Monday, June 24, 2013

With Friends Like These

Allow me to ask my readers, few as they might be, a simple question. What is the biggest threat to freedom today? Or, perhaps, to word it slightly differently, what is the single thing that imposes the biggest impediment to any efforts at reducing the size of government?

I suppose, if I am completely honest, the most accurate answer is indifference. That is, the simple fact that the public is not convinced there is anything wrong with large government. Or, to elaborate a bit, the combination of well hidden costs and general affluence have managed to keep us from considering the cost of government unduly burdensome compared to what we believe to be the benefits. That many of those benefits are illusory is irrelevant, so long as the public at large considers government sufficiently beneficial to justify what they perceive to be the cost, they are unlikely to look for any significant changes.

However, that is a large problem, and one that will take a long time, and lots of slow, patient work to resolve. So, let us look instead at the second biggest impediment. And that would be, strangely enough, those who claim to be freedom's friends, the libertarians, conservatives and others who raise their voices the loudest in proclaiming they defend freedom.

Obviously, such a claim requires a bit of explanation.

As I said above, the public by and large believes government is mostly worthwhile, it does what it is supposed to, and they are content. Some may differ over exactly how big government should be, they may ask for it to grow faster or slower, they may disagree with specific steps, but for the most part, the public is not unhappy with big government. It is familiar, it has been this way for generations, and things seem to them, for the most part, to be going well. In addition, they have learned, from school, from the media, from academic experts and others that big government is right and proper, that the era of supposed laissez faire were disasters1, and so they see no alternatives but our version of big government and the even more intrusive governments of much of the rest of the world. And so, from their perspective, what they endorse in the US actually is smaller government, and, compared to many, it is.

I say all of this because it helps explain why I think so many defenders of freedom end up doing just the opposite. You see, to change such a mindset, to bring about real change, takes time, a lot of time, and patience. You need to slowly and patiently show why the beliefs held for so long are wrong, why things could be better than they are, why the supposed benefits of government are not true. But doing so takes a lot of time, a lot of slow, tedious effort, none of which is glamorous, and none of which bears immediate fruit. However, that is how historic changes take place2. We often miss it, because we see the sudden change, the revolution, and don't realize there were decades of history behind it. For example, many somehow imagine the Communist victory in the Russian revolution was a sudden, self-contained event, and not the fruit of generations of Russian revolutionary activity, not to mention Communist theorizing going back to well before the uprisings of 1848. And so we imagine history is made up on long calm stretches, punctuated by sudden explosions of change, rather than what it truly is, a constant struggle between competing ideas, with changes serving only to mark the point when one has finally achieved sufficient dominance.

But I am getting a bit far from my point.

To be brief, most people see the current situation, the government as it is, as satisfactory, and thus are not inclined to change. In addition, while they may be open to modest criticism, claims that the state is a secret tyranny, or that we are less free than the citizens of China or Cuba are likely to be met by nothing but laughter. And that is where the modern defenders of freedom hurt their cause, as well as the cause of more temperate champions of minimal government. Thanks to the excessive fear of government, and over the top claims, modern libertarians cause the cause of minimal government to be associated in the minds of the public with conspiracy theories, claims of government assassination and so on.

For those who recall the 1980's, there is a slightly different example which may help clarify. Actually two.

First, there was the close connection between the libertarians of the 1980s and the drug legalization movement. For whatever reason, many libertarians, if not a majority, at least a segment loud enough to seem a majority, decided that drug legalization would make a good cause to illustrate libertarian principles. And thus, in the minds of the public, libertarianism became associated with drug legalization. Now, I am a proponent of drug legalization, probably to a degree beyond many, as I promote not only legalizing all drugs, but doing away with prescriptions as well -- an area oddly overlooked by many proponents of legalization -- however, I also recognize that many -- even a number of those who use illegal drugs -- do not favor legalization, for any number of reasons. And, harmful as drug laws may be, the issue is sufficiently emotional that many are not open to argument. Thus, as a cause to introduce individuals to libertarianism, it is a loser. In the end, rather than aiding either drug legalization or libertarianism, it ended up making the public at large view all libertarians as secret stoners, interested in freedom only so they could get high. It was about as bad a PR move as one could imagine.

A second example is even more on point, as it is a good parallel for many issues today. Among not only those claiming to champion liberty, but also among conservatives who dislike the president, there is a tendency to grab each revelation and turn it into as serious a threat to liberty as possible. Each leak shows not just government excess, but according to these individuals, it shows a plot to strip us of all our liberties. In fact, they often argue, we are already so far gone that we have to act now, or else!

All of which should sound familiar, as it was at one time the rallying cry of the other end of the spectrum, among the radicals of the 1960s and 1970s who claimed "Amerikkka" was plotting to exterminate minorities and radicals, was removing all our freedoms and so on. Unlike today, however, they actually had a slightly better audience for their claims. Granted, the majority of Americans were still relatively happy with things, but there were issues such as Vietnam and race relations, followed by oil embargoes and inflation, that created a great deal more dissent than our present issues do. However, despite a slightly more receptive audience, the end was predictable. As the radicals became more and more accepted into the mainstream of the left, the public became ever more wary about the political left, giving the Republicans their first real gains in decades. Why? Because the claims of the radicals, and later of the left as a whole, seemed extreme and absurd, and thus those presenting the message were seen as being extreme and absurd as well.

And that is why I say the supposed supporters of freedom are themselves an impediment to freedom. Instead of explaining why they think things have gone wrong, why we need change and so on,t hey shout out that the end is nigh and thus poison the well not just for themselves, but also for the rest of us who would take a more measured approach. And in the end they do a great disservice to freedom.

Some would argue that the end is nigh, and thus there is no time for persuasion, but I disagree. First, because I do not believe we are as far gone as they claim. True we have lost many freedoms, and government continues to grow, but I do not agree we are the slaves they imagine. We are not doing well, but the end is not here. However, that is a secondary issue. More important is the simple fact that, whether the end is here or not, people do not believe so, and so no amount of shouting or extreme claims will reach most people. We have but two choices, a gradual approach, or shouting and alienating the majority. And so, whether the end is here or not, we have no choice but gradual education3.

Which, once again, is the problem with those who feel the need to shout. It may make them feel good to be the lone voice in the wilderness, might give them a thrill to be the unsung genius who saw it all before everyone, but in terms of real change, that will come from a host of unknown and unrecognized workers who make a lot of little changes. And it will come about despite, not because of, those shouting about the end of the world.

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1. See "Child Labor and the Industrial Revolution", "Mistaken Perceptions of the Industrial Age" and "Rethinking the Scopes Trial".

2. See "Catastrophic Thinking, The Political, Economic and Social Impact of Seeing History in the Superlative" and "All Life in a Day, or, How Our Mistaken View of History Distorts Our Understanding of Events".

3. I suppose there is the possibility of violence being used to force people to "be free" despite their inclinations, but that is such a self-contradictory proposition I hesitate to even consider it. And, in any case, if we cannot gather enough support to even form a decent third party, what is the chance of those who support minimal government gathering a viable army? The degree of public indifference suggests revolution is a remote possibility at best.

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POSTSCRIPT

Before someone puts forth a straw man argument, arguing that I suggest ignoring scandals or losses of freedom, I am saying nothing of the kind. We should continue to point out these things, but deal with them realistically. Point out that they infringe upon our freedom, not that they will destroy the last shred of liberty. We should continue to hold the government responsible for its actions, but do so in a reasonable, measured way, rather than decry each and every incident as the breaking of the seventh seal. Unfortunately, in today's political climate, it seems reasonable and measured is becoming an ever more unreasonable expectation.

22 comments:

  1. I'd add that 'conservatives' who worship Reagan, love the warfare/security state, who ignore the welfare state (probably because they partake, or plan to partake, of it), and whom vote for 'small-govt' candidates like the Bushes, Dole, McCain and Romney are a HUGE reason the idea of smaller govt. has been discredited.

    Libertarianism is the only way forward...

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  2. I think you’re correct in saying that indifference is the greatest threat to freedom and that most Americans aren’t that unhappy with big government, which is the reason for their indifference.

    But I don’t think we have all kinds of time to turn us back from the road to ruin. Liberalism/progressivism/statism – whatever you want to call it – is just like cancer. Once it starts and takes hold, it grows really fast because it feeds on itself. How many trillions are our unfunded liabilities now? How many more people are subsisting on welfare, food stamps, disability, etc, than just 5 or 10 years ago? Medicaid ALONE is nearly half a trillion dollars a year now, and we’re getting ready to embark on the national suicide known as Obamacare. So I share the sense of urgency.

    As for libertarians, you make a very good point about the drug thing. They’ve erred in allowing that one argument to stereotype them, and unfortunately for true libertarians there are a lot of people out there who use the libertarian label even when the freedom to get high is really their one and only concern.

    I have mixed feelings about libertarians. On the one hand I sympathize with the anger and frustration they feel about the way conservatism has been redefined. On the other hand, so many of them are just a-holes who think they’re geniuses because they read and regurgitate Lew Rockwell. Your new friend above is a great example. He delivers the angry libertarian script on cue and then he demonstrates his own uncertainty about it by engaging in childish strawman tactics that give him away. You can’t just have respected Reagan, you “WORSHIPPED” him. You don’t believe in strong national defense, you “LOVE warfare.” It’s incredibly lame but it’s essential for sustaining their anger.

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    1. 1. Obamacare was originally a 'conservative' invention--ask Newt Gingrich (you know, that 'conservative' favorite).

      2. Yes, 'conservatives' WORSHIP Reagan, since they ignore all FACTS regarding his Presidency and instead focus on his small-govt. rhetoric. No different than Libs and Obama.

      3. Strong defense does not equal a global quasi empire.

      4. Drugs--well, what can I say? You 'conservatives' are losing this argument just like you lost the one on gay marriage. Truth prevails eventually, and no one under 50 wants your Drug War (there's your love of war again) anymore.

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    2. 'Conservatism' will FOREVER be identified w/the record-breaking deficits (spent more and increased govt. far more than Carter) and sham of the Reagan years as well as the record-breaking deficits and disastrous wars of Bush II...as well as your shameful support of the Progressives McCain and Romney.

      Nothing you say can change this...the historical record is clear.

      At this point, 'conservatism' (going by its voting record) is basically a Right-wing version of Progressivism...again, the historical record isn't even debatable.

      Again, your time is over...go to a 'conservative'/GOP-managed 'tea party'...nothing but old neocons blabbering about "American exceptionalism", how wonderful "our military" is, and the supposed greatness of Ronald "Record Deficits" Reagan...

      You're hypocrites and liars, and its become obvious to those who run outside of neocon circles.

      Your movement is dying, and will be a bad memory in 20 years...we libertarians have been playing the Long Game and will prevail over Right and Left wing Authoritarians in the end.

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    3. CW:

      What is funny is reading my new friend's replies about my beliefs. Considering that the arguments you and I have had are about my support for decriminalizing drugs, prostitution and host of other things, it would seem he is arguing with someone else, certainly not me.

      Second, it is interesting to hear I worship Reagan, considering I have criticized him several times. For example, while praising him for avoiding the excess of inflation that Carter did, I still abhor the borrowing that replaced it. it was a better solution, but still a problem. Second, I criticized Reagan's foreign policy. I doubt our friend would agree, as my criticism is that, in fleeing Lebanon, Reagan laid the groundwork that was built upon by Clinton and led eventually to 9-11 (once it appeared terrorism worked, as in Lebanon, Khobar Towers, the Cole, etc.) it became attractive, and cost effective, to engage in ever larger terrorist acts.

      Still, even if our friend would not agree with why I criticized Reagan, I hardly worship him, so again, another silly argument.

      But you are right, "unknown" has some stereotype in his mind, "the neocon" and he argues against ti with great fury and energy, even if it is a ridiculously poor fit for reality.

      Oh, and as far as "loving war", I will repeat what I said before. Conservatives detest war as much as liberals and isolationists, the difference being that we recognize there are things worse than worth, things that it is worth fighting for, while those others do not.

      Well, i am sure this provided enough buzz words for him to hang a dozen new off topic and irrelevant rants, so I will let it go for now.

      Oh, and I am back from vacation, so check back soon, I should have something new posted by the end of the week (actually have a rather long essay I may finish soon.)

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    4. Ach! I cannot type!

      It should read "...that Carter did not", as Carter obviously was caught in the trap of printing ever increasing amounts of currency.

      It should also read, later, "worse than war", not "worse than worth". As you can see, I was thinking a bit too far ahead and mixed the end of the next sentence into the current one.

      I think those are the worst typos, but if I spot more, I will correct them.

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    5. CW:

      One final point, and this one in reply to your comments, rather than about my new found fan/enemy (fanemy? have I invented new hipster lingo?)

      Anyway, you argue that big spending is like a cancer, and in a way you are right, but I think you overestimate both how far gone we are and how fast it is progressing. Recall the ICC existed for a century and more. That the Federal Reserve has been in business just under a century. We have had the welfare state for almost half a century, along with medicare, medicaid and the rest. So, yes, it is a problem, it does grow, it causes lots of harm, but it also can be survived for some time. We are not in such a dire situation we need to overthrow the government this week or face destruction.

      And, as I argue in my post, whether or not things are getting worse at a rapid pace, the fact remains the only way to change things -- unless you want to force people to "be free" at gunpoint -- is to change minds, and, since they seem disinclined to listen to shouts of disaster, and the average citizen does not feel that the system is sufficiently broken to require immediate and dramatic change, however fast things are deteriorating, we need to take the time needed to change minds. Saying "it is a crisis, so we must force them to change now" does not change that fact, it just makes our efforts pointless.

      And so, whether or not things are in a critical state, whether or not we are getting worse quickly, we still must take what time it requires to solve the problem.

      As an analogy, imagine a man suffers from heart failure. If the doctor says a transplant takes 10 hours, would you say "it is a crisis! you only have two hours!" or would you agree, it must require 10 hours, and so he needs that amount of time. It is possible, in that time, the man may die, if his condition is sufficiently poor, but if that is the case, there really is no fix. We cannot rush a transplant. And, in this case, we cannot force people to change their minds. We must take the time required, regardless of what we imagine the current situation to be.

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    6. Again...you criticize while politically supporting...

      Exact same thing as Obama-worshippers...

      Sorry, it doesn't get you off the hook!

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  3. The good thing about 'conservatives' showing their true colors these last 30+ years (from Reagan on) is that they've totally discredited themselves.

    Try finding someone under the age of 50 who's proud to call themselves a "conservative"...good luck!

    Libertarians, on the other hand, have gained a ton of credibility and are making great inroads amongst the youth (the future) who are completely turned off by 'conservatives' and their warmongering (including social).

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  4. Modern 'conservatism' can be summed up in 5 points:

    1. Treat Israel as if it were the 51st State.
    2. Militarily dominate the world.
    3. Paternalistically impose its idea of morality domestically via legislation.
    4. Insignificant tax cuts w/o addressing the Communistic income tax.
    5. Spend, spend, spend, borrow, borrow, borrow, because--as 'conservative' Nixon said--"We're all Kenyesians now."

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    1. Yes, i have certainly argued in favor of Keynesianism. Just look through all those essays I wrote singing the praises of JMK. Not a word about Lord Say here at all... My, it would be funny how off target this fellow is, if it weren't that there are so many like him who argue against some imagined opponent rather than the person in front of them.

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    2. But...you probably think Reagan was god (don't know if you're old enough to have voted for him) and probably voted for the Bushes and Republicans who practiced Kenesianism...

      It'd be like me saying I'm for free-market HC while voting for Obama...LOL...

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  5. Its funny that TGS think Reagan wasn't a Keynesian...when he followed the blueprint exactly: massive govt. spending fueled by massive borrowing!

    Reagan grew govt. and debt more than Carter did--this is a fact.

    TGS--like any typical neocon--totally gets it wrong on why 911 happened. Decades of the USGovt. sticking its nose in middle-eastern politics/conflicts produced 911--again, libertarians PREDICTED retaliation long, long ago.

    Iraq-Af have proven that 'conservatives' know nothing about foreign-policy.

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  6. Yes, Unknown is looking for the argument that he thinks he has the answers to based upon what he’s memorized at lewrockwell.com, so if the circumstances don’t quite fit he’s determined to try and make them fit. It’s like déjà vu all over again. And yes it is ironic that he’s decided to pick on you of all people.

    In regards to the cancer that it upon us and the debate about the urgency of it I am reminded of the Benjamin Franklin quote: “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.” The end of the republic sounds pretty dire to me.

    46% of Americans paid no federal income taxes in 2011. Also in 2011 49% of Americans received some sort of government financial assistance. How much of a coincidence is it that this is almost exactly the same number of people who still approve of the job Obama is doing no matter what - despite years of a tepid economy, ongoing wars, high gas and food prices and the constant threat to blow up our energy costs? We are on the brink of a very dangerous tipping point (i.e. the Obama “transformation”), where the takers – for lack of a better word – are nearly the majority. What exactly is their incentive to be persuaded that the socialization of the country is not in their best interest? What argument do we use to persuade thieves that they shouldn’t steal? Call me a cynic but I just don’t see a sudden enlightenment of conscience occurring.

    I’m not suggesting a violent overthrow of the government. But I do think we should be using whatever powers we have to starve the beast and wrestle power from the Left. I also think that it’s time to stop calling what’s going on “democracy” and call it by its rightful name – theft, and to start demanding that our brothers and sisters in this country who’ve done this to us be answerable for their actions.

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  7. Unknown: “Obamacare was originally a 'conservative' invention--ask Newt Gingrich (you know, that 'conservative' favorite).

    If Newt Gingrich is a conservative then Bill Maher is a libertarian. Also I’ll remind you, like your clones who were here before, that Ron Paul identifies himself as a conservative. So if it’s self-description, not actions, that defines who we are, to be consistent you would need to despise Paul. But consistency is never the hallmark of the lewrockwall.com groupies.

    Like a lot of people struggling with the concept of conservatism, Gingrich fell for the trap that liberalism created. That’s this notion that people have a “right” to medical care, just like they have a “right” to be taken care of. Though never officially adopted into the Constitution, this nation has incorporated programs, policies, rules and precedences that have turned healthcare into a defacto right. Rather than push back, pseudo-conservatives like Gingrich try to counteract it by proposing things like forced insurance, which is precisely what the Left wants because they can then take it the next step and “subsidize the poor through the tax code,” effecting their goal of free healthcare aka wealth transfer. Same logic applies to Paul Ryan and his “means-testing” for Social Security. I’m not an apologist for Gingrich, Ryan or anyone who advocates socialism in the name of “conservative solutions.” But I at least have the brains to seek out the roots of the problem tree rather than just hack at the branches like Unknown.

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  8. CW, funny that, after I said I was critical of Reagan, especially his borrowing, "unknown" tells me I think Reagan is a God. Does he even read what I write?

    But it is also funny to read him reciting the same line as the left, that "Reagan grew government more than Carter". Well, yes and no. Government grew during Reagan's administration, but to blame Reagan alone without including congress is a bit disingenuous. (And I am fair in that regard, the Republican congress of the mid-90s was to blame for many ills for which some blame Clinton alone...) Also, it is hard to say whether government grew more under Reagan or not, as we measure growth in dollars, which were highly fluid during the Carter era and following. Prices - in terms of gold -- rose 600% from 73 to 83, so reagan's growth may be partly illusory, even if you use "deflators" as many CPI based deflators underestimate inflation thanks to energy costs in the 70s hiding the true amount of inflation. Reagan did grow government, but in terms of creating new agencies and so on Carter beat Reagan hands down.

    But that is irrelevant, my self worth has nothing to do with whether or not Reagan made government bigger than Carter did, or whatever unknown is claiming. I just wanted to point out how absurd his stock isolationist-libertarian-paleocon-lewrockwell cant is.

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  9. >>”Does he even read what I write?”

    I suspect he at least peruses it to so he’ll know what buzzwords to react to and can whip out the ready-made lines he learned at Lew’s place.

    >”…to blame Reagan alone without including congress is a bit disingenuous.”

    Yeah, just a bit. There’s a reason that when people are sworn in for court they must swear to tell the WHOLE truth. A thoughtful analysis that takes into account the actions of congress as well as the actions of prior administrations and prior congresses that impacted future spending might deprive Unknown of the opportunity to paint Reagan as the ultimate villain. Since Reagan is considered by some/many to be the best modern model of conservatism in recent times, his dethroning is absolutely essential to the libertarians who are competing for the same votes. As you concede, and I do as well, Reagan made his mistakes and he is remembered as being more conservative than he was. But that’s only half the story and half of the truth is not truth.

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    1. I agree 100% that Reagan represents 'conservatism': massive spending, massive borrowing, massive increases in govt., massive increases in govt. 'revenues' (i.e. taxes)...all while talking out of the other side of the mouth about "small govt".

      I'd go a step further than you, even, and say that by mainstream standards (which sees Presidents who massively increased the size/scope of govt. and whom liberally used/expanded the powers of the office of potus) Reagan (an admitted New Deal Democrat) belongs w/the best of 'em--right up there w/his hero FDR.

      As libertarians, the only thing we have to do to discredit 'conservatism'/Reagan is to point to the historical record and listen to your side sputter about Reagan's "hope and change" and "it was the 'rats fault" BS.

      Our Truth VS. your Spin will end w/your defeat, ultimately. So, you keep pushing the Reagan Myth and I'll keep, well, pointing out that its a MYTH!



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  10. I'm not seeing any real, intelligent responses.

    The historical record on Reagan is absolutely clear and widely diverges from the narrative promoted by 'conservatives'. Ultimately, his legacy will be amnesty and the popularization of big-govt. 'conservatism'. No President committed to reducing govt. would've presided over RECORD-BREAKING deficits.

    'Conservatives' have only one weak Straw-man argument against the far superior libertarianism they fear: calling us "isolationists".

    Your time is over, 'conservatives'...



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  11. @ TGS

    You missed my point...and that was that all your 'criticisms' of the Reagans, Bushes, McCains, and Romneys of the GOP mean nothing if you politically support them.

    Many Liberals voice 'criticisms' of Obama and the Dems too...but go right on supporting them and their policies, just like 'conservatives' go right on carrying water for the GOP.





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  12. I wonder if one of you two geniuses can answer me a Q:

    Where do the stupidest 'conservatives' reside?

    Is it the 'anti-immigrant' Arizona cons who keep inflicting John "Reagan Amnesty 2.0" McCain on America?

    South Carolinans who do the same Lindsey "Reagan Amnesty 2.0" Graham?

    Floridans who sent 'Tea Partier' Marco "Reagan Amnesty 2.0" Rubio to DC?

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  13. As usual, libertarian reality-based arguments win out over conservative delusion-based ones!

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