Aviva Chomsky: A newspaper’s crisis reveals unreported worlds

Is there a category of human beings who, in election 2016, have been the focus of more negative attention, fear-mongering, or worse press than immigrants, especially undocumented ones coming from or through Mexico (those infamous “rapists”)?  I doubt it.  Thought of in another way, such immigrants seem to be the only “lobbying group” capable of convincing Republican politicians that our crumbling infrastructure needs to be shored up — hence those monster walls to come along the Mexican border.  Immigrants, it’s now well known, are a shiftless bunch of criminals, or as Donald Trump put it, “If you look at the statistics of people coming, you look at the statistics on rape, on crime, on everything coming in illegally into this country it’s mind-boggling!” And don’t forget the terrorist types supposedly worming their way in among refugees — another category of immigrants — fleeing the chaos the U.S. had such a hand in creating in Syria and Iraq.  Those lost souls looking for asylum here have been a particular target of Republican candidates and office holders eager to ban them from coming anywhere near this country or at least their states.  Put it all together and you have a witch’s brew when it comes to the land of the free and home of the… well, whatever.

So imagine the national shock (had anyone been paying attention) that “The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States,” a study by researchers Walter A. Ewing, Daniel E. Martínez, and Rubén G. Rumbaut released last July through the American Immigration Council, should have caused here.  The three scholars offered truly shocking news.  They crunched the latest numbers and confirmed decades of other studies showing that immigration does anything but increase U.S. crime rates.  Immigrants, legal and otherwise, are charged with far fewer “serious crimes” and are jailed far less often than the native born.  To be specific, their study found that “1.6% of immigrant males age 18-39 are incarcerated, compared to 3.3% of the native-born. This disparity in incarceration rates has existed for decades, as evidenced by data from the 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial censuses. In each of those years, the incarceration rates of the native-born were anywhere from two to five times higher than that of immigrants.”  The same, by the way, holds true for incarceration rates “among the young, less-educated Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan men who make up the bulk of the unauthorized population.”

How in the world do such definitive hard numbers fit with the overwrought sense of fear and alarm, the myth-making about immigrants alive in the country today?  In her second TomDispatch post, Aviva Chomsky offers an interesting answer: it’s not that hard to create a nightmare vision of immigrants when they are almost never seen by the Americans you are scaring the hell out of.  Their invisibility in our world ensures that just about any picture can be painted of them without fear of contradiction because there’s nothing in most of our lives to which to compare it.  So consider today just one recent case in which, however briefly, that cloak of invisibility began to be lifted from the remarkably lawful, remarkably hardworking immigrants who are the target of so much calumny this election season. Tom Engelhardt

All the news that’s fit to print
How the media hide undocumented workers
By Aviva Chomsky

In our post-modern (or post-post-modern?) age, we are supposedly transcending the material certainties of the past. The virtual world of the Internet is replacing the “real,” material world, as theory asks us to question the very notion of reality.  Yet that virtual world turns out to rely heavily on some distinctly old systems and realities, including the physical labor of those who produce, care for, and provide the goods and services for the post-industrial information economy. 

As it happens, this increasingly invisible, underground economy of muscles and sweat, blood and effort intersects in the most intimate ways with those who enjoy the benefits of the virtual world. Of course, our connection to that virtual world comes through physical devices, and each of them follows a commodity chain that begins with the mining of rare earth elements and ends at a toxic disposal or recycling site, usually somewhere in the Third World.

Closer to home, too, the incontrovertible realities of our physical lives depend on labor — often that of undocumented immigrants — invisible but far from virtual, that makes apparently endless mundane daily routines possible.

[Read more…]

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Fear and paranoia lead Finns to form vigilante groups that ‘protect women’ from asylum seekers

The Washington Post reports: On a frigid night in this industrial city, three local men pulled up to a curb in a beat-up van sporting the stars and bars of the American Confederacy (because, they said, they just liked the look of it). Soon, they joined a dozen other beefy vigilantes gathering on a sidewalk for their first patrol to keep “our women” safe.

These are the Soldiers of Odin, a new far-right citizens group sprouting chapters across Finland. Its members are multiplying as this northern nation becomes a case study in the fear and suspicion gripping Europe after multiple sexual assaults allegedly committed by asylum seekers and others on New Year’s Eve.

Those incidents, in cities across central and northern Europe, included hundreds of complaints of sexual harassment in Cologne, Germany, as well as 15 alleged sex-related crimes in the Finnish capital, Helsinki. They have quickly altered the debate over a record wave of asylum seekers arriving in Europe from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Fresh barriers to new migrants are going up from Sweden to Greece. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump and the ‘rivers of blood’

Sarfraz Manzoor writes: Until recently, Donald J. Trump was best known in Britain for “The Apprentice” television series, the Miss Universe contest and a controversial golf course development in Scotland. And most Britons would probably have viewed his decision to enter the presidential race with no more than mild envy: Why can’t British elections be as much fun as American ones?

Thanks, however, to his incendiary comments about immigrants and Muslims, Mr. Trump has moved from being a buffoonish figure on the margins of British consciousness to the center of political debate. After Mr. Trump said that he, if president, would stop Muslims entering the United States, more than half a million people signed a parliamentary petition, thus requiring a debate in Parliament on whether to bar him entry to Britain. (The debate, which was held this past week in a committee, generated plenty of indignation but had no issue because the power to refuse Mr. Trump admittance is held not by Parliament but by the home secretary.)

Mr. Trump also drew condemnation from leading British politicians, newspapers, the Metropolitan Police and the mayor of London. Even the leader of the UK Independence Party, which campaigns on a strong anti-immigration platform, said Mr. Trump had “gone too far.”

When Mr. Trump speaks of barring Muslims from entering the United States, I hear an echo of a British politician from another age, one who is largely forgotten here but whose views on race and immigration were as polarizing in their time as Mr. Trump’s are now. Enoch Powell was a politician whose career spanned most of the postwar period, first as a Conservative and later as an Ulster Unionist. He had grave reservations about mass immigration and frequently spoke in apocalyptic language about its consequences. [Continue reading…]

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Woody Guthrie, ‘Old Man Trump’ and a real estate empire’s racist foundations

By Will Kaufman, University of Central Lancashire

In December 1950, Woody Guthrie signed his name to the lease of a new apartment in Brooklyn. Even now, over half a century later, that uninspiring document prompts a double-take.

Below all the legal jargon is the signature of the man who had composed “This Land Is Your Land,” the most resounding appeal to an equal share for all in America. Below that is the signature of Donald Trump’s father, Fred. No pairing could appear more unlikely.

Guthrie’s two-year tenancy in one of Fred Trump’s buildings and his relationship with the real estate mogul of New York’s outer boroughs produced some of Guthrie’s most bitter writings, which I discovered on a recent trip to the Woody Guthrie Archives in Tulsa. These writings have never before been published; they should be, for they clearly pit America’s national balladeer against the racist foundations of the Trump real estate empire.

Recalling these foundations becomes all the more relevant in the wake of the racially charged proclamations of Donald Trump, who last year announced, “My legacy has its roots in my father’s legacy.”

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The color of surveillance

Alvaro Bedoya writes: Every day, we hear about the power and promise of pervasive surveillance. We are losing sight of its victims. Instead, an NSA debate that could have surfaced a long line of black, Latino, Asian, and Muslim victims of surveillance was cast as an argument between the U.S. military and Snowden — national security versus the hackers.

This narrow focus may have blinded Congress to a little known but especially troubling aspect of the NSA scandal. In June 2013, the headlines were that the NSA was logging everyone’s phone calls. We now know that the NSA’s call records program — the single largest domestic spying program in our nation’s history — was effectively beta-tested for almost a decade on American immigrants.

In 1992, the Drug Enforcement Administration began a call records program that’s considered the blueprint for the NSA’s program, which began after Sept. 11 and received court approval in 2006. The DEA program logged virtually all calls made from the United States to a list of countries, regardless of who made them or why. Over time, 116 countries were added to that list — including Mexico and most of Central and South America. This means that for almost a decade before the NSA call records program, countless immigrants’ calls were tracked by the DEA when they called home. This is particularly true for Hispanic immigrants, who make up a large part of what is now the largest minority group in the country. We do not know what transpired in Congress’ closed-door discussions about the NSA or DEA call records programs, but public debates largely ignored these facts.

The next NSA debate will peak at the end of 2017. That’s the expiration date of another surveillance law that allows the government to read — without a warrant — certain messages stored on companies’ U.S. servers where at least one party to the communication was a foreigner living abroad. Will Congress probe the likely disparate impact of this law? If not, when will Congress reckon with the color of surveillance? [Continue reading…]

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Germany’s right-wing AfD party surges to new high amid concern over refugees

AfD

The Independent reports: Germany’s eurosceptic right-wing party has hit a new all-time high in the opinion polls as concern about migration rises in the country.

Alternative for Germany (AfD) would take 11.5 per cent of the vote is a federal general election were held today, according to a poll for Bild magazine.

The party is in third place after Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU, who are on 35 per cent. The centre-left social democrats are on 21.5 per cent.

The Green Party and the Left Party are on 10 per cent each, while the centre-right liberal FDP would re-enter parliament on 6 per cent after it was wiped out in the most recent Federal elections. [Continue reading…]

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When my Japanese-American family was treated as less than human

Mike Honda writes: In the aftermath of the Paris and San Bernardino, California, terrorist attacks, the dangerous and destructive discourse about Muslims and Muslim Americans has reached a tipping point. Some Republican presidential candidates are calling for a ban of Muslims entering the country, and a Democratic mayor in Virginia is demanding the internment of Syrian refugees.

I can’t help but fear that history could be on the verge of repeating itself.

I am a third-generation American of Japanese ancestry, born in Walnut Grove, California. Yet my family and I were classified as enemy aliens simply because we looked like the enemy. In the days before we were taken from our communities, the life we knew was ripped from us.

In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941, the United States blamed us for the Japanese attack. Because of what the 1988 Civil Liberties Act labeled “war hysteria, racism and a failure of political leadership,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which confined the Japanese-American community in internment camps — and forever changing our lives and our community. [Continue reading…]

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Israel bans novel on Palestinian-Jewish romance, seen as threat to ‘national-ethnic identity’

Haaretz reports: Israel’s Education Ministry has disqualified a novel that describes a love story between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man from use by high schools around the country. The move comes even though the official responsible for literature instruction in secular state schools recommended the book for use in advanced literature classes, as did a professional committee of academics and educators, at the request of a number of teachers.

Among the reasons stated for the disqualification of Dorit Rabinyan’s “Gader Haya” (literally “Hedgerow,” but known in English as “Borderlife”) is the need to maintain what was referred to as “the identity and the heritage of students in every sector,” and the belief that “intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews threatens the separate identity.” The Education Ministry also expressed concern that “young people of adolescent age don’t have the systemic view that includes considerations involving maintaining the national-ethnic identity of the people and the significance of miscegenation.”

The book, published in Hebrew by Am Oved about a year and a half ago, tells the story of Liat, an Israeli translator, and Hilmi, a Palestinian artist, who meet and fall in love in New York, until they part ways for her to return to Tel Aviv and he to the West Bank city of Ramallah. The book was among this year’s winners of the Bernstein Prize for young writers.

A source familiar with the ministry’s approach to the book said that in recent months a large number of literature teachers asked that “Borderlife” be included in advanced literature classes. After consideration of the request, a professional committee headed by Prof. Rafi Weichert from the University of Haifa approved the request. The committee included academics, Education Ministry representatives and veteran teachers. The panel’s role is to advise the ministry on various educational issues, including approval of curriculum.

According to the source, members of the professional committee, as well as the person in charge of literature studies, “thought that the book is appropriate for students in the upper grades of high schools – both from an artistic and literary standpoint and regarding the topic it raises. Another thing to remember is that the number of students who study advanced literature classes is anyhow low, and the choice of books is very wide.”

Another source in the Education Ministry said that the process took a number of weeks, and that “it’s hard to believe that we reached a stage where there’s a need to apologize for wanting to include a new and excellent book into the curriculum.” [Continue reading…]

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The paranoid style of American policing

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes: When I was around 10 years old, my father confronted a young man who was said to be “crazy.” The young man was always too quick to want to fight. A foul in a game of 21 was an insult to his honor. A cross word was cause for a duel, and you never knew what that cross word might be. One day, the young man got into it with one of my older brother’s friends. The young man pulled a metal stake out of the ground (there was some work being done nearby) and began swinging it wildly in a threatening manner. My father, my mother, or my older brother — I don’t recall which — told the other boy to go inside of our house. My dad then came outside. I don’t really remember what my father said to the young man. Perhaps he said something like “Go home,” or maybe something like, “Son, it’s over.” I don’t really recall. But what I do recall is that my dad did not shoot and kill the young man.

That wasn’t the first time I’d seen my father confront the violence of young people without resorting to killing them. This was not remarkable. When you live in communities like ours — or perhaps any community — mediating violence between young people is part of being an adult. Sometimes the young people are involved in scary behavior — like threatening people with metal objects. And yet the notion that it is permissible, wise, moral, or advisable to kill such a person as a method of de-escalation, to kill because one was afraid, did not really exist among parents in my community.

The same could not be said for those who came from outside of the community. [Continue reading…]

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How Trump is helping American white supremacists evangelize

The Washington Post reports: Making friends is no easy task for modern white nationalists.

In an era of gay marriage and a black president, more than a half-century after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law, separatists can’t exactly swan dive into conversations with strangers about the white-power cause.

But Rachel Pendergraft — the national organizer for the Knights Party, a standard-bearer for the Ku Klux Klan — told The Washington Post that the KKK, for one, has a new conversation starter at its disposal.

You might call it a “Trump card.”

It involves, say, walking into a coffee shop or sitting on a train while carrying a newspaper with a Donald Trump headline. The Republican presidential candidate, Pendergraft told The Post, has become a great outreach tool, providing separatists with an easy way to start a conversation about issues that are important to the dying white supremacist movement. [Continue reading…]

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Crimes against Muslim Americans and mosques rise sharply

The New York Times reports: Hate crimes against Muslim Americans and mosques across the United States have tripled in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., with dozens occurring within just a month, according to new data.

The spike includes assaults on hijab-wearing students; arsons and vandalism at mosques; and shootings and death threats at Islamic-owned businesses, an analysis by a California State University research group has found.

President Obama and civil rights leaders have warned about anecdotal evidence of a recent Muslim backlash, particularly in California. But the analysis is the first to document the rise, amid a crescendo of anti-Islamic statements from politicians.

“The terrorist attacks, coupled with the ubiquity of these anti-Muslim stereotypes seeping into the mainstream, have emboldened people to act upon this fear and anger,” said Brian Levin, a criminologist at California State University, San Bernardino. [Continue reading…]

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As Poland lurches to the right, many in Europe look on in alarm

The New York Times reports: In the few weeks since Poland’s new right-wing government took over, its leaders have alarmed the domestic opposition and moderate parties throughout Europe by taking a series of unilateral actions that one critic labeled “Putinist.”

Under their undisputed leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, they pardoned the notorious head of the security services, who was appealing a three-year sentence for abuse of his office from their previous years in power; tried to halt the production of a play they deemed “pornographic”; threatened to impose controls on the news media; and declared, repeatedly and emphatically, that they would overrule the previous government’s promise to accept refugees pouring into Europe.

But the largest flash point, so far, has been a series of questionable parliamentary maneuvers by the government and the opposition that has allowed a dispute over who should sit on the country’s powerful Constitutional Tribunal to metastasize into a full-blown constitutional crisis — with thousands of protesters from all sides taking to the streets.

Countries across Europe have seen nationalist movements rise in popularity, particularly in the wake of the refugee crisis and the terrorist attacks in Paris. But Poland’s rightward lurch under the newly empowered Law and Justice Party is unsettling what had been the region’s strongest economy and a model for the struggling post-Soviet states of Eastern Europe. [Continue reading…]

Bloomberg reports: Poland’s government replaced the head of NATO members’ training facility in Warsaw after Defense Ministry officials and military police entered its provisional office after midnight on Friday.

The Counter Intelligence Center of Excellence was staffed with officials who weren’t supported by the Polish government, Deputy Defense Minister Bartosz Kownacki told RMF radio. The ministry appointed Colonel Robert Bala as the acting director of the center, which hasn’t yet been accredited by NATO, an alliance official said. [Continue reading…]

On November 12, AFP reported: Tens of thousands of protesters poured into Warsaw’s streets on Wednesday for a demonstration organised by the far right, marching under the slogan “Poland for the Polish” and burning an EU flag.

Police said 25,000 people joined the march, which marked the anniversary of Poland’s return to independence after the First World War, while organisers put the numbers at 50,000.

“God, honour, homeland,” chanted the protesters as they marched under a sea of red-and-white Polish flags.

Demonstrators trampled and burned a European Union flag at one point, while a banner added to the anti-EU theme with the slogan “EU macht frei” (“Work makes you free” in German), a reference to the slogan over the gates at Auschwitz.

“Yesterday it was Moscow, today it’s Brussels which takes away our freedom,” chanted one group of protesters.
Other banners read “Great Catholic Poland” and “Stop Islamisation”. [Continue reading…]

Ivan Krastev writes: The new government has pushed forward three staggering changes. The man chosen to oversee police and intelligence agencies is a party stalwart who received a three-year suspended sentence for abusing power in his previous role as head of the anti-corruption office, signaling that political loyalty is above the law.

The government has purged European Union flags from government press briefings, demonstrating that it sees Polish national interests in opposition to European values.

And it has weakened the country’s separation of powers by rejecting the previous Parliament’s nominees to the constitutional court — and instead appointed its own candidates, provoking a constitutional crisis.

Why has Poland, the poster child of post-Communist success and Europe’s best economic performer of the last decade, suddenly taken an illiberal turn? Why, despite the profound public mistrust of politicians, are people ready to elect parties eager to dismantle any constraints on government’s power?

For one thing, the Law and Justice Party bet on a form of illiberal democracy because it succeeded in Hungary. The Orban model of rebuking the European Union while accepting billions in aid money has worked. So have Mr. Orban’s efforts to consolidate power by demonizing his political opponents. Hungary’s economy has not collapsed as critics predicted; nor did Mr. Orban’s party lose at the ballot box. [Continue reading…]

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The rise of right-wing populists

The New York Times reports: Mass shootings by Islamist militants. Migrants crashing borders. International competition punishing workers but enriching elites.

Across the Western world, a new breed of right-leaning populists like Donald J. Trump, Marine Le Pen in France and Viktor Orban in Hungary are surging in popularity by capitalizing on a climate of insecurity rivaling the period after the First World War.

Many of them — as Mr. Trump did this week — have made headlines by railing against Muslim immigrants, calling them a threat to public safety and cultural identity. Left-leaning critics have compared the populists to the fascists of the early 20th century. Some riding the wave, like the Freedom Party in Austria or Golden Dawn in Greece, have specific neo-Nazi roots.

Unlike earlier right-wing movements, this generation of populists disavows the overt racism, militaristic rhetoric and associations with fascism that until recently scared away many mainstream voters.

Before the recent terrorist attacks or the European migrant crisis cast a spotlight on Muslim immigration, the populists had built support as trade protectionists or economic nationalists appealing to working-class voters who felt disaffected from established parties and political elites. And, for the first time in nearly a century, established parties across Europe and the United States are struggling to fend off or counter the populist insurgents as their competition pulls the mainstream to the right.

“What you are seeing here is quite a radical shift,” said Roger Eatwell, a political scientist at the University of Bath who studies right-wing parties.

Ms. Le Pen is the best-known figure from more than a dozen right-leaning populist parties across Europe that have scored big gains over the last two years. This week, her National Front party won the largest share of the vote in the first round of regional elections in France, with 30 percent, making her a contender for the presidency in 2017. She campaigns against what she calls the Islamization of France and has compared Muslims praying in French streets to the Nazi occupation.

But Ms. Le Pen fuses her cultural chauvinism with appeals to the economic anxieties of working or lower-middle class voters who — like their counterparts across Europe — have suffered from high unemployment, stagnant wages and growing income inequality, especially since the financial crisis of 2008.

“They are pulling out all the stops for the migrants, the illegals, but who is looking out for our retirees?” Ms. Le Pen asked in a recent campaign appearance. “They are stealing from the poor to give to foreigners who did not even ask our permission to come here.”

Mr. Trump on Monday evoked comparisons to Ms. Le Pen and her European counterparts with his call to close American borders to all Muslims “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

Ms. Le Pen said that was too much for her, perhaps in part because she feared jeopardizing the progress she had made in shedding her party’s previous image as racist and anti-Semitic.

“Seriously, have you ever heard me say something like that?” she asked on Thursday when questioned about Mr. Trump’s comments during a television interview. “I defend all the French people in France, regardless of their origin, regardless of their religion.”

Others in Europe’s right-leaning populist parties, though, are applauding Mr. Trump for breaking with what they call the multiculturalist orthodoxy of dominant political elites. [Continue reading…]

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Meet the Czech Republic’s answer to Donald Trump — except he’s already President

By Jan Culik, University of Glasgow

In the days following the attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, world leaders expressed their solidarity with France. Many also reiterated that the actions of a few terrorists do not represent a faith.

Others took the opportunity to spread extreme positions about Islam. Donald Trump, for example, has argued that Muslims should be banned from entering the US. Meanwhile, the president of the Czech Republic, Miloš Zeman decided to mark what many saw as a period of mourning in Europe after Paris by attending a rally organised by an anti-Muslim organisation.

Just as Trump continues to appeal as a presidential candidate, the Czech public can’t seem to get enough of Zeman despite his xenophobic behaviour. Some even seem to love him because of it. He has become a symbol of defiant anti-muslim, anti-refugee, racist and xenophobic rhetoric. According to a recent opinion poll, 72.3% of Czechs like Zeman for his anti-refugee hate speech.

[Read more…]

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How does someone become an alien in the country of their birth?

America is a country with few deep-rooted natives. Nearly everyone’s ancestral tree leads somewhere else. In spite of this, the mark of foreignness is skin color. If you’re white and have an American accent, no one’s going to ask you when your family emigrated here — even though, without exception, every single white American’s roots lead overseas.

The truism that this is a nation of immigrants, repeatedly gets denied by a white America endowed with a sense of belonging which often doubts the capacity of non-whites to be full equals in sharing an American identity.

How then, can someone who knows no other country than this one and yet who is perceived and treated as though in some subtle or crude sense they are foreign, fully share in the experience of belonging that every human being deserves?

If at this moment of heightened xenophobia, we look at alienation through the narrow prism of counter-terrorism and only ask how just a handful of individuals become radicalized, we are likely to ignore the implications of much wider issues, such as inequality, cultural identity, and citizenship.

America succeeds or fails by one measure alone: its ability to sustain an inclusive society.

Donald Trump could not currently threaten this inclusivity were it not for the fact that that he speaks for so many other white Americans who have conferred on themselves the right to determine who does or does not belong here.

America doesn’t need to wall itself in; what it needs is fewer self-appointed gatekeepers.

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