Lifting up the 4th of July

Fireworks on the 4th of July always make me cry. I'm not affraid to say it. There's something about it, all the senses are activated as an idea--what once was the dream of a few revolutionaires--plays itself out in vivid colors and exsplosive bursts right before you.

This year, my wife and I planted ourselves on the stone path between Pier 17 and Pier 11, right in front of one of the Macy's barges, lucking out that this year they decided to move them further down the East River, making the end of Wall Street a perfect location to watch the fireworks. What made the event more impressive was the rich diversity that surrounded us, reminding me why New York City is such a special place to experience the 4th of July.

For many of the families around us, America was as new as it was for Abigail Adams and her family, as she watched the cannon balls fly over Boston Harbor while her husband was away. Opportunity and freedom were new on the horizon, like the flash of powder ignited in the distance seconds before the sky explodes with life. Hearing families share their excitement in Korean, Russian, French, Spanish and Mandarin seemed fitting, as we all huddled along the Manhattan shoreline between the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of liberty. The 4th of July is full of traditions, and I think I've found a new place to celebrate for years to come.

Another great thing I gravitated toward this weekend was the new web site, 1,000 Voices Archive a project of the Creative Council. This web site is a perfect mirror into the american experience, presenting videos of Americans who have been touched by communities. It's a wonderful snapshot into the diversity of our nation, both in ethnicity and experience. Strongly recommend it for those looking to continue celebrating this holiday weekend. It gives a real feel of America and has a bunch of engaging tools that allow us to become involved in the America that is more than ideas and fire works.

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Thursday Immigration Blog Roundup

*     The Kentucky Post has reported on the status of the case where the federal government prosecuted a landlord for renting apartments to illegal immigrants.  The jury found in favor of the defendant, whom the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund represented, and agreed with his argument that he did not intentionally harbor undocumented immigrants.  Immigration News Daily also reported on the case and claimed:

The case is thought to be the first time that the government has prosecuted a landlord merely for renting to illegal immigrants.

*    The DMI Blog posting titled, "Immigration Raids Tend to Spare Employers," questions why employers are so rarely arrested during ICE raids:
Even though Department of Homeland Security talks big about cracking down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants, federal officials explain that is easier to prove that an immigrant is here illegally than it is to build a case against the employer.

According to ICE, that it is tougher to build a criminal case proving that an employer knowingly hired an undocumented than to prove that an immigrant is here illegally.

The ICE policy of not arresting employers is somewhat ironic in the context of many federal government methods of enforcing immigration laws, and represents a striking contrast to the government's decision to prosecute the landlord in Kentucky.

*    In the past weeks, there have been a number of YouTube videos showing the effects of the ICE raid on Postville, Iowa.  One video, shown in a New America Media posting, depicts the struggles that families in the community are having in the aftermath of the raid.

*    Standing FIRM has posted a video clip of a story on the June 28 protest in Houston, Texas.  The protest was a response to the recent ICE raid on a plant called Action Rags USA.  Another Standing FIRM posting offers numerous details about the raid:

...agents arrested 166 of the 186 employees. ICE released 73 people who had medical problems or were sole care providers. Another 20 were released by cause they either were here legally or were born here... [Of] the remain[ing] 73 who are detained, 70 of them are women, so only 3 of them are men.

*    Citizen Orange has posted a hilarious YouTube video, courtesy of "Capitol Hill Gangsta." Capital Hill Gangsta (aka Ray William Johnson, a college student in New York and YouTube video commentator) uses the video to dispel a number of myths about immigrants in the United States.

*    According to Monday's New York Sun, New York City Mayor Bloomberg has reinforced his pro-immigration stance by claiming that America is "committing mass suicide" by restricting immigration into the country.  According to The Sun, Bloomberg said:

There are people around the world who want to come and create here and add jobs and excitement and innovation, and we're keeping them in Canada and in Europe and Asia and not letting them here...

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Court Upholds LAPD's Policy of Not Asking Immigration Status

Last Thursday, June 26th a California Superior court upheld the LAPD's 29-year-old policy of neither arresting people based on immigration status nor asking about immigration status during interviews. This policy, described by Police Chief William Bratton as "an essential crime-fighting tool for us," is meant to avoid discouraging the undocumented population in many LA communities from communicating with police officers and reporting crimes. Proponents of the policy's abandonment, who filed suit in April 2007, argue that it conflicts with federal and state law. While under the policy officers do alert immigration officials in the case of a suspect who has either previously been deported or is arrested for a felony/multiple misdemeanors, plaintiffs argue that illegal immigrants are repeatedly arrested rather than appropriately deported.

The judge's decision affirms that immigration law is to be applied on the federal, and not the local level. Local law enforcement officials cannot and will not be asked to act as federal immigration agents. The defendants argued, and the court agreed, that this conflation of positions is not warranted on legal grounds and is detrimental to the goals of local law enforcement.

The overturning of this lawsuit averts several troubling implications that elimination the disputed policy would have had. The role of a local police officer and that of an federal immigration agent have vastly different objectives; while the former exists "to protect and serve" residents, the latter aims to "effectively enforce our immigration and customs laws... by targeting illegal immigrants." In an area with a significant undocumented population, these roles are often at odds with each other. To ask that police officers assume the duties of immigration agents is to cast them into a confused role that ineffectively pursues conflicting goals. Furthermore, incorporating these duties into local law enforcement greatly increases the risk of racial profiling in pursuit of undocumented residents.

The court's decision to uphold the LAPD's longstanding policy marks a victory for security in these communities. As one of its six core values, the Opportunity Agenda holds security to be vital to our human dignity. Without safe and healthy living conditions, it becomes overwhelmingly difficult for residents to access any of the other opportunity that society has to offer. To put local police officers in a position that undermines their ability to serve their communities as a whole would be to betray a fundamental commitment to equality, security, and community. With its policy on immigrants intact, the LAPD can go forth in its goal to "build safer communities throughout the City of Los Angeles."

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Local Progress in Tackling Health Disparities

Earlier this month the Atlas Project at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice released a report documenting the state of health inequalities in the United States.  The report (which was previously mentioned in a post on The State of Opportunity blog) titled "Disparities in Health and Health Care among Medicare Beneficiaries" can be accessed here.

The report calls attention to the fact that health care reform is not only about expanding insurance coverage and improving efficiency standards for health spending - it is also about addressing the unequal access to and the quality of health care in the U.S.  As the Dartmouth report articulates, health disparities are widespread and extensive.  There are higher rates of obesity and smoking among African Americans than there are among whites; this leads to blacks experiencing higher rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease than whites do.  Blacks have poorer access to primary and specialty care, and this limits their ability to manage any chronic illnesses they might have.  Blacks also have poorer access to advanced surgical solutions, and are more likely to face unfavorable, last resort treatments like leg amputation for diabetes.

Dr. Nancy Bennett, director of the Center for Community Health at the University of Rochester, and Dr. Wade Norwood, director of community engagement at Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency, recently wrote an op-ed addressing what local communities are doing to address health disparities in their areas.  They describe the problem as follows:

Although these [disparities] may be related to the adequacy of insurance, studies have shown that differences remain even when coverage is equal. We need to understand, through public health and health services research, the complexities of this pathway so that we can eliminate inequalities.

If the federal government is unable to address problems of unequal access and quality of health care in the U.S., local community organizations must take it upon themselves to deal with these issues. The Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency has established a number of African American and Latino health coalitions to prioritize improving health equity in New York.  They have already made significant progress:
More people had access to primary care in 2006 compared with 2000, more received annual mammograms and fewer were admitted to the hospital for complications of chronic disease. We know from our own local health data that we have almost eliminated racial and ethnic disparities in immunization rates for both children and adults, and in mammography and cervical cancer screening. Much of this success can be attributed to specific, targeted programs that improve our overall measures while reducing racial disparities.

The Opportunity Agenda has written numerous reports on the prevalence of health disparities in the U.S., as well as how these inequalities inhibit people's ability to achieve their full potential. In New York, The Opportunity Agenda has been part of various efforts to improve health equality through empowering communities.  The Coalition for Community Health Planning, a group that The Opportunity Agenda is an active member of, has been pushing the state and city governments to commit to investing in community health planning programs and to facilitating community involvement in health care.

To learn more about health inequalities in New York, read our report: Dangerous and Unlawful: Why Our Health Care System is Failing New York Communities and How To Fix It. Also, visit our Google Maps mashup Health Care That Works to see how recent hospital closures have had a disproportionate impact on communities of color.

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Supreme Court Continues to Restrict Scope of Capital Punishment

The 8th Amendment of the Constitution, in its prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, holds at its core the fundamental American values of fairness, dignity, and justice.  Last week's Supreme Court decision on Kennedy v. Louisiana reaffirmed these values by once again finding the death penalty as not only an ineffective deterrent against crime, but also incongruous with the nation's "evolving standards of decency and redemption that mark the progress of a maturing society." (Trop v. Dulles). The court appealed to the "precept of justice" in holding that punishment is to be proportioned to the crime, and in the case of capital punishment this is indeed "a narrow category."

In delivering its opinion, the court held that the application of the death penalty had to rest on a "national consensus" that a death sentence was an inappropriate punishment to the crime of child rape.  The decision of the court also made significant reference to Roper v. Simmons, a 2005 ruling that appealed to international norms in ruling the death penalty an inappropriate punishment.  While the Supreme Court did not explicitly cite international human rights law in its decision, the values of decency, fairness, and dignity upon which it relies are shared universally.  Moreover, the language of international law pervades the friend-of-the-court brief submitted by Leading British Law Associations, Scholars, Queen's Counsel and Former Law Lords.  The brief, heavily referencing the UN Commission on Human Rights, hinges its argument on a "well-established global consensus" that "nations that retain the death penalty must progressively narrow the class of offenses punishable by death." This amicus brief, and the Supreme Court ruling that upheld its conclusion, affirms an internationally held respect for the value of human life within the American court system.

By "repeatedly taking note of other nations' practices in considering the application of the death penalty," and by simultaneously holding itself to the standard of national consensus, the Supreme Court expressed the implicit view that international norms are compatible with and even complementary to our national values. (See Redemption).  This view underlies the Opportunity Agenda's commitment to engaging the discourse of human rights here in the US.  As affirmed by the Supreme Court in their approach to Kennedy v. Louisiana, universal rights are fundamentally in sync with core American values.

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Monday Health Blog Roundup

*    This past week there have been a number of news articles on HIV and the racial disparities among those who are infected.  The Washington Post reported that the number of young homosexual men diagnosed with HIV has risen 12%.  The largest increase of 15% was among young African American men (compared to a 9% increase among young white men):

Previous studies have found that gay black men on average have fewer sex partners, are less likely to use drugs and are no more likely to have unprotected intercourse than gay white men. Consequently, their higher rate of infection does not appear to arise from riskier behavior.

Instead, it reflects the higher prevalence of HIV -- as well as syphilis and gonorrhea, which increase a person's susceptibility to HIV -- in the black population.

Despite this negative news of increasing health disparities between whites and African Americans, there was also a positive step in the battle against HIV.  According to the New York Times, the New York City Health Department has announced a three year plan to give an HIV test to everyone living in the Bronx:
While Manhattan has long been the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic in New York, with the highest incidence of both AIDS and H.I.V., the virus that causes it, the Bronx, with its poorer population, has far more deaths from the disease. Public health officials attribute this to people not getting tested until it is too late to treat the virus effectively, thus turning a disease that can now be managed with medication into a death sentence.

Though the story does not mention the demographic population of the Bronx, 35.6% of Bronx residents are African American, a much larger percentage than the percentage of African American Manhattanites (who make up only 17.4% of the borough's population).  Expanding HIV testing in the Bronx is an important part of combating the racial disparities among those with HIV and helping end the upward trend of HIV rates among young African Americans.

*    The Kaiser Health Disparities Report has a story on a House bill to reduce allowable lead levels in paint.  The bill, which just unanimously passed the House Financial Services Committee, aims to lower the number of children exposed to lead-based paint (many of whom are poor, minority children who live in older homes):

According to bill sponsor Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and other lawmakers, despite a 1992 law that restricted the use of lead-based paint in houses, hundreds of thousands of children are exposed to excessive levels of lead, which can cause brain damage and other serious health problems.

*    The HealthBeat blog has a posting on how progressives should incorporate cost control into their discussion of health care reform.  Without cost control on the agenda of health care reform, it will be difficult to bring Americans who are most concerned with rising costs of health care on board:
That is why I believe that progressives must begin talking about the high cost of care, and how we need to wring the waste out of the system to make truly effective, high quality care affordable for everyone. Don't let the conservatives dominate the debate about spending. If they do, they'll take the conversation in the wrong direction.

The Opportunity Agenda believes that addressing the issue of cost is crucial to a fruitful, productive discussion on health care reform. For example, 52% of American workers do not enroll in employer insurance plans because they are too costly.  Premiums for family coverage have increased by 59% since 2000.  Decreasing these costs, in addition to addressing the problems of unequal access and unequal quality, is absolutely necessary in order to reform the health care system in the U.S.  To learn more, take a look at The Opportunity Agenda fact sheet, Health Care and Opportunity.

*    For a touch of humor, check out a recent posting on Disease Management Care Blog.  Along with a YouTube video of Canned Heat's "Let's Work Together" there are new lyrics encouraging all to work together to reform health care in the U.S.:

Together we'll stand
Divided we'll fall
we need more data
the... cash flows will stall
let's work together
Come on, come on
let's work together
Now now people....
Because together we will stand
Every doc, all the vendors and Plans!...

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Thursday Immigration Blog Roundup

*    Last week, The Opportunity Agenda's Immigration Blog Roundup linked to an Of América posting about the Guantanamo-like treatment of individuals held at ICE detention facilities.  The latest Breakthrough video titled "Death by Detention" documents individuals' stories of their horrific experiences at these facilities.  The video has been posted on numerous pro-migrant blogs, including Standing FIRM.

*    Immigration News Daily has posted an editorial titled "No Getting Around the Wall." The editorial, which originally appeared in La Opinión, condemns the Supreme Court for refusing to hear a challenge to the Department of Homeland Security decision to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.  Numerous Arizona environmental organizations have claimed that the DHS ignored 36 environmental protection laws in deciding to construct the wall:

Once again, as in the case of the "mismatch letters" and other similar actions, the Bush Administration is trying to improvise an immigration policy without taking into account the consequences triggered, the rights violated, or the injustices committed.

Building a wall along the border is bad policy. As long as it continues, the courts have the responsibility to stop the abuse of authority that stems from its implementation.

*    Wednesday's Immigration Equality Blog posting calls attention to a USA Today story describing how U.S. citizens are suing the DHS after they were detained and interrogated by ICE workers.  The plaintiffs in the suit claim that they were subject to racial profiling and that ICE officials violated workers rights in the process of detaining people.  One immigrant worker, Jesus Garcia, was thrown in jail because of the ICE agents' "mistake":
ICE agents went to Jesus Garcia's home on April 16 in conjunction with a raid on a nearby Pilgrim's Pride poultry processing plant, where he worked marinating chicken meat. Garcia, from Mexico, has been a legal permanent resident for a year and a half. When about 10 ICE agents and local sheriff's deputies knocked on his door, they told him he was using the wrong Social Security number, says his wife, Olivia Garcia, a U.S. citizen.

Though Garcia showed the agents his green card, they handcuffed him and jailed him. He was released a day and a half later after agents told him he wasn't the person they wanted, he says. He had spent the night in jail. "He said it was pretty bad," Olivia says. "People were crying and screaming."

*    A story that appeared in Medical News Today and was initially reported by the Ventura County Star examines California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to save $87 million in the state's Medicaid program ("Medi-Cal") by cutting funding for health care services to approximately 91,000 immigrants each month:
Immigration advocates say the cuts would prevent patients from obtaining preventive care, thus increasing emergency department visits and costs. State Assembly and Senate budget committees have voted against the proposals and other Medi-Cal changes, but state officials say they will continue to push for the cuts.

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Owning Up To Racial Bias

A Washington Post/ABC News poll released this week includes some interesting findings, as Americans contemplate the possibility of the nation's first African-American president.  The survey finds, for example, that 3 in 10 Americans admit to having at least some feelings of racial prejudice.  There was little difference between whites, blacks, and "others," in their response to the question.  While social science research shows that virtually all of us carry around subconscious or implicit biases, it is surprising to see so many Americans consciously owning up to their prejudices and confessing them in a telephone survey.

As in other surveys, African Americans were more likely than whites to believe that discrimination persists as a problem, but the numbers were closer than in other recent polls.  When asked "Do you think blacks who live in your community experience racial discrimination, or not?" 54% of blacks said "yes," while 46% of whites agreed.  African-American perceptions of discrimination were lower here than in similar recent polls, but may reflect the fact that people of all races typically perceive greater mistreatment in the larger society than they do in their own community.  Interestingly, people from racial groups other than Caucasian and African American--lumped together as "others" in the survey analysis--were most likely to answer yes to this question, at 59%.

These poll results, along with other research and events on the ground, suggest that Americans may be ready for a conversation about race that goes beyond the traditional model of discrimination as violent bigotry and recognizes bias as something we must identify and overcome as a nation--through policy as well as personal behavior.  And unlike the Washington Post/ABC poll, that conversation will expand from the familiar black/white paradigm to acknowledge the full diversity of our communities.

In the weeks to come, The Opportunity Agenda will be sharing new research, as well as new tools, that can help to move that conversation forward through Election Day and beyond.

Stay tuned.

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Supreme Court Decision Offers Mixed Results for Immigration Reform

In a victory for immigrants' rights, the Supreme Court handed down a decision allowing immigrants to file motions without fear of being deported for not voluntarily departing within a specific time period.  The case, Dada v. Mukasey addressed two conflicting sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act.  Section 1229c allows judges to grant immigrants who are told to deport the country permission to leave voluntarily within a specific period of time.  However, Section 1229a allows individuals to challenge a deportation order (in the event of any changed circumstances) but requires them to remain in the country while legal motions are pending.

The petitioner, Samson T. Dada, an immigrant from Nigeria, was married to an American citizen in 1999.  However, without adequate proof of marriage, the Department of Homeland Security alleged that he had overstayed his temporary immigrant visa and ordered his deportation.  An Immigration Judge granted Dada's request to voluntarily leave the country within 30 days, a decision that the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirmed.  However, two days before he was supposed to leave, Dada found conclusive proof of his marriage, withdrew his request for voluntary departure and filed a motion to reopen his removal proceedings.  The BIA denied his request, claiming that Dada had failed to depart the U.S. within the allotted time period (while ignoring Dada's withdrawal of his request to voluntarily leave).  The Fifth Circuit affirmed the BIA's decision.

Dada filed a writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court on the grounds that the Fifth Circuit Court decision contradicted other Circuit Courts that found immigrants should be able to file motions to reopen their cases, and found that their decisions to file should override their previous decision to voluntarily leave the U.S.

The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of Dada, finding that immigrants must be allowed an opportunity to withdraw their request for voluntary departure (as long as they do so before the end of their allotted departure period).  

In addition, the Court articulated the inefficiencies and complications in the immigration process - Justice Kennedy said in his majority opinion:

A more expeditious solution to the untenable conflict between the voluntary departure scheme and the motion to reopen might be to permit an alien who has departed the United States to pursue a motion to reopen post departure, much as Congress has permitted with respect to judicial review of a removal order.

Much of The Opportunity Agenda's work to promote opportunity for all has been related to immigration reform.  Immigration Reform: Promoting Opportunity for All discusses the discrimination that immigrants face every day as they are treated as unequal members of society:
True opportunity requires that we all have equal access to the benefits, burdens, and responsibilities of our society. In order to fully contribute and participate in society, immigrants and the native born alike should be treated equally regardless of race, gender, religion, country of origin, and other aspects of what they look like and where they come from.  But too often immigrants are treated unfairly.

The document also emphasizes the importance of immigrants' roles in strengthening communities across America:
American communities are strengthened by immigrants from all over the world. Newcomers' economic contributions are immense, while their cultural and personal contributions improve all aspects of American life.

The Dada case addresses the importance of allowing immigrants to be full and equal members of American society.  Without having access to proper legal services, and with relentless discrimination from Courts, immigrants will continue to face barriers to achieving their full potential.

Many people have joined The Opportunity Agenda in calling for reform of the immigration process.   One of these individuals is the Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner - he described the U.S. immigration court system as "inadequate" and "ill-trained" in an article in The National Law Journal.

If even an established and admired judge in the U.S. is making such harsh criticisms of the immigration court system and the extent of legal remedies immigrants can seek, then it is clear it is time for the system to be reformed.  This reform cannot come fast enough; until it does, there will be more and more individuals trying to fight their way through an unjust system.

Any reform might be too late for Dada - while the Supreme Court ruled that Dada was able to withdraw his request for voluntary departure, the Court did not grant his request to reopen his removal proceedings (it remanded the case back to the lower court).  The BIA could still choose to deport him.  While Dada's case brought a victory for many U.S. immigrants, it has not yet brought him the legal right to remain in the U.S.

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Monday Health Blog Roundup

*    An Associated Press story that appeared in numerous publications last week discussed the American Medical Association's position on a tobacco bill currently before Congress.  The bill would, among other things, ban flavors in cigarettes.  Marketing campaigns for flavored cigarettes (such as mint, clove and vanilla cigarettes) usually target young people, and by banning the use of these flavors, Congress hopes to decrease smoking among youths.  However, the AMA is supporting the menthol exemption that the tobacco industry pushed.  African-American smokers typically prefer menthol-flavored cigarettes, and menthol cigarette advertising campaigns have traditionally targeted black communities.  The AMA has been criticized for supporting the exemption, since it leaves African-American smokers subject to manipulative marketing strategies:

Menthol cigarettes such as Kool were marketed during the 1960s in advertising campaigns targeting urban blacks, according to the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network. That group withdrew its support from the tobacco control bill last month over the menthol exemption and found allies in the former health secretaries.

The exemption harms the black community, said Robert McCaffree of the American College of Chest Physicians, the group that introduced the AMA proposal.

*    A recent posting on DMI Blog addresses the importance of making health equity a central focus of health care reform, particularly in the 2008 Presidential election.  If political leaders do not pay attention to the equality element of health care reform, the disparities in health care access and quality will not be dealt with:
It's a painful fact: people of color in the United States live sicker and die quicker--from the premature cradle to the early grave. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), African Americans can still expect to live 6-10 fewer years than their white counterparts, and they have the highest rates of death due to diabetes; heart disease; and breast, lung, and colon cancer than any other ethnic group. The numbers are similarly grim for Latinos and other minority groups.

*    Yesterday's posting on The Health Care Blog brings up the similarities between the U.S. health care system and the Dutch health care system, and the notion that the U.S. could learn from the Dutch in its health care reform efforts.

*    Another posting on The Health Care Blog mentions The Talking Cure, the "Healthy Conversations" project that the research organization Demos has launched.  The project is designed to engage stakeholders in and outside of the National Health Service and discuss how to improve health care in the UK.

*    Thursday's New York Times had a story on a government proposal to facilitate improved access to prescription drugs for low-income Medicare beneficiaries.  The Bush Administration introduced the proposal as part of the settlement in a national class action lawsuit brought by people who are unable to get access to the drugs they need:

Under the proposed settlement, filed Thursday with the United States District Court in San Francisco, federal Medicare officials promised to speed up the process of providing extra help to low-income people, who now could qualify within days, rather than weeks or months.

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