TBR News December 13, 2015

Dec 13 2015

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. December 13, 2015: “Much hype about the results of a climate change program. There will be an attempt to stop the use of fossile fules worldwide but what about the internal combustion engine? It uses fossile fules and there are billions of them in operation every day on highways and roads worldwide. Leaving important matters to politicians is like getting spastics to perform brain surgery. Weather patterns are changing everywhere. The interesting thing is that no  one knows exactly why. This ignorance does not prevent floods of “scientific information” most of which is pure propaganda, from reassuring the potentially restive populatins that indeed, “something is really happening.” What is really happening are often drastic weather pattern changes. Whether there are cause by fossile fuel, elk farts or magnetic rays from the planet Xenu is nothing but sound and fury, signifying nothing. People who live at higher altitudes like Canada or Sweden or along the costal plains, ought to move. They will not until most of them have either drowned or frozen to death.”

Climate change could leave Chesapeake Bay island uninhabitable in 50 years

Effects of sea level rise hit close to home for Americans as US army corps of engineers report finds that Tangier Island is crumbling into the sea

December 10, 2015

by Oliver Milman

The Guardian

You don’t have to travel to a balmy Pacific island to hear the anguish of people whose land and culture is under threat from climate change. In Virginia’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay, the idiosyncratic, and historic, community of Tangier Island is facing an uncertain future as the sea gnaws away at the land beneath them.

A bird’s eye view of the island, just three miles long and one mile wide, would once have taken in a hook-shaped piece of land jutting out from the middle of the bay. The shape is more a teardrop these days, with erosion occurring at a bewildering rate.

A new report by the US army corps of engineers, published in Scientific Reports, shows that just 33% of Tangier Island’s landmass in 1850 now remains. The main town of Tangier will be uninhabitable within 50 years if the current rate of sea level rise continues.

The western portion of the island is crumbling into the sea like a wet cake. Around 14ft a year is lost to the sea. The eastern half is being eaten away too, albeit at a slower rate. The creeks that twist their way throughout the island are set to swell and break up the island into fragments, engineers warn.

The islands are shrinking and unless corrective action is taken they will be lost,” said David Schulte, author of the report. “The whole island won’t be underwater but it will turn into marshland. Tangier is only 1.2m above sea level now so a moderately severe sea level rise will put them in extreme jeopardy of storms and flooding.

Even under a low sea level rise they will have about a century. So far they’ve been pretty lucky with storms. They were spared the brunt of Hurricane Sandy. I don’t think it would’ve recovered from that. We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed on that score.”

Schulte says Tangier is being swamped by a “perfect storm” that is pushing the sea level increase to almost double the global average of a 3.5mm rise each year. An unhappy confluence of changing Atlantic currents, glacial retreat and sinking soils due to groundwater extraction risks turning this slice of American heritage into washed-out husk.

Tangier Island lies 12 miles from the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay and a mere 91 miles from Washington DC. Congressional delegations need not look far to witness the ravages of climate change. You don’t even need to be a scientist to see what’s happening on Tangier.

Tangier Island was used as a summer camping spot for many years by the Pocomoke. The tribe’s arrowheads are still occasionally unearthed on the beach following a storm. Europeans, led by Captain John Smith, explored the island in 1608. It was settled John Crockett, still a common surname on the island, and his eight sons in 1686.

Along with Crocketts, there are plenty of Pruitts and Parks on Tangier. These families’ link to the island stretch back hundreds of years and are found liberally etched on tombstones that adorn the front yards of many houses, due to a lack of space and fear that they would be washed away – most of Tangier Island lies just four feet above sea level.

Living on Tangier Island, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a little like stepping back in time. There is no reliable cellphone reception. The island is, officially, alcohol free. Most of the buildings were built before 1930. Doors are left unlocked.

It’s one of the last true colonial places left in the US,” said Renée Tyler, Tangier’s town manager. “It’s not like Williamsburg, which is all fancied up. We don’t have people bringing money here to fancy us up. We are a proud, hardworking community. There are strong morals and ethics. It’s a religious place.”

Fishing has long provided the backbone, culturally and economically, for Tangier Island. Fishermen, or watermen as they are known now, haul out more Chesapeake Bay blue crab than any other community living on the water, despite having a population that has dropped from about 1,200 in 1900 to an estimated 475 today.

These crabs are consumed with relish in the fine restaurants of Washington DC and along Maryland’s Eastern Shore in crab cakes or cooked whole and smashed with a mallet, but the market isn’t quite what it was. Locals bemoan new regulations that restrict catches in the prime months between May and September. Equipment costs have risen while crab incomes have flatlined.

Tyler’s husband ran a crab operation before his boats and pots were broken by the fury of Hurricane Isabel in 2003. He went back to crabbing for a couple of years before leaving the island to find work on the tugboats that run the nearby shipping lanes, taking oil to refineries.

He wasn’t the only one,” Tyler said. “So many of them do that now. There aren’t many men on the island for two weeks of each month while they are on the tugboats. It’s an older community now. There isn’t much for younger people here.”

Tyler speaks with a distinctive Tangier accent, a sort of unreconstructed dialect that has its roots in south-west England. Extra syllables are added to words, the word “tourist” (tourism has sadly dropped off in recent years) sounds a little like “terror royalist”.

Saving this outpost will take time, and money. In 1990 a stone jetty was built by the airstrip to prevent it being eroded away. There are further plans for a new seawall around the harbour, which is being opened up to the elements by the disappearing land: “We even have waves in the creeks now, the boats aren’t safe even in a normal wind,” Tyler said.

But more will be needed. The US army corps of engineers estimates it will take up to two years to protect the whole island by building sea walls, new wide beaches and creating a new system of dunes. Wetlands, which are declining in viability as seabird nesting sites, would be replenished by filtering small amounts of sand upon them, elevating them without smothering the vegetation.

It would cost around $20m to $30m,” Schulte said. “Hopefully Congress will look at this report and decide that this island is worth saving. A lot of people think sea level rise is something a long way off, but this is affecting people now.”

For Tyler, and others born and raised on the island, fleeing isn’t an option, even if the long-term prospects are bleak.

We are feeling pretty desperate but people won’t be just giving up, we’ll fight to the end,” she said.

“The only time I feel isolated here is when the bay freezes over. Other than that, the storms don’t really scare us, we just roll with it. Obviously if there’s a 200mph hurricane we’ll evacuate but people want to stay. You have to grow up here and live here to love it the way we do.”

Putin vows to ‘immediately destroy’ any target threatening Russia in Syria

President says Russian military will respond with full force to any ‘further provocations’ following shooting down of warplane by Turkey last month

Decenber 11, 2015

by Ian Black

The Guardian

Vladimir Putin has vowed Russia’s military will “immediately destroy” any target threatening them in Syria, representing a strong warning to Turkey following its shooting down of a Russian warplane at the Syrian border.

Speaking at a meeting with senior commanders in Moscow, Putin said the military should respond with full force to any “further provocations”, adding that additional aircraft and air defence weapons have been sent to the Russian base near Latakia.

I order you to act in the toughest way,” the Russian president said. “Any targets threatening the Russian groups of forces or our land infrastructure should be immediately destroyed.”

In continuing violence, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a triple suicide truck bombing that killed 50 to 60 Kurds in Tell Tamer in the Hasaka area of northern Syria, while the UN said it was sending its senior relief official, Stephen O’Brien, to Damascus to examine the deteriorating humanitarian situation.

The downing of the Russian bomber by a Turkish fighter jet on 24 November, the first time a Nato member shot down a Russian plane in more than half a century, has badly strained relations between Moscow and Ankara.

Turkey said it downed the plane after it violated its airspace for 17 seconds despite repeated warnings. Russia has insisted the plane remained in Syrian airspace. Putin denounced the Turkish action as a “treacherous stab in the back”.

Putin said Russian military action in Syria was essential to protect Russia from extremists based there, adding that fending off that threat is the main goal of the air campaign he launched on 30 September. The campaign took advantage of western disarray and galvanised efforts to end the four-and-a-half-year war.

Putin said Russian action supporting the Syrian army had helped change the situation on the ground. He said Russia was also helping providing air cover to some units of the opposition Free Syrian Army, which were fighting “terrorists” in Syria.

Western countries say Russian air attacks have targeted rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad far more than Isis, reinforcing the impression that Moscow’s main goal is to bolster its long-standing ally in Damascus.

The US and Britain have meanwhile welcomed agreement by Syrian opposition groups to hold talks with Assad in the new year. But the Syrians are still insisting he stands down at once – in the face of strong resistance from Russia and Iran, the president’s closest allies.

Three days of talks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, produced a statement by 116 representatives of both political and armed factions backing negotiations. That keeps diplomacy on track along with military operations against Isis, in line with the UN-backed strategy laid down in Vienna last month.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, welcomed the Riyadh agreement by what he called “an extremely diverse group of Syrians” who created a negotiating body to represent them. The last talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups were in Geneva in January 2014 and got nowhere. Kerry admitted, however, that there were still some “kinks” to be ironed out.

The opposition reiterated the demand that Assad step down at the start of a transition process. It also committed to preserving Syrian state institutions. By contrast, the US, UK and other western countries have signalled that Assad could remain in power for an unspecified period during the transition.

Ahrar al-Sham, one of the biggest armed Islamist groups, which is backed by Turkey, walked out before the Riyadh meeting ended, though it did sign the statement. It objected to the role given to the Damascus-based group, the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change, which is tolerated by Assad.

The talks excluded Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaida and an important fighting force, as well as representatives of Syrian Kurdish groups.

Opposition groups such as the mainstream Syrian National Coalition are under pressure from armed rebels on the ground, who often dismiss exiled politicians as out of touch or too influenced by their western or Arab Gulf sponsors.

Philip Hammond, the British foreign secretary, called the Riyadh agreement an important step ahead of new international talks on Syria in New York next week, following up on what diplomats call the Vienna process. The Syrian negotiations are due to be held in the first half of January.

AP contributed to this report

So Why Did Turkey Shoot Down That Russian Plane?

Powerful forces are maneuvering to torpedo any Syrian peace process that could leave room for Bashar al-Assad

December 12, 2015

by Colin Hallinan


Why did Turkey shoot down that Russian warplane?

It was certainly not because the SU-24 posed any threat. The plane is old and slow, and the Russians were careful not to arm it with anti-aircraft missiles. And it wasn’t because the Turks are quick on the trigger, either. Three years ago, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emphatically declared that a “short-term violation of airspace can never be a pretext for an attack.” There are even some doubts about whether the Russian plane ever crossed into Turkey’s airspace at all.

Indeed, the whole November 24 incident looks increasingly suspicious, and one doesn’t have to be a paranoid Russian to think the takedown might have been an ambush. As retired Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney, former U.S. Air Force chief of staff, told Fox News, “This airplane was not making any maneuvers to attack the [Turkish] territory.” He called the Turkish action “overly aggressive” and concluded that the incident “had to be preplanned.”

It certainly puzzled the Israeli military, not known for taking a casual approach to military intrusions. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told the press on November 29 that a Russian warplane had violated the Israeli border over the Golan Heights. “Russian planes do not intend to attack us, which is why we must not automatically react and shoot them down when an error occurs.”

So why was the plane downed?

Perhaps because, for the first time in four years, some major players are tentatively inching toward a settlement of the catastrophic Syrian civil war, and powerful forces are maneuvering to torpedo that process. If the Russians hadn’t kept their cool, several nuclear-armed powers could well have found themselves in a scary faceoff, and any thoughts of ending the war would have gone a-glimmering.

A Short Score Card

There are multiple actors on the Syrian stage – and a bewildering number of crosscurrents and competing agendas that, paradoxically, make it both easier and harder to find common ground. Easier, because there is no unified position among the antagonists; harder, because trying to herd heavily armed cats is a tricky business.

A short score card on the players:

The Russians and the Iranians are supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and fighting a host of extremist organizations ranging from al-Qaeda to the Islamic State, or ISIS. But each country has a different view of what a post-civil war Syria might look like. The Russians want a centralized and secular state with a big army. The Iranians don’t think much of “secular,” and they favor militias, not armies.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and most the other Gulf monarchies are trying to overthrow the Assad regime, and are the major supporters of the groups Russia, Iran, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah are fighting. But while Turkey and Qatar want to replace Assad with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia might just hate the Brotherhood more than it does Assad. And while the monarchies are not overly concerned with the Kurds, Turkey is bombing them, and they’re a major reason why Ankara is so deeply enmeshed in Syria.

The US, France, and the United Kingdom are also trying to overthrow Assad, but are currently focused on fighting ISIS using the Kurds as their major allies – specifically the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party, an offshoot of the Turkish Kurdish Workers Party that the US officially designates as “terrorist.” These are the same Kurds that the Turks are bombing and who have a friendly alliance with the Russians.

Indeed, Turkey may discover that one of the price tags for shooting down that SU-24 is the sudden appearance of new Russian weapons for the Kurds, some of which will be aimed at the Turks.

A Suspension of Rational Thought

The Syrian war requires a certain suspension of rational thought.

For instance, the Americans are unhappy with the Russians for bombing the anti-Assad Army of Conquest, a rebel alliance dominated by the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s franchise in Syria. That would be the same al-Qaeda that brought down the World Trade Center towers and that the US is currently bombing in Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

Suspension of rational thought is not limited to Syria.

A number of Arab countries initially joined the US air war against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, because both organizations are pledged to overthrow the Gulf monarchies. But Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar have now dropped out to concentrate their air power on bombing the Houthis in Yemen.

The Houthis, however, are by far the most effective force fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda in Yemen. Both extremist organizations have made major gains in the last few weeks because the Houthis are too busy defending themselves to take them on.

Moves Toward a Settlement

In spite of all this political derangement, however, there are several developments that are pushing the sides toward some kind of peaceful settlement that doesn’t involve regime change in Syria. That is exactly what the Turks and the Gulf monarchs are worried about, and a major reason why Ankara shot down that Russian plane.

The first of these developments has been building throughout the summer: a growing flood of Syrians fleeing the war. There are already almost 2 million in Turkey, over a million each in Jordan and Lebanon, and as many as 900,000 in Europe. Out of 23 million Syrians, some 11 million have been displaced by the war, and the Europeans are worried that many of those 11 million people will end up camping out on the banks of the Seine and the Ruhr. If the war continues into next year, that’s an entirely plausible prediction.

Hence, the Europeans have quietly shelved their demand that Assad resign as a prerequisite for a ceasefire and are leaning on the Americans to follow suit. The issue is hardly resolved, but there seems to be general agreement that Assad will at least be part of a transition government. At this point, the Russians and Iranians are insisting on an election in which Assad would be a candidate because both are wary of anything that looks like “regime change.” The role Assad might play will be a sticking point, but probably not an insurmountable one.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia are adamant that Assad must go, but neither of them is in the driver’s seat these days. While NATO supported Turkey in the Russian plane incident, according to some of the Turkish press, many of its leading officials consider Erdogan a loose cannon. And Saudi Arabia – whose economy has been hard hit by the worldwide fall in oil prices – is preoccupied by its Yemen war, which is turning into a very expensive quagmire.

Russia’s Role

The second development is the Russian intervention, which appears to have changed things on the ground, at least in the north, where Assad’s forces were being hard pressed by the Army of Conquest. New weapons and airpower have dented a rebel offensive and resulted in some gains in the government’s battle for Syria’s largest city, Aleppo.

Russian bombing also took a heavy toll on the Turkmen insurgents in the Bayir-Bucak region, the border area that Turkey has used to infiltrate arms, supplies, and insurgents into Syria.

The appearance of the Russians essentially killed Turkey’s efforts to create a “no fly zone” on its border with Syria, a proposal that the US has never been enthusiastic about. Washington’s major allies, the Kurds, are strongly opposed to a no fly zone because they see it as part of Ankara’s efforts to keep the Kurds from forming an autonomous region in Syria.

The Bayir-Bucak area and the city of Jarabulus are also the exit point for Turkey’s lucrative oil smuggling operation, apparently overseen by one of Erdogan’s sons, Bilal. The Russians have embarrassed the Turks by publishing satellite photos showing miles of tanker trucks picking up oil from ISIS-controlled wells and shipping it through Turkey’s southern border with Syria.

The oil controlled by the Islamic State militants enters Turkish territory on an industrial scale,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said November 30. “We have every reason to believe that the decision to down our plane was guided by a desire to ensure the security of this oil’s delivery routes to ports.”

Erdogan and NATO

Erdogan didn’t get quite the response he wanted from NATO following the shooting down of the SU-24. While the military alliance backed Turkey’s defense of its “sovereignty,” NATO then called for a peaceful resolution and de-escalation of the whole matter.

At a time when Europe needs a solution to the refugee crisis – and wants to focus its firepower on the organization that killed 130 people in Paris – NATO cannot be happy that the Turks are dragging them into a confrontation with the Russians, making the whole situation a lot more dangerous than it was before the November 24 incident.

The Russians have now deployed their more modern SU-34 bombers and armed them with air-to-air missiles. The bombers will now also be escorted by SU-35 fighters. The Russians have also fielded S-300 and S-400 antiaircraft systems, the latter with a range of 250 miles. The Russians say they’re not looking for trouble, but they’re loaded for bear should it happen.

Would a dustup between Turkish and Russian planes bring NATO – and four nuclear armed nations – into a confrontation? That possibility ought to keep people up at night.

Coming to the Table

Sometime around the New Year, the countries involved in the Syrian civil war will come together in Geneva. A number of those will do their level best to derail the talks, but one hopes there are enough sane – and desperate – parties on hand to map out a political solution.

It won’t be easy, and who gets to sit at the table has yet to be decided. The Turks will object to the Kurds; the Russians, Iranians, and Kurds will object to the Army of Conquest; and the Saudis will object to Assad. In the end it could all come apart. It’s not hard to torpedo a peace plan in the Middle East.

But if the problems are great, failure will be catastrophic. That may be the glue that keeps the parties together long enough to hammer out a ceasefire, an arms embargo, a new constitution, and internationally supervised elections.

Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Conn Hallinan can be read at www.dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and www.middleempireseries.wordpress.com.

Big Banks In a Tizzy Want to Take Their Billions and Go Home

December 11, 2015

by David Dayen

The Intercept

The big banks are not taking a rare legislative defeat lying down.

Days after President Obama signed into law a highway package that finally ended an egregious, 100-year-old subsidy for big banks, two of Wall Street’s favorite legislators want to attach a last-minute rider to the end-of-the-year omnibus spending bill that lessens some of the impact of that change.

From 1913 until last week, banks received a 6 percent annual dividend on paid-in stock they had to purchase to become members of the Federal Reserve system. This was initially provided as an incentive for membership with the Fed, but membership is now mandatory for national banks, and all banks must abide by the standards of membership.

It took 100 years and a desperate need to find some way to pay for this year’s highway bill for anyone to think to take away the incentive payments.

The highway bill deal reduced the annual dividend to the rate of interest on 10-year Treasury notes, capped at 6 percent. (The current rate is around 2.2 percent). This change only affects banks with more than $10 billion in assets, but it saves the federal government around $1 billion a year.

Now, enter Republican Congressmen Randy Neugebauer of Texas and Bill Huizenga of Michigan. The crux of their proposed rider on the omnibus bill is this: If banks can’t have their free 6 percent dividend, then they shouldn’t have to pay for any stock at all.

Right now, banks must purchase Fed stock equal to 6 percent of their total capital. But under the proposal, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, banks with over $10 billion in assets would be able to cut that to 3.5 percent of capital, and the Fed would have to return excess money to the member banks, estimated at $25 billion. The Fed would also be restricted from forcing banks to purchase additional stock in the future.

As it happens, that plan actually ends up saving the government money, since it won’t have to pay any dividend on the money it returns to the banks. That would save as much as $1 billion a year, according to the Financial Services Roundtable, a lobbying group that nevertheless supports the rider.

Other groups like the American Bankers Association are also pushing for the measure to be included in the omnibus. It’s not yet clear whether it will make it into the final legislative package, which will reportedly be released on Monday for a vote next week. Current government funding expires December 16.

Since banks established before 1942 don’t even pay taxes on the Fed dividend, it’s unclear why they want to give up a tax-free return equal to Treasury yields. But a revealing comment to the Journal from a bank lobbyist positions this mostly as a temper tantrum reaction to the dividend cut.

This is not something that we were interested in pursuing or even thought about until the highway bill passed,” said Francis Creighton, executive vice president of government affairs for the Financial Services Roundtable. “If we’re not getting the dividend we signed up for… that led us to say, ‘Do we need this entire system anyway? Does it even make sense?’”

Neugebauer and Huizenga already tried to bail the banks out once, attempting to replace the dividend cut in the highway bill with a substitute funding source that raided the Fed’s capital surplus account instead. Their new rider again irks the Fed, which through a spokesperson warned “against making any changes to the fundamental structure and governance of the Federal Reserve System without a serious, thoughtful, and public discussion.”

Attack Spurs New Chapter in History of Dread in the U.S.

December 11, 2015

by Jason Horowitz

New York Times

The handsome Washington townhouse where Wayne Hickory practices orthodontics is a landmark of terrorism in America.

In 1919, an anarchist exploded a bomb at what was then the home of the attorney general. The failed assassination set off a wave of violent raids on radicals, Communists and leftists, and the deportation without due process of hundreds of innocent European immigrants — a high point of hysteria in an era known as the first Red Scare

Maybe there is something to learn from history,” Dr. Hickory said in a sitting room that now contains advertising for invisible braces. But asked about Donald J. Trump’s call to bar Muslims from entering the United States, Dr. Hickory said that, as implausible as it was, the proposal had prompted a necessary discussion about whether travelers from countries fraught with Islamic extremism should receive increased scrutiny. “Perhaps,” he said, “the line needs to be drawn a little bit more severely.”

An existential fear of foreign infiltration, unfamiliar minorities and terrorist attacks is not a new feeling in America. Neither is the nativist, if at times innovative, language that Mr. Trump has mastered on his way to leading the Republican presidential primary race.

But interviews this week with dozens of American voters, even those who do not support Mr. Trump and reject his ban as an indecent proposal, make clear that their anxiety is on the rise in a climate more fearful than at any time since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. From the Capitol to the campaign trail, from Mr. Trump’s childhood neighborhood to the suburbs near the Islamic State-inspired killing of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., voters acknowledged, almost despite themselves, the gnawing sense of insecurity that has fueled Mr. Trump’s vision and persistent appeal.

People are seeing things, and saying things.

Carol Shapiro, 73, a vehement critic of Mr. Trump from Rockaway, N.J., recalled with some embarrassment her surveillance of an apparently Middle Eastern man wearing a “Taliban hat” and photographing the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree on the day of the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Critics of Mr. Trump in Jamaica Estates, Queens, where he grew up, had fewer reservations about expressing their fear of Muslims.

Terrorists can do so many things to hide to get into this country,” said Leonidez Galan, 66, who was actually drawn closer to Mr. Trump and away from his previous choice, Jeb Bush, when Mr. Trump called to ban Muslim immigrants from the United States. Expressing fear of the women in hijabs who walked the neighborhood’s curved streets, he said of Muslims, “They come in and kill people.”

Some in the neighborhood who voted for President Obama and planned to support Hillary Clinton nevertheless said they admired Mr. Trump’s machismo and shared his concern that, as Andrew Baker, 53, put it, “Muslims are more dangerous.”

Echoes of that notion reverberated on the campaign trail and at the events of candidates who condemned Mr. Trump’s harsh language. Often, it seemed that older voters were bothered most by the attack in San Bernardino and more sympathetic to Mr. Trump’s proposals.

The tree wasn’t lighted,” she said, making her wonder why the man would be taking pictures. “And then he put his hands in his pockets and walked off very fast, and it made me uncomfortable.”

At an event for Senator Marco Rubio on Thursday in Iowa City, Arleigh Clemens, 78, a retired construction worker from North Liberty, Iowa, used a mathematical analogy. “Let’s say you have a jar with 10,000 M&Ms, and only 10 of them are poisoned,” he said. “Would you eat them?”

At an event in New Hampshire, supporters of Mr. Bush, who has excoriated Mr. Trump’s proposed ban despite his own call for a religious test for refugees from Syria, had views more sympathetic to Mr. Trump.

I just feel we have enough illegal people in our country, and there’s no jobs for them,” said Beverly Lee, 78, of Brookline, N.H. She said she thought the ban was a “good idea.”

Beverly Swanburg, 73, from Milford, N.H., agreed.

We should not let any more in, any more immigrants from Mexico or Muslim,” she said, adding that Mr. Trump’s proposal was “on the right road” because of the difficulty in discerning which Muslims were peaceful and which were not, like the couple in San Bernardino. They “went to the shooting range the day before,” she said. “Somebody there should have looked at them as Muslims at a shooting range and paid a little more attention.”

In several polls this week, a majority of American voters said they disapproved of Mr. Trump’s plan, even as support for his candidacy continued to rise. But in a New York Times/CBS News poll, 59 percent of Americans also said they were “very concerned” about the threat of terrorism from people entering the United States, and 26 percent said they were “somewhat concerned.”

Furtan Yusfa, a mother of two and a Muslim, has been among those experiencing the effects of those fears. “I sometimes feel it, like I’m different from others,” said Ms. Yusfa, 24, who was wearing a hijab, or head scarf, in a mall in Edina, a suburb of Minneapolis. “Sometimes, they’re scared of me.”

A century ago, it would have been Mr. Trump’s German immigrant grandparents who felt the brunt of such profiling. Fears of sabotage during World War I raised suspicion, and Americans started saying “liberty cabbage” instead of sauerkraut.“It was that they could be spies,” said Alexander Keyssar, a history professor at Harvard. “They could be infiltrating.”

Those lingering concerns flared again in World War II, when Mr. Trump’s father began telling people he was of Swedish heritage. Japanese-Americans had no such recourse, and many ended up in internment camps.

Historians said Mr. Trump was a modern version of the public figures who took advantage of immigrant-based, and more economic-based, fears. Those worries have coursed through American history at least since the Know-Nothing Party of the 19th century demonized waves of Roman Catholic immigrants as operatives of a foreign pope.

But even among some who acknowledged Mr. Trump’s appeal, there was a conscious effort not to give in to it.

Sipping a caramel coffee at the Edina mall, Brian Wagenaar, a 21-year-old college student, called Mr. Trump’s proposal “ridiculous” but said xenophobic sentiments were natural. “It doesn’t feel great. We’ve been conditioned to know that that’s wrong,” he said. “We all have to safeguard against an inner Trump.”

Darlene Linares, 19, a supporter of the Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders in San Bernardino, the site of last week’s massacre, was resigned to the inevitability of such attacks and appalled by Mr. Trump, saying she found his remarks about Mexicans and Muslims disqualifying.

That said, Ms. Linares added that her mother, who immigrated from El Salvador in 1995, was on board with Mr. Trump. “My mom actually agrees,” she said. “She thinks that Muslims are all the same.”

Reporting was contributed by Yamiche Alcindor, Christina Capecchi, Ashley Parker, Jeremy W. Peters, Rebecca Fairley Raney and John Surico.

Conversaions with the Crow

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal , Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment. Three months before, July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. After Corson’s death, Trento and his Washington lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever

After Crowley’s death and Trento’s raid on the Crowley files, huge gaps were subsequently discovered by horrified CIA officials and when Crowley’s friends mentioned Gregory Douglas, it was discovered that Crowley’s son had shipped two large boxes to Douglas. No one knew their contents but because Douglas was viewed as an uncontrollable loose cannon who had done considerable damage to the CIA’s reputation by his on-going publication of the history of Gestapo-Mueller, they bent every effort both to identify the missing files and make some effort to retrieve them before Douglas made any use of them.

Douglas had been in close contact with Crowley and had long phone conversatins with him. He found this so interesting and informative that he taped  and later transcribed them.

These conversations have been published in a book: ‘Conversations with the Crow” and this is an excerpt.

Conversation No. 49

Date: Thursday, November 28, 1996

Commenced: 8:45 AM CST

Concluded: 9:22 AM CST

RTC: How are you today, Gregory?

GD: Been up since six working on the next Mueller book. Working on the concentration camp business.

RTC: A sensitive and profitable subject. For the same people. My God, what a money-maker that one is!

GD: Tell me about it. An established writer like Irving could never approach it. If he did, the Jews would go for his throat. Or his back more like it. Did you have many dealings with them?

RTC: As individuals or as professional agents?

GD: Either.

RTC: I have to tell you, Gregory, that I do not like Jews very much and I do not trust any of them. I know a few as individuals and some as agents. Jim loved them and spent half his time sucking up to the Mossad creeps. It bothered me because they were using him, but Jim loved flattery and ate it up. I don’t and I’m an Irish Catholic boy from Chicago. Jim was part Mexican and maybe that was part of it. Anyway, with Jews, it’s take, take and never give. You can’t trust any of them to the corner for a pound of soft soap.

GD: I don’t get involved but I have had bad experiences with them. Always watch your back around them has been my experience.

RTC: I have a report for you made for the UN in ’48 listing all their crimes against the Palestinian. The abused child becomes the abusing parent. My God, those filthy Polacks did terrible, vicious things to the Arabs. Murdered them, poisoned their farm wells, killed their animals and finally slaughtered whole villages of them, women and children. The Jews claim they own the Holy Land but these are Polack Jews and had nothing to do with Palestine. The Russian Jews are the same breed and Stalin, who really hated Jews, used them to butcher Russian Christians whom they hated. And then Josef planned to kill off all the Jews in Moscow.

GD: What about that?

RTC: Round them all up, put them in boxcars and ship them off to Siberia in mid-winter. He planned to slaughter all of them. And after all the filthy work they did for him, too! An ungrateful but realistic man.

GD: Why was this turn-about? He loved Jews, didn’t he?

RTC: No, he did not. Josef was far-sighted and knew, and said, that Jews had no loyalty to anyone except themselves. They hate all other people and feel that anything they do to them is justified. They claim centuries of persecution as their excuse.

GD: Yes, isn’t it odd that over thousands of years, everyone has persecuted the poor Jews. One wonders why.

RTC: Why? They burrow into the machinery of the state and the banking system and eventually take it over. And then, always, the locals get after them and either set them on fire or drive them out of their area or country. This has been going on for many centuries. One could say that the Jews of the world have been very unlucky or people know what they’re doing when they pile up wood for the burning pyres or set up camps.

GD: The stories about gassed millions is hysterically funny. Puts me in mind of the stories about the Easter Bunny or the Second Coming. Useful lies for children on one hand and a means to get money out of the suckers who actually believe the silliness about the Rapture, the Battle of Armageddon and other idiotic legends. Barnum was right.

RTC: Yes, he was. And I once looked into the camp story just because I could. There is much on this issue at the National Archives but most people can’t see it.

GD: Why not?

RTC: The Jews don’t want you see this. It would destroy the myth of vast gas chambers and soap factories. My God, Gregory, the Jews make enormous sums of money off these made-up stories. I can just hear some raddled Jewess moaning in a furniture store about how her whole family was gassed and can she get 50% off on that chair? Oh yes, I know all about such creatures. And now, the Mossad wants us to hunt down people they don’t like, or send them confidential files on people they want to blackmail. They robbed and murdered the Arabs, so they have to hate them to justify their filthy behavior. The Arabs outnumber them 20 to 1 but the Israelis have us behind them so they literally can get away with murder. And how do they have our support? By working their way into the system, by owning most of the media, by bribery and blackmail, by political pressure. I could go on for days but I just ate breakfast and I don’t want to vomit onto my lap.

GD: I knew the Polish Jews in Munich after the war. Jesus H. Christ, Robert, I have never seen such really terrible people in my life. They were all up on the Muehl Strasse and going there to buy cheap butter for my friends was quite an experience. It was like tiptoeing into a den of circling hyenas. I was always neutral as far as Jews were concerned, but my experiences there radically altered my views. They were DPs. Displaced Persons. Couldn’t go back to Poland where the locals would have shoved them into barns and set them on fire. The Germans got blamed for much of that, but it was the local Poles who snuffed all the Jews in the neighborhood once their central government fell apart in ’39. A friend of mine was a Major in the thirty seventh infantry and he said the Poles would round up all the Jews and barbecue them. Said some of the villages smelt like a badly-vented crematorium. And of course they got the blame for it. Well, they lost so they can expect this. I once bought a German steel helmet at a flea market in Germany and I was carrying it down the street under my arm and some old hag came up behind me, screeching like a wet pea hen. There was no one around so I bashed her on the head with the pot until she shut up. Had to wash the helmet off later. It looked like pink oatmeal on part of it.

RTC: Bravo. I suppose she was dead, Gregory?

GD: I didn’t stop to examine her but she had certainly shut up.

RTC: I suppose she was a Jew.

GD: I didn’t care who she was. She could have been anyone and I would have shut her up regardless.

RTC: You are certainly not a nice person at times.

GD: Oh, I love that, Robert. If I were at your house for dinner, I assure you my manners would be impeccable. But we digress. Can we find out more about that business you people had with the French getting us into Vietnam?

RTC: I wrote on that, Gregory. I ought to send you my manuscript some day. I can’t publish it because I signed a pledge to never publish without permission and I am sure it would never be given. I know all about that slaughterhouse, believe me. A nation steeped in blood. Terrible business. Wars for nothing and when Kennedy tried to get out, that was one of the reasons he got killed. Too much money to be made in a war. It ruined Johnson. No chance of getting reelected. McNamara thought he could apply business norms to a military business and he went as well. Probably be made the head of a think tank. My God, what a misnomer. ‘Think tank’ my ass. Bunch of loud-mouthed idiots running around babbling as if anyone cared what they thought about unimportant things. “I think…” is one of the worst openings for any kind of a conversation. Run into these congenital assholes at any Beltway social function and especially in the CIA circles. I say, who gives a damn what you think?

GD: I’ve been to Beltway functions, Robert. My God, if we could somehow trap all the hot air these methane monsters create, we could heat New York for ten years. Don’t light any matches and breathe very shortly but the gas is tremendous. “I think…?” I doubt it. Most of these self-important cow anuses should join hands and jump off the Key Bridge in the middle of winter. Right through the ice and then blessed silence. Downriver, however, all the marine life dies a terrible death.

RTC: (Laughter) Ah, well, it won’t happen. One day a Jew will sit in the Oval Office and on that day, we will drop atom bombs on anyone Tel Aviv doesn’t like.

GD: Where is Genghis Kahn now that we need him?

RTC: Lee Harvey Oswald would be more to the point.


(Concluded at 9:22 Am CST)




Washington to Whomever: Please Fight the Islamic State for Us

Why the Gulf States, the Kurds, the Turks, the Sunnis, and the Shia Won’t Fight America’s War

by Peter Van Buren


In the many strategies proposed to defeat the Islamic State (IS) by presidential candidates, policymakers, and media pundits alike across the American political spectrum, one common element stands out: someone else should really do it. The United States will send in planes, advisers, and special ops guys, but it would be best — and this varies depending on which pseudo-strategist you cite — if the Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Sunnis, and/or Shias would please step in soon and get America off the hook.

The idea of seeing other-than-American boots on the ground, like Washington’s recently deep-sixed scheme to create some “moderate” Syrian rebels out of whole cloth, is attractive on paper. Let someone else fight America’s wars for American goals. Put an Arab face on the conflict, or if not that at least a Kurdish one (since, though they may not be Arabs, they’re close enough in an American calculus). Let the U.S. focus on its “bloodless” use of air power and covert ops. Somebody else, Washington’s top brains repeatedly suggest, should put their feet on the embattled, contested ground of Syria and Iraq. Why, the U.S. might even gift them with nice, new boots as a thank-you.

Is this, however, a realistic strategy for winning America’s war(s) in the Middle East?

The Great Champions of the Grand Strategy

Recently, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton openly called for the U.S. to round up some Arab allies, Kurds, and Iraqi Sunnis to drive the Islamic State’s fighters out of Iraq and Syria. On the same day that Clinton made her proposal, Bernie Sanders called for “destroying” the Islamic State, but suggested that it “must be done primarily by Muslim nations.” It’s doubtful he meant Indonesia or Malaysia.

Among the Republican contenders, Marco Rubio proposed that the U.S. “provide arms directly to Sunni tribal and Kurdish forces.” Ted Cruz threw his support behind arming the Kurds, while Donald Trump appeared to favor more violence in the region by whoever might be willing to jump in.

The Pentagon has long been in favor of arming both the Kurds and whatever Sunni tribal groups it could round up in Iraq or Syria. Various pundits across the political spectrum say much the same.

They may all mean well, but their plans are guaranteed to fail. Here’s why, group by group.

The Gulf Arabs

Much of what the candidates demand is based one premise: that “the Arabs” see the Islamic State as the same sort of threat Washington does.

It’s a position that, at first glance, would seem to make obvious sense. After all, while American politicians are fretting about whether patient IS assault teams can wind their way through this country’s two-year refugee screening process, countries like Saudi Arabia have them at their doorstep. Why wouldn’t they jump at the chance to lend a helping hand, including some planes and soldiers, to the task of destroying that outfit? “The Arabs,” by which the U.S. generally means a handful of Persian Gulf states and Jordan, should logically be demanding the chance to be deeply engaged in the fight.

That was certainly one of the early themes the Obama administration promoted after it kicked off its bombing campaigns in Syria and Iraq back in 2014. In reality, the Arab contribution to that “coalition” effort to date has been stunningly limited. Actual numbers can be slippery, but we know that American warplanes have carried out something like 90% of the air strikes against IS. Of those strikes that are not all-American, parsing out how many have been from Arab nations is beyond even Google search’s ability. The answer clearly seems to be not many.

Keep in mind as well that the realities of the region seldom seem to play much of a part in Washington’s thinking. For the Gulf Arabs, all predominantly Sunni nations, the Islamic State and its al-Qaeda-linked Sunni ilk are little more than a distraction from what they fear most, the rise of Shia power in places like Iraq and the growing regional strength of Iran.

In this context, imagining such Arab nations as a significant future anti-IS force is absurd. In fact, Sunni terror groups like IS and al-Qaeda have in part been funded by states like Saudi Arabia or at least rich supporters living in them. Direct funding links are often difficult to prove, particularly if the United States chooses not to publicly prove them. This is especially so because the money that flows into such terror outfits often comes from individual donors, not directly from national treasuries, or may even be routed through legitimate charitable organizations and front companies.

However, one person concerned in an off-the-record way with such Saudi funding for terror groups was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton back in 2009.  In a classified warning message (now posted on WikiLeaks), she suggested in blunt terms that donors in Saudi Arabia were the “most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

One who thinks the Saudis and other Gulf countries may be funding rather than fighting IS and is ready to say so is Russian President Vladimir Putin. At the recent G20 meeting, he announced that he had shared intelligence information revealing that 40 countries, including some belonging to the G20 itself, finance the majority of the Islamic State’s activities. Though Putin’s list of supposed funders was not made public, on the G20 side Saudi Arabia and Turkey are more likely candidates than South Korea and Japan.

Most recently, the German vice chancellor has explicitly accused the Saudis of funding Sunni radical groups.

Expecting the Gulf Arab states to fight IS also ignores the complex political relationship between those nations and Islamic fundamentalism generally. The situation is clearest in Saudi Arabia, where the secular royal family holds power only with the shadowy permission of Wahhabist religious leaders. The latter provide the former with legitimacy at the price of promoting Islamic fundamentalism abroad. From the royals’ point of view, abroad is the best place for it to be, as they fear an Islamic revolution at home. In a very real way, Saudi Arabia is supporting an ideology that threatens its own survival.

The Kurds

At the top of the list of groups included in the American dream of someone else fighting IS are the Kurds. And indeed, the peshmerga, the Kurdish militia, are actually on the battlefields of northern Iraq and Syria, using American-supplied weapons and supported by American air power and advisers in their efforts to kill Islamic State fighters.

But looks can be deceiving. While a Venn diagram would show an overlap between some U.S. and Kurdish aims, it’s important not to ignore the rest of the picture. The Kurds are fighting primarily for a homeland, parts of which are, for the time being, full of Islamic State fighters in need of killing. The Kurds may indeed destroy them, but only within the boundaries of what they imagine to be a future Kurdistan, not in the heartlands of the Syrian and Iraqi regions that IS now controls.

Not only will the Kurds not fight America’s battles in parts of the region, no matter how we arm and advise them, but it seems unlikely that, once in control of extended swaths of northern Iraq and parts of Syria, they will simply abandon their designs on territory that is now a part of Turkey. It’s a dangerous American illusion to imagine that Washington can turn Kurdish nationalism on and off as needed.

The Kurds, now well armed and battle-tested, are just one of the genies Washington released from that Middle Eastern bottle in 2003 when it invaded Iraq. Now, whatever hopes the U.S. might still have for future stability in the region shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Using the Kurds to fight IS is a devil’s bargain.

The Turks

And talking about devil’s bargains, don’t forget about Turkey. The Obama administration reached a deal to fly combat missions in its intensifying air war against the Islamic State from two bases in Turkey. In return, Washington essentially looked the other way while Turkish President Recep Erdogan re-launched a war against internal Kurdish rebels at least in part to rally nationalistic supporters and win an election. Similarly, the U.S. has supported Turkey’s recent shoot-down of a Russian aircraft.

When it comes to the Islamic State, though, don’t hold your breath waiting for the Turks to lend a serious military hand. That country’s government has, at the very least, probably been turning a blind eye to the smuggling of arms into Syria for IS, and is clearly a conduit for smuggling its oil out onto world markets. American politicians seem to feel that, for now, it’s best to leave the Turks off to the side and simply be grateful to them for slapping the Russians down and opening their air space to American aircraft.

That gratitude may be misplaced. Some 150 Turkish troops, supported by 20 to 25 tanks, have recently entered northern Iraq, prompting one Iraqi parliamentarian to label the action “switching out alien (IS) rule for other alien rule.” The Turks claim that they have had military trainers in the area for some time and that they are working with local Kurds to fight IS. It may also be that the Turks are simply taking a bite from a splintering Iraq. As with so many situations in the region, the details are murky, but the bottom line is the same: the Turks’ aims are their own and they are likely to contribute little either to regional stability or American war aims.

The Sunnis

Of the many sub-strategies proposed to deal with the Islamic State, the idea of recruiting and arming “the Sunnis” is among the most fantastical. It offers a striking illustration of the curious, somewhat delusional mindset that Washington policymakers, including undoubtedly the next president, live in.

As a start, the thought that the U.S. can effectively fulfill its own goals by recruiting local Sunnis to take up arms against IS is based on a myth: that “the surge” during America’s previous Iraq War brought us a victory later squandered by the locals. With this goes a belief, demonstrably false, in the shallowness of the relationship between many Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis and the Islamic State.

According to the Washington mythology that has grown up around that so-called surge of 2007-2008, the U.S. military used money, weapons, and clever persuasion to convince Iraq’s Sunni tribes to break with Iraq’s local al-Qaeda organization. The Sunnis were then energized to join the coalition government the U.S. had created. In this way, so the story goes, the U.S. arrived at a true “mission accomplished” moment in Iraq. Politicians on both sides of the aisle in Washington still believe that the surge, led by General David Petraeus, swept to success by promoting and arming a “Sunni Awakening Movement,” only to see American plans thwarted by a too-speedy Obama administration withdrawal from the country and the intra-Iraqi squabbling that followed. So the question now is: why not “awaken” the Sunnis again?

In reality, the surge involved almost 200,000 American soldiers, who put themselves temporarily between Sunni and Shia militias. It also involved untold millions of dollars of “payments” — what in another situation would be called bribes — that brought about temporary alliances between the U.S. and the Sunnis. The Shia-dominated Iraqi central government never signed onto the deal, which began to fall apart well before the American occupation ended. The replacement of al-Qaeda in Iraq by a newly birthed Islamic State movement was, of course, part and parcel of that falling-apart process.

After the Iraqi government stopped making the payments to Sunni tribal groups first instituted by the Americans, those tribes felt betrayed. Still occupying Iraq, those Americans did nothing to help the Sunnis. History suggests that much of Sunni thinking in the region since then has been built around the motto of “won’t get fooled again.”

So it is unlikely in the extreme that local Sunnis will buy into basically the same deal that gave them so little of lasting value the previous time around. This is especially so since there will be no new massive U.S. force to act as a buffer against resurgent Shia militias. Add to this mix a deep Sunni conviction that American commitments are never for the long term, at least when it comes to them. What, then, would be in it for the Sunnis if they were to again throw in their lot with the Americans? Another chance to be part of a Shia-dominated government in Baghdad that seeks to marginalize or destroy them, a government now strengthened by Iranian support, or a Syria whose chaos could easily yield a leadership with similar aims?

In addition, a program to rally Sunnis to take up arms against the Islamic State presumes that significant numbers of them don’t support that movement, especially given their need for protection from the depredations of Shia militias. Add in religious and ethnic sentiments, anti-western feelings, tribal affiliations, and economic advantage — it is believed that IS kicks back a share of its oil revenues to compliant Sunni tribal leaders — and what exactly would motivate a large-scale Sunni transformation into an effective anti-Islamic State boots-on-the-ground force?


Not that they get mentioned all that often, being closely associated with acts of brutality against Sunnis and heavily supported by Iran, but Iraq’s Shia militias are quietly seen by some in Washington as a potent anti-IS force. They have, in Washington’s mindset, picked up the slack left after the Iraqi Army abandoned its equipment and fled the Islamic State’s fighters in northern Iraq in June 2014, and again in the Sunni city of Ramadi in May 2015.

Yet even the militia strategy seems to be coming undone. Several powerful Shia militias recently announced, for instance, their opposition to any further deployment of U.S. forces to their country. This was after the U.S. Secretary of Defense unilaterally announced that an elite special operations unit would be sent to Iraq to combat the Islamic State. The militias just don’t trust Washington to have their long-term interests at heart (and in this they are in good company in the region). “We will chase and fight any American force deployed in Iraq,” said one militia spokesman. “We fought them before and we are ready to resume fighting.”

Refusing to Recognize Reality

The Obama/Clinton/Sanders/Cruz/Rubio/Pentagon/et al. solution — let someone else fight the ground war against IS — is based on what can only be called a delusion: that regional forces there believe in American goals (some variant of secular rule, disposing of evil dictators, perhaps some enduring U.S. military presence) enough to ignore their own varied, conflicting, aggrandizing, and often fluid interests. In this way, Washington continues to convince itself that local political goals are not in conflict with America’s strategic goals. This is a delusion.

In fact, Washington’s goals in this whole process are unnervingly far-fetched. Overblown fears about the supposedly dire threats of the Islamic State to “the homeland” aside, the American solution to radical Islam is an ongoing disaster. It is based on the attempted revitalization of the collapsed or collapsing nation-state system at the heart of that region. The stark reality is that no one there — not the Gulf states, not the Kurds, not the Turks, not the Sunnis, nor even the Shia — is fighting for Iraq and Syria as the U.S. remembers them.

Unworkable national boundaries were drawn up after World War I without regard for ethnic, sectarian, or tribal realities and dictatorships were then imposed or supported past their due dates. The Western answer that only secular governments are acceptable makes sad light of the power of Islam in a region that often sees little or no separation between church and state.

Secretary of State John Kerry can join the calls for the use of “indigenous forces” as often as he wants, but the reality is clear: Washington’s policy in Syria and Iraq is bound to fail, no matter who does the fighting.

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