THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; JAMES WARREN, CHICAGO TRIBUNE; CHRYSTIA FREELAND, FINANCIAL TIMES TAPED: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2006 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 9-10, 2006
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: 9/11 Plus Five.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) Five years after our nation was attacked, the terrorist danger remains.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The terrorist danger does indeed remain, as the president observed. On the home front, gaping security holes are evident.
Item: Urban catastrophe, with only 10 percent of cities, one out of 10, able to cope with a catastrophe, says the Department of Homeland Security. Item: Ports vulnerable, with only a small percentage of cargo screened as it arrives.
Item: Porous borders, with government investigators able to cross both the Canadian and Mexican borders repeatedly using false documents and -- get this -- transporting enough radioactive material to make two dirty bombs.
Item: Screening laxity.
TOM KEAN (Former chairman, 9/11 commission): (From videotape.) We still don't have enough of what's called puffer machines in the airports to detect traces of explosives. We still haven't got the proper technology for screening baggage. There still is not a unified watch list.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Item: Iraq bleeding funds away from security, with $300 (billion) to $400 billion already spent on this war.
LEE HAMILTON (Former vice chairman, 9/11 commission): (From videotape.) If you pour billions and billions of dollars into Iraq, as we're now doing, and if you put most of your military effort there, it means you do less things in other areas.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Despite all of the foregoing, the fact remains that in the five years since 9/11, not one terrorist attack has occurred on U.S. soil. The reason --
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): (From videotape.) America has been secure here at home as a result of our policies of being on offense, as well as strengthening our defense here at home.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Senator Mitch McConnell says that we're safer because of taking the offensive, meaning, of course, in Iraq. Is he right, Pat Buchanan?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, he's right if he's referring to Afghanistan, because I think we did drive al Qaeda out of there. But I don't think Iraq itself has made us safer, John. The president himself says if we pull out, there will be a terrorist base camp in western Iraq that did not exist there.
With regard to domestic security, I think the president and the security agencies have done an outstanding job in the sense not a single terrorist attack has occurred. But there is a gigantic gap, John. It is on our southern border. The president himself said 6 million have tried to get in on his watch. We don't know how many millions have gotten in. Three times as many folks from other than Mexico are trying to get in as two years ago. So I think the southern border is bad.
But overall, I mean, we haven't had a terrorist attack in five years, and you've got to credit the president and the administration. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think McConnell was giving out spin, Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: Yes. Iraq has collapsed. Afghanistan is collapsing. The administration's rhetoric is way over the top. It is inciting jihadist ideology around the world. There is a terrorist threat, but this is not how you deal with it.
And if this president had told us five years ago that we would spend $500 billion on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, over 3,000 American soldiers would die in these countries, and Osama bin Laden would still be a free man, and nuclear, chemical and biological threats are still out there, he would have been impeached.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you see any GOP strategy in the run-up to the election? This spin is probably part of the strategy. But what are the other elements of the strategy?
MR. WARREN: Well, they're impossible to miss -- terror, terror, terror. The president still polls well on terror, not with the war in Iraq, so make this about fear; don't make this about hope. And put the Democrats on the defensive as being those cowardly folks with their friends in the ACLU who don't want to hold these secret tribunals where you can use secret evidence.
The fact is, Eleanor, I think, is basically right. And add in the fact, as a result of all this, the hatred toward the U.S. has grown exponentially around the world, if one cares about that. And I think our moral authority has plummeted.
But if you want to know about 9/11 and whether we're safer, read Mr. Kean and Mr. Hamilton's 9/11 report. It's all there. I think ultimately there have been some improvements. But still, in a big, open society with our values and a bureaucracy that's really clumsy, you can't combine true, true safety with the values of openness that are important to us.
MS. FREELAND: I think there's one really interesting optimistic point about America that we've seen in the five years since 9/11, and that is how successfully the Muslim community in America has been integrated into American society. It's a really sharp contrast between America and Europe, where we're seeing indigenous, disenfranchised, very angry, very uncertain of their identity, native- born Muslims being part of attacks on their society.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that --
MS. FREELAND: And it's fascinating that that's not happening here.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the president or the administration can take any credit for that assimilation? MS. FREELAND: No, no. But I think America can. And I think that actually says something quite profound about the success of America as a society, in contrast with what we're seeing in Europe.
MR. WARREN: Look at the deep suspicion many Muslims are unfairly generating in this country, and their feelings of post-9/11 persecution are being picked on by law enforcement.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it was a stroke of genius to move the terrorist suspects from their CIA prisons to Guantanamo in order to put them on trial? Do you think that the issue of warrantless eavesdropping will be brought back by the administration in order to demonstrate to the American people that the president is tough on terrorism, whereas the Democrats are not going to provide the level of safety that he has and the Republicans have?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think that's right. I think Jim is exactly right. Look, security, security, security is the fall campaign, that we are tough on it, we are aggressive, and we move after people. And the president is going to show leadership on this thing. And I think it's the best card he's got, John, which is why I don't understand why he doesn't take the border security aspects of his immigration program, forget the rest; put the border security out front and tell the Democrats to vote against it.
MS. CLIFT: Right, because immigration divides the Republican Party and they want to stay away from things that divide them.
MR. BUCHANAN: Border security doesn't, Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: But they set up these issues on torture, interrogation, NSA in the Senate. And guess what: Who's fighting back? Senator McCain, Senator Hagel, Senator Warner, Senator Lindsey Graham -- Republicans. And the Democrats are hanging back.
So the terror issue is not going to work for them on Capitol Hill like they thought. And the Democrats finally are getting more aggressive, and they push back when you have Rumsfeld going out there calling people who disagree with the war Nazi sympathizers.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But also the emphasis of the administration on military tribunals; that once again is playing to the fear rather than the hope. And fear always trumps hope when there's competition between the two.
MS. CLIFT: But anger may trump fear, and there's anger at this administration's policies. MR. WARREN: Put aside the Republicans, no surprise, who are dissidents, like McCain and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Look who testified last week against this -- the judge advocate general of the armed forces. The judge advocate general of the United States Marines says that, quote, "No civilized people should allow themselves to take part in these sort of procedures." And would you like one of your Marines, if labeled an enemy combatant, to be part of a procedure like this?
MR. BUCHANAN: No, wait a minute. These guys are terrorists. These guys aren't POWs. Sheikh Khalid Mohammed, whatever his name is -- these are murderers of innocents who directly target them. And under the rules of the Geneva Convention, you can shoot them on the spot. They are terrorists, not soldiers.
MS. CLIFT: Well, we didn't shoot them on the spot. We subjected them to torture and waterboarding. And under the Constitution and the laws of our country, they will never be able to get a conviction against these guys because of the way that they extracted the confessions. The administration has outsmarted itself, or outstupided itself.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that America has just gotten lucky over the last five years, Chrystia?
MS. FREELAND: Well, I think it would take a very foolhardy person to be absolutely confident that because of playing offense, there's never going to be a need to play defense, and that security is absolutely certain. And I think a point that I think Jim made about security being impossible to absolutely preserve in American society is absolutely correct. And we've seen that with --
MR. WARREN: And all the more so --
MS. FREELAND: -- the new liquid forms of terror. The whole point about terrorism, about security, particularly in the airlines, is we always fight the old --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat --
MS. FREELAND: So we're very good at guarding against the forms of terrorism we used last time.
MR. BUCHANAN: There's no way you can stop any act of terror. If you talk to the Secret Service, they'll even tell you, "We can't guarantee we can protect the president. We do our best. It may happen. We will get him." But there's no absolute security. The president has admitted that.
MS. CLIFT: Yes, but we haven't implemented any of the 9/11 recommendations, which were very reasonable. Instead, we don't allow people to take toothpaste on an airplane. And I don't believe a single terrorist has been caught in any of these theatrical -- MR. BUCHANAN: But the shoe bomber was caught.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question --
MS. CLIFT: He was caught after the fact. He wasn't caught going through the line.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: It's been almost five years since the attacks of 9/11, and inside the United States there have been no further mass-casualty terrorist attacks. Does Bush deserve credit?
MR. BUCHANAN: If we had had a terrorist attack, he would have gotten the blame. Therefore, I think he and the security agencies -- FBI, CIA -- deserve great credit.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: Some credit. But he and all of us are on borrowed time.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: James.
MR. WARREN: Yes, some credit. But don't forget how incredibly patient the terrorists have proven in the past. Five years is nothing to them to plot something.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Chrystia.
MS. FREELAND: Some credit. And I am impressed by the cohesion of multicultural America.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think he deserves credit for vigilance and action, but I don't think there's much credit to be given out for not forestalling the whole event of 9/11 in 2001, in August, when the CIA went to him and said, "We have a real terrorist threat."
Issue Two: Rummy on the Run.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D-MA): (From videotape.) We need this administration to face up to its mistakes and correct them. A good place to start would be for the president to replace Secretary Rumsfeld.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): (From videotape.) To fight a war on terror, you need to be both strong and smart. And with Secretary Rumsfeld and this administration, you do see a great deal of strength, but you don't see enough of the smarts.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: "Dump Donald Rumsfeld." So urged Senate Democrats this week. These lawmakers see the outspoken Defense secretary as a lightning rod for the Bush administration. When the Democrats strike at Bush, they hit Rumsfeld. This week Senate Democrats brandished a no-confidence vote on Rumsfeld. Then Senate Republicans circled the wagons around the Defense secretary. Alaska's Ted Stevens killed the vote attempt.
SEN. TED STEVENS (R-AK): (From videotape.) I can think of no one who's worked harder as secretary of Defense than Don Rumsfeld.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint saluted the death of the no-confidence threat, adding this.
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R-SC): (From videotape.) I'm afraid if my Democrat colleagues spent half the time helping us fight this war on terror as they do attacking the administration, we'd be a lot closer to winning this war.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Did the Senate Republicans drop a golden opportunity? They should have allowed the no-confidence vote and then joined in to send Rumsfeld a message that it's time for him to resign. Do you believe that, Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: That would have been the equivalent of a palace coup. I mean, the White House could not have tolerated that. And there was no vote because the Republican leadership didn't allow it. And yet not a single Republican senator who is in any kind of a tough election would have voted to support Rumsfeld. He would not have gotten 50 votes in the Senate.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Here's the logic. If that were to take place now, with two months to go before the election, and Rumsfeld did resign as a consequence of Republicans getting into the no-confidence act and the vote going positive to no confidence in him, then the president has two months in which to revamp his Iraq policy and float into an election where he can hit that which is the crux of his weakness, which is Iraq.
MR. BUCHANAN: John --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right now he's --
MR. BUCHANAN: -- if you throw Rumsfeld to the wolves and the party does, blood is all over the floor. The Democrats will pile on -- "The guy was a failure; why'd you keep him there?" John, you can't do that in the middle of a battle, change your commander right in the middle of a battle.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does Rumsfeld deserve the blame? I ask you. MR. WARREN: Yes, yes. The Rumsfeld doctrine deserves the blame that you could fight a war light, you know, with 100,000, 150,000 people. History will show that that was a strategic disaster and strategic hubris.
The White House can't say goodbye to him because it's an admission of failure. And if the Democrats are smart, they want him in there -- perfect whipping boy during the campaign.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can't you see the advantage of bringing in fresh faces at the Pentagon now, before the congressional election, which is only about, what, eight or nine weeks away?
MS. FREELAND: I think Jim makes a very good point that it's very difficult to separate Rumsfeld from the White House. Where does the Rumsfeld policy stop and the Bush policy begin?
I think the really worrying thing right now about Rumsfeld and Bush and the whole war program is what's going to happen with Iran. And I don't think that we'll see very much happening there before the election. But that is the real issue. And if we want to talk about security post-9/11, that is where I think people have to be really looking.
MR. BUCHANAN: John --
MS. CLIFT: Well, the headlines would read "Disarray" if they got --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In the beginning. But if they brought in new thinkers, men of distinction --
MS. CLIFT: The notion that we're now going to move on to Iran like Iraq is just a little footnote, and that's the big problem, is ludicrous. And that is, frankly, one of the -- part of the Republicans' scare tactics, that there's this other big terror out there that they have to deal with. And the rhetoric is just like it was in the leading up to Iraq.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: On a White House political liability scale, zero to 10, zero meaning zero liability -- say, Laura Bush -- 10 meaning a calamitous liability -- say, Monica Lewinsky -- how much of a liability is Rumsfeld for Bush? I ask you.
MR. BUCHANAN: He would be a greater liability if Bush let him go, John. It would signal a change in policy and something's terribly wrong. He's got to stay there.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On a 10 scale, what do you give him?
MR. BUCHANAN: I'd say -- you know, I don't think he's a problem. I think he's tied at the hip to George W. Bush. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. So he shares it equally, right?
MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah. And Iraq is a liability.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he a polarizing figure?
MR. BUCHANAN: Yes, he is. So is Bush.
MS. CLIFT: Right. He's all of those things. But I would only give him, like, a six, because he's taking the arrows that would otherwise go to Bush.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did he also exhibit a certain amount of hubris in his overconfident aggressiveness in pursuing his policies?
MR. WARREN: Honestly, yes. And thank you finally for making the inevitable link between Rumsfeld and Monica Lewinsky; appreciate it. (Laughter.) The answer is seven.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Seven. What do you think?
MS. FREELAND: Six.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is eight. (Laughter.)
Okay, human toll: U.S. military dead in Iraq, including suicides, 2,662; U.S. military amputeed, wounded, severely injured, injured, mentally ill, all now out of Iraq, 63,500; Iraqi civilians dead, 130,890.
Issue Three: Horsing Around.
The wheels of legislation are starting to grind, notably in the House, which voted this week on a single bill; namely, a ban on the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Ninety thousand horses were slaughtered last year in three U.S. plants, all foreign-owned. Their meat was sold abroad to Japan, Belgium, France.
The House ban was a victory for celebrity advocates like Larry Hagman, Kiki Friedman, Bo Derek, Robert Duvall, Willie Nelson and T. Boone Pickens. The Senate has yet to act.
Question: Does the House deserve -- does the horse, excuse me -- (laughter) -- does the horse deserve special status? I ask you, Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: I have written in favor of that bill, and so has Tony Blankley. It is a very worthy bill. And, yes, the horses do deserve protection. This is to put on the palates of certain people in foreign countries. We don't even eat it here. We do not eat horse meat here. It was really a brutal, callous thing. But it is not the biggest issue facing the country, and that's what seems kind of jarring, that this is all that the Congress -- MR. BUCHANAN: The horse is as sacred here, John, as the cow is in India. I agree with Eleanor.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The horse, in the Spanish development of America, in the frontier development of America --
MR. BUCHANAN: Frontier and everything; it has a great place in America. I agree 100 percent.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think eating horse meat would be like eating the bald eagle?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think it would.
And you don't do something like that unless you're starving to death, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit: Is the celebrity lobbying campaign behind this legislation the reason why the House banned the slaughter of horses to eat? Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: I think that's part of it. Part of it is what we're talking about, the American mythology. Americans don't like the idea.
MS. CLIFT: Right. And the U.S. Humane Society got behind it and did mobilize a lot of support, including editorial support from Tony Blankley, among others -- (laughter) -- who's not here this week --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, Blankley has a llama.
MS. CLIFT: Well, maybe llamas are next.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you have a comment on this?
MR. WARREN: Speaking for Tony -- as a city boy who grew up on subways and buses, I know nothing about horses. But I will concede that once in a while the sincere, if often lame-brained, species known as the American celebrity, who troops up to Capitol Hill, hits one out of the park. And clearly they helped out on this one.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Chrystia.
MS. FREELAND: I think it's the mythic status of the horse. And I think people are very sentimental. And more and more of us are city boys like Jim, are very distant from the act of slaughtering any animal. And when it's an iconic creature like a horse, I think it's hard for people to even think about it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So the horse does have special status.
Issue Four: Words to Live By.
RICHARD ARMITAGE (Former deputy secretary of State): (From videotape.) Oh, I feel terrible every day. I think I let down the president. I let down the secretary of State. I let down my department, my family. And I also let down Mr. and Mrs. Wilson. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage declared this week that it was he who revealed to columnist Robert Novak the identity of Valerie Plame.
Question: Democrats hoped that the Valerie Plame story would ensnare a conspiracy led by Dick Cheney to cover up a White House scandal. Has that would-be conspiracy been deflated? I ask you, Chrystia. Are you following this story at the Financial Times?
MS. FREELAND: Yes, we are, but --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: By the way, what was that picture of Tony Blair on the front page of the Friday edition? It looked like he was a fiend. Why did you select that?
MS. FREELAND: I didn't think it looked like he was a fiend. I thought it looked as if he was a man who had just been stabbed in the back by his own party, which is what has happened to him.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you see that --
MS. FREELAND: There is a real sort of visceral, bloody political fight in Britain right now, which is not insignificant for Americans, because part of what is happening in British politics, part of the reason that Tony Blair, one of the most successful Labour politicians of the past century, has been forced to name a date when he will step down, is because --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's because of the Iraq war.
MS. FREELAND: It is partly because of that. It's because --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it dominantly because of that?
MS. FREELAND: -- of this huge public rage --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it dominantly because of the Iraq war?
MS. FREELAND: -- and huge Labour rage. Maybe 50 percent.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, if the Labour Party can do that to him, why couldn't the Republicans do that to Rumsfeld?
MS. FREELAND: Well, because the Republicans overall were supportive of the war. The Labour Party in Britain was very divided.
MS. CLIFT: Back to Armitage for just a minute, it looks like that was sort of an innocent dropping of the name. But there was a parallel effort to discredit Joe Wilson. And there is a new book out by my colleague at Newsweek, Mike Isikoff, and David Corn of The Nation, called "Hubris," which gives the inside story of the spin and the selling of the war and gives the back story on Mr. Armitage. They broke that story. MR. WARREN: It's crystal clear what happened now. Armitage was absolutely clear, when he read the Novak column, realized it was him. He goes to his boss and his buddy, Colin Powell. They go to the general counsel of the State Department. They then go to the counsel for the president of the United States, Mr. Gonzales. They say, "You want to know who did it? We think it came from here." He said, "No, no, no." They then go to the FBI and Armitage winds up three times before the grand jury without a lawyer and is totally honest.
MR. BUCHANAN: It's a clear problem for Mr. Fitzgerald, which is, he knows Armitage is the source.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And he knew it.
MR. BUCHANAN: He knows there's no conspiracy. And yet they're going after Scooter Libby and Karl Rove, who tells the truth and says, "Yeah, I confirmed it in conversation. I'm not the guy behind it." And these guys -- Rove has been torn to pieces. I give Broder credit, David Broder, whom I've criticized, for standing up and saying Rove was really dealt rotten in this thing.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Scooter Libby should be given a pardon by the president now?
MR. BUCHANAN: I don't think so, because Scooter Libby's problem is perjury, John. That's his charge. It's not --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, is that a strain on the part of the prosecutor?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, the prosecutor should have dropped it, because he knew it was --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, why doesn't Bush pardon Libby?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think he will at the end of his term.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Is Armitage falling on his sword for anybody? Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: Listen, he's admitted --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he giving cover to anybody?
MR. BUCHANAN: It would be Powell if it would be anybody.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And do you think he is?
MR. BUCHANAN: No. I think he did the wrong thing, and I admire him for --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you buy Armitage? Do you buy Armitage? MS. CLIFT: I do. It has the ring of truth. And he would be the last one who would try to protect Dick Cheney.
He hates the war.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you buy Armitage?
MR. WARREN: Yes; no close chum of Cheney and the president, ultimately. He and Powell disliked the White House. But here he was totally honest and honorable.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you agree with that?
MS. FREELAND: Yeah. I think he's telling the truth.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think we're going to get another round.
Issue Five: Finger Food.
Children in first grade are now using biometric technology to get fed. In Rome, Georgia, city schools are switching to a scanning system that lets students pay for lunches using their fingerprints. The new system of accessing funds by the children eased lunch lines, and the kids love it. They get their lunch faster, and they don't have to remember payment PIN numbers.
The question is whether or not these little kids are paying for their food, because fingerprinting is not necessarily a totally secure thing, right? It's not foolproof.
MR. WARREN: Right, or iris scans or facial recognition.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about iris scans? They're pretty good.
MR. WARREN: No. Iris scans can't be judged accurately because the key technology is all proprietary, as I assume you had known.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He or she could get a ballistic gelatin and fake it into a fingerprint very easily.
MR. WARREN: For a little "owie," yes. That's a technical term.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: Steve Laffey in Rhode Island beats Lincoln Chafee in the primary and starts uphill against the Democratic candidate. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A conservative.
MR. BUCHANAN: A conservative.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: The worst of the worst terrorists removed from the CIA secret prisons, now in Guantanamo, will eventually be extradited to their countries because the administration will be unable to get a conviction in a constitutional court.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: James.
MR. WARREN: Just remember, Pat, in John's native Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee wins on Tuesday.
MR. BUCHANAN: All right. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Chrystia.
MS. FREELAND: Internet privacy is the big social issue we get really worried about as people start looking at what we're searching for.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Donald Rumsfeld will resign as secretary of Defense in January -- or make that February, six months from now, '07.
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