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Women, Sexual Politics & the American Dream

Women,Sexual Politics & the American Dream: Lawrence R. Velvel

By Suzan Mazur

Women, led by Lysistrata vs Old Boys Network of Athens]
Photo Credit: Inside the Moscow Art Theatre

". . .Whither the women's movement? We will know that real progress has been made when domestic violence is taken seriously, when all battered women can get real help, when shelters are funded adequately -- and when more women committed to these goals serve in office at every level of government."

- January 11, 1986, New York Times, Letters
Elizabeth Holtzman -- Kings County District Attorney
Suzan Mazur -- Chair, Dec. 11 Tribeca Benefit for Battered Women
Maria Cuomo -- Benefit Committee Member
Sharon Parker -- Executive Director, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Bonnie Wagner -- Director, New York State Division for Women

With the dramatic lowering of the competency bar in the Bush II Presidency [ HOW BUSH GOT BOUNCED FROM CARLYLE BOARD - Suzan Mazur, Progressive Review ], no one can say any longer that American women are unqualified to govern. Still the issue of how to get a critical mass of women in public office -- so crucial to America becoming a truly egalitarian society -- remains elusive. But progress has been made.

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About 20 years ago as I was organizing what turned out to be the first major New York benefit for battered women, one of my politically savvy allies advised, "It's not been done. You'll have to get the nod of the women in Westchester " -- an affluent county in upstate New York. He was right, the event went forward, and the campaign for awareness about domestic violence took off. So I smiled at a recent posting on a progressive political website in Westchester which said: Why not Polygamy as an Issue? | Democracy For Westchester, with a link to one of my exposes about an Arizona polygamy town airport built with millions of federal dollars.

It hasn't really been fashionable to talk about women's rights since the Carter Presidency. That is, until the following essay turned up in my mailbox: last week: "Women And The American Dream" from Lawrence R. Velvel, the provocative dean of Massachusetts Law School -- the Andover institution that provides legal education to the "traditionally excluded" (no LSATs required and one-third the usual tuition).

Dean Larry Velvel claims the American dream -- anyone who works hard enough can rise to the top -- has always been "a fraud", and particularly for most American women. He says this about the status of women today:

"Today, however, there is one very large group of people who are beginning to understand that the American Dream is usually not true for them. They are just over half the population. They are women. They do not put the problem afflicting them in terms of the failure of, or in even terms of the phrase, the American Dream. They put it in other terms, terms more familiar, perhaps, to the modern ear. They write and speak of glass ceilings. They write and speak of being paid less for equal work. They write and speak of the fact that women sometimes vastly outnumber men in higher education and as recipients of degrees, yet do not rise to the top of corporations or law firms. They write and speak of having their intelligence and competence automatically discounted. (Persons who have changed genders tell remarkable stories about this.) They write and speak of having been told when younger that they could have it all, only to find that this is not true because institutions do not make arrangements, do not follow rules, that would permit them to be mothers while pushing to be rising stars.

No, they don't write or speak the words "the American Dream" or "frustration of the American Dream," but what they write and speak of is exactly that although expressed in different words. Far from the world being a place where they can advance as high as talent and hard work can take one, they are usually confined, with the confining factor in this case not being race or class or religion or ethnicity, but gender."

Women are also more peace-oriented than men (Ann Coulters excluded) and concerned about social welfare. So as the male political establishment continues to hoard power, kill, plunder and send home the draped flags, the need to elect women in equal numbers to men at all levels of government has become imperative. I asked Dean Velvel for his thoughts about just how we get there.

In addition to being a professor of law, Larry Velvel is the moderator of the MSLAW public television book review show, The Long Term View, and he's Editor of the law school's journal as well. Velvel has practiced in both the public and private sectors with some of his most critical work in the area of Supreme Court litigation, antitrust law and constitutional law He's the author of the book trilogy Thine Alabaster Cities Gleam and writes a ferocious weekly blog, Velvel on National Affairs. Our interview follows.


Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Suzan Mazur: Professor Velvel, how do we realize a critical mass of women at all levels of government so that we can finally have the egalitarian society we want -- keeping in mind that the reason we need to change the political equation of overrepresentation of men / underrepresentation of women is that women have traditionally been peace-oriented and concerned about social issues (child care, domestic violence, affordable housing). And the so-called political "wise men" have taken us into Hell.

Is increasing financial support to women candidates running for political office enough, or do we need to have a commitment from America's political parties that they will set quotas (legislated or voluntary) ensuring that 50% of all candidates on the ballot are women as countries like France, South Africa and Denmark (40%) do?

Sweden uses the "zebra principle", where women are listed on every second line of the party list. Norway, Costa Rica, Denmark and Finland, all with a quota system, have the most number of elected women officials in the world -- close to 40%.

I mean wouldn't that practically guarantee the party here that has the guts to do it a win in 2008? Click here: Country-by-County Global Database of Quotas for Women -- Joint Project of Stockholm University and the International Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance

Lawrence Velvel: I want to start out with the point about women's social interests. It would be any reasonable person's hope that we would get more women into government on the ground that women, as you say, in general, not exclusively, are more disposed to social issues rather than war. In the current House of Representatives and Senate, female federal legislators are far more oriented to social issues than their male counterparts, even some Republican females like Susan Collins and others.

Suzan Mazur: But we're talking about really changing the sexual political equation by putting a critical mass of women in government. These women would no longer be pressured to follow the Old Boys' game plan.

Lawrence Velvel: You're right. In life how many people are on your side matters and I'm sure it's no less true in what I consider our worthless federal Congress. But I haven't yet addressed your real question: How do we get there?

I will posit, by the way, I will accept that women are underrepresented at all levels of government. Who can argue with that?

But let's start with education. The law schools of this country, I'm happy to say, are about 50% female and are a breeding pool for politics, business as well as law and leadership positions in general. Over half the US Senators are lawyers. About one-third of the US House. Between one-third and one-half of of the governors. All the judges except traffic court judges. Lawyers are also prominent in non-legal fields such as education. Many are presidents of universities, including some of the most prestigious in the country. Many are big deals in some of the largest real estate organizations in the country. Ever since general counsels became so important 20 years ago, increasingly, they are presidents of our largest corporations. And so forth.

So what does this mean for your question? The problem is that the law schools are most inhospitable to minority women -- African-American women, Latino women, Asian-American women -- people who you would expect because of their personal backgrounds to have a higher degree of concern for social welfare than say a Barbara Bush. People of poverty background are more likely to be concerned with the social issues than their female colleagues and peers who grew up at the top of the socioeconomic food chain -- the Barbara Bushes of the world.

The law schools are keeping these women out. They keep the men out too. They say, "Oh, we only have about 31/2%, 5%, whatever.

Well, that's because they choose their students on a basis primarily of LSAT scores. And historically, a lot of minorities have not scored well on LSATs. Here at Massachusetts Law School we get many fine students from the minority communities because we don't pay any attention to LSATs.

Suzan Mazur: Are LSAT scores a factor in passing the Bar?

Lawrence Velvel: Not to pass the Bar -- just to get into the intellectually bigoted and intellectually biased law schools. The American Bar Association forces schools to require it. So one of the things that has to be done is to change the nature of law school admissions so that more females from the lower economic rungs can get into this power structure.

Suzan Mazur: Do you have restrictions at your school regarding age?

Lawrence Velvel: Our average age is 32 or 33. We have lots of people in their 40s, 50s and even 60s. The average age in most law schools is early to mid-20s.

Now I've arrived at the conclusion that the existing political parties of this country are intellectually, morally and socially bankrupt. They're captive to money and we need a third party. I think women would be well placed to be a major force in creating a third party because of their numbers and because women seem to be much better at honesty, diligence, morality, competence and modesty than the average guy.

The two biggest political problems in US politics at the moment are a lack of honesty and lack of competence. The honesty issue dates back to John Kennedy's US presidential campaign. The politics of image not truth. The competence problem came in with Lyndon Johnson and it never left us.

Suzan Mazur: Even if a new party formed, wouldn't women be wise to get a commitment from it that it would set quotas ensuring 50% of the candidates on the ballot are women?

Lawrence Velvel: I actually doubt that because the kind of people who would make up this party are not the kind of people who would discriminate against women.

Suzan Mazur: Could this party come together in time for the 2008 presidential election?

Lawrence Velvel: Sure. There's a long time between now and 2008 and there's a very high level of disgust. Will it happen? That depends on whether people organize. I'm making my own attempts at this.

Suzan Mazur: What would you name it?

Lawrence Velvel: The American Internet and Reform Party, because one of the ways you do this is by making massive use of the Internet for what would normally cost a ton of money for making personal contacts and advertising heavily.

But one of the greatest threats to this idea is the attempt to destroy Net neutrality. Meaning the big pipeline companies would differentiate on the cost of transmission. That would jeopardize the continuance of the Internet as we've known it for the last few years -- the poor man's printing press.

What might happen is that you'd have to wait , say three days for your message to get through or you'd be required to pay a fortune. Bloggers can't pay a fortune to line up behind Disney and United Artists or whoever else there might be.

Suzan Mazur: What about a commitment from existing political parties in the event a third party does not take off? Would you be in favor of legislated quotas or voluntary quotas for women?

Lawrence Velvel: I don't have an opinion on that. The pros are it would get a lot more women in office. The cons are Americans react very badly to quotas.

Suzan Mazur: Stockholm University and the International Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance have compiled in fascinating detail a country-by-country database of political party quotas for women. It lists over one hundred countries where quotas are now in place. The US, of course, is not on the list.

Lawrence Velvel: This is by way of shedding more light, more edification, not by way of opposition to what you've said. There are some very serious electoral problems in this country. One problem is the outright fraud that gets practiced and apparently Bush has stolen either one or two elections this way.

Suzan Mazur: Because of the election machines you mean.

Lawrence Velvel: It's beyond the voting machines. It's turning away voters. Lying to them over the phone to discourage them.

But there are measures which other countries have taken about such things and we've done nothing.

Another problem is this. One of the reasons we have such terrible legislation in this country and such a lack of representation of the views of women and minorities is because we have winner-take-all single member districting. I don't think there are many other countries that do this.

When you have that rather than some form of proportional representation, the vote of the minority in every single district is lost! They don't matter.

You see this on a larger scale with the electoral college. Only 15 or 16 states are really in play in presidential elections because in the others you know the Republicans or Democrats are going to win.

Suzan Mazur: But that doesn't really address the situation regarding the political underrepresentation of women.

Lawrence Velvel: Yes it does, because if you had some sort of proportional representation. For example, suppose a whole state's congressional delegation were elected by proportional representation. That would mean that if women banded together, they would for sure elect a certain number of female candidates, if female candidates were what they wanted. It could hardly be avoided.

In a single member district, there are not enough women feeling this way or thinking this way in any given district. This seems to be the case so far anyway.

Suzan Mazur: I think the process needs to be jump started. A successful third party is too much of an IF for 2008 -- and the problems are so serious at this point with our current bloodthirsty representatives in Washington. We really don't have a lot of time to turn it around before 2008. Something dramatic needs to happen. Quotas for women are working in over a hundred countries of the world, there's no reason they could not work here as well.

Lawrence Velvel: That's your view. I have a different view on that.
Suzan Mazur: On the foreign policy front - 20 years ago, the late Congresswoman Bella Abzug and author Mim Kelber identified 287 women in their Women's Foreign Policy Council Directory out of thousands of women nationwide who they believed at the time had the "stuff" to responsibly participate as experts and leaders in the "formulation and conduct of U.S. foreign affairs".

We now have something called the Women's Foreign Policy Group (WFPG) modeled after Mim's and Bella's idea of "let's use wise women", but with Raytheon as a sponsor and charging a membership fee of $1,000 for those who want to participate in "special activities". Mim and Bella would probably be sickened.

The women foreign policy specialists they identified wanted to "enlarge the [Reagan] Administration's highly selective criteria for human rights to include economic, political and social rights for women everywhere", and found it "urgent to examine the pathology of senseless male violence" in Lebanon, Iran Afghanistan and elsewhere where little boys were and still are being sent into battle.

I was part of that group they profiled and so were Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright. However, before Mim died, she told me of her disappointment, particularly of Rice's defection from the peaceniks to the neocons.

Condoleeza Rice
Photo Credit: Women's Foreign Policy Council Directory, 1987

Today there are overwhelming numbers of women in national and local groups, academia, think-tanks, the media as well as independent thinkers who could fill the vacuum left by America's failed male political leadership in foreign affairs. But the answer to the question of who's national security is being served in America is still essentially the same -- not that of American women. American women do not equate war with peace and security.

Here's how Frances Farenthold, in November 1987, as chair of the Institute for Policy Studies and a co-sponsor of the WPFC answered the question of who's national security is being served in her remarks to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs regarding "Women's Perspectives on U.S. Foreign Policy":

Frances Farenthold
Photo Credit, WFPC Directory, 1987

"We find ourselves in a very bad pattern, and if fundamental and far-reaching corrections are not made soon, my guess is that the next few years will hold more Watergates, Irangates, and other " - gates," as it will become clear and indisputable that we cannot sustain a healthy democracy with its representative, nosy institutions while at the same time fostering the imperial military system which has intruded itself into the lives of our neighbors and exceeded all bounds of honor and decency. . . .

I propose that we are here to redefine national security - to launch a movement, if you will, that will demand the attention of our lawmakers.. . We have had such civilizing movements among the citizens of this country during the past 30 years: the civil rights movement, the nonintervention movement, and the women's movement. For many of us, military might is not synonymous with national security.. Neither covert nor overt military and economic aggression in the Third World is tolerable. It is not naivete, but the reality of the world that requires these shifts.

And on this premise, my suggestion is that the Speaker of the House of Representatives appoint a special commission or a select committee to study the National Security Act of 1947 and to present transforming revisions to it. This act and others should be looked at by people not part of the "intelligence community," for they have too much to protect. It is time for examination by critical outsiders, both in Congress and elsewhere. For it is neither the "process" or style that has been faulty. It is the institutions and habits of mind that govern those institutions that must be re-examined."
Dean Velvel, what can you say about this matter of women and national security?

Lawrence Velvel: I say that some of the folks you've been quoting to me are for completely understandable reasons way too narrow minded, because they appear to exclude men.

Now I would be the first to concede that there are gender differences. But not all of us who are men think that national security is being done right or that true national security has been promoted by what's been happening since 1960.

Suzan Mazur: These are historical quotes -- from the 1980s.

Lawrence Velvel: The fundamental problem is that those of us -- male and female alike -- who disagree with what has been done in the name of national security and who think that instead of promoting national security America has been promoting death, destruction and hatred for the country all over the world have been marginalized.

We are accused of naivete. We are accused of either desiring or being willing to let the authoritarians and terrorists of the world run wild. We've been accused of lack of patriotism. A lack of reality. The media has been filled with this because the media has been lock, stock and barrel in the hip pocket of the people who benefit from the national security state, which is what we've had since the days of Eisenhower.

I can understand why Farenthold would say what she said, because by and large most of the politicians have been men and men have this schoolyard mentality about getting into fights all the time. But there are some who are different. On the other hand, you have the Albrights and Rices of the world who are no different than the men they serve.

Suzan Mazur: Right, but they are not the critical mass of women I'm talking about. They're women who've been co-opted. Washed and spun dry. [Scoop: Madeleine Albright & Maurice Tempelsman Q&A]

Lawrence Velvel: Well, that gets to another point. You no longer have people in politics to whom it is more important to be right than to be President. You no longer have people who understand that the price of doing the right thing often is defeat, and who are willing to accept that. And that's why these people are getting co-opted if, I accept, that Rice and Albright were at some time different than they proved to be as Secretary of State.

Suzan Mazur: What can be done about economic equality? How can women break through the glass ceiling?

Economists Robert Ashford and Rodney Shakespeare see the answer to financial growth for women as well as men in not relying on labor productivity -- that is, making $20 an hour in the factory will get you nowhere -- but rather in employee ownership, the Louis Kelso model of binary economics. They say "democratizing ownership of capital", letting people have access to money and capital credit is the road to real economic growth. Government leaves the picture and market forces prevail.

Traditional economic theories thus far have only concentrated power, they say, leading to corruption and the dehumanization of workers. However, this model is criticized by Ralph Nader because it does not recognize large companies as a problem.

Finance guru Catherine Austin Fitts, on the other hand, argues that Treasury doesn't control today's money, which she terms "fiat currency". Fitts points out that the money is controlled by the Federal Reserve Bank, which is privately-owned and managed, doesn't provide full disclosure and engages in insider trading and "back door huge profits to financial players".

Fitts say further: "When supply and demand forces can be artificially balanced through covert operations and black budget manipulations financed by warfare and organized crime, the price can stay managed forever. . ."

Fitts urges people to pool their money on a local level, $5, $10, whatever -- to buy gold, silver, farmland, water, seed and other vital resources to counter the financial "Tapeworm" as she refers to the fusion of private equity firms like Carlyle Group, Bain, et al. , who are hollowing out the economy.

I know one of your areas has been antitrust litigation. What is your view of these economic models? And do you have other thoughts about how economic equality can be achieved?

Lawrence Velvel: I would say first of all that antitrust has become a bad joke in the last 25-30 years. It doesn't exist in this country for practical purposes anymore. It exists far more in the continent where we taught it -- Europe. So antitrust is not the place to look.

Suzan Mazur: Do either of these economic approaches make sense to you?

Lawrence Velvel: Look, I'm just going to tell you what I think and if it addresses what these people have said -- fine. I've received accolades many times in my life for being the "hardest worker". My family has grown up with the same work ethic. We work like dogs. I try to insist that the people around here at Massachusetts Law School worker harder than at other law schools.

I think humans exist to work not the other way around. Hard work -- that's the way for women to get ahead economically.

Suzan Mazur: But when the private equity firms are hollowing out the economy, buying everything up, the money becomes worthless and making $20 or less an hour leaves women spiraling downward.

Lawrence Velvel: Women in law firms, women who are doctors, women who are in big business are making much more.

Suzan Mazur: These are rarified women. I'm talking about most women.

Lawrence Velvel: You're entitled to your opinion. I don't share it. We have over 50% women in medical schools, over 50% of law schools. They're increasingly becoming engineers. They are in big business. There is a group of women who are in this same rat race ballgame as men.

Suzan Mazur: It's not most women.

Lawrence Velvel: The problem you're discussing is applicable to men too.

Suzan Mazur: That's what I said at the outset of the question.

Lawrence Velvel: Okay. That is the problem that has arisen now because of the huge globalization of trade, the Reaganesque philosophy of money, uber alles. I don't hold that Reagan should have been beatified. That profit is all that counts. That we should not have any regulation, or only minimum regulation.

Suzan Mazur: It sounds like you lean closer to what Fitts is saying because Ashford & Shakespeare are talking about government out of the picture.

Lawrence Velvel: I do not hold with employee ownership because that hasn't worked.

Suzan Mazur: They say government should be out of the picture and let market forces prevail.

Lawrence Velvel: I don't say that either.

Suzan Mazur: Also they don't have any problem with large companies and it sounds like you do.

Lawrence Velvel: I have major problems with the way large companies are operated.

Suzan Mazur: Are you closer to Fitts's perspective?

Lawrence Velvel: I don't know who I'm closer to. I only know what I think.

Suzan Mazur: Right now doing an honest day's work people are just treading water.

Lawrence Velvel: We have a serious problem in this country, which increasingly is going to have to be addressed because Clinton's lies and the first George Bush's lies to the country and Robert Rubin's and the lies of that whole crowd -- it has not worked out that increasingly free international trade has benefited the average guy either in third world countries or our own country.

And what has happened in the third world countries is that the oligarchs got richer and the poor went ever more to Hell in a handbasket. And what happened in our country is we're getting to be more of a nation of haves and have nots. And the have nots are increasingly the people who used to be the white collar workers.

Suzan Mazur: One criticism is that women who have been trying to break through the glass ceiling have not been paying enough attention to their blue collar sisters. Progressive Review/Undernews editor Sam Smith cites Service Employees International Union as the one organization he's aware of that really helps to improve the lives of women at the bottom of the economic rung. I can think of many others, among them:

- National Organization of Women
- Women's Environment Development Organization (WEDO), offshoot of Abzug's and Kelber's Women's Foreign Policy Council (WFPC) ,
- The New York City Working Women's Rights and Education Project:
- National Women's Law Center
- National Partnership for Women & Families

But if Ashford & Shakespeare are right, a reliance on labor productivity is not the answer anyway. What do you think?

Lawrence Velvel: I have no idea about that.

Suzan Mazur: The government has a hand in suppressing women's rights from what I've seen of the nasty sexual politics of polygamy and domestic violence. Denial of $625,000 in funds from the Reagan Administration to battered women's shelters, for example, and a financing of Mormon polygamy cults out West. [Scoop: The AZ Polygamy Town Airport Built With Fed $$$Mns]

Tens of thousands of Mormon polygamists are part of George W. Bush's voter base. And the FBI - started by J. Edgar Hoover with Mormon G-men - won't move in on these sex cults. What's more the governor of your state, Mitt Romney, one of the most prominent members of the Mormon church and a candidate for President in 2008 on the Republican ticket, has distanced himself from the issue. What are your thoughts?

Lawrence Velvel: Without referring to the particular problem you address, it is always true that government and law are nothing but systems of organized power for imposing one group's views on other groups.

Suzan Mazur: Again, whose national security is being served in this country? Andrea Emmett, former director of the NOW Salt Lake City chapter has said she sees polygamy as the biggest threat to the women and children of Utah. Isn't part of the problem, that the National Security Act itself was put together by the Old Boys Network -- led by Clark Clifford, who wrote legislation giving the CIA a loophole regarding domestic activity?

Like the FBI, the CIA has a significant Mormon presence -- particularly in the area of surveillance technology. In fact, author Alex Shoumatoff, wrote in his book, Legends of the American Desert, that he once ran into the late CIA Director William Casey in the choir of the LDS church in Salt Lake City. I see no indication that the CIA has the plight of America's women and children trapped in these sex cults on its radar either.

Should it all be rolled back? I mean women had no say in concocting the NSA and the sneak and peek apparatus. And Clifford, its prime mover, turned out to be a highly questionable figure anyway - with his involvement with BCCI, the international criminal bank, and his effort to secure the Jewish vote for Truman by urging him to push for the creation of Israel without any regard for the indigenous population. Plus Clifford's own personal shortcomings. What is your feeling about rolling back the spy apparatus?

Lawrence Velvel: I am not in favor of the kinds of surveillance that are taking place all over this country. Many people are saying, and I tend to think it's valid, that we are on the way to becoming -- if these things are not rolled back -- a highly authoritarian state. And I would recommend John Dean's latest book, Conservatives Without A Cause. In it he says 23% of Americans have scored very high on indices that show them to be authoritarian personalities and that these same people are very active in politics. And that they disproportionately populate the Republican party.

Everything we've been seeing that Dick Cheney has done, Scooter Libby, the evil David Addington. Far from contributing to our national security, this stuff threatens the basis of America. But we have to have a CIA.

These kind of national security excesses occurred in the 1970s. We had the Church hearings. We found these agencies went overboard. There's no secret about the problem here now. The problem is we have a Congress that cares for nothing except their own continuous re-elections.

Suzan Mazur: Then there's the question of dissolving the Old Boys' military industrial complex -- no military -- which seemed a lot more plausible before George W. Bush wreaked havoc on us all. What about it? -- no military.

I had a conversation with Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitution Rights shortly after 9/11 and he said he favored both no military, and women as 50% of Congress.

Lawrence Velvel: No military? You're not serious. Michael Ratner is a brilliant guy. But that's just crazy.

Our fundamental problem is we believe in force as the answer to problems. Every war in American history has created new and ever greater problems. We thought we'd made the world safe for Democracy in WWI. Well you got Hitler. We thought we'd solved the problems of authoritarianism in WWII and you got Stalin. We thought we were going to create some kind of great thing in Vietnam and you got the 10-year Vietnam War. We fought to free the slaves in the Civil War and we got 100 years of Jim Crow.

Military action is not a recipe for resolution of problems without creating greater problems. But military action is the philosophy of this country. Both our economy and our foreign policy are geared to the use of force. And it's one rolling continuous disaster.



Suzan Mazur's reports have appeared in the Financial Times, Economist, Forbes, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, CounterPunch and Scoop, among others, as well as on PBS, CBC and MBC. She has been a guest on McLaughlin, Charlie Rose and various Fox Television News programs. Email: sznmzr @

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