4:23 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Let me begin with three comments. One, this is a busman’s holiday for my colleagues I serve with. Thank you for being here. The worst thing to have to do is come in here another — pick your same party you agree with — your own party and hear somebody. Thank you very much. It’s above and beyond the call.
And secondly, to all the kids here, I want to make clear: If nothing hap- — after this is over, if you all come up, I’m going to give you some money to make your mom and dad to take you to Dairy Queen. (Laughter.) Okay? All right? Okay. You all think I’m kidding; I’m not. Can you imagine when you were 10 years old — “We’re going to go spend the afternoon — we’re going to get dressed to — come on, honey.” Anyway, thank you, thank you, thank you. Only thing that could be worse: You could — your mom or dad could be a president, then you would have to show up at all this stuff. (Laughter.)
And the third thing I’d like to say is that — you know, one of the reasons I’m still — it may — it may hurt his reputation, but all kidding aside, one of the reasons why I am still in politics was because of a Maine guy named Ed Muskie. Not a joke. (Applause.)
Ed Muskie and Teddy Kennedy and the guy from South Carolina who was the United States senator — because I had just been elected to the Senate. I was 29 years old. I wasn’t old enough to be sworn in. I had to wait until I could be sworn in. But I had to start to hire staff.
So, I was down in Washington using Teddy Kennedy’s Whip office so I could interview people. And I got a phone call saying my wife and daughter had just been killed. And — and so, I decided — my — my brother, who’s five years younger, was my finance chair. And, by the way, I was listed, for 36 years, the poorest man in Congress. So, he needed a lot of help. (Laughter.)
But all kidding aside, we were — I wanted him to talk to the Democratic governor who had just been elected so he would appoint someone — because I’m the first moderate-to-liberal member from the Democratic Party.
Our state is — was a border state. We — we were — we were segregated by law. We were a slave state. And all the vestiges left over are still there. And so, I was the first “progressive” — quote, unquote — today we would say. But back in those days, I was considered, compared to the Democratic Party —
The Democratic governor had an opportunity, Gov, to decide whether he or she wanted to be member of the Northeast Democratic Coalition — Governors’ Conference or the Southern Governors’. And most governors picked to be part of the Southern Governors’ Conference.
And so, two thirds of the state, as Angus knows, in the Delmarva Peninsula talk at ‘cha like this — a lot of good ‘ol boys. (Laughter.) No, I’m serious.
And — and so, I asked my brother if he would talk to the governor and pick someone in my place. And my sister is my best friend and managed all my campaigns. She’s three years younger. We are two years apart in school. She graduated; I graduated from the same university, two years apart. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa; I graduated. (Laughter.) She — no, I’m not joking. She managed all the — my campaigns.
My point is this: that these men probably saved my sanity by convincing me to stay. What the argument was: Just come and stay — just come and stay for six months. Help us organize. We had 58 Democratic senators. They didn’t need anybody to organize. We had whoever — it could be a Democratic senator (inaudible) at my place.
But Ed Muskie went out of his way for me — all the little things. One of the most important men in the Congress, who should have been president — one of the most important men in the Congress. He would just spend time with me.
He would come by my office, and I — for example, I wouldn’t go to — I didn’t go over and meet and eat with the senators in the dining room. I would just stay — I didn’t want to — I just wanted to get — just not get engaged. And he just went out of his way.
And I look back on it. And you probably help people like that, like I was, many times yourselves, but it mattered. It mattered. My two boys survived. My family — I had great help with my family, my extended family.
But Ed Muskie was a man of enormous, enormous, enormous character. And he had a guy named Hathaway with him that I came along — we came along together and became close friends.
I’ve always thought of Maine as — it’s going to sound bizarre to say this, but as a virtuous place. I’m not joking. It was a place that everybody seemed to have sort of just basic — they disagreed. Like a young woman — I was just — did an event — a speaking event in Maine. And I was talking about the economy. And afterwards, I’m going out, shaking hands with people. And a lovely young woman — looked to be — she was in her early 30s — was a state rep. She had her pin on. And I said, “Well, you guys passed the legislation for” — yes, for —
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Family leave.
THE PRESIDENT: Family leave, thank you. For family leave. And she said, “Oh, I voted against it.” (Laughter.) And she said, “I’m a Republican, but I like you.” (Laughter.)
But my point is this: We used to talk to one another. We used to get along with one another. There used to be a civility — what we — and in the last — the last 10 years, things have begun to change.
You may remember, I made a speech — because it got a lot of publicity, not all positive. I made a speech at Independence Hall before the 2022 elections — six days out — where I said our democracy is at stake. Literally, not figuratively. And they thought it was an exaggeration. But guess what? Sixty-six percent of the American people thought that the case: Democracy is at stake.
And so, my — the reason I’m so happy to be here with your representatives: They’re all decent, honorable people. We can argue like hell. We disagree, although I don’t want to get them in trouble. We don’t disagree very often. (Laughter.) But, anyway —
So, I think of Maine like I used to think of my state, where everybody knows everybody. And, you know, there’s an old joke: You know, be careful what you say, they may be related. (Laughter.)
So, at any rate, I want to thank you for allowing me to come — come back to Maine, which I’ve been here many times, but not since I’ve been president. Number one.
Number two, I think we’re at a place where we’re at a genuine inflection point in history. I had a physics professor who said that an inflection point is the time you’re going down the highway 60 miles an hour and you make an abrupt, 45 degree or 30 degree turn to the right. You can never get back on the path you were on before. It occurs every five, six, seven generations in world history.
But the world is changing — changing not because Joe Biden is President or Putin is leading Russia. It’s because everything’s changing from global warming. I last was with Putin two Christmases ago and I pointed out: He has eight time zones, and the entire tundra is melting. Methane is leaking. It’s never going to freeze again.
We got a fundamental change we got to deal with. We’re seeing changes not just to the climate, but across the world in fundamental ways. And so, we better get going on what we’re going to do about it, both in foreign policy and domestic policy.
But before I decided to announce for the Senate, and I wasn’t going to run — I mean for the presidency, the last time out. And, I think Angus knows: I wasn’t going to run again. I had just lost my son. He — he died because of being — sleeping next to a burn pit for a year and — in — in Baghdad. And he was a decorated soldier. He — Conspicuous Service medal, the Bronze Star, attorney general of the state of Delaware. Presumptuous of me to say this: He should be the one talking to you today, not me. He was quite — he was attorney general of the state.
My point is that, you know, there’s a lot going on. Name me a part of the world that you think is going to look like it did 10 years ago 10 years from now — not a joke. But it presents enormous opportunities — enormous opportunities. I’m just going to go through a few for you, if you will be willing to stick with me on this.
First of all, you know, on the economic front, we have made some real progress in the first two years. We’ve — we’ve — over 13.2 million new jobs, beyond when we went into the pandemic. We’ve — inflation is down from 9 percent to 3 percent. We’re in a situation where we have a circumstance that we’ve created 810,000 manufacturing jobs. And how many of you were told manufacturing is dead? You watched it happen here in Maine in the small towns, like in Delaware, in the Midwest, and Nevada — I mean, Nebraska, all — all red, blue states.
A factory that mom and dad worked at for 30 years and made a decent salary — all of a sudden, one day, it up and goes abroad. Because why? We started a process that we had — we took the — the whole notion of trickle-down economics to an extreme. We shipped our — we found the cheapest labor in the world we could find and we shi- — shipped the factories over there. And then we brought the product back here and we sold it here. And America found itself in trouble.
Well, I decided that the way to change — to deal with a changed world here was not that we couldn’t compete anymore, it’s because we had the wrong philosophy about how to compete. I — I insisted that — and I — and I’ve been doing this — I know I don’t look it, but I’ve been doing this a long time. (Laughter.)
And one of the things that we — I decided we should build — and I’ve thought — had this view for a long time: that we should build the economy from the middle out and the bottom up. When that occurs, everybody does well. The wealthy do very well.
I’m a capitalist. I come from the co- — corporate state of the world. More businesses — and some of you know because you may be incorporated — they’re incorporated in Delaware — than every other state in the Union combined. Every state. And I represented, as senator, for 36 years, so I’m not anti-business. But everybody has got to pay their fair share. Everybody has got to pay their fair share.
We went from having 746 billionaires in America before the pandemic to a thousand. And guess what their average federal tax is: 8- — 8.3 percent. How can that be right? How can that be fair? And so, I started to focus on: What do we do to bring this back?
We used to be — have the number one infrastructure in the world. We’re ranked number 14. The United States of America, by — the international folks say that we — we’re the 14th best infrastructure: roads, bridges, and the like.
China used to be, I think, 17 or 16. Now number two. What’s the matter? Something is wrong.
How can we lead the world being 14th in the world on our infrastructure? I’m not joking. Think about it in practical terms, just pure practical terms.
Secondly, manufacturing. You saw what’s happened here in Maine. The same thing has happened in Nebraska. You don’t have to be in the Northeast. It’s the same thing all across the country. How many times have you heard people say they’ve had their — their son or daughter has graduated from high school here and then went to college and came back to say, “Mom, I can’t stay. There’s no jobs for me here. There’s nothing here for me.”
You lost employment like a lot of places lost it. And it’s not just manufacturing. How do we get — and, by the way, we invented the computer chip. We — we — it’s tinier than the little, tiny end of my finger here. And guess what? We used to have 40 percent of the market. We got 5 percent.
And you all saw what happened when we got in real trouble in inflation, when you couldn’t build automobiles and shutting down plants. It takes so many computer chips to be able to do it.
So, I got my colleagues and leadership of this man sitting in the front here of the — dealing with the — the legislation that had to do with providing for in- — investment in technology. And it was called the CHIPS Act. And guess what? It’s attracted off the sidelines almost a trillion dollars in private equity investment — almost a trillion. (Applause.)
No, I’m — this is not rocket science. For example, we used to not be able to produce the chips. Well, guess what? We have over $300 billion of commitments to build new chip factories in the United States of America.
And guess what that does? Not only is all the — the construction work and providing union labor to people to get a decent wage, changing their abil- — my dad used to say, “Joey, at the end of the” — no, I’m not joking — my dad was a very refined guy who was very well-read, never had a chance for a college education.
And we — he’d come home and close the business he was running — he didn’t own it; he was a manager — he’d come home for dinner and then go back and close it. My dad used to say, “Joey, the measure is whether at the end of the month you’re able to pay all your bills and you have a little breathing room — just a little breathing room.” So many Americans have no breathing room. No breathing room.
And so, what do we do? When I went to South Korea and convinced the chip factory to invest in America, and they’re investing $100 billion. I said, “Why are you doing it?” They said, “Simple: You’re the safest place in the world to invest, number one. And number two, you have the best workers in the world.” Not a joke. I’m not making this up. This is real.
Look what’s happening: everything from Poughkeepsie, New York, to just outside of Columbus, Ohio, where Intel has just investing $20 billion building two — what they call “fabs” — factories. You know what happens when those fabs — they employ thousands of people. And guess what? The average salary is going to be $131,000, and you don’t need a college degree to do it. (Applause.)
I was making the case to the Business Roundtable, you know, the — the biggest corporations in America. They’re good people, decent people. And they were asking me why was investing so much money in organized labor and convincing — and di- — in labor? I said, “Because you need them.” And they said, “Well, what we need…” — and I said, “We did a survey when I was vice president. And we — we met with 342 of the Fortune 500 companies, either on — on Zoom or in person. I said, ‘What do you need most?’ They said, ‘We need a better-educated public.’ I said, “What the heck are you doing about it? Why you oppose my dealing with investing more money in preschool?”
Not — on third grade thr- — three years old, going to school — not daycare, school. All the studies show — the Harvard, Stanford studies shows it increased by 57 percent, no matter what the background the child comes from, their ability to get through 12 years of school or not. (Applause.) What’s the problem?
And by the way, they’re beginning to help. It’s self-interest.
But my generic point is simple: that there’s so much available to us as a country — so much available to us. We just got to remember who in the Lord’s name we are.
We’re in a situation where if you take a look at what we’ve done around the world — you know, you take a look at — does anybody think that the post-war eras still exist, the rules of the road from the end of World War Two?
I’m — I’m — I’m being deadly earnest. It’s not hyperbole, just direct statement. It doesn’t.
I spent my whole life — the reason I turned down being able to run for governor, which is a very important job when I was young man, is I wanted to be involved in a foreign policy. I spent most of my life as the Chairman of Foreign Relations Committee or doing foreign policy for Barack or now. It’s kind of fascinating to take a look at what’s going on.
We look at — does anybody think that Europe was likely to hold together if we hadn’t pulled it together? Not a joke, not a joke.
I spent over 180 hours with heads of state from the G7 and the European Union, just holding it together. NATO is stronger today than it’s ever been in its existence — (applause) — not just because of me, but it’s stronger today.
And look what’s happening with regard to China in the — in the Indian Ocean and in the — you know, I got asked by Xi why I call myself a Pacific nation. I said, “Because we are. We have a longer border on the Pacific than you do. We are a Pacific nation.” And I said, “And you wouldn’t have been able to move at all unless we were providing you the stability you needed.” Give you my word, he looked at me and said, “You’re right. You’re right.”
Look what’s happening. Does anybody ever think Japan would increase its military budget over its domestic budget and help a European war on the side of the West? That’s what it’s doing. It’s changing the dynamic significantly.
I’m hosting little (inaudible) at Camp David next week. I’m bringing along the leaders of Japan and South Korea. They made a rapprochement from World War Two: fundamental change.
Look what’s happening in — in Southeast Asia, where now I put together the Quad — meaning India, Japan, Australia, and the United States. Xi said, “Why are you doing that? You’re trying to surround me.” I said, “No, that’s not the reason. I just want to make sure the rules of the road aren’t changing.”
International airspace is international airspace. International water space is water space. You can’t tell us we can’t. Well, where we’re going to put up an air identification zone, meaning you can’t fly through certain areas, even though it’s international airspace. And guess what we did? We flew a B-1 bomber through. Not a joke. Not a joke. Because we can’t let this change that’s taking place.
I’ve gotten a call from the head of Vietnam, desperately wants to meet me when I go to the G20. He wants to elevate us to a major partner, along with Russia and China. What do you think that’s about? No, I’m not joking.
I’m not going to take you around the world, but the point is: The world is changing.
The world is changing in a big way. And we want to promote democracies — democracies.
Watch what’s happened in the Middle East. I got criticized from going to Saudi Arabia, remember? Well, guess what? I got them to prevent overflights for — for — for Israel. So, they — there’s a rapprochement may be underway.
My generic point is there is so much going on that we can make the world for this young man who’s going to be president someday, we can make it a lot safer and better and more secure. We know who’s on first, who’s on second, and so on.
So, if you think about what’s happening — and I was going to make a more detailed speech, but it’s — I’m keeping you too long already — the — if you think about what’s happening, there is a confluence, if we get this right, of both domestic economic policy and foreign policy. I can make a safer and more secure than we’ve been a long, long time.
And that’s what I’m about. That’s what I want to do. I want to get to the point where we’re in a situation where we know — look, I said earlier today that I’ve never been more optimistic about America’s future than I am today. I mean it. That’s not hyperbole. I’ve been saying it for a year.
The reason is: Think of anything America’s ever set its mind to that we haven’t been able to do. Name me — they asked me, “If you could do one thing, what would you do?” I said, “I’d cure cancer.” They said, “Ca- — why?” It’s because it’s the one thing people think we can’t do.
To demonstrate: This is the United States of America, damn it. When we’ve worked together, there is no major problem we’ve been unable to solve. None. And today, we are splintered in a way we never have been.
I’ll conclude by telling you a little story. You know, I didn’t — even though I sat for eight years in the vice president’s chair, every morning at nine o’clock with Barack starting the day off for eight years, I didn’t realize that there was a — a circumstance where on Inauguration Day, the outgoing president has to be out of the office by 10 o’clock. The incoming president can’t come in until three o’clock.
So, I asked my — because they set aside the furniture, what desk, what rugs, what — whatever you want — and so I asked my brother Jimmy to take care of it for me. And he called the Presidential historian named Jon Meacham, a well-known guy, in to help him because there are certain things that matter: What bust did I want there?
Sit at my desk, and there is only two political leaders I ever had: One was Dr. King and the other was Bobby Kennedy. I had great respect for John Kennedy, but I could never picture him at my kitchen table. I can theoretically think of Bobby Kennedy there. And Ce- — Cesar Chavez — whose granddaughter is running in my campaign, by the way — who almost cost me an election in 1972. (Applause.)
By the way, because I was sympathetic to the farmworkers, and Southern Delaware, where you got a $4 billion industry on chickens, they ain’t happy about that. (Laughter.)
And so, all kidding aside, that — and then, you know, there is a woman who wouldn’t move to the back of the bus and changed the whole world. And Harry Truman. I also have Ben Franklin, because I was a Ben Franklin professor of law — international law at Penn for four years, and it was a requirement.
But here’s the deal: I think I walked into that office and, for years — and I was in there a lot because of — I was chairman of judiciary or vice president for a lo- — I mean — or excuse me — or the chairman of foreign relations for a long time. And I walked in, and the only portrait above the fireplace was one of George Washington. Only one all the time I’ve been there, and I’ve been there 600 years. (Laughter.)
And I walk in — they had the rug that I wanted. We changed the rug and the desk, the Resolute Desk, and my — so- — my brother picked out the furniture, the couches, and the like. And obviously, Trump wasn’t there. He’s the first president in the history of the United States of America that didn’t show up on Inauguration Day. Classy guy. (Laughter.) I was just as happy he didn’t.
But my point was that I looked up and I saw this — there is this big portrait four times — three times as big as the — as the Washington portrait — of Franklin Roosevelt. And I said, “I’m an admirer, but why Franklin Roosevelt?”
And Meacham spoke up, and he said, “Because no president has taken on the job of president with a world at greater financial disarray than he was.” I said, “Oh, that’s good. I’m really happy about that.” (Laughter.) I’m serious.
And I said, “Why…” — and then there were — there were four smaller portraits. One of Washington — the original one was up on the right-hand corner. I mean, if you’re looking from my desk, on the left-hand corner. And below it was Abraham Lincoln. I said, “Why Lincoln?” He said, “The nation has never been as divided since the Civil War.”
Well, folks, you know, I’m not sure how far off they are. But I am sure — I am sure we cannot succeed as a country unless we change it. No, no think about it.
I — you may remember when I ran the first time, I said I’m running for three reasons. I think my campaign disagreed with my saying it, but I meant it.
One, I wanted to restore the soul of America. We start to treat each other with decency and honor and de- — deal with people in a way that that is more like who we are. Not a joke.
The second thing was I said I want to build the economy from the middle out and the bottom up.
And I said the third thing is you got to unite America. Well, your great senator, George Mitchell, is a close friend of mine I just spoke to. He was the guy, when I left, said Biden did more to be able to bring Republicans and Democrats together than anybody when he was here. An exaggeration on his part, but it was very nice of him to say.
But guess what? Who do you deal with now? How do you get certain things done? Ask Angus what it’s like getting things done in the Senate or the House.
But we have to do that. How can you be a participatory democracy without there being the ability to bring people together? How does that happen?
And the last generic point I’ll make to you is that, you know, having spent most of my time as vice president doing foreign policy for Barack and having spent my career focusing mostly on foreign policy for the 36 years I was a senator, I thought I — I thought I knew the consequence of an American president. But it’s amazing.
Madeleine Albright wrote a book. And she referred to America as “the essential nation.” We literally are. Ask yourself a rhetorical question: Who could possibly bring the world together? Not a joke. Not me. But the President of the United States of America. Who could do it unless the President of the United States does it? Who? What nation could do it?
And so, folks, there’s a lot at stake — a whole lot at stake. And I think we have an opportunity. And one of the ways we make life better for us is make life better for the rest of the world. That’s why I pushed so hard for the Build Back Better initiative to build the infrastructure in Africa and in — and in Latin America and South America.
We’re the ones who polluted the world. We clear cut everything. We made a lot of money. Lula from Brazil wants to meet with me shortly because, you know, there’s more carbon absorbed from the air in the Amazon than all the carbon emitted in the — from the United States of America on a yearly basis.
But guess what? They — they’re having trouble. They want their farmers to be able to go out and clear the land and make money and so on.
So, there’s a lot that’s out there that we have a chance to do. And, again, there’s nothing you can name for me that if America set its mind to do it, we have not been able to do it over time. Nothing. Nothing.
And the whole world is changing. But if we grab hold, we apply the ingenuity and our — you know, our greatest strength — I said when I got elected I was going to have an administration that looked like America. Well, guess what it is? I have a higher percentage of women on my Cabinet than any president ever had — more than the number of men. (Applause.)
In the military, for the first time ever, we’re having the Chief of Naval Operations is a woman. Two other four-stars (inaudible). So, it’s changing.
I’ve appointed more appellate court judges to the federal courts than — who are African American than every other president in America combined. (Applause.)
And, by the way, not for political reasons. For a simple reason: Our strength is our diversity. Our strength is our diversity. It’s about time we begin to use it and understand it, deal with it.
So, folks, look, imagine — and, by the way, all the stuff we did in the economy, all these programs that we’ve put forward — in the process, I cut the federal debt by $1.7 trillion in two years. (Applause.) More than any other president of the United States has come close. The last president increased it by $4 trillion.
Folks, there’s nothing we can’t do if we remember who in God’s name are — this is the United States of America. There’s nothing beyond our capacity.
And if you think all — you think I was exaggerating about we’re at an inflection point? Just take a look at AI. Artificial intelligence. Hang on, baby. It has enormous promise but enormous possibilities to go wrong. We got to know what we’re doing.
And so, folks, look, the — you know, imagine what we can do if we finish the job. Like I said, I don’t think — I think that ordinary people should have an opportunity to get a good education, ordinary people should be able to afford to go to college. I love it when I get criticized for forgiving debt for people whose income is not above $60,000 for college. (Applause.)
Well, guess what? We had the PPP program. If you ran a diner, you had five employees, and, during the pandemic, you got in trouble, guess what? You get — by the way, the woman who criticized me most? She got $220,000 back from that program. I’m not opposed the program, but give me a break. Give me a break.
So, look, you know, I believe this country is about to take off. And you’re saying, “When the hell is he going take off?” (Laughter.) But the investments we’ve made in the past two and a half — two and a half years have powered the transformation of this country in the next 50 years and, you know, doing something right now no one thought possible.
But most of them opposed everything that we did, everything we supported. But if you notice, all of a sudden, it’s all — they’re — there’s an inside joke. I say I’m — I’m showing up at the spade turning.
Guess what? You have the gentlewoman — talk about an oxymoron — from North Georgia, who is about to get one of the biggest environmental investments of billions of dollars in her district. And she’s against it. Guess what? But she’s — she’s talking about the clarion call.
You’re going to get billions of dollars for making sure that everyone in this state has a connection to the Internet and affordable. (Applause.)
Well — and the senator from Alabama, he knew how to coach Alabama, I think. Well, he sure as hell doesn’t know what he’s talking about now.
He just did a big press conference. “Alabama is receiving $1.3 trillion to make sure we have — we have all of Alabama — all of Alabama wired for the Internet. It’s going to be cheaper.” He voted against it, campaigned against it. I’m going down when he makes his announcement. We’re going to be with him. (Applause.)
Now, look, I just think that the — you know, it’s been a long time. But as I said, I think that — I don’t think there’s a thing we can’t do if we set our mind to it. We can’t kid each other, though. This democracy is at stake. Not a joke. Not a joke.
One of the reasons why I did the Emmett Till thing was I wanted to make it clear that history is history. And that his mother, making sure there was an open coffin so people knew exactly what happened — knew exactly what happened — took an enormous amount of courage. And it was the Black press that exposed it and made people look at it.
Did you ever think you’d be in a country right now at your age and your circumstance where we’re banning books? I just read — my wife wrote a book, not about politics at all — they took it out of libraries in Georgia. As we say in my religion, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” I mean, come on. I don’t think that’s who America is. I don’t think that’s the majority of Americans.
And with your help, we’re going to make sure that it doesn’t happen. That it does not — we don’t get in a situation where we have a man who — if you just take what he said, on the record, I’m inclined — just a snippet — the stuff he said with him and run those ads, some would say it’s just flat seditious. Not who we are.
And you’re all successful people. You traveled abroad. Ask any of your compatriots — whether they’re left, right, or center — what they think about — not me, but about if the other guy comes back.
We got a lot to do, but we got a lot of hope. A lot of hope.
As — every time I’d walk out of my Grandpop Finnegan’s house up in Scranton, he was a — he went to Santa Clara and he was a newspaper guy and an All-American football player, by the way, in the days when they used to throw people over the line. (Laughter.)
But he’d yell, “Joey, keep the faith.” And my grandmother would yell, “No, Joey, spread it.”
Let’s go spread the faith. (Applause.)
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