The World’s Most Boring TED Talk

Talk to the hand CruzCruzSequestorNormally TED Talks employ bright and accomplished people with fascinating stories to tell, but Ted Cruz only ever opens his mouth to change feet. He hates ObamaCare in the same breath that he admits that once people actually have affordable healthcare, they’re going to like it, and that will make The Affordable Health Care Act more difficult to roll back let alone the idea of repealing it. Well, duh. I keep hearing how bright this man is, but I’m not not seeing it.

25I keep hearing that Ted Cruz is grooming himself to run for president in 2016 by pandering to the hardcore right wing Tea Party who aren’t smart enough to come in out of the rain–let alone acknowledge their own best interests. So if he’s their presidential pick in 2016, you can count on Hillary winning. So keep on blathering Ted, keep on blathering. But why is he really doing this, and holding a faux-filabuster on a non-voting day for the Senate? To run for president? I don’t think so. I think Ted Cruz has about as much of a genuine intention of becoming president as his new best friend, Sarah Palin. He’s merely an opportunist–an opportunistic infection to be precise. What he’s really shooting for is a nice cushy job in propaganda news as an “analyst” for FOX where knowing nothing is an asset. Ted Cruz has no one’s best interests at heart but his own–reading Green Eggs and Ham at all hours of the night to his bored fellow senators, indeed. Cruz even failed to grasp the point of Dr Seuss’ classic children’s book, which is: “Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.” I intend to sign up for a healthcare exchange on October 1st. I don’t currently have healthcare. In fact 25 million of us will be added to those with insurance. And that’s a bad thing, how(?) Ted Cruz is full ofduckshit1 himself. He’s also full of what’s pictured graphically to the right:

– Disassociated Press, 9/25/2013

The Age of Intellectual Impotence


TheAgeOfIntellectualImpotenceunemployment-line-great-depression_Before I start today’s rant, I’d like to begin with a quick word to set the stage: The highest paid public sector employees in almost all fifty states are sports coaches. Mostly football coaches. It’s an American priority for some reason, but as you read on, you’ll see why I began with this odd factoid.

All through history every generation has seen and met its challenges. Some generations have done a better job of rising to meet their unique set of circumstances than others–and frankly I’m a little concerned about the fate of my own age group. My parents got to be categorized along with their peers as members of “The Greatest Generation” (courtesy of Tom Brokaw and his book about the twentieth century’s struggles and wars). I can’t help but wonder how my generation will be remembered–or IF my generation will be remembered… Who am I kidding? My generation is already forgotten and that might be the thing that most accurately defines us.

My Parents in the 1940s.

My Parents in 1940.

I was born in 1950–a classic “baby boomer”–to parents who very much wanted their children to be better-off than they themselves had been. My dad was college educated, which was somewhat impressive to my mother’s family where not everyone had the advantage of completing high school. But all of them made it safely to the middle class.

Grandfather James Millman.

Grandfather Millman.

My maternal grandfather had been an Irish farm laborer who worked hard and eventually became a railroad engineer. In doing so, he was never at a loss for work even during the worst of times, and was able to keep food on his family’s table throughout the Great Depression–often with extra plates to share with neighbors when those families hit a rough patch. As World War II came rumbling into the world theater, my grandfather deferred his retirement so that younger men could serve abroad. He didn’t live long after he finally got his turn to retire. That frequently happens when people define themselves as being one with the trade that employed them.

moonMy generation benefited from the prosperity that followed World War II and marveled at the advancements which unfolded around us everyday. Each new wonder from color television sets to landing a man on the moon made Americans feel proud of living in the greatest country in the world. Part of that pride was a belief that the world would continue to grow so as to make our lives better and better. We looked forward to things becoming progressively more astonishing as we rode the wave of anticipation into the future. To some degree that amazing future has come to pass–but more accurately everything just got faster, quicker and oddly dehumanizing. In reality the world around us became smaller and frighteningly efficient while inefficient all at the same time. So much so that people my age are no longer relevant–if in fact we ever were.

062603_fg7aThere was a time when a trade was passed from one generation to the next. Or in my case, since I displayed artistic talent at a very early age I was encouraged toward the arts simply as my “given path.” And that brings me to what is now unique about my generation: We are the first generation to be so thoroughly and completely rendered obsolete while still in our prime that it’s hard to know exactly where to turn. We are now as useless as the typesetter. Those of us of a certain age have energy left and the will to be useful. We have a life full of experience and wisdom, but no one really wants anything to do with us. There is so little call for skills we spent a lifetime honing, that it’s difficult not to lapse into a state of deep depression and defeat.

me n winCollectively my generation is expected to live longer than our parents did, thanks to excellent nutrition and progressive medical advancements. Baring that in mind, the age of our eligibility to collect Social Security has been pushed back–concurrent to our inability to be deemed desirable for employment. All of this, of course was followed hot on the heels of the worse economic downturn since the Great Depression. And so the rich get richer. Right now the wealthy are cutting worker’s hours so they can avoid having to participate in The Affordable Healthcare Act. But not to worry, the rich will be just fine if they require medical treatment. Meanwhile Republicans are trying to gut all the social safety nets including food stamps and school nutrition programs even as they attempt to close those same schools altogether–and default on the nation’s debts. The banks want to take away our homes–not that they really want them–but banks make more money processing a foreclosure than they do from working with homeowners to keep them in their homes. People who’ve worked their entire lives just to acquire that one single, solitary comforting and highly personal asset have routinely lost everything. Capitalism which once meant a “competitive free market” now means “unbridled greed” and a complete disregard for our fellow citizens.

DontUseThisOneAA great many of the jobs that I used to get as a freelance artist back when I was young–everything from advertising paste-ups to illustration work are all now done by computers–most of it overseen by significantly younger people born into the computer age. While slow to the table, I am now largely computer literate (that is when entire platforms and programs aren’t changed out from under me with little or no warning forcing me to go buy something mysterious and unknown from an online “cloud”). Like so many of the applied arts it’s now a young person’s field.

dscn1466I know musicians who used to supplement their income providing back-up instrumentals for everything from television commercials to pop recordings. Those jobs are now computerized–and skilled musical hands are no longer playing their instruments except as a personal creative outlet or tragically on some street corner. My generation has been blindsided by a series of circumstances ranging from corporate greed-mongers gleefully outsourcing our jobs to third world countries merely to cut down on labor costs–to computerization eliminating the very skills that once defined us. Even the tech jobs that originally empowered Silicon Valley are now shipped overseas and are never expected to return.

vintage ad 1950's uk stor-morOur “job” as “shrinking” members in good standing of the American middle class, is to consume things we can’t afford. Much of those goods are designed with “built-in obsolescence” so that we’ll need to buy a replacement device long before we’ve finished paying the interest on the original contraption we purchased in the first place. For example: I need a new refrigerator. My current refrigerator is three years older than I am–I have a 1947 Hotpoint that still works but owes me nothing. If they still made refrigerators like that–the upper two percentile would never be able to maintain half as many non-taxable offshore investment accounts as they currently enjoy. A few days back I was refrigerator shopping online (because there ARE no appliance stores near me). I was also checking consumer reports and noticed that very few available models are made in America and most have about a five year life expectancy–BUT you can buy one on a seven year payment plan. Brilliant. I’ll probably buy a reconditioned “scratch ‘n dent” or previously owned refrigerator off Craig’s List. (I hope I don’t buy it from a serial killer.)

hqdefaultA long time ago I worked in a department store–one of those defunct big-name chains stores that were once considered unshakable pillars of our economy (in fact they carried refrigerators too). At that store there was a sign painter who was capable of the most beautiful hand-lettering I’d ever seen. We’ll call him “Walter” just for the sake of giving him an identity. Walter could quickly dip his brush or pen into a pot of ink and flawlessly scrawl out “The Latest Fashions from Paris.” Meanwhile, that same store also employed a silk screen technician. We’ll call him “Harold.” Walter and Harold didn’t care much for one another, as Harold had once been Walter’s assistant. Harold would hand-cut silk screens to print multiple signs which were all identical–things like “30% Off on All Menswear.” Harold’s signs for example, would then be scattered throughout the store on all the racks that carried men’s clothing. There was a time when Walter and his assistants had done all those signs by hand as well–but his hours were cut back due to the efficiency of silk-screened multiple prints.


Antique automated silkscreen machine.

One day the entire staff had to attend a mandatory department seminar where a new mechanized “Hand Lettering Machine” was premiered for everyone to witness. You could see the color drain from poor Walter’s face as he literally “saw the handwriting on the wall.” His job was about to be eliminated because his remarkable talent no longer mattered. Harold thought it was downright funny and took delight in Walter’s early retirement–up until a few months later when the mechanized silk-screen machine was introduced. Both of those technological advancements have been subsequently replaced by computers and desktop printers. (For Christ’s sake, technology can now sample your DNA and printout a new pancreas for you on your desktop–I wish I was kidding.)

But back to the historic department store–the display and advertising departments that once employed hundreds of skilled workers was reduced to a skeletal crew. The historic old department store was swallowed up by a larger chain. Currently they’re working on modernized checkout areas where customers can scan their own merchandise and pay for it without so much as encountering another human face. You can already fire off a cannon on the main floor and there wouldn’t be a sales person present to hear it. Where did all those employees go who once proudly held those jobs? More than likely they’re hovering just above or just below Metropolis robot2the poverty line, not qualifying for any kind of break or assistance and possibly to proud to ask. They’re lucky if they qualified for a pension, and given themselves over on bended knee to early, reduced Social Security. Welcome to the future, it’s already here, yet somehow so many of us seem to have missed out on the whole thing. It seems late by my lights to be reprogrammed to fit into the modern world, and I’d never stoop to becoming a football coach. I have my standards to maintain damn it.

– Disassociated Press, 9/21/2013

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The Naïveté of Greed–And Why We Let Them Get Away With It

fort-knox2bDia81In the 1980s the fictional Gordon Gekko told us that “Greed is good.” Never mind how at the end of the film (Wall Street) the soulless Mr. Gekko gets sent to prison. That was a Hollywood happy-ending not remotely based on reality. In truth the greedy among us more often than not get away with their reckless behavior. It’s everyone else who suffers. Often it’s a case of being “too big to fail” which allows corporate criminal behavior to go unpunished. It also helps if you’re rich enough to tangle-up the courts with high priced lawyers until the whole scandal goes away while our collective short-term memories fade. More often than not white collar crime counts on the statute of limitations running out while the evidence of wrong-doing quietly evaporates like quicksilver.

working_menThe average American constitutes the backbone of the nation–we are the hard workers. No one doubts that long days on the New York Stock Exchange are grueling. But try pipeline construction or brick masonry–I’ve done both. I’ve also been a corporate executive so I know what I’m talking about when I say that that cushier jobs are nowhere near as exhausting. Nothing is as physically or mentally challenging as genuine physical labor–working hard while worrying about whether or not ends will meet. At the same time we live in a nation that doesn’t read or care to learn from mistakes. Americans are easily brainwashed into ignoring truths happening right under their noses while clinging to the time-honored mythology of the “American Dream.” Never mind that the very dream itself is always being held at a tantalizing distance just beyond our grasp.

golden-apple-300x286We’re told that hard work pays off and we’ll be rewarded for our efforts. That, however has not been my experience–nor has it been my observation. If a worker does anything particularly well, that individual is more than likely going to be frozen in place–stymied in a dead end position indefinitely. Why? Because If a person can do something well, why promote them? Leave that person to do what they’re already good at. Or better yet, find a flimsy excuse to fire the loyal employee if he or she is over fifty and hire someone younger and willing to work for less money and fewer benefits. It’s always the apple polishers who don’t actually fit-in, but have mastered the fine art of bullshit who manage to get themselves flushed upward with the tide of incompetence. Before you know it, those conniving back stabbers wind up in charge of the fate of all the more capable workers. I’ve seen it happen time and again. I have no reason to believe it’s any different in the banking industry.

t_gondii_cyst_brain-s6-c30In reality the American worker is the body and soul of our nation. The banks, corporations and investment firms are like cancerous tumors left untreated. Wealth is disproportionally distributed among the upper two percentile while the rest of us who genuinely work to survive see a shrinking share of the profits. We’re the ones who’re continually blindsided by the costs of everything from food and housing to medical care and education. In other words, the average American is the host organism–and corporate America is the parasite that sucks the life out of the host until neither entity is left strong enough to survive. That, sadly is the direction America is rapidly heading.

Suicide nets in Chinese factories.

Suicide nets in China.

The wealthy fight tooth and nail to keep the minimum wage as low as possible even though increasing said wage won’t effect whether or not those privileged folks enjoy lavish European vacations, multiple ocean front beach homes or country retreats. The greedy among us work to bust unions in order to erode the middle class whether or not those middle income individuals actually belong to a union. Unions, while every bit as imperfect as the ruling class, are the firewall that protects average Americans from complete subservience. With stone hearts of cold greed, the rich outsource our jobs to nations who have no problem employing forced labor camps without any pesky encumbrances like minimum wages, health benefits or human rights. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m blogging on a device constructed under those very same deplorable conditions–although I didn’t know it when I bought the damned thing.) As if there was ever a “free-trade” option when buying a computer….

istockphoto_581154-pile-of-money….The rich fight tooth and nail to avoid paying a fair tax rate while they look down their noses at everyone else and turn a blind eye to our nation’s crumbling infrastructure and withering middle class. It’s as if to say struggling people are mindless sponges unworthy of eating the crust that cakes on the pan. The wealthy class balks at the average person wanting healthcare coverage. Lest we forget how taxpayers paid untold millions to keep Dick Cheney’s soulless ass alive until his heart transplant came through. (No doubt someone with his blood type went missing and unnoticed somewhere in the world…. But I digress.)

shutterstock_71677819-e1350233230944Meanwhile the shrinking middle class sits back complacently, dumbed-down by television, watching football and never giving a moment of thought to how the last firewalls of income protection necessary to preserve their own quality of life is eroding right beneath them. Then again, more Americans vote for contestants on ‘America’s Got Talent’ than ever find the wherewithal to get their lazy bovine asses to the voting both, (especially during a midterm election which is when the most egregious political shenanigans take place.) Meanwhile the middle class has less money to spend on the goods and services that make and keep the wealthy rich. This is not a sustainable formula for a nation determined to survive as a first rate world power in our competitive 21st century global economy. Oh, by the way, the wealthy prefer not to fund middle class education. An uninformed populace is much easier to control.

brainscan05Meanwhile the average person finds him or her self financially struggling against unforeseen healthcare costs–job losses–shrinking spending power and the rising cost of living. An unfair conventional wisdom dictates that those people must be lazy or stupid–otherwise they’d be rich. People victimized by these misfortunes are diminished and often fall into a downward spiral–when all they’ve ever wanted was to be treated fairly and given a chance on a level playing field.

uninsuredObamaCare has become a hotbed topic because the far right knows that once it’s implemented (flaws and all) people will come to like it and rely on it. It’s merely an extension of Medicare. Obviously there are kinks to be ironed out. That said, the more prosperous nations in the world economy have all had the wisdom not to allow health coverage to become a profit motivated industry in the first place. For-profit healthcare preys on the individual’s desire to live a healthy life–so companies raise premiums on a captive market to squeeze out a customer’s life blood.

ariely-wealthBut when the markets themselves became sick and were in desperate need of a transfusion (between the transition of Bush II and Barack Obama) billions and billions of dollars were infused into these “too big to fail” banks, investment firms and corporations. If a private individual falls on hard times (self-inflicted or purely through misfortune) the safety nets are far less lavish.

But to our north in Canada, a private equity firm called Ares Management purchased the highly profitable retailing giant, Neiman Marcus. There’s nothing unusual about that aside from the fact that Ares Management isn’t merely another private investment giant: Ares Management IS the National Canadian Social Security System. The primary beneficiary and shareholders of Neiman Marcus are now the elderly and disabled citizens of Canada. Other countries like Norway and Singapore, have instituted similar innovative thinking. In our greed-motivated capitalistic society, allowing entitlement programs to participate in the profits of a free market is nearly unimaginable. Just ask any “loving” conservative Christian–if they don’t pull a gun on you first.

Ares Purchase of Neiman Marcus to benefit Canadian Social Security.

Celebrating Ares’ Purchase of Neiman Marcus to benefit the Canadian Social Security System.

After our last severe economic recession everyone has been left uneasy. Foolhardy risk-taking both in the financial markets and on the world stage during the George W. Bush years–(but dating all the way back to Ronald Regan)–sacrificed long term stability for short term gains–all built on a greedy house of cards. The American taxpayer,  already fleeced everywhere from the pump to the grocery store (and well beyond) paid in excess of SEVEN HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS to save the smarmy asses of unscrupulous, mismanaged, incompetent and frequently fraudulent investment firms while the nation waged wars that no one ever had any intention of paying for. During this period, crooked CEOs commanding the corporate helm secured tidy golden parachutes to insure their own personal fortunes. They knew we were heading over a cliff. But thanks to taxpayer bailouts, Wall Street has recovered quite nicely, thank you very much. But it’s a jobless recovery that hasn’t by and large “tinkled-down” to the millions of unemployed and struggling Americans who continue to endure hardships. Bearing in mind the wisdom and generosity of Canada’s Social Security purchase, please take the time to ponder the following personal “retirement” plans:

index* Richard S. Fuld, Jr. (Former CEO of Leiman Brothers) received $529 million from his Lehman job including his salary and cash bonuses prior to it’s impending collapse in September of 2008. He now has his own private investment firm and has purchased some very high-end real estate including an $8 million, nine-bedroom home with a guest house. He transferred ownership of a $10.6 million beachfront home, with a pool and tennis court, to his wife, Kathleen in November 2008. He owns a 40-plus-acre ranch in Sun Valley, Idaho. But on a more “sobering” note, he did have to sell his multimillion dollar Park Avenue apartment.

James_Cayne-3* Jimmy Cayne, former CEO of the late of Bear Stearns lives in a $25 million apartment in New York’s Plaza Hotel. He divides his time between golf, bridge and smoking fine cigars. He retains a bridge playing coach who he pays $100,000 a year to keep his bridge game top notch. On Thursdays he helicopters to his $8.2 million dollar New Jersey beach house for weekend golf outings. He earned $87.5 million in cash bonuses from 2000 to 2007 and sold stock worth about $289 million and took home an additional $900 million prior to Bear Stears demise. All that extra cash helps support his second apartment on Park Avenue that he and his wife share when life becomes trying at the Plaza. (The “help” can become so surly when you don’t tip.) Occasionally Mr. and Mrs. Cayne “slum it” at their $2.75 million condo at the Boca Beach Club in Boca Raton, Florida. It must be so difficult for them both.
Charles-Prince-Citigroup4nov07* Charles O. Prince III, former CEO of Citigroup resigned wisely in 2007 after losing $11 billion on sub-prime mortgage gambling, but he was “fortunately” awarded a $33 million dollar golden parachute and $65.2 million in cash salary and bonuses. Before you feel too sorry for him, he has a $3.6 million Nantucket getaway and a $2.7 million luxury home in Lost Tree Village north of Palm Beach, Florida.
blame_25_oneal* Stanley O’Neal, the last CEO of Merrill Lynch guided the firm into losing $55 billion worth of corporate losses. To his good fortune, he got a golden parachute of $161.5 million preceded by $68.4 million in cash salary and bonuses. He quickly sold Merrill stock at a profit of at least $18.7 million. He transferred full ownership of his $10 million Park Avenue apartment to his wife late in 2008. They also own a $12.4 million vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard through a “legally protected” LLC. He sits on the board of Alcoa Aluminum, and for some mysterious reason they allow him to continue to do so.
ken-lewis-gone-from-bank-of-america* Kenneth Lewis might have survived the initial Wall Street collapse unscathed, but he oversaw the purchase of toxic assets from other collapsing firms through Bank of America (in spite of some ticklish run-ins with the Justice Department). He personally holds $86.4 million from the sale of Bank of America stock prior to it being bailed out. After selling several other homes, he and his wife have “scaled-down” to living a meager existence in their $4.1 million beachfront condo in Naples, Florida.
fct_b48d2960d9364d3Thus far not one individual of any real consequence has gone to prison. Bernie Madoff doesn’t count–he was actually pulling off a pyramid scheme that already fit into a preexisting definition of illegal financial practices. That said each and every one of these executives (there are too many to list) found creative ways of breaking or redefining existing laws thus disregarding human decency. Finding creative ways of circumventing legal conventions doesn’t make anyone innovative–it merely redefines the term “dirtball.” Wealth be damned. But don’t any of you try your hand at those shell games, even on a small scale, because the law will nail your ass to the wall. None of these aforementioned CEOs will ever go to jail. You’d think that people who defrauded investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars would be wearing orange jumpsuits and sweeping floors behind bars–but that’s not how it works with white collar crime. These men with their obscene fortunes will go unpunished. It doesn’t matter who else lost their hard-earned retirement money or how many lives were ruined. These scum-balls amassed their fortunes on the backs of other people’s misfortunes. The more the world changes–the more it remains the same. None of them will ever be prosecuted nor punished–not in this life anyway.
- Disassociated Press, 9/14/2013
* Note: Much of the material interpreted in this opinion blog is based on research from The Center for Public Integrity.
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A miniature room. Collection of the University of Nebraska.

Minaiture – 1/12″ scale. Collection of the University of Nebraska’s Design Dept.

BookJacketStudyturnedMy Book, An Early Work Late in Life is available at PixelPreserve:

Pompous Circumstance at Trump University

In honor of Labor Day, it seems appropriate to see what the upper 2% uber-wealthy are up to during this jobless recovery. And with education being the key to professional advancement, Donald Trump has entered the arena of higher learning, but not as a student–rather as a financial backer to help all those struggling little people who want to realize the American dream. Trump added his own special brand to the mix, sharing his experience and wisdom for a price. The attorney general of New York State is suing Donald Trump for forty million dollars, alleging the real estate mogul and “reality” TV star is involved in a bogus university designed solely to part students from their money. “The Donald” even lent his name to the scheme christening it “Trump University.” Anyone gullible enough to sign-up quickly found themselves falling deeper and deeper in debt–largely due to having merely enrolled.

Trump, is not as he claims “self-made” but rather received a sizable inheritance from his father. Without that hefty boost it’s very doubtful anyone would ever have heard of the financial “Titan” who has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection repeatedly. But Donald Trump, who lives in a fantasy world of his own fired back with allegations that the state’s charges were politically motivated. Yeah, right.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman alleges that most of the 5,000 students who paid roughly $35,000 in tuition and fees got nothing more than a photo opp with a life-sized cardboard cutout of the egotistical Mr. Trump. No students enjoyed monetary advancements or big real estate deals. No one walked away with the ‘Midas Touch’–not even a signed copy. No one got so much as a chance to meet the circus clown himself–only a photograph standing next to a life-sized cardboard cutout of “The Donald.” One would have thought that might have tipped off the first graduating class, but people kept enrolling in spite of the school’s tawdry reputation.

According to Attorney General Schneiderman, “Trump University engaged in deception at every stage of consumers’ advancement through costly programs and caused real financial harm,” going on to say that “Trump University, with Donald Trump’s knowledge and participation, relied on Trump’s name recognition and celebrity status to take advantage of consumers who believed in the Trump brand.” Really…? Perhaps I’m crediting people with more smarts than they truly possess, but it never occurred to me that anyone believed in the “Trump brand.” I didn’t think there was anyone out there who didn’t intuitively realize that Donald Trump was nothing more than a media-whore and a megalomaniac.

Trump’s attorney claims the lawsuit is retribution for “The Donald” having only donated a paltry $12,000 to Schneiderman’s political campaign. Lawyer, Michael Cohen said his client “will not sit back and be extorted by anyone, including the attorney general.” But the state claims that students were defrauded and left with enormous burdens of debt due to instructions from Trump University “professors” who urged participants to max-out their credit cards and hand the money over to Trump University with promises of personal internships with “The Donald” which (of course) never materialized. The attorney general dismisses any claims of political motivation and insists the state is seeking forty million dollars from Trump in order to provide restitution to those who were victimized by the phony real estate education scheme.

The New York State Department of Education officially informed Trump University several years ago that it did not meet the legal definition or state requirements necessary to use the word “university” in the name of whatever in the world they were up to. The name has since been rechristened: the Trump Entrepreneurial Institute. Straight jackets are available at an additional fee. As P.T. Barnum is so famously attributed as saying: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” It’s enough to make your hair stand on end.

– Disassociated Press, 9/1/2013

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