Monthly Archives: April 2008

Everything That’s Wrong With Washington

Is summed up in these four paragraphs:

Former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) is struggling a bit to adjust to life as a lobbyist.

“I took the Metro for the first time,” Lott told the Sleuth Thursday afternoon in the makeup room of MSNBC, where he and his new lobbying partner, former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), were fixin (as Lott says) to do a TV segment.

“He’s been standing in front of his house waiting for his car and driver,” laughed Breaux from the makeup chair, adding with a tinge of a low-country twang, “He’s learning how to hail a cab.”

(…)

“I haven’t paid for lunch in 30 years,” he joked

Men of the people ? Close to their constituents ? Ha !

Should Libertarians be Concerned About “Small” Abuses by the Government?

In my most recent post, I listed the names of the top 5 “porkers” in the House and the Senate according to CAGW’s 2008 edition of the Pig Book. I also listed the amount of pork the three leading candidates for president supported and named the ten members of the House which supported no pork at all. In all, the amount of pork barrel projects for fiscal 2008 totals $17.2 billion.

Though this figure seems to represent a very large amount of wasted taxpayer money, Jeff Molby (a reader of The Liberty Papers), pointed out that this figure represents a very small portion of the federal budget:

I was wondering when someone would post this. However, I was hoping you’d mention that the entire “pork list” accounts for only 0.6% of federal spending.

Every organization in the world wastes at least 0.6%, so this list is a distraction from the true problem.

And

Tell me, Stephen, if you were held captive, would you fight with your captor over the number of crumbs in each meal or would you instead focus on the bigger picture?

Yes, $17 billion is a ton of money. Now let’s assume we can wave a magic wand and make that waste disappear. Would that make any difference in our lives as libertarians? Would we not still live in a country with a $3 trillion federal budget? Would we not still live in country where a large majority of the people believe government should be interfering in all facets of our lives?

Yes, all problems must be attacked incrementally, but we need to focus on the right increments. If we’re to be successful in the long run, we need to teach people why government intervention, in and of itself, is bad. The “Pig Book” does not come close to addressing that.

Jeff is by no means the only one who believes that focusing on government waste as CAGW does is a “distraction from the true problem.” Libertarian presidential hopeful Bob Barr (who I am strongly considering supporting this election) has this statement about spending on his website:

Government spending at all levels is out of control. Most Americans understand the problem of “earmarks,” commonly used by pork-minded congressmen to buy votes. But while earmarks are an outrageous abuse of the taxpayer’s money, they account for a very small percentage of federal spending […]

[…]

The federal government must take the lead in making significant cuts in spending. Focusing on earmarks risks distracting attention from the broader problem of a government wildly wasting the money of hard-working Americans. Tens of billions of dollars in corporate welfare — essentially aid to dependent corporations — should be eliminated. Largesse for middle- and upper-income Americans, particularly so-called “entitlement” programs, must be cut. Billions in so-called defense spending, which protects America’s populous, prosperous allies rather than Americans, must be eliminated.

Jeff and Congressman Barr do have valid points here that we should not lose sight of the larger problems each have mentioned. My only disagreement is that I believe we can reduce or eliminate earmarks as part of pursuing these very lofty goals. If the problem of earmarks is understood by most Americans as Barr suggests, then why shouldn’t libertarians of all stripes contact their representatives and Senators, admonish them to sign the earmark reform pledge, and encourage their friends to do the same? If most Americans dislike this abuse of their tax dollars (however small), shouldn’t the issue of pork barrel spending be settled relatively quickly if those who are up for re-election feel the heat? Would it not be better to settle this issue while it’s relatively small so we can focus on the larger challenges to liberty?

Let’s face it; libertarians have not been especially successful in recent years in taking on the larger challenges to liberty. Rather than staying in our comfortable ideological corner debating amongst ourselves the finer points of libertarianism (or whatever other term one would like to use), we should seek out whatever small victories we can achieve. Big government did not happen overnight, nor will any progress toward smaller government.

We should not neglect the “small” abuses of government power anymore than we should the “large” abuses of government power. Suppose libertarians applied this “0.6% reasoning” to other issues which are important to most libertarians. If 0.6% of executions resulted in executing an innocent person, should libertarians turn a blind eye? If the chance of an innocent individual having his or her privacy invaded by the PATRIOT Act was only 0.6%, should libertarians stop being concerned about the potential threats to liberty by the PATRIOT Act? If the chances of a local city council taking someone’s home away using a perverse legal interpretation of the takings’ clause as in the Kelo vs. New London case were 0.6%, should we stop being bothered by the Kelo ruling?

Beyond the hypothetical 0.6% margin of government abuses, there are other real world examples which fall well below even this threshold. Many readers of The Liberty Papers are probably aware of the Cory Maye and Kathryn Johnson cases; both were innocent victims of police drug raids. What are the odds of anyone reading this post being an innocent victim of a police drug raid? In Radley Balko’s research paper Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America, he found that as many as 40,000 such raids occur each year. Blako studied police raids going back 25 years and found 315 “isolated incidents” of botched raids of innocent individuals or non-violent offenders. Based on Balko’s findings and if my math is correct*, the chances of an American being a victim of a botched police raid is roughly 300:1 million or 0.0003%.

Does this mean that Balko is not seeing the bigger issue concerning the war on (some) drugs by focusing on one small aspect of the problem which effects maybe 0.0003% of the population? Why doesn’t he focus on the fact that 53.5% of the prison population (to which Pew found 1 in 100 Americans behind bars in 2008) is there because of drug related offenses?

Whether we are talking about government waste or civil liberties violations, we should not ignore the excesses by the government (local, state, or federal) no matter how large or small. It’s not whether abuses by government are large or small but a matter of principle.
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The Speed Of Government

I’ve found something that the government does quickly. When you owe them taxes at this time of the year, they don’t waste time. I owed at the end of this year, and there was maybe a 3-4 day from the time we SENT the check and the day it cleared. That check cleared faster than giving it to a crackhead with a gambling problem…

…which is a lot like government, when you really think about it!

Right To Contract vs. “Human Rights”

Eugene Volokh writes about a case in New Mexico that demonstrates the extent to which the right to decide who you do business with has been eroded in the name of so-called anti-discrimination laws:

Elaine Huguenin co-owns Elane Photography with her husband. The bulk of Elane’s work is done by Elaine, though she subcontracts some of the work some of the time. Elane refused to photograph Vanessa Willock’s same-sex commitment ceremonies, and just today the New Mexico Human Rights Commission held that this violated state antidiscrimination law. Elane has been ordered to pay over $6600 in attorney’s fees and costs.

I haven’t seen any written statement of reasons, but the order must implicitly rest on two interpretations of state law: (1) This sort of photography company constitutes a “public accommodation,” defined by state law “any establishment that provides or offers its services, facilities, accommodations or goods to the public, but does not include a bona fide private club or other place or establishment that is by its nature and use distinctly private.” (2) A refusal to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony constitutes sexual orientation discrimination, which New Mexico law forbids. These may or may not be sensible interpretations of the statutory text. But the result seems to me to likely violate the First Amendment (though there’s no precedent precisely on point).

As Volokh points out, photography is an art form and the Human Rights Commission decision effectively says that the state can tell you what kind of art you can and cannot create. He goes on to point out, correctly I think, that several U.S. Supreme Court opinions make it clear that the state cannot compel you to endorse points of view that you disagee with and, arguably, by photographing a committment ceremony she finds personally offensive, this photographer would be endorsing something she does not choose to endorse.

More than that, though, this case points out the extent to which so-called “economic” rights, such as the right to decide who you do business with, have been eroded over the past 50 years. There is no reason that Ms. Huguenin should be forced to take on a job she doesn’t want to take. What if, instead of citing the same-sex nature of the ceremony, she has simply said she was too busy to take on the project ? Presumably, that would have been a legitimate reason to turn it down, and if that’s the case, then I see no reason why she should be forced to work for these people just because she doesn’t approve of their lifestyle.

Quote Of The Day: Michelle Obama Edition

Forget Jeremiah Wright.

Does Barack Obama agree with his wife ?

“If we don’t wake up as a nation with a new kind of leadership … for how we want this country to work, then we won’t get universal health care,” she said.

“The truth is, in order to get things like universal health care and a revamped education system, then someone is going to have to give up a piece of their pie so that someone else can have more.”

I may be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that song before.

H/T: QandO

Venezuelan Health Care System On Verge Of Collapse

Venezuela’s health care system, a place only Michael Moore could love:

Palacios, Venezuela’s largest public maternity hospital and once the nation’s beacon of neonatal care, has fallen on hard times. Half of the anesthesiologists and pediatricians on staff two years ago have quit. Basic equipment such as respirators, ultrasound monitors and incubators are either broken or scarce. Six of 12 birth rooms have been shut.

On one day last month, five newborns were crowded into one incubator, said Dr. Jesus Mendez Quijada, a psychiatrist and Palacios staff member who is a past president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation.

The deaths of the six infants “were not a case of bad luck, but the consequence of an accumulation of circumstances that have created this alarming situation,” Mendez said.

He and others say the problems at Concepcion Palacios are symptoms of a variety of ills that have beset the public healthcare system under leftist firebrand President Hugo Chavez. Cases of malaria nearly doubled between 1998, the year before Chavez took office, and 2007. Incidents of dengue fever more than doubled over the same period.

Poorly paid doctors regularly demonstrate at hospitals from Puerto La Cruz in the northeast to Maracay in the industrial heartland, demanding back pay and protesting the lack of equipment and supplies. Others are leaving in droves for Spain, Australia or the Middle East, where they make 10 times the $600 monthly average salary they earn in public hospitals.

Chavez has also been accused of appointing cronies to manage public health. Efforts to arrange an interview with Minister of Popular Power for Health Jesus Mantilla, who served with Chavez in the military, were unsuccessful last week.

Politics and polarization fuel the healthcare debate. Depending on who is speaking, Venezuela is either suffering from the pangs of a new dawn in socialist healthcare or from the monumental incompetence of top-level bureaucrats.

But even government officials acknowledge the public health system in recent months has been on the verge of collapse, evidenced by problems in maternity and postnatal care.

Since the mid-1990s, the death rate of women giving birth has risen 18%, to 59 in every 100,000 deliveries, according to UNICEF. That’s four times the rate in Chile. Venezuela’s infant mortality rate of 18 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2007 was down from 20.5 in 1998, but still double the rate of Chile and higher than other Latin American countries such as Colombia, Uruguay and Costa Rica.

Gonzalez, the university professor, fears that the situation could get worse because maternity hospitals such as Concepcion Palacios are having increasing difficulty finding young pediatricians to pursue neonatal specialty training due to low pay and lack of resources.

“It’s not that before Chavez things were great,” he said. “It’s that things have deteriorated.”

It’s often pointed out that socialism creates equality, but instead of making people equally rich, it makes them equally poor. It is important to look at absolute wealth, not relative wealth, of people within a society.

America is a land with only very mild socialism, but with a vibrant private sector that “raises all boats”. Venezuela is a land awash in oil profits, and with a government that wishes to take care of its citizens from cradle to grave.

Then why is it that the infant mortality rate is 3-4 times higher in the country that is oil-rich and desires to provide healthcare for all citizens? Why is it that Venezuela’s health care system is rife with doctors quitting, a lack of basic supplies and equipment, and a general dissatisfaction and worry from young expectant mothers as quoted in the story? All this while the “evil” capitalist nation enjoys living standards so high that our poorest citizens would be considered middle class or better in a place like Venezuela.

Americans are not by nature more economically-inclined than Venezuelans. In fact, watching Americans get the wool pulled over their eyes by politicians, all the while worrying about the latest antics of Britney Spears, while our educational system is the pariah of the free world, one can claim that we’re less well suited to survival in a free market. Yet we have an institutional history towards capitalism, and the last 400 years of American history have been in a cultural tradition of economic liberalism and individual rights. And that has made all the difference.

Venezuela has a clear path towards prosperity. Unfortunately, they’re currently headed the wrong direction down that path.

Quote Of The Day

The late Charlton Heston, back in 1987:

There’s no question that one of the most pernicious effects of modern society is the seeming impossibility of reversing the tendency of government to get bigger. It has under every administration, I guess, in the history of the Republic — certainly in this century. And despite all the protestations and brave assertions that if I’m elected we will cut big government, which has been included in the platforms of most men who ran for the presidency in the last 30 or 40 years, it doesn’t stop.

H/T: Hit&Run

A Timely Reminder

No matter what you think of John McCain, everything said in that video is entirely true and correct; and people should remember that whilst … I’ll be charitable and call it arguing… about politics for the next 7 months… and for the next forever for that matter.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Bob Barr’s Impact In 2008

The Right Wing Liberal argues that Bob Barr’s run as a Libertarian would, contrary to conventional wisdom, help the Republicans:

[T]he people who assume Barr will take votes from McCain are basing it on Ron Paul’s performance in the GOP primaries – and even more strangely, their assuming Barr can do better. However, Dr. Paul himself was getting absolutely nowhere until he made his opposition to the liberation of Iraq the be-all and end-all of his campaign. Those Paul supporters were never going to vote for John McCain. So, if Barr manages to cobble them all together, it won’t be at McCain’s expense.

Lest anyone think Barr will try to soft-pedal Iraq; he can’t. If he does, the Libertarians won’t nominate him. Don’t forget, ex-Democrat Mike Gravel is also an LP presidential candidate, and his anti-war history goes back to Vietnam. Barr, by contrast, has to explain his vote in favor of the use of force in Iraq in 2002 (roll call vote). Therefore, Barr has to be much louder in opposition to the Iraq mission, or he will not win the LP nomination. That loud opposition will also shut the door on any attempt to raid McCain voters.

The Democrats are an entirely different matter. Obama will be pulled left to keep more dovish voters from moving over to Barr. Given Barr’s 2002 vote, that won’t be too hard. What will be a problem are the paleo-conservatives who are so alienated from the Bush Administration that they’re willing to consider the Democrats (already, the folks at the Buchanan-inspired American Conservative are talking up Barack Obama). A Barr candidacy will suck up those Obamacan/Obamacon voters like a sponge. Senator Clinton will be in an even bigger pickle because of her 2002 Iraq vote. She’ll have much more trouble hanging on to the anti-war left in her own party.

At least as far as the anti-war voters are concerned, I think he’s got it right, but there are other elements of the Republican coalition where McCain is far from popular that Barr could potentially suck away.

And I speak from no small degree of knowledge, because I’m one of them.

I am a fiscally conservative, socially liberal, small-government libertarian Republican. Yes, I opposed the Iraq War and find the Bush Administration’s assertion of virtually unfettered Executive Department authority extremely troubling, but those aren’t necessarily the things that will motivate my vote in 2008.

If there’s anything about the last seven years that I find troubling, it’s the extent to which the Republicans have, under the leadership of George W. Bush, abandoned any semblance of believing in limited government. Instead we’ve gotten the No Child Left Behind Act, which increased the involvement of the Federal Government in a traditionally local function, the McCain-Feingold Act, which infringes on the First Amendment rights of people during the election process, the Medicare prescription drug plan, which increased the involvement of the Federal Government in health care, and warrentless wiretaps and all the other vestiges of the Patriot Act.

Yes, there are still Republicans who believe in limited government. A few of them, like John Shaddegg, are in leadership positions that may allow them to move the party back to it’s roots. For now, however, the Republican Party is clearly not a party of limited government —- and it’s nomination of John McCain proves that.

I’ve said before that there is no way I will vote for John McCain. It doesn’t matter who his Vice-Presidential nominee is, either, because the idea that a Vice-President has any influence over policy is, unless your name is Dick Cheney, absurd.

At least on the Presidential level, the Republicans have lost my vote this year, and if Barr is the LP nominee, he’ll have not only my vote but also my enthusiastic support. I suspect that there are other limited-government Republicans out there who feel the same way.

Originally posted at Below The Beltway

Sizing Up Bob Barr

Mark at Publius Endures takes a look at the possibility of Bob Barr as the Libertarian Party standard-bearer:

The first thing I would say is that the LP could do a lot worse than Congressman Barr. Although he most certainly had a less-than-libertarian track record in Congress on things ranging from the Drug War to gay rights, he has clearly experienced a change of heart on many or most of those issues. Many libertarians are rightly suspicious of this conversion.

I can say with a pretty strong degree of certainty that those suspicions are incorrect. Although I have no idea what the former Congressman personally thinks of gay rights on a local level these days, he has quite clearly come out against the Federal Marriage Amendment, and did so almost immediately upon its introduction- and before he joined the LP.

As others have noted, he has also been fairly open about the fact that he has changed his position completely on the War on Drugs. In addition, he is now an extremely vocal opponent of the Patriot Act.

Many libertarians have noted that although Barr, as a Congressman, took several significant steps to weaken the Act, those steps were horribly insufficient. While this is true, it’s worth noting that the Patriot Act was passed just weeks after 9/11, at a time when rational thinking was (understandably) almost impossible to come by; the emotions of that day were just too fresh in our memories. It was clear to most people that there had been horrible failures of government, and that those failures led to the attacks; thus, steps needed to be taken to prevent future attacks. For the average non-libertarian at the time (a group in which I include myself), and I believe, even for many scared libertarians, the Patriot Act seemed to be a strong step in that direction, regardless of its flaws. That Barr – at a time when he wasn’t even a libertarian (small “l” or otherwise) – was one of the few people rational enough to see that it went too far and needed to be pulled back is to me an extremely strong argument in his favor.

Moreover, Barr has done an extraordinary amount of work to try and weaken or end the Patriot Act since he left Congress. His dedication to civil liberties in recent years has been far more than just a token effort done to bolster his libertarian credentials; frankly, his record on that front in recent years is something that ought to be the envy of just about every single libertarian and Progressive.

(…)

On balance, I believe Barr will be a more credible proponent of liberty than Ron Paul was, although he will lack the glamor and media attention that come with a run in a highly competitive, high-profile Republican primary campaign.

Regarding the Iraq War, Barr will be able to speak in a knowledgeable way that Ron Paul could not, which will give him far more credibility on the issue than Paul was able to get outside of anti-war activist circles. As such, he will be much less susceptible to charges of just being “anti-troop” or of simply “blaming America first.”

In addition, he will not have the obsession with the Federal Reserve that Paul had, which hurt his ability to appeal to mainstream voters.

On gun rights, there are few people in the country who can speak with greater credibility than Congressman Barr.

Sounds good to me.

Can This Marriage Be Saved ?

Reason’s David Weigel takes a look at the increasingly tenuous relationship between libertarians and the Republican Party:

[Ron] Paul’s candidacy—which drew the eye-rolling treatment from McCain, Rudolph Giuliani, and “serious” conservatives nationwide—showed just how marginalized libertarianism has become in the party of Barry Goldwater. Paul’s lonely apostasy on foreign policy was greeted with hoots of derision on one debate stage after another. His calls for abolishing the Internal Revenue Service and hacking back the federal bureaucracy rolled right off the standard-bearers of a party that retook the House of Representatives in 1994 on a platform of reducing government.

Yet despite raising $30 million, Paul and his limited-government supporters got their clocks cleaned by Huckabee and the social cons, who were treated with much more deference by eventual nominee McCain and the party establishment. Twenty-seven years after Ronald Reagan famously said that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” the GOP’s appetite for rolling back the regulatory state appears as dead as the era of federal budget surpluses. Even former revolutionary Newt Gingrich agrees. “The Republican Party cannot win over time as the permanently angry anti-government party,” he writes in his latest book, Real Change.

Not only that, and ironically considering how badly Ron Paul actually did in the Republican primaries, some are actually blaming libertarian Republicans for the triumph of John McCain:

The remaining libertarians in Reagan’s shrinking big tent aren’t just being ignored or marginalized; they’re being blamed for the Reagan coalition’s crackup. While John McCain was heading toward the nomination in January, The Weekly Standard published an online piece by the political scientists Benjamin and Jenna Silber Storey slamming McCain’s critics as “strict free-market” ideologues whose rigidity jeopardized the conservative movement. “The moral vacuity of dogmatic libertarianism is poisonous to public life,” the Storeys wrote. “Conservatives who forget that the free market is properly a piece of policy rather than an ideological end-in-itself not only obscure the importance of individual virtue, they undermine it.”

Intentionally or not, the blame-economists argument mirrors a popular critique of George W. Bush from the progressive left: that his presidency is an example of free marketeers run amok. In her best-selling book Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein lays the original sin of Bushite misgovernance at the feet of an unlikely source: Nobel Prize–winning economist Milton Friedman, the “grand guru of the movement for unfettered capitalism and the man credited with writing the rulebook for the contemporary hypermobile global economy.” Never mind that Friedman, in his 10th decade on the planet, exerted little or no influence on the free-spending, government-growing Bush administration.

As the 2008 primary season draws to a close, it’s fairly clear that the libertarian/Goldwater tradition of the Republican Party is, effectively, dead.

And there doesn’t seem to be much hope of reviving it.

As unlikely as it might have seemed three months ago, there is now at least an even chance that John McCain could win the General Election in November, especially if the Democratic crackup continues apace. If that happens, then the Republican Party will be taken in a direction that seems hard to predict, but it’s not one that is likely to be friendly to liberty.

If McCain loses, then the people who will pick up the pieces won’t be the small band of Ron Paul supporters, it will be the people who voted for guys like Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, neither one of whom is close to a libertarian agenda.

For the first time since the 1964 election, it seems quite apparent that libertarians will not have a home in either major political party.

Quote Of The Day

From Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail:

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask, “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality …

There are some instances when a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I was arrested Friday on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong with an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade, but when the ordinance is used to preserve segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest, then it becomes unjust.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience.

We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobeying these anti-religious laws …

I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are presently misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America. Before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson scratched across the pages of history the majestic word of the Declaration of Independence, we were here …If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands …

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