June 2005 Archives

Zogby reported today in "No Bounce: Bush Job Approval Unchanged by War Speech" that, despite Bush's cheerleading effort earlier this week, his job approval rating has slipped to a new low of 43%. The poll also features the following information:

In a sign of the continuing partisan division of the nation, more than two-in-five (42%) voters say that, if it is found that President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should hold him accountable through impeachment. While half (50%) of respondents do not hold this view, supporters of impeachment outweigh opponents in some parts of the country.

The breakdown by party affiliation looks like this:

A large majority of Democrats (59%) say they agree that the President should be impeached if he lied about Iraq, while just three-in-ten (30%) disagree. Among President Bush’s fellow Republicans, a full one-in-four (25%) indicate they would favor impeaching the President under these circumstances, while seven-in-ten (70%) do not. Independents are more closely divided, with 43% favoring impeachment and 49% opposed.

When the scales fall from Republicans' eyes, Bush is going to be in serious trouble.

Michael Shermer wrote a “Dear Kansas” letter (subtitled “Genesis Revisited: A Scientific Creation Story”) that revises the Genesis myth “to accommodate modern scientific theories and data.” It is nothing short of hilarious, and this passage is especially brilliant:

And just as He was finishing up the loose ends of the creation God realized that Adam’s immediate descendants who lived as farmers and herders would not understand inflationary cosmology, global general relativity, quantum mechanics, astrophysics, biochemistry, paleontology, population genetics, and evolutionary theory, so He created creation myths. But there were so many creation stories throughout the land that God realized this too was confusing, so he created anthropologists, folklorists, and mythologists to settle the issue.

Shermer completely omits the origin of plant life from his parody, which was a disappointment. (Most people don't notice the huge mistake that places plant life earlier in the Genesis chronology than the sun’s creation. Oops!)

The only downside to poking fun at this sort of literalist lunacy is the incessant Christianist whining about “persecution.”

There is a surplus of overheated rhetoric regarding the Supreme Court’s decisions on Monday in the two Ten Commandments cases (Van Orden v. Perry and McCreary County v. ACLU), including Scalia’s own remark about “this court's hostility to religion.” From the seemingly opposed decisions, the Supreme Court has apparently tried to strike a balance between the Constitutional “wall of separation” principle and the desires of many citizens to have that wall the eroded to promote their religion. I would have preferred a pair of unequivocal decisions, but I understand the Court’s desire to split the difference; the judiciary is already under attack from the wingnuts for alleged “judicial activism.”

David Batstone’s “The Supreme Court got it right on religion” at Sojourner has a religious but very even-handed (i.e., not paranoid) assessment:

The key question in each case hinged on whether the display of religious monuments violates the First Amendment's prohibition against an official "establishment" of religion. The state, in other words, cannot identify itself with a particular religion. American legal tradition thereby protects the integrity of citizens to pursue their own religious traditions without the interference of the state. […] In sum, the intention of the Court's decision was to undergird the free expression of religion, yet prevent the association of the state with a sole religion.

As a secularist, I object to Batstone’s allegation that we think “people of faith should keep their religious sentiments hidden away in the privacy of a closet in their home.” Secularists aren’t demanding that anyone’s religion be hidden, merely that it shouldn’t be endorsed by our government or financed by our tax dollars.

Is that really so hard to understand?

Leave My Child Alone and Military Free Zone both have resources for parents who wish to safeguard their children from both the dangers of war and the questionable tactics of military recruiters desperate to make their quotas. Katrina vanden Heuvel has details some recent incidents in "Recruiters Sink to New Lows:"

In Houston, one recruiter warned a potential recruit that if he backed out of a meeting, "we'll have a warrant" for the potential recruit's arrest. In Colorado, a high school student, David McSwane, who wanted to see "how far the Army would go during a war to get one more soldier," told recruiters that he didn't finish high school and that he had a drug problem. "No problem," the recruiters responded. McSwane was told to create a diploma from scratch and to buy products at a store that would help him beat the drug test.

Recruiters have urged teens to lie to their parents and have ignored medical and police records of potential recruits to not compromise recruiting goals. In Ohio, two recruiters signed up a 21-one-year-old man with bipolar disorder who had just been released from a psychiatric ward.

If parents won’t protect their children, who will?

Bush will be speaking on Iraq tonight to pump up his sagging approval ratings. Think Progress notes that, when Clinton had troops in Kosovo in 1999, Bush stressed the importance of an exit strategy and a timetable for withdrawl:

"Victory means exit strategy, and it’s important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is."


"I think it’s also important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long they will be involved and when they will be withdrawn."

The changes in Bush's principles as soon as he became Commander-in-Chief are so pronounced that his vaunted "steady leadership in times of change" looks rather like a flip-flop. Bush said on Friday that, with regards to our troops in Iraq:

There's not going to be any timetables. [...] It doesn't make any sense to have a timetable. You know, if you give a timetable, you're -- you're conceding too much to the enemy.

After Bush refuses to lay out either an exit strategy or a timetable during his speech, what will he talk about to fill the rest of his free airtime? Will he discuss the Downing Street Memo? Will he take a few suggestions from John Kerry? Maybe he'll contrast Rumsfeld's rose-colored pre-invasion rhetoric:

"It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months." (7 Feb 2003)

with Rumsfeld's recent assessment on Fox News Sunday:

"That insurgency could go on for any number of years. Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years. Coalition forces, foreign forces are not going to repress that insurgency." (26 June 2005)

It should be an interesting speech.

This past Friday, while introducing his screed about Democratic opposition to CAFTA, Charles Krauthammer called the Democrats "A Party without Ideas." Krauthammer writes that Democrats' "one remaining idea" is "to hang on to the status quo at all costs," but he seems oblivious to the fact that Republican conceptual coffers aren't exactly overflowing.

While I agree with Krauthammer's implication that new ideas are important to a political party, I suggest that the ability to articulate those ideas is at least partially dependent on time and resources. For a party that is working full-time to maintain the gains of the twentieth century (labor laws, environmental protection, human rights, civil equality, Social Security, Medicare, etc.) against the onslaught of the Right, forward-looking thought can plausibly be seen as a luxury.

Progress is a difficult idea to promote while the opposition is strenuously trying to drag us all backwards into the past.

As far as being "without ideas," Joshua Holland calls Krauthammer's bluff in "Manifest Destiny:"

The word 'privatization' was first coined in 1948 when people were talking about nationalizing colonial enterprises. That was a few years after FA Hayek wrote The Road to Serfdom. Barry Goldwater wrote The Conscience of a Conservative in 1960 and Milton Friedman spit out Capitalism and Freedom in 1962. I defy Krauthammer or any other right-winger to name one idea of today's conservative movement that wasn't articulated in that era. I'm not talking about new spins, I mean new ideas.

Good luck.

Like Holland, I'm not about to launch into an extended comparison of "free trade" rhetoric versus plutocratic reality. After reading little more than faint echoes of the books he mentioned in the writings of current conservatives, though, I wonder: where are the new Republican ideas?



GOP spinmeister Karl Rove took a number of cheap shots at liberals in his speech last Wednesday to the New York Conservative Party. Rove talked of “comparing conservatism with liberalism,” and remarked that, “perhaps the most important difference between conservatives and liberals can be found in the area of national security." He then said, "liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers."

Unsurprisingly, the facts are not on Rove's side.

As Mark Blumenthal notes in "How Did Liberals React to 9/11?" at Mystery Pollster, "the Senate authorized military action against Afghanistan by a vote of 98 to 0 and the House approved 420 to 1." Are the wars they supported somehow therapeutic for the targets? Is Rove implying that there's only one liberal in Congress? Blumenthal also provides actual data – not baseless allegations – in his article, for those who are interested in joining the reality-based community.

Kristen Breitweiser lays Rove out in her "Karl Rove's Understanding of 9/11:"

Now Karl, a question for you, since you seem to be the nation's self-styled sensei with regard to 9/11: Is Usama Bin Laden still important? Lately, your coterie of friends seems to be giving out mixed messages. Recall that in the early days, Bin Laden was wanted “dead or alive.” Then when Bin Laden slipped through your fingertips in Tora Bora, you downgraded his importance. We were told that Bin Laden was a "desperate man on the run,” and a person that President Bush was not "too worried about". Yet, whenever I saw Bin Laden's videos, he looked much too comfortable to actually be a man on the run. He looked tan, rested, and calm. He certainly didn't look the way I wanted the murderer of almost 3,000 innocent people to look: unkempt, panicked, and cowering in a corner.


Karl, you say you “understand” 9/11. Then why did you and your friends so vehemently oppose the creation of a 9/11 Independent Commission? Once the commission was established, why did you refuse to properly fund the Commission by allotting it only a $3 million budget? Why did you refuse to allow access to documents and witnesses for the 9/11 Commissioners? Why did we have to fight so hard for an extension when the Commissioners told us that they needed more time due to your footdragging and stonewalling? Why didn't you want to cooperate so that all Americans could “understand” what happened on 9/11?

The group Families of September 11 has this to say about Rove's comments:

As families whose relatives were victims of the 9/11 terror attacks, we believe it is an outrage that any Democrat, any Republican, any conservative or any liberal, stakes a "high ground" position based upon the September 11th death and destruction. Doing so assumes that all those who died and their loved ones would agree. In truth, some would and some would not. By definition the conduct is divisive and, because it is intended to be self-serving and politicizes 9/11, it is offensive.

We are calling on Karl Rove to resist his temptations and stop trying to reap political gain in the tragic misfortune of others. His comments are not welcome

I'll bet you didn't hear either of those remarks in the "liberal media."

UPDATE (11 July 2005, 10:02 AM): P.M. Carpenter’s “Karl Rove on Sodium Pentothal” is a wonderful take on Rove’s reprehensible speech, and deserves to be widely read.


The results are in: "Schiavo Autopsy Shows Massive Brain Damage." The autopsy of Terri Schiavo showed that her brain had shrunk to about half the normal size for a woman her age and that it bore signs of severe damage. (Full details are available here.)

"This damage was irreversible, and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons," said Pinellas-Pasco County Medical Examiner Dr. Jon Thogmartin, who led the autopsy team. He also said she was blind, because the "vision centers of her brain were dead."

Bill "I'm a doctor!" Frist ignored the proof that Schiavo was blind, and is still defending his indefensible grandstanding. On the Today Show, he stated: " "I never, never, on the floor of the Senate, made a diagnosis, nor would I ever do that," "I never, never, on the floor of the Senate, made a diagnosis, nor would I ever do that." Contrast that deference to his persistence on 17 March:

Frist questioned her "persistent vegetative state" diagnosis "based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office," he said in a lengthy speech in which he quoted medical texts and standards. "She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli."

I guess it all depends on what his definition of "diagnosis" is.

The following letter was published yesterday in my local newspaper:

Atheists are contemptuous of others' religious beliefs

I am aghast at people who force their religious beliefs upon others. I don't have a problem with people who practice their own belief systems, nor with people who tell others about what they believe in the hope that others will freely embrace or reject these beliefs.

However, a group of people with galling arrogance and intolerance impose their religion on the public square, driving out all other faiths. These people demand that everyone live by their moral standards, and they call those who do not acquiesce to their narrow viewpoints hateful and hurtful names that more aptly apply to themselves.

The people I write about are atheists who hold their humanistic beliefs and moral relativism to be superior to others. Other beliefs are contemptuously treated as unworthy of free speech rights. The Constitution prohibited Congress from establishing a federal religion. The founders knew all about this because 12 of the original 13 states had an established state religion (only Delaware did not).

A creche in the town square, or whatever symbol they strike down, is no more establishment of a state religion that eating a bagel is conversion to Judaism.

[name and address redacted]

My response follows:

Much confusion about atheism

Contrary to what has recently been printed in these pages, atheism is neither a religion nor a faith, but rather the absence of supernatural beliefs. Atheism is not a narrow viewpoint, although it does rigorously examine all claims to truth. While many atheists are humanists, neither humanism nor atheism is synonymous with moral relativism. Dissent from the religious status quo is not arrogance, and an unbiased public square is not intolerance. Such misinformation is common, but it should not go unanswered.

Atheists do not demand - as many religious people do - that government power be used to enforce their opinions; instead, we would rather government stay out of the religion business altogether. The secular position is one of simple neutrality by government: not providing financial or material support for any particular position. For example, I know of no atheist who advocates changing our national motto to "in no gods we trust." Rather, we think that the original motto of "e pluribus unum" (approved by Ben Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson) should not have been altered. Contrast this with many believers' demands that government endorse their monotheistic beliefs in our national motto, on our currency, and in our Pledge of Allegiance.

If some people want to display a creche, a crucifix, or the Ten Commandments on a block of granite, there is no reason why they can't use their own money and erect it on their own property; our Constitution protects their right to do so. Such displays in the public square (paid for by public taxes) may not represent an establishment of religion, but they are an unnecessary and unwise entanglement between the religion of some and the government of all.

Forcing atheists to subsidize believers' religious expression shows blatant contempt for the First Amendment, as this is little more than demanding a special subsidy while calling it "free speech." Salman Rushdie, a writer who knows something about dealing with theocrats, notes that believers often demand a double standard: "Religions play bare-knuckle rough all the time, while demanding kid-glove treatment in return."

Religious opinions deserve no special privilege, and should not be funded from the public coffers.

I heard about this pending award some time ago, and filed it away for future use:

In recognition of the pivotal role he has played in the development of the Internet over the past three decades, The Webby Awards will present former Vice President Al Gore with The Webby Lifetime Achievement Award. The award will be presented by Vint Cerf, widely credited as a founder of the Internet.

Yesterday, Al Gore received his Webby. As the New York Times noted this morning:

"One of the more charming idiosyncrasies of the Webby Awards, the annual awards for achievement in Web creation, is that recipients get five words, and five words only, to make their acceptance speeches.

So after a night full of award innuendos and one-line haiku at Gotham Hall in Manhattan, the 550 people in attendance were wondering how Al Gore, the former vice president, would respond to his lifetime achievement award.

He did not disappoint.

'Please don't recount this vote,' he said. The place went nuts.

Mr. Gore, who was politically savaged during the 2000 presidential campaign for a remark that seemed to imply that he had created the Internet, was introduced by Vinton Cerf, a man who has a more legitimate purchase on that claim. Mr. Cerf, one of the scientists credited with having built the Internet, had his own five-word speech – 'We all invented the Internet' - before pointing out that Mr. Gore had been responsible for spearheading critical legislation and providing much-needed political support, which is not exactly creating a paradigm shifting piece of technology, but is not bad for a politician."

I'm sure that no apologies are forthcoming from Gore's detractors for their misrepresentations of his original statement.

My local paper reprinted two pro-Deep Throat editorials: Sheryl McCarthy's "Felt didn't betray his country, Nixon did" from Saturday's Newsday, and David Broder's "Antidote to Secrecy" from today's Washington Post.

After all the anti-Felt commentary in the wake of his revelation – mostly from Nixon-era retreads (Chuck Colson, Pat Buchanan, and G. Gordon Liddy) of dubious honorability – it was pleasantly surprising to see a defense of principled government service, such as that exhibited by Mark Felt. McCarthy comments on their numerous complaints about Felt "breaching confidence:"

A code of silence, often confused with a code of honor, exists among cops and public figures, as well as among thieves and murderers. But it's bad if it hides corruption and crime, and fails to reveal the rottenness at the core of the organization.

That's what Colson and Buchanan seem to be celebrating - loyalty over ethics.


At a time when journalists who write anything against the administration are likely to be smeared as unpatriotic, we should appreciate all the more what W. Mark Felt did. Whatever his other motives may have been, he knew something immoral and illegal was going on in the Nixon White House, and he put the word out. I'm glad he's finally taking his bow.

The FBI was never intended to be an arm of Nixon's re-election campaign, and should never have been misused for partisan ends – especially illegal ones. Turning a blind eye to criminal behavior in government is not a virtue, and our nation would be decidedly worse off had Felt stayed silent and allowed Nixon's cover-up to succeed. Broder's summation says it all:

Mark Felt did what whistle-blowers need to do. He took his information to reporters who diligently dug up the evidence to support his well-founded suspicions.

The republic was saved and the public well served. That Colson and Buchanan still don't get it speaks volumes about them.

In today's climate of secrecy, we need Deep Throat more than ever.

Today's Tom Toles cartoon had me laughing out loud:


Dubya's misuse of "dissemble" is easy to parody, but Toles' "prefabrication" addition is priceless.


Charles Krauthammer's web exclusive column, "In Defense of Certainty" from Time yesterday, has its central supposition (that secularists are dangerously dogmatic) taken apart in "Contra Charles" by Andrew Sullivan. As Sullivan mentions, Krauthammer is wrong on several counts. Chief among these is his accusation that:

"Instead of arguing the merits of any issue, secularists are trying to win the argument by default on the grounds that the other side displays unhealthy certainty or, even worse, unseemly religiosity."

In reality, it is only secularists who are actually trying to discuss any of the issues (i.e., abortion, same-sex marriage). Religionists' only contribution is to say that no discussion is possible because (their) god says so (in their interpretation of their translation of their compilation of their scriptures).

Sullivan describes the effects of secularism's "great modern achievement" – that of the separation of church and state – this way:

"Secularism allows Christians, and any other religious faith, to affirm religious values, live exactly as they see fit, and avoid such moral outrages as abortion and gay civil unions in their own lives, if they so wish. All secularism does is say that as a political matter, there will be as much government neutrality as possible because the government should represent all citizens; that the Church and the state shall coexist, but independently of each other."

Critics of the Bush administration are not "aroused and infuriated" by "a universal aspiration to freedom," as Krauthammer posits, but by their questionable means and (sometimes) the appearance of ulterior motives. If Krauthammer wants to truly champion "moral clarity," instead of merely cheerleading for the administration, isn't Bush-sanctioned torture (either directly or via rendition) absolutely wrong? What about avarice-supported tax cuts? Lying? Killing?) It is easy – and lazy, not to mention incorrect – to accuse secularists of being relativists, but what excuses turning faith's blind eye to its proponents' many hypocrisies?

Sullivan notes that he is "really concerned that secularism is slowly becoming tainted with the same brush as 'liberalism.'" – presumably via the mass-media echo chamber of which Krauthammer is a part – and he ends by observing that secularism is:

"is an honorable tradition, integral to the entire concept of Western liberty. The difference between secularism and Christianism, to put it bluntly, is that one side is happy to let people make their own moral choices; and one side isn't. So who exactly is imposing on whom?"

While secularists work for a neutral and inclusive public square, Christianists [those who politicize Christianity, as Islamists do to Islam] will tolerate no compromise. They should, therefore, shoulder most of the blame.

"Losing Their Religion" by Digby at Hullabaloo brings up an earlier post at AMERICAblog about religious discrimination (and heterosexist discrimination, among others) in blastocyst adoption. (That's the pre-embryonic stage of mammalian development, for those who haven't been keeping up with the terminology of the stem cell debate.)

Digby discusses how the NYT editors:

"'re-framed' the issue of religious discrimination and gay rights. They are simply being 'sensitive' and 'conveying how disturbing the issue us in many corners of American social, cultural and religious life' when they uncritically report on a White House endorsed publicly funded group that enables Christian bigots to discriminate even though it's clearly against the law."

He then notes that the bogeyman of 1990s liberalism, political correctness, has now become "the new province of the right and they have finally hammered the press into thinking that discrimination and bigotry are really just normal expressions of religious belief and must be treated with kid gloves." This is nothing if not religious correctness, emblematic of that all-too-useful term from Isaac Kramnick & R. Laurence Moore's excellent (and far too brief) book The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness.

Correctness – whether political or religious – be damned, bigots should be called bigots (and terrorists terrorists) regardless of which religious text they clutch in their hands.

The following letter was published in my local newspaper earlier this week:

The will of the majority should always prevail

In her article "Religious are leery of right too" (May 18), Ann Woolner was confused and illogical. She says in effect that those who opposed the obstructionist tactics of Senate Democrats in preventing a vote in the full Senate on President Bush's judicial nominees by means of the filibuster are trying to turn the United States into a theocracy. That is rubbish.

Democratic senators are acting in stark opposition to the belief expressed by Thomas Jefferson when he said, "It is my principle that the will of the majority should always prevail."

To equate voluntary prayer in a public school or at graduation with the establishment of religion, which is prohibited by the First Amendment, is such nonsense it can hardly be treated seriously.

[name and address redacted]

My response follows:

Minority rights must be protected

A previous writer misused a quotation from Thomas Jefferson to support his position that the majority's will "should always prevail." Although Jefferson did write those words in a 1787 letter to James Madison, and used similar phrases at other times, Jefferson's seemingly absolutist stance was tempered by the need to prevent misuse of majority power. This passage from his 1801 inaugural speech illustrates his concern:

"[T]hough the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression."

Many other examples prove that Jefferson was far from being a proponent of unrestricted governmental power, such as that promulgated today in Washington. Instead, he was adamant that strict limitations (such as the First Amendment's separation of church and state) were needed to safeguard the rights of minorities against the tyranny of the majority.

Democratic senators, in trying to prevent a handful of ideologues from twisting the judiciary further to the right, are performing exactly that kind of necessary duty. Some may call them "obstructionists," but those Senators are properly fulfilling their Constitutional duty of "advice and consent" with respect to the President's most questionable nominees, and are following long-standing Senate rules in doing so.

This notice ran in my local newspaper last week:

Wanted: Your views on religion and public policy

Are you happy with religion's role in public policy, worried about the separation of church and state, or scratching your head over the idiocy of (name the political party)? [name redacted] is working on a story that looks at the ways religion and politics are connected to moral values in the United States. Express your views by sending an e-mail to [redacted]. Please include your daytime phone.

My response follows:

As an atheist, I'm firmly – albeit reluctantly – in the "worried about the separation of church and state" category. My stance stems from the worsening religious divide in our nation, and the increasing number of believers who use empty talk of morality to gather and misuse political power. Believers, fundamentalists in particular, often erroneously equate their personal religious beliefs with morality; as Sir Arthur Clarke once observed, "The greatest tragedy in mankind's entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion."

Pat Buchanan's "culture warriors" of the 1992-era GOP have commandeered half of the electorate, and they have successfully promoted their baseless belief that the United States is a "Christian nation" or is founded on "Judeo-Christian principles." Actually, all of our founding principles are secular in origin: representative democracy, separation of powers, and a limited government that respects individual rights.

In another popular misconception, televangelists call the separation of church and state "a lie of the left," and their farther-right brethren (Dominionists, Reconstructionists, and other extremists) demand a return to such Biblical barbarities as death by stoning for "crimes" such as adultery and homosexuality. Despite the Constitutional prohibition against any religious test for public office (not fully upheld until the 1961 Torcaso v. Watkins decision), some fundamentalists want such colonial-era religious prejudice to be resurrected.

In today's hyper-religious America, the "Creation" myth trumps cosmology, tales of "Adam and Eve" demolish biology, the "Great Flood" story buries geology, sex education is neutered under the guise of "abstinence-only" ignorance, and "faith-based" entanglements with government abound. Most appallingly, these religion-based mistakes are made in the name of morality, as if a literal interpretation of ancient tribal myths and rituals should outweigh reason and evidence. I cannot comprehend how mere belief can obscure so many obvious truths, and how so many people can be completely certain of that which they cannot prove.

Closing our eyes to everything we have learned in the centuries and millennia since religion's "holy" books were written, as the fundamentalists and their politicians exhort us to do, will ensure that the future is less free, less safe, and less moral. Balkanization and tribalism threaten to divide us along religious fault lines as they have around the world.

I am ambivalent after reading the prophetic "GOP Swept from Power in 2006; Impeachment Looms" from Bernard Weiner and Ernest Partridge at Crisis Papers. I hope none of their pessimistic predictions come to pass (an economy on the brink of depression, a continuing Iraq war, blacklists for dissenters, etc.), but Washington badly needs change.

Norman Solomon's "The Key to Impeachment" at Tom Paine covers the same ground, but takes an approach grounded in history: Nixon, Reagan's Iran-Contra, and Bush I's Gulf War I.

Impeachment is an idea whose time has come: not through political machinations supported by little more than abject hatred, but through being richly deserved. It can't happen soon enough.

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