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“Hooray For Obamacare”: The Great Conservative Nightmare Has Come True, And It’s A Beautiful Thing

Was I on the edge of my seat, waiting for the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare subsidies? No — I was pacing the room, too nervous to sit, worried that the court would use one sloppily worded sentence to deprive millions of health insurance, condemn tens of thousands to financial ruin, and send thousands to premature death.

It didn’t. And that means that the big distractions — the teething problems of the website, the objectively ludicrous but nonetheless menacing attempts at legal sabotage — are behind us, and we can focus on the reality of health reform. The Affordable Care Act is now in its second year of full operation; how’s it doing?

The answer is, better than even many supporters realize.

Start with the act’s most basic purpose, to cover the previously uninsured. Opponents of the law insisted that it would actually reduce coverage; in reality, around 15 million Americans have gained insurance.

But isn’t that a very partial success, with millions still uncovered? Well, many of those still uninsured are in that position because their state governments have refused to let the federal government enroll them in Medicaid.

Beyond that, you need to realize that the law was never intended or expected to cover everyone. Undocumented immigrants aren’t eligible, and any system that doesn’t enroll people automatically will see some of the population fall through the cracks. Massachusetts has had guaranteed health coverage for almost a decade, but 5 percent of its nonelderly adult population remains uninsured.

Suppose we use 5 percent uninsured as a benchmark. How much progress have we made toward getting there? In states that have implemented the act in full and expanded Medicaid, data from the Urban Institute show the uninsured falling from more than 16 percent to just 7.5 percent — that is, in year two we’re already around 80 percent of the way there. Most of the way with the A.C.A.!

But how good is that coverage? Cheaper plans under the law do have relatively large deductibles and impose significant out-of-pocket costs. Still, the plans are vastly better than no coverage at all, or the bare-bones plans that the act made illegal. The newly insured have seen a sharp drop in health-related financial distress, and report a high degree of satisfaction with their coverage.

What about costs? In 2013 there were dire warnings about a looming “rate shock”; instead, premiums came in well below expectations. In 2014 the usual suspects declared that huge premium increases were looming for 2015; the actual rise was just 2 percent. There was another flurry of scare stories about rate hikes earlier this year, but as more information comes in it looks as if premium increases for 2016 will be bigger than for this year but still modest by historical standards — which means that premiums remain much lower than expected.

And there has also been a sharp slowdown in the growth of overall health spending, which is probably due in part to the cost-control measures, largely aimed at Medicare, that were also an important part of health reform.

What about economic side effects? One of the many, many Republican votes against Obamacare involved passing something called the Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act, and opponents have consistently warned that helping Americans afford health care would lead to economic doom. But there’s no job-killing in the data: The U.S. economy has added more than 240,000 jobs a month on average since Obamacare went into effect, its biggest gains since the 1990s.

Finally, what about claims that health reform would cause the budget deficit to explode? In reality, the deficit has continued to decline, and the Congressional Budget Office recently reaffirmed its conclusion that repealing Obamacare would increase, not reduce, the deficit.

Put all these things together, and what you have is a portrait of policy triumph — a law that, despite everything its opponents have done to undermine it, is achieving its goals, costing less than expected, and making the lives of millions of Americans better and more secure.

Now, you might wonder why a law that works so well and does so much good is the object of so much political venom — venom that is, by the way, on full display in Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion, with its rants against “interpretive jiggery-pokery.” But what conservatives have always feared about health reform is the possibility that it might succeed, and in so doing remind voters that sometimes government action can improve ordinary Americans’ lives.

That’s why the right went all out to destroy the Clinton health plan in 1993, and tried to do the same to the Affordable Care Act. But Obamacare has survived, it’s here, and it’s working. The great conservative nightmare has come true. And it’s a beautiful thing.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 25, 2015

June 26, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, King v Burwell, Uninsured | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Same Priorities She’s Emphasizing Now”: What Hillary Said About Paid Leave, Child Care, Inequality — Yesterday And 20 Years Ago

Following Hillary Clinton’s first major campaign speech on Saturday, purveyors of conventional wisdom have assured us again that she is tacking toward the left to deflect her challengers and mollify her party’s liberal base. Such assertions usually hint that Clinton is not progressive herself, but merely swayed that way by polls and consultants.

On the evening before her big event in Four Freedoms Park, New York’s memorial to its favorite son, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, I picked up a copy of her 1996 bestseller, It Takes A Village. (While many journalists once thumbed through it, few seem to remember its contents.) Published during an era when the nation showed few signs of turning leftward, Clinton’s first book offered pithy arguments for the same priorities she is emphasizing now. Consider the views she expressed on family leave — and, in particular, the limitations of the law signed by her husband in 1993:

As I have mentioned, the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees unpaid leave to employees in firms with more than fifty workers. That is a good beginning. Many parents, however, cannot afford to forgo pay for even a few weeks, and very few employers in America offer paid maternity and paternity leave….

Other countries have figured out that honoring the family by giving it adequate time for caregiving is not only right for the family and smart for society but good for employers, who reap the benefits of workers’ increased loyalty and peace of mind. The Germans, for example, guarantee working mothers fourteen weeks’ maternity leave (six weeks before and eight weeks after delivery) at full salary…

Other European countries provide similarly generous leave, some of them to fathers as well as mothers. In Sweden, for example, couples receive fifteen months of job-guaranteed, paid leave to share between them…

As First Lady, Clinton obviously was in no position to demand that her husband’s administration (or the Republican-dominated Congress) institute paid family leave, but her own opinion was clear enough. So was her view of early childhood education, another current issue that she highlighted on Saturday:

Imagine a country in which nearly all children between the ages of three and five attend preschool in sparkling classrooms, with teachers recruited and trained as child care professionals. Imagine a country that conceives of child care as a program to “welcome” children into the larger community and “awaken” their potential for learning and growing.

It may sound too good to be true, but it’s not….More than 90 percent of French children between ages three and five attend free or inexpensive preschools called écoles maternelles…

While I was in France, I had conversations with a number of political leaders, from Socialists to Conservatives. “How,” I asked, “can you transcend your political differences and come to an agreement on the issue of government-subsidized child care?” One after another of them looked at me in astonishment. “How can you not invest in children and expect to have a healthy country?” was the reply I heard over and over again.

Finally, Clinton drew sharp attention to the social instabilities of the post-industrial American economy and the role of government in redressing what she called a “crisis.” Observing that “long-established expectations about doing business have given way under the pressures of the modern economy,” she warned bluntly:

Too many companies, especially large ones, are driven more and more narrowly by the need to ensure that investors get good quarterly returns and to justify executives’ high salaries. Too often, this means that they view most employees as costs, not investments, and that they expend less and less concern on job training, employee profit sharing, family-friendly policies…or even fair pay raises that share with workers – not to mention their families and communities – gains from productivity and profits…

Despite record profits for many companies, the gap in income between top executives and the average worker has widened dramatically….This growing inequality of incomes has serious implications for our children.

She went on to again praise Germany, where “there is a general consensus that government and business should play a role in evening out inequities in the free market system” — and where higher base wages, universal health care, and superb job training guaranteed “a distribution of income that is not so skewed as ours is.”

Writing 20 years ago, when President Clinton was running for re-election against the odds, Hillary hedged her message — and yet she was prescient in addressing the harms of an increasingly unfair economy. What she said then undergirds what she is still saying, more and more forcefully, in this campaign.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, June 15, 2015

June 16, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Economic Inequality, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Joe Biden Should Run”: It Can Only Make The Democratic Party Better

On the night of October 11, 2012, Barack Obama loped across the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base, looking as if he were trying hard not to grin. It was a change of mood; eight days earlier, he had done poorly in his first Presidential debate with Mitt Romney, and the feeling in his campaign was gloomy. But, that evening, Vice-President Joe Biden had had his first debate with Paul Ryan, during which he called out the Romney campaign on its “malarkey.” Some commentators thought that he had looked foolish—he’d laughed a lot, and when Biden laughs, he throws back his head. (Mark Salter, the Republican operative, called the Obama-Biden debate combination “sleepy cop/crystal-meth cop.”) But even many of the critics thought that he’d won. He had reminded a lot of people of why they wanted a Democrat in the White House, particularly on questions like income inequality. One of those people seems to have been Obama himself. He’d watched the debate on Air Force One and, though there wasn’t a plan for him to speak to reporters, he swung over to where they were standing.

“I’m going to make a special point of saying that I thought Joe Biden was terrific tonight,” the President said. “I could not be prouder of him. I thought he made a very strong case. I really think that his passion for making sure that the economy grows for the middle class came through. So I’m very proud of him.”

Obama also seemed, in the days to come, more proud of himself. Having Biden with him on the ticket in 2012 helped him win and, it seemed, helped make him a better President when he did. That was the case when what was scoffed at as yet another instance of Bidenic indiscipline—getting ahead of his boss by saying that he was “absolutely comfortable” with full legal recognition of same-sex marriage—led Obama, too, to say what he actually believed, and arrive at a place where he felt proud to be.

The idea that a person could make those around him better came up again this past weekend, when Obama delivered the eulogy for Biden’s son, Beau, who had died of brain cancer, at the age of forty-six. The Vice-President, by all accounts, was hit hard by his son’s death. In 1973, he had taken his Senate oath next to the hospital bed where Beau lay, at age three, after surviving the car crash that had killed Biden’s wife and daughter. He was also the son who had served in the reserves in Iraq, been elected as the district attorney of Delaware, and one day, perhaps, could go even further in politics than his father had. “He even looked and sounded like Joe, although I think Joe would be first to acknowledge that Beau was an upgrade—Joe 2.0,” Obama said. He added, “That’s who Beau was. Someone who cared. Someone who charmed you, and disarmed you, and put you at ease. When he’d have to attend a fancy fund-raiser with people who took themselves way too seriously, he’d walk over to you and whisper something wildly inappropriate in your ear.” (Joe Biden, for his part, has been known to whisper wildly inappropriate things, but when he was, for example, caught on an open mic telling Obama that the passage of the Affordable Care Act was “a big fucking deal,” he was reminding Obama that he should take something seriously.) At the funeral, Obama said that he loved Biden. The two have a weekly lunch; the most recent one was on Wednesday, Biden’s first day back at work since Beau’s death.

But Obama is almost done being President. Who else can Biden make better? Put another way, why doesn’t Biden run for President in 2016? Hillary Clinton may not want him to. But it might do her good, even if she is, as everyone says, the inevitable candidate. And it can only make the Democratic Party better.

Last year, Evan Osnos spoke to the Vice-President for a New Yorker Profile, and, Osnos wrote, “I asked Biden how he will respond if opponents say he is too old to be President. ‘I think it’s totally legitimate for people to raise it,’ he said. ‘And I’ll just say, Look at me. Decide.’ ’’ Biden is seventy-two. Hillary Clinton is sixty-seven. More tellingly, Biden added, “I watched my father. I made a mistake in encouraging him to retire. I just think as long as you think you can do it and you’re physically healthy….”

The Clintons have become very wealthy as a result of their book deals, speaking fees, and other endeavors—they have made thirty million dollars just since Hillary left the State Department. (Bill Clinton recently said that he would consider giving up paid speeches—after Hillary wins.) Joe Biden is not a very wealthy man. By one estimate, his net worth is between thirty-nine thousand and eight hundred thousand dollars; by another, with his mortgage figured in, it is a negative number. (Biden: “But I got a great pension and I got a good salary!”) Which way does that cut, for each of them? Perhaps it makes a Biden campaign less feasible, in that he has less flexibility; it might also make it more desirable, depending on one’s definition of independence.

Last week, Hillary Clinton almost lost to Bernie Sanders in a Wisconsin straw poll (the tally was forty-nine per cent to forty-one), but Sanders, who can reasonably be called a socialist, is not likely to be the one who makes clear what her real general-election vulnerabilities are, or how to overcome them. Biden would. He may have no chance of winning. But he is a more plausible candidate than anyone Clinton is facing now, and perhaps the best answer to the fear that, as the Republicans fight it out among themselves, she will drift through until the convention, with a stray glance at Martin O’Malley, and enter the general election unprepared for the fight. Obama was right about Biden’s debate with Ryan: rewatching it is a good reminder of his ability to speak plainly and in detail about Democratic economic policies—something that involves more than just throwing out lines about level playing fields. (Republicans have been doing that, too.) Maybe Hillary Clinton, in a speech she’s scheduled to give on Saturday, will find a way to make those themes work for her. She hasn’t yet.

And, although she served four years as Secretary of State, Biden has a deeper background in foreign policy, with years as a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a skepticism about things like troop deployments that might appeal to noninterventionists—who can be found across the spectrum. His 2006 proposal for Iraq—reshaping the country into a loose three-part federation—also much derided, does not, in light of recent events, look all that bad. (As it is, a sectarian Shiite-dominated central government unwilling to give a voice or commit resources to Sunni and Kurdish regions has contributed to the rise of ISIS.)

But how, might one ask, could Biden win in a general election when Obama, his boss, is so unpopular? That question points to what may be one of the most interesting results of having Biden in the race. Hillary Clinton would have to decide where she really stands on the Obama Presidency, in all its aspects, and say what she thinks about it. (He was her boss, too.) Her advisers have made it clear that she’s counting on the Obama coalition; how tied are their votes to the Obama legacy? Clinton needs a response that doesn’t just involve hinting that everything would have been better if she’d been elected in 2008. She tried out some jabs at Obama, in an interview with the Atlantic last August, in which, quoting one of his mantras, she said, “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” and called his choices on Syria a “failure.” Her spokesman said afterward that she hadn’t meant to criticize the President, and looked forward “to hugging it out.” The message there, whatever it was, got muddled. Biden’s presence might clarify it, and present some interesting choices to Democratic primary voters—and to Obama, who might not endorse anyone before the nomination, but could give a few hints of his preference along the way.

The President, in his eulogy, spoke to Beau Biden’s children. “To Natalie and Hunter, there aren’t words big enough to describe how much your dad loved you, how much he loved your mom. But I will tell you what, Michelle and I and Sasha and Malia, we’ve become part of the Biden clan. We’re honorary members now. And the Biden family rule applies. We’re always here for you, we always will be—my word as a Biden.” That might have some resonance for their grandfather, as well. Why not run?

 

By: Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, June 12, 2015

June 14, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Is Rubio Really Hillary’s ‘Nightmare’?”: If This Is Her Nightmare, Hillary Is Getting A Good Night’s Sleep

Well, 14 more Republicans announced their candidacies, but clearly, Marco Rubio was the It Boy on the Republican side this week. It started last weekend with a Times article advancing the idea that Rubio as the GOP nominee is a “scary thought” for Democrats for all the reasons you can reckon on your own—he’s Latino, he’s young, he’s charismatic, he has a “million-dollar smile” (not kidding!), and of course he might be able to defeat her in “vital” Florida with its 29 electoral votes.

Mmmm, okay. He is most certainly Latino and young, not much arguing with those. He is reasonably charismatic. He has about a $627,000 smile, which isn’t a million (a little too on the boyish and elfin sides to project the proper Reaganesque, enemy-smiting mien) but isn’t peanuts.

I would add other and I think even more substantive claims for him. He’s not stupid, in policy terms, and more to the point isn’t intentionally stupid, constantly playing down to his most rigid base’s lowest common denominator. He does that only about 78 percent of the time, which in the context of today’s GOP is almost impressive. I could picture a President Rubio dragging the party to a couple of places where most of it really would prefer not to go. Not a lot of places, but a couple, which is two more than most of them would do.

But is Rubio really Clinton’s nightmare candidate? First of all, let’s say this. Elections are far less about the dollar value of smiles and whether a candidate colors her hair than journalists would like to think. They’re more about what the political scientists call “the fundamentals,” by which they mainly mean the economy. If the economy is still chugging along in the fall of 2016, creating 225,000 jobs a month—and by that time, if the streak holds, wages would probably be going up as well—then nobody is Clinton’s nightmare. All right, two other ifs: no terrorist attack, and no giant, quid-pro-quo Clinton scandal. If all that holds the only drama ought to be whether she tops 350 electoral votes.

But if all that doesn’t hold, then we have a race. I suppose Rubio is as plausible as any of them and more than most of them. But let’s stop and take a look at the bases of these nightmare claims. There are two.

The first is that he’ll compete with her among Latinos. The data point you’ll often see invoked here is that when first running for Senate in 2010, Rubio drew 55 percent of the Latino vote against two opponents. That he did. But here are two reasons that impressive number doesn’t necessarily translate to a presidential race.

Number one, neither of his opponents that year had much going for them among Latinos. Independent Charlie Crist wasn’t really trusted by anyone because of his party flipping, and Democrat Kendrick Meek just never fired, as they say in the horse-racing business. Number two, voters understand, Latino voters included, that a vote for senator and a vote for president aren’t the same kind of vote. For the Senate, independent and even a few Democratic Latinos would be more willing to cast an “identity” vote, just for the sake of seeing one of their own (more or less their own, since there are many different kinds of Latinos in Florida) in the Senate. The candidate’s positions matter, of course, but if voters know he’s only one of 100 in a body that never does much anyway, positions aren’t dispositive.

But a presidential vote is a different thing. There, you’d better believe positions matter. And here, Rubio has the same problems with Latino voters all the Republicans have.

Spend a few minutes on this web page, brought to you by the Seattle-based Latino Decisions. The polling I’m about to cite is from last November, so things may have changed. But still. It’s a bucket of icy water on the nightmare thesis.

Rubio favorable-unfavorable among Latinos: 31-36. Rubio favorable-unfavorable among Latinos in Florida: 39-42. In seven states with sizable Latino voting blocs, Rubio was underwater in six of them (all but Texas). Oh, and in six of the seven states (all but Florida), Clinton’s favorable numbers among Latinos were more than twice Rubio’s.

Why would this be? Are Latinos uniquely immune to the charms of high dollar-value smiles? No. The answer is his positions. Latinos support a path to citizenship, President Obama’s executive actions, and Obamacare. Rubio opposes them all. Those positions, especially on immigration, are deal breakers for a big majority of Latino voters, most of whom don’t feel an intense natural bonhomie for Cuban-Americans, who’ve always been seen to occupy a different political space from Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Central Americans.

Now as I say that was last November. Things have probably shifted a little in his direction since then, just because some people may have forgotten his lame immigration reversal. I called four pollsters to try to get current numbers on Clinton vs. Rubio head-to-head among Latinos, but oddly, none had anything current based on large enough sample sizes. If we start to see such numbers and Rubio is with 15 points or so, then Clinton should worry a little. But the overall numbers, in which she has essentially the same narrow-ish lead over Rubio that she has over everyone else, don’t suggest that he’s doing much better among the small subsets of Latinos in these polls than any other Republican is.

And now, to our second point (remember, there was a second point way up there!): “vital” Florida. I really wish people who write about politics would bother to understand the electoral map. This is a longer conversation and another column but please remember: Florida is vital to Republicans, but it’s gravy for Democrats. Obama won Florida in 2012, but if he’d lost it, he’d still have received 303 electoral votes.

Think of it this way: The Republican can win all the normal red states plus the violet quartet of Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada, as well as Iowa and New Hampshire—two states that have gone Republican just once each since 1992—and still have only 262 electoral votes. The Democrat can afford to lose Florida and still have a number of paths to 270. The Republican cannot.

Rubio has some strengths the others don’t. But if all this adds up to a nightmare, I’d think Clinton is sleeping pretty well at night.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 29, 2015

May 30, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Whatever Happened To Antitrust?”: Ambushed By The Giant Companies It Was Designed To Contain

Last week’s settlement between the Justice Department and five giant banks reveals the appalling weakness of modern antitrust.

The banks had engaged in the biggest price-fixing conspiracy in modern history. Their self-described “cartel” used an exclusive electronic chat room and coded language to manipulate the $5.3 trillion-a-day currency exchange market. It was a “brazen display of collusion” that went on for years, said Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

But there will be no trial, no executive will go to jail, the banks can continue to gamble in the same currency markets, and the fines – although large – are a fraction of the banks’ potential gains and will be treated by the banks as costs of doing business.

America used to have antitrust laws that permanently stopped corporations from monopolizing markets, and often broke up the biggest culprits.

No longer. Now, giant corporations are taking over the economy – and they’re busily weakening antitrust enforcement.

The result has been higher prices for the many, and higher profits for the few. It’s a hidden upward redistribution from the majority of Americans to corporate executives and wealthy shareholders.

Wall Street’s five largest banks now account for 44 percent of America’s banking assets – up from about 25 percent before the crash of 2008 and 10 percent in 1990. That means higher fees and interest rates on loans, as well as a greater risk of another “too-big-to-fail” bailout.

But politicians don’t dare bust them up because Wall Street pays part of their campaign expenses.

Similar upward distributions are occurring elsewhere in the economy.

Americans spends far more on medications per person than do citizens in any other developed country, even though the typical American takes fewer prescription drugs. A big reason is the power of pharmaceutical companies to keep their patents going way beyond the twenty years they’re supposed to run.

Drug companies pay the makers of generic drugs to delay cheaper versions. Such “pay-for-delay” agreements are illegal in other advanced economies, but antitrust enforcement hasn’t laid a finger on them in America. They cost you and me an estimated $3.5 billion a year.

Or consider health insurance. Decades ago health insurers wangled from Congress an exemption to the antitrust laws that allowed them to fix prices, allocate markets, and collude over the terms of coverage, on the assumption they’d be regulated by state insurance commissioners.

But America’s giant insurers outgrew state regulation. Consolidating into a few large national firms and operating across many different states, they’ve gained considerable economic and political power.

Why does the United States have the highest broadband prices among advanced nations and the slowest speeds?

Because more than 80 percent of Americans have no choice but to rely on their local cable company for high capacity wired data connections to the Internet – usually Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, or Time-Warner. And these corporations are among the most politically potent in America (although, thankfully, not powerful enough to grease the merger of Comcast with Time-Warner).

Have you wondered why your airline ticket prices have remained so high even though the cost of jet fuel has plummeted 40 percent?

Because U.S. airlines have consolidated into a handful of giant carriers that divide up routes and collude on fares. In 2005 the U.S. had nine major airlines. Now we have just four. And all are politically well-connected.

Why does food cost so much? Because the four largest food companies control 82 percent of beef packing, 85 percent of soybean processing, 63 percent of pork packing, and 53 percent of chicken processing.

Monsanto alone owns the key genetic traits to more than 90 percent of the soybeans planted by farmers in the United States, and 80 percent of the corn.

Big Agribusiness wants to keep it this way.

Google’s search engine is so dominant “google” has become a verb. Three years ago the staff of the Federal Trade Commission recommended suing Google for “conduct [that] has resulted – and will result – in real harm to consumers and to innovation.”

The commissioners decided against the lawsuit, perhaps because Google is also the biggest lobbyist in Washington.

The list goes on, industry after industry, across the economy.

Antitrust has been ambushed by the giant companies it was designed to contain.

Congress has squeezed the budgets of the antitrust division of the Justice Department and the bureau of competition of the Federal Trade Commission. Politically-powerful interests have squelched major investigations and lawsuits. Right-wing judges have stopped or shrunk the few cases that get through.

We’re now in a new gilded age of wealth and power similar to the first gilded age when the nation’s antitrust laws were enacted. But unlike then, today’s biggest corporations have enough political clout to neuter antitrust.

Conservatives rhapsodize about the “free market” and condemn government intrusion. Yet the market is rigged. And unless government unrigs it through bold antitrust action to restore competition, the upward distributions hidden inside the “free market” will become even larger.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, May 24, 2015

May 26, 2015 Posted by | Antitrust, Big Banks, Corporations | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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