#NotIntendedtoBeaFactualStatement

Kudos to Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert for keeping the pressure on Arizona Senator John Kyl for his gross indecency on his non-factual claim made on the Senate dais during last week's budget showdown that abortion services are "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.” In fact, abortion represents only three percent of Planned Parenthood services.

After Think Progress pointed out the glaring factual error, a Kyl spokesperson said that the Senator's remark on the dais of the Senate "was not intended to be a factual statement, but rather to illustrate that Planned Parenthood, an organization that receives millions of taxpayer dollars, does subsidize abortions.”  How a Senator, and who as the Minority Whip is the number two in the Republican leadership in the Senate, could go on the dais of the Senate make such an outlandish statement and then hide behind the even more buffoonish defense that such a falsehood was not intended to be a factual statement is reprehensible. Senator Kyl merits a formal reprimand from the Senate. Facts are not just stubborn things, they should be sacrosanct.

After skewering Senator Kyl on his show, The Colbert Report, the comedian has taken to Twitter with a series of non-factual statements about the junior Senator from Arizona.

No less egregious, boy I am overusing this word these days but what isn't egregious these days, was the claim made by the anchors of Fox & Friends that Planned Parenthood's services could be found at any Walgreens. While the right has long been prone to untruths, the lies are getting more desperately and patently absurd. Let's hope the American people are paying attention.

Still I've been monitoring the Arizona press and while the story has been carried in both the Phoenix and Tuscon newspapers, neither paper has come out with an editorial lambasting the Senator Kyl for his blatant disregard for facts. It's a sorry state of affairs when late night comedians have to do the work that the media should be doing, lambasting what is clearly unacceptable in a political debate. If we abandon the truth, what else have we?

"In Love with the Idea of Obama"

I received an email this morning from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) urging me to sign the following pledge:

"President Obama: If you cut Medicare and Medicaid benefits for me, my parents, my grandparents, or families like mine, don't ask for a penny of my money or an hour of my time in 2012. I'm going to focus on electing bold progressive candidates -- not Democrats who help Republicans make harmful cuts."

You can sign the pledge, if you so wish, here.

In its email, the PCCC included some of the reactions of Obama supporters and donors in the 2008 campaign to the fear that the President in his speech today will embrace the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles deficit cutting commission which envisions deep cuts to New Deal and Great Society entitlement programs. Here are those comments because they are well worth the read: 

Susan Carpenter, Obama volunteer from Ohio:

"Like many volunteers on his campaign, I was in love with the idea of Obama. I haven't given up on him quite yet, but I'm mustering the energy to work on the resistance. He needs to know who we are." 

John Rotolo, Obama volunteer from Florida:

"I'm almost too heartsick to comment...I'm at a loss."

Barbara Louise Jean, Obama volunteer from Nevada:

"It's ludicrous to cut Medicare for seniors when Wall Street created this mess without being held accountable. At 69, I'll be in financial trouble if Medicare benefits are lowered."

Joelle Barnes, Obama volunteer from Pennsylvania:  

"This is like a knife through my heart! This is a Republican thing!" 

Suzanne Fair, Obama volunteer from Maryland:

"I know he has to compromise sometimes, but it seems that he is caving to the Republicans far too often. We elected him for real change and I would like to see him stand strong against the corporate rich."

Margaret Copi, Obama donor from California:  

"I contributed more to Obama's campaign than I have to anything else in my life, but no more dollars from me and definitely not a moment of volunteer time, unless he makes huge shifts and starts to fight for the peoples' interest." 

Frankie Perdue, Obama volunteer from Colorado:

"I do not think that Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security should be on the negotiating table at all. Have the corporations pay their fair share of taxes."

Deborah Finn, Obama volunteer from North Carolina:  

"This is wrong! We did not elect Obama to have him make cuts in valuable, important programs. He needs to stand up to the Republicans. And he needs to speak to the American people about why it is morally wrong to cut the programs."

Michaele Bonenberger, Obama volunteer from South Dakota:  

"This does not sound at all like the Barak Obama that I worked so hard to get elected in 2008." 

Dotty Hopkins, Obama volunteer from California:  

"It makes it hard to gin up enthusiasm for 2012. More like hold your nose and vote again! As a former Obama volunteer, I'm already worrying about my lack of desire to do any campaigning and I'm on our County Central Committee for heaven's sake."

I do think that tonight's speech from the George Washington University is a break or make moment for President Obama vis-à-vis for many in his liberal base that worked so passionately to elect him in 2008. But I'm not sure that the President's campaign team feels that Obama needs all of them this time around given the campaign is a battle for the political center and that center clearly wants, if polls are to be believed, movement on reducing the deficit. To a certain degree, Obama's campaign strategists believes that many liberals have no place to go and that when push comes to shove they will back the President. In this, they are probably right. 

Going back to the notes above, I was most struck by Susan Carpenter's statement. An Obama volunteer from Ohio, one of the three most crucial battleground states in every Presidential election since 1960, Ms. Carpenter confesses that she "was in love with the idea of Obama." I think that pretty much sums what befell the progressive left in 2008. We fell in love with an idea and ignored the substance. Unfortunately for us, we now have to face up to and live with the substance of Obama and desperately need to come up with an idea for 2016.

Roger Simon of Politico yesterday wrote that he doesn't think that "Barack Obama will have a hard time defeating his Republican opponent in 2012, barring a financial meltdown or a major foreign crisis" but rather that Obama should worry about a Democratic opponent from the left. Simon, a staunch old school conservative, goes on to tout the possibilities of Howard Dean, Hillary Clinton and Dennis Kucinich.

None of these at any point in the last two years have ever even suggested that they are interested in challenging President Obama and they are not likely to do so now. Hillary Clinton is really the only one who could mount an effective challenge given her name recognition but she has repeatedly forsworn any interest in any elective office once she retires as Secretary of State. Moreover, she still hasn't even paid off her 2008 campaign debt to Mark Penn as yet. 

The reality is that President Obama is gearing up to raise $1 billion dollars for his run. In an America where money has become the determinant factor in our politics, that is a hefty obstacle to overcome. Barring some unforeseen crisis, Barack Obama will be re-elected President simply because his talents as a fundraiser are unsurpassed. For the progressive left, I believe it would serve us better to focus on electing true progressives to Congress so that we might draw the political center leftward because right now the political center in Congress is of all people, John Boehner. The imperative of recapturing the House could not be clearer.

Well, At Least, He's Not a Birther

In an interview with Larry Kudlow on CNBC Tuesday, former Massachusetts Governor and third place finisher in the 2008 GOP presidential primaries Mitt Romney said he thought there were legitimate reasons to want Mr. Obama out of the White House - but that "birther"-inspired claims were not credible. Romney emphasized "I think the citizenship test has been passed."

Kudos to Mitt Romney for being so forceful at the risk of alienating himself from the not insignificant in numbers birther wing of the GOP.

Romney, who announced earlier in the week that he had formed an exploratory committee, did take the President to task over the economy giving a foretaste of how he plans to frame his campaign strategy.

"Look, when it comes to the economy, the president has been incompetent," Romney told Kudlow. "He just hasn't done what is necessary to get Americans back to work. You've got roughly 20 million Americans who stopped looking for jobs or can't find work, and that's inexcusable in a nation that's as productive and innovative as this nation."

"Overwhelmingly, his people come from academics and from politics," Romney continued, of the president's staffing choices. "He doesn't...he doesn't have the confidence in the private sector people that you need to give him the help on the economy that he needs."

When asked about the health care reform bill he enacted while serving as governor of Massachusetts, Romney reiterated his standard line of defense on the issue.

"One thing I learned is this, which is that you don't take ideas from a state and try to impose them on a whole nation," he said.

Around the World

News from around the globe impacting your world.

Egypt Detains Mubarak and Sons. The interim government of Egypt has detained former Hosni Mubarak, who apparently suffered a heart attack, and his two sons. A statement posted on Facebook by Egypt's top prosecutor read "The prosecutor general orders the detention of former President Hosni Mubarak and his sons Gamal and Alaa for 15 days pending investigation after the prosecutor general presented them with the current state of its ongoing investigations." More from Al Jazeera.

UK Unemployment Drops. The latest unemployment figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the under-25s and women workers are bearing much of the pain in Britain's jobs market, while average earnings continued to lag behind inflation. But economists were encouraged by an unexpected fall in the total number of people out of work, which cut the UK's jobless rate from 8 percent to 7.8 percent. Still one in five Britons under the age of 25 are unemployed. The full details in The Guardian.

Opposition Leaders Arrested in Uganda. Opposition politicians, including Dr Kizza Besigye and Mr Norbert Mao, were arrested yesterday morning and charged hours later with alleged incitement to cause violence and failure to obey lawful orders. The opposition in Uganda has mounting a walk-to-work campaign every Monday and Thursday in solidarity with Ugandans suffering under the weight of sharply rising fuel and commodity prices. President Yoweri Museven has close ties to the American Christian Right. All Africa has more on the story.

The Gambia Calls on the US to Prosecute Terry Jones. The government of the small West African country of the Gambia has called on US goverment to prosecute as soon as possible, Terry Jones, a pastor in Florida church for recently burning a copy of the Qur'an. In a strongly worded statement indicating the Gambia government's position on Monday, Ebrima O. Camara, the secretary general and head of the civil service on behalf of the Gambia government described the act as heinous, bigotry and provocative. The full text of the protest note can be read at All Africa.

Inflation in India Darkens Outlook. With the latest figures show Indian inflation galloping at 8.31 percent, Kunal Kumar Kundu of the Asia Times looks at the policy options and their implication for the fast growing Indian economy.

Libya Group Calls for Qaddafi's Exit. The newly formed international "contact group" on Libya calls for Colonel Muammar Qaddafi to stand down as the country's leader. The BBC has the full story.

The Party of Jefferson Davis

CNN has an interesting poll out on the views of Americans on the Civil War and its causes.

Roughly one in four Americans said they sympathize more with the Confederacy than the Union, a figure that rises to nearly four in ten among white Southerners.

When asked the reason behind the Civil War, whether it was fought over slavery or states' rights, 52 percent of all Americas said the leaders of the Confederacy seceded to keep slavery legal in their state, but a sizeable 42 percent minority said slavery was not the main reason why those states seceded.

"The results of that question show that there are still racial, political and geographic divisions over the Civil War that still exists a century and a half later," CNN Polling Director Holland Keating said.

When broken down by political party, most Democrats said southern states seceded over slavery, independents were split and most Republicans said slavery was not the main reason that Confederate states left the Union. Republicans were also most likely to say they admired the leaders of the southern states during the Civil War, with eight in 10 Republicans expressing admiration for the leaders in the South, virtually identical to the 79 percent of Republicans who admired the northern leaders during the Civil War.

In my earlier essay, I noted on how the Civil War is the defining event in American history transforming our sense of nationhood and what it means to be an American. From saying the United States are to saying the United States is encapsulates what the War ultimately accomplished in cultural and political terms. That change in our speech is transcendental underscoring the nature of the country as one country and not fifty separate sovereign states. 

But there has been a second transformation, albeit one more recent, that is truly rather remarkable though frankly bizarre to this observer and that is how the Republican party has gone from being the "Party of Lincoln" to the "Party of Jefferson Davis."

That transformation really began in the wake of World War II when the Democratic Party, long the dominant political force in the South, began on the national level to move legislatively against the quid quo pro that had existed since Reconstruction that allowed segregation to form the bedrock of Southern life. By 1948, Storm Thurmond of South Carolina had bolted to form his Dixiecrat insurgency candidacy. In the early 1960s when the Civil Rights Movement brought the undemocratic nature of Southern race-based institutions crashing down, white Southerners began a mass exit towards the Republican party. That exit would largely be completed in 1980 when Ronald Reagan in his first campaign speech as the Republican nominee went to Philadelphia, Mississippi where 16 years before three civil rights workers had been brutally murdered to invoke the cause of "states' rights" which for white southerners translates into nothing more than their presumed God-given right to discriminate against anyone who isn't like them.

Southerners have always been more conservative than the rest of the nation. And while in the era before the Great Depression, one could find liberal progressives and conservatives in both parties in the post Civil Rights era that fixture of the American political system began to unravel as white Southerners joined en masse with other conservatives to take over the Republican party. Even as late as the early 1980s, it was possible for men like Jacob Javits, Nelson Rockefeller, Charles Mathias, and Edward Brooke to be part of the GOP. Today, a GOP moderate like Lincoln Chafee is unwelcome in the Republican party.

The fact that both of the two long dominant political parties in the United States had liberal and conservative wings is something that allowed for grand bipartisan coalitions to be formed at critical junctures in the nation's history. Indeed, the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would not have passed if not for the support it received from liberal Republicans. 

The filmmaker Ken Burns notes that "American think themselves an uncompromising people but our greatest strength is compromise and when it broke down we killed each other in great numbers. This is the lesson the Civil War at its heart. Compromise is the essence of democratic conversation." Unfortunately, compromise is not word in the vocabulary in the Party of Jefferson Davis.

It Defined Us as a Nation

One hundred fifty years ago today, the American Civil War began in earnest when Confederate forces fired upon the Federal fort at Fort Sumter that guarded the approaches to Charleston. While the two day battle that led to a Union retreat marks the formal start to the War between the States, fighting had already been raging between pro-slavery and abolitionist forces in Kansas and Missouri on and off beginning as early as 1854. And while formal hostilities would cease in April 1865 after over 600,000 lives lost, the secessionist states would be occupied by Federal troops until 1877. And for some in the South, it sometimes seems that War has not yet ended.

While there are still a few people who first think themselves citizens of a given state, a custom perhaps most egregious in Texas, and then a citizen of the United States second, most Americans now, I would hope, see themselves as Americans first. Before the Civil War, this was certainly not the case. For John C. Calhoun, his country was South Carolina.

The War is no doubt the watershed event in American history. The most fundamental transformation brought forth by the Civil War is that before the War one would say that the United States are essentially defining the country as a collection of independent states but after the War, it became the United States is. In this regard, the War becomes the catalyst for a tightening of the American bond. Our conception of nationality was forged through the course of that bloody conflict. Indeed, the Civil War ushered in the first constitutional definition of US citizenship.

How that "are" became an "is" is the defining story of the country and that debate in the minds of some conservatives is not yet settled. The Tenther Movement is but one example how issues seemingly resolved by the Civil War continue to permeate our politics.

There is no escaping that the Civil War left an indelible mark on the South. It scarred the psyche of the southerners where the War is still to this day called the War of Northern Aggression, the War for Southern Independence, or alternatively the Slaveholders' Rebellion. Nor do all southerners considered the War a conflict over the issue of slavery but rather a war over states' rights.

Southern apologists often go to great lengths to paint the War as anything but a conflict over slavery. Southern revisionism remains a cottage industry to this day. Take for example, Llewellyn H. Rockwell, president of the Ludwig van Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama who writes "the South was being looted to pay for the North's early version of industrial policy." Rockwell isn't even a historian nor an economist but rather a proponent of the Austrian School of Economics. For that matter, he isn't even a southerner but rather from Boston with a degree in English from Tufts. But for free traders, the South is a cause célèbre because the cotton exporting, finished goods importing South was against a high tariff policy. Taxes, then as now, are not a Southern thing.

But no historian views tariffs as the cause for the war in part because in 1857 tariffs were actually lowered in response to the financial panic of that year. If there is a single cause for the dissolution of the Union, and hence, the War it is the prolonged debate over expansion of slavery into the territories. If at independence, the political balance of the country was tilted in favor of the South by 1850 that balance was decisively moving in the North's direction as more free states entered the Union and as the North's population simply exploded. By 1860, the South was headed towards a permanent status as a political minority having failed to elect a southerner to the White House in three successive elections.

There can be no denying that the South that by 1865 was a defeated force whose culture was shattered. Economically, the region was devastated. The destruction of slavery meant that the entire Southern economy had to be rebuilt. Cotton exports would not match their pre-war high until 1879. Its share of US GDP would fall over the next 75 years as the North and Mid-West industrialized while the South remained an agricultural backwater. Overall, the region did not fully recover until the post World War II boom. To this day, Mississippi remains the poorest state in the Union and lowest socio-economic indicators are most prevalent in the South.

Still politically, the South has held together more than any other region of country giving it an outsized influence in national affairs even if no southerner would be elected to the White House between Zachary Taylor and Lyndon Baines Johnson (Woodrow Wilson was actually born in Virginia but he was elected from New Jersey and Andrew Johnson was from Tennessee but he was an accidental President). Its dominance was most acutely felt in the Senate during periods of Democratic control when southern Senators through use of the committee system effectively controlled that branch of government. And they would use that power to protect a race-based southern culture well into the 20th century.

Here are some collected thoughts of historian Shelby Foote on The Civil War:

What Obama Did Save

It is not unsubstantial. From the Associated Press:

A close look at the government shutdown-dodging agreement to cut federal spending by $38 billion reveals that lawmakers significantly eased the fiscal pain by pruning money left over from previous years, using accounting sleight of hand and going after programs President Barack Obama had targeted anyway.

Such moves permitted Obama to save favorite programs — Pell grants for poor college students, health research and "Race to the Top" aid for public schools, among others — from Republican knives.

And big holes in foreign aid and Environmental Protection Agency accounts were patched in large part. Republicans also gave up politically treacherous cuts to the Agriculture Department's food inspection program.

The full details of Friday's agreement weren't being released until overnight as it was officially submitted to the House. But the picture already emerging is of legislation financed with a lot of one-time savings and cuts that officially "score" as savings to pay for spending elsewhere, but that often have little to no actual impact on the deficit.

As a result of the legerdemain, Obama was able to reverse many of the cuts passed by House Republicans in February when the chamber passed a bill slashing this year's budget by more than $60 billion. In doing so, the White House protected favorites like the Head Start early learning program, while maintaining the maximum Pell grant of $5,550 and funding for Obama's "Race to the Top" initiative that provides grants to better-performing schools.

Still the two DC related riders and the appalling sacrifice of the not-for-profit healthcare centers are hard to swallow. The Pentagon had $2 billion cut from its budget meanwhile the entire $2 billion slated for these non-profit healthcare centers was cut. Recall that these centers were a consolation prize for not including a public option in the Affordable Care Act of 2010. 

Around the World

News from around the globe impacting your world.

Japan Raises Nuclear Crisis to Highest Level. Japan raised the crisis level at its crippled nuclear plant Tuesday to a severity on par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, citing high overall radiation leaks that have contaminated the air, tap water, vegetables and seawater. More on this story from the Mainichi Daily News and from the BBC.

In related news, Japan's Economic minister says the damage to the country's economy from last month's earthquake and tsunami is worse than first thought. Economic minister Kaoru Yosano said the blow to the Japanese economy is "larger than our original expectations" which were originally estimated at $295 billion dollars. The International Monetary Fund has lowered its 2011 economic growth forecast for Japan, the world's third biggest economy, from 1.6 percent to 1.4 percent. But one economic research company (Capital Economics) says Japan's economy may shrink by 1.5 percent this year. The Voice of America has a full report on the economic impact while Germany's Der Spiegel files a story comparing the northeast of Japan to the Roman ruins of Pompei.

The Libyan Conflict. The rebel held Libyan city of Misurata has come under heavy fire hours after Gaddafi said he would agree to a ceasefire. Meanwhile, Alain Juppé, the French Foreign Minister, says alliance should be doing more to take out heavy weaponry targeting civilians in Misurata. More from Al Jazeera.

Côte d'Ivoire President Urges Reconciliation. In a television address to the nation, President Alassane Ouattara calls on fighters in the Côte d'Ivoire to lay down their arms and promises dignified treatment for Laurent Gbagbo now in custody. The story in The Guardian.

Hosni Mubarak Hospitalized. Former Egyptian President currently under house arrest at his resort home at Sharm el-Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula has been hospitalized. No details yet as to the cause. Mubarak is 82. Meanwhile, Egypt's Prime Minister Essam Sharaf on Tuesday said that legal steps were underway to probe veracity of charges of corruption and excesses against the deposed leader. The Times of India files a report.

Inflation in the UK Drops Unexpectedly. The Bank of England reported  that Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rate of inflation in the United Kingdom was 4 percent in March, down from 4.4 percent in February. The figures came as the British Retail Consortium (BRC) revealed the biggest sales drop in its 16-year history, with total sales in March dropping 1.9% on a year ago. The full story from The Independent.

Third World America

Nathaniel Popper has written a tour de force piece for the Los Angeles Times about the US labor practices of Ikea, the iconic Swedish brand now owned by INGKA Holding B.V., a Dutch conglomerate, at their Danville, Virginia manufacturing facility. The long and the short of it is that Ikea is abusing the rights of its American workers because it can whereas in its European manufacturing sites, the company is held to much tighter pro-worker standards set by progressive governments.

The dust-up has garnered little attention in the U.S. But it's front-page news in Sweden, where much of the labor force is unionized and Ikea is a cherished institution. Per-Olaf Sjoo, the head of the Swedish union in Swedwood factories, said he was baffled by the friction in Danville. Ikea's code of conduct, known as IWAY, guarantees workers the right to organize and stipulates that all overtime be voluntary.

"Ikea is a very strong brand and they lean on some kind of good Swedishness in their business profile. That becomes a complication when they act like they do in the United States," said Sjoo. "For us, it's a huge problem."

Laborers in Swedwood plants in Sweden produce bookcases and tables similar to those manufactured in Danville. The big difference is that the Europeans enjoy a minimum wage of about $19 an hour and a government-mandated five weeks of paid vacation. Full-time employees in Danville start at $8 an hour with 12 vacation days -- eight of them on dates determined by the company.

What's more, as many as one-third of the workers at the Danville plant have been drawn from local temporary-staffing agencies. These workers receive even lower wages and no benefits, employees said.

Swedwood's Steen said the company is reducing the number of temps, but she acknowledged the pay gap between factories in Europe and the U.S. "That is related to the standard of living and general conditions in the different countries," Steen said.

Bill Street, who has tried to organize the Danville workers for the machinists union, said Ikea was taking advantage of the weaker protections afforded to U.S. workers.

"It's ironic that Ikea looks on the U.S. and Danville the way that most people in the U.S. look at Mexico," Street said.

The line that should gnaw at you is "Ikea was taking advantage of the weaker protections afforded U.S. workers." American manufacturing has been in decline for some time now as an assault on unions and as free trade deals allow corporations to globalize their production. These two forces have combined to shed high paying American manufacturing jobs which more than any other factor has led to the decline of the middle class. 

Still despite this war on American manufacturing, it was only last year that we reached a tipping point. After 110 years of the leading global manufacturing output, the United States was at last surpassed by China. China accounted for 19.8 percent of global production in 2010, slightly higher than the 19.4 percent of the United States. But it is not just quantitatively that we have lost our lead. What we have seen in the United States is a general degradation of labor standards and worker rights since Ronald Reagan broke the air traffic controllers strike and their union, PATCO, in 1981.

There's more...

These United States

News from around the country.

Challenge Upheld to Arizona Immigration Law. A federal appeals court on Monday upheld a lower court decision that blocked the most contested provisions of Arizona's immigration law from taking effect. More from the Tucson Sentinel.

New Mexico Governor Vetoes Health Care Exchange Bill. The Republican Governor Susana Martinez in the Land of Enchantment has vetoed legislation that would have created a one-stop shopping clearinghouse for tens of thousands of New Mexicans in need of health insurance. The full story in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

DC Mayor Gray and DC Council Members Arrested in Budget Protest. The Washington Post reports that Washington DC city officials including Mayor Vince Gray and members of the DC City Council were arrested Monday afternoon while protesting the inclusion of two DC specific riders that overrule the wishes of the District's resident. I'll say this again, the District needs its own representation in Congress. No other federal capital in the world has its citizens disenfranchised.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Race. Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to open a DOJ investigation into the Waukesha County clerk who found 14,000 missed votes. The story from the Huffington Post.

Tim Donnelly aka The Shredder. The Los Angeles Times profiles Tim Donnelly, a Tea Party-backed freshman Assemblyman from San Bernardino who is raising concerns with his violent rhetoric. He is a political novice and a former member of the Minutemen vigilante group who squeaked through in a crowded GOP primary and then went on to win in the general election. He has compared lawmaking to a "full-blown war that requires guerrilla tactics." He earned his nickname, The Shredder, after he posted a video on YouTube went viral. The video showed him shredding Governor Jerry Brown's budget proposal.

 

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