March 2006

What if Bush won’t bring the troops home?

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

Welcome back, fellow seekers,

Amy Klobuchar has replied to the follow-up questions that readers of this blog sent her about her Iraq position. It took a week, but she still weighed in faster than Mark Kennedy. We’re still waiting on him.

For those willing to read the full Klobuchar text, here it is.

Her answers are a little grandiloquent. Here’s what I got out of them:

(reviewing the case so far): Klobuchar advocates withdrawing an unspecified but substantial number of U.S. troops during 2006, and the majority by the end of 2007. She wants Pres. Bush to develop timetables, milestones and benchmarks to bring this about. If Bush won’t, she advocates calling the Joint Chiefs before the Senate for their views on what such a plan should contain.

1. We asked her what, if anything, a senator could to bring about such a withdrawal, since the joint chiefs work for the commander-in-chief?

She replied that she would not only recommend a Joint Chiefs hearing, she believes that since the Democrats will take control of the Senate next year (that will require a net gain of six seats), such a hearing will be held. In the end, if Bush won’t go along with a withdrawal plan, she will work for the election of someone in 2008 who will.

2. We asked why “relitigating the origins” of the war held such a prominent place in her statements on Iraq.

She replied that “accountability for the run-up to this war is incredibly important;” that young soldiers “have been sent to war by a President who didn’t have a plan to secure the peace and bring them home;” and that she “will continue to demand that the administration account for their actions that have brought us to this point.”

2.5: Attached to question 2, we passed along a challenge from Kennedy that all candidates describe their strategy for winning the war on terror.

Klobuchar said “an obvious first step is to invest in our homeland security. For example, even three years after September 11, many of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission have not been followed.” She specified that the commission gave the administration a “D” for port security, a “D” for guarding the U.S. infrastructure and an “F” for reforming the first responder system. She would also seek to restore “America’s role as the world’s moral compass.”

3. Finally, we Big Questioned her: how do we get rid of the hatred in our politics based on how we got into this war?

She repeated her call for “a full accounting for the lead-up to the war” and said that “no American’s patriotism should be questioned for asking why we went to war in Iraq, and how we’re going to get out.”

If you’re just joining us and are prepared to go deep on the Iraq positions of the Senate candidates, this link will get you everything you want to know, times 10.

And if you’re tired of political rhetoric that insults your intelligence, please read the three chapters of “Is That a Fact?” just below.

Is that a fact?

Floggings will continue until morale improves

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

DFL high dudgeon continues for a second day over Gil Gutknecht’s outrageous — nay, depraved effort to draw analogies between his supporters and the Minnesota First Regiment’s heroic stand at the Battle of Gettysburg (see post immediately below).

Today’s press release is headlined

It’s not clear how the controversy escalated, other than the issuance of the second press release. As for Kennedy stoking the fire, he has apparently said nothing about it.

Asked how Kennedy had stoked the fire of the escalating controversy, DFL communications director David Ruth said that this was a reference a quote in Thursday’s Strib in which Kennedy spokesperson Heidi Fredrickson called the first DFL press release “a pathetic attempt by the DFL to distort Congressman Gutknecht’s remarks.”

We hereby create the second category in our new catalogue of the different kinds of bull slung in political rhetoric. Category One was “feined outrage.” Category Two: “horse flogging.”

Is that a fact?: Methinks They May Protest Too Much

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

A dripping-with-phony-outrage DFL press release Wednesday demanded that U.S. Rep. Gil Gutknecht retract and apologize for an “ignorant and incendiary” insult to the Democratic Party.

DFL Chair Brian Melendez demanded, via the press release, which was emailed to reporters and posted at, that Mark Kennedy denounce and disavow Gutknecht’s calumny because Kennedy was standing on the Mankato stage with Gutknecht when the slander was uttered.

What was the insult that Gutknecht must withdraw and Kennedy must repudiate?

Gutknecht told an audience of College Republican at Minnesota State University that if they help “hold the line” for the GOP in this year’s midterm election, they could play a role as pivotal as that played by Minnesota’s 1st Regiment in holding the line at the Battle of Gettysburg. (Here’s the coverage of the event from the MSU Reporter, the student paper.) Do you get the outrage? Here’s your next clue.

According to the headline on the DFL press release:


Of Human Bondage

It is true, although Gutknecht cleverly avoided saying so directly, that the forces the Minnesota 1st helped defeat at Gettysburg were Confederate troops, which came from the side in the U.S. Civil War that was defending slavery.

The student paper’s coverage does not indicate that slavery, slaves or slaveholders were mentioned at the MSU event. Gutknecht didn’t say that if they get control of Congress next year, the Dems would re-legalize human bondage. But he did say they would raise taxes on the rich.

The DFL press release fits the pattern of political parties looking for opportunities to feign outrage, put the other party on the defensive and create a lot of weird self-serving partisan linkages. (The DFL press release says that if Kennedy fails to denounce Gutknecht’s rhetoric “Minnesotans will know they can expect another campaign full of distasteful distortions and distractions from him” and managed to work in a passing reference to Kennedy’s pro-Bush voting record and a reference to “the insult-and-divide strategy he learned from the Karl Rove playbook.”)

The kindest interpretation of this press release would be to take it as payback for the phony outrage expressed by the John Kline campaign over the silly caricature of Kline as Col. Klink from “Hogan’s Heroes.” How dare they compare us to Nazis?

Is That a Fact hereby launches a catalogue of the different kinds of bull slung in political rhetoric. We declare this to be in the category of “Feigned outrage.”

p.s. If you want to know more about Is That a Fact, read the much meatier example just below.

Is that a Fact?: Spinners Repent

Friday, March 24th, 2006

Welcome back, fellow seekers of wisdom and truth.

While we wait, e’er so patiently, for Amy Klobuchar and Mark Kennedy to answer your follow-up questions about their Iraq positions, (if you’re just joining us and want to catch up on The Senate Race and Iraq: Who has the best plan? Click here) The Big Question hereby introduces a new feature.

If it works out, we will continue through this campaign year. Or until politicians and their minions stop evading and equivocating.

Under the working title of “Is that a Fact?” we’ll put campaign communications on trial for alleged crimes and misdemeanors against straight talk. And we’ll start with the Minnesota Senate race.

While our title suggests that we are fundamentally testing factuality, a great portion of political bull is slung without perpetration of a technical lie or inaccuracy. The authors and disseminators of much political prevarication apparently believe that reasonable standards of logic, candor, fairness, context, hype, loaded word choices and guilt by association do not apply.

Well, it says here that they should apply.

And those standards should apply not only to the high-profile communications – such as campaign ads or public statements by the candidates – but to the below-the-radar bloviations campaigns and their allies spin out every day, via e-mail, news release, or on TV and radio.

Today, for inaugural purposes, we’ll suggest some deficiencies in two press releases — one by the Republican National Senatorial Committee attacking Amy Klobuchar for allegedly “hiding from the issues,” and one from the DFL accusing Mark Kennedy of trying to “hide his DC ties.” In both cases, the chief assertion is specious and is contradicted by the very evidence cited to support it.

Before providing the chapters and verses, please indulge me in this aside. The fact that our inaugural effort includes one DFL and one Repub example does not mean that “Spinners Repent” will engage in phoney or forced balance. The plan is to call them as we see them, and we’ll welcome your nominations of political communications deserving of scrutiny. But, in oblivious contradiction of that pledge, here’s one from each side:

“Kennedy can’t hide DC ties.”

On March 1, I received an email from the DFL titled: “Kennedy can’t hide DC ties.” (Full text of the accompanying press release here although it doesn’t include that title).

It begins:

“Today, Karl Rove headlines a Washington, DC, fundraiser for Mark Kennedy’s U.S. Senate campaign. Although Mark Kennedy has tried to distance himself from President Bush for his 2006 campaign, he remains a favorite of the White House and national Republicans.”

It reminds readers of the following, none of which is in dispute:

That Pres. Bush spoke at a Kennedy fund-raiser in Minnesota in December.
Same for Cheney last July.

That Kennedy’s voting record, on average over five years in Congress, has agreed with Bush’s position 91.6 percent of the time and 87 percent in 2005.

That Pres. Bush’s approval rating in Minnesota kinda stinks.

That DFL Chair Brian Melendez says Kennedy is “truly President Bush’s comrade,”

Okay, we get it. The Dems want to run against George W. Bush and portray Kennedy as a Bush lapdog.

They have every right and political reason to do so. And, notwithstanding the low probative value of quotes from any party chair, they’ve got plenty of material. You can expect to hear the theme all year and, as long as they stick to the evidence, “Is That a Fact?” won’t complain.

But the other chief assertion, made in the title of the email (“can’t hide his DC ties”) and three times in the text (“Kennedy has tried to distance himself from President Bush,” “Kennedy is trying to distance himself now” and “Kennedy might be trying to hide his Bush loyalty”), is that Kennedy is trying to cover up his Bush connections.

Exactly how has he done that? By having Bush and Cheney come to town to raise funds for him? By going to Washington to appear with Karl Rove? By voting with Bush’s position only 87 percent of the time in 2005?

The press release offers no evidence that Kennedy is shunning Bush. In fact, it’s replete with evidence that he is doing exactly the opposite.

Okay, maybe not exactly the opposite. Kennedy’s campaign materials use the word “independent” a lot, the word “Republican” not so much. The brochure I’m looking at right now contains no pictures of Kennedy with Bush, and a piece in Roll Call quoted Kennedy campaign spokesperson Heidi Frederickson saying: “We’re not tying ourselves to Bush in any way at all,” she said. “Mark Kennedy is a different kind of Republican–he’s very independent, he bucked the president on [drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] and No Child Left Behind–Bush isn’t going to win this race for him.”

On the other hand, I just searched the Kennedy campaign website for references to Bush. Found nine, eight of them either complimenting Bush or highlighting areas of Kennedy Bush agreement..

And in his hour-long interview with me (transcript) about his Iraq position, Kennedy didn’t distance himself an inch from the Bush “stay until victory” position.

Next case: Klobuchar’s “Hide and Seek”

That same day (3/1/06), I received an e-mail from the National Republican Senatorial Committee headlined: “Amy Klobuchar Plays Hide and Seek With Minnesota Voters; Klobuchar Hides Her Views While Minnesotans Seek Her Positions.” The press release said Klobuchar had not taken a position on the renewal of the Patriot Act, had waited “nearly three months” to state how she would have voted on the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, implied that there was something contradictory about Klobuchar’s position on troop withdrawals from Iraq and on the NSA warrantless wiretaps, and ends with the all-caps question: “HOW LONG WILL AMY KLOBUCHAR KEEP HIDING FROM THE ISSUES???”

As with the DFL communiqué, this is consistent with a clear theme of Republican efforts to soften Klobuchar up for the fall: the claim that she won’t take clear positions.

On the other hand, a second line of attack is that Klobuchar is a member of the “liberal fringe.” In a March 9 press release from the Kennedy campaign itself, spokesperson Fredrickson said:

“Ms. Klobuchar may pretend to be ‘Silent Amy’ in Minnesota, but her actions in D.C. would put her in lock-step with Mark Dayton and the liberal fringe of her party.”

So they simultaneously claim to know where she stands and not know where she stands.
Klobuchar has ignored Republican demands for her position on several issues, but reporters covering the campaign have had little difficulty getting an answer on any issue about which they have inquired.

Sometimes, the answers have been a tad artful, begging obvious follow-ups to fill in the holes. But in all cases of which I’m aware, except the one at the bottom of this post, such follow-ups produce a reasonably clear, complete position.

In fact, in three of the four cases cited in the GOP press release, her position is included in the press release itself.

Klobuchar announced on January 25 – six days before the Senate voted on Alito – that if she were a senator, she would vote no. Like a number of sitting senators, she waited until after the committee hearings concluded to take a position. Can you imagine a press release that said: Klobuchar didn’t take a position on the Alito nomination as quickly as we thought she should, but she did announce a position before the vote? Nah, neither can I.

On Iraq, Klobuchar’s position, which has been on her website since 2005, is that she opposes setting a deadline for withdrawing all U.S. troops, but favors bringing a significant number home in 2006.

The RNSC press release says that last fall: “Klobuchar did not support setting a date for withdrawing troops from Iraq” but in February of ’06: “Klobuchar said she would support bringing a significant number of troops home this year,” as if there’s some change of position reflected in the two statements. There simply isn’t. Both have been her position all along.

Personally, I thought there was some air in her position about whether the ongoing withdrawal that she recommends should be guided by a timetable (not a deadline) that she wants to see set or by the accomplishment of “milestones and benchmarks” for improving the situation in Iraq, which she also wants to see set. But after an hour-long interview (full transcript here if you are a glutton for punishment,) or a story summarizing it here) I felt she reduced the ambiguity
to within a few inches of clarity.

On the warrantless wiretaps, the press release included a long quote from an MPR interview with Klobuchar, attached to a Republican claim that “Klobuchar dances so no one can tie down her position.” Read the statement for yourself at ).

If you overlook her “umms” and “ers” her position is pretty clear: She believes the National Security Agency circumvented the legal requirements for wiretapping. She favors a congressional investigation to consider that question and also to consider Bush’s claim that getting warrants in advance wasn’t practical in this case and, if necessary, to consider changing the law.

The other issue in the Republican press release is the renewal of the Patriot Act (which has since been renewed.)

As of this writing, neither Klobuchar’s campaign website nor the Star Tribune archives reflect any Klobuchar position on Patriot Act renewal. So I asked and received this statement:

“I would have advocated for changes to the Patriot Act, including provisions
that protect libraries from government searches. With those changes, I
would have voted for the renewal of the Patriot Act.

In the future, however, I will advocate for additional protections for civil liberties, including meaningful judicial review of gag orders, protection of sensitive personal
information, and an expedient sunset period so we can continue to monitor
these issues.”

Hmm. It’s an answer, but it begs this obvious followup, which I have just emailed to the Klobuchar campaign:

“If the amendments she prefers had been defeated, and she had had to vote on the renewal of the Patriot Act in the form in which it reached the Senate floor for final passage, would she have voted aye or nay?”

If I get an updated answer, I’ll pass it along.

Update, Update

E-mail from Frances Starkey, Klobuchar’s media spokesperson:

“Yes, Amy would have voted for the renewal of the Patriot Act in its final
form and in the future, will advocate for additional protections for civil
liberties, including meaningful judicial review of gag orders, protection of
sensitive personal information, and an expedient sunset period so we can
continue to monitor these issues.”

Iraq and the Senate Race: Who has the best plan?

Are you ready to cut off funds for the war?

Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

Good Thursday morning, Fellow Seekers

Still no fresh answers from Klobuchar or Kennedy. I’ll seek a progress report from the campaigns today and pass it along.

On the first day of “The Senate and the Iraq War,” Big Q reader Mike Grimes asked for the Iraq position of the Independence Party’s Senate candidate, political newcomer Robert Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald kindly e-mailed it to me.

Here it is in full:


Congress rolled over and gave the Executive total power and full authority to lead us into Iraq. It was clear in today’s [Tuesday's] press conference that President Bush doesn’t intend to give that power back. He said he plans to be in Iraq through 2008.

At this time, it appears the only leverage Congress has is to pull the purse strings and stop the funding. Other than that – we’re spending a lot of time on woulda, coulda, shoulda and it becomes a huge distraction.

Follow the money. We have truckloads of cash heading over to contractors in Iraq – what has the American public received for these dollars? Worse yet, who is actually paying for this? We’re just adding to our debt to service this war. We’ve left no defense contractor behind and mortgaged our future.

No oversight, cost overruns, no end in sight. To think that future generations won’t balk at our seemingly endless ability to spend their money is laughable. It’s just that they can’t speak up for their interests. Suckers.

Robert Fitzgerald


And if you are willing to give free advice to a novice blogger, do any of ya’ll have suggestions for making the Big Question more interesting, easier to use or better in any way?

Extra Credit — Related Content

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

This round of the Big Question relates to the race for the open U.S. Senate seat from Minnesota, and the Iraq positions of three candidates who run the gamut from Stay until Victory (Republican Mark Kennedy), to Get all the troops out by Christmas (Democrat Ford Bell), to Wind Down the War but don’t Set a Deadline (Democrat Amy Klobuchar).

If you’re just joining us, here’s your makeup homework. There will be a quiz.

Here’s the full article, laying out the three exit strategies (if you read it in the paper, you didn’t get the half of it).

Here’s a summary of public opinion polls on Iraq, compiled by

Here’s a poll by the Program on International Policy Attittudes that went very deep on Iraq:

Here’s the Iraq position paper on the Ford Bell website:

Amy Klobuchar lays out her Iraq position on this national security position paper:

Mark Kennedy doesn’t have an Iraq position paper on his website.

Mark Kennedy doesn’t have an Iraq position paper on his website. Here are op-ed pieces Kennedy wrote for the Strib, the first gives his views in the first days after the war started and the second after his first trip to Iraq to visit the troops.

More recently, Kennedy gave his views on Iraq in two Minnesota Public Radio interviews. Here’s the audio from the most recent MPR interview, and here are two excerpts.

And, for extra credit, or just for masochists, here are the full transcripts of the interviews between Big Question guy Eric Black and the three candidates about nothing but their Iraq positions: (Bell | Kennedy | Klobuchar).

How are these for answers?

Tuesday, March 21st, 2006

Good Wednesday morning, fellow seekers,

Senate candidate Ford Bell has replied to the three questions you suggested. If you want full chapter and verse, it’s here, written by Walter Ludwig, a Bell campaign consultant who speaks for the candidate.

If you’ll settle for my summary:

We asked to Bell to back up his statement that more Iraqi have been killed in the current war than were killed by Saddam Hussein.

Bell says that if he said that (and he did, on tape, eblack), he shouldn’t have, because it isn’t so.
“The number of Iraqi civilians killed under Saddam is reliably estimated at around 750,000, and those killed in the current action are thought to be around 100,000. Neither should be minimized, and Ford regrets his misstatement.� I say give him a point for quickly and forthrightly taking back an inaccurate statement.

We asked all three candidates to respond to the question: How do we get rid of the hatred in our politics based on how we got into this war? Bell replied:

“This is a fair question. I’ve been saying for a while that there is general agreement, even among many Republicans, that the war was a mistake, but that it’s time to decide what we do now. That’s why I’ve called for a very specific timeline to end the war. That said, it is an important American tradition, and a cornerstone of the democracy we’re trying to incubate in Iraq, that leaders must be held accountable by the people and the press. I don’t think it is hateful to question the Administration’s war policies; it’s being a good American.”

Finally, we passed along to Bell a challenge from one Big Question reader. Bell states that since Saddam didn’t have the weapons of mass destruction, Bush misled us into the war.

Big Question commenter Douglas Bass felt this ignored several reported discoveries of chemical and biological weapons, and of more than a ton of enriched uranium, and a recent book alleging that Saddam hid a lot of WMD in Syria.

If you want to go deep on this, you’d better read the full Ford Bell reply which includes a case-by-case discussion of the weapons finds that Bass had raised.
But the summary is this:

“On 10/7/2004, President Bush said “Iraq did not have the weapons that our intelligence believed were there.”
Bush has affirmed the findings of both the Kay and Duelfer reports that Saddam did not have an active WMD program at the time of the invasion.�

The uranium in question was not highly enriched. “Low-enriched uranium cannot be used in an atomic weapon – only as reactor fuel, a purpose which Iraq was entirely free to pursue under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and UN-imposed WMD restrictions.�

Bell’s reply also said the uranium in question was well-known to weapons inspectors and had been under IAEA seal since 1991.

I’m inclined to give Ford Bell full credit for forthrightness in addressing the questions. What do you think?

Big Question will continue to seek answers from Amy Klobuchar and Mark Kennedy to the questions you suggested. Both campaigns are working on it.

Meanwhile, I’m restating two hard questions for you all, since no one took me up on them yesterday:

1. For those of you who advocate withdrawal, what is the plan for a worst-case scenario, which could range from Rwanda-scale ethno-sectarian slaughter, Iraq becoming a vassal state of Iran, a regional war that implicates the oil supplies of the world’s three biggest exporters?

2. For those of you who advocate “stay till victory,� do you really mean no matter how long, no matter how many casualties, no matter how little progress toward your goal or how the operation adds to the national debt? And, given the state of public opinion, is such a potentially long-term commitment realistic?

Who will answer your big questions?

Tuesday, March 21st, 2006

Good Tuesday morning, fellow seekers,

I’ve taken several of the questions that came in Monday and forwarded them to the Bell, Kennedy and Klobuchar campaigns.

I asked Ford Bell:

1. To respond to Doug Bass’ suggestion that chemical and biological weapons, plus almost two tons of uranium have indeed been found in Iraq, plus a new book argues that more wmd’s were moved to Syria, which is a challenge to Bell’s position that Bush misled the country to war with phoney intel about phoney weapons.

2. To back up his statement (Bell interview) that the estimated 100,000 Iraqis killed in the war is more than Saddam ever killed.

I asked Amy Klobuchar:

1. To specify what she, as a senator, could or would do if the vast majority of U.S. troops have not been removed from Iraq by the end of 2007 as she proposes,(Klobuchar interview) other than holding a hearing and asking the joint chiefs for a plan that they cannot implement without the approval of their commander-in-chief.

2. Why “relitigating the origins of Operation Iraqi Freedom� deserves such a high priority as it assumes in her national security paper.

3. To respond to Kennedy’s demand that all the candidates say what is their strategy for winning the war on terror and keeping America safe?

I asked Mark Kennedy:

1. To respond to the suggestion that terrorism and wmd were excuses used by high-ranking Bush administration neo-conservatives to pursue goals they had advocated years before 9/11and described through the Project for a New American Century, which included overthrowing Saddam Hussein and the establishing permanent U.S. bases in Iraq.

2. To provide, as he offered to do in his interview with me, chapter and verse on his belief that Saddam had worked with Al Qaeda.

3. To describe how he would interpret his constitutional role as a senator in deciding whether this country should engage in or disengage from war?

4. A question that came in from a reader who asked that his name be withheld about what specific metrics of progress on the democratization, security and infrastructure repair fronts could be used to measure victory in Iraq.

Lastly, I asked all three candidates to respond a question from yesterday’s comments: “How do we get rid of the hatred in our politics based on how we got into this war?�

I’ll post their replies as they come in, if they come in, and continue to invite your questions for them. Meanwhile, here’s my challenge to you all.

For those of you who advocate withdrawal, what is the plan for a worst-case scenario, which could range from Rwanda-scale ethno-sectarian slaughter, Iraq becoming a vassal state of Iran, a regional war that implicates the oil supplies of the world’s three biggest exporters?

For those of you who advocate “stay till victory,� do you really mean no matter how long, no matter how many casualties, no matter how little progress toward your goal or how the operation adds to the national debt? And, given the state of public opinion, is such a potentially long-term commitment realistic?

Iraq and the Senate Race: Who has the best plan?

Are you ready to go deep?

Sunday, March 19th, 2006

Good morning fellow seekers of wisdom and truth.

Are you ready to go deep on the intersection between the Iraq war and the Minnesota Senate race?

There’s plenty of time before election day, but I’m ready to see this campaign and our coverage of it be about something other than the horserace.

So an assignment to write a piece for the third-anniversary of the Iraq war, seemed like a chance to get beyond the slogans. Minnesota’s Senate candidates include prominent proponents of the three main flavors of Iraq exit strategy: Mark Kennedy for ‘stay until victory;’ Ford Bell for ‘set a deadline and pull out;’ and Amy Klobuchar, representing ‘set no deadlines but start withdrawing troops without waiting for the fulfillment of the war aims.’

Each of the candidates agreed to sit for a long Iraq-only interview. They were summarized in the piece that appears on the front page of Monday’s Strib. But what fit in the paper was less than half of the story. The untrimmed version is here.

And, if you are a true glutton for punishment, the full transcripts of the three interviews are available: (Bell | Kennedy | Klobuchar). And there are more useful links on the candidates’ Iraq positions below this post.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it (that, for the recently-born or the memory-impaired is a reference to the original “Mission: Impossibleâ€? TV show) is to identify in the comment thread below the questions, or follow-ups, I should have asked but didn’t.

I will forward your questions to the candidates (provided they’re civil and substantive, of course) and try to get answers.

This is a place where open-minded critical thinkers of all political persuasions encounter information and arguments that both support and challenge their preconceptions. The goal is not to eliminate differences but to narrow and clarify them. We begin with a bedrock agreement that the search for insight and clarity is important, serious - and fun.

We ask commenters to be civil and substantive and, if possible, good humored. We reserve the right to delete comments that disregard this request.

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