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Homeowner help remains elusive in $16.5bn Bank of America fine

In a deal with the Justice Department, the bank agreed about $7bn should go to homeowners. History reminds us not to hold our bre

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The financial crisis created enough rage for the Occupy protests, which had police protecting bank ATMs all over the country. But are the mortgage reparations on the same scale as the banks’ offenses? David Dayen says no. Photograph: Natalie Behring/Getty Images

The Justice Department has inked yet another cash settlement for misconduct in the production of mortgage-backed securities, this time with Bank of America for $16.65bn.

Don’t expect a lot of that to be of any help to people who lost their homes.

While Bank of America is ostensibly devoting around $7bn of the money to consumers, homeowners will actually see very little money or help.

The JP Morgan precedent

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Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, which signed a similar mortgage settlement with the Justice Department last year and has delivered under 1% of the money it has promised to help homeowners. Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters

We can look to the first settlement of this type with a bank – last November’s deal with JPMorgan Chase – and draw some conclusions.

Under that settlement, which the Justice Department called a template for future fines against the banks, JPMorgan is supposed to deliver $4bn in consumer relief, primarily through reducing interest rates or principal on mortgages.

But homeowners will have to wait. Like the other banks, JPMorgan has three years to make good on this relief. An initial report from Joseph Smith, who is overseeing JPMorgan’s consumer relief obligation, shows that the bank’s money is not exactly flying out the door to homeowners.

As of 31 March of this year, five months after the settlement, JPMorgan only claimed verifiable modifications on 100 loans, for a grand total of $6m in credited relief – a little under 1% of the total it has promised. Even though the settlement provides a bonus credit for relief delivered within the first year, JPMorgan has decided to stretch things out.

Community housing activists like the Home Defenders League have repeatedly questioned whether relief will ever materialize. The group even filed a Freedom of Information Act request in July, asking the Justice Department about how the JPMorgan settlement is being implemented.

“The bankers bought their way out of jail, but the money hasn’t actually arrived to help the families who need it,” said Kevin Whelan, National Campaign Director of the Home Defenders League, in a statement.

A punished bank is forced to lend

JPMorgan and its competitors don’t necessarily have to give relief directly to homeowners to pay their way out of their penalties. They can just sign more loans. Under the language of the settlements, banks can get credit for making new mortgages available to borrowers in hard-hit areas or Fema disaster zones, to first-time low- to moderate-income buyers, or to borrowers who lost their homes to foreclosures and short sales.

Since making loans is the bank’s actual business, from which they profit, it’s odd that this is considered a penalty for misconduct.

Banks only get a flat $10,000 in credit for each loan made, as opposed to dollar-for-dollar relief on principal forgiveness.

And they can only use this trick to pay off a paltry $165m of the $4bn in relief they owe homeowners. But a smart bank would take the “penalty” of making a profitable loan over cutting principal any day.

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Banks get more financial benefit from demolishing houses than for providing mortgage help to homeowners. Photograph: HAP/Quirky China News/Rex Feat

How to get credit: tear down the house

Banks also can get credit under the settlement for demolition of blighted properties, donations of homes, or funding for community development projects. These all may be worthy causes, but they don’t directly help struggling homeowners facing foreclosure. And JPMorgan can use these anti-blight measures to satisfy as much as $2bn, or half, of the penalty.

Finally, even if homeowners manage to secure relief for their mortgage debt, under current law they would have to pay taxes on it.

Want mortgage help? The $25,000 tax bill

The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act, which would have protected homeowners from taxes on debt relief, expired last December, and there’s no guarantee that Congress will retroactively renew it. That means that any benefit from forgiveness of principal gets treated for tax purposes like earned income.

On a principal reduction of $100,000, the tax bill would be around $25,000 for the typical homeowner. Stressed families at risk of foreclosure don’t usually have tens of thousands of dollars lying around to devote to taxes for phantom “income” they don’t actually see. So the “consumer relief” may actually harm them.

Clearly worried about the potential for hitting customers expecting help with a tax bill, on this settlement the Justice Department forced Bank of America to place $490 million in a “tax relief fund” to defray any tax liability arising from delivering debt relief. This was not a feature of other Justice Department settlements with JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, and shows the very real fear that the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act will not be renewed. JPMorgan and Citi customers will be out-of-luck victims of bad timing, but Bank of America borrowers will theoretically be more protected.

However, if $490 million in the settlement goes toward the unintended tax consequences, that much less will go to help borrowers stay in their homes. So fewer homeowners will get aid as a result. And Bank of America has four years, until August 2018, to comply with the relief terms.

Put aside the fact that no cash payment will suffice either as just compensation for the magnitude of the losses or as deterrent for the enormity of the crimes – at least not without executives seeing the inside of a jail cell. Put aside the fact that the crime described here is swindling investors, yet investors will reap virtually none of the benefits, with most of the cash penalty going to the Justice Department itself. Put aside that this normalizes slaps on the wrist: banks can pay their way out of trouble without even having to describe their wrongdoing in detail.

Homeowners have waited for years for aid from the toxic loans banks knowingly and fraudulently sold them. These Justice Department settlements haven’t sped relief to them either, and may only give them more headaches.

 

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Contaminating Our Drinking Water? Bad Idea!

 

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Ask Your Members of Congress to Protect Our Water and Ban Fracking

We Can Put a Stop to Fracking

Tell Your Legislators:
Ban Fracking Now!

Fracking is a real wolf in sheep’s clothing. Politicians, from state governors all the way up to the White House, say that drilling for natural gas is the answer to our energy woes. But they’re ignoring the facts: fracking for gas pollutes our air and water, poisons nearby communities, and worsens climate change. All of that, and it doesn’t even address our real energy needs. That’s why I’m asking for your help to fight back.

Tell your members of Congress to ban fracking now.

Fracking is a destructive process of extracting oil and gas from deep underground by fracturing layers of rock with a high-pressure blast of toxic chemicals, water and sand. Why is fracking so bad? The dangers are proven:

  • Fracking pollutes — a lot! It wastes millions of gallons of water, releases toxic fumes and leaves behind pools of radioactive wastewater that can’t be transported or disposed of safely. Even worse, oil and gas companies aren’t required to disclose the chemicals they use, but we know that fracking fluid includes carcinogens and endocrine disruptors — seriously nasty stuff.
  • Fracking hurts communities. We’re hearing more and more stories about families getting sick when they live near fracking wells. Often, fracked communities can no longer even drink the local water — instead, they rely on water that’s trucked in by the very companies that poisoned their groundwater.
  • Fracking affects everyone, no matter where you live, because water doesn’t stay put. Contaminated water and fracking waste are a serious threat to our precious, limited supply of fresh water on this planet. The same goes for air pollution caused by fracking.
  • Fracking worsens climate change. The methane released from fracking wells can be even more damaging to our climate than burning coal.

The only “benefit” of fracking is that it lines the pockets of the big oil and gas companies that are lobbying hard to expand their right to frack, without a care for what damage they’re causing in the process. Let’s put a stop to this. Take action for a ban on fracking.

The good news is that together we can stop fracking. As more and more people call for a ban on fracking, elected officials are starting to get the point. Food & Water Watch was the first national organization to call for a fracking ban, and since then our activists have worked tirelessly and pushed back against efforts to frack all across the country. We’ve held off fracking in New York longer than anyone thought possible. Communities that have already suffered from fracking, like Longmont, Colorado, are rising up to pass local bans. But we need to protect every community in the country by calling for a national ban on fracking: to slow or stop the process where it’s already happening, and elsewhere, to prevent it before it starts.

We can’t sacrifice our water, our climate and our communities to fracking. Ask your members of Congress to ban fracking now.

Thanks for taking action,

Miranda Carter
National Online Campaign Manager
Food & Water Watch
act(at)fwwatch(dot)org

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School Violence Prevention – A Scenario

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A beautiful autumn day.  The sun is shining, birds are chirping, and the laughter of young voices carries across the grass. They are all oblivious to the coming storm that is about to envelope them.

The class loser is walking towards them with an angry scowl. He’s wearing a long overcoat, but that is nothing unusual. He’s been in a sour mood since his sophomore year, when his parents got divorced and his dad moved to the east coast. His class attendance has slipped and he’s even been expelled once for bringing a knife to class and making threats.

Since then, he’s become a loner, and even started wearing Goth clothes although he doesn’t hang with or even like them. A recent fascination with all sorts of weapons has startled his mother, but she’s working 3 jobs to keep them fed and housed. And the neighbors seem to be losing their pets lately.

A few of his friends know that he’s been sick a lot to. But they don’t hang out much anymore because he rarely takes a bath or uses deodorant. And he gets defensive if you try to talk to him. He’s also been seen with the ‘druggies’ as of late.

And he’s been tripping and walking into stuff a lot. And on top of that, his grades are not consistent from week to week or even day to day.

He walks into the command and hunkers down, his scowling look making him a path. He walks into a group of students waiting for the bell to start class. Someone remarks that he stinks. He bellows a gut-wrenching yell, throws back his coat and unloads a stream of 9mm hollow points into the one who said it.

An instant of stunned silence falls before the depths of hell pounces its rage out on another high school. When it’s all over dozens lay dead and wounded, including the shooter.

The blood splatter on the wall and removing the carpet is easy. Restoring the sanity of students and parents will not be. And what do you tell those parents when they show up at the school or hospital?

Fortunately, this is a scenario that most of us as security professionals will never have to face. But it’s just as frightening even if the chances are remote.

As security professionals, we plan for such events on a daily basis. We train, read, organize, and attend seminars. We plan and meet with administrators. We try to encourage good security habits amongst the staff. Simply put, to do our jobs. And still it happens. In December 2007 Junior Achievement, in conjunction with Deloitte and Touché, released a survey with some startling statistics. The survey , which was intended for the workplace but translates well to our schools, stated the 39% of 13 to 18 year Old’s believe that that lying, stealing, and cheating were acceptable ways of getting ahead in life.

That’s startling enough, but 23% said that some level of violence against a co-worker is acceptable. If it is acceptable against a co-worker, what does that make it against another student?

Most of us would have seen the warning signs in the scenario I started with. But, over a period of a few years, would we just accept the fact that that student is who he is and leave him alone? I point them all out here and they are easy to see. The warning signs are always there no matter what anyone states or believes.

Does this mean that every kid that discovers an interest in Goth attire and make-up is a candidate for a Columbine style attack? No. Some kids are just in the process of discovering themselves and need a little latitude. Latitude yes, alone time and being a loner. NO!

Robert D. Sollars is a31 year veteran of the security field. He has been studying, researching, writing, & speaking about workplace/school violence for 23 years. He has a book on each topic. To read the remaining posts in this series, to be finished on Wednesday the 27th,  please go to the blog site www.todays-training.com, or follow me on tweeter @robertsollars2 to get the blog posts as they come out.

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Hacking Into Traffic Lights With a Plain Old Laptop Is Scary Simple

Hacking Into Traffic Lights With a Plain Old Laptop Is Scary Simple

The idea that our traffic data systems are vulnerable is not a new one. In fact, improving cyber security on our nation’s infrastructure is a huge priority right now. But a new study from the University of Michigan on the vulnerabilities of traffic lights is shocking proof that we need to make some major changes, and we need to make them now.

A team led by computer scientist J. Alex Halderman recently conducted a study on the security of traffic lights in an unnamed Michigan town and found them to be ridiculously easy to hack. Three major weaknesses—unencrypted wireless connections, the use of default usernames and passwords, and vulnerable dubugging ports—meant that the researchers were able to take control over the lights with a normal laptop. As long as the wireless card in the hacker’s computer can communicate at the same frequency that the traffic lights use, it can break into the wireless network that powers the entire system.

It’s pretty mind-boggling actually. A hacker can find the default usernames and passwords needed for unfettered access and take over a whole city’s traffic system with one dinky exploit. And it really is a systemic problem. As the Michigan research team wrote in their paper on the experiment, “The vulnerabilities we discover in the infrastructure are not a fault of any one device or design choice, but rather show a systemic lack of security consciousness.”

The really scary thing in this conclusion is the simple fact that we’re making more and more machines internet-connected with taking the necessary cyber security measures. If it’s freakishly easy to hack into our traffic lights, it’s probably freakishly easy to hack into some electronic voting machines, medical devices, and possibly even power grids.

Don’t freak out too too much, though. The government’s taking the threat pretty dang seriously. In fact, they’re ready to go to war over it. [Univ. of Michigan via Tech Review]

 

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7 Cardinal Rules to Retirement Planning

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An onslaught of retiring baby boomers; the uncertain duration of Social Security funding; difficulty with workplace retirement accounts like 401(k)s – even if these factors were stronger than they are now, you’d still have a heavy burden in managing your finances during retirement, says financial planner Carl Edwards.

“Many advisors and clients rely too much on single product lines.  This misuse often gives products and the financial industry in general a bad name.  Advisors who are restricted in the types of financial products they can offer or understand may not provide the best advice. Independent and credentialed planners, on the other hand, don’t have their hands tied in what they can offer clients and may provide better advice.”

•  Avoid trying to time the market. Markets often move in cycles and some investors believe that they can boost their investment returns by buying at the bottom and selling at the top. The problem is that investors are terrible at correctly predicting market movements and multiple studies have shown that market timers usually end up with significantly smaller retirement savings than buy-and-hold investors. While it can be stressful to see your portfolio plummet during a market correction, it’s important to stay calm and focus on your long-term strategy.

•  Use risk-appropriate financial vehicles. Retiring can be a risky business. The days of relying on employer-provided pension plans are largely over and retirees now have to deal with risks including investment, inflation, healthcare, longevity and others. Though the total elimination of risk isn’t possible, we can manage many of them through competent retirement planning and a clear understanding of factors like your goals, time horizon and financial circumstances.

•  Invest in the most tax-efficient manner. Taxes can take a big bite out of investment returns, which is why we stress tax-efficient planning with our clients. While taxes are just one piece of the overall financial puzzle, it’s important to structure your investments so that you are able to keep what you earn.

•  Complete a cash flow analysis. Retirement will involve major changes to your finances. Sources and timing of income will change and financial priorities may shift as you start generating income from retirement savings. A cash flow analysis will identify spending patterns and help ensure that you have enough income to support your retirement lifestyle.

•  Guarantee your required income. For many retirees, having income that is not subject to market fluctuations is an important part of their retirement plan. Many will have at least some level of guaranteed income from Social Security or defined benefit pension plans. However, if you are worried that your expenses exceed your guaranteed income, a financial advisor can help you explore options for additional streams of income for life.  Guarantees are subject to the paying ability of the income provider.

•  Utilize longevity planning. Today’s retirees are living longer than ever and many worry about outliving their assets. Longevity planning is about preparing for a happy, comfortable and independent retirement and can help ensure that your wealth lasts as long as you need it to.

•  Consider the effects of inflation. Inflation is one of the biggest issues facing retirees because they are disproportionately affected by rising prices. Escalating food, fuel and medical costs can devastate a retirement portfolio unless these costs have been factored into your planning. Positioning your retirement portfolio to fight inflation is critical to ensuring adequate income in retirement.

About Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards, MBA, ChFC®, is a Chartered Financial Consultant® and is the owner of C.E. Wealth Group, (http://www.cewealth.com). He has passed the Series 7, Series 66 and Series 63 securities industry exams. In addition, he has passed the Series 24 principal exam. He represents High Street Asset Management as an Investment Adviser Representative and Calton & Associates, Inc. as a Registered Representative. Edwards is also a licensed insurance agent in Life, Health, Medicare Supplement and Long Term Care insurances. Edwards received a master’s degree in business administration and is currently completing a second master’s degree in finance from Penn State University. He also is a member of the American MENSA.

Securities offered through Calton & Associates, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC.  Advisory services offered through High Street Asset Management.  C.E. Wealth Group, LLC, High Street Asset Management and Calton & Associates, Inc. are separate entities. Insurance or insurance related products are offered through C.E. Insurances, LLC. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Calton & Associates, Inc. or High Street Asset Management.  Individuals should consult their tax/legal advisors before making tax/legal-related investment decisions as Calton & Associates, Inc. and its Registered Representatives do not offer tax/legal advice.

 

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Martins Beach access bill moves closer to victory – WE NEED YOUR HELP!

There is no public access to Martin’s Beach in Unincorporated San Mateo County, Calif., photographed on Thursday, July 19, 2012.

to find your state assemblyman http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/ 

TO FIND THEIR EMAIL ADDRESS: http://assembly.ca.gov/assemblymembers     USE IT!

SACRAMENTO — A proposed law to allow public access to Martins Beach passed one of its last major obstacles Thursday in the state Legislature, overcoming intense lobbying by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, the property’s owner.

The bill, authored by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would ask the State Lands Commission to consider using its power of eminent domain to purchase access to the beach. The bill squeezed past a key chokepoint Thursday, clearing the Assembly Appropriations Committee on a party-line vote. It heads to the Assembly floor next week.

There is no public access to Martin’s Beach in Unincorporated San Mateo County, Calif., photographed on Thursday, July 19, 2012. (JOHN GREEN)

The legislation, SB 968, is one of four lines of attack on Khosla’s controversial decision to block the public from reaching the isolated cove south of Half Moon Bay. Khosla is fighting two lawsuits seeking to restore access, and the California Coastal Commission this month launched its own investigation into providing beach visitation.

Hill’s legislation must pass the full Assembly and return to the Senate floor before it can reach Gov. Jerry Brown.

“I think we’ve got a good chance now,” Hill said Thursday as he drove home from the state capital.

The previous owners of the property allowed the public to cross their private land and visit sandy Martin Beach for a fee. Khosla continued that practice for two years after buying the land in 2008. But in 2010 his property manager locked the gate leading from Highway 1 to the coast.

SB 968 would require the State Lands Commission to negotiate with Khosla to acquire access. If those talks did not yield a compromise by Jan. 1, 2016, the bill would authorize the commission to use its power of eminent domain to buy an easement, likely along Martins Beach Road. Though the commission regularly purchases land for public use, it has never resorted to eminent domain to seize property in its 76-year history. The State Lands Commission oversees roughly 4 million acres of land that the state holds in trust for use by the public. These sovereign lands include tidelands, or the portion of a beach that is seaward of the mean high tide line. They also include the beds of navigable lakes and rivers and thousands of miles of land that is submerged off the coast of California.

The commission has a staff of about 240 people and various responsibilities, including managing the state’s offshore oil and gas leases. It has three voting members: the lieutenant governor, the state finance director and the state controller.

As it stands now, the decision whether to use eminent domain would fall to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Finance Director Michael Cohen, and the winner of the race for state controller between state Board of Equalization member Betty Yee and Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin.

The commission would conduct an appraisal to determine the cost of buying a right of way. The agency has a fund of roughly $6 million that could be used for that purpose.

Legislative analysts for the Appropriations Committee estimated the price could run into the tens of millions of dollars. But others, including the county of San Mateo, predict the price would be much lower, between $1 million and $2 million. They note the easement would amount to a sliver of the 89-acre property that Khosla purchased for $32.5 million.

Khosla hired influential lobbyist Rusty Areias of California Strategies to battle SB 968. He has succeeded in watering the bill down — the original version would have required, not asked, the State Lands Commission to use eminent domain — but has yet to snuff it out. Areias did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.

Coastal advocate Warner Chabot said it’s too soon to predict victory for SB 968. He anticipates Areias will work furiously to peel away Democratic votes in the Assembly.

“It’s always easier to kill a bill than pass it,” Chabot said. “That’s a fundamental rule of Sacramento.”

Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.

 

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Farewell to Candlestick: Paul McCartney delivers touching goodbye concert to famed venue

By Jim Harrington

Paul McCartney wanted to savor the moment.

“This is such a cool event,” he said to the 50,000 fans assembled before him at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on Thursday. “I’m just going to take a minute for myself just to drink it all in.”

There was certainly much to absorb, most notably the undeniable sense that we were witnessing history. For this was not just another concert, but rather thefinal one to ever be performed at the equally storied and maligned venue.

McCartney’s “Farewell to Candlestick” concert was a beautiful way to say goodbye to an old friend, one that had provided so many chills (literally speaking) and thrills during its 54-year history. The Rock and Roll Hall ofFamer delivered some 40 songs during thefinal public event at the famously cold and windy stadium, taking fans on a magical musical tour of his Beatles, Wings and solo catalogs.

Paul McCartney performs the final concert and public event at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014.

Of course, McCartney was the perfect candidate to turn out the lights, returning to the scene of the Beatlesfinal concert, which happened 48 years ago to the month — on Aug. 29, 1966. No wonder he said he felt a bit of “déjà vu” as he stood onstage at the soon-to-be-demolished former home of San Francisco’s 49ers and Giants.

“It’s sad to see the old place close down,” he said. “But we are going to close it down in style.

Mission accomplished — and then some. McCartney and his band sounded fantastic as they performed anapproximately 2½-hour set built from dozens of the greatest songs in rock ‘n’ roll history. The troupe opened with a stellar version of “Eight Days a Week,” from 1964’s “Beatles for Sale,” and was still going strong come encore time.

The evening was thick with nostalgia, but only part of it had to do with the music.The wind whispered ghostlike throughout the night, reviving memories from the stadium’s mighty sports history. Fans, clad in Giants hats and 49ers sweatshirts, seemed well aware that they were standing in this house of past champions for the final time. Thus, for some, this “Farewell to Candlestick” was as much about reconnecting with Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Willie Mays, Steve Young and Willie McCovey as it was about reliving the tunes of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

The mood was a mix of joy and sadness. For decades, people have complained about this venue’s shortcomings, which include the bad traffic, the cold weather, the crowded concourses and the outdated facilities, all of which were on full display on Thursday. In the end, however, many also seemed sorry to see it go. (They might get over that feeling the minute they get a look at the 49ers fancy new digs at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.)

Yet, the joy clearly triumphed on this night. McCartney made sure of that.

The 72-year-old Liverpool native hasn’t changed his show all that much in recent years. He’s still telling many of the same stories and offering up similar set lists to what fans witnessed on his prior trips through the Bay Area, such as at last year’s Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

But why monkey with something that works? He simply plays the hits — and plays them well — while exhibiting an amazing amount of energy and charisma. He does more to give the fans their money’s worth than just about any other entertainer in the game. He’s the rare performer with really nothing left to prove, who still handles each and every song as if his legacy depends on it.

McCartney thrilled at basically every turn, whether he was crooning such touching ballads as “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “The Long and Winding Road” or rocking through up-tempo offerings like “Lovely Rita” and “Paperback Writer.” The main set climaxed with a fabulous “Live and Let Die,” which came complete with a fireworks show, and the ultimate singalong favorite, “Hey Jude.” He’d then return for two lengthy encores.

It was a potent swan song for Candlestick, sending this historic venue out in style.

Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic.

 

 

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