Think Skanks.

It’s so much easier to whore yourself when you’re a think tank than when you’re a university. Think tanks don’t really have any of the public accountability universities do. Washington think tanks are increasingly set up to make money by prostituting their intellectual work to paying foreign governments. Pressure is building for some of them to do the decent thing and register as foreign agents.

“It is particularly egregious because with a law firm or lobbying firm, you expect them to be an advocate,” [says one observer]. “Think tanks have this patina of academic neutrality and objectivity, and that is being compromised.”

UD ain’t sayin’ some professors at some universities (some departments at universities) don’t get away sometimes with whoring themselves to corporations and governments. This blog couldn’t stay in business without global pharma having its way on a semi-regular basis with some universities, and without econ professors issuing custom-built papers the real estate industry, for instance, pays them to write… She is saying that, as in the recent dual but failed assault on the university’s virtue by rich Jonnie Williams and handsome Governor Vaginal Probe, American universities tend to do a pretty good job of defending ye olde patina.

Think tanks? Meh.

“We allege the former president of this university blatantly misused public funds that were nothing but weeklong vacations with family and friends.”

To tell you the truth, UD‘s gotten pretty tired of Evan Dobelle, the man out to prove that even if you’ve got a long public record of misuse and maybe outright theft of funds, there’s always another sucker university out there to crown you president.

Evan Dobelle is the “Catherine” of the twenty-first century American university… Catherine being one of the many aliases of Theresa Russell’s Black Widow (“She mates and she kills.”). Catherine kept blatantly marrying rich men and almost instantly after that killing them, but no one ever seemed to notice, and new men just kept on marrying her. Cuz she was pretty and all.

In the case of serial president Dobelle, there wasn’t any Debra Winger around to scream at all the stupid male FBI agents that there’s a pattern here!… One after another school fell for his sweet talk and failed to do the sort of background check that might have uncovered his penchant for disemboweling universities…

So now the Massachusetts Attorney General is going to try to get some of the state’s money back from Dobelle-Trobelle Dobelle…

The AG’s lawsuit against Dobelle seeks damages, civil penalties, costs and attorney’s fees associated with the AG’s ongoing investigation, and the costs of the OIG’s investigation. The AG’s Office will continue to review the OIG’s recent detailed report. Today’s lawsuit does not foreclose the potential for additional action.

UD is tired of Dobelle because he seems to UD what she would call a mild psychopath and is therefore boring. UD and Mr UD have a longstanding endless argument about this. Mr UD says psychopaths are fascinating and UD says only movie psychopaths are interesting because the scriptwriter typically gives them bold slashing ambition and eloquent self-awareness (Catherine, Hannibal the Cannibal, Dr. Robert Elliott), whereas in real life most of them turn out to be – at one end – inarticulately compulsive anti-social nasty petty gameplayers (this seems to UD Dobelle’s type), and at the other end raving dangerous lunatics. Why, UD always asks when they enter this well-worn terrain, should UD waste a moment of time with either type? Except to learn about how to protect herself from them?

Anyway. UD wishes the AG well in her effort to recover some money from the guy. The problem is, he’ll keep playing legal games (he’s counter-suing his most recent ATM) until it’s not worth the state’s while.

*****************

UD thanks James.

Buffaloed

UD just scored “Solid Liberal” on the Pew Political Typology quiz, and she’ll certainly vote for Hillary Clinton (unless Elizabeth Warren runs); but let her say again that Clinton should stop taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from American universities in exchange for giving speeches on their campuses.

It doesn’t matter that she takes their money and puts it in her charitable foundation; it doesn’t matter that the universities get the money they give her from ticket sales and booster organizations. It matters that

1. large sums of money that might have been used for education – and, at places like SUNY Buffalo, public education – are being syphoned off for the use of a politician; and that

2. the outrageously inflated amounts – in exchange for Clinton standing up for thirty minutes or so and reading a speech someone wrote for her – make Clinton look as money-grubbing as Eric Cantor.

“Wanton Acquisitiveness.”

Hillary doesn’t see the disconnect between expressing grave concern about mounting student loan debt while scarfing six-figure sums from at least eight colleges, and counting. She says now that she’s passing the university money to the foundation but, never Ms. Transparency, has refused to provide documentation of that.

Well, we’ve been following this story on University Diaries for awhile now, and because it’s about obvious high-profile hypocrisy, it was only a matter of time before Maureen Dowd got hold of it and majorly amplified it. So that has happened.

It’s an interesting business model… Raking it in while the university implodes…

… And while one could argue that it’s not in the long run a very good model — Howard University has so little money that it has now earned Moody’s lowest investment-grade rating — there’s no denying that it can be, personally, enormously rewarding.

Take Howard’s latest interim president. At his last job, as a high-ranking administrator at the university’s hospital, which runs huge operating losses, Wayne Frederick was amply rewarded:

Wayne Frederick, … then director of the cancer center at the university hospital, received [in 2010] a $97,006 bonus on top of his $586,335 base salary.

Naturally you’re going to have to increase tuition sharply, cut programs, and furlough staff to pay for those sorts of salaries and bonuses.

I mean, eventually, as one Howard trustee has noted, the school will have to close. But until then, there’s money to be made.

“[T]he cozy ties between pharmaceutical companies and …

university researchers” has long been a theme on this blog. UD‘s coverage has been local (“The [University of Wisconsin] Pain Group may have helped pave the way for OxyContin’s widespread use.”), neighborly, and much farther out, since this is a global phenomenon.

I’m not talking here about the massive, and I believe structural, fraud in most countries in the world, involving corporations openly bribing doctors to mis-prescribe and over-prescribe their meds. This is certainly the big picture, and every now and then someone complains, and newspapers cover the fraud, and corporations cough up penalty money and the fraud resumes. I’m talking – since this is University Diaries – about the corruption of universities by pharma.

Dennis Normile’s concise summary, in Science Magazine, of
the disintegration of Japan’s credibility as a site of research activity, ends by quoting a University of Tokyo official lamenting “a lack of awareness of research ethics.” But how can this be? Is he arguing that scientists at Japanese universities don’t know it’s wrong to make up research results in exchange for money from corporations?

An Addendum to UD’s Post About Hillary Clinton and the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Here’s my earlier post about students there protesting her $225,000 fee for giving a speech on campus. (Or, as Ruth Marcus lowballs it in the Washington Post, “flying by private jet to pick up a check for $200,000 to stand at a podium for an hour.”)

And here, from an article you should read in its entirety, is an excellent statement of what I’m calling the Spending Down problem:

There can never be enough super-rich Americans to power a great economy. I earn about 1,000 times the median American annually, but I don’t buy thousands of times more stuff. My family purchased three cars over the past few years, not 3,000. I buy a few pairs of pants and a few shirts a year, just like most American men. I bought two pairs of the fancy wool pants I am wearing as I write, what my partner Mike calls my “manager pants.” I guess I could have bought 1,000 pairs. But why would I? Instead, I sock my extra money away in savings, where it doesn’t do the country much good.

American university students will stop being shocked by politicians and other celebrities being paid $300,000 to give a speech at UCLA when they can be made to understand the Why would I? problem. This guy solves it by pointlessly stashing it away. Imelda Marcos solved it by buying up all the shoes in the world. Our universities’ foundations solve it by paying $300,000 for a dinner speaker.

*****************

UPDATE: Noam Scheiber calls it “the plutocracy problem.”

There are lots of things to unpack, thinks UD, in the Hillary/UNLV dustup…

… in which student leaders at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (a school that’s a perennial source of ridicule on this blog, by the way) object to the – everyone’s trotting out the usual adjectives – obscene, outrageous, grotesque – payment she’s getting to give a speech at the school. The students, who attend a university constantly and, uh, outrageously raising tuition and fees, a school about to build a billion dollar football stadium, are shocked that anyone would be handed $225,000 to read an hour’s worth of platitudes (an hour? maybe less) written by someone else. (UD will enthusiastically vote for Hillary when she runs, so look elsewhere for an anti-Clinton screed.) (And don’t get me started on the mystery of who wrote her memoir.)

Not long ago, Clinton got $300,000 to do the same thing at UCLA.

UD ran the give a speech for $300,000 thing by Mr UD, and though far from a populist, he too was shocked. For him too something in this transaction – you fly me out, put me up in a nice place, watch while I read a speech, have one of your fund-raising arms give me $300,000, and fly me home – seemed very wrong.

********************

The dustup has me thinking about John Edwards, a presidential candidate with … call them money problems. Remember? This is a from a long profile in Esquire:

Edwards was taking a beating in the press. The two $400 Beverly Hills haircuts that were mistakenly charged to the campaign, his yearlong employment at a New York hedge fund, the revelation that he took large fees for speaking engagements — all of it has been drowning out his message.

“They’re calling you a hypocrite,” I said.

Edwards looked at me, kind of annoyed, kind of resigned. “The truth about me is that I come from a very normal background. Early in our marriage, Elizabeth and I had very normal lives. We got financially successful because I won a bunch of cases. So we had money far beyond what we would ever have expected to have. And I think that part of our life, the financial life, is pretty privileged. You know, that house you went to is a really nice house. But I don’t think either one of us has believed that anything’s changed about us.

“Yes, of course, having money, having people around me, being able to buy a nicer shirt or whatever without having to worry about it, or going to dinner and not having to worry about it, that’s all true, that has changed. But I don’t think it changes anything about me as a person. The people who are critical, well, they don’t know me, they’ve never been around me. They don’t know me personally. That’s what I really believe is the truth.

“Because of the background I come from, I always feel a personal connection with people who are struggling…”

Large fees for speaking engagements… though back then they were probably a piddling amount, like $100,000… Not long after he was president of Harvard, Larry Summers made $135,000 for one speech at Goldman Sachs… That’s nothing…

And what was Edwards’ defense? That despite the absolutely enormous house he’d built himself, despite all of the other gazillion dollar expenditures, he wasn’t a hypocrite because his essential ordinary humble self was unchanged.

Beyond the on-the-face-of-it unpersuasive nature of this argument – unimaginable sums of money clearly had changed him, as such a staggering life transformation would change anyone – there’s the deeper but even more obvious truth that how you use your wealth reflects your morality. Edwards used his in a profligate and narcissistic way; and to add insult to injury he did this while lecturing the nation on the shame of there being Two Americas.

And sure, there are two Americas, which is the heart of what Hillary’s up against. I mean, there are several Americas, but for the purpose of addressing this problem, her problem, there are two. There’s middle-class America, represented by the shocked UNLV students; and there’s Tom “Kristallnacht” Perkins’ America, represented by Brown University’s Steven Cohen (personal wealth $9 billion) and Harvard University’s endowment (approaching $35 billion). And the real problem, ironically enough, since UNLV is a university, is ignorance. The student leaders do not know about, let alone understand, this other America, the America whose one big daily existential issue is what to do with all of its money. People are always bothering Harvard about spending more of its endowment, but Harvard is kind of at a loss. They spend and spend – they’re building an entire other campus, for god’s sake – and it’s still around 35 billion. Cohen is constantly purchasing palazzos and Picassos, but, like some character in Alice in Wonderland, the more he spends the more he makes. This is The Spending Down Problem, the one problem that continues to bedevil our rich country’s large number of super-rich people and institutions. What the hell do we do with it all?

If you understand the problem from this angle, you’re not surprised when people come to your university, read some lines, and get a check for $225,000. The country is bulging with people desperate to dispense their money somehow, somewhere.

Since UD believes the students’ problem is essentially one of education, she has a proposal to make. Our universities should offer – perhaps in the business school – a History of Personal and Institutional Wealth in America, with an emphasis on the last ten years or so, when so much wealth has accumulated in private hands that most observers have trouble believing the numbers, much less the Spending Down Problem. (Review of required text here.) This course would allow America’s university students to look at $300,000 for a speech at their school (not to mention prepare them for the eventual escalation of these fees into the millions) without blinking.

Speaking of retrofitting America’s universities as advertising venues…

… (see post immediately below this one about the University of Michigan), it doesn’t get much more cutting edge than the University of Kentucky, whose recently inked agreement with various local vendors … well, let’s have UK’s vp for commercialization tell it!

Eric Monday, UK’s executive vice president for administration, said Monday that many universities were looking to form more partnerships with the private sector, partly to make up for decreases in state funding.

In UK’s case, that could be taking an athletics sponsorship deal and enlarging it across campus. Another example, he said, would be new signs around campus. Those could be paid for by a private company, which would get advertising on the signs.

Examples? Well, UK already has an oral history project – subject, Kentucky bourbon – paid for by “the Kentucky Distillers Association and Bourbon industry.” UK already has a dorm – name, Wildcat Coal Lodge - paid for by the coal industry. So what you do, see, is you put up big brand new signs directing people to the library and to the dorm, signs paid for by bourbon and coal, and the signs got a itty bitty part saying, you know, go here to find the library or the dorm, and then a BIG ol’ part that says

COAL: CLEAN AS A WHISTLE!

or, uh…

“[W]e don’t say very much about greed, not comfortably at least. Perhaps that is the inevitable price of an economic system that relies on the vigor of self-interested pursuits, that it instills a kind of moral quietism in the face of avarice, for whether out of a desire to appear non-judgmental or for reasons of moral expediency, unless some action verges on the criminal, we hesitate to call it greed, much less evidence of someone greedy. We don’t deny the existence of such individuals, but like Bigfoot, they tend to be more rumored than seen.”

It is curious, this “moral quietism in the face of avarice,” and it’s curious for many reasons. (UD‘s thinking about this quietism today because Paul Krugman – see the two posts below this one – is being greedy.)

If one human being – University of Southern California trustee John Martin – happily accepts $180 million in one year’s personal compensation, American commentators might drop a dollop of rhetoric on it (“obscene”) … Our satirists (see Tom Wolfe, Bonfire of the Vanities) might ridicule it in fiction … But it’s not as if anyone in a position of, say, legislative authority in the country is going to say or do anything about it. On the contrary, it’s much more likely that our elected greed-apologists (Eric Cantor, Mitt Romney, legions of others) will lustily applaud; while our unelected apologists, the most famous of which is currently Tom “Kristallnacht” Perkins, will both 1.) express outrage that anyone would express outrage over, say, nurturer-of-insider-traders and Brown University trustee Steve Cohen hoarding nine billion dollars in personal wealth, and 2.) warn that lack of moral quietism in the face of avarice is tantamount to a violent fascist revolution.

But, really, the very phrase moral quietism in the face of avarice is the problem, no? Every element of this phrase - moral, quietism, avarice – is thoroughly rejected by most Americans. There is no level of money acquisition – acquisition in comparative terms, like Krugman’s, where his salary and work load at CUNY is humiliatingly disproportional to the salary and work load of anyone else at that public institution, and acquisition in absolute terms, as in Cohen’s household billions – which could ever rise to avarice. In this country, the correct moral position to take in regard to the personal acquisition of disproportional and astronomical sums of money is admiring approval. And… quietism? John Paul Rollert is incorrect to interpret the deafening silence at, say, the money managers at one American university receiving from that non-profit institution $25 million in yearly compensation as a kind of uncomfortable quietism. Think of it as an awed hush.

And please. Avarice? A word out of, what, Everyman? Take me back, baby. Avarice. At once a delicate word (vampire squid is vulgar) and a retro word, a tea-with-doilies word and a dead-lo-these-many-centuries word… Here comes Avarice onstage, his pockets lined with greenbacks! …

There is no avarice. There is only (as defenders of Krugman are saying today) a free market in a rich country. There is only what the market will bear. And, like most Americans, the current market (in which there is less and less “non-profit”) will bear absolutely anything.

Paul Krugman’s Hypocrisy Goes Viral.

The blogosphere is having fun with Paul Krugman today (see my own take on things in the post just below this one). But lest we forget: Krugman has always been hypocritical about making his own big bucks. This is from Andrew Sullivan’s website, years ago:

KRUGMAN IN HIS OWN WORDS: “Economists also did their bit to legitimize previously unthinkable levels of executive pay. During the 1980′s and 1990′s a torrent of academic papers — popularized in business magazines and incorporated into consultants’ recommendations — argued that Gordon Gekko was right: greed is good; greed works. In order to get the best performance out of executives, these papers argued, it was necessary to align their interests with those of stockholders. And the way to do that was with large grants of stock or stock options.

It’s hard to escape the suspicion that these new intellectual justifications for soaring executive pay were as much effect as cause. I’m not suggesting that management theorists and economists were personally corrupt. It would have been a subtle, unconscious process: the ideas that were taken up by business schools, that led to nice speaking and consulting fees, tended to be the ones that ratified an existing trend, and thereby gave it legitimacy.”

– Paul Krugman, criticizing the subtle, unconscious corruption of academic economists being paid nice speaking and consulting fees, October 20, 2002.

“My critics seem to think that there was something odd about Enron’s willingness to pay a mere college professor that much money. But such sums are not unusual for academic economists whose expertise is relevant to current events… Remember that this was 1999: Asia was in crisis, the world was a mess. And justifiably or not, I was regarded as an authority on that mess. I invented currency crises as an academic field, way back in 1979; anyone who wants a sense of my academic credentials should look at the Handbook of International Economics, vol. 3, and check the index…

I mention all this not as a matter of self-puffery, but to point out that I was not an unknown college professor. On the contrary, I was a hot property, very much in demand as a speaker to business audiences: I was routinely offered as much as $50,000 to speak to investment banks and consulting firms. They thought I might tell them something useful… The point is that the money Enron offered wasn’t out of line with what companies with no interest in influence-buying were offering me. You may think I was overpaid, but the market – not Enron – set those pay rates.”

– Paul Krugman, January 21, defending his getting paid $50,000 for a two-day weekend Enron Advisory Board meeting because the market set the fees.

If UD May Paraphrase Tip O’Neill:

All greed is local. The polite perplexity of a recent CUNY PhD in the face of wealthy Paul Krugman having accepted a CUNY professorship that pays him $450,000 to teach one seminar over the next two years overlooks the fact that Krugman, for all his attacks on American greed in his New York Times column, lives in a certain world. In this world (New York City, hedge fund managers), $450,000 (more than that, with various perks) is a slap in the face. You cannot spend decades surrounded by people who make twenty million dollars a year and not revise your greed radically upward.

The same awkwardness arose from Harvard professor Larry Summers indulging his hedge-fund-level greed while… being a professor…

[Harvard University professor Lawrence Summers] consults not only for hedge fund DE Shaw but for venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, asset-management and advisory firm Alliance Partners, stock-exchange operator Nasdaq OMX Group Inc., and for financial services firm Citigroup. He also has a healthy income from speaking — more than $100,000 earlier this year, for example, for a single speech to a conference organized by Drobny Global Advisors.

That is a busy schedule for a full-time faculty member who, like other professors, is allowed only a day a week for consulting — and Summers also chairs the advisory board of the Minerva Project, an online university startup, and holds an administrative role as Director of the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School.

This is the same Lawrence Summers who told Professor Cornel West to stop spending so much time on his outside activities and get back to his scholarship — because more was expected of a University Professor.

It’s all very postmodern: Krugman is a highly-paid professor-simulacrum whose function is to appear in CUNY advertisements. Big money, big promo, big nothing.

I’d urge Krugman to quantify that esteem for CUNY by donating a significant portion of his earnings, say $100,000 a year, to a scholarship fund for students or the Professional Staff Congress welfare fund, which provides much-needed health care benefits and emergency assistance for CUNY adjuncts.

Yet why should Krugman do that? He has – is asked to have – nothing to do with CUNY.

“Payers will no longer pay rising prices for marginally improved new products and pharmas must now justify those higher prices by demonstrating substantially greater benefits. That means new drug development requires more time and cost to make the case for improved cost-benefit and, more often than not, the effort fails. As a result the sales revenues for new drugs suffer both initially and over time. Then in their insatiable demand to maintain a profitability that exceeded all other industries over the past thirty years, pharmas have turned to the emerging countries as their golden goose. There local conditions and the inexorable greed of pharma companies combine to produce a way of doing business that is intrinsically corrupt.”

In case you were wondering why pharma is intrinsically corrupt. And will remain so. After all, this writer didn’t even mention pharma’s impressive capacity to make up bogus ailments, frighten the shit out of us about them, and provide pills.

To such squeaky clean enterprises as SAC Capital, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase…

… we must add GlaxoSmithKline, which only this morning has had to – in the words of one headline - “deny systemic corruption.”

Which is awkward. Who wants to have to be all defensive on such a basic matter as that? To have to deny systemic corruption. Heavy.

And this isn’t – like those other outfits I just mentioned – simply a temple to Mammon we’re talking about. This is a benevolent dispenser of surcease to suffering for people all over God’s green earth! GSK has got the whole world in its hand!

WHY stingy doctors refuse to prescribe the number of pills GSK requires to hit its yearly profit mark is the real question. What the hell’s that about, I’d like to know? Take it up with the damn prescribers! It’s not GSK’s fault if it has to bribe physicians all over the globe – all over the globe – to dish out pointless and destructive excess pillage to patients. I’m thinking in terms of conspiracies here… I’m thinking that – in this latest case – some Polish doctors got together and decided to – what?? – use clinical criteria in prescribing medication? And this forced GSK’s hand, making it increase its bribes until the system became too grotesque to ignore…

******
UD thanks Barney.

Let’s start here: Ninety percent of American paper money has traces of cocaine …

on it.

More broadly and less literally, Gillian Clarke, the national poet of Wales, describes her own currency:

If money were water, the contents of my wallet might have flowed through pure streams and filthy gutters, might be guilty, bloodstained, diseased. The pesos passed through the fingers of drug dealers and gunmen, maybe. The cheque could be traced from its innocent signatory back through bank, investor, to hedge funds, futures, skulduggery, I am sure. They are just paper promises, earned for writing, for reading, for teaching poetry. The coins we throw into the charity box have passed through the hands of saints and thieves, without a doubt.

Clarke’s capsule history of filthy lucre is part of an argument she’s making against some of the finalists in a poetry contest dropping out of consideration when they discovered the prize money came from a hedge fund.

Broadening out yet more the problem some people have with money, Philip Larkin writes that money is filthy because it “sings” the long human history of twisted compulsion, acquisitiveness, and grubbiness… Money is about our sad, grandiose, never fulfillable, and often intensely destructive dreams…

I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down
From long french windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

Spartan, dour Larkin would perhaps have agreed with spartan, dour Christopher Lasch that “Luxury is morally repugnant,” that in democracies there should be “a moral condemnation of great wealth.”

******************

So okay. But universities – like everyone and everything else – still need money, and most people believe that educating people and making research possible are good uses of it. That’s why universities get amazing tax breaks; but, again, the discomfort about immense accumulation and/or inappropriate use of university money is also why many people think continued tax breaks for multi-billionaire schools like Harvard and Princeton are wrong. It’s why some people are unhappy when billionaire alumni choose to direct hundreds of millions of dollars in donations to these same multi-billionaire schools. As Lasch suggests (other political theorists, like Michael Sandel, seem to agree), there’s something icky – something positively undemocratic – about grotesque huge personal fortunes and – in the case of universities – about grotesquely huge endowments.

And then there’s the problem of where university dollars come from. Apartheid South Africa was an overwhelmingly uncontroversial sort of divestment target, involving too many traces of cocaine, if you will, for many people to accept.

More subtle is the provenance of dollars from individuals like the Koch brothers, who hold libertarian, Tea Party-esque social and political views many people find repellent.

Catholic University has just accepted a million dollars from the Kochs to study that elusive and evanescent thing, “principled entrepreneurship.” A vocal group of Catholics has protested the gift, citing “the Kochs’s opposition to the expansion of Medicaid, hostility to public unions, and support for global warming denialists,” and pointing to the current Pope’s excoriation of “unfettered capitalism.”

Virtually all popes, far as I know, rail against unfettered capitalism, so that one (I’m sure Catholic U. has in the past taken lots of money from unfettered capitalists) doesn’t really fly; and libertarianism is certainly a respectable political position… Hell, all of the Koch’s positions, while maybe not smelling like a rose, are within the bounds of civil discourse.

You’re on safer ground when, as with apartheid, you look at what people and institutions actually do. So, for instance, when a Koch-funded group offered, a few years ago, to fund two economics professorships at Florida State University on the condition that people from the Koch-funded group get veto power over the appointments (the professors had to be sufficiently free-market and anti-regulatory in their orientation), a clear line was crossed. Similarly, also at FSU, “BB&T, the bank holding company, funds an ethics course on the condition that Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ be required reading.”

These two seem pretty obvious examples of outside groups using their money to influence what goes on in the classroom.

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