Well, that was fast

National Review:

President Trump said Wednesday that he would sign an executive order, drafted by Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, ending the practice of separating children from their parents after families are caught attempting to cross the border illegally.

Trump indicated that he would sign the order to end his administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration-enforcement policy, which has thus far separated roughly 2,000 children from parents who are awaiting trial. The order is expected to ensure that families remain together in specially equipped detention centers during their prosecution.

“I’ll be signing something in a little while that’s going to do that. I’ll be doing something that’s somewhat preemptive and ultimately will be matched by legislation I’m sure,” Trump told the White House press pool.

Administration officials reportedly expect a legal challenge in the event that they try to keep children with their detained parents, due to a 1997 order that mandates children be released from federal custody after 20 days.

The president’s comments came moments after Speaker Paul Ryan announced that the House will vote Thursday on immigration legislation that, in addition to increasing funding for border security and granting amnesty to Dreamers, would end the family separation policy and fund family detention centers. In a concession to conservatives,  the House is also expected to vote Thursday on a more hardline immigration bill that does not address family separations; though neither bill has the requisite Democratic support to pass.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer has already said nothing will pass, because 60 votes are required in the Senate, and Democrats think voters will vote against Republicans on this issue, irrespective of where immigration sits among nonaligned voters in terms of priority.

 

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On the freak show that is my hometown

James Wigderson promises something that everyone should endorse:

I want to promise my readers something, and I swear it’s a promise that I’ll never break. It’s a promise that I make to my immediate family, my friends, and my mother. I will never ride a bicycle through Madison completely naked.

Apparently this is an annual protest against something, and a bunch of people rode their bicycles on Saturday past the farmers market in their birthday suits. I’m not sure if Madison Mayor Paul Soglin was with them and, despite my dedication to you readers, I am not going to look through the photos online to check.

Have you noticed that the people you would never want to see naked are often the ones at naked protests? And who will disinfect the rental bicycles that were used by the protesters? Yes, I’ll bet you’ll think twice now before hopping on one of those blue bicycles in Madison.

I’m sure the naked bicyclists were hoping for some sort of reaction other than, “eewww.” That upon seeing the unmentionables we would all suddenly go, “Oh, I get it. From now on, I’m going to believe like a Hollywood lefty that these naked people are right about everything.”

Instead, the reaction I saw from most people was, “Madison.” As in, I’m in Madison, and therefore the inmates of the asylum are running the place.

As they bicycled through Madison’s farmer’s market on Saturday (“Harold, do you think the melons are fresh?”) I’m guessing that never have been so many people been bored by nudity since Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman starred in Eyes Wide Shut.

Somebody forgot to tell the organizers that nudity as a protest model has not only been done, it’s now cliché. So the Madison Left will have to find some other way to shock us to seek attention for whatever it is they’re seeking attention other than themselves. And in doing so, they’ll just be a reminder of how puerile the Left has become.

It’s all about them, you know. “How do I attract attention to me so everyone can see how noble I am? What can I do so that everyone knows I care because I’m special?” And it’s usually followed by, “Can’t everyone see I’m much more enlightened than THEM?”

THEM being whatever rubes voted for Governor Scott Walker, President Donald Trump, or even Hillary Clinton instead of Bernie Sanders and whomever is the best friend of John Nichols at The Nation this week.

So we get Robert De Niro dropping the F-bomb at awards shows, John Legend dropping F-bombs on House Speaker Paul Ryan on Twitter while Legend’s wife pulls a Kelda Roys to get attention, and even Kathy Griffin has returned to drop F-bombs on First Lady Melania Trump.

Locally, One Wisconsin Now’s Scot Ross has the mouth of a sewer and yet he manages to get quoted in everyone’s publications. The protesters carry signs trying to shock people being “woke” and now we have bicyclists tempting skin cancer.

Too often people on the Right like to hyperventilate over some of these things, and some on the Right even try to emulate the Left’s tactics of using shock over substance. When that happens, we’re just giving these spoiled babies what they want: attention.

But just as we don’t take seriously a three-year-old running through the house naked after a bath, we should stop taking the Left’s antics seriously, too. When they actually have something intelligent to say and want to be taken seriously, perhaps they’ll follow the sage advice of Frau Blücher, “I suggest you put on a tie!”

This prompted a reader of Wigderson’s to post:

Note to self: Never buy a used bike seat from Madison.

Given that motorcycle riders are counseled to dress for the fall, not the ride, one wonders how many injuries Madison Fire Department paramedics had to handle from bike riders whose birthday suits met pavement.

 

Redirected redistricting

David French reports that yesterday …

… the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Gill v. Whitford — better known as the “Wisconsin gerrymandering case” — and the plaintiffs lost, at least for now. Wisconsin will not have to redraw its legislative districts. But the court didn’t rule for Wisconsin on the merits. Instead, it held that the plaintiffs hadn’t established Article III standing in the case. They hadn’t established a concrete, particularized, individual harm. Instead, they were arguing that they had suffered harms because they were Democrats, and Democrats as a whole were underrepresented in the Wisconsin legislature. The plaintiffs didn’t just want to fix their individual districts (the conventional response to an individualized harm). They wanted rework the entire system.

Justice Roberts, writing for a unanimous Court, explained the problem:

The plaintiffs argue that their legal injury is not limited to the injury that they have suffered as individual voters, but extends also to the statewide harm to their interest “in their collective representation in the legislature,” and in influencing the legislature’s overall “composition and policymaking” . . . But our cases to date have not found that this presents an individual and personal injury of the kind required for Article III standing. On the facts of this case, the plaintiffs may not rely on “the kind of undifferentiated, generalized grievance about the conduct of government that we have refused to countenance in the past.” Lance, 549 U. S., at 442. A citizen’s interest in the overall composition of the legislature is embodied in his right to vote for his representative. And the citizen’s abstract interest in policies adopted by the legislature on the facts here is a nonjusticiable “general interest common to all members of the public.”

The plaintiffs rested their case on a “theory of statewide injury to Wisconsin Democrats.” Thus, “It is a case about group political interests, not individual legal rights. But this Court is not responsible for vindicating generalized partisan preferences. The Court’s constitutionally prescribed role is to vindicate the individual rights of the people appearing before it.”

Ordinarily, when plaintiffs lack standing, the Court dismisses the case. But this time the Court remanded it back to the District Court “so that the plaintiffs may have an opportunity to prove concrete and particularized injuries using evidence — unlike the bulk of the evidence presented thus far — that would tend to demonstrate a burden on their individual votes.” Justices Gorsuch and Thomas objected to the remand, arguing that the plaintiffs had their opportunity to present their standing argument, and failed.

So, the plaintiffs live to fight again, but this time they’re going to have to prove exactly how their individual districts are “packed” (too many voters of one party unnaturally jammed in one district) or “cracked” (voters are split from their districts to dilute partisan representation) and then seek a remedy for their specific districts. In other words, it just got much more difficult to seek a statewide revision of an allegedly partisan gerrymander.

Also [Monday], the court issued a second unanimous opinion (this one per curiam) in a case brought by Maryland Republicans challenging a Democratic gerrymander. In Benisek v. Lamone, Supreme Court held that the district court didn’t abuse its discretion when it denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, but did so without opining on the merits of their case. SCOTUS held that the plaintiffs had failed to pursue their claims with “reasonable diligence” and that an injunction could have “chaotic” and “disruptive” effect on the electoral process.

Benisek is largely meaningless. Gill, however, is of some consequence. The case — while a “punt” on the merits — does have a clear purpose. It demonstrates once again that there’s no easy judicial path through what is (at its heart) a tangled political morass. When districting is delegated to the political branches of government, it will be — hold on to your hats — thoroughly political. States can choose different ways to district, but when a state chooses the political path, the Supreme Court’s default position should be to defer, absent clear and unequivocal constitutional violations. And, by the way, there is no constitutional right to a legislative composition that matches each party’s share of the vote.

Moreover, while there is no doubt packing and cracking in any political districting process, we can’t forget that the American people are in the midst of their own, voluntary gerrymander. The number of “landslide counties” (where one presidential candidate wins by 20 points or more) keeps increasing. People are packing themselves, and this “Big Sort” means that no judicial decision can deliver the sweeping solutions that many activists crave.

An actually important issue, as opposed to political issues today

Romina Boccia:

The Social Security Administration released its annual trustees report this week, and the prognosis is not good.

Trust fund depletion—the date when Social Security’s reserves will be exhausted and the program will only be able to spend what it receives in payroll taxes at that time—is approaching at a rapid pace. This year, Social Security will dip into its reserves for the first time since 1982.

Simply put, the trust fund is being drained.

The Social Security trustees report is a key pulse check on the single largest federal government program—the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance program—and its sibling, the Disability Insurance Program.

Americans should be made aware of the true state of Social Security so they can better understand why reforming the program is not only necessary, but absolutely essential.

Here are five takeaways from the most recent financial report:

1. $41 billion cash-flow deficit in 2017.

Social Security is still considered solvent and able to pay full benefits because it has accumulated a $2.9 trillion trust fund, but since the entirety of its trust fund consists of IOUs, cash-flow deficits must be financed by general revenue taxes or new public borrowing.

Since 2010, the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance program has taken in less money from payroll tax revenues and the taxation of benefits than it pays out in benefits, resulting in cash-flow deficits.

2. $16.1 trillion in unfunded obligations.

The trustees report that Social Security’s unfunded obligation has reached $13.2 trillion. That’s the difference between what the program is expected to receive in income, and what it’s expected to spend over the next 75 years.

But this figure assumes that the $2.9 trillion in trust fund reserves are available to be spent. The problem is that these reserves represent liabilities for the U.S. taxpayer.

The payroll revenues have already been spent and the trust fund has been credited with U.S. bonds, which represent claims on the American taxpayer. So, the actual unfunded obligation is $16.1 trillion.

3. Insolvent by 2034.

Social Security is only legally permitted to spend more than it takes in until its trust fund is depleted. And, based on current projections, the Social Security Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance trust funds will be depleted by 2034.

When that happens, Social Security payouts will automatically be cut to the amount the programs will receive in revenues, regardless of benefits due at that time.

4. Automatic 21 percent cut in benefits.

Once both Social Security trust funds are depleted, the programs will only be able to pay out 79 percent of scheduled benefits, based on payroll and other Social Security tax revenues projected at that time.

What this means for beneficiaries is that in the absence of congressional action, benefits could be delayed or indiscriminately cut across the board by 21 percent.

5. Delaying reform comes with a high cost.

In their report, the trustees highlight that if Congress waits until the trust funds become exhausted, the cost of making the program solvent will be as much as 40 percent higher. That means much deeper benefit cuts and higher tax increases for workers and beneficiaries.

If Congress opted to raise the payroll tax rate to cover the shortfall, without adjusting benefits, workers would need to part with 16.3 percent of their covered earnings, up from the current rate of 12.4 percent.

What Congress Can Do

There are several key reforms Congress should pursue in order to preserve benefits for the most vulnerable beneficiaries, without increasing the tax or debt burden on younger generations. The longer Congress waits the act, the more painful the changes will be down the road to address Social Security’s looming insolvency.

The Social Security Reform Act of 2016, introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, presents a reasonable, targeted, and fiscally responsible approach to begin reforming Social Security.

Johnson’s plan would enhance the progressive features of the Social Security benefit formula, focusing benefits on American workers with lower incomes, while reducing benefits for upper-income earners who are better able to provide for their own retirement needs through savings and investment.

Johnson’s proposal would also gradually raise the full retirement age to 69. Americans would be encouraged to work longer, if they can, through the accrual of higher benefits for those who wait until 72 years of age to collect benefits.

These and other policies in the Johnson bill demonstrate that commonsense reform is possible and can be done without requiring higher taxes.

The growing Social Security crisis is not going away, and the president and Congress must work together to begin to resolve it. Social Security benefits should be more appropriately targeted, and Americans of all income levels should be empowered to own more of their retirement by reaping the gains from economic growth in their personal nest eggs.

The trust fund is steadily being drained. Social Security reform is both urgent and essential.

This is not news to those who pay attention to government finance. For the last two years the disability portion of Social Security has been heading toward deficit. Two decades ago Congress and Bill Clinton could have come up with a deal to solve this problem, but didn’t. Every president and Congress has punted on this problem since then.

Well, Democrats?

Investor’s Business Daily:

Rather than rooting on the strong economy, Democrats have taken to ignoring it, belittling it or, like Bill Maher did over the weekend, rooting for a recession. The extent to which Trump critics will go is truly mind-boggling.

The unemployment rate is at 49-year lows overall, and lower than ever for African-Americans. Household incomes are at record highs. The U.S. reclaimed its No. 1 rank in competitiveness. Economists are revising their growth forecasts upward. Optimism is at levels not seen in more than a decade.

Clearly the economy is doing well. And what’s more, the public is increasingly crediting President Trump for it — as they should, since much of the turnaround is due to his dumping Obamanomics.

But what’s a Democrat hoping to reclaim the House majority in November to do?

One is to ignore the economy altogether. So, Democrats are trying to turn attention to things like ObamaCare premiums or alleged corruption in the Trump administration.

Ignoring the economy will be tough, however, particularly if GDP growth comes in strong in Q2 and unemployment continues to fall.

The second option is to belittle it.

Nancy Pelosi, having dismissed the tax-cut-fueled raises and bonuses that millions of workers received as “crumbs,” is now dismissing the good economic news as no big deal. Why? “Because of the wage stagnation.”

“Our economy,” she said, “will never fully reach its possibilities unless we increase the consumer confidence.”

The army of media fact-checkers must have been asleep when she said this, since her claims are so easy to debunk.

Average hourly wages climbed 2.7% in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And as we noted in this space recently, median household income is at historic highs.

Meanwhile, every survey shows confidence levels at or approaching new highs since Trump took office.

The IBD/TIPP Economic Optimism Index, currently at 53.9, has averaged 53.5 under Trump, compared with 47 during President Obama’s entire second term. (Anything over 50 is optimistic).

The Consumer Confidence Index is currently at 128, which is 25 points higher than it ever reached under Obama, and higher than it’s been in 17 years.

Dismissing this good economic news as meaningless — after spending eight years proclaiming how great the stagnant economy was under Obama — isn’t going to dispel the notion that Democrats are out of touch with working families.

The third option is to admit openly what many Democrats no doubt feel privately: That a good recession is what the party needs to reclaim its former glory. After all, it did get Obama elected president.

Over the weekend, HBO talk show host Bill Maher spoke the words out load.

“I feel like the bottom has to fall out at some point,” he said, talking about the booming economy. “And by the way, I’m hoping for it because one way you get rid of Trump is a crashing economy.

“Sorry if that hurts people, but it’s either root for a recession or you lose your democracy.”

Let’s leave aside the glaring logical fallacy Maher commits with his false dilemma, and ponder what he is saying.

Maher would, if he could, throw millions of people into unemployment and poverty, watch as hard-earned savings vanish, wages stagnate and hope gets crushed, if that might keep Trump from winning re-election.

Wow.

Of course, it’s easy for Maher to wish that, since he’s already made his millions attacking Republicans. But just how many of his fellow Trump-loathing Democrats secretly feel the same way?

Reporters love to force Republican politicians to answer for anything outrageous that a conservative says. Shouldn’t these same reporters, to prove their lack of political bias, press every single Democrat running for office in November to condemn Maher’s economic death wish?

That question should be asked of Wisconsin Democrats running against Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans as well. (To normal people the definition of “fail” is not insufficient government spending or regulation in your favorite area of either.)

Conservatism’s new intellectual rock star

The Wall Street Journal:

Jordan Peterson doesn’t seem to think of himself as a conservative. Yet there he is, standing in the space once inhabited by conservative thinkers such as G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley Jr. and Irving Kristol. Addressing a public that seems incapable of discussing anything but freedom, Mr. Peterson presents himself unmistakably as a philosophical advocate of order. His bestselling book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,” makes sense of ideas like the “hierarchy of place, position and authority,” as well as people’s most basic attachments to “tribe, religion, hearth, home and country” and “the flag of the nation.” The startling success of his elevated arguments for the importance of order has made him the most significant conservative thinker to appear in the English-speaking world in a generation.

Mr. Peterson, 56, is a University of Toronto professor and a clinical psychologist. Over the past two years he has rocketed to fame, especially online and in contentious TV interviews. To his detractors, he might as well be Donald Trump. He has been criticized for the supposed banality of his theories, for his rambling and provocative rhetoric, and for his association with online self-help products. He has suffered, too, the familiar accusations of sexism and racism.

From what I have seen, these charges are baseless. But even if Mr. Peterson is imperfect, that shouldn’t distract from the important argument he has advanced—or from its implications for a possible revival in conservative thought. The place to begin, as his publishing house will no doubt be pleased to hear, is with “12 Rules for Life,” which is a worthy and worthwhile introduction to his philosophy.

Departing from the prevailing Marxist and liberal doctrines, Mr. Peterson relentlessly maintains that the hierarchical structure of society is hard-wired into human nature and therefore inevitable: “The dominance hierarchy, however social or cultural it might appear, has been around for some half a billion years. It’s permanent.” Moreover, young men and women (but especially men) tend to be healthy and productive only when they have found their place working their way up a hierarchy they respect. When they fail to do so, they become rudderless and sick, worthless to those around them, sometimes aimlessly violent.

In viewing political and social hierarchies as inevitable, Mr. Peterson may seem to be defending whoever happens to be powerful. But he’s doing nothing of the kind. He rejects the Marxist claim that traditional hierarchies are only about the self-interested pursuit of power. Human beings like having power, Mr. Peterson acknowledges. Yet the desire for it also drives them to develop the kinds of abilities their societies value. In a well-ordered society, high status often is a reward conferred for doing things that actually need to be done and done well: defending the state, producing things people need, enlarging the sphere of knowledge.

Mr. Peterson does not deny the Marxist charge that society oppresses individuals. “Culture is an oppressive structure,” he writes. “It’s always been that way. It’s a fundamental, universal existential reality.” But he breaks with prevailing political thought when he argues that the suffering involved in conforming to tradition may be worth it. When a father disciplines his son, he interferes with the boy’s freedom, painfully forcing him into accepted patterns of behavior and thought. “But if the father does not take such action,” Mr. Peterson says, “he merely lets his son remain Peter Pan, the eternal Boy, King of the Lost Boys, Ruler of the non-existent Neverland.”

Similarly, Mr. Peterson insists it is “necessary and desirable for religions to have a dogmatic element.” This provides a stable worldview that allows a young person to become “a properly disciplined person” and “a well-forged tool.”

Yet this is not, for Mr. Peterson, the highest human aspiration. It is merely the first necessary step along a path toward maturity, toward an ever more refined uniqueness and individuality. The individuality he describes emerges over decades from an original personality forged through painful discipline. The alternative, he writes, is to remain “an adult two-year old” who goes to pieces in the face of any adversity and for whom “softness and harmlessness become the only consciously acceptable virtues.”

Like other conservative thinkers before him, Mr. Peterson’s interest in tradition flows from an appreciation of the weakness of the individual’s capacity for reason. We all think we understand a great deal, he tells his readers, but this is an illusion. What we perceive instead is a “radical, functional, unconscious simplification of the world—and it’s almost impossible for us not to mistake it for the world itself.”

Given the unreliability of our own thinking, Mr. Peterson recommends beginning with tried and tested ideas: “It is reasonable to do what other people have always done, unless we have a very good reason not to.” Maturity demands that we set out to “rediscover the values of our culture—veiled from us by our ignorance, hidden in the dusty treasure-trove of the past—rescue them, and integrate them into our own lives.”

In Western countries, that effort at rediscovery leads to one place. “The Bible,” Mr. Peterson writes, “is, for better or worse, the foundational document of Western civilization.” It is the ultimate source of our understanding of good and evil. Its appearance uprooted the ancient view that the powerful had the right simply to take ownership of the weak, a change that was “nothing short of a miracle.” The Bible challenged, and eventually defeated, a world in which the murder of human beings for entertainment, infanticide, slavery and prostitution were simply the way things had to be.

As many readers have pointed out, Nietzsche’s critique of Enlightenment philosophy—he once called Kant “that catastrophic spider”—is everywhere in Mr. Peterson’s thought, even in his writing style. It is felt in his calls to “step forward to take your place in the dominance hierarchy,” and to “dare to be dangerous.” It is felt in risqué pronouncements such as this: “Men have to toughen up. Men demand it, and women want it.”

A famous passage from Nietzsche describes the destruction of the belief in God as the greatest cataclysm mankind has ever faced: “What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?”

Mr. Peterson chronicles the misery of individuals now drifting through this “infinite nothing.” But he rejects Nietzsche’s atheism, along with the conclusion that we can make our own values. In telling readers to return to the Bible, Mr. Peterson seeks to rechain the earth to its sun. That seems impossible. Yet a vast audience has demonstrated a willingness, at least, to try.

For Mr. Peterson, the death of God was followed inevitably by a quick descent into hell. During the “terrible twentieth century,” as he calls it, “we discovered something worse, much worse, than the aristocracy and corrupt religious beliefs that communism and fascism sought so rationally to supplant.” The Holocaust and the gulag, he argues, are sufficient to define evil for us, and “the good is whatever stops such things from happening.”

That is perfectly good Old Testament-style reasoning. Mr. Peterson adds Christian tropes such as the need for an “act of faith,” an “irrational commitment to the essential goodness” of things, a recognition that although “life is suffering,” sacrificing ourselves, as if on the cross, is pleasing to God.

Mr. Peterson’s intellectual framework has its weaknesses. He invokes recent social science (and its jargon) with a confidence that is at times naive. His often brilliant “12 Rules for Life” is littered with Heideggerian rubbish about “the betterment of Being,” in places where a thinker of Mr. Peterson’s abilities should have seen the need for a more disciplined effort to understand God. He lacks Nietzsche’s alertness to the ways in which the great religious traditions contradict one another, leading their adherents toward very different lives. Thus while Mr. Peterson is quite a good reader of the Bible, it is at times maddening to watch him import alien ideas into scripture—for instance, that the chaos preceding the creation was “female”—so as to fill out a supposed archetypal symmetry.

Nonetheless, what Mr. Peterson has achieved is impressive. In his writings and public appearances, he has made a formidable case that order—and not just freedom—is a fundamental human need, one now foolishly neglected. He is compelling in arguing that the order today’s deconstructed society so desperately lacks can be reintroduced, even now, through a renewed engagement with the Bible and inherited religious tradition.

Before Mr. Peterson, there was no solid evidence that a broad public would ever again be interested in an argument for political order. For more than a generation, Western political discourse has been roughly divided into two camps. Marxists are sharply aware of the status hierarchies that make up society, but they are ideologically committed to overthrowing them. Liberals (both the progressive and classical varieties) tend to be altogether oblivious to the hierarchical and tribal character of political life. They know they’re supposed to praise “civil society,” but the Enlightenment concepts they use to think about the individual and the state prevent them from recognizing the basic structures of the political order, what purposes they serve, and how they must be maintained.

In short, modern political discourse is noteworthy for the gaping hollow where there ought to be conservatives—institutions and public figures with something important to teach about political order and how to build it up for everyone’s benefit. Into this opening Mr. Peterson has ventured.

Perhaps without fully intending to do so, he has given the dynamic duo of Marxism and liberalism a hard shove, while shining a light on the devastation these utopian theories are wreaking in Western countries. He has demarcated a large area in which only conservative political and social thought can help. His efforts have provided reason to believe that a significant demand for conservative ideas still lives under the frozen wastes of our intellectual landscape.

If so, then Mr. Peterson’s appearance may be the harbinger of a broader rebirth. His book is a natural complement to important recent works such as Ryszard Legutko’s “The Demon in Democracy,” Patrick Deneen’s “Why Liberalism Failed” and Amy Chua’s “Political Tribes.” Representing divergent political perspectives, these works nevertheless share Mr. Peterson’s project of getting past the Marxist and liberal frameworks and confronting our trained incapacity to see human beings and human societies for what they really are. As the long-awaited revival of conservative political thought finally gets under way, there may be much more of this to come.

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