Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the corporate takeover of education, water, and other public goods—and about the people fighting back. Not a subscriber? Sign up.



First, the good news…

1) National: Assisted by a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board, Amazon workers have won their election “to form the retail giant’s first-ever union in the United States, a landmark victory for the labor movement in the face of aggressive union-busting efforts from one of the world’s most powerful companies. (…) The historic unionization drive at the JFK8 fulfillment center was spearheaded by the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), a worker-led group not affiliated with any established union. Christian Smalls, the president of ALU, was fired by Amazon in 2020 after he led a protest against the company’s poor workplace safety standards in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Starbucks is another front in the unionization battle, and the requirements of public labor law will be important in determining the outcome. “Coffee chain Starbucks Corp. is facing calls from Sen. Bernie Sanders and investors to refrain from infringing on employees’ efforts to unionize, as it and other companies are under increasing pressure to improve human capital management. Sanders, I-Vt., urged former Starbucks executive Howard Schultz, who is returning to lead the company on April 6 after CEO Kevin Johnson retires, to cease ‘union-busting’ actions amid complaints from employees and the National Labor Relations Board. The Seattle-based company has been hit with allegations that it has intimidated and retaliated against workers by reducing their schedules and even terminating them at some locations.”

2) NationalA school built a homeless shelter. And it helped students in the classroom. In its monthly newsletter on community schools, In the Public Interest signal boosts an impressive story out of San Francisco, where Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 Community School appears to be the first modern public elementary school to have hosted a long-term, overnight family shelter. Other stories covered include California’s historic $3 billion investment in community schools and a push by New York teachers to secure $100 million in more funding for community schools. [See NYSUT’s Future Forward campaign]

3) NationalProgressives are resisting right-wing book banning campaigns—and are winning, Adam Gabbatt reports in The Guardian. “In New Hampshire, teaching advocates celebrated a big win in March after progressive candidates swept to victory in school board elections around the state. Granite State Progress backed 30 candidates in the elections, with 29 of those successful, some in traditionally conservative districts. Zandra Rice Hawkins, the group’s executive director, said the group had been inundated with calls from organizations and school board candidates around the country who are keen to replicate the success. She is hopeful that there could be further victories, and a rejection of the right wing’s draconian censorship efforts, to come.”

4) PennsylvaniaWe need more public library hours, not cutbacks, say Philadelphia electeds and community members. “Councilmember Helen Gym joined City Council colleagues, AFSCME DC 33 and DC 47 leadership, and community advocates in calling for the urgent funding of Philadelphia’s public libraries to guarantee year-round operation six days a week at every neighborhood library. ‘Our city’s safety, prosperity, and future depends on the strength of our public institutions—and that means robust, well-resourced libraries, for every community in our city,’ said Councilmember Helen Gym (At-Large). ‘From providing essential public health resources to support finding employment to offering a safe space for our young people to find mentorship, our libraries can be a critical network of anti-violence community centers, if we give them the funding they need.’”

5) Think Tanks: Tired of watching Frank Luntz spin conservative talking points as mainstream views in his focus group videos? HIT Strategies, a leading millennial and minority-owned public opinion research firm in Washington, DC, has some real news, e.g., voters expressing enthusiasm for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. [Video, about a minute]


1) National: The Network for Public Education says, “For the first time since the federal Charter Schools Program was established in 1994, the U.S. Department of Education is setting forth meaningful regulations to bring greater transparency and stop waste and fraud. These rules will make a tremendous difference in stopping the spread of charters run for profit and ensuring that charters that increase segregation and cause public school closures will not be funded. The charter lobby is fighting these changes tooth and nail (the Wall Street Journal ran an hysterical editorial about it—ed.] with a campaign of disinformation urging the charter community to write comments to kill the new regulations.” Sign the petition.

2) National: The Department of Education needs to hear your voice by April 13. Did you know that the federal government spends $440 million every year to help start privately run charter schools? Did you know that some of that money ends up in the hands of people who never actually open schools or open them and quickly close them? And that some goes to charter schools run by for-profit organizations in communities that do not want them. Some even goes to charter schools with a history of worsening racial segregation and others that exclude, by policy or practice, students with disabilities and students who are English Language Learners. That’s why it’s a big deal that Department of Education just proposed new rules to reform its funding program. And why you, as an individual and/or an organization, need to send a comment in support of the department’s proposed changes. So please open this link and comment or attach a letter (the deadline is April 13).

3) National/Texas: The organized witch hunt against education on racism is now being reinforced by a direct attack on tenure, threatening academic freedom and university autonomy at public colleges and universities. Creating overt ideological tests for tenure, which originally was designed to separate teaching curriculum from political pressure, threatens to undermine the purpose of public education. Since January of last year, “175 educational gag order bills have been introduced in 40 different states, according to a new analysis by PEN America. Of those, 15 have become law in 13 states.”

But across the country, faculty have been fighting back to defend academic freedom. “Will the truth disappear from American colleges? Not if Jennifer RuthValerie Johnson, and Kimberlé Crenshaw can help it. Ruth, a professor of film studies at Portland State University, Johnson, a political scientist at DePaul University, and Crenshaw, a pioneering scholar who teaches at Columbia University and University of California–Los Angeles law schools, have been organizing faculties to fight back against the proposals now coursing through dozens of state legislatures that would prevent teachers from dealing with racism and other politically charged subjects.”

4) Arizona: A bill that could force some 200 schools to close or turn themselves over to charter school or public school management is hanging over public education in the state. “The school could also seek takeover by a high-performing school or charter school, while getting an extra, one-time $2,000 per student. If a charter school took over, it would also get the higher per-student payments charters enjoy. (…) Education advocates say school grades mostly reflect the student population and school resources. The vast majority of the low-scoring schools draw students from low-income neighborhoods with lower property tax resources. Arizona ranks 48th nationally in per-student spending and lawmakers have persistently shifted resources to private schools and minimized increases in per-student spending in public district schools, say critics.”

5) Arkansas: Gov. Hutchinson (R) flip flops and pumps $3 million into the school vouchers fund, Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times reports. “Hutchinson once opposed school vouchers. No more. He’s enlisted in the billion-dollar campaign by the Walton family and other millionaires to wreck egalitarian public schools with school vouchers for unaccountable private school education; quasi-private schools known as charter schools that get public money but far less public oversight; race-motivated transfers between Arkansas public school districts, and an assault on teachers in general, particularly those who are members of a professional organization. (There are NO ‘teachers unions’ functioning in Arkansas. They were already dead when the legislature essentially made them illegal).” Arkansas is #44 in the U.S. News education rankings.

6) Colorado: Charter schools are seeking more control over special education, Chalkbeat Colorado reports. “Some advocates say charter schools should look at their own culture and practices before pursuing new legal authority. Recent state rule changes ensure charters don’t ask about IEP status before enrolling students and require more staff training. Another rule change under consideration would give parents a voice when districts and charters disagree about where a student is best served. While many charters have improved, Bisceglia said she continues to hear from parents who have been told their child is not a good fit — and from administrators who don’t see the problem. ‘We do continue to hear from just about every charter school, “We’re a school of choice, and if you don’t like how we do things here, another student would take your place,”’ she said.

7) Connecticut: Union and community members march to demand fully funded public education. “Chants included “No cuts, no fees, education should be free” and “Pay cuts for teachers, we say no. Tax the people with lots of dough.” At the first stop, Leslie Blatteau, the president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, told the crowd that teachers and school staff are doing the jobs of multiple people because their colleagues are sick, stressed or have resigned because the situation was not sustainable. ‘We want to do the jobs that we were hired to do,’ Blatteau said. ‘To do this, we have to be honest about school funding.’”

8) IllinoisAbout 350 Illinois State University service workers, represented by AFSCME Local 1110, have voted to strike. “Workers are standing up for fair wages and respect.”

9) IndianaThere’s life after journalism—as a public education advocate. Fort Wayne Community Schools Board President Anne Duff presented former Editorial Page Editor at The Journal Gazette Karen Francisco with the district’s first Friend of Public Education Award at the school board meeting on February 19, 2022. “It turned out to be the start of a tremendous school choice push in Indiana, to the detriment of Indiana’s public schools. And I just felt rather fortunate to be in a position where I could speak out against that sometimes I felt like I was the only person speaking out about that. But the more I learned about the effort to privatize schools, to advance school choice, the more I felt it was necessary to step up as an advocate.”

10) KentuckyA showdown on charter schools is looming in Kentucky. The legislature has passed a bill setting up a pilot charter school program, but without consulting the potential charter school authorizer. Gov. Beshear “said he will veto the bill, but there could be enough votes to override it as Republicans have the supermajority.” The Kentucky Education Association says the bill “will put the profits of out-of-state corporate charter schools ahead of the education of Kentucky’s students.”

11) Michigan: An Ann Arbor charter school is in a battle with its management firm that it alleges gave a fraudulent student count.

12) Pennsylvania: Republicans in the state legislature are making a last ditch effort to derail the first regulatory changes in decades that would tighten up rules for charter schools. “The approved rules set minimum requirements for the information to be collected on a charter school application and directs charter schools to post online their non-discriminatory enrollment and student selection policies. They further underscore the requirements for charter school officials and trustees to submit statements of financial interest, outline a new process to resolve payment disputes between charter and district schools, and ensures charter school employees receive comparable health benefits to those provided to employees of the school’s authorizing district or the district where the charter school’s administrative office is based.”

13) Pennsylvania: Good government and public education advocates are denouncing a move by the state auditor general to transfer oversight of charter school funding to the state education department instead of leaving it in the auditor’s office. “Those routine but necessary reviews that help determine whether schools receive the state subsidies and reimbursements they are entitled to, accurately managed taxpayer funds and complied with ethics codes have been a staple of the auditor general’s office for years.”

14) South Carolina: The state senate has given key approval to a bill that would allow some lower income or disabled students public money to attend a private school or a public school outside their district. Lawmakers are also considering a pilot voucher program, and “bills that would allow school choice both within school districts and across district lines under some circumstances.”


15) National: When a “public-private partnership” contract has to be cancelled in the public interest, how is compensation to be determined? Writing in Public Works Financing, Rui Cunha Marques says both the public and private partner should be protected, but he seems more worried that inadequate compensation might foster “political opportunism.” Still, he notes that “there is an increasing trend of PPP terminations in European countries such as France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Portugal. Termination is usually caused by excessive profits of operators associated with poorly designed contracts and lack of willingness to renegotiate the contracts by private contractors.” Professor Eoin Reeves of the University of Limerick comments that “the observed trend towards re‐municipalization in recent years means that contract termination has become a hot topic. However, as PPP is a relatively recent phenomenon voluntary early termination by the public sector is still rare in different countries and there is much to learn if termination is to work fairly and efficiently.” [Public Works Financing, March 2022; sub required]

16) National: Is the stressed-out bond market going to damage America’s ambitious infrastructure agenda? How about short-term municipal financing as inflation hits public budgeting this year? “The municipal bond market is ending its worst quarter in about 40 years with a 6.4% loss, a dramatic pullback for an asset class that investors favor for its stability,” Bloomberg reports [Sub required]. Without getting too wonkish, the answer seems to be that we don’t really know yet but it could. As interest rates rise this could make public sector issuance more expensive, but as always that will also depend on the quality of the asset or municipality’s credit standing.

The Bond Buyer’s Jay Alpert says we should settle in for a long ride and pay attention to conditions. “How do similar deals look at the time of my proposed issuance? Is there established depth of demand for my paper?” One thing seems likely. As private interest rates rise, public municipal bonds’ relatively lower interest rates should become more important, and due diligence on any privatization or P3 deal needs to be as rigorous as can be. As the city of Chicago found out when it made its disastrous deal on parking meters to fill a budget hole, the consequences can live on for decades. When interest rates go up, the industry saying that “desperate government is our best customer” is potentially even more dangerous to the public.

17) KentuckyLawmakers are getting nervous about broadband P3s. The politics of broadband expansion and coverage is heating up, especially when private interests are involved. “Despite a budget dispute about continued funding for the Kentucky Wired public private partnership, it looks likely the project will get final approval before the state Legislative session ends,” The Bond Buyer reports. “The continuing disagreement over the issue shows multi-year political tensions related to the P3 broadband project remain active and ongoing, according to Fitch Ratings. ‘This could be the beginning of a pattern of political tension and actions by the Kentucky Legislature on a couple of occasions to not appropriate funding for this project,’ Michael D’Arcy, Fitch’s Kentucky state analyst, told The Bond Buyer. ‘This is the third budget cycle in a row that we’ve seen this kind of thing.’” [Sub required].

18) Maryland: The Baltimore Sun reports that “the failure of Baltimore’s Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant, Maryland’s single largest sewage treatment plant, to meet the terms of its discharge permit has caused the state to order a temporary takeover of the Dundalk facility.”

But what comes next? “Privatization has been discussed before, and it’s a non-starter,” says the Sun. “Two years ago, city voters wisely approved a ban on water privatization, fearful that a loss of public control would result in higher billings, particularly for low-income city residents. But a failure to keep up with needed maintenance along with some atrocious billing problems that have resulted in some customers charged too much and some not at all (including a stunning $2.3 million freebie to the Ritz-Carlton Residences, according to a recently-reported audit of the city’s Department of Public Works) does not inspire confidence in city oversight. But there is a third possibility. What about a regional authority structured along the lines of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which has since 1918 managed water and sewer service for Prince George’s and Montgomery counties?”

19) New York: “The billionaire owner of the Buffalo Bills, who made his nut in fracking, gets $850 million public money for a stadium he’ll make money on, and NYC evicts homeless people from their camps under the BQE and throws their stuff in garbage trucks,” says Doug Henwood.

But attention is now turning to the community benefits agreement. “After the politicians and team and NFL execs proudly announced stadium success, there is still the Community Benefits Agreement worked out in the past for sports palaces such as the former Staples Center for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Penguins’ hockey arena in Pittsburgh. Now here in the Buffalo area, talks begin to lift up impoverished sectors of the greater community and counter economic inequality with key players at the table. ‘I don’t think there’s not one community in Erie County that doesn’t think that their neighborhood or their community could improve or do better,’ Erie County Legislature chairperson April Baskin said. ‘Or that the youth in their neighborhood don’t deserve more investment. Or that infrastructure in their neighborhood could see more productivity.’”

20) Pennsylvania: Margo Woodacre and Bill Ferguson of Keep Water Affordable (KWA) warn that big water companies are gobbling up public water systems. “This sale is being promoted by public officials, including Gov. Wolf, as a bailout for the bankrupt city of Chester. While the purchase price is a huge temptation, this is simply another case of ignoring the real cost. The city of Chester would benefit but at the expense of users. It is estimated that a large majority of Chester households will have water bills greater than the income threshold the Environmental Protection Agency has set for water affordability. The Chester Water Authority Board unanimously opposes this sale because it knows that the hidden costs of the deal will mean huge rate hikes.

Unless we stop them, private water companies will continue to sweep through Pennsylvania, gobbling up any municipal systems they can—especially if politicians in Harrisburg continue to smooth the way. Residents of Philadelphia and surrounding areas should be especially concerned because Aqua is attempting to acquire the Delaware County Regional Water Authority (DELCORA).”

21) International: Amid rolling blackouts, energy workers in South Africa are fighting for clean public power. “Few believe Eskom will survive in its current state, and what comes next is the subject of a high-stakes debate—and is about more than the climate. The state-owned company employs 45,000 workers and supports 82,000 coal jobs in a country where more than a third of the population is out of work. Eskom is a union shop, as are South Africa’s biggest coal mines. The government’s plan, already underway, is to invite private companies into the energy sector on the dubious grounds that clean energy is bound to win in a competitive market. The powerful miners and metalworkers unions oppose privatization, which they worry will hobble their organizations, if not eliminate the jobs they’re entrusted to protect.”

22) International: The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is fighting for adequate funding and public interest safeguards for the public health care system. “Budget 2022 must combat the ongoing underfunding of health care. CUPE is calling on the federal government to raise the Canada Health Transfer significantly, with stronger national standards to fight privatization and for-profit care, and invest in a solution to the staffing crisis in the sector. We are also calling for a minimum of $3.5 billion to get national pharma care off the ground, and $8.5 billion to deliver quality long-term care for those who need it.”

Criminal Justice and Immigration

23) National: The Real News’ Charles Hopkins (aka Mansa Musa) did a terrific interview of Paul Wright, the founder and executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center and editor of Prison Legal News. “They seem to be going back and forth between two models. On the one hand, they contract with the government where the government’s giving them millions of dollars. On the other hand, they’re also looking to monetize their services by charging prisoners and their family members. I think the one that monetizes prisoners and their family members is, in my view, in a lot of ways it’s far worse because the public, the prisoners, the families, they have no choice in this. Basically it’s some government bureaucrat who’s making the decision to give this monopoly contract to one of these companies. Again, we know the telephone companies and these other companies, we know they engage in criminal bribery,” says Wright.

24) National: The director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons is calling on his own staff to report bribery. Forbes reports that “the BOP has a substantive history of corruption, staff shortages and, recently, delays in implementation of The First Step Act, one of the most sweeping criminal justice reforms in decades.” The staff shortages are severe. “AFGE Local 501 president Eric Speirs who works at MDC Miami said that the lack of corrections officers, medical staff and augmenting of existing staff has led to unsafe conditions in Miami and across the country. Speirs told me in an interview, ‘We work in a dangerous environment when the conditions are the best, so you can imagine how trying it is today with a lack of confidence in leadership, tired staff and fear of retaliation for speaking up.’”

25) National/California: San Diego’s GEO Group jail has been given a sudden 90-day extension before closing. “But during that time, neither GEO Group nor the Marshals Service would confirm with inewsource that the jail would close at the end of the month. The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union was also unable to get clear answers, prompting a lawsuit against the Marshals Service that is ongoing.

After the contract was extended again on Friday, the Marshals Service continued to stay silent. Spokespeople did not explain what will happen to the detainees who were already transferred out of the jail or clarify the long-term plans for the facility. The announcement was considered a victory by the National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents 300 workers at Western Region who could lose their jobs if the jail closes.”

26) Alabama: The Alabama House has passed a bill to regulate the treatment and restraining of Alabama Department of Corrections’ inmates who are pregnant or have recently given birth. “The federal First Step Act places limits on the ways that pregnant women or women in the immediate postpartum stage can be restrained and requires that incidents in which they were restrained be documented in detail, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. House Bill 230 would apply this part of the First Step Act to state prisons as well.”

27) Louisiana: A video has reportedly surfaced showing guards at a Lassalle Corrections facility violently attacking a Black asylum seeker. “As he approaches the camera, one of the guards grabs him by the shoulder and pushes him against the wall. In the next few seconds, the guards can be seen ramming Brandon’s head into the wall, placing him in a chokehold, spinning him around, and pinning him down on the floor. Brandon, who was then tossed into a solitary confinement cell for three days, told Insider that he believed he was treated that way ‘because I was Black and from Africa.’” Lasalle facilities are located in Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Arizona.

Public Services

28) National: Writing in The New Republic, Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein has reviewed Donald Cohen and Allen Mikaelian’s The Privatization of Everything, asserting that much of the debate around privatization has revolved around caricatures by the pro- and anti-privatization camps. “The free market versus totalitarianism debate is largely a false dichotomy furthered by right-wing thinkers like Savas” she writes, “who wanted to sell the idea of privatization to a public who they knew loved government services like Medicare and Social Security. What is happening in our society is not a contest between the free market and central control, but a struggle between private business and public society.”

In their book, while they do touch on the ideological crusades of “market” fundamentalists and give examples of market failures (on which there is a well-established and wider literature beyond debates on privatization), Cohen and Mikaelian focus on the issue of public control of public goods. “The conversation shouldn’t be about the proper size of government or whether it is intruding on someone else’s profits,” they write, “but whether the policy under discussion involves a public good and therefore whether the public needs to gain or maintain control. We need to take these discussions out of the chambers of political insiders and corporate boards, and proactively create mechanisms and processes that let the public decide.” (p. 287)

29) National: Robert Kuttner, writing in The American Prospect, says that in a process of “invisible privatization,” Medicare, “the crown jewel of American health care, is being stealthily devoured by health insurance companies. (…) Now comes an even more dire threat. The Biden administration has continued much of a Trump-era plan that encourages insurers to become ‘Direct Contract Entities.’ This means they function as payment intermediaries between Medicare and the doctors and hospitals that provide care. It shifts the insurance function to for-profit companies, and privatizes what remains of traditional Medicare. (…) Privatization is an insidious slippery slope. Privatize some parts of a public program and the government is well on the way to privatizing all of it. Costs to government go up, and into the pockets of intermediaries. The savings come in the form of denied care. The first step toward efficient and universal health coverage is to purge Medicare of all its commercial parasites.”

30) NationalOne in six public officials report being threatened, according to a new report. “‘This trend of violent intimidation has resulted in a wave of officials stepping away from public service, which puts our entire democracy in danger,’ Boise, Idaho Mayor Lauren McLean said in a recent statement that outlined the harassment she’s faced.” From Mayor McLean’s statement: “It’s incredibly difficult to talk about the more sinister thwarted plots and serious threats I’ve received because it makes it more real, as if it’s happening all over again—and as I write this, I once again see the briefings, the photos of perpetrators and evidence, my kids’ faces, my husband’s fear.”

31) NebraskaA “public-private transportation partnership bill” has advanced. “We are a pay-as-you-go state, which seems like the fiscally responsible thing to do, but as we continue to see inflation, wages and supply costs increase, we may not have the financial resources to continue down that path for every project,” Democratic Senator Lynne Walz said.

32) New York: Should translation work within city agencies be done by creating a public translation corps? Council Member Shahana Hanif thinks it should. “The Mayor’s office is dragging its feet on Local Law 30, and we’re outsourcing too much translation work in a City that speaks 900 languages. We need a public language corps, and we need it now.”

33) IllinoisTeamster waste workers in Southern Illinois have reached an agreement with Republic Services. “We finally got a deal that provides us with competitive wages. The local did a great job in negotiations and we were happy with everything that was negotiated. My co-workers are happy, too. There was a great turnout at the ratification and a lot of happy people following the vote. We felt that these are the wages, benefits and protections we deserve,” said Dan Padgett, a 15-year residential driver who also serves as a shop steward for Local 50.

34) Tennessee: Can the understaffing of public agencies kill people? Commercial Appeal columnist Tonyaa Weathersbee recounts an interesting story about a power cut-off she recently experienced, which was only resolved by the luck of knowing someone who knew someone. Power cut-off can lead to tragedy. “In Memphis, where a third of Tennessee’s dialysis patients live, that kind of disconnect could lead to tragedy. Crisis – as in an asthma patient in a city that has one of the nation’s highest asthma death rates being unable to breathe because he or she can’t power the nebulizer.”

“Jim West, vice-president of customer service at MLGW, told me that a worker shortage is at the crux of the problem I encountered. ‘We have lost a tremendous amount of people at the call center,’ he said. ‘You’ve heard of the Great Resignation? Well, it’s really hurting us.’”

Weathersbee understands, but wonders if public agencies can try more and do better, and even think about whether the e-government and automated call center “solutions” that consultants and contractors are so fond of are the best idea. “Even if they encounter long lines, the notion that a customer will, at some point, move up in the line to talk to a real person about his or her problem is more comforting than an automated message perpetually directing them to call back later. Second, MLGW should consider holding a job fair strictly to hire call center workers. West said the jobs pay around $30 an hour, so it might attract enough employees to alleviate the shortage.”

Everything Else

35) NationalPrivate equity making big bucks off vulnerable people with autism? Mike Ervin, a disability rights activist and writer, reports in The Progressive. “Apparently, people with autism have become quite valuable as a tradable commodity. Just take a look at a recent report issued by the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, a watchdog group that shines light on the dirty doings of the private equity industry. The report, titled ‘The Kids Are Not Alright: How Private Equity Profits Off of Behavioral Health Services for Vulnerable and At-Risk Youth,’ notes that, since 2017, there has been ‘a flurry of private equity acquisitions’ of autism service providers. Some examples: In 2018, the Blackstone Group acquired the Center for Autism and Related Disorders for a reported $700 million. In 2021, Cerberus Capital Management acquired Lighthouse Autism Center for more than $400 million.”

Photo by Mike Cardus.

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