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Sept. 19 2017 5:30 PM

Today's Impeach-O-Meter: Rocket Man

The Impeach-O-Meter is a wildly subjective and speculative daily estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump leaves office before his term ends, whether by being impeached (and convicted) or by resigning under threat of same.

In honor of Donald Trump's threat to "totally destroy" North Korea if Kim "Rocket Man" Jong-un doesn't stop building and testing nuclear wepaons, our regular Impeach-O-Meter graphic has been replaced today by a photo taken 16 milliseconds after the detonation of "The Gadget" at the Trinity site in New Mexico on July 16, 1945—the first nuclear explosion in history:

Berlyn Brixner / Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Wrote Manhattan Project director J. Robert Oppenheimer of the moments after the bomb went off: "A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent." Have a good night.

Sept. 19 2017 5:29 PM

McCain, Collins, Murkowski: Where the Big Three Stand on Obamacare Repeal  

Senate Republicans have been stuck on 48 or 49 votes for their last-ditch healthcare plan, Graham-Cassidy, since late last week. They continue to be stuck on that number today. We will know when they become unstuck when Senate leaders begin skipping down the halls, giggling like schoolchildren, to set up the vote. They have until next Saturday to get to 50, and then their ability to pass an Obamacare repeal with a simple-majority vote expires.

So far there seems to be one hard “no”: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who is far more interested in broadcasting his escalating complaints about the bill to as many reporters as possible than he does in seeking some extraction. That means two of the following three holdouts would be necessary, along with all of the other 48 members of the caucus: Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Arizona Sen. John McCain, and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. These are the three that tanked the Obamacare repeal process last time, in that dramatic late July vote, but none have come out with a firm position on Graham-Cassidy yet.

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Here’s how they explained their thinking today.

Susan Collins

Collins is viewed as the least likely of the three to support the bill. She’s the most moderate member of the caucus, and she came nowhere close to supporting any of the several repeal bills the Senate considered over the summer. Graham-Cassidy, which would replace the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and subsidies with block grants allotted to states, also contains the elements of previous health care bills that most alarmed her: permission for states to gut protections for those with pre-existing conditions, per-capita spending caps on traditional Medicaid, and the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Collins was not prepared to come out as a “no” on Tuesday. But what she’s seen of the bill, she said, “causes me great concern.” Graham-Cassidy has "many of the same flaws of the bill that we rejected previously, and in fact it has some additional flaws,” she told reporters, citing specifically the bill’s treatment of those with preexisting conditions.

This is not a health care bill that treats Susan Collins’ vote as all that attainable.

John McCain

The pursuit of McCain’s vote is the most slapstick. About one hour after each time McCain makes his criteria known publicly, an effort to meet that criteria suddenly materializes.

On Monday morning, McCain said that the support of his governor, Doug Ducey, was of the utmost importance to him. Shortly thereafter, a tweet appeared on Ducey’s feed offering his support for the bill. It remains unclear what machinations were required to obtain Ducey’s support, since Graham-Cassidy would appear to take money from his state and retains the Medicaid cuts that made Ducey queasy over the summer.

The endorsement, though helpful, wasn’t enough to get McCain to "yes." He insisted, again, that any bill that is to win his support must go through “regular order”: hearings, markups, amendments.

Shortly after McCain said that, both Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch announced that the committees they chair would hold Graham-Cassidy hearings next week. Johnson’s sudden announcement of a show health care hearing was especially cynical, since he chairs the... homeland security committee. That one has since been canceled, but Hatch’s finance committee hearing is still on for next Monday.

The rushed hearing, which the Democratic ranking member of the committee, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, has called “an abomination on the history of this storied committee," looked just a bit like a stunt put together to give McCain enough cover to claim the process met his “regular order” test.

But McCain doesn’t seem to be taking that cover.

“Do you think that that’s regular order?” he asked reporters on Tuesday. “I always thought regular order was hearings and debates and amendments, and then to the floor with debates and special amendments. That’s what I thought regular order was.”

Expect, then, leaders to set up some sort of Potemkin process of more stunt hearings, debates, amendments, floor debates, and special amendments to get McCain onboard.

Lisa Murkowski

If Collins and Paul oppose the bill, but McCain supports it, it really all comes down to Murkowksi. And her vote hinges on the numbers.

“I’m still looking for the data that walks me through how Alaska actually does,” Murkowski told reporters Tuesday following the Senate Republican caucus lunch. “But I don’t have that right now. So those that have asked, ‘where are you, where are you?’—it’s not that I’m being evasive, it’s that I’m trying to be diligent.”

She cited Alaska’s governor, Bill Walker, in insisting that additional “flexibility” for states is not nearly enough. “My governor has said ‘I like flexibility, but if I get half as much money, flexibility doesn’t help me,’” she said. “So, in fairness to my governor, in fairness to Alaskans, the numbers actually matter.”

Well, Walker himself seems to have looked at some numbers and determined that they are, indeed, bad. Walker, an independent, was part of a bipartisan group of ten governors Tuesday who issued a letter opposing Graham-Cassidy.

“Our country’s Medicaid program has been in place for over 50 years,” Walker told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “Any proposal to restructure Medicaid goes far beyond repealing the Affordable Care Act.” He noted that “any proposal to shift federal costs to the states would likely result in drastic cuts to our Medicaid program.”

If Murkowski is following Walker’s lead, the fate of this bill, and the future of the country’s health care systems, may well hang on what offer Republican leaders are willing to make on Alaska’s behalf in the next week.

Sept. 19 2017 2:42 PM

Police Reportedly Find Hitler Speech in Home of Louisiana Man Arrested for Killing Two Black Men

A white man in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was arrested Tuesday and accused of shooting and killing two black men in separate incidents that may have been racially motivated.

In a Tuesday morning news conference, law enforcement authorities said they would charge Kenneth James Gleason with first-degree murder for the shootings. A spokesperson for the department said “there was a ‘strong possibility’ that the shootings were racially motivated,’ ” according to the Associated Press. Gleason’s attorney denied the allegations.

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A law enforcement official told the AP that police had found a copy of a Hitler speech at the man’s home. Gleason was also named as a person of interest in an earlier shooting in which shots were fired at the house of a black family that lived in his neighborhood. No one was killed in that incident.

Gleason had been arrested over the weekend on unrelated drug charges but bailed out of jail Sunday night. At the time, he was considered a “person of interest” in the shooting, but police said they didn’t have enough evidence to charge him.

The two men killed were 59-year-old Bruce Cofield, who died on Sept. 12, and 49-year-old Donald Smart, who died on Thursday. ABC reported: “The suspect first fired from his car and then exited the vehicle to shoot the victims while they were on the ground.” Cofield and Smart were shot within five miles of one another.

Smart’s aunt told ABC that her nephew, who was on his way to work at a café when he was killed, “was always smiling and hugging everybody. A lot of people knew him." A Baton Rouge woman told the Advocate she knew Cofield as “Mr. Bruce,” a homeless man who would often sit with a sign at an intersection.

The case gained additional prominence on social media Tuesday when a New York Post headline referred to the alleged murderer as a “clean-cut American kid.”

Sept. 19 2017 11:46 AM

Right Wing Revives Claim That Trump’s Obama Wiretap Accusation Has Been “Vindicated.” (It Hasn’t.)

On March 4, Donald Trump tweeted a number of claims about Barack Obama having ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.

You'll note that these tweets are heavy on specific claims:

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  • Obama had Trump's phones at Trump Tower tapped.
  • This wiretapping took place during the 2016 campaign.
  • Nothing was found.
  • Tap is actually spelled with two p’s.

On Monday, CNN reported that Paul Manafort—who was briefly Trump's campaign chairman—has been the subject of intermittent court-approved surveillance since 2014. As you can see above, Breitbart immediately announced that the news "vindicated" Trump. Nope. Here's what CNN wrote:

  • Manafort was initially being surveilled not because of his connection to Trump but because of an investigation opened in 2014 into his work as a political consultant in Ukraine.
  • He was subsequently placed under surveillance again "last fall" because of his connections to "suspected Russian operatives," but it's "unclear" exactly when that happened—which is to say that it's not certain whether it happened before or after the election.
  • The investigation was led by the FBI and required the approval of Justice Department officials, i.e., not Obama himself.
  • Regarding Trump's "nothing found" remark, the investigation into Manafort appears to have in fact escalated; one of his homes was raided in July.
  • "While Manafort has a residence in Trump Tower, it's unclear whether FBI surveillance of him took place there."
  • "It's unclear whether Trump himself was picked up on the surveillance."
  • Tap is still spelled with the traditional single p.

What's particularly funny about the idea that Trump has been vindicated by the revelation of a literal wiretap on Paul Manafort is that the White House and its stooges in the right-wing press spent months earlier this year insisting that Trump's tweets weren't referring to literal wiretapping. Here's Sean Spicer in March:

I think there’s no question that the Obama administration, that there were actions about surveillance and other activities that occurred in the 2016 election. That is a widely reported activity that occurred back then. The President used the word “wiretap” to mean, broadly, surveillance and other activities during that.

At another point, Spicer also argued that Trump's comments about surveillance having taken place "just before" the 2016 election might have also been meant to suggest that surveillance took place well after the election:

If we're splitting hairs on what day of the calendar it was, that's a pretty interesting development. If the allegation is, well it was actually on the 1st of December or the 10th of December versus the 31st of October, I think we're starting to split some serious hairs here.

At the time, Breitbart made a nearly identical argument. You know, I'm really beginning to suspect that these guys are not being 100 percent honest with us all the time.

Sept. 19 2017 11:34 AM

Toys R Us Files for Bankruptcy as Latest Victim of Retail Crisis

Toys R Us, the national toy chain that has been around since the 1950s, announced Monday night that the company had filed for bankruptcy, just ahead of the holiday shopping season.

In a statement, the company said its roughly 1,600 stores, which include Babies R Us, will remain open. But the move might also make customers and manufacturers less confident, keeping some shoppers away during the holiday season and causing some toy manufacturers to become more cautious with their deliveries.

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In the statement, in which it declared “the dawn of a new era at Toys R Us,” the retailer said its stores will function as before, with its customer programs, sales, and promotions running uninterrupted and its stores fully stocked.

The company said it would use the bankruptcy protection to restructure its $5 billion in debt and put into place new long-term strategies to cope with a challenging world for traditional retail models. According to the New York Times, the company had been saddled with a substantial portion of that debt for years, and in 2005, private equity firms and a real estate firm bought it off the public market for $6 billion. It was left with a considerable amount of debt, and the company was staring down a $400 million debt payment next year.

The rise of e-commerce has struck a blow to most retailers, but Toys R Us also has suffered from competition with other big-box retailers such as Walmart and Target, which can drive down the price of toys. Some big lenders have agreed to provide $3 billion in financing to kick-start some of the company’s restructuring. In order to stay afloat, the company will have to convince investors that it knows what it needs to survive the existential threats to traditional retail stores.

According to USA Today, the store has plans to renegotiate its leases for cheaper rent, convert some of its existing properties into side-by-side Toys R Us and Babies R Us brands, and improve its recently launched online store. But bankruptcy will also allow it to shutter some of its less profitable stores. In the meantime, it will also need to smooth over any wrinkles with suppliers who might have become skittish in the wake of the filing.

Other retailers that have filed bankruptcy this year include Gymboree, Payless ShoeSource, and Rue21.

Sept. 19 2017 11:32 AM

Here Are the Most Trump Things Trump Said in His United Nations Speech

President Donald Trump addressed the United Nations on Tuesday at the body's annual General Assembly. At first, he said a few nice bland things about American global leadership and the history of the U.N. The collected representatives looked almost bored listening to his speech at the start. But it quickly turned into a typically Trumpian address full of fire-breathing threats, random personal boasts, and flamboyant turns of phrase. Here are the most demagogic and Trump-like moments from that speech:

Donald Trump Is Making America Great Again: “Fortunately the United States has done very well since Election Day last Nov. 8.”

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Also, You Know, the Stock Market: “The stock market is at an all-time high—a record.”

Dear Other Countries, Stop Ripping Us Off: “We can no longer be taken advantage of or enter into a one-sided deal where the United States gets nothing in return.”

Trump Sounded Like Kim Jong-un in Threatening Kim Jong-un: “If [the United States] is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

Used His New Favorite Nickname: “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime.”

Threatened to Pull Out of Iran Deal in Most Dramatic Terms Yet: “We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program.”

Called It the Worst Deal Ever: “The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.”

Called Terrorists a Mean Name: “The United States and our allies are working throughout the Middle East to crush the loser terrorists and stop the re-emergence of safe havens they use to launch attacks on all of our people.”

Said the U.N. Is Ripping the U.S. Off: “The United States bears an unfair cost burden.”

Hell on Earth! “Major portions of the world are in conflict and some, in fact, are going to hell.”

Described "Socialism" as the Big Problem in Venezuela: “The socialist dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro has inflicted terrible pain and suffering on the good people of that country.”

Slate will have further analysis of the speech later on Tuesday, but those were certainly some of the highlights.

Sept. 19 2017 11:02 AM

Trump Threatens Total Destruction of North Korea, Calls Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man” in U.N. Speech

Donald Trump gave his first address to the United Nations on Tuesday. By his standards, it was fairly tame. Except this part:

North Korea's reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles threatens the entire world with unthinkable loss of human life. It is an outrage that some nations would not only trade with such a regime, but would arm, supply and financially support a country that imperils the world with nuclear conflict. No nation on Earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals arm itself with nuclear weapons and missiles. The United States has great strength and patience. But if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime; the United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary.
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Ye gods. This is the second time Trump has tried out the “Rocket Man” nickname:

Rocket Man. Good song!

Sept. 19 2017 9:30 AM

Hurricane Maria Causes “Mind-Boggling” Damage to Dominica on Its Path Toward Puerto Rico

In the Caribbean, a region still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Irma, island nations are now watching the powerful Category 5 Hurricane Maria as it pushes toward Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Hurricane Maria swept through the Dominica just after 9 p.m. on Monday night, leaving what the prime minister of the island nation called in a Facebook post “widespread devastation.”

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The hurricane regained strength and was upgraded to Category 4 after passing through Dominica, according to an 8 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center. It now has estimated maximum winds of a punishing 160 miles per hour. A hurricane warning remained in effect as of the time of the update for Guadeloupe, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat, in addition to Dominica, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.

According to the National Hurricane Center, Maria is churning northwest and is expected to approach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Tuesday night and Wednesday. “Maria is a potentially catastrophic Category 5 hurricane,” the center said in the update. “Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Maria is forecast to remain an extremely dangerous Category 4 or 5 hurricane while it approaches the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.”

In a post around 1 a.m., Roosevelt Skerrit, the prime minister of Dominica, said it was still too early to have a full assessment of the damage done to the island but that “initial reports are of widespread devastation.”

So, far the winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with. The roof to my own official residence was among the first to go and this apparently triggered an avalanche of torn away roofs in the city and the countryside.
I am honestly not preoccupied with physical damage at this time, because it is devastating...indeed, mind boggling. My focus now is in rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance for the injured.

Earlier in the night, Skerrit posted on Facebook with updates of his experience waiting for the hurricane to pass.

Maria is the strongest storm ever recorded to hit Dominica, and it would be the first storm of its strength to hit Puerto Rico in 85 years. On Monday night, President Trump declared a state of emergency for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to make the territories eligible for federal assistance. According to USA Today, Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has been working with federal agencies to prepare for the storm, and officials have “promised ‘brigades’ of energy workers to help Puerto Rico reinstate power on the island after Maria.”

Meteorologists are also watching Hurricane Jose, a less powerful storm in the Atlantic to the north. Jose, still a Category 1 hurricane, according to an 8 a.m. update, is expected to stir up “dangerous surf and rip currents” along the eastern coast of the U.S. in the next few days. A tropical storm warning remains in effect for the coast of Rhode Island, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket, and it could cause some flooding—but not hurricane conditions—from Long Island to the coast of Massachusetts. The storm is expected to weaken on Wednesday.

Sept. 18 2017 10:57 PM

Fox News Contributor Sues the Network Claiming She Was Blacklisted After Making Rape Allegation

Former Fox political commentator Scottie Nell Hughes sued the network Monday alleging that she was raped by Fox Business host Charles Payne and then faced retaliation from the network after reporting the alleged sexual assault. Hughes says Payne raped her in a hotel room in July 2013 after he “pressured” his way into her room. The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, names Payne, Fox News, and its parent company 21st Century Fox, alleging gender motivated violence, gender discrimination, retaliation, and defamation.

From the New York Times:

According to the suit, Ms. Hughes was “shocked and ashamed” and did not immediately report the episode. She said that over the next two years she was forced to engage in a sexual relationship with Mr. Payne. In exchange, she said, she received career opportunities, including increased appearances on Fox News and Fox Business and the promise that Mr. Payne would help her land a contributor contract, a job that can pay several hundred thousand dollars a year. Ms. Hughes never became a paid contributor at either channel.
Ms. Hughes, a regular guest on Fox News and Fox Business from 2013 through 2016, asserted that after she ended the relationship with Mr. Payne, the network blacklisted her. After she reported her allegations against him, she said, the network leaked a story to the news media about a romantic affair between Ms. Hughes and Mr. Payne…
According to the lawsuit, Ms. Hughes experienced a sudden decline in bookings across cable news networks in early 2017 and was told by a booking agent that Fox had blacklisted her because she “had an affair with someone at Fox.” As a result, Ms. Hughes said, she was taken out of consideration for positions in the Trump administration.
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“We will vigorously defend this,” the Fox News said in a statement.

Payne was suspended by the network in July, but returned to work this month.

Sept. 18 2017 9:23 PM

Former Trump Campaign Chief Reportedly Under Intermittent FBI Surveillance From 2014 Until This Year

There are many potential vulnerabilities in President Trump’s legal defense in the multipronged investigation into his Russian ties—Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., Mike Flynn, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, advisers Roger Stone and Carter Page, to name a few in Trump’s orbit—but former campaign chief Paul Manafort, so far, appears to be the biggest liability. On top of all we know already about Manafort’s shadowy overseas political consulting operation, CNN reported Monday that Manafort was under FBI surveillance dating back to 2014, well before he joined the Trump campaign. The FBI eavesdropping continued, although apparently not continuously, until earlier this year, after Trump had taken office. Manafort was fired from the campaign months before Election Day, but continued to communicate with Trump into his presidency.

Manafort caught the attention of the FBI, unrelated to Trump, for his work in Ukraine with the party of Kremlin-backed former President Viktor Yanukovych, who came to power in 2010, but was ousted by nationwide demonstrations in 2014. The FBI surveillance was authorized by a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant, a top-secret process that oversees national security cases. For a judge to grant the warrant, the FBI doesn’t need to show evidence of a crime, but it must show that the individual may be working as a foreign agent.

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According to CNN, the initial investigation of Manafort fizzled and surveillance was discontinued in 2016. The FBI, however, obtained a new FISA warrant later that year that ran at least into early 2017. "The FBI interest deepened last fall because of intercepted communications between Manafort and suspected Russian operatives, and among the Russians themselves, that reignited their interest in Manafort," CNN reports. "As part of the FISA warrant, CNN has learned that earlier this year, the FBI conducted a search of a storage facility belonging to Manafort. It's not known what they found."

It’s unclear when exactly surveillance of Manafort restarted, but in August, CNN reported that U.S. intelligence intercepted suspected Russian intelligence officers discussing Manafort in the summer of 2016, months before the election. “The suspected operatives relayed what they claimed were conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians,” CNN reported at the time.

Manafort’s work abroad, particularly in Ukraine, weaved together dodgy political affiliations and murky financial dealings. Manafort’s jazz-like interpretation of American laws, despite the attention of American investigators, may not have been enough to do him in, but then in June 2016 Manafort popped up much closer to home—as the campaign manager of the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump. By late August, Manafort was out at Trump headquarters, replaced by Steve Bannon, but Manafort remained a person of interest and when Robert Mueller was designated Special Counsel in June 2017, the former FBI chief picked up the pace and intensity of the probe, particularly of Manafort.

“Dispensing with the plodding pace typical of many white-collar investigations, Mr. Mueller’s team has used what some describe as shock-and-awe tactics to intimidate witnesses and potential targets of the inquiry,” the New York Times reports. “Mr. Mueller has obtained a flurry of subpoenas to compel witnesses to testify before a grand jury, lawyers and witnesses say, sometimes before his prosecutors have taken the customary first step of interviewing them.” In July, federal agents conducted a predawn knockless search of Manafort’s Virginia home, commandeering files that may provide evidence of offshore financial dealings. To obtain the warrant, Mueller would have needed to convince a judge that inside Manafort’s house was evidence of a crime.

Mueller's team hasn't stopped there. From theTimes:

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, then followed the house search with a warning: His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him, said two people close to the investigation...
Instead of invitations to the prosecutor’s office, [Manafort and Flynn associates] have been presented with grand jury subpoenas, forcing them to either testify or take the Fifth Amendment and raise suspicions that they had something to hide. At least three witnesses have recently been subpoenaed to testify about Mr. Manafort: Jason Maloni, a spokesman who appeared before the grand jury for more than two hours on Friday, and the heads of two consulting firms — Mercury Public Affairs and the Podesta Group — who worked with Mr. Manafort on behalf of Viktor F. Yanukovych, the pro-Russia former president of Ukraine.
Mr. Mueller’s team also took the unusual step of issuing a subpoena to Melissa Laurenza, a specialist in lobbying law who formerly represented Mr. Manafort, according to people familiar with the subpoena. Conversations between lawyers and their clients are normally considered bound by attorney-client privilege, but there are exceptions when lawyers prepare public documents that are filed on behalf of their client.

Mueller’s tactics and pace appear to be born out of a sense of urgency to make significant progress in the investigation before it can be accused of being a fishing expedition and the general sense of impunity of Trump associates, even those under investigation, that might require tougher treatment to ensure compliance.

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