Rep. Pitts in damage control mode following call for Arafat-Sharon negotiations

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 48 Comments
rep  joseph pitts
Representative Joe Pitts (Photo: CSPAN)

Since we published Ian Rhodewalt’s report over the weekend about the odd letter Representative Joe Pitts (R-PA) sent a constituent calling for Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat to restart negotiations, Pitts’s office has been scrambling to explain the error. Just as a reminder, here is an excerpt from the letter:

With the global war against terrorism, it is now incumbent on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasir Arafat to clamp down on Palestinian extremists that have perpetuated violence and to restart a peace process that has collapsed.

The website PoliticsPA ran a statement from Pitts Communications Director Andrew Wimer:

“Congressman Pitts responds to tens of thousands of constituent inquiries a year. Because it is impossible to draft a unique reply to each inquiry, language is often reused for similar responses. In this case, a double mistake was made. Language that should have been archived was included in a draft response. The response was then pulled from the queue because of the error, and then mistakenly sent almost a year later. Responding to tens of thousands of letters a year is a complicated process. Mistakes are both few and rare, but do sometimes occur. This one was particularly embarrassing. We have apologized to the constituent and are reviewing our internal process to make sure this sort of thing can’t happen again.”

Pitt’s chief of staff, Gabe Neville, was a bit more contrite in a interview with Harrisburg PA’s WITF:

“This is particularly embarrassing,” said Gabe Neville, Pitts’ chief of staff in Washington. He said the contents and postage of the letter amount to a “double mistake”: an outdated form letter that was pulled it from the mail pile a year ago, but sometime since then, added back into outgoing mail.

“It’s a dumb mistake that is the result of human error in a complicated mail system,” said Neville, who added the mistake is not a reflection Pitts’ awareness of international relations. The south-central Pennsylvania lawmaker has served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Human Rights Commission.

“He’s well aware of current events in Israel and around the globe,” said Neville. “So nobody’s more upset about the error than he is.”

Pitts is facing an election in November and it seems the gaffe might have legs. The Hill says, “Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) is seeing his foreign policy credentials come under fire,” due to the letter and PoliticsPA reports his upcoming Democratic opponent is using the mistake to her advantage:

His Democratic opponent, veteran and businesswoman Aryanna Strader, jumped on the news as well.

“Being this completely out of touch with such a major foreign policy matter is inexcusable,” she wrote in an email to supporters. “If we are ever going to change Congress, we must change who we send there. And that is why I am asking you to please make a $16 contribution to our campaign today.”

The letter has even raised eyebrows in the Middle East. From an editorial in the UAE-based The National:

So you write a letter to a congressman expressing concern over House Resolution 268, a resolution that reaffirms US commitment “to a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

And then you wait. A year later, you receive a response dated April 20, 2012. But it might as well have been dated 2002. . .

The Middle East peace process has enough problems without having to rely on the efforts of a Palestinian leader who died in 2004, and an Israeli one who has been in a coma since 2006.

It might be tempting to dismiss this as a one-off absurdity, but it is cause for genuine concern. The House of Representatives has considerable influence on US foreign policy in the Middle East. Is it too much to expect them to know what year it is over here, too?

Luckily, Pitts’ constituent who received the letter, Scott Rhodewalt, is willing to help. From The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s “Pennsylvania congressman muffs Mideast message“:

In an interview Tuesday, Rhodewalt’s father, teacher Scott Rhodewalt of East Nottingham Township, said Pitts’ response was an example of how the congressman “has not served us well.”

“He and his staff must take such little interest in their constituent relationships that they would send this kind of appalling letter,” the elder Rhodewalt said. . .

Even in the fragile arena of Middle East relations, the main result of Pitts’ gaffe has been harmless humor. One website,, dubbed him “Dumb Congressman of the Week.” The Times of Israel quipped, “Neither Arafat nor Sharon were available for comment.”

As for Scott Rhodewalt, he said he was willing to take time out from his job – he teaches a course called “Peace, Justice and Social Change” at Wilmington Friends School – to educate Pitts about what he believes is the need to understand in depth both sides of the Middle East conflict.

“I would be more than happy to help him recuperate from the damage,” he said, “if some good can come from this.”

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48 Responses

  1. seafoid
    May 16, 2012, 11:39 am

    Is Pitts in the Tea Party ?

  2. btbLondon
    May 16, 2012, 11:57 am

    I think this was ironic and not moronic. Surely Pitts was trying to imply that Arafat and Sharon would make no less progress than Netanyahu.

    • Hostage
      May 16, 2012, 4:49 pm

      Surely Pitts was trying to imply that Arafat and Sharon would make no less progress than Netanyahu.

      Maybe he meant … it is now incumbent on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Abbas to join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasir Arafat?

  3. Nevada Ned
    May 16, 2012, 12:57 pm

    Dear MondoWeiss Readers:

    The Middle East is known to be a complex mixture of peoples. But two group of people have been somehow overlooked:

    deceased people and comatose people. For example, Arafat (deceased) and Sharon (comatose)

    While the noisy, live minority is granted every privilege, the dead or comatose majority are forced to suffer degrading stereotypes: expressions like “stiff,” “deadbeat” and “dead drunk” roll from the lips of even the most educated.

    Public officials, at all levels of government, are arbitrarily removed from office upon their demise, or upon lapsing into a coma. REGARDLESS OF THEIR SENIORITY!!

    This deprives the world of leaders who believe in the cautious, restrained approach that the Middle East sorely needs.

    Must a man be able to stand up, in order to be counted?

    Must a man’s heart be beating, to be in the right place?

    I urge you to do what you can to get dead people on the ballot in your community.

    And support candidates with good records on dead issues!!


    Congressman Joe Pitts* (R-PA)

    ****this is a satire, not really from Joe Pitts****

  4. gracie fr
    May 16, 2012, 1:38 pm

    Or it could be that Representative Pitts is marching, albeit with great confusion, in tune with the information AIPAC’s junior lobbyists are telling him…..

  5. Ellen
    May 16, 2012, 1:51 pm

    I don’t get it, even if Language that should have been archived was included in a draft response. The response was then pulled from the queue because of the error, and then mistakenly sent almost a year later. was used, it was still completely off and wrong. Arafat has been gone for years and Sharon is well…..still not available for comment and hasn’t been for years.

    Nor are form letters used in response to personal letters. Congressman have much staff and most all responses are handled by interns.

    I think what happened is an intern drafted it and it was signed by Pitts who like much of the US Congress, is completely clueless.

    • Fredblogs
      May 16, 2012, 3:24 pm

      These letters generally are rubber stamped, not signed. While this is amusing, it is kind of silly to act as though he wrote this himself.

      • Ellen
        May 16, 2012, 4:34 pm

        Fred, have you ever worked in those offices?

        If it was a mailed letter, it was signed.

      • Daniel Rich
        May 16, 2012, 5:11 pm

        side note:

        @ Ellen

        Fred blogs. He doesn’t write [or read].

      • Fredblogs
        May 16, 2012, 5:15 pm

        I’ve worked in offices, and seen rubber stamped letters from congresscritters. If you are sending out 10s of thousands of letters a year, you are probably having them rubber stamped, or using an autopen.

      • Daniel Rich
        May 16, 2012, 8:11 pm

        @ Fredblogs

        On the internet anyone with a fancy moniker is a ‘nobody’ who wants to be a ‘somebody.’ As such your ‘credentials’ are meaningless.

        Phil, Adam, Annie, Allison, Alex, et al, have more courage in their fingernail clippings than you will accumulate during a life wasted on this planet. But hey, its your life, not mine.

      • Fredblogs
        May 17, 2012, 1:24 pm

        What credentials? And what fancy moniker? Fred Blogs is a name that predates the internet (though my use of it does not), it is roughly the same as “John Doe” or “Joe Sixpack”. I don’t claim to have worked in congressional offices, just offices, which are pretty much the same all over. Also, just about anybody who writes to a congressman gets back a letter, usually rubber stamped or autopenned. Was that the “credentials” you were talking about. Or was “he claims to have worked in an office” your idea of “credentials”. ROFL.

      • Mooser
        May 18, 2012, 2:46 pm

        “Fred blogs. He doesn’t write [or read].”

        I think it is very generous and self-sacrificing of Fredblogs to pretend he is an Israeli who speaks and writes English as a second language, instead of blaming the US schools he went to for his logical illiteracy. And it’s also nice that he is willing to pretend that his ethical and moral attitudes, which are of the type usually engendered by childhood sexual abuse come from Zionism. I laud a man who protects his parents and community that way. Can you imagine the personal cost?

      • Mooser
        May 18, 2012, 2:48 pm

        “If you are sending out 10s of thousands of letters a year, you are probably having them rubber stamped, or using an autopen.”

        And that makes any difference because…? I get many checks wqith obviously printed signatures. They still cash.

  6. Amar
    May 16, 2012, 3:14 pm

    Meanwhile, Rep. Pitts called on USSR President Gorbachev to release dissidents and renew the SALT 2 treaty.

  7. Daniel Rich
    May 16, 2012, 3:25 pm

    Idiocy doesn’t need any explanation, because it’s used by idiots. Even non-idiots understand that.

  8. Daniel Rich
    May 16, 2012, 3:28 pm

    After this Pitts’ stop, team USA noticed one wheel had been left behind on the simmering tarmac…

  9. evan
    May 16, 2012, 3:45 pm

    After working in the Senate for a few years I know first hand the volume of mail Congress receives. It’s perfectly understandable (though also rightfully embarrassing) that a gaff like this happened. If the House does mail like we do, this was most likely the error of an intern or maybe the Legislative Correspondent. I don’t know anything about Pitts himself but to hold him to account for a single mistake made by what was most likely a temporary unpaid intern under the age of 23 is just ridiculous.

    • Ellen
      May 16, 2012, 4:42 pm

      Evan, it was surely drafted by an intern. But if sent out by postal mail, it was signed by Pitts.

      Aside from that, interns are regularly briefed on policy stance. If an intern wrote such idiocy, it tells us the level of education.

      Add to that, it is the interns and congressional aids with whom lobbyist interact, and in turn influence our legislators.

      Our government is run by 23-year- olds?

      • Fredblogs
        May 16, 2012, 5:17 pm

        Did you work in his office? If not, what makes you think he signed it himself? Much less read it.

      • evan
        May 16, 2012, 6:02 pm

        It wasn’t drafted by an intern. The intern selected an outdated form letter (which was probably written by the LC). Congressmen don’t actually sign their letters. They use auto-pens. I highly doubt that Pitts ever saw the letter in question.

        You’re conflating the running of government with constituent correspondence. Interns handle a good deal of correspondence so that staff can focus on getting things done (not that they accomplish much to that end, but that’s due to partisanship, not a lack of effort).

      • ritzl
        May 16, 2012, 9:03 pm

        “But if sent out by postal mail, it was signed by Pitts.”

        That’s been my experience, FWIW.

      • evan
        May 17, 2012, 11:16 am

        @ ritzl The signature you see is most often done by autopen. It looks real but it’s not.

        @daniel. Ultimately it is the Member’s responsibility, I’m not disputing that. What I’m objecting to is acting as if Pitt is ignorant on the I/P issue because his office mailed out a letter that was 10 years out of date. Now, he might very well be ignorant, but his offices error doesn’t speak to that. It speaks to the fact that he hired an LC or intern who made a stupid mistake, which could mean that he has bad management skills. That’s it. I love this site, but this is getting blown way out of proportion.

      • Fredblogs
        May 17, 2012, 1:16 pm

        Exactly, I mean, have you ever heard of a manager (that actually hires people) who never hired anyone who made a stupid mistake? It just doesn’t happen. Interns make mistakes, especially mistakes like not reviewing archival answers to be sure they were properly updated.

      • Mooser
        May 18, 2012, 2:51 pm

        I don’t get it, what exactly is the difference whether he signed it by hand or not? Say I know Fredblogs, why don’t you send a murder threat and extortion note to somebody, and when they question you about it, say “it doesn’t count because the signature is a rubber stamp I had made!”
        Yeah, that’ll get you right off. And don’t forget to claim you didn’t read it before you sent it, that’ll help, too.

      • Woody Tanaka
        May 18, 2012, 4:08 pm

        But Mooser, you’re being unfair and analysing the issue on the merit. Fred, however, sees an American politician who is helpful to Fred’s country of Israel and so the line he takes is to excuse him.

        If this was a pro-Palestinians politician who did the same exact thing, then Fred would take the opposition position, because that is what his country of Israel would require him to do. Simple.

    • Daniel Rich
      May 16, 2012, 5:14 pm

      @ evan,

      It’s always another person’s fault so nobody has to be held accountable?

  10. William deB. Mills
    May 16, 2012, 4:00 pm

    This was no error. It was a Freudian slip. Sharon is responsible for the current mess, and the difference between him and that other guy is indeed hard to discern…except that Sharon actually was a general who, well, “Butcher of Beirut” pretty much hits the nail on the head, while that other guy is just a wanna-be…Iran has replaced Arafat as the excuse for a foreign policy based on force, but it is the same old ethnic cleansing by manipulation of Congress.

    Yeah, I know this is not polite. Neither were Sabra, Shatila, Lebanon 2006, or Gaza 2009.

    • Fredblogs
      May 16, 2012, 6:58 pm

      “Butcher of Beirut” is pretty funny (humorous, not strange) considering that when the massacres he is blamed for happened, he was not even in the same country as the massacres, and that there is no evidence he authorized any massacres. What he was actually blamed for was not realizing that Israel allied Christian Arabs would go on a killing spree for revenge against Muslim Arabs recent killing of the Christian Arabs’ leader.

      • Citizen
        May 17, 2012, 8:12 am

        Fredblogs, there’s no evidence Hitler ever authorized gassing Jews either, and he was never anywhere near those death camps. Sharon maintained that he “never imagined” the Phalangists would go on such a killing spree. But the official Israeli commission of inquiry said that Sharon, knowing the Phalangists’ violent history and the tensions brought about by Jemayel’s assassination, should have realized the probability of a massacre if the militiamen entered the camps.

        The commission also said Sharon and other Israeli military figures failed to react quickly and decisively to halt the massacre after the first reports of killings.

      • Hostage
        May 17, 2012, 8:28 am

        “Butcher of Beirut” is pretty funny (humorous, not strange) considering that when the massacres he is blamed for happened, he was not even in the same country as the massacres, and that there is no evidence he authorized any massacres

        Well Eisenhower wasn’t in France during the Normandy invasion either, but he was in the chain of command that was indirectly running things there. The State of Israel established the “Kahan Commission of Inquiry” which concluded that Defense Minister Sharon was indirectly responsible for the massacres and that he should be barred from holding public office again. The Court of public opinion came to a similar verdict regarding Sharon’s personal culpability for incitement after the killing of the Phalangist leader, Gemayel. The Associated Press reported on 15 September 1982 that:

        Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, in a statement, tied the killing to the PLO, saying: “It symbolises the terrorist murderousness of the PLO terrorist organisations and their supporters.” Habib Chartouni, a Lebanese Christian from the Syrian Socialist National Party confessed to the murder of Gemayel, and no Palestinians were involved. Sharon had used this to instigate the entrance of the Lebanese militias into the camps.

      • Fredblogs
        May 17, 2012, 1:13 pm

        What you said about the Kahan commission is exactly my point. They established that he should have known, not that he ordered it or even that he did know. Calling someone who “should have known” that his allies would massacre people a “butcher” is funny, that’s all.

      • Hostage
        May 18, 2012, 1:59 pm

        What you said about the Kahan commission is exactly my point.

        Not really. I also cited other independent contemporary reports which said he deliberately lied and engaged in incitement against the PLO and used that “to instigate the entrance of the Lebanese militias into the camps”. The UN General Assembly had declared the massacres an “act of genocide”. See the text of resolution 37/123 Part D link to Incitement to commit genocide is a constituent act which is one of the included offenses in the definition of the crime of genocide.

        You should also keep in mind that ample documentary evidence exists which demonstrates there were Government cover-up operations regarding Ariel Sharon’s involvement in other crimes of genocide, like the Qibya massacre. In that case, the government destroyed evidence and lied about the military’s direct involvement in the killings. Moshe Sharett wrote in his diary that the operation had been approved by the Cabinet and that it had exposed Israel before the whole world as bloodsuckers. He claimed that Ben Gurion insisted on lying about the involvement of the Government and the role played by Sharon and the Israeli military. See Chapter 3 of Israel’s Sacred Terrorism and Annex 1 containing Ben Gurion’s false report to the public about the attack on Qibya.

        A reporter from Galei Tsahal, the Army Radio, interviewed Rehavam Zeevi, deputy of the Moledet party, and a former general on November 8, 1998. He revealed that in 1953, on immediate order from Ben Gurion, he burned all the documents proving that the Israeli army was responsible for the attack on the Jordanian village of Qibya. See paragraph 15 of Véronique Meimoun, « Creation and Manipulation of Archives », Bulletin du Centre de recherche français à Jérusalem, 4 | 1999, 93-108.

        Calling someone who “should have known” that his allies would massacre people a “butcher” is funny, that’s all.

        Try reading the quote from the AP press report again and remember we’re talking about the “Butcher of Qibya” deliberately lying about bloody murder in order to incite hatred against the PLO and use it as an excuse “to instigate the entrance of the Lebanese militias into the camps”. Those are acts of commission, not omission. A reasonable person could conclude, based upon the totality of the available evidence, that it was incitement to commit genocide and that it was hardly his first offense.

      • lysias
        May 17, 2012, 2:48 pm

        Here’s Wikipedia‘s account of the events:

        Following the assassination of Lebanese Christian President Bashir Gemayel, tensions built as Phalangists called for revenge. By noon of September 15, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) had completely surrounded the Sabra-Shatila camps, and controlled all entrances and exits by the means of checkpoints. The IDF also occupied a number of multi-story buildings as observation posts. Amongst those was the seven-story Kuwaiti embassy which, according to TIME magazine, had “an unobstructed and panoramic view” of the camps. Hours later, IDF tanks began shelling the camps.[18]

        Ariel Sharon and Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan[20] met with the Lebanese Phalangist militia units, inviting them to enter the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps and telling them the PLO fighters were responsible for the assassination of their leader Bashir Gemayel.[21] Under the Israeli plan, Israeli soldiers would control the perimeters of the refugee camps and provide logistical support while the Phalangists would enter the camps, find the PLO fighters and hand them over to Israeli forces.[citation needed] The meetings concluded at 3:00 p.m. September 16.[18]

        An hour later, 1,500 militiamen assembled at Beirut International Airport, then occupied by Israel. Under the command of Elie Hobeika, they began moving towards the camps in IDF supplied Jeeps, following Israeli guidance on how to enter the camps. The forces were mostly Phalangist, though there were some men from Saad Haddad’s “Free Lebanon forces”.[18] According to Ariel Sharon and Elie Hobeika’s bodyguard, the Phalangists were given “harsh and clear” warnings about harming civilians.[19][22]

        The first unit of 150 Phalangists entered the camps at 6:00 p.m. A battle ensued that at times Palestinians claim involved lining up Palestinians for execution.[18] During the night the Israeli forces fired illuminating flares over the camps. According to a Dutch nurse, the camp was as bright as “a sports stadium during a football game”.[23]

        At 11:00 p.m. a report was sent to the IDF headquarters in East Beirut, reporting the killings of 300 people, including civilians. The report was forwarded to headquarters in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where it was seen by more than 20 senior Israeli officers.[18]

        Further reports of these killings followed through the night. Some of these reports were forwarded to the Israeli government in Jerusalem and were seen by a number of Israeli senior officials.

        For the next 36 to 48 hours, the Phalangists massacred the inhabitants of Sabra and Shatila, while Israeli troops guarded the exits and allegedly continued to fire flares at night.

        You must not think the Germans were responsible for the mass killings of Jews by Lithuanians after the Wehrmacht entered Lithuania.

  11. Kathleen
    May 16, 2012, 4:10 pm

    Just a bit behind the times.

  12. radii
    May 16, 2012, 4:27 pm

    Boilerplate for all scandals:

    mistakes were made

    there were accounting errors

    • RoHa
      May 16, 2012, 7:35 pm

      They often add “lessons will be learned”.

      But they never are.

  13. LanceThruster
    May 16, 2012, 5:44 pm

    I’ll use this piece to request a story on Joe Lieberman’s recent fact-finding junkets to the Middle East ( a one-man codel). If there’s someone who’s demonstrated an extreme aversion to facts regarding the “frictions” of the region on an ongoing basis, it’s Joe -freaking- Lieberman.

    Pitts may be only clueless, but joltin’ Joe is willfully ignorant to a degree that establishes that even he knows what bollocks he spouts.

    How can we miss you, Joe, if you won’t go away?

  14. stevelaudig
    May 16, 2012, 6:17 pm

    The franking privilege is abused. A simple remedy would be to not allow franking to apply unless the Congressperson personally signs the letter and personally signs the envelope. Then any error can be pinned to a human. Or in this case a dope.

  15. talknic
    May 17, 2012, 1:38 am

    Didn’t read what he was signing?

    I doubt he has read any UNSC resolutions

    • Citizen
      May 17, 2012, 8:21 am

      US congress is notorious for not reading the actual legislation it passes. The more important and hefty the bill, the less time their help gets to read it and report it in any detail too. Agile use of congressional rules and procedures is the key; said rules and procedures are rarely use in the spirit for which they were ostensibly intended to be used. Accountability is a rare happening. Look at laws and resolutions passed over the years by voice vote alone.

  16. Linda J
    May 17, 2012, 11:02 am

    “Is U.S. going above and beyond for Israel?” Walter Pincus in WAPO.

    Pardon if it has been posted.

    • Annie Robbins
      May 17, 2012, 11:35 am

      thanks linda..

      The House committee report noted that the United States will have put $900 million into the Iron Dome system if the full $680 million is used on the program “yet the United States has no rights to the technology involved.”

      It added that Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Patrick J. O’Reilly should explore opportunities to enter into a joint production arrangement with Israel for future Iron Dome batteries “in light of the significant investment in this system.”

      So here is the United States, having added to its own deficit by spending funds that it must borrow, helping to procure a missile defense system for Israel, which faces the threat but supposedly can’t pay for it alone.

      To add insult to injury, Pentagon officials must ask the Israeli government-owned company that is profiting from the weapons sales — including Iron Dome — if the United States can have a piece of the action.

    • lysias
      May 17, 2012, 2:41 pm

      Yes, I was amazed to see this piece actually printed in this morning’s print Washington Post.

      If Walter Pincus signed this piece, that’s a sign that a lot of people in the Pentagon are very unhappy with the way Israel is being coddled, even as it looks as if the military budget may be about to take a severe hit.

  17. Hostage
    May 17, 2012, 1:35 pm

    To add insult to injury, Pentagon officials must ask the Israeli government-owned company that is profiting from the weapons sales — including Iron Dome — if the United States can have a piece of the action.

    That’s not the biggest insult. We’re funding R&D for Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, so it can compete directly against the international sales of US-based manufacturers. At one and the same time, lying hasbar-o-bots falsely claim that Israel’s US Foreign Military Assistance accounts are really just corporate welfare for US firms because they are used to funnel money back here to pay for goods and services purchased from private firms in the US defense sector.

    • Hostage
      May 17, 2012, 1:53 pm

      P.S. The Algemeiner argues that Iron Dome is not as cost effective as simply reoccupying Gaza because: “intercepting a $800 Kassam rocket with a $50,000 Iron Dome missile does not make financial sense, especially if Israel had to intercept hundreds or thousands of missiles. In other words, Israel would have to spend more than $60 for every $1 spent by Palestinian terrorists.

  18. Henry Norr
    May 17, 2012, 9:57 pm

    Sharon and Arafat respond to Pitts here. Highlights:

    First, let us state that we are truly encouraged to hear about your renewed interest in the peace process. Please rest assured that from my vegetative state, I, Ariel Sharon, am in constant contact with Chairman Arafat, who is currently residing in a coffin. We are making considerable progress on substantive issues but it is difficult to shake hands since I am in a coma and he is dead.

    Please tell your president, Ronald Reagan, and your vice president, Jesus, that we are both optimistic about the near future.

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