Land Trust Bureaucracy Strikes the L9!

In my response to an article by my peer on a Community Land Trust developing in the L9 I tried to point out the fact that low-income workers might not like seeing their rents go to slumlords, but rather those funds could accrue such that one day they (me too!) could have that oh-so-American rite/right of passage, which “can” confer so many more rights (re: NOPD will still break them if they deem it necessary, i.e. search home without warrant):

I think the intentions of the L9 NENA are to help folks who otherwise couldn’t put a down payment on a house or land, or might not qualify for a bank loan considering how banks have been so tight with loaning out much to anyone after the 2008 crisis.

The fact that over 99 years, folks would pay about $30,000 rather than $8,000 now assumes that the price of land in 3010 (inflation adjusted) would remain around its current cost and that folks, once again, can afford the $8,000 in addition to what might be a significant monthly mortgage rate for the actual home.  It also means folks avoid–if they can’t afford a home otherwise–paying higher and higher rents. New Orleans rents are up at least 50% still, five plus years after Katrina.

The other important fact to remember about Community Land Trusts is that they PROTECT against land speculation and assessments that can bankrupt folks and/or put them into massive debt such as what happened in the very very recent crisis to much of the middle and working classes caught up in the foreclosure mania and the predatory lending by profit-not-people driven bankers.  Keeping assessments low also keeps property taxes low.  This all adds to the stability, longevity and “community” orientation that these land trusts are intended to foster.

The big worry is if the Community Land Trust folds…which leads me to…

My main concern for people who get involved in the land trust is whether they have access to power and decision-making for the CLT, rather than it residing strongly within L9 NENA, as a guardian. Like an earlier commenter who suggested a cooperative,  these forty homeowners should have direct control over the direction of the community land trust.  I say this because this quote is confusing as far as structure:

[NENA will] “maintain ownership of the land on behalf of the collective community.” He explained that participation on the organization’s board as a trust member would give residents “control of and responsibility for the stewardship of the land.”

So each homeowner is a trust member and is on the board? So there will be forty members on the board? Are decisions made by majority rule, supermajority (usually 2/3), or full consensus? NENA in this case then is only an administrator and not on the board? I think some structural diagrams or charts would be great to understanding how power and checks on it will work out in practice!

In either case, as mentioned in the article these are 40 plots of land in a neighborhood of 5000-plus. I think it will be evident within the first cycle of ownership what is working for owners or owners-to-be and what is not. If they get direct control, then the process is more readily changed for the next generation.

[end of public comment to article]


Or, you and your family members and friends, folks who you would trust with your life, get together and raise some funds to own some land collectively…many plots…and create social centers and resources for the surrounding community…so they will want to follow in your footsteps and you will be able to teach them this form of liberation.

it takes will, initiative, patience, persistence and a saving for a future worth having rather than a consuming for a now that you can live just as fully without spending a dime. go for a run in the park, collect seeds to plant in your (fingers crossed: lead free) backyard, play basketball, listen to street music performances, have great conversations in friends’ front rooms, read a library book, dance. Dance. DANCE.  And then, not too long down the road, you could be looking at collective ownership where you can…defend the land!


Animation makes everything easier

Maybe I’m just a visual learner, but animation makes ideas click so much more than long-winded abstractions and theories sometimes.  Remember that Marx for Beginners comic book?


David Harvey, renowned geographer (surprisingly one of the top 20 cited scholars in the world), has been giving lectures across the world on the economic crisis of 2008, its roots and effects (and only slightly the possibilities for resistance), which flow from his book titled The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism.

Possibly the most concise and coherent breakdown of the generalities involved in the latest crisis of c(r)apitalism are amassed in 11 minutes from Harvey’s lectures . Accessible to all AND it’s ANIMATED!



Published in: on December 3, 2010 at 3:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Keeping Truth Alive: The Impact of Social Justice Organizing on the Glover Case

In case you are just tuning in, 2010 has been the year when, like Malcolm X once said, “the chickens have come home to roost” for  New Orleans Police Department officers involved in shootings of unarmed civilians.

First, six officers involved in the cover-up of the Danziger Bridge murders after Hurricane Katrina were indicted, four of them charged with the murders of two African-American men. Their trial in Federal Court is still pending, but they could face life in prison or even the death penalty.

Currently, five police officers are on trial for killing and covering up the murder of Henry Glover in Algiers (across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter). The cover-up included burning a car near the levee with Glover, possibly alive, inside.

While the newspapers, particularly the Times-Picayune, are now covering the trials and original incidents with the attention they deserve, most social justice organizers remember when no one believed the families side of the story. And the media never took them seriously enough to independently investigate the claims.

Safe Streets/Strong Communities, an organization formed after the hurricane to address brutality and other unaccountable behavior by the police, were visited in their office by friends or relatives from both these cases who shared their stories and sought support for justice. The stories were included as testimony in the little-remembered, but sweeping International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The tribunal was hosted by the New Orleans Black-led organization Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund over the weekend of the Katrina Commemoration in 2007.

With the support of Safe Streets, the Madisons, who lost a family member at the Danziger Bridge shooting, organized and pressured the District Attorney to file criminal charges against the police officers in local criminal court. Not surprisingly, Judge Raymond Bigelow found a way to dismiss the charges, finding prosecutorial misconduct during the Grand Jury process. Almost immediately, Jim Letten’s U.S. District Attorney’s office started their own much broader investigation, which included an FBI raid of the New Orleans Police Department to seize files.

William Tanner, who was beaten by police and whose car Glover was burned inside, approached Safe Streets unwilling to let the murder of this stranger go without consequence and justice.

When Safe Streets  heard from A.C. Thompson, a journalist with ProPublica and The Nation, they directed him to William Tanner. Thompson included the cover-up of Henry Glover’s death in his long investigative article in late 2008 on white vigilantes who murdered African-Americans in Algiers in the weeks after the hurricane.  The report brought national attention and regained local momentum to seek justice for everyone murdered in that “time of crisis”.

The lesson is clear: never stop documenting injustice and speaking truth to power, for its effects and impacts may influence people you least expected. The FBI seeking justice for a few black people in America?  Proactively prosecuting nearly a dozen white police officers? Relentless organizing to expose the truth of the NOPD to the public made the FBI’s investigation a safe choice.

Legal action, however, has its structural limitations in the “bad apple” theory, where only the most destructive individuals are picked out for indictment. Questions arise about transforming the culture of the NOPD but always blow over until the next murder at the hands of police. From where will the spark come to address the root causes of unequal power accorded police in American society? And the courage to implement and fund alternatives that will make the need for police obsolete? Now that’s the terrain for lifelong relentless organizing that we all must participate in if we are ever to find the beloved community.

Published in: on November 30, 2010 at 3:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rooting for the Saints as I Occasionally Wish the Game Disappears

I only wish for the game of football to disappear because of the damage done to its players, both during the time they play and especially for the extremely high onset of dementia and trauma-related conditions that haunt them in middle-age, as brought together in an insightful essay by Malcolm Gladwell in a recent New Yorker.

He attempts, valiantly and provocatively, to bridge the gap between dogfighting and football (yes, a Michael Vick-related essay worth reading) by essentializing the giving or sacrificing of one’s health for the benefit of another. In the case of dogfighting, this means the dog incurs pain and injury-sometimes death-for its human owner. In football, it means the player continues or goes back to practice despite obvious signs of brain malfunction–like forgetting how to get home from a place after just driving there, or falling into walls and puking in the morning after waking up from a sober night–for the financial benefit of the owners, standing with other players and the artificial merriment of the fans. This parallel is profound and worthy of exploration, but still not fully fleshed out in this article. What are the differences between human-to-human relations in regard to self-destructive behavior versus a human-to-animal relationship? Are they even relationships or versions of ownership? One is “freely” accepted, but with money as bribe. Another not freely accepted, but accepted nonetheless with fondness and love as counterweight to pain and injury.

In the article, Gladwell interviews the top medicial scientists looking at deceased former NFL players’ brains. They have found incredible amounts of trauma tissue that contributes to a state of dementia often confused with Alzheimer’s. Often memory lapses and strange new, often destructive, behaviours emerge  in former players at rates from five to tenfold that of the average person. And often these effects are felt at a much earlier age. An 18-year-old football player who passed away showed more trauma signs in his brain than a regular person would at age 50.

However, there seems to be little in the way of field rules or regulations that could be done to stem the destruction of a football player’s brain. Limitation of full-contact practice. Shock-absorbent helmets.  Even kick-offs have been singled out as especially harmful, but even with certain modifications, the game is built on contact. Offensive and defensive lineman especially feel the brunt of this with fifty to seventy “little hits” of inadvertent helmet g-force on every play.  The hits don’t render immediate concussions, but the latest studies reveal how the build up of smaller consistent hits to the head and brain create a vulnerability to concussions that is almost unavoidable.  And if avoidable, the lack of concussions doesn’t decrease the brain ailments one could suffer not much later in life.

So, the Saints. I will be rooting for them Monday night to beat the Falcons. However, after reading this, I doubt I could ever let a child of mine play American football, but mainly the issue just needs to be open and honestly talked about. Because I feel the players aren’t “freely” making this decision to play in exchange for these lifelong post-football brain problems.  I might feel better with Drew Brees playing now if I knew that he knew he was likely sacrificing his last twenty years of life to be a revered multi-millionaire star.

Not that I have anything against that choice–let the flame burn brightly at both ends while it can burn, i say, rather than wait until it flickers out–but we should know that kind of info before making the devil’s wager.


Who DAT.


Published in: on November 1, 2009 at 10:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

“They hung with us”: Race and Community in a New Orleans Health Clinic

by Matthew Olson, originally published in the July/August issue of the New Orleans Tribune

In broken mirror pieces reads a sign, “Common Ground Health Clinic,” above the door where nearly forty patients a day visit this converted convenience store on an Algiers street within two blocks of the Mississippi river. Up a ramp and inside is a pristine waiting room with twenty-five chairs and along the short hallway is the social workers’ office, then four patient rooms, and an herbalist station toward the back.

Anne Mulle, the clinic’s nurse practitioner, spoke with me from inside one of the patient rooms where flyers on the walls promoted reduced-cost eye exams, healthy eating and early breast cancer detection. She stressed the importance of integrative health, relieving stress, and understanding people in their environment. To this end, the clinic provides social work, acupuncture, herbalism, live Spanish language interpretation, and supports community organizing. Weekly “Mind Body Medicine” groups focus on breathing techniques, visualization and other methods of relaxation.

“People typically think of health as blood pressure, weight, and laboratory results,” explained Mulle (pronounced MOO-lay). “We believe their health includes the complete picture: What’s going on with their housing, with their kids and their schools? What’s their stress level? What’s going on with their work: are they working multiple jobs or not able to get a job at all? How is their over-all well-being impacted by their community and their environment?”

Earlier this year, Common Ground Health Clinic received the highest level of recognition for national health standards as a “Patient-Centered Medical Home” by the National Committee on Quality Assurance(NCQA). The standards for the primary care applicants can include the use of best-practices, the quality of medical records and following up with referrals. While thirty-seven applicants from the Greater New Orleans Area received recognition, only two practices earned the prestigious level three: Common Ground Health Clinic and St. Thomas Community Health Center.

Unlike peer institutions, these two clinics are explicit about their intention to be community-integrated and anti-racist as a means to long-term community health. As a means to those goals, both organizations work with the nearly thirty-year-young and locally-staffed People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, which often facilitates weekend-long “Undoing Racism” workshops. The People’s Institute has worked with St. Thomas since 1991 and, in January 2006, the People’s Institute co-sponsored its first workshop since the storm with CGHC.

“They have incorporated anti-racism into their mission and vision,” said Dr. Kimberley Richards, CGHC board member and core trainer with the People’s Institute. “They recognize race in the health paradigm.” Part of this recognition is to turn the principles into practice beyond a single training. Accordingly, PISAB meets monthly with CGHC for strategy sessions and hosts quarterly trainings for patients, staff and community members.

“How do you incorporate anti-racist principles?” Richards continued. “You engage the community, establish partnerships, hire residents that fit, recognize the resource in the community, not just bringing in from the outside.”

“I think it made all the difference in the world,” said R. Noah Morris, a clinic co-founder and CGHC Board President, about the affect of anti-racist principles on getting the highest NCQA recognition. He added that the recognition should also convince the healthcare community that “free does not mean cheap.”

“There’s a notion that community clinics or free clinics provide a sub-standard quality of care. We’re here to show that doesn’t have to be the case,” added Mulle. The vast majority of people who come to CGHC, eighty-six percent, are without any form of healthcare coverage.

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Despite living only a few blocks away, Keith Jones’ first trip to the clinic came a full year after its opening. “What I had was simple,” Jones said of his knee injury. “I got advice beyond what I really needed: ‘Did I live by myself? Could I make it?’ I’m getting all this attention with a sore knee? And nobody knew me from the man on the moon.”

Soon after, he accepted the clinic’s invitation to attend an “Undoing Racism” workshop, which included staff and patients together. “It was on point,” said Jones, who began volunteering and is now on the clinic’s staff as a community organizer. “They recruited from the class and I’ve been there ever since.”
Several staff members were first patients, including Coleen Murphy. Murphy had lived in Algiers Point for four years when Katrina hit and hesitated to return after reading reports of vigilante violence. But with the news of a clinic, she found a clear reason to come back. “I have never had health insurance and had been a patient of various sliding scale clinics my entire adult life. Never had I been treated with such care and kindness,” wrote Coleen Murphy in an e-mail.

A few weeks later Murphy started volunteering at the front desk. Now, as the clinic’s Communications Coordinator, she assists in outreach and edits all of CGHC’s publications, including the coveted health resource guides—collated by geography, like the Central City Guide, or themes, like the Mental Health Guide. The overall guide, “New Orleans Community Resource Guide,” is so thorough that it is utilized by clinics, hospitals, and social service agencies city-wide, including the city’s health department.

On days when the clinic is open, Marie Romeo can spend up to five or six hours in conversations with patients about job searches to healthy eating to racism. “It’s revolutionary to have health care and racism in the same context. That’s not done anywhere. I think that utilizing anti-racist principles in social work is not only possible but it’s imperative to be effective,” said Romeo, the clinic’s social worker. The first crucial steps are to listen to “a person’s experience and understand them. What would be characterized as a pathology is a constant exposure to systemic oppression. People often come in saying, ‘can’t get a job. I’ve a got a bachelor’s and master’s degree and can’t get a job.’ There’s stress around making ends meet.”

Integrating social work and mental health services into the clinic in the fall of 2008 relieved a tremendous burden on the physicians and nurses to help patients with referrals, counseling, applications for other services and getting prescriptions filled properly. “A lot of that didn’t exist before, or it was falling on the primary care providers,” said Anne Mulle. ”In a healthcare system that is overwhelmed, having mental health and social work services in the clinic takes a huge burden off the patient visit and allows primary care providers more time for chronic disease management.”

At the Center for Mind Body Medicine training in January 2007, Anne Mulle met Antor Ndep, a public health doctorate student, and encouraged her to apply for the Executive Director opening. Ndep, who has lived in New Orleans since 1997, was hesitant, but committed to visiting before passing judgment.

“What hooked me is that it was almost a manifestation of everything that I’ve thought about establishing in a community health center back home,” said Ndep, who was born in Nigeria. “Here are a group of very young people on both sides of the race line saying we want to talk about racism because we feel that racism is what is making communities poor and ill. That is something that you just do not find anywhere. “Combating racism, gardening, monitoring the police. Pieces of the puzzle were all there, they just needed us to concentrate to put those pieces together.”

In two years as the clinic’s Executive Director, Ndep has overseen impressive growth through channeling the unique energy she felt on that first visit. Using her education in public health she formalized the organizational structure, revamped the clinic’s policies and procedures, and embraced the clinic’s non-traditional programs based in community organizing and engagement.

“Community engagement for us comes in many different forms,” said Ndep, who emphasizes consideration of patients as peers worthy of dignity and honesty. “It’s not sophisticated in any way at all. We talk, we make friends, look people in the eye and invite them to everything we do. It’s a way of providing healthcare that goes beyond sitting across from a provider and telling him what’s wrong and that’s the beauty of it..”

In contrast to its volunteer beginnings, the clinic now has an operating budget over one million dollars per year, a staff of more than fifteen, and a state-of-the-art electronic medical record system. While one co-founder of the clinic used to quip—“we’re building a plane while flying it”—the healthcare facility now seems to be a well-worn, thoughtful and precise collective.

Through the processing of those growing pains, the People’s Institute and the St. Thomas Community Health Center supported and guided CGHC. “St. Thomas Community Health Center has really been a model health clinic for us,” Mulle affirmed.

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In operation since 1987, the St. Thomas Community Health Center has been a model clinic of community inclusion and patient-centered health for CGHC. For instance, patients are a majority on St. Thomas’ board. Undoing Racism workshops have been a regular part of volunteering or working at the center since 1991. St. Thomas makes impactful partnerships with other health providers, including a unique cardiovascular surgery program for uninsured patients with Ochsner.

“At Charity, it’s just someone you don’t know. Here, you can talk directly to Mary,” said Barbara Jackson, a founding member of the St. Thomas CHC, of Dr. Mary Abell. Jackson said that after finding out why a patient came, Mary will ask, “‘But what else is bothering you?’ You could never do that anywhere else. It’s holistic problem solving.”

Executive Director Dr. Don Erwin, who chaired the Department of Medicine at Ochsner Hospital when he started volunteering at St. Thomas back in 1991, thinks the success in good health outcomes comes from an interdependence between the community and the center. “If you’re a patient of ours and we know that you’re sick and can’t make it, we’ll send a taxi for you. It’s not the clinic over here and community over here,” Erwin said, moving his hands from left to right.

Though St. Thomas is not free, but low-cost, they do have an open access policy to see a patient the same day they call. “The traditional appointment system has a forty percent no show rate,” explained Erwin. “If there’s no bus, you can’t come. If you can’t get a babysitter, you can’t come.” Switching to a walk-in or call-in system where patients can be seen the same day allows for flexibility in a patient’s environment—a crucial step to being patient-centered and anti-racist.
“Race is an independent risk factor,” Erwin firmly stated. It is a statement Antor Ndep repeated to me, and a lesson the Common Ground Health Clinic has taken to heart.

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CGHC has come a long way since setting up card tables to divide first aid stations inside the Masjid Bilal mosque in dry Algiers on September 9, 2005. Then, a few dozen volunteers saw one hundred patients per day and acted largely as an emergency first-aid location. Volunteers often drove people to the nearest open Jefferson Parish hospital or called ambulances when necessary.

Bay Love, a volunteer transplant who is now the clinic’s Financial Officer, remembered the intensity of those first few months. “It was inspiring, exciting, and thrilling, yet extremely humbling. I thought, ‘this is really bad, people are really sick, and there is nowhere for them to go,’” he recalled. What made the need for a permanent health clinic in Algiers urgent, at least for him, was the realization that people’s health and the healthcare in the city had been poor and broken due to systemic racism and poverty long before the storm.

On a recent April day, Algiers resident Ronald Ragas sat on the steps of Delille/Drexel Fellowship Center of All Saints Church on the opposite corner from the clinic. A middle-aged man, Ragas shook his head as he spoke deliberately about a bladder infection he had not long after Katrina hit. He paused between sentences. “I was short four units of blood. A walking dead man. They put me in the hospital. I wouldn’t have made it. A lot of people were saved by the clinic.”
The clinic might now need to be saved by the people. The clinic threw a fundraising kick-off dinner in April at their office, which is two doors down from the clinic. In the front yard, a DJ announced the event over loud speakers to passersby and added his own wisdom: “They were there for us, so now we’re here for them.”

The goal of the clinic’s fundraising campaign is guarantee the sustainability of the clinic and deepen the partnership with the patient community. They have set the bar high: the clinic wants to raise one million dollars by its fourth anniversary, September 9, 2009. For current operations the clinic relies heavily on a government grant that will end in December 2010. Without knowing how the Obama Administration’s will act, the conclusion of the grant could drastically alter the clinic’s structure. When community members heard that the clinic might have to reduce services, many enthusiastically brought up suggestions from church dinners to hosting a bazaar. “We’re trying to fundraise on three or four tiers, grassroots to the upper level to the internet,” said clinic community organizer Keith Jones.

Listening to the DJ, Bay Love danced on the porch and a young boy imitated him. An older girl laughed at them both. In the office’s first room, Anita Powell, wearing an impressive white straw hat with a black band, took money for the fundraising dinner. Powell shares her hat making skills in clinic-supported classes as a way for community members to relieve stress. In the kitchen, next to anti-racist principles written on the wall, Lanette Williams served up fried fish, potato salad, green salad and spaghetti. Everyone working at the fundraising dinner had volunteered their time.

“I got to get off my feet,” gasped Williams, who had been cooking for at least the past seven hours.

R. Noah Morris, a clinic founding member, pulled a cooler from under the dining table and put it in front of Williams as a makeshift footrest. He said, “I know how to take care of the caretakers.”

More than twenty people remained in the dining room and backyard sharing stories after dinner. Among them was Orissa Arend, who wrote about the clinic’s origins for this publication in 2007. She “gave somewhere between zero and a minus one to the chances” that the clinic would endure because of so many broken promises from other providers such as Red Cross, FEMA, and all levels of government in the fallout of Katrina.

But thankfully, as Ronald Ragas told me earlier in the day, “They hung with us. Didn’t show up for a week or two then leave.”

After the Film Fest Sun Sets

The Sixth Annual New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival came to a close last night. It is coined as the intersection of art + social justice. This year, organizers dubbed the festival’s front name “Patois” as a means of embodying the various languages and perspectives and meeting of those cultures throughout the 10 day event.

It once again introduced me to films (and people) I would otherwise never have seen (until the DVD release) in this rather ghost town for film known as New Orleans. Of course, I missed several films that ended up winning awards and I’ll be catching up with at a later date: William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, St. Joe (to be a doc feature: “Land of Opportunity”), Robot + Girl (by a friend of mine!), Some Place Like Home: the fight against gentrification in downtown Brooklyn (dir. by Families United for Racial and Economic Equality – FUREE)

I managed to see:

Homeless Power (short doc)
Katrina: man made disaster (feature doc)
Medicine for Melancholy (narrative feature)
Under the Bombs (narrative feature)
Made in L.A. (doc feature)
A Day in Palestine (narrative animated short)
Crips & Bloods: made in America (doc feature)
Hunger (narrative feature)

Exodus (narrative feature) presented some challenges as a viewer – a flat cliched script and meaningless direction – which is why I walked out, a first, after 30 minutes. The only potential going for it were the sets, which had the feel and ambition of “Children of Men,” but knowingly had to work with a severely smaller budget. I’m wondering how much of a coincidence it was that one of the actors was the pregnant woman from “Children of Men.”

Corazon del Tiempo (Heart of Time, narrative feature)
Nerakhoon (The Betrayal, doc feature)
The House that Herman Built (doc short, will be a feature)

Justice for All (doc feature) builds a compelling argument for the complete overhaul of the juvenile “justice” criminal system in the United States by meticulously detailing six or seven egregious cases in different states. For instance, one seventeen year old was sentenced to life in prison without parole in Texas for marijuana possession because a judge retained complete power over the sentencing. He was pardoned by the governor after a long campaign to win his release. However, the system took 16 years of his life. The filmmakers even visit the U.K. to see the rehabilitation programs available to youth as a method of introducing new ideas into our system. I liked the film as a historian likes primary documents–for new facts and stories that make a convincing case for change. The filmmakers inserted themselves too much for me, especially in the editorializing and occasional unprofessional phrases in the narration. But it would be worthy to watch for an educational purpose or in an educational setting.

Cajun New Wave (doc short) is a brief insight into the traditions of Cajun music as talked about by its rising generation of twenty-something musicians. Often hand-held and with sound and visual hiccups, this film might be better as a printed translation of the interviews conducted and released with a CD of the varying worthy musicians such as Pine Leaf Boys, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Beth Patterson, Amanda Shaw, etc.

Crips & Bloods, Hunger, Nerakhoon and Under the Bombs were my top picks from what I saw.

further comments to come…

UPDATE: Here is the lovely ROBOT+GIRL short by Erin Wilson that won the Audience Choice Award.

Published in: on April 6, 2009 at 6:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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