Welcome to Wonkbook, Wonkblog’s morning policy news primer by Puneet Kollipara (@pkollipara). To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism or ideas to Wonkbook at Washpost dot com. To read more by the Wonkblog team, click here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 5,305 . That's how many unaccompanied migrant children fell into U.S. custody last month, down by half from June.
Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: Millions are still working part-time despite the continuing jobs growth.
Wonkbook's Top 4 Stories: (1) Ebola crisis's implications at home; (2) immigration vote's broader implications; (3) a ho-hum jobs report; (4) mobile phone regulation roundup.
1. Top story: The Ebola crisis — but not an outbreak — comes home
Why the U.S. won't have an Ebola outbreak. "Infectious disease experts...consider the viruses that cause Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and bird flu much more contagious — and therefore more dangerous to the public. Transmission of Ebola requires direct contact with an infected person’s blood, vomit or feces during the period that he or she is contagious, something that is extremely unlikely for anyone but health-care workers. The virus is not spread by coughing or sneezing. Nor do Americans bury their own dead family members or friends, as some residents of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea must do with Ebola victims." Lenny Bernstein in The Washington Post.
American Ebola patients are being treated at Emory. Why? The facility is designed for it. "Emory's infectious diseases' unit...is one of about four in the country equipped with everything necessary to test, treat and contain people exposed to very dangerous viruses....Inside the unit, patients are sealed off from anyone who doesn't wear protective gear. 'Negative air pressure' means air flows in, but can't escape until filters scrub any germs from patients. All laboratory testing is conducted within the unit, and workers are highly trained in infection control. Glass walls enable staff outside to safely observe patients, and there's a vestibule where workers suit up before entering. Any gear is safely disposed of or decontaminated." Ray Henry and Mike Stobbe in the Associated Press.
Hopeful news: One of the American Ebola patients appears to be improving. Lauren Raab and Connie Stewart in the Los Angeles Times.
Why development of a vaccine is far from a sure bet. "Scientists who study the virus warned that the task would be arduous and that success was hardly guaranteed....The development effort depends on...fast regulatory approval of the trial, the first of its type in healthy humans; results proving the vaccine is safe and provokes an immune response; and, perhaps most crucial, the interest and investment dollars of the pharmaceutical industry....Given the sporadic nature of Ebola outbreaks, some experts believe a vaccine is not the answer. Instead, they say, it may be more pragmatic to focus on drugs that can be administered soon after people are exposed." Roni Caryn Rabin in The New York Times.
Is our regulatory system ill-designed for crucial vaccines? Exhibit A: Princeton meningitis outbreak. "The episode highlights a drug approval process in the United States that experts say does not always take into account public health needs. Regulators typically do not seek out new treatments, but wait for pharmaceutical companies to apply for approval of new products. Drugmakers weigh their estimates of sales potential against the high costs of application. And that calculation is often more fraught in the United States than in other countries, in part because American regulators are historically loath to grant approval based solely on foreign trials, so they require expensive new studies....The experience has prompted the C.D.C. to review procedures this summer for streamlining emergency entry of vaccines that have not been licensed here." Elisabeth Rosenthal in The New York Times.
Regulatory barriers have delayed a second Ebola vaccine candidate. "In January, TKM-Ebola began Phase One trials with the Food and Drug Administration, injecting its first patient with the drug on January 14. This is the phase where drug companies test whether a drug is safe....The drug got added to the FDA's 'fast track' schedule two months later, in March....But more recently...the FDA halted the treatment's phase one trials at the start of July, requesting that Tekmira provide additional information about how the drug actually works, before the company begins giving trial subjects even larger dosages. That happens in Phase One trials to test how much the human body can handle." Sarah Kliff in Vox.
Thermal airport scanners won't do much good. "Fever can be a sign of a lot of different illnesses....And thermal scanning proved to be a poor method of catching bird flu carriers in 2009....More importantly, the incubation period for Ebola is two days. As many as 20 days can pass before symptoms show up. That means that an individual could be carrying the virus for two weeks or longer and not even know it....The presence of antibodies in the blood is a much more conclusive sign of the deadly virus. Unfortunately, subjecting hundreds or possibly thousands of passengers to a blood test for Ebola would be practically impossible in a major airport without slowing International air travel to a halt." Patrick Tucker in National Journal.
The U.S. won't seal the borders, CDC chief says. "Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden said on Sunday that while the disease is scary, 'the plain truth is, we can stop Ebola. We know how to control it.'...'We’re not going to hermetically seal the borders of the U.S. We’re reliant and interdependent with the world for travel, for trade, for the economy, for our families and communities,' Frieden said. 'The single most important thing we can do to protect Americans is to stop this disease at the source in Africa.'" Eric Bradner in Politico.
How the crisis affects a looming U.S.-Africa summit in Washington. "Obama addressed the Ebola epidemic....Summit participants from the affected countries who have 'a marginal risk or infinitesimal risk' of having been exposed may be screened for any symptoms of the disease before they fly to Washington, he said. There also may be some screening at airports here as officials feel is appropriate, he added. The event may now also include a meeting between HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, CDC officials and members of the delegations from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. And the outbreak will be the subject of an emergency hearing on Thursday." Susan Levine in Politico.
Key item that will come up at summit: Funding for HIV/AIDS. "The United States has taken the lead in this fight, providing significant funding — $52 billion so far — to the cause....Begun by President George W. Bush in 2003, it is widely considered to be among the most successful foreign policy initiatives in history....The program remains one of the country’s most important foreign aid initiatives under Obama, but its budget has been cut significantly in recent years. Administration officials say it’s time to start shifting some of the responsibility for funding and managing the epidemic to the affected countries. That has been an unwelcome change for many — disrupting care on the ground for some patients and creating worry among HIV/AIDS advocates." Ariana Eunjung Cha in The Washington Post.
Ebola may not be big factor at summit. "According to Ned Price, a spokesman for the National Security Council, there are no plans to alter the summit's agenda in response to the outbreak. 'Global health issues already feature prominently on the agenda, and surely there will be natural opportunities for the assembled leaders to discuss the current outbreak,' Price stated....The meeting's public agenda features one session devoted to health issues." Elias Groll in Foreign Policy.
Other health care reads:
Now newly insured, millions face health-care learning curve. Abby Goodnough in The New York Times.
More Obamacare choices, competition with expansion in 2015. Bruce Japsen in Forbes.
Obamacare cases move toward SCOTUS. Sam Baker in National Journal.
WHO chief says $100 million campaign in affected African nations coming: "'This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it,' said Margaret Chan, the WHO director-general....Taming the outbreak has been difficult because some families have hidden their ill relatives out of fear, Chan said. The WHO and the hardest-hit countries will pump $100 million into an intensified campaign that will deploy several hundred more health workers in the region where the virus has killed 57 people in the past week." Marie French and Makiko Kitamura in Bloomberg.
LIPKIN: Reducing future pandemics. "The economic downturn of the past several years has reduced funding for the World Health Organization, U.S. national health agencies...impairing their ability to respond to outbreaks such as Ebola. But clinical, laboratory and support staff and supplies are urgently needed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia for patient care, infection control, contact tracing and community engagement. The U.N.'s International Health Regulations, adopted in 2005, commit all member states to respond to the spread of diseases throughout the world that pose risks to public health without unnecessarily disrupting international traffic and trade. The U.S. must honor this commitment by investing in science and public-health surveillance at home and abroad. This is...in our own self-interest." W. Ian Lipkin in The Wall Street Journal.
SEPKOWITZ: Emory's high-tech war on Ebola. "With the move, the CDC, or whoever made the decision, is betting that high-tech American care using Ebola-inexperienced medical staff is better than not-so-high-tech care with remarkably experienced staff. This high-low discordance often is seen in tropical medicine. For example, many are taught in medical school that the best place to be treated for severe malaria is not the tertiary care medical palace on the American hill where a case is seen every year or two but the run-down clinic in the local country where malaria is as common as a stubbed toe and the staff knows every trick of the trade." Kent Sepkowitz in The Daily Beast.
KRUGMAN: Dodd-Frank is working. "The Dodd-Frank reform bill has, if anything, received even worse press than Obamacare, derided by the right as anti-business and by the left as hopelessly inadequate. And like Obamacare, it’s certainly not the reform you would have devised in the absence of political constraints. But also like Obamacare, financial reform is working a lot better than anyone listening to the news media would imagine. Let’s talk, in particular, about two important pieces of Dodd-Frank: creation of an agency protecting consumers from misleading or fraudulent financial sales pitches, and efforts to end 'too big to fail.'" Paul Krugman in The New York Times.
MORGENSON: Big banks are still a risk. "Central to the hearing is that six years after the financial crisis, it’s clear that some institutions remain too complex and interconnected to be unwound quickly and efficiently if they get into trouble. It is also clear that this status confers financial benefits on those institutions. Stated simply, there is an enormous value in a bank’s ability to tap the taxpayer for a bailout rather than being forced to go through bankruptcy. That value was what the G.A.O. had been asked to measure. But its methodology was convoluted and its conclusions hardly definitive." Gretchen Morgenson in The New York Times.
McARDLE: What we've forgotten about Obamacare. "Their view of the law is not some absurd ideological construction. If it is wrong, it is wrong in a way that anyone — even very smart, very liberal analysts who have spent a whole lot of time thinking about the law — could be wrong. I think I can also say that we’d all be in much better shape if we were a lot less confident about our own memories — and a lot more charitable in engaging people across the aisle." Megan McArdle in Bloomberg View.
KLEIN: The GOP vision on Obamacare. "Another part of the poll found that just 35 percent of Americans wanted to repeal and replace the law....To be sure, this result on repeal doesn’t necessarily undermine the 2014 strategy for Republicans, because it doesn’t say anything about the intensity behind each side’s position and it’s taken from a pool of adults living in the United States. In other words, those who want to repeal and replace the law may be more likely to vote in a midterm election and more likely to vote based on their position on health care. But while the short-term politics of Obamacare may favor Republicans, the more ultimate question for conservatives is...whether they can actually deliver on scrapping Obamacare and replacing it with a market-oriented plan." Philip Klein in the Washington Examiner.
STONE: How Justice Kennedy got us here on same-sex marriage. "The Supreme Court opened the door with three decisions of its own, all written by Justice Anthony Kennedy....After these three decisions, it was clear to our nation’s judges that laws discriminating against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals could not withstand constitutional scrutiny. Justice Kennedy had taken his time over the past 18 years to gradually and incrementally bring the law around to the place it needed to be. Now we are there. The multitude of decisions invalidating laws prohibiting same-sex marriage have rested on three different rationales. They all rest on the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Geoffrey Stone in The Daily Beast.
Wedding crashers interlude: Battle rappers crash a wedding.
2. The broader policy implications of the House GOP's last-minute immigration vote
What it says about the House GOP's policymaking dilemma. "Midterm elections that will decide control of the Senate are three months away, and the 2016 presidential campaign will start in earnest soon after. Yet the Republican Party still can't figure out what to do about illegal immigration. It's the issue that vexed Republicans as much as any in their 2012 presidential loss. It's the one problem the party declared it must resolve to win future presidential races. And it still managed to bedevil the party again last week, when House Republicans splintered and stumbled for a day before passing a face-saving bill late Friday night. The fiasco proved anew that a small number of uncompromising conservatives have the power to hamper the efforts of GOP leaders to craft coherent positions on key issues." Charles Babington in the Associated Press.
Hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants could be eligible for deportation. "Lawmakers and aides said the language regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is being changed so the roughly 550,000 current beneficiaries, who are granted a two-year reprieve from deportations, will be blocked from renewing their status in the program. That essentially makes those hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants eligible for deportations. That change is a clear nod to the conservatives in the conference, who have widely blamed the Obama administration program as the root cause of the steep increase in unaccompanied migrant children coming to the U.S.-Mexico border." Jake Sherman, John Bresnahan and Seung Min Kim in Politico.
Video: In rare moment of bipartisanship, Republicans and Democrats take action that leads to nowhere. National Journal
Did House Republicans just sabotage their 2016 presidential nominee? "As Friday's House vote on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program demonstrated...it's unlikely the next GOP presidential nominee, put through the rigors of a hyper-competitive primary controlled largely by conservative activists, will have the same flexibility, given opposition to DACA is now thoroughly woven into orthodoxy. The party's standard-bearer, in effect, will have to try to win Colorado after taking policy positions the state's current GOP Senate nominee plainly thinks would hurt his chances at victory." Scott Bland and Alex Roarty in National Journal.
What types of executive immigration actions can Obama undertake? "The White House hasn’t said what Mr. Obama might pursue and several legal scholars said there aren’t many legal limits on actions he can take. 'The president is likely to run up against political limits before he is likely to run up against legal limits,' said Adam Cox, a law professor at New York University who specializes in immigration law and policy. That’s because Congress has given the executive branch significant discretion when it comes to arrests, detainments, deportations and many other aspects of the immigration system. Aside from political considerations, we look at how wide a net Mr. Obama can cast using his executive authority." Michelle Hackman in The Wall Street Journal.
Forecast for this midterm policy debate season: Cloudy with a 100 percent chance of immigration. "Congress left town last week on a five-week break without taking any productive action on the issue of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have illegally crossed the Southern border in the past few months. That means two things: the problem will continue to fester, and politicians from both parties will spend the net five weeks blaming each other for the lack of a legislative solution. President Obama, in particular, will likely take advantage of Congress being out of session to pummel Republicans on the issue throughout the month of August." Rob Garver in The Fiscal Times.
...and only a tiny chance of an actual impeachment. "Few people in Washington believe Republicans will try to impeach President Barack Obama. Yet the notion that they might try has put Obama's opponents on the defensive just as the president prepares to loosen immigration rules in a way they say violates his constitutional powers. Recent statements from conservatives like Iowa Representative Steve King and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin that Obama should be impeached are allowing Democrats to portray Republicans as irrational, adding a toxic mix to the immigration debate in an election year." Steve Holland and Richard Cowan in Reuters.
Explainer: 5 myths about impeachment. Jonathan Turley in The Washington Post.
CHAIT: Do Republicans want President Hillary Clinton? "A party that began the Congressional term hoping to move left from Mitt Romney’s immigration stance has instead moved toward Michele Bachmann’s. (Bachmann...pronounces herself thrilled.) The party’s new dogma will potentially entangle its next nominee in an even less humane debate than the one that ensnared Romney....It is understandable that the party's Congressional wing, based mostly in safe, deep-red districts, has failed to craft a national strategy for its 2016 candidate. But the House's course of action has fallen well below 'unhelpful' and instead verges on outright sabotage. How do they think this is going to work out for them?" Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.
DOUTHAT: Obama's impeachment game. "Something rather dangerous is happening in American politics right now, all the more so for being taken for granted by many of the people watching it unfold. I do not mean the confusion of House Republicans, or the general gridlock in Congress, which are impeding legislative action on the child migrant crisis (among other matters). Incompetence and gridlock are significant problems, indeed severe ones, but they’re happening within the context of a constitutional system that allows for — and can survive — congressional inaction. What is different — more cynical and more destructive — is the course President Obama is pursuing in response." Ross Douthat in The New York Times.
DIONNE: Can voters change the GOP? "It is, to be sure, a strange question to put to an electorate in which independents and Democrats constitute a majority. Yet there is no getting around this: The single biggest change in Washington over the last five years has been a GOP shift to a more radical form of conservatism. This, in turn, has led to a kind of rejectionism that views cooperation with President Obama as inherently unprincipled. Solving the country’s problems requires, above all, turning the Republican Party back into a political enterprise willing to share the burdens of governing, even when a Democrat is in the White House. For those looking for a different, more constructive Republicanism, this is not a great year to stage the battle." E.J. Dionne Jr. in The Washington Post.
Awesome dad interlude: Dad builds his son an awesome spaceship simulator.
3. Understanding the July jobs report
Don't go changing your expectations. "Yes, the total of 209,000 jobs reported to have been added to United States payrolls was a bit below the 230,000 economists were expecting, and well below the revised 298,000 of June. And yes, the unemployment rate ticked up to 6.2 percent from 6.1 percent. But those numbers are hardly the stuff of catastrophe, and the fine print Friday was more positive. Revisions to previous months’ job growth numbers were slightly positive, for example, and the unemployment rate rose because some 329,000 people joined the labor force....The result: Nothing about these numbers should change your basic assessment of how the economy is doing." Neil Irwin in The New York Times.
@BCAppelbaum: This is a “good” increase in the unemployment rate. More people working and more people looking for work.
Where are those long-awaited wage increases? "Many expect that the next phase of recovery will bring higher wages — eventually. But they have not yet materialized. According to Friday’s data, average hourly pay was $24.45 in July, about 2 percent higher than it was a year ago and on par with the sluggish growth of the past few years. Yet even that gain disappears after adjusting for inflation. The lack of wage growth is one reason why many consumers feel that the broader economic recovery hasn’t reached their wallets. The problem has divided academics and fueled political debate on Capitol Hill and across the country, turning an increase in the minimum wage, for example, into a central issue in the midterm elections." Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.
Economists' reactions: Not weak, but... Sarah Portlock in The Wall Street Journal.
Labor-force growth helps keep wage growth down. "Over the last year, wages have grown just 2 percent, in keeping with where they have been stuck since late 2009. Before then, hourly earnings typically rose 3 percent or 4 percent a year. One reason to be pessimistic about wage growth is that more workers appear to be searching for jobs. The Labor Department said more than 300,000 Americans joined the workforce last month...and economists generally think a larger pool of labor will make raises harder to come by." Jason Lange in Reuters.
And millions are still stuck in part-time jobs. "The troubled part-time labor force remained roughly unchanged in July, with 7.5 million people still getting less than 40 hours of work per week, even though they are seeking full-time paychecks....With the pool of eager part-timers still so large, employers have been able to hold down wages. " Marilyn Geewax in NPR.
Charts: Why are so many people only marginally attached to the labor force? Josh Zumbrun in The Wall Street Journal.
Jobs are booming in health care. So why is hospital employment flat? "There are a few factors — for one, the hospital industry is relatively large (hospitals employ four times the number of workers as home health agencies) and mature, which acts as a constraint on its growth. But more importantly, the jobs trend line reflects the pressures on hospitals generally and inpatient care specifically....And hospitals are conscious of these changing dynamics....However it’s happening, hospitals’ slow jobs growth has policy implications. Officials have been pushing to make health care more efficient, and in that light, Harvard economist Amitabh Chandra thinks hospitals’ flat hiring could be encouraging." Dan Diamond in Forbes.
A boost for Team Yellen on the labor market slack issue? "Because the Fed has to pick the various indicators and weight them, it leaves more discretion up to them about whether inflation risks are rising or how much slack there is left in the labor market. This month, though, offers Yellen a reprieve: The fact that the unemployment rate, the single standard metric the Fed used to use, ticked up even as a nice number of jobs were added supports the conclusion the Fed has been drawing from its now-preferred 'range of labor-market indicators' (that is, that there’s still lots of slack left in the labor market)." Patrick Brennan in National Review.
High-wage sectors are finally digging out. "Lower paying fields, such as retail and hospitality (including restaurants), are still aiding overall growth, but the acceleration in those sectors has been less dramatic this year. The retail industry is hiring about 18,000 per month this year — a smaller monthly gain than construction. The retail monthly average is up a bit from 15,000 during prior three years. Hospitality has added 30,000 a month in 2014, versus 26,500 from 2011 through 2013. Those higher-wage jobs are digging out of deep holes." Eric Morath in The Wall Street Journal.
Chart: Factory jobs growing but still lagging behind president's goal. Timothy Aeppel in The Wall Street Journal.
Other economic/financial reads:
Consumer sentiment edges down in July. Reuters.
Consumer spending rises, inflation pressures muted. Reuters.
Argentina's default is ruled a credit event for swaps. Peter Eavis in The New York Times.
July manufacturing activity expands at fastest pace in 39 months. Reuters.
Young whippersnappers interlude: Watch these kids' perplexed reaction to a typewriter.
4.The policy of our increasingly mobile web
Obama signed the cellphone unlocking bill. Just how far does it go? "Legislation to allow people to 'unlock' their cell phones won unanimous support on Capitol Hill and is about to become law. But the bill won't have much practical effect for most people. Cell-phone carriers already agreed to a voluntary unlocking policy, and the law will only be relevant until the Copyright Office issues new rules on the issue next year. Supporters admit the bill is narrow but say it is still a significant step forward for consumer rights. They argue the bill is also important symbolically and could lay the groundwork for future reforms to copyright laws." Brendan Sasso in National Journal.
Explainer: The skinny on the bill. Salvador Rodriguez in the Los Angeles Times.
Think SCOTUS protected your cellphone from warrantless searches? Think again. "Grimm wrote that the border agents in Saboonchi had satisfied the reasonable suspicion standard, making the search permissible even under the more restrictive approach laid out in Cotterman. The result, at least for now, is that Washington's border policy continues to tilt strongly in favor of law enforcement discretion....Privacy advocates say the regime threatens all Americans who travel internationally....Those devices can be seized and mined for information. While the courts are unlikely to require warrants for border searches anytime soon, those who argue the border search doctrine isn't absolute say Riley — and now Saboonchi — is an opportunity." Brian Fung in The Washington Post.
Recently, the FCC chairman sent a message to Verizon on wireless data speeds. "The Federal Communications Commission has sent a strongly worded letter to Verizon warning that changes in the way it handles mobile Internet traffic may violate federal regulations. More broadly, the letter by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is the latest sign that the commission is considering applying its new net neutrality rules to wireless carriers." Brian Fung in The Washington Post.
Is the era of cellphone charge cramming over? "Customers have likely paid hundreds of millions in dollars in phony charges on their cellphone bills, according to a new report from a Senate committee. Contrite wireless carriers and outraged public officials agree this is a travesty, and now the industry insists an ugly chapter in the history of American telecommunications is over. If that’s true, it would be an abrupt halt to a practice that has been going on for almost 20 years, despite consistent assurances from phone companies that there was nothing to worry about. This type of fraud, known as cramming, was made possible when phone companies began allowing other companies to charge services directly to phone bills." Joshua Brustein in Bloomberg Businessweek.
U.S. moves closer to rules banning in-flight cellphone calls. "The U.S. government is getting closer to its final word on whether to allow cellphone calls on airplanes. And that word appears to be 'no.' Airlines, meanwhile, are pressing for the final decision to be left to them. The Department of Transportation plans to pursue the next step in what could lead to a formal ban on in-flight calls, Kathryn Thomson, said in a speech last week....Regulators are focused primarily on the disruptive effects of voice calls rather than texting or other data use, having last year loosened restrictions that now allow airline passengers to use electronic devices for these purposes from gate to gate." Doug Cameron in The Wall Street Journal.
Other tech reads:
Microsoft digs in on digital privacy. Julian Hattem in The Hill.
Animals interlude: Farmer serenades cattle with trumpet.
Everything you need to know about Argentina’s weird default. Matt O'Brien.
People analytics: "Moneyball" for human resources. Steven Pearlstein.
Congress just kicked the gas tax debate to the worst possible time. Emily Badger.
Florida legislators have two weeks to redraw the state’s gerrymandered districts. Here’s how that might play out. Christopher Ingraham.
Name That Data! Christopher Ingraham.
Sometimes, life is like a box of cacao products. Max Ehrenfreund.
The men and women behind "the most amazing economics site in the world." Todd C. Frankel.
Economy adds 209,000 jobs in July; unemployment rate edges up to 6.2 percent. Ylan Q. Mui.
More and more Americans are living with the ‘double burden’ of concentrated poverty. Emily Badger.
Suddenly, Obamacare is more unpopular than ever. Jason Millman.
What do the Russia sanctions mean for Exxon's close friendship with Russia in the Arctic? Marina Koren in National Journal.
Legislatures taking state education into their own hands. Lyndsey Layton in The Washington Post.
Gay-rights groups dispute federal survey’s estimate of population. Sandhya Somashekhar in The Washington Post.
Holder: No "Moneyball" in sentencing. Josh Gerstein in Politico.
Kansas, Arizona require proof of citizenship in voting. Mark Peters in The Wall Street Journal.
Interview: President Obama. The Economist.
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