Thursday, October 8, 2020

Thursday's Briefing: Schaaf wants Oakland schools to reopen in January; Bill to allow safe injection sites in Oakland, SF to be introduced

Prince Harry dons masks created by Oakland designer

by Steven Tavares
Thu, Oct 8, 2020 at 4:00 AM

Mayor Libby Schaaf has two children in Oakland public schools. - D. ROSS CAMERON
  • D. Ross Cameron
  • Mayor Libby Schaaf has two children in Oakland public schools.

News you don't want to miss for Oct. 8:

1. Mayor Libby Schaaf wants Oakland public schools to reopen in January, she told KTVU. Oakland school teachers, however, have resisted the idea out of fear for the health and safety of themselves and students.

2. San Francisco state Sen. Scott Wiener plans to introduce a bill allowing safe drug injection sites in The City and Oakland, ABC7 reports. Wiener introduced a similar last year.

3. "A Washington, D.C. man has been charged with wire fraud in connection to a fraudulent crowd-funding account he allegedly set up to raise money for the funeral of a federal security guard who was shot to death in Oakland in May," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. $$

4. Rain is no longer in the forecast this weekend, but expect some sweater weather as temperatures cool, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. A weakened tropical storm had originally been forecast earlier in the week to bring precipitation to the Bay Area. $$

5. Prince Harry was seen last weekend wearing a designer mask created by Oakland artist Taylor Jay, KTVU reports.

6. The A's rallied on Wednesday to beat the Houston Astros, 9-7, forcing a Game 4 in the American League Division Series, the Mercury News reports. The A's trail the Astros two games to one in the five-game series.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Wednesday's Briefing: 3,000 nurses and health care workers begin five-day strike; A's, Alameda County finalizes Coliseum sale

U.C. Berkeley scientist wins Nobel Prize in chemistry

by Steven Tavares
Wed, Oct 7, 2020 at 4:00 AM

Alameda Health System operates Highland Hospital in Oakland, along with San Leandro Hospital, and Alameda Hospital. - SEIU LOCAL 1021
  • SEIU Local 1021
  • Alameda Health System operates Highland Hospital in Oakland, along with San Leandro Hospital, and Alameda Hospital.

News you don't want to miss for Oct. 7:

1. Three thousand nurses and health care workers at Alameda Health System hospitals in Oakland, San Leandro, and Alameda began a five-day strike on Wednesday, KPIX reports. A lack of trust between the unions and management, along with disagreements over pay increases, has fueled the need for the strike, union leaders said.

2. Acrimony between Alameda Health System, the unions, and even the Alameda County Board of Supervisors was on full display on Tuesday, the East Bay Citizen reports. County supervisors blasted the health care provider and voiced unanimous support for potentially absorbing Alameda Health System back under the board's full direction in the near future.

3. U.C. Berkeley scientist Jennifer Doudna won the Nobel Prize for chemistry, along with French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier, The New York Times reports. Doudna is world-renowned for developing the revolutionary gene-editing tool, known as CRISPR-Cas9. $$

4. Alameda County and the Oakland Athletics finalized the sale of the county's half of the Coliseum complex for $85 million, the East Bay Citizen reports. Oakland owns the remaining half of the 155-acre property. The deal is another step toward the team's goal of building a privately-financed waterfront ballpark at Howard Terminal,

5. Oakland is moving toward a ban on police using chokeholds on suspects, the East Bay Times reports. Oakland police is supportive of the ban, but disagreements over a specific policy persist. $$

6. Sen. Kamala Harris, the Berkeley native and former Alameda Count prosecutor, takes on Vice President Mike Pence in the only Veep debate of the November Election. After disapproving, Pence agreed to allow a plexiglass barrier on the debate stage in an effort to protect the candidates from the coronavirus, CNN reports.

7. The A's hope to stave off elimination from the playoff this afternoon after dropping the first two games of the best-of-five series with the Houston Astros, the East Bay Times reports. The A's will send rookie lefthander Jesus Luzardo to the mound at Dodger Stadium.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Tuesday's Briefing: Alameda County passes coronavirus equity requirements; U.C. Berkeley professors win Nobel Prize

Regal Cinemas is closing Jack London movie theater

by Steven Tavares
Tue, Oct 6, 2020 at 4:00 AM

East Oakland and unincorporated areas of Alameda County have significantly higher rates of infection from the coronavirus. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • East Oakland and unincorporated areas of Alameda County have significantly higher rates of infection from the coronavirus.

News you don't want to miss for Oct. 6:

1. Alameda County is one of five Bay Area counties that is meeting the state's coronavirus equity metric, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The new guidelines seeks to limit infection rates in disadvantaged areas, such as East Oakland and the unincorporated areas. Meanwhile, Alameda County health officials said on Tuesday that infection rates are trending toward the orange tier, another level toward further reopening of businesses. $$

2. Two U.C. Berkeley professors were one of three to receive the Nobel Prize in physics, the Associated Press reports. Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez received half the prize for their work on black holes.

3. Eight homicides within a week in Oakland has the police union pointing fingers at City Hall, KPIX reports. The increase in crime in Oakland comes as some city leaders are pushing for defunding of the police department over the next few years.

4. Alameda County sheriff's deputy Alan Strickland compared the incident involving the Toronto Raptors general manager at Oracle Arena last year that has resulted in two lawsuits to tennis legend Monica Seles being stabbed during a match and terrorism at the 1972 Munich Olympics, KTVU reports. Strickland attempted to forcibly block Masai Ujiri from celebrating with his team because he believed proper identification was not shown.

5. Regal Cinemas is closing three theaters in the East Bay, including the Regal Jack London in Oakland an Regal UA in Berkeley, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Many movie theaters, unable to withstand nearly seven months of inactivity due to the pandemic, are struggling to survive. The independent Alameda Theatre is another on the list. $$

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DA reopens Oscar Grant investigation to look at BART officer’s actions in fatal 2009 shooting

by Steven Tavares
Tue, Oct 6, 2020 at 1:00 AM

With protests over police brutality against Black Americans still ringing across the country more than decade after Oscar Grant’s death at the hands of BART police officers, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced on Monday that her office will reopen the investigation into the killing on New Year’s Day 2009.
“We have listened closely to the requests of the family of Oscar Grant,” O’Malley said in a statement. “We are reopening our investigation. I have assigned a team of lawyers to look back into the circumstances that caused the death of Oscar Grant. We will evaluate the evidence and the law, including the applicable law at the time and the statute of limitations, and make a determination.”
The stunning announcement came at roughly the same time Grant’s family and supporters held a press conference at the Fruitvale BART station to call for a reopening of the case—specifically the actions of former BART police officer Anthony Pirone.
The Grant family noted strong similarities between Pirone’s use of his knee to Grant’s head and the technique used by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin that led to the killing of George Floyd in May.
An internal investigation by BART of the Grant shooting in 2009—unearthed last year via a public records request—found that Pirone instigated the incident. “Pirone was, in large part, responsible for setting the events in motion that created a chaotic and tense situation on the platform, setting the stage, even if inadvertent, for the shooting of Oscar Grant,” according to the report.
Pirone was never charged.
However, previous Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff charged BART police officer Johannes Mehserle with second-degree murder for fatally shooting Grant. Mehserle said he mistakenly believed he had discharged his Taser. A jury found Mehserle guilty in 2010 of involuntary manslaughter instead of murder.
The verdict triggered immediate, large-scale protests in Oakland—as well as many more to come over the next decade—that began peacefully and often turned violent by nightfall. The Grant shooting also ushered in a defining moment for the movement to hold police accountable for wrongdoing after cellphone video of the incident posted online triggered outrage. The police perspective was typically the only perspective given during violent incidents at that time, but the video of Grant’s killing provided a strong alternative view.
In the decade since, video of police officers behaving violently against Black people has created a tipping point for how Americans view policing and calls for a “re-imagining” of police departments.
O’Malley’s announcement to reopen the Grant case suggests she hears the calls for change in Alameda County. In the time since the county Board of Supervisors appointed O’Malley to be district attorney in September 2009, she had never charged an Alameda County police officer until just last month. Many were surprised when O’Malley announced on Sept. 15 that she would charge San Leandro police officer Jason Fletcher with manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Steven Taylor, a 33-year-old Black man with a history of mental illness. Fletcher shot Taylor inside a San Leandro Walmart after responding to reports of a man attempting to shoplift items and waving a bat at employees and customers.
O’Malley questioned why Fletcher had not used de-escalation techniques during the incident. Instead, Fletcher shot Taylor 40 seconds after entering the store.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Monday's Briefing: Alameda County DA will reopen Oscar Grant case; Newsom nominates gay Oakland resident to state Supreme Court

Mountain lion cub burned in wildfires being treated at Oakland Zoo

by Steven Tavares
Mon, Oct 5, 2020 at 4:00 AM

Oscar Grant's family members held a press conference on Monday at the Fruitvale BART station urging for the reopening of the case involving his death. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Oscar Grant's family members held a press conference on Monday at the Fruitvale BART station urging for the reopening of the case involving his death.

News you don't want to miss for Oct. 5:

1. Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley will reopen the investigation into the death of Oscar Grant by BART police officers in 2009, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The announcement comes after O'Malley surprised many this summer whe her office, for the first time ever, charged a police officer involved in a fatal shooting. $$

2. Gov. Gavin Newsom nominated Judge Martin Jenkins, an Oakland resident, to the California Supreme Court, KPIX reports. Jenkins would be the first openly gay justice in state history. He will replace retiring Associate Justice Ming Chin.

3. Elementary schools in Alameda may be allowed to open on Oct. 13, KPIX reports. That is, if the county maintains its red tier status. Gyms could also open as soon as next week, but at 10 percent capacity.

4. Alameda County no longer has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the Bay Area after it was surpassed by Santa Clara County on Monday, the East Bay Times reports. Alameda County has reported 21,746 confirmed cases of the coronavirus since March, along with 225 deaths. $$

5. A mountain lion cub that suffered serious burns at the Zogg Fire in Shasta County, is being treated at the Oakland Zoo, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

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Friday, October 2, 2020

Friday's Briefing: Auditor finds Oakland Fire is moving too slowly with Ghost Ship reforms; Increase in Oakland homicides may be tied to pandemic

A's finally win a playoff series

by Steven Tavares
Fri, Oct 2, 2020 at 4:00 AM

Oakland City Auditor Courtney Ruby. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Oakland City Auditor Courtney Ruby.

News you don't want to miss for Oct. 2:

1. In the aftermath of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire, the Oakland Fire Department has been slow in enacting reforms, according to a new city audit, KPIX reports. “Unfortunately, the audit found that OFD has been slow to learn from the past and critical works remains to be done,” Oakland City Auditor Courtney Ruby said.

2. Berkeley planning commissioners moved forward a plan that encourages 100 percent affordable housing for the proposed Adeline Corridor Specific Plan at the Ashby BART station, Berkeleyside reports.

3. Bay Area residents reacted to news of President Trump testing positive for the coronavirus with disbelief, concern, and judgment, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, and Utah Sen. Mike Lee have tested positive. Vice President Mike Pence and Joe Biden, who was with Trump at Tuesday's debate, have tested negative. $$

4. The number of homicides in Oakland this year are already outpacing final totals from each of the past three years, the East Bay Times reports. One reason for the increase in homicides may result from the pandemic, police said. $$

5. AirBNB will block one-night rentals over the Halloween weekend following the deadly shooting last year at an unauthorized rental in Orinda used for a large Halloween party. , KPIX reports.

6. As the Glass Fire in the North Bay continues to burn and potentially dangerous weather conditions coming this weekend, an extended forecast is modeling stormy skies sometime around the end of the next week, the Los Angeles Times reports.

7. The A's advanced to the American League Division Series on Thursday after beating the White Sox, 6-4, at the Coliseum, ESPN reports. It's the first time the A's have won a playoff series since 2006. They will face America's most hated baseball team, the Houston Astros, who were accused of cheating to win the 2017 World Series.

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Thursday, October 1, 2020

A paramedic strike during a pandemic? Alameda County EMTs picket as labor dispute intensifies

by Steven Tavares
Thu, Oct 1, 2020 at 11:03 AM

Alameda County paramedics picketed Wednesday in downtown Oakland following months of fruitless labor negotiations with Falck, the county’s 911 ambulance provider. Both parties seem far apart on the union’s demand for wages on par with neighboring counties.

Union members—represented by the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) Local 510—also picketed Tuesday night at the Falck’s offices in Hayward following 19 bargaining sessions with the Denmark-based company since last February. The union’s contract expired Aug. 31.

Paramedics in Alameda County earn between 15-20 percent less pay than those doing similar work in Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties, said Dary Sardad, a national representative for NAGE Local 510.

“The cost-of-living is the same,” he said. “So, how is it that we’re so far behind?”

Ongoing labor negotiations between Falck and its paramedics highlight the continuing stress health care providers and their workers are facing during the pandemic. Labor negotiations between nurses and Alameda Health System, the health care provider that operates Highland Hospital in Oakland, San Leandro Hospital, and Alameda Hospital, have been acrimonious for months.

“We’re not asking for the moon,” Sardad said. “We don’t want to endanger anyone on the street. We want to provide 911 service. On the other hand, we can’t be held hostage to not doing further work actions by the argument that we’re abandoning the patient. That’s in Falck’s lap, not ours.”

On Wednesday, Falck offered annual wage increases and cost-of-living adjustments worth between 2-6.7 percent, according to a statement by the company.

“At a time when the pandemic and recession have challenged the well-being of our county, state and nation, we want to ensure that our first responders are compensated fairly,” said Carolina Snypes, director and chief of Falck’s Alameda County operation.

Falck officials said the average pay of EMTs and paramedics in Alameda County is about $100,000 a year. Sardad scoffed at the assertion. “Yeah, that’s working 96 hours a week,” he said. “That’s a lot of overtime. You’re never going home.”

Although Falck has not furloughed any employees during the pandemic, even as calls for service dropped significantly last spring due to the shelter-in-place orders, the health care provider had previously threatened job cuts in April. The union contends Falck’s finances are sound, noting that the entire company earned $2 billion in profits last year, along with $500 million during the first quarter of 2020, despite a downturn in service.

Union officials described labor negotiations as “barely moving,” although they acknowledge some movement was recently achieved.

“They’ve come a little closer on personal time-off,” Sardad said, “but that was really the only step they made. They put a little more money into it, but we are still not anywhere close to where we need to be.”

With such a large gap between the two parties, the possibility remains the union may be heading toward a work-stoppage at some point.

“I can say this much, we’re not leaving any options off the table,” Sardad said.

Jennifer Cowell, a paramedic for 26 years, said union members feel betrayed after they advocated strongly last year for Falck to win the county’s 911 ambulance contract.

“We are in a dangerous position at our jobs on the best day, and right now, we have an invisible virus that can potentially make us very sick or kill us,” she said. “We’re doing our best to protect ourselves and give our patients the best care we can, and then we’ve got an employer that is trying to make cuts at every corner.”

On Monday, the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, the California Nurses Association and International Longshoremen and Warehouse Workers Local 6 announced a five-day strike starting Oct. 7.

NAGE Local 510 union members plan to picket in solidarity, Sardad said.


Thursday's Briefing: Ghost Ship criminal trial is postponed again; Texas investor is gobbling up Oakland apartment buildings

Newsom vetoes bill requiring ethnic studies for high school grads

by Steven Tavares
Thu, Oct 1, 2020 at 4:00 AM

Ghost Ship master tenant Derick Almena. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Ghost Ship master tenant Derick Almena.

News you don't want to miss for Oct. 1:

1. The trial of Derick Almena, the Ghost Ship master tenant facing 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter following the 2016 deadly warehouse fire, is postponed again because of the coronavirus, the East Bay Times reports. Almena's trial was scheduled to begin today. It may be pushed back to sometime in February 2021. $$

2. Texans want to entice Californians to their state, but Texas investors want a piece of Oakland after paying $79.2 million to purchase eight apartment complexes in downtown Oakland, the East Bay Times.

3. A 23-year-old man was found dead aboard a BART train at the East Dublin/Pleasanton station on Wednesday night, the East Bay Times reports. Authorities do not expect foul play. $$

4. The Glass Fire in the North Bay has burned through more than 56,000 acres, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The blaze is only five percent contained, as of Thursday morning, with ominous forecasts of high winds in coming days. $$

5. To the ire of many state Democrats, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have required a semester of ethnic studies for California high school students because he feared the proposed curriculum might be biased, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

6. Newsom vetoed another bill that would have placed domestic workers, those in professions such as caregiving, gardening, and housekeeping, under the jurisdiction of Cal/OSHA, Calmatters reports. Newsome said it would be difficult to regulate homes in the same manner as job sites.

7. The A's tied their best-of-three Wildcard Series on Wednesday with a 5-3 win over the White Sox, USA Today reports. Oakland will tab pitcher Mike Fiers this afternoon to bring the A's their first win in a playoff elimination game since Game 7 of the 1973 World Series.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

All Hands on Pens

Ink on paper is now a major progressive campaign tool

by Janis Hashe
Wed, Sep 30, 2020 at 3:15 PM

On an August Saturday afternoon, 14 people are using tech to do something very not-tech: handwriting postcards. They’re attending a Zoom event, sponsored by Indivisible East Bay (IEB), that will send handwritten postcards to Iowa voters, alerting them about requesting absentee bal-lots, and urging votes for Democratic Senate challenger Theresa Greenfield.

The pandemic has upset many traditional forms of political campaigning, at least for those who believe Covid-19 isn’t a hoax. No fundraising house parties, no door-knocking, no big campaign rallies. And while technical advances—phone banking with cell phones, text banking—have emerged as major substitutes, the power of the pen has made a surprising return. National progres-sive groups and their local affiliates have been writing both letters and postcards since before the 2018 elections. The need to stay home has substantially accelerated the use of actual ink.

National organization Vote Forward coordinates sending letters to likely voters in swing states. Without promoting individual candidates, the letters encourage recipients to vote, and to check whether they are still registered to vote. Volunteers sign up online to send designated numbers of letters, and are sent a form letter that they personalize with voters’ names and with their own first names as a signature.

Scott Forman, Vote Forward executive director, described assembling “a broad coalition of both non-partisan and partisan groups” helping promote the effort, including Indivisible, People for the American Way, Daily Kos, Democracy in Color and Swing Left. “Many of them reached out to us, looking for ways to engage their audiences in effective and safe action to increase voter turnout in this unusual election year,” he said.

According to Forman, independently validated, randomized control trials have shown the let-ters are effective in turning voters out, including a 3.4 percent increase in Alabama in 2017, and a 2 percent increase in Pennsylvania in 2019. “These are very large effect sizes, so we believe letter writing is one of the most effective actions for volunteers to take this year, especially from afar,” he said.

El Cerrito resident Ted Lam, a member of IEB’s governance committee, met with Forman in early 2018, and recommended adopting Vote Forward letter writing. He estimates he’s sent 500 letters so far, with hundreds more stacked for October sending.

Another Vote Forward volunteer, Pleasanton resident Ward Karnowsky, belongs to both IEB and Swing Left. He’s been writing letters for more than a year, and mentioned a major 2020 goal: Mailing 10 million letters nationwide in “The Big Send.”

Feedback from volunteers is very positive, he said. “This is an activity that can be done quick-ly and easily — 20 letters can be completed in an hour by one person. Also, folks that may be in-timidated by something like phone banking find letter writing more in their comfort zone.”

Debbie Raucher, Oakland resident and volunteer Swing Left East Bay steering committee member, said her group began to coordinate with Vote Forward in 2019. She estimates Swing Left letter writing parties have sent 53,000 letters. That is likely an undercount, as the group is not track-ing letters people write on their own outside of organized events. Letters being written currently focus on getting people to the polls, and are being banked for October mailing. They’ll go to swing states Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Georgia, Colorado and Arizona.

Raucher noted, “We have about the same number of organized parties now as we did prior to the pandemic, but my sense is that a lot more people are writing letters on their own now.”

Unlike Vote Forward letters, some postcards being sent urge support for Democratic and pro-gressive candidates. IEB began postcarding before the 2018 election, and has a “solid core” of 40 volunteers who write weekly, besides the Zoom events, held one or two times per week. Since the pandemic started, output has increased from 200 postcards every other week to an estimated 1,500 per week. Addresses and scripts are coming from partners nonpartisan Reclaim Our Vote and pro-gressive Flip the West, and the group is getting about 10 contacts a week from new volunteers.

El Cerrito residents Alice Towey and Matt Blackwell hosted the IEB virtual postcarding party mentioned above. The couple started hosting in 2018, writing cards supporting TJ Cox, running for Congress in CA-21. Cox won an upset victory by 862 votes. “That really highlighted for us how even the smallest political actions can have an impact,” said Towey.

They continue to write postcards for Cox, facing a rematch against the Republican he ousted, as well as Flip the West and Reclaim Our Vote. “ROV is a great organization fighting voter sup-pression, working in partnership with organizations like the NAACP and Mi Familia Vota,” said Towey. “Through ROV, we've written to voters in Georgia and Mississippi who may have been taken off the voter rolls, letting them know how to check their voter registration status.”

Towey described postcarding as “an easy, low-pressure way to introduce political activism to people who haven't been involved before.”

All those interviewed agreed that the networking groups are now doing to coordinate letter writing and postcarding has increased the efforts’ effectiveness. “In 2016, Trump won Michigan, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and Nevada by margins of less than 1.5 per-cent,” said Raucher.

But she also sounded a note of caution, stating, “One obstacle has been USPO delays.”

The current administration’s war on the post office is unlikely to change that.

Wednesday's Briefing: Trump disparages Oakland during presidential debate; Alameda names interim police chief

Earthquake gives an early morning shake to the East Bay

by Steven Tavares
Wed, Sep 30, 2020 at 4:00 AM

President Trump suggested during Tuesday's debate that crime in Oakland was worse under President Obama. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • President Trump suggested during Tuesday's debate that crime in Oakland was worse under President Obama.

News you don't want to miss for Sept. 30:

1. What was that? Last night's presidential debate was a spectacle the commission that oversees the event wants to avoid in the future. The Commission on Presidential Debates said on Wednesday that it will make changes to its rules in order to bring some semblance of sanity to the proceedings, NBC News reports. One potential fix may be to shut off microphones when a participant goes over their time or continually interrupts the other.

2. The local angle, of course, came when President Trump again name-dropped Oakland during the debate, SFGate reports. However, Trump suggested cities like Oakland and Balitmore were actually more violent under President Obama's term than during his own.

3. A 2.7 magnitude earthquake around 6 a.m. this morning was centered in Berkeley, and on the Hayward Fault, KPIX reports.

4. Alameda named Randy Fenn to become its interim police chief, the East Bay Times reports. Fenn retired earlier this year as Fairfield police chief. He replaces former Alameda chief Paul Rolleri, who retired earlier this month. $$

5. Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have given low-income immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, $600 to purchase groceries, the Associated Press reports. The bill had no funding mechanism and would have covered recipients who do not have access to state and federal assistance.

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