There Is Only One Question

Several times on this blog I have quoted a partner in the law firm for which I first worked for his favorite statement: “ultimately, there is only one question, and that is what should we do?”

There’s a lot of wisdom in that formulation. Analysis is critically important, of course–but only if it allows us to determine the appropriate course of action, and then only if we actually pursue that action.

I thought again about that ultimate question when I read a Washington Post article arguing that Trump’s authoritarianism has begun remaking America. White House reporters have described the president as “simmering with rage, fixated on exacting revenge against those he feels betrayed him and insulated by a compliant Republican Party.”

He is willing to test the rule of law even further and is comfortable doing so, they reported, “to the point of feeling untouchable.”

“If a president can meddle in a criminal case to help a friend, then there’s nothing that keeps him from meddling to harm someone he thinks is his enemy,” Joyce White Vance, a former U.S. attorney, told my colleagues. “That means that a president is fully above the law in the most dangerous kind of way. This is how democracies die.”

Those Americans who have watched this administration with growing alarm and horror–among whom I count myself–increasingly are asking for concrete proposals, specific actions we can/should take, beyond the obvious ones of registering people and helping to get out the vote.

It’s not my intention to point a finger, but I get very frustrated by (frequently holier-than-thou/smarter-than-thou) commenters, both here and elsewhere, who are all critique and no prescription–or who are constantly arguing that we should insist upon the perfect and never settle for the merely good.

Is our current situation precarious, thanks to spineless and/or corrupt “party above country” Republicans? Well, they tell us, Democrats are only marginally better, so there’s no point in voting “blue no matter who.”

Are elections insufficient to fix what ails us? They insist they are–but fail to follow up that declaration by suggesting any concrete alternative.

A couple of years ago, a retired friend of mine shared a rule imposed by the firm for which he’d worked. Employees were encouraged to bring any and all complaints to firm meetings, subject to one simple rule: they had to accompany their criticism with suggestions for remedial action. In other words, the rule was “yes, you can bitch about that, but only if you have a suggestion for how we should fix it–how we should do whatever it is instead.”

A few days ago, I attended a meeting of a volunteer committee on which I serve. The members are all older–more “mature”–women. The anger and frustration in that room was palpable–and it was all based upon recognition of what Donald Trump and his collection of gangsters and buffoons have done and are continuing to do to the country. Most of these women were not previously politically active, and several of them had been Republicans. The question that came up repeatedly was: what can we/should we do between now and November?

What will it take to get Americans out into the streets? What can we do to send the cult that was once the GOP the message that we are mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore?

Save the lofty criticisms for a time when we can afford them, and suggest concrete, do-able actions!

And for heaven’s sake–and the sake of what’s left of our country– vote blue no matter who.


  1. A former boss when I worked for the City, and a friend of Sheila’s, had the banner on the wall behind his desk, “There Is No Free Lunch”. IMO this applies to those in control now; the time to pay for their actions will come sooner or later.

    This same person had a favorite saying, “Be nice to the little people on the way up because you are going to pass them on the way down.” This will also be the time when they will be handed the bill, due upon receipt. The only “payment” and the answer to that question “what should we do” has one answer; support, donate to and vote for their opposition to vote them out. I am a dues-paying member of THIRTEEN organizations who are fighting the current administration, I sign petitions and surveys on line and received in the mail. And as you all know, I speak out on this blog. Being 82, deaf and physically disabled this is the best I can do but as Stephen King says, “All you can do is all you can do.”

    “Save the lofty criticisms for a time when we can afford them, and suggest concrete, do-able actions!”

    “And for heaven’s sake–and the sake of what’s left of our country– vote blue no matter who.”

  2. Here is what to do. PARTICIPATE! PARTICIPATE! Participate in your government. Participate in your neighborhood organization, and if you don’t have one, start one.
    Attend local public meetings if for no other reason than to educate yourself. Respond to the plans and policies of the government entities that will effect you. Leaders need to know what you care about and what you are opposed to. It isn’t all politics… It’s your neighborhood. It’s your city or town. It’s your state. It’s you and me and everyone else.
    Get involved in some way. Become an active member but do not stay home and be an arm chair critic.
    And finally, vote. VOTE!

  3. Thank you Professor. That is exactly why I lean toward Bloomberg. He is certainly not perfect, but his campaign and his messaging are only about defeating Trump, about exposing the lies that he uses to attract and hold his supporters. I’m a life-long Democrat, but the other candidates (so far) talk about beating Trump but seem to get no further than saying it. The primaries remain political theatre. It appears that Bloomberg will have an uphill march to the nomination, but he looks like the only one that can mount a successful campaign against Trump. The Democrats are far from the ideal party, but the focus needs to be solely on defeating Trump and developing a strategy for neutralizing his “policies” and practices. We can debate the purity of our ideas in 2023-2024.

  4. “What then shall we do?” This quote first shows up in the gospel of Luke. Tolstoy used it as a book title. And I first heard it as a line in the movie The Year Of Living Dangerously.
    Perfect for these times.

  5. One area of problems – big, huge – has to do with how the two “major” political parties have codified themselves in elections. Indiana’s two “major” parties have automatic access to the ballot for their candidates (signatures on candidate petitions for “third” party or independent are tossed w/little or no regard for voting rights after people have spent – in some cases – months acquiring signatures). There are Hoosiers who will not vote “D” no matter what. I am running for the GOP nomination for INCD5 as a pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-war (in the sense that we should have to declare war to commit military forces) candidate. Unless the GOP is taken out of control of the (minority) remnants of the tea party, 1/2 of the 2-party system will be in the hands of nuts. (You may quote me on that.)

  6. “yes, you can bitch about that, but only if you have a suggestion for how we should fix it–how we should do whatever it is instead.”

    To the naysayers coming forward as they always do here; read the above quote and if you have any level of reading comprehension, consider what it means. What are you doing, what have you done and what level of action will you take other than lip-service? You might check your dictionaries for the many definitions of the word “do” to see if what others on this blog are doing goes beyond talk.

  7. Everybody says they want specific policies, but do they? Elizabeth Warren has been the most prolific of the candidates in formulating and publishing specific policies, so why is she losing? Most of her positions are rational and well thought out. Is she losing because she actually told us what it would cost to have Medicare for All? Or perhaps it’s because she adjusted her policy when she saw it couldn’t pass as written?

    I prefer a candidate who can admit when he or she is wrong and fix the problem. Intransigence doesn’t fix anything. Oh, and while I have the stage I’d like to add that there is no perfect candidate, so those who think their guy is infallible, get over it.

    As to what should we do, we should be engaged in our communities, know what’s going on and work to fix what doesn’t work.

  8. Mark,

    “Unless the GOP is taken out of control of the (minority) remnants of the tea party, 1/2 of the 2-party system will be in the hands of nuts.”

    That’s for sure the #1 problem. But the bigger problem is the lack of will to take on this problem. Consequently, all other efforts become nothing more than acts of futility.

  9. Marv,

    They can’t handle the truth. They are still seeing the problem as Trump, and therefore, the elimination of Trump as the solution.

    And, then what?

    Do nothing for another four years?

    Lord have mercy…

    We have two political parties right of center in this country, and people think if we vote for one or the other, it will change our lot in life. Here’s a clue; it won’t!

    An excellent article yesterday from Media Lens. The whole read is worth your time, but here’s a taste:

    “Humanity has reached the edge of the climate abyss because what passes for ‘democracy’ is a propaganda myth, sold endlessly to the public by politicians, Big Business, and the state-corporate media. That myth acts as a thin veneer covering rampant global capitalism. We are now in the terminal stages of this destructive system.

    Noam Chomsky has put the basic contradiction between genuine democracy and capitalism in these stark terms:

    ‘Personally, I’m in favor of democracy, which means that the central institutions in the society have to be under popular control. Now, under capitalism we can’t have democracy by definition. Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are in principle under autocratic control.’

    (Quoted in ‘Chomsky on Democracy & Education,’ edited by C. P. Otero, RoutledgeFalmer, London, 2003, p. 335)

  10. I’ve researched my candidates and understand what you’re saying Professor Kennedy. Barr thought he might resign and then said no. Trump is making things hard on him and his quest as the number one law officials is being reverberated through commentators so there’s no end to that.

  11. Todd,

    You’re right. “They can’t handle the truth. They are still seeing the problem as Trump, and therefore, the elimination of Trump as the solution.”

    But how else can you get to the problem, at this point in time, other than through Trump?

  12. And so the hand-wringing and teeth gnashing reaches a new level… Good! Yes, we must all do what we can do. If you go to my page on Facebook, you’ll find essays that I distribute to many thousands of readers through their networks. I am a co-founder of the Austin, TX chapter for Progressive Democrats of America, and still work for them…as well as the Denver chapter.

    So, yes. Participation is necessary. Remember the million woman’s march? Do you still have your pink hat? That kind of organized participation scares the living crap out of gangsters, crooks, liars and cheats, aka Donald Trump. So, find a local activist group in your town or city and start making signs, banners and placards with the catchiest of words and phrases.

    Sheila is right. Just kvetching without using the better, more imaginative part of your brain brings the narrative to YOU, and away from the orange hairball and his gang of liars, thieves and criminals. I mean, who would want a creature like Roger Stone wandering the streets?

  13. From the article I referenced above:

    “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence…. Ordinary citizens might often be observed to “win” (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policy making, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail.’

    (Quoted, Robert McChesney, ‘Blowing the Roof Off the Twenty-First Century: Media, Politics, and the Struggle for Post-Capitalist Democracy’, Monthly Review Press, New York, 2014, p. 14)

    The former Fox News host interviewed Vladimir Putin after the 2016 presidential election and asked him about President Trump. He said, “We don’t care too much about the POTUS because he doesn’t have that much power to change things in the USA.”

    He said, “Look at Obama, he promised many things like closing Guantomino Bay in Cuba, but he couldn’t get in done in eight years.”

    If we don’t a presidential candidate willing to take on the Ruling Class, nothing will change. Trump is just a symptom of our decaying global capitalist ways. He’s a conman that is out for himself, only. As Marx predicted, capitalism will devolve into Fascism eventually. We’ve been there for a while. Obama basically pardoned GWB for lying to the American people and the world about WMD to justify killing how many people in the Middle East?

    The propaganda has become normalized in this country where the people cannot differentiate between the truth and the false. Einstein pointed this out in 1949.

  14. Marv, as ive never read or witnessed on news or other medias, the other side of the isle never say, we need to reduce the other side for our agendas…this said,as we court the naritive of never bash your fellow rep,, bullshit, its led us to what we have now, Schmer is probably the worst SOB when it comes to so called decorum..and the rest who stand and graham the whole thing as a waste of time..collins has her work cut out for her,seems maine is getting tired of the BS politics,and prefer a normal? again vote…. i watched the former tony blair ramble in the parliment,and laughed at his candor,and smiled at his brilliance..until bush changed it..since then,we have been on a downward spiral of our own self esteem,as people,and a nation..we watch our so called leaders,kick our democracy to the curb,and wipe a dirty rag across the bill of rights..its festering a conclusion in november,the republicans have done well to decieve,(40 years worth)by ignoring the people they represent,and supporting a mass rebellion,and stand for the rich and wall,street,and the demos,watch to parade go by..never stop now, its all we have left. i seriously take mcconnel and his mob,if reelected,to ignore the democracy we live under,and assume,he was revoted to change the whole thing,to his plan,wall streets plan,and our demise as a nation of the people..we need to unseat the republicans as a whole,or reduce it to it looks like a bad joke just got cut..the ones who squandered our last 20 years for their needs,and present scam,over those who do the work,and keep the light on our goverment.. we have allowed fox and murdock to become a household name,and made a mass of ignorant people for it..we need to make a voice in every debate,town hall,or wherever these politcal hacks eat,and tell them,in public,its time change,and not the change you have provided, we want you out too…my discussions yesterday in a oil field service shop.. all young,under 30 and no clue… politics just never made a mark,and they do see the blind side running up on them..
    but,ill be blunt,, ignorance is bliss…wait till mcconnel comes back…

  15. Vern, your question,yes, the 1808/1806 hwys are named in this age of discovery. the confluence of the yellowstone and upper missouri river south of williston,is also a hot bed of history,and a place where sturgeon is still fished..i walked the old fort there,and walked the cemetray,of soldiers who were interred there, many commited suicide,many from loneliness. the air is clean,the walk was quiet. i watched them think about America,and why..

  16. There is nothing wrong with gnashing of teeth but only if accompanied by positive efforts for change, and ridding ourselves of Trump does not rid us of Trumpism, an ism that existed before Trump but one that has flourished under his racist/criminal leadership. Sheila is right with her basic test of “what to do” in re search for solution to issues.
    Those who think that ultimately getting along with Trumpsters is impossible need a lesson in history. Who in 1787 could have dreamed that Yankee shipbuilders and slave-holding southerners could (via considerable compromise) come up with a Constitution in 1789 and a Bill of Rights two years later? Today is our 1787, and as much as we detest the views of our opponents, some day we are going to have to get along to save what is left of our democracy (assuming Trump has not destroyed it with his dictatorial tactics).

    At some point in our 1787 we and our opponents will agree on what to do and the new question will be how to do it. The Framers came up with a Constitution; perhaps we can come up with a Constitutional Convention or some other historic understanding designed to bring our organic law up to date in our evolving Information Age. I leave that to the political philosophers and technocrats of that day.

  17. Todd @ 9:11 am commenting on the Economic Elites (1%) who also control Corporate America. They use this vast wealth to as the paraphrased prayer reads – Leads us into Temptation. That is the temptation that somehow the uber wealthy are really friends of the working class – It is “Trickle Down” with a different spin.

    The Elected Officials with no real uber wealth have Power and many are eager to serve their paymasters.

    Just a note from WIKI:
    The iron law of oligarchy is a political theory, first developed by the German sociologist Robert Michels in his 1911 book, Political Parties. It asserts that rule by an elite, or oligarchy, is inevitable as an “iron law” within any democratic organization as part of the “tactical and technical necessities” of organization.

    According to Michels all organizations eventually come to be run by a “leadership class”, who often function as paid administrators, executives, spokespersons or political strategists for the organization. Far from being “servants of the masses”, Michels argues this “leadership class,” rather than the organization’s membership, will inevitably grow to dominate the organization’s power structures.

    Michels argues that democratic attempts to hold leadership positions accountable are prone to fail, since with power comes the ability to reward loyalty, the ability to control information about the organization, and the ability to control what procedures the organization follows when making decisions. All of these mechanisms can be used to strongly influence the outcome of any decisions made ‘democratically’ by members.

    The carefully scripted “debates” avoid any mention the Oligarchy, which has enriched itself for over 50 years, or the out of control Military-Industrial Complex and our numerous “Wars”.

    The Trumpet is just the ugly face of the Oligarchy. The usual excuse is given The Trumpet is a bad apple in the basket of Oligarchs.

    The Social Safety Nets and Social Supports that Western Europe has is dismissed by the Cable News Networks like FOX, CNN and MSDNC. These Networks differ in their messaging or marketing, all three are subservient to Steroid Capitalism.

    My own way is to give campaign donations to candidates that reflect my personal views on issues and net works with groups that feel the same way on issues.

  18. One of the things that professional Russian hacker/trolls taught us in 2016 is how vulnerable many Americans are to the influence of social/entertainment media advertising/fake news/propaganda/brainwashing. That surprises some who have avoided that vulnerability but the evidence is unmistakeable. It led to the most corrupt least competent Presidential Administration in American history. It probably contributed to the rise is right wing extremism and much of the unearned reputation decline of liberalism here.

    That’s also a clue in what we can do that I personally am committed to.

    Much of what I have found are many people who are in fact right wing extremists living in denial of so much including their condition. Science is a specific but there is lots to be said about their denial of knowledge as an informer of action in general too. It’s much like the Dark Ages 2.0 in need of the resurrection of the Age of Enlightment to return us to normalcy.

    Much of who they’ve become can be observed as the belief that they are much like everyone else and Democrats and liberals are abnormal and an exception.

    It strikes me that to whatever degree social/entertainment media created that anomaly it can also be used as a means of returning to normalcy.

  19. Pete writes, “It strikes me that to whatever degree social/entertainment media created that anomaly it can also be used as a means of returning to normalcy.”

    Where is the profit motive for the media in telling us the truth?

    The role of mass media is to keep us divided and to work against each other, so we don’t revolt against the Oligarchy. The Working Class majority could easily overcome tyrannical rule with our sheer numbers, so the Ruling Class uses the media to divide and conquer.

    Even all the educated people on this blog cannot agree on the problem, so how do you suppose we’d all agree on a course of action to solve the “problem?”

    I can’t solve a problem unless I know the cause of the problem. If we don’t have an effective democracy because of the two-party political system, how can I vote my way out of this conundrum by voting for a candidate chosen by the two-party system?

    If our media were acting as the Fourth Estate, they’d all be on the same page telling us the identical story.

    But, they each tell us a different version of the story…propaganda. See Noam Chomsky’s media filters:

  20. I think it is also important to blog as much as possible. Some of those pro-Trumpsters only watch Fox News, and they really believe the lies they are told. Read Jonathan Turley’s blog if you don’t believe me. They truly believe there is a “Deep State” in our government that is trying to thwart everything their worshipful leader does to try to drain the swamp. They believe that anyone who criticizes Trump has a mental illness Fox News coined called “Trump Derangement Syndrome”, because only someone crazy could oppose Trump.

    Trump disciples believe that people like Stone, Manafort, Flynn, et al, are actual victims of the “Deep State”. Whenever someone like Bill Barr lies, they believe it. Fox doesn’t tell them that Barr lied about the findings of the Mueller Report, to capture the news cycle and try to make Trump look good before the actual report was released They never hear the truth, and they won’t seek it out from other media. Perhaps if they are told the truth, which includes links to accurate media reports citing facts and the sources of facts, it will get them thinking and perhaps questioning.

    An example: Trump claims that poor Paul Manafort is being held in “solitary confinement”, which he claims is a form of torture. Manafort is being held in federal custody a small suite of rooms for his own safety. He has a small private library, a computer with internet access and multiple comforts of home. Manafort is not being tortured. He has it better than most federal prisoners.

    Trump also decries the unfairness of the Sentencing Guidelines. One reason for the Guidelines is so that everyone convicted of the same offense is treated equally. It is to prevent politics from affecting the sentence recommendation. At the end of the day, the Judge decides the sentence, based on numerous factors, and the Sentencing Guidelines is only one factor. Trump clearly did get Barr to override the recommendation of the prosecutors handling the case, and this is way out of line. Instead of this message and the message about how wildly inappropriate it is for Trump to be involved at all, Barr claims that he decided to intervene before Trump tweeted his position. Accepting this requires one to believe Barr, who shot his credibility over the Mueller Report.

    What Trump is really trying to do is intimidate prosecutors and judges from going after his friends and campaign staff and/or let them off easy, but Fox viewers will never hear this. Blogging might be one way to enlighten them or at least get a contrary message before them.

  21. So much I’m seeing now with Bernie Sanders supporters are things I saw in 2016 when the Trump cult was starting to take over the GOP. It’s frightening because we need some adults in the room and I thought Democrats would provide that adult to take back the White House in 2020. Instead it appears to be another cult rising up. We don’t need the Democratic version of the cult that currently has taken over my Republican Party.

    I am as far from being an alarmist as one can be. But, quite literally, the future of our Republic is on the line in 2020. The Democrats have to win and restore sanity. But Sanders, even if he won (which he most likely will not), will just offer more divisive politics rather than the healing this country so desperately needs.

  22. To me “healing” can mean taking, say, pre war German politics and averaging them with wartime Great Britain politics looking for an improvement in both.

    In my opinion healing has to mean the taking those who have been led to the Dark Ages and leading them back to the Age of Enlightenment.

    The sum total of human knowledge has more than ever to inform our politics. The question of what do we do more or less boils down to how do we teach those reluctant to learn. The answer may well be that’s impossible and our only hope for the moment is to turn out informed voters in sufficient numbers to turn DC blue at least for now.

    That may bring along a new set of threats and opportunities but at least the republic will be preserved and if you believe in the sanctity of the Constitution that’s necessary if insufficient progress.

  23. Please do not talk about having a Constitutional Convention now, given the GOP power in DC and 40+ states. They would like nothing better than to do “their magic” with abortion, “gun rights”, “religious freedom”, private education, etc.. Fear of such a thing has worried me for years…

  24. I thought about not mentioning a Constitutional Convention in my squib because it would unleash the anti-abortionists and other crazies to get into the act, but thought that if we are ever going to graduate from this 18th century document into one where we are not forced to interpret our interpretations that we have it out with such people at a convention and hope that by that time the current young (who are pro choice) will have the numbers to keep the crazies in check.

  25. Gerald – trying not to giggle…the same folks that stayed home in 2016 and will again in 2020 if Bernie is not on the ballot?

  26. Look, this all sounds great, but, Trump isn’t going anywhere!

    The only way he’s going to leave is because the military removes him. Other than that, don’t look for him to relinquish his position. The only one that can declare federal Marshall Law, guess who it is? POTUS! And, even though the Supreme Court says civilian courts do not “Necessarily”Have to lose relevance, But the president can suspend Habeas Corpus!

    True, Congress passed the posse comitatus act, But that would not prevent the president from using militias or private military forces, to enforce Martial Law, Or, he could just you race everything with an executive order. Who would stop him? The only force that could stand up to that would be the military, civilian court activity would be stopped, and military court and military justice would rule the day.

    And, I might add, The reasoning will be foreign intervention (Digital invasion) in the election! He will suddenly have an epiphany, and agree that there was meddling in the elections by foreign governments possibly even admitting to Russian interference, thereby creating an immediate emergency which would allow him to legally declare Marshall Law.

    Like I said, Donald Trump is not going anywhere. The parallels are just too similar to what happened in Germany, letter writing, marching, electoral primaries, will make no difference, this is the time for this to happen, and it’s happening!

  27. What to do? Understand what “vote blue no matter who” means.

    We can’t win unless we have Bernie to motivate the young.
    We can’t win if Bernie is nominated.
    We need a moderate who will win the VAST middle.
    We need a millionaire to match Trump.


    First stabilize the patient (our democracy). We really need to unify once the nominee is picked and it doesn’t matter who that is IF, and ONLY IF we unify. Trump cannot win, but we sure as hell can lose the election if we mess up.

    Clinton declared that “liberals” were bad (his Sister Souljah moment); Obama said that liberals were well meaning but foolish and needn’t be listened to; Trump declared agree with him or else.
    This narrow mindedness has to change — it has.

    What the Democrats started with was the most diverse group of candidates in terms of demographics and in terms of policy – regardless of the outcome, all were considered legitimate contenders. Everybody may have declared that they we THE ONE who could beat Trump, but none were dismissed out of hand.
    The future of both parties will work themselves out — in the future. First stabilize the patient, then work on the cure. As for the Democrats, a large field of diverse candidates got national exposure and have elevated future prospects.

    As for overall problems (like money in politics), we need to tackle them, but FIRST —

    A couple of extra notes – when I studied political science (a million years ago) it was clear that even in parliamentary systems, unless there were two dominant parties, the government tended to fail. The old school socialists both bickered among themselves and kept waiting for the masses to join them in one of their third (fourth and fifth) parties. The Democratic Socialists realized that if they wanted to accomplish anything, they had to recognize the reality of the two party system and work within (or to take over) the Democratic Party – Bernie and many of his followers sometimes seem to forget this. DSA co-founder Michael Harrington didn’t, and LBJ was convinced to start his “war on poverty”, based on Harrington’s book.

    Then there is recent news of an interesting study done in Brazil, trying to combat myths about the Zika virus. They tried to mount an information campaign to combat the myths with truth. It backfired. The people in the study came away with more distrust and ended up believing even more myths about Zika. (I didn’t read the details – it was a news section report in Science).

  28. Please, please, please help us get strong Democratic women elected to the State Legislature. I know this won’t change who resides in the White House. But, so much of the impact on the daily lives of Hoosiers is determined by State Government. Electing Democrats at the state level will both dramatically improve the immediate needs of Hoosiers and create a path for change in other states and in Congress. 25 Women For 2020 is working very hard to support Democratic women candidates in Indiana. But, we need your financial support. Donate at
    Check out our Facebook page @25WomenFor2020

  29. Peggy,
    I am encouraged to finally hear someone who agrees that politicians should revise their ideas when they realized their position is not the best they can make it. That takes far more courage than blindly clinging to “do it my way” ! I will vote blue no matter who, but I hope all the possible democratic candidates will continue to hone their views and the expression of them.

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