DOJ Set To Block AT&T Takeover Of Time Warner

An AT&T storefront on Fifth Avenue in New York in 2016. The Justice Department may require the company to sell CNN as part of a proposed takeover of Time Warner.

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The U.S. Justice Department has informed AT&T that it will block the telecommunications giant’s planned $85 billion takeover of Time Warner unless it sells off CNN – a network frequently targeted for derision by President Trump. The move has therefore triggered concerns within CNN that the administration is taking action against a media outfit simply because it has angered the president with its coverage, raising First Amendment implications.

The government’s stance seemingly flies in the face of decades of precedent: federal authorities routinely approve deals involving so-called “vertical integration” – the consolidation of companies in related fields that are not competitors. And it contradicts the current federal antitrust chief’s past statements a year ago after this deal was announced.

The government’s position was first reported by the Financial Times. NPR confirmed the development in interviews with three people with knowledge of negotiations with the government who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the deal. Justice Department antitrust officials offered AT&T a choice to keep the deal alive: get rid of Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting division, which includes CNN, or dispose of DirecTV, AT&T’s giant satellite television provider. But the sticking point appears to have been CNN, according to two informed sources at Turner Broadcasting.

“I am just frankly mystified by the rationale here,” said University of Pennsylvania law professor Herbert Hovenkamp, a leading authority on antitrust issues. “You need to know where competitive harm is threatened. So far, I don’t see it.”

Trump previously indicated he might seek to thwart the AT&T/Time Warner deal over antitrust concerns. Yet Trump has been far more vocal about his anger at CNN – both as a candidate and as president. For example, earlier this year, at a formal press conference in Poland with that nation’s president, Trump said, “They have been fake news for a long time. They have been covering me in a dishonest way.”

As a result, within Time Warner, the Trump administration’s stance is being seen as a direct strike against CNN. “There isn’t any precedent,” says one executive in Turner Broadcasting, the television subsidiary that would have to be sold off. “It’s one thing to say ‘fake news’! It’s another to reverse governmental policy because you object to a company’s journalism.”

AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson said Wednesday the company never offered to sell CNN and has no intention of doing so to win approval of the Time Warner deal.

Without Turner Broadcasting, which includes such channels as TNT, TBS and the Cartoon Network, the deal would be a non-starter; according to the company’s 2016 annual report to shareholders, Turner Broadcasting contributed nearly 60 percent of Time Warner’s profits. (Turner does not include HBO, Time Warner’s premium cable channel.)

The Justice Department would not confirm its stance, saying it does not discuss matters under review. Federal regulators are separately reviewing Sinclair Broadcasting’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media, which would give it control of more than 200 stations nationally. And John Malone’s Discovery Communications is in the process of acquiring Scripps Network Interactive Inc, which would combine two families of cable networks. Those deals are “horizontal integration” – the blending of competitors – which is usually given far rougher scrutiny. Yet the concessions demanded by the federal government for the AT&T package are significantly greater than those expected to face the Sinclair or Discovery deals. Indeed, the Federal Communications Commission changed regulations that make it easier to approve the deal for Sinclair, a conservative chain of local stations that has emerged with coverage and commentaries supportive to the president.

“The one reason that doesn’t fly for blocking the deal is ‘Don’t approve it because it’s CNN, and CNN annoys the president’,” said Craig Aaron, president and CEO and the consumer advocacy group Free Press. “It’s legitimate for the federal government to say this is just too big. The only question is: Is this legal reasoning? And I think there’s an antitrust case to make there.”

“If the reason that’s coming down is ‘Punish CNN,’ then that’s a real problem,” Aaron told NPR. “We don’t really know, and because of everything Trump has said, you can’t help but ask the question.”

The head of the department’s antitrust division is Makan Delrahim, who served as deputy to the antitrust chief under President George W. Bush. That Justice Department blocked a small number of “horizontal integration” deals blending competitors – such as the thwarted merger of US Airways and United. Republican administrations are typically even less willing to intervene in corporate actions.

In an interview with a Canadian television network when it was proposed, Delrahim discouraged talk that the AT&T-Time Warner deal would be a tough sell.

“Just the sheer size of it and the fact that it’s media I think will get a lot of attention,” Delrahim told BNN in October 2016. “However I don’t see this as a major antitrust problem.”

AT&T has signaled that it intends to challenge the administration in court over the requirement.

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CBO: Repealing Health Coverage Mandate Would Save $338 Billion

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., listens to debate on tax reform on Wednesday.

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Getting rid of the requirement that everyone in the country have health insurance coverage would save the government $338 billion over the next decade, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis released Wednesday.

But that savings would come with 13 million fewer people having insurance coverage by 2027, CBO analysts say. Some of those people would not want to buy insurance, but others couldn’t afford it. The study also concludes that premiums would rise 10 percent every year.

Wouldn’t it be great to Repeal the very unfair and unpopular Individual Mandate in ObamaCare and use those savings for further Tax Cuts…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 1, 2017

House Republicans are toying with the idea of repealing the so-called individual mandate — a key part of the Affordable Care Act — as part of their plan to overhaul the tax code.

Including the provision could be a win-win for Republicans. The move would allow them to offset more of the tax cuts they want in their tax plan and give them the chance to claim they repealed one of the most hated parts of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“That depends upon through what prism you look at the issue,” says Chris Jacobs, a health policy analyst at Juniper Research Group. “As a matter of tax policy, including $338 billion in additional revenue to pay for tax reform is a positive outcome. But as a matter of health policy, repealing the mandate without repealing any of Obamacare’s insurance regulations will raise premiums.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan has said repeatedly that one of his goals in repealing the Affordable Care is to make insurance cheaper and give people more choices.

President Trump has pressed lawmakers to include the repeal of the individual mandate in the tax overhaul plan. He took to Twitter on Nov. 1 and mused that it would be “great to Repeal the very unfair and unpopular Individual Mandate in ObamaCare.”

But on Monday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady said he’s not inclined to add health care policies to the tax bill.

The new CBO report is an update of an estimate from last December that concluded that repealing the individual mandate would cut the deficit by about $416 billion over 10 years.

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The Grasshopper In The Van Gogh

Look at Vincent van Gogh’s Olive Trees closely enough, and you’ll find the subtle intricacies of his play with color, his brush strokes, perhaps even his precise layers of paint atop the canvas.

You’ll also find a grasshopper. Well, parts of one, anyway.

Vincent van Gogh’s Olive Trees, made with oil on canvas in 1889. See the shadow cast by that small tree on the far right side? There’s a grasshopper lurking in that shade.


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Courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Conservator Mary Schafer had been examining some paintings at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., placing each one under a microscope for a detailed look — when, remarkably, she stumbled on a weird substance stuck in the thick layers of paint on van Gogh’s piece. There, tucked in the shade cast by the olive tree in the painting’s right foreground, a curious, fragmented object stared back at her.

“She initially thought it was just leaf matter,” Aimee Marcereau DeGalan, the museum’s senior curator of European art, tells NPR. Given the fact van Gogh did a lot of his painting outside, “it’s not unusual to find parts of leaves or dirt or sand” in some of his works.

Then she made out its head.

This image, taken through a microscope, captures the grasshopper embedded in the paint of van Gogh’s Olive Trees.

Courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

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Courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Marcereau DeGalan says this was exciting — not so much because she and Schafer were secret entomology enthusiasts, but rather because the little guy promised to offer a better sense of when, exactly, van Gogh completed Olive Trees.

You see, they’ve got a pretty good idea when he painted it — sometime in 1889, after the famously troubled artist had checked himself into an asylum in the south of France. Just one year from death, Van Gogh probably “realized he was struggling,” Marcereau DeGalan says, “and he was doing some soul-searching, some thinking about his life, his contributions, his place within society.”

And all the while, he was painting. He completed a series of olive tree landscapes during his stay, they know that much — but they didn’t know for sure which month (or months) this one, in particular, was produced.

That’s where the grasshopper comes in. They hoped that perhaps, since scientists know a good deal about these insects’ life cycles, they might be able to gauge the season of van Gogh’s work from how old this unfortunate grasshopper was when it got plastered in wet paint.

But alas, the grasshopper had no abdomen. A paleoentomologist — brought in specifically for this purpose — told them the absence of this rather useful body part meant the insect was likely dead on arrival, robbing its age of definitive significance.

“It could have just been floating around in the wind or been on the grasses and landed in this painting,” Marcereau DeGalan explains. Or perhaps, because the insect was stuck near the bottom of the frame, it shows van Gogh was dragging the cumbersome canvas home along with the rest of his equipment.

No longer a crucial clue, the grasshopper might just be something else: a leftover. Apparently, van Gogh dealt with a lot of these errant bugs when he was outside painting — at one point even writing to his brother that “I picked nearly 400 flies off the surface of this canvas,” in Marcereau DeGalan’s words — so perhaps this grasshopper is merely evidence that he missed a spot.

But Marcereau DeGalan says there’s something more here. The research that led them to this accidental discovery will continue — and besides, she adds, there’s still something special about this grasshopper, “like ants getting caught in amber in prehistoric times.”

“It just puts us in that moment and that place where they are,” she says. “In an instant, it takes you to 1889 in a field outside the asylum where this bug had a bad day — or maybe a good day, because we’re thinking about it all these many years later.”

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After Maine Voters Approve Medicaid Expansion, Governor Raises Objections

Rosemary Warnock, a registered nurse at Maine Health, exits the Merrill Auditorium voting station in Portland, Maine, early Tuesday. She said she was motivated to vote for Medicaid expansion.

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Just hours after Maine voters became the first in the nation to use the ballot box to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, Republican Gov. Paul LePage said he wouldn’t implement it unless the Legislature funds the state’s share of an expansion.

“Give me the money and I will enforce the referendum,” LePage said. Unless the Legislature fully funds the expansion — without raising taxes or using the state’s rainy day fund – he said he wouldn’t implement it.

LePage has long been a staunch opponent of Medicaid expansion. The Maine Legislature has passed bills to expand the insurance program five times since 2013, but the governor has vetoed each one.

That track record prompted Robyn Merrill, co-chair of the coalition Mainers for Health Care, to take the matter directly to voters on Tuesday.

The strategy worked. Medicaid expansion, or Question 2, passed handily, with 59 percent of voters in favor and 41 percent against.

“Maine is sending a strong and weighty message to politicians in Augusta, and across the country,” Merrill said. “We need more affordable health care, not less.”

Medicaid expansion would bring health coverage to about 70,000 people in Maine.

As a battle now brews over implementation in Maine, other states will likely be watching: groups in Idaho and Utah are trying to put Medicaid expansion on their state ballots next year.

With passage of the ballot measure, Maine is poised to join the 31 states and the District of Columbia that have already expanded Medicaid to cover adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s about $16,000 dollars for an individual, and about $34,000 for a family of four.

Currently, people in Maine who make too much for traditional Medicaid and who aren’t eligible for subsidized health insurance on the federal marketplace fall into a coverage gap. It was created when the Supreme Court made Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act optional.

That’s the situation Kathleen Phelps finds herself in. She’s a hairdresser from Waterville who has emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She says she has had to forgo her medications and oxygen because she can’t afford them. “Finally, finally, maybe people now people like myself can get the healthcare we need,” she said.

Medicaid expansion would also be a win for hospitals. More than half of them in Maine are operating in the red. Across the state, they provide more than $100 million a year in charity care, according to the Maine Hospital Association. Expanding Medicaid coverage will bolster their fiscal health and give doctors and nurses more options to treat their formerly uninsured patients, says Jeff Austin, a spokesman with the association.

“There are just avenues of care that open up when you see a patient from recommending a prescription drug or seeing a counselor,” he said. “Doors that were closed previously will now be open.”

But voter approval may not be enough. Though a legislative budget analysis office estimates Medicaid expansion would bring about $500 million in federal funding to Maine each per year, it would also cost the state about $50 million a year.

The fate of the Medicaid expansion will now be in the hands of the legislature, where lawmakers can change it like any other bill. Four ballot initiatives passed by Maine voters last year have been delayed, altered or overturned.

But state Democratic leaders pledge to implement the measure. “Any attempts to illegally delay or subvert the law … will be fought with every recourse at our disposal,” Speaker of the House Sara Gideon said. “Mainers demanded affordable access to health care yesterday, and that is exactly what we intend to deliver.”

This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, local member stations and Kaiser Health News. Follow @PattyWight on Twitter

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Interviews At The Airport: Teachers From Puerto Rico Find New Schools In Orlando

Many Puerto Ricans who survived hurricane Maria have been working frantically to restore their lives in a new home. Many are teachers, and they’ve come to Orlando to find jobs. They may never go back.

Yara Ramos is a veteran teacher from Camuy, Puerto Rico. She arrived in Orlando with her four children, still ambivalent about her career.

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High Court Says Germany's Birth Registry Must Allow Third Gender Option

Germany’s top court has ruled that parliament must legally recognize a third gender from birth. A complaint was brought by a person identified only as Vanja, pictured here in 2014, who is intersex.

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Peter Steffen/AFP/Getty Images

Germany’s highest court has ruled that the country must provide a third gender option beside male or female in the nation’s birth register – or dispense entirely with information on gender in civil status.

“The assignment of gender is of paramount importance for individual identity; it usually plays a key role both for a person’s self-conception and for the way this person is perceived by others,” the Federal Constitutional Court said in its announcement. “The gender identity of persons who can be assigned neither male nor female gender is also protected under this right.”

The decision concerned a case brought by a plaintiff named only as Vanja, according to The Associated Press. The plaintiff was born in 1989 and wanted to change their entry in the birth register from “female” to “inter/diverse” or simply “diverse.” Vanja’s request was rejected by the registry office.

The plaintiff argued this was a violation of Germany’s general right of personality and was an instance of gender discrimination.

The court agreed. Legislators have until the end of 2018 to come up with new rules, which the court suggested could involve either the creation of a third positive gender option, or doing away with gender entries in civil registries.

The group Dritte Option advocates for a third gender option and had supported the plaintiff’s case. “We are completely overwhelmed and speechless. This borders on a small revolution in the area of gender,” the group tweeted Wednesday.

Wir sind grad völlig überwältigt und sprachlos. Das grenzt an eine kleine Revolution im Bereich Geschlecht. Vielen Dank für euren Support die letzten Jahre! #dritteoption

— Dritte Option (@DritteOption) November 8, 2017

A law went into effect in November 2013 that said that parents in Germany no longer had to select male or female when registering their babies.

The new decision means there must be a third box that can be positively checked for those who identify as neither male or female — different than the 2013 law’s option to select neither of two boxes.

The ruling could make Germany the first European country to offer a third gender option on its birth registry, according to German broadcaster Deutche Welle. Official documents in Australia, India, New Zealand and Nepal already recognize intersex people.

An Oregon judge ruled in June 2016 that Jamie Shupe could legally their gender to non-binary – considered a first in the United States.

And in December, what’s thought to be the first intersex birth certificate in the U.S. was issued to Sara Kelly Keenan, born in New York City 55 years earlier. A California judge ruled in September 2016 that Keenan could legally change her gender to non-binary.

“I wondered if they’d actually issue it and wasn’t going to believe it until I saw it,” Keenan said of the birth certificate to NBC News. “It is both shocking and empowering.”

Germany’s court recognized that it will take effort to implement the new rules. But, it said, “bureaucratic or financial burdens or organisational interests of the state cannot justify the denial of a third standardised positive entry option.”

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Trainers, Lawyers Say Sexual Harassment Training Fails

In its report on harassment last year, the EEOC admitted, flat out, that the last three decades of sexual harassment training haven’t worked.

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As more victims speak out about their allegations, employers — including NPR — are having to confront the failure of their sexual harassment training and reporting systems.

Even trainers themselves say the system has failed.

“We have been checking the box for decades,” says Patricia Wise, an employment attorney who served on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision’s task force on harassment. “I don’t think people have been very motivated.”

The primary reason most harassment training fails is that both managers and workers regard it as a pro forma exercise aimed at limiting the employer’s legal liability.

Being focused on legality is problematic because, for example, the letter of the law prohibits “severe or pervasive” harassment when, in fact, Wise notes, there are plenty of examples that might not meet that standard but clearly should not be tolerated in the workplace.

It does not help that most online training courses are stilted and not engaging, Wise says. She, instead, recommends face-to-face role-play classes. But companies are doing this less often because online courses are cheaper, easier, and take less time.

“Employees really can zone out and not even pay attention to the training,” she says.

In its report on harassment last year, the EEOC admitted, flat out, that the last three decades of sexual harassment training haven’t worked.

Also, Wise says, effectiveness is hard to measure, and companies have little incentive to study it.

“If a researcher comes to your workplace to evaluate your training, and the result is that your training is entirely ineffective, you’ve basically just developed evidence against yourself,” she says.

Elaine Herskowitz agrees. She wrote some of the EEOC’s first policies on sexual harassment three decades ago. Now, as a consultant, she investigates harassment allegations, and sees common pitfalls.

“It may be obvious, but it’s critical that everyone in the organization undergo training, all the way up to the top,” she says. Yet employers often exempt their leaders, creating the kind of double standard that leads to abuse of power.

NPR, for example, requires sexual-harassment training for employees and managers. But the company says former NPR top news editor Michael Oreskes, who was fired recently amid mounting sexual-harassment claims, did not complete his.

Would training stop most incidents? Herskowitz admits she is skeptical. “I’m sorry, you have to know that you cannot just grab another person and kiss them without their consent.”

Since nothing else has worked, the City of Chicago last month decided to put matters, quite literally, in workers’ hands. The city’s new law requires hotel employers to outfit their housekeeping staff with panic buttons.

Karen Kent is president of the UNITE HERE 1 hospitality workers union, who lobbied for the law, after her union’s survey of female members showed half of them experienced sexual harassment, often from guests.

“I’m ashamed that I did not know how widespread the problem was,” Kent says. “Some of our hotels are a city block, they work in isolation, they’re in these rooms, there’s a power imbalance.”

Herskowitz, the workplace consultant, says even today, harassment is not often reported.

“The most common employee response is to ignore the harassment, and to endure it, and hope it will stop. And part of the reason is fear of retaliation,” Herskowitz says.

She says she sees women making public allegations as similar to the panic button. They’re demanding immediate attention and sending the message that the existing system is not working.

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Episode 804: Your Cell Phone's A Snitch

How hard should it be for the police to get your cell phone location data? The Supreme Court is about to weigh in.

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In the winter of 2010, there was a robbery in Detroit. Two men rush into a Radio Shack on Jefferson Avenue carrying a handgun, and demand smartphones, enough smartphones to fill laundry bags. Then they flee. A few days later, they do it again at a T-Mobile store. And a few months after that, another robbery. They are criminals that need to be stopped.

Police try to gather every bit of evidence they can use to catch the robbers and make the case stick.

By the time Timothy Carpenter is facing robbery charges, the FBI already have a trove of data on him. Enough data to piece together an intimate portrait of his life. They could tell where he went and when, which Sundays he skipped out on church, and which nights he decided to sleep somewhere other than his own house.

They could also tell he was near a Radio Shack in Detroit just about the time it was held up by two armed men.

Authorities had this information because they had Carpenter’s cell phone number. Police asked Carpenter’s cell phone carrier to turn over 200 spreadsheets detailing where his phone was at the beginning and end of every call for four months straight. They didn’t even need a warrant. That’s how it works. Each major cell phone carrier gets tens of thousands of requests like this one from law enforcement every year.

For Tim Carpenter, this information helped land him in prison for 116 years.

But should police be able to get that level of intimate data so easily? That’s the question before The Supreme Court right now.

Today on the show, the story of Tim Carpenter, his cell phone, and the court battle it sparked.

The government says this kind of data helps fight crime and stop criminals like Carpenter. They say it’s like old fashioned police work — tailing someone or staking out a suspect’s home — adapted for the digital age. Carpenter’s attorneys argue that this is a whole new level of surveillance, seizing this data without a warrant is a violation of the 4th amendment, which protects against illegal searches and seizures. They say this has huge stakes: Everyone is walking around with a spy in their pocket, gathering data on the intimate details of our lives. The police shouldn’t be able to get that data so easily.

The case could reach well beyond cell phone location records — and affect what kind of privacy we can expect for all the footprints we leave behind in the digital age.

Music: “Radar” and “Love Game.”Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, PocketCasts and NPR One.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda Is Taking 'Hamilton' To Puerto Rico

Lin-Manuel Miranda (center) performs in Hamilton in July 2016 in New York City.

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Welcome back to the Caribbean, Alexander Hamilton: This morning, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer and lyricist of the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning smash Hamilton: An American Musical, announced that he is taking the show to the University of Puerto Rico’s campus in San Juan for a limited three-week run in January 2019.

In Puerto Rico, Miranda himself will star as Alexander Hamilton — the first time he has reprised the role since he ended his Broadway run in July 2016. Other casting will be announced at a later date.

In a press release early Wednesday, Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, said he had been hoping to bring his smash hit musical to the island ever since Hamilton first opened off-Broadway at New York’s Public Theater two years ago. “When I last visited the island, a few weeks before Hurricane Maria,” Miranda said, “I had made a commitment to not only bring the show to Puerto Rico, but also return again to the title role. In the aftermath of Maria, we decided to expedite the announcement of the project to send a bold message that Puerto Rico will recover and be back in business, stronger than ever.”

Miranda and the show’s producer, Jeffrey Seller, say they hope Hamilton‘s run in Puerto Rico from Jan. 8-27, 2019, will help stimulate the U.S. territory’s economy and cultural tourism. As with the Broadway and touring runs of the show, however, the Hamilton team will also hold a lottery for $10 seats.

The university’s theater, Teatro UPR, suffered damage to its roof and ventilation systems during Hurricane Maria and is set to undergo repairs before the show opens.

Last month, Miranda released a single, “Almost Like Praying.” The track, with its reference to Leonard Bernstein’s musical West Side Story (and whose heroine is a recently arrived Puerto Rican immigrant to New York), features a who’s who of current Puerto Rican and other Latin artists alongside Miranda, including Luis Fonsi, Ruben Blades, Marc Anthony, Gloria Estefan, Jennifer Lopez and Rita Moreno. Proceeds from the song’s release have gone to Hurricane Maria relief efforts in Puerto Rico, via the Hispanic Federation’s Unidos disaster relief fund.

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