Lost In A Forest Full Of Trees

January 15, 2016

It has come to my attention that, perhaps, I have lost perspective on Mayor John Tory. forestforthetreesAfter reading a couple news items on the 2016 budget process and an upcoming SmartTrack report last night and this morning, I let fly with some intemperate Twitter remarks that weren’t particularly well thought out. In my defence, they only contained one swear word in the lot of them.

“Tory hopes to balance Toronto budget by funding less than half of new commitments,” was the headline in a Metro article by Jessica Smith Cross.

My initial reaction?

Indignation, of course.

How hard is it to balance a budget when you decide to fund only 40% of the commitments, promises and pledges that you and your council colleagues have made? blowmylidYou know that thing we all thought was a really good idea? Well, we still think it’s a good idea but I’m not prepared to pay for it. But props to us for thinking it’s a good idea, right?

It’s about picking priorities, came one response to my outburst. That’s pretty much what every budget is about. That’s what City Manager Peter Wallace put before the budget committee with an unbalanced budget of at least $67 million in unfunded council requests and implementations. The mayor and city council have to choose their priorities. Mayor Tory’s simply choosing his.

“John Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan for Toronto getting smaller, cheaper,” was the headline in Oliver Moore’s Globe and Mail article this morning.

My initial reaction?

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Millions of dollars on a report that essentially confirms what every critic of SmartTrack thought from the time it was released as a headline grabbing, yellingatcloudsill-thought out plan back during the 2014 campaign. My head exploded, and I fired off some of my own headline grabbing, ill-thought opinions, undercutting possible benefits in the report for Scarborough transit users and overplaying the mayor’s embrace of the report. “The issues you reference are still being studied and staff have not yet provided recommendations,” Amanda Galbraith, Mayor Tory’s spokesperson, told the Globe.

So, there’s plenty of time still for the mayor to ignore expert advice and stubbornly insist on doing SmartTrack his way. It was unfair of me to respond in a way that suggested he’d accepted the findings in this new report yet. If he does, it will be a better SmartTrack project, probably, at least the “new” western spur which would become, essentially, a Transit City proposal from way back when. At least, it can’t be worse than the SmartTrack he used to get elected.

Maybe they have a point. (Except for the ‘love nonetheless’ business. It’s an established fact that Tim Falconer detests me for my youth and rugged good looks.) Maybe I can no longer see the forest for the trees. Better, if not good, policy should always be preferred to bad policy. humbledIt’s amazing to me that I actually find myself writing such a sentence. And the politics of budgeting has always been about trade-offs and prioritizing. None of this is anything John Tory has ushered onto the scene.

I guess the source of my frustration and resentment is that while it’s a political landscape John Tory inherited, he’s chosen instead to navigate it rather than challenge it. In the post-Ford scorched earth environment of low-taxes-at-any-cost and non-reality based transit plans, Mayor Tory has played along. Prioritizing that unfunded $67 million in the budget is a whole lot harder because he’s refused to entertain reasonable discussions about property tax rates and other revenue tools. We’re piecemealing together a more acceptable transit approach not because of Mayor Tory’s reasonableness but because, for nearly two years now, he’s also been playing along with his predecessor’s unrealistic belief that transit comes for free and shouldn’t interfere with our ability to drive around the city.

Is that an improvement? Maybe. I’m not entirely convinced, though. What Toronto needs right now is an injection of pure, unadulterated aspiration and methods necessary to achieve that. What we’re getting from Mayor Tory is a placebo.

It might work. There’s scientific evidence suggesting such a positive effect can happen. drinkingaloneAfter 4 years of backsliding on almost every conceivable front, any step forward, no matter how small or circuitous, should be seen as progress. Dampen your expectations and things look a lot less bleak. Always remember. It could be worse, in two words: RobDoug Ford.

I just have to learn that, when drowning my sorrows in a self-pity binge of What Could Bes, my booze filled glass is half full not half empty.

humbly submitted by Cityslikr


Car Troubles

December 2, 2015

Last week, Toronto writer, Shawn Micallef, fired off the following tweets:

It’s been a bad few years for pedestrians in Toronto, deaths up 90% over the past 4 years, 34 so far this year (and counting), compared to 18 in 2011. speedingcarsAs Jessica Smith Cross wrote in Metro over the weekend, that accounts for 59% of road deaths in Toronto this year. In the first 10 months of 2015, over 1500 pedestrians have been struck by cars.

And the official response from those tasked with the oversight of street safety, the Toronto Police? Do The Bright Thing. “We have to put ourselves in the position to be seen,” Constable Hugh Smith informs us.

How twisted is that? Those most vulnerable, the ones not behind the wheel of a heavy vehicle, sanctioned to go lethal limits of speed, those of us with the least control, are held responsible to make sure we don’t get run over. Because, you know, drivers have places to go, people to meet.

So even when we are full in our rights, crossing a street legally, as Micallef pointed out, we have to check and re-check around us to make sure somebody’s not rushing to make it through that light or checking their phone or just simply zoned out, unburdened of any consequence of their inattention. overthespeedlimitHow many of us pedestrians have had to stop up short in an intersection out of fear that driver may not have judged his stopping distance correctly? Who amongst us pedestrians haven’t had cars blow through a well-lit crosswalk or open streetcar doors?

Why just yesterday, in fact, I had to pick up my pace crossing a street at a green light as some fucking jag off making a left turn, committed to going despite me being in his way in order to avoid a collision with oncoming traffic. A collision, no doubt, that would’ve harmed me, the literal innocent bystander, more than any of the occupants of the cars involved. And in the end, invariably written up as an “accident”. An unfortunate “accident” but an “accident” nonetheless. Harm but no foul.

Drivers go about their driving business with relative impunity. Even the most egregious transgressions, like impaired driving or vehicular manslaughter, are rarely met with the severest of punishments. intheintersectionJail, sometimes, but usually not for very long. How many people do you know who’ve ever had their licence revoked permanently?

Is that too much to demand from someone who’s got into a driver’s seat drunk and killed somebody as a result? Never mind incarceration. Should they ever be allowed to drive again?

Or how about those driving at dangerously high speeds, just one little unforeseen glitch away from losing complete control of their vehicle? They do so knowingly, not only at the risk of their own lives but everyone who just might be in their path. Another tragic “accident”.

How much over the speed limit is too much? 20 kilometres an hour? 40? 50? At what point do we say, you know what? Maybe you shouldn’t be driving a car?

We know a car travelling at 30 km/h puts the odds of a pedestrian dying if struck down at about 5%. At 50 km/h? 37-45%. 64 km/h? 83-85%.pedestriandown

We know this and yet, as Mr, Micallef pointed out, cars whipping down Jarvis Street are regularly travelling at 10-20 kilometres over the legally posted limited of 50 kp/h. That puts them right smack dab in the high probability kill zone if they hit a pedestrian or mow down a cyclist. Even without the possibility of casualties, racing cars make for an unappealing environment for anyone else not driving in the area.

We know all this and still, not only do we put up with it, we accommodate it with wider lanes to compensate for driver error, tearing up bike lanes which, according to Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation under then-mayor Michael Bloomberg, slow traffic down and greatly reduce the rate of road fatalities. pedestriandown1New York has recently experienced the fewest traffic deaths in a 100 years! But here in Toronto, whatevs. Mom’s got to get home a few minutes quicker to have supper with the kids.

My intention is not to demonize drivers here. I’m demonizing the system that continues to coddle them, entitle them, under-charge them and very, very, rarely penalizes them appropriately for the life-altering and often life-ending choices they make (largely for others) when they are behind the wheel of their vehicles. The political and societal clout the cult of the automobile is far greater than any good it delivers, often falling short by orders of magnitude.

Others cities throughout the world have recognized this and are attempting to reorder the hierarchy of their transportation system. Not just European cities. Cities we here in Toronto look to in terms of inspiration. New York City, for example. De-escalating our car dependency can’t be written off as simply some lifestyle choice. deathrace2000It is now nothing short of an absolute necessity.

Unless Toronto’s car-bound leadership recognizes that fact, we will jeopardize whatever competitive advantages we have as an international city. We have to stop pretending that somehow Toronto’s different than other places. We aren’t. We built this city on the belief that prioritizing car travel was the future. It wasn’t or, at least, that future didn’t last. It is our duty to now fix that mistaken but hard to shake belief.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Bid For What?

September 3, 2015

behindcloseddoorsIt’s impossible to see at this point of time just what Mayor John Tory’s angle is in his continued pursuit for entering Toronto into the 2024 Olympics sweepstakes. On Tuesday, Los Angeles city council voted unanimously to throw that city’s hat into the ring(s). Boston declined to go ahead back a month or so ago.

Both cities appear to have much more advanced, detailed plans in place, organizations ready to go than Toronto less than two weeks before the mid-September deadline to put your name forward for consideration as a host city to the International Olympic Committee. Never mind Paris, Rome and whatever other places – surely China must have a location in mind — have made their intentions known. In comparison, Toronto’s approach comes across as almost an after-thought. Basking in the late-summer heat, still sporting a PanAm Games glow, we’re like, Hey! Why not give it a whirl?

If that’s actually the case, of course. It’ll be interesting to watch over the next week and a half just how prepared the city the mayor is to proceed. weighingmyoptionsAccusations of secrecy and backroom doings are popping up. The mayor’s “cagey” when asked questions about what’s happening. Mealy mouthed to others. Others being me. “I hope to be in a position…to have a reasonably complete summary of all that information at my disposal when it comes time to make a decision on whether to submit a letter or not,” he told the press on Tuesday.

A reasonably complete summary?!

“Extraordinarily secretive,” Janice Forsyth, director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at UWO, told Metro’s Jessica Smith Cross.

Normally we’d know the players at this point in time, because it’s one of the biggest decisions, economically, Toronto and Ontario will have to make, whether or not they commit themselves to this bid. They should be very concerned about their lack of transparency at this point in time, and if they want to gain back the public’s trust they should put out clear press saying exactly what is going to happen.

This is highly unusual for a democracy.

So either Toronto’s woefully underprepared for the September 15th deadline or it’s good-to-go, put together on the lowdown, out of sight, out of mind. olympicbidsTONeither situation is particularly palatable, eliciting more questions than answers. Why would Mayor Tory spend millions (somebody’s millions) to go down an almost certain doomed path? Or, what the fuck is going on back there?

Whose bidding is Mayor Tory doing if he insists on pushing ahead with a 2024 Olympic bid?

I’m not going to get into the whole merits/demerits of hosting the Olympics here. That’s being done much more thoroughly over at Dammit Janet! and NoTO2024. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of public support for a bid but that could simply be a result of the hesitant, should we-shouldn’t we, peek-a-boo approach the mayor is taking. Hard to catch the fever when the bug’s been quarantined.

And it’s hard to imagine exactly what’s changed in the 19 months since the city’s Economic Development Committee ‘deferred indefinitely’ the feasibility of Toronto hosting the 2024 Olympics. savedgarbageAside from a new administration, that is, taking over the mayor’s office. An administration shy about overturning previous council decisions like the Scarborough subway. So, an Olympic bid must be very, very important to Mayor Tory.

Why would that be?

He tells us hosting the Olympics is a sure fire way to get big infrastructure projects like transit and affordable housing money from senior levels of government. Finance further waterfront development? A new athletes’ village or Olympic stadium would be just the ticket. Ottawa and Queen’s Park aren’t going to give Toronto money simply because the city needs it. They’ll want something in return, something big and shiny, a legacy.

Governance by spectacle. If you’re world class enough to host the Olympics, you’re world class enough for an entire transit network. If not, muddle along, as you were.

But what happens if the city doesn’t feel compelled to bid or does and loses out? hailmaryHaving thrown up their hail mary pass, what razzle dazzle play does Mayor Tory and his Olympic supporting colleagues like Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker call next in the huddle? They’ve established the framework that good public policy and basic common sense won’t deliver the kind of social and infrastructure upgrades Toronto needs, and can’t afford without assistance from the federal and provincial governments. Come September 15th and there’s no submitted letter of intent to IOC from Toronto, say? An official shrug and a We Told You So? Enjoy your daily commute on that packed subway. Unless you have some other cockamamie scheme to fund things, get used to it.

this or thatly submitted by Cityslikr


Stilled Life With Rot

April 22, 2015

As we have said more than a few times here in these bytes since last fall’s municipal election, the make-up of city council barely budged from the previous term. stuckinthemudI’d use the word ‘glacial’ except in these days it has taken on an entirely different meaning from its traditional usage, the polar opposite in fact. No, wait. Polar? Does that still mean what I think it means?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

In 2014, Toronto city council got whiter, more male, lurched even further into paleoconservative territory. What change there was cannot be considered a change for the better. How can you further entrench an already firmly entrenched status quo?

Judging from the proceedings of yesterday’s Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee whatever reforms (and I’ll use that word loosely) were made last term at City Hall seemed to be under immediate attack of un-reform. Dereform? Change! Change! Chase that change from these chambers! Out, out, damned change.reverse

I have no strong opinions about the taxi industry in this city. Taxis play a very, very tiny role in how I get around, a mobility device of last resort. My main interaction with them centres around being cut off while I’m riding in a bike lane. I’ve no idea if they’re too expensive or deliver terrible service. When I think of cabs, I don’t, really. I seldom think of cabs.

The rules by which the city regulates them strike me as byzantine at best, misshapen by special interests at worst. Back in 2013, Metro’s Jennifer Cross Smith laid out the state of the industry (h/t Glyn Bowerman). A state the Municipal Standards and Licensing Committee pushed to reform last year. A state the Municipal Standards and Licensing Committee is now attempting to revert back to after yesterday’s vote.

Why?

I don’t care. Although I should because at first glance it appears the powerful players in the industry, fighting back last year’s reforms, won the day, to “revive a two-tier model for taxis,” according to Jennifer Pagliaro of the Toronto Star. stepbackBig players represented by this thing called the Toronto Taxi Alliance challenged last year’s reforms in court, were rebuffed, so have taken another run at it through city council, successfully for now it seems. Money well spent, you might argue, donating to the likes of Councillor Jim Karygiannis’ city council campaign last year who raised about a tenth of his total donations from the taxi industry, and has proven to be a dogged champion for the industry in fighting the taxi reforms and the Uber infestation.

More eye-rollingly, the Municipal Licensing and Standards chair, Councillor Cesar Palacio, also a beneficiary of the taxi industry’s largesse, is now overseeing the attempted dismantling of the reforms that happened while he was also chair of the exact same committee last term. In effect, his committee is seeking to repeal the reforms of his committee. If that’s not a potent symbol of impotency of city council, I don’t know what is.

Never mind that the committee also revived the food truck issue and came up with a 20 metre compromise. (Yeah, don’t even bother.) todolistThe fact that this is even a thing, remains a thing, a regular thing, a constant fucking reminder of our city council’s ongoing and perpetual war against change shows why on the big ticket items, housing, transit, police reform, this city stands in petrified stillness, unable to face the future because it can’t let go of the past. But…But…We used to know how to run a city.

In my lighter moments, I like to think when voters in 2010 rallied around Rob Ford, they were clamoring for change. Remember, there was also nearly a one-third turnover of city councillors then too. When it became glaringly obvious that Ford didn’t represent change as much as wanton destruction and outright contempt for public service, we retreated to what we perceived as a safe harbour. Dignity. Respectfulness. Diligence and duty.

Above all, we voted to get this city moving again. Moving to a standstill, as it turns out. rottingfruitRunning on the spot, avoiding anything that resembles anything close to substantive change.

In its current make-up, City Hall is where change goes to die. In its defiant embrace of the status quo, progress is impossible. The well-connected and well-served by the way things are, they way things are done, they way things have always been done, will continue to be heard. The rest of us? Well, we’re just going to have to figure out a way to work around the deadwood that continues to prop up the pretense of local, forward-thinking governance.

fed-uply submitted by Cityslikr


There’s Really Nothing Up His Sleeve

January 21, 2015

Yesterday’s 2015 budget launch left me feeling a little discombobulated. That sense you get after watching a magician try and pull the wool over your eyes for a couple hours. magicactFlim-flammed, bamboozled even.

It was different than the budgetary voodoo Rob Ford attempted while he was mayor. Trust me, folks. This won’t hurt a bit. Those aren’t service cuts. We call them ‘adjustments’.

No. Mayor John Tory’s first kick at the can was all about, what did he repeatedly call it? “The largest investment in service improvements in recent history.”

And credit where credit’s due.

Both public transit and Shelter, Support and Housing (or, at least, shelter and support) received nice bumps in spending, the TTC especially so. It will see service restored to 2010 levels. “Stabilizing of transit,” City Manager Joe Pennachetti called it. misdirectionA step forward in order to be running on the spot.

In total, it’s about a $1.8 billion increase in spending from last year’s operating budget, leaving some to call it ‘left-leaning’.

But here’s the thing. It’s not immediately obvious where the money is coming from to pay for that spending. In order to balance the operating side of the budget (which, I’ll remind everyone again, it is provincially mandated for municipalities to balance their operating budgets), the city has to come up with the revenue to the penny. $11.4 billion spent. $11.4 billion must be found in revenue.

This staff recommended budget proposes a below-the-rate-of-inflation property tax increase. So it doesn’t cover the inflation-adjusted cost of the delivering of services and programs. That means, in effect, a reduction in the money available for those services and programs. (Here, let Councillor Gord Perks explain it for you. Or Neville Park. Or Alex Mazer.)

Not to mention Mayor Tory’s directive to departments to find 2% efficiencies and city staff’s demand that department’s also ‘absorb the inflation’. nothingupmysleeveThis, despite the fact, that the city manager, as he was heading for the exit last spring before mayor-elect John Tory convinced him to stay for one more budget cycle a few months later, told us there was no more gravy to be found, no more fat to be trimmed. Apparently, retirement wasn’t the only thing Mr. Pennachetti reconsidered.

It’s a little of the ol’ robbing Peter to pay Paul. You want improved transit and more shelter space? Well somebody’s got to pay for it, and don’t expect it to be property owners. The pie got bigger but the slices became a little more uneven.

While the budget was a little tax-shy, let’s call it, it certainly embraced user fees. There’s an increase of $14 million in unidentified ones in the document right now. Plus, a good chunk of the TTC improvements this year will be covered by the proposed fare increase, one campaign pledge Mayor Tory seemed comfortable breaking.gobbluth

On the other hand, drivers are getting the Gardiner Expressway repaired 8 years earlier than scheduled to the tune of nearly half a billion dollars in the capital budget with nary a word about having to chip in a little more to cover the costs. The roughly $60 million the Vehicle Registration Tax once brought into city coffers multiplied by those 8 years would’ve more than covered those costs. Apparently some users are more preferred than others, even in John Tory’s Toronto.

A couple glaring holes still stand between the city and a truly balanced budget. There’s the $86 million one, created when the province decided to end the practice of pooling payments to Toronto to help pay for many mandated social services. Not to worry, the city’s Chief Financial Officer, Robert Rossini, excitedly told us yesterday, a big announcement was coming, talks had been very productive with the province about settling that amount. Everything’s under control.

Turns out, the big announcement seems to be a $200 million line of credit extended to the city from Queen’s Park, including market rate interest charges. swordboxOr what some of us might consider a deferred tax increase or user fee. Line up that can so we can kick it down the road a bit.

The other shoe dangling there, waiting to drop is the police budget. While the staff recommending a flatlining of it — I know, I know. That kind of thing always happens. And by always, I mean almost never – the city and the Toronto Police Services are currently negotiating a new collective agreement which almost always results in pay increases for the police. Budget Chair Gary Crawford assures us that money has been set aside for that contingency. How much? He won’t say. (Why would he as it might tip the city’s hand in terms of the ongoing negotiations.)

But as Ben Spurr pointed out in NOW, over the past 10 years, the police budget has gone up some $241 million. So it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect at least a $20-$30 million bump this year. But again, don’t worry. Everything’s under control. Even after the $86 million, there’s still over $100 million on that line of credit from the province.

Look. It’s not a terrible, terrible budget. Even Councillor Gord Perks says so. rockyandbullwinkleThere is a big investment in vital needs of the city. But Mayor Tory is still trying to pretend these things can happen magically, without having to say the word ‘taxes’ above a whisper. He’s putting a glossy patina on the Rob Ford maxim of governance. Sure you can have things. And we can get somebody else to pay for them.

It’s fundamentally dishonest and only serves to put off the inevitable, leaving the mess for somebody else to clean up.

unmesmerizedly submitted by Cityslikr


Hudakery: Not A New Cocktail

June 3, 2014

Leading up to tonight’s provincial election debate, Progressive Conservative and Opposition leader Tim Hudak laid bare his empty(and presumably his party’s) approach to governing and government in an interview with Metro newspapers. And it ain’t pretty, folks. In fact, I’d call it completely and utterly devoid of substance, intelligence and imagination.

Oh yeah. Let’s not overlook a fundamental lack of understanding of how exactly our democratic society operates.

“Look, why do we pay taxes in the first place?” Hudak told interviewer Jessica Smith Cross. “We pay taxes because we’re generous Ontarians and we want to make sure it helps the most vulnerable populations. People who may be sick, people with disabilities, seniors.”

Taxation as a charitable donation.

Look, my heart bleeds for the unfortunates in our society. The sick. The disabled. The elderly. pleasesirWhat taxpayer wouldn’t give up a little bit of their hard-earned money to help out the needy?

Everything and everyone else, apparently, goes about their business, fueled by the absence of government and magic beans.

“Leadership is about setting priorities,” says Hudak. “And I think we’re going to be looking for a politician who’s going to be straight-up and say, we can’t fund every project with this amount of money.”

You want transit improvements or full day kindergarten? Tell that to your ill, wheelchair bound grandmother. Government is a zero sum game. There’s no room to help the disadvantaged and build a healthier, more equitable society. How do we continue to cut taxes and deliver more services? The answer is, you can’t. Tim Hudak knows that. He’s an honest broker and a trained economist. Facts and figures are his forte.

And about that 1,000,000 Jobs Plan, Tim?

“I stand behind our numbers and I think that it’s been justified by other economists [or not] who say that’s the ballpark of what this will create.”

gullible

Ahhh, ballpark numbers. The stuff master’s degrees in economics are made of, evidently. When his claim of creating 120,000 new jobs with further corporate tax cuts was called into question by the Conference Board of Canada – the Conference Board of Canada, people – Hudak blithely responds, “Whether it’s 80, 112, 120 or 150 thousand, [the CBB says 15-20 thousand, but whatevs] I think we agree it’s going to create jobs.”

When you’re also pledging to cut 100,000 public sector jobs, the actual number of jobs you’re promising to create does matter. badmath3Twenty thousand minus one hundred thousand equals minus eighty thousand jobs. Kinda puts you in a hole as you build toward that million jobs mark you’ve set for yourself.

Tim Hudak’s hidebound attachment to questionable economic theories seems to be matched by his dubious grasp of democracy.

Like many of his federal conservative brethren, Hudak has an abhorrence of the idea of a governing coalition in a minority government scenario. “I think that’s cheating voters…” Hudak said. “My position is clear — no coalitions. We will follow whatever the voters tell us they want.”

And if the voters tell you they want a minority government again on June 12th, Mr. Hudak? Regardless of plenty of parliamentary precedent being in place for coalitions, in fact, there’s one operating right now over there in Westminster, I do believe, it’s still cheating in your mind? “I say no to coalitions, let the voters decide.”

You might think that, given his inability to come to terms with traditional aspects of democracy, Hudak might be open to opportunities for it to evolve with the changing times. Like ranked ballots and proportional representation. playthecardsyouredealtYou might think. You’d be wrong, of course.

“I think that voters should decide who they want to be elected, whoever gets the most votes wins.”

But Tim, voters would still decide who they wanted to elect under a different form of ballots, it’d just be…

*sigh*

Never mind.

Look, I’m not stumping here for either of the other two parties currently occupying space at Queen’s Park. The ruling Liberals don’t appear to have learned anything during their transition from Dalton McGuinty to Kathleen Wynne, and seem determined to continue putting politics before policy. And the NDP, I’m at a loss to explain anything they’re doing at the moment.

But Tim Hudak and the Progressive Conservatives have a fundamental disconnect to what I believe is the role of government in our lives. texaschainsawmassacreThey see it as alien and an imposition. A beast to be tamed and shrivelled down to irrelevance. A lonely outpost for the destitute in a world governed by laissez faire free markets. Collaboration and co-operation take a back seat to competition.

Tim Hudak refuses to make the distinction between bad governance and government. It’s one and the same for him. He’s not someone we should put anywhere near the levers of power.

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