Extra! Extra!: How to Begin to Process the Unfolding Horror of COVID in India?

This week, COVID returns to the forefront of this week’s Extra! Extra! as we look at the outbreak in India and the threats posed by variants across the globe. We look at the one thing that’s proving stronger than COVID: capitalism and how that’s impacting our recovery. The team also examines new developments on the immigration and criminal justice fronts and ponder what it means to hear the president tell transgender Americans he’s got their backs.

The Pandemic Ravages On

WHO is closely monitoring 10 Covid variants as virus mutates around the world

Natalie: Last weekend, our governor lifted the outdoor mask mandate and so when I ventured out to my nephews’ soccer games, many of the spectators were watching without a mask. I still wore mine, despite the fact that I’m vaccinated. And while some articles try to suggest that continuing to wear masks, despite the CDC’s evolving recommendations, is its own brand of lunacy — the peak of the “both sides” journalism we’ve come to expect — the truth is: there’s so much we still don’t know.

We don’t know what those variants will bring or how effective the vaccine will be against them.

But what we do know is that there’s a subsection of this country who still don’t believe COVID is a thing or that masks protect others or that the vaccine is safe. We do know that children now make up 22% of new COVID cases and that they can’t be vaccinated yet.

Wearing a mask and remaining vigilant about the ongoing threat to public health feels like the absolute least I can do.

Arundhati Roy on India’s Covid catastrophe: ‘We are witnessing a crime against humanity’

India Is What Happens When Rich People Do Nothing

Why Is India Running Out Of Oxygen?

Natalie: When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke at the World Economic Forum back in January, I had flashbacks to May 2003 when George W. Bush landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and stood before a banner that read “Mission Accomplished.” Driven by narcissism and a need to diminish critics, an egotistical leader claimed victory for a game that had barely begun…and it was a prelude to more death and more destruction. Sadly, the same has come to pass in India… and it’s far more calamitous.

But all these pieces get at what the pandemic has exposed all around the world: for far too long, we have built systems that were built to do the absolute minimum. With an investment of just over 1% of their gross domestic product in public health, people in India were already dying because of inadequate care… the pandemic just exposed the chronic underfunding for the world to see.

If you want to help address the situation in India, here are 12 places where you can donate.

Rachel: It’s heartbreaking and infuriating to see absolute disregard and indifference to human life the institutions of power are displaying toward the people of India, and the loss that’s resulting. It’s also infuriating because it’s the product of the exact same belief system that some people are disposable that we saw here in the US in its own way; I’m hopeful that the people who were abandoned in the same respect here, like frontline workers, families with young children and service industry workers will recognize this and be able to organize some degree of international solidarity and support with the subcontinent, and that xenophobia and sinophobia won’t lead us to reproduce the same deadly attitude our world governments have.

Himani: Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of that article by Arundhati Roy is when she mentions doing daily roll call over the phone with her friends to keep track of who’s alive. As this situation has gone from bad to worse to horrific to unfathomable, I increasingly wonder how many of the people I know and have met in India will still be alive at the end of this. Parts of my family over there seem to have skated by (not everyone, though), but I wonder about all the domestic staff, the drivers, the house keepers, the nannies — the seemingly invisible people that I took a closer and closer look at each visit back. What of them?

I think about what Rachel has written above, “the people who were abandoned in the same respect here, like frontline workers, families with young children and service industry workers.” But in India, these people were abandoned long before anyone even knew COVID existed. It’s hard for me, in these moments, to not think bitterly of all the shameful scenes I’ve witnessed in my life, of watching people treated as if they were truly expendable, disposable really. That happens in the U.S. too, without a doubt, but sometimes it feels like the scale, the ruthlessness and the acceptance that inequity of that extent is on a whole other level in India. Vidya Krishnan draws a parallel between upper caste and wealthy Indians’ indifference to the pandemic to the Bhopal gas leak disaster in 1984. But the same exact parallel can be made with the water and air quality crises.

The other thing that feels inescapable in this news is how close the U.S. came to this type of disaster. In October, the White House issued a press release stating that “ending the COVID-19 pandemic” was among Trump’s accomplishments. Conspicuously issued a week before the 2020 presidential election, this moment definitely felt like a callback to Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” that Natalie referenced and foreshadowed Modi’s gloating in January, which was also politically motivated because of the at-the-time upcoming and now recently passed state elections in West Bengal. Had Trump won a second term last November, I really don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that the U.S. would have found itself in a crisis of similar magnitude as India. (And that’s not even getting to the fact that deaths as a result of the pandemic are massively under-reported. A new study released just this week estimates that 900,000 people have died as a result of COVID in the U.S.)

Nepal facing ‘human catastrophe’ similar to India’s amid Covid surge

Natalie: After seeing the initial wave of COVID spread across the globe, it seems inevitable that what’s happening in India will spill across its borders to other countries…even if we enact well-intentioned travel bans. A global question requires a global answer and I hope that we’re able to unite and provide one.

U.S. to send vaccine materials and other supplies to hard-hit India, officials say

Natalie: We talked about this in our last edition of EE and the administration is finally stepping up and doing what’s needed. I am a little bothered by the language around allyship and the United States giving help to India as returning a favor. That’s less about this particular situation and more thinking ahead to what could be around the bend for the world: does Nepal deserve our help less because they didn’t send ventilators to the United States when we needed them?

Biden Backs Waiving International Patent Protections For COVID-19 Vaccines

Natalie: This feels like the obvious choice, right? Waiving international patent protections seems like such an obvious solution to getting the vaccine out to the most people. We’ve seen the cost of not waiving patent protections before: “rigid adherence to patent laws directly led to millions of lives lost to HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1990s.” And yet, here we are again, fighting that same battle. I’m glad that Biden is on the right side of this issue.

On the other side? Capitalism. Per Bloomberg’s reporting, “Without the incentive of profits from research and development spending, drugmakers might not move as aggressively to make vaccines in the future.”

Himani: This has been an ongoing issue. In fact back in December, we talked about how the effort to loosen IP restrictions had been already been underway for months at that point. In many ways, this long standing unwillingness on the part of the Western, wealthy world to relax patent enforcement is responsible for the crisis in India. India has one of the largest manufacturing capacities for producing vaccines, but doesn’t have the relationships with Pfizer or Moderna to produce either of those vaccines.

‘We’re just trying to survive’: what Africa risks from a new Covid wave

How Senegal stretched its health care system to stop Covid-19

Himani: I found this article to be a really interesting and informative read. There’s so much to think about here. First, how a low-income country like Senegal managed to protect its people from a virus that brought far wealthier countries to their knees. Second, the critical role of community advocates and buy-in to actually get people to follow the public health policies and recommendations from the government. And third, how the longer this stretches on, the harder and harder it is for people to adhere to any of it — which, of course, comes at the cost of human life.

Reaching ‘Herd Immunity’ Is Unlikely in the U.S., Experts Now Believe

Natalie: This is my shocked face.

Himani: And yet we are reopening. What little safety net there is, is being gutted for the sake of capitalism. Employers are forcing people who have proven they can do their jobs remotely back to work. People are talking about their hot summer plans.

In light of all of this news about the pandemic, I struggle to differentiate between a measured risk and flippant disregard for other people’s lives. The truth is, I’m not sure that anyone has a good answer on that. As Natalie said earlier, there’s a lot we don’t know. But there’s also a lot we do know that we don’t want to accept because we’re all tired, lonely and — inarguably — we have all paid the price in our mental health after more than a year of social distancing.

For all the time I’ve spent in my life thinking about probability and risk assessment, there’s one thing I always come back to. No amount of advanced math will ever tell your future. At some point, it comes down to making our best guess. But again and again, in this pandemic, I feel like the approach has been willful ignorance of the inconvenient truths we do know and using the charade of statistics to justify our selfish decisions. And so, here we are. Herd immunity is unlikely in the U.S. Like Natalie, I’m not surprised. I do wonder, though, how long it will be before the U.S. gets a double, triple, ultra deadly variant like what has spread in Brazil or in India?

In a meeting about coming back to working in person in the fall, a colleague of mine asked why we still have to wear masks in our offices if we’re fully vaccinated before declaring, “We have to learn to live with this thing!”

She’s not wrong. We have to learn to live with this thing. We certainly have to do a better job of living with this thing than we have over the last year and a half. But, as I’ve said before and as I’m sure I’ll say again, I’m really not sure we’re actually learning anything.

LGBTQ+ News

Biden White House Is Preparing to Confront States on Anti-Trans Bills

Natalie: I agree with activists that actions matter…and we need for the Biden administration to speak through their actions. The Department of Justice needs to sue each and every state that’s advancing these bigoted bills. They need to immediately establish a task force to address the scourge of anti-trans violence that’s taken two black trans women away from us this week.

That said, I think words matter too. Hearing the President say unequivocally from the well of the United States House that he has the backs of transgender Americans is a big deal…and I just don’t mean for transgender folks (who I wouldn’t presume to speak for), but to Sue Collins who has been wavering on her previous support for the Equality Act (mostly because she’s still in her feelings about the Human Rights Campaign endorsing her opponent in her re-election campaign in 2020). Collins has been parroting some of the far right’s talking points on the bill which she previously sponsored and this was the president calling her on her bullshit.

Sex Workers Want More Than Just the Right to Work

Himani: I really appreciated the context this interview with journalist Melissa Gira Grant provides on the Manhattan DA’s decision to stop prosecuting sex work as a crime. As Grant argues, there’s so much more that needs to happen to ensure sex workers are treated humanely and with dignity.

Criminal Justice News

Many Juvenile Jails Are Now Almost Entirely Filled With Young People of Color

Rachel: Reading this made me feel so ill – it’s such a damning case study of the function of mass incarceration as anti-Black violence (and reproductive violence in its targeting of children and separation of families), and also just so incredibly cruel to children. Although there are “fewer children were incarcerated than at any point since at least the 1980s” because of releases of juveniles due to COVID risk, the overwhelming majority of the youths released were white, meaning that “many youth facilities are increasingly holding almost entirely Black and Latino teens” – the unsaid portion there being ‘left to die from COVID exposure,’ on top of the trauma and violence of incarceration.

…while the number of White youths has remained historically low, the number of Black and Latino youths has risen slightly, said Tom Woods, a senior associate and juvenile justice data analyst for the Casey Foundation. The racial gap in detention is worsening even though teens, including those of color, were arrested less often in 2020, data shows.

State-level Republicans are making it easier to run over protesters

Natalie: This is absolutely nuts… and I can’t imagine it would apply to me if I tried to run over anti-vaccine/anti-mask protesters who rallied at the state legislature in North Carolina this week, despite the fact that these people represent an actual threat (not an imagined one) to my safety and well-being. I can’t qwhite put my finger on why, though?

‘We’re terrorized’: LA sheriffs frequently harass families of people they kill, says report

Natalie: I’ve been thinking, since the Derek Chauvin case concluded, about the eyewitnesses and what they’re going through… especially Darnella Frazier. I’m worried for their mental health and I’m worried about their safety. I thought about Ramsey Orta, who shot the video of the murder of Eric Garner, and how the police tormented him for revealing the truth of what they’d done. So, I suppose it’s not surprising that the same people who would harass eyewitnesses would also terrorize the families of those they killed, but still… my gosh, is there no bottom for these folks?

4 ex-cops indicted on US civil rights charges in Floyd death

On the Safety Net

Biden’s $1.8 Trillion Plan Would Be Historic Boost To Social Safety Net

South Carolina becomes the second state to cancel federal unemployment benefits

Natalie: Through this pandemic, we have forced “essential” employees to go to work with mediocre protection, low pay and ineffectual health care when/if they did get sick. And now, after being shown that their workplace won’t protect them, those workers want to go elsewhere…and their government deigns to step in and tell those workers that they won’t be provided for as they seek new employment? This is absurd.

As a CEO, I worry about the erosion of office culture with more remote work

Natalie: Since this piece went up, the staff of the Washingtonian has gone on strike and the CEO has apologized. Still, though, it’s gives an insight into the thinking of business leaders…and feels particularly pertinent in this moment.

Education News

Does your child’s teacher know how to teach?

Rachel: File this one under ‘issues we’ve needed to address for a long time, but were overlooked by many until the pandemic made them legible in a different way.’ I feel a certain personal concern for this as someone with (limited!) previous teaching experience – I taught entry-level college courses to pay my way through grad school at a state school with a unique program where all local high school students had their college tuition covered, and frankly, I should not have been teaching! I’m a smart and capable person who cares about my job and kids, and also had no specialized training, no competency around the evidence-based ways to respond to their lived experiences as far as caring for family, full-time jobs, or struggles with health and wellness; I was give a two-week crash orientation and told to take one semester of pedagogy at the same time as I was teaching. Ever since then I’ve been horrified by the weird double standard we often have around education in the US; it’s supposed to be a major priority, we want to believe the US has the gold standard of the whole world, people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on special private school educations – but we often don’t think as much about what makes a good teacher as we do about test scores or ‘outcomes,’ we don’t really have standardized evidence-based expectations around what kind of training or experience teachers should have, and we tend not to question what the impact is of running educational spaces with the infrastructure of a business.

This article does a good job unpacking the specific and layered ways in which these issues harm Black and Latino students by disproportionately saddling them with teachers like I was, inexperienced and uncredentialed, simply not equipped regardless of their best intentions to give students the experience they deserve. “…by channeling a proportionally larger share of less qualified or alternatively credentialed teachers to schools with higher percentages of Black, Latino and disabled students. Black and Latino students are more likely than their white peers to be taught by teachers in training who are in alternative teacher preparation programs. These alternative route programs differ from traditional teacher preparation programs in at least one significant way: Most alternative route teacher interns become teachers of record prior to completing any teacher training… This trend of placing untrained and uncertified individuals as teachers of record in schools serving the urban poor and disabled students is accelerating during the pandemic as states utilize more back door routes into classrooms through emergency certificates — in some states, these are granted to individuals with only a high school diploma.”

Although I do think there’s room to examine somewhat the conflation of advanced degrees with teacher quality, it’s undeniable this is hugely harmful – I’m hopeful that at least some people have gained a new understanding of how incredibly challenging and high-skill teaching is, and maybe think differently about how we all want our educational spaces to look, and especially how we prioritize education for Black & brown kids – no matter how many times you’ve seen Freedom Writers, it isn’t enough to give kids of color classrooms that run entirely on intentions and ~vibes~.

A school district tried to address racism, a group of parents fought back

Natalie: This is why things will never get better: white people will always fight harder for the right to be racist than the fight to protect black lives.

(And lest you think this is an issue only in the South, perhaps revisit Nikole Hannah-Jones’ seminal piece, Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City.)

Developments on the Immigration Front

The Pushback Worked. Biden Will Raise the Refugee Cap to What He Originally Promised

A Mother, Separated from Her Children at the Border, Comes Home

Natalie: The immigration system that was handed to this administration by the last one is akin to someone saying they’re giving you a car but only ultimately giving you the body. No engine, no tires…nothing to actually make the car operational…but still a car, nonetheless. I understand that that’s what they were given and getting everything working in proper order will take time. I’m sympathetic to that argument.

But we have to move faster. These families have been separated for far too long and anything short of reunification, restitution and permanent status in this country is a failure.

Trump Might Be Gone But Trumpism Remains

‘Nobody Had a Problem With It’: Eddie Gallagher Now Claims SEALs Intended to Kill Unarmed ISIS Fighter

Natalie: This is infuriating and should anger all of us…and, of course, it was the Trump administration that eliminated the possibility that Gallagher would escape any possible punishment for his crimes and elevated him as a hero.

Liz Cheney Has Only Herself to Blame

Natalie: Seeing self-proclaimed liberals elevate Liz Cheney this week as some paragon of virtue has been a sight to behold. I’m grateful to Adam Serwer for setting the record straight on her culpability (and her family’s culpability) in getting us to this moment.

Arizona Review of 2020 Vote Is Riddled With Flaws, Says Secretary of State

Natalie: What a shit show.

NY Post Reporter Resigns, Says She Was ‘Ordered’ To Write False Kamala Harris Story

Natalie: The Post has always been trash so I have a hard time mustering up sympathy for a writer that’s contributed to that garbage heap since the 90s. But the more important lesson from this is to remain viligant against the disinformation campaigns that Trump and his allies continue to perpetuate.

International News

Brazil has already lost 30 Manhattans of Amazon rainforest this year

Natalie: If COVID doesn’t kill us all, capitalism definitely will.

Dying by blood or by hunger”: The war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, explained

Himani: Every time I read about this crisis in Ethiopia I’m left floored and speechless. To say the very least, this is a tragedy of catastrophic proportions.

Netanyahu Opponent, Yair Lapid, Given 4 Weeks To Form New Government In Israel

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17 Comments

  1. Thanks for these links. A reminder to anyone who works for a large corporation, especially in the medical field, that some of them will match employee donations; my husband’s employer matches donations to a huge range of charities and right now will match 2-for-1 for COVID-in-India donations. Whatever capitalism’s shortcomings, it isn’t going away tomorrow, so might as well put a multiplier on your money where you can.

    Re: teaching, I also taught undergrad and master’s students while a PhD student, and I agree it’s ridiculous how little respect is given to the professional development of doctoral students as teachers. I think I did pretty well, but that’s a fluke: I grew up hearing my mom talk about her profession, I had several good teachers I observed, and I did three semesters’ worth of a faculty/doc-student teacher training program through my university – but no one in my department told me about it, I just happened to find out after already having taught, and it was definitely regarded as a cute extra I did on my own time that wasn’t to take away from my other activities. I should have been told about it during my orientation before I ever started my first semester! It should have been required! My advisers should have discussed goals for my teaching with me, observed and given me feedback, done anything at all to indicate it was even on their radar. Teaching is a damn complex skill and even with all the advantages I had, I still really wish I had gotten more mentoring and more training! Students deserve better.

    • Thanks so much for sharing both of these reflections!

      I thought about being a teacher through an alternate certification program for a looong time. But after reading A LOT about education, hearing the stories from one of my friends who did TFA and having a miserable interview experience with NYC Teaching Fellows, I ultimately decided against it. What you say about how complex teaching is and how much it’s just taken for granted and undervalued is so, so incredibly true! I completely agree that students deserve better — they absolutely do!

  2. Thank you. I’ve been feeling really detached lately when reading the news, and so I came here today to read and focus and try to actually engage. So I’ve been reading, and crying, and understanding some tiny fraction of what’s happening, more than I understood before.

    • Thanks as always for reading Lee! It’s hard to stay connected to the news all the time — I can definitely relate to that! But, I really immensely value that we can all have this space to discuss and reflect and share how we’re feeling.

      • Thanks for covering this particular issue in teacher education in this week’s round up! As a “veteran” teacher (6 years is considered high in my district) who went through a traditional certification program, it is incredibly demoralizing to see new untrained people working with students year after year, only to leave teaching or go to a higher paying, wealthier district 2 years later. Teacher training programs should be made more affordable, especially for teachers of color, but I’m sick of seeing our most vulnerable students be a “learning experience” for folks straight out of college who want something to put on a resume. I hope anyone who is reading AS and thinking about doing TFA or a similar program will rethink their decision and read more about this incredibly important issue.

  3. The thing about Liz Cheney, she’s essentially the last of the Newt Gingrich Republicans, even though she was first elected when Newt had already been out of power for some time and that branch of the party was dying out. By now, everyone else (except Mitt Romney and maybe Lisa Murkowski, though we can’t count on them for much help) has joined the Trumpistas, or plays ball with them, or got purged. She’s been put on the “get purged ASAP” list. One can be against the way she’s being treated by most of the party without also being for her as a person.

  4. Thanks for covering this particular issue in teacher education in this week’s round up! As a “veteran” teacher (6 years is considered high in my district) who went through a traditional certification program, it is incredibly demoralizing to see new untrained people working with students year after year, only to leave teaching or go to a higher paying, wealthier district 2 years later. Teacher training programs should be made more affordable, especially for teachers of color, but I’m sick of seeing our most vulnerable students be a “learning experience” for folks straight out of college who want something to put on a resume. I hope anyone who is reading AS and thinking about doing TFA or a similar program will rethink their decision and read more about this incredibly important issue.

  5. I was really interested in reading more about teacher training in the United States. There are related issues in France, and even though the education system is quite different, the result is the same.

    The very kids who would need solidly trained, experienced teachers with an awareness of their needs, end up being taught by young teachers fresh from their one year of teacher training (itself divided between 1/2 teaching, 1/2 theoretical and practical training).

    France is not a federal country, and the administration of social services like health and education is usually heavily centralized. The national teaching certification is actually a civil service exam, meaning that if you do qualify and pass, then you have to take the job. Secondary school teachers (middle school, high school) are then given one year “training” and then have to choose a place to apply for a permanent position. But you don’t apply directly to the school of your choice, no! And new teachers aren’t the only ones who apply for new positions each year: veteran teachers who want to move, for whatever reason, go through the exact same process.

    You make a list of the very large districts that exist, knowing that applicants with the highest amount of credit (credit is awarded primarily according to the number of years that you have taught) will be awarded their first pick. You then go through the process one more time, with a list of sub-districts (each comprising a number of schools). Through the whole process, teachers have very little control over the schools they apply to and over where they actually end up. There are provisions for people whose spouses are tied down to a specific place because of work BUT it’s only an increase in the amount of credit you are given, NOT a certainty that you will get your top pick.

    I think you will have guessed that areas with higher poverty and crime rates are very low on the list of places where most experienced teachers want to teach/live. This is compounded by the fact that, to my knowledge, a goodly proportion of teachers hail from the white middle-class. It’s only natural, of course, that young teachers wish to remain close to their friends and family! The end result is that everywhere that is not the impoverished surbubs of Paris or a handful of very large cities is out of reach for young teachers. Some end up spending 10, 15 years in a place they have emphatically not chosen, often far away from their family/friends/support network, until they have earned enough credit to snag another position. And these white, middle-class kids who are straight out of college are like fish out of water with no knowledge of the world / needs of their often second-generation immigrant POC students.

    To be a nationally certified teacher you need a master’s degree. This system, plus the fact that teachers are NOT paid well (better than in the U.S., but worse than in most other European countries), especially compared to the education that’s required of them, means that there is a shortage crisis. There are provisions for uncertified teachers to be recruited locally. Originally, this recruiting channel was intended to be for short-term positions (to fill in the gaps when teachers are on sick / maternity leave), but because of a chronic shortage, especially in “unwanted” areas, some people end up teaching years and years without ever going on to pass the national certifying exam or moving on to another job.

    Those uncertified teachers are badly paid, not much more above minimum wage (something like 1.3x minimum wage?). In the most desperate places you need little more than a high school diploma to get the job. Again, the most underserved kids are usually those who are taught by the highest proportion of uncertified teachers.

    Part of the reason why the government isn’t much bothered by this situation is that certified teachers are paid more, and so there is an incentive not to bother raising teachers’ salaries or improving their work environment. The population may be increasing (= more teachers are needed every year), but there will always be people who are both qualified and desperate enough to choose to take up those uncertified positions, and so the payrolls of certified teachers will end up shrinking “””organically.”””

    Sorry for the long message, I just thought it would interesting to provide another perspective, from another Western country facing the same problems but for different reasons!!

    • Thanks so much for sharing this! I spend a lot of time reading and thinking about the way education works in the US and the various problems with how we treat and approach teaching as a profession. It was really informative to read what you wrote here and learn about how in a very different context (as you noted, a centralized system) the same sorts of problems manifest.

      It’s really fascinating, the process you described for how teachers are assigned to different schools, in many ways reminds me of the medical residency match process in the US. So much to think about here.

      Thanks again for sharing!

  6. Re: teacher training in the US. I am the director of a preschool, and on tours, prospective families often ask me about my staff’s credentials. I tell them that my teachers’ backgrounds run the gamut as far as degrees and experience, but that the one thing I look for when hiring is if someone is going to treat the children with respect, as whole people. I can always show someone specific phrasing to use in a particular situation or how to approach some curriculum activity; I cannot teach them to be genuinely interested in other humans and learn where they are coming from and what their needs might be. I have been blessed with amazing staff, but am often hiring because the turnover is high in a field where minimum wage is the going rate for a job that demands so many skills and so much heart.

  7. Wanted to thank you all for highlighting the situation in India, it’s been….surreal to be Indian-American as things get a little better here while receiving texts every day about a new family member who has either tested positive for Covid or died from Covid. In particular, thank you Himani for your words and recognition of the service workers who are already overlooked in India. It all feels so horrible and unsurprising, just the final culmination of a fascist regime intent on degrading human life. I don’t really have anything to say, just thanks.

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