Government Versus Corporate Power

By: inoljt,

The twentieth century featured a great debate in the world between the communist system and the capitalist system. This was a debate over whether private enterprise ought to exist in the world. Today most countries believe in the answer posed by the capitalist system; they believe that private enterprise ought to exist and is generally more efficient than the government.

Nowadays private enterprise and corporations are thriving. Very few countries even speak of “nationalization,” in which the government takes over private enterprises, anymore. Most people in the country work in the private sector. This speaks to its power.

Nevertheless, the world’s biggest employers are in fact not private. Take a look at this fascinating graphic by the Economist:

The world’s biggest employers are dominated by the government. Seven out of ten of the entities here are government-run; the two biggest are the militaries of the United States and China.

The three private employers are Walmart, McDonalds, and the Hon Hai Precision Industry. The Hon Hai Precision Industry, also known as FoxConn, is a Taiwanese electronics manufacturer.

By country, four of these employers are Chinese, three are American, and one each are British, Indian, and Taiwanese. It’s interesting that while a Taiwanese company makes the list, a Japanese corporation or government employer does not. Europe also seems to punch below its economic weight in this graphic.

For all its love of private enterprise, the biggest employer by far in the United States is government-run. The same holds true for China, the United Kingdom, India, and probably many other countries as well. All in all, despite the strength of the private sector, government still packs quite a punch.



Political Party and the Demographics of America’s Governors

The previous post examined “the demographics of America’s governors and compare[d] them to the demographics of America itself.”

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

It resulted in the following map:

This post will examine the party break-down of this.


Currently twenty out of the fifty states have Democratic governors, twenty-nine out of the fifty states have Republican governors, and one state has an Independent governor:

Let’s first look at gender. Out of the twenty Democratic governors, eighteen are male and two are female. These are Governor Beverly Purdue of North Carolina and Governor Christine Gregoire of Washington.

Out of the twenty-nine Republican governors, twenty-five are male and four are female. These are Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona, Governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, and Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina.

10% of Democratic governors are female while 13.8% of Republican governors are female.

Now let’s move to race. Out of the twenty Democratic governors, nineteen are white and one is black. This is Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts.

Out of the twenty-nine Republican governors, twenty-five are white, two are Hispanic, and two are South Asian. These are Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Governor Brian Sandavol of Nevada, Governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, and Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina.

5% of Democratic governors are minorities while 13.8% of Republican governors are minorities.


A Republican governor is marginally more likely to be a woman, and about 2.8 times more likely to be a minority, than a Democratic governor.

A lot of flak gets thrown at the Republican Party for being less friendly to women and minorities. Some of the criticism is valid and some is not. A Democrat might volunteer that their party is more friendly to woman and minorities by pointing to the higher number of Democratic woman and minority officeholders in the House of Representatives, state legislative offices, and the presidency.

Nevertheless, it appears that the Republican Party does a better job at promoting minorities and woman at the governor’s level, as of October 2011, than the Democratic Party.



The Demographics of America’s Governors

This post will look at the demographics of America’s governors and compare them to the demographics of America itself. It will specifically examine gender and race, which are easy to determine. I would add other factors, such as income, age, or area of birth – but these factors are a lot harder to find and work with.

A future post will examine how political party plays into this.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)


About half of Americans are male, and about half of Americans are female.

Most of America's governors, on the other hand, are male.

Out of the fifty governors in the United States, 44 are male and 6 are female as of October 8th, 2011. In other words, 88% of governors (about every nine out of ten) in the United States are currently males.


Race is a bit more complicated than gender. According to the 2010 Census, 63.7% of Americans are white – which means that 36.3% of Americans are not white.

The majority of America is white, and similarly the majority of America's governors are white.

Out of the fifty governors in the United States, 45 are white and 5 are minorities as of October 8th, 2011. Exactly nine out of ten governors in America is white.

Gender and Race

We can combine these two sets of data to get a map of America's governors by both gender and race.

Out of the fifty governors in the United States, 41 are white males, 4 are white females, 3 are none-white males, and 2 are non-white females as of October 8th, 2011. White males overachieve quite splendidly; despite being less than one-third of the overall population, they compose more than four out of five of America’s governors. 82% of America’s governors are white males.


America is a very diverse place.

Its governors, on the other hand…not so much.




The BRIC Fallacy

China is a place with massive regional inequality. A recent feature by The Economist magazine, titled Comparing Chinese Provinces With Countries, found a stark divide between the rich coast and the poor hinderland. Some of my previous obervations about that feature can be found here. In Shanghai and Beijing GDP per person is over $20,000 (as of 2010) - roughly equivalent to a high middle-income country.

In rural Guizhou GDP per person is almost seven times lower. Guizhou is the poorest province in China. It is the part of China the media does not visit and that China tries its best to hide. There are no skyscrapers in the rural parts of Guizhou, just decrepit stone houses dating back to the Maoist era (or earlier).

But there is something else very interesting about Guizhou: as of 2010 its GDP per person was almost exactly equal to GDP per person in India. That is, a person living in the poorest part of China is about as well off as the typical Indian. This fact says something about the constant comparisons between China and India – China is generally far ahead.

Let’s take a look at Brazil. Brazil is a typical Third World country, in the view of many Westerners. Surprisingly, while Brazil is infamous for its massive inequality, its regional inequality is not as great as that of China’s. Nevertheless, there are still vast differences of regional wealth in Brazil. As of 2008 GDP per person in the rich Distrito Federal (of Brasilia) was $25,000; in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro the high incomes of its wealthy elite raise the number to a respectable number as well.

In contrast, almost everybody is poor in the northern coastal parts of Brazil, populated by the descendants of plantation slaves. In the northern state of Alagoas GDP per person is a mere fraction of that in the capital. Alagoas is the third-poorest state in Brazil. It is characterized by a juxtaposition of beautiful beaches and violent gangs. Favelas of ill-built wooden structures dot Alagoas.

There is something very interesting about Alagoas as well: as of 2008, its GDP per person was almost exactly equal to GDP per person in China. A person living in the third-poorest province of Brazil is about as well off as the typical Chinese. So much for the Chinese dragon; the typical Brazilian is far better off than the typical Chinese. And let’s not even start comparing Brazil to India.

These comparisons put a stake through the heart of the BRIC acronym: the concept that Brazil, Russia, India, and China have much in common other than their high economic growth rates. And even the assertion that all four BRIC countries are growing at high economic rates is questionable; Russia certainly isn’t right now.

Indeed, the differences between the richest member of the BRICs (Russia) and the poorest member (India) are stunning. Just look at the map at the beginning of this post; almost everybody is literate in Russia, while literacy rates in India are comparable to those in Sudan and Nigeria.

Or think about hunger. Hundreds of millions of people in India are not getting enough food to eat; India has the highest number of malnourished people in the world. In Russia, on the other hand, everybody gets enough to eat. The last time large numbers of Russians didn’t get enough food was more than half a century ago, which had something to do with a man named Hitler. Check out the difference between google results for Russian malnutrition and Indian malnutrition.

All in all, the differences between living standards and relative global power of the BRIC countries are vast. One could say that the United States and Russia have more in common than Russia and India, with respect to living standards (or many other things, in fact). BRIC is a fallacy.



Analyzing the 2010 Midterm Elections – the Colorado Senate Election

This is a part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections. This post will analyze the Colorado Senate election, one of the few Democratic victories that night. In this election,  Democrat Michael Bennett narrowly defeated Republican Ken Buck.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Colorado’s Senate Election

The results of the Colorado Senate election, like many other elections throughout 2010, closely matched the results of President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential election. In fact, this senate election may have followed Mr. Obama’s performance more closely than any other election in 2010:

Only one county switched hands from 2008 to 2010: rural Chaffee County, which Senator Bennet won by a mere 44 votes.

This indicates that Colorado is a fairly polarized state. Its Republican parts go heavily Republican; its Democratic parts go heavily Democratic. Democratic candidate Michael Bennett did a full 7.3 percentage points worse than Mr. Obama, yet didn’t lose a single county that Mr. Obama won.

Notice too that both Mr. Bennett and Mr. Obama carve out a “C” of counties that they win in the middle of the state. When Democrats are able to do this, they generally win. When Republicans make inroads into the “C,” Republicans generally win. Republican candidate Ken Buck failed to make the necessary inroads into this territory, which is why he lost.

The Suburbs

Why did Mr. Bennett do so much worse than Mr. Obama?

Let's take a look at Mr. Obama's coalition first:

(Note: Because the Times stopped updating before all absentee/provisional ballots were counted, this map does not fully reflect the actual results. I have corrected the discrepancy.)

In 2008, Mr. Obama won Colorado by 9.0%. Interestingly, Colorado was the most important swing state that year. If Mr. Obama had lost all the states he did worse in than Colorado, he would have still won the election. But if he had lost all those states and Colorado, Senator John McCain would be president.

As this map shows, the Democrats get their votes from Boulder and Denver. Republicans get their votes from Colorado Springs and the rural areas. Take a particular look at the smaller blue circles around Denver. These are Denver’s suburbs, swing territory which Mr. Obama does quite well in. Also note the smaller red circle to the upper-left of Colorado Springs (Douglas County). Although it doesn’t look like it in this map, Douglas County is a Republican stronghold. Mr. Obama does remarkably well there, which is why the Republican margin of victory is so small.

Now let's move to the 2010 Senate election

(Note: Because the Times stopped updating before all absentee/provisional ballots were counted, this map does not fully reflect the actual results. I have corrected the discrepancy.)

In 2010 Mr. Bennett does a bit worse than Mr. Obama in the Denver suburbs; his margins are much smaller. Republican Ken Buck also is able to win Douglas County by a more normal margin for a Republican. The reason why Mr. Bennett does worse than Mr. Obama is mainly because of his weaker performance in the Denver suburbs.

Crucially, however, Democratic candidate Michael Bennett still wins the suburbs. Had he lost them, Colorado would today have a Republican senator.

Rural Colorado

A very interesting fact is revealed if one compares the shift of Colorado from 2008 to 2010:

This map illustrates that shift. Red counties became more Republican from 2008 to 2010; blue counties became more Democratic. This does not necessarily mean that a county which shifted Republican voted for the Republican (or vice versa). For instance, Denver shifted Republican from 2008 to 2010, but it still voted strongly Democratic in both elections.

Curiously, Democratic candidate Michael Bennett did better than Mr. Obama in a lot of Colorado’s most Republican areas. He improved substantially in the sparsely populated, strongly Republican rural counties – in particular the eastern part of the state. Mr. Bennett was involved in education in Denver before the election, so he has no local connection to rural Colorado.

There are several possibilities on why this happened. It seems that in presidential elections Republican areas vote more strongly Republican, and vice versa for Democratic areas. The map above could have been due to Republican and Democratic strongholds being less partisan during mid-term elections.

Another possibility is that the third-party vote had something to do with it. Neither candidate in 2010 was able to reach 50% of the vote, meaning that the third-party vote was relatively strong. If a third-party candidate takes a significant share of the vote, then mathematically Democrat margins will decrease in Democratic areas, and Republican margins will decrease in Republican areas.

Then there is the hypothesis that the president was a bad fit for rural Republican Colorado. He might have therefore have done worse than the average Democrat. Intuitively this explanation makes sense; Mr. Obama is not the type of person who appeals to rural Republicans.


One always must be careful to say that a particular state is trending for one party or the other. Nevertheless, the result of the 2010 senate election does seem to indicate that Colorado is moving Democratic.

2010 was the worst year in a generation for Democrats; Democrats throughout the country lost elections. In Colorado, a state that Bill Clinton lost in 1996, one would have expected Republican candidate Ken Buck to win.

Mr. Buck was admittedly a weaker-than-average candidate; he made some mistakes on abortion and the 17th Amendment. Yet, on the other hand, Mr. Buck was relatively untainted by scandal. He wasn’t obviously crazy, and he didn’t do stupid things like tell a bunch of Latino students that they looked Asian. In addition, the Democratic candidate Michael Bennett wasn’t a very exciting candidate. He doesn’t inspire passion amongst Democrats; most people still have no idea who he is.

Yet Mr. Buck didn’t win – he lost to an unexciting Democratic in the best Republican year in a generation. Republicans should have won the suburbs around Denver in 2010; they were doing so everywhere else in the country. The fact that they failed to do so is a very powerful indicator of Colorado’s Democratic trend.



A Potent Illustration of the Problem With Our Country

By: inoljt,

Enron was one of the biggest scandals to ever hit the business world. The failure of Lehman Brothers directly caused the financial crisis from which the United States is still feeling the effects. One would think that the directors of these failed firms – the worst failures in this decade – would have been punished by the market for their poor oversight.

Apparently not. This article indicates that many of directors on these failed companies have prospered quite nicely:

A few of the directors conveniently omit Enron from their biographies, but they do not appear to remain tainted, staying in their chosen professions…

The experiences of the Enron directors over the last decade would appear to offer great hope to the directors of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers.

…the Bear and Lehman directors are returning to public company service even quicker than the Enron directors. In part this reflects the old boy network on Wall Street, which keeps people in the same positions because of friendships. It is not a coincidence that two former Bear Stearns directors serve on the Viacom board.

The trend also underscores the decline in the importance of reputation on Wall Street — even since the time of Enron. Prior bad conduct simply is often not viewed as a problem.

The fact that these people have done so well constitutes a potent illustration of the problem ailing the United States. Simply put, the corporate world is no longer in any sense accountable to succeeding or failing. CEOs like Mitt Romney can personally lead firms to ruin and yet still get paid incredibly handsome “golden parachutes.” Meanwhile inequality continues to increase at an inexorable rate and the economy continues to flounder.

Reading about the denizens of big business succeeding to this extent while America as a whole flounders really strikes a bone of contention with me. There are few words in the English language to describe the wrongness of what is happening – how people who singlehandedly fail at everything that they are supposed to do still get tens of millions of dollars.

Here is one: unjust.



A Fascinating Study on Mexican Immigrants Who Can’t Speak Spanish

By: inoljt,

Picture a Mexican immigrant, and several images generally come to mind. The average American might imagine tacos and his or her gardener, for instance. To this, of course, would be added the ubiquitous sound of Spanish. Almost every American links Hispanics and the Spanish language together. There is reason for this; after all, most Hispanics do have origins from countries which are Spanish-speaking. With regards to Mexico, Spanish is indeed the national language. It would not be, and is not, unreasonable to assume that the typical Mexican immigrant speaks Spanish.

What happens, however, when those Mexican immigrants can’t speak Spanish?

The result is the topic of a fascinating study titled “Indigenous Mexicans in California Agriculture.” This study was “a partnership between a group of farm labor researchers and the Indigenous Program of California Rural Legal Assistance.” It is a fascinating and informative read, and I highly recommend it for anybody curious.

The Mexicans that the study examines are indigenous Mexicans – the descendants of the Aztec and Mayan civilizations conquered by the Spanish. Much like Native Americans, “Native Mexicans”  suffered enormously under their European overlords. Unlike the Native Americans in the United States, however, the indigenous peoples of Mexico were too powerful and numerous to be wiped out altogether. More than ten million indigenous Mexicans still reside in the country.

Like African-Americans in the United States, these people have suffered tremendous discrimination ever since the Spanish conquest. They traditionally have occupied – and continue to occupy – the lowest rung of Mexico’s social ladder. They are poorer, often much poorer, than the typical Mexican. Many reside in remote villages with terrible road connections. Many also speak only their indigenous languages and have trouble speaking Spanish, the national language of Mexico.

In recent years, many indigenous Mexicans have begun immigrating to the United States to work in agriculture, especially in California’s Central Valley. These are the people whom the study examines, and there are several very interesting notes in the study.

Firstly, the unfamiliarity of some indigenous Mexican-American immigrants with speaking Spanish (let alone English) greatly hurts them. It is somewhat arresting for a person to imagine Mexican immigrants unable to speak Spanish, which is why the study is all the more fascinating. These lead to some very remarkable situations. As the study states,

Some complained of outright discrimination due to the inability to speak Spanish well.  One 60-year-old Triqui-speaking woman in Greenfield complained that the foreman waved her off pretending like he didn’t understand her when she complained in broken Spanish that he was undercounting her pounds picked.   Another 54-year–old Triqui in Santa Rosa complained that other workers and foremen made fun of his Spanish language skills humiliating him in front of other workers.

Due to their weakness on Spanish, some medical clinics in Central Valley have started to hire interpreters with knowledge of indigenous languages (such as Mixteco). This is obviously complicated by the fact that there are multiple indigenous languages. The task is also made difficult because certain medical concepts simply don’t exist in the native language. The study furthers describes this problem:

In Oxnard, one highly accomplished interpreter who is trilingual in English, Spanish and her native Mixteco explained that there no words in Mixteco for numerous medical conditions such as asthma, tuberculosis, anemia and diabetes. As for women’s health, there are often no terms for certain body parts, particularly those relating to the reproductive system, or for procedures such as, for example, a cervical examination.

This is another quite remarkable situation that the study uncovers.

All in all, it is clear that these immigrants face a tremendous challenge. Indigenous Mexicans are on the bottom of the social rung in Mexico. Just imagine their social position in America – a country much richer and more powerful than Mexico. They are the lowest of the low here.

And yet, for all that, it is clear that indigenous Mexican immigrants are still much better off in America than in Mexico. The study spends much time talking about the poor conditions these immigrants labor in. For instance, almost none own houses; most rent extremely crowded, subdivided places. Here is one such picture of an overcrowded, ill-maintained residency:

By American standards, this is obviously a very hard-off residence. The immigrants who occupy it are obviously poor. The image is, indeed, meant to convey shock about the poverty of indigenous Mexican immigrants to respectable middle-class America.

Yet compare these conditions to the ones found in Mexico:

By these standards, the “poverty-stricken” immigrant in America is living in paradise. America is just so much richer that even the poorest of the poor do much better than poor Mexicans. That is, of course, why these indigenous Mexicans are immigrating to the United States. It would take something on the magnitude of the Berlin Wall to overwhelm that enormous incentive.



(When) Will Assad Fall? – The Damascus Test

Like many of its brethren in the Arab world, the country of Syria has been engulfed in protests over its authoritarian leader President Bashar al-Assad. Mr. Assad has responded to these protests by offering a mixture of reforms and violent crackdowns, neither of which have assuaged the protesters.

At the moment Syria seems to be in a state of temporary equilibrium; the protests go on, with the government unable to stop them. Yet Mr. Assad still firmly holds the reigns of power. This cannot last forever, of course. Eventually the protests will topple Mr. Assad, or Mr. Assad will break his opposition.

The key seems to be the city of Damascus, the capital and most populous city in Syria. Take an analogy to the Egyptian Revolution. The massive protests in Cairo – the capital and most populous city of Eygpt – were the key to President Hosni Mubarak’s fall. Had there not been protests in Cairo (or only minor ones), it’s very likely that Mr. Mubarak would still be running Eygpt today.

Damascus holds a similar role for Syria; like Cairo, it is the capital and heart of Syria. A similar percentage of Syrians live in Damascus as Egyptians living in Cairo. The protesters desperately desire for another Tahrir Square to happen in Damascus. Mr. Assad will desperately do his best to ensure that this never happens.

If fifty thousand people gathered in Damascus to march against the government, then Mr. Assad’s rule would be shaken like nothing else. It would be a harbinger of the end.

Tens of thousands of people have indeed gathered in the streets of Damascus. But these have been rallies and marches in support of the government (such as the image shown at the top). The protests in Damascus so far have been small and easily dispersed.

The major protests seem to have occurred in more provincial, poorer, and more religious areas of Syria; the areas that have not benefited from Mr. Assad’s rule. Syria’s two largest cities, on the other hand, have done relatively well economically; there is support for Mr. Assad amongst the middle class. Indeed, the perception of the protesters as more provincial may be hurting them greatly in Damascus and Aleppo (the second-largest city in Syria). The New York Times has written a fascinating article about the opposition’s relative lack of success there.

So far major protests numbering thousands or (what is really necessary) tens of thousands of people have not occurred in Damascus. They may never occur. Damascus may remain in Mr. Assad’s camp, and so enable him to stay in power. Or perhaps one day the people of Damascus will decide to cast their lot with the opposition, and an end will come to the rule of Mr. Assad.




A New American Ally: Libya?

By: inoljt, 

America has many allies in the Middle East. These allies range from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia to Yemen.

Of course, the relationship between the United States and its Middle Eastern “allies” is not as close as the diplomats might suggest. A perusal of the newspapers of both countries would uncover some (or very much) hostility between America and, say, Pakistan.

Indeed, America’s allies in the Middle East do much behind its back that goes against America’s interests. America is incredibly unpopular in Egypt and Turkey. Saudi Arabia was home to Osama Bin Laden, as well as fifteen out of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. Pakistan may or may not have protected Mr. Bin Laden; it certainly protects much of the Pakistani Taliban.

All in all, and with the exception of Israel, until now America has not had a true ally in the Middle East for decades (or perhaps ever). Outside of Israel, there has not been one country that would come to America’s aid if it were in dire straits.

Until now. The events in Libya may give America a second true ally in the Middle East. Libya may become first Arab country in which the people support an alliance with the United States.

This would be quite the change. Libya has for decades been grouped together with countries generally thought of as enemies of America. People have thought of Libya in conjunction with Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Syria, etc. But now, with Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s rule at a clear end, Libya could possibly turn into the strongest friend America has amongst the entire Arab world.

An ally’s worth is measured not by its promises when the going is good, but by whether it honors those promises when the chips are down and a country is in desperate need of help. By this measure, the vast majority of America’s “allies” in the Middle East don’t deserve to be called by that term.

Say, for instance, that Canada launches an invasion along America’s unprotected northern border, defeats America’s armies, and advances within fifty miles of New York City – with America’s remaining troops fighting a desperate last stand on the shores of the Hudson River.

Who would come to America’s aid in that event? “Allies” such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan would probably abandon America gladly. On the other hand, much of western Europe would rush to America’s defense. The United Kingdom and France would probably send help. Countries such as Israel and Australia would probably provide assistance as well.

After the Arab Spring, so might Libya. 


Why Do So Few Americans Immigrate to Australia?

By: inoljt,

In the minds of most Americans, Australia is a great place. The land down under has beautiful weather, a booming economy, and sights ranging from the Great Barrier Reef to kangaroos. What’s more, the culture and the language of Australia are as similar to the United States as any other country in the world, with the exception of perhaps Canada. What’s not to like about living in a country where everybody has cool accents?

Why, then, do so few Americans bother to immigrate to Australia?

Below is a very interesting table, taken from the 2006 Census in Australia (the exact table can be found here). It lists the top countries of birth for Australians:

Country of Birth Persons Australia                                        14,072,946 England 856,940 New Zealand                                    389,463 China (excludes SARs and Taiwan Province) 206,591 Italy                                          199,123 Viet Nam                                       159,849 India                                          147,106 Scotland                                       130,204 Philippines                                    120,538 Greece                                         109,988 Germany                                        106,524 South Africa                                   104,128 Malaysia                                       92,337 Netherlands                                    78,927 Lebanon                                        74,848 Hong Kong (SAR of China)           71,803 Sri Lanka                                      62,256 United States of America                       61,718

(Note: An SAR of China is a Special Administrative Region i.e. Hong Kong and Macau.)

America places very, very low; there are sixteen entries (not including Australia) which send higher numbers of immigrants than the United States. In fact, there are more Sri Lankan and Lebanese immigrants to Australia than American immigrants to Australia.

What’s doubly strange about this is that it’s not as if Anglo-Saxon countries don’t send immigrants to Australia. England sends the most immigrants out of any other country to Australia, followed by New Zealand. Other European countries, such as Italy, Scotland, Greece, and Germany also send lots of immigrants to Australia. All of these countries are dwarfed by America’s population, and yet Australia receives much more immigration from them than from the United States.

Australia is a very small country in terms of population; more people live in Texas than in the entire country of Australia. It is also a country with a very high number of immigrants; about one-in-four Australians was born outside of Australia.

For now, it seems, very few of those immigrants will be Americans.




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