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PATTERSON: Putin, Biden and Trump

NATO has moved closer to nuclear war with Russia after French president Emmanuel Macron suggested that putting Western troops in Ukraine was a possibility. Russian president Vladimir Putin promptly threatened to end civilization with nuclear strikes in the West.

Macron’s provocative statement came after a summit where 20 European leaders discussed strategic plans for the third year of Russia’s war on Ukraine. The summit could be seen as proof that NATO is not united over Ukraine. These are dangerous times.

President Biden was among NATO leaders who quickly objected to Macron’s idea. The State Department said it “had no plans to put boots on the ground in Ukraine.” Biden’s plans could change if Putin attacks a NATO member.

Former president Donald Trump had spoken earlier when he observed that Russia could do “whatever the hell they want” with NATO. Trump may have thought he was making a factual statement rather than expressing an opinion. Putin no doubt enjoys publicly rebuking France and NATO. Putin claims he has evidence that Germany is preparing for war with Russia. Germany says it is Russian disinformation.

With NATO publicly stating it won’t send troops to help Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky, the pressure mounts for an end to the war. Biden wants more and more funding for Ukraine, and Congress wants a diplomatic solution. Zelensky watches anxiously as Ukraine’s time could be running out.

Misstatements and misjudgments by world leaders might be seen as partly responsible for Ukraine’s predicament.

In January 2022, when Biden was asked about the U.S. response if Russia invaded Ukraine, he expressed little concern. He thought a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine might not warrant a response. It was a colossal misstatement that has cost thousands of Ukrainian lives during the last two years.

In October 2022, Biden said that it would be a nuclear Armageddon to confront Putin over Ukraine. Putin might have felt the West was fearful of him. Since then, to paraphrase Trump, Putin has been doing whatever he wants to do with the fearful Biden and NATO in seeming disarray. Ukraine has paid a horrible price.

In 2024, Biden referred to Ukraine as NATO. More recently, he has called Gaza, in the Middle East, Ukraine.

Some members of Congress are asking Biden to find a diplomatic way to end Russia’s war against Ukraine. This might be difficult since Biden recently called Putin “a crazy S.O.B.” It sounds like Biden was channeling Trump’s diplomacy. Biden’s undiplomatic language could worsen Russia’s treatment of American hostages.

Before Macron’s massive misstatement about sending troops into Ukraine, NATO announced that Kyiv had a right, under international law, to strike Russian military targets outside Ukraine. International law may allow this, but recall Biden’s concern about nuclear Armageddon.

Finland, a new NATO member, gifted weapons to Ukraine with the blessing to use them to attack Russia. Germany is debating whether to send its long-range Taurus missiles to Kyiv. Germany’s indecision may be due to concerns about Biden’s nuclear Armageddon comment. If Germany sends Taurus missiles to Ukraine, it could lead to severe escalation in the war. Some analysts have speculated that Putin is looking to expand the war into Europe, especially Poland and the Balkans.

Berlin seems incapable of finding another diplomatic solution to the Russia-Ukraine war. In 2014, then-German chancellor Angela Merkle crafted the elegant Minsk agreements which led to a ceasefire in the war. Where is Germany’s diplomacy in 2024?

It seems that NATO is looking to Washington for diplomatic leadership to end the Russia-Ukraine war, while Washington is looking to Europe for diplomatic leadership. Ukraine is looking to Washington and Europe for military funding and weapons.

Trump says he could end the war “quickly” by talking with Putin. Could Trump charm Putin into a ceasefire? It sounds risky, and it sounds improbable.

After two years of Biden’s failure in Ukraine, his billions in aid, his comment about a nuclear Armageddon, his many misstatements, and his unwillingness to talk with Putin, Trump’s charm appeal to Moscow could be, at this moment, the best hope Ukraine has for a ceasefire.

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PAWLICKI: Authoritarian? Cult? Fact or Political Rhetoric?

What does it mean to be authoritarian? What is a cult? These are labels Democrats assign to the presumptive Republican candidate for president and to a significant part of his followers. Are these labels accurate, or are they just political rhetoric?

Authoritarianism refers to a style in which a person assumes and acts as if they have absolute rule — total power and immunity. They presume they can act like a king or dictator with supreme power. We accept Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin as authoritarians with that internal expectation.

Any deviation from their wishes can mean death or imprisonment. No exceptions are allowed to their dictates. Authoritarians ignore or attack decisions they oppose and punish their opposition to the best of their ability.

Many Democrats claim Donald Trump is cut from the same cloth as Xi and Putin. Is that true, or is it just political rhetoric against a candidate who received about 74 million votes in the 2020 presidential election?

Does Trump attack his enemies rather than argue policy? Does he work to punish and threaten his opponentsDoes he ignore laws or judgments not to his liking? Does he lie? Did the former president work to attain personal wealth through his office as other authoritarians have done? Does he scapegoat minorities and people with disabilities as Adolf Hitler did the Jews? If yes, and by those criteria, Trump is authoritarian.

Those with dictatorial beliefs offer quick answers to complex questions. They tend to rise to power when countries are in despair, with significant dissatisfaction and malaise, such as Putin and Hitler.

Authoritarian leaders suppress oppositional thought and create a strong megaphone of their own. Ingeniously, Trump embedded a belief in “false news” early in his ascent to power. Two impeachment trials and a Jan. 6th hearing made little dent in MAGA’s opinion. Few of his supporters followed the proceedings. The same is likely in the coming 91 indictments with evidence critical of the former president’s behavior.

All Trump voters are not cult members, but a significant portion fit the definition. Cult members are typically led by a self-appointed charismatic leader who requires absolute devotion and insists on total denial of information critical of their leader. The insistence on this alternative reality must be intact to qualify as a cult member.

Cult members maintain an unwavering belief in the wishes and thoughts of their leader. They deny and ignore oppositional thought and imbue unbounded admiration for the leader, bordering on religious faith.

Trump fosters a cult of personality in which he is the only one who can make America great again. It is a true sign of an authoritarian and, for those most devoted followers, religiously embedded.

As authoritarian power grows, so does its grandiosity. Recently, Trump posted a video on Truth Social touting the idea that God created him as a caretaker and “shepherd to mankind.” Posters of him in a pose with Jesus Christ are easily found at his rallies.

Trump rallies are settings of joy, if not rapture. Followers commonly wait hours for his arrival, interrupt his utterances with excitement, and laugh uproariously at his slurs and put-downs, enjoying the rude expressions he dares to say. They turn to their like-minded neighbor wrapped in a community addiction, joyful to be a part of this community.

Trump is not an ordinary politician. He is perceived to be a savior by many. Trump is fighting for them. He knows their grievances and frustrations. They have been waiting for him.

Devoted followers are so convinced of his righteousness that civil behaviors are bent. His direct and indirect support of violent behavior becomes acceptable, a telling measure of cult behavior if suggested by the leader. The most common rationalization in Germany after World War II was that “I followed orders. I don’t believe that I’m to blame.” Blind and unthinking commitment dominates over facts, discussion and rational thought.

Ultimately, however, authoritarians destroy democracies. They suppress their enemies and elevate their most loyal supplicants with power. They may deliver short-term satisfaction to some but ultimately long-term disaster to the masses.

Trump supporters, cult followers or otherwise, need the maturity to understand what they are buying is fool’s gold. They may enjoy short-term benefits. Their children and our democracy will not. There is substance in labeling Donald Trump as authoritarian, and some of his followers are accurately labeled as cult-followers.

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HOULAHAN: Why Help Ukraine: An Open Letter to My Congressional Colleagues

In a departure from a largely do-nothing Congress, we may have real votes and many difficult choices to make in the coming weeks. During this time, with respect to Ukraine, I ask my colleagues to remember our collective history, remember who we serve, and be brave.

There is a buzz in the nation and Washington D.C. that we should no longer continue to support the Ukrainians in their battle against Putin’s unlawful invasion. Many of my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, say that they hear from their communities and constituents that we should send our resources elsewhere: the southwestern border, Israel, to support childcare or end homelessness, to name a few. The list of our nation’s needs is indeed long and worthy.

I would argue two things, however: 1) it is the responsibility of the elected Members of Congress not simply to hear and reflect in Washington what our constituents might be feeling and saying but also to bring home from Washington and the world what our role as a nation should be, and 2) sometimes it also is a Representative’s fiduciary, rather than elective, job to vote based on the needs of the nation as a whole and over the long term, and it is our job to help our community understand why we voted the way we did.

Last week, I traveled to Lithuania as a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. I was also there because my home state of Pennsylvania’s Army National Guard partners with Lithuania for their State Partnership Program. The Pennsylvania Guard has worked with Lithuania for over 30 years; we specifically help them with cyber security. In addition, many of our nation’s active duty troops from all over the United States are based in Lithuania as part of our collective forward line of defense of the NATO alliance.

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan meets with U.S. Troops in Lithuania

Lithuania borders Russia and Belarus. Belarus has proven itself to be nothing more than a puppet state of Russia throughout the war in Ukraine; recently, one might recall it housed and harbored the Russian merciless mercenary Wagner Group.

While in Lithuania, I had the chance to meet with the Assistant Minister of Defense. While speaking with him, he implored me to bring an urgent message back home: we must continue to help Ukraine defend itself. He reminded me that Lithuania and many, many more nations have spent upwards of 2.75 percent of their GDP on their defense and the defense of Ukraine, materially surpassing our commitment here in the U.S. Recall at one point that former President Trump maligned the members of NATO for their supposed lack of commitment.

This, indeed, is no longer the case.

Over the past couple of years, the Biden Administration has led a large international coalition to support Ukraine robustly, and the participation of dozens of nations has been historic in scale and scope. In fact, the United States is not even ranked in the top ten in terms of our overall contribution by GDP to defense and Ukraine support. NATO and many non-NATO nations are doing their part, and we must continue to do ours.

I also had the chance to meet with many of our troops in Lithuania. They are stationed very close to the border of Belarus — thousands of miles from home — in cold and challenging conditions. It is not lost on them that they are on the frontline. I was struck by their youth, their eagerness and patriotism, and their commitment to the people of Lithuania and NATO. I was also struck by their exposure and the fact that they were in literal harm’s way should the war in Ukraine go sideways.

Without our continued support to Ukraine, we are dangerously close to this, ultimately evolving into a war that requires our troops to be pulled in. If we allow Ukraine to fall to Russia, it is Putin’s expressed and stated purpose to continue onward to places like Lithuania. We have a commitment through Article 5 that if Lithuania or any other NATO nation is attacked, it is an attack on us all. And we will be required to respond.

So, as a U.S. House Representative, I know fully that there are many pulls on my community, Commonwealth, and country that deserve our attention. But I also know it is my responsibility to take hard and unpopular stands when I know it’s the right thing to do — in this case, to passionately advocate and vote for continued support for Ukraine. Such actions and support show our allies we are good for our word and here to stay. Actions such as these keep our young men and women in uniform out of harm’s way. And this is an effective use of our resources because it helps decimate Russia’s military and capabilities without depleting our own.

I genuinely believe that my colleagues — both Republicans and Democrats — fully know this, too. We must not put ourselves in a position to regret not supporting Ukraine when the war has come to us. The loss will become more severe, and I fear the price will be much more expensive in many ways. So, I ask my colleagues once again: remember our history, remember who we serve, and be brave.

Fitzpatrick Wants Russia Off Security Council

The International Criminal Court has charged Russian leader Vladimir Putin with war crimes for the abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia during the ongoing war with Ukraine. Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian commissioner for children’s rights, was also charged.

Russia allegedly took thousands of Ukrainian children and placed them with Russian families.

And yet Putin’s Russia remains a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Delaware Valley Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks) says that must stop.

Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent, said he will push to remove Russia from the United Nations Security Council.

“In light of the UN-backed inquiry finding Russia has perpetrated large-scale crimes against humanity, followed by the ICC issuing a war crimes warrant against Vladimir Putin, I will be launching an all-out effort to remove Russia from the U.N. Security Council,” Fitzpatrick said via Twitter.

It is a position some Republicans have been advocating since Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has proposed a Senate resolution urging the U.N. to remove Russia from the council. There are no Democratic co-sponsors.

“Russia should be kicked off the U.N. Security Council,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas, said on Twitter. “The U.N. has become a complete joke, and this might be a good first step to correcting that problem.”

And in the wake of the invasion, GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley, who served as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under President Donald Trump, said the Biden administration “should call for Russia to be expelled immediately.”

Fitzpatrick is co-chair of the House Ukraine Caucus. Eugene Luciw, a Delaware Valley Ukrainian American leader, welcomed the Bucks County congressman’s efforts.

“The Ukrainian American community of the Delaware Valley recognizes Congressman Fitzpatrick as a staunch supporter of America’s expressly recognized ‘strategic partner,’ Ukraine,” said Luciw. “He knows, as most all Americans do, that Ukraine fights to defend Western freedom and democracy from Russian aggression.

“It fights to prevent Russia from again expanding into a restored and re-invigorated empire that will threaten to occupy and enslave all of Eastern and East-Central Europe. That will threaten world peace. It fights to restore world order and the rule of international law that makes colonial expansion by armed attack and aggression unlawful. It fights to protect its people from Russia’s heartless tactics of ethnic cleansing, mass torture, murder, and forced deportations and kidnapping of men, women, and even children and from brutal genocidal attacks on the civilian populace and its infrastructure.

Luciw added, “An avowed criminal should not have the ability, by veto, to prevent the police from protecting civilians against that criminal’s heartless criminal actions. Nor should an arsonist be able to prevent the fire department from quashing the very fire that he has started. This should be self-evident even to a casual observer. Russia should be summarily dismissed from the U.N. Security Council, as it has unclean, indeed, criminal hands.”

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PAWLICKI: Putin’s Disastrous Obsession With the Past

National leaders can change lives for good or bad. Never more so than authoritarians. Vladimir Putin stands out in this assessment—a dictator who continues to harm his country disastrously.

Experts have clearly shown Russia’s prime minister is obsessed, some might say pathologically, with the past. He often has described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” 

His hero is Peter the Great, credited with transforming a declining country into a feared world power. With such a mindset and authoritarian power, Putin is devoted to expanding Russia’s borders to what he considers his country’s geographic empire of yesteryear.

Putin came to power in 2000, a time of great economic distress. An unknown bureaucrat until his surprising selection by Boris Yeltsin, Putin transformed Russia’s moribund economy, averaging 7 percent growth during his first term. It appeared Russia might join nations that have leaped into the modern world.

That optimism was supported by impressions that belied what was to come. President George W. Bush found Putin a straight shooter, famously reporting he had “looked in Putin’s soul and found him trustworthy.” A fanatical adherent of a Russian form of judo, Putin generated feelings of respect for others. He spoke to Bush as a family man.

The hopeful signs were soon overshadowed by Putin’s dark side, reminiscent of his 17 years as a KGB operative. In his 20-plus years in power, Russian troops entered Georgia, where 20 percent of the country is under Russian military occupation. Putin’s forces incorporated Crimea in 2014. Russia first invaded Ukraine in 2014, and a full-scale invasion began in February 2021. This brief account does not detail Russia’s military influence in the Middle East and Putin’s other expansionist efforts.

A surveillance organization, The Alliance for Securing Democracy, reported that “Russia has meddled in the affairs of at least 27 European and North American countries since 2004 with interference that ranges from cyberattacks to disinformation campaigns.”

The early financial hopes for Russian citizens have dimmed. Economic growth has been vastly unequal. Plutocrats gather great wealth, and many Russians live financially vulnerable lives.

On the 2022 world’s happiness index, a broad snapshot of how people feel about their life, Russia ranked 80th, in the bottom half of nations assessed, neighboring such African countries as Libya and the Ivory Coast. The United States ranked 16th by comparison, even during our current period of partisan politics.

For all of Putin’s arrogance and bluster regarding Russia being a world power, his country languishes in the lower half of nations. Take away Russia’s nuclear arsenal and its permanent membership in the U.N. Security Council, and Russia would receive little attention on the world stage.

It didn’t have to be that way. Russia’s resources could have taken it along a different path.

Russia’s resources go far beyond oil and gas. It has major deposits of metals, minerals and timber in its vast expanse of land. Climate change will be a disaster for the planet. Russia may be one of the few winners, along with Canada.

Already one of the world’s leaders in food exports, Russia may gain vast new acreage as the climate warms. It ranks No. 3 in arable land supplies, a ranking that is likely to rise given the large swatch of land under permafrost, land to become arable soon. The same climate transformation will open new means of food transport from its northern border.

Russia has discussed the value of diversification beyond oil and gas for decades but has failed to alter its short-term focus on fossil fuel wealth. Perhaps Putin’s focus on Russia as a world power played a role in that decision.

Over time, authoritarian leaders destroy institutions. Great leaders build institutions and move forward.

The friendly, respectful Putin is a thing of the past, replaced by his dark and aggressive side. His people and his country will pay an enormous price for his decisions. Instead of creating a land of opportunity, he has tarnished the potential to become a dynamic country. What a shame. What a tragedy for the Russian citizens and the world.

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KING: The Threat of Nuclear War and the License It Has Given Putin

History isn’t short of people to blame. You could say of the present world crisis that it was former president Barack Obama’s fault for not getting tougher with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Syria. You could blame former president Donald Trump for giving Putin a sense of entitlement and for undermining NATO, seeing it as a financial play. You could blame former German chancellor Angela Merkel for encouraging Russian gas imports, shutting out the nuclear energy option.

You could, of course, blame President Biden for explicitly telling Putin, and the world, what the United States wouldn’t do if he invaded Ukraine. And you could blame Biden and NATO for dribbling vital military aid to Ukraine over the first devastating months of the Russian invasion.

If you want to continue, you could blame the world’s military strategists for believing that Russia, after the fall of communism, had changed. You could, perhaps, blame NATO itself, for expanding its reach to the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

Putin is unequivocally the one to blame. He is the one who wants to remake Russia in the image of the imperial tsars. It is a flawed scheme but a real one.

As the world grapples with the reality of Putin, the past informs but it doesn’t instruct. If NATO were to engage Russia with conventional forces, it would triumph. That is one lesson of Ukraine. Russian military forces are woefully inefficient, even incompetent.

Would it were that simple.

The beast in the room, the feared monster, the threat that hangs over the whole world is nuclear war. It is the clear-and-present danger. It shapes our handling of Russia and will shape our response to China, if and when it invades Taiwan.

Nuclear war avoidance is again dominating the world in ways we had nearly forgotten. Will Russia — a caged, fierce bear — resort to nuclear, and how much nuclear to what effect against which targets?

The United States and the Soviet Union reached a modus vivendi: mutual assured destruction (MAD), which kept the peace even as nuclear armaments proliferated and stockpiles grew exponentially. Is that still the option? Is MAD — so long after the collapse of the Soviet Union — still the underlying realpolitik, the restraining factor between nuclear powers?

Does that mean that anyone with nuclear weapons can wage conventional warfare in the belief that they won’t face NATO or any other serious restraining military action because they can unleash terrifying global destruction?

Or is there, as some believe, the prospect of limited nuclear engagement, using area tactical nuclear weapons? This has never been tested. There hasn’t been a limited nuclear ground war. Could it be contained? Should it be contemplated outside the deeper reaches of the defense establishment?

But it is what keeps the leaders of Europe, the United States and Canada awake nights. If you favor limited nuclear war, just look to the effects of a nuclear disaster, Chernobyl, and start multiplying.

It is the unthinkable scenario that must be thought about. It is the reality that holds back NATO and makes the West a spectator to the carnage in Ukraine.

Russia isn’t a rich country. It has a large, poorly trained and equipped military. But it bristles with nuclear weapons aimed at North American and European cities. Its ability to threaten us with nuclear horror changes the balance between nations: an indelible change to future foreign policy.

In the short term, when contemplating the return of MAD in international relations, the question is: How mad — as in insane — is Putin, and how ready is Biden?

The pieces on the world chess board have moved and they won’t be moved back. The intelligentsia has yet to grasp the extent to which Ukraine has changed the world — and made it a more dangerous place. They need to catch up fast.

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While the Russian War in Ukraine Rages, What Is China’s Takeaway?

China has been warned by the Biden administration not to support Russia in that nation’s illegal war, but China has merely parried that jab and is looking hard at the realities of the war in Ukraine.

The Chinese have learned two things already.

President Biden is not strong at home, which is mildly interesting to China, but is significantly weak abroad, which interests China greatly. They saw in Afghanistan that this White House offers no foreign policy expertise.

They are mystified by a nation that at one moment was energy independent — in the thirstiest energy consuming country in the world — and in the next it became intentionally dependent on many of its competitors.

Biden’s decision-making is even worse.

China also understands that Russia is not nearly the fighting machine that many, including an angry President Vladimir Putin, thought they were.

As of this writing, the Russian army, unable to muster combined arms fighting skills, is slogging its way through Ukraine, having lost thousands of soldiers, including four generals killed in action (by contrast, the U.S. lost exactly zero generals in eight years in Iraq).

Putin’s decision-making is even worse.

Nuclear weapons continue to occupy the thoughts of all in the region and worldwide. Part of Russian warfighting doctrine allows use of tactical low-yield weapons, designed to allow quick takeover of affected areas.

The Chinese are not overly concerned about Biden’s comments or with Russia’s conduct of battle.

The Chinese Communist Party is dispassionately going about the business of achieving its own goals of their plan for the Great Rejuvenation of 2049.

The Defense Department views the Great Rejuvenation’s purpose is “to match or surpass U.S. global influence and power, displace U.S. alliances and security partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region, and revise the international order to be more advantageous to Beijing’s authoritarian system and national interests.” It is not ambiguous.

It is worth looking at what China is doing, out of the spotlight.

China has threatened countries supplying Taiwan with military equipment. Their obvious aim is to intimidate countries, including the United States, to pull back on aid.

There have been indications that Russia has asked China for military support. It is not clear whether China has provided any equipment. For its part, China claims Russia has not asked for equipment and this is simply U.S. “disinformation.”

China is also projecting a neutral position in the war (which has a dubious basis given its brotherly relationship with Russia). The western nations must constantly point this out. China cannot have it both ways.

Militarily, China is likely assessing its own military readiness. Russia’s generals fooled Putin into believing their forces were ready to take Ukraine in days.

China’s untested generals, many selected for political connections, not military acumen, are likely feeding Chinese leaders with claims of supremacy. Look for major exercises in China in the next few months. Chinese leaders do not want the Russian experience.

China is also advising its fellow Asian leaders not to get too emboldened with their foreign policy.

For example, China issued a thinly veiled threat to Japan.

At a March 7 news conference, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi urged Japan not to take any actions that could be seen as interfering in things that are not their concern. In other words: Watch yourself, Japan.

The United States is not immune from efforts of intimidation.

On March 18, just before a scheduled phone call between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Chinese navy sailed an aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait. The move was meant to be a reminder that Taiwan is in the Chinese’s collective minds.

During the call, according to a vague White House readout, Biden “described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia.”

The Chinese foreign ministry’s view of the situation was one in which “all-round and indiscriminate sanctions” would cause suffering to the “common people.” China merely changed the subject.

Naturally, the Chinese did not address the suffering caused by incessant bombing and missiles being hurled toward cities day and night.

China is not a friend of the west, especially the United States, or Ukraine, and the clarity of the country’s leaders is abundantly clear.

Now is the time to completely re-evaluate our multi-layered relationship with this giant and squash its dream of becoming the hegemon of the Pacific Rim.

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