Author Archives: PB Goodfriend

Trust broken, empowerment renewed – the new Obama legacy


(Adapted from White House photo)

(Adapted from White House photo)

Expectations always lead to attachment, and attachment, the Buddha tells us, leads to suffering. So it is with the faith we put in the man who we expected to be a new kind of president, one who was deliberative and thoughtful, who we thought was compassionate and fair. Indeed, he often exhibits those qualities, personally.

However, his inability to implement them into a Great Society or New Deal kind of policy, which is what, I think, most of us hoped for when we rallied to him in 2008, means we are left with squandered opportunity. I don’t know if I’ll ever be as excited about another presidential candidate in my lifetime as I was about Barack Obama.

The good news is, we can do something about our collective disappointment, but I’ll get to that a little later.

Granted, it hasn’t all been his fault. For most of his presidency, he has had a recalcitrant congress, and even meaningful bills that made it through the House, like the DREAM Act, died in filibusters on the Senate floor.

He has been more political in his calculus than I believe most of us thought he would be, especially since he lost the House and a filibuster-proof Senate in 2010. That loss is directly attributable to the agonizing effort it took to pass the Affordable Care Act, and the unwillingness of congressional Democrats to do anything too risky before Obama’s first midterm, even though they could have easily passed it. Issues like gun control, minimum wage, raising revenue, marriage equality and immigration reform sat on the back burner because Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi were afraid of the electoral consequences if they took them up.

Even passing Obama’s stimulus package, to help us out of the Great Recession, which should have been a no-brainer for Democrats, was like pulling teeth, and ended up being hamstrung because of Obama’s compulsion to make it more bipartisan.

It reminds me of a key strategy of backgammon that someone once imparted: if you are in a position to bear off your pieces, don’t fuck around incrementally moving them into better position; just move them off. Why? Because you never know how good your opponent’s next roll will be. You know, like the Republicans did under George W. Bush, when they had the White House and both Houses of Congress, they passed huge tax cuts. Twice.

So here we sit, with immigration reform punted, an unsympathetic farm bill that cut billions from nutritional assistance programs, no cost-of-living adjustment to the minimum wage, and on the eve of another round of prolonged military action in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.

I firmly believe that if the president had gotten more done to help people in the first two years of his administration, he wouldn’t be so far underwater in his latest poll numbers, at real risk of losing Democratic control in Congress, and making it impossible to accomplish anything in his last two years.

That brings us to the reason attachment is suffering. By attaching our emotions to other people and circumstances, we come to depend on their power for our happiness. You don’t have to be a Wayne Dyer fan to get that in a relatively free society like ours, the only person in control of your happiness is the one you see in the mirror every morning. (I’ve gotten flack for statements like that before. I realize that real, daily subjugation and control by an authoritarian figure or a tragic circumstance of life is impossible for many to overcome. That isn’t the kind of suppressed determination I mean.)

I, for one, am not resigned to the inevitability of a failed presidency from the man who promised hope. I am not resigned that the best I can say about President Obama’s tenure is he obviously tried. As Yoda said, “Try not. Do or do not. There is no ‘try.'”

I may be detaching from my expectations of Obama, but I am far from disengaged from the possibility of a government committed to the progressive values I believe in. The government’s gridlock has no chain around my legs, no muzzle on my mouth. I remain committed to getting voters registered and getting them to the polls for the upcoming midterm elections. It’s something I can do for my state and my country.

If you think about it, that is what President Obama has been asking us to do all along: be engaged. His numerous policy tours – over jobs, minimum wage and pay equity, to name a few – were meant to rally the troops, get us to create a critical mass by contacting our representatives in Congress, to get them to do the right thing.

I don’t think we need the president to tell us once again, “Don’t boo. Vote!” Even if it is he who is being jeered, I think Obama would say the same thing. “Don’t boo. Vote!”

Your vote is your voice, louder than all the special interest money in the world, and together we can reach a conventional wisdom shattering crescendo, but we have to show up.

“I’m so proud,” Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate and State Sen. Jason Carter told a voter registration rally in Atlanta, Monday, “to be on the side that says, ‘If more people vote, we win.'”

Register. Vote. Win. It’s something you can do, without waiting for Washington. Besides, it’s your duty as an American.

-PBG

Holder’s Texas Two Step: voter ID challenge begins


U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (adapted from British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Flickr photo) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (adapted from photo by Jonathan Mallard)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (adapted from British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Flickr photo) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (adapted from photo by Jonathan Mallard)

It’s a battle on two fronts, necessitated by the Supreme Court’s decision, last year, to nullify the pre-clearance formula sections of the Voting Rights Act, in Shelby County v. Holder. That left Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott free to pursue what is alleged to be targeted, minority voter disenfranchisement.

On Tuesday, the United States Department of Justice joins other plaintiffs, including Texas voters and candidates, in Veasey v. Perry, challenging the Lone Star State’s quick-trigger, post-Shelby resumption of its previously struck voter ID law. Later this fall, DoJ will participate in another round of Perez v. Perry, the case which alleges the state’s 2011 redistricting plan is discriminatory, giving Texas’ rising Latino minority less representation in government than they are actually due.

A verdict for the plaintiffs in either case could allow Justice to place Texas back on the pre-clearance list for ten years, a “bail in” under Section 3 of the VRA, since, the DoJ maintains, it would demonstrate a persistent pattern of minority voter discrimination. It is their only recourse, since Congress won’t act on a new pre-clearance formula.

“If the federal courts in either the redistricting or voter identification cases find that the State of Texas should be covered by Section 3(c),” a 2013 DoJ press release stated, “then the State would be required to submit voting changes to the U.S. Attorney General or to the federal court for review prior to implementation to ensure that the changes do not have a discriminatory effect or a discriminatory purpose.”

Observers say this presents a real test to the remaining sections of the Voting Rights Act, since, as Michael Li of the Brennan Center for Justice writes, “Section 3 has not been widely used to date, and there is comparatively little guidance in case law on when and how to apply the ‘bail in’ provisions of section 3. The Texas case thus could be in a position to break new ground and will be closely watched for that reason.”

In Veasey, which is being tried in Federal District Court in Corpus Christi, the plaintiffs claim the voter ID law, known as SB 14, places an undue burden on voters because driver’s licenses and gun permits (another acceptable form of state ID – student IDs are no longer accepted) are “obtainable only from a limited number of sources or locations, often inconvenient and expensive.”

Further, they contend, Latin and African American minorities bear more of this burden than others, because when attempting to match names on voter rolls with state-issued ID holders, they found that “20.7% of black voters and 17.5% of Hispanic voters cannot be matched, while only 10.9% of Anglo voters cannot be matched.”

Texas claims SB 14 is supposed to prevent voter fraud, the law’s proponents argue. But according to one former attorney in the state’s Voting Rights Act compliance office, in-person fraud is very rare. “Across the country,” Joseph Kulhavy told Bloomberg Businessweek, “these in-person voter fraud cases can be counted on one hand. Texas won’t be able to find instances where the outcome of an election turned on illegally cast votes.”

Indeed, according to Business week, Kulhavy revealed that:

“In the past five years, Texas has detected about 60 cases of election fraud, with only one or two instances of in-person voter impersonation, the only fraud addressed by photo IDs.”

Perez is a little more complicated. It is the first of the two actions in which Attorney General Eric Holder announced the participation of the Justice Department, post-Shelby, but it was originally filed before the 2012 elections, challenging Texas’ 2011 redistricting map.

A panel of judges came up with changes to the redistricting map, which the state legislature adopted in 2013, with minor changes. The plaintiffs complain that even the new map does not address the way Texas lawmakers originally drew the lines, purposely supplanting minority voters who have a history of showing up at the polls with those who don’t vote. That way, the plaintiffs contend, a district will appear to have the correct number of potential minority voters, but they will have less chance of having minority representation.

One only has to look as far as the recent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, to understand that when a majority-minority community doesn’t show up at the polls, it doesn’t get represented in government.

The San Antonio court where the case is being heard has split Perez into three to four separate hearings, which the parties agreed to “for the sake of not going crazy,” according to an August post in the Texas Election Law Blog.

The blogger explains:

“The first issue (the 2011 Texas House redistricting plan) was the subject of a six-day hearing that began on July 14th of this year. The second issue (the 2011 U.S. Congressional House district reapportionment) was the subject of a week-long hearing that began on August 11th. The third issue will be considered at an as-yet unscheduled hearing, followed by a possible fourth and final hearing to resolve the State’s liability, if any is found.”

The upcoming hearing, Phase III, if you will, addresses the redistricting map the legislature approved in 2013. By interfering with the court’s 2012 map, Texas Election Law Blog writes, the state’s lawmakers “allegedly ‘packed and cracked’ [House District 90, part of Fort Worth] in a manner similar to some of the objectionable 2011 districts.”

Whether or not Texas ends up back on pre-clearance would be the final phase of the trial. Meanwhile, for the upcoming midterms, the court ruled that the 2013 law would be in force during the election.

With two Section 2 lawsuits coming at Gov. Rick Perry, Texas may feel singled out, but DoJ has taken similar actions in North Carolina and, more recently, in Wisconsin and Ohio.

As far as Kulhavy is concerned, it’s no surprise that more than one action is being taken by the Justice Department to get Texas’ continuing pattern of discrimination recognized as a VRA violation. “Texas just provides such a target-rich environment for violations of the Voting Rights Act,” he told Businessweek.

-PBG

Recommended reading:

Sky-high stakes in Texas voter ID trial (Zachary Roth, msnbc.com) Overview of Texas’ history with voter ID, going back to the 1970s

Eric Holder’s Suit Against Texas Gives the Supreme Court a Chance to Gut Even More of the Voting Rights Act (Jeffrey Rosen, New Republic) Given SCOTUS’ conservative majority, there’s a good chance DoJ will lose its Section 2 enforcement mechanism, and be at the mercy of Congress to re-work the formula for pre-clearance in Section 4.

New Report Shows Continued Pattern of Voting Rights Discrimination—African American, Latino, Asian American and Native American Voters More Vulnerable Than Ever (National Commission on Voting Rights) Report recognizes voter discrimination as an “ongoing problem in the United States.”

What do women want? Not Republicans


It’s tough to be the one at the party the girls don’t want to dance with. It’s not that they’re not willing to be a lady’s partner. Republican men and women just brought the tools with them they found at home, thinking what they use to woo all voters will charm the votes out of most women, too. Instead, they just end up appearing “intolerant” and “stuck in the past.” They’re like Brendan Fraser’s character in Blast from the Past – all Ozzie & Harriett and Ray Conniff Singers in a world of Nicki Minaj and Echosmith. But unlike Brendan, they’ve shown up at the midterm sock-hop with all the creepy charm of Eddie Haskell.

That’s not to say the Democrats have women swooning. The GOP has a 49 percent disapproval rating among female voters, according to their own poll, while the Democrats are disliked by 39 percent. But this is a Republican poll, and the relatively narrow margin, when one is talking about half the electorate, has given the party of Palin a way to claim that there aren’t any winners.

“I don’t think any party can do a victory lap here,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, Thursday. His spin? A ten point difference is actually good news, here. It means, he said, if they “push back on what the Democrats are selling out there in the field, you can actually win women over.”

That poll was part of an overall report titled, “Republicans and Women Voters: Huge Challenges, Real Opportunities,” and was revealed, Thursday, by Politico. It was commissioned by Karl Rove and other groups that support the GOP.

What it is the “Democrats are selling” is respect for women, their right to choose what to do with their bodies, affordable healthcare for their families, and pay equity in the workplace. Those are indisputable policies that are part of the platform of President Obama and every member of Congress with a “D” after their name.

Republicans were assured by former House majority leader, and now former congressman, Eric Cantor, that most women want charter schools and flexible work schedules, which according to the poll is certainly not the case. Even if it were, ideas like that couldn’t make it through his congressional colleagues because it involves the government getting involved in people’s lives (extra-uterully) and in private enterprise.

The “push back” Priebus was referring to is the GOP strategy to acknowledge the social differences and re-direct to the economic ones. “[D]eal honestly with any disagreement on abortion, then move to other issues,” Politico quotes the report as saying.

“The general gist of [the GOP report] was,” Priebus said, “the economy is the number one issue.” After dismissing the emphasis on social issues, like reproductive rights, as important only to pundits, he added, “If Republicans talk about things like the economy, the debt, make the case for jobs and schools and education, and push back,” Republicans will win.

The GOP thinks economic issues resonate because they’re family issues, and in their world, women are the family bookkeepers, always aware of the bottom line. If that’s true, it might explain why Republicans do so much better with married women. “Married women prefer a Republican over a Democrat, 48 percent to 38 percent,” Politico revealed. The article goes on to quote Dan Conston, from the American Action Network, one of the sponsors of the report:

“‘Just like a gender gap exists, a marriage gap also exists,’ Conston said. ‘While young unmarried women have always skewed liberal, the polling found married women across the country are far more likely to be conservative and are receptive to center-right policies.'”

No wonder why the GOP wants to see more “traditional” families. It’s a pretty reliable vote for them. The problem is the immediacy of elections doesn’t require finding the future Mrs. Right; it requires getting Ms. Right Now.

But the Republicans have never been as good at wooing as they are at old-fashioned courting, so for now, they’re just going to have to pace along the folding chairs by the wall, and wait for their next door neighbor’s mom to come over and ask them to dance. It is, sadly, the slow dance, but that’s more their speed, anyway.

Broom dancer

Photo Credit: Adolph B. Rice Studio,
Library of Virginia

-PBG

Racism and Ferguson: a systemic problem requires a systemic solution


Ferguson, Day 4, Photo 26

Ferguson, Missouri, protest, August 15, 2014.
Photo by Loavesofbread, via Wikimedia Commons

“Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Merriam-Webster defines the adjective systemic as “of, relating to, or affecting the entire body.” That medical definition refers to the system of a specific body or organism, including, of course, the human body. The Ebola epidemic sweeping West Africa is a systemic assault on the organs until the victim bleeds to death from the inside. But some systems are larger than those contained within the vulnerable body of a single individual. We have railway systems and highway systems, judicial systems and weapons systems, accounting systems and computer systems, and the most important system of all, our social system.

A social system outlines how a group relates to and supports the members of a society, in order to create a community that gives its people the best chance of survival, with the ideal goal being to create a successful paradigm for sustainability. As our bodies have had to adapt to a changing environment, so too our social systems have evolved into what we hope are better and better ways of dealing with friends and neighbors, and even with those whom we have chosen to label enemies.

Yet despite good intention, a social system planned by human beings will always have disastrous moments, even fatal flaws, because of the fallibility of the premises on which they are built. The systemic assault on the body of American society is evident these days in the continuing epidemic of cop-on-black intimidation, threat and murder brought to light most recently with the choke-hold killing of Eric Garner, in New York, and the shooting of young Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. (The subsequent violence is not part of that illness. It is a predictable side effect, though.)

Our laws, and those who represent them, are supposed to be the anti-bodies to this type of viral infection. “We all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority,” President Obama said in a statement last Thursday, after police in military vehicles and camouflage appeared to violate the First and Fourth Amendment rights of journalists and protesters in Ferguson.

Human decency isn’t regulated by law, but by a sense that we actually are all part of the same body. The anti-bodies are obviously corrupted when police officers refer to the protesters as “fucking animals,” and a faulty judicial system puts its own money-driven survival ahead of the welfare of the citizens it is meant to protect.

Even the United States Supreme Court, which is supposed to be the most inoculated from the distractions of a dysfunctional society, finds itself refusing to acknowledge the pervasiveness of racism in favor of some mythical, Euro-centric sense that the pendulum of discrimination has swung too far the other direction. Laws protecting the rights of disadvantaged minorities to receive the same educational opportunities of their wealthier, White counterparts don’t work, Chief Justice John Roberts said, because, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” (Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, 2007)

As Slate.com’s Dahlia Lithwick pointed out after the anti-affirmative action decision in Schuette, earlier this year, Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent “poke[s] at Roberts [Seattle decision] with a sharp stick.”

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race,” wrote the justice, “is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”

Justice Sotomayor was describing racism as the systemic disease that has been a blight on American society, since even before the days our slave-holding Founding Fathers declared that “all men are created equal.”

It was only fifteen months ago that a St. Louis County, Missouri, police lieutenant was fired for allegedly telling his squad, one morning, “Let’s have a black day,” and “Let’s make the jail cells more colorful.”

“Now is the time for healing,” intoned President Obama, last week. That won’t be easy, but there is a way.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Let’s look at another definition for systemic one can find at Merriam-Webster, that is precisely about healing a corrupted system:

“of, relating to, or being a pesticide that as used is harmless to the plant or higher animal but when absorbed into its sap or bloodstream makes the entire organism toxic to pests (as an insect or fungus).”

With Ebola, though no cure exists, scientists say the best chance at a cure is to strengthen the body’s own defense system, so it can fight off the infection and the patient can heal. That treatment, in its own way, is a systemic.

What systemic, then, must be applied to American society to rid itself of the racist scourge?

One idea to solve the issues in Ferguson is to diversify the police force. “There’s a deep undercurrent of racial frustration,” Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery told MSNBC‘s Jose Diaz Balart last Thursday, after he was arrested and released by local law enforcement. “In places where residents do not believe the police understand them or look like them, you are always going to start at a disadvantage in terms of these relationships.”

Experts agree that diversity of government officials and a community’s police force is laudable, “But at the same time, you can’t expect that to be a panacea,” University of Pittsburgh political science professor, Jon Hurwitz, told the CBC.

The CBC’s Mark Gollom writes:

“The problem, says Hurwitz, is that stereotypes against blacks that associate them with violence continue to persist. Hurwitz said these stereotypes are ingrained across the political spectrum, and that many blacks in the U.S. are just as susceptible​ to stereotypes of blacks as whites.”

So as a systemic solution, there’s just as much a chance that a more diverse police force would not solve the problem. It’s possible the problem is not in the racial make-up of the enforcers, but rather the way they relate to the community they serve. As Gollom put it:

“Generally, whites also perceive their experiences with police officers different than blacks, Hurwitz said, with most whites reporting they have been treated fairly and politely during their encounters.

“But blacks talk about being treated rudely and disrespectfully, Hurwitz said, even if their encounters with police were for similar reasons as whites.”

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Tuesday, one former Los Angeles cop says it’s not just the officer’s responsibility to keep tensions minimized. The “bottom line,” writes Sunil Dutta, who is now a homeland security professor at Colorado State University:

“…if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?”

So we have a huge group of citizens who feel the cops treat them “rudely and disrespectfully,” and cops who say, “Don’t threaten me,” and if we follow those rules everything will be okay. The problem is, those aren’t rules for a community to get along. They’re rules for a community cold war. It’s only a matter of time before the effort it takes to keep up the facade of a peaceful town shatters into chaos.

During the protests, there’s been looting and tear gas and arrests, Molotov cocktails and noise cannons and more arrests. Smoke, screams, blood and broken glass spread across the streets of Ferguson, as they have in so many poor and neglected neighborhoods before. Asked for calm, they shout, “No justice! No peace!”

“Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

In his CBC article, Gollom refers to a program in Boston as a “success story,” where the Boston PD reached out to community stakeholders, including Black clergy, “to forge better relationships with blacks.” But according to at least one recent study by three Harvard professors, that program, called Operation Ceasefire or the “Boston Miracle,” while successful during its nascent period in the 1990s, slipped away from the community in the 2000s. The reason for the inability of the city to maintain its “success story” was not the model, but the commitment of the city to the program.

“Our basic conclusion,” the study’s authors write, “is not that the Boston model of the 1990s has failed, but rather that the City of Boston and the Boston Police failed to pursue the policies and practices that had been so successful during the late 1990s.”

In January, after a string of homicides in Boston, the police once again reached out to the Black clergy for help, and to present “a united front against the violence that’s occurring in our streets,” according to the police superintendent in chief.

The lessons from Boston may apply in Ferguson, and other towns where there is not a concerted effort by the police to reach out to leaders in the community, and “forge better relationships.” These relationships cannot be seen as some kind of quick fix to the problem. Concentrating on ending the violence, on both sides, without addressing the underlying causes of the problems will only result in the virus of racist intolerance reestablishing itself, and destroying the community from the inside.

Like a treatment that gets the body’s own defenses to destroy a virus, the problems in our social system need to be addressed by getting an entire society to fight against a common, corrosive enemy.

Here’s the tricky part. You are our society. Your own conscience is the anti-body. Your commitment cannot flag, for our entire republic depends on you. Vote. March. Act. Love.

“Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

-PBG

MLK quotes pulled from BrainyQuote.

War in Israel on the Ninth of Av


“By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept and remembered Zion.”

Tuesday morning, August 5, when the 72-hour ceasefire between Israel and Hamas went into effect, was the Ninth of Av. Things are quiet in modern Israel on the Ninth of Av. Jewish tradition holds that it was on the ninth day of the month of Av that the first temple, Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, was destroyed in 587 BC(E), and the burning of Herod’s Temple, on the same day six centuries later, in the year 70. In commemoration, observant Jews fast, many refrain from working, and they read the Biblical Book of Lamentations, bemoaning the fall. Wikipedia calls it “a day destined for tragedy.”

peace-israelSo far, this war has not threatened the existence of the Jewish homeland in the same way the historic tragedy of the sacking of Jerusalem led to centuries of exile. Hamas, at least for now, does not have the capability to pursue such an attack on its own, and they have yet to find an international partner willing to go to war for them. Even if they wanted to, and many of the Arab countries and Iran would probably love to, they’re busy fighting their own existential enemies.

Yet in its overzealous response to Hamas shelling in which it killed a thousand civilians in Gaza, Israel has created a vacuum into which stronger enemies will be drawn, like lichen on the bones of the dead. It is also a mess which the Jewish state’s closest ally, the United States, has found disconcerting, as Israel seems more interested in annihilating an enemy than pursuing peace.

An article on Slate.com, published Wednesday, cites several news stories that demonstrate the enmity Israel’s actions have bred among Gazans:
From the BBC: A mother who lost her young son declared, “I never supported Hamas a day in my life. My family had problems with them. They killed my nephew. But after what happened, I support them.”
From the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz: Another woman in Rafah, the town shelled to bits after Israel thought its soldier had been kidnapped, last weekend, warned, “You have raised here a generation full of anger and hate. Do you think this generation will be afraid after this war?”

Those reactions, it could be argued, don’t really burden the leaders of the Jewish state, who cannot be bothered by the fight of a hypothetical future enemy. They fight one war at a time, and see the next one as a “when,” not an “if.”

But the reaction that perhaps should bother Israeli leaders is that of the Jews in what could anachronistically be called the Diaspora, who consider themselves supportive of a Jewish state based on Zionist principles, but not of a homeland with a stubborn commitment to expansionism, like a Jewish Manifest Destiny.

Roger Cohen, a professed Zionist, is one of those who finds the current political situation in Israel intolerable, and inconsistent with the ideals of the state’s founders. He wrote in the New York Times, last week:

“What I cannot accept is the perversion of Zionism that has seen the inexorable growth of a Messianic Israeli nationalism claiming all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River; that has, for almost a half-century now, produced the systematic oppression of another people in the West Bank; that has led to the steady expansion of Israeli settlements on the very West Bank land of any Palestinian state; that isolates moderate Palestinians like Salam Fayyad in the name of divide-and-rule; that pursues policies that will make it impossible to remain a Jewish and democratic state; that seeks tactical advantage rather than the strategic breakthrough of a two-state peace; that blockades Gaza with 1.8 million people locked in its prison and is then surprised by the periodic eruptions of the inmates; and that responds disproportionately to attack in a way that kills hundreds of children.

“This,as a Zionist, I cannot accept.”

When a United Nations school in Gaza, being used as a shelter, was shelled by Israel a few days ago, the U.S. chose to admonish their friend for not using more discretion in the attack. While recognizing that “UN facilities, especially those sheltering civilians, must be protected, and must not be used as bases from which to launch attacks” by Hamas, the U.S. State Department insisted, “The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians.”

It was the strongest condemnation yet from the U.S. for Israel’s part in the aggression.

To be clear, the United States has not backed off its position that Israel has a right to defend itself from Hamas rockets. The statement, and others like it, call for Netanyahu’s generals to consider who they are killing in the name of self-defense.

“I have said from the beginning that no country would tolerate rockets being launched into their cities,” President Obama reiterated, answering reporters’ questions at a White House event, Wednesday. But, he added:

“We’re going to have to see a shift in opportunity for the people of Gaza. I have no sympathy for Hamas. I have great sympathy for ordinary people who are struggling within Gaza. And the question then becomes, can we find a formula in which Israel has greater assurance that Gaza will not be a launching pad for further attacks, perhaps more dangerous attacks as technology develops into their country. But at the same time, ordinary Palestinians have some prospects for an opening of Gaza so that they do not feel walled off and incapable of pursuing basic prosperity.”

The United States is a bystander in the current ceasefire negotiations, taking place in Cairo, Egypt, and it is hard to gauge just how much influence the Obama administration really has on Netanyahu, who continues to claim that the Israeli response has been appropriate and proportional.

Given that, and the disaffection of American Zionists like Cohen, the only answer that Israelis and Diaspora Jews can agree to, on the perennial question, “Is it good for the Jews,” is that yes, peace is good for the Jews, and the Palestinians. The disagreement is over what that looks like.
IDF logo
The crown may be heavy on the head who wears it, but the IDF sword it holds in its clenched fist is heaviest. Peace. Now.

-PBG

Real crisis at border is one of American conscience


From Flickr/Public Domain

From Flickr/Public Domain

Angry White people screaming at busloads of minority children should frighten any American with a knowledge of our own recent history. Voices of fear and bigotry have risen like an oily mess on the tides that have brought waves of young immigrant children across our borders.

The boys and girls are buoyed ashore by a 2008, George W. Bush signed law – the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act – that is supposed to protect them from the rampant dangers of murder and sex trafficking in their home countries. You have likely heard, by now, that the GOP has wrongly hung this on Obama, citing his executive action that delayed deportation of minors that were brought here by their parents, as children, as the reason for the sudden influx. But the law and the president’s order are distinct issues.

That law says we cannot turn them directly around, without detention and a deportation hearing, unless they are citizens of Mexico or Canada. Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans (as well as the rest of the world) all have the opportunity for due process, allowing them to stay in this country until they have their day in court. In a small number of cases, the administration has said, they will be allowed to stay.

Republicans in Congress have fought against giving President Obama the nearly $4 billion he asked for to help expedite hearing the cases. Instead, they are looking at a much smaller bill, that includes rescinding the human rights exemption in the 2008 law for non-contiguous, near border states, so that the refugee children can be returned to their home countries as if they were refugees from Mexico (or Canada). The Senate bill, which was endorsed by the administration Monday, also cuts the amount of money by about a third, but does nothing to reverse the policy of treating the children like the asylum seekers they are.

Here’s the insidious part, though. The “humanitarian crisis” (perhaps an overly appropriated diagnosis of a plethora of refugee issues) the act was meant to address is now being framed by Republicans as the children risking their lives to cross our borders, and what to do with them once they get here.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, Sunday, insisted that the Bush law, which he voted for, must be amended. “Otherwise,” he said, “the humanitarian crisis will continue. Otherwise families far away, on the other side of Mexico, will be giving thousands of dollars to traffickers to take their children over the border.”

While it’s true the children’s journey is very dangerous and, too often, deadly, Congressional Republicans are purposefully taking the very real crisis of rape, torture, murder and slavery which the children are escaping in their own countries, and muddling it with a crisis manufactured by xenophobes and ignorant hayseeds who are easily ginned up by radio personalities pushing an anti-immigrant agenda. In other words, Republicans like Ryan are playing to their base.

House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi (D-California) says changing the law is something Democrats will not agree to do, and the Senate’s bill bears that out. The act, she said, Friday, “relates not just to Central America, it relates to the American position on refugees and asylum seekers from around the world. Do we want to check out of that and say to other countries, ‘You take them’?”

Amazingly, she is getting some support in this from conservative commentators. Columnist George Will, on Fox News Sunday, said he thinks allowing the children to stay is not only the right thing to do, it is a traditionally American thing to do. “We ought to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America, you’re going to go to school and get a job and become Americans,'” he told the show’s moderator, Chris Wallace. “We have 3,141 counties in this country. That would be 20 per county.”

When warned what he was saying could bring a negative response from Fox News’ regular viewers, Will didn’t flinch. “We can handle this problem, is what I’m saying,” he explained. “We’ve handled what Emma Lazarus famously called ‘the wretched refuse of your teeming shores’ a long time ago and a lot more people than this.”

Even the New York Daily News, which often criticizes Obama’s policies, published an op-ed, Monday, where they call those in Congress who want to change the law to make it easier to deport the children “cruelly wrong.”

Let your Senators and Congressional representative know that there is nothing un-American about creating new Americans. Nothing, in fact, could be more American. You can also let your governor know that you want them to welcome some of these children into your state and your community.

As a child of immigrants myself, who left Europe only a few years after boatloads of Jews fleeing Hitler were turned away by the United States, I believe we have no choice but to maintain the intent of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and keep letting these children in. This is not only our problem, it is our reason for being, our mission, and one this country, as a nation of immigrants, is uniquely qualified to solve.

-PBG

Detroit and you – where progressive change happens


“We will fight, and we will win!”
– Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), July 18, 2014

Turn On the Water march, Detroit, MI, July 18, 2014

Turn On the Water march, Detroit, MI, July 18, 2014

 

 

Fighting the tyranny of an oligarchy that withholds the existential needs of its people in an effort to subjugate them is the act of a rebel. Fighting for the change that leaves the members of a society empowered and self determined is the act of a revolutionary. Both rebel and revolutionary are heroically selfless in their sacrifice, but it is the revolutionary who makes it possible for the changes sought by the rebel to become an unshakeable part of the social psyche.

The need to create change, to keep trying to get this experiment that is the United States right, is an essential part of being an American. “Stamped into the DNA of every American citizen, is a healthy skepticism for orthodoxy,” Vice President Joe Biden told the annual gathering of progressive activists and bloggers, Netroots Nation, in Detroit, Thursday, as he related the story of a conversation he had with Malaysian leader Lee Kwan Yew about what makes our country so resilient. We are not only willing to change; we are constantly finding new ways to affect change, so we can grow.

After all, our Constitution was laid out “in order to form a more perfect union,” which means, to me, that we will never have the “perfect” union, just one we will always be striving to make better.

VP Joe Biden, Netroots 2014

Detroit is an appropriate town for the vice president to continue the conversation for change because it’s a city where hope is what people scratch and claw for, and have for a century. Detroit, you see, is a city of fighters. It’s the birthplace of the American labor movement, and also the city of heavyweight champion, Joe Louis, fiery civil rights activist, Malcolm X, and socio-political philosopher and activist, Grace Lee Boggs.

Boggs showed up at Netroots early Thursday, for a screening of the documentary about her life, American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. At 98 years old, she is still an ideas driven firebrand, committed to a cultural shift. “We are on the verge of a change as big as when humans stopped being hunter/gatherers and moved to agriculture,” she told those gathered to watch the movie. “We are moving into a post industrial epoch.”

Joe Biden agrees. “We are at an inflection point, where things change in a significant way,” he said. “We are at an inflection point of national and world history.”

This is a time when we can control the direction of human destiny, if only for a little bit of time. This is what a life is for. This is our purpose, and, as Americans, Biden said, “We hold the wheel,” adding “This is one of those moments, the few times in our history, that people can bend history just a little bit.”

Grace Lee Boggs, 98 yrs old, Netroots 2014

Activist Grace Lee Boggs addresses Netroots attendees

What this is, if Biden and Boggs are to be believed, is a rare opportunity for self-determination to control our own evolution. That has been Grace Lee Boggs’ philosophy for decades – before you have revolution, you must have evolution.

In her book, The Next American Revolution, Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, she wrote:

“All over the world, local groups are struggling, as we are in Detroit, to keep our communities, our environment and our humanity from being destroyed by corporate globalization…

“[Those who are part of this movement] are joined at the heart by their commitment to achieving social justice, establishing new forms of democratic governance, and creating new ways of living at the local level that will reconnect us with the Earth, and with one another…

“Millions of people in the United States are part of this organically evolving cultural revolution.”

For Boggs, the greatness of her city is not the unlikely reassertion of the automotive industry that built it. That’s gone, she said, and therein lies the possibility of something great and new. “A place where justice and fairness reign supreme,” is how one of the Netroots participants, Diane Matsumoto, a Detroit native who now lives in North Carolina, put it.

Diane Matsumoto

Diane Matsumoto

Matsumoto sees the squeeze Governor Snyder’s emergency manager is putting on the town’s citizens, particularly regarding the inhumane withholding of water in the summertime, as creating a space where activism creates opportunity, which creates more activism. “The roots of Detroit is getting its legs back,” she said, “and maybe it takes us all being taken to our knees to remember where we came from.”

She said having awareness raised about the issues in Detroit will, like a car coming off the assembly line, roll out to the rest of the country. The city is, she said, “the canary in the coal mine” of the American middle class, and while she was heartened by the attention the Netroots crowd was bringing to the water issue, she said it’s only the beginning. “It doesn’t matter if there’s more of us [than there are of them], if we sit our ass on the couch eating bonbons. Now is the time,” she said, “we join the fight.”

Maybe this time, the cultural evolution we seek will finally lead to a permanent, stable and sustainable revolution.
-PBG

AROMA – creating sustainable activism across Atlanta movements


“I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do.”
- I’d Love to Change the World, Ten Years After, 1971, by Alvin Lee

Affecting change is hard. Screaming for social justice can be frustrating. As anyone who has ever been involved in social and political activism can tell you, making sure that you have a consistent pool of people to continually put the pressure on politicians and society is the most difficult part of creating and maintaining a sustainable movement. This is especially true for liberals and progressives working in red states, where you have to pick yourself up off the ground, lick your wounds and start again, more times than you’d like.

A new movement in one Deep South state is trying to change that. It’s called Activist Recruitment, Organizing and Mentoring in Atlanta, or AROMA.

“Recruiting, organizing and mentoring, that’s something each organization does on its own,” explained Misty Novitch, a long time Atlanta activist and co-founder of AROMA. “You do your own outreach. You get your own people. You mentor them, you pull them in. You make them into leaders. But we have so few activists, and so much work to do, especially in Georgia, that people don’t necessarily have time to do that.”

What AROMA seeks to do, she said, is “to build community and solidarity across existing groups, and across the entire social justice movement.” AROMA will “recruit for all of our organizations, all of our movements, and help new activists get involved more easily and comfortably, and really invest in their growth and their development as leaders.”

That has the potential for a huge effect on the changing political climate in Georgia, and has local activists very excited. “I think it’s really going to help people be able to see their power,” declared AROMA member Troya Ole’badd, an activist who works against economic disparity in Atlanta. She believes that, if successful, the group will “expand the base of people who are activists” and help create “a paradigm shift and a social construct shift in the state.”

AROMA is the brainchild of Novitch and fellow activist Guled Abdilahi, who leads the group’s website development team.

The idea is for the group to be a resource for Atlanta area activists by providing a directory of hundreds of organizations to whom they may want to lend their time and talents. But it’s also a resource for the organizations themselves, by being a place where they can find trained, committed activists who have been through AROMA’s mentoring program, and where, eventually, they can send their own budding activists for training.

“What AROMA does is almost like a business-to-business service for non-profits,” explained Munir Meghjani, a veteran organizer, and one of the “leader-y people” Novitch tapped to help get the group started, around the beginning of the year. “You’ve got all these non-profits in the world that, unfortunately, have trouble working together,” he said, “At the same time, you’ve got all these volunteers in the world who have passion and knowledge, but may not necessarily be able to link up with the non-profit of their choice. They need a spark to get that fire cracking. That’s what AROMA does.”

AROMA exists for the organizations, Novitch says, as much as it does for the activists. “We want to support existing activist groups and show them we support them by recruiting for them, and say, ‘Hey, we have mad solidarity with you. Here’s what we want to do for you. Do you want to support us to do this for you? Either way, we love you and we love what you’re doing, so here are some new people. Can you welcome them when they come to your group for your meeting?'”

The mentoring program, the group believes, will provide a sustainable, regenerating pool of activists for the social justice movement. According to a recent draft of the document outlining AROMA’s plan:

“We want to mentor people to provide a supportive, friendly environment for newcomers, guide them in finding their place, train them to develop their skills and understanding, and help them walk in their own power, so they can become leaders.”

AROMA meeting, Java Monkey, Decatur, Georgia, May 18, 2014AROMA activists at a planning meeting near Atlanta, May 18, 2014

Meghjani says the group’s mentoring focus comes from an understanding of how difficult activism is. “It’s hard to volunteer. It’s not something that comes easily,” he admitted, but “if you have someone standing with you, especially a mentor, what we’ve seen is you’re more likely to stay, you’re more likely to be involved.”

Novitch agreed. “Activism is very come-and-go, because you’re livelihood does not depend on you being a consistently reliable activist. People come and get a taste and then leave,” she said. “The way we can support the frustration of dealing with activists and activism, is that new activists, or existing activists, can have mentors or just friends, authentic relationships, people to talk to about the kinds of things they’re experiencing, and noticing, and vent their frustrations to.”

That’s something that drew one young activist, Iesha Akyempong, to AROMA. “I am really passionate about the recruitment and the mentoring process,” she said. “I’m really into it because I think it’s important.”

A graduate of Spelman College, where “there’s a big emphasis” on community service, Akyempong said that she likes the way AROMA can help make the activist experience less daunting to a new recruit. “If you’re somebody who wants to be involved in fighting drug abuse, or working for Jobs for Justice, some of those larger causes, you need someone there to help you get involved in it, show you how to do it,” she said, “because you don’t just want to walk into things blind. It’s scary.

“Activists are strong minded, strong willed people. You don’t want to go into a meeting and feel lost, or say the wrong thing, and what could have been a whole group of new friends, are like, ‘Who are you?’”

Even if that does happen, Meghjani says, a mentor can help pull you through. “When people make mistakes and get down, if they have a mentor who is going to be there to support them through it, they’re more likely to get over it, and get over it in such a way that they make a comeback, and they’re going to come back stronger than they did before.”

Ole’badd agrees. When you invest your time in helping people through a difficult situation, she said, it can be personally and emotionally draining for the activist. “Sometimes people just completely fall apart and they don’t even know why. But [it's important to have] someone who has done it for a while, who is able to come in, talk to you about it and make sure that you, as an activist, get the help that you need, so [your] activism can continue.”

Patricio Cambias, a twenty-one-year-old airport fast food worker and union activist of barely a year, recognizes the value of AROMA because of his own experience. “I was trained by an organizer who taught me what I know. If I had to do it alone, I wouldn’t be near where I am now,” he said.

Cambias, who sees AROMA’s mentoring program as “sowing the seeds of a movement,” said he looks forward to helping others. “I think I could contribute to someone’s growth,” he said, “it brings the movement alive to me.”

And Novitch admits that even an experienced activist like herself could use some further guidance. “We want to recruit a lot of much older activists, from the Civil Rights movement in the Sixties to mentor the middle age activists,” she said. “We want people to be mentors and mentees at the same time, if possible.”

One activist Novitch might look to as a mentor is Milton Tambor, a septuagenarian union organizer who had his first foray into activism in the early 1960s, protesting the Vietnam War. “As a veteran activist,” he advised, “I would say that you have to take a look at each struggle, each fight within a larger perspective. The only way you’re going to be able to make any headway is to think in terms of long range goals. You want to fight and win the immediate goals, but you also want to bring together all the progressive forces so that you can present some kind of a united front.”

After attending some of the AROMA planning meetings, he is cautiously optimistic. “For me,” he admitted, “it’s too early to make an evaluation about AROMA, [but] at this stage of my life, to have young people stepping forward is critical. Going to meetings and seeing twenty, twenty-five people there, talking about their interests in activism, I think that’s great. In all of my activist work, there was never that kind of framework laid out where you could learn from someone and deepen your activism.”

That point is not lost on the young Cambias, who said that without being able to source the activists who came before you, “You lose the collective memory of the struggle.”

Organizers say that is the most important point of AROMA’s goal of recruiting and mentoring new activists. Meghjani points to Novitch’s experience as an example. “The things that Misty learned from organizing in the past,” he said, “the things that worked and the things that don’t work, if she doesn’t pass that knowledge on, then the next person who comes to organize us will make the same mistakes and we’re going to be at the same spot that we were five years ago.”

As for Novitch, creating new activists is akin to raising an army – “a nonviolent army,” she is quick to point out. “We need to recruit them, and we need to make sure that they are able to do anything that any other activists can do,” she said, “so that if one of us burns out and has to take a break, or gets injured or killed or is put in jail, they can take over.”

Picking up the flag and continuing the charge, she believes, is the only way for liberals and progressives to succeed in reaching their goals. We can’t just be reacting to the latest assault on civil and human rights, because that won’t move the cause forward. “Strategically,” she said, “if you’re always on the defense, you’re always going to lose ground.”

Akyempong is motivated. “We cannot just sit back and wait for laws to be passed to get things done in our communities,” she said, “because nothing’s going to happen. If we want something done, let’s get ourselves together, galvanize, and let’s do it.”

AROMA, like any other new activist group, has needs. They of course need people willing to mentor, at any level, and they need a solid leadership program. According to Novitch, “We need help figuring out how to move people through a process of leadership development, and we need people who are willing to help make that happen in a consistent way, over a long period of time.”

She is positively passionate about AROMA’s success. “We have to be the transition team, that helps the world transition between the way it is and the way it could be,” she concluded. “I really believe this group can help do that.”

-PBG

If you are interested in participating in AROMA’s mentoring program, either as a mentor or a mentee, or think you can help with leadership development, please contact the group through the website – atlanta-activism.blogspot.com – or the Facebook page – facebook.com/atlantaactivism.

What’s missing from Congress saves a Senator


Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS)

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS)

It is now becoming apparent that Senator Thad Cochran and his supporters used political savvy to rally some Democratic voters to come out and vote for him, last Tuesday. We like to think our politics are pure, that any movement for a candidate is grassroots, driven by a concerned citizenry wanting to ensure they are represented by someone who will listen to their requests and act, someone who will take care of their needs.

We know the reality is more complex, that the most successful campaigns employ algorithm-driven get-out-the-vote tools and techniques (Obama), that they use reverse psychology to face a beatable candidate (McCaskill), and now, that they use direct appeal through operatives with whom they may have nothing in common to save them from certain defeat (Cochran).

According to Jim Galloway, a political columnist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

“Late campaign disclosure documents filed in the race show that Mississippi Conservatives, a political action committee run by the son of that state’s former governor, Haley Barbour, paid tens of thousands of dollars to get-out-the-vote artist Mitzi Bickers, an African-American pastor and former president of the Atlanta school board.”

Because it was a PAC that hired Bickers’ consulting firm, the Bickers Group, there is no direct connection to the Cochran campaign, so if her actions, which are believed to be two robo-calls, are the “irregularities” Cochran’s opponent, Chris McDaniel, was referring to in his defiant, non-concession speech, then he has no case against the six-term incumbent.

What the Barbours did, in support of Cochran, was recognize that Republican idealists would vote for McDaniel, but pragmatists would vote for Cochran, and Haley, Henry, et al., are nothing if not political pragmatists.

That hyper-awareness of the facts on the ground is also something red state Democrats might want to consider in particularly tight races, where they actually stand a chance. Tacking to the political center might help you get votes from the center, but it will not help with siphoning votes from the right. You may not necessarily want to be their voice, but you probably need their vote. This opens the campaign on three fronts: assure the partisans that you are with them; assure the middle that you are not an extremist, and; inform the right that it’s better for them and their community if they vote for you. Of course getting all your targeted voters to actually vote is the biggest stumbling block, one that researchers say, if successful, would have resulted in a very different political dynamic in red states, and in Washington, DC.

If Republicans and Democrats have no problem reaching across party lines to campaign, perhaps, then, they would be willing to reach across the aisle more in Congress. Thad Cochran is as socially conservative a senator as they come, but if he gives back to the Mississippi Democrats who helped him hold his seat, by helping where the people in the poorest state in the country need it most, then we may have a new recipe for leadership, from a very old politician.

-PBG

Triage for a bleeding lame duck


“We conclude that the Recess Appointments Clause does not give the President the constitutional authority to make the appointments here at issue.” – Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority opinion in the unanimous finding of N.L.R.B. v Canning, issued 26 June, 2014

“The Constitution makes it clear that a president’s job is to faithfully execute the laws. In my view, the president has not faithfully executed the laws.” – Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-Ohio) announcing to the press his intention to get Congress to sue President Obama for not following his oath of office

There’s blood in the water fountain on the North Lawn of the White House. Phrases like “constitutional authority” and “not faithfully executed” cast a shadow of doubt in the minds of the undiscerning, over the integrity of the president they elected to office, twice. The question is whether the Supreme Court and House Speaker John Boehner are inflicting a thousand tiny cuts or whether it’s a self inflicted mortal wound cut by the knife of good intention.

White_House-NorthLawn

Wikimedia Commons

How the administration responds to these slings and arrows of misfortune is important, not only for President Obama, but also for the Democrats who hope to succeed him. With his popularity numbers hovering around 40 percent, and a public perception of disregard for the rules of power, the meme that asks “Do you want another four years of the kind of governing we saw under Obama,” is going to make any Democratic candidate’s push to the 2016 election difficult, especially those who have no buffer from the actions of the administration, like Vice President Joe Biden and the favored, former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

The irony is obvious, since Obama argued, in 2008, that electing a Republican was tantamount to endorsing another four years of the horrid policies of Bush and Cheney. “Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment,” he said of his opponent on the night he accepted his party’s nomination in Denver, “but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush was right more than 90 percent of the time?” And he continued to refer to the failed foreign and domestic policies of George W. Bush as “Bush-McCain” policies.

It really won’t matter if Boehner’s lawsuit will likely not be resolved until after Obama is out of office. It really won’t matter that Biden and Clinton aren’t Obama, and neither are Martin O’Malley, Brian Schweitzer or Andrew Cuomo. The Republicans will hold up a thin allegation of abuse of power and call it a telephone book, and hang it on the neck of whoever the Democrats nominate.

How the president publicly responds to not only Boehner’s partisan gimmickry, but more importantly, to the Supreme Court setbacks (which include wounds from two of his own appointees), is critical. He has a little more room to be defensive with Boehner – “What I’ve told Speaker Boehner directly is, ‘If you’re really concerned about me taking too many executive actions, why don’t you try getting something done through Congress?'” he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Friday – but cannot be dismissive, or even appear to be dismissive, of either one. If he doesn’t find some way to appear contrite but not chastened, his legacy will not just be the end of two wars and a health care bill. It will be facing the challenge of an intransigent Congress and finding workarounds so distasteful that it sours the public on the leadership style of the entire party.

-PBG

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