TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 24

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. For some returning from war, a ‘G.I. bill for farming’ eases the transition home.

By Abby Wendle at Harvest Public Media

2. In Egypt, a class project to fight sexual harassment has grown into a campus-wide movement encouraging women to “Speak Up.”

By Ahmed Fouad in Al-Monitor

3. Your kid’s school is missing the tech revolution, and it’s all your fault.

By Jason Tanz in Wired

4. Community courts focus on rehabilitation and compassion for non-violent offenders.

By Henry Gass in the Christian Science Monitor

5. A new ‘Uber for packages’ service is partnering with Waffle House to build a network of delivery points around the south.

By Amar Toor in the Verge

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Oscars

These Four Policy Issues Got Our Attention at the Oscars

Hollywood is never shy about sharing its thoughts on politics, especially on Oscar night. But after the acceptance speeches fade, what happens next? Here’s a look at the status of several issues raised at the Academy Awards ceremony Sunday night.

Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood,” on Equal Pay

The issue: The Pew Research Center estimates that women earn 84 percent of what men earn, though the gender pay gap has narrowed since the 1980s. This is the rare issue that also affects Hollywood. The 10 highest-paid actors were paid $419 million in 2013 while their female counterparts earned $226 million, barely half as much.

What Arquette said: “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

The outlook: Legislation introduced last year would have made it illegal for companies to retaliate against employees who share how much they make, a key step in ensuring men and women are paid equally. It failed to pass the Senate and is dead in the current Republican Congress. Some states, such as Vermont, are tackling the issue, however.

Common and John Legend, “Selma,” on Racial Justice in the U.S.

The issue: Racial disparities persist decades after the events depicted in Selma. In their acceptance speech, singers John Legend and Common highlighted two: the high rate of incarceration among black men and changes in voting rights laws, such as requirements that voters show government ID at polling stations.

What Legend said: “We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now, the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today then were under slavery in 1850.”

The outlook: Protests over how police have handled black male suspects have given the cause momentum. The Eric Garner case helped inspire New York City officials to begin to rethink their approach to policing. Activists on the left and right are coming together to push for reforms to the criminal justice system, though voting rights legislation isn’t going anywhere in Congress.

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, “Birdman,” on Immigration Reform

The issue: Immigration reform has been a hot button political issue for years. Millions of undocumented immigrants live in the U.S. and there’s widespread disagreement about how they should be addressed.

What Iñarritu said: “I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can build the government that we deserve. And the ones living in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who come before and built this incredible nation.”

The outlook: Immigration reform is a thorny issue, and legislators in Washington repeatedly have had trouble finding common ground. President Obama took action on his own, taking executive actions providing temporary legal status to millions of immigrants. Still, those actions remain contested in court and Congress isn’t likely to do much on this issue.

Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry, “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1,” on Veteran Suicide

The issue: Twenty-two veterans commit suicide everyday — a rate that more than double the rate in the general population. While the Veterans Affairs Department provides mental health services, mental health experts say many the veteran culture makes many hesitant to take advantage of the resources.

What Kent said: “This immense and incredible honor goes to the veterans and their families who are brave enough to ask for help.” What Perry said: “I want to dedicate this to my son Evan Perry, we lost him to suicide, we should talk about suicide out loud.”

The outlook: President Obama recently signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which creates an outreach system for veterans suffering from mental health issues and provides financial incentives to encourage psychiatric doctors to treat veterans. The law is a good start, but activists working to stem suicide say the issue requires more attention.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

This Bill Could Help Veterans With Mental Health

Military uniform jacket
Getty Images

22 veterans commit suicide each day

Marine Clay Hunt received a hero’s welcome when he returned home to Texas after serving as a sniper in Afghanistan and Iraq. Struggling with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, the Purple Heart-winner became a widely-recognized advocate for veterans. In 2011, two years after leaving the Marines, the 28-year-old became one of the 8,000 veterans who commit suicide every year.

Earlier this week, four years after Hunt’s suicide, the United States Senate unanimously passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, and President Barack Obama will likely sign it into law. Among other things, the new law would create a comprehensive outreach program to address veterans’ mental health and provide financial incentives to psychiatric doctors who work with veterans.

Read more: Why Can’t the Army Win the War on Suicide?

“While we are a little bittersweet, because it is too late for our son Clay, we are thankful knowing that this bill will save many lives,” said Clay Hunt’s mother, Susan Selke, in a statement.

The recently passed bill provides a good starting point to help an at-risk population, but it’s a small step forward in addressing a longtime problem that has only been growing in severity, experts say. Veteran suicide claims the lives of 22 veterans each day. At around 30 suicides per 100,000 veterans, the suicide rate is more than double the rate for the general population.

The reasons for the high suicide rates are not entirely clear, but researchers say that military life exposes soldiers to a series of risk factors that place them at a heightened suicide risk, even though someone in the military is usually healthier physically than someone in the general population.

“Going into the military isn’t going to increase your risk of suicide,” says Martha Bruce, professor of sociology in psychiatry at Cornell University. “It’s the experiences either during [service], or in the transition, or after.”

First and foremost, combat exposes soldiers to traumatic life and death situations, and depression and PTSD may result. Others soldiers return with brain injuries. All of these ailments have been linked to increased risk of suicide.

Read more: Killed in Action, Far From the Battlefield

Experts point out that even those who return from service mentally healthy and without injury issue face a tough life transition when they return home. Many cannot find immediate employment and struggle to adapt to the culture of civilian life more broadly. Only 72% of veterans of the last decade’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were employed in 2013, according to government statistics. Struggling to adjust, some turn to alcohol, which is another risk factor for suicide. One in four veterans exposed to heavy combat binge drinks at least once a week, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Shaped by the what Bruce calls the “self-reliant culture” of the military, veterans may be reluctant to seek help even when they recognize that they have a problem. “Culture plays a big role when it comes to not necessarily who gets distressed, but what people do in response to that,” says Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “The culture in the military and, certainly with veterans, is a very stoic one traditionally.”

An Air Force anti-suicide program initiated more than a decade ago aimed to tackle the cultural issue by making service members feel comfortable reporting their conditions, Moutier says. And that’s a big part of what the recently passed Clay Hunt Act seeks to do. Peer support counselors will work with veterans in local communities to make addressing mental health issue feel more culturally acceptable.

Read more: Dangerous Cases: Crime and Treatment

“You have to go to where people are, both in physical location as well as in their mindset,” Moutier says.

Suicide researchers say the bill is a step in the right direction, but they also acknowledge that the complexity of the issue makes it difficult to know what the legislation’s long-term effect will be.

“There isn’t a panacea that’s going to reverse the trend,” says Mark Kaplan, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Suicide is one of the most complex public health problems out there.”

TIME Photojournalism Links

The 10 Best Photo Essays of the Month

A compilation of the 10 most interesting photo essays published online in January, as curated by Mikko Takkunen

This month’s Photojournalism Links collection highlights 10 excellent photo essays from across the world spanning five continents, including Pete Muller‘s powerful work shot in the Ebola-ridden Sierra Leone. His two sets of photographs, featured below, were made on assignment for National Geographic, and are the first two in a four-part series examining the epidemic in West Africa. Muller’s pictures document the battle fought by medical workers, body collectors, and burial teams to bring the crisis ravaging Freetown and the country, under control. The story and images from the city’s King Tom cemetery are particularly harrowing; in just a few months, it has been expanded to three times its former size and the large number of fresh burial mounds make it look more like a construction site than a typical graveyard.

Pete Muller: How Ebola Found Fertile Ground in Sierra Leone’s Chaotic Capital | How the Fight Against Ebola Tested a Culture’s Traditions (National Geographic News)

Uriel Sinai: In Africa, Mosquito Nets Are Putting Fish at Risk (The New York Times) These stunning photographs by Uriel Sinai from Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia, show how mosquito nets meant for Malaria protection have ended up being widely used in fishing, since they are cheaper than actual fishing nets and can be even more effective, especially in shallow waters.

Andy Spyra: The enemy within: Boko Haram’s reign of terror across Northern Nigeria | The enemy within: A closer look at survivors of Boko Haram attacks across Northern Nigeria (The Washington Post In Sight) The German photographer has spent more than three years documenting the northern Nigeria. His pictures provide a rare view into communities under Boko Haram’s terror.

Mosa’ab Elshamy: Exploring the Mawlids of Egypt (TIME LightBox) These excellent photographs capture spiritual celebrations within Egyptian Sufism.

Manu Brabo: In Ukraine, The Frozen Tears of Donetsk (Paris Match L’Instant) The Spanish photographer, known for his work in Syria, is now in Ukraine to document the upsurge in fighting. | See also Brabo’s work on the MSNBC and Al Jazeera America websites

Lynn Johnson: Healing Soldiers (The National Geographic) Compelling portraits of U.S. soldiers treating their war traumas by participating in art therapy, where they create painted masks to express how they feel. The images painted on them symbolize themes such as death, physical pain, and patriotism.

George Steinmetz: Treading Water (The National Geographic) These pictures from Florida’s southeastern coastline capture a region with a lot to lose as sea levels continue to rise.

Álvaro Laiz: Ninjas: Gold Rush In Mongolia (Wired Raw File) These photographs document the hard and dangerous work of amateur gold miners.

Mark Abramson: An Immigrant’s Dream for a Better Life (The New York Times Lens) Extraordinary, in-depth photo essay that follows the life of a young Mexican immigrant woman and her family in California.

Emanuele Satolli: In the Bag for North (TIME LightBox) Revealing still life images of Central American migrants’ sparse belonging on their journey toward the United States.

TIME celebrities

Bradley Cooper Says American Sniper Role Was Life-Changing

Actor bulked up to play former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle

Actor Bradley Cooper says in a new interview with People that playing former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in American Sniper was a life-changing experience.

Cooper, who has been visiting veterans nationwide, admits he has always respected military men and women but never fully realized the toll it can take on their families. He called playing Kyle “life-changing,” and says he’s gratified that people are responding well to the film.

“People were willing to express themselves in a format that they would never do normally,” Cooper adds. “But because they saw Chris’s story, they were willing to say, ‘Thank you for putting a guy I can relate to up there and have it be something right away that I know is accurate.'”

Read more at PEOPLE.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 26

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. We spent more than $170 billion on the wars they fought for us. Can we spend $5 billion to give veterans a guaranteed income?

By Gar Alperovitz in Al Jazeera America

2. A ‘teaching hospital’ model could work for journalism education by making students work collectively to produce professional results.

By Adam Ragusea at Neiman Lab

3. Humans are born with an intimate understanding of pitch, rhythm, and tone. We’re all musical geniuses.

By Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis in Aeon

4. WarkaWater Towers — which produce up to 25 gallons of water out of fog and dew every day — could change lives in drought-stricken countries.

By Liz Stinson in Wired

5. Private sector investment savvy and funds can help us tackle poverty’s toughest challenges. It’s time for impact investing.

By Anne Mosle in The Hill

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME sexism

Female Veteran Shamed For Parking in Veterans-Only Spot

Profile of United States Marine saluting
Getty Images

Nasty letter-writer assumed she wasn't a veteran

A female Air Force veteran parked in a veterans-only parking spot, and somebody wasn’t happy about it.

Mary Claire Caine of Wilmington, N.C., returned to her car after a trip to the grocery store and found this nasty note on her windshield: “Maybe [you] can’t read the sign you parked in front of … This space is reserved for those who fought for America … not you. Thanks, Wounded Vet.”

Actually, Caine was stationed in Kuwait and served on the flight line of the F-117 Nighthawk. She told WECT that her two kids always get excited whenever there’s a veteran-reserved parking space open at the supermarket.

Caine said she was shocked to find the note on her window. “For a split second I thought, ‘Am I a worthy enough veteran to park in this spot?’ And, then I got very angry at myself for even considering that,” she said.

“I think they took one look at me when I got out of my car and saw that I was a woman and assumed I wasn’t a veteran and assumed I hadn’t served my country,” Caine told WECT. “They have this image of what today’s American veteran is and honestly if you’ve served in the United States military, you know that veterans come in all shapes and sizes. I question whether the person who left the note was fully aware of that.”

“I want them to know they owe me and every other female service member who’s fighting now and who’s fought in the past, an apology for jumping to conclusions,” she said.

[WECT]

TIME Veterans

Killed in Action, Far From the Battlefield

Iraq Archive 2007
Benjamin Lowy / Getty Images Iraq, 2007: Both a VA psychologist and the veteran who allegedly killed him served in Iraq that year.

VA psychologist gunned down by Iraq war vet

If you check the latest toll at icasualties.org, 4,489 Americans died in the Iraq war. But a killing Tuesday at a Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in El Paso, Texas, should have pushed that figure to 4,490—one of many additional KIAs in the Iraq war that will never be added to its final tally.

KIA means “killed in action,” and might not seem to apply to the death of Timothy Fjordbak, 63, allegedly at the hand of Jerry Serrato, 48, on the fourth floor of the El Paso clinic at Fort Bliss.

But, unfortunately, it does.

Serrato, 48, had served in Iraq for several months in 2007. He was discharged from the Army in 2009 for undisclosed physical reasons. He worked for a short time at the clinic in 2013, where Fjordbak, 63, was the chief psychologist.

A former employee at the clinic has told the Washington Post that Serrato was upset that the clinic had found his claim of post-traumatic stress disorder unwarranted.

“Although we do not know all the details, what we know of the case suggests anger at the VA for denial of benefits,” says Elspeth Ritchie, who served as the Army’s top psychiatrist before retiring in 2010. “Unfortunately, the scenario of angry patients killing their doctors is way too common, both in and out of the military.”

In October, 2013, Serrato allegedly threatened Fjordbak at a grocery store after Fjordbak didn’t recognize him, the FBI said following the murder. “It was a verbal threat —real or not—his (Serrato’s) perception was some wrong had been committed against him,” bureau agent Douglas Lindquist said.

“I know what you did,” Lindquist quoted Serrato telling Fjordbak, “and I will take care of it.” Fjordbak reported what he perceived to be a threat to local police.

Mid-afternoon Tuesday, Serrato went to the top floor of the four-story clinic and killed Fjordbak with a .380-caliber handgun.

VADr. Timothy Fjordbak

Fjordbak left a private practice after 9/11 because he wanted to help veterans, officials said. He had served in Iraq for several months in 2007, just as Serrato did. There was no known doctor-patient or workplace relationship between the two men.

Fjordbak was lauded by troops he had treated, as well as colleagues and friends. “His main thing was that he could differentiate between symptoms of PTSD and traumatic brain injury,” Michael Rushton, a U.S. Air Force veteran treated by Fjordbak in November, told the El Paso Times. “It was a five-hour appointment and it was a very comprehensive series of tests. He was amazing and an excellent guy.”

The tragic case highlights the fog that is PTSD. Few PTSD sufferers are violent, and it’s challenging to attribute specific acts to the malady. “Although PTSD is associated with an increased risk of violence, the majority of veterans and non-veterans with PTSD have never engaged in violence,” according to the National Center for PTSD.

Was Serrato mentally ill? Angry over how the VA handled his case? Suffering from PTSD? Or some combination of those factors?

Victoria County, Tex., Sheriff's Office
Victoria County, Tex., Sheriff’s OfficeJerry Serotta, following a 1997 drunk-driving arrest

We’ll probably never know. After killing the psychologist, Serrato went into a restroom on the clinic’s third floor and killed himself.

Better up that toll to 4,491.

TIME Veterans

Rising VA Disability Payments Linked to Veteran Unemployment

Last US Military Convoy Departs Iraq
Mario Tama / Getty Images A U.S. soldier waves as the final American convoy pulls out of Iraq in 2011 at the end of the second Iraq war.

Stanford study suggests a seesaw relationship between the two

Unemployment persists among military veterans as a sharply growing number of them are receiving disability payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a new study by a Stanford economist. The steep increase in such payments, Mark Duggan suggests, could be acting as a brake on their employment prospects.

Veterans receiving disability compensation from the VA rose from 8.9% in 2001 to 18% this year, Duggan’s study says. Even as the number of veterans shrank from 26.1 million in 2001 to 22 million this year, those receiving federal money for wounds linked to military service have climbed from 2.3 million to 3.9 million.

 

Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research

“The substantial rise in Disability Compensation enrollment in recent years suggests that this program may be affecting labor market outcomes for military veterans,” Duggan writes. He cites two possible reasons:

— It can reduce a veteran’s “propensity to work because—with the additional income—he may now prefer additional leisure to work.”

— Additional work may also “prevent a veteran from qualifying for a higher level of Disability Compensation benefits—and thus increase the effective tax rate on work.”

The jobless rate among post-9/11 vets was 7.2% in October, compared to the nation’s 5.8% rate—and a 4.5% rate among all veterans.

The study “is important because it shows how the good intentions of the disability system can sabotage the well-being of veterans,” says Sally Satel, a one-time VA psychiatrist who now works at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank. But the report, she adds, could boomerang: “Talking about reforming the veterans’ disability system is a third-rail topic because, on superficial glance, it appears as if reformers want to deny veterans help.”

But Satel, a reform advocate, denies that. “Reformers urge that assistance be given in the most constructive way possible,” she says. “This means that the VA should go all-out in terms of treatment and rehabilitation, to maximize entry into the workforce and minimize exit from it.”

Some vets believe the report misses the point. Repeated deployments and the lack of a formal, uniformed and organized enemy, ground down the Americans who fought the post-9/11 wars, says Alex Lemons, a Marine sergeant who pulled three tours in Iraq, “A number of my friends were blown into many pieces and they never quite reassembled them,” he says. “You might look at this person and think they look fine despite scars, but then you find out they can’t stand for more than an hour a day, they have shrapnel that works its way out of their dermis and have to pry it out, they are near deaf without hearing aids, or they can’t pick up things as a result of nerve damage in a hand. It means they will never be qualified for many jobs.”

Lemons says it’s good that troops are coming forward seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder, which has gone from the 10th most-common condition among vets on disability in 2000, to third in 2013. “In my infantry battalion the number of Marines who are on PTSD disability is not more than 35%,” he says, “even though I believe everyone who deployed with us has it.”

The average monthly disability payment grew 46%—from $747 to $1,094—between 2001 and 2013, Duggan reports. While that’s not much per veteran, the nation paid out a total of $54 billion in such benefits in 2013.

Congressional Budget Office

Not only are more veterans receiving disability compensation, Duggan’s report says, but they’re receiving more than earlier veterans did. That’s because the VA has ruled that the impact of their military service on their health is greater than for earlier generations of vets. Disability payments are pegged to a VA-determined rating, which is expressed in 10 percentage-point increments. Between 2001 and 2013, the number of vets deemed 10% disabled—generating an average monthly payment of $131 last year—dropped by 1%. Over the same period, the more than 800,000 vets rated 80% or more disabled—receiving an average monthly payment of $2,700—rose by 221%.

Military service also may have “become more demanding over time,” accounting for less veteran participating in the labor force, Duggan’s report says. “Consistent with this explanation,” he adds, “veterans have become more likely than non-veteran males to report that their health is poor or just fair rather than excellent, very good, or good.”

Elspeth Ritchie, a retired colonel who served as the Army’s top psychiatrist before retiring in 2010, believes the report slights what troops experienced in the nation’s post-9/11 wars. “It does not seem to factor in the high rate of physical injuries, traumatic brain injury and PTSD in the veterans from these conflicts,” she says.

Since turning its back on its veterans following the unpopular war in Vietnam, American society has sung the praises of its veterans, and has been footing the bills for those hurt to prove it. “Spending on veterans’ disability benefits has almost tripled since fiscal year 2000, from $20 billion in 2000 to $54 billion in 2013—an average annual increase of nearly 8%, after adjusting for inflation,” the Congressional Budget Office reported in August. “VA projects that such spending will total $60 billion in 2014 and $64 billion in 2015, a 19% increase from two years earlier.”

Duggan reports that a “key driver” in the growth of such benefits has been the VA’s decision to make veterans who served in southeast Asia during the Vietnam war eligible for benefits if they have Type 2 diabetes, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, or B-cell leukemia. The agency took the action when it decided to “presume” the ailments were linked to military service in the theater and possible exposure there to the defoliant Agent Orange.

Today’s veterans, the study says, are more likely than their fathers to seek and gain VA disability benefits. Nearly one in four vets since 1990 are being compensated, compared to one in seven veterans prior to 1990. “This higher rate of enrollment may be primarily driven by the VA’s approval of presumptive conditions for Gulf War veterans who served in the Southwest Asia theater from 1990 to the present (including Iraq and Afghanistan),” Duggan found.

 

Congressional Budget Office

He also reports that while veterans between 1980 and 1999 were more like to be employed than non-veterans, that has flipped since 2000. “This significant reduction in labor force participation among veterans,” he adds, “closely coincides with their increase in Disability Compensation enrollment during this same period.”

Duggan notes that a 2010 change in VA regulations no longer required veterans with a diagnosis of PTSD to document their exposure to wartime trauma such as firefights or IED blasts. The number of veterans being compensated for PTSD rose from 133,789 in 2000 to 648,992 last year. “The percentage of all veterans on the Disability Compensation program with a diagnosis of PTSD has increased by a factor of six during this period,” Duggan writes, “from 0.5% in 2000 to 3.0% in 2013.”

The jump doesn’t surprise William Treseder, who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq as a Marine sergeant. “Many post-9/11 vets can tell you stories about the inflation of VA claims,” he says. “We are often told to file for certain conditions—especially post-traumatic stress—whether or not we think it’s actually an issue. It’s the chicken-soup principle in action: can’t hurt; might help.”

Like Duggan, Treseder believes more study is needed examining the impact of disability payments on veterans. “This is much-needed research,” he says. “I’m glad to see someone out there looking into this.”

TIME Veterans

Army Says Captains Can Now Retire With Full Benefits

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Travels To Mideast
Mark Wilson—Getty Images U.S. troops listen to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speak during a visit to Baghdad International Airport on Dec. 9, 2014, in Baghdad

The officers were initially forced to retire with the benefits associated with sergeants

A change in U.S. Army policy this week means that captains being forced into retirement will be granted the full benefits associated with their ranks, instead of retiring with the benefits granted to sergeants as they initially would have had to.

Lawmakers who advocated for the added benefits said the policy change would give 120 soldiers an additional $1 million each over their lifetimes, the New York Times reported.

Since the officers served as captains for less than the required eight years for full benefits, they had been told they would be given benefits consummate with their previous enlisted rank.

“We fought and sacrificed and did well,” said Captain Tawanna Jamison, who is based at Fort Bragg, N.C. “This change restores honor and treats us right.”

The Army also notified 44 officers less than two years away from reaching the 20-year tenure required to receive full benefits that they would be allowed to keep their jobs instead of being forced to retire.

[NYT]

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