March 4, 2014

freebroccoli said: What did you mean, that "works of Ayn Rand" are "not technically libertarian"? Or were you referring exclusively to Orwell in that remark?

hipsterlibertarian:

Ayn Rand was personally extremely clear that she was not a libertarian. For example, she said:

[Libertarians] are not defenders of capitalism. They’re a group of publicity seekers who rush into politics prematurely, because they allegedly want to educate people through a political campaign, which can’t be done. Further, their leadership consists of men of every persuasion, from religious conservatives to anarchists. Most of them are my enemies: they spend their time denouncing me, while plagiarizing my ideas. Now it’s a bad sign for an allegedly pro-capitalist party to start by stealing ideas.

And:

[L]ibertarians are a monstrous, disgusting bunch of people: they plagiarize my ideas when that fits their purpose, and denounce me in a more vicious manner than any communist publication when that fits their purpose. They’re lower than any pragmatists, and what they hold against Objectivism is morality. They want an amoral political program. 

Find more quotes like that here.

Rand’s foreign policy was also notably more hawkish than libertarian foreign policy, and Objectivists tend to continue in that vein today. (The differences on charity are pretty important, too.)

So, out of respect to Rand’s own wishes and my personal emphasis on noninterventionist foreign policy as a key part of libertarianism, I don’t refer to Rand and Objectivism as “libertarian.” Liberty-friendly, yes (and of course all my love to my Objectivist followers), but not libertarian.

LTMC: I think people often misconstrue Rand as a political philosopher, when it’s probably more accurate to think of her as an ethical philosopher.  Libertarianism is a theory about the optimal relationship between Government and private citizens, whereas Objectivism is a theory about the optimal relationship between the individual and society.   Her views on Government were incidental to her moral philosophy, rather than the other way around.

February 4, 2014
Did Libertarianism Kill Philip Seymour Hoffman?

Ben Shapiro of Breitbart.com appears to think so:

Philip Seymour Hoffman[’s] self-inflicted death is yet another hallmark of the broken leftist culture that dominates Hollywood, enabling rather than preventing the loss of some of its greatest talents. Libertarianism becomes libertinism without a cultural force pushing back against the penchant for sin; Hollywood has no such cultural force. In fact, the Hollywood demand is for more self-abasement, less spirituality, less principle, less standards.

No one knows what sort of demons plagued Seymour Hoffman. But without a sound moral structure around those in Hollywood who have every financial and talent advantage, the path to destruction is far too easy.

Nick Gillespie counters:

What does libertarianism mean in this context? The freedom to walk the streets of Manhattan and buy black-market junk? A political philosophy or self-identifying phrase espoused by the likes of such Studio 54 habitues as Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and, on occasion National Review's own William F. Buckley? Sure, whatever.

If Shapiro thought about it for a minute rather than calling up his outrage macro in Word, he might ask what sort of drug policy might lead to better outcomes. Generally speaking, people have enough trouble admitting substance-abuse problems without also having to admit that they are criminals too. Maybe legalizing or decriminalizing drugs would lead to an environment in which abuse would be minimized along with the ill effects of the black markets spawned by prohibition. That’s something another conservative Harvard law grad, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) can grant is at least worth discussing (see video below).

Shapiro’s argument here kind of depends on his phrasing.  If he’s saying that the Leftist culture of Hollywood converts respectable Libertarianism into irresponsible Libertinism, then Gillespie may have jumped the gun.  But if Shapiro’s argument is that Libertarianism is just Conservatism without the leavening hand of moral restraint, he’s pretty clearly wrong, because that’s not what Libertarians actually believe (if he’s simply arguing that Hollywood enabled Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drug habit, that’s probably true to some degree—but again, I doubt it has anything to do with Libertarianism).  

Shapiro is probably thinking of the Libertarian mantra that the Government has no business telling you what you’re allowed to put in your body, even if it’s bad for you.  But most Libertarians (and the “Leftists” who agree with them) don’t advocate for this freedom solely because they think what you put in your body is your own business. Instead, they have seen the endless devastation wrought by Drug Prohibition in America, and by Alcohol Prohibition before it.  And they have come to the conclusion that attempting to restrict people’s vices for their own good seems to lead to more harm than it prevents.

Drug Prohibition clearly didn’t save Philip Seymour Hoffman.  If anything, it helped kill him by denying him access to a safer drug market, where he could have purchased safer alternatives, tested their potency, received legitimate guarantees of purity from reputable merchants, and get advice from licensed pharmacists on how to avoid killing himself.  

Because heroin is illegal, however, any attempt to seek these services may very well have landed Hoffman in jail, along with the people who helped him.  Drug Prohibition encouraged Philip Seymour Hoffman to keep his addiction under wraps, where it was less visible, and where less people could encourage him to get clean and seek mental health services.  Because of Drug Prohibition, we will never know whether Hoffman might have gravitated towards a safer alternative than heroin, because Drug Prohibition currently relegates research on recreational drugs to the streets and back alleys, with predictable results.

The fact is that neither Liberalism nor Libertarianism killed Philip Seymour Hoffman.  While illicit drug use is higher in blue states, "Of the 12 states with the highest percentage of prescription drug overdoses, just one is a solidly blue state."  So clearly the “Conservative moral culture” Shapiro is arguing for has not stopped people from killing themselves using drugs.

What Killed Hoffman, first and foremost, was his self-destructive tendencies, which no law could have saved him from.  But there’s also no question that he was helped along by irresponsible, counter-productive drug laws.  Hoffman may very well have have still died in a Prohibition-free world.  But we could at least confidently say that he had access to safer alternatives, and to resources that he may not have had otherwise.

December 11, 2013
The Libertarian Welfare State

Bruce Bartlett discusses the Basic Income Guarantee, vis-a-vis Switzerland’s recent proposal to give every citizen the equivalent of $2,800 per month in guaranteed income:

In October, Swiss voters submitted sufficient signatures to put an initiative on the ballot that would pay every citizen of Switzerland $2,800 per month, no strings attached. Similar efforts are under way throughout Europe. And there is growing talk of establishing a basic income for Americans as well. Interestingly, support comes mainly from those on the political right, including libertarians.

The recent debate was kicked off in an April 30, 2012, post, by Jessica M. Flanigan of the University of Richmond, who said all libertarians should support a universal basic income on the grounds of social justice. Professor Flanigan, a self-described anarchist, opposes a system of property rights “that causes innocent people to starve.”

Bartlett quotes F.A. Hayek from Law, Legislation, and Liberty:

The assurance of a certain minimum income for everyone, or a sort of floor below which nobody need fall even when he is unable to provide for himself, appears not only to be a wholly legitimate protection against a risk common to all, but a necessary part of the Great Society in which the individual no longer has specific claims on the members of the particular small group into which he was born.

Milton Friedman also supported a Basic Income Guarantee in the form of a Negative Income Tax:

Friedman’s argument appeared in his 1962 book, “Capitalism and Freedom,” based on lectures given in 1956, and was called a negative income tax. His view was that the concept of progressivity ought to work in both directions and would be based on the existing tax code. Thus if the standard deduction and personal exemption exceeded one’s gross income, one would receive a subsidy equal to what would have been paid if one had comparable positive taxable income.

Bartlett also points to Matt Feeney, writing for Reason, who notes that a Basic Income Guarantee, if it completely replaces the present welfare state, would enhance personal liberty, preserve human dignity, and save money:

one of the tragedies of the current welfare system is that it strips welfare recipients of their dignity while treating many of them like children, and functions on the underlying assumption that somehow being poor means you are incapable of making good decisions.

[…]

Instead of treating those who, often through no fault of their own, have fallen on hard times like children who are incapable of making the right choices about the food they eat or the drugs they may or may not choose to take, why not just give them cash? Doing so would not only cut down on the huge administrative costs of America’s welfare programs, it would also promote personal responsibility and abolish much of the humiliation and stripped dignity associated with the current welfare system.

Obviously this is still government redistribution, and as such, violates the much beloved Non-Aggression Principle that many Libertarians abide by.  Nonetheless, the Basic Income Guarantee strikes me as a perfect example of not allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good.  If we could eliminate the cumbersome bureaucracies that define the present welfare state, and replace them with a simple cash transfer, that seems like a win for increasing individual liberty and reducing the size of government.  It also takes the fate of the poor out of the hands of government agencies, who may deny someone access to benefits on so little as an outdated form.  If there is such a thing as a Libertarian welfare state, the Basic Income Guarantee is a way to achieve it.

October 21, 2013
"

On Saturday, a coalition of critics of the U.S. surveillance establishment will gather in Washington D.C., under the banner Stop Watching Us for a rally asking Congress to “stop the NSA’s unconstitutional mass surveillance.”

[…]

This is a vital cause, and I agree with it.

Yet I cannot support this coalition or the rally. It is fatally compromised by the prominent leadership and participation of the Libertarian Party and other libertarian student groups; their hard-core ideology stands in direct opposition to almost everything I believe in as a social democrat.

"

Tom Watson

I’m a little bewildered by this article and I’m struggling to wrap my head around its logic. The author believes libertarianism to be a poisonous ideology that is, at its root, deeply, even dangerously, conservative. Therefore, to collaborate with libertarians in pursuit of a common goal ultimately helps to advance a worldview that promotes, despite its posturing, an authoritarian society. I guess my response to this is “huh?” 

If progressives and social democrats spent their time exclusively in the company of like-minded activists, they’d find themselves in small groups, participating in esoteric debates that do nothing to advance larger goals, such as ending mass surveillance, cutting an obscenely large defense budget, repealing drug laws, or protecting civil liberties. If political change is going to occur, there must be some force behind it, whether it’s a large crowd of protesters or a well-funded advocacy group. The more souls linking arms and demanding change, the better.

If a libertarian Republican homemaker from Tennessee feels compelled to join a 20-something New York socialist in order to protest mass surveillance, why would anyone seek to destroy that coalition in favor of a smaller, less inclusionary, and less powerful group? To shun fellow Americans seeking to join your cause because you dislike the totality of their political beliefs is not only rude and self-defeating, it runs contrary to the vision of what America is supposed to be: a unified, diverse, and engaged citizenry fighting together to protect each other’s rights. 

(via prettayprettaygood)

LTMC:  Imagine for a moment that the republican party was replaced entirely by the Libertarian party.  The consensus that Progressive Democrats and Libertarians would have is broad indeed:

- End the War on Terror

- End the War on Drugs

- End Mass Incarceration

- End Mass Surveillance

- End the TSA

- Increase oversight of police

- Increase prisoner’s rights

- Demilitarize domestic policing

- Cut military spending

- End U.S. Imperialist foreign policy

This is just the short list.  The amount of common ground between Progressive Democrats and Libertarians far outstrips the amount of common ground between Libertarians and Republicans.  It is foolish and stupid to reject an alliance between Progressives and Libertarians simply because the former disagrees with the latter on economics, taxes, and healthcare policy.  

Tom Watson is 100% wrong on this one.  And he’s doing more damage to Progressive causes by refusing to associate with people who disagree with him.  If Alan Grayson and Dennis Kucinich can work with Ron Paul to co-sponsor an anti-war bill, Watson should be unafraid to make common cause with Libertarians who share his beliefs on mass surveillance.

August 24, 2013
"If I didnʼt have any IT background, I would think that deleting the file actually deletes the file. It doesnʼt really delete the file; it just deletes the markers where the file is supposed to be. So the file would still be on my computer and I wouldnʼt know it. So if I were to be raided at any point because someone were to say ʻI think Dan has child ornography on his computerʼ then someone would come in, they would open the computer, they would look at it. I would obviously have no idea it was there. They would take the computer and what would happen from there, I am not really sure. It is about 5 years in prison for each image."

Dan Johnson, discussing the receipt of an e-mail containing child pornography from a Tor e-mail account.  The e-mail claimed to be from Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers.  Johnson is the founder of P.A.N.D.A.  (People Against the NDAA).  Ben Swann, who interviewed Johnson, suggests that someone is trying to undermine libertarian organizations by putting child pornography on their computers, which is certainly an excellent way to politically assassinate someone.

August 17, 2013
Dozens of Cops Dispatched to Shut Down Lemonade Stand

This happened back in July.  The “lemonade stand raid” has become something of an inside joke in libertarian circles.  It’s probably the best example of the most disproportionate, unnecessary, and downright strange use of government force to interfere with peaceful actions of private citizens.  How utterly ridiculous is it to shut down a lemonade stand run by children?

One can’t help but have visions of a corporate agent furtively spying on the lemonade stand operators, and calling it in to the local police to prevent local competition from cutting their profits:

"Yes, you’ll see them officers.  They are serving their foul citrus concoction in red cups.  The color of blood."

The horror.

July 28, 2013
Robert Wenzel, administrator of Economic Policy Journal, voices support of Fred Reed's sexist column

priceofliberty:

Wow. So I was reading this rebuttal written by Robert Wenzel regarding the article out at sexandthestate.com, written by libertarians Bonnie Kristian (hipsterlibertarian), Julie Borowski, and Cathy Reisenwitz.

I wasn’t going to bother posting this drivel packed with generalizations until I reached the very end, where Wenzel just couldn’t help himself.

He posts this picture of the authors and writes,

Somehow, I don’t see the ladies who have  authored this anti-Reed column as the types that would venture into the NYC subway system alone late at night. Frankly, I don’t see them as the type that could fight off even an average middle age man who is already beyond his peak physical strength. There should be nothing surprising about this. They are average women in terms of female physique and strength.

This, of course, right after he opens a paragraph “Men in general are much stronger than women. That’s a fact.” Furthermore his condescension teems throughout the entire article as he refers to the authors of the critique of a column by Fred Reed that appeared at LewRockwell.com as “the ladies.” 

Of course, none of Wenzel’s article does anything to actually rebut the arguments pushed by Borowski, et al., summed up here:

Calling women weak is no way to spread the message of liberty. And, more broadly, reinforcing negative stereotypes and making sweeping statements about groups as big as gender is the antithesis of individualism. Yet, this is the sum of Reed’s arguments throughout his essay.

I highly encourage my readers to read all three columns: Reeds, the Kristian-Borowski-Reisenwitz rebuttal, and the EPJ tripe.

LTMC: Apparently, neither Reed nor Wenzel have been to a cross-fit competition.  

Obviously these women are extraordinarily fit and not “average” by any means.  But it’s precisely the myth that the average woman is supposed to be weak, dainty, and averse to strength-related tasks that perpetuates the idea that the average woman is inevitably physically inferior to a man.  Meanwhile, I’m willing to bet that most of the women above could probably take the average man with little trouble:

In other words, culture matters, and these guys really aren’t thinking very hard about what they’re saying.  Yes, it’s true that the average man is stronger than the average woman.  But that’s irrelevant to 90% of what Bonnie et al. were trying to say.  If we’re going to use the “alone in the subway at night” trope, then let’s remember that “average men” have gotten robbed, sexually assaulted, and raped by other “average men,” and sometimes, by “average women” as well.  Physical strength is not the only nexus by which to analyze gender relations or inter-gender violence.  But Reed and Wenzel have taken the patriarchal bait in the worst kind of way, and it shows.

November 30, 2012
Libertarian Bait: Rent Seeking Edition

A recent NYT article discusses the plight of users of an online crowd-sourced room rental service called Airbnb, which allows users to offer their rooms for rent for travelers looking to avoid paying exorbitant hotel fees.  The problem?  In many cities, such as New York City, people offering their rooms for rent to travelers are breaking local laws:

Back in September, Nigel Warren rented out his bedroom in the apartment where he lives for $100 a night on Airbnb, the fast-growing Web site for short-term home and apartment stays. His roommate was cool with it, and his guests behaved themselves during their stay in the East Village building where he is a renter.

But when he returned from a three-night trip to Colorado, he heard from his landlord. Special enforcement officers from the city showed up while he was gone, and the landlord received five violations for running afoul of rules related to illegal transient hotels. Added together, the potential fines looked as if they could reach over $40,000.

New York City ordinances outlaw this sort of “crowd-sourced” approach to offering lodging for travelers:

 local laws may prohibit most or all short-term rentals under many circumstances, though enforcement can be sporadic and you have no way of knowing how tough your local authorities will be. Your landlord may not allow such rentals in your lease or your condominium board may not look kindly on it … [NYC law] says you cannot rent out single-family homes or apartments, or rooms in them, for less than 30 days unless you are living in the home at the same time.

The NYCRR is a labrynthine mess that even lawyers have trouble navigating.  Needless to say, though I’ve worked with the NYC regs before, I was unaware of this particular restriction.  

What struck me about these ordinances, however, is that it appears to be a textbook definition of rent-seeking by hotel concerns when I read it.  Indeed, after reading further, the justification for these laws seem flimsy at best:

New York City officials don’t come looking for you unless your neighbor, doorman or janitor has complained to the authorities about the strangers traipsing around.

“It’s not the bargain that somebody who bought or rented an apartment struck, that their neighbors could change by the day,” said John Feinblatt, the chief adviser to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg for policy and strategic planning and the criminal justice coordinator. The city is also concerned with fire safety and maintaining at least some availability of rental inventory for people who live there.

These justifications don’t hold up upon interrogation.  The “bargain” in question is one governed by the terms of the lease, and landlords are generally free to dictate the terms of that lease as they please.  Landlords could, for example, place a restriction on this sort of short-term room rental if they wanted to.  The fact that the landlord at issue in this case did not only proves further that this isn’t really a concern that comes up that often.  If it was, you can bet the landlord would have a section in their lease devoted to banning this practice, so as to ensure they don’t get held liable for their tenants’ violation of the ordinance in question.  

Second, the fire safety concern is related to the number of people in the building at any given time.  That would be controlled by placing restrictions on maximum occupancy, which already exist.  Notably, the fire hazard concern would also be implicated where people simply allowed friends to sleep over in their apartments, which a ban on individual room rentals would not prevent.

Third, the idea of “maintaining at least some available rental inventory for the people who live there” doesn’t even make sense.  The only way these rooms get rented out is by someone who already occupies them.  There’s no way that crowding out of rental space could occur here.  The room is already “unavailable” to the other residents of the city because somebody already lives there.

So all we are really left with in this case is a law that represents rent-seeking by hotel businesses in New York City.  There doesn’t seem to be a good reason to place a per se restriction on this sort of transaction where other laws already account for the justifications given.  Which makes this whole thing a shame, because people clearly benefit from having this option available to them.  Particularly in New York City, where reasonably safe and clean hotel rooms are notoriously expensive.  

This is a good example of an instance where we really should just let the market (and the wonders of the internet) do its thing.  For the reasons cited above, I can see no legitimate reason for this type of ordinance other than fattening the pockets of both hotel concerns and city governments, who get to impose fines every time a violation occurs.  Regulations that attempt to solve legitimate problems with land use in a heavily populated suburban area are one thing.  Regulations that serve merely as revenue-raising and rent-seeking provisions for the city—and its attendant private beneficiaries—are another thing entirely.

h/t Matt Yglesias

May 2, 2012
The Truth About Diocletian and Inflation

laliberty:

… Currency reforms of the sort Diocletian undertook still happen sometimes in the modern era, but they almost always go in the other direction. When a country has in the recent past suffered a bout of serious inflation that’s just come to an end, sometimes the government will choose to put an asterix on the new regime by basically striking a zero or two off the old currency. So in 1960, France introduced a New Franc and announced that one New Franc was worth 100 Old Francs, and that 1 Franc Coin of the old vintage could stay in circulation as one New Centime. You could describe the impact of that switch as a giant one-off deflation, but that’s a pretty misleading way to think about it.

Yeah, that is a pretty misleading way to think about it. So why suggest it as “going in the other direction”? Coming up with a “new” currency with new denominations is not necessarily any less inflationary if the effect is still the same. If the U.S. government prints brand new money out of thin air, it doesn’t matter if they print five Dollarinos worth $1,000 each or simply five thousand dollars.

Read more

I’m not sure I follow your objection.  The French monetary exchange didn’t involve just printing new money per se.  Under the traditional definition of inflation (an increase in the money supply), the French deflated their currency.  The old centime pieces were never circulated widely, and fell out of use under the new system.  So under the exchange that took place, the total amount of practically usable legal tender was reduced.

Now if you click on the link above, you’ll see in the relevant Wikipedia entry that “Inflation continued to erode the [new Franc’s] value, but much more slowly than that of some other countries.”  Fair enough.  But as Tyler Cowen noted the other day, “I don’t see that two to four percent inflation has unacceptable costs,” and The decline in the value of the dollar since 1913, or whenever, has not been a major economic cost.”  I suspect that the counter-point to this would be something along the lines of Robert Wenzel’s parade of horribles, e.g., since the start of the Federal Reserve, “the money supply has increased 12,230%,” and “prices have increased at the consumer level by 2,241%.”  These numbers look scary.  But again, there is zero evidence that this has had any impact on the actual ability of Americans to thrive.  As Phil Horwitz likes to note, "the real income of poor Americans today is higher than it used to be, even though their share of total income is somewhat lower."  So even Libertarian economists like Horwitz are claiming that Americans are prospering under the Federal Reserve, despite the fact that the dollar has seemingly lost 98% of its value since the Fed was created.  It seems to me that this statistic had far more shock value than analytical value.  And I understand that the orthodox Libertarian tradition interprets inflation (as does Ron Paul) as nothing short of theft.  But even if we assume this arguendo to be true, there’s nothing indicating that inflation wouldn’t occur under a Gold Standard (see links below).  Under this theory, whenever new Gold is discovered, or the real price of gold decreases, a theft has occurred.  The only way to prevent this is to peg the currency, which would return us to Milton Friedman’s objection.

Oddly enough, however, this is all somewhat besides the point.  I linked to Yglesias’s article because Ron Paul accused Krugman of supporting the economic policies of Emperor Diocletian.  Krugman rejected that accusation, and I think the article demonstrates that Paul was being overwrought: I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Krugman calling for an overnight 100% doubling of the exchange value of the currency, which is what Diocletian did when he issued his final currency Edict.  I think we can both agree that such a policy decision would be catastrophic and ruinous.  And Keynes certainly agreed as well:

There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose. 

I suspect that we disagree on what the definition of “debauch” is.  I would measure it not only as against the expansion of money, but also of relative purchasing power.  If Horwitz is right that the real purchasing power of the poorest Americans has increased over time, then that means Americans have prospered under the Fed’s ostensibly ruinous policies.  Futhermore, if we were to do what Ron Paul wants us to do and return American currency to the Gold Standard, the economic consequences would be dire: there is currently not enough Gold in the world to facilitate international trade.  I understand that advocates of the Gold Standard, such as Gary North, feel that the dearth of Gold is a myth, and market forces will simply adjust.  But in North’s case, he offers zero empirical evidence to support that proposition (Ford’s price decreases were in no way motivated by monetary policy, and he knows that).  Nor does he reckon with the Private/Public Financial Liability Problem: ”the US alone is running liabilities in excess of $55 trillion. That’s well over 10 times the value of all gold and its just the US. There is an entire rest of the world we’d have to split the gold with..”  North also completely misconstrued Ellen Hodgson’s argument, which was that the late 19th — early 20th century Gold Standard was bad for poor workers, because they had zero access to credit.  The Gold Standard of yesteryear regulated credit markets at the expense of poor workers.  To requote the relevant passage from Hodgson:

The bankers made loans in notes backed by gold and required repayment in notes backed by gold; but the bankers controlled the gold, and its price was subject to manipulation by speculators. Gold’s price had increased over the course of the century, while the prices laborers got for their wares had dropped. People short of gold had to borrow from the bankers, who periodically contracted the money supply by calling in loans and raising interest rates. The result was “tight” money — insufficient money to go around.  

None of this means that many of the perennial objections to the Fed’s policies don’t have merit.  I personally have noted the disastrous oversights of Alan Greenspan’s Fed in the 90’s.  But to return to the original point: Krugman’s assertion that he doesn’t support the policies of Diocletian is correct.  He has never supported an overnight doubling of the exchange value of the currency coupled with price controls intended to increase the purchasing power of the United States military; which is what Diocletian did.  With all due respect, I think it’s fair to call Paul’s assertion a mischaracterization of Krugman’s position.  Is Krugman an Inflation advocate?  Under current circumstances, certainly.  Keynesian?  New Keynesian, actually.  Diocletian?  I don’t think the evidence bears out that proposition.

(via laliberty)

April 19, 2012
"There are probably many flaws to libertarianism as a political philosophy, but it’s the ultimate excuse when one wishes to end a stupid political conversation."

Patrick@popehat

I lol’d.

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