Monday, February 29, 2016
In the din of hypocrisy and Republican senatorial obstruction surrounding the death of Scalia, I'd sorta forgotten how much of a corporate shill he was, how predictably he defended them against class action suits, among other things. Charlie didn't, though:
... If you think that the Republican intransigence on this issue is strictly a matter of being against anything the president supports, or that it's strictly a matter of loony constitutional theorizing, you're missing half the picture. They're stalling because the people who write them the checks need a reliable Supreme Court so that they can make more money and write more checks. Scalia was someone they could count on...In my upcoming newspaper column, I link to a piece that's also mentioned in Pierce's (I like that we think alike), by a Harvard law professor who clerked for Scalia. It's worth a read.
... The enemy took many forms. Women’s rights. Racial justice. Economic equality. Environmental protection. The “homosexual agenda,” as he called it. Intellectuals and universities. The questioning of authority and privilege. Ambiguity. Foreignness. Social change. Climate research. The modern world, in all its beauty and complexity and fragility.
Most of all, the enemy was to be found in judges who believe decency and compassion are central to their jobs, not weaknesses to be extinguished. Who refuse to dehumanize people and treat them as pawns in some Manichean struggle of good versus evil, us versus them. Who decline to make their intelligence and verbal gifts into instruments of cruelty and persecution and infinite scorn...Two things are certain: President Obama will nominate someone, and whether or not Rs allow a hearing, that person will not be approved (probably not even brought to vote.) It's also predictable that, like his previous ones, any nominee put forth by Obama will be eminently qualifed.
When Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, among others, say the system is rigged, it's undeniable that they're right. It's an insider's game, where the real players are the moneyed people and corporations, the politicians (especially, but not exclusively, of the Republican variety) are their pawns, and voters are their playthings. As if there weren't plenty of proof already out there, Scalia's death makes it clearer than ever.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
I'm pretty sure I've seen every X-files episode, and I watched all the new ones. I'm as able to suspend disbelief as well as anyone, as long as there's a certain internal consistency within the make-believe.
Moreover, working at the VA during my surgical residency, I've seen men with tracheostomies from their throat cancer due to cigarettes, smoking through their stomas.
But this, CSM smoking through his trake while talking normally? Not a thing. Anatomically. It's not a thing. You can talk, you can inhale normally. You inhale through the hole, you can't talk. Not a thing.
That is all. Except for the ending.
Monday, February 22, 2016
This article about Mitch McConnel's decision to block any court nominee starts with the most important background to the Rs obstructionism from Day One of Obama's presidency. "Good of the country" be damned. Pitching in to fix what our party's president broke? Not in a million (or eight but hopefully four) years!
In early 2009, as Barack Obama was about to take office, Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republican minority in the Senate, assembled his caucus at a retreat in West Virginia. There, he laid out his strategy for taking on the new president, who was sweeping into office on a tide of popularity, historical resonance and great expectations barely diminished by the economic free fall then underway.
The key, Mr. McConnell told his fellow Republicans, was to stymie and undermine Mr. Obama, but to do so in subtle ways. As one of the senators present, Robert F. Bennett of Utah, later recalled to me: “Mitch said, ‘We have a new president with an approval rating in the 70 percent area. We do not take him on frontally. We find issues where we can win, and we begin to take him down, one issue at a time. We create an inventory of losses, so it’s Obama lost on this, Obama lost on that. And we wait for the time where the image has been damaged to the point where we can take him on.’ ” ...
... The resistance from Mr. McConnell has had an enormous influence on the shape of Obama’s presidency. It has limited the president’s accomplishments and denied him the mantle of the postpartisan unifier he sought back in 2008. But it has also brought the Senate, the institution to which Mr. McConnell has devoted his life, close to rupture...
... The best way to understand Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr. has been to recognize that he is not a conservative ideologue, but rather the epitome of the permanent campaign of Washington: What matters most isn’t so much what you do in office, but if you can win again...The article details many examples of McConnell's cynicism; that it's always been about power -- his own and his party's -- and that policy, no matter the impact on the country, was immaterial.
... Mr. McConnell intuited, shrewdly, that if he could bottle things up in Washington with the filibuster and other tactics, the blame for the gridlock would fall mostly to the Democrats — the party in the White House. Not to mention that Mr. Obama had campaigned on the promise of transcending Washington’s divides, which made partisan dysfunction look like a personal failure...It's not unlike the kid who killed his parents and threw himself on of the mercy of the courts, on the grounds that he was an orphan. Block everything they can, allow no bipartisanship whatsoever, then point to Obama as a failure. And it's worked nearly to perfection, helped by the constant propagandizing and dishonest clamor from Fox "news" and the rest of the RWS™.
Was this unprecedented level of cynical destruction simply because the man who's the perfect example of the worst sort of entrenched Washington power became majority leader? Would it have happened with any Democratic president? Or might it have something to do with the skin color of the president, and the fact that his primary Senate opponent hails from Kentucky?
Saturday, February 20, 2016
I guess this is a form of liberalism of some sort. To the extent that it is, it depresses and embarasses me. College campuses have gone soft and soft-headed. It's been going on for some time, and I have nothing new to say about it. But my son went to Brown, the subject here, and my wife to Harvard. I went to a "Little Ivy League" school. I don't recall feeling micro-aggressed or aggrieved that people appeared to speak on campus with whom I disagreed. When Robert McNamara was given an honorary degree at my graduation, some classmates stood up and turned their backs. One refused to accept his diploma. But no one shouted anyone down. (Interestingly, being one of the first Vietnam War protests, that mild activity made national headlines.)
So I read this and I despair. It's the other side of the Foxolimbeckian coin: don't make us hear things we don't want to, on the one hand, and don't tell us the truth, on the other.
... one incident that took an emotional toll on activists was protesting an appearance on campus by Natan Sharansky and Michael Douglas, who were there to discuss their perspectives on Judaism, Israel and current-day anti-Semitism. Students for Justice in Palestine decided that this would be a dandy occasion to engage in a loud, disruptive anti-Israel protest. An assistant dean was on hand, in part to provide “academic and emotional support” to the protesters, according to the Herald.
So there you have it; a group of Ivy League crybullies worn out from the emotional toll of protesting Natan Sharansky, a former dissident and survivor of years of confinement, including solitary confinement, in harsh Soviet prison camps. Is there a better indication of the decline of American higher-ed culture than a bunch of Ivy Leaguers at risk of emotional breakdown due to the presence of one of the great, stoic heroes of the Cold War on their campus? ...
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Is a bear Polish? Who could have seen this coming? President Obama will visit the remains of Antonin Scalia as he lies in state, but will not attend his funeral. And Foxolimbeckians are outraged. Outraged.
Their outrage is only exceeded by that which would have rained down had the president decided to attend. In which case, how dare he make it about him!!??
That his decision is entirely in line with history makes, of course, not a Ronald Reagan commemorative silver dollar's worth of difference. Nor will the fact that the Scalia family understands and agrees with the decision.
God, how I hate these people. And shame on me for it. I guess.
As surprising and depressing is the rise of Donald Trump and the realization that there are breathing humans who see him as presidential, the non-rise and fast fall of Jeb (!) Bush has been pretty amazing.
I'd never paid much attention to him, even when he was governor of FLA. I guess, because the bar was so low, I accepted that he was "the smart one," but I had no reason to believe it specifically. Then he rose above the horizon with his unspeakably foul role in the delayed death of Terry Schiavo. After that, I should have known.
Still, his level of tone-deafness and amateurish awkwardness has been a surprise. As has his response to the realization that there's no way in hell that he'll be assuming the mantle of the presidency promised to him by his hard-earned Bushness. It borders on inducing sadness, as his campaign has rendered the most pathetic and unceasing series of embarrassments imaginable.
That gun tweet, though. That really does it, says everything. Along with the word "America" it's nearly incomprehensible. The only way such a combination of visual and linguistic awfulness would make sense is if he meant it ironically. As in, "Look at what's become of us, and weep." Clearly, though, he meant it as a showcase of his America-fuck-yeah-itude. The goodest of good old boys, is Jeb (!).
Did he tweet it himself? If not, did it get his prior approval? Is there someone on his campaign staff that craven? Yes, I guess "sad" is the word. It makes you want to turn away, both in revulsion at the message and at the flop-sweat smell of his desperation.
C'mon, Jeb (!) Do yourself a favor, salvage the last remaining quantum of dignity and call it a day.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
My latest newspaper column:
I watched the Democratic debate last week. It compared to Saturday’s Republican debate as Socrates to Eric Cartman. Serious questions were asked, and serious answers were given; and while there were disagreements and challenging of each other, there were no juvenile attacks, no name-calling, no dishonest calumniation of our president, none of the arrant lying that Republican audiences prefer (Trump passingly told the truth, and they booed).
I don’t love either one of them, Bernie or Hillary. I’m not inspired the way I was – and still am – by Barack Obama. Because of the president’s many successes, the opposition has had to resort mostly to lying about him. Bernie they’ll dismiss as promoting class warfare; Hillary will be attacked for murdering Vince Foster and selling his cattle.
Sanders is right: The system is rigged in favor of the wealthiest among us (read Judith Miller’s Dark Money if you need convincing); average people no longer have a voice in how we’re governed; changing it requires enough enlightened people (improbably) rising up to vote out of Congress those unwilling to compromise or to reject the demands of the corporations and individuals who’ve bought them. He’s right about the importance of electing representatives willing to change the way campaigns are financed, who accept what science tells us about our climate, who’ll address our costly needs at home. But I have some issues with Bernie. For one, I got tired of watching him finger the air every time he wanted to respond during the debate.
More importantly, I wish he’d frame his argument without entirely demonizing “millionaires and billionaires and Wall Street.” He does, after all, understand the importance of capitalism to a thriving society. To acknowledge that and to include those entities in the solution in a positive way would strengthen and broaden his message. There’s a point, after all, in this march toward sequestering all capital among a very few, at which it becomes inimical to capitalism itself. If people don’t have money, they don’t buy widgets, and that’s the real danger of where we’re heading. Paying for health care and education beyond high school, and providing a living wage for full-time workers are demonstrably part of the economic solution. It’s the opposite of freeloading: it’s restoring that mythical and secure middle class on whose spending our economy depends.
Republicans seem to prefer to run against Bernie Sanders. It’s possible they’d come to regret it; my concern, however, is that his support seems especially strong among young people, and why not: it’s their future at stake. Historically, though, they’re the least likely to come out and vote. Trump’s and Cruz’s and Rubio’s base are the sort that do: ethnophobes, nativists, those suffused with religious paranoia, those who don’t want to spend another damn penny on anything for which they see no value to their immediate and singular needs. And because of gerrymandering and well-planned voter suppression (disguised as innocently patriotic voter I.D. laws against practically non-existent in-person voter fraud), it’s become all but impossible to be rid of the deniers and obstructionists, “revolution” notwithstanding.
It’s hard to imagine that if Hillary Clinton were president Republican electeds would cooperate more than they have with Obama. But, aware of their current earth-scorching policies and methods, she’d be less Pollyannaish than Mr. Obama was for too long. The attacks on her will be ruthless; unlike those on Obama, in some there’ll be a kernel of truth. In the past she’s hedged tough questions. Bernie has forced her off the fence, and she’s come down on the right side of it in most things. Other than, well, touting Henry Kissinger’s words of support. His manipulation of the Vietnam peace talks to help Nixon’s election was tantamount to treason.
If choosing between Democratic candidates is hard, the choice between the parties isn’t. As Benita Helseth’s recent letter to the editor aptly said, one need only compare Wisconsin and Minnesota (or look at Kansas!) to see the divergent results of governance by each party. Controlling all three branches of government? Having just called Scalia home, even God thinks that’s too much. Meanwhile, patriotic Republicans promise to trash the Constitution and prevent, sight unseen, any Obama-nominated Justice from being approved.[Image source]
Monday, February 15, 2016
Here's my most brilliant thought, ever. Obama should nominate Hillary Clinton to the Supreme Court. Who wouldn't want to have that job instead of president? And it would put Rs in a bind: they'd much prefer, it seems, to have their candidate run against Bernie Sanders, but if they approved her, it'd lose them the Court.
And who knows? Maybe with Hillary out, Joe Biden would toss his hat in the ring. A little late, yes; but it'd be interesting.
Not gonna happen, of course. But it'd be fun to see.
It is, of course, entirely unsurprising that Rs have vowed to block anyone Obama puts forth, sight unseen. And that they're variously using "rules" they've never followed themselves as justification.
It's getting really hard not to hate those people; and I'm more into easy than I used to be.
Saturday, February 13, 2016
My dad, who was on the Oregon Supreme Court, and later, for the rest of his judicial career, was the Chief Judge of the Oregon Court of Appeals (and whose nomination to the Federal bench got caught up in the politics of LBJ's last months in office) used to say Antonin Scalia was the smartest guy on the Supreme Court of the United States. As my dad was, in my view, the perfect example of an impartial judge and smarter than anyone I knew, I took his view seriously. Among the many things I'm sorry I can no longer discuss with him is what his current view of Scalia might have been. Smart, maybe. Still a good judge? I really doubt it.
The gods, I hope, will forgive me for speaking ill of the dead; but if Scalia was ever an impartial interpreter of the Constitution, he gave up even the pretense of it when Barack H. Obama took office. He came to making prior "judicial activism" look like a coma. I've looked: I can't find any place in the Constitution that says corporations are people or that money is speech. Nor is there, in that honored document, any defintion of marriage. (There are, however, ample words referring to equal protection under the law.) And he entirely stopped disguising his inclination to inject his religious views into the law of the land.
The same, of course, can be said of Samuel Alito.
There's no way in hell Republicans will allow President Obama to appoint Scalia's replacement; they'll pin their hopes on getting into the White House. To that end, I'm sure they'd swallow their tongues and support even Trump or Cruz. I doubt they could find anyone worse than Scalia has been in the past seven years. Well, unless it's Cruz and he appoints this piece of work, his favorite.
This is one among many reasons why electing a Republican for president in these times would be an existential disaster. One can only hope that Democrats and whichever candidate on whom they settle will make this obvious case, and make it effectively. Because it's not just the judiciary at stake: it's democracy, it's the environment, it's the planet. Seriously. It is.
How much more horrifying can these guys get? Really. I watched enough of the latest R debate to see, yet again, how far the Republican party has fallen, and to wonder what's become of us as a nation.
Donald Trump would bring back waterboarding "and much worse." Why? What evidence is there that it accomplished anything when the Cheney/Bush administration used it? Why, when experts, including people involved in those war crimes, have said it provided false information (which is, after all, its time-tested purpose: false confessions) and that legal methods of interrogation are much more effective?
Ted Cruz, among his many lies, claimed that waterboarding doesn't meet the widely accepted definition of torture, which, he deceitfully claimed, requires organ failure! (That's based on a memo cooked up by a Cheneyophile, universally condemned by rational humans.)
If there was a positive proposal for any issue we face, I missed it. Rubio got locked into a bizarre looping of his favorite applause line, claiming Obama is deliberately ruining the country. It revealed him to be what I've always thought: a pre-programmed empty suit, nicely cut, but empty. Which raises the question, who picked him as their stalking horse? Who's behind him pulling the strings, or moving his lips with a hand up his, you know? Sheldon Adelson just tossed a bunch of money at him; but someone stood him up first.
By contrast, the NPR debate between Hillary and Bernie was substantive, getting fairly deep into actual issues. Unlike that other display, there were no deliberate lies calculated to get applause and approval from mindless followers. A little pie in the sky, maybe; but proposals based on reality.
I don't love either of the two. Without reservation I'll vote for whoever wins the nod; the consequences of any of those awful R candidates -- Kasich, the "moderate" one included -- winning the White House with an R-majority Congress are just too awful to contemplate. Still, neither Clinton nor Sanders gives me the emotional boost I got from Barack Obama. I got really tired of watching Bernie finger the air when he wanted to talk. Hillary had her best night, I'd say; her competence and depth isn't in question. But there's too much history of hedging her bets. Triangulation, one might call it. Still, I'm pretty sure Rs would much rather run against Bernie than her. I agree with pretty much everything Sanders says, though.
Tough call, other than that thing about imagining Cruz or Trump or Rubio at the helm. It'd be the end of everything important to everyone but the 1%. Maybe 5 or 6%.
Saturday, February 6, 2016
Many, including the President (and this guy), have said, in reaction to reactions to gun violence, especially mass murders, that "thoughts and prayers" aren't enough. Now Speaker (really should be with a small "s") Paul Ryan has had a thing or two to say about that little bit of common sense:
Really? No suggestions for real-world action? Are we surprised? Because that, I guess, would be an affront to God.
Friday, February 5, 2016
Given the wide range of choices, it's hard to put them in order; but at or very near the top of the list of outrages today's teabagging Rs attribute to President Obama is the idea that he's been "divisive." It becomes clear that the word, to right-wing screamers, means "saying and doing stuff we don't like. Calling out lies and deceptions. Pointing out consequences. Daring to discuss the stuff we'd prefer to keep under the rug. Like racism. Telling us things we don't want to hear." Ted Cruz, Donald Trump? Not divisive. Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter? Butter wouldn't melt. Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity? Alex Jones? Paragons of inclusiveness. And that emerging hope of "the establishment?" Yeah, how about him?
Marco Rubio's predictable, swift, nasty, and ignorant response to Obama's speech at a mosque showcases perfectly the idiocy of the charge. Watch the president's speech, and find the "pitting of people against one another" to which young Marco refers, in horror. Let me know where it is. Ask yourself which party is pitching Islamophobia. Deny that there've been countless acts against Muslims in the US, or that it's being rhetorically encouraged by the top R candidates.
Today's Republican party (and, yet again, let me emphasize the fact that I say "today's," because it wasn't always so) has made ignoring reality central to its march toward plutocracy. (The theocracy grift, most likely, is less of a goal than a means to the end. And by "end" I mean pretty much the end of everything. And who better to get to ignore the real agenda than people whose religious paranoia goes to eleven, eclipsing all other issues.) That's the case whether it's climate change, science in general, racism, income inequality, public education, energy, and so much more. Because addressing those pressing problems is inimical to the creation of their oligarchical plutocracy. Distractions from what's really important: succoring their wealthy controllers, suckering everyone else.
Imagine a picnic, people drinking beer, having a grand old time, while gulping down potato salad that's been sitting in the sun for two days, getting that greenish sheen. Someone walks by (maybe, you know, someone who knows these things), has a look, and says, Hey people, you better stop eating that salad; it's gonna make you sick. It could even kill you. People look up from the table, pissed, and say, Go away, asshole. You're ruining our picnic. And you're being divisive.
And that's exactly what's going on.
Thursday, February 4, 2016
I'll admit I have significantly less enthusiasm for Bernie and Hillary than I did for Barack Obama; were either of them to win the presidency, I'm certain there'd be no tears in my eyes on election night the way there were when Obama won. But I'd unreservedly vote for either of them over any of the R candidates. The stakes are simply too high. As Charlie Pierce points out, the water debacle in Flint is the perfect example of why that is; far as I'm concerned, whoever wins the nomination should harp on it nonstop. And connect it, in terms of what would happen were all three branches to go R, to everything else that matters: climate, environment, health care, and on and on.
Every election is claimed to be the one where the very survival of the country is on the line. This time, though, I think it's really true. We've seen the "agenda" of the current R party; that every single one of their prospective nominees (Kasich who has zero chance, excepted maybe) is a flat-out liar says most of what we need to know. Beyond that, imagine where we're headed if climate change is ignored, if income inequality gets any worse, if environmental regulations are removed, if gay rights and women's are rescinded, if Muslims are broad-brush demonized, if the US becomes an overtly Christian nation of the type promoted by Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio (the type that justifies selfishness and hatred, which is a kind it's hard to recognize but there it is), if public education is allowed to wither, if science becomes something to ignore entirely. If voting rights continue to be denied to certain groups of citizens.
Flint. That's the wormhole through which we can see the future. Says Charlie:
As part of the deal that was wrangled out of the Democratic National Committee, there will be more debates, and one of them will be in Flint, Michigan. So here's my tip for the two candidates, and for all their followers currently engaged on Twitter in the Battle of Antietam:
Knock that shit off for one night.
The only issues to be debated in Flint involve the failure at all levels of Republican (and conservative) government, and the destruction of the political commonwealth by the same. Just take turns pointing that out for a couple of hours and you may not have to worry about who you're running against. Also, if you can have a big pitcher of lovely yellow water on your podiums for the camera, that would be nice, too...
Seriously. Today's Republican Party, what's left of it, has gone nuts. They're nothing but a bunch of ideological mongers of selfishness and victimhood. And shoot-first war. If they take over, kiss our kids' future goodbye. Well, unless you're one of their oligarchical sponsors. Then you can build a little higher, filter the air a little longer, build your own hospital, and outlast the rest of us. By a few years.
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
My latest newspaper column:
Pop. Sploosh. That sound you DON’T hear is exploding heads of Trump supporters. After decades of purposeful preparation, holding incompatible thoughts has become stress-free, making it effortless to reconcile their love for him with his attacks on their most sanctified source of “news.” If nothing else, the audation of The Donald reveals the cynicism – and undeniable success! – of plans hatched well before the ascendency of Newt Gingrich, furthered by right wing radio and, ironically, perfected by Fox “news.” Decades past, Republican leaders concocted a brilliant way to produce voters who’d elect representatives ready to enact their dream of unregulated plutocracy: distract them with objects of anger, fear, and resentment. Play to religious paranoia. Devalue education and expertise. Bankrolled by the Koch brothers, up sprang the Tea Party as the vehicle for getting there, and now, like Dr. Frankenstein, the power-mad geniuses must contend with their uncontrollable creation. Trump and Cruz, the concepti of Gingrichorovian impregnation of the party, have turned to patricide. To a cynic like me, the rarity of such karmic poetry makes it all the more satisfying.
But if it’s entertaining, it’s also scary. Whatever else is true of those two vainglorious demagogues, they’re nothing like the thoughtful conservative counterbalance a functioning democracy requires. Neither are their indiscriminately angry adherents. Trump is a thin-skinned egotist given to childish insults and substance-free declarations, having only shallow political ideas like building a wall (illegal immigration has dropped dramatically on Obama’s watch) and banning Muslims. Cruz is an incendiary Bible-thumping claimer of, as his daddy just confirmed, Christ-like martyrdom, which somehow excuses his fabrications from the Mount. Caught being untruthful, Democratic candidates try to wiggle. Republicans high-five.
When I’m not shaking my head in despair, I chuckle over the heartburn Trump is causing Republican Party leaders; at Cruz and his self-righteous religious zeal, I shudder. He’s Elmer Gantry, suffused with Torquemada and Jim Jones. Now that he’s the front-runner out of Iowa, let’s hope he’ll go the way of prior winners there, Huckabee and Bachmann.
Speaking of laughing while cringing, how about the wildlife at Malheur? I don’t know if the FBI had guidance from the White House, but it seems pretty Obama-like to have refrained from rushing in with guns blazing, waiting instead for the militiamen to become laughing stock over their own ineptitude. (Not that ISIS is as incompetent as they are, or that solving the Middle East is comparable to shutting down a bunch of self-absorbed misunderstanders of the Constitution; the Iraq war inflamed that part of the world for generations. But the initial restraint is familiar.) It was worth the frustration of seeing those guys do their dance without any evident pushback, ultimately to witness their quick capitulation in the face of what appears to be a well-planned trap. I’m sorry for the man who lost his life, no matter his stated intentions. With their hoped-for martyr, the militia movement will live on. Their misdirected fury is as much a part of the fabric woven by the aforementioned right-wing manipulators as are Trump and Cruz and those citizens in their thrall.
Absent compelling alternatives, “establishment” Republicans seem to be counting on the resurrection of Marco Rubio, who so far hasn’t figured out which persona to inhabit: standard issue religious regressive and political prevaricator, or the hoped-for new voice. Handsome, young, a facile speaker, he seems unable or afraid to try anything but time-tested boilerplate flogging of resentment. Obama has done “incredible damage” to the US, he declared on Fox “news” the other day, to no request for specification. If that isn’t stooping to conquer, what is? And what is this disaster of which he speaks? Employment? Medicaid? The auto industry? Budget deficits, the stock market, energy dependence, gas prices? Corporate profits, the Koch brothers’ wealth? Or is it the carnage in the Middle East uncorked by his predecessor and still confounding containment? Because that, at least, is true. Rubio, though, and Trump, and Cruz and all the other Republican candidates have assured us that they’ll fix it right up, by sending in more troops and pounding the hell out of the region.
History tells us something about that but I seem to have forgotten what it is.[Image source]
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