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Presidential Race Still Too Close to Call; Ralph Nader Addresses National Press Club

Aired November 8, 2000 - 11:01 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of election 2000. Want to welcome our viewers here in the U.S. as well as our viewers joining us on CNN International.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Along with Daryn Kagan, I'm Bill Hemmer. It has been a wild and, some would say, wacky 24 hours here in the U.S. We still -- this the day after our election yesterday here in the United States -- we do not know who the next president of the United States is at this time.

KAGAN: And we continue to look at that issue. It's not even close to being resolved; in the words of the great Yogi Berra, "It ain't over until it's over," and this one is far from over. It looks like the 2000 presidential race won't be over at least until tomorrow. Officials in Florida say that's how long it will take to add up all the ballots in the pivotal recount.

Here is how things stand: Al Gore has bested George W. Bush in the popular vote by 277,000 votes and Gore, at the moment holds more electoral votes that Bush, 260 to 246. That does include Wisconsin, one of the last toss-up states. Gore was declared the winner in Wisconsin just a few hours ago. Oregon, with its seven electoral votes, is still up for grabs.

But it is Florida and its 25 electoral votes that will make or break this presidential race. The preliminary vote count there gave Bush a win by a margin of fewer than 2,000 votes; then the recount, which is called for by state law -- it is now underway.

And for the latest from Florida and why there is a recount and other discrepancies from that vote, we have our Mark Potter standing by in Miami.

Mark, good to see you again.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nice to see you; and this situation in Florida just gets curiouser and curiouser. I just spoke with my colleague Susan Candiotti who's been talking to some people in Miami, and there's another potentially strange one out there. She's been talking to the pastor and the director of a preschool at a church in Miami who say that, this morning when they came to work at this church, which was used as a polling place yesterday, they found a padlocked ballot box. The director of the preschool says she shook the box and it sounded like it might have some ballots in there; it is padlocked. She became concerned, called the elections office and they sent somebody over to pick it up. We don't know whether there really are ballots in there or not or empty paper or what; but it's just another question in a very strange election, and this is occurring in a heavily Democratic area, so it's got people's attention until this latest mystery here in Florida is solved.

Now as for the mystery of the ballot and the count, there will be a recount, that is for sure now. It's been ordered by the division of elections here in the state. It could begin today, it certainly must end by the end of business tomorrow. The end of business, typically, here is 5:00 Eastern time in the afternoon. We'll see if that deadline holds tomorrow.

They will be counting all the Florida ballots in the presidential race: the precinct ballots, the absentee ballots, the overseas absentee ballots that have been turned in by now; and the way it will work is that the supervisors of elections in the various counties in Florida will begin the count, they'll be responsible for it and will report the results back to Tallahassee where, once again, by tomorrow night they will be tallied.

The superintendents of election will be getting a memo soon; if they haven't already gotten it by now, it should be arriving about this time, telling them that, indeed, they must do this recount. They will recalibrate their machines back to zero -- their counting machines and they'll start all over again. The superintendent of elections here in Miami says that if he gets the memo quick enough and can get his people in he'll actually start that count this afternoon. They can begin today, but they must finish, now, by the end of business tomorrow.

Back to you.

KAGAN: OK Mark, so you have the recount going on. You have the absentee ballots coming in from overseas, and then there are the other discrepancies that are coming up -- you mentioned the missing ballot box. Then there's's the situation from Palm Beach with the confusion that a lot of seniors feel maybe that they thought they were voting for Al Gore, but they think maybe they voted for Pat Buchanan instead.

POTTER: Yes, and what a surprise that would be for them if that's the way it worked out. The problem is that the ballot itself is configured so that when you punch the hole indicating that you wanted Al Gore, it's possible that you could be confused and actually punch the one for Pat Buchanan; at least that's the complaint that has been made by some of the people involved in the ballot.

As you can see here, the arrows are pointing to the areas where you would punch it, and it's possible to make a mistake, thinking that, because Al Gore's name is the second one on the ballot, but it's the third hole that you would punch there, you might make a mistake and hit the one for Pat Buchanan -- and not what you wanted to do if you wanted Al Gore. And so it doesn't seem to be a question of voter fraud or malfeasance or anything like that. It's a confusion and it still needs to be cleared up and the effect, if there was much of one, still needs to be determined.

KAGAN: Plenty to be determined in the state of Florida, we do know that much. Mark Potter in Miami, thank you -- Bill.

HEMMER: Also getting some rather interesting numbers out of Florida, snapshot of voting trends in Florida thanks to some exit polling done there. For example, let's have a look at some of them right now: The African American community did turn out in force in Florida, a large majority casting their ballots for Al Gore, as you see right there; 16 percent at the bottom of your screen, of the voters in Florida were black, 72 percent were white. Bush fared better among Hispanics in Florida, though; our exit polling shows 50 percent voting for Bush and 48 percent for the Vice President Al Gore.

Now, both the Gore and the Bush campaigns hunkering down right now until that last, final word comes out of Florida and, indeed, the final word is spoken. It has been a long night and a long morning and guaranteed to be at least another day or longer for the candidates and their supporters, not to mention the folks covering this rather fascinating election.

Let's check in now with our very own weary correspondents, the intrepid ones out on the trail: Jonathan Karl live in Nashville and Jeanne Meserve live in Austin, Texas.

First to Jonathan for a look at how the mood is inside the Gore camp; much word coming from within, Jonathan?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well right now most of Gore's senior advisers are finally getting some much-needed sleep as Nashville itself wakes up to the very strange news about last night's developments. Here's the "Nashville Tennessean"; this, by the way, is the newspaper where Al Gore himself worked as a reporter for some fives years. Kind of says it all, "A heart stopper," and then goes on to point out that Nashville, here, Tennessee, voting for George W. Bush.

Vice President Gore losing his own home state. Very interesting now because, if he hadn't lost his home state, if he had carried Tennessee, we'd also be looking right now at Oregon. We'd have a much different situation where Al Gore would have to win either Oregon or Florida; now Oregon's votes simply not enough to push him over the top. He's got to win Florida. The deputy campaign manager for Vice President Gore is Mark Fabiani. He spoke with us earlier this morning about what he expects to see in that recount down in Florida. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK FABIANI, GORE DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: We have good reason to believe that a lot of the votes that are out there that still are to be counted are going to be votes for Al Gore. You know, people wrote off Florida, as you know, very late last night they thought that George Bush would win it, and then very quickly a 50,000-vote advantage for Bush narrowed, now, to what it is, approximately 1,000 votes. And we think that a thorough recount will narrow it even further and actually put Al Gore in the lead which will give him the presidency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

POTTER: Now, not all the vice president's senior advisers getting rest, a contingency of 70 from Nashville went down, led by former chief of staff Ron Klain to oversee the recount down in Florida. They're en route to look at that recount county by county in Florida.

Back to you.

HEMMER: OK, Jonathan, thank you, the update there in Nashville.

Live to Washington now; Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate who, by our estimation, has picked up about 3 percent of the vote nationwide, now speaking, again -- National Press Club in D.C.

RALPH NADER, GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've always said that it was Al Gore's election to lose, that only Al Gore could beat Al Gore.

We'll see, and I'll join everyone else in urging a precise recount of the vote in Florida, which apparently will determine the outcome.

Thank you very much for inviting me and providing the facilities of the National Press Club for the morning-after press conference.

The Green Party is alive and well. It is the fastest growing third party in the United States. It is now the largest third party in the United States, after an eight-month campaign by the Nader- LaDuke ticket.

The campaign has established the Greens as a viable political force. It's interesting that most polls show that most Americans, whether or not they vote for a third party, want more than two parties, they want a broader choice, they wanted me and Pat Buchanan on the presidential debates by a sizable majority, and they want a viable third party, as one poll was phrased, to keep the two parties in Washington more honest. I think we are positioned to do that.

We would have liked, of course, to have garnered the 5 percent that would have made the party eligible for federal matching funds in the 2004 election, but those matching funds, I view more as a convenience than as a necessity.

Third parties have to build themselves on the time, talent, energy and creativity of citizens, which are much more important than federal matching funds in the long run, and much more authentic, although we do support public funding of public elections.

Across the country we attracted enthusiastic supporters who intend to remain committed to the party's progressive agenda, and the party will only grow in the coming months and years because it'll be the only party that connects on the ground with citizens fighting for justice across a wide array of issues throughout the country -- environmental, civil rights, civil liberties, anti-poverty, pro- consumer protection -- all of these issues that people are struggling for in the communities and neighbors around the country, the Green Party will be there, unlike the Republican and Democratic parties who, after an election, take a brief vacation and start the money-raising game all over again.

The Gore campaigners pulled out every stop in an attempt to peel off our voters. They were apparently successful in some states with reducing our total. These voters will be back with us in future elections, especially if Al Gore wins the presidency. He will have ample time to demonstrate that, once again, relying on Al Gore is a very risky proposition.

In the end, the Democratic Party must face the fact that it has become very good at electing very bad Republicans. Apparently, you can't even win in Tennessee and Arkansas. Apparently, it lost the House, once again in the fourth straight congressional election, to the extreme wing of the Republican Party. Perhaps that's why more and more Americans realize that they cannot rely on the Democratic Party to defend this country against the extreme arch-corporatist reactionary wing of the Republican Party that now controls the House and possibly even the Senate.

And there will be a lot of finger-pointing about the poor showing of Gore. Even if he wins, he should have landslided George W. Bush with his terrible record in Texas.

Gore had all the advantages of an incumbent administration, but he never generated enthusiasm, and many voters cast votes for him out of the least-worst attitude, not out of conviction.

In the end, the Democratic Party must face the fact that he has abandoned his progressive roots. The party's been seized by its conservative, reactionary, pro-corporate wing, and the leadership of that group, produced a candidate and platform simply did not excite the voters.

And I've said on many occasion, Joe Lieberman is the quintessential corporate Democrat; he is the real Al Gore.

Progressives in the Democratic Party must decide whether they want to remain a captive of the Democrats, whether they want to reassert their power, because of the Green Party leverage -- and that can help them reassert their power -- against the Democratic Leadership Council and its love affair with big corporate money that fills the party coffers, or whether it wants to be a party that represents working families as it was under Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Democrats must now either find their progressive roots, or watch the party gradually wither away, or basically become a crypto- Republican Party, bidding for the same money and increasingly for the same voters. If Democrats are disappointed with the returns, they need to take a long, close look at their party and the empty campaign waged by Al Gore in this campaign. Although he said he was his "own man," in Los Angeles at the Democratic convention, to my knowledge, he didn't change one major position that he held under the Clinton-Gore years.

The Green Party is up and running. We invite progressives who are shut out of the Democratic Party. We invite the young generation -- I believe the Green Party's the voice of the young generation -- to join us in a crusade to reform the campaign finance system, replace it with clean money, clean politics, clean elections, and which presently is not the case, and leaves control of our government in the hands of corporate fat cats.

I also urge the labor -- organized labor, as well as the vast majority of workers who are not organized and who do not make a living wage, to reconsider their support for a party -- the Democratic Party -- that's turned its back on organized labor, even though it couldn't possibly win elections without organized labor's get-out-the-vote energy.

We urge Democrats and Republicans alike to join the Green Party in its effort to end child poverty, which is the highest by far in the Western world as a percent of children, 20 percent or more; to give workers a true living wage, to wipe out restrictive labor laws like the Taft-Hartley law, that make it so difficult for workers just to organize, or to start organizing, without being fired; and in its efforts to establish, the Green Party's efforts to establish, an accessible, affordable health insurance system that reaches everyone, 50 years after President Truman first proposed it to the Congress.

We urge Democrats and Republicans who are interested in the environment, the sustainable economy that we all must support, to join the Green Party that calls for action, not rhetoric, to preserve our fragile earth.

Similarly, we urge people to join us who believe in full civil rights and equality for everyone, regardless of race, ethnic background, gender or sexual orientation. We believe that there are many people in both parties who agree with us that the failed drug war is a colossal, costly debacle that has filled our jails with non- violent convicted people -- I might add, overwhelmingly people of color, even though white people being the majority in this country have far more incidents of drug offenses.

We also believe that there are millions of people who believe as we do that the death penalty does not deter, is discriminatorily applied, probably has led to the execution of innocent people, and should be abolished. In its discriminatory application, it has held this country up to opprobrium by all other Western nations, who have far lower homicide rates, and none of which have the death penalty.

We urge citizens to join us in an effort to provide affordable housing, and in a crash effort, a Marshal Plan, to revitalize our inner cities. There's plenty of money for that, if we deflate the bloated military budget that is being criticized by retired admirals and generals and some people in the Pentagon, in certain terms of certain weapon systems in the pipeline.

And even more, by ending corporate welfare as we know it, and recycling those hundreds of billions of dollars from the tax dollars to build stadiums and other boondoggles all the way back to clinics and schools and public transit systems, libraries and housing, and I might add support for the arts and culture in our country that is other than that which has been corporatized and commercialized.

America can do better, much better. The two major parties offer us a choice between a do-little party and a do-nothing party, between a bad party and a worse party. They have both abdicated their responsibility to lead, to advocate known solutions on the shelf, and to promote true, deeply rooted democracy from the city halls to Congress and the White House. We can certainly do better.

I want to add, because I expect a question on this, about the Democrats: We should always remember that for eight years the Democratic leadership, from Bill Clinton to Al Gore, has rebuffed people within their own party and their constituencies among minorities, consumer groups, environmental groups and labor on issue after issue.

They kept saying no when phony welfare reform was in the making; no to their own associate, Peter Edelman, and others in the Department of Health and Human Services; they said no to vigorous enforcement of the civil rights laws; they kept saying no to pleas by people that the civil liberties of our country should not be eroded; they certainly said no to many of our groups in the area of food and drug administration enforcement, food safety, car safety, air and water pollution. They kept backing off.

They signed the notorious salvage rider that led to the cutting down of so many trees in our national forests. They, of course, didn't do anything other than expand their diversion of taxpayer dollars to corporate welfare boondoggles, even creating new ones like subsidizing military contract corporations who merged, a wedding present of a billion and a half dollars to Lockheed Martin Marietta on the backs of the U.S. taxpayer. They also were inescapably cruel in some issues.

You know, when major and distinguished physicians constantly are saying, along with the United Nations studies and resignations by United Nation officials, that the economic sanctions in Iraq should continue -- they're saying that the economic sanctions should not continue, because 5,000 Iraqi children are dying every month -- I remember Leslie Stahl's "60 Minutes" program on that four years ago -- and other innocent civilians, in a completely criminal and wrongheaded approach to try to destabilize the dictator. You don't destabilize dictators by killing innocent children and men and women in a country, where the dictator can increase his repression by pointing to the "foreign devils" and what they're doing to innocent people.

There's a complete callousness here by Madeleine Albright and by Bill Clinton and by Al Gore, and it's typical of a continued foreign policy that supports dictatorships and oligarchs, instead of backing democracy forces, and backing the forces that will help the workers and peasants in the billions in the Third World.

I think it -- I think it's also important to point out that we did very well in some states, and we didn't lose our poll numbers. The Green Party broke 5 percent in 11 states -- Alaska reached 10 percent -- Colorado, D.C., Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Rhode Island, Vermont and Oregon. Indeed, in seven more states the Green Party received 4 percent.

The campaign brought lapsed voters and new young voters into the political process. Most Americans, as I said, want the option of voting for a third party candidate, even though most Americans are hereditary Democrats and hereditary Republicans, and act that way on Election Day.

Focused attention was brought on all these issues that I've mentioned. We pushed the agenda, we pushed the attention on the corrupting influence of special interest money, that has indentured both parties.

I want to note that our campaign never used PAC money, soft money or corporate interest money. We were offered that money by some labor unions. We were offered that money by very rich people, and we turned it down, accepting only individual contributions to our web site -- Votenader.com -- or through the mail. So we practiced what we preached, both in campaigning with the citizen groups on the ground and in the way we raised our funds.

I think our campaign opened the door for a national discussion of proportional representation and instant runoff elections, which have suddenly become very cogent ideas in this razor- thin presidential election.

It also highlighted the need to open the political process by adopting same-day voter registration, which helped mightily to elect Jesse Ventura, governor of Minnesota.

It also exposed the corrupt procedures of the Presidential Commission on Debates, which excluded third party candidates that a majority of the polls said should be on the debates: me and Pat Buchanan, for example.

And I pledge this to you: This is going to be the hottest three years for the debate commission. Before we are through with that debate commission, which is the key to the gateway to tens of millions of voters, that no third party could ever access no matter how many states and how many years were subject to the campaign of that third- party candidate, that that debate commission is going to be properly discredited. We filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Boston. The depositions are going to unveil a lot of internal background information that I hope the media will be interested in.

And next year we will form a people's debate commission, very broadly representative of institutions in our country that will be able in 2004 to be so compellingly invitational in multi-candidate debates that the major candidates for the two parties will not be able to say no -- such as, industrial trade unions in key states, civil rights and civil liberties groups, nationwide, and I hope the television networks, who were really churning in trying to decide what to do even this year, especially CNN and ABC, to our knowledge.

Let me just conclude on this note: What about taking votes from Al Gore? This was probably the most impudent assertion of our campaign. It's as if new political starts shouldn't want to get more votes from all other political candidates in the great American tradition of competition. It's as if new political starts should cede their votes to one or the other of the two major candidates who believe they're entitled to votes, not entitled to earn their votes.

We have to establish an electoral system that gets out more than 50 percent of the eligible voters. It's very easy to keep saying that, but when only half of the eligible voters participate, it corrodes democracy, it reflects a cynicism, it reflects a withdrawal from the political process by tens of millions of Americans because they've made up their mind that their vote doesn't count, it doesn't matter, or the choice of candidates is far too narrow.

I think regardless of who ultimately wins the presidency, we have sent a message to both the Democrats and the Republicans that the days of the Democratic Leadership Council and the Republican Party setting the terms of the debate are over.

I want to emphasize this. Whatever happens to third parties in terms of winning or not winning elections, this is the beginning of the end of the two-party duopoly. This is where the excluded citizen groups in our country, excluded as never before in 50 years, here in Washington, by the two-party duopoly and the corporate lobbyists swarming all over the city, and the political action committee dinners, and the permanent corporate government which makes the difference between Bush and Gore far less significant because they are not making the decisions. It's the permanent corporate government that the press is constantly reporting on to no avail that makes the decisions in one department and agency after another, just check them out yourself -- Food and Drug, auto safety, Treasury, Department of Defense -- those are the clientele departments and many more for the corporate lobbyists.

And I think that it would be a serious mistake in terms of forecast if the Green Party is considered just another third party. It has seasoned citizen activists coming into it, and it's going to have the determination and the resiliency and the commitment to work on the ground in communities all over the United States with citizen groups to make this a unique contribution to American history and to its progressive and just future.

Now, I just want to take one more point on this, if you don't mind.

Three days ago, the greatest environmentalist in our century David Brower passed away...

UNKNOWN: Oh no!

NADER: ... at the age of 88. David Brower was a great American hero. Unlike some leaders of environmental groups today, including some groups that he founded, he never wavered, he never waffled, he never let anybody eat into his conscience, turn him into a tactical person, turn him into a person who asked less of himself and his great moral impact on preserving the environment in our country.

Hardly a single environment issue of any gravity in the last 40 to 50 years did not have his imprint on it: not just the wilderness areas in the national parks and forests, but every area, solar energy, organic agriculture, challenging the industrial polluters, focusing on toxics in the workplace.

David Brower was there. He led the Sierra Club to an expansion of its membership. Then he crated Friends of the Earth and then he created Earth Island Institute. And Friends of the Earth spread all over the world in chapters in numerous countries. He was, David Brower, as solid as the gigantic Redwoods are today that he worked so hard to save. He was as solid as the enduring legacy of the giant Redwoods, because his legacy will endure for decades and decades into the future.

The last time I saw him in his Berkeley home, he was very ill, and we talked about the forests. In his inimitable way he said, "Why don't they leave the forests alone in our national forests?" He said, quote, "Let the trees breathe for us," end quote. His memory will be a reservoir of courage for all environmentalists around the world, who when up against intransigence have to decide between their conscience and conviction, on the one hand, and their tactical wavering on the other.

A few days ago, 40 women from farm country in Bellville, Wisconsin, marched down the street in the traditional UFO Halloween Parade. And they passed out little packets -- like this -- saying, "Plant the seed for democracy, vote for Nader-LaDuke." These were organic seeds. I think that illustrated, symbolically, so much of what we really were advancing in our country: a deep democracy replacing the hegemony and the power of the large corporations over our government and over our democracy with the sovereignty of the people.

And our agenda will be the agenda of the future. It always takes the first start, doesn't it? Ask Barry Goldwater. It always takes the first start. Our issues represent traditional values against corporate extremists and corporate supremacists. Our issues poll very well among the American people. Our issues will be the seeds of our strengthened democracy in the future, so that our government bends to the will of an informed citizenry and a deliberative democracy, instead of as now, bends to the will of the avaricious power of multinational corporations, who seem to have no recognized boundaries of restraint as they extend commercialism and corporatism in all areas of our life.

Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

QUESTION: Mr. Nader? NADER: Yes.

QUESTION: Would you speak to the role of private business and public elections, primarily these corporations like ES&S, that provide computerized voting ballot counters that have modems in them and which are programmed by the company, for example, in the city of Chicago for the entire county of Cook. This seems to be a very corruptible process. Can you speak about the integrity of the process of elections?

NADER: Please identify yourself?

QUESTION: Christopher Bolin (ph) from the Spotlight.

NADER: I think there really needs to be extensive congressional hearings on all of this. Lots of people can't keep up with the technology, they can't keep up with the misuse of technology. There are serious First Amendment issues here, conflicts of rights against each other.

But I think the impact on voters in different time zones, perhaps even more intensively, the impact on the election machinery itself, needs to be more widely understood. And I think the informational function of Congress is very appropriate here to have thorough congressional hearings.

QUESTION: Mr. Nader, did you, in fact, cost Al Gore the election, specifically because of Florida? If you look at your own campaign's numbers, about 50 percent of the voters would have voted for Gore if you had not been in the race. With that, that would be enough numbers to push Mr. Gore over the top in Florida. That's the first thing.

The second thing is, did you press for the three percent that you got there, the two percent you got nationally, disenfranchising 48 percent of the population who voted for Mr. Gore?

NADER: Not at all. First of all, I really don't know the way these figures play out. If you hear Tom Brokaw, he thinks that that was not the case. By the way, I do think that Al Gore cost me the election, especially in Florida...

(LAUGHTER)

... and that's a far greater concern than whether I was supposed to help elect Al Gore. Secondly, if you want a prediction that isn't numerical, listen to Senator Ted Kennedy, who told a friend the other day that if Al Gore wins, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is going to be more influential.

I think regardless of whether Al Gore wins or not, if the Democrats interpret the election the way you just suggested, that the Green Party drew away its discouraged progressive base into a fresh, new, exciting party, then win or lose, the Democrats are going to have to re-evaluate themselves on the political spectrum. And they're going to have to decide whether they are going to return to their roots of really fighting for labor and the people of this country, or whether they are going to continue to interpret election strategy by taking issues away from the Republicans in order to become more like them, in order to defeat them in Dick Morris' triangulation approach.

HEMMER: Ralph Nader taking questions, National Press Club there in Washington. You heard the questions about whether or not he cost the election for the Vice President Al Gore, dismissing any suggestions there; but prior to that, Ralph Nader delivering a very stern message that he believes that the Green Party and his candidacy has clearly sent a message to the Republican and Democratic parties in this country.

What we have right now for Ralph Nader is a tabulation of 3 percent of the popular vote, that translates roughly to about 2.6 million votes across the country. Nader had to get to about 5 million votes or 5 percent of the votes cast in order to get matching funds in the year 2004, federal funds to run again and still remain a potent force in the political scene.

But clearly, the biting words continue against Al Gore and George W. Bush, as they have now for weeks from Ralph Nader. It is also quite clear that, in certain parts of the country, he did take votes away from Al Gore, the true effect of that, though, not decided, not determined completely just yet.

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