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Office of Research Issue Focus Foreign Media Reaction

December 12, 2002

December 12, 2002




**  Media assert that the cabinet shakeup came "in view of the 2004 electoral deadline." 

**  Many criticize President Bush for letting "political priorities" dictate economic policy. 

**  Leftists see the "current, alarming weakness" of the U.S. economy prompting the switch

**  The new economic team is perceived as favoring a weaker dollar.




Shakeup reflects Bush's 'desire to position himself to win the 2004 elections'--  Observers mostly agreed that "for Bush, the issue is his re-election in two years."  Several business-oriented dailies predicted Bush soon "will be dedicating his heart and soul to domestic issues."  France's right-of-center Le Journal Du Dimanche agreed that regardless of any "battle waged against Baghdad, the economy will remain the key issue in the 2004 election."  Several analysts described the new economic team's main goal as building "support for tax cuts." However, Germany's business-oriented Financial Times Deutschland warned against "a strategy that makes tax reductions the panacea for all problems."   


Several accused the White House of playing politics with economic issues--  Liberal papers blasted a "White House dominated by right-wing conservatism" for lacking "a coherent policy and message."  Even Germany's center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine cautioned that "only a sound economic and finance policy will get the support it deserves."  Some observers highlighted the "credibility gap and economic policies," with Singapore's pro-government Straits Times saying Bush appears to "lack the same commitment to advance the economic agenda that he demonstrated in winning the war on terrorism." 


The 'sorry plight of the economy' explains why Bush appointed the new team-- Several leftist dailies cited the changes as proof that "Bush's economic policy...has not worked as its designers expected."  Even Italy's business-oriented Il Sole 24 Ore claimed that the U.S.' "economic convalescence calls for new medicines."  India's right-of-center Tarun Bharat, meanwhile, highlighted the "political earthquake" Bush set off "by sacking two leaders of his economic team at a time when the cloud over the American economy is yet to lift."


Snow will 'help the real, exporting side' of the economy through a weaker dollar--  Many dailies agreed with Argentina's Ambito Financiero that Treasury Secretary-designate John Snow "will allegedly favor a weaker dollar to boost exports."  Britain's independent Financial Times stated that Bush picked Snow because he is "more disposed towards currency weakness" to help U.S. manufacturers.  Japan's business-oriented Nihon Keizai was less certain, predicting the U.S. "will remain cautious about intervening in the currency market." 


EDITOR:  Ben Goldberg

EDITOR'S NOTE:  This analysis is based on 29 reports from 14 countries over 7 - 11 December.  Editorial excerpts from each country are listed from the most recent date.




BRITAIN:  “Their Master’s Voice”


An editorial in the conservative Times stated (12/11):  "[The recent appointments] provide Bush with an opportunity.  Much has been made of the failings of the unpredictable O’Neill, especially and Lindsey....  The White House should not, however, conclude that its economic difficulties lie mainly in imperfect presentation.  The Administration has often offered the impression that it is unsure as to where the the economy is heading and what to do about it....  Clarity is essential....  Without a firm steer from the White House, the message will be distorted by the range of voices that, in effect, compete to articulate it....  The only way in which [Snow] will be an effective advocate is if he is a trusted advisor....  It is important that the Treasury Secretary is respected by business and understood by voters. The appointments were obviously made with the 2004 elections in mind, but they will surely be put to the economic test over the coming year”


“No Way To Run A Railroad”


An editorial in the independent Financial Times observed (12/10):  "At first glance, it looks as though Bush has decided that Paul O’Neill’s tenure as Treasury secretary was such a success that he should be replaced with a clone. John Snow, his new chief economic policymaker is - like his predecessor - a surprise choice....  Just as they were two years ago, then, those who believe the Treasury should be run by someone with serious experience of financial markets, academic economics or government will be disappointed....  Bush evidently favours the industrial interest when it comes to his top Treasury official.  That used to mean that currency policy...would tend to be more disposed towards currency weakness to help the real, exporting side of the domestic economy.  And it seem safe to assume that Mr Snow will prove a more disciplined performer all round.  Mr Snow, then, should bring some much-needed savvy to the Bush administration. That will be complemented by Friedman who looks set to be named this week as the new head of the White House’s national economic council to replace Lindsey....  The real problem with O’Neill and Lindsey was that they worked in an administration in which economic policy was dictated at every level by political priorities...they were routinely overruled by political masters....  If it really wanted to restore its battered credibility with investors, consumers and the wider world, the Bush administration would have had the chance with last week’s sackings. It could have demonstrated that the message was changing with the messenger. There is not much in yesterday’s developments to inspire confidence that the serious errors of the past two years are going to be reversed”.


“Dangerous Departure”


The liberal Guardian editorialized (12/9):  "The US treasury secretary is rarely the dominating figure in American government and politics that the exchequer invariably is in this country. So the sacking of a treasury secretary does not have anything approaching the resonance in the US that the sacking of a chancellor would have here. But that is no excuse for the almost casual lack of critical awareness with which Bush’s sacking of O’Neill has been greeted on both sides of the Atlantic....  The reason why O’Neill has been given the boot is because, in his odd, obtuse and folksy way, he stood for - or countenanced the possibility of - policies and issues which are anathema to a White House dominated by rightwing conservatism....  O’Neill may not have been a very effective treasury secretary, but he was often right.  [He has] gone because [his] care and caution about policy no longer fitted the militant political priorities of the White House.  Karl Rove....requires an economic team who will never indulge in the kind of policy caution that might alienate Republican donors and core voters. That is why the dismissal of O’ an immensely dangerous act....  It opens the way for Bush to appoint a more politicized and economically doctrinaire successor. That is something that neither the US nor the rest of the world can afford to view with indifference”.


FRANCE:  “A New Team For The Elections”


Pascal Riche wrote in left-of-center Liberation (12/10):  “President Bush’s two choices may surprise a few. His decision to replace his economic team of experts stems from his desire to position himself to win the 2004 elections. One would have thought that the profiles of the new team members would reflect this goal....  President Bush has designated two men whose political experience is rather on the light side....  Bush’s choice of Stephen Friedman, like that of John Snow, answers the following requirement: changing communication techniques without changing policies. But Friedman’s role will also be to find favor with Wall Street. For electoral purposes, bringing down unemployment is a priority, but if the Dow Jones went up a few points it would also please President Bush.”


“Bush And The Economy, Stupid!”


Gilles Delafon noted in right-of-center Le Journal du Dimanche (12/8):  “Today the American economy is not doing well and war with Baghdad is threatening. History is repeating itself. If there is one lesson Bush Junior learned, it is the reasons for his father’s defeat. Hence his decision to fire his economic team....  Its failure is obvious....  The President’s talent resides in his ability to hide the poor results of the U.S. economy behind his fervent finger pointing at the threat of a terrorist war that could destroy the world. But this is a one-time opportunity. Whatever the outcome of the battle waged against Baghdad, the economy will remain the key issue in the 2004 election. This time Bush will not be able to hide behind terrorist threats. By firing his economic experts Bush is pointing to his new priority and starting up the 2004 presidential campaign.”


GERMANY: “A Quick Choice”


Center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (12/10) opined:  “George W. Bush did not take too much time to choose a new treasury secretary and a new economic advisor, but it would be wrong to conclude that the decision was made with great haste.  John Snow and Stephen Friedman will quickly prove that they are able to meet the president’s ambitious expectations.  The two are faced not only with the difficult task of formulating the guidelines of the economic and finance policies, but they must also improve the rating of the government in these fields.  For Bush, the issue is his re-election in two years.  The economic package that is being wrapped up in the coming two weeks, offers the first opportunity....  But irrespective of the controversy over whether companies or consumers should be the beneficiaries, the new treasury secretary should not lose sight of expenses....  It would be a great service for the reputation of U.S. finance policy if it succeeded in reining in the spending pleasure of government and Congress.  If it fails, the mountain of debts will increase, and this could foil the good effects of a tax reduction.”


“Election Campaign Offensive”


Business-oriented Financial Times Deutschland of Hamburg noted (12/10):  “George W. Bush has changed his economic team after finishing half of his term....  Coordination in the government can now only improve, but Bush’s economic strategy remains unchanged:  tax reductions are to guarantee his re-election....  Much speaks in favor of it that election tactics were the reason for the change...but a strategy that makes tax reductions the panacea for all problems, also harbors great dangers. Such tax reductions can back the U.S. economy if they are limited to a certain period of time, quickly take effect, and stimulate consumption, but there is the great danger that economic policy and ideologically motivated reasons will be mixed up for the election campaign....  An extension of a tax-reducing package beyond 2010 would create a considerable risk for the United States.  The federal budget is in the red already and in the coming year, millions of baby boomers will retire and create red figures for the state-run pension system.  At the same time, defense spending will increase.  New tax reductions could result in George W. Bush’s victory - but be very detrimental to the United States.”




Center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine declared (12/9):  “George W. Bush has separated from his treasury secretary and his closest economic advisor...because the president has got bad ratings from the Americans for his economic policy. If this does not change, his re-election will be in jeopardy....  The gap between the president and his treasury secretary was obvious.  O’Neill not only raised doubts about punitive tariffs on steel products, but he also questioned the plan to give the economy a new momentum by further lowering taxes....  In his search for new ‘ambassadors’ of his economic policy, the president should not forget that only a sound economic and finance policy will get the support it deserves.”


ITALY:  “Snow Replaces O’Neill At The U.S. Treasury”


New York correspondent Maurizio Molinari reported in centrist, influential La Stampa (12/10):  “ We have to beat unemployment and stimulate economic growth. This was John Snow’s commitment when he accepted the nomination to become President Bush’s Treasury Secretary....  Most observers maintain that Stephen Friedman will be appointed as the new head of the Economic advisors....  Snow’s nomination announces a fierce battle among the opposition. ‘O’Neill and Lindsey were fired because Bush’s policy is not going well,’ former Vice President Gore said....  Wall Street analysts are convinced that Snow will cause the dollar to slip further down.”


“The Game Is At The Center”


Mario Platero opines in leading business-oriented Il Sole 24 Ore (12/10):  “George W. Bush preferred pragmatism to ideology. By appointing John Snow as the new Treasury Secretary, he sent two important messages. The first is that the economic convalescence calls for new medicines...and the second is that with these nominations - that most Republicans did not like too much - the President moves to the center and in 2003 he will be dedicating his heart and soul to domestic issues in view of the 2004 electoral deadline....  With the nomination of Snow and with the expected nomination of Stephen Friedman as chief of the Economic advisors, Bush disappointed the ‘pure’ Republicans, but he shifted towards the center. He knows the Democrats are waiting for him. Al Gore has decided to run in the 2004 Presidential elections and said very clearly: The problem is not the economy, ‘but the problem is the economic policy decisions.’...  Yesterday the battle began. Again, in the name of the center and of the economy.”


“United States, Bush’s Therapy To Revive The Economy”


A report from Washington in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica stated (12/9):  “George W. Bush will announce today the new team with which he aims to revive the U.S. economy....  Very busy over the last year on the front of terrorism and war, the President has decided to resume the leadership of economic policy, under the pressure of new signs of crisis....  The new White House economic adviser could be Stephen Friedman, former President of the Goldman Sachs....  The reshuffling in the White House economic team - Bush’s first after almost two years in office - was made also in view of the 2004 elections.  Bush wants to avoid arriving at the expiration of his mandate with a slow-motion economy, as was the case for his father, who, notwithstanding the victory in the 1991 Gulf War, was not re-elected.”


“Re-election Is The Stake”


Paolo Guerrieri commented in Rome-based centrist Il Messaggero (12/9):  “Even though they had been expected for some months, the ‘dismissals’ of O’Neill and Lindsey represent the official admission by the Bush Administration of the current, alarming weakness of the U.S. economy and the need for a true political shake-up to try to revive it.  A confirmation of that comes from U.S. economic data over the last few days, showing a significant increase of the unemployment rate....  The stakes are very high, i.e., the revival of the U.S. economy and, most of all, Bush’s re-election in 2004.  The President is fully aware of the fact that, without a fresh, solid expansion, his chances of being re-elected will be very slim indeed, independently from the outcome of the war against Iraq.”


RUSSIA:  "Bush Capable Of Radical Moves"


Yevgeniy Bai said in reformist Izvestiya (12/9):  "Paul O'Neill cuts a particularly poor figure against the last two of Clinton's treasury secretaries, Robert Rubin and Larry Sommers.   Rubin, who came from Wall Street, was called America's financial genius....  New people on the Bush team may not offer new ideas, according to experts.   President Bush knows from his dad's experience that, with the economy struggling, you may win a war and lose elections all at once.  By replacing a secretary and an advisor, Bush has shown himself to be capable of radical moves on personnel."


"O'Neill Unaware of Bush's Stand"


Reformist Izvestiya pointed out (12/7):  "Sometimes it seemed like O'Neill was out of touch with the president, unaware of where he stood on the economy and finances....  Hung up as Bush is on a war against Iraq, he can't but realize that the sorry plight of the economy may blow his chances in the 2004 election."


BELGIUM:  “Unlike My Father”


Marc Lambrechts noted in financial L’Echo (12/10):  “It is always particularly unpleasant to be designated ‘the weakest link’ of a team. This is what just happened to Paul O’Neil, the U.S. Treasury Secretary, and to Lawrence Lindsey, the President’s chief economic advisor. The timing of their resignation last Friday coincided with the release of very bad statistics on unemployment, with the unemployment rate up to 6 percent, the highest since last April. This double resignation also took place during the period of the ‘Christmas sales,’ which will be a test to see American consumers’ level of confidence.  The message of George Bush Junior is clear: it is out of the question for him to stumble over the economy, as his father did about ten years ago. In spite of his victory in the Gulf War and probably too concerned by geopolitical factors, Bush Senior lost because of his economic balance sheet and because of his inability to take appropriate measures to come out of the economic crisis....  Contrary to Bush Junior, Clinton cleverly managed to set up a kind of economic and financial ‘dream team,’ with Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers as figureheads. The latter were very good communicators and experts in convincing economic and financial circles that the United States were in good hands.  In comparison, O’Neill’s balance sheet is particularly weak. History will remember him for his numerous blunders and for talks on the debt of poor countries with the singer Bono. That is quite meager for a U.S. Treasury Secretary.”


FINLAND:  "The Iraqi Crisis Overshadows Economic Revitalization Efforts Everywhere"


Finland's leading independent Helsingin Sanomat editorialized (12/10):  "The sacking of the highest U.S. finance policy leaders is not expected to result in major changes  in the Bush Administration's policies.  Rather, it is an indication of displeasure in the way Paul O'Neill and his Treasury Department have handled the country's finance policy and international economic relations.  The credibility gap the between the security and economic policies of the world's only superpower has grown into intolerable dimensions.  Developments in Iraq will be decisive for the economy.  The U.S. appears to be preparing for war.  The method with which the crisis will be settled will tell whether the current period of slow economic growth will be long or short-lived."


SPAIN:  "Bush Changes His Team"


Left-of-center El País wrote (12/10):  "Bush, undoubtedly influenced by the economic situation that lead to his father's defeat by Clinton, has forced this change to inspire confidence and strengthen the possibilities of winning the presidential election in 2004, and avoiding in this way the risk of recession....  The change reflects a certain recognition that Bush' s economic policy, which has gone from a budget surplus to an equivalent deficit, has not worked as its designers expected."


"A Team In Order Not To Lose The Election"


Business-oriented Expansión wrote (12/10):  "What Bush wants is for them [Snow and Friedman] to make his plan of fiscal cutbacks -the basic pillar of his program- successful and, above all, to adequately manage the economic recovery, so that in November 2004, when the presidential election takes place, he will not have to answer for a difficult situation, as happened to his father."


"Change At Treasury"


Business-oriented Cinco Días  wrote (12/10):  "Snow's success or failure will be measured, above all, by his leadership capabilities and the confidence he will manage to inspire in consumers and investors.  If he succeeds in closing the open rift between the Treasury and the White House regarding the principles of economic policy, it will be a good start.  Everything indicates that this has been one of the deciding points that favored the choice of Snow by Bush."




JAPAN:  "Bush Moves To Boost Economic Performance"


Business-oriented Nihon Keizai editorialized (12/10):  "U.S. President George W. Bush has gambled on enhancing his administration's policy-making by shaking up its economic team....  The sackings apparently reflect Bush's concern that their poor performances as policymakers could diminish his chance of reelection.   While the cabinet shake-up is not expected to change U.S. economic policy in any significant way, the new economic team faces the task of boosting flagging public confidence in the administration's ability to manage the economy....  There is some concern about the possible effects on the currency market of stepped-up efforts to rev up the U.S. economy.   If Bush feels the need to throw a bone to industry, which is worrying about the dollar's strength, to secure its vote, he will try to push down the greenback, according to some analysts.   On the other hand, the administration may keep the strong dollar policy if it pays closer attention to the views of Wall Street, which puts more weight on confidence in the currency, they say.  A majority of money pros, however, believe that the administration will remain cautious about intervening in the currency market, barring a dramatic change in the economic situation.


SINGAPORE:  "Will Snow Be An Economic Rumsfeld?"


Leon Hadar wrote in the pro-government Straits Times (12/10):  "U.S. President George W. Bush is hoping that his newly-appointed Treasury Secretary John Snow, the former chief executive officer of railway-holding company CSX Corporation, will provide his economic policy with the same kind of star quality and sense of drive that Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has brought to national security.  In fact, the drop in the Dow Jones on Monday, while probably a reaction to the markets' concern over United Airlines bankruptcy, may have reflected the disappointment in Wall Street that President Bush seemed to have selected 'another O'Neill' as Treasury Secretary - that is, someone with no ties to the financial industry....  The failure to respond effectively to the concerns of American and foreign investors was one of the criticism that was directed against Mr O'Neill.  At the same time, there were also worries in Wall Street that he was not as committed as treasury officials in the Clinton administration to maintaining a strong US dollar, which helps attracts foreign investment into the US.  Critics would argue that when it comes to economic policy, the Bush administration's lacks a coherent policy and message, and the US President seems also to lack the same commitment to advance the economic agenda that he demonstrated in winning the war on terrorism.  Even a great spokesman cannot deliver a blurred message. A great CEO must make sure that the president of the company is backing him."


INDIA:  "Political Earthquake In The U.S."


The Mumbai edition of right-of-center Marathi-language Tarun Bharat stated (12/10):  "U.S. President George Bush has set off a political earthquake by sacking two leaders of his economic team at a time when the cloud over the American economy is yet to lift. ... O'Neill is known for his brutal frankness ...  Lindsey, despite his Harvard background, has not proved to be politically agile enough.  Both O'Neill and Lindsey looked unimpressive on television ... O'Neill had predicted post 9/11 that the American stock market would revive in two months and that the American dollar would strengthen ... For his part, Lindsey got President Bush into trouble by estimating the probable cost of any military action against Iraq at Dols. 200 billion ... O'Neill and Lindsey failed to energize the sluggish American economy.  The tax cuts made during their tenure benefited only the rich ... As a result, the economy continued to slide.  Today, the U.S. economy is showing some faint signs of recovery.  However, the Bush administration has failed to give impetus to this trend ... If the U.S. goes to war with Iraq, it will further add to the budget deficit.  Even if the U.S. wins the war, the economic burden imposed by the war would be too heavy for the American economy to bear ... The world economy is inexplicably linked to the U.S. economy.  This is especially true for India as the U.S. is its number one trading partner.  A strong American economy would be good for India's economic health.  India therefore needs to keep close tabs on what is happening with the U.S. economy.  Unfortunately, politicians in India lack vision to realize this.  They are too busy playing party-politics with each other to care about the economic issues that really matter.  The Indian media too plays up politicians' inane cacophony and plays down the economic issues."




ARGENTINA:  "Another Industry Man Succeeds O'Neill"


Business-financial Ambito Financiero said (12/10):  "Snow, a millionaire rail operator, is in favor of implementing the tax cuts O'Neill refused to do, and, according to Wall Street analysts, he will allegedly favor a weaker dollar to boost exports. During his presentation speech at the White House, in a ceremony without O'Neill's presence, Bush emphasized the integrity of his new official, who - for a long time -- has been calling for a more ethical behavior by major companies. Although more prudent in his declarations than his predecessor, people believe that there won’t be too many changes in O'Neill's aid policy to countries."


"In Search Of The Lost Engine"


Leftist Pagina 12 opined (12/10):  "It doesn't seem like Snow's nomination will change the economic policy of the Bush administration in a perceptible manner. In fact, very few people in the USG believe that the present situation is alarming and demands a 180-degree turn. In fact, one of the issues for which O'Neill was mostly criticized were not his outspoken remarks to everyone nor his lack of a clear economic project, but rather the fact that he was unable to communicate in Congress and to the public opinion the positive aspects of the administration's economic program. It's precisely in the way he communicates with Congress and certain sectors of the public opinion where Snow will make a difference with O'Neill. Anyway, there are speculations that the changes in the USG may imply a variation on the 'strong dollar policy' that Bush has pushed forward until now. This change may eventually stimulate economic growth."


"No Changes Expected For The Region"


Nestor Restivo, Clarin's economic columnist, wrote (12/7):  "Washington is obsessed with battles and missiles, and Bush's words regarding a rapprochement with Latin America appear too distant....  Considering the names of O'Neill's possible successors... we mustn't expect changes in the U.S's 'lack of attention' for its back yard. The name with more chances - Glenn Hubbard, Bush's chief advisor - is well know for his prestige at the University of Columbia, but not for his fluency in 'emerging markets', particularly Latin American ones.  Otto Reich -- whose knowledge of Latin America ends in Maracaibo - moved to the position of special envoy for the Americas, but nobody knows whether he will be able to exercise influence, so there are more question marks on the new U.S. Treasury Secretary, who will concentrate on domestic priorities.  Will Argentina have a door to knock on in search of an agreement with the IMF - where the U.S. is decisive - with this administration or the next? Although President Duhalde said yesterday that the replacement 'may have some importance,' with the Republicans in office, Wall Street told Clarin that 'bail out operations are no longer possible, except for a strategic country, which isn't Argentina.'....  World Bank chief Sebastian Edwards believes in 'big changes regarding the little attention to the region, but someone who understands global finance should know that the world market is integrated and that crises like Argentina's have a spill-over effect."


BRAZIL:  "Chance To Change"


The lead editorial in liberal Folha de S. Paulo asserted (12/10):  "With the nomination of businessman John Snow as the new U.S. Treasury Secretary, President George W. Bush is rearranging his economic team....  The change is an excellent opportunity to reconsider the policies so far adopted....  The new team should foster a reform in corporate management and in the accounting and auditing industries to strengthen the stock and financial markets. It should also encourage a reform of the world's financial system and the IMF, and involve the U.S. in assisting economic and social development in low-income nations.  Without prosperity in both the U.S. and the world economy, the Bush administration also runs the risk of collapsing."


"After O'Neill"


Liberal Folha de S. Paulo editorialized (12/7):  "Will the [issue of the] economy make a second Republican presidential term impossible?  The news of O'Neill's and Lindsey's dismissals coincided with another report: in November, the U.S. unemployment rate reached its highest level in nine years: 6 percent. There is a curious similarity in both falls from power: O'Neill and Lindsey had made public statements that Bush's political core considered inopportune....  O'Neill represented ultra-radical Republican economic thought, which opposed IMF foreign aid mega-packages....  O'Neill's exit seems to represent Bush's attempt to change the image of his economic team, which has included representatives of major corporations that have been shaken by billion-dollar accounting fraud....  Maybe Bush is trying to avoid suffering his father's melancholic fate: George Bush waged a war against Iraq, but lost the internal economic battle."


MEXICO:  "Snow's Challenges"


The editorial in business-oriented El Financiero read (12/10):  "New U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow faces two major challenges: to inject confidence in the financial markets and to get U.S. Congress support for tax cuts.  The first objective is a must in order to bring to an end terrorist stock market practices of fraudulent accounting by multinational companies.  The second goal is a must for President Bush's re-election....  For the time being, Snow's appointment will be enough reason to prevent FED chairman Greenspan from changing the interest rates."




Manuel J. Jauregui wrote in independent Reforma (12/9):  "O’Neill’s abrasive personality and unwillingness to listen to criticism alienated him completely from the Republican wing, which made him ineffective and turned him into a target of massive criticism from the international finance sector.  It is worthwhile to point out President Bush’s ease and calmness upon making necessary changes in his team.  He didn’t care at all if the decision was popular or unpopular, or if this action harmed his personal image or that of Republicans.  They weren’t up to the challenge and Bush removed them - simple as that.  It points out that on principle, President Fox is one of those types of politicians who believes that removing ineffective officials is a sign of weakness."



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