The Science Of Twins And The Human Fascination With Them

Nancy Segal, professor of psychology, Cal State Fullerton

Fascination with twins and what twin studies tell us about human nature is universal. There is no question that behavioral and medical science advances have happened largely because twins yield a wealth of information just by being themselves.

Twin research takes place at two levels:

(1) Studies that are strictly for twins. Such studies examine the pros and cons of twins being separated at school, dressing alike, or sharing their friends.
(2) Studies with broad implications. Psychological analyses and medical research are conducted to understand the genetic and environmental factors affecting behavior and health which can be applied to the general nontwin population.

Twin Types

There are two main types of twins: Monozygotic (MZ, identical) and Dizygotic (DZ, fraternal). MZ twins share all their genes having split from a single fertilized egg within the first two weeks following conception (there are exceptions). DZ twins share half their genes, on average, having formed from the separate fertilization of two eggs released simultaneously. There are, however, variations within each type. For example, there are MZ twins who show mirror-image reversals and DZ twins with different fathers.

Twin Methods
The classic twin study is simple and elegant. Researchers compare the similarities and differences of identical twins to those of fraternal twins. The greater resemblance between identical twins than between fraternal twins is consistent with the view that genetic factors influence the behavioral characteristic or physical trait under study. Of course, environmental influences also affect every measured trait.

There are variations on the classic twin method, two of them being twins reared apart and twins as couples. Identical twins reared apart offer pure estimates of genetic influence given that they share all their genes, but not their environments. Fraternal twins reared apart offer informative contrasts. Twins as couples focus on the quality and outcomes of twins’ social interactions as the twins work together on a joint project or task. Comparing identical and fraternal twins in this regard tells us about the factors contributing to cooperative or competitive social exchanges.

The research described below is located at the juncture of developmental psychology, behavioral genetics, and evolutionary psychology, with a focus on twin studies. Developmental psychology is concerned with the biological and environmental events, both before and after birth, that underlie changes in intellectual and physical growth. Behavioral genetics (BG) examines genetic factors affecting intelligence, personality, interests, and other measured traits. BG is concerned with variation within groups. Evolutionary psychology (EP) is concerned with how and why the mind is designed the way it is, and how this design, together with environmental events, produces behavior. EP is concerned with human universals. Twin research can assess behavioral-genetic and evolutionary-based hypotheses and questions. Read more

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America’s Two-Party System Is A Relic Of The Past And Bad For Democracy

C.J. Polychroniou

07-22-2024 ~ An Interview on the 2024 U.S. Presidential Election with C. J. Polychroniou.

The rematch between Biden and Trump is regarded by many as the most important election in modern U.S. history. It is also a rematch between two men that many voters have serious reservations about and feel that U.S democracy can do much better than having a raving maniac and someone who is too gaffe-prone and seems to be experiencing cognitive decline run for the highest office in the most powerful nation in the world. In this case, however, the real culprit is America’s two-party system, argues political scientist/political economist C. J Polychroniou in an interview with the French-Greek independent journalist Alexandra Boutri, because it severely limits choices for the voters and discourages competition due to a winner-take-all system. Polychroniou also addresses the nature and character of today’s GOP and why a second term for Trump could turn the U.S. into a neofascist dictatorship.

Alexandra Boutri: For the next few months, U.S. elections will be under the spotlight. The rematch between President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump is pivotal for the future of democracy in the U.S., critically consequential to Washington’s European allies, and potentially transformative for today’s geopolitical realities. The two men also differ radically when it comes to climate change and have different approaches regarding immigration and taxes. They are also quite apart across a broad range of issues related to gender identity and sexual orientation.  Do you agree then with the often-made claim that the rematch between Biden and Trump is perhaps the most important election in modern U.S. history?

C. J. Polychroniou: Before I address your question, let me just say that we cannot discount the possibility that we won’t have a rematch between two men that many American voters don’t want anyway because Joe Biden may drop out of the presidential race before next month’s Democratic National Convention. Nearly two-thirds of Democrats want Biden to step aside, according to a new poll conducted by AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Also, there are solid reasons why many American voters don’t want to see another showdown between Trump and Biden. Trump is simply unfit for the highest office in the land, or any public office for that matter, while Biden, judging from the difficulties he is having with speech and memory, can’t possibly be relied on to serve another 4 years.

Be that as it may, the 2024 U.S. presidential election is enormously important for at least some of the reasons you cited, although parochialism is what drives most American voters. This election is also unlike any other in modern history because American voters are so polarized that the threat of civil breakdown is real. This is the best evidence that binary politics is bad and possibly dangerous for contemporary democracies. American voters don’t have a viable range of choices, but the U.S. political system is set up for two major parties because of the winner-take-all politics. It is mainly the winner-take-all system that has also allowed the superrich to hijack the political system and transform the U.S. from a flawed democracy to a plutocracy.

Alexandra Boutri: You may have an excellent point here about the downsides of a two-party system, but why does polarization run so deep in today’s United States? 

C. J. Polychroniou: Political polarization among Americans has deep societal roots, with religion and race playing pivotal roles, but has been steadily intensifying in the last forty or fifty years.  There is now such a huge gap between Democrats and Republicans over political and social values that each side fears that the other side will destroy the nation if they are allowed to dictate policy. Democrats tend to be quite liberal when it comes to social issues, but most Republicans identify themselves as social conservatives. However, it is interesting to note that an annual poll on values and beliefs conducted last year by Gallup found that more Americans identify themselves as socially conservative than at any time in about a decade, although the largest increase was among Republicans. The role of guns in society, abortion, race, immigration, gender identity and sexual orientation are among the issues that sharply divide supporters of the two parties, according to the latest findings from a Pew Research Center survey. Republicans and Democrats are also very much divided over the role of government power and global warming. In sum, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Democrats and Republicans live in different worlds.

Alexandra Boutri: How would you describe today’s GOP?

C. J. Polychroniou:  Today’s GOP is the creation of one man alone—namely Donald J. Trump. What I mean by that is Trump can shift the party in any direction he chooses because he exerts a cult of personality over his followers. He can deliver fiery anti-abortion messages at some juncture during his political life, like he did when he first run for president because he needed the support of evangelical Christians, but then decline to endorse a national abortion ban at another juncture because he fears that it would cost him votes if he did so. Read more

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Who’s A Bigger Threat To Democracy – Immigrants, Or Billionaires?

Sonali Kolhatkar

07-20-2024 ~ Don’t be distracted by the anti-immigrant rhetoric this election. The real impact on democracy comes from moneyed elites.

When President Joe Biden said in a phone call to MSNBC’s Morning Joe recently, “I’m getting so frustrated with the elites… the elites of the party. I don’t care what the millionaires think,” former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote that, “It was the first time any modern president has admitted that the elites of the party are the millionaires (and billionaires) who fund it.”

While Biden’s comments were in reference to the movement to oust him from the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination, it was an important admission about who really wields power in our democracy.

We may think of elections in terms of one person, one vote. But, not only do undemocratic structures such as the electoral college dilute our votes, the money that elites flaunt places a hefty thumb on the scales of who represents us. Yet, we hear more about the threat of, say, immigrants than the threat of billionaires, to our democracy.

Billionaires have tried very hard to buy influence and political power. For example, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg donated $20 million toward efforts to reelect Biden this year alone. Four years ago, Bloomberg spent a whopping $1 billion in just four months in an attempt to be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. In a testament to the fact that we have a modicum of democratic accountability left within the system as it stands, he failed spectacularly, as others have often done. Voters seem to have a distaste for electing the ultra-rich but have yet to disavow the de facto proxies that their money helps elect.

While billionaires remain influential within the Democratic Party, the last election for which spending records exist shows that moneyed elites overwhelmingly prefer the Republican Party. The nation’s 465 wealthiest people collectively donated $881 million to influence the 2022 midterm elections, most of it to the GOP.

Now, the richest person in the world—not just in the United States—Elon Musk, has jumped into the 2024 race. His proxy, Donald Trump, in surviving an assassination attempt, earned Musk’s endorsement, as if that was somehow a qualification to run the nation. Musk has vowed to pour $45 million a month into a new Super PAC that’s working to elect Trump. The amount is pocket change for someone currently worth nearly $250 billion. Musk could spend $45 million a day every day this year and it would barely make a dent in his bottom line.

According to a New York Times analysis, Musk went from supporting Democrats to Republicans because he was “[a]ngry at liberals over immigration, transgender rights, and the Biden administration’s perceived treatment of Tesla.” At a meeting earlier this year that embodied the specter of a secret cabal of billionaires seeking to buy an election, Musk reportedly conversed with his fellow wealthy elites about Republican control of the U.S. Senate. At that meeting, he reportedly worried that “if President Biden won, millions of undocumented immigrants would be legalized and democracy would be finished,” as per the Times.

He’s not the only one. The Republican Party as a whole has decided that undocumented people voting in U.S. elections is the single biggest threat facing the country—not billionaires like Musk raining down dollars to drown our democracy.

Undocumented immigrants are human beings, not dollar bills. And yet they hold far less sway over elections than Musk’s money. There is no mass amnesty for undocumented people in the U.S. currently—this isn’t Ronald Reagan’s America after all. And even if there was, there is a long, complicated path from legal status to the voting status that citizenship allows.

I should know, I’ve been there personally, having entered the U.S. as an immigrant on a student visa before obtaining legal residency and then citizenship. My journey was far more straightforward than that of Melania Trump and still, it was 18 years before I could legally vote after first stepping on American soil.

And yet every four years, immigrants become political footballs, flayed at the proverbial whipping posts of democracy for merely existing—usually by both political parties. Right-wing voters waved signs saying “Mass Deportations Now” at the Republican National Convention, while Democrats took a less vulgar approach by appeasing anti-immigrant forces with asylum restrictions, hoping it would garner voter support.

Sean Morales-Doyle, writing for the Brennan Center for Justice, asks us to imagine being an undocumented immigrant in the U.S.: “Would you risk everything—your freedom, your life in the United States, your ability to be near your family—just to cast a single ballot?” Not only are there harsh penalties, including prison time, for illegally casting ballots, but even the rabidly far-right Heritage Foundation has found only 85 cases of supposed undocumented voters out of 2 billion votes cast from 2002 to 2023. That works out to a 0.00000425 percent of the vote.

Let’s compare this to the influence of money on elections. The nonpartisan group Open Secrets, which tracks money in politics, finds that “the candidate who spends the most usually wins.” In 2022, about 94 percent of the candidates for the House of Representatives who spent the most money won their race, while 82 percent of those running for the Senate who spent the most money won their seats. Much of their donations come from Super PACs, which bundle high-dollar amounts from wealthy Americans.

While billionaires such as Bloomberg have had trouble getting themselveselected, they have had little trouble getting others elected—or unelected as the case may be. Already this year, moneyed interests in the form of the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, defeated progressive congressional representative Jamaal Bowman of New York in his primary election, and have their sights set on representative Cori Bush of Missouri next.

Should we be concerned about the imagined influence of undocumented immigrants or the actual influence of billionaire dollars on our elections? In a 2020 poll, Pew Research found that most Americans felt billionaires were neither good nor bad for the nation. Only about a third felt they were bad for the nation—roughly the same percentage that fears there is an effort to replace U.S. voters with immigrants for the purposes of electoral power.

USA Today writer Marla Bautista captured Musk’s role succinctly in asking, “Can Elon Musk buy Trump the White House?” It’s a valid question, one that we should be centering as election season heats up.

Think of the U.S. democracy as an old, large, sailing ship attempting to cross a vast ocean with all voters on board working to steer it across to shore. Every hole in its sail, every shark circling it, impacts its ability to succeed. In such a scenario, an undocumented person attempting to vote is akin to a speck of dust on the hull. Every million-dollar donation is a wave buffeting the ship. Enter men like Musk, whose money becomes a veritable tsunami aimed directly at democracy to overwhelm and topple it, destroying everything and everyone on board.

Sure, we may have sailed successful voyages most of the time (with the years 2000 and 2016 being among the worst exceptions). But with billionaire influence becoming larger every election, there’s an ever-increasing chance that democracy may not reach the shore. Will we be distracted by the dust on our hull or the massive wave rising before us?

By Sonali Kolhatkar

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her most recent book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.

Source: Independent Media Institute

Credit Line: This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Is The Food Industry Concealing Possible Destruction Of The Tropics From The Public?

Emma Rae Lierley – Rainforest Action Network

07-21-2024 ~ Millions of tons of palm oil are ‘missing’ from Big Food’s deforestation-free claims.

Palm oil is one of the most used vegetable oils in the world and is found in a large variety of packaged products, from shampoos and lipstick to cookies and frozen pizza. Unfortunately, the production of palm oil has been linked to severe environmental and social costs, including significant rainforest destruction and human rights abuses, particularly in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, which together account for around 85 percent of global exports.

In the United States, out of the seven commodities that were linked to forest destruction, palm oil was the most “significant contributor” to deforestation, according to a March 2024 report. This report by Trase, a “data-driven transparency initiative,” is based on an analysis of figures from October 2021 to November 2023. “[T]he United States’ direct imports of seven forest risk commodities… [are] exposed to at least 122,800 hectares of tropical and subtropical deforestation. This is an area comparable in size to the city of Los Angeles,” states the report.

If any part of the palm oil supply chain is linked to the destruction of rainforests and peatlands or human rights abuses, the product is known as Conflict Palm Oil.

According to a May 2024 report by my organization, Rainforest Action Network (RAN), palm oil is increasingly being used “as an animal feed additive,” however, “much of the international trade in palm oil-based animal feed is obscured for consumers and other stakeholders.”. This lack of transparency raises questions about the actual role of the world’s largest palm oil traders in deforestation and social conflict.

Responding to this crisis and bowing to consumer and stakeholder pressure, many companies have adopted the “No Deforestation, No Peatland, No Exploitation” (NDPE) policy to ensure responsible production. This corporate pledge is meant to prevent further deforestation, safeguard “High Conservation Value” (HCV) areas, eliminate new development on peatlands, and protect Indigenous communities.

Hidden Palm Oil in Animal Feed
Palm oil is found in many foods and household products, but it’s also used in animal feed, especially for dairy cows, and ends up in products like milk, cheese, ice cream, and chocolate. Because it is an indirect ingredient, it is known as “embedded palm oil”—often hidden and not included in companies’ deforestation-free commitments. An analysis of 2022 data by RAN revealed that palm oil-based animal feed was the largest category of palm oil products imported to the United States.

Our research reveals that most companies—15 out of 17—importing palm oil-based animal feed into the U.S. lack NDPE policies, thereby increasing the risk of deforestation and human rights abuses. Companies must include palm oil-based animal feed in their NDPE policies and deforestation-free commitments and be transparent about using palm oil in their supply chains.

Major companies like Nestlé and Ferrero make claims about lessening the impact of deforestation across their product lines. These claims are misleading because vast amounts of palm oil are entering their supply chain as animal feed is not included in their accounting.

Dairy companies like Lactalis, Danone, and Fonterra are not taking enough action to ensure their products, such as milk, cheese, and chocolate, do not contribute to deforestation. Only Unilever provided an estimate to our researchers about how much palm oil-based animal feed forms part of its supply chain. Swedish-Danish company Arla has promised that there will be no palm oil in its milk supply network by 2028, ensuring it is deforestation-free.

Our research estimates that if Nestlé accounted for the embedded palm oil in its supply chain, its claim of being 96 percent deforestation-free could drop to 72 percent (in terms of crude palm oil equivalent).

Increasing Demand for Palm Oil-Based Animal Feed
Initially, animal feed contained palm kernel expeller (PKE), a co-product of crushing palm kernels. Now, new palm oil additives, known as “palm fat,” “palmitic acid,” “rumen-protected fats,” or “calcium salt” (when fortified with calcium), are used in cow diets to boost milk production and quality. These additives have become popular, especially in North America. In Canada, up to 90 percent of farmers use these additives for their dairy cows. (Similar U.S. statistics are unavailable because there is very little industry oversight about its use.)

Palm oil-based animal feed, especially calcium salt, was mainly exported from Indonesia and Malaysia to countries with large dairy industries, including the U.S., the European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and various Middle Eastern and South American countries from 2020 to 2021. Another additive, palm fatty acid distillate (PFAD), is a product of the palm oil refining process and was previously considered a waste product.

High demand for PFAD means it’s now considered an essential part of the palm oil market. Its use is not only limited to animal feed but extends to other products as well, such as biofuels, soaps, and candles. PFAD, therefore, sells for 80 percent more than palm oil. This raises concerns about its production, leading to deforestation and peatland loss, similar to virgin palm oil. Stearin, a triglyceride, is another co-product used in animal feed and foods like margarine and bakery shortening.

Tracking palm oil-based animal feed in global trade is challenging due to a lack of specific trade codes. According to our analysis of more than 30,000 shipments of palm oil products to the U.S. in 2022, feed-grade palm oil was the largest imported category of such products, making up more than a third of U.S. palm oil imports.

Most of these products came from Indonesia, where palm oil production is closely associated with deforestation. This illustrates the significant role of palm oil-based feed in causing environmental degradation. Read more

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How Powerful Are The Remaining Royals?

07-20-2024 ~ Most royal families continue to face a decline in relevance, yet their ongoing efforts to adapt means they cannot be discounted entirely.

Recently appointed British Prime Minister Keir Starmer pledged his loyalty to British King Charles III on July 6, 2024, continuing a tradition that dates back centuries. However, since the leadership role taken by Prime Minister David Lloyd George in World War I, the monarchy’s political influence has become progressively ceremonial and even more precarious since the death of the late Queen Elizabeth II in 2022.

This trend is not unique to the UK; in recent centuries, the role of royalty in politics has declined considerably worldwide. As political ideals began challenging royal authority in Europe, European colonial powers began to undermine their authority overseas. The strain of World War I helped cause several European monarchies to collapse, and World War II diminished their numbers further. After, the Soviet Union and the U.S. divided Europe along ideological lines and sought to impose their communist and liberal democratic ideals elsewhere, and the remaining monarchs faced accelerating marginalization.

Today, fewer than 30 royal families are politically active on a national scale. Some, like Japan’s and the UK’s, trace their lineages back more than a millennium, while Belgium’s is less than 200 years old. Several have adapted by reducing political power while maintaining cultural and financial relevance, while others have retained their strong political control. Their various methods and circumstances make it difficult to determine where royals may endure, collapse, or return.

Alongside the UK, the royals of Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands have all seen their powers become largely ceremonial. Smaller European monarchical states like Andorra and the Vatican City are not hereditary, while Luxembourg, Monaco, and Liechtenstein are—though only the latter two still wield tangible power.

Attempts to exercise remaining royal political power have often highlighted its increasing redundancy. Belgian King Baudouin’s refusal to sign an abortion bill in 1990 saw him declared unfit to rule before being reinstated once it passed. Luxembourg’s Grand Duke Henri meanwhile lost his legislative role in 2008 after refusing to sign a euthanasia bill. Following increasing scrutiny of Queen Beatrix’s influence, the Dutch monarch’s role in forming coalition governments was transferred to parliament in 2012, and she also lost the ability to dissolve parliament.

The British monarch’s decline in political influence is also evident, but it can still prove useful. The royal family’s global popularity is used to project soft power, while royal visits can help seal important agreements, particularly in countries with other royal families. The leaders of 14 other countries also pledge allegiance to King Charles III as their head of state.

Additionally, the monarchy can be used to bypass certain democratic processes. In 1999 the British government advised Queen Elizabeth II to withhold Queen’s Consent, preventing parliamentary debate on the Military Action Against Iraq Bill, which would have restricted the ability to take military action without parliamentary approval.

Royal efforts to cultivate soft power and maintain a positive public image have also been crucial for their survival. Belgium’s royal family is seen as a necessary source of political stability and unity. In Spain, former King Juan Carlos played a leading role in the country’s transition to democracy in the 1970s. Modernizing their image as neutral political guardians with relatable attributes who engage in advocacy and humanitarian work often gives European royal families higher approval ratings than politicians.

Royal families have also downsized in recent years for discretion and to reduce costs. In 2019, Sweden’s king removed royal titles, duties, and some privileges from five of his grandchildren. The Danish queen implemented similar changes in 2022. Norway’s royal family now consists only of the King, Queen, Crown Prince, and Princess, while the British royal family has hinted at further reducing its current number of 10 “working royals.”

Despite these efforts, European royal families continue to face scandals and intense public and media scrutiny. In 2020, Spanish and Swiss authorities began investigating former Spanish King Juan Carlos for allegedly receiving $100 million from a deal with Saudi Arabia. In 2023, Belgium’s Prince Laurent was accused of fraud and extortion by Libya’s sovereign wealth fund. The UK royal family’s recent treatment of Megan Markle and the departure of Prince Harry and Prince Andrew’s association with Jeffrey Epstein have also rocked Britain. The British monarchy’s unprecedented challenges are reinforced by record-low support since the death of Queen Elizabeth II in 2022. The King’s and Princess Kate’s cancer diagnoses have also added to the sense of fragility.

Across Europe, cultural shifts, concern over royal expenses, and increasing political irrelevance have threatened its royal families. Movements like the Alliance of European Republican Movements, created in 2010 to abolish monarchies altogether, reflect the increasing disregard for royal power. Read more

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Sex Workers In Chile Continue To Face The Consequences Of COVID-19 Without Government Assistance

A little over a year ago, WHO declared the end of the COVID-19 health emergency. The pandemic had disastrous consequences for workers, especially those in the informal sector. According to a World Bank report, the last five years will reflect the lowest figures for economic growth in the last 30 years: 40 percent of low-income countries will remain poorer than they were before the pandemic.

In Chile, 2 million jobs were lost during the pandemic. A report by the Economics Institute of the Catholic University of Chile indicates that the employment rate could only recover to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2026.

In this context, informal sector workers face an unaccounted crisis: the non-recognition of their work leaves them outside the ambit of adequate public policies for their recovery. As part of this sector, sex workers face the great limbo of the legal status of sex work in Chile: it is not prohibited, but it is not recognized as work either. Persecution is concentrated in the places where it is practiced. Herminda González, president of Fundación Margen, tells me that this option leaves only one option for the workers: the streets. From that place, the Fundación provides the assistance that the State does not provide.

The Solidarity Fund
During the quarantine, Herminda and Nancy Gutierréz (Margen’s spokesperson) took advantage of the early morning darkness to sneak into the Foundation’s headquarters, where they distributed boxes of food for the sex workers. “We did it because we knew the girls were waiting,” says Herminda. “And if it wasn’t us, who was going to do it? Only the people help the people.”

As the pandemic progressed, they decided to design protocols for safe sex. “Along with condoms, we distributed masks and latex gloves,” because, despite the restrictions, the work did not stop. “There were colleagues who earned a lot of money during the pandemic,” because obviously, the risk increased the value of the services. However, in any situation that meant not being able to work, the girls were completely unprotected, as they were not covered by any of the government schemes designed to protect workers recognized as such.

“Many of the sex workers support their families; they are mothers, daughters,” Gonzalez tells me. In the absence of the state—which only donated food to the foundation during the entire pandemic—“the aunts,” as the younger workers affectionately call the foundation’s leaders, decided to create a solidarity fund for sex workers, where allies and close clients made donations that allowed them to survive the pandemic crisis.

The Solidarity Fund is still active and is used to support sex workers during the hardest times of the year, including when it is time to buy school supplies, for example. Read more

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