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Bernie’s 2020 Long Game

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Healthcare was a Top 2 issue in 6/7 issue priority polls conducted in 2018 (and was the Top issue in 4/7).  The most important subcategory to voters is lowering prescription drug prices; according to a Harvard poll conducted in mid-December, Democrats and Republicans alike view it as their top healthcare priority.  Bernie can point to his 2017 S.Amdt.178 to S.Con.Res.3, which would have allowed for much cheaper Canadian drug importation (it was killed by a slim 52 votes, including one by Cory Booker), as well as 3 bills that he has introduced this year.

As the godfather of Medicare for All, all the recent polling should hearten Bernie.  In the aforementioned Harvard poll, 60% of Republicans support a universal Medicare buy-in option.  Another poll from mid-October found 52% Republican support for Medicare For All.  A Kaiser Family Foundation poll from last month found that 47% of Republicans support Medicare For All (as long as people have an option to keep their current plan) and 64% of Republicans support a Medicaid buy-in option.  Overall support for M4A skyrockets to a 2/3 majority, Kaiser Family finds, once people learn that it will guarantee healthcare as a right, eliminate premiums and reduce out-of-pocket expenses.  These KFF findings demonstrate on explaining the particulars of M4A to independents and Republicans.  There is a lot of misinformation floating around about M4A in the media and the White House.  Once people will learn about the individual benefits of M4A, as well as the fact that even conservative economists acknowledge that it would save $2T and the fact that every other industrialized nation has universal healthcare, support will continue to soar amongst every voting bloc.  Stressing the fact that Bernie is the person who brought M4A into the public consciousness, and that most of his opponents either jumped on the M4A bandwagon recently or don’t support it at all, he can make strides in winning the Over-45 vote (which he lost handily in 2016 to Clinton).

The economy was a Top 2 issue in 5/7 issue priority polls conducted in 2018.  This provides both a challenge and an opportunity for Bernie.  Trump will boast nonstop about rock-bottom unemployment rates, “lower taxes” (really lower tax withholdings) and the stock market.  Bernie (and Warren) are the only candidates who have the financial street knowledge, consistency and experience illuminating the public about these issues to credibly change the status quo. Sanders has been vocalizing the plight of the working class his entire career.

Bernie 2020 campaign kickoff rally, 3/2/19 at Brooklyn College. Photo: Russell Whitehouse

 Most non-rich people know that they are being screwed over, even if they can’t give a detailed economic explanation of why…. wages that barely keep up with inflation, shrinking workplace benefits and security; increasing tuition for a decreasing long-term payoff; skyrocketing healthcare costs; an increasingly oligarchic political system that ignores working class voting issues.  Trump’s trumped-up boasts will be pretty easy for Bernie to pick apart.  In regards to shrinking unemployment, he can point out that it’s merely a continuation of the economic recovery that started under Obama. Employment figures are inflated by what could be described as two-for-one employment: a poor person might have to work two (or more) part-time jobs to scrape by or a freelancer may work for several companies per year.  Government statistics track employer records, not employee records; thus, the aforementioned kinds of workers get counted multiple times.  This two-for-one employment is now the rule, not the exception: 94% of jobs created under the Obama administration were part-time or temporary. Further demonstrating this stat-padding is the fact that the number of people who filed tax returns this year decreased by a whopping 12.4%.  That would seem to indicate that actual employment has actually plummeted in the first full year of Trump’s tax law.

In regards to Trump’s “tax cuts”, most working class people are seeing little to no savings, due to the elimination of most individual deductions.  A lot of the supposed savings are merely from reduced withholdings, not increased returns.  In fact, the average refund has shrunk 8.4% this year, according to the IRS website.  Even the people who have noticed a benefit will have to kiss them goodbye when they expire in 2025 (meanwhile, the corporate tax cuts are permanent).  Lastly, the stock market is not something that Trump should be bragging about.  Yes, it reached record highs in the first half year of the new tax law, but by the end of the year, many stocks had fallen below pre-tax law levels, in the case of major companies like Apple, Facebook and Google.The temporary growth was mostly fuelled by stock buybacks, not an actual increase in multifactor productivity, unit labor costs or industrial production, which have been stagnant for years.  Anyway, the wealthiest 10% of Americans own 90% of all shares and these tycoons pay a lower tax rate on these capital gains than the average American does through earned income.

The Republicans are able to get away with passing “voodoo economics” bills because they lie about the effects that it will have and because the Democrats have traditionally done little to call out their b.s.  Bernie is a very policy-oriented kind of guy.  He will know how to articulate the aforementioned points for the common person- and will have to do so often to counter the GOP’s perpetual lies.  Likewise, he must be tireless in explaining how keystone legislation like Medicare For All, a Green New Deal and free public college will, yes, cost a lot of taxpayer money initially, but will eventually be a net saver of money.  M4A will eliminate medical bankruptcy (the #1 cause of bankruptcy), protect the increasing majority of Americans who don’t have jobs that offer healthcare coverage, ax runaway prescription drug pricing and save the lives of 45k previously uninsured people per year.  A GND would not only help counter climate change, but also create countless blue-collar jobs (manufacturing, installation, maintenance).  It would also help to keep the US economy competitive with China’s; the latter is quickly establishing itself as the world’s green manufacturing powerhouse.  Free public college, particularly with an emphasis on trade schools, will help decrease unemployment and job skills-based income inequality.  It has been embraced by ultraconservative (and ultra-poor) Tennessee.

Bernie, in his campaign kickoff video, talked about, “the need to end the destructive war on drugs private prisons, and cash bail, and bring about major police department reform.”  He has been remarkably consistent on criminal justice reform; 23 years ago, he co-sponsored a bill to legalize marijuana. Back in 2015, he said, “It seems to me that rather than spending huge amounts of money on jails and on private corporations who are incentivized to keep people in jail, it might make a lot more sense to spend money on job training and education so that people do not end up in jail in the first place.”  This speaks to the appeal that Bernie’s economic policies can have with black voters.  They would disproportionately benefit unemployed and underemployed black youth.  Back in college, Bernie organized a campaign to fight housing discrimination, another major issue in America’s cities and suburbs.  Continuing to articulate denunciations of systemic injustice and programs that would help the black working class is key to winning the Presidency.  Clinton lost 6% of the net black vote to Trump, compared to Obama in 2012.  Losing black voters in swing-state cities like Milwaukee and Philadelphia helped Clinton to lose the Electoral College.  Likewise, the black vote could play the deciding role in 2020 Democratic primaries.  Many voters could be attracted to Kamala Harris, a black woman and one of the primary front-runners.  So Bernie mustn’t let the media smear him as being “out-of-touch with black voters” like they did back in 2016.  Sanders can run on his long history of supporting criminal justice reform, while pointing out Kamala’s record of doing the opposite while she was California A.G.

In terms of immigration, Bernie should take advantage of the increasing unpopularity of Trump’s hardline stance.  2019 polling has shown that 41% of the country wishes to build a border wall, with a 57% majority opposed.  On the question of whether there’s a national border emergency/Trump declaring a national emergency, even fewer Americans agree: 34% support Trump’s position and 63% disagree. In a Quinnipiac poll and a Gallup poll conducted this year, an average of 24% of respondents expressed general dissatisfaction with immigration.  The recent debacles over inhumane treatment of immigrants at the border and in detention, plus Trump’s loss on holding gov’t funding hostage over border wall funding, have left a sour taste in the mouths of many moderates on the issue.  In the 2016 presidential election, the Democrats lost an 8% net Latino vote lead to the GOP, as opposed to Obama-Romney.  Bernie can win back some of these voters and attract new voters by renewing focus on immigration reform and the DACA issue, which has bipartisan support among citizens, but which have been forgotten by the Democratic leadership.  He can also draft legislation to crack down on visa overstays (a far larger contributor to illegal immigration than border crossings) to placate moderates.  I would advise that he avoids jumping on the Abolish-ICE bandwagon, as I think it would alienate too many undecided’s.  Rather, he should talk about the need to radically reform it.  This could include a rapid scaling-down of detention centers, a greater focus on preventing immigrant dehydration deaths on the desert border and a more streamlined system of asylum-seeker processing.  As the temperamental anti-Trump, Bernie can also talk about increasing aid, conflict mediations and business opportunities for Central America, to reduce the demand for people from these countries to flee for the US.  Bernie’s actions to end the Drug War would also help to end the cartel violence that spikes migration from Latin America.

Much was made of Bernie’s popularity with young voters in 2016.  He garnered more youth votes than Hillary and Trump combined.  Such dominance didn’t hand Bernie the nomination, however.  From 2008 to 2106, the youth vote only jumped in 6 major Democratic primary states (highlighted in the below chart).  Bernie only won 2 of them: MI and WI.  Wisconsin’s youth voter turnout only increased by 7% in those 8 years, little more than Wisconsin’s 2.4% total population growth during that time.  To be fair, Bernie doubled the youth turnout in Michigan, which he won in a stunning upset, but fell in all 4 of the first four primary states.

There’s little to reason Bernie’s youth vote can substantially increase in next year’s primaries, given the plethora of rivals.  In last year’s Congressional elections, the youth vote reached a record high of… 31%.  One third of that portion voted for Republicans. Bernie’s free public college proposal and similar legislation will naturally attract some politically savvy young people, but to win in politics, you need to secure the Over-45 vote.  Bernie’s staff shouldn’t jump over backwards to get young people to Pokemon-Go-to-the-polls, but rather should plan on winning over cynical older voters.  Bernie’s massive deficit with older people of color in particular likely cost Bernie the nomination in 2016.

This is a brief overview of how Bernie can be successful in 2020.  This time, he will have at least two formidable primary opponents (Harris and Warren) and possibly Biden, as well.  The mainstream media and Democratic establishment will likely be major hurdles as well, like they were in 2016.  To overcome the dissenters and get through to the voters, Bernie will need perfect a formula of policy talking points, empathy with the working class and people of color, plus substantive critiques of his opponents.  Bernie likely would have won in 2016 had he attacked Clinton more aggressively on her corruption and perpetual flip-flopping.  Time will tell if Bernie’s new campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, will adapt these ideas.

Russell Whitehouse is Executive Editor at IntPolicyDigest. He’s also a freelance social media manager/producer, 2016 Iowa Caucus volunteer and a policy essayist.

Americas

Joe Biden in 2020 Copies Hillary Clinton in 2016

Eric Zuesse

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Photo: Gage Skidmore, flickr

The 2016 Iowa Democratic Presidential Caucuses were held on 1 February 2016 and produced 49.84% for Hillary Clinton and 49.59% for Bernie Sanders.

On 12 January 2016, Politico headlined “Sanders bests Clinton in new early state polls” and reported that “The intensifying rivalry between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders spiked a few degrees on Tuesday with two new polls showing the Vermont senator catching fire in not only his regional stomping ground of New Hampshire but also in Iowa, where Clinton enjoyed a double-digit lead as late as mid-December.”

The 2020 Iowa Democratic Presidential Caucuses are to be held on 3 February 2020. On 26 January 2020, Political Wire headlined “Tight Race in Iowa” and reported that “A new CBS News poll in Iowa shows Bernie Sanders is leading the Democratic presidential race with 26%, followed by Joe Biden at 25%, Pete Buttigieg at 22%, Elizabeth Warren at 15% and Amy Klobuchar at 7%.”

That CBS News poll in Iowa showed also that whereas only 33% of the likely voters thought that Sanders would beat Trump if the nominee, 45% thought that Biden would beat Trump if the nominee. Biden also scored far higher than Sanders on “Prepared to be Commander in Chief”: 84% on that, compared to Sanders’s 68%. Also on other factors, the findings were remarkably similar for Biden as compared to what the polls at around this same time had been showing for Clinton. Also, the pre-primary polls in 2016 were showing almost identical demographics for Clinton’s voters as the 2020 pre-primary polls are showing now for Biden voters — such as an overwhelming majority of Blacks supporting Clinton then and Biden now, but also on almost all other demographic factors. And, likewise, Sanders’s voters in 2020 seem to be the same demographics as Sanders voters in 2016 were.

Clinton, of course, received the Democratic Party nomination and was widely expected to beat Trump but she lost to him (though she won California by 4,269,978 in the popular vote, and so beat Trump by 2,864,974 in the nationwide popular vote, while she lost all other states by 1,405,002 votes, and so she would have been California’s President if she had won, but the rest of the nation wouldn’t have been happy). 

Among the top reasons why Democrats in primaries and caucuses voted for Clinton was that they thought she would have a higher likelihood of beating the Republican nominee than Sanders did. However, by the time when Election Day rolled around, the passion that Republicans felt for their nominee, Trump, was much stronger than was the passion that Democrats felt for their nominee, Clinton. During the Democratic primaries, polls were showing that the Democrats who were voting for Sanders to become their Party’s nominee were far more passionate in their support of him than was the case regarding the Democrats who were voting for Clinton to become the Democratic nominee. And nobody questions that Trump was the passion-candidate in the Republican Party’s primaries and caucuses.

On 1 May 2017, McClatchy newspapers headlined “Democrats say they now know exactly why Clinton lost” and reported that, 

A select group of top Democratic Party strategists have used new data about last year’s presidential election to reach a startling conclusion about why Hillary Clinton lost. Now they just need to persuade the rest of the party they’re right.

Many Democrats have a shorthand explanation for Clinton’s defeat: Her base didn’t turn out, Donald Trump’s did and the difference was too much to overcome.

But new information shows that Clinton had a much bigger problem with voters who had supported President Barack Obama in 2012 but backed Trump four years later.

Those Obama-Trump voters, in fact, effectively accounted for more than two-thirds of the reason Clinton lost, according to Matt Canter, a senior vice president of the Democratic political firm Global Strategy Group. In his group’s analysis, about 70 percent of Clinton’s failure to reach Obama’s vote total in 2012 was because she lost these voters. …

Although Clinton has blamed her loss on Putin, and on Sanders — and perhaps if Biden wins the nomination he will likewise blame Putin and Sanders if he subsequently loses to Trump — the passion factor is actually much stronger an influence on whom the winner of an electoral contest will be than losing candidates wish to admit or publicly acknowledge; and it could turn out to be the case in 2020, just the same as it did in 2016.

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Iran crisis test drives fundaments of Trump’s foreign policy

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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At the core of US president Donald J. Trump’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran lies the belief that Iran can be forced to negotiate terms for the lifting of harsh US economic sanctions even if it has no confidence in US intentions and adherence to agreements.

The Trump administration’s belief, despite the conviction of much of the international community that maximum pressure has failed and risks provoking a devastating all-out war in the Middle East, says much about the president’s transactional approach towards foreign policy that rests on the assumption that bluster, intimidation and the brute wielding of power can protect US interests and impose US will.

Richard Goldberg, an Iran-hawk who this month resigned as the official on the president’s national security council responsible for countering Iranian weapons of mass destruction, signalled in an op-ed in The New York Times, entitled “Trump Has an Iran Strategy. This Is It,” that Mr. Trump attributes no importance to deep-seated Iranian concerns that he is gunning for regime change in Tehran and that building trust is not needed to resolve the Iran crisis.

“The Iranian regime doesn’t need to trust America or Mr. Trump to strike a deal; it just needs to act as a rational actor to avoid collapse,” said Mr. Goldberg, who backed by former national security advisor John Bolton, served for a year in the White House.

Mr. Goldberg appeared to ignore the fact that the US withdrawal 20 months ago from a 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program sparked doubts not only in Iran but across the globe about the value of a US signature on any agreement.

He also appeared oblivious to the fact that Iranian suspicions were reinforced by alllegations that his salary, while at the White House, was paid by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a hardline Washington-based think tanks that is believed to have close ties to Israel and the United Arab Emirates. So did anecdotes about how his hardline views provoked clashes with other administration officials.

In his op-ed, Mr. Goldberg suggested that any new agreement with Iran could be ratified by the US Senate.

The Trump administration and Mr. Goldberg’s misreading of what it would take to steer the United States and Iran off a road of more than 40 years of deep-seated mutual distrust and animosity and towards the turning of a new page in their relationship was evident in indirect responses to the former national security council official’s assertions.

”Even if one day we negotiate with the US, the talks will not be with Trump, won’t be strategic (no normalization of ties) and will be done only by conservatives not reformists. We need to see changes in the (US) Congress; whether Democrats will pursue a fair policy by which Iran is not under pressure over its missile program,” said a regime insider.

The Trump administration has demanded among other things that Iran curb its ballistic missile program, a core element of the Islamic republic’s defense strategy given that its armed forces lack a credible air force and navy.

Hardliners, who rather than moderates have proven in other Middle Eastern conflicts like the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to be the ones capable of cutting deals, are expected to win next month’s parliamentary elections in Iran. The likelihood of hardline advances was enhanced by the fact that scores of moderates have been barred from running for office.

Iranian reformists argue that the accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps demonstrates the risk of an Iranian strategy that is pre-empted on eternal hostility towards the United States.

Mr. Goldberg offered a rare indication that the Trump administration recognizes Iran’s strategy of gradual escalation that, based on the assumption that neither the United States nor Iran wants an all-out war, aims to bring the two countries to the brink of an armed conflict in the belief that this would break the logjam and force a return to the negotiating table on terms acceptable to Iran.

Noting that Mr. Trump had failed in the past nine months to respond to multiple Iranian provocations, including the downing of a US drone and attacks on tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and on key Saudi oil facilities, Mr. Goldberg asserted that Mr. Trump “recognized those traps for what they were and exercised strategic patience.”

Mr. Trump’s patience ended in December when he responded to the death of an American contractor in an attack by Iranian-backed Iraqi militias and the militias’ siege of the US embassy in Baghdad by first authorizing air strikes against militias bases in Iraq and Syria and then the killing of Iranian general Qassim Soleimani.

Mr. Goldberg would likely describe the president’s decision not to respond to a subsequent Iranian retaliatory attack on housing facilities for US military personnel in Iraq as a renewed act of strategic patience.

Mr. Trump’s strategic patience is bolstered by his retention of options to further increase maximum pressure on Iran. “Many wrongly believe the United States has already reached full ‘maximum pressure on Iran,” Mr. Goldberg said.

Mr. Goldberg pointed to sanctions targeting Iranian state shipping lines that are set to take effect in June, the administration’s recent identification of Iran’s financial sector as a “primary jurisdiction of money-laundering concern,” this month’s imposition of sanctions on its construction, mining and manufacturing sectors, and Europe’s triggering of the nuclear accord’s dispute mechanism that could lead to the return of United Nations-mandated sanctions.

Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Trump’s belief that imminent economic collapse and international political isolation could prompt Iranian leaders to suddenly place a call to the White House turns Mr. Trump’s handling of the Iran crisis into a litmus test of the president’s approach to foreign relations.

There is little in the torturous history of relations between the United States and the Islamic republic that suggests that pressure will persuade Iran, convinced that Washington is gunning for the fall of the regime, to gamble on an unconditional return to the negotiating table.

Nor does North Korea’s failure to succumb to US pressure even if Mr. Trump, in contrast to his remarks about Iranian spiritual leader Ali Khamenei, professed his love for Kim Jong-un.

Mr. Trump’s policy towards Iran, rather than reinforcing Gulf confidence in the United States’ reliability as a guarantor of regional security, has sparked a wait-and-see attitude and nagging doubts about US reliability.

If anything, risky US and Iranian strategies are likely to prove that the crisis can only be defused if both sides garner an understanding of the others’ objectives and some degree of confidence that both parties would remain committed to any agreement they conclude.

So far, US and Iranian policies amount to a dialogue of the deaf that is likely to perpetuate the risk of hostility getting out of hand and incentivize regional players to think about alternative  arrangements that ultimately could weaken US influence and reduce tensions with Iran by including it, despite US policy, in a more multilateral security architecture.

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The power of symbolism: Mexico’s Foreign Policy

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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A few weeks ago, the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) took the decision to grant asylum to Evo Morales after he fled the country amidst allegations of vote tampering and electoral fraud. The decision of Morales to flee Bolivia clashed with several internal crisis in other Latin American countries. This has made the region highly unstable and harder to predict:  Argentina is struggling with a power transition; massive demonstrations that have led to widespread violence in Chile, Colombia and Ecuador; the unlikely possibility to restore democracy in Venezuela; and an early rift between the Argentinean and Brazilian presidents that may deteriorate soon. Polarisation seems to be taking its toll on the region.

AMLO’s decision should not come as a surprise. Mexico has a long tradition of providing asylum to leftist leaders that can be traced back to the 1930s: Leon Trotsky, José Martí,  Fidel Castro, Spanish refugees fleeing the 1936-1939 civil war; Mohammed Reza, Rigoberta Menchu, among others. So, what made the situation of Evo Morales different?

Mexico’s asylum tradition goes hand in hand with a doctrine of non-intervention: The Estrada Doctrine that means that Mexico should take no position on another’s government legitimacy. AMLO violated this precept by being vocal about his support to Evo Morales and his regime in Bolivia. Secondly, while in Mexico, Morales, far from keeping quiet on politics, he simply felt at home and openly urged his supporters to boycott the new administration of Jeanine Añez.

What happened in Bolivia and the subsequent diplomatic conflict between Mexico and the new interim administration only served to further divide an already highly fragmented Latin America: There are two sides on the same matter: Uruguay, Nicaragua, Mexico and Venezuela have backed up the idea of a coup d’état; while Perú, Brazil, Colombia and the United States have endorsed the idea that it was an electoral fraud. The decision of the current administration to go to such lengths for Evo Morales contrasts sharply with the questionable treatment migrants have received in the southern and northern border of the country. Morales was soon to abandon Mexico: After just a few days in Mexico, he left for Argentina, a move that should not be taken as a surprise: Argentina is swerving away from the foreign policy the former president Mauricio Macri endorsed. This change is thought to be product of the influence of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, vice-president of Alberto Fernández, the current president. Fernández de Kirchner was known for having a close relationship with Evo Morales. His sudden departure could also be the result of a subtle order from the United States.

The way Mexico dealt with the Morales issue highlights an important change in Mexican foreign policy if compared to the one followed by previous administrations. While AMLO has taken a decidedly non-interventionist stance towards Nicaragua, Venezuela and more recently he declined to comment on the American attack on Iran, he was very eager to make his stance clear in the Bolivian crisis.

AMLO is a president that has relied on symbolic acts to keep his electoral base satisfied. Starting from his presidential campaign, he repeatedly stated that the best foreign policy is domestic policy, and he has, since the start of his administration, stuck to this principle. AMLO has focused on numerous domestic trips that aimed at strengthening his fourth transformation project. Domestically, he has sold his presidency as transformative, however, when it comes to his stance on foreign policy, he is stuck on al old fashioned 1930s principle: The Estrada Doctrine.

If we went by what he promised during his electoral campaign, one would expect a much more aggressive foreign policy towards the United States, and specifically towards Trump. He is, however, focused on symbolic issues which will not translate unto economic or safety improvements to keep his high approval ratings. Apart from the very specific case of Bolivia, AMLO’s foreign policy has remained muted and isolated. We should not confuse his sudden support for Morales as AMLO embracing a leftist foreign policy. He has never had such an inclination. By offering asylum to Morales, he tried to give the impression that Mexico was an inclusive and supportive state that has open doors. Nonetheless, with the US next door, Mexico cannot really remain completely sovereign. This asylum process was more a symbolic action than a real shift in foreign policy.

Just last week, AMLO also declared that he has reoriented his foreign policy towards gender equality. Again, another power of symbolism if one looks at Mexico’s feminicide  and gender-violence statistics, they are shaming. Such a foreign policy would prioritise gender equality, protect human rights of women and marginalised groups along with equal pay, and gender parity. Domestic policies again fail to provide such a framework for Mexican women. It’s hardly likely this will go beyond what it is: another symbolic promise that aims to appease those critical of his administration.

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