Obama gives a lovely, upbeat valedictory — immediately, and dishonestly, disparaged by Hannity

REUTERS/John Gress
President Barack Obama waving after giving a farewell address at McCormick Place in Chicago on Tuesday night.

President Obama gave a lovely valedictory last night in Chicago. No direct mention of Trump. No sour grapes. No real news. Just a classy guy going out with class under circumstances that are not what he would have hoped. He called for unity to face the challenges of the present and future.

He did claim that many things have gone well over the past eight years, and I mostly agree. The righties at Fox do not agree and I’ll give you a taste of that bile at the bottom.

The New York Times has full text and video of the speech which you can read or watch here.

He organized the first, relatively substantive half around what he called three threats to democracy. The first:

There have been moments throughout our history that threatened our solidarity. And the beginning of this century has been one of those times. A shrinking world, growing inequality, demographic change, and the specter of terrorism. These forces haven’t just tested our security and our prosperity, but are testing our democracy as well. And how we meet these challenges to our democracy will determine our ability to educate our kids and create good jobs and protect our homeland.

In other words, it will determine our future. To begin with, our democracy won’t work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity.

The second was the continuing challenge of racial/ethnic diversity. Here’s a taste of that section:

After my election there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.

Now I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, no matter what some folks say. You can see it not just in statistics. You see it in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum. But we’re not where we need to be. And all of us have more work to do.

If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves. …

The third of Obama’s “threats to democracy” was my favorite, or maybe my obsession, and it was the threat represented by the fact-free zone into which we seem to be descending, where selective perception and confirmation bias, exacerbated by new media environment, enable people to avoid testing their biases. Here’s a taste of Obama’s riff on that:

Regardless of the station we occupy, we all have to try harder; we all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family just like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.

And that’s not easy to do. For too many of us it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods, or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. In the rise of naked partisanship and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste, all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable.

And increasingly we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.

And this trend represents a third threat to our democracy. Look, politics is a battle of ideas. That’s how our democracy was designed. In the course of a healthy debate, we prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, then we’re going to keep talking past each other, and we’ll make common ground and compromise impossible.

Isn’t that part of what so often makes politics dispiriting? How can elected officials rage about deficits when we propose to spend money on pre-school for kids, but not when we’re cutting taxes for corporations? How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing? It’s not just dishonest, it’s selective sorting of the facts. It’s self-defeating because, as my mom used to tell me, reality has a way of catching up with you.”

The overall speech was upbeat, encouraging us all to keep trying to make the nation what the preamble to the Constitution called “a more perfect Union.”

The speech ran well over the half-hour the networks had scheduled for it. The second half included an almost tearful tribute to Obama’s wife, Michele, and to his loyal veep Joe Biden. And yes, over the course of it, he cited a lot of evidence that he believes things got better during the Obama years. For example, this passage:

The good news is that today the economy is growing again. Wages, incomes, home values and retirement accounts are all rising again. Poverty is falling again.

The wealthy are paying a fair share of taxes. Even as the stock market shatters records, the unemployment rate is near a 10-year low. The uninsured rate has never, ever been lower.

Health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in 50 years. And I’ve said, and I mean it, anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system, that covers as many people at less cost, I will publicly support it.

Personally, I agree with him about most of those numbers and trends, even though we all know that there many ways of measuring progress in each of those areas. Which leads me to the opposing view that I promised at the top.

While the audience was still applauding in Chicago, Fox went straight to Sean Hannity, who led off his broadcast with a truly staggering display of statistical dishonesty. Maybe many of Hannity’s numbers can be defended on a technical basis, but none of them can be defended as remotely honest if by “honest” we mean intended to shed light and not just heat and bile. It was such a staggering display that I transcribed a bunch of it, thus:

Welcome to Hannity. The Obama nightmare is finally coming to an end. President Obama just finished giving his farewell address in his hometown of Chicago and and he is already trying to rewrite the history books to try and hide the truth about his failed presidency.

Tonight we will explain what President Obama does not want you to know about the last eight years and how President-elect Trump now has the opportunity to fix the mess he’s inheriting. And that’s tonight’s opening monologue. …

“All right, as you were just watching, President Obama spent time tonight boasting about the economy. Well facts, they paint a much different picture. Now what is exactly true is this: He oversaw the precipitous decline of the American economy. That’s a fact.

“Now here’s why. Under President Obama we have seen the lowest labor participation rate since the 1970s. 95 million of your fellow Americans are out of the labor force. He didn’t mention that tonight. It’s  been the worst recovery since the 1940s. The lowest home ownership rate in 51 years. Over 11 million more Americans are on food stamps since he became president. Over 43 million now living in poverty. One in five families without someone in the labor force, not one person.”

Let’s pause for a little dissection. They say there are three kinds of lies, “lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Hannity is committed to torturing numbers until they’ll confess to anything. If he was a fan of our beleaguered Minnesota Timberwolves who are currently tied for 13th  (out of 15) in their conference, he could find numbers that would convince you they were leading the NBA.

Obama took office when the U.S. economy he inherited from George W. Bush (a name Hannity managed to not mention during his diatribe) was in the deepest recession since the Great Depression. The unemployment rate was 9.3 percent. The most recent rate is 4.9 percent. That’s a pretty steep drop. A rate below 5 percent is what economists call “full employment.”

Of course it’s true that the unemployment rate doesn’t measure so-called “discouraged workers” who have stopped looking for a job. And the rate of “discouraged workers” has risen steadily during the Obama years. So, if you want to make Obama look bad, you ignore the unemployment rate (Hannity never mentioned it) and cite the rising number of discouraged workers. It’s the opposite of honest. It’s pure bias.

If the difference between the two rates is too hard for Hannity to grasp, he might just like to know that during the Obama years, the economy added 10.7 million jobs. So, obviously, more formerly unemployed workers have gotten jobs during the Obama years than have gotten discouraged. Don’t tell Sean. His head might explode.

Here are a few other things that have happened during the Obama years, as of the end of the third quarter of this year and as tracked by the “Obama’s Numbers” project of “FactCheck.org. In you don’t click through, they include: Job openings, up 112 percent. Median household income, up 2 percent (that’s not a great number but still too good for Hannity to use it). The number of Americans without health insurance, down 16.5 percent. (Hannity actually did a big number on how badly the health insurance picture has done under the Affordable Care Act, but he didn’t mention the all-time low uninsured rate. This is what lying with statistics looks like.)

Yes, the poverty rate has crept up by 0.3 percent, and that’s not good. But it’s a lot smaller change than it sounded like when Hannity said “over 43 million now living in poverty.” Stock market investors did incredibly well during the Obama years (S&P up 167 percent!) and you might think Hannity would consider that a great thing, but not if it gets in the way of awfulizing the Obama years. And he awfulized for several more paragraphs, to similar effect. After murdering a few more statistics, Hannity ended with this:

So there’s no doubt that President Obama’s legacy has damaged the country. But the good news is that we have a new president. Ten days from today, President Donald Trump takes office. He has promised to clean up this mess and he has a very clear plan to do it including, creating millions of new jobs, lowering taxes, reforming the tax code …

Hannity eventually handed off to his buddy Laura Ingraham, and they cracked each other up talking about how Obama misted up when paying tribute to his wife, but I couldn’t tell whether this was because men aren’t supposed to cry at all or because they thought he looked effeminate when he dabbed his eye with a tissue. Ingraham said she’d never seen a man do that. And that’s journalism.

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Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by charles thompson on 01/11/2017 - 09:22 am.

    hannity et al

    Balls in your court. Can’t wait for TrumpCare.

  2. Submitted by Pat Berg on 01/11/2017 - 09:45 am.

    Didn’t give the pundits a moment of my time

    I watched the speech and then promptly turned off the set. I didn’t want the moment ruined.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/11/2017 - 01:47 pm.

      As My Mother Used to Say . . .

      My Mother never watched the pundits talk after a speech. She always said she was capable of figuring out what was said on her own.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/11/2017 - 10:03 am.


    Nothing really new or dramatic, just a classy speech by a classy guy who’s had truckloads of garbage dumped on his head and shoulders from day one of his administration. I confess to some disappointment that he didn’t manage to create the Nirvana I’d hoped for, but politics is supposed to be the art of the possible, and the latest iteration of the Republican Party made sure that much of what Obama supporters hoped for would not be possible.

    That 20 million more Americans have access to health care than did before he took office would, in itself, be a worthy accomplishment, and from what I’ve already seen of the new Republican Congress, it may well be dismantled by the time Obama gets off the plane in Chicago on January 20. Some, Mr. Hannity among them, no doubt, will applaud this, but they’ll do so without any obvious replacement in front of the public, despite having 7 years or so to devise one, so they’ll be applauding a reversion to no health care, or the emergency room variety, for 20 million Americans. That, my friends, is not something to either applaud or be proud of.

    I imagine Mr. Hannity, Mr. McConnell, Mr. Ryan and their Congressional and media friends ALL have rather generous health care plans in place for themselves and their families. If so, what we’re watching is Ayn Rand’s toxic philosophy put into practice: “I’ve got mine, what happens to you is your problem.” It’s not an approach that a self-governing society can coexist with for very long. Like it or not, we ARE all in this together.

    As Charles Thompson has suggested, the ball is now in the Republican court. I don’t have high hopes for the result, but you never know, so it’ll be interesting to see what develops. The Trump cabinet choices look like a Hollywood parody, and I fully expect to see Bryan Cranston as Walter White in “Breaking Bad” put forth as head of the DEA to cap it off. The wild card may well be the president-elect. Children are unpredictable, spoiled children even more so, and Donald Trump exemplifies the spoiled child. He doesn’t appear to be intellectually developed enough, or disciplined enough, to be an ideologue of the sort currently making up the Republican Party (including his Vice-President) and the right-wing media, so he may surprise some people before all is said and done. Whether the country will be better off upon his departure remains to be seen.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 01/11/2017 - 11:00 am.

      Cabinet picks – reality show

      I’m not a big fan of reality shows. One reason is that the inevitable formula involves sowing discord among the participants in order to get the “drama” that apparently brings ratings.

      It occurred to me the other day that the Cabinet picks have all the hallmarks of a reality show setup. Pick the most bizarro-world opposite candidates just to get everyone riled up and then sit back and watch the fun.

      He really is treating this like a game show and figuratively flipping the bird to America in the process.

      But it shouldn’t be surprising seeing as we’re putting a reality show host into the highest office in our land.

      To quote someone – “Sad”.

  4. Submitted by Kevin Wynn on 01/11/2017 - 10:53 am.

    It’s certainly not been all roses and sunshine

    I find little to disagree with in this article from a week ago:


    • Submitted by James Hamilton on 01/11/2017 - 12:10 pm.

      I’d give Ms. Baum more credit

      if she stuck to her supposed area of expertise, economics. But her piece goes far afield, repeating the right’s mantras of the past 8 years on every other subject she addresses.

      When addressing economics, she finds little to actually lay at Obama’s feet beyond her disagreement over the need for regulation. In her own words:

      “To be sure, the process of digging out from a financial crisis is more arduous than recovering from a garden-variety recession, as Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff chronicled in their 2009 book, “This Time Is Different.” And an aging population is curtailing labor-force growth, which in turn constrains how fast the economy can expand without generating inflationary pressures.

      That said, fewer regulatory impediments would have encouraged new business formation, which increased in 2015 for the first time since 2009, and capital investment, giving productivity a needed boost. Stronger economic growth would have lured more labor-force dropouts back to the working world.”

  5. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/11/2017 - 11:26 am.

    How to detect bias.

    You look to see whether ALL the facts or statistics in somebody’s statement fall completely on the plus or minus side. No legitimate argument about society includes nothing but negatives, or nothing but positives. That’s why you can dismiss Hannity and other Fox commenters: for them Obama is ALL bad, Trump is ALL good.

    Those of us who agree with Obama’s well-reasoned statement last night recognize–as he does–that his Presidency has not been an absolute success. There have been lots of failed efforts, many caused simply by the Congressional GOP refusing adamantly to deal at all with him. They shut him out. But there have been successes, too, and for the Right to deny them, or omit mention of them, makes the Right the place to look for bias.

    We Obama (and Clinton) supporters are used to seeing pluses and minuses in Obama’s record: on the way unemployment or employment numbers are stated, as Eric mentions, on the economy, on health care, etc. We see multiple factors at play, we see nuance. And we see Democrats actually trying to deal with the serious problems in this country,which do not include over-taxation of the wealthy! The GOP and Trump supporters don’t see multiple factors in play on any issue; they demonize some individual and dump blame on that person, or that person’s complex solution (I do not believe that even half Trump’s fans understand what’s in Obamacare, or what’s going to happen to the health insurance scene once the GOP repeals it).

    When the Right in this country begins to show some intellectual honesty, we liberals will be sure to note it.

  6. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/11/2017 - 11:28 am.


    I’m going to miss this Obama guy!
    I’ve made mention for years, Obama could have made world peace found a cure for cancer and solved world hunger, and the ugliness at Fox etc. would have created lots of propaganda to disparage those accomplishments. “Sad, very sad”

  7. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 01/11/2017 - 11:51 am.


    This was not a farewell address. This was a “campaign speech” designed to give comfort and direction for the “bitter clingers” of the failed Obama agenda. All that was missing was the phony Greek columns.

    He is not quietly going away.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/11/2017 - 01:43 pm.


      I am glad to hear President Obama is “not quietly going away.” I hope he will continue to speak out on important issues, and show there is more to being President than getting the best ratings on TV. A voice of sanity will be a welcome anecdote to the circus coming to Washington.

  8. Submitted by Ellen Hoerle on 01/11/2017 - 12:03 pm.

    Thanks Eric

    for the Hannity transcript. Paraphrasing Obama last night, “as my mother always told me, reality has a habit of catching up with you” I’d like to hope that with Hannity, et al,that reality does indeed catch up to them and Republicans so eager to repeal Obamacare. When the system collapses, rural hospitals close, the individual insurance market collapses, Republicans will finally own it. The only question is, will the reality of U.S. without Obamacare finally make 63 million people realize they were lied to in such a big way, about everything, or will they continue to blame Obama, Democrats?

    On a personal note, as a relative of someone who attempted suicide, my theory is that the mental breakdown occurs when the story you’re telling yourself is suddenly overwhelmed, infiltrated by a contradictory reality that can no longer be denied. The question is, when will that time come for 63 million people and what will they do when and if it finally occurs?

  9. Submitted by Ellen Hoerle on 01/11/2017 - 12:12 pm.

    Fox News is killing our democracy

    “Hannity eventually handed off to his buddy Laura Ingraham, and they cracked each other up talking about how Obama misted up when paying tribute to his wife, but I couldn’t tell whether this was because men aren’t supposed to cry at all or because they thought he looked effeminate when he dabbed his eye with a tissue. Ingraham said she’d never seen a man do that. And that’s journalism.”

    And it’s indicative that our democracy is far more threatened by Fox News, et al, Rush Limbaugh, than Russian influence. 63 million people believe Fox News and Donald Trump before they believe anything else. These two people are proud of their disdain for the relationship between the Obama’s. This poisonous rhetoric is spreading a cancer among 63 million people that might not be amenable to treatment. Cancer kills people and it can kill democracies too.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/11/2017 - 04:24 pm.

      Nice observation

      I think this is exactly what Obama was talking about last night. The right wing burning hatred for anything that doesn’t fit their ugly lexicon.

  10. Submitted by charles thompson on 01/11/2017 - 12:13 pm.

    in case you missed it

    A few weeks ago in an interview our outgoing president said – If I watched Fox News I wouldn’t vote for me either… With a straight face.

  11. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 01/11/2017 - 12:29 pm.

    Only one problem

    At the end, you seemed to describe Hannity as a journalist. Journalists strive to objectively describe what is happening in the real world. Hannity is employed as an entertainer, feeding the far right red meat to sustain their hate. He lacks objectivity and wants to impose his view of how he would the world to be on reality.

    And Hannity was an active participant in getting Trump elected. Anyone who does that shows their bias, just as sports columnists are expected to be cheerleaders for the home team. That Fox allowed that divided loyalty reveals the joke that it has become.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 01/11/2017 - 04:15 pm.


      I agree that Hannity is less of a News person and more of a column writer like Eric… 🙂 Some facts, some opinion, a definite bias, etc.

      “So, if you want to make Obama look bad, you ignore the unemployment rate (Hannity never mentioned it) and cite the rising number of discouraged workers. It’s the opposite of honest. It’s pure bias.” Eric

      What puzzled me about this was did Obama mention all those people who have given up looking, who are under-employed, etc? Or did he stick to the points that supported his opinion. Was he being the opposite of honest by doing so?

      I was fine with Obama as a President, since the GOP was there to constrain his more Liberal leanings. However I would say he was not bad or great… Just well spoken and okay.

  12. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/11/2017 - 02:04 pm.

    Withe regard to Fred Astaire…but don’t forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did, …backwards and in high heels….

    Regarding Barack Obama… he did what he could despite the vicious, personal, constant opposition of the Republican party and their affiliated media.

  13. Submitted by joe smith on 01/11/2017 - 05:27 pm.

    Obama speaks beautifully but

    left Americans looking for good jobs, no coherent foreign policy, a VA that doesn’t take care of vets, a doubling of the national debt, a more divided country in many ways… If only he governed as beautifully as he speaks.

    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 01/11/2017 - 07:10 pm.

      NO! That WASN’T Obama!

      On each and every one of these issues,…

      the Republican congress blocked any and all efforts to address these issues that President Obama made.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 01/13/2017 - 02:30 pm.

      Civics lesson

      According to the Constitution, Congress is the legislative branch. The branch that makes budgets and the branch that makes laws. The President is the head of the executive branch. The branch that executes what Congress does. While there are some powers given to the President that feel a bit legislative, they do not include budgets or making laws. I’m also pretty sure that without the power to make laws or budgets, the President cannot actually be held entirely responsible for all the failings you list. After all, if Congress hands the President a s**t sandwich, it seems just a little bit foolish to suggest that he should have made lemonade. Especially since the lead turkey vulture specifically indicated that, under no uncertain circumstances, is the President to be given access to lemons or sugar, and only begrudgingly did they even bother to place the excrement between two slices of bread. Of course, that was mostly to keep their own hands clean as they handed it over.

  14. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 01/11/2017 - 07:26 pm.

    Now At the End of the Obama Administration

    I find myself feeling sad,…

    in this one way.

    President Obama, seemingly hoping to appeal to “the better angels of their nature,”…

    could never bring himself to fight his Republican opponents with even the smallest amount of strength.

    He just could not call those with the pitchforks throwing continuous bull excrement his way,…

    on what they were doing,…

    so far too many people were able to take the bull excrement as truth.

    He seems ALWAYS to have believed that,…

    if he was just nice enough to the Republicans,…

    and didn’t do anything to make them angry,…

    they’d come around to seeing things at least partially his way.

    His valedictory address may have been “lovely,”…

    but it was woefully incomplete.

    In my estimation, it SHOULD have included EVERY PROPOSAL, and EVERY EFFORT,…

    he made to address the issues of the less fortunate members of our society,…

    including those “white working class voters,”…

    and the struggling middle class,…

    and a clear description of how the Republican Congress blocked him at every turn,…

    including the fine tuning the A.C.A. needs and how impossible that was to accomplish with the Republican Congress.

    Along with (rightfully proudly) listing everything that he and his administration accomplished,…

    he SHOULD have listed everything they COULD NOT accomplish because the Republicans,…

    blocked them,…

    and generally took the attitude that they’d be da__ned if they were going to let that __________ (offensive term for a black man) in the white house accomplish anything.

    Lacking that clear spelling out of what the reality of his eight years in office were,…

    it’s likely that President Obama will be remembered as far less effective than he actually was.

    Considering the continuous Republican intransigence and racism he faced,…

    the fact that he accomplished as much as he did is nothing short of a miracle,…

    but I can’t help but believe that our nation would be a different place today,…

    if President Obama and the Democrats had actually ever taken the Republicans on in clear and compelling ways.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/12/2017 - 06:08 pm.


      Sometimes the historians are pretty good about painting the political picture: I like your analogies. I for one am proud to have voted for a Jackie Robinson type president twice. Going to miss that guy. Especially the integrity!

  15. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 01/11/2017 - 10:41 pm.

    A bit of history

    I once read an article about Jackie Robinson and his place in baseball history. The upshot was he could have been one of the best players in history, but the pressures, racism and hatred put so much of a load on him that was merely great and sacrificed some of his game to the greater role his playing at all provided.

    Obama has suffered the same fate, potentially historically great policy wise, but racism and hatred constrained his accomplishments. History will treat him as the teansformative president hampered by the hatred of a dying white autocracy who denies any one who is not a white male deserves any power or respect.

    I think Trump will end up making the Obama years look much better than our conservative friends think. Obama had the humility that only a person of color or a woman could understand, that the forces arrayed against progress and decency are considerable and unrestrained when their power is threatened. Trump suffers from none of those virtues, or any for that matter.

  16. Submitted by Patrick Tice on 01/12/2017 - 06:27 am.

    Life is too short

    Why listen to the sour, angry rants of wound-up guys like Hannity, Limbaugh, and the rest? They have nothing to say that is positive and uplifting, and frame everything as divisive and adversarial. It just gets old, and does nothing to inform or advance any conversation.

  17. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 01/12/2017 - 08:35 am.


    Watch the Obama farewell and then follow that up with Trump’s press conference.

    One press conference in and the President Elect references/alludes to “golden showers”.

    Trump will metaphorically do for all of us what his Russian girl friends allegedly did for him. Hopefully we’re not the collective “germ-o-phobes” he described himself as yesterday.

  18. Submitted by Jon Lord on 01/12/2017 - 11:16 am.

    Most right leaning

    Most far right leaning people I’ve known aren’t honest and usually aren’t direct. An ex-friend and a close relative said to me they ‘don’t like anyone who doesn’t think like they do!’ At the time I took it with a grain of salt but finally they managed to prove they meant what they said. Both would only watch Fox News and quote Hannity. They also took to lying, actually predating Trump by over a decade. We no longer interact.

    One problem with lies is that they can be disproved to those with open rational minds. Also, for a political party, it means that they can’t do what they’ve lied about because it tends to highlight the fact they did lie. Granted, for strong Trump supporters that won’t matter since they have Fox and people like Hannity to tell them it’s different when they do it. To them it depends on who does it. I am waiting to see how they get rid of ‘Obamacare’ and still leave people insured. Just changing the name doesn’t count.

    It’s also odd that the Speaker, President elect, etc. seem to think bygones should now be bygones and now want the Democrats to get behind them. They cut that horse loose long ago.

  19. Submitted by just joseph on 01/17/2017 - 05:17 pm.

    Hannity, really?

    Aside from his political leanings, Hannity is a truly disgusting human being. He has no decency or class, just a big mouth with no interest in the truth. Laura Ingraham is one of the few people who stoops to his level.

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