2019
January
17
Thursday
Kim Campbell
Culture & Education Editor

The silencing of an outspoken voice for tolerance this week has some Poles questioning their country's hard-right turn.

The popular mayor of Gdansk, Pawel Adamowicz, died of injuries he sustained from a knife attack at a public event. His assailant, recently released from prison, shouted that political retribution was his motivation.

Somber reflection is happening in Poland, where political discourse is increasingly extreme (see our editorial, below). Mr. Adamowicz supported immigrants and LGBTQ rights, and decried anti-Semitism. His liberal positions sometimes earned him death threats, but those didn’t stop him.

“I am a European so my nature is to be open,” he told The Guardian newspaper in 2016. “Gdansk is a port and must always be a refuge from the sea.”

An American teacher I know who works in the city says people there are “shattered,” comparing their response to that of the Kennedy assassination. Most people, she says, have never seen this level of hate in public. Vigils happening across Poland feature signs saying “Stop Hate,” and at least one newspaper editorial called for a “systemic fight against hatred.”

For now, those in Gdansk are finding solace in the company of other mourners, and in showing kindness to one another – hugging, giving up their seats to elders. Many are looking to Jerzy Owsiak, a social activist who won a peace medal, for leadership. He was the head of the charity event where the mayor was killed. “You can’t fight violence with violence,” he said this week. “Let’s be Poles who love one another.”

Now here are our five stories for your Thursday. 

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1. Postwar Syria? Arab world moving to bring Damascus back into the fold.

If conflict creates opportunity, so does its resolution. Syria's civil war created openings for outside powers Iran and Turkey. But by embracing an eager Syria anew, Arab diplomats are pushing back.

Kim

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Syria’s long and horrific civil war is winding down, and recent weeks have seen a flurry of diplomatic moves bringing Bashar al-Assad's regime back into the embrace of the Arab world. Momentum is building for Syria’s readmittance to the Arab League, which suspended Damascus’s membership in 2012. In play in the long term is even the international rehabilitation of Syria. Arab countries are already working their connections with the West to bring this about. Observers and officials say the dramatic shift is a carefully calculated political move to reverse both Iranian and Turkish gains and to maximize the economic dividends of peace. There are big profits to be made in the rebuilding of Syria. But there’s a substantial sticking point: the ability to bring along civilian populations who for years saw the other side as evil. “It is going to be very difficult to swallow and stomach for the public after all these atrocities,” says Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an Emirati professor of political science. “But no matter the crimes the Assad regime committed, the reality is you must deal with Syria as a country, and over time people will accept that reality as governments have.”

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Postwar Syria? Arab world moving to bring Damascus back into the fold.

After nearly eight years of trying to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Gulf states and their Arab allies are rapidly embracing Damascus anew.

The bitter enemies in the civil war-turned-proxy war that has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions are reopening embassies, reestablishing trade ties, and paving the way for Syria’s return to regional organizations.

At stake in the shorter term are regional efforts to contain Shiite Iran, and in the long term even the international rehabilitation of Syria.

The past few weeks have seen a flurry of moves marking Syria’s return from the cold:

• The United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus after seven years in late December, with Bahrain and Kuwait expected to follow.

• Saudi Arabia, the staunchest anti-Assad government during the war, reportedly is leaning toward reopening its embassy and recently appointed as foreign minister Ibrahim al-Assaf, head of the Saudi-Syrian Friendship Committee.

• Syria’s security chief and Assad adviser, Ali Mamlouk, has been on recent visits to Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and Cairo, and several trade and political delegations from the UAE, Jordan, and Egypt have visited Damascus over the last month.

• And momentum is building for Syria’s readmittance to the Arab League, which suspended Damascus’s membership over its killing of pro-democracy protesters in 2012, with Egypt and Jordan reportedly pushing the organization to accept Syria in time for its annual summit in Tunisia this March.

Driving the rapid thaw in ties is the shift in the balance of power in Syria and a recalibration of Arab foreign policy. Observers and officials say it is a carefully calculated political move made both to contain Iranian influence and maximize the economic dividends of peace.

But there’s a substantial yet unquantifiable sticking point to the rapprochement: the ability of both the Arab regimes and Syria to bring along civilian populations who for years saw the other side as evil.

Iran entrenched

With Mr. Assad exerting control over 70 percent of Syrian territory, Arab governments have adjusted to the fact that after seven years of their pouring billions of dollars and arms into Syria, Assad has all but “won” the civil war. Not only is he still standing, but Iran has become more entrenched in Syria than ever.

Analysts and insiders say Gulf states and their Arab allies are now attempting a different tack – rebuilding ties with Damascus on joint interests.

“We have to view these developments in a realpolitik manner here: The warming of ties did not happen as a result of the leaders of the Gulf and Syria kissing and making up,” says Riad Kahwaji, Emirati analyst and director of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.

“This move comes under the current equation of the balance of power and the ongoing cold war with Iran,” he says. “This is part of a bigger effort by the Gulf countries to contain Iranian influence.”

Saudi Press Agency/AP/File
Saudi pilots sit in the cockpit of a fighter jet as part of US-led coalition airstrikes on Islamic State militants and other targets in Syria, in Saudi Arabia, Sept. 24, 2014.

Despite Assad owing his very survival to Iran, along with Russia, Gulf states believe the end of the war is an opportunity to compete with Tehran for influence and establish a presence within Syria before Iran can capitalize on its investment.

Insiders say that Gulf and Arab states have been engaging a strong current within the Assad regime that resents Iran’s increasing dominance in Syrian affairs. Arab officials hope to tap into the desire within Assad’s Alawite-dominated regime to place Syria as a player in the Arab world, rather than simply as part of a Shiite Iranian axis.

Opening to the West

As part of this regional rapprochement, the Gulf Arabs, Jordan, and Egypt are offering Syria reintegration into Arab organizations, giving Damascus regional legitimacy after nearly eight years as a pariah state, and paving the path toward the international recognition and normalization it craves.

Under this grand “bargain,” insiders say, the Arab states are offering to mediate and lobby on behalf of Damascus in Washington and Brussels, using their Western alliances to ease Syria’s reintegration into the international system and global economy.

Lobbying has reportedly already begun in earnest between Arab officials with their European counterparts and the Trump administration.

In return, the Gulf-Arab alliance expects Syria to reorient itself closer to the Arab world, and allow Arab states to take part in the economic opportunities opened up by reconstruction.

It is a bargain the Syrian regime reportedly is eager to discuss.

“On the political level, the Syrian regime recognizes that neither Iran nor Russia can play the role of normalizer on the international level – you need new protagonists that have the legitimacy and credibility to rehabilitate Syria’s image,” says Amer Sabaileh, a Jordanian geopolitical analyst. “That is where the Gulf comes in.”

Yet with thousands of Iranian boots on the ground and its ties cemented with Damascus, Arab states are not expecting to rival Tehran overnight. Rather, they reportedly view the rapprochement as a long-term project, fueled by the mistakes they believed they committed by shunning postwar Iraq.

“There is no way to completely prevent Iran from having influence inside Syria, but at least we can try to mitigate that influence as much as we can,” says Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an Emirati professor of political science and analyst. “Arab states do not want to abandon Syria like we abandoned Iraq.”

Arab officials who have met recently with Syrian leadership say Assad has sent a personal message to Jordan’s king and the Gulf leaders: “Syria would like to look forwards, not backwards” on the divisive civil war.

My enemy’s enemy

Common threats and concerns are also reuniting Damascus and the Gulf.

The Syrian regime, the Gulf, and Egypt all oppose the Muslim Brotherhood and the influence of Turkey, which has backed the Brotherhood and other Islamist opposition movements across the Arab world.

Sources say the Gulf Arabs, as well as Damascus, are committed to preventing Turkey from gaining a territorial foothold in the Arab world, which they fear may be the start of a regional expansionist project by Ankara.

It is a case, analysts say, of my enemy’s enemy is my friend.

“The UAE leadership in Abu Dhabi perceive Ankara’s foreign policy in Syria as well as the greater Arab world to be a big threat to the Middle East,” says Giorgio Cafiero, chief executive of the think thank Gulf State Analytics.   

“The UAE and other Gulf states would like to establish a relationship with Damascus that would serve the purpose of putting a check on Turkey as well as Iran.”

Also binding former enemies are the common threats of Islamic State (ISIS), and the potential for the group’s resurgence in any potential power vacuum.

But perhaps one of the biggest drivers pushing both sides to reconciliation is dollars and cents.

With the Syrian economy devastated and Damascus facing an estimated $400 billion reconstruction bill, the potential of Gulf financing and the contracting of idle Gulf and Jordanian engineering firms is enticing for both sides.

With Iranian firms under renewed sanctions and Russia’s limited economic resources, Arab states remain one of the leading solutions to a successful Syria rebuild – and one reportedly being pushed by both Moscow and Washington.

“The financing for infrastructure and reconstruction will almost certainly come from the Gulf, but it will not be charity, and all sides know this,” says Mr. Abdulla, the Emirati analyst. “There will be a lot of bargaining and a lot of negotiating – every single dollar will have to be matched with reciprocal political commitments from the Syrians.”

A peace for the people?

But while Arab governments and Damascus may be putting aside their differences, the question remains whether this reconciliation will translate into a reconciliation between peoples.

Syrians in Damascus and Assad supporters believe the Gulf powers funded “terrorists,” rebel groups who laid siege to their country for seven years. And many Syrians who opposed Assad express resentment that the Gulf states intervened in and encouraged their uprising, only to abandon them to their fate.

Arab citizens across the region, meanwhile, particularly those in the conservative Gulf, have spent years viewing Syrian atrocities on satellite TV and social media news feeds: Syrian fighter jets barrel-bombing schools and mosques, and the corpses of gassed women and children on hospital floors. For many, it is hard to see Assad other than as a “butcher of Sunni Muslims.”

All agree, it is a large gap to narrow.

“It is going to be very difficult to swallow and stomach for the public after all these atrocities,” says Abdulla. “But no matter the crimes the Assad regime committed, the reality is you must deal with Syria as a country, and over time people will accept that reality as governments have.”

One key to bridging the gap between peoples on either side of the conflict is the reenergizing of tourism to Syria, long a favored holiday destination for citizens of the region.

But whether trade and tourism can heal wounds cleaved by eight years of war is yet to be seen.

“It is important to remember that regimes tend to act unemotionally whereas people are emotional,” Mr. Cafiero cautions. “The baggage from the conflict will heavily complicate the relationship between Syria, the Gulf, and its neighbors for years to come.”

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2. Emergency declaration could end shutdown – but would open door to new problems

Using an emergency declaration to build a border wall would not only run into political opposition but also likely get snarled in litigation – so that any construction would proceed at the pace of the legal system. 

Kim
Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters
A migrant from Honduras pulled a young girl over the border barrier as they enter the United States from Tijuana, Mexico, in December. Gridlock over funding for a border wall has led the US president to suggest that he might invoke emergency powers.

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President Trump says he is not rushing to declare a national emergency as a means to build his border wall. Yet elements of both parties see it as possibly the only way out of the current standoff, which has produced the longest government shutdown in US history. The appeal, proponents say, is that both sides would save face: Mr. Trump could say he is taking steps to build the wall, while Democrats could say they stood firm against something many of their voters oppose with a passion. Such a move can be perfectly legal, and has been common in the past. “People hear ‘national emergency’ and think martial law, crisis, all sorts of horrible things,” said Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. “But all it does is activate these other statutes that have their own predicates, their own requirements.” Still, many Democrats say it would be an extraordinary usurpation of congressional prerogatives. And some Republicans agree, seeing it as a power grab that could provide a future Democratic president with the pretext to do the same on, say, climate change.

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1. Emergency declaration could end shutdown – but would open door to new problems

President Trump says he is not rushing to declare a national emergency as a means to build his border wall. “I’m not looking to call a national emergency. This is so simple you shouldn’t have to do it,” he told reporters this week.

Indeed, there are a number of political and legal reasons why the president might not be eager to take such a step. But a major one is surely this: The invocation of an emergency as a means to circumvent Democratic opposition and jump-start work on his long-sought barrier would be a fateful decision. It would almost certainly expand and deepen conflict on the issue, not end it, at a time when Mr. Trump’s staff and cabinet are riven by shake-ups and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation seems to be rolling toward major revelations.

Trump has always embraced chaos and distraction as business and political weapons and may not shy from an emergency declaration in the end. Such a presidential move can be perfectly legal, and has been common in the past. Some presidential “emergencies” last for years. 

The problem is the current context, say some legal analysts. The president had two years of GOP control of Congress to push through border wall funding. What sort of emergency now requires the sudden beginning of construction? More troubling, critics point out that in some nations, emergencies have been pretexts for authoritarians to increase their power – and Trump has often appeared to chafe at constitutional limits on his scope of action.

“If it were another president, I would say OK, this is silly, it should be stopped – but you wouldn’t talk about it being a threat to democracy,” says Chris Edelson, an American University government professor and an expert on presidential emergency powers. “The reason you would in this context is because of who Trump is.”

The politics of ordering an emergency declaration to build the wall are more complicated than most issues in today’s polarized Washington. Many Democrats oppose such a move on grounds that it would be an extraordinary usurpation of congressional prerogatives. Some Republicans agree with this position, seeing an emergency declaration as a power grab that could provide a future Democratic president with the pretext to declare an emergency and act on, say, climate change rules.

Presidents have invoked emergency powers some 58 times since Congress codified and reformed laws dealing with the issue in 1976. None have involved paying for something a president wanted to do after that president had failed to win approval from lawmakers, according to Professor Edelson.

The public does not seem to be enthusiastic about an emergency declaration, either. A just-released Washington Post/ABC poll finds respondents opposed to such a declaration by more than a 2-to-1 margin, 66 percent to 31 percent. A CNN survey produced similar results.

Yet elements of both parties see a presidential declaration of an emergency as possibly the only way out of the current standoff, which has already produced the longest government shutdown in US history. The appeal of this route, proponents say, is that both sides would save face: Trump could say he looked strong and is taking steps to build the wall, while Democrats could say they stood firm against something many of their voters oppose with a passion.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, for instance, has urged Trump to go the emergency route. On Sunday, he said the president should reopen the government for a short period, and then declare an emergency if the Democrats don’t respond with agreement on a border wall deal.

The National Emergencies Act

If Trump did invoke emergency authority to direct the military to begin wall construction, he would most likely base his actions on powers granted by the National Emergencies Act of 1976.

This statute, enacted into law in the wake of Watergate abuses, was intended to channel presidential emergency declarations and place limits on what chief executives can and cannot do in such a situation. In a way, it is a legislative portal.

The National Emergencies Act (NEA) doesn’t act as carte blanche for a president to do whatever he wants. Declaring a national emergency allows a president to unlock new authorities and powers on, theoretically, a temporary basis. Many of those authorities and powers are specific to particular factual contexts, said Cristina Rodriguez, a professor at Yale Law School, in a conference call organized by the American Constitution Society.

“There are hundreds of authorities that can be triggered by a declaration,” she added. “Most of them are not applicable here.”

Four of them could be. One is an emergency fund in the Immigration and Nationality Act that can be triggered in the event of an influx of immigrants beyond what the system can handle. Another is an authority that allows for emergency construction of a military construction project if a secretary determines the project is vital to national security. However, given that those two authorizations only permit $10 million and $50 million in funding, respectively – and Trump is demanding more than $5 billion for a border wall – Professor Rodriguez doesn’t think they are likely to be used to justify an emergency declaration.

More likely to be invoked, she says, is an emergency declaration requiring the use of the armed forces. Then, there is a statute allowing the Secretary of Defense to authorize military construction projects “necessary to support such use of the armed forces.”

There is also a statute allowing for, in the event of an emergency declaration, the president to terminate Army civil works projects deemed nonessential and applying those resources to “civil defense projects that are essential to the national defense.”

Under the NEA, the declared emergency ends automatically after a year, unless the president publishes an extension notice in the Federal Register. Congress can also terminate the action by passing a joint resolution. This would likely require a two-thirds majority, as the president could, and likely would, veto such a move.

The United States is currently operating under a number of NEA-derived emergencies. Most deal with declarations of economic sanctions against individuals or foreign companies.

None of this means a Trump border wall emergency move would be a routine bureaucratic operation.

“The invocation of such authorities for that purpose would raise a variety of novel legal issues,” concludes a new Congressional Research Service legal analysis of whether the Department of Defense could build a border wall.

Legal challenges

One question is whether the current situation at the border is a true emergency. Trump insists that it is, and says that the border must be militarized and defended if the US is to have a country at all. Courts have generally given the executive branch a lot of leeway when it comes to emergency declarations.

But illegal crossings at the US southern border have been declining for decades. In 2017, they were at their lowest point since 1971. Most drugs are trucked through points of entry, not tossed in bags over a border fence. If terrorists are sneaking in from Mexico, their number is in the single digits, according to the government’s own data.

The involvement of the military in wall-building would be a huge complicating legal factor. US law generally prohibits the use of armed forces in routine police actions. The NEA is unclear on whether it’s OK to use them in non-routine situations, and whether it’s OK to use duly appropriated Pentagon dollars as a slush fund for operations not authorized by Congress.

Litigation brought by private landowners would be a nightmare. Construction of a true border wall would require seizure of private farms and fields under eminent domain precedents. A number of Texas residents who would be affected have already vowed they will fight it.

Thus, even if the president invokes an emergency in this instance, construction would not proceed with urgency, but at the speed of the American legal process. In short, slowly. Or perhaps never.

“As a purely practical matter, will the wall get built? I am not so sure,” says Andrew Rudalevige, a professor of government at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, who focuses on presidential and executive branch management.

And in the end, this might be the biggest obstacle to use of emergency powers to build a wall. The courts might allow its construction eventually, but they might not. Does Trump want a real wall, or the issue of the wall to argue about? That might be the question.

“The main risks are political,” sums up Edelson, author of the 2013 book “Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror.”

Some experts say that as a purely legal matter, it wouldn’t be that norm-shattering an act. Indeed, if it allows the longest government shutdown to end, then it could on aggregate be a good thing, said Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, in the American Constitution Society conference call.

“People hear ‘national emergency’ and think martial law, crisis, all sorts of horrible things,” he added. “But all it does is activate these other statutes that have their own predicates, their own requirements.”

The larger issue raised by the idea of a national emergency declaration to build a border wall is what it reveals about how much power Congress has delegated to the executive branch.

“What I find is much more alarming than specific authorities the president might use is the general dysfunction in Washington that could lead us to this point,” Professor Vladeck said.

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3. Macron’s turn at G7 helm: Can he offer Trump anything to keep him in?

Nationalist versus internationalist. The philosophical clash hangs heavy over those trying to maintain multilateral institutions. As Macron works to keep Trump in the G7, the same forces buffet him at home.

Kim

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The last G7 summit, hosted by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in June in Quebec, did not go swimmingly. President Trump left in a huff after refusing to sign the final communique, then tweeted his anger at Mr. Trudeau. Now it’s French President Emmanuel Macron’s turn. And high on his list of priorities, if unstated, is to keep Mr. Trump in the fold and prevent it from becoming the G6. His recipe for success seems to be, at least in part, to try to mollify Trump’s hostilities toward multilateral organizations by taking up a few of the issues of importance to him, possibly both Iran and trade. And this while pursuing Mr. Macron’s own priorities, like climate change. But more broadly, Macron’s job is to keep the G7 a relevant and influential player in global affairs. “The bigger purpose of the G7 has always been to build on this notion of the West as a coherent coalition under US leadership that has broadly similar values,” says Stewart Patrick at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Macron has said his goal is to revitalize multilateralism, but his dilemma is that he doesn’t have a partner in the United States.”

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Macron’s turn at G7 helm: Can he offer Trump anything to keep him in?

With France taking its turn this year as head of the Group of Seven most-advanced industrialized countries, President Emmanuel Macron is identifying climate change and cooperative efforts to soften the economic downsides of globalization as his priorities.

But actually his most urgent task might be to make sure that the elite global club known as the G7 doesn’t turn into the G6.

In other words, how does a group of the world’s most powerful and influential Western nations keep the most powerful and influential among them – President Trump’s United States – as part of the fold, even as it pursues progress on issues that have already raised the hackles of the anti-multilateralist president?

For France the answer seems to be, at least in part, to meet Mr. Trump halfway. That means that between now and late August, when Mr. Macron hosts the G7 leaders in the southwestern French seaside city of Biarritz, the French will endeavor to mollify Trump’s hostilities toward multilateral organizations and gatherings by taking up a few of the issues of importance to him, possibly both Iran and trade.

This they’ll do even as they pursue those – like climate change – that matter most to Macron.

French officials acknowledge that one of their challenges will be keeping the US and, above all, the “America First” president as working partners in the G7.

But more broadly, Macron’s job is to keep the bloc of Western free-market democracies – and the US-led multilateralism that has motivated the group since its founding in the early 1970s – a relevant and influential player in global affairs at a moment of unprecedented nationalist and unilateralist headwinds.

“The bigger purpose of the G7 has always been to build on this notion of the West as a coherent coalition under US leadership that has broadly similar values motivating its actions,” says Stewart Patrick, director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington. “Macron has said his goal is to revitalize multilateralism, but his dilemma is that he doesn’t have a partner in the United States, and certainly the other Western powers lack the heft to take on the American role.”

In addition to the US and France, the G7 comprises Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Japan.

For others, it’s not just that Macron faces a hostile US – but that he’s battling an international tide that includes but is far from limited to Trump’s America.

“What a consequential year for the French to take the presidency of the G7. It’s really going to be the year of the internationalists versus the nativists,” says Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

“We’re going to see which of these two forces – the internationalists, which Macron believes he represents, and the nationalists and sovereigntists embodied by President Trump – will carry the day,” she adds, “but were heading into a difficult time when the nationalists may continue to be ascendant.”

Working with Trump's team

Still, to keep the US from sitting outside the tent altogether, the French intend to work with Trump and in particular with his national security and international economics teams on issues of importance to them – for example, Iran and what the White House calls its “malign activities.” Another area of potential common ground, Mr. Patrick has heard from French officials, is an updating of World Trade Organization rules, something Trump has said is necessary.

Will it work? The French need only ask Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the G7’s president last year, to know that in any case it’s unlikely to be easy.

Last June Trump left the G7 summit in Quebec in a huff after refusing to sign the group’s final communique – over the document’s warnings of spreading protectionist trade policies and what Director of the White House National Trade Council Peter Navarro described as “socialist” leanings.

Trump then tweeted about his anger at the summit’s host, Mr. Trudeau, whom he blasted as “dishonest and very weak” – not the normal manner in which the elite club’s members treat each other. His national security adviser, John Bolton, piled it on, dismissing the summit on Twitter as “Just another #G7 where other countries expect America will always be their bank.”

But at a deeper level, the French, like other US allies, have firsthand knowledge of Trump’s disdain for multilateral organizations and alliances like NATO, and his suspicions over America’s leadership role in them. As he has said (and tweeted) repeatedly in his two years in office, Trump views the US-led multilateral system as largely an excuse for others to prosper in security at America’s expense.

Lack of consultation on Syria

Most recently the French – who have an undisclosed number of troops in Syria as part of the US-led coalition to defeat Islamic State (ISIS) there – have learned that Trump’s dismissive approach to allies can extend to being left out in the cold on key US decisions affecting America’s partners.

Macron was dumbstruck when Trump announced in a December tweet that the US would quickly pull its troops out of Syria. Senior French officials including the defense minister quickly contradicted Trump’s assertion that ISIS was “defeated,” allowing US troops to come home.

Indeed ISIS itself appeared to send a signal Wednesday that it is not defeated when it claimed a large blast in the northern Syrian city of Manbij that killed four Americans – two US soldiers, a civilian Pentagon employee, and a private contractor – and wounded several others. ISIS said the attack was carried out by a fighter wearing a suicide vest.

But what seemed to floor the French more than the decision to withdraw troops was the total lack of consultation before the decision was announced. A number of senior French officials have echoed Macron’s response to Trump’s decision: that France understands that the US president wants to keep his promise to withdraw US troops from Syria, but that at the same time ISIS has not been defeated – and the coalition countries don’t want to be taken by surprise.

Clearly the French, as well as their more internationalist G7 partners, want to avoid a repeat of last year’s divisive summit. Patrick of CFR says one idea Macron may try to advance is having certain countries that want to advance on key issues – what the French call “vanguard countries” – move forward together on, say, climate change or global health initiatives.

But Patrick says that whether or not Trump would go along with such an idea “is anybody’s guess.”

Indeed for Ms. Conley of CSIS, a key question this year will be whether Trump simply sits out international initiatives – as he did by pulling the US out of the Paris climate accord – or goes further and moves to take down the international order the US has led since World War II.

“There’s a big difference between having the US set itself apart from the system, and taking the steps aimed at tearing it down,” she says. Recalling Trump’s threats to pull the US out of the WTO, she adds, “We could get some clarity this year on which of those two it’s going to be.”

Maintaining appearances

Of course another obstacle in Macron’s path to his “revitalization” of multilateralism is the domestic environment he faces. The unpredictable “gilet jaune” (yellow vest) movement roiling France in recent weeks has many of the same tensions – nativist versus internationalist, rural versus urban, working class versus elites – seizing other Western countries. It will continue to present a home-grown challenge to Macron’s internationalist ambitions.

Conley says the French have to be concerned that the yellow vest movement could carry on into August, putting on full display the nativist-internationalist divide affecting the G7 host country. But she says it may be Trump’s unpredictability and his gut ambition of disrupting the traditional American-led international system that may do the most to upend Macron’s multilateralist plans.

“What we’ve learned over recent months, and most recently with the [US government] shutdown and then the Syria decision, is that there is no one but the president who dictates what will happen,” Conley says. “We saw it at the G7, then at last year’s NATO summit, that you can’t anticipate or shape this president’s actions in any meaningful way.”

Macron is following the “normal” approach that international leaders have traditionally taken when leading a group like the G7, announcing priorities and then working with partners over ensuing months toward concrete decisions – or what the internationalist community calls “deliverables.”

But Conley says things now are different. “What we’re seeing is that there are no longer any guarantees of all that hard work leading to any meaningful outcome,” she says, “and I think the French will have a full appreciation of that in August.”

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4. This Texas town breeds something students need: confidence

Faced with declining enrollment and funds, rural schools are in problem-solving mode. Roscoe, Texas, pushed for changes aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty. What lessons might its approach hold for other districts like it?

Kim

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Rural communities across the United States have been in decline for decades, with their schools struggling along with them. In Texas, rural school districts – which make up more than half of the state’s 1,240 districts – are grappling with issues including decreases in funding and students floundering after graduation. But in the small town of Roscoe, a metamorphosis is happening. Over the past decade, the Roscoe Collegiate Independent School District’s once faltering enrollment has doubled. That, coupled with a 95 percent graduation rate, has made Roscoe stand out as a possible model for similar districts. It has added an early college program, which allows students to graduate high school with an associate’s degree from Western Texas College. The district has also created business partnerships that give students hands-on training in engineering and biomedical fields. Kayla Justiss, a Roscoe graduate, is in her first year at Texas A&M University. She transferred to Roscoe after reading about the veterinary program. Four 16-hour semesters, two veterinary assistant certifications, and many late nights of school work later, she graduated with an associate’s degree. “I got to A&M and thought, ‘This is a breeze,’ ” she says.

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This Texas town breeds something students need: confidence

Ten years ago the school district in this small rural town faced a choice that would cut deep in the heart of every Texan: keep its 11-man football program, or downsize to a 6-man program?

Sitting where west Texas oil fields meet north Texas farmland, the high school student population here had dropped below 300, so funding had dropped as well. Six-man football, or consolidation with other school districts nearby, seemed a question of when not if.

Rural communities across the United States have been in decline for decades, with their schools struggling along with them. In Texas, rural school districts – which make up more than half of the state’s 1,240 districts – are grappling with several issues. Funding from the state has been decreasing for years. Fewer people are becoming teachers, and those who are want to work in urban areas. Students in rural schools are performing as well as their peers elsewhere, but often struggle after graduating.

A decade ago, the Roscoe school board decided against downsizing, and it didn’t stop there.

In 2009 the school district implemented early college programs, in which students can graduate with both a high school diploma and a two-year associate’s degree. Three years later the district incorporated STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – programs. Today Roscoe high school students are spread around town learning to weld and build robots, and are working as drone pilots and in a local pet hospital. Enrollment has doubled since the district decided to retain 11-man football a decade ago.

Roscoe’s approach is being sought out as a model within the state, even as experts suggest it may not work for every rural community and is not without drawbacks. Much of the district’s enrollment growth has come from transfers, with neighboring districts losing students – and funding – as a result. Limiting a brain drain by encouraging graduates to return to the town is also an emerging goal. But with a 95 percent graduation rate currently, the district has been attracting a lot of attention.

“What’s exciting about Roscoe is what they’ve done [around] making sure those students have opportunities after they graduate,” says Marian Schutte, director of system support and innovation at the Texas Education Agency (TEA). “Their district is something we look at in terms of gathering ideas to replicate statewide.”

A collaboration with industry

On a cold, gray morning in early December, the parking lot outside Roscoe Collegiate High School is full of mud-splattered pickup trucks and SUVs. Many of the students aren’t inside the school building, however. 

They are instead scattered around the town (pop. 1,293) at various class programs the school district has set up with local industry partners. There they get practical education and experience for the STEM track of their choice: engineering or biomedical.

“The face of the new high school is very collaborative with industry – putting students in opportunities to build job skills, soft skills, employability skills,” says Andrew Wilson, the high school’s provost. “We’ve had to get creative in how to make that happen in rural settings.”

There’s the old Nitzsche family welding and blacksmith shop on Broadway Street where high schoolers in the engineering STEM track learn to weld. Students in the biomedical STEM track take classes – and, with the right certifications, can work – in the open-to-the-public “Edu-Vet” pet hospital five minutes west of town. Shelansky’s, an old dry goods store downtown, houses “Edu-Drone,” where students learn to build and fly drones.

Increased academic expectations make up the other half of Roscoe’s new approach. District goals include having 90 percent of seniors graduate with an associate’s degree, having 90 percent of those graduates get a bachelor’s degree, and having 90 percent of them get a more advanced postgraduate degree.

Early college offerings mean that Roscoe high schoolers can graduate with an associate’s degree from Western Texas College (WTC), essentially going into a four-year college as a junior.

Henry Gass/The Christian Science Monitor
Arthur Pope (r.) and Caleb Reed (l.) during a drone class at Roscoe Collegiate High School in Roscoe, Texas.

That, combined with the technical training they get in the STEM programs, means students are leaving Roscoe “knowing there’s something they can do to contribute to the world,” says Nicholas Anthony.

Dr. Anthony moved to Roscoe in the mid-1990s when his father got a job managing the grain elevator there. He was one of the few to graduate and go on to get an advanced degree, and he now runs a chiropractic practice in nearby Abilene and has a clinic in Roscoe two days a week, where he often sees Roscoe student-athletes.

“They’re thinking, ‘I’m not just a kid from little old Roscoe,’ ” he says. “It’s enabled them to not ever see that there’s a ceiling on their capabilities.”

Launching, and returning?

Rural students graduate high school at higher rates than the national average, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, but only 61 percent of them go to college right after, compared to 72 percent of urban students and 74 percent of suburban ones, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.

And for those who do go to college, finishing their degree can be challenging as well, says Sylvia Leal, senior program officer at the T.L.L. Temple Foundation, a nonprofit focused on strengthening communities in rural east Texas.

“In urban schools we have students, first-generation students, that struggle to get access to higher education…. It’s the same in the rural setting but from a different perspective,” she adds. Rural students often struggle “for reasons that really are outside of their control. It’s too far, they can’t access [things], they don’t have the money to get there.”

This has not been the case so far for Kayla Justiss, a Roscoe graduate now in her first year at Texas A&M University in College Station.

She transferred to Roscoe after reading about the veterinary program. Four 16-hour semesters, two veterinary assistant certifications, and many late nights of school work later, she graduated with an associate’s degree.

“I got to A&M and thought, ‘This is a breeze, it’s easier than doing online classes at WTC,’ ” she says.

Her two years at Roscoe have also helped financially. She is classified as a junior at Texas A&M, and hopes to finish her bachelor’s degree in a couple years.

“I’m putting myself through college pretty much, so it’s a big help that I’m not having to pay for [first-year] classes,” she says. “I don’t have to get a waitressing job, I have more experience, and I can start working in my career field.”

Finding a way to also reap the benefits locally is the next challenge, says Kim Alexander, the Roscoe Collegiate Independent School District superintendent.

The key to that, he adds, is building a four-year college in Roscoe so people can get a bachelor’s degree without having to pay to relocate. He hopes they will have it up and running by fall 2019.

“We think if we get more who get a four-year degree here in Roscoe, more will stay in Roscoe,” he says. “If you educate them where they live you’ll have more folks stay in rural areas.” 

 

Henry Gass/The Christian Science Monitor
An old blacksmith shop serves as a welding classroom for Roscoe Collegiate High School students, who build products and sell them to the public. The arrangement is one of several nonprofit business partnerships that provide work experience for students and economic benefits for the rural town of Roscoe, Texas.

Growing Pains

In the meantime, a more immediate issue with Roscoe's approach is that it is drawing students from other towns. Forty-three percent of the district’s students are transfers, according to Mr. Wilson. With state financing linked to enrollment in Texas, losing students can often mean losing funding, and for small rural districts with just a few hundred students even having a small number transfer can be significant.

Roscoe has “a very successful program,” says Jimmie Don Aycock, a former state representative who chaired the Public Education Committee and who has visited Roscoe several times. But, he notes, pulling students from other districts “makes life for those other small communities around them very difficult.”

Dr. Alexander, the superintendent, says that’s why state officials want to increase the number of rural districts following the Roscoe model as quickly as possible. The TEA is helping them do it, with the goal of having 60 districts adopt the model by 2023. Ultimately, Alexander says he wants Roscoe to be competing with other public school districts like his.

Dr. Leal, at the T.L.L. Temple Foundation, suggests that rural districts need to explore a range of solutions. She works with 159 districts in her region of east Texas, and 82 percent of those have fewer than 1,000 students. Other models they are looking at include collaborating on a hub site where students from multiple districts go for dual-credit offerings and apprenticeships – like Lee College, near Houston, for example – or pooling their resources so costs are shared among cash-strapped districts.

Roscoe’s “is a great approach, I’m very impressed with it, but it’s not a model yet,” she says. “Superintendents have to explore many different options.” 

Still, Alexander notes the progress that has been made in Roscoe since 20 years ago, when he was the high school principal. “If [students] were economically disadvantaged, in most cases walking off the graduation stage was like walking off a cliff,” he says.

“If we’re able to engage this larger and growing nontraditional population of students in higher education … it solves a lot of problems,” he adds. “We want to break generational poverty through education.”

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5. Cuddly foxes show the ‘softer side’ of evolution

Evolution is often cast as a brutal contest for the survival of the fittest. But increasingly, it seems that the ability to get along with others also plays a significant role.

Kim
Courtesy of the Institute of Cytology and Genetics, Novosibirsk, Russia
A domesticated fox in Siberia has mostly white fur. Loss of pigment is one of the traits associated with domestication.

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It’s not every day that a fox licks your face. But that’s just what happened when biologist and science historian Lee Dugatkin visited a Siberian experiment in fox domestication that marks its 60th anniversary this year. “This animal, which had never seen me before, within five seconds was licking my nose and ears,” says Professor Dugatkin of his furry new friend. “He was calmer and more friendly than the calmest lap dog you can imagine.” Fueled by the ongoing revolution in our understanding of genetics and molecular biology, the experiment’s findings are now revealing details of a potent evolutionary process that might help explain the emergence of modern Homo sapiens and our species’ ability to build civilizations. “Our own evolutionary trajectory has been radically shaped by domestication,” says Dugatkin, the co-author of the 2017 book “How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog).” “It creates kind of a softer side to the story of human evolution.”

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Cuddly foxes show the ‘softer side’ of evolution

When Lee Dugatkin went to Siberia in 2012 to learn more about an experiment that is illuminating one of the oldest problems in evolution, there was a moment he describes as “nirvana.”

“This animal, which had never seen me before, within five seconds was licking my nose and ears,” says the University of Louisville biologist and science historian. “He was calmer and more friendly than the calmest lap dog you can imagine.”

This friendly animal was not a dog, but a fox, Vulpes vulpes, a species not typically known for leaping into the arms of unfamiliar primates. But this particular fox, a reddish male adult with a slender build and puplike face, belonged to a lineage that had been transformed.

Professor Dugatkin was visiting the site of an experiment, which this year marks its 60th anniversary, at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk, Russia, that aimed to domesticate a wild species. Fueled by the ongoing revolution in our understanding of genetics and molecular biology, the experiment’s findings are now helping to reveal details of a potent evolutionary process that might help explain the emergence of modern Homo sapiens and our species’ ability to build civilizations.

“Our own evolutionary trajectory has been radically shaped by domestication,” says Dugatkin, the co-author of the 2017 book “How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog).” “It creates kind of a softer side to the story of human evolution.”

Playing the fox

When Russian zoologist Dmitry Belyaev began working with foxes in the 1950s, he was studying a problem that had perplexed biologists ever since Charles Darwin noted that domesticated animals, from dogs to pigs to horses, often share a suite of seemingly unrelated traits. Compared to their wild counterparts, domestic animals’ ears are often floppier, their tails curlier, and their coats more multicolored. Domestic animals often appear more juvenile than wild ones, with flatter faces, smaller jaws and teeth, and more gracile bodies. But why?

The Soviet Union at the time was a dangerous place to practice Mendelian genetics. Until the mid-1960s, publicly supporting such “bourgeois pseudoscience” could result in a prison sentence, or worse. Indeed, Dr. Belyaev’s older brother, Nikolai, a silkworm geneticist, was executed under Stalin in 1937.

So when Belyaev recruited a young graduate assistant, Lyudmila Trut, to manage the experiment, he informed her that, officially, the project’s aim would be to increase production for the fur industry. Unofficially, it would be to breed the wild out of the fox.

Institute of Cytology and Genetics, Novosibirsk, Russia
Lyudmila Trut, head of the research group at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Siberian Department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, holds a domesticated fox.

The plan was as straightforward as it was audacious. The foxes, originally gathered from fur farms, are raised in cages. Beginning around the age of one month, each pup is periodically approached by a human caretaker and scored on a single criterion: the absence of a fearful or aggressive response to humans. In the experiment’s original design, only those with the highest scores would be allowed to reproduce, and then the process repeats for each subsequent generation.

From wild to mild

Measured on an evolutionary timescale, the shift happened in a blink. Within 10 generations – foxes breed annually – the animals were happily greeting humans, sometimes even licking their caretakers’ faces. What’s more, just as Belyaev predicted, the foxes began to show some of the other telltale marks of domestication: floppy ears, curly tails, piebald fur, thinner bones, and a more juvenile appearance.

Belyaev died in 1985, but Dr. Trut, who co-authored “How to Tame a Fox” with Dugatkin, continues the work. And now, after 60 years of breeding for a single trait, a canid population exists that makes golden retrievers look rather standoffish.

“It’s like interacting with the friendliest dog imaginable,” says Dugatkin.

Dugatkin stresses that these changes are happening at the genetic level. While it is certainly possible to raise a wild fox from birth and condition it to behave in certain ways around humans, doing so has no effect on the tameness of its offspring.

A unified hypothesis?

In the years since then, Belyaev and Trut’s experiment has continued to bear fruit. In 2014, a trio of researchers writing in the journal Genetics used the data to develop a unified model that could explain the hodgepodge of physical characteristics – from the ears to the tail – that change with the decline of emotional reactivity.

“This is a phenomenon that is likely to have happened numerous times in the evolution of wild animals,” says Harvard University anthropologist Richard Wrangham, one of the authors of that paper, noting how animals on islands typically become tamer over time.

Professor Wrangham notes that some anthropologists believe that humans’ closest relatives may have undergone a similar shift. Chimpanzees and bonobos diverged from one another about 2 million years ago. Both share 99 percent of their genome with humans, but their behavior and social structure is markedly different. Chimpanzees are male-dominant and aggressive, particularly between groups. Bonobos, which have more gracile features compared to chimps, are female-dominant and generally more docile.

Domesticating the domesticators

The idea that a species can self-domesticate could hold important implications for the history of our own species. When compared with those of archaic humans, such as Neanderthals and early H. sapiens, the skulls of modern humans appear more juvenile, with smaller and flatter faces, much like the skulls of dogs compared to wolves, domesticated foxes to wild foxes, and bonobos to chimpanzees.

This facial downsizing looks a lot like self-domestication, says University of Iowa anthropologist Robert Franciscus.

Early on in our species’ history, contact between different groups of humans would have been marked by violence between males, just as it is with chimpanzees, says Professor Franciscus. But, beginning about 80,000 years ago and accelerating as our species migrated out of Africa some 60,000 years ago, groups of humans became less and less isolated from one another.

This increased contact opened the door to a new strategy: altruism.

“When you live in small, connected bands across the landscape, and you engage in altruistic behavior, then you can be helped when you’re in trouble,” Franciscus says. “That kind of scenario might be difficult to get going, but once it does, you can imagine how it could take off very quickly.”

As altruistic males began out-competing aggressive males, more robust social networks emerged, and so too did the ability to transmit culture, such as tool-making techniques, burial practices, art, music, language, and so on, between groups. This ability to disseminate ideas, and not just the ability to come up with them, says Franciscus, is what distinguishes modern H. sapiens from our relatives.  

“Cognitive processes by themselves probably are not sufficient,” he says “Technological innovation requires the ability of ideas to actually spread throughout humans groups, so that you don’t constantly have to reinvent them.”

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The Monitor's View

For Europe, a push against the violence of hate

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After the Jan. 14 assassination of Pawel Adamowicz, the mayor of the Polish city of Gdansk, the killer said he acted out of anger and revenge, two emotions now common in Europe’s public discourse. So how did Poles respond to such a violent expression of hate, which occurred at a charity event aimed at bringing Poles together? Thousands joined a silent “march against hatred.” Parliament held a minute of silence. In Gdansk, the city whose peaceful protests in the 1980s helped bring down the Soviet empire, people recommitted themselves to the civic values of openness and tolerance that the mayor had espoused. Poland’s democracy is sharply divided between left and right. Yet after the killing, many Poles sought antidotes to political hate. The late mayor’s last words at the charity event have coursed through social media: “Gdansk is generous, a city of solidarity,” he said. “It’s a wonderful time to share with each other.” In mourning his murder, Poles have found something to share: a renewal of the civility needed to curb the impulse for hate in public life.

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For Europe, a push against the violence of hate

Poland just gave a tender lesson to the rest of Europe on how to deal with hate speech – and its consequences.

On Jan. 14, the mayor of the Polish city of Gdansk, Pawel Adamowicz, was assassinated at an annual charity event aimed at bringing Poles together. The killer’s motives, according to most commentators, could easily be attributed to the country’s toxic political climate. Mr. Adamowicz himself had been the object of death threats for his views on immigrants. In a recent interview, he said, “When the language of the elites violates the limits imposed by decency, it causes more and more physical violence.”

The killer said he acted out of anger and revenge, two emotions now common in Europe’s public discourse. So how did Poles respond to such a violent expression of hate?

Thousands joined a silent “march against hatred.” Many others donated blood. Parliament held a minute of silence on Wednesday. In Gdansk, the city whose peaceful protests in the 1980s helped bring down the Soviet empire, people recommitted themselves to the civic values of openness and tolerance that the longtime mayor had espoused.

“My dear Pawel, you were always there to show an open and courageous face, and to stand against evil,” Donald Tusk, the former prime minister who is now president of the European Council, told a crowd.

The deputy mayor of Gdansk, Piotr Kowalczuk, met with the assailant’s family to provide support. “We need to make sure that they don’t fall victims to hate,” he said. The public outcry also compelled police to detain at least 10 people widely known for threatening aggression against public figures.

And to reinforce the self-reflection that often happens after such a tragedy, Polish President Andrzej Duda urged Poles to “examine our consciences.”

Poland’s democracy is sharply divided these days between left and right, creating social tensions and threats on social media. Yet after the killing, many Poles sought antidotes to the political hate. The late mayor’s last words at the charity event have gone viral on social media. “Gdansk is generous, a city of solidarity,” he said. “It’s a wonderful time to share with each other.”

In mourning his murder, Poles have certainly found something to share: a renewal of the civility needed to curb the impulse for hate in public life.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Gender balance and power – a spiritual discussion

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From a record number of women in US Congress, to the Women’s March, to the #MeToo movement, balance of power is a topic that’s front and center these days. Today’s column is a podcast in which the editor of the Monitor speaks with a Christian Science practitioner and teacher about the impact an understanding of God can have on this subject.

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Gender balance and power – a spiritual discussion

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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To access Mark and Michelle’s conversation, please click here.

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Viewfinder

Sand blast

Ricardo Mazalan/AP
Competitors in a motorbike category race across the dunes during the ninth stage of the Dakar Rally in Pisco, Peru, Jan. 16. The legendary off-roading event, formerly known as the Paris-Dakar Rally, has been staged in South America since 2009. It draws both amateurs and professionals.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris/staff. )
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In Our Next Issue

( January 18th, 2019 )

Kim Campbell
Culture & Education Editor

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow, when we'll look at a battle over the definition of “meat,” and how it could affect efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Monitor Daily Podcast

January 17, 2019
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