point out flaws — understaffing, insufficient training, low seniority pay, all of which they want to improve — they embrace Starbucks and its distinctive culture.

They talk up their sense of camaraderie and community — many count regular customers among their friends — and delight in their coffee expertise. On mornings when Ms. Brisack’s store isn’t busy, employees often hold tastings.

A Starbucks spokesman said that Mr. Schultz believes employees don’t need a union if they have faith in him and his motives, and the company has said that seniority-based pay increases will take effect this summer.

onetime auto plant. The National Labor Relations Board was counting ballots for an election at a Starbucks in Mesa, Ariz. — the first real test of whether the campaign was taking root nationally, and not just in a union stronghold like New York. The room was tense as the first results trickled in.

“Can you feel my heart beating?” Ms. Moore asked her colleagues.

win in a rout — the final count was 25 to 3. Everyone turned slightly punchy, as if they had all suddenly entered a dream world where unions were far more popular than they had ever imagined. One of the lawyers let out an expletive before musing, “Whoever organized down there …”

union campaign he was involved with at a nearby Nissan plant. It did not go well. The union accused the company of running a racially divisive campaign, and Ms. Brisack was disillusioned by the loss.

“Nissan never paid a consequence for what it did,” she said. (In response to charges of “scare tactics,” the company said at the time that it had sought to provide information to workers and clear up misperceptions.)

Mr. Dolan noticed that she was becoming jaded about mainstream politics. “There were times between her sophomore and junior year when I’d steer her toward something and she’d say, ‘Oh, they’re way too conservative.’ I’d send her a New York Times article and she’d say, ‘Neoliberalism is dead.’”

In England, where she arrived during the fall of 2019 at age 22, Ms. Brisack was a regular at a “solidarity” film club that screened movies about labor struggles worldwide, and wore a sweatshirt that featured a head shot of Karl Marx. She liberally reinterpreted the term “black tie” at an annual Rhodes dinner, wearing a black dress-coat over a black antifa T-shirt.

climate technology start-up, lamented that workers had too little leverage. “Labor unions may be the most effective way of implementing change going forward for a lot of people, including myself,” he told me. “I might find myself in labor organizing work.”

This is not what talking to Rhodes scholars used to sound like. At least not in my experience.

I was a Rhodes scholar in 1998, when centrist politicians like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were ascendant, and before “neoliberalism” became such a dirty word. Though we were dimly aware of a time, decades earlier, when radicalism and pro-labor views were more common among American elites — and when, not coincidentally, the U.S. labor movement was much more powerful — those views were far less in evidence by the time I got to Oxford.

Some of my classmates were interested in issues like race and poverty, as they reminded me in interviews for this article. A few had nuanced views of labor — they had worked a blue-collar job, or had parents who belonged to a union, or had studied their Marx. Still, most of my classmates would have regarded people who talked at length about unions and class the way they would have regarded religious fundamentalists: probably earnest but slightly preachy, and clearly stuck in the past.

Kris Abrams, one of the few U.S. Rhodes Scholars in our cohort who thought a lot about the working class and labor organizing, told me recently that she felt isolated at Oxford, at least among other Americans. “Honestly, I didn’t feel like there was much room for discussion,” Ms. Abrams said.

typically minor and long in coming.

has issued complaints finding merit in such accusations. Yet the union continues to win elections — over 80 percent of the more than 175 votes in which the board has declared a winner. (Starbucks denies that it has broken the law, and a federal judge recently rejected a request to reinstate pro-union workers whom the labor board said Starbucks had forced out illegally.)

Twitter was: “We appreciate TIME magazine’s coverage of our union campaign. TIME should make sure they’re giving the same union rights and protections that we’re fighting for to the amazing journalists, photographers, and staff who make this coverage possible!”

The tweet reminded me of a story that Mr. Dolan, her scholarship adviser, had told about a reception that the University of Mississippi held in her honor in 2018. Ms. Brisack had just won a Truman scholarship, another prestigious award. She took the opportunity to urge the university’s chancellor to remove a Confederate monument from campus. The chancellor looked pained, according to several attendees.

“My boss was like, ‘Wow, you couldn’t have talked her out of doing that?’” Mr. Dolan said. “I was like, ‘That’s what made her win. If she wasn’t that person, you all wouldn’t have a Truman now.’”

(Mr. Dolan’s boss at the time did not recall this conversation, and the former chancellor did not recall any drama at the event.)

The challenge for Ms. Brisack and her colleagues is that while younger people, even younger elites, are increasingly pro-union, the shift has not yet reached many of the country’s most powerful leaders. Or, more to the point, the shift has not yet reached Mr. Schultz, the 68-year-old now in his third tour as Starbucks’s chief executive.

She recently spoke at an Aspen Institute panel on workers’ rights. She has even mused about using her Rhodes connections to make a personal appeal to Mr. Schultz, something that Mr. Bensinger has pooh-poohed but that other organizers believe she just may pull off.

“Richard has been making fun of me for thinking of asking one of the Rhodes people to broker a meeting with Howard Schultz,” Ms. Brisack said in February.

“I’m sure if you met Howard Schultz, he’d be like, ‘She’s so nice,’” responded Ms. Moore, her co-worker. “He’d be like, ‘I get it. I would want to be in a union with you, too.’”

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‘We Buried Him and Kept Walking’: Children Die as Somalis Flee Hunger

DOOLOW, Somalia — When her crops failed and her parched goats died, Hirsiyo Mohamed left her home in southwestern Somalia, carrying and coaxing three of her eight children on the long walk across a bare and dusty landscape in temperatures as high as 100 degrees.

Along the way, her 3-and-a-half-year-old son, Adan, tugged at her robe, begging for food and water. But there was none to give, she said. “We buried him, and kept walking.”

They reached an aid camp in the town of Doolow after four days, but her malnourished 8-year-old daughter, Habiba, soon contracted whooping cough and died, she said. Sitting in her makeshift tent last month, holding her 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Maryam, in her lap, she said, “This drought has finished us.”

imperiling lives across the Horn of Africa, with up to 20 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia facing the risk of starvation by the end of this year, according to the World Food Program.

appealed to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to lift the blockade on exports of Ukrainian grain and fertilizer — even as American diplomats warned of Russian efforts to sell stolen Ukrainian wheat to African nations.

The most devastating crisis is unfolding in Somalia, where about seven million of the country’s estimated 16 million people face acute food shortages. Since January, at least 448 children have died from severe acute malnutrition, according to a database managed by UNICEF.

only about 18 percent of the $1.46 billion needed for Somalia, according to the United Nations’ financial tracking service. “This will put the world in a moral and ethical dilemma,” said El-Khidir Daloum, the Somalia country director for the World Food Program, a U.N. agency.

projected to increase by up to 16 percent because of the war in Ukraine and the pandemic, which made ingredients, packaging and supply chains more costly, according to UNICEF.

displaced by the drought this year. As many as three million Somalis have also been displaced by tribal and political conflicts and the ever-growing threat from the terrorist group Al Shabab.

cyclones, rising temperatures, a locust infestation that destroyed crops, and, now, four consecutive failed rainy seasons.

spend 60 to 80 percent of their income on food. The loss of wheat from Ukraine, supply-chain delays and soaring inflation have led to sharp rises in the prices of cooking oil and staples like rice and sorghum.

At a market in the border town of Doolow, more than two dozen tables were abandoned because vendors could no longer afford to stock produce from local farms. The remaining retailers sold paltry supplies of cherry tomatoes, dried lemons and unripe bananas to the few customers trickling in.

perished since mid-2021, according to monitoring agencies.

The drought is also straining the social support systems that Somalis depend on during crises.

As thousands of hungry and homeless people flooded the capital, the women at the Hiil-Haween Cooperative sought ways to support them. But faced with their own soaring bills, many of the women said they had little to share. They collected clothes and food for about 70 displaced people.

“We had to reach deep into our community to find anything,” said Hadiya Hassan, who leads the cooperative.

likely fail, pushing the drought into 2023. The predictions are worrying analysts, who say the deteriorating conditions and the delayed scale-up in funding could mirror the severe 2011 drought that killed about 260,000 Somalis.

Famine in Somalia.”

For now, the merciless drought is forcing some families to make hard choices.

Back at the Benadir hospital in Mogadishu, Amina Abdullahi gazed at her severely malnourished 3-month-old daughter, Fatuma Yusuf. Clenching her fists and gasping for air, the baby let out a feeble cry, drawing smiles from the doctors who were happy to hear her make any noise at all.

“She was as still as the dead when we brought her here,” Ms. Abdullahi said. But even though the baby had gained more than a pound in the hospital, she was still less than five pounds in all — not even half what she should be. Doctors said it would be a while before she was discharged.

This pained Ms. Abdullahi. She had left six other children behind in Beledweyne, about 200 miles away, on a small, desiccated farm with her goats dying.

“The suffering back home is indescribable,” she said. “I want to go back to my children.”

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A Farmer Holds On, a Fraying Lifeline for a Besieged Corner of Ukraine

SIVERSK DISTRICT, Ukraine — One of the few civilians still driving on a road leading toward the battle front, Oleksandr Chaplik skidded to a stop and leaned out the car window to swap information with a villager.

He was taking supplies back to his village, one of a handful still in Ukrainian hands that lie in the path of the Russian advance.

“We are surrounded on all sides,” said Mr. Chaplik, 55, a dairy and livestock farmer. “It is the second month without light, without water, without gas, without communication, without the internet, without news. Basically, horror.”

“But people need to eat,” he said. “I am a businessman. So I am doing my job.”

Mr. Chaplik owns about 75 acres of land near the city of Sievierodonetsk, where Russian and Ukrainian troops have been battling for control in heavy street fighting in recent days. The countryside around his farm is under almost constant bombardment by Russian forces trying to encircle the easternmost Ukrainian forces and lay siege to Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.

street fighting raged in the contested city of Sievierodonetsk. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, warned that the conflict appeared to have become a “war of attrition” and advised allies to be prepared for “the long haul.”

“My nerves are cracking,” he said, as he declined another phone call. “I am working 14 to 15 hours a day. Physically I am tired.”

So now he is arranging for his son to bring in a mobile antenna, so the villagers can be in touch with their relatives.

He sees more problems on the horizon. The war has disrupted farming and food production to such an extent that people in eastern Ukraine could go hungry in coming months, he warned.

The potatoes are already planted, which will provide food for the villagers, he said, but meat and milk will become scarce.

“If I do not prepare feed for my cows they will die this winter,” he said. “I cannot cut the hay because of the cluster bombs in the fields and I need 12,000 bales of hay and I do not have the workers.”

And as he follows the progress of the war, and the steady advance of Russian troops, he said it was likely that they would seize control of the village and he would lose the farm that he built up over more than 20 years.

Separatist forces backed by Russia seized the area in 2014 but were pushed back after a few months. But this time he said he did not expect President Vladimir V. Putin to stop. The Russian leader wants to seize a swath of the country from the city of Kharkiv in the northeast to Odessa in the southwest, he said.

“He will not calm down,” he said. “He will fight for a year, two, three, until he reaches his goal.”

Mr. Chaplik has been slaughtering his pigs, so only one remains, slumbering in his pen. The newborn calves will have to be slaughtered too, he said. “It’s a shame.”

If the Russians came, he added, he would have to leave his guard dogs, six German shepherds. “I could not bear to put them down,” he said. “I will let them loose.”

If the shells came too close, he would take his workers and leave, he said. “I will start anew,” he said. “Give me a little piece of land, in Ukraine, in the United States, wherever. I can build a great business again.”

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Why a Not-So-Hot Economy Might Be Good News

When it comes to the economy, more is usually better.

Bigger job gains, faster wage growth and more consumer spending are all, in normal times, signs of a healthy economy. Growth might not be sufficient to ensure widespread prosperity, but it is necessary — making any loss of momentum a worrying sign that the economy could be losing steam or, worse, headed into a recession.

But these are not normal times. With nearly twice as many open jobs as available workers and companies struggling to meet record demand, many economists and policymakers argue that what the economy needs right now is not more, but less — less hiring, less wage growth and above all less inflation, which is running at its fastest pace in four decades.

Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, has called the labor market “unsustainably hot,” and the central bank is raising interest rates to try to cool it. President Biden, who met with Mr. Powell on Tuesday, wrote in an opinion article this week in The Wall Street Journal that a slowdown in job creation “won’t be a cause for concern” but would rather be “a sign that we are successfully moving into the next phase of recovery.”

“We want a full and sustainable recovery,” said Claudia Sahm, a former Fed economist who has studied the government’s economic policy response to the pandemic. “The reason that we can’t take the victory lap right now on the recovery — the reason it is incomplete — is because inflation is too high.”

undo much of that progress.

“That’s the needle we’re trying to thread right now,” said Harry J. Holzer, a Georgetown University economist. “We want to give up as few of the gains that we’ve made as possible.”

Economists disagree about the best way to strike that balance. Mr. Powell, after playing down inflation last year, now says reining it in is his top priority — and argues that the central bank can do so without cutting the recovery short. Some economists, particularly on the right, want the Fed to be more aggressive, even at the risk of causing a recession. Others, especially on the left, argue that inflation, while a problem, is a lesser evil than unemployment, and that the Fed should therefore pursue a more cautious approach.

But where progressives and conservatives largely agree is that evaluating the economy will be particularly difficult over the next several months. Distinguishing a healthy cool-down from a worrying stall will require looking beyond the indicators that typically make headlines.

“It’s a very difficult time to interpret economic data and to even understand what’s happening with the economy,” said Michael R. Strain, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute. “We’re entering a period where there’s going to be tons of debate over whether we are in a recession right now.”

11.4 million job openings at the end of April, close to a record. But there are roughly half a million fewer people either working or actively looking for work than when the pandemic began, leaving employers scrambling to fill available jobs.

The labor force has grown significantly this year, and forecasters expect more workers to return as the pandemic and the disruptions it caused continue to recede. But the pandemic may also have driven longer-lasting shifts in Americans’ work habits, and economists aren’t sure when or under what circumstances the labor force will make a complete rebound. Even then, there might not be enough workers to meet the extraordinarily high level of employer demand.

Persistently weak pay increases were a bleak hallmark of the long, slow recovery that followed the last recession. But even some economists who bemoaned those sluggish gains at the time say the current rate of wage growth is unsustainable.

“That’s something that we’re used to saying pretty unequivocally is good, but in this case it just raises the risk that the economy is overheating further,” said Adam Ozimek, chief economist of the Economic Innovation Group, a Washington research organization. As long as wages are rising 5 or 6 percent per year, he said, it will be all but impossible to bring inflation down to the Fed’s 2 percent target.

Fed officials are watching closely for signs of a “wage-price spiral,” a self-reinforcing pattern in which workers expect inflation and therefore demand raises, leading employers to increase prices to compensate. Once such a cycle takes hold, it can be difficult to break — a prospect Mr. Powell has cited in explaining why the central bank has become more aggressive in fighting inflation.

“It’s a risk that we simply can’t run,” he said at a news conference last month. “We can’t allow a wage-price spiral to happen. And we can’t allow inflation expectations to become unanchored. It’s just something that we can’t allow to happen, and so we’ll look at it that way.”

speech in Germany this week, Christopher J. Waller, a Fed governor, argued that as demand slows, employers are likely to start posting fewer jobs before they turn to layoffs. That could result in slower wage growth — since with fewer employers trying to hire, there will be less competition for workers — without a big increase in unemployment.

“I think there’s room right now for inflation to come down a significant amount without unemployment coming up,” said Mike Konczal, an economist at the Roosevelt Institute.

The Fed’s efforts to cool off the economy are already bearing fruit, Mr. Konczal said. Mortgage rates have risen sharply, and there are signs that the housing market is slowing as a result. The stock market has lost almost 15 percent of its value since the beginning of the year. That loss of wealth is likely to lead at least some consumers to pull back on their spending, which will lead to a pullback in hiring. Job openings fell in April, though they remained high, and wage growth has eased.

“There’s a lot of evidence to suggest the economy has already slowed down,” Mr. Konczal said. He said he was optimistic that the United States was on a path toward “normalizing to a regular good economy” instead of the boomlike one it has experienced over the past year.

But the thing about such a “soft landing,” as Fed officials call it, is that it is still a landing. Wage growth will be slower. Job opportunities will be fewer. Workers will have less leverage to demand flexible schedules or other perks. For the Fed, achieving that outcome without causing a recession would be a victory — but it might not feel like one to workers.

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Baby formula makers ramp up U.S. supplies to tackle shortage

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  • Reckitt boosts baby formula production by 30%
  • Nestle flies supplies to U.S. from Europe
  • Abbott gets go-ahead to resume production
  • U.S. to allow imports from foreign makers

LONDON, May 17 (Reuters) – Top baby formula makers Reckitt Benckiser (RKT.L) and Nestle have ramped up supplies to the United States to resolve a shortage that has emptied shelves and caused panic among parents.

Baby formula aisles at U.S. supermarkets have been decimated since top U.S. manufacturer Abbott Laboratories (ABT.N) in February recalled formulas after complaints of bacterial infections.

Abbott said on Monday it had reached an agreement with the U.S. health regulator to resume production of baby formula at its Michigan plant, marking a major step towards resolving the nationwide shortage. read more

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In the meantime, other baby formula makers have stepped up production and shipped extra supplies to the United States.

Reckitt Benckiser is boosting baby formula production by about 30% and making more frequent deliveries to U.S. stores, an executive told Reuters on Tuesday. read more

The company, which makes its U.S. formula in three facilities in Michigan, Indiana and Minnesota, has granted plants “unlimited overtime” to put in extra shifts, Robert Cleveland, senior vice president, North America and Europe Nutrition at Reckitt, told Reuters in an interview.

Prior to the Abbott recall, Reckitt supplied just over a third of the U.S. infant formula market compared with Abbott’s roughly 44%. Britain-based Reckitt told Reuters it now accounts for more than 50% of total baby formula supply in the country.

“We normally might pack an entire truck before we ship it. For timeliness, we’re not doing that. We’re packing it with as much product as we have and then we’re just getting it out the door,” Cleveland said.

The United States will allow baby formula imports from foreign makers that do not usually sell their products there, the Food and Drug Administration said on Monday. read more

Nestle is flying baby formula supplies to the United States from the Netherlands and Switzerland, the company said in an emailed statement to Reuters on Tuesday. L2N2X90E1

The world’s largest packaged food group is moving Gerber baby food formula to the United States from the Netherlands and Alfamino baby formula there from Switzerland, it said.

“We prioritized these products because they serve a critical medical purpose as they are for babies with cow’s milk protein allergies,” the company said. “Both products were already being imported but we moved shipments up and rushed via air to help fill immediate needs.”

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Editing by Matt Scuffham and Mark Potter

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Afghanistan’s Health Care System Is Collapsing Under Stress

KABUL, Afghanistan — Amena, 7 months old, lay silently in her hospital crib amid the mewling of desperately ill infants in the malnutrition ward.

Her mother, Balqisa, had brought the child to Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, the night before. “Her body was so hot,” she said, stroking her daughter’s emaciated leg.

The baby had a high fever, convulsions and sepsis, said Dr. Mohammad Iqbal Sadiq, a pediatrician, glancing at her chart.

“Her chances are not good,” the doctor said. “We got her too late.”

At the Indira Gandhi hospital, and in faltering hospitals across Afghanistan, famished children arrive by car and taxi and ambulance every day and night. Acute malnutrition is just one of a cascade of maladies that threaten to topple the country’s fragile health system.

acute poverty, with 4.7 million Afghans likely to suffer severe malnutrition this year, according to the United Nations. Last month, the organization made its biggest appeal ever for a single country, asking international donors to give more than $5 billion to fend off a humanitarian disaster.

doubled since August, with 40 children dying in December on their way to receive medical care.

Jonas Gahr Store, the prime minister of Norway, whose country hosted meetings between Taliban representatives and Afghan civil society groups last week, spoke to the Security Council about the urgency to expedite aid.

“We need new agreements and commitments in place to be able to assist and help an extremely vulnerable civil population, and most vulnerable among them, the children who face hunger and suffering,” he said.

Before the U.S.-backed Afghan government disintegrated in August as the Taliban overran the country, the health system relied on international aid to survive. But much of that funding has been frozen to comply with sanctions imposed on the Taliban.

As a result, the International Rescue Committee recently predicted that 90 percent of Afghanistan’s health clinics were likely to shut down in the coming months. The World Health Organization has said that outbreaks of diarrhea, measles, dengue fever, malaria and Covid-19 threaten to overwhelm overburdened hospitals.

including $308 million in relief authorized by the United States, they have not been enough to cover 1,200 health facilities and 11,000 health workers.

Though the drastic decline in war-related casualties has relieved the burden of such patients on many hospitals, the suspension of operations by private facilities and the ability to safely travel Afghanistan’s roads has left other hospitals overrun with people.

On a recent morning, the corridors of Indira Gandhi hospital were crammed with beds as patients’ family members squatted on floors amid parcels of food bought at the local bazaar.

Patients’ meals consist of an egg, two apples, a milk packet, rice and juice, so many families supplement them with outside food. Some buy medicine at local pharmacies because the hospital can provide only about 70 percent of required medication, Dr. Sadiq said.

has now claimed more than 900,000 lives across the country, and the Covid death rates remain alarmingly high. The number of new infections, however, has fallen by more than half since mid-January, and hospitalizations are also declining.

Few Afghans wear masks — even at the Ministry of Public Health in Kabul. There, officials clustered in groups on a recent weekday, greeting visitors with hugs and kisses, and ignoring faded signs saying masks were required throughout the building.

At the Afghan-Japan Communicable Disease Hospital in Kabul, the only remaining Covid-19 facility in the capital, few staff members or patients complied with worn stickers on the floors that proclaimed: “Let’s Beat Coronavirus — Please keep at least 2 meters from people around you.”

“When I try to talk to people about Covid-19, they say we have no food, no water, no electricity — why should we care about this virus?” said Dr. Tariq Ahmad Akbari, the hospital’s medical director.

Dr. Akbari suspected that the Omicron variant had entered the country, but the hospital lacked the medical equipment to test for variants. He and his staff had not been paid for five months, he said, and the hospital was critically low on oxygen supplies and health care workers.

Seven of the hospital’s eight female doctors fled after the Taliban takeover in August, part of a hollowing out that reduced the staff from 350 to 190 the past five months. Four of the five staff microbiologists quit. And only five of the country’s 34 Covid-19 centers were still operating, Dr. Akbari said.

Several staff members lived in the hospital in Kabul because, without salaries, they cannot afford rent, he said.

The hospital was recently buoyed by a two-month stopgap grant of $800,000 from an affiliate of Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Akbari said. And Afghanistan’s relative isolation following the Taliban takeover had likely helped contain the spread of Covid-19, he said.

Up to 20 patients died per day during the previous wave, but just one or two a day now. And the hospital tests about 150 patients a day now, down from 600 to 700 daily tests during the second wave, Dr. Akbari said.

He speculated that Afghans are so overwhelmed by other survival issues that they are less likely to seek treatment for Covid-19.

Before the Taliban takeover, the Ministry of Public Health published detailed daily charts showing the number of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths — and the positivity rate for testing. But now the poorly funded ministry struggles to keep tabs on the pandemic.

Of the more than 856,000 tests conducted since the first wave of Covid-19 in early 2020 — of an estimated population of nearly 40 million — roughly 163,000 were positive, a health ministry spokesman said. More than 7,400 Covid-19 deaths had been confirmed since 2020, he said.

But because testing is extremely limited and the cause of death is not recorded in many instances, particularly in rural areas of Afghanistan, no one knows the pandemic’s true scale.

Dr. Akbari shook his head in frustration as he described how little was known about the virus in Afghanistan.

Looking defeated, he said, “If we have a surge like we had during the second and third wave, we would not be equipped to handle it.”

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Supply Chain Woes Could Worsen as China Imposes Covid Lockdowns

WASHINGTON — Companies are bracing for another round of potentially debilitating supply chain disruptions as China, home to about a third of global manufacturing, imposes sweeping lockdowns in an attempt to keep the Omicron variant at bay.

The measures have already confined tens of millions of people to their homes in several Chinese cities and contributed to a suspension of connecting flights through Hong Kong from much of the world for the next month. At least 20 million people, or about 1.5 percent of China’s population, are in lockdown, mostly in the city of Xi’an in western China and in Henan Province in north-central China.

The country’s zero-tolerance policy has manufacturers — already on edge from spending the past two years dealing with crippling supply chain woes — worried about another round of shutdowns at Chinese factories and ports. Additional disruptions to the global supply chain would come at a particularly fraught moment for companies, which are struggling with rising prices for raw materials and shipping along with extended delivery times and worker shortages.

China used lockdowns, contact tracing and quarantines to halt the spread of the coronavirus nearly two years ago after its initial emergence in Wuhan. These tactics have been highly effective, but the extreme transmissibility of the Omicron variant poses the biggest test yet of China’s system.

Volkswagen and Toyota announced last week that they would temporarily suspend operations in Tianjin because of lockdowns.

Analysts warn that many industries could face disruptions in the flow of goods as China tries to stamp out any coronavirus infections ahead of the Winter Olympics, which will be held in Beijing next month. On Saturday, Beijing officials reported the city’s first case of the Omicron variant, prompting the authorities to lock down the infected person’s residential compound and workplace.

If extensive lockdowns become more widespread in China, their effects on supply chains could be felt across the United States. Major new disruptions could depress consumer confidence and exacerbate inflation, which is already at a 40-year high, posing challenges for the Biden administration and the Federal Reserve.

“Will the Chinese be able to control it or not I think is a really important question,” said Craig Allen, the president of the U.S.-China Business Council. “If they’re going to have to begin closing down port cities, you’re going to have additional supply chain disruptions.”

thrown the global delivery system out of whack. Transportation costs have skyrocketed, and ports and warehouses have experienced pileups of products waiting to be shipped or driven elsewhere while other parts of the supply chain are stymied by shortages.

For the 2021 holiday season, customers largely circumvented those challenges by ordering early. High shipping prices began to ease after the holiday rush, and some analysts speculated that next month’s Lunar New Year, when many Chinese factories will idle, might be a moment for ports, warehouses and trucking companies to catch up on moving backlogged orders and allow global supply chains to return to normal.

But the spread of the Omicron variant is foiling hopes for a fast recovery, highlighting not only how much America depends on Chinese goods, but also how fragile the supply chain remains within the United States.

American trucking companies and warehouses, already short of workers, are losing more of their employees to sickness and quarantines. Weather disruptions are leading to empty shelves in American supermarkets. Delivery times for products shipped from Chinese factories to the West Coast of the United States are as long as ever — stretching to a record high of 113 days in early January, according to Flexport, a logistics firm. That was up from fewer than 50 days at the beginning of 2019.

The Biden administration has undertaken a series of moves to try to alleviate bottlenecks both in the United States and abroad, including devoting $17 billion to improving American ports as part of the new infrastructure law. Major U.S. ports are handling more cargo than ever before and working through their backlog of containers — in part because ports have threatened additional fees for containers that sit too long in their yards.

Yet those greater efficiencies have been undercut by continuing problems at other stages of the supply chain, including a shortage of truckers and warehouse workers to move the goods to their final destination. A push to make the Port of Los Angeles operate 24/7, which was the centerpiece of the Biden administration’s efforts to address supply chain issues this fall, has still seen few trucks showing up for overnight pickups, according to port officials, and cargo ships are still waiting for weeks outside West Coast ports for their turn for a berth to dock in.

work slowdowns and shipping delays.

“If you have four closed doors to get through and one of them opens up, that doesn’t necessarily mean quick passage,” said Phil Levy, the chief economist at Flexport. “We should not delude ourselves that if our ports become 10 percent more efficient, we’ve solved the whole problem.”

Chris Netram, the managing vice president for tax and domestic economic policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, which represents 14,000 companies, said that American businesses had seen a succession of supply chain problems since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Right now, we are at the tail end of one flavor of those challenges, the port snarls,” he said, adding that Chinese lockdowns could be “the next flavor of this.”

Manufacturers are watching carefully to see whether more factories and ports in China might be forced to shutter if Omicron spreads in the coming weeks.

Neither Xi’an nor Henan Province, the site of China’s most expansive lockdowns, has an economy heavily reliant on exports, although Xi’an does produce some semiconductors, including for Samsung and Micron Technology, as well as commercial aircraft components.

Handel Jones, the chief executive of International Business Strategies, a chip consultancy, said the impact on Samsung and Micron would be limited, but he expressed worries about the potential for broader lockdowns in cities like Tianjin or Shanghai.

stay away from any vehicle collisions involving Olympic participants, to avoid infection.

Last year, terminal shutdowns in and around Ningbo and Shenzhen, respectively the world’s third- and fourth-largest container ports by volume, led to congestion and delays, and caused some ships to reroute to other ports.

But if the coronavirus does manage to enter a big port again, the effects could quickly be felt in the United States. “If one of the big container terminals goes into lockdown,” Mr. Huxley said, “it doesn’t take long for a big backlog to develop.”

Airfreight could also become more expensive and harder to obtain in the coming weeks as China has canceled dozens of flights to clamp down on another potential vector of infection. That could especially affect consumer electronics companies, which tend to ship high-value goods by air.

For American companies, the prospect of further supply chain troubles means there may be another scramble to secure Chinese-made products ahead of potential closures.

Lisa Williams, the chief executive of the World of EPI, a company that makes multicultural dolls, said the supply chain issues were putting pressure on companies like hers to get products on the shelves faster than ever, with retailers asking for goods for the fall to be shipped as early as May.

Dr. Williams, who was an academic specializing in logistics before she started her company, said an increase in the price of petroleum and other raw materials had pushed up the cost of the materials her company uses to make dolls, including plastic accessories, fibers for hair, fabrics for clothing and plastic for the dolls themselves. Her company has turned to far more expensive airfreight to get some shipments to the United States faster, further cutting into the firm’s margins.

“Everything is being moved up because everyone is anticipating the delay with supply chains,” she said. “So that compresses everything. It compresses the creativity, it compresses the amount of time we have to think through innovations we want to do.”

Ana Swanson reported from Washington, and Keith Bradsher from Beijing.

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Fed’s Moves in 2022 Could End the Stock Market’s Pandemic Run

For two years, the stock market has been largely able to ignore the lived reality of Americans during the pandemic — the mounting coronavirus cases, the loss of lives and livelihoods, the lockdowns — because of underlying policies that kept it buoyant.

Investors can now say goodbye to all that.

Come 2022, the Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates to fight inflation, and government programs meant to stimulate the economy during the pandemic will have ended. Those policy changes will cause investors, businesses and consumers to behave differently, and their actions will eventually take some air out of the stock market, according to analysts.

“It’s going to be the first time in almost two years that the Fed’s incremental decisions might force investors or consumers to become a little more wary,” said David Schawel, the chief investment officer at Family Management Corporation, a wealth management firm in New York.

At year’s end, the overarching view on Wall Street is that 2022 will be a bumpier ride, if not quite a roller coaster. In a recent note, analysts at J.P. Morgan said that they expected inflation — currently at 6.8 percent — to “normalize” in coming months, and that the surge of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus was unlikely to lower economic growth.

16 percent gain during the first year of the pandemic. The index hit 70 new closing highs in 2021, second only to 1995, when there were 77, said Howard Silverblatt, an analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices. Shares on Friday fell slightly.

The market continued to rise through political, social and economic tensions: On Jan. 7, the day after a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, the S&P set another record. Millions of amateur investors, stuck at home during the pandemic, piled into the stock market, too, buying up shares of all kinds of companies — even those that no one expects will earn money, like the video game retailer GameStop.

Wall Street also remained bullish on business prospects in China despite Beijing’s growing tension with the United States and tightening grip on Chinese companies. Waves of coronavirus variants, from Delta to Omicron, and a global death toll that crossed five million did not deter the stock market’s rise; its recovery after each bout of panic was faster than the previous one.

“2021 was a terrific year for the equity markets,” said Anu Gaggar, the global investment strategist for Commonwealth Financial Network, in an emailed note. “Between federal stimulus keeping the economy going, easy monetary policy from the Fed keeping markets liquid and interest rates low, and the ongoing medical improvement leading to surprising growth, markets have been in the best of all possible worlds.”

400 private companies raised $142.5 billion in 2021. But investors had sold off many of the newly listed stocks on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq by the end of the year. The Renaissance IPO exchange-traded fund, which tracks initial public offerings, is down about 9 percent for the year.

Shares of Oatly, which makes an oat-based alternative to dairy milk, soared 30 percent when the company went public in May but are now trading 60 percent lower than their opening-day closing price. The stock-trading start-up Robinhood and the dating app Bumble, two other big public debuts, were down about 50 percent for 2021.

supply chain disruptions stemming from the pandemic. Prices for used cars skyrocketed amid a global computer chip shortage. As Covid-19 vaccination rates improved, businesses trying to reopen had to raise wages to attract and retain employees. Consumer prices climbed 5.7 percent in November from a year earlier — the fastest pace since 1982.

But even when “inflation” had become a buzzword worthy of a headline in The Onion, the stock market appeared slow to react to price increases.

“The market is on the side that inflation is transitory,” said Harry Mamaysky, a professor at Columbia Business School. “If it’s not and the Fed needs to go in and raise interest rates to tame inflation, then things could get a lot worse in terms of markets and economic growth.”

And that is what the Fed has signaled it will do in 2022.

When interest rates go up, borrowing becomes more expensive for both consumers and companies. That can hurt profit margins for companies and make stocks less attractive to investors, while sapping consumer demand because people have less money to spend if their mortgage and other loan payments go up. Over time, that tends to deflate the stock market and reduce demand, which brings inflation back under control.

loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation costs and toys.

Mr. McBride said the values of many stocks were being supported by extremely low yields on Treasury bonds, especially the 10-year yield, which has held to about 1.5 percent.

“If that yield moves up, investors are going to re-evaluate how much they’re willing to pay for per dollar of earnings for stocks,” he said. Even if corporate profits — which were strong in 2021 — continue to grow in 2022, he added, they are unlikely to expand “at a pace that continues to justify the current price of stocks.”

quicken the pace of pulling back on that aid, set to finish in March.

“The nightmare scenario is: The Fed tightens and it doesn’t help,” said Aaron Brown, a former risk manager of AQR Capital Management who now manages his own money and teaches math at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Mr. Brown said that if the Fed could not orchestrate a “soft landing” for the economy, things could start to get ugly — fast.

And then, he said, the Fed may have to take “very aggressive action like a rate hike to 15 percent, or wage and price controls, like we tried in the ’70s.”

By an equal measure, the Fed’s moves, even if they are moderate, could also cause a sell-off in stocks, corporate bonds and other riskier assets, if investors panic when they realize that the free money that drove their risk-taking to ever greater extremes over the past several years is definitely going away.

Sal Arnuk, a partner and co-founder of Themis Trading, said he expected 2022 to begin with something like “a hiccup.”

“China and Taiwan, Russia and Ukraine — if something happens there or if the Fed surprises everyone with the speed of the taper, there’s going to be some selling,” Mr. Arnuk said. “It could even start in Bitcoin, but then people are going to start selling their Apple, their Google.”

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On Syria’s Ruins, a Drug Empire Flourishes

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Built on the ashes of 10 years of war in Syria, an illegal drug industry run by powerful associates and relatives of President Bashar al-Assad has grown into a multi-billion-dollar operation, eclipsing Syria’s legal exports and turning the country into the world’s newest narcostate.

Its flagship product is captagon, an illegal, addictive amphetamine popular in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Its operations stretch across Syria, including workshops that manufacture the pills, packing plants where they are concealed for export, and smuggling networks to spirit them to markets abroad.

An investigation by The New York Times found that much of the production and distribution is overseen by the Fourth Armored Division of the Syrian army, an elite unit commanded by Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother and one of Syria’s most powerful men.

Major players also include businessmen with close ties to the government, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and other members of the president’s extended family, whose last name ensures protection for illegal activities, according to The Times investigation, which is based on information from law enforcement officials in 10 countries and dozens of interviews with international and regional drug experts, Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade and current and former United States officials.

found 84 million pills hidden in huge rolls of paper and metal gears last year. Malaysian officials discovered more than 94 million pills sealed inside rubber trolley wheels in March.

hub of hashish production and a stronghold of Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group that is now part of Lebanon’s government.

While the pharmaceutical Captagon contained the amphetamine fenethylline, the illicit version sold today, often referred to as “captagon” with a lowercase c, usually contains a mix of amphetamines, caffeine and various fillers. Cheap versions retail for less than a dollar a pill in Syria, while higher quality pills can sell for $14 or more apiece in Saudi Arabia.

After the Syrian war broke out, smugglers took advantage of the chaos to sell the drug to fighters on all sides, who took it to bolster their courage in battle. Enterprising Syrians, working with local pharmacists and machinery from disused pharmaceutical factories, began making it.

Syria had the needed components: experts to mix drugs, factories to make products to conceal the pills, access to Mediterranean shipping lanes and established smuggling routes to Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

As the war dragged on, the country’s economy fell apart and a growing number of Mr. al-Assad’s associates were targeted with international sanctions. Some of them invested in captagon, and a state-linked cartel developed, bringing together military officers, militia leaders, traders whose businesses had boomed during the war and relatives of Mr. al-Assad.

Mr. Khiti and Mr. Taha. It called Mr. Taha an intermediary for the Fourth Division whose businesses “generate revenue for the regime and its supporters.”

Captagon is still produced in and smuggled through Lebanon. Nouh Zaiter, a Lebanese drug lord who now lives mostly in Syria, links the Lebanese and Syrian sides of the business, according to regional security officials and Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade.

A tall, longhaired Bekaa Valley native, Mr. Zaiter was sentenced in absentia to life in prison with hard labor by a Lebanese military court this year for drug crimes.

Reached by phone, Mr. Zaiter said his business was hashish and denied that he had ever been involved with captagon.

“I have not and will never send such poisons to Saudi Arabia or anywhere else,” he said. “Even my worst enemy, I won’t provide him with captagon.”

sewn into the linings of clothes.

In May, after Saudi authorities discovered more than five million pills hidden inside hollowed out pomegranates shipped from Beirut, they banned produce from Lebanon, a major blow to local farmers.

According to The Times’ database, the number of pills seized has increased every year since 2017.

The street value of the drugs seized has outstripped the value of Syria’s legal exports, mostly agricultural products, every year since 2019.

Last year, global captagon seizures had a street value of about$2.9 billion, more than triple Syria’s legal exports of $860 million.

Law enforcement agencies have struggled to catch the smugglers, not least because the Syrian authorities offer little if any information about shipments that originated in their country.

The name of shippers listed on manifests are usually fake and searches for the intended recipients often lead to mazes of shell companies.

The Italian seizure of 84 million pills in Salerno last year, the largest captagon bust ever at the time, had come from Latakia. Shipping documents listed the sender as Basil al-Shagri Bin Jamal, but the Italian authorities were unable to find him.

GPS Global Aviation Supplier, a company registered in Lugano, Switzerland, that appears to have no office.

Phone calls, text messages and emails to the company received no response, and the wealth management firm that the company listed as its mailing address, SMC Family Office SA, declined to comment.

Greek investigators have hit similar roadblocks.

In June 2019, workers in Piraeus found five tons of captagon, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, inside sheets of fiberboard on their way to China.

Seehog, a Chinese logistics firm. When reached by phone, she denied knowing anything about the shipment and refused to answer questions.

“You are not the police,” she said, and hung up.

There was one more clue in the documents: The sender was Mohammed Amer al-Dakak, with a Syrian phone number. When entered into WhatsApp, the phone number showed a photo of Maher al-Assad, the commander of Syria’s Fourth Armored Division, suggesting the number belonged to, at least, one of his fans.

A man who answered that number said that he was not Mr. al-Dakak. He said that he had acquired the phone number recently.

Loukas Danabasis, the head of the narcotics unit of Greece’s financial crime squad, said the smugglers’ tactics made solving such cases “difficult and sometimes impossible.”

While officials in Europe struggle to identify smugglers, Jordan, one of the United States’ closest partners in the Middle East, sits on the front lines of a regional drug war.

“Jordan is the gateway to the Gulf,” Brig. Gen. Ahmad al-Sarhan, the commander of an army unit along Jordan’s border with Syria, said during a visit to the area.

Overlooking a deep valley with views of Syria, General al-Sarhan and his men detailed Syrian smugglers’ tricks to bring drugs into Jordan: They launch crossing attempts at multiple spots. They attach drugs to drones and fly them across. They load drugs onto donkeys trained to cross by themselves.

Sometimes the smugglers stop by Syrian army posts before approaching the border.

“There is clear involvement,” General al-Sarhan said.

The drug trade worries Jordanian officials for many reasons.

The quantities are increasing. The number of Captagon pills seized in Jordan this year is nearly double the amount seized in 2020, according to Colonel Alqudah, the head of the narcotics department.

And while Jordan was originally just a pathway to Saudi Arabia, as much as one-fifth of the drugs smuggled in from Syria are now consumed in Jordan, he estimated. The increased supply has lowered the price, making it easy for students to become addicted.

Even more worrying, he said, is the growing quantity of crystal meth entering Jordan from Syria, which poses a greater threat. As of October, Jordan had seized 132 pounds of it this year, up from 44 pounds the year before.

“We are now in a dangerous stage because we can’t go back,” said Dr. Morad al-Ayasrah, a Jordanian psychiatrist who treats drug addicts. “We are going forward and the drugs are increasing.”

Reporting was contributed by Niki Kitsantonis in Athens; Gaia Pianigiani in Rome; Kit Gillet in Bucharest, Romania; Hannah Beech in Bangkok; and employees of The New York Times in Damascus, Syria, and Beirut, Lebanon.

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These U.S. Veterans Won’t Rest Until They’ve Kept a Promise to Afghans

An informal network that includes former government and military officials is working around the clock to fulfill a pledge to save Afghans who put their lives on the line for America.


FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Rex Sappenfield does not sleep well. A former Marine who served in Afghanistan, he is tormented by the fate of his interpreter, an Afghan with a wife and three young children to whom Mr. Sappenfield made a battlefield promise: We will never abandon you.

Now a high school English teacher who tries to instill a sense of rectitude in his students, Mr. Sappenfield has thought about his pledge every day since the United States pulled out of Afghanistan on Aug. 30.

“We broke a promise, and I just feel terrible,” Mr. Sappenfield, 53, said. “I said it to the faces of our Afghan brothers: ‘Hey guys, you can count on us, you will get to come to the United States if you wish.’”

But if America has withdrawn from Afghanistan, Mr. Sappenfield and many other veterans have not. He is part of an informal network — including the retired general who once commanded his unit, retired diplomats and intelligence officers and a former math teacher in rural Virginia — still working to fulfill a promise and save the Afghan colleagues who risked their lives for America’s long fight in Afghanistan.

the American evacuation.

“I tell my students in 11th grade that they are the only ones who can betray their integrity,” Mr. Sappenfield said. “It’s theirs to give away if they choose to lie or cheat. But in this case, someone else broke my word for me. It just irritates the heck out of me.”

Did our service matter?

The question gnawed at Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson as he drafted a letter in August to the men and women with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade who fought alongside him in Afghanistan. “Nothing,” he wrote, “can diminish your selfless service to our nation.”

Nothing — not the Taliban’s sweeping takeover after two decades of war, not the desperate Afghans falling from planes, not disbelief that Afghanistan had fallen overnight to the same enemy that the Americans had vanquished 20 years ago.

“I felt I had to say to the guys, ‘Hey, get your heads up,’” said General Nicholson, who retired as a three-star in 2018. Recalling the 92 Marines who died under his command in Helmand Province, the 2,461 American service members overall who died in Afghanistan and the untold treasure lost, he wrote to his fellow Marines:

“You raised your hand and said, ‘IF NOT ME, THEN WHO?’”

the fall of Kabul on Aug. 15, the network worked with soldiers and intelligence officers on the ground in Afghanistan. She showed The Times a list of Afghan names, including large families, a few marked in purple with the words “GOT OUT!!!”

their origin story and their record as rulers.

“Among Americans there is no shared scar tissue from the wars,” said J. Kael Weston, a retired foreign service officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside General Nicholson and has been part of the network. “A culture gap opened up.”

In rural Virginia, Ms. Hemp and others are still working to save more Afghans. She has three young grandchildren and doesn’t have to do this, given that many Americans have already forgotten Afghanistan, or scarcely paid attention to it before.

“I was raised with the Golden Rule, an honor code,” she said. “You do not lie to people. You honor your promises.”

She looked out at her crab apple tree and the rolling green fields. “People today don’t want to take responsibility for their actions. ‘Choices have consequences’ is now ‘choices have consequences for everyone but me.’ People are just so angry.”

On many days, Mr. Sappenfield speaks on Zoom with P, the interpreter. They exchange videos of their children but more often they talk about fear and frustration. The fear is about the Taliban. The frustration is with the State Department, which has been slow walking his visa application for many years.

“They are not taking any action,” P said in a Zoom call. “I feel hopeless. I feel I will be killed in front of my kids.”

For more than a decade, P has been caught in the Catch-22 labyrinth of the State Department’s Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, application process. He has already had two visa interviews — on March 3, 2020, and April 6 of this year — at the now closed U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Yet in a Sept. 21 email to Ms. Hemp, a foreign service officer wrote that P still needed another interview. “Obviously,” the officer added, “that will not be happening in Kabul.”

He concluded, “Sorry this is so murky and chaotic.”

Ms. Hemp responded bluntly. “In this day and age of online meetings, zoom conference calls, FaceTime calls, Messenger video chat, why can’t they do an online interview?” she wrote.

The foreign service officer checked with a colleague in Washington, who confirmed that, given the closure of the embassy in Kabul, there was no way for P to get another interview unless he managed to leave Afghanistan.

“Then the SIV case can be transferred to that country,” the officer wrote. “So, it seems to be a Catch-22 situation.”

Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, said on Capitol Hill last month that only about 3 percent of the Afghans evacuated to the United States during the American withdrawal actually have special immigrant visas.

P’s application was first submitted in April 2010, when Mr. Sappenfield’s unit was rotating out of Helmand. Had the process not been so labyrinthine, P would have gotten out of Afghanistan before it fell to the Taliban. Now he is trapped.

In an email, a State Department spokeswoman said the effort to help people like P was “of utmost importance” but acknowledged that “it is currently extremely difficult for Afghans to obtain a visa to a third country” in order to have a visa interview.

P has not given up. Every day there is a different word on flights. So far, none have had a spot for him.

Ms. Hemp, Mr. Sappenfield, Mr. Britton and General Nicholson haven’t given up, either.

“Since the weather is changing, people are asking me to find blankets and warm clothes for their families in Afghanistan,” Ms. Hemp wrote recently. “Of course, they continue to ask when their loved ones will be evacuated. No clue, probably never, but I don’t dare tell them that.”

Mr. Sappenfield, a religious man, also recently wrote: “Haunted by the promises I made but my government wouldn’t allow me to keep, I ponder my own Judgment Day.

“Irreverently, perhaps, I am hoping for a front row seat when that day of reckoning comes for those responsible for these crimes against humanity.”

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