Labor Going Out Of Style

The decline of a noble holiday.

Back in August 2007, it was clear that health care would be a Presidential issue.  Scragged published "The Only Health Care Question" to remind everyone that any health care system must include some way to limit demand.  There are limits to the amount of food that a person can eat, but there's no limit to the amount of health care that anyone can consume.

The only known ways to limit demand are either a) price - if you can't pay for the pills, you can't have them or b) queuing - if you make people wait long enough for medical care, enough of them die that you can stay within your budget.

We illustrated the problem with an account of a friend of mine who's on welfare and has all her medical care provided for free.  She's made the Emergency Room into something of a second home.

The article generated a flurry of comments which died down on January 3.  Suddenly, we got an August 21 comment from Katie:

This anecdote does not pass the sniff test, starting with you (the author) having a friend on welfare.

We understand her skepticism - most welfare recipients are out of sight, out of mind except to the social workers who need them to justify their agency budget and to left-wing media who try to make us feel guilty for not supporting them generously enough.  It's easy to understand Katie's belief that we don't know any welfare recipients; few politicians or commentators do.

For reasons which are literally known but to God, however, our church has had a number of long-term welfare recipients as regular attendees and, as it's a small church, we've come to know them over the years.

The only one who's at all mobile is the one described in our earlier article who scoots around town on her power wheelchair, courtesy of the doctor who wrote her a prescription and of we taxpayers who paid for it.  She occasionally charges up her battery and drives from her government-funded apartment to church, but most of the time, we give her a ride.  None of the others have cars; conversations as we've given them rides and at church have given us a picture of their doings.

Labor's Rightful Place in the Sun

According to the US Department of Labor:

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.  It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

The first Labor Day was celebrated on September 5, 1882, in New York City.  It's certainly true that the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country depend entirely on workers.  Regardless of government policy, nobody can have power wheelchairs unless someone is willing to take the trouble to make them, for example.

At the time the holiday was instituted, most Americans believed that a person's income was due to Luck and Pluck.  People were supposed to work hard for whatever income they enjoyed and, having earned it, were entitled to enjoy the fruits of their own labor.  Except for paying union dues and taxes for national defense, everything else belonged to the person who earned it.

How times have changed!  Scragged has commented on a long-term shift in attitude to the point that many Americans feel that income is a matter of divine right: a great many people believe that welfare recipients have the right to enjoy the fruits of other people's labor whether they work or not.  This cavalier attitude towards other peoples' income has spread to the point that most liberals, including Mr. Obama, seem to believe that everything anyone earns belongs to government by divine right and that the government must take most of it away in the name of fairness.

Thus, it's appropriate to take the occasion of Labor Day, which originally marked our nation's high regard for the prosperity produced by hard-working, responsible citizens, to write about people who make a career of not working and who systematically live on the fruits of other people's labor.

Miss A and Miss B

Miss A has attended our church for more than six years.  She's a poster child for the wisdom of requiring that welfare recipients take birth control as a condition of receiving public funds; she's had five children by three different men.  The first boyfriend simply disappeared, the second went to jail for abusing the daughter she'd had by the first, and the third is in jail for assault and drug dealing.

Even though the perpetrator was in jail, the social workers put her oldest daughter in foster care because of the risk of further abuse.  We don't know much about her; she was taken before her mother started coming to our church.

At the time Miss A started attending church, her home was a mess.  One of our members spent weeks teaching her how to keep house; Miss A was bright enough to learn, but nobody had taken the time to teach her.  Her teacher's most vivid impression was of a huge quantity of clothes.  Our member's husband had retired after years as a high-level government employee, they were not poor, yet this welfare mother's kids had far more clothes than her children had ever had.

Most of her teaching consisted of explaining how to sort each garment according to which child fit it and put the piles in dressers instead of just dumping them on the floor where they'd mix with the dirty clothes.  Lesson 2 was teaching the kids to put dirty clothes in just one pile instead of scattering them hither and yon.

Miss A's third boyfriend was a whole lot smarter than she was.  What we're told of him suggests that his IQ was between 120 and 130; the kids he fathered on her were a lot brighter than she.

It's tough enough for parents to cope with kids of the same general intelligence; Miss A was overwhelmed as these children ran rings around her.  The social workers saw this and suspected that Miss A wasn't a very good mother.  They kept taking her to court to try to remove her kids.

Each time, each child had a court-appointed lawyer and guardian-ad-litem; Miss A was also given a court-appointed lawyer, all at taxpayer's expense.  After many, many court appearances, court-ordered counseling sessions, home studies, and psychological counseling for everyone at enormous cost, the social workers got their way and her remaining kids were removed.

The #2 daughter, whom we'll call Miss B, went to a group home which she hated.  One of our childless church families whom we'll call the G's wanted to adopt the younger kids.  The G's took considerable time off work to take classes and jump through hoops to qualify as court-approved foster parents.

Shortly after the younger children were placed in the G's home, Miss A persuaded her court-appointed lawyer to start legal action to get her kids back.  The G's now had the stress of fighting a lawsuit at the same time as trying to integrate some rather confused kids into their household.

We'd taught the younger kids in Sunday School for some years and knew what they were thinking.  Having grown up in the system, they knew that there was no assurance from day to day that they'd stay with the same people; the cops could come and haul them away any time a judge decided they ought to be someplace else, all "in the best interest of the child," of course.  They were reluctant to bond with anyone; they couldn't even trust their mother to be able to keep them.

The children thought they had a permanent home with the G's and were starting to trust them as father and mother.  When their biological mother filed her lawsuit, however, they lost their dream of security and started acting up.  The youngest boy bit his Sunday School teacher, for example.

The stresses eventually overloaded the G's marriage.  They ended up divorcing; the kids went back into the system.  The social workers were better funded than the G's and shrugged off Miss A's lawsuit; the kids were shuttled from foster homes to group homes to wherever and still have no stability in their lives.

Miss B went back to live with her mother the moment she turned 18 and the judge lost jurisdiction over her; she agreed with Joseph Doyle Jr. of MIT's Sloan School of Management who has shown that children faced with two options - troubled families or foster care - have better life outcomes when they remain with their families.

The records showed that Miss A has lots of kids.  Regulations define how much space a welfare mother needs for each child.  Miss A has a very large, two floor apartment with all utilities supplied even though most of her kids have been removed to state custody; there was plenty of room for Miss B.

Unlike the high school girls who deliberately got pregnant so they could raise babies together, Miss B doesn't want a baby.  Her high school made her carry an electronic baby which recorded whether she cuddled it when it "cried," but that's not why she doesn't want a baby.

She's been baby-sitting for a friend who's working at Wal-Mart until her husband gets out of jail.  Miss B has learned from experience that a real baby is an immense amount of work.  She doesn't want to go there, although raising government-funded babies is a perfectly viable career choice as she sees it.

She tells us that this is her friend's third baby; the other two were taken by the social workers.  There was no hope of getting her babies back; she had to have another.

Miss B may find that she has no other viable career besides welfare.  Her high-school grades were B's and C's, but when one of our members took her around to help her look for a job, she couldn't fill out an employment application.  "What province do we live in?  How do you spell my middle name?"

Miss B put in her time at school, they stole her youth, but they didn't teach her anything.  She's a victim of educational fraud, and we taxpayers will most likely end up paying the piper.

Mrs. C

Unlike most of her associates, Mrs. C. was married to the same man for a number of years; we knocked on her door while canvassing her neighborhood.  Her husband had just been taken to the county nursing home.  He was dying of lung cancer and was too heavy to walk.

She had cared for him herself for a number of years, but he'd gained so much weight that she was no longer strong enough to handle the job.  He spent the next several years dying at public expense; he illustrates the costs imposed on the rest of us by the obese.  Unsurprisingly, we're finding various advocacy groups who want to pass laws forbidding discrimination against obese people in spite of the costs they impose on others.

He had had a number of jobs but had abused alcohol to the point that he hadn't worked long enough to qualify her for Social Security.  When he died, she was left destitute; his insurance barely paid for the funeral.  She had been living on housing subsidies and other forms of public assistance during his illness; his death had little if any economic impact on her.

She, too, had abused alcohol; both of their children had been removed by the social workers and placed with a relative who disliked her and her husband.

Child protection agencies don't always remove kids from drunk parents.  In this case, it appears that the relative was motivated to go to the social workers by the tax-free payments made to foster parents and by simple spite.  In addition to collecting foster fees, the relative managed to sign up one of the daughters for federal disability payments for life.  That daughter told us that she had to go to court to get the payments turned over to her when she turned 18; her relative had tried to hang onto them herself.

Mrs. C has visited the emergency room for flu, stomach pains, tendonitis, and other minor ills, but she's not one of their core customers.

Our church teaches the Biblical admonition, "If any will not work, neither shall he eat."  Mrs. C. has tried to find work.  Her skills are minimal and her work history is nonexistent due to years of alcoholism and caring for her husband.

She's spent the past year volunteering several days per week at a thrift shop in the hopes that she'll put enough in her resume to find a job, but the prospects don't seem particularly promising.  In the meantime, she has a hard time scraping together the $12 per month she pays towards her rent of her $600/month apartment, utilities included.

The problem is, the government has set an insurmountable hurdle for Mrs. C: to get a job at all, she must be worth at least $6.55 per hour, the current minimum wage, and she isn't.

Is she worth $3?  $2?  Fifty cents?  We'll never know; the government won't allow us to find out.  Because of the minimum wage, she can't get any job at all.

Mrs. C is no longer an alcoholic, she's not illiterate, she's quite willing to learn, and she doesn't like feeling useless.  Although her health doesn't allow her to do hard manual labor, there are all sorts of things that she could do.  If she were allowed to do them cheaply enough, she would; then, after a while, she'd have sufficient experience and skills to receive more money and work her way up from there.

Our government, in its infinite wisdom, has chopped the bottom rungs off the wage ladder, but these are the only rungs that Mrs. C can reach.  Unless someone is willing to break the law and employ her at an economic but illegally low wage, she'll be consigned to welfare forever.

The minimum wage laws are not a humanitarian way to ensure the poor a living wage; they ensure that the welfare bureaucracy will never lack for clients.  The intent may be good, but the effects are evil.

Miss D

In many ways, Miss D exemplifies everything that's wrong with our public institutions.  She was removed from her home as a child and spent her formative years in special needs classes in her local public school.  While there may be some special-ed teachers who try to teach the children, we've found that "special education" generally turns out to be a high-priced baby sitting service.

Schools get extra money for every special needs student and they have managed to arrange expectations so that they are held even less accountable for teaching special-ed students than for teaching normal students.  This gives schools an incentive to save themselves work and get more money by keeping kids stashed away in special-ed as long as they can; we've mentioned the same problem with respect to teaching public school classes in languages other than English.

Miss D can't use a telephone book.  It's not because she can't read, she tells us, it's because she has trouble with the alphabet when words get too long.  As with Miss B, the education industry wasted Miss D's time and taught her essentially nothing, equipping her for a lifetime on the public dole.

Her being "telephonically challenged" is not because she's unintelligent; in many ways, she's the sharpest and most aggressive of all our friends who're on welfare.

She's made a full-time career out of working the system; she's always running off to appointments.  She sets up as many as two or three appointments per day when she really wants the system to give her something.  She's highly successful at her chosen profession: for example, at one time she had two power wheelchairs.  She'd lost sixty pounds or so; her doctor prescribed a new wheelchair because her old one "no longer fit her."

Her incentive to learn the system goes back many years to when the child protection workers took her daughter away.  She had become pregnant through rape, she says, but wanted to keep her baby.  She'd injured her arm which made it hard to take care of the child, but instead of helping her for a limited period of time, the social workers took her daughter and kept her.

Instead of meekly accepting this as most of her circle does, she went all-out to get her child back.  She was just learning the system then, that's one battle she didn't win; her daughter stayed in foster care.  To this day, she keeps trying to build a relationship with her daughter.

Lifelong experience, heart-felt motivation, and constant practice have made Miss D exceptionally skilled at bureaucratic jujitsu.  When she first moved into our town, she was given an efficiency apartment but she wanted more space.  It took her eighteen months of meetings, arguments, searching the regulations, and pleading, but she finally found a two-bedroom apartment that had about the same rent as her efficiency.

Through sheer dogged persistence, she persuaded the housing office to bend the rules and let a one-person "family" have a two bedroom apartment.  After all, she pointed out, the rent was about the same.

She refrained from pointing out or, perhaps refrained from even noticing, that unlike her old place, the new apartment's rent did not include utilities.  She'd now be on the hook for her own heat and electricity.

When we brought this inconvenient truth to her attention, quick like a bunny she hustled around to a different office where she easily demonstrated that her disability check wouldn't cover her utility bills.  That office kindly set a maximum she has to pay for utilities; they'll pick up anything over that, no turning down thermostats for her.

Although her nominal rent hasn't changed, the total amount of money we taxpayers pay for her housing has gone up a great deal.  What's more, she is now supported by two sets of housing bureaucrats where but one sufficed before; no doubt both agency directors will present the city fathers with an nice chart showing the increasing number of people they're servicing as justification for their future budget increases.

Miss D speaks often of her aches and pains, particularly of the 22 ailments for which she takes medicine; she's our example of someone who makes the Emergency Room into her second home.  Like many in her circle, she complains about the high price of pills, but she's talking about having trouble meeting her one-dollar co-pay for each prescription.

When we got together to help her move to her new apartment, we found 15 or 20 bags of medicine under her bed, mostly unopened.  Each unopened bag had the receipt for her one dollar co-pay stapled firmly to it.

What It All Means

The most depressing aspect of our welfare system is that all the actors in these little dramas, Miss A, Miss B, Mrs C, and, yes, Miss D and the social workers and teachers are all acting perfectly rationally given the perverse incentives they're given.

Miss A lives in a big, empty apartment that was given her on the basis of the number of children she'd had.  She was lonely when her children were taken away and went to court to get them back.  It didn't work, of course, her court appointed lawyer knew who'd appointed him and would never irritate the judge who'd ordered the children removed.  He spun his meter on our dime nonetheless and destroyed the G's in the process.

One of the reasons so many Americans have been adopting children from all over the world is the absurd cost of adopting a child in the United States.  Adoption can cost between $30,000 and $50,000 in legal fees and other baksheesh by the time all the dust settles, and even then you run the risk of a penitent parent surfacing and hitting you with a lawsuit.

Social workers are accustomed to being paid to remove children from their homes in return for federal reimbursement; what's wrong with being paid to snatch kids who're young enough to adopt and working with lawyers for a portion of those juicy fees?  After all, they rationalize, the kids will be better off in "nice" homes.

We've commented on how teachers would much rather socialize kids than teach them anything.  Our church folk have attempted to teach both Miss B and Miss C some rather subtle Biblical doctrines.  There's nothing wrong with their intelligence - it's perfectly possible to teach them, though it's hard work because they aren't used to learning.

What's wrong is that the school system saw no reason to take the trouble to educate them.  Like Mrs. C, Miss B and Miss D are trapped below the bottom rung of the economic ladder because they don't know how to do anything that's worth $6.75 per hour.

All three of them want to work.  Mrs. C has been volunteering in hopes of building her resume to the point of employability.  Miss D persuaded the social workers to send her to night school to teach her fractions so she could get a job, but she was so far below being ready for fractions that the school threw her out in fairness to the other students.  Miss B has tried her hand at a number of jobs but has not been able to justify minimum wage compensation anywhere.  About the only career open to her is to follow in her mother's footsteps and raise government-funded babies.

Tyranny is Not Compassion

Putting people in a position where they are unable to make any contribution to society is damaging to their self worth and destroys their self-esteem.  These people are at the beck and call of social workers; they don't even try to remonstrate with the schools when they aren't taught anything and they protest ineffectually, if at all, when their babies are taken away.  Knowing that your children are at daily risk of being taken away at the whims of a vast, impersonal bureaucracy is tyranny of the vilest sort.

Solzhenitsyn warned of a "tilt of freedom in the direction of evil ... evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent in human nature."  Most of the people who advocated the creation of our welfare system have died; there's no way to be certain of their motives.  It's possible to assume that their motives were entirely humanistic and benevolent, however, while recognizing the soul-destroying evil which flows from their programs as carried out in real life.

Let's put the matter plainly: The welfare recipients we know are not citizens as Americans throughout our history would know the term.  They have no independence, they have no viable dreams or goals, they have no ability to stand own their own feet.  They have been raised in government schools by government bureaucrats, at your expense, not to be citizens, but subjects, in the most demeaning sense of the word.

A citizen decides for himself; a subject does as he's told.  A citizen looks to his own resources to solve his problems; a subject reaches out a hopeful hand to the lord of the castle, or the bureaucrat in the government office, where a modicum of success can be had only by "working the system."

A citizen, in short, accepts and receives responsibility for his own life, progress, and livelihood; a citizen determines by his own actions how high he can go.  A subject takes whatever he's given or can obtain by manipulation, and thereby almost certainly ensures that his lot will be and remain low.

America's welfare system is an exact mirror image of the Soviet economic system: In Soviet days, the workers mantra was, "We pretend to work, they pretend to pay us."  Welfare recipients don't even pretend to work; the payments they receive courtesy of your hard work are all too real.

Liberals respond, "Have you no compassion for those less fortunate than yourself?"  Yes, we do, but we have compassion in a way which liberals cannot possibly understand.  We favor the extra effort needed to enable the less fortunate to lift themselves up; to envision the day when they can stand upright, proud and tall, confident in their own abilities.

Our vision of compassion is "A hand up, not a hand out."  Our vision of education is mastery of adult skills, not bogus "self-esteem."

Compassion cannot be measured by signing an unearned government check; success cannot come from receiving one.  The goal of education ought to be to ensure not equality of outcome, but equality of opportunity for all - to provide all citizens with the tools they need to make their way in life.

Will all students achieve the same degree of success?  Of course not - and in a free society, holding the talented down to the level of the untalented is not merely impossible, but in fact evil.  The only equality that government can ensure is equality of poverty and oppression; all men are equal when in chains.

Is that what we want?  Is that what America is about?  Is that what Labor Day enshrines?

Why do we believe that people on welfare are incapable of rational thought?  Are they infants with no powers of reason?  Our experience with those whom we know convinces us that they are every bit as rational in responding to the incentives set before them as the most successful businessman, trial lawyer, or drug dealer for that matter.

We've learned that they're intelligent, reasoning adults, but if any are infants, they have been made that way by a lifetime of exposure to the corrosive effects of the dead hand of government.

The dead hand of teachers' unions, more interested in their own comfort than in promoting the future of the children placed in their charge; the dead hand of welfare bureaucrats who treat their "clients" as a worthless underclass who can never be more than sheep; and the corrosive, destructive effect of politicians who appeal to the natural greed and laziness found within all men, making the lying promise "you deserve it" when you haven't earned it.

As President Franklin D Roosevelt's aide Harry Hopkins put it, "Tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect!"  Mr. Hopkins admitted that the actual goal of liberal programs is to spend taxes buying votes.

So much for Solzhenitsyn's "humanistic and benevolent concept," he wasn't cynical enough.  Liberalism is vote buying, pure and simple.

It's Our Fault, We Elect Them

We voters allow our government to spend huge amounts of our money for the purpose of destroying people, of destroying human dignity, of ruining human beings who by right could and should be viable, productive, independent citizens who enjoy the fruits of their own labor instead of begging the bureaucracy for bread.  The corrosive, invidious fruits of the manipulations of the welfare bureaucrats, the education bureaucrats, and their supporters at all political levels are evil regardless of their intent.

To Katie, we say: Spend quality time with individual people on welfare, as we have done.  Not the teeming masses that pour through the welfare offices every day; get to know a handful of individual human beings.  Get to know them as people; understand their lives, their backgrounds, and the choices they make.

It'll take time for them to trust you enough to open up.  Their ability to keep secrets - any secrets - from the all-powerful bureaucrats whose social workers are empowered to make home visits at any time of the day or night, looking for any sign that your parenting skills aren't acceptable to the municipal judiciary, looking for anything that can be blown up, misrepresented, or distorted into a reason to remove your children - is the only shred of human dignity they possess.

Today's liberals have one legitimate complaint: all too many voters desire that the underclass be hidden from view.  In a free country, this ought not to be.

Welfare should not be out of sight, out of mind; its evil effects should concern us all.  Get out there, meet them, know them... and know the destruction wrought by our so-called humanitarian system.

That is our Labor Day message for 2008.  There's a major election coming between today and Labor Day 2009; let us hope that next year's Labor Day message can be more in keeping with the holiday's noble origin.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

All I can say is, somehow these fathers have to come forward and face their responsibilities and mothers should know better after one mistake in their lives. Welfare for those mothers who were married and the father takes off and never can be found and doesn't pay to help support his children, then Welfare is fare to help the mother and child to get on their feet. I too agree about the "system" doesn't allow us to be parents. They or someone else watches out for one spanking etc to report these parents and take their children. What has become of our nation. No respect for themselves or others. Yes I agree help is needed only if the adults are working and trying to make themselves better people. NO help should be given financially just to let them stay home and watch TV. They should have no extra privilages. What ever happened to the truth, respect, honor and hard work. What ever did these parents think that if t heir child had trouble learning, then by all means go to the school and follow through with the teacher and the child and never ever give up on either.

When I needed help from my parents to give me a rent on their 3rd floor apartment they said no. They gave it to one of my sisters. It hurt, but for some reason, it made me work harder to be a better person and an independent person. I worked one full time job and two part time jobs to support my family and also made time for my children to watch their baseball games and to check in with the teachers. I had to follow through. Yes I was on welfare for the medical, dental and food stamps to get through for a while, but I hated it. I look back and said thank you Lord for the help I got from Welfare and Salvation Army when I needed it. But it was a struggle and I became a fighter and I spanked my children, loved my children and yelled at my children. But my five children are proud of me and love me very much. So they learned from my toughness and love to survive in this world. To respect the law and if they did something w rong, no matter how it hurt me, they would have to face the consequence. But no matter what I never gave up on them no matter what they did. I accepted that I wanted my children and I had to be responsible to keep them.

As for these mothers to take advantage of our system and for our system to let them take advantage "SHAME ON THEM"

I could go on and on, but for now. Good night.
September 2, 2008 8:08 AM
I was a welfare baby. If you don't know what that means, use your imagination. This web site understands the problem perfectly. I watched my parents play the system in order to fund their habits. The more the system gave, the less they needed to work. I grew to despise it and them.
September 2, 2008 8:32 AM
Well, I usually try to comment on posts like this, to set straight the facts. However, in this case, it isn't necessary, because I couldn't find a single "incorrect fact" in here. In fact, I couldn't find a single fact at all (except the date of the first labor day). The entire email is a fictionalized account (er, "anecdotal" might be a less disparaging term) pushing an agenda of pure political propaganda. Job well done! Pure assertion, with no need for basis in fact.

(In the same vein, I'm fond of the lessons to be gleaned from the story of the 3 little pigs.)
September 2, 2008 9:28 AM
Welfare is not a subject to be taken lightly. There ARE people that need it. That is a fact. It can be hard for the rest of us to understand that when we aren't around them. It can also be hard for the rest of us to understand that even when we ARE around them because we see them as lazy scum who steal our money.
September 2, 2008 12:38 PM
@ Gordon:

What facts might the authors have introduced that would have countered their conclusion?

Do you disagree that welfare fosters nothing but charity addicts?
September 2, 2008 12:40 PM
Phyllis, there ARE people who need it - for example, the physically disabled who CANNOT work. I don't think the article implied that we want blind beggars sitting in the streets holding an alms-bowl. I don't really consider disability payments (properly understood, and properly regulated) to be "welfare" as such.

Even those who like to cite the Bible will note that the Apostle said, "If any WILL not work, neither shall he eat." That implies the ability to work; someone who literally CANnot work has a much stronger claim on the public purse.
September 2, 2008 1:23 PM
These anecdotes are certainly thought-provoking, but what are the numbers? How many people are taking advantage of the system in the ways you describe (or others)? Is there any way to find out even a partial answer to this question?
June 14, 2009 1:14 AM
The trouble is that it depends totally on your definition of poverty. The US has a vastly over-inflated definition of poverty - if you don't have a color TV and air conditioning, you're "in poverty", or so it seems.

If you use the global definition of poverty - living on $1 a day or less - and then calculate the number of Americans who meet it (which is zero), then compare it to the number of Americans collecting welfare benefits, you can determine the number you're looking for. But that methodology doesn't get you very far with either liberals or people who want to collect benefits.
June 14, 2009 6:55 AM
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