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Sign Me Up for the Pentagon Democracy Plan

Posted on Mar 20, 2006

By Molly Ivins

AUSTIN, Texas—Good news: The Bush people have put out a new “strategy.” The bad news is it’s the same as the old one.

The Pentagon’s strategic review plan again commits us to promoting democracy hither and yon through such effective means as preemptive war, bombing and other good stuff.

This is the same plan we’ve been working from, with mixed results so far. In the Middle East, the Palestinians had an election and put Hamas in charge. That didn’t seem to make anyone happy. Lebanon had an election and put Hezbollah in charge. The theory that democracy would solve all problems is especially dicey in Iraq. The Iraqis have now elected an entire government, but they don’t seem to be able to get it to gel. Meanwhile, we are committed to forcing democracies into existence as though they were so many slow spring bulbs.

I do like the idea of supporting democracy, however, and think we should try it—especially here in the U.S. of A. To this end, a couple of dandy ideas are now circulating, and I think they’re worth your support and excitement. For ages, all good reformers have wanted to get rid of the Electoral College and have direct popular election of presidents, instead. The disastrous election in 2000 finally culminated in Bush v. Gore, a Supreme Court decision so bad even the court disowned it at the time.

Every nightmare scenario about just how screwed up things could get with the Electoral College all came true. What a giant mess: a textbook case of why the Electoral College is toxic piffle. But the desire to Do Something about the mess in 2000 burned itself out. The Republicans who took over Congress are just not natural reformers.


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Trouble is, the system has just about “ruint” presidential elections, which now turn on a handful of swing states, while everyone else is ignored. While millions of dollars, hours of political ads and hordes of politicians descend every four years on the swing states, you can barely tell there’s an election going on in the rest of the country. Should you live safely tucked into a solidly red or blue state, your vote is unsought, uncounted and unnecessary—we know how your state’s votes will be cast whether you vote or not.

There is a new move promoted by the Campaign for a National Popular Vote to end-run all the problems normally associated with abolishing the Electoral College. This is a state-by-state effort to instruct each state’s electors to vote for whichever candidate gets the most popular votes nationwide. Look at 2004: A switch of 60,000 votes in Ohio would have thrown the election to John Kerry, despite the fact that George Bush was 3 million votes ahead nationwide.

The Campaign for a National Popular Vote has a dandy new approach. Instead of trying to amend the Constitution through a long, difficult process that can and will be stalled by small states, the campaign proposes a simpler, elegant solution. According to the Constitution, each state legislature can instruct its own electors to cast their votes however the state decides, usually as winner-take-all for whichever candidate carries the state. But there is no reason a state legislature cannot instruct its electors to vote for whoever wins the popular vote.

Democracy! What a concept! The states can do this one by one, subscribing to an interstate compact that would take effect when enough states join to elect the actual winner—a majority of the 538 electoral votes.

Wouldn’t it be fun? Candidates campaigning everywhere—everyone’s vote wanted? Democrats in Texas, Republicans in New York, all sought after, cared about as though we actually matter. Yes, this would make campaigns harder on candidates and probably more expensive, as well. And that in turn makes public campaign financing all the more likely. Yea!

Another potentially hopeful development lurks in the Texas redistricting case. True, if the Supreme Court reverses the appalling Texas plan, the guy most likely to benefit is Rep. Tom DeLay (he would get back a slew of Republican voters he gave away), but sest la vye. Gerrymandering congressional districts—an art form long practiced by both parties—may have an aged pedigree, but like money in politics, it has gone so far that it is destroying democracy.

With computers, districts can be drawn to such perfect political one-sidedness that there is, in fact, no point in holding elections at all. The Supreme Court is highly unlikely to stop this process entirely, but even a check on it would be useful.

There is another simple, elegant solution for this problem. Iowa already uses it—a nonpartisan redistricting commission. The result is that three of Iowa’s four four of Iowa’s five congressional seats are competitive. Politicians actually have to go out and listen to voters in order to get elected.

In most districts across the U.S., reelection is so automatic it might as well be a hereditary right. When at least 98% of Congress gets reelected every year, one really has to question whether democracy exists at all in this country. Now’s our chance—sign us up for the Pentagon democracy plan.

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By frederick park, March 24, 2006 at 6:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I hate to admit others are closer to the truth then I because that means I am not right and this is rare if not impossible. I gotya! You said we ought to try democracy here in the USA what a dreamer but hey we all need a dream. Look at M L King he has a bunch of streets that run through burnt-out inner cities named after him (after he was asassinated).Besides being a man who knows democracy is a good theory the fact is true democracy is based on honesty. So there goes your idea of trying it in the USA. I see myself as a man who knows the balance between greed and love. Is it 1000k in cash now or driving a car that does not emit hydrocarbons and riding bicycles more often? This must be a trick question I’ll Google it. Fred

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By TruthPlease, March 23, 2006 at 11:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The idea of using ATM’s isn’t bad, except for one thing - banks are one of the biggest winners in this Right Wing Political Bummer Sweep - they’ll fight tooth and nail (of course, for the customer’s “rights”) before they’ll let anyone change the cushy setup these people have created over the last 5 years. They’ve robbed the American “bank account” and set themselves up very well indeed. Now, anyone, Democrat or otherwise, will HAVE to “raise taxes” and change the beloved policies of this administration, just to survive. Then they can sit back and point out how their ideas would have worked, but we just didn’t “cooperate”. Perfect. NOT.

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By willie, March 23, 2006 at 12:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why isn’t the election process simply remormed into a process (whether it is by computer, hand ballots, ATM’s or whatever method) that counts every single vote nationwide - with the winner (speaking of national issues here) decided by popular national vote? Why even break it down to the state level at all?  Who cares who carries a ‘state’ in a presidential election?  What does any state have to do with a national election?  Screw the states and their partisan, red and blue nonsense.  Do that, add genuine campaign finance reform and you will see the voter turnout surge and the apathy decline.

It seems that the real question here, though, is; why are insane people always controlling things and why is everyone else such an apathetic little lamb? Baahh, blah, blah, we deserve our fate - make no mistake about it - or else do something. The United States was formed as the result of a revolution and we have evolved to question anyone who even questions those in power?  Get outta here, you gotta be kidding me.  What is everyone afraid of? 

Maybe that’s the real question; what is everyone afraid of?

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By Alan Vander Wey, March 23, 2006 at 12:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The 3 million more votes that Bush and then some came from Diebold voting machines in states like North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas and Indiana where exit polls indicate that Bush lost those states.

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By Nancy, March 23, 2006 at 10:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Molly Ivins dosesn’t understand that the electoral college wouldn’t be an issue had all of the many thousands of uncounted votes in Florida been counted in 2000 as Florida election law clearly required. The truth is, Al Gore won both the national popular vote and the electoral college vote in 2000 because Al Gore got the most votes in Florida in all cases.

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By james dorn, March 22, 2006 at 6:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have long thought that the amendment of the constitution which limits the number of Congressmen to 435 has become a big part of the problem. As the congressional district become larger and larger and the costs of a campaign higher and higher Representatives are able to be remote from the voters in thier district and mostly unassailable at the polls.
Representatives stick to meeting only a small part of thier constituency, use thier financial advantage to drown out opponents, and yet stay away   from the voters of thier districts. I see a movement at all levels to reduce the number of elected officials at the State, County and local level.

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By Barbara Domenico, March 22, 2006 at 4:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I learned of this only a few weeks ago. It seems the answer to the difficulty that the Constitution imposes upon an attempt to rid ourselves of the archaic Electoral College—perhaps all those years ago that made sense, but no longer! Let’s go for it. I have tried to find a way to add my name to those who want every vote to count, but so far have gotten no answers.

If you have one, let me know Molly. I’ll sign up in a second.

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By Eric in Connecticut, March 22, 2006 at 8:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We’re not so much exporting democracy as we are outsourcing it-like our jobs. And like our jobs, every bit of the democracy we’ve outsourced leaves that much less democracy for us here at home.

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By JonTFertippton, March 22, 2006 at 8:07 am Link to this comment
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I agree with onemorecraig. In order to ermerge from banana-republic status, the USA needs a complete election reform, from top to bottom. Elections must cease to be run by local party bag-men (and women such as the $10million roboqueen, Catherine of Fla.). An independent, non-partisan, and properly-funded authority in Washington should enforce fair national standards throughout the whole nation (as in Canada). Paper ballots ONLY - no more hackable machines which have already thrown several elections (Max Cleland, Kerry in Ohio and Florida, Gore in Florida). Diebold should be exiled to North Korea or the Sudan. Exit polls should be institutionalized and funded. A major disagreement between them and the actual vote should trigger a full recount of the paper ballots. At present the exit polls are more accurate than supposedly real results supplied by Diebold and their ilk. These things would be a start before the Electoral College nut could be cracked. Bush and Co. mercilessly took advantage of the criminal possibilities inherent in the present banana-republic electoral mess of the USA. The world and the American people have been left with the resulting disaster of the Bush regime. And, tragically, there is probably worse to come before 2008. All because the USA is presently little better than a sham democracy.

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By Vanna LaRoche, March 22, 2006 at 6:52 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

>>#Comment #5568 by your mom on 3/21 at 9:03 am

i think the spellchecker mangled “c’est la vie”<<

I rather think it was a little Ivins Texas grassroots humor operating there, as in purposely mangling pronunciation for effect. Most spellcheckers can handle French (unless they’re run by neocons).

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By Paul M Smith, March 21, 2006 at 10:55 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

After several years of thought trying to come up with a way to hold elections that couldn’t be ‘fixed’ here is what I’ve come up with:

“A Better Election System” By Paul Magill Smith 3-8-2K6
The latest round of corruption in our government stems from the biggest executive crime of all. In collusion with the Supreme Court our glorious president/dictator/tyrant “stole” the election of 2000, with another criminal (Tom DeLay) “stole” a majority in the house through re-districting, and with corporate henchmen in Diebold & Company “stole” another presidency in 2004. Whether you agree with the presidential election results or not there were statistical anomolies, and thousands of citizen complaints that should have required greater scrutiny & inquiry.

Since the 2000 presidential election our national coffers have been looted to the tune of trillions of dollars, and with almost three more years to go in this theocratic oligarchy there is still much more damage to come. Our financial ruin, through an unsustainable balance of trade deficit, massive fiscal deficits, and a consolidation of wealth in the hands of a few individuals & corporations, bodes ill for generations of Americans to come—-IF there are generations to come after the effects of global warming, a state of perpetual global war, and depleted uranium have their way with us.

A bleak picture-yes-but there is cause for hope. Going under the assumption most Americans have a streak of common sense, and an inbred respect for ‘the rule of law’, the first step toward retrieving our now stolen democracy is restoring honesty to our electoral process. Accountability, verifiability, and transparency are not luxuries; they are necessities if democracy in America (the world) is to be viable.

With these considerations in mind I propose an entirely new election system for this country. It uses, for the most part, existing equipment & technology already in place throughout the entire country, and would only require the development of some software. Election expenses would be reduced, election theft would become a thing of the past, and national referendums on key issues would become a possibility. The ‘will of the people’ would become king, instead of the preferences of King George/Dick/Karl/Donald/ etc.

So here is the idea. Currently in the US there are 368,000 ATM machines. They are easy to use (even from a car), provide a paper trail, accessible by use of a card with security features, and very accurately keep track of billions of transactions every month (a 1% accuracy error, which is acceptable for most elections, would land bankers out of their jobs & very likely jailed).

OK, so the first part deals with voting at ATM’s, except when they are being used for elections they would become AVM’s (Automatic Voting Machines).

The issue of verifiability would be very simple also. Since each registered voter would receive their own magnetic credit-card type, individually numbered card (requiring a personalized identification number-PIN-to make it work), each voter would have a specific number, and security that they were the only one who had the secret code to access the AVM. Following an election their unique number, along with the way their vote was recorded would be published in the local paper & on the internet at a specific site. Since all the voter numbers could be placed in numerical order it would be easy to scan down the list to your number and verify your vote was cast for the person you wanted it to be.
If it was an election with candidates in a number of positions your vote would read as a multi-character number. An example would be 1324113 in which you voted for 7 different people for as many electable posts. The AVM would have given you a hard copy receipt to be used to verify against the posted list.
ATM’s are already linked to central computers, so collection of the total votes from all the machines should present very little problem. Election officials would be necessary at these institutions to verify all the votes were retrieved, but the elimination of officials at each precinct polling place would eliminate much of the costs of holding elections as with our current system. As a further dis-incentive to election fraud, caused by computer tampering, if a certain percentage or number of voters provide their AVM receipt to election officials, and their vote code doesn’t match that of the central computers, the election results are AUTOMATICALLY declared void, resulting in a new election.

Since I have only begun thinking & writing about this new system I am sure there are many details to be considered and worked out. I welcome all comments and people playing ‘Devil’s Advocate’. The bottom line is the current election system is broken, with millions of Americans lacking confidence in the extant election process & results.

As the world’s oldest democracy, holding our ‘system’ up as a model for budding or want-to-be democracies around the globe, it behooves us to make sure our own system is the best we can possibly make it, and the one others will wish to emulate. “Do as I say” is not good enough. If America is to ‘talk the talk’ we must ‘walk the walk’ also.

Thankyou Truthdig & Molly Ivins for the forum to get this idea before the American public.

Paul Magill Smith
2607 Towngate Ct.
Richmond, VA 23233

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By G. Anderson, March 21, 2006 at 10:21 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Things are not bad enough yet. But don’t worry they will become worse as time goes by. As more and more countries realize that the USA cannot pay them back for the money they lent them, unless of course we invade them.

What better way to ruin a bully than to take all his money, so there will be no more baksheesh…

Once we have entered yet another great depression, though of course it will be called something different, there will be time enough for all of us to reflect on the best course of action, unless of course we are invaded.

If we are to follow the French example, as previously suggested, it might be a good idea to first abolish the senate, and tax all inherited wealth over a few thousand dollars at 99%.

This would go a long way of restoring our country to economic equality, and might even help resore us to financial solvency as well.

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By FreeDem, March 21, 2006 at 10:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What with computers and technology beyond the horse drawn wagon, why not try for a more direct democracy? While I might agree that having everyone vote on every issue might have some bad results (though an improvement on the present), a biannual bid that actually made EVERY vote count might actually work.

What if everyone voted for a favorite person to actually represent them? That person would usually come from where their supporters were, but not necessarily, but would have personal contact with nearly every voter who supported them.

So what if they get only say 10k votes, they could formally form a coalition of like minded fellows till they reached some magic number (say 1 million) and that coalition would put one of their number as the official representative in congress. The rest would essentially be the office staff, and thus still have a day to day impact. Those coalitions with the most votes would get the best chairmanships etc., evening out those with big excess votes with those barely over the line.

The result would be total representation all the time for each and every voter. Gerrymandering would be impossible, and no longer would nearly half of all actual voters, (much less the rest) go unrepresented.

Of course such a plan is as like my plan to staff the entire government bureaucracy with drafted conscripts, forced to do 4-6 years of patriotic service for their country, and then back to the real world, not setting up some lifetime program of empire building or cozy relationships, just go in, do your job for patriotism, and get out. Short a Wiser Washington, Jefferson, Franklin et. al. the chances of a real, thought out system are all but nil.

Even such reform as banning voting district pseudopodia, or width to length maximum ratios, is out of reach if there is no accountability.

And as the Majority of states get an extra edge of Three Electoral Votes when their population only justifies one, they would still over rule, unless the state voted against the actual vote count of that state. Say an Ohio that had a plurality of votes for the Democrat, putting all their votes for the Republican. Then two or three swing states could pull it off, but the partisan acrimony from which ever side got the short end would be deafening. Also a New York and California for instance could throw the vote Republican , but not Democrat as they would (presumably) have a Dem winner in any case.

Myself, I would be happy just to have an honest vote count. Without that, nothing good is possible.

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By R. A. Earl, March 21, 2006 at 9:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Democracy, it seems to me, is a fragile philosophy.

Have you ever watched a beginner learning to drive a car or fly an airplane or ride a bike or play an instrument or make a soufle? In almost every case expert guidance is required to avoid disappointment and failure.

Democracy cannot be imposed and be expected to work in a population that hasn’t been educated to it and coached in the nuances. It took “the West” decades, even centuries, to arrive at even the flawed systems we have today. Only ignorant fools believe they can successfully impose democracy on peoples not conditioned and ready to accept it.

I wonder how many more countries must experience an invasion by the USA, how many more “ignorant” civilians must suffer and die at the hands of the USA, before the USA learns this rather basic lesson?

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By Bruce, March 21, 2006 at 9:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ms Ivins is absolutely right that swing states decide presidential elections and I like her common sense columns.  Every four years New Hampshire, home to where Easterners retire, that swing state decides from thousands of TV ads and personal visits so common that some even run out the door of coffee shops when another candidate arrives for a one-on-one chat with the regular folks.  What happens is whomever wins in each party, the party bosses channel the bulk of many millions of dollars to that candidate and so determine by dollar-identity and familiarity what your choice is.  California usually never has a say, the largest state—isn’t that lousy.  The super close election with Gore was decided by the Court and Bush’s hunting buddy Scalia whom went unbelievably further in being Bush’s advocate in deliberation.  The custom in history when elections are that close is that the winner adopt some of the loser’s platform.  Not so, this is new world order.  We don’t have a say on what NEW wars are in the making, can start one and run it for 3 or 6 months before he has to sell it to Congress.  I’d like to vote on some of the foriegn policy, separate from voting for the man or woman because they lie.  We-re not children and the administration has yet to show what the agenda is.

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By anonymous, March 21, 2006 at 8:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Since direct democracy is only a mouse-click away,  what with the widespread use of the computer and the Internet,  who needs representation at any political level,  be it national, state or local?  This representation nonsense is a relic of an era when the horse and buggy was our fastest means of communication (aside from the drum and the smoke signal) so why not do away with indirect democracy and go for the real thing, we the people deciding on the laws of the land.  Some folks don’t have computers?  Easily remedied by an Internet vote to put a computer in every household.    What about the homeless.  No problem when the mouse-click tally is to provide housing for the homeless, thereby eliminating homelessness and so on and so forth.  Simply stated,  thanks to science and technology,  there’s no need for no in-betweens no more, because we’re in a do it oneself era.  .  .

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By Gonenuts, March 21, 2006 at 7:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We all know what needs to be done, but Hell will freeze over before anything happens. Actually, the system will collapse on it’s own and it will then be worse than Hell. And unfortunately by then it will be too late.

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By Ritzl, March 21, 2006 at 6:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Have to say that living in a small state, that the electoral college is a good thing!!  Our bicameral legislature, and a President elected by a vote that cannot be subjected to the tyranny/concentration of the majority is a beacon of democracy to the world.

I really like MI’s views, but in this I simply have to object.  Unless we move to a parliamentary system (where you can remove a leader at any time by popular vote), the Electoral college/bicameral system is the best thing goin…!

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By Tom, March 21, 2006 at 5:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A hundred cheers for Molly! This was even greater than her usual superb.

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By PoliShifter, March 21, 2006 at 3:36 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It would be nice indeed if we stopped limiting our own freedoms and democracy in our own nation while simulatneously trying to spread Democracy by the barrel of a gun.

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By onemorecraig, March 21, 2006 at 1:55 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hey, I have a suggestion. I’m from Canada and have worked as an elections worker. The single biggest thing you could do for “democratic” elections is something you demand for free and fair elections all over the world: independant elections people. The fact that US elections are run by the democratic and republican parties is remarkable in its stupidity. How can you trust them to be impartial, honest, or fair? How many elections need to be questionable before you demand change?
Ironically, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and every other internationally recognized election has more independence and impartiality than any US election in history.
Sadly, America’s belief in its electoral model as the pre-eminent model is a farce and drastically undercuts the international perception of democracy.
With respect to the electoral college, that particular model is irrellevant to the functioning of free and fair elections. Until you address the areas that are clearly corrupt, your democracy will continue to be an unspoken international joke.
Good luck. We all hope you sort this out…soon.

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By felicity smith, March 21, 2006 at 1:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s particularly galling that a guy in Wyoming, or any other low-population state gets three votes for my one (California)vote thanks to the set-up of the Senate.  And the result at this date - 44 democrats were elected by 59.6 million people while 55 republicans were elected by 57.6 million people.  Isn’t one of our democratic principles, one man, one vote?  How about equal representation?  The question is what do we call this form of government?  A kleptocracy, but that’s a whole nother story.

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By your mom, March 21, 2006 at 10:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

i think the spellchecker mangled “c’est la vie”

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By Bev Gill, March 21, 2006 at 9:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sign me up for that democracy idea.  Why not try something new?  What we’re doing now in this country just ain’t working.

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By David, March 21, 2006 at 8:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If anyone thinks that ANY elected official is going to change the system to be more fair to their opponents then I have some WMD’s to sell you in Syria.  Ain’t gonna happen.  What will be required, I’m afraid, is a good old fashioned revolution, French style.  Let’s drag out the head choppin machine and make our voices count.

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