JULY 2020

JULY   2020
Everything Old Is New Again!


Saturday, July 07, 2018

VICKSBURG Chapter Seventy – Four

Shortly after the battle of Plains Store, Lieutenant Colonel James Francis O'Brien sought to rally his hometown of Charlestown, Massachusetts to the suddenly unnerving cause of freedom. He began by denouncing the rebellion, “ which has caused thousands of our citizens to fill bloody graves.” And he had no doubt as to the cause of all this misery, identifying it as “the noxious institution of slavery”. 
However,  many in the north felt that fighting to defend the Union of the States was one thing, while fighting to free black skinned men, women and children was something else. The Irish in Boston were at the bottom of America's economic ladder, and saw ex-slaves as competition. But O'Brien wanted his fellow citizens to see the connection between their lives and freedom and the freedom of others.
He wrote, “Slave labor feeds our enemy in the field, digs his ditches, and builds his fortifications. Every slave liberated by our arms is a diminishment of rebel power. Every slave who wields a spade or musket in our cause is so much added to our strength.” Then James went further. “Now ...our blood is up, our armor is buckled on, the shield and sword are in our hands, and we are ready to stand on the blood sprinkled fields of our ancestors and swear in the presence of high heaven that this Union in which the happiness of unborn millions reposes, shall live.” In that one breathless appeal, an Irish immigrant had seen the yet unborn of African ancestry joined with the yet unborn of Irish descent as partners in any future America.
At 2:00 a.m., on Friday, 22 May, 1863, the men of 34 year old Brigadier General Cuvier Grover's division began landing at Bayou Sara. Often sited for bravery - he had even led a bayonet attack against “Stonewall” Jackson at Seven Pines – Grover was a courageous and smart commander. And he did not let a driving rain storm prevent his 4th division from securing the crossings of Thompson's Creek before nightfall and meeting up with Yankee cavalry.  Immediately behind came the 3rd Division of 37 year old curly haired Wisconsin lawyer, Brigadier General Halbert Eleazer Paine.
Also landing at Bayou Sara were 6 regiments of the Corps D'Afrique and the 4 regiments of the “Native Guards”, under 53 year old New York lawyer, Brigadier General Daniel Ullman (above). 
Ulman had approached Lincoln a year earlier, and urged him to allow black men to fight for their own freedom.  And now he was leading almost 5,000 of them into battle. The war was about to change in a very fundamental way.
Inside the trenches of Vicksburg, staunch rebel Emma Balfour was learning to face the transition into this new world. “If you see a shell burst above you,” she told her diary, “stand still, unless it is very high; if it be the sound of a Parrot, the shot has passed before you heard it...” 
She thought the Yankees lacked respect for the rebels, alleging they were firing at the city, “...thinking that they will wear out the women and children and sick, and Gen. Pemberton will be forced to surrender the place on that account, but they little know the spirit of Vicksburg’s women and children if they expect this. Rather than let them know they are causing us any suffering we would be content to suffer martyrdom.”
But Brigadier General William Tecumseh Sherman, facing the extreme right of the Vicksburg defenses, had something more aggressive in mind. Two rebel cannon threatened his sappers trying to dig an outflanking trench south of Mint Spring Bayou,  at the extreme end of the rebel line.  
Because of the swampy ground in the area, he could not place his own artillery to suppress their fire. He asked 59 year old Admiral David Dixon Porter for the use of a single ironclad boat to knock out the offending battery.
The problem, from Admiral Porter's viewpoint, was that any gunboat sent to deal with these two guns would have to pass within range of the Upper Water Battery, at the foot of Fort Hill – three 32 pound rifled cannons, one 32 pound smooth-bore cannon and a single 10” Columbiad. There was no ship in Porter's brown water navy which could stand up to that kind of point blank fire power in daylight. And the gunboat had to come down in daylight, and hug the eastern bank, to hit the 2 offending rebel guns. In short it was damn near suicidal. Still, Porter had never yet turned down a request for help from the army, and he had no intention of starting now.
Porter chose the USS Cincinnati  for the mission - a 512 ton, 175 feet long stern wheel ironclad, with a crew of 251 officers and men. She had just arrived from Cairo, having been rebuilt after being sunk in May of 1862, at Fort Pillow. And she was now steaming under the command of a great-great-grandson of Ben Franklin, 21 year old Lieutenant George Mifflin Bache, Jr. (above) 
The Cincinnati (above) could make 4 knots on her own, and steaming with the current south around the Desoto promontory she would be making almost 7 or 8 knots relative to the shore batteries, which gave her at least a chance of getting her four 32 pound port side rifles close enough to silence the offending cannon. In preparation they covered her deck in layers of green wood, and stacked hay around her boiler, intending to soak it in river water just before setting out.
And then the Cincinnati had a stroke of luck. Observers on the western shore reported that the guns of the Water Battery had disappeared. At least one was seen being manhandled out of the battery, so presumably they had all been shifted to strengthen the landward defenses. Lieutenant Bache was told his odds of surviving the mission had just improved substantially. Except they hadn't. Only 1 gun, the smooth-bore 32 pounder, had been moved. The other three 32 pound rifled cannon and the big Columbiad were still there, sitting low on their carriages and no longer visible from the western shore.
Leaving the guns recessed was the idea of battery commander, 20 year old baby faced Captain William Pratt “Buck” Parks (above), out of Little Rock, Arkansas. If he had not been plagued with reoccurring bouts of illness, “Buck” might have become a major by now. After his latest absence he was returned to duty as a quartermaster, and might have been at least partially responsible for the great Vicksburg pea bread disaster. Clearly his skill was as a line officer, which he displayed after being abruptly transferred to the Arkansas Battery, aka the Upper Water Battery.
On Tuesday, 26 May, 1863, the attentive Captain Parks read a coded message being flashed via Yankee semaphore flags down the west bank of the Mississippi. And he broke the code. A federal ironclad gun boat was coming down tomorrow morning to knock out two guns on the extreme right flank of the rebel line. Overnight Parks added piles of cut brush to camouflage the now raised guns. Amazingly not a single Yankee noticed, or if they did, did not bother to notify the Cincinnati.
At about 8:30 a.m., Wednesday, 27 May, 1863, the USS Cincinnati steamed around the tip of the DeSoto peninsula. Less than thirty minutes later it was all over. The first round fired by Park's guns was a 32 pound shot, at point blank range. It blasted through the Cincinnati's 2 ½ inch sloping armor like paper, plowed through the gun deck, penetrated the magazine and passed through the keel, breaking the gunboat's back. 
As the Mississippi began flooding into the ship, the second rebel shot sliced her tiller ropes, damaging her steering. The third shell passed through the pilot house, killing the helmsman and injuring several men next to him. Lieutenant Bache took the wheel. Standing now in the center of a sudden hell, he wrote, The enemy fired rapidly, and from all their batteries... hitting us almost every time. We were especially annoyed by plunging shots...(which) went entirely through our protection hay, woods, and iron. “
According to the correspondent for Harper's Weekly, “She went gallantly into action...and blazed away at the rebel batteries,.” But with a barrage of rifled shells cutting through the armor, Bache turned the Cincinnati back up stream. This immediately cut the ironclad's speed to a mere knot against the current, leaving her a sitting duck. “I ran her upstream,” Bache reported, “and as near the right-hand shore as our damaged steering apparatus would permit...we ran close in, got out a plank, and put the wounded ashore. We also got a hawser out to make fast to a tree to hold her until she sunk.”
In his report to Admiral Porter, Bach figured “...about 15 (men) were drowned and about 25 killed and wounded, and 1 probably taken prisoner.” The good news, according to the Lieutenant, was that, “ The boat sank in about 3 fathoms of water, lies level, and can easily be raised....” Also, “The vessel went down with her colors nailed to the mast, or rather the stump of one, all three having been shot away. Our fire until the magazine was drowned, was good, and I am satisfied did damage.”
The truth was the Cincinnati barely fired a round, and hit nothing. So after gambling a $90,000 vessel ($25 million in today's dollars), and a crew of 250 men, the government of the United States lost the boat and 50 men, and gained nothing except making it clear again to their enemy they would spare no expense in wealth or life to capture Vicksburg and destroy the rebellion.
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Friday, July 06, 2018


I think everybody liked Robert Williamson Steele.  Every one who knew him spoke of him in glowing terms; he was genial, honest, an entrepreneur, a good neighbor and a true friend. Maybe he was a little distracted by his pursuit of money, but that's no sin in America. Then, in 1860, with the Civil War building to a roiling boil, “J.W.” presented the Federal government with a ready-made, right-out-of-the-box, pro-federal union state, to smooth passage of the gold rich Colorado territory into the federal union.  And his fellow politicians turned him down flat. For some reason they just didn't trust “JW”. And that was only partly because he was a Democrat.
See, in the 1850's there were only two kinds of Democrats, southerners willing to go to war to protect slavery and northerners who were willing to make any compromise to keep southern Democrats happy. The leader of the latter group was Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, who shepherded the Compromise of 1850 through Congress - protecting slavery but keeping it south of the Kansas border. And then four years later Douglas flip-flopped with his Kansas-Nebraska act, which let the locals decide the issue of slavery. His spin was “Let the people rule”, but the effect was to allow slavery supporters to drag their grievances north, across the Kansas border, where they barged into abolitionists. This intimate mixing of political ideologies set off “Bleeding Kansas” where neighbors like John Brown began settling political arguments by literally beheading their opponents. That was the real start of the American Civil War; not at Fort Sumter in 1861, but in Kansas in 1855. And, surprisingly, if anybody had taken notice, a practical solution to the political anarchy unleashed by Senator Douglas had already appeared,  in July of 1858.
William Greenberry Russell was a Georgia peach who was a “49'er”.  He had been fairly successful in the California gold fields, running other people's claims.  But he really struck gold with his in-laws. His wife, Susan Willis Russel, was 1/8 Cherokee, and that side of her family had been forced marched across the Mississippi River in the infamous Trail of Tears, back when Kansas and Nebraska were supposed to be the new “Indian Territory”- like Indiana before them and Oklahoma afterward. Separate but equal has never worked in America, not for Indians, not for blacks, not for women and not for gays.
Anyway, Susan's Cherokee relatives wrote her about rumors of gold in the Rocky Mountain foothills. Looking to make his own fortune, Russel immediately rushed To Denver.  And one early day in July July day he panned 20 ounces of gold out of Cherry Creek, a tributary of the South Platte River. News of that one day bonanza was like opening a safety valve on an overheated steam engine.  Overnight, violence levels across Kansas dropped as the most adventurous (meaning the most violent) young males packed up all their excess energy and marched 300 miles westward toward the 14,000 foot high Pikes Peak. They weren't actually going to Pike's Peak, but it was the most visible bit of the Rocky mountains as you crossed the rolling prairies; thus “Pike's Peak or Bust”.
Over the first two years of the Pike's Peak gold rush, one hundred thousand abolitionists and pro-slavery men came pouring out of Kansas and Nebraska. You might have expected a repeat of Bleeding Kansas in the gold fields. In 1860 a Kansas newspaper noted that “It is difficult...to walk half a square (mile) in Denver, without meeting some familiar face...” So the “59'ers” were the same folks who had been shooting each other back in Kansas in '58. Oh, they were still shooting each other in the gold fields, just not over slavery. Now it was over failed business deals and cheating at cards. In fact, it seems that all these violent people were suddenly no longer interested in politics. Greed had changed the political ethos, at least in Colorado.
The two largest towns in the region sat right atop the gold fields. One, Auraria, even adopted the Latin word for gold as its name. But the other was named to curry the favor of the governor of Kansas Territory, James W. Denver. See, the gold fields were part of the huge Arapahoe County, Kansas Territory, and the residents of the town of Denver were hoping for win favorable treatment over Auraria.. But by the time the town of Denver had adopted its new name, Governor Denver was out of office, and the toadying to him did them no good. So Denver the town returned the favor. They kept the name, but when the ex-governor visited his namesake, the residents largely ignored him. And that would prove the new reoccurring theme in Colorado politics.
Being ignored by territorial officials in distant Kansas, on 5 September, 1859, the citizens of Denver and Auraria voted to form their own government, which they labeled the Provisional Government of Jefferson Territory. They laid claim to a huge expanse of plains and mountains, almost as big as California or Texas. The genial Robert Williamson Steele, a lawyer out of Chillicothe, Ohio was elected Governor. Not yet forty, his sole qualification was that he was genial and had served a single term in the Nebraska Territorial legislature before catching gold fever. The prickly Pennsylvanian born lawyer, Lucien W. Bliss, was elected Lieutenant Governor. He had sought his fortune in Leavenworth, Kansas, but had moved on to Denver where he helped start the Rocky Mountain News, and a couple of freight lines. And they were typical of pretty much everybody in the the self proclaimed Jefferson Territory.
Everybody in Jefferson who wasn't actually mining gold, was trying anything they could to make money off those who were.  Governor “J.W.” even started a town in the foothills 12 miles west of Denver, which he called Mount Vernon.(He had a Tea Party 'thing' about the founding fathers). He sold town lots, and built toll roads heading to the new mines further up-slope. Lt. Governor Bliss started a couple of freight lines of his own, hauling equipment, food and fuel into the mines, and carrying the ore out. All of the men elected to the Jefferson Territorial legislature were only part time politicians, often business partners with their political allies and enemies. Even the judges appointed had to fit court sessions into their busy schedules - one of them never did show up for work. And Oscar Totten had been elected clerk of the Supreme Court because nobody else wanted the job.
The whole rickety structure survived for only 16 months. You see, most of the residents of Jefferson Territory, like their political leaders, saw themselves as entrepreneurs first. And being businessmen they hated to pay taxes. So, they supported their new government with a one dollar poll tax. But the natural response from all these entrepreneurs when faced with a tax on voting, was to not vote, and thus not pay the tax. This left the Provisional Government of Jefferson Territory on a very shaky financial and political foundation, made worse by the rickety nature of any business on the frontier.
Of the 100,000 who had joined the Pikes Peak gold rush, seven out of ten went bust and headed back home. By 1860, a census of “Jefferson Territory” could find only 25,329, still looking for their Eldorado.   Governor “J.W.” argued that many had gone uncounted because they were working isolated claims up in the hills.  But being isolated, said the census takers, meant they were not interested in being counted, and so, they should not count.  And the evidence was in the ballot box. The vote to create the Provisional Government of Jefferson Territory had been 1,852 to 280 – barely 2,000 participating citizens out of the supposed 25,000 - not what you would call a “popular” election. Certainly Washington didn't call it that.
After their request for recognition had been rebuffed by Washington, in August of 1860 “J.W.” asked Kansas Territory to again absorb Jefferson Territory and its power structure, meaning himself and all those other entrepreneurs. Kansas didn't say no, but they didn't say yes, either. They just waited. In November of 1860, Abraham Lincoln of Illinois won election as President of the United States, sweeping the Republican party into power. They were made stronger when most of the southern Democrats walked out, to form the Confederacy.  On 29 January, 1861, the new Republican Congress voted to admit the state of Kansas into the union, as a free state, sans the territory claimed as Jefferson. One month later, on 26 February, 1861, the Republican congress created the Territory of Colorado, ignoring the Provisional Government of Jefferson Territory to death. A month later the rebels in Charleston, South Carolina opened fire on Fort Sumter, and the civil war began in earnest.
On 3 June, 1861, Stephen Douglas died in Chicago, of typhoid fever. Three days later “J.W.” admitted reality, declaring the Provisional Government of Jefferson Territory disbanded. It had lasted barely 16 months. And even before it was gone, nobody missed it, not even its own leaders. Lt. Governor Lucien Bliss eventually sold his businesses at a profit, and moved on to Montana, where he repeated his success. But Robert Williamson Steele, like most early entrepreneurs in Colorado, was not quite as successful.
His toll roads closed when the mines they served ran out in the early 1860's. His town of Mount Vernon died shortly thereafter. Today, the only thing to mark its existence is an abandoned cemetery and a roadside plaque. “J.W.” fell back on the law to make a living, but he kept prospecting in his spare time.  He lived a long and a productive life, and everybody liked him, right up to his death in Colorado Springs in 1901.
And I suppose if you believed lives can teach lessons, you should remember that genial makes for a good politician, but it ain’t enough to make a viable government - and neither do entrepreneurs. Good government requires shared sacrifice and commitment. And people infected with gold fever aren't interested in sharing anything.
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Thursday, July 05, 2018

SENATOR WETBACK, Anti-immigrant hatred in the 1950's

I prefer to refer to him as Senator Wetback. His real name was Patrick Anthony McCarran, and this bitter xenophobic, contemptuous narcissistic windbag, represented the very worst in the American character. He  preached fear of the future, fear of our enemies,  fear of our friends and even fear of ourselves. It was Pat McCarran who gave the Health Insurance Industry their anti-trust status, allowing them to collude in setting drug prices.  It was Pat McCarran who fed America’s vile dead end phobia of Mexican immigration.  It was Pat McCarran who first used the Senate of the United States to bully and terrorize loyal American citizens. It was Pat McCarran who turned Joe McCarthy’s bungling histrionics into the best weapon the Communists had in the cold war. In short, it was Pat McCarran who was the wellspring of much that poisons American politics to this day.
Pat McCarran was born the same year that George Custer died on the Little Big Horn; 1876. He was raised on an isolated sheep farm outside of Reno, Nevada, 15 miles from his nearest human playmate. He remained an isolationist his entire life. He attended the University of Nevada Law School, but had to drop out when his father was injured. Pat would later pass the bar, studying on his own.
As a new lawyer Pat McCarran made two big mistakes. The first was in 1907 when Nevada Governor John Sparks offered the thirty year old an appointment as a judge. But Pat’s paranoia drove him to reject the appointment. He later admitted ruefully, “That was the first and only appointment that was ever offered to me.”
His second mistake was when he served as counsel in a divorce case, Wingfield v Wingfield. The husband, George Wingfield, was the Democratic political boss who ran Nevada politics. And by representing the wife, Mae Wingfield, Pat McCarran earned the undying enmity of the Nevada Democratic Party leadership. When he tried to run for U.S. Senate as a Democrat in 1908 he was black balled. One party leader noted, “His reputation as a double-crosser is too well established throughout the state.” Twenty years later the black ball still denied him a nomination for a Senate run.
Pat McCarran was finally allowed to run for the for U.S. Senate in 1932, at the age of 56, primarily because nobody else wanted what seemed like a useless nomination. But in the general election this “ rotund man with a double chin, wavy hair and a high-pitched voice, who often says "My hide yearns for the alkali dust and the desert"— was swept into Washington on Franklin Roosevelt’s coat tails. And then proceeded to spit on them.
But the new Junior Senator (left - second row) from Nevada opposed every element of the New Deal. “The innovations of executive power, indulged in by Jackson, promoted by Lincoln, expounded by Garfield, declared righteous by Roosevelt and philosophically promulgated by Wilson, appear to have been but forerunners, rivulets, as it were, contributing to a flood that now sweeps on, submerging the Utopian doctrines and theories of Jefferson and conferring unheard of and unfettered expansion to the executive” That kind of rhetoric got him re-elected in 1938 with 73% of the vote.
Now secure in his seat, McCarran made speech's along side fellow Catholic Charles Lindberg, preaching isolationism. “I think one American boy, the son of an American mother, is worth more than all central Europe.” He condemned Roosevelt’s “secret plan” to push America into WW II, and it was the desperate attempt to justify his prewar opposition to increased military budgets, which gave birth to the conspiracy myths that FDR had purposefully ignored Japanese plans to attack Pearl Harbor. In fact it was McCarran's stinginess over military budgets that left the Army and Navy short planes and radar to intercept the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
After Pearl Harbor, however, Senator McCarran was certain that Nevada got it’s share of war spending, including the third largest manufacturing facility built during the war, Basic Magnesim’s $140 million plant, built at government expense, and the town of Henderson, built to house the plant’s 15,000 workers. Pat won re-election in 1944 with 68% of the vote.
The war and time made Pat McCarran one of the nation’s most powerful senators, by making him one of its most senior Senators. By 1945 he had become the new political boss of Nevada, the new George Wingfield. Pat even filled the U.S. capital building with so many graduates from Nevada Universities that they became known as “McCarran’s Boys”. And after a couple of years working in Washington, many of the “boys” became part of the McCarran Machine, back home in Nevada.
Pat McCarran handed out just as many “black balls” as he had been handed. Federal Marshal Les Kofed explained to the Senator that Federal law prevented political appointees like him from making speeches in support of a local politician. Marshal Kofed explained, “Out of a clear blue sky, shortly thereafter,…I received a call from the chief deputy at Carson City, that a new marshal had been appointed, that I had better come in and turn in my key.”
By 1950 Time magazine had begun describing the 73 year old Pat McCarran as “pompous, vindictive and power-grabbing”. According to the magazine he “staged a one-man committee filibuster against an “Emergency Immigration bill” to admit (250,000) D. P’s to the U.S  The D.P.’s were Displaced Persons, who had survived the Nazi death and work camps, but whose identification papers had been lost or destroyed. They were people without homes or a nation willing to accept them. What concerned Pat McCarran was that many of them were Jews. He argued that the “Emergency Immigration Bill” was supported by a particular “pressure group” with “unlimited money” - code words for Jews.
The DP bill had the support of President Eisenhower. But when it was first introduced into a subcommittee in the spring of 1953, Senator McCarran “demanded” a ten day delay while his wife sought medical treatment. But when “Senator Wetback” instead surfaced in Los Angles, holding hearings for his own Senate Security and Intelligence Sub Committee, and asked for three more weeks of delay, the immigration hearings finally began.
Three weeks into the hearings McCarran managed to snooker the Judiciary Committee (parent committee to the subcommittee) into voting to delay any further action by the subcommittee. When most of the Senators realized they had been tricked, fisticuffs almost broke out. It took a week, but the delay was eventually overturned. Still, in the end, McCarran managed to kill the bill. And tens of thousands of desperate people were turned away from America's shores because of one biggott.
In June of 1952 Pat McCarran co-sponsored a rewriting of immigration law, declaring that “…we have in the United States today hard-core, indigestible blocs which have not become integrated..." More code words for Jews. "Today, as never before, untold millions are storming our gates for admission and those gates are cracking under the strain… I do not intend to become prophetic, but if the enemies of this legislation succeed in riddling it to pieces, or in amending it beyond recognition, they will have contributed more to promote this nation's downfall than any other group since we achieved our independence as a nation.”
Next came the program which, for me, earned the Senator his nickname, “Operation Wetback.” That was really its name, and it was launched in 1954 after Senator McCarran’s prodded the bureaucrats of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The program contrasted with the ten year old “Bracero” system, in which Mexican recruiters contracted to supply workers for American farmers and railroads.
By 1954 some 300,000 Mexican citizens were legally working in the United States on temporary “Bracero” visas. Few stayed in the United States at the end of their contracts. However those programs, which protected worker’s rights and wages, were disliked by employers. Racists forces in Texas had prevented that state from particpating in the program for five years. But in 1954 this successful program was killed, in favor of mass deportations - the same program favored by the Republican Party now.
The INS would later claim to have expelled 1.3 million Mexicans (not the 13 million claimed in recent mythology) under Operation Wetback.  But a closer examination of the data shows the service could only prove some 80,000 were expelled. The addition half a million were an estimate of those who left the country out of fear, but the number was more hopeful than accurate.
The U.S. Army succesfully resisted joining Operation Wetback, and in an internal report written later carried the notation, "Thank goodness"   The program ended abruptly when seven “illegals” being deported by ship, drowned while trying to swim back to the American shore. The crew of the steamer transporting them, then mutinied against their captain, and against the entire program. In the conservative myth the mutiny may get mentioned but never discussed.
But Pat McCarran’s most powerful weapon was his anti-communism. In this he was merely echoed by Senator Joe McCarthy. McCarran also supported Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, to the point that he was called “The Senator from Madrid.” He was an equally fierce supporter of Chiang Kai-Shek, after Chiang and his supporters were driven out of mainland China and retreated to the island of Taiwan. So rabid was McCarran's defense that it was not until Richard Nixon visited China in the 1970’s that some sanity and common sense return to American foreign policy in the region.
The McCarran’s Internal Security Act (of September 1950) required members of the communist party to register with the Attorney General. So onerous were the details of the act that between 1965 and 1967 almost all of it was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Walt Kelly, who drew the popular "Pogo" comic strip chose to memorialize McCarrain with "Mole J. Macarney", a blind, paranoid creature, who spread tar on everything and everyone within reach.
Pat McCarran died of a heart attack in September of 1954, proving once again that politics is not about being right. It is about being re-elected. To most politicians, nothing else matters.
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