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November 22, 2017

As you gather around the Thanksgiving table with friends and family, give a thought to the cranberry — whether served as sauce, relish, in a mold, or otherwise — and its economic and historic association with the Garden State. According to figures from statista.com, New Jersey harvested 653,000 barrels of cranberries in 2016, the most recent data available. That makes New Jersey the third-largest producer of cranberries in the United States. The 2016 harvest, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture was worth $28 million.

There’s even a legislative angle to the cranberry: AJR-71 was introduced in 2016 to make October Cranberry Harvest Month. The bill died in committee, but it is a gold mine — or should that be a bog full — of fun facts about this Thanksgiving favorite:

  • There are more than 3,600 acres operational cranberry bogs spread throughout the Pinelands.

  • Cranberries have been cultivated in New Jersey for commercial purposes since Benjamin Thomas of Burlington County first attempted to domesticate them in 1835.

  • In the 19th century, Elizabeth Lee, one of the first cranberry growers in southern New Jersey, created and began selling “Bog Sweet Cranberry Sauce.”

  • “Bounce sorters,” the process to identify and separate good cranberries from bad were invented in New Jersey, and is currently used by all cranberry farmers throughout the country.

One more thing: A healthy, happy, and safe Thanksgiving from all of us at NJ Spotlight.

November 21, 2017

Roughly 8,000 fewer New Jersey students were chronically absent between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, according to a new report released yesterday by Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ). The number of K-12 students identified as missing too much school fell from 136,000 to 129,000 children in total, nudging the statewide chronic absenteeism rate from 10.3 percent to 9.7 percent.

November 20, 2017

According to the most recent findings from Public Policy Polling, U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) has an approval rating in his home district of 32 percent, and 47 percent of voters disapprove of the job he is doing. President Donald Trump has an approval rating of 43 percent and a disapproval rating of 55 percent in Lance’s district, while 8 percent of voters say they approve of the job Congress is doing and 85 percent say they disapprove. These percentages, along with a hypothetical matchup between Lance (41 percent) and a “Democratic opponent” (42 percent), indicate Lance is vulnerable in his upcoming bid for reelection. What’s more, a majority (54 percent) of voters indicated they would be less likely to vote for Lance if he voted in favor of the Republican tax plan.

November 17, 2017

The Christie administration announced yesterday it has awarded 10 grants totaling $1.75 million to county correctional facilities to establish or enhance medication-assisted treatment programs to deal with substance-use disorder. The grants are part of a package of initiatives Gov. Chris Christie unveiled in September that commits $200 million to expand the state’s national-model programs and services to continue to effectively address New Jersey’s opioid and substance-use crisis.

“By increasing the availability of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) in our prisons and county correctional facilities, we will be providing more access to treatment and saving more lives,” according to Christie.

These programs have been shown to reduce the chances that former inmates will reoffend and be returned to jail, the state said. The counties receiving grants are Bergen ($170,628), Burlington ($200,000), Camden ($200,000), Hudson ($200,000), Middlesex ($179,789), Passaic ($200,000), Salem/Gloucester ($200,000), Somerset ($75,000), Union ($200,000), and Warren ($84,600).

November 16, 2017

According to a recent analysis by the Rockefeller Institute, the average New Jersey taxpayer would pay $3,522 more if the state and local tax deduction (SALT) were repealed as part of a broader plan to cut corporate taxes and make other tax-policy changes. Currently, the Senate bill repeals SALT, while the House bill repeals SALT for state sales and income taxes while keeping a deduction for local property taxes up to $10,000.

November 15, 2017

With the sign-up period for the Affordable Care Act’s “marketplace” health plans cut in half this year, just four weeks remain to sign up for subsidized insurance policies for 2018.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the federal government drastically cut funding and other supports for marketplace navigators, the nonprofit groups that help individuals find a plan that makes sense and can connect most with tax credits or other help to offset out-of-pocket costs.

To help fill the gap, Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) will host an informal session to help constituents navigate the system; the event is also sponsored by insurance providers AmeriHealth New Jersey and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, along with the New Jersey Association of Health Plans, the state trade group.

“We know how vital health insurance is to working families and this already complicated process has only been made worse by the lack of assistance coming from the federal government,” Singleton said. “We want to make sure that anyone in need of health insurance has all the resources and tools at their disposal to choose a plan that is best for them and their family.”

The enrollment event will take place on Sunday, Nov. 19, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the JFK Center, 429 John F. Kennedy Way, in Willingboro. Those interested in attending should RSVP at 856-234-2790 or www.assemblymansingleton.com/aca.

Singleton is not alone in his efforts. Horizon has been conducting grassroots outreach at malls, restaurants, and other community gathering spots to connect Hispanics and other underserved groups with care. And several nonprofits teamed up to launch CoverNJ, a website designed to help the public with the sign-up process.

November 14, 2017

A woman from northern New Jersey who recently became ill with Brucella RB51, a rare bacterial infection associated with consuming raw — unpasteurized — milk is the second person in the United States to contract the illness this year. The woman has since recovered, according to the state Department of Health, which was notified of her case in late October.

The DOH issued cease-and-desist orders on Friday to Udder Milk, a home delivery company that it said has been illegally selling unpasteurized milk in the state. Dr. Tina Tan, the state epidemiologist, noted that it is illegal to sell or distribute raw milk or milk products, such as yogurt, soft cheese, and ice cream because they may contain dangerous bacteria.

The symptoms of a brucellosis infection can include fever, sweats, weight loss, headache, fatigue, and muscle and joint pain. Severe cases can cause infections in the heart or central nervous system. It is mandatory to report suspected and confirmed cases to the health department. The DOH website has additional information on brucellosis.

November 13, 2017

Gov.-elect Phil Murphy wants New Jersey to once again be a national leader in the technology industry. But it seems the state has a ways to go in that department, at least by some measures, since it ranks 11th in the nation in terms of technology employment, according to Comptia, a leading technology association. The group estimates New Jersey has 214,737 tech-industry jobs. However, it also has 212,500 tech jobs in other sectors of the economy.

While the sheer number of jobs is mediocre nationally, those that work in the industry here are well-paid, averaging $121,000, which is nearly twice the average state wage. New Jersey added nearly 2,000 new jobs last year, and the tech sector accounts for 8 percent of the economy.

In better news, New Jersey ranks fifth by Comptia in innovation, which is based on an analysis of new tech patents, tech startups, and new tech-business establishments on a per capita basis. More information is available at Comptia’s Cyberstates 2017 interactive tool.

November 9, 2017

Gov.-elect Phil Murphy is already breaking the mold. Yesterday, just one day after his victory over Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, Murphy announced he would tap Jose Lozano as executive director of his transition team, making Lozano the first Latino to serve in the powerful role.

Lozano was a rising star at Hackensack Meridian Health, where he worked since 2013 as a chief of staff and vice president. Before that, he was deputy chief of staff to then U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson — who led New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection under former Gov. Jon S. Corzine — and he was the youngest person to play that role at the agency, which employs 17,000 staff and has an $8 billion budget.

Before that, Lozano was director of strategic and external affairs at the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. He also served in Corzine’s front office in a number of capacities — including policy, politics, and operations — and, at age 26, was the youngest director on staff. Lozano got his start in public service in Paterson, working for U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell.

November 8, 2017

Gov. Chris Christie isn’t exactly going out in a blaze of glory: 41 percent of those surveyed by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Public Mind Poll ranked him among the state’s worst governors. Only 4 percent counted him as one of the best.

What’s more, there have been double-digit increases across a variety of policy areas in the number of voters who believe conditions in the state have worsened relative to opinions expressed two years ago.

In 2015, a fifth (22 percent) believed the state’s transportation system had worsened in the Christie years. Today, that number has more than doubled to 46 percent. Similarly, in 2015, 39 percent believed the state’s reputation had diminished since Christie took office; 57 percent said the same today. Ethical behavior is now regarded as worse today by a majority of voters (54 percent), whereas 42 percent said the same in 2015. And taxes and spending — long a source of frustration among New Jersey voters  — are regarded as worse today than they were in 2015 (63 percent versus 52 percent).

November 7, 2017

The New Jersey League of Conservation Voters’ Victory Fund — the state’s only environmental super PAC — and the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters’ PAC contributed a record-breaking $401,000 to the gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Phil Murphy. This is the most money invested in New Jersey elections on behalf of the environment, noted the LCV. (Some of the funds also went to “other environmental champions,” according to the league.)

According to a memo from the league, “electing Murphy would reposition New Jersey as a national environmental leader.”

November 6, 2017

The most recent survey from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind Poll and the New Jersey Farm Bureau found that respondents are not particularly happy about the environment: One-third (32 percent) say it is getting worse. Half (52 percent) believe it is not changing, but only 14 percent say it is getting better.

November 3, 2017

New Jersey legislative candidates and independent committees had spent $42.1 million on this year’s contests for 40 Senate and 80 Assembly slots with 11 days left until the election. That works out to about $350,000 spent per seat, or more than double the total salary allowance for a legislator, $49,000, and staff, $110,000.

A little more than half of that total, or $22.8 million, was spent by candidates themselves, with the rest, $19.3 million, spent by independent committees seeking to elect, or oppose, candidates, according to data from the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. That independent committee said that the spending total is a new record.

Driving the independent spending is the $12.6 million being laid out in Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s home 3rd District in South Jersey, where a committee backed by the state’s largest teachers union and a pro-Sweeney committee have each spent about $4 million. The $12.6 million spent by independent committees in that race represents 65 percent of the total spent by those groups.

Legislative candidates had raised $36.9 million through October 27, the last campaign financial filing deadline before next Tuesday’s election, leaving them with still $14.1 million in the bank.

In addition to the 3rd District, spending already exceeds $4 million in two competitive districts – Atlantic County’s 2nd and the 11th in Monmouth County. Two other districts, the southernmost 1st and central Jersey’s 16th, which includes Princeton, have seen more than $2 million spent.

Democrats have outspent Republicans 3-to-1 and incumbents have spent about twice as much as challengers.

November 2, 2017

With days to go before the gubernatorial election, Democrat Phil Murphy maintains a 14-point lead over Republican Kim Guadagno among likely voters. A Monmouth University poll, released yesterday, showed that the Guadagno campaign’s recent efforts — including going hard after Murphy for being out of step with the state on immigration — have not budged her poll numbers. Murphy held a similar lead at the beginning of October.

“After failing to generate voter attention for her property tax plan, Guadagno changed tactics and tried to paint Murphy as out of step over his sanctuary state comments. It hasn’t worked,” Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, said.

One of the poll’s notable findings was that most voters say they don’t have a clear idea of either candidate’s political views.

Fifty-three percent of likely voters support Murphy, 39 percent support Guadagno, while 2 percent support independent candidates, and 7 percent are undecided. Among registered Democrats, Murphy has an 81 percent to 13 percent advantage. Guadagno has a 70 percent to 18 percent lead among registered Republicans. Murphy holds only a slight lead among unaffiliated voters, 46 percent to 43 percent. But, though unaffiliated voters represent four in 10 of registered voters in New Jersey, they are projected to account for only one-fourth of Tuesday’s electorate because of their tendency to vote at a lower rate in non-presidential elections.

“This election has been the proverbial tree falling in a forest,” Murray said. “As much as Guadagno has tried, the voters just haven’t been listening. She might have been able to make some headway with a more attentive electorate, but that just wasn’t in the cards this year.” He predicted a “record low turnout on Tuesday.”

November 1, 2017

Twice a year, the healthcare watchdog The Leapfrog Group reports letter grades for thousands of hospitals nationwide based on errors, accidents, infections, and other factors.

In New Jersey — which has had robust participation in the nonprofit’s survey — 68 hospitals were graded and 30 were awarded an “A”, the highest ranking available. Nationwide, of the 2,632 hospitals that submitted data, 832 earned the top grade. That places the Garden State at 11th nationwide for the percentage of “A”-rated hospitals in the fall 2017 rankings, up from 15th this spring. Individual hospital scores can be found in the chart.

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Several New Jersey health systems continued their high performance: Inspira Health Network, Jefferson Health (formerly Kennedy Health System), and Virtua Health System, all of which have maintained “A” grades at each of their hospitals for at least the past three rounds.

In addition, three hospitals (Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, and two RWJBarnabas Health hospitals: Jersey City Medical Center and Saint Barnabas Medical Center) maintained their straight “A” status, maintaining the highest grade since its inception in 2012.

A handful of hospitals have not fared as well. Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, an embattled facility that is in the process of being sold, slipped from a “C” rating to a “D” in the latest survey, as did Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth.

University Hospital, in Newark, has received a “D” rating for the past three seasons and received a “C” during the other surveys, dating back to 2014.

No New Jersey facilities received an F grade.

The Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade is calculated by top patient-safety experts, peer reviewed, fully transparent, and free to the public. It is updated every six months, once in the fall and once in the spring.

October 31, 2017

Now there’s another reason to be sweet on New Jersey; it’s been ranked third on a list of the best states for trick-or-treating, according to Ibotta, a mobile shopping app that tracks market trends. The Garden State’s third-place finish is based on the average amount spent per person on Halloween candy: $24.36. Oregon, which took the top spot, spends an average of $40.29, so New Jersey has to start stocking up on candy corn and other sugar-shock treats if it plans on going for first place. Ibotta indicates that on average Americans spend $16.45 on Halloween treats, adding that Snickers were the most purchased candy in the week before Halloween in New Jersey for the past two years.

And for those trick-or-treaters who will settle for nothing but the best, Zillow — the real estate data provider — has crunched the numbers and determined the best town in every state for trick-or-treaters. For New Jersey, it’s Fair Haven, where 27 percent of the population is 14 and under.

October 30, 2017

Superstorm Sandy blew through New Jersey five years ago, leaving unprecedented destruction in its wake. As recovery efforts got underway, Monmouth University launched a survey of the state’s hardest-hit survivors to determine how satisfied they were with those efforts. A new Monmouth University Poll revisited some of those participants. Here’s what they found:

Some 55 percent remain unhappy with the state (down from 67 percent in 2013). Specifically, 29 percent of hard-hit residents are very dissatisfied and 26 percent are somewhat dissatisfied. Only 9 percent are very satisfied with the recovery effort and another 35 percent are somewhat satisfied. Among those who have been able to move back to their Sandy-damaged properties, 50 percent are satisfied with the state’s efforts. Among those who have permanently relocated or are still waiting to move back, just 29 percent are satisfied with the state.

Just under half of the survey’s participants (44 percent) say the state’s recovery efforts are focused on helping people like them, (up from 24 percent in 2013). But a majority (56 percent) says that people like them have been forgotten in the recovery effort.

October 27, 2017

According to an economic impact study just released by the New York Shipping Association, the port industry of New Jersey and New York accounted for nearly $8.5 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue last year and supported more than 400,000 jobs.

In addition, the port industry was responsible for $25.7 billion in personal income and $64.8 billion in business income, according to the study conducted by the New Jersey Transportation Planning Authority.

The study also reports that the port industry currently employs 229,000 workers and supports another 171,000 indirect jobs. That number is up nearly 20 percent since 2014.

October 26, 2017

A towering lead among women propels Democrat Phil Murphy to a 57 percent to 37 percent lead over Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno among likely voters in the race for New Jersey governor, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday.

Women back the Democrat 65 percent to 29 percent, while men are divided with 49 percent for Murphy and 45 percent for Guadagno.

Murphy leads 92 percent to 4 percent among Democrats and 52 percent to 39 percent among independent voters. Republicans go to Guadagno 89 percent to 8 percent.

With 13 days until the election, 83 percent of likely voters who name a candidate say their mind is made up.

October 25, 2017

Patient-centered practices are steadily growing in American healthcare. Yesterday, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon BCBSNJ) announced they helped Horizon members avoid more than 2,000 emergency room visits and more than 600 inpatient stays in 2016.

Patient-centered practices actively coordinate the work of specialists and other health professionals and try to focus on wellness and preventive care. The idea is to help patients get and stay healthy and avoid more costly and complicated health conditions.

Horizon says that in 2016, members engaged with a patient-centered practice — compared to those with traditional practices — had a 3 percent lower total cost of care, 3 percent lower rate of emergency-room visits, 3 percent lower rate of hospital inpatient admissions, 3 percent higher rate of breast cancer screenings, and 4 percent improved control of diabetes costs.

Horizon says that 1.5 million members participated in its patient-centered programs in 2016, an increase of 50 percent over the previous year. And the number of primary-care physicians participating in such programs grew by nearly 10 percent.

October 24, 2017

Gov. Chris Christie yesterday announced an additional $75 million for the Blue Acres program to protect homeowners affected by repeated flooding.  

The program enables the state to purchase the properties of willing sellers in disaster-prone areas at pre-flood market values, providing them the resources to move to safer locations. This federal- and state-funded initiative also is used to demolish existing homes in danger zones and convert that land into open space to mitigate the impact of flooding from the ocean, bays, rivers, and creeks.

Of the nearly 900 offers made by the Blue Acres Program as of October 23, 689 have been accepted; 610 acquisitions have closed; and 475 homes have been demolished. The program also has successfully facilitated short sales or payoff approvals with lenders for 66 properties for which owners owed more on their mortgages than the appraised value of the home. That resulted in debt forgiveness of more than $5.1 million, enabling more families to move out of harm’s way.

October 23, 2017

Preliminary data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics for September shows that New Jersey lost a total of 6,300 jobs in the public and private sector. The September unemployment rate climbed to 4.7 percent, up from 4.5 percent in August — according to BLS estimates.

September job gains were posted in two of nine major private-industry sectors: education and health services (+4,200) and professional and business services (+800).The sectors reporting a dip in employment are leisure and hospitality (-5,500); trade, transportation and utilities (-2,400); information (-1,400); financial activities (-800); construction (-400); manufacturing (-200), and other services (-200).

Over the month, public-sector employment dropped by 400 jobs.

October 20, 2017

Breast cancer is the leading cancer diagnosed among women in New Jersey and it’s the second leading cause of cancer deaths. White women in the state had the highest rates of breast cancer between 2009 and 2013, while black women had the highest breast cancer mortality rates. The lowest incidence of breast cancer and the lowest mortality rates were among New Jersey Asian and Pacific Islanders.

As this is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, several agencies in the state Department of Health are driving efforts to raise awareness of the disease and to educate New Jerseyans about the importance of early screening. “Regular screenings are important in detecting cancer early and getting the most effective treatment,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Cathleen D. Bennett said, adding that the state’s cancer survival rates continue to improve.

October 19, 2017

New Jersey's business-tax climate has once again been ranked 50th out of 50 states in the annual state-by-state rankings compiled by the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation.

Unsurprisingly, no other state scored worse than New Jersey when it came to property taxes, which now average $8,549. But New Jersey also came in 48th on individual taxes, 46th on sales taxes, and 42nd on business taxes. The state's best showing was in the category of unemployment-insurance taxes, where it ranked 36th.

But the Tax Foundation's analysis also highlighted some tax-policy changes that have been adopted in recent years, including a slight reduction of the sales tax and a phase-out of the estate tax. Still, since New Jersey taxes large estates and some inheritances, the changes didn't improve this year's overall score.

October 18, 2017

Phil Murphy, the Democratic candidate for governor, has opened up a 15-point lead over his Republican rival, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, according to the findings of the new Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll. Murphy leads Guadagno 47 percent to 32 percent among likely voters. Both candidates get about a quarter of the support among independents: Murphy 26 percent, Guadagno 25 percent, undecided 26 percent.

Two-term Gov. Chris Christie seems to be affecting Guadagno’s chances in a negative way. He is deeply unpopular among likely voters, with only 16 percent approving of his job performance. And 43 percent say he is a factor in the gubernatorial election, with a full third (34 percent) indicating he is a major factor. Fifty-six percent say Christie is not a factor in their choice to replace him.

Voters are also deeply cynical about the ability of the system to change things for the better. An overwhelming majority (69 percent) say the system is broken. Barely a fifth (22 percent) have faith in its ability to find leaders who can address the state’s problems.

October 17, 2017

The median weekly earnings of women in New Jersey in full-time jobs in 2016 was 80.3 percent of the median earned by their male counterparts. That translated to $894 for women compared to $1,113 for men. Nationwide, the corresponding figures were $749 (81.9 percent) for women and $915 for men, according to a new report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Chief regional economist Martin Kohli says that in 2016 women’s-to-men’s earnings ratio in New Jersey declined 2.9 percentage points from the previous year. The ratio of women’s to men’s earnings in the Garden State ranged from a low of 74.3 percent in 2004 to a high of 84.8 percent in 2010.

Among the states, Vermont had the highest women’s-to-men’s earnings ratio (90.2 percent), while Utah had the lowest (69.9 percent) in 2016. In that year, women’s median weekly earnings went from $624 in Mississippi to $932 in Massachusetts. (The figure for women in the District of Columbia was $1,117.) The report notes that state-by-state differences can reflect variations in the occupations and industries in the states as well as differences in the demographic composition of each state’s labor force.

October 16, 2017

The state’s regulated online casinos combined to generate $20.4 million in September, according to the New Jersey Monthly Internet Gross Revenue Report, released last week by the state’s Division of Gaming Enforcement.

That’s the seventh straight month revenue crossed the $20-million mark.

““Online gambling now accounts for some 10 percent of all casino revenue generated by Atlantic City casinos,” said Steve Ruddock, lead analyst for PlayNJ.com a promotional site for New Jersey’s gaming industry.

The September total is down slightly from the $21.3 million generated in August, but up 26 percent from $16.2 million in September 2016. Online casinos generated $657,799 per day during the 31 days in September, compared with $709,296 per day during the 30 days in August.

New Jersey’s online casinos have generated $183.7 million in gross revenue through September 31, putting the industry on pace to reach a quarter of a billion dollars in gross revenue for the year. That would shatter the $196.7 million that the industry generated in 2016.

October 13, 2017

New Jersey has one of the worst incarceration disparity rates for Latino youth in the country, according to The Sentencing Project’s new fact sheet. Latino youth in the Garden State are five times more likely than white youth to be incarcerated. This research comes just a few weeks after The Sentencing Project released a report showing that black youth in New Jersey are more than 30 times more likely to be incarcerated than their white peers — the worst disparity rate in the country.

October 12, 2017

Newark’s new Inclusionary Zoning for Affordable Housing ordinance requires developers to set aside 20 percent of their residential units for affordable housing in projects that consist of 30 or more new or substantially rehabilitated units. It is part of Newark’s attempt to prevent the kind of gentrification that has driven longtime residents out of Hoboken and Brooklyn.   The ordinance mandates housing affordable to those in different income levels, ranging from 40 percent of the area’s median income to 80 percent. The marketing of the affordable units must give priority to Newark residents. The ordinance applies to all new residential development throughout the city, not just in designated areas. Further, affordable units must be spread throughout a building and not clustered together.

October 11, 2017

In 2016, there were over 2,100 drug-related deaths in New Jersey, mostly due to heroin. There have been two significant spikes in heroin deaths in the past few years, according to the “Report of The Governor’s Task Force on Drug Abuse Control.” The first came in 2015, when deaths jumped to 1,600 (they had been holding steady at about 1,200); the second spike was in 2016.

Fentanyl deaths also spiked during this period, climbing from 100 in 2014 to 400 in 2015 to more than 800 in 2016.

The Task Force, authorized when Gov. Chris Christie declared opioid addiction a public health crisis in February, made 40 recommendations involving education, prevention, intervention, treatment, recovery, and reentry.

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