by Rob Roper

There are twenty-eight “Right to Work” states in the Union today. Maine recently took an incremental step toward becoming the twenty-ninth. Governor Paul LePage, who has made Right to Work legislation a goal, agreed to a contract with state workers in which Maine State Employees Association agreed to stop charging non-members agency fees.

To get this concession LaPage agreed to significant pay raises for the state workers, 6% over the next two years. However, the Bangor Daily News concluded, “The ratification of these two contracts is an incremental step, but it can’t be counted as anything other than a win for the governor.”

Vermont should take notice. If Maine takes the full leap to become a Right to Work State, it would be the first in New England, making our neighbor much more attractive to businesses and job growth.

As National Right to Work posts on their website:

Right to Work states enjoy a higher standard of living than do non-Right to Work states. Families in Right to Work states, on average, have greater after-tax income and purchasing power than do those families living in non-Right to Work states, independent studies reveal. What’s more, Right to Work states have greater economic vitality, official Department of Labor statistics show, with faster growth in manufacturing and nonagricultural jobs, lower unemployment rates and fewer work stoppages.

Though it is unlikely the Vermont legislature as currently comprised will consider Right to Work legislation (though it should), the U.S. Supreme Court may make that decision for us. The Court deadlocked 4-4 on a key case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The addition of Neil Gorsuch will likely tip the majority in cases likely coming before the Court later this year.

- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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by Wendy Wilton

It seems every town or region in VT is desperately trying to improve their economic circumstances because the economic message from the state has been weak for so long. These are generally “feel good” citizen initiatives that cannot realistically counter the demographic trends of the state. Those trends, toward population loss and aging demographic for the state (outside Chittenden County) are partly a response to low wages, high property taxes and high health care costs (which have accelerated through flawed health care reform efforts).

Health care reform is especially important in this discussion as it is about 20% of our economy.  Rapid expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare has made VT an outlier creating extremely high costs and rapid increases in those costs.  To make matters worse, Vermont’s health care exchange is still not operating properly, maintenance costs are in the millions per year and the state owes Blue Cross Blue Shield about $10 million in exchange premiums according to the company.

Both of these ‘reforms’–Medicaid expansion and the exchange–have significantly increased health care premiums each year for everyone covered by insurance and increased taxes for everyone who owns property. The City of Rutland now spends about $2.5 million annually on healthcare premiums by the city and its employees.  A 10% increase in premium costs the taxpayers an additional $200,000 or more in the budget.  The increases in recent years are unsustainable. This year it was 11.8%.

The VT legislature will return to the statehouse in 2018 to consider yet another healthcare reform effort called All Payer Waiver, agreed to by Governor Shumlin and continued by Governor Scott. The waiver was an agreement made with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, a federal agency.

This will involve staffing up a new bureaucracy to manage health care under the accountable care organization (ACO) called OneCare, created by UVM Medical Center and DMHC, thus creating a pseudo monopoly. The cost of creating this organization may be as high as $10 million. This will further add to the cost of healthcare in our state.

OneCare will determine how Medicare and Medicaid funds will be spent.  ACOs are part of Obamacare to create a bureaucracy intended to control government-funded health care expenditures.

Many of our representatives are taking leading or supporting local economic efforts which is laudable, yet some of those same leaders do not appear to understand or acknowledge the decisions by the majority in Montpelier are the source of the economic malaise they hope to cure. Continual “reforms” that continually result in higher health care costs have been detrimental to our economy. These policies affect every citizen, impact employer decisions, and increase tax rates.

- Wendy Wilton is the Treasurer of Rutland City, and serves on the EAI board of directors. 

 

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by Rob Roper

Happy Labor Day!

The Right to Work movement found a surprising ally this past month in former president of the Vermont AFL-CIO and of the Vermont AFL-CIO and American Federation of Teachers Vermont, Ben Johnson. “Right to Work” is a policy that, in a nutshell, believes forced unionism – either having to join a union and pay dues to get or keep a job, or, if choosing not to join a union, being forced to pay “agency fees” to that union — is wrong.

Johnson penned an astonishing (given his former positions) letter/essay on the subject for National Right to Work which opens, “I support Right to Work.” It then goes on for over 1000 words to describe the immorality of unions in both their philosophy and their tactics in extracting money from unwilling workers.

Johnson confesses that the in non right to work systems the union is focused almost entirely on amassing and exercising political power rather than on meeting the interests of its members. He illustrates at one point that a union able force workers to pay dues “only needs to be about as responsive to its members as the state-owned department store in Novosibirsk, USSR, in about 1958.”

On its face there is something screwy about the idea that an employer can take money from your paycheck against your will and give it to a private third party that you may want nothing to do with, and whose very existence you may oppose on philosophical, financial, or strategic grounds. It seems patently unjust.

If congress and/or state legislatures pass Right to Work legislation, unions would actually have to provide value to their members in order to persuade workers to join an pay dues – which is fair. Particularly for the workers for whom the union is supposed to benefit. But, it would also be healthy for the unions; at least spiritually. As Johnson states:

Bargaining unit contracts and agency fees themselves weaken unions far more than the dollars they bring in strengthen them. They make strong-arm hoods out of union activists, and they put the organizations at war with the people they exist to serve.

What if, without the ability for force workers to join and/or pay money into the union coffers, nobody freely elects to join a union? Johnson is okay with that outcome too. “If the labor movement can only survive on intravenous transfusions of forced dues and bargaining-unit contracts, then the system that never really thrived is truly brain-dead. It’s time to find out. There is nothing to be afraid of in the death of an illusion.”

The Vermont Legislature would be wise to heed Mr. Johnson’s advice and embrace Right to Work policies, though the majorities recently moved in the opposite direction, passing laws requiring non-union workers to pay agency fees. And, we’ve seen through Governor Scott’s proposal to save property taxpayers $26 million through restructuring how teachers negotiate for healthcare benefits just how controlled the majority in Vermont is by powerful union interests.

Still, if the former president of the AFL-CIO and AFT Vermont can learn, perhaps there is hope for politicians.

Read Ben Johnson’s full essay HERE.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

Related Story:Poll Shows Majority of Vermonters Support Right to Work (Aug 2014)

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by John McClaughry

Vermont’s  carbon tax advocates are working hard to build support for their four carbon tax bills in the 2018 legislature.

An example is the August 24 promotional meeting at the Montshire Museum in Norwich, reported on by Patrick O’Grady of the Valley News.

Summarizing the carbon tax line put forth at the meeting, O’Grady wrote “taking aggressive action in Vermont to address climate change will not only yield environmental and health benefits but also present a tremendous economic opportunity for the state.”

Reported O’Grady, “strong support was expressed” – at least by the people who organized the meeting – “for a carbon pollution tax meant to raise revenue, curb consumption of fossil fuels, and further expand the clean energy economy.”

Translate those three points, and here’s what you get. A carbon tax will raise revenue all right – $500 million in new taxes in the tenth year of the program, paid by Vermonters who drive their vehicles, heat their homes, and operate their businesses. Ouch! The carbon tax will curb consumption of fossil fuels, because thousands or even hundreds of thousands of lower and middle income Vermonters won’t be able to afford gasoline, diesel, heating oil, propane and natural gas. OLuch! And the carbon tax will further expand the clean energy economy, because the state will use your tax dollars to subsidize wind and solar electricity that can’t compete without a subsidy.

What a deal! On second thought, forget it.

- John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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by Jonathan A. Lesser, PhD.

Vermont, along with 19 other states, has a long-term greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction mandate. The original mandate, signed into law in 2006, called for a 75% reduction below 1990 emissions levels by 2050. In 2011, then- Governor Shumlin raised the goal to a 90% reduction by 2050, something which the 2016 State Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP) discusses in detail.

Too bad the numbers don’t add up. Vermont’s mandate is much more than a requirement to supply consumers with electricity from renewable resources like wind and solar power. It will require virtually complete electrification of the Vermont economy to eliminate almost all fossil fuel consumption. Cars and trucks, oil- and gas-fired furnaces, industrial processes -virtually everything that now uses fossil fuels will need to be replaced with its electric counterpart.

In 1990, Vermont’s GHG emissions were estimated to be 5.5 million tons of CO2 equivalent (CO2-e). By 2012, those emissions had increased to 8.3 million tons. (The “equivalent” arises because CO2 is just one of many greenhouse gases and in Vermont, methane emissions from the state’s dairy industry account for almost 10% of GHG emissions.) The 90% goal means that GHG emissions must be reduced by about 5 million tons, to just over 500,000 tons of CO2-e by 2050, less than one ton per Vermonter. That’s less than the methane emitted by the state’s bovines in 2012.

By comparison, in 2014, total world GHG emissions were estimated to be around 45 billion tons of CO2-e. To put that in perspective, Vermont’s CO2-e emissions in all of 2012 were about two hours’ worth of world emissions.

Meeting the 90% GHG reduction goal will require replacing virtually all fossil fuel use in the state with electricity, and ensuring that there is enough electricity to do that. According to data published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Vermonters annually consume a total of 132 trillion BTUs (TBTUs) of energy. Of that amount, about 20 TBTUs (15%) was in the form of end-use electricity consumption. Fossil fuel use accounted for 92 TBTUs. Although the CEP discusses using biofuels, the amount of biofuel that could be produced on agricultural land is small, estimated at 4 million gallons. Thus, the prospects for a biofueled Vermont economy are slim. Moreover, biofuels cost far more than their fossil-fuel equivalents.

How much electricity will Vermont need? Suppose Vermont could reduce total end-use energy consumption to just 100 TBTUs by 2050. That’s 30 TWh of electricity, five times the amount consumed in 2015. Currently, Vermont gets 2 TWh of electricity each year from hydropower and another 1 TWh from burning wood. That leaves 27 TWh from wind and solar power.

Last November’s election appears to have confirmed that Vermonters don’t want thousands of giant wind turbines dotting the landscape. So, assume that additional electricity will be generated by solar photovoltaics. To produce 27 TWh of electricity from solar panels would require about 20,000 MW of solar capacity. According to data published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 1 MW of solar PV requires eight acres of land. So, 20,000 MW would require 160,000 acres, or about 250 square miles.   And despite cost decreases, solar power is still much more costly than power purchased on the wholesale market. Thus Vermonters would pay even higher electricity prices.

Solar PV is not available at night or on cloudy days. Thus, enough solar PV will need to be installed to store excess electricity in batteries. Current battery technology can provide 8 megawatt-hours of electricity for every MW of capacity, at a cost of about $1.2 million per megawatt. 27 TWh of electricity is equivalent to just over 80,000 MWh per day. Thus, suppose that on a cold, cloudy December day, electricity consumption is 100,000 MWh. Supplying that much electricity from batteries would require 12,500 MW of battery storage, at a cost of $15 billion. Even if battery costs drop by half, that’s still $7.5 billion.

Replacing all of the fossil-fuel-using equipment in the state and adding electric vehicle charging stations would cost billions of dollars more.

Curiously, nowhere does the 2016 CEP discuss the benefits of reducing the state’s GHG emissions. Perhaps that’s because there will be no benefits. Reducing Vermont’s two-hours’ worth of world CO2 emissions will have no measurable impact on world climate. Nor will similar GHG reduction mandates in other states. No measurable climate impacts mean zero climate benefits.

Ambitious, math-challenged legislators can always vote to impose costly and foolish mandates like Vermont’s with little pushback from voters. But Vermont’s mandate, like the mandates in other states, will impose additional costs on residents and businesses with zero offsetting benefits. Vermont’s is just another economically damaging exercise in symbolic environmentalism and political grandstanding.

- Jonathan Lesser, PhD, is the president of Continental Economics and the author of the new report “New York’s Clean Energy Programs: The High Cost of Symbolic Environmentalism,” published by the Manhattan Institute. In 2003-2004, he was the Director of Planning at the Vermont Department of Public Service.

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By Rob RoperRob Roper

There is a vote fraud case in Vermont, currently in the Essex Superior Court, in which a family of second homeowners from Connecticut (parents and two adult children) registered to vote in the town of Victory, and did so. Their votes likely altered the outcome of a local election, which was decided by fewer than four votes.

Now, all four of these family members listed Connecticut as their primary residence on their income taxes, had Connecticut drivers licenses, paid property taxes on a primary dwelling in Connecticut, did not pay residential property tax rates on their second home in Vermont, had jobs in Connecticut, and spent an overwhelming amount of their time in Connecticut. But they were voting by absentee ballot in Vermont, deciding who would represent in public offices people who actually live here. That’s vote fraud, right?

Wrong! At least according to our Secretary of State’s office.

Robert and Toni Flanagan, two of the defendants in this case, testified under oath that they consulted with the Vermont Secretary of State’s office and were advised that their voting in Vermont under these circumstances was okay, that they should just leave the residency box on the voter registration form blank.

Vermont statute says, “… ‘resident’ shall mean a person who is domiciled in the town as evidenced by an intent to maintain a principal dwelling place in the town in definitely and to return there if temporarily absent, coupled with an act or acts consistent with that intent.”

So, how does one establish “intent?” In a recent interview, Secretary of State Jim Condos said, “My staff refers to the law and tells the person that they need to determine for themselves whether they qualify under the legal standard.” What? Determine for themselves?

Will Senning, who serves under Condos as Director of Elections, was asked under oath, “when a voter registers, does that voter have to have a principle residence in the town at the moment that they register?” Senning’s answer: “Not necessarily.” Asked “why not?” His answer was, “Because they may be intending to make that place their principle residence in the near future.” Pressed further with the question, “How far out can that intent be?” Senning testified, “There’s no objective standard in terms of that time frame.”

This wildly lose interpretation of the residency requirement does not reflect the spirit or the language of the statue. In practice it means that there is no legal standard of residence for voting in Vermont. If individuals can determine for themselves that they qualify to vote here and can validate that determination simply by expressing an “intent,” which cannot be objectively challenged, what’s to stop anybody from anywhere from voting in our elections?

What allegedly happened in Victory is that the Town Clerk, an elected position, actively recruited these out of town friends to join the local voter rolls in order to help assure her own re-election.

The implications here are profound. According to Census data, there are over 40,000 second homes in Vermont, 14.6 percent of the total number of households. If these folks decide they don’t like their property tax bills – or love Vermont but don’t like its politics – they can register to vote here. All they have to do if questioned is tell election officials that they “intend” to make their second home their permanent residence at some point in the future. Whether they actually ever do or not is irrelevant.

In fact, what’s to stop someone from registering in Vermont to vote in elections they think are more important here, and then re-registering in their real home towns to vote in elections they deem more important there – just so long as you don’t vote in both places for the same election you are apparently not committing any crime. Or at least not one that can be proven.

There are two ways of looking at this: A) this is good, legal, pubic policy. Or, B) our Secretary of State’s office under Jim Condos is not only turning a blind eye to but actively facilitating vote fraud.

If A, let’s alert all those people from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, etc. who own ski chalets and lake cabins in our communities of their legal options for participating in Vermont elections. The more the merrier. After all, in little old Vermont where elections are often decided by a handful of votes, your absentee ballot can really make a difference.

If B, we need to put some teeth into our residency requirements for voting and make sure this kind of nonsense does not and cannot happen.

Jim Condos is fond of saying there is no illegal voting going on in Vermont. I guess it’s easy to think that if you allow that nothing is illegal.

- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. He lives in Stowe.

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by John McClaughryJohn McClaughry

Among the most notable martyrs to the Clean Water Act are names that few recall:  Ocie and Corey Mills, John Pozsgai, John Rapanos, and most recently, John Duarte. All of them were dragged into years-long battles with the Federal government – notably the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency – over making their own land more productive.

Congress passed the Clean Water Act of 1972 to regulate actions that affect the “navigable waters of the United States”. The Connecticut River and Lake Champlain are clearly navigable waterways. Environmentalists would argue that Kirby Brook, which runs from Kirby Pond into the Moose River, then into the Passumpsic River, then into the Connecticut River, is by extension a part of the “navigable waters of the United States”.

But at some point common sense says that remote bogs, ponds, sloughs, ditches, and “vernal pools”, that have no surface water connection to navigable waterways, ought to remain beyond the reach of Federal regulation, so long as they contribute no shocking downstream contamination.

But common sense failed Congress. It left to the courts the matter of just how far the navigable waters clause could be stretched. The Supreme Court’s most recent effort to interpret the law came in 2006. The appellant was John Rapanos, who filled and leveled an occasionally damp Michigan field 20 miles away from an actual waterway. The case became a judicial food fight, producing much rhetoric but no controlling opinion whatever.

At the invitation of the Court, the Obama administration produced a regulatory document titled Waters of the United States (WOTUS). It adopted the most extreme reading of “significant nexus” to bring almost every imaginable parcel of land under Corps and EPA jurisdiction.

A number of states went to court and won a stay of implementation of WOTUS. The new Trump administration announced it was withdrawing the plan.

But here’s the shocking part. Even though WOTUS never took effect, and even though President Trump signed an executive order withdrawing it, the Trump Justice Department is aggressively prosecuting the case of John Duarte in Tehama County, California.

As reported by Tony Mecia in the August 21 Weekly Standard, Duarte faces a $2.8 million fine plus a mandated outlay of as much as $13 million in “mitigation credits”. His crime: plowing a vacant 22 acre field to grow wheat without a Corps of Engineers permit.

The Justice Department – now supposedly run by Trump appointees – claims that tilling the field will loosen dirt that will find its way into “vernal pools”, thereby becoming an illegal “discharge” into navigable waters (sic). The Clean Water Act exempts operations related to “normal farming… for the production of food”, but the Justice prosecutors say that “normal farming” does not include reclaiming a vacant field that hasn’t been farmed for some years.

Duarte is understandably indignant and angry at his expensive and far from concluded ordeal. And he committed a major aggravation of his offense: he called the Corps staffers “a carload of idiots.”

The earlier the Clean Water Act martyrs often made similar protests. Big mistake. It’s not much of an overstatement to say that whenever an environmental regulator faces stubborn resistance, the government’s bureaucrats, inspectors, permit managers and prosecutors will go into high gear to make the offending landowner pay dearly for his insolence. They gave Ocie and Corey Mills 21 months in jail for protesting.  They ruined John Pozsgai’s life – 18 months in prison and a $202,000 fine. (A sympathetic federal judge, shocked by the government’s punitive behavior, reduced it to $5,000.) There are many others.

The first needed solution is for those running the government to control their appetites for regulating every single little thing just to prove they can make applicants comply, at whatever cost. (The White House needs to pointedly explain this to the Justice Department.)

Another part of the solution is for top regulatory officials to insist that their underlings behave reasonably and respectfully toward their “customers”, even if the customers are utterly exasperated at being throttled, impoverished and jerked around by a carload of idiots.

A further step would be to give an aggrieved applicant the right to file with an agency ombudsman a complaint about employee incompetence, rudeness, arrogance, and abuse. The ombudsman would report findings to the agency head. He or she would have to personally sign that he or she has read the report, and either rejected the complaint, or disciplined the employee and apologized to the customer. After the thirtieth working day, an agency head who continued to ignore this duty would be personally fined $10,000 a day, paid to the complainant.

It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly worth a try.

- John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org).

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by David Flemming

Vermont’s solar industry has taken a hit after two companies, Suniva and SolarWorld, proposed a tariff on imported low-cost solar components. Suniva and SolarWorld both manufacture solar panels in the US and have struggled to compete against Vermont companies like SunCommon and Encore Renewable Energy that import their solar panels.

SunCommon representatives have plans to testify in Washington against the tariff. While free market advocates will find this action laudable, SunCommon has always been opportunistic when it comes to legislation. Back in 2010, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group’s (VPIRG) energy lobbyist James Moore and its board president Duane Peterson founded SunCommon. In 2012, they rallied for “legislation will seek to extend the less onerous registration process to include systems up to 10kW — effectively including all potential [SunCommon] residential systems.”

Chad Farrell, CEO of Encore Renewable Energy, says that solar has become a “robust industry” in Vermont, in large part because utilities “have embraced solar.” The word “embraced” is a bit of a stretch. Since 1997, Vermont’s government has forced electric utilities to allow Vermonters who produce more solar energy than they consume to sell it back to the utilities in a process known as “net metering.” Not only that, but since net metering consumers are paid more than the market rate of electricity, customers without the capacity to produce solar energy pay more for their power. The net metering rate is even higher thanks to the lobbying efforts of  SunCommon in 2012.

If SunCommon loses the battle against the solar tariff, perhaps they will finally be able to empathize with Vermonters who are paying more for electricity thanks to SunCommon’s lobbying efforts. There is no distinction between predator and prey when it comes to lobbying.

- David Flemming is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute

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by Rob Roper

Wired Magazine ran a story about where the nastiest people on the internet come from based on an analysis of “92 million comments over a 16-month period, written by almost 2 million authors on more than 7,000 forums that use [Disqus] software.” This is the comment platform used by Vermont Digger, VPR, etc. Vermont, it turns out, is the absolute worst. Trolls inhabit the Green Mountains!

Some examples of what “toxic comments” are: “You are a disgusting, subhuman, painfully stupid waste of cells,” “You are a racist pig, a slime ball,” “Liberals are devil lovers.” Seems like a reasonable standard for toxic. And, as the story puts it, “The proportion of crummy comments is higher [in Vermont] than in any other state.” 12.2%. And this study didn’t even include Facebook!

This is ironic considering how much we pat ourselves on the back for abiding by “The Vermont Way,” which is supposed to be a more civil approach to political discourse. Maybe what the Vermont Way really means is, “I’m a civil, tolerant, thoughtful person, and if you disagree, you’re a disgusting, subhuman, waste of cells.”

Though we may not always live up to the intended spirit of the Vermont Way, we should certainly aspire to. This may be a silly little story, and who knows how much credence to put into this data, but it will hopefully serve as a reminder to us all to be polite and respectful — even to the slime balls and devil lovers out there.

One more interesting note on this, however… The least nasty cyber state in the union is right next door in New Hampshire. Maybe not having to deal with income or sales taxes makes people a little more chill. Just a thought.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

 

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by John McClaughry

Vermont’s attorney general has settled a false claims case with MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber, the health care genius who explained to the 2011 legislature that their single payer health care plan would save Vermonters $580 million the very first year.

State auditor Doug Hoffer, who ironically is a big single payer advocate, flagged Gruber’s false claims for compensation  by the state to now departed attorney general William Sorrell. Current AG T. J. Donovan said last week that his office determined that Gruber had violated the Vermont False Claims Act.

How much did Gruber have to pay back to the state? Not a dime. The state had withheld the final $90,000 of his contract, so Donovan said, in effect, “fine, we’ll just keep the money you didn’t earn and we didn’t pay out, and call it all even.” What a sweet deal!

I take special enjoyment out of Gruber getting caught, even though he wasn’t required to compensate the state for his fraudulent claims. In a hearing in 2011 a liberal legislator quoted to Gruber my view of what turned out to be his failed health care plan, namely that it would result in “rationing, waiting lines, maddening bureaucracies, demoralized doctors and nurses, shabby facilities, obsolete technology, declining quality of care, and of course much higher taxation.”

Gruber mockingly replied that “that’s something my teen age son might have written.”  All the single payer backers laughed. But their brilliant single payer plan didn’t fare so well, did it? Who’s laughing now?

- John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

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