A select group of nationwide information “stakeholders” gathered at an undisclosed location for what was described as a “semi-secret” workshop somewhere in Canada on January 26. The assembly had been convened to determine how and to whom a “news industry bailout” of $645 million in Canadian government subsidies to non-public and supposedly unbiased media retailers can be disbursed. It was a hanging event that signaled both the crisis of legitimacy confronted by mainstream media and the determined measures which are being proposed to answer it.
Jesse Brown, a Canadian journalist who participated within the meeting, complained that the very first thing he observed about it “was that one major public ‘stakeholder’ wasn’t represented: the public.” Inside what amounted to a smoke crammed room that was off limits to most Canadian citizens, Ben Scott — a former Obama administration official who also served in Hillary Clinton’s State Division — presided over the discussions. At this time, because the director of coverage and advocacy for the Omidyar Community, Scott works for one of the crucial quietly influential billionaires in helping to form the media panorama and define the craft of journalism itself.
His boss is Pierre Omidyar, the ebay founder greatest recognized for his sponsorship of The Intercept, a flashy progressive publication that possesses the categorised documents exfiltrated by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. In contrast to rival Silicon Valley billionaires Peter Thiel, Jeff Bezos, and Eric Schmidt, Omidyar has principally managed to keep his influential position in media under the radar. And whereas he directs his fortune into most of the similar politically strategic NGOs and media retailers that George Soros does in hotspots around the globe, he has never been subjected to the public scrutiny and sometimes ugly attacks that canine Soros. And yet Samantha Energy, the former U.S. ambassador to the UN and liberal interventionist guru, has explicitly praised Omidyar as someone who is following in the footsteps of Soros.
The just about complete absence of essential coverage that Omidyar enjoys is partly the product of his aversion to publicity. In contrast to Soros, who appears to yearn for the media limelight, Omidyar is an eccentric figure who owns a “safe house” in the wilds of the American West; he interacts with business partners in virtual-reality simulations he funds, and has been magnetized by New Age gurus. However the free move Omidyar has acquired from the media is additionally a testament to how a lot money he has channeled into it – as properly into the organizations that ostensibly exist to maintain it trustworthy.
While backing media retailers all over the world that produce information and commentary, Omidyar supports a international cartel of self-styled fact-checking groups that decide which retailers are authentic and which are “fake.” He has additionally thrown his money behind murky initiatives like the non-profit backing New Information, the info agency that waged some of the devious disinformation campaigns in any current American election marketing campaign; and he is a key backer of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ), the outfit that holds the Panama Papers and oversees the strategic dissemination of that leaked trove of monetary information to hand-picked journalists.
On the base of this vast media empire is a nepotistic tradition that has seen the beneficiaries of Omidyar’s funding are available for gushing reward from the same fact-checking organizations he helps, while the journalists nurtured by his donations reap high-profile awards from the Omidyar-sponsored Committee to Shield Journalists. Final November, Omidyar backed the discharge of a documentary hyping up the journalists that helped expose the Panama Papers, and he is also involved in a function film starring Meryl Streep concerning the leaked paperwork and the heroic reporters masking them. The conflicts of interests created underneath the billionaire’s watch are many however, as together with his own political actions, they have been scrutinized by solely a handful of journalists.
Behind the image he has cultivated of himself as a “progressive philanthropreneur,” Omidyar has wielded his media empire to advance the Washington consensus in strategic hotspots around the globe. His fortune helped discovered an outlet to propel a destabilizing coup in Ukraine; he’s helped establish a network of oppositional youth activists and bloggers in Zimbabwe; and within the Philippines he has invested in an oppositional information website that is honing corporate surveillance methods like a “mood meter…to capture non-rational reactions.” Meanwhile, he has partnered intently with the main arms of U.S. delicate energy, from the U.S. Agency for Worldwide Assist and Improvement (USAID) to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) — appearing as a conduit for info warfare-style tasks in nations around the globe.
Omidyar’s political agenda got here into sharper focus final Might when he began funding the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a pet venture of neoconservative operative Bill Kristol that has stoked public worry of Russian infiltration of social media. This December, it appears that Omidyar’s donations helped Kristol launch a new on-line journal referred to as The Bulwark — rebranding the defunct Weekly Normal, which had served as the banner publication of the neocon motion and a central organ for promoting America’s wars. As typical, the billionaire’s actions have been ignored in progressive media, leaving the essential coverage to a few right-wing retailers annoyed with Kristol’s anti-Trump crusading.
Omidyar’s help for the same neocon guru who oversaw the publication of an article branding NSA spying whistleblower Edward Snowden as a “traitor” should place the ebay founder’s acquisition of the Snowden information in a disturbing mild. By establishing The Intercept and recruiting the journalists who possessed Snowden’s leaks, the billionaire successfully privatized the information. Not solely did this delay their release, it denied the general public entry to the knowledge with a view to supply his secure of employed reporters with exclusive scoops that proceed to seem years after they have been leaked. To this present day, only a minuscule proportion of the Snowden information have been made public and, for no matter purpose, none of these which were released relate to ebay or its assorted business pursuits.
While hoarding this priceless trove, Omidyar has cast relationships with the exact same personal army contractor that Snowden fought to show. Two years after founding The Intercept, Omidyar welcomed a man named Robert Lietzke to the Omidyar Fellows program. Lietzke is no small character — he happened to have been Snowden’s former boss, reportedly one in every of “three principals [running] day to day operations” at the Hawaii branch of the Booz Allen Hamilton defense firm the place Snowden toiled as an NSA contractor.
The Omidyar Group did not reply to requests for touch upon Omidyar’s involvement with the publication of the Snowden documents. Moreover, The Intercept did not reply to questions concerning the extent of management Omidyar’s First Look Media enjoys over the Snowden archive.
By means of his purchase of affect over the day by day stream of data to American media shoppers, a dizzying array of connections to the national security state, and a media empire that shields him from important scrutiny, Omidyar has grow to be one of the world’s most politically refined knowledge monarchs.
Yasha Levine, the writer of Surveillance Valley: The Secret Army History of the Web, informed MintPress:
In in the present day’s backlash over Silicon Valley’s contracts with American army and intelligence businesses, individuals are targeted on Fb, Google and Amazon — while Pierre Omidyar’s eBay has been completely ignored. However Omidyar has been on the forefront of constructing out Silicon Valley’s international private-public surveillance apparatus.
For the past decade Omidyar has quietly worked to broaden eBay’s privatized surveillance-state mannequin past online gross sales and into elections, media, transportation, schooling, finance, as well as authorities administration. His car for that: the Omidyar Group, an investment car that bankrolls a whole lot of startups, business and non-profits all over the world.”
Omidyar’s political empire consists of a net of organizations overseen by its middle of administration: the Omidyar Group. Every outfit seems to be an unbiased entity with its own employees and directors. Taken together, nevertheless, these organizations pursue a mission that reflects the imaginative and prescient of the billionaire behind it. Under are the seven initiatives spun out of the Omidyar Group:
Ulupono Initiative: This group appears to be targeted on supporting mundane actions, principally centered in Omidyar’s house state of Hawaii. Nevertheless, a look beneath the hood reveals nationwide security-state connections. For example, Ulupono sponsors a Protection Department gala for contractors like Snowden’s former employer, Booz Allen Hamilton. What’s extra, a former VP at Booz Allen, Kyle Datta, is additionally a basic companion of Ulupono.
Humanity United: This NGO was based after the most important human trafficking scandal in U.S. history (detailed later in this investigation) was exposed on the Maui Pineapple farm through which Omidyar had invested. Ostensibly shaped to fight slavery, Humanity United has additionally been used to fund The Guardian, a liberal British newspaper that has offered constructive coverage to and collaborated with quite a few Omidyar-backed initiatives.
Hopelab: An initiative that focuses on encouraging a “behavioral change” and “mindshift” in teen and young-adult most cancers survivors by means of “positive psychology skills” like “practicing gratitude,” “mindfulness,” and “random acts of kindness.” The group’s mission reflects the New Age sensibility of Omidyar and his spouse, Pam, in addition to the billionaire’s curiosity in probably worthwhile data-gathering ventures. (Medical knowledge is on the middle of an ongoing debate about using artificial intelligence in numerous industries.)
Luminate: Luminate has doled out $314 million to 236 organizations all over the world. As outlined earlier, this group is run by Ben Scott, a former Obama administration official who additionally served in Hillary Clinton’s state division. Scott led the beforehand famous “semi-secret” January 26 workshop where Canadian information “stakeholders” mentioned the federal government’s plan for a “news industry bailout” of $645 million in subsidies. A day earlier, the Bureau of Investigative Journalists introduced a $1 million contribution from Luminate over the subsequent two years. Luminate is Omidyar’s central hub for funding a cartel of fact-checking retailers around the globe. It continues to fund the pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League after the Omidyar Community offered seed money for the group’s Silicon Valley internet monitoring middle.
Omidyar Network: With workplaces in Washington, Silicon Valley, and six overseas nations, the Omidyar Community propagates the neoliberal ideology of its billionaire namesake by way of “impact investing” and a “property rights” initiative. Outdoors the U.S., the Omidyar Community funds an array of overseas media retailers, like Ukraine’s Hromadske and the Philippines-based Rappler, which have participated in pro-Western info warfare-style campaigns towards rogue governments. In Zimbabwe, the place the Omidyar Network supports a collection of oppositional youth organizing initiatives by way of the Magambe Community, an Omidyar employee was arrested, accused of trying to fire up a revolt by means of online organizing, and finally launched (the incident is detailed later in this article). This February 12, Rappler editor-in-chief Maria Ressa was arrested as properly, accused of “cyber-libel” by the Filipino authorities for a 2012 article. The Omidyar Network and the Omidyar-funded Committee to Shield Journalists have set up a $500,000 authorized defense fund for Ressa.
First Look Media: This group is the primary arm for supporting the cutting-edge media tasks produced beneath Omidyar’s watch. In addition to The Intercept, First Look funds a documentary division referred to as Subject of Vision that has overseen movies about high profile journalists. Past productions embrace Danger, a destructive portrayal of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange that prompted Wikileaks legal professionals to accuse its director, Laura Poitras, of “undermin[ing] WikiLeaks just as the Trump administration has announced that it intends to prosecute its journalists, editors and associates.” A Subject of Imaginative and prescient documentary on the Panama Papers functioned as a PR car for the Omidyar-funded Worldwide Consortium of Investigative Journalism that holds the paperwork, and features journalist Luke Harding in its trailer. Harding is the Russia-obsessed Guardian correspondent who just lately fabricated a report on meetings between Assange and former Trump marketing campaign manager Paul Manafort. First Look also sponsors the for-profit studio Matter, which is producing another film on the Panama Papers, The Laundromat, starring Meryl Streep and Antonio Banderas.
Democracy Fund: The primary arm of Omidyar-backed activist media initiatives, this group funds a collection of teams like the Middle for Public Integrity that advocate transparency in politics. On the similar time, the Democracy Fund backs Bill Kristol’s neoconservative mini-empire Defending Democracy Collectively, and supplies help to his new Cold War car, the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a undertaking of the German Marshall Fund assume tank. Omidyar’s Democracy Fund has donated to German Marshall Fund’s Defending Digital Democracy challenge, as nicely the German Marshall Fund itself.
Under is an infographic detailing Pierre Omidyar’s community of ties to civil society organizations, media retailers, film and cultural ventures and the wider U.S. soft-power community he partners with and supports. Omidyar’s fortune emanates from the Omidyar Group, quietly propelling main organizations at the forefront of data warfare and knowledge gathering by means of satellite fronts similar to Luminate and Democracy Fund.
This investigation will peel back the image Omidyar has cultivated as an altruistic innovator advancing public accountability and media integrity, revealing the unsettling actuality of a corporate machine fueled by his free-market ideology and raw imperial may. It all begins with a curious story about his wife’s Pez dispensers.
The genesis of a personal marketplace and surveillance apparatus
“The origin story of eBay is fairly well known,” in response to a 1999 Time Journal profile spinning out the corporate’s “small scale origins.”
Painting Omidyar as a high-tech Horatio Alger, Time wrote that “other tech giants have their garages, eBay has its Pez dispenser. Or, rather, founder Pierre Omidyar’s then-fiancée didn’t have a Pez dispenser.”
Because the story goes, Omidyar created eBay for his then-fiancée Pam as an internet marketplace for her to improve her assortment of Pez sweet dispensers. In accordance with the Time profile, “eBay started out free, but it quickly attracted so much traffic that Omidyar‘s Internet service upped his monthly bill to $250. Now that it was costing him real money, Omidyar decided to start charging.”
In a extra candid interview with journalist Sarah Lacy in 2010, who opened by informing her viewers that Omidyar “does actually exist,” the billionaire came clear about his company’s cute genesis story. In response to the billionaire, he and his colleagues “may have embellished it a little bit on the story in those early days.” However it was not his doing, he insisted: “I think we can blame that on PR people.”
In line with journalist Yasha Levine, who researched eBay’s formation for his guide Surveillance Valley, the corporate began assembling an inner police and intelligence company comprised of former FBI agents in 1999 to spy on eBay users and monitor down fraud. Levine informed MintPress:
By the mid-2000s, when Google was still a small firm and Fb barely existed, eBay had constructed this international personal division into a behemoth: 2,000 staff and greater than a thousand personal investigators, who worked intently with intelligence and regulation enforcement businesses in every country where it operated — together with the USA, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Malaysia, India, Russia, Czech Republic and Poland. EBay was pleased with its shut relationship with regulation enforcement, touting efforts to arrest 1,000 individuals a yr and boasting that it had handed over consumer knowledge to the NSA and FBI without requiring subpoenas or courtroom orders.”
By 2015, eBay was a corporate behemoth value almost $69 billion. Omidyar leveraged his wealth and popularity as considered one of Silicon Valley’s premier innovators to forge close ties with President Barack Obama, visiting him extra occasions within the White House than did tech-giant rivals like Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
Whilst he cast ties with the captains of America’s national safety equipment, Omidyar held on to a picture as a business renegade and radical disruptor. “There’s something about entrepreneur that is somewhat sort of anti-establishment,” he advised The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.
However this Might, information arrived that Omidyar had begun directing his cash into the political equipment of a Republican Social gathering operative often known as one one of the crucial outstanding enforcers of America’s permanent conflict lobby.
In November 2018, news arrived that Omidyar had invested a minimum of $600,000 by means of his Democracy Fund into neoconservative granddaddy Bill Kristol’s Defending Democracy Together. The seemingly unusual alliance of the funder of an outlet recognized for its exposés of national security state abuses with one of many national safety state’s most hardline enforcers was coated virtually solely by right-wing media, with near-total radar silence from the world of progressive online media.
Omidyar’s help for Kristol’s ventures dated back to a minimum of 2017, when his Democracy Fund quietly funneled $300,000 into the Alliance for Securing Democracy. Overseen by the neoconservative Kristol protege, Jamie Fly, this initiative hyped the phantom menace of Russian bots by way of its Hamilton 68 dashboard. The dubious Omidyar-backed device claimed to track Russian lively measures on social media, however truly did no such factor and refused to even identify the supposed bot accounts it was purportedly tracking. The Alliance for Securing Democracy nonetheless performed a pivotal position in driving public worry and loathing of Russia by producing reams of articles and statements by outstanding lawmakers concerning the position of Kremlin-controlled Twitter bots.
Kristol was greatest recognized for publishing the Weekly Normal, the neoconservative motion’s banner publication. He was additionally co-author of the preliminary letter of the notorious Venture for a New American Century (PNAC). This post-Chilly War umbrella group united neoconservatives and liberal interventionists into a coalition that laid the political groundwork for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. In 2008, Kristol was panned for his position in buying Sarah Palin to John McCain as the Republican Vice Presidential nominee, establishing a fiasco that helped elect Barack Obama as president. That same yr, he rebranded PNAC as the Overseas Policy Initiative (FPI), hoping to summon what he referred to as a “war weary” post-Iraq American public with a pro-war “rallying.”
Because the election of Trump, Kristol has engaged in a personal rebranding campaign, organizing the “Never Trump” movement of neocons and institution Republicans into an alliance of comfort with indignant Democrats. Kristol has discovered a good car for the rehabilitation of his picture at MSNBC, where he has appeared several occasions a week, and most just lately in contrived buddy comedy-style segments with Fats Joe, the washed-up rapper, and “The Beat” host Ari Melber. The three have been lately filmed bobbing their heads to hip-hop and bantering in a limo as they rolled by means of Manhattan. Reflecting on the experience, a visibly enthralled Melber hailed the unreformed militarist as “Woke Bill Kristol.”
Having been koshered in the eyes of anti-Trump liberals, Kristol had all of the political area he needed to launch his new journal, The Bulwark, which he listed as a “project of the Defending Democracy Together Institute.” And due to Omidyar, Kristol also had a strong base of funding for the new challenge.
To oversee the day-to-day operations of The Bulwark, Kristol turned to a veteran conservative pundit and operative, Charlie Sykes, hiring him because the magazine’s editor-in-chief. Kristol will function editor-at-large on the new enterprise, and a minimum of half a dozen retreads from The Weekly Commonplace are slated to hitch the undertaking.
The Bulwark fundraised about $1 million for its revamping, in line with CNN. It isn’t clear who that cash came from, however a assertion from Sykes hints that appeals have been made to anti-Trump mega-donors akin to Omidyar. “As far as I’m concerned, we are not going to get any Russian or Saudi money, so we are going to have to hope to get support from donors across the country and political spectrum who are willing to put country over party,” he stated.
“The Bulwark was an aggregator,” Sykes informed CNN in a current interview. “We are going to turn it into a full-fledged opinion news website, with really the core digital staff of The Weekly Standard.”
Sykes was a longtime operative of the right-wing Bradley Basis, a major pipeline of conservative motion funding that when awarded Charles Murray $250,000. Murray co-authored the ebook The Bell Curve, which relied on bunk race science to say that whites and Asians are genetically superior to individuals of African and Latin-American descent. Bradley Basis President and CEO Michael Grebe stated that the cash was awarded to Murray so as to “recognize distinguished conservatives that we feel have made outstanding achievements that are consistent with our mission.”
Based mostly in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Bradley Foundation propelled the union-busting efforts of the state’s former Republican governor, Scott Walker. After Walker gutted collective bargaining laws, Sykes labored to export the Bradley Foundation model, recruiting “pro-freedom” cadres to run for native elections and ram via privatization schemes throughout Wisconsin. The appropriate-wing push targeted closely on academia, planting conservative pundits in public universities to present “alternative views and findings,” then spinning their work out to the public as credentialed analysis.
Presently, Sykes sits on the advisory board of the “Committee to Investigate Russia” alongside a de facto spook retirement group comprised of former Director of Nationwide Intelligence James Clapper, former Homeland Safety Secretary Jeh Johnson, former Appearing Director of the CIA Michael Morell, and ex-CIA Administrators Leon Panetta and Michael Hayden.
Actor Rob Reiner and neocon pundit David Frum have functioned as the public faces of the group, pumping up a new Chilly War on cable news and in online media.
A grand complete of zero Russia specialists have been concerned with the Committee to Examine Russia. As an alternative, the group has relied on cranks like Molly McKew, a former overseas lobbyist who has made the rounds in mainstream media with inflammatory and demonstrably false expenses, corresponding to that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is compromised by the Russians and that Russia has a coverage to nuke its own inhabitants. The fake committee is greatest recognized for an unhinged public-service announcement that includes Morgan Freeman — the actor who assumed the position of God within the film, Bruce Almighty — soberly warning People that we “are at war” with Russia.
Kristol’s Defending Democracy Together has supplemented these propaganda efforts to cultivate Cold War fever among the many public, leveraging Omidyar’s money into on-line initiatives like The Russia Tweets and Republicans Towards Putin.
While Omidyar helps revitalize the neocons, he has invested in a Democratic operative who sought to weaponize what he referred to as “Russian-style” techniques of disinformation towards Americans.
Backing a disinformation warrior
This January, a Democratic Get together-tied cybersecurity firm referred to as New Information was uncovered for its plot to swing Alabama’s 2017 Senate race in favor of the Democrat, Doug Jones, by falsely painting his opponent, Roy Moore, as a helpful idiot of the Kremlin.
The firm was co-directed by Jonathon Morgan, a former Obama particular advisor who helped create the Omidyar-backed Hamilton 68 Russian bot tracker. His associate in the initiative was Ryan Fox, a veteran of the NSA. Their firm’s non-profit arm, Knowledge for Democracy, acquired $411,300 from the Omidyar Network in 2018 for an initiative to create a code of ethics for knowledge scientists. The Omidyar Group has not responded to MintPress News’ request for comment on this matter.
The story of how this duo orchestrated a black ops challenge to swing the Alabama particular Senate election in 2017 first appeared within the New York Occasions. It described a “false flag” disinformation campaign that featured the mass buy of Cyrillic-speaking bots to comply with Moore’s Twitter account, then a tidal wave of stories planted in media from MSNBC to Mom Jones alleging that the Kremlin was throwing its full weight behind Moore’s candidacy.
There is no evidence Omidyar had any private information of the operation.
This February, The Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald revealed a blistering attack on New Information after the group was cited as an professional voice in a defamatory NBC News article suggesting that the Kremlin was backing Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). Greenwald might have had no concept concerning the relationship between Omidyar and the New Information staff. But the article’s publication in an Omidyar-funded outlet highlighted the tangled net of the billionaire’s political empire.
Omidyar’s curiosity in the weaponization of stories and knowledge extends to a murky worldwide initiative operating on the frontiers of a rapidly escalating info conflict.
One other Integrity Initiative?
Omidyar’s Democracy Fund has additionally helped to finance the “News Integrity Initiative,” a identify that evokes the U.Okay.’s notorious Integrity Initiative. The latter group claimed to be an unbiased charity battling overseas disinformation until it was uncovered by hackers as a propaganda mill run by army officers and covertly funded by the British Overseas Workplace to domesticate public opinion in help of heightened conflict with Russia. Leaked communications revealed how the Integrity Initiative mobilized clusters of journalists, self-styled disinformation specialists, teachers and political figures all through the West to advocate for a long-term warfare footing towards the Russian menace.
For its half, the Information Integrity Initiative is a murky $14 million operation meant to “combat media manipulation” via a community of “journalists, technologists, academic institutions, non-profits, and other organizations.” The set-up is eerily evocative of the influence clusters developed by the British Integrity Initiative. Few specifics are offered, nevertheless, on what the group truly does.
A touch concerning the agenda of the News Integrity Initiative lies in a grant of $1 million it made to an outlet referred to as Internews in 2017. The majority of Internews’ money — some 80 % of it — comes from the U.S. authorities. It has also acquired backing from liberal financier George Soros and USAID, which offered the group with seed money for a Russian-language television network, helped drive the pro-NATO shade revolution in the Republic of Georgia, and revealed footage of Russian casualties in Chechnya to erode Russian public help for the warfare.
In nations which might be thought-about official and semi-official enemies of the USA, Internews has organized de facto boot camps for opposition journalists. “In the Middle East,” says Internews founder David Hoffman, “training sessions often begin with discussion of whether Internews is really U.S. propaganda or the CIA.” Nevertheless Hoffman solutions the question, it is abundantly clear that his outlet has advanced Washington’s priorities abroad behind the guise of unbiased journalism.
In November 2017, the Information Integrity Initiative hosted a workshop alongside Internews and the Omidyar-backed First Draft News in Kiev, Ukraine, in response to the initiative’s managing director, Molly de Aguiar. Kiev is as we speak a nexus for intelligence-connected media crusaders and a launch pad for tasks ostensibly aimed toward countering Russia’s “information warfare.” However, what precisely the Information Integrity Initiative was doing there was left unsaid
Whereas Omidyar ploughs his fortune into organizations that claim to be countering “disinformation,” particularly of the Russian selection, he has established a culture manufacturing unit to publicize the supposed feats of the journalists typically overvalued by the cartel of media transparency teams and fact-checking websites he funds. In Part Two of this investigation, we’ll explore how Omidyar’s interest in generating culture blends with the knowledge struggle his grantees are waging on Western adversaries.
*Word on the Infographic: Omidyar’s many grants to college journalism packages by way of Luminate usually are not included, nor is the Open Society Basis. This infographic ought to be understood as an try and partially map Pierre Omidyar’s philanthropic dealings and their net of interconnections, however not as a complete picture.
By Alexander Rubinstein and Max Blumenthal / Artistic Commons / MintPress Information
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