Political Animal


October 24, 2014 9:34 AM The Experiment

The story of what has happened to the Republican Party in one of its strongest states, Kansas, is pretty familiar. But it’s told in a particularly evocative way by Rolling Stone’s Mark Binelli. His precis of how Sam Brownback made the state an experiment for the discredited fiscal theories of doddering supply-siders is an instant classic:

Back in 2011, Arthur Laffer, the Reagan-era godfather of supply-side economics, brought to Wichita by Brownback as a paid consultant, sounded like an exiled Marxist theoretician who’d lived to see a junta leader finally turn his words into deeds. “Brownback and his whole group there, it’s an amazing thing they’re doing,” Laffer gushed to The Washington Postthat December. “It’s a revolution in a cornfield.” Veteran Kansas political reporter John Gramlich, a more impartial observer, described Brownback as being in pursuit of “what may be the boldest agenda of any governor in the nation,” not only cutting taxes but also slashing spending on education, social services and the arts, and, later, privatizing the entire state Medicaid system. Brownback himself went around the country telling anyone who’d listen that Kansas could be seen as a sort of test case, in which unfettered libertarian economic policy could be held up and compared right alongside the socialistic overreach of the Obama administration, and may the best theory of government win. “We’ll see how it works,” he bragged on Morning Joe in 2012. “We’ll have a real live experiment.”
That word, “experiment,” has come to haunt Brownback as the data rolls in. The governor promised his “pro-growth tax policy” would act “like a shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy,” but, instead, state revenues plummeted by nearly $700 million in a single fiscal year, both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s downgraded the state’s credit rating, and job growth sagged behind all four of Kansas’ neighbors. Brownback wound up nixing a planned sales-tax cut to make up for some of the shortfall, but not before he’d enacted what his opponents call the largest cuts in education spending in the history of Kansas.

Brownback added political to fiscal risk by securing big bags of money from friends like the Koch Brothers and using it in a 2012 primary purge of moderate Republican state senators who didn’t support his fiscal plans. And it’s all blown up on him this year, with the shock waves potentially engulfing the state’s senior U.S. Senator. Binelli’s portrait of Pat Roberts as an “unloved Beltway mediocrity” who stands by trembling with fatigue as more famous and charismatic conservatives campaign to save his bacon is as acute as his portrayal of Brownback as a mad scientist whose lab has blown up.

Because of the nature of the state and the year and the outside (and inside, from the Kochs Wichita HQ) money flooding Kansas, Brownback and Roberts may survive—Brownback to preside over the damage he’s done to the state’s fiscal standing and schools, and Roberts to return to a final stage of his long nap in the Capitol. But both men have richly earned the trouble they are in, and you have to figure a lot of the people trying to save them have the occasional impulse to throw them anvils.

October 24, 2014 8:48 AM Daylight Video

It’s Mott the Hoople drummer Dale Griffin’s 66th birthday. Here’s the band performing “All the Way to Memphis” while a pretty good Knucklehead Zone video unreels.

October 23, 2014 5:48 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Man, the twitterverse really exploded—initially pro, then angrily anti—at my tweets on Joni Ernst and the right to revolution, though in part that’s because my arguments became associated with those of Paul Begala, who suggested Ernst was being traitorous. As is generally the case, I avoided getting drawn into a twitter-war. Don’t have the time.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Conservative columnist calls for a secession of southern states who will form the new country of “Reagan.” Seriously.

* At the Prospect, Paul Waldman reminds us Barack Obama has issued fewest presidential vetoes since Millard Fillmore. That will change, a lot, if Republicans take over Senate.

* Charlie Pierce notes Stephen Harper quickly took advantage of yesterday’s shocking events on Parliament Hill to get in touch with his inner George W. Bush.

* At Ten Miles Square Rob Atkinson calls for new and less reflexive debate on trade policy.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer discusses the regressive effect of many lotteries-for-education programs.

And in non-political news:

* Well, one thing is sure to boost stock market: higher corporate profits.

That’s it for Thursday. Here’s one more fine Captain Beefheart performance, with his own personal twist on the whole Baby’s-Left-Me-On-A-Train tradition, “Click Clack.”


October 23, 2014 5:24 PM Why the Focus on Late-Term Abortions?

In a long, long New Yorker piece on the antichoice Susan B. Anthony List and the contemporary politics of abortion, Kelefa Sanneh in passing succinctly identified the reasons why antichoicers have focused on the tiny percentage of abortions that occur after 20 weeks, which might seem to conceded a lot of ground in order to produce “wins” of dubious value:

While the other side talked broadly about “choice,” pro-life activists needed to talk more narrowly about the unpleasant details of abortion. This helps explain why the movement is targeting abortions performed after twenty weeks, which account for only one per cent of the total. If you believe, as [SBA List president Marjorie] Dannenfelser does, that a human being is created at the moment of fertilization, then a late-term abortion is no more tragic than any other. And it’s not clear that a twenty-week-old fetus is capable of feeling pain. The limit of twenty weeks was carefully chosen to be just short of viability, so that if the Supreme Court wants to uphold the law it will have to revise the regimen it created forty-one years ago.

So it’s all about undermining Roe—and also making themselves seem more reasonable than is the case when they’re talking about the full personhood of zygotes or discussing “legitimate rape.”

October 23, 2014 4:45 PM Diss Breitbart, Lose Your Senate Seat!

I don’t know about you, but I needed a good laugh this afternoon, and predictably got one at the Breitbart site, where there’s a screaming all-caps headline above a story wherein a reporter explains in incredibly detailed, turgid, Explosion-of-the-Hindenburg prose how he got kicked out of a Jeanne Shaheen event in New Hampshire.

For all I know, this action was indeed offensive and Wrong and worth bitching about. But the LOL moment was when said reporter got a NH GOP spox to help him blow up the whole thing into a Game-Changing event:

New Hampshire Republican Party chairwoman Jennifer Horn told Breitbart News that Shaheen’s campaign’s decision to kick out a congressionally credentialed Capitol Hill reporter is unacceptable and shows that she’s in trouble.
“Jeanne Shaheen has avoided town hall meetings with her constituents because she is desperate to avoid questions about her record of voting with President Obama 99% of the time,” Horn said in an email after Breitbart News described what happened. “Now she is avoiding reporters because she doesn’t want to answer questions about her disastrous debate performance. Shaheen continues to thumb her nose at New Hampshire’s tradition of open and honest government.”

Give me a break.

October 23, 2014 4:36 PM Paul-a-Palooza Set For Next Month

It’s not often that we get to find out in advance exactly when a candidate decides whether or not to run for president. But apparently all sorts of sources have told National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher exactly when and where advisers to Rand Paul will gather for a discussion of 2016. It’ll be in DC on November 12.

“This is the come-to-Jesus before the planned launch,” said one Paul insider, who has been invited to the gathering.
The meeting of the Kentucky Republican’s kitchen Cabinet has been kept under wraps [until now, I guess], with most of the invitees not even told who else will be there. Stafford has yet to circulate a formal agenda, though few on “Team Rand,” as [Paul “strategist” Doug] Stafford sometimes calls the group, need to be told the talks will focus on a presidential run.

As before, it appears Paul’s wife Kelley is the only person who can stop this runaway train.

October 23, 2014 2:47 PM The Wave Resists Appearing, For Now

Looking at today’s polls, it’s obvious that in some of the races where a couple of surveys have convinced observers the long-awaited GOP wave is appearing, respondents in new polls aren’t entirely obeying the zeitgeist.

We’ve been told Mark Udall is toast, but there he is within the MoE in a new Reuters/Ipsos survey. Joni Ernst has supposedly had the whip hand over Bruce Braley for close to a month now, but there the two candidates are, within the MoE again in a new Quinnipiac survey. Jeanne Shaheen is holding onto a lead, however small, over Scott Brown in two new polls from NH. Insider Advantage makes it three polls in a row showing Michelle Nunn with a lead over David Perdue. And perhaps most surprising, given all the talk about Pat Roberts’ “rescue” by the national GOP, a fresh Rasmussen poll has Greg Orman leading the incumbent by five points (49/44).

Maybe the wave is just over the horizon. But it will probably have to become visible before there’s any big reason to believe it.

October 23, 2014 1:57 PM Lunch Buffet

Having way too much fun watching Captain Beefheart videos, and wishing the techies hadn’t imposed a four-video-per-day limit on me.

Here are some brightly illuminated midday news/views treats:

* Paul Waldman looks at Joni Ernst’s remarks on using her gun against “the government” more charitably than I did, and suggests she be given chance to clarify, which I’m confident she will not take.

* Scott Brown lists occupation in recent campaign finance filing as Massachusetts state senator.

* Peter Beinart broadly reviews anti-democratic tradition behind voter suppression.

* Family tradition: Bristol Palin casts self as victim of liberal media bias due to publicity over Anchorage brawl.

* John Dickerson reviews Mary Landrieu’s history of beating electoral odds, and Sean Trende argues her state’s changed too much for her old coalition to win.

And in non-political news:

* The long goodbye: More closures of Sears and Kmart stores.

As we break for lunch, here’s Beefheart and the Magic Band performing “Mirror Man” in 1974. Hadn’t seen this one until today; impressive harmonica work from the Captain.

October 23, 2014 1:23 PM Accepting a Kurdish Alliance

In the welter of factions and militias and ethno-religious groups involved in the violence in Syria and Iraq that’s now become a military as well as a diplomatic problem for the United States, the Kurds appear here and there as victims, proto-allies, and most of all as a problem—a problem for Baghdad and Ankara, mostly, and thus a problem for the State Department.

At Ten Miles Square today, Jonathan Dworkin, a physician and medical researcher who’s worked in and written about Kurdistan extensively, argues that fear and hesitancy about accepting an alliance with Kurds has severely hampered U.S. policy in the region, and needs to change, as it appears may be happening right now, if not as decisively as it might.

The obvious discomfort this administration has with supporting Kurdish autonomy is badly outmoded. It no longer makes any sense to weld ourselves to “unity” policies in Iraq and Syria. As the military has found it’s like trying to box on quicksand. Support for Kurdish rights offers a far firmer footing on the ground, and it has the advantage of reflecting American values better than our current deference to Turkish and Arab ethnic chauvinism.
The Kurdish resistance to ISIS in Syria and Iraq has forced us to shift our military plan, and it should prompt us to reassess our diplomatic and economic approach as well. We should drop our self-defeating opposition to Kurds selling oil. We should welcome their students and diplomats. We should include them as full partners in post-war planning, not try to suppress them by incorporating them into larger and less competent groups. We should encourage in every way their strength, prosperity, and independence.
If there’s to be any chance of a tolerant government in any part of Syria or Iraq, a strong Kurdish community will be a major part of it. That is true regardless of whether or not Kurds ultimately opt for independence. The president has been slow to understand this, and he has allowed events to push him into a reluctant and partial partnership with the Kurds. But until he embraces Kurds more fully the consequence is another American war without reliable partners, a realistic objective, or much chance of a humane outcome.

Read the whole thing, particularly if you’ve despaired of finding any clear moral path through the chaos of Syria and Iraq.

October 23, 2014 12:26 PM Joni Ernst and the Right To Revolutionary Violence

The picture of IA GOP SEN nominee Joni Ernst that’s emerging from exposure of her pre-2014-general-election utterances is of a standard-brand Constitutional Conservative embracing all the strange and controversial tenets of that creed. There’s Agenda 21 madness. There’s Personhood advocacy. There are attacks on the entire New Deal/Great Society legacy—and perhaps even agricultural programs—as creating “dependency.” And now, inevitably, there’s the crown jewel of Con Con extremism: the belief that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to enable “patriots” to violently overthrow the government if in their opinion it’s overstepped its constitutional boundaries. Sam Levine of HuffPost has that story:

Joni Ernst, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Iowa, said during an NRA event in 2012 that she would use a gun to defend herself from the government.
“I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere,” Ernst said at the NRA and Iowa Firearms Coalition Second Amendment Rally in Searsboro, Iowa. “But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family — whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”

Now this is a guaranteed applause line among Con Con audiences, for reasons that have relatively little to do with gun regulation. The idea here is to intimidate liberals, and “looters” and secular socialists, and those people, that there are limits to what the good virtuous folk of the country will put up with in the way of interference with their property rights and their religious convictions and their sense of how the world ought to work. If push comes to shove, they’re heavily armed, and bullets outweigh ballots. It’s a reminder that if politics fails in protecting their very broad notion of their “rights,” then revolutionary violence—which after all, made this great country possible in the first place—is always an option. And if that sounds “anti-democratic,” well, as the John Birch Society has always maintained, this is a Republic, not a democracy.

This stuff is entirely consistent with everything we’ve been learning about how Joni Ernst talked before she won a Senate nomination and decided upon an aggressively non-substantive message based on her identity and biography and one stupid but apparently irresistible joke comparing the kind of treatment she’ll give to the pork purveyors of Washington (presumably those who support obvious waste like food stamps and Medicaid) to hog castratin.’ Issues are absolute kryptonite to her campaign, so it’s no surprise she’s decided abruptly to cancel all meetings with editorial boards between now and November 4, according to Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu:

Is Joni Ernst afraid of newspaper editorial boards? After much negotiating, she was scheduled to meet his morning with writers and editors at The Des Moines Register, but last night her people called to unilaterally cancel. She has also begged off meetings with The Cedar Rapids Gazette and The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald.
Is Ernst that sensitive to the kinds of criticisms that invariably will come in such a high profile U.S. Senate race? Is she afraid of the scrutiny? Sure, it’s stressful, but all the other candidates for Congress are doing it to get their messages out, including Steven King, the target of frequent editorial criticism.

Maybe Ernst’s cynicism will be justified by the results, but I dunno: Iowans are pretty old-school about this kind of thing, and the Register actually influences votes, probably more than any newspaper I can think of. If she does win, nobody in Iowa has any excuse to be surprised if she turns out to be Todd Akin or Sharron Angle with better message discipline. As I said in another post recently, that’s pretty much who she is. Knowing she’s played the “I have the right to overthrow the government with my gun” meme makes that even clearer.

Still, somebody should ask Joni Ernst: “Since you brought it up, exactly what circumstances would justify you shooting a police officer or a soldier in the head?” Oh yeah: that would require her taking questions, which I doubt we’ll see in the last days of this campaign.

October 23, 2014 11:03 AM Huck Revving Up?

I had a brief Twitter-debate not long with my esteemed friend and intrepid Christian-Right-watcher Sarah Posner as to whether Mike Huckabee’s talk of running for president in 2016 is just a shuck to attract attention. I’m a bit more inclined than Sarah to take Huck ‘16 seriously, and so was intrigued by a report from RealClearPolitics’ Scott Conroy, who sees signs of a very serious Huckabee proto-campaign in Iowa, where, of course, he won in 2008:

[M]emories of Huckabee’s up-from-obscurity win in 2008 remain fresh for many of the older, conservative voters who still dominate the Republican caucuses.
But outside of Iowa, other political observers tend to forget about him. National pollsters do it every time they neglect to include his name in their 2016 surveys, even though Huckabee polls consistently in the first tier when he is listed as an option….

That’s in no small part, Conroy notes, because people figure Huck is having too much easy fun and making too much money with his weekly show on Fox News. What’s often forgotten, though, is that his show has become a bankable political asset, too:

Huckabee isn’t just a familiar face from a few years back. Instead, he is the jovial and charismatic friend that loyal Fox News viewers welcome into their living rooms each and every week.
Now in its seventh year on the air, “Huckabee”—which combines political commentary, celebrity interviews and musical variety—is a weekend stalwart for the highest-rated cable news network.
New episodes and reruns occupy a total of four hours of valuable airtime on Saturday and Sunday nights, providing the show’s host with hundreds of hours of free advertising that hits some of the most reliable Republican voters.
It’s the kind of media exposure that any of the more frequently talked about GOP contenders can only dream of.

More to the point, people close to Huck are being a lot less ambiguous about his plans than they were four years ago.

Huckabee and his team have set April of next year as the cutoff date for when he needs to decide, but the consensus among many plugged-in conservatives in his orbit is that he is already determined to take that leap.
“Mike Huckabee is 100 percent running,” said Des Moines-based conservative radio host Steve Deace. “No doubt about it at all. He’s in.”
Deace—who provided Huckabee with valuable air cover during his rapid rise to the top of the GOP pack in 2007—said he came to that conclusion after “several” public and private conversations with Huckabee over the last few months.
And David Lane, a typically reticent conservative political operative who is close to Huckabee, agreed with Deace’s assessment.
“I’m watching the chess pieces moving around the board, and I can tell you he’s running,” Lane told RCP in a rare interview. “There’s no question about it to me.”
Next month, Lane is organizing an all-expenses-paid international trip for 50 Christian conservative pastors, who just so happen to hail from the four early voting states on the 2016 calendar (19 from Iowa, two from New Hampshire, 22 from South Carolina, and seven from Nevada).
Leading the 10-day excursion to Poland, England and California—a trip that ostensibly is designed to highlight the leadership of Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan—will be none other than Mike Huckabee.

David Lane is a really big deal in conservative evangelical politics generally, but has a particularly heavy footprint in Iowa.

Now given what happened to the GOP nominating process the last two presidential cycles, there may be an early effort among Christian Right leaders or Constitutional Conservatives generally to unite around a single candidate. And while he has the right credentials Huck doesn’t currently have the kind of “It” factor possessed by Ted Cruz, who has the added advantage of a deranged father willing to come right out and say the scary things most Christian Right types merely imply, in public at least. Rick Perry’s another competitor for this constituency, if he can avoid the process-servers and convince opinion-leaders he deserves a second chance. Ben Carson’s already the favored candidate of the Glenn Beck faction of Con Cons. Bobby Jindal’s more conventional and appeals to the same impulse to find a minority champion for White Identity Politics. Rand Paul not only has a strong Iowa base, but also a loyal following among the more consistently anti-government Christian Right folk, including some militant homeschoolers. And Rick Santorum won a lot of the same support in Iowa in 2012 that Huck won in 2008, though you don’t get the sense too many people are pining for a second act.

read more »

October 23, 2014 10:13 AM No Mandate To Kill Obamacare For Certain Sure

There’s been a lot of controversy throughout the year over the relevance and significance of Republican attacks on the Affordable Care Act, which most observers would agree faded from the overriding role it initially played in GOP attacks on Democratic congressional incumbents. But as Jill Lawrence notes at the National Memo, what’s changed is not so much the volume of attacks on Obamacare but rather Democratic self-confidence in defending the actual policies underlying the Affordable Care Act.

Though they aren’t making ads to heap praise on Obamacare, Democratic Senate candidates do know how to defend it in debates and on the trail. Iowa’s Bruce Braley talks about his nephew who, because of the ACA, will never have to worry about becoming uninsurable due to his “pre-existing condition” of having survived liver cancer at age 2. Alison Lundergan Grimes talks about more than a half million Kentuckians who are “for the first time ever” filling prescriptions, seeing doctors and getting checkups. “I will not be the senator who rips that insurance from their hands,” she says.

Meanwhile, says Lawrence, Republican attacks on Obamacare—treated as self-evidently a terrible thing—appear to be base-motivating devices rather than arguments on the merits.

Why does this matter? It indicates that once the election is over Republican interest in actually “repealing and replacing” Obamacare will abate, in no small part because GOPers have yet to come up with a “replacement” plan they can agree upon. Commenting on Lawrence’s analysis, Greg Sargent sees the same shift in the dynamics:

I’m not claiming the law was a plus for Democrats. It’s probably still a net negative. Democrats did not campaign on it as a major achievement, as some urged. But they have grown a bit more confident in defending the actual policy accomplishments the Affordable Care Act represents. Meanwhile, Republicans have retreated to a place where the word “Obamacare” has essentially become a catch-all to represent everything the GOP base knows they hate about Obama and everything independents find disappointing about the economy and overall course of the country. All of which is to say that while “Obamacare” will remain unpopular for the foreseeable future, whoever wins these races, the outcomes probably won’t have much to do with the actual real-world impact of the law either way.

So in an election that’s not going to produce much if any “mandate” for the winners, one very certain thing is that it won’t give Republicans permission—or even motivation—to bring down the great white whale of Obamacare. But as always, they aren’t going to admit that on the record.

October 23, 2014 9:34 AM A Constitutional Right To Vote

Via Brian Beutler, I read Matt Yglesias’ piece at Vox from earlier this week reviving an old idea that is freshly relevant: a constitutional amendment enshrining the right to vote.

Some people are surprised to learn the right to vote is not already considered part of the Constitution, since the country did pass the Fifteenth Amendment a while back (it was ratified in 1870) banning abrogation of “the right to vote” to anyone by virtue of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” But it did not separately establish a universal and affirmative “right to vote.”

Yglesias supports a highly visible effort to create such a right as a way to deal with voter suppression efforts based on spurious “voter fraud” concerns:

America prohibits racial and gender discrimination in voting rights because of a clear belief in the importance of voting to equal citizenship. The best way to vindicate this right would be through something like the language of a proposed constitutional amendment introduced last year by Reps. Mark Pocan and Keith Ellison, which states that “every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.”
A constitutional right to vote would instantly flip the script on anti-fraud efforts. States would retain a strong interest in developing rules and procedures that make it hard for ineligible voters to vote, but those efforts would be bounded by an ironclad constitutional guarantee that legitimate citizens’ votes must be counted. A state that wanted to require possession of a certain ID card to vote, for example, would have to take affirmative steps to ensure that everyone has that ID card, or that there’s a process for an ID-less citizen to cast a ballot and have it counted later upon verification of citizenship.

I’d actually argue the most important byproduct of an affirmative right to vote would be a more general authorization for standard national policies governing voting and elections, and guaranteeing adequately staffed and uniform electoral infrastructure. It’s ludicrous that we keep allowing states and localities, sincerely or with bad faith, to beg off their responsibilities for making voting convenient and transparent on grounds that it’s just too expensive. But without a constitutional right to vote, there’s no cause of action to force improvements, and no basis for uniform federal rules.

Yes, as Yglesias acknowledges, it’s very hard to enact constitutional amendments. But as Yglesas also suggests, a campaign for one could change the debate over voting significantly, and force into the open the opposition to general voting rights that is just beneath the surface among those allegedly fighting “voter fraud.” If Republicans allow themselves to be defined on this subject by Constitutional Conservatives who oppose the very idea of democracy, and think the Founders were right to favor property requirements (not to mention gender and racial requirements!) for voting, and strict permanent limits on what voters are allowed to vote for and against, then let them be forced to say so explicitly and often.

October 23, 2014 8:51 AM Daylight Video

At least once a year I feel the need to feature the music of Captain Beefheart, particularly since so much cool stuff from him keeps bubbling up on YouTube. Here he is with the Magic Band performing “Sure Nuff ‘n’ Yes I Do” on the beach at Cannes in 1968. It’s like Space Aliens who could eat The Blues came to Earth and stayed a while.

October 22, 2014 6:01 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

World Series Game Two or a nap? I won’t risk the resentment of friends and neighbors by disclosing the answer. Am I a baseball-hater? No: actually a disillusioned purist who thinks the postseason ruins the percentages of the game. One-game wild-card playoff an abomination unto the Lord.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Slain gunman in Canadian parliamentary attacks ID’d as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a Canadian citizen. Some reports say he’s of Algerian descent, others say he’s Quebecois convert to Islam, could be both or neither. Talk of multiple shooters is abating.

* Midterm elections’ total spending could top $4 billion, blowing away all records for a midterm.

* DSCC changes its mind, goes back into Kentucky with ads.

* Just because Jeb Bush has gotten in trouble with conservatives on Common Core and immigration is no reason to forget he was already in trouble with them on no new taxes pledge.

* At Ten Miles Square, Seth Masket reports that ads run by “independent” groups in CO GOV race may be more negative that usual to compensate for candidates’ pledge to be nice.

And in non-political news:

* Oil price drop good for economy, but not for energy company stocks, and hence not good for markets.

That’s it for Wednesday. Let’s close with Dory Previn’s acerbic song about Mia Farrow, who eventually married Andre Previn: “Beware of Young Girls.”


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