Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Did Trump’s Defense Production Act Invocation Clear the Way for the Democrats’ ‘Climate Crisis’ Authoritarianism?

Did Trump’s Defense Production Act Invocation Clear the Way for the Democrats’  ‘Climate Crisis’ Authoritarianism?

The COVID-19 pandemic has gotten me thinking, and increasingly worried about the post-pandemic fallout.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump declared a “national emergency.” But he also invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA), opening up broad rights-violating emergency powers. A former Clinton Administration official gives the Federal Government “a sword of Damocles authority” over industry. Trump already ordered car-maker “General Motors to manufacture ventilators to help handle the surge of coronavirus patients, using his power under the Defense Production Act,” reported the Washington Post. The Defense Production Act?

How our governments are reacting to the coronavirusIt remains to be judged. That’s a debate for another day. 

But, the Defense Production Act? This got me speculating about what might happen if (when?) a Democrat wins the presidency. Has Republican President Donald Trump provided a roadmap and precedent for the totalitarian Left? The criminal socialist Left has latched on to climate change as a path to power, alternately invoking the labels “climate crisis” and “climate emergency.” In fact, there is already a Climate Emergency Campaign going on. The Green New Deal goes beyond climate. It contains a laundry list of authoritarian socialist initiatives. And to implement the Deal, it calls for a government imposed “national mobilization”—read totalitarian government control—effort.

Will the Democrats have the nerve to invoke these emergency powers to ram the Green New Deal, or something worse, down our throats? Why not. Democrats first agitated for Trump to invoke the DPA to battle coronavirus, and he breezily succumbed. The Defense Production Act (DPA) was enacted in 1950 in response to the Korean War. It is an act geared toward national defense, and only national defense. But in pressuring Trump, the Democrats could be disingenuously doing so to establish the precedent they need to impose their criminal socialist agenda under cover of their climate emergency. 

Remember, the Democratic Party is a socialist political party. Socialism in the political sense is a centrally planned economy in which the government controls all means of production, from which no one can escape. 

The Democrats’ Green New Deal already envisions a World War II-like central mobilization of the nation. The chance of them getting away with the authoritarian scheme has now gone from slim to likely, in my view. Who could stand in the Democrats' way, and on what grounds, after a Republican president sets the precedent of stretching the DPA to the point of virtually unlimited usage? Under cover of a health crisis, Trump declared himself “a wartime president,” and justified his invoking of the DPA as "essential to the national defense"!!! If the Defense Production Act can be invoked in response to a health emergency, then why not in a climate emergency, or any event that any future president decides to attach the emergency label too? 

I’m no legal or constitutional expert. But Trump’s invoking of the DPA without getting Congressional authorization seems to be illegal and unconstitutional. If allowed to stand, Trump’s invoking of the DPA will set a dangerous precedent. It will effectively allow any future president to declare a dictatorship virtually at will. I hope Congress revisits the DPA, and the courts declare its use by Trump to have been unconstitutional. If not, it will be a major and possibly fatal blow to our freedom and constitutional governance.

Related Reading:

The Crisis of Socialism--Stephen R. Hicks

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Should Taxes Factor into Government-Mandated Business Shutdowns?: Simon Property Group’s Tax Challenge to Two NJ Cities

Where’s our tax cut? As N.J. mayor tried to shut city, mall owner pushed steep tax break.

That’s the headline of an NJ.com news report by S.P. Sullivan, published on the front page of the New Jersey Star-Ledger. Sullivan reports:

As the mayor of one of New Jersey’s largest cities was scrambling to curb the spread of novel coronavirus earlier this month, the largest operator of malls in the United States had another idea.

“What’s your plan to shut down the mall?” asked [Elizabeth] Mayor Chris Bollwage, referring to the Mills at Jersey Gardens, one of the dozen Simon shopping centers in New Jersey.

“What’s your plan to cut my taxes?" replied Mike Romstad, an executive vice president at the company, according to Bollwage’s account.

Bollwage, in an interview with NJ Advance Media this week, said he considered it a “threat.” A Simon spokeswoman said company officials “categorically deny making a verbal threat to the mayor.” However, she did not deny that the request for tax cuts was made, and Simon less than a week later sent a letter seeking millions of dollars in immediate tax relief.

Jersey City, Mayor Steven Fulop faced the same resistance from the Mall operator, Simon Property Group.* Fulop even sent police to Simon’s Jersey City Mall to enforce the shutdown.

The article provides a back-and-forth between the mayors and Simon executives. For his part, Mayor Bollwage thundered:

“I’m dealing every day with how to protect the city from a virus and how to get the hospitals the necessary equipment, as well as protecting emergency medical services,” Bollwage said in an interview.

“All they cared about was how much taxes they were going to save.”

Simon officials were not shy in responding to Sullivan’s report. For example, Ali Slocum, a vice president for communications at the company, said:

“We call on all local and state officials to recognize the tremendous contribution our center makes to the community in terms of job creation, small business growth and infrastructure and we expect fair and equitable treatment with respect to taxation."

This raises an interesting question of justice: Is it fair for governments to continue demanding taxes at the same rate from businesses deprived of revenues it needs to pay its taxes because of shutdowns imposed by that very government? After all, Bollwage’s snarky ““All [Simon] cared about was how much taxes they were going to save” can just as easily be turned around into “All [Bollwage] cared about was how much taxes his city was going to collect.”

Politicians love to lecture us on the “virtue” of “shared sacrifice.” Yet, they seem to think that their services are somehow so important as to put themselves above sharing in the sacrifices. But in this pandemic, which I agree qualifies as a genuine national health emergency, some, such as the mayors of Elizabeth and Jersey City, are oblivious to the genuine hardships they are imposing on private business and the millions of Americans who are being forced out of their jobs and livelihoods as it relates to their city’s respective taxes.

It remains to be seen whether the government shutdowns across the country are warranted or an over-reaction--and, indeed, whether they are even constitutional. And perhaps the timing of Simon’s tax challenge is not good. Perhaps the company should have waited until after the crisis to mount it’s challenge. But I believe Simon’s challenge is right and courageous. 

The issue here is local property taxes. Property taxes are not like other taxes. Unlike income and sales taxes, which automatically decline when economic activity declines, property taxes are there no matter what. In normal times, the circumstances of the property owner, such as a homeowner's loss of a job or a decline in the sales of a business, it’s to be expected that the property taxes must still be paid. But what about a situation where the taxing authority itself is imposing the job loss and decline in commerce for the business, such as during the current coronavirus pandemic? 

My view at this time is that Simon is correct to fight back. And in doing so, it fights for justice for all property owners--workers and businesses alike--who are seeing their economic health crushed by the government’s own orders. If private citizens are to be forcibly sacrificed for the cause of containing the pandemic, however justifiable the shutdowns are deemed ultimately to have been, it is only fair that property taxes for those paying the price should be commensurately reduced. 

Simon’s tax challenge is just and important. We could call it a matter of social justice.

* (Star-Ledger Editor’s note: After this story was published on NJ.com and in The Star-Ledger, Simon officials provided a response. Read it here.)

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Criminal Socialism vs. a Free Society

This is my first post on the 2020 election. I think it’s indisputably important to understand clearly what one is debating. That goes for capitalism versus socialism, which has been thrust into the forefront of American politics--and the 2020 presidential election.

It is in that vein that I just finished reading The Communistic Societies of the United States; Harmony, Oneida, the Shakers, and Others by Charles Nordhoff. Nordhoff offers a facinating look inside more than six dozen communist enclaves established in the United States. 

These societies are based on the common ownership of all property, central economic planning, abolition of wages for labor, sharply regulated social life including marriage and even sexual conduct. In exchange, everyone’s needs are provided for out of the common fund based on the principle of strict economic equality, but luxuries are forbidden or at least frowned upon. The communist societies are governed authoritarianly by an individual or small elite. Some kind of democratic process is generally involved. They differ in details and implementation, but all adhere to the basic socialist doctrines, usually rooted in Christian theology.

These societies are strictly voluntary. They have their own constitutions, which conform to the laws of the United States. When someone is accepted in—some who apply are rejected—s/he must contractually agree to the terms, agreeing to turn over all personal property to the society’s collective pot. People are free to leave, and when someone does, s/he is usually compensated to some extent based on their original property contribution, or some other criteria. People can be expelled for non-compliance. No coercion or violence is ever used to keep people in, and disputes are resolved in a civil manner, although occasionally must be resolved in the courts of the United States.

These societies build and run agricultural and manufacturing industries, and trade with the “outside” capitalist world. Profits are deposited into the common fund, and either used for the material needs or invested frugally, for the benefit of the members. All members must learn skills and work, unless too young, or indigent. When needed, the rulers hire outside labor for wages.

One of the communistic societies Nordhoff describes, the Perfectionists, was established by John Humphrey Noyes, who himself wrote a book, History of American Socialisms, which I also own and am now reading.* There have been other voluntary socialist societies in the U.S. The Amish have a variation. American Kibbutzim, modeled on the Israeli Kibbutz, have been established around the country. There were the 1960s hippie communes

Interestingly, many of these communistic societies were established by devout Christians who fled Europe in the 19th Century, which was still burdened by the tyranny of church-state unity. These people were prosecuted and even jailed because their practices differed from the views of the established religious/political authorities, so they emigrated to the United States, because the U.S. guaranteed their freedom to establish their socialisms.

This is really important. European socialists were coming to the capitalist United States of America because this is where they have the freedom to practice their socialist creed. Melvin D. Barger, writing for FEE about another commune, Robert Owens’ New Harmony, said this:

The New Harmony movement also had wide support in the new American nation, and Owen had even been given an audience with President-elect John Quincy Adams and the Secretary of the Treasury when he arrived in Washington. There was a kindly tolerance of new ideas, and if New Harmony had been a sound and workable system, the United States had both the political freedom and the available land for thousands of such communal enterprises.

Then or now, nothing in the fundamental American idea was opposed to the socialistic communities of the early 19th century, since they were voluntary arrangements and used peaceful means. [My emphasis]

This goes to the heart of my point in this article. Socialism is perfectly compatible with a free capitalist society, if everyone respects the rights of everyone else to live by their own values and judgement, and to freedom of association. Why? Because in a free society, like America in its Founding principles, the government neutrally protects that freedom by law and constitution.

Unfortunately, the 20th Century saw a new and malignant manifestation of socialism, political socialism. Instigated by Karl Marx, the socialism we speak of in today’s debates is not the benevolent, peaceful, voluntary socialism I just wrote about. Today’s socialism is a tyrannical, top-down system imposed by force on the entire society regardless of whether anyone wants it or not. This political socialism is from beginning to end an organized crime enterprise. It is weaponized socialism. It is criminal socialism. 

Since the Enlightenment gave rise to capitalism, history has provided plenty of opportunity and freedom for people to voluntarily choose socialism. But confronted with the choice explicitly, most Americans will not willingly give up their means of production--their lives, liberties, property, businesses, and pursuit of personal happiness--to a central planning authority. Not many people will, when confronted with undiluted socialism, go for it voluntarily. This is true even in societies that are highly conducive to socialism in the abstract. Given the freedom to choose socialism, in real life, very few people have, which means that the only path to a socialist country is through totalitarianism.

Today’s Democratic Socialist movement is a manifestation of criminal socialism, because it's proponents are acting through government force. Rationalized as “democratic,” it follows on the heels of communism, national socialism, fascism, et al. It rejects voluntarism. It holds that enough votes to win an election is enough justification for imposing one’s socialism on the entirety of society without everyone’s voluntary consent. Bernie Sanders, Occasio-Cortez, and company don’t seek to organize their supporters by voluntary consent. They go into politics. Why? Because they seek political power. Why political power rather than the power of persuasion? Because political power, as Marx’s most loyal disciple observed, “grows out of the barrel of a gun.” On “Why go into politics to advance your cause?”, today’s democratic socialists would answer—to paraphrase a quote attributed to a famous bank robber—“I go into politics because that’s where the guns are.”

Unfortunately, Americans' overwhelming rejection of undiluted socialism—the recent collapse of Bernie Sanders's campaign within the Democrstic Party is the latest proof—may not save us. The ongoing piecemeal slide into socialism is a real danger, because too few people can connect the philosophical dots. Many people may like certain welfare state socialistic programs like Social Security or food stamps. But most, including many who call themselves socialist supporters, still will not accept full-blown socialism, even as they are unwittingly accepting the principles that lead to full-blown socialism. 

That’s worth remembering, because here is where we are today. Capitalism vs. socialism is the underlying political battle of America. But perhaps that characterization is not precise enough. The choice capitalism vs. socialism is really capitalism versus criminal socialism, since capitalism is perfectly compatible with voluntary socialist arrangements. 

Here’s the bottom line: When the government remains in its proper, neutral, rights-protecting, American-ideal mode, capitalism or socialism is a personal choice. The millions of supporters of today’s democratic socialist movement don’t have to wait for politicians like Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to gain political power. They can live their socialist dreams right now, by forming their own communities based on their common values. Unlike 19th Century socialists, they do not necessarily need large expanses of land to commune. With technologies made possible by capitalist freedom, they can form virtual communities. All they need to remember is to respect the rights of others. They can form their communities by the voluntary consent of all of their members, leaving anyone with different values free to go their own way. Any other method of forming communistic associations is the method of the criminal. 

Under our welfare state capitalism, the socialist element has been slowly squeezing out capitalism. That is because the socialists are slowly imposing their socialism incrementally, by government force. They are now proclaiming their undiluted socialism openly and honestly. Hence, the fundamental political battle today is not, precisely speaking, capitalism vs. socialism. Properly conceptualized, the battle is a free society versus criminal socialism. That’s the precise actual choice. 

* [Noyes covers more socialist societies, in more depth. It’s a fascinating read.]

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Saturday, March 21, 2020

Election 2020: The Pickpocket vs. the Murderer

J.D. Tuccille has captured my basic feelings on the choice that is shaping up for voters this year. Competing Brands of Authoritarianism Are All Trump and Democratic Candidates Offer, Tuccille correctly observes. “The real resistance,” he writes, “is made up of those who refuse to be governed by any of the wannabe rulers.”

I agree. There are three sides to this year’s election--Trump, the Democrat, and liberty. Tuccille goes on:

Do presidential debates have you considering likely places to stash your cash? Do political polling results have you contemplating waiting it all out in a mountain retreat? Rest assured that you're not overreacting; you're sensibly responding to a political culture that has turned very welcoming to authoritarian candidates and intrusive policies.

Where I differ from Tuccille is captured in my comments posted to the article:

I agree with Tuccille’s basic premise. But the two sides cannot be equivocated. The Democratic Party is now defined as socialist, which by definition means totalitarian. The Republican Party has picked up the mantle of welfare state capitalism. In terms of authoritarianism, comparing the Trump Republican Party to the Democratic Party is like comparing a pickpocket to a murderer.

It’s not time to head for a mountain retreat. We do face a genuine choice—voting for the lesser of two evils. And there is a lesser of two evils. It’s obviously Donald Trump. 

To be sure, there are really three sides--Trump, the Democrat, and Americanism. Trump is not the president to reverse the march toward authoritarianism in America. But a continuation of the Trump Administration can delay it or at least slow it down, giving the forces of liberty more time to fight back.

At this juncture, it looks to me like (ARRGGHH!) Donald Trump -- 2.0

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Sanders’ Goal to ‘Transform Society’ Puts Him in Some Terrible Company

Bernie Sanders created a lot of disgust when he praised Fidel Castro, the Communist dictator of Cuba.  Yuri Pérez posted the comment that got the attention of the public in Yes, Bernie Sanders, Castro's literacy program was 'a bad thing:.

. . . a militarized state has guaranteed the Castro dynasty’s power over half a century — not, as Sanders asserted in his 1997 book, because "he educated their kids, gave their kids health care, totally transformed the society." 

In a CNN article posted by NBC, Sanders says 'it's unfair to simply say everything is bad' with Fidel Castro's Cuba, Paul LeBlanc and Dan Merica wrote:

Buzzfeed reported during the 2016 election that Sanders said at the same time that America was "very, very mistaken about" the Cuban people's desire to revolt against Castro because Americans "forgot that he educated their kids, gave their kids health care, totally transformed the society."

Sanders’ comments about education and healthcare got most of the attention, and, rightfully, pushback. 

However, the final part of the statement praising Castro for totally transforming Cuban society didn’t get nearly enough attention, if any. But it should have, because of what it says about Bernie Sanders, and of socialism. 

So let me correct that. A government that has the power to “totally transform the society” from the top down, by government force, is a totalitarian state. This is Sanders. He seeks political power so as to impose on 330 million Americans his brand of socialism. Anyone who believes that an entire society and everyone in it is his to “transform” according to his vision of what the ideal society looks like is a full-blown sociopath. This puts Sanders in the terrible company of such recent utopians as Stalin, Hitler, Mao ZeDong, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Hugo Chavez, and of course Castro. Sanders may be a minor leaguer compared to these major league monsters. But he is cut from the same mold. 

For most of his career as an Independent Democratic Socialist, and now a Democrat for presidential purposes, Sanders is in the process of capturing a large swath of the Democratic Party. Even if he doesn’t get the 2020 presidential nomination, he will have redefined the Democratic Party in a new and dangerous way, aligning it more with undiluted socialism than welfare statism. We need to take Sanders seriously, and at his own word. Ideas matter. Words matter. They have predictable consequences in real life. We’ve seen his political sociopathy before.

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Sunday, March 15, 2020

Atlas Shrugged; Heros or Villains?


Back in 2018, Anoop Verma posted an excerpt from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in which the strikers are discussing the withdrawal of their services and talents from a society they concluded was ruled by a looting government motivated by a corrupt moral code. Here is the excerpt:

Midas Mulligan: “The time is approaching when all of us will have to be called to live here—because the world is falling apart so fast that it will soon be starving. But we will be able to support ourselves in this valley [Galt’s Gulch].”

"The world is crashing faster than we expected," said Hugh Akston. "Men are stopping and giving up. Your frozen trains, the gangs of raiders, the deserters, they're men who've never heard of us, and they're not part of our strike, they are acting on their own—it's the natural response of whatever rationality is still left in them—it's the same kind of protest as ours."

"We started with no time limit in view," said Galt. "We did not know whether we'd live to see the liberation of the world or whether we'd have to leave our battle and our secret to the next generations. We knew only that this was the only way we cared to live. But now we think that we will see, and soon, the day of our victory and of our return."

"When?" she whispered.

"When the code of the looters has collapsed."

He saw her looking at him, her glance half-question, half-hope, and he added, "When the creed of self-immolation has run, for once, its undisguised course—when men find no victims ready to obstruct the path of justice and to deflect the fall of retribution on themselves—when the preachers of self-sacrifice discover that those who are willing to practice it, have nothing to sacrifice, and those who have, are not willing any longer—when men see that neither their hearts nor their muscles can save them, but the mind they damned is not there to answer then: screams for help [SIC]—when they collapse as they must, as men without mind—when they have no pretense of authority left, no remnant of law, no trace of morality, no hope, no food and no way to obtain it—when they collapse and the road is clear—then we'll come back to rebuild the world." [SIC]

Verma then posed a moral question, in the form of an observation: “[They] are discussing with satisfaction the collapse of the collectivist system. They do not seem to care about the tens of thousands of innocent (but intellectually and morally incompetent) people who are perishing in the lawlessness and chaos that has now engulfed the world.”

I took this statement to be a condemnation of the strikers when I posted this comment:

So, [the collapse of the collectivist system and the resulting humanitarian crisis] is all the fault of the victims for daring to withdraw their services—and thus support, at great personal cost and risk—a rebellion against a social system that they morally opposed? 
I see the spirit of the Founding Fathers, who pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to the cause of a free and just society.

But Verma gave my comment a thumbs up. So I guess he was merely challenging his readers to see where they stand. For more on my equation of Galt’s strikers with the Founding Fathers, see my post Ayn Rand: Tea Party Voice of the Founding Fathers.

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Thursday, March 12, 2020

Which Was the More Fundamental American Liberty Achievement, Abolition vs. Women’s Suffrage?

That is the question behind another statue controversy that has erupted. It’s in New Jersey. This time it’s not as “cut-and-dried” as the Confederate statue version. In Bill to replace Kearny statue at U.S. Capitol passes N.J. Senate, angering residents, Peter D’Auria reports for The Jersey Journal:

Gen. Philip Kearny has watched over the U.S. Capitol for 132 years.

Kearny . . . earned honors for his bravery fighting in the Mexican-American War before his death fighting for the Union in the Civil War. The town of Kearny, where he lived for a few years, was named in his honor.

Since 1888, a bronze statue of the general, complete with cavalry saber and soaring mustache, has stood in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall alongside 99 other historical figures from across the country.

But Kearny’s watch may be ending soon. A New Jersey state Senate bill passed Feb. 10 that would ask the U.S. Library of Congress to remove Kearny’s statue and replace it with one of Alice Paul, a Mount Laurel advocate for women’s suffrage.

Lucienne Beard, the executive director of the Alice Paul Institute, a gender equality advocacy group, said she has nothing against Kearny specifically, but Paul “represents the New Jersey value of fighting for social justice and equality, writ large."

“The U.S. suffrage movement was the civil rights advance that affected the largest number of people in this country,” said Beard, who said she supports the bill but was not involved in drafting it. “That should be memorialized.”

That should be memorialized, I agree. But replacing Kearn, a Union hero of the Civil War, the culmination of the movement to end slavery, Abolition? There are opponents to replacement. William Styple, a historian from Kearny who is writing a book on Kearny, said he wrote a letter to lawmakers opposing the bill. “I just don’t think people are educated on who Philip Kearny was,” he said, “He detested slavery. He called it a stain on the American flag.”

Another opponent, State Sen. Nicholas Sacco, “I am a firm believer that Alice Paul should be recognized for her trailblazing role in achieving women’s suffrage. At the same time, General Philip Kearny is not only a historical figure but a war hero.”

State Senator Linda Greenstein, one of the sponsors of the bill, stated that “Kearny and Paul ‘were both great Americans, no question about that,’ [but] added, ‘I feel very strongly about Alice Paul.’”

So both sides acknowledge the historic roles of both people. The problem is, each state is allowed only two statues at the National Statuary Hall. So, debate is a matter of the proportional contribution of each NJ resident to advancing the cause of America’s liberty equality. Alice Paul’s supporters cite women’s suffrage, but also “diversity” and the always amorphous “social justice.” Kearny, of course, fought and died for the Union army in the Civil War.

I posted these comments:

America is a nation that prioritizes individual liberty over democracy. Freedom is not defined as the right to vote. Freedom is defined as the individual’s personal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness regardless of someone else’s vote or the outcome of any election. Defenders of the Confederacy held that slavery was a democratic matter for each state to decide, meaning that the majority could vote a minority into slavery, thus repudiating the American Founding principle of the inalienable and equal individual rights of all people. 

The victory over the treasonous Confederate slavocracy was a far greater advance for liberty than women’s suffrage. The Civil War, which Kearny fought on the right side of, ended slavery and led to the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1870, and 1875, and Constitutionally clarified and strenghtened the Founding principles of equality of liberty rights of all people through the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. 

This is not to diminish the significance for liberty of women’s suffrage or of the 19th Amendment.  It’s that the Civil War was a far greater advance for liberty--2nd only to the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War. In fact, the 19th Amendment would not have been possible without the Civil War Amendments, which secured the primacy of federally protected rights and citizenship over states’ “rights.” As with other U.S. Constitutional rights, the 19th Amendment gives Congress, not the states, the power to secure the right to vote regardless of sex.

The issue is not Abolition vs. Suffrage. Both Kearny and Paul were liberty fighters. It’s a travesty to have to pick one over the other. But if it must be either/or, Kearny’s fight for Abolition was much more significant because much more fundamental to liberty.

True, more women got the vote than slaves were freed. But would anyone seriously believe that women getting the vote was more important to liberty than Confederate slaves escaping their chains into freedom? 

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