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Archive: November 2008

D.C.'s New Underground Jewel: Best In A Decade

I had very low expectations for the Capitol Visitor Center. Even before the obscene cost overruns and mind-numbing construction delays, even before we learned that a giant holding pen and security barrier for tourists was going to cost every bit as much as Washington's new baseball stadium, the idea of funneling visitors away from the glorious outdoor view of the Capitol and into a marble-clad tunnel only fed whatever grousing gene it is that makes so many citizens cynical about big federal projects. Four years and a stunning $400 million in extra costs later, the center, a vast underground...

By Marc Fisher | November 28, 2008; 8:22 AM ET | Comments (6)

16th Street Showdown: Demolish Church To Save It?

Deep into more than 10 hours of argument and testimony in a jam-packed District government hearing room yesterday, someone finally dared to predict the fate of the Brutalist bunker on 16th Street NW that the Third Church of Christ, Scientist, has miserably called home for 37 years. "We all know how this case will end," said Jack Jacobson, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Dupont Circle. "The First Amendment will be upheld somewhere. Somewhere, somehow, common sense must prevail." It takes a special strength to maintain that kind of optimism in the face of the mind-numbing torrent of fantasies and...

By Marc Fisher | November 26, 2008; 8:05 AM ET | Comments (22)

No Money? Don't Spend On Friday. Just Listen.

Black Friday is likely to take on a new meaning this week. Instead of pushing retailers' balance sheets into the black, many merchants will instead want to hang black crepe as they sit in empty shops, victims of our collective reluctance to spend anything in this anxious time. But staying away from the stores needn't leave Americans with nothing to do but surf the web looking for morons who managed to record their stupid human tricks. Instead, you might try listening to someone you think you already know. David Isay, one of the most original minds in media, is...

By Marc Fisher | November 25, 2008; 1:00 PM ET | Comments (2)

Contest: How Should Obamas Connect With D.C.?

In the holiday spirit, how about a contest? The president-elect and his wife said on television last week that they plan to be active in Washington--of course, it would be hard to be less a part of the city's life than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has been. But just how can a president in this era of hypercautious security really engage with the city? Come ahead with your suggestions about concrete ways in which the Obamas could make themselves at home in--or have an impact on--the Washington area. The best--smartest, funniest, most effective--of your ideas will...

By Marc Fisher | November 25, 2008; 7:41 AM ET | Comments (21)

Where's Firing Fenty When You Need Him?

Where other D.C. mayors talked a tough game and even wielded a broom before the TV cameras, Mayor Adrian Fenty actually signs and delivers the pink slips. Fail to prevent children from dying at the hand of their disturbed mother? Six social workers sacked. (An arbitrator later forced the city to rehire three of the six, but who's counting?) Fenty's passion for tossing out the bad apples is most evident in the actions of his schools sidekick, Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who fires school principals like most of us butter our toast. She sacked the principal of her own kids'...

By Marc Fisher | November 24, 2008; 7:45 AM ET | Comments (53)

Immeasurable Service: Murdered Couple's Legacy

Michael and Ginny Spevak, who were found murdered in their Chevy Chase D.C. home Saturday night, led lives of almost unfathomable service. In a time when so many people have drawn inward, this Washington couple turned their energies and passions to the community around them in ways that could fill a catalogue. Ginny, who taught middle school for many years at Green Acres School in Montgomery County, was an appointed member of the District's Corrections Information Council, a failed effort to create citizen monitoring of the city's inmates. Spevak and other members of the panel resigned in frustration when...

By Marc Fisher | November 23, 2008; 12:29 PM ET | Comments (14)

Good Deeds In Hard Times: The Annual Thanks Column

The next time one of Butch Warren's bass solos inspires a couple to look each other in the eyes and see something new, the thanks should be directed not only to one of the great jazz players of the past half-century, but also to a shopkeeper in Wheaton, a TV news producer whose usual focus is the White House, a minister in Southwest Washington and a charity in California. Warren, 69, has been playing at Columbia Station in Adams Morgan for more than a year now, ever since he got back to town from the state mental institution in Carroll...

By Marc Fisher | November 23, 2008; 9:39 AM ET | Comments (1)

U.S. History Museum Looks Sleek--But Where's The Beef?

After more than two years of renovations, the Smithsonian's American History museum reopens today, and those who remember it as a set of dim, cavernous, echo-filled hallways featuring humongous locomotives, Dorothy's ruby red slippers, and a sad-looking Star Spangled Banner are in for something of a shock. The $85 million remake, originally intended largely as an updating of the 1964 building's internal systems, has produced a bracingly new look--clean lines, sleek lighting, a dazzling glass staircase and a boffo, dramatic new home for the massive American flag that in 1814 inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem....

By Marc Fisher | November 21, 2008; 8:20 AM ET | Comments (9)

DC GOP: Independent Is Really A Democrat

Everyone knows Michael Brown is really a Democrat. The newly elected member of the D.C. Council spent a good chunk of the fall on national TV presenting himself as a surrogate for Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Brown has run for city office twice as a Democrat. He's been a registered Democrat all of his adult life. But he was elected this month as an independent. Under the District's bizarre law guaranteeing two seats on the council for minority party members, Brown's only path to victory required him to drop out of his party and pretend, at least for a...

By Marc Fisher | November 20, 2008; 3:19 PM ET | Comments (7)

D.C.'s 911 King Gets A Castle Of His Own

Until the past few weeks, Darian Holton and Catherine Bellamy were a big part of why medical care costs a fortune. Holton, who was homeless for eight years, was the city's 911 king. He called for an ambulance 270 times last year, quite possibly a municipal record. "They put you out of the shelters regardless of if it's hot, cold, raining, whatever," says Holton, 31. With nothing to do all day, "I went to the emergency room. It's warm. Certain hospitals, I could play the psychiatric card -- get admitted for a couple of days. At least, I could sit...

By Marc Fisher | November 20, 2008; 12:09 PM ET | Comments (2)

D.C. To Close Five (Mini) Libraries

The D.C. Public Library, struggling to redefine itself and deal with a collection of old, declining buildings, will close all five of its neighborhood kiosks, four of them by the end of this year. The kiosks, plexiglass and metal booths that were built in the 1970s to bring books and after-school homework help to some of the District's most impoverished neighborhoods, are all located in the eastern part of the city. They are the least used of the District's libraries, yet after their closing, some residents will have to travel between one and two miles to the nearest branch...

By Marc Fisher | November 20, 2008; 7:45 AM ET | Comments (1)

Score One For Fenty & Nickles

Just when it looked like the D.C. Council might rear up and bite back at the mayor and his eager beaver of a lawyer, Adrian Fenty and Peter Nickles emerged victorious from last night's showdown over the attorney general. By a 7-5 vote, with Chairman Vincent Gray making the winning difference for the mayor he so often slams up against, the council confirmed Nickles as attorney general, the position he has held on an interim basis for most of the past year. The decision demonstrates the enduring power of a popular mayor who has treated the council with disdain...

By Marc Fisher | November 19, 2008; 7:20 AM ET | Comments (5)

Weast: Sorry, Kids, New Prez Doesn't Mean No School

Sorry, kids, nice effort with the online petition to have school canceled in Montgomery County on Inauguration Day, but Superintendent Jerry Weast isn't buying. "While I appreciate the magnitude of this occasion and the excitement it is generating, I do not recommend that we close schools for the day for several reasons," Weast writes in a memo to school board members. School systems all around the region are considering whether to cancel classes on Jan. 20. Weast's arguments: 1) Most parents won't have the day off, so closing school would create a child care crisis for many Montgomery residents....

By Marc Fisher | November 18, 2008; 11:40 AM ET | Comments (8)

D.C. Political Justice? Will Barry Decide Nickles' Fate?

This promises to be the best bit of D.C. political theater since the wild machinations over whether to give Major League Baseball the deal of a lifetime: During today's D.C. Council meeting, members will vote on Mayor Adrian Fenty's nomination of Peter Nickles as the city's attorney general. The fiercely self-confident Nickles, who has been a key adviser to the mayor since Fenty was a mere pup and who has been interim chief of the city's legal department for nearly a year, has managed to so alienate and offend members of the council that its judiciary committee voted 3-2...

By Marc Fisher | November 18, 2008; 5:56 AM ET | Comments (6)

Speeder Nabbed Twice--By Camera And Cop

Phil Lepanto was doing a good deed, driving up to Montgomery County on a Sunday morning to help a friend pick up a dresser for a newborn's bedroom. He went too heavy on the gas and got pulled over by a county police officer for doing 46 mph in a 30 mph zone on Connecticut Avenue. A few days later, Lepanto received another ticket in the mail, this one citing him for a speeding violation committed a couple of blocks away and immediately before the other one. Again, the allegation was that he was going 45 in a 30...

By Marc Fisher | November 17, 2008; 8:19 AM ET | Comments (8)

They Bowl Their Age--And That's Not Too Shabby

Leon Malkin bowls a spare, his third of the day. Nothing spectacular, but for a guy celebrating his 98th birthday ("A big piece of cake, please"), not shabby. And, as he sees it, considerably better than the alternative. "We moved to Leisure World waiting to die," Malkin says during a break in the action at the White Oak duckpin bowling lanes in Silver Spring. Then, he didn't. So he bowls Mondays at noon. Three games, four lanes, a whole lot of laughs. It's a pursuit Malkin had never even considered earlier in life. "I had to raise a family," he...

By Marc Fisher | November 16, 2008; 9:36 AM ET | Comments (3)

Is The New Sirius XM The Beginning Of Satellite's End?

I woke up one morning this week to find that five of the eight preset stations on my XM radio were gone--silence where distinctive music programs had been. Throughout the many months in which the nation's two satellite radio companies fought for federal permission to complete the merger that they had once promised would never happen, Sirius chief executive Mel Karmazin said XM and Sirius would retain separate brands and programming for 15 years. Now, less than four months after winning government approval to merge, Sirius and XM have essentially blended their programming into one set of channels. The...

By Marc Fisher | November 14, 2008; 8:05 AM ET | Comments (50)

Got Campaign Withdrawal Pangs? Virginia To The Rescue

Terry McAuliffe is a master fundraiser, a schmoozer of the first order, a TV regular. "The Macker," an ebullient vacuum cleaner of the wallets and bank accounts of Democratic fat cats, was Bill Clinton's chief moneyman, a party chairman with a knack for an impossible task -- making people feel squeaky clean about diving into the murky world of political campaign contributions. But now McAuliffe wants to be governor of Virginia, a job that has more to do with repairing roads and managing prisons than it does with sweet-talking Hollywood moguls and spinning the loudmouths on CNN, MSNBC and Fox....

By Marc Fisher | November 13, 2008; 9:23 AM ET | Comments (0)

New Orioles Unis: That's How To Do It

Well, that's better. One week after the Washington Nationals unveiled a poorly-conceived remake of its player uniforms, the Baltimore Orioles are out with their new fashions, and they're not only classy looking, but they also reflect a thoughtful new repositioning of the franchise. By restoring the word "Baltimore" to their jerseys for the first time since the last Washington Senators left the mid-Atlantic states with but one baseball franchise, the Orioles are coming home to Maryland fans and abandoning their half-hearted and ultimately failed effort to attract fans from the Washington area. To make that decision even plainer, the...

By Marc Fisher | November 12, 2008; 4:10 PM ET | Comments (9)

D.C. School Reform: The Backlash

When Michelle Obama visits town and stops by two private schools without so much as a rolling glance at any D.C. public school, and when Barack Obama takes a moment in a presidential debate to lament that Washington's schools are "in terrible shape," the message received in the city school system cannot be a happy one. After 17 action-packed months on the job, D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee is finally reaching the deep part of the pool. She's still the darling of many politicians and parents--and especially of Mayor Adrian Fenty--and she's still on a collision course with the...

By Marc Fisher | November 12, 2008; 8:07 AM ET | Comments (24)

Anatomy Of An Election Fraud Scare

The problem with our breaking news-war room media-political culture is that not everything is as it first may seem. Now that the dust is settling on last week's election, we're learning some of the many inside stories, and while some are just delicious--could Sarah Palin really not have known that Africa is a continent?--others should set off alarms. You may recall a last-days alert about a flier that was making the rounds in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia, a missive that purported to be from the state board of elections, instructing Republican voters to come to the polls...

By Marc Fisher | November 11, 2008; 8:18 AM ET | Comments (20)

The Vise Tightens On D.C. Lottery

Lost in the avalanche of election news was a big development in the long-running saga of the D.C. Lottery contract, a multi-million deal that has become a symbol of the District's inability to switch from a failing contractor to one that promises to do a better job at a lower cost. The city's Contract Appeals Board last week issued a scathing ruling rejecting complaints by LTE, the current contractor, that it had been treated unfairly by the city in the process of selecting the next lottery operator. Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Zischkau, writing for himself and Judge Warren Nash,...

By Marc Fisher | November 10, 2008; 8:20 AM ET | Comments (3)

D.C. Kenyans See Obama As One Of Their Own

The first time she saw Barack Obama, Alice Mukabane knew. "You see it right away," she says, "the qualities of a Kenyan. His firmness reminds me of the people back home who, when they say, 'We want,' they get. And his humbleness -- our people are very humble." "He's a good listener, like Kenyans," adds her husband, William, who, with Alice, runs Safari DC, the Washington area's only Kenyan restaurant. More than any other politician of his generation, President-elect Obama is a vessel for the aspirations of people who otherwise have little in common. Black Americans listen to him and...

By Marc Fisher | November 9, 2008; 2:23 PM ET | Comments (0)

Just How Rare A Bird Is Frank Wolf Now?

From Boston to Washington, there is no longer a single Republican in the House of Representatives from any portion of the great cities of the megalopolis. But the new Democratic surge is not happening in the big cities themselves. It's the suburbs of major metropolitan areas that are shifting, and that change is now so deep that Rep. Frank Wolf--the Republican who easily won reelection in a district that extends from Fairfax County out to several counties in the third ring of Washington exurbs--will now be not only the only Republican to represent any piece of the D.C. region...

By Marc Fisher | November 7, 2008; 8:56 AM ET | Comments (3)

New Nats Uniforms: Hold The Flagwaving

The Washington Nationals have more than their share of problems--soft attendance, the worst TV ratings in all of baseball, and a miserable paucity of talent on the field. Their uniforms were not in the top 20 among their woes. But it's new uniforms that the team unveiled today, and, well, the new duds are, um, duds. Not all of them: The new away uniforms are just fine--not as attractive or classy as the ones they replace, but fine. Nationals outfielder Lastings Milledge, with model at right, sports the new road jersery at ESPN Zone restaurant in Washington D.C. (Dominic...

By Marc Fisher | November 6, 2008; 2:47 PM ET | Comments (14)

Fist Bumps On U Street: "We Crossed The Bridge"

It felt like Berlin after the Wall was breached. Something that had been imagined for so long, yet seemed impossible, just . . . happened. It felt like the American promise, fulfilled. At the foot of the Key Bridge just after midnight, hundreds of Georgetown University students poured off the campus. "White House!" they shouted to one another, and off they ran, along M Street NW, down Pennsylvania Avenue, picking up pretty much the entire student body of George Washington University on their way. I followed the car horns and the kids, and soon we were at the White House...

By Marc Fisher | November 6, 2008; 9:48 AM ET | Comments (1)

Voters' Answers: 10. Who Really Elects The Prez?

Question #10: Finally, who are you really voting for when you vote for Barack Obama or John McCain? Why, electors, of course. And who are these constitutionally-mandated, virtually anonymous souls who actually get to elect the president? Who are these people you actually voted for yesterday even if their names didn't appear on the ballot? Here they are: First, Virginia. In Virginia, you elected artists, teachers, politicians, retirees. People such as Janet Carver of Springfield, a retiree and Democratic activist, and Rollie Winter of Leesburg, a retired information technologist, and Marian Van Landingham of Alexandria, a retired state legislator...

By Marc Fisher | November 5, 2008; 3:36 PM ET | Comments (0)

Voters' Answers: 9. Eating Out Trumps Building Schools

Question #9: Will Loudoun County voters agree to make restaurant meals and prepared foods in supermarkets as much as four percent more expensive to fund the building of more schools? No. By a convincing 70 percent vote, Loudoun residents said no way do they want to raise the restaurant and prepared foods tax to pay for new schools, even if a good chunk of that tax revenue would come from travelers using Dulles airport. This was not a kneejerk vote against paying for any more schools or public facilities in the nation's capital of hypergrowth. To the contrary, Loudoun...

By Marc Fisher | November 5, 2008; 3:17 PM ET | Comments (0)

Voters' Answers: 8. Anti-Ping-Pong Crusader Is Out

Question #8: Will voters in the northwest Washington neighborhood where Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Frank Winstead crusades against sidewalk ping-pong tables, benches and double-parked delivery trucks rise up and take a stand for street life? Yes, in a big way. Voters in the Forest Hills section of upper Northwest Washington swept Winstead out of office, giving challenger Tom Whitley a 73 percent to 25 percent victory over the man who was offended by the sight of people enjoying a game of ping-pong on a public sidewalk. In other ANC races around the city, voters repeatedly--but with some big exceptions--sent the...

By Marc Fisher | November 5, 2008; 2:55 PM ET | Comments (4)

Voters' Answers: 7. Hillary Beats McCain

Question #7: Who will do better against Barack Obama in rural Virginia, Hillary Clinton or John McCain? When Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton faced off in the Virginia Democratic primary in February, Obama won handily, by 64 percent to 35 percent. But Sen. Clinton demolished Sen. Obama in rural areas of the commonwealth, especially in the southwest and Southside, where unemployment, deindustrialization, the decline of tobacco and a legacy of racial conflict made the terrain especially friendly to a white populist running against a black guy from Chicago and Harvard. Clinton racked up extraordinary margins in some rural counties....

By Marc Fisher | November 5, 2008; 1:37 PM ET | Comments (0)

Voters' Answers: 6. Mark Warner's Near-Sweep

Question #6: How close can Mark Warner come to sweeping every county and city in Virginia, and if he does win that remarkable support, what does that mean for next year's race for governor? Very close, but not quite. Warner did not achieve the almost impossible, if slightly arrogant, dream of winning every city and county in Virginia, but he came awfully close. He lost, for example, in rural Augusta County, where Jim Gilmore beat Warner 51-47. But there wasn't a single jurisdiction in the commonwealth in which Warner didn't do well. Does this spell the beginning of an...

By Marc Fisher | November 5, 2008; 1:10 PM ET | Comments (0)

Voters' Answers: 5. Fenty's Honeymoon Ends

Question #5: Will the D.C. Council, deeply frustrated by Mayor Adrian Fenty's end runs around them on issue after issue, embark on a more confrontational or obstructionist path over the next two years? Yes. The election last night of Michael Brown to an at-large seat on the D.C. Council tips the balance of the city's legislature, strengthening those members who are finally frustrated enough by Mayor Adrian Fenty's solo forays into policy-making that they're ready to sprinkle some tire spikes into the road that the popular mayor travels. Cowed for nearly two years by the fact that Fenty won...

By Marc Fisher | November 5, 2008; 12:51 PM ET | Comments (1)

Voters' Answers: 4. Change On Eastern Shore?

Question #4: Was it his party affiliation or his political positions that kept Rep. Wayne Gilchrest in office for so long in Maryland's 1st District (Eastern Shore and parts of Anne Arundel County)? Voters aren't sending a clear message on this one. With the race between Democrat Frank Kratovil and Republican Andy Harris so close as to provoke a recount, it's too soon to say if Kratovil's paper-thin lead will hold up. Gilchrest, the nine-term incumbent who was one of the last of the vaguely liberal Republicans left in Congress, lost his seat in the GOP primary to conservative...

By Marc Fisher | November 5, 2008; 12:40 PM ET | Comments (0)

Voters' Answers: 3. The Last Wolf

Question #3: Will Rep. Frank Wolf become the last Republican to represent any part of Maryland or Virginia inside the Beltway? Yes. Wolf's powerful victory over two-time Democratic challenger Judy Feder was a sweeping and clear statement across the entire district, demonstrating that a moderate Republican who steers clear of most social issues can still win inside the Beltway. Wolf beat Feder by 56-41 in Fairfax--not quite as handily as he won in Loudoun (60-38), Winchester (60-38), Fauquier (69-30) or Clarke County (66-33) but nonetheless a strong win. In the 11th District, Keith Fimian's relatively strong showing against the...

By Marc Fisher | November 5, 2008; 12:02 PM ET | Comments (0)

Voters' Answers: 2. Why Slots Won

2. Is it just party and personality that made the difference for slots in Maryland? No, it was more than that. Slots won everywhere. Marylanders as a whole voted 59-41 to legalize slots gambling and move toward the construction of five slots palaces around the state, including one in Laurel. But even liberal Montgomery County, which the stereotype tells us never met a tax it didn't like, voted for slots, though it was close: 52-48 percent. (Pending a likely recount, county voters appeared finally to conclude that enough taxes are enough, voting by 50.09 percent to 49.91 percent for an...

By Marc Fisher | November 5, 2008; 11:32 AM ET | Comments (3)

Voters Answer The 10 Questions: 1. Virginia's GOP

Here are the voters' answers to the 10 questions I posed this week about this election--I'll be posting these one at a time for easy, quicker viewing: 1. Is the hard-core appeal to social conservatives no longer a path to victory for Virginia's Republican party? Whether they were merely carried along by the Obama wave or lost because voters thought they were too wedded to George Bush's ideas and actions, Virginia Republicans took a beating last night. Former Gov. Jim Gilmore, tossed to the curb by John McCain and Sarah Palin, who made visit after visit to Virginia and...

By Marc Fisher | November 5, 2008; 10:59 AM ET | Comments (3)

Va., Md., D.C.: Ready To Count (More Pizza, Please)

Just back from a tour of polling places in Virginia, Maryland and the District, and the turnout numbers are quite remarkable in many places. When 75 percent of your registered voters have already turned up by 1 p.m., something unusual is happening. As an elections chief at a polling place in Falls Church put it to me, "I can't have an evening rush because there aren't enough people left to form one." So here's the plan for tonight: I'll be with you on the chat here on the big web site every hour from 7 p.m. Eastern time on...

By Marc Fisher | November 4, 2008; 5:24 PM ET | Comments (0)

Why We Vote--And Why We Don't

Even today, even with nearly everyone on both sides predicting a turnout like this country hasn't seen in decades, somewhere between a third and half of all American adults won't vote. In some countries, voter turnout comes awfully close to 100 percent. In the democracies most like ours, turnout is often in the 80-90 percent range. Not here. But if you read the works of economists who've studied why people vote and why they don't, the real marvel is that anyone votes at all. "A rational individual should abstain from voting," economist Patricia Funk concluded in an influential paper...

By Marc Fisher | November 4, 2008; 7:18 AM ET | Comments (32)

Should Election Day Be Homework Holiday?

For days, my son Aaron has been grumbling about the fact that he has two tests scheduled for the day after Election Day, a prospect that he declared to be anti-democratic and downright cruel. How's a good American supposed to follow the election returns if he's busy studying history and science? Astonishingly, the kid's prayers were answered this weekend, when an email edict from the head of his school wiped the slate clear and granted all students a homework- and test-free window in which to watch the results of Tuesday's vote. Now, the challenge goes to every other school...

By Marc Fisher | November 3, 2008; 1:49 PM ET | Comments (1)

10 Questions For Election Night

As you watch the returns roll in Tuesday evening, here are ten questions that the results will, perhaps, answer: 1. Is the hard-core appeal to social conservatives no longer a path to victory for Virginia's Republican party? If Obama carries the state, does that mean that moderate Republicans who have been pushed out of office and out of the mainstream of the party in recent years will have a case for grabbing hold of their party and steering it back toward the center? Or will social conservatives be emboldened to press their cause more boldly, arguing that Republicans lose...

By Marc Fisher | November 3, 2008; 8:10 AM ET | Comments (9)

Obama, McCain And Trust In The Ordinary Man

"There is nothing as trustworthy as an ordinary mind -- of the ordinary man." -- Lonesome Rhodes Probably you don't remember Lonesome Rhodes's campaign. Lonesome was the ultimate ordinary man, so plain, so flawed that his path to stardom began when he was plastered and unconscious on the filthy floor of a backwoods jail. But Lonesome's innate goodness, his folksy manner, his winning grin and his gift for telling a great yarn -- while tucking in a valuable lesson about morality -- all added up to a magical appeal. To his own great surprise, and to the joy and satisfaction...

By Marc Fisher | November 2, 2008; 8:42 AM ET | Comments (0)

 

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