Five US presidents attend relief concert for hurricane victims

Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have delivered a message of unity. The former presidents have called on their fellow citizens to help the victims of a series of hurricanes.

Benefit concert for victims of hurricanes in Texas attended by Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter

All five living former US Presidents came together on Saturday night to promote a message of hope and unity at a relief concert for the victims of hurricanes that recently ravaged parts of the southern US and the Caribbean.

“As former presidents, we wanted to help our fellow Americans begin to recover,” said Barack Obamaas the concert began at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Obama served as president between 2009 and 2017.

“All of us on this stage here tonight could not be prouder of the response of Americans. When they see their neighbors and they see their friends, they see strangers in need, Americans step up.”

Jimmy Carter, who served in office 1977-1981, George H. W. Bush, 1989-1993, Bill Clinton, 1993-2001, and George W. Bush, 2001-2009, were also in attendance.

“The heart of America, without regard to race or religion or political party, is greater than our problems,” said Clinton.

“People are hurtin’ down here, but as one Texan put it, we’ve got more love in Texas than water,” W. Bush said.

Former first ladies Barbara and Laura Bush were also there as was former vice president Dick Cheney, ex-secretary of state James A. Baker, Senator Ted Cruz and Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria left death and destruction in their wake as they slammed through parts of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands in August and September.

The concert was part of an appeal that has raised $31 million (€26 million) from 80,000 donors since September 7. Calling for more donations, Carter said, “let’s all work together and make America a great volunteer nation.”

Current President Donald Trump thanked his predecessors in televised remarks, saying “this wonderful effort reminds us that we truly are one nation under God, all unified by our values and devotion to one another.”

The award-winning pop singer Lady Gaga performed at the concert, which also included appearances from Lee Greenwood, Robert Earl Keen, The Gatlin Brothers, Stephanie Quayle, Sam Moore, Alabama, Lyle Lovett, Cassadee Pope and Yolanda Adams.

“Pain is such an equalizer. And in a time of catastrophe, we all put our differences aside and we come together, ’cause we need each other, or we can’t survive,” Lady Gaga said.

The event was reportedly the first time the five former presidents had been together since they attended a ceremony in 2013 marking the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas, Texas.

amp/aw (dpa, AP, AFP)

Watch video12:07

Puerto Rico after the Storm

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Republicans eye legislative fix as Trump ends DACA; Dems blast decision

Joseph Weber

Congressional Republicans indicated Tuesday they will take up the Trump administration’s call to consider legislation to replace the Obama-era DACA program, though condemnation from Democrats over the decision to end it points to a heated battle ahead.

In a show of unity, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., spoke to reporters about their push for a bipartisan “Dream Act”-style bill Tuesday afternoon.

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“The Congress is going to have to up its game,” Graham said, urging congressional colleagues to work with them – and the president to “get involved personally” by working the phones.

Durbin said the “countdown to deportation” sets a clear timetable for lawmakers to act.

Other Democrats, though, hammered the president for ending the program at all, leaving unclear how much bipartisan cooperation will be seen.

“I’m heartbroken – and I’m outraged,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement. “The Trump administration should preserve DACA until a long-term solution is passed into law. … We need sensible immigration reform, not senseless intolerance.”

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, whose corruption trial starts Wednesday, tweeted: “Mr. President, You went after children. You better brace yourself for the civil rights fight of our generation. #DefendDACA.”

Though Democrats wanted Trump to keep the program in place, the administration announced Tuesday it will “wind down” the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program over the next six months.

The program enacted by former President Barack Obama in 2012 protected illegal immigrants brought to the United States when they were young. An estimated 800,000 young people have been protected from deportation under the program.

In announcing the decision, Trump put the onus on Congress to come up with a replacement.

“As president, my highest duty is to defend the American people and the Constitution of the United States of America. At the same time, I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents,” he said in a statement. “Congress now has the opportunity to advance responsible immigration reform that puts American jobs and American security first.”

The six-month delay gives Congress time to craft a legislative solution. And while Democrats condemned the decision, they also voiced hope that the legislative branch can come up with an alternative.

Whether the two parties can find common ground on an immigration deal that has eluded Congress for years, however, remains to be seen.

Republican leaders made clear Tuesday they would try.

“However well-intentioned, President Obama’s DACA program was a clear abuse of executive authority,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “Just as the courts have already struck down similar Obama policy, this was never a viable long-term solution … . It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution.”

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., already has been working on a conservative version of the so-called Dream Act.

Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, argued Tuesday that Congress, not the president, must find a reasonable, compassionate alternative.

“DACA was an illegal abuse of executive power, and it’s important to reaffirm that the president cannot unilaterally rewrite the law,” he said. “Today’s decision puts the ball in Congress’ court. … A balance between compassion and deterring future illegal immigration can be found.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions also made clear Tuesday that “no new initial (DACA) requests or associated applications after today will be acted on.”

The administration framed the decision as the result of legal pressure.

Sessions argued that attorneys general from several states are challenging the constitutionality of DACA, so the administration chose to act instead of risking the courts abruptly shutting down the program.

“Today is a dark day in America,” said California Democratic Rep. Lou Correa, whose Orange County district in majority Latino. “The only crime DACA students are guilty of is aspiring for the American Dream. … I hope the president will not go after children, and will reconsider his decision.”

Courtesy, Fox News

Trump administration ends DACA, with 6-month delay

The Trump administration on Tuesday announced the “orderly wind down” of the Obama-era program that gave a deportation reprieve to illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children – putting pressure on Congress to come up with a replacement.

“I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents. But we must also recognize that we are a nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws,” President Trump said, in a lengthy written statement explaining the decision.

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The Department of Homeland Security formally rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, with a six-month delay for current recipients. According to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, the interval is meant to give Congress “time to deliver on appropriate legislative solutions.”

“However, I want to be clear that no new initial requests or associated applications filed after today will be acted on,” Duke said in a written statement.

READ TRUMP’S DACA STATEMENT

The decision touched off a firestorm on Capitol Hill, where Democrats blasted the president and Republicans blamed the prior administration for putting Trump in a legal bind.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking to reporters, decried what he called the Obama administration’s “disrespect for the legislative process” in enacting the 2012 policy. He said the “unilateral executive amnesty” probably would have been blocked by the courts anyway.

“The executive branch, through DACA, deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions,” Sessions said, blaming the policy for the recent “surge” at the border. “Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.”

The Trump administration was facing a Tuesday deadline to make a decision on DACA or face legal action by Republican state AGs who hoped to force the president’s hand in discontinuing the program. A day earlier, Sessions sent Duke a letter with his legal determination that the 2012 executive action was unconstitutional.

Administration officials cast their approach Tuesday at the least disruptive option.

In his statement, Trump stressed that while new applications for work permits won’t be accepted, “all existing work permits will be honored until their date of expiration up to two full years from today.”

Trump also said applications in the pipeline will be processed.

“This is a gradual process, not a sudden phaseout,” he said. “Permits will not begin to expire for another six months, and will remain active for up to 24 months. Thus, in effect, I am not going to just cut DACA off, but rather provide a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act.”

Trump vowed to resolve the issue “with heart and compassion,” only this time working through Congress.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump had promised to terminate DACA, though he appeared to soften his stance since taking office. In ending the program with a six-month delay, Trump put the onus on Congress to pass a legislative fix.

According to DHS, no current beneficiaries will be impacted before March 5, 2018.

“Congress, get ready to do your job – DACA!” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning.

While some Republicans support the goals of the DACA program, many opposed the use of executive action to institute it, describing the move as a presidential overreach.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is among those who now support the call to protect so-called “Dreamers” with legislation.

“I have always believed DACA was a presidential overreach,” he said in a statement. “However, I equally understand the plight of the Dream Act kids who — for all practical purposes — know no country other than America.”

On a conference call, administration officials said Tuesday they are still prioritizing criminal aliens for deportation. But they described the original DACA criteria as very broad and cited the legal determination of the Justice Department.

During the presidential campaign, Trump referred to DACA as “illegal amnesty.” However, he seemed to edge away from that stance in April when he told the Associated Press that DACA recipients could “rest easy.”

WHAT IS DACA AND WHY WOULD TRUMP DISMANTLE IT?

The DACA program was formed through executive action by former President Barack Obama in 2012, allowing recipients to get a deportation reprieve – and work permits – for a two-year period subject to renewal. Under the program, individuals were able to request DACA status if they were under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012, came to the U.S. before turning 16 and have continuously lived in the country since June 15, 2007. Individuals must also have a high school diploma, GED certification, been honorably discharged from the military or still be in school. Recipients cannot have a criminal record.

Congress had been considering legislation to shield young illegal immigrants from deportation for years, dating back to the George W. Bush administration. Lawmakers tried again to pass a bill during the Obama administration, but couldn’t muster the votes amid flagging Republican support before Obama formed the program in 2012.

Nearly 800,000 undocumented youth are currently under the program’s umbrella.

HILL REPUBLICANS REVIVE ‘DREAM ACT’ TALKS AS TRUMP DECIDES FATE OF OBAMA PROGRAM

On Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said he supported a legislative solution to protect undocumented minors, but also urged the president to reconsider scrapping DACA.

Following Tuesday’s announcement, however, Ryan called DACA a “clear abuse of executive authority” and urged Congress to act.

“Congress writes laws, not the president, and ending this program fulfills a promise that President Trump made to restore the proper role of the executive and legislative branches. But now there is more to do, and the president has called on Congress to act,” he said in a statement. “At the heart of this issue are young people who came to this country through no fault of their own, and for many of them it’s the only country they know.”

But opposition to the DACA termination is already fierce.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement that, with the decision, “Donald Trump has secured his legacy as a champion for cruelty.”

“President Trump’s decision to end DACA is a deeply shameful act of political cowardice and a despicable assault on innocent young people in communities across America,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement

Even as they blasted the president, Democrats called for legislative action, leaving open the possibility that the two parties could pass a bill in the coming months.

Fox News’ John Roberts, Kaitlyn Schallhorn, Brooke Singman and Alex Pappas contributed to this report.

Courtesy, Fox News

Diplomatic war: From Obama’s expulsion of Russian embassy staff to Trump’s closure of SF consulate

Diplomatic war: From Obama’s expulsion of Russian embassy staff to Trump’s closure of SF consulate
A series of diplomatic ‘tit-for-tat’ steps since Barack Obama’s expulsion of Russian staff last year has severely strained relations between Russia and US. In its latest move, citing a “spirit of parity,” Washington gave Moscow 2 days to shut down its San Francisco consulate.

December 29, 2016: Obama expels Russian diplomats, confiscates diplomatic property

Just days before the New Year celebrations, then-US President Barack Obama declared 35 Russian diplomats in the US “persona non grata” and gave them 72 hours to leave the country. The decision affected 96 people – the officials and their families, according to the Russian foreign ministry.

Obama described those expelled as “intelligence operatives,” having alleged that the Russian embassy staff acted in a “manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status.” Washington also closed two Russian diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland. Those were vacation retreats, which the US claimed Moscow used for intelligence-related purposes.

READ MORE: US sanctions Russia: Who, why & how we got here

The Kremlin resisted retaliatory measures suggested by its foreign ministry so as not to ruin the holidays for American diplomats. “We reserve the right to retaliate, but we will not sink to the level of this irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy. We will take further moves on restoring Russian-American relations based on the policies that the administration of President-elect Donald Trump adopts,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the time.

READ MORE: ‘Putin behaved like only adult in the room’ as outgoing Obama ratchets up US-Russia tensions 

To justify the expulsions, the Obama administration blamed Russia for allegedly interfering in the US presidential election which saw Republican candidate Donald Trump become president. No evidence of Moscow’s interference or hacking has ever been made public by the US intelligence community.

Moscow denied accusations of Russia aiding Trump and said it’s “reminiscent of a witch hunt,” with Putin noting that the US is not “a banana republic” for others to interfere with its people’s choice and determine its political course.

July 25, 2017: Congress approves unilateral anti-Russia sanctions bill

Despite the new US president’s apparent intentions to build better relations with Moscow, and after months of contacts through various diplomatic channels that led to reassurances, Trump signed legislation that imposed new sanctions against Russia at the beginning of August.

Passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives, the new legislation partially stripped Trump of his presidential authority to formulate a foreign policy vis-a-vis Russia, by limiting his ability to ease sanctions without the approval from Congress.

Trump signed the ‘Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act’ but noted it was “seriously flawed” and had “clearly unconstitutional provisions” that encroach on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate foreign policy.

Having discussed Washington’s sanctions policy with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the US law on sanctions against Russia “has become another link in the chain of unfriendly steps and dangerous for international stability, striking a powerful blow to the prospects for bilateral cooperation.”

July 28, 2017: Moscow tells US to cut embassy staff down to size

Following the legislation’s approval by the US Congress, the Kremlin hit back, targeting the American diplomatic missions in Russia.

More:  will have to leave Russia as a result of Washington’s own policies –  http://on.rt.com/8j43 

Photo published for Putin: 755 US embassy staff in Russia must go, time to show we won’t leave anything unanswered — RT...

Putin: 755 US embassy staff in Russia must go, time to show we won’t leave anything unanswered — RT…

The US embassy in Russia will have to cut its staff by 755 people as a result of Washington’s policies, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said in an exclusive interview with Rossiya 1 TV.

rt.com

Moscow ordered the US State Department to limit the number of its personnel in Russia to 455, bringing it in line with the number of Russian diplomats in the US. President Putin said 755 American staff would have to leave by September 1.

READ MORE: US compounds in Moscow: What they lose and what they get to keep (PHOTOS)

Moscow also took back property used by American mission staff in the Russian capital, barring embassy workers from the retreat in the renowned Serebryany Bor park and forest area as well as storage facilities in the south of Moscow.

August 21, 2017: US cuts back visa operations in Russia

In response, the US embassy in Russia announced it was suspending all “non-immigrant visa operations” in Russia as of August 23. Visa operations would resume in September, but only at the main embassy building in Moscow. Russians would no longer be able to apply for visas at US consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.

UPDATE: Russia will not act against US citizens as retaliatory step to US visa decision – Lavrov https://on.rt.com/8kwq 

Photo published for US embassy in Russia temporarily halts issue of non-immigrant visas — RT News

US embassy in Russia temporarily halts issue of non-immigrant visas — RT News

The US embassy in Russia is suspending all “nonimmigrant visa operations” in Russia as of August 23. Visa operations will be resumed only in the main embassy building in Moscow on September 1.

rt.com

Lavrov said the visa decision had been made to worsen Russian citizens’ attitude toward their authorities, with his ministry adding the move had “an obvious political connotation.”

Russians will have to wait for 85 days for an appointment at the US embassy in Moscow if they want to apply for standard tourist visas, according to the State Department.

The appointment waiting time is 53 days for other non-immigrant visas, such as business ones. Before the announcement, the time limits were reportedly much shorter, even during high season.

August 31, 2017: US orders closure of Russian consulate

Though the decision to cut back consular operations in Russia was made by the State Department and not Moscow, the Trump administration cited “the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians” to order the closure of Russia’s consulate in San Francisco, California and two diplomatic annexes in Washington, DC and New York City, on August 31.

Russia was given 2 days’ notice to implement the decision.

“The US is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement announcing the move. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed to reporters that Trump himself made the decision.

Lavrov “expressed regret over the escalation of tensions,” noting they were not initiated by Russia. He told Tillerson that Moscow would “closely study” the new US measures and would inform Washington of its reaction in due course.

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Trump unloads on GOP leaders, Clapper and media in typo-riddled Twitter rant

 Dylan Stableford 4 hours ago

Russia criticizes Donald Trump’s Cuba policy, calls it: ‘Cold War rhetoric’

The US president partially reversed Washington’s diplomatic and commercial opening to Cuba that was unveiled in 2014. The Kremlin accused Trump of pandering to a small group of Cuban-American voters.

Cuban and US flags in Havana (Imago/Belga)

Russia’s Foreign Ministry slammed US President Donald Trump’s decision to roll back US relations with Cuba, accusing Trump of resorting to “Cold War” rhetoric.

“The new line towards Cuba announced by US President Donald Trump takes us back to already half-forgotten rhetoric in the style of the Cold War,” the ministry said in a statement on its website.

Watch video01:36

US-Cuba relations under Trump

The statement on Sunday added, “It’s clear the anti-Cuba discourse is still widely needed. This can only induce regret.”

Despite Trump’s campaign pledge to improve relations with Moscow, there has been no discernible improvement in cooperation between the two countries. Indeed, last week, the US Senate voted overwhelmingly to support new sanctions against Russia.

On Friday Trump ordered tighter restrictions on Americans traveling to the Caribbean island and a crackdown on US business dealings with the Cuban military. The president said he was canceling former President Barack Obama’s “terrible and misguided deal” liberalizing ties with Havana.

US President Trump holding the executive order on US-Cuba policy (Reuters/C. Barria)Trump shows-off his newly signed executive order Friday, rolling back US policy on Cuba

Obama’s opening to Cuba

In December 2014, Obama reestablished diplomatic ties with Cuba for the first time in more than half-a-century. Washington had severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961, two years after communist rebels led by Fidel Castro toppled the right-wing government of Fulgencio Batista.

Watch video42:31

Cuba – Nostalgia and Change

After Castro’s regime nationalized all US property in Cuba in 1960, Washington responded by seizing all Cuban assets on US soil and tightening its comprehensive embargo against the island nation.The US leases the territory of its naval base at Guantanamo Bay, which includes the infamous US detention facility there.

Despite the sanctions, which were intended to inflict sufficient pain on the Cuban government to bring about its collapse, the Castro regime persevered. Obama concluded that the Cold War policy had failed, and sought a policy of detente with Havana.

Moscow maintains close ties with Havana, and in March signed a deal to renew oil shipments to the Caribbean island for the first time in more than a decade.

It said that easing of sanctions under Obama was a “well-thought-out political decision in which there were no losers except marginal Castro opponents.”

Gonna take a whole lot of Carriers (which was not a success) to offset foolish policy reversal cost in loss of US jobs.

bik/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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Cuba deal rollback: Trump says he’s nixing Obama’s ‘one-sided’ pact

President Trump, speaking at a Miami theater associated with Cuban exiles, announced Friday he is nixing his predecessor’s “one-sided deal” with the Communist nation – moving to restrict individual travel to the island, crack down on the flow of U.S. cash to the Cuban military and demand key reforms in Havana.

While stopping short of a full reversal, Trump said he would challenge Cuba to come back to the table with a new agreement.

“Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” Trump told a cheering crowd.

Trump cast his announcement Friday as the fulfillment of a campaign pledge to turn back former President Barack Obama’s diplomatic outreach to the country.

“I keep my promises,” Trump said. “And now that I am your president, America will expose the crimes of the Castro regime.”

RUBIO RIPS OBAMA’S CUBA ‘REGIME’ OUTREACH

A cornerstone of the new policy is to ensure Americans traveling to Cuba only support private businesses and services, banning financial transactions with the dozens of enterprises run by the military-linked corporation GAESA.

The Trump administration also says it will strictly enforce the 12 authorized categories allowing American citizens to travel to Cuba – banning one particular type of travel, known as individual “people-to-people” trips, seen as ripe for abuse by would-be tourists.

Most U.S. travelers to Cuba will again be required to visit the island as part of organized tour groups run by American companies. Obama eliminated the tour requirement, allowing tens of thousands of Americans to book solo trips and spend their money with individual bed-and-breakfast owners, restaurants and taxi drivers. The rules also require a daylong schedule of activities designed to expose the travelers to ordinary Cubans.

Trump focused his speech Friday on the crimes and misdeeds of the Castro government, saying his administration would not “hide from it.” He accused the regime of harboring “cop killers, hijackers and terrorists” while casting the policy changes as meant to encourage a free Cuba.

“With God’s help, a free Cuba is what we will soon achieve,” Trump said.

Critics of the United States’ decades-long freeze – and embargo – with Cuba say it failed to spur such changes, and had welcomed Obama’s outreach as a fresh approach. But many Cuban-American lawmakers recoiled.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Cuban-American lawmaker who helped craft the new policy, spoke before the president in Miami on Friday and took a shot at Trump’s predecessor for his visit to Cuba last March.

“A year and a half ago … an American president landed in Havana to outstretch his hand to a regime. Today, a new president lands in Miami to reach out his hand to the people of Cuba,” Rubio said.

U.S. airlines and cruise ships will still be allowed to continue service to the island.

The U.S. Embassy in Havana, which reopened in August 2015, will remain as a full-fledged diplomatic outpost. Trump also isn’t overturning Obama’s decision to end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allowed most Cuban migrants who made it onto U.S. soil to stay and eventually become legal permanent residents.

Trump affirmed in his speech that the U.S. embassy would remain open, in hopes the two countries can forge a “better path.” But he said his administration would enforce the ban on tourism and the embargo, and would not lift sanctions until the regime releases all political prisoners and schedules free and internationally supervised elections.

Trump also demanded the return of Joanne Chesimard, a New York City native wanted in the 1973 killing of a New Jersey state trooper.

The U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 after Fidel Castro’s revolution. It spent subsequent decades trying to either overthrow the Cuban government or isolate the island, including toughening an economic embargo first imposed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The embargo remains in place and unchanged by Trump’s policy. Only the U.S. Congress can lift the embargo, and lawmakers, especially those of Cuban heritage like Rubio, have shown no interest in doing so.

Reaction to the changes split largely along partisan lines. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said in a statement the Trump administration is right to sideline the Cuban military and make human rights and internet access top priorities moving forward.”

Former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes tweeted that Cubans “will be hurt by a mean spirited policy” meant to keep a “political promise to a few people at their expense.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said the actions “threaten to slam that door shut and revert to a failed policy of isolation that has done nothing to improve the lives of the Cuban people and has harmed the American economy.”

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