for two of the most serious incidents I mentioned, a careful reader will note that Steve concedes them. Both have ramifications beyond the specifics of this story. 
1. To the best of my knowledge, no major news organization has publicly admitted censoring its own coverage under pressure from Hamas. A New York Times correspondent recently said this idea was "nonsense." Responding to an Israeli reporter asking about my essay, the AP said my "assertions challenging the independence of AP's Mideast news report in recent years are without merit." But the AP's former Jerusalem bureau chief just explicitly admitted it. He confirms my report of a key detail removed from a story during the 2008-2009 fighting—that Hamas men were indistinguishable from civilians—because of a threat to our reporter, a Gaza Palestinian. 
He goes even further than I did, saying printing the reporter's original information would have meant "jeopardizing his life." The censored information in this case is no minor matter, but the explanation behind many of the civilian fatalities for which much of the world (including the AP) blamed Israel. Steve writes that such incidents actually happened "two or three times" during his tenure. It should be clear to a reader that even once is quite enough in order for a reporter living under Hamas rule to fall permanently in line. This means that AP's Gaza coverage is shaped in large part by Hamas, which is something important that insiders know but readers don't. 
I'm not saying the decision to strike the information was wrong—no information is worth the life of a reporter. But I am saying that the failure to get it out some other way, or to warn readers that their news is being dictated by Hamas, is a major ethical shortcoming with obvious ramifications for the credibility of everyone involved. The AP should address this publicly, and all news organizations working here need to be open about this now.
2. I wrote that in early 2009 the bureau wouldn't touch an important news story, a report of a peace proposal from the Israeli prime minister to the Palestinian president. This decision was indefensible on journalistic grounds. A careful reader will notice that Steve does not deny this. He can't, because too many people saw it happen, and a journalist as experienced as Steve might assume, correctly, that at least some of them vetted my account before it was published. He merely quibbles with a marginal detail—the nature of a map that one of the reporters saw. I repeat what I wrote: Two experienced AP reporters had information adding up to a major news story, one with the power to throw the Israeli-Palestinian relationship into a different light. Israelis confirmed it, and Palestinians confirmed it. The information was solid, and indeed later appeared in Newsweek and elsewhere. The AP did not touch this story, and others, in order to maintain its narrative of Israeli extremism and Palestinian moderation.
Failing to report bad things that Hamas does, and good things that Israel does, which is what these examples show, creates the villainous "Israel" of the international press. That these failures mislead news consumers is clear. But they also have a role in generating recent events like a mob attack on a Paris synagogue, for example, or the current 30-year-high in anti-Jewish incidents in Britain. There are several causes behind such phenomena, and editorial decisions like these are among them. But this is one subject about which the AP bureau chief, for all of his Jewish ruminations, has nothing to say. The press corps is obviously not "teeming with anti-Semitism." But neither is it teeming with responsibility or introspection, and the kind of thinking that has taken hold there should have all of us deeply concerned.
See the original story 'The Most Important Story on Earth' here: : An Insider's Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth

Matti Friedman Responds to Critics of His Essay on #Israel #Media Coverage @TabletMag

"colleagues thought practicing journalism on journalists was a kind of betrayal"

Ongoing Controversy Around 'The Most Important Story on Earth'

Israeli armored personnel carrier seen moving along the border with Gaza on July 10, 2014 on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

My essay "An Insider's Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth" touched a nerve far beyond my expectations—I didn't think that in our times a 4,000-word essay would be shared 750 times on Facebook, let alone 75,000. A second essay will appear here soon.

The article drew a series of interesting responses. Richard Miron, a veteran of both the BBC and the United Nations, published a reflection on his own similar experiences. In Jerusalem the Israeli historian Gershom Gorenberg, from the left side of the local political spectrum, called it a "must-read, must think about," and Rick Santorum endorsed it on Twitter from Pennsylvania. Some accused me of being an apologist for the Israeli right, and worse. A few former colleagues thought practicing journalism on journalists was a kind of betrayal; others were discreetly thrilled. I have made friends and enemies I'm not sure I need.

There has been no serious public response to the piece, however, from inside the system I'm criticizing—no denials of the examples I gave, no explanations for the numbers I cite, no alternative reasons for the problems I describe. This uncomfortable silence is an admission.

Here I would like to reply briefly to the closest thing to an official explanation that has emerged so far. This is a short essay published by Steven Gutkin, the AP's former bureau chief in Jerusalem, in the paper he currently runs in Goa, India, and highlighted here at Tablet last week. The article is important for reasons I believe its author did not intend.

Steve, who chose to identify himself as one of the editors who appeared anonymously in my account, responds to my concrete examples with generalities, musings about the human condition, anecdotes, and much discussion of his own Judaism. He seems to believe this is about character—he is an experienced journalist, he writes, and is a Jew, albeit one who believes most in "humanity" (as opposed to the ones who, you know, don't). We should thus believe him when he says my essay is "hogwash," even if he can't be bothered to actually disprove anything. I was a junior member of the staff, we are to understand, and spent less time in the international press corps than he, and I am Israeli. Of course all of this is true. But so what? I'm making a case about the coverage. Anyone hoping to dispute what I wrote has to provide, as I do, concrete information about the coverage. 

What I want, he thinks, is for Israel to be "left alone," which is the usual response from people called out for their Israel obsessions. But of course I want no such thing: I want Israel to be covered, as I wrote, "as critically as any other place, and understood in context and in proportion." Steve wants to believe that my argument is that the press corps is "teeming with anti-Semites," because that makes me easier to dismiss. In no way is that my argument. What I believe, and wrote, is that old thought patterns centered on Jews are reasserting themselves in the West. I do not think anyone sensitive to events this summer, particularly in Europe, can believe otherwise. I think the press is central in all of this, consciously or subconsciously, and I show how this works using examples.  

Steve would like readers to think that my criticism of the media's failures has something to do with being "blind" to the Palestinians, and wrote (incorrectly) that I had not once referred to the occupation of the West Bank in my article. In fact I had (he later corrected that detail), and I also wrote that the settlements are "destructive" and a "serious moral and strategic error on Israel's part," which doesn't leave much room to err about my politics. The reason I don't dwell on the occupation is not because I'm unaware of it, but because my essay is about the media, not the occupation. It's also worth pointing out here that the only serious settlement-related investigation published by the AP's Jerusalem bureau during Steve's tenure, an article very critical of Israeli actions, was written by me. I'm proud of it.

Most strikingly, Steve is happy not only to confirm the media's obsession with Jews but to endorse it. If he thinks there's any journalistic problem in a news organization covering Israel more than China or the Congo, he doesn't say so. He thinks, in fact, that Jews—the "people of the Bible," or perhaps the "persecuted who became persecutors"—are really, really interesting. His piece is, in other words, a confirmation of my argument mistaking itself for a rebuttal. 

As for two of the most serious incidents I mentioned, a careful reader will note that Steve concedes them. Both have ramifications beyond the specifics of this story. 

1. To the best of my knowledge, no major news organization has publicly admitted censoring its own coverage under pressure from Hamas. A New York Times correspondent recently said this idea was "nonsense." Responding to an Israeli reporter asking about my essay, the AP said my "assertions challenging the independence of AP's Mideast news report in recent years are without merit." But the AP's former Jerusalem bureau chief just explicitly admitted it. He confirms my report of a key detail removed from a story during the 2008-2009 fighting—that Hamas men were indistinguishable from civilians—because of a threat to our reporter, a Gaza Palestinian. 

He goes even further than I did, saying printing the reporter's original information would have meant "jeopardizing his life." The censored information in this case is no minor matter, but the explanation behind many of the civilian fatalities for which much of the world (including the AP) blamed Israel. Steve writes that such incidents actually happened "two or three times" during his tenure. It should be clear to a reader that even once is quite enough in order for a reporter living under Hamas rule to fall permanently in line. This means that AP's Gaza coverage is shaped in large part by Hamas, which is something important that insiders know but readers don't. 

I'm not saying the decision to strike the information was wrong—no information is worth the life of a reporter. But I am saying that the failure to get it out some other way, or to warn readers that their news is being dictated by Hamas, is a major ethical shortcoming with obvious ramifications for the credibility of everyone involved. The AP should address this publicly, and all news organizations working here need to be open about this now.

2. I wrote that in early 2009 the bureau wouldn't touch an important news story, a report of a peace proposal from the Israeli prime minister to the Palestinian president. This decision was indefensible on journalistic grounds. A careful reader will notice that Steve does not deny this. He can't, because too many people saw it happen, and a journalist as experienced as Steve might assume, correctly, that at least some of them vetted my account before it was published. He merely quibbles with a marginal detail—the nature of a map that one of the reporters saw. I repeat what I wrote: Two experienced AP reporters had information adding up to a major news story, one with the power to throw the Israeli-Palestinian relationship into a different light. Israelis confirmed it, and Palestinians confirmed it. The information was solid, and indeed later appeared in Newsweek and elsewhere. The AP did not touch this story, and others, in order to maintain its narrative of Israeli extremism and Palestinian moderation.

Failing to report bad things that Hamas does, and good things that Israel does, which is what these examples show, creates the villainous "Israel" of the international press. That these failures mislead news consumers is clear. But they also have a role in generating recent events like a mob attack on a Paris synagogue, for example, or the current 30-year-high in anti-Jewish incidents in Britain. There are several causes behind such phenomena, and editorial decisions like these are among them. But this is one subject about which the AP bureau chief, for all of his Jewish ruminations, has nothing to say. The press corps is obviously not "teeming with anti-Semitism." But neither is it teeming with responsibility or introspection, and the kind of thinking that has taken hold there should have all of us deeply concerned.

See the article online here: http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/184707/ongoing-controversy-around-the-most-important-story-on-earth

See the original story 'The Most Important Story on Earth' here: : An Insider's Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth

Related: Former AP Bureau Chief Responds to Article About Israel Coverage


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