Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Election looking good in Nevada

By now, I feel confident that any identified Cortez-Masto (Senate) and Clinton voter who lives behind one of those dots on this map of a Reno neighborhood has turned out to vote. The only way to get rid of the canvass team I was part of last week will have been to get it done with.

And there is hard evidence that the push in the Silver State is working. Michael P. McDonald, who is rounding up reports on early voting at the HuffPo, has this:


In-person early voting began on Saturday, and like North Carolina, the volume of voting increased dramatically. As I write this on Sunday, data are available only for Clark (Las Vegas) and Washoe (Reno) counties [where the vast majority of Nevadans live]. These are the two most Democratic counties of the state. Not surprisingly, Democrats lead all early votes in these two counties. With 68,927 early votes cast, registered Democrats lead Republicans 50.3 percent to 31.5 percent. (Nevada will begin reporting statewide numbers this week.)

Looking at the party registration numbers, Jon Ralston reports registered Democrats are voting above their voter registration levels, up 12 points in Clark and 11 points in Washoe. Republicans are running below their voter registration levels, down 2 points in Clark and 1 point in Washoe. Ralston was careful to document how Republicans outperformed in 2014, so Trump supporters should take heed when he says, “Democrats destroyed Republicans in the first day of early voting in Nevada.” There is nothing in these early voting numbers that contradict recent polling showing Clinton taking a lead in the state.

Congrats to the GOTV teams!
In general, early voting is looking good for a Democratic Senate majority according to the Cook Political Report, the most granular of sites that try to forecast election results.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Choices, often false

Jesuit Father Thomas J. Reese mulls our social circumstances at at the National Catholic Reporter: Churches and political parties are in the same pickle. He draws a parallel:

... the percent of people who do not identify with a political party has been increasing just as the percent of people who do not identify with a religion are increasing. This is bad news for both political parties and churches.

... The reasons people abandon organized religion and political parties are similar.

  • The institution is not fulfilling their needs. Both parties and churches are not serving the felt needs of many people, especially the young.
  • They do not believe in its platform (teachings). Parties and churches are speaking to activists and elites, not to real people.
  • They are disillusioned with the institution's leadership. Political and religious leaders have been caught in lies and cover-ups. Too many have been caught in sexual and financial impropriety. They do not believe in transparency. They use their positions for their own advancement rather than in service to their people. ...
In short, people feel betrayed and abandoned by the institution, and their response is to abandon the institution whether it is a party or a church.

This seems a neat comparison. But is it accurate? The more I chew on it, the less I think the parallel works.

The U.S. society in which we live is above all else an individualistic consumer society. Most of the time, we're bombarded by any number of commercial interests which teach that our greatest freedom is to make choices. This usually amounts to buying one thing or another that we may or may not need. And if we're lucky enough to be able to be in the game -- to choose the latest thing we want -- we can feel pretty good about the world.

Churches and political parties belong to different orders in our lives.

Once upon a time -- nearly all of human history -- God was not a choice. Getting right with God (however conceived) was a necessity and that usually happened by being in relationship with God's institutional manifestation, in whatever form this dominated in a particular society. Some combination of science and ethical formation within individualistic and consumerist culture has made God merely optional, a choice among many, in our society. The "nones" opt out because they can. They are no less acting conventionally than those of us who opt in. (We who opt in usually think God is not a choice, but that is another topic.)

The state, on the other hand, is not optional.

If we are comfortable with how our world is working, we can think the state doesn't matter to us. This is nonsense; the only way I can tease it out is that some of us think the state is working for us. The state sets the parameters of our lives, whether through regulating what and how we can possess what we "own," through organizing the systems that make living together possible like transport and schools, and by empowering police and armies with the power of life and death. Getting off the grid, or out of the realm of the state, is fantasy.

By accident of birth, we live in a quasi-democratic polity in which citizens have some levers with which to influence, even control, the activity of the state. We are citizens, not objects to be moved around. This is unusual in human history, as unusual as the notion that God is a choice. But it has considerable reality, however remote that may feel.

Political parties are among, but not the entirety, of how citizens can corral the state to our benefit and purposes. Identifying with parties is optional. Being a citizen, and hence an actor or potential actor in how our society shapes itself, is not optional.

Taking seriously the difference between how God-choice and citizenship-choice work in our world easily explains one of jarring paradoxes of this election season -- evangelical Christian attachment to that anti-moral monster, the Orange blob. Evangelical leaders have absorbed the reality that, in their society, citizenship trumps all. (Damn that man for polluting a useful metaphor.) As Robert Putnam and David Campbell concluded in American Grace,

When religion and politics were initially inconsistent, religious commitment, not political commitment, was more likely to change.

It's the (North) American way.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Honorable man down

Tom Hayden, who died Sunday, did with his life what I often fault members of my activist generation for failing to do. Instead of flailing at the margins, or launching off into leftist flights of fantasy, he dove into the real politics of power in California and tried to implement what he could of what his values demanded. The results were frustrating and imperfect; that's politics. Meanwhile he continued to try to express and explain values that sometimes took him away from the mainstream, consistantly opposing U.S. military adventures. Leftists often found him as frustrating as did the right; as recently as last spring he announced in the Nation magazine that his long-held commitment to empowering the African American community required him to endorse Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. Many who remembered him howled.

There was a complicated integrity in Hayden's life. May we all do so well.

The other voter suppression scandal

Today is the last day to register to vote on November 8 in California. In many states, the registration deadline has already passed.

Quite properly, Democrats have been fighting efforts by Republican state legislatures to reduce the opportunities for people of color and young people to exercise their right to vote by means of restrictive voter ID requirements and other bureaucratic impediments. They've had some successes, notably in North Carolina where a court ruled that the state's new voting law was designed with "almost surgical precision" to reduce African-American voting. That law is on hold this year.

But the additional travesty embedded in most states' election administration is the requirement for voter registration well before election day.

Somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of eligible citizens can't vote because they are not registered. Did they want to be registered? Who knows? Do they even know? Some may, but when you're off the socially approved track, the glib answer to why you never got into the game is that you didn't want to play. If you later decide you want in, you shouldn't be kept out for no rational reason.

Registration might have made some sense when records were laboriously kept on paper -- though not much sense. Your address does determine which local candidates you can vote on, so it makes it easier for the people running the election if they know in advance how many ballots of what kind they need. But that shouldn't be a terrible hurdle in the age of electronic voting.

In the era of big data, voter registration requirements are anachronisms. In general, the states know who we are and where we live. There are outliers, but not many. Registrars could manage to run elections without knowing how many ballot papers to print.

And ten states do offer same day registration at the polls: Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Wyoming. Washington, DC is also a "same day" jurisdiction. The specific procedures differ; some sort of ID or verification is usually required, but the point is to make participation easy. California will join the same day registration states -- next year. Nothing terrible has happened in states without advance registration; a few places have done without it since the 1970s.

Demos describes what implementing same day registration accomplishes.

[SDR] Assists geographically mobile, lower-income citizens, young voters and voters of color. Keeping voter registration records current is a big challenge under current systems, which place the onus of updating records on the individual. Census data show that over 36 million people in America moved between 2011 and 2012, and nearly half of those moving had low-incomes. Young adults of all income levels also move more frequently—for school, for jobs, for family. Same Day Registration offers those who have recently moved but failed to update registration records another opportunity to register and vote. Research indicates that allowing young people to register to vote on Election Day could increase youth turnout in presidential elections by as much as 14 percentage points.

Experience suggests that more people vote when we make it easier and less intimidating. (Duh!)
Same day registration is a reform worth fighting for.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Election season in San Francisco

Erudite Partner joined some of her students in canvassing against our latest Hate the Homeless ballot measures with Tenderloin Votes yesterday.

This is California's drought

Encountered in a bathroom stall at a conscientious community center.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

On the campaign trail in Nevada

Melvin and I just spent several days together knocking on doors in Reno and Sparks, looking for voters supporting Hillary Clinton and Democratic Senate candidate Catherine Cortez-Masto. UniteHERE/Culinary Workers Local 226 has been hard at work here for months; Melvin started right after Labor Day. This is not new for Melvin. His mother brought him along as a teenager on a canvass in 2012. That year, he joined the team for the last three weeks, decided he could do more with his life than join the Marines, and ended up in community college. Now he is a seasoned pro, charming and cajoling voters with gusto.

Nevadans know their votes are important. They've been bombarded by TV ads for months. Their phones ring constantly. One of the inducements we had to offer to people we with talked with was that, if they used the early voting opportunity that begins today, they'll stop hearing from us.

Some unscientific observations:
  • Because Nevadans are so used to this attention from campaigns, and seemingly a little flattered by it, they open their doors more readily than in other places where I've done this work.
  • Because of this willingness, and perhaps also because I've turned into a white-haired old person, voters seemed far less afraid of me when I knock than I've become inured to. Another older woman had the same observation.
  • I encountered a gratifying number of gay households. I don't expect that in a place that feels to me "suburban." Silly me.
  • A small, but significant, number of the voters I encountered had met/seen Cortez-Masto. Las Vegas is the overwhelming center of population in the state, but government is in the north where Reno is the big place, so a woman who has been state attorney general for a decade is a known quantity.
  • Whenever I met someone who was undecided about choice for president, I asked that person to give me a reason they would vote for Trump. Nobody came up with one.
Current polls show Clinton pulling ahead in Nevada and Cortez-Masto pulling into a tiny lead. She's getting the help of the kind of ground get-out-the-vote operation I joined up with all over the state; that can pull a candidate through. Should Cortez-Masto win, she'll be the first Latina elected to the Senate.
I've had fun in the past making sociological observations about the food provided by campaigns. UniteHERE broke the pattern with this breakfast offering, though the inevitable pizza turned up the next day. But no donuts!
Reno is a bearable size small city surrounded by stark desert and mountains. This was the view out my window.

The casinos are as ludicrous as might be expected. But Circus Circus was cheap and efficient. And what's not to like about a hotel that lines its corridors with pictures of staff like this one? It is also the sole union hotel in town.
This local Libertarian gets the prize for the best sign I walked by. Doubt if he'll get many votes, but everyone needs a laugh in this season. Only 17 days to go ...

Friday, October 21, 2016

Bonus cat blogging

I treated myself just now to a run along the Bay shoreline in San Mateo County and this was what I encountered:

Neither of these critters were shy. I assume they are clients of the Homeless Cat Network:

Friday cat blogging

Imagine seeing this when you open your eyes in the morning. Many times, Morty is right there on the pillow next to our faces.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Media consumption diet for this election year

Friends have asked me what I read to keep informed during this awful election. I read too much for my peace of mind, I think.

But since I've posted on this topic before, I do notice I've changed my sources somewhat.

For a long time, I've paid for and read the New York Times. I also regularly read the Guardian; it has done terrific work recording the hundreds of killings by U.S. police departments. And this election season, the Washington Post successfully lured me to pay up for its coverage. For months, it seemed to be doing the most thorough job of digging into Donald Trump's many shady enterprises. David Fahrenthold has been THE essential source of Trump revelations. The Wapo columnists are interesting, especially Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman at The Plum Line.

Several individual reporters/pundits have provided exceptional coverage and insight. Farai Chideya has offered profiles of subsegments of the electorate. Jamelle Bouie, chief political correspondent at Slate provides historically grounded commentary from an African American perspective. And Rebecca Traister at New York has succeeded in describing consistently and thoughtfully how woman hatred plays out in this contest.

Two newer journalism sites have often outpaced the legacy news media organizations, carving out niches that begged to be filled. I sure hope Vox thrives. There's amazing journalism coming from Ezra Klein's baby. And I find Talking Points Memo essential, not so much for their click bait outrage snippets, as for Joshua Marshall's historians perspective on the circus.

But probably the most important shift in my media consumption diet has been the addition of numerous podcasts. This has to do with being retired from the paid fray. I'm running and walking and photographing with delight. And at the same time I'm listening. Often this means audiobooks, but for the last six months it has frequently meant podcasts. The Vox guys (and Sarah Kliff) contribute The Ezra Klein Show and The Weeds. These provide interesting, thoughtful, background on just about anything in the news. I don't always (often?) agree with all expressed here, but that is what makes these productions interesting. Another podcast I value a lot is Code Switch: a conversation about race and identity. Finally I should mention one election focussed production, The United States of Anxiety, a series well worth listening to which digs into race and class dynamics as this season reveals them in suburban Long Island. It is terrific journalism. The first three of these I'll still be listening to after November 8.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

On claiming our victories along the way

I'm in Reno this week, knocking on doors with members of the Culinary Workers of Nevada (UNITE-HERE) trying to push out the vote for Catherine Cortez-Masto. Cortez-Masto would be the first Latina in the Senate, nothing to sneeze at. Yes, this will help win Nevada for Hillary Clinton too.

So this seems a good moment to share Erudite Partner's latest TomDispatch article: Why Fighting for Justice Is Like Surfing.

... How do outrageous ideas — for example, that women are human beings, or that the U.S. locks up way too many people, or even that gay people should be able to get married if they want to — suddenly morph into everyday commonsense? It’s rarely an accident. It almost always involves dedicated people working away for years on an issue, often unnoticed, before it seems suddenly to surge into general awareness. ...

Read it all at the link. It will cheer you up.

And if this ugly election gets you down, do something. There's nothing more cheering than working for justice. You don't have to go far afield as I have; there are almost always necessary local campaigns that are organized to put you to use. Really -- working together with others for our victories is part of enjoying them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The worst ballot ever: part three, San Francisco measures

Can it really be that having spent hours on the state propositions, I now have City Measures A through X plus RR to try to comprehend? Yes, it can. Here goes:

Measure A: School bonds We need to fund the schools. (See also state Prop. 51.) Yes.

Measure B: City College parcel tax We need to fund City College. (See also the Community College Board.) Yes.

Measure C: Affordable housing loans We voted bonds in 1992 for seismic upgrades and some of that money is still around. This redirects it to affordable housing. Yes.

Measure D: appointments to vacant elected offices Since Willie Brown's time (1996-2004), mayors have frequently been able to overturn the will of the voters by replacing uncooperative supervisors with more malleable ones. Sometimes a sitting supervisor won higher office; sometimes the mayor dangled a plum appointment. This would stop that practice by requiring a special election for any vacated seat within 180 days. Let the people vote! Yes.

Measure E: Street trees WTF? The Department of Public Works has been passing off responsibility for trees on sidewalks (often the work of Friends of the Urban Forest) to property owners. Too many of these would rather cut the trees than assume the cost of care. This would raise $19 million to cover the cost of city care of the trees by a parcel tax based on property frontage. We'd be willing to pay for the care of our tree. Yes.

Measure F: Youth voting in local elections Would allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in San Francisco elections. If we can pass this, we'll be emulating Scotland. That seem like a pretty sane place. Youth activists jammed up the system to get this on the ballot. It's a great story. Yes.

Measure G: Department of Police Accountability This isn't going to solve the problem of the San Francisco Police Department running wild in communities of color. That's going to take "reconstitution," starting over with a command structure that comes from outside the old boy network and current police union. This would give what has been called the Office of Civilian Complaints at least a tiny amount of independence. Yes.

Measure H: Public Advocate New York has one of these and it seems to have got a pretty good mayor, Bill de Blasio, out of it. A Public Advocate's job is to make sure you’re getting fair treatment from the government. My termed out supervisor David Campos thinks we could use one; Campos is a smart guy so I am willing to give it a whirl. Yes.

Measure I: Funding for seniors and adults with disabilities This is a "set-aside" -- a budget category that legislators won't be able to wheel and deal with. I don't like that sort of thing. We elect people to figure out how to make all the interests get their piece; they should do their jobs. Yet I also know that some populations get screwed by the "regular" process. Am I really going to vote against old people? No. So, reluctantly, yes.

Measure J: Homeless services and transportation Well we certainly need them, so yes.

Measure K: Sales tax increase But apparently San Francisco can't have homeless services and transportation unless we also vote an additional sales tax. This is extortion. Let the tech billionaires pay for keeping the city whole! Apparently we can't do the obvious -- tax the people with the money -- so we have to do this. Very reluctantly, yes.

Measure L: Muni oversight This would let the supervisors appoint some of the members of the board of the transit system. Currently the mayor appoints all of them. Since nobody in their right mind thinks the mayor stands up for the interests of anyone but developers and tech money men, it would be helpful to introduce some popular friction into an otherwise closed system. Yes.

Measure M: Housing and development commission This aims to move some power over development away from the Mayor's Office because in recent seasons, the Mayor's Office has seemed to be shilling for developers rather than acting in the interests of all San Franciscans. Measure like this are what happens when people feel excluded from control over their homes. Yes.

Measure N: Non-citizen voting in School Board elections Sure -- remember whose kids are in the schools. These kids are our future. This is not a crazy San Francisco novelty: it happens in some parts of Maryland and Chicago. Yes.

Measure O: Office development in Hunters Point Lennar is a big corporate developer, long beloved of our mercenary city fathers going back to Willie Brown. It's always been their hope to develop the old Navy property and the city's last Black community by giving it away to Lennar. This would violate existing city rules which limit office development because developers never pay for the infrastructure and transit costs their projects create. The rest of us pay for that stuff while the corporations take the gravy. Lennar already won bounteous permits in Hunters Point. Enough. No.

Measure P: Competitive bidding for affordable housing San Francisco has an experienced cast of nonprofit housing developers based in our different communities such as Chinatown, the Mission, etc. This would require three bids for any city project, forcing groups that have managed to arrive at an intricate web of interconnections to compete. If there weren't three bids, a nonprofit housing project could not go forward.. Talk about the kind of over-regulation that conservatives (like the measure's conservative author Mark Farrell) usually rave against. It almost makes you think that the author doesn't want any nonprofit housing at all. No.

Measure Q: Tents on the sidewalk This is another Hate the Homeless measure. We vote on this sort of thing every few years. Street camping is already illegal -- but after all, we must Hate the Homeless. NO.

Measure R: Neighborhood crime unit Great, we've got a supervisor wanting us to vote to require the SFPD to focus on "quality of life" issues. That is, more Hate the Homeless. How about an initiative to disarm these killers on the loose among the communities of color? There's a bit of micro-managing I could get behind. NO.

Measure S: Hotel tax allocation We already tax hotel visits. Let's put some of that into housing homeless families. Yes.

Measure T: Lobbyist contributions Bars certain lobbyist contributions to candidates, though it is not clear whether many would escape its prohibitions. This kind of law often just moves money around. Still we have to try. Yes.

Measure U: Affordable housing requirements This would let developers off the hook for building as large a proportion of housing units for low income people as the current law requires -- and thus raise their profits. San Francisco is a profitable place to build. Make them recognize that the city's citizens retain some rights to control what they build and how many of us they can force out for their gain. NO.

Measure V: Sugary beverages tax We certainly should tax sodas! The beverage industry is trying to describe this as a "grocery tax". Sugar water is not my idea of groceries. This is coming; they can only hold it off for so long. Yes.

Measure W: Mansion tax This would raise the transfer tax on properties that sell for more than $5 million. I can't believe it would kill the buyers and sellers. Yes.

Measure X: Arts and industrial space retention San Francisco wouldn't be San Francisco if there were no place for the arts and small shops. But if the tech money gets its way, we'll have nothing but gleaming steel and orange paneled condos. This tries to help. Yes.

Measure RR: BART bonds I like BART (our subway). It's expensive, unless, like me, you are on senior fares, whereupon it is the best bargain around. It was designed for commuters from suburbs while we could really use more lines to get around town. But we need to fund its upkeep. Yes.

Part one: federal, state and local candidates.
Part two: state propositions

Monday, October 17, 2016

The worst ballot ever: part two, state propositions

The candidates on my crazy California ballot were the easy part. Here I'll pass along how I voted on the 17 state ballot measures. Yes, this is democracy gone berserk. There is no way to make informed choices on all of this. Worse, having just been out of the state for two months, I'm nowhere near as on top of these as I might be. But here goes:

Prop. 51: School bonds Since we've made it almost impossible to raise taxes, we issue bonds. The general election has reminded me how important education might be to preserving decency. Yes

And this little six-year-old said: "Because the other guy called someone a piggy, and you cannot be president if you call someone a piggy."

from Michelle Obama, Oct. 14, 2016

Prop. 52: Medi-Cal hospital fee This seems to be about making private hospitals pay their fair share. Yes

Prop. 53: Revenue bond vote This would make us vote on more items we know nothing about; longer ballots ahead. It isn't always comfortable, but in general we're smarter to delegate most governing to our legislators. No

Prop. 54: Legislative sunshine Makes the legislature publish what is in bills before votes and requires steaming video of all sessions. Yes though weakly. You can't entirely legislate transparency. If some want to play tricks, they'll find ways.

Prop. 55: Tax extension on the rich No brainer here. These are tax rates that already exist. We can't have the state we want unless it is paid for. Yes.

Prop. 56: Cigarette tax Hell, Yes!

Prop 57: Earlier parole This one has parts. It would open the possibility of parole for 30,000 non-violent felons and allow prison authorities to credit inmates with "good behavior." All fine and good, but it also shifts the decision on whether to try juveniles as adults from prosecutors to judges. That might turn out to be a significant reform as prosecutors have too many tools to get easy plea agreements as it stands. All these are baby steps toward dealing with a a racist, crazy-quilt system, but better than the status quo. Yes.

Prop. 58: English language learning This repeals one of California's racial backlash initiatives (Prop. 227) from the 1990s when the white electorate was trying to wish away the emerging majority of color. We effectively outlawed bilingual education with that one. These days we appreciate that bilingual education can be an effective strategy for ensuring that newcomer children learn in the public schools. About time! Yes.

Prop. 59: Overturning Citizens United Puts us on record as wanting the Supremes to allow regulation of corporate money in elections. No legal effect, but a cause about which reformers are passionate. Yes.

Prop. 60: Condoms in porn films This is the sort of thing that makes the state a national laughing stock. Rightly. Both Dems and GOPers think this is unnecessary, stupid law. We'll probably pass it. Not sure if I can bring myself to vote on it.

Prop. 61: Drug prices From the ads I've seen on TV, Big Pharma thinks this one might cost them. It enables the state to mandate that it pay no more for drugs than the Veterans Administration. Anything to nick Big Pharma. Yes.

Prop. 62: Death penalty repeal Finally something I know something about. Long time readers here will know I spent all of 2012 campaigning for a previous version and it lost narrowly. The death penalty is arbitrary (only about three county prosecutors call for it), crazy expensive, and inevitably racist in application. A federal judge who looked into it called it "dysfunctional" and "beyond repair." People realize this when they think about the reality that we have something like 750 men on death row and haven't executed any of them since 2006. Californians have had four more years to learn that the promise of retribution or closure embodied in the death penalty is cruel phony-baloney. Yes.

Prop. 63: Ammunition sales Most anything to restrict wider access to guns seems right to me. This is a step in the right direction. The law would require background checks for ammunition purchases and establish a system to get guns away from people with felonies or domestic violence orders. Yes.

Prop. 64: Marijuana legalization Gonna happen. About time no one goes to jail for pot. Yes.

Prop. 65: Carry out bags The plastic bag makers want us to help their polluting industry. This is a con. Ain't it great that we have a system in which, if you spend enough money, you can make us vote on anything? No.

Prop. 66: Death penalty enforcement Prosecutors strike back. Recognizing that sentiment against the death penalty is growing statewide, they want to try to resuscitate it. It is not that they are naturally blood thirsty (at least most of them.) But we have to understand how the "justice" system actually works. Those jury trials you see on TV are vanishingly rare. Most people charged with crimes make a plea bargain with the prosecutor for an agreed sentence rather than take the expense or risk of trial. Prosecutors love having the death penalty in their armory -- "take this plea or we'll make your offense a death case." That's powerful stuff. The so-called reforms in Prop. 66 won't work. I have great confidence that the capital defense lawyers will still be able to gum up the works -- and that California therefore will be no more likely to save money or execute offenders if this passes. Prosecutors don't need us to make their job easier. NO

Prop. 67: Plastic bag ban Now we're talking. San Franciscans have proved able to do without plastic bags; the rest of the state can too. This is what the plastic companies fear: we don't need their polluting product. Yes.

Having worked through these, I'm a little surprised how many I am voting "yes" on. That won't discourage the interests that put them on the ballot, but quite a few seem sensible or perhaps necessary because legislators can't or won't dare pass them the old-fashioned way.

Part one: federal, state and local candidates.
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