Tag Archive | "politics"

Pensacola chamber to host health intelligence summit

The summit has featured healthcare industry professionals and representatives from the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other governmental organizations to find solutions for a more connected health system.

The summit has featured healthcare industry professionals and representatives from the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other governmental organizations to find solutions for a more connected health system.

There are nearly 50 million uninsured people in the United States, and when Affordable Care Act regulations take effect next year, there will be increased strain on the nation’s health systems and the need, more than ever before, to find innovative ways to manage patient information.

In its continuing effort to help improve patient care and overall community health, the Greater Pensacola Chamber will be hosting its annual Strategic Health Intelligence Summit next month, bringing together local and regional industry experts with physicians, chief information officers, nurse practitioners, office managers, researchers and many others to discuss health connectivity, tactical applications and clinical information management.

In its seventh year, the Strategic Health Intelligence Summit has brought together national leaders, researchers and private-sector innovators to discuss current and future health-related trends. The summit has featured healthcare industry professionals and representatives from the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other governmental organizations to find solutions for a more connected health system. The summit is also sponsored by a number of local, regional and international organizations, many of whom will have some of their latest projects and future innovations on display for attendees.

This year’s theme is “Threading Shared Data for Meaningful Healthcare Outcomes,” and the two-day event will take place on Nov. 6 & 7 at the Crowne Plaza Pensacola Grande Hotel, 200 E. Gregory St. Details about this year’s summit, including a full schedule and registration information, are available online at www.SHISummit.com. Early-bird registration ends Oct. 18.

Day 1 of the summit will feature panel the sessions “Gaining Meaningful Outcomes with Pervasive Digital Healthcare” and “Solving the Data Puzzle to Improve Community Health.” Day 2 will feature the panel sessions “Threading Complex Data Sets for Value Driven Results” and “Achieving Meaningful Use Requirements,” as well as “Innovation Hour,” an activity where up to 10 presenters will have the opportunity to showcase their new innovations, ideas or products to summit attendees.

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Presidential nomination by delegates is ridiculous

Did you know that, technically speaking, all of the voting that has and is currently taking place at the primaries and caucuses across the country is actually not the final deciding factor for how presidential candidates are chosen?

It’s true. Presidential candidates are ultimately chosen at conventions by delegates from the political parties — and the will of the primary and caucus voters can theoretically be overturned.

This is the second part of my two-part series examining the presidential election process in America. In the first installment, I discussed the absurdity that is the Electoral College and called for it to be abandoned.

In this installment I would like to examine this ridiculous process of presidential candidate nomination by delegates.

Believe it or not, this topic is so dense and confusing that I cannot possibly discuss every aspect of it substantively here (which is perhaps indicative of how crazy the system is).

The delegate selection rules, and the manner in which nominating conventions operate, have changed considerably over the years and have even changed in subtle ways between every presidential election.

But I will try to do my best to provide a condensed explanation of the process based on the current rules.

A delegate is basically someone picked to represent his or her political party at the nominating convention. How delegates are chosen varies from state to state and between the political parties.

For the Republican Party, some states will automatically allot a certain number of delegates based on the number of congressional districts while other states allot delegates to the state as a whole. It’s also possible for bonus delegates to be awarded if the state has a Republican majority in the state legislature, elected Republicans for Congress or as governor or voted for a Republican in the last presidential election.

The Republicans currently have 2,380 delegates, and a candidate needs 1,191 delegates to become the nominee.

Many states use a winner-take-all system for their Republican primaries, such as Florida, meaning if a candidate wins the state’s primary all of the state’s delegates will pledge to vote for that candidate at the nominating convention.

However, some states, such as New York and Texas, use a proportional system that allows the delegates to be divvied up based on how many votes each candidate received in the primary.

Although most of the Republican delegates will be determined state to state either through primaries or caucuses, there are also about 500 delegates that are considered “unbound,” meaning there is no legal obligation for which candidate they must vote, and they are free to decide as they please come the convention.

Many of the unbound delegates come from states with non-binding primaries and caucuses. As a result, those contests are basically only cosmetic and the delegates can actually decide for themselves at the convention.

Non-binding primaries and caucuses generally cost each state millions of dollars to hold and essentially amount to an incredibly expensive straw poll.

The Democratic primaries and caucuses, on the other hand, have a uniform system that awards all delegates proportionally, though candidates must reach a threshold of above 15 percent.

Each Democratic state delegation is required to have an equal balance of men and women and even comply with certain affirmative-action policies as set by the Democratic National Committee. However, each state is free to come up with their own delegate-selection plan that conforms to these requirements and have it approved by the DNC .

Democrats currently have 4,049 delegates, and a candidate needs 2,025 delegates to become the nominee.

However, the Democrats also have so-called “superdelegates” that are similar to unbound delegates and are free to vote for whichever candidate they want.

There are approximately 800 superdelegates, and they include all the members of the DNC, all current Democratic members of Congress, current Democratic governors, and party leaders such as former Democratic presidents, vice presidents and congressional leaders.

Also, the regular Democratic delegates awarded through primaries and caucuses are considered “pledged” delegates and are technically under no legal obligation to cast their votes at the convention for whomever won their respective states — though pledged delegates rarely vote for a candidate that did not win the state.

If a candidate does not win enough delegate votes to secure either the Republican or Democratic nomination, then the parties will have what is known as a “brokered convention.”

In the situation of a brokered convention, essentially, all bets are off. The primary and caucus results are thrown out the window, and the candidate will be selected through a dizzying series of horse-trading, power-brokering re-votes on the convention floor.

The last Democratic brokered convention was in 1952 with Adlai Stevenson eventually becoming the nominee even though Estes Kefauver went into the convention with more delegate votes.

And the last Republican brokered convention was in 1948 with Thomas Dewey eventually winning the nomination after struggling to defeat Robert Taft.

In 2008, the Democrats almost had a brokered convention, but Barak Obama managed to edge out Hillary Clinton by the time of the convention.

And it looks increasingly possible that a brokered convention might be possible for the upcoming 2012 Republican convention if Mitt Romney doesn’t safely secure the nomination.

So, if it isn’t abundantly clear yet, this system of delegate nomination is totally insane, hopelessly outdated, needlessly overcomplicated and utterly inconsistent from state to state and party to party.

Granted, reforming this system would be next to impossible considering the political parties are so set in their ways, but let’s consider some ways we could fix this madness.

Perhaps the easiest solution would be to just have a binding nationwide primary on a single day a few months before the general election that would select the candidates for all political parties through overall popular votes.

Using this system, we could either get rid of delegates altogether or make their function non-binding and just for-show at the conventions.

Another way would be to create a consistent nationwide system for delegate allocation, requiring a proportional system in every state, and the delegates must vote in the conventions however their respective states decided in the primaries.

Whatever we do, I would hope we can all acknowledge that this current system is ridiculous and badly needs reform.

 W. Paul Smith
Opinions Editor 

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The Electoral College is absurd and should be abandoned

Our country is in desperate need of electoral reform — and I’m not even talking about our horribly broken system of campaign financing. I mean the manner in which we elect presidents through the delegate-nominating system and the Electoral College is absolutely insane and makes no sense whatsoever.

So, it being an election year, I would like to examine our election system and make some recommendations on how to fix it. I realize my recommendations will probably be a bit unrealistic because they would require constitutional amendments in some cases, but I think these are things worth considering.

I will be splitting this subject into two parts. In this first installment, I will be examining the absurdity that is the Electoral College. And next week I will discuss the ridiculous process of candidate nomination by delegates of the two political parties.

As we all know, the president and vice-president are not chosen by the popular vote in the general election but by an absolute majority of votes from the Electoral College.

This is how the Electoral College works: As per Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, each state either elects or appoints electors that make up the Electoral College who cast a vote for president and vice president in the general election.

The number of electors must be equal to the total number of Congress members (but electors cannot be a member of Congress).

Ergo, there are currently 538 electors, meaning it takes the votes of at least 270 electors to win the general election.

It is up to each state as to how electors are chosen. For example, in Florida, the governor nominates electors to represent their political party, and the electors swear an oath to vote for the candidates of the party that he or she is nominated to represent (this is pretty close to how most state’s electors work, but some states nominate electors in party conventions).

Generally speaking, the electors act as functionaries of the state and pledge to cast their vote for whomever wins their state’s popular vote in the general election. However, they are not required to do so.

In theory, electors can actually cast their votes for anyone they choose. When electors cast their vote for someone other than who won their state’s popular vote, this process is called “faithless electors.”

Faithless electors are a rare occurrence, but it has happened several times over the years and as recently as 2004 when a Minnesota elector cast his vote for John Edwards for president instead of John Kerry (presumably by accident).

It also happened in 2000, when Elector Barbara Lett-Simmons cast an abstention vote in Washington D.C. instead of voting for Al Gore.

The Electoral College system also allows for the possibility that a candidate can win the presidency without winning the overall national popular vote.

Such an occurrence has happened four times in our nation’s history, most recently in the 2000 election debacle when Gore received 550,000 more votes than George W. Bush.

The Electoral College can also end in a tie. It’s only happened once in the 1800 election when Thomas Jefferson tied Aaron Burr in Electoral College votes. In this absurd scenario, the election gets turned over to be decided by Congress.

And don’t think an Electoral College tie cannot happen again. There are even a couple of completely plausible scenarios that could result in a tie in the upcoming 2012 election (such as this scenario).

If the election goes to Congress to be decided, the president would be chosen in the House of Representatives and the vice president would be chosen in the Senate.

To decide the president in the House, each state delegation gets one vote.

So, while the House currently has 435 members, they would collectively only be casting 50 votes with the representatives from each state voting as a group.

And, no, they are not obligated to cast their vote in line with how the voters in their respective states went. That means a state like Colorado could vote for Obama on Election Day, but since four of the state’s seven representatives are Republican, the state could theoretically end up going for Romney or whoever the Republican nominee is.

Furthermore, this also means that hypothetically Obama could be picked as president by the House and a Republican could be picked as vice president by the Senate or vice versa. This means we could have ended up with Obama and Sarah Palin in 2008 under such a scenario.

So, you may be wondering, then why the hell do we even have an Electoral College if it operates in such a ridiculous manner?

The Founders actually appropriated the system from the Holy Roman Empire, when, starting in the 13th century, elector princes chose the emperor.

The American Electoral College system was chosen, in part, because of the prevalence of slavery in the South and the worry that the infamous Three-Fifths compromise would lead to under-representation of southern states.

Also, there was the completely erroneous hope that such a system would discourage the most populated states from deciding the election at the detriment to the least populated states. However, the Electoral College actually allows just as easily for the opposite to occur.

The United States is currently the only county in the world that allows for an indirect election of an executive president.

Germany and India allow their parliaments to elect the president, but the real executive authority lies with the prime ministers who must win direct elections.

The Electoral College system is an outdated, arbitrary mess that should be completely eradicated.

It would take a constitutional amendment to change the system, but poll after poll has shown that the majority of Americans support such a change, such as a recent Gallop poll that found 62 percent favor nixing the Electoral College.

Our presidents should be chosen by the overall national popular vote, plain and simple — anything else is absurd.

 W. Paul Smith
Opinions Editor 

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NDAA bill may allow for indefinite detention of American citizens

On December 31, President Obama signed into law the controversial National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, and critics have pounced on the bill claiming that it potentially allows for the indefinite detainment of American citizens.

Let me go ahead and warn everyone that this is a very complicated subject, but I’m going to do my best to try and make it intelligible.

On its surface, the NDAA is an 1844-page spending bill that authorizes $662 billion for the defense budget. But contained within the legislation are provisions that deal with the detention of terrorism suspects, specifically the portion of the bill entitled, “Subtitle D –Counterterrorism.”

These provisions of the bill do not so much expand presidential authority for detaining suspects as it does reaffirm an authority both former President Bush and Obama claim already existed as granted by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.

The AUMF was a one-page joint resolution passed by Congress immediately after 9/11 authorizing the use of military force against those responsible for the terrorist attack and granted the President the authority “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided” in 9/11.

Section 1021 of the NDAA codifies this authority of the AUMF and defines a “covered person” subject to this authority as the following:

“A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks” or “A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.”

So, in effect, this section puts a Congressional stamp of approval on the administration’s interpretation of the AUMF, even though the AUMF does not explicitly state anything about powers of detention.

The new language that is added to the NDAA that was not in the original AUMF is the phrase “substantially supported.”

This phrase is dangerously broad and could, perhaps, be used to detain someone only tangentially involved in organizations hostile to the United States.

Furthermore, when someone is detained that is deemed a “covered person,” the NDAA allows for four options for disposition, including trial by a military commission, trial by an alternate court or tribunal, or transfer of custody to the person’s country of origin or any foreign entity.

But the most terrifying option is “detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.”

Considering the War on Terror could potentially last forever, a person could reasonably be held indefinitely without trial under this provision.

However, contained is this provision is also language that says, “Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.”

While it seems to exempt U.S. citizens, it still allows the potential for the detainment of U.S. citizens if captured outside of the United States.

But the next section does seem to allow for the potential for American citizens to be detained.

Section 1022 of the bill refers to a subset of “covered persons” defined as “a member of, or part of, al-Qaeda or an associated force” and someone who “participated in the course of planning or carrying out an attack or attempted attack against the United States or its coalition partners.”

If a person is detained that falls under this subset, the bill says the requirement for military custody “does not extend to citizens to the United States.”

The key word here is “requirement,” which does seem to suggest that the option for indefinite military detainment is still available but is simply not mandatory.

When Obama signed the NDAA into law (after backing down from his empty veto threat), he also offered a signing statement that said, “I want to clarify that my administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.

“Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation. My administration will interpret Section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war and all other applicable law.”

While that might be true (it’s too early to tell), it really suggests only that the Obama administration will not interpret the NDAA to include American citizens but completely leaves open the possibility that subsequent administrations will have a different interpretation.

Ultimately whether or not these provisions of the NDAA will be used in the worst-case scenario manner that critics fear is yet to be determined.

But there is no question that the bill absolutely could be interpreted to be used in such a manner, even if such a worst-case scenario is perhaps unlikely.

This is just the recent in a long line of measures the Obama administration has supported that curtail civil liberties in this country. Obama has proven to be just as hawkish, if not more so, on foreign policy than the Bush administration —  and many liberals and progressives are starting to feel this is not what they voted for in 2008.

The very fact that this legal ambiguity exists in a bill such as this is utterly unforgivable.

While the NDAA might not exactly be the end of the Bill of Rights as we know it, the bill is a dangerous piece of legislation that should have never been passed or signed into law with such shameful and troubling ambiguities.

 W. Paul Smith
Opinions Editor 

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Ron Paul offers much to like and dislike

Ron Paul, who had a strong third and second place showing recently in Iowa and New Hampshire respectively, is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to presidential candidates.

He’s running as a Republican but counts among his supporters people from all sides of the ideological spectrum, from anti-regulation libertarians to Occupy Wall Street protestors, from leftist 9/11 Truthers to right-wing white supremacists.

While it may be a moot point considering Mitt Romney will almost certainly be the eventual Republican nominee, I would like to examine who exactly is Ron Paul and where he stands on the issues.

The former obstetrician-gynecologist has served as a Republican congressman for Texas’ 14th district since 1997, and over the years has solidified a reputation as a bit of a renegade who marches to the beat of his own drum.

Part of the reason Paul garners such a wide cross-section of support is because his positions on the issues offer a little for everyone to like — and perhaps dislike.

For example, he appeals to some liberals and progressives (especially the younger ones) because when it comes to the drug war, civil liberties, executive power and some aspects of foreign policy, you could perhaps say that Ron Paul is more progressive than President Obama.

He advocates ending the so-called War on Drugs and supports drug legalization, saying that prohibition doesn’t work and drug addiction should be treated as a medical problem. 

He has taken a strong stance advocating an end to War on Terror and preemptive wars and has condemned the practices of drone attacks and targeted assassinations on American citizens involved with terrorism, all of which Obama supports.

He is the only Republican candidate to come out against the far-overreaching Stop Online Piracy Act and the highly controversial National Defense Authorization Act, which some critics think has provisions that could potentially allow for the indefinite detainment of American citizens.

While these positions have gotten Paul in trouble with the Republican base, he also has positions that appeal to social conservatives: He doesn’t believe in the separation of church and state, thinks there is war on Christmas, rejects the theory of evolutionis against gay marriage (though thinks it should be left to for the states to decide) and denies that global warming exists.

When it comes to abortion, Paul considers himself to be strongly pro-life, as he supports a repeal of Roe v. Wade and has introduced the Sanctity of Life Act several times into the House that would have defined human life and legal personhood as starting at conception.

But Paul has also said that the Ninth and Tenth Amendments would not allow the federal government to ban states from performing abortions and feels that abortion is not a constitutional issue. However, in a rare moment of inconsistency, he has voted twice for a federal ban on partial birth abortions.

Paul appeals to those who think government is too big. He thinks that both Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional, but stops short of saying he would abolish the programs.

He’s not keen on many federal departments and agencies and wants to eliminate the departments of Energy, Commerce, Interior, Education, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as FEMA.

He’s no fan of many international organizations and global alliances and wants the U.S. to not only pull out of the United Nations but also NATO and the World Health Organization.

Paul even once said the United Nations was a threat to the U.S. that would confiscate firearms, end the Second Amendment, take away private property rights and curtail the right of free religious practice.

He is also against all foreign aid to other countries including Israel.

Paul largely appeals to libertarians, which is the philosophy that seems to inform much of his worldview.

He is a disciple of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, pioneers of the so-called Austrian school of economics (far too complicated to discuss here, but imagine a fanatical reactionary response to Marxism and you’ll start to get the idea) as well as Ayn Rand, who ranks up there with L. Ron Hubbard as one of the worst novelists of the 20th century and believed in pure objective reality.

He comes from the dogmatic school of thought that believes unfettered free market capitalism will solve everything and almost all government regulation will only encroach on people’s freedoms.

It is this libertarian spark that starts to put Paul’s positions into perspective.

Paul essentially believes in the privatization of everything and thinks individual liberty can only be achieved when government has a hands-off approach to nearly every aspect of society, especially business.

In his 1987 book “Freedom Under Siege,” Paul wrote that in a “free society an individual can own and control property and run his or her business as he or she chooses” and that “free people have the right to discriminate.”

Paul has said numerous times that he would have voted against the seminal 1964 Civil Rights Act, which he feels was an affront to liberty and private property.

He rejects the notion that we need regulation to protect people from unfair corporate practices, such as monopolies, racial or sexual discrimination, overworking hours, child labor, etc. He even once said that it was actually capitalism that ended child labor.

And this is where Paul totally goes off the rails for me.

He claims to be against corporatism, but I would submit his economic policies would lead to disastrous results and inch us that much closer to corporate tyranny.

There is no question that sometimes government regulations can be overreaching, ineffective and corrupt just like any other human system, but I think the idea that industries can be entirely self-regulating if we just left them to their own devices is utterly absurd.

First of all, this ignores the fact that much of the bills passed by Congress regulating industries are actually already written by the very industries and their lobbyists that are to be regulated, either weakening the regulation or preventing regulation altogether.

But if the financial crisis of 2008 taught us anything, it’s that private industries cannot be trusted to self-regulate.

Remember the credit ratings agencies, such as Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s? These were private regulatory agencies that were to set standards for rating investments as either safe or dangerous.

But instead, the credit ratings agencies knowingly rated toxic investments as safe because they were in cahoots with the financial service industry and turned a massive profit from the ratings — one of the key factors in the financial collapse.

And, no, capitalism did not end child labor. Child labor was ended in the U.S. with unions and federal regulations after many hard-fought years of workers’ struggle through political activism.

In fact, many American corporations still engage in child labor in other countries, such as Apple. I know we can’t live without our iPhones and iPads, but we all need to understand they were built in part by child labor and sweat shops in China.

And why China? Because China doesn’t have regulations that outlaw such practices like we do in America.

I feel the failure to understand this simple truth of the relationship between capitalism and regulation is to be totally out of touch with reality. We should be calling for better more effective regulations, not wanting all regulations to be abolished.

Of course, if you don’t agree with this notion, then perhaps Paul is your candidate. Ultimately, whether you want to support Ron Paul depends on which issues are of most importance to you.

But I’m certainly glad he is a candidate, because he offers something new and substantive to the debate and a challenge to the status quo whether you agree or disagree — and if that makes him an anomaly in American politics then I welcome it.

W. Paul Smith
Opinions Editor 

Cartoon courtesy of Andy Marlette/amarlette@pnj.com

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Rick Scott is the worst governor in the country

In full disclosure, I do not like Gov. Rick Scott. And apparently I am not the only person who does not like Scott. According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, Scott has a 29 percent approval rating. Essentially, that makes him the worst governor in the United States.

And I’m not just hating on the guy. Sure he looks like Skeletor or the more-evil twin brother of Lex Luthor. However, I have good reasons to dislike Scott.

For one, his $615 million cuts to Florida’s $69 billion state budget. Scott claimed that the cuts were for “short-sighted, frivolous, waste-ful spending.”

Of course, he never mentions what the so-called “frivolous” spending was. It turns out that some serious programs were cut: homeless veterans, meals for poor seniors, a council for dea-fness, a children’s hospital, cancer research and  whooping-cough vaccines for poor mothers. Plus there was a $305 million cut to Florida Forever, which is Florida’s premier conservation and recreation lands acquisition program, i.e. the reason anybody even visits Florida.

And after running on a campaign of  “job creation,” Scott rejected $2.3 million in federal funding for construction of a high-speed railway that would have created thousands of jobs.

Also, let’s not forget about Scott passing a law requiring people who receive welfare assistance to pass annual drug tests to collect benefits. Everyone seemed so excited as they said that “people on welfare shouldn’t get taxpayer money to pay for drugs.”

These same people, along with Scott, believe that drug use is higher among people who are on welfare.

Well, since the testing started, preliminary data shows that only 2 percent of those tested were positive for drugs. So there goes that theory of  “welfare equals drug use.”

Scott also claimed that the state would save money by not having to give public money to subsidize welfare drug habits. Well, since 96 percent passed the drug test — 2 percent did not take the test — the state has to reimburse the $30 out-of-pocket fee to pay for each test. Plus Florida tax dollars must pay for staff and administrative costs for the drug-testing program. Columnist Steven Benen points out that the drug-testing policy is limited to low-income Floridians needing temporary aid. “It doesn’t apply to everyone seeking public funding,” Benen said, “only the poor, who the governor assumes are probably drug-addicts.”

The good news for Scott is that he founded Solantic Corp., the company that administers the test. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Scott maintains that he has no involvement in the company, but he does have $62 million worth of the company’s shares contained in a blind trust under his wife’s name. So it’s safe to say that Scott is set to get a nice financial gain from his drug-testing law.

The worst part of it all Scott is doing what he campaigned on, which shows the 2010 election was a referendum on President Barack Obama and not the real issues that matter to Floridians.

“Daily Show” co-creator Lizz Winstead once said, “If Floridians knew as much about Rick Scott as they did Casey Anthony, Florida would be in a better place now.” Preach on, sister!

Freedom Whiting
Contributing Writer


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