Budgets, Deficits and Debt

Letter to the Editor, Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune MastheadReading time – 52 seconds .  .  .

A recent poll showed that 96% of Americans deplore the influence of big money on our politics and want that changed. But that hasn’t happened and that big money is the mother lode that drives our national dysfunction.

After 20 little kids and 6 teachers were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary school nearly three years ago, 90% of all Americans and 80% of National Rifle Association members wanted universal background checks for all sales of firearms. We didn’t get what we wanted. The big money interests blocked the will of the American people.

Jeb Bush has raised over $114 million (“Jeb Bush, super PAC raise” July 9) and a Hillary Clinton fundraiser in Chicago cost $2,700 per seat (“Major donor to Obama, Emanuel to host Hillary Clinton fundraiser” July 21). Once they and other candidates receive these enormous sums, they are beholden to the wealthy who contributed and the candidates ignore the voices of regular Americans.

That’s why we don’t have laws to help small businesses and it is why our health care system caters to powerful insurance companies. It’s why we haven’t undertaken a critical updating of our education system and it’s why we wait for bridges to collapse and kill people before repairing our crumbling infrastructure. The list of serious problems ignored by Congress is long and ugly and our corrupt campaign finance system drives nearly all of them.

I’ve spoken to groups that span our political spectrum about our legalized bribery system that gives wealthy special interests an advantage and opens the door to corruption. Not once has anyone voiced any push-back. This is a bipartisan issue. We the People want reform.

As an Eisenhower Republican, my vote in 2016 will go to whichever candidates come out in support of fundamental election reform that truly puts government back in the hands of the people. In the 10th Congressional District, that rules out Robert Dold.

All candidates can show that they are serious about this issue by supporting the Government by the People Act (H.R.20). This bipartisan bill (with 160 cosponsors) will create a voluntary system of tax rebates and other incentives for small donors to have more of a voice in elections, including public financing of our elections. I hope the candidates campaign on this reform bill to ensure politicians are accountable to voters rather than catering only to a well connected few.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Get Government Out of Our Lives

ChaffetzReading time – 47 seconds  .  .  .

On April 15 Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) proposed H.R. 1563, a bill that would require federal workers to certify that their tax records aren’t delinquent, this under threat of dismissal. Chaffetz wants to make sure that those hoards of federal employee tax evaders with debt so large and so delinquent that, ”  .  .  .   [it] may be collected by the Secretary [of the Treasury] by levy or by a proceeding in court,” are brought out of the shadows and put in stocks in the public square. Alright, Jason. You are one tough dude!

And his bill flies in the face of workers’ rights to keep their tax records private and wholly ignores the fact that another department of government – the Treasury – is already monitoring and collecting delinquent taxes. Chaffetz’s bill appears to duplicate efforts, burden citizens, violate rights and is punitive. So, why would he introduce such apparently lame brain legislation that appears to run counter to the Republican “less government” mantra?

It turns out that, “.  .  .  the bill’s requirements apply to employees of the executive and legislative branches, as well as to those in the U.S. Postal Service and the Postal Regulatory Commission.” Hmmm, the U.S. Postal Service is included. Could that be a clue?

Just a few years ago our insightful and ever-vigilant Congress drafted a bill that requires the Postal Service to amass billions of dollars to ensure the pensions of postal workers. It projects the need so many decades into the future that the U.S. Postal Service is putting away retirement funds for workers who have not yet been born. That bill was designed to burden the Postal Service with such a crushing load of debt that it would become bankrupt; then the Republicans’ favorite free marketers could privatize it, cut services, raise rates and make lots of money.

Chaffetz’s bill is just another Republican effort to drive the privatization of all of our government functions in order to enrich their pals. Any time you want to understand this kind of stupid stuff, just follow the money.

And here’s the kicker: The rate of tax delinquency of postal workers is less than half that of the general public. These are solid citizens paying their fair share, but Jason Chaffetz, resolute soldier in the Republican war on government (this primarily for the benefit of rich people), wants to use government muscle to double up on efforts to humiliate and penalize these people.

Jason, your mother must be very proud.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

New Ryan Budget Adjustment

Reading time – 23 seconds  .  .  .

Washington DC – In a press briefing in front of the Washington Field Office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced new details of his updated budget plan. “To help save the economy,”  Ryan announced, “we’re making  an important change to our proposed budget. Upon adoption of the plan, we will start deporting seniors instead of illegal immigrants, in order to lower Social Security and Medicare costs. That simple change will extend the life of both programs by decades. It will also cost far less to administer than the current INS rules because older people are easier to catch and will not remember how to get back home.”*

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*The picture above is from a spoof piece making the rounds on the Internet Machine. Thanks go to ES for passing it to me.  I have taken liberties with the text for satirical purposes. Note that Congressman Ryan has not yet contacted me to indicate if his mother, Elizabeth Ryan, will be eligible for deportation.

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Eric CantorSUNDAY TWO-FER!

Reading time – 11 seconds

Good-bye, Eric Cantor, latest loser to a new extremist fool.  For years you had the power to be the driver of betterment for the American people and you chose instead to be a petty obstructionist.

We will not miss your arrogance and lies, your demagoguery and fraudulent misrepresentations, your partisan posturing and your dedication to failure. Your mother may be proud of you, but most of us are not.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Nothing Conservative To See Here – Move Along

Reading time . .  .  43 seconds

There are so many programs that the Republicans used to support, like healthcare reform, gun background checks and programs that suggest something science-y, like cap-and-trade.  For six years, though, they have been focused solely on opposing anything President Obama supports, so they have turned their backs on their own programs trying to out-testosterone one another and promoting governmental paralysis. Indeed, many Republicans used to be conservatives, but that seems to have fallen into disfavor over on the right, which is now well short of the neocortex.

The Republicans are big promoters of a fire breathing, smoke belching military. They support the troops and wave flags and insist that we continue to spend money on defense at the same rate or even more than we spent when we were engaged in a cold war opposing a country that now no longer exists. Let nobody suggest that the R’s are military wimps. They got their camo mojo on and it’s cookin’ all the time, supportin’ the troops. Conservative bedrock in action, right?

Except when our troops come home broken up, messed up and throwing up. Then the R’s aren’t so supportive of the troops. That’s when they adjust their bean counter eye shades and sleeve garters to cut budgets. That’s when it’s clear that the “political right” has departed from conservatism. Indeed, Poppy Bush would be aghast to learn that there are no compassionate conservatives.

Read Carl Gibson’s excellent article Fake Political Outrage is the Real VA Scandal and see for yourself. These R’s who are refusing to properly care for our wounded are the same right wingers who authorized “supporting out troops” by lying to the American people, trumping up “evidence” for an unnecessary war and then sending our troops into battle without body armor, without vehicle armor and without an exit plan. Then they sent another 100,000 troops to attack Afghanistan, yet another country that did not attack America. Tough beans now for the 1.6 million vets who have cycled home, need help and are applying to the VA for what was promised.

Are you looking for conservatives? Don’t bother looking at today’s Republican Party, because there’s nothing conservative to see there. Move along.

 Ed. note:  Thanks to EBC for bringing Gibson’s article to my attention.

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There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Upcoming Calendar

Reading time – 21 seconds  .  .  .

About a year ago it became clear to me that, while 4 out of 5 Americans who knew about the catastrophic Citizens United case wanted it reversed, too few of us knew about it. Education, it became obvious, is a must if we are to turn the country back in the right direction. And because I do keynote speeches and workshops with a focus on leadership in my day job, I took it upon myself to put together a presentation for the purpose of educating and motivating people to take action.

The program is entitled Money, Politics & Democracy and I’ve delivered it around Chicagoland and also in the St. Louis area. The comments have been strongly positive and I’m wanting to reach out to others, so if you have a venue where a speaker delivering a strictly NON-PARTISAN message to restore some sanity into our government, please connect me to that venue. And no, I don’t charge for doing these presentations. Like this blog, it is about making a difference.

Want to find out what it’s all about? Here are a couple of upcoming public presentations:

I will be presenting to NorthWest Suburban Organizing For America (NWSOFA) at 7:00PM on Tuesday, April 22. Here is a link to information on the session.

The next public session will be at the DuPage Coffeehouse on May 7 starting at 7:00PM. Information for my presentation isn’t up on their website yet, so click on this link for a PDF with program information.

Will you be there? Drop me a line so that we’re sure to connect.

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Republicans and Jobs

On December 3, 2013 Speaker of the House John Boehner declared in a 57 second speech that,

“Republicans continue to stay focused on the economy.  And the fact is that the American people want us to do everything we can to strengthen the economy so there will be more jobs and higher wages available.  This week we’ll take further steps to strengthen our economy.”

Then he launched into an attack on the Affordable Care Act.

So, here is the question for you:  Can you name a single thing that the Republicans in Congress have proposed or done since January 20, 2009 that has been aimed at creating more jobs or higher wages?

They spent lots of energy and money to fight the Jobs Bill and they defeated it.  They fought and then were at last shamed into allowing the Jobs for Veterans Bill to pass.  Okay, we’ll give them credit for that and do so with the same enthusiasm as they displayed to support our veterans.  Then they spent all the rest of their time on anything but more jobs and higher wages.

They spent much of the past five years proudly battling against gay rights, immigration reform and voting rights.  Not much of a connection with more jobs and higher wages there.

There was some truly google-eyed work done by Republicans in the House on the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare.  It is essentially the program recommended years ago by the very conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation.  It is also essentially the same as the program enacted into law in Massachusetts under Republican Governor Mitt Romney.  But today’s Republicans – the ones for whom John Boehner speaks – have spent their time trying to repeal Obamacare 43 times.  And, speaking of healthcare, they have hissy fits over defunding Planned Parenthood, too.  It is unclear how any of that helps to alleviate the suffering or improve the opportunities of our under- and unemployed.

They also made sure that we don’t have sensible control over the sale of firearms. No connection there to jobs or wages either.

Gotta give the R’s credit, though, as over the years they have boldly managed to give congressional endorsement to the naming of several post offices.  Check that box as Mission Accomplished.  Still, where is the action toward more jobs and higher wages?

Boehner was right in what he said – Americans want Congress to do something to create more jobs and higher wages.  Republicans, though, have done nothing to help that.   Too bad for us that all Boehner and the Republicans offer is lip service to what is most important to Americans.

Do you want Congress to behave differently?  Do you want our problems solved instead of being left to get worse?  Then you better get active, get involved and send to Washington people who will get this country headed in the right direction.  If you don’t, I promise you that our self-paralyzed Congress will do nothing to help you or anyone you care about with the opportunity for a job or higher wages.

One more thing:  With about 3 applicants for every job opening, it is a mathematical certainty that two out of three unemployed people can’t and won’t find work any time soon, leaving them unemployed.  Meanwhile, the Republicans in Congress want to cut unemployment benefits, lest we teach the unemployed to be dependent on government.  That is the reasoning expressed by Republican presidential wannabe Rand Paul.  His plan is that on December 28 we’ll just set the unemployed adrift, hungry.

And Happy Holidays to all of them.

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

If It Isn’t a Perfect 10 . . .

Look, it’s as plain as can be that the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – was flawed from the start.   Whatever your political views, the act focuses on payment, not medical care itself.  And it doesn’t cover everyone.  Besides, the stupid website doesn’t work.  Just de-fund it, already.

And while I’m thinking of it, our interstate highways are pretty beaten up.  De-fund those, too.

Education.  Now, that’s a mess.  Our kids are way behind most of the industrialized world in science and math, so the only sensible thing to do is to just dump the system we’re using.  Perhaps funding based on real estate property taxes made sense a long time ago.  Maybe, maybe not.  But that funding mechanism isn’t preparing kids for today, much less for tomorrow.  And we’re not hiring and retaining the best teachers, either, as too many are on the “Three Years and Out” plan.  No, this isn’t working well enough to continue to throw money at it, so just pull the plug.

The Postal Service doesn’t get any money from the government, unless some bureaucrat wants to mail a letter, so we don’t have to worry about that.  But the people running it ought to be re-thinking their whole model.  One stamp sends a letter to the remotest places in the U.S. every day.  That’s crazy.  Maybe congress should increase the requirement for their pension put-away to cover people who won’t be born for another 50 years.  That would put the pressure on them to pull the plug.

And those spiffs to alternative energy companies – what’s up with that?  Those technologies only supply 2% of our energy needs, which is way too little to make a real difference.  No point in encouraging that, so we should just de-fund those loony subsidies.

What the heck is the government doing in the home mortgage industry?  Everyone knows that Reagan was right about government being the problem.  We should just let the free market do its magic.  The FHA falls well short of doing things right all the time.  Adios, FHA.  And pay no attention to those too-big-to-fail bank derivatives that nobody understands.  Let the free market work there, too, except if those guys crash and burn again and then government will be the safety net.  Everything has an exception, right?

Medical R & D – now, that’s a real problem.  We keep throwing money that way, but where is that cure for cancer?  Have you seen it?  Neither have I.  Now, that’s a really dark hole into which we throw cash all the time, but that’s a system that never delivers like it should.  De-fund that bad boy, too.

Back to Obamacare for a second.  The website is so bad that it’s embarrassing.  And President Obama did that, “If you like it you can keep it” thing, which turned out not to be true for everyone.  Those are two more good reasons for trashing the entire program.  Okay, really just one more, since I mentioned the website earlier.  But it’s that bad, though, so it should be beaten up twice.  Maybe continuously.

There are so many programs that we fund that work at sub-optimal levels.  If we are to make good choices about what to do with our scarce resources (i.e. what’s in our collective wallet), then here is the bar that must be cleared:  If it isn’t perfect, de-fund it.

There.  That was easy.

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

The Continuing Frog Boil

Boiling FrogThe U.S. budget sequestration went into effect on March 1, 2013.  It was designed to reduce defense and certain non-defense discretionary spending by annually declining percentages through 2021.  It applies these cuts with the fine precision of a large asteroid smashing into the Earth.  It was said to be designed as a pressure on Congress and the White House to hammer out a budget agreement on a timely basis and was not supposed to go into effect because its stupidity was unthinkable.  Apparently, some of the major actors in that drama didn’t do enough thinking, because we’re living with the sequester now.  Oddly, we are not hearing much of a wail from those affected.  There are reasons for that.

First, the impact of the sequester on defense spending is small enough to be a rounding error for the agencies with nearly unlimited spending ability and which buy thousand-dollar toilet seats, tanks for fighting the non-existent Soviet Union in a land war and trillion-dollar airplanes that no one wants.  Besides, when the affected contractors are unhappy with the government they don’t march in the streets.  Their comments are given behind closed doors, so you don’t hear them.

Second, many of the domestic program cuts only affect poor people and nobody listens to them.  For example, study after study has shown that early childhood education is the cornerstone for later success in higher education and for a lifetime.  But the sequester cut 57,000 children out of the Head Start program, thus necessarily relegating them to a much dimmer future.  Understand, though, that the Head Start victims of the sequester are poor kids whose parents’ voices aren’t heard in Congress because those parents don’t make large campaign contributions, so they don’t have access.  And you can’t hear them because the corporate media doesn’t relay their brutal reality.

Here is another example.  The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicted that the sequester would produce a reduction in economic growth of 0.6%, saying that this would affect job retention for 750,000 Americans.  “Retention” is not about new jobs.  It is about employed people just keeping their jobs.  That means three-quarters of a million Americans will lose their jobs because of the unthinkable sequester.  Like the parents of kids kicked out of Head Start, the newly unemployed don’t have access, so you don’t hear their voices, either, and it is relatively easy for the rest of us to ignore the change.

Third, we human beings only become aware of change when a big WHUMP! smacks us in the head.  Most of the time we tolerate small changes quite easily and don’t even notice them.  By the time we at last notice their accumulation into a WHUMP!, it is too late to prevent the adverse consequences that we will live with forever.  That is to say, most of us are living with the unrecognized effects of small changes and, like live frogs in a slowly heating pot of water, we fail to recognize that we are being boiled alive.

Yet, metaphorically speaking, that is what is happening to Americans.  We are tolerating changes like the sequester, either because each change is very small, as they are for most of us, or we are accommodating them because we are powerless, as it is for the poor, the disenfranchised, the unemployed – the very people who don’t contribute big money to political campaigns.

And the incremental deterioration story gets worse.  The current government shutdown engineered by Ted Cruz (R-Psych Ward) and his extremist pals has already kicked another 7,000 kids out of Head Start and 19,000 more are on the way out the door.  Those kids will under-perform and we will lose the benefit of their contributions and their genius.  Some will drop out and be a weight on society and some will turn to crime for survival.  For those who don’t care about those kids, surely even the investment class understands the value of spending a buck today to get a return of two in the future.  Yet all they seem to be able to see is that they want everything now.

Head Start is just one example of incremental changes that are absorbed with barely a public whimper – there are many more – but we will all pay the price.

On the other hand, here is a happy thought: we’re saving money today because we’ve cut unemployment compensation for those 750,000 Americans being laid off this year and we won’t have to listen to them complain because they don’t have a voice powered by campaign contributions.

Come to think of it, perhaps you are not donating thousands of dollars to the right legislators every election cycle.  If that is the case, you just might want to check the thermometer in your pot.  It might be edging up the the WHUMP! mark at the top of the scale.

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Definition: The Republican Caucus – a gathering place for the clueless.

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“Let me just check my talking points, and  .  .  .  Why, here’s something flamboyant and hateful I can say to rile up the base and make them cheer for me.  And here’s another.  Wow!  There’s a whole pile of ’em!  I’ll never run out of self-serving drivel.”  Sen. Ted Cruz in an imaginary and oh-so-brief moment of honesty.

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

What Do You Want?

Uncle Sam What Do You WantA fundamental question in all negotiations is, “What do you want?”  Of course, there are other questions each party must answer but everything hinges on knowing what you want.  Absent that, all negotiations are just exercises in defeating the other guy for no clear purpose other than the opportunity to do a little chest beating.  Not much good happens from that.

Indeed, On Thursday Congressman Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) said of the government shutdown, “We’re not going to be disrespected.  We have to get something out of this.  And I don’t know what that even is.”  And, in fact, nothing good came from that, except for Stutzman’s hand getting slapped by other Tea Party  people for making them all look stupid.

The answer to the “What do you want?” question for each side in our ongoing DC dysfunction is “government.”  The Democrats want government to be an active agent in society.  The Republicans continue to follow the slick campaign quip of Ronald Reagan, “Government is the problem.”  That is to say, what Republicans want is to do away with nearly all government.  To that point, Grover Norquist has told us that he wants to reduce government in size such that he can “drown it in a bathtub.”  And, due to 2010 redistricting, the Republican extremists have managed to shut down much of the federal government and have threatened to default on the nation’s debt in pursuit of their government destruction goal.  Apparently, nothing is sacred to them in their quest – not even our national honor nor the world economy.

This is not a situation where each party is equally to blame for the mess we’re in.  This is the result of a few dozen radicals holding the United States and the world economy hostage.

The question for all the rest of us is, “What do you want?”  If you want to terminate all the things you have come to expect from government, then the extremists’ view and their Machiavellian methods are for you.

On the other hand, what you want might include the protections that only a functioning government can provide, things like meat inspection, careful review of drugs before they’re used on your children, air traffic control so that the airplane on which Granny is riding doesn’t go bump in the night with another airplane, ensuring that our kids get an education for success both today and tomorrow, building and maintaining our bridges and interstate highways, all national security functions, funding the research work at the National Institutes of Health so that when you get sick there is medical help for you and so many other important functions.  If that is what you want, then it just might be a good idea to contact your representative and senators in Congress and tell them to shape up, especially if one of them is a Tea Party zealot with his/her gun pointed at Uncle Sam (aka you).

As always, the behavior you tolerate is the behavior you get.

One more time:  What do you want?

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

The Greater Good – Part 1 of 2

America Held HostageThere is a lot of craziness that can be rationalized using the words “greater good”.  Too often the only participants are those with a bizarre and dangerous imagination and with a vested interest in the outcome.  That applies to the separate issues of America’s budget and the U.S. debt ceiling. 

There is a small band of far right wingers who are holding hostage all the rest of the Republicans.  The result of that is that together they are holding hostage the welfare of every citizen of The United States of America.  Even more, by threatening to default on our national debt they are also holding hostage the entire world economy.  Gun to the head of America and the world.  All that matters is what they want.

Perhaps these far right legislators are true believers for whom their ends justify any means, no matter the pain they to cause hundreds of millions – and to perhaps billions – of others.  Lying and bullying are okay, they believe.  Those are just tools to achieve their goals.

They are funded by unimaginably wealthy individuals for whom ever more power, money and control are all that matter.  Those legislators and their fabulously rich benefactors are all hostage takers, packed with hubris, self-interest and a complete lack of concern for others.  “They are bold and proud and certain in the way of clever children blessed with too much self-esteem,” in the words of Ben Fountain’s brilliant 2012 best seller, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. The ruination of America is of no concern to them.

For these megalomaniacs, it is all for the greater good.  Theirs.

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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