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Santorum's Comments on Gays Raises Questions of Republican Intolerance; What is the Bush Administration's Iraqi Exit Strategy?

Aired April 23, 2003 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: Is this the face of Republican intolerance or just the latest victim of got you politics?

Bloody swords, chain whips and chants of death to America. That's gratitude for you. But is there an exit strategy?

Plus, Paul Begala's latest beef with Fox News, today on CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE this afternoon. We're taking up the issue that, for the second day in a row, it was too hot for White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer to handle. Not too hot for CROSSFIRE, though.

Plus, the Bush administration discovers, all of a sudden, they realize that Iraq is full of Muslims who don't necessarily like us. Surprise, surprise, Gomer.

But first, something we guarantee you'll like, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE political alert.

The headline in today's "Washington Post" says it all: "U.S. Planners Surprised by Strength of Iraqi Shiites." Apparently, George W. Bush and his band of geniuses say they are now unprepared to prevent the rise of a radical Islamist anti-American government in Baghdad. Great.

Of course, under the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, Shiites had their heads cut open by government thugs. Now, thanks to George W. Bush, they are free to cut their own heads open, as we see in this video.

Meanwhile, though, there is no sign of Saddam Hussein or of chemical weapons or of biological weapons or of nuclear weapons. No sign either of an exit strategy.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: That last line, I must say, wins the comic sentiment of the year award, an exist strategy.

BEGALA: No strategy.

CARLSON: It's literally been two weeks, Paul, and you are hoping for an exit strategy?

BEGALA: Strategy, yes. We should have had one before we went in.

CARLSON: And the idea...

BEGALA: Our president promised us, in his campaign speech, in his campaign debate, that he would never commit troops without a clear exit strategy.

CARLSON: OK. That was two wars and 9/11 ago, Paul. Things, strategies change based on events. It's called reacting to reality. But your point that the administration has no plans to prevent the rise of radical Islamic anti-American government, I believe, is untrue. It better not be true. That would be a disaster.

And if the United States government allows some anti-American Islamist government to take control of Iraq, it will be -- I will join you on that.

BEGALA: On that we agree. I was just reading what "The Washington Post" said administration officials told them.

CARLSON: Ten years after Hillary Clinton scared the pants off America with her social health care scheme, another Democrat is planning to try it again. In a speech today, Congressman Dick Gephardt announced that, in the very unlikely event he becomes president, the government will completely regulate and control health care in this country.

The plan, which would cost about $200 billion a year, would cause the deficit to balloon even further and make American medicine about as inefficient as Canada's, which means the Canadians would now have to go somewhere else to escape their own failed system. That would be tragic.

BEGALA: Actually, I'm not choosing sides in the presidential campaign, but Dick Gephardt, for whom I worked over a decade ago, did not propose any bureaucracy at all. This is a tax-based system. That is you have tax credits going to corporations. It would build on the system we have now.

And to his credit, he now has a plan to cover everyone with health insurance. Where is George W. Bush's plan?

CARLSON: Actually, Paul, that's a tiny bit misleading. Yes, it is based on tax credits. But government would take the lion's share of responsibility for this. It would be the single largest payer into this government...

BEGALA: Why, yes. It's already the single largest...

CARLSON: But about -- actually, employers are the single largest.

BEGALA: Medicare and Medicaid...

CARLSON: Not including Medicare or Medicaid.

BEGALA: That's healthier.

CARLSON: No, but for private health insurance, employers are the single largest.

BEGALA: Well, the government runs Medicare.

CARLSON: Now, it would make government -- the same people who run the DMV.

BEGALA: The same people who run Medicare, who do the best job of anybody in health care.

CARLSON: Medicare, which is the chronic unsolved problem in American life.

BEGALA: Problem? It's the greatest thing in the government. I love Medicare.

Well, it has not been a very good month for our friends over at Fox News. First, the ultra right wing network broadcast a report that may possibly have endangered the lives of U.S. troops by discussing the position and movement of armed forces in Iraq.

Then Fox reported a large cache of chemical weapons had been discovered. Of course, that turned out to be false too. And today, we learned that a Fox News employee has been arrested for allegedly smuggling 12 Iraqi paintings and 40 Iraqi bonds out of the country.

Lying, lunacy and looting, that's Fox News, unfair and way unbalanced.

CARLSON: I'll tell you what's unfair is the fact that Fox News employee -- he's a technician -- has been fired by Fox. Here's a guy who risked his life to bring the news to America. He takes 12 oil and velvet paintings out of Uday's house -- hardly looting -- and they fire him for that, and the leave Geraldo Rivera, who lied about where he was during the war in Afghanistan.

So they can the little guy and they keep Geraldo. Amen. I hope that every reporter in Afghanistan is taking something out of Uday's house. They deserve it. They risked their lives.

BEGALA: Tucker Carlson supports looting? Fox News fires a guy...

CARLSON: It is not looting.

BEGALA: Fox News did the right thing in firing the guy. It is looting. Uday's house or wherever he got it.

CARLSON: For taking a velvet Elvis picture out of Uday's house?

BEGALA: They don't belong to some right-wing crank from Fox; they belong to the Iraqi people.

CARLSON: He's not a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) crank, Paul. He was actually a journalist and a technician who risked his life. And you call him a right-wing crank.

BEGALA: So he's allowed to steal now? Cops don't steal. The soldiers over there aren't stealing.

CARLSON: He was tired, unfortunately. He shouldn't have been.

It's official. Grassroots folk hero, Al Sharpton, is filing papers to run for president. Rich Democratic party elitists hate Al Sharpton, and it's easy to see why they do. They're threatened by him. Sharpton plans to reform his party from within.

Democrats treat black voters like "mistresses," Sharpton said in a speech yesterday, taking advantage, but not "taking us home to mom and dad." Either we get married or we're going to break up and find someone who will respect us, Sharpton promised. And we hope he means it. Good luck, Al. We'll be rooting for you.

BEGALA: As that old joke says, so what's that we, white boy? No, Tucker, I don't support him. I know you do. You are a big Sharpton man. Most Democrats don't support Al Sharpton at all. And you keep raising him up.

CARLSON: Really?

BEGALA: Because I guess he's somebody that you want to admire and embody, but it's (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and I'm a Democrat.

CARLSON: Well, I'll you why I keep raising him, because he has -- I don't agree with everything else Sharpton stands for or basically anything. But he has grassroots support that is real.

BEGALA: He does.

CARLSON: He will show up in Boston with delegates. He will get endorsements from black leaders in this country and others, and you will find better than the Clinton/Gore campaign working for Al Sharpton. You can't pretend he's not legitimate. He is. He is the voice of your party. He is the embodiment of the values of the Democratic party, and I hope they embrace him.

BEGALA: He's the embodiment of tucker Carson's perverted view of what the Democrats ought to stand for. But the truth is Bill Clinton was twice elected the present. Al Sharpton may go out to dog catcher. That's what the Democrats tell you. CARLSON: We will see.

Next, political intolerance and demand for Slavic conformity to the party line. The old Iraq? No, it's Washington's Democrats piling on Senator Rick Santorum.

And then, get out the whips and chains. We're doing a little S&I, the Shiites in Iraq, coming up in rapid fire. We'll be right back.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. At a town hall meeting today, Senator Rick Santorum was asked pointblank, by one of his constituents, how he can represent the people of Pennsylvania when he has made statements that attack lesbian and guy Pennsylvanians.

The question, of course, was a reference to recent comments made by Santorum, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, comparing committed gay relationships between adults with bigamy, polygamy and incest. Senator Santorum claims he was only repeating what a Supreme Court Opinion held back in 1986. And predictably, he blamed the media -- so much for personal responsibility.

In the CROSSFIRE, Tony Blankley, the editorial page editor of "The Washington Times," and Democratic strategist, Bob Shrum -- Gentlemen.

CARLSON: Bob, here's the core of what Senator Santorum said. He said, if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to have consensual sex in your own house -- whatever you want, as long as it's consensual -- then you have the right to bigamy; you have the right to polygamy; you have the right to incest; and you have the right to adultery. That's true, isn't it?

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: First of all, he wasn't reading the Bowers v. Hardwick very well, which is the case he was referring to.

CARLSON: No, but address what he said here...

SHRUM: He wasn't reading Justice White's...

CARLSON: ... as a philosophical matter. What he's saying is true, isn't it?

SHRUM: It is ridiculous to compare gay relationships to incest, which is a crime in this country. Gay relationships should not be a crime in this country. It's wrong that anybody has tried to make them a crime. And Justice Powell said the worst decision he ever cast on the Supreme Court was the deciding vote in that case, Bowers v. Hardwick.

We ought to let people go free. We ought to let people live their own lives. We ought to get the government out of this.

CARLSON: Then why should incest be illegal?

BEGALA: Tony, you run the most interesting editorial page in Washington, to begin with, but also on the conservative side. Does Senator Santorum speak for the majority of Republicans when he compares committed adult, loving relationships between gays with incest?


BEGALA: Good for you.

BLANKLEY: I disagree with almost everything he said, both his legal analysis, which is -- I don't think it's sustainable. I'm confident the Supreme Court can distinguish between consensual conduct by gays and lesbians in private and incest, which is not consensual, by definition of the relationship.

So I don't buy his argument. I don't buy his argument that American families are in danger from the 1 percent to 2 percent of homosexuals in the country. We've had that population since the beginning of time, and American families are fine.

However, I'm in the minority, not just in the Republican party, in the Democrat party, amongst independents, in the country, in the world, that he sits and heard him say that the standard Catholic position. I disagree with it. I'm not a Catholic, but that is the received position of the vast majority of mankind. I wish it weren't, but that's the position.

CARLSON: But, Bob, I hope you'll answer this question directly without rhetoric. You said a minute ago Americans ought to have the right to live their lives freely. I think I agree with you. But by that reasoning, why should consensual incest, why should bestiality be illegal? By the written -- truly, answer that. Why should they be illegal?

SHRUM: This is a ridiculous strong man that you're putting up...

CARLSON: It's a simple question, Bob.

SHRUM: ... in order to try to justify this.

CARLSON: I take it you're not going to answer it.

SHRUM: Obviously, the society has an interest in banning bestiality.


SHRUM: Obviously, for the reasons Tony just outlined.

CARLSON: Name one.

SHRUM: Well, incest, for example...

CARLSON: What's wrong with bestiality?

SHRUM: ... you have a completely...

CARLSON: No, I'm serious. You're not going to get him engaged...

SHRUM: You know, Tucker...

CARLSON: You don't have the answer.

SHRUM: Tucker, I'll give you an answer. If you want to engage in bestiality, go ahead. I don't care.

CARLSON: So you're sidestepping the argument, Bob.

SHRUM: I don't care. But I don't care if you have such an interest in it. But look, we have a lot of people...

CARLSON: You don't have...

SHRUM: ... they've been oppressed for a very long time. It is a ridiculous position to take. The fact that it's a Catholic position doesn't -- and I'm Catholic -- doesn't get it anywhere.

The other thing he said in this interview that was unbelievable was that he opposed the decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, which established the right of privacy...

BLANKLEY: Oh, come on.

SHRUM: ... and struck down laws banning contraception. Does this guy want to go to the Senate?


SHRUM: Let -- let -- let me make my point. No, you can't just say (UNINTELLIGIBLE), you've got to answer it.

BLANKLEY: This is a political show, and this is a political discussion. And the reason the position of the Catholic church and the position of the majority of Americans is relevant is because the question is, how big a danger is Santorum politically based on this statement? I don't think he's in any danger at all.

This is like a two or a three-day story because there's no -- this is silly season, and there's no way the Democrats are going to spend $23 million advertising on this issue. They're going to advertise on other issues.

BEGALA: Here's why I think -- here's why I think you're wrong, though, because it follows in a pattern of bigotry from Republicans. Dick Armey...

BLANKLEY: That is nonsense.

BEGALA: Let me give you some examples. BLANKLEY: No. No, I'm...

BEGALA: Dick Armey was the House majority leader for the Republicans.

BLANKLEY: No, I was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at the time. Armey did not say that.

BEGALA: He slurred -- he slurred a U.S. congressman...

BLANKLEY: No, no. He slurred...

BEGALA: No, he slurred his colleague.

BLANKLEY: I knew Dick Armey. I know Dick Armey well. He can't talk very well.

BEGALA: Trent Lott...

BLANKLEY: He always -- he always -- he always...

SHRUM: I think it's probably he doesn't think very well.

BLANKLEY: Well, he thinks very well, but he...

SHRUM: Well, he's not that...

BLANKLEY: But he slurs his words.

BEGALA: So explain this thing. Trent Lott, the leader of the Senate Republicans, called gays, compared them to kleptomaniacs. Jerry Falwell, the most powerful person in the Republican party...

BLANKLEY: He's not the most powerful person in the Republican...

BEGALA: ... said that gay people are part of the reason for 9/11.

BLANKLEY: Trent Lott was...

BEGALA: This is the party of bigotry.

BLANKLEY: This is so silly. Look, the Republican party isn't the party of bigotry, any more than the Democratic party is the party of enlightenment. Both parties have people who have views across the board.

You jump on an occasional statement by an occasional...

BEGALA: If any Democrat...

BLANKLEY: No, no, wait a second. Let me take this one. Jim Moran, the Democrat, a few weeks ago, talked about the Jewish conspiracy running the media. He's a democrat. That doesn't...

BEGALA: He's been kicked out of his leadership for that reason...

BLANKLEY: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Wait a second. That doesn't mean it's a reflection of the Democratic party.


BLANKLEY: It's a reflection of Jim Moran.

SHRUM: It's a reflection of the Republican party that they won't ask him to leave his leadership post when he slurred a whole group of Americans.

CARLSON: Well, I wonder if you'll answer this. You say it was a slur.

BLANKLEY: It's not a slur.

CARLSON: And someone who praises tolerance, I wonder why you seem so completely intolerant of a position that he's arrived at through religious faith. And as a faithful Catholic, apparently, he believes that homosexual acts are wrong.

He said I'm not against homosexuals; I'm against homosexual acts. That's a Catholic position, a position of religion. Why are you intolerant of that?

SHRUM: You know, even the Vatican documents on homosexuality would not have allowed the kinds of things he said. You could say it was a sin. You could say you've had to tolerate the sinner. You could not, for example, compare it to conduct between a man and a dog.

CARLSON: But what is wrong with that conduct?

SHRUM: The Pope wouldn't do that. The Catholic church wouldn't do that.

CARLSON: And why won't you answer the simple question, what is wrong with bestiality? Now, I'm asking it; you dismiss it as if it's a joke, but it's not a joke.

SHRUM: I think it is clearly a terrible thing to do to animals who absolutely have no say in this, have no free will, no volition. But if you want to do this, go ahead.

CARLSON: Are you a vegetarian, is that what you're saying?

BEGALA: Let me try to bring it back. Apparently, another person who has no free will, which is Ari Fleischer. White House press secretary today was asked if the president had a comment on this. The president commented greatly about what Trent Lott had said earlier.

And two days in a row now, Fleischer said no. And today, he had a new reason. He said the president doesn't comment on issues before the Supreme Court, which, of course, we know is a lie because Bush has given a major speech on affirmative action.

Every president comments on issues before the Supreme Court. It's part of his job. Why is Fleischer lying? Why is Bush hiding?

BLANKLEY: They aren't lies...

BEGALA: Fibbing -- I apologize. I shouldn't say lying.

BLANKLEY: He's a press secretary declining to comment, for the obvious reason there's no reason, politically, why he should comment. As I say, it's a two-day story. Why should he jump out there and put the president in line on something that's just being battled over on cable TV for a few nights before it goes away?

He's a good press secretary. He's doing his job.

SHRUM: Tony, I don't disagree with that. But don't you think there's a kind of different reason here? That when the White House heard about this, Carl Rove and the political people hit the roof because it puts them in an impossible position...

BLANKLEY: How do we know that? How do we know that?

SHRUM: ... coming after Trent Lott, which they delayed on for a day and then said he ought to resign. You now have this. And they're sitting there saying, we're trying to be the compassionate Republican part, but we can't condemn this because our ultra-religious right base will get angry at us.

BLANKLEY: Let me...

CARLSON: We've got 30 seconds left.

BLANKLEY: I don't think that Carl Rove -- and I don't know, but -- and you don't either -- whether he hit the roof. My guess is he barely noticed. This is an inconsequential...

SHRUM: Oh, I think he noticed.

BEGALA: Bob, Bob, in the 10 seconds we have left...

SHRUM: Are you going to ask about birds?

CARLSON: I'm not going to ask about birds. I must say mocking someone -- you don't have a real argument -- not much of a response ...

BEGALA: Five seconds.

CARLSON: Here's my question to you, Bob. Does everybody who finds homosexual acts wrong or revolting -- is everyone who believes that a bigot?

SHRUM: I think people who compare the relationship between gay adults to the relationships between a man and a dog to incest, which I think is one of the most terrible crimes in this society, is a bigot. And if the Republicans had any courage, they would tell this man to stand down from the leadership because those kinds of statements shouldn't come from the top of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). CARLSON: OK. Well, we are going to take a quick break. Our viewers are still firing back about CROSSFIRE's new time slot.

But before we get to that, the fastest political Q&A on television, and this is what our guests will face if they don't give us one-sentence answers about the new Iraq. You won't want to miss it. We'll be right back.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. To quote Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, freedom is untidy, and that untidiness is very much on display this week in Iraq, where Shiite pilgrims are literally whipping themselves into a frenzy and shouting death to America.

That is tonight's subject for "Rapid Fire." Our guests: Democratic strategist Bob Shrum and "The Washington Times" editorial page editor, Tony Blankley.

BEGALA: Tony, Bush administration -- your rival paper reports say Bush administration officials say they are unprepared to prevent the rise of an anti-American Islamic fundamentalist government in Iraq. Why?

BLANKLEY: Well, actually, if you read the paper carefully, it was an unnamed State Department spokesman. It wasn't a White House spokesman. And it was probably some guy cut out of the loop.

I am confident that's not President Bush's or Rumsfeld's view. But as you know, when Newt Gingrich criticized the State Department, he did so with good reason because they are incompetent and often don't follow the president's direction.

CARLSON: Bob, should the United States allow a Shiite or Islamist anti-American government to form in Iraq, even if it's democratically elected.

SHRUM: Well, first of all, I think it would contradict the whole definition of democracy to elect a government that would take away democracy. You've got to have a system that has within it built-in protections for minorities, whether you call them the Bill of Rights or anything else.

CARLSON: Right, right.

SHRUM: And I can't believe President Bush would tolerate this. It would be a disaster.

BEGALA: Well, let me ask about your column today, Tony. Taking on, from your former boss, Newt Gingrich, who ripped into President Bush's foreign policy yesterday, trying to blame...

BLANKLEY: No, no, no, no, no. You...

BEGALA: ... trying to blame Colin Powell. Why are you all shooting at Colin Powell, when it's Bush's... BLANKLEY: We're not. And if you read my editorial tomorrow, all of the text of Newt's speech, which will appear on my facing page tomorrow, so you get the actual words and not the mischaracterization I saw on CNN's website.

But if you look at all that, you'll find out that Newt was criticizing the structure in the State Department. And he said it's time to reform it the same way the Pentagon has been reformed, the same way Homeland Security has been reformed, the same way the FBI has been reformed. Times change. You have an ancient bureaucracy. It's got to be reformed.

CARLSON: Bob, do you agree with Nancy Pelosi that liberating Iraq wasn't worth the price?

SHRUM: I think liberating Iraq, given the circumstances that we faced, was something that we had to go about. I think we did it diplomatically in a very, very bad manner.

I think our military did a superb job. Our diplomacy was defected and our post-invasion planning or post-victory planning seems unprepared and unanticipatory of some of the biggest problems we're going to face.

BEGALA: Tony, we're almost out of time. Was Don Imus right when he says the reasons we haven't found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq yet is because they haven't arrived from CIA headquarters?

BLANKLEY: No, I think this is the one time Don is wrong.

BEGALA: That will have to be the last word. Tony Blankley, Bob Shrum, thank you both for a terrific "Rapid Fire" and also our regular CROSSFIRE segment.

Well, one of our viewers is wondering why Tony's old boss, Newt Gingrich, is not getting hammered by the right for saying much the same things as Tom Daschle said a few months ago. He'll get his turn to "Fireback" next.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time now for "Fireback." We (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on everything.

Lucy Morgan begins, writing about the current controversy.

"Tom Daschle decried the failure of diplomacy and was blasted by the right as being 'unpatriotic.' Newt Gingrich slams diplomatic failures and the right is oddly silent. Can you please give us guidelines as to who is allowed to be critical?"

Lucy, very good point, free speech only applies to Republicans in Bush's America.

CARLSON: Now that's not true. Everyone is allowed to be critical, of course. But if you say dumb things, you ought to be taken to account. Tom Daschle blamed the war on President Bush rather than Saddam Hussein and that was (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BEGALA: NO he didn't.

CARLSON: Darren and Suemiko Williams of Canada -- a foreign country, right?

"Can you tell me why the Europeans, especially the French, were so afraid of collateral damage, and now they are so late in coming around to lifting sanctions?"

Great question. The answer is because the French didn't care about the people of Iraq, only the regime running it. That's why.

BEGALA: Well, it also speaks to how inept our president's foreign policy has been, which even Newt Gingrich understands. George W. Bush...

CARLSON: It's his fault, right.

BEGALA: The French are difficult with every president. But this president has completely...

CARLSON: Talk about blaming a victim.

BEGALA: He's not a victim. He's a president.

Charles Laster of Fulton, Kentucky writes:

"Now that the war is over, I have a modest proposal. Seniors who want health care and students who want educations should start stocking up on bioweapons, aluminum piping and drone aircraft. Maybe then they'd get attention from this administration."

That's an interesting point there.

CARLSON: All right. Next up is -- let's see.

BEGALA: There it is.

CARLSON: Andrew from Toronto, Ontario, in Canada as well.

"Love the new time slot, but missed the extra half hour."

Well, so do we, Andrew. Thanks for noticing. Canada, I love Canada.

BEGALA: There you go. Tucker is finally coming around.

CARLSON: I'm going to finally come up with something nice to say about Canada.

BEGALA: Yes sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess my question is directed to Paul Begala. Now, aren't you concerned about Senator Santorum's comments and the reaction to the comments really stifling the debate on all issues and really putting such a fear into politicians that they better not talk about anything because they could easily put their foot in their mouth and you're really stifling debate and free speech?

BEGALA: No, it's the essence of free speech. He said something bigoted. People who aren't bigoted said that was a bad idea. He got up today and defended his bigotry. That's the essence of free speech. We just did 30 minutes on it. This is all what free speech is all about.

CARLSON: I recommend everybody in our viewing audience read the Associated Press interview with Santorum. It was actually interesting. And was pretty thoughtful in his comments.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If no evidence is found of biological or chemical weapons, how will George W. Bush be treated, one, in the United States, and, two, on the world stage?

CARLSON: It's important, I think, that evidence of weapons of mass destruction is found in Iraq. It may be a long time before it's found. But I think everybody, on the left and right, is confident it will be found.

BEGALA: Yes, I'm thrilled that the Iraqi people have gotten rid of Saddam Hussein. I really am. But the threat to us was supposed to be the weapons of mass destruction. That's why we went to that war. And until he finds them, there's a lot of doubters.

CARLSON: And the terrorist links, which are becoming clearer.

BEGALA: From the left, I'm Paul Begala.

CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again at some point for, yet, more CROSSFIRE. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.


Intolerance; What is the Bush Administration's Iraqi Exit Strategy?>

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