First, the Good News

1) National: Chris Hedges did an outstanding interview with veteran Pulitzer prize-winning investigative business reporter Gretchen Morgenson, whose tenacious and forensic coverage of the 2008 financial crash set a public interest standard. They covered a wide range of issues from the decline of the news industry, especially at the local level, to the subject of Morgenson’s latest book, These Are the Plunderers: How Private Equity Runs—and Wrecks—America. [Audio, about 52 minutes]

“The consumption of news and entertainment by the public in the digital age has turned many of the traditional media platforms into dinosaurs,” says Hedges. “But as they disappear, so does the core of journalism, reporting, especially investigative reporting. Digital platforms are, with a few exceptions, not sustaining repertorial coverage, certainly not on the local level, but of the fundamental pillars of democracy.” But it’s part of a bigger problem, says Hedges with Morgenson’s agreement. “It’s not just the collapse of journalism. It’s the collapse of education. And, you know, you write about private equity firms. I mean, who are running these charter schools, which is all about rote memorization and enough financial literacy in poor neighborhoods to work in a fast food store.”

The good news is that there is resistance against private equity’s corrupting of our public goods and institutions, and terrific, new-model local, community-based coverage to keep u informed (see #30 below).

2) National: Can private companies bar access to the courts in labor disputes? The U.S. Department of Labor said no last year, and now it’s moving in to require compliance. Bloomberg Law reports that “The US Department of Labor’s top lawyer says the agency is focused on taking a closer look at how certain employment agreements, such as mandatory arbitration pacts, can amount to illegal retaliation under federal law. More than 60 million workers are subject to contractual provisions that require them to resolve wage, discrimination, and other employment claims in private arbitration, instead of court, according to the DOL. Those agreements can be retaliatory if they are offered after a worker attempts to assert their rights, Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda said Thursday during an American Bar Association conference in Puerto Rico. Additionally, Nanda said the agency was open to considering whether certain confidentiality agreements could ‘frustrate’ a worker’s ability to participate in a DOL investigation. Nanda also touched on the agency’s continued deployment of enhanced compliance agreements to correct violations long-term.”

3) California: The Los Angeles school board has approved a policy that will limit when charters can operate on district-owned campuses. The policy “prohibits the new location of charters at an unspecified number of campuses with special space needs or programs. One early staff estimate put the number close to 350, but there’s uncertainty over how the policy will be interpreted. The school system has about 850 campuses, but advocates are concerned that charters could be pushed out of areas where they currently operate, making it difficult for them to remain viable. (…) The new rules also discourage placing charters where they could disrupt traditional feeder-school patterns. Goldberg cited the example of a charter middle school located on a district-run elementary campus. The charter school, she suggested, would have an unfair advantage in recruiting those elementary students, undermining the local, district-run middle school. In the current school year 52 independent charters operate on 50 campuses, according to L.A. Unified. The number is expected to be smaller for next year and down significantly from a peak of more than 100.”

UTLA reported that “cheers erupted in the LAUSD School Board meeting on February 13 when a new policy limiting co-location at public schools by charter operators passed on a tight 4-3 vote. The policy would protect Community Schools, Black Student Achievement Plan schools, and the district’s 100 priority schools from co-location, as well as limiting co-locations that would compromise a school’s ability to enroll students from nearby neighborhoods. Educators and parents lined up early outside the board meeting to speak to the realities from their schools and urge a yes vote on the resolution.”

Policy on charters will be affected by an upcoming election for the school board. United Teachers Los Angeles retweetsLA Techer’s Choice’s statement “public schools are under attack by privatizers who want to make more money off our students. We’re electing public education champions that will be there for our schools. We’re proud to endorse Kahllid, Scott, and Karla!” UTLA says “the new policy was passed by four pro-public education members of the board—Jackie Goldberg, Rocío Rivas, George McKenna, and Scott Schmerelson. The narrow passage underscores that the anti-privatization stance of the board majority is at stake in the March 5 school board election.”

4) Illinois/National: The Chicago Public Schools plan to end a multimillion dollar contract with Aramark, Chalkbeat Chicago reports. “The move comes after years of concerns and complaints over school cleanliness from staff, parents, and students. The school board’s latest agreement with the Philadelphia-based company is set to end June 30, 2024. According to a school board committee agenda posted Monday, the district is asking board members to increase the current contract, which started Aug. 2021, from $369 million to $391 million ‘due to unforeseen expenditures associated with overtime, custodial supplies and custodial equipment.’ A district spokesperson confirmed Monday the district is not renewing the contract with Aramark and the school board will vote on seven new contracts at its Feb. 22 meeting. Charles Mayfield, chief operating officer at CPS, said the district is looking forward to more direct oversight of janitorial services and supplies and allowing principals to have more say on school cleanliness. Mayfield said the district will contract with seven vendors for custodial services. He said he doesn’t anticipate any job losses with this change.”

5) Maryland: Howard County Library System workers have voted overwhelmingly to form a union and join AFSCME. “As a public service worker who interacts with the community, [Eliana Holgate, a children’s instructor and research specialist] said, she’s faced various challenges with customers and the physical library buildings that have made it harder for her to do her job. The union, she said, will help her advocate to have a stronger voice to get the resources she and her colleagues need. ‘I’m just really proud of my co-workers,’ she said. ‘It took a lot of group effort to get to this point, and you can see how important it was to so many of us to have this voice by the overwhelming majority that voted yes. We’re really excited.’”

6) Michigan/National: Michigan has officially become the first state in nearly 60 years to repeal its anti-union right-to-work law. “Pro-labor groups have celebrated the law’s repeal, saying that it was a victory ‘decades in the making’ as unions and labor advocates have fought against the law. The bill also restored the practice of the ‘prevailing wage’ that requires workers on state projects to pay union wages and benefits. ‘By standing up and taking their power back, at the ballot box and in the workplace, workers have made it clear Michigan is and always will be the beating heart of the modern American labor movement,’ said Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber in a statement.”

7) Nebraska: As big money pro-voucher forces line up to defeat a citizen-led ballot initiative, a pro-public education coalition prepares to carry their fight forward.

In the Public Interest’s Donald Cohen has the details. “Shortly after the bill was passed, public school supporters launched a referendum petition drive to put repeal of the new law on the November 2024 ballot. In fewer than 90 days, the repeal campaign gathered nearly double the number of required signatures from across the state. The effort was led by Support Our Schools Nebraska, a coalition that includes, among others, the Nebraska State Education Association, OpenSky Policy Institute, Parent-Teacher Association of Nebraska, Stand for Schools, League of Women Voters of Nebraska, Omaha NAACP, ARC of Nebraska, Nebraska Farmers Union, and the Nebraska Civic Engagement Table. In Nebraska, 84% of private schools are religiously affiliated. Many, if not most of these schools are legally permitted to discriminate against applicants based on their gender orientation, religious affiliation, or other characteristics. The Nebraska OpenSky Policy Institute has estimated that state aid distributed to public schools could decrease by almost $12 million in response to the new voucher program.”

8) New York: Community based organizations deserve a round of applause for their tenacious fight against the forces determined to re-privatize Long Island’s electrical utility. From a letter to the editor of Newsday by Timothy Karcich of Deer Park, a member of the grassroots Reimagine LIPA Coalition:

“Public utilities help users in many ways. The Long Island Association is being disingenuous about Long Island’s energy future. It’s not surprising since PSEG-Long Island is a major player in the LIA as well as a political force on Long Island and in Albany. (…) Studies consistently find that public utilities benefit ratepayers in terms of efficiency, reliability, accountability and affordability. A LIPA that is totally responsible for running the grid will have these benefits as well as streamlined efficiency, more local control and lower rates. Our energy system should work for its ratepayers, not for PSEG shareholders and those who profit from their dealings with PSEG.”

9) Ohio: The Springfield Local Schools Board of Education has passed a resolution authorizing a contract with the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE). It covers “179 classified personnel including secretaries, teaching assistants, custodians and other support staff. The agreement is from July 2023 through June 2025 and includes a 2% raise each of the two years of the contract. Treasurer Christopher Adams said in addition to the increase in pay, the district raised the amount the teaching assistants are paid to a more competitive rate. Adams also mentioned that the union voted for the contract with a 61 to 2 vote.”


10) Arizona: In an article for The Hechinger Report, a school parent says, “If you live in Arizona, school choice may be coming to your neighborhood soon. As someone who has had more school choice than I know what to do with, I can tell you what may feel like a shocking surprise: Private schools have the power to choose, not parents.” Pamela Lang writes “I then thought Catholic schools would welcome my son, but none of them did. One Catholic school principal who did admit him quickly rescinded the offer after a teacher objected to having him in her class. The long list of general, special-ed, Catholic and charter schools that turned my son away indicate how little choice actually exists, despite the marketing of ESA proponents. (…) I then tried to enroll him in private schools for students with disabilities. These schools were almost always located in former office suites in strip malls with no outdoor access. My son’s current school shares space with a dialysis center in a medical building, while a former school was located in a small second-floor suite in a Target plaza.”

11) California: Writing in Jacobin, Jessica Myers, a member of United Teachers Los Angeles and the Democratic Socialists of Los Angeles, lays out the issues for the upcoming school board elections. “Now is the moment of truth,” Myers says. “Al-Alim and Griego’s campaigns won’t be a cakewalk. Pro-privatization forces also have their sights set on the school board, with billionaires shoveling money into past school board races to get their candidates get a seat at the table. It’s no mystery why: the school board oversees big-picture decisions like approving the budget, setting curricula, and deciding the general direction of the district. It’s in charge of approving, or rejecting, new charter petitions and renewals in the city. It’s therefore no exaggeration to say that the future of public education in Los Angeles hinges on the outcome of school board elections. Once reliably favorable to privatization, the LA school board has been more circumspect about charters in recent years. In the fall, the board passed a resolution directing the district to provide a policy to limit the colocation of charters on campuses occupied by neighborhood schools. (…) This election is an opportunity to ‘realize and recognize what is possible,’ Karla Griego said. ‘What does it look like for schools with a working-class school board? It’s exciting to think about the possibilities of the changes and the transformations that we can make.’”

12) California: KQED reports that “immigrant students’ schoolwork and experience in the classroom often suffer in the presence of immigration enforcement—with 60% of teachers and school staff reporting poorer academic performance, and nearly half noting increased rates of bullying against these students, UCLA-based researchers found.” But community schools do better. “Meanwhile, 34 of LAUSD’s schools are also community schools, which provide ‘wraparound’ services—from meals to medical assistance — that advocates say are critical for students who are undocumented. Rosie Arroyo (not related to Yesenia), a senior program officer of immigration at the California Community Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles that aims to address systemic challenges facing various communities throughout the region, said housing and mental health resources are in especially high demand for these students and their families. ‘It’s about survival,’ Arroyo said. ‘And right now, there’s a lot of multilayered challenges communities are facing, from being able to make it on a day-by-day basis and having access to resources around just food.’ As a community school, the School for the Visual Arts and Humanities holds workshops for families every Wednesday, covering a range of topics, from housing to special education and how to access community resources.”

13) Florida: What’s the political link between book banning and school privatization? Writing on X/Twitter, Jennifer Berkshire says “DeSantis’ effort to rein in off-the-rails book banning in Florida seems like a recognition that relentless school culture warring is repelling voters. Except that the GOP base is WILD for this stuff. Add in deep-pocketed school choice groups ginning up culture war cuz they think it’s good for the privatization cause and we get GOP candidates running on issues that most voters either don’t care about or are repelled by. IOW nothing learned from multiple losing election cycles.”

14) Massachusetts: Berkshire also has a good takedown of a Boston Globe hit piece on the state teachers union. “TheBoston Globe wants desperately to paint the state’s largest teachers union as a bunch of out-of-touch radicals but the problem is causes like the millionaires tax & more $ for schools are way more popular than the #edreform agenda the Globe trumpets.” Keep rolling Jennifer.

15) Pennsylvania: A new charter school with a curriculum from the Christian Right’s Hillsdale College may be coming to the State College area. “Parfitt expects that the State College Area school board would deny the charter. ‘We expect them to deny charter schools,’ Parfitt said. ‘We’ve baked that into the plan. If they say yes, that’s great, that would be awesome news. But we’re pretty convinced they will deny it twice. So our entire process is going to be built with charter school appeal boards in mind.’ From 2021 to August 2023, the appeal board issued 12 charter decisions, siding with the charters only twice, according to reporting from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

16) Texas: The Fort Worth school budget shortage is all about diverting your tax dollars to vouchers, says Cecelia Gilbreath. “Why am I not surprised, when state funds are withheld to try to force lawmakers to create a school voucher program? I am against my tax dollars being diverted, leaving the public schools to cut educational opportunities to try to survive. No wonder our teachers are leaving in droves for better-paying, less-stressful jobs, even though teaching is their first love.”


17) National: Route Fifty reports that the Biden administration has approved more than 100 grants for airport improvements. “Austin’s airport received $39.5 million to help with its expansion plans. Phoenix will get $36 million for its heating and cooling systems. Los Angeles brought in $31 million to help with its plan to consolidate rental car operations and taxi and shuttle connections away from its main terminal. Dulles International Airport in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., secured $35 million to help build a new 14-gate terminal building. And Raleigh-Durham, which missed out on last year’s funding for the Airport Terminals Program, fared better this year by garnering $12 million for terminal improvements. More than 600 airports applied for the grants this year, with requests totaling $14 billion. The FAA chose 114 of those for funding.”

18) Florida: A P3 bill is in the works in Florida. A hearing will be held this Thursday in the state Senate transportation committee on a bill to prohibit the DOT from “annually committing more than a certain percentage of revenues derived from state fuel taxes and motor vehicle license-related fees to public transit projects; authorizing the department to enter into comprehensive agreements with private entities or the consortia thereof for the building, operation, ownership, or financing of transportation facilities; prohibiting a local governmental entity from adopting certain standards or specifications concerning asphalt pavement material; requiring the department to receive three letters of interest before proceeding with requests for proposals for certain contracts, etc.”

19) Minnesota: Less than 1% of construction jobs go to women of color in Rochester. “Rochester, with a population around 220,000, was halfway into a $585 million, 20-year funding initiative to build new infrastructure downtown. It was also home to the prestigious Mayo Clinic, which had just announced a $5 billion economic growth project. All of that growth meant a lot of available construction jobs, which was facing a worker shortage. Could that problem be solved by diversifying the workforce?”

20) Pennsylvania: Another day, another private equity grifting story, from Capital & Main. “For some industry observers and analysts, the Homer City station stands as a cautionary tale regarding the growing role of private equity, typically backed by large institutional investors, like pension funds, in the financing of coal production and the operation of coal-fired power plants, marked by a desire for quick profits. While banks have increasingly pulled back from financing fossil fuels, notorious for their damage to the environment, private equity has helped keep the coal industry alive. In the case of Homer City, the plant’s private equity owners kept a failing company operating for another six years—as it further polluted the environment and extended the power sector’s reliance on coal.”

21) Texas: Houston Mayor John Whitmire is battling park privatization. “Aside from the possibility of charging for photos at Memorial Park, a bigger topic came up in the city council. ‘Do you have a position on privatizing city parks?’ Mayor Whitmire asked during city council last week. In a statement this week, Whitmire said he does not plan to privatize parks and says he is strongly against parks charging fees to the public. ‘I want our parks to be accessible and affordable to the least among us. I am concerned about the fees charged, outsourcing, and selling naming rights. Our parks belong to the public, and they should remain accessible and affordable for the least among us,’ Whitmire said. As for the conversation about the potential to charge for photos at Memorial Park specifically, the proposal hasn’t been officially put on the table.”

22) Texas: The Austin City Council has authorized a move to court to validate a bond issuance for a multi-billion dollar light rail project, The Bond Buyer reports. “Bond financing for Project Connect is already being targeted in a lawsuit filed in Travis County District Court in November by taxpayers with a claim that echoed the attorney general’s opinion. The plaintiffs also contend the project presented to voters in 2020 was ‘drastically different’ than the light-rail system currently being pursued. Bill Aleshire, attorney for the taxpayer plaintiffs, said he expects the lawsuit will be consolidated into the bond validation action, adding he welcomes the move because it will lead to a speedier decision on the debt.

‘If they get shut down in court and told ‘no you can’t issue those bonds,’ I think that would be actually a wonderful thing even for those who support light-rail here in Austin because their only alternative is to do exactly what we told them to do … and that would be to turn back around and go to the voters with a phased plan,’ he said.” [Sub required]

23) International/Canada: A battle has broken out “over the Newfoundland and Labrador government’s desire to use a P3—or a public-private partnership model—to twin a portion of the Trans-Canada Highway. As the CBC’s Terry Roberts reports, the union representing public sector workers is vowing to fight the move.” Video report, 3 minutes. CBC reports that “Jerry Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, says his union will vigorously resist efforts by the provincial government to allow private contractors to carry out snow and ice control operations on the new sections of divided highway.”

24) International/Indonesia: Following national elections, the Indonesian labor movement is gearing up to fight “to defend public energy against the threat posed by the ‘privatize to decarbonize’ agenda reflected in the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) between the rich countries and the Indonesian government. (…) In mid-January 2024, TUED supported a broad coalition of trade unions, academics and public figures that petitioned Indonesia’s Constitutional Court to declare unconstitutional the electricity sector reform provisions in Law Number 6 of 2023. Known as GEKANAS, the coalition’s petition reflected concerns that the new law would lead to the “unbundling” of PLN, the public power utility, and increase the role of the for-profit independent power producers (IPPs.) The coalition’s effort is supported by power sector unions.”

Public Services

25) New Mexico: Return to Work legislation has gained bipartisan support and is moving through the legislature. “The Return to Work legislation was developed through a bipartisan effort with input from the New Mexico Association of Counties and the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). It aims to provide an opportunity for retired employees with experience in ten public safety areas to reenter the workforce in entry-level positions while still receiving their pension. Commissioner Benson emphasized the importance of this bill in addressing the staffing challenges faced by various public safety sectors. By allowing retired employees to return to work, the legislation not only helps fill critical positions but also utilizes the expertise and experience of these individuals. In a statement, Commissioner Benson said, ‘This legislation is a win-win for both the retirees and the community.’”

26) Iowa: Iowa’s privatized Medicaid system is gumming up the works for people who need repairs for their wheelchairs. “Council Bluffs State Representative Josh Turek introduced a bill in the Iowa legislature that he calls ‘right to repair.’ That term is often used by the ag community—referring to farm implements—but in this case, it refers to a bill meant to help individuals with disabilities.

  • Turek says it takes too long for people using wheelchairs to get their devices repaired through insurance companies, including Medicaid.
  • Iowa, like many states, privatized its Medicaid system. Claims are handled by Managed Care Organizations and Turek says they all have different requirements for wheelchair users who need to get repairs and it takes too long.
  • Pharmacist and healthcare business owner, David Kohll, says the system of repairing medical equipment worked better before Medicaid was privatized.”

27) North Carolina: Lawmakers are considering privatization of the Division of Motor Vehicles. A report is due May 1. “Justin Cruz said he couldn’t find an available time slot, so he showed up to a DMV office in Raleigh Friday. This time, he said he was in and out in 20 minutes. The last time he came, he said he waited an hour and a half before he was seen. Kirk Montgomery, president of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said he’s concerned privatizing the agency will not lead to better service and ultimately could increase costs for customers. He’d like to see state leaders do more to address the challenge in hiring that’s plaguing many state agencies. ‘The state has a 20 percent vacancy rate. And so, that’s a big problem. We’re not hiring, so they’re trying to put a Band-Aid on the issue,’ he said. ‘This is a lazy way of trying to get things done by trying to privatize. Invest in the resources we actually need to get state employees here to actually work.’ Sen. Lazzara said while there will be legislation considered regarding privatization during the session that starts in April, he does not anticipate a final decision being made on whether to move forward with that until the long session in 2025.”

28) Pennsylvania: In case you missed it, there was a very interesting three hour hearing on water privatization conducted by the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Policy Committee on January 22, 2024. Click here for the video in “Reining in Water Rates: The Unintended Consequences of Act 12 of 2016.” Testimony by Keep Water Affordable. Visit their webpage.

29) Pennsylvania: Cumberland County commissioners have approved a contract with AFSCME, “the union representing county prison staff that calls for an average salary increase of 18.5% over the next three years. The collective bargaining agreement between the county, the prison and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees covers Jan. 1, 2024, through Dec. 31, 2026.”

30) Wisconsin: Residents in Lincoln County want to keep their county-owned nursing home public. Why do local elected officials want to privatize it? To find out, we need to go to the indomitable Barn Raiser, your excellent source for “independent news, analysis and information to support diverse, civically engaged and dynamically connected rural and small town communities.” Henry Bleifuss reports that “over the past eight months, members of People for Pine Crest have organized a county-wide effort to oppose Pine Crest’s sale, leading demonstrations, calling press conferences, petitioning elected officials and, in January, hosting a town hall meeting attended by 175 community members. Then on February 12, they learned the county board will be voting on a proposal to sell Pine Crest on February 19. Pine Crest is one of the few remaining county-owned nursing homes in the region, where it has served the local residents for nearly 70 years. As a county-owned entity, Pine Crest houses a substantially higher proportion of seniors reliant on Medicaid than a private for-profit entity will often choose to take. Community leaders contend that its privatization puts at risk the ability of residents on Medicaid to remain at the home, which has received a five-star rating from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).” To find out the result of yesterday’s meeting, check out Barn Raiser’s X/Twitter feed.

31) International/Canada: A new report is refuting Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s rationale for privatizing the province’s public hospital services. “As the Ford government counters horror stories about unprecedented emergency department wait times, burgeoning deficits, and an unrelenting staffing crisis, it is running high-rotation advertisements paid for by the public to convince Ontarians that they are doing all they can to improve our health care. A new report to be released by the Ontario Health Coalition takes aim at those claims and exposes the impact of the Ford government’s drive to privatize public hospital services on local public hospitals across the province. The report, based on a year-long study looking at local hospitals across Ontario, reveals the concrete costs—both financial costs to patients and the province and services losses to local communities—of the transfer of resources away from our public hospitals to for-profit clinics and hospitals. The report includes information on hospitals in every region of the province.” [Summary; full report].

All the Rest

32) National: Writing in The American Prospect, Suzanne Gordon and Steve Early say “Trump’s VA Plans Look Too Much Like Biden’s VA Reality.” Gordon and Early write that “the challenge facing concerned veterans and their caregivers is how to mobilize to prevent a much better-coordinated Republican return to the White House, when the current administration does not offer enough of an alternative to Trump’s own VA agenda, past and future. Biden’s VA leaders continue to ignore the elephant in the room: the already swinging wrecking ball of privatization. One sign of this is the rare Project 2025 praise of Biden appointees, for ‘adopt[ing] some of their predecessors’ governance processes’ at the VA.”

33) National: President Biden’s nomination of American Enterprise Institute senior fellow Andrew Biggs to serve on the Social Security Advisory Committee has generated a sharp backlash. Biggs, a longtime advocate of privatizing Social Security, has suddenly backed off that position—for now. “Wednesday’s hearing came two weeks after the Republican-controlled House Budget Committee voted largely along party lines to advance legislation to create a fiscal commission for the nation’s trust fund programs. Opponents of the bill say it’s a ploy to fast-track cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Social Security Works, a progressive advocacy group, warned Wednesday that ‘if confirmed to the SSAB, Andrew Biggs would influence policymakers to push for Social Security cuts.’ ‘This would devastate working class families, while creating another way for billionaires to avoid paying their fair share into the system,’ the group wrote on social media.”

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler says “this commission is a power grab that is trying to bypass the regular democratic process by hiding behind closed doors and fast-tracking a plan that escapes public scrutiny and accountability.”

In prepared remarks, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said “it should come as no surprise that I have serious concerns about Dr. Biggs’s nomination given his background as one of the architects for privatization.

Just a few weeks ago, he argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that Social Security is not an earned benefit. That represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the program and what it was designed to do. Social Security is an earned benefit because you don’t receive it until you’ve worked and paid into it for at least 10 years. The mission of every Board member is to work toward gathering bipartisan consensus to strengthen Social Security, and should he be confirmed, I fear Dr. Biggs would be nothing more than a megaphone for partisan ideas to deny seniors their hard-earned benefits.”

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