November 21, 2018

Academic Left more populist than media Left: Immigration edition

A decent article by Angela Nagle on the Left case against open borders has sadly but predictably infuriated many on the Left, from generic liberals to revolutionary socialists, who value internationalism over all else. And in practice, internationalism of sentiment rather than action -- emoting one's values in order to compete against other Leftists over whose moral empathy circle has the greatest radius, as they see it. ("I empathize with anything that casts a shadow.")

As a normie would see it: whose finite amount of empathetic energy is the most diluted across individuals and groups, the most abstract due to the utter unfamiliarity of the targets, and therefore the most unlikely to push them into concrete action on behalf of the recipients of their airy-fairy, one-part-per-billion empathy.

The factual and historical debate is boring, since the pattern is robust in supporting "closed borders for populism," in accordance with the fundamental relationship between price and supply (here, of labor). I'll weigh in on that in an appendix at the end of this post, but the main thing that bears investigation is who on the Left is sympathetic to the closed-borders view? That will help to clarify the nature of the problem and how to solve it.

It is not ideology that makes some Leftists lean toward reducing immigration in order to improve the lot of the working class. Lib, prog, rev -- just about all have their open-borders and their closed-borders flavors. Ideology is mostly a post-hoc rationalization anyways, rather than a first set of principles that lead people inexorably toward certain conclusions. A rationalization can "support" one policy as well as its polar opposite (i.e., make the proponents feel good, by reducing cognitive dissonance).

It's not a split in basic demographics either -- black as well as white activists call for closing the borders, men as well as women, under-40 as well as over-40, and so on and so forth.

The major factor that I noticed while clicking around on a bunch of the Twitter reactions to the Nagle article, was whether the Leftist was supported more by a gig in academia or in the media / entertainment sector. Academic Leftists were far more represented among those saying we need to at least take a cold hard look at how mass immigration affects working-class living standards, organizing prospects, socialist prospects, etc. Among those going further, to say we already know a globalized labor supply is bad for labor, they were virtually all connected to academia.

Those who simply freaked out and decried the article, whether they bothered reading it or not, were far more likely to be from the media / entertainment sector. That includes those with actual paying gigs, as well as those whose "job" is to just react on social media all day long, as a kind of unpaid grunt in the Left propaganda micro-industry.

It's tempting to chalk these differences up to personality -- academia attracting those with a more rational mind, while propagandists ("writers") compete over who can shout the loudest in order to get heard, and entertainers compete over who can please their crowd the most emotionally.

But I think it has more to do with the conditions of their work that make them more likely or less likely to take a more dispassionate look at things, and to make appeals to a broader audience.

In the media and entertainment sector, the audience comes first, and the customer is always right. The writers and performers must either tell them what they want to hear, and make them feel what they want to feel, or the crowd will simply take their attention and/or business elsewhere. Especially in this digital era with its micro-mini-genres and sub-sub-sub-cultures, this selects for the most kneejerk reactions from "content producers". If you've taken even a second to think about it, the audience has already moved onto someplace else -- or already begun to question your true commitments to the purity of the cause.

In academia, it's the other way around: the students have to show up whether they like what they're going to hear or not. That does select for lecturers who ramble on dryly and tediously, since the captive audience has nowhere else to run to. But they are at least trying to get a point across to a general audience, and one that has little pre-existing motivation to believe what they're being told. They need convincing, or they're just going to tune the lecturer out. And that does sting to the teachers, few of whom are imperious drones, and most of whom are sensitive to the palpable loss of attention or outright rejection in real time from their audience.

"Ivory tower" refers to the cloistered nature of the social relations among the academics themselves, not to their interactions with their everyday audience in the lecture halls, who are far more neutral or hostile toward the speaker.

As a conjecture, I'd expect amateur stand-up comics to cluster with the academics, both of whom could easily bomb in front of an audience that is not already devoted to resonating with the performance, unlike the writers and crowd-pleasers who serve a predetermined niche.

Then there is the actual organizing that goes on in either of the two workplace sites -- a fair amount on campuses, and virtually none in a TV studio, digital content cubicle farm, or tech startup playroom. And there are people on campus who get paid to figure things out, as opposed to the media / entertainment sector where people are paid to gate-keep information or emotionally please a crowd. The knowledge and practice that academics get just through osmosis is going to be of a higher quality.

There's also the conformity pressures coming from either workplace. It's very difficult to get kicked out of academia for one's views, or even organizing actions, since there is a higher degree of collective bargaining and a less-than-all-powerful adversary in the administration building. It's trivial for some media boss to fire someone, since the entire sector is dominated by five mega-corporations. And in a workplace more connected to concentrated wealth and power, you're more likely to be surrounded by people with neoliberal views and goals, and to be more influenced by those social pressures.

"The campus Left" has come to refer to the SJW airheads who do indeed take up most of the oxygen on campuses these days, but as the Millennials and Gen Z-ers grow more anxious about their student loan debt than what pronouns to use referring to trannies, they're going to go more in the Bernie direction. The main task, then, is to make sure they have concrete activities they can plug into, and these will be more favorable toward restricting immigration, compared to languishing in the extremely-online echo chamber.

Having to lead a teach-in, canvass for signatures, or engage pedestrians in conversation -- these activities could not be further from an auto-piloting echo chamber. They will quickly discover that "open borders" does not sell, and that kneejerk shaming tactics always fail -- because they are not part of your social circle, and don't care what you think about them. If they want their organization's membership to explode from tens of thousands to tens of millions, they're going to have to approach immigration with the "Left case against open borders". The media-origin Leftists will harden more and more into merely preaching to the congregation, driving a positive feedback loop of clicks, likes, views, and downloads from fellow travelers.

Here are just a few selections from the academic Left, beginning with a somewhat old article on the dynamics of inequality by Peter Turchin (a Bernie supporter), one of the few academics worth following on a regular basis:

Unless other forces intervene, an overabundance of labour will tend to drive down its price, which naturally means that workers and their families have less to live on. One of the most important forces affecting the labour supply in the US has been immigration, and it turns out that immigration, as measured by the proportion of the population who were born abroad, has changed in a cyclical manner just like inequality. In fact, the periods of high immigration coincided with the periods of stagnating wages. The Great Compression, meanwhile, unfolded under a low-immigration regime.

Elsewhere he details other dynamics that affect the supply of labor, such as baby booms -- cursing our economies with the hyper-competitive Boomers -- as well as migration from non-urban to urban centers, swelling local labor markets. But immigration is a no-brainer when it comes to identifying causes of an increasing labor supply -- and on a practical level, the easiest one to change.

The two hosts of the Dead Pundits Society podcast, which is libertarian socialist, or anarchosyndicalist, but open to interacting with all sorts of others:

Some random grad student in their Twitter orbit:

That's where my political views and activities began in the early 2000s, and they haven't changed that much since. The only major difference is that I was open to amnesty for illegals already here (not increased immigration, though), whereas now I'd rather they go back for the benefit of their own country and ours.

Unlike the extremely online media junkies, I actually led discussions at teach-ins, where at least some new folks got clued in to anti-globalist economics or what our military is up to in the Middle East. In everyday conversation with the janitor at my dorm, I managed to sneak him a copy of Chomsky's book on US-Israel relations to counter-act whatever he'd seen the night before on the news -- and he came back the next week saying he had no idea Israel had been treating the Palestinians so badly, and upset that we were supporting them in it.

I got on a 19-hour van ride down to the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, GA -- twice -- to protest our support for the paramilitary death squads in Latin America. Got on a bus up to Quebec City to protest the Free Trade Area of the Americas -- the would-be NAFTA for the entire Western hemisphere. Walked a few picket lines in solidarity, although none under active scab assault. There were millions of us protesting the Iraq War before it even started, and I got in even earlier, before September 11th, when it was only the sanctions against Iraq (killing hundreds of thousands for no reason).

Some of these things had bigger pay-offs than others, but at least it was something. And it's not just that it was before social media -- there were any number of online forums, newsgroups, email chains, etc., that I could have wasted my time on. Not to mention passively plugging into the Daily Show, Keith Olbermann, or some other media content delivery vehicle. I never watched any of that garbage -- not even occasionally as a guilty pleasure. It's tasteless as well as pointless.

At the time I saw my future more in the academic than media direction, so that distinction showed up and had its effects early on.

Let's wrap things up with a concrete prediction: if the gang at Chapo Trap House tackle this topic, I'll bet the academics Matt and Amber will have a better take, factually and strategically, compared to the mediaites Will and Virgil (who's already snarkily rejected the topic). I have no intuition about how Felix's Twitch-streaming gamer audience shapes his politics -- is that more of giving the crowd what they want, or having to win over an initially neutral/hostile audience?

Final props to Michael Tracey, one of the few Leftists from a media background who is sympathetic to restricting immigration on class grounds:


The laissez-faire immigration of the Ellis Island era brought us Gilded Age inequality, then during the Progressive Era immigration peaked and inequality began narrowing starting in the 1910s, continuing throughout the New Deal era before inverting during the neoliberal era, with thrown-open borders and widening inequality.

Standards of living for the bottom have stagnated and declined, while they have shot up for those at the top, as the elites have been better able to extract obscene concessions from the working class, now that it is effectively a global meta-population of low-skilled workers forced to compete against one another.

And wages are only the tip of the iceberg -- good Leftists ought to be concerned with wages only as part of the broader picture of the standard of living, dignity, and workplace democracy. When an American worker is forced to compete against 50 million new immigrants, they not only see stagnating or falling wages, they can kiss dignified working conditions good-bye. Some desperate peasant from Honduras is willing to not only work for $2 an hour, but to do so for 12 hours every day, without bathroom breaks, subject to last-minute schedule-shuffling, unpaid overtime, and so on and so forth. Forget raising any objections to the boss, let alone joining a union -- uppity immigrants get deported, leaving only the subservient ones.

It is striking to see a certain section of the Left stick to such a militant denial of basic class analysis of immigration policy. Which class do they think controls the government? On whose behalf do they think the ruling class directs government policy, such as immigration? On what basis do they hijack the government to serve their own interests -- material reasons such as cheap labor, or feel-good cultural reasons like Mexican food prepared by actual Mexicans?

Plainly, immigration policy must serve the material interests of the owners and managers, against those of the workers -- unless somehow the workers have organized and used collective bargaining power to get something from the government that is against the interests of big business. But since no collective of workers has ever used its precious little amount of collective power to open the floodgates of immigration, and only ever done the opposite, they're probably not doing it now either.

Supporting open borders is not just parroting a Koch Brothers talking point, akin to Leftists promoting vegetarianism when Hitler also promoted vegetarianism. That's just some quirky lifestyle thing. Flooding the nation with immigrants serves the objective material interests of the Koch Brothers and other oligarchs who control labor-intensive sectors of the economy, and undercuts the material interests of the working class. Being a vegetarian does not serve the material interests of Hitler and Nazis -- or undercut them, for that matter -- it's totally irrelevant. Open borders, though, is very relevant to whose material interests one is serving.

For the revolutionary among them, they have blocked out the history of actually-achieved socialism, which was "socialism in one country" -- albeit occurring independently in several countries -- rather than an internationally coordinated network of socialist polities or economies. It may make you feel warm and fuzzy to believe you possess a magic wand that will dissolve all of the forces which have made "socialism in one country" the only form that has ever actually been achieved, but it won't get you there.

As for practical solutions for how the Bernie Left can steal the immigration issue from the Trump / Tucker / Bannon Right, and realign the Democrats into the new dominant party, see these earlier posts:

First, raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour. Outlawing cheap labor will prevent most immigration, which is only approved by the elites for cheap-labor purposes. Those who are still brought in will not be undercutting living wages.

Second, price controls on housing for immigrants, making them dirt cheap. Outlawing slumlords from jacking up rents in response to soaring demand will help to prevent immigration, as realtors no longer lobby for open borders without rent-seeking to be had, while also ensuring that those immigrants who do make it in will not worsen the affordability of housing.

Third, make ICE or its replacement an enforcer against employers who violate these labor laws, not against the immigrants themselves. It will give a more humane face to the efforts to close the borders -- attacking greedy employers and slumlords, not the poor desperate immigrants whom they exploit -- and will be more cost-effective, indirectly sending home dozens of immigrants for every employer and slumlord who is deprived of their cheap labor and jacked-up rents.


  1. "In the media and entertainment sector, the audience comes first, and the customer is always right. The writers and performers must either tell them what they want to hear, and make them feel what they want to feel, or the crowd will simply take their attention and/or business elsewhere."

    I completely agree with this. I find the deplatforming phenomenon odd because of this, but my personal experience with someone who does this is that such a person is far, far out in the extreme for being controlling; this behavior is emotional, not rational. But I guess if they get no pushback from their "enemies", a kind of Stockholm Syndrome could occur for regular people.

    Anyway, I would think the audience for Open Borders uber alles would be rather small. Whose emotional needs are being met by such nonsense? I mean, who is this Sean guy who needs to be abolished, lol! Who is gravitating to, and/or relating to Sean-who-wants-to-abolish-ICE, lol!?

  2. The audience for open borders is huge, just see the reaction to Nagle's left-wing article, or Trump's right-wing 2016 campaign (not results from 2017 and after).

    Not normal people or working-class people, of course, but among just about all of the elite and aspiring-elite class, whether lib or con, open borders is sacrosanct.

    "Sean" is Sean McElwee, some dweeb on Twitter who is big enough to get interviewed by Chris Hayes on his podcast side-gig. He called not only for abolishing ICE, but deregulation of migration.

    Some of the "abolish ICE" people may simply be asking for a return to the INS, which was under the DoJ rather than DHS, and was less militarized. But it's clear a good chunk want to go further, to deregulate migration altogether.

    Deregulating labor markets? -- in *my* socialist movement? Welcome to the era of the radlib.

    Since they're so much more numerous and aligned with wealth and power, I expect open borders to continue / worsen under the Bernie realignment, and therefore inequality will get much worse under the Bernie era, despite the big game they will talk.

    Just like with the Lincoln era, which dethroned the Jacksonian slaveholder regime. It just replaced Southern plantation slaveholders with Northern industrialist robber barons, as the dominant coalition. That's where we are in historical cycles -- coming up to another Civil War, or polarized breakdown.

    That was great for the slaves, and I'm sure there will be some group under the Bernie era that catches a big break like that. But in the overall big picture, it wasn't that much better living under the Gilded Age than under the Jacksonian era. Especially regarding immigration -- the Northern industrialists imported orders of magnitude more cheap foreign labor to toil in their factories than the slaveholders did for their plantations. Good old Ellis Island.

    We are at least two full realignments away from anything getting better overall -- the McKinley realignment / Progressive Era, which superseded the Lincolnian Gilded Age.

    The one bright spot will be militarism. Imperialism basically stopped during the Lincoln era, with the Southern military elites dethroned, and the nation focused more on internal reconstruction. Hopefully the Bernie-crats can at least manage to shut down our zillions of military bases all over the world.

  3. "Socialism in one country" also applies to New Deal / social democracy societies, not just the communist ones.

    During the Midcentury, the developed nations did not have international supply chains, labor markets, or capital and currency flows. Each nation did its own thing, within its own borders.

    There were international agreements to mediate the relations between these de-globalized societies -- the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the Bretton Woods system of currency regulation, with immigration done largely at the national level (closed borders everywhere).

    But there was no international body that was above the nation-state or national economies, in the way that NAFTA / WTO / IMF / etc. have done during the neoliberal era.

    "But that system only holds up if every nation obeys the rules, and crumbles when one nation defects and begins to globalize, let alone if they all get the same idea at the same time."

    Yeah well, that's why history goes in cycles. People forget, individually and even institutionally, why it was such a disaster to have the globalized societies of the Gilded Age. They had only grown up during the de-globalized Great Compression, and took those outcomes for granted, rather than stemming from a certain structure that needed to be maintained, or else the outcomes would vanish.

    On the other hand, a global / international system "from below," or even on behalf of the low, has never happened -- and therefore, never will. Similar sentiments and actions occurring independently, acting sympathetically, OK. But not a polity that transcends the nation-state, or a labor union that organizes workers across large diverse nations.

    One nation at a time, for as long as it lasts -- that's the best that can be done.

  4. The New Deal history shows why it's impossible to have both rising immigration and stronger labor protections.

    Some Leftists think you could keep immigration as sky-high as it already is, even increasing it, so long as you counter-balance that by implementing tougher labor laws to keep the elites from exploiting this expanding supply of labor / demand for housing.

    But then why would the coalition that managed to wield enough power to get New Deal-style labor protections outside of immigration, want to dilute those gains by keeping the borders half-way or fully open?

    True, a balance would be better than their current loss -- but what's even better than a balance is a maximum. And they maximize their standard of living by toughening labor protections in areas outside of immigration, as well as restricting immigration -- which they see as just another form of protecting labor, not a competing or incoherent side goal.

    So the benefit is greater with tough labor laws and closed borders, than tough labor laws and open borders. What about the cost of achieving either outcome?

    The fully protectionist platform is cheaper and easier to achieve -- it's the most natural mindset and set of motivations for anyone who would join a major coalition. "We need to protect our people, especially those struggling to get by."

    The half-way protectionist platform that has open borders relies on a mindset or motivation about "globalization from below" or "helping out the global poor" etc. Very few people can resonate with that, let alone to such a degree that they'd put their lives on the line in order to achieve it. Getting enough on board, and committing enough blood sweat and tears to implement their policies, would be far more costly and difficult than the "protect our downtrodden" project.

    Nationally oriented populism delivers greater benefits at a lower cost -- it's no wonder that's was the only successful movement in every developed nation during the egalitarian Midcentury, and why it will be the way forward the next time around.

  5. Clintonian triangulation to appease GOP is open borders plus tougher labor laws -- not restricting immigration (of refugees, or whoever), a la Hillary's recent remarks on Europe.

    Contra the sentiment below that restricting immigration would be the old-guard Dem capitulation to the Reaganite GOP:

    It has been the neolib Reaganite GOP that has thrown open the borders and provided and sought massive amnesties since the regime began in the 1980s. And it is that same Reaganite GOP that has thwarted the would-be realigner Trump from getting anything done whatsoever on restricting immigration.

    New Deal Democrats oversaw a plummeting "share of population that's foreign-born".

    Open borders serves the material interests of labor-intensive economic sectors, which control the GOP. Closing the borders would win the GOP some more votes, but they care more about the material interests of elites in agriculture and small business, who get free profits from lowering the price of labor by importing cheap foreigners.

    With Dems stuck in a weak opposition role, their triangulation would be adhering to the basic framework of the Reaganites -- open borders to bring in cheap labor -- while trying to soften the blow, e.g. welfare to those domestic workers affected by immigration. Akin to trade-related adjustment handouts for workers in off-shored industries (the twin of importing cheap labor here -- sending the worksite over there to the cheap labor).

    The realigning Dems, to become dominant, would have to do something different than open borders, since that's already the Reaganite orthodoxy and praxis. It would have to be restricting immigration, along with strong labor laws, as part of a generalized protectionism for labor.

  6. Thanks for your reply. You sound like you know these people really well, Ag, but I'm Pauline Kael: I have only known one person who is for open borders, I flat-out do not understand them. The one I knew: oh boy, I'll never forget him, but I never got a chance to ask him about this. Ag, please put on your anthropology hat and explain these people to us. I find it very strange how they can profess so much empathy for the working class and "real people" and yet still in their hearts be so aspirational and concerned with others seeing them as popular, having status, etc. Hierarchical in their thinking still, but at least with the guy I knew, he did seem as if he genuinely admired (and even copied) "authenticity".

    1. Good friends of my oldest kids, they've been to our house, have a mother who is a Mexican strawberry field worker and for normal people, this is not remarkable... Serious question: what is the likelihood that the Open Borders people you talk of have people like this in their social circle? What I've seen on the internet I'd guess the answer is mostly no. I'm not sure if they actually wish they truly did and would value such associations or would such people just be "tokens" to be kept at arm's length after their social utility is exploited.

  7. "New Deal Democrats oversaw a plummeting "share of population that's foreign-born"."

    This strikes a chord w/something else: The GOP's pathetic inability to actually live up to their rhetoric. They haven't practically managed to:
    - reduce divorce rates and abortion rates, which have only declined insofar as people (Millennials and some Gen X-ers) opt to not irresponsibly get married, break-off marriages, and have unwanted pregnancies. They did so by choice, not because of GOP "family values" being enforced.

    - made the government smaller. If one considers the military a government agency (and who doesn't?), then the GOP has been abysmal at placing accountability on government. Carter and Clinton did far more to responsibly run our government than the post-1980 GOP has.

    -effectively reformed the government. The Reaganite generations (Silents and Boomers) can only make everything they touch more dysfunctional. They bitch that the government can't do anything right, but to quote P.J. O'Rourke, it is they themselves who see to it that government remains a mess.

    -maintained cultural stability. High immigration levels and a lack of accountability applied to the rich and powerful ensure that nothing is off-limits from the scourge of consumerist individualism and "free-agency". The seeking of excess wealth is inherently destructive to the the tradition and tranquility of communities.

  8. These people are somehow managing to get worse. Was reading reactions to Nagle going on Tucker tonight at Chapo Reddit and Michael Tracey's post about it....
    I wish I'd been content to just read you about them. This stuff isn't healthy. I got kind of the same vibe that I did during Kavanaugh, but less shrill, *more menacing*. During that fight, I strongly intuited that something very deep was at play. Everyone kept attributing it to abortion, but as deep as that is, it went beyond even that. So, I'm getting that same feeling again. It frightens me, frankly.

    Perhaps it's the different environments leading to this, and that's kind of tragic, getting locked into this bizarre feedback loop. I was just noticing today how much worse Twitter has gotten, across the spectrum, for people foresaking being informed and just wanting to pick exactly the movie/reality they want to see. Someone was kvetching about the millions thrown away on the Mueller probe, but I look at the baying, sadistic mob, and I feel, "No, this is *exactly* how a few million Americans want their taxes spent and they really want the whistleblowers and supporters executed, jailed, or tortured."

  9. Anna Khachiyan also not buying "open borders," "abolish prisons," etc. She's in the same orbit as Nagle, Frost, Terese, and other non-radlib feminists / socialists. (Woketard leftists got her booted from Twitter for saying "retard".)

    From a podcast on Ali O-C's primary win during the summer (5:30 to 8:10):

    Like the other secure-the-borders socialists, she's a former PhD student (not a mediaite) who had to interact with audiences not already inclined to resonate with her words and feelings.

    In fact, she agrees with me in identifying the "open borders" Left as coming especially from "the media class," and that only "researchers" at think tanks have put any actual thought into immigration policy, whether Left, socialist, or whatever.

  10. In this case, think of students as being the "customers" of a professor, who support his livelihood. A professor will adopt the same views as the students of the school he teaches at.

    Based on that, we can assume that professors who teach in nationalist regions of the country will be more nationalist in outlook.

  11. Just looked her up: wow! At first blush, we have nothing in common, it seems, but then I find her blog
    Post about narcissism? And that Open Marriage essay where she observes how so many proponents lack the charm of Astronaut Diaper Lady, lol! Great stuff.
    I can't help but notice that she's beautiful and her (mostly male?) detractors are not. I suspect that the modern media selects for a certain type and they cannot help but be drawn to ID politics. I thought of asking for a list of women worth reading, but that might cause them trouble, so no?

  12. She says she's a cultural conservative, and that it must be linked to political / economic progressivism, or socialism (16:00 to 20:00):

    She's ragging on cultural conservatives who promote hyper-competitive individualism in the economic / political arena, arguing that you need a strong welfare state to keep all the members of the tribe happy and belonging. With economic Darwinism, those bonds come apart, and there is no more tribalism (of the good or bad kind).

    I don't see how she's any different -- at the big-picture level -- from me, a big chunk of the old gang at 2Blowhards (she's also a Camille Paglia fan), the swing Trump voters, or the part of the Alt-Right that isn't nazi (don't know how big that fraction is anymore).

    The anti-competitive, anti-individualist angle also places her (and us) against the neolibs and frankly a large slice of the socialist Left, for whom socialism means the state providing enough goods and services to enable individuals to fully realize their own ambitions -- in an economic and social context that will, however, remain a hyper-competitive arms race and war of all against all.

  13. We want disarmament in the economic arms race, not everyone driving around in tanks that are loaded up with anti-tank missiles.

    One leads toward harmony and egalitarian outcomes, the other toward chaos and inequality -- the greater the stakes of a competition, the greater the wins and the greater the losses.

  14. Mark Blyth certainly fits this mold and is very good for boning up on the specifics of the global economic system since WWII and for perspective on just how much power elite interest groups wield (much like Chomsky but more into the technical financial details). He sometimes jumps over into SJW speak but he's very diligent about reminding folks that many of those hollowed out Rust Belt counties voted for Obama twice and then took a chance on old Trumpy. That factoid always sends the delusional into debilitating cog dis.


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