Sub-tropical Fascism (Part 2): Media insecurity

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In the second of a six part series on Australian fascism by Dr George Venturini, he looks at sexism, media concentration, threats to civil liberties and our inequitable education system.

The man who owns the news: Rupert Murdoch (image courtesy Rex Interstock).

[Read Part One]




Rampant sexism was early identified as one of the characteristics of a fascist regime. Modern authoritarian regimes may pretend to be outwardly egalitarian, but it is ‘popular’ to appear nothing but egalitarian.

The reality is quite different.

‘Traditional’ gender roles remain, albeit covertly, quite rigid. Women remain unequal at all levels of life. There is unequal economic treatment, despite the fact that for about forty years the ‘right’ to equal treatment has been preached by every aspiring politician.

There is social inequality. It is implied in the machismo which still pervades certain occupations, even in such limited fields as life-saving formations. It is fuelled by the media, seventy per cent foreign-controlled, and profusely devoted to the representation of women as objects of sexual, even if only visual, satisfaction. Coincidentally, publicity of all kind exploits and emphasises a woman’s beauty as a lure for selling everything: from furniture to vacuum-cleaners, not to mention cosmetics, of course.

Such inequality ‘slides’ not so gently in areas as the military, where women may be excluded from the very beginning  –  for example, ‘cadet’ training at school, and – if admitted – may continue under the unfair, discriminatory, and often abusive treatment to which women are subjected in the Defence Forces. There is currently the periodical investigation of sexual harassment of women in the Australian Navy. The latest foreign adventure, in Afghanistan, was ‘justified’, at least initially, by the ‘mission to liberate women’. Presently, the mission is that of training part of the Afghan Army ― and a woman  Prime Minister said so in the Australian Parliament as recently as November 2011. At the end of April 2011 she has hardened her uncompromising position on North Korea’s nuclear programme, at a time when diplomats say that the isolated regime is reaching out to talk, and despite North Korea’s attempted overtures to American and European diplomats about restarting those talks. Zeal? Bloody-mindedness? Stupidity? Servility?

On 24 March 2011, all media were abuzz over the then latest scandal: allegations of Australian soldiers serving in Afghanistan having posted ‘racist’ remarks and videos on a social network site. Because the word ‘racist’ has become as abused as others in the new-language, one should begin by clarifying that the soldiers had referred to the Prime Minister as a ‘fucking ranga’.  Now, ranga is a local corruption of the word Orangutan, a red-haired animal, well-known for its fiery temper and pale skin. In lavatory language, it refers specifically to a redhead female, who presumably has red pubic hair. People of light complexion and with red hair are likely to sunburn easily. Discrimination against people with red hair and pale skin stems from English name-calling of Celts.

Some videos recorded the soldiers as referring to Afghanis as ‘rag-heads’, ‘dune coons’, niggers’, ‘sand niggaz’ – a gift from the Great-And-Powerful-Friend, it is the plural of nigga, a word which  describes ‘ignorant-African-Americans’ – and ‘smelly locals’.

The former prime minister and, for a while, foreign minister was also not spared some lurid comments.

By the evening of 25 March, the television stations hosted a procession of personalities; the Defence Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Air Marshall Chief of the Defence appeared and all, with the customary air of contrition, mixed with embarrassment to explain how they had apologised, and all to display a sense of surprise. Alas, people old enough remember that the deplored terms are on par with those used forty years ago by Australians, particularly during the Vietnam invasion, with reference to the local: ‘coons’ and ‘gooks’, as well as ‘chinks’  (for people with an Asian appearance), ‘niggers’ (for people with darker skin, including American Blacks) ‘Lebo’  (those with an assumed Lebanese background) and so on.

If the ‘mission’ in Afghanistan was that of ‘winning the hearts and minds’ – as it was in Vietnam – all one can say is: it failed in Vietnam. From Afghanistan, it is time to bring the troops home.

At home, behaviour was no better, Early this year, a young woman, barely 18, was standing before the commander of the prestigious Australian Defence Force Academy. She was in trouble for having had sexual intercourse with a fellow army cadet, who had thought no better than to broadcast the event on Skype to half a dozen fellow cadets sitting in a nearby room.  Distraught, the young woman went to a commercial television channel and told the story ― in anticipated self-defence.

Once again, the Minister for Defence and the Chief of Defence Force went on television and radio to express a puritanical indignation; “abhorrent” but “isolated” said the Chief, to welcome an investigation, to threaten vindication, as if the item was news. Perhaps what was news was that the victim, on this occasion, went outside the system. There had been episodes of improper behaviour and investigation of predatory sexual practices, drunkenness and indiscipline in the Navy, for years and years. A lengthy report was issued in February 2011. Radio and television had a field week, with much ado and salacious ‘revelations’ ― pornogaphy really. Seriously, a former cadet at A.D.F.A., now a prominent barrister, wrote a piece to describe the physical, sexual and psychological abuse to which he had been subjected twenty years ago. He did so, needless to say, under condition of anonymity. In his view, after all the investigations, 'a culture of abuse ... has not changed in 20 years.'

Collaterally, a male-dominated parliamentary system – at all levels, whether federal or state –is reluctant to recognise the right of women to decide on matters which relate exclusively to their own body; an anti-abortion attitude, solid under all circumstances, is maintained by parliamentarians of the major parties. Simultaneously, a subtle homophobic attitude pervades the view of those parties. Of course, it is not declared, because that may have serious electoral consequences. Both behaviours, anti-abortion and homophobia, are grounded on the ‘traditional values’ of a society which proclaims itself founded on Judeo-Christian principles and, at the same time, wishes to be seen as ‘secular’. That is a maladroit attempt at having things both-ways ― and damn the inconsistencies. Only those who know nothing of the essential Philistinism which pervades Australian society would find it easy to believe.

There is educational inequality; education of women is second best in a system which already is not at the internationally competitive top, and is blocked in the opportunities that real education could open.

A fascist regime is essentially ‘virile’ ― domestically, it sells beer, abroad it fights wars.
Media homogeny

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Media ownership laws in Australia have remained unchanged for over a decade, although debate on the desirability of reform has continued ― desultorily and inconclusively. This debate has been fuelled by the impact of new media technologies, a number of inquiries proposing regulatory changes, and the self-interest of those media organisations which report the controversy. The Australian Government has long indicated that the rules are anachronistic, but hardly any meaningful change has been proposed.

The declared purpose of the intended legislation is to encourage diversity in the ownership of the most influential forms of the commercial media ― the daily press and free-to-air television and radio. That is the theory, the practice is something else. The intended, major, effect of the laws is to prevent the common ownership of newspapers, television and radio broadcasting licences which serve the same region. The justification for the rules is that the effective functioning of a democracy requires a diverse ownership of the daily mass media to ensure that public life be reported in a fair and open manner.

The legal position is complex. Under placitum 51(v) of the Australian Constitution, legislative control of broadcasting is contained in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. Generic controls relating to commercial activity are covered by the provisions of the Trade Practices Act 1974 and the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975, both as amended, and both badly administered. They are supported by the Commonwealth’s powers regarding trade and corporations under sections 51(i) and 51(xx) of the Constitution.

Australia mass media are concentrated into the hands of a very small number of proprietors. For example, 11 of the 12 major newspapers in Australia are owned by News Ltd, a subsidiary of  News Corporation ― a foreign entity controlled by Rupert Murdoch and his family.

News Ltd has interests in more than one hundred national, metropolitan, regional and suburban newspapers throughout the country. In terms of its share of circulation, it has: 68 per cent of the capital city and national newspaper market, 77 per cent of the Sunday newspaper market, 62 per cent of the suburban newspaper market, and 18 per cent of the regional newspaper market. News’ holdings include Queensland Press Ltd, jointly owned by Cruden Investments – Murdoch’s own company – and News Corporation. Other News Ltd media interests are a 45 per cent stake in AAP Information Services (jointly controlled with Fairfax), a 25 per cent stake in Foxtel – pay TV and News Interactive – an online service.

Most of the other newspapers are controlled by John Fairfax Holdings, which is an Australian publishing group, until recently with no single dominant shareholder and with a sizeable foreign participation. Fairfax newspapers have the following circulation shares: 21 per cent of the capital city and national newspaper market, 22 per cent of the Sunday newspaper market, 17 per cent of the suburban newspaper market, and 16 per cent of the regional newspaper market. Apart from a 45 per cent stake in AAP Information Services (as mentioned, jointly controls with News Ltd) it  also owns the Fairfax Interactive Network ― an online service.

Much of the everyday mainstream news is drawn from the Australian Associated Press. Rural and regional media are dominated by Rural Press Ltd, which is held by John Fairfax Holdings. Daily Mail and General Trust operates the DMG Radio Australia commercial radio networks in metropolitan and regional areas of Australia. The company currently own more than 60 radio stations across New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.

In practical terms, Murdoch − an American citizen − controls the Australian media. News Ltd dominates regional and suburban newspaper publishing industry. In addition, News Corporation controls Fox News ― popularly known as Faux News.

The Australian people have fewer different voices upon which to make their decisions than almost any other people in the so-called free world. Murdoch does not mind and, with indifference worthy of a sultan, is quite happy that some Australians feel like they live in a Murdochracy. There is, however, a suffocating supply of sport services.  And ‘that’ matters ― some bread and many circuses.

For years, journalists have complained about Murdoch's demands that his newspapers publish distorted accounts of the news to suit him. True or not as that may be − particularly in that it is hard to provide proof of the assertion − it is not hard to conclude that, in the presence of a proprietor who controls seventy per cent of the press, democracy is bound to suffer. Even if positive proof were readily available, there is no court before which such evidence can be adduced or which could decide on the issue. Most Australian people are not interested.

The media and the ‘entertainment’ industry's most important tasks are the coercion and indoctrination of the population from early childhood. Most successive governments of both available hues are timorous of doing anything to guarantee freedom of the press and information for fear of losing Murdoch’s support come election time. If all else fails, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats are put to work.

Some constraint to such power might have been tried, by introducing regulations forbidding the holding of more than two media outlets − whether print, radio or television − in a single area. The latest timorous experiment was tried in 2007; it failed and nothing has been done since.

The Howard Government ‘discovered’ in the internet a new source of diversity, and a pretext for doing nothing. The reasoning is fallacious, and demonstrably so; the internet may be an alternative source of information, but is not accessible to everyone and cannot be regarded as a competitive force against the oligopolistic power of corporations such as News Corp.

Almost by way of definition, concentration of the power of information in just a few hands is the very antinomy of democracy.

The profession of journalism has been so discredited by owners such as Murdoch in Australia, Berlusconi in Italy, and other mono/oligopolists elsewhere, that work at a newspaper now is − by and large − no more than an ultimate exercise in public relations.  Very often, the printed press reports nothing more than what is concocted by public relations corporations.

Some Australian political representatives may occasionally complain about the tyranny of the 24 hour news-cycle, but most of them have adjusted to the ‘new reality’ and almost all of them have made it a dutiful part of their anointment to go in pilgrimage to New York and dine or sup with Murdoch.  Rudd did it, and Gillard followed the ritual in March 2011. Upon their return they settle down at the place designated by The System, and the ‘spin’ begins in earnest.

Objectivity does not exist in corporate media, and ‘free speech’ is free if the ruling élite likes it. While the rhetoric of ‘free media’ is prevalent in most ‘western’ countries, a culture of censorship − if not self-censorship − is widespread, even by the most ‘independent’ and ‘alternative’ media outlets.

Good journalism, a very honourable profession in different times, is very demanding. It calls for dedication, wide and continuing education, effort, time and money. Except for money, holding the other elements is not necessary and could provide an unemployment card for many aspiring journalists. The last thing a fascist regime would want is the type of journalism which has the dignity of an old profession, cares about the facts, is capable of distinguishing them from propaganda, and talks the truth to power.

According to Reporters Without Borders in 2011-12 Australia was in thirtieth position − down from nineteenth in 2010 − on a list of countries ranked according to Press Freedom, well behind the first five: Finland, Norway, Estonia, Netherlands and Austria; quite a ways behind Iceland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Capo Verde, Canada, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland; and two steps below the United Kingdom; but way above the United States (47th). The ranking is somewhat affected by the limited diversity in media ownership. The problem has even created a show in itself − Media Watch − on the government funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation ― one of two government administered commercial channels, the other being the Special Broadcasting Service.
National insecurity

National security, a concept which travels together with that of terrorism − and anti-terrorism − is as old as history, is not subject to definition, but has almost always been used by those in power. It has become a matter of expanding interest and mushrooming legislation, which are directly proportional to the decrease of basic resources.

It is now placed well beyond doubt that the assault on the Greater Middle East has been motivated by an increasing search for oil. A planned 1,800 kilometre pipeline from Turkmenistan to a seaport to be built on Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast had been on the drawing board years before the outrage of 11 September 2001. That outrage was simply the pretext for armed intervention. Australia followed the leader without questioning, as becomes a vassal state. Needless to say, there have been serious ‘blowback’ consequences ― broadly speaking, a further reduction of the already limited civil liberties in Australia.

That does not seem to be a matter of great concern to the even better than average Australian, who is told − and would mindlessly repeat − that there are sufficient guarantees in the common law, and if one has ‘done nothing wrong, one should have nothing to worry’.  This poses a serious contest between knowledge and ignorance, in which who and what ‘wins’ does not really matter, because a power élite − one not necessarily represented by governments − has concluded that it is so: there is ‘the law’ to protect civil liberties, and there is a multitude of defences in the numerous anti-terrorism laws enacted since 2001 and supplementing the already draconian provisions of laws such as the Crimes Act 1914.

Federal legislation relating to terrorism as at 11 September 2001 was already available in 32 acts of Parliament. In addition, there are in the criminal law of Australia provisions relating to the crime of sedition.  Effectively dormant for nearly half a century, these provisions were returned to public notice in 2005.

New provisions have been added. They are, principally:

  • Short term detention for named individuals, without evidence and without criminal     involvement. The detainee may be interrogated by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). Disclosing that an individual has been so detained or interrogated is, in almost all circumstances, a crime.

  • Control orders, with the potential for almost unlimited restrictions on named individuals, including freedom of movement, freedom of association − including one’s lawyer − banning the performing of named actions and owning named items, including actions and things necessary to earn a living; unlimited requirements to be, or not to be, at specified places at any or all times of the day and week; wearing a tracking device; and including encouragement to submit to ‘re-education’. These restrictions may be inflicted for a period of one year before review.

  • Significant restrictions on the right of any person to express certain opinions, including criticism, or ‘urging disaffection’, of the sovereign, the Constitution, the Government, the law, or ‘different groups’. Exemptions may exist where the target of criticism is agreed to be ‘in error’. Exemptions appear to exist where the claim is that a feature of a group of people is in some way offensive to the mainstream of society; onus of proof of goodwill is on the defendant ― there is no presumption of innocence.

  • It becomes a crime, punishable by life imprisonment, recklessly to provide funds to a potential terrorist. Funds include money and equivalents and also assets.  It is not necessary that the culprit know the receiver to be a terrorist, only that s/he is reckless about the possibility. It is not even necessary that the receiver be a terrorist, only that the first person be reckless about the possibility that s/he might be.

  • Police can request information from any source about any named person, including any information about the person’s residence, telephone calls, travel, financial transactions amongst other information. Professional privilege does not apply. It may be an offence to disclose that relative documents have been obtained.

  • A legislative provision for ‘hoax offences’ will create a more serious charge for people who cause chaos for the public and emergency services by dreaming up devastating terrorist-inspired hoaxes.

  • Australia, as a country, has no direct interest in Central Asia Gas Pipeline, Ltd, CentGas or its successors. The Prime Minister confirmed as early as March 2011 that Australia’s ‘mission’ will be that of training the troops that will guard the pipeline as it passes through Afghanistan in the province of Uruzgan. The training should be completed in one-two years. The ‘mission’ is likely to continue indefinitely, its purpose to be redefined as necessary. No-one seems to have thought that such training is designed to have cousins kill cousins, as soon as the ‘liberators’ will have departed, if ever ― and the futility of it all.

    Australia has suffered several acts of terrorism. The connection between al-Qaeda and such acts has never been established with certainty. As a result, some egregious outrages have been committed in the name of ‘national security’ and in the pursuit of anti-terrorism legislation. Almost any government would be embarrassed just on hearing the name of Dr. Haneef    ― but not the Australian.

    Dr. Muhamed Haneef is a thirty-two year old Indian doctor who was wrongly accused of aiding terrorists, and left Australia upon cancellation of his visa amid great political controversy. Haneef was arrested early in July 2007 at Brisbane Airport on suspicion of terror-related activities. He is the second cousin, once removed, of Kafeel Ahmed and Sabeel Ahmed, the operatives in the 2007 Glasgow International Airport attack. Haneef’s ensuing detention became the longest-without-charge in recent Australian history and caused great controversy in Australia and India. Public outcry over the incident was further increased when the Australian Government denied Haneef the presumption of innocence. At the end of December 2010, the Government issued a ‘quiet apology’. The now Opposition, responsible for that gross violation of civil liberties, displayed an aggressive refusal to apologise.

    There have been other cases, not as glamorous, of victimisation of persons in Australia ― and not all so visibly foreign.

    Around loftily proclaimed intentions on ‘national security’ there has developed a veritable industry. Next February IIR's National Security Australia Conference will convene in Melbourne for its Eleventh Anniversary. This is how the event is advertised:
    'Now in its 11th year National Security Australia is the nation’s leading National Security Forum. It provides a highly dynamic opportunity to market your products and services in front of the most senior Australian and international security experts.  This year, the event boasts a larger exhibition area and the commercial opportunity available for organisations is exceptional. Your presence is a critical move toward positioning yourself as a key player in the industry.'

    The Conference will be organised by IIR Conferences, which offers high quality business information for the Australian and New Zealand market. Business operators, academics, government representatives, police representatives, and anyone properly ‘screened’ by IIR will be able to attend. Presumably, persons regarded as un-patriotic, un-Australian − even treasonous  − would not be accepted.

    Surveillance, interception of communications (in all forms), ‘profiling’ − particularly of foreign and ‘Muslims’ − even those who are in fact Australian, are the tools to establish ‘loyalty’. The Attorney-General has listed 19 groups as ‘terrorist organisations’.

    As Hassan noted:
    'In the current case of WikiLeaks, a number of U.S. Congressmen and journalists have called for the prosecution of Julian Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act for breaching U.S. security. This is not something out of the blue, but has been used in the past to prosecute American citizens. It is reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s prosecution of people − labelled ‘traitors’  − who criticised the Nazi Party or made jokes about the Führer.'

    Is that the behaviour of a Great-And-Powerful-Friend? The Australian Government said not a word.

    According to civil rights groups and privacy advocates, the growing ‘culture of surveillance’ poses great threat to civil liberties and personal freedom. The aim is to have total control of society by whatever means, and to force people to submit to draconian laws. Furthermore, the obsession with ‘national security’ is also a corporate business that benefits the manufacturers of surveillance cameras, scanners, et cetera, and their lobbyists. ‘National security’ is simply a pretext for no personal security.

    Most Australians would regard themselves as tolerant; they would also claim to be eclectic ― if they knew what it meant. That would sit well with people who see themselves as both secular and living in a ‘Christian country’. This leads, among the general indifference, to the assertion of certain ‘values’ which are shared by government and prevailing religious organisations in order to manipulate public opinion. If a prime minister declares her/himself atheist, the government is likely to meet strong disapproval at an election. The result is loss of votes, and seats in Parliament. That connection is not subject to proof, but there are indicia: Queensland at the 2010 federal election. Therein is the rub.

    Tolerance is often mistaken for indifference to what ‘the other’ thinks, feels, says ― so long as that happen quietly, privately, and in the general expectation of social irrelevance.

    From this point of view, it is difficult to sustain that Australia is fascist. Fascism was born from anarchoid groups, runaway maximalist socialists, adventurers and broadly speaking people who were opposed to religion ― meaning by that the Catholic Church. Soon, however, Fascism found support in the large landowners and latifundists, in the captains of industry, the banksters, and in part of the city bourgeoisie. In a short time, it transmuted into a ‘respectable’ party which became conscious of the values of property, order and the sanctifying support of the Catholic Church. Within three years, most fascists had turned monarchist, and their economic views had shifted towards Corporativism.  Much of that, and large concessions allowing interference by the Catholic Church into the affairs of the Italian State, setting up civic discriminations amongst Italians, as well as large payments of money and assumption of financial obligations to the Church, led to the Concordat of 1929. The Duce of Fascism and the Pope of Rome recognised each other’s authoritarian regime.

    No such formality has ever been sought in Australia, not even by the Anglicans and the other Protestants who, together, are a majority.  Many things are assumed in Australia ― after all, the head of state is a Battenberg of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha lineage, and recently camouflaged as a Windsor, Anglican by definition; Christian denominational schools are financially rewarded on the irrational ‘justification’ that they relieve a burden which otherwise would fall on the States  − which have responsibility for ‘education’ − and that subtle piece of  blackmail works persuasively to the point that Australians prefer to send their children to denominational, better still, non-government schools. Many ‘aspirational’ families scrap money together to send their children to these schools so that they may make friends with ‘nice people’, who might be useful to them in later life. Many such schools give no better an education than could be had elsewhere, but they do much to accentuate class division − in a so-called ‘classless’ society − and to produce snobs; some of them go around with ‘boaters’, an English headgear popular in the late 19th century and early 20th century, and in fancy uniforms.

    Catholic schools have always taken ‘religious education’ − an oxymoron − seriously. Protestant ones often try to emulate, but in practice their boys and girls learn to set more store by ‘good form’ and ‘right thinking’ than by the values of what is assumed to be a ‘Christian country’. Most parents are happy enough in the knowledge that progress in all fields did not involve any falling away from what they regard as Australia’s ‘natural pre-eminence’ in tennis, swimming and other sports. The ‘new’ and ‘newest’ Australians have added to that soccer and the consumption of good food, which has mostly replaced the time-honoured steak-and-eggs.

    For a long time, pupils were taught to look to Britain as their true homeland; now they confusedly look − when they so do − at the home of the ‘free market’ (wherever that may be). Of course, it is estimated that the cost of such discrimination is well worthwhile, in that private schools are seen as ‘one slice above the rest’, and secretly regarded by every ‘aspirational’ parent as a step for ‘better connections’ in the future of a child. Society responds to these expectations ― literally from the cradle to the grave.

    The States renounce to the vaunted secularism, allow religious indoctrination in their schools, later in civic organisations and finally in the Armed Forces. The clergy, overwhelmingly Christian, enter into the life of the pupils distorting their education with notions of gods and  creation. About a third of State schools have a chaplain. 2,000 of them − 98 per cent Christian − are formally employed. A case against that prevarication was heard by the High Court of Australia on 10 - 12 May 2011, and on 20 June 2012 the court has ruled that the national school chaplaincy programme was constitutionally invalid, to the extent that it exceeds the Commonwealth’s funding powers. But Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has told reporters in Canberra that the government would continue funding the programme, despite the landmark ruling.

    In August 2010, the ‘Labor’ Government announced that an additional AU$222 million would extend the ‘chaplaincy’ scheme until December 2014, and fund chaplains for 1,000 more schools.  There was more money in the 2011 and 2012 budgets.

    As for equality, there are uniforms. “They are a good thing” Prime Minister Gillard said during a press conference in July 2010. And she went on:
    'I believe having a school uniform gives people a sense of self, a sense of discipline, a sense of how to present yourself to the world. I also think it undercuts some of those unhealthy things that can happen at schools when there’s a competition for the latest, most fashionable items.'

    Official religion accompanies an Australian from the cradle, through the scholastic system, into the Armed Forces and by social convention into the professions, and down to the return of the body of a soldier from the war front. The coffin invariably carries a symbol of religion, which is assumed was in the wish of the soldier and whether s/he in fact liked it or not.  Political representatives set aside their profession of faith, attend ceremonies, display a visage of circumstantial solemnity, and whether believers, atheist, agnostic or indifferent reaffirm their gratitude for the Church’s support.

    The symbiosis guarantees power to the parties against the people. The majority of the people do not know, have no time for distinctions, and/or are not interested in establishing the real cost of such alliance between Church and State.

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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