Saturday, December 20, 2014

Democracy, Schools, and Teachers' Unions

Leo Casey 
Over the course of the last 12 weeks, I have been thinking about our conversations here on democracy, schools, and teachers' unions. We write under the banner of "bridging differences," and notwithstanding our broad agreement on most important questions we have discussed, there are "differences" that could be teased out of the dialogue.
At the outset, I must confess that I am deeply suspicious of efforts to identify "differences" with those who share most of our view of the world. The impulse to draw "lines of demarcation" around ourselves takes an almost pathological form among many on the American left, a "narcissism of small differences" in which the main political fire is invariably aimed at those who are politically nearest. It creates a political culture where vanguard politics fades into Puritanism: The moral purity of the self-anointed elect is preserved, but at the price of complete political marginality and irrelevance. I have no taste for such political fare.
But let us see if we can arrive at a more productive discussion of our political differences. You ask "Do teachers' unions truly practice democracy?" I could point to the literature on union democracy and to the organizational features that it identifies as crucial for union democracy, and demonstrate how teachers' unions not only possess those features, but possess them in greater measure than other unions.[1]
But there is a more fundamental disagreement at work here: I think your query is the wrong question. When I think about such matters, I ask myself different questions. "At a time that teachers' unions face existential threats, how do we defend the democratic voice that they provide teachers?" "How can we strengthen the voice that unions provide teachers, making teachers' unions more democratic?"

Friday, December 19, 2014

Immigrant Children in Our Schools

Arriving After Trauma
A majority, 58 percent, of the children arriving here have left war-like conditions that could qualify them for international protection as refugees, according to a recent report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, commonly known as UNHCR. The international agency recommends a thorough screening of each arriving minor to determine if he or she qualifies for that protection. Buffeted by shouting matches in Washington, D.C. and several state capitals, that process is underway.
In the meantime, schools across the country are enrolling large numbers of newly arrived Central American students and trying to figure out the best way to serve them.
Many new arrivals have had little formal schooling. A majority stopped attending school after sixth grade, according to UNHCR. In addition to learning English and the subject matter of their various classes, they also must learn to raise their hands to answer questions, change classes when a bell rings and never wander the halls without a bathroom pass. And there are still those normal teenage concerns: remembering one’s locker combination and flirting, now in a new language.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

This is a bad deal for you and I !

by Duane Campbell

The omnibus budget deal being debated in Congress passed on Sat. evening  includes a continuation of the budget cuts known as the sequester. 
And Senator Elizabeth Warren has revealed the Wall Street subversion in this bill and is making a brave stand against the deal.

It is important to understand our current economic situation to understand the  conflict in Congress  and our economic future.
First, know that Wall Street has recovered, but main street has not.
Middle-class wages are stagnant. Unemployment is stalled at record levels. College education is leading to debt servitude and job insecurity. Millions of unemployed Americans have essentially been abandoned by their government.  Poverty is soaring.
 Bankers break the law with impunity, are bailed out, and go on breaking the law, richer than they were before. Only a handful of people have gone to jail, none of the really big operators. Now, more than 6 years after the crisis began,  no senior officials of the corporations that looted our economy have been held accountable.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

LA Unified, San Francisco Unified to Require Ethnic Studies

L.A. Unified to require ethnic studies for high school graduation

LAUSD Ethnic Studies
Students at LAUSD high schools such as Thomas Jefferson High School will be required for the first time to take ethnic studies classes to graduate. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
In an attempt to build cultural understanding, LAUSD will require ethnic studies for high school graduates
Students in the Los Angeles Unified School District will be required for the first time to take ethnic studies classes as part of an effort to encourage stronger cultural understanding.
The idea, brought forward by Board of Education members Bennett Kayser, George McKenna and Steve Zimmer, is aimed at narrowing the academic gap between minority students and their white and Asian peers by pushing students to achieve through the exploration of different perspectives in literature, history and social justice. More than 90 languages are spoken in the district.
Related story: El Rancho schools don't wait on state, adopt ethnic-studies curriculum
Related story: El Rancho schools don't wait on state, adopt ethnic-studies curriculum
Stephen Ceasar
The school system allowed ethnic studies classes in the 1990s, but let the schools decide whether to offer them. Few provided the courses. This time, they will be a graduation requirement at all high schools.
Jose Lara, a leading advocate of the move and a social studies teacher at Santee Education Complex, said students develop a better sense of self-worth when they learn about themselves and their history.
He said teachers will have the freedom to craft curriculum to suit the needs and interests of their students. "In East L.A., it might be Chicano history. In Koreatown, it might be Asian American courses," he said.

Ethnic Studies to be required in San Francisco Unified

antiracismdsa: Ethnic Studies to be required in San Francisco: Ethnic Studies Victory! San Francisco Unified, 3rd District in CA Making it a Graduation Requirement T he San Francisco Unified School ...

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The great uninformed- When policy wonks and editorial boards listen mostly to themselves

Headlines and articles in recent press reports raise an alarm about low voter turnout while ignoring some of the most obvious causes.
On Sunday, the Sacramento Bee editorial noted low voter turn out and insisted  on a need for change.  But, these establishment sources seek minor technical changes restricted by their own narrow views of the problem  rather than looking at more  substantive issues.

Young people, particularly students of color, have low levels of attachment to California and U.S.  civil society  messages to vote  in significant part because the government institution they encounter the most- the schools- ignore the students own history, cultures and experiences. Children and young adults need to see themselves in the curriculum. 

Policy wonks and the Bee Editorial Board   urge changing registration and voting systems because  I guess in their segregated white world, students of color are not seen, they are not important. This is, I grant, a little better than the civics curriculum promoted by the Koch brothers in the post below. 

When the 51 % of the California students who are Latino , and the 9 % who are Asian do not see themselves as part of  official history,  for many their sense of self is marginalized.   Marginalization negatively impacts their connections with school their success at school and the likelihood that they will vote as adults.   Marginalization  contributes to an up to  50% drop out rate for Latinos and some Asian students. 

Thursday, December 04, 2014

How the Koch Brothers Are Sneaking Their Way Into Public Schools

In November  in Boston, thousands of teachers will gather for the annual National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference.
Two non-teachers will be there, too: Charles and David Koch, the notorious right-wing billionaires.
Well, the Kochs won’t be there in person, but they will be represented by a Koch-funded and controlled organization: the Arlington, Virginia-based Bill of Rights Institute. For years, the Bill of Rights Institute has shown up at NCSS conferences to offer curriculum workshops, distribute teaching materials, and collect the names of interested educators. What the Bill of Rights Institute representatives fail to mention when they speak with teachers is that they have been the conduit for millions of dollars from Charles and David Koch, as the brothers seek to influence the country’s social studies curriculum. (When I attended a Bill of Rights Institute workshop at an NCSS conference, I asked the presenter who funds their organization. “Donations,” she replied.)
With assets of more than $80 billion, the Koch brothers, who control Koch Industries, are together richer than Bill Gates. As a recent Rolling Stone exposé (“Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire”) by investigative reporter Tim Dickinson details, the Kochs made that money largely by polluting the Earth and heating up the climate, with massive oil and gas holdings. And through their network of far right foundations and front groups, they lobby for policies and fund politicians in line with their free market, fossil fuel interests.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Banned Mexican American Studies improved student a...

antiracismdsa: Banned Mexican American Studies improved student a...: by Roque Planas The Mexican-American Studies curriculum in Tucson public schools banned by the conservative-dominated Arizona legislatu...

Friday, November 28, 2014

antiracismdsa: Dr. Martin Luther King- Race Riots and The Other ...

antiracismdsa: Dr. Martin Luther King- Race Riots and The Other ...: " The Other America " - Speech by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Grosse Pointe High School - March 14, 1968 ] Rev. Dr. Har...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving- a troubled legacy

If you add the Salem Witch trails and the French and Indian War, this summary pretty much covers the average American’s vision of the century and a half that passed between the landing at Plymouth Rock and the fireworks of July 4, 1776. It’s what might be called the Thanksgiving Myth — and it’s not wildly off base as far as it goes. But some important context is missing. This is a problem, because a nation’s foundational mythology determines its self-image and deeply affects the behavior of its government and citizenry.
From 1616 to 1619, a series of virgin-soil epidemics spread by European trading vessels ravaged the New England seaboard, wiping out up to 95 percent of the Algonkian-speaking native population from Maine to Narragansett Bay. The coast was a vast killing zone of abandoned agricultural fields and decimated villages littered with piles of bones and skulls. This is what the Pilgrims encountered when they landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Not a pristine wilderness, but the devastated ruins of a once-thriving culture, a haunting boneyard which English libertine Thomas Morton later described as a “newfound Golgotha.”
The collision of worldviews is almost impossible to imagine. On the one hand, a European society full of religious fervor and colonizing energy; on the other, a native society shattered and reeling from the greatest catastrophe it had ever known. The Puritans were forever examining their own spiritual state. Having come to America with the goal of separating themselves from polluted forms of worship, a great deal of their energy was focused on battling demons, both within themselves and at large in the world. Puritan clerics confused the Indian deity Kiehtan with God, and they conflated Hobbamock, a fearsome nocturnal spirit associated with Indian shamans, or powwows, with Satan. Because of this special connection many Puritans believed that the powwows, and by extension all the New England Indians, were bound by a covenant with the devil. Indians thus became symbolic adversaries, their very existence a threat to the Englishmen’s prized religious identities.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Los Angeles School Board votes to require Ethnic Studies

by Duane Campbell 
On Tuesday, the LAUSD board voted to require courses to offer ethnic studies classes at all of the district high schools.  A few courses had already been offered, but this provides a substantial increase in offering.
San Francisco Unified will consider a similar decision at their December meeting.

Children and young adults need to see themselves in the curriculum.  Students, particularly students of color, have low levels of attachment to California and U.S.  civil society  messages in significant part because the government institution they encounter the most- the schools- ignore the students own history, cultures and experiences.
A fundamental way to engage students in civic culture is to engage them in their own schools and communities.  That is where the students most encounter civic opportunities.

When the 51  % of the California students who are Latino , and the 9  % who are Asian do not see themselves as part of history,  for many their sense of self is marginalized.   Marginalization negatively impacts their connections with school and their success at school.  It contributes to an up to  50% drop out rate for Latinos and some Asian students.  A more accurate, more complete  history  provided in Ethnic studies courses  would provide some students with a  a sense of self, of direction,  of purpose, even a sense that  they should stay in school and learn more.  And, ethnic studies would provide Anglo  students with an informed, accurate history of the political and cultural development of our society. Ethnic studies classes should help young people acquire and learn to use the civics  skills, knowledge, and attitudes that will prepare them to be competent and responsible citizens throughout their lives.   
Add their history to the textbooks.  Add their literature to the literature books.  Include all students in Ethnic Studies classes.  These students are are California’s children.  You can start by revising the California History/ Social Science Framework to include their history.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Actress: My Parents were Deported

In "Orange Is the New Black," I play Maritza Ramos, a tough Latina from the 'hood. In "Jane the Virgin," I play Lina, Jane's best friend and a funny know-it-all who is quick to offer advice.
I love both parts, but they're fiction. My real story is this: I am the citizen daughter of immigrant parents who were deported when I was 14. My older brother was also deported.
My parents came here from Colombia during a time of great instability there. Escaping a dire economic situation at home, they moved to New Jersey, where they had friends and family, seeking a better life, and then moved to Boston after I was born.
Throughout my childhood I watched my parents try to become legal but to no avail. They lost their money to people they believed to be attorneys, but who ultimately never helped. That meant my childhood was haunted by the fear that they would be deported. If I didn't see anyone when I walked in the door after school, I panicked.
And then one day, my fears were realized. I came home from school to an empty house. Lights were on and dinner had been started, but my family wasn't there. Neighbors broke the news that my parents had been taken away by immigration officers, and just like that, my stable family life was over.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

CURMUDGUCATION: Green Dot Offers View of Alternate Universe

CURMUDGUCATION: Green Dot Offers View of Alternate Universe: Say hello to Marco Petruzzi, CEO of Green Dot Public Schools. Today he made his first blog entry at Green Dot's Website of Bloggy Goodne...

The Democrats abandon the working class

by William Grieder,
The blowout election of 2014 demonstrates that the Democratic Party is utterly out of touch with ordinary people and their adverse circumstances. Working people have known this for some time now, but this year, the president made the disconnection more obvious. Barack Obama kept telling folks to brighten up: the economy is coming back, he said, and prosperity is just around the corner.
A party truly connected to the people would never have dared to make such a claim. In the real world of voters, human experience trumps macroeconomics and the slowly declining official unemployment rate. An official at the AFL-CIO culled the following insights from what voters said about themselves on Election Day: 54 percent suffered a decline in household income during the past year. Sixty-three percent feel the economy is fundamentally unfair. Fifty-five percent agree strongly (and another 25 percent agree somewhat) that both political parties are too focused on helping Wall Street and not enough on helping ordinary people.

Instead of addressing this reality and proposing remedies, the Democrats ran on a cowardly, uninspiring platform: the Republicans are worse than we are. Undoubtedly, that’s true—but so what? The president and his party have no credible solutions to offer. To get serious about inequality and the deteriorating middle class, Democrats would have to undo a lot of the damage their own party has done to the economy over the past thirty years.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Democracy and school reform win

Ed. This of us who fought this fight for Torlakson and against the neoliberals, know this.  But, here is a national view of issue. Thank you for your votes,
Torlakson Victory 

by Jeff Bryant
The other notable constituent for education reform – business interests and wealthy private foundations – also clashes with a cause that claims to have roots in underserved communities.
That contradiction was most glaringly revealed in the race for state superintendent of schools in California, where incumbent and former teacher Tom Torlakson squared off against Marshall Tuck, a charter school administrator with a background in finance.
The contest was cast as a clash over “education reform,” and the candidates, both Democrats, indeed presented strong contrasts, with Torlakson being supportive of public schools and classroom teachers and Tuck advocating the need to “disrupt” education with more charter schools and stricter, managerial oversight of educators and school performance.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Torlakson Wins

Thank you to all who supported teachers against the neoliberal crowd. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Big Money Taking Over Education Politics

By Jeff Bryant, Education Opportunity Network.

Big Money Floods A California Superintendent Race
Education historian and public school activist Diane Ravitch recently called our attention to the race for state superintendent of school in California where Marshall Tuck, running against educator Tom Torlakson, got a late infusion of huge campaign contributions” from many of the same entities influencing the Minneapolis school board race – Michael Bloomberg, the Waltons, and other heavy weight private foundations.
As Poltico’s Stephanie Simon explained, the contest is between two Democrats – incumbent, Tom Torlakson, a former teacher and veteran legislator, and a former Wall Street and charter school executive Marshall Tuck.
Ed.note. The Torlakson –Tuck campaign has been much better covered on this blog.
The Torlakson campaign is “backed by all the traditional constituencies of a mainline Democratic campaign, Simon explained, “including public sector unions, environmentalists, reproductive rights groups and even the party apparatus itself
Tuck, on the other hand, “has been endorsed by every major newspaper in the state – and by a bipartisan array of wealthy donors,” including the above mentioned Bloomberg and Walton as well as mega-wealthy Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad and numerous Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, all of whom register their political leanings to the Democratic Party.
For that reason Simon claimed, “The race has become a highly symbolic fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party – and is shaping up to be major test of waning teachers union power.”
Calling it, “a campaign that echoes the same ‘Main Street vs. Wall Street’ divide that has roiled the Democratic Party in recent years,” Simon noted Tuck’s negative stance on teacher tenure and his strong support for charter schools compared to Torlakson’s opposition to unfair teacher evaluations and over-emphasis on testing that have been imposed by the Obama administration.
An analysis of the two candidates at Education Week highlighted the divergence in their assessments of what current school policies are achieving. Whereas Tuck prefers the language of failure – saying, “We have a status quo that has been broken for kids for a long time, that’s failing kids” – Torlakson talks about recent accomplishments, including “California 8th graders’ significantly higher scores on the NAEP reading test in 2013, a record-high graduation rate of 80 percent for the class of 2013, and a new funding formula intended to provide more resources and power to school districts.”
Simon noted that Tuck is particularly eager to take on the California Teachers’ Association, the state teachers’ union, calling it too influential, while Torlakson has defended hard won union contractual agreements with the state.
As the education news outlet EdSource noted, both candidates have raised about the same amount of money, $2.5 million for Torlakson and $2.4 million for Tuck. But with total spending likely to hit $25 million, according to Simon’s report, most of the money is coming from outside the candidates’ efforts.
As the EdSource report explained, “There are no limits on donors to outside groups, identified on campaign disclosure reports as ‘independent expenditure committees.’ These committees have intensified their efforts in the past few weeks,” mostly in a rush of support to Tuck.
Democracy Gets Lost
What’s getting lost in the flood of money into both these and other similarly afflicted races is the integrity of the democratic process.
When a small group of private individuals get such an out-sized ability to control the conversation, the voices of the electorate are drowned out.
Those who welcome the big money coming into these contests from corporate and private interests are quick to note that labor organizations have long used their money to influence education-related elections.
They are quick to cast these contests as being referendums on the power of unions, as Politico’s Simon did, and argue that these are merely two equivalent interests duking it out on a level playing field.
But that in fact is a false equivalency, as Simon herself seemed to admit in a recent Twitter exchange with me.
Teachers unions are fundamentally democratic organizations, as Matt Di Carlo has explained on his blog at the Albert Shanker Institute. “Teachers’ unions are comprised of members who are teachers, they’re led by teachers (many still in the classroom) who are elected by teachers, and union policy positions and collective bargaining agreements are voted on and approved by teachers,” he wrote. “When you hear ‘teachers’ unions,’ at least some part of you should think ‘teachers.’”
Furthermore, union influence can’t hide behind the secrecy that outside PACs and independent expenditure committees enjoy.
That’s different from what you should think when you hear about organizations working to undermine the interests of teachers – like 50CAN and Students for Education Reform – whose sole constituency is comprised of a few very wealthy people.
What you should think instead, at least if you are a Democrat, is Citizens United and Koch brothers.

By Jeff Bryant

Most folks in the Democratic Party have a problem with the Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that permitted goo-gobs of corporate and private interest cash to be dumped onto our elections. The party’s platform supports amending the Constitution to reverse the decision. President Obama has also called for such an amendment, and Hillary Clinton has said she would consider supporting it.
Most Democrats are also alarmed by the enormous amounts of cash funneled into the electoral process by folks like Karl Rove and the Koch brothers who use corporate and private interest money to overwhelm citizen voice in elections and usurp democracy.
But if you’re a Democrat, you should know the influence buying unleashed by Citizens United and perpetrated by people like the Koch brothers are at work – with the blessing and participation of fellow Democrats – in education politics.
Historically, elections that determine public education governance – from local school bard races to contests determining state administrative leadership – have been fairly subdued affairs in comparison to mayoral and legislative races.
That’s not necessarily a good thing, because education has long been America’s most collaborative public enterprise, affecting virtually everyone and determining how we nurture the next generation of citizens, workers, and leaders.
But lately, these contests have grown more animated as a new element –money from big business and private individuals and foundations – is now altering the electoral process in new and fundamental ways.
Examples of this new dynamic have surfaced in the upcoming 2014 elections at both the local school district level and at state level contests, and in each example, the big money often coming from people who associate with the Democratic Party. Further, these wealthy Democrats often collude with conservative Republicans in these school-related elections in ways they never would in other contests.
This confluence of big money is often called “bipartisanship.” But the results are apt to be the same we’ve seen in more popular elections – a distortion of democracy that leads to governance that is less progressive.
Big Money Goes After School Boards
As Valerie Strauss pointed on her blog at The Washington Post recently, “For several years now local school board races around the country have attracted big money from outside the state — and sometimes from across the country — as school reformers and their supporters seek to elect like-minded public officials. In 2013, for example, millions of dollars were spent on school board races in Los Angeles and in 2012, outsiders poured money into a New Orleans school board race.”
In that post, Strauss pointed to an article by Minneapolis-based writer and former teacher Sarah Lahm, published by In These Times, describing how big money is arm twisting the democratic process in her local school board election.
Lahm explained how one of the candidates, Don Samuels, is benefiting from “extensive financing and canvassing support … from several well-heeled national organizations, such as the Washington, D.C.-based 50CAN, an offshoot of Education Reform Now called Students for Education Reform (SFER).”
Samuels has out-raised his main competitor, incumbent Rebecca Gagnon, by almost 4 to 1 including “tremendous support from outside of Minnesota. The D.C.-based 50CAN Action Fund filed a campaign finance report in Minnesota showing that it was devoting $14,350 in financial resources to the Minneapolis school board race, as well as in-kind donations valued in the thousands of dollars.”
Another report on who is influencing the Minneapolis school board race, from Beth Hawkins on the MinnPost website, described big donations coming into the race from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and, again, 50CAN and Students for Education Reform. That report also mentioned another recipient to the largesse, candidate Iris Altamirano.
50CAN, a nonprofit organization with a stated mission to “advocate for a high-quality education for all kids,” was founded and is led by Marc Porter Magee, a former employee of the Democratic Leadership Council’s think tank, a centrist-minded Beltway group carrying a Democratic Party label but supportive of many policies favored by Republicans.
The DLC, as my college a the Campaign for America’s Future Robert Borosage described, “led the Wall Street-funded, corporate wing of the Party. The New Dems scorned the base of the Democratic Party – labor, feminists, environmentalists, minorities, peace activists. Rather than resist conservative headwinds, they argued vociferously that Democrats should tack to them, adopting a muscular foreign policy, trimming social liberalism, posturing tough on crime and the poor.”
According to Wikipedia, early funding for the DLC came from big corporations including “ARCO, Chevron, Merck, Du Pont, Microsoft, Philip Morris and Koch Industries.” A more recent report, from The American Prospect, adds a whole slew of corporate money and influence into the DLC make-up.
So now 50CAN – with funding from the likes of Google and lots of rich private foundations including those of Bill and Melinda Gates and the Walton family of Walmart fame – has emerged as a DLC clone with a mission to determine the results of local school board elections.
Despite what 50CAN states as its mission, the organization seems clearly more geared to a political strategy than it is on developing high quality schools.
In an interview featured on the website of a conservative D.C.-based think tank, Magee has stated his intentions of “breaking up the old ways of thinking in the Democratic Party … by asking: How could we solve conservative problems with liberal means, and liberal problems with conservative means?”
Apparently, that recipe includes using the “conservative means” of big money to influence the “liberal problem” of education policy.
Students for Education Reform is a similarly minded group loosely linked to the Democratic Party label but more often at odds with progressive causes. As a recent article in The Nation described, “SFER has received $1.6 million from Education Reform Now, whose PAC, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), shelled out $1 million to attack the Chicago Teachers Union. DFER worked with the Koch brothers and ALEC to push Proposition 32, which if passed, would have blocked labor unions from using automatic payroll deductions for political purposes. Though SFER claims neutral territory, its motives are laid bare by its rallying around the funding of charter schools, the issue of limiting tenure, and its strict focus on testing.”
In Minnesota, as Lahm reported, the state branch of SFER “received $26,000 in outside money, some of which it spent on such things as paid canvassers and campaign infrastructure, and $4,350 of which it passed along to the 50CAN Action Fund for ‘walk literature.” These effort by 50CAN and SFER on behalf of two candidates in the race have been bolstered with more money coming from Republican donors and charter school advocates, Lahm explained.
But to what ends, Lahm asked? Minneapolis is being “primed” Lahm contended for charter schools expansions.
Samuels’ campaign in particular, Lahm found, “appears to support the proliferation of charter schools in Minneapolis.” Altamirano, the other candidate benefiting from the outside money, supports charters as well.
As Lahm noted, “the outside money flowing to the Samuels campaign follows a relatively recent national pattern that’s played out in places such as Texas, Oregon, Colorado and New Jersey, where local school board races have been heavily influenced by the political and financial heft of outside groups.” In the 2014 election, you can add Indiana to that list.
But big money coming from Democratic Party advocates for “education reform” is targeting state elections as well.
What you should think instead, at least if you are a Democrat, is Citizens United and Koch brothers.

By Jeff Bryant
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