Friday, October 31, 2008

Mayor & Wife Are Now Proud Parents

Here's the news release from the Mayor's office:


(Pittsburgh) October 31, 2008 -- Erin and Luke Ravenstahl announced today that their proposed solution to Pittsburgh's declining population has arrived. A joyful and grateful Erin and Luke are pleased to announce the birth of their son, Cooper Luke Ravenstahl.

The healthy baby boy arrived this morning at 9:24 a.m., weighing 7lbs., 14oz. and 21 inches long. The Ravenstahl's are thrilled to share their blessed news with all Pittsburghers.

"This is the happiest day of our lives," said Mayor Ravenstahl. "Both Erin and Cooper are healthy and doing great."

Date: October 31, 2008
Contact: Joanna Doven

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Ashley Todd Leaves Jail, Won't Talk

Here's a link to Tara Edwards' story on Channel 4 Action News last night.



Thursday, October 30, 2008

"B" Hoax Update: Ashley Todd

Ashley Todd is getting out of jail and getting out of town. She waived her preliminary hearing and will be allowed to leave the state without posting a cash bond. WTAE Reporter Ari Hait tells us Todd must provide proof every two weeks that she's getting psychiatric care. If she eventually clears Allegheny County's accelerated rehabilitative disposition program (ARD), her record can be expunged.



Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Followup on Burgess Call for McCain Campaign Apology

Here's a quick followup to Tuesday's posts, which were copies of e-mails I'd received.

Pittsburgh Councilman Reverend Ricky Burgess charged that last Thursday a McCain-Palin campaign official in Pennsylvania had been feeding reporters a version of the Ashley Todd hoax that was "far more explosive" than details confirmed by police at the time. Burgess called for an apology from the Republican ticket.

20-year old McCain field representative Ashley Todd later admitted on Friday that she'd made the whole thing up; there was no black robber who carved the letter 'B' -- as in "Barack Obama" -- into her face because she is a McCain supporter. Now, Burgess cites reports on the Talking Points Memo website in making his case that the campaign stoked the later-disproven controversy. TPM quoted KDKA-TV's News Director as saying the McCain campaign's Pennsylvania communications director gave one of his reporters details of the false report -- including the fake quotes from the imaginary attacker -- all before police confirmed any details. KDKA-TV's News Director did not return our call for comment.

Meanwhiile, MSNBC quoted a WPXI reporter who confirmed getting that information from a McCain campaign spokesman as well. WPXI's News Director tells us his station did not air any details of Todd's claims until they were confirmed by police as appearing in a police report.

Councilman Burgess accuses the McCain campaign of "inflaming the divisions of this country." He says "I don't know why they chose to push this story, but it just seems suspicious to me that they would target this story which has a fictional African-American person harming a non-African American person in this city."

McCain campaign spokesman Jeff Sadosky tells Channel 4 Action News:

"The liberal blog post that the councilman cites has no basis in fact. The McCain campaign had no role in this incident. We hope the young woman involved in the incident gets the help that she needs, It's disappointing that Pittsburgh law enforcement time and resources were wasted by her false allegations."

WTAE News Director Bob Longo says Channel 4 Action News confirmed all of its information about what was in the crime report with Pittsburgh Police before it aired the story. The McCain campaign did not comment to WTAE about the case until after our story based on police information had aired.


[The Burgess letter. Click images to enlarge.]


Monday, October 27, 2008

McCain Campaign Responds

A response from McCain campaign spokesman Jeff Sadosky to the call by Pittsburgh Councilman Burgess for an apology:

"The liberal blog post that the councilman cites has no basis in fact, the McCain campaign had no role in this incident. We hope the young woman involved in the incident gets the help that she needs, it's disappointing that Pittsburgh law enforcement time and resources were wasted by her false allegations."

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Pittsburgh Councilman Calls For McCain-Palin Apology

This post is being filed via BlackBerry.

The following open letter concerning the Ashley Todd "B" hoax was released by City Councilman Ricky Burgess:

October 27, 2008

Dear Senator McCain and Governor Palin:

On Thursday, October 23, 2008, there was a report of a robbery, an assault and a mutilation filed by a volunteer for your campaign.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

"She said a man armed with a knife demanded her money. She gave it to him, then began walking to her car, which had McCain stickers on it. She told police that although the robber had moved away from her, he became agitated when he saw her car, punched her in the back of the head, pushed her to the ground and carved a B into her face."

John Verrilli, the news director for KDKA in Pittsburgh, told Talking Points Memo's Election Central that your Pennsylvania campaign communications director gave one of his reporters a detailed version of the attack that included a claim that the alleged attacker said, "You're with the McCain campaign? I'm going to teach you a lesson."

Mr. Verrilli also told TPM that the McCain spokesperson had claimed that the "B" stood for Barack.

The Post-Gazette went on further to say:

"Ms. Todd told police during at least five hours of questioning last night that her attacker said to her, "You are going to be a Barack supporter." She told police the man then sat on her chest, pinning both her hands down with his knees and used what she believed was a dull knife with a roughly 5-inch blade to carve the B."

Your volunteer told the police that she was robbed, attacked, sexually assaulted, fondled and mutilated by an African-American man. However, we all now know that this tragic story was totally fraudulent. I am deeply troubled by the facts of this story. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

"Mr. Garcia took the widely published picture of Ms. Todd with her injuries. He said he took several photographs with a digital camera to document what had happened. He said he only gave copies of the photos to police and Ms. Todd's employer, the College Republicans. One photo appeared on The Drudge Report on Thursday, setting off a storm of media attention."

This much was true: A McCain-Palin official was pushing a version of the story that was far more explosive than the available or confirmed facts permitted at the time.

All too often in the halls of justice around the world, people are accused of crimes they did not commit. That one of your campaign spokespersons would spread such an incendiary story before any confirmation of the facts is both irresponsible and runs counter to our nation's Constitutional guarantee that no one be denied life, liberty or property without due process. Moreover, that a representative of the McCain-Palin campaign would be so careless and in the process of doing so, cast aspersions on African-Americans, is unfair.

On behalf of the City of Pittsburgh and its' African-American community, I respectfully request an apology from your campaign to the city for the conduct of your staff and volunteers. Both of you wasted little time in sending your wishes and prayers to Ms. Todd when the news reports were initially circulated, and so I trust that neither of you will waste anymore time leaving this issue unresolved. I would also ask that you send my personal prayers and well wishes to Ms. Todd and her family. I am certain these are trying times for them.


Reverend Ricky V. Burgess

President Pro-Tempore

Pittsburgh City Council

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ashley Todd "B" Hoax -- Behind The Cameras

A post in three parts:
Cameras Over Bloomfield, Elite or Deceit, Anatomy Of A Story

Cameras Over Bloomfield

Let's start with a story I was working on that was eclipsed by Ashley Todd's confession that there was no knife-weilding, "B" carving attacker. it reveals some of the facts available to Pittsburgh Police during their questioning of the of young woman.

It turns out that Todd picked a Pittsburgh neighborhood business district with a heavy concentration of surveillance cameras as the location for her fictional attack.

I confirmed Friday that private security cameras operated by members of The Bloomfield Business Association monitor the stretch of storefronts and sidewalks from the Bloomfield Bridge to West Penn Hospital -- including the site of McCain campaign volunteer's fabricated assault.

Bloomfield Business Association President Ben Foreman tells me the cameras are maintained by organization members in a program funded with help from the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office and other community leaders.

He says that up to three cameras covering the area in question are maintained by Father John Dinello, pastor at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, which is across the street from the spot in question. Foreman tells me that Citizens Bank has at least one other camera in the front of its Bloomfield branch, in addition to the one inside the ATM where Todd claimed she'd been attacked.

Foreman could not say whether Pittsburgh Police had checked video from the additional cameras. He describes the crime rate in that area as "very low". Father Dinello did not return calls for comment.

John Carman has since updated the Bloomfield Business Association's website with a post called "B" is for Bloomfield.

Elite Or Deceit?

The Daily Kos' Sean Oliver argues the case that Todd is "a lot more than just a 'low-level McCain volunteer', noting that she was "recruited to join an elite, prestigous College Republican leadership team, the 2008 Field Represenative Program."

Oliver links to College Republican National Committee's Field Rep website, which indicates :

"For the past 20 years, the Field Representative Program has been the cornerstone of the College Republican National Committee. With programs in the Fall and the Spring, we deploy dozens of young, highly trained field operatives across the country to recruit new students to join the College Republicans..."

"...The 2008 Field Team is by far the most ambitious in our organization's history. 50 field reps are deployed from coast-to-coast, equipped with cutting edge technology and innovative recruitment tools to help them accomplish their mission."

The American Spectator looks Behind the Ashley Todd Hoax, with Robert Stacy McCain quoting College Republican sources who say they had: indication she might be capable of such deceit.
"It's just a bizarre, bizarre situation," said one source.
There was "never any inkling" that Todd was dishonest or emotionally unstable..."

The College Republican National Committee fired Todd on Friday.

The New Republic's Jonathan Chait writes "Ashley Todd, We Hardly Knew Ye", a blog post whose illustration evokes "To Kill a Mockingbird":

Chait: "I don't think the actions of one sick volunteer say anything at all about John McCain or his campaign. They do, however, tell us a lot about right-wing yellow journalists, from Drudge on down, who manipulated primitive racial-sexual fears for partisan gain."

The Post-Gazette reports that Todd's friend Dan Garcia was not the one who spread them on the internet.

Mr. Garcia took the widely published picture of Ms. Todd with her injuries. He said he took several photographs with a digital camera to document what had happened. He said he only gave copies of the photos to police and Ms. Todd's employer, the College Republicans.

Pittsburgh Police did not make the photos public.

Anatomy Of A Story

Meanwhile, Talking Points Memo is questioning whether anyone in the McCain campaign worked to feed inflammatory false details to Pittsburgh news media.

Josh Marshall writes:

It is time for the McCain campaign to come clean about what role any of its staffers may have had in hyping or pushing the press to hype the charges stemming from Ashley Todd's vicious and reprehensible hoax.

TPM is pressing its story in four installments, so far:

"McCain Communications Director Gave Reporters Incendiary Version Of "Carved B" Story Before Facts Were Known"

"McCain Campaign Blames Reporters For Spokesperson's Peddling Of Incendiary "Carved B" Story"

"Who Do You Believe?"

"Time for Answers"



Friday, October 24, 2008

Update 1: RECANTED -- McCain Volunteer Says Knife Attack Did Not Happen

Pittsburgh Police confirm to WTAE Channel 4 Action News Reporter Paul Van Osdol: Ashley Todd now tells investigators she made up the story. She will be charged with filing a false report.

UPDATE 1: Here's the Pittsburgh Police news release:

1203 Western Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15223

October 24, 2008


PITTSBURGH - On Friday, October 24th, 2008 Ashley Todd was asked to return to the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Headquarters to be re-interviewed and do a composite sketch. During the subsequent interview with Detectives, Ms. Todd stated "she just wanted to tell the truth."

At that time Ms. Todd stated that she made up the story which snowballed and got out of control. Ms. Todd stated that she was not robbed and there is no 6'4" black male attacker.

She indicated that she has had a prior mental problems and she does not remember how the backward letter "B" got on her face. She stated that she thinks she may have done it herself because she was the only one in the car.

When she looked in the rearview mirror and saw the "B" on her face she said she thought of Barrack. Once she told her friend the story and once the police were called she had to stick with it.

Todd will be arrested and charged with Filing a False Police Report (M3).
We are conferring with the Allegheny County DA office on what charges will placed against her.

Meanwhile, here are the police news releases from earlier today. Click to enlarge them.


UPDATE 3 -- Questions Raised About McCain Volunteer's Alleged Knife Mutilation

Ashley Todd

Update 3: New Channel 4 Action News video: the Pittsburgh Police spokeswoman says "the victim's statement has a few inconsistencies in it -- and her statement has changed". Todd now is telling police that she was also sexually assaulted, that she "lost consciousness", and that when she awoke she "had a stinging sensation on her face". Earlier updates are at the end of this blog post.

Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin is among those questioning the truth behind the story of what happened to McCain volunteer Ashley Todd here in Pittsburgh Wednesday night. Todd claims a robber carved a "B" (as in "Barack Obama") into her face after spotting a McCain bumper sticker on her car parked nearby.

Malkin writes on her website, in a post titled "Why that McCain volunteer’s 'mutilation' story smells awfully weird":

"Maaaaybe the alleged robber straddled her upside-down while carving it into her face."
"But I’ve got my doubts."

You can read the rest of Malkin's post at this link. Her readers take up the discussion in the comments section. As of this posting, major national liberal bloggers haven't touched the story. Watch for updates at the bottom of this post.

The skepticism appears to be fueled in part by the fact that the wound allegedly made during an attack appears to be remarkably symmetrical, neat, and uniformly minor. And it's backwards -- though it wouldn't appear so when looking at it in a mirror.

My first reaction when I saw the photo of McCain volunteer Ashley Todd: someone mistakenly reversed the image... but, no. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review story reports that "the man then carved the 'B' into Todd's right cheek", as it appears in the photo.

Ashley Todd has now locked down her Twitter account updates, but here's a screenshot of her messages both before and after the reported incident, courtesy of her participation in a College Republicans group blog.

Click to Enlarge

At Steve Huff's True Crime website, bloggers and commenters are also parsing the details of the story.

Let's check out the scene of the incident with Google Map's Street View. Clicking in the image below allows you to zoom in, out, and around in a circle. Two clicks of the clockwise arrow, followed by two clicks of the plus button will show you the ATM.

View Larger Map

The area appears to be part of Bloomfield's business district -- between West Penn Hospital and the Bloomfield Bridge -- and appears to have restaurants and bars nearby.

Among my questions: are there any witnesses? How busy is that area at that time of evening? There does not appear to be a drive-through ATM at that location; where was the woman's car parked in relation to the sidewalk ATM? Was the McCain phone bank office where the victim was working near the scene? Is it clear why the robber stayed around to watch her go to her car instead of running off with the $60? Did she go back into the phone bank office or into any nearby business after the attack? Some news reports say the woman drove to a friend's home; how far is that from the scene? Other reports say the woman declined treatment at the scene -- is that correct? Who offered treatment and at what point? Another report says the attacker said "you're with the McCain campaign"; is that an accurate quote from the victim to police of the attacker's words? Does she know how he knew she was with the campaign, and not simply a person with a bumper sticker?

Two More Snapshots of Google Street View. Click to Enlarge.


The Smoking Gun includes more posts from Todd's Twitter account at the bottom of its website's story.

Andrew Sullivan weighs in here with his "Joe The Mugger?" post.

Update 2:

Huffington Post now has this entry by Jeffrey Feldman dealing with The Drudge Report's spin on the story. You can also read his analysis on Frameshop.



Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Twitter: To Tweet Or Not To Tweet?

Pittsburgh PodCamp 3 was a great experience. The event this past weekend was an opportunity to learn more about blogging, podcasting, and other social media.

It also convinced me to try dabbling in Twitter.

Quoting Wikipedia:

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users' updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.

Updates are displayed on the user's profile page and delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them....As of July 2008, over 2,200,000 accounts were registered.

The following exchange of "tweets" captures my experience so far.

Donnchadh @bobmayo Bob, what is Twitter and why am I on it? 8:25 AM Oct 20th from web in reply to bobmayo

bobmayo @Donnchadh , it's texting morphed into micro-blogging. The why part? I'm still learning. 2:51 PM Oct 20th from web in reply to Donnchadh

I get the sense that it can be a interesting communication tool. I'm just not sure how -- or if -- it will click for me.

Please comment here, e-mail, or tweet me with your observations on how Twitter does (or doesn't) fit into your online and real world lives.



Monday, October 20, 2008

Problem Listening to the Costa & Victor Q&A Audio? Try This Video

UPDATE: Check out the video file version of the Costa Q&A and let me know what you think. Because this blog is my personal hobby, I don't use WTAE's raw video -- the audio is from my personal recorder. The "video" is simply a screenshot of Costa with a brief title caption. Meanwhile, the audio files are working again -- but service could go down if the host's bandwidth limits are exceeded. My original posts continue below.

A few minutes ago I discovered that the audio links in my last blog post are no longer working. What went wrong?

I was using an older Google service called GooglePages to host the mp3 files. It seems that the size of the audio files aren't a good match for bandwidth limits of that free service. When I tried to check the files directly, I got the error message you see above.

Maybe I should add video captions to the audio files and upload them to YouTube.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Guy Costa: "I feel blindsided" (Now with Q&A audio)

Guy Costa

UPDATE: Now you can click the Play Button the audio player above to hear Public Safety Director Costa's Q&A with reporters. There's a brief sound effect to mark the spot where there was a brief break in the interview before the questioning by reporters resumed.

Next, here's Operations Director Art Victor's Q&A, in the audio player below his picture. Please let me know how this approach to adding audio to the blog is working for you.

Art Victor

Finally, here's a link to my Channel 4 Action News report.

Public Works Director Guy Costa notified the Mayor's Office last year when his office discovered four middle managers in Environmental Services were improperly getting overtime pay for which they aren't eligible.

Costa knew those four were to be suspended today -- but he was stunned when his family told him they'd heard on TV that -- unbeknownst to him -- he's was being suspended too. The Ravenstahl administration appears to believe that the buck stops at the top of the Public Works Department. The Mayor's Operations Director Art Victor says "in my opinion, and having looked at all of the details, I feel that he should have acted more swiftly in taking action to deal with the situation".

Director Art Victor says, however, that he agrees with Costa that the way word of Costa's one-day suspension got out is wrong.

Victor said of Costa, "he's a consummate professional. He certainly understood. He said if he was in my shoes, he more than likely would have done the same thing."

Some quotes from Costa's comments to reporters:

• "I'm very disappointed on how this was dealt with. Not the suspension, it was how it was dealt with. My family should not be able to watch TV and see the night before that i'm being suspended -- and it's not right."

• "It was handled improperly by someone in the Mayor's Office. I have an idea who it is, and I'll deal with that in the future. but, the part that's frustrating me is how it was dealt with."

• "I give my blood and sweat to this department and to this city, as you know. I'm always out there working, doing my best. I can accept responsibility, but it's how it was handled."

• "I get a call from a reporter saying 'you're being suspended', and I ask the administration and they say, 'no, you're not being suspended'. And it's kind of embarrassing then when they come back and say you are being suspended."

• "I feel blindsided. I've given nine years to this department, and it just isn't right. "

• "I want to emphasize, I'm okay with the suspension, I'm not happy or okay with the way it was dealt with."

• "I would hope that the Mayor would discipline the person who leaked this information to the news media. It wasn't right for my 18 year old son to see it on the news, or my wife to see it on the morning news, and all my friends and family to see it on the news, without me being notified first."

• "I hope the mayor -- I think he knows who it is -- and I think he should ask for that person's resignation."

• "Once we found this audit, I approached the administration. what it's telling me now is, I should have swept it under the carpet. but I would never do that, and i love this city..."

• "I'm going home and think about what my future's going to be."

Costa refused to identify which member of the Mayor's Office was responsible, but closed by telling reporters:

• "The time will come. I don't know why that person did what they did, but you know the old saying, payback's a bitch."

Trib coverage is here and the PG's story is at this link, with an UPDATE here. By the way, the Trib's Jeremy Boren broke the details of the overtime story way back in February.



Thursday, October 16, 2008

Are You Interested In Blogging?

You might want to check out this free local event this weekend.

I'm going to attend and I hope to learn more about creating blogs, podcasts, and social media.



Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Blogosphere, Politics, Gifts, & Mainstream Media

"A Simple Question: Yes or No?"

In the age of raw online video and blogs, newsmakers can no longer easily dismiss reporter questions by repeating the same answer, say, twelve times in three minutes. The clip above illustrates the point. If you weren't curious about the senator -- or where he gets his suits -- you likely will be after watching this exchange.

The reporter pressing the hardest is Rachel Stassen-Berger of the Pioneer Press. Here's an updated partial transcript:

Reporter: ...Is there a reason the Senator won't say whether or not somebody else bought some suits for him?

Spokesman: Rachel, we've reported -- the Senator has reported every gift he has ever received.

Reporter: That wasn't my question, Cullen.

Spokesman: The Senator has reported every gift he has ever received. And we're not going to respond to unnamed sources on a blog.

Reporter: So, Senator Coleman's friend has not bought these suits for him? Is that correct?

Spokesman: The Senator has reported every gift he has ever received.

Reporter: Why can't you say that? Why won't you give us an answer -- yes or no -- on that?

Spokesman: He's reported every gift he has ever received.

Reporter: We haven't asked whether or not he's reported every gift he has ever received -- and I will take his word that he has reported every gift he has ever received. Has he ever received a gift of suits?

Spokesman: He's reported every gift he has ever received....

What's going on here? From The Columbia Journalism Review, headlined:

"E-gads! A blog!?!"

Blog. Say out it loud. Blog!

If you say it right, it almost sounds like a nasty word. (It’s got that hard plosive at the end.) It sounds especially nasty if you find a way to slip it into the right sentence.

Like this one:

“We’re not going to respond to unnamed sources on the blog.”
That’s part of what Cullen Sheehan, campaign manager for newly endangered Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, had to say yesterday at a cringe-inducing press conference.

You can read more of CJR's take at this link.

David Brauer of the Minnesota Post also has more on the interesting intersection of the blogosphere, politics, gifts, and the mainstream media.



Ethics Code Update Coming?

Ethics Board File Photo

Jeremy Boren reported in this morning's Trib that Pittsburgh's Ethics Hearing Board today planned "to discuss publicly for the first time its recommendations to overhaul the section of the city's ethics code that lays out seven exceptions for when it's OK for public officials to accept gifts or favors".

That indirectly prompted this question from Bram Reichbaum over on The Burgh Report -- what happened? The short answer: nothing just yet, but something is in the works. A longer response, in the form of my e-mail to Bram R, follows.


I can tell you that the City Ethics Hearing Board has taken no action yet.

I spoke with Vice Chair Kathleen Buechel. (A dentist's appointment delayed my arrival until after today's half-hour long ethics board meeting had ended, but I crossed paths with her on the fifth floor of the City County Budiling as she was leaving Council' s offices. ) Buechel tells me they decided to delay releasing anything until after they've had a chance to further consult with the City Law Department. She anticipates they will hold a special meeting sometime between today and the next regularly scheduled meeting in November.

Of course the recommendations of the working group will face a vote by the full ethics board. Those final recommendations will then be submitted to city council for consideration.

PS: Thanks for asking -- I needed a fresh blog post.



Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Ethics Commission to Pat Ford

Click to enlarge.

Patrick B. Ford
c/o Lawrence H. Fisher

Re: File No. 08-032

Dear Mr. Ford:

The State Ethics Commission has received allegations that you violated Sections 1105(b)(6) of the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act, 65 Pa.C.S. 1105(b)(6) when you failed to report, as a gift, the receipt of an audio theater sound system from an individual who was an employee of a company seeking to obtain the approval from the City of Pittsburgh to erect an electronic billboard.

It has been determined that the value of the item received was below the threshold for reporting purposes. As such, no further action will be taken in relation to this specific issue.

Our review of this matter only relates to the above noted issue and does not constitute a determination as to any other course of conduct.

Very truly yours,

John J. Contino, Esquire
Executive Director

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Ford's Attorney: PA Ethics Panel Letter Clears Ford

(I'll post the PDF content later. Here's attorney Lawrence Fisher's message to me.)


The attached letter validates Mr. Ford's ethical integrity as maintained by him throughout this sordid political affair. Today we reach the same conclusion that should have been apparent from the outset, and point out that a purely political process was perpetrated under the guise of an ethics review. It is a shame that months of state resources were wasted in a failed attempt to destroy the reputation of Pat Ford with an obviously false ethics charge.

In addition, the URA and Mr. Ford have formally executed documentation in connection with the settlement they reached back on September 11th.

Lawrence Fisher

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