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What happens when politicians forget about children

Larry Lee

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By Larry Lee

At best, it was a shotgun wedding. A contrived affair with reason thrown to the wind and political outcome the only thing that mattered. A crudely manipulated process with ethics casually tossed aside. A shameless example of blind ambition being the one constant.

The result was the installation of Mike Sentance as the Grand Poobah of all of k-12 public education in Alabama. A decision that months later still leaves Alabama educators shaking their heads in dismay and became so sordid five people have been called forth by a law suit to defend their actions.

And even in a state that has become a national punching bag for jokes about political chicanery and mischief, the fact that the simple process of finding the most qualified person to lead a school system of 730,000 results in legal action is an indictment of how we conduct the public’s business.

My God. We’re talking about CHILDREN. About the sons and daughters of this state. Four year olds in Pre-K. Sixth grade boys looking at girls for the first time ever. High school juniors getting ready for their first prom.

This is not world peace. This is not about a maniac in North Korea with a nuclear bomb or global warming or international finance. This is about doing what is best for our children, not setting up pieces of a puzzle so that someone’s cronies may profit some day from millions of education dollars intended to help classrooms or that someone’s political fortunes may be enhanced.

And try as some might, the selection of Mike Sentance to come to Alabama can not be justified. Not even a little bit when you look at the facts.

An attorney with ZERO practical education experience. Never worked as a teacher, a principal or a local superintendent. Has no understanding of how schools actually work or empathy for the challenges teachers, principals and superintendents face daily.

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Appointed as Secretary of Education for Massachusetts by the governor and served for one year in 1995-96. More than 20 years ago. This is purely a policy position. The Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education is the Massachusetts equivalent of Alabama state superintendent of education. When Sentance tried to get that position in 1998 he was rejected.
Last worked in Massachusetts education in 2001. More than 15 years ago.

Worked for U.S. Department of Education from 2001-2009 as a regional rep for New England. No direct input on any local education decisions.

According to his resume’, he “Established the regional office as a significant advocate for school change in New England.” You spend more than seven years in one job and you sum up your accomplishments in 14 words?

From January 2009 until starting in Alabama in September 2016 Sentance worked for eight months for Tribal Group (USA). in 2011. He was fired from that job.

From 2009 until he was hired by Alabama, Sentance applied for at least nine different jobs as a superintendent., (Kentucky, Alabama, Nebraska, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Nashville, Ohio, Georgia) He was rejected by all.

Most amazing is that he applied in 2011 when Tommy Bice was chosen as State Superintendent. He did not get an interview. Five of the nine on the state board in 2016 where also on it in 2011. Did they even know he was a former applicant?.
Was Sentance properly vetted and all information presented to the board? It is hard to believe that it was. How do you review all of this and come to the conclusion the he was the most qualified candidate?

Section 16-4-1 of the Alabama Code says: “The Superintendent of Education shall be a person of good moral character, with academic and professional education equivalent to graduation from a standard university or college, who is knowledgeable in school administration and has training and experience sufficient to qualify him to perform the duties of his office.”

This is state law. Nothing in Sentance’s background shows administrative experience. But we ignored it, just like we ignored requirements created by the state board itself saying a candidate had to have “Experience in working with elected or appointed education boards,” or “Experience in successfully managing a large organization as a superintendent or other educational leader,” or “Experience in administering large budgets.”

Why have job requirements if they mean nothing?

In 45 years of observing state politics I do not recall a process as illegitimate as this one. It is shameful that some of those involved insisted on using our children as the rope in a political tug of war.

They deserve full credit for the total train wreck Mike Sentance is now responsible for.

 

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Opinion | Our sacred honor

Bradley Byrne

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This weekend America will celebrate its 244th birthday. Unfortunately, we do so in a time of a pandemic, a struggling economy, and violent protests.  But, it’s still our birthday, and we should both commemorate and celebrate it.

We usually do a good job in our celebration, although this year will be different since social distancing means we’ll be in smaller groups and public fireworks displays have been cancelled.  I suspect most of us will find a way to gather with family and close friends to cook out and show the red, white, and blue.

But, a commemoration is more than that.  Merriam-Webster defines “commemorate” as “to call to remembrance” or “to serve as a memorial of.”   How many of us will stop and remember what it meant for the Second Continental Congress to not only declare our independence from Britain but also to state our reasons for doing so in majestic language positing the highest ideals?

Let me make a suggestion.  This Fourth, get a copy of the Declaration and read it.  My extended family and friends usually get together and have several of us read the various portions of the Declaration out loud and talk about its meaning.  It doesn’t take much time and we always experience a renewed appreciation for the gift that is our country.  This year we will do it virtually, in smaller groups.

The Declaration was meant to be read out loud.  Indeed, on July 4, Congress not only voted to accept it but also provided for its distribution to the states and the Continental Army.  On July 6, John Hancock, as President of Congress, sent letters to the states and to General Washington enclosing broadsides of the Declaration requesting that they have it “proclaimed.”  It was read out loud to celebrations in dozens of cities and towns in July and August, and to the Continental Army on July 9 as it prepared for the British Invasion of New York.

To some extent these events were meant to inform and inspire the people of a newly independent nation.  But then, and now, the Declaration is a defining document.  It not only said we were an independent nation but also who we aspired to be.  Freedom and equality were to be at the heart of the nation’s character.  And the rights stated in the Declaration—life liberty and the pursuit of happiness—are clearly labeled gifts from God himself to all of us.

The story of our country is really the unfolding of the efforts to live up to these aspirations.  President Lincoln used it as a primary basis for arguing against slavery, as in the Gettysburg Address where he famously said, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”  As a result of the Civil War these ideals were enshrined in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.

Martin Luther King used it in his 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech, referring to the Declaration and the Constitution as a promissory note to all Americans which he and others in the Civil Rights Movement called upon the nation to honor.  As a result of the Movement, Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and in 1965 the Voting Rights Act.

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I know it is fashionable now among our nation’s elites to view America as evil from our birth, evil in our institutions, and evil in our character.  That view is a myth, untethered to the reality of our history.  This myth is just a false preamble to lay the groundwork for their efforts to radically reorganize our society and have government run every detail of our lives, all the while piling tax upon tax on us.  Isn’t this type of government what caused the founders to declare independence in the first place?  These elites call themselves “progressive,” but their plan is actually a regression to a tyrannical central government taxing us against our will.

Despite our faults, some of which have been grievous, we are a nation established upon the highest ideals and which has the strength of its character and institutions to self-correct as we strive toward those ideals.  Our history repeatedly demonstrates that is who we are.

David McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian, several years ago told a gathering of those of us in Congress that Americans would be more hopeful if we only knew our history.  How true.  Complicated and contradictory, yes, but it is also a history of spectacular success and of a major force for good, here and abroad.

So, this week let’s celebrate and commemorate who we are.  Let’s pause in the middle of our present troubles to renew our pride as Americans and draw lessons from our founding and history for the resolution of the issues of the day.  And let us, like our founders, “mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

 

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Opinion | Descendants of Emma Sansom call for monument’s removal

Descendants of Emma Sansom

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Protesters march near the Emma Sansom statue in Gadsden, Alabama. Photo by Eddie Burkhalter.

We are descendants of Emma Sansom’s family and current or former members of the Gadsden community. We add our voices to the call to remove the statue at the head of Broad Street commemorating Sansom and Ku Klux Klan leader and Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

The monument was erected to enforce white supremacy in Gadsden, which we abhor and lament. The only defensible action today is to remove the statue.

Our community may have forgotten why this statue and others like it were erected. We must remember why in order to take wise action.

According to the Auburn University-supported Encyclopedia of Alabama: “Emma Sansom (1847-1900) played a heroic role in the Civil War, when as a teenager she led Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest across Black Creek in northern Alabama to capture Union colonel Abel D. Streight and his raiders in 1863.”

Sansom thus guided to victory the man who would become the first leader of the Ku Klux Klan as the United States struggled to establish a multiracial democracy.

Support of the Confederacy and white supremacy cannot be separated given the historical reality: an oligarchy of less than 400,000 enslavers brought about secession and war to guard their “property rights” over enslaved Black people. Alabama’s secession ordinance in January 1861 foregrounded the hope to “meet the slaveholding States of the South” and set up a new government. Cherokee County — which Gadsden was a part of in 1861 — voted against secession in that convention, as did St. Clair County and most northern Alabama counties.

This division among the white ruling class was an early sign of Confederate disunity as many Southerners resisted the Confederate project throughout the war. Thousands of Alabamians enlisted in the Union Army, mostly from northern Alabama where slavery was entrenched but less centralized than in the lower Alabama “black belt.”

Decades after Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House, the “Lost Cause” came into existence. The Lost Cause refers to the myth that a unified South fought for a heroic and noble civilization doomed by fate and the ahistorical “aggression” of the North. The elements that make up the Lost Cause draw from writings by Confederate President Jefferson Davis and by Confederate General Jubal Early in the 1870s and 1880s. They revised the history of secession and war to distance the Confederacy from slavery, focusing instead on antebellum South

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Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun’s “states’ rights” philosophy — itself a platform to justify Calhoun’s support of what he called the “positive good” of slavery.

The purpose of the Lost Cause was to justify the enslaving oligarchy’s motives and mission in the minds of white Southerners, most of whom did not own slaves. Its cult conducts an enduring counter-revolution to deny Black people full citizenship to this day.

The legacy of the enslaving power is violence against Black people up to now. That violence includes the KKK’s multiple incarnations, the Jim Crow regime, thousands of lynchings, and repression against Black people struggling for civil rights. Today there are crosses burning in Alabama in reaction against the Black Lives Matter movement. The Lost Cause is not just a shameful past wound, its adherents oppress Black people in America to this day.

What motivated the white people of Gadsden to erect this monument to Sansom and Forrest is just one part of a larger project to retrench white rule and eliminate Black political freedom.

After federally-directed Reconstruction ended in 1877, the white ruling class regained political control of the Southern states. Democratic Party “Redeemer” governments passed Jim Crow laws segregating Blacks. The US Supreme Court decision Plessy v Ferguson in 1896 upheld Jim Crow segregation. From 1890 to 1908, almost every post-Confederate state including Alabama adopted a new constitution that disenfranchised the Black population.

The wave of post-Confederate activity was a direct cultural outgrowth of the repression wrought by Southern states against Black people as the Lost Cause cult took hold. This period birthed the “Dunning School” of historical thought that condemned Reconstruction as a corrupt mistake, a view modern historian Eric Foner calls “part of the edifice of the Jim Crow system.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy, founded in 1894, was the most prolific organization building Lost Cause monuments. They also enlisted upper- and middle-class white youth and cultural institutions to carry the flame of the Lost Cause through highly influential educational campaigns including endorsing a book that lionized the Ku Klux Klan.

The year 1900, when various post-Confederate groups had their first national convention, began a massive wave of Confederate monument construction on government and publicly accessible property. The Southern Poverty Law Center identified 403 unique monuments constructed to the Lost Cause from 1900 to 1919, over half of all such monuments standing today.

In 1907, forty-four years after the Black Creek crossing, the Gadsden chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy put up the statue of Emma Sansom and Nathan Bedford Forrest overlooking the Coosa River. The Etowah County commissioners court, which today is the Etowah County Commission, also got the Alabama state Legislature to fund the statue. Public money paid for the establishment of this monument and the public must be involved in its disestablishment. This is not a private matter.

We should remember that the City of Gadsden’s establishment of this statue was only accountable to the white citizenry. Black people were unable to vote and enjoy representation during this time due to Jim Crow. It was not a unified city building this monument, but a segregated racial class directed by the torch-bearers of the Lost Cause. Viewing these statues in the context of history, it is clear that their purpose is domination of Black Americans struggling to secure their liberation.

The Sansom and Forrest statue is inextricable from the enslaving power and its twisted descendant ideologies. The statue’s base honorably depicts the man who oversaw the massacre of primarily Black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow which has been called “one of the bleakest, saddest events in American military history.” The public celebration of Forrest’s legacy is shameful, and Emma Sansom’s aid to his cause cannot be separated from its consequences. They supported enslavers against the liberation of millions of Black people.

The McNeel Marble Company of Georgia, which built the statue, clearly stated what it was selling in a Confederate Veteran article for its statues proclaiming “SUPREMACY.” The statue is not a contemporary historical marker; nor is it supposed to be a genuine likeness of Emma Sansom. Rather, the statue is a political provocation built only six years after Alabama’s constitutional change shifted the Jim Crow regime into overdrive. Its purpose has not faded. The statue’s memorial of Forrest and Sansom in 1907 is akin to erecting a statue to segregationist Birmingham leader Bull Connor today, a man who attacked civil rights protesters including children with dogs, fire hoses, and mass arrest in the early 1960s.

These monuments do harm lasting for generations when we forget the underlying causes of division and inequality in society. The roots of Black peoples’ oppression today have a lot to do with the erection and maintenance of that statue, as does the relatively wealthier position of white people in our community. To achieve justice, we must remember and then act in solidarity.

The multiracial movement calling for change in Gadsden is made up of our neighbors. They are not “outside agitators.” They have to live with the Lost Cause’s weight every day—as we all do.

Some white people in Gadsden say they feel a connection to this statue as part of their heritage, and consider the statue part of the fabric of their home. Our Black neighbors are making it clear that they agree, and that is exactly why they need to see change in our community. We want to live in a harmonious democratic society where all can live free of intimidation.

Many people who feel pride about Emma Sansom discuss “division” about the statue like it is a new phenomenon. The outcry against the statue is the voice of an awakened community. They understand that it is time to address the focal points of what has really caused a division in our community for over a hundred years. It only seems like a new “division” to those of us who benefit the most from the “normal” status quo.

We ask those who may feel a sense of pride about the statue to examine if most of their Black neighbors feel the same pride. You may say you are not personally racist and have good deeds to prove it. The statue’s effect in Gadsden is not about anyone’s personal feelings or failings – it is a feature of the systemic oppression that acts to this day against the freedom of Black people.

Gadsden’s population today is more than one-third Black people. What are we doing with a monument that celebrates an achievement meant to keep a third of our neighbors in bondage?

Think beyond your personal experience and towards the whole of the Gadsden community. Can we fulfill our potential as a beloved community if more than one-third of our neighbors are daily reminded that the town celebrates a time when their relatives were enslaved? Removing the statue will take a weight off our backs that we may have never recognized.

The debate that considers these statues as “history” today speaks to the success of the Lost Cause’s cultural hegemony. Yes, we must remember – a history never to repeat. Gadsden does not have to celebrate a man who led the perpetrators of racist terror. We can leave the Lost Cause behind, beginning by removing its symbols that haunt us.

Look to the heartening installation of a memorial four years ago to the memory of Black Gadsdenite Bunk Richardson. In Feburary 1906, Richardson was framed for the rape and murder of a white woman, taken from the Etowah County jail and lynched by a mob of 25 masked men.

This act of racist injustice happened the same year the UDC commissioned the statue of Sansom and Forrest on Broad Street. Identifying and commemorating the victims of injustice is a necessary part of making justice possible, and we can all do it together. Those are the kinds of memorials we need in Gadsden.

We can remove this statue just like other Alabama cities are doing. This month, the mayors of Birmingham and Mobile authorized and executed the removal of Lost Cause statues. The University of Alabama Board of Trustees and the Madison County Commission voted to remove Confederate memorials in recent weeks. The Gadsden community’s task is neither impossible, nor a logistical challenge. It is time to make the moral choice – no more Lost Cause in Gadsden.

What does it look like to tell the story of Gadsden that points us towards justice and away from racialized domination? If the statue of Sansom and Forrest remains standing somewhere when removed from public view, it needs context showing that it celebrates the cause of human enslavement – and that today we want to build a society of liberation for all people.

If we are silent, we are complicit in the ongoing injustice against Black people. As Emma Sansom’s nieces and nephews, the best first step we can take to abolish the stain of white supremacy in Gadsden is to remove this symbol of the enslaving power that once ruled this land. We can eliminate the source of division and fulfill the American promise of a democracy full of equal participants.

We are encouraged by the multiracial makeup of both the BLM protesters and the City Council members calling for the statue of Sansom and Forrest to be moved. The movement calling to take the statue down has already made progress in eliminating racial division by standing together. We stand with them. The promise of a democratic society, where all are created equal, lies after the statue’s shadow over Broad Street has faded. Remove the statue, and let’s get to work on building a beloved community in Gadsden and in the United States.

Signed,

  • Donald Rhea
  • William Henry Rhea III
  • Marie Rhea Singleton
  • Richard Rhea
  • Kelvin Knight
  • Leigh Ann Rhea
  • Nina Ellen Rhea
  • Anna Rhea Knight Hopkins
  • Karen Lynn Knight Craft
  • Preston Rhea
  • Holly Rhea Hanks
  • Laney Rhea Eskridge
  • William Henry Rhea IV
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Opinion | How sportsmen and women set an example in the age of social distancing

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The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in many changes that require us all to adjust. Phrases like self-quarantineand social distancing,which were rarely used or completely unheard of several months ago, are now a part of our daily vocabulary. As we adjust to this new normal,Americas sportsmen and women, a group that I am proud to represent as a member of the Alabama Legislative Sportsmens Caucus, have found a way to pursue their outdoor passions while much of the world seemingly stood still. By participating in outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting, sportsmen and women are setting an example for those looking for safe and responsible recreational opportunities.

While millions of Americans have been forced to limit their travels due to mandatory stay-at-home orders, activities like hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, and many other outdoor activities have provided an outlet for Americans to safely recreate as they can be enjoyed while practicing social distancing and adhering to other COVID-19 safety guidelines. As restrictions start to ease, Americans are flocking to the woods, waters, fields, and trails to take advantage of our outdoor resources, with many discovering natures wonders for the first time.

This newfound interest in outdoor recreation represents an invaluable opportunity to introduce Americans to activities like hunting and fishing and the vital role sportsmen and women play in conservation. In addition to the numerous documented mental and physical health benefits gained through these activities, maintaining access to hunting and fishing opportunities gives Americans a chance to procure their own locally-sourced meat. Due to many of the impacts of COVID-19, this ability to be self-reliant is at a premium. With all of this in mind, these unprecedented times represent a chance for a new generation of sportsmen and women to discover the passion that many of us already share. Be it through scouting for upcoming fall hunting seasons, or landing that first largemouth bass, now is the time to lead by example and plant the seeds for the next generation of sportsmen and women.

Increased participation in hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting has enormous conservation benefits as well through the American System of Conservation Funding. This user pays-public benefitsapproach relies on the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and self-imposed excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing tackle, and motorboat fuel to fund many state fish and wildlife management agencies. In addition, these activities support local economies which, during these unprecedented times, has become incredibly important. In fact, recent surveys report that Alabamas 948,000 hunters and anglers spent $1.9 billion while pursuing their outdoor passions.

Unfortunately, the ability of Americas sportsmen and women to participate in their outdoor endeavors were not uniformly protected as statewide orders were announced. In fact, several states saw actions that hindered or even eliminated the ability to participate in our treasured outdoor traditions. While largely enacted in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, these actions severely limited our outdoor opportunities without any measurable increase in public safety. To ensure that such restrictive actions are not used again, it is up to sportsmen and women to practice responsible recreation, showing by example that our outdoor pursuits can be performed safely. This can be accomplished by following a few simple guidelines.

Plan ahead; purchase licenses and park passes online, if available.
Recreate close to home
Adhere to best practices for avoiding COVID-19
Follow state and federal guidelines
Pack out your trash as a courtesy to others and to avoid the appearance of overuse
Share your adventures in a respectful way on social media outlets

To learn more about how others are using these challenging times as an opportunity to spend more time outdoors, search for #ResponsibleRecreation on social media. Likewise, for more information on recreating responsibly, or to take the Responsible Recreation pledge and help lead by example, visit www.responsible-recreation.org.


State Rep. Danny Crawford of Athens represents Distict 5, which includes portions of Limestone County, in the Alabama House and serves as the chair of the
Alabama Legislative Sportsmens Caucus.

 

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Opinion | America needs building up, not tearing down

Bradley Byrne

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Our brilliant Founders built our democracy upon two different but complimentary pillars.  The first and more obvious pillar is our constitutional system itself, what the writers of the Federalist Papers called the “new science of politics.”  Our representative democracy would not be possible without our revolutionary constitution and the laws that uphold it, separation and enumeration of powers, and effective checks and balances.

 The second pillar is more difficult to define but just as essential – nationally shared values and a common morality.  Our Founders believed the natural expression of these shared values would be a patriotism and respect for our fellow citizens.  In a functioning democracy where the government is a reflection of the people whose popular will directs it, civic virtue is a necessity.  Alexis de Tocqueville, the French observer of early America, saw the source of our strength when writing “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”  Without the second pillar, our democracy would be broken.

Let’s go back to the first principles that united the people of our young Republic and guided our Founders as they began the great American experiment.

In the very first chapter of Genesis, we are told that God made humans in His own image.  We are all His children and that makes all of us of equal and inestimable worth.  St. Peter in Acts 10, and St. Paul in Galatians 3 and Romans 2, make perfectly clear that we are not to show “partiality,” to ascribe more moral worth to one ethnic or class group over another.  And the second of the Great Commandments is that we should love one another as we love ourselves.

 The Declaration of Independence echoed these great Biblical principles when it said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  But, the truth of America is that we excluded black people from these principles at the very moment we appealed to the world to recognize our existence as a new and independent nation based on noble ideals.  We didn’t live up to those ideals.

 The drafters of the Constitution didn’t fix this failure.  It took a civil war 75 years later, and the loss of 600,000 lives, to end slavery.  And the end of slavery did not bring equality and justice to black Americans, who endured segregation and violence for decades until the Civil Rights Movement brought an end to legal segregation as well as passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  While we have made much progress since the 1960s, clearly we have more work to do.

 Each of the pillars of democracy needs reinforcement, and our response to our current challenge will determine our nation’s course for decades.  New laws are needed to strengthen the first pillar by taking steps to restore faith between the overwhelming majority of good and decent law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.  Fortunately, there are areas of common ground between Republicans and Democrats.  But we cannot forget the second pillar.  As a civic-minded people, we have a duty to soberly reexamine and evaluate our values.  By doing so, we can restore important foundational values while recognizing where they fell short and course correcting.

The only way to make America better is by building our nation up, not tearing it down.  Perhaps we should remember these words of Tocqueville: “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

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