Why is the media—including the liberal media—supporting these teachers’ strikes?

I’ve been amazed—in a good way—at how positive is the media coverage of all these teacher wildcat strikes and actions in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona. Particularly from liberal media outlets.

I say this because it was just six years ago that the teachers in Chicago struck. Even though their cause was just as righteous as that of the teachers in these southern states, featuring many of the same grievances you see in the current moment—the Chicago teachers’ final contract included a guarantee of textbooks for all students on the first day of class; a doubling of funds for class supplies; $1.5 million for new special education teachers; and so on—the hostility from media outlets, including liberal media outlets, was palpable.

Time‘s education columnist had this to say about the Chicago teachers—many of whom were women of color, in a union led by a woman of color—on the Diane Rehm Show:

Part of this strike, it’s pretty clear, is that the union needed to have some theater for its members, let them blow off some steam, and that’s increasingly obvious.

I got into a Twitter spat with ABC News’s Terry Moran, who tweeted, “I wonder if the Chicago teachers realize how much damage they are doing to their profession—and to so many children and their families.” Moran, who makes $25k to $30k for each talk he gives (at least back in 2012), even had the gall to suggest that the teachers shouldn’t be complaining about their paltry raises.

If you were on line during that strike and supported the teachers, you were part of a fairly small crew of folks like Kenzo Shibata, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Megan Erickson Kilpatrick, Doug Henwood, and myself, arguing with the likes of Dylan Matthews (then at the Washington Post), Matt Yglesias (then at Slate), and others of that ilk. Almost no one with a national platform, save Diane Ravitch, supported the strikers.

Given the way the discussion of race, gender, and identity politics has gone the past few years, you would have thought that the Chicago teachers would have been a natural cause celebre for liberal commentators. Their spokesperson was Karen Lewis, a black woman (also Jewish!) Many of the strikers were women of color. They were working in a multiracial city, dealing with all the sorts of challenges liberals claim to care about. Yet so many of the liberal outlets and voices who have made race and gender politics a concern in recent years were either silent or critical of the teachers. (Women of color: cool; women of color in unions: not so cool. That’s how we get to preserve the fiction that when we speak of the working class or union members, we’re only talking about white men.)

There are a lot of reasons for the change in tone and coverage today: Sanders has helped change the conversation among liberals and in the Democratic Party. Trump and the Republicans have dramatized the cost of policies the nation has been pursuing for some time: less focus on funding, more focus on testing and charter schools.

But one of the big changes is that six years ago, the face of the opposition to the Chicago teachers was Mayor Rahm Emanuel—the Svengali of both the Clinton and Obama White Houses—and, behind Emanuel, the Democratic Party. People have probably already forgotten this, but in the last decade or so, the Democrats—and liberals like Jonathan Chait—have gotten really bad on education, teachers unions, and public schools.

One has to wonder if these strikes were happening in blue states, with Democratic governors and state legislatures, what the reception might be. One also has to wonder if the strikers and/or students were of color, what the reception might be. The coverage could turn out quite different, with the concerns of students of color being pitted against the unions, or with the ugly undercurrents of race working against the concerns and interests of both the teachers and the students.

Regardless of the hypothetical, the fact is that these teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona aren’t just challenging the hard right; they’re also, in a way, challenging the neoliberal Dems.

That’s another reason why this strike wave may prove to be so historic: in the same way that the late 1970s signified the Republican Party’s growing willingness to challenge the Democrats and New Deal liberalism, so did it signal a fundamental shift within the Republican Party, with the hard right contesting power at the highest levels of the GOP. Those were the years that saw the rise to prominence of these new faces of the party: Orrin Hatch, Alan Simpson, John Warner (remember when he was considered the hard right?), Thad Cochran, Larry Pressler, and so on. (Both Hatch and Cochran are retiring this year, by the way.)

The challenge of this strike is not just to the Prop 13 Order of the Republican Party; it’s also to the neoliberal order within the Democratic Party.


That last mention of the Prop 13 Order is a reference to a Facebook post I did the other day about the strikes. Because many readers of the blog aren’t on Facebook, I’m reproducing that post here in full:

It’s 1978, and you’re a politically minded person paying attention to electoral politics. You focus all of your attention on the midterm elections. And you find that after two years of a historically unpopular Democratic president, whose approval ratings are tanking in the low 40s, the voters re-elect a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate by wide margins. You find that the voters give the Democrats complete control over 27 state governments (that is, the governor’s mansion plus the state legislature) and complete control over an additional nine state legislatures. You’ll be thinking: the Democrats are firmly in control of the country and will be for the foreseeable future. Nothing you’ll be noticing will give you the slightest clue that the country is heading for a profound counterrevolution in just two years’ time.

The reason you’ll be thinking this, beyond your focus on the midterm elections, is that you’ll have completely missed the most important political development of 1978: the passage of Proposition 13 in California, which radically gutted property taxes in California and made it extremely difficult to raise taxes in the future. This was the real harbinger of the country’s future, a fundamental assault on the postwar liberal settlement of high taxes, high state spending, high public services, in what had once been one of the most liberal states in the country.

It’s 40 years later. Don’t make the same mistake. Right now, in the reddest of red states, in the places you’d least expect it, teachers are starting a movement not only to raise their salaries and improve the schools, not only to reverse the assault on public education, not only to reverse the rule of Scott Walker which was supposed to provide a national model across the country, but to confront the real governing order of the last 40 years: the Prop 13 order.

In West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona, we’re seeing the real resistance, the most profound and deepest attack on the basic assumptions of the contemporary governing order. These are the real midterms to be watching, the places where all the rules and expectations we’ve come to live under, not just since Trump’s election but since forever, are being completely scrambled and overturned.


  1. Larry Houghteling April 3, 2018 at 10:56 am | #

    Dear Corey,

    Leaving aside how smart and sensible and helpful-to-my-thinking your column is in its entirety, I do have to protest one thing you do — by using “media” as though it was a singular word in your headline, you get the column off to an unnecessarily confusing start.

    Your headline is “Why IS the media …? Weill, they ISN”T.

    “The Media” ARE made up of all the different MEDIUMS (plural word) — radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, the internet and all social media, etc. — brought together in one word for the sake of mental convenience. Some of these mediums ARE are splendid a lot of the time, and dp a professional, nuanced, commendable job of acting as our eyes and ears out in the world. Some of these mediums ARE really shitty (oh, why does Fox News come so quickly to mind?) Most ARE somewhere in between. But whatever THEY are, they are a plural, and we use a plural word — media — to refer to them.

    I labor under the delusion that if we were (all of us smart guys, you understand) to start using the word “media” correctly, it might clear up some of our problems. If you were asking, “Why ARE the media — including the liberal media — supporting these teachers strikes?” the question would answer itself: Because The Media are so varied, some ARE supporting the strikes (while some are not).

    The real question you are asking is, “Why have so many of the liberal media” (and so-called liberal thinkers in general, examples to follow) “had so much trouble supporting teacher strikes and the like in recent years?” Your column does a fine job reflecting on that question. It just has the wrong headline.

  2. Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant April 3, 2018 at 11:11 am | #

    What you have touched on (the fact that the strikes are happening in red states) as largely accounting for their decent reception in the MSM, is an eye-opener.

    Would you be open to my using your idea to suggest that this may also be one important reason why The Parkland Kids of Florida are also seeing a rather positive reception in the same MSM — in other words, did anyone say right after Sandy Hook (which is in a blue state, with a Democrat in the White House) that things “felt different”? I personally recall the despair flooding in quite early after that tragedy. Not this time. The teachers and the kids — a hint as to what may coming down the pike?

    Askin’ for a friend…

  3. Roquentin April 3, 2018 at 11:23 am | #

    I have long hoped that the silver lining to the Trump presidency is that the left would stop carrying water for shitty neoliberal policies. There’s a real tendency on the left to excuse all sorts of things which shouldn’t be excused just because someone with a D next to his or her name does them. The paradox is, sometimes a Democrat in office can be the worst thing for the left. Who gutted welfare, passed the 96 crime bill, and repealed Glass-Steagall? Clinton. Who started and escalated the Vietnam war? Kennedy and LBJ. Who popularized “Race to the Top” education policies and presided over the proliferation of charter schools? Obama. Who set records for mass deportations of illegal immigrants? Obama. Who overthrew the government of Libya and was angling for more regime change in Syria (something a shameful amount of people on the left bought into)?

    The list goes on, and I’m sure you get the point.

    • Glenn April 4, 2018 at 12:18 pm | #

      My frequent to response to Trump’s call for MAGA, (Making America Great Again) was that he would be a force in that movement, but contrary to the way he intended: as an icon to organize an opposition against his, and the Democratic Party’s, collusion with Republicans.

      Peoples’ movements need to be freed from Democratic Party constraints and influence to become independently progressive.

      I await the congratulatory remarks for my prescience and foresight.

  4. jonnybutter April 3, 2018 at 12:08 pm | #

    Luckily, *that* something happens is more important than *why* it does. This is an opening for Dems to ‘quietly’ (as they say in DC) step away from the shitty union *and* public education policies they have supported for years, and blame it on the GOP.

    • jonnybutter April 3, 2018 at 12:44 pm | #

      Also: ‘Hard working Americans, white Americans’.

  5. dotkaye April 3, 2018 at 1:54 pm | #

    thank you Corey, interesting points, and I hope you are right.

    One of the Democratic candidates for governor here in CO is Mike Johnston, who is funded by Michelle Rhee and her ilk. His position on K12 education is anti-union and pro-testing, for charter profit schools. It was a shock to me to find this in a Democrat, but Arne Duncan should have prepared me. As you say there are numbers of Democrats who “have gotten really bad on education, teachers unions, and public schools.”

    “the Chicago teachers—many of whom were women of color, in a union led by a woman of color”
    This is a significant part of it too I believe.
    The current set of teachers striking mostly look like good heartland voters. Whenever the NYT needs a disgruntled voter in economic hardship to interview, they find a heartland Trump voter with neo-fascist tendencies, rather than one of the many POC representative of the class. These teachers are much more appealing to the NYT instincts than the Chicago teachers were.

  6. Jeff Bryant April 3, 2018 at 2:23 pm | #

    While the 2012 Chicago teachers strike indeed riled many left-leaning media folk, it fueled a shift in the education debate among Democrats which has led to the widespread support for striking teachers we’re seeing among liberal media outlets today. The shift was obviously happening back then if you were looking for it: http://nepc.colorado.edu/blog/michelle-rhee-misreads-shift-among-democrats-education

  7. WLGR April 3, 2018 at 10:53 pm | #

    The obvious response to your headline question would be to apply the lesson of your own Harper’s piece, and consider whether national-level liberal media outlets’ embrace of teacher strikes after 2017 might be serving fundamentally the same purpose as their embrace of drone strikes after 2009: to perpetuate the amnesiac delusion that our bipartisan neoliberal ruling-class order, as administered by whichever party happens to be in power, is actually specific to some current ruling iteration of either the center-left or the hard right. As you hinted, whipping liberals into a frenzy when policies like education reform are identified with big bad Republicans can go hand in hand with whipping them into submission when similar if not identical policies are identified with good respectable Democrats, and the chain of events you’re describing in this post seems like a perfect example.

    In theory, the Sanders phenomenon and its associated left-ish commotion of the late 2010s could be foreshadowing some imminent epochal leftward shift in US politics, but then again it’s easy to imagine similar predictions about the Occupy protests in the early 2010s, the anti-Bush upsurge in the late 2000s, the antiwar movement in the early 2000s, the anti-WTO movement in the late 1990s, or many other moments throughout our current decades-long neoliberal epoch. Unless you’re actually pinpointing some specific evidence of a structural upheaval (and not just musing that now would be a good time for one) the more obvious if depressing question is whether the entire #Resistance milieu is just another stroke of the ideological two-stroke engine propelling us steadily further to the right, a way of priming liberals to feel relieved again once the next Democratic presidential administration takes power and helps validate the bulk of Trump’s rightward policy shifts as established bipartisan orthodoxy, just like Obama after the Bush years and Clinton after the Reagan years.

    • Deadl E Cheese April 4, 2018 at 7:46 am | #

      “Unless you’re actually pinpointing some specific evidence of a structural upheaval (and not just musing that now would be a good time for one)”
      In American politics, we often (always) overlook that what’s even more important for change than the collapse of the dominant regime is the collapse of the loyal opposition.

      The Jeffersonian consensus was ripe for the picking after the War of 1812, but until Jackson shattered the old guard with his movement it didn’t happen. Polk’s administration and the aftermath of the Mexican War was the beginning of the end for the slaveocracy, but until the Whigs went down the abolitionists couldn’t take advantage of the wings of change. The Great Depression wasn’t the worst expression of post-AMC economic upheaval, but until the Wilsonite “small government, state rights” faction was muzzled the Lincolnites would’ve rode that one out, too. 1972 should have really been the end of the New Dealers, but until the Rockfeller Republicans were chased out the Democrats padded their margins and remained firmly in charge.

      Similarly, while the Reagan consensus was largely doomed after 2008, it’s not going away until the Democratic Party goes away. Thus I’m not actually going to start reading its will until the bodies of the Clintonites are dumped into a ditch. I think the Clintonites, and liberalism in general (not just neoliberalism) are dead movements walking, but I’m not sure whether the death knell will be in 2018, 2020, or 2022.

    • Roquentin April 5, 2018 at 2:51 pm | #

      Well said! I concur.

  8. Brett April 4, 2018 at 4:17 am | #

    In West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona, we’re seeing the real resistance, the most profound and deepest attack on the basic assumptions of the contemporary governing order.

    I’m going to second Erik Loomis here and say that you’re reading too much into this. It’s happening in states dominated by Republicans that have short-changed their education systems for a long time, but there’s no indication that it’s going to spill over into a broader political movement, and actually trying to predict that is a fool’s errand – there have been tons of “hey, maybe we’re finally turning the labor situation around!” moments over the past 25 years that failed to pan out.

    • Jonnybutter April 4, 2018 at 1:34 pm | #

      Loomis has done some nice work in labor history, but that doesn’t elevate his realtime politics,IMHO. Loomis’ answer to current politics is always the same: a variation of ‘Eyore”. Either everything sucks, or no one knows or can predict anything. I would even call it “Eyore Liberalism”

      • jonnybutter April 6, 2018 at 8:26 am | #

        Unlikely anyone else cares, but I do: I feel bad now for attacking Loomis, when he probably gets dumped on enough in social media. It’s nothing personal about him. It’s just that I read LG+M for a few years and got so tired of their constant and consistent defeatist and morose attitude.

  9. quiggin April 4, 2018 at 6:35 am | #

    There’s mpre to the change than the fact that the strikes are in Repub states. The change in the way Rahm Emanuel is viewed is an obvious illustration.

  10. good2go April 4, 2018 at 12:01 pm | #

    I also find it surprising, given that most of the MSM are hardly liberal. A bunch of sheltered, privileged, highly paid employees of a couple of right-wing billionaires do not for liberalism make. Most journalists know where the money is coming from and write accordingly. To paraphrase Upton Sinclair, it’s easy to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his understanding it.

    • Michael Fiorillo April 4, 2018 at 12:50 pm | #

      Actually, “a bunch of sheltered, privileged, highly-paid employees of a couple of right-wing billionaires” is exactly what makes contemporary liberalism.

      Just don’t make the fatal mistake of confusing that with an actual Left.

  11. The tone of most of the responses here is a bit on the despondent side. I am not by nature an optimistic person but let me offer the following.

    First this from the FAIR website, a transcript of a recent broadcast of the radio show “Counterspin”. The host, Janine Jackson interviews Mike Elk, a journalist for the online outlet called the “Payday Report”: https://fair.org/home/a-remarkable-victory-for-the-labor-movement/.

    Here is my pull-quote from the interview:

    [Mike Elk]: “Well, I think it shows a couple of things. Right now, the US Supreme Court is taking up a case called Janus, and what that would do is drastically reduce the ability of unions to collect dues off of all their members. It would allow people in certain workplaces in the public sector to opt out of paying dues. It could hurt unions.

    “So there’s been all this alarmist rhetoric that, “Oh, unions are going to go under, blah blah blah.” When, in the South, you’ve had unions that don’t have collective bargaining rights, that don’t even have dues checkoff at all, that are in right-to-work states—that have been winning victories for decades. And I think what West Virginia showed was that, hey, the law can be against you and you can still win. So it was a real shot of energy to the labor movement in that way.”

    Take especial note of what Mr. Elk has to say about current media reporting about labor activism — and how labor issues inside some media outlets may be affecting journalists’ approach to labor reporting. Maybe labor activism’s improved image in reporting it ain’t ONLY traceable to the fact that much of such activism is in the benighted red states.

    This is Payday Report: http://paydayreport.com/ Enjoy.

    And this story by Mr. Elk published in the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/mar/07/west-virginia-teachers-strike-workers-rights

    I know that the work of spirit lifting is something that maybe I should leave to the professionals.

    But those Parkland Kids got me looking up a little more these days.

    • WLGR April 5, 2018 at 11:17 am | #

      On the contrary, the spectacle around “those Parkland Kids” might be in the running for one of the most depressing phenomena in today’s US “left” discourse, and that’s saying a lot. At a point when at least some reasonably prominent voices on the left like Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz or Adam Johnson are finally starting to break through the stultifying liberal discourse around gun control, and connect the roots of gun violence in the US to more fundamental aspects of US culture and society that liberals have no interest in challenging — at precisely that moment, in steps a perfect set of stage-manageable photogenic mouthpieces straight out of any PR consultant’s wildest fantasy, to divert that potentially fruitful line of discourse about gun violence back into the same old ineffectual-to-actively-harmful liberal gun control “solutions” like tightening the grip of armed law enforcement and stigmatizing the mentally ill. And even when the voices pushing against that current of liberal discourse are themselves a group of Parkland students who happen to be black, the same liberal media types who’ve been tripping over each other to shove mics in front of the original predominantly-white group of “those Parkland kids” have more often than not reframed the black students’ objection as a mere complaint about being excluded from the discussion, burying the lede of what point they’re actually trying to add to the discussion to begin with, which is to criticize so-called solutions being pushed by white liberals for putting their and other people’s lives at greater risk of gun violence, not less.

      Other than liberals’ prolonged Denton-esque or even Bircher-esque vintage Cold War style paranoid freakout about the nefarious existential threat of Rooskie dezinformatziya, it’s hard to think of any Trump-era political news item more disheartening about the pathetic state of the US so-called “left” than the reaction to “those Parkland kids.”

      • Tude April 5, 2018 at 6:31 pm | #

        WLGR – Hear hear!

      • LFC April 5, 2018 at 9:11 pm | #

        Perhaps you’re being a tad too down on the Parkland kids, I mean the ones you don’t like. The measures they’re advocating doubtless don’t go far enough and ignore imp. aspects of the problem, but it’s hard to see the reforms recently signed into law in Fla., limited as they are, being anything other than a positive (albeit, as I say, limited) step. I find it hard to understand why you think, as you apparently do, that barring people under 21 from buying assault-style guns, or imposing a waiting period etc., will result in putting the lives of non-whites “at greater risk of gun violence, not less.” Those and similar measures are mainly what I take the Parkland group to be advocating, not “tightening the grip of armed law enforcement.”

        • WLGR April 6, 2018 at 2:34 am | #

          I guess we’re slightly off the OP topic here, but whatever. LFC, liberals in the wake of Parkland and elsewhere have actively pushed a range of gun control “solutions” that either flagrantly disregard or directly endanger the lives of all sorts of marginalized people, as demonstrated by a quick scroll through the self-proclaimed Parkland “manifesto” to reveal the following: a demand that “Civilians shouldn’t have access to the same weapons that soldiers do” (in other words, gun violence is A-OK as long as the perpetrators are US soldiers and the victims are poor brown people in the Third World); a demand for a comprehensive federal database to identify and screen gun buyers based on “past criminal offenses and the status of the gun owner’s mental health and physical capability” (categories that surely have never ever ever been used in conjunction with racial or class profiling for police brutality and violence); a demand to “Change privacy laws to allow mental healthcare providers to communicate with law enforcement” (if your reaction to this is anything less than immediate visceral horror, I’m not sure what to tell you); the age increase you mentioned from 18 to 21, but explicitly “With the exception of those who are serving the United States in the military” (again, joining a bastion of enlightened peaceful coexistence like the US military clearly rules out the possibility of being a violent racist mass murderer, and surely joining the JROTC at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School couldn’t hurt either); and last on their list but certainly not least, a demand for “sufficient funds for school security and resource officers to protect and secure the entire campus” (because as we all know, armed law enforcement officers in the United States have a thoroughly impeccable track record of respecting and protecting every single Life that truly Matters).

          The basic problem with those specific proposals isn’t that they “don’t go far enough” but that they’re going too far, they’re going in the wrong direction, they’re more actively bad and destructive than the future mass shootings they might conceivably prevent. (Of course they almost certainly wouldn’t prevent many if any mass shootings, given what we know about the kinds of people who commit mass shootings and how.) Beyond that, maybe we should also consider whether the callous devaluation of other people’s lives that these proposals exemplify might be part of the deeper pathology that makes US culture so prone to mass shootings in the first place: the predominantly middle-class white people pushing these proposals don’t care enough to stop and consider the further harm they may be doing to the already marginalized and attacked victims of racist police violence, military violence, coercive mental healthcare, or any of the rest of it, as long as they can conceive of even the most remote possibility that their own precious safety might potentially be at risk. (For Christ’s sake just look at the name the Parkland students chose for their own march, unless that was some PR consultant’s coinage.) Regardless of what gun laws it does or doesn’t have, a society diseased enough to publicly tolerate such a profound antisocial dismissal of other more marginalized people’s lives in the name of one’s own life, let alone encourage it, let alone celebrate it, seems to me like exactly the kind of society that makes all these random outbursts of senseless mass violence not just likely but inevitable.

          • LFC April 6, 2018 at 12:49 pm | #

            “Civilians shouldn’t have access to the same weapons that soldiers do” is, in this context, common sense.

            If you think one has to wait for U.S. foreign and mil. policy to become less, as you wd put it, imperialist, racist, and cavalier about the lives of civilians in poor countries before barring civilians in the U.S. from carrying AK 47s, you’re going to be waiting perhaps a while. I’m sorry I don’t have time right now to reply further.

    • jonnybutter April 6, 2018 at 12:08 pm | #

      I’m more with you Donald. It feels like thick ice is cracking. I am much more thrilled by these teachers’ strikes than anything else. But I like to see millions of people in the streets demanding something, despite their less than perfect manifesto. I sort of don’t get how that can feel ‘depressing’, especially after all these years of deep freeze.

      I too wish everyone in the country saw the particular unity in our horrific foreign policy and our domestic LE, gun culture, etc. I too was interested to hear from the AA students at Parkland who said more cops in school wouldn’t necessarily make *them* feel safer. I too was upset to see the Parkland father with a network camera shoved in his face babble incoherently about ‘dialog’.

      But you have to start somewhere FFS!

      BTW, why do grotesque blood soaked assholes live forever, and e.g. the radient Karen Lewis get brain cancer (and not run for Mayor of Chicago)? Maybe if you’re a GBSA you can get fresh livers (or whatever) flown in for you – bc nothing is too good.

  12. Chris Morlock April 5, 2018 at 4:37 pm | #

    I think Corey is on to something, lately there is a feeling that the “Stormy Daniels” and “let’s go further to the right” political strategies announced by the DCCC in regards to the midterms have been extremely poorly received. Bernie did a great town hall with Warren and Michael Moore, and the sentiments of the corporate Dems being totally out of touch (but not out of power) are deepening. Those corporate roots (and money sources) run deep and trace their inception to the original Clinton admin.

    But there is a genuine feeling there will be no blue wave come October. I don’t see it happening, and vastly under reported on is the recent uptick in Trumps approval ratings.

    One thing that is true for any political establishment in recent American history is that they can’t remain in power forever (even in the minority) without adopting obstructionism followed by an influx of some kind of radical element of their ideology. Whereas in 2008-2010 this meant the tea party for the Pubs, the Left has no street brawlers who fundamentally share core values with the establishment and are largely marginalized for elite power reasons. It was much easier for the Pubs to use the tea party and it would be for the Corporate Dems to use progressives because they disagree fundamentally on economic issues.

    But things feel desperate. The Russian narrative has failed, the market is up, Trump can showboat forever, and Corporate Dems days seem to be numbered.

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