Wrapped in the Flag by Claire Conner

wrapped in the flagWrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right (2013) covering the John Birch Society with their rugged individualist slogan of “less government, more responsibility, and — with God’s help — a better world” not withstanding that many people do not agree that their vision is the vision of what a better world would be for the majority of the people. That’s the problem with zealots, they are so sure they are right that they feel an obligation to impose their “right” beliefs on everyone else, facts be damned, or civil rights, or the law. Only what they want is what everyone gets.

Unfortunately for the author, her parents were true Bircher believers. She actually was in Dallas when Kennedy was assassinated. When she talked to her father about it, she reports his response as “Kennedy was a traitor. The Commies killed one of their own.” It is not really very clear to me why someone would buy into all the commie crap in the first place, but I guess McCarthy had really really convinced normal people they were everywhere. She says: “With the help of his arch-right-wing friends, in and out of the John Birch Society, Dad could recite a list of ‘dirty Reds,’ as he called them, who had gotten themselves elected president of the United States. From Franklin Roosevelt to Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy to Jimmy Carter, the Oval Office had seen its share of Commie dupes, Commie sympathizers, and out-and-out Commies.”

According to Dad, those presidential traitors were just the tip of an enormous iceberg of bad guys who planned to bring down our country. These men may have looked like Americans and talked like Americans, but they actually were players in a two-hundred-year-old conspiracy to take over the world. His secret bogeyman [sic], the Illuminati — with its New World Order scheme — would conquer the United States under the Red hammer and sickle.

Even after the Soviet Union collapsed and China turned more toward business than conquest, my father kept sounding the alarm. He knew the Communists — and their real bosses — were still coming whether the rest of did or not. . . . He would go to his grave, rigid, uncompromising, and — in his mind — justified.” (pp. 5-6)

I did not remember that Joseph McCarthy actually ran for president until she cites her father for saying, “God willing, McCarthy will be our next president.” Oh the horror at the thought! There’s a good scifi dystopia for someone to write, an alternative history story of blacklists and neighbors naming names, only to be named themselves, when they don’t give a rat’s ass about commies any more. But I do remember the “I am not a crook” crook Richard Nixon was a sycophant of  McCarthy and served on the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (existed from 1938 to 19 freaking 75!). They tarted out looking for Nazis but then switched to Communists. Though now abolished, it still functions [but hidden?] under the auspices of the House Judiciary Committee.

However, according to Wikipedia, the House investigations are not properly equated to McCarthy because he was a U.S. Senator. “He was the Chairman of the Government Operations Committee and its Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the U.S. Senate, not the House.” Wikipdedia goes on to cite a list of the members who were on the House Un-American Activities Committee and right at the top Richard Nixon is listed. Other names I am not familiar with but will find it interesting to follow the thread of who they were and what dirty tricks they subsequently got up to besides Tricky Dick.

The names Wikipedia cites are:

  • Richard Nixon
  • Gordon H. Scherer
  • Karl Earl Mundt
  • Feliz Edward Hebert
  • John Elliott Rankin
  • Richard B. Vail
  • Donald L. Jackson
  • Jerry Voorhis

Wikipedia also does not mention that he ran for president, who worth or who against so I will have to look further there.

Back to the story of Claire Conner. She describes suffering under a sadistic nun at a Catholic school. The parents didn’t care about that, but they cared about what was in her textbooks. And when she told them that she had learned “that farms in Sweden had electricity in their barns before most farms in the U.S. . .” her dad went ballistic, condemning Sweden for being Socialist, and “one of the worst in the world.” He made her tell the teacher the “correct” information about socialist Sweden. (p. 23) This of course, was not well received by the sadistic nun because she had God on her side I suppose. Well, that and the facts.

My teacher was not amused when I read my parents’ notes to the class.

“You dare talk back to me,” Sister screamed as she slapped my face. “Go home now and don’t return until you can be polite.”

That day, I was sure I’d get sympathy from my parents. Instead Mother and Dad insisted I continue to speak up in class.

“Please, don’t make me,” I begged.

“You’ll obey your parents or answer to me,” my father said. “It’s time you learned to stand up for the truth.”

Ah yes, the truth. She explains in college she learned that the fact was that Swedish farms did have electricity before U.S. but there cannot be anything not American-originated worth anything of value. Even today, when Bernie Sanders talks about how some of these democratic socialist countries are worthy models of things we can do to improve our country, the pervasive conflation of communist and socialist by ignorant “patriots” would rather let people starve to death than pass a program to help feed them, say, like Social Security!

Although the abusive nun was transferred to torture other children elsewhere in the now familiar pattern of Catholic response to child abusers and pedophiles, her mother “ramped up her textbook wars until she was fighting the entire Catholic school system of Chicago.”

In  meeting after meeting with administrators who oversaw school policy, she presented detailed lists of the errors and omissions she’d documented in the textbooks. Mother’s objections were similar to those arising in other parts of the country. At first, she stressed the misinterpretation of American history. Later, she branched out into broad attacks on the entire curriculum.

…She believed that God had set her path, and she followed His will. “Saving the country trumps fun and games,” she said without apology [for spending less time with her children].

In the summer of 1959, my mother enrolled me at Regina Dominican, the newest girl’s high school in the northern suburbs of Chicago. The school had been commissioned by the Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Stritch, who served Chicago for eighteen years. Stritch was known for his commitment to Catholic schools as well as for his refusal to engage in interfaith dialogue, a stance that made him beloved by traditional Catholics like my parents.

The reason I am citing all these quotes is because the battles over textbooks has been all but lost and Creationist have infiltrated and influenced textbook publishers and school boards, particularly and peculiarly in Texas to ignore actual FACTS and demand that absolute bullshit be included as if this “equal time” was justified to be “fair” to a point of view of delusional misogynistic ignorant bigots. And of course, for the author, her mother persisted in reviewing and “correcting” the textbooks she was given to study.

“Don’t question your mother, young lady. Bring your books home, all of them.”

Soon enough, Mother and Dad had uncovered a nest of “errors, lies, and mistakes” in every one of my books.

“We have to go to the powers that be,” Mother announced.

At first, the author explains this behavior was tolerated but it became a nuisance to the point that school officials did their best to avoid the constant complaints. So they went public.

During the spring meeting of the Regina Parents’ Association — even though they weren’t on the agenda — Mother and Dad interrupted the proceeding to give a detailed analysis of the pro-Communist, anti-American materials hiding in the textbooks. When other parents shouted my parents down, the meeting abruptly ended. Mother and Dad packed up their materials and left. No one spoke to them.

The end result was that the school expelled Claire Conner. But the crucial point of all this is as follows:

Mother and Dad were not solitary warriors in the textbook battle. They joined a small be very effective group of right-wing activists who fought for curriculum changes in both public and private schools. One of those school critics was none other than Robert Welch [notorious Holocaust denier], who had made education a major part of the agenda of the National Association of Manufacturers, an ultra-conservative business group he headed in the 1950s. In 1954, the association printed and distributed more than two hundred thousand copies of its thirty-two page pamphlet This We Believe About Education, and Welch himself criss-crossed the country chairing meetings on the state of American schools. It’s a safe bet that Mother and Dad received a copy of that pamphlet when they met Welch for the first time.

Make no mistake: Welch predicted a grim future for education. “In my honest opinion,” he wrote in 1952, “when the Federal Government controls our schools — and control them it must if it supports our schools — we shall have taken the most dangerous possible step toward a tyrannical totalitarianism.”

If it weren’t so terrifying, I would laugh until I cried at the truly dangerous potential tyrants and infliction of totalitarianism is often proclaimed by the very people who ACTUALLY ARE the danger to cause tyrannical totalitarianism. Projection much?

In her book, As Texas Goes…, Gail Collins describes the Gablers’ “scroll of shame, which listed objections they had to the content of the current reading material. At times, the scroll was 54 feet long.” I chuckle at this image of the endless scroll, but I can’t laugh at the Gablers. Those two folks changed the landscape for the adoption of textbooks, not only in Texas but in much of the country.”

And we are living with the consequences today, 6 decades later! And that is how we end up with people as ignorant and poorly educated that form the majority of the country and who harbor a deep distrust of those of us who are actually, factually, educated. That is why they want to corporatize universities, and track the commie pinko liberal professors and kick them out if they don’t follow the “party” line. Presidential candidates have actually sworn to do this kind of shit.

The Gablers identified specific errors in the books they attacked. Any criticism of our constitution or the Founding Fathers was unacceptable. Support for one-world government or the United Nations was unforgivable. Gun control was a major no-no, as was any suggestion of limits on ammunition. Our nation, they believed, was first and foremost Christian. Thus, any suggestion that the founders were deists was intolerable. There could be no discussion of other nations as equal to the United States. After all, our country was exceptional and a perfect embodiment of what government ought to be.” (p. 27)

Apart from all the commie infiltrators I guess. The next two pages I would almost consider quoting entirely because the information so blew me away: her mother knew and fought the textbook fight with my least favorite woman in the world, Phyllis Schlafly. And Schlafly was a Bircher! But I will suffice with the bottom of 27 to a bit of 28 because I love books and the Gablers and the Schlaflys and their ilk have NO CONCEPT of what a good book is, especially including the Bible.

Good books also had specific characteristics. They always emphasized states’ rights over federal authority. Good books trumpeted small government and the idea that we ought to spread our wonderful system all over the world. Good books taught that the Confederate generals were great patriots. Good books showed the weaknesses in evolutionary theory. Good books respected Judeo-Christian morals, emphasized abstinence in sex education, and described the principles and benefits of free enterprise.

Not everyone appreciated the Gablers. As Time said in 1979, “Though the Gablers claim only to seek ‘balance’ their criticism seems to spring from a hell-for-leather conservatism in politics and Bible belt fundamentalism.'”

First of all, I believe the time for states rights, rather than being over federal authority (which they never were supposed to be as far as I recall) has long passed. We do not live in fear of an unjust King anymore. We need to fear the ability of small town bigots getting enough votes to become members of state legislatures and inflict their personal beliefs on the rest of us. Beliefs based on nothing more than whim, mythology, or what some church dogma proclaims as “truth” without, of course, facts.

My rights as a citizen should not vary by geography!!!!! Texas in not sovereign in that it can write illegal laws that, for my favorite example of injustice, deny the FEDERAL LAW that abortion is legal and no “undue burden” shall be placed in the way of women exercising this right. Of course, with a plethora of such bigots and zealots spreading their infection everywhere in the country, by infiltrating at the lowest levels (like textbook content decisions) to the Supreme Court and of course in 2016 the presidency, we are in serious danger that our democracy will be either changed to fascism, or theocracy, or both. Women will suffer the most, as is often the case, and single mothers with children especially. Not married and having sex? No food stamps for you. In fact, too poor to buy food for your family, tough shit you lazy whore. The sanctity bestowed on the [Virgin] mother and her 13 children with their faithful father supplying their needs in exchange for a clean house and free sex for life (only for procreation though! don’t you dare enjoy it, especially you Madonna or that will make you the whore, Mary Magdalene) will become the national standard by which we are judged.

The author continues about the whole deja vu of school textbooks:

In 2010, the Texas Board of Education adopted curriculum standards that were as far to the right as anything ever imagined for public schools. My mother, Phyllis Schlafly, and Mel and Norma Gabler — along with two generations of John Birchers and religious fundamentalists — were reemerging on the winning side of the textbook battles.

Some of the curriculum changes to Texas’s books defy fact; others delete important historical figures and erase events from the timeline of American history. Still others diminish the importance of the civil rights movement while praising states’ rights ad infinitum. Today’s students in public schools across the country are in danger of learning Creationism alongside evolution. Sex education is relegated to abstinence-only instruction, and contemporary history is a right-wing romp praising the likes of Joe McCarthy and Phyllis Schlafly herself.

And, though the author doesn’t discuss it, if these right-wingers don’t like their falsehoods not being taught, or facts being taught, they simply pull the kids out of public schools and “home-school” them to be ignorant uneducated puppets of the parents’ unending propaganda. Unfit I am sure for any job that requires critical thinking or independent analysis, much less basic science, math, English or American literature. Thus we arrive at the body politic we have today where being smart and literally God-forbid, educated at a “liberal” university is unacceptable, having a divergent opinions warrants body punches and spittle, and speaking out against injustice and political collusion and deception gets one booed off a stage.

(Chris Hedges experienced this at a graduation where he was the invited commencement speaker, booed and over spoken by the crowd singing the national anthem. They finally cut his microphone and security led him out of the campus. This is described in his Death of the Liberal Class, review to come as soon as I finish it.)

Jumping now to her conclusion in the book, where she is no longer under the Bircher influence and is a democrat, she briefly but perfectly describes the consequences of the election of George W. Bush (by the Supreme Court).

I’d voted absentee — for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman — before leaving Wisconsin, but my decision was more of a “no” to nominee George W. Bush rather than a “yes” to Vice President Gore. As far as I was concerned, anything would be better than a Texas Republican selling himself as a “compassionate conservative.”

“We’re still suffering from Reagan’s compassion,” I said.

“I’m voting for Gore,” my sister said. “But his whole campaign has been as dull as dirt.”

“You are right about that,” I said. “But I’ll take a professor, even a boring one, over a cowboy any day.”

Two weeks later, eight hours after Janet and I had settled on a sofa to watch the election returns, neither one of us was laughing. The network reporting of vote tallies and projections for state winners had devolved into chaos.”

The boring slur always bothered me. The President is, well until now with Trump, there too entertain us! He or she should have detailed policies backed up with facts to explain their position. That’s it. They don’t owe us a saxophone tune on late night TV. They don’t have to be TALL (but it helps studies have shown). They don’t have to be handsome or pretty or skinny or able to walk. They need a heart, a soul, compassion, empathy, and integrity. Brains too, but if they are smart enough to know they DON’T KNOW IT ALL or rely on God to tell them what to do (or Dick Cheney) then they’re smart enough to actually read something and bring in people who are experts (without agendas or corporate shills). Someone with a basic grasp of factual history would be optimal as well as being able to balance a checkbook.

 President Bush was everything I didn’t want in the White House, and I breathed a sign of relief when he seemed to favor clearing brush on his Crawford ranch over any legislative agenda. He did, of course, sign first-day executive orders undoing as many Clinton-era policies as possible without going through Congress, and he got a slew of right-wingers, many from his dad’s administration, confirmed for various federal posts.

For the JBS [John Birch Society], the new Bush administration proved that little separated the two political parties. As  Birch president John McManus wrote, “Rhetoric aside, each has labored for many years to bring our nation into a New World Order. This long-standing goal of the Insiders calls for building an all-powerful United Nations with total authority over a weakened United States and for fastening big-government socialistic programs on the American people.” According to McManus, Bush was cementing his place in that Insiders’ club by filling his administration with those very Insiders, especially members of the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential think tank “used to promote the destruction of U.S. sovereignty.” Among the CFR members in Bush’s inner circle were Condoleeza Rice (national security advisor [- did a pretty poor effing job]), Donald Rumsfeld (secretary of defense [acolyte of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of trickle down economics], Paul Wolfowitz (deputy secretary of defense), Colin Powell (secretary of state), and George Tenant (CIA director).

By far, the most influential and dangerous of all the Insiders had to be the vice president, Dick Cheney, a moan who filled the role of Bush’s “primary mentor.” Cheney had actually outline his agenda for U.S. foreign policy in a number of position papers spanning the period from the early 1990s through the Bush era. Writer in Harper’s in 2002, David Armstrong described that agenda as a plan “for the United States to rule the world. . . . It calls for dominion over friends and enemies alike. It say not that the United States must be more powerful, or most powerful, but that it must be absolutely powerful.”

Well, surely everyone realized that Bush was a monkey to Cheney’s organ grinder. Alas too many liked the tune they were playing. The author concludes with her still living dedicated Bircher mother’s outlook on the 9/11 attacks.

She’d already identified the true enemies of America, the dark forces at the heart of our suffering. The horror in New York was, first and foremost, the work of a righteous God exacting awesome retribution for the sins of homosexuality, abortion, contraception, and perversions rivaling those of Sodom and Gomorrah.

I was sure Mother didn’t actually watch the 700 Club, but she sounded a lot like Jerry Falwell when he appeared on that show on September 13. “God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve,” he said, naming the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians “who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say, you helped this happen.

Pat Robertson, the forever host of that show, agreed: “It happened because people are evil. It also happened because God is lifting His protection from this nation, and we must pray and ask Him for revival so that once again we will be His people, the planting of His righteousness, so that He will come to our defense and protect us as a nation.”

It was very difficult for me to hear this crap back in the day, and please God, take Pat Robertson to his deserving rest soon. The misogyny and cherry-picking Bible thumpers have never been acceptable to me and so it is so very difficult for me to understand how actual decent human beings could believe this concept of their “loving” god killing thousands of innocent people because women want to be more than chattel (i.e. feminist) and have bodily autonomy and not be forced to give birth every year if possible until you die over a probably less than 40 year fertile lifespan. Really – some are too young to remember but back in the day it was not unusual for a family to be able to have their own baseball team. My grandmother had 12 siblings. Not sure if her mom died of childbirth or what though, having 13 kids including my grandmother is just nuts. Many 7 to 9 were common. And when the wife died in childbirth, as too many actually did, the old coots just married another cow to keep their sex life going for free. Eleanor Roosevelt cut off FDR after 5 (6), the number of children he wanted. So she tolerated his mistresses. Funny how they didn’t get pregnant, or at least, no children were born to my knowledge. FDR’s first pick for wife refused him because of his request for so many kids, exclaiming she was not a cow.

The point being, these conservatives and Birchers especially hold no values that equal my own, but actually are in opposition. When they see totalitarianism on my side of the belief spectrum, I see freedom of expression, belief, tolerance, compassion, bodily autonomy, and more. On the contrary, I see their side as the very totalitarianism they claim to fear and do not see that forcing their beliefs, righteous as they may believe they are, IS totalitarianism. My beliefs do not force anyone to believe what I believe religiously (or not), not do I forced them to have abortions if they do not want them, nor do I force them to read a book I like, nor do I force them to denounce and renounce a friend or relative for a different sexuality than myself. My beliefs do not hurt anyone, but their beliefs, forced on me would kill me and all that is good in the world besides.

In addition to seeing the attacks as God’s punishment on a sinful nation, Mother accepted the John Birch Society interpretation, as outlined in the October 22 issue of the New America, the Birch bimonthly magazine….In a forty-four page special report, various writes argued that the totalitarians who led the United Nations hoped “to use the terrorist threat and other crises to build their new world order.”

The new world order was not going to look gently on Bircher beliefs. And I for one, would be glad. In a fragile world, we cannot get along with believers of demonic possession and sexuality of women as irredeemable sin. Let them have their paranoid fantasy life, but in a free secular society, despite their “belief” we are a Christian nation, their kind of hate and theocracy and authoritarianism, must be kept out of the governing and judging of the diverse people of our United States.

UPDATE: The book is now overdue so I have to take it make (already renewed once beyond usual allotment) but there were numerous areas that I wish I could have written about while reading it. One was, no surprise, her drive to become a forced birther (“pro-life”) and that was hard for me, but it seemed like she ultimately came around to recognize that her upbringing, beliefs, religiosity, and so on did not give her the right to inflict her beliefs on every woman.

Also, although she doesn’t directly address it, she was clearly an abused child by her maniacal parents. And that, to me, is a crucial aspect of what I fear most about the right-wingers and their home schooling and creation museums and utter denial of any actual facts. I mean, seriously delusional people. The pair of them. How did they get that way? How do any of these abusive, authoritarian zealots develop without some sane intervention? I understand there was a lot of fear after the atomic bombs and WWII and the McCarthy hearings, and the constant propaganda about the communist menace, but how Chicken Little is that these people constantly predicted the Communists imminent take over the country only to have DECADES go by and that doesn’t happen. Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, then they had (Red) China to worry about. I mean seriously, a communist in every corner and position of authority in government, including Rehnquist on the Supreme Court, whom they worked to impeach. We get some piece of [pick a few foul words for here] Scalia getting a pass by the democrats and they thought Rehnquist was a problem?

And Fred Koch aside, and Robert Welch (evil incarnate? sincere but misguided? scam artist? I’d like to see his tax returns and know what kind of lifestyle he lived while pursuing commies under the bed) for that matter, why why why are they so MORALLY OPPOSED to any assistance to the less fortunate? Where did this obscene notion that you don’t deserve to eat if you don’t have a job come from? Especially since it is most often spouted by people who don’t actually WORK AT JOBS for minimum wage, but rather they live on the fruits of OUR labor, by increasing their capital through stock buybacks and leveraged buyouts and gobbling up competition and then sitting back on their yachts to live off the dividends and provide multi-million dollar trust funds so THEIR KIDS don’t have to WORK FOR A LIVING. Their children will never face the decision to  buy a medication or food. They have so much yet they use, falsely, their religious or “fiscally conservative” beliefs to deny others a living wage or God Forbid, a universal basic income, that they can very well afford to pay in taxes without having to give up their multiple homes and gold plated bathroom fixtures.

It just sickens me. There is no virtue in work per se just to survive. There is virtue in working to support highways, and clean water, and all of the things the rich bastards take advantage of while paying no corporate taxes — even getting a refunds of millions and billions, nor personal taxes between loopholes they have their puppets write into the tax code or the taxation differential between WAGE INCOME and CAPITAL GAINS (that is, making money from money you already have in excess of survival). The mortgage tax deductible that basically is a subsidy for home buyers while renters’ costs deserve no deduction. And we are still living with the ridiculous floor and ceilings Ronald Reagan (may he too rot in hell) had implemented for medical deductions, and the generation who knew differently will soon be dead to even call attention to it. Yes that is right, you used to be able to deduct all your medical expenses, but not since Reagan. He made it so you had to have catastrophic costs that exceeded a percentage of your adjusted gross income (so obviously the impact was greater on people with lower income since the percentage is equivalent to a flat tax). And then, just to make sure you couldn’t deduct too much, he put in a ceiling  that made a maximum you could deduct completely apart from your total costs. And obviously, if you have no significant income (elderly on Social Security or disabled) then you simply pay and pay because you haven’t enough to tax and therefore nothing to deduct from, even though those costs hurt you even more than anyone else. So it is kind of a negative tax, taxing you for not having enough money to tax. As I recall, the earned income credit sop is only for people with dependent children, but I am not sure. The principle being that, to have a truly just tax code, people who have very little income should have that minimum increased to at least double the “poverty” level, irrespective of age, dependents, or other factors because NO ONE should live in poverty while 400 people make billions and billions! What is so abhorrent about this concept? Why is not living in poverty a good use of tax dollars on billionaires? Ditto Social Security cap!

It seems pretty obvious to me that the goal of all the “lazy” people who “don’t want to work” the conservatives worry about “giving” money too, those who aren’t entitled to a dime without spending 5 cents on childcare to get a part time job (thank you Bill Clinton, DINO), simply want to keep a wage slave workforce that cannot dare to rise up and strike for better wages. No one today, I think, is willing to sacrifice all, including our lives, in the hope that we could change the oppression of the capitalists who see no moral flaw in the upward transference of the wealth of our labor. THEY deserve it, but WORKERS don’t. They keep us placid with just enough to keep us servile rather than risk our homes, children, starvation, with just enough government aid to make the risk/reward ratio be too fine a cut to risk our lives for some uncertain outcome.

Today we know and honor those people who fought for unions, fought for the vote, fought for their civil rights. But they did not know they would win; although their wins have been eroded beyond anything but barely dreamed of futures now. These are the people who gave you the WEEKEND. This are the people that stopped CHILD LABOR. And now we have Orwellian “right to work” laws that really are right to be wage slaves. How did they manage to fight on not knowing if it would work? How did they keep their hope alive? Are we just so much worse off now with deeper oligarchy and corporatism in control that we cannot expect to fight the good fight any more? I hope not. I hope that all those willingly ignorant people who make $50k a year, if that, stop fighting against the “death tax” that only effects millionaires and billionaires. But willful ignorance is hard to overcome without proper education (vs. textbook manipulation by zealots or home schooling by the ignorant). Hard to study when you have an hour bus ride to get to school. Hard to have fun when you have no musical instruments or other art education, and no spare money for such “frivolities” or say, transportation to and from public libraries for books and community events.

ARGH. Money changes everything. Everyone deserves to live beyond mere survival while there is plenty enough to go around and it would,  in fact raise everyone up,  by forced return of labor’s investment of their lives now given for the excessive profit of the rich. Anything else would be the true immorality.


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