Bob Burnett

Many Republicans see Putin as a rugged individual guided by the Ayn Randian philosophy of self-interest

As the war in Ukraine drags on, it becomes increasingly apparent that one of the major parameters is disinformation. For example, the attitude inside Russia seems to be that Vladimir Putin's military operations are justified because Putin is protecting "the fatherland" from neo-Nazis. Pro-Putin propaganda has been disseminated throughout the world; It has infected Republican legislators.

Russia: In the United States, a narrative has circulated suggesting the war will end when Russians rise up and depose Putin. Nonetheless, Russian opinion polls suggest that Putin is very popular because the average Russian believes that Putin is protecting "the fatherland." A recent Levada poll discussed in Newsweek "Showed that approval of Putin's actions increased from 69 percent in January to 83 percent in March." (Statistaconfirms that within Russia, Putin has strong approval ratings.) Nonetheless, a recent academic study discussed in the Washington Post indicates that Putin's ratings are fragile: "These findings suggest that much of Putin’s support is based on perceptions that he is popular. Without that perception, Putin’s popularity fades."

The Russian media has a consistent message: "Ukraine is a threat to 'the fatherland' and Vladimir Putin is a strong president who is protecting Russia." The monolithic Russia media is also dismissing reports that the initial Russian effort was unsuccessful or that Russian troops have committed war crimes.

If this seems familiar, it is similar to the situation in Nazi Germany at the beginning of World War II. Hitler was very popular in Germany and disliked in most of the rest of the world. One of Hitler's lieutenants, Joseph Goebbels, ran the ministry of propaganda. He succeeded in convincing most Germans that Adolph Hitler was the right person to protect their country.

Europe: Russia's distorted view of Putin isn't an isolated phenomenon. Throughout the world, there are many countries where the Russian actions in Ukraine are viewed more sympathetically than US citizens would believe. For example, "In polls on several Chinese websites, generally about 40 percent of Chinese people remain neutral, about 30 percent support Russia, and about 20 percent support Ukraine."

While most of the NATO countries have strong support for Ukraine in the war, and equally strong dislike of Putin, there is a different attitude among Europe's far-right parties. This is seen in Hungary with the government of Viktor Orban. It is also a feature of the current French election which pits centrist Emmanuel Macron against right-wing Marine Le Pen.

Al Jazeera recently observed: "French opposition leader Marine Le Pen, the de facto spokesperson of the European far-right, has been rising in the polls despite her ongoing support and admiration for [Putin] ....In 2014, Le Pen endorsed the Kremlin’s referendum in the Russian-annexed Crimea as legitimate and has been accused of being a Putin stooge. In 2015, reports in the French press based on hacked Kremlin records showed that Le Pen may have lent her support to Putin’s annexation in return for a nine million euro ($9.9m) loan from a Russian bank – although the allegations of a quid pro quo have never been proved."

On April 24, Macron and Le Pen will vie for the French presidency. Le Pen is close despite her long-time support for Putin. The Washington Postnoted: "A National Rally campaign leaflet distributed this year depicted her shaking hands with the Russian president, and the party funded itself with a 9 million euro loan from a Russian bank in 2014. Ms. Le Pen’s long-standing hostility to NATO is well-known; she is promising to withdraw the French military from the alliance’s command structure."

United States: Donald Trump's admiration for Vladimir Putin is well known. On February 27, Trump said: "Yesterday, I was asked by reporters if I thought President Putin was smart. I said, 'of course he's smart... The problem is not that Putin is smart, which of course he is smart, but the real problem is that our leaders are dumb."

But Trump wasn't the only Republican leader to admire Putin. "Putin's high-profile admirers include alt-right agitator Steve Bannon and former White House communications director and presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. Prominent television host Tucker Carlson spoke out in support of Putin just one day before Russia invaded Ukraine, questioning whether Putin was the enemy liberals painted him to be: 'Why do Democrats want you to hate Putin? Has Putin shipped every middle-class job in your town to Russia? Did he manufacture a worldwide pandemic that wrecked your business? Is he teaching your kids to embrace racial discrimination?'"

Late in January, a Yahoo/YouGov poll found "more than 6 in 10Republicans and GOP-leaning independents (62 percent) now say Russian President Vladimir Putin is “a stronger leader” than Joe Biden."

50 days into the war, most Republicans have changed their tune. According to the latest Pew Research Poll "69% of Republicans [describe] Russia as an enemy." (Only 6 percent express confidence in Putin.) Nonetheless, there are huge partisan divide on the conduct of the war; for example, like Marine Le Pen, most conservative Republicans do not have confidence in NATO.

The latest Pew Research poll indicates that Americans are divided on the Biden Administration's handling of Russia's invasion of Ukraine: 47 percent strongly approve and 39 percent strongly disapprove. Opinion is divided along partisan lines: 69 percent of Democrats strongly approve and 67 percent of Republicans strongly disapprove.

Analysis: Note that since Russia invaded Ukraine, most Republicans have become negative on Putin and Russia, but have not rallied around President Biden. We're at war with Russia but unlike the situation in previous wars, Republicans have not rallied around the commander-in-chief.

There are two connected explanations for this. One is that many Republicans like Putin because he reflects their world view. Putin is a racist misogynistic bully. Many conservatives see him as a rugged individual guided by the philosophy of self-interest popularized by Ayn Rand (BTW: She was born Alisha Rosenbaum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.) In other words, Vladimir Putin is not woke. He has a very simple moral philosophy; the ends always justify the means. Writing in the New Statesman Emily Tamkin opined: "The far right – or at least the Trump-aligned far right – is already too deep into conspiracy theories to break with Russia, or at least to side cleanly with Ukraine..."

The other explanation for the undue influence that Putin has had on US politics is that we have allowed Russian money to have undue influence in US politics. Since Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign, there have been indications that Russia funneled money to the Republican Party. The Mueller investigation reported that Russia "interfered" in the 2016 election and there were troubling links between the Trump campaign and Russian actors including Russian Oligarchs; see for example, this article by professor Ruth May.

Summary: Recently, CNN host Jim Acosta pointed out that Tucker Carlson (Fox News) was repeating Russian talking points about Ukraine: " Last week Tucker Carlson tried to imply that some of what you are seeing [about Russian atrocities] has been fabricated and amplified by news organizations. That sounds a lot like what we heard from Putin’s spokesman who said bodies lining the streets were, quote, a forgery, aimed at denigrating the Russian army.” Prominent Republican members of Congress like Marjorie Taylor Green and Josh Hawley are also repeating Russian talking points.

It's time to call out the ongoing Russian-sponsored disinformation campaign for what it is: a national security threat.

It's time to call out Republicans, who praise Putin and denigrate Biden, for what they really are: traitors. It's time to brand Tucker Carlson as a traitor.

We are at war with Russia. We don't have to put up with Republican craziness any longer.

'Their coverup was so brazen': Quaker activist explains the most surprising aspect of Republicans' impeachment antics

When I learned that Senate Republicans had blocked witness testimony for the Impeachment Trial, I was reminded of the concluding line from T.S. Eliot's 1925 poem, "The Hollow Men:" "This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper." I wasn't surprised that Republicans voted to let Trump off the hook; I was surprised that their coverup was so brazen.

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6 Big Lessons Learned from Our First Taste of the Trump Presidency

After six months of the Donald Trump presidency, we know what to expect going forward. We’ve learned six lessons.

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Trump’s Top 10 Tax Tricks

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns, saying “It’s none of your business” and “there’s nothing to learn.” Of course, there is something to learn from the recent tax returns of a supposed billionaire who seeks to gain the trust of American voters. If we had access to Trump’s returns we’d learn Donald’s top 10 tax tricks.

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Top Ten Reasons Trump Wins the GOP Nomination

New York real-estate mogul and media personality, Donald Trump, is the odds-on favorite to win the Republican presidential nomination. Here are the top ten reasons why Trump will prevail.

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Pope Francis: 2013 Politician of the Year

With the exception of Senator Elizabeth Warren, American politicians had a terrible year. President Obama's approval ratings plummeted along with those of Congress. Indeed, the most popular "politician" in the United States was a non-American, the new head of the Catholic Church, 77-year-old Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis.

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Hypnotized by Ayn Rand and Reaganomics, Republicans Have Completely Lost Touch with Economic Reality

On September 9th, when Congress returns from its summer vacation, negotiations will begin on a new Federal budget and a U.S. debt limit increase. As a quid pro quo Republicans will demand restrictions on Obamacare. Once again, this raises the specter of the GOP pushing the government into default. Why don't Republicans understand that's a terrible idea that would crater the economy?

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Is America Turning into Texas?

On April 17 there was a horrific explosion at the West Chemical and Fertilizer plant in West, Texas, that killed 15 people, injured more than 200, destroyed or damaged 150 homes and caused at least $100 million in losses. Five days later, Texas Governor Rick Perry was in Illinois trying to lure business to Texas, praising his state's limited regulations. Is Texas America's future?

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5 Basics for Defending Obamacare

The June 28th Supreme Court decision that let Obamacare stand gives the president, and all Democrats, an opportunity to remake the case that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a good thing. That's a blessing because many American voters do not understand Obamacare.

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5 Reasons Capitalism Has Failed

We live in interesting times. The global economy is splintering. U.S. voters hate all politicians and there's political unrest throughout the world. The root cause of this turmoil is the failure of the dominant economic paradigm -- global corporate capitalism.

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How Obama Squandered the High Hopes of Those Who Elected Him

As he heads for the debt-limit showdown with Republicans, President Obama cannot be comforted by the latest Gallup Poll that shows him trailing the generic Republican presidential candidate by five percentage points. Republicans won't vote for him; Obama has lost support among Independents and has alienated many Democrats. What happened?

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Climate Change Is Already Affecting the West's Water

It's said our primeval ancestors had a simple arithmetic system: "One, two, three, many." That describes the focus of many 2008 voters, whose concerns are the economy, energy prices, Iraq, and "those other problems." As we get closer to the presidential election, most Americans aren't worried about global warming. Maybe they will be when they turn the tap and no water comes out.

In early August we toured Glacier National Park with the Sierra Club, catching a glimpse of several of the humongous ice fields. In 1910 there were 150 glaciers in the park; now there are 25, which are losing 9 percent of their mass per year. Sometime between 2015 and 2020 they'll disappear. Locals joke the 1.4 million acres will be renamed "Puddles National Park."

Worldwide, most glaciers are diminishing. So is the ice pack in places like the North Pole and Iceland. While ice loss is generally regarded as compelling evidence of global warming, most Americans aren't losing any sleep over it. An April Gallup Poll found that "while 61% of Americans say the effects of global warming have already begun," only 37 percent are worried about it, roughly the same percentage that were concerned when Gallup first began asking the same question, nineteen years ago.

Why isn't global climate change seen as a more important issue?

Many observers believe the typical American is too busy to be bothered by more than a couple of national problems -- it's the "one, two, three, many" phenomenon. Social scientists report that average voters don't have a lot of leisure time; they're too busy struggling to make ends meet. Most Americans are worried about the economy -- paying their mortgage and health insurance -- and gasoline prices. The little news most of us have access to either comes from talk radio -- cultural issues -- or cable TV -- Iraq and terrorism. While we're aware of the threat posed by global climate change, we're too harried to be able to consider the consequences.

Unless it slaps them in the face, the typical American can't be bothered by an abstract threat. If there's a global warming event -- a mammoth hurricane, tornado, or forest fire -- in our neighborhood, then we get concerned. From this perspective, the loss of a few thousand acres of ice in a remote corner of Montana hardly seems significant. Most of us don't see it as a danger sign.

But it is. Disappearing glaciers is a harbinger of huge problems. In the West, the most obvious is drought.

During our tour of Glacier Park, local scientists explained the systemic effects of global warming. In addition to glacier melt there is less snow, more rain, and longer growing seasons. Over the past fifty years the average Montana temperature has risen six degrees Fahrenheit. This has caused longer dry periods, which have resulted in a massive loss of timber due to an infestation by the Mountain Pine Bark Beetle. This in turn, has fed catastrophic forest fires -- like hurricanes and tornadoes, it's not that these disasters happen more frequently, but that when they do they have greater impact. Warmer water coupled with loss of foliage threatens much of Glacier's wildlife. And, Montana's stream flow is decreasing; a state that used to have an abundance of water now has areas that don't have enough: eastern Montana suffers from a prolonged drought and last year Montana filed suit against Wyoming arguing the state was taking more than its fair share of water from the Yellowstone river.

If you live in an area with lots of water, you probably don't care about the west's water problems. But out here on the left coast, drought is an ominous fact of life. As the southwest was populated -- an area stretching from Los Angeles to Albuquerque -- water had to be transported from the north, because annual rainfall wasn't sufficient to supply local needs. The water problems in Montana illustrate an ominous reality for the west: global warming is reducing our regional water supply. If you live in the Los Angles basin, most of your water comes from the Owens River in the Sierras and the Colorado River; both are diminishing.

As the name suggests, the Colorado River is fed by Colorado mountain snow melt, which has dramatically decreased in the past few years. The 1400-mile-long river is the primary water supply for seven states. By 2012, due to increased demand and diminished supply, the Colorado River will no longer be able to meet it's contractual commitments. Meanwhile, there are signs of impending disaster all along the watercourse: Lake Powell has already gone dry and experts predict that Lake Mead will be disappear by 2021.

If Montana, a state with a population of one million, is beginning to run out of water, what does this suggest lies ahead for Southern California, an area inhabited by 23 million? Citizens of the southwest may have other concerns today, but at the end of the decade their collective cry will be show me the water!

Who Are the Real Terrorists?

President Bush's Monday press conference made two things clear: He's not about to withdraw troops from Iraq, and he's locked into a definition of "terrorist" so general that it's meaningless and, therefore, dangerous. It's time to reconsider: Who are the terrorists: Why are we fighting them? How can we defeat them?

Bush began his "war on terror" with a deliberately vague definition of America's new enemy: a "terrorist" was any group the Administration attached that label to. On 9/20/01 the President said, "Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated."

Bush's "war" initially centered on Al Qaeda. The U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan. In the September issue of The Atlantic Monthly James Fallows persuasively argues that Al Qaeda has, for the most part, been defeated. He suggests that it's time to declare "victory" in the war on terror, because the U.S. has diminished the effectiveness of Al Qaeda: "Their command structure is gone, their Afghan sanctuary is gone, their financial and communications networks have been hit hard." He notes there has been "a shift from a coherent Al-Qaeda Central to a global proliferation of 'self-starter' terrorist groups."

Rather than stay focused on Al Qaeda, and their malignant offspring, Bush expanded the scope of his "war." In the 2002 State-of-the-Union address, he denounced Iraq and Syria as state "sponsors" of terrorism. Implied there could be terrorist states.

Subsequently, the Administration convinced Congress and much of the American public that his war on terror necessitated an invasion of Iraq. Bush conflated Al-Qaeda-trained Iraq-based terrorists, such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, members of Iraq's Baath party, any Iraqi who resisted the occupation, "insurgents", and, ultimately, Sunni Muslims. Bush confused those who fight the U.S. because we are occupying their country -- "resistance" fighters -- with those who are operatives of Al Qaeda and have pledged to destroy America. In his press conference, Bush referred to them all as "terrorists who are trying to stop the advance of democracy." Anyone who opposes the occupation is a "terrorist."

Fallows' Atlantic Monthly article argues that the war in Iraq has greatly hampered Bush's war on terror: "The war in Iraq advanced the jihadist cause because it generates a steady supply of Islamic victims, or martyrs; because it seems to prove Osama bin Laden's contention that America lusts to occupy Islam's sacred sites, abuse Muslim people, and steal Muslim resources; and because it raises the tantalizing possibility that humble Muslim insurgents, with cheap, primitive weapons, can once more hobble and ultimately destroy a superpower..." Nonetheless, Bush stubbornly defends the occupation: "We leave before the mission is done, the terrorists will follow us here."

In his 2002 speech, Bush defined "Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Jaish-i-Mohammed" as terrorist organizations. Of these, only "Jaish-i-Mohammed" has direct links to Al Qaeda. "Islamic Jihad" is an umbrella term used by groups in Egypt, Iran, and Syria among others. Hamas and Hezbollah are resistance groups in Palestine and Lebanon, respectively. Whether they deserve the label "terrorist" is debatable.

In 1988, the U.S. deemed Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Nonetheless, the group has little in common with Al Qaeda. Professor Stephen Zunes argues that Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shiite socio-political organization. Where Al Qaeda is Sunni and stateless, Hezbollah is part of Lebanese society -- holding fourteen seats in Lebanon's National Assembly. Where Al Qaeda has repeatedly threatened the United States, Hezbollah has not. Where Al Qaeda has a long history of terrorist attacks, Hezbollah does not -- Zunes notes that the U.S. accuses Hezbollah of two bombings of Jewish targets in Argentina, attacks most independent experts do not attribute to Hezbollah. Nonetheless, in his news conference Bush referred to Hezbollah as "terrorists." Blamed them for the recent war in Lebanon.

Bush's muddled definition of "terrorist" has had four chilling consequences: It's shifted attention away the eradication of Al Qaeda. It's largely ignored the threat posed by a secondary wave of 'self-starter' terrorist groups; those spawned by the ideology of Al Qaeda. Bush's sloppy thinking produced the debacle in Iraq and led to a mindset where the Administration labels any Middle Eastern "resistance fighter" as a terrorist. Finally, the White House's sweeping, ideological driven definition of terrorist led the Administration to condemn Hamas and Hezbollah, lump them with Al Qaeda; an action that contributed to Israel's decision to invade Palestine and South Lebanon.

American foreign policy needs a fresh start. Rather than continue the Bush approach -- define a terrorist group as anyone we don't like -- it makes more sense to be pragmatic. Let's begin with a more focused definition: A "terrorist" organization is Al Qaeda, or any group that adopts Al Qaeda' objectives and advocates attacks on the U.S. mainland or U.S. citizens. The first step towards real security is for America to be clear about who our enemies are.

Using the 'C' Word

This month, the Senate will hold confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. There will be a painstaking examination of his record, particularly opinions that indicate his position on the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. This process will draw attention to the ongoing struggle over reproductive rights. While not a big news story in 2005, this battle will again heat up as the Congressional elections draw near. However, the focus will probably change from abortion, per se, to the "C" word -- contraception.

Public sentiment about abortion has not changed much over the past 30 years. Gallup Polls conducted in both 1975 and 2005 found that only 22 percent of respondents believed that abortion should be "illegal under all circumstances."

In 2005, what began to change was the focus of the debate on reproductive rights. On January 24, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton implored all sides of the reproductive-rights issue to seek "common ground." Clinton asserted that no one in American politics is "for" abortion. Many Democratic politicians have since adopted her perspective -- abortion is a tragedy. Clinton's stance served two tactical purposes: One was to scuttle the notion that Dems favor "abortion on demand." The other was to shift the locus of the debate from abortion to reproductive rights, in general. To re-emphasize the right of a woman to choose her own medical care and to freely obtain contraception.

Sen. Clinton observed that where there is access to contraception there is less necessity for abortion; 7 percent of women who do not use contraception account for 53 percent of unwanted pregnancies. After Clinton's speech, Democrats renewed their push for federal support for sex-education programs for teenagers, emergency contraception and family planning.

Despite the efforts of the minority party, for most of 2005 the White House was silent on the "C" word. Democratic members of Congress repeatedly wrote the president asking him to clarify his position on contraception. In an October 25 White House briefing, press secretary Scott McClellan responded: "The focus has been from this administration on promoting abstinence programs; that ought to be on the same level as the education funding for teen contraception programs."

Yet, the funding for abstinence programs is not "on the same level" as funding for contraception education programs. The administration allocates $200 million to abstinence-only programs and nothing for comprehensive sex education. Studies indicate that abstinence programs do not prevent, but only delay sexual activity among teens. And when these "teens do initiate sex, they are a third less likely to use contraception, putting themselves at risk for pregnancy and disease."

Of course, there are two aspects of contraception. One is before-the-event measures, such as birth-control pills and barrier contraceptives. The other aspect is after-the-event remedies. One of these is the "emergency contraception" drug, Plan B, intended to prevent pregnancy after contraceptive failure or unprotected intercourse. In September 2003, an FDA advisory panel recommended that Plan B be sold without a perscription. Nonetheless, in July 2004, the FDA denied the application. Democrats requested a Government Accountability Office review of this decision.

On Nov. 14, 2005, the GAO reported that the rejection of the Plan B application was the result of an "unusual" decision-making process. The GAO noted that a Bush political appointee overrode the decision of subordinates who recommended approval of the application.

There are several other examples of the Bush administration's preventing information about contraception from reaching the public. On Dec. 20, 2005, the ACLU issued a press briefing noting that the U.S. Department of Justice had sent the "National Sexual Assault Protocol to police agencies throughout America." Unfortunately, the first-ever national protocol for treating victims of sexual assault failed to mention emergency contraception. The ACLU observed, "If emergency facilities routinely provide emergency contraception to rape victims, up to 22,000 of the 25,000 pregnancies that result from rape each year could be prevented."

In Dec. 2004, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., reported that government-funded abstinence-only sex-education programs were giving students false information. An example of the misinformation was the suggestion that "touching a person's genitals can result in pregnancy."

As a result of the bias found in the federally funded sex-education programs, states such as California began refusing to use them. Meanwhile, most parents want comprehensive programs. A February 2004 poll found that 93 percent of parents want sex education taught in schools. Of these only 15 percent believe that abstinence should be the only method of contraception discussed. The Bush administration is out of step with more than 80 percent of Americans. With nothing to lose and much to gain, in 2006 Democrats should push legislation that funds access to and education about contraception as a key way to support reproductive rights.

Dems: Looking for Love in the Wrong Places

In 1980, Johnny Lee had a crossover hit with "Lookin' for Love (in all the wrong places)."
Democrats would do well to remember the first verse:

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Will the Real 'Party of Life' Please Stand Up?

In the wake of the disastrous 2004 election, many pro-choice candidates were dragged down with the sinking of HMS Kerry. As a result, there have been whispers among Democratic politicians that they were going to have to change their position on abortion, in order to reach out to pro-life voters.

However, the April 21-22 Washington, D.C. gathering of EMILY's List, the political action committee dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to all levels of government, produced no fundamental shift of position. Indeed, an EMILY-funded post-election poll indicated that 55 percent of voters continued to support a women's right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term, and that abortion had not been a major issue in the presidential election.

What does appear to be changing is the approach that Democrats take when they talk about choice -- the values they emphasize and the words they select. It's useful to envision this "reframing" of choice as consisting of three concentric circles.

In the innermost circle lies the issue of who ultimately controls a woman's body. In the starkest terms, progressives see choice as an inalienable woman's right; conservatives view choice as a privilege dispensed by the patriarchy -- the dominance of men over a woman's health, expressed through the power of the state.

In contemporary terms, Democrats tie the issue of choice to the right of privacy -- a right most Americans believe in -- by asserting that women must be able to choose medical treatment without the interference of the state. (This is a repositioning of the language of Justice Blackmun, in Roe v. Wade, in which he defended choice not as a woman's prerogative but, "The right of the physician to administer medical treatment according to his [sic] professional judgement.") Bush Republicans argue they are anti-choice because they are defending the "rights of the fetus," relying upon the biologically, and theologically, dubious argument that an embryo is a human being from the moment of conception.

The middle circle places choice in a larger social context. On Jan. 24, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton gave an important speech on abortion rights where she implored all sides of the issue to seek "common ground." Clinton opined that no one in American politics is "for" abortion. She observed that under most circumstances where there is access to contraception there is no necessity for an abortion -- the 7 percent of women who do not use contraception account for 53 percent of unwanted pregnancies. Since Clinton's speech, Democrats have renewed their push for federal support for sex-education programs for teenagers, emergency contraception and family planning.

The outermost framing circle focuses on the use of the word "life." UC Berkeley linguistics professor George Lakoff noted that it makes no sense for Republicans to act as if they have exclusive use of life as their "brand." Historically, Democrats are the party of life, in the sense that they have taken seriously the task of guaranteeing the right of every American to live a life of dignity. From this moral high ground, Democrats are concerned with the quality of life at each point along the continuum of existence -- health care, education, jobs and the environment -- rather than to fixate, as the Republicans do, exclusively on the endpoints: life of the embryo/fetus and death.

Lakoff observed that rather than Republicans being the "Party of Life," it would be more accurate to describe them as the Party of Death, since they are indifferent to the life and death struggles of the average American working family. In the tragic case of Terri Schiavo, President Bush remarked, "It should be our goal as a nation to build a culture of life." Nevertheless, Bush is opposed to federal funding for pre- and post-natal care and ignores the reality that one in three Americans has no health care.

Further, as governor of Texas, Bush oversaw a record 152 executions, and as president he launched a preemptive attack on Iraq, which has resulted in the deaths of 20,000 civilians and 1,700 military personnel. Lakoff argued that Democrats should go on the offensive by constantly reminding voters that the Republican record does not show them to be "pro-life."

A graphic example of the incongruity between Republican words and actions can be found in their tepid response to the steadily increasing violence against American women. More than 4 million women are physically assaulted each year; roughly 600,000 are raped; and 28,000 experience the horror of a criminally induced pregnancy. Republicans avoid directly addressing these issues. Their anti-choice position means that most Republican lawmakers insist that a pregnant victim of rape carry her fetus to term. (A position shared by only 16 percent of voters.)

It's clear that Republicans, by taking an extraordinarily conservative position on choice, one supported by considerably less than half of all voters, have backed themselves into an ideological corner. What remains to be seen is whether Democrats can take full advantage of this; and whether they can use the issue of choice to breathe new life into the party.

That Other America

1962 saw the publication of Michael Harrington's insightful study, The Other America, which vividly described the harried lives of America's poor. This week two polls were released that portrayed another vision of desperation in America, one that progressives are still struggling to understand. Both surveys focused on the voting group termed "faith voters," roughly one-third of the electorate. Faith voters believe that "moral values" is a big issue, in many instances the one issue that decides their vote.

When Democrats gathered in Washington to hear Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair, Howard Dean, give a status report on his first two months in office, they were shown the results of a new poll conducted by Cornell Belcher. This, and a similar Mellman Group survey funded by the powerful EMILY's List political action committee, indicated that the class distinctions that historically distinguished Republicans from Democrats are being replaced by cultural differences. Once it was accurate to characterize the GOP as the party of the upper class and the bourgeoisie, and Democrats as the party of the lower class and the struggling middle class. The two polls indicate that now it is more precise to describe Republican voters as those who care a lot about moral values and go to church often; in contrast, Democratic voters aren't as concerned about moral values and attend church infrequently, if ever.

Taken in conjunction with the results of the 2004 presidential election, these polls clarify the nature of the Democrats' numbers problem. Historically, no matter how good the economy might be, there were always more American poor than rich, and therefore, Democrats always had a numerical superiority over Republicans; in any given election, if Democrats could manage to get out the vote, they would win. Now that familiar formula has changed. Many poor voters are faith voters and the issue of moral values trumps their economic concerns.

According to the Belcher survey, faith voters are worried about issues such as the economy and the deteriorating situation in Iraq, but their number one anxiety is moral values. In the last election, they believed George W. Bush shared their concern, and this proved to be a decisive factor in determining their vote.

Most progressives regard this behavior as perplexing, if not self-destructive. In his recent best-seller, What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, Thomas Frank depicted faith voters as rubes who foolishly vote against their own self interest because they are, in effect, blinded by the light of their Christian practice.

DNC chair Howard Dean appeared to have a deeper understanding of this cultural divide. He pointed out that while the American economy is struggling, many Democratic partisans are not unduly anxious about economic issues. In contrast, faith voters -- Dean characterized them as "backlash Republicans" or "Reagan Democrats" -- are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Typically both the husband and wife work to make ends meet; often they have more than one job. The family is under extreme economic pressure. They see themselves on the edge of homelessness, a couple of missed paychecks or one serious illness away from losing everything they have. But what the parents are most worried about are their kids.

Dean continued that faith voters typically spend so much time at work that they don't have the opportunity, or the money, to provide their children with adequate supervision. As a result, the parents are obsessed with the notion that television, other kids, or lefty teachers will corrupt their sons and daughters. Driving to and from work faith voters constantly hear conservative commentators rail against the liberal "media elite," whom they accuse of advocating various forms of immorality: drug use, free love, abortion on demand, and so forth. Because they live in this environment of fear, faith voters accept wild accusations as the gospel; for example, that the National Educational Association has an agenda to teach homosexuality as a lifestyle "choice."

Howard Dean observed that many Democrats are too quick to dismiss the behavior of faith voters. He noted that this group truly believes that a liberal Democratic elite is corrupting America. Dean's analysis was that in the last election, faith voters trusted George W. Bush to do the right thing to stem the tide of immorality; they accepted Bush's campaign rhetoric, "The Democrats don't respect you. They don't understand your problems because they are the elite. But I do respect you. ... I'm just a regular guy."

The DNC chair commented that the typical Democratic response to the fears of faith voters has been to offer them programs: health care, child care, and the like. For various reasons this hasn't worked. Dean remarked that the Belcher poll showed that 54 percent of the voter sample believed that "a decline in our moral values" was a bigger obstacle to raising strong families than were jobs, health care, and quality education.

Howard Dean concluded by arguing that if Democrats are to regain preeminence in American politics, they must understand the desperation that is an everyday burden of that other America.

A Progressive 12-step Program

Since the presidential election, many activists have lapsed into depression, believing that they are powerless to stop the wholesale destruction of the American dream by the Bush administration.

We find ourselves stuck in an abusive relationship with George Bush and his cronies. This abuse is clearly evident in Iraq with its horrendous images of prisoner torture and daily TV feeds of civilian casualties. It is also shown in the administration's disdain for the American needy, as well as in its gleeful willingness to pillage our natural resources. Like all chronic abusers, Bush and company are obsessed with power, willing to do anything to retain it, even if this means running roughshod over human rights.

As progressives struggle to regain their footing and mount an effective defense of democracy, we must recognize that Americans are trapped in this abusive relationship. To escape it we will need our own version of a 12-step program, beginning with the recognition that we feel powerless in the face of the Bush aggression, and that this has profoundly impacted our lives, made them to some extent, unmanageable.

In Alcoholics Anonymous the classic formulation of the second step is, "[We] came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." Many progressives are spiritual and accept the concept of a higher power, but others are secular and reluctant to embrace this notion. What most of us can agree with, however, is that real democracy has a higher power, an overarching set of values that embrace all the people in a social fabric of liberty and equality. Reframing this as the second step leads to a similar reformulation of the third, "[We] made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of true democratic values." Progressives may feel powerless as individuals, but it helps to recognize that we are part of an epic struggle to defend democracy and that millions of Americans – as well as kindred spirits through out the world – stand shoulder to shoulder with us at the barricades.

The AA fourth step is, "[We] Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." Progressives have been so focused on the evils of the Bush Administration that we often fail to acknowledge our share of the blame for the situation we are in.

There is a political aspect of this inventory: Democratic presidential candidates lost in the last couple of elections because the public didn't know who they were; they made the mistake of running as "Republican Lite." In the process, the Democrat Party lost its bearings, lost contact with the great populist message that had sustained it for one hundred years. In addition, Democrats bought into the notion that the electorate believed that Republicans were innately better at national defense; as a result, many Democrats became obsessed with demonstrating how tough they were and supported the Bush Administration's feckless invasion of Iraq.

There is also an important psychological side of the inventory: Progressives must recognize our responsibility for the abusive relationship we find ourselves in. In a recent edition of The New York Review of Books, UC Professor Mark Danner observed that in the election Bush voters, "faced a stark choice: either discard the facts, or give up the clear and comforting worldview that they contradicted. They chose to disregard the facts." They made this choice because it is hard to see the truth, painful to pry open our eyes and take in how screwed up the world actually is. This is a heavy psychological burden, one that many Americans opt out of, choosing instead to escape into apocalyptic religion, reality television, or their neighborhood saloon.

If progressives are serious about recovery, then we will have to help each other face the truth: Americans are becoming the people our parents warned us about. Where we were once envied, now we are feared. Instead of the USA being a shining light, now we are viewed as bullies – an abusive power.

To see ourselves as we really are, to acknowledge the dreadful state we have fallen into, requires that we, indeed, conduct a fearless moral inventory. To escape from our abusive relationship with the Bushies, progressives will have to engage in all the classic steps of recovery: admitting our wrongs, seeking the aid of our higher power in overcoming these, reclaiming true democratic values, and making amends.

A famous Buddhist prayer is known as the three gems: "I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the Dharma; I take refuge in the Sangha." Meaning: "I take refuge in the spirit of the Buddha, in his teachings, and in the Buddhist community." As we seek recovery from our abusive relationship with the Bush Administration, perhaps we can find strength in our own version of this wisdom, "I take refuge in democracy; in the spirit and teachings of the founders of our country, and the patriots that followed them. I take refuge in the community of those who struggled to preserved this democracy."

It's the Ideology, Stupid

If you are a regular reader of progressive media outlets like this one, you cannot have escaped the prevailing opinion that the Bush administration's latest round of massive tax cuts are folly. But is not just the left which finds them bizarre; almost no reputable economist supports this plan.

Joseph Stiglitz, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, described the tax cuts as leading to "reductions in job growth relative to what they otherwise would be." Speaking to Congress, Federal Reserve Board Chair Alan Greenspan opined that unless there are comparable reductions in Federal spending, the tax cuts will only add to the deficit, which would promote higher interest rates and depress the economy. Alternet contributors David Martin, Chris Hartman and Ben Robinson commented that "the only thing this plan 'stimulates' is more economic inequality in the United States." Even Bush appointee Douglas Holtz-Eakin, head of the Congressional Budget Office, concluded that the proposed tax cuts "might have either a positive or a negative effect on the economy, but that in either case the effect would be modest."

Yet the president and his cronies continue to push the tax cuts. Confronted with a congressional compromise that would reduce the scope of the package to $350 billion (by eliminating the provision to do away with the tax on stock dividends), the President pushed back and asked for $550 billion in cuts. Asked why the Bush administration was pushing for tax cuts when the nation is engaged in a war with a still unknown price tag, and is already facing a record deficit of more than $300 billion in this fiscal year, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay famously responded, "Nothing is more important in the face of war than cutting taxes."

Of course, DeLay's justification made no sense. Similarly, veteran economic observers assert that while tax cuts may have been appropriate when the federal government was running a surplus, it makes no sense to have tax cuts when there is a deficit, particularly when deficits seem likely to continue into the foreseeable future. Greenspan warned that "Budget deficits [lead] directly to higher interest rates" which would depress economic growth.

Many have accused the Bush administration of selling tax cuts as "snake oil," suggesting that they are a universal panacea that will fix whatever ails the economy. But it wasn't long ago that Republicans actually had an economic rationale for cutting taxes. In the eighties, under the Reagan administration, Republicans advocated "supply side" economics where there was a crude logic for tax cuts: reduce the marginal tax rate and thereby motivate people to work harder; this would, in turn, stimulate the economy and, after a few years, the net positive effect would compensate for short-term deficits caused by the reduction in tax rates.

This theory didn't work -- deficits reached record proportions -- but at least the debate was conducted in terms of an economic proposal. Not so today! The Republican appeal for tax cuts is not an economic formula, but rather a political mantra. This is not a plan for the economy; it is a strategy for reelection.

The relentless drive for tax cuts reveals George W. in his true "colors," as an economic and a social conservative. Since he hooked up with Karl Rove, tax cuts have been a prominent feature of every Bush campaign. In his second term as governor he pushed through a steep tax cut (as a result, this year Texas is in dire straits, running a deficit of approximately $10 billion).

Bush and Rove regard tax cuts as a "twofer": a perennially winning issue with Republican ideologues, who on pseudo-moral grounds don't think that the government is entitled to their money. And these same cuts inexorably shrink the size of government, thus accomplishing another goal of the Republican conservative orthodoxy.

Bush doesn't talk directly about his rock-ribbed conservative philosophy but it is lurking in the shadows. In their recent bestseller about Karl Rove, "Boy Genius," Lou Dubose, Jan Reid, and Carl Cannon reported that as governor of Texas, George W. "was much more of an ideologue than he let on ... [observers were] ... stunned by his obsession with privatization." They noted that, "Bush and his team wanted to bury whatever remained of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society."

Veteran political writer Elizabeth Drew recently commented that, "About a year before the 2000 election, Rove made an alliance with the anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist, probably the most influential figure in organizing the American Right." This is a partnership based on the shared goals of reducing taxes and shrinking government. In April, when asked about the fiscal crisis facing most of the states, Norquist responded, "I hope a state goes bankrupt ... We need a state to be a bad example, so that the others will start to make the serious decisions they need to get out of this mess."

Conservatives such as Norquist, Rove and Bush believe that social programs, at both the Federal and state level, are unnecessary and therefore a waste of tax money (and therefore if states get into financial trouble they will have to cut these programs).

Americans must not be fooled by Bush propaganda that the proposed tax cuts will magically stimulate the economy or create jobs. This not about the economy, it is about right-wing ideology. These cuts are a stealth initiative to diminish government at all levels: education, healthcare, public safety, aid to elderly and veterans, transportation, protection of the environment, etc. This is intended to starve the Federal budget until all that is left is defense, homeland security, and huge interest payments.

It's not the economy; it's the extreme conservative ideology of George W. Bush and his pandering to that base of his political support.

Bob Burnett is a journalist living in Berkeley. He is the former publisher of In These Times magazine.

What Is the War Going to Cost Us?

Before launching the war in Iraq the Bush Administration was, to say the least, circumspect about the projected cost. After the bombs began to fall they announced that our initial tab would be $75 billion. But these expenditures are just the first installment; they do not include reconstruction of the Iraqi infrastructure or that illusory concept, nation-building. Thus the billion-dollar question remains how much will George and Donald's big adventure cost us?

In December, Yale economist William Nordhaus, writing in The New York Review of Books, described an analytical framework for calculating the cost of this war. Nordhaus considered two general categories of costs: direct military spending such as the salaries of troops and the costs of their weapons, and follow-on costs. In the latter category he included "occupation and peacekeeping", "reconstruction and nation-building", "humanitarian assistance", "impact on the oil markets", and a catch all category "macroeconomic impact" -- that is, what impact a scenario would have on the U.S. economy in general (for example, a protracted war could possibly trigger a recession).

The Yale economist used his framework to prepare a low-end war-cost estimate of $121 billion and a high-end estimate of $1.595 trillion. Each extreme was the result of a specific scenario: the low estimate assumed a short war with no complications, whereas $1.6 trillion would be the result of a protracted war with many complications.

Mercifully, it appears that major combat in Iraq has ended after roughly six weeks. Thus, the Nordhaus' more favorable estimates are the ones that should be considered first -- those that put the cost of the war in the $121 billion range. Nordhaus comes up with an estimate of $50 billion for the direct military expenditures associated with a short war, which should be accurate if there are no unanticipated military "problems" -- such as an invasion of Syria or an extended Intifada-type campaign which ties of tens of thousands of troops.

Nordhaus estimates the total cost of the occupation as $75 to $500 billion over ten years. Since it appears only United States and British forces will be involved in peacekeeping, the true cost to the United States is likely to be in the mid-range -- $30 billion per year. He estimates that reconstruction of the Iraqi infrastructure will cost from $25 to $100 billion and the Council on Foreign Relations predicts that this will cost $20 billion per year.

As the Iraqi petroleum industry comes to life, some of the funds generated from petroleum exports could go towards reconstruction; the yearly value of these exports will be in the $15-20 billion range but it will be several years before they reach that level. Thus, in the first five years, the U.S. yearly cost for reconstruction will likely be at least $20 billion per year. (This, of course, assumes that the U.S. will actually pay for this; so far the Bush administration indicates that American taxpayers will foot his bill, as they regard Iraqi reconstruction as an opportunity to funnel money to some of their largest contributors, such as the Bechtel Corporation.)

The United Nations and international relief agencies will probably provide humanitarian assistance, so our costs here may be as low as $1 billion. Because most of Iraq's oil infrastructure is intact, Nordhaus predicts a reduction in world oil prices and, thereby, a positive benefit to the U.S. economy of $3 billion per year. With regard to "macroeconomic" effects, since this has been a short war there is unlikely to be any disruption of the economy.

The combination of all these factors results in a projected cost of $286 billion over five years (with roughly $100 billion expended in the first twelve months). These figures are consistent with other estimates. In April, UC Berkeley economics professor, and former chair of the president's council of Economic Advisors, Janet Yellen estimated that the direct costs of the war were likely to be in the "$100-150 billion range" and the total cost approximately "$500 billion over the next decade."

The Bush Administration would have us believe that $100 billion in the first year, and $286 billion over five years, is a small price to pay for the liberation of Iraq, and an indeterminate modicum of safety from terrorism. But, even for those of us jaded by annual budget deficits in the $300 billion range, these are big numbers.

For example, $100 billion is the funding required to bail out the states this year, to cover their combined revenue shortfall. $100 billion would provide health care for all the uninsured children in the United States for at least five years. President Bush has been touting his tax cut plan as a jobs program, claiming that it will create 1.4 million jobs; at $50,000 per job, $100 billion would create 2 million jobs in the first year.

The total cost of the war amounts to, in effect, an extra year of budget deficits - the 2003 deficit is expected to be $304 billion, and the shortfalls for 2004 and 2005 are projected as $307 and $208 billion respectively. $286 billion will raise the five-year cumulative deficit to approximately $1.5 trillion -- a 26% increase. This is a huge debt, one that will inevitably worsen the living conditions for the average U.S. citizen.

This deterioration will have two faces. The first is an increase in interest rates. The United States is a debtor nation -- dependent upon outsiders to support our economy. The ugly reality is that we consume more than we produce and this means that we are highly dependent upon the largesse of overseas investors.

As our national debt increases, our creditors will not be as willing to finance our debt by investing in our securities and, instead, will begin to eye competitive investments such as Euro bonds. This change will inevitably cause the Federal Reserve Board to raise interest rates -- in an effort to make our bonds more attractive. This action will further stifle the economy by making it more expensive for businesses and consumers to borrow money.

The second ugly face of our growing national debt will be to provide the Bush administration -- compassionate conservatism and all -- with a justification for a decrease in the amount of Federal expenditures on social programs such as education and health. Reduction of entitlement programs was one of the planks in Bush's platform for campaign 2000.

As the Federal debt increases, progressively larger amounts of the Federal budget will have to be devoted to interest payments, which will rise to more than $40 billion annually by 2008. Republicans will seize on this as an excuse to reduce Federal spending. But, of course, they won't cut the military -- which already amounts to half the discretionary spending -- they will cut the programs that serve the neediest among us.

What's the cost of the war in Iraq? In dollars it will be at least $286 billion. In terms of our economy and the welfare of our citizens it will feed the recession and will have prolonged negative impacts that all of us will feel. The Bush administration made a choice between "guns and butter;" the military got the guns and, as a result, the average citizen will have to give up "butter" for years to come.

Bob Burnett is a journalist in Berkeley. He is the former publisher of In These Times magazine.

Note to Bush: We Need the World

The onset of war produced a rare instance of agreement among the liberal and conservative press: U.S. unilateralism will impact the global economy.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Michael Sesit lamented that the U.S. decision to invade Iraq without the support of the United Nations has "unleashed forces that could impact the global economy and financial markets for years." From the left-wing pulpit of The Nation, William Greider said, "The boosters of corporate-led globalization should understand that their vision of a New World Order is fundamentally imcompatible [sic] with George W. Bush's." In Great Britain both the conservative Economist and progressive Guardian have voiced similar sentiments: By their unrelenting focus on unilateralism, the Bush Administration has undercut the partnerships necessary for the financial support of globalization and jeopardized the health of the economy.

Whether driven by politics or ideology, George Bush and Karl Rove have ignored the reality that the United States exists within a world community tied together by three policy systems: military, social and trade. Since 9/11, and more specifically since the publication of the Administration's National Security Strategy in September of 2002, the role of the military has been paramount; our strategy has been unabashedly unilateral. The Bush doctrine of "Imperial America" asserted that as we are the world's sole superpower, we would do whatever is necessary to ensure our military preeminence.

But since 1945, recognition of an array of common social concerns ranging from the environment to the disposition of refugees and the proliferation of weapons produced a substantial body of international treaty and law. By its failure to ratify the Kyoto Accords, support the International Criminal Court and similar international treaties, the Bush Administration indicated that here, too, it plans to act unilaterally.

Only in the matter of trade has the Bush Administration suggested support for multilateralism. The president signaled approval of the elements of the global financial architecture: the IMF, WTO, and World Bank, as well as trade agreements such as NAFTA (although in the interest of domestic politics he has willfully violated global-market agreements by actions such as approval of steel import tariffs and farm subsidies and, recently, built a "coalition of the procured" through bilateral trade agreements). The administration assumed that our global trading partners would be unaffected by our unilateralism in military and social matters.

Many commentators question this. They argue that by failing to get the backing of the United Nations before we invaded Iraq, the U.S. has incensed our trading partners and thereby severely damaged the global economy.

There is both a personal and an economic element in this argument. The personal is, in essence, that no one wants to play with a bully. Reporting from the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, Newsday writer Laurie Garrett spoke of a surge of anti-American feeling. Apparently this negativism was precipitated both by the perceived arrogance of Americans who flaunted our unilateralism and by the Christian Fundamentalist tone set by many American representatives (such as John Ashcroft and Ralph Reed). It is possible that foreigners will trade with us less, because of this hostility, or that they will be less likely to travel to America or to use our products.

The economic argument is that U.S. unilateralism will severely damage the U.S. economy and therefore, the global economy. The United States may be the world's dominant military power but we are a debtor nation, dependent upon outsiders to support our economy.

We run an enormous annual trade deficit -- in 2002 this was about $500 billion (more than we spend annually on defense). Thus we depend upon the willingness of other nations and foreign investors to continue to do business with us while we consume more than we produce. This is a singular situation; one that depends upon the attitudes of overseas investors and their level of confidence in the U.S. economy.

As the image of America tarnishes, our creditors will not be as willing to finance our debt by investing in our securities (they already own $2.3 trillion more of our assets than we do of theirs). Instead, foreign investors will begin to invest in non-U.S. securities such as Euro bonds.

This change will have three critical impacts: It will cause the Federal Reserve Board to raise interest rates in an effort to make our bonds more attractive, which will further depress the economy. The Treasury will have to increase the money supply, as well, minting more dollars to finance our trade deficit which will, in turn, cause inflation. The dollar will decline relative to the Euro and other currencies.

Both conservative and liberal commentators argue that the combined impact of these factors will be enough to throw the U.S. economy into a recession, which will become the main issue of the 2004 presidential election. This could be further hastened if the real costs of the war soar and dramatically increase our national debt and further erode the confidence of our creditors.

With the global economy then staggering and unable to depend upon the U.S. economy for support, there will be a loss of confidence in the basic mechanism of globalization, a challenge to the financial architecture of the global marketplace.

The dire effects of U.S. unilateralism on the global economy suggest three windows of opportunity: The first is for the anti-globalization forces to change the financial architecture directing globalization. The second is for an ideological challenge to the Bush doctrine of unilateralism, Imperial America. Finally, the onset of recession presents an opportunity for regime change at home.

Bob Burnett is a journalist living in Berkeley. He is the former publisher of In These Times.

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