Tag Archives: Legislature

#125: My Presidential Election Fears

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #125, on the subject of My Presidential Election Fears.

I mentioned (originally in #68:  Ridiculous Republicans back in March, most recently this past week in #123:  The 2016 Election in New Jersey) that this election was going to be about whom you vote against.  A lot of people are afraid, very afraid, that one of these candidates will win–probably equally applicable to both candidates, and some voters are afraid of both.  I have thought about it, and agree that there is reason to be afraid, but I think I am afraid of only one of them.  So permit me a moment to explain.

img0125candidates

I am not afraid of a Donald Trump Presidency.

I recognize that Trump presents a lot of bluster and arrogance.  He is perceived as a buffoon, a cartoon, a joke.  However, he probably has laughed all the way to the bank more than once.  He is a successful businessman, with experience in the real world both nationally and internationally.  He knows how to run a business, even several businesses.

The perception of Trump from the outside is that he will make many rash decisions.  One does not become ludicrously wealthy by making rash decisions–bold, yes, rash, no.  Rather, there are two things which someone successful in business learns very early, or he does not continue to be successful for long:

  1. Hire experts who know their subject, listen to their advice, and follow it.
  2. Hire executives who know their jobs, and let them do them.

This, incidentally, appears to be how Ronald Reagan ran his White House:  surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing, and trust them to do it.  I don’t say that Trump is another Reagan; I do expect that he would follow that same effective pattern.  Presidents who think they know how to do everything and try to control it all are generally viewed as lesser successes–Wilson, Carter.  Those who know how to obtain good advice and delegate important tasks and decisions prove to be the best executives–and the President of the United States is ultimately an executive, not different in kind from the president of a multi-national corporation.

I don’t know that he has always been completely honest, but I believe that he has avoided doing anything illegal, and I think that he means what he says even if he’s a bit dramatic at times.  I think in those senses he is trustworthy.  He might rattle the big stick quite a bit, but under the bluster he obviously has enough sense to make things work.

As far as some of his “crazy policies”, well, despite the nonsense our present President has tried with his executive orders attempting to end run the legislature, Presidents do not get to do whatever they want.  I don’t see even a solidly Republican Congress rubberstamping his ideas, and I’m doubtful we’ll have a solidly Republican Congress.  The laws that do get passed will be no more nor less ridiculous than those passed in the past, because we have a good system that works well in that regard.  The legislative branch is totally independent of the executive, and has a fair amount of influence over executive appointments and actions, so there is a check in place for all of that.

I am afraid of a Hillary Clinton Presidency.

The simple reason is that I do not trust her.  I believe that she lies to obtain power, wealth, and fame.  I don’t see that changing simply because she gets it.  There are serious concerns about whether she and her staff are guilty of treason in leaking classified information through carelessness–and while one might thereby excuse it because everyone makes mistakes, there are also serious allegations of influence peddling when she was Secretary of State.  There is the potential that she will be indicted for any of these offenses before she can take the oath of office.

I do not want our President to be available to the highest bidder.

I do not want our President to lie to us about her intentions or her actions.

I do not want our next Supreme Court nominee, or appointee to the State Department, or any other government official to be selected from the short list of Clinton Foundation donors.

I have had enough of government corruption and overreaching with the present administration, and would like to see it ended.  A Clinton Presidency would more likely escalate it.  There is good evidence that she has lied, cheated, and stolen in the past, and no evidence that she will do otherwise in the future.  I would prefer not to give her that opportunity.

I believe that we are all in God’s hands; that does not mean He will protect our nation.  We will get either the government we need or the one we deserve.  That might not be the one we like, but God knows what He’s doing.  My fears might become reality, or they might be allayed; I might be wrong in my assessment of the dangers in either direction.  However, I am going to vote against the candidate I most fear.  We do not need a Democratic version of Richard Nixon.

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#123: The 2016 Election in New Jersey

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #123, on the subject of The 2016 Election in New Jersey.

We are days from the quadrennial presidential election here in these United States, and I have, perhaps negligently, not written about the election at all since March.  At that time I published Dizzying Democrats and Ridiculous Republicans,img0123candidates
a pair of articles in which I decried the nonsense happening in both parties and concluded with the words

…we are looking toward a highly polarized election which at this point looks like the exit poll question will be, “Whom did you vote against?”

(Those who follow this web log will already have guessed that I am far more afraid of Clinton than of Trump; those who do not follow my writing probably are not particularly moved by that.)

But even if it has not been negligent for me to have ignored this ludicrous Presidential race between the Jackass and the Snake (I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which is whom), the fact is that the election is about more than merely choosing the next President of the United States.  Here in New Jersey, at least, we are electing a dozen members of the United States House of Representatives, and have two significant Public Questions on the ballot.  You can learn more than you want to know about the Presidential candidates anywhere; I owe you the opportunity to learn more about the local candidates.

After the brief assessment of the candidates, we have some thoughts about voting for people, for parties, and for third party candidates, that apply to everyone, so if you’re not from New Jersey (or you are and have found the information on your district) skip down below the numbered list and read that part.

Fortuitously, we provided sufficient coverage of the election of the current office holders in 2014, including the election results, and so it is simple enough to find your incumbent–and since probably your incumbent has been the familiar name bombarding you with political ads in your mailbox, you can work backwards from that to your district.  It is a bit tougher to find the opponents, but with the aid of sites like Ballotpedia you can usually find just about any politician in the country and his positions on a wide range of issues.  Here’s a quick rundown, with links to that site for more information.

  1. In the First Congressional District, covering most of Camden and parts of Gloucester and Burlington Counties, Democratic incumbent Donald Norcross is defending his seat against newcomer Republican Bob Patterson, writer and lobbyist, along with three other third-party candidates including a Libertarian.
  2. In the Second Congressional District, covering all of Salem, Cumberland, Cape May, and Atlantic Counties plus portions of Camden, Burlington, and Ocean Counties, Republican incumbent Frank Lobiondo is defending his seat against young Democrat Dave Cole, a Rutgers political science graduate who sought this seat in 2014 but lost in the primary, and against five other candidates including a Libertarian.
  3. In the Third Congressional District, covering most of Burlington and portions of Ocean Counties, Republican incumbent Tom MacArthur faces Democrat Frederick John LaVergne, who lost this same race two years ago, plus a third-party Libertarian candidate.
  4. In the Fourth Congressional District, covering most of Monmouth and parts of Mercer and Ocean Counties, long-time Republican incumbent Chris Smith faces Democrat Lorna Phillipson, failed candidate for the New Jersey Assembly who was put on the ballot here when the winner of the Democratic primary dropped from the race, and by two other candidates one from the Libertarian party.
  5. In the Fifth Congressional District, covering northern portions of Warren, Sussex, Passaic, and Bergen Counties, Republican incumbent Scott Garrett defends against Democratic newcomer Josh Gottheimer, a well-educated former (Bill) Clinton speechwriter and Microsoft executive.  Again there is a Libertarian party candidate in this race.
  6. Democrat Frank Pallone is the defending incumbent in the Sixth Congressional District, covering parts of Monmouth and Middlesex Counties, against Republican newcomer and small businessman Brent Sonnek-Schmelz, along with third party candidates from both the Libertarian and Green parties.
  7. Republican incumbent Leonard Lance is defending his seat in the Seventh Congressional District, covering Hunterdon and parts of Essex, Somerset, Union, and Warren Counties, against Democratic newcomer Peter Jacob, union supporter from an immigrant family, and against both Libertarian and Conservative Party candidates.
  8. Democratic incumbent Albio Sires defends in the Eighth Congressional District, covering parts of Bergen, Essex, Hudson, and Union Counties, against unknown Republican Agha Khan, and two others including a Libertarian.
  9. Democratic incumbent Bill Pascrell defends his seat in the Ninth Congressional District, covering parts of Bergen, Passaic, and Hudson Counties, against Republican Hector Castillo, previous candidate as a Republican for New Jersey State Senate and as an independent for New Jersey Governor, and against two third-party candidates, one a Libertarian.
  10. Democratic incumbent Donald Payne, Jr., continuing to hold his father’s seat in the Tenth Congressional District, covering parts of Essex, Union, and Hudson Counties, defends it against Republican David Pinckney, twice-failed candidate for the New Jersey State Assembly, and against two third-party candidates.
  11. The Eleventh Congressional District, covering parts of Morris, Passaic, Essex, and Sussex Counties, has long been held by Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen, who is defending against Democratic newcomer Joseph Wenzel plus two third-party candidates, one a Libertarian.
  12. In the Twelfth Congressional District, covering parts of Mercer, Middlesex, Union, and Somerset Counties, incumbent Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman defends her seat against former Libertarian now Republican Steven Uccio, failed candidate from both of those parties in several previous races, and against five third-party candidates including a Libertarian and a Green.

There is an argument in favor of voting for the candidate who best represents your views, regardless of his party affiliation.  There is also an argument in favor of voting for the party that has the best chance to bring at least some of your views into action.  Several of the candidates in various races this year are Greens, and quite a few are Libertarians, both parties representing some significant worthwhile positions–and yet their presence in the race actually decreases the probability that those policies will be enacted.

We have discussed the two-party system in our piece on Coalition Government, that particularly in Presidential politics but to a significant degree at every level elections are won by forming coalitions of disparate groups who can agree on a few policies they consider most important.  The Democrats agree with the Greens on critical environmental issues, but the Greens feel that the Democrats do not prioritize these sufficiently; the Republicans similarly stand with the Libertarians on limited government, but the Libertarians believe that the Republicans do not go far enough in this direction.  Yet every vote for a Green party candidate is one less for the Democrat who might have been elected and who would to some degree have supported Green policies, and every vote for a Libertarian is one less for the Republican who similarly might have advanced Libertarian causes.

The argument in the other direction is, of course, that the two parties which currently exist are not the original two parties, and over time coalitions dissolve and reform anew.  Prior to the Kennedy administration the Republicans were the Civil Rights party and the Democrats the oppressors of minorities.  Libertarians and Greens hope that they will attract enough support to become one of the two parties.  Yet they are viewed as single-issue parties, and single-issue parties, again as we previously noted in The Republican Dilemma, fail to form the coalitions necessary to win elections.  They work, generally, when a single issue has so divided the nation that many voters will support one side or the other above any other question and the two major parties have failed to take clear sides; but that is not the case in the present despite the severe polarization of our nation.

It is also worth considering that particularly in legislative bodies the party with the best representation often controls the procedural aspects of the agenda–a major advantage frequently that goes beyond what your individual representative can do.  Thus if you prefer Republican policies but like the Democratic candidate, you should at least consider voting for the Republican you don’t like, because that will make it more possible for Republican policies to advance even if your representative does not support them entirely.

So with that advice, I encourage you to vote in this election, and promise to return before then with a look at the two public questions on the New Jersey ballot.

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#60: Federalism and Elected Senators

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #60, on the subject of Federalism and Elected Senators.

The Utah House of Representatives has passed a measure and sent it to the Utah State Senate, calling on the United States legislatures to begin the process of repealing the 17th amendment to the United States Constitution.

This is a bit ironic, I suppose.  Although there are several states which never ratified that century-old amendment, Utah is the only state which voted against ratification.  On the other hand, the amendment itself came into existence through a process very like this:  state legislatures around the country passed motions asking the federal legislatures to introduce this constitutional amendment.  It took the better part of a century for it to be accepted, and now one state that tried to reject it then wants to reject it now.

They are not entirely alone, though.  The repeal of the seventeenth amendment is one of the ideas supported by the Tea Party; and since it is apparently growing in favor, we should understand what it is, what it changed, and why we passed it originally.

Utah State Capitol Building
Utah State Capitol Building

All Americans are familiar with the phrase “checks and balances”.  It is why we have three “co-equal” branches of government.  Jefferson would have been happy with a single legislative house as the sole branch of government, on his belief that rational men would always do the right thing given opportunity to discuss it among themselves.  Between the representatives themselves and the existence of “reason” as a nearly divine entity guiding man, they had their checks and balances inherent in their interactions.  (We think that naive, but it was the view of many intellectuals of the time.)  Our independently-elected executive (parliamentary governments have the legislature select the executive) is charged with performing that which the legislature directs, but has one chance to veto any law he finds objectionable, subject to the ability of the legislature to override that if they’re really serious (two-thirds majority vote in both houses).  Our judiciary can originate nothing, but can veto anything if it is brought to them in a legitimate case.  These powers prevent any individual or to some degree any faction from dominating government.

One of those balances rarely mentioned is our “bicameral legislature”–that there is a House of Representatives and a separate Senate.  The membership of the House is based on the population of the states, each state divided into districts with proportional population such that voters across the nation are roughly equally represented there in a process that brings the representation almost to your neighborhood.  The Senate, by contrast, is comprised by exactly two Senators from each state.  Representatives serve two-year terms, and are constantly seeking to be returned to office; Senators serve six-year stretches, each state appointing one or the other every three years.  As originally designed, Senators were selected by the state legislatures, not by the voters.

To understand that, you have to get back into the mindset of the late late eigthteenth century.  Having come out of a “War of Independence” also known as the “American Revolutionary War”, thirteen former colonies were now independent of Great Britain.  Each was now called a “state”–but the word “state” then did not have the meaning we understand.  France was a “state”; Russia was a “state”.  The word meant “country” or “nation”  At that point we regarded ourselves as thirteen independent countries, each with its own government.  I would have been regarded a citizen of New Jersey.  This, though, was still the Age of Imperialism–not only England but France, Spain, Portugal, Russia, and Austria held sway over colonies around the world.  “Czar” was the Russian spelling of “Caesar”, and Austria was the home of the Holy Roman Emperor.  Little countries did not stay independent long in that world.  So the colonies created a treaty alliance, something akin to NATO, to provide for the mutual defense.  They also agreed, in principle, to something like free trade with each other, similar the European Economic Community.  However, it was evident that under the original Articles of Confederation it was not working as envisioned:  states would impose tarriffs on goods imported from or exported to other states, crossing state (read:  international) lines was sometimes complicated, and laws enforced in one state would be different in another.  It led to a Constitutional Convention, intended officially to revise the Articles of Confederation to address a few trade issues, and resulting in the composition of The Constitution of the United States of America.

The Constitution is very much a Federalist document.  At that time, the Federalists wanted to reduce the power of individual states and fuse them into a single nation, converting the “confederation” into a “federation”.  The Democrats, though, were opposed to this.  They wanted as little government as possible, as close to the individual as possible.  A federal government that could exercise authority over thirteen countries was too much like an empire, and its emperoror, even if called “President”, was inherently too powerful as a concept.  Those thirteen countries that were going to be united under this treaty called a Constitution were going to have to be protected from that central imperial power.  The states themselves as such needed to be represented at the federal level.  This was achieved by three provisions.

The first is that the election of Representatives was to be done on a state-by-state basis, that is, district by district within individual states.  This may seem obvious, but it isn’t, really.  If we had a perfectly equal voter-to-representative ratio, small states like Delaware would not have their own representative but would be represented by someone whose district overlapped with adjacent states.  Israel’s Knesset does not divide the country into districts but lets everyone vote for any one candidate, and the one hundred twenty candidates with the most votes nationwide are elected.  Our Constitution provides that each state is apportioned Representatives based on state population, to be elected directly by the eligible voters in geographical districts of roughly equal population–but the state government gets to define those districts, as long as they comply with that requirement.  So the state, as a state, has some influence over those elections, and is represented through those Representatives which represent its people.

The second provision which gave the states representation at the federal level is the Electoral College.  Technically, the voters do not elect the President of the United States.  The voters elect individual Electors who represent their individual states in electing the President.  As we have noted, the individual state governments get to decide how that is done–two states proportion their electors based on the proportion of voters supporting each candidate, the remaining states having winner-take-all elections.  Thus in a very real sense the State of New Jersey casts its fourteen votes for President of the United States, and the State of Delaware casts its three votes; the voters in these states vote not for the President but for who they want their state to support.

However, the biggest provision creating representation of the states as states in the federal government was the fact that Senators were appointed by state legislatures, not directly by the voters.  They did not run state-wide campaigns, but sought the approval of their political colleagues; and they were not beholden to voters or donors but to those legislators, who could exercise some direct influence over how those Senators would vote.  Senators were, in a sense, ambassadors to the United Nations, when those united nations were thirteen former British colonies forming a federated union.  It meant that the two houses of Congress were different in kind, one representing the people, the other representing the states, and thus that they would have different interests.

The seventeenth amendment changed that.  Our first two questions are why and how, and after that we have to wonder why Utah and the Tea Party want to change it back.

The how is simple enough.  The seventeenth amendment to the United States Constitution took the senatorial appointment power away from the state legislatures and gave it to the voters directly.  Each Senator is now chosen by the majority of all the voters in his home state, and so, in theory, each represents the interests of all of them.  There is also a provision stating that in the event of a vacancy, the legislature can empower the governor to appoint an interim Senator and schedule a special election (as we saw here in New Jersey a couple years back when Senator Lautenberg died).  The legislature no longer has the power to appoint or approve the appointment of Senators.

Two reasons for the change were advanced at the time.  One was the potential for political corruption.  It was asserted that it was possible for a wealthy individual to bribe enough state legislators in essence to purchase a seat in the Senate.  It was alleged that this had happened, maybe two or three times.  It had not been a severe problem, but it was viewed as a potential problem.  It was also an occasional problem that gridlock in a state legislature caused a Senate seat to remain unfilled for extended periods–sometimes several years–which of course meant that those states were not adequately represented in Congress.

Ultimately, though, the driving force seemed to be a push toward centralized government, to reduce the power of the state legislatures in favor of a stronger connection between the federal legislators and the voters.  In theory it is supposed to make the federal government more directly responsive to the people.  It makes state government less relevant at the national level.

That was one of the key arguments against it then, and one of the key arguments against it now; but now that we have had a century of the new system, a new objection has been raised.  It is asserted that the Senators, now elected by the populace instead of selected by the legislatures, no longer represent the interests of the people at all, but rather represent the interests of big money.  In most states it is very costly to run a Senate campaign; if the salary was the only benefit, the return on investment would be minimal.  Candidates are very dependent on financing, and financing, particularly in the larger states, is very dependent on business, or banking, or unions, or other large financiers.  Thus while you are your Senators’ constituent in name, in practice he is far more indebted to, and far more interested in pleasing, those who give the big contributions which support his campaign every half dozen years.  He owes you nothing–and his long six-year term means he is well insulated against any effort you might make to replace him.

That is what Utah asserts:  our Senators are not responsive to the states the way they were originally intended to be, and they are not responsible to the people who elect them as the change was supposed to induce, but only to the wealthy special interest groups who finance them.  It might have been a good idea to take the power from the state legislators and give it directly to the voters, but the effect has been to give the power to the people with the money.  Better to give it back to the state governments where the founders intended than to leave it where it is.

So that’s the argument.  Now the question is, should we go back to the original way?

Here in New Jersey it is difficult to imagine the state as a unified entity.  We are viewed by outsiders as predominantly “blue”, that is, Democratic, and our state legislature is dominated by Democrats and both of our Senators are Democrats–but we have a Republican Governor at the moment, and our Representatives in the House break evenly between the parties.  The northeast is dominated by urban industrial and business interests, the south is largely rural and still strongly agricultural, the northwest mountainous bordering on wilderness.  Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) sports teams are the home teams in almost half the state, New York (New York) teams in the other half, and those out-of-state cities also provide our local television, radio, and to some degree newspaper coverage.  Public Television offers a New Jersey Network, but it is not much watched, New York and Philadelphia Public Television dominating their respective markets.  There are perennial calls for the southern part of the state to secede from the more populus north, thwarted in part by the problem that both halves want Atlantic City and want the other to take Trenton.  The notion that my state legislature could pick Senators who represent this state seems ludicrous.

Nor is New Jersey the only state with this kind of problem.  Predominantly rural and wilderness upstate New York often complains that the populous metropolitan area of its namesake city dominates politics and government, and talks of dividing into two states.  Nor is this a new idea.  West Virginia was once part of Virginia.  One calculation suggests that if every state secessionist movement had been successful, there would now be between two and three times as many states.  Our states are not more unified than our nation, really; it only seems so to those outside because they only see the results of the elections, and only for the top offices.

And the question of how well our state legislatures represent our state populations is similarly suspect.  We hear much about redistricting when it applies to the House of Representatives, but it also applies to our state legislatures, in which one way or another the sitting legislators periodically decide how to divide the voting districts which select them, with all the gerrymandering that often involves to create districts that will keep the party in power in power.  Repealing the seventeenth amendment will not put the power in the hands of the people.  It is not supposed to, of course; it is supposed to put the power in the hands of the state government, so the states themselves will be represented at the federal level.  Yet if we have trouble with state governments adequately representing their own constituents, that will be compounded by letting the party which wins a slim majority in the state legislature decide who will represent them in the federal one.

It might have the positive effect of making voters interested in state government elections.  There is a tendency for voter turnout to be highest when there is a Presidential election, relatively high when there is a Senator on the ballot, and progressively lower for a Congressional election, state government election, and local election.  Yet if it became the case that our choice of New Jersey State Assemblyman became our vote for United States Senator from New Jersey, it might well become the case that New Jersey voters would be more interested in who those were and for what they stood.  Injecting national politics into state politics might be a boost for the state system.

On the other hand, in some states giving the choice of Senator to the state legislature would be de facto giving it to the party committee of the political party that controls the state.  We have only sections of that in New Jersey, where there are still “party bosses” who choose candidates and put them in office because they control the party that always wins the district.  The old system is subject to a new form of corruption, giving more power to the party in power and making it more difficult for the voters to wrest that power from it.

So Utah is right to the degree that there is a problem, a corruption in the present system; but the solution does not seem to be returning to the old system.  It is difficult, though, to envision a new system that would work.  We might have the Governor of each state select one of the Senators and the legislature the other; or have one elected by popular vote and the other the legislature, or perhaps have a two-stage election in which the voters in essence nominate several candidates and then the legislature selects one.  Some way of choosing Senators might be devised which at least reduces their dependence on big money without making them too beholden to party interests.  That way is not the repeal of the seventeenth amendment but its replacement with a better idea not yet envisioned.

Quite a few articles on the site are at least peripherally related to issues in this web log post, among them particularly Coalition Government which includes explanations of the Electoral College system, Polarization on why the country is so divided, Re-election Incongruity on why everyone claims that Congress should be recalled but incumbents are consistently re-elected, and Election Law, which includes discussions of redistricting issues.

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#15: The 2015 Election Results

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #15, on the subject of The 2015 Election Results.

I previously gave a quick look at the anticipated election.  You have by now probably heard the national news–Democrats did not win in Virginia, and there are quite a few other stories hitting the national headlines.  I feel only that I am obligated to give you some notion of the situation in New Jersey.  That previous mark Joseph “young” web log entry, #12:  The 2015 Election, identified all the candidates in all the state-wide races.  This article will be much shorter, and is here to tell you who won.

img0015Seal

The short answer is that in the main the incumbents won.  Here are the exceptions.

In district one, Republican Sam Fiocchi was unseated in a close race by Democrat Bruce Land.

In district five, where Democratic incumbents Gilbert Wilson and Angel Fuentes did not run for re-election, they have been replaced by Democrats Patricia Jones and Arthur Barclay.

In district eleven, Republican incumbents Mary Pat Angelini and Caroline Casagrande were edged out by Democratic challengers Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey.

In district sixteen, Republicans incumbent Jack Ciatarelli was re-elected, and it appears that Republican incumbent Donna Simon was edged out by Democrat Andrew Zwicker in a very close three-way race including Democrat Maureen Vella in a very close last place.

In district twenty-two, Democratic incumbent Linda Stender did not run, but was replaced by Democrat James Kennedy.

In district twenty-four, Republican incumbent Alison McHose did not run, but was replaced by Republican Gail Phoebus.

In district thirty-one where Incumbent Democrats Jason O’Donnell and Charles Mainor did not run, they were replaced by Democrats Angela McKnight and Nicholas Chiaravalloti.

In district thirty-three where Democratic incumbent Carmelo Garcia did not run, he was replaced by Democrat Annette Chaparro.

Assuming the sixteenth district seat goes to Democrat Zwicker, the Democrats have increased their hold on the Assembly from forty-eight/thirty-two to fifty-two/twenty-eight.

That’s the election coverage for the Garden State this year.

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