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Top ten Alabama political stories of the decade: Part 2

Brandon Moseley

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Part 2 of 2

Alabama’s love affair with Donald Trump.

In June 2015, New York billionaire and reality TV star Donald J. Trump, announced that he was running for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. Trump was just one of seventeen major candidates in the Republican field. Alabama has not supported a Democratic nominee for President since Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in 1976 and everyone in politics understood that there was no way that Hillary Clinton would ever carry the state in 2016, no matter who got the Republican nomination; but Trump’s popularity in Alabama was entirely unexpected. There were many more experienced candidates in the field, there were southern candidates in the field, there were more conservative candidates. Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio all had hopes of carrying Alabama and the deep south states.

Trump is a former Democrat, was on his third marriage, is from New York, and was late to the game; but U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, loaned Trump key members of his staff to write the border security heavy talking points that Trump would run on. The people of Alabama embraced Trump’s candidacy immediately, even though most political leaders in the state were hesitant. 50,000+ Trump supporters filled a stadium in Mobile just weeks after he announced his candidacy. The rally was covered by every news outlet and was live during primetime on all the news networks. Trump followed that with mass rallies at the BJCC in Birmingham and a stadium in Madison. Trump’s rallies were unlike anything any other candidates had even imagined. Trump easily won the Alabama Republican Primary on Super Tuesday and followed that by winning more votes than any other presidential candidate in the history of the state. Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives, still faces a trial in the Senate and may or may not win re-election in November; but appears to be certain to carry the state of Alabama in another landslide victory.

The curious career of Artur Davis.

In 2010, Artur Davis was a U.S. Congressman representing Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District. In 2008 he had defied Joe Reed and the powerful Alabama Democratic Caucus by being state campaign chairman for U.S. Senator Barack H. Obama (D). Davis’s dogged efforts on behalf of his college friend were successful and Obama carried Alabama and the southern states thanks to strong support from Black voters and went on to win the Presidency. The Seventh Congressional District has a majority of Black and minority voters whose support of Democratic candidates is over 90 percent. Davis was popular with the business community and a district gerrymandered so that only a Democrat can win; and he had close ties to President Obama. Davis, however wanted to be Governor and badly misread the political landscape in 2010. Most Alabamians opposed Obamacare, so Congressman Davis voted against it, the only Black Democrat in Congress to do so. Davis had simply assumed he would be the Democratic nominee for governor and was positioning himself to appeal to moderate White voters in the general election. The vote against the Affordable Care Act and his failure to embrace gambling expansion hurt him with Black voters and the much more liberal Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Ron Sparks (D) won the Democratic nomination for Governor in 2010, but lost to Bentley. Davis then became a Republican and embraced the candidacy of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R) in 2012. Davis has the distinction of being the only person to give speeches on the floor of both the 2008 Democratic national convention and the 2012 Republican national convention. Obama defeated Romney so there was no cabinet appointment for Davis. He then spent a year exploring running for Congress in Virginia before returning to Alabama. By 2015 it was becoming obvious that Whites were leaving Montgomery for Pike Road, Prattville, Millbrook, Coosada, and Wetumpka. Davis ran for Mayor of Montgomery promising to be the Black Mayor that could unite Black and White Montgomery. White voters decided they would rather keep Todd Strange for another term. Davis headed Legal Services of Alabama but resigned after a bitter disagreement over the direction of the agency. Davis wanted to run for Montgomery County Commissioner as a Democrat; but faced opposition from his own party over his previous Romney support. In 2019 he ran again for Mayor; but voters preferred Probate Judge Steven Reed instead.

To gamble or not to gamble and who gets the money.

The 1901 Constitution bans all games of chance in Alabama. Over the years county amendments to that created special exceptions for dog tracks, then bingo at the dog tracks, a horse track, and charity bingo. The Poarch Creek Band of Indians citing these exceptions opened electronic bingo facilities in Wetumpka and Shorter on their “tribal” lands under the federal Indian Gaming Act. In 2010 Gov. Bob Riley (R) created an anti-illegal gambling task force to close bingo facilities that were operating electronic bingo illegally. Riley asserted that bingo was a game played on a paper card not electronically and the Alabama Supreme Court agreed. Under threat of being forced out of business the handful of families that controlled the bingo business in Alabama pushed the Democratic controlled Alabama legislature to pass a constitutional amendment. The State Senate voted narrowly to approve the controversial constitutional amendment. The matter went to the Alabama House of Representatives, then under Democrat control. That was interrupted when the Obama Department of Justice announced that the FBI had been investigating the gambling bosses and the Alabama Senate and that Milton McGregor and Ronnie Gilley had allegedly bribed as many as six Alabama State Senators to pass the bill. The shocking turn of events meant that the gambling legislation wasn’t even going to be voted on in the House by Representatives for fear that they too would be indicted by the feds. The move had huge political ramifications because the gambling interests were suddenly spending their money on legal defenses, rather than on the re-elections of their allies in the Legislature. It also appeared to confirm Hubbard’s message that the Democratic controlled legislature was corrupt. The Poarch Creeks donated to Hubbard and Marsh’s effort to take over the Legislature. Even though Republican Senators were among those indicted, the scandal helped the GOP win their 2010 landslide political victory. Gilley and several co-conspirators pled guilty to bribery and corruption charges. McGregor and the Senators held firm and were ultimately found not guilty in two highly publicized trials. Polling shows that most people in Alabama support a paper lottery and every year the legislature considered and ultimately rejected a lottery proposal. The issue every year is electronic bingo. The vested bingo interests want electronic bingo and oppose any lottery amendment that does not include a provision allowing the dog tracks to have electronic bingo. The Poarch Creeks generally support efforts to have a paper only lottery and oppose provisions for video lottery terminals or other such gaming at the dog tracks. The issue of a compact allowing the Indians to expand their gaming in exchange for them paying taxes to the state has also come up; but that is opposed by the dog tracks who oppose giving the Poarch Creeks a gambling monopoly. In 2016 Bentley ordered a special session to consider a lottery; but that failed when each House passed a different lottery proposal. The subject is expected to be a controversial topic again in the 2020 session.

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The long neglected prisons.

Politicians like to send people to prison; but nobody wants to properly fund prisons. The overcrowding, understaffing, deteriorating physical condition of the prisons was known by the Legislature each year of the decade and each year the legislature elected to do something next year. The Alabama Department of Corrections is funded in the State General Fund (SGF). The 2008 Great Recession and constitutional earmarking of money meant that most State General Fund budgets in the decade were smaller than the 2008 SGF budget. Worse, medical costs skyrocketed so troughout the decade, Alabama Medicaid took more and more revenue that was available in the SGF. In state budget after state budget the prisons were shortchanged. Legislators were loathe to pass any new taxes to fund prisons; because it would be politically unpopular and the ongoing impasse over gambling meant that there was no new income for the SGF. Prison guards went years without raises. The Bentley and Ivey administrations both put off maintenance in hopes that the Legislature would approve new prisons. New prisons that have never been built. The Justice Department has declared that the Alabama state prisons are the most dangerous in the nation and the federal courts are threatening a takeover of the prison system as a new decade begins.

Alabama children don’t read well and can’t do math.

Test score after test score confirms that Alabama’s public schools are among the worst in the entire country. This is nothing new; but has reached all time lows this decade. Recently the state’s school children scored dead last in math. Under AEA’s powerful influence, the state resisted school choice more than almost any other state. Most parents have little options about where their children can go to school. With Del Marsh taking the lead, the Republicans did create some new options for students in failing schools, passing legislation allowing scholarship granting organizations to give scholarships to children in failing schools to opt instead for private schools. A handful of charter schools have been allowed; but there is still considerable resistance to charters by vested special interests in Montgomery and at the local level. An effort by Marsh to weaken the state tenure law was rejected in the legislature. Common Core was supposed to raise performance; but the results in Alabama thus far have been nothing short of a disaster. The Ivey administration is spending much more on pre-K so that children will start school better prepared; but none of that has yet born results on the state’s test scores. The state is expanding apprenticeship programs and efforts to improve workforce development both in high schools and in the two year college system. The improving economy has made it harder for schools to recruit new teachers and the Legislature has had to raise teacher pay after pay had stagnated over much of the decade. Voters will decide on March 3 whether they want to jettison the elected state school board and go to an appointed board.

 

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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America celebrates Independence Day

The United States celebrates its independence from Great Britain every year on July 4.

Brandon Moseley

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The United States celebrates its independence from Great Britain every year on July 4.

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was ratified by the Second Continental Congress. This is a national and state holiday that is celebrated with fireworks, family gatherings, concerts of patriotic music and is traditionally the height of the summer holiday season.

The Declaration of Independence defined the rights of man and the relationship between government and the governed. It also stated the colonists grievances with the distant British government and explained why independence was both justified and necessary.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation,” the Declaration reads.

The principal writer of the Declaration of Independence was Thomas Jefferson, who would go on to be the wartime governor of Virginia, vice president and the third president of the United States.

As brilliant as the Declaration of Independence is, independence was not won by words alone — but by the sacrifices of the men and women who sacrificed on and off the battlefields of Concord, Lexington, Bunker Hill, Quebec, Charleston, Trenton, Saratoga, Valley Forge, Kings Mountain, Cowpens, Guilford Court House, Yorktown and countless more to win the nation’s independence.

That ragtag, often poorly equipped and underfed army was led by General George Washington. Washington would go on to be the head the Constitutional convention and the first president of the United States, serving two terms.

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Both Washington and Jefferson are immortalized on Mount Rushmore as two of the greatest presidents.

An estimated 25,000 Americans were killed fighting the Revolutionary War. The British forces lost over 10,000 troops including many Americans who opposed independence and fought and died for the British crown. An estimated 58,000 crown Loyalists would leave this country over their loyalty to the British crown. Many of them settled in Canada.

“Today, we celebrate our Nation’s independence and the vision of our Founding Fathers revealed to the world on that fateful day, as well as the countless patriots who continue to ensure that the flames of freedom are never extinguished,” President Donald Trump said in the annual presidential July 4 message.

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ADPH urges Alabamians to have “safer-at-home” July 4th celebrations

This year, amid a global pandemic, the Alabama Department of Public Health is urging Alabamians to celebrate at home to avoid catching or spreading the virus.

Brandon Moseley

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Saturday is the Fourth of July, a day when many families hold elaborate celebrations with their friends. It is a time for friends, family, fireworks, barbecue, celebrating our nation’s independence and enjoying the summer weather.

But this year, amid a global pandemic, the Alabama Department of Public Health is urging Alabamians to celebrate at home to avoid catching or spreading the virus.

“Independence Day is a wonderful celebration for all Americans,” the ADPH said on their website. “As we move toward this major holiday, we want to share some recommendations and reminders for local governmental officials.”

The novel strain of the coronavirus is the largest pandemic to deeply impact this country in a century. At least 57,236 Americans were diagnosed with the virus on Thursday alone and 131,533 Americans have died, including 983 Alabamians.

A few simple steps can greatly reduce your chances of being exposed and exposing others to COVID-19. Everyone should practice good hygiene, cover coughs and sneezes, avoid touching your face and wash hands often. Avoid close contact with people who are sick, even inside your home, and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others not in your household.

The use of cloth face coverings or masks when in public can greatly reduce the risk of transmission, particularly if the infected individual wears a mask. Many people are contagious before they begin to show symptoms — or may never develop symptoms but are still able to infect others.

The ADPH emphasized that there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, so the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to it.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also warns that everyone should avoid large gatherings.

This CDC video explains more about how large gatherings can spread the virus.

According to ADPH, there are no specific treatments for illnesses caused by human coronaviruses at this time.

There is ongoing medical research regarding treatment of COVID-19. Although most people will recover on their own, you can do some things to help relieve your symptoms, including taking medications to relieve pain and fever, using a room humidifier or take a hot shower to help ease a sore throat and cough and drinking plenty of fluids if you are mildly sick. Stay home and get plenty of rest.

Alabama is experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases in the month of June and into early July.

The state reported at least 1,758 positive cases on Friday alone, the most since the pandemic began. In the past seven days, 7,645 cases have been reported, the most of any seven-day period since the pandemic began.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases — used to smooth out daily variability and inconsistencies in case reporting — surpassed 1,000 for the first time Friday.

Since the first coronavirus case was identified in Alabama in early March, 41,362 Alabamians have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

 

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Alabama reports 1,750 new COVID-19 cases ahead of July 4th

The seven-day average of cases per day surpassed 1,000 for the first time Friday.

Brandon Moseley

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Since the first coronavirus case was identified in Alabama in early March, 41,362 Alabamians have tested positive for COVID-19.

Heading into the Fourth of July holiday weekend, Alabama is reporting more cases of COVID-19 than ever before as hospitalizations continue a worrisome surge and the state’s death toll rises.

Since the first coronavirus case was identified in Alabama on March 30, 41,362 Alabamians have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

The state reported at least 1,758 positive cases on Friday alone, the most since the pandemic began. In the past seven days, 7,645 cases have been reported, the most of any seven-day period since the pandemic began.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases — used to smooth out daily variability and inconsistencies in case reporting — surpassed 1,000 for the first time Friday.

Ahead of the holiday, the Alabama Department of Public Health is urging Alabamians to celebrate at home due to the coronavirus crisis.

On Friday, the Alabama Department of Public Health announced that another 22 Alabamians have died from COVID-19 just in the last 24 hours. That takes the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 983. Of those, 96 died in the last week alone (June 27-July 3).

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A few simple steps can greatly reduce your chances of being exposed and exposing others to COVID-19. Everyone should practice good hygiene, cover coughs and sneezes, avoid touching your face and wash hands often. Avoid close contact with people who are sick, even inside your home, and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others not in your household.

The use of cloth face coverings or masks when in public can greatly reduce the risk of transmission, particularly if the infected individual wears a mask. Many people are contagious before they begin to show symptoms — or may never develop symptoms but are still able to infect others.

Alabama reported an additional 22 deaths Friday, bringing the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 983, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Of those, 96 died in the past seven days alone, or roughly 10 percent of the state’s total death toll. In the past 14 days, 171 people have died, or roughly 17 percent of the state’s death toll.

Even as the number of tests also increases — at least 430,000 have been tested — a larger percentage of tests are coming back positive compared to any other time period, according to the Department of Public Health and APR‘s tracking.

Roughly 15 percent of tests in the past week have been positive.

The large increases come as Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday extended the current “safer-at-home” public health order, which was set to expire Friday, to July 31.

The number of individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 is also at a new high, with at least 843 people hospitalized with the virus on July 2, the most since the pandemic began.

On Monday, in Jefferson County, where cases are increasing rapidly, residents were ordered to wear masks or cloth face coverings in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. On Tuesday, the city of Mobile also began mandating masks or face coverings. The cities of Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and Selma have also implemented face covering orders.

Of the 7,645 cases confirmed in the last week, 1,321 — or roughly 17 percent — were reported in Jefferson County alone. Nearly 28 percent of Jefferson County’s 4,802 total cases have been reported in the last seven days. Since March, 152 people have died in Jefferson County.

A campaign rally for President Donald Trump that was planned for Mobile on July 11 has been canceled because of the rapidly worsening coronavirus situation there. Mobile County has had 633 newly diagnosed cases in the last week, or roughly 8 percent of the state’s cases this week. Mobile County has had a total of 3,904 cases and 134 deaths over the course of the pandemic.

Montgomery County reported 426 newly diagnosed cases in the last week. Overall Montgomery has had 3,947 total cases and 104 deaths thus far.

Tuscaloosa County has 393 new cases this week. The surging number of cases in Tuscaloosa and Lee Counties — where 276 tested positive this week — could potentially put the 2020 college football season in jeopardy. Tuscaloosa has had a total of 2,188 cases and 42 deaths, while Lee County has a total of 1,302 cases and 37 deaths.

Despite making it through several months with relatively moderate increases, Madison County is also experiencing a surge of new cases in recent weeks — with 407 cases in the last week alone. Madison has had 1,271 cases and seven deaths.

Many people are flocking to the beach for the Fourth of July holiday, where the coronavirus is also surging in Baldwin County with 328 new cases in the last seven days. Baldwin had been largely spared to this point with 828 cases in total and nine deaths. This week’s increase accounts for 40 percent of the county’s total case count.

Alabama is not alone in seeing surging case numbers. Forty of the 50 states reported rising coronavirus cases in the last week. On Thursday, 57,236 new cases were diagnosed and 687 Americans died. The U.S. death toll from the global pandemic has risen to 131,823.

Globally, there have been 11,092,229 cases diagnosed, though the real number is likely much higher. At least 526,450 people have died from COVID-19, and, with 208,860 new cases diagnosed on Thursday alone, there is no sign that this global pandemic will be over any time soon.

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Prison worker says excessive pepper spray may have killed inmate

A prison worker says the amount of pepper spray used was excessive, and that officers knowingly and intentionally put the inmate’s life in jeopardy.

Eddie Burkhalter

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It’s not yet clear what caused the death of 38-year-old Darnell McMillian after he was pepper sprayed inside an Alabama prison last month, but a prison worker says the amount of pepper spray used was excessive, and that officers knowingly and intentionally put his life in jeopardy.

Some time around 6 p.m. on June 22, three correctional officers placed McMillian in suicide cell S-11, with an inmate who was known to be aggressive and who was already on suicide watch, according to a prison worker with knowledge of the incident, who reached out to APR to discuss the death because the person said it troubled them.

The ADOC worker asked not to be identified because the person is still employed with the department.

“He shouldn’t have been doubled up with somebody,” the worker said of the aggressive inmate already in cell S-11. “It was very clear that the person in that cell was threatening.”

The worker said the officers enticed the two men to fight, and once the inmate began threatening McMillian, McMillian took the first swing to hit the man.

The three officers standing outside then deployed a pepper spray called Cell Buster into the cell, the worker said. Cell Buster is a potent spray used by correctional staff and produced by the Chicago-based company Sabre.

“The inmate was yelling that he couldn’t breathe,” the employee said. “One Cell Buster is enough to do a lot of damage. There were three officers present at the time of this, and there were three cans of Cell Busters sprayed.”

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The employee said that once McMillian was pulled from the cell, he was almost unconscious and then “went completely unconscious, because he was coughing and aspirating.”

The cell was then cleaned by inmates, except for some spots of blood, which the worker said might make it appear to have been a homicide by the other inmate, but the worker said several staff members at the prison believe the death may have been caused by excessive use of pepper spray.

“He was on his back when they were getting him to the infirmary, which can also cause asphyxiation, especially if he’s coughing and saying he can’t breathe. That spray can make you vomit,” the worker said.

While there are video cameras that record each suicide cell, the worker said they do not believe there is footage from cell S-11 during the time of McMillian’s death. The employee said they’ve been through many incidents in the prison but that “this one seems pretty bad.”

The worker said it’s not clear why the officers encouraged a fight between the other inmate and McMillian, but from experience, the person said some officers will do so when an inmate angers them.

The employee said when they read APR’s first article on McMillian’s death, and there was little information on what happened, they decided to reach out.

“I’d rather share it and put it out there,” the person said. Some details of what the worker said were corroborated by the Jefferson County Coroner’s office.

Jefferson County Coroner Bill Yates told APR on Thursday that McMillian’s final cause of death awaits results from the autopsy, which can take between four and six weeks, but that there did not appear to be any external injuries that could have caused his death.

McMillian was pronounced dead at Donaldson prison at 7:49 p.m. on June 22, Yates said.

Yates, reading from his notes on the incident, said that in the moments before his death, there appeared to be a physical altercation between McMillian and another inmate, and that correctional officers used pepper spray to stop the fight.

“Obviously, Department of Corrections staff is going to step in to stop that, and it’s my understanding that after that, he was having complaints of not being able to breath,” Yates said. “I think they used — there was some pepper spray that was used to stop that, and he immediately went, from our understanding, to the infirmary.”

“From our autopsy, I don’t believe we found any type of trauma that would explain death,” Yates said.

His office is awaiting lab results, to include toxicology and other lab work to determine if drugs or an unknown medical condition may have been factors in his death, Yates said. McMillian didn’t have a history of any heart conditions, but Yates said lab results could reveal one if in fact he had a condition.

Asked if it’s possible to die from exposure to a large amount of pepper spray, Yates said “I haven’t heard of it, not to say it can’t happen.”

“I think you could pass away from extreme amounts of anything,” Yates said, but he’s never known of a death that resulted from large exposures to pepper spray.

Yates said there have been no reports to his office of any other inmate in that cell, or any ADOC staff, experiencing health problems as a result of the incident.

A 2003 study by the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice on the use of pepper spray by police and corrections staff in North Carolina found that two cases of the 63 studied resulted in death from the use of pepper spray, and that both incarcerated persons who died had asthma. In only one of those cases, however, a large amount of pepper spray was used on the man, and the positioning of the man’s body may have been a factor as well.

“Pepper spray was used more times in this case than in any other, but according to police officers, it was ineffective. The subject, who was obese, was handcuffed behind his back and placed in a facedown position when being transported,” the report states. “The difficulty of breathing in this position may have been compounded by the damage already done to his airways.”

In June, a 35-year-old inmate named Jamel Floyd died after correctional officers at a federal prison in Brooklyn used pepper spray after he had barricaded himself in his cell. He was unresponsive when removed from his cell and prison staff were unable to revive him, according to CNN. The death was under investigation and the U.S. Marshals and the FBI were notified, according to a release by the Metropolitan Detention Center.

According to the Sabre’s own promotional video, Cell Buster is to be used in three-second bursts, with the correctional officer checking after each burst to determine if the “desired effects” have been produced, before using it for another 3-second burst. Cell Buster’s description states that the product “delivers pain, irritation, inflammation, coughing, temporary blindness and redness of skin.”

ADOC spokeswoman Linda Mays in a message to APR on Thursday said that the department’s Law Enforcement Services Division is investigating all aspects of the incident.

“While we would like to address your questions and provide insight that would be helpful to you, at this juncture in the process we simply cannot provide information that would compromise the integrity of our ongoing investigation. More information will be available upon the conclusion of our investigation into Daniel [sic] McMillian’s death,” Mays wrote.

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