Geldof neo-colonialism

Band Aid is shit. Find the original article here.

It’s that time of year again, and in the festive spirit of giving, the aging Bob Geldof has rallied together another juvenile band of celebrities to raise their sagging profiles and profit from another crisis. Band Aid 30’s re-release of the patronising “Do they know it’s Christmas” reportedly raised more than £1mn in the first five minutes since its release to help tackle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Although this is an important campaign, and a problem that requires a concerted effort to solve, there are serious issues surrounding Band Aid. Primarily, the song is patronising and offensive (yes, I’m fairly certain many people in Africa are aware that it is Christmas, especially those that celebrate it as a religious holiday) and cultivates the archaic image of Africa as ‘backwards’, and of Africans as ‘savages’; unable to fend for themselves and requiring the intervention of ‘white saviours’ to rescue the situation. This neo-colonialist attitude entrenches negative assumptions about Africa, and encourages broad and largely incorrect generalisations about Africans.Ebola-no-Ebola1

Emeli Sande, one of the artists who sang on the record, has criticised the lyrics, acknowledging that they could be perceived as offensive and disrespectful, but highlighting that the intention of the single is to raise money where governments have responded woefully slowly. Rapper Fuse ODG pulled out of the single at the last minute, claiming he felt “awkward” about some of the lyrics, adding that that the track “is quite detrimental to the continent [Africa]” and is a “quick fix” solution to a wider problem. Others have gone further in their criticism. Solome Lemma, who co-founded Africans in the Diaspora as well as the Africa Responds initiative on Ebola, emphasised the lack of inclusiveness of the Band Aid modus operandi, which propagates a “white saviour” narrative. She said: “the song is patronising and negative and it is sad that they haven’t worked with and included African musicians, especially from the countries affected. You have very well-known, mainstream singers, talking about Africa with very little inclusion of Africans.”

Indeed, many African artists have heaped criticism on the song for its negative portrayal of Africa to the rest of the world. Carlos Chirinos, producer of an alternative charity single, “Africa Stop Ebola”, which has been written by African artists in response to the Ebola outbreak, juxtaposed the need for funding to prevent the spread of the disease with the negative outcomes of the Geldof model: “it’s worth doing it for the money and the money is needed, however it comes at a cost and the cost is the way in which Africa is being portrayed to the rest of the world.” Many of these criticisms have been around since the first release of the song in the 1980s – some of these have been humorously conveyed, such as the spoof charity song by ‘Radi-Aid’ to provide Norwegians dying of frostbite with radiators. Methods like this stress the ignorance of many people in developed countries about the inspiring and progressive things going on in Africa following years of negative propaganda, and, even, the most under-emphasised point – that Ebola has afflicted a small number of communities in a small number of countries, and that the majority of Africa is unaffected by the disease.
The notion that a bunch of celebrities devoting their precious time to help ‘poor, needy Africans’ plays up to the ridiculous caricature of starving Ethiopians that the original single spread. Further, it is offensive to the vast number of ordinary people who have donated money to charities like Medicins sans Frontieres, who are on the front line assisting with health care, and the medical professionals who have dropped everything to help looking after Ebola patients, often putting themselves at risk. Those in the UK who donate the largest proportion of their incomes to charity are in fact the poorest, yet Bob, Bono and chums can’t even summon the courage to pay their taxes. Rather than donating some of the $150mn and $600mn they are respectively worth, they would rather guilt trip people into forking out their hard-earned cash on some tuneless drivel that purports to solve all of Africa’s problems. It’s ironic (and not even in an Alanis Morrisette way), given that it’s people like them that are the root of such problems – pompous wealthy white men from developed countries extoling a destructive image of people from developing countries, while contributing to an oppressive, IMF-driven humanitarian aid system that undermines developing countries’ sovereignty, autonomy and dignity.

Radical Housing

Originally written for Concrete: attempting to dumb down the issues and package them in a digestible studenty way was actually pretty hard.

So you live in the Golden Triangle, your bathroom is covered in black mould, you can see your breath while you’re lying in bed – your bedroom happens to have the front door in it – and the landlord doesn’t give a toss. Welcome to student living, right? Well, yes, but there is another way – you don’t have to deal with the torment of numb fingers and toes, unscrupulous landlords or useless estate agents. For those who are committed to communal living as a life choice rather than a forced fact of life, radical housing solutions can make shared living a pleasant and productive experience, rather than the grimy, beer can-strewn chaos student living can occasionally become. Here are just some of the alternatives.

Co-operatives
Although housing co-ops are now few and far between, with waiting lists as long as your arm, there are a few springing up. There’s good reason why everyone wants to live in one: in addition to the cheap rent, you can throw yourself in to communal living and benefit from collective productivity – many co-ops feature vegetable gardens, beautiful DIY interiors, political activism and bangin’ house parties.
Living with lots of people committed to the same sort of ideals means you can share ideas, inspiration and skills – there is always someone who can teach you how to fix the plumbing, or cook a damn fine curry. Co-ops are on the up: from our very own UEA food co-op to the (not so) Co-operative Bank, the idea is relatively prevalent and increasingly important in times of austerity.
Students at the Universities of Edinburgh and Birmingham have set up their very own housing co-ops to create an alternative to the extortionate rents charged by private landlords, and poor conditions in many student properties. Next step: Norwich…

Squatting
Squatters have a terrible name, thanks to publications like the Daily Mail and propaganda espoused by conservative outlets. However, for many people working low-paid jobs, recent graduates, current students, the unemployed and the homeless, squatting is one of few realistic choices. Of course you get a smattering of middle-class political types dedicated to the ‘cause’ but generally, squatting is a housing choice for people with few options. There are more empty homes in the UK than there are homeless people. That is a disgusting statistic.
Developers frequently buy up property and leave it standing empty until market conditions mean they can get top dollar for it – meanwhile the number of homeless households has risen to 50,000, according to homelessness charity Shelter. When people are desperate, squatting becomes an alternative to living in temporary accommodation, hostels, or even on the street.
This may not seem relevant to many students, but with spiralling costs of living, creeping rents, and huge student debt; particularly for postgraduates, squatting is a real alternative to student squalor. Besides, the connotations of squats as horrible, dirty, cold places full of hippies and drug addicts is pretty misplaced – squatters are often more hard-working, dedicated and politically motivated than your average Joe, and if you can deal with the transience and the instability, it can be an interesting way to spend a few months or years.
Living rent-free can be a good alternative to moving back home, and can allow you to save up for a deposit in the ‘traditional’ housing market, or spend time and money doing things other than work, such as building a portfolio, working internships or volunteering.
Unfortunately however, in 2013, the government criminalised squatting in residential properties despite 95% of respondents to its consultation opposing the action, so empty office blocks and commercial buildings are the only properties that can now legally be occupied. This makes the situation more difficult, especially if you’re not experienced with housing law, and the requirement to have at least one person on the premises at any one time makes the exercise somewhat exhausting.

Guardianship
Originally introduced in the Netherlands in the 1990s as a ‘win-win’ market solution to squatting, guardianship essentially means you pay exceedingly low rent to live in, and protect property from potential vandals. This translates into keeping squatters out, pitting desperate people against even more desperate people. Despite the obvious moral challenges this throws up, guardianship can be an affordable alternative to renting, without the potential legal quagmire of squatting.

Why the NBHU is the best

This has been published on the Norwich Radical, and was written by myself and the Comms Officer for the NBHU, Fab.

Bartenders, waiters, baristas and other hospitality workers have one thing above all else in common: we are over-worked, under-paid and misrepresented. We are both bartenders, and we deal with drunken idiots, entitled twats, and aggressive yobs on a daily basis. Woman bartenders also have to deal with unwanted sexual advances and harassment, comments about our clothing choice, and implicit assertions about who we are and what we’re doing there. Despite all of this, we value our work, and we want to do it well – for those that actually appreciate what we’re doing, and for those that are well-behaved and fun to spend time with.

All of these things were important at the inception of the Norwich Bartenders’ and Hospitality Union. Norwich has a pub for every night of the year, as well as its fair share of cafés, restaurants, hotels and other service industry employers. We are committed to a multi-faceted approach to the hospitality industry: we want to improve our members’ skills and create a pool of people who are committed to, and good at, their jobs. We also want to challenge the daily issues faced by workers in the sector – discrimination, low pay, difficult customers, demanding management and limited employment rights. On top of that, we want to educate people in the sector on their rights and represent them in any employment disputes or grievances that arise with their employers. In that regard, we’re committed to forming positive relationships with management, rather than antagonising them, and demonstrating that the NBHU is a collection of workers who really care, and are the kind of employees you want, and need, to run a business in Norwich.

(Norwich Bartenders’ and Hospitality Union)

The NBHU is an industrial union branch of the IWW, one of the oldest and most radical unions in the UK, if not the world. The IWW is committed to true democracy – it is run by its members, and does not have paid officials like nearly every other union. It does not have its equivalent Len McLuskey or Dave Prentis, and it is run by the rank-and-file, for the rank-and-file. At the heart of the IWW’s principles is the belief that workers should be organised within their industry – that means that rather than having a separate union for teachers, admin workers, caretakers, Teaching Assistants and cleaners in a school, for example, all of those workers organise together and are classed as ‘education workers’. Similarly for us, hospitality workers have shared struggles across workplaces regardless of whether those workplaces are restaurants, hotels, bars or anything else, and we feel that we should all organise together to improve our working conditions and the industry for everyone working in it.

As a union, we believe we can produce positive change through collective action. The success of BECTU Union Ritzy Cinema workers in Brixton has shown how this might happen – they recently celebrated a famous victory in their dispute by picketing outside the cinema and winning a 26% pay rise to match the London living wage, backdated from last October. Despite the recent upheaval and job losses, their struggle demonstrates the importance, and power of collective action. This is a huge victory for small workplaces and the Living Wage is arguably another tick on a long list of landmark rights won for workers by trades unions.

The NBHU aims to have representation in as many venues across the city as possible. At present, we represent workers in many pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes, and are labouring to extend our work further. We are particularly keen to represent those who are frequently distant from trade union politics, such as students. Contrary to some of the larger unions, we are industry-specific, and can therefore offer tailored advice and representation based on our own experience and skills. Of course the lack of bureaucracy in the IWW also helps us get things done quickly and democratically, without having to rely on a hierarchical model of decision-making. We value all of our members equally, and consider all of their views on all decisions we make. That’s important to us as a nascent union branch because we’ve got relatively broad-based support.

In our union we have a broad demographic: some of our members are committed hospitality workers, in it for the long haul, whereas others work in pubs and restaurants to finance other things in their lives, such as higher education. We have a wider range of ages, two of three of the rotating committee member seats are currently filled by women, and we aim to be as inclusive as possible in everything that we do. We want all of our members to be involved in what we do – participation can be the best way to build skills and confidence at work, as well as take back control for the workers. For far too long the workplace has been a “bosses’ market”, able to dictate terms to employees arbitrarily, knowing an army of desperate jobseekers will gladly take their place following dispute. Now, in our industry, we are waking up to the possibility of reclaiming workplaces for ourselves, and running hospitality and bar workplaces for the benefit of all, not just the bosses.

Currently we are campaigning on issues that particularly affect our members, such as the living wage and zero hours contracts. More and more large employers are becoming living wage employers, such as the student union at UEA, Norwich City Council and City College, but very few small and medium-sized businesses (including many pubs, cafes and restaurants) are able to offer their employees an amount considered sufficient to survive on: £7.65. In addition to low pay, hospitality workers are frequently denied the security of a contract – while zero hours work may be good for those who require flexibility (such as students or carers), the lack of job security can be a constant source of worry for many. The NBHU is actively trying to campaign on these issues, and other things that are important to our members. Of course, it is about taking baby steps – we’re a young but growing union and things are slowly picking up. We’re committed to changing things for the better in this city. Check us out on Facebook or online atwww.norwichbartendersandhospitality.wordpress.com.

Revolutionary Opposition to IS

Printed in last edition of Concrete.

We’ve heard a lot about the role of Kurdish forces in the fight against Islamic State (IS) – yet the collaboration between Kurdish and Turkish forces is an unlikely one. For more than three decades, the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state in a violent bid for national separatism and statehood. Although originally Marxist-Leninist, and taking inspiration for its three-stage insurgency directly from Maoist rhetoric, the PKK has recently started down a new ideological route, which may have implications for the fight against IS.

Their demi-god leader, Ocalan, was inspired by the writings of Murray Bookchin, who himself was an ex-Anarchist exploring ideas of communalism. The PKK’s new direction is more peaceful and democratic – Ocalan suggests they only use weapons when attacked, critiquing their earlier praxis of separatism and violence. Now, they are all about “protecting our community … regardless of political ideology, religion and ethnicity”, and are considered a “democratic popular militia”. They have widespread support in towns and regions where they have power, such as in the town of Derek Hamko, where they have established People’s Councils based on principles of communal living and bottom-up participatory democracy.

Kurds are the most numerous stateless minority globally: Kurdish people originate from Iraq, Syria and Turkey, but currently have no national soil. Many Kurds support the PKK and its militant wings, the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) and YPJ (the all-female arm), and the new democratic model of ‘municipal confederalism’ or ‘libertarian municipalism’ chimes well with people in the proposed autonomous regions of Kurdistan.

The PKK is fighting for autonomy and national identity, as well as freedom from the oppressive regime IS wants to instate. 35% of the Kurdish forces in Syria are female, according to YPG spokesman Redur Khalil, and many are young; frequently in their teens and twenties.

The female fighters of the YPJ are particularly fearless and unafraid of death – these are women who are prepared to do anything to defeat IS and defend the “revolution of the woman” as well as their cultural and political values. The fight against IS is more than a struggle against a repressive imposing force ñ it represents a struggle for autonomy, for democracy, for equality, for heritage, and for honour.

The co-chair of the Rojava People’s Assembly, Sinem Muhammed, spoke at the International Political Women’s Council about “the threat of a large-scale massacre” in Rojava, an autonomous women’s region under attack by IS. She added “the YPJ is struggling against ISIS on behalf of all the women of the Middle East and the World”. The seriousness of what is on the line, and the dedication Kurdish fighters have for the cause was revealed in recent events. Some weeks ago, reports suggested that rather than fall into the hands of IS soldiers who would subject her to torture and rape, 19-year-old Ceylan Ozalp used her last bullet on herself. This demonstrates something important: this is not just a fight against Islamic fundamentalists; it is a fight for survival.

A radical response to world events

Also posted on Concrete.

Faced with the barrage of distressing news from around the world, reporting endlessly on shocking events and atrocities committed by those in power, it is tempting to curl up into a ball and cry, or attempt to smash everything – y’know, banks, parliament, corporations, police cars, police… However, neither of these are constructive outlets for one’s rage. Formulating a radical response to world events such as the shooting of unarmed Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, or the bombing and killing of innocent civilians in Gaza, or the illicit invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops is as difficult as it is critical.

The ballooning in popularity of the ice bucket challenge is one response to the wrong in the world – but it’s a misguided one. Giving to charity is in principle a great thing to do – in practice, however, it is important which one you give your money to. Some charities plough the majority of their funding into on-the-ground activities such as research or aid work, and some… don’t. Take the ALS foundation, which has been mistakenly wedded to the ice bucket challenge, for instance – their tax returns reveal that they spend a paltry 27% of their revenue on research, and pay their 11 executives over $100,000 apiece each year. Giving to grassroots foundations and organisations that do truly amazing work or fund highly effective campaigns should be prioritised; I’m thinking something along the lines of local foodbanks, Skateistan or Greenpeace. It’s great to donate to charity – but it’s unnecessary to dump ice on your head to do so. The main problem with the craze is that it seems like some bizarre publicity stunt – a self-congratulatory ego trip for celebrities and facebook sensations that achieves very little and trivialises the act of charity. If you give to charity: great, keep doing it… in private. We don’t need to congratulate you on every £3 a month you give to Oxfam.

A radical response to the problems of the world recognises that many are about abuses of power and the oppression of vulnerable and subjugated groups. All three of the examples given above concern the exercising of authority and power. Palestine has been historically screwed over by the state of Israel and international institutions since the early 20th century, with the aggression ramping up considerably post-‘67. Operation Cast Lead 2008-09 (AKA the Gaza War) killed 1,400 Palestinians by the UN’s count, and three Israelis. Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 killed hundreds of people too, and both sides were accused of committing war crimes. The most recent conflict is yet another expression of the unequal power dynamic between the two states: although Hamas is of course responsible for violence against Israel, its existence is in retaliation against the systematic structural violence that Israel submits Palestine to every day. The state of Israel systematically oppresses Palestinian civilians, by refusing to grant entry and exit visas to those in the Gaza strip – not to visit dying relatives, not to work, not to go to the market and buy food. Gaza’s borders are more restrictive than some of our prisons. Hell, we let a man called Skull Cracker waltz out of HMP Standford Hill on a whim. Israel denies Palestinians the right to a livelihood – they destroy key infrastructure such as water wells, and do not allow Palestinians to abstract drinking water. More than 80% of the water in the shared Israel/Palestine aquifer is extracted by Israel. 95% of Gaza’s water supply is too contaminated to drink due to over-abstraction. Palestinians have no access to water to irrigate crops, and so their economy is stunted, thereby preventing people from earning a living and improving their lives. Israeli troops frequently destroy olive groves full of trees centuries old, either in ‘punishment’ for supposed crimes against Israel, or as a deterrent. Houses are destroyed, schools are destroyed, wells are destroyed, people’s livelihoods are destroyed. It is a systematic abuse of power by one group over another, and the most recent events are another manifestation of that. Israel holds de facto power through force, and de jure power through legislation. The UN and powerful countries like the USA and UK support Israel, and even arm them, condoning the atrocities committed by the state. The Oslo Accords for instance unashamedly prejudice in favour of Israel, allocating more than half of water resources there, and building in institutional obstacles to Palestine obtaining their fair share – Israel has much better representation at the negotiating table.

What happened in Ferguson is another example of those in authority – the police – abusing that power. The USA is famously unequal, particularly along race lines in certain areas. Black students are three times as likely to be expelled from school as their white counterparts, and young black men are more likely to go to prison than to college. The US justice system is institutionally racist, and the shooting of Michael Brown in early August is yet another tragic reminder of the role the police play in perpetuating a racist status quo. The police are essentially the guard dogs of the elites, and the strong arm of the state – they are sworn to protect life and property, and in so doing criminalise and discriminate against those in poverty who do not have property. Institutionalised racism means that many black communities are poor, which results in higher levels of unemployment, violence and crime as people are forced into situations by necessity and lack of opportunities. Thus, when significant protest erupts against an unlawful killing, the state labels it ‘rioting’ and sends in the riot police. Ring any bells? This exact same thing happened in London in 2011 following the killing in Tottenham of Mark Duggan, an unarmed black man, in a community that has traditionally been relatively deprived, like Ferguson. Police violence is the ultimate abuse of power over socially and economically vulnerable or oppressed groups, and it is tolerated by the state because the state is run by elites, for elites. The shooting of innocent civilians, regardless of whether it is by a foreign government or your own, is a systematic waging of class warfare against the poorest members of society.

The situation in Ukraine is more complicated, but still involves the assertion of Russian authority over Ukrainian territorial sovereignty. No matter how much Vladimir Putin tries to convince us that the thousands of Russian troops that have reportedly joined separatist rebels have done so whilst off duty, it is clear that what world leaders, including Obama, are calling an “incursion” is almost certainly an underhand invasion. Russia’s combative stance speaks volumes; a territorial standoff and geopolitical wrangling whereby Russia re-asserts its waning power, reminding the West that the might and influence of the USSR has not diminished entirely.

All of the above represent an assertion of dominance by the powerful over the weak. ‘Weakness’ is here engendered by institutions, geopolitics or both. The prejudice of American law against young black men, and non-white communities in general, represents institutional oppression and structural violence committed against communities that are typecast, stereotyped and brutalised by an unrepresentative and largely white police force, whose job is to protect the state and elites. Post-curtain geopolitical dynamics, corruption and the erosion of Ukrainian institutions by ‘revolution’ have created a vulnerable state susceptible to meddling by power-hungry Tsars. The situation in Israel/Palestine is a combination of the two: institutionalised structural violence continues to oppress citizens, while international geopolitical institutions stand idly by and condone the situation. Israel is granted the green light by nations like the USA and UK who do not condemn their acts of barbarism, which evidently violate international law. Beyond that, they actively arm Israel, providing firearms, aircraft components and drones that are used to wage war against Gaza. Not only is this behaviour contemptible, it makes the leaders of such countries complicit in genocide.

Of course other sides are causing trouble too; Hamas fire deadly rockets, there is violence in black communities, and there is conflict on both sides in Ukraine. However, there is clear inequality between sides: Hamas have greatly inferior weaponry, and Israel has the backing of many international powers. The police in Ferguson have the weight of the state behind them. The disparity is apparent and it is clear that abuses of power are creating these problems. Not only do we need to redistribute resources, but also address the power imbalance at local, national and international levels.

Why I didn’t shake Edward Acton’s hand

The grad season is upon us: the time for sweaty palms, nervous, tipsy grins and synthetic wizard robes. Thousands of third year students graduated last week amidst cheers and storms of applause celebrating three years of (mostly) hard graft. Like the rest, I was pleased that it was all over and happy that I could finally get my hands on a tangible recognition of all that work. There was one small hurdle though: the small matter of a certain pompous ceremony. I’m not sure there are many people who relish standing in a billowing Harry Potter gown in front of 800 people, but looking like a prat was lower on my agenda than it might otherwise have been. Sure, I was worried that I might stack it up the stairs or walk off the stage by the wrong exit, but more than anything I was rehearsing what I was going to say to the man I would have to refuse to shake hands with before collecting my certificate. Unfortunately for me, my ceremony was presided over by Edward Acton, the outgoing Vice Chancellor of UEA who will be replaced by David Richardson this coming September. In the run-up to this day, I’d gladly, and perhaps misguidedly, trilled that I would refuse to shake the hand of a man who had overseen such a shocking and deplorable track record of management during the course of my university career. Now, I had to stick to my guns and actually do it.

lair of edward acton

Here’s the back story: spurred by the climate of austerity, UEA management has jumped on the bandwagon and embraced the ConDem government’s decision to raise the tuition fee cap to £9000 a year. Meanwhile, funding for the arts has been slashed dramatically, and diverted to more revenue-intensive schools (i.e. the ones that make them money, like the business school). The closure of the School of Music is possibly the most deplorable and reprehensible act of Acton’s management stint (in my time at least), and epitomises the attitude of managers high up in the university – if it doesn’t make money, cut it. It’s merely a symptom of a wider trend of marketisation and commodification of higher education, forced by free market government policy and liberalism. The recent decision to hike accommodation fees for new students beginning in 2014/15 smacks of further attempts to squeeze yet more money out of already heavily indebted students. Acton’s period as VC of the university has seen a liberalised approach that seeks to increase income from students and cut supposedly ‘unnecessary’ expenditure. One such example of this is the way in which university management keeps some staff members on temporary contracts, rather than granting longer-term permanent contracts with the associated benefits (read expenditure) such as sick pay, holiday, and pensions. Some people may remember the UCU strike that threatened to jeopardise this whole glorious week of pomp and rigour – third year students would not have been able to graduate if lecturers wouldn’t mark scripts. They were striking over a real-terms pay cut of 13% since 2008, as the university hadn’t raised wages in line with inflation. In the end, they settled for a 2% pay rise, which although a small victory, did not satisfy many of their demands, and is certainly not sustainable into the future.

 

I’m not a naturally confrontational person (though I’m sure there will be many raised eyebrows at that statement) and the thought of saying to his face that I thought he was a twat (obviously more eloquently) was giving me the kind of butterflies you wouldn’t believe. There I was, standing in the hushed and silent corridor with my political convictions and better instincts wrestling uneasily in my guts, while the surnames being read out on the list were marching steadily towards G and I was inching closer to the stage. Finally it was decision time: there he was, looking like a medieval birdman, resplendent in squishy orange, and suddenly I was walking up the stairs and determinedly keeping my hands clasped, jaw set, avoiding the outstretched hand. He looked flustered and embarrassed when he realised that I wasn’t going to shake it “due to his deplorable management of the last three years” but it was over almost before it began and he had 180 other graduands to attend to. My heart was going like the clappers as I collected my certificate and walked my jelly legs back down the aisle, but I was pleased I hadn’t flaked out on my own morals. The speech that closed the ceremony seemed to seal the deal – Philip Lowe, veteran multi-disciplinarian who received an honorary degree from ENV, spoke of lateral thinking and staying true to ones’ beliefs. It seemed to confirm everything, and I went off feeling enlarged with self-righteousness to drink as much free champagne as I could without bubbles coming out of my nose.

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