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The Sochi Olympic Games have not been kind to the social media teams of Olympic Sponsors, at least in the west. Social media campaigns for both McDonald's and Coca-Cola have been essentially shut down by LGBT and human rights protestors. Contributing writer to Forbes, Avi Dan chronicled the woes they have faced saying,  "For Coke And McDonald's, Ignoring The Power Of Social Media To Disrupt Means No Medals In Sochi."

Writing at Mashable about Sochi 2014 Olympic sponsors' social media "war rooms," T.L. Stanley suggested

"...sponsors such as Visa and McDonald’s also may consider logging time to answer their critics, who have hijacked the sponsors’ Olympics-themed Twitter hashtags to protest Russia’s anti-gay crackdown."
There is yet another way human rights and LGBT activists can leverage an existing sponsor social media campaign to speak both words of protest, and words of support for LGBT equality in Russia and worldwide. This Achilles Heel of Russia's censorship has been hiding in plain site since McDonald's #CheersToSochi hashtag was first hijacked in January.

And although McDonald's has abandoned the use of the #CheersToSochi hashtag, the Cheers To Sochi campaign website is still up and functioning and according to their press and social media posts, still a conduit to talk to Olympic athletes and teams who are right now behind the Putin's Lavender Iron Curtain.  

Past the fold, how McDonald's Cheers To Sochi site can be used as a conduit to speak out on human and LGBT rights right into the Olympic Village.

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Not the ad that Coke is rumored to be running.

In an effort to spin their way past protests over their sponsorship of the Sochi Olympics in Russia, Coca-Cola has contracted to place an ad in the Super Bowl touting its commitment to diversity. Described as a Benetton's style feel-good "we are the world" commercial, reliable sources say the media purchase was only for the United States market.

Coke's PR team must be putting in some very long nights these days. An Olympic sponsor social media protest movement has sprung up, causing enough trouble to catch even the attention of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Initially the property of McDonald's, the #CheersToSochi hashtag has been hijacked and now is also being used against Coke and evolved into an all-purpose Olympic sponsor protest tag.

And then there's the spoof video of the classic "teach the world to sing" 1970s commercial posted on YouTube. The updated ad mixes images of arrests and assaults of LGBT Russians, while Coke-sipping hippie teenagers sing about the world coming together in perfect harmony. It has surpassed 80,000 views in over 160 countries.

Please read below the fold for more on the Coca-Cola controversy.

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From the Neergaard family's We Stand With Marcel Against School Bullying Facebook page.
You can share this graphic from here.
On Saturday, 11-year-old Marcel Neergaard of Oak Ridge Tennessee posted a story to Huffington Post relaying his experiences with being bullied for being gay. His parents, in fear for his young life, had pulled him from the public schools and decided to home school him.

The family is represented by Rep. John Ragan in the Tennessee House. Rep. Ragan introduced the "Classroom Protection Act" which was the formal name of the bill more popularly known in the news as the "Don't Say Gay" bill. The Neergaard family were enraged to hear that StudentsFirst had endorsed Ragan as a Reformer of the Year, given his education bill would further endanger Marcel.

They posted a petition, and since Saturday, over 55,000 people had signed to a call for StudentsFirst to rescind their award and task themselves to endorsing and working to pass anti-bullying legislation.

Today, StudentsFirst posted "StudentsFirst Stands With Marcel."

Protecting our children is a top priority. Without safe learning environments, children can not realize their full potential. At StudentsFirst we believe that strongly, which is why, today, we stand with Marcel in support of the federal Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act and will support similar measures in our active states. We encourage legislators across the country to support these measures to protect kids from bullying and discrimination as well.

We also want to send a message to students like Marcel across the country about the standards we set as an education advocacy organization.

Regardless of when Representative Ragan was named a "Reformer of the Year" by our organization, his introduction of ill-conceived and harmful legislation including HB 1332 -- which would have cultivated a culture of bullying -- does not represent the type of leadership we look for in our legislative champions. We have made that clear to Rep. Ragan and rescinded the recognition.

Simply put, we must hold our "Reformers of the Year" to a higher standard.

It is an unqualified statement of contrition and exactly what the Neergaards and everyone who answered the petition was calling on StudentsFirst to do.

The Neergaards describe themselves as speechless and so proud of their son. Marcell says:

"I had my petition up for less than a week, and it actually worked. I want to make sure to thank all the people who signed my petition, because without them, it would not have been possible."

Marcel wants people to know, when he pressed the "Victory!" button on the MoveOn petition form, he let his big brother press it on top of him, because he asked to.

Chris Sanders, president of the Tennessee Equality Project says:

"We'll continue to work with the legislature impressing upon them the urgent need to pass the Dignity for all Students Act.  This could be a significant turning point for us in the Legislature.  I hopeful it will be."
The fight is far from over. Yesterday, Senate Democrats announced that the Student Non-Discrimination Act would be included as part of the larger education bill. This is a major victory for safe schools advocates. It will affirm the rights of students to be included in school activities (like proms) regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity (as well as a wide variety of other attributes). It will face serious opposition from conservatives, and we'll have to stand guard to see it isn't stripped out. We welcome StudentsFirst's help in that battle.

But that's for later. Today, I'll be happy for this unqualified win say sincerely and graciously, thank you StudentsFirst and Michelle Rhee.

And thanks to all the Kossacks who helped too!

The video that went viral.

Update: Via MoveOn who did truly excellent work on this campaign, the Neergaard family has released this statement:

I thank all fifty-three thousond of you for helping me change StudentsFirst's mind on all of this. Michelle Rhee anonced that "I stand with Marcel" and that "Marcel has a lot of courage." She has recinded her award, and announced that she would support a number of anti bullying legislasion. I owe this victory to you. It took every and each one of your signatures to get to this point. You got me from a nobody to being on Facebook, Huffingtonpost, Youtube, Fifty Thousand signatures on a petition, an blogs everywere. Thank you, all of you.

Thank you so much from all the Neergaards, especially Marcel

Discuss

Currently being featured in a big front-page splash at Huffington Post's Gay Voices veritical is the story of 11-year old Marcell Neergaard, who has endured so much bullying for identifying as gay in the Tennessee public schools his parents had to take him out of the system and homeschool him.

Marcell writes:

I am Marcel Neergaard, and I am 11 years old. This year I was homeschooled for sixth grade because of severe bullying. If I had gone back to public school, there is a great possibility that I would have taken my own life. That possibility would have grown if a certain bill introduced in my home state of Tennessee had passed into law. This bill was known as the "don't say gay" bill. Though that bill never became a law, Oak Ridge's own representative, John Ragan, introduced a new version of the Classroom Protection Act. It is the "don't say gay" bill, just more homophobic. While he crafted this horrifying bill, he received an award. I wrote a petition to take a stand against this.
At issue is Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst naming the author of the "Don't say gay" bill, Tennessee Rep. John Ragan Jr., educational "Reformer of the Year" in 2012. When called out on this in April, StudentsFirst was clear they didn't support the bill, but made no moves to distance themselves from the bill's sponsor, or make any other conciliatory promises that such a egregious oversight would not reoccur.

Ultimately their weak response lead Salon to conclude that "Michelle Rhee’s group stands by anti-gay honoree." The educational advocacy group has not taken any issue with that report.

But the Neergaard family finds that unacceptable. Marcel's petition asks:

We want StudentsFirst to withdraw their award to John Ragan as educational "Reformer of the Year." Instead, they should work to protect all bullied students, including LGBTQ, by supporting Tennessee's Dignity for All Students Act, as well as the federal Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act.
The petition can be found here. I do hope you sign it and encourage your friends to as well by spreading it through your social media network. It has picked up 7,000 signatures just this morning alone!
The Neergaard Family.
Messages of support can be left for Marcel and his family at their Facebook page, which is here. News updates will also be posted there.

Update: This is kind of cool, yes? SIGN!

Discuss
The man in the center of an educational firestorm, Tennessee's Rep. John Ragan, spoke to the Knoxville News.
NASHVILLE — State Rep. John Ragan says the fresh round of criticism he has faced for sponsorship of so-called “don’t say gay” bill is uninformed and unfair because he was trying to completely transform the bill so that it had “absolutely nothing to do” with homosexuality.

“It really irritates me in a major fashion,” said Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, in an interview.

An article posted on both The Daily Kos and The Huffington Post chides StudentsFirst, a national education reform organization, for declaring Ragan a Tennessee “educational reformer of the year” while he was sponsor of the “don’t say gay” bill (HB1332).

This would be the article the Knoxville News is referencing.

Rep. Ragan insists he's not anti-gay. It isn't a gay bill in his view but a "mental health bill" that merely compels teachers to refer kids to mental health professionals. The latest version says that school officials shall “notify parents or legal guardians in the manner specified by law for such a medical referral” for among other things, being suspected of being gay, lesbian, bisexual or gender-non-conforming.

Putting aside the ill-conceived and even dangerous idea that teachers should be functioning as spies and be required to essentially out their LGBTQ students to their parents who are then statistically quite likely to abuse or disown their kids, it's also worth noting the American Psychiatric Association hasn't classified homosexuality as mental health disorder since 1973. So, why does Rep. Ragan still believe LGBTQ kids should be encouraged to seek medical help? I have no idea where he's getting his information.

The Knoxville News also reached out to StudentsFirst's state director in Tennessee for comment. Find out his response below the fold.

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Well, surprise! Surprise! Who is Michelle Rhee's new BFF and benefactor? Walmart!
The Walton Family Foundation announced today that it is significantly increasing its support for StudentsFirst with an $8 million investment over two years. StudentsFirst will help promote public policies that empower all parents to choose among high-quality, publicly funded educational options for their children. The Walton Family Foundation invests in programs and organizations that expand parental choice and equal opportunity in education.
Yes. It's all about the kids.

It has nothing to do with the fact that Rhee's organization is little more than a front group to bust teacher unions, an issue near and dear to the Walton family's hearts. It's totally not about the fact that Walmart's biggest goal in life is keeping their own employees from unionizing so the employees can afford to get off food stamps.

Follow the money: That's $8 million more dollars Rhee has to spend electing regressive anti-union, anti-choice, anti-Latino, anti-gay Republican legislators.

Discuss

Mon Apr 29, 2013 at 05:49 PM PDT

Not good enough, StudentsFirst

by Scott Wooledge

Right, Michelle Rhee, CEO and founder of StudentsFirst, inset, educational
"reformer of the year" Rep. John Ragan. Via Facebook.
After four days of radio silence, StudentsFirst has finally released a statement regarding their naming the author of "Don't Say Gay" bill, Rep. John Ragan, the educational "Reformer of the Year" in Tennessee and fundraising on his behalf. The story is now also being reported by Salon and local Tennessee outlets, and has even caught the attention of PBS's John Merrow, long a thorn in Michelle Rhee's side for his darn truth-telling.

They say they were unaware of what education bills Ragan worked on and sponsored during his time on their fundraising rolls. This is a claim I find very suspect and which I examine in depth here.

They make a decent repudiation of the bill:

When it comes to this kind of legislation, StudentsFirst is clear that we stand strongly opposed to policies, statements, or actions that could create an unsafe or unwelcoming environment for any student in any school. In Tennessee and elsewhere, we remain committed to that and to working with parents, teachers, and administrators to ensure every student has a great teacher, parents have access to great schools, and that policymakers are making effective use of public dollars."
They leave to the reader's imagination what this "commitment" to work to a more welcoming environment looks like, specifically in LGBT-hostile world of Tennessee. There's really nothing more than an empty platitude here.

Chris Sanders, president of the Tennessee Equality Project, issued a challenge to StudentsFirst they might make it right:

StudentsFirst could take steps to redeem their misplaced award by working to pass the Dignity for All Students Act--a real anti-bullying bill with enumerated protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and disability.'
Nowhere is there a mention of rescinding their honor of calling John Ragan an educational "Reformer of the Year" which apparently he still is. StudentsFirst makes no mention of asking for Ragan to return StudentsFirst's $6,500 donation. Nor do they promise they will not continue fundraising for this candidate, which again, they apparently still are. (As of this posting, well an hour after the press release, Ragan is still featured on StudentsFirst website, with an included donation button.)

Nowhere do they admit error. Nowhere do they apologize, either for making a mistake, or just flat out sloppy incompetence in the selection of Ragan. In whole, it's some excuse-making rolled up with some happy PR-talk: "we love gay and transgender kids!" But there's no concrete promise of making any changes to their criteria for honoree selection or their fundraising efforts or really any action at all, promised or delivered.

They say of the "Don't Say Gay" bill:

"Thankfully, members of the Tennessee legislature agreed, and did not allow the bill to move forward."
I'd add: No thanks to StudentsFirst who claim they didn't know about the bill, nor any of StudentsFirsts friends in the Tennessee legislature.
Discuss
Right, Michelle Rhee, CEO and Founder of StudentsFirst, inset, educational
"reformer of the year" Rep. John Ragan. Via Facebook.
This might have had something to do with it.

Los Angeles County Democratic Party:

Los Angeles County Democratic Party (LACDP) Chair Eric C. Bauman released the following statement regarding StudentsFirst’s decision to honor anti-gay extremist Republican John Ragan:

“StudentsFirst, which seems hell-bent on destroying teachers union and privatizing our public schools, claims the mantle of a liberal organization, especially here in California where they’ve dumped millions of dollars into the campaign coffers of anti-teacher candidates recently.

“To get a real sense of where their politics lie, look no further than their decision to honor extremist, anti-gay Republican Tennessee legislator John Ragan as their ‘Reformer of the Year’.”

Ragan was a chief sponsor of his state’s version of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, legally requiring that any school official approached by any student with questions or comments about “inconsistent with natural human reproduction” — i.e., homosexuality — to contact that child’s parents.

He also supported legislation that would require teachers to tell gay students they need a psychiatrist, and once responded to a constituent saying that a gay person is not a “mentally healthy adult human being.

“Honoring such a person flies in the face of their manufactured image here in California as a progressive group. I hope that the next time StudentsFirst supports a candidate here for school board or city council, voters remember they are one of John Ragan’s biggest campaign donors. I assure you the LA County Democratic Party won’t let anyone forget that.”

Bravo.

Update: statement from Chris Sanders, president of the Tennessee Equality Project, via Gay Star News:

'As the House sponsor of the "Don't Say Gay" bill and as a past defender of the License to Bully bill, Rep. Ragan has a very well known record on educational issues in Tennessee,' Sanders wrote. 'These bills would have led to the outing of students and exposed them to further bullying. StudentsFirst could take steps to redeem their misplaced award by working to pass the Dignity for All Students Act--a real anti-bullying bill with enumerated protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and disability.'
Discuss
Right, Michelle Rhee, CEO and Founder of StudentsFirst,
inset, educational "reformer of the year" Rep. John Ragan.
Thanks to Laura Clawson for the head's up on this story. I did a bit more digging and found some interesting stuff.

Background: StudentsFirst, a very prominent and controversial education political action group named Tennessee House Representative John Ragan as the state's "educational Reformer of the Year" who "stands up for the kids of Tennessee" and "has also been a leading advocate for change."

I guess it's enough that the only kids Ragan supposedly stands up for are the heterosexual kids.

It turns out the honoree is the co-author and introductory sponsor of the latest permutation of the notorious Tennessee "Don't Say Gay" bill. The latest version would have forced select Tennessee school officials to notify parents of children who privately discussed their sexual orientation, essentially dictating forced "outing" of kids, even against their own objections.

Ragan's proposed education bill is more than just ignorant and wrong, and bad policy, it's downright dangerous and does anything but "put students first." Said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee:

"It's inexcusable to make counseling professionals out LGBT or questioning young people to family members, when all too many parents physically abuse their LGBT children, force them into quack 'reparative therapy' programs, or kick them out of their homes. This disgraceful bill pays lip service to student safety, but in reality it puts vulnerable young people at terrible risk."
Eric Lerum, VP of national policy,
StudentsFirst
Eric Lerum, StudentsFirst's VP of national policy offered some responses to angry backlash on Twitter Friday night, claiming they were unaware of John Ragan's anti-gay history and "We wouldn't have endorsed had we known." He alluded Ragan's selection was a candidate vetting snafu.

As vetting goes, one need simply type "John Ragan'" into the Tennessee legislature's website to see Ragan filed HB 1332, the "Classroom Protection Act" back on February 14, 2013. It even pops up with a great big bold lead-in that says: "Education" so this educational political action group could easily find bills of interest to them. The legislative history for HB 1332 shows seven actions were taken on the bill until late March 2013 including lots of activity in the House Education Subcommittee.

Do a little more legwork and you'll find that in January 2013 the American Civil Liberties Union forcibly condemned HB 1332's Senate companion bill, SB234 calling it a  "harsher version of Tennessee 'Don't Say Gay' bill." The House and Senate versions appear to be identical.

With a little more legwork StudentsFirst might have found that Ragan was a supporter of yet another anti-gay education bill, an effort to affirm Christian Evangelical's rights to harass LGBT kids as protected First Amendment speech, known as a "license to bully" bill.

A correspondence with a constituent who had written to ask Ragan to oppose "license to bully" bill also made the news. The Advocate reported in January 2012 that Rep. Ragan said that gay people are not "mentally healthy adult human beings."

Ragan replied to his voter's objections to the bill by affirming his support for the "license to bully" anti-gay bill, and provided a rather long, rambling 650-word manifesto of homobigotry, where he spouted junk science, and proceeded with the usual comparisons that mark a profoundly bigoted attitude toward LGBT people. In response to the constituent's concern about higher rates of suicide among LGBT teens Ragan wrote:

Should society avoid disapproving of pedophilia, prostitution, murder, etc., because practitioners of those behaviors may commit suicide at higher rates?
It isn't unusual to dress up awful legislation in Orwellian newspeak like calling a bill that singles out gay kids for discrimination and harassment the "Classroom Protection Act." This trick is as old as politics itself. Often the bill's' title is a clue it does exactly the opposite of what it purports to do. Thoughtful observers and advocates in politics know it's essential to read past the title, and see what the bill actually says and does, and what other vested interest groups are saying about it. StudentsFirst apparently failed to do a simple investigative look at the education-related bills Ragan to which he has attached himself.

Or does it follow StudentsFirst officially endorses "Don't Say Gay" and "License to bully" legislation?

StudentsFirst policy VP Lerum points to StudentsFirsts participation in an "It Gets Better" video to demonstrate their commitment to the LGBT kids. Videos are a lovely gesture, but they don't make public education policy, legislators do.

And the StudentsFirst PAC's $6,500 donation to the Ragan campaign, makes this national org Ragan's fourth largest donor. In fact, of the 105 candidates StudentsFirst supported in the last cycle, 90 of them were Republicans, who most certainly won't be putting LGBT students first. It seems StudentsFirst's commitment to LGBT kids takes a backseat to finding allies in their actual agenda to bust teacher unions.

This dustup is a little bit of deja vu all over again. The group also came under fire in October 2011 for big money spending in support of a virulently anti-gay candidate in Michigan. StudentsFirst also has been protested by Latino students for supporting anti-immigration extremists in the past.

If StudentsFirst really was truly unaware of Rep. John Ragan's history, it seems it's only because they didn't do their homework and that's becoming quite a recurring pattern. Perhaps they need to re-take Candidate Vetting 101?

This has been cross-posted to the Huffington Post.

Discuss
A list of the Supreme Court amicus briefs supporting the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 includes a very curious group: Gun Owners Foundation.

In the wake of the Newtown massacre, Gun Owner's executive director, Larry Pratt, told Mike Huckabee during a radio interview: "Gun-free zones are like magnets for the monsters in our society."

Pratt was critical of the National Rifle Association, who he apparently feels is too moderate and not aggressive enough. (Take a moment with that.)

Now, I can't say I've read the brief, it's here if you're curious. It's a joint brief filed by a handful of conservative and Christian groups in support of upholding Proposition 8's constitutionality to deny LGBT Americans the freedom to marry. I did notice it argues landmark LGBT equality Supreme Court victory, Romer vs. Evans, was decided incorrectly and should be reversed.

I'm just curious what would motivate a Second Amendment advocacy group to insert themselves in a judicial fight that is so far afield of their mission, which they describe on Facebook as:

Gun Owners of America (GOA) is a non-profit lobbying organization formed in 1975 to preserve and defend the Second Amendment rights of gun owners. GOA sees firearms ownership as a freedom issue.
What a curious definition of "freedom" that finds the right to keep and bear arms to be absolute, but gays acquiring right to marry the person they love? That's a danger to society.

I hope they don't resort to "Second Amendment remedies" if they lose. I would be curious if the Gun Owners Foundation thinks gays should be allowed to own guns, or would a law banning that be constitutional as well?

Hat tip to Scottie Thomaston for drawing my attention to this.

Discuss

18-year-old Boy Scout Ryan Andresen and his mom Karen are interviewed by
Anderson Cooper about the BSA's denial of Eagle Scout rank to him
because he's gay, despite the fact that he had completed every requirement, via Towlroad.

As reported by NBC and confirmed on the Boy Scouts website, they are considering a policy change that would remove the national ban on gay Boy Scouts and leaders. The Board vote may be as soon as next week.

They are apparently actively soliciting feedback on the proposed policy, so let's give it to them.

The number to call is:

972-580-2330

It really only takes a few seconds. Apparently it's a dedicated line. They answer the phone with "Are you for or against changing the policy?"

You are FOR changing it.

I called and told them I spent two summers at Philmont Scout Ranch and was a member of the summer of 1983 Trail Crew. Scouting was an excellent and rewarding experience for me as a boy and a young man, and I believe the experience should be made available to anyone who wishes to be a part of it.

I'm aware, had I lived in these times, I might well have come out earlier, as the kids do these days, and found myself kicked out before I ever got to enjoy Philmont. This needs to stop.

I'm personally of the mind that this is not so much about it being a popular vote as they are looking for political cover from their fundamentalist Christian base, who are currently in throes of a total meltdown and rallying their base to call and oppose the change.

In my opinion, the Boy Scouts want to be able to say, "Well, we listened to the people and the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of changing the policy. Sorry Tony Perkins and Bryan Fischer, you lost." A similar dynamic played out with a New York state senator that was "on the fence" on marriage equality in 2011. So, give them their cover.

You can also send them feedback on Twitter, and Facebook, you can also email them at nationalsupportcenter@scouting.org

There are many people who have worked very, very hard for many years to bring us to this point, GLAAD, Zach "I have two moms" Wahls, the crew at Change.org. Let's bring this victory home for them. If you ever recced a diary or felt a moment's disgust at the BSA, now's the time to call, write or tell them which way to go, go towards inclusive policy.

Discuss
Ashley Broadway, left, is pictured with her wife, Lt. Col. Heather Mack and their 2-year-old son.
Awesome news breaking from NBC:
An Army wife, denied full membership at a Fort Bragg spouses club because she's married to a female Army officer, was named Fort Bragg’s 2013 “spouse of the year” Friday after an annual, national vote that spanned nominees from all military branches, NBC News has learned.

In the online election held Tuesday, Ashley Broadway captured the Fort Bragg vote “by a country mile,” said Babette Maxwell, founder of Military Spouse magazine and the Military Spouse of the Year award. Ballot totals were not revealed. As one of the 154 base-level winners, Broadway now is eligible to be nominated for Army “spouse of the year.”

“A lot of people who voted never me met or talked to me or knew me from Adam. I know it was a statement to the Obama Administration, to Secretary (of Defense Leon) Panetta, to Senator (Chuck) Hagel — if he is confirmed (as defense secretary) — to the Pentagon and, really, to America that, yes, she is a military spouse and she needs to be recognized,” Broadway told NBC News.

“There are things the government can do right now to make life a hell of a lot easier than what it is currently for those who are in same-sex marriages in the military,” she added. “It was a lot of people saying, ‘Enough’s enough.’ ”

The vote was conducted by email, with one email address per vote. Broadway has volunteered her time with tutoring other soldiers' kids in reading assisting housing for relocated soldiers among other charitable endeavors she performs for the military community of Fort Bragg.

Babette Maxwell says, “There was a significant amount of meaning in what they were doing when they voted for Ashley."

(Continue reading below the fold.)

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