Friday Talking Points [204] -- The Herd Mentality

[ Posted Friday, March 30th, 2012 – 17:11 UTC ]

This week, the punditocracy had no Republican primary contest to distract their attention ("The upcoming primary/caucus in some state I've never traveled through because it's a flyover state could be the crucial turning point in the entire race... details at 11:00..."), and so the political pontificators and prognosticators had nothing else to talk about (one would think) except the serious business before the Supreme Court this week -- Obamacare.

After watching this media performance all week, I am left wondering whether Obamacare includes any treatments for groupthink (also known as "Herd Mentality Syndrome"). The subset of media mavens known as the "court-watchers" received prominence this week, because the anchors and various assorted politicos aren't required to understand legal issues (unlike the "good hair" requirement, for instance). These court-watchers decided to have some fun (that's the most charitable read I can come up with), and sent the rest of the media on a rollercoaster ride of gargantuan proportions.

Heading into the week, a growing chorus had determined that Obamacare was so downright constitutional it's a wonder the Founding Fathers didn't just include it in the document in the first place. Wild and starry-eyed predictions of a 7-2 (or even 8-1) victory reverberated across the airwaves. This kicked into a frenzy after Monday's arguments, since it seemed that the Supreme Court had agreed among itself to ignore a basic underlying tenet of American law: nobody has standing to bring a lawsuit until actual harm (physical, fiscal, or otherwise) has been proven to have been done to them. If the justices had followed this bedrock tenet, then nobody would have been able to challenge the constitutionality of the individual mandate until they had actually had to pay more on their taxes as a result -- meaning the case couldn't even start until 2015.

Because of this seeming unanimity on the court, a frenzy of utterly baseless speculation raged on what would be said the second day, when the mandate's constitutionality was discussed. Rash predictions (such as the 7-2 or 8-1 instances above) dominated the conversation, and terms like "slam-dunk for the Obama administration" were bandied about with aplomb.

Then came Day Two. Hoo boy. Now the conversation turned to such terms as "trainwreck" to describe the government's position. Day Three only solidified this perception, and doom and gloom ruled the airwaves for the rest of the week.

In fact, other than war frenzies, I don't think I've ever seen a purer example of "inside-the-Beltway" groupthink among the media. The pendulum swung so fast its a wonder someone's nose didn't get chopped off.

Of course, all such inane speculation is completely meaningless. The oral arguments in front of the majesty of the justices sitting en banc is nothing short of a dog-and-pony show. I would wager -- in any case before the Supreme Court -- that the oral arguments don't influence a single justice's thinking over 99 percent of the time. By the time a case gets to the highest court in the land, the paper trail it has generated is long and weighty. The original case generates volumes of writing, the appeal also adds a few tomes to the stack, and then the most important bits -- the written arguments by the two sides appearing before the Supreme Court -- are plonked on the top like icing on a very large cake.

This is what decides Supreme Court cases. Not making some hapless lawyer squirm in front of you. You'd think that the court-watchers would know this, but if they came out and said "this is all for show, the decision's likely already a done deal," then they would be talking themselves out of a job, after all.

Today is, reportedly, the day the Supremes meet and actually cast a vote on the case. But, short of a mind-reading device to see what is in the mind of Justice Kennedy (and maybe even Chief Justice Roberts), we're all just going to have to wait until June to find out.

No matter where you stand on the Obamacare issue, I urge everyone to just take a deep breath and be patient. Hard as it is to do, please ignore the groupthink and the herd mentality. Nobody knows how the Supreme Court will rule -- and anyone who tells you differently is a fool.

[OK, I had to get that last bit in, because April Fools' Day falls on a weekend day this year. My apologies for jumping the gun.]


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

We've got a special award to hand out before we get to this week's individual Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week winner.

A group award is necessary (perhaps a MIDGOTW award?) for every single person who stood around in the freezing cold this winter to collect signatures from a sometimes-hostile public to force a recall election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Today, the elections board ruled that the "recall Walker" folks had indeed collected the necessary half-million signatures to call an election in the next few months. The group turned in twice the required number of signatures, so this comes as no surprise. They've also targeted the lieutenant governor and several state senators as well, which (if successful) could flip their entire government back to Democratic control.

This is a stunningly impressive feat, especially when you consider that these signatures were collected in the depths of winter in a very northern state. To everyone who froze their toes and chapped their faces asking their fellow citizens to sign a petition a few months ago, a Most Impressive Democratic Group Of The Week award is the least we can do to thank you.

Moving along to the solo award, we simply have to hand Representative Bobby Rush his own Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week as well, for appearing in a "hoodie" on the floor of the House of Representatives this week. Rush was engaging in a bit of political theater, and he was rewarded with being kicked off the floor for not complying with its dress code.

Any regular reader of this column knows what a sucker we are for political theater, and this was a particularly effective stunt. No matter where you stand on the case of the unarmed teenager in Florida who was shot dead, you have to admit that you noticed what Rush did this week to call attention to the case. Which is the very definition of effective political theater, and which is why we award the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week to Bobby Rush.

What we found bitterly ironic about the story, however, was what the person presiding over the House at the time (Representative Gregg Harper, Republican from Maine) read to the chamber after Rush was escorted out. Imagine these exact words being spoken in the House -- say, ninety or one hundred years ago -- and then tell me a different image of what was going on didn't appear in your mind: "Clause 5 of Rule 17 prohibits the wearing of hats in the chamber when the House is in session. The Chair finds that the donning of a hood is not consistent with this rule. Members need to remove their hoods or leave the floor."

[Congratulate Representative Bobby Rush on his House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

In terms of the sheer volume of disappointment, there really can only be one person even in the running for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week, can there?

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. certainly disappointed a lot of folks this Tuesday and Wednesday (see above). His job was to argue the constitutionality of Obamacare's individual mandate in front of the Supreme Court. Apparently (from published reports) he had something of a meltdown.

Now, we here at Friday Talking Points headquarters are not trained legal analysts, which we (unlike a lot of yahoos in the media) are not ashamed to admit. So we have no way of knowing if the groupthink on Verrilli's performance (or lack thereof) is correct or not. As we've already said, even if it is correct we seriously doubt it'll have more than about a one percent chance of influencing any of the justices' votes.

But having said all of that, for the tidal wave of disappointment rolling out of Washington this week, it's pretty hard to make a case for anyone else winning the MDDOTW award this week.

What we wonder is: if the Supremes decide Obamacare is constitutional, will this perception in the media of Verrilli's competence change? But, of course, we'll just have to wait and see on that one.

For now, we (reluctantly, due to our lack of the legal knowledge necessary to determine how deserving the award truly is) award the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to Donald Verrilli.

[Contact the White House on their official contact page, to let his boss know what you think of Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr.'s actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 204 (3/30/12)

We're not going to provide talking points today, sorry. If you would like to make your own, I strongly recommend this article in the Huffington Post by Peter D. Rosenstein, where he puts forward a brilliant idea: bring back "Harry and Louise." Combine this with the data from last week's Friday Talking Points and the ads just write themselves, really.

Paul Ryan got his budget voted out of the House this week, but that subject will be around for quite a while, so we're going to resist the urge to tear it apart, for at least one more week.

Instead, we'd like to shine a spotlight on an appearance Mitt Romney made this week (in the midst of the Supreme Court frenzy, on Tuesday night) on Jay Leno's television show. Greg Sargent of wrote about it the next day (with an incomplete transcript containing a few key omissions) in his "Plum Line" column, which did spark a bit of interest in the media. But this interview really deserves more attention than it's been getting -- especially from Democrats whose job it is to run 2012 campaigns.

Now, Leno's a pretty "soft" interview, since it's just a late night talk show, so politicians don't face an actual journalist or anything. Plus, Leno's much more conservative than, say, David Letterman, so he's not known for grilling conservative politicians. Rachel Maddow he ain't, to put it another way.

But Jay Leno owns a whole bunch of collectible cars. He's a "car guy." As such, he actually talks to people who aren't millionaires on a regular basis -- unlike Mitt Romney. So when the subject turned to health care and the Supreme Court, Jay had a very interesting take on things, which he tried to explain to Romney.

Here's the entire transcript of the segment (which you can view on NBC's website):

ROMNEY: ...People can own their own insurance as they go from job to job, they won't have to worry about getting a condition that would keep them from being insured.

LENO: But what about pre-existing conditions, and children? That's... I mean... I know people who could not get insurance up until this Obamacare, and now they're covered with pre-existing conditions. I mean, to me, that -- and children also -- it seems like children and people with pre-existing conditions should be covered.

ROMNEY: Yeah. Well, people who have been continuously insured, let's say someone's had a job for a while, but insured, then they get real sick, and they happen to lose a job or change jobs, they find, "Gosh, I got a pre-existing condition and I can't get insured." I'd say "No, no, no" -- as long as you've been continuously insured, you ought to be able to get insurance, going forward. So you have to take that problem away, you have to make sure that legislation doesn't allow insurance companies to reject people because...

LENO: So you would make the law stand for children and people with pre-existing conditions?

ROMNEY: People with pre-existing conditions -- as long as they've been insured before, they're going to be able to continue to have insurance.

LENO: Well, suppose they were never insured before?

ROMNEY: Well, if they're 45 years old, and they show up, and they say, "I want insurance, because I've got a heart disease," it's like, "Hey guys, we can't play the game like that. You've got to get insurance when you're well, and so... and then if you get ill, then you're going to be covered."

LENO: Yeah, but there are a lot of people... I only mention this because I know guys that work in the auto industry, and they're just not covered because they work in brake dust, and they could get... so they've just never been able to get insurance. And then they get to 30, 35, they were never able to get insurance before. Now they have it. That seems like a good thing.

ROMNEY: We'll look at a circumstance where someone was ill, and hasn't been insured so far. But people who have had the chance to be insured -- if you're working in an auto business for instance, the companies carry insurance, they insure all their employees -- you look at the circumstances that exist. But people who have done their best to get insured, are going to be able to be covered. But you don't want everyone saying, "I'm going to sit back until I get sick and then go buy insurance."

LENO: No, of course, of course...

ROMNEY: That doesn't make sense. But you have to find rules that get people in that are playing by the rules.

This, to the best of my knowledge, is the most detailed questioning any Republican presidential candidate has been faced with on the health care subject during the entire primary race, even though Jay Leno doesn't sanctimoniously call himself a "journalist." That's Lesson Number One -- all "journalists" please take note: this is how to interview a politician about policy.

There is one interesting detail about this exchange, and one monumental point to be made by Democrats. First, the detail. Notice that Jay, when talking about his buddies who work "in the auto industry" mentions the fact that some can't get insured because they work around "brake dust." Brake dust is what you find when you open up a car's brake system to service it. There are only really two job classifications which deal with brake dust in the entire auto industry: those who work in plants manufacturing brake shoes and brake pads, and auto mechanics who service brakes. Jay is most likely talking about mechanics, since these are likely to be the friends he has -- likely the people who help him fix his own cars.

This point completely escapes Romney. To be fair, his father ran an auto manufacturing company, so when he hears "auto industry" (which is how Jay framed it), he most likely thinks of workers on the assembly line, and not local mechanics.

But still -- notice Romney's absolute ignorance of the conditions many working Americans face: "...if you're working in an auto business for instance, the companies carry insurance, they insure all their employees...." It is beyond Romney's comprehension that there are workers in America who do not have employers who offer health insurance. This is the major disconnect in Romney trying to understand what Jay is driving at -- to Romney, everyone who works gets health insurance. Of course "the companies carry insurance" and "insure all their employees," to put it another way. Why wouldn't they?

This is just another example of how out of touch Mitt Romney is from the concerns of millions of Americans. Mitt has no concept of an average automobile repair garage. Why would he? He's likely got "people" who deal with such problems. Try as I might, I just cannot picture Romney chatting with the guy fixing the brakes on one of his multiple Cadillacs.

But the even bigger issue Romney's answers raise is the one most everyone else is focusing on: What happens to the people who don't fit into Romney's perfect and rules-abiding employee? He never says what that guy who is 45 and can't get insurance is supposed to do. In essence, he is actually making the case for the individual mandate -- you have to buy insurance when you're healthy, even if you don't feel like it. While he does not say exactly how he would write a law which achieves this goal, it seems he agrees with the very concept the Supreme Court is considering in the Obamacare case.

That's being charitable to Mitt. If we assume the worst, however, what Romney is saying is, in essence, you are out of luck when it comes to purchasing insurance ever again in your whole life if you ever let your insurance coverage lapse for any reason whatsoever -- financial, job-related, whatever.

This is the thought that Democratic strategists need to follow through to its logical end: What happens to that guy? According to Mitt, insurance companies should be allowed to say "you haven't had continual insurance coverage your entire life, and you have a pre-existing condition, so we are not going to insure you, sorry."

OK, what happens next? The guy then must spend his entire life savings and bankrupt himself in an effort to pay his rising medical bills.

OK, what happens next? Well, once he's broke, not only can he no longer pay for any of his retirement, but he also has to get medical coverage from the taxpayers. It's either that, or crawl off into the woods and die -- there is simply no other option.

OK, so what does that mean? Well, it means that Mitt Romney, should his health ideas ever make it into law, will wind up with a lot more people on Medicaid and Medicare. How, exactly, does that fit in with the Republican platform? Mitt is saying he'd protect the insurance companies' bottom lines by allowing them to reject people with pre-existing conditions (who didn't have perfect records of insurance coverage for their entire lives), and he'd move all those people onto the taxpayer's dime, instead.

To put it another way: Mitt is arguing for a "big government" solution to the problem.

This is so far from Republican orthodoxy that it really deserves to be called out. In fact, clips from this Leno appearance would make dandy fodder for some election ads later this year.

Which is where I end, with the humble suggestion that the Obama election team save a copy of this video, and present it to the voters as part of their choice this November. Obamacare... or Romney allowing the insurance companies to go back to denying care for pre-existing conditions (which throws more people onto the taxpayer's dime). Take your choice.

-- Chris Weigant


All-time award winners leaderboard, by rank
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground
Cross-posted at: Democrats For Progress
Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post


24 Comments on “Friday Talking Points [204] -- The Herd Mentality”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    For now, we (reluctantly, due to our lack of the legal knowledge necessary to determine how deserving the award truly is) award the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to Donald Verrilli.

    I'm just wondering if any of you had a chance to listen to all or part or any of Verrilli's oral arguments.

    I wish these awards could always be handed out based solely on merit, or lack thereof, and not on how the punditocracy generally views the actions of the award winner.

    What I wonder is: if the Supremes decide Obamacare is constitutional, will the presenters of the MDDOTW eat crow? :)

    Oh, you're right ... I'm just miffed that my most favourite MIDOTW award winners haven't, between the two of them, managed, as yet, to move further up the MIDOTW (and down, to the point of being off the MDDOTW) leaderboard than they have. :(

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    On a more serious note, I really wish you could interview Mitt Romney. That was an excellent analysis of his comments on Leno.

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    It's worth repeating, too ... over and over! :)

  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Liz -

    No, just soundbites.

    It sounds like you're calling me out on my buying in to the whole groupthink of the week on the MDDOTW.

    You know what? You're right. I have no plausible defense on that accord. The criteria for these awards is ever-flexible, and must at times be annoying to readers. But upon reflection, you are indeed correct, I just bought in to the whole herd mentality on that particular award.

    Guilty as charged, in other words. I'm not being facetious or making some excuse, either -- you nailed me, I fully admit. I'll try to remember this and do better in the future.

    If I interviewed Mitt, we'd probably just wind up talking about his dad and Ramblers, though... just being honest, here... heh.


  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, Chris, I didn't listen to any of it, soundbites or otherwise. But, I've heard a number of reasonable people say that Verrilli's performance in defending the law was less than impressive.

    Which, of course, shouldn't come as any great surprise, given similar performances by any number of administration officials when it comes to communicating an important message on any number of critical issues. It's been a hallmark of this adminstration and something I never would have expected from Obama/Biden.

    Of course, the great exception to this apparent inability to communicate has been Secretary Geithner but, that is fodder for discussion about a whole other MIDOTW award. :)

    Anyway, I have a feeling that the wait for the court's decision on this one is going to feel like a lot longer than just a couple of months. And, it's reassuring to know that Verrilli's performance won't have anything to do with it!

    In other words, I'm guessing that his MDDOTW award will stand the test of time and that the stellar performance and admirable reputation of everyone at FTP HQ will not be impugned. And, I mean that sincerely.

  6. [6] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Liz -

    You know, that reminds me... I haven't updated the all-time lists in the sidebars in a while, so I just went and did so. They should now be up to date.

    I'm talking about a very specific thing on the site -- if you go to and look on the upper left sidebar, there are two lists of the top award winners. But, alas, these lists must be updated manually, and sometimes I forget. The main page of the big "all-time FTP winners list" I do faithfully update every week, but sometimes I neglect to update the sidebar lists.

    In fact, I've been thinking of just deleting these sidebar lists, because they seem like more trouble than they're worth.

    So... open question... would anybody shed any tears if I rearranged the FridayTalkingPoints site layout a bit? And got rid of these two lists?

    Let me know...


  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    I would wager -- in any case before the Supreme Court -- that the oral arguments don't influence a single justice's thinking over 99 percent of the time.


    However, a person can gain insight to what the Justices might be thinking by the questions they ask..

    If this is true, then it's clear to all that Crapcare is DOA...

    I read a line somewhere that said something to the effect of, "if you can't make it 90 seconds into your oral argument w/o being interrupted by a Justice, then your position is in trouble."

    "Now, I don't know what all that means, but it sounds pretty bad."
    -Daniel A Kaffey, A FEW GOOD MEN

    Moving along to the solo award, we simply have to hand Representative Bobby Rush his own Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week as well, for appearing in a "hoodie" on the floor of the House of Representatives this week.

    I think I just threw up in my mouth a little...

    It should also be noted that, within a day of this hate-mongering stunt, two men in hoodies gunned down 6 people ages from 16 to 24.

    This occurred in Bobby Rush's Congressional District....

    Look, wearing a hoodie doesn't necessarily make one a scumbag thug 'gangsta'... Just like wearing a swastika doesn't necessarily make one a psychotic killer or wearing pastels colors doesn't necessarily make a man gay..

    However, given the context of a certain set of circumstances, it's a pretty good indication...


  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I, for one, wouldn't mind if you got rid of the lists all together.

    Biden has only 4 MIDOTW awards, Geithner shouldn't be anywhere near the other list and I don't particularly enjoy being reminded about either one of those scenarios.

    Speaking of Geithner, the MDDOTW's awarded to him were, for the most part, done so on the basis of sheer heresay and otherwise ill-informed media accounts. One of the awards was for "laundering taxpayers' money" or something like that which I don't know anything about but I will delve further into it, rest assured ...

    You shouldn't have reminded me about any of this. I can be like a dog with a bone, you know. :)

  9. [9] 
    dsws wrote:

    I would wager -- in any case before the Supreme Court -- that the oral arguments don't influence a single justice's thinking over 99 percent of the time.

    I thought the idea was that oral arguments reveal the justices' thinking, not that they determine it.

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Well, I wouldn't wager anything on the outcome based on the idea that oral arguments reveal the juctices' thinking on any issue or how they will vote, if I were you. :)

  11. [11] 
    dsws wrote:

    I wouldn't be much into wagering at all, if I were me.

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I see.

  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:

    I see.

    Said the blind man when he picked up the hammer and saw... :D

    yuk yuk yuk


  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    No, no, no. It goes like this ...

    I see, said the blind man to the deaf man.

    What will happen to all those Americans who have been unable to get health insurance without the ACA?

    I am assuming that you have taken your personal responsiblity seriously and are covered by health insurance. How will you be personally affected, whether the ACA is upheld by the Supreme Court or not?

  15. [15] 
    Michale wrote:

    What will happen to all those Americans who have been unable to get health insurance without the ACA?

    Probably the same thing that would have happened to the four million Americans who would have LOST their Health Insurance under the ACA..

    They'll manage...

    Government is not the solution to everything.

    Sometimes, MANY times, it's the problem...


  16. [16] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    They'll manage? That's a good one. So, what's your story ... that you'll manage?

    I suspect this is the very kind of attitude that helps to explains why the US ranks so very low on the list of countries that have an affordable, sustainable and effective healthcare system. So much for exceptionalism ...

  17. [17] 
    Michale wrote:

    I suspect this is the very kind of attitude that helps to explains why the US ranks so very low on the list of countries that have an affordable, sustainable and effective healthcare system. So much for exceptionalism ...

    I would like to see those lists.. :D

    I fail to understand how you can believe that creating hundreds of new government bureaucracies will help people get better care??

    Further, as has been pointed out by a doctor, better insurance coverage would not equal better care. In fact, it's likely that it will equal WORSE care...

    It should be painfully clear to the Left that Crapcare was not the solution to this country's healthcare issues.

    Like so many other things coming out of government, it would have become part of the problem, not the solution..


  18. [18] 
    Michale wrote:

    And, of course, there are problems with the "ranking" system itself..

    Philip Musgrove, the editor-in-chief of the WHO report that accompanied the rankings, calls the figures that resulted from this step "so many made-up numbers," and the result a "nonsense ranking." Dr. Musgrove, an economist who is now deputy editor of the journal Health Affairs, says he was hired to edit the report's text but didn't fully understand the methodology until after the report was released. After he left the WHO, he wrote an article in 2003 for the medical journal Lancet criticizing the rankings as "meaningless."

    If you manipulate the numbers and plug in whatever values you want, you can make a report say absolutely anything you want..

    One only has to look at IPCC reports to know this is true. :D


  19. [19] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    And, if pigs had wings they'd fly. You seem to have a special knack for fact avoidance.

  20. [20] 
    Michale wrote:

    If you want an eyewitness report of the train/plane wreck that was the SCOTUS hearings on Crapcare:

    It's a very good read... :D


  21. [21] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Are you freakin' kidding me?

    Michale, you shouldn't go around droping links like that in public. It reflects poorly on you and I don't want to see that.

    If I want to find out what happened at the Supreme Court on this issue, I'll listen to the oral arguments or read the transcript myself.

    I suggest you do the same and we can both report back here.

  22. [22] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Did I just drop that ridiculous link? Can somebody please do something about that? Dear editor?

  23. [23] 
    Michale wrote:

    The article wasn't about the SCOTUS hearings per se, but rather about the audience's reaction to it..

    If you have any evidence to dispute the observations, by all means.. :D

    On another note...

    It looks like the massive beatings Obama took last weekend are not going to go away anytime soon..

    Top Obama campaign donor accused of fraud;_ylt=AsjVKeTqnm_B_gjKiV0JykWs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTNsdmVzbTFoBG1pdANUb3BTdG9yeSBGUARwa2cDNTZmYWJmNjQtNDAxYi0zOWQ0LTg1YzUtNDhkNGQzNTVhMTdjBHBvcwMyBHNlYwN0b3Bfc3RvcnkEdmVyA2VmYTEwYTExLTdjNzItMTFlMS1iYjMzLWI1ZGVjZDY5OTM4OQ--;_ylg=X3oDMTFrM25vcXFyBGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDBHBzdGNhdAMEcHQDc2VjdGlvbnMEdGVzdAM-;_ylv=3

    I think the only question on Obama's poll numbers will be 'how low can they go?'...


  24. [24] 
    Michale wrote:

    Barack Obama: Supreme Court won’t overturn health care law

    They must be putting something funny in the water at the White House..

    Or else they are partaking of the Wacky Taabacky.... :D


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