A Class Act.

Yesterday, November 20, 2012, was the highly anticipated #20N nationwide strike organized by ­the labor unions.  #20N came hot on the heels of last week’s #8N, an anti-government cacerolazo organized to protest the Kirchner government’s dollar crackdowns, corruption, and rising insecurity.  More importantly, today Bianca Fernet comes off her self-imposed hiatus to continue providing cheeky commentary to Argentina’s economic happenings.

#8N protests at the obelisco on November 8th

I’m ashamed to admit that a version of this post has been in permanent edit mode since mid-September, and has been extremely difficult to write for two reasons.  It will evoke more emotion and generate more controversy than my typical subject matter, and quite honestly as an American white girl from the suburbs I lack the “street cred” that’s preferred when writers tackle touchy subjects like racial or class divides.

Marines finally disembarking the Argentine Warship Libertad held captive in Ghana after living conditions deteriorated

Since I last wrote, an Argentine naval vessel has been impounded in Ghana by a US investment fund seeking to recoup unpaid payments from 2001, provinces have made bond payments in pesos that should have been dollars, Argentine debt is getting battered in global markets following a US court ruling that Argentina must make payments to investors who refuse to accept restructured payments, Buenos Aires has had rolling power outages and trash strikes, Argentina has been warned by the World Bank that it will be kicked out, and everybody’s favorite rating agencies Moody’s, Fitch, and S&P have downgraded and put on review a variety of provincial and national debt.  Whew.

And how, in the face of such absurdity, is there still vehement support for this government?  To be blunt, there’s a pervasive issue of classism and racism with a dash of fear-mongering that underscores the Argentine political debate and serves to bolster an economic system that borders on ridiculous.

He’s all smiles now, but wait until he weighs in on politics

I like to play my own version of taxicab confessions to take the pulse of the mean streets of Buenos Aires by asking taxi drivers what they think of the government.  This game could also be called “how to get yelled at by strangers no matter the time of day” because regardless of the political affiliation, the delivery is always the same – intense yelling, vilifying the opposition, and wild hand gestures in lieu of holding the steering wheel.

A personal hero of mine who is a pioneer of cheeky journalism took a stab at pro/anti government dichotomy here that inspires this:

Cristina Kirchner: Eve Peron reincarnate, champion of the poor, defender of the weak

Supporters of the Kirchner administration see the government as a heroic force that saved the country from the evil clutches of globalization and capitalism following the economic crisis of 2001, and that works tirelessly to raise the poor up and support the interests of the country as a whole against the interests of a few wealthy elite who would keep the masses in abject poverty to go to Miami and buy lipsticks and TVs.  Oh and that also supported and would bring back the dictatorship that kidnapped babies and disappeared tens of thousands of left-leaning students and thinkers during the Dirty War of the 1970s.

Anti Government poster that circulated via social media! It was so on my MySpace…

Opposition to the government views Cristina Kirchner as the next Hugo Chavez, and Argentina as on the road to becoming Venezuela or Cuba in terms of travel restrictions, initially democratically elected leaders that entrench themselves, bury opposition and rule from a hospital bed with an iron fist, and a generally garbage can-esque economy.  Oh and they see the masses that vote for these leaders as genuine enemies to achieving true economic and social progress.

 

Heavy, right?  Said the white girl from the suburbs.  I know.

Now – if the government were lifting millions out of poverty, bolstering education, and creating a sustainable country to lead South America into the future, then isn’t that worth fewer Miami trips and imported tweezers?  Potentially, but let’s delve into a little bit of Latin American “keeping up with the Joneses” and see how Argentina stacks up to its neighbors in terms of poverty reduction and income distribution.

Let’s start with the Gini coefficient, which is a measure of income distribution, or how much richer are the rich than the poor.  A Gini value of 0 is perfect equality, whereas 1 is complete inequality where all the wealth is in the hands of one.

The lower the Gini, the more equal the income distribution (Data from The World Bank)

*boing* I dream of GINI

On this count, Argentina has more equal income distribution than its neighbors; however, check out the rate of change of the lines.  Argentina’s income distribution is improving at almost an identical pace to Uruguay’s, Peru’s, Brazil’s, and Columbia’s – countries that are not defaulting on debt, restricting travel, or experiencing 25% inflation per year.  So while Argentina does have more fair income distribution, the past seven years’ policies have not done anything to set it apart from the crowd.

What about growth?  If you take a gander at the chart below you will notice two things:  Firstly, Argentina’s growth looks quite a bit like its neighbors, except it’s a bit higher.  Secondly, you’ll see that the Venezuela comparison might not be so off the mark.  Following the recovery from 2008’s fun-filled global crisis, the rest of Latin America save Venezuela has posted slowing or steady growth rates because that’s what the world is doing.

It’s getting hot in here – is Argentina on its way to overheating?

Argentina is essentially burning out by manipulating the economy to grow too fast at the expense of stability and sustainability under the pretense of championing the interests of the poor.

And why is this working? Perspective matters, public opinion is easy to manipulate, and the opposition does not make it hard.

My inability to locate Argentina would explain my poor marks in European History

I have been told many times by Argentines that they are not Latinos, they are European.  Now maybe there’s an import ban on globes that nobody has told me about, but that’s a ridiculous statement.  Another fun one is that it is not unheard of to  refer to people of native descent as “negros” or “negros de mierda,” translated loosely as “shitty black people.”  I am then told that it’s ok because terms like that do not mean the same thing and are not offensive here as they are in the States.

Back in September there was a decently sized cacerolazo organized and attended primarily by wealthier and upper middle class people.  The protest was against the government’s damaging decisions and restrictions that are visibly hurting the economy and the people, yet the left-leaning newspaper Pagina 12 was able to use a gem of a headline taken from a chant sung by protestors – “El que no salta es negro y K”.

This is a take on a chant sung by soccer fans where everyone jumps around and sings “El que no salta es un ingles”, or “whomever doesn’t jump is English”.  And yes, that is prejudiced against the English but I’m not going into that here.

River Plate soccer fans singing “el que no salta…” Potentially European, jumping so not English, certainly confusing.

“El que no salta es negro y K” means that the person who doesn’t join in is black/dark-skinned/of native descent and a government supporter.  Not only does this attitude alienate a massive demographic element in Argentina, it allows the government to point to anti-government protests as racist, elitist, classist, and out of touch with the needs of the people.  No one feels bad for a racist who can’t vacation in Miami and is forced to wear a smaller selection of designer clothes.

The pro-government elements take full advantage of these attitudes, responding to protests by pointing out that these protesters are not like us, they are not part of the people.  While an extreme case, union leader Luis D’Elia repeatedly comments on the whiteness of the opposition and calls them part of a wealthy elite that offers no alternatives.

The end result is a disappointing, depressing disaster.  A government cheats and steals from its people and they continue to support it, largely because the opposition makes it so damn easy.  While I’m tempted to end this post with a pithy blue comment and a smirk and continue in my sassy apathy, I can’t on this one.

Stop accepting lies so I can go back to punning on Gini and working blue

Argentina, you need to figure out inclusivity or you will do some combination of crashing, burning, and sinking.  Opposition – get a globe and deal with the fact that you are not European and you share a country with your fellow Argentines.  Government supporters – stop living on a steady diet of bread, circuses, and fear.   Your government is buying your support by exploiting class divides and sacrificing your future.

And I prefer hatemail with a sandwich and a shot of tequila, please.

Bianca Fernet needs something stronger today.

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33 Responses to A Class Act.

  1. agustin says:

    Adress to send Tequilas, any brand in special? Hahaa. I liked the article.

  2. great article – should be required reading for any expats going to live in BA

  3. madeline says:

    your article is not acurate at all, it shows you dont understand the depth of the political and economic crisis argentina is going through talking about songs in a protest and making them the reason for the goverments speech

    • Hi Madeline

      I talk about the songs because in my opinion they represent how many people here in Argentina perceive the government and the opposition movement. Thanks for commenting and I hope you keep reading and providing your input!
      -Bianca

  4. John says:

    Great article! I’d give you a tequila and salt without the hate email.

  5. Maw says:

    Amazing. Period.

  6. Rickety Hat says:

    Do you think that any policy parallels could be drawn between the U.S. Democratic Party’s recent attempts to impose new, higher taxes on Americans at the highest income levels (claiming that they should pay their “fair share”) and the above-discussed Argentine government’s economic discrimination against the designer-clothes-wearing Miami-vacation-taking Argentine upper class?

    I would be interested to hear your opinion on this comparison.

  7. Hunter says:

    Classism and racism have been longstanding problems in Argentina. Brutal killings of indigenous peoples on a wide scale happened early on in their history. I would offer many of those problems have remained because the Argentine public education system is pretty terrible. Sure, it might be good on measures like literacy…but in terms of equity or social mobility….NADA. Poor students are trapped in failing schools and are taught by less than stellar teachers. The problems are more severe in the poorer provinces (Salta, Misiones, Jujuy, etc). These teachers prepare in ed training colleges that are not consistent in quality throughout the country.

    Don’t believe me? Take a day trip to la UBA, Torcuato di Tella or San Andres, the purported top universities of Argentina and see how many students are dark skinned or ask how many students are from the poorer provinces. The ed system in Argentina currently ensures that you will be of the same socioeconomic class as an adult that you were as a child.

  8. Danielle says:

    I do agree on your inclusivity between all classes point, but it’s interesting that, with the exception of Brazil and Argentina, most other countries in your Gini coefficient graph saw a slight rise in inequality in 2007 when the global financial crisis first hit. Maybe Brazil and Argentina’s experience in the financial crisis/outflow of capital area made them wiser about ways to keep money in the country. Or, maybe it’s the result of both countries’ leftist governments pouring a lot of money into helping the bottom part of the skewed inequality distributions. It doesn’t set the rate of decline in inequality in Argentina apart from neighbor countries, like you said, but it’s interesting that inequality didn’t rise as much in 2007 relative to neighbor countries.

    • Thanks for the great comment danielle!

      I would have liked to have a more time/granularity to play with the data. There also might be some interesting historical factors, including the fact that maybe some of Argentina’s policies post 2001 are designed to keep the floor from sliding too low in the event of a crisis.

      Or, and this is my best guess, the fact that Argentina is shut out of international capital markets seriously mitigated the affect, while Brazil has enough diversification in terms of its economy that it simply wasn’t hit as hard.

      Lets discuss at Christmas :)

      • I agree with Bianca

        But bear in mind that Argentina plays with the numbers in an appalling way. Capital controls limited the outflows and the financial isolation after the crisis made the numbers more pallatable. Yet we see now the situation get even worse

      • thanks for the comment percy – its interesting how much argentina’s growth tracked the rest of LATAM through 2008 even despite being shut out of markets.

        I’m working on a post about what it means for an economy to overheat, i look forward to your comments

      • Hola, can I follow you on Twitter ? You are my new hero. Maggie told me about you. good girl

  9. Gini coefficient is flawed especially in the case of Argentina. Having money offshore precludes it from being counted and being only calculated from declared income, it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions. One could argue that the rate of change in the gini coefficient is more significant – countries that reduce it are doing something, which could be better income declaration practices or a greater streamlining of audits.

    Your post has good intentions but comparing latin american countries across the board and arguing that Argentina’s policies are just riding a mutual wave is a tenuous conclusion. You could also pile on that income growth is by far the biggest reducer in gini coefficient; US has seen its increase while Russia has experienced an expected decline, but it’s a hard sell to argue that the Russian government has been pro-redistribution while the US has been making moves to gouge more of its lower bracket citizens.

    Having said that, I do agree with your broader point: the opposition is offering no alternative and this doesn’t bode well for the longevity of ‘the project’. More people should be digging into policy specifics rather than ideology. Argentina is – to put it mildly – complicated. There was a saying in my old economics class: there’s four types of countries, developed, developing, Japan and Argentina. Models need not apply.

    • Hi Colin

      Thanks for the feedback – and for pointing out the flaws in the Gini coefficient. Unfortunately when playing the data game you have to go with whats out there or get a grant and collect your own :( I wanted to take broader poverty numbers but unfortunately they aren’t published for Argentina. And if you compare Argentina’s Gini to the US Gini since 1980 they’re almost the same.

      I hope you dig around more in the rest of my posts – they’re a little more specific and a little less emotional.

  10. Daniel says:

    Hi Bianca,

    I love your posts. Keep up the good work. There are so few places where you can find attempts to give a more objective (even when emotional) overview of the complex situation in Argentina.

    Daniel (Dutchman who lives in Spain and spends a lot of time in Argentina for work)

  11. laura says:

    Few points to clarify the situation:

    Argentina’s middle class has doubled from 2001 till now, regaining its place as the Latin american country with the biggest middle class in Latin America. (according to a WB report)

    -YPF oil production has increased 47% since they nationalized the company 7 months ago..

    Yes, the “project” is a mess. But it’s not all black and white, some things are working, its too soon to discount it yet. In the schizophrenic country that is Argentina, one must make a median from both sides to understand whats happening.

    • laura says:

      Remember things are Grey. They are never black and white, though it may help you live with yourself or help conceive things better by discriminating.

    • Hey Laura

      Glad as always for the counterpoints. For the benefit of the readers who aren’t as econ savvy as you and I, could you throw in some links to the facts you cite? It’d be a real help in getting a good debate going.

      happy monday :)

    • Jim H. says:

      Interesting that Laura didn’t follow up with a link substantiating her claimed 47% increase in production in seven months … but not surprising. YPF’s third quarter 2012 report shows an 0.6% increase in production versus the first three quarters of 2011: specifically, 485.2 Kboed (2012) vs. 482.5 Kboed (2011).

      http://www.ypf.com/enu/InversoresAccionistas/InfoEconomicoFinanciera/YPF%20Nota%20de%20Analistas/6K%20YPF%20Q3%202012%20results%20press%20release.pdf

      Gotta love the way peronistas just pull numbers out of their backsides. Anyone who’s worked in the energy business knows that production doesn’t increase 47% YoY without bringing an elephant-sized new oilfield online.

      • Thanks for the info, Jim – and YPF is so important to keep an eye on lately.

        Its less pulling numbers out of nowhere I think than using one or two numbers to prove a point rather than providing meaningful context. We’re all guilty of it from time to time.

        I think this is the case of economists being very far removed from what they are commenting on, and I believe it hurts the field. For example, I have many close friends who literally research and contribute to setting US trade policy, yet they have never been to a port. The field in general would greatly benefit from more crossover with the “real world.”

        Keep reading and keep commenting, happy new year! :)

  12. David says:

    Reason why you may get hate mails is because you don’t fully understand, or if you do understand, you don’t fully appreciate the real history and causes of how the 2001 debt and default came about and why. I highly suggest the book by John Perkins, “Confessions of an Economic Hitman,” as a place to start if you haven’t read it yet. Or if you have read it, I suggest you re-read it with Argentina in mind.

    And the following video gives a good understanding of the 2001 FINANCIAL collapse that was engineered by the IMF/WB/TBTF, along with their Argentinean cronies, (1) as to gauge how much rape and pillage they could get away with without a full blown bloody revolution occurring, and (2) as a test run for what’s happening in Europe today, i.e., Greece, Spain, Ireland, etc.: http://www.watchdoable.com/argentinas-financial-collapse/

    My advice to all you Yankees is that you should really take a good look in the mirror, because the economic and financial collapse of EEUU is going to be 100 times more worse than Argentina’s, Gini coefficient or otherwise. Here is one sarcastic Yankee talking about YOUR debt: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkEtArDFNYA

    If you don’t have the time to watch the videos, here are two charts that sum up where EEUU is headed (total US national debt is exponential, i.e., only WW3 is going to wipe the slate clean): http://rense.com/general92/stor.htm

    • Hi David

      Glad you brought up ol’ Perkins. It was required reading for me in college and I re-read it on a regular basis. The ambiguous woman in the green dress seems like a good job for me if you ever hear of an opening.

      Comparing the states to Argentina – there is a big difference between debt in our own currency and debt in another currency. Not saying that the US shouldn’t do something about its high debt, but a default a la argentina is impossible.

      Cheers and keep commenting!

      Bianca

      • David says:

        Debt is debt, no matter what currency it is denominated in. I will agree with you that there is a big difference between paying off Argentina’s debt and that of EEUU: you guys can print your paper and digital currency from nothing and, right now at least, the world still accepts it. And the only reason why the inflation rate in EEUU is not in double digits is because your number one “export” is paper and digital dollars created from thin air.

        EEUU default a la China, Japan, etc. is a definite possibility and probability, but it will be preempted first just like 9/11 but with a much bigger “shock and awe.”

  13. Laura says:

    I agree with you david. The problem with this post is that it is pedantic and it seems the writer has been influenced primarily by the bad press given by papers linked to the major financial institutions and wealthy argentines that complain about dollar restrictions because they want to launder their money out of the country.

    I wish she would try to be more objective, instead of saying provocative untrue comments just to generate more hits or whatever agenda she has, whether it is scaring argentine investors in order to invest with her financial company abroad, or receiving accolades from rich westerners looking down upon the unorthodox policies of Argentina.

    This blog is full of innuendos that if Argentina doesnt change its economic policy, a disaster will happen. It keeps on predicting that a huge crisis will occur, everything will “crash, burn and sink.” That a “disaster will happen at any moment”…. lets get a grip on reality here please. . This is DRAMA… Not objective journalism.

    At least the pictures are nice.

    Today a report came out by CEPAL, The United Nations Economic Commision, which confirms my predictions made in August on this blog:

    Shrinkage, August 8: http://notparis.com/2012/08/06/shrinkage/#comments
    “Furthermore, I believe Argentina has a high chance of climbing out of this because of a rise in global agricultural product prices, a potential for a successful 2012-2013 harvest and a third quarter rebound in the Brazilian economy being estimated by many economists.”

    The report confirms what was said above. Economic growth in Argentina for 2012 is 2.2 percent and will grow in 2013 to 3.9 percent. This is due to the Brazilian economy being reactivated, a positive agriculture harvest and strong domestic demand (due to the Governments keynesian stimulus policies…) Argentina will be growing next year, despite global economic problems.

    Don’t believe me. Read the information yourself in this article:
    http://www.4-traders.com/news/Latin-America-Caribbean-2013-GDP-to-Grow-3-8-U-N-Eclac–15588269/

    Hardly the dire scene that is painted in this blog.

    Please notparis.com, whoever you are. I like Argentina, please don’t give it bad press just for a few cheap shots. Also, enough with this Superior foreigner complex. The country were you come from, im sure has many problems too.

    • Hi Laura – I’m American and my country has its share of problems for sure. In fact, I would love to read a blog by an Argentine living in my country.

      My opinions on Argentina are not based on the press, they are based on my experience living and working here for the past three years. I love this country and consider it my home.

      If reports say that poverty is going down, they are lying. Every month there are more and more homeless families living under the bridge a few blocks from my house. Crime has gone up. People can’t afford food.

      My reports of rolling blackouts are based on the rolling blackouts that I suffer, not on some newspaper report. In the past 2 weeks I have lost power overnight 3 times not due to any storm – due to shortages.

      I do appreciate your commentary on my blog very much as I respect alternative viewpoints and thing debate between people that disagree is a very positive thing, but lay of the personal attacks yeah?

      I have no personal agenda except to write about what I see and experience – please continue to provide your contrary opinion but if you want to attack me personally, come visit me in Argentina, let me buy you a beer, and trust me you’ll have about a million angles to personally attack me from.

  14. David says:

    Speaking of “more and more homeless families . . .” I thought this article might add some needed perspective to the discussion of problems in Argentina: http://rt.com/usa/news/homeless-number-children-percent-253/

    While we are talking about “a class act,” at least Argentina does not murder men, women and children in other countries to maintain that non-negotiable “American way of life”: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2012-12-17/guest-post-meet-brandon-bryant-drone-operator-who-quit-after-killing-child

    The amount of navel gazing and narcissistic concern is best illustrated by the title of the full article: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/pain-continues-after-war-for-american-drone-pilot-a-872726.html

    And I don’t mean to imply that after killing dozens of innocent people and then “retiring” to be “a class act.”

    Laura: I would like to get in touch with you. My email address is david at liquidenergyoasis dot com.

    Bianca: No worries, this is my last post on your blog.

    • Hey David – never any worries, and I am glad that my blog encourages debate on these topics. I don’t write to compare Argentina to the US, or to defend US policy in any form as what other countries should aspire to. Additionally, I write from a specific perspective of an American professional woman living and working in Argentina and I don’t apologize for that because I think perspective matters and is valuable.

      Unless if offends you, I sincerely encourage you to continue commenting on my work, if only to provide my readers with an alternative but also valuable point of comparison

  15. Hucklebuck says:

    Bianca – Like to give you some support on your work. Please keep it up. Also, please don’t pay too much attention to the main commenters on this story. I have a feeling that, regardless of the topic, they are leaving the same anti-US material on other sites, probably as far off topic as here; although I do hope they get together, as per the man’s suggestion. They will make a wonderful couple.

  16. Santiago Newbery says:

    Hello,

    first of all, I would like to say I agree with most of what you write, and your analysis GINI coefficient statistics. It’s great that you are able to blog about your observations of Argentina. I was born in Buenos Aires, but have lived in the US since 1971. I have one comment about what you wrote because, according to your statement,
    > I have been told many times by Argentines that they are not Latinos, they are European.
    The correct sentence should read ” I have been told many times by Argentines, that they are not Latinos, they are (mostly of European ancestry)”
    Argentina is a melting port country the majority are “Italians who speak Spanish”.
    That there is racism amongst the white majority in Argentina, you bet, and that will hopefully change with education and progress.

    As you know there is still racism in the US. I live in Colorado, which has a large “Latino” population, mostly of Mexican origins. When I tell people here that I’m Argentine I have sometimes heard:
    “But you don’t look Mexican!” Ignorance feeds racism. I also object to the way they categorize everyone here who comes from a Spanish speaking country as “Hispanics”. We may all share a common language (with great variations) but we should not all be put into the same box which takes away cultural identity.

    Take care, and I hope you enjoy your stay in Buenos Aires. In spite of all the problems, it’s a nice cosmopolitan city, perhaps not “Paris” but I sometimes miss it.

  17. Juancho says:

    Hi Bianca. I love your blog and I want to give you my support as well. Comparing Argentina’s economy/society with the US is not the focus of your articles and these people will never understand that. Please keep up the good job!

  18. Laura says:

    Hi Bianca,

    Please forgive me for the harshness of my last comment. I read your post after reading several articles in La Nación and Clarín that just pissed me off and I let my irritation with the the naysayers be expressed in my last comment. I feel many papers including several from abroad such as the Wall Street Journal continuing to bash Argentina because they want them to fail more than they want to them to succeed with unorthodox economic policies.. They have been doing this for the past 10 years, and Argentina still has not fallen yet, but they predict that it will fall every year. The same narrative gets old after a while. Google past articles and you will see how it constantly repeats.

    . I believe your posts are very informative and well researched even though they are a bit apocalyptic and of course biased (which is natural since we all are selves with different experiences and socioeconomic, cultural backgrounds) and many economists tend to make general dramatic predictions to become known and generate debate. And though I disagree with many of your contentions, my intention was not to attack you personally, but some of your statements are very patronizing about the country for example when you said,

    “Argentina, you need to figure out inclusivity or you will do some combination of crashing, burning, and sinking. Opposition – get a globe and deal with the fact that you are not European and you share a country with your fellow Argentines. Government supporters – stop living on a steady diet of bread, circuses, and fear. Your government is buying your support by exploiting class divides and sacrificing your future..”

    I understand it´s part of the persona of your blog but when you are giving haughty comments about Argentina, you should realize you are going to tick off many people. Especially the peronists.. hahaha… and be careful that CFK doesn’t read your blog because she just started using twitter quite often and she may comment like she responded to Actor Ricardo Darín last weekend over facebook. And she may deport you haha.. just joking..

    Anyway, please continue on writing, but try to take into account the other side of the story, because it does exist even though its hard to see it because of all the bad press. And I really really really really would appreciate if you weren’t so patronizing about Argentina. Its kind of like a none jew saying that Israel has too much power in the United States- many peope would accuse them of being anti-semetic- though everyone in the know understands Israel has a lot of influence over the United States ( think of congressmen Jim Moran or others who tried to challenge the status quo, they were bashed as anti semites even though they were just stating the truth, but if you were a jew it would be perfectly fine) So, its understandable why some Argentine´s might be very annoyed with the ´Tude in this post….

    We are not foreigners dictating how things should be run in this country with prescriptions learned from our elite institutions from the first world. Instead, I believe we should aspire to be foreigners who try to understand how efficiency and healthy growth can be achieved without compromising the cultural aspects and respecting the dignity of the country we have immigrated too or care about. Those are my two cents on the matter.

    Cheers everyone.

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