The speed with which Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil is unusual, according to pipeline experts InsideClimate News rounded up. No state or federal lawsuits have been filed as a result of the 2010 EnBridge spill in Michigan that sent more than a million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River.
Philadelphia attorney Andy Levine, a former senior assistant regional counsel for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, described the legal strategy being pursued in Arkansas as "a head scratcher."
"It makes you wonder what was happening behind the scenes that caused this to ramp up so quickly to full-blown litigation," Levine said.
Levine, the former EPA attorney, said a number of interim steps are usually taken before a lawsuit of this nature is filed.
The first step is asking for voluntary compliance, Levine said. The company and the regulators agree on what remediation is needed and what additional safeguards need to be put into place.
"Then there would be a period of time—longer than three months—where the company would act and regulators would monitor the progress," he said.
If a more formal plan is needed, Levine said regulators usually devise a consent order spelling out what the company needs to do. It is signed by both the regulator and company officials and can be enforced in court, if necessary.
A more aggressive form of compulsory compliance would be a consent decree, Levine said. Here a judgment confirms a voluntary agreement between parties to a lawsuit in return for withdrawal of the case.
Typically, consent decrees are orchestrated ahead of the litigation, Levine said, so by the time the case gets to court both parties have agreed to the terms.
It's usually only after these interim steps fail that regulators resort to litigation, he said.
"Environmental regulators have a wide variety of tools to gain compliance," Levine said. "In this instance regulators have chosen the most aggressive course of action from the beginning."
Politics is surely at least part of the answer. That ExxonMobil ignored regulators calls for it to move improperly stored contaminants from fracking tanks might reflect the company's cavalier treatment of state and federal officials. The lawsuit might be a play to get ExxonMobil to take the state and feds more seriously. It's also, of course, been a rehabilitative issue for McDaniel in the wake of him admitting to an extramarital relationship and withdrawing from the governor's race. He's sure to be eager to keep scoring points by standing up to a rich, multinational corporation many see as a bully.
Arkansas GOP Chairman Doyle Webb has released the following statement on the celebration of Juneteenth:
“Today we celebrate Juneteenth, marking the final abolition of slavery in Texas and the nation in 1865. The freedom and emancipation that this day represents is cause for great celebration among all Arkansans. The abolition of slavery marked an important milestone in the process of forming a more perfect union, and this anniversary is a great opportunity for all of us to renew our commitment to standing for justice and equality.”
Justice and equality. Are they embodied in opposition to affirmative action? Opposition to immigration reform? Opposition to women's medical rights? Opposition to equal treatment of gay people in the workplace? Opposition to universal health care? Opposition to equal access to state contracts for all legitimate nonprofit agencies?
But why look a gift horse in the mouth. The Republican Party's opposition to slavery is nonetheless welcome, given some of the people Webb and the party have promoted for public office as recently as the last election. Gone, but not forgotten:
"If slavery were so God-awful, why didn’t Jesus or Paul condemn it, why was it in the Constitution and why wasn’t there a war before 1861?" — former Republican Rep. Loy Mauch.
“Wouldn’t life for blacks in America today be more enjoyable and successful if they would only learn to appreciate the value of a good education?” — former Republican state Rep. Jon Hubbard.
But speaking of Juneteenth, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center has a Juneteenth observation at 6 p.m. Thursday at the center, which chronicles the black experience in Arkansas. The 2nd Infantry Regiment of United States Colored Troops Re-enactment Unit — including men, women and children in civil war era dress — will "guide visitors on a journey back in time."
And here's something I KNOW Doyle Webb will want to attend. At 7 p.m. Thursday at the center, Denver sculptor Ed Dwight will be talking about his "Inauguration of Hope," life-sized bronze statues inspired by the 2008 inauguration of Barack Obama. If Doyle can't make the talk, he can get by the center through June 30 to admire the sculptures.
PS — Isn't today also the day hearings were held to impose voter ID rules that will make it harder for many poor people — and thus many minorities — to vote. This type of legislation has been found constitutionally suspect elsewhere, but Arkansas Republicans had it as No. 1 agenda item in 2013 because they want to hold down black voter participation with something that amounts to a back-door poll tax.
If David Sanders may declare Planned Parenthood off-limits for state contract work, who will he come for next? Baptists? Jews? The NAACP? Liberal newspapers?
I erupt again this morning at another bit of evidence of the disdain with which such ideological zealots view three-branch government in which a representative assembly is but one part. (And in a three-branch government, the legislative, it should go without saying, should only be able to act by majority vote of its members, not through backroom pressure and demagoguery from self-appointed dictators such as Sanders and Burris.)
I saw this Twitter post this morning by Republican Rep. Justin Harris. And if you can't believe this God-fearing young man, I don't know who you can believe:
State Constitution?Ouch!“@vnbien: 2night @kenyangAR said as State Auditor he would refuse 2 sign a check if he disagreed w law passed.”
Might Justin Harris actually be suggesting that Republican auditor candidate Ken Yang has gone too far? It would be a nice switch for Harris, who doesn't recognize the U.S. constitutional prohibition against state establishment of religion in publicly funded activities such as his pre-school.
But my real interest is the report that a candidate for statewide office has been quoted as saying he'd decide which legal obligations of the state he would pay based on his personal approval of the law. A court would quickly set him right on this, of course, at great expense to the state. Then what? Maybe he'd defy the court? That's for another day and Yang isn't likely to prevail in even the Republican primary.
Maybe Yang has been misquoted. But there's very little difference in the reported remark and what Sanders and Burris propose on deciding who does and doesn't get state Obamacare money. Only those with their seal of approval need apply. Applaud these bullies if you will, but don't call it constitutional.
Gov. Mike Beebe seems to indicate a somewhat nuanced picture is emerging as facts are being gathered on how an Arkansas parolee, now a murder suspect, failed to be held behind bars despite repeat criminal charges and failure to appear for parole meetings. The Democrat-Gazette reports here on Beebe's efforts in the matter of Darrell Dennis, accused in the slaying of Forrest Abrams.
Fox 16 also has a report that might indicate where the Department of Community Corrections aims to take the review of its actions — blaming the Pulaski County sheriff's office, specifically the jail, for releasing him. It claims it removed a hold on Dennis at the request of the jail.
Sheriff Holladay says Dennis was able to go free because D.C.C. faxed the jail a "speed letter" asking for his release.
"If they didn't want him released, they shouldn't have sent us this order to release him," Holladay said, pounding his finger down on the document.
We've been down this muddled road before — remember the probationer who killed police officers in Washington state.
So far, this case is repeating that one in a significant aspect. Apart from limited responses from departmental spokeswoman Rhonda Sharp, the probation and parole agency will NOT send its top officials out to talk to the press. I can't think of another state agency that so successfully resists accountability. Beebe says blame will be laid when the process is completed. If that doesn't include a public accountability session for the leaders of the agency, that won't be good enough. Trust Beebe though the public might, that isn't sufficient verification.
Finally, I've been meaning to add this to the discussion.
Parolees commit crimes. Sad but true. Each act of recidivism is not proof of the failure of the parole system. Nor is it justification for throw-away-the-key sentencing. I fear that the important process of reviewing parole procedures for failings might lead to knee-jerk reactions — such as a return to the thinking that the best way to deal with the pathology of drug use and addiction is longer prison sentences for criminals driven by drugs.
Little Rock School Board member Dianne Curry, who is running for lieutenant governor, said that current Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr was "using the misery of the people, the residents of Mayflower, Arkansas, to garner feel good press." Darr made comments, reported by KUAR, that "as far as the clean-up goes it looks like that's been pretty well taken care of" and "they've kind of made this area even better than it was before."
"It's shameful, it's wrong, and it's what is wrong with politics," Curry said. Her press release is after the jump.
*Reading Curry's release, a point of clarification: the image of Mark Darr used in the post earlier today is a file photo. I didn't choose it, but I apologize if it caused confusion: none of the folks in the picture were with Darr when he made his Mayflower comments.
i'm slowly turning toward home and, now that I'm in London and no longer restricted by cruise ship Interet limitations, able to catch up on mail and newspapers. Sigh.
Strawberries have arrived in Surrey. Raspberries are in season. The fruit is available everywhere. And good. Better than Arkansas strawberries in a good year? Can't say that.
Every other pub or restaurant seemed to be offering a British summer favorite — Pimms cocktails (a sweet, fruity booze mixed with soda, lemon, more sugar, fruit, mint and !cucumber slices!) — as the drink of the day. So I bought one just to show you what they look like.
Sunday is also the day that many British have Sunday roast for a midday meal — roast beef and trimmings. We had ours at a restaurant appropriately named Roast, in the Borough Market by the London Bridge. Good, rare beef with a giant Yorkshire pudding sitting alongside in a pool of pan drippings. Those same drippings were used to roast skinned new potatoes, enough for a meal on their own. Eaton mess — the concoction of crumbled meringue, raspberries and cream — came for dessert. Father's Day in England is apparently observed by treating dad to a slab of bloody beef.
Talk about bitter.
Now it's time for more serious matters. The Sunday Democrat-Gazette had a number of noteworthy articles, but a pub crawl awaits so I'll just mention two:
* SLOPPING THE HOGS: Michael Wickline did another fine piece of notable labor in tallying the $1 million or so lobbyists spent on the 2013 legislature. As ever, several lobby groups "forgot" to properly report their expenditures. Like Julie Mullenix, who just simply overlooked reporting $21,000 in legislative hog slopping at a realtors-paid Capital Hotel soiree. You need to know that the Mullenix firm was the single strongest opponent to legislative efforts to stiffen ethics laws, including the Regnat Populus proposed amendment that will nominally outlaw individual legislative hog slopping but still allow group hog slops such as the one Mullenix "forgot" to report. She laments her style of lobbying could get more expensive under the Regnat Populus amendment, because she'll have to invite all legislators to the wine-and-dines, not just the critical lawmakers who do the heavy lifting. Poor thing. Not to worry. There are plenty like the realtors to pay the bill. And that presumes lobbyists will obey that new law any better than they obey the current porous and rarely enforced ethics laws. Ethics Commission Graham Sloan admitted the general meaninglessness of the filings to the D-G today. The amendment will be no different unless the enforcement agency is strengthened. With the legislature in charge of the appropriation, good luck with that.
* SHAME ON JOHN BRUMMETT: The Democrat-Gazette includes further reporting by Andy Davis on the groups to be hired to get out the word on signing up for the Obamacare Medicaid expansion approved by the 2013 legislature. There's more there on legislative resistance to allowing Planned Parenthood, a health delivery organization, to hire workers to provide information about getting health care coverage to Arkansas people. Over on the op-ed page, John Brummett, a stenographer for Rep. John Burris and Sen. David Sanders' view of how the legislature should be run, laments that a state agency director, Jay Bradford, didn't accede to private directions from Burris and Sanders not to allow Planned Parenthood to take part in the outreach.
A reminder: Planned Parenthood is a legal organization. It provides a variety of legal services. It will not be providing abortions in this outreach nor even talking about it. It will be advising Arkansas people how to get basic health coverage.
Brummett thinks it's fine for legislators to prevent state contracts from going to agencies that hold beliefs with which Burris and Sanders disapprove. Otherwise, he says, we'll fight about abortion again. Why can't Planned Parenthood just shut up? To Brummett, it is Planned Parenthood's fault and not that of the bullies Burris and Sanders that we're having this divisive discussion.
Maybe I could quietly ask Education Director Tom Kimbrell to quietly veto applications for state dollars that go to daycares run by Sen. Johnny Key and Rep. Justin Harris because, hey, they proselytize on tax dollars at their church schools. If we give them money, it just sets up another one of those tiresome no-win battles on the establishment clause, right? Rather than fight that battle, couldn't we just get them to go away?
Of course they shouldn't go away. But they should abide by the Constitution and keep religion out of their classes, just as Planned Parenthood should and will keep abortion out of helping people sign up for health insurance. It is unconstitutional to deny state participation to an agency qualified to do work on account of that agency's viewpoint (which happens to be a legal viewpoint as well). It is more repugnant that it could be denied in secret by veto-wielding legislators and that a newspaper columnist, nominally a 1st Amendment advocate, would side with coercion of unpopular beliefs. Appeasement is not a winning strategy against bullies.The D-G noted today that Rep. Kim Hammer has some gay coddlers in his crosshairs now, too. Brummett presumably would tell them to also shut up and go away. If anyone thinks this kind of tactic by Burris and Sanders starts and stops with Planned Parenthood and women's medical autonomy, they haven't been paying attention.
PS — Brummett's condescending habit of referring to an unnamed "liberal blog" as a nuisance in his continuing glorification of the Bully Boys and on other topics also grows a bit tiresome.
Arkansas Democrats gathered Saturday night for their annual Jefferson-Jackson Day event. They raised $600,000 and heard former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm expand on the jobs theme candidates Mike Ross and John Burkhalter pushed earlier in the day. Gov. Mike Beebe and other speakers also worked on the theme.
Jobs. Will that message trump another cycle in which rising Republicans remain focused on the foreign black man in the White House, the evils of universal health care and taxes and government and the usual array of social issues?
What do you think?
Democratic Party news release follows. Also a release from Will Bond who injected a note of Democratic style inclusiveness in the course of listing big financial contributors. In the new dissent-intolerant world of the Republican legislative majority, you can bet they WILL be noted. And punished. Or shaken down for greater tribute.
Democratic candidate for governor Mike Ross and Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor John Burkhalter will make a joint announcement at 4 p.m. "about the future of Arkansas." Presumably they'll be endorsing each other, which was to be expected. They're the Democratic establishment's picks for the two offices.
UPDATE: They did indeed endorse each other. Press release follows, as well as a press release from Democratic candidate Dianne Curry, responding to the slate (the Curry campaign really needs to get someone to help them craft press releases).
Sen. Mark Pryor is still being relatively cagey, natch, but he told the Wall Street Journal that his "inclination is to vote for the [immigration reform] legislation." In the last week, a poll sponsored by an anti-immigration group* showed opposition to the bill in the state, while a poll sponsored by a group in favor of the bill found support.
There's probably more to the political calculus than opinion polls, as the WSJ article notes:
Mr. Pryor, who has split with Democrats over other high-profile issues this year, including gun-control and budget legislation, said the immigration overhaul draws support from many communities in his home state.
“A lot of the business community wants this, a lot of the agricultural community wants this,” he said. “We have people who don’t want this, but by and large most of your employers, they’d like to see this happen.”
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which is based in Bentonville, Ark., in February broadly praised the efforts of the White House and the group of eight senators at the time working on crafting the Senate bill. And last month, it hosted a panel at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington to explore the legislation’s impact on the economy.
“We believe reform will grow and strengthen our communities, our economy and the American workforce,” Leslie Dach, executive vice president of corporate affairs said in a February statement.
*We should note that FAIR, the anti-immigration group in question, was founded by John Tanton, who sounds an awful lot like a white nationalist. Tanton continues to serve on FAIR's board of advisors.
The Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER) joint subcommittee met earlier today, with a good chunk of attention devoted to the outreach workers that will be hired as part of the Affordable Care Act, known as “guides.” One thing is clear: Republican lawmakers opposed to the ACA are going to raise a fuss about the guides every chance they get.
*THE PRIVATE OPTION GUIDES: PEER reviewed the $4 million appropriation for the 100 additional guides that will be hired for the “private option.” DHS Director of County Operations Joni Jones testified that per the latest Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) guidance, the state will be responsible for a 50 percent match (or $2 million). It was originally thought that all of the guides would be fully federally funded. However, this development will not require any additional state expenditures, because of a separate piece of news from CMS: administrative activities related to enrollment and eligibility for the expansion population will get a 75-25 federal match instead of 50-50 as expected. Savings from that change will be used to pay for the needed match on the guides.
*THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: Planned Parenthood came up briefly (see here and here for the background) but because the Arkansas Insurance Department has delayed their contract, this battle will be fought another day. But it clearly will be a battle. Here’s one question: if Republican lawmakers get their way and the state refuses to give a contract to Planned Parenthood, will the state open itself up to a lawsuit? Can the state legally refuse, for political reasons, to grant a contract to one entity that meets all of the necessary qualifications? Keep in mind that Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford plans to "define...a clear scope of work," with the group, suggesting that Planned Parenthood will have an entirely different contract from every other entity.
*TRAINING: Exchange Director Cynthia Crone testified that guides will get 30 hours of state training, 20 hours of federal training, and a third phase of training focused on the private option (hours not yet determined). In response to the request of Sen. Jane English, Crone said they would be able to make the training curriculum available to the public this summer.
*CONFIDENTIALITY Rep. David Meeks expressed concerns about privacy. Crone said that guides will not keep private information and will be bound by HIPAA. She said that one of the training modules will be entirely on confidentiality.
“How are you going to make sure they’re going to follow the guidelines you have actually set out?” Meeks asked. “How are you going to make sure that this information doesn’t, you know, whatever?”
“We will do background checks, we will do training,” Crone said. “The persons will be licensed by the Department of Insurance and monitored in that way. If there’s any complaint, it will be investigated like it would be for any licensed insurance person. If they have done a breach of confidentiality — which we don’t expect and will do everything to protect against — they will lose their license.” Crone added that there will be three contract monitors charged with watching over the guides.
*MEEKS LEARNS TO LOVE GOVERNMENT AGENTS: “I have a problem with any non-state-entity doing this,” he said. He suggested that a guide provided by a not-for-profit might collect names and addresses of the people they were assisting for a database to send fundraising letters.
*DEPARTMENT OF WTF: Meeks was also very concerned about whether the servers for the web portal would be in-state.
Meeks: "Where are these servers, these computers, located that will be passing the information back and forth?"
Crone: "The information will be with the federal health insurance market place."
Meeks: "Do we know what state?"
Crone: "I can’t say for sure if their server is in Washington DC or where. I could ask that question for you."
Meeks: "Yeah, if you don’t mind I would like to get some more information about..."
Crone: "The physical location?"
Meeks: "The computer location, the servers."
Bring on the black helicopters.
We wondered yesterday whether Americans for Prosperity would get involved with the effort to bring a referendum on the "private option" for Medicaid expansion to the ballot in 2014. Conservative blogger Jason Tolbert tweets that AFP told him that they "typically don't do ballot initiatives" but "educate members." "Educating members" is typically just legalese from the 501(c)(3)s, so it will be interesting to see what role they take.
Michael Cook predicts that if the referendum makes it to the 2014 ballot, "it will cause numerous political headaches for Arkansas Republicans."
Responsible legislative Republicans leaders know that repealing the private option would be a financial and political disaster. The problem for Republicans is they’ll have to convince members of their own party to keep a portion of Obamacare intact, which creates a messaging problem, and makes their base unhappy.
How do Republican leaders convince voters that supporting Democrats means supporting Obamacare (which isn’t true, btw) while at the same time asking them to vote to support a major portion of Obamacare? Moreover, they’ll be fighting with members of their own party, not a fun position to be in come election time.
This sounds plausible, although all of the spinning and counter-spinning about what is or isn't Obamacare-ish may just be a muddle by November. A ballot initiative might also fire up the Tea Party base (though they seem permanently fired up, really) and it would keep "Obamacare" talk flowing in local races. Still, a scenario in which candidates feel obligated to take a stand on the question and the party is split could be a bit awkward.
What about the statewide races? Asa Hutchinson has said he would have signed the "private option" legislation so presumably he would oppose a repeal effort. Likely Senate candidate Tom Cotton seems like a natural fit for "private option" repeal but Rep. John Burris, one of the plan's architects and a strong advocate for the policy, is widely rumored to be a key figure that will work on Cotton's campaign.
Critics of the recent Mayors Against Illegal Guns ad buy taking on Sen. Mark Pryor and other Democratic senators for votes against background checks for gun buyers clearly haven't gotten through to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the primary financier of the ads.
Today, the New York Times reports, Bloomberg sent "a personal letter to hundreds of the biggest Democratic donors in New York urging them to cut off contributions to the four Democratic senators who helped block a bill in April that would have strengthened background checks on gun purchasers."
Sen. Charles Schumer echoed the standard criticism of Bloomberg's tactics: “We should be mindful that pro-gun safety laws have a much better chance of passing under a Democratic Senate majority than a Republican one.”
“If Democrats want to keep control of the Senate, what I would suggest is that they have all of their members vote for things that the public wants,” he said in the interview. “And if they don’t do that, the voters should elect different senators who will listen to them. That’s what democracy is all about.”
I suspect enough donors agree with Schumer's logic and this doesn't hurt the Pryor campaign's pocketbook. Like Lyons and others have said, Bloomberg attacks are probably political gifts for Pryor in Arkansas.
An item in this morning's paper led me to the blog of Glenn Gallas, the Tea Party activist leading the charge to get a referendum on the healthcare expansion on the ballot in 2014. Turns out he really, really doesn't like the "private option":
Why is protecting Arkansans from Sharia Law different when protecting Arkansans from a federal law robbing them of the right to their own medical choices?
The question now is whether he has the ground troops to pick up 46,800 signatures (and signatures in 15 different counties that are equal to 3 percent of the voters in the 2010 governor's race in each of those counties). The 15 counties bit ain't easy. Gallas told the D-G he hopes to have canvassers out gathering signatures by Monday. As we saw with the casino amendment, opposition groups with deep pockets can create all sorts of trouble for referendum efforts, and the coalition in support of the "private option" will be back in full force to fight Gallas and company.
So my question: WWAFPD? Americans for Prosperity lost the first round on the healthcare debate. If they're willing to jump back in and put up big money to push the referendum effort, there's a decent chance that we'll see the "private option" on the ballot in 2014.
Super Pac puts out forgettable ad. Pryor campaign says we don't need no stinking outsiders. Rinse, lather, repeat.
The latest ad out today from Senate Conservatives Action is more or less a re-hash of their first ad. Various conservative activists say the words "liberal" and "Obama" a bunch, and sadly tell the camera that "Mark Pryor left us" (though surely no one in this crew would have supported him in the first place). They use basically the same activists saying basically the same stuff and even use the exact same snippet at least once. I guess $320,000 doesn't go as far as it used to.
So I wasn't going to bother mentioning it, but was kind of interested in the push back from Pryor's rapid-response team, which fired off this fact sheet. It makes the obvious point that Pryor is a run-of-the-mill moderate in the Senate, not a liberal, but what struck me is the full-throated defense of Pryor's vote for the Affordable Care Act.
I do give Senate Conservatives Action credit for avoiding the fatal flaw of telling Arkansans that there's something wrong with talking about football and meat.
Jonathan Chait notes that Republicans aren't using the filibuster to block the immigration reform bill in the Senate and speculates that the lack of procedural resistance bodes well for eventual passage.
It’s a vote to have a debate on immigration reform, not a vote for a particular bill, which is sure to attract fewer than 82 votes in the end, and probably far fewer. But it gives the general impression that conservative opponents are merely going through the motions and have made their peace with a likely defeat. And that impression is not wrong.
That 82 votes is a signal that Republicans in the Senate are, indeed, not using every tool they have to block a bill. Eighty-two votes to proceed is a way of signaling that the status quo, not the expected outlines of a bill, is what is most unacceptable. This is the opposite of how Republicans have approached the major legislation of the Obama era, beginning with the stimulus, when they did not make any distinction between voting to allow debate and voting on the underlying merits of the final bill. Republican senators today faced a choice to position themselves as fundamentally opposed to the entire process, and most of them decided to stand aside.
Would Sen. Mark Pryor have preferred a filibuster so it never made it to the Senate floor? Maybe that's too cynical, but given the political dynamic in Arkansas, Pryor may be squeamish about delivering a needed vote. Jordan Fabian at ABC News cites him as one of four Democratic Senators that might vote no. Pryor voted against the immigration reform bill in 2007. He has said that immigration reform is needed but has been noncommittal thus far about the Gang of Eight bill. He predicted in the Wall Street Journal last month that a bipartisan bill would eventually pass the Senate and seemed to hint that he was hoping for cover, telling them that ideally the bill should gain broad enough support to get "north of 70 votes."
What happens if, as in 2007, there's a popular backlash among conservatives? Well, passing a bill may be dependent on the political bravery of Mark Pryor.
I usually start blogging in the morning but mag displeased me at 9:20 am and…
Exodus International to Shut Down
JUNE 19, 2013 BY EXODUS INTERNATIONAL
Exodus International to Shut…
NVR, in the link, poses the question, where were you when the Patriot Act was…
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