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The U. S. of k5?

By pete in Culture
Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 03:07:44 PM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)

A funny thought hit me yesterday. Could k5 be the model for the future government of the United States?

The basic model is this: the legislative branch is directly replaced by the people. There is a submission queue at the local level; for argument's sake, at your local government level. You can submit a local, state, or federal bill. Bills sit in the queue, and can be discussed or voted on. The path of each type of bill is as follows.

Local bill:
If it gets enough local votes within the time period, it goes to the local executive branch.

State bill:
If it gets enough local votes within the time period, it goes to the state submission queue, which can be voted on by all of the localities in the state. If it passes at the state level, it goes to the state executive branch.

Federal bill:
Same as state; if it passes at the state level, it goes to the federal submission queue, and if it passes there, goes to the president.

We'll still need an executive and judicial branch.

This has a number of absolutely huge benefits.

  • Want to lobby someone? Lobby the people. That's who's going to vote on your law.
  • People will tend to think in terms of their community, and what they want, when they are the originating point for laws.
  • People will organize on the web for their causes.
  • People will actually feel like they have a voice and care about politics.
  • What are the major problems? Can we make some format like this work? Security is obviously one, but some day, we are going to be voting online. It's just a matter of time. Why not rethink the entire process?


    Voxel dot net
    o Managed Hosting
    o VoxCAST Content Delivery
    o Raw Infrastructure


    Biggest problem with this system?
    o First voters 8%
    o Can't manage discussion 11%
    o Too many bills will be proposed 15%
    o People can't handle the responsibility 20%
    o Security 6%
    o Something else 22%
    o el_guapo should be burned in effigy 14%

    Votes: 89
    Results | Other Polls

    Related Links
    o Also by pete

    Display: Sort:
    The U. S. of k5? | 45 comments (28 topical, 17 editorial, 0 hidden)
    An interesting but foolish idea (3.33 / 6) (#2)
    by The Baptist Death Ray on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 11:50:03 AM EST

    Let's assume for the moment that you don't have the inevitable problem of some k3w1 hax0r d00d manipulating the entire submissions queue in order to pass a law that Natalie Portman must pour hot grits down her pants.

    You'll also have people rejecting perfectly good laws on the grounds that "it's not spelled right, and haven't we read a proposal like this on every other board for the last two weeks?"

    The Baptist Death Ray
    "The urge to destroy is a creative urge."
    - M. Bakunin

    Darned Canadians (4.33 / 9) (#6)
    by duxup on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 11:54:32 AM EST

    And we'd have tons of discussions about how "that other government" already did this or that.

    [ Parent ]
    Um, /like/ k5, not /k5/ (3.25 / 4) (#9)
    by Defect on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 12:03:48 PM EST

    I don't believe the author was implying the immediate use of the k5 website as a way to pass bills. It's not like i can set up a perl script right now to go vote Al Gore into office.

    And i don't know about you, but i don't want misspelled laws getting passed.

    "Judge, the law states clearly that it is illegal to molest 'lids.' My client, as has been previously noted, is not a 'lid'-molester but rather a 'kid'-molester, and there is currently no law against that."
    defect - jso - joseth || a link
    [ Parent ]
    LOL (3.00 / 2) (#10)
    by The Baptist Death Ray on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 12:08:44 PM EST


    The Baptist Death Ray
    "The urge to destroy is a creative urge."
    - M. Bakunin
    [ Parent ]

    Swiss Model (3.00 / 4) (#5)
    by meadows_p on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 11:54:09 AM EST

    I don't really know the facts of which I speak, but doesn't Switzerland have some similar model of terminals (of some sort) in every house, and a series of referendums every month/week for the populous to vote on? Sorry for the lack of detail, but I remember being shown this when I was just a nipper visiting Switzerland.

    Re. Swiss Model (none / 0) (#43)
    by Alias on Mon Oct 16, 2000 at 01:57:39 AM EST

    Sorry to blow your illusion, but our little country doesn't have such a system.

    It's true that we vote very often (about 6-10 times a year) on communal (local) cantonal (regional) and federal matters, it's also true that a certain number of citizens can poll the government (50,000 on the federal level, on a population of about seven million).

    But as far as digital terminals are concerned, it a no-no. Not everyone has Internet, or a similar connected system (such as the French Minitel), in one's house. Besides telephone, that is...

    However, several cantons have developped a simplified vote-by-mail scheme which allows everyone to simply mail their ballot. Only one canton is currently *planning* to change its Constitution to allow Internet votes.

    From what I see, think more of the Swiss system as the Californian system.

    Stéphane "Alias" Gallay -- Damn! My .sig is too lon
    [ Parent ]
    Great idea (3.00 / 3) (#8)
    by Eloquence on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 12:00:52 PM EST

    Although the security problem is far from easy to solve, this is certainly the kind of ideas that are necessary to reform the world political system. Digital signatures may be a good approach to the security problem, but managing the keys will be quite difficult if you want it to be anonymous (which is necessary if you want people to vote right on bills their employers don't like).

    The other problem is the quantity of bills that will be proposed, but I believe this can be solved through additional submission stages. You would first have to submit a bill to a group concerned with the subject (e.g. car traffic), then perhaps to a somewhat less-specific meta group (e.g. traffic), then to the "everyone" group. But these groups wouldn't be closed - you could join any time you want. Furthermore, bills couldn't be pushed through, they would have to pass at all stages.

    This is a good solution since the actual amount of reasonable bills seems very well manageable to me. Consider the number of bills that is usually passed on the local level, it's not that much. And on the federal level, you have a big enough population. I would just add another level, the international level.
    Copyright law is bad: infoAnarchy · Pleasure is good: Origins of Violence
    spread the word!

    It's a matter of scale. (3.85 / 7) (#11)
    by Farq Q. Fenderson on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 12:10:14 PM EST

    I hate to bring Slashdot into this, but (I think) Taco's right. K5's system doesn't scale well. But this system /shouldn't/ scale well: K5 kicks as much ass as it does because of the limited number of users.
    I think that this system may work for a small-scale country, but not something as large as the US. Of course, I wouldn't mind living in a small country running on something resembling this system.

    farq will not be coming back
    Scalability (3.50 / 2) (#23)
    by kmself on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 01:14:02 PM EST

    Not sure how you mean by scaling, but the inspiration for the moderation and submission systems at K5 were the lack of satisfactory usability from Slashdot as that site scaled.

    Scoop's content rating systems should be more, not less, scalable than Slash.

    Karsten M. Self
    SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
    Support the EFF!!
    There is no K5 cabal.
    [ Parent ]

    Scale (3.00 / 2) (#33)
    by Farq Q. Fenderson on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 07:08:01 PM EST

    Seriously, the front page would rotate several times a day with as many hits as Slashdot gets. I can pick out a few other things, but it's moot since I *won't* be reading K5 if it grows to the size of Slashdot.
    I started reading K5 because Slashdot has too big of a userbase to properly carry a real discussion. It makes a great news site though. I really think Taco knows what he's talking about.

    farq will not be coming back
    [ Parent ]
    scalability assumptions (5.00 / 1) (#36)
    by rusty on Sat Oct 14, 2000 at 06:15:34 AM EST

    Seriously, the front page would rotate several times a day with as many hits as Slashdot gets.

    I gotta disagree with this. There's a finite amount of interesting news in any given day. Slashdot gets a lot of submissions, but how many are duplicates? I'd guess one in ten is a new story, and I think that's pretty generous. So, say they get 500 submissions in a day, we can figure that maybe 50 of those are unique stories, and opening the queue tends to strongly discourage duplicate submissions. So then, out of those 50, what makes you think that a group of 200,000 people would vote more of them onto the front page than a group of 10,000 people do? Especially considering the threshold is adjustable.

    Besides that, one of the unspoken assumptions of "it doesn't scale" is that I, and we, expect K5 to magically scale as-is. I don't. People who've been around for a long time already know that nothing here is permanent -- more people and more activity have revealed weaknesses in every design so far, and I have no doubt they will continue to do so. So we'll continue to scale as needed, like we always have.

    I do agree with you that a site of the sort we have now wouldn't be able to sustain coherent discussions with the kind of traffic slashdot has. They certainly haven't been able to, and I don't have any illusion that we'll be able to either. You can't have an interesting discussion in the online equivalent of a stadium full of screaming people. Before we get to that point, I expect to subdivide the site further, and provide ways for people to collect themselves into, for lack of a better term, "affinity groups" -- collections of people who are interested in talking about the same stuff. Slashdot operates, at this point, like a 24/7 version of Orwell's 5 Minutes Hate. The assembled crowds are flashed the target, and they scream and hurl whatever they can at it, and then it moves on to the next target. This is no way to operate a discussion site, and it only works for us now because there's few enough people.

    Anyway, this is only tangentially related to the original topic at hand, but I did want to share a couple thoughts about that classic piece of FUD, "It won't scale." It's amusing that Taco is starting to sound like an MS flak in his old age, but at least we have the benefit of hindsight, seeing the ways /. has failed to scale.

    Not the real rusty
    [ Parent ]

    There's a great suggestion in the story (4.00 / 2) (#39)
    by speek on Sat Oct 14, 2000 at 07:51:58 AM EST

    Putting aside whether the K5 model could be used as a governmental system - there's another hidden suggestion in his write-up for K5. Break up the user's into groups. A user becomes part of the world group, part of their country group, and part of 2 other groups below that level (they can essentially be random). A user sees only the stories from their group and the groups containing their group. Stories and posts get voted on, and only get promoted to the higher levels if they get enough positive votes.

    No matter how many people arrive on K5, you won't see "first post!" except from people within your group (and the size of that group could remain fixed regardless of how many people join K5). You won't see stories from other countries unless they were of very high quality (I know everyone outside the US will like that). This is a strategy for cutting out the noise level no matter how many people become K5 readers.

    al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
    [ Parent ]

    Don't Worry, Be Happy! (4.00 / 6) (#12)
    by JB on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 12:20:59 PM EST

    Today, we have a sort of digital democracy with respect to sound bites; even if we don't all participate directly, the pollsters find out what we are thinking, and the politicians dutifully address our concerns. If only that could be translated into citizen input into formulating laws and policies!!

    I think that with millions of people, some moderation will be needed. Maybe the bills will be written and submitted like today (by the elected representatives and lobbyists), but people can have input on what's going on, a 'people's voice' summary of approval and dissaproval. Maybe not too different from writing your congressman, but much more open to the public.

    An recent article in Wired addressed the role of the net in making the US government's working more transparent to the people. Their take was that Newt Gingrich talked about putting stuff on-line, but almost nothing is. Wired claimed that is possible to find the favorite recipes of your rep on the official website, but you can't find out how s/he voted, nor what bills are being considered, or what they contain. Information in the capitol is still exchanged on paper, and the circulation of that info is kept small. It's still looks more like making sausages than a noble institution.

    I think the basic idea of using technology to improve democracy is a no-brainer, but does Washington really want to improve democracy?? A brief examination of campaign fundraising suggests that it does not.


    Tyranny of the stupid (3.00 / 5) (#16)
    by Skippy on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 01:02:26 PM EST

    If everyone had 1/2 a brain this would be great idea. As it is I kind of agree with Farl. You would get a lot of people with nothing better to do voting. These are the same people who spend all day watching television and whose idea of good TV is Jerry Springer (which is why Jerry Springer is on TV).

    While I'd trust most K5 readers to vote with enlightened self-interest, I'd bet that most of the population would just vote out of plain-old self-interest. Just imagine for a moment what kind of laws that would lead to being submitted and passed...(pause)...Scary, wasn't it!

    This is a great idea, but a LOT of issues would have to be raised and figured out before it would be even remotely feasible. The most important in my mind is obviously raising the standards for voter qualification.
    # I am now finished talking out my ass about things that I am not qualified to discuss. #

    I can just see it now..... (5.00 / 5) (#31)
    by Anonymous 242 on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 02:15:24 PM EST

    While I'd trust most K5 readers to vote with enlightened self-interest, I'd bet that most of the population would just vote out of plain-old self-interest. Just imagine for a moment what kind of laws that would lead to being submitted and passed...(pause)...Scary, wasn't it!

    A typical day's snapshot.....

    Every fourth production run of beer must be distributed free to the general public 2000-09-09 Homer_Simpson 99
    Johny needs to keep his hands to himself in fifth period french class 2000-09-09 Susan -4
    Didn't we already vote on this? Ban repeat topics! 2000-09-09 inoshiro 843
    Repeal of income tax 2000-09-09 Browne 453
    Maryjane to be grown on federal lands and dispersed for free 2000-09-09 DJBongHit 321
    Move to ban repeated topics from legislative queue 2000-09-09 itsbruce 329
    Add spell checker to legal queue software 2000-09-09 brenda -3

    [ Parent ]
    "We have always been at war with Eastasia&quo (3.33 / 3) (#35)
    by tom0 on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 08:34:46 PM EST

    If everyone had 1/2 a brain this would be great idea.... While I'd trust most K5 readers to vote with enlightened self-interest... a LOT of issues would have to be raised and figured out before it would be even remotely feasible. The most important in my mind is obviously raising the standards for voter qualification.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like you would prefer to have a "voting class" of "enlightened" people allowed to govern, rather than either a purely democratic system or a representative system. I wonder, who decides whether someone is "enlightened" enough to vote? (I also particularly like the "oh- you guys are alright" note for the readers here.)

    I propose we call the voting class "The Party" and the non-voters "proles". Orwell would be proud.

    [ Parent ]

    so what's stopping you? (4.60 / 5) (#20)
    by mikpos on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 01:07:15 PM EST

    Propose it to your city council or community organisation. Not everything has to be done on a national or state level, you know. Even if your city council doesn't like the idea, start it up yourself: the "unoffical 300 block of Main St association" to try it out. Your city council will most likely respect any decisions that are made if you get even a sane amount of your neighbours to go along with it.

    Baaaaad idea (2.33 / 3) (#25)
    by boxed on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 01:47:33 PM EST

    The problem with this idea is that: 1) The normal joe will get drowned in legal stuff to vote on and in the end he'll stop caring. 2) The normal joe doesn't have an education in the theory and application of law, and he shouldn't have to. This means that people will vote for laws without understanding the consequences. 3) The normal joe actually believes in the corruptive force of internet. He thinks that violence on TV creates murderers. He thinks that genetically altered food and computers are somewhat demonic etc etc etc. This means in practical terms that if we have such a system as proposed here our entire society will be governed by mass hysteria, and there's no shortage of that.

    Re: Baaaaad idea (4.33 / 3) (#27)
    by pete on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 01:55:51 PM EST

    When you talk about the normal joe, think about not the way he is today, but the way he could be if he had such a responsibility. Why do people lose interest in politics? It's because they feel like they don't have a voice. There are countries in the world with 90% or higher voter turnout rates. Just because the people have been lulled to sleep by a dominating government doesn't mean it always has to be that way.


    [ Parent ]
    Re: Baaaaad idea (none / 0) (#40)
    by Morn on Sat Oct 14, 2000 at 02:39:31 PM EST

    There are countries in the world with 90% or higher voter turnout rates.

    Which countries are these?

    (I realise that might sound sarcastic, but it's not intended to be, I'm genuinely interested).

    [ Parent ]
    In defense of representative gov't (4.25 / 4) (#29)
    by shook on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 02:00:30 PM EST

    It seems no one has brought this up yet? What about those too poor to afford computers? What about those that don't know how to use computers, don't have time to learn?

    On another note...
    But I am fine with the representative form of government. I don't personally have time to pore over page after page of legaleese, consider the merits of a multi-billion dollar budget (or multi-million, if this is a local thing). I wouldn't trust myself and my fellow citizens to run a government in our spare time. It is something that requires full time attention. I (along with other citizens) hire a someone else to do that, while we get along with our lives.

    Fix the education system first.... (4.00 / 5) (#30)
    by Carnage4Life on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 02:02:27 PM EST

    This is a good idea in principle that will fail in practice. For democracy, of any kind, to work requires an educated populace that is capable of making logical and reasoned decisions, is not swayed by empty rhetoric and which is interested in civic duty.

    Unfortunately this is not the case. The average American is anti-intellectual (the media doesn't help with it's constant negative potrayal of intelligent people/geeks), complacent, and easily swayed by illogical yet emotional arguments. Making political decisions is complex and multi-faceted with ramifications that reverberate farther and deeper than can be estimated at face value (e.g. the War On Drugs makes more money for drug dealers since drug demand is inelastic, agricultural subsidies in the U.S. have loopholes that enable farmers to get paid for not growing plants, etc). To have these issues reduced to soundbites, MLPs, and flashy webpages will simply cheapen the legislative process the same way the electoral process has similarly been cheapened.

    Hopefully in the near or far future, the U.S. government will realize that education spending is an investment for the future and not a pplace to skimp as is currently thought.

    Compare to ballot initiatives? (4.85 / 7) (#32)
    by aphrael on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 02:36:33 PM EST

    It sounds good, but ...

    The closest thing to that currently is the ballot initiative system which exists in many states. In California, for example, the voters vote directly on:

    * All amendments to the state constitution

    * All bond measures

    * Certain laws proposed by the voters

    * Certain laws passed by the legislature and objected to by enough voters

    This usually results in between 10-20 initiatives being voted on in each election. The voters get a book which varies in size between that of the Economist and that of Wired (depending on the election) with

    * An impartial analysis of the initiative

    * Arguments for and against

    * The text of the measure in 9-point font.

    Fewer than a quarter of my friends --- almost all of whom are educated people in technical fields --- actually read this. Most people i've talked to who do read it only read the pro/con arguments, which are usually highly emotional and often factually inaccurate --- but nobody can tell that, because, if we're lucky, 10% of the voters read the text of the law.

    If most people don't read the text of two dozen laws they are asked to vote on twice every two years, what hope do we have that most people will actually read the text of laws they are asked to vote on on almost a daily basis?

    So Who's Gonna Design the System? (5.00 / 2) (#37)
    by DJBongHit on Sat Oct 14, 2000 at 06:21:47 AM EST

    We're in absolutely no position to redesign our Governmental (is that a word?) system right now. Without the Constitution and Bill of Rights in place to protect us from the Government, we would have been fucked long, long ago. You're asking to throw out the Constitution and start over? Because that's the only way a system like this could be implemented.

    And supposing we did do this, who's gonna design it? Our current Government are masters at hiding little loopholes in laws - they could easily come up with something that sounds great on the outside, but in reality allows the Government to seize complete power.

    And if you think the people are going to be able to see through this, you're absolutely wrong. The people will give the Government whatever powers it wants in the name of "protecting the children" or "fighting drugs." We're better off leaving our Constitution in place and working on getting the Government to better adhere to it.


    GNU GPL: Free as in herpes.

    Re: So Who's Gonna Design the System? (none / 0) (#41)
    by pete on Sat Oct 14, 2000 at 03:13:26 PM EST

    First: I (the author) am a libertarian, so I'm certainly not in favor of throwing out the Constitution or giving more power to the government (check this short exchange we had on the topic earlier).

    You say:

    The people will give the Government whatever powers it wants in the name of "protecting the children" or "fighting drugs."

    I like to think that if the people directly voted on the laws that got passed, there would be far fewer cases of trying to essentially "sneak through" laws which are obviously unconstitutional. When you say "the Government," you are essentially talking about Congress, no? Congress just contains representatives of the people; for practical reasons you can't have everyone go to Washington and write/vote on laws. I want to use technology to get rid of Congress. Technology can make sending everyone to Washington feasible.

    In the end, the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of a law that's passed depends on the interpretation of the people, with their own opinions, ideologies, and agendas, sitting on the Supreme Court. That's a problem I don't know how to fix. :-(


    [ Parent ]
    Change happens slowly... (none / 0) (#45)
    by Joshua on Tue Oct 17, 2000 at 03:31:29 PM EST

    A change like this could simply not happen all at once, but I think it could happen. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and I think that sites like /. and k5 and the like actually have the potential to become a future political system.

    I'm going to use that other site as my example, because I've been reading them longer (one of the first stories I read was the temporary shutting down of k5). Let's say a software product comes out that the /. community decides sucks. If that community is big enough, that vastly effects the market. If communities like this start growing, and keep growing, they could actually gain power, political power, and the amazing thing about that is that no one person or group of people decide what is discussed on the site, and what the site wants to do, as the whole group makes that decision.

    I can envision a future in which online forums could take the place of special interest groups (isn't that what they are?) and political parties and lobbying firms and whatnot, and candidates are chosen by the community because they have views that fairly acurately represent the general consensus of the community, because they are active participants.

    The media has a huge effect on everything. It effects politics and big businesses, but the problem with the media is that it can be bought out. K5 is a sort of media, only it can't be bought out, because we decide what's here, and we decide what to say.

    I think this concept has a lot of potential


    [ Parent ]
    Ruling requires specialists (4.66 / 3) (#38)
    by Paul Johnson on Sat Oct 14, 2000 at 06:52:49 AM EST

    The problem with democracy is that ruling a nation requires specialists to do a good job. Every democratic country has to make a trade-off between the amount of raw democracy in the system and the need for people who actually know what they are doing to take the decisions.

    Another poster pointed out that in citizen initiative ballots the vast majority of voters only read the pro and con arguments and ignore the details of the proposed law. Even when they read the law they will find it difficult to understand what its impact will be because they simply do not have enough time to do the research. Understanding the detailed economic, social and environmental impacts of, say, a new vehicle emmissions law is a complicated issue which is going to take weeks of study just to begin to understand. Of course the government can pay for studies, but then the voters just have to blindly trust (or blindly distrust) the studies, putting us back where we started. And merely reading a detailed report takes more time and effort than most people would want to put in, not to mention more intelligence and education than many of the population can muster.

    So pure participative democracy is out. On the other hand you have a system like Singapore or the old USSR, in which an oligarchy of technocrats rules the country, doing what they think best. This system can actually work reasonably well (look at Singapore), but it has the fatal weakness that members of government get rewarded for doing things that help the government as opposed to helping the people. Government departments grow without limit because its not in anybody's interest to shrink them, and corruption is hidden because exposing it would "rock the boat", and so on.

    Some "democratic" nations approach the oligarchy system when the electoral system either consistently returns one party for a few decades (as in Japan up till about 1990) or consistently returns the same politicians from a mix of parties (as in Italy until they revised their constitution). Either way, it becomes obvious to the junior members of government that the only way to advance your career is to climb the party organisation rather than please the electorate, and cronyism and corruption set in shortly thereafter. It was notable that the issue which really toppled the Tory party after 20 years in power in the UK was corruption: MPs had started to take government for granted.

    So a balance has to be struck. You need the expertise of the technocrats to actually manage things, because they are the only ones who have any idea what will happen in response to changes. But you need democracy to keep the system honest. Overall some kind of representational democracy seems to be about the only answer.

    You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.

    Majority Rule isn't always good... (5.00 / 2) (#44)
    by Chakotay on Tue Oct 17, 2000 at 10:17:43 AM EST

    While majority rule looks nice at first glance - who is to protect the minorities? Majority rule is just another form of dictatorship. What if the majority of the people want porn and such banned from the Internet? I'm sure pressure groups could manage to get a majority support for that. Whatever happens to the freedom of the Internet then? And that's just one example.

    Another thing, how can you then possibly pass unpopular but necessary laws? In a system as proposed, there is no way to circumvent the LULU, NIMBY and BANANA syndromes. Say, the majority of a town is Christian, and a minority is Muslem. The Muslems wish to build a Mosque on a lot where there was previously an old unused church. There should be no objection, but majority rules, and the Mosque can't be built. Again, this is just one example.

    LULU - Locally Unwanted Land Usage (aka We Don't Want You Here)
    NIMBY - Not In My Back Yard
    BANANA - Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything

    Like most political systems, total democracy looks like a nice thing on the surface, but not far below that surface lie many problems.

    Linux like wigwam. No windows, no gates, Apache inside.

    The U. S. of k5? | 45 comments (28 topical, 17 editorial, 0 hidden)
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