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Monday, January 31, 2011

Economic update: GDP and jobs

In November, Canada’s GDP by industry advanced 0.4 per cent on a “real” (i.e., inflation-adjusted) month-to-month basis, according to Statistics Canada. Annualized, that’s a 4.9 per cent growth rate. Service-producing industries (+0.5% month to month) outpaced goods production (+0.1%).

Also, after an annual revision of employment data as conducted by Statistics Canada, and taking into account current population figures, Canada now stands about 30,000 jobs short of where we were prior to the recession-induced decline that began in the fall of 2008—very respectable performance considering the severity of the recession. Canada lost 420,000 jobs in the recession and has gained almost all of them back.

…more here

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Re-launch of Cycroft’s news and blog aggregator

My news and blog aggregator, The Cycroft Gleaner, has been updated and is being re-launched today. The Cycroft Gleaner is all about up-to-date news and opinion coverage, with a focus on Canada and the United States and the many issues that make up North American politics.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Scott Brison: errand boy for foreign dictators?

Liberal MP Scott Brison seems to be following in the footsteps of his fellow MP Bob Rae, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and the former leader of his party, Jean Chrétien, in taking the part of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) against the national interests of Canada. Mr. Brison is even delivering messages for a representative of the family owned business and wannabe country known as the U.A.E.

Jean Chrétien, of course, makes a habit of lining up on the side of despotic regimes like Communist China. We’re used to that and aren’t too surprised to read that he’s siding with his pals in the Gulf, pressing PM Stephen Harper to rein in the ongoing diplomatic feud between Ottawa and the U.A.E. Why isn’t the former prime minister calling for the U.A.E to reverse it high-handed, arrogant approach to its relations with Canada? But that’s typical Chrétien, eh?

As for Dalton McGuinty: he recently wrote a letter to the prime minister urging Stephen Harper to resolve the dispute. No evidence exists that I can find that Ontario’s premier has called on the other side to stop linking landing rights in Toronto to use of Camp Mirage, which was supporting our efforts in Afghanistan. But McGuinty is desperate for votes—enough said.

Did we dare expect a more even-handed or Canada-first approach from Bob Rae or Scott Brison? Apparently not.

According to the Toronto Star, Brison tells us that Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the U.A.E.’s minister of foreign affairs, made plain his displeasure at the diplomatic spat between his Gulf state and Canada. Well bully for him. But get this: according to the Star-Brison report, Al Nahyan is “very upset and he’s very hurt by this [Canadian] government, but it does not represent an animosity toward Canada.”

If what the U.A.E. has done to us so far does not represent animosity, I’d hate to see what does.

Canada is only one of several countries, including Korea, France and Germany that have serious reservations about giving the U.E.A.’s airlines expanded landing rights. This issue goes much deeper than Brison, Rae, McGuinty, et al, would have us believe. Here are some of the things European Airlines Secretary General Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus had to say about the issue recently in Washington (source: Air Transport World):

“Emirates Airline, Qatar Airways and Etihad [Airways] represent a new kind of competitive threat that is incompatible with the existing world aviation order ….

“[the trio of Persian Gulf-based carriers] are owned by their respective governments and operated as an instrument of national strategy… and they are integrated vertically across commerce, tourism and foreign policy. The airlines are just a part—a tool—of this vertically integrated economic chain [which are] being driven by a policy which is not compatible with that of the US and Europe, or I suspect, Australia, China, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Korea and so on.

“[the three] have more widebody seats on order than the entire US industry has in its current fleet … 425 brand new long-haul aircraft in the next five years.”

Powerful self-interests are at work here.

The need to protect our national interests seem to have convinced Prime Minister Stephen Harper to resist the Emirates’ request for more landing rights, which would see Canada’s long-haul aviation market being flooded, as the U.A.E.’s airlines apparently have done in Australia, New Zealand and Britain.

Why are all these Liberals lining up on the side of the Emirates? What’s their game? Why have so many senior Liberals chosen to lobby so hard on behalf of this file. And why can they not see that Canada’s national interests are at odds with those of the U.A.E.?

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Capital punishment OK, but no death penalty?

There are a number of candid public debates that we never seem to have in Canada: abortion rights, same-sex marriage and capital punishment to name three. Oh, there is a lot written about these subjects, but they are never really debated candidly in parliament or in public.

If you have reservations about same-sex marriage, believing it may be a first step on a journey that will result in the destruction of traditional marriage and its role in society, you’re immediately labeled homophobic and your views are dismissed by many.

If you have reservations over there not being any restrictions on abortion-on-demand, you’re all about sending young women to back alleys to be butchered by some quack, or you’re labeled a religious zealot and your views are dismissed by many.

If you express a view that there should be a role for capital punishment in our society, you’re a Neanderthal who doesn’t understand that capital punishment does not deter the crime of murder and your views are dismissed by many.

So, much to my surprise, I read at the Abacus Data website that a new survey from that polling firm found two-thirds of Canadians said they support the death penalty in certain circumstances. (Thanks to a post on The Iceman’s blog.) Only three in ten Canadians are completely opposed to the death penalty. Yet we have less than majority support (41%) for re-instating capital punishment. Go figure.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic was the finding that 68 per cent of New Democrat supporters personally support the death penalty in certain circumstances, although, only 46 per cent believe the federal government should reinstate it. This is within a few points of the responses from the Conservative Party’s supporters, 77 per cent of whom personally support the death penalty in certain circumstances, and 48 per cent of whom believe the federal government should reinstate it. On what other social issue do Tory and Dipper views track so closely?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper—expressing what he called a personal view during a recent interview with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge—said “there are times when capital punishment is appropriate.” Though, apparently, he does not intend to try to bring back the death penalty if he forms a majority government. At last, a prime minister willing to address the issue candidly.

My guess is there’d be far more support for reinstating the death penalty if our justice system didn’t have such a dismal record of convicting innocent people: at least six people have been convicted of first-degree murder since capital punishment was abolished in Canada in 1976 and later found to have been not guilty. At least two of them were jailed for more than 10 years, almost certainly enough time—had the death penalty been in force—for them to have exhausted appeals and been executed. Now there’s a grim statistic!

I favour capital punishment for premeditated and multiple murders, the most egregious rapes and sexual crimes against children. Perhaps we could all get a pass for first offence, but repeat offenders for sure should have their lives forfeited. Heck, we countenance terminating lives of un-born innocents, so why should we have scruples about terminating the lives of our most evil neighbours?

Set the bar high so we are unlikely to execute innocent people, but don’t victimize society a second time by having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to house and guard killers, rapists and child molesters, who will not ever be rehabilitated. Frankly, in those cases I don’t care about rehabilitation: kill, rape or molest children and one forfeits one’s life. That’s the way I see it.

 

Abacus Data Inc. conducted an online survey between January 21 and 24, 2011, among 1,105  randomly selected Canadian adults from an online panel of over 100,000 Canadians. The margin of error—which measures sampling variability—is comparable to +/- 3.0%, 19 times out of 20.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Eastern European regimes perished under the weight of supply management; Canadian dairy farmers prosper because of it

One man’s food is another man’s poison, or so it is said. It certainly does seem to be the case when it comes to supply management. Didn’t we wage a long, expensive cold war with the communist regimes of Eastern Europe over capitalist markets versus planned economies? And aren’t we supposed to have won?

Why then do we have the contradiction of supply management being alive and well right here in Canada—and under free-market governments like the Conservatives in Ottawa and Liberals in Quebec and Ontario? A rhetorical question, of course. No thoughtful person really believes our governments give more than political lip-service to free markets. They’re as quick as any government to intrude in free-markets for their own self-interests and that of their patrons.

Entire systems across the country are built on subsidies, protectionism, wealth redistribution, marketing boards, protective tariffs and other trade barriers and the like. Our provinces even erect trade barriers between themselves, for the sake of their self-interests. Our governments are only free-marketers when they can’t figure out how to otherwise control/manipulate them. We’ve got lots of examples of this: Ontario’s automotive industry has been awash in government cash for decades, and now we have massive price protection for foreign “green energy” providers, to name only two examples.

We even provide massive cash and tax subsidies to the very political parties that form our governments. It’s debatable whether the Green or Bloc parties would be viable without their taxpayer subsidies. And would the Liberal Party of Canada be able to fund a national program without the annual handouts?

Which brings me to the consumer boondoggle we call the National Milk Marketing Plan or some such. This would have been the envy of every communist regime in the world, except that hundreds of selected individual citizens are getting rich from it—communists wouldn’t have like that.

Many Canadians cross the U.S. border to buy basic groceries, including dairy products which can be half the price we pay here in Canada.  Ordinary Canadians are forced to pay twice the world market rate for dairy produce. According to a study published in December 2010 by the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI), in 2009 Canada’s milk producer price was third highest in the world, behind only Japan and Norway. All this so that dairy farmers in Quebec and Ontario can prosper at the expense of ordinary Canadians.

According to the MEI study, as quoted by the National Post, “the average value of a family farm has increased by 74% in the past 15 years, to almost $1.3-million. The average farm income is 15% higher than the average Canadian family income. The average dairy farm in particular makes a 25% profit margin.” And, as John Ivison points out in today’s paper, the agriculture industry in Canada received $7.9-billion in taxpayer handouts in 2008-09, about 31 per cent of that sector’s GDP.

In Quebec, farmers are protected—with taxpayer money—from the market by Quebec’s $650-million a year Farm Income Stabilization Insurance fund. From 1976 to 2004, producers in Quebec received government assistance, not including federal programs, to the tune of $5-billion.

Back-stopping this shameful attack on the pocketbooks of Canadian taxpayers and consumers are tariff barriers of 300 per cent on dairy, eggs and poultry imported into our country. Outrageous by any standard, but even more so considering the Conservative government’s pretence of being free-traders.

Countries with smaller populations and domestic markets and with similar standards of living to Canadians’, Australia and New Zealand, are managing quite well after discarding their central-planning approach to marketing agricultural produce, so why couldn’t we? No mystery there. Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals have the intestinal fortitude to do what is best for all Canadians, for to do so means bucking powerful special interests and jeopardizes election chances in Quebec.

This is shameful and basically unfair, and is clearly a case of robbing the poor to give to the rich. This is a wacky intrusion in the market economy our governments pretend to admire.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Take your pick: more jobs or more social services

The recent promise by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff to rollback to 2010 levels tax cuts scheduled to bring the tax rate on corporate profits to 15 per cent from the current 16.5 per cent (was 18.5 per cent in 2010) begs the question of just what, in Ignatieff’s view, is the role of corporations in society. Are they simply cash cows to be milked to provide social services or are they primarily the job-creation engine of our capitalist economy and the providers of the pay cheques so essential to individual and family wellbeing?

The answer is important to us all, because if Ignatieff believes the latter he’ll want to do whatever he can to make sure corporations thrive in Canada. If he favours the former role, he’ll only want corporations just healthy enough to continue paying levels of tax high enough to help with his dream of a socialist Canada—much the same as Jack Layton’s NDP dream.

Ignatieff justifies his rollback promise by saying a tax cut only makes sense when Ottawa is in surplus. But do Liberals really believe this?

Ignatieff was a senior member of the Liberal Party when in June 2008 it announced in a press release that it would “accelerate and deepen the currently planned [by the Conservatives] corporate tax cuts.” And yet, during the run-up to the federal election that year, the Liberal Party of Canada accused the incumbent Tories of already being in deficit. So how does one account for the Liberal promise to “accelerate and deepen” tax cuts already planned by the Tories while running a deficit? You can’t really can you?

Look, corporations already pay a lot of tax, we call them payroll taxes: employer share of employment insurance, Canada pension and workers’ compensation premiums—all, of course, in addition to federal and provincial income taxes. Shareholders, the owners of the corporations, also pay income taxes on any earnings they receive from corporations.

And what do corporations generally do when they pay less taxes? The make additional investments, hire more people, expand—job creating things like that.

And does Ignatieff want to raise corporate taxes to reduce the deficit? Apparently not. According to his speeches he wants a billion dollar homecare plan. And, last February, Ignatieff said that Canada will get a national child-care program under a future Liberal government, no matter how big the federal deficit has grown. At that time, he said, “I am not going to allow the deficit discussion to shut down discussion in this country about social justice.”

Get the idea?

But what about those big banks getting a tax break when they already make enormous profits? Well, if that’s what bothering Ignatieff, he should be calling for greater competition in Canadian banking and other financial services. He should demand the Tories open the door to greater competition and let the market do its job. But perhaps Ignatieff does not believe in greater competition.

Canada is getting more competitive with its corporate tax rates, but it has a way to go to be among the most favourable. The planned cuts—which, by the way, are not new initiatives and have already been passed by parliament—will help us get there.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

We don’t always have to abandon our norms to accommodate members of certain religions

The debate over Sikhs wearing kirpans into public buildings like legislatures has again arisen, this time prompted by a decision of security officials to deny four kirpan-wearing Sikhs entry to the Quebec National Assembly. The Bloc Québécois, ever the opportunists, have supported that decision and said last week it will ask Parliament to consider doing the same for MPs and visitors alike.

I have zero sympathy for the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to allow Sikh schoolchildren bearing ceremonial daggers onto school property, while other children are not allowed to have penknives on their person. When last I visited the House of Commons, my wife had to hand over her tiny two-inch Swiss Army Knife before she was allowed to be part of a public tour of Houses of Parliament. Yet does not, at least, one member of parliament wear a kirpan?

Where’s the equity here? Either knives are a danger or they aren’t. Our law should not extend privileges to members of a religious group and deny it to other ordinary individuals.

Finding common ground with immigrants and minorities—so called “reasonable accommodation”—is all very well and good, but should such accommodation elevate the rights of certain religious groups above the individual rights of everyone else? I don’t think it should.

Having said that, I simply cannot believe the stupidity of the decision to deny the Sikhs entry to the National Assembly building. The four Sikhs, after all,  had been invited to appear before a legislative committee debating a bill that deals with the reasonable accommodation of religious minorities. Couldn’t arrangements have been made to provide an escort while the men were on the premises?

Had an escort been offered and accepted, our norms would have been preserved and the four Sikhs would have had their say.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Five years of Conservative rule

There is debate among conservative pundits regarding the effectiveness of the Tory governments of the past five years: whether or not they’ve been too liberal and not conservative enough. On the one hand, there are those like Blogging Tories’ Stephen Taylor whose defence of the Conservative government has included these comments:

“A political party’s first and last job is to get elected. … A political party, in practice, is not much more than a marketing machine to sell ideas to an electorate looking to buy them. … If a Conservative party does form government—especially a minority government—the long term goal is the same: keep the upper hand, survive when strategically beneficial, and win elections.”

On the other hand, the Canadian Republic blog once wrote:

“… a political party’s first and last job is to do what is right. What benefit is there in the Conservative Party forming government if their primary concern will always be retaining power at the expense of representing the values that they were elected to defend?”

Both sides of this divide have a strong following, and I’ve felt drawn to both at one time or another. But my preference is for some middle ground.

As I see it, a political party with no ideological grounding—an ideological compass, so to speak—must surely have difficulty plotting a path for its members to follow. Here I think of the Liberal Party of Canada which is campaigning against the current Conservative plan to cut the corporate tax rate, when its (Liberal) 2008 election promises included the following, which is taken from a Liberal press release of June 19, 2008:

“We will accelerate and deepen the currently planned corporate tax cuts, reducing the general corporate tax rate by an additional one per cent within four years. That means the federal corporate tax rate in Canada will be only 14 per cent by the 2012.”

Such pure pragmatism seems crass and grasping—so devoid of idealism. And yet, if one does not grasp at power using whatever weapons come to hand, there is the hard fact that they may never have access to any of the levers of power, leaving one’s ideas on the sidelines where they will almost certainly be ignored. It may very well be more honest—in the purest sense—to place ideology ahead of pragmatism; however, at what cost does one ignore common sense in favour of political dogma?

For me, a political party should be well grounded in ideology, with a well-balanced moral compass and a firm sense of where to draw its line in the sand. Room to maneuver politically is essential for, after all, a democratic government is supposed to represent all the people and not just those who vote for it.

The Republicans under George Walker Bush seemed to have forsaken those who were not of their core supporters. Consequently, if I could have, I would certainly have voted against George W. in 2004 and with Barack Obama in 2008. Yet I am a conservative and have voted PC, Reform/Canadian Alliance or CPC in every election, federal and provincial, since the late 1960s.

Rather than our elected representatives sticking to a pure conservative agenda—whatever that would look like—I’d settle for more consistency, more promises kept and more frankness between caucus members and rank and file party members and, for that matter, the general public.

Ideally, I want a government that will govern conservatively within reasonable bounds, deviating from time to time but, for the most part, keeping on the “right” side of things. This the Conservative party of Canada has done for the past five years.

Having said that, the current Stephen Harper government has, at times, operated barely inside the boundaries of the sort of government I’m comfortable supporting. Though I cannot help wondering how much of a mess we’d be in if someone like Jack Layton ever got his hands on any one of the levers of government [shudder], as he well might have done as a member of cabinet in a Liberal-NDP coalition, such as the one proposed by Stéphane Dion a couple of years ago.

As to Michael Ignatieff: it’s no time for training wheels. Ignatieff and his group keep reminding us of the fiscal conservatism of Paul Martin, and I don’t disagree that Martin did a good job as finance minister—though he was a mean-spirited failure as prime minister. And, anyway, Martin is long gone and now we’d get Scott Brison, Ralph Goodale and John McCallum [triple shudder].

My reading of our Conservative leadership in Ottawa is that the backroom unelected politicos have too much influence on policy, strategy and tactics. Oftentimes, they’re too cute by far, choosing television ad campaigns instead of political debate. There are times when we seem to have too many advisors and not enough wisdom—too much spin and not enough truth. Too often they skirt the borders of what is appropriate behaviour for a government that is supposed to give a damn about our country and its citizens.

As for the Conservative record over the past five years, there’s plenty to be thankful for, especially when one considers the Tories have been in a minority for the entire time. Here are a few examples of the things I’m thankful for:

  • Canada’s war in Afghanistan has been well managed under trying circumstances.
  • Immigration, citizenship and refugee files have been managed adeptly.
  • Our military is in the best shape it’s been in for half a century. It still has a way to go in terms of size and resources for it to be on par with the more responsible members of NATO, but its on track to be so.
  • Our “AAA” government bond rating remains intact, despite record deficits and surviving the worst international financial crisis and recession in over 70 years.
  • The projected deficits for the next few years sound reasonable under the unusual circumstances we have faced.
  • The growth in Debt-to-GDP Ratios still leaves Canada in an envious position compared to many nations with similar size or larger economies.
  • Canada’s economy stood ninth in the world in 2010, measured in nominal GDP (millions of USD), according to the International Monetary Fund—despite a population (34.3 million) rank of only 36 in the world. No country with a population even close to Canada’s was ahead of us in nominal GDP.

Other Canadians share my general view. In a poll asking Canadians whether, over the last five years, they felt PM Harper had been an excellent, good, fair or poor prime minister, 75 per cent of respondents said they believe the PM has been fair or better.

Oh, there’s plenty to nitpick in the Tory record of the past five years, but then there always will be. The record has been moderately conservative with several nods to our liberal/progressive fellow citizens. So, notwithstanding my own biases, I believe this record is about as good we could have expected under the circumstances.

As to the alternative: a Bloc-supported Liberal-NDP coalition government? Far better the devils we know. I’ll keep rooting for the PM and his team.

Note: The above contains portions of an essay I wrote two years ago in response to a recession-fighting budget presented by the then three-year-old Conservative government.


© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Another reason for CBC’s Don Newman to get his shorts in a knot?

Back last June Don Newman, retired CBC host of the old political TV program, Politics, was surprisingly and unattractively aggressive on a segment of Evan Solomon’s Power & Politics show with Kory Teneycke, the then vice president of Development of Quebecor Media. Newman and Solomon ganged up on Teneycke, demanding he assure them that Quebecor’s new all-news TV venture would be fair and balanced like the CBC.

At that time, Mr. Newman was full of righteous indignation over what he saw as the very real prospect of un-balanced news coverage to come from a Kory Teneycke-led 24-hour news channel, and wrote on the CBC News site:

“In the U.S., Fox News has been hugely polarizing. It specializes in drive-by attacks and misrepresentations, and is positively Orwellian at times, claiming to be ‘fair and balanced’ while implying that its competitors aren’t. …

“Do they [Conservatives] really need a right-wing news channel urging them to be more rabid and stirring up the party’s hard-core base… .”

That piece was entitled: Fox News North, The absolute last thing this country needs, which gives you an idea of the Newman-styled “balanced” tone of it.

Then, this past September Mr. Teneycke announced his departure from the venture. His role seemed to have become somewhat of a lightening rod for left-wing acrimony, and there was even talk of an Ottawa police investigation prompted by Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby and Avaaz.org, a U.S.-based left-wing pressure group that had tangled with Mr. Teneycke. Nothing seems to have come from the police investigation other than over-the-top left-wing hyperbole.

Now we hear from The Globe and Mail that Kory Teneycke is expected to resume the helm at the Sun TV News 24-hour channel next week. The Don Newman froth level must be at a high on hearing what, to him, must be distressing news.

I for one am pleased to hear of Mr. Teneycke’s return to the news channel.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My new book, Cycroft birds

image

I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve published my first book of digital prints, Cycroft Birds. Here’s a short promo:

The amazing variety and beauty of birds can quickly become a daily fascination. Many are the subjects of my new book, Cycroft Birds, a 134-page compilation of my favourite images of birds that reside in or pass through Ontario, Canada.

Over 130 colour images of birds: if you like wildlife, you'll love this book. You can preview Cycroft Birds or order on-line here.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tories shuffle cabinet giving GTA MPs Peter Kent and Julian Fantino seats at the table

Yesterday’s fine-tuning of the federal cabinet by Prime Minister Stephen Harper had some welcome news and one serious disappointment. I’m pleased that former Global TV anchor Peter Kent got a promotion from minister of state for foreign affairs to the full cabinet post as environment minister. To be sure, his obvious communication skills will be well tested in this portfolio.

Diane Ablonczy, Calgary-Nose Hill MP, received only a minor boost to minister of state for the Americas—the post vacated by Kent. Isn’t it time Ablonczy stopped being punished for her decision to provide funding for the 2009 Toronto Pride Week Festival? I believe she deserves a more senior position at the cabinet table, she’s earned it. Nice to see, though, that she’s still in the picture, so to speak. Other good news was Ted Menzies, MP for Macleod in Alberta, being appointed to a cabinet-level post, minister of state for finance. This is a nice step up for Menzies from his former position as a parliamentary secretary. I like the way Menzies handles himself on TV when he’s trotted out to defend the Conservative’s party line.

The one sour note was the appointment of newly elected MP for Vaughan, Julian Fantino, to minister of state for seniors. It is too early to assess Fantino’s parliamentary abilities and a cabinet post of any kind seems premature. This shows the disdain in which our prime minister seems to hold seniors, an increasingly important group that tends to favour conservatism, but, apparently, not one the Tories think they need to woo.

Fantino’s inept performance as Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner during the illegal occupation at Caledonia remains a stain on his public record, and one that should have precluded any position higher than parliamentary secretary for, at least, a couple of years while he proves himself worthy of a seat at the cabinet table.

If Julian Fantino represents seniors as poorly as he enforced the law in Caledonia, I pity us all.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

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