Under the Perfect Sun

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day Is Not a Day to Celebrate.

January 20, 2020 by Jim Miller

The United States at Present is an Affront to the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

By Jim Miller

With the election of Barack Obama, many hoped that the United States had finally taken a decisive step away from its racist past and was perhaps on the road to more fully embodying Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a truly democratic and racially and economically just America.

Sadly, only a few years after the end of Obama’s tenure, it’s clear that nothing could be further from the truth. Rather than bending the arc of history toward justice, it seems that the first black president’s two terms, politically moderate as they turned out to be, ironically did much to fuel the fire of white backlash and emboldened reactionary plutocrats to roll back the clock in a myriad of other ways as well.

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Looking Backwards: Taking Stock of the 10 Key Moments and Trends of the Last Decade

January 13, 2020 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

I took a week off from my soapbox for some holiday traveling and came home to a world on the brink of spiraling into a dangerous new global conflict. It wasn’t surprising.

In fact, crisis-all-the-time is our new normal, the zeitgeist of our era. While it would be easy to point to Trump as the central player in our increasingly overwrought national drama, the fact is that many of the trends that helped to shape the present preceded his presidency.

Thus, as we head into a new decade with the future on the line like it never has been before, it might be useful to consider some of the key moments of the last ten years along with the social, political, and economic forces that fostered them.

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Censored 2019: The Top 5 Most Under-Reported Stories of the Year

December 30, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Annually, Project Censored releases a list of the most under-reported stories of the year. In the past, their endeavor sometimes got pushback from defenders of the corporate media who claimed that their version of “censorship” was too loose or that it implied a corporate conspiracy that doesn’t exist. As I wrote in this space before, both of those criticisms fall flat.

Why?

Project Censored’s definition of censorship is a nuanced one:

We define Modern Censorship as the subtle yet constant and sophisticated manipulation of reality in our mass media outlets. On a daily basis, censorship refers to the intentional non-inclusion of a news story – or piece of a news story – based on anything other than a desire to tell the truth.

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Three Literary Stocking Gifts for Year Three of the Trump Era: Reading for Dark Times

December 23, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

If you just can’t bring yourself to give up on the sordid consumer frenzy and go all in for a Buy Nothing Christmas , then perhaps getting your loved ones a few good books (from local bookstores) to help them navigate our dark times is the next best thing.

Here are three notable political books of 2019 that flew further under the radar than they should have:

Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America
by Christopher Leonard.

Building on the excellent work done by Jane Mayer in Dark Money and Nancy MacLean in Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, Christopher Leonard outlines seven years of research into how the Kochtopus was born and grew into a nightmare for American democracy.

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It’s Not Time to Vote for the Rich or their Apologists, It’s Time to Tax Them

December 16, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

There’s been a wave of pushback of late against progressive calls for big structural change. Corporate media pundits and neoliberal Democrats alike have been raising the alarm that America is not ready for bold policy when it comes to economics, healthcare, the environment, or anything else.

At the heart of much of this is the contention that it’s all too expensive and the Republicans will scare suburbanites into voting for Trump with cries of socialism and high taxes. Whatever we do, the argument goes, we need to beat back Warren and Sanders so Mayor Pete, Joe Biden, or maybe even Michael Bloomberg can come in and save the day with a healthy dose of “centrism.”

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Underneath Impeachment: 25 Random Headlines from Last Week

December 9, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Her Heart Stopped for 6 hours. Now She’s Ready to go Back to Work

Fractured Forests Are Endangering Wildlife, Scientists Find

Killer Heat: US Cities’ Plans for Coming Heatwaves Fail to Protect the Vulnerable

Eight-Year-Old Girl Strip-Searched Before Visiting Father at Prison

No Sex in the Bunkbeds!: Tales from the Most Intimate Sharing Economy Start Up Yet

Google’s Anti-Worker Actions Evoke IBM’s Racist Past

This Has Been the Warmest Decade in Earth’s History

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After Black Friday

December 2, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Nowhere to go, nothing to acquire. That’s the endgame.

As is the tradition in my house, we spent Black Friday in the desert wandering in search of Nothing. It’s been both a way to escape the toxic insanity of the soul-crushing consumer frenzy that defines what we call the holidays and how we teach our kid that life is about people and experiences, not buying more shit.

This idea is by no means original to us but comes out of the post-Situationist ethos of folks like those who founded Adbusters and other proponents of Buy Nothing Day, the international protest against over-consumption that encourages us all to enjoy what they call:

[A] day where you challenge yourself, your family and friends to switch off from shopping and tune into life. The rules are simple, for 24 hours you will detox from shopping and anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending!

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Thanksgiving and American Mythology

November 25, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

As we head into the holiday season in the midst of one of the most divisive cultural and political moments in U.S. history, many people might be looking to the long American tradition of Thanksgiving as a moment of solace that evokes national unity.

Unfortunately, just like the wholesome fantasies of the Golden Era of bipartisanship that never existed being sold in some political quarters, the story of the first Thanksgiving is equally mythological. It’s not just that tales of the first Thanksgiving that many of us learned in school or around our family dinner tables are largely inaccurate,

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Bashing the Sixties in the Trump Era?

November 18, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Mike Wise hates the Sixties.

Last week in an odd, contextless opinion piece in the Washington Post , Wise let loose his word hoard in a strange screed bemoaning what he sees as a wave of naïve nostalgia about the much maligned and romanticized decade. In sum, the piece is his chance to “tell everyone to stop the revisionist history and shut the hell up.”

What seems to have set him off was a Janis Joplin revival and a 60 Minutes feature on research into psychedelics. A sample:

Interest in hallucinogenic drugs has rarely been stronger. The Oct. 13 episode of “60 Minutes” featured Johns Hopkins University’s ongoing psilocybin research studies.

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The Toll of Endless War on American Veterans

November 11, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

As America’s endless wars grind on, largely out of view, we have become good at bombastic displays of patriotism at ballgames and other public venues, but underneath our ritualized nods to the service of our veterans the unseen psychic toll suffered by those who fight our wars remains mostly invisible.

In fact, in the age of the all-volunteer military, most of us don’t really need to think that much about it.

Still the suffering is deep and pervasive, like it or not. Many of us don’t know that one out of ten homeless people on the street is a veteran (with some estimates putting it much higher). Thus, despite our official love of veterans, as a society we are clearly quite comfortable treating them like disposable people. Think about that the next time you see somebody sleeping in a storefront doorway: perhaps that person risked their life for your country.

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Building a New World Out of the Ashes of the Old

November 4, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

One day last week, I was sitting at a table in a public space in San Diego doing political advocacy around education funding. And while the young activists I was with had a productive day and talked to a good number of engaged citizens, the thing that stood out to them the most, the thing we joked about, was the “zombie walk.”

This was the blank-faced, numb carriage of the majority of people closed off by ear buds or zoned out on their phones who couldn’t be bothered to even grant us (or anyone else for that matter) human recognition.

We were dead to them as they were to themselves.

That’s what you notice if you spend a lot of time watching people in public. It’s not that folks are angry or even alienated; they’re beyond alienation.

Of course, in the virtual world on our screens and on social media, we are full of animation, thrilled at our representations of ourselves or angry, very angry about the latest outrage usually committed by those outside of our self-selected silos.

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As We Watch California Burn Yet Again It’s Time to Say Yes to ‘Save Our San Diego Countryside’

October 28, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

California’s burning (again) with Governor Newsom declaring a state of emergency for Los Angeles and Sonoma Counties in the wake of twelve fires raging across the state. Smoke swept throughout the Bay Area and parts north and delayed flights into San Francisco. Schools were closed in the affected regions, and close to two million people suffered through pre-emptive power shut-offs to try avoiding yet more blazes.

In Los Angeles, residents agonized through hellishly hot fall temperatures and respiratory problems while blazes in San Diego county broke out in Valley View and Ramona, reviving traumatic memories of apocalyptic fires past for many. In San Diego county, the damage has been minor so far, but the hot, dry, windy conditions ensure that another firestorm is always just around the corner.

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The Season of the Angry Moderate

October 21, 2019 by Jim Miller

National Democrats: Angry Moderates Attack Solidarity in Defense of Status Quo

By Jim Miller

It appears to the be the season of the angry moderate.

At least that’s what it looked like at last week’s Democratic presidential debate, as usually smug neoliberals like Joe Biden, Mayor Pete, and Amy Klobuchar took aim at Elizabeth Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’ support of Medicare for All, with Klobuchar calling it a “pipe dream” while both Buttigieg and Biden waved the red flag of higher taxes that some Americans might be asked to pay in order to assure that everyone of us has free healthcare.

Of course, part of this is political, with Biden seemingly on the wane and Buttigieg and Klobuchar seeing an opening in the unapologetically moderate (read neoliberal) lane of the primary race. But the larger issue shouldn’t get lost under the political noise.

What the neoliberals’ attack on Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, the wealth tax and other proposals for bold structural changes reveals is the true nature of the National Democratic Party leadership.

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Labor, Community and Environmental Activists Need to Find Common Ground for a Green New Deal

October 14, 2019 by Jim Miller

Labor and the Environment Panel – Wednesday, October 16th

By Jim Miller

In Naomi Klein’s new book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, she outlines precisely how challenging it will be to respond to the climate crisis in the urgent fashion called for in the last UN IPCC report:

Pulling off this high-speed pollution phaseout, the report establishes, is not possible with singular technocratic approaches like carbon taxes, though those tools must be a part. Rather it requires deliberately and immediately changing how our societies produce energy, how we grow our food, how we move ourselves around, and how our buildings are constructed.

What is needed, the report’s summary states in its first sentence, is “rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

In the face of this daunting task, the answer to the question “What can I do as an individual?” is, Klein tells us, “nothing.”

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American Inequality is Still Surging Along, Now is the Time to Finally Address It.

October 7, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Back in June I noted in this space that despite the mainstream media chorus about our “good economy” things weren’t so great for the average American worker when –

“4 in 10 Americans couldn’t put together $400 in cash to meet an emergency expense, 6 in 10 couldn’t meet 3 months of expenses if they lost their jobs, only 36% of workers are on track with their retirement savings, and a quarter of Americans have skipped some kind of medical treatment in the past year because of finances.”

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An Enduring Progressive Majority in San Diego is Possible

September 30, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

As we move into yet another election cycle, perhaps it might be useful to start with a little perspective. Back in 2003 in the introduction to Under the Perfect Sun, Mike Davis, Kelly Mayhew, and I summarized the political landscape of San Diego as such:

War, tourist spectacle, endangered dissent: these are the perennial axes of modern San Diego history. Here, where illusion is a civic virtue, reality has always nestled inside spectacle like a set of Russian nesting dolls.

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Student Voices from the San Diego Climate Walkout

September 23, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Last Friday – Sept.20 – , students in San Diego joined millions of people across the world and participated in the youth-led Global Climate Strike. In the face of condescending calls from many adult “leaders” for gradualist political “realism” to address the threat of mass extinction, young people are standing up to demand solutions commensurate with the problem we face.

What stands out to me about the message these young people are delivering is how clearly they see what far too many of their elders fail to recognize: that the responsibility for the climate crisis does not just fall on “all of us” equally but is disproportionately being driven by the global elite. Along with that, young people see that what we need is “systemic change” not incrementalism. Their clear-eyed analysis and urgency should inspire us all to wake up and stop failing future generations with yet more political cowardice.

Inside are two local voices

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Corporate Mea Culpas, Corrupt New Democrats, and Progressive Populists

September 9, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

This just in: our corporate overlords have turned over a new leaf. At least that’s what they were saying publicly quite recently. As the New York Times reported :

Nearly 200 chief executives, including the leaders of Apple, Pepsi and Walmart, tried on Monday to redefine the role of business in society — and how companies are perceived by an increasingly skeptical public.

Breaking with decades of long-held corporate orthodoxy, the Business Roundtable issued a statement on “the purpose of a corporation,” arguing that companies should no longer advance only the interests of shareholders. Instead, the group said, they must also invest in their employees, protect the environment and deal fairly and ethically with their suppliers.

What to make of this development? Not too much, most likely.

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Labor Day 2019: Unions Weather the Storm and Look to Build a Brighter Future

September 2, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

These last few years have been particularly challenging times for the American Labor movement as we’ve faced everything from a host of anti-labor policies coming from Washington to a Supreme Court decision designed to gut public sector unions. The good news is that despite all of that, the union movement has persevered and the number of Americans who support unions and say they would like the opportunity to join one is the highest it has been in decades.

Of course, the difficulties that unions face aren’t just the product of the politics of the present. They are, as labor writer Steven Greenhouse observes, the product of what he calls an American “anti-worker exceptionalism” that makes us stand out in comparison to most other developed nations with our lack of things like national laws guaranteeing maternity leave, paid sick days, or vacation time.

The United States also has one of the lowest minimum wages

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Much Needed Prop 13 Reform Is on It’s Way with ‘Schools and Communities First’ Ballot Measure

August 26, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

There is a movement afoot to reform Proposition 13, with community organizations aligned with labor promoting the Schools and Communities First ballot measure. Why would anyone want to touch the third rail of California politics? The answer is simple: we can keep its central benefit to homeowners while closing an unnecessary corporate loophole that will help our schools, cities, and counties across California.

Ever since its passage in 1978, Proposition 13 has starved California’s schools and local governments of funding. While the measure was pitched as a way to keep individual homeowners from being buried by taxes, the real beneficiaries of Prop. 13 were not elderly folks or other vulnerable groups struggling to hang on to their homes, but super rich corporate property holders.

What most voters don’t know about Proposition 13 is that it gave huge commercial property owners like Disneyland the same tax break as your grandmother.

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Is the Democratic Party Leadership Afraid to Have a Serious Debate on the Climate Crisis?

August 19, 2019 by Jim Miller

Will Dems Even Be Allowed Have a Debate on the Crisis in the Midst of the Sixth Extinction?

By Jim Miller

It’s no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention that the Trump administration’s environmental policy is an out-of-control death train roaring down the tracks toward ecocide. The latest bit of insanity hit last week when the administration announced that it was significantly weakening the Endangered Species Act in the wake of the UN report last May warning that up to one million plant and animal species were at risk of extinction.

As the New York Times Editorial Board wrote of this decision:

Now comes what amounts to a thumb in the eye from the Trump administration: The Interior Department announced a set of rules on Monday that, far from enlarging protections, will weaken how the nation’s most important conservation law,

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Summer Chronicles #8: Moments of Grace

August 12, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

We need to escape the prison of measured time.

Time as we know it is a social construct, a product of historical and economic forces which, in turn, serves to reify them so that we confuse them with nature.

Our particularly American sense of time is not just the product of centuries of the western progress narrative, but also of our unique mutation of the Protestant work ethic, born of Calvinism, secularized by Benjamin Franklin, and perversely systematized by Fredric Winslow Taylor, whose project to create a more efficient workplace in the early 20th century through time and motion studies fostered a gospel of time-management and efficiency that devalued everything that makes life worth living in the service of efficient production.

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Summer Chronicles # 7: We Are the Stories We Tell Ourselves

August 5, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

I had to find an old picture the other day, and I found myself flipping through decades of photos in boxes and on my computer. Other than showing me, sometimes brutally, how much older I am now, I found that this exercise did much more than chip away at my vanity.

When we see images of ourselves in our childhoods, adolescence, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, and on, it gives us a chance to consider how that thing we like to call “ME” is far more transient, indeed downright flimsy, than we sometimes like to think.

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Summer Chronicles #6: Mourning the Passing of Animals from Our Lives

July 29, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Anyone who has ever cared for small children knows how central the role of animals is for fostering imagination and compassion in young people.

In my family’s case, our son’s childhood was awash in stuffed animals—beavers, raccoons, skunks, elephants, badgers, bears, rabbits, and a plethora of other creatures — every one of whom had a name, relatives, and a full-blown set of connections with other animals as well as with our family and friends.

His little pals would come over and learn the stories of our animal friends as would our grown-up pals. All of these animals had different voices and personalities and origin stories. It was our own domestic mythology for an imaginary chain of being.

Of course, everything was heavily anthropomorphized,

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Summer Chronicles 2019 #5: The Wonder of the Wild World

July 22, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

For me, memories of summer always start with the smell of a campfire in the deep woods. As a young boy, I found there was nothing more fun than my family’s camping trips up in the Redwoods where we’d park in our site, get the tear-drop trailer set up, and start the fire.

I remember pulling in late at night with a million stars out, the cold air biting my cheeks, and feeling like I was in some magical place as wonderfully far away from my Los Angeles home as I could imagine.

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Summer Chronicles 2019 #4: The Body Electric on the Beach

July 15, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

A stroll down the beach on a hot summer day is a prayer to the human body. To be in and of your body, just as it is, loving and unashamed, is everyone’s birthright. Feeling the sun on your skin, the sand underfoot, and the cool embrace of the sea is a divine pleasure, and surely if there was no one else on the shore, it would be sublime.

But at the height of summer, the crowd too is a delight.

As I lumber along in my now middle aged body, with its surplus flesh, scars, and gray hairs beginning to mix with the rest, I lose myself in the throng of other bodies—young and old, fat and thin, oddly and elegantly shaped, homely and beautiful—all the arms, legs, backs, stomachs, breasts, backsides, and faces sun-kissed and sprinkled with fine grains of sand—a collective expression of the embodied self.

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Summer Chronicles 2019 #3: Thoughts About Kerouac from San Diego to Big Sur

July 8, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

Summer is here and for many that means it’s time to hit the road and see the country. Perhaps no other American writer is as synonymous with the road trip as Jack Kerouac, for whom San Diego was little more than a dull place to ride through.

Kerouac wrote in his journal in 1950:

“San Diego rich, dull, full of old men, traffic, the sea smell — Up the bus goes thru gorgeous seaside wealthy homes of all colors of the rainbow on the blue sea — cream clouds —red flower — dry sweet atmosphere—very rich, new cars, 50 miles of it incredibly, an American Monte Carlo.”

More impressive to Kerouac, cultural critic David Reid notes, was Jacumba, of which the king of the Beats wrote: “birds at misty and a man walking out of the trees of Mexico into the American sleepy border street of shacks and trees and backyard dumps–(Future place for me).”

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Summer Chronicles 2019 #2: Fried Egg Plants and Sage

July 1, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

The anarchy of my unkempt yard delights me. After a series of unseasonably late rainstorms, it is an unruly jungle of desert sage, fried egg plants, and delicate little yellow flowers I can’t quite identify. Usually by this time of year the grass is half dead and the gardeners have brutally hacked down the foliage out front, leaving nothing but stubs to grow back. But fortunately, the crew the property manager hired has been blessedly restrained and no one is complaining.

Sitting on the porch on a sunny day, the fried egg poppies are a wonder to behold. Most of the year their green stalks lie barren until late May when the buds appear, and, if there are good rains like this year, the bloom is abundant with large white flowers exploding atop the tall green stalks, a brilliant yellow pistil—a miracle at the center.

By the front gate, intermingling with the fried egg plants, is an overgrown desert sage with intricate purple flowers.

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Summer Chronicles 2019 #1: June Gloom

June 24, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

In the summer of 1967, the great Brazilian writer, Clarice Lispector, began a seven-year stint as a writer for Jornal de Brasil (The Brazilian News) not as a reporter but as a writer of “chronicles,” a genre peculiar to Brazil. As Giovanni Pontiero puts it in the preface to Selected Chrônicas, a chronicle,

“allows poets and writers to address a wider readership on a vast range of topics and themes. The general tone is one of greater freedom and intimacy than one finds in comparable articles or columns in the European or U.S. Press.”

What Lispector left us with is an eccentric collection of “aphorisms, diary entries, reminiscences, travel notes, interviews, serialized stories, essays, loosely defined as chronicles.” As a novelist, Pontiero tells us, Lispector was anxious about her relationship with the genre, apprehensive of writing too much and too often, of, as she put it, “contaminating the word.” It was a genre alien to her introspective nature and one that challenged her to adapt.

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Strong Economy For Whom? Things Aren’t So Great for the Average American Worker

June 17, 2019 by Jim Miller

By Jim Miller

A lot of the talk heading into the summer has been about how, despite all of the craziness at the White House, the “economy is strong” under Trump. And while the stock market has been robust and unemployment low, there is a lot more to the story than what this superficial narrative relays.

What doesn’t get measured by the statistical snapshots that capture headlines or are repeated ad nauseum by talking heads on TV is how the economy is working for the average American at a deeper level. Thus, when one probes a little bit beneath the surface, the U.S. economy doesn’t look so hot after all. Perhaps that’s why most Americans, according to recent polling, think the economy is only really working for “those in power.”

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