Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Apples, Oranges, and Congressional Approval Ratings

Liberal Seagull

Lately there's been a lot of talk about Congressional approval ratings. Conservative pundits are gleefully pointing out that Congress is now less popular than President Bush. Liberals are wringing their hands. There's talk that this may hurt the Democrats' chances of holding on to Congress in 2008.

Don't believe a word of it.

Oh, the numbers are correct. As little as 25% of people approve of the job Congress is doing, depending on whose polls you believe. And yes, 25% is less than 33%. But those numbers represent very different things. People don't go to the ballot box and vote on Congress, as a whole. They vote on their own Congressional representative, and people almost always like their own rep -- it's those other guys they can't stand. Congressional approval ratings haven't been above 50% in over 30 years and yet incumbents are reelected over 90% of the time.

Conservatives have been searching for a way to shine up 33% and make it look good for quite a while now. This attempt makes no more sense than the others.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Once again...

There are three of us blogging here, as you can see in the column at right. Be sure you know whose post you're responding to, before you respond.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Slowing the Hillary pillory

Despite Fox News' best efforts, the Republican field is looking rather sad. McCain's campaign is practically dead, Giuliani's in sad shape, and Thompson is something of a joke. This is not meaning to sound complacent (if I hadn't learned that lesson already, I'm a grade A moron) but there is a distinct possibility that Hillary Clinton may enter history as the first female president of the United States.

Hillary doesn't get a lot of love on the left; her war vote and centrist civil rights platform tends to raise our hackles quite a bit. She also has the typical hard time with admitting mistakes, instead choosing to convolutedly rationalize past problems, which is a politician's shield against criticism of weakness. (Not that Ahnold's hangdog apologies harmed him any.)

But a review of her voting record reveals something less odious than what she's painted to be. She may be on our side only 85% of the time, but that's 85% more than the current administration. If she ends up as the Democratic candidate for 2008, we could indeed do a lot worse, such as Mike Gravel, for instance. In fact, upon reflection, everyone running in the Democratic race is infinitely better than whoever's running under the GOP banner at this time, which at this stage, I shouldn't need to say.

At this stage, most people are focused on getting this worthless war ended, which is fair enough. If this is indeed Bush's war, then the troops come out, and she and/or her Secretary of State can assist in smoothing out the peace process. There's also no doubt that we'll have to rebuild our credibility in the Middle East more than ever. As far as they're concerned, we are a rogue state. So Hillary is faced with the unenviable position of repairing our image abroad while looking tough "as a man" at home.

And that's going to be used against her, constantly. She is going to be called so many names by the press. Late night comedians will make untoward jokes about her sexuality (NTTAWWT blah blah blah). It's my feeling that the left will have to work against some of their own biases in rewarding her good behavior over constantly punishing her for occasional (and bound to be over-publicized) bad behavior on single issues. The right will already be lashing out with their most vile invective ever. If progressives try to compete with their shouting matches, issues will once again be obfuscated in personality prattle, and 2012 will be end up being 2000 all over again. Time to throw away the proverbial gallon of vinegar and get out the drop of honey.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Liberal Eagle's intermittent top five.

I haven't done this in a while, so, just for the heck of it, five songs I'm really digging just now:

5. David Gray, "The One I Love"
4. Spiraling, "Living Proof"
3. Elliott Smith, "Angel in the Snow"
2. Rufus Wainwright, "Going to a Town"
1. Fountains of Wayne, "Supercollider"

Saturday, July 21, 2007

It's all very de-press-ing.

Let's revisit, for a moment, the moronic sideshow that is the media's fascination with John Edwards paying $400, earlier this year, to have a barber come to his hotel and cut his hair between campaign stops on a swing through California.

There are a ton of reasons why this nugget of information probably did not merit being mentioned in the news once, let along being hyped for months by many of our best and brightest pundits into one of the biggest political stories of the campaign to date. It has no bearing at all on Edwards' ability to govern. It's Edwards's money and he can spend it how he wants. It's not as if Edwards regularly pays that for a haircut in any case, since he was paying extra to have the barber come to him during a hurried break in campaigning. Etc. etc. etc.

It's an idiotic story, and I can't believe any self-respecting journalist could defend it with a straight face.

I don't know if Marc Ambinder's face was straight when he typed the following in The Atlantic Online, but type it he did. Apparently, to Mr. Ambinder, the Edwards haircut story is entirely valid, more so than the similar, more recent story about Mitt Romney spending roughly the same amount on makeup consulting, because:

There is a difference in the political reality: fairly or unfairly, a healthy chunk of the national political press corps doesn't like John Edwards.

Fairly or unfairly, there's also a difference in narrative timing: when the first quarter ended, the press was trying to bury Edwards. It's not so much interested in burying Romney right now -- many reporters think he's the Republican frontrunner.

Read that again. Let it sink in.

And then allow me to summarize the major points here. What Mr. Ambinder is saying is that if the press corps wants to kill a candidacy and decides to harp endlessly on a petty, insignificant story about the candidate's hair to do so, that by itself lends legitimacy to the story.

And, conversely, if the press decides a candidate is the "front runner," that makes it perfectly legitimate to cover him differently, and downplay embarrassing facts about him.

Is it just me or is that, I don't know, the exact opposite of how journalism is supposed to function?

Ambinder seems not to understand that what he's offering is not an explanation of the story's legitimacy, but an indictment of the way the press corps gauges stories' legitimacy.

I'm going to let Charlie Pierce speak for me, and quote his response at length:

It is posts like this one that will one day make me give up and join the Carthusians. Leave aside the labored -- and laughably threadbare -- defense of why John Edwards's haircuts matter, but not before recalling that, when Jack Kennedy first ran for Congress, people chaffed him for living in Palm Beach and having had a butler at Harvard. Both items were true. Neither bit particularly deeply. Why? Because the political press of the time -- many of whom were fresh off a battlefield in the Ardennes or the Solomons -- realized when something was a punch line and something was a real issue, and with returning veterans sweltering with their families in Quonset huts along the Charles, who gave a rat's ass where JFK spent his winters? Anyway, this argument will be with us always, and it's every bit as dumb as it was in 1948.

However, where in hell do we go with that last passage there, about how the haircuts matter because "a healthy chunk of the political press corps" doesn't like Edwards, and how they're staying away from a sauce-for-the-goose position on Mitt Romney's makeovers because of their own private calculations of the relative electability of the two candidates. OK, here's the deal. Every member of that "healthy chunk" of the press corps should be fired. Today. This minute. Without pay or recompense. Let them all walk back inside the Beltway from Cedar Rapids if they have to. I value what I do. I value the work of the people in my business who do it correctly. But, holy mother of god, these people do not do what I do. It's OK to sneer at a candidate if you don't like him? It's OK to create a destructive narrative out of unmitigated piffle because he doesn't kiss your ass with the regularity you think you deserve, or because his press buses don't run on time, or because one of his staffers was late with the Danish in Keene? I watched a roomful of them boo Al Gore seven years ago, behavior that would have gotten them run out of any press box in the major leagues. Do you think one of these jamokes -- or jamokettes -- is thinking, "Maybe we should lay off the haircut thing because of what we all did to Gore in 2000, and look how well that worked out." Please.

Here's what I think -- the majority of people who cover national politics believe that history is whatever happened in the MSNBC Green Room 15 minutes earlier. I believe the campaign is covered by people with a completely unjustified sense of their own superiority, since not many of them understand or ever care about most of the issues, much less the horrendous bills that are going to come due upon whichever of these poor sods winds up with the job. I believe these people care more about their reputation around the bar at the Wayfarer in Manchester than they do about the interests of the people they purportedly serve. And, were I an editor, and someone brought me a story about John Edwards' hair or Mitt Romney's skin, that person would do it once. The second time, the lazy bastard would find himself typing bowling agate on Wednesday night.

Amen to that.

But it's worth noting that this has been the press's modus operandi for a long time, though. They're supposed to be the guardians of democracy, but often, when it comes to presidential elections at least, they believe they know better than we do, which, as far as I'm concerned, is the exact opposite of believing in democracy. And that's a very frightening state of affairs.

I've linked to this piece before, I think, and I'm going to quote it again (although really the whole thing is worth reading--it will both inform and terrify you).

In it, Jonathan Schwartz, over at A Tiny Revolution, recalls a conversation with The Washington Post's Richard Cohen, when he (Schwartz) was at Yale:

So anyway, here's a funny little story illustrating all this:

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen came to talk at Yale in 1988, just after I arrived. Following schmancy Yale tradition, he had tea with a small group of students and then ate dinner with an even smaller group. I weaseled my way into attending.

Gary Hart had recently flamed out in the '88 presidential race because of Donna Rice. And at dinner Cohen told all us fresh-faced, ambitious, grotty youths this:

The Washington press corps had specifically tried to push Hart out of the race. It wasn't because Hart had had extramarital affairs—everyone knew this was the norm rather than the exception among politicians. So Hart wasn't at all unusual in this respect. Instead, Cohen said, it was because the press corps felt that Hart was "weird" and "flaky" and shouldn't be president. And when the Donna Rice stuff happened, they saw their opening and went after him.

(I wish I remembered more about what Cohen said about the specific gripe of the press corps with Hart, but I don't think he revealed many details.)

At the time, I remember thinking this:

1. How interesting that the DC press corps knows grimy details about lots of politicians but only chooses to tell the great unwashed when they decide it's appropriate.

2. How interesting that the DC press corps feels it's their place to make decisions for the rest of America; ie, rather than laying out the evidence that Hart was weird, flaky, etc., and letting Americans decide whether they cared, they decided run-of-the-mill citizens couldn't be trusted to make the correct evaluation.

3. How interesting that Cohen felt it was appropriate to tell all this to a small group of fresh-faced, ambitious, grotty Yale youths, but not to the outside world. And how interesting that we were being socialized into thinking this was normal.

It's the same thing all over again with John Edwards. It's not that the media, for the most part, actually think it's important. It's that they think Edwards shouldn't be president and should be forced out of the race. And, they don't trust that the masses would understand or agree with their reasons for thinking this, so, when they got handed a story about Edwards, on a single occasion, paying too much for a haircut, they were like "Hey, you know, we could spin this into some huge story about how he's a hypocrite for caring about poor people despite no longer being poor himself!"

Because they think us unwashed non-Beltway types will fall for that, and that they know better.

The irony of this "father knows best" behavior on the part of the national press is that, in fact, they aren't behaving like wise parents or even adults. They resemble nothing so much as a clique of high school Cool Kids, radiating a completely unearned sense of superiority, and of their own inherent right to pass judgment and then have that judgment be the final word, and convinced that their own petty gripes and grudges and power struggles and catty taunts have actual substance to them, actually matter.

But this isn't high school. It's a country. The most powerful in the world, and with the quality of life of 300 million people hanging in the balance. And, given that, you'd think they would learn.

Because they decided Al Gore shouldn't be president, eight years ago. And so they made up lies about him, like "he said he invented the internet," to prove what a lying dope he was. And they made fun of how he dressed, made fun of how he talked, mocked him for daring to actually understand and discuss policy. Bush was just, like, way more fun! I wanna drink beer with that guy! Elect him! (Did I mention this reminds me of high school?)

And it was a disaster. The guy they picked ended up being the worst and most destructive president in the nation's history. You might think they'd change their ways, given that, and stop playing at being kingmakers, and just tell us what we need to know to make an informed decision.

But they won't, of course. They'll try to drive people they don't like out of the race by talking about their hair, and I imagine their judgment about who should be president is probably as deeply awful as it was when they decided that smug frat boy George W. Bush would do great at the job.

And that scares me a lot.

Friday, July 20, 2007

What Conservatives Say When They Think We Aren't Listening

Over the week, I am asked nine times - I counted - when I am fleeing Europe's encroaching Muslim population for the safety of the United States of America.

My friend (and co-conspirator in thought crime) Andrew sent me a link to an amazing article from Independent reporter Johann Hari. Johann goes on a National Review cruise to find out what conservatives talk about "when they think we aren't listening."

It's an excellent article, although Johann's perspective is a little skewed, because American talk radio doesn't make it to Britain. The fact is, conservatives do say this stuff publicly -- you hear it every day from people like Michael Savage and Glenn Beck. This "they said it, I didn't" cover lets Republican politicians benefit from racist and xenophobic sentiments without having to take responsibility for espousing those views themselves.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Oh those moral fundamentalists

Digby notes that the Supreme Court has refused to hear the case of a man about to be executed in Georgia who is quite probably innocent, but whose appeals are now exhausted.

I'm with Digby--I oppose the death penalty anyhow, but I find it especially appalling that anyone could possibly fail to be horrified at the idea of ritualistically killing someone for something he or she didn't even do.

But what do you expect, from a Supreme Court that has as one of its leading intellectual lights a man named Scalia, who believes there is no constitutional right to bring evidence, but why worry? Surely if you're innocent, the president will always let you off the hook, because the president is always gonna be a fantastic guy!

As he said in a 1993 concurrence in Herrera v. Collins:

I can understand, or at least am accustomed to, the reluctance of the present Court to admit publicly that Our Perfect Constitution lets stand any injustice, much less the execution of an innocent man who has received, though to no avail, all the process that our society has traditionally deemed adequate. With any luck, we shall avoid ever having to face this embarrassing question again, since it is improbable that evidence of innocence as convincing as today's opinion requires would fail to produce an executive pardon.

Oh, well, I won't worry. I don't need rules protecting me. I can rely on rich white guys to do the right thing without being compelled.

It gets worse, though. Scalia apparently doesn't even believe executing innocent people is a big deal. He knows this because his Christian faith tells him so. I am not making this up. In a speech on January 25, 2002, he said:

For the believing Christian, death is no big deal. Intentionally killing an innocent person is a big deal, a grave sin which causes one to lose his soul, but losing this physical life in exchange for the next – the Christian attitude is reflected in the words Robert Bolt’s play has Thomas More saying to the headsman: "Friend, be not afraid of your office. You send me to God." And when Cramner asks whether he is sure of that, More replies, "He will not refuse one who is so blithe to go to him."

For the non-believer, on the other hand, to deprive a man of his life is to end his existence – what a horrible act.

Yes. Aren't we unbelievers stupid. We think it's important to make damn sure we don't go around killing innocent people. If only we knew better, like that great Christian Antonin Scalia.

I might start bringing this up when people try to tell me atheists are inherently less moral than those guided by religious faith.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Liberal media, my tailfeathers (filibuster edition) (updated below)

Kevin Drum, here, discusses the fact that Republicans are, in essence, "filibustering" every piece of legislature they can, so they can then accuse the Democrats of running a "do-nothing Congress":

Republicans are basically filibustering everything they can get their hands on but aren't paying a price for it because filibusters are no longer filibusters. Thanks to a gentleman's agreement reached several decades ago, you no longer have to actually take to the Senate floor and talk until you drop. You just announce your intent to filibuster, the majority leader takes you at your word, and shortly thereafter schedules a cloture vote. No muss, no fuss. All you have to do is write a note and the bill in question suddenly requires 60 votes to pass, not 51. As a result, if the minority party feels like it, they can pretty easily force every bill to require 60 votes.

But this isn't a law, and if the majority leader wants to require actual filibusters, he can do so.

Two things strike me. One, remember the enormous fuss, back when the Repubs were in charge of the Congress, over the notion that Democrats might filibuster a few judicial nominees? The press made a big deal of the "controversy" surrounding whether or not this was appropriate behavior. Now, of course, the Republican minority is basically filibustering everything, and I imagine the average person has no idea, they just see that the Democrats are failing to get anything done.

But, because of this decades-old agreement, reached so that actual filibusters (which could go on for days) would not shut down other Senate business, Republicans basically just have to say "we're going to filibuster this" and all that happens is the bill suddenly needs 60 votes instead of 51 to pass, and since the Democrats don't have 60 votes, nothing ever passes.

The Republicans are clearly abusing this agreement, and, as political starategy and as political theater, I'm all in favor of the Dems actually forcing the Republicans to read the phone book into the Senate record and so forth.

I mean, via Digby, consider some of the stuff they've blocked using this method, this year:

1. January 17, Reid Amendment to Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007: a bill to provide greater transparency in the legislative process.
2. January 24, Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007: a bill to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide for an increase in the Federal minimum wage.
3. February 5, A bill to express the sense of Congress on Iraq: disapproving of the troop escalation in Iraq.
4. February 17, A bill to express the sense of Congress on Iraq: disapproving of the troop escalation in Iraq (again).
5. April 17, Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007: an original bill to authorize appropriations for fiscal year 2007 for the intelligence and intelligence-related activities of the United States Government, the Intelligence Community Management Account, and the Central Intelligence Agency Retirement and Disability System, and for other purposes.
6. April 18, Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2007: a bill to amend part D of title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide for fair prescription drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries.
7. June 11, No confidence vote on Alberto Gonzales: a joint resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales no longer holds the confidence of the Senate and of the American people.
8. June 21, Baucus Amendment to CLEAN Energy Act of 2007: To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for energy advancement and investment, and for other purposes.
9. June 26, Employee Free Choice Act of 2007: A bill to amend the National Labor Relations Act to establish an efficient system to enable employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts, and for other purposes.
10. July 11, Webb Amendment to the national defense authorization act for fiscal year 2008: to specify minimum periods between deployment of units and members of the Armed Forces for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Harry Reid has the ability to start forcing the Republicans to actually shut the Senate down for days at a time to block what is, as you can see, some remarkably popular stuff. And, I'm sure genuine, Mr. Smith-style filibusters would get a lot of media attention--it'd be great TV. Are they actually willing to do that? It's time we found that out. Bring on the windbaggery.

EDIT: Apparently, almost at the moment I was writing this, Harry Reid pretty much did what I was calling for him to do. I like it when that happens. I get to pretend I have power! Grrrr.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

I Didn't Drew This, July 14, 2007

I Drew This, July 14, 2007

Friday, July 13, 2007

Leaving Iraq, never easy

Thomas Friedman's columns about Iraq have been widely ridiculed. In fact, a period of six months has become known in the liberal blogosphere as a "Friedman unit" after his assertions, repeated frequently since November 2003, that "the next six months" would be critical in Iraq.

In spite of his strange slowness to recognize the Iraq War for the disaster it is, Friedman does occasionally show considerable insight into foreign policy matters. With that in mind, his recent column about withdrawl, "The ins and outs of leaving Iraq," makes interesting reading.

He begins by declaring Bush's stay-the-course approach to be "bankrupt," then asserts that gradual withdrawal is not workable -- citing the disastrous consequences of the British drawdown in Basra. Then he writes:
We must not kid ourselves: Our real choices in Iraq are either all in or all out -- with the exception of Kurdistan. If those are our only real choices, then we need to look clearly at each.

Staying in means simply containing the Iraqi civil war, but at the price of Americans and Iraqis continuing to die, and at the price of the United States having no real leverage on the parties inside or outside of Iraq to negotiate a settlement, because everyone knows we're staying so they can dither. Today, U.S. soldiers are making the maximum sacrifice so Iraqi politicians can hold to their maximum positions.

Getting out, on the other hand, means more ethnic, religious, and tribal killings all across Iraq. It will be one of the most morally ugly scenes you can imagine -- no less than Darfur. You will see U.S. troops withdrawing and Iraqi civilians and soldiers who have supported us clinging to our tanks for protection as we rumble out the door. We need to take with us everyone who helped us and wants out, and give green cards to as many Iraqis as possible.

What he's describing here, of course, is a direct parallel to the end of the Vietnam war -- that terrible helicopter-on-the-embassy-roof moment where people desperately scramble to get out before we leave.
But getting out has at least four advantages. First, no more Americans will be dying while refereeing a civil war. Second, the fear of an all-out civil war, as we do prepare to leave, may be the last best hope for getting the Iraqis to reach an 11th-hour political agreement. Third, as civil war in Iraq plays out, it could, painfully, force the realignment of communities on the ground that may create a more stable foundation upon which to build a federal settlement.

He goes on to suggest -- somewhat disturbingly -- that leaving Iraq would also free us up to attack Iran if it becomes necessary. It strikes me, though, that his other arguments are basically the same ones Democrats in Congress have been making for months now -- that the Iraqis will not make progress in running their own country until they know we're going to leave. This argument suggests that setting a firm withdrawal date could be the best thing we could do, not, as Bush suggests, a fatal sign of weakness to the terrorists. In fact, Friedman writes:
For all those reasons, I prefer setting a withdrawal date, but accompanying it with a last-ditch U.N.-led -- not U.S. -- diplomatic effort to get the Iraqi parties to resolve their political differences. If they can't agree -- even with a gun to their heads about to go off -- staying is truly pointless and leaving by a set date is the only option.

I hope some of our Senators and Representatives are reading, because what Friedman has articulated here is a compromise position that nearly everyone should be able to support, with the exception of Bush and his shrinking circle of true believers.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


I can't tell you how much I look forward to a day when the president speaks clearly and says things with actual meanings, and we can all stop pretending the insulting, muddleheaded gibberish Bush has been spouting for the last eight years is a normal way for a world leader to talk.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

My candidate of choice

I've been going back and forth about whether I prefer Barack Obama or John Edwards in this cycle (and there are moments Bill Richardson is very tempting, particularly when he talks about Iraq).

I spoke too soon. Clearly I have no choice but to support Lisa Simpson in 2008.

Monday, July 9, 2007

I Drew This, July 9, 2007

Meant to post this days ago, but I think it's still relevant. Another later in the week.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

More peaches

One American in four wants Bush impeached and removed from office.

That is, of course, way more than ever thought that about Clinton. I have a theory about this: Clinton didn't lie the country into a ruinous war, ignore a hurricane taking out a major city, or mispronounce "nuclear."

Friday, July 6, 2007


Back in the late 1990s, the press seemed not to grasp that the public overwhelmingly did not support the ridiculous Republican impeachment of Bill Clinton. (Or, when they did acknowledge this fact, they seemed mystified by it.)

Meanwhile, they continue to regard the idea of impeaching Bush and/or Cheney as ridiculous, shrill, beyond the pale. The Washington Post won't even poll the public on the matter (they used to regularly ask about whether people wanted Clinton impeached).

I suppose this was because the Beltway politician/pundit cocktail party crowd never considered Bill Clinton one of their own. (David Broder, who is a massive tool, said of Clinton, "He came in here and he trashed the place, and it's not his place." I suppose the fact that the nation elected Clinton twice didn't count nearly as much as being David Broder's friend, when it came to legitimacy.)

Bush and Cheney, by contrast, are clearly part of the club, and the club looks out for its own--witness how few of them thought Scooter Libby deserved to spend jail time over as small and petty a matter as his having been convicted of felonies by a jury. After all, Scooter's a great guy over cocktails!

But, for most of us, actual policy, and honesty and transparency on matters of actual importance in our lives, really do matter more than their stupid club. If the Post did start polling us, they might find what others have found already: America supports impeaching the bastards.

* 45% favor "the US House of Representatives beginning impeachment proceedings against President George W. Bush;" 46% oppose.

* 54% favor "US House of Representatives beginning impeachment proceedings against Vice President Dick Cheney;" 40% oppose.

However, back in 1998, when oh-so-serious people were frowning gravely and concluding that Clinton's sexcapades were a threat to the nation, the public felt differently:

Aug-Sept 1998 (Before Impeachment)

* Average support for impeachment and removal (10 polls): 26%
* Average support for hearings (6 polls): 36%

The establishment may not get it, but people hate this president, hate this war, and hate having had their fear and their patriotism used to manipulate them.

A coalition of progressive organizations has now launched ImpeachCheney.org. I'm definitely on board. If these people are not held accountable for abusing their power, the next time someone does it no one will even consider it abuse, because there'll be a precedent.

This is a key moment. These people need to pay.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy Fourth of July

On this day back in 1776, as you will recall, Thomas Jefferson and several other leaders put off signing the Declaration of Independence. Instead they made a multitude of public statements in the media about how terrible the British were, hoping that maybe the people would see the light and just change their loyalties to the new colonial leaders without said leaders actually having to do anything.

... oh, wait. No they didn't.

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