Paul Blair

FEC Filings Show Donald Trump’s New Acting FDA Commissioner Backed Barack Obama and Other Democrats

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Posted by Paul Blair on Tuesday, March 12th, 2019, 7:52 PM PERMALINK

At a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s health subcommittee today, the Director of the National Cancer Institute Norman “Ned” Sharpless was announced as the next acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. The current commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, recently announced that he was resigning to spend more time with his family. 

Publicly available records from the Federal Elections Commission reveal that Ned Sharpless has contributed thousands of dollars to Democrat candidates for federal office, including Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012. A review of FEC filings show:

Sharpless has not been announced as President Trump's formal nominee and there may be other candidates under consideration for the position, which faces a Senate confirmation.

Earlier today, Americans for Tax Reform's Paul Blair issued a statement on Sharpless:

“As the head of the National Cancer Institute, Ned Sharpless knows firsthand the potential benefit of transitioning millions of adult smokers away from cigarettes with proven-effective and less harmful e-cigarettes. However long he’s in charge, I'm hopeful he’ll have less of an interest in scaring suburban moms and more of an interest in reducing the cancer and disease associated with cigarette use by preserving the ability of adults to access a wide range of vapor products. He can begin by fulfilling the perhaps forgotten promise of Scott Gottlieb to issue clear guidance on how to bring new reduced risk products to market.”

Photo Credit: Flickr: Greg Stokinger

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ATR Statement on Acting FDA Commissioner

Posted by Paul Blair on Tuesday, March 12th, 2019, 3:15 PM PERMALINK

Today, Dr. Ned Sharpless was named acting commissioner of the FDA. Sharpless will assume the role after current commissioner Scott Gottlieb steps down. ATR’s Paul Blair issued the following statement:

“As the head of the National Cancer Institute, Ned Sharpless knows firsthand the potential benefit of transitioning millions of adult smokers away from cigarettes with proven-effective and less harmful e-cigarettes. However long he’s in charge, I'm hopeful he’ll have less of an interest in scaring suburban moms and more of an interest in reducing the cancer and disease associated with cigarette use by preserving the ability of adults to access a wide range of vapor products. He can begin by fulfilling the perhaps forgotten promise of Scott Gottlieb to issue clear guidance on how to bring new reduced risk products to market.”

ATR Statement on Inclusion of Vapor Product User Fees in Trump's 2020 Budget

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Posted by Paul Blair on Monday, March 11th, 2019, 1:51 PM PERMALINK

In his 2020 “Budget for a Better America,” President Donald Trump is calling upon Congress to impose a new $100 million "user fee" on manufacturers of electronic cigarettes and vapor products. The proposal would raise the current Food and Drug Administration user fee cap of $712 million by $100 million and be indexed to inflation. Pushed in the name of “tackling the ‘epidemic of youth e-cigarette use,” this tax would further enable the FDA's anti-vaping spending spree and it flies in the face of public health, consumer choice, and the rest of the president’s tax and regulatory agenda. 

Americans for Tax Reform calls upon Congress to reject any and all efforts to impose new taxes on life-saving alternatives to cigarettes in the United States, including e-cigarettes. 

This announcement comes just one week after FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced his retirement from the agency, effective next month. Commissioner Gottlieb has been critical of the e-cigarette industry, threatening to force manufacturers to remove flavored e-cigarettes from convenience stores and other large retail chains. In response to the budget announcement, Gottlieb applauded the new tax, claiming that it would help the agency take “aggressive steps to reduce [e-cigarettes] appeal and access to kids.” 

People under the age of 18 are already prohibited by law from purchasing e-cigarettes. Raising the cost of producing and selling e-cigarettes will make the products less appealing to adults who smoke cigarettes, striking a blow to decades of efforts to improve public health by reducing cigarette use in the United States. 

The tobacco product user fee is currently calculated based on the amount of excise taxes that a manufacturer has paid. The FDA uses these resources to regulate the industry. In order to collect new user fees from a company, Congress would also have to pass a new national tax on e-cigarette companies. The proposal to impose $100 million in new user fees, indexed to inflation, would only be applied after Congress authorized a new excise tax on e-cigarettes, unless Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations was revised. 

This request would grease the skids for a national vapor tax and should be rejected without further consideration. 

ATR’s Director of Strategic Initiatives Paul Blair issued the following statement in response to a call for $100 million in user fees on e-cigarette manufacturers:

“FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s departure can’t come soon enough. His constant threats to remove e-cigarettes from convenience store shelves flies in the face of the President’s broader regulatory objectives and will ultimately harm public health. 

It’s unfortunate, however, that a proposed tax increase championed by Gottlieb has made its way into the President’s budget. We’re hopeful that Congress rejects this misguided assault on the life-saving potential of e-cigarettes and that the Senate replaces Gottlieb with someone who champions the cause of consumer freedom, innovation, and tobacco harm reduction.” 


Photo Credit: Flickr: Cafe Credit

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ATR Leads Coalition Urging President Trump to Halt the FDA's Regulatory Assault on E-Cigarettes

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Posted by Paul Blair on Monday, February 4th, 2019, 12:30 AM PERMALINK

Today, Americans for Reform President Grover Norquist led a coalition of free market, limited government, and conservative organizations calling on President Donald Trump to halt the Food and Drug Administration's aggressive regulatory assault on businesses who sell electronic cigarettes and vapor products in the United States. In recent months, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has acted in a manner inconsistent with the president's regulatory agenda, pressuring manufacturers to remove products from store shelves, suggesting new rules that would ban products currently on the market, and failing to act on pending product applications of innovative alternatives to cigarettes. Even worse, he's promised to go further.

As the letter explains:

"FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s effort to curb the $6.6 billion electronic cigarette industry and an even larger reduced risk tobacco alternatives market is inconsistent with your clearly articulated deregulatory objectives and will destroy jobs, limit consumer freedoms, and harm public health."

From the 2016 campaign to President Trump's first set of executive orders, deregulation has been a top priority for this administration. That agenda has had a positive impact on taxpayers and the conomy. 

"Your leadership, Orders, and deregulatory efforts have led to historic and important relief for the American people, with over $33 billion in savings alone through October of last year. Across every department and agency, your administration has not only identified harmful regulations but worked to untangle and repeal them, freeing consumers and businesses from the grip of government overreach. One glaring exception has been the Food and Drug Administration." 

President Trump's Executive Order 137771 not only directed agencies to eliminate two prior regulations for the creation of any new one, but it directed the Office of Management and Budget to create caps on and estimates for the cost of new rules imposed by agencies, like the FDA. For that reason, we suggest to the president:

"Consistent with your Executive Orders, an economic cost benefit analysis must be conducted that examines pending FDA guidance and potential new regulations with regards to this innovative industry."

Without an analysis on the economic impact of pressuring businesses to remove products from the retail distrubtion chain or failing to provide clarity on the government approval pathway for new products, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb's actions will be inconsistent with the president's Executive Order, pro-jobs, and economic growth agenda. 

The growing body of scientific evidence suggests that e-cigarettes are at least 95% less harmful than traditional combustible cigarettes. Even further, a new study by the New England Journal of Medicine which found that e-cigarettes are twice as effective at getting smokers to quit as government-approved smoking cessation products like the nicotine patch. Given the high cost of cigarette use on public health expenditures across the United States, these products present adults aged 18 and over with real and increasingly effective choices that will save taxpayers billions of dollars and potentially save millions of lives. 

All of this comes at a cost of no longer being a leader on public health and missing out on investments in our economy. 

"Private sector initiative and sound public policy should not be held hostage by prohibitionist impulses. The FDA’s current efforts and attitude towards the e-cigarette industry make America a less appealing place to invest and do business. Countries around the world, including many throughout Europe have embraced this industry, encouraging doctors and medical professionals to recommend it to patients who smoke. Simply put, we are not a public health leader on the issue of utilizing the free market and innovation for tobacco harm reduction."

This broad coalition of limited government, free market, conservative, and consumer choice organizations is asking the president to pump the brakes on the FDA's new and pending regulatory efforts against an industry that is helping American smokers quit. 

A PDF of the letter and its signers can be found here. 

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

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Elizabeth Warren to Propose New "Wealth Tax" on American Taxpayers

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Posted by Paul Blair on Thursday, January 24th, 2019, 2:54 PM PERMALINK

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is set to announce plans for a new tax on Americans making more than $50 million, according to an economist advising her on the plan. Warren, a Democrat 2020 presidential contender, has made income inequality a key tenant of her time in office and will push this massive new tax in the coming weeks.

Progressive economic advisors to Warren Eammanual Saez and Gabriele Zucman are suggesting a 2 percent tax on Americans with assets above $50 million and a higher tax of 3 percent on those with more than $1 billion. According to their own analysis, this tax would raise taxes on American by $2.75 trillion over ten years from 75,000 families. This is extremely ambitious and assumes that high-earners do not relocate their homes and wealth elsewhere.

The proposal comes on the heels of Democrat Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to impose a 70 percent top tax rate on people making more than $10 million per year, a tax that the nonpartisan Tax Foundation estimates will either generate $189 billion or lose $64 billion over ten years, depending on whether it is imposed on ordinary income or capital gains as well.

The Warren wealth tax proposals would also increase funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), mandate audits for certain high earners, and impose a one-time tax on Americans who renounce their citizenship.

These ambitious and aggressive proposals have been tried and failed miserably internationally, with France providing a good example of the consequences. A wealth tax imposed on assets over 1.3 million euros led to an exodus of taxpayers from the country. In 2016 alone, 12,000 millionaires left France, the highest outflow in the world. The year prior, in 2015, 10,000 millionaires left France for other countries, according to a report by New World Wealth. The runner up for most millionaires leaving a country in 2016 was China, with 3,000 departures.

Prime Minister Philippe remarked, “When someone leaves the country because of the wealth tax… collectively all French lose.” The argument holds true in America, where a mass exodus of taxpayers would leave no one to pay for the growing demands of higher government spending.

The top one percent in America pay 39.4 percent of federal income taxes, according to the Congressional Budget Office. If these people flee, they take with them the tax revenue they currently pay as well.

This proposal would harm economic growth, incentivize the investment of money overseas, and generate no where close to the amount of money Warren’s economic team estimates.

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Representative Brian White Stands Up for Electricity Consumers in South Carolina

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Posted by Paul Blair on Saturday, June 2nd, 2018, 9:51 AM PERMALINK

During this year’s state legislative session, South Carolina lawmakers were confronted with a number of important and contentious issues. Between solar subsidies and looming questions about how to handle a failed state-sponsored nuclear project, utility regulations were among the most controversial topics touched by legislative action. Throughout these debates, Representative Brian White (R-Anderson) has been a voice of reason and worked to protect taxpayers from subsidies and big government energy mandates that drive up costs of electricity in the Palmetto State.

A series of bills this year sought to raise or completely eliminate the cap on the number of homes that can have rooftop solar for electricity generation. The importance of this debate revolves around the complex set of government benefits that are given to rooftop solar, ranging from a federal 30 percent tax credit and in some states, a payment scheme that forces traditional electricity consumers to subsidize solar consumers’ use of the energy grid.

One bill in particular was problematic, House Bill 4421. The misnamed “SC Electric Consumer Bill of Rights” abolished the 2 percent net metering cap, exempt small solar projects from property taxes, prevented utility companies from recovering costs associated with grid use from rooftop solar free riders, and forced utility companies to pay rooftop solar consumers more money for their excess energy generation than it costs them to generate the energy themselves.

Americans for Tax Reform expressed strong opposition to this legislation, noting that it took a big step backwards for a favored electricity source by forcing most of the market to subsidize solar use.  

Because this bill involved a property tax provision, passage required a two-thirds vote.  On April 10, the bill failed when it did not get the necessary supermajority for passage. This was achieved due in part to the leadership of Rep. Brian White, who has questioned the claim that solar subsidies are somehow “conservative” and explained publicly that the complex scheme pushed by the environmental Left in South Carolina is paid for by somebody else.  

Too often, fiscal sanity is absent in state debates about solar power and the complicated entanglement of government incentives, subsidies, and impact on consumers. The cost-shifting inherent in many net metering systems often favors wealthy homeowners to the detriment of low and middle-income taxpayers. In the midst of the often contentious solar and utility debates this year, ATR applauds Representative Brian White’s leadership.

Photo Credit: Facebook: Rep. Brian White

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South Carolina Legislature Considers Step Backwards in Effort to Reform Solar Subsidy Scheme

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Posted by Paul Blair on Wednesday, March 21st, 2018, 1:17 PM PERMALINK

In 2014, the South Carolina legislature unanimously passed Act 236, a bill that phased out some of the market-distorting solar subsidies in the state. On top of very generous federal tax credits (30 percent, dollar-for-dollar reduction in income tax liability) available to rooftop solar consumers, many states require utility companies to buy the excess power generated by solar panels at an artificially high cost through a process called net-metering. In many cases, solar is simply a subsidy-based business model. Act 236 partially addressed this issue and was signed into law without a single no vote. A bill filed this year, however, would take a significant step backwards for that reform and should be rejected by the legislature.

The retail electricity rate charged by utilities includes their costs of maintaining and building the grid through investments in poles, wires, meters, and other infrastructure that make the electric grid reliable. When private rooftop solar consumers are credited at the full retail rate of electricity, however, these consumers avoid paying for their cost of grid maintenance and use.  At a retail rate of payment, solar consumers are paid as if they’ve either invested in the grid or aren’t using it, which simply isn’t the case. The result of a retail rate payment scheme is an inevitable cost shift to those consumers without private rooftop solar.

House Bill 4421 would lift the cap on net metering and mandate a retail rate of compensation. In a letter sent to lawmakers this week, ATR President Grover Norquist explained: 

“HB 4421 reverts to an unfortunate time where the cost shifting inherent with the net metering payment scheme was the status quo. This bill penalizes retail electric suppliers, by preventing cost recovery through the ratemaking process, all in an effort to further subsidize solar in South Carolina.

The electricity market is complicated. What’s simple, however, is the importance of protecting electricity consumers from the cost shifting which occurs when some favored consumers who use rooftop solar for electricity generation are paid a high rate for their electricity generation which does not factor in their use of the grid or the maintenance costs that go into ensuring their use of the grid is possible.

ATR opposes HB 4421 because it takes a big step backwards for a favored electricity source and forces most of the rest of the market to subsidize solar use.”

The full letter can be read here. 

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Coalition Urges Congress to Rein in FDA Overreach as Part of FY18 Spending Bill

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Posted by Paul Blair on Monday, March 5th, 2018, 11:22 AM PERMALINK

Today, Americans for Tax Reform and a coalition of center-right public policy organizations and think tanks sent a letter to Congressional leadership and the chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees urging them to provide regulatory relief to thousands of small businesses that sell and millions of adult consumers that use vapor products in the United States. The Obama-era "Deeming Rule" stands to cripple a growing industry unless Congress acts to make a small staturoy change to the Tobacco Control Act for new products subject to the oversight given to the Food and Drug Administration by Congress in 2009. Inaction would not only strike a blow to innovation, but to public health as well. 

Below is a letter, which can also be read here

We, the undersigned organizations, urge you to provide regulatory relief from the Food and Drug Administration’s May 2016 “Deeming Rule” as part of the final FY18 omnibus appropriations package. Without a modernization of a provision of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the Deeming Rule will kill tens of thousands of jobs in an industry that is helping many American adult smokers transition to lower risk alternatives to combustible to cigarettes.

Language and legislation sponsored by Congressmen Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) modernizes the “predicate date” for newly deemed tobacco products, providing regulatory certainty for small businesses against an onerous and retroactive pre-approval process imposed by the 2016 Rule. The Cole-Bishop Amendment to the current FY18 Agriculture Bill would provide additional substantive protections for adult consumers without preventing the FDA from imposing more appropriate regulations for the product category in the future.

Congressional action is necessary to prevent the loss of tens of thousands of jobs created in recent years. Most of these jobs are the result of domestic manufacturing and new retailers that are providing smokers with potentially effective smoking cessation and/or harm reduction choices that were not available ten years ago.

The Deeming Rule requires new products that did not exist on or before February 15, 2007 – the predicate date – to undergo a burdensome pre-market review process that achieves little in the way of protecting public health at a very high cost. The FDA’s own estimates found that the cost of completing and submitting the required Pre- Market Tobacco Application (PMTA) would exceed $300,000 per product and take at least 500 hours of time per application. At present, the deadline for the submission of PMTAs for each product manufactured in the United States is August 8, 2022.

When FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb extended the deadlines for the submission of PMTAs last year, he explained that it was done in part “to allow the FDA to encourage innovation that has the potential to make a notable public health difference—and to inform future policies and efforts that will protect kids and help smokers quit cigarettes.” Gottlieb has also argued that “there should be reduced harm products available to consumers to transition them off of combustible cigarettes,” consistent with the international consensus that vapor products are significantly less harmful than cigarettes. Without a statutory change to TCA by Congress, however, countless smoking cessation products currently on the market will be illegal in 2022. The ball is in Congress’s court and further inaction only stands to harm public health.

The onerous PMTA process required of every single vapor product on the market today was one that every single manufacturer of cigarettes in the U.S. avoided when the TCA was signed into law. Even if businesses could afford this investment, however, the process is designed to end in failure. Many small businesses produce hundreds of these products and would be forced to close their doors as a result of this retroactive federal rule.

The Cole-Bishop Amendment would not weaken the TCA or the ability of the FDA to impose additional product standards or regulations on new products in the future. In fact, the FDA is already moving forward on additional rulemaking for newly deemed products and this amendment would make the agency’s new regulatory objectives, which include preventing youth initiation, attainable. That is precisely why the efforts are bipartisan, because there is recognition that while regulations that protect consumers are important, the Rule imposed burdens that neither protect consumers, nor acknowledge that the consequence will be the new industry’s demise.

The millions of adult consumers who currently rely on these products as less harmful alternatives to smoking need your help today. The inclusion of the Cole-Bishop Amendment, as passed by the House Appropriations Committee, will provide significant regulatory certainty to tens of thousands of small businesses in the United States. We encourage Congress to adopt the language into the final FY18 omnibus budget.

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ATR Urges Virginia Lawmakers to Reject Hospital Bed Tax and ObamaCare Expansion

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Posted by Paul Blair on Tuesday, February 20th, 2018, 3:53 PM PERMALINK

Today, in a letter to Virginia lawmakers, ATR President Grover Norquist urged the House of Delegates and state Senate to reject a proposal which would both raise the health care/hospital "bed tax" and expand Medicaid for able-bodied adults in the Commonwealth. This significant expansion of ObamaCare in Virginia would expand the pool of individuals who qualify for taxpayer-funded health care by more than 300,000 for those who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. 

It should be noted that the House-passed plan does institute a work requirement, a change causing headaches at groups like Families USA who prefer expansion without any accountability

In the letter to lawmakers, Grover explains:

"Medicaid expansion has cost states two and a half times as much as promised, according to a report released this month by the Foundation for Government Accountability. Expansion per-person costs have exceeded original estimates by 76 percent. Total Medicaid expansion cost overruns have cost taxpayers 157 percent more than expected. These overruns will saddle Virginia taxpayers billions of dollars more than expected.

In Virginia, Medicaid accounted for more than 60 percent of General Fund spending growth over the last decade. Across the country, Medicaid expansion has caused Medicaid spending as a percent of budgets to go from one in four dollars to one in three. Expansion will either result in future tax hikes or cuts to other priorities, including transportation and education." 

The proposal also games the federal Medicaid system by raising the health-care provider tax, referred to as the "bed tax." This gimmick takes advantage of new revenue on health care providers, counts it as state spending, and qualifies it for a spending match from the federal government. This needless cash grab drives up the cost of health care and assumes that the federal government will never reduce the cap on health-care provider taxes which qualify for a federal match. Grover notes:

"Hoping that the federal government will maintain its promise to fund 90 percent of expansion costs in perpetuity is an assumption made by those with a fundamental misunderstanding of reality about Washington, D.C. and its debt obligations. If Virginia expands Medicaid, there is no turning back. The state will eventually be on the hook for billions. 

The letter concludes: 

"Last October, House Speaker Kirk Cox said, “It’s a simple proposition: if you cannot afford your mortgage payment, you don’t build a new addition to your house… It would be financially irresponsible to ask taxpayers to fund the massive expansion contemplated under the Affordable Care Act.” I agree. It was reckless then and is reckless today. 

ATR urges the legislature to reject Medicaid expansion and a new bed tax. Lawmakers should pass work requirements and focus on reforms that drive down costs instead of trying to game the federal Medicaid system." 

Click here for a copy of the letter. 

Photo Credit: Flickr: Mayberry Health and Home

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Grover Norquist Statement on Utah National Monuments Orders

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Posted by Paul Blair on Monday, December 4th, 2017, 5:17 PM PERMALINK

At an event in Salt Lake City, President Trump announced a significant scaling back of two national monuments established by President Obama in December of 2016 and President Clinton in 1996. The Bears Ears National Monument was scaled back by 85 percent and Grand-Staircase Escalante by 46 percent, for nearly 2 million acres in total. This important reining in of the designations is a win for public land use and the original intent of the Antiquities Act. 

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist had this to say:

"President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke should be applauded for working to correct past executive overreach by Presidents Obama and Clinton. This is a fight about the use and enjoyment of public lands by the public. The reality is that American outdoorsmen and women have a vested interest in conservation. Compare them to the federal government, which is a frequent abuser of America’s natural beauty, whether it’s polluting the San Juan River in Colorado or extorting the organizers of Burning Man for unnecessary fees in the desert of Nevada.

The Trump and Zinke effort to rein in the abuse of the Antiquities Act is extremely important in the fight against radical special interests and bureaucrats. From Presidents Kennedy to Coolidge, Wilson, and Eisenhower, Presidents have scaled back federal monuments 18 times in the past. This is a great first step in the march towards restoring property and land use rights of the West."

At the time of the Obama designation of Bears Ears, Utah Senator Mike Lee called the move "an arrogant act of a lame duck president," now noting of Trump that he's "grateful that [Trump] is willing to correct it." The two monuments were under review, based on an Executive Order issued by President Trump early this year. 

"No one values the splendor of Utah more than the people of Utah – and no one knows better how to use it. Families will hike and hunt on land they have known for generations, and they will preserve it for generations to come.” said President Trump. “The Antiquities Act does not give the Federal Government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time we ended this abusive practice. Public lands will once again be for public use."

Photo Credit: Secretary Zinke on Twitter

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