United States Of America Discussion

The USA only emerged as a world power during the 20th century, and only manifestly managed to outperform the UK after WWII. At that time, the USA was hardly the only country that had this separation between Church and State (e.g. the Netherlands has had it since our first constitution in 1815).

The separation of church and state in the US is stronger rhetorically than in practice. Compare, for example, to Canada.


The English Influence

The English language was also presumably a help, given the success of the British Empire in making it an international standard for trade and the academic world. There were also vast untapped natural resources. These were also present in Russia and what enabled the growth of the "Red Tiger" after the Bolshevik revolution (the Czar having followed a deliberate policy of de-industrialization). The US was outperforming the UK economically by then.

By some measures (rate of growth in industrial output, for instance) the US had been outperforming the UK economically since the US Civil War or shortly thereafter. It has certainly outperformed it continuously by any reasonable measure (possibly excepting part of the 1930s - the Depression was somewhat more severe in the US than the UK) since the beginning of World War I. Undoubtedly the US' lesser exposure to WWI and WWII helped the US leapfrog the UK, but things were already moving in that direction before WWI.

The output of the UK was highly dependent on the UK maintaining its empire. As the empire started to fall away, the decline of the UK (in terms of production) was a foregone conclusion)


Melting Pot and Cultural Diversity

Another important factor is the concept of the "MeltingPot" whereby formation of a MonolithicCulturalBlock through ethnic assimilation leaves the US free of the fractious ethnic strife that has so crippled other countries, eg: USSR, Yugoslavia, Israel, Canada. Other countries that benefit from being a MonolithicCulturalBlock would include: China, France, Germany, Russia. Countries heading for ethnic trouble: India.

Germany of course is not a MonolithicCulturalBlock. Germany has got 82 million inhabitants. 91 percent of them have got the German citizenship. Another 7 million of them have a so called "migration background", which means that they immigrated to Germany during the last 50 years. Major groups of them are Turkish and Russian people. Many of them have bad education and cannot speak the German language very well. The separation of Germany into two states until the 90's, a wall going through our own country (!) separating people, have made two different cultures and it is very difficult to bring all these people together again. I would never say that Germany was a MonolithicCulturalBlock!

If only this were true! In reality, the USA has a dozen different cultural groups. They're just not "ethnic" groups.

The "MeltingPot" theory is, in many ways, hogwash anyways. Many immigrants to the US still keep their cultural identities to some extent (generally, their choice). There are many places where you find second- and third- generation families still speaking the "old country" language at home. Of course, immigrants can choose to assimilate if they want, and many do.

[The biggest barrier to a true 'melting pot' has probably been bigotry and racism; there is still a glass ceiling for immigrants in a lot of contexts, which hardly promotes full assimilation.]

[[IMO one aspect which reduces ethnic friction is that the vast majority of US immigrants are here by choice. This means ethnic rivalries are put aside as many immigrants have similar goals and aspirations. Not that there is no racism, but there is an environment where at least truces are in place.]]
Democracy and Secularism

In practice, neither the representational democracy (not truly representational, and far too much corporate power to be truly democratic) nor the separation of church and state (just try to propose an atheistic presidential candidate) are true.

Unfortunately, the US does not in practice, have separation of church and state. It certainly isn't as tightly coupled as many places, but it is much, much less separate in practice than say, Canada, UnitedKingdom, Australia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, hell every last industrialized county. Many of these have state churches and yet enforce a much stricter separation of state and church than the USA.

[The notion of "separation of church and state" in the US has traditionally been more a notion of government neutrality rather than secularism; though this pendulum has swung both ways in recent years. In the past several decades, the notion has been advanced that government must be avowedly "secular" - that any religious trappings in the body politic must be eradicated. This has resulted in many legal decisions widely derided as contemptible. Now, the pendulum seems to be swinging the other way, with various religious factions attempting to use the backlash to their advantage.]

[Another way of putting it is that is that separation of church and state is intended to protect the church from the state (and from other churches seeking to impose their will); not to protect the state from religion]

[Compare this to France, which recently banned the wearing of headscarves in certain public places - and this was viewed by many French as a positive development, though certainly controversial. In some cases, this may be attributed to dislike of Islam; in many other cases, though, there seems to be a belief that religion has no place in public life - it should be kept in the home and in the house of worship.]

[A question. Are the wearing of crucifixes and other trappings of Christianity also discouraged in public places in France?]

To some extent, I believe the answer is yes. Please note that Turkey, a Muslim state, also bans the public wearing of headscarves. Please also correct me if I'm wrong. Only in schools: http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/1213.

if i recall corectly the french law that banned headscarfs in schools also banned other religious symbols (otherwise it would probably break european law) French muslims appeared to be the only religios group that opposed this law, at least as far as the UK media portrayed it.

It is currently one of the more democratic nations, but becoming less so. Well, compared to Argentina, Chile, and South Africa, the USA is certainly democratic. Compared to France, Germany, and Sweden, it certainly is not. But this assumes we distinguish between democracy and electioneering.

The Netherlands have led Europe in a number of important ways, not least in religious freedom.

Three other major factors observable in the UnitedStatesOfAmerica, in order of importance are:
 dynamism derived from openness to immigration from the "poor and outcasts" from everywhere else 
 economic freedom 
 political freedom 

All of these are partly derived from and crucially impacted by religious freedom and the clear separation of church and state. This doesn't mean that the USA has economic or political freedom anymore than it has any practical separation of church and state; it just means that if it lacks one, it also lacks the other. See CorporateGovernment.

"openness to immigration from the 'poor and outcasts' from everywhere else"? Relative to which other first world country? Recently, there is protest in Beijing from students who complained that the US embassy is being unreasonably strict when issuing student visas, refusing to issue one if they think the student might decided to stay in US afterwards. Anyone in China and HongKong (and probably elsewhere in Asia, not exactly 'poor and outcasts' countries) trying to get a visa to the US can attest that the primary concern when issuing the visa is whether you might decide to stay in the US. That can hardly be called "open".

If the gates were suddenly thrown open in all countries in the world to unrestricted immigration, who would go where, and how many hundreds of millions would choose what country? What would be the place to which they would go? South America? Japan, China? Australia? Great Britain? France? Germany? Poland? Russia? Finland? Norway? Italy? Spain? Greece? Israel?, Iraq? Iran? Egypt? South Africa? or perhaps the UnitedStatesOfAmerica? And perhaps more revealing, what country would they leave? If you would construct a ratio, People Arriving /Divided By People Leaving, which of the above mentioned countries would have numbers greater than one, and which country would have the largest number? Would that tell you anything about how people really feel about that country? Be truthful and honest in your answers.

If angels can dance on the top of a pin, how many angels can fit on a single pin? Be truthful and honest in your answers. </sarcasm> Care to explain how a hypothetical situation explains an assertion that is plainly contradicted by fact? How can a country that mandates taking fingerprints of visitors be called "open"? How can a country that actively blocks poor immigrants (not to mention 'outcasts') be called to have "openness to immigration from the 'poor and outcasts' from everywhere else"? How about comparing the number of 'poor and outcasts' immigrants in relation to total number of immigrants http://www.visa2003.com/immigration/stat2002.htm, or in relation to total population, among different first world countries instead of cooking up hypothetical questions?
Carrying European Concepts in a New World

Under the banner of manifest destiny, the new government and its citizens marched across the North American continent claiming, and defending to death, property rights for all they encountered. This is one of the true black marks in US history, and does not receive the attention it deserves. This is one of the strong arguments that, even so early in its history, for all the talk of building a new system, the US society was as ethically bankrupt as anything it was trying to replace.

While certainly not something to be proud of, Americans didn't invent the concept of killing, oppressing, and subjugating others. In fact, the mindset that allowed such atrocities and moral outrages to occur came from thinking that was decidedly European. That makes America a nation of copycats who took some of the worst (and best) traditions from their homelands to the "new world." So before Europeans (and others) with impeccably clean hands point to American excess, they might want to review their own histories a bit more carefully.

The important thing is that no sooner had people declared that things would be done differently here, than they reneged on it. We made laws that should have prevented the whole 'manifest destiny' idiocy. When those laws were inconvenient, we broke them. We sent regular armed forces to murder unarmed women and children. And we don't talk about it in our schools. If children in the U.S. had a better idea of the real history of occupation, they would have a much more realistic idea about what the U.S. is about. We tend to make a lot of noise about the principles that the founding fathers are supposed to stand for, but even in their time we didn't live up to them.

[Depends on where you went to school. Where I went to school, the manner in which the "west was won" certainly wasn't glossed over or whitewashed - the fact that nasty things were done to indigenous peoples was covered with quite a bit of frankness. Perhaps some of the gorier details were left out of the curriculum, but it certainly wasn't a "rah rah white settlers" lesson]


Religious and Ethnic Persecution

Founded by religious fanatics fleeing other religious fanatics, for example, St Barts Massacre[http://www.campus.northpark.edu/history/WebChron/WestEurope/StBart.html]. Also founded by convicts from debtors prison and the English Enclosure movement. Also minor English nobility, looking to make a quick fortunes in tobacco, rice and indigo, used them as slaves till they found a less unruly bunch in Africa. So you got Brits fleeing Brit domination, Scots fleeing Brit domination, Irish fleeing Brit domination. Germans fleeing the German draft. Jews fleeing Spanish Catholics.

Blaming one group or ideology is silly. Human nature never changes, just the name of the tribe. Even the native Americans are the result of wave after wave of people from Asia, the South Pacific and possibly even Europe and Africa. They battled over territory and resources and caused extinctions just like the rest of us.

http://www.wwnorton.com/college/history/ralph/workbook/ralprs22b.htm -- enclosure movement http://www.wweek.com/html/cover042298.html -- native American bones (dispute) http://www.americanwest.com/pages/indians.htm -- more on native Americans http://www.he.net/~archaeol/9907/abstracts/books.html -- extinctions

This recognition of an unchanging human nature captures it. Do others from other nations really believe that their histories are entirely factual? Their wars were/are always good? Their government is particularly enlightened? Can you honestly say that the US is somehow worse in any of these respects, let alone all? As for westward expansion, we bought the Louisiana Purchase from France, but was it theirs to sell? Stole most of the southwest from Spain/Mexico, but was it ever really Spanish? Bought Alaska from the Russians, who rightfully owned it how? And for that matter, stole the colonies from the British who did the initial stealing from the natives. What is actually at work here is a European mindset of dominance/noblese oblige (though every other race/culture is equally guilty whenever they can get away with it) which we clearly inherited. Let's not forget that the Pope once divided the world between Spain and Portugal just to get some religion into the mix. The only appreciable difference between the US and the rest of our European brethren (the rest of the world for that matter) is that for reasons of sheer scale our government's stupidity carries more weight.

Of course, Americans didn't invent the concept of oppression, but also, not all instances of oppression in history are of equal magnitude. Do modern Europeans deny that imperialism was a bad thing, or gloss it over in their textbooks? Many Americans are shocked by the suggestion that their forefathers committed such misdeeds, and you will be hard-pressed to find the Spanish-American war in your average treatment of American history. While most countries have abused power when the opportunity has been given to them, there are widely varying degrees of abuse to look at.

Not all persecuted people are as bad as their persecutors. Value judgments, however unfashionable, are the very essence of history. Mennonites, Amish, Puritans, Huguenots, Sephardic Jews, Moravians - these groups were never identical and would indeed have emphasized their differences. Even more important, individuals within any label can be fanatics either for power or for love and service. Without the influence of the latter, the story of Thanksgiving Day would not be part of American history, and the States most unlikely ever to have been United.

And yet the American Revolution was preferable to the terrors of the French and even the Civil War was fought for a worthy cause with a leader like Lincoln who, despite his faults, looks distinctly preferable to the likes of Lenin and Mao, who also fought victorious civil wars in their countries. Could this have been because, despite or behind the "fairy tales" there may have been some genuine influences for good?

When the loyalists and Iroquois get a say in the history books, it starts to look a little bit blacker...

Hard to see any worthy cause bound up in slavery. It's also hard to see any worthy causes in the near annihilation of Native Americans.

Lincoln was influenced by the correspondence he received (to which he responded and asked questions) from Charles Finney, Christian evangelist and founder of Oberlin College, the first not to discriminate against blacks or women in the States. This isn't to justify all of Lincoln's actions (or Finney's come to that) but to point out that without such influences things could have turned out a whole lot worse.


Foreign views of the USA

In an interview on BBC Radio 5, a US tourist felt that (paraphrased) 'we've turned the other cheek in the past, but now I think that will change'. The interviewer commented that that is not how the rest of the world sees US foreign policy. Reaction to terrorist atrocities and foreign aggression is seen by others as swift, violent and unthinking.

Most Europeans and Asians feel that US foreign policy is defined by 'biggest-bully-in-the-schoolyard'. Many Americans believe this as well, they just euphemize it as "realpolitik" or "international geopolitics".

US actions are far from turning the other cheek. George W Bush has made it clear that he will break international treaties where it suits America, but enforce trading rules on other countries when it suits him. He has entered many negotiations with the attitude "we have already made up our mind - and we are more powerful than you so we will do what we want anyway".

I think part of the problem is that other countries will say one thing and do another. Bush tells the world ahead of time he is going to go down a different path. For example, other countries sign on to Kyoto Agreement and then simply don't follow through. However, the US rejected it up front. Perhaps part of the problem is lack of international PR skills.

The US is highly partisan, it supports Israel in blowing up Palestinian government buildings "because their police are not arresting terrorists", yet would not support the UK bombing Dublin for the same reason.

Consistency is difficult in foreign policy. Every country and culture and situation is different. If you write down rules in stone, exceptions will pop up and teach you a lesson. If you are too flexible, inconsistencies show up. I think the US is under a bigger microscope than other nations. France and Russia's back-door support for Saddam is very shameful also, but nearly forgotten by the rest of the world.

The US build up regimes in the world as ever it suits to them. They built "bulwarks against Communism" by pushing up military dictators they now have to defeat. This is not foreign policy, this is a small child just thinking on today and not on the future.


Freedom Loving People

In spite of all of its faults, blunders, and mistakes, The UnitedStatesOfAmerica still has a majority of citizens who would like to make their realized dream of freedom come true, for all those who live within and outside its borders ...

... on those off-days when the US government, with full support from the US population, is not busy protecting itself from "the enemy within" (communists, pot-smokers and terrorists), or destroying defenseless third-world nations (the list would merit a page of its own).

It can be fairly said that most Americans are sentimental about Freedom. Jung derided sentimentality as "unfelt feeling". It's as deep as Danielle Steele and as authentic as wood paneling in a trailer park; sentimentality is the strip mall of emotions. Dostoyevsky put it best when he famously described the four Karamozov brothers' poisonous father: "He was sentimental. He was wicked and sentimental."

If Americans were actually passionate about freedom and justice, they would not be so eager to excuse their abandonment of it. People in the UnitedStatesOfAmerica have not abandoned freedom, they practice and experience it. So you claim. In reality, the USA is turning into a police state. And that's assuming you don't consider it to have been a police state to begin with. In the future, if you're going to claim that Americans appreciate or experience freedom, please make specific claims. I purposely used the word people instead of Americans, because those who visit us may experience this same freedom. People who visit may experience it for the duration of their visit.

Superficial and practically meaningless; tourist traps are not RealLife. And conveniently excludes those foreigners who get shot and killed by Americans. Did they also experience the much vaunted freedom of the USA?

Foreigners who visit the UnitedStatesOfAmerica do not visit for RealLife, they come here to see and experience what they have been hearing about, and fortunately only a few get shot and killed by criminals, not to mention being robbed or being overcharged because the cabby didn't start the meter, or having their credit cards lifted by a sleight of hand con man, and so on. I visited Europe, Canada and Mexico and found that such actions happened, or almost happened to me. Criminals exist in every country. I did not hold the country responsible and charge that the population supported such activity. That would be ridiculous.

On the contrary, some countries are notorious for their widespread theft and insecurity. Hungary and the Congo come immediately to mind.

But that's irrelevant. Even if tourists did experience "freedom" in the USA, it would only be the freedoms of tourists, those superficial freedoms which are comparatively insignificant to anything that really matters.

The US founders supported slavery. Let's try to stay realistic here.

There seems to be no expectation or desire by Americans that America should not act in ways which remove freedom from people outside the US borders. That does not seem to be current policy, nor seem to be what most modern-day Americans want.

Most Americans, I suspect, when asked, would agree with that. I.e. Upon asking an 'average' American, 'Should and does America restrict the freedom of people in other countries?', you'd be met by the responses, 'No, and no'. However, are these responses borne out by the facts?

Following 9/11, the following article provides food for thought:

Consider the attitude of the US administration (and thus, by extension, that of the US citizens) to the International Criminal Court. Why would/should the US administration be concerned about such a court, which would hold accountable individuals responsible for breaching human rights?

The US is also coercing other countries, in efforts to lessen the powers of the ICC.

When considering this, it is worth remembering that the United States was found guilty by the World Court of illegal use of force against Nicaragua.

They subsequently vetoed a UN resolution calling upon all states (really aimed at the US) to observe international law. And escalated their use of force in Nicaragua.

The above are only small examples of the kinds of things done by US governments in the name of US citizens. Yet: 'There seems to be no expectation or desire by Americans that America should not act in ways which remove freedom from people outside the US borders. That does not seem to be current policy, nor seem to be what most modern-day Americans want.'

(Other well documented examples are plentiful. As (randomly chosen) starting points, consider:


Uniqueness of the USA

As for caring about anything beyond US borders, the US population is far too insular, arrogant, xenophobic and quite simply alien to the rest of the planet (US cultural and political reality has no commonality with any other country on Earth) to attach any significance to the experiences, lives, goals or dreams of foreigners. So while some Americans (much like some South Africans) believe in freedom for all within and outside their borders, they constitute a small minority.

US culture has no commonality with any other country on Earth? We are the only country in which people get married? There are no Jews or Catholics in any other country? Only Americans Speak English? Only Americans watch Monty Python? Eat Sushi? Perhaps that statement is incorrect. And perhaps it's not. Because just perhaps Sushi and Monty Python amount to zero.

How much culture does the UnitedStatesOfAmerica share with Third World countries? Not marriage (by which we mean a union which can be ended by divorce), not sex, and sometimes not even kissing. For example, it is taboo in Western Africa for a married couple to kiss in public. So food? No. Religion? Heavens no!

How much politics does the USA share with the Third World? Does it have to worry about a foreign country assassinating its chosen officials? Does it have to worry about an obscenely fat and powerful country dictating social and economic terms under the threat of military invasion?

How much culture does the USA share with the First World? What other industrialized country out there has a broad and politically important faction of religious fundamentalists? What other First World country out there doesn't accept the principle of universality in health care? What other First World country out there mixes prudery and exploitation in its attitude to sex? What other First World country looks on violence more favourably than sex? These are traits of Third World countries.

How much political reality does the USA share with any First World country? There is no country that dismisses and loathes communism and socialism the way that the USA does. In some First World countries, they're still considered respectable and worthwhile. In the former Communist countries, communism is looking better all the time! (People there distinguish between old Communist bosses and young communist ideologues.)
English? Americans have their own particular version of English. Such seemingly universal words as "freedom" and "democracy" have unique meanings in the USA which would only be understood as "corporate power" and "elections" elsewhere.

The USA is a unique blend of Third World mentality and First World wealth and power.

Out of curiosity, what happened to it, that it went down such a unique path?

It was constructed that way. Recall that half the USA was slave-owning states at one time.


Some similarities to other countries

In the list above, the only country that is similar to the USA is JapanCountry?. Excepting the USA, Japan is the only First World nation that still has the death penalty, whose population watches an obscene amount of television, and censors sex more than violence in the media. It's also the only country, excepting the USA, so authoritarian that communism and anarchism are unknown as political ideologies. But Japan was essentially a primitive feudal society until very recently. It would have stayed a primitive feudal society if not for forcible outside intervention. And still Japan is not the same as the USA; it's a completely different blend of Third World mentality and First World wealth and power.


Tangential argument moved to LearningKillsOptimismDiscussion.


Inherent Difficulties

The powers in control of American society have a great vested interest in _not_ fixing the problems inherent in our country. This can make any large-scale solutions difficult, to say the least. Workable solutions have been proposed before, and suppressed by the existing political structure, or abandoned due to their perceived difficulty. And in recent times, it seems like power has been concentrated in the hands of even fewer individuals, making any reforms even harder to achieve.
Where to start

But maybe if we start with the LowHangingFruit, we can make progress bit by bit. Volunteer at a campaign headquarters, or at a homeless shelter. Invest in a fund or credit union that provides fair loans to lower-income people, so they can pursue the American dream. Use your legal training to help those who need representation but cannot afford it, or your accounting skills to help people in your community receive the Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC). '(But HowCanProgrammersHelp?)'
Ideals and Dreams Expressed in Documents and Images can be realized by working together for the common good.

It might not seem like much, but imagine if everyone did their best to contribute something. Then we might be a few steps closer to realizing the ideals of freedom, hope, and equality set forth in our sacred documents - the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

In the harbor of the largest city in the UnitedStatesOfAmerica stands the gift of a great European Nation (France) which expresses a deeply held passion and belief regarding freedom and the hope of those who have come here in the past and probably over 100 million or more who may come to its shores and receive welcome and freedom during the first part of the 21st century. But this is not the solution. Freedom, a universal desire, can become a global reality, the dreams, symbolized by those who looked forward in our founding times and which found expression in our governing documents and national symbols, can be realized on other shores, if those who there abide can also look to their future with hope and without fear and realize that they can work together to realize that common dream. Only when nations work within toward love, peace and freedom can there be the same between them. It is only when we say goodbye to hatred, violence, distrust, division and narrow political concerns that we can begin the heal the ills within and thereby heal the ills between nations.

Much of the above assumes that the UnitedStates is unique in having among its populace a large number of jingoistic, xenophobic twits. No, just that the UnitedStates is unique in that the jingoistic xenophobic twits are in charge. [That doesn't make us unique, either. While GeorgeBush certainly fits the description; he's not alone in the world. I think that JacquesChirac?, for instance, is both a jingoistic twit (though less so than some other French politicians) and a crass political opportunist to boot. Were the French populace to support the WarInIraq?, it says here that Chirac would be waving the bloody shirt as loudly as anyone. That doesn't mean that I dislike France, however.]

[It seems to me that many of the neo-conservative concentrations around the world use at least one jingoistic xenophobic twit leader type.]

[What makes us unique is the political, economic, and military power the US has; and the frequency with which the currently-in-charge jingoistic twits choose to wield it.]

One could say that the objective of wielding power is more interesting than the frequency.

While the US certainly does have more than its fair share - one finds jingoistic, xenophobic twits wherever one travels.

Including WesternEurope?, which (much like the UnitedStates) likes to see itself as the worldwide beacon of TruthAndEnlightenment?. (More accurately, many in WesternEurope? like to see themselves this way - I don't want to tar the whole continent with this particular brush).

At any rate, much of the stuff on this page is hysterical, second-rate, pseudo-intellectual garbage (itself highly xenophobic to boot), cut from the same cloth as many of the insular attitudes some Americans are known to hold towards the RestOfTheWorld? (in particular, the MiddleEast?). In other words, penned by folks with only a superficial understanding of the US, extrapolating the worst of our attributes onto the whole of the populace, or at least the majority.

And containing a kernel of truth at the core - but surrounded by so much fertilizer that the kernel has no hope whatsoever of bearing any fruit.


America's greatest tragedy is that it has no real foreign neighbors other than Canada and Mexico (and you could argue that those really do not count :).

It is not forced to deal with RealPolitik? like other nations often must.

While we don't have to deal with foreign armies massing on the border, we have numerous neighbors besides Canada and Mexico; including one rather unfriendly one. These neighbors don't share a land border with the US, but they are definitely nearby.... among them are Cuba, Bahamas, Bermuda, the Dominican Republic, etc.

A moat makes a HUGE difference. As I said, it allows the US to be isolated and not engaged with its neighbors. In Europe in places you can get in a car, and cross a border and have to deal with different language, culture and philosophy. Mexico does not count as it is too dominated by the US; the US essentially has suzerain over Mexico in a lot of ways. Canada is mostly like 'US lite'. The problem is that only a small number of US residents even leave the us, and most of those do so while in the military (and most overseas bases and communities around them are not at all like the rest of the host nation). So the US both does not have the information needed or the necessity of having to deal with foreign nations as other nations do. That is the real tragedy of the nation and will eventually harm it badly (if it hasn't already).

Oh, yes, come on in, the water's fine! I'm so glad that civilization was able to rescue Bhutan from its "isolation" from the finer things in life, resulting in something they didn't even have a word for: violence. We need to make sure that nations that are unfortunate enough to suffer geographic isolation are "helped" to "integrate" with the finer trappings of civilized society.


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