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Fear Itself.

Many commentators have argued that the Bush administration's response to 9/11 was driven by fear. They were never precise about what they meant, but a number of interpretations suggested themselves. (1) That members of the public panicked and demanded that the government "do something" regardless of whether a particular action was rational. (2) That members of Congress panicked and therefore acquiesced in actions by the executive that had dubious justifications. (3) That members of the executive branch panicked and adopted measures that bore no relationship to their goals. Various unpopular measures—detentions in Guantanamo Bay, harsh interrogation techniques, even the invasion of Iraq—were blamed on either a panicky government or (more commonly) a rational government taking advantage of the public's irrational fears to expand executive power. The theory, never fully articulated or explained, seemed to be that the executive's thirst for power could never be slaked; its goal to expand its authority infinitely could best be accomplished when the citizenry is frightened and unable to exercise its critical faculties and thus grateful for any evidence of government action, however implausible the case that it might accomplish something of value.

Many legal academics claimed that courts should serve as fire walls against the conflagration of fear. When the government locks someone up, the courts should realize that in many cases either government officials have panicked or are violating someone's civil liberties merely to assure frightened citizens that something is being done. For that reason, courts should treat the government's justifications with skepticism, and never ever trust the executive branch.

These arguments have not yet surfaced in the current crisis. The specter of fear is everywhere, not just on Wall Street. And the scale of the government's reaction is no less than what it was after 9/11—that is what probably scares ordinary people the most. Yet no one who believes that the government exploited fears after 9/11 to strengthen its security powers is now saying that the government is exploiting financial crisis fears in order to justify taking control of credit markets. No one who thinks that government would use fear to curtail civil liberties seems to think that government would use fear to curtail economic liberties. Why not?

Richard Aubrey (mail):
Why not? Because it was a bullshit answer. Because it was designed to discredit actions which the monger of the fearmongering meme disliked.
I suspect there is a substantial overlap between those who claimed to hate the WOT executive power grab and those who sincerely applaud the current--and potentially much more intrusive--extension of executive power.
10.13.2008 12:51am
richard cabeza:
No one who thinks that government would use fear to curtail civil liberties seems to think that government would use fear to curtail economic liberties.

I do. But then, I'm not a socialist.
10.13.2008 12:58am
Brian G (mail) (www):
I am quite sure that if Obama wins the arguments about too much executive power will end. And, if Obama wins we'll have the added bonus of a great economy, the end of terrorist threats, and blue skies and sunshine for a minimum of four years. Unless of course the stock market crashes and we get attacked again. The it'll all be Bush's fault and we can raise taxes to record levels. After all, that's what the Dems cried about after 9/11, a missed opportunity to raise taxes.
10.13.2008 12:59am
Commenterlein (mail):
As an economist, the answer seems simple - the actions the government has taken so far seem appropriate in scale, or if anything too moderate, relative to the scale of the problems we face. In fact most of us advocated direct equity investments into banks long before the administration overcame its seemingly purely ideological aversion to it.

Equating the Iraq invasion with the measures taken against the financial crisis makes no sense, and would make sense only if the administration had reacted to the current crisis by nationalizing the steel industry.
10.13.2008 1:02am
Mike& (mail):
No one who thinks that government would use fear to curtail civil liberties seems to think that government would use fear to curtail economic liberties.

I do. Lots of others do, too. There were even members of Congress talking about the bailout deal being like the pitch we'd received on a car lot. So I would that your statement is invalid.

Why not?

Economic liberties have always been the bastard child of the Constitution. The Contracts Clause and Takings Clause cases are a disgrace.

The psychological question is interesting: Why do people, even conservatives, tolerate infringement on their economic liberties?

And why do people like Robert Bork distrust government interference in the economy; but not in culture affairs. With liberals supporting government intervention in the economy, but not in social or cultural affairs.

People are crazy.
10.13.2008 1:05am
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
Questions somewhat misframed. Humans are sometimes confronted with situations that challenge their adequacy to deal with them. 9/11 was one such situation. The current credit meltdown is another. When that happens those in a position of leadership are confronted with the need to reasssure people that they have solutions, and one doesn't get positions of leadership by admitting there are no solutions.

Or at least a need to show action and avoid blame for inaction. Most people don't accept that sometimes inaction is better.

I prefer to tell it like it is, and that sometimes means declaring there are probably no solutions that can be carried out by the people we have available. That means taking creative courses that don't solve the problem as presented, but that re-frames the question to fit the means available.

For the meltdown the likely best course is to let it proceed to its conclusion, which will pass through a period of barter, until we reconstruct an economy using currency backed by something that works as a unit of market value. That was originally gold or silver coin, but could be joules of energy (with a constitutional amendment). Unfortunately, that will probably take us through a bottleneck in the world population, resulting in a massive dieback that most of the people on this forum will likely not survive.

Face it. The Universe is not organized for our comfort or convenience. Humanity is an accident that will pass. Have fun while you can.
10.13.2008 1:05am
OrinKerr:
Two possible reasons.

First, the future terrorist threat was more easy to deny than the future financial markets threat.

That is, it was possible in 2001 to deny the seriousness of the terrorist threat. The 9/11 attacks were pure luck, the argument ran, and Al Qaeda couldn't pull off something like that again. If the government is falsely claiming the threat is serious, they must be trying to use fear to bolster their power.

On the other hand, it's hard to deny the financial markets threat. The stock market moves every day with a very visible number. You can calculate the effect of the crisis on your stock portfolio every minute, minute by minute. As a result, the existence of the threat is hard to deny, and it's harder to make the argument that the government is using fear to bolster its power.

A second possible reason is that many elite opinion makers tend to be anti-government on civil liberties issues but pro-government in economic issues. I'm not sure how much weight that carries, but it's a possibility.
10.13.2008 1:06am
csm:
"After all, that's what the Dems cried about after 9/11, a missed opportunity to raise taxes."

No, plenty of people, Dems and Repubs alike, decried the idiocy of simultaneously cutting taxes and starting wars.

I don't think people are making the argument that fear is being exploited as you describe because I believe most people realize that the administration did an abysmal job of explaining why it felt its recommended course of action was necessary. It had to resort to fearmongering, a familiar and lazy strategy, to sell it.
10.13.2008 1:08am
Jay Myers:
I have heard people claim that rational entities including but not limited to the federal government are using the panic over our current economic circumstances to expand and strengthen their control over the US and/or world financial structure/economy but they are almost invariably people who also hold disreputable conspiracy theories in other areas.

What I myself think is that the federal government and the federal reserve are themselves gripped by fear and thus feel that they must do something to ameliorate the situation even if they don't know what it is that they should do. That is how we have ended up with our current bailout plan that has done exactly nothing to assuage the panic in the financial markets.

I have not seen one person in a position of authority lay out clearly what caused this problem, the mechanism by which the problem developed, and how their plan will address those specific points. If someone could do that then this crisis would be well on its way to being resolved even if the explanation and solution were deeply controversial among experts. If McCain could do this then he would likely win the election.

Instead, Obama &McCain keep throwing out slogans like 'greed!' and 'deregulation!' and hair-brained ideas with no relation to the problem of people gambling on the future value of assets with no transparency to their actions. Gambling belongs in casinos where the mob can get its cut like god intended. Evidently bookies do a better job of calculating risk than investment bankers.
10.13.2008 1:18am
Justin (mail):
Orin, it may have just been a phrasing issue, and I am probsbly reading too much into it. But I'm troubled by your choice of words in saying "easy to deny," as if those people who opposed curtailing civil rights were somehow being disingenuous about the threat. Another interpretation may be that they were simply wrong, but I'm not sure that's fair either. Because the problem wasn't that they denied that there was some threat, but simply about a) the size of the threat, and b) the effectiveness of the counterresponse, as well as c) the effect on civil liberties.

I know you have a personal stake in the Patriot Act, but that doesn't mean that its critics - or critics of the broader push that the Patriot Act were part of - are either disingenuous or silly. I hope you weren't implying this.

In any event, I agree with Commenterlein. In light of the Scandanavian experience, the US reaction - though perhaps more confused and less well executed - is certainly not greater in scope than what has been done elsewhere to similar problems.
10.13.2008 1:28am
beamish:
There are (or at least were, now that they let the Uighurs go) innocent people at Guantanamo, held because we didn't care about due process. The Iraq War was an unjust, foolish war, fought on false pretenses.

Maintaining a working monetary system is (we have learned through trial and error) one of the central functions of government. Government may do the wrong thing, but there's no serious doubt about the legitimacy of its doing something. The difference between buying up banks and torture is the difference between right and wrong.

I feel like this is all obvious, but it will convince no one.
10.13.2008 1:31am
ARCraig (mail):
Who says the government, or elements thereof, aren't using fear to get more power? Paulson just grabbed a hell of a lot of power with a dubious basis that even he himself couldn't fully rationalize.
10.13.2008 1:32am
David Warner:
I agree with OK's take with the added caveat:

There's a distinction to be drawn between government action in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, including Afghanistan, and the action that followed, especially opening up a second front in Iraq and a third against the media (let them eat McClellan!). The latter allowed the suspicion that the administration was stoking fear for nefarious ends to find influential purchase.
10.13.2008 1:37am
OrinKerr:
Justin,

Sometimes a phrasing issue is just a phrasing issue: I didn't mean to suggest what you fear I did.

With that said, the vocal critics of the Patriot Act in particular didn't understand what was actually in the Patriot Act: Ignorance of the law by its vocal critics was just utterly astonishing. However, that is clearly not the case with less technical issues like interrogation or detention.
10.13.2008 1:37am
Assistant Village Idiot (mail) (www):
Because of picture-reasoning when it comes to threat. We are wired to see things personally or not at all, and only through long practice do we get above that.

A person killed in the Twin Towers has a face, and we can put our individual selves in that picture and sense some threat. But a person detained in Gitmo also has a face, and thus might elicit sympathy. Economic forces are more impersonal. We try to put faces onto the various players - foreclosees, short-sellers, Chris Dodd, but the threat nature of what they are doing is hard to picture.

Political activists succeed by putting faces to complicated or abstract problems. The Jewish Lobby, Bush's failed economic agenda, Osama bin Laden, rednecks...

Blame something with faces. Get elected. And if those faces actually do deserve a little blame, so much the better.
10.13.2008 1:38am
OrinKerr:
Oh, and I should add that even the vocal critics of the Patriot Act were not at all disengenuous or silly about their sense of the importance of civil liberties or the scope of the terrorist threat. They were only disengenuous and/or silly about what the Patriot Act actually did.
10.13.2008 1:39am
Paul Allen:
Except that it was liberals + libertarians who opposed the post-9/11 'fear'. Liberals have long supported economic intervention. Ergo, the larger half of the anti-fear crowd is getting what they always advocate for... so no cries against it.
10.13.2008 1:41am
Lior:
I think the response was driven by fear in the sense that it was designed to instil a maximal sense of fear in the public at large, independently of objective circumstances. The executive didn't panic: they (successfully) got the general public to panic. Congress did panic to some extent (see the Patriot act), but they also saw their way into exploiting the panic and drawing pork into their constituencies.
10.13.2008 2:26am
EricPWJohnson (mail):
Rare is the case where it could be helpful to those with a literary gasoline addiction, who post unsupported incidiary what if rhetorical rants on this fine Blog, to reread the Important Note to Helpful Readers


Here's a tip: Reread your post, and think of what people would think if you said this over dinner. If you think people would view you as a crank, a blowhard, or as someone who vastly overdoes it on the hyperbole, rewrite your post before hitting enter


I'm going to address the oblique attack on the president as a resetting the actual environment since some years have passed....

Fear? The Government uses fear? I guess there is only one entity the government and not the will of the people the traditions of the opposing political parties to be considered? What does this bode for the actions taken during the Civil War and the First and Second World Wars?

Hmmm the 9/11 question - now carefully phrased as a matter of fact that the government nefariously swept the 9/11 incident into an unprecedented power grab.

How many died? (I know thats not fair at all to remind people that scores died and 14,000 were crippled burned and hideously maimed by this event)

How many could have been killed if the planes were 30 minutes later and the building were fully occupied?

Where is the waters edge for public fear and hysteria? 40,000 dead? Some estimate had the planes struck lower the Towers the hijackers would have be even more successful trapping over 10,000 people and Trade Centers may have toppled sideways in just a few minutes taking another 100,000 with them! Again lucky us they didn't WOW!

Overreacting paralyzed with fear Americans?

So maybe we should have instead sat down with Al Qaeda with no preconditions? Ask Saddam if he wasn't doing anything to perhaps moderate these discussions? - naturally - we the people - we don't want to be observed by the world as = you know - unreasonable and paralyzed with fear that almost 100,000 people were nearly murdered but whew! they just got 3,000. (Lucky us!)


Yes I'm about to take my shoes off and throw out my water bottle, after all - if I don't those Japanese detention camps in California are going to be reopened.
10.13.2008 2:58am
EricPWJohnson (mail):
Rare is the case where it could be helpful to those with a literary gasoline addiction who post unsupported incendiary -what if- rhetorical rants on this fine Blog to reread the Important Note to Helpful Readers


Here's a tip: Reread your post, and think of what people would think if you said this over dinner. If you think people would view you as a crank, a blowhard, or as someone who vastly overdoes it on the hyperbole, rewrite your post before hitting enter


I'm going to address the oblique attack on the president as a resetting of the actual environment since some years have passed since 9/11....

Fear? The Government used fear? I guess there is only one entity the government and not the will of the people, the traditions of the opposing political parties, to be considered? What does this bode for the actions taken during the Civil War and the First and Second World Wars?

Hmmm the 9/11 question - now carefully phrased as a matter of fact that the government nefariously swept the 9/11 incident into an unprecedented power grab.

How many died? (I know that's not fair at all to remind people that scores died and 14,000 were crippled burned and hideously maimed by this event)

How many could have been killed if the planes were 30 minutes later and the buildings were fully occupied?

Where is the waters edge for public fear and hysteria? 40,000 dead? Some estimate had the planes struck the Towers lower, the hijackers would have trapped over 10,000 people and Trade Centers may have toppled sideways in just a few minutes taking another 100,000 with them?

Overreacting paralyzed with fear Americans?

So maybe we should have instead sat down with Al Qaeda with no preconditions? Ask Saddam if he wasn't doing anything to perhaps moderate these discussions? - naturally - we the people - we don't want to be observed by the world as - you know - unreasonable and paralyzed with fear that almost 100,000 people were nearly murdered but whew! they just got 3,000. (Lucky us!)


Yes I'm about to take my shoes off and throw out my water bottle, after all - if I don't those Japanese detention camps in California to be reopened.
10.13.2008 3:07am
Dr. T (mail) (www):
No one who thinks that government would use fear to curtail civil liberties seems to think that government would use fear to curtail economic liberties. Why not?
Your premise is wrong, unless I fail to qualify as some one. From the beginning of this fiasco (I refuse to call it a crisis.), I have said that Chicken Little Paulson was clucking about the economy failing in order to incite fear and push the people (and thereby Congress) into giving the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve Board control over a major portion of our nation's financial industry. He got more than he hoped for, and we now have taken a giant leap toward fascism. I also believe that massive government intervention in this problem will greatly delay full economic recovery. I'm predicting at least ten years before the stock indices return to the October 2007 levels.

Our country now has a strange mix of economic systems: capitalism, corporatism, socialism, and fascism. I find this bizarre and disconcerting.
10.13.2008 3:09am
Grover Gardner (mail):
I agree with David Warner. George Bush acted quite rationally after 9/11, and I think an overwhelming majority of people agreed with his actions. Invade Afghanistan, crush the Taliban and pursue Bin Laden.

It wasn't until a year later, when Bush's obsession with invading Iraq at any cost bubbled to the surface, that many people turned against him. And perhaps my memory is faulty, but it seems to me that it wasn't until he had to struggle to justify the invasion of Iraq, and abuses of the Patriot Act became public knowledge, that the administration resorted to fear-mongering to support some of its more objectionable policies.
10.13.2008 3:11am
Grover Gardner (mail):
In general, Eric, I think you're operating off some fundamental misreadings and not a few straw men here.

As someone else pointed out, it wasn't the administration that reacted out of fear, and in fact its response was both rational and reassuring. The vast majority of Americans agreed with Bush's actions in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. But in the years following, the administration did (in my opinion) exploit public fears to justify a good deal of bad policy and overreaching of authority, and it was to this that many people objected.

The difference in the current financial crisis is that one would be hard pressed to see the Bush administration as exploiting the crisis to further some personal or policy agenda, especially given the sheer improvisatory nature of its proposals. If anything it would be in Bush's interest to downplay the crisis, but that's simply impossible given its magnitude at this point.
10.13.2008 3:43am
Grover Gardner (mail):
I should add, of course, that some people surely do think that the administration is playing to fears in order to justify bad policy. But it's most likely not the same people who objected to his exploitation of 9/11. Paul Allen makes this point above, though I think he exaggerates a bit. I have trouble believing even the most wild-eyed liberal would approve of this level of intervention, short of the sort of meltdown we appear to be facing at the moment.
10.13.2008 3:53am
Ventrue Capital (mail) (www):
1. A slight majority of those who oppose the so-called Patriot Act and other misguided anti-terrorist policies are leftists, and probably think that government intervention in the economy is a Good Thing.

But there are plenty of non-leftists who support personal liberties and therefore oppose most of what the State did about antiterrorism, and there are plenty of leftists who oppose the bailout because they (correctly) think it's a government subsidy for greedy folks who don't deserve it.

2. I'm curious about your motive, Eric, in claiming there is an inconsistency. Are you trying to get people to support the bailout, or are you trying to get them to oppose the (so-called) Patriot Act?
10.13.2008 4:22am
Tablesaw (www):
The difference between the reaction to 9/11 and the reaction to the current crisis is time. The most unpopular measures, including the ones mentioned in this post, were the ones that were initiated or sustained long after the attack that caused the fear.

Right now, the crisis is still continuing. But as the months and years follow after it's more-or-less past, we'll see to what extent the same scenario plays out. Who will argue that what's good in an emergency is good as a precaution? Who will push through tighter and tighter controls on a wider and wider sphere by warning that "we can't let 2008 happen again"? Some people are bound to do so, but whether it becomes the dominant message of a party or a branch of government remains to be seen.
10.13.2008 5:17am
Grant Gould (mail):
No one who thinks that government would use fear to curtail civil liberties seems to think that government would use fear to curtail economic liberties.

Um, what blogosphere have you been in? Because the one I read is about 3/4 full of precisely that view.
10.13.2008 8:14am
veteran:
Referencing Dr. T's comments above:

DITTO!

After all, it was W that stated that all would be easier if this were a dictatorship,(chuckle) and he were the dictator.
It looks pretty obvious to me.

We are in very dangerous territory.

Just a reminder:
Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power: Benito Mussolini
10.13.2008 8:48am
occasional lurker:
There was some concern about power grabbing -- that's why the original "no judicial review" language got some attention.

But even more important, there's at least one enormous difference between the post-9/11 stuff and the current crisis: we can see what the govt is doing, we know what the govt did (good and bad) with its Fed policies, FNMA etc., we don't seem to have the huge government secrecy issue, e.g. torture, covert surveillance (which IMHO also impacts our economic liberties) or secret watch lists. I suppose Gitmo isn't secret but what our govt does there isn't exactly public.
10.13.2008 9:10am
josh:
I certainly have concerns about the government's use of fear to expand its economic powers. But I think there's a major factor that distinguishes the fear mongering post-9/11 and the fear mongering now.

After 9/11 the spectre of another terroist attack was used to justify a host of government actions that arguably had nothing to do with the underlying cause. The words "Iraq" and "mushroom cloud" were bandied about with such reckless abandon to justify going to war with a country that did not attack us and did not pose an imminent threat that some people rightly raised red flags.

On the other hand, I don't see the same misdirected use of fear in the current economic crisis. I suppose reasonable minds can disagree about what gov't action the fear is being used to justify, but I don't think the courses of action being taken or proposed are as verifiably unrelated to the problem ex ante as the WOT was post-Aphghanistan/pre-Iraq. An example would be if the government proposed bailing out the ice cream market, using fear of total economic collapse to justify it.

Moreover, I'm not sure the current plans of action actually seek to curtail economic freedom as the question poses. Just because the gov't make take over failing credit markets, it's really taking over failing credit-market players. Others can still freely lend money, can't they? Is the argument that using taxpayer dollars is curtailing freedom?
10.13.2008 11:05am
Elliot123 (mail):
The criticism of civil liberties encroachment is a function of who is doing the encroaching. Compare the mild reaction to Echelon during the Clinton years to the outrage over Bush's monitoring.
10.13.2008 12:39pm
byomtov (mail):
Yet no one who believes that the government exploited fears after 9/11 to strengthen its security powers is now saying that the government is exploiting financial crisis fears in order to justify taking control of credit markets. No one who thinks that government would use fear to curtail civil liberties seems to think that government would use fear to curtail economic liberties. Why not?

Your "why not" is really two questions, one about actual events - 9/11 and the current crisis - and the other hypothetical.

In the concrete case, I think the issue is whether the exercise of power is an effective response to the problem, and the degree to which it curtails liberties. I happen not to think that torture, unlimited detentions, warrantless eavesdropping, etc. are an effective response to the terrorist threat. (By the way, what ever gave you the idea that Guantanamo, of even torture, is unpopular? Read the comments by many of the liberty-lovers here and on right-wing blogs and you will discover your mistake). That these practices "curtail liberties" rather severely is a polite way of stating matters.

In the financial crisis there are reasonable arguments that the use of power will be effective, while the degree of curtailment of liberty is fairly small, if there is any net curtailment at all. If the sheriff throws you out of your house does it matter if that's arbitrary behavior by the govt or if it's because you lost your job in a financial crisis caused by matters utterly beyond your control? The ability to actually exercise economic liberty, as opposed to its presence in the abstract, depends on the economic situation in the country.

As to the hypothetical question:

No one who thinks that government would use fear to curtail civil liberties seems to think that government would use fear to curtail economic liberties.

I think the answer is that your premise is wildly wrong. I certainly believe the govt might use fear to expand its powers in any number of situations. I suspect few would disagree.
10.13.2008 1:18pm
deepthought:
One who does makes the argument that government uses natural or manmade disasters (hurricanes, terrorist attacks, war, economic dislocations) to achieve radical policy goals is Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine. While she focuses on neoliberal economic programs imposed by the IMF and the Chicago School as well as privatization of public services, such as educaion and utilities. This can be seen the corporatization of the military, the new homeland security industry, and government outsourcing.

Klein has taken her thesis to an extreme, however, when she has said (on Pacifica Radio), that she believes the Administration may use the current financial crisis to cancel the November elections (though I can see the Administration attempting to do so if there was a major terrorist attack in the next three weeks.)

Based on the 9/11 aftermath, I would agree with her to that limited extent. The Bush Administration took advantage of the panic that followed the attack to obtain surveillance powers that the FBI has wanted for a number of years. Their broad interpretation of presidential authority shows that the Administration wasn't seeking the minimum necessary to do the job. I also think, all other things being equal, that a Gore Administration would have asked for and received the same law enforcement powers after 9/11. The bureaucratic imperatives to do something after 9/11 would have demanded it. The only difference is that there would have been no invasion of Iraq.
10.14.2008 1:14am
David Warner:
"While she focuses on neoliberal economic programs imposed by the IMF and the Chicago School as well as privatization of public services, such as educaion and utilities. This can be seen the corporatization of the military, the new homeland security industry, and government outsourcing."

When people, like, say, Dilan and LM, wonder what I'm talking about when I make the distinction between "liberal" and "left", here's an example. The word neoliberal here is clearly employed with a pejorative connotation. Note that the evil, "private" corporations above are publicly traded and often substantially owned by collectives of citizens via pension/mutual funds. Maybe Marx was right in an unforeseen way about public ownership of the means of production.

The alternative favored by Klein being a megalithic government, in which the only say the public has is the occasional vote, if that. Perhaps Klein is a fringe threat to true liberalism. I'm not so sanguine.
10.14.2008 2:33am
deepthought:
David Warner sez:

The alternative favored by Klein being a megalithic government, in which the only say the public has is the occasional vote, if that.

Since megalithic means "structures made of such large stones (megaliths), utilizing an interlocking system without the use of mortar or cement" (like Stonehenge) I assume you mean monolithic.

Actually Klein believes the opposite (here is a link to the Pacifica Radio show with her views on the bailout.) She argues for a direct participatory democracy, where governmental decisions are subject to national referenda. If you look at the list of countries that use this system (see the previous link), most of them are pretty small (the largest appears to be Australia.) I think, however, national referenda in the US are impractical.
10.14.2008 3:55am

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