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Joey Kennedy

Opinion | Let’s march: The #Neveragain reckoning on guns

Joey Kennedy

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The second best news for me this week is that the Alabama Legislature isn’t going to do the knee-jerk thing of passing a law that’ll allow teachers to carry guns into the classroom, as a deterrent to some lunatic who might attack a school to massacre students.

The protection of our students from a mad gunman isn’t a teacher’s responsibility; it’s law enforcement’s – those trained to do that. I don’t want a school resource officer teaching the writing process or Robert Frost; the parents of my students don’t want me packing heat on the chance some nut is going to barge into my classroom shooting.

Besides, I have wasp spray.

The news that, at least for this year, the Legislature has some sanity on the arming-teachers-issue couldn’t come at a better time for the outstanding young people organizing and planning Saturday’s March for Our Lives events across the nation.

That’s the best news this week.

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This movement started fewer than six weeks ago, after the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 students and teachers were killed and others injured.

The impressive students at Douglas High said: “Enough! Never Again!”

Sadly, since that tragic day Feb. 14, there have been other school shootings, including one right here in Birmingham, at Huffman High School, where a young woman who wanted to be a nurse died when a gun went off at the school.

Just this week, a Maryland high school was the scene of another shooting, where two students were injured and the shooter killed.

Will it ever be “Never Again”?

Probably not. But that doesn’t mean something can’t be done to lower the risk of this all-too-common devastation on our nation.

Saturday in Birmingham, we’ll have a March for Our Lives event that is expected to attract between 3,000 to 5,000 people. There will be a rally starting at 2 p.m. at Railroad Park, followed by the march. This is in conjunction with the national March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C., and more than 725 marches across the nation and another 80-plus marches around the world in solidarity with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students who ignited this movement.

#NeverAgain. #MSDStrong. #BanAssaultRifles

Those hashtags have been trending. They remain popular. And these young people are not going away. They’re scaring the National Rifle Association-owned politicians who want to be re-elected. Many of these “kids” will be voting this year, and that doesn’t bode well for the NRA politicians’ careers.

Still, those politicians are so afraid of the NRA they have done very little to ban all-access to military style weapons or bump stocks or huge ammunition magazines or even to allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence as the serious health issue it is.

These politicians and the NRA have blood on their hands. The blood of our children. The blood of our teachers.

Blood.

So Saturday, in Washington, D.C., and in Birmingham, Alabama, and in other cities in Alabama and in cities and towns across the nation and world, the children will march.

Ashley Causey, a senior at Helena High School, has been instrumental in organizing Birmingham’s march. No doubt, these teens will be happy they won’t have to worry about their teachers being armed, at least for the next year.

Teachers with dry-erase markers and a Glock .45? Please.

“No, definitely not,” said Causey this week. “We’re strongly against teachers having guns.”

This teacher is against teachers having guns, too. C’mon, we have papers to grade.

Causey and her peers, in less than six weeks, have organized a march, gathered people to offer voter registration and other services, raised nearly $10,000, and can’t wait for Saturday’s event.

Get there early; it’s going to be crowded.

But it’s not just the size of a crowd. Causey said there are events that have 30 or fewer people involved.

“Even the smallest group of people, if you are impassioned enough and determined, can make a difference,” Causey said. She and her peers certainly have.

Saturday’s March for Our Lives in Birmingham will start with a rally. Speakers include both students and adults – law enforcement, involved teens, teachers, kids with gun-violence experience, involved teens, and, of course, involved teens. This is mainly a student-led movement.

The primary purpose is to advocate for responsible gun restrictions, but Causey is clear:

“We’re open to anybody who wants any type of reform,” she said. Security will be tight at the event, but it’s open to all who want to see the gun culture in this state and country change, those who want to help ensure kids can go to school, and anybody can go to the movies, or to a nightclub, or to church, or to a music festival, without a serious threat of being killed by a shooter.

And here’s what matters most:

“You would have thought with Newtown (Conn., Sandy Hook), that would have been the breaking point,” Causey said. But, “I think this (Parkland, Fla.) has affected a group of people who are not going to stand down. We’re not going to let this get lost in the news. I don’t think that’s going to happen any more.

“We want to be sure we have a lasting effect,” Causey said.

Spring Break might have just ended; Saturday’s marches are just the beginning.

The NRA, many conservative politicians, conspiracy theorists, gun nuts, and others, have already underestimated these amazing Millennials.

Well, they do so at their own risk.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | “Cussing” the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Joey Kennedy

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Leaders of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute ought to be ashamed. They have tarnished the institute’s standing in a way that may be hard to recover from.

Last fall, the board of the BCRI voted to honor author, activist, and scholar Dr. Angela Davis, a Birmingham native, with its Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award. Earlier this month, the board rescinded its offer of the award to Davis and canceled its annual Shuttlesworth Gala.

Reportedly, some Birmingham Jewish leaders complained about the BCRI honoring Davis – who has been honored at other events in Birmingham previously – because she criticizes Israel for its policies against Palestinians and for encouraging people to withdraw investments from Israel.

Few effective human rights activists, if any, do so without controversy or criticism. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” resulted directly from criticism from moderate Birmingham clergy of King’s nonviolent marches and protests. Davis, too, spent her life campaigning for human rights, and was a long-time Communist Party member. But it appears her criticism of Israel led to the BCRI withdrawing the Shuttlesworth Award.

Not only did the institute embarrass itself by withdrawing the award, it has handled the issue in a ham-handed, disastrous manner. Davis’ colorful and meaningful life is no mystery. The board clearly knew her history when it decided to present her with the award last year. To withdraw it because of some criticism from wealthy donors because they disagreed with her stand on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is clearly a mistake that will damage the institute’s reputation forever.

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Since withdrawing the award, BCRI has been a well-deserved target of protests and outrage.

The board, in withdrawing the award, said Davis no longer met the criteria for receiving it. However, it didn’t elaborate on what criteria Davis didn’t meet.

The institute’s supposed mission statement is simple: “To enlighten each generation about civil and human rights by exploring our common past and working together in the present to build a better future.”

After embarrassing itself and Davis over this mess, that mission statement sounds awfully hollow.

Davis, in a statement, said she was “stunned” when she learned the BCRI board had “reversed their previous decision to award me the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award. Although the BCRI refused my requests to reveal the substantive reasons for this action, I later learned that my long-term support of justice for Palestine was at issue.”

Davis’ statement continues: “The trip to Birmingham, where I was born and raised, to receive the Fred Shuttlesworth Award, was certain to be the highlight of my year.”

Instead, Davis will attend an alternative event in February sponsored by others rightly upset that the BCRI made such a horrible decision.

The BCRI board has been encouraged by other human rights groups to reverse its decision, but instead the board’s three top officers resigned Wednesday, stating they regretted the “circumstances surrounding the selection process … and the dissension this has caused.” But they provided no details about what criteria Davis failed to meet or other information about their resignations.

Usually, board members who make bad decisions want them to go away, but with Davis coming to Birmingham Feb. 16 for an alternative event, on the day the Shuttlesworth Gala was originally scheduled, this controversy is not likely to go away.

Indeed, the very nature of the BCRI’s existence is to educate the public about human rights activists like Davis. If it’s not going to do that and cave to interests who disagree with its decisions, what’s the point?

Former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, who pushed for the institute’s creation and construction against some of this same kind of criticism, disagrees with the decision to dishonor Davis. Mayor Randall Woodfin and the Birmingham City Council have let their dissatisfaction be known. Woodfin explained why he’s confounded:

“I am dismayed because this controversy might have been avoided entirely, had it been handled differently. I am dismayed because, as has been the case throughout Birmingham’s history, people of good will behaved reflexively, rather than engaging in meaningful discourse over their differences and seeking common ground.

“I am dismayed because the controversy is playing out in a way that harks backward, rather than forward – that portrays us as the same Birmingham we always have been, rather than the one we want to be. I am dismayed because I believe that we should be able to expect better, from ourselves and one another.”

Woodfin noted that while the city does provide funding to the BCRI, and it doesn’t involve itself in programming at the organizations it helps fund, it certainly has an interest in providing funding to organizations based upon their “legal and ethical pursuit” of their mission.

Whether the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is meeting that obligation is certainly a fair question in the wake of how awful BCRI has treated Davis.

Perhaps the most stinging rebuke came from the Alabama chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which has a “long history with our sister, Angela Davis.”

The Guild noted that Davis at one time spoke at the 16th Street Baptist Church, the scene of a 1963 bombing by the Ku Klux Klan that killed four young girls and injured many others.

“One can look across the street at the church from the large windows at the end of the tour of the BCRI,” the Guild statement reads. “It is bitterly ironic and shameful that the BCRI, nearly three months after it announced she would receive its Fred Shuttlesworth award, has chosen to retract the invitation and cancel the awards dinner. BCRI has been one of the most important legacies of Richard Arrington, Jr., Birmingham’s first black mayor and its decision irrevocably tarnishes that legacy.

The BCRI’s “caving to pressure from some funders is a disgrace,” the Guild statement reads. “Their decision to rescind the award reflects nothing so much as cowardice in place of principle, the diametric opposite of all that Fred Shuttlesworth stood for. We mourn the loss of the BCRI as a Birmingham institution conceived to insure (sic) we never forget that freedom is a constant struggle and that courage in the face of adversity drives history forward. It is now just another musty museum, and one that has abandoned what was a noble mission.”

Actions have consequences, and whatever path the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute takes after this fiasco, its history will always have this disgusting mark.

Shuttlesworth himself is likely turning in his grave. As civil rights activist’s official biographer, Andrew Manis, pointed out, Angela Davis is exactly the kind of person an award named after Shuttlesworth should go to.

“I think Fred would be cussing,” Manis told AL.com. “He often bragged about being a cussing preacher. I think he’d be cussing about this.”

I believe many of us are “cussing” about this today, and if we’re not, we should be.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a weekly column for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | Stupid is as stupid does

Joey Kennedy

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I hate new years. Not because it’s another year. That’s going to happen, regardless of what we might want. The calendar days end, and the new calendar days begin. We can’t stop it.

I hate new years because of the silly expectations. We expect the new year to encourage us to exercise more, or to encourage us that the diet we found will finally work, or to give us a new outlook on life, or to tell us our lives will somehow be better.

Every day, People, we can have a new outlook on life. We don’t need a new year. If you’re waiting for a new year to give you a new outlook on life, you’re blind to a new outlook on life.

In Alabama, we’re always waiting for that new outlook on life. Not just at a new year. At every day. And every day gives us our same outlook on life: depressing, bleak, what are we doing wrong, can we do anything right?

We do most everything wrong.

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This is our state. When Gov. Kay Ivey delivers our “State of the State” address soon, it’ll be filled with possibilities. But make no mistake, those possibilities are nothing but, at best, wishes, and mostly lies. Yeah, bullshit. They won’t happen.

Because we are Alabama.

Ivey, if she’s coherent, will talk about what we should do, what we can do, what we ought to do, but all of that is what we won’t do, because this is Alabama.

We won’t help the poor, those who are needing a government who will truly help them. We won’t realize we’re a state that fails to put resources into improving our infrastructure that is crumbling in front of us. We won’t say we’re going to improve health care, because that would mean investing in Medicaid. We won’t truly support education, because that means investment.

We won’t push back against the Trump Administration that considers Alabama nothing because all we do is bow down to Trump as some sort of narcissistic savior.

We’re mostly stupid. And we’ll continue to be stupid. And happy. Because we’re stupid.

Our people are good people. But they’re misdirected. They respond to the fear our politicians throw at them, and they think if I don’t vote for “her” or “him,” bad things will happen: An immigrant will kill me. A black man will assault me. A gay man will turn me gay. A Democrat will take my gun.

So for the next four years, we’re stuck with a Legislature that will do nothing, truly, to improve our lives. We have a governor who doesn’t really care because she isn’t really aware.

The New Year is a time of reflection and forward thinking. In Alabama, it’s a time of knowing we’re going to experience the same quality of life that we’ve experienced for however long we’ve lived here.

Most of us don’t travel. We don’t know what happens in other states, or in Europe, or in Asia, or in Canada, where truly progressive ideas have traction. That leaves us stupid.

We’ve only known Alabama, so we don’t know anything else. And Alabama doesn’t know anything else.

So we’re happy that Kay Ivey is our governor. And that our Legislature is simply there to feed itself. We don’t know that our attorney general and secretary of state and all the constitutional officers are only there for the paycheck or the step upward, or that they’re are scamming us.

We don’t know any better. Mostly because we’re stupid. Not dumb, mind you. There is a difference.

We can learn. We can know. We have the ability. But we don’t use that ability. It’s scary. It might make us think, and that might make our lives a little harder. It might make us turn off Fox News. It might make us care. It might make us live. Live happy. Live productive. Live real lives. To us, for some reason, that is damn scary.

No, we’re not dumb, not at all.

We’re simply stupid.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | We don’t matter, because we don’t want to

Joey Kennedy

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I generally don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I have a few times, but not too often.

The last New Year’s resolution I made was in 2012, about this time of the year, just before the world became 2013. I had just seen Les Miserables, the big-budget movie musical, and I loved it. I’ve seen the stage musical five times. I’ve watched all the nonmusical movie adaptations I can find. But I had never read Victor Hugo’s classic novel.

So late in 2012, I resolved to read Les Miserables, and I would start on Jan. 1, 2013. I climbed to our attic, which is the depository of most of our books, dug out the paperback copy of Les Mis I’d bought years before, and tried to mentally prepare myself for this marathon of words.

Les Miserables is more than 1,400 pages. It’s hefty and intimidating, even if you’re an avid reader. Hugo’s historical novel does not focus on the French Revolution, but, rather, a period two decades later when small groups of rebels were attempting to reinstate a French republic over a newly re-established monarchy. Just read it; this isn’t Cliff’s Notes.

On Jan. 1, 2013, I started Hugo’s legacy. I struggled through one chapter, and simply couldn’t imagine reading the entire tome, printed on no telling how many hundreds of dead trees, that weighed down my lap. So I called a New Year’s resolution audible. I downloaded the book to my Kindle, where it was less than a quarter-inch thick, but still had the 1,400-plus pages. Psychologically, that worked. Six weeks later, I finished the book, and the journey was satisfying and fulfilling. I revere wonderful writing, and this is wonderful writing.

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I also vowed then to never make another such New Year’s resolution. I’ve never read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and I’m not resolving to do that now, even though it’s significantly shorter at just more than 1,200 pages.

So resolutions aren’t my thing. I like to try new stuff, like my one-hour beginner’s yoga class I endured when I visited my daughters who live in California in October. I did the hour. I’m done with yoga.

When I turned 60, my wife gifted me with a tandem sky-dive from 14,000 feet. I did it, and it was amazing. And I would do it again.

What I’ve never understood about Alabama is that we do the same stuff, over and over and over again, expecting something different as a result. It’s not going to happen. That second French Revolution foretold in Hugo’s novel never happened.

Our beautiful state will stay the same – dysfunctional, broken, hurtful to our poorest citizens, laughingstock of the South – if we simply keep repeating the same moves.

We recently went to the polls, and while the nation shouted loud that we’re doing it differently this time, Alabama whispered in overwhelming numbers that we’re not going to change.

We whispered and nobody heard or cares. Alabama is insignificant in the bigger scheme, and insignificant in the smaller scheme, too, and we’re proud of our insignificance. As Congress goes after our health care, our Medicaid, our Medicare, our Social Security, we give them sanction to do it. As we cage children and block immigrants, we don’t care, and we don’t matter. As we shoot black men in their backs and isolate gay men and women, we turn our heads.

As we tolerate and confront a president who is unhinged and dangerous, we do not matter.

Thank goodness, other states said: “Enough!” Thank goodness, they said: “We matter!”

Yet, we whisper. And we are not counted. Because we’ve shouted to them: “Hey! We don’t matter! So, there!” And our shout is a whisper. We truly do not matter.

The Kay Iveys and Steve Marshalls and John Merrills do not matter. The Richard Shelbys and Doug Joneses do not matter. The Bradley Byrnes, Gary Palmers, Martha Robys and Mo Brookses don’t matter. The Mike Rogerses and Robert Aderholdts never mattered.

Like Jean Valjean and Cosette and Jevert and Fantine and Eponine and Gavroche in Les Miserables, in the bigger world, we do not matter. Neither did they.

We pretend to have our own “revolution,” but we don’t, really. Because we do not want to matter.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, either, because they do not matter.

And in 2019, I believe, and I fear, Alabama will never matter.

Happy New Year.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | A real “enemy of the people”

Joey Kennedy

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I’m pretty fortunate, in that I’ve got two great careers.

I write for this great news organization each week, continuing the mostly political columns about Alabama I wrote for a more than a quarter of a century for The Birmingham News, back when The News was a newspaper. I also write the monthly back-page column for Birmingham’s premier city magazine, B-Metro Magazine. Those columns are generally personal essays, focusing on an individual or event or big news story that dominates a particular month.

Both are journalism, but one is more informed opinion, while the other is more literary journalism. I love journalism – it’s been my first career choice since before I was graduated from high school in 1974. Well before Donald Trump. Well before we heard daily the fake phrase “fake news.” Well before, according to Trump, we were “the enemy of the people.”

Of course, Trump is in all sorts of legal trouble now; besides being a terrible president, he’s also apparently as corrupt as an American politician can be. Indeed, one of my associates recently noted that it was ironic that Trump, our fake president, is likely to fall partly because of testimony from the owner of the true fake news, the National Enquirer.

I have loved and appreciated writing since I was in grammar school. I knew that few careers offered a person the opportunity to write all the time better than journalism. I’ve always taken my journalism seriously, and when I make a mistake — and I’ve made mistakes — it eats me up. And I gladly correct those mistakes as quickly as I can.

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I haven’t made many. My journalism has been solid – fact based, not fake based. My journalism was part of a team that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for Editorial Writing, the first Pulitzer Prize ever won by The Birmingham News. I am also the only journalist ever at The News (or in Alabama, for that matter) who is part of two other journalism series that are Pulitzer Prize finalists.

That is not to boast; just to set up some background for why I have that second career.

I’ve been a serious student of writing for decades, eventually leading to a master’s degree in English with an emphasis in creative nonfiction from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Now, besides my journalism, I also teach at UAB. In the English Department, not journalism. I teach writing. I also regularly teach American literature and have taught other courses in the English department from time to time, but mostly I teach writing. I’m in my 19th year as a writing teacher at UAB.

One of the characteristics about teaching at UAB that I love so much is the university’s diversity. The student body is nearly 22,000 now, but it’s one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation. More diverse than the University of Alabama or Auburn University.

UAB’s diversity isn’t just in having men and women, blacks and whites. The international student population is significant, bringing in students from many other nations. We have students who are Christians, Muslims, Jewish, Hindu, Wicca – pretty much everything across the board. And there are atheists and humanists. UAB has a robust LGBTQ community, and I’m proud to be a volunteer for Safe Zone, an organization that helps ensure UAB is a safe place for the gay, lesbian, and transgender communities.

There are all sorts of student organizations at UAB, too, as in any college or university. Just a few weeks ago, I was asked by a student if I’d be willing to be faculty adviser for a UAB ice skating club. I responded that I don’t skate or know much about it. The student, who is a woman and who is Jewish, said it didn’t really matter, they just needed a faculty adviser so the club could be sanctioned. I’ve been reading up on ice skating.

All of that to say that not only is UAB diverse, but it’s inclusive. But there must be limits, even to inclusivity. We wouldn’t want, for example, to have a Nazi club that existed to deny the Holocaust. We wouldn’t want a college chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

Likewise, UAB, nor any university, shouldn’t sanction a student chapter of the organization that calls itself “Identity Evropa.” The group’s motto, “European Roots, American Greatness,” pretty much says it all.

Wikipedia, which I won’t allow my students to use as a cited source, says the group is “an American neo-Nazi and white supremacist organization established in March 2016.”

In other words, it’s the Nazis and the KKK, under a different name. It’s a group Trump adviser Stephen Miller would likely be comfortable with – Trump, himself, too — and anything Trump and Miller are comfortable with makes me very uncomfortable. It should make you uncomfortable, too.

“Identity Evropa’s” purpose is “to spread support for white nationalism,” Wikipedia says. That means “white supremacist or white separatist ideologies, often focusing on the alleged inferiority of nonwhites,” writes the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery.

“Identity Evropa” posters have started showing up on UAB’s campus – and many other college campuses as well. Mark Potok with the SPLC, is quoted as saying: “Identity Evropa is merely the latest iteration of the white-supremacist movement … they’re merely a gussied-up version of the Klan. The group is dangerous, though, in that it’s making a concerted effort to reach out to university students under the guise of a thoughtful political movement.”

So diversity is a really good thing. But white supremacist groups are anything but diverse. Their very nature excludes anybody but really, really, stupid white people.

Now I know slow thinkers are going to argue that college campuses have many different organizations — organizations for Christians and Muslims and Asians and African-Americans, and Jewish students, and many, many others. But those organizations aren’t saying their race or religious or life identity is better than anyone else’s. And never, to my knowledge, have these groups declined to acknowledge the value of any other.

By their very nature, white supremacist groups like “Identity Evropa” excludes people, looks down on those they exclude as lesser humans than they, claims one particular race is superior over another. Like Hitler and the Nazis. Like the KKK, and its campaigns against blacks, Jews, Catholics, and even whites who disagreed with their terrorism.

Shiny, pretty wrapping paper only hides a Christmas present until it’s ripped to shreds on Christmas morning. “Identity Evropa’s” seemingly attractive gift wrapping to some misguided people only hides an unwanted present underneath. A white elephant, if you will. Its ideology and purpose is ugly, hurtful, dangerous, and wrong. This neo-Nazi/KKK conglomeration has been unwrapped, and reveals itself as no gift worth having for anyone who has a functioning conscience or a loving soul.

I seriously doubt they’ll find a faculty adviser at UAB.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | Let’s march: The #Neveragain reckoning on guns

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