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War Hero Versus Shooting Star

As Andrew Hammel from the University of Düsseldorf pointed out in his interview with Jörg Wolf recently, most Germans "haven't the faintest idea what John McCain stands for" politically. If you thought you could find out by reading his autobiography, think again. "Faith of My Fathers" could just as well be placed on the bookshelf labeled "military history".

In his so-called "family memoir", John McCain describes in detail wartime adventures of his father and his grandfather. Both were named like himself: John Sidney McCain, and both were four-star admirals in the Navy. John McCain the third (72) succeeded them to military academy and became a bomber pilot. After childhood and youth full of fits of rage and fistfights followed the stereotypical life of a soldier, including fights, romantic escapades, alcohol and gambling.

A notorious maverick from a 200-year-old military dynasty

After his training, John McCain wanted eagerly to go to Vietnam. "More than professional considerations lay beneath my desire to go to war. Nearly all the men in my family had made their reputations at war. It was my family's pride." Bombing Hanoi, John McCain was shot down in 1967 and became a prisoner of war for four an a half years. He declined an early release as an admiral's son because that would have violated the Code of Conduct. Towards the end of his book, he sums up the lesson he's drawn from his time as a prisoner of war, definitely the most important experience in his life: "Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself, to a cause, to your principles, to the people on whom you rely, and who rely on you in return. [...] This is the faith that my commanders affirmed, that my brothers-in-arms encouraged my allegiance to. It was the faith I had unknowingly embraced at the Naval Academy. It was my father's and grandfather's faith."

That's pretty much all the Republican candidate reveals about himself in his book. But it might suffice in order to judge his personality by. John McCain painstakenly presents himself as a notoriously unpredictable maverick on the one hand, and as fiercely patriotic, on the other. Both themes have played a role throughout his 2008 campaign.

During the 21 years that McCain has been representing the State of Arizona as a Senator in Washington, he's gained himself a reputation as a hothead, but also as an independent thinker. Often, he has been at odds with his own party, and many conservative Republicans consider him to be too liberal. But the financial crisis has put Barack Obama well ahead of John McCain in the polls.

The financial crisis has turned the tide in favor of Barack Obama

McCain, who has often admitted not to know that much about economics, seemed to have missed the debacle of the century. While he was hastily trying to make up for his lapse, the junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama (42), stood by watching and looking level-headed and presidential. To make things worse for McCain, his choice of Alaska governor Sarah Palin (44) turned out to be a disaster. While at first, the ultra-conservative mother of five seemed to win over the hearts of the right wing of the Republican party, her incompetent sounding statements cost McCain precious credibility points. With a vice presidential candidate on his side who's more of a burden than a partner, John McCain grasped the last remaining straw and promised tax cuts. But it's unclear whether the well-tried Republican panacea will help him win the election. The deadweight of both the economic crisis and the war in Iraq has unsettled all Americans. The sooner they can put the era of Bush behind, the better. It seems that Barack Obama has the answers that John McCain doesn't.

Obama reminds his readers of the American Dream

In his second book, "The Audacity of Hope", Barack Obama develops plans to solve the pressing problems of the country, e.g. its crumbling health care system. He talks straight and honest sounding about politics, the constitution, family, faith, race and the "world beyond our borders". Displaying the same elegance that distinguishes him as a speaker, the author commemorates the American "melting pot", which he represents, the constitutions and the Founding Fathers' ideals, the New Deal that helped lead the US out of the Great Depression in the 1930s, and the great presidents ranging from Lincoln to Roosevelt. In contrast to the polarizing kind of policies that has marked Republican leadership since Reagan, putting dividing side topics like abortion, gun control, evolution and gay marriage in the center of public debate, Obama claims that there's less that divides the nation than what unites it. Most of the people he met "thought that anybody willing to work should be able to find a job that paid a living wage. They figured that people shouldn't have to file for bankruptcy because they got sick. They believed that every child should have a genuinely good education and that those same children should be able to go to college even if their parents weren't rich. They wanted to be safe, from criminals and from terrorists; they wanted clean air, clean water, and time with their kids. And when they got old, they wanted to be able to retire with some dignity and respect." This might not sound like much. But once the myth of the divided nation is unmasked as untrue, people might start asking for real solutions for problems that really matter.

For real change in American policies

With America's reputation abroad ruined and the economy in turmoil, the psychological strain is high. In order to keep the US safe and competitive, investments in infrastructure, education, science and technology as well as energy independence are necessary. Obama calls for good policies instead of ideologies: "In other words, we should be guided by what works. [... Bill] Clinton's Third Way went beyond splitting the difference. It tapped into the pragmatic, nonideological attitude of the majority of the Americans."

Obamas positions sound at times standard Democratic, at times standard Republican. He is decidedly pro-choice, but concedes that pro-life Christians hold honest and deeply-felt motives for their fight against abortion. He is skeptical about the death penalty, but thinks it appropriate in cases of especially "heinous" crimes like mass murder and the rape and the murder of a child. His a devout Christian yet frankly admits that his mother used to consider religion more of an anthropological phenomenon. He wants to spend more on public education, but only in exchange for more accountability for parents and teachers. He grants that some welfare programs "sapped people of their initiative and eroded their self-respect," but also that a job in itself doesn't guarantee you can rise out of poverty. Most people aren't as different from each other as Washington likes to portray them, Obama maintains. "Spend time actually talking to Americans, and you discover that most evangelicals are more tolerant than the media would have us believe, most secularists more spiritual. Most rich people want the poor to succeed, and most of the poor are both more self-critical and hold higher aspirations than the popular culture allows. Most Republican strongholds are 40 percent Democrat and vice versa. The political labels of liberal and conservative rarely track people's personal attributes." Nobody has won an election with such concilliable statements in a long time. The fact that Obama could only proves how strongly Americans wish for different politics than what they've seen for the last eight years. Just how different these could turn out to be is literally visible on Obamas face.

A black man of mixed heritage

Barack Obama, son to a white mother from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, was born in the youngest and most exotic state of the union: Hawaii. He calls himself "a black man of mixed heritage". When he was two years old, his parents divorced. He therefore hardly knew his father. When he was five, his mother remarried and took her son with her to Indonesia to live with his Indonesian stepfather – another experience which sets Obama apart from many of his fellow citizens who don't even own a passport. After five years living abroad, "Barry" returned to Hawaii, where he was raised mainly by his white grandparents. They adhered two traditional Midwestern values: honesty, hard work, and a fair chance for all. Obama experienced his adolescence as "trying to raise myself to be a black man in America, and beyond the given of my appearance, no one around me seemed to know exactly what that meant."

Even though his family wasn't well-off, they provided him a private school education. He won a scholarship with Columbia University and moved to New York. After graduation, he went to work as a community organizer in Chicago's South Side for three years. This time of his life and his origins both made an impact on the man who could become the first African-American to be elected president of the United States. In the first part of his autobiography, "Dreams from My Father", which he wrote after having completed Harvard Law School, Obama recounts in his own words his experiences and reflections on being black in America.

Concerning content as well as style, Barack Obamas couldn't be more different from John McCain's. McCain bores the reader with wartime stories and theatrical patriotism, while Obama shows rhetoric brilliance. The story of his life is less mainstream and more interesting than McCain's, and he reveals more personal thoughts and emotions. His first book, "Dreams from My Father", was published years before his political career started. The fact that he kept true to the same honesty and depth of thought in his second book, "The Audacity of Hope", was rewarded by hundreds of thousands of readers. It was published in 2006, two years after Obama had over night entered the stage of national politics with his celebrated speech at the Democratic party convention.

Barack has become a symbol for America's hope, America's dream: "A common dream, born of two continents. My parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or "blessed", believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success. They imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even though they weren't rich, because in a generous America you don't have to be rich to achieve your potential." Compared to this vision, John McCain's promises for tax cuts at home and victory in Iraq can hardly score. But, as a Republican pundit put it recently: "McCain can't win, but Obama can still loose." By next Tuesday we'll find out just how hard the "Bradley-effect' will hit.

This article written by Atlantic Review blogger Sonja Bonin was first published (in German) in Migros Magazin, Switzerland.

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Jean on :

Sonja - first of all, you have written 'two' instead 'to' in your ....... essay? Propaganda piece? Homage to Obama? How dare you accuse Americans of racism if they don't select Europe's choice? Do tell, did Obama have anything about Rev. Wright in his memoirs? Or Ayers? Dorn? Kahlidi? Anything about bankrupting the coal industry?

Sonja on :

Thanks for your comment, Jean. I didn't accuse anybody of racism. Feel free to elaborate Rev. Wright, Ayers, Dorn, Kahlidi and bankrupting the coal industry in another comment. I'm sure lots of our readers don't know much about it. Nor do they know much about Senator McCain. The Atlantic Review always appreciates substantial information.

Jean on :

Rev, Wright - raving racist who blames 'whitey' for 'running a world in need because of white man's greed.' Obama agrees with him and sat in his congregation for twenty years listening to him. Ayers - unrepentant terrorist and Obama mentor. In an interview with The New York Times published on, of all days, Sept. 11th 2001, he stated that he felt he didn't 'do enough' to stop the Vietnam war. Some of his followers blew themselves up while building a bomb they planned to detonate at an NCO dance on Fort Dix - btw, combat operations in Vietnam were long over when the Weather Underground were running around murdering people. Dorn is Ayers' wife and also a terrorist. Reacted with joy to news of the Tate murders - 'Kill the pigs! Dig it'. Kahlidi - another Obama pal and PLO/terrorism apologist. Obama also buys into the notion that America must drastically reduce its CO2 production, right here, right now! rather the a gradual decline. He plans to make it too expensive for mining companies to open new plants, and to tax existing plants out of business. His economic plan is far, far leftist - redistributionist. LBJ introduced welfare in the sixties, and the urban illegitimacy rate exploded from 25% to 90%. Gingrich's welfare to work plan was enacted in 1996 - and the teenage birth rate started falling, and continued to fall. Obama plans to increase the EITC - okay, I'm fine with that. However, he plans on big increases if a recipient is also making child payments - thus, the low skilled young men are incentivised to have lots and lots of children - yeah! Welfare is back! Pelosi and Reid want to reintroduce the so-called 'fairness doctrine' which will kill off righty talk radio, and we can't even turn to the 'net, because Obama wants to introduce 'net neutrality.' Bye bye First Amendment. And then there's Obama's "National Civilian Security Force' which is to be funded as well as the military is; I have but one question - black or brown shirts? So well done Europeans - you have helped us elect our very own dictator! Let's hope the Balkans doesn't blow up again, because the congress critters are talking about cutting military funding 25%.

Sonja on :

Thanks again for your comment, Jean. I wish you had added some proof of your allegations against your new president-elect. And I have to say: I resent you calling him a "buddy" of terrorists and a "dictator", as well as you comparing America under a president Obama to Nazist Germany. Last but not least: How did we Europeans help elect the American president again? As far as I know, it's the American people who elects president and Congress; polls have repeatedly proven that Americans think very differently from Europeans, and last time I checked, Americans didn't tend to think that anybody from abroad should influence their choices in politics and policies - nor did that happen, or we would have experienced an American foreign policy very different from president Bush's.

Jean on :

Sonja - look to the top right of your computer screen. There's a little window there with the word 'google' in it. Just type in a name, say Ayers, and you'll find lots of links - google is your friend. As for helping to elect Obama, the One disabled the AVS on his online site - lots of money poured in from abroad. At the moment there's about $222 million unverified by the FEC - a lot of that money came from abroad, to include a Spanish minister. The Volokh Conspiracy has all the details - oh, and they're all law professors at that blog, so you can trust the information there. As to your last point, tut, tut, tut. I'm afraid you're displaying elitism there Sonja. Opinion polls show that Americans and Europeans are much closer to one another politically (Foreign Affairs, Sept./Oct. 2003), such as on issues like the death penalty - it's just that 'democracy' is actually practiced in the US, whereas elites (European commission) rule the old continent. This is getting old - I know the drill. 'Europe' hates Republicans and always wants a Democrat; well, you got your wish. We have an expression in english; be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. Better hurry up and create that EU Army; the Messiah says the US is going to tamp down on foreign commitments to 'save money.'

Don S on :

"Better hurry up and create that EU Army; the Messiah says the US is going to tamp down on foreign commitments to 'save money.'" And I voted for him for that very reason, among others. I am a political conservative, but a conservative who has concluded there is no reason to defend people who refuse to defend themselves.

Jean on :

Well, Don S - I'm very afraid you're going to get the opposite of what you think you voted for. The 'world' has already lined up to test Bambi boy, rocket barrages into Israel and the Russians announcing missiles deployed to Kalingrad, and now we'll see how he'll respond. The political pressure will be on him to show that he's 'tough.' So expect a military response - btw, my husband's Army, and depending on who the Messiah names as SecDef, he'll resign his commission, as will many, many of his friends. PS Don S - the EU has no Army, nor will it for at least twenty, thirty years, if ever. EADS just told the German government that the A400M is waaaayyy behind schedule, and if EADS had to pay the fines for late production, then they weren't going to produce the plane at all. Hate to break your idealistic little heart, but militarily speaking, it's the US or no one. Good job voting for the Marxist, btw. Somewhere, whatever is left of Al Qaeda is cheering. Enjoy the tax increases!!!!!

Don S on :

"PS Don S - the EU has no Army, nor will it for at least twenty, thirty years, if ever." I'm aware of that, Jean. Although I DO think that might change right quick if the US ever gave them final warning of withdrawal of security guarantee's, say with 3 to 5 years fair warning before bye-bye. And made it stick, of course. I don't expect Obama to go nearly that far. I expect him to emphasize the rest of the planet over Europe as his priority. From my POV that is a step forward. And I expect him to get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan (particularly the latter), although disengaging from those tar babies may be easier said than done. I think the consequences will land in Europe, and amid lamentations and general bitching I will think 'be careful what you ask for'. But I won't laugh as the chickens come home to roost....

Anonymous on :

My dear Don, your wrong with pronostics upon Obama's next policy. General Petraeus has alredy said that the US army duty wont't change with any of the both candidates in charge, (Pentagon designs are not made for a monthly agenda, but for years or decades) so don't expect that your leaving Irak or Afghanistan soon, nor EU ; may-be Nato will be redefined as far as its objectives and structures ; that also are the desires of Merkel and Sarkozy, we want an EU direction, at least in alternance with the US. The new Nato as enviewed by the Europeans would also act as the global european army, with its agendas. Otherwise, France and UK have already the ability of nuclear defense, and for extending it to the EU, the needs are financial ; modern technologies and carriers are expensive too, mens are available in the biggest EU countries, even from Poland, so the EU army, could be set very soon, see how we managed to mend the money crisis, the georgian crisis... Don your living in a "has-been" world like McCain, a Vet from a forgotten and "shameful" war, who still know EU through the fifties criteriums, like most of your versus compatriots, you seem to think we are still doomed by the last WW antagonisms... not anymore, and you'll discover it months after months from now

Marie Claude on :

Jean, don't talk about Boeing, please LMAO

John in Michigan, USA on :

"And I expect him to get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan (particularly the latter), although disengaging from those tar babies may be easier said than done." I agree he wants to get us out of Iraq...but Afghanistan? News to me. Of course, everyone wants to get out of Afghanistan in the long term...but I assume you are talking about getting us out of Afghanistan in the short term. What is your basis for thinking Obama wants that? It seems to me he wanted to increase our focus there (and possibly increase troops as well) in order to catch bin Laden. Is there a secret code I have to have to get the real Obama foreign policy :-)

Don S on :

"Hate to break your idealistic little heart, but militarily speaking, it's the US or no one." Jean, my 'idealistic little heart' is as cold as the South Pole in July. I DO realize that it's 'the US or no one', but my reasoning is that some deals are so bad for the US that 'no one' is better than 'Uncle Sucker', at least from the POV of a US citizen. The continental EU countries have been steadily seeking to undermine the diplomatic basis upon which the US needs to do business as the superpower. I don't see that ending soon, and I see little reason why the US should continue extending services free gratis to Europe on that basis. ""Good job voting for the Marxist, btw. Somewhere, whatever is left of Al Qaeda is cheering. Enjoy the tax increases!!!!!"" He's not a 'marxist'. I really don't care whether Al-Qaeda is cheering. I DO care that Al-Qaeda doesn't hit the US, Canada, the UK, Nederlands, or others on the steadily shrinking list of coutries which have proven they back up their promises, but if AQ should happen to take down La Defense or one of the Frankfurt towers I will be shocked and dismayed for fully as long as continental Europeans were after 9-11. That is for no more than 3 months, then fergeddaboutit. You know?

Marie Claude on :

Anonymous is me

Pat Patterson on :

I can only hope that the Swis do not use fact checkers in the above article because the whoppers concerning both McCain and Obama should be better left to barroom arguments then the printed page. I began to lose interest in the second paragraph when McCain as somehow, "followed the stereotypical life of a "soldier." Is that a typo or simply lack of awareness of the difference between a sailor and a soldier? And why is the book referred to as a "so-called family memoir?" And to claim that McCain adopted tax cuts as a last minute ploy ignores his consistent support of supply-side tax cuts as an early supporter of Pres. Reagan. I am also a little concerned with the idea that certain issues are somehow divisive if there is debate about them. If the issues of abortion, gay rights, race etc., are not brought out into the open then unelected lifers in the government are given carte blanche to "solve" them which is an outcome that can be no more pleasing to the left than to the right. I can only assume that you would also claim that the anti-war protestors of the 60's and the black activists in the South after World War II were divisive because they brought these issues before polite company and demanded that the nation match its outcomes with its rhetoric? A few other unsourced whoppers are that Obama's grandparents in Hawaii were not wealthy as tuition to Punahou, whose admittance to requires a native born reference, average grades and a check for around $8,000. What is very surprising is that Punahou has an excellent reputation for the ambitious seeking connections in Hawaiian life and yet somehow has managed to get a good academic reputation on the Mainland in spite of consistently ranking near the bottom of test scores and college placement compared to the some dozen or so other private schools in Hawaii. As an aside it should be noted that the public schools in Hawaii are dreadful and except for New York and Connecticutt has the highest percentage of students enrolled in private schools in the nation. I notice you have not mentioned Obama's rather undistinguished career at Occidental College and considering he has not released any transcripts the claim of a scholarship to Columbia seems unreliable and fanciful. Also the idea that in his talks with average Americans that they believed everybody willing to work should have a job flies in the face of consistent polling by the Gallup Organization and the Pew Center shows that while most Americans want full employment they also don't think that they are owed jobs simply by being willing to work. And the image of Sen. Obama listening to some calloused fingered worker talking about a "living wage" is simply too funny to be believed. I am not trying, though it might appear so, to reargue the election. Like most Americans I am thrilled that inspite of being founded as a slave nation a descendent of one of the nations that was even slightly involved with the slave trade has become the president is amazing. But I simply expect that those who wish to idealize Obama to simply not repeat unsubstantiated campaign rhetoric.

Sonja on :

Thanks, Pat. You're right, it should have said "sailor" instead of "soldier". The sources for my article were the three books the two candidates published.

Pat Patterson on :

There's no mention of a scholarship to Columbia in either book nor did Obama claim his grandparents were not well off rather that the lived modestly and valued hard work. Plus the description of the varied reactions to the stock market decline happened well after any of the books were published so there are obviously other sources you relied on without attribution.

Jean on :

Well, it's day 2 after the 'historic' election and the global markets seem to think that the One (TM) is a marxist. The US markets just had their biggest post-election plunge ever! Marie Claude - glad I could give you a laugh. Whenever the French decide to reconnect to reality get back to me and we'll have a conversation. Don S - the US is the global provider of security, and has been since it took over the role from the Brits. This is the world the US has been building since the end of WWII. The IMF (or perhaps the World Bank) recently reported that 634 million people have been lifted out of absolute poverty because of free trade - you want things like that to continue? If you want to understand what US policy is, read The Pentagon's New Map by T.P.M. Barnett - both Iraq and Afghanistan are Leviathan, and necessary. We, the military and families, are the ones making the sacrifices in this Long War - all we ask of you lot is not to go wobbly. Oops, too late - you voted for the Messiah!

Don S on :

"the US is the global provider of security, and has been since it took over the role from the Brits." Jean, the Brits were never a 'global provider' of security. They had a more or less global empire, and provided security to it's empire including India, Australia, and Canada. But outside it's empire and the oceans the UK provided very little security to much of the globe, including most of the Americas and Asia. The US is in a far different strategic position to that occupied by the UK during the heyday of the British Empire. We are self-sufficient in food, potentially far more self-sufficient in many strategic materials, less dependent on inter-empire trade (because we have no empire), far more interested in Latin America, far less interested in Africa, and about equally interested in Asia. Above all the UK never extended a strategic guarantee to the entire continent of Europe; it's continental guarantes extended to Belgium and perhaps Portugal, no further. The US should not seek to be a global supplier, but focus upon US interests. If US interests parallel those of other countries cooperation is possible, but one lesson of the past 20 years is that the collapse of the Berlin Wall did not only bring down the USSR and the Warsaw Pact; it made NATO untenable as well. The interests of the US and most of Europe diverge far more than, and NATO must be fundamentally change to be far looser and more 'optional'. Europe has already made it clear that NATO is an option in their POV; the US needs to make the same change. Don't bin it entirely, as it still can serve a useful role in coordination. But recognize that an arrangement which binds the US absolutely and Europe not at all does NOT serve US interests....

Jean on :

Don S - the Brits provided the Royal Navy, which guarded the shipping lanes, which allowed trade to flourish - that's the sense in which I meant 'global security.' It was a complete misunderstanding of the role of the Royal Navy and how they guarded trade routes that led to the Great War. And the US has taken over the role of protecting free trade. And I know damn well that the Brits had an empire - they colonized my country of origin for eight hundred years. You are, however, missing the freakin' point - Europe is a huge, well-developed market. Lots of good products, and medical research, and innovation that improves life for everybody on this planet come out of Europe. I know damn well how bad it is putting up with European arrogance and disconnect from reality, however, with great power comes great responsibility. The US watches over them because, thanks to the welfare state, they can't guard themselves. And where the heck are you getting 'three months sympathy' from? Heck, on the day that 'Le Monde' declared 'We are all Americans now' they had an opinion piece stating that Americans had brought 9-11 on itself!

Marie Claude on :

I know damn well how bad it is putting up with European arrogance and disconnect from reality, however, with great power comes great responsibility. The US watches over them because, thanks to the welfare state, they can't guard themselves. And where the heck are you getting 'three months sympathy' from? Heck, on the day that 'Le Monde' declared 'We are all Americans now' they had an opinion piece stating that Americans had brought 9-11 on itself! what's the hell are you talking about ? reverse the discourse, it's all right then ! LMAO

Marie Claude on :

Jean, your living in a bubble of self congratulation, open your eyes, these glorious times are over ; about the “has been EU”, sorry to disapoint you but we took the relay on the world scene, uh, when ? last august with Georgia crisis, with the money crisis that we as a whole were prompt to mend… wait and see, EU is gonna be more present on the international scene, up to the last decade, America was in advance about 30 years as THE model to copy, therefore the culture, the american dream… the scum on TV as well(series or programs), the goods, the gadgets… BUT you’ll never go further on and or overcome the obamists wave (that another idem wave will follow), if you can’t renew your ideas, sorry to repeat myself http://www.romandie.com/ats/news/081106131827.sqme1r6i.asp [url=http://www.lemonde.fr/elections-americaines/article/2008/11/04/les-europeens-proposent-un-partenariat-d-egal-a-egal-au-prochain-president-des-etats-unis_1114399_829254.html]les europeens proposent un partenariat d'égal à égal au prochain president des Etats-Unis[/url°

Jean on :

Right - here's a good link to someone who describes the various problems with the President elect far more eloquently than I. Read it and weep - unless you are so far disconnected from reality that you think the EU can actually provide global solutions. http://streetwiseprofessor.com/?p=850

Don S on :

It's not as bad as all that, Jean. This 'you know they want to' crack, what 'they' are we talking about? 'They' range from krakalooloo's like Maxine Waters to fairly sensible sorts like Jim Webb. Barack Obama has enough sense to realize that he can only do a few things without the whole thing dissolving into kaka. He's like Reagan in that way. Reagan advocated but did not enact most of his program, because he couldn't with a Democratic Congress. Where he is NOT like Reagan is that he did not run on a coherent ideological platform. He ran on competency and minimal change, and that is what we'll get. Hopefully.

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