Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the corporate takeover of education, water, and other public goods. Not a subscriber? Subscribe here for free.


First, the good news…

1) National: In Route Fifty, In the Public Interest Executive Director Donald Cohen says pandemic aid from the American Rescue Plan Act has helped reduce unemployment, improve pay and offer much needed child care services for working families. “For a year and a half, federal funding has flowed to states to keep critical public services intact and launch new public programs to support employment, housing, public education and more. Most of these programs are not making national, or sometimes even local, headlines. Yet, many are making a difference in the lives of everyday Americans, particularly those facing the biggest barriers to upward socioeconomic mobility. And the most successful of these programs can serve as a blueprint for other states and cities seeking sustainable solutions to some of their most intractable challenges.” These gains are, of course, on the ballot in a month, as Republicans are threatening a legislative crusade that will target the program for clawbacks.

2) National/Florida: Good news related to Hurricane Ian? Well not precisely, but Kelly Hammargren does have a point. Floridians and those poised to help them dodged a bullet because NOAA is in public rather than private hands. “In the September 25, 2022 edition of the Activist’s Diary, I ended with a recommendation of the book The Privatization of Everything by Donald Cohen and Alan Mikaelian. If you watched any of forecasts of hurricane Ian, this was made possible through government funding of the National Weather Service (NWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Hurricane Center and the international cooperation of 193 countries to provide free and unrestricted weather each day. It is an amazing feat. Free access to NOAA, weather forecasts was close to lost if Barry Meyers, former CEO of AccuWeather, brother to Joel Meyers, founder of AccuWeather, a private forecasting company, had made his way as a Trump appointee to head up NOAA.”

3) National: Democratizing the municipal bond market? People are already trying to make it happen, at least on a small scale. But is it a good idea and is it practical? Route Fifty reports on the state of play. “Berkeley’s microbond idea generated a lot of buzz in 2018, when the council unanimously voted to direct city staff to evaluate the benefits of a pilot program in which Berkeley would offer municipal debt using blockchain technology. Market watchers got excited again in 2019, when the city put out an RFP seeking a firm to manage services for establishing and executing its new financing program. But by then, the startup company that Bartlett and Arreguín initially had in mind for the project and which had helped Cambridge, Massachusetts issue its ‘minibonds,’ had folded. Then, the Covid-19 pandemic slowed everything down. Finally in late 2021, the city announced it had selected a vendor. That was followed by months of contract negotiations and ironing out other details. Now, Bartlett said the project really is getting going and the city is working on scheduling a kick-off call with vendor Valdés & Moreno, a Kansas City-based firm that specializes in municipal bonds.”

4) National: The National Labor Relations Board, despite being underfunded and understaffed, continues to break new ground on union rights. Last week it found that a company withheld wage increases from its workers because of their union activity. “The decision could give the new union additional bargaining power as it continues to negotiate with Activision,” says The New York Times. “‘Unions are now trying to organize where they’ve previously feared to tread,’ said William Gould, a Stanford emeritus professor and a former N.L.R.B. chair.”

In Wisconsin, Isthmus reports that “Kevin Gundlach, president of the South Central Federation of Labor in Madison, says his office phone has been ringing constantly from workers seeking advice on unionization. He estimates employees from some 20 private sector workplaces in his 11-county region around Madison have sought to organize this year.  ‘This is the first time we’ve seen this level of interest,’ he says. ‘There is no doubt. We’ve never seen this before.’”

The NLRB has also reduced its case processing time for union representation petitions. “Our field staff has done a tremendous job handling a historic surge in union election petitions and unfair labor practice charges, but this situation is unsustainable,” said NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo. “We need Congress to provide increased funding so we can hire the staff we need and provide necessary resources to conduct hearings and elections, investigate charges, settle and litigate meritorious cases, and obtain full and prompt remedies for workers whose rights are violated.”

5) National: In a deep dive on the subject of government regulation, Robert Kuttner marks a resurgence of progressive interest in this level of government after years of neglect. “Today, however, there is a notable group of expert progressives who do care about this level of governing, and they are in it for the long haul. They include Rahman and New York University Law professor Richard Revesz, whom Biden appointed OIRA administrator in early September, subject to Senate confirmation. Raj Nayak, co-author of the Roosevelt study on OIRA, is now assistant secretary of labor for policy. Nayak had previously been deputy director of the National Employment Law Project, and knows these regulatory issues in fine detail. Nayak’s deputy is another careful student of the deep state, Alex Hertel-Fernandez, who has been specifically assigned to work with OIRA. And there is a whole backup contingent at the Roosevelt Institute, Public Citizen, and other public-interest groups, keeping close watch on OIRA’s makeover.”

6) California: Neal Kelley, a former Orange County official now leading efforts to protect election workers and voters, talked to KQED’s California Report. “The mid-term elections are a little more than a month away, and officials here in California and across the country are working to make sure the election process is safe and secure. But there are also concerns about threats levied against election workers and voters at the polls.” [Audio, at 3:14]

7) California: Los Angeles is reopening its subsidized Section 8 housing program after a five-year pause. “Residents will be able to apply for Section 8 vouchers starting Oct. 17 and ending Oct. 30. After the application window closes, the city will select 30,000 people via random lottery to be placed on the voucher waiting list. To be eligible, applicants must fall within the federal very low-income category.” [Sub required]

8) Connecticut: In an apparent effort to boost recruitment to its police force, Bridgeport may be moving to lower the cost to employees of health care. “The recent deal offered those 115 staffers would maintain that 1 percent-per-year increase, but cap the top contribution rate at 33 percent, and also roll back what those employees have been paying so they start fresh again with a base 25 percent contribution. The significance of that change is not lost on members of the all-Democrat council’s contracts committee, who will be reviewing the pact in the coming weeks, or on that legislative body’s president, Aidee Nieves. ‘Is this going to be the model moving forward when renegotiating contracts?’ Nieves said, noting there are several currently on the table, the police department’s being probably the most noteworthy.”

9) Michigan/National: Flint Beat, a progressive local blog, reports that Flint residents should see water credits on their accounts. “The city is using $8.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to distribute $300 in water credits to every residential household with active meters. City officials say the water credits represents almost 10% of the funds that the city received through the ARPA stimulus bill.” Flint Beat “was launched by veteran journalist Jiquanda Johnson in 2017 to fill news gaps in an underserved community after Flint, Mich. residents said they needed more from their news coverage.”

10) New York: New York City will cover the college tuition and housing costs for students in foster care, Mayor Eric Adams announced last week. “‘A young person in foster care can attend the college of their choice without having to worry about the financial nightmare,’ said Jess Dannhauser, the commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services, which oversees the city’s child welfare system. City children removed from their homes by child welfare authorities and placed in the foster system have among the poorest educational outcomes of any student group.”

11) International/National: A Pennsylvania prison is getting a Scandinavian-style makeover—and showing how the U.S. penal system could become more humane. “In State Correctional Institution Chester, known as SCI Chester, a medium-security prison located just outside of Philadelphia, a correctional officer-guided team has worked since 2018 to incorporate Scandinavian penal principles into its own institution. Based on their direct experiences, the correctional officers and facility leaders sought to reconsider what incarceration could look like at SCI Chester. This initiative has uniquely focused on developing a single housing unit within the prison.”

12) International: How the Dutch build a tunnel under a highway in one weekend.


13) National: No matter what the charter school movement says, parents like their public schools, Gail Sunderman writes in LA Progressive. “Who would have imagined that after the past two tumultuous years, when so much was written and said about how the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic had convinced American parents that public schools were “failing” institutions, that as the 2022-2023 school year begins, “Americans’ ratings of their community’s public schools reached a new high dating back 48 years.” That’s the stunning finding in the highly respected annual survey conducted by PDK. The finding aligns with a history of survey results showing parents are generally pleased with the public schools their children attend. Even during the height of the pandemic, in 2020 and 2021, Gallup reported that parent satisfaction with local schools declined only slightly, and “more than seven in 10 parents” still expressed satisfaction.”

14) National: Community schools expert Abel McDaniels says community schools have great promise, and we should make sure they produce lasting results.  “While most known for the wraparound services like the mental health clinics and food pantries they provide, the best community schools also shift the parameters of schooling so that schools better serve students and families. A well-executed community school strategy gathers and organizes all of the supports and opportunities students need to consistently attend school, make academic progress and transition into the next level of schooling and ultimately into college or living wage employment.”

15) National/Think Tanks: There’s a great new website to check out and subscribe to. Ed Politics, a project of Our Schools, offers years of background and current material on the battle to save and expand public education in the U.S.

16) California: In a letter to the editor of Sierra News Online, Emily O’Connor Oakhurst criticizes the “parental rights” camouflage of pro-privatization activists. “If someone were to ask me if I support ‘parent’s rights’ and ‘school choice’ it would seem like a no brainer; I am a parent with multiple children who attend local schools—I like rights and choices. But if someone were to ask me to support the privatization of public schools, I would respond with an emphatic ‘no.’ Maybe that is why advocates of privatization use veiled language; educating people is not their main concern.”

17) Georgia: The U.S. Department of Education has awarded a nearly $38.3 million grant to fund the expansion of charter schools throughout Georgia. “Eligible schools can apply for grants of up to $1.5 million per school, and the largest grants will go to rural and high schools. The initiative in Georgia will prioritize funding for schools in neighborhoods without charter schools, schools engaged in community outreach and schools seeking partnerships with local public schools and districts.”

18) Tennessee: The Tennessee Charter School Commission is facing charges of an “enormous conflict of interest.” The commission “has the power to order taxpayer money to be spent on those privately-operated schools that some districts say they just don’t need. (…) The charter school commission isn’t composed of school superintendents, school board members or teachers. It’s an unelected group of true-blue believers in charter schools, and even some Republicans are starting to question whether they should have such power.”

19) Texas: Writing in the Dallas Morning News, Josh Cowen, a professor of education policy at Michigan State University, says Texas should avoid the school vouchers failures found in other states. “There have been four independent evaluations of voucher programs similar to those now discussed in Texas: in Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. All have shown some of the largest negative impacts on student learning ever seen among education researchers. (…) Whatever Texas decides to do, the experience in other states provides a clear warning sign: taxpayer support for private school tuition has been a huge step back, with very little to show for it in return.”

20) West Virginia: Charter schools are off to a rocky start in West Virginia, reports the Gazette-Mail. “The state’s first two in-person charter schools opened in August and have already seen dropping enrollment, with school officials citing transportation as a major part of the problem. This was a prescient criticism from some lawmakers and public school advocates against sweeping charter school measures passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature in recent years. West Virginia Academy, in Morgantown, had about 475 students enrolled when the school opened Aug. 2, according to academy board member John Treu. Two months later, that number is around 300, according to school administrator Rebecca Bobincheck, who said the drop has forced the school to cut staff.”

The bottom line: “Whatever the case, West Virginia’s in-person charter schools are off to a rocky start as it pertains to enrollment. That doesn’t mean the system is doomed or is a total failure after two months. It does, however, serve as a reminder that the legislation to establish these schools was very broad and lawmakers were so focused on getting it through that they often dismissed practical criticism and concerns about how the concept would work in West Virginia.”

21) Wisconsin: Efforts by Hillsdale College, the far right religious institution, to spread charter schools connected to it, are running into trouble in Wisconsin and South Dakota after having generated statewide controversy in Tennessee. “Native Americans in South Dakota  raised questions about Hillsdale’s attitude toward their history and culture when Gov. Kristi Noem, a fan of Hillsdale, hired former Hillsdale professor William Morrisey to rewrite the state’s social studies standards, deleting references to Native Americans. Public protests about erasing Native Americans from U.S. history followed and Noem put the standards process on hold, then scrapped it.”


22) National: The political battle over NEPA environmental regulations covering infrastructure projects is continuing despite the failure of a reform proposal by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. A bipartisan deal fell apart at the end of September. The developers and P3 lobby haven’t given up hope, touting several draft reforms proposed during the dealmaking last month. Two year time limits for permitting seem to be on the lobbying menu going forward, though they see a rocky road ahead, with litigation the major obstacle to environmental deregulation.

“Courts will not look kindly on the permitting deadline excuse when reviewing what they consider to be an insufficient environmental study. Between shot clock laws and NEPA, courts will almost certainly side with NEPA. The Manchin draft would limit the window for environmental lawsuits to 150 days. The Capito draft includes an even shorter litigation window. These may provide projects with more certainty for financing and contracting after that window closes, which would be a good thing. However, it would probably have a minimal impact on litigation efforts themselves. Opposition groups to big projects have plenty of time during the long permitting process to decide on and prepare to litigate.” [Public Works Financing, September 2022; sub required].

Despite the hoopla over NEPA regulations by the energy, road construction and other corporate lobbies, in a paper published earlier this year, researchers found the ‘regulations are killing infrastructure’ narrative wanting. Their findings have been summarized by the Salt Lake Tribune’s Zak Podmore:

“Researchers at Utah universities, including Pleune, have found that assumptions held by NEPA critics do not always align with the data. ‘This sort of idea that it’s permitting reform or clean energy projects—I think it’s a false dichotomy,’ she said. ‘Our research showed we can complete decisions quickly, and we don’t have to let go of analytical rigor.’ In April, Pleune and John Ruple, her colleague at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, published a paper in the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law with Erik Heiny, a professor of mathematics and statistics at Utah Valley University. The team analyzed over 41,000 NEPA decisions completed between 2004 and 2020 by the U.S. Forest Service, which does more environmental impact statements than any other federal agency. Most previous scholarship focused solely on environmental impact statements, the most robust level of review under NEPA that applies to projects that are likely to result in significant changes to the environment. But environmental impact statements account for only a fraction of decisions under NEPA. ‘The Government Accountability Office previously had estimated that governmentwide, only 1% of all decisions are environmental impact statements,’ Pleune said. The other decisions are made under the less thorough categorical exclusion and environmental assessment processes.”

23) National/Mississippi: Matthew Cunningham-Cook and Ricardo Gomez, writing in The Lever, say Wall Street is behind Jackson’s water crisis. “A major credit rating agency jacked up interest rates in Jackson, Mississippi, curtailing infrastructure investments in the years leading up to the city’s recent disaster, ” they report. “In 2018, ratings analysts at Moody’s Investor Service—a credit rating agency with a legacy of misconduct—downgraded Jackson’s bond rating to a junk status, citing in part the ‘low wealth and income indicators of residents.’ The decision happened even though Jackson has never defaulted on its debt. Moody’s move jacked up the price of borrowing for Jackson, costing the cash-strapped city between $2 and $4 million per year in additional debt service costs—a massive financial roadblock to officials’ plans to fix the municipality’s aging water system. And since the state of Mississippi and the federal government refused to use their powers to address the city’s infrastructure problems, that meant Jackson was essentially powerless to stop the impending catastrophe.”

24) National: What happens if Lake Powell runs out of water? The Hill’s Zack Budryk paints a stark picture and urges quick action. “Ultimately, experts said the future of the lake must be addressed in a way that creates the certainty it was intended to provide. Lake Powell ‘is supposed to buffer water supply during times of drought [and] it is not performing that function now. It is not creating certainty in the water market,’ Mankin said. On the contrary, he said, ‘it’s actually become this locus of huge uncertainty, which doesn’t allow downstream users to make effective plans, because they don’t know what their allocations are going to be. And it doesn’t allow ratepayers who rely on power production from the canyon to be forward-thinking and operate under conditions of certainty.’”

25) National: TIFIA, the popular low-interest federal infrastructure loan program, has boosted its ceiling for transit projects. “The DOT’s initiative, which it’s calling TIFIA 49, allows eligible transit and TOD projects to tap Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loans for up to 49% of the project costs. That’s up from the traditional 33% cap. The higher borrowing ceiling is already allowed under federal law but the DOT has traditionally kept the one-third ceiling for most projects.” [Sub required]

26) National: HNTB, the national infrastructure design firm, has begun advising state departments of transportation on plans for electric vehicle infrastructure. “The firm provided consulting services to state departments of transportation in Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin,. HNTB also consulted with the Washington D.C. Department of Transportation to assist in the development of their NEVI plan. Each plan outlines how the individual states will build out an electric vehicle charging network to support the expansion of electric vehicle use, including a focus on specific benchmarks around issues of equity, sustainability, workforce development, safety and cyber security, among others.”

27) Mississippi: Angela Dawson, Jobs to Move America’s Mississippi Community Engagement Coordinator, says racism is in the water in Jackson, but we can’t give up on the south. “Jackson’s water crisis is the latest example of the kind of plantation dynamics that still plague Mississippi 150 years after slavery. Racism not only pollutes the water in Mississippi, it pollutes the workplace as well. The dynamics of worker exploitation we see today all have their roots in slavery. White southern planters, who made their fortunes off the backs of enslaved Africans, had no tolerance for northerners or abolitionists talking about freedom and equality. During the height of the cotton boom, Mississippi had more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the country. Planters would rather go to war than even entertain the notion of freeing their slaves and paying a wage like the owners of factories in the North. We see a similar dynamic today in how our public money is handed to corporations (or in some cases, Brett Favre) instead of investing it into our infrastructure and our people.”

28) New Jersey: Community members gathered on Saturday at Liberty State Park’s Caven Point to call on state lawmakers to protect the area from privatization. “A bill in the New Jersey State Legislature that the rallygoers advocated for would protect Caven Point. ‘For over 30 years, we’ve had to fight for this park; we’re gonna unfortunately continue to have to fight,’ said O’Dea, referencing the decades of attempts to privatize Liberty State Park. ‘Because when you have the crown jewel, everyone’s going to try to steal it,’ he continued. ‘Everyone’s going to try to buy it. But that crown jewel must belong to the people and no one else. You can’t buy it, you can’t steal it, you can’t legislate it, and we have to make sure that’s clear.’”

29) Pennsylvania: The PennDOT Office of Public-Private Partnerships is accepting unsolicited proposals for transportation projects from the private sector through Oct. 31. “The submission period applies to PennDOT-owned projects and infrastructure. During this period, the private sector can submit proposals offering innovative ways to deliver transportation projects across a variety of modes including roads, bridges, rail, aviation, and ports. Proposals can also include more efficient models to manage existing transportation-related services and programs. The private sector may also submit applications for non-PennDOT-owned assets directly to the P3 board during this time.”

Public Services

30) National: Rick Weinmeyer reports on issues raised by the public reliance on private toilets. “This post calls attention to a different, often overlooked component of American infrastructure, equally decimated by decades of austerity and privatization—public restrooms. Specifically, this post makes an argument (developed more comprehensively in my forthcoming dissertation) in favor of a constitutional right to public restroom access, grounded in state constitutional provisions dedicated to public health.” Weinmeyer is a Jaharis Faculty Fellow at DePaul College of Law and a Ph.D candidate at Northwestern University.

31) National: Moves are afoot to secure future access to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, Government Executive reports. “A group of more than 100 Democratic lawmakers from both chambers of Congress have renewed their efforts to persuade the Biden administration to extend a series of temporary waivers aimed at making the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program easier to use until permanent reforms can be implemented next year. (…) “According to the Student Borrower Protection Center’s estimates, only 15% of the 9 million public service workers with student loan debt have filed paperwork to track their qualifying payments under PSLF,” they wrote. “As more than 20 state attorneys general have pointed out, ‘given the essential benefits provided by the limited PSLF waiver, and the fact that fundamental problems with the PSLF program will immediately return (likely in an exacerbated form) upon the waiver’s end, we have grave concerns about the plans to end the waiver . . . before the department’s new PSLF regulations take effect.’”

32) Illinois: On October 19, a final vote on the sale of the DeKalb County Rehab and Nursing Center will be taken by the DeKalb County Board. Approval requires a two-thirds vote. The facility is 170 years old. “AFSCME Council 31 representing the home’s union employees hasn’t resigned on the matter and seek to convince some members to vote no in the final sale vote. Anders Lindall, the union’s spokesperson told WNIJ they sent out mailers in certain DeKalb County districts to make residents aware of the possible long-term effects of a sale.”

33) Missouri: Newly unionized library workers are to begin negotiations this Friday over their demands to the Daniel Boone Regional Library administration in Columbia for a new minimum wage, better benefits, and a revamped health plan. “In May, employees voted 101-55 to form the Daniel Boone Regional Library Workers United. It is the first union of library workers in Missouri. The 165 to 170 members covered by the union are represented by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. During Monday’s meeting, workers told library administrators that hourly staff deserve a livable wage and asked for a minimum of $15 per hour. ‘Everyone loves libraries, but library workers cannot live on love alone,’ said Wendy Rigby, president of the union.” Check out their amazing website.

34) Wisconsin: Gov. Tony Evers (D) has announced that if he wins the upcoming election he will propose a 4% increase in funding for local governments each of the next two years. “His plan includes $10 million in funding for local governments to be spent specifically on police, fire and emergency services costs, with the money distributed based on population. Evers also announced that he was immediately providing nearly $3.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief money to the Wisconsin State Patrol and campus police departments to pay for overtime. (…) The Wisconsin Counties Association, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, and the Wisconsin Towns Association all praised Evers’ proposal, calling it a ‘step in the right direction.’ ‘Public safety in particular has become increasingly difficult to support though current revenues, though specific needs vary across the state,’ the groups said in a joint statement. ‘With insufficient funding for fire protection, EMS, and law enforcement services, every corner of the state is in need of assistance.’”

35) International: Government support for essential public services can take way too long to materialize, prominent veteran Irish Times journalist Fintan O’Toole says. “Last week, in the budget, the Government introduced two changes that were hailed in media reports as “landmark” decisions. It promised €30 million to pay for IVF treatments in the public health system. It also found €47 million to fund free books for primary school pupils. These are very welcome moves. They will make life better for a lot of ordinary people, and make society as a whole that bit more decent and equal. But they’ve been a hell of a long time coming. They are things we ‘couldn’t afford’ for ages, even though most Irish people would agree that a wealthy democracy should be able to make sure that kids have schoolbooks and that a woman’s chances of having one of those kids should not depend on how much money she has.” [Sub required]

Everything Else

36) National: Our minds have been warped by decades of anti-tax propaganda, says University of Florida Levin College of Law Prof. Neil H. Buchanan. “The fact is that everyone should love taxes, and we should be clear about what that means.  People who are not on the hard right (that is, not only progressives or even merely the center-left, but everyone who is not effectively an anarchist or a nihilist) are so accustomed to deflecting the cheap tax-cut propaganda and pandering by Republicans, attempting to play to people’s supposedly anti-government instincts, that the American political conversation is all but incapable of having a sensible conversation about taxes or even about basic concepts of politics.”

37) National: Helena Bottemiller Evich, for years the leading investigative journalist covering the FDA, says the baby formula crisis is still happening. “When I go to my Safeway on Capitol Hill here in Washington, the supply looks kind of it’s like half, halfish stocked. And that’s not normal. And we’re, what, seven months into this? That’s not normal. And I really don’t know when it’s going to return to normal. I think probably it’s going to be next year in 2023. I don’t I really have doubts about it returning to normal this winter.” Listen to the podcast, about a half hour.

38) National: Forbes has a word about using so-called public-private partnerships to circumvent the First Amendment. “Last week, the conservative news site Just the News reported that government agencies were outsourcing their attempts to censor social media to a private consortium. While this story feeds into conservative paranoia about bias against conservative groups, it also raises important issues of improper attempts by government agencies to circumvent free speech constraints. It suggests, at a minimum, the need for a regime of transparency and disclosure to prevent mission creep and political manipulation.”

39) Maryland: Public input into the planning process? Baltimore does it. Check out Our Baltimore Fall Workshop: ‘Shape Your City’: Generate ideas for the Department of Planning’s Our Baltimore draft planning document. “Discussion of each topic will occur across the City of Baltimore in October and November. Workshops will be co-hosted collaboratively by Community Planners and Community Engagement Leadership team organizations. The purpose of each workshop is to generate a menu of recommendations to feed into the draft plan. The draft document will be drafted and released in 2023 based on input this fall. The full schedule, dates, location and times are available here. A one-page fact sheet is available here. Please visit our website to learn more and sign up to stay informed.”

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages.

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