March 25, 2018
By Panu Wongcha-um and Chayut Setboonsarng
BANGKOK (Reuters) – A 39-year-old motor parts billionaire and extreme sports enthusiast seeking to shake up Thai politics has been compared to France’s Emmanuel Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau for his youth.
But Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit sees little prospect of emulating their electoral success even if the junta, which seized power in a May 2014 coup, holds elections as promised next year after several postponements.
“Election laws are unfavorable to us, timing is unfavorable to us, the attitude of the government is unfavorable to us,” he told Reuters. “The chance is very slim. But a little hope is better than no hope at all.”
Thanathorn launched his Future Forward party this month with a big fanfare and a promise to appeal to the youth vote.
But the forces that have divided Thailand for a generation are also mobilizing – and making plain their enduring presence four years after the coup that ousted a ‘red’ populist government in the name of ending turmoil with a ‘yellow’ royalist elite.
Thanathorn’s party had not even been formally launched before he came under attack from ultra-royalists.
“Future Forward… It is the future for those who want to impede the rights of the king,” Rienthong Nanna, a retired major-general, wrote on Facebook.
Thanathorn declined comment on the monarchy – a subject few dare speak of given the world’s harshest lese majeste, or royal insult, laws.
He has previously dismissed accusations of being anti-monarchy although his party has also received praise from some of Thailand’s most vocal exiles.
“The party offers an alternative path,” prominent exiled academic and junta critic Pavin Chachavalpongpun told Reuters. “It’s a phenomenon that should have happened a long time ago.”
Thanathorn isn’t a total newcomer.
Since student days, he has been part of campaigns against poverty and inequality though in recent years he has spent more time helping run the Thai Summit Group founded by his late father and running ultra-marathons in the Arctic and the Sahara.
VOTE NEXT YEAR?
His emergence comes as the junta starts registering parties ahead of a frequently delayed election now set for 2019. Whether his party will win registration is still in question.
Political success in Thailand depends on being able to placate the military and royalist elite, said Joshua Kurlantzick of the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations.
“In France, there was no junta stopping Macron forming a party,” he told Reuters.
Piyaphong Klinphan, a junta spokesman, said registration was a matter for the election commission, but the junta would make sure nobody could disturb security or break the law.
It has been widely noted in Thailand that Future Forward’s orange color is a mix of the red and yellow of the old rivals, although the party has said this is unintentional.
In the “red shirt” camp are supporters of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the last billionaire to shake up Thai politics, whose populist policies won support from farmers, the poor and the heavily populated northeast.
The “yellow shirt” camp represents the traditional privilege of the Bangkok based establishment, strongly pro-army and pro-monarchy.
“We need to convince people from all colors to come back and have faith in parliamentary democracy,” said Thanathorn, a father of three.
His policies include business deregulation and moving decision making out of Bangkok. Thanathorn distances himself from the populism of Thaksin, who was overthrown in 2006 and fled to escape a corruption conviction he says was political. Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck, was ousted in the 2014 coup.
One of Thanathorn’s uncles served as transport minister under Thaksin and politicians from Thaksin’s camp have been more welcoming of Thanathorn’s party than the ultra-royalists.
But Thanathorn’s party has barely started to build the grassroots structures that helped parties linked to Thaksin win every election since 2001.
In a pro-Thaksin stronghold in Bangkok, only a few kilometers from where Thanathorn launched his party, most of more than 20 people asked by Reuters said they had not heard of him.
All said they would stick with the Pheu Thai Party, whose leaders flew to Hong Kong and Singapore last month for meetings with Thaksin that participants said had focused on preparations for the elections.
“My friends and I will still vote Pheu Thai,” commented one 58-year-old “red shirt” who gave his name only as Na. “I don’t want a young man to lead the country.”
(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Aukkarapon Niyomyat, Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Nick Macfie)
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March 25, 2018
(Reuters) – Roger Federer will skip the upcoming European clay court season, including the French Open, he said on Saturday after his shock loss to 175th-ranked Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis at the Miami Open.
“I decided not to play,” Federer said of his plans for Europe.
The decision means the 36-year-old will follow the same path as last year, when he also took two months off after the Miami Open, before returning to win Wimbledon.
Federer’s loss to Kokkinakis was his second in six days, after falling to Juan Martin del Potro at Indian Wells.
Kokkinakis is the lowest-ranked player to defeat a men’s world number one since 178th-ranked Francisco Clavet beat Lleyton Hewitt in Miami 2003, the ATP Tour https://ift.tt/2G4fKA9 said on its website.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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Anyone who thinks democracy doesn’t matter may be in for a rude shock later this year, when we know the result of America’s mid-term elections. The Deep State is on course to take control of Congress. If this happens, it will be the next step in a global trend of side-lining democracy in the West, driven in large part by American foreign policy. It has led to governments everywhere increasing control over their people, in an inversion of democratic principles.
It affects us all. Since the Twin Towers tragedy, American foreign policy has taken the lead in extending personal surveillance to every nation in the formerly free world. It has forced banks to divulge their customers’ private affairs in the name of preventing terrorism, crime and tax evasion. Governments that resist these moves have been destabilised, and independent agencies, such as the SWIFT banking system, have been forced to implement America’s foreign policy.
All countries have been made to go along with America’s imperatives, admittedly often willingly. Swiss banking confidentiality no longer exists, and over one hundred countries automatically swap financial information on their citizens and their businesses. The Americans routinely spy on their allies, as Mrs Merkel found out in 2015.
The erosion of democracy in America is a problem that was anticipated in its founding constitution. The rights enshrined in it are there to protect the individual from the Federal Government, yet the Federal Government chips away at those rights, as the founding fathers doubtless feared it would. The right to keep and bear arms in the Second Amendment, always a contentious issue, was framed by James Madison so that a local militia would be able to repel a standing [Federal] army. Americans still have the right to bear arms, due to the efforts of the National Rifle Association, but as the Bundy family discovered in Nevada, don’t expect the Federal government to respect your constitutional rights.
Few people think of freedom in these terms today, but a further erosion of democracy is an urgent issue facing American voters in November. It appears that a large number of former and current military and intelligence operatives are seeking nomination as Democrats for the 2018 mid-term elections. And if the Democrats succeed in getting a majority in the House of Representatives, which is the current prediction, they could comprise as much as half of the new members, in effect controlling Congress by holding the balance of power.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has identified 102 seats as “competitive” in its red-to-blue campaign programme. Eighty of these seats are vulnerable Republicans, and 22 are seats where the incumbent is retiring. 57 of the 221 candidates standing for the Democratic nomination in these 102 districts are current or past agents of the military-intelligence complex. And of those 102 districts, 44 have one of these candidates, 11 have two, and one has three. Furthermore, there are indications that the financial backers of the Democratic Party are supporting this influx of intelligence operatives, and that they are well-funded.
Why should we worry?
These candidates either represent or have strong links with the military-intelligence complex. This complex, the Deep State, has already regained a high degree of influence over the White House following the last Presidential election, to the point where it now appears to have gained control over foreign policy.
It also dictates homeland security. Unsatisfied with the degree of control it has over the White House, the Deep State now appears to be seeking to control Congress as well, by having politicians in its pocket on both sides of the House, thereby holding the balance of votes.
While the military-intelligence complex has had a tight grip on America’s foreign policy for some time, this is a new development. Whatever the merits or otherwise of the leading candidates for the Presidency, the CIA appears to have been managing the democratic process for decades, so that their preferred candidate wins. First, there was Papa Bush, ex-Director of the CIA. He was followed by Bill Clinton, Governor of Arkansas, where it has been alleged the CIA used Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport as a drop point for secret operations. Whether this was true or not, Clinton was followed by Bush Junior, when 9/11 became the justification for the second Iraq invasion. And there can be little doubt Obama quickly toed the CIA line with the appointment of a compliant Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.
Following Obama, who was little more than a puppet president, Hillary was the anointed one, but then the voters rebelled and elected The Donald instead.
There can be no doubt that the chaos in the White House since Trump’s victory has reflected a fight behind the scenes for control of foreign policy, homeland security and military spending. It has been about the CIA’s ultimately successful attempts to ensure Trump backtracked on relevant electoral promises and complies with its own agenda. So far, Trump has backed down on Russia, North Korea, Iran and on military spending, suggesting he is well on the way to becoming the Deep State’s lackey. It now seems the CIA wants to control the balance of power in Congress.
This should be deeply troubling for Americans looking to draw a line under the erosion of their democracy. The US is already on its way to becoming a hidden dictatorship, where even the President is a captive of an unelected secret agency pursuing its own belligerent agenda. America’s allies should also be worried about taking direction from America’s intelligence community, no longer pursuing a balanced diplomatic itinerary, but one of geopolitical warmongering.
Seeking to control Congress is a logical extension of pre-existing Deep State policies. We have gone from the invention of weapons of mass destruction as an excuse to topple Saddam Hussein, to false-flag operations and other wars in the Middle East and Eurasia. And how much of the current anti-Russia rhetoric is concocted by American intelligence agencies, we may never know, but given the intelligence services’ stock in trade is disinformation and propaganda, it is hard to believe indisputable facts are involved.
There can be little doubt that moving missile systems towards Russia’s borders in the years after the collapse of the old Soviet Union has ensured America would continue to be seen by the Russians as an aggressor. The better, more democratic course, would have been to open borders to trade and cultural influence. And who knows, the need for a nationalistic strong man may not have arisen and Putin, if he continued in power in these altered circumstances, might be behaving very differently. But that would have meant the intelligence-military complex would have no purpose, beyond America’s diminishing domestic security.
Money is the root of this evil
For a long time, the senior operators at the top of the CIA must have felt that they are the masters of the human race. Regimes came and went at the CIA’s behest, but the CIA carried on regardless. To maintain this power, at a time when China and Russia are emerging as the powerhouses of Asia, requires more money, and lots of it. Money to bribe and subsidise foreign states: China is now the greatest source of funds for the world’s independent regimes. Money for technology and hardware: Russia’s military technology and missile capability is now potentially more advanced than America’s.
Therefore, the Deep State has a looming funding problem if it is to keep up with Russia and China on its accustomed terms. Government military funding is by means of the discretionary spending allocation that is set by Congress through the annual appropriations process. As well as that, there’s a classified amount allocated for the main intelligence departments, including the CIA. Taken together, Department of Defense and Overseas Contingency Operations, which includes funding wars on foreign soil, are budgeted at $886bn for 2019, a minor increase over 2018.
These amounts will have to be increased significantly for 2020, if the Deep State is to pursue its objectives. President Trump is now onside, but Congress will need to be compliant in order to ensure the funds required will be available. That appears to be the explanation why the Deep State is seeking to take control of Capitol Hill.
This will take the geopolitical conflict with China and Russia to a new level. Their own intelligence services will almost certainly be fully aware of the American Deep State’s congressional manoeuvres. It might explain the timing of Russia’s pre-emptive announcement, that it has missiles capable of delivering a punch at Mach 20. It might also explain China’s recent announcement of its intention to increase military spending, even though the timing is likely to have been set by the recent National Peoples’ Congress.
If the US military-intelligence complex manages to pack out Congress, it will be the killer blow for any democracy remaining in America. It will clear the field for a secret state organisation, which has shown little or no regard for human life and the rule of law, to accelerate its warlike agenda. It will have unfettered access to the national finances to accelerate its programme of global aggression, and damn the consequences for anyone else.
The stakes could hardly be higher.
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March 25, 2018
(Reuters) – The president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the Oscars, has denied a sexual harassment allegation, Variety reported on Saturday.
In a memo sent to academy staff, President John Bailey said allegations in Hollywood trade publications that he tried to touch a woman inappropriately a decade ago on a movie set were untrue, Variety reported.
A representative for Bailey did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Reuters could not independently confirm any of the allegations.
Bailey, a cinematographer whose credits range from “Groundhog Day” to “How to Be a Latin Lover,” said in the memo that media reports describing complaints to the academy were false and served only to tarnish his 50-year career, Variety reported.
(Reporting By Andrew Hay; Editing by Nick Zieminski)
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March 25, 2018
By Deisy Buitrago
CARACAS (Reuters) – Jose Abreu, the award-winning founder of a program that pulled thousands of Venezuelan children from crime and poverty through music, died on Saturday, aged 78.
Abreu founded the globally acclaimed El Sistema, or The System, in 1975 in a garage with just nine musicians. From that, the network expanded to 300 choirs and orchestras that received awards from the Royal Swedish Academy and UNESCO.
“With devoted love and eternal gratitude to my mentor and father of El Sistema,” wrote Gustavo Dudamel, a famed Venezuelan conductor now the director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, on Twitter alongside a photo of himself with Abreu.
Abreu was born on May 7, 1939, in the small Andean city of Valera. He began his musical studies at nine and moved to Caracas to study composition.
“Abreu has given life to a musical system with which young people can be safe from the dangers of the street, of crime, of drugs,” said Simon Rattle, director of the Berlin Philharmonic, according to the El Sistema website.
Abreu’s model has been followed by other Latin American countries as well as some in Europe.
Dudamel has become the public face of El Sistema in recent years, often conducting free concerts in Caracas’ grimy downtown area.
He has spoken out strongly in support of anti-government protests that last year rocked Venezuela for four months, leaving more than 120 people dead, including an 18-year-old musician from the Venezuela National Youth Orchestra.
“We are deeply moved by the physical departure … of Maestro Abreu,” said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on state television.
(Additional reporting by Corina Pons and Girish Gupta; Writing by Girish Gupta; Editing by Nick Zieminski)
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Japanese crypto regulators sent crypto prices spiraling lower earlier this month when they announced a heavy-handed crackdown on seven local cryptocurrency exchanges (and ordered month-long suspensions for two more).
As CoinTelegraph reports, the Japanese Financial Services Agency (FSA) has sent “punishment notices” to seven crypto exchanges and temporarily halted the activities of two more after a round of inspections prompted by January’s Coincheck hack, CNBC reports Thursday, March 8.
The FSA issued business improvement orders for a lack of “the proper and required internal control systems” to seven exchanges, including Coincheck, which was specifically cited as lacking a system for preventing money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
The crackdown followed a historic theft of more than $500 million of NEM tokens from the Japanese exchange CoinCheck, which had been attributed to the fact that the exchange stored its customers’ funds in a low-security wallet. Regulators also discovered that an employee at unlicensed exchange Bit Station had improperly accessed customers’ coins.
And yesterday, the FSA warned Binance, a popular Hong Kong based exchange that was launched last year after issuing an initial coin offering, that it must either obtain a license or cease operating in Japan.
Meanwhile, in what appears to be a bid to avoid scrutiny from the FSA, Japan’s 16 licensed cryptocurrency exchanges are planning to launch a self-regulatory body similar to FINRA.
Perhaps sensing an opening, Yahoo Japan is planning to launch a regulated bitcoin exchange, according to a Nikkei report published Friday. Instead of building the exchange from scratch, Yahoo Japan plans to acquire a 40% stake in BitARG Exchange Tokyo, one of the 16 licensed exchanges, and use its technology to build a new exchange, to be launched in April 2019, or later.
The shares will be purchased for 2 billion yen ($19 million) via BitARG’s subsidiary YJFX, a forex trading platform.
The news had no discernible impact on crypto prices, which continued to drift lower Friday morning.
Earlier this week, Japanese officials attending the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires defended cryptocurrencies, arguing they were not a threat to broader financial stability…
Unlike so many of his peers, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has refused to slam cryptocurrencies – instead choosing to highlight the crypto “wealth effect” which he said could have a positive impact on GDP.
Japan became the first G-10 country to adopt a comprehensive regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies last year when legislation recognizing bitcoin as money – and clearing the way for financial institutions to deal in crypto – was signed into law.
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March 25, 2018
ALMATY (Reuters) – People in Turkmenistan are to vote in a parliamentary election on Sunday, with a choice between three parties and some independents, but all the candidates are ultimately loyal to the gas-rich desert nation’s leader, President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.
One of the candidates is the president’s son, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, regarded by observers as a potential successor to the 60-year-old leader, who is referred to by local people as Arkadag, or Protector.
Although the vote takes place against the backdrop of foreign currency shortages brought on by a drop in gas exports, there are no opposition parties in the former Soviet republic of six million.
There are 284 candidates contesting 125 seats in the single-chamber legislature, the main job of which is to rubber-stamp bills drafted by the cabinet.
Another body in the predominantly Muslim nation is the Halk Maslahaty, or People’s Council, which is chaired by the president, has more powers than parliament and consists of deputies elected by local councils.
However, the position of parliament speaker is important because they become acting president if the head of state is unable to carry out his work.
Some observers have tipped Serdar Berdymukhamedov, 36, to eventually become speaker and the designated successor to his father, who has run the country since 2007 and is the center of an extravagant personality cult.
A golden statue of the president riding a horse stands in the center of Ashgabat.
In a symbolical move, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, who had worked as a diplomat before becoming an MP in 2016, attended a summit of Central Asian leaders in Kazakhstan this month which his father skipped.
Turkmenistan’s economy depends heavily on exports of natural gas and Russia was its main customer for decades thanks to Soviet-era pipelines. But Moscow halted purchases of Turkmen gas in 2016, leaving China – which has built its own pipeline from scratch – as the main buyer.
The Ashgabat government is building a new pipeline through neighboring Afghanistan to Pakistan and China in an attempt to open up additional export markets.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Andrew Bolton)
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March 25, 2018
By Julie Ann Formoso
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – The head of Alphabet Inc’s autonomous driving unit, Waymo, said on Saturday that the company’s technology would have safely handled the situation confronting an Uber self-driving vehicle last week when it struck a pedestrian, killing her.
Waymo CEO John Krafcik told auto dealers at a gathering of the National Automobile Dealers Association in Las Vegas that the company was well on its way to its goal of decreasing motor vehicle fatalities.
“At Waymo, we have a lot of confidence that our technology would be able to handle a situation like that,” Krafcik said, referring to a scenario in which a pedestrian crosses the street at night.
The fatal collision on March 18 in Tempe, Arizona, has raised questions about the safety of autonomous technology in general, and of Uber’s system specifically, of which few details are known.
An investigation by police and federal safety regulators is ongoing into the accident, in which an Uber test vehicle driving in autonomous mode hit a pedestrian at night as she was walking across a four-lane roadway with her bike.
Having worked on self-driving cars since 2009 and with 5 million miles (8 million km) driven on public roads under its belt, Waymo is generally considered to be ahead of rivals in the development of autonomous vehicle technology.
The company plans to roll out a service for passengers in coming months in the Phoenix area offering rides in a fully self-driving Waymo car with no driver, with plans to subsequently roll out the program more widely.
Companies developing self-driving technology, which also include General Motors Co, Toyota Motor Corp and a host of startups, are waiting to see whether fall-out from the accident leads to new restrictions on the relatively unregulated sector.
(Writing By Alexandria Sage; Editing by Sandra Maler)
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40% of American adults are obese, a sharp increase from a decade earlier and a record high. according to federal health officials.
A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) sampling of 27,449 adults with a BMI between 30 and 40 found that among those aged 20 years and older, obesity went from 33.7% in 2007-2008 to 39.6% in 2015-2016. Severe obesity – those with a BMI above 40, jumped from 5.7% to 7.7% over the same period.
The increase in obesity among the 16,875 youth sampled was much lower, going from 16.8% a decade ago to 18.5% in 2015-2016. Still pretty bad.
For reference, this kid was considered fat in 1985…
The CDC has prepared handy list of statistics as well as maps of average obesity by state, as well as by race. In a nutshell, the south is a hotbed of obesity.
- Obesity decreased by level of education. Adults without a high school degree or equivalent had the highest self-reported obesity
- Young adults were half as likely to have obesity as middle-aged adults.
Obesity Prevalence in 2016 Varies Across States and Territories
- All states had more than 20% of adults with obesity.
- 35% or more adults had obesity in 5 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia).
- The South had the highest prevalence of obesity (32.0%), followed by the Midwest (31.4%), the Northeast (26.9%), and the West (26.0%).
Public health experts said that they were alarmed by the continuing rise in obesity among adults and by the fact that efforts to educate people about the health risks of a poor diet do not seem to be working. –Miami Herald
“Most people know that being overweight or obese is unhealthy, and if you eat too much that contributes to being overweight,” says Dr. James Krieger, clinical professor of medicine at the University of Washington and executive director of the advocacy group Healthy Food America. “But just telling people there’s a problem doesn’t solve it.”
Unfortunately, as The Herald notes, the recent reports on American “greatness” comes at a time when the food industry’s pushback against nutritional labeling was answered by a Trump administration proposal during recent NAFTA negotiations which would limit the ability for the U.S., Mexico and Canada to require prominent labels warning of health risks.
So transparency over nutrition looks to be shrinking…
Meanwhile, here’s a 2011 map of states in which U.S. adults are meeting aerobic and muscle-strengthening guidelines, courtesy of the CDC.
And as The Herald also notes, Americans are cramming their craws with more fast food than ever…
While the latest survey data do not explain why Americans continue to get heavier, nutritionists and other experts cite lifestyle, genetics and, most importantly, a poor diet as factors. U.S. fast-food sales rose 22.7 percent from 2012-2017, according to Euromonitor, while packaged-food sales rose 8.8 percent. –Miami Herald
In other words, Novo Nordisk is probably going to sell a lot of insulin in the coming decades, notwithstanding the development of a lab-grown pancreas or similar scientific breakthroughs.
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March 24, 2018
NEW YORK (Reuters) – John Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, is the leading candidate to succeed William Dudley as head of the New York Fed, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday citing unnamed people familiar with the matter.
The paper said the New York Fed’s board of directors had recommended Williams for the job, seen by many as the second-most influential at the U.S. central bank, though it added the situation could yet change.
The New York Fed and the San Francisco Fed declined to comment.
On March 16, the New York Fed said it was considering “a handful” of final candidates to replace Dudley, who plans to step down by mid-year.
The New York Fed’s president has a permanent vote on interest-rate policy, serves as vice chair of the policy-making committee, oversees market operations including $4.4 trillion in assets, and supervises Wall Street.
Williams, a long-time Fed economist who succeeded Janet Yellen as San Francisco Fed president in 2011, has supported the central bank’s gradual interest-rate hikes and has recently advocated for a reconsideration of the traditional inflation-targeting regime.
Reuters reported on March 1 that Richard Clarida, an economist at fund manager Pimco, was front-runner to become the Fed’s vice chair, a position chosen by the White House. It also reported that Fed Chair Jerome Powell was playing a larger role than his predecessors in making his views known to the White House and to the New York Fed, and that he had initially supported Williams for the Fed Vice Chair job.
The New York Fed directors and the Fed Board could face criticism were they to ultimately choose Williams. The decision has attracted scrutiny from Democratic lawmakers and activists urging a candidate who breaks with past precedent.
The Journal also reported that two other people short-listed for the job are: Raymond McGuire, the corporate and investment-banking head at Citigroup Inc; and Mary Miller, a former senior Treasury official who Reuters previously reported was being considered.
(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Sandra Maler)
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