Trans Lawyer Launches Russian Presidential Bid

From The Advocate:

Masha Bast, the Russian human rights lawyer who recently came out as a bisexual trans woman, plans to run for President of Russia in 2018.

BY Sunnivie Brydum
September 23 2013

The Russian human rights lawyer who made headlines last week when she came out as a bisexual transgender woman married to another Russian woman, is keeping herself in the news — this time by announcing her intent to run for president of Russia in 2018.

Masha Bast, an attorney with the Association of Russian Lawyers for Human Rights, announced the formation of her electoral campaign Monday, along with her intent to compete in the 2018 elections for president of Russia. Bast said she and her allies are seeking to hold the “first real democratic honest and fair elections in Russia.”

“Putin wants me to live in the middle ages,” Bast wrote on her Facebook with an article linking to her campaign announcement. “I personally want to live in the 21st Century.”

According to the announcement on the Association of Russian Lawyers For Human Rights’ website, Bast’s campaign will focus on Russian development, “where the highest value is a human, human rights and freedoms, justice and social guarantees to everyone.”

Bast reportedly wants Russia to build upon “European socialism” that can compete with the United States, moving the slavic nation in a progressive direction, away from a consumer society to a society of creation, encouraging “the transition from a society of egotists to altruistic society.”

If she were elected, Bast would be the first female president of Russia, and the first openly LGBT person to lead the nation. She stressed that she is pro-LGBT, pro-marriage equality, pro-freedom of and from religion, and opposes discrimination “against anyone on any grounds,” including sexism, ableism, and classism.

Bast did not explicitly address how Russia’s recently enacted ban on so-called “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” might impact her campaign, though she came out last week in an act of protest against the poorly defined law that’s seen LGBT Russians and visitors arrested, beaten, and harassed for simple nonviolent demonstrations like unfurling a rainbow flag or holding hands in public.

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Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova: Why I have gone on hunger strike

From The Guardian UK:

In an open letter, the imprisoned Pussy Riot member explains why the brutal conditions at Penal Colony No 14 have led her to undertake a hunger strike in protest

• Pussy Riot member starts hunger strike over prison conditions
• Read all our Pussy Riot coverage here

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Monday 23 September 2013

Beginning Monday, 23 September, I am going on hunger strike. This is an extreme method, but I am convinced that it is my only way out of my current situation.

The penal colony administration refuses to hear me. But I, in turn, refuse to back down from my demands. I will not remain silent, resigned to watch as my fellow prisoners collapse under the strain of slavery-like conditions. I demand that the colony administration respect human rights; I demand that the Mordovia camp function in accordance with the law. I demand that we be treated like human beings, not slaves.

It has been a year since I arrived at Penal Colony No 14 in the Mordovian village of Parts. As the prisoner saying goes: “Those who never did time in Mordovia never did time at all.” I started hearing about Mordovian prison colonies while I was still being held at Pre-Trial Detention Centre No 6 in Moscow. They have the highest levels of security, the longest workdays, and the most flagrant rights violation. When they send you off to Mordovia, it is as though you’re headed to the scaffold. Until the very last moment, they keep hoping: “Perhaps they won’t send you to Mordovia after all? Maybe it will blow over?” Nothing blew over, and in the autumn of 2012, I arrived at the camp on the banks of the Partsa River.

Mordovia greeted me with the words of the deputy chief of the penal colony, Lieutenant Colonel Kupriyanov, who is the de facto head administrator of our colony. “You should know that when it comes to politics, I am a Stalinist.” Colonel Kulagin, the other head administrator — the colony is run in tandem — called me in for a conversation on my first day here with the objective to force me to confess my guilt. “A misfortune has befallen you. Isn’t that so? You’ve been sentenced to two years in the colony. People usually change their minds when bad things happen to them. If you want to be paroled as soon as possible, you have to confess your guilt. If you don’t, you won’t get parole.” I told him right away that I would only work the 8 hours a day required by the labour code. “The code is one thing — what really matters is fulfilling your quota. If you don’t, you work overtime. You should know that we have broken stronger wills than yours!” was Kulagin’s response.

My brigade in the sewing shop works 16 to 17 hours a day. From 7.30am to 12.30am. At best, we get four hours of sleep a night. We have a day off once every month and a half. We work almost every Sunday. Prisoners submit petitions to work on weekends “out of [their] own desire”. In actuality, there is, of course, no desire to speak of. These petitions are written on the orders of the administration and under pressure from the prisoners that help enforce it.

No one dares to disobey these orders and not submit such petitions regarding entering the work zone on Sunday, which means working until 1 am. Once, a 50-year-old woman asked to go back to the residential zone at 8pm instead of 12.30am so she could go to bed at 10 pm and get eight hours of sleep just once a week. She was feeling ill; she had high blood pressure. In response, they held a unit meeting in order to take the woman down, insult and humiliate her, branding her a parasite. “What, do you think you’re the only one who wants more sleep? You need to work harder, you cow!” When someone from the brigade doesn’t come to work on doctor’s orders, they’re bullied as well. “I worked when I had a fever of 40C and it was fine. What are you thinking —w ho is going to pick up the slack for you?”

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Meet the American Christo-Fascist Figures Thrilled by Russia’s Brutal Anti-Gay Laws

From Alternet:

Putin has achieved much of what the American right-wing dreams of, and American religious conservatives are ecstatic.

By Adam Lee
September 19, 2013

Russia has become a dangerous place for dissent. Its ex-KGB president, Vladimir Putin, has accomplished what Republicans in America only dream of: he’s built an electoral majority by appealing to the most religious and conservative elements of society, including by courting the alliance of the Russian Orthodox Church. With his victories, he’s becoming increasingly autocratic, dispensing with even the pretense of democracy.

Besides his notorious sidestepping of term-limit laws, he’s presided over show-trial prosecutions of political opponents and reformers on flimsy or trumped-up charges. He’s brought down the wrath of the state against artists who mock religion. He’s looked the other way as crusading journalists have been brutally beaten and murdered, and his government may have been directly involved in at least one such killing. In the classic tactic of dictators everywhere, he’s diverting attention from his own authoritarianism by painting a marginalized minority as a powerful and sinister enemy corrupting society from within. In this case, the invented enemy is Russia’s LGBT community.

Over the last few years, Putin’s rubber-stamp parliament has passed a series of increasingly draconian anti-gay laws. The most recent of these outlaws “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”—a term so deliberately vague and sweeping that Russian activists can be ( and have been) arrested merely for holding up a sign in public reading “Gay is normal.” It effectively silences any advocacy for LGBT rights or even any public acknowledgment of LGBT people’s existence. An even more horrific bill now under consideration would take away children (both adopted and biological) from gay and lesbian parents.

With the Russian government sending clear signals that LGBT people are beneath moral consideration, it’s no surprise that violent homophobes in Russian society are feeling increasingly disinhibited. We’ve seen the premeditated torture and murder of gay people, and gangs of skinheads assaulting gay-rights protestors in public, sometimes with the police looking on, sometimes with the police’s active assistance.

In this climate of deepening fear and brutality, we’re already starting to see an exodus of gay people from Russian society, like the journalist Masha Gessen, who’s calling on Western nations to grant asylum: ” The only way at this point that the U.S. can help Russian gays and lesbians is [to] get us the hell out of here.” The historical parallel to the exodus of Jewish people from pre-World War II Nazi Germany seems impossible to ignore.

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See Also:

LA Frontiers: America’s Biggest Exporter of Hate Brags About Role in Russia’s Anti-Gay Laws

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Politicians hardly ever mention America’s poor

From Japan Times:

by Cesar Chelala
Sept 22, 2013

U.S. Republican and Democratic politicians have one thing in common: They hardly mention the poor. For all practical purposes, they are a neglected minority.

President Barack Obama speaks about his push to secure “a better bargain for the middle class,” and House Speaker John Boehner states, “We cannot grow the middle class and foster job creation by growing government and raising taxes.” The poor have become a “dirty word” in American politics.

Poverty in America shows no preference for race — anybody can be affected. Although racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, race disparities among the poor have narrowed significantly since the 1970s. Still, by race, nonwhites have a higher risk, estimated at 90 percent, of being economically insecure.

Although the gap between the rich and the poor narrowed after World War II, as public policies helped the poor and the middle class, that gap between the richest 1 percent and the rest of the country is now the widest since the Roaring 1920s. In 2012, the top 10 percent captured 48.2 percent of total earnings.

In 2009, 47 million Americans depended on food banks, an increase of 30 percent above 2007 levels. Children living in households headed by single mothers are most likely to be affected.

The District of Columbia, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico and Florida were the worst affected, while the least affected were North Dakota, New Hampshire, Virginia, Minnesota and Massachusetts.

A 2012 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed alarming child poverty rates in the U.S., particularly when compared to other nations. For example, the U.S. ranks second-highest among all measured countries with 23.1 percent of children living in poverty, slightly better than Romania, with 25.6 percent.

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How America’s 401(k) Revolution Rewarded the Rich and Turned the Rest of Us Into Big Losers

From Alternet:

A failed public policy experiment is tearing the country apart.

By Lynn Stuart Parramore
September 23, 2013

It was a bad idea from the get-go, but new research shows that America’s 401(k) revolution has left us even worse off than we thought. Here’s a look at how we got into this mess, and where it will take us if we don’t wise up.

The Dumbest Retirement Policy in the World

Thirty years ago, as laissez-faire fanaticism took hold of America, misguided policy-makers decided that do-it-yourself retirement plans, otherwise known as 401(k)s, would magically secure our financial future in the face of gyrating markets, economic crises, unpredictable life events, stagnant wages and rampant job insecurity. It was an extraordinary shift in thinking about public policy: Instead of having predictable streams of income from traditional pensions, ordinary people with little financial expertise would suddenly transform themselves into financial gurus, putting money aside and managing complicated investments in tax-deferred accounts.

There were red flags along the way. 401(k)s were originally supposed to supplement pensions, but clever corporate cost-cutters decided that voluntary individual accounts would replace them. Big difference! Meanwhile, throughout the 1990s, the national savings rate fell. Real wages dropped. As Helaine Olen details in her book Pound Foolish, Americans started borrowing against retirement plans to pay the mortgage or send the kids to college. The media was basically out to lunch, and politicians went on claiming the nonsense that individual retirement accounts would encourage savings and turn us all into professional money managers. The stock market would bring us double-digit returns. Whoopie!

Reality check: In 2007, the financial crisis destroyed America’s retirement fantasy. Jobs evaporated or were downsized. The stock market took a nosedive. Millions of Americans who had worked hard, straining to sock away a portion of their salary for 401(k)s, watched helplessly as a black cloud formed over their golden years. In October 2008, the Congressional Budget Office revealed that Americans had lost $2 trillion in just 15 months — money that will likely never be recovered. Not long after, President Obama betrayed the public by turning away from the jobs crisis to create a deficit commission whose leaders had the stunning lack of foresight to advise cutting Social Security at a time when the retirement train wreck was quickly picking up steam.

Today, the balance in our retirement accounts falls wildly short of what we need to keep us from destitution in old age, much less to secure a comfortable existence. According to the Vanguard Group, in 2012, the average account balance in our 401(k)s was $86,212 — and that number is skewed by high earners at the top. The amount experts say we need? $1 million or more, depending on how much you make now.

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The Crazy Party

From The New York Times:

Published: September 19, 2013

Early this year, Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, made headlines by telling his fellow Republicans that they needed to stop being the “stupid party.” Unfortunately, Mr. Jindal failed to offer any constructive suggestions about how they might do that. And, in the months that followed, he himself proceeded to say and do a number of things that were, shall we say, not especially smart.

Nonetheless, Republicans did follow his advice. In recent months, the G.O.P. seems to have transitioned from being the stupid party to being the crazy party.

I know, I’m being shrill. But as it grows increasingly hard to see how, in the face of Republican hysteria over health reform, we can avoid a government shutdown — and maybe the even more frightening prospect of a debt default — the time for euphemism is past.

It helps, I think, to understand just how unprecedented today’s political climate really is.

Divided government in itself isn’t unusual and is, in fact, more common than not. Since World War II, there have been 35 Congresses, and in only 13 of those cases did the president’s party fully control the legislature.

Nonetheless, the United States government continued to function. Most of the time divided government led to compromise; sometimes to stalemate. Nobody even considered the possibility that a party might try to achieve its agenda, not through the constitutional process, but through blackmail — by threatening to bring the federal government, and maybe the whole economy, to its knees unless its demands were met.

True, there was the government shutdown of 1995. But this was widely recognized after the fact as both an outrage and a mistake. And that confrontation came just after a sweeping Republican victory in the midterm elections, allowing the G.O.P. to make the case that it had a popular mandate to challenge what it imagined to be a crippled, lame-duck president.

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Opt Out of Koch Propaganda, Not Obamacare

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Edward Snowden has started a global debate. So why the silence in Britain?

From The Guardian UK:

We’re subject to huge unwarranted surveillance – but Westminster’s useful idiots are more likely to sanction than criticise it

The Guardian, Thursday 19 September 2013

The Brazilian president cancels a state visit to Washington. The German justice minister talks of “a Hollywood nightmare“. His chancellor, Angela Merkel, ponders offering Edward Snowden asylum. The EU may even end the “safe harbour” directive which would force US-based computer servers to relocate to European regulation. Russians and Chinese, so often accused of cyber-espionage, hop with glee.

In response, an embarrassed Barack Obama pleads for debate and a review of the Patriot Acts. Al Gore refers to the Snowden revelations as “obscenely outrageous“. The rightwing John McCain declares a review “entirely appropriate“. The Senate holds public hearings and summons security chiefs, who squirm like mafia bosses on the run. America’s once dominant internet giants, with 80% of the globe under their sway, now face “Balkanised” regulation round the world as nation states seek to repatriate digital sovereignty.

And in Britain? Nothing. From parliament, the courts, and most of the media, nothing. Snowden, the most significant whistleblower of modern times, briefly amused London when he turned scarlet pimpernel in the summer; then the capital was intrigued when David Miranda was seized by Heathrow police on bogus “terrorism” charges. But the British establishment cannot get excited. It hates whistleblowers, regarding them as not proper chaps.

Nothing better illustrates the gulf that sometimes opens between British and American concepts of democracy. Congress is no puppet of the executive. The US may be brutal in its treatment of leakers such as Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, but the fourth amendment lurks deep in its culture, protecting privacy from the state without due process and “probable cause”. Britain has no such amendment.

What moved Americans about Snowden was not just the scale of NSA hoovering of data – though polls indicate strong aversion – but the lying to Congress. Snowden, a Republican former soldier, was simply shocked at the clear collapse of congressional and judicial oversight. The US had lurched into aping precisely the totalitarian regimes it professed to guard against.

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Sen. Feinstein Wants to Strip Independent Journalists’ Rights

Senator Dianne Feinstein has just as much contempt for the First Amendment to the Constitution as she does for the Second.

From Truth Out:

By Kevin Mathews
Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Freedom of the press may be one of the founding principles of the United States, but Senator Dianne Feinstein is on a mission to limit these powers.  The fourth-term California Democrat has proposed an amendment to narrow the definition of journalism and give privileges to only those she deems “real reporters.”

Currently, most states have shield laws designed to protect journalists, but no such laws exist on a federal level. Recently, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved national shield laws, but Feinstein was unhappy with how broadly journalist could be interpreted and wrote up an amendment to address her personal concerns.

Feinstein’s suggestion is blatantly unconstitutional. The First Amendment is clear: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” yet here is a member of Congress trying to do precisely that. By applying a strict definition to who can be considered a journalist, Feinstein is not only discrediting, but also destructing independent and citizen journalism.

Shield laws allow reporters to protect their sources and prevent them from having to testify against them in court. These laws are safeguards that ensure critical news is disseminated and the populace remains informed without government interference.

Feinstein seems chiefly concerned with affiliates of Wikileaks and other such agencies calling themselves journalists. She has been one of the most vocal Senators in calling for prosecuting Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden for espionage. Evidently, publicizing some of the most critical information of our time that other more “reputable” agencies wouldn’t touch does not count as an act of journalism, particularly when the leaked info makes Feinstein look bad.

Indeed, despite alleging that she wants to protect only “legitimate journalists,” Feinstein has a history of showing no respect for legitimate journalists. On a trip to China while serving as San Francisco’s mayor, Feinstein told Evelyn Hsu, an American reporter, that she preferred Chinese reporters, explaining, “They just write down what we say.

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Global Warming: An Uncontrolled Experiment

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Russians Charge All Greenpeace Activists On Arctic Sunrise With Piracy

From Tory Aardvark:

Sept. 24, 2013

The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise has been towed into the northern Russian port of Murmansk, and all 30 activists have been charged with piracy by the Russian authorities.

The story is still breaking so is there is a certain amount of variance between the reports coming in.

abc News:

Russia filed piracy charges Tuesday against Greenpeace activists who tried to climb onto an offshore drilling platform in the Arctic owned by the state-controlled gas company Gazprom.

The activists are on a Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise, which was seized last week by the Russian Coast Guard and towed Tuesday into a port near Murmansk.

It was unclear how many of the 30 activists on board face piracy charges, which carry a potential prison sentence of up to 15 years and a fine of 500,000 rubles (about $15,500). The Investigative Committee, Russia’s federal investigative agency, said it would question all those who participated in the protest and detain the “more active” among them.


Radio Free Europe has this to say:

Russian authorities say they plan to harshly prosecute almost 30 Greenpeace activists for protesting Arctic oil activities by gas giant Gazprom.

Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said on September 24 that all activists — regardless of citizenship — will be charged with organized piracy.

If found guilty, they could face up to 15 years in jail.

Russian Coast Guard personnel seized the “Arctic Sunrise” ship with the activists on board last week after they tried to board a Gazprom oil rig.

The BBC:

Russian prosecutors have accused around 30 Greenpeace activists of piracy and say they will prosecute all of them for trying to board an Arctic oil platform.

Russia’s Investigative Committee, modelled on the FBI, will question the activists. Six Britons are among them.

Their ship, the Arctic Sunrise, is being towed to the port of Murmansk.

Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said “all those who assaulted the platform, regardless of nationality, will be prosecuted”.

The Russians are definitely serious about making an example of the ecomentalists from Greenpeace.

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Message from the EPA: It’s about protecting people, not polar bears

From Grist:

By 23 Sep 2013
Last Friday, new EPA chief Gina McCarthy faced the nation to announce new carbon emission limits for power plants. Her first stop that morning was the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to explain the proposed limits to the mainstream press. Her second stop might surprise you: It was less than a mile away at the Washington Convention Center, where the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation was holding its 43rd annual legislative conference.

McCarthy’s message to her second audience was blunt: These new regulations were designed to protect people, and in particular, underserved communities that will bear the brunt of climate change. Fighting climate change, in other words, is a matter of environmental justice.

“Climate change is not about polar bears, which I think are cute,” McCarthy said during the unannounced visit. “It’s about people. It’s about water, wastewater, and the infrastructure that is under our water. It’s about the sewers that are backing up and overflowing all at the same time. It’s about our drinking water supplies.”

The speech was a clear reminder of how the Obama administration’s environmental arm has framed the conversation around domestic climate change impacts: Officials have turned away from talk of protecting the Earth and toward a focus on protecting communities at risk. This focus on environmental justice was championed by Obama’s first EPA chief, Lisa Jackson, and despite consistent attacks from climate- and safety-net-denying conservatives, it is the context the EPA continues to embrace.

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Extraction Extremism: Connecting the Dots on Global Warming

From Common Dreams:

Extreme events, global warming, and the extreme consequences of failing to take extreme action now

by John Atcheson
Published on Tuesday, September 24, 2013 by Common Dreams

Back in the bad old days of the Bush Administration in the run-up to the Iraqi war, conservatives spoke a lot about “connecting the dots” by which they meant taking data points that seemed disparate and separate, and linking them into a larger narrative that made sense.

Turns out, those dots were disparate and separate, as many tried to point out at the time to a deaf, mute press and a war-frenzied administration.

Fast forward to now, and in the case of global warming, conservatives are bending over backwards to disconnect dots that are clearly linked.

Let’s start with extreme weather-related events.

The National Weather Service, not an organization typically associated with hyperbole, is calling the rains in Boulder Colorado “biblical.”

In California, the recent Rim Fire—the third biggest fire in California’s history—was not contained until it burned for over a month.  Some 1,791 firefighters battled the fire and it has caused $113 million dollars in damage.  The driest winter in 50 years helped make it more intense, and the extreme heat from the super-fire made it biologically devastating, unlike most natural fires. Ecologists describe the burned out area as “Nuked” or a “moonscape.”

In Australia, bush fire season arrived early, with four major fires burning around Sydney and the Blue Mountains.  After a record-setting summer heat wave and a warmer than average winter, grasslands and forests have been reduced to kindling.

Meanwhile, in Japan, Typhoon Man-yi dumped what the Japanese Meteorological Agency called an unprecedented amount of rainfall in Kyoto and two neighboring prefectures, reaching as much as 8 centimeters (3 inches) per hour.  Kyoto, it may be remembered, is where the last serious—if inadequate—attempt to tackle global warming was made, more than 16 years ago.

England is wrapping up one of the hottest summers on record.

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The Oil & Gas Industry’s Fractured Fairy Tales

From Huffington Post–gas-industrys-fr_b_3972586.html


What if I told you that a recent study found that relatively new, unconventional ways to produce oil and gas–horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”–added an average of $1,200 to U.S. household disposable income in 2012? And that this drilling “revolution,” enabling the industry to recover previously inaccessible shale reserves, supported 2.1 million jobs last year and is projected to support 3.3 million by 2020?

Sounds pretty good, no?

But what if I told you that the study not only exaggerates the number of fracking-related jobs, but also that it was funded by the oil and gas industry’s trade association–the American Petroleum Institute (API)–along with, among others, the American Chemistry Council, America’s Natural Gas Alliance, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Natural Gas Supply Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?

Maybe you wouldn’t be as impressed.

What is most egregious about this self-serving study, however, is that it tells only half of the story. What’s missing are oil and gas’s considerable drawbacks, notably their impact on public health, the environment and the climate. It’s analogous to a tobacco industry-funded study claiming a new type of cigarette created new jobs and saved smokers money without mentioning the obvious associated health costs.

Does it matter that this study–the third in a series by the consulting firm IHS Global Insight–is so one-sided? Certainly. News organizations have already reported its findings uncritically, and it bolsters the industry’s cred in Washington, giving the industry’s friends on Capitol Hill another weapon to fight against stricter controls on shale drilling.

Kyle Isakower, API’s vice president for policy and economic analysis, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that a study by a firm of IHS’s stature should impress government officials. “It’s important for us,” he said, “that we’ve got credible data to help educate policymakers about energy policy.”

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