An Osage delegation with President Calvin Coolidge at the White House on Jan. 20, 1924. Bettman via Getty Images

Director Martin Scorsese’s new movie, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” tells the true story of a string of murders on the Osage Nation’s land in Oklahoma in the 1920s. Based on David Grann’s meticulously researched 2017 book, the movie delves into racial and family dynamics that rocked Oklahoma to the core when oil was discovered on Osage lands.

White settlers targeted members of the Osage Nation to steal their land and the riches beneath it. But from a historical perspective, this crime is just the tip of the iceberg.

From the early 1800s through the 1930s, official U.S. policy displaced thousands of Native Americans from their ancestral homes through the policy known as Indian removal. And throughout the 20th century, the federal government collected billions of dollars from sales or leases of natural resources like timber, oil and gas on Indian lands, which it was supposed to disburse to the land’s owners. But it failed to account for these trust funds for decades, let alone pay Indians what they were due.

I am the manager of the University of Arizona’s Indigenous Governance Program and a law professor. My ancestry is Comanche, Kiowa and Cherokee on my father’s side and Taos Pueblo on my mother’s side. From my perspective, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is just one chapter in a much larger story: The U.S. was built on stolen lands and wealth.

Tribal members, some in traditional garb, on a stage
Members of the Osage Nation attend the premiere of ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ on Sept. 27, 2023, in New York City. Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Westward expansion and land theft

In the standard telling, the American West was populated by industrious settlers who eked out livings from the ground, formed cities and, in time, created states. In fact, hundreds of Native nations already lived on those lands, each with their own unique forms of government, culture and language.

In the early 1800s, eastern cities were growing and dense urban centers were becoming unwieldy. Indian lands in the west were an alluring target – but westward expansion ran up against what would become known was “the Indian problem.” This widely used phrase reflected a belief that the U.S. had a God-given mandate to settle North America, and Indians stood in the way.

In the early 1800s, treaty-making between the U.S. and Indian nations shifted from a cooperative process into a tool for forcibly removing tribes from their lands.

Starting in the 1830s, Congress pressured Indian tribes in the east to sign treaties that required the tribes to move to reservations in the west. This took place over the objections of public figures such as Tennessee frontiersman and congressman Davy Crockett, humanitarian organizations and, of course, the tribes themselves.

Forced removal touched every tribe east of the Mississippi River and several tribes to the west of it. In total, about 100,000 American Indians were removed from their eastern homelands to western reservations.

But the most pernicious land grab was yet to come.

Map showing tribes displaced from the eastern U.S.
Eastern Native American tribes that were forced to move west starting in the 1830s. Smithsonian, CC BY-ND

The General Allotment Act

Even after Indians were corralled on reservations, settlers pushed for more access to western lands. In 1871, Congress formally ended the policy of treaty-making with Indians. Then, in 1887, it passed the General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act. With this law, U.S. policy toward Indians shifted from separation to assimilation – forcibly integrating Indians into the national population.

This required transitioning tribal structures of communal land ownership under a reservation system to a private property model that broke up reservations altogether. The General Allotment Act was designed to divvy up reservation lands into allotments for individual Indians and open any unallotted lands, which were deemed surplus, to non-Indian settlement. Lands could be allotted only to male heads of households.

Under the original statute, the U.S. government held Indian allotments, which measured roughly 160 acres per person, in trust for 25 years before each Indian allottee could receive clear title. During this period, Indian allottees were expected to embrace agriculture, convert to Christianity and assume U.S. citizenship.

In 1906, Congress amended the law to allow the secretary of the interior to issue land titles whenever an Indian allottee was deemed capable of managing his affairs. Once this happened, the allotment was subject to taxation and could immediately be sold.

A 2021 study estimated that Native people in the U.S. have lost almost 99% of the lands they occupied before 1800.

Legal cultural genocide

Indian allottees often had little concept of farming and even less ability to manage their newly acquired lands.

Even after being confined to western reservations, many tribes had maintained their traditional governance structures and tried to preserve their cultural and religious practices, including communal ownership of property. When the U.S. government imposed a foreign system of ownership and management on them, many Indian landowners simply sold their lands to non-Indian buyers, or found themselves subject to taxes that they were unable to pay.

In total, allotment removed 90 million acres of land from Indian control before the policy ended in the mid-1930s. This led to the destruction of Indian culture; loss of language as the federal government implemented its board school policy; and imposition of a myriad of regulations, as shown in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” that affected inheritance, ownership and title disputes when an allottee passed away.

Antique map with oil production tracts marked
A 1917 map of oil leases on the Osage Reservation. HUM Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A measure of justice

Today, about 56 million acres remain under Indian control. The federal government owns title to the lands, but holds them in trust for Indian tribes and individuals.

These lands contain many valuable resources, including oil, gas, timber and minerals. But rather than acting as a steward of Indian interests in these resources, the U.S. government has repeatedly failed in its trust obligations.

As required under the General Allotment Act, money earned from oil and gas exploration, mining and other activities on allotted Indian lands was placed in individual accounts for the benefit of Indian allottees. But for over a century, rather than making payments to Indian landowners, the government routinely mismanaged those funds, failed to provide a court-ordered accounting of them and systematically destroyed disbursement records.

In 1996, Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, filed a class action lawsuit seeking to force the government to provide a historic accounting of these funds and fix its failed system for managing them. After 16 years of litigation, the suit was settled in 2009 for roughly US$3.4 billion.

The settlement provided $1.4 billion for direct payments of $1,000 to each member of the class, and $1.9 billion to consolidate complex ownership interests that had accrued as land was handed down through multiple generations, making it hard to track allottees and develop the land.

“We all know that the settlement is inadequate, but we must also find a way to heal the wounds and bring some measure of restitution,” said Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, as the organization passed a resolution in 2010 endorsing the settlement.

A woman and man shake hands in a crowded hearing room.
Elouise Cobell shakes hands with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at a Senate hearing on the $3.4 billion Cobell v. Salazar settlement. Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, led the suit against the federal government for mismanaging revenues derived from land held in trust for Indian tribes and individuals. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Who are the wolves?

“Killers of the Flower Moon” offers a snapshot of American Indian land theft, but the full history is much broader. In one scene from the movie, Ernest Burkhart – an uneducated white man, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who married an Osage woman and participated in the Osage murdersreads haltingly from a child’s picture book.

“There are many, so many, hungry wolves,” he reads. “Can you find the wolves in this picture?” It’s clear from the movie that the town’s citizens are the wolves. But the biggest wolf of all is the federal government itself – and Uncle Sam is nowhere to be seen.

The Conversation

Torivio Fodder is an enrolled member of the Taos Pueblo, and of Comanche, Kiowa and Cherokee descent.

Read more …Gangsters are the villains in 'Killers of the Flower Moon,' but the biggest thief of Native...

When wildfire smoke turns the air brown and hazy, you might think about heading indoors with the windows closed, running an air purifier or even wearing a mask. These are all good strategies to reduce exposure to the particles in wildfire smoke, but smoky air is also filled with potentially harmful gases. Those gases can get into buildings and remain in the walls and floors for weeks.

Getting rid of these gases isn’t as simple as turning on an air purifier or opening a window on a clear day.

In a new study published in the journal Science Advances, colleagues and I tracked the life of these gases in a home exposed to wildfire smoke. We also found that the best way to get rid of the risk is among the simplest: start cleaning.

The challenge of smoke particles and gases

In December 2021, several of my friends and colleagues were affected by the Marshall Fire that burned about 1,000 homes in Boulder County, Colorado. The “lucky” ones, whose homes were still standing, asked me what they should do to clean their houses. I am an atmospheric and indoor chemist, so I started looking into the published research, but I found very few studies on what happens after a building is exposed to smoke.

What scientists did know was that smoke particles end up on indoor surfaces – floors, walls, ceilings. We knew that air filters could remove particles from the air. And colleagues and I were just beginning to understand that volatile organic compounds, which are traditionally thought to stay in the air, could actually stick to surfaces inside a home and build up reservoirs – invisible pools of organic molecules that can contribute to the air chemistry inside the house.

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are compounds that easily become gases at room temperature. They include everything from limonene in lemons to benzene in gasoline. VOCs aren’t always hazardous to human health, but many VOCs in smoke are. I started to wonder whether the VOCs in wildfire smoke could also stick to the surfaces of a house.

Tracking lingering risks in a test house

I worked with researchers from across the U.S. and Canada to explore this problem during the Chemical Assessment of Surfaces and Air, or CASA, study in 2022. We built on HOMEChem, a previous study in which we looked at how cooking, cleaning and occupancy could change indoor air.

In CASA, we studied what happens when pollutants and chemicals get inside our homes – pesticides, smog and even wood smoke.

Tracking VOCs from smoke and other sources.

Using a cocktail smoker and wood chips, we created a surprisingly chemically accurate proxy for wildfire smoke and released small doses into a test house built by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. NIST’s house allowed us to conduct controlled chemistry experiments in a real-world setting.

We even aged the smoke in a large bag with ozone to simulate what happens when smoke travels long distances, like the smoke from Canadian wildfires that moved into the U.S. in the summer of 2023. Smoke chemistry changes as it travels: Particles become more oxidized and brown, while VOCs break down and the smoke loses its distinctive smell.

How VOCs behave in your home

What we found in CASA was intriguing. While smoke particles quickly settled on indoor surfaces, VOCs were more insidious.

At first, the house took up these smoke VOCs – on floors, walls and building surfaces. But once the initial smoke cleared, the house would slowly release those VOCs back out over the next hours, days or even months, depending on the type of VOC.

This release is what we call a partitioning process: During the smoke event, individual VOC molecules in the air attach to indoor surfaces with weak chemical bonds. The process is called adsorption. As smoke clears and the air cleans out, the bonds can break, and molecules “desorb” back out into the air.

We could watch this partitioning happen in the air by measuring smoke VOC concentrations. On surfaces, we could measure the weight of smoke VOCs that deposited on very sensitive balances and then were slowly released.

Overall, we concluded that this surface reservoir allows smoke VOCs to linger indoors, meaning that people are exposed to them not just during the major smoke event but also long after.

Why worry about VOCs?

Smoke VOCs include well-known carcinogens, and high levels of exposure can induce respiratory and health problems.

While smoke VOC concentrations in our test house decreased with time, they remained persistently elevated above normal levels.

Given that VOC concentrations from other sources, such as cooking and cleaning, can already be high enough in homes to harm health, this additional long-term exposure source from smoke could be important. Further toxicology studies will be needed to determine the significance of its health effects.

How to clean up when smoke gets in

So, what can you do to remove these lingering smoke gases?

We found that air purifiers can remove only some of the VOCs that are in the air – they can’t clean the VOCs on your floors or in your walls. They also work only when they’re running, and even then, air purifiers don’t work particularly well to reduce VOCs.

Opening windows to ventilate will clean the air, if it isn’t smoggy or smoky outside. But as soon as we closed windows and doors, smoke VOCs started to bleed off the surface reservoirs and into the air again, resulting in an elevated, near-constant concentration.

We realized that to permanently remove those smoke VOCs, we had to physically remove them from surfaces.

A young scientist, wearing a face mask, and a large air purifier.
A scientist takes samples while running an air purifier in the test house. The results show the air purifier helps while it’s running, but only for gases in the air. John Eisele/Colorado State University

The good news is that cleaning surfaces by vacuuming, dusting and mopping with a commercial, nonbleach solution did the trick. While some remediation companies may do this surface cleaning for you after extreme exposures, surface cleaning after any smoke event – like Canadian wildfire smoke drifting into homes in 2023 – should effectively and permanently reduced smoke VOC levels indoors.

Of course, we could reach only a certain number of surfaces – it’s hard to vacuum the ceiling! That meant that surface cleaning improved but didn’t eliminate smoke VOC levels in the house. But our study at least provides a path forward for cleaning indoor spaces affected by air pollutants, whether from wildfires, chemical spills or other events.

With wildfires becoming more frequent, surface cleaning can be an easy, cheap and effective way to improve indoor air quality.

The Conversation

Delphine Farmer receives funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, W.M. Keck Foundation, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Read more …Wildfire smoke leaves harmful gases in floors and walls − air purifiers aren’t enough, new study...

The El Niño pattern stands out in the warm sea surface temperature anomalies in the Pacific in 2023 NOAA

Winter is still weeks away, but meteorologists are already talking about a snowy winter ahead in the southern Rockies and the Sierra Nevada. They anticipate more storms in the U.S. South and Northeast, and warmer, drier conditions across the already dry Pacific Northwest and the upper Midwest.

One phrase comes up repeatedly with these projections: a strong El Niño is coming.

It sounds ominous. But what does is that actually mean? We asked Aaron Levine, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington whose research focuses on El Niño.

NOAA explains in animations how El Niño forms.

What is a strong El Niño?

During a normal year, the warmest sea surface temperatures are in the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean, in what’s known as the Indo-Western Pacific warm pool.

But every few years, the trade winds that blow from east to west weaken, allowing that warm water to slosh eastward and pile up along the equator. The warm water causes the air above it to warm and rise, fueling precipitation in the central Pacific and shifting atmospheric circulation patterns across the basin.

This pattern is known as El Niño, and it can affect weather around the world.

An animation shows how warm water builds up along the equator off South America. The box where temperatures are measured is south of Hawaii.
The box shows the Niño 3.4 region as El Niño begins to develop in the tropical Pacific, from January to June 2023. NOAA

A strong El Niño, in the most basic definition, occurs once the average sea surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific is at least 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) warmer than normal. It’s measured in an imaginary box along the equator, roughly south of Hawaii, known as the Nino 3.4 Index.

But El Niño is a coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon, and the atmosphere also plays a crucial role.

What has been surprising about this year’s El Niño – and still is – is that the atmosphere hasn’t responded as much as we would have expected based on the rising sea surface temperatures.

Is that why El Niño didn’t affect the 2023 hurricane season the way forecasts expected?

The 2023 Atlantic hurricane season is a good example. Forecasters often use El Niño as a predictor of wind shear, which can tear apart Atlantic hurricanes. But with the atmosphere not responding to the warmer water right away, the impact on Atlantic hurricanes was lessened and it turned out to be a busy season.

The atmosphere is what transmits El Niño’s impact. Heat from the warm ocean water causes the air above it to warm and rise, which fuels precipitation. That air sinks again over cooler water.

The rising and sinking creates giant loops in the atmosphere called the Walker Circulation. When the warm pool’s water shifts eastward, that also shifts where the rising and sinking motions happen. The atmosphere reacts to this change like ripples in a pond when you throw a stone in. These ripples affect the jet stream, which steers weather patterns in the U.S.

This year, in comparison with other large El Niño events – such as 1982-83, 1997-98 and 2015-16 – we’re not seeing the same change in where the precipitation is happening. It’s taking much longer to develop, and it’s not as strong.

Part of that, presumably, is related to the whole tropics being very, very warm. But this is still an emerging field of research.

How El Niño will change with global warming is a big and open question. El Niño only happens every few years, and there’s a fair amount of variability between events, so just getting a baseline is tough.

What does a strong El Niño typically mean for US weather?

During a typical El Niño winter, the U.S. South and Southwest are cooler and wetter, and the Northwest is warmer and drier. The upper Midwest tends to be drier, while the Northeast tends to be a little wetter.

The likelihood and the intensity generally scale with the strength of the El Niño event.

El Niño has traditionally been good for the mountain snowpack in California, which the state relies for a large percentage of its water. But it is often not so good for the Pacific Northwest snowpack.

Two maps showing wetter, cooler weather in the Southeast and drier warmer air in the north during El Nino.
The jet stream takes a very different path in a typical El Niño vs. La Niña winter weather pattern. But these patterns have a great deal of variability. Not every El Niño or La Niña year is the same. NOAA

The jet stream plays a role in that shift. When the polar jet stream is either displaced very far northward or southward, storms that would normally move through Washington or British Columbia are steered to California and Oregon instead.

What do the forecasts show for 2023?

Whether forecasters think a strong El Niño will develop depends on whose forecast model they trust.

This past spring, the dynamical forecast models were already very confident about the potential for a strong El Niño developing. These are big models that solve basic physics equations, starting with current oceanic and atmospheric conditions.

However, statistical models, which use statistical predictors of El Niño calculated from historical observations, were less certain.

Even in the most recent forecast model outlook, the dynamical forecast models were predicting a stronger El Niño than the statistical models were.

If you go by just a sea surface temperature-based El Niño index, the forecast is for a fairly strong El Niño.

But the indices that incorporate the atmosphere are not responding in the same way. We’ve seen atmospheric anomalies – as measured by cloud height monitored by satellites or sea-level pressure at monitoring stations – on and off in the Pacific since May and June, but not in a very robust fashion. Even in September, they were nowhere near as large as they were in 1982, in terms of overall magnitude.

We’ll see if the atmosphere catches up by wintertime, when El Niño peaks.

How long do El Niños last?

Often during El Niño events – particularly strong El Niño events – the sea surface temperature anomalies collapse really quickly during the Northern Hemisphere spring. Almost all end in April or May.

One reason is that El Niño sows the seeds of its own demise. When El Niño happens, it uses up that warm water and the warm water volume shrinks. Eventually, it has eroded its fuel.

The surface can stay warm for a while, but once the heat from the subsurface is gone and the trade winds return, the El Niño event collapses. At the end of past El Niño events, the sea surface anomaly dropped very fast and we saw conditions typically switch to La Niña – El Niño’s cooler opposite.

The Conversation

Aaron Levine receives funding from NOAA and has received funding in the past from the National Research Council. He is a member of the American Geophysical Union

Read more …What is a strong El Niño? Meteorologists anticipate a big impact in winter 2023, but the forecasts...

Fifty years ago, a secret deal among Arab governments triggered one of the most traumatic economic crises to afflict the United States and other big oil importers.

Saudi King Faisal and other Arab leaders launched an oil embargo on Oct. 17, 1973, as payback for Washington siding with Israel in its war with neighboring Egypt and Syria.

The oil market hostilities arose from a pact between Faisal and the leaders of Egypt and Syria, whose armies planned surprise drives to retake their territory under Israeli occupation. If the United States intervened to assist Israel, Faisal and other Arab producers agreed to retaliate with the “oil weapon.”

When Washington airlifted in U.S. weapons that helped Israel thwart Arab gains, Faisal and OPEC’s Arab members retaliated. They increased oil prices, banned oil shipments to the United States and cut production by 5% per month.

The ensuing economic and political carnage is legendary. The embargo catalyzed a long period of upheaval in global oil markets and pain at the gasoline pump for Americans and consumers globally. Oil prices quadrupled nearly overnight and remained high for over a decade. Producing countries leveraged the opportunity to reclaim sovereignty over their oil reserves. By 1980, many had completed the process of kicking Western oil companies out of their territories.

Oil’s global regime change

The embargo’s disruptive power was due to two key factors: OPEC’s dominance of world oil supply, and oil’s supremacy in the global energy mix.

Prior to the embargo, oil fueled almost half of total energy consumption in the United States (47.5%) and worldwide (49%). While OPEC countries produced more than half (53%) of global oil, the concessions were operated by Western oil majors.

After the embargo, producer states took over. Control of global oil production passed from Western oil giants like Shell and Exxon to newly formed national oil companies.

Men in suits sit at two rows of tables across from one another. Ahmed Zaki Yamani is looking into the camera.
Saudi oil minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani, second from left at the table, negotiated a deal that shifted control of Arabian American Oil Company from Exxon, Chevron, Mobil and Texaco to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Aramco is now the world’s largest oil producing company. AFP via Getty Images

As a result, a torrent of cash from oil sales poured into Middle Eastern countries where rudimentary services like electricity were still being built out. Oil revenues in Saudi Arabia jumped fortyfold between 1965 and 1975, from US$655 million to $26.7 billion. These countries also amassed new geopolitical power.

How the oil price spike played out in the West

In the West, price increases wreaked havoc on economies and transport systems that were far less efficient than today. Inflation soon boiled over into “stagflation,” a combination of economic stagnation and high inflation. Misguided policies, including gasoline price controls and rationing, exacerbated shortages, creating long lines at service stations and emboldening gasoline thieves.

A look back at the 1970s oil crisis.

America saw a pell-mell downsizing of gas-guzzling vehicles and a simultaneous ramping up of imports of fuel-efficient Japanese cars. Drivers obsessed over miles per gallon, and the U.S. government imposed corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards, aimed at saving fuel by requiring automakers to sell more fuel-efficient cars.

Western oil companies, kicked out of the Middle East and other oil regions, pivoted to more difficult terrain: the offshore Gulf of Mexico and North Sea, and the Arctic regions of northern Alaska.

As scholars of energy policy, we have long studied the embargo’s spillover effects on the global economy and political systems. These outcomes are a central theme in Jim Krane’s 2019 book “Energy Kingdoms.” On the embargo’s 50th anniversary, Oct. 17, 2023, King Faisal’s son, the former Saudi Ambassador to Washington Prince Turki Al Faisal, is joining us for a conference at Rice University’s Baker Institute to discuss the still-valid lessons of the Arab oil embargo.

50 years later, new pressures

Fifty years on, markets have changed. But oil continues to be the world’s dominant energy source.

On one hand, crude oil use has grown dramatically. Global supply has risen from less than 60 million barrels per day in 1973 to nearly 94 million barrels per day in 2022. Motor fuel prices are still a critical input to inflation; we calculate that the increase in gasoline prices in 2022 cost the average American household roughly $1,000.

On the other hand, OPEC’s importance – and oil’s share of the global energy mix – has declined. OPEC’s 13 members account for just 36% of global oil production today. The high oil prices caused by the 1973 embargo created incentives for oil drillers to diversify toward new sources of oil and develop substitute fuels to replace oil.

Within 15 years of the embargo, production outside OPEC increased by a massive 14 million barrels per day. Oil from Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico helped stabilize U.S. production. Later, the shale revolution turned the United States into the world’s largest producer and a net exporter of oil, capping a 50-year quest.

The world has also become much more efficient, reducing the amount of oil needed to maintain the same activity. Global per-capita oil use per dollar of gross domestic product has fallen by a massive 60% since 1973, our calculations show.

But, as in 1973, energy security concerns are back at the top of national agendas.

Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine reprised the risks of energy “weaponization.” Europe, in particular, has been hurt by overdependence on Russian natural gas and has raced to shift its energy sources. The Israel-Hamas war that began on Oct. 8, 2023, has not yet ignited retaliatory responses from Arab governments, and the initial impact on oil has been minimal, but geopolitical effects from such a large event could still roil markets.

Energy security itself is also being altered. The transition to renewable energy sources like wind and solar insulates consumers from most supply chain risks. Electric vehicles likewise protect owners from swinging oil prices. So, while crucial materials can still be manipulated by governments, shortages and price spikes mainly affect component manufacturers and their investors. If supplies are bottlenecked long enough, the energy transition could be delayed.

Aerial view in 2014 of the Houston Ship Channel and surrounding energy facilities in Houston.
The U.S. still imports more than 8 million barrels of petroleum per day, but since 2020, it has exported more than it has imported. More than one-third of U.S. crude oil exports go through the Houston Ship Channel. Carol M. Highsmith/U.S. State Department Bureau of Global Public Affairs, CC BY-NC

Like the embargo 50 years ago, today’s crises have rendered the future of energy massively uncertain. Changes in the global energy mix, especially the rapid growth of electric vehicles, could weaken the importance of oil and the cartel that oversees it.

As former Saudi oil minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani was reported to have said a quarter-century ago: “The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil.”

The Conversation

Jim Krane has received research funding from the government of Qatar and is affiliated with the Energy Policy Research Group at the University of Cambridge.

Mark Finley owns shares in bp. He has consulted for the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center. He is also a member of the US Association for Energy Economics and the National Association for Business Economics.

Read more …Rising oil prices, surging inflation: The Arab embargo 50 years ago weaponized oil to inflict...

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