2010 Post-Post-Election Analysis Analysis – Take Back Talking Points episode 14

December 11, 2010

This is episode 14 of Take Back Talking Points, your place for completely inconsistent, long-winded, zero-budget progressive media which is truly independent. Today Alex and Brendon talk about the 2010 election results and do a meta-analysis of the analysis of the election by the various talking heads wired into your everyday life.

We make up for lost time, this being the first episode in quite a while, by going off on several tangents and discussing a lot of interesting issues, including:

Pin the Bailout on the Donkey – how the Republicans turned the Bush bailouts into the Obama bailouts

The Big Lie – Is blatant lying more common in politics today?

Who really won the Senate, the Democrats, the Republicans, or Corporate America?

Will the Republican win in the House lead to more legislative gridlock or less?

Does talking about fascism automatically destroy political dialogue?

Why is Hitler our moral compass?

Big money invades the election system after the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision

Is the U.S. a nation addicted to war?

And much much more. You can download the audio podcast version here, view the YouTube playlist here, or view the embedded videos after the jump.

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A Man Died Today that Obama Should Take a Lesson From – When He Said “Look Forward”, Nestor Kirchner Said “Nunca Mas”

October 28, 2010

nestor y cristina fernandez de kirchnerFlags are flying at half mast in Argentina today after the sudden and unexpected death of former president Nestor Kirchner of a heart attack at the age of 60.

Serving as president of a nation with an unfortunate history of unstable periods of democracy sandwiched between decades of brutal U.S.-backed military dictatorships and taking the baton immediately following a devastating economic collapse, Kirchner took on a challenge with remarkable similarities to the challenges Barack Obama faces as president of the United States today, though perhaps, in domestic terms, even greater in scale.

Shortly before the beginning of Obama’s election, the U.S. suffered the inevitable collapse of a financial system designed to explode. In 2001, shortly before Kirchner became president of Argentina, rampant privatization and an unsustainable currency bubble created by an artificial 1:1 dollar-peso ratio led to the collapse of an already fragile economy. The international financial institutions basically took all the currency out of the economy and fled, leading to an immediate currency devaluation.

To make matters worse, it was obvious that the banks had seen this coming, encouraging people to sign their mortgages in dollars instead of pesos when they were worth the same amount, and foreclosing on them and leading them homeless after the currency devaluation, when they only had access to now practically worthless pesos. And in the U.S., banks are bending (or breaking) the rules to foreclose on people’s homes having convinced buyers that the rates on their adjustible-rate mortgages were never going to go up when they were fully aware that the bubble was about to burst.

Argentina was in debt to the IMF, and leveraged into taking their bad advice to solve their financial issues through privatization and deregulation. The economic collapse created an unemployment rate in the 20s, with an existing rampant underemployment and undercompensation problem. Corruption had become ingrown in the political, judicial, and police systems during the military dictatorship, and the policy at the time was the “punto final” (full stop), an equivalent to Obama’s policy of “looking forward, not backward”. The middle class crumbled, and in a society of rich and poor with very little inbetween, the poor created their own profession, becoming “cartoneros” and digging through the trash on the street for recyclable materials and hauling them by hand to recycling centers to earn money for food. Many continue to work today, but when they first appeared, they filled the streets.

The reasons many Democrats feel disillusioned with the Obama administration seem to fit into three categories, with a general common theme: he appears to be unwilling to work for the change that he promised.

People get a sensation that Obama is not representing them, but instead is representing established political and economic interests.

People feel that Obama is willing to cave in to the political opposition, but takes an iron fist when it comes to criticism from the side he claims to represent.

And people feel that Obama is turning a blind eye on or even continuing the illegal policies of his predecessor that put the very foundation of our democracy in jeopardy.

What the Obama administration doesn’t seem to understand is that yes, people like a reasonable politician who’s willing to compromise and work with the other party and be pragmatic in order to get things done, but sometimes it’s seemed like what we’ve gained in our efforts to compromise haven’t been worth what we’ve given away. And while the opposition may label you a socialist or a Communist or try to mischaracterize your message, even if they are convinced that you’re a little more left-leaning than they would like, if you can prove that you are a strong leader, people are willing to accept your leadership even if there are some policy disagreements. And if you stand by your positions and take that strong leadership role, you’ll never be caught flip-flopping or contradicting yourself, and you won’t make the kind of backroom deals that make people question your integrity.

Take a cue from the late president of Argentina. He faced similar challenges, and rose to the occasion, becoming an extremely important political force in the entire region.

The economy of Argentina is still struggling, and the inflation problems seem insurmountable. Like Obama, Kirchner didn’t have the ability to completely restructure a system desperately in need of replacement, practically beyond repair. Remnants of a non-progressive tax system, including a hefty value-added tax, are still in place from the days of the military dictatorship. Cost of living and wages are two very different numbers, and the marginalization of “villa” (shantytown) areas and a lack of class mobility lead to a frightening crime rate.

But there have been improvements since the collapse, and this is because Kirchner’s administration stood up to the IMF and the disastrous reforms they attempted to impose. Right now, the U.S. and many other nations around the world are responding to the economic crisis by pushing for so-called “austerity” measures, which will do untold damage to the economy by pushing more people into poverty, but will free up state funds for further handouts to the richest people in the world. Why is Obama surprised that the American left is upset with him when he himself creates a deficit commission to put Social Security on the chopping block?

The people of Argentina suffered under a military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983 during which some 30,000 people were tortured and murdered in the name of fighting “terrorism” and “communism” after a military coup which Henry Kissinger played a role in orchestrating, concurrent to the dictatorships in Chile under Augusto Pinochet and many other nations in the region. These nations actually worked together under  CIA supervision to develop internal policies of persecution for political beliefs and associations.

In the United States, after an election of questionable democratic validity in 2000, George W. Bush filled his cabinet with members of a think tank known as the Project for a New American Century, which lobbied for the invasion of Iraq on behalf of a group of individuals with an economic interest in doing so. After the September 11 attacks, this administration used the political momentum to start an illegal war. Their crimes didn’t stop there. Torture became commonplace in the name of fighting terrorism, both by the hands of our own military and intelligence officers and by our foreign allies with our knowledge.

Among those of us who believe torture should not be U.S. policy, the 2008 election became the focus of an important discussion to decide something which is a fundamental question into the nature of our democracy: do we open up a can of worms and punish war crimes, or do we attempt to move on for the sake of stability?

In the U.S., against the wishes of many of their constituents, the Democratic Party leadership and Obama himself decided before Bush’s term ended that impeachment was off the table, and afterward that our policy was to look forward, not backward.

And when the ghost of Latin American military dictatorships came back to haunt us in the form of a military coup in Honduras, Kirchner led the rest of Latin America in pressuring them to reinstate democracy and in refusing to recognize their illegal government, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled Latin America on behalf of Obama’s State Department not to support them in their fight for democracy, but to ask them, pressure them, and even threaten them to try to convince them to recognize the new government of Honduras and ignore the human rights violations committed there.

The price of impunity becomes clear in the case of South America. Pinochet lived free and wealthy until his death at the age of 90, and today, Chile suffers deep scars from his rule. Openly fascist movements are not uncommon, and private paramilitary contractor Blackwater used former officers from the military dictatorship as a recruiting pool for their operations in the Middle East.

In Argentina, however, while fascism and sympathy with the military dictatorship and its war criminals exist and may even be on the rise, they are much less common and less mainstream, more subtle or hidden. The fascist ideology of the military dictatorship has taken a far greater blow in Argentina than in Chile, and at least part of the reason for this has to be the actions of Nestor Kirchner.

His predecessor, Carlos Menem, had passed legislation closing all cases concerning disappearances (the bodies of many of those killed were thrown out of airplanes into the ocean), murders, torture, and stolen and illegally adopted children from the dirty war. When Kirchner took office, he eliminated this legislation and began a long process of investigation leading to the human rights convictions of the perpetrators of these crimes which continues today.

This is the way you fight against an ideology that runs contrary to the rule of law, not by showing the perpetrators of crimes against humanity that they are correct in believing they are above the law by offering them impunity, but by demanding justice, equal justice for all, regardless of how much political power they wield, regardless of how much wealth they control, regardless of what retribution they may promise (remember, in Argentina, these investigations were conducted knowing that the threat of another military coup always exists).

You don’t fight torture by classifying the documentation of torture to sweep it under the rug. You don’t do it by claiming you will end all practices of torture and no longer hand over prisoners to entities that will torture them only to be caught in a lie when Wikileaks gets their hands on the documentation showing that these practices continue today. You don’t do it by claiming the right to extrajudicial execution of anyone in the world, including your own citizens. And you don’t do it by claiming you will close the most famous torture and illegal detention site ever built by your government, only to leave it in operation well after your own self-imposed deadline.

You fight torture and crimes against humanity by talking about it openly and honestly. You do it by naming those responsible and pursuing their prosecution. You do it by taking their painted portraits down off the walls of the institutions they once controlled, as Kirchner did with Jorge Videla, the president of the military dictatorship who sits in jail today and will for life. You do it by shutting down the institutions they created and turning them into museums, as has been done with the Naval Mechanics School in Argentina that was used as an illegal detention and torture center under the dictatorship. You expose these people for what they are, criminals of the worst sort who destroy our democracy, who tarnish our national identity, and who hurt our nation in a way no terrorist ever could, by darkening our soul.

Instead, we’re trying to rewrite history and cover up what crimes we can and minimize the importance of the crimes we can’t. State secrets are invoked to block the legal process. Photographic evidence of torture is classified to avoid embarassment. Criminals are allowed to walk free.

Take a cue from Kirchner. Impunity sends a clear message that anyone who takes power can commit any crimes against humanity they wish, and that puts us in a position to be dragged back into our brutal past before we even regain our good standing as a beacon of democracy. “Looking forward” is the way backward. Justice is the way forward.

If we really want to move forward, first we must look back, stand firm, and declare, “Nunca mas!”

Ron Paul’s Two Sons – Rand Paul, Tea Party Drop Antiwar Stance

August 17, 2010

Alternative conservative rock-star Congressman Ron Paul is known for two things, his die-hard free-market fundamentalism and his staunch opposition to foreign entanglement and government abuse of individual rights.

He is one of few Republicans to enjoy support from anti-war elements of the electorate, and stands firm against torture and indefinite detention in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as part of the “War on Terror”, frequently describing these practices as illegal.

At the same time, his stance on economic policy takes the concept that the market knows best to an illogical extreme. If he had his way, he would shut down the Department of Education, which he sees as a socialist organization.

This would be a tough give and take for someone who wants to see progress in America and a stronger middle class but also wants the rule of law to be restored and the foreign invasions to end, but even if Ron Paul were, for example, President, he would have to make compromises on that agenda.

In a hypothetical situation, if Ron Paul had to choose between free-market capitalism and anti-fascism, which would he choose? Looking at his two children in the political arena, the Tea Party and Senate candidate from Kentucky Rand Paul, it appears that Ron Paul is more likely to associate himself with red-baiting fearmongers than with peace activists. There is a split in the Tea Party between people who believe in Ron Paul’s anti-war stance and Sarah Palin’s tough-talking, throw-the-rules-out-the-window position, but Rand Paul appears to be bridging that gap. On his website, he says that terrorists need to be tried in military tribunals at “Gitmo” and says that, “… the primary Constitutional function of the federal government is national defense,” a talking point Sarah Palin made during her address at the National Tea Party Convention.

With Rand Paul and the Tea Party, you get all the free-market fundamentalism with none of that bothersome anti-imperialism. I wonder if Ron Paul is proud.

This article originally appeared on my Topeka Political Buzz site on Examiner.com.

Sarah Palin’s political strength fails another test in Kansas primary

August 6, 2010

2008 Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s political clout has failed another test in the Kansas Republican primary for Sam Brownback’s U.S. Senate seat. Attempting to wear two hats as the flag-bearer for both the Republican Party and the Tea Party, Sarah Palin’s endorsement may be more of a burden than a medal of honor.

Representative Todd Tiahrt lost the Republican candidacy for the U.S. Senate to Representative Jerry Moran on August 4, on the heels of media scrutiny of Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Sharron Angle, currently a leader in the conservative chicken race and believed by many to be headed for a brick wall, and an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll which makes it look like a Sarah Palin endorsement is toxic among the general electorate.

This poll famously cited 25% of respondents saying they would be more enthusiastic about a candidate endorsed by Sarah Palin, where 52% said they would be less enthusiastic about a candidate endorsed by Sarah Palin. Comparatively, Barack Obama’s endorsement was viewed favorably by 36% and unfavorably by 43%. This indicates how polarizing Sarah Palin is, more so even than the President of the United States who is being universally denounced on the other side of the aisle as an undercover Communist here to destroy the American Dream. And this poll put the former conventional wisdom, that Sarah Palin was a conservative powerhouse riding a wave of voter anger towards the incumbent establishment, into question.

This may not be exclusively negative for Sarah Palin and the Republican Party. There can be power in polarization. It energizes the base and makes sure they’ll show up at the polls. Sarah Palin may still be the conservative golden girl the Republicans want on their side, and Todd Tiahrt may have lost on his own. It was a close, hard-fought race between two neary identical candidates, and Moran had a clear advantage in funding.

But Sarah Palin and the Tea Party could fizzle in the end. After all, the Democrats have delivered so much Republican policy that they can hardly be called extremists, and fear of extreme right-wing figures like Palin could cure Democratic voters of their lack of enthusiasm after two years of disappointing legislation.

In New Hampshire, an endorsement for Republican Senate primary candidate Kelly Ayotte was immediately followed by a jump in support from 8 points ahead to 21 points ahead for Democratic candidate Paul Hodes among independent voters, but he’s still trailing among the general electorate with plenty of undecided voters. And if it comes down to the undecided voters, it appears that an endorsement from Sarah Palin isn’t likely to change their minds. It didn’t work in Kansas.

This article originally appeared on my Topeka Political Buzz site on Examiner.com.

Honduran Government Texting Death Threats – Criminalization of Dissent More Rampant Than Reported – Interview

May 2, 2010

Take Back Talking Points Episode 13. Today we speak with an anonymous Honduran about the situation there, whether democracy has been restored or whether the new government is simply a whitewashed continuation of the military dictatorship. Death threats from the government seem to be commonplace, and may be more common than we think based on the evidence here.

The situation in Honduras has not been normalized after the coup, and murders and human rights violations appear to be continuing. In this episode of Take Back Talking Points, I discuss the issue with a Honduran who wishes to remain anonymous because she believes revealing her identity may lead to government retribution.  She makes the case that government intimidation of anti-coup dissidents is more commonplace than we’ve been hearing about in the media, and are affecting more than just a few left-wing  journalists and activists. If action is not taken, we could see another clandestine dirty war, but with new technology. The Honduran government has been sending text messages threatening to disappear people and their families and children.

View the full episode in YouTube playlist format here, or view the rest of the video segments and the full transcript after the jump.

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A Minimum Wage Increase Doesn’t Cause Inflation and Unemployment – IF It’s a Living Wage

March 18, 2010

The United States and the globalized world are suffering a variety of economic problems, not the least of which are the unemployment and underemployment problems which threaten to destabilize the U.S. economy. But with a real threat like unemployment or underemployment creeping in the shadows, people tend to look for courses of action that provide a false sense of security. They start to cringe and scold when they see collective bargaining and union action to increase wages or benefits, they fear minimum wage increases because they believe a low-paying job is better than no job at all, and bowing and groveling on the floor, they offer tax cuts and deregulation to big businesses and the wealthy in the hopes that their efforts to appease them will be rewarded with a decrease in the rate of negative job growth. But these measures will not dispel the menace of unemployment, and they will only worsen the economic problems facing the nation in other important areas. I will address these areas shortly.

My basic argument is this: Employers hire and maintain employees if and when they need them. If employees are an item on the market, having a sale won’t help if nobody is looking to invest in this commodity. An employer will invest in an employee’s services when and only when the employer needs these services, regardless of the current market price of these services. Human labor is a resource that businesses will pay the lowest possible price for when they need it, but will not buy more of simply because the price is low. Of course, this is a general rule, and there may be other factors to take into account, for example in some cases a business looking at the prospect of expansion may take a higher labor cost into account when analyzing the investment risk versus the possible return, but as a general rule, businesses will always need employees regardless of the cost. The peripheral benefits of raising the minimum wage, especially of raising it to the level of a living wage and keeping it there, outweigh the risks and negative effects of doing so.

Let’s examine the economic situation in the United States on a broad level. With the recent deregulation of the financial sector, with no limits on leverage allowing institutions to make bets representing dollar amounts that are dozens of times their net worth, institutions which are “too big to fail”, and a host of other systemic corrupting influences, the recent collapse of the financial sector and the reverberations throughout the entire economic system shouldn’t have been a surprise, at least not to economists. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, and the economic engine of the United States is running on empty.

It sort of depends on what your vision of an ideal economy for the United States would be. Without addressing other possibilities, there are two main directions the U.S. economy can move in: an economy driven by a strong middle class, or an economy more resembling third world nations, where an extremely wealthy oligarchy towers socially, economically, and politically above the impoverished masses. I know which one I consider to be my American dream.

But the economy we have today is an unsustainable mixture of the two. Wealth is gaining wealth, and the separation between rich and poor is growing fast. The middle class is sustained by credit, with an ever increasing number of Americans one medical problem away from financial ruin, yet working hard to maintain a middle class standard of living. Of course, poverty by way of medical issues is a purely American demon, as any comparably industrialized nation has some form of health care access for all of its citizens and controls on costs of medication, but in the globalized economy, other economic problems could spread throughout the world, especially if all nations start letting multinational corporations set the rules and compete amongst eachother to attract the employment opportunities they represent.

Class warfare is already happening, and if you’re in the middle class, you’re losing. Redistribution of wealth has been happening for decades, and you didn’t see it right under your nose. Ever since the efforts of the New Deal made it possible for more Americans to get an education, get on the electrical grid, and get jobs and learn job skills, as well as earn a minimum wage, the middle class has grown wealthy and comfortable, and have not participated in preventing the gradual rollback of the systems and precedents which made their success possible. The net effect is that the wealth of the middle class is being transferred to the wealthy, with stagnant wages, increased precarious employment and underemployment, and a general lack of opportunity forcing the middle class to fall back on credit and their safety nets to maintain their lifestyle. Each generation sees less opportunity than their parents, and spend more of their parents’ savings before they can successfully leave the nest and become fully independent, if they ever do. With each generation becoming more and more dependent on the wealth of their predecessors, how long will it take for us to spend every penny we earned through the New Deal?

The minimum wage, or more broadly and more importantly, wages which lie anywhere between the minimum wage and a living wage, are not just for unskilled laborers anymore. They’re for vast and growing sectors of the economy, including management positions and positions which require skills, education, general knowledge, and adherence to demanding standards of quality of service. With the cost of housing, transportation, food, health insurance, and other necessities in the United States, even if you refrain from gadgets and gizmos and luxury items, the cost of living in the U.S. is far ahead of the minimum wage. Factor in that during the majority of the living wage’s lifespan, most families with children survived on a single income, and you will realize how far behind we are. The reason so many families have to live on multiple incomes, with each wage earner working multiple jobs in many cases, is that even skilled and educated workers can end up working in jobs that pay less than a living wage year after year.

Allowing the minimum wage to slip so far has been a major mistake, if the goal is to maintain a strong middle-class economy where the majority of the citizenry live in relative wealth and comfort. I would go so far as to say that a minimum wage which is constantly adjusted to the cost of living, erring on the side of being slightly above the minimal cost of living, can provide the kind of basis for a sound economy that no other gold standard could rival.

The fact that such a huge gap has grown between the minimum wage and the cost of living is the primary reason that switching to a living-wage economy could have immediate negative repercussions, a sudden shock to the economy, and this is something that should have been avoided. But what’s done is done, and it’s time to look forward. We need to enact the kind of wage changes necessary while finding ways to mitigate the immediate effect on the economy. An automatic system to raise the minimum wage based on a suitable percentage of an appropriate cost of living index or a commission appointed to enact changes in the minimum wage based on changes in cost of living and other appropriate factors is a proposal that conventional wisdom will tell you is crazy, but I think it makes perfect sense.

I believe I’ve already made a case against the idea that it would cause massive unemployment. The bottom line is that businesses need employees, and efficiency is always a factor in their decision-making process, regardless of how much it costs to hire. The only hindrance this could cause to employment within the nation that institutes such a law would be if businesses can’t afford to expand because of the additional cost, if businesses simply break under the additional cost and go bankrupt, and if businesses move their operations overseas.

But these are primarily short-term issues. In the long term, I believe the net effect would be job growth, not increased unemployment. Scheduled minimum wage increases over a few years could be part of the original legislation, giving businesses time to adjust. Temporary help could be given to businesses that need it, and methods could be implemented to incentivize loans for these businesses, or government loans with little or no interest could be offered for businesses who need them to keep running during the initial switch.

The problem of businesses not being able to expand or grow because of the cost of hiring new employees will be a temporary problem. In a few years, the economy will adjust to the new pricing schemes necessary to make this work, and while profit margins or CEO pay may suffer to a degree, the positive effects on the consumer base will offer a huge opportunity for the businesses that are in a position to take advantage of it. For example, if, in the most extreme case, a living wage is instituted on a level which makes it possible for a single income to cover the cost of living for a married couple with children, any single, married without children, or two-income households will have an influx of savings and disposable income, giving them the kind of buying power that will make them attractive for providers of products and services of all kinds.

And as for the threat of outsourcing, that sword of Damocles has already fallen. Similarly to my previous argument, any jobs which can be outsourced already have been. And trying to compete in terms of labor cost on an international market is a losing game. We simply cannot compete with sweatshop labor prices, nor should we try. In fact, we should be limiting imports of products which are manufactured by workers who are not paid their local equivalent of a living wage. If we try to compete with sweatshop prices, then we must abolish the minimum wage altogether and open sweatshops in the United States, and everyone’s standard of living will suffer if we play that game.

I would, of course, advocate that a single income should cover the bare cost of living for a small family, at least as a long-term goal. A good start would be a living wage of at least 1.5 incomes being enough to cover a family’s cost of living, because a two-income household should be able to save, invest, and have disposable income. An excellent way to boost the economy and create more jobs that can’t be outsourced is to make sure that after paying their dues working for someone else, people have enough money to start considering starting their own business. Not only would this lead to more small businesses and more jobs, but it would give employers an extra incentive to treat their workers well and give them competitive wages, because not only would they have to compete with other employers to keep their most valued workers, they would have to compete with the fact that their employees would be able to start their own businesses. Employers would have to give them a reason to stay.

Most importantly, a minimum wage adjusted to the cost of living would allow more families to rebuild their safety net. No longer would so many Americans be one lost paycheck or one unexpected expense away from bankruptcy, or drowning in credit card debt and praying that their home equity doesn’t disappear when a housing bubble pops. Future generations will have a smoother transition into independence.

Now, some of these benefits will not occur if the raising of a minimum wage does not reach the level of a living wage. Any minimum wage increase that does not reach the cost of living will not help rebuild safety nets. I’m not saying closing the gap isn’t worthwhile if it’s all that can be done at a given time, but only a full shift to a self-adjusting living wage can not only improve the situation of the poorest workers, but lead to the kind of economic changes that create more jobs and more opportunities for everyone.

And if job losses or economic crises do occur, people will be better prepared for them. If they get laid off, the smarter ones will have some money saved up to carry them through until they find a new job, or their safety net will be better prepared to help them. Fewer people will be thrown into total poverty, saving the public from having to bail them out through public programs. More people will be in a position to pay into the tax system, easing the tax burden for everyone. And that additional job growth and, independently of that, the additional ability to contribute of those who are working, will pay for the costs of helping small businesses navigate the economic shift. This is the kind of win-win solution that can build a real economic foundation for America to build upon.

American Exceptionalism or Fascism? God-Given Rights for U.S. Citizens Only? Take Back Talking Points episode 12

March 6, 2010

Take Back Talking Points episode 12. Conservatives are now saying the Bill of Rights lists and protects our God-given rights, yet only applies to U.S. citizens. Does that make us God’s Chosen People? Or is it just another step toward fascism?

Plus, we mention the only truly bipartisan legislation to come out of this Congress: an extension of unconstitutional wiretapping. And we talk about the hard crackdown of “looters” in Chile, many of whom are clearly looking for food and water.

View the entire episode in YouTube playlist format here, download the mp3 audio podcast version here, or view the rest of the video segments after the jump.

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