Critical reading

A blog
  • Why localism isn't the solution

    Very clear analysis of the failure of localism. The links have some useful resources. --PG

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    Localism? I don't buy it

    Source: Al Jazeera

    Localist movements fail by treating a symptom of capitalism, the crippling of local communities, as if it's the disease.

    Last updated: 07 Apr 2014 07:20

    Stan Cox

    Humanity's failure so far to deal with multiple crises - planet-wide ecological degradation, domination by a transnational economic elite, the deepening misery that afflicts billions in both rich and poor nations - has prompted increasing interest in local economies as less intimidating arenas where much-needed change might be more readily achieved.

  • U.S. education—racist to the core

    A comprenhensive Department of Education survey confirms the massive racial divide in the U.S. K-12 education system, with discrimination starting when children are as young as four-years old. More from the NYT on this topic here. --PG

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    School Data Finds Pattern of Inequality Along Racial Lines

    Source: New York Times

    By MOTOKO RICH MARCH 21, 2014

    Racial minorities are more likely than white students to be suspended from school, to have less access to rigorous math and science classes, and to be taught by lower-paid teachers with less experience, according to comprehensive data released Friday by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

    In the first analysis in nearly 15 years of information from all of the country’s 97,000 public schools, the Education Department found a pattern of inequality on a number of fronts, with race as the dividing factor.

    Black students are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of white students. A quarter of high schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students do not offer any Algebra II courses, while a third of those schools do not have any chemistry classes. Black students are more than four times as likely as white students — and Latino students are twice as likely — to attend schools where one out of every five teachers does not meet all state teaching requirements.

  • Paul Ryan pulls out his racist dog whistle

    Coded racism (famously explained in a 1981 interview with Republican consultant and later RNC chair Lee Atwater) continues to be central to conservative politics in the US. More on Ryan here and here. More by López here. --PG

    UPDATE: More here and here.

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    Is Paul Ryan Racist?

    Source: Politico

    He insists not, but I hope he’s learned his lesson.


    March 14, 2014

    Paul Ryan triggered a firestorm of recrimination this week. Speaking recently on Bill Bennett’s Morning in America radio program, the Wisconsin Republican and self-styled budget wonk linked poverty to “this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”

    Setting aside the factual claim—the notion that poverty is especially concentrated in America’s inner cities is an increasingly antiquated one—these comments elicited a quick and forceful rebuke from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who decried them as “a thinly veiled racial attack.” She explained: “[W]hen Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’”

  • Capitalism and militarism

    Why capitalism can't break its addiction to military spending. --PG

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    Global military spending is now an integral part of capitalism

    Source: The Guardian

    The idea of a 'peace dividend' is gone – high levels of military spending are an entrenched part of the global landscape

    Richard Seymour
    Friday 7 March 2014 13.30 EST

    China's surge in military spending gains headlines, partly because of the ominous implications regarding its regional contest with Japan, but it's the deeper structures of military spending in general that are far more compelling.

  • U.S. hypocrisy over Ukraine

    “You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests … This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really 19th century behavior in the 21st century.” —John Kerry. You can't make this stuff up. More here and here. --PG

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    Heard the One About Obama Denouncing a Breach of International Law?

    Source: Common Dreams

    Published on Monday, March 3, 2014

    by Norman Solomon

    International law is suddenly very popular in Washington. President Obama responded to Russian military intervention in the Crimea by accusing Russia of a “breach of international law.” Secretary of State John Kerry followed up by declaring that Russia is “in direct, overt violation of international law.”

    Unfortunately, during the last five years, no world leader has done more to undermine international law than Barack Obama. He treats it with rhetorical adulation and behavioral contempt, helping to further normalize a might-makes-right approach to global affairs that is the antithesis of international law.

    Fifty years ago, another former law professor, Senator Wayne Morse, condemned such arrogance of power. “I don’t know why we think, just because we’re mighty, that we have the right to try to substitute might for right,” Morse said on national TV in 1964. “And that’s the American policy in Southeast Asia—just as unsound when we do it as when Russia does it.”

  • What's happening in Ukraine?

    Helpful analysis of the confusing situation in Ukraine. There is a collection of links on the site for further information. --PG

    UPDATE: Following President Yanukovych's dramatic departure from Kiev, Where next for Ukraine?

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    Blood on the streets in Ukraine

    Source: rs21

    21 February 2014

    Ben Neal reports on the continuing protests in Ukraine

    Dozens of people have been killed this week in Ukraine as a result of a brutal government assault on the opposition held “Euromaidan” (Euro square), or Independence Square, in Kiev. In addition hundreds of people have been injured, some of them seriously.

    At least 70 people, including 12 members of the security forces, are known to have been killed since Tuesday, and around 1000 have been injured, some seriously. Police managed to eject protesters from the central trade union building, which was being used as a headquarters for the revolution, and in the process the building was set on fire.

  • Michael Löwy on ecosocialism

    From a very welcome special issue of New Politics on "The Left and the Environmental Crisis." --PG

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    Ecosocialism: Putting on the Brakes Before Going Over the Cliff

    Source: New Politics

    by Michael Löwy

    Winter 2014 Vol:XIV-4 Whole #: 56

    Ecosocialism is an attempt to provide a radical, civilizational alternative to capitalism, rooted in the basic arguments of the ecological movement, and in the Marxist critique of political economy. It opposes to capitalism’s destructive progress (Marx) an economic policy founded on non-monetary and extra-economic criteria: social needs and ecological equilibrium. This dialectical synthesis, attempted by a broad spectrum of authors, from James O’Connor to Joel Kovel and John Bellamy Foster, and from André Gorz (in his early writings) to Elmar Altvater, is at the same time a critique of “market ecology,” which does not challenge the capitalist system, as well as of “productivist socialism,” which ignores the issue of natural limits.

  • Home healthcare provider hiding millions

    Creative accounting by some "non-profit" corporations is designed to screw workers. --PG

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    Some Companies Claim to Be Broke, But Keep Millions in Offshore Accounts

    Source: PolicyMic

    By Peter Rugh 3 hours ago

    What is a not-for-profit corporation doing with nearly $200 million in offshore holdings? That's a question thousands of nurses who are preparing to go on strike, together with their patients, might want answered.

    The nation's largest home-care provider, Visiting Nurse Services (VNS), is locked in a battle with the nurses over their contract. VNS wants to make dramatic cuts to employee benefits because management claims the company is $70 million in debt. However, a close look at its tax returns tells a much different story.

    Last week, the United Federation of Teachers, which represents the caregivers, notified VNS of plans to walk out when their contract expires on February 1, unless an eleventh hour deal is struck. The central issue is attempts by VNS to eliminate nurses' health care and pensions, according to sources briefed at an emergency union meeting.

  • Cuba at the crossroads

    Sam Farber analyzes recent political developments in Cuba and reflects on prospects for the left. For more background, see his book Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment. --PG

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    The Future of the Cuban Revolution

    Source: Jacobin


    by Samuel Farber

    Since Raúl Castro assumed power in 2006 promising reforms, Cuban politics has seen the slow emergence of new tendencies and debates. The prospects for the country’s left, however, remain uncertain.

    Cuba stands at a crossroads.

    55 years after its revolution overthrowing the Batista dictatorship, its original generation of leadership has begun to pass away and the future of its “socialist” project remains uncertain. Will it experience capitalist “shock therapy” like the countries of the former Eastern bloc? Will it follow the state-capitalist road established in China and Vietnam? Will economic liberalization be accompanied, as some claim, by an expansion of political freedoms and tolerance for dissent? A socialist democracy may not be in the cards; if so, what does that mean for the nascent critical left on the island?

  • William Blum on U.S. foreign policy

    William Blum on the underlying motives of U.S. foreign policy. --PG

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    "Our Leaders Do Not Mean Well"

    Source: Truthout

    Saturday, 04 January 2014 09:20
    By Daniel Falcone, Truthout | Opinion

    William Blum is an American author, critic of American foreign policy and retired employee of the US State Department. He is the author of numerous books and articles discussing uncoverings of the Central Intelligence Agency and writes about our involvement in worldwide terror operations, often in the name of democracy. Blum is the author of the famous book Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since World War II (Common Courage Press). The book enjoyed remarkable success, becoming required reading for students and professions in numerous fields. Professor Noam Chomsky said of the book, “It is far and away the best book on the topic.” The book is astounding, as Blum breaks down the post-war CIA in more than 50 fascinating chapters. Actions everywhere from Albania to Zaire are discussed in the book. I met with William Blum in early December in Washington, DC.

  • The legacy of Nelson Mandela

    A balanced account of a great freedom fighter who ultimately made his peace with the system and whose policies in power reinforced inequality in South Africa. More here, here and here. --PG

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    Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Source: Red Flag

    Tom Bramble | 06-Dec-2013

    The death of Nelson Mandela closes the life of a heroic resistance figure who devoted his very being to the struggle against apartheid even though this came at immense personal cost. Mandela was, also, however, the saviour of South African capitalism, which condemned so many of his countrymen and women to continuing terrible hardship even after the destruction of the apartheid regime. His broad popularity in South Africa, ranging from the pauper to the plutocrat, cannot be understood without comprehension of both these facts.

    Mandela was loved by the masses because of his immense dedication to and sacrifice for the cause, epitomised by the 27 years he spent in the regime’s rotten jails, 27 long years in which he grew to be an old man.

    For the first 18 years of his imprisonment, Mandela was held on Robben Island off Cape Town, cut off from all that he had known. His first cell was a dank 2.4m by 2.1 m with only a straw mat to sleep on.

  • Chomsky on the U.S.-Iran deal

    The U.S. and Israel are the real rogue states in the Middle East. --PG

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    The "Axis of Evil," Revisited

    Source: Truthout

    Wednesday, 04 December 2013 10:44

    By Noam Chomsky, Truthout | Op-Ed

    An interim agreement on Iran's nuclear policies that will provide a six-month period for substantive negotiations was announced on Nov. 24.

    Michael Gordon, a reporter for The New York Times, wrote, "It was the first time in nearly a decade, American officials said, that an international agreement had been reached to halt much of Iran's nuclear program and roll some elements of it back."

    The United States moved at once to impose severe penalties on a Swiss firm that had violated U.S.-imposed sanctions. "The timing of the announcement seemed to be partly intended to send a signal that the Obama administration still considers Iran subject to economic isolation," Rick Gladstone explained in The Times.

    The "landmark accord" indeed includes significant Iranian concessions - though nothing comparable from the United States, which merely agreed to temporarily limit its punishment of Iran.

  • To improve education, end poverty

    Also, pay teachers more. --PG

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    Teachers Were Never The Problem

    Source: In These Times

    Web Only// Features » November 8, 2013

    Poverty still lies at the root of the U.S. ‘education crisis.’

    BY David Sirota

    Google the phrase “education crisis” and you'll be hit with a glut of articles, blog posts and think tank reports claiming the entire American school system is facing an emergency. Much of this agitprop additionally asserts that teachers unions are the primary cause of the alleged problem. Not surprisingly, the fabulists pushing these narratives are often backed by anti-public school conservatives and anti-union plutocrats. But a little-noticed study released last week provides yet more confirmation that neither the “education crisis” meme or the “evil teachers' union” narrative is accurate.

    Before looking at that study, consider some of the ways we already know that the dominant storyline about education is, indeed, baseless propaganda.

  • Right wing may steal Honduran election

    The right wing Nationalist Party may be on the verge of stealing the presidential election in Honduras, with the complicity of the Obama administration, which is determined to use the tiny Central American country as a base to continue projecting U.S. power in the region. More background on the events here, here and here. --PG

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    Violence Against Demonstrators Follows Contested Result in Honduras Elections

    Source: Truthout

    Wednesday, 27 November 2013 13:10

    By Sarah Blaskey and Jesse Chapman, Truthout | News

    "What we want is to defend our rights and that they be respected. And the only way that our rights will be respected is to perform our duty, and our duty is to be here [protesting]," said one young man, eyes still streaming from the clouds of teargas that engulfed his school. 

    Jose (name changed for security purposes) is a student of the Autonomous University in Tegucigalpa. He and a few thousand of his fellow students were tear-gassed and beaten November 26, 2013, when they peacefully demonstrated, alleging fraud in the presidential election that took place two days earlier in Honduras. 

  • Pentagon has lost track of $8.5 trillion

    Unbelievable waste, but the ruling class wants to reduce the budget deficit by slashing food stamps and attacking Social Security. --PG

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    Want to Cut Government Waste? Find the $8.5 Trillion the Pentagon Can’t Account For

    Source: Yahoo! Finance

    By Lauren Lyster | Daily Ticker – Mon, Nov 25, 2013 9:23 AM EST

    If you thought the botched rollout of Obamacare, the government shutdown, or the sequester represented Washington dysfunction at its worst, wait until you hear about the taxpayer waste at the Defense Department.

    Special Enterprise Reporter Scot Paltrow unearthed the “high cost of the Pentagon’s bad bookkeeping” in a Reuters investigation. It amounts to $8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996 that has never been accounted for. (The year 1996 was the first that the Pentagon should have been audited under a law requiring audits of all government departments. Oh, and by the way, the Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with this law.)

    We talk to Paltrow in the accompanying video about his findings.

  • U.N. climate talks lead nowhere again

    Chris Williams explains the continued failure of world leaders to deal with the biggest problem faced by humanity. --PG

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    Warsaw Climate Talks Go Up in Smoke

    Source: Truthout

    Thursday, 21 November 2013 10:29
    By Chris Williams, Truthout | News Analysis

    "The smell of inaction" is how Dipti Bhatnagar, Friends of the Earth Mozambique's international program director for climate justice and energy, summed up the atmosphere inside the giant Narodowy Stadium after the first week of the latest round of international climate negotiations, Conference of the Parties, otherwise known as COP 19, taking place Nov 11-22, 2013, in Warsaw.

    Given that this is the 19th consecutive year of annual negotiations and with a meaningful global treaty more distant now than it was almost two decades ago, Bhatnagar's olfactory deduction seems likely to be highly accurate.

    As the pervasive smell of inaction seeped like a suffocating gas throughout the inside of the conference, outside, the choking effects of coal smoke waft from all corners of a country that obtains 90 percent of its electricity from coal and whose government has pledged to keep it that way until 2060.

  • "We don’t hire the unemployed."

    How mass unemployment is devastating lives in the US while the federal and state governments continue their austerity policies. --PG

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    Caught in a Revolving Door of Unemployment

    Source: New York Times

    November 16, 2013


    On a cold October morning, just after the federal government shutdown came to an end, Jenner Barrington-Ward headed into court in Boston to declare bankruptcy.

    It took weeks to put the paperwork together, given that her papers and belongings were scattered across the country — there was a broken-down car and boxes of paperwork in Virginia Beach, clothes in Colorado and personal possessions at a friend’s house in Somerville, Mass. She managed to estimate her income — maybe $5,000 last year, but maybe half that this year — from odd jobs. Soon, she would officially have nothing.

    It has been a painful slide. A five-year spell of unemployment has slowly scrubbed away nearly every vestige of Ms. Barrington-Ward’s middle-class life. She is a 53-year-old college graduate who worked steadily for three decades. She is now broke and homeless.

  • Why we need an eco-revolution

    We need a mass revolt to slow global warming. We need a revolution to end the system that causes it. Ecosocialism or barbarism. --PG

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    How science is telling us all to revolt

    Source: New Statesman

    Is our relentless quest for economic growth killing the planet? Climate scientists have seen the data – and they are coming to some incendiary conclusions.

    By Naomi Klein | Published 29 October 2013 10:00

    In December 2012, a pink-haired complex systems researcher named Brad Werner made his way through the throng of 24,000 earth and space scientists at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, held annually in San Francisco. This year’s conference had some big-name participants, from Ed Stone of Nasa’s Voyager project, explaining a new milestone on the path to interstellar space, to the film-maker James Cameron, discussing his adventures in deep-sea submersibles.

    But it was Werner’s own session that was attracting much of the buzz. It was titled “Is Earth F**ked?” (full title: “Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism”).

  • What the Tea Party really represents

    A useful analysis of the class forces represented by the Tea Party that complements Paul Heideman's account of the tensions between big business and the Republicans in the current government shutdown. --PG

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    Tea Party radicalism is misunderstood: Meet the “Newest Right”

    Source: Salon

    Sunday, Oct 6, 2013 06:05 AM CDT

    Our sense of the force currently paralyzing the government is full of misconceptions -- including what to call it

    By Michael Lind

    To judge from the commentary inspired by the shutdown, most progressives and centrists, and even many non-Tea Party conservatives, do not understand the radical force that has captured the Republican Party and paralyzed the federal government. Having grown up in what is rapidly becoming a Tea Party heartland–Texas–I think I do understand it. Allow me to clear away a few misconceptions about what really should be called, not the Tea Party Right, but the Newest Right.

  • Wall Street is Stealing Public Pensions

    More here and here. --PG

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    Looting the Pension Funds

    Source: Rolling Stone

    All across America, Wall Street is grabbing money meant for public workers

    By Matt Taibbi
    September 26, 2013 7:00 AM ET

    In the final months of 2011, almost two years before the city of Detroit would shock America by declaring bankruptcy in the face of what it claimed were insurmountable pension costs, the state of Rhode Island took bold action to avert what it called its own looming pension crisis. Led by its newly elected treasurer, Gina Raimondo – an ostentatiously ambitious 42-year-old Rhodes scholar and former venture capitalist – the state declared war on public pensions, ramming through an ingenious new law slashing benefits of state employees with a speed and ferocity seldom before seen by any local government.

  • What way forward for environmentalists?

    Important article on political perspectives for the environmental movement by leading ecosocialist Chris Williams. --PG

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    Strategy and tactics in the environmental movement

    Source: Climate & Capitalism

    by Chris Williams

    Posted on September 20, 2013

    Tactics: the science and art of using a fighting force to the best advantage having regard to the immediate situation of combat.
    Strategy: the science and art of conducting a military campaign in its large-scale and long-term aspects.
    The New Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language

    Naomi Klein, in a recent interview, Green Group’s May be More Damaging than Climate Change Deniers, has sparked a furious debate amongst activists on the right and left of the North American environmental movement. Thanks to Klein’s article, the flames of controversy have been fanned and brought forth some fiery rhetoric around a dispute which has smoldered since the emergence of a more combative and distinctive left current within the environmental movement. A current associated with the concept of climate justice, and one that has further expanded since Occupy burst onto the political scene in the fall of 2011.

  • U.S. imperialism in Latin America continues

    Forty years after the U.S. backed the brutal military coup in Chile, Washington is still supporting military repression in Latin America. --PG

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    Is the U.S. Enabling the Humanitarian Crisis in Colombia?

    Source: In These Times

    Web Only// Features » September 11, 2013

    Terror attacks are on the rise and millions remain displaced, but U.S. military aid keeps flowing.

    By Jeremy Kryt

    It’s a cruelly hot day in rebel-held territory. On a crumbling and abandoned plantation, in the insurgency riddled Cauca region of southwestern Colombia, more than three dozen indigenous leaders have gathered in the shade for a tribal meeting. Children’s murals and peace-themed banners cover the white-washed adobe walls. Outside, in the mortar-cratered fields that once grew sugar cane for the California market, shirtless men labor in the noon heat to plant beans and squash.

    “We’re in a hard place,” says Ernesto Conda, a ruling council member of the Nasa tribe, one of several indigenous groups native to Cauca. Conda is 44 and wears his hair in a sleek black queue streaked with gray.

  • Exploiting dead kids to justify war is repugnant

    We might add that US military interventions have resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands children over the past decade. --PG

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    Remembering All the Children

    Source: New York Times

    September 6, 2013


    One of the most gut-wrenching scenes from Syria is captured in the images of row upon row of dead civilians. The dead include many children, swaddled in white cloths, angels laid down never to rise again.

    According to the United States, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria used chemical weapons on Aug. 21 to kill 1,429 of his own citizens, 426 of them children.

    No fully functional heart can see these images and not break, the horror and grotesqueness of the slaughter of innocents being so abhorrent.

    These dead children have become linchpins of the Obama administration’s argument to sell Congress and the American people on the need to strike Syria.

    Last Saturday, when President Obama announced that he had made the decision that the United States should take military action against Syria, he challenged Congress:

  • Free labor lawyer arrested by Egyptian military

    Please circulate widely. --PG

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    Egypt: labour lawyer Haitham Mohamedain arrested by army

    Source: MENA Solidarity Network

    Posted on September 5, 2013

    Haitham Mohamedain, one of Egypt’s leading labour lawyers and an activist with the Revolutionary Socialists, was arrested on his way to meet clients in Suez. He was detained by the Army near Suez and has been transferred to a police station in the city. According to the latest information from Egypt, he has been charged with assaulting an army officer.

    Haitham has played a leading role for years in defending workers in struggle, both in the police station and in the streets as a revolutionary activist. He was at the forefront of the massive protests against Mohamed Morsi on 30 June, but has also been one of the few voices condemning the military’s crackdown and the killing of hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters since the Army takeover.

    What you can do:

    • Sign the statement below calling for Haitham’s release and the dropping of all charges. Add you name here
  • Systemic corruption in Washington, D.C.

    This is written in a rather tortuous style, but it's a pretty good guide to the way that big money, corporate interests and Wall Street run the US political system, with the Democratic Party at the center of it all. --PG

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    The Stench of the Potomac

    Source: New York Magazine

    Washington may be a dysfunctional place to govern, but it’s working better than ever as a marketplace for cashing in. And that’s thanks, more than anything, to the Democratic Establishment.

    By Frank Rich
    Published Aug 4, 2013

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