Welcome! "The Evening Blues" is a casual community diary (published Monday - Friday, 8:00 PM Eastern) where we hang out, share and talk about news, music, photography and other things of interest to the community.
Just about anything goes, but attacks and pie fights are not welcome here. This is a community diary and a friendly, peaceful, supportive place for people to interact.
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Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Chicago bluesman Luther Allison. Enjoy!
Luther Allison - It Hurts Me Too
“When the white man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom that he destroys”
-- George Orwell
News and Opinion
Drone strikes: tears in Congress as Pakistani family tells of mother's deathI'm shocked, shocked to find CIA propaganda in the Washington Post...
The family of a 67-year-old midwife from a remote village in North Waziristan told lawmakers on Tuesday about her death and the "CIA drone" they say was responsible. Their harrowing accounts marked the first time Congress had ever heard from civilian victims of an alleged US drone strike.
Rafiq ur Rehman, a Pakistani primary school teacher who appeared on Capitol Hill with his children, Zubair, 13, and Nabila, 9, described his mother, Momina Bibi, as the "string that held our family together". His two children, who were gathering okra with their grandmother the day she was killed, on 24 October 2012, were injured in the attack.
"Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day," Rehman said, through a translator. "Some media outlets reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Others reported that the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All of them reported that three, four, five militants were killed."
Instead, he said, only one person was killed that day: "Not a militant but my mother." ...
The hearing was attended by only five members of Congress, and Grayson said such low numbers of lawmakers at hearings were not unusual. Those attending were all Democrats: Rush Holt of New Jersey, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, John Conyers of Michigan, Rick Nolan of Minnesota, and Grayson, the Florida Democrat responsible for inviting the family to Washington and for holding the hearing.
CIA's Wash Post Leaks Aimed At Silencing Drone Critics
NOOR: On a trip to Washington last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called on the U.S. to halt the strikes on Pakistan. Then something interesting happened. The Washington Post reported that according to secret CIA memos that it obtained, the Pakistani government, while publicly being critical of the U.S. drone program and killing of civilians, was in fact in collusion with the U.S. and privately supports the program.
PORTER: Well, there are two aspects of this. One is the immediate short-term timing. And, of course, it was timed to coincide with the visit of Nawaz Sharif, knowing that Sharif was going to say publicly that he had told the president that the Pakistani government wants the drone strikes to stop.
And at the same time, I think there's a longer-term, more general timing here, which is, as you've indicated, that the Obama administration is under a lot of pressure with regard to the drone war in Pakistan. And there's been an clear indication in the past months, in the past several months that the Obama administration is reconsidering the entire policy toward the drone war in Pakistan. Both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have made public statements indicating that that is the case. And, in fact, John Kerry most recently, in August, said that he believed that the president was intending to bring this to a close and he hoped that would be soon.
So it's clear to me that the people in the CIA who are responsible for the drone war in Pakistan are feeling the heat. They're afraid that they could face the ax for this program. And I think they're fighting back. And what we see in this Washington Post story is an effort to turn this situation around, to turn the public opinion against any decision by the administration to end this program by suggesting that after all, that the Pakistani government is simply being hypocritical in saying that it needs to be stopped.
That, of course, misrepresents the reality of the situation, which is that we've known for quite a bit of time. We've known for a few years that there was in fact an understanding, going back to the Musharraf regime, which allowed the United States' CIA to carry out drone strikes against al-Qaeda, and that this was fully accepted by the military, as well as the civilian government, in the early years of the program. And that's understandable, because at first, at least, the targets were supposed to be al-Qaeda, although I have to say there is a lot of evidence that the targeting was very poor, the intelligence was not good, and mostly civilians were killed in the first couple of years, the first two or three years of that program.
But the real problem arose in 2008 when the CIA convinced the White House to expand the target list well beyond al-Qaeda high-value targets to start hitting targets based on signatures, what they call signature strikes, which meant that they were really killing rank-and-file people on mere suspicion that they might be involved with not just al-Qaeda but also the Afghan Taliban. So there you get a huge expansion of the targets and a much larger number of civilians who are being killed by these strikes. And that's when you begin to get a very strong reaction from the Pakistani military.
So that's why the CIA sources here misled none other than Bob Woodward, who's, of course, associated with investigative journalism and has still a reputation for truth-telling. But I'm afraid in this case he was misused.
State Department Apologizes for Calling Unionization a Security ThreatCheck out this at the link, there's far more here than can fairly be excerpted - and all of it is important. NSA is exploiting two weaknesses, one in system architecture and one in the law that regulates the NSA. NSA engineers have managed to exploit the fact that, in order to maintain their data and speed, Google and Yahoo have a distributed network with locations around the world. NSA lawyers are exploiting a weakness in regulation by directing collection activities occur outside of the territorial United States where there are far fewer regulations applied. FISC has no jurisdiction outside of the US and Congress provides virtually no oversight of activities authorized by executive order (12333) overseas. NSA is allowed to presume that anyone using a foreign data link is a foreigner - allowing a massive collection "unwittingly" (pfffftttt!!!) of Americans' data.
The United States Department of State has a specific arm set up to promote the rights of foreign nationals it employs overseas: the State Department’s Office of International Labor Affairs (ILA). According to the State Department’s website, the ILA supports “internationally recognized labor rights relating to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, and the elimination of forced labor, child labor and discrimination.” ...
In August, the State Department Chief Labor-Management Negotiator Steven J. Polson dismissed a meeting request from IFPTE [International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers] and IFSA [International Foreign Service Association] to discuss instituting a union. Many in organized labor were offended by his rationale: that any form of aunion could jeopardize national security. Polson wrote:Unionization at diplomatic and consular missions is fundamentally incompatible with the basic functions and operations of such missions. This would directly and significantly conflict with the authority of the diplomatic mission’s Chief of Mission and could frankly, put our foreign relations and national security at risk. If union rights were realized for LE staff, the exercise of such authorities or rights would pose a real security and counter-intelligence threat to the United States.Outraged by the letter, IFPTE responded on August 12 that Polson’s argument about unions being a threat to national security “puts the Administration in the position of saying collective bargaining is somehow associated with disloyalty and un-Americanism."
This is a big f'n deal, as somebody famous might say. Heads should roll.
NSA infiltrates links to Yahoo, Google data centers worldwide, Snowden documents say
Two engineers with close ties to Google exploded in profanity when they saw the drawing. “I hope you publish this,” one of them said.
According to a top secret accounting dated Jan. 9, 2013, NSA’s acquisitions directorate sends millions of records every day from Yahoo and Google internal networks to data warehouses at the agency’s Fort Meade headquarters. In the preceding 30 days, the report said, field collectors had processed and sent back 181,280,466 new records — ranging from “metadata,” which would indicate who sent or received e-mails and when, to content such as text, audio and video.
The NSA’s principal tool to exploit the data links is a project called MUSCULAR, operated jointly with the agency’s British counterpart, GCHQ. From undisclosed interception points, the NSA and GCHQ are copying entire data flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information between the data centers of the Silicon Valley giants.
The infiltration is especially striking because the NSA, under a separate program known as PRISM, has front-door access to Google and Yahoo user accounts through a court-approved process.
The MUSCULAR project appears to be an unusually aggressive use of NSA tradecraft against flagship American companies. The agency is built for high-tech spying, with a wide range of digital tools, but it has not been known to use them routinely against U.S. companies. ...
Intercepting communications overseas has clear advantages for the NSA, with looser restrictions and less oversight. NSA documents about the effort refer directly to “full take,” “bulk access” and “high volume” operations on Yahoo and Google networks. Such large-scale collection of Internet content would be illegal in the United States, but the operations take place overseas, where the NSA is allowed to presume that anyone using a foreign data link is a foreigner.
Greenwald: Of Course Cheney Hates NSA Leaks! Snowden Exposed His ‘Criminal Conduct’
Glenn Greenwald joined Anderson Cooper on Tuesday night to respond to former Vice President Dick Cheney calling Edward Snowden a traitor on CNN, saying Cheney only believes this because Snowden’s revelations have damaged his reputation and personal credibility over the world. ...
Greenwald also refuted the claim that any of Snowden’s revelations harmed the United States, saying the Cheneys and Obamas of the world are just angry that “we harmed their reputations and their credibility by exposing their wrongful acts to the world.”
NSA Officials Livid That White House Is Pretending It Didn't Know About Spying On Foreign Leaders
Earlier this month, we noted that anonymous NSA officials had been whining about not getting strong enough support from the White House. In particular, they seemed upset that President Obama wasn't front and center in the press defending their actions and that he hadn't stopped by at Ft. Meade to give them a pep talk. ... However, such talk is getting much louder now that the President has apparently told people he had no idea the NSA was spying on foreign leaders.
In particular, they say the claims that the President didn't know about spying on foreign leaders is hogwash.Precisely how the surveillance is conducted is unclear. But if a foreign leader is targeted for eavesdropping, the relevant U.S. ambassador and the National Security Council staffer at the White House who deals with the country are given regular reports, said two former senior intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in discussing classified information.
Obama may not have been specifically briefed on NSA operations targeting a foreign leader's cellphone or email communications, one of the officials said. "But certainly the National Security Council and senior people across the intelligence community knew exactly what was going on, and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous."
If U.S. spying on key foreign leaders was news to the White House, current and former officials said, then White House officials have not been reading their briefing books.
Spain colluded in NSA spying on its citizens, Spanish newspaper reports
The widespread surveillance of Spanish citizens by the US National Security Agency, which caused outrage when it was reported this week, was the product of a collaboration with Spain's intelligence services, according to one Spanish newspaper.
In the latest revelations to emerge from the documents leaked by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden, Spanish agents not only knew about the work of the NSA but also facilitated it, El Mundo reports.
An NSA document entitled "Sharing computer network operations cryptologic information with foreign partners" reportedly shows how the US relies on the collaboration of many countries to give it access to intelligence information, including electronic metadata.
According to the document seen by El Mundo, the US classifies cooperation with various countries on four different levels. In the first group - "Comprehensive Cooperation" - are the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The second group – "Focused Cooperation" - of which Spain is a member, includes 19 countries, all of them European, apart from Japan and South Korea. The third group - "Limited cooperation" - consists of countries such as France, Israel, India and Pakistan; while the fourth - "Exceptional Cooperation" - is made up of countries that the US considers to be hostile to its interests. ...
Spanish intelligence services were working hand in hand with the NSA, as were other foreign agencies. But if there was any doubt as to who held the upper hand, the NSA documents make clear that any collaboration was always to serve the needs of protecting American interests.
Mike Rogers: You Can't Have Your Privacy Violated If You Don't Know About It
[T]here was an absolutely incredible exchange between Intel Committee Chair Rep. Mike Rogers and law professor Stephen Vladeck (the only panelist the entire day who expressed concerns about what the NSA was doing).Rogers: I would argue the fact that we haven't had any complaints come forward with any specificity arguing that their privacy has been violated, clearly indicates, in ten years, clearly indicates that something must be doing right. Somebody must be doing something exactly right.This is kind of astounding. According to Mike Rogers, you can apparently violate his privacy, so long as he doesn't know about it. How is it that such a person is supposedly in charge of oversight of the intelligence community? He honestly believes that as long as the NSA spies on people privately, their privacy isn't violated?
Vladeck: But who would be complaining?
Rogers: Somebody who's privacy was violated. You can't have your privacy violated if you don't know your privacy is violated.
Vladeck: I disagree with that. If a tree falls in the forest, it makes a noise whether you're there to see it or not.
Rogers (astounded): Well that's a new interesting standard in the law. We're going to have this conversation... but we're going to have wine, because that's going to get a lot more interesting...
Congressional duo launch NSA overhaul bill and urge 'meaningful reform'
The chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, Patrick Leahy, warned against cosmetic reform of US surveillance practices as he launched sweeping new legislation to rein in the nation's intelligence agencies.
Their new legislation, simultaneously introduced in both House and Senate, aims to ban the National Security Agency from using the Patriot Act to collect bulk telephone records in the US and close a similar loophole in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa) which has allowed the content of American communications to be targeted.
“The government surveillance programs conducted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are far broader than the American people previously understood,” said Leahy.
The bill also calls for a special advocate to focus on the protection of privacy rights and civil liberties before the court that oversees Fisa requests by the NSA, and requires more detailed public reporting about the numbers and types of court orders that are issued.
It does not yet include reforms of overseas activity, although such amendments are expected to be introduced soon, according to congressional staff involved in the drafting.
SNAP Is Getting Cut This Week—And Democrats Are to Blame
Stimulus funding for food stamps runs out on November 1, but it didn't have to be that way
This week, the conference committee tasked with reconciling the two different versions of the farm bill passed by the House and Senate will hold its first public meeting.
We won't know anytime soon which terrible cut will prevail: the $4 billion cut to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program preferred by the Senate or the $39 billion thrashing of food stamps passed by the House. But one thing is certain: Funding for SNAP will drop starting on Friday, and all recipients will receive fewer benefits. ...
The money is going away because the injection of food-assistance funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (better known as the hotly debated "stimulus package"), passed back in 2009, has reached its sunset date. ... The stimulus didn’t set a hard deadline for ending the increased funding, and instead it was set to stay in place, “until the program’s regular annual inflation adjustments to the maximum SNAP benefit exceeded those set by ARRA,” according to CBPP. But Democrats dipped into the money on two separate occasions, each time moving up the sunset date.
First, in August 2010, money was moved out to help keep teachers in their jobs and to maintain and the federal match for Medicaid costs at a higher lever. That withdrawal against SNAP funding set the first hard cutoff day for the stimulus SNAP funding, April 2014, but then Congress went back to the well again four months later, passing the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which includes funding for youth-geared hunger programs like the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, and Women, Infants and Children.
It was that bill, passed by a Democrat-controlled House and Senate, which set the Friday cutoff for stimulus funding of SNAP. ... When the Healthy Hunger-Free Children Act was being considered in House, a group of 106 liberal Democrats wrote to then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi asking her to take up a version of the bill that didn’t include cuts to SNAP.
Obamacare Cancels Policies in New Hurdle for Health-Care Lawwrote the Obamacare law eagerly await their return on investment windfall...
The Obamacare rollout is leading to the cancellation of hundreds of thousands of health insurance plans nationwide, contradicting President Barack Obama’s repeated pledge that people who like their coverage can keep it.
The notices started to arrive in recent weeks, compounding the political headaches for the White House from the troubled start of its health exchange, the federal website created to give millions of people access to new plans by Jan. 1.
The cancellations come as a result of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which says that health insurance policies that fail to offer added benefits, such as prescription drug coverage and free preventive care, can’t be sold after this year even if they’re cheaper. With the online site expected to face difficulties through November, Americans may have only weeks to find replacement coverage, and many may end up paying higher premiums.
Federal officials should have worked more closely with insurers to better manage the long-coming shift to new coverage, said Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
Instead, “the first thing you get that affects you personally is that you’ve lost your health insurance,” Gordon said in a telephone interview. “That approach is going to backfire politically.”
Despite Glitches, Obamacare Profit Windfall To Insurers Well Underway
While politicians and pundits alike inside the beltway beat up the White House over computer system glitches, health insurance companies still project robust revenue growth and profits from a boom in business from newly insured Americans under the Affordable Care Act.
Take this week’s third-quarter earnings report and financial projections of Wellpoint (WLP), one of the nation’s largest health insurers, which earlier this week raised its earnings guidance for the third time this year. Amid a flurry of stories about the troubled launch of the federal health insurance marketplace web site known as healthcare.gov, Wellpointsaid its improved outlook is due in part to gains from the Affordable Care Act. ...
Though health plans are frustrated at the slow sign up, their earnings forecasts and balance sheets reflect largely robust growth. Other health plans like Aetna (AET), Humana (HUM) and UnitedHealth Group (UNH) are optimistic, according to public statements of their executives.
Health plans are reporting growth across all of their lines of business.
Health secretary answers to Congress over healthcare website glitches – from the Guardian's liveblogThe people are doin' it for themselves, silver lining department:
Sebelius' appearance before the House committee comes one day after Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services – the agency charged with contracting out the construction of HealthCare.gov – testified before the House ways and means committee. Tavenner, at least, offered an apology: "To the millions of Americans who’ve attempted to use HealthCare.gov to shop and enroll in healthcare coverage, I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should. We know how desperately you need affordable coverage.”
HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius came to Capitol Hill this morning to be badgered by Republicans about the progress of HealthCare.gov, and badgered she was. A few memorable moments:
• Sebelius called the experience of trying to navigate the health care website "miserably frustrating" and said to the American people, "I apologize. I'm accountable to you." She reiterated that the problems should be fixed by November 30.
• She claimed that "the website never crashed. It is functional at a very low speed." It may boil down to a semantics issue, but this is questionable.
• She dodged questions about enrollment figures, blaming the lack of "reliable data" on technical problems. "The system isn't functioning, so we're not getting that reliable data."
Alternative Media Outlets Launch Counter-Attack on Greek Austerity
Filling a void left by the austerity-driven closure of Greece's public news broadcaster earlier this year, a new generation of young, independent and critical media outlets are popping up around the country, providing a strong voice in opposition to "the country’s dominant power structures," according to an exposé in Wednesday's New York Times.Although their audiences are still relatively modest, they are playing an increasingly vital role in the conversation, largely because they question the country’s dominant power structures.As the profile of this new media landscape shows, one of the silver linings of the painful economic realities of life under austerity has been the degree to which positive forces and alternative models have stepped into the gap created by public cuts and a depressed economy. For some in Greece, these emerging alternatives represent the best source of hope that a nation battered by financial elites is on the path to reclaiming its democracy.
Even before the economic crisis hit, polls showed that Greeks lacked trust in the mainstream news media almost as much as they lacked it in politicians, seeing both as intertwined in a kind of crony capitalism that helped push the country to bankruptcy.
Now, four years into the crisis, Greeks are even more skeptical of mainstream news organizations and even hungrier for information from nontraditional sources, especially if it veers from the government’s line that Greece has no alternative to the austerity policies demanded by its foreign lenders.
Saved From Demolition: The Cleveland House Where Langston Hughes Became a WriterInteresting piece about how the genesis of American elite institutions is inextricably intertwined with slavery and exploitation.
It's a modest but substantial dwelling, a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath colonial built in 1890 at 2266 East 86th Street in Cleveland. Walking by, you might not even notice it.
But under the steeply pitched roof in the third-floor attic, high school-aged Langston Hughes rented a room between 1917 and 1919 ... when his mother left town to live with his stepfather in Chicago. ...
At the time, Hughes wrote for the school's literary magazine and developed a friendship with Russell and Rowena Jelliffe, social activists and arts promoters who ran the famed Karamu settlement house, where Hughes taught art classes and where some of his plays were later produced. ...
The [house] was in danger of demolition not long ago. The home, like many structures in this part of town, had been neglected and then abandoned. At one point it was condemned, despite its Cleveland landmark designation.
But now the space has been completely renovated by the Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation, a community housing organization, and put on the market for $85,000.
The Evening Greens
US State Department Considers Rail Transport of Crude in Keystone XL Decision
A decision on the proposed northern half of the Keystone XL pipeline - under review since 2008 - hinges on a final environmental review by the State Department now taking into consideration the importance oil-by-rail transport might have on growth of Alberta's tar sands.
US officials are evaluating the impact Keystone XL will have on expansion of the tar sands and whether or not the pipeline will worsen climate change. According to a new report by Reuters the evaluation has created a balancing test, “zeroing in on the question of whether shipment by rail is a viable alternative to the controversial project.”
The test's crux: “if there is enough evidence that the oil sands region will quickly grow with our without the 1,200-mile line, that would undercut an argument from environmentalists that the pipeline would turbocharge expansion,” Reuters reports.
President Barack Obama's State Department is asking rail executives to report on logistics, market dynamics and what obstacles oil-by-rail alternatives face in delivering 830,000 barrels of Canadian oil to Cushing, Oklahoma - the "pipeline crossroads of the world" - where Keystone XL's northern half will link up with Keystone XL's southern half which is expected to be up and running by the end of October.
With numerous pipeline proposals facing opposition all across Canada and the US, oil-by-rail transport alternatives has picked up some slack. But the high costs associated with rail and the dangers associated with oil-by-rail transport suggest there are real limitations to a full-scale tar sands-by-rail revolution.
As Reuters reports, even rail operators admit tanker trains can supplement but not substitute the movement of crude by pipeline.
Australia investigates Great Barrier Reef board after television exposé reveals member ties to mining industry
Australia launched a probe Wednesday into the agency responsible for protecting the Great Barrier Reef after some board members were urged to resign over alleged conflicts of interest related to the mining industry.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt ordered an investigation after the Australian Broadcasting Corporation aired allegations that coal and gas industry ties had seen the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) relax its stance on industrial development.
“I have ordered an immediate independent probity inquiry into the allegations that have been raised,” Hunt told reporters. ...
According to the ABC, two of GBRMPA’s five board members have close links to the resources sector — Tony Mooney, an executive with Guildford Coal and Jon Grayson, who owns a stake in Gasfields Water and Waste Services.
Both men were at a critical meeting last year where the GBRMPA board turned its back on advice from in-house scientists that it oppose port development in areas with “potential to degrade inshore diversity”.
Instead, the board issued a watered-down statement saying such biodiversity impact should be a “key consideration” in port approvals, while calling for further consultations with the mining industry on the issue. ...
The reef is facing a world heritage downgrade from UNESCO next year due to concerns about rampant coastal development proposed in the region, particularly port, gas and coal operations.
Congressman Pushes For ‘Zombie Pipeline Act’ That Would Speed Up Pipeline Approval Process
On Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing for a bipartisan bill that aims to speed up the permitting process for oil and natural gas pipelines that crosses country borders — like Keystone XL would — by taking the permitting authority out of the hands of the President and into the jurisdiction of other agencies.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) along with 15 other House cosponsors introduced H.R. 3301, the North American Energy Infrastructure Act, which would shorten the permitting process usually conducted by the State Department and approved or denied by the President to no longer than 120 days. Instead of the State Department, the process would be under the control of three agencies: the Secretary of Commerce for oil pipelines, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for natural gas pipelines and the Secretary of Energy for transmission facilities. ... If the entire permitting process — including developing environmental reviews and getting citizen input — was reduced to 120 days, it would seriously undermine FERC’s ability to do its job, Jeff Wright, Director of the Office of Energy Projects at FERC said at a hearing on the bill Tuesday. Though Wright said 92 to 93 percent of proposed natural gas pipelines make it through the permitting process in one year, the 120-day period isn’t enough to allow for environmental impact reviews or for citizens to raise questions and concerns about the project.
“The premise of the Upton bill is that tar sands pipelines should be approved quickly with no environmental review,” Henry Waxman (D-CA) said at the hearing. “This should really be called the ‘Zombie Pipeline Act.’ Under this bill, even if the admin rejects KXL l because it’s not in public interest, KXL could rise from the dead and be rubber-stamped.”
Blog Posts of Interest
Here are diaries and selected blog posts of interest on DailyKos and other blogs.What's Happenin'
A Little Night Music
Luther Allison - Cherry Red Wine
Luther Allison - Dust my broom
Luther Allison Band - She Was Born That Way
Luther Allison - It's Been a Long Time
Luther Allison - Serious
Luther Allison & Bernard Allison - Life is a bitch
Luther Allison - Fight
Luther Allison - Should I Wait
Luther Allison - San-Ho-Zay
Luther Allison - Soul Fixin' Man
It's National Pie Day!
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