EE: Report #1, 03—11 September 2010
Encircling Empire Reports is a selection of essays, blog posts, and news reports covering a given time period, which can usually be glimpsed in raw form at zero.collected. They are intended to be useful for those interested in:
● contemporary and critical political anthropology ● public anthropology ● imperialism and imperial decline ● militarism/militarization ● the political economy of the world system ● hegemony and soft power ● counterinsurgency ● revolution ● rebellion ● resistance ● protest ● activism ● advocacy ● critique.
To summarize, here are the top three essays that we call must reads for this week:
- “Will Our Generals Ever Shut Up? The Military’s Media Megaphone and the U.S. Global Military Presence.” By Tom Engelhardt.
- “What America Has Lost: It’s clear we overreacted to 9/11.” By Fareed Zakaria.
- “WikiLeaks: The Global 4th Estate.” By Nozomi Hayase.
Your Very Own 9/11
Fareed Zakaria, normally seen on CNN (where he tends to be a little hawkish and relies heavily on the usual mainstream policy pundits), has produced an essay well worth reading, on this “commemoration” of 9/11—“What America Has Lost: It’s clear we overreacted to 9/11.” As part of this overreaction, against an Al Qaeda that seems to have little more power than to “find a troubled young man who has been radicalized over the Internet, and teach him to stuff his underwear with explosives,” the U.S. has increased its intelligence budget by 250 per cent, to $75 billion annually (at a minimum), more than the rest of the world spends on intelligence. This is, in Zakaria’s own words, a national security state, where “some 30,000 people are now employed exclusively to listen in on phone conversations and other communications in the United States.” Every “solution” to crisis is framed in terms of threat and security, even basic humanitarian ones, even within the U.S. itself:
“the federal government’s fastest and most efficient response to Hurricane Katrina was the creation of a Guantánamo-like prison facility (in days!) in which 1,200 American citizens were summarily detained and denied any of their constitutional rights for months.”
Al Qaeda may have done something horrendous on 11 September 2001, but the rest the U.S. did to itself. What a deep price to pay for something that, in terms of mortality, was a fraction of the number of Americans who die each year in traffic accidents, and was a one time only event. “Happy 9/11” (and if anything, Twitter will make it so).
Bush’s Third Term in the “War on Terror”: Continuity
“Court Sides With C.I.A. on Seizure of Terror Suspects,” in The New York Times, reviews a recent federal appeals court’s ruling that privileges national security over human rights and effectively grants immunity to torturers, all sought by the Obama administration:
“The decision bolstered an array of ways in which the Obama administration has pressed forward with broad counter-terrorism policies after taking over from the Bush team, a degree of continuity that has departed from the expectations fostered by President Obama’s campaign rhetoric, which was often sharply critical of President Bush’s approach.”
As the NYT notes, in terms of continuity:
“Among other policies, the Obama team has also placed a United States citizen on a targeted-killings list without a trial, blocked efforts by detainees in Afghanistan to bring habeas-corpus lawsuits challenging their indefinite imprisonment, and continued the C.I.A. rendition program.”
As for TIME, it will only place the word scandalous inside square quotes, saying “the ACLU calls the news ‘scandalous’.” Really, TIME? So what do you call it?
Remember the Project for a New American Century? Just because its website is now dead doesn’t meant that the lust for American exceptionalism and an American-led century are over. Consider Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech this week to the Council on Foreign Relations on the “American moment” (one without end, she hopes):
“the United States can, must and will lead in this new century. Indeed, the complexities and connections of today’s world have yielded a new American moment, a moment when our global leadership is essential, even if we must often lead in new ways, a moment when those things that make us who we are as a nation — our openness and innovation, our determination and devotion to core values — have never been more needed. This is a moment that must be seized through hard work and bold decisions, to lay the foundations for lasting American leadership for decades to come.
“But now this is no argument for America to go it alone — far from it.The world looks to us because America has the reach and resolve to mobilize the shared effort needed to solve problems on a global scale, in defense of our own interests but also as a force for progress. In this we have no rival. For the United States, global leadership is both a responsibility and an unparalleled opportunity.”
“Our” moment—but read further and you discover that Clinton’s plan for renewed hegemony under conditions that make it impossible involves roping in allies to look after American interests for America. America can’t be America alone, it needs all of us to be America for it.
Culture of Decline and Fear of the Other
Immanuel Wallerstein writes in “Xenophobia All Over the Place?” that there are three nationalisms: the nationalism of “strong” states, which laud their technical and cultural superiority; the nationalism of the oppressed and colonized, as an expression of a demand for liberation; and, xenophobic nationalism. Xenophobic nationalism, a patriotism expressed in terms of fear of strangers, is “that of a state in which the population feels or fears that it is losing strength, is somehow in ‘decline’. The sentiment of national decline is inevitably particularly exacerbated in times of great economic difficulty.” He finds xenophobic nationalism in the American “tea party” movement, in Japan, and in Europe. What is the solution? He stresses a combination of egalitarianism and autonomy of communities. He also worries about leftists fearing they will be swept away by the tide of nationalism, and thus joining the tide.
Richard Rodriguez writes: “Great empires expand beyond their own borders. Empires in decline build walls.” In an excellent article, “The ‘Great Wall of America’ and the the threat from within,” comparing the U.S. wall along the Mexican border to other imperial walls, and to the wall in Israel, Rodriguez also observes: “Once the wall is in place, anxiety about the coming outsider changes to an anxiety about who belongs within.”
Given the recent article by Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes, “The true cost of the Iraq war: $3 trillion and beyond,” in which they view their earlier estimate of $3 trillion as being too low, and as they begin to factor in opportunity costs (for example, “would oil prices have risen so rapidly? Would the federal debt be so high? Would the economic crisis have been so severe?”), it is worth considering the contribution of “illegal immigrants” in the U.S. Keep in mind the recent upheaval surrounding the U.S.’ health care debate, and agony over stimulus packages, and doubts about the survivability of social security, and think of the massive costs of war. It seems that “illegal immigrants” may indeed be financing Americans’ retirement. The fear of strangers certainly does not promise to pay off:
“The contributions by unauthorized immigrants to Social Security…are much larger than previously known… Stephen C. Goss, the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration and someone who enjoys bipartisan support for his straightforwardness, said that by 2007, the Social Security trust fund had received a net benefit of somewhere between $120 billion and $240 billion from unauthorized immigrants. The cumulative contribution is surely higher now. Unauthorized immigrants paid a net contribution of $12 billion in 2007 alone….Somebody ought to say thank you.”
Imperial Economy in Decline: What Next?
Michael Panzner is “Not Buying ‘the Light at the End of the Tunnel’ Scenario,” that suggests that a recovery is in motion. In fact, what he highlights are reports that show even those corporations doing well have a pessimistic outlook on the future.
Just in case you manage to still find room for cheer, then try this on: “5 Doomsday Scenarios for the U.S. Economy,” from The Atlantic. Their narrow range of scenarios leads one to think: there is much more room for doom. Note the part where they say this is your fault, for not spending enough, and we may have a sense of what motivated the piece.
What to do? Mark Weisbrot argues that there needs to be another stimulus package in the U.S. The consequences of increased debt are far outweighed by the consequences of rising unemployment and a continuing downward spiral in the economy.
You cannot blame Obama for everything, but you blame Obama for failing to offer anything other than a pallid illusion of an alternative to neoliberalism, says Walden Bello. While arguing, like Weisbrot, for more stimulus, Bello goes even further and says it has to be part of a broader strategy consisting of three parts:
“democratic decision-making at all levels of the economy, from the enterprise to macroeconomic planning; second, greater equality in the distribution of wealth and income to make up for lower growth rates dictated by economic and environmental constraints; and third, a more cooperative, as opposed to competitive ethic, in production, distribution, and consumption.”
Egalitarianism and autonomy—remember Wallerstein above.
Paul Krugman and Robin Wells in “The Slump Goes On: Why?” review three economic crisis books for The New York Review of Books. Ultimately they argue that we are seeing, in the absence of any real solutions offered by policy makers, is “self-induced paralysis,” or as they say, “a failure of nerve—a failure for which millions of workers will pay a heavy price.”
Also from Michael Panzner, a post detailing some recent Chinese efforts to bolster not just its “hard power” (military) but also its “soft power,” doing the American thing of sending a hospital ship to Africa. See “China Looks to Win Hearts and Minds.”
In his own roundup of news links, “Asian Lightning Rod,” Panzner points to articles describing the ways in which China is reshaping the geopolitical orbits of Asian nations, as it increases its own political and economic power.
Imperial Irony/Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan
After killing hundreds of innocent civilians in Pakistan with the use of drone strikes, finally a unit of CIA and Xe/Blackwater personnel met with the consequences of their actions when one person on their payroll decided to visit from retaliatory justice on them back in December. Some call the attack on the CIA “terrorism” –curious use of the word, at best, since it is almost never used to describe an attack on armed combatants in a war zone. It is more credible to call it counter-terrorism. However, rich with imperial irony, the U.S. government has just decided to classify the Pakistani Taleban a “terrorist group,” because of that counter attack.
Afghanistan heads back to the polls again, this time for parliamentary elections. A New York Times editorial, apparently unaware of past NYT content, writes this of the United Nations’ backed Electoral Complaints Commission: “experts are concerned about the competence of the new members. Their big test will be whether they have the courage of their predecessors to expose fraud if found.” The irony? The last time, in August 2009, it was the U.N. that helped to cover up the fraud, as reported by a high level member of the official charged with monitoring the elections, and as published by the NYT itself.
Traduttore, traditore…in more ways than one. ABC News blew the lid off of a scandal involving the large number of American civilians posing as language-proficient translators in order to earn in excess of $200,000 in Afghanistan. Up to 28 per cent of those applying failed, and were hired anyway, or had someone who knew Dari or Pashto take the…wait for it…over the phone exam. See “Whistleblower Claims Many U.S. Interpreters Can’t Speak Afghan Languages.” We should pause to note that the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System relies heavily on interpreters.
Is there a strategy, a logic, a rationale that dictates that to protect U.S. interests, the war of occupation in Afghanistan must continue? Not at all says a compelling new report from the Afghanistan Study Group at the New America Foundation, which stresses that Obama’s strategy is failing dramatically. See “A New Way Forward,” which argues for progressive American disengagement from the war. The advice comes in five points: (1) Emphasize power-sharing and political reconciliation; (2) Scale back and eventually suspend combat operations in the south and reduce the U.S. Military footprint; (3) Keep the focus on Al Qaeda and domestic security; (4) Promote economic development; and, (5) Engage global and regional stakeholders. See as well their list of “Myths and Realities in the Afghan Debate.”
“Trying to pacify Afghanistan by force of arms will not work, and a costly military campaign there is more likely to jeopardize America’s vital security interests than to protect them” – you can read an overview of the report on Politico, written by Steve Clemons who is the director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and is a member of the Afghanistan Study Group. Not that we like to quote anything from a Foreign Policy blog, but David Rothkopf is right on target when he characterizes other think tank reports in the following manner:
“Think tanks being what they are — large meat lockers in which future government bureaucrats are stored until needed — the reports they produce tend to be little more than exercises in reputation management. They state the obvious, then slather it in a bland, nutrient-free sauce of quasi-academic qualifications that seek to explain why they are really not saying anything new or practical. The best of them offer course corrections that are miniscule [sic] at best, and new ideas are as hard to find as honest politicians in the Karzai administration.”
No More U.S. Combat Troops in Iraq? Only Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy Left Behind
We were told, and some even believed, that the last combat troops had left Iraq. Some have chosen to believe that was left behind was an army of cooks and medics—Operation Appelbee’s®, preparing a grand buffet, and then planning to aid those suffering indigestion. The Washington Post in “Five myths about the Iraq troop withdrawal,” answers the myth based on the assertion that all combat troops have left Iraq:
“Not even close. Of the roughly 50,000 American military personnel who remain in Iraq, the majority are still combat troops – they’re just named something else. The major units still in Iraq will no longer be called ‘brigade combat teams’ and instead will be called ‘advisory and assistance brigades.’ But a rose by any other name is still a rose, and the differences in brigade structure and personnel are minimal.”
Likewise, the Army Times in “Combat brigades in Iraq under different name: 7 Advise and Assist Brigades, made up of troops from BCTs, still in Iraq,” says that “while the ‘last full U.S. combat brigade’ have [sic] left Iraq, just under 50,000 soldiers from specially trained heavy, infantry and Stryker brigades will stay, as well as two combat aviation brigades.” NPR in “Now That U.S. ‘Combat’ Troops Have Left Iraq, Is Combat There Really Over?” notes that
“because the Iraqi forces are still dependent on the U.S. for air support, artillery and medical assistance, American soldiers will still be part of joint operations with the Iraqis. Thus, these ‘non-combat’ troops could certainly see their share of combat. In addition, the administration has said that U.S. forces will continue to carry out ‘counter-terrorism’ missions in joint missions with Iraqi forces and about 4,500 U.S. special operations troops. Finally, American forces will need to protect themselves at their remaining bases, and help protect the State Department and other U.S. government civilians who are expected to take a greater role in the relationship with the Iraqi government.”
It’s becoming more of a mercenary war. “Because it is cheaper to outsource services, the United States clings to the modern mercenary,” says the Boston Globe in “End of combat yields surge of contractors.” BG, citing a Congressional Research Service report, helps to reveal the fact that
“the number of private security personnel has risen by 26 percent during the drawdown….there are 11,600 private security forces in Iraq operating under the Department of Defense, a number corroborated by the federal bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting. So the total US security force level in Iraq — both military and private — is around 64,000.”
The Sydney Morning Herald joins in with “Some US Troops Out of Iraq, More Mercenaries to Go In: US to Rely on Contractors in Iraq,” and explains that the U.S. State Department alone “is to more than double the number of security contractors it employs in Iraq to around 7000, filling a gap left by departing troops.” The BG author, Derrick Jackson, makes some critically important points on this topic:
“It was important for Obama to get official troop numbers down to 50,000. But the US presence is now disproportionately private, and there are still no clear standards of accountability. Obama said, ‘it’s time to turn the page’ to Afghanistan and the economy. Unstated was the hope that the remaining pages in Iraq will not be stained with blood spilled by undisciplined private forces.”
Appropriately, Syed Rashid Husain writing in “Is Uncle Sam really leaving Iraq for good?” for Arab News.com, observes that
“Imperial powers rarely keep their pledge to leave occupied lands, especially if oil is there to seduce them. Britain occupied Egypt in 1882 to safeguard the Suez Canal. It promised to leave within a few years, but the last British soldier left Egypt in 1956. Britain expelled the Ottoman Turks from Iraq in 1917-18 and promised to leave as soon as possible. But the lure of Iraq’s oil did not permit them and so the last British soldier left only in 1959. And it may not be too different today. As the US ‘combat’ troops move out, ‘Big Oil’ is moving in. The rush is on for Iraqi oil. And the American ‘non-combat’ military presence would be there in Iraq to reassure the US companies that their investments are safe, covered and protected.”
It seems that a lot of confusion, much of it deliberate and spread from the White House, could have been avoided if so many people did not take tautological terms such as “combat troops” too seriously, and did not take “end” too much to heart.
Meet Cuba’s Newest Blogger (and Revisionist?): Fidel Castro
An editorial in the Los Angeles Times, “Fidel Castro, Internet junkie,” talks about my newest and one of my favourite “bloggers” (see his series in Granma’s “Reflections of Fidel Castro,” one of the sources monitored for these EE reports): “Fidel Castro is back from the dead (his words) and has been reincarnated as an Internet junkie. Not only is he a prolific blogger on Cuba’s online Granma newspaper but, it turns out, the 84-year-old greybeard consumes 200 to 300 news items a day on the Web and is fascinated by the WikiLeaks site, with its trove of 90,000 formerly secret U.S. documents on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.” In his speeches (like the latest public one), Fidel refers frequently to the prolific Cuban website, CubaDebate, produced by people who are very approachable in Twitter, and a multitude of other social network sites. The LA Times editorial likes to focus on “delicious irony” in the contrast between Fidel’s praises for the Internet and his government’s control over it (and yet the editorial has to concede that a third of Cuba’s bloggers are in fact dissident bloggers and their voices do get out). Funny, about that delicious irony…as U.S. newspapers play along with excluding Wikileaks from a shield law. In Europe, the notion of whistle blowing is almost nonexistent, and some countries need to use the English word to express the idea—but then again, you only really need whistle blowing when you lack government accountability and public participation in decision making. Not to worry, all of this is missed by the LA Times editors, for whom it seems freedom of expression, and Internet freedom, is only good when it comes to America’s stock, invented enemies.
Fidel has also become somewhat of the alleged revisionist in his interviews with Mexican and American journalists recently, part of his strong comeback to public life that has him in the international news headlines on an almost daily basis. What are some of his most important (self)denunciations: (1) The persecution of homosexuals, for which he takes personal responsibility. Cuba has ended state discrimination of gays and also offers free sex-change operations. (2) The missile crisis of 1962: he does not think his approach was logical, “After I’ve seen what I’ve seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn’t worth it all.” (3) Words to Ahmadinejad: stop it with all the holocaust denial and slandering of Jews, they have suffered more and longer than anyone else. (4) The Cuban economic model doesn’t work anymore? So said The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, in blogging that previews a long article to come. While U.S. reports tend to focus more on the fact that the average Cuban salary is $20 per month, what is less emphasized is how much else is free: “free health care and education, and nearly free transportation and housing. At least a portion of every citizen’s food needs are sold to them through ration books at heavily subsidized prices;” and, we are told that nonetheless Fidel, “has no desire to depart from Cuba’s socialist system or embrace capitalism.”
Traduttore, traditore…again. In fact Fidel is now accusing Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic of having misinterpreted him, understanding the exact opposite of what Fidel said (another reason to always be careful about quoting anything from The Atlantic): see “Castro says he was misinterpreted on Cuban economy.”
Well, of course, Fidel is hardly going to be vindicating capitalism, when we are all witnessing a massive failure within the very core of world capitalism. Fidel says that Goldberg did not invent his words, merely “transferred” and “translated” them in a way that causes misinterpretation. Here are Fidel’s words:
“En otro momento de la conversación Goldberg cuenta: ‘le pregunté si él creía que el modelo cubano era algo que aún valía la pena exportar.’ Es evidente que esa pregunta llevaba implícita la teoría de que Cuba exportaba la Revolución.
[Trans: At another point in the conversation Goldberg tells us, ‘I asked him if he believed that Cuban model was something still worth exporting.’ It’s evident that this question implicitly carried the theory that Cuba was an exporter of Revolution.]
“Mi idea, como todo el mundo conoce, es que el sistema capitalista ya no sirve ni para Estados Unidos ni para el mundo, al que conduce de crisis en crisis, que son cada vez más graves, globales y repetidas, de las cuales no puede escapar. Cómo podría servir semejante sistema para un país socialista como Cuba.”
[Trans: My thinking, as everyone knows, is that the capitalist system now no longer works for the United States nor the rest of the world, a system that leads from one crisis to another, each time more grave, more global, and repeated, from which we cannot escape. How could such a system serve a socialist country like Cuba.]
In Militainment News: Generals Who Won’t Ever Shut Up; the Pentagon and Child Porn; and an Academy Award
Tom Engelhardt’s “Will Our Generals Ever Shut Up? The Military’s Media Megaphone and the U.S. Global Military Presence,” is a careful and relentless plowing of the militarization of American politics and mainstream media. The rise to dominance of the U.S. military in American society is no less true under Obama. As Engelhardt argues,
“To grasp the changing nature of military influence domestically, consider the military’s relationship to the media. Its media megaphone offers a measure of the reach and influence of that behemoth, what kinds of pressures it can apply in support of its own version of foreign policy, and just how, under its weight, the relationship between the civilian and military high commands is changing.”
Read the whole piece, it is immensely rewarding.
As for war-mongering in the media, AlterNet has an overview of the “9 Shameless Warmongers Who Call Fox News Home,” noting that they were “some of the worst purveyors of misinformation about Iraq.”
Did The Hurt Locker deserve an Academy Award? I could answer the question myself: I almost fell asleep watching it and my Twitter synopsis was something like this: “Three guys, some IEDs, lots of angst and heavy drinking, in someone else’s country. The End.” The days of Apocalypse Now-like films are long past. Instead the movie industry, and faithful viewers, seem to be obsessed with human interest mush that, dutifully, is always from the perspective of those poor men who “serve” (serve what?). Jack A. Smith has a much more cutting review, where he argues, among other things, that “The Hurt Locker seeks to justify the Bush-Obama wars. It does so by suppressing the political context of the wars, and by individualizing and conflating the scope of the conflict to resemble, as reviewer Denby suggests, an ‘existential confrontation [between] man and deadly threat’.”
That’s not militainment! But it is Americans’ hard borrowed dollars going to the Pentagon to pay for copious amounts of child pornography. See John Cook’s exposé, “Pentagon declined to investigate hundreds of purchases of child pornography.”
And if hundreds of purchases have not been investigated by the Pentagon, then that is almost “good news” compared to a similar scandal in the U.K. In the U.K., a RAF officer, found to have downloaded child pornography while on base, walked free from court. He is in fact expected to return to Afghanistan. See “Judge tells MoD not to sack RAF child sex pervert” (Oxford Mail, 07 September 2010).
Back in Times: Colonialism and Independence
Norman Girvan brings attention to declassified Colonial Office documents revealing “the extent of British duplicity, American hypocrisy and the naivety of a militantly anti-colonial leader who nevertheless trusted in British justice” in bringing British Guiana to “Independence” in 1966. He adds, “this textbook lesson in imperial intrigue and machination should be required listening for every Caribbean student.”
In addition, Norman advertises a critical text—one cherished in that it reflects the founding principles that inspired this blog: The Thought of New World: The Quest for Decolonisation, edited by Brian Meeks and Norman Girvan, published by Ian Randle.
Current Intelligence has an in-depth review of the book, Defeating Mau Mau, Creating Kenya: Counterinsurgency, Civil War, and Decolonization, that is well worth reading. In his review, Martin Shanguhiya tells us that the book analyzes “how the loyalist section of the Kikuyu community in central Kenya emerged and allied with the colonial state in a counterinsurgency campaign to defeat the Mau Mau uprising in the early 1950s. This campaign helped to transform an originally anticolonial movement into a civil war….The cleavages that ripped the Kikuyu community apart during the conflict were consciously sustained into the post-Mau Mau, decolonization, and postcolonial periods in a way that privileged the social, economic, and especially political aspirations of loyalists at the expense of the former insurgents and their sympathizers. Thus, the book enriches the nationalist interpretation of Mau Mau in the creation of modern Kenya by shifting the focus away from the insurgents and their imperial foe, to loyalists.”
Public Anthropology Notes: Wedel on Wikileaks, Chains of Difference
[PAN is intended to be a regular feature of EE reports]
Anthropologist and public policy professor, Janine Wedel, author of the recently published Shadow Elite: How The World’s New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, And The Free Market, gave an interview to Radio Free Europe on Wikileaks and the shadow elite.
Wait, there’s more! She also sings…songs about financial institutions. This could have been “must see ZATV,” if it had been more sinister. Otherwise this is economic anthropology crossed with public anthropology in a way that I bet you never expected to see:
Ode to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
If you missed it, see antropologi.info’s post on Wedel’s work, “Anthropologist uncovers how global elites undermine democracy.”
Here she talks a bit more about her Shadow Elite book:
An exciting new project has been launched: Chains of Difference. Chains is a blog-project on applied anthropology and digital activism, open to all. Their history is documented on their blog and in a Facebook page with the same name, that already has almost a thousand members. Their project aims to give everyone a chance of creating a narrative of difference informed by the ideas and methods of anthropologists. Chain-Blogging involves the creation of a network of interrelated blogs across countries of people learning about diversity by face to face encounters and sharing their stories online.
Open Source Truth: A World Beyond Borders is an exciting site that deserves serious attention. I learned of it from the Wikileaks account in Twitter. First, there is the very stimulating manifesto, “7 Easy Steps to Becoming a WikiWorldCitizen.” Then there is this tremendous essay on the media as propaganda that is well worth reading, and rereading, and rereading… “WikiLeaks: The Global 4th Estate.” It’s not just about the media, or about Wikileaks as art, or about the central political axis of Wikileaks (individual vs. institution), it is about professionalism, the creation of expert knowledge, drafted into the service of governance and corporatization…in ways that leave the teacher of anthropology feeling rather indicted.
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